Disclaimer: Paramount owns the toys, I just play with them. The characters that come from my imagination, however, are mine and mine alone!

Copyright 1997 by JoAnna Walsvik, all rights reserved. In other words, this story is MINE. Please contact me with requests to archive, copy, e-mail, etc.

This story is rated PG-13 for containing kissing and stuff like that. Please respect this rating. But if you’re anything like my 3-year-old little sister, kissing is nothing new to you. LOL

Also, this story is dedicated to Lauren Taylor, for allowing me to use her last name, and to the rest of the Parisites for all of their patience and support during the creation of this story. Thanks, guys! I love all of ya! :)

Anyway, please enjoy and send LOTS of feedback! Thanks for reading!

Robert (VOY, P/T, PG-13)
by JoAnna Walsvik

Chapter 1

Kathryn Janeway, having dinner with her first officer one evening in the Mess Hall, watched with interest as B’Elanna Torres entered the room. As usual, she headed directly for Tom Paris and Harry Kim’s table and, as usual, Tom’s eyes lighted up at the sight of her. The captain couldn’t help but smile at the enthusiastic greeting he gave her.

"What’s so funny?" Chakotay asked, trying to decide if he should try Neelix’s attempt at meatloaf. Somehow, the odd-smelling chartreuse concoction just wasn’t appealing.

"Tom and B’Elanna," Janeway answered. "It’s so sweet how Tom snaps to attention whenever she enters the room. I just wish B’Elanna would do the same. She’s still treating him like—well, like their whole relationship is a game. I wonder if they’ll ever go beyond flirting."

"Playing matchmaker again?" the commander commented.

"What do you mean, again?" Janeway questioned, raising an eyebrow in a gesture not unlike Tuvok.

"I saw how you rearranged Aaron Dalby’s and Catherine Henly’s duty shifts so they’d coincide." A smile was tugging on the corners of his mouth. She hadn’t thought he had noticed that little alteration to the duty schedules.

"Yes, I did. And who is performing their marriage next month?" she asked pointedly.
"You are."

"I rest my case."

"Then again, if something should happen to you..." Chakotay teasingly winked at her.
"Mutiny, Commander?" she asked pleasantly.

"Nothing of the sort, Captain," he answered, equally as pleasant. "Just speculation, that’s all."

The two shared a quiet chuckle just as Janeway’s commbadge chirped. "Yes, Tuvok?" Janeway said with a sigh. Whenever she tried to have an uninterrupted meal, Tuvok would call from the bridge with something to report. If she didn’t know any better, she would have thought that the Vulcan planned these interruptions. But would Tuvok really...? No, Janeway decided. She was just becoming paranoid. It had been a long day.

"Captain, I apologize for interrupting your dinner," Tuvok said, "but sensors are detecting a distress signal from a nearby star system." He paused slightly, and Janeway’s mind instantly became alert. She recognized his pauses, and this one meant that he had some unusual news for her. "The signal is...Federation."

"Federation?" The captain and first officer shared a startled look. "I’m on my way." Janeway leaped from her seat, followed by Chakotay and also Tom, B’Elanna, and Harry, who knew the captain well enough to know that when she got up from her chair without even taking her plate with her, they had better follow.

* * * *

"You’re sure the signal is Federation?" Janeway asked the moment she set foot upon the bridge.

"Yes, Captain," Tuvok replied. "The signal is coming from a M-class planet in a star system three light years from our present location." He paused again, and the captain eyed her trusted friend sharply. More unusual news was coming. "Sensors are also detecting the remnants of a nearby wormhole that most likely collapsed as few as five days ago."

Inwardly, Janeway groaned. They had, once again, narrowly missed yet another chance to get home. "Set a course for that planet, Mr. Paris," she ordered, addressing the pilot as she sat down in her center chair. "Maximum warp."

"Aye, Captain." The captain felt the familiar hum of the warp engines as the ship accelerated. Of course, many space travelers claimed that modern technology such as inertial dampers made this change impossible to detect, but all seasoned starship captains could feel it. Most engineers could as well. Janeway glanced over at her chief engineer and saw that B’Elanna was smiling in satisfaction as Voyager smoothly glided through space. Tom Paris, she noted, was also smiling, but not because of Voyager. He was smiling because he saw that B’Elanna was smiling.
Tom is so sweet to her, Janeway thought once again. *I
just wish that she -- *

Her thoughts were interrupted when Tuvok announced, "We have arrived at the planet, Captain. There is one lifesign—it is human."

Chapter 2

"Hail them," she ordered after recovering from her initial shock, knowing that even as she spoke Harry Kim was complying. He had finally gained the experience to anticipate her commands before she spoke them, something she valued more and more each day.
"Channel open," the ensign announced.

"This is Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager. Do you require assistance?"

There was a short pause on the other end of the transmission. Then, a rich male voice answered, "Federation? Am—am I in the Alpha Quadrant?"

"No, you’re in the Delta Quadrant. It’s a long story. Do you need help?"

"My ship crashed on this planet about two weeks ago. It’s irreparable," the man answered. "Any assistance you could offer me would be appreciated."

"Very well. We’ll beam you aboard. Standby." Janeway rose from her seat and motioned to Chakotay, who followed her. "Janeway to transporter room one. Lock on to the lifesign on the planet and beam him up."

* * * *

Their guest was a tall young man of perhaps six foot three or four, with dark brown, almost black, hair and dusky grayish-blue eyes. His civilian clothing was dirty and ragged, and he was gingerly cradling his left arm in his right, indicating that he hadn’t had much in the way of medical or other supplies. Janeway stared at him a moment as she entered the transporter room. He looked oddly familiar, even though she knew she had never seen him before. There was just something about his face...

Quickly, she shrugged it off, moving forward with a smile to greet the man. "Welcome to Voyager. I’m Kathryn Janeway."

The man, who could not have been more then thirty, gazed at her for a second and then suddenly snapped his fingers. "Janeway... Voyager! Of course! I knew the name sounded familiar! This ship disappeared over four years ago, didn’t it?"

"That’s correct," Janeway smiled. "We were brought here by an entity known as the Caretaker who was searching for compatible genetic material—but that’s a rather long story." She turned and motioned to Chakotay. "This is my first officer, Commander Chakotay."

"My full name is Robert Jonathan Taylor—but you can call me Robert," the visitor replied cheerfully.

"It’s a pleasure to meet you, Robert," Janeway said, noting his injured arm with concern. "Are you in pain?"

"Kind of," he admitted. "I think I sprained my wrist when I crashed."
"Why don’t we escort you to sickbay," Chakotay suggested.
"Our doctor can have a look at it."

The trio started down the corridor, receiving curious glances from the other crewmembers as they walked down the hall. No doubt the gossip mill would be running rampant that night, Janeway thought.
"So, what brings you to this part of the quadrant, Robert?"
Chakotay asked.

"A partially collapsed wormhole, actually. I got a little too close and it pulled me in. My piloting skills aren’t that great," Robert confessed. He had an easygoing manner about him that made Janeway like him instantly. "My ship was damaged going through, and I barely managed to make it to that planet before I crashed. I’ve been there for about two weeks. I’m lucky I was able to get the distress call working. As it is, I hardly had enough power left to sustain it. Is the wormhole still there?"

"No, I’m sorry to say it collapsed about five days ago, according to our sensors," Janeway said soberly, wondering how this bright young man would react upon learning he was stranded so far from home.

She shouldn’t have worried. Robert barely blinked. "That’s too bad—for you folks, that is. As for me, I can’t say I’m too upset," he said, offering her a lop-sided grin. "I’m a bit of a drifter, moving from place to place. I don’t really have anywhere I can call home."
"No family?" Janeway questioned sympathetically.

"Nope," he answered, his sprightly facade fading for just an
instant. "My mother died quite some time ago. She was the only living relative I had."
"I’m sorry," the captain said guiltily.

"Don’t worry about it," Robert assured her as they entered sickbay. "I—" He stopped dead in his tracks once caught sight of the doctor. "Doc Zimmerman? It can’t be!"

"You knew him?" the hologram asked. "He was my programmer at the Jupiter Holoprogramming Station. I do resemble him."

"This is the Emergency Medical Holographic Program," Janeway explained. "Our doctor was killed during our journey here, so the doctor has become our full time physician. Doctor, this is Robert Taylor. He passed through a wormhole and crashed on a nearby planet."

"A wormhole?" The doctor said, already running his medical tricorder over Robert’s wrist.
"It collapsed five days ago," Chakotay said briefly.

"Ah. I see. Well, Mr. Taylor, your wrist is slightly sprained. I’ll have it healed in just a few moments." In the blink of an eye, the doctor was using a bone regenerator on Robert’s arm. "You should also get a few meals into yourself. You could use them."

"I am kind of hungry," Robert admitted. "My replicator was destroyed and there wasn’t much in the way of food down there."

"Well, judging by the standards of food aboard this ship, you may choose to go hungry," Chakotay said wryly, remembering his aborted dinner. "We’ve had to ration replicator use so we have a Delta Quadrant native—Neelix—as a cook and guide. He makes some...interesting...dishes."
"Can’t be worse then what I’ve been living on," Robert said.
He seemed to have an eternally optimistic attitude.

"How does that feel?" the doctor said, switching the regenerator off.
"Like new. Thanks, Doctor. Do—is your name Zimmerman?"
Robert asked uncertainly.

"As of yet, I don’t have a name," the doctor answered. "I have, however, considered Zimmerman as an option. Tell me, how do you know him?"

"I interned with him aboard the Jupiter station for a few months," Robert replied.
"Interned? Are you an engineer?" Janeway asked.

"I certainly try to be," Robert grinned. "I haven’t done much engineering stuff lately. I’ve been too busy roaming the universe."

"Well, now that you’re done roaming, I suggest you get yourself into some clean clothes and have a hot meal," the doctor hinted.

"Of course. Commander, will you escort Mr. Taylor to some guest quarters and then to the briefing room? He can tell his story to the rest of the senior staff," Janeway said, switching into professional mode. "I’ll meet you there."

Chapter 3

"Nice ship you have here, Commander," Robert observed appreciatively, freshly showered and dressed and on his way to the briefing room with Chakotay. "I don’t get a chance to be on Starfleet ships very often, but when I do I’m always impressed. How long have you been in Starfleet?"

