Naomi was very still when it ended, not glad nor upset-not much of anything at all.

There wasn't much time left.

She took a breath when she realized she hadn't done so in almost a minute.

"After Chakotay initiates the warp pulse," Janeway told them, "he should find himself back at the moment Voyager encounters the chrono-kinetic surge."

Naomi stood near Icheb, almost needing him near her as she saw Janeway's grateful smile.

How well she did remember it, would remember it, always...

In the middle of engineering, Captain Janeway, so young, vibrant, shining with their accomplished task, had turned to face them all, to speak to them all as she always had.

So familiar and sweet, that childhood memory...

Though still, if Naomi closed her eyes, she could still see the haggard, weakened woman she'd last known in her time, how Janeway's knotted hands shook when she tried to access a turbolift's damaged touch pad.

If all went well, that memory would be gone, hopefully never to appear again...

"He's only going to have a few seconds to reset the deflector polarity."

Nearby, Harry Kim was almost at attention, taking in his captain's words as well as any new officer might have. How he would grow into his role, into the man she knew him to be, would probably have amazed even him.

Naomi could see Kim holding Doreen over his head, smiling so brightly it made her heart beat to see it. He spoke softly to her, as if she was the most precious jewel in the universe. The baby girl kicked and babbled, unmindful of her father's worship and having a wonderful time suspended in the air.

Standing nearby, Megan jokingly accused him of emotional adultery. Commander Kim only laughed and told her they could "talk about that one later tonight."

Megan bit the lip of her smile to hear it.

Naomi knew that Ensign Kim deserved as good as he got-and would probably get it...someday...

"If the timeline is restored, the rest of us should have no memory of what's happened here."

B'Elanna Torres' posture was straight and sure, her complexion still bright from the excitement. She stared at Janeway, though probably no one in the room might have guessed what was going on behind her eyes. Paris' not so subtle hints to her ignorance had all but completely silenced her throughout the rest of their experience.

Naomi suspected B'Elanna was discomforted because it was something she wanted, but believed was not possible for her-yet.

For Naomi, it was a common sight to see the chief engineer strolling through the corridor with her children, often with one of their hands held in hers, the other arm filled with toys or lessons or an extra pullover, even the old picnic basket that the family often took to the holodeck. Her greetings to others in those halls were kind and completely familiar-she greeted them as though they were her extended family. By then, they all were just that.

When she met her husband, their kiss was simple but warm, their touches soft, as comfortable as they should after almost twenty years of marriage.

It was as natural to Commander Torres as it was foreign to that young Maquis.

Naomi was certain that the familiarity would win again in the end.

"So I'd like to thank you now for putting your doubts aside and helping me put mine aside as well."

Tom still stood near to B'Elanna. Maybe he was just doing it unconsciously, being used to simply having her by him. She had always stood by him, no matter what. He revered her if for that alone.

In a park-like setting on the holodeck, near to where Kim played with his daughter, the captain and chief made themselves comfortable while their daughters and son ran around with the other children who had come. Aside their picnic, their children's toys and hats and sandals, they reclined, she on her back to soak in the sun, he propped up on an elbow.

The smile he gave his wife was so warm, genuine, full of a new hope soon to be fulfilled-and as always, to be shared with his wife. From time to time, he leaned down to kiss her, not caring who might see.

Naomi wasn't surprised. Soon to be a free man, he had increasingly opened up to them again. In Naomi's opinion, it was worth the wait, even in her case.

One day, Tom Paris would have what he wanted. Naomi knew without a doubt he had the strength to make it happen...someday...somehow.

Naomi hoped she would, too.

"Good luck to each of you."

Naomi closed her eyes for a moment, opened them slowly, and then turned as Icheb did to leave the bay.

It was over.

For a reason she didn't take the time to figure out, no tears came to her eyes to know that the life she knew was likely about to end.

It was more a numb resignation, really.

Behind her, Harry Kim said, "It was... It's good to see you're okay, Tom."

The words seemed a million miles away.

Paris chuckled. "Good to see you, too, Harry. And I guess I'll see you later."

"Yeah, I guess so. -Or at least I hope so."

"You will."

...She'd helped make that happen.

She barely noticed that they were passing through the times again, times past, some to be recreated, others yet to come-but not to come...

"I'm still trying to get over Chakotay in a Starfleet uniform," Ayala smirked.

"Don't be so amused," Gallagher warned. "If all goes as planned, you'll be in one too."

"Great," he snorted. "Go ahead and leave it on the positive."

Torres remained silent.

It was understandable.

Naomi and Icheb slowed together at the turbolift, turned to see the other five, and then looked at each other again. Neither of them showed any expression.

Harry shifted on his feet as he considered the others there. "I should wait for the captain," he said suddenly.

