Title: Mourning Comfort

Title: Mourning Comfort
Contact:
kelhapam@worldpath.net
Series: VOY
Rating: PG-13
Code: P, P/T, J/C
Date: 29 May 2000

Summary: After an intensive search for B'Elanna, she is feared dead. How does Tom cope? Through it all, can he teach Chakotay about how to woo a certain captain?

Explanation: This story takes place late in Season Six.

Disclaimer: Voyager owns all the characters, etc., I am just using the characters for a little fun and relaxation.

Note of Appreciation. Special thanks to my patient beta readers: TrekGirl; P.J. Sutherland, and Ronda Sexton, they have stayed with me during the writing of this story, encouraging me to continue with only the gentlest of nagging.

Email: kelhapam@worldpath.net

Posting: OK to ASC. Please notify me if you post anywhere else.

Mourning Comfort
May 2000

by PJ in NH

Fingers splayed against the viewport. Forehead resting against the coolness of the transparent aluminum. It was a familiar pose to anyone who had seen him since she had disappeared. His days since she left had revolved around little sleep, scant meals, and the waiting...always the waiting.

* * * * *

"I'm sorry to have called you down here so late, Captain, but..." A worried looking Harry Kim paused and motioned towards the lone occupant of the room. At the far end of the Aft View Area, a remote section of the ship that was used mostly for storage since their entry into the Delta Quadrant, his best friend Tom Paris stood gazing forlornly out the viewport.

Janeway patted Kim on his shoulder. "You did the right thing, Harry. This has gone on too long. I thought if we didn't bother him, it would work itself out, but it obviously hasn't. It's time for this endless vigil of his to end."

"It's been almost two months," Harry stated shaking his head sadly. "It's the same thing every day. Tom spends hours watching for her, and if he isn't here he's in Astrometrics using their sensors to conduct his search. I know he doesn't eat much, and I don't think he's getting much, if any, sleep. Last week when we stopped at that planet for shore leave, he didn't leave the ship."

"He's just wasting away, even with the nutritional supplements the Doctor has been administering," Janeway noted taking into account how Tom Paris' clothing hung off him. "I've been so busy with diplomatic matters and trade negotiations, I didn't realize that he was still so depressed." Seeing Tom Paris still pining away for his lost love broke her heart. Patting Harry Kim reassuringly on the shoulder one more time, Janeway said, "I'll take care of it from here. Thanks for letting me know."

"If you need..."

"I'll know who to call," she finished. "You are a good friend to him, Harry. I hope, no I know, he appreciates it."

Too choked up to reply, Harry he nodded instead. Casting one more worried look at Tom, he exited the room leaving the Captain alone with his best friend.

Kathryn Janeway softly approached her former Chief Pilot, not wanting to startle him. Since B'Elanna Torres' shuttle was destroyed two months ago, during a routine away mission, Tom had refused to sit at the helm. He felt that he couldn't concentrate on his position, only being able to think about his lost mate. In fact, he had even given his one remaining pip to his captain, thus personally placing himself in the position of an observer again. This time though his observations were centered around looking for only one former Maquis. Janeway, fearing that he'd befall the same fate if he went in search of B'Elanna, had disabled all of his access codes to the ship's shuttles, which left only the resources available to him on board Voyager. His days, and probably most of his nights, now revolved around his lonely, faithful vigil, waiting for his lover to come back to him.

It was time for his period of mourning to stop, Janeway concluded, or Tom would soon be following B'Elanna either to heaven or Sto-Vo-Kor. Gently she placed her hand upon his upper arm and squeezed gently. "Tom, we need to talk."

If it hadn't been for a twitch of his eyebrow, she wouldn't have known that he had heard her.

"Tom," she repeated. "You don't have to hold up the viewport. I assure you it won't fall in."

Paris' lips curled ever so slightly upward, and a lone tear escaped one blue eye and coursed down his pale cheek.

Janeway gave his arm another squeeze. "Come on, have a seat with me, so we can talk."

Closing his eyes tightly, he nodded and let himself be guided, around various supply containers and finally over to a row of crates that was placed up against the wall. Janeway gently pressed him down onto one of the crates and took her place next to him. Examining his pale face, she saw that he had lost even more weight since she last had the opportunity to be with the pilot. His cheeks were sunken and the swollen dark circles under his eyes provided evidence that he hadn't been sleeping well either.

"It's been over eight weeks, Tom, you need to come back to us. Harry and Neelix miss you, Tuvok and Chakotay miss you...even the ship misses you."

"Voyager isn't Alice, Captain. She can't miss me," he replied tiredly.

"But she does," she grabbed his right hand and held it firmly, trying not to dwell on how bony it felt. "Lately, if you listen when it is quiet," she whispered, "you can almost hear the ship cry. It's not the same on the bridge without you, Tom."

Paris swallowed painfully and opened his mouth as if trying to speak, but no sound came out.

"If you can't come back to the bridge, you have to find something to do. You can't spend your days in here, you have a life to live."

"My...life...died when...she didn't come back, Captain," he choked out.

Her grip tightened. "I know it feels that way but..."

"You don't know anything!" Paris roared, surprising her. He tore our of her grasp, and buried his face in his hands.

"Tell me then," Janeway urged, trying to remain calm. "Make me understand."

She waited patiently for him to respond, noting the way his jaw clenched and how he fought for control. She knew that he had never been more emotionally fragile. Minutes past until he finally lowered his hands, to reveal his tear-stained faces and blood-shot eyes. Looking past the captain, Tom Paris fought for the right words. "She... she was and *is* still part of me, Captain," he tapped his chest. "No one understood me like she did. No one...loved me like she did. If I wasn't such a coward I'd be in Sto-Vo-Kor with her right now. I think maybe the only reason I haven't already walked the path to Sto-Vo-Kor, is because somewhere deep inside me something tells me that B'Elanna's still alive." He looked back at the Captain. "I think sometimes that I'm going insane."

"We found the shuttle, Tom, it had been destroyed," Janeway instead reminded him, as gently as possible. "Tuvok said that no one could have survived."

