TITLE: BLIND AMBITION

AUTHOR: RFK

SERIES: VOY

CODE: Kim, P/T

RATING: [G]

SUMMARY: Harry Kim discovers a few truths about his friends' Starfleet ambitions. Set after S5's "Disease".

FEEDBACK: junedaleyrocketmail.com - Be my guest. But please, be kind.

DISCLAIMER: Harry Kim, Tom Paris, B'Elanna Torres and all other characters related to Star Trek Voyager belong to Paramount, Viacom and the usual Trek Powers to Be.

"BLIND AMBITION" by RFK

Inside Voyager's Mess Hall, the Talaxian cook placed two trays on the table shared by Harry Kim and B'Elanna Torres. "Here we go," Neelix announced with a flourish, "Rikkorian Quiche. Made from Rikkorian ham, mushrooms from the Airpondics Bay and Bacca leaves. I got the recipe from a restaurant chef, during our shore leave on Rikkor."

Both Harry and B'Elanna stared at the dish on their trays. To the former, it strangely reminded him of an ordinary slice of Quiche Lorraine - much to his relief. "This chef was willing to give you his recipe?" he asked, aware of professional chefs' tendency to jealously guard their recipes.

Neelix replied, "Well, I don't think he really minded. Especially since he knew I wouldn't be around to give him any competition. Besides, I gave him my recipe for Wood Nettle Strips."

"I bet he liked that," B'Elanna murmured.

Neelix's mottled face brightened. "Actually, he enjoyed it very much, when I presented him with a sample of my dish, the following day. Which is probably why he wanted the recipe." He paused, while the others continued to stare at their trays. "Anyway, as you Humans say, 'bon appetite'."

"Yeah," Harry slowly replied. He glanced at B'Elanna, who continued to regard the quiche on her tray with dubious eyes. "Well, here I go." Harry took a deep breath, broke off a piece of quiche with his fork and placed it in his mouth. He chewed.

B'Elanna stared at him. "Well?" she asked. "How is it?"

As Harry chewed his food, he discovered something surprising. Neelix's Rikkorian Quiche tasted a lot like Quiche Lorraine from back home. In other words . . . "Delicious," he declared in a surprised tone. Then he smiled at the Talaxian. "My compliments to the chef."

"Why thank you," Neelix replied happily. "Thank you very much. I thought this would be the perfect dish to serve, after all of those heavy meals we've been eating lately. Excuse me, while I prepare more quiche." He returned to the galley.

B'Elanna leaned forward. "Okay Harry, how is the quiche? Really?"

"It's great!" Harry replied enthusiastically. "Just like it's made back home. Try a bite."

The half-Klingon did as Harry had suggested. And like him, she responded to Neelix's newest culinary effort with enthusiasm. "Hmmm, this is delicicious! I ought to get Tom to try it."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Good luck," he replied sarcastically. "You know how Tom is about Neelix's cooking."

B'Elanna dismissed the suggestion with a wave of her hand. "Maybe he was like that a few years ago, but not anymore. Besides, ever since Neelix stopped serving leeola root, Tom's been a lot more tolerant."

"Tolerant of what?" a third voice asked. The two friends glanced up at the tall, fair-haired man standing before their table.

Harry grinned at his other best friend. "Hi Tom! Didn't think you would make it."

Tom Paris heaved a sigh and placed his tray on the table. "Thanks to the Doc, I nearly didn't. There's nothing more boring, Harry than conducting an experiment in cellular construction." He then sat in the empty chair, next to B'Elanna's, before planting a light kiss on her mouth. A surge of envy welled within Harry. Tom's kiss brought back memories of his recently aborted romance with the Varro woman, Tal.

The young Operations Chief shook away his dark thoughts. Tal was all in the past. He should be thankful that he had survived the whole Varro incident with nothing more than an official reprimand, instead of a spell in the brig. Or worse, a demotion. Still, the reprimand meant a black mark on what otherwise could have been a . . .

"Hello? Harry?" Tom's voice brought the younger man back into the present. "Hey Har, you're in another world, or what?"

Shaking his head, Harry replied, "No . . . uh, no. I was just thinking. About the past."

Blue eyes stared at him. "The past? Oh! You mean Tal. You still miss her?"

Harry shrugged. Yeah. But I was also thinking about my Starfleet record. How this latest incident could affect . . . you know, my career."

Tom reluctantly took a bite of Nelix's new dish. His eyes lit up with appreciation. "Hmmm, not bad," he commented.

"Harry and I thought so, too," B'Elanna added.

