She woke up and knew she was going to be sick. Blindly pushing aside the sweaty covers, she stumbled on unsteady legs across the dim room. She didn't make it to the lavatory before she collapsed to her knees in a nauseated haze and threw up.

A few heartbeats passed before her vision cleared enough for her to back up a few inches and lay her burning cheek onto the cool carpet. She could feel the thud of her heart in her cheeks, and her forehead was damp with sweat. Her hair was tangled and matted, and she reached out a hand to yank it from underneath her leaden body. Her temples throbbed relentlessly. She pressed two fingers against each side of her temple and squeezed her eyes tightly shut in an effort to shut out the pain, but finally gave up and clenched her fists as the full waves of her hangover came crashing down upon her.


She heard the soft patter of footsteps on the rug. Someone was right near her. The room was still and dark, and she wondered vaguely how much time had passed. Outside, the stars streaked by the window of the Riyalan vessel, blinding streaks of light that cut into her pupils like knives. She held up a hand to shield the glare and squinted gruffly through the darkness to see who was in the room with her.

"Tom?" Her voice sounded hoarse and unsteady.

"Yeah, I'm right here." He replied quietly, in a voice barely above a whisper.

There was a moment of thick silence. Kathryn closed her eyes again and tried to sort through her muddled mind. All her thoughts were so fuzzy and uncertain, like trying to see through a thick mist. All she could come up with was, "Is there any water?"

"Yeah." He replied quietly. For a few moments, nothing happened. Then, he inched up and crossed the room. She heard the faint sound when he replicated the water, and the small clink when he set the glass down on the table by the bed. His footsteps approached her, and his strong arms scooped her up.

She dangled in the air for only a second or two before he set her gently down onto the bed and pressed the cool glass into her hand. Kathryn didn't open her eyes when she brought it to her lips, and she forgot to thank him.

Paris backed a few paces away and sank wearily into a nearby chair, eyes troubled and distant. Kathryn wondered briefly what could be troubling him before she slipped back into a merciful sleep.


He was still sitting there when she woke again. His blue eyes were worried and his complexion blanched, his blond hair unruffled. His elbows were on his knees and he had buried his head in one of his hands.

"I guess I don't hold my alcohol as well as you do," Kathryn murmured hoarsely. He glanced up, at her, his eyes still troubled, but a shadow of a smile crossed his face.

"I don't guess you do," He replied quietly.

Kathryn glanced around the darkened chamber. It was his, the one the Riyalan diplomat had given to Tom. Her brow furrowed, puzzled as to why she was waking up in here. Tom was intently watching her expression. She glanced down at her own garb-- one of Tom's night shirts-- and it hit her like a thunderbolt.

"Oh no," She moaned. "We didn't."

"We... did," Tom replied quietly, running a troubled hand through his hair, carefully diverting his eyes away from hers.

"Oh, God, no," Kathryn murmured. "I can't believe I did this." She crossed her arms protectively across her chest and glanced around in ashamed dismay.

"How will I explain to B'Elanna..." Paris murmured disconsolately. Kathryn glanced up at him, but her thoughts were on someone else. Chakotay... Oh, God, what will he say about this?

Neither of them dared to speak a word. A few minutes passed, Janeway shocked into silence, Paris wrapped up in his guilt. Finally, Kathryn dared to ask, "How much do you remember?"

Paris took a deep, ragged breath. "We... uh, were at the reception. I remember you wanted me to show you my reports... Well, that was before we got drunk. But after, I offered to show them to you, and we came back here... I guess I kinda blank out at that point, but the next thing I remember is you... and me... Well, you know." He shifted his stance slightly in embarrassment.

Kathryn moaned quietly and grasped her head in her hands. "I can't believe we did that." They both were silent for a number of minutes, lost in their own troubled thoughts. Kathryn finally managed to push down her turbulent emotions and focus on damage control. She glanced down at her own attire.

"I--I'd better get some clothes on," She murmured.

Tom stood up. "We'd better both get changed. If one of the crew stopped by to check up on us..."

Janeway's face turned crimson at the thought.

"I'll-- uh... Go to the other room," Tom stammered.

"Yeah. That would be good," Kathryn replied. She shot him an unsteady smile.

He smiled uncertainly back at her, and disappeared through the doorway. A few seconds passed before he bolted back in, ran an agitated hand through his hair, and muttered, "I forgot to bring my uniform,"

"That would be helpful," Kathryn offered. They smiled again as he scooped up his traveling case.

"Well, see ya," Tom said, and clutching the gray case under his arm, scurried through the doorway.

Kathryn heaved a heavy sigh, and began fishing around the dim room for her uniform. She found it crumpled in the corner.

After pulling it on and smoothing out the wrinkles, she called softly, "Tom?"

"Yeah?" His head peered out of the next room. At her nod, he crept a few steps into the room.

There was an uneasy moment of silence.

Kathryn drew a steadying breath. "Look, we made a mistake, but we can handle it. We're both mature adults," She paused, "Or at least I am,"

He grinned involuntarily.

"Whatever you say, ma'am."

He ducked back into the next room to finish getting changed, and Kathryn hunted around the covers for her combadge.

She glanced towards the door of the next room. Hopefully, we can put this all behind us.

She fastened her combadge to her uniform, smoothed out her hair, and quietly slipped towards the exit. She cast one last glance in Paris's direction, and thought, But somehow, I don't think we can.

"Good morning, Tom."

"Good morning, Captain. Up early?"

"Up late. Personelle reports," She casually flicked the padd she was clutching in his direction. He nodded in sympathy.

"That's rough."

"Tell me about it," She said with a half smile.

An uneasy silence cloaked the bridge for a few moments, and Kathryn took the opportunity to retreat from the helm and sink into her command chair. Tom Paris hunched over the conn, his fingers tapping in course corrections, mind only half focused on what he was doing. Between entries, he darted a quick glance over his shoulder and around the bridge, noting with relief that the only personelle were junior officers. They would be too intent on working hard around the captain to speculate about the nature of the exchange.

Three days had passed since returning to the ship, three days of them avoiding one another, trying to pretend nothing had happened, three days of them behaving like "mature adults." Tom smirked as he tapped in a new heading change. In the shiny polish of the console, his own reflection glinted back at him briefly, revealing the shadowed eyes and tired face. Sleep hadn't been coming easily.

And... He glanced back at Janeway again, quickly surveying her appearance as she pretended not to notice him... She didn't look like she'd had much sleep recently either, albeit staying up one night to work on reports. Her eyes were more shadowed than usual, and her hand seemed to have a worried twitch as she tapped the datapadd.

She glanced up in that moment and their blue eyes met for a brief instant before they both looked away. Janeway let out a shaky breath. Damn, I'm not handling this as well as I thought. She knew Tom probably felt as bad about being unfaithful to B'Elanna as she did about being the other woman.

And about sleeping with your helmsman... Kathryn reminded herself firmly. She glanced at the back of his head, wondering briefly why she didn't feel regret about that part. After a few speculative thoughts crept into her head, speculations that didn't necessarily please her, she quickly decided not to guess. A mere oversight. She glanced fiercely back down at the padd. Of course I feel guilty about sleeping with him, just as guilty as I would if he hadn't been involved with someone.

The door to the bridge swished open, and she heard heavy footsteps upon the carpet.

"Good morning, Commander," She greeted without glancing up.

"How'd you know it was me?"

"Your footsteps. You're the only one that walks like that," Kathryn replied briefly. A chuckle rumbled in his throat, and she felt a slight swish of air as he sank down into his chair.

"Personelle reports?" He inquired. She glanced in irritation to see him hovering over the arm of his chair to peek at the reports.

"Yes." She cut back tersely.

"I thought we were going to do those today," Chakotay reminded her.

Janeway's gaze quickly snapped up to Tom, and from the slight shift in his position, she knew he'd heard as well. Damn. He knew now it was more than reports that kept her up.

Chakotay followed her gaze, dark eyes questioning. "Kathryn?"

"Nothing." Janeway replied briefly. She lowered her voice, her weary blue eyes slipped up to meet his. "I just couldn't sleep."

He scrutinized her with concern, and almost reached a hand out to touch the dark shadows under her eyes before he thought the better of it. "You don't look well, Kathryn," He said gravely.

"I'm just a bit tired."

"Why don't you take the day off? I can handle the bridge."

"So eager to be rid of me, Commander?" She quirked an eyebrow at him, though her eyes lacked their usual impish spark. "Is there something I should know about?"

A smile tugged at his lips, but her teasing didn't redirect the subject as she'd hoped. "Kathryn..."

She sighed heavily. "All right, all right," She conceded. "I suppose if I don't leave soon, you'll have the doctor on me."

"You know me too well." He replied quietly.

She shot him a bemused scowl as she pushed up to her feet, ignoring the triumphant gloat that lit his face.

"You won this time, Commander," She said quietly as she brushed past him, pausing to add, "This time."

Before he could rejoinder, she breezed past him and out of the door.

Chakotay smiled after her, then shifted his gaze back to the viewscreen, poised to strike up a conversation with Paris.

The words died on his lips at the funny look on Paris's face, the strange, bewildered blue eyes lost in the direction that Kathryn had departed.

Chakotay clenched his jaw, and sank back into the command chair.


Tom ran his fingers lovingly through B'Elanna's silky black hair. Her head was resting comfortably upon his lap, her eyes closed. He scanned her features, read the look of absolute peace on her face. He grazed her cheek softly with the pad of his thumb, a smile touching his lips. It was moments like now that really defined their love, in which he knew with absolute certainty that this was the woman with whom he'd spend eternity. Between their fights, their brawls, their passions, their torments, were these short little intervals of peace, the moments he'd come to cherish.

The moments that had become increasingly rare.

He planted a soft kiss upon her forehead. Her dark eyes crept open and flickered over his features. A contented smile slinked across her lips, and her fingers wrapped around his.

"What is it, Tom?" She murmured.

"Nothing," he whispered, blue eyes twinkling into hers. "I was just thinking about how much I love you."

She smiled, pulled his fingers to her lips and pressed a soft kiss against them. Her eyes slowly slinked closed.

"You're really tired," Tom noted softly.