"I know what was said, Captain, I was there on the bridge. I saw the wreckage that was recovered, but we couldn't find her body, only Mitchell, her pilot. I feel that she's alive...that's all I know. My head says," he tapped his forehead, "that Tuvok is correct, but my heart," he placed his palm against his chest, "says she didn't die. I feel that somehow she'll come back to me."

"Tom, we searched for days and didn't find anything. It would have been a miracle if she had survived. You have to face it, she's gone. It is time for you to start living again. Maybe it would help if we held that memorial service for her?"

Frantic blue eyes locked onto her sympathetic gray ones. "We perform miracles everyday, Captain. You've said so yourself in the past. Is it too much to hope, to expect, that there's a miracle out there for me? Is it?" he pleaded.

"Oh, Tom," she breathed and her eyes became wet and overflowing with tears. "You can't go on like this. B'Elanna wouldn't want you to. She loved you so much. You don't have to hold this vigil to prove that you loved her, she knew you did--we all did," Janeway reassured him.

Fresh tears flooded his face. "How could she know, Captain?"

"What do you mean?"

He swallowed down a lump in his throat. "I...I never told her! Never," he finally admitted. "Not once did I have enough... courage to tell B'Elanna, a woman that meant the world to me, that I...loved her. Do you have any idea what I wouldn't give to hold her...in my arms right now and tell her? Do...you?" His voice broke with deep emotion, and he let himself be pulled into Kathryn Janeway's welcoming embrace. Crying his heart out on her shoulder, Janeway held him close.

