Autumn Leaves (Voy, P/T, PG)
by JoAnna Walsvik

He’s looking at me again, B’Elanna thought uncomfortably. She didn’t meet his stare, but turned back to her plate, trying to ignore the piercing but discreet gaze coming from the pilot’s table.

Ever since she had told Tom that she didn’t want their relationship to go beyond friendship, she had often caught his somewhat unsettling gazes. The man constantly stared at her, but so discreetly that no one else had noticed. Tom couldn’t seem to keep his eyes off of her.

She didn’t let on that she knew of his little habit, but she couldn’t help being uncomfortable. She had told Tom that she wasn’t ready for a relationship, and that she just thought of him as a friend, but then why did his gaze affect her so? Why did she go weak in the knees if she happened to meet his clear blue eyes? Why did she become insanely jealous when she heard rumors about Tom and Megan Delaney?

Stop it, Torres, she told herself severely. *You’re being paranoid. He’s probably not staring at you at all. You’re probably just imagining it.* Just to be sure, she sneaked a quick glance in his direction. He was staring at her, but his head abruptly turned away when he met her eyes.

She turned away also, staring moodily into her coffee. Damn it, why was he affecting her like this? She was not ready for a relationship. She was too afraid of being hurt again. And Tom didn’t exactly have a spotless reputation. She couldn’t risk giving her heart away.

Then why is it so hard to convince yourself? a tiny voice inside her asked. B’Elanna, startled at this thought from within herself, couldn’t answer.

"Hi, B’Elanna," Tom Paris said cheerfully, meeting her in a turbolift a few days later.

"Hi, Tom," she replied quietly. If Paris wasn’t going to say anything about his behavior, then neither was she. Hopefully, the turbolift would get to his destination soon.

"Hey, I’m glad I ran into you," Paris continued brightly. "I was wondering if you’d want to try out a new holodeck program with me. Harry helped me program it and it’s really neat. The captain gave us the idea, actually. It’s autumn in her home state of Indiana. You’ll love it."
"Um—sure, I guess," B’Elanna said uncertainly.
"Are we—I mean, will anyone else will be there?"
"Harry," Tom replied. "Probably the captain too. Tomorrow at 1400, Holodeck 2?"

"Okay," B’Elanna said, relieved that she and Tom wouldn’t be alone. "I’ll see you there."

"Great!" Tom said enthusiastically as the turbolift stopped at deck 8, where his quarters were located. "See you later!" He stepped off and gave her a friendly wave. B’Elanna half expected him to start whistling.

"Yeah," she remarked to the empty turbolift as it started to move. "See you later."

When B’Elanna arrived at Holodeck 2 the next day, Tom was the only one present. "Hi, B’Elanna," he said cheerfully. "Looks like Harry and the captain won’t be able to join us, so it’s just you and me." He gave her an sunny smile and offered her his arm.

B’Elanna was silently fuming. The jerk, she thought fiercely. *He probably planned this all along. Well, I’ll show him. I’ll be sullen and boring the entire time, and he’ll hate it.*

Once inside the holodeck, B’Elanna gasped. They were standing in the backyard of a huge, colonial-style house. The yard was filled with oak trees that were losing their leaves, and the ground was covered with the red, brown, and orange foliage. The air was crisp and invigorating, just the right temperature for what B’Elanna guessed was the middle of October.

"That’s where Captain Janeway grew up," Tom said, gesturing toward the house. "This is about seventeen kilometers outside of Bloomington, Indiana. I think Harry and the captain programmed it to be somewhere in October. Great, isn’t it?"

"It’s wonderful," B’Elanna murmured, forgetting her vow to be sullen and boring. "Captain Janeway grew up here? She was lucky."

"Tell me about it," Tom said wistfully. "I grew up in San Francisco. It’s okay if you like big cities, but I like the country better. However, my father wanted to be near Starfleet Headquarters, so...." he trailed off and shrugged. B’Elanna caught the flash of anger and resentment in his eyes at the mention of his father. I wonder why he dislikes his father so much, she wondered momentarily.