"Technically, I haven’t—at least, not for quite a few years," the commander answered. "Voyager’s initial mission before she was brought here was to hunt down and capture a Maquis ship. I was the captain of that ship, and when we were brought here, I assumed the position of first officer. My ship was destroyed."

This caught Robert’s attention. "So some of the crew is Maquis?"

"About half, actually. I think most of us have adjusted to Starfleet life pretty well by now. There were a few who couldn’t quite conform—" Chakotay suppressed a grimace as he thought about Seska and Michael Jonas, "—but for the most part we’ve all adjusted."

"I -- know someone who joined the Maquis," Robert said vaguely. "She tried the Academy, but she decided the rebel life was more to her liking."
"I know someone like that myself," the first officer grinned.

"In fact, she’s now chief engineer on this ship."
"If she’s anything like my—like my friend was, I’d like to meet her," Robert said as the two of them entered the briefing room. "I—" he stopped short as he caught the gaze of one of the occupants of the room.

"Lanna?" he gasped, his voice startlingly loud in the now silent room.

"Rob?" the chief engineer exclaimed, looking equally shocked. She promptly dropped the PADD she had been holding and stared at the visitor in stupefaction.

Suddenly, she did something that shocked all of those who had known her for the past four years. B’Elanna Torres leaped from her chair, ran quickly across the rather small room, and promptly enfolded their new guest in a tight hug.

"My God, Princess, it is you! I can’t believe this!" Robert Taylor exclaimed, returning the hug with as much enthusiasm as it had been given. "Torres, what are you doing here?"

"What am I doing here? What are you doing here?" she retorted, gazing up at him with eyes shining like stars.

"Ah...do you two know each other?" Captain Janeway asked, her eyebrows raised in surprise. She had never known B’Elanna to show such emotion in public. And she had never seen the half-Klingon actually hug anybody before.

Both B’Elanna and Robert turned to look at her as though they had forgotten that anyone else was in the room. B’Elanna blushed, suddenly remembering that she was being watched by eight of her co-workers. "Rob and I grew up together on Kessik IV," she explained. "We were best friends from when we were toddlers up to our senior year in high school."

"And then some," Robert added. "I went to college, and she went to the Academy. We stayed in touch, for a while, but then she had to go and join the Maquis." This last sentence was said with a teasing glance in B’Elanna’s direction. "Speaking of, Princess, nice uniform."

"Thank you. I rather like it myself. And don’t call me Princess."
"Sure, Princess."


"B’Elanna, if you don’t mind, perhaps you could introduce your friend to the rest of us?" Harry hinted.

"Sure," B’Elanna acquiesced with a mischievous grin. "Rob, everybody. Everybody, Rob."

"Now, Princess, where are your manners?" Robert chided teasingly.
"Since when have I had manners?" she replied saucily.

"Good point."

The two laughed and finally became a trifle more serious. B’Elanna set out with the introductions. "Everyone, this is
Robert Taylor. Rob, you’ve met Captain Janeway, Commander Chakotay, and the doctor; this is Kes, our medical assistant, and Neelix, our cook and guide—"

"—and morale officer!" Neelix interrupted, his round face beaming.

"—and morale officer," B’Elanna agreed with less enthusiasm. "They’re both from the Delta Quadrant. This is To— Lieutenant Tom Paris, our pilot."

Robert glanced sharply at his old friend while shaking the lieutenant’s hand. There was a bit of a blush in B’Elanna’s cheeks—this Tom Paris chap was obviously someone special to her. Could it be that little B’Elanna Torres had a boyfriend? Suddenly, the name struck him. Paris...

"Vicky’s little brother?" he asked.

"Yeah," Paris answered warily, eyeing the stranger who seemed to be very close to B’Elanna, "she’s my sister. You know her?"

"She was in a few of my classes in college. I remember her well. Blonde, blue-eyed, smart as a whip. You look like her."

"Thanks," Tom replied, a bit startled. He wasn’t used to hearing praise from very many people.

"This is the Chief of Security, Lieutenant Tuvok," B’Elanna continued, "and this is the Ops officer, Ensign Harry Kim. That, um, should be everybody."

"And just what title do you hold?" Robert queried. "Let me guess—Chief Engineer, right?"
"Right, as always," B’Elanna concurred.

"No wonder this ship is in such good condition," he said, his comment directed towards Captain Janeway. "You have Princess B’Elanna working wonders in your engine room."

"Robert Jonathan Taylor, I’ve told you not to call me that," B’Elanna rebuked in an aggrieved tone.

"Why do you call her Princess?" Chakotay asked, intrigued at this new turn of events. So B’Elanna had a nickname he had never known about.

"Oh, no," B’Elanna groaned, self-consciously resting her head in her hands.

"Have you ever met her mother?" Robert asked cheerfully. "She’s the Ice Queen—typical Klingon. Incredibly hard to warm up to or get to know. Her daughter, although a bit easier to make friends with, is the same way. So, naturally, that would make Lanna the Ice Princess—or Princess for short."
"I think it’s kind of cute—Princess," Harry teased.

"Harry Kim, don’t you dare start," B’Elanna warned. "That goes for all of you—Paris."
"Did I say anything?" the pilot protested.

"No, but you were going to—Helm Boy."

"As interesting as this little repartee is," Janeway broke in, smiling at the two of them, "I’d much rather hear about what’s happening in the Alpha Quadrant. Are they still searching for Voyager?"

The smile faded from Robert’s face, and he sadly shook his head. "She was declared lost with all hands about two years ago. From what I remember, there was a big memorial service at Starfleet Headquarters, lots of crying."

"Do you know anything about the Maquis?" Chakotay asked, seeing that Janeway was too affected by this depressing piece of news to speak.

"I’m sorry, Commander, but no. I’ve been out in deep space for a long time. I’ve had almost no contact with the Federation whatsoever. The wormhole I passed through was on the boundaries of the Beta Quadrant—quite a ways away from home."

"Why on earth were you gallivanting across the galaxy like that?" B’Elanna demanded.

He shrugged. "I just wanted to see the universe, I guess. Have some adventure. Mom died three years ago, and you were gone, so there was really nothing to keep me in the Alpha Quadrant."

At this B’Elanna’s expression changed drastically. Her face turned so ashen the doctor involuntarily sprang toward her, in case she fainted. "Caroline died?" she asked quietly, her voice trembling ever so slightly.

"Oh—oh, gods, B’Elanna. I’m sorry," Robert apologized hastily, realizing what he’d done. "I didn’t mean to spring that on you so suddenly. But, yeah, Mom died a few years back." His voice lowered and his blue-gray eyes misted over. "Shuttle accident." He didn’t elaborate, and no one asked him to. It was clear that the accident was a painful subject for him.

"I’m sorry," B’Elanna said softly. "Caro was a good friend to me."
"She really liked you," Robert agreed, his grin reappearing.
"You were the only one she permitted to call her Caro."

B’Elanna smiled at this, but it was apparent that she had taken the news of the death of her friend hard. "Well, um, are you going to stay with us, Rob?"

Robert blinked in amazement. Leave it to B’Elanna to come directly to the point. "I—I don’t know," he stammered. "If
you’d like me to—I mean, if the ship isn’t too crowded or anything—"

"You’d be a welcome addition to our crew, Robert," Kathryn Janeway smiled. "B’Elanna’s always looking for extra hands in Engineering."

"Well, then—" Robert grinned from ear to ear. "I—the answer is yes! I’d be honored!" Abruptly, he grimaced. "Does this mean I have to wear a uniform?"

Janeway began to laugh at the expression of dread on his face. "Unfortunately, yes. You’ll also be given the field commission of ensign."

Robert sighed and shrugged. "I guess I can live with that. It’s better then living down at that planet for the rest of my days."
"Ever the optimist, aren’t you, Rob?" B’Elanna commented.

"You’d better believe it," he replied cheerily. "Speaking of the planet, Captain, I’d like to go back down there for a few minutes. Some of my possessions survived the crash and I’d like to retrieve them."

"Of course. Lieutenant Torres, why don’t you go with him? It’ll give you two a chance to catch up," Janeway suggested, noting the way B’Elanna’s eyes lit up at the prospect.

"Thank you, Captain," B’Elanna said gratefully. "Come on, Rob. Let’s go." She started toward the doors.
Robert followed her. "Anything you say, Princess."


Chapter 4

"Is something wrong, Tom?" Harry Kim asked mildly, watching the pilot slam his pool cue into the balls with such intensity he nearly knocked them off of the table.

"Robert Taylor, that’s what’s wrong," Tom growled, missing a shot he should have easily nailed. He was so angry he could barely see straight.
"Robert?" Harry was genuinely surprised. "He’s a great guy. What’s wrong with him?"

"That’s the point, Harry!" Tom said, throwing down his pool stick with such force that the table shook. Harry thanked his lucky stars that they were alone in Sandrine’s. If any of the crew witnessed this outburst, the ship’s gossip mill would have a heyday. Senior officers throwing temper tantrums in public were not common occasions—unless you were dealing with B’Elanna Torres.

Tom slumped down in a chair, folding his arms across his chest. "Ever since he came aboard, B’Elanna’s stuck to him like glue."
"Tom, they’ve been best friends since they were toddlers. They have a lot of catching up to do. What’s wrong with that?"

Harry asked, sitting down next to his friend.

"The way she looks at him, all starry-eyed," Tom rambled furiously. "And they’ve had dinner together three times -- *three times*, Harry—since he came on board two weeks ago!"

"Wow, three whole times? That has to be a record."

"Your sarcasm is not amusing, Harry. And you know what his biggest problem is?"

"You just can’t hate the guy! He’s too damn likable!" Tom exclaimed in frustration.

"The nerve of that man! Let’s call Tuvok and have him thrown in the brig!" Ensign Kim couldn’t suppress a smile.

"Harry, you don’t understand," Tom complained, glaring at his best friend.
"You know what your problem is, Tom?"

"No, I don’t, Dr. Kim. I’d appreciate your psychological insights."
"You’re jealous."

"I am not jealous!"

"Yes, you are. You’re so jealous of Robert that you can barely see straight. You’re jealous because B’Elanna seems to like him more then she likes you."