"She knew, Tom," she reassured him while she patted his back. "She knew."

~~~~~

Clad in her peach silk nightgown, Kathryn Janeway leaned against the door to her sleeping area, her arms wrapped around her body. Watching the now quiet man asleep on her couch, she was thankful for her decision to bring him here. After they had left the Aft Viewing Area, she personally escorted him to her quarters, figuring that there were still too many memories back in his own cabin, even after eight weeks, for him to rest properly. Being physically and emotionally exhausted, he hadn't even protested.

After they arrived she persuaded him to have a large cup of warm milk, which he did argue about, but finally drank then suggested that he kick off his boots and to take her bed for the night. He argued with her, saying that he should go back to his own quarters, so she compromised and offered him the couch. Despite his protests of only staying a moment, he was soon sound asleep, proving that her theory was correct.

Only then after she was satisfied that he was resting comfortably, did she allow herself to retire for the night.

* * * * * *

One morning, over two weeks later, the Captain slipped out of her nightgown and stepped into the sonic shower. When she was finished, she pulled on her uniform, combed her hair, and added a spritz of cologne under each ear. The Captain then stepped smartly out of her cabin, but instead of turning right towards the bridge, like she had for over six years, she turned left and toward the turbolift which would take her to Deck 4, and Tom's cabin. There, as she had since the night after he had slept in her cabin, she'd meet him and both of them would walk to the mess hall for breakfast.

Cheerfully greeting crewmen along the way, Janeway finally arrived at Tom's quarters and pressed the door chime.

BRRREEPPP

"I'll be right there, Captain!" Tom called out. He tugged down on his maroon top, brushed back his unruly hair, and quickly joined Janeway in the hall. "Sorry, I'm late, I'm afraid I overslept."

She smiled and, noticing that his hair was sticking up in the back, smoothed it down with her hand. Tom blushed at the motherly attention. "No problem," I just got here. "I'm glad to see that you are sleeping better."

"I am. I'm still not always successful, but you've made it easier. Considering all the velocity games we play, and all the 'Scenic Bicycle Rides Through Southern Europe' that Harry drags me along for, not to mention the guerilla style workouts that Chakotay goads me into participating, it's a wonder I stay awake at all."

Janeway chuckled, and beckoned for him to accompany her to the mess hall. "Have we been that obvious?"

Tom's eyes sparkled. "I don't mind. I know you wouldn't be doing all this if all of you didn't care."

She smiled and nodded.

Reaching the turbolift, Tom let the Captain enter first. "Deck 2, Mess Hall," he called out. "Velocity today?"

"Maybe...or maybe something different. How would you feel about deep sea diving on the holodeck? I found a wonderful program in the ship's holodeck database. It's set on a reef off the shores of Tahiti."

A vivid memory crashed over the pilot. He could still see B'Elanna and him, hand in hand strolling along a deserted Tahitian beach, not long after their experiences with those dream aliens. They had talked, walked, and afterwards, just as the sun was beginning to set, made mad passionate love on the beach with only the lapping of the surf and the whispering palm trees for company. Much later, in the moonlight, they swam in the warm ocean waters, naked as they day they were born...

"Tom, are you okay?" Janeway asked interrupting his memory. She became concerned when she saw the smile slip from his face and his eyes become unfocused. What had she said? "Tom," she repeated and shook him lightly gripping his upper arm. "TOM, answer me."

His eyes again focused on her. "Ah...I'm sorry, it's just--" He stopped, not quite knowing what to say.

"Tell me," she urged. When he didn't reply immediately, she ordered the turbolift to stop.

Tom could see that she meant business, so he took a deep breath and told her. "It's just that, B'Elanna and I had a er...special holodeck moment in Tahiti. I'm sorry, Captain, almost any other place, but Tahiti. I hope you can understand."

Janeway smiled warmly. "Of course. How about something different then? Harry says that he's created an ice skating program. Would you like to give that a try?"

He smiled expressing his gratitude. "That sounds perfect. I'll look forward to it."

"Dress warm. I want this to be authentic," she cautioned.

"Yes, ma'am," Paris drawled. Janeway's lips curled upwards and her heart warmed at the familiar words.

"Computer, resume."

* * * * * *

Harry and Chakotay were already in the mess hall having their meals and talking with Seven of Nine and Marla Gilmore, when Tom and the Captain arrived. Paris and Janeway stopped to receive their breakfasts from Neelix and moved to join their friends. Walking toward the four, they were greeted by several other crewmembers, already eating their meals, with smiles or small waves. Tom and Kathryn smiled and nodded back in turn. Nearing their objective, they could see that Harry was in the middle of an anecdote and approached the group quietly not wanting to disturb them.

"...I saw her approach and pause--silence can be deadly, I determined from the way she looked, and just when I thought I was going to get away with it, B'Elanna said..." Harry stopped suddenly when he realized that Tom and Janeway could hear his words. By the look on Tom's face, Harry could tell that he had heard the mention of B'Elanna. Since the Chief Engineer had been declared dead, Harry had tried very hard not to say B'Elanna's name in front of his friend, not wanting to dredge up any sad feelings. "I'm sorry, Tom, I didn't see you."

Tom swallowed hard and cleared his throat before he replied thickly. "Please don't apologize, Harry...don't ever." He looked up to address the group. "You never hear her name mentioned any more, it's like she never served on this ship! One thing I don't want is for B'Elanna to be forgotten. That is one thing I just couldn't bear."

"None of us would want that, Tom," Chakotay assured him. He had also noticed that people were reluctant to talk about B'Elanna Torres especially when Tom was around. "We were just telling Marla about a time not long after B'Elanna became Chief Engineer. Maybe you remember? Harry had been sent down to assist in Engineering after a Vidiian attack."

Tom nodded, it sounded familiar.

"Yeah, I hadn't known B'Elanna very long. When I got down to Engineering, she assigned me the job of realigning the port nacelle's frequency," Harry continued. "Well, I did as I'd been asked, and when I couldn't find B'Elanna to receive another assignment, I went ahead and began to adjust the warp core relays."

Tom rolled his eyes, and the Captain grinned. They could almost imagine what had happened next.

"Well, I was about halfway done when this streak of rage approached me...B'Elanna," Harry smiled, fondly remembering the moment. "She roared so loud the deck plates seemed to rattle. I nearly jumped out of my skin. I'll never forget it--she said: 'What the hell do you think you're doing with *MY* WARP CORE!!!!'

"I was so scared I couldn't even talk. My jaw hung loose, and I must have looked like some kind of dazed marionette. Finally, I started to make some sounds, but it was a cross between a stammer and a hiccup, nothing made any sense. Then the most unexpected thing happened," he continued, his audience completely enthralled in his narrative.