"On Kessik IV, where I grew up," B’Elanna began, thinking it best to change the subject, "it was always summer. When I went to the Academy, my classmates were amazed that I didn’t know what snow was or how a tree looked when it lost its leaves."

"I’ve always loved autumn," Tom admitted, taking a deep breath of the cool fall air. "My mom used to buy pumpkins and make pumpkin pie from scratch—no replicator. You won’t find anything like them in Neelix’s kitchen." The pilot gazed around the holodeck, suddenly very homesick for Earth. This was very authentic. Harry and the captain had done a very good job. The temperature and scenery were perfect. There were even leaf piles scattered around the yard, like someone had just finished raking.

Suddenly, Tom had an inspiration. "Hey, B’Elanna," he said mischievously. "Ever jumped into a leaf pile?"

She looked at him questioningly, and he grinned. Running as fast as he could, he took a flying leap into one of the piles. The satisfying crunch of the leaves as they softly cushioned him was just as he remembered it. "Come on!" he called. "It’s fun!"

Oh, what the hell, B’Elanna thought. She mimicked Tom, speeding toward the nearest pile and diving in. Buried under an avalanche of leaves, she began to laugh, a clear, blithe, almost musical sound that echoed across the farmland. Tom’s low chuckle joined her, and soon both were laughing uncontrollably.
Soon, B’Elanna had forgotten any previous discomfort she had felt and was having the time of her life, just jumping into leaf piles. She shouted and laughed and cheered, her cheeks red from the crisp autumn air, her dark eyes sparkling vivaciously. Tom looked at her and thought, She is so beautiful.

Whooping, B’Elanna picked up a bunch of leaves and threw them at Paris, laughing when they got caught in his hair and made him look like a tribble with a bad fur day. Tom threw leaves back at her, and eventually the two of them became involved in a huge leaf fight. Leaves were flying every which way, and it was hard to tell who was throwing leaves at who. The battle finally ended when Tom tackled the chief engineer and started to tickle her. To his amazement, she began to screech, making a futile attempt to push his arms away -- futile because she was laughing so hard she could barely talk, much less push him away. They rolled around in the leaves, Tom tickling B’Elanna and B’Elanna laughing uncontrollably, until both of them were too exhausted to move.

Paris collapsed on a pile of leaves next to B’Elanna, tears rolling down his face as he laughed. By his side, B’Elanna was giggling quietly, inadvertently resting her head against his shoulder.

Tom glanced over at B’Elanna the exact same time she looked over at him. The two locked eyes, neither one wanting to look away.

And suddenly, his lips were on hers and he was kissing her with a passion that surprised even himself. B’Elanna astonished him by wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him just as eagerly. The pilot and the engineer sank into the soft cushion of foliage beneath them, oblivious to anything but each other.

"Janeway to Paris. Please report to Transporter room 2 for an away mission." Paris silently groaned, his lips still on B’Elanna’s. *Captain, you have the worst timing ever!* he thought haplessly.

"Acknowledged," he said, tapping his commbadge. Reluctantly, he stood up. After reaching out to softly caress B’Elanna’s cheek, he left the holodeck.

"How was the holodeck?" Harry asked, meeting the chief engineer in the corridor outside of Engineering. To his surprise, B’Elanna turned a deep shade of red.

"Harry Kim, did you set that up?" she demanded, glaring at him, her hands on her hips.

"Set what up?" he said, honestly bewildered. All he had done was, with the captain’s help, program a holodeck simulation reminiscent of an Indiana autumn. He had wanted to visit it today, but minor malfunctions on the bridge had kept both him and the captain away.

B’Elanna studied him for a moment, and decided he was being sincere. "Nothing," she said, shaking her head. She walked into Engineering, Harry close behind her.

"What?" he persisted. "Set what up? Did something happen between you and Tom?" Harry wasn’t being nosy. He was just concerned about them. Tom and B’Elanna were, after all, the two best friends he had aboard Voyager.

B’Elanna blushed again, then quickly glanced around to make sure no one was listening. "Well," she said, her voice almost in a whisper, "something did—kind of happen."

"What do you mean, kind of?" Harry replied, his voice a whisper as well.

She turned an even deeper shade of crimson, much to Harry’s amusement. He had never seen a Klingon blush before. "He—well, we—we kind of kissed," she admitted.

"Kissed?" Harry exclaimed softly, being careful not to raise his voice. If he ever let this get out, B’Elanna would kill him. She would make sure it was a painful death as well. "Like, seriously kissed? Or just-friends kissed?"

"Harry," B’Elanna said, looking him straight in the eye and holding her thumb and her forefinger a centimeter apart, "we came this close to—well, you get the idea." Blushing yet again, she started working, too embarrassed to look at the ensign.
Kim pondered this for a moment. "What happened?" he finally asked. "Why didn’t you—"

"Because the captain called for him to go on an away mission, that’s why," B’Elanna said, again looking around to make sure there was no one within earshot. She grabbed Kim’s collar, jerked his face to only an inch away from hers, and hissed, "If you tell anyone I will hit you so hard your body will get to the Alpha Quadrant before your head will. Understand?" She let go of his collar and went on with her business as though nothing had happened.

"I understand perfectly," Kim assured her wryly, rubbing his neck. "No one will ever know except for you, me, and Tom."

"And make sure it stays that way," she said firmly. "I don’t know if—what we—or him—or at least I won’t until Tom returns from this away mission."

"If you want my opinion," Harry said slowly, a grin forming on his face, "I think you two are perfect for each other."

B’Elanna didn’t say anything more, but Harry could see her smile.

Harry couldn’t help but grin. The captain was looked so sullen that she resembled a little girl who had been told she had to eat her broccoli before she had dessert.

Voyager had stopped to replenish their a woman in a station slightly above a slave, let alone a woman captain. So, albeit reluctantly, Janeway let Chakotay take over the diplomacy proceedings. Because of the severe electromagnetic storms in the lower atmosphere of the planet, it was almost impossible to transport down, hence Tom Paris’s away mission.

Janeway hadn’t made a secret of the fact that she disapproved of patriarchal societies altogether. She respected the Psattian’s beliefs, but that didn’t mean she had to like them. Harry could see her sitting in her chair, a pout on her otherwise emotionless face as she wished that she could be the one who made the initial contact with this society.

Mostly to alleviate her boredom, she turned to her chief engineer. "B’Elanna, how are the modifications to the transporters coming? On schedule?"

"Yes, Captain," Torres replied quietly. "We should have transporter capability in about fifteen minutes."

"Good," the captain nodded, turning back to face the viewscreen. She was still obviously sullen, and Harry Kim couldn’t resist the chance to rib her a bit.

"Oh, cheer up, Captain. It’s not that bad," he remarked.

"You would say that. These people won’t treat you like you’re the lowest form of scum on the universe," was her sour reply, but a small smile had formed at the corners of her mouth.

"I would hope not; I get enough of that on Voyager," he said mischievously.

His ploy to get a full-fledged smile out of her worked. She turned around in her seat and glanced up at him, shaking her head in amusement. "Harry, what would I ever do without you?"

He just barely managed to keep a straight face as he replied, "Die of boredom."

Janeway chuckled. "Yeah, I’ll bet," she said, turning back to face the viewscreen, her glum attitude diminished.

Throughout this entire repartee, B’Elanna Torres had been at her station, working quietly and desperately trying to keep her mind off Tom Paris. Damn it, why couldn’t she stop thinking about him? It had just been a few kisses. Nothing to get excited about..