"Mmm-hmm. Long day," B'Elanna slurred. She snuggled her cheek deeper into his lap. "Had to recalibrate the entire EPS manifold."

"Sounds rough," Tom tsked in sympathy.

"And you?" She inquired sleepily.

"Nothing much. Just a few course corrections." He leaned closer and kissed her again.

"I suppose it's slower back here after being away for a while," B'Elanna murmured.

"Sometimes slower is better," He replied.

"You didn't hook up with some other woman while you were away, did you?"

Tom stiffened. He managed to steady his voice and ignore the sudden quickening of his heart. "No, nothing like that. Seems I've lost my sex appeal."

A smile crept across her lips, her eyelids fluttering. "Good, 'cause I'd bust her pulse, and yours."

He chuckled uneasily. "B'Ela, it was just me, and the captain, no other women there."

"What about the ambassador? He didn't hit on you, did he?" She was teasing him now. He could tell by the inflection of her tone. A relieved smile crept across his lips as he let his own eyes sink closed.

"Nah, he was too busy hitting on the captain. He was disappointed when we left and he never got within breathing distance of her. She handled him well, flattered, but didn't offend his... diplomatic sensibilities. I'll have to learn to do that someday with my hoards of female admirers." Tom's 'sex appeal' was a running joke between the two, and he grinned as he waited for her to bat his ego down.

"I guess you will." Her voice sounded funny.

Tom's eyes snapped open, and he glanced down at her curiously, reading her troubled expression. "What's wrong?" He asked.

"Nothing," she said quickly, closing her eyes again as if shaking off old demons.

"Really, what is the matter?"

"Nothing!" She reiterated vehemently. Softer, "I just want to sleep."

He was still gazing curiously at her long after her breathing slowed with sleep.


They finally made it to his room, after stumbling through the hallways, clinging to each other for balance as they tumbled on between bouts of irrepressible giggling. By the time they muddled through the door, they had both forgotten everything but each other, the heat between their bodies, the quick flow of blood through their veins. He stumbled back a few paces, catching his breath sharply, eyes meeting hers. Her blue eyes were smoky with desire, or was it intoxication? He giggled, and a carefree grin twisted across her lips as she stumbled towards him.

"Tom..." Kathryn slurred, her voice husky, her cheeks flushed. As she neared, he felt the heat of her breath upon his cheek, could see the swell of her heaving chest. That was all it took.

He bounded forward and pressed his lips to hers, shoving his tongue into her mouth, hungry, demanding. She responded eagerly, twining her hands fiercely into his hair to pull his face closer to hers. He sucked in a sharp breath as her hot kisses trailed down the side of his neck. Unthinking, his hands fell to her body, slipping under her uniform, running over her soft, heated flesh. He maneuvered towards the bed with clumsy steps, pressing her with him. He worked his hands out and fumbled with the seams of her uniform, and she giggled at his clumsy efforts as she worked his uniform off. He abruptly lost his balance, and they tumbled to the floor. She cracked up as she landed beneath him with a thunk, and he buried his giggles in her hair. He took a deep breath of her scent, and pulled up for just a moment, long enough to gaze into her beautiful eyes.

"Tom..." She whispered, blue eyes gazing longingly into his. A rush of pleasure prickled through his entire body, and he swooped down to claim a hungry kiss...

Tom Paris drew in a jagged gasp of air as his eyes snapped open. The cold ceiling of his quarters loomed overhead. His hands flew to his chest, tearing at the buttons of his nightshirt to air out his heated skin. His heart thumped wildly in his veins. He fumbled over the mattress, felt B'Elanna's sleeping form next to him. A long moment passed as he tried to regain his breath, reeling in the wake of the heated dream. He moved his hand away from B'Elanna lest he wake her, and slowly settled back into the mattress, the bedsprings creaking beneath him.

His thoughts meandered over his dream, and his cheeks burned. B'Elanna would not be happy if she knew what he had just dreamed about, nor would Janeway. He closed his eyes heavily, sighing. It wasn't so much a dream as a memory, from the encounter with the captain a few days earlier.

Most of his memories of that night were mere flashes, not coherent. He could remember tumbling over her, lying on top of her on the floor for a few moments. They giggled some more as they lay prone. Then Paris became acutely aware of his hardness, and the woman beneath him, and all he knew was that he wanted her, and he wanted her badly.

Next thing he knew, he was inside of her, his lips molding hers, her fingernails digging into his back. Her skin was red, and her breath was unsteady, a tiny whimper escaping her lips. He had groaned, buried deeper into her, tried ever so hard to sink completely into the woman beneath him...

His first coherent memory must have taken place afterwards. Tom could remember opening his eyes, feeling his limp arm draped across her breasts. She opened her eyes as well, and gave him a pained look.

"Tom?" Her voice sounded unsteady.

"Umm-hmm?" He murmured back, peering at her as though through a fog.

"Uhh..." Her brow furrowed as if she was confused.

He let his cheek slump to her shoulder, her flesh cool against his. "What is't, cap'n?" He had muttered. He chanced a look up at her face, and noticed with alarm hot tears slipping down her cheeks. She met his gaze, her blue eyes shiny, and sputtered a hysterical giggle that sounded more like a sob.

"I can't think straight. I hate it when I can't think straight."

He nodded as if he understood, but he really couldn't understand over the ringing in his head.

She raked a sweaty hand through her damp, tangled hair. Her expression was almost frantic, and she sputtered, "I shouldn't wear m'hair down. Looks unprofessional."

"S'okay t'me." Tom muttered fuzzily. She smiled unsteadily in reply, and on impulse, he planted a wet kiss on her jaw. He lingered there for a long moment, too tired to move. When he pulled back, he realized she'd passed out. He noticed this with interest, then he blacked out as well.

Not quite romantic, Tom thought wryly as he remembered, absently stroking B'Elanna's form. He glanced over at the half-Klingon's shadow in the darkness, wondering just what he'd say to her, wondering when he'd be brave enough to tell her. He had to tell her. He couldn't keep avoiding the truth.

You're a coward, Tom Paris, He cursed himself, abruptly swinging his legs off the bed and throwing the sheets off of himself. He padded across the room to gaze out the window, watching the jagged streaks of light as they slipped by.

He thought of the captain, her reflective gaze, the stance she always adopted as she stood by the viewport. A wave of guilt washed through him. How could he tell her? How could he tell her that he wasn't just an innocent victim of circumstance in this, that it wasn't an accident that the alcohol boosters failed? That the only reason he had fallen victim to this prank was because he mixed up the alcohol booster he intended for himself, and the alcohol enhancer he intended for her?

He closed his eyes on his tears. It had just been a funny prank at the time, something for he and Kim to laugh about off duty. Get the captain drunk, make her look the fool for once, let her be embarrassed. Perhaps it could be a mild form of revenge for Tom's thirty days in the brig, or her treatment of Tal. But over all, just a funny prank.

It wasn't so funny now.


Oh no. Just who he didn't want to see.

Eyes alight, Harry Kim bounded after him, just slipping through the turbolift doors before they slid shut. He looked at Paris expectantly, and inquired cheerfully, "So?"

"So, what?" Paris snapped, voice surly. His temples throbbed relentlessly, and his face was lined with exhaustion.

"You know what," Harry prompted expectantly, dark eyes glittering with mirth. He waved a hand quickly, a grin splitting his lips. "You know? The enhancer?"

Tom sighed, his eyes sinking closed. "Yeah. I know."

"So, what happened?"

There was a long moment of silence, penetrated only by the hum of the turbolift.

Voice grave, Kim said quietly, "It didn't work, did it? She caught you."

The turbolift doors opened, and Paris walked out, Harry trailing at his heels.

"No, Harry," Paris said quietly, barely above a whisper, "It worked out."

Relief washed over Kim's face. "Well? What happened? Was she embarrassed?"

"Yep. She was embarrassed."

Kim's dark eyes flickered over him questioningly, and he said slowly, "Well, that was the point, wasn't it? After all that's happened recently, we did want to poke a little fun at her."


Kim gripped his arm firmly, pulling him to a stop. Black eyes bore into blue. "So what is wrong?"

Tom's eyes flickered away from Kim's. A sour laugh escaped his lips. "We're idiots, Harry, that's what's wrong. Complete and utter idiots."

Kim drew back in surprise, but before he could think of anything to say, Paris slid past him and disappeared down the corridor.


"And he just left. Not that it's any of my business, but is something going on?"

B'Elanna gazed absently into her coffee. She shrugged noncommittally, and murmured, "Not that I know of. He's been perfectly fine around me."

"But he's been acting so strange. He's been back for four days now, and it seems almost like he's avoiding me. If he's mad at me about something, I'm sure he'd have told me by now." Harry leaned back in his chair, shaking his head slowly, stupefied. "The way he's acting-- it's just not like Tom."

B'Elanna stared into space for a long moment, then suddenly peered at him, eyes narrowed. "Just what did you two talk about?"

"Nothing," Harry replied. His cheeks flushed.

B'Elanna sat up straight, glaring keenly at him. "Harry, what?"


A meditative silence passed as Torres tapped her fingers upon the table, scrutinizing Kim's expression carefully. Harry tried to school his features into nonchalance, but he wasn't Harry-Read-Me-Like-a-Book Kim for nothing. Torres leaned over the table, towards him. "There's something you're trying to hide from me. Tell me."

"You're paranoid." Kim snapped.

"And you're a bad liar," Torres rejoined. She leaned back in her chair and steepled her fingers in a mock imitation of Tuvok. A wry little smirk tugged at her lips, and she informed him, "We're in a calm region of space and we reloaded four days ago. Do you know what that means Harry?" Silence. "It means that I have a lot of time on my hands. A lot. I could wait all day. Do you catch my meaning, Harry? All day."

Kim gulped.

A satisfied smile ghosted her lips. Nope, definitely not Harry-Read-Me-Like-a- Book Kim for nothing. He would tell her everything she wanted to know.

He opened his mouth, then hesitated, battling his lingering reluctance. Torres raised her eyebrows, eyes challenging him to protest as she said coolly, "I'm waiting, Harry."

He was acutely aware of the ridges that marked the Klingon blood in her.

He gulped again.


"Good morning, Tom,"

"Good morning, Captain."

