Decisions
by JoAnna Walsvik

Assumptions:
B‘Elanna‘s dad‘s name is Marcus Torres
B‘Elanna is five when her dad left, and is 25 when this story happened. (That would make her 18 or 19 when she joined Starfleet, 19 or 20 when she walked out and joined the Maquis.)
Marcus knew the Janeways and lots of top ranking Starfleet officials when he was still in the AQ.
Kathryn Janeway‘s nickname was "Kat".
BIGGEST ASSUMPTION: Marcus was a Starfleet Intelligence agent, and he lived on Kessik Four, unbeknownst to his family, because it was a perfect base. Remote, yet close to other big powers‘ borders in the AQ.
_____________________________________________
Stardate 30564.3

He was so sorry to leave them, but he couldn‘t help it. He didn‘t know what was going to happen when they found out he had left. He silently cursed as he thought of this double life, how it takes him from his wife, his daughter. B‘Elanna.
But he couldn‘t help it, could he?

You could have never signed up from Intelligence work, you know.His mind calmly told him.
But then I wouldn‘t have met my wife or have B‘Elanna. He reminded it.

The mind, wisely, stopped talking. He stared at the shuttle‘s interior as he absently listened an ancient Vulcan tone poem and tried to relax.

He was an intelligence agent, and he was sent to infiltrate and gather information on the Cardassians. They were rumored to be extremely reptilian in their thinking. And looks, his face tightened as he remembered the pictures they showed him. They looked like the old novels describing "Frankenstein." Nonetheless, it was a mission, they were the objective. And he would do his job.

Now, the shuttle‘s computer beeped as it signal the entrance into the area known as the "Badlands". It was a notorious area know for its turbulent plasma storms and its unpredictable temporal anomalies due to the reactive plasma. He entered this area in order to get to Cardassia, simply because no one could really scan inside this region. No, that‘s not it; He was also instructed to chart this region, gods knows to what end though.

As he continued with his musings, he shaded his eyes suddenly against a flash of white light. And he realized that the shuttle was being pulled inside. As he lost consciousness, one thought kept circling through his mind.
I‘m so sorry, B‘Elanna....
She was heart-broken, but she was a Klingon, and she would act like one. She would not cry, but she could feel her whole world falling apart. Why did you leave me, daddy? She thought. *Why did you have to go away?*

She looked at the room that was her father‘s study. Everything was in its place, his padd that he always read from, his standard-settler‘s issue computer, his desk, and his chair. All in its place, nothing was missing.
Except her father.

In her grieving mind, she recalled a bully taunting her...
She had been in the forest, with her quarterstaff, practicing the martial arts movements her father had taught her. Then, a boy, much bigger than her, came up to her and tauntingly asked, "Why, B‘Elanna, what big ridges you have!"
She had naively answered, "I have ridges because I‘m a half-Klingon!"

"Ooooooooh, you‘re special, aren‘t you?" the bully answered mockingly, "and that‘s exactly why no one will ever want you!"

She was furious, and the bully really deserved it. She went up to him and hit him. As she later learned, she had broke his jaw, even though she was only 4 years old...

Now, as she stood there, remembered what that bully said. *Daddy didn‘t want me because I was a Klingon. I wish I was Human, like him.*

She went to her room and stared in the mirror, for what she thought was the last time as she made a promise: She would never be Klingon again. And that was a promise she intended to keep.
 

Stardate 50783.2

Janeway stood looking intently at the viewscreen as the red alert klaxon continued to wail. As Torres got to her station, she let out a faint sound of amazement. "What in seven hells is...?"

"My sentiments exactly, Lieutenant." Janeway answered, not taking her eyes off the old-fashioned shuttlecraft that was caught in what seemed to be a wormhole. "All right, people, any suggestions? Our tractor beam won‘t work, so we‘ll have to find other ways to rescue whoever is inside."
"We could use the shields themselves," Torres said thoughtfully.

"Please elaborate, Lieutenant." Janeway pulled her eyes from the viewscreen to her chief engineer working furiously at her station.

"Well, we could act as a powerful electromagnet and try to draw the shuttle out. In theory, it could work," Torres answered.

"Do it," Janeway ordered. As she walked to Tuvok‘s station to look at the sensor readings, she found her thoughts on Tom Paris and B‘Elanna Torres. They worked so well together. She knew how they felt about each other, even if they don‘t. She sincerely hope they would, soon.
"Shields ready." Torres announced.

"Good work," Janeway commended. "Transport whoever is on board directly to sickbay and then tractor the shuttle to Shuttle Bay Two."

"Captain, someone will have to go to Sickbay to modify the transporter. I scanned the shuttle, and it seems that the shuttle and whoever is inside seem to be in some sort of phase shift."

"Go on, Ms. Torres, and come back when you‘ve finished." Janeway ordered.

"Yes, ma‘am." Torres gave the station to Lieutenant Ayala and hurried down to Sickbay.
She had no idea who she was transporting.
When Torres got to Sickbay, she worked on the isolinear chips after reconfiguring the reinitialization protocol. Finally, she was finished, and started the initialization sequence. As soon as the sequence was complete, she headed up to the Bridge, not even sparing a glance at who she had just transported.

At the staff meeting, the crew reported their status and Janeway was gratified to hear how the ship had fared. She then moved on to other business.
"Can we see where that wormhole leads to, Mr. Kim?" She asked

"No, Captain, we can‘t. The wormhole seems to have vanished, no trace of it was left. I would surmise that the wormhole couldn‘t close as the shuttle was coming out."

"And that leads to the shuttle. Our sensors confirmed that it is from approximately twenty years ago, and it seems to be used for Intelligence gathering." Tuvok reported. "I called up corresponding Starfleet records as soon as we confirmed the origins of the shuttle and found only a general description of the mission. No mention of the participating agents were mentioned. I would surmise that it is still highly classified in Starfleet Command."

"And that takes us to the inhabitant." Janeway concluded as she turned to the monitor. "Doctor, what can you tell us about the inhabitant?"

"Well, he is awake, and Kes is already filling him in on events of the past twenty years. He believes that we are in the Delta Quadrant, but won‘t give us a name. I‘ve refrained mentioning the names of the senior staff, since I thought it would be better for you to tell him yourselves." The Doctor looked irritated when Paris shifted and snickered for no apparent reason. "As I was saying, I‘ve run his face though the database twice, but there is no mention of him. I would surmise that he is, indeed, an Intelligence agent."

"We‘ll be down to see him right away, Doctor." Janeway answered the Doctor. "Maybe he‘ll feel like talking when the Senior staff comes down and have a nice, long chat with him."

When the mystery person was escorted to the observation lounge, the senior staff found a man of very plain countenance. Just the sort of man, thought Janeway, that you would see in plain sight and forget about.

"Well, I see the Captain and her minions have finally scraped up some time to see the poor inhabitant of the shuttlecraft," the man noted dryly.
"I‘m Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation starship Voyager." Janeway announced.

The man‘s face brightened. "Kat? I don‘t believe this! I always thought you‘d be in sciences! How are you, Kat?"

"Who are you?" Janeway demanded. "Kat" was her special nickname given to her by her family, and only close friends knew it.

"Oh, forgive me." The man apologized. "In my line of work, I‘ve had to be very careful. Don‘t you recognize me? I‘m Marcus—Marcus Torres."

Janeway paled as she heard the man‘s name. The other senior staff sat, unaware of who the man was. B‘Elanna, however, got up and abruptly walked out. Paris followed her, and Janeway made the connection right away...
Paris found B‘Elanna outside the observation lounge leaning against the wall and staring at the carpet. Her head snapped up when he came out, and she uttered one word, "Father..."