No, she was wrong. It was something to get excited about. Those kisses had been more then just casual pecks on the cheek. She had been overwhelmed by all of the burning emotions that had flooded over her. But there was something else. When he had kissed her, she had felt something—what, she wasn’t quite sure of. A spark of—of what had seemed like recognition. But that was impossible. She had never before met Tom Paris before coming on Voyager. And she had been kissed before, but she had never felt such passion or desire with anyone else.

But there was more then that. Today, on the holodeck, jumping into leaf piles with the careless abandon of a child, she had the time of her life. Sure, she had played hoverball with Chakotay and Parises Squares with Freddy Bristow, and she had participated in other activities with other friends, but she had never felt as open or as free with anyone else other then Tom Paris.

She had to admit, these feelings were scaring her. She had never really trusted men ever since she was five years old and her father had deserted her. To give her heart to a man, to confide in one of them, was almost a horrifying thought.

And there was the matter of Paris’s reputation aboard ship. A womanizer, a criminal, a traitor—she had heard them all, and she wasn’t sure what to believe. When she had first met Paris, she had been more then willing to believe all of them—but then had come the incident with the Vidiians. He had comforted her, protected her—and saved her life. After all they had been through, she couldn’t help but respect him a great deal more then she had. And when the ship had been "twisted" by that spatial distortion, he had been calm, cool, and collected; she had been a nervous, impatient wreck. He certainly seemed reliable, but B’Elanna Torres wanted one-hundred percent solid concrete evidence before she ever trusted another man in a relationship.

"Captain, the planet is hailing us," Ensign Kim announced suddenly. Janeway looked at Tuvok, who nodded and stepped down to assume command while Janeway quietly moved off to the side.
"On screen," Tuvok ordered calmly.

Chancellor Esmett Traaa, the Psatt leader, appeared on the viewscreen. The chancellor’s hair was tousled, his face was covered with sweat, and he looked to be very agitated.

"I am Lieutenant Tuvok. May I help you, Chancellor?" Tuvok asked politely.

"Lieutenant, there’s been a terrible....accident," the chancellor replied, obviously distraught. "A terrorist act—a member of a radical group—somehow slipped past our security teams and entered a government building. He—he was armed. He started shooting wildly, at anyone and anything—your—your Lieutenant Paris was caught in the crossfire."

The entire bridge crew became silent, unable to believe their ears. Many pairs of eyes stared at the viewscreen in horror, awaiting the Chancellor’s next words with trepidation. Had Paris been injured? Or worse—

"Was he killed?" Tuvok asked candidly, his Vulcan face impassive and emotionless as always.

The Chancellor relaxed slightly, but his face remained grave. "No," he admitted. "But he was seriously injured. He’s in our medical facility now—our doctors are working on him. We—we aren’t familiar with your race—I don’t know if we’ll be able to save him."

"We just regained transporter capability," B’Elanna blurted from her station. Her face was white and her hands were trembling so much she could barely work her console. "We could beam him to sickbay."

Tuvok nodded almost imperceptibly. "We will beam him to our ship immediately," he informed the Chancellor, who nodded. The moment the viewscreen went black, Janeway leaped up from her seat.
"Do it," she ordered.

A moment later, Harry Kim reported, "Tom’s in sickbay now, Captain. The commander is there too."
Without another word, Janeway strode to the turbolift and left the bridge. B’Elanna felt like screaming as Tuvok silently sat back down in the center chair. How can you be so calm?! she wanted to shout. *Tom is dying—maybe dead already! How can you just sit there like nothing had happened? Damn you, Tuvok, say something! Do something! Just don’t sit there!*

But Tuvok, as always, was quiet. B’Elanna swallowed hard, and tried to prepare herself for the long wait that was ahead of her.

In sickbay, Commander Chakotay was briefing the captain while the doctor and Kes worked feverishly over Tom. Janeway did her best to listen to Chakotay, but her eyes kept straying to the inert body on the nearby biobed.

