How Did This Happen?

by Layton Colt

Note: Takes place anywhere from late in the first season to early in the second season.

How did this happen? B'Elanna wondered. How could she have let herself fall victim to something this incredibly destructive? How could she ever, ever, have allowed herself to start falling for Tom Paris?

She stood quietly, watching him as he sat perched on the edge of the bar in Sandrine's, commanding the attention of everyone present. All of the officers. All of the holograms. Even all of her.

He had some kind of set of small rectangular objects, covered in strange markings, that he called playing cards, and was flawlessly flipping them from one had to the other as he talked on about 'magic tricks.'

B'Elanna didn't really care what he was saying. She was too distraught with the realization that she no longer thought 'pig' the moment she saw Tom Paris. She never thought of him as the traitor anymore. She thought of him as a friend. And she thought she might want something more.

How could it have happened?

Of all the people on this ship, of all the people in this side of the galaxy, how is it possible the one she would decide she wanted to be with would be him? She had to be wrong. She was lonely, and Tom Paris was charming and handsome. She was just projecting these feelings onto him, they couldn't be real. No way fate had this much of a sense of humor.

Okay, so maybe this wasn't the first time she'd thought this way about Paris. There had been a moment, when she had first seen him walk onto the bridge of the Liberty, that she had felt something. But that was only before Chakotay had taken her aside, warned her, told her what Tom had done.

She hadn't felt anything but resentment towards him since. And she wanted it to stay that way.

Tom looked up and over at her, smiling when his eyes caught hers. Completely without permission, her lips curved upwards in response. She hadn't meant to do that. She shouldn't encourage him. Kahless knows, Tom Paris needed no encouragement.

That smile did things to her, though. When his eyes crinkled up like they do and he was so carefree, it was hard not to smile too.

Smiling was okay, though, she decided. She could admire Tom Paris's smile, she could smile at him. That was okay. Not dangerous at all. Because she didn't really have feelings for him. She had enough complications.

Maybe she was being unfair though. Even though Tom Paris was just about as far from a perfect match for her as Neelix, she shouldn't keep acting like he was still a mercenary drunk. He had changed. And maybe there were things about him that had been there before and she had missed.

His compassion, and his courage, for instance. Everyone had called Tom a coward for lying to Starfleet about how those three people had died in the shuttle crash. And they were right. It was a cowardly thing to do. No one seemed to care, though--even she hadn't at first --that Tom had come forward in the end.

And coming clean about a lie that had been dug so deep was always so much harder than never lying in the first place. Tom would probably be a Commander by now if he had just let the reports stand. He'd given up everything because he couldn't live a lie, and that took courage, even if he had been the one to tell the lie in the first place.

And he had compassion, too. Which she hadn't expected. And she certainly had never expected to have directed at her. But he had been the one to keep her going in the Viddian mines, and there was a good chance she would be dead now if not for him. He had even taught her the true meaning of courage. Ironic, really. That the one she'd branded a traitor had a better sense of what courage was than she did.

He was also one of the only people on the ship she couldn't intimidate. That meant more to her than he would ever know. Even Harry, god bless him, would flinch away from her if she lost her temper. Tom Paris always screamed right back.

"B'Elanna? Are you alright?"

B'Elanna snapped out of her reverie and was startled to see Tom standing right in front of her, that silly deck of cards held at his side.

"I'm fine," she snapped, angry at being interrupted, especially by the main subject of her thoughts. "What do you want, Paris?"

He grinned at her, but she noticed it wasn't as bright as it had been before. She hadn't actually hurt Tom Paris's feelings by snapping at him, had she? The thought was ridiculous. He didn't care about her.

"I came to see if you were alright, actually. You seemed miles away."

"I'm fine. You can get back to your fan club." She hadn't meant to sound so scathing. She just seemed to lose all control when Tom was this close.

"Who, them?" he asked with a laugh, pointing behind him. "They've already forgotten about me. And they didn't appreciate my magic, anyway."

B'Elanna crossed her arms. "Find Harry then. I'm sure he would be more than happy to watch your little tricks."

"Actually, I was hoping you would help me practice," he said casually.

B'Elanna narrowed her eyes. "I don't want anything to do with your games."

Tom rolled his eyes. "Come on, B'Elanna." He held out the deck, the cards fanned out and face down. "Just pick one."

"I don't want to, Paris," B'Elanna told him.

"Lighten up will you? Just pick a card."

B'Elanna rolled her eyes then and gave a heavy sigh. Resigned, she grabbed one of the middle cards.

"Okay, now look at it and memorize it."

"You're kidding, right? Paris--"

"Would you play along? You're ruining it."

B'Elanna looked at the card. It had an A on it, and some kind of picture of a leaf.

"Do you have it memorized?" Tom asked.

"Sure," B'Elanna said.

Tom shuffled the deck and broke it in half. "Put the card back, face down so I can't see it."

B'Elanna did as she was told, wondering why in the world she hadn't just stormed from the holodeck already.

Tom shuffled the cards again, mixing them up so fast B'Elanna could barely keep track of his movements. Finally, he paused, and pulled five cards off the top. Then he held out the deck. "Look at the top card," he said.

B'Elanna picked it up. It was the same one as before. "This is the same card," she said, unimpressed.

"That's the point," Tom said, offended at her lack of reaction.

"Why would you give me the same card?" she demanded. "I don't understand this trick."

"That's the point, B'Elanna. You pick a card at random, and without telling me which card it is I find it again."

B'Elanna laughed derisively. "Right. I bet they're all the same." She pulled the deck from his hands. "They're different." She frowned. "Okay. So you have the cards marked in some way. Big deal. You could teach a five year old to do that."

Tom grinned. "None of the cards are marked, B'Elanna."

She looked them over, but couldn't see anything obvious. "Well, what did you do then?"

"That's the trick," he said with a snap of his fingers.

B'Elanna glared at the cards. She knew he had some sort of system, that much was obvious. But for the life of her, she couldn't figure out how he did it. Casually, so as not to show how much this was bothering her, she asked, "Okay. I give up. How did you do it?"

He leaned in close to her, and whispered, "I'd tell you, B'Elanna, but then it wouldn't be magic."

She caught her breath, wishing he wouldn't get so close. Then, as if in answer to her silent plea he was gone--and she wished he hadn't left. Even as he disappeared through the doors she was still standing there, holding his cards, her skin tingling.

There was no explanation for how he could make her feel like this. She set the cards down on the table angrily. Just like she had no explanation for how he had pulled off his stupid little trick. That thought made her think back to Tom's words. He'd called it magic. Did that mean . . . ?

No. Neither of these unexplained things were the results of magic. There was no such thing.

Tom's husky whisper kept echoing in her head, though. She shivered. It wasn't magic, she told herself again. Even if that was how it felt.

And she wasn't really falling for Tom Paris--she got another vision of his smile and sighed, before turning and heading out of the holodeck--even if that was how it felt.

The End.