She lingered by the conn a moment, gazing at the starscape displayed on the viewscreen. Paris glanced up at her curiously. Her posture was more relaxed than yesterday, and a good night's sleep had reduced the shadows under her eyes. He became acutely conscious of the shadows under his own eyes.

"Quiet day," She remarked, still gazing at the viewscreen.

"Yeah. Kind of relaxing," Paris replied.

She shifted, and her gaze slipped from the viewscreen to him. She took a step closer. "How are you, Tom?" Her voice was quiet enough to confine it to him.

"I've been better," Paris admitted honestly.

She gave him a characteristic half smirk, then her eyes softened. "You look like hell. Go get some sleep."

"I can manage--" Paris began, but was silenced when her hand landed on his shoulder, her touch soft against uniform. He was surprised when his skin tingled.

"I understand the... strain left over from the Riyalan negotiation." She murmured. He nodded, understanding her meaning. She continued, with a soft smile, "Let's just relax and recover for a while. Okay?"

At the look of understanding in her eyes, he felt a great weight lifted from his chest. No shame, no awkwardness. A mistake. Mistakes were forgivable. They were human. He smiled almost against his will, and whispered, "Thank you, Captain."

She grinned, and replied, "Never say I didn't give you anything."

He grinned back, lingering for a moment, her hand resting comfortably upon his shoulder. Kathryn gazed at him fondly, then realized herself and stepped away from him. He rose and swept past her. The soft patter of his footsteps retreated to the turbolift.

She heard the door swish open, and the soft murmur of, "Chakotay," "Tom," Heavy footsteps padded down to stand at her shoulder.

"Good morning, Commander."

He stood close enough that she could feel his breath lightly upon her neck. "I trust you got some sleep?" He whispered.

"Yes, I did. And," She craned her neck to look at him, a genuine smile on her lips, "Thank you."

Chakotay smiled in return, and the two commanding officers retreated to their chairs. Chakotay flipped up a report he was reviewing, and Janeway started working on her console. Dark eyes intent upon the report, he inquired in a casual voice, "Why is Tom leaving so soon?"

Her eyes didn't stray from the console. "He looked tired. I did him a favor and sent him to bed."

"Sounds like those Riyalans really wore you two out."

She did not reply. Her console chirped softly as she tapped in figures.

Chakotay looked up from the report at her silence, and noticed the glassy, faraway look in her eyes. She must have felt his gaze, because suddenly her eyes slinked up and locked with his. He quickly looked back down at the report. After a few minutes of reading the same sentence over and over again, the tangible silence became deafening. He let his gaze stray from the report, and he found himself watching her again. A vein pulsed in her forehead, and suddenly she swept to her feet.

"You have the bridge, Commander. I'll be in my readyroom," She announced.

Chakotay nodded almost imperceptibly, and pretended to look at the report until the readyroom doors closed. Almost simultaneously, the turbolift doors hissed open. Chakotay peered over his shoulder to see the new arrival, and nodded courteously.

"Good morning, Tuvok."

"Good morning, Commander." Ayala relinquished Tuvok's console and the Vulcan methodically began his morning diagnostics. He glanced up briefly from his console to note the staff members on the bridge. Janeway and Paris were absent. Curious. The Captain retreated to her readyroom within ten minutes of the start of her shift; she usually waited at least thirty minutes into her shift to exercise that option. The first security diagnostic completed. He scanned the data thoroughly and began the second.

Again, he surveyed the bridge, and noted the unusual quiet. Usually either Commander Chakotay, Ensign Paris, or Captain Janeway would strike up a dialogue which aided in amusing the junior officers and in passing the time. A comfortable bridge atmosphere, though normally inexpedient onboard a military vessel, had proved conducive to promote the efficiency and attentiveness of the officers on duty.

He glanced up mildly when the turbolift door slid open. Torres burst into the bridge, glancing around quickly. As far as Tuvok could recall, Torres manned engineering during the morning. She never came to the bridge until at least 1100 hours. He caulked a curious eyebrow at her, but she seemed oblivious.

"B'Elanna?" Chakotay asked questioningly, on his feet.

Her scrutiny of the bridge complete, she said brusquely, "It's nothing," Then she disappeared back into the turbolift.

Chakotay stared after her, a frown twisted upon his lips. His eyes met Tuvok's, and the two men both understood that the other was as stupefied as he. They broke the eye contact. Chakotay's gaze shifted towards the readyroom, and lingered there for a long moment. An queer, unsettling smile pulled at his lips. His eyes were not smiling.

"Tuvok," He spoke at last. He ripped his gaze from the readyroom to acknowledge the Vulcan. "You have the bridge."

Less than ten minutes into his shift. Very curious. Tuvok noted.

Chakotay was oblivious to the Vulcan's gaze as he rang the chime.

"Come in!"

The doors swept aside. He caught sight of her at her desk, combing over an array of scattered padds. Her blue eyes darted up only briefly to catch sight of him, then she looked back down.

"What can I do for you, Commander?"

He hesitated a few feet from her desk, fumbling for words, mildly embarrassed for disturbing her work for what seemed now a trivial matter. Finally, he came up with, "What's going on, Kathryn?"

She looked up sharply. "Nothing. Why?" Her tone was casual. A bit too casual.

Chakotay shrugged, ambled over to stand directly in front of the desk. "You've been acting strangely lately."

"It's been a long week."

Chakotay accepted this with a nod. "I understand that. But you're not the only one."

"Oh?" She leaned her chin upon her hand and peered up at him.


She shrugged her thin shoulders. "I told you, the conference was draining."

Chakotay nodded again, jaw clenched. "B'Elanna Torres."

Janeway flushed, and her eyes darted away from his. "She must be stir crazy. There's not much going on in engineering."

"Harry Kim."

She glanced up at him, brow furrowed. He could tell she was genuinely confused.

"What's wrong with him?"

"He's been distracted the past few days. Almost missed seeing a microfilament of orobenzite that registered in our flight path." Janeway winced. Orobenzite was not something you wanted to run into.

"I had no idea."

Chakotay scrutinized her with eyes that seemed to see into her soul. Finally, he spoke quietly, "You're lying to me, Kathryn."

Janeway gaped at him incredulously. "I'm not lying. I really have no idea what's happening with Harry Kim."

"But you know what's going on with Paris and Torres."

"I don't know what's going on with Paris and Torres," She shot back.

"But you think there is something going on," He pressed.

She sighed, threw the padd she was clutching down onto her desk with a clatter. "You are an impossible man, Chakotay."

"You wouldn't have me any other way," He replied, eyes crinkling with a smile.

She gazed at him for a long, silent moment.

As if making a decision, she sobered, and said quietly, "This is not a matter for the first officer."

"Then it can be a matter for your friend."

Her eyes flickered. "I don't know if you're going to like this, Chakotay."

"You know you can tell me anything, Kathryn. Anything," he assured her.


Warm breath tickled his jaw, and a long, wet kiss softened his lips. A few questions pierced his cloudy mind, but the ecstasy of sensation clouded them into a fading mist. The pad of a tickling finger trailed down the side of his neck and under his collar, tingling the skin beneath his shirt. Fingers tangled in his nest of chest hair. The lips brushed light kisses against his eyelids.

"Hmmm, that feels good," He slurred. He managed to force his eyes open against the heavy blackness, desiring to see the beautiful blue eyes, to bathe in their warmth.

The midnight eyes met his in the dimness, and a smile shadowed her lips. "Sleeping when you're supposed to be on duty? Naughty boy."

"Captain's orders." He swept an arm around her back to press her body to his, and his lips pressed up to meet hers. The two lovers lingered in a slow, hungry kiss. B'Elanna pushed away first.

"We need to talk, Tom," she said quietly.

Tom woke up completely at the statement--the classic statement for a woman about to dump a man. "What is it?"

The bedsheets rustled as she slid off of him, plopping onto the mattress besides him. Her dark eyes held his gaze.

"Tom, Harry told me about the prank."

Paris reddened. "Oh."

"You didn't get her too pissed off, did you?" Torres queried.

Paris hesitated momentarily, then murmured, "I don't think she knows it was a prank yet."

Torres smiled indulgently, shaking her head. "You two have got to be the biggest idiots I've ever met. Who came up with that hairball idea?"

"Uh... Harry."

She laughed. "Sure, sure, Helmboy. This has you written all over it."

"You shouldn't have asked if you'd already decided on your own," Paris muttered, trying to hide his frazzled nerves from her. This subject was too close for comfort.

"Okay, so maybe it was Harry," Torres abjured. "It's still incredibly stupid. It sounds like something I would've expected from a highschooler."

"Well, it's over now."

She nodded thoughtfully. She hadn't quite forgiven Janeway for forcing that unwanted surgical procedure from the Cardassian murderer upon her, or her callous attitude afterwards. She remembered Janeway's dispassionate words, "I'm the captain, you're my crewman. Understood?" She remembered Janeway's supercilious attitude during Tom's time in the brig.

An iniquitous gleam sparked her eyes. "So, what happened?"

Paris felt sick.

B'Elanna watched his expression wilt, and genuine concern washed through her. She was distinctly uncomfortable, unaccustomed to dealing with this kind of behavior from him. Finally, she asked, "What's wrong?" She laid her hand upon his shoulder.

Tom looked down at her hand, and his eyes were large and sad. "B'Ela, you'd better take your hand away. You're not going to want to touch me after what I tell you."

Her eyes widened, but she said nothing.

Paris sighed raggedly. "It worked. I substituted the enhancer into her alcohol booster, then I took the alcohol booster myself. You know the safety plan-- if a crisis came up, I'd simply administer the antidote, everyone back to normal. In the meantime, give her a night to live in infamy. Just a prank. Maybe she would've done nothing when she was drunk-- no dancing on tables or bellowing bawdy tunes, in which case I could hint at a few things that would make her wonder.

"Well, this is where my idiocy truly plays in. Somehow or other, the alcohol booster and enhancer were mixed up, and later, when I took mine, it turned out to be hers. We both got very drunk, very quickly." His eyes shot to hers to gauge her expression. She remained carefully impassive.

"Go on," she urged.

Paris closed his eyes. "Well, at some point or another, we ended up leaving, going to my chamber. I don't remember much, neither of us do, but--" He stopped, his voice choking. "We had sex, B'Elanna."