"All of a sudden, we heard screams," Chakotay’s soft voice was saying. "A man burst into the room, held up a weapon, and started to shoot. All the while he was screaming something like, ‘End the tyranny—equal rights for all.’

It was so sudden, we didn’t have time to defend ourselves. When the terrorist turned his weapon toward us," here the commander’s voice wavered slightly, "Paris pushed me out of the way and the brunt of the blast hit him. Then the guards managed to subdue the terrorist—but Tom was unconscious and bleeding badly. He was transported to the nearest hospital, and then we were beamed here."

"How many others were injured?" Janeway asked quietly.

"Twelve," Chakotay answered somberly. "It’s a small number compared to some attacks you or I know of, but apparently Psatt was a peaceful planet until just recently. This is the largest attack they’ve ever had. Security was lax at that facility; it was probably very easy for the terrorist to gain access into the building."

"Well, it looks like they’re going to have to beef up their security," Janeway affirmed. "I don’t want anyone returning to that planet unless we have strict assurance from the Chancellor himself that they are taking measures to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again."

"I agree," he nodded. "I doubt we’d be able to go even if we wanted to. Things are pretty hectic down there."

"Excuse me, Captain, Commander," the doctor interrupted gently. "Mr. Paris’s condition has improved somewhat. He’s still on life support, but his vital signs have stabilized."

"How badly was he injured?" Janeway said, turning her full attention to the doctor.

"Very badly indeed," the doctor said honestly. "He was nearly gone when he got here. The shock of the blast caused severe internal bleeding, as well as several broken limbs and a serious head injury. He’s in a deep coma, and his prospects aren’t very promising. But he’s alive, for now."

"He’s alive," Janeway repeated. "That’s all I need to know."

B’Elanna sat in her window seat, staring aimlessly out at the stars drifting by. She always preferred to look at the stars when they were streaking by at warp 8 or 9. It gave her a sense of satisfaction to know that the engines were working properly, and that Tom Paris was at the helm....

She stifled a sob. B’Elanna Torres, who hadn’t cried since she was five years old, was to the point of tears. Tom’s prognosis wasn’t very good, it was rumored. She hadn’t dared go to sickbay to ask the doctor for fear the rumor would be true.

Damn it, why did this have to happen now? She had just started to warm up the idea of her and Tom beginning a relationship. And now it would be too late to tell him of her change of heart.

Cursing herself for being such an idiot, wishing she had said differently, she replayed the conversation in her head that had taken place just a month ago.

"B’Elanna, I think—I think I’m falling in love with you," Tom had confessed bashfully, almost looking like a schoolboy on a first date.

She had frozen at his words. Love? Her? It wasn’t possible. They were just friends, not lovers. She had never even, that was a lie. She had considered it, but had come to the conclusion that he would never want her. She was just a half-Klingon Maquis, no one very special. But Tom had seemed to think differently.
"C’mon, ‘Lanna, give me a chance," he had pleaded.
"Please. I want to be with you."

"Tom—I—I’m sorry, but I—I don’t think of you in—in that way," she had replied uncomfortably. Another lie on her part. She just didn’t want to risk being hurt. "Can’t we just—be friends?"

He had been disappointed, very disappointed. But he had conceded. "All right. Just friends. But is there any chance you’ll change your mind? Any chance at all?"

She didn’t have the heart to tell him no, so she had merely replied, "I don’t know. Maybe." But, apparently, that maybe had given him hope. He had acted just the same as always around her after that, except for the stares she had found so disconcerting. Then had come their little romp in the holodeck, and she had realized that she did love Tom Paris.

And now he was dying. It was too late to let him know that she had changed her mind, she did want to be with him. It was too late.

"B’Elanna?" B’Elanna jerked her head up in surprise. She had been so engrossed in her own thoughts, she hadn’t heard her door open or Ensign Harry Kim walk in.

