Standard Disclaimer: Tom, Katherine and the rest of the crew, belong to Paramount. (Except of course for the ones I made up myself.) No copyright infringement is intentional. This story is for fun only - no profit will be made.

Part Three

Tom stormed along the corridor, not really knowing where he was headed. He’d told Kathryn he would meet her later, but didn’t think it would be a good idea to see her in the state he was in at the moment. He decided to head back to his quarters.

As he rounded a corner he saw a group of crewmen huddled together talking excitedly. "The Captain wouldn’t go out with someone like Paris," he heard a voice say as he got closer.

"I agree. But that’s what the latest is," someone else answered.

Tom’s face flamed even redder. He’d heard talk like that already, more than once that afternoon. The incredulous exclamations. He wasn’t good enough for the Captain, that’s what they all meant. And then there were the others that did believe it and couldn’t stop saying ‘Poor B’Elanna’. He walked right up to the group. "Is this a private huddle or can anyone join?"

"Tom!!" Everyone jumped and turned startled eyes toward him. He brought the old Paris smirk back into play. "We were just talking about the latest program on the holodeck," Ensign Davidson quickly added. "It’s a simulation of the Hession Forest. Really quite pretty. Have you seen it?"

Tom’s smirk widened. This was old news. "Yes." He wasn’t going to let them off that easily. "I could have sworn I heard my name mentioned."

Davidson’s smile faded and she looked away. "I don’t think so," she stammered slightly.

Tom couldn’t keep the smirk up as it was starting to hurt his face. This was too hard. "Well I’d better go," he said moving away.

By the time he reached his quarters he was shaking again. He decided to have a shower to try to relax. As he stood in the shower letting the warm water cascade down around him, his mind went over everything he’d heard that day, all the small snippets of conversations here and there. Put all together the main census of opinion seemed to be divided.

On the one hand there was the group of people that believed that the Captain had only ever been nice to him because of her relationship with his father. And although they all admitted that he’d changed over the years, and most of them seemed to genuinely like him, there was no way she would lower herself to have a romantic relationship with someone like him.

And then there was the other half of the ship, which believed all too readily that he and the Captain were together. After all, they’d always seen the chemistry between them. These people were divided. Some blamed the Captain for taking him away from B’Elanna and others blamed him for cheating on her. The ending was always the same. Poor B’Elanna!

He sighed deeply, turning the shower off. Well Kath and he had known that they would be in for some tough times when they’d committed to exploring this relationship, so he shouldn’t have been surprised. And he wasn’t really. Not even at the Commander’s reaction.

B’Elanna and Harry had surprised him though. He hadn’t expected B’Elanna’s support. That had been a wonderful surprise. Harry’s reaction had been a shock. That had hurt - deeply. He had always believed that Harry’s friendship was unconditional. Obviously, he’d been wrong.

He walked out of the bathroom and went to choose something to wear. He really didn’t feel like meeting with Kath now. He was too upset. He didn’t want to upset her as well. He sat down dejectedly on his bed. This day had been a nightmare.

Kathryn put down the last data padd she’d been working on and sighed with relief. Thank goodness that was over. Standing up she stretched her back and rolled her shoulders. She wondered how long Tom would be. He was meeting with B’Elanna tonight to tell her about them and said he would meet with her afterwards.

She hoped it was all going all right. The half Klingon had a fiery temper and it was obvious that she still cared a great deal about Tom. She decided she’d go back to her quarters and wait for Tom there.

Just as she was about to leave the door chime of her ready room beeped. "Come in," she said thinking that that would be Tom now. Tuvok entered.

"Tuvok? What can I do for you?"

"I hope I am not disturbing you Captain."

"Not at all," she smiled.

"I wish to speak to you about a personal matter if I may?"

"Oh?" Kathryn went over and sat on the sofa and indicated for him to join her. "Of course." She could feel herself tensing as she could guess what this was all about.

"There is some talk going on around the ship, that I’m not sure you are aware of."

"Go on."