He didn't dare look at her. Her hand was suddenly very cold and stiff against his shoulder, but she did not remove it.

The room was penetrated by silence.

The lights hadn't been turned on when she entered his quarters. The only illumination was provided by the bright stars streaking by the viewport, and the soft glow of the room's various computer consoles. The quiet hum of the ships engines grew loud.

The silence lasted too long, and the unresponsiveness alarmed Tom more than if she had yelled and screamed at him. He finally dared to look at her, and even in the darkness knew she had paled.

"B'Elanna?" He inquired softly.

Her only response was to remove her hand from his shoulder and slide off of the bed. Her feet landed on the carpet with a soft plunk.

"B'Elanna--" His voice was ragged, and tears made his eyes glisten.

"Don't talk to me." She rasped, voice choked with emotion. "Just don't talk to me."

Paris was relieved momentarily at her response-- the passionate B'Elanna he knew.

"Listen, I'm not going to make excuses for what I did--" He grasped her arm lightly.

"That's good, because there's no way in hell I would listen to them." She hissed, ripping away from his hand and tearing across the quarters towards the door. She stopped before she exited, whirling around to glare at him, her eyes blazing, lips twisted into a snarl.

"How could you be such an idiot, Tom? My God!" She laughed harshly. "You are such a fucking... cad!" She darted out the doors into the bright corridor.

The splinters of light faded when the door hissed shut. Paris stared after her desolately for a few moments, silent and unmoving in the darkness, breath coming stertorously. He had no split lip, no black eye, nothing as physically painful as he expected.

But no physical ailment could be as terrible as the pain ripping him up inside.


Chakotay stood before her, stiff and at attention. His face was impassive, but she could see his temples throbbing with his anger, and the blazing of his cold eyes. She felt a twisting, agonized shame deep inside of her, but, curiously, not about the act itself. She was ashamed about lying to him, and that she had put off relations with him for so long and then undermined herself by just having sex with her attached helmsman, but not actually about breaking her five years of celibacy.

She glanced back up at him, at his hardness, and she realized she couldn't confront him. She wasn't up to it. She couldn't give him a formal, commanding officer don't-mess-with-my-authority speech. No, not right now. It would be out of place. It would be hypocritical. She let out a weary breath and her shoulders slumped lifelessly.

Kathryn wasn't aware she had turned away from him until she noticed his movement reflected in the viewport. He was stepping to the side, slightly, to try to see her face, which she had carefully averted away from him. She crossed her arms tightly across her chest, but made no move to shield herself from him. He might take it the wrong way.

"I just don't understand." His voice was neutral, level in the unnaturally quiet atmosphere. It was as smooth as velvet, and masked the underlying turbulence of his emotion. It was deceptively kind, and Kathryn's arms hugged across her chest tighter. "I don't understand why you put off our relationship because you can't afford to compromise the command structure; you string me along--" He paused to adjust his tone, which had become too harsh on the last three words, back to the neutral voice he had been using. "--You string me along, for four years, and then you..." He couldn't say it. "You compromise your own command structure." He paused, and then his words stung her, "With Tom Paris, of all people!"

Kathryn involuntarily flinched, and he noticed, but he wasn't in any mood to be charitable. He felt his own wounds aching, and he was out for blood.

"It wasn't like that, Chakotay. I... It wasn't like that," she replied hesitantly, unable to respond.

"Then what was it like?" That neutral tone again. Damn him.

"It wasn't like that. It wasn't something I just did..."

He laughed harshly and replied. "You fucked him, Kathryn! If that's not something you just did..."

She paled, mortified at his casual reference to her mistake, and at the anger in his voice. She spun her back to him to hide her expression.

"We were drunk, Chakotay." She began carefully, "That doesn't excuse us, but--"

"Damn right it doesn't excuse you!" He snapped angrily.

She whirled on him angrily, fists clenched and eyes blazing. She was at her wits end. "And who are you to judge our actions! For Christ's sake, Chakotay, I can fuck whoever the hell I want to and you have no say in it, whatsoever. Who appointed you moral authority on this ship? And what the hell kind of a hypocrite are you to berate me for this? You fucked Riley, you say you fucked 'Kellin', or whatever the hell her name was, and god knows how many other alien women on the way!"

"Those were different..." He began angrily.

"How the hell was it any different?" She demanded harshly. "It was different because you were consensual in all of it. Paris and I were drunk, our judgment was impaired. We didn't get drunk because of our own actions. It was because our alcohol boosters failed that one night. My God, Chakotay... You have no right whatsoever to lecture me on the proper conduct of a starfleet captain--"

"When it comes to the safety of this ship, as first officer, it is exactly my duty to inform you of your mistakes!--"

"But this isn't about the ship, is it Chakotay? Don't even say it is. Even your hypocrisy has to have its limits." She cut him off angrily.

"So I'm a hypocrite now?" He demanded angrily. "And no, this isn't about ship's safety. This is about you, and me. I have waited. I haven't been involved with any other woman on this ship. I have waited because I thought one day you might find room for me in that busy life of yours, that I might one day penetrate that armed fortress you call a heart, only to have some cocky, hot shot asshole pilot end up on one night undermining everything I've worked for!"

"So that's what I am now? I'm a reward for hard work? Is that all I am to you? Something you get after you expend enough effort?" She demanded angrily.

He glared at her, drew in a sharp breath for his retort, but let it out slowly as his shoulders slowly drooped. "No, you're not."

That was all he said before he turned away from her and left. He walked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, or like a fatigued soldier walking away from a lost war. Kathryn felt her eyes stinging with unshed tears as the doors slid closed behind him. She turned back to the window and glanced at the darkness of space. She, too, felt like she had just lost her war.

Kathryn stood there for an interminable amount of time, gazing absently at the chilled stabs of light kniving through space. The stars had always been so beautiful to her, always held some hope, swirls and sprinkles of them glittering in the cosmos. She had never seen them like this before, so cold, so desolate, abandoned furnaces roaring to life only to burn out in the end.

Her thoughts numbly meandered over the confrontation with Chakotay. Her entire body felt exhausted, and her emotions were burnt out. Her myriad of anger, shame, remorse, and bitterness had dissolved after he left, leaving her feeling hollow, spent. She could only gaze numbly at space, watching the stars. She had tried to work on some reports, but found herself unable to read the words. All she wanted was to let her mind go blank for a while, to forget the mess in which she was embroiled.

A chirp at the door interrupted her thoughts. Kathryn sighed heavily, bathing her gaze one last time in the cold, empty space yawning before her. Then she turned away and called, "Come in."

The door slid open, and the person hesitated only briefly before proceeding into her readyroom. Kathryn caught her breath, caged her features to an emotionless mask.

"Tom," She greeted. "What can I do for you?"

"I have a confession to make." He said abruptly, not quite looking her in the eye.

Oh no. Nothing more. She thought desperately.

Kathryn considered requesting Tom to leave, to make his confession, whatever the hell it was, later. She stepped closer to him, and noticed his gaze furtively slink away from her, avoiding eye contact. His hair was unruffled, and she could see the slight stubble of a beard scrubbing his cheeks. Apparently, the sleep she'd ordered him to get had done more harm than good. She stepped closer, gaze transfixed by the dark shadows under his eyes. He looked so sad.

She found herself reaching out to him, to lift his chin, to let his gaze meet hers. She wanted him to see her understanding, her compassion. She wanted to chase that pall of sadness away from him. Her fingers almost caressed his cheek before she realized what she was doing, and pulled the hand back to her side.

Heaving a sigh, Kathryn leaned back against her desk, scrutinizing him. "All right, Tom."

His gaze met her for the first time, and she could see the genuine shame in his clear blue eyes.

"Do you remember how we got drunk on the Riyalan ship?".

Kathryn winced. How could she forget? "Of course. Our alcohol suppression boosters failed." She supplied flatly.

He shook his head slowly. "No. They were working just fine. When we were at our last stop, after Neelix negotiated for foodstuffs and medical supplies, one of the things they gave us was an alcohol enhancer. It basically suppresses your resistance to alcohol and enhances its effects."

"I see." She murmured. Kathryn tried not to jump to any conclusions, but she had a sneaking suspicion just where this was heading.

Tom nodded, and continued raggedly, "Well, when you and I were on the Riyalan ship-- well, we succumbed to the alcohol there because we didn't have alcohol suppression boosters. We had taken those enhancers." His gaze snapped to her face, and he felt a bit relieved that no emotion registered on her face immediately.

Kathryn maintained the careful mask. It wasn't too hard. His statement didn't surprise her with the lead in he had given. "I see. And just how did we end up taking them?"

Tom nodded slowly, eyes on the wall behind her. "It was just going to be a prank, captain. I-- I thought it would be--"

"Funny?" She supplied.

His eyes again snapped to hers, and he seemed surprised at her complacence.

"Yeah. Um... after you'd already taken the enhancer, somehow I ended up taking it as well. And, well, you know what happened from there. I'm so sorry. I had no idea that this would happen. I can't apologize enough."

There was a long moment of silence as she considered him, arms folded across her chest, expression thoughtful.

"Just tell me something, Tom," She murmured, pulling up to her feet and slowly circled him, eyes distant. "We were off ship, and you know from experience that even a good situation is potentially dangerous. Your.. prank resulted in getting me intoxicated. What would have happened had there been an emergency? Starfleet has regulations that require the use of alcohol suppression boosters in order to protect against potentially dangerous occurrences. Those regulations are there for a reason. By your prank, you undermined those regulations."

Tom blinked. She had caught him by surprise by switching to protocol.

"I-- I had a booster just in case. If there had been an emergency, I could have detoxified you in five seconds."

"But it didn't work out as planned, and you and I ended up... in an awkward position." "Yes." Tom said lamely.

She nodded, and then paused her pacing at her desk. She leaned back against it again, and her arms folded across her chest again. Her eyes met his, and he found himself unable to look away.

"Why did you do it, Tom? If it had worked out, and I had simply gotten drunk while you were still sober, what would you have gotten out of it? A good laugh?" She watched him color, shift uncomfortably. Kathryn was genuinely perplexed. What would have motivated him to play such an infantile prank?

There was a long silence as Tom fumbled for words.

"Captain-- I..." His voice faded off, his gaze distant. He seemed lost in thought, debating. Finally, his icy blue eyes focused on her, gaze lucid, expression set. "It was about everything. The thirty days in the brig, Harry, B'Elanna,... I was angry."

Her eyes clouded over. She said quietly, "I thought we were over those events."

There was a long silence.

His eye flickered, and he finally said, "I'm not."

Kathryn found herself without words. She knew, in retrospect, that the brig time combined with the demotion was harsh, overly harsh for Tom's actions. He had disobeyed a direct order from the captain, and merited some form of punishment, but what she had given him was harsher than she'd dealt to anyone else thus far. She'd punished worse less severely. But she felt stung after his affront to her authority, stung deeply. They had been getting along so well, then he simply disobeyed her. And it hurt. Kathryn had assumed all was forgiven between them after the malfunction with Chaotica's program, but she realized now that nothing had been resolved, only avoided.

He mentioned B'Elanna, Harry... All people whom, recently, she had affronted. She forced the operation upon B'Elanna... She separated Harry from Tal... She mentally added the doctor, whom she had berated as a simple program, a simple hologram, no more sophisticated than a replicator, and hadn't allowed him to get over a traumatic experience until Seven reasoned with her...

Kathryn flushed. She hadn't been aware that the crew was keeping tabs on this, that they held it against her. Her eyes flew to Tom's, and she realized suddenly, My God, they must hate me. She had been so close to them all before the void, but then they became strangers to her. They banded together to prevent her from flying out in the shuttle alone, to prevent her from being left behind. A part of her had cried in joy for their love, their loyalty, another part of her was consumed with hatred for them. If she had just disappeared into the void forever, it would be the end to the pain, to the guilt that assailed her every moment... And she had been taking it out on them since.

Tom's prank began to make sense. He had gotten her intoxicated so he could laugh about her later, joke about her with the junior officers, humiliate her, degrade her... She peered at him with suspicion, wondering if he had accidentally 'blundered' into taking the enhancer as well, or if he had simply faked being drunk, faked his hangover the next day. What if he had maneuvered to get her in bed, simply so he could joke about her later to the rest of the disgruntled crew? The possibility began to solidify, and she became more convinced each nanosecond she pondered the situation. Paris had been trying to humiliate her. Paris had wanted revenge upon her. The whole crew was fed up with her. They wanted to see her humiliated.

"So, you wanted to hurt me," She said quietly. He drew in a breath to speak, but she raised a hand to quiet him. Her back was to him, and for that she was grateful, so he couldn't see her tears.

Pain burned through her chest, reeling her. She had never felt so used, so humiliated in her life. She could imagine Paris and Kim surrounded by crewmen, laughing, as Paris related, "So, she got a few beers, then she was reeling drunk, slobbering all over me..." Laughing. Laughing about how he had gotten the captain into bed, how she'd turned a loose slut with a bit of alcohol. "How could we have known we had a whore in the command chair?" Paris had probably jokingly related to Kim.

The tears threatened to overflow from her eyes, and she fought them back with every shred of pride left in her being. Some angry, inner voice told her to curse Paris out, give him a piece of her mind, some other, commanding part told her to let him finish what he had to say, hear the whole story, give him a chance to atone for his actions. But neither Captain Janeway or Kathryn Janeway won out at this point. All she could feel was the pain, the hurt, and it numbed her, stupefied her. She was too exhausted to fight anymore, drained by Chakotay, drained by Paris, drained by the hatred the crew must feel for her, the hatred she had been blissfully oblivious to until this moment. Oh God... just let this day end...

With great effort, she managed to mask her feelings, and gazed at Paris from the side, not quite looking him in the eye.

"So, you wanted to hurt me, to humiliate me." Her voice threatened to break, and she finished quickly, "Well, congratulations. You succeeded."

He stepped forward to say something, but Kathryn could not bear those eyes on her, the mocking blue sapphires that had seen her at her most vulnerable, at her most powerful, and her most passionate, the eyes that laughed at her even now. She sidestepped him and fled blindly for the door, disappearing before he could react.


Chakotay fumed as he checked the chronometer. Paris was still in conference with Janeway. He directed a seething glare towards the door, wondering just what was going on. Likely a sweaty reprise of last week, only they were sober this time. He forced his gaze away from the readyroom and began methodically going about his duties.

The door swished open, and he heard light footsteps pattering across the top platform of the bridge. He studiously ignored them. He couldn't look at Paris right now. Years of discipline were the only thing keeping him from lashing at the younger man's throat. The turbolift doors slid open, and Paris exited.

The doors to the readyroom slid open again. Chakotay unconsciously rose to his feet to relinquish the bridge, ignoring Janeway as he heard her walk out, unwilling to acknowledge her on a personal level. Curt, professional, impassive-- just like she had always wanted him to be. His eyes burned into Paris's chair as he pictured the asshole sitting there, so cocky, so arrogant. He'd probably already bragged to his friends about bedding the Captain. The convict. The traitor.

He was confused when Janeway's footsteps led away from the command chair. He glanced behind him to confirm that she was entering the turbolift. There was a brief flash of Tom's blonde hair and shaken expression before the turbolift doors slid closed.

Chakotay blinked. He had assumed that Paris left first. Paris left the readyroom last? Janeway exited before someone else? He looked up and saw Tuvok's furrowed brow, and again felt a rare camaraderie with the Vulcan, a man as equally perplexed as he. Chakotay sank back into the command chair, and mused over what had taken place in the readyroom. He hadn't heard any noise of muffled shouts, nothing to indicate a confrontation. But that look on Paris's face...

He suppressed a wave of satisfaction that rolled through him. Perhaps Janeway had lashed him, given him a piece of her mind, wiped that smug attitude off of the pilot's face. Chakotay raked a hand through his short cropped hair, and wished that he could believe that possibility. He would be able to, if only Janeway hadn't been the first one to leave. She never was the first one to leave, not from her own territory. She was never the one to back down first.

He cursed himself for the concern he felt. He cursed himself for remembering the devastation in her eyes during their confrontation. He cursed himself for remembering the anger in her voice. He cursed himself for loving her. For loving her.

' We were drunk, Chakotay,' She had said. ' That doesn't excuse us but--'

He had interrupted, 'Damn right it doesn't excuse you!' It didn't excuse her. She was drunk, she had succumbed to lust when intoxicated. He could accept that. He could not accept it with Paris. Not with Paris. Did she think he was blind? Did she think he had no idea what was going on? Maybe she didn't realize it herself. It didn't matter. He had seen her eyes when she looked upon Paris. He had at first dismissed it as a mentor's love for a pupil, or extending her affection for Admiral Paris to his son. But it was later when he realized it was more than that. He remembered how shattered she had been after Paris's demotion, during his time in the brig. She had tried to hide it, acting cold, acting supercilious, but she was more hurt than he'd ever seen her. He could remember her worry when Paris was in the prison with Harry, he could remember the little something more in her eyes after the ship had been rescued from the Kazon-- something more than just gratitude, something genuine.

And it was not just her. Since the first day, the first day, Paris had committed himself fully to her. He knew the minute he beamed on the bridge, right after being pulled into the quadrant by the caretaker, that the traitor, the turn coat, would never turn on her. He had betrayed the Maquis in a blink of an eye, he had turned his back on starfleet, but he would never betray Janeway. The asshole had stood firm when Chakotay verbally lashed him, glowed with gratitude when Janeway defended him, when she conferred responsibility upon him.

He recalled the old man, Kalem, who had defended Janeway from the Mokra when she had been stuck on a planet, who had helped her free Torres and Tuvok from the Mokran prison. He could remember her devastation at Kalem's death, and his own helplessness to comfort her. B'Elanna had related to him afterwards how the Captain had knelt over the old man's body, caressing the cheek sadly, how Tom had tenderly taken her by the shoulders, urged her to come with them. Torres, at that point, had been convinced that there was something going on between the helmsman and the captain. That point was before she and Tom were even interested in each other.

And there was the banter. The banter that sprang up between the captain and her helmsman was natural. Chakotay would banter with her, they'd share a warm moment, then the akward silence would follow. He had a feeling, with a twinge of unreasoning jealousy, that Tom would never have an akward silence with her.

No, Chakotay thought furiously. Simply an akward just-fucked morning.

He hated Paris in that moment, with a passion. He had always felt enmity towards the man, even after his life had been saved by Paris. Now it grew into a passion. He hated Paris with all his heart, all his soul. Paris was the bastard who would hurt her, who would shatter her heart. Chakotay dispaired over the hatred Paris had given him, the passionate jealousy, the envy, the animosity, because if the man could provoke such impassioned hatred in Chakotay, then there was no reason he couldn't provoke such passionate love in Kathryn. B'Elanna Torres or no, Paris was going to break Kathryn's heart, and neither of them would realize it until it was too late. Damn that fleet bastard, that playboy...

Be reasonable, His rational mind implored. Chakotay knew he'd move on, knew he'd recover from this animosity. But that could wait. For now, he simply wanted to indulge his rage

Just be angry for now. I'll get over this soon. Just for now.


Kathryn spent the afternoon on the holodeck, trying to think about the confrontation with Chakotay, trying to forget the confrontation with Paris. When she finally left, she was fuming. Her remorse had faded into anger, her hurt had disappeared into betrayal.

'Armed fortress of a heart...' Damn him, he doesn't know anything! She thought furiously as she stormed through the corridors. Kathryn thought of Justin, her beloved fiancé, dead for over fifteen years. Chakotay thought her incapable of love? He didn't know half of it. He didn't understand the passion she'd felt for Justin. She could remember how miserable she felt when he was gone, the joy when he was back, the tingle of pleasure when they brushed hands, brushed arms, the unthinking ecstasy when they made love... Chakotay didn't know the comfort she'd felt afterwards, nestled quietly in Justin's arms, the future secure. He didn't know the love she'd seen in Justin's eyes, the love that mirrored her own. No... all he knew was the tall blonde of the week and the stirrings in his groin. What did he want from her? She found it impossible to think he could love her, after his dalliances at almost every planet with his alien babe of the week.

Chakotay couldn't know what she'd felt for Mark, the peace, the security. Could she call it love? Perhaps. Maybe she wasn't in love with Mark, but she loved him like family, like a best friend. He was the one she could turn to in any situation, the presence she could fall back on when she doubted herself. He had helped her recover after Justin's and her father's tragic deaths, and he'd been behind her ever since. It was only natural that they'd eventually marry, solidifying their close bond into something more permanent. And he was in love her; she saw it in his eyes, heard it in his voice. He would never have betrayed her, never have left her.

But what she'd felt for Justin... she'd never felt it for Chakotay.

She halted in the middle of the corridor, surprised. Just what did she feel for Chakotay? She did not have the passion for him that she had for Justin, nor was he the reliable safety-net that Mark had been. Did she really feel anything for him? or did she just assume she was in love with him because she had never considered anyone else?

She began walking again, gaze distant and thoughtful. All right then, Kathryn... if you could be involved with anyone on this ship, anyone, who would it be? Her mind meandered over the different people on the ship, carefully avoiding the one man she was madder than hell at. But, inexplicably, her thoughts kept wandering back to him, his sky blue eyes, his unruffled blonde hair.

Tom Paris? Surely you can do better than that-- that bastard... She thought angrily, unsure if she was more furious at Paris for attracting her or at herself for being attracted to him. She closed her eyes against angry tears that welled up. She could see Paris lounging in Sandrine's, beer bottle in hand, spouting off his misadventures to whomever would listen, mocking her, the crewmembers around him laughing encouragingly.

She reached her quarters, and quickly keyed in the entry code. The door slid open just as her vision blurred completely with tears. A strangled sob choked her throat. She slammed down on the button to close the door, and collapsed against it with an angry gasp. Sliding down to a crouch, she clenched her hands into painful fists. She watched in morbid fascination as her knuckles grew white, then whiter in the half light. The pain of her joints filtered back to her, as if at a distance, and it took her a long time to getting around to unclenching them. The fingers unwound gingerly, sending stabs of pain shooting up her hand. She massaged her fingers slowly, soothing out the cramps. Her face felt sticky with tears, but she was relieved that they had stopped streaming out of her eyes.

Her legs ached. She placed her hands back against the door and pushed herself to her feet. She stumbled. Her knees felt like jelly. She raised a hand to her head to steady the quarters swimming around her vision. I've really got to get to bed, She thought. She began to walk towards her closet, but the stack of reports waiting on her desk called to her. Kathryn sighed heavily, and turned away from the closet. Her gaze wandered over to her bed, and exhaustion washed through her. She felt dead.

Maybe I'll just take a little nap, She reasoned, ambling over and lowering herself onto the bed. Her eyelids were like dead weight, and pulled shut. Before she could wonder why she was suddenly so exhausted, she slipped off into sleep.


Kim crept uncertainly into her quarters, like a burglar. He felt distinctly uncomfortable with this, like he had about many things. B'Elanna had commandeered the holodeck and thrown Klingons left and right, splitting them with bat'leths, threatened to split him as well unless he beat it. Paris had sulked in his quarters, desolate and miserable, displaying genuine emotion only when he snapped at Harry to get out. The Captain and Chakotay had been giving one another funny looks, and she and Tom had both left the bridge early the previous day. And now, she had overslept the beginning of her shift by nearly half an hour, hadn't responded to hails.

He entered her bedroom, found her draped over the covers in her uniform. He felt a rush of undue relief. He had heard that she wore light, silk nightgowns, and his lovelife had been desolate enough recently that his libido would respond to almost any stimulation. He couldn't even stay in the same room as Seven of Nine at the moment, for once wishing that she'd wear something large, loose and unflattering. It would save him distinct embarrassment.

He approached hesitantly, shook her shoulder lightly. A lock of reddish brown hair slid down from her shoulders to drape over her face, but she didn't wake. Heavy sleeper. Who would guess? Kim mused. He shook her again, a little harder, and whispered, "Captain,"

She didn't stir.

Louder, "Captain!"

When she still didn't respond, his brow furrowed, and he pressed his hand to her forehead. Hot, clammy flesh seared his touch. Kim gasped, and quickly tapped his combadge.

"Kim to the doctor. Transport the captain directly to sickbay."

Upon entering sickbay, Chakotay was shocked by the number of bodies littering various biobeds. He noted that sparkling forcefields that had been around the biobeds for the past week. The number of ill had practically doubled since the previous day.

"Commander," The doctor greeted curtly as he swept past, rushing over to perform hurried scans upon Crewman Gerron. "It's good you're here."

"Did they all come today?" Chakotay asked, encompassing sickbay with a wave of his hand.

"Some came in last night. More this morning. It looks like we have an epidemic on our hands."

Chakotay grimaced. "How many people are infected now?"

Kathryn had been one of the first to catch the fever, nearly a week ago. She and the other afflicted crewmembers were quickly quarantined. They faded in and out of consciousness, sometimes lucid, sometimes delirious. Over the week, more and more people came down with it. No one was quite sure where the fever had come from.

"I'll have to ask you to step away from the forcefields... Ah yes," The doctor snapped. He ran his tricorder over a female ensign. Young, tall, blonde... Chakotay quickly ripped his eyes away. The doctor continued, "I've had about thirty eight cases so far, and more are coming."

"How is it being transmitted?"

"I just isolated the fever's pattern this morning. Before you came in, I was about to determine that." The doctor replied, walking over to a console to perform a sensor sweep.

"If it's airborne, those forcefields won't be much use," Chakotay noted. "It would be everywhere by now."

The doctor sent him a patronizing smile. "Very good, commander. It didn't take you long to figure that out."

Chakotay crossed his arms. The doctor ignored him as he performed his scan. The console beeped, and a smile ghosted his lips. "Ah. It is airborne. We can dispense with the forcefields now." He tapped a button and all the forcefields disappeared.

Chakotay scanned the room quickly, searching for Kathryn. He spotted her, prone on one of the biobeds, the same one she'd occupied for the past week, sometimes lucid enough to demand a report. He noted with displeasure the nurse hovering over her, blue eyes worried as he scanned her.

Before he ripped his gaze from Paris, Chakotay was forced to acknowledge the look in the man's eye was one of genuine concern. He was worried. As was Chakotay.

Movement in the corner of his eye ripped his gaze away from Paris. He looked at the half Klingon wandering slowly into sickbay, gaze riveted upon the same person his had been. She gazed at Tom, an indefinable expression on her face. Her eyes were knowing, and for a moment, she seemed older than her years. A timeless quality he had never before seen in B'Elanna manifested itself. Her gaze met his, and for a moment, Chakotay wondered just what she'd do. After all these years of knowing her, knowing the rash half-Klingon, she still managed to catch him by surprise.

The corner of her mouth puckered up into a strange little half smile.

She knows what happened, Chakotay realized. And she sees what's between them. His features softened, and he hoped she hadn't been too hurt. He felt a momentary rush of anger towards Janeway and Paris, for being so indifferent, for being so dispassionate as to ignore the two hurt people in their lives.

He looked back at the biobed, saw Janeway's unfocused eyes creep open, a strange expression on her haggard, fevered face. Tom said something to her. She smiled wearily, he returned it. Her eyes slinked back closed.

B'Elanna felt Chakotay's gaze back upon her. Poor Chakotay. She knew he was worried sick about this fever, about Janeway. She watched the look between Kathryn and Tom, the strange connection between the two that she had never quite understood, the one that she herself had never had with Tom. Short moments of peace in their relationship felt so right, but that peace was unstable. They had no lack of passion, but simply a lack of... what? Security? They had drawn together because they were so alike in many ways-- they both had deep rooted insecurities, both had been rejected by Starfleet and their peers, both had tenuous relations with their parents. Fear had drawn them together. But insecurity did not make a relationship. Love did-- mutual love, love that would remain, no matter what the circumstances.

In that moment, he caught her gaze. He looked as if he would rush to her side, but hesitated, glancing at Janeway to check her readings. B'Elanna almost smiled. Why hadn't she seen this earlier? Paris closed the tricorder and rushed over to her. I did see it earlier. I simply didn't want to believe it.

"B'Elanna, we need to talk."

"You look pretty busy," She inclined her head towards the sick.

"They're not going anywhere," He replied grimly. His blue eyes grew pleading, and he entreated, "Please, B'Elanna... you can't keep avoiding me forever."

She nodded slowly, lowered her voice and folded her arms. "So talk."


"As good a place as any."

He sighed. "Look, I'm so sorry for what happened, B'Elanna. It was all my fault, it was sheer idiocy. I-- I would never have done that to you, have cheated on you if I could help it. You've changed my life. I would never do that to you. You can hate me, you can despise me, but I don't want you to think I did it because I wanted someone else."

She sighed, shook her head. "You're going to make this hard, Tom."

He blanched. "You're ending it."

"That's right, I am," She said solemnly, staring him dead in the eye.

He tried to absorb this calmly, staggered back a step to lean on the console. "After all we've been through..." He took a ragged breath. "I understand. You can't stay with a-- a--"

"A cad?" She supplied.

"I believe your words were 'a fucking cad,'" He said wryly. She almost smiled.

"Tom, I've been debating this for the past week. It wasn't an easy decision. Try to understand..." She paused, then quieter, "I think this is for the best. For now. I just need some time. You need some time, too-- to sort things out. Just time, Tom. If we want to get back together in the future, well, we've got forty years to decide."

She paused a beat, chancing a moment to read his expression. Her heart wrenched at his crumpled expression, while another side of her cursed herself for caring.

B'Elanna took a breath to steel herself, then stepped closer to him, rich brown eyes boring into his. "This is just a period of separation, Tom. We can get back together when we're ready."

He nodded numbly.

She whispered, "But somehow, I don't think you'll want to."

He glanced up sharply.

"B'Elanna?" His tone was questioning, incredulous.

B'Elanna stepped away a few paces, gazing around sickbay. Finally, she spoke, "People make mistakes. God knows I've done some stupid things when I've been drunk. I could forgive a lot. But not this."

He didn't know what to say. Each word pierced his heart like a knife.

"You want to know why I can't forgive you?"

Tom waited in silence.

She gazed meaningfully at Janeway, and nodded her head. "Because it was her."

"I don't understand."

She met his eyes, looked in them thoughtfully for a long moment. Finally, she said quietly, "I see how you look at her, Tom. I see what's in that gaze. You look at her like you look at me, only," She paused, looked back at Janeway, "There's also something more."

"I don't know what you mean," He whispered raggedly.

B'Elanna smiled this time, genuinely, though her eyes were sad.

"I can't settle for half of your heart, Tom. You've had mine since day one, but I've never had yours." She paused, and added quietly, "And I don't think I ever truly will."

His expression withered. "I see." It was barely a whisper. She could tell he still didn't understand what she was implying.

Again, one side of B'Elanna ached to see him so shattered, so devastated. She knew he hadn't made the mistake on purpose, that he regretted it with all his heart... But the other side of her cried out in glee that she had hurt him like he had hurt her. Two sides of her, locked in their eternal conflict, like they always had been. She met his gaze one last time, thinking of the time when the Vidiians had separated her into her Klingon side and her human side and the brief period of peace with herself, thinking of their relationship, the moments of tranquillity she'd felt enfolded in his arms. My only peace has been with you, Tom...

B'Elanna silently turned and slipped away from him, heading for the doors, away from Paris, away from the pain he had caused her, and the peace. It hurt that he had slept with Janeway. It really did, but she could get over that. It was the other pain that she wanted to escape, the pain that had been gnawing at her from day one of their intense relationship-- the pain of loving a man who loved someone else, who could never commit his heart and soul to her.

B'Elanna paused before the doors, darting a glance back at Janeway, unconscious on the biobed. Her reddish hair was matted, and her face flushed. She looked ill, she looked human. B'Elanna remembered all the conflicts she'd had with Janeway over the years. Her rage boiled up as she gazed at her.

Then the rage dimmed down. She remembered Janeway from the planet with the Mokra, the one who had been willing to risk her own life to save an old man's wife, who had lingered over his body in dispair when he was killed. The human, who made mistakes, who had fears. She had forced Torres to have the medical procedure. She feared Torres's death. She had been callous and distant afterwards. Torres suddenly realized that she had feared Torres's anger.

When Janeway acted cold, when she avoided issues, she was protecting herself. She could be hurt, she could be scarred, she could fall in love. She could feel for Tom what B'Elanna felt for him.

Torres lingered uncertainly for a few moments more. Then her dark eyes slipped back to the woman on the biobed, and she whispered, "I forgive you."


"Come in!"

Torres glanced up from her engineering report. Chakotay lingered uncertainly in her doorway, his form shadowed by the bright light spilling from the corridor.

"Chakotay," She greeted softly, masking her surprise. She leaned back on her couch, clutching the report to her chest.


He hesitated a second more, then slowly walked into the room. The door slid shut behind him, cloaking the room in darkness.

"It's dark in here. How can you get any work done?" He asked awkwardly, taking slow, measured steps towards her.

"I manage," She said simply. A pause. "How are you holding up?"

"I came to ask you the same thing." Chakotay's dark eyes were concerned. B'Elanna smiled sadly.

"I could be better. Under the circumstances, I think I'm doing fine." He sank down across from her, and she watched him carefully. "Are you okay?"

"Me? I'm just fine."

"Sure you are." B'Elanna met his gaze levelly across the dim room. Chakotay gave way under her gaze and allowed a defeated smirk.

"You still manage to surprise me, Torres."

"Always." She assured him quietly.

The room was eclipsed in silence.

"You're very worried?" She asked finally.

He didn't reply, gazing silently at the far wall, elbows planted on his knees.

"I am too."

He glanced up. "You? After what happened with--"

"Her and Tom. I'm angry with her, and him. Not just angry... I'm furious! But..." She glanced down at her hands for a long moment, lost in thought. "They didn't mean any harm. And it's not as if I didn't see it coming."

Chakotay's clenched his jaw and fists.


He seethed furiously, "Just not Paris. I could understand her finding someone else, but Paris?"

"What the hell are you getting at? I was with Paris!" B'Elanna snapped, suddenly angry.

Chakotay looked up, startled. She held his gaze angrily, and he averted his eyes. "I'm sorry, B'Elanna. Look... I don't want to offend you. I didn't mean to imply--"

"That someone has to be desperate to be with Tom?" She supplied. He opened his mouth to deny, but her expression softened, and she waved him off impatiently. "I know, I know, the two of you have never been the best of friends."

He fell silent. Torres waited for him to speak. A small corner of her mind reflected on the irony of being in the position of councilor when she was supposed to be the rash one. He must have noticed her lips pull up into a tiny smile, because the fury melted off of his face, and he blinked. "What is it?"


Chakotay didn't press the matter. The silence hung thick in the air, and his eyes grew distant.

She watched him for a long moment. Finally, she murmured, "You really love her, don't you?"

Chakotay's obsidian eyes snapped to hers. He didn't answer, but instead asked, "Do you love Paris?"

Their gazes held for a long moment. Torres looked away first. She studied the stars streaking by the window as his gaze remained transfixed upon her.

At her silence, Chakotay spoke, "I've waited for her for so long... I never imagined someone else would get to her first. I know it was an accident, but we've both seen what's between them... This is just going to set them off." He sighed. "Do you think you'll be able to move on?"

She smiled wryly, without mirth. "Not right away. But you know what they say, Chakotay..."

A tiny smile crept across his face was well.

"There are plenty of fish in the sea."

Torres and Chakotay shared a smile, content in the companionable atmosphere. Chakotay leaned back in his chair, and said, "I hate to say it, friend, but I'm really glad we're in the same bad situation. I think we're taking it pretty well. I'm impressed by your composure. My little sister image of you is going to need updating." He propped his feet up on the table.

Torres quirked an eyebrow. "Actually, old man, I'm impressed by you. I thought you'd pound Tom into the ground."

"They can't help what happened, or what they feel." Chakotay sighed. "I wish I could."

She mocked a frown. "Don't start lamenting on me."

"At least we're lamenting together. That is, unless you'd rather be lamenting with someone else." A goofy grin twisted across his face, and Torres felt a weight lifted from her chest. Hell, if she had to be heart broken with anyone, at least it could be with Chakotay.

Torres replied, "If I have to be lamenting with anyone right now, it'd be you." She gave a brief shake of her head, marveling at the situation. She leaned back to gaze at him evenly, and commented, "But seriously, I really did expect you to be furious. I guess you're not quite the same angry warrior you were before Voyager."

He winced. Torres didn't seem to notice. She continued, "I wonder if Tom's told the captain yet about the prank. They seemed to be getting along in sickbay, but then again, she has been delirious."

Chakotay's brow furrowed.

"What prank?"

Torres's eyes flew to meet his, and the blood drained from her face.

Chakotay noticed her shift in mood, and the sudden silence cloaking the room. His eyes narrowed, and he leaned closer. "Something you should tell me, B'Elanna?"

Torres made as if to speak, but no words sprang to her lips. She finally managed, "It's nothing."

"Nothing?" She was hiding something, he could tell. She was protecting someone. But who...?


Chakotay's expression darkened, and he rose slowly to his feet. Voice hard, demanded, "What prank, B'Elanna?"

B'Elanna fumbled for an excuse, but at the look in his eyes, she realized he wasn't going to buy it. She took a deep breath.

His eyes flicked up when he heard her moan. Paris quickly snatched up his tricorder and vaulted to her side. He ran the scan of her vital signs, and the first genuine smile in days shadowed his lips. He crowded up besides the biobed, pausing a moment to brush a stray wisp of hair from her forehead. At his light touch, her blue eyes crept open.

She didn't say anything immediately. Her eyes darted around her surroundings, and her brow furrowed. As she began to push herself up, Tom gently grasped her by the shoulders to ease her back onto the biobed.

"Easy, Captain, you've been pretty sick."

She glanced at him with a funny look on her face. "Sick?" Her voice was barely above a whisper.

"A fever. It's been spreading like wildfire the past week. The doc just came up with the cure." He stared at her, expression shadowed with concern. "You don't remember anything?"

Her gaze was distant for a moment, as if in thought. "It's all a blur." She took in a deep breath of air, then her gaze fell to the hands on her shoulders. Tom realized himself, and quickly withdrew them. Her gaze flickered away.

"The crew?" Her voice was sharper.

"We had about 38 crewmembers down. The doctor administered the cure to them, and he's making his rounds to the rest of the crew now."

"When can I go back on duty?" She demanded.

"The doctor wants to watch you for two more days. If you're still fine after that, then you can go back on light duty shifts."

She nodded. Her eyes clamped shut again, as if with effort, and she settled into the biobed. "Well, Mr. Paris, if that's all--"

Tom's insides shriveled. She was just going to dismiss him. She was still hurt. Gods, he should have tossed that enhancer out the airlock the minute Harry showed it to him!

A twinge of panic snaked through him; somehow, he knew that if he let this professional impasse exist between them now, it would always exist between them. He had just lost B'Elanna, he didn't want to lose Kathryn, too. He licked his dry lips, jaw clenched.

"No, that's not all."

She didn't open her eyes. "If it doesn't pertain to ship's business--"

"It doesn't."

"Then we have nothing to talk about."

"I think we do," He rejoined. He took a deep breath, and continued, "You've been sick for a while now, so I can understand if you're not up to talking, but... just listen. Please."

Her eyes remained closed, and she said nothing. Her hands were clutched tightly together over her stomach, her knuckles white.

Taking her silence as a positive sign, Tom whispered, "What I did... it was wrong. I know that. I don't want you to get the impression that I meant to hurt you. I didn't... not like this. If I could take back that day... Gods, if I hadn't been so stupid... Kathryn, I'm so sorry. Please, I'm not asking you to forgive me, I just want you to understand that I would never intentionally hurt you. It kills me that I hurt you... I never meant to."

He let out a jagged breath, his eyes flickering briefly over her face. Her jaw was clenched, her pallor seemed to increase. He reached out helplessly, touched her hand in a wordless, apologetic gesture. The skin was cold to his touch, and he drew back a few steps when he realized what he was doing.

"I'd die for you, Captain. We all would."

With those words, he retreated. Her blue eyes flickered open just in time to see him disappear into the office.


