The Greatest Man
By A'Lehsen Paris
Summary: Voyager gets home, but for some it's too late. (Author's Note: This story assumes that Tom is thirty years old, and is based toward the end of the sixth season.)
Disclaimer: Tom, B'Elanna, and Owen Paris belong to TPTB. This story is the only way I can have a little piece of them. I love them, I want no money for them, so please just let me borrow them for this story . . . Really? You'll let me? Great!
Oh, and the song "The Greatest Man I Never Knew" was written by Richard Leigh and Layng Martine, Jr, and was sung by Reba MacEntire.
Rated: PG (adult language)
Dedicated to my best friend Becky, who is going through a rough time, and to Kat, who helped me with this one. Yes, again.
The greatest man I never knew
Lived just down the hall
And every day we said hello
But never touched at all
He was in his paper
I was in my room
How was I to know he thought I hung the moon
"Earth, Stardate _______"
"Well, I'm out now and back to my duties . . . . I honestly don't know if I'll ever understand you, or what went wrong between us . . . but I hope this letter helps you understand me a little better."
The words faded into silence in an office that once might have been cold and uninviting, but which had changed over the past few years into a warm and friendly place to be. Now, the sole occupant, an older man with white hair and a lined face that seemed to have seen to many burdens settle on the broad, gray-covered shoulders, cleared his throat and ran a finger around the edge of his red collar.
He glanced at a picture on his desk, proud in its lonely solitude. A bright young cadet stared back at him through blue eyes identical to his own.
"Tom," he whispered. Then, Owen Paris picked up a padd of his own and began to record a message back to his only son.
"Orbiting Earth, a week later"
A tall blond man entered the darkened front room of his temporary quarters at Starbase 01. His shoulders were slumped, as if he bore the weight of the galaxy on them. He didn't bother to give the command for the lights to come on; he just went to the nearest chair and sat down blindly. He put his head in his hands, elbows propped up on his knees, and sat there.
Then his voice, low and raw, began to flow through the room.
"Computer begin personal log Paris, Tom," he said first. He paused, as if unsure how to begin, and then the flood of words burst from him.
"He's gone. I was half-dreading, half-hoping for our first meeting after six years, but Fate, the gods, whomever, had decided that his time in this galaxy was over. He had done all he had to do."
"But he hadn't. He and I . . . we never worked out what was wrong between us. There were never any long talks about how we felt all those years ago, after Caldik Prime, after I was arrested for being in the Maquis. We will never have that chance."
"He's dead. It hurts me to say it. Funny, I never thought it would. I thought for a long time that I hated him. That I would always hate him. But always underneath that hate, that bitterness of his betrayal, was a yearning for his love, his approval, his acceptance. He was my father, dammit! Was that too much to ask?"
"Was. That word echoes in my mind. Already I start to think of him in the past tense. Why couldn't he be here? Why did he have to die just seven damn days before Voyager arrived home? Why?"
"I thought I knew what it meant to lose him. In a way, I already had. Hadn't I lost his love all those years ago, when he threw me out of the house I had lived in for all of my life? I thought so then."
Again there was a long pause, this time a dark, brooding one that seemed tangible in the very air around Tom Paris. This was a moment in his life that he would remember forever, even as he wished to forget it, the way he wished to forget so many others before . . . before . . .
"Voyager. That's what saved me, in the end. The chance to fly that ship gave me my life back, at first. It gave me hope, and a belief in myself that he never had. He was never really there at all . . ."
His mind pulled him unwillingly into the past at these words, and a memory that had once been buried so deep in his mind that it only recurred as nightmares took over his thoughts.
The greatest man I never knew
Came home late every night
He never had too much to say
Too much was on his mind
I never really knew him
And now it seems so sad
Everything he gave to us took all he had
"Earth, twenty years earlier"
A bright haired young boy sat playing with a toy in the shape of an ancient sailing ship, imagining that he was a brave sea captain from the eighteenth century, fighting pirates . . . or maybe he was the pirate, looting unsuspecting ships carrying gold and spices from the Orient.
The real world invaded his childish awareness in the form of a shadow at first. He lifted his head up quickly, and there was his father, the one person in his life who was able to intimidate his young, adventurous spirit. The frown on that face above his quelched most, but not all of the spirit of play he had been indulging in.
"You'll never get into Starfleet Academy by playing with toys. Do your homework! Are you listening to me, Thomas?" his father asked him angrily.
"But, Dad, I'm done with my homework, and there's nothing else to do!" he complained, hiding the toy behind his back in case his father tried to snatch it from his hands.
"Thomas, you will do as I say. What about those flight projections I told you to work on? How far have you come along on those?" his skowling father asked.
Tom averted his eyes. "I was going to do them this weekend, when I'd have more time to concentrate -- " he began.
"Son, you can't just do that if you expect to get into Starfleet! To be a Starfleet officer you have to have determination, courage, and strength of will! You have to take the initiative in things like this. Instead of playing, you should have been working on those flight projections! How will you ever be ready to enter the Academy if you act like you have today?" Owen Paris berated him.
Tom hung his head as if he was ashamed. However, in the blue eyes that were so much like his father's, a spark of cold fire burned defiantly.
Owen, though, was fooled. "Now, go to your room, young man. That's an order. Stay there and think about what I've said."
Tom drew himself up straight, the way he'd been taught from infancy. "Yes, sir!" he snapped out, not insulantly enough to cause his father to be even more irritated with him.
Only when he was alone in his room, cradling the toy ship in his hands lovingly, did he dare to utter his true thoughts. "I don't want to be a Starfleet officer!" he said to himself fiercely. He put the toy carefully away on a shelf over his bed and picked up the correct padd. After all, he knew the consequences of disobeying orders, and he was determined not to suffer them.