"Harry? Is there any word on Tom?" she asked anxiously. She knew that the ensign had probably just returned from sickbay.

"No change in his condition," Harry replied regretfully. "He’s still in a coma."

"Oh," B’Elanna said disappointedly. She turned her head away from Harry so he wouldn’t see the tears forming in her eyes.

"B’Elanna, do you realize it’s 0200? Haven’t you been to sleep?" Harry asked in concern.

She shook her head. "I can’t sleep knowing that Tom is so ill. I’ve tried, but I can’t. It’s no use."

She felt him place a hand on her shoulder. "Poor thing," he said softly. "This is really hitting you hard, isn’t it?"

B’Elanna looked at him, the anguish in her black eyes clearly visible. "I love him, Harry," she said simply. "I didn’t realize it until today, when I heard he was dying. If he dies without knowing that—" She broke off, afraid that if she continued she would burst into tears.

Harry was silent. Poor B’Elanna. Tom had told him about the conversation he had with her, where she had said she just wanted to be friends, and he hadn’t been able to believe it. He had seen the expression in her eyes whenever she had looked at the pilot, and it was one of more then friendship. Too bad she hadn’t realized it until now.

"You know, Maquis," he said gently, using his old nickname for her, "the doctor said that sometimes, when a person is in a coma, they can hear other people talking to them. Maybe if you went and told him how you might improve the odds of him surviving. Tom loves you, B’Elanna. He loves you very much. It would bolster his chances enormously if he knew that you loved him as well."

B’Elanna considered this for a moment. If there was any chance, any chance at all that Tom could hear her, then she had to try. "I’ll go," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "I’ll go and see him."

"Good girl," Harry said approvingly, patting her hand reassuringly. "Don’t worry, B’Elanna. Everything will turn out just fine."

B’Elanna slipped into sickbay, cautiously looking about. The only one present was the doctor, who was working quietly in his office. The moment he spied her, he stepped out into the main area.

"Can I help you, Lieutenant?" he inquired politely.

"Yes...could you tell me how Tom is doing?" she asked hesitantly.

"The same. He’s no better, but then again, he’s no worse," the doctor told her.

"Is—is it true—that people in comas can sometimes hear other people talk to them? Like Tom, could—is it possible that he could hear me if I talked to him?" she continued, stammering slightly.

"Yes," the hologram acknowledged cautiously, careful not to give false hope. "It is possible. I’m not one hundred percent certain, of course, but it is possible."

B’Elanna nodded seriously. The doctor, sensing he was not wanted, said, "If you would like to ‘speak’ with him alone, I’ll leave now. Just reactivate me if you need me. Computer, end EMH program." And he was gone.

B’Elanna slowly walked over to the biobed Tom was lying on. Someone, Harry perhaps, had placed a chair their earlier. She sat down gingerly, her hands folded in her lap. She didn’t quite know what to say.

She looked at the silent form on the biobed. He looked like he was sleeping. She half expected him to wake up and smile at her, those blue eyes of his twinkling impishly as he made some tawdry comment. But he remained still, and B’Elanna took a deep breath.

"Tom," she began, rather timidly, "I don’t know if you can hear me, but I need to talk to you. Remember when you and I were on the holodeck a few days ago? Remember what happened? Well, I.....I liked it. Very much."

She took another deep breath, fighting tears that threatened to stream down her face. "Hell, I didn’t just like it, Tom. I loved it. And I love you. I didn’t realize it until today, when I heard you were dying....Tom, if you can hear me, listen to me. I love you. You have to wake up. Damn it, Paris, you had better not die because if you do I’ll raise you from the dead just so I can kill you myself! I know that I’m not a captain or a commander, and I don’t outrank you, but I’m giving you a direct order. Live. Okay? And you had better do what I say, Thomas Eugene Paris, because you know how angry I can get!" Unable to go on, the tears escaping from the confines of her eyelids, B’Elanna leaned down and gave Paris a soft, quick kiss on the forehead. Tears streaming, exhausted from being up half the night, she laid her head on his chest and drifted off to sleep, listening to the sound of his heartbeat.


She was awakened by a voice calling her name. And not just any voice—Tom Paris’s voice!

B’Elanna quickly raised her head and stared at the pilot. His eyes, his beautiful blue eyes, were open and looking at her in confusion. "B’Elanna? What happened? What are you doing here?" he asked weakly, trying to raise his head but finding he could not.

"Shhh, Tom," she said soothingly, grasping his hand tightly and brushing an errant blond hair off his forehead. "It’s all right. You were injured, but you’re going to be all right. Computer, activate EMH program."

The doctor shimmered into existence. Immediately, he observed the situation and hurried over to Tom’s bed. "Welcome back to the land of the living, Mr. Paris," he said cheerfully, scanning Tom with his tricorder. "How do you feel?"

"Weak," the pilot answered, looking from the doctor to B’Elanna and back to the doctor. "It was that terrorist on Psatt, wasn’t it? Did he shoot Chakotay, too?"

"No. Just you," B’Elanna answered, for the doctor was busy checking the results of his scan. "You saved his life. That blast was meant for Chakotay, but you jumped in front of him at the last minute."

"I remember that," Tom said thoughtfully. "This is, what, the second time I’ve saved his life? Man, he owes me big time."

B’Elanna laughed and tightened her grip on Tom’s hand. "I’ll remember to tell him that."

"Well, Mr. Paris, I estimate you should make a full recovery in a few weeks," the doctor announced. "Lieutenant Torres, it’s 0615. Have you been here all night?"

"I, um, kind of fell asleep here," she admitted guiltily. "But I guess I’d better be going, since my shift starts in fifteen minutes." She was reluctant to leave Tom, but her duty as chief engineer came first.

"I think you’re right," the doctor said, looking at her curiously. Kes hadn’t told him that B’Elanna Torres and Tom Paris were so close, and she usually kept him up-to-date on ship’s gossip. Then again, Tom was a close friend of hers. Maybe she hadn’t wanted to divulge personal information about him.

Paris grinned saucily up at B’Elanna. "Do me a favor and tell Chakotay hi for me."

"I’ll be happy to," B’Elanna promised, a smile still on her face. When the doctor turned to go back into his office, she quickly leaned down and kissed Tom on the forehead.

"I’ll be back as soon as I can," she whispered reassuringly. "Then we’ll talk, okay?"

"Okay," Paris replied, looking confused but nonetheless happy at her sudden affection.

She chuckled and lightly stroked his cheek with her finger. "See you later." Voyager’s chief engineer turned and strode out of sickbay, her mood very much improved.

"Where are we going, Harry?" Tom Paris asked curiously.
"You’ll see," was all the ensign would say.

Three weeks after his accident, Tom Paris was fully recovered and eager to get back to duty. Anything was better then lying in sickbay and listening to the doctor drone on about how lucky he was to be alive.

And, according to the doctor and Kes, he was lucky to be alive. But only Tom knew the real reason he had recovered so speedily—he had been driven by B’Elanna Torres’s promise to him. The day after he had regained consciousness, she had told him that the moment he was fully recovered and out of sickbay, they would talk about the status of their relationship.

The status of our relationship, Tom thought, apprehension and anticipation running through him. He hadn’t been able to read her tone of voice when she had spoken to him, but then again, he had never been able to read her at all. Judging from the way she had acted when he had woken up in sickbay, she wanted to be "more then friends." Then again, she had only dropped by sickbay once a day, sometimes less, to see him since then. Maybe she was avoiding him?

Tom shook his head. Something told him he was never going to be able to figure out women, specifically B’Elanna. And something told him that was the way she wanted it.