"I am not," Tom insisted, but he sounded less sure of himself.

"Why don’t you just talk to B’Elanna? Tell her how you feel," Harry suggested.

"I can’t do that! I mean, it’s not like we’re a steady couple or anything. All we’ve done—so far—is flirt," Tom said miserably. "And now this Robert guy comes sweeping in and taking her away from me. They’re probably going to get married and have a couple dozen kids."

"Aren’t you assuming a little too much?" Harry asked consolingly. "As far as I or anyone else on Voyager can tell, they’re just friends."

"Yeah, just friends now," Tom said bitterly. "She’s infatuated with him, Harry. It’s only a matter of time before B’Elanna forgets about me and starts dating Robert."

"So you care for B’Elanna."

"Of course I do, Harry! More then anything! But she doesn’t seem to feel the same way about me," Tom said mournfully.

"Excuse me, Lieutenant Paris? Ensign Kim?" Both officers at the table jumped as Robert Taylor stepped in from the shadows, an apologetic look on his face. "I’m sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt."
"No problem, Robert," Harry said sociably. "Have a seat."
He shot Tom a look that clearly said, Talk to him. Tom shot one back that said, No way.

Robert sat down directly across from Tom. "Lieutenant Paris,  excuse me for eavesdropping, but I couldn’t help overhearing what you said about B’Elanna and I."

Tom wished a bottomless hole would open in the floor of the holodeck so he could drop through it. "Ensign Taylor, I—"
"Robert. Please."
"Robert, I—"

"Look, Lieutenant, you don’t have to worry. There is no way B’Elanna and I could ever begin a relationship. Believe me. We tried it once when we were teenagers, and—well—it just didn’t work out. We agreed to stay friends. I can assure you, a relationship between us is not going to happen. We’re just friends. Very close friends, but friends nonetheless. And we could never be anything more."

Tom eyed the man suspiciously. He certainly seemed sincere, but... "Are you sure?" the pilot asked warily.

"Positive. Ask B’Elanna, and she’ll say the same thing. Besides, she likes you. I can tell." Robert’s blue-gray eyes were twinkling merrily.
"She does?" Tom asked, warming up to Robert a bit.

"I’ve known B’Elanna a long time. I see the way she looks at you. And when we’re together, all she does is talk about you. Tom Paris this, Tom Paris that, Tom, Tom, Tom. I can barely get a word in edgewise."
"She talks about me? Really?"

"All the time. I think I know everything about you but your shoe size."

"Twelve and a half," Tom grinned. "Can I ask you a personal question?"
"Go ahead," Robert shrugged easily.

"Why does she call you Rob and not Robert?"

Robert blinked, as though he had just realized that small fact for himself, and laughed. "Oh—that. Well, I guess it’s because when we were little, she had trouble saying "Robert", so she shortened it to "Rob", and she’s been calling me that ever since. I don’t think she even notices—I didn’t until you brought it up. Personally, I prefer Robert, but when it’s B’Elanna..." He shrugged. "I don’t mind. She can call me whatever she wants."
"You really care for her, don’t you?" Harry asked softly.

"Yes, I do. Like a—" Robert hesitated for a split second, then continued. "Like a brother," he finished.

"Robert, do you—do you think there’s a chance that B’Elanna might ever—well—go out with me?" Tom asked hopefully. "Like, on a real date?"

"I think there’s more then a chance, Mr. Paris," Robert replied. "She wants to. But she’s too shy to ask you herself."
"B’Elanna? Shy?" Harry repeated disbelievingly.

"Oh, yeah. She hasn’t said it to me directly, but I think she’s afraid that you’ll say no."

"Say no?" Tom exclaimed. "But—she has to know that I’d like to date her! My God, I’ve been pursuing her for months!"

"Maybe she thinks you’re just toying with her," Robert said seriously. "B’Elanna—and this goes no further then this holodeck, mind you—hasn’t had that much luck with men. All the guys she dated in high school just wanted—if you’ll pardon my slang—to ‘score’ with her so they could brag to their buddies. She stopped trusting men a long time ago. But she likes you. I think you should ask her out."

"Okay, I will," Tom said happily. "Thanks, Robert. Thanks a lot."
"You’re very welcome, Lieutenant."

The two men grinned at each other. Somehow, Robert instinctively knew, at the risk of wearing out a often-used clichT, that it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Chapter 5

"Hey, everybody!" Robert Taylor said cheerfully, entering the Mess Hall and heading over to the large table were the senior staff were having lunch together, something they did occasionally. "Mind if I join you?" He was holding a large black book in his arms.

"Not at all, Robert. Have a seat," Chakotay said pleasantly. "How’s Starfleet life going?"

"Surprisingly well, actually," Robert answered good-naturedly, pulling up a chair next to the captain and setting the book under it. "B’Elanna’s helped me a lot—you know, teaching me protocol and everything. She’s practically the expert."

All heads turned to the chief engineer, who was blushing red from the roots of her hair to the tips of her toes. "Really?" Janeway inquired. "I’m glad to hear that."

B’Elanna shrugged defensively. "So I did some reading up on it when I first came on board. So sue me."

"Anyway, the reason I’m here," Robert continued, reaching under his chair and retrieving his book, "is because I wanted to show you something that I brought back from my ship. It was knocked up pretty badly in the crash, but I was able to salvage most of it."
"Was is it?" Harry asked interestedly.

"The Taylor family photo album!" Robert announced cheerfully.

B’Elanna promptly spit out the mouthful of food she was chewing and leaped up from her seat, wildly grabbing for the book. Robert, who was several inches taller then her, laughingly held it up so she couldn’t reach it. "Oh, no you don’t!" B’Elanna yelled. "There are baby pictures of me in there!"
"Really? Let’s take a look!" Chakotay said brightly.

"Come on, B’Elanna," Robert coaxed. "You have nothing to be embarrassed about. You were a cute kid. Besides, there’s pictures of me in here that are much more humiliating."
"No!" B’Elanna insisted.

"Well, I’d certainly like to see them," Captain Janeway announced, a grin on her face. "Do I have to make it an order, Lieutenant?"

B’Elanna looked from the captain to Robert and back again, realizing that she was fighting a losing battle. "Oh, all right," she muttered reluctantly. "I’m going to be a laughingstock."

"Why? Any pictures of you naked on a rug?" Tom asked innocently.

"Paris! Can you be any more indecent?" Harry Kim exclaimed, kicking his friend underneath the table. "Wait—don’t answer that," he added, seeing how Tom was about to open his mouth.

But B’Elanna wasn’t angry at Tom’s comment, only thoughtful. "Actually, there is," she admitted. "When I was eighteen months old."

Laughter pealed from the officers present as Robert opened the book. The officers crowded around him eagerly as he pointed at the first picture, one of a plump, adorable baby girl—seemingly human—with rosy cheeks, dark hair and eyes, and a tiny pink dress with matching booties. "That’s B’Elanna when she was about three months old."
"Awwww," the officers sighed in unison.

"B’Elanna, you were so cute!" Janeway exclaimed adoringly.
"But how come you look so human?"

"My forehead didn’t become prominent until I was about two or so," B’Elanna replied, smiling at the photo. She hadn’t seen a baby picture of herself in a long time.

Robert turned a page, pointing to a little boy with dark hair and bluish-gray eyes. The baby was being held by a very pretty young woman with the same eyes and soft auburn hair. "That’s me and my mother, Caroline Rose Taylor. Isn’t she beautiful?"
"You were pretty cute, too," B’Elanna said affectionately.

The pictures continued on through a period of many years, mainly of B’Elanna and Robert together: as toddlers, at preschool, at their kindergarten graduation—where there was a hilarious photo of B’Elanna stuffing cake into another little girl’s face who, as B’Elanna said, had told her that her dress was ugly—and on through elementary and high school. And, as promised, B’Elanna showed her "pin-up" pictures: herself, naked and lying on a towel after a bath, at eighteen months of age. Luckily for the hapless chief engineer, all "strategic" parts of her body were indiscernible, much to the disappointment of a certain blonde pilot.

But all agreed that the best picture was one that Robert had taken when B’Elanna wasn’t looking. The half-Klingon was thirteen years old and sitting near a rosebush, sniffing one of the roses with a simple smile of delight on her young face.

And, of course, the funniest picture was the one of B’Elanna and Robert, both six years old and covered from head to toe with slimy brown mud. B’Elanna’s hands were on her hips and she was completely furious with the photographer, but Robert was laughing happily. As he explained, the two young ones had gotten into a mudfight in Robert’s back yard one wet spring day, much to the amusement of Caroline Taylor, who had insisted on snapping a picture of the two before they cleaned up.

"B’Elanna got mad because I tried to kiss her on the cheek, so she shoved mud in my face," Robert boyishly explained. "I, of course, had to retaliate, and the whole situation escalated from there."

"Why are there so many pictures of B’Elanna in here?" Harry wanted to know. "It’s the Taylor family album, isn’t it?"

"Yes," Robert acknowledged, "it is. But B’Elanna and I were so close that my mother kind of felt like B’Elanna was her own child."

"Caro used to say that I was the daughter she never had," B’Elanna remembered fondly.

"Anyway," Robert continued, "Mom asked Maiah—B’Elanna’s mother—for pictures of B’Elanna to put in the album, and she gave my mom a whole bunch of them. So I guess you could call it the Taylor-Torres family photo album."

"Hey, B’Elanna. If I try to kiss you will you shove mud in my face?" Tom Paris asked sweetly.

"Yes, I certainly will," B’Elanna answered, just as sweetly, but her eyes were twinkling.

"Darn," Paris said in mock disappointment, drawing a laugh from the others present.

"What about your father?" Neelix wanted to know. "Why aren’t there any pictures of him?"

B’Elanna and Robert exchanged a significant look that none of the senior officers could interpret. "I haven’t seen my father since I was a small boy, Mr. Neelix," Robert said briefly. "He - - he wasn’t one for family life."

"I’m sorry," Neelix apologized guiltily. "I didn’t mean to offend you."

"You didn’t, Mr. Neelix. It’s okay," Robert assured him, and quickly changed the subject.

When they had finished looking at the pictures, Robert closed the book and smiled. "We had some good times, didn’t we, Princess?"