Oh, B‘Elanna. He wanted to put his arms around her and comfort her until the shaking stopped.
So he did. He held her as she cried, stroking her hair and whispering softly to her. *Fine person you are to be comforting her, Thomas,* his mind chided. *Look at the relationship between you and your father.*
I know, he replied silently. That‘s why I‘m comforting her.

B‘Elanna stopped and, embarrassed, wiped a sleeve across her face.
"You‘re getting your shirt wet," Tom teased gently.

"I got your shirt wet, too," she observed ruefully, looking at the wet splash on his shoulder. Pride took over, ending the gentle moment. "I‘m sorry," she said stiffly.
"Hey, B‘Elanna." He reached out a hand to place on her arm.
"It‘s okay. And, listen, if you ever need someone to talk to...." Instantly he regretted his words. He‘d only been trying to be kind, but she might take it as pity.
She didn‘t. "Thanks, Tom," she said softly.
Tom grinned, partly in relief she hadn‘t decked him then and there, partly because she hadn‘t taken as pity, and that must mean something. Must mean she was beginning to trust him. *This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship,* he thought. "Hey, what are friends for?" Tom replied.

He sounded so sincere, she found herself looking into his cerulean eyes to see if he was telling the truth. For once, the guarded mask was gone, and she only read a genuine want to help her there. It made her feel....beautiful inside, like she hadn‘t felt in a long time.

"Come on," he said gently, guiding her back into the observation lounge. He could feel her tighten, but she offered no resistance.

B‘Elanna Torres reentered the room, Tom Paris following closely.

Janeway absently noted how cute they looked together.

"And this is my Chief Helmsman, Tom Paris, and my Chief Engineer, B‘Elanna Torres."
The effect on Marcus Torres was electric. "B‘Elanna?!"

She stood tall, chin raised. "Yes, Father."

"B‘Elanna...."

Silence reigned. Marcus‘s eyes dropped to the floor.

Torres turned to Captain Janeway. "Captain, request permission to return to Engineering."

Janeway was caught in a turmoil. Obviously B‘Elanna didn‘t want to face her father. "Permission granted," she relented. B‘Elanna would need some time to herself to figure this out.

B‘Elanna brushed past Tom Paris and hurried from the room. Tom followed her. She strode at breakneck speed until she reached the turbolift, only stopping after the door had hissed closed. She leaned against the wall for support and stared at Paris.

"What do you want?" The look in her eyes alone was enough to make him wince, but she needed someone to talk to. She was glaring at him like a tigress, and Tom doubted she even knew who he was right now.
"B‘Elanna, it‘s Tom, remember? Remember me?"

Tom....Yes, she did remember Tom. He had comforted her. He had been there for her. She knew him.
"Tom?"

He gave her a half-grin. "You don‘t sound thrilled to see me."

"It‘s not you I‘m not thrilled to see."

His grin faded. "I‘m sorry, B‘Elanna. I shouldn‘t have asked you to go back in there."
"Do you know what it‘s like?" she whispered. "After so long.... I never thought....I never thought I‘d see him again."
Tom stood in miserable silence, unsure of what to say.

"I promised myself when he left I would never be Klingon again. He didn‘t want me because I was Klingon."

Tom was confused. "But, B‘Elanna, when I met you all you wanted to be was Klingon. What changed you?" A delicate question, at best.

She couldn‘t very well tell him the truth: he had changed her. She had felt so close to him when the Vidiians had split her into her Human and Klingon halves. She had felt closer to them all. "The Human half was too vulnerable," she said shortly.
"I‘m sorry."

She squeezed his hand in a rare moment of gentleness. "It‘s not your fault."
The doors hissed open, offering a limited view of Engineering.

"Hey, B‘Elanna?" Tom asked hesitantly, "Since you had no real reason for coming to Engineering, you want to head to the mess and get some dinner?"

"Dinner?" she echoed. For a moment, she seemed to be considering it, and Tom‘s hopes arose. Then, she shook her head, and Tom felt his hopes plummet to the bottom of the turbolift shaft.

"I‘m sorry, Tom, but to tell you the truth...I‘ve lost my appetite." She seemed to be honest, Tom decided. Thank goodness it wasn‘t the idea of dining with him that had caused her loss of appetite. Somehow, he didn‘t think it strange that she should not want to eat. If his father had suddenly appeared aboard Voyager, he‘d be in the bathroom vomiting up stuff he hadn‘t even eaten yet.

"No problem," he said, flashing her a disappointed smile. "Are you sure you want to work?"

B‘Elanna looked past him to the engines. "Work is about the only thing I have right now," she said in a bitter tone that almost brought tears to Tom‘s eyes. "See you later, Tom." She brushed past him and entered Engineering.
"See you later," he answered, although there was no one to hear him.
As the turbolift doors shut, one thought crept into his mind: *That father of hers had better have a damn good explanation for all this.*

"Kat, what is she doing here?" Marcus Torres demanded, staring at the door B‘Elanna had walked out of.

"As I said, she‘s my chief engineer," Janeway replied. "And I would like to know just what you are doing here, Marcus. We were told you had been killed."

"Wait a minute," Chakotay interrupted. "First of all, are you really B‘Elanna‘s father? How do you know the captain, and just what is going on here? Where‘s Paris?"

"We‘re getting to that, Commander," Janeway retorted, shooting him a warning look. "Please, be patient. We‘ll explain everything."

"To answer your first question, Commander," Marcus Torres began, "yes, I am her father, although it‘s been—let me think—about twenty-five years since I saw her last. Yes, that‘s about right. She was five when I— when I left."

"As to your second question," Janeway said, "Marcus was—is—a very old and dear friend of my family‘s. He and I grew up together."

"And the answer to your third question is going to take a lot of explaining," Torres said. "I was investigating that wormhole, to see where it led, and the wormhole‘s gravition began to pull me in. Luckily, you arrived, or I wouldn‘t have made it."
"How did you get here in the first place?" Harry Kim asked.

"A very good question, Ensign—Kim, was it? You see, I was an intelligence agent, sent to gather information on the a race called the Cardassians. I was in a notorious area known for its turbulent plasma storms and its unpredictable temporal anomalies due to the reactive plasma, called "The Badlands." I entered this area in order to get to Cardassia, simply because no one could really scan inside this region. I was also instructed to chart this region. As I was making my way through, I detected a coherent tetryon beam and a displacement wave coming toward me. I tried to escape, but the wave was too quick. I lost consciousness, and woke up only a few light-years from this location. A passing transport ship, manned by a race called the Illidians, re.
"The Caretaker," Janeway whispered.

"Who?" Torres said, looking at her quizzically.

Quickly, Janeway related the story of how Voyager had made her journey to the Delta Quadrant. "The Caretaker must not have perfected his wave when he pulled you in," she added as an afterthought. "That‘s why you landed nowhere near the Array."

"Most likely," Torres agreed. "Illidia is only a few day‘s journey from here; they have never said anything about this "Caretaker," as you call him."

"You didn‘t even try to get home after you got here?" Chakotay said, rather incredulously.

"To what end, Commander?" Torres asked. "I had only a small shuttlecraft. I didn‘t have a chance of making it back to the Alpha Quadrant alive. The Illidians warned me of the dangers of this quadrant early on, and I had no desire to face that danger. Have you ever heard of the Vidiians? My small craft and I wouldn‘t have stood a chance against one of their smallest transport ships."

"Yes, we have heard of the Vidiians," a quiet voice remarked from the doorway. Tom Paris entered the room and sat down. "And you‘re right; you wouldn‘t have stood a chance against them."

"Thank you," Torres said uncertainly, unsure if this pale young man was mocking him or sympathizing. "As I was saying, I decided to remain on Illidia. Over the years, whenever I‘ve heard of a wormhole or some other such anomaly in close proximity to Illidia that could possibly provide a link to the Alpha Quadrant, I‘ve investigated it. That‘s what I was doing when you found me."

"My father inquired at Starfleet after your disappearance," Janeway said softly. "All they would tell us was that you had been lost on a mission, and that you died bravely and we should be proud of you."
"Do you know what they told L‘Terra?" Torres questioned anxiously.

"Who?" Janeway had no idea who L‘Terra was.

"My wife. B‘Elanna‘s mother." He sighed. "Knowing Starfleet, they probably didn‘t tell her anything so she could honestly say she knew nothing about my mission if the Cardassians ever showed up to question her. She most likely thinks I walked out on her."

"That‘s what she did think," Tom Paris said quietly, "and that‘s what she told B‘Elanna."

An uncomfortable silence descended over the room. "I see," Torres finally said, his face troubled. "What am I supposed to do?" he wondered out loud. "I spent twenty years here, and the only thing that really kept me going was the thought that I could see B‘Elanna and L‘Terra again. And now you tell me that they both hate me?"
"Well, I‘d say B‘Elanna is pretty ticked off right now. So I suggest
you avoid her for a while." Paris suggested, his mind pondering over

what Marcus Torres had just said. He wondered if sometimes the good

mood he had going off duty was really simply because he was going

off-duty. Or is it something more? his mind mocked. *Is it because

you could spend time with B‘Elanna? Is it because you could look at

her face and contemplate how happy you are since we‘ve been in the

Delta Quadrant? With her?*

I‘d rather not discuss that right now, he told himself, but he remained troubled.

Marcus had taken in the appearance of the blond man ever since he entered, and he was intrigued when Paris spoke. Just what was he to his daughter? Could it be that his little daughter had a secret admirer? He was deep into these thoughts when Janeway broke the silence. "Marcus, I think it‘s best you stay on Voyager in assigned quarters for now."

"Of course, Captain," He answered, carefully using her title instead of the nickname. "I suppose the next thing you were going to ask whether or not I‘d like to go with you on the remainder of the trip." He smiled slightly when Kathryn nodded. "I don‘t see why not. After all, I‘ve been trying to do the same thing for twenty years."

"All right then, Mr. Torres." Kathryn grinned, extending her hand to her best friend of so long ago. "Welcome to Voyager."

B‘Elanna found it hard to concentrate in the next couple days. She

was treated to whispered comments and discreet looks by the entire crew. She was going off duty one day when she stopped by the mess hall, expecting to find Paris and Kim. Instead, the conversation had all but died down as she entered. She realized it was because Marcus was there too. She abruptly turned and walked out.

Abruptly she heard someone calling her name and belatedly that it was her father that called. By the time she did, he had already led her to his quarters.
"What do you want?" she asked tiredly.

"Just to talk, B‘Elanna." Marcus pleaded. "You‘ve been avoiding me,
and I haven‘t seen you in twenty years. Couldn‘t you just give your old dad a chance?"

"I had given you chances twenty-five years ago, when you left!" B‘Elanna said, her voice quivering a little. "I tried to give you a chance every time I had gone to new world when I was old enough, searching for you! I joined Starfleet, partly because of you! And when I left and joined the Maquis, part of me was hoping you were there!"

"B‘Elanna, please." Marcus asked. "Calm down. I‘m sorry for what I did, but I had no choice."

"You always have choices; that‘s what Captain Janeway taught me," she answered stubbornly.

Marcus inwardly sighed, because that was typical Kat, seeing things and connections that were oblivious because it was right in your face.

"Couldn‘t we start over?" Marcus asked. "Just give me one more chance, please."

B‘Elanna looked down at her hands for a moment, then she looked up. "I had been giving you chances so many times that I don‘t know what to do anymore. I tried so many things, but none of them brought you back! There were so many chances, but then you were never there, were you? You were in the Delta Quadrant! You can give a chance to yourself, but I don‘t think I will! Not today!" Then she walked out.

Marcus sat in the semi-darkness, and he sighed. That had hurt, but then he deserved it.

B‘Elanna walked without a destination, and all who saw her stayed out

of her way. Most of them knew what B‘Elanna was like when she was angry, and they stayed the hell out of her way. But then, most of them didn‘t know what B‘Elanna was like before all this.
Before her father broke her heart.
Paris had walked toward the general direction of the mess hall, but

he slowed as he heard snatches of conversation, "..did you see her?...I would stay out of her way for the next couple of hours if I were you...Lieutenant Torres is really..."

After hearing that last part, Tom immediately turned around and to the one place he knew where she‘d be. He didn‘t know what to do, but he knew that he had to be there for her.
Because he and few others were all that she had.

Besides her work.
B‘Elanna sat at her console trying to concentrate, but she was

failing. There was a problem with the matter injector, and she was confident that it could be fixed tomorrow, since Voyager would orbit the planet while Neelix and the botany team would beam down to Illidia and trade with the friendly Illidians. The general population of Voyager hoped that no leola root would be brought back this time.

She stood up abruptly and swayed slightly. She felt slightly dizzy, but she thought it was because she stood up too fast. She steadied herself, and walked toward the main reaction chamber console.

It was then that Paris entered and called out, ‚B‘Elanna..." But all conversational attempts were abandoned when she turned to face him and suddenly collapsed. He ran toward her slight form and saw that she was in neural shock. He tapped his commbadge, "Medical emergency in main Engineering, transport Lieutenant Torres to sickbay immediately."

As a shower of sparkles enveloped B‘Elanna and the crowd had begun to disperse, Paris got up and began walking as fast as he could to Sickbay.

"How is she?" Marcus asked. He stood in sickbay, with the doctor in

his office after being summoned there. As he looked through the glass window, he saw that Paris was holding his little—well, not so little—girl‘s hand. He smiled slightly. Well, it seemed his little girl had grown up and found someone who loved her as much as he did.

He turned his attention back to the Doctor, "...first I found nothing wrong, it seemed like a case of too much stress or overwork. She had came in here recently for a sedative when her nervous system was too active due to working three shifts in a row recently. But then I heard Mr. Paris‘s report of convulsions, I did a deep tissue scan and found this. The Captain is coming down to take a look at it."

The Doctor turned on a monitor. The device on the monitor was totally alien. Marcus had never seen anything like it. It was a deep brown. And Marcus saw that it was on the sub-atomic model.
"What...is it?" He breathed.

"I don‘t know." The Doctor answered. "But one thing‘s for sure."

"What?"

"It‘s Vidiian."
Paris didn‘t know what to do but sit there and hold her hand.

Her normally tan skin looked so pale. He stroked her hand gently. She opened her eyes and looked at him.
"Tom?" she asked hoarsely.

"Yeah?" he answered, trying to smile but failing miserably.

"What‘s wrong with me? It feels so strange," her voice quavered, and Tom realized that for the first time since he had met B‘Elanna, she sounded frightened.

"I don‘t know," he answered truthfully. "The Captain and....your father...are talking with the Doc now. But you‘re gonna be okay, B‘Elanna." You have to be okay. It wouldn‘t be just anything if the Doc had called the captain down. Please be okay, he begged silently.
She smiled weakly. "I‘ll take your word for it, Tom."

He smiled a little at that. "First time you‘ve ever trusted me on anything, Torres."

"Believe me, I don‘t intend to make it a habit," she joked. His own complexion paled a bit at that as old ghosts came back to haunt him. Quickly she squeezed his hand. "Thanks for staying."

He shook it off, and flashed her a grin. "You still owe me a dinner date. I have to make sure nothing happens to you."
She actually laughed at that. "Tom Paris, self-assigned bodyguard."

He grinned. "That‘s me."

She coughed harshly and her grip on his hand tightened. He winced
but held on grimly. "You okay, B‘Elanna?"

"I think so," she murmured. There he was, looking concerned about her again. She was beginning to suspect he really had a soft spot under that hard mask.

The Captain and Marcus Torres exited the Doctor‘s office, followed closely by the Doctor himself. Tom rose hesitantly to leave, but B‘Elanna held his hand firmly. "No," she whispered. "Please stay with me."

The words almost broke his heart. How far they had come from the first few months. He reclaimed his chair. "I‘ll stay," he promised.

The Captain looked very upset and anxious, and Marcus looked like he was about to cry. He looked at Tom.

"Mister Paris, I have to ask you to leave. I‘d like to keep all nonessential people out."
Tom‘s throat tightened. "Captain?"

No, B‘Elanna cried silently.

"Mister Paris," Janeway said slowly, "I have to recognize father‘s prerogative. Perhaps you‘d be of more use on the bridge. I believe your shift starts in four minutes." She didn‘t mean to sound harsh, but she was annoyed at Marcus for sending the young man away when he was obviously so concerned about Torres‘ daughter.

"I‘m sorry," Tom whispered to B‘Elanna. He stood and left the room quickly, leaving behind the woman he cared about, the woman who needed him, to learn on her own what awaited her. Life was officially unfair.
"Bridge," he called out wearily. The turbolift started its upward descent. Tom sighed. Well, B‘Elanna, I‘m there with you in spirit.

They‘d come so far. It couldn‘t end like this. He‘d recognized the look on the Doctor‘s face—it was the same one he‘d seen as he‘d lain on a biobed in Sickbay, dying.

The doors hissed open and Commander Chakotay half-turned. "Morning, Lieutenant. You‘re on time today."

Chakotay never seemed to want to let him forget the several times he‘d been late, even though it had all been part of a ruse to capture a spy.

"Thank you, Commander," he returned evenly as he took his station. The minutes seemed to drag by, then the hours, with still no word from Sickbay. Come on, he pleaded. There had to be something. Anything.

"LIEUTENANT PARIS!!"

Tom started. "What?" Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Harry‘s shoulder‘s slump.

Chakotay stared at him angrily. "Mister Paris, your attention seems to be wandering."
"I‘m sorry?"

"This is the third time I‘ve asked you a question, Lieutenant. Is there a problem?"

Was there a problem?? Of course there was a problem! He‘d been thrown out of Sickbay already this morning, leaving him sitting on the bridge wondering if the woman he cared about would be all right. And what he would do if she wasn‘t all right. What would he do if she didn‘t get better.

"Lieutenant," Chakotay‘s voice quivered with anger, and Paris belatedly realized he‘d spoken the words aloud. "You are hereby relieved of duty and confined to your quarters."

Tom sat there in stunned silence. Harry sighed. Tom had been doing so well. The Captain would not be happy when Chakotay told her about this. Then Paris stood abruptly and left the bridge.

B‘Elanna glared at her father angrily. "Why did you send him out?"

she demanded. She and Tom Paris had never been more than friends, but now she needed his strength to lean on. She resolved to take him up on his dinner invitation when she was well enough to get out of bed.

"B‘Elanna," Marcus said softly, "There‘s something we need to talk with about."
"What?" she asked suspiciously.

The Doctor stepped forward.

"Lieutenant," he said carefully, "I‘m afraid you‘ve been infected with...the Phage."
B‘Elanna‘s face went an even paler shade of white then it had been. "The—did I hear you correctly?"

"I‘m afraid so," he said gently. "Apparently the virus that causes the Phage was in the DNA of your Klingon counterpart that I reintegrated into your cellular structure. The virus remained dormant until external stimuli— in this case I would hypothesize the recent emotional trauma you‘ve experienced—stimulated the virus into activity. That was the reason you collapsed."

"What was the Phage virus doing in B‘Elanna‘s counterpart in the first place?" Janeway asked, her face ashen.

"He infected me..." B‘Elanna murmured. "The Vidiian scientist— infected her—my Klingon half—with the virus. But her body was fighting it off—she wasn‘t getting sick!"

"Apparently the virus hadn‘t been totally eliminated from her DNA when I integrated it into your cellular structure. The virus was too small to show up in any scans." The doctor was frowning.
"Am—am I going to die?" Her voice was barely above a whisper.

"Not if I can help it," the doctor said firmly. "I promise you, Lieutenant, I will not shut myself off until I‘ve found a way to beat this thing." "I‘m not contagious, am I?" she asked worriedly.

"No. As far as I can tell, the Phage is a hereditary disease, carried by a defective gene that all Vidiians have. The only reason you got it is because you were deliberately injected with it. The only way someone else could get it is if I were to do the same to them—which I don‘t plan to do."

"This is all my fault," Marcus Torres said heavily. "If I hadn‘t shown up in the first place—you wouldn‘t have had any emotional trauma—this thing wouldn‘t have been activated."

"It‘s not your fault," B‘Elanna surprised them all by saying. "It would have shown up sooner or later, regardless of who or what was here when it happened."

"She‘s correct, Mr. Torres," the doctor agreed. "No one here is to blame—except for, of course, the Vidiian scientist who did this to her."
Janeway‘s commbadge suddenly chirped. "Chakotay to Janeway."

She tapped it. "Janeway here."

"Captain, I‘ve caught Tom Paris daydreaming on the bridge—again. I had to shout at him three times before I got his attention, and then he made some rude comment to me. I relieved him of duty and confined him to his quarters."
"No!" B‘Elanna cried weakly, struggling to sit up. "You can‘t—he
was just worried about me—"

"Lieutenant, lie down!" the doctor commanded with such ferocity that B‘Elanna obeyed instantly.

"I believe that‘s a bit drastic, Commander, considering the circumstances. I‘m calling a meeting of the senior officers in five minutes to explain everything. Spread the word. Janeway out." The captain looked at B‘Elanna and smiled reassuringly. "Don‘t worry, B‘Elanna. Everything will be just fine."
"Do you promise?" she asked anxiously.

"I promise," Janeway vowed. "Now rest. I‘ll come back later.
Marcus, I think it would be best if you accompanied me."

"It would be a good idea, Mr. Torres," the doctor said before B‘Elanna‘s father could even open his mouth. "What B‘Elanna needs most right now is to rest."

Torres looked reluctant to leave, but he slowly nodded. He reached down and carefully touched B‘Elanna‘s hair. She didn‘t flinch at his touch, but simply laid and watched him.

"You be good," he said gently, a hint of a smile on his lips. "When you were three you were hospitalized with Rigellian fever and you nearly drove the poor doctors to insanity."

B‘Elanna was silent for a long moment. "I remember that," she said finally. "You brought me strawberry ice cream."

"That‘s right," he said. "I did. Be good and this time it‘ll be chocolate."

B‘Elanna actually smiled a tiny smile. "Yes, Father," she said, and closed her eyes.

"The Phage?" Chakotay said, his face drained of color.

"I‘m afraid so," Janeway said quietly. "Apparently the virus that causes the Phage was in the DNA of her Klingon counterpart. When the doctor reintegrated her Klingon DNA, the virus went with it. It remained dormant until external stimuli—the doctor believes it‘s the recent emotional trauma she‘s been under—stimulated the virus into activity. That was the reason why she collapsed."

"How long does she have?" Tom Paris asked, surprisingly calm under the circumstances. Janeway guessed he was too numb with shock to feel anything right now.

Janeway paused. "I don‘t know," she admitted. "It could be a week— or it could be months. There‘s really no way to tell."
Silence dropped over the room. Janeway could see that everyone was thinking the same thought: B‘Elanna‘s going to die.

"The doctor said he‘s not turning himself off until he can find a cure or a treatment," she announced firmly. "We have to keep our hopes up— for B‘Elanna‘s sake, at least. She‘s upset enough as it is and our despondency will only make things worse."
Still, no one said a word. Finally, Chakotay spoke.

"When the captain and I were infected with a virus for which there seemed to be no cure, this ship didn‘t give up hope until they found a cure for us. I think it‘s the least we can do to do the same for her."

"I agree," Janeway said, giving him a slight smile. "We have to believe that the doctor can do something. I have every confidence that he will find a cure, and that‘s what I intend to tell B‘Elanna."

"You‘re right," Chakotay said. "She is a fighter—but is she strong enough to fight this?"

"Yes," Tom Paris declared with absolute certainty. "She is. She can beat this thing, I know she can. And I intend to tell her so."

Tom approached B‘Elanna‘s quarters. He didn‘t know what to do.

All he felt was...totally helpless. She had gone back to her quarters, partly because nothing more could be done for her except making her comfortable. Or until they found a cure.

The former was too likely, while the latter...was....almost impossible. The Doctor had found that B‘Elanna‘s human/Klingon DNA complicated matters, and that the virus had mutated during all that time.

Paris was with her almost every day, but Marcus was with her far more. Marcus blamed himself, even though Paris knew that B‘Elanna had already forgiven him.

Some sort of dying wish. A snide voice said inside his head. He stopped, unsure of what to do. But he was at the door already. *Make a decision, you idiot*, His mind jeered.

He stood there, blind to almost everything, for what seemed to be an eternity, when he finally raised a hand to the door panel and rang the door chime.

The door opened, and he stepped in. He didn‘t know what to find. What could he find? He wondered, other than B‘Elanna slipping away and looking more wasted away every single day that she‘s here?
He wasn‘t sure he wanted to find out.

"First time I see you unsure." A voice came from beside him. He looked down quickly to find B‘Elanna sitting in a chair in civilian clothes. "I won‘t make it a habit." He tried to joke with her own words.

"I promise to remember that." She smiled faintly. "Sit down, Paris."

He sat. He didn‘t know what to expect. Usually when he was there, they sat and talked about current events, or worked on Engineering problems. She had insisted. It made her feel a little bit helpful to the crew. Who could blame her? He wondered, After all, she still is the best engineer on this ship.

He wasn‘t looking to find out what would happen when the ‚is‘ became a ‚was‘.

But now, she just sat with a cup of replicated coffee in her hand, looking at him. It made him feel strange, like he was being remembered forever.

"Do you remember," B‘Elanna began, "the first time you ever talked to me after that incident with the Caretaker? I called you a pig."

"How can I forget it?" Paris smiled, trying to push away the fears that she was doing this because it might be the last conversation they ever had together. He made a puppy dog face, and B‘Elanna actually laughed. A slight laugh, but still a laugh. "My feelings were hurt for a week."
"As I recall, you got over it," she joked.

They talked for two hours, when B‘Elanna suddenly said, staring off into a seemingly faraway distance, "I remember the first time I saw you. It was...where was it? And I think I bumped into you. I had a scarf on, because I was trying to evade some people, and you just looked at me with that look on your face, like you were surprised when I apologized. And you said with a surprised tone of voice, ‚That‘s all right‘, like it was a real compliment that someone would actually apologize to you."

Paris stiffened as the memory came back to him. It was...when was it? And he had been walking around town that day, familiarizing himself with the settlement when he had bumped into a slight girl...
"That was you?" he asked quietly.

He didn‘t realize it, but when he was in his memories, B‘Elanna was...crying? She had tears on her face, and she was trying profusely to stop it.

"Hey, it‘s all right." He gathered her small...and now very slight... form into his arms. "I told you if you ever needed a shoulder, I was here. You‘ll be all right."

They remained like that for an indeterminable amount of time, until B‘Elanna eventually calmed down and regained her composure.
"Are you all right?" he asked concernedly.

She looked away. "I‘m fine."

That same far-off tone, He thought. But he never got to voice his concern when B‘Elanna suddenly swayed and fell out of her seat. Tom gently caught her and immediately called Sickbay. *Wherever you are, B‘Elanna,* He thought silently. *Live. At least know that someone here on this side cares for you.*

She slipped into a coma soon after. The Doctor could do not much more except making her painless and as comfortable as he could when her organs began failing, one after the other. The Doctor could fix them, but he could do nothing as long as the virus was inside her body, killing her.

She had been moved back to her own quarters, among her engineering texts and the objects she had acquired over the years. The Doctor, instead of using his autonomous holo-emitter, used a portable projector temporarily installed in her quarters. Too long to use the autonomous one, he had said, so he‘d just use the portable one. Paris suspected it was because it was saying thanks to B‘Elanna in his own way. For she had, before she collapsed, figured out a way to let the Doctor travel all over the ship without the autonomous transmitter.

Marcus was there often, just holding his little girl‘s hand. The Doctor had encouraged people talking to her. Maybe it will increase her fighting chances, he said, if she knew that someone cared about her. Marcus wasn‘t so sure, his little girl had been so alone for too long.
But then again, he would try just about anything.

The other Senior staff members had the same thoughts. Harry was there sometimes, talking to her. Once, he had brought his clarinet and played for her. Chakotay performed rituals of his tribe, asking B‘Elanna‘s spirit guide to guide B‘Elanna, wherever she was. Kes had brought flowers to brighten up her room. And even Neelix was there at least once every day, talking to her about the latest news, what her Engineering staff was doing, what his latest cuisine delights (the crew had noticed his food getting better, but no one commented on it.) Paris...Tom was there, everyday, just holding her hand or just sitting there, watching her.

It was one day that Marcus found Tom. Tom‘s head snapped up, and the two men regarded each other.
"I... didn‘t know anyone was here." Marcus stumbled, "I‘ll leave."

"No, it‘s all right." Tom protested, getting up. "I‘ve spent a long time with her. Why don‘t you talk to her?"

Marcus regarded the young man. It seems that when he was here, with his little girl, his faŤade was...gone. There was no cockiness, just concern and...something else he couldn‘t get his fingers on, what was it?

Just then the Doctor shimmered into existence. "Well, it seems like I‘ve found the cure." He announced.
"What is it?" Captain Janeway asked.

"You might not like this, but the only cure I have at the moment is to starve the Phage to death." The doctor sobered.

"Which means..." Janeway‘s eyes slowly widened as she realized the implications what he proposed. Marcus wasn‘t so sure.
"And what does that mean?" he asked impatiently.

"Which means that Lieutenant Torres will have to die if this is going to work."

Janeway, Marcus, and Paris stared at the doctor, neither uttering a word. "Die? You‘re—you‘re going to kill her?" Marcus finally said, his voice only slightly above a whisper.

The doctor nodded. "Unfortunately, it is the only solution I can come up with. The exact procedure will involve putting Lieutenant Torres in stasis. The Phage virus feeds on living organs, and since her organs will no longer be alive, the virus will starve to death. Once I‘m positive the virus has been exterminated, I‘ll bring her out of stasis and attempt to revive her."

Janeway had turned ashen. "You‘re sure it‘s the only way?" she asked.

"Yes. I can‘t find any other solution," the doctor confirmed. "I wish there was, but this is our only option. But—" he looked meaningfully at Marcus, "I can‘t do it without the consent of her nearest family member."

"Wait—wait just a moment!" Tom Paris objected angrily. "You‘re talking about killing B‘Elanna!"

"There is no other choice, Mr. Paris," the doctor said sharply. "Either she dies this way or she withers away into nothing. I can‘t guarantee that she will survive this, but there is a chance; which is more then we have if we do nothing."

Paris lowered his eyes, properly chastised by the doctor‘s retort. It was the only way; he could see that now. And he couldn‘t bear to watch B‘Elanna suffer another instant. "How—how will you--?"

"Cordrozine. It‘s the kindest way." The doctor‘s tone had turned gentler. "I promise you, Mr. Paris, I will do everything in my power to revive her once she‘s out of stasis."
"How long will that be?" Janeway asked quietly.

"Two weeks; maybe more, maybe less. I don‘t know," the doctor answered honestly.

"I love you, B‘Elanna. I always have and I always will. During my years on Illidia, you and your mother were all I thought about. I so regret that I couldn‘t see you grow up into the beautiful woman that you are. If I could just have those years back...but I can‘t. No one can." He paused again, looking at the hand in his. The hand that had been so strong and healthy just a few weeks ago was now feeble and thin. It nearly broke his heart to see it.

"I‘m going to give the doctor permission to starve the virus, B‘Elanna. It‘s your only chance. And I hope...I hope that, if it doesn‘t work, you know that I love you dearly."

He stood up, his face calm. "Do it," he said to the doctor. "I‘d like to be there when...when you..."
"Of course," the doctor said hastily. "You may be present."

"And I‘d like Mr. Paris to be there also," Marcus added.

Tom shot him a look of pure gratitude, one which the doctor intercepted. "Fine," he said after an initial hesitancy. "You both may be there. Captain, will you--?"

Janeway nodded. "Me too." Her voice was rough, as though she was on the verge of tears. "I at least owe her that."

"All right. I‘d best start the procedure right away. I don‘t know how long she has left. Computer, beam everyone in Lieutenant Torres‘s quarters, including Lieutenant Torres, to sickbay."

The four disappeared in a shimmering glimmer of light, reappearing moments later in sickbay. The doctor instantly set to work, Kes aiding him.

Marcus and Tom stood on both sides of B‘Elanna, each holding her hand. Janeway stood at the foot of the bed, her arms crossed and her face troubled. A scant few minutes later, the doctor stood at the foot of the bed, a hypospray of cordrozine in his hand.

"Let‘s begin," he said quietly, and injected the hypo into B‘Elanna‘s neck. Moments later the monitor beside her bed emitted one long, shrill, piercing beep. Her heart had stopped.
B‘Elanna Torres was dead.

Tom Paris sat in a corner by himself in the mess hall, staring at his drink with a mixture of disbelief and shock. Two weeks! He had declined the captain‘s offer of a duty leave; she knew he was troubled but he had assured her he would be fine and it wouldn‘t affect his duty. He hoped that she wouldn‘t remember Chakotay‘s sending him to his quarters after B‘Elanna had first taken ill. No, he needed to work. He needed to keep busy.

But for now, for just a few moments, he could grieve. For a young friendship, just in its fledgling stages, that could very well be cut short before either had a chance to enjoy it.

So he would wait. She would come out of it. She had to come out of it.
"Mister Paris. May I sit down?"

Startled, Tom looked up. Marcus Torres had entered so quietly Paris hadn‘t heard him. Or maybe he was just too preoccupied to notice.

Paris was too tired and upset and try and figure out which.
"Please," he gestured to the chair across from him. He glanced at Marcus‘ plate and commented wryly, "I don‘t know how well you‘ve been eating out here, but believe me, you are in for a...." he hesitated gracefully. "Surprise" was the word he chose. "....surprise with some of Neelix‘s attempts at Earth foods."

Marcus chuckled despite his own tension. He sat across from the pilot and studied him carefully. Sandy-haired and blue-eyed, tall and lean. Marcus smiled. Someone who could keep up with his daughter. His name was familiar somehow, but he couldn‘t quite place it. Tom Paris....

Tom frowned under Marcus‘ stare, and tried not to feel like a bug under a microscope. He was used to it, after all. Oh, yes, people had wanted to see the great Thomas Eugene Paris, son of renowned admiral Owen Paris. He shifted uncomfortably and turned his glass gently so the amber liquid spiraled downward. He watched it, and it reminded him of his life before Voyager.

"You‘re Owen Paris‘ son, aren‘t you?" Marcus‘ voice shattered his thoughts.

Paris‘ eyes narrowed dangerously. "Yeah, that‘s me." Suddenly he realized Marcus Torres would have no way of knowing about the lieutenant‘s somewhat checkered past. He gave a small sigh of relief, and his features lightened.

Marcus Torres nodded. "Yes, I remember Owen. He and Kat, er, Captain Janeway and I used to get together every now and then. Your father was a good man, Lieutenant."
Tom swallowed. You‘re a failure, Thomas. "Yes, he was, sir."

Marcus laughed shortly. "None of this ‘sir‘ stuff, young man. Call me Marcus."

"Marcus," Tom repeated dutifully. "Um, Marcus, you knew my father well?" Not that he really wanted to hear the answer, but for B‘Elanna, he would ask. She would want him to watch over her father.

Tom laughed to himself. What a ludicrous idea. *This is for you, B‘Elanna,* he thought ruefully.
"Yes, I did, Lieutenant Paris—"

"Tom," the pilot interjected.
"Tom. He thought the world of his family, Owen did. Always had a picture of his kids on his desk. You would have been how old?....four. Same age as B‘Elanna, right? Well, he never stopped talking about his kids.

Thomas this, Victoria that, Tonya something else. Near drove Kat crazy, she told me once. And here you are, serving on Kat‘s ship. I always knew she‘d get her own ship -- but that‘s another story. Anyway, yes, I knew your dad pretty well. But you, you look like your mother. The prettiest thing, she was. Owen always got the best because he demanded the best. Sweet, gentle Elyse, she was everything you could ask f...

Marcus‘ voice trailed off and long-forgotten memories came crowding back. Tom blinked against the swell of pain and heartache. His mother. He missed her; in some ways she reminded him of Captain Janeway. Assertive, and drawing on inner strength to get through difficult times. But that was all he could remember—why couldn‘t he remember his mother? All he remembered from his childhood was his father; flashes of his mother, yes, but always his father, towering over him, surged to his mind.
"—don‘t you, Tom?"

Tom started. "What?" He‘d noticed Marcus had a habit of changing subjects rapidly, so B‘Elanna‘s father could be talking about anything from Tom‘s relationship with his father to piloting Voyager.

Marcus smiled slightly. "Get bored listening to an old man‘s ramblings, Lieutenant?"
"No, it‘s just....I just," Tom stumbled. He took a breath. "I‘m sorry. It‘s just when you mentioned my mother I—"

"Ah," Marcus nodded sagely. "I understand. But what I said was, you really care about my little girl, don‘t you?"

Tom smiled at hearing B‘Elanna called ‘little girl‘, but he bit his lip at Marcus‘ question. "I, um, yes, I do. We‘ve been through a lot together."

"Yes—and she likes you, too. I can tell by the way she looks at you. I‘m glad she‘s finally found someone."
"Er, Marcus...." Tom said weakly.

"That‘s how I met my wife, L‘Terra. We served on the same ship together and eventually we became friends. Oh, we clawed at each other throats for the first few months of the journey, but over time and hardships we realized we had everything we wanted right in front of us. We‘d been idiots not to see it before, I can tell you that."
"Sir," Tom tried again, but was again interrupted.

"When‘s the wedding, Tom? I‘m not getting any younger, you know. I‘d like to see my grandchildren before I die."

"Marcus," Tom finally managed, "B‘Elanna and I aren‘t engaged. We‘re just friends."
Marcus looked disappointed. "Oh."

"But I can tell you," Tom said honestly, "I care for B‘Elanna more than anyone onboard this ship." That was a revelation, he thought wryly.

*And you said it to the person who‘d be the first to tell B‘Elanna. I am dead.*

Paris sat in his quarters staring at the stars. A cup of coffee was beside him on the table, cooling unnoticed. He stared at the stars, wondering about B‘Elanna‘s possible reaction when Marcus told his daughter about his feelings for her. She‘d probably deck me. he thought. *Well, I‘d probably deserve it. Why did I have to tell Marcus anyway?*

As he sat there, wondering, he realized that the conversation was almost choreographed, like it was meant to happen. *...Yes—and she likes you, too. I can tell by the way she looks at you. I‘m glad she‘s finally found someone...* As he remembered his strangely aborted conversation, he began to smile at Marcus‘ words. Maybe, just maybe, there was hope after all. Do fathers ever lie?
He hoped not.
Three weeks passed, though it was more like three decades. Time flies when you‘re having fun, but crawls when you don‘t want it to. *Isn‘t that ironic,* Tom thought. Ah, Such are the ironies of life.

Harry came in and sat down beside him. Raking a tired hand through his hair, Harry heavily commented, "Three weeks. Who would have thought that the Phage would last at least THREE weeks."

"Relax, Harry." Tom replied, staring not at Harry, but inwards, at memories, of him, of Harry, of...B‘Elanna. They‘d been through so much together, it was no wonder that the crew called them the "Outer Trio." "We don‘t know much about the mutated Phage, so it was bound to happen." Inwardly he was shaking; shaking at the possibility that she might never wake up from her sleep, that she‘d never wake up and look at him one more time, even that she would never call him a pig again.

Harry looked strangely at Tom, but then continued, "We‘d been through so much together, and yet, I feel like we should have done more."

"No argument here." Tom agreed, taking a sip of his coffee, he continued. "I really don‘t want it to end." Not like this, He thought. "What will happen if she dies? Will we go on like always? Will we just stay at the moment and crawl through life?" He was really getting worked up.

Harry put a comforting hand on Tom‘s shoulder, "Think positively. You know, she‘s always been a fighter. She didn‘t quit when she was infected by the Caretaker. She even cheered me up when she was in pain. And do you know how many times she‘s covered for me?"
"Ditto." Tom sighed. His frustration was really showing, and Harry saw all that. Hmm, guess Tom cared much more than I thought for her.

Harry decided to broach the subject. He didn‘t know what Tom was going to do, but he had to know, "You know, you‘re acting like you care for B‘Elanna a lot. Maybe even LOVE her."

Tom sat back, stunned. He knew that he cared a great deal for B‘Elanna, but did he love her?

He did a self-examination, something that he hated. In a flash, he thought he had it, but it was beginning to fade. IT remained. "Yeah, I guess I do." He admitted, breaking the silence and in the process surprising the ensign. "And if B‘Elanna ever finds out, she‘ll probably break my jaw."

"Keep hoping. If she does break your jaw, it‘ll be one more thing she‘s doing at this point." Harry smiled.

The two men fell silent. Harry with his friend‘s answer and Tom with his thoughts. Tom was in turmoil, so now he had a self-revelation. What was he supposed to do with it?
And Harry sat there, the impact of Tom‘s answer finally hitting him.
LOVE?! He thought distractedly. *Well, it certainly makes sense.

But Tom and B‘Elanna?! Stranger things have happened. I wonder what their kids are going to look like...Harry Kim, you have got to stop getting ahead of yourself once in a while.*

A few hours later...
Tom and Harry were in Sandrine‘s, shooting pool, when the call came.

"Sickbay to Paris."

Paris swallowed, suddenly unable to speak. "Go ahead."
"As per Mr. Torres‘ request, I am informing you that the Phage has been eliminated. Please come to Sickbay."

The two friends looked at each other, abandoned their half-hearted pool game, and ran to Sickbay.
The waiting was over.

Tom dashed into Sickbay, Harry close behind him. To Tom‘s surprise, all of the senior officers and Marcus were there, clustered around a biobed which contained the lifeless body of B‘Elanna.
Tom‘s breath caught in his throat when he saw her. She was still beautiful, still lovelier then ever. She looked like she was sleeping except for the stasis mechanism attatched to her forehead. Like Sleeping Beauty, he thought wryly, *waiting for her Prince to come. Well, B‘Elanna, he‘s here...if you‘ll have him.*

"Ah, Mr. Paris," the doctor greeted gravely, "and Mr. Kim. Good."

"Why—why is everyone here?" Harry Kim asked uncertainly, his eyes darting from Janeway at the head of the bed to Tuvok at the foot, and back again.

"I asked them to be here," Marcus explained. "I thought that the faces of all her friends should be the first thing B‘Elanna sees when she wakes up."

WHEN she wakes up, not IF she wakes up, Tom reflected. *I wish I had that much faith.* His blue eyes were solemn as he took a place between Janeway and Marcus, a place that had apparently been saved for him so he could be positioned right next to B‘Elanna. Harry stood next to Neelix near the foot of the bed, and looked to the doctor anxiously.

The doctor caught the look and nodded. "Let‘s begin," he said briskly. "Kes, the cortical stimulator, please."

Kes silently gave him the device, and Tom suddenly had a horrible flashback of when the doctor had...when B‘Elanna had been put into stasis.

Please, he thought desperately, praying to whatever gods watched over half- Klingon chief engineers, please let her wake up. Please.

The doctor reached out and removed the stasis field. Immediately, a long, piercing beep emitted from the moniter beside B‘Elanna. The doctor nodded at Kes, who activated the stimulator. B‘Elanna‘s body twitched, and the shrill beep of the heart moniter wavered, but it soon returned to the long wail. Her heart hadn‘t started.
"Again," the doctor commanded.

Kes quickly complied, but still nothing happened. Tom felt his heart drop to the bottom of his shoes. Please, he prayed. Please.

"Again." Tuvok was the only officer whose face was a picture of composure. Distressed, fearful looks were exchanged around the bed as B‘Elanna‘s heart refused to beat a third time.

"Again." Now even Kes looked despondent, but she obeyed the doctor‘s order.

The moniter began to emit a series of shrill, short beeps. B‘Elanna‘s heart! Her lips opened and she drew in a gasping, shuddering breath.

"She‘s alive," the doctor announced, removing the stimulator from B‘Elanna‘s head. The hologram was smiling broadly. "There is no sign of the Phage virus."

Cheers erupted from the officers present. Exclamations of relief echoed throughout Sickbay, and even Tuvok was wearing a most un-Vulcan-like expression of satisfaction. Marcus had tears streaming down his face as he repeated, "She‘s back. My little girl is back."
Tom hadn‘t moved since the doctor‘s joyful announcement except to grasp B‘Elanna‘s hand and close his eyes, tears of happiness threatening to spill down his cheeks. She was alive, and breathing. She wasn‘t dead, nor was she going to die. He felt like jumping around Sickbay and hugging everyone within reach, but instead he squeezed B‘Elanna‘s hand and opened his eyes, staring down at her beautiful face. Already she was beginning to look better, a hint of red developing in her once-sal.

An irrepressible urge overtook him, and Tom knew that although B‘Elanna would pound him into tribble food if she ever found out what he was about to do, he couldn‘t help himself. After making sure that no one was watching, for they were all too busy celebrating, he quickly bent down and placed a tender kiss on her ridged forehead. He straightened up, again making sure no one had seen him. And, apparently, no one had. Tom turned his attention back to B‘Elanna.

Suddenly, her eyes blinked open and he was staring into a pair of very familiar chocolate-brown eyes, eyes that were sleepy and disoriented but that appeared to recognize him.

"B‘Elanna!" he yelped, inadvertently loud enough to gain the attention of everyone else in the room. They gathered around the bed, staring down at B‘Elanna‘s now-open eyes.
"Tom?" B‘Elanna‘s voice was faint but coherent.