Tom gave B'Elanna another look then nodded at Naomi. "I'm going the same way, so I'll stay behind, too."

Naomi nodded slightly. "Sounds good," she whispered, swallowing afterwards.

It was ending...and beginning. She could only hope.

It was all she had left...

Looking up to Tom again, she held his eyes for several seconds. Memorizing his expression all over again, she blinked herself out of her reverie, realizing... If it was going to end, she decided, she had might as well finish it properly.

She never had said it, after all.

"Thank you," she told him, "for everything."

Tom furrowed his brow. "For what?"

"For being..." Naomi paused, smiled again. "For being a good captain."

Tom took it with a slow blink, a returned examination. Finally, he gave her a nod. "You're welcome," he said, not too comfortably, but ultimately accepting the compliment.

The turbolift doors opened. Naomi finally broke their stare to walk inside with Icheb, who gave Paris a final nod. The three Maquis joined them.

Once they all had situated themselves in the lift, Paris caught Torres' gaze, which narrowed to find him staring at her again. Recovering from his unease with that look alone, a spark of light caught his eye. The corner of his mouth curled up.

"See you when I get home, B'Elanna."

When the doors closed, the last thing Paris saw was Torres' eyes fly wide open.

"Deck eight," Icheb ordered, barely suppressing his grin.

As soon as they started moving, Naomi likewise let herself snicker at Paris' last word. Somehow, one way or another, she knew he'd have it.

Torres snapped a glare to her, but Naomi chuckled more at that. "I don't see what's so funny," Torres said evenly.

Naomi shook her head. "Don't worry. You'll get used to him." Her amusement faded to fondness, then; taking a step forward when she felt another wall pass through them, Naomi gave the other woman her full attention. "You're going to do a lot of great things someday," she told her, "and you're going a great mentor."

Torres blinked.

"You were to me," Naomi added, reaching out for Torres' hand. She squeezed the half-Klingon's fingers, which were gentler than even Naomi expected. It only made her want to say more, noticing that, made her reluctant to let go. "I hope we know each other as well someday," she added. "I want to think we will."

"I..." That statement-on top of everything else-visibly took Torres aback. She did manage a twitch of a grin as she considered it, however. "I look forward to it."

That was all Naomi needed to hear.

When the doors opened, she left with Icheb and without another word. It was ending, but at least she would know she had finished it as well as she could, saying what she should have said, knowing all that she did as well as she did, knowing it indeed was possible...

She grabbed Icheb's hand to get around the bodies half blocking their path, knowing better than to bother to try to help them.

Only a minute later, they were in astrometrics again. The spatial rift they'd left behind floated on the viewscreen just as they had left it.

The end of the loop. The last piece in the puzzle.

Or was it yet?

As they neared the panels in front of the viewscreen, Naomi glanced to her side a couple times.

She suddenly saw Commander Torres as she appeared only hours ago, smiling across the lift at her. "Just do it, Naomi," she had said. "And have fun. You're young and pretty and full of yourself. Enjoy it while you've got it-and whenever you can..."

Naomi laughed quietly.

Icheb he looked down to her, asking her with a turn of his head.

"Oh what the hell," Naomi grinned and put her hand on Icheb's cheek, pulling him directly down to press her lips to his.

She did not let go-nor did he pull away-for nearly a minute. Barely parting, she smiled again as they both drew a deep breath.

"That was...nice," she decided in a whisper.

Pleasantly surprised by her kiss, Icheb pulled back a little more to give her a long look. Neither of them blinked. "Why didn't you do that a year ago?" he asked softly, placing his hands on her hips.

She grinned sheepishly, shrugged slightly. "I guess the timing wasn't right."

Slipping her hands onto his shoulders, she allowed him to return her gesture, a slow, gentle, searching kiss that made a delicious quiver reverberate through her entire body and a soft moan rise from her throat.

Definitely nice.

Then, as a different kind of surge rolled around them, they parted again.

When the room began to phase, her eyes darted back towards the door. Her fingers clasped his shoulders. "Do you think...?" She didn't finish.

"Don't be scared," Icheb said, regaining her attention immediately. "Like you told Tom, it'll be all right." He smiled, wrapping his arms around her waist. "It'll be all right, Naomi."

"Yes," Naomi whispered, reaching up to touch his cheek once more then leaning her head upon his chest. "It will."

As they embraced, the room filled with light...


...She squinted a little against the light, though she didn't think to move out of its warmth just yet.

She didn't want any of it to end until it had to.

For that matter, she had a feeling their conversation on the matter was only beginning. Oddly enough, she was enjoying it.

"You're young and pretty and full of yourself. Enjoy it while you've got it-and whenever you can."