B’Elanna sighed, shaking her head at him. "Robert Jonathan Taylor, you’re incorrigible."
"That’s part of my charm."

Chapter 6

The doctor sighed, wishing that he had been programmed with a subroutine on how to handle impatient Klingons who had no use for physicals. "I’m glad that’s over," he muttered darkly. As usual, the chief engineer had plainly expressed that she was in perfect health and, as usual, she was. It had been no use trying to convince her that an annual physical was needed to confirm that fact with tangible data. As happened with all Klingons, she hadn’t listened.

Now, all that remained was to enter the results of the physical in the computer, along with Robert Taylor’s results. He had been a great deal more cooperative even though he also insisted that he was in perfect health—and had been correct.

"Let’s see," the doctor murmured, rapidly uploading the data from both physicals into the computer and scanning it as it transferred. "Blood tests, immune systems, DNA genetic structures -- wait a moment."

The hologram frowned, pausing the transfer and pulling up the results of the genetic anomaly tests for both B’Elanna Torres and Robert Taylor. As he studied both of them, his eyes widened in shock.

"This can’t be," he whispered in astonishment. "This isn’t possible! I wonder if they—probably not—but they should be told—Computer, current location of Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres and Ensign Robert Taylor."

There was a barely discernible pause before the monotone female voice of the computer answered, "Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres and Ensign Robert Taylor are in Engineering."
"Sickbay to Engineering."

"Torres here."

"Lieutenant, I need you and Ensign Taylor to report to  Sickbay immediately."
A long pause, then—"Is something wrong, doctor?"

"Please report to sickbay. I’ll explain there. Doctor out."
* * * *

"What is it, doctor?" B’Elanna Torres asked, sitting side by side with Robert in the doctor’s office.

The doctor was pacing nervously. "I’m not quite sure how to tell you this. It’s something I noticed in your physicals. It was a fluke, really—I wouldn’t have caught it if I hadn’t uploaded your test results together—but I noticed something odd in your genetic anomaly tests."

B’Elanna and Robert exchanged worried looks, full of a hidden meaning that the doctor couldn’t interpret. "Oh?" Robert inquired anxiously. "Odd? What do you mean?"

"Part of your DNA is similar—very similar, in fact. I couldn’t believe it myself at first, but I double and triple checked to be sure there was no mistake, and there was none. There’s no doubt about it."

"No doubt about what, doctor?" B’Elanna asked impatiently.
"The tests show that you two are—that you’re siblings. Half-brother and half-sister, to be exact. Now, I know this must
be a great shock, but—"

The doctor was interrupted by laughter—gentle laughter from B’Elanna, and more of a hearty laugh from Robert. This reaction was the very last the doctor had expected, and he looked from one patient to the other in bewilderment. Perhaps they were hysterical? Or in denial? They certainly didn’t look it, but perhaps he should run some tests to be sure they possessed all of their mental facilities...

"Well, Rob, it looks as though we’ve been found out," B’Elanna chuckled, a soft smile on her face.

"Yup, we’ve been busted all right," Robert agreed with a smile of his own.
The holographic doctor was now in a state of utter confusion.
"You mean—you two knew about this?"

Both nodded simultaneously. "I suppose we should tell him the story," Robert said, glancing at B’Elanna out of the corner of his eye.
She nodded in agreement. "Do you want to start?"

"You see, doctor," Robert began, "a long time ago, about twenty-five years, to be exact, B’Elanna’s parents, Maiah and Maurice Torres, and my mother, Caroline Taylor, lived on the colony planet of Kessik IV in the city of Beril. Well, during the time that Maiah was pregnant with B’Elanna, Maurice was—er, seeing my mother."

"Seeing your mother?" the doctor questioned, not quite understanding.

"They were having an affair," B’Elanna quietly supplied, her face growing pink with embarrassment, "the details of which and the reason of aren’t important."
"I see," the doctor replied, sorry he had asked.

"Anyway," Robert continued, "about the time Maiah gave birth to B’Elanna, my mother discovered she was pregnant with me. She told Maurice, who, obviously, wasn’t too pleased. Maurice told my mother that he wasn’t ready for marriage and my mother, foolishly enough, agreed not to marry him. She should have suspected then that something was wrong, but she was very young—only nineteen -- and very naive at the time. So, nine months later I came, and Maurice spent most of his time going between families."

"You should understand, doctor," B’Elanna interrupted, "that Beril is the capital city of Kessik, and a very large city at that. Somehow, my father managed to keep Caroline a secret from my mother and vice versa. Meanwhile, Rob and I met, as toddlers, at the daycare center we both attended and became friends. Of course, no one but my father knew that we were really brother and sister, and he wasn’t about to tell anyone."

"Then, one day," Robert said, picking up the story, "my mother somehow discovered that Maurice was married with a daughter. How she discovered this, I don’t know—she never told me and I never asked—but she went directly to Maiah and told her everything. She even offered to show B’Elanna’s mom a DNA test to prove that Maurice was my father."

"Mother and Caroline were both furious with my father—and understandably so," B’Elanna stated. "But miraculously enough, my mother wasn’t angry with Caroline. After all, Caro had no idea that my father was married with a little girl. I don’t like my mother much but I will say that she has a sensible head on her shoulders—for a Klingon, that is. Anyway, the next day, both of them confronted my father. And the day after the confrontation, my father—coward that he was—left Kessik to avoid dealing with both of them, and neither Rob nor I nor our mothers have heard from him since."

"At the time of Maurice’s—er, departure, both B’Elanna and I were five years old," Robert added. "We were too young to understand what had happened, and our mothers decided to keep the entire fiasco a secret from us until we were old enough to understand."
The doctor nodded. "A wise decision."
"My mother and Caroline remained—well, not friends, but acquaintances, and allowed our friendship to continue," B’Elanna said. "When we were freshmen in high school, however, Rob and I began to date. Mother and Caroline decided to tell us the truth about our parentage in case the relationship developed any further. So, one night, both of them sat us down and told us the truth about our father."

"Actually, both B’Elanna and I were kind of pleased, although very shocked, mind you, at the news," Robert admitted. "Neither of us had ever had a brother or sister, so naturally we were glad to discover we suddenly had one. We stopped dating, of course, but we remained best friends as well as half-brother and sister."

"But we’ve never told anyone," B’Elanna stressed. "Rob and I are first and foremost friends, and siblings second. Hell, we barely even think about it at times. The story is just too long and too complicated to explain to everyone we meet."

"Not to mention embarrassing," Robert agreed. "B’Elanna and I aren’t proud of our father, doctor, or of what he did, and for that reason and that reason only we keep our heritage a secret."

"We’d appreciate it if you’d do the same, doctor," B’Elanna requested. "Rob and I debated upon telling you or the captain about our family history, but ultimately we decided that unless the truth was discovered, no one had to know."

"And that," Robert concluded, "is our story. As B’Elanna said, doctor, we’d appreciate it if you’d keep the whole thing a secret. Perhaps someday we’ll tell others about our relation to each other, perhaps not, but we do know that now is not that time."

"Of—of course," the doctor consented immediately, still a bit overwhelmed at all he had heard. "This is a private matter between the two of you and, as your physician, I am not allowed to disclose the information unless deemed absolutely necessary by the captain—and I can’t think of a circumstance that would require me to say anything."

B’Elanna and Robert breathed a simultaneous sigh of relief. "Thank you, Doctor," B’Elanna said gratefully. "We know our secret is safe with you. May I leave now? I really have to get back to Engineering."

"By all means," he permitted, and B’Elanna walked out the door.

Robert lingered for a moment more. "Doctor, I have a favor to ask of you," he requested.
"Yes, Mr. Taylor?"

"This is going to sound odd, but if—if something should happen to me, gods forbid, I’d like for you to tell Captain Janeway and the others that B’Elanna and I are—were—brother and sister. You see, I’ve been wanting to make it public, but B’Elanna’s too embarrassed over the whole thing," Robert said confidentially. "I don’t think we should hide our parentage—

I’m proud B’Elanna’s my sister—but, as I said, B’Elanna doesn’t agree with me. This way, if—if something should happen to me—the truth will be known. Could you do that for me?"
"Yes. Yes, I certainly will," the EMH promised.

"Thanks, Doc," Robert grinned, and for the first time the doctor noted the marked resemblence between him and Lieutenant Torres. Why, they had the same hair color—and the same complexion—and, as Robert had just displayed, they had the same smile, also. "I owe you one," Robert added, and left the office.

The doctor sank down in his chair, mulling over all he had just witnessed. It was certainly not something one heard every day.

Eventually, he completed the uploading of their medical information into the computer database, pausing only to add a note to their private medical files—files that were accessible only by the chief medical officer—about the identity of Lieutenant Torres’ and Ensign Taylor’s respective half-sibling.

Voyager’s CMO now considered the matter closed—and the doctor quite possibly would have kept this remarkable secret to himself for the rest of his existence had not a set of unlucky circumstances deemed it otherwise.

Chapter 7
Up the ramp, across the bridge, down the steps, to her chair.
Up the ramp, across the bridge, down the steps, to her chair. Janeway paced nervously, prowling like a tigress across as her bridge as she waited for even the slightest sign of her missing shuttlecraft.

Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres and Ensign Robert Taylor were now six hours overdue, and not hide nor hair of them had been seen since they had set out on their scouting mission.

The two had left to explore a nearby asteroid field that had promised to be full of usable minerals. B’Elanna had been fairly drooling in anticipation of getting her hands on some decent metals. Voyager had originally planned to go to the field, but an urgent distress call some distance away had changed their plans, and B’Elanna had instead requested permission to take Robert and go explore the field while Voyager assisted the crippled ship.

Janeway had granted her permission, and the two had gone. Voyager had assisted the damaged space craft—a ship disabled by a computer virus that had been the cause of a partial computer shutdown. Harry Kim managed to repair the computer, earning the adoration and praise of the alien ship’s entire crew.

Voyager now waiting at the rendezvous point. But B’Elanna and Robert still hadn’t shown up, and Janeway was beginning to get worried. It just wasn’t like either of them to be late. They were usually so punctual, and if they had been delayed they would have least sent a message or a launched a buoy with an explanation. But there was nothing.