"As for your record," Tom continued, "I don't think you have anything to worry about. I mean, we're . . . what? At least 40 to 50,000 light years away from Starfleet Command. I don't think you have to worry about them finding out about your not-so-spotless record, Har. So relax."

Frustration unexpectedly welled within Harry. There were times when he could not understand Tom's cavalier attitude toward a Starfleet career. Yes, he knew that Admiral Paris had been concerned about Tom adhering to the Paris family's tradition of joining the Command track, and later assuming the ranks of captain and admiral. And he knew that his friend valued flying a starship above the Command track. But Harry sometimes wondered how Tom could be so dismissive about anything so serious as a Starfleet career? Was it because the older man knew that any chance of a higher rank had been destroyed on the Monean homeworld?

"I'm not worried," Harry insisted, struggling to sound truthful.

Tom gave him a shrewd look. "If you say so, buddy."

Harry clamped down another surge of frustration. He hated when Tom saw through him. "Okay, maybe I am a little worried," he said, changing his mind. "Can you blame me? It's not as if we're seventy years away from home, anymore. Hell, within four years, we've already traveled a good thirty or forty-thousand light years." Harry leaned forward. "We may end up reaching home a lot sooner than we had imagined."

"And the purpose of this conversation?" Tom asked, with a touch of condescension.

Harry bit back a sigh. "What I'm trying to say is that we might end up home a lot sooner. Which means I have every reason to be a little . . . concerned about my service record. Especially after what happened with the Varro. And if that makes me seem a little ambitious, so what? We were all ambitious when we first joined Starfleet. Right?"

Instead of answering immediately, both Tom and B'Elanna exchanged wary glances. "What?" Harry demanded. "Didn't you two have ambitions about joining Starfleet?"

"Well," B'Elanna began uneasily, "I did. It's just . . ."

"What?" Harry stared at the Chief Engineer.

B'Elanna took a deep breath. "Well Harry, my main reason for joining Starfleet was to escape from Kessik IV . . . and my mother." She paused briefly. "We, uh . . . you know that we didn't get along very well. And when a Starfleet Academy recruiter had visited my school . . . Let's just say that Starfleet gave me a good reason to finally leave home. And since I happened to be a good engineer, I signed up for the Engineering track."

Harry stared at his friend in stunned silence. "That's why you had joined Starfleet? But you've always seemed . . . I don't know . . . enthusiastic about being a Starfleet officer."

"I am enthusiastic!" B'Elanna protested. "Well, at least I'm serious about being a good officer. I take pride in my work." She paused. "It's just that I don't have the same enthusiasm like I used to. Or your ambition, Harry. I'm just not a diehard Fleeter at heart."

The young ensign diverted his eyes toward the Chief Pilot. "What about you, Tom? I know you never had any ambitions to be a starship captain, but you've always wanted to join Starfleet, right?" Harry realized that he was regarding his other friend with hopeful eyes.

It did not take the blue-eyed pilot very long to respond. "Sorry Har," Tom replied in that soft voice of his. "To be honest, I never wanted to join Starfleet.

This time, Harry found himself feeling flabbergasted. "Wha. . . what? I thought you had at least wanted to fly the best ships in the Fleet?"

Tom sighed. Heavily. "Look, Harry, I love to fly. Really, I do. But, I also love the ocean. You know that. And because of that love, I had wanted to join the Federation Naval Patrol."

Harry reeled from shock by Tom's news. "The . . .?"

"Yeah," Tom continued, "the Federation Naval Patrol. But Dad was against the idea. A Paris always joined Starfleet. And I gave in to his demands and joined. End of story." A bitter note had crept into the helmsman's voice.

Still stunned by Tom's admission, Harry shook his head. "I don't . . . I don't get it! You had seemed happy when the Captain first gave you a field command. I thought you were happy to be a Starfleet officer, again."

"I was happy," Tom replied. "To be given a second chance, Harry. To be trusted again." His voice grew even softer. "And although I had nearly threw away that trust, again, a part of me doesn't regret it." He exchanged a private smile with B'Elanna.

Harry had no idea what laid behind his friends' smiles. To be honest, he did not care. He was too busy trying to reconcile his feelings with Tom's words. "Does the Captain know? About your plans to join . . .?"

"Yeah, she knows." Tom's gaze cooled slight. "I had told her about two or three days before she demoted me and tossed me into the brig." He sighed. "Sometimes I wonder if I had not told her, would she have simply given me an official reprimand."

A slight scowl darkened B'Elanna's countenance. "That's not hard to imagine," she muttered.

"B'Elanna!" Harry stared at his friend in outrage. "You're talking about the Captain!"

The half-Klingon rolled her eyes in contempt. "C'mon Starfleet! You have to admit that she's been acting pretty erratic, this year. Mind you, we've all been having a difficult year, but the Captain . . ." She shook her head. "Sometimes I think that she hasn't recovered from her depression. Not really."

The word "depression" brought back memories of B'Elanna's state, earlier this year. And Seven's emotional state following One's death . . . along with the Doctor's emotional breakdown and Harry's own malaise over Tal. Even a good number of the crew had been in a bleak mood during the trip through the Void. "I know, but . . ." Harry began.

Two pairs of eyes gazed directly at him. Tom said, "I think I know what you're going to say, Harry. That after what I did on the Monean homeworld, the Captain only did what she thought was right. And I would be the first to agree."

"Would you?" Harry demanded. "Because you seem a little bitter about it all. Is that why you're now so ambivalent about a Starfleet career? Because of what the Captain did to you?"

A long sigh left Tom's mouth. A sigh filled with frustration that made Harry feel even more naïve. And on edge. "First of all, the reason I might still be a little bitter is because so far, I'm the only Senior staff officer who served time in the brig and been demoted. Everyone else - including you, Chakotay, Tuvok, Seven . . ."

"And me," B'Elanna added.

Tom nodded. ". . . and B'Elanna have all been officially reprimanded. Except for Neelix, who had only spent two weeks cleaning plasma manifolds. All I'm saying is that there's a chance that my little admission about my feelings toward Starfleet may have led the Captain to her decision regarding my punishment."

"So, you're saying that this sudden aversion toward a Starfleet career has nothing to do with what happened on Monea?" Harry demanded.

The helmsman gave the younger man a long look. "Harry, my aversion toward Starfleet had begun a long time ago. At least a full decade before I had entered the Academy. But like I told you, I gave in to my dad's wishes and joined Starfleet." Tom shrugged. "Aside from my years on Voyager, I've regretted giving in to Dad."

Harry tried not to feel disappointed by Tom's words. Yet, he could not help it. He felt as if he had lost some kind of connection - not only to the sandy-haired pilot, but to the Chief Engineer, as well. Because of this, he felt even more like a third wheel. Who else, aboard Voyager, could he share his feelings about Starfleet? The Captain? She would have understood, but her position and their recent estrangement made her too remote for Harry. He had never been close with Tuvok - aside from their sessions of kaltoth. And as much as Harry felt comfortable with Chakotay, the latter seemed to regard his ambitions with mild amusement. Both Neelix and Seven, as civilians, would never understand. As for the Doctor - well, Harry had never found the time to form any kind of bond with the EMH. In fact, aside from Tom and B'Elanna, the only other person Harry used to connect with was his old Academy friend, Lyndsay Ballard. And the Hirogen had killed her, last year.

Glancing into his friends' eyes, Harry detected sympathy. And pity. Their expressions made him feel lonelier than ever. It was a feeling that he had grown accustomed to, over the years. Especially during the past year or so. Perhaps Tom had been right. Perhaps he should not concern himself over a Starfleet record, recently tarnished with a reprimand. Especially since four or five decades might pass before Starfleet Command ever laid eyes upon it.

Harry sighed, as he stood up. Tom frowned. "Leaving already, Harry? You haven't even finished your dinner. And for once, it's good."

"I'm almost finished, anyway," Harry replied in a resigned voice. His eyes shifted from the pilot to the engineer. "Besides, I think you two might want to be alone."

B'Elanna responded in her usual acerbic manner, "If we were really that desperate to be alone, Harry, we wouldn't have asked you to join us for dinner." Her voice softened. "But I understand . . . if you need to be alone, right now."

"I don't . . ." Harry hesitated. Then he sighed. Why bother denying the truth? Tom and B'Elanna's revelations had just exacerbated his present moodiness. "Yeah," he finally said. "I guess you're right."

Harry glanced at his two friends, once more. After nearly five years, it still amazed him how both of them seemed to adapt to the Delta Quadrant. Despite all that they had suffered - Tom's alienation from the crew during that first year and his demotion, along with B'Elanna's depression, the Delta Quadrant suited them like water to a duck. Instead of feeling stifled and frustrated like he did, Tom and B'Elanna had flourished. Looking at them now, Harry felt more than ever like a third wheel. He wondered how long this feeling within him would last? During Voyager's entire journey in the Delta Quadrant? And how long will that last?

He bit back a sigh, smiled at his friends and bid them goodnight. As Harry sauntered toward the Mess Hall's doors, Neelix cried out, "Good night, Harry!" But the twenty-six year-old ensign barely heard him.

THE END