And now, only a few hours after his release from sickbay, Harry Kim was dragging him down the corridor to a mysterious location he had refused to reveal. "It’s a secret," was all he would say when Tom would press him. So, he allowed himself to be led away. Knowing Harry, he had probably organized a surprise "Welcome back" party with wine, women, and song. Which wouldn’t be too bad, as long as the women consisted of one woman in particular. B’Elanna Torres.

"Here we are," Harry announced, stopping in front of the doors of Holodeck 2. Tom smiled knowingly. It looked as though he had been right about the party.
"Go on," Kim grinned, gesturing toward the door.

Tom walked into the holodeck and stopped dead in his tracks.

Instead of the familiar Parisian bar he had expected, he was standing in the backyard of a huge, colonial-style house. The yard was filled with oak trees that were losing their leaves, and the ground was covered with the red, brown, and orange foliage.

It was the captain and Harry’s holodeck program. The one in which he and B’Elanna had shared that amazing kiss.

Tom didn’t even hear Harry quietly exit the holodeck. Instead, he was focusing on a figure in the distance. The figure—a woman—was slowly walking toward him. As she got closer to him, he recognized her. B’Elanna.

Someone—Harry, perhaps—had programmed in a wooden bench where she now sat, motioning to him. He hurried toward the bench and sat down next to her, not quite knowing what to say—or what to expect.

Then, B’Elanna spoke. "Somehow," she said softly, "I thought this program was appropriate for what I have to say."

"B’Elanna," Tom began, but she put a finger over his lips.

"No," she said gently, but firmly. "I have to say this." She looked down, took a deep breath, and began.

"Tom, I lied to you when I said I just wanted to be friends. The truth is, I was scared. You see, my father deserted my mother and I when I was five. I spent the next ten, fifteen years listening to her talk about how all men were scum and were not to be trusted for anything. And I thought she was right. I’ve only trusted one man in my entire life—Chakotay. And it took him quite a while to earn my trust, believe me. But I’ve never trusted a man to remain committed in a relationship. I’ve had flings, of course, but nothing I ever wanted to pursue. Until now."

"B’Elanna—" Tom tried again. But she continued on, intent on finishing her explanation.

"I’d like to apologize, Tom. I wasn’t fair to you. I didn’t even give you a chance. But when—when I heard you were dying—it was like the world came crashing down on me. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, all I could do was worry that you’d die. That’s when I realized that I was in love with you. I—I hope you’ll be able to forgive me, Tom. I hope you can find it in your heart to give me another chance. Please." When B’Elanna finished, her face was scarlet with embarrassment. She was, for the most part, a private person who wasn’t used to revealing her feelings to anyone—especially a man, and especially Tom Paris.

For a moment, there was no sound but the holographic wind rustling through the trees. Then, Tom put his finger under B’Elanna’s chin and raised her head so she was looking up at him. Then, slowly, he leaned down and kissed her.

The kiss was long and sweet and full of promise. When it was over, Tom laid his hand on her knee. "I love you, B’Elanna Torres," he said emotionally, his vivid blue eyes staring into her deep brown ones.

"I love you too, Tom Paris," she whispered, placing her hand over his own and squeezing it tightly.

Tom kissed her again. "So, where do we go from here?" he murmured, uncertain of just what she wanted to do. Her reply caused his pulse to race even faster then it was already.

"How about your quarters?" She glanced up at him, a sly smile on her face.

"No—I—I mean—" he stammered. That smile of hers was making him feel like a nervous high schooler on a first date.

"I know what you mean, Tom," she said softly. Her tone insinuated that she really did know. "And I know what I mean. How about your quarters?"

Tom stared at her for a second. "You’re sure?" he said hesitatingly.

"Absolutely," she answered, squeezing his hand gently. "I’ve never been more sure in my life."

He quickly stood up. "Computer, end program." Together, hand in hand, he and B’Elanna walked out of the holodeck.