Torres took a deep breath. "Fine, I'll tell you--"

"Damn right you'll tell me--"

"But you have to promise to listen to the whole thing first, before you get angry." Her midnight eyes flickered down briefly. "I suppose you have to find out sooner or later."

Chakotay nodded curtly. "I promise to listen to it all. Just tell me about it."

B'Elanna sank back into her chair and took a deep breath. She released it when Chakotay lowered himself across from her.

He kept his expression carefully neutral as she hilighted just what Tom had told her about the prank, what went wrong, how much Tom regretted it... Not a flicker of emotion registered upon his face, to her own relief. She found her own voice harsh at times when relating the incident, but quickly forced her tone to be even and measured again. She finally trailed off. Chakotay already knew the rest of the story.

She sat back, scrutinizing his expression. His face was a dispassionate mask, but his eyes seemed darker. Torres studied him for a few seconds more, concentrating on her own breathing as the silence stretched on. After a few moments, Chakotay nodded curtly, rose stiffly to his feet. A vein throbbed in his forehead.

"Thanks. That's all I need to know." He cut the words out harshly, and it was then she noticed his clenched fists, white knuckles.


He whipped his back to her.

"Chakotay--" She leaped forward, placing a hand upon his bicep. The muscle leaped at her touch, and she pulled her hand back as if burned. He didn't look at her as he strode towards the door. She called uselessly, "Where are you going?"

He glanced back at her, his features promising murder. A crazy little smirk came across his face before he plunged out into the corridor.

B'Elanna had a bad feeling about this.

"Torres to Paris,"

"B'Elanna?" He sounded out of breath.

"I think Chakotay's headed your way... And he's mad."


Chakotay found Paris lounging against the wall right outside of sickbay, blue eyes shadowed with... anxiety? He slowed to a halt, staring at the younger man, suddenly finding his mind blank. He had forgotten just what he had come to do. After his talk with B'Elanna, all he could think about was that this bastard had hurt Kathryn, that this little son of a bitch would to that to her, that he would lose Kathryn to this asshole.

Tom stood up straight, unfolding his arms. His gaze clashed with Chakotay's for a few seconds, then he looked down. "I never meant to hurt her."

Chakotay glared at him, seething.

"It was never supposed to end up like it did," Tom continued.

Chakotay's glare was fire, but he still found himself at a loss.

"I care about her, Chakotay," Tom admitted softly.

Chakotay suddenly remembered what he had come to do.

He took a rapid step forward and slammed his fist across Paris's jaw, feeling a burst of exultation as every angry emotion exploded in one motion. A sickening crunch accompanied his fist, and Paris was whipped around. The younger man regained his footing quickly, like a cat, and raised his fist to deal Chakotay a blow, cradling his jaw with one hand. His blue eyes blazed, and ripped up to meet Chakotay's dark ones, to look him in the eye as he slammed him back. A heartbeat past, and in the back of Tom's mind he noticed something in Chakotay's eyes that he was all too familiar with.

The fight, the momentary rage, heaved out of Tom, and his hand dropped to his side. Chakotay blinked in surprise, and Tom backed up a couple of paces. The two men gasped for breath, gaping at each other from across the corridor.

"Just tell me one thing, Paris," Chakotay finally snarled. "Do you even give a damn about her in that way? Do you ever think about her like that? Do you ever dream about her, wish she would smile at you in that certain way, spend nights in torment because she can't-- can't ever be what you want her to be..." He trailed off, voice ragged.

Tom gazed at him for a long moment, thoughts flickering over the past few days-- B'Elanna's words to him in sickbay, the memory of Kathryn's smile, the dappled sunlight that seemed to halo her that day she freed him from Aukland, the acceptance she gave him, even while everyone else despised him... He spoke finally, "I was never allowed to think of her in that way." He tapped his heart meaningfully. "But I guess she's always been here. I just... never realized it."

Chakotay shook his head heavily. "You're a damn fool, Paris." He turned away wearily, and stalked off down the corridor, mumbling, "A damn fool."

Tom slumped down onto a vacant biobed and gingerly touched his jaw. He winced sharply. His gaze quickly roved over sickbay, searching for the nearest med kit. He spotted a neat gray kit lying upon the biobed next to his. He reached out impulsively, but paused for a moment. The kit was lying on Janeway's vacant bed.

He glanced up sharply, scanning sickbay for her. She was too ill to leave sickbay; she wasn't supposed to leave for another few days! Relief washed through him as he caught a glance of her silhouette in the doorway to the doctor's office, arms propped up upon the door frame. She appeared to be gazing absently towards the computer console on the desk. As if she had a sixth sense, her gaze slowly shifted over to meet his. He didn't breath for a moment as her blue eyes locked with his. Her arms dropped to her sides and she wordlessly glided from the doorway towards him. As she approached, face set into an emotionless mask, Tom realized he was gawking. He quickly shut his jaw, and winced as the pain spiked through him.

She must have noticed something, because her blue eyes flickered over his features uncertainly and she slowed to a halt a few feet before him. "Are you all right?" She asked softly.

"You shouldn't be standing up. You've been sick," Tom managed.

She ignored the warning, gaze drifting down to his jaw, taking in the freshly bruised skin. Tom felt a blush creep to his cheeks. She stepped impossibly closer, hand drifting up, fingers gently pressing his jaw. He couldn't fight the pain from registering upon his features, and her eyes softened. Her gaze slinked down to the medkit behind her, and in one motion she had it open.

"Hold still," She murmured, gently cupping his chin to tilt his head up as she ran the healing device over his jaw. Tom didn't move, wordlessly allowing her to mend his wound. After an interminable moment, the slight whir of the instrument ceased, and she took a step back to survey her handywork. "Better?"

Tom opened and closed his mouth a few times, testing. He offered her a shadow of a smile. "Much."

She nodded, slid the instrument back into the medkit, closed it with a click. Tom didn't speak as she pushed it aside, slid back up onto the biobed opposite his. Wisely, she didn't ask about the jaw. Instead, they simply gazed at each other in silence for a few moments. Finally, Tom murmured, "You should really rest some more. You're not completely better."

She waved him off. "I've felt worse."

Tom took a moment to glance around sickbay, making sure no one was conscious within hearing distance. When he was sure that no one was, he turned back to her.

"Thanks," He said, pointing to his jaw.

She nodded mutely. "I could say the same to you."

"So why don't you?" He asked, quirking an eyebrow up. Her eyes narrowed, as if trying to figure out if he was angry or teasing. She must have figured out that it was the latter, because her shoulders relaxed, and she offered him a half smile.

"Thank you, Tom. For the care."

"It's my job. Well, part time, at least."

An akward silence descended upon them. Tom broke it again with, "I'll apologize again, if that's what you want."

Her gaze shot up. "No." She said it a little too quickly. Her eyes broke away from his.

Tom waited.

After a moment of thought, she murmured, "Maybe I should apologize to you. To all of you."


She shrugged her thin shoulders. "I've been out of sorts lately-- and I can't blame it on a fever. I know I've been unreasonable at times."

"We all know you have a hard job, Captain. We understand the toll it's taken upon you," he replied softly.

"Yes, but that doesn't justify me taking it out on you." She sighed. "I'm not going to apologize for your demotion, Tom. I still believe that was the right thing to do."

He nodded.

"But I'll admit the degree of punishment did involve personal motives, and for that," Her eyes slinked up to meet his, "I am sorry."

"I forgive you."

She nodded slowly. A moment of silence passed before she murmured, "And I want you to know-- I forgive you for the recent... incident."

Tom's gaze darted away. "You shouldn't."


Tom shook his head. "It's not that simple."

"How so?" She gazed at him. "You apologized. I forgive you. What's not simple about it?"

"You forgive me... but do you?" He hopped down from the biobed. "I don't even know if I forgive me."


"It's ruined everything..." He murmured.

Understanding dawned upon Kathryn. "In time, I'm sure B'Elanna--"

He turned upon her, and spoke with quiet intensity, "This isn't about B'Elanna."

At her bewildered expression, he elaborated, "We've been having so many problems recently, and this latest event... it was the straw that broke the camel's back. It would have happened eventually. She knew it and I knew it. It's not B'Elanna I'm talking about."

Kathryn blinked. "Then... what are you talking about?" She asked quietly.

"I--" Tom suddenly felt ridiculous. He raked a hand through his hair, offered a sheepish smile in an attempt to cover up the turmoil of his feelings. She stared at him intently, and he knew she wouldn't let him off of the hook. Tom let out a weary breath, and finally confessed, "If you and I were ever to, well, be together... on our own... well, because of this... it might have happened before this. Someday. I mean," He paused, "Not necessarily have happened. But, the possibility was always there. And now... this has ruined it."

He watched her expression carefully as she comprehended his words. After a moment of thought, she leaned back upon the biobed, watching him. "How so, Tom?"

Tom glanced up sharply. "Captain?"

"Why does this have to be an end, Tom? Why can't this simply be... a beginning?"

Tom gazed at her in disbelief. "Captain, maybe you missed what I was implying--"

She inturrupted him quietly, "Call me Kathryn off-duty, Tom."

Tom gaped at her in silence for a long moment. Finally, he spoke, "This has to be a dream. I never would have thought..." He paused a moment, reached out, lightly touched her cheek. Her eyes upon him were questioning, and he smiled a little smile. "I'm just making sure you're real."

"As real as you are."

He nodded slowly, sinking back onto the biobed across from hers. After a moment, he asked, "So, what now?"

"Time. We all need some time." Kathryn murmured. "To think, to work things out, to heal. To take everything slowly."

"And then?" He asked, blue eyes locking with hers.

She smiled warmly at him. "We'll see."

He felt a smile creep across his face as well. "We have forty years to sort everything out. Think that'll be enough?"

"More than enough." She replied.

"And you think everything will work out in the end? I mean, with B'Elanna, Chakotay, the crew-- and us..?"

Kathryn gazed at him thoughtfully, as if searching for something. She seemed to find it, because she smiled as if she possessed some secret knowledge.

"I know it will."

At the conviction in her words, Tom realized his own conviction. "I think so, too." He said; they gazed at one another fondly in the half light of sickbay. As Tom reflected upon his words, he realized something:

He believed them.