Finally, she couldn’t stand it anymore. "Mr. Paris, set a course for the asteroid field. Maximum warp."

"Yes, ma’am," Paris complied, jumping to action. He, too, had been nearly crawling out of his skin with anxiety. It felt good to be doing something—it would keep him from thinking of all of the possible disasters that could have befallen B’Elanna and Robert.

* * * *

B’Elanna Torres coughed violently, trying to peer through the noxious fumes that had filled the cabin of the shuttle. "Rob?" she called, going into another coughing fit as the smoke invaded her lungs. "Rob, are you okay?"

She suddenly tripped over an obstacle in her path, falling to her knees beside an inert figure. "Rob!" she gasped. He was unconscious, with a nasty gash on his forehead that was profusely bleeding.

Crawling over him, she reached for the manual controls to open the hatch of the shuttle. *Thank Kahless we made it to this moon before we crashed,* she thought fuzzily, concentrating on opening the hatch before they both died of asphyxiation.

The asteroid field had been much more turbulent then Voyager’s scans or the shuttle’s sensors had foretold. B’Elanna had done her best to navigate the field, but, as she had admitted to herself, she was no Tom Paris, and Rob wasn’t much better then she was. In fact, even Tom Paris might have had a problem piloting in this particular field. Finally, B’Elanna had decided to give up and travel to the rendezvous spot ahead of schedule, even though she hated to leave all of those valuable metals behind. But just as they started out of the field, one of the asteroids veered out of its path and squarely rammed into the shuttle. B’Elanna and Rob, locating a small M-class moon not to far away, had just barely managed to make it into the atmosphere before totally losing control of the shuttle. Halfway down, an exploding panel had caused Rob to be thrown out of his seat, and seconds later B’Elanna had lost consciousness as well. The next thing she remembered was waking up in a smoke-filled cabin.

The hatch hissed open, and B’Elanna grasped Rob’s arms and dragged him into the open air. The weather was cloudy and chilly, most likely because night was falling, and hovering somewhere around fifty degrees Farenheight. She went back into the shuttle and searched for the medical kit and the emergency blankets and rations. Thank Kahless, they hadn’t been destroyed in the crash. Practically everything else had, including the replicators and the means for sending out a distress signal.

Wincing, she began to clean and heal Rob’s wounds, using the dermal regenerator in the medkit. It was as she was repairing him that she began to be aware of her own injuries. Her head throbbed, left wrist ached painfully, and there was a long, jagged cut along the left side of her face. She could feel the warm blood slowly coursing down her cheek. But she pushed the thought of her own pain out of her mind and concentrated on her friend.

Her ridged brow creased in worry as she scanned Robert with the medical tricorder. He must have been thrown around a lot more then she had. He had various internal injuries, as well as a severe concussion. She just prayed that he could hold on until Voyager came, as she had no doubt they would. The shuttle was already several hours late, and B’Elanna knew that Captain Janeway wouldn’t sit and wait for very long. With any luck, Voyager was on its way right now.
"Lanna?" Rob coughed weakly, his eyes fluttering open.

"Shhh," B’Elanna soothed, brushing a lock of his dark hair -
the hair that was, she knew, exactly like hers—away from his brow. "Lie still. You’re going to be fine."
"No—I—" he coughed, and B’Elanna was alarmed to see blood trickle from the sides of his mouth. She knew that it wasn’t a good sign. "I’m—hurt too badly—I know that."

"No! Rob, you just have to hang on until Voyager gets here. I know you can do that," B’Elanna firmly maintained. But night was falling quickly, and it promised to get colder soon. Quickly, she covered Robert with both blankets from the shuttle. She used the other to pillow his head.

Robert reached up and grabbed her hand, holding it with surprising strength considering his weakened condition. "B’Elanna, I—I’m not—going to make it."

"Don’t say that!" she protested. "You—"
"Listen—to me," Robert interrupted, getting the words out with difficulty. "About—Paris—"
"Tom? What about him?"

"Don’t be afraid—of him—he wants to help you—he wants to love you. You two—belong together—don’t push him away—you can trust him. Promise me you’ll—try to let him in -- into your heart."

"Rob, you have to rest. Please—"
"Promise me!" he insisted with surprising strength.

"I promise," she relented. "Now, lie quietly."

He gazed up at her with surprising calmness. "You look—so much like—your mother," he whispered affectionately. "You—have her eyes, Princess. When—you get back—home—go see her. I know—you aren’t close—but go see her—and tell her hello for me."

"You’re going to tell her that yourself, Robert Jonathan Taylor, do you hear me?" B’Elanna was becoming sincerely frightened. He was slipping away from her.

Robert smiled dreamily. "I—love you—big sister." Then suddenly, his eyes rolled back in his head, and finally shut completely.
He was gone.

"Rob? Rob, wake up! Rob! NO!" B’Elanna cried hysterically, gathering his limp body in her arms. "No! Rob!

Don’t die on me --please—come back to me, damn you, come back!

Now! Rob, don’t leave me!"
He didn’t answer her, nor would he ever.

"Rob," B’Elanna whispered forlornly. "No."

She bowed her head and closed her eyes, wishing with all her might that this was all a horrible dream and that she would wake up, safe in her quarters, and that she’d meet Rob in Engineering and he’d smile his debonair smile and say, "Good morning, Princess!"

This couldn’t be real. It couldn’t be. He just couldn’t be dead.

* * * *

When a rescue team from Voyager found her the next morning, she was still clutching Robert’s lifeless body in her arms.

Chapter 8

The memorial service for Robert Jonathan Taylor was held three days after his death and attended by almost every member of the crew available. Robert, who had always had a smile or a kind word for everyone, had been very popular among the crew of Voyager, and his death was heavily mourned by all who had known him—with one exception.

B’Elanna Torres, the one person on board who had been closest to Robert, sat through the entire memorial service with a completely expressionless face, her arms folded tightly across her chest. While planning the service, Janeway had asked if she would care to get up and say a few words, but B’Elanna had, to the surprise of everyone, refused.

A big sensation had been caused on Voyager after the doctor, as per Robert Taylor’s request, had informed Captain Janeway and the senior officers of Robert and B’Elanna’s true parentage. At first the announcement was met with great disbelief, then shock, and then a great outpouring of sympathy. Almost every one of the crew knew what it was like to lose someone they loved, but few could imagine what it would be like to lose a loved one twice, as B’Elanna had—once when she had been pulled into the Delta Quadrant with no hope of seeing Robert again, and now after his unfortunate demise.

After the memorial service, when a few members of the crew had approached her to express their sympathy for her loss, she had scarcely acknowledged them or their condolences, leaving more then a few people confused at her apathetic reaction to her brother’s death. A few of the more uncharitable crewmen had whispered that it was only to be expected from a Klingon, but for the most part her friends were worried about her—and none more so then Tom Paris.

Throughout the entire service he had stuck to her side like glue, even though she had ignored his presence before, during, and after the funeral. But if Tom felt snubbed by her, he certainly didn’t show it. He was as devoted as he had ever been, even if his attentions went unappreciated.

In the days and weeks following Robert’s death and subsequent funeral, the chief engineer of Voyager could be seen walking through the corridors like a zombie, barely noticing anyone or anything. She didn’t speak a word unless it was to give an order or answer a direct question, and even then her tone was clipped and she spoke as few words as possible. During her off-duty hours she holed up in her quarters, refusing to see anyone or go anywhere. Dark circles appeared under her eyes, even though it seemed that all she did was sleep while off duty. And it was doubted by those who saw her that she ate enough to keep a baby Tarellian meerkat alive, judging from her suddenly slimmer appearance.

Three months after the memorial service, Captain Janeway finally expressed her concerns to Commander Chakotay when they we were having dinner in the Mess Hall after yet another shift where a noticeably thinner B’Elanna hadn’t spoken more then three words to anyone.

"This just isn’t healthy, Chakotay," she told him, her soft blue eyes clouded with worry. "She’s going to waste away into nothing. I’m seriously considering having the doctor thoroughly examine her. Kes was speaking to me today, and she said that the doctor was even thinking about feeding her intravaneously if she didn’t gain back some of the weight she’s lost."

"It’s not just her weight," Chakotay said seriously. "Have you even seen evidence that’s she’s shed a tear or expressed any grief at all over Robert’s death? If my brother died, I’d be sobbing buckets. I know that Klingons consider crying to be weak, but this is ridiculous. She was devoted to him."

"She reminds me of myself a long time ago," Janeway said softly, pushing her food around on her plate.
"You?" Chakotay said uncertainly. "How?"

"When I was a lieutenant, I served on Admiral Owen Paris’s ship – the Icarus—as a science officer. It was there I met Justin."

"My fiancée."

At Chakotay’s shocked look, she smiled and continued. "At least, he was. He and my father were killed in an accident. We were testing a new prototype runabout at Tau Ceti Prime, and a solar windstorm came up suddenly. We crashed beneath the icecaps. I—I was the only survivor." Her voice still held the pain of the long-ago accident. Chakotay could see that it was still a rather sensitive subject. "But for months afterward I was just like B’Elanna. I didn’t talk, I didn’t eat, all I wanted to do was sleep – because while I was asleep, I couldn’t feel pain. But, Chakotay, looking back, I think I was on the verge of suicide."

"Suicide? You?" Chakotay exclaimed softly. Kathryn Janeway was the last person in the Delta Quadrant he would ever suspect of wanting to kill themselves.

"Yes, me. It hurt so much that I just wanted to sleep forever."
"What happened?"

"Intervention in the form of my younger sister, Phoebe." She smiled at the long-ago memory. "One day she marched into my room and announced that she was sick of my attitude. When I wouldn’t get up, she poured a bucket of ice-cold water on me. Drenched me completely. I was angry, but it had made the bed too uncomfortable to sleep in so I had to get up. And after I did, Phoebe wouldn’t let me go back to bed until nightfall. For days, she’d push me and push me until, gradually, I began living again. It wasn’t easy, but...eventually I was able to go on."

"And you think what happened to you is happening to B’Elanna."

"That’s right." He knew her so well. "I could be wrong – maybe she needs more time. But I’m afraid that if someone doesn’t do something, we’ll never see the old B’Elanna Torres again."

Their conversation drifted into other things, but at the next table a certain pilot was deep in thought. He had attempted not to eavesdrop on the captain and commander’s conversation, but once he heard mention of his father he had given up trying to look discreet and had listened to Janeway’s story.

Maybe she’s right, he thought. Maybe all B’Elanna needs is someone to push her into the real world. He had been worried sick over B’Elanna’s xenophobic nature the last few weeks. It wasn’t natural for anyone to isolate themselves like she had done. Sure, Robert’s death had been hard on her, but she was a total recluse. Even at the funeral, she had shown no emotion whatsoever. She hadn’t even cried, and Tom knew she could cry. He had seen her do so once, when they were trapped in the Vidiian prison. Of course, at the time she had been fully human, but there was more of the human side to her then she cared to admit.

He wanted to see her cry again. He would try anything to bring her out of the isolated cocoon she had spun for herself. And he just might have thought of a way to do it.

* * * *

Not more then one hour later, Tom Paris stood outside of B’Elanna’s quarters. He took a deep breath to calm his rather shaky nerves. He wasn’t sure if this plan would work—for all he knew, he could the cause of more emotional damage for her. But, at this point, he was desperate enough to try anything.

He reached out, rang her doorbell, and waited. When there was no response from inside, he rang the bell again. This time, it was only a few seconds before the doors gently swished open to reveal a pajama-clad B’Elanna Torres.

"What do you want?" she mumbled, after staring blankly at him for a second.
"Hello to you, too," he replied airily. "Can I come in?"

Her reply was immediate. "No."

"Too bad." Tom brushed past her and went inside her quarters, squinting in the dim light. Did she keep it this way all the time? "Computer, lights on full."

B’Elanna followed him in, her demeanor more confused then angry. "Paris, what are you doing?" she asked tiredly. Her bewilderment mounted when he opened her dresser door and started to rummage through the contents of it.

"You are going to get dressed," Tom said, taking a dark maroon top and matching pants out of the drawer, "and then we’re going to go to the Mess Hall and eat. Or to Sandrine’s, whatever you prefer."

"Neither. I want to go back to bed." She headed for her sleeping quarters, but Tom was faster and moved quickly to block the doorway. "You’ve slept enough," he announced firmly. "It’s time to get up and join the real world."

"Paris, move." Her tone indicated that she was becoming annoyed, the first emotion she had shown in weeks. Tom was encouraged by this, and didn’t budge an inch.
"Nope. Sorry, Torres, but I’m not letting you go to bed."

"Funny, I thought that’s where you wanted me," she muttered, folding her hands tightly under her chest and staring obstinately at the floor.

Ouch. "Hitting a little below the belt, aren’t you, B’Elanna?" Tom asked lightly, struggling to keep his true feelings in check. That insult had stung, but he was determined to keep his cool.

"It’s true, isn’t it?" she asked defiantly. She was still refusing to look at him, her gaze remaining fixed to the floor.

"You know very well that’s not true," Tom said, his voice slightly betraying the mild anger he felt at the deliberate insult. "I’m your friend. I want to help you."

"Then leave me alone." She tried to push past him, but Tom, with a strength that surprised even himself, gently shoved her back.
"No. I can’t do that," he said resolutely.

"And why not?" Hostility colored her voice, and she raised her eyes to glower furiously at him. Tom stared right back at her, refusing to back down.
"Because I can’t let you do this to yourself, that’s why."

Her eyes narrowed and she regarded him suspiciously. "Do what to myself?"

"Just look at you. You’ve lost at least ten pounds, maybe more, and you look like you haven’t slept in weeks even though tht’s all you’ve been doing. You don’t look healthy, and that’s why it’s my responsibility, as your friend, to look out for you. And that’s what I’m doing."

"By invading my privacy?"

"By forcing you to join the real world for a change. When was the last time you went to the Mess Hall, B’Elanna? Or the holodeck?"
She glared at him fiercely. "I don’t remember."

"That’s because it’s been more then three months since you actually sat down and had a real conversation with someone." Tom paused slightly, and his voice lowered. "You’ve barely talked to anyone since Robert died."

Something in her eyes changed when he mentioned Robert’s name. He couldn’t pinpoint exactly what, but it was something.

For a long while she didn’t say a word. Then, suddenly, she turned her back on him and stalked across the room. "Go away, Paris."
"What’s wrong, B’Elanna?" he persisted, following her.
"Don’t you want to admit that he’s dead? That Robert was killed? Or don’t you even remember it?" Damn, he hated doing this to her, but he didn’t know any other way to get through to her.

"Of course I remember!" she actually shouted, whirling around to face him.
"You’re angry," Tom observed, eyeing her carefully.

"Damn right I’m angry! You barge in here, start snooping through my things, and then you have the—the audacity -- to tell me that I don’t remember my bro—Robert’s death!" She nearly choked on the last portion of her sentence.
"So you do remember it."

"How could I forget?" she hissed, her dark eyes blazing.
Tom felt his heart leap in his chest. It was the first time in weeks where her eyes hadn’t been glazed over. "I was there."

"What happened down there, B’Elanna?" he asked gently. She hadn’t given the captain any details, and the captain hadn’t asked for any. Kathryn Janeway hadn’t wanted to prolong B’Elanna’s grief any longer then neccessary, so all she had stated in her report was that "Ensign Robert Taylor died of severe internal injuries as the result of a shuttlecraft accident."

She looked down and to the side, anywhere to avoid meeting his piercing blue eyes. "That’s none of your business."

"You’re wrong," Tom objected. "It is my business. Robert was my friend, too. I think I have a right to know what happened to him."

"We crashed. He died. That’s all there is to know." She was definitely more edgy, prowling around the room like a tigress. And was it his imagination, or was her voice shaking slightly?

"Did he die instantly?" he continued, trying to get her to open up.
She hesitated. "He—no," she admitted.

"Was he conscious?" Tom pressed.

"Paris, shut up and go away!" she snapped suddenly.

"No!" Tom was proving to be even more stubborn then she was.

"By the blood of Kahless, what do you want?!" she shouted in frustration.
"I want you to cry!" he yelled back.

His answer confused her for a moment. "Cry?"

"Yes, cry. As in tears running down your face. As in you showing some emotion other then complete indifference at your brother’s death!" Tom wasn’t sure if he was yelling because he was angry at himself for losing his temper or at her for being so stubborn.

"I’ll have you know, Mr. Hotshot Pilot, that Klingons don’t cry!" she flared.

"I don’t give a damn, Torres. Unless you’re about to tell me that you’re half-Vulcan as well as half-Klingon, I’m not buying it. I’ve seen you cry before and I know you can do it."

"I have never cried in front of you!"

"Oh, yeah? Remember the Vidiian prison?"

She flushed and looked aside, muttering, "I was—human. I wasn’t myself."

"Just like you weren’t yourself in the caves of Sikaria?" he shot back.
Her head snapped up, her face turning bright red with rage.
"You would have to bring that up."
"At least I’m not hiding from the truth."

"I am not hiding from anything!"

"Oh, yeah? When we were down there you said that you were interested in me—that you wanted us to happen. And when it almost did, you pretend that it didn’t. If that’s not hiding I don’t know what is."

Her fists clenched, she took a step towards him. Paris didn’t do so much as blink at her approach, even though he knew that with her superior Klingon strength, she could easily overpower him.

"What do I have to do to get you to LEAVE?!" She snarled the last word, her face just inches from his.

"Show emotion, that’s what have to do!" he shouted, even though she was so close she to him that she could hear his softest whisper. "Come on—cry, damn you, cry! He was your brother! Surely he’s worth some of those precious tears of yours!"

"That’s ridiculous. I’m not going to cry on command," she scoffed, but Tom could see an almost imperceptible quivering of her chin. He was getting through to her, he knew it.

He leaned closer to her, so close that they were almost nose to nose. "Why won’t you cry, B’Elanna?" he asked softly, his tone probing and intense. "There’s something else, isn’t there? What’s wrong? Why won’t you allow yourself to grieve?"

She completely fell apart. "Because I killed him, that’s why!" she shrieked at the top of her lungs, her eyes filling up with tears.

Of all the answers Tom had been expecting to hear, that hadn’t been one of them. "You killed him?" he repeated slowly, not sure that he had heard correctly. "How, exactly?"

"His death was my fault," she said hysterically. "I could have gotten him out of the shuttle more quickly...or I could have treated his injuries better...I could have done something more! Don’t you see, Tom? I let him die! It was my fault!"

She was sobbing so hard he could barely understand her. But, more importantly was the fact that she was sobbing. Real tears -- the first emotion she had shown since Robert’s death. It was a major breakthrough, and Tom couldn’t help but feel a small rush of triumph beneath his outlying concern for her.

It was now clear to him just why she had bottled up so much. She really believed, deep inside, that Robert’s death was her fault. By covering up her guilt and shame, she had been unconsciously punishing herself, and at the same time hiding from the world in hopes that no one would see her for the murderer that she thought she was.

"You poor thing," he said, instinctively gathering her in his arms. "All this time, believing that you were to blame...how did you stand it?"

"It was my fault, Tom," she cried, burying her face in the comforting warmth of his chest. "Can’t you see that? I should have been able to save him—he shouldn’t have died! It was my fault!"

"B’Elanna, look at me," he said quietly. When she didn’t comply, he put his index finger under her chin and forced her to look into his eyes. "Look at me," he said firmly. "Robert’s death was not your fault. There was nothing, I repeat, nothing you could have done to save him, no matter what you did. The doctor’s report clearly stated that Robert was injured too seriously for anything to help him."

"But—" she sniffed. "The shuttle—if I was a better pilot—or if I hadn’t of crashed—"

"B’Elanna, listen to me," Tom interrupted incredulously. She seemed determined to punish herself. "From what I saw of the shuttle’s sensor logs, even I couldn’t have navigated that field. It’s remarkable in itself that you weren’t blown to smithereens! B’Elanna, don’t do this to yourself! You weren’t to blame! Ask anyone on the ship, and they’ll tell you it was just a tragic accident. It could have happened to anyone. "It wasn’t your fault."

For the first time in a long time, B’Elanna, of her own accord, squarely met his gaze. Her dark brown eyes searched his honest blue ones. "Really?" she said, her voice almost childlike in its plaintiveness.

"Absolutely," he answered staunchly. "Don’t go on punishing yourself, B’Elanna. Please. You don’t deserve it. No one deserves what you’ve been putting yourself through."

"I can’t help feeling guilty, Tom," she said softly, her voice quavering. "I—"

"Hush," he interrupted. "Here. Sit down." Gently, he guided her to the couch, where she sat as he went to the replicator. "Hot chocolate."

"Tom, I don’t—"

"Yes, you do. Drink." His tone left no room for argument. B’Elanna sipped the sweet, rich liquid meekly. She had to admit, it was soothing.

"Whenever I’d get upset as a little kid," Tom said nostalgically, "my mom would sit me down over a cup of hot chocolate and by the time the cup was half empty, I’d have told her the whole story." He paused to gaze at her meaningfully. "It always made me feel better to have told someone how I felt."

B’Elanna gripped the cup so tightly that her knuckles turned white, but she didn’t say anything until most of the hot chocolate was gone. Tom sat with her in companionable silence, waiting until she felt ready enough to speak.

"His last words," she said at length, staring off into the distance, "were, ‘I love you, big sister.’ He died before—before I could tell him the same."

"You never got to say good-bye, did you?" Tom asked softly.

She shook her head, a lone tear slipping down her pale face.
"I didn’t think he’d—I thought I had more time. But I didn’t.

And he died before I could tell him how much he meant to me."

"B’Elanna, I’m sure he knew that you loved him. But he wouldn’t want you to grieve like this. Everyone—me, Harry, Captain Janeway—we miss the old B’Elanna. We want her back."

"He was only here for six months, but I—I don’t know how I ever got along without him," she whispered. "I don’t know if I can go on any longer. It hurts so much."

"I know it does," Tom replied compassionately. "And I’m sorry to say that the hurt will never go away, not completely. With time, all of your pain will shrivel up into a tiny little hole in the corner of your heart—but it’ll always be there, as a part of you. Although it’ll hurt for a while, in time you’ll be able to go for days without thinking of his laugh, or seeing his smile. And eventually you’ll only think about him occasionally instead of every hour of every day. But you’ll never forget him completely, just like the pain of losing him will always be there. Someday, you’ll look upon the pain as a blessing, because it keeps you from forgetting him."

B’Elanna had listened to his little talk with serious intrest, and now she regarded him thoughtfully, a dawning light of understanding in her dark eyes. "You sound like—like you know that from experience."

Tom was silent for a long while. "When I had just graduated from the Academy," he said finally, "my mother died. She’d been ill for some time, but—her death was very unexpected. My father, my sisters and I—we were all devastated. For a long time, I didn’t think I’d be able to go on without her, but after a while it became easier. One day I found that I could smile again. And life went on. I still miss my mother, and the pain of losing her is still there, but now I can remember the good times, like our hot chocolate talks, with affection instead of sorrow."

"My mother," B’Elanna offered sensitively, "lives on the Klingon homeworld. We used to argue constantly—I haven’t even seen her since I left Starfleet. But before he died, Rob told me to—if we ever made it home—to go and see my mother, to reconcile with her. I think I will."

"You do that," Tom said, realizing that his eyes were beginning to mist over, as they always invariably did when he thought of his mother’s death. With an embarrassed cough, he looked aside, wiping his eyes, and then turned back to smile at B’Elanna. "So," he said, trying to sound casual, "feel up to going to Sandrine’s? I hear that Harry has organized a pool tournament."

She paled visibly. "I don’t know, Tom. All those people—"

"—are your friends and care about you very much. I’ll stay with you the entire time and if you feel too uncomfortable, we’ll leave. I promise."
"But what if they—what if they blame me?"

"They won’t," he said assuredly. "And if they try to, I’ll beat some sense into them. Will you come? Please?"

He rose from the couch and held out his hand to her. She looked at the proffered hand, and then up at the pilot’s caring blue eyes and sincere smile. Suddenly, Rob’s voice—his strong, rich voice—saying his dying words echoed in her mind—"Don’t be afraid of him....he wants to help you....he wants to love you...."

B’Elanna accepted Tom’s outstretched hand and allowed herself to be pulled up off of the couch.
"I’ll wait outside while you get dressed," he promised.

A few minutes later, she appeared in the corridor arrayed in a pair of red slacks and a matching top. He offered her his arm, which she accepted. Together, arm in arm, the two set off towards the holodeck.

Chapter 9

A general hush fell over the crowd at Sandrine’s when the doors opened and the chief engineer, escorted by the pilot, entered the bar. All eyes were drawn to B’Elanna, who was clutching Tom’s arm and looking absolutely terrified at the prospect of facing a crowd of people. For a reason that Tom couldn’t fathom, she was scared to death that they would condemn her for causing Robert’s accident.

But as B’Elanna timidly looked around the room, she saw no accusation in the eyes of her fellow friends and crewmembers, only slight surprise at her sudden appearance. Apparently, no one had expected to see her there, and she didn’t wonder why. She’d been a total recluse the last few months.

The shocked lull of conversation lasted only for a few seconds, and the talking once again swelled loudly as the arrival of the pilot and chief engineer was accepted by all.

Quickly, Tom guided B’Elanna over to a semi-private booth in the back of the tavern. The booth was half-hidden in the shadows but not totally concealed from the rest of the crew.

"The pig isn’t here, is he?" she asked Tom with a half-hearted attempt at humor.

Tom was delighted that she was at least trying to be companionable. "Gaunt Gary? No, I deleted him a while ago."
That caught her attention. "Deleted him? Why?"

"You didn’t like him," he said, shrugging modestly. "Ricki’s gone, too."

"Tom! You deleted Ricki?" she exclaimed. "But—she was your favorite holocharacter!"

"I found someone better," was his cryptic response. "Ah, there’s Sandrine."

"Good evening, Monsieur Thomas!" the holographic tavern owner said warmly, bending down to kiss him on the cheek. "What can I get for you?"
"Just synthehol, Sandrine, thanks."

"And for your lady friend?"

"Synthehol too, please," B’Elanna requested quietly.

In a flash, the drinks were in front of them. "So," Tom said, taking a sip, "this isn’t so horrible, is it?"

"No," she admitted, gazing around the French pub. The fireplaces were all flickering cheerily, and the crewmembers scattered around various tables were chatting happily, paying no heed to either her or Tom. A crowd was gathered around the pool table, where Joe Carey and Sue Nicoletti were intensely involved in beating the other so they could advance in the tournament. As far as B’Elanna could tell, Harry was in first place, and the winner of the Carey-Nicoletti pairing would play him for the championship. Every so often, boisterous cheers would emit from the crowd as either Joe or Sue would sink a ball. As B’Elanna watched, Harry unobtrusively separated himself from the crowd and made his way to Tom and B’Elanna’s table.

"Hey, B’Elanna," the ensign greeted warmly, pulling up a chair. "I’m glad you could make it. I didn’t know you were planning on coming."

"I didn’t, either," she answered frankly, "but Tom showed up at my quarters and told me otherwise."

"Really." Harry raised his eyebrows at Tom, who merely shrugged and smiled innocently.

"So, Harry, I see that all those lessons I’ve been giving you have finally paid off," Tom mentioned, waving his hand to indicate the pool table. Carey and Nicoletti were still going strong.

"Why didn’t you enter the tournament, Tom? You could have beaten all of us—that is, unless Captain Janeway entered," Harry teased.

"I have better things to do," Tom grinned with a meaningful glance in B’Elanna’s direction. "I prefer to keep beautiful women company instead of wiping the floor with everyone present—including the captain."

"Oh, really, Mr. Paris?" an amused voice asked. Without any of them noticing, Janeway had quietly entered the holodeck and, once spying Tom and B’Elanna, made her way to their table. Chakotay was close behind her.
"Oh—Captain!" Tom sat straight up, his fair skin turning scarlet. "I—um, that is, I—"

A deafening cheer from the crowd around the pool table saved him from the embarrassment of a reply. "Oh, great," Harry said in disgust, once he had craned his neck to see over the heads of the spectators. "Sue Nicoletti won. I’m never going to be able to beat her!"

"I’m sure you’ll do just fine, Mr. Kim," Janeway smiled, patting him on the shoulder.

"Go get ‘em, Starfleet," B’Elanna spoke up suddenly. She wasn’t exactly smiling, but a hint of a grin was tugging on the corners of her lips. It was the closest she had come to showing any kind of positive emotion since Robert’s death.

Harry’s face lit up and he smiled, happy to hear his friend sounding more like her old self. "You bet, Maquis." He jogged off to join the crowd at the pool table.

"Captain, Commander, why don’t you join us?" Tom invited, feeling B’Elanna tense up beside him. He knew that she didn’t yet feel comfortable making conversation with her superiors.

He reached for her hand underneath the table and squeezed it reassuringly. You’ll do fine, his grasp seemed to say to B’Elanna, and she relaxed slightly.

Tom noticed that Janeway was practically beaming at B’Elanna, as was Chakotay, and the chief engineer seemed oblivious to the suddenly cheerful disposition of both of the commanding officers.

"I’m pleased to see you here, B’Elanna," Janeway said kindly.

"Thank you, Captain," B’Elanna said in what was almost a whisper.
"Are you having a good time?" the commander prompted.

She nodded, taking a sip of her drink as an excuse not to
speak. She felt so damned uncomfortable speaking with them, and she had no idea why.

Slowly, though, without B’Elanna even realizing it, Janeway skillfully drew her into a conversation regarding some recent repairs to the replicator bioneural gelpacks. Before she even understood what was happening, B’Elanna found herself involved in an animated debate with Chakotay about the pros and cons of gelpacks versus isolinear circuitry.

After a while, Tom and Janeway just sat back and watched Chakotay and B’Elanna argue. The captain and pilot grinned at each other, pleased with B’Elanna’s suddenly flashing eyes and spirited tone.

Janeway winked at Paris and leaned over to whisper in his ear. "Well done, Lieutenant. I didn’t know you had such a temper."

Tom blinked, gaping open-mouthed at his senior officer. "How did you know -- ?"

"Chakotay and I could hear both of you screaming from all the way out in the corridor," she confided. "He wanted to intervene, but I told him to leave you two alone. I noticed you listening to my story in the Mess Hall earlier today."
"Uh, Captain, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop—"

"Nonsense. I was hoping you would," the captain
interrupted, her blue-gray eyes twinkling merrily. "I knew that you, if anyone, would be able to help her. And it all worked out for the best, didn’t it?"
"It sure did," Tom agreed. "I’m glad she’s back."

Kathryn Janeway nodded and smiled. "So am I, Mr. Paris. So
am I."

The pilot and the captain, along with Chakotay and B’Elanna, who had finished the debate that neither of them had won, turned their attention back to the pool table, where Harry and Sue were engaged in a close match.
"Sue’s going to win," Chakotay speculated.

"Give Harry some credit, Commander," Janeway disagreed. "I
think he has a chance."

"After all, he learned from the master," Tom added, leaning backwards and loosely draping his arms against the cushioned back of the booth. One arm was just barely caressing B’Elanna’s shoulders, and Janeway was sure that she’d slap his arm away or make a sharp comment, as she had always done before when Tom tried something. But, to both Janeway and Chakotay’s collective astonishment, B’Elanna not only allowed the gentle caress but actually leaned into it until she was practically snuggled up to him.

Janeway just barely managed to keep her mouth from dropping open in amazement. Glancing across the table, she saw the same amazement mirrored on Chakotay’s face.

Tom seemed to be the most surprised of all. He looked down at B’Elanna, up at Janeway, and then back down at B’Elanna as though he was having trouble believing his sudden good fortune. Then a slow, delighted smile lit up his face and he tightened his hold around B’Elanna’s shoulders, looking rather pleased with himself.

The captain, with difficulty, held back a grin. It seemed that Tom Paris knew a good thing when he had one, and he wasn’t about to let the opportunity of B’Elanna’s sudden affection slip by.

B’Elanna stayed cuddled in Tom’s arms, and looking very content, until the pool match was over and Harry Kim had been declared the victor. Sue Nicoletti took her defeat in stride, telling Harry that she’d beat him the next time. As the crowd in Sandrine’s began to disperse, B’Elanna reluctantly detached herself from the warm circle of Tom’s arms and discreetly yawned, looking more tired then she cared to admit.
"Ready to go?" Tom whispered in her ear.

She nodded, shivering deliciously at the warm tickle of his
breath next to her ear.

"See you tomorrow morning, Captain, Commander," Tom said cheerfully, rising from his seat and taking B’Elanna with him.

"0700 sharp, Lieutenant?" Chakotay said with a teasing grin. Although Tom hadn’t been late for duty since his "bad boy" act, the commander still enjoyed ribbing him about it. Tom was glad of this; it showed that Chakotay no longer held any sort of a grudge against him.
"You got it, Commander," the pilot promised.

"See you tomorrow," B’Elanna echoed and, reaching for Tom’s
hand, walked with him out of the holodock.

Chapter 10

"B’Elanna?" Tom Paris rang her door chime the night after her "debut" at Sandrine’s. He had been surprised at how many people had stopped him in the corridor or at the Mess Hall to tell him that they were glad she was back. B’Elanna had more friends then she realized.
"Come in," he heard her call from inside.

As he entered her quarters, he noticed something different.
For one thing, the lights were on full instead of the eternal dimness she had lived in for the past month. For another, B’Elanna was dressed in a soft pink blouse and matching pants instead of her pajamas or her uniform. And the best change of all, B’Elanna was wide awake and alert, studying something intently on her console.

"Hi, Tom," she said, flipping off her console and rising to greet him.

"Hi, yourself," he answered, grinning smugly at her. "How’re you doing?"

"Oh, I’m fine," she replied, eyeing him warily. He was standing in front of her with his hands suspiciously clasped behind his back. "What are you hiding?"
"Hiding? I’m not hiding anything," he said innocently.

"Then why are your hands hidden behind your back?" she asked
pointedly. "Let me see."

"No!" he exclaimed, backing away from her. "It’s a surprise. Sit on the couch and close your eyes."

"Tom, what are you up to?" she said warily, but complied with his request.

He drew two objects from behind his back, sitting next to her on the couch. "Surprise number one," he announced, placing something long and thin in her hand.

B’Elanna opened her eyes and discovered it was the stem of a single exquisite pink rosebud. "Oh, Tom, it’s beautiful!" she gasped, inhaling the delicate fragrance. "Thank you."

"I’m not finished yet. Here is surprise number two." He handed her a small, square parcel gaily packaged in shiny silver wrapping paper and bright blue ribbons.
"Tom, this is so sweet—I don’t know what to say."

"Open it," he encouraged, his blue eyes sparkling with

She ripped open the paper, feeling almost like a little girl again, but stopped short and nearly dropped her present when she saw what it was.

In a delicate gold frame was a picture that someone—Joe Carey, she thought—had taken of herself and Robert in the holodeck shortly before Robert’s death. B’Elanna remembered that day well. Herself, Tom, Harry, and Robert were all in Sandrine’s with a few other crewmembers, relaxing after a long shift, when somebody ordered the computer to play music. Something light and jazzy had begun to drift through the room, and Robert had immediately lept up, shoved some chairs out of the way, and pulled B’Elanna onto the makeshift dance floor. The two of them whirled and twirled together, and B’Elanna hadn’t been able to stop laughing. Robert was a terrible dancer, the worst she had ever seen. He had been as long as she had known him. But that night she hadn’t cared.

Right in the middle of their gaiety, Joe Carey had snapped that picture of the two of them laughing merrily as Robert overdramatically dipped her, nearly dropping her on the floor in the process.

Gazing at the picture, she barely recognized the smiling, laughing woman in the arms of her tall, handsome younger brother. Was I ever really that happy? she wondered, tears filling her eyes. She hadn’t been able to find a picture of Rob among her things, and now Tom had given her one.

"Do you like it?" Tom asked gently, watching her face carefully.

"Tom, this is the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me," she said truthfully, unable to keep her voice from trembling. "How did you find this?"

"Joe had it," Tom shrugged, pleased that she liked his gift. "I just asked him if he had kept it, and he said that he had, and he gave me it. He said he had been meaning to give it to you, anyway."

"I can’t thank you enough," she said sincerely. She had never realized before what a sweet person he could be.
"There’s more. Look in the back," he told her.

"More?" Turning the picture around, B’Elanna found a
computer chip. Carrying it over to her console, she slipped it in the slot and watched as words appeared on the screen.


I was looking through the database last night and I found these old song lyrics. This song was written on Earth back in the 1970’s but when I saw it, I immediately thought of you. I hope this can help you say good-bye.
Love, Tom."
** "Oh we never know where life will take us

I know it’s just a ride on the wheel

and we never know when death will shake us

and we wonder how it will feel
So good-bye, my friend

I know I’ll never see you again

but the time together through all the years

will take away these tears

It’s okay now

good-bye, my friend

I see a lot of things that make me crazy

and I guess I held on to you

you could have run away and left

well maybe

but it wasn’t time, we both knew

So good-bye, my friend

I know I’ll never see you again

but the love you gave me through all the years

will take away these tears

I’m okay now

good-bye, my friend

Life’s so fragile and love’s so few

we can’t hold on but we try

we watch how quickly it disappears

and we never know why

But I’m okay now

good-bye, my friend

You can go now

good-bye, my friend." **
As she read those beautiful yet so sorrowful words, tears slipped unheeded from her dark brown eyes. Thoughts of Robert flooded her mind, and she barely felt Tom’s strong arms embrace her as she began to sob for the second time in two days.

* * * *

"Tom, I can’t thank you enough," she told him after her tears had finished. Once again, she was nestled his warm embrace. Somehow, while she was dissolved in tears, he had guided her to the couch and held her there while she cried. "The rose...this picture...these words...and everything else you’ve done for me. I don’t know how I can ever repay you."

"How about a good-night kiss?" Tom teased gently. He had meant it as a joke, so he was completely surprised when she tilted her head up to gaze into his soft blue eyes, her expression solemn with no sign of humor.

"That sounds like a fair trade," she said quietly. Before he could respond, she brought her face up to his face and gently laid her lips upon his.

Tom was so shocked that at first he couldn’t react, but while his mind was reeling his heart was kissing her back with all of the love and passion he had inside of him.

Her hands reached up to cling around his neck while his hands tightly wrapped around her waist, pulling her warm body closer to his own.

Who broke off the kiss, neither of them knew, but when her lips finally separated from his own, Tom was breathing heavily and gasping in pure amazement. He had never, never had a kiss like that before. It was like an electric current had flowed from her body into his. Fireworks, rockets, bells—all of them had gone off in his head while his brain focused on one thing and one thing only: kissing her. The ship could have exploded around them and he would have never heard a thing. It had been a truly amazing experience.

"Did the earth move for you, too?" B’Elanna murmured, breaking the silence that had sprang up between them as Tom tried to regain his flustered senses.

"You bet it did," he said softly. "B’Elanna, are you—I mean, were you—okay—with what just happened? Did you want to, or did you just feel obligated -- ?" Damn, he felt like a stuttering fool.
"Shhh," she said, placing a slender finger upon his lips.
"Tom, just before he died, Rob told me that you wanted to love me. He made me promise that I’d let you into my heart. I promised him that I would. And B’Elanna Torres never goes back on her word. I’m just sorry it took me as long as it did to realize how right Rob was about us. We do belong together."
"We—we do?" Tom whispered, his heart racing wildly.
Gods, he hoped this wasn’t a dream.
She nodded. "We do. That is, if you think we do."

"Oh, yes—yes, oh, yes!" He felt deliriously happy. Never
in his wildest dreams had he thought that this night would turn out to be something so wonderful.

"But I don’t want to rush into this too quickly," she cautioned, resting her head against his chest and listening to the thump of his heart—a heard that was pounding madly. "I want to take it slow before—before we jump into any kind of commitment.."

"Whatever you want," Tom promised, holding her tightly. "B’Elanna, I love you," he burst out suddenly. He had been aching to say it for a long, long time, and he couldn’t keep it inside any longer.


"I love you, too."

**"Good-bye, My Friend"** copyright Linda Rondstat (I hope that’s spelled right—I couldn’t find the CD! If not, sorry, Linda!!)