"It concerns yourself and Mr. Paris. Normally I would not become involved in such matters, but the haste in which this story has spread has me concerned."

"I see."

"The talk is that Mr. Paris and yourself have begun a liaison of sorts."

"If you mean we’re seeing each other romantically, then it’s true."

"I see." Tuvok paused for a moment. "Please do not take offense, as you have not asked for my counsel, but is this wise?"

Janeway sighed. "You are my trusted friend. I always take counsel from you."

"But you do not always heed my advice Captain."

She smiled. "That’s true. But I always listen and take it under advisement. I’m not sure whether this is the wise thing to do or not. Probably not. But I need someone Tuvok. Tom is that someone. I love him. I’m not going to deny those feelings any longer. I can’t."

"You are quite certain that these are not your implanted memories?"

"Chakotay’s already been over all that with me. I know that they’re not. I loved Tom long before the Mostreterians imprisoned us."

"That is what I believed also."

"You did? Obviously I wasn’t as good at hiding my feelings as I thought I was."

"You forget how well I know you Captain."

She laughed softly before sobering. "I hope you’re not going to lecture me about Tom taking advantage of the situation and me being hurt in the long run. I’ve already heard it all from Chakotay."

"On the contrary. I do not believe that Mr. Paris would take advantage. I believe that I have become very familiar with him over the past few years. He has matured a lot over that time. However, one thing remains the same. He feels things very deeply Captain."

"I know Tuvok."

"That is the reason that I asked if you were quite sure that you were not mistaking your implanted memories with real ones. I fear that Mr. Paris may be hurt. More so than you, Captain. I believe that you will be able to handle your emotions better than he."

"Thanks - I think. It’s quite touching that you’re so concerned about Tom."

"I am concerned about both of you. I wish for both of you to be fulfilled."

"Is that the Vulcan way of wishing us happiness?" When Tuvok nodded, she patted his leg. "Thanks Tuvok. You’re a good friend."

As soon as Tuvok left, her computer terminal cheeped. "Paris to Janeway."

She hurried over to it. "Hi there," she said with a smile. She couldn’t wait to tell Tom about Tuvok. After Chakotay’s reaction his had been a lovely surprise.

"Hi yourself." His smile seemed forced. "Um, do you mind if we skip our get together tonight?"

"Is something wrong?" she asked in concern. He looked pale. She assumed things hadn’t gone too well with B’Elanna.

"No not really. It’s just that it’s been a long day. I’m really tired."

Kathryn frowned as she looked at him. She could tell when he was hiding something. "I take it that B’Elanna was upset."

Tom shook his head. "No, she was really great about it. Wished us every happiness."

"She did?"

Tom nodded. "She’s seeing someone else too. Lieutenant Chan Mangrove from Security, no less."

"I’m glad," Janeway said with a smile. "That makes it a little easier. I can tell something’s wrong though."

"Kath, there’s a lot of gossip going around about us already."

Kathryn sighed. So that was what it was. "I know. Tuvok’s been here to see me."

"How bad?" Tom asked with a frown.

"It wasn’t," she said with a smile. "He also wished us happiness."

"He did?"

She nodded with a huge smile. "He was a little concerned about us."

"B’Elanna too. She made me promise we wouldn’t rush into anything."

"Believe it or not Tuvok was more concerned about you than me."

"He was?"

"Yep. I think things will be better than we thought," she said optimistically.

"That’s good," Tom answered quietly. He still looked worried.

"You’re still thinking about Chakotay aren’t you? Don’t! Give him time. He’ll get over it."

Tom smiled wanly. "I hope so."

After a few more words they signed off and Kathryn left her ready room and headed for her quarters. "Do you really think she would?" A voice asked from up ahead. "With Tom?" The voice rose incredulously.

As she turned the corner two crewmen were walking towards her. They looked up and turned a little red. "Captain," they greeted politely.

"Crewmen," she answered, a little red herself. She hurried on to her quarters and sank down gratefully on the sofa. She hadn’t liked the way that crewman had said Tom’s name. It had reminded her of the way Chakotay had repeated the word ‘date’ to her the previous night.

Was the thought of Tom and her together that incredulous? She hoped Tom hadn’t heard anything like that. It sounded rather insulting to him actually. She went to bed that night worried and disturbed.

Two days later she was more worried than ever. Tom was definitely not himself. He was hiding something from her and she couldn’t get him to tell her what was wrong. He just pretended everything was all right. She knew it wasn’t.

Chakotay had backed off a little, since she’d had a word with him, but that had seemed to upset Tom more. He didn’t want her fighting his battles for him, he’d told her, and she’d apologized and promised not to again.

She didn’t think he was getting a hard time from the crew. She hadn’t heard anyone blaming him. B’Elanna had put a stop to any of the rumors that had started about them going behind her back before and that was why she and Tom had broken up.

B’Elanna had come up to them the very next morning after Tom had spoken to her, and had breakfast with the two of them. She had shown her support and Janeway had been touched. B’Elanna went out of her way to prove to everyone that they were still good friends.

She sat in her chair on the bridge and watched the back of Tom’s head as she thought about it. She knew a few people thought it wasn’t right that she was dating an Ensign, but that was her business. When they were together off duty, their ranks no longer mattered. She hadn’t told Tom about that. He was already upset enough as it was.

Her gaze drifted over to Harry, who was busily scanning his readouts. She wondered if Tom was upset because of Harry. She had a strange feeling that they had had an argument. Tom had denied it of course, but Harry wasn’t himself either.

She decided to have a little talk with him after his shift was over. She then realized that she probably shouldn’t do that. Tom would consider it interfering. She frowned in frustration. But she loved him, damn it! And he wouldn’t tell her what was going on. She didn’t think that ordering him to tell her would go down too well so she had to find out some other way.

She was the Captain, damn it all! She knew that she could intimidate Harry into telling her what was going on - that’s if he knew. So she would question him after his shift.

Tom could feel Kathryn’s eyes on the back of his head. He shifted uncomfortably. That was the worst of his position at the front of the bridge. Everyone could see him, but he had to turn around to see anyone.

He knew that she was worried about him and try as he might he knew that he wasn’t hiding the truth very well. He didn’t want her to know though. The way she was, she would more than likely throw the offending crewmembers in the brig. And that would really endear him to everybody.

Some of the crew had actually asked him outright if the rumors were true. When he had answered quietly that - ‘Yes, he and the Captain were seeing each other’ - their reactions had been varied. Some smiles and congratulations to sly winks and nudges and ‘you lucky dog’. He could handle that.

He could even handle some of the nastier comments directed at him. Like - "How’d you con your way in there?" and, "Trying to get out of the dirty assignments?" He had expected that.

What he had found harder to handle were the meaner remarks. "The Captain must be desperate," and "Why would she go out with an Ensign?" being just two of them. Never one with a lot of self-confidence, they had cut him to the quick. They seemed to replay themselves over and over in his mind, until he found himself asking the same questions.

What had upset him the most though was Harry. Harry didn’t think he was good enough for the Captain. That’s what it all boiled down to. Harry wasn’t the only one of course, there seemed to be quite a few others - Neelix among them - but his censure is what hurt the most.

Neelix came a close second. Harry had tried to apologize to Tom, while he was eating his dinner, the day after the scene in B’Elanna’s quarters. Tom had been sitting alone at the back of the room, pretending not to notice all the whispering, and still shaking over the way Neelix had just acted, when Harry sat down across from him.

The timing had been bad. Tom could barely concentrate on what Harry had been saying. His mind was still reeling over Neelix. Neelix had been upset at the way everyone was speaking about the Captain. And that was all Tom’s fault apparently. He’d made quite a few stinging remarks.

Tom heard Harry’s stumbling apology - that he knew Tom would never take advantage of anyone, that he’d never thought of Tom as unscrupulous or prison scum, - but it didn’t really register. All that registered was Harry saying something about other people saying stuff like that.

He knew that it was just a small percentage of the ship, but it still hurt. He really didn’t want to hear Harry start up again in the same vein, so stood up quickly from his seat and rushed out of the mess hall, leaving Harry with the impression that he was not ready to forgive him.

Unfortunately, he’d only just entered the corridor when he’d bumped into Chakotay. The big Indian had grabbed him by the arm and pulled him into a deserted observation lounge. "Tom, I’ve just had my ear chewed off by the Captain," he’d begun with a small smile. When Tom didn’t say anything he’d continued. "She’s pointed out that I’m treating you unfairly on the bridge, and she’s right. I apologize."

When Tom still hadn’t said anything he’d looked at him closely. "Are you all right?"

Tom had nodded briskly. If the Commander thought that he could apologize - at the Captain’s insistence - for picking on him on the bridge, and everything would be all right; he was wrong.

Chakotay had smiled again. "The next time I’m acting like a jerk, come and tell me yourself. I really don’t like having Kathryn chew me out like that. My ears are still ringing." He had meant it as a joke, but Tom - whose emotional state was very precarious at that particular moment - thought he was making a sly remark about Kath fighting his battles for him.

He’d rounded on him furiously. "I don’t need her to fight my battles for me. She shouldn’t have said anything to you. And you know what Chakotay? I don’t care what you think of me anymore. I’ve spent all this time trying so hard to earn your trust and respect and I’ve suddenly realized that I’ll never be able to do that anyway. You’re just so quick to believe the worst of me."

"That’s not true Tom," Chakotay had said, looking a little stricken. "You do have my respect."

"Very, very grudging," Tom had snarled. "And very, very fleeting."

He’d turned around and left the room, heading for the Captain’s ready room. Only once he’d got there he couldn’t stay mad at her. She was such a calming influence on him; he’d soon found himself apologizing for becoming so upset that she’d interfered between he and Chakotay.

She’d kept after him all day yesterday though to tell her why he seemed so upset, and he just couldn’t tell her about how nasty some of the gossip was- or Harry and Neelix.

It would all blow over and he hoped she’d never know just how bad it had been.

The Captain looked at Harry through narrowed eyes. He definitely knew something and was refusing to tell her. No matter what she tried, he refused to be intimidated. In fact, he looked more intimidated at the thought of telling her what was going on than he did at the thought of being put on report for disobeying a direct order. What was she supposed to do? Throw him in the brig for refusing to gossip?

She sighed in frustration. "Very well," she said coldly, letting him know just how displeased she was with him, by the tone of her voice. "You are dismissed, Ensign."

Harry gratefully left the room and she decided to comm Chakotay.

"Chakotay, you know most of what happens on this ship," she began as soon as he’d sat down across from her.

"I like to think so," he answered with a smile.

"I know that there is still a lot of talk about Tom and me," she continued.

"It’s dying down to what it was a few days ago," Chakotay reassured her.

"I’m glad of that, but I’m wondering just how bad it’s been. And please, tell me the truth. A few days ago I heard a couple of crewmen talking, and they sounded like they couldn’t believe that I’d go out with Tom. It was as if they thought it was beneath me or something. I know a lot of people don’t think I should be dating an Ensign. I’m just wondering; could anything like that have been said to Tom?"

Chakotay frowned. "I don’t know, but it’s possible. I know he’s been teased a fair bit. Some of it has been quite nasty. Comments like ‘You’re just trying to get the extra pip back’ have been said to him. Some of the tougher Maquis might have been rather nasty. Tom’s become quite popular over the years, but some of the Maquis and a few of the harder nosed Starfleet crew will never change their minds about him."

"I see."

"I take it Tom hasn’t told you any of this."

She shook her head, smiling a little. "No. He probably thinks I’ll find out who the offenders are and have them thrown in the brig."

Chakotay smiled back. "And is he right?"

She gave a small laugh. "Possibly."

"Well that probably wouldn’t be a good idea."

"I know. He doesn’t like me interfering."

"He made that perfectly clear to me the other night," Chakotay said with a sigh. "I really need to have a talk with him. He seems to think that I'm always looking for the worst in him. That I don't respect him. I do."

"You should tell him that Chakotay."

Chakotay nodded. "I will. He let me have it with both barrels."

"I can imagine," she smiled. "Still I don’t like to think that there is deliberate maliciousness going on aboard the ship, after all these years. We’re a family and we should act like it."

"Every family has its troublemakers," Chakotay pointed out.

"You’re right, but I just wish there was something we could do, except for broadcasting a ship-wide announcement that all malicious gossipers will be thrown in the brig. I really think that this is upsetting Tom. A lot."

"I think you may be right. I’m sure I didn’t help matters either. Maybe I could have a quiet word with a few of the Maquis. Just let them know that I respect Tom and am really happy for the both of you and hope it all works out."

"Is that how you really feel, now?"

Chakotay thought for a minute and then nodded. "Yes it is. Now that I’ve opened my mind up to the possibility that Tom’s feelings for you are genuine and that you loved him before the Mostreterians interfered. I really do wish you all the best."

Janeway smiled at him tearfully. "Thanks Chakotay." She sat back in her chair and sighed. "Of course if Tom finds out you spoke to the Maquis after talking to me, he’s going to think I’m interfering again."

"He won’t find out from me."

"There’s something else I need to know. You don’t know if Tom and Harry have had an argument, do you?"

‘No. Why?"

"It’s just a feeling I have. Something’s not quite right there. I know that there’s something more than the gossip that’s affecting him. He put up with an awful lot the first two years we were out here and it didn’t affect him like this. And I know it has something to do with Harry. Harry refused to tell me anything and I can read that boy like a book. There is definitely something wrong between them. Tom did tell me, that first day before all the gossip started, that Harry wasn’t happy about us. He thought Tom was confusing his feelings for me."

"So you think Tom and Harry have had a fight over it? When did you see him anyway?"

"Just then, before I called you in. He wouldn’t tell me anything, so I hoped you would at least give me a clue. Now that I have something to go on, I thought I might call B’Elanna in. She may know something too. After all, she is friends with both of them."

Chakotay shook his head at her and leaned forward. "Don’t do that Kathryn. If Tom wanted you to know, he would have told you himself."

"But he won’t, and it’s just so frustrating. We promised no secrets between us. I don’t try to hide anything from Tom and he shouldn’t from me. I trust him completely to do the right thing."

"Kathryn, you haven’t even been going out for two full weeks yet. Because of the implanted memories you feel completely at ease with him, but it will take him a while to get to that stage with you. He might be wondering how you will react to something. He might not want to worry or upset you. This is all new to him." Chakotay was amazed to realize that he was defending Tom.

"I realize that. That’s why I’m determined to find out what’s wrong, so I can help him."

Chakotay sighed and sat back. "You’re too protective of him Kathryn. Is this how you treated Mark?"

Janeway flushed angrily. "No one’s ever cared about Tom, the way I do. He needs to be cared for and loved."

"That may be so, but you’re going to smother him." He eyed her thoughtfully. "I understand what’s happening here. You thought that you’d never get a chance with Tom, that it was all hopeless. The Mostreterians gave you those memories and it was a dream come true for you. Now you have a chance for that dream to become a reality and you’re clinging to it with both hands. Like a drowning person clings to a life raft."

"What’s wrong with that? If you had a chance for true happiness, wouldn’t you reach out and grab it with both hands? Do all you can to keep it?"

"I think so, but I’d try not to suffocate it. You’re worried that Tom is going to decide to stop seeing you, because he was better off before all the upsets he had to endure from the crew. So you’re determined to make sure that Tom doesn’t have any upsets aren’t you? You’re going to try and fix everything for him."

Janeway nodded. "I have to."

"Kathryn, you’re making a mistake."

"Perhaps, but it’s my mistake to make Chakotay."

Chakotay shook his head once again. "You’re a very stubborn woman Kathryn."

"I’m the Captain of this ship. I have to be," she replied firmly.

End Part Three