"I know, I know."

"I know you know. It's a matter of you making use of it."

Naomi leaned back in the plush chair of the patio, crossing her legs and taking a sip of punch then breathing the fragrant air, deliciously heavy that morning. Not too far away, buoy bells rang out of time with the gull cries. Nearer was the steady hum of insects feeding in a nearby grove. It was hard to believe the city was only five kilometers away.

What a good job they did when they chose their home, she thought for probably the hundredth time. The place truly was intoxicating.

"I just don't want to think about making anything serious right away," she finally replied, pulling herself back into the present.

"But knowing you, you will-think about it." B'Elanna grinned at the young woman across from her. "You always did tend to think things to pieces. Then again, you're only as bad as I used to be." She shrugged, stretching her legs out so they could catch the late morning sun. She pulled a strand of her gray-tinged hair behind her ear then relaxed again. "You'll get over it. Just have fun-and just do it. It's worth the risk."

"I guess you're right," Naomi said, not about to doubt the voice of experience, much less her favorite former instructor, who'd already had her say about the business Naomi initially came down to discuss. How it had turned into a conversation about her non-functioning love life was beyond her. At the same time, it was an aspect of their relationship that she had come to treasure: They could talk about anything and not mind it. "I'll see what I can't do."

"I'm sure you will." With that, B'Elanna looked back at the chronometer. "He and the kids should have been back from town by now."

"But didn't you say he had to pick up Miral's graduation present, too?"

"It's on the way. Maybe he took one of his famous 'alternate routes.' I wouldn't put it past him, anyway."

Naomi snickered. "You wouldn't have him any other way and you know it."

"Much as I'd like to deny it," B'Elanna returned wryly.

"Anyway, it's all right. I can see him when we come back this way-and I'll warn you next time I come by for a visit."

"But it's been six months, Naomi."

"I know." She shrugged. "But that's a part of being in Starfleet."

B'Elanna rolled her eyes. "Don't I know it."

"Janeway to Wildman."

Naomi straightened to hear the all-too-familiar sound from her comm badge. "Wildman here."

"You in the mood for reporting back to your ship, Lieutenant?"

Naomi's brow rose slightly. She knew that crisp tone all too well. Janeway was ready to go and would prefer to believe that her officers were in line with her mood.

Before she could say yes, though, B'Elanna leaned forward in her chair. "Leave us alone, Kathryn," she told her. "We're having a serious discussion down here."

Janeway snorted. "My, how civilian life keeps growing on you, B'Elanna."

All three women laughed.

"Tom's always been worse and you know it," B'Elanna returned. "For that matter, are you ever going to let them give you a position on Earth-let you stay home for a change?"

"Not if I can help it," the admiral replied gamely then said, "I apologize for cutting your 'meeting' short, Lieutenant, but our rendezvous with Chakotay is in three days-not four, as we'd been told. Icheb has also requested that you and he should begin the core conversions as soon as possible, before we get to Starbase One Twenty-eight. Have you and B'Elanna gone over her suggestions?"

"Yes, Admiral," Naomi responded, giving B'Elanna a warning look when the woman's grin turned aside. "I'll bring my report to you immediately, if you like."

"I'll be in my ready room by thirteen hundred hours. Bring it to me then."

"Yes, Admiral."

"Send our regards to Chakotay, Kathryn," B'Elanna said, her eyes still shining at Naomi's, "and Icheb, too."

"Will do-and thank you again for your help on these upgrades," Janeway responded, her voice warm with a smile. "It makes me feel better to know you've had a look at them."

"It was my pleasure," B'Elanna said, meaning it. "Take care."

"You too, B'Elanna. Janeway out."

Alone again, Naomi set her glass upon the table and pushed herself to her feet. "Well, I guess I should get going."

B'Elanna stood as well and almost agreed. Then her eyes focused on a point beyond Naomi's shoulder. Her lips turned up; her arms rose to cross comfortably on her ribs.

"Not just yet," she said and pointed with her chin to the yard.

When Naomi turned, she saw Kian rocketing up to the house with Trina not far behind him. Their father, neatly trimmed and healthy as he had ever been, was taking his time coming down the long, stony path of their property. Unbuttoning the coat of his light suit as he swerved around an orange bush, he snapped his fingers softly at a nearby dog. It bounded up to greet him then zipped past to chase a squirrel. He chuckled, shook his head, his pace unchanged.

Then he looked up and saw who was waiting for him on the porch and readying to come down.

Setting his packages on a garden bench, he smiled and opened his arms.

Naomi gladly hopped down the steps to fill them, hugging him tightly once there.

"Great to see you, Tom!"

(fin)


© D'Alaire, 2005
Star Trek belongs to Paramount
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