A small voice whispered in his mind, Not yet, anyway.
Then the days turned into years
And the memories to black and white
He grew cold like an old winter wind
Blowing across my life
"Starbase 01, present time"
The memory had never been so clear before, but it was there, and Tom knew it had all been true. So, his dad had been harsh with him even then. There must have been a reason, and even as he had as a child, Tom assumed it was him.
"Maybe I just wasn't the kind of son he could love. Maybe if I had worked harder, tried to do well instead of smart off and act like I knew everything when I knew I didn't, then he might have loved me . . ." he said painfully.
"Oh, does it even matter now? Computer, end log," he said darkly.
"That's pure shit, Tom Paris, and you know it!"
The familiar voice brought his head up sharply. His fiance of two months glared at him from the doorway to their bedroom. She walked over to him and knelt in front of where he sat, her frown no less fierce for the love he saw shining in her eyes for him, and she took his limp hands in her strong, steady ones.
B'Elanna Torres searched the face of the man she loved and could barely supress tears of her own at his naked grief. The signs were there, in the tears falling shamelessly down his cheeks, the red-rimmed eyes that hinted at previous bouts of crying. She had found out about his father only a few minutes before he had entered, and she had decided to let him have a little privacy first, until he had started saying such stupid things.
"Tom, there was nothing you could have done that would have changed the way your father treated you while you were growing up. That was his problem, his fault. He couldn't let you see the love I'm sure--I'm sure was there for you. Don't tear yourself up over this. Remember, he said he was proud of you, all of those months before. I believed him, Tom, and I know you did, too," B'Elanna said with such conviction that Tom had no choice to believe her, for a moment. Then his doubts came rushing back in.
"But I'll never know, 'Lanna. Can't you see that that's the worst part? I'll never know if he really loved me, or if he hated me as much as I thought he did seven years ago! I don't think I can stand not knowing," Tom confessed in a broken whisper.
B'Elanna's expression softened completely. She leaned forward and kissed him gently. "You do know, in your heart, Tom. You know that you're worth loving. Just because he couldn't find the right words at the right time, doesn't mean your father hated you," she said.
A beep interupted any answer he might have given, along with the computer informing them, "Incoming transmission for Lieutenant Tom Paris."
"Damn," they muttered at the same time, and then laughed together shakily.
"We'll get through this, Tom, together. You'll see," B'Elanna said even as she rose to go to the computer console, pulling him by the hand with her.
The greatest words I never heard
I guess I'll never hear
The man I thought would never die
S'been dead almost a year
He was good at business
But there was business left to do
He never said he loved me
Guess he thought I knew
"Starbase 01, present time"
The UFP symbol appeared on the screen before the young couple, and then a surprising face. He was old, white hair and a lined face telling a story of unhappiness almost as much as the tears in his eyes.
Tom gasped. "Dad?" he asked disbelievingly.
The man on the screen cleared his throat. "Hello, Thomas. I received your message today, the one you say you recorded during your unfortunate time in the brig. I have recorded this for you in return. If I'm an ass and can't bring myself to tell you this in person, then at least I'll have been able to overcome my fear long enough to have sent you this message."
B'Elanna glanced back at Tom to see that his face was white, his blue eyes dark as they remained glued to the screen. She turned back to Owen Paris.
"I don't have any fears, you must be thinking. That's not true, Tom. I was always afraid--of you. I was afraid I would fail in the one thing that was the most important to me . . . and it seems that I have. I wanted to be the world's best father to you, Tom. I wanted you to have everything, every chance that I could provide for you. I thought that I could show you that way how much you meant to me, without having to get into the messiness of emotions." Owen laughed ruefully.
"If only I had known how much you need me to express those feelings. Or, in the end, how much I needed to express those feelings! You were my only son, Tom, and I was so proud of you from the moment you were born. I know . . . I know that I may have made it seem that the only way you could please me was to be the perfect Starfleet officer. Maybe . . . maybe you were right, then. I thought that if I could raise you to uphold all of the ideals of Starfleet, then I would have done my job right. Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it, now? But that's what I thought."
Owen--no, his image looked down at his hands and sighed. "I was wrong. Wrong in the way I raised you, and wrong in the way I treated you after Caldick Prime, and after you were arrested for being a Maquis. I shouldn't have made it seem--no, I shouldn't have felt as if I never wanted you back in my house again. Maybe it was my overweening pride, maybe it was my anger, or maybe it was a little of both. But I've always regretted that I did the things I did. I can only hope for your forgiveness now, Tom."
Owen's image looked up. "I shouldn't have waited all these years to say this, son, but here it is. I love you. You're a son any father could be proud of. When Voyager reaches Earth, I want us to have a long talk. Our priorities, towards each other, have always been a little off. I think that, together, we can get them back on track."
The image stopped talking then, for a minute or so. Then, he cleared his throat again and smiled waveringly. "If I don't say this to you, for some stupid reason like pride, this message will automatically be sent to you in a week's time." Another pause. "I love you, son."
And the screen went black.
Tom reached out a hand and stroked the screen hesitantly where his father's face had been only moments before. "Dad," he said with so much pain and regret welling up inside of him that he wasn't sure he could hold it all in. "Dad, I love you, too."
As B'Elanna wrapped her arms around him in a comforting hug, Tom's healing began. It would be slow. There would be days when the guilt, that he had never said those three special words to his father, would seem overwhelming, when he felt the bitterest anger toward his father for leaving him with so much hope and sadness and conflicting emotions. But, even as he knew this, he knew that he would cope. With B'Elanna by his side, and his friends around him, he would cope.
In fact, he did. And when he remembered his father as the years passed, he thought of him as the greatest man he had never known.
Well, how did you like this story? Send any feedback here.