"B'Elanna Torres, our fiery Chief Engineer, who had broken Joe Carey's nose for less than what I had done, laughed. It really was more like a full belly-laugh. She laughed so hard at my terrified expression that tears rolled down her cheeks. At first the engineers first just stared, not knowing what to make of it all, then someone giggled and that set the rest of them off." Harry shook his head at the memory, grinning broadly from ear to ear. "I eventually realized that I wasn't going to die today, and despite my own nervousness and... yeah, fear, I found myself laughing too. I don't think I'll ever forget that moment."

"I remember B'Elanna telling me about that," Chakotay replied adding to the tale. "The thought of it would bring a smile to her face every time she told the story. She thought you were going to...um...to be frank...," Chakotay chuckled, "...wet yourself, Harry, you looked so scared."

"I might have," Harry replied, blushing all over, "but I was too frightened even to do that."

Hearing Harry's admission, laughter erupted from the table. No one laughed harder than Tom Paris, and the others, overjoyed at seeing their friend's reaction, laughed all the harder.

* * * * * *

Janeway hurried down the corridors toward her destination, Holodeck Three. When she arrived she saw that Tom Paris was already there crouched down next to the door. He was wearing a heavy woolen sweater, warm slacks, and had a red parka clutched in his hands.

"Looks like it's your turn to be late," Tom noted, rising to his feet.

"Sorry, but the Commander was busy talking to me about the duty roster, and then we got talking about his vision quests."

"He still goes on those, huh?"

Janeway smiled. "When he has the time. He's trying to get me to accompany him again," she explained, entering commands into the holodeck control panel.

"Maybe you should take him up on the offer?" Tom suggested.

She turned to face him, a puzzled look on her face. "Do you think so?"

"Couldn't hurt could it?" Tom shrugged. "It's probably his way of saying that he likes your company."

Janeway crinkled her nose as she contemplated his comment. "I'll think about it, but right now I've come to ice skate. Are you ready?" Janeway asked, seeing that Tom had put on his parka and had zipped it up.

"Was Wayne Gretsky the Great One?" Tom quipped.

Janeway looked up quizzically at the pilot. "What?"

"Ah...never mind." Another twentieth century reference that only he understood. "Last one on the ice is a bankrupt Ferengi." Janeway's smile widened.

Entering the holodeck they could feel the cool air from the ice rink wash over them. Tom fastened his jacket tighter against his neck. "I see that you do like the authentic touch--it's cold in here."

Janeway tucked her hair into a green knit cap that she had taken out of her coat pocket. "I thought that was something you'd appreciate," she commented. Lowering herself onto a worn wooden bench she toed off her boots and reached for a pair of white figure skates that were on the floor.

"Oh I do, but..." Tom blew hard and his warm breath resulted in a puff of white fog. "...a little bit warmer would have been nice though." He sat himself down next to the Captain and took off his own boots.

Laughter tripped off the Janeway's tongue. "You'll warm up as soon as you get out on the ice," she assured him as she pulled the skates onto her feet and began to lace them up tightly.

Tom did the same with his black ice skates. He was thankful that the Captain, while replicating figure skates for herself, had selected hockey skates for him. "It's been a long time since I've ice skated, Captain. It was before the Academy," he explained. "Mom used to take me and my sisters up to Lake Tahoe in the winter and we'd all ski and skate together. It was a lot of fun." He chuckled at the memory. "I remember Moira always kept falling down."

Janeway tied the laces on the other skate and carefully stood up waiting for Tom to do the same. "Couldn't get the hang of it?" she asked.

"No, actually Moira was a fine skater, but it was her way of attracting the attention of the skating instructor. Worked too, by the end of that particular week, she was dating him." His blue eyes twinkled with the memory. "Moira was always good at getting what she wanted," his sparkling blue eyes greyed over as he remembered how long it had been since he had last seen his family. "I sometimes wonder what she wants now." he added.

"I would guess that she wants her brother to come home safe and sound," Janeway replied.

Tom nodded solemnly. "Yeah."

"Come on, Tom, you don't want to be a Ferengi do you?" she teased, trying to snap him out of the solemn mood. Tom matched her grin and pulled on his gloves. Standing up, the gentleman that he was, he held one hand out towards Janeway and guided her out towards the ice.

"We'll go out together," he replied. "I don't feel like skating with a Ferengi today. Deal?"

"Deal."

Tom confidently stepped out onto the ice, and supported the Captain with one hand. She gingerly followed him, one hand firmly clutching his and the other tightly gripping the wall that encircled the rink.

"You okay, Captain?"

Janeway looked up at the pilot and smiled, trying to put on a brave face. "I will be, it's...ah...just been a long time since I was on the ice. I'll just stay here and try and get used to it again. You can go skate around if you'd like."

"You sure?"

"Please, go ahead. It'll give me a chance to get used to all this," she swept her hand down in the direction of the skates.

"If you're sure you don't mind?"

From the look on Paris' face, Janeway could tell he couldn't wait to try out the ice. "Please go, I'd like to see you skate."

Tom nodded. "Who am I to argue with the Captain?" he replied. "Computer, create a hockey stick and a puck, circa late 20th century. Also create a hockey goal at the far end of the ice."

::::Acknowledged::::

Tom bent down to pick up the newly created stick and with a smile glided powerfully off down the ice, paddling the black puck back and forth with the stick.

"Well, at least he's happy," Janeway murmured to herself. Grimly she looked down at her feet; every time she tried to move her right foot, her left foot couldn't make up its mind on what direction to take. If it hadn't been for the tight grip she had on the partial wall that circled the rink, she knew she would have fallen. "This is the last time I ask Harry Kim's advice on a choice of holodeck program," she vowed. Looking out over the ice she saw that Tom was having fun. He had just slapped the puck into the goal, and he had both hands raised over his head, celebrating the momentous achievement. It was some consolation, that at least he was having a good time, she just regretted that she couldn't join him.

As Tom turned around, he caught sight of Voyager's captain still clinging to the boards. Leaving the puck and the stick behind, he skated effortlessly towards her.

"Having problems, Captain?" he called out.

Janeway smiled, guilt and embarrassment tugged at her.

Paris skated up to her. "When was the last time you were on skates?"

She rolled her eyes upward to look into his sincere blue orbs. "Honestly?"

"Honestly," he insisted.

"Ah...um...well..."

Tom crossed his arms in front of his chest. "You've never been ice skating, have you?" he stated rhetorically.

A slight guilty smile graced her face. "Actually, no," Janeway admitted. "But it looked so easy on the vids I've been watching. I saw the skaters do flips and spins in mid-air and land safely on the ice afterwards. I figured that it couldn't be that hard to just simply skate across the ice."

Tom unfolded his arms and held out both hands to her. "All it takes is a little practice, and someone to teach you," he replied. "How about you take your first lesson with me?"

"You wouldn't mind teaching me? Wouldn't you rather enjoy yourself? There's a hockey puck out there," she motioned with a nod of her head towards the other end of the rink, "with your name on it."

"Who says that I wouldn't enjoy myself helping you? Besides, it's been a long time since I taught someone. It might be fun." He smiled broadly...invitingly. "Come on, Captain, let's give it a shot. If you can defeat the Borg, then you should be able to do this blindfolded in no time."

Janeway grabbed one of his hands trying to appear confident. "On one condition." Tom raised one eyebrow in response. "That you stop calling me Captain, and start calling me Kathryn, at least while we're together."

Paris contemplated her request trying to look as serious as possible. "Hmmmm, Kathryn...naw...can't do it."

"What?" She was surprised that he had refused.

Tom gave her a devilish grin. "'Kathryn' just seems all wrong. I'll save that for Chakotay. How about I call you 'Katie'?" Kathryn sounded too intimate, to him. Katie sounded more like something you'd call a friend.

"Katie, huh?" she paused to see what his reaction would be. He simply improved on his Tuvok impression and raised his eyebrow further. "I suppose 'Katie' would be acceptable, but only when we are alone," she warned, smiling broadly she clasped one of his hands with her own...tightly.

"Come on, *Katie*, you can't learn to skate if you don't let go of the boards," Tom admonished. He stretched his lone hand out further towards her. Janeway pouted a bit, but finally released her grip and quickly grabbed a hold of the pilot. "Relax, this won't be as bad as you imagine. Just watch out for your toe picks."

"Toe picks?"

"You're wearing figure skates, they have toe picks on the blades. I have hockey skates on," he turned one foot towards her. "...no toe picks."

"Got it...toe picks. You know, I can see myself laying flat on the ice with blood flowing from numerous head wounds," she responded drily.

"Can't happen, the safeties are on," Tom reminded her and he moved closer, grasping the Captain's upper arms with his strong hands he slowly and confidently began to pull her away from the boards.

"I have a *very* vivid imagination," she assured him. {In fact, I'm imagining what it would be like if you touched more than my arms.}

Tom laughed in response and increased his speed, pulling her along after him. Janeway looked down at her skates, waiting to see the right foot and left part company. She mentally prepared herself to take a tumble.

"Don't look at the skates," he urged. "Relax and look at me instead."

Tearing her eyes away from her feet she looked up into the bluest eyes on Voyager and lost herself in them willingly. Suddenly, the prospect of learning how to skate seemed very appealing.

* * * * * * *

"Thanks, Kat...um...Captain. I had a good time." They had left the holodeck and Tom had to remember to address Janeway properly.

"I should be the one thanking you, Tom. You taught me to skate tonight--at least a little bit. But you know you didn't have to see me back to my cabin. I do know the way," she teased.

Tom blushed a little and looked down at the deck to avoid her gray eyes. "Was nothin', ma'am," he drawled and rubbed the toe of his boot against the deck plate. "My daddy always taught me to see a lady home."

Janeway squeezed his forearm. It gladdened her heart to hear Tom Paris joke again, and it was damn good to feel some flesh on his bones. He seemed to be finally on the way back to recovery. "Would you like to come in for a drink?" {Please say yes. I'd love to get to know you better.}

"I should be going, Captain, it's already past 2300 hours. I'm supposed to help Neelix out in the mess hall tomorrow." He noted the disappointment on her face. Capturing her gaze, he smiled slowly. "But I'd like to do it again sometime. Maybe invite a few more people next time?"

"Sure." {Anything, Tom.}

Paris nodded and turned away.

"Goodnight," she called out softly.

He turned his head towards her and waved, a soft smile lit his face.

When he had left her line of sight, the Captain entered her cabin. She sighed as her door slid shut behind her. Following her usual routine, she keyed in the lock-out code for the night and ordered minimal illumination. Dropping her jacket, wool hat and gloves on the table, Janeway turned to enter the sleeping area. Passing by a small viewport, her reflection caught her attention and she stopped. Seeing that her cheeks were still flushed she pressed her palm against her face to feel the heat. {{You're blushing, Kathryn...or should I say: Katie?}}

Janeway blushed harder.

{{You care for him. Admit it!}}

{He's a good friend, a member of the Voyager family.}

{{But he's more than that. Confess!}}

{More?}

{{You are starting to fall in love with him, Katie. Remember I'm your conscience, you can't lie to me. By lying to me, you lie to yourself!}}

{I...like him, just as I like any member of the crew.}

{{Liar! You've spent a lot of time with him. Don't tell me you don't care! That you don't feel something more!}}

Janeway's mind drifted. The weeks that she and Tom had spent together had flown, filled with platonic dates on the holodeck. She knew she'd never forget hang gliding alongside the blue-eyed man over the landscape of Bajor. She hadn't felt so exhilarated in a long time, especially when he pulled her close against his lean body so he was better able to control the landing.

Hiking along the White Mountains in what used to be called New Hampshire, had been lovely and insightful. It provided a rigorous workout, climbing up and down the Presidential Range, and afforded beautiful views of other peaks in the distance and blue lakes below.

Their time together also allowed Janeway to talk with him about things unrelated to ship's business. Tom, in turn, opened up to her and spoke to her about how he was trying to adjust without B'Elanna. She could tell that it hurt him to speak about his former mate, but also knew that too was part of the healing process.

After that, his appetite improved and he began to put on more of the weight he had lost. His sunken cheeks filled out again, and Tom spent more time in the company of others.

Janeway smiled to herself realizing how far he had come in such a relatively short period of time.

Then her smile fell and she was suddenly back on the ice with Tom Paris. Holding him tight so she wouldn't fall, Kathryn could smell the spicy aftershave that the pilot favored. It made her senses reel, and she would have lost her balance if he hadn't spoken to her, reminding her how to move her legs.

He was so close...so very close...lips just centimeters from her own. With a flick of her tongue she could have tasted him. Damn, how she wanted to taste him! Damn, how she regretted that she didn't.

{I'm starting to feel something for him, that's true, but I can't let myself. It wouldn't be proper.}

{{Proper? He's an observer again! The only *proper* relationship you can have on the ship is either with him or Neelix! It can't get any more proper out here in the Delta Quadrant!}}

{I can't, it would be too soon. It's only been two months since B'Elanna was declared dead.}

{{Too soon for him, or you?}}

{He...he doesn't think of me that way. To him I'm his older sister, a friend.}

{{Things can change...but you'll have to act.}}

{It's too soon.}

{{Someday it won't be too soon. Someday if you don't act, it will be too late.}}

* * * * * *

Chakotay was behind on the crew reviews and needed to catch up before his meeting with the captain later that day. Deciding to kill two birds with one stone, he arrived in the mess hall early, got a bowl of some type of vegetable soup from Neelix, and found a quiet table. Placing the PADD beside the soup bowl he got to work. Two sips, read a screen; three sips read a screen and a half, make some notes. He was making good progress until other members of the crew started to stream in to get their lunch. Chakotay tried to concentrate on his task, but as the noise level grew, it became more difficult. And despite trying not to pay attention to the conversation around him, Chakotay couldn't help but hear the various comments that were flying around the room.

"How long do you think they've been seeing each other?"

"Janeway was flushed, I think they just got through doing *it.*" "I heard that they can't keep their hands off each other. They're *always* together. You can't book holodeck time in the evening anymore without seeing their names on the log."

"I always knew it wouldn't take Paris long before he latched onto someone else."

The more he heard the more irate Chakotay became. He tried to focus his attention on the PADD, but it was impossible. Instead, the First Officer found that he was rereading passages that were no longer making any sense and he found himself thinking more and more about what was being said. He was thinking of the different stories that were circulating, of the people they were talking about, and most importantly, what if anything he should do about it.

"It's a good thing B'Elanna isn't here to see this," someone noted.

That did it--the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. He knew exactly what he had to do.

He stormed out of the mess hall and walked powerfully and purposefully down the corridors of the ship. Turning into a vacant turbolift he barked out the deck number. Arriving at his destination, he leaned against the buzzer and waited.

"C'mon in!" came the reply.

The door hissed open and Chakotay entered Tom Paris' cabin. He saw Voyager's former chief pilot seated on an ancient looking couch with his stockinged feet propped up on a stool; before him on a stand was a box. At the angle Chakotay stood, he could only tell that the box that held Paris' attention emitted some type of flickering light.

Long seconds passed before Tom finally looked up at his guest. Seeing who it was, he quickly stood up, almost tripping over the stool in the process.

"Gee, Commander, I didn't expect to see you. I thought you might be Harry stopping by during his lunch break."

Chakotay took a step forward. "New furnishings?" he asked.

"Yeah, something from Earth's mid-20th century. Don't worry, it's been tested for structural integrity. Have a seat."

"Please, have a seat," Tom motioned politely to a large arm chair that somewhat matched the sofa. "I'll just turn off the TV. I was just watching cartoons anyway."

"TV?" Chakotay questioned lowering himself into the comfortable seat.

Tom grinned and explained. "It's short for television--an old two-dimensional, audio-visual device used for watching entertainment. B'Elanna made this one for me."

Chakotay leaned forward to get a closer view of the TV as the pilot searched underneath the cushions of the sofa for something. "It lacks color," the First Officer observed.

"Well, back when TVs first produced, everything was broadcast in white images, like my Captain Proton program; but that didn't mean that they didn't produce some fine work back then. But let me turn it off so we can talk. If I could just find the remote control."

"Can't you just turn it off at the source?"

"That's not the point, Commander," Tom replied and continued his search for the device until, triumphantly, Tom pulled out a small gadget from under one of the cushions.

The First Officer watched a rabbit on the television screen dance circles around a man who wore a plaid hat and carried a gun. "This is 'fine work'?" he questioned.

Tom laughed. "Not really, but B'Elanna likes it. This is what they called a cartoon. The little guy carrying the gun is called Elmer Fudd, and the rabbit's name is Bugs Bunny. Bugs likes to give Elmer a hard time. B'Elanna..." Tom paused for a moment as he tried to reel in his emotions. "...B'Elanna says that Bugs reminds her of me. It's her favorite cartoon character."

"It's hard to believe that B'Elanna Torres liked to watch this stuff." To the First Officer, it looked too childish for Voyager's former Chief Engineer to be interested in it.

A wistful look washed over Tom's face. "There are a lot of things people don't know about B'Elanna. A lot of things..." He swallowed hard, his voice betraying the tears he was trying to keep at bay. "A lot of things she shares only with me."

Chakotay noted the use of the present tense when Paris spoke of B'Elanna and questioned his visit to the pilot's cabin. He, like a fool, had believed the gossip that had circulated through the mess hall. Now, without even questioning Tom Paris, he knew that the young man could never, at least not right now and perhaps not even in the future, contemplate a relationship with anyone else.

Taking a last look at the cartoon, Paris aimed the remote control at the television and turned it off.

"Somehow I don't think you came down here to watch cartoons with me, Chakotay. What gives?"

The older man looked into the other's eyes and he knew he couldn't lie to him. "To be honest, Paris, I originally came down here to chew you out, but I see now that I was wrong. Like an idiot I listened to ship gossip and believed it to be true."

"Gossip?"

Chakotay nodded. "Seems like you and Captain Janeway are at the center of it."

"Me and the Captain?" Tom looked incredulous and genuinely innocent.

"It's all over the mess hall and, without a doubt, the ship. Depending on who you listen to, you and the Captain have been having a passionate affair for weeks, or you're just friends satisfying your sexual cravings. And there are a ton of variations in between."

"But we're just friends! She's just been trying to keep me busy, like you and Harry have been," Tom explained.

"Unfortunately, the crew has seen something different."

"Between holodeck activities and spending time in Astrometrics, I wouldn't have time to carry on an affair with anyone," Tom cried out, defending himself.

"I believe you. I'm sorry I even thought something like that could happen."

Tom shrugged. "Hey, no problem. I've been at the center of gossip before. I'm sure the gossip will die down soon enough."

"I hope so."

"It will," Tom reassured him. "Something will happen and before you know it they'll be off on another tangent."

Chakotay nodded, he knew that Tom was probably right. "By the way, what have you been doing in Astrometrics?" he asked recalling Tom's reference to that area of the ship.

Tom lifted his gaze and focused on the older man.

One look at the pilot and Chakotay knew. "Are you still looking for her, Tom? Don't you think it's time to put this behind you?"

He opened his mouth to reply but no words came out. Exasperated Tom rose from the sofa and crossed the room to the viewport. Chakotay watched the pilot for several minutes, noting the clench of the jaw and the shine of unshed tears coating Tom's blue eyes, before he too joined him.

"Talk to me, Tom. Please try and think of me as a friend."

Tom maintained his silence, his lips forming a fine line and his gaze focused on a distant constellation, Chakotay could see that he was too emotionally overcome to speak.

The Commander patiently waited as more minutes passed, finally he placed a hand on Tom shoulder and squeezed. "Tell me about Astrometrics. How does Seven feel about you being down there so much?" He knew that to approach Tom directly would accomplish nothing. If he wanted the pilot to start to open up to him, he would have to skirt the issue.

A small sad smile blossomed on Tom's face. "Seven?" He chuckled humorlessly. "To be honest, I think she's afraid I may try and assimilate her small collective."

Chakotay grinned at Tom's reply. "What does she say?"

"Nothing much. She just walks around her nose in the air, doing the best impression of Tuvok on the ship. If that ocular implant was raised any higher, we could use it for a communications antenna."

The First Officer laughed. "I think I'd like to see that."

"Actually, since I've been down there she's been very helpful. Seven has shown me the most *efficient* way to recalibrate the sensors to obtain 'optimum range.'"

Chakotay had to laugh at Tom's impression of Seven of Nine. "No luck though?"

Tom shook his head sadly. "Thought that I found something two days ago, but Seven assured me that it was nothing more than a sensor echo."

"I'm sorry. I know how much you want to believe that she's alive."

"For a moment, I thought I had found her."

"Tom, it's been weeks, there's nothing..."

Paris's determined blue eyes locked onto the brown orbs of the First Officer, daring the older man to look away. "I *know* she's alive, Chakotay. The feeling gets stronger everyday. I can't explain it, it's just," Tom lay his palm over his chest. "in here, something deep inside of me."

"How can you know that? How can you be sure?"

"I just know," Tom coughed back a sob, and wiped away the moisture that was threatening to spill from his eyes. Last thing he wanted was to lose it in front of the First Officer. "Look, can't we talk about something else, I'd hate to start blubbering. It'd ruin my reputation." Tom crossed behind Chakotay and moved towards the replicator. "Can I get you something to drink. Some tea?"

"That would be nice. Herbal please."

Tom called for an herbal tea for his guest and one for himself.

"Why don't you tell me why, when you first came in here, you wanted to chew my ass out?" Paris suggested.

"Paris, we really don't..."

Tom sat back down on the sofa and blew against the surface of the hot tea before he interrupted the First Officer. "I'd really like to hear what you have to say."

The First Officer opted for honesty. "Actually, when I came in here I didn't know what I was going to say precisely. I think I was envisioning more action than communication."

"So when you came in here you wanted to beat me to a pulp?"

"I...ah..."

"You wanted to confront me about the Captain," Tom correctly surmised. "You thought that I had forgotten B'Elanna and had turned to Janeway? That I swept her off her feet and into my bed?"

Chakotay took a long draw on his beverage before replying. "I'm sorry, Paris, I should have known better."

"I like the Captain a lot, Chakotay. She's like an older sister. I respect her and truly appreciate all she's done, particularly lately to help me, but I couldn't have an affair with anyone-- especially not now, and maybe not ever again." He sipped at his beverage before continuing. "I also couldn't have a relationship with someone that I know a friend of mine cares so much about. I don't poach on someone else's territory."

Chakotay who had been in the process of taking another drink, was startled by the pilot's words and nearly choked. Tom quickly arose and crossed over to the sputtering First Officer and patted him hard on the back.

"Better?" Tom asked.

Chakotay nodded. "Yes. Thanks," he squeaked out.

"You seem surprised that I know that you have feelings for Janeway?"

"Actually I didn't think anyone knew. I've tried hard to keep that private."

"Keeping anything private on Voyager is impossible. The ship is too small and by this time, we've all gotten to know each other probably too well."

Chakotay nodded. "That's true, but I thought I had kept this information well hidden."

"Well you have to remember, I was brought on board initially as an observer. That's what I do best sometimes--observe."

The older man groaned at the poor joke. "So how many others know?"

"Honestly?"

Chakotay nodded again.

"Possibly only the senior bridge crew knows how much you care for her. The rest of the crew may speculate, but don't know for sure."

"Well that's somewhat of a relief."

Tom brought his mug up to his lips and drank, contemplating how far he could take this conversation. Finally he decided he had nothing to lose.

Holding the mug in his left hand he scrutinized his friend. "Tell me, Chakotay, have you ever done anything about your feelings?"

"Like what?

"Perhaps asking the Captain for a date?

Chakotay turned his own mug in his hands, before looking up. "We've been on a few dates."

Tom wasn't convinced. "Dates? What did you do? And talking to furry animals on another plane of existence, doesn't count," he warned shaking his right index finger at the First Officer.

"But she had a good time," Chakotay said defensively.

"I'm sure she did, but I rather doubt it was romantic. What else?" he prodded.

"Ummm, we've had dinner a couple of times in the Captain's cabin."

Tom's interest was piqued and he leaned forward. "That's good. Were candles involved?"

"Candles?"

"Yes. You know long tapered waxy things."

Chakotay nodded.

"Excellent." Some progress was being made it seemed. "Do tell me that you at least kissed her."

Chakotay diverted his eyes from Tom.

"You let an opportunity like that slip by? She was almost begging for it!" He couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"I thought about it, but I just couldn't. I guess with her being the captain, I was waiting for her to make the first move."

Tom silently came to a decision as drained the tea from the mug before placing the mug on the coffee table, he moved to the other end of the couch, closer to Chakotay.

"I hope you don't mind me saying this, but you need some help."

"Help?"

The younger man crossed his arms in front of him and studied his guest. "Other than those dinners with the Captain, when was the last time you were on a date?"

Chakotay thought back. "Well there was Valerie Archer."

"A member of Species 8472 and you were acting under orders at the time, not exactly a typical date. Strike one. What else?"

Looking up at the pilot, Chakotay smiled fondly. "There was Kellin."

"The only reason we know there was a Kellin was because you wrote it down. You don't really remember her. Doesn't count, sorry. Strike two."

"You're right," he admitted. "I guess then that leaves..."

"Seska?" Tom replied.

Chakotay grimaced, knowing what the pilot would say.

"Seska was using you to get what she wanted, unfortunately we can't count that either. I'm afraid if this was back on Earth and we were playing baseball, you'd have three strikes and you'd be out. But, luckily for you, this is the Delta Quadrant, and you have at your disposal one Thomas Eugene Paris, matchmaker extraordinaire, at your service." Tom smiled with pride and confidence.

Slack-jawed, the First Officer starred at the younger man.

"Hey, most people would jump at the opportunity I'm offering you."

"Sorry, I guess I'm just stunned. And I'm also wondering why you'd want to do this."

"Well I *could* say that I'm feeling generous..."

"Or?" Chakotay prompted.

"Or, I could say that I know that the Captain needs to have her attention diverted from yours truly. I feel that she's getting too involved with me, and while I like her a lot as a captain and a friend, I certainly couldn't have a relationship with her. My heart belongs to B'Elanna, and even if I was convinced that she's not coming back, I don't think I could see anyone else--at least not for a long time."

Chakotay couldn't believe he was going to let Tom coach him in the romantic ways of the universe. But he had to admit after almost six years on Voyager he hadn't made much if any progress, even when he and the captain had been stranded together on New Earth. At this point, he was willing to try anything, even if it meant following Tom Paris' advice. "So what do I do?"

Tom grinned and rubbed his hands together gleefully. This was going to be fun. "First we have do to some research into the Captain's likes and dislikes. Then we develop some ideas for a fabulous holodeck program for your date. I didn't become the dashing, debonaire specimen that you see before you today in just one night. It all takes thought, planning, and a pinch of luck."

"You make this sound like a battle plan." Chakotay noted critically.

Tom just smiled. "I'll meet you in two days--same time, same station--and we'll see what we come up with. That is if you aren't afraid."

Chakotay pulled himself up to attention and steeled his gaze. "I'm not afraid of dating the Captain."

"Good, but I'm not referring to the Captain. I'm referring to the ship's gossips. If you spend too much time in here, they might assume *we* are having an affair."

The two men pulled an incredibly sour face each directed at the other, paused for a moment, and then laughed loudly.

"Get out of here, Romeo, I have some serious thinking to do," Tom ordered happily, slapping the older man on the back.

"Whatever you say, Cyrano," Chakotay replied, dimples in evidence. "I'll see you in two days."

* * * * * *

A dark head popped out from behind the navigation console. A combination of grease and sweat covered the face. One hand clutched an oily tool, the other pushed a lock of equally oily hair out of her face.

"Damn it! Stay together!!!" B'Elanna Torres roared above the growl of the ship's engines. "I'll never catch up to Voyager if you don't!!!"

As if in reply, the engine sputtered and than began to purr.

"It's about time."

Grabbing an already stained towel that she had tucked into her waistband, she wiped the sweat and grime from her face only to reveal an ugly scar that ran from her temple to her jaw--a testament that her time away from Voyager hadn't been an easy one. Wiping and grease from her hands, she ran her fingers through her hair trying to put it back in order, but it was useless--her hair was a matted mess. It would be a wonder if Tom even recognized her if--no when--she returned to Voyager and his arms.

"Computer, open personal log."

Something that sounded like a mixture of alphabet soup interspersed with profanity acknowledged her request.

"Computer, amend personal log, Stardate... Damn, what the hell day is it? Computer, just add, a day from my last log entry...

:::kjkndi11k3n::::

"Whatever," B'Elanna replied rolling her eyes in response to the computers garbled reply. "I'm still following Voyager warp core signature. I'm hoping they will have to stop soon to replenish the food stores or energy reserves so I can catch up with them. I've sent out another series of communication messages but as of yet, I've received no reply." B'Elanna stomachs growled in hunger.

"I'd kill for any one of Neelix's specialties right now," she commented. "These Salian ration bars that were on this ship taste like salted soggy cardboard, and they smell as bad; but at least they are keeping me alive. If I can just hold out longer than they do. Just one day at a time, one more endless repair to this pile of junk, and soon I'll be home...Wait for me, Tom.

"B'Elanna, out."

* * * * * * *

Tom set a steaming cup of coffee in front of Voyager's First Officer and sat down across from him. "So, what have you come up with?"

Chakotay smiled confidently and leaned across Tom Paris' dining table. "It took some work, but I found out that she liked to go fishing with her father when she was a little girl. I thought I could develop a nice little program complete with lake, rowboat and have Neelix whip up a picnic basket. Then..."

Paris held up one hand. "Wait right there."

Surprised at the interruption, Chakotay looked up. "What's wrong?"

"You're serious, aren't you?" Tom tilted his head to one side, studied the bewildered expression on the First Officer's face, and sadly shook his head. "Damn, you need more help that I originally thought."

"I thought she'd like it -- strictly catch-and-release you know." He *was* serious.

"I don't care if the fish jump in the boat, kiss both of you, and dive back into the water. It's not very romantic," Tom replied.

"Oh." Chakotay looked dejected. He thought he had come up with a wonderful date.

Tom quickly came to the rescue. "Hey, don't despair, I've also been doing some research. I think I may have come up with the ideal holodeck date."

Chakotay looked hopefully up at Paris. "What is it?"

Tom cleared his throat dramatically, spread his hand out before him, and shut his eyes. "Picture the 1890s, you are in Paris... France, mind you...and you and Kathryn are dressed to the nines. You're in a black suit coat with tails, carrying a long ebony walking stick, and she is wearing a large fringed hat and a full skirted velvet dress in a very lovely shade of blue..."

"Green."

Tom opened one eye and looked at his guest. "Green?"

"She looks lovely in green," Chakotay explained sincerely.

Tom shrugged. "Ok, green it is." He shut his eye again and continued. "You board an elegantly appointed train--the Orient Express--all eyes are on you. You make a very handsome couple and people whisper about the mysterious pair."

"Mysterious?"

One blue eye popped opened again. "Do you mind? I'm trying to develop the mood."

"Sorry, please go ahead."

"You make your way down the carpeted center aisle following a young uniformed porter--speaking of green--greener than when Harry came on board Voyager. He shows you to your private compartment..."

Tom continued on with his description. He was very thorough. He described the gold and emerald green painted railway cars and the heavy mahogany doors that would slide shut and afford the two senior offices privacy in their compartment. Even the acrid smell of smoke that was emitted from the smoke stack of the train wasn't overlooked. Chakotay couldn't help but approve. He now saw why Paris was considered such a holoprogram expert as well as a ladies man, he seemed to know all the smooth moves. Chakotay had to admit that B'Elanna had been very lucky.

"...so do you like it?" Tom asked when he was finished and opened his eyes to wait for the older man's response.

Chakotay nodded. "Very much. Sounds like you thought of everything."

Tom smiled. "Thanks, I'm glad you approve. But we are still missing one key ingredient." The smile faded.

"Ingredient?"

"Well do you know her favorite dish?"

"Besides coffee?"

Tom sighed in frustration.

Chakotay brought his hand up to his chin and thought for a while. "Sorry, I guess I don't know. I should."

"Well don't fret, she's expecting me in the holodeck tonight."

Dropping his hand Chakotay looked up at the pilot, jealousy evident on his face.

"Keep your tattoo polished, Commander. I won't be the only one there, Harry, Marla, and maybe even Neelix are supposed to join us. I'm sure you would have been invited too if you weren't on bridge duty tonight. We are going to the movies, Errol Flynn's 1938 classic /"The Adventures of Robin Hood"/ is playing."

"Sounds like they are still trying to keep you busy. Are you still having problems sleeping?"

Tom's good mood faded and he diverted his gaze from Chakotay.

Chakotay placed a comforting hand on Paris' upper arm. "You should see the Doctor and get something to help you."

"I thought of it, but soon rejected the idea. It seems like I'm closest to B'Elanna at night. The other night I could almost see her before me," Tom laughed humorlessly. He was sure the way he seemed to sense B'Elanna seemed ridiculous to everybody but him. "Remember when she came back to Voyager after being on the Malon freighter?"

"I remember," Chakotay replied. He couldn't remember ever seeing B'Elanna looking so bedraggled.

"She was covered in grease and dirt," Tom recalled, "but I thought she was beautiful...that's how she looked last night, like she was in desperate need of a sonic shower and some pampering."

Chakotay remembered that away mission. A mission would have failed if it hadn't been for the resourceful B'Elanna Torres.

::::Commander Chakotay to the bridge.::::

Chakotