Catching Stones
By Liz

John Torres travels to Starfleet Headquarters to speak to his daughter for the first time in years... but there's an admiral in his way.
Rated [PG-13] for adult content and the odd bad word. Significant spoilers for "Author, Author."

Many thanks to my beta readers, particularly Starburst, who saved this story from being really dreadful. That lady got skills! And a purple heart to Briar Rose.

Disclaimer:  This story and website are in no way affiliated with Star Trek: Voyager, and are in no way meant to infringe on the copyright and trademarks of Paramount Studios, a Viacom Corporation. All characters, barring those created specifically by the author for her own sole use, are (c) Paramount/Viacom and are used here without permission.

~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~

 John Torres fingered his ID card nervously as he wound his way through the upper echelons of Starfleet headquarters.  Talk about lost...  He felt like an insect in another bee's hive as he wandered through scores of identical gray corridors in search of his destination.  This place was nothing like what he'd expected from the bright, imposing exterior of the skyscraper that housed Starfleet Command.  And at each turn, he saw Starfleet officers and personnel of every shape and size imaginable, all of whom
 spared him little more than a glance or a nod.
 How in the world had his life led him to be wandering through the very epicenter of the Federation?  It didn't quite seem real.
 John was stopped a total of four times as various security officers checked his identification.  Each time they checked his name against the database of the day's visitors, they responded with a welcoming smile.  Apparently, they had already met several members of the "Voyager family," as relatives of Starfleet's missing children were now called.  If his reception was any indication, then Starfleet was eager to welcome anyone who had come to spend three minutes speaking to their loved ones.  Probably the
 joy of delivering good news, John supposed.
 At the last checkpoint before the MIDAS access station, a young Bajoran woman eagerly shook his hand.  "Please tell your daughter we're all rooting for them," she said enthusiastically.
 John tried to smile back, but he was too nervous.  "Sure."
 She grinned and pointed to a door a few paces down the gray corridor.  "That's the waiting area.  You'll be alerted when it's time for you to access the array."
 John thanked her and moved away, rehearsing the upcoming conversation in his head for the thousandth time.  _Hello, B'Elanna.  Thank you for seeing me._  No, too formal.  _B'Elanna, you look great!!_  Too familiar.  _B'Elanna, I'm a weak excuse for a man and I should've been flogged years ago._ 
 Well, at least that was honest.  As if his brief letter asking-no, begging-for her to talk with him hadn't been hard enough.  What in the world was he supposed to say now?
 "Excuse me," he heard a voice behind him.  "John Torres?"
 John turned to see yet another Starfleet officer hurrying towards him from the other end of the hallway.  "Yes?"
 "My name is Lieutenant Jean Bolduc," the young man said, extending his hand in greeting.  "I work for Admiral Paris.  He heard you were coming today and requested that you meet with him before your scheduled time on the communications link."
 "Admiral who?"
 Bolduc seemed surprised.  "Admiral Owen Paris, sir.  He understood you would be speaking to your daughter through MIDAS this afternoon and asked if you would stop to visit with him in his office, provided you arrived early enough."
 John blinked.  His presence?  For what?  He'd never heard of this Admiral Paris.  What did Starfleet want with him?  He was just here to talk to B'Elanna, and he didn't want to cause any...
 Maybe that was it.  B'Elanna was-had been-part of the Maquis.  Were they going to question him again about her activities?  Or maybe this was some kind of legal advice, so he could relay bad news to her when they finally spoke.  God, it wasn't as if he didn't already have enough to say in those three minutes.
 John frowned at the lieutenant.  "I'm here to talk to my daughter.  I don't want to take up the admiral's time."
 Bolduc hesitated, confused.  "Sir, I don't want to speak for the admiral, but I think that it would mean very much to him if he could meet you."
 John looked at the nearest clock.  He had arrived early on purpose, and he wanted-needed-to use the next twenty minutes to try and rehearse what to say, for all the good it would do.  But apparently there was an admiral between him and the MIDAS array.
John decided that he would shake this admiral's hand then get the hell out of there.  He didn't care what the man wanted; Starfleet could throw a dozen admirals at him and it wouldn't keep him from getting those three minutes alone with B'Elanna.
 "Fine," he said reluctantly.  "I'll go with you."

 John followed the younger man through the maze of corridors.  Every turn made him more and more agitated at the thought of missing his time with the array.  They wouldn't keep him from talking to B'Elanna would they?  They couldn't.  Not when he'd been dreaming about this for so long.
 As he walked, he found himself reliving a hundred different moments from the last thirty years.  He could remember seeing B'Elanna for the very first time-exhilarated and speechless to think that the messy, wailing infant before him was in fact real.  He remembered desperately hoping that the spinal deviation was as small a problem as Miral was saying, and feeling insanely proud that, through all the difficulty and the genetic manipulation, they had produced an otherwise healthy child who was a part of t
hem both.
 Then the years of watching her grow up, worn out from her inexhaustible energy but loving her all the same.  He remembered spoiling her sometimes, ready to do anything if it meant winning that smile from her, keeping her happy...
 When she was ten years old, they had their first bona fide father-daughter fight, and she scared him with her intensity.  Then she began turning inward, pulling away from him3/4arguing with him and Miral when he and his mate had enough problems as it was.  Then that camping trip, not long before he left... Her angry, resentful accusations, bringing home what a failure he believed he'd been.
 He'd been so young and stupid.  For the next ten years, while he hid in his own fabricated excuses, the girl's face had become a woman's beautiful glare, eventually directed at him through pictures taken undercover and shown to him by Starfleet investigators.  His B'Elanna had become something so far from the innocent baby he'd wanted her to remain...

 They had come one night, seven years ago.  The pounding on the front door had been loud enough to wake the dead.
 "Stay here," he mumbled to his wife, Isobel, who grunted in her sleep.  "I'll see what they want."  John grabbed a robe and headed downstairs, grumbling as he went.  This was a quiet part of Buenos Aires; here, nobody ever bothered you after midnight unless it was urgent.  He wondered what could have happened.
 He opened the door to find three Starfleet officers in uniform, standing solemnly on his doorstep.  A woman with skin so dark that her deep brown eyes shone in the moonlight; a Vulcan male, who stared back at him stonily; another man, this one young and a little nervous.
 "Can I help you?" John said.  Why in the world would they be here?  There had to be some mistake.
 "Mr. John Torres?" said the woman, her voice calm but serious.  He nodded, confused.
 "Commander Maria Ndesange of Starfleet Security," she said by way of introduction.  "These are my colleagues, Ensigns Jori and T'Loth.  We need to ask you some questions."
 "It's after midnight," John said.  "Can't it wait till tomorrow?"
 "No, sir, I'm afraid not," Ndesange replied.  "May we come in?"
 He heard a shuffle behind him, and saw Isobel come down the stairs.  She stopped at the bottom stair and waited for him to explain, her white robe and blonde hair almost glowing in the darkened hallway.
 Well, whatever it was Starfleet wanted, he didn't have anything to hide.  "Yes, you can come in.  But it's late-can you make it quick?"
 "We will proceed as efficiently as possible," Ndesange said.  Translation: We'll do it on our time, because we're Starfleet Security and we can do that.
 John shrugged to Isobel and led the way into their first floor sitting room.  "Let me get your coats," Isobel offered, coming forward and introducing herself.  "I suppose it's warmer in San Francisco this time of year?"
 Ensign Jori smiled.  "Yes, ma'am.  A little.  Seems a bit strange to be in a hemisphere with a cold summer."
 "Ensign," Ndesange warned mildly.
 Jori shrank back into shy submission and followed his superiors into the sitting room, where Isobel was turning on the lights.  John sat first, sending his wife a confused shrug.  What was going on?  He ran an honest shipping business, that was it.  Unless one of his clients was running a scam behind his back, and that wasn't likely.  Besides, Starfleet never meddled in anything so small.
 Ndesange didn't waste any time. "Mr. Torres, we apologize for disturbing you at this hour," she began formally.  "Before we begin, I am required by law to inform you that Ensign Jori is Betazoid and therefore is able to sense emotions, including whether someone is telling the truth or intentionally lying.  Is this clear?"
 John nodded, even more confused.  "Of course.  I don't have anything to hide."
Ndesange retrieved a set of padds from inside a briefcase, which she set on the coffee table.  T'Loth took one from her and activated it, then showed it to John.
 "We need to ask you some questions about the woman you see in this picture," said Ndesange.  "Could you please identify her."
 John barely heard her request.  He gaped at the picture set before him, unable to comprehend what he saw.
 It was B'Elanna.
 He hadn't seen her in, what was it now?  Ten years?  But that was the adult face of the twelve-year-old girl he remembered to this day.  The ridges, those eyes...  The picture showed her from the shoulders up, leaning against a dirty wall and glowering angrily.
 "How did you get this?" John demanded.  "What's happened?"
"Sir, if you could just identify the person in this picture, then we can proceed," said Ndesange smoothly.
 "Yes, I know her," John said.  "Her name is B'Elanna Torres.  Now tell me what's happened!"  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Isobel staring at him in shock.
 "Could you state your relationship to this woman?"
 John looked at Isobel desperately.  Her fine lips were pursed with tension, the color drained from her face.  In three years of living together, he'd never told her about Miral or B'Elanna.  He had plenty of reasons, justified or not, but he'd never wanted her to find out about his past life.
 But some things were more important than pride or secrecy.  He had to know.
 "She's my daughter," John said desperately.  "Now tell me what's happened to her."

 Two and a half hours later, John closed the door behind the three investigators.  It had taken nearly the entire time to convince his interrogators that he knew absolutely nothing of B'Elanna's whereabouts or how she had come to join the Maquis terrorists.
 They said Starfleet had warrants for her arrest on three separate counts of sabotage of  Federation property and one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.  Investigators had somehow learned the identity of each individual in her group, or cell.  Security was now questioning every individual ever associated with them in an effort to locate and arrest the members of the self-proclaimed terrorist group.  But the investigators refused to say any more, labeling further information as "classified."
 John forced himself to turn back and walk into the sitting room.  Terrorist activities...  Accused...  He felt cold with shock and fatigue.  What was he going to say to his wife?  He still felt trapped too deeply in his own turmoil to even think of Isobel right now.  How could this have happened?  How could B'Elanna have done these things?
 And how could he have let her.
 The night wasn't over yet.  Isobel had heard everything.  She had sat next to him, remaining silent throughout almost the entire session, simply listening to him repeat the words "I don't know" over and over to practically every question they asked.
 Isobel was like that.  When things happened, she didn't get angry.  She stayed quiet for long stretches at a time, waiting until she was sure how to react.  She was quiet now, in the kitchen, fixing an early breakfast for herself.
 John didn't have a shred of an idea of how he could even face her now.  Still, he couldn't just run away.  Not this time.  So he went into the kitchen, too.
 She didn't look at him or pay him any attention.  She simply sorted through their cabinets, fixing herself a hot cocoa.  Not speaking.
 "I..." he started to say, then choked.  He began again.  "I need to contact my ex-wife.  She deserves to know what's happened."
 "Maybe she knows already," Isobel suggested quietly.
 "Maybe," John said.  "But in case she doesn't, then someone has to tell her.  It shouldn't be Starfleet Security."
 "I see."
 "Isobel, it's not what you think."
 Isobel turned to look at him then, penetrating his thoughts with the stare that never failed to break his resolve or his cover.
 "Please, listen to me, Isobel," he begged.  "I'll tell you everything.  But you have to understand, I've never lied to you.  Never!  I just... I've been so ashamed, Isobel.  I couldn't let you see me that way.  I didn't think I could tell you, I didn't know what you'd think of me if you knew."
 "Did it occur to you that hiding the truth might hurt us more?" Isobel asked him in a low, nearly silent voice.  "Now tell me everything, John.  Everything."

 The next three weeks saw John Torres' second marriage hanging in the balance.  He had told Isobel everything, from when he first met Miral in a chance encounter years ago as a student, traveling the Quadrant in search of adventure, to the disintegration of their impossible marriage and his eventual decision to leave.  After enough years, John had realized he couldn't blame Miral any more or less than he blamed himself-he just didn't have what was needed to make such a life work, at least not then.  B'Ela
nna had been caught in the middle.
 When he left, it was with the promise that he would contact them, that he would make sure to work out something so he could see B'Elanna, too.  Miral had literally spat in his face and told him to stay away from her daughter if he wanted to continue breathing.
 He should have known better than to use her threat as an excuse not to try.  He knew his wife better than that; it was his own failure he was afraid of facing.  So days became weeks, weeks became months, months became the time it took for Starfleet to come knocking on his door.
 Isobel told him she needed time to think.  John understood and agreed, and he tried to give her the space to do that.
 In the meantime, John had called his older brother, asking for advice.  Carl had been supportive, but he refused to help.  "John, I'm your brother and I love you.  But no running to me or anyone else this time.  You've made some decisions, and now you need to face them, okay?"
 And facing them meant waiting for word from Starfleet on B'Elanna's whereabouts, alternately praying that they would or would not find her, and enduring Isobel's silence, which continued as the days passed.  What else could he do?

 Three weeks later he had his answer.  Ndesange came in the early evening this time, without her two compatriots.  She had even sent him a message requesting a meeting with him beforehand; John agreed, certain that they had found and arrested B'Elanna.
 He paced nervously around the house as he waited for her to knock.  Isobel was somewhere upstairs, choosing to leave him to his own anxieties.  He poured himself a stiff drink and tidied the house aimlessly, trying to keep his hands busy.  John could just see it now, going to visit his long lost daughter in prison.  A horrible way to begin their relationship again.
 Ndesange finally arrived, precisely on time.  "Mr. Torres, may I come in?"
 "Yes, of course," he said, automatically ushering her to the same place as before.  She waited until they were both seated before speaking.
 "Mr. Torres," Ndesange began, her voice carrying an entirely different tone this time.  "I regret to inform you that Starfleet has lost all contact with your daughter's vessel.  While the search is ongoing, we believe them lost, given the highly dangerous location of their last known coordinates."
 John felt his mouth go dry.  Somehow, her words just weren't making sense.
 Ndesange seemed to be having trouble meeting his eyes.  "A Starfleet vessel was dispatched to search for the Maquis group five days ago, but we have lost contact with them as well.  Another vessel is preparing to join the search, but you should know that Command does not hold much hope for either ship's survival."
 "Are you saying..."
 "I'm sorry, sir.  If it's any consolation, Starfleet does not yet have definite proof of your daughter's death."
 *Your daughter's death...*
 "In the meantime," Ndesange offered, "Starfleet will keep you apprised as to the status of the search.  And you may contact Security at any time for an update.  Most of the details concerning the Maquis group must remain classified, but we will alert you if Ms. Torres is found."
 She continued for another minute or two, floundering around an awkward message of condolences from the very people who had probably tried to kill his daughter.
 Numbly, John finally stood up, cutting off the conversation.  "Thank you for coming," he said, ignoring the crack in his voice.  "I'd like to be alone now."
 Ndesange nodded, and she politely exited his house, leaving her contact information on the table as she went.
 There was a noise behind him.  John turned to see Isobel standing again on the stairway, this time with tears in her eyes.
 "John..." she whispered, taking a tentative step towards him.
 He felt his knees collapse.  Isobel held him as he cried.

 The next seven years held plenty more twists of fate, with the news of B'Elanna's survival like a powerful but strangely wonderful slap in the face.  John had felt light-headed with the news for about a week afterward, and he could tell that in her own way, Miral felt the same when he spoke with her briefly over the comm channel.  The two of them were hardly friends, but the tragedy and its subsequent reversal had at brought them to be civil, even cordial, if that word could even be used for his former K
lingon mate.  Caring, yes.  Passionate, definitely.  Polite?  Not in a million years.
 Later, when he learned of Miral's death during the Dominion War, he found himself mourning her.  There had been incredible differences between them, but he would always remember her as a strong and honorable woman.  He wished she could have lived to see B'Elanna return home.  At least she had known that B'Elanna was alive and doing well.
 The thought made him smile.  Naturally, Miral had been furious with him when she learned that Starfleet had not contacted her in time for her to send a letter through the alien array, but John knew it wasn't his fault.  He even enjoyed being on the receiving end of her temper once more, just for old times' sake.
 And finally, just a month ago, Starfleet had informed him that regular communication with B'Elanna's ship was now possible.  It wasn't just the opportunity to send a letter every other month.  It was every day.
 Everyone in the Federation knew about Voyager, it seemed.  They were probably just glad to have something to celebrate after the repeated tragedies of the recent war.  In any case, John did his best to keep a low profile under all the attention to Voyager's family members, politely declining interviews and avoiding the subject with strangers.
 His family was another matter.  They were continually asking him for news, and he couldn't avoid talking to them about it.  He sensed they were getting tired of him telling them that no, he hadn't talked to B'Elanna yet, no, he hadn't heard from her yet, no, there was no news.  They suspected him of hiding from the entire situation, and they were right.
 He was terrified that she would reject him if he tried.
 But he wasn't allowed to remain hidden in his insecurities for long.  His niece, Elizabeth, contacted him less than a week after Starfleet's announcement that regular contact with the crew would be possible.  She told him she had written B'Elanna herself, because she was not going to wait any longer for John to do it.
 "Oh," he said over dinner.  He'd wondered why Elizabeth had asked him to come to see her at her family's house.
 She nodded, her mouth curled into a no-nonsense frown.  "Every crew member has three minutes of access time with the array.  B'Elanna's agreed to speak with me.  Her scheduled time is about two weeks from now."
 "She wrote you back?" he asked stupidly.
 "Yes, she wrote me back, and honestly I'm surprised she did after the silent treatment you've afforded her."
 John ignored the scolding.  Elizabeth had never been one to mince words.  "How is she?" he asked earnestly.
 Elizabeth pursed her lips, as if debating something within herself.  "Why don't you ask her yourself?" she finally said.
 "You mean..."
 "Yes, John.  Take the three minutes."
 John hesitated.  "You think she'll even agree to speak with me?"
 Elizabeth shrugged, taking the dishes into the kitchen.  "I think it's long past time you tried."

 So, early this morning, John kissed his wife Isabel good-bye, gratefully accepted her best wishes, boarded a transport to San Francisco, and found himself standing outside the office of a certain Admiral Owen Paris with no idea why.  Lieutenant Bolduc ushered him past the smiling secretary and into an office that was a great deal larger than the one John occupied back in Buenos Aires.
 Behind a long desk was a man a little older than himself, wearing the imposing uniform of an admiral.  He stood up as John came in.
 "Mr. Torres," he said eagerly.  "I'm very glad you could make it."
 So this was Admiral Paris.  John tried not to look as confused as he felt.  "So am I, Admiral," he said, hoping that was the right thing to say.
 The admiral nodded to Bolduc, who left the room.  "Please, call me Owen," Paris said, gesturing to a couple of gray chairs to the side of the desk.  "Can I get you anything to drink?"
 John's mouth was in fact parched from all the anxiety, but he shook his head politely as he took a seat.  "No, thank you."  He looked around the office for a clock, but he didn't see one.  The admiral's desk was cluttered with plenty of other items, though-padds, papers, a framed picture of a young man in a cadet's uniform, the usual sorts of things.
 Admiral Paris followed the path of his gaze.  "Would you believe that's my son Tom?" he explained with a proud smile.  "It's a few years out of date.  I should ask him for a more recent picture, one with his wife."
 John nodded, not sure what to say.
 Paris continued.  "I should tell you how glad I am that I could meet you before you spoke with your daughter.  Naturally, we don't want you to miss your allotted time with her, but I hoped you and I could visit briefly beforehand."
Ah, here it comes, John thought.  He wondered if all the relatives of the former Maquis received such a genial welcoming before the bad news, or if his was a special case.
 "I imagine you're looking forward to speaking with B'Elanna?" Paris said conversationally, actually pronouncing her name correctly on the first try.  He had done his research well.
 "Yes, sir," John nodded.  "I am."
 "The chief engineer on a Federation starship," Paris mused.  "Certainly an achievement to be proud of, especially considering her background."
 John wished the man would just stow the false demeanor and get on with it.  "Yes, I'm happy she's done well for herself."
 "So am I," Paris said.  "In his letters, my son has mentioned that she is highly respected on Voyager.  Starfleet has taken very favorable notice of her achievements."
 John frowned, even more confused now.  His son?  What did he have to do with it?  Probably just another of those Starfleet families he'd heard about, where every generation sent somebody into the ranks.  But what did that have to do with Voyager?
 "Excuse me, Admiral," John said, deciding to end this conference now before he ran out of time.  "I appreciate your taking the time to meet with me personally.  I don't mean any disrespect, but whatever it is you have to say to me, just say it.  I can't afford to miss this chance to speak with my daughter."
 Admiral Paris appeared taken aback by John's declaration, as if a well-laid plan had just been foiled.  "John," he said.  "When was the last time you communicated with B'Elanna?"
 John let out a frustrated sigh.  Why did they need to drag this out of him again?  What did they want, a confession in full? "It's been nearly twenty years," he admitted.  "I don't know anything about her Maquis activities, and I never have.  All I know is that she's agreed to speak to me, and I am not about to miss that chance with her now!"
 He saw Owen Paris's lips part, which from a man of his stature seemed an expression of utter astonishment.
 John felt like he had just said the wrong thing.  "That's what this is about, right?" he asked.
 "Mr. Torres," the Admiral said frankly, "Perhaps I should not be the one to inform you of this, but...  Almost eight months ago, your daughter married my son, Tom.  They are expecting their first baby quite soon.  Our grandchild," he added for emphasis. Owen stared at John intently.
 John thought he had been amazed before when B'Elanna had agreed to speak with him...
 "She's pregnant?" he said, practically choking on the words.
 Owen nodded, his face expressionless. "My wife and I will not have the opportunity to speak with Tom for some weeks.  I had hoped that you might convey our best wishes to them both."
 "Oh," John said, still trying to process the admiral's words.
 "I had also hoped," Owen Paris continued, "to welcome you as family-as one grandfather to another.  But perhaps that would not be appropriate, given the circumstances."
 That judgment felt like a slap in the face to John. He hadn't known about the pregnancy, or the marriage!  If he had... He couldn't let this chance fall through his fingers like that!  No, not when he was so close to setting things right again with B'Elanna.
 "Admiral," John said, coughing on a tight throat. "Owen, I don't know what to say.  I came here expecting to try and make things right with B'Elanna, to ask her to forgive me for what I've done, and now... Everything is so different.  You can think whatever you want of me, but... I've got to do everything I can to let her know that I love her."
 Owen raised a hand between them, as if to interrupt. "Mr. Torres, I..."
 John was not going to wait here any longer. He couldn't. "Maybe you don't know what regret is as a parent," he told the admiral. "But I can't miss this chance now."
 The admiral froze for a moment, his gray eyes staring acutely into John's. A few creases John hadn't noticed before wrinkled the skin around the admiral's mouth and eyes. "Mr. Torres, the array is yours," he said quietly.
 With nothing more to say, John practically leapt from his chair. The array: it was time.

 The surrounding officers wasted no time in directing John to the lounge in which visiting families would be able to access the communications link.  He had roughly two minutes to spare, and he tried to use them to come up with something to say.  He was going to be a grandfather!  Was B'Elanna all right?  He knew from experience that hybrid pregnancies could be difficult.  And how long now?  Would the baby be all right on a starship like that?
 He was irritated that Elizabeth hadn't told him this, but then he vaguely understood why.  His niece was right: this conversation was long overdue.
 John sat watching the countdown of seconds until the beginning of the transmission.  Five, four, three, two, one...
 The screen flickered to life.
 She was there, standing in a large, semi-circular room behind a console.  Her expression was guarded, but it was certainly her; Miral's eyes stared at him from the half-Klingon face he'd been dreaming of for years now.  And something small of him was there, too.
 She had her hands clasped behind her back, and he could see that Admiral Paris had been telling the truth.  B'Elanna was definitely pregnant.
 Beside her stood an older version of the man he'd seen in the cadet's photo: Tom Paris.  So this was the father of his grandchild.  Taller than B'Elanna and fairer in complexion, he met John's curious stare unflinchingly.  Neither welcoming nor angry, the man in the red-shouldered lieutenant's uniform seemed inclined to keep his thoughts to himself.
 John looked back to B'Elanna.
 "B'Elanna," John breathed after a moment.  "I... It's very good to see you."
 She didn't say anything.  John scrambled to fill the silence somehow.  "Are you all right?" he asked.
 B'Elanna waited a careful moment before answering.  "I'm fine," she said.  Her voice-a firm alto, feminine and unwavering.  John searched madly for the right thing to say, to tell her how glad he was.
 B'Elanna seemed to feel sorry for him and took the next step.  "This is my husband, Tom Paris," she introduced.
 "It's good to meet you," John said awkwardly.  Paris just nodded once, and looked back to B'Elanna.  Yes, she was definitely in charge of this conversation.
 "Um, our family is doing well," John said.  "They all send their best."
 B'Elanna didn't reply, so John continued.  "Your cousin Elizabeth didn't say much after you exchanged letters.  But she said she wants to keep writing."
 "I know," B'Elanna said.
 Of course.  They had corresponded, he didn't need to tell her that.  "You should see her twins," John said.  "Those boys could tear down a house without much effort."
 B'Elanna stared back at him; she wasn't making this any easier.
 "I've been told that Starfleet is very impressed with everything you've done on Voyager," he told her.  "I thought I should pass that on."
 She stifled what might have been a smirk and thanked him.  John supposed he understood; B'Elanna probably knew better than he did that Starfleet's good opinion of her would still be tempered by her past should they return home anytime soon.
 "Oh," John said, "and Admiral Paris has asked me to send along his best wishes. To both of you."
 That caused a reaction. B'Elanna looked at her husband, her eyebrows raised. John wasn't sure why, but both of them seemed a little taken aback by this news.  That was strange. He watched as Tom shook his head in response to an unspoken question.
 "I'm having a hard time believing this," John said, laughing once to keep things light.  It didn't work.  "I mean, here you are, so far away.  And you're an officer, with your own section!  Isn't that right?  I should have known you would take that great mind of yours and run with it someday."
 B'Elanna nodded, and he thought he caught just the barest quiver of her lip.  It disappeared as soon as it began.  That was his girl, all right: tough as nails on the outside, with an astonishing sensitivity hidden not far below.
 John was still trying to keep it light.  "Just look at you," he said, unable to keep a little pride from seeping into his voice.  "You must be, what?  Twenty weeks along?"
 "Twenty-three, actually," she corrected.
 "Have you decided on a name?"
 "Not yet.  We were thinking of naming her Miral," B'Elanna told him, then waited to see his reaction.
 A girl, then. He wasn't surprised by her choice for a name.  "Your mother would have liked that," he told her, and meant it.  Again that glance between B'Elanna and her husband.  The two seemed to be exchanging thoughts without speaking.
 "You know I had some business on Kessick a few months ago," John said. "You wouldn't believe what our old house looks like."  She really wouldn't believe it; the people who'd moved in had built so many additions, he hadn't even recognized the place.  Funny3/4 he'd always liked how small it was.
 There was a slight buzzing sound, and to the left of his view screen a light began blinking.
 A woman's voice just outside his field of view spoke to his daughter briefly.  B'Elanna nodded and turned back to him.  "We have less than a minute," she said distantly.  "Is there a reason you wanted to speak to me?"
 Was there a reason?  There were a hundred reasons.  John had no way of cramming them into less than a minute.  But all the same, he could tell he was being given his chance to run the gauntlet, and he could not afford to lose the prize now.
 John began talking.  His words seemed to choose themselves; or maybe they were words he'd chosen a long, long time ago.  "I don't expect to be able to make up for twenty years in one conversation," he said, trying to keep his composure.  "Truth is, when your ship disappeared, I thought I'd lost you.  I don't expect you to forgive me... But I hope, maybe, we could try to get to know each other again."
 He waited, unable to breathe, forcing himself to look her in the eye.  What would she say?  What would he say if it were him faced with a stranger of a father?  Did he even have the right to hope?
 A flash of static crossed the screen.  The picture began breaking up.
 "I'll write you."

 John didn't move for a long time after the transmission faded.  B'Elanna was alive; she said she would write him.  It was far from absolution, but a weight had disappeared from John's shoulders3/4one that he had carried for so long it was second nature.  He sucked in a deep breath, wanting to keep this moment with him forever.
 After several minutes, he knew he had to leave the lounge.  Starfleet wouldn't let him stay in here for all the weeks it would take for another opportunity to roll around.  By then-well, by then he might be a grandfather!  The thought left him speechless.  His daughter was going to be a mother herself!  He couldn't wait to see his granddaughter for the first time, even if it was only over subspace.  And maybe Isabel could come with him next time.  It would probably take some convincing for B'Elanna to ag
ree to meet his wife, but hell.  If she was willing to even look at him again, then anything was possible.
 John stood up on shaky legs and headed to the door.  Elizabeth had been right; it was his place to be here.  Right now, his only regret was that he had waited so long to try.
 A hand on his arm stopped him as he was leaving the lounge.  Admiral Paris was standing by the door; he had apparently been waiting outside for him to finish.
 "Mr. Torres," he said without preamble, "I believe I owe you an apology."
 John's eyebrows raised.  "What?"  He hadn't even been thinking of the admiral.
 Paris nodded solemnly.  "I don't believe I was entirely fair to you.  There are certain things which..."  The man hesitated.  "Would you join me again in my office?  I would prefer not to discuss it in the hallway."
 John nodded.  He was far too happy right now to care what the admiral had to say, family or otherwise3/4but he supposed it wouldn't do any harm, either. He followed him back through the corridors to the same office.  This time, Paris sat behind his desk, keeping a stretch of space open between them.
 "How is B'Elanna?" Owen said, perhaps a little uncomfortably.
 John still didn't care. "She looks wonderful, and she says she's fine," John said happily. "Tom was there, by the way."
 Owen's eyes jumped ever so slightly. "Yes, I suppose that makes sense," he said.
 John nodded. "He didn't say very much, of course, but he seems like a good man. You should be proud." Caught up in his excitement, John chuckled at an old memory.
 "What is it?" Owen said intently.
 "Oh, nothing," John said. "I was just thinking that B'Elanna's mother would have thought the same thing.  She might even have said that your son is 'honorable, for a human.'  That's the highest compliment she ever gave a non-Klingon," John explained without bitterness.  Really, the memory just seemed funny now-and a little bittersweet.
 Owen nodded, smiling a little. "I'm sure he deserves it." Owen then stood up and walked to his large office window, where he stared out across the Presidio, hands clasped behind his back. "I'm glad Tom was there," he said after a short silence.
 "Me, too," John said, not sure how else to respond. He observed Owen Paris from behind.  He was curious why he'd been asked to come here again.  It didn't seem like the admiral was really all that interested in small talk.  And he didn't appear to be in a mood to interrogate him, either.
 John cleared his throat. "Excuse me, Admiral. I mean, Owen.  Was there something else you wanted to discuss?  Of course, I'm happy to tell you what B'Elanna and I talked about, but..."
 Owen turned around, revealing a wry-almost sad-smile on his face. "Irony has a funny way of taking over a situation, doesn't it, John?" he said.
 "Sure," John replied.  "How so?"
 "What you said about not knowing regret as a parent..." Owen shook his head.  "There are some other things you probably don't know."
 John paused warily.  "You mean there's more?"
 Owen nodded. "My son and I have not always had the easiest of relationships," Owen explained. "It may be true that I pressured him too much as a young man to follow in my footsteps.  I think he resented me for that.  What's more, I believe he felt pressured to live up to unrealistic standards.
 "You see, when Tom was a young officer, he was involved in a serious shuttlecraft accident and almost died.  The details aren't important; what matters is that at first he tried to hide the evidence of his piloting error. He did finally tell the truth-and it was his own decision."
 Owen looked down at his feet. "Tom did the right thing. But for his decision, he lost his commission, and I... Well, I was shocked.  I didn't know what to think.  And I wasn't able to speak with him."
 John blinked. "You weren't able?"
 Owen grimaced.  "I refused to speak to him.  I allowed my disappointment and embarrassment-and pride-to overrule my good sense.  Thinking back on it, if my own father had even done such a thing to me..." He drifted off for a moment. John thought of his father, and how hard he'd worked to impress the man.  Hell, he'd married a Klingon, for crying out loud, and he still felt like he needed to show his old man that he was strong enough and capable enough to deserve his pride.
 Owen continued. "Tom didn't contact anyone in our family after that, so we don't know what happened to him. But the next thing we knew, he had been arrested for participating in terrorist activities with the Maquis."
 Well, that wasn't something John had expected to hear... He wasn't sure what to think at first-the idea of an ex-convict for a son-in-law.  But that thought soon vanished. After all, that mistake paled in comparison to what he himself had done in his lifetime, didn't it?  He'd up and abandoned his own child.
 And apparently, so had Admiral Paris.
 So that's what all those silent looks between B'Elanna and Tom were about. Perhaps Owen did know regret as a parent after all.
 John suddenly felt much more at ease, as though the heat and glare of a spotlight had left him and disappeared from the room altogether. "So how did Tom come to be on Voyager?" John asked curiously.
 "Captain Janeway pulled a few strings-that woman is impressive as hell. In many ways, she has been a better parent to him than I have.  Well, Captain Janeway decided Tom would be a good resource to help her track down the Maquis vessel-B'Elanna's vessel, as a matter of fact," Owen said, without judgment. "In return, Tom would have his sentence reduced, possibly terminated. This deal took place apart from my influence, but... I was glad that he accepted her offer."
 "And the rest is history," John finished up.  Well, that was a story he hadn't expected to hear.
 He was extremely curious to know much, much more about what had happened on this ship in the last seven years.  It wasn't like B'Elanna to fall in love with someone who had initially tried to put her in jail.  Good grief, the temper tantrums she'd thrown when he sent her to her room as a child were enough to make him pity the man who tried to lock up his daughter.
 "I see what you meant about irony," John noted.
 Owen nodded.  "So perhaps I should apologize for what I said earlier."
 "What do you mean?"
 "About not welcoming you as family," Owen said.  "I take it back.  John, you've done something today that I envy very much.  You've begun to make amends with your daughter.  Tom and I have barely exchanged letters; I can only hope that my conversation with him, when it happens, will be as successful."
 John laughed once, blowing a whole in the solemn atmosphere. "Well, if you call stammering like an idiot 'successful,' then I'd hate to see an utter failure!"
 "So would I," Owen agreed, also chuckling a little.
 John smiled easily. "Well, I don't mean to be rude, Owen, but my wife Isobel wants me to call as soon as I can, so..." He got up to leave and reached out to shake the admiral's hand.
 Quite suddenly, Owen froze, and a look of utter angst came over his face.  "Oh, hell.  Hell, hell, hell!" the admiral said, immediately pulling open drawers and shuffling padds, papers, and pens alike.
 "What is it?" John said, alarmed.
 "My wife!" Owen exclaimed. "Anne told me that if I didn't contact her as soon as I'd spoken with you, she'd have my hide!  John, that woman will skin me alive tonight."
 After two marriages, one a failure and the other a work in progress, John felt that he knew quite well how to piss off a woman.  "Owen," he said, disappointed.  "You forgot to call your wife?"
 "I wanted to wait until we'd spoken again," Owen griped, still digging through his desk. "What is that damn access code?  And why can't I ever remember it?" He jabbed at a button on his desk console. "Tolek!" he barked. "What's my access code?"
 "Alpha-six-two-four, sir," came the secretary's even reply.
 "If Miral were alive and I'd forgotten to call her," John mused, "she'd do a lot more than flay me.  She'd kill me and have me for breakfast."
 "You'll appreciate Anne Paris, then," Owen said, punching a rapid key sequence into the pad by his view screen.
 "Will I?" John said.
 Admiral Paris looked up at him, and nodded.  "Certainly so.  Anne will of course want you to come to dinner.  She'll want to meet you.  Once she stops yelling at me, that is."
 "Well, I wouldn't want to impose..." John began.
 Owen held up a hand, halting him.  "You would not impose.  You're family."
John sat back down and smiled.  Family.  Well, imperfect as anything, and with faults running throughout, but then-what family wasn't?
 "I would be delighted," John said. "Or rather, my wife and I would be delighted," he said pointedly, looking at the view screen.
 The dignified Owen Paris let out a grunt of assent.  "The things we do to make amends," he grumbled as he hit the final sequence.
 John entirely agreed.

*  *  *
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