"I‘m here," he assured her, his hand tightening around hers.

"Daddy?"

The word caused a silent sensation among the assembled officers.
Until now, the only word they had ever heard B‘Elanna use in reference to Marcus Torres had been ‚Father‘, and even then it had been the only time she had addressed him as such—as a daughter to a parent.

"I‘m here, too," Marcus said, his eyes misting over. He hadn‘t heard her call him ‚daddy‘ for twenty-five years. "We‘re all here, B‘Elanna. All your friends. They‘ve—we‘ve—come to welcome you back."

B‘Elanna gazed up at the smiling faces above her. "What happened?" she asked weakly, her question directed at the doctor.

Hurriedly, the doctor explained all that had happened in the last few weeks—the coma she had been in, killing her and putting her in stasis, and her current reawakening. B‘Elanna didn‘t say a word throughout his explanation, but once the hologram was finished speaking she turned her gaze to her father. "Has it really been that long?"

"It has, sweetheart," Marcus replied quietly. "We were all so worried about you. But the Phage virus is gone. You‘re completely cured."
"I—I am?" B‘Elanna looked from Marcus to the doctor and back again.
"I‘m really cured?"

"You‘re really cured," the doctor answered. "You should be back on your feet in a few days. But no active duty for a month."
"A month!" B‘Elanna appeared outraged. "I am not staying away from Engineering an entire month—"

"Yes, you are," Marcus and Tom Paris said in unison. Sheepishly, the two men smiled at each other, then looked back down at B‘Elanna. "Don‘t worry, B‘Elanna. It won‘t be that bad," Tom consoled. "You‘ll always have me to talk to."
"Pig."

Tom felt an enormous feeling of joy mingled with relief swell inside of his chest. B‘Elanna was actually grinning up at him—her grin was tiny, and feeble—but it was a full-fledged grin. She was really back.

B‘Elanna was resting now, in the darkened Sickbay. Tom watched her sleep, grateful this time it was only sleep, and not something far more permanent. His conversation with Harry kept ringing through his mind. Did he love B‘Elanna Torres? He‘d said yes, he did, but still he wasn‘t quite sure if he‘d meant it the way Harry had. Now that they were sure she would live, he realized it was a question he‘d have to answer. But it was so hard, so hard to open up and allow himself to be loved again. And he suspected she might have the same problem, considering her background. What a couple they made, he mused wryly. Maquis and ex-Starfleet/ex-Maquis/all-around unwanted guy. Wow.

Life was infintely strange.

Whoah, Tom, he stopped himself. *Too late for philosphical musings.* He yawned and stretched, pulling himself from his chair. B‘Elanna would still be here when he came in to check on her before his shift. He turned to leave.
"Paris?"

He froze. "Yes, sir?"

"Thanks."

"For what?"

"For watching out for her."

Tom slowly sat back down and Chakotay moved a little closer to Torres.
"She really looks peaceful when she‘s asleep, doesn‘t she?"

"Yes, she does, Commander." he answered calmly. *What does he want??

I know what he‘s trying to do; why can‘t he just leave me alone?? I could save this ship a dozen times over—I could save his life a dozen times and he would still see me as a cocky, insufferable traitor, nowhere near worthy of B‘Elanna‘s affections.*

"She certainly is a fighter," Chakotay remarked.

Paris gave a controlled nod, but inside he was about ready to scream.
*Go ahead and say it, Chakotay! Come right out and say I‘m a loser. I can handle it—it‘s happened before.* But that was a long time ago. He blocked out that memory quickly.

"You know, Tom,"

Here it comes,

"I think she really cares about you."

*That‘s right, Paris, you‘re a failure. You mess up everything you touch. You....* "What?"

Chakotay smiled slightly. Paris‘ jaw dropped. "I said, I think she really cares about you. Remember the Warp Ten Experiment?"

Tom closed his eyes. "Chakotay, please...."

Chakotay actually grinned. "Sorry. How about when you left for the Talaxian convoy, even though it was only a ruse?" A grimace passed over Chakotay‘s face then, and Tom frowned. Apparently the commander still harbored some negative feelings about that. Maybe he should let him talk about the Warp Ten Experiment.....
Nah.

"Yeah, what about it?" Tom asked hesitantly.

"All she could think about was why you‘d left. I couldn‘t get her to concentrate on anything."

Tom half-smiled. "Really?" Coming from Chakotay, this must mean something.
"Really. But, Paris?"

"Yeah?"

"Take good care of her." Quickly Chakotay changed subjects, but his words still lingered in the air. "You‘ve got early shift tomorrow. I suggest you try to get some sleep. Unless," he added, "you want to be late."

Tom caught the gleam in Chakotay‘s eye. It looked like the Maquis wouldn‘t mind sending the pilot to the brig—or worse, to help Neelix in the kitchen—if the pilot was late for duty.

He swallowed. "I won‘t be late, sir," he mumbled, with a slightly sarcastic emphasis on the ‘sir‘.

Chakotay nodded. "Good." He exited, leaving Paris alone with Torres again. Tom turned once more to leave. Chakotay would certainly follow through on his threat if Tom failed to show up on time.
"Tom?"

Tom paused. "Yes, B‘Elanna?" He paled. What if she‘d heard Chakotay? Now he was really dead.
"I could so concentrate on other things."

He grinned. "Of course, Torres," he tossed over his shoulder as he moved toward the door.
"Tom."

He stopped, half-turning. "Yeah?"

Her voice was uncharacteristically hesitant. "Would you stay with me for awhile? Just keep me company?"

Backtracking, reclaiming his chair, he smiled. "Absolutely, B‘Elanna."

B‘Elanna Torres opened her eyes. Today was a beautiful day to be alive. Tom Paris was sleeping in a chair by her bedside, head resting at an uncomfortable angle. She winced. That was going to hurt when he woke up.

"How‘s my little girl today?" Marcus Torres‘ voice came from the doorway.

"Shhh," B‘Elanna warned, smiling, with a nod toward the sleeping Paris.

Marcus smiled, too. Ah, to have someone care about you. Suddenly he missed L‘Terra very much.

He sat on the edge of her bed. "B‘Elanna," he said slowly, "You know that Captain Janeway has asked me to join you on your voyage home. I would like nothing more than to do so. But I wanted to make sure it was all right with you. I don‘t want to cause any problems."
She squeezed his hand. "I‘d like that very much."

A grin blossomed across Marcus‘ face. "I love you, B‘Elanna." He rose for the door. "I‘ll be back in a little bit, okay? Take care of yourself. And him," he waved at Paris with a smile.
B‘Elanna considered his words for a moment, then reached across to touch Tom‘s hand gently. "Tom, wake up,"
Tom started and blinked a few times, looking around blearily.
"What?"

B‘Elanna laughed a little. "I‘m sorry. I didn‘t mean for you to stay here all night."

His head dropped as he massaged his neck gently, groaning. "S‘okay, B‘Elanna. But I have to get going. Shift starts in fifteen minutes."

"Tom?" she called. "Don‘t fall asleep on the bridge, okay?" she teased.
He grinned. "I‘ll try."

She hesitated. "And, Tom?"

He paused once more. "Yeah?"

"I‘d like to take you up on that dinner offer," she said, almost shyly.

He smiled. "As soon as the Doc gives you a clean bill of health, I‘ll treat you to a dinner so fine, you‘ll never want to eat leola root again!"

She smiled wryly. "I never wanted to eat leola root in the first place," she reminded him.

Paris pretended not to hear as he exited Sickbay, planning their dinner.
B‘Elanna laughed.

Today was a beautiful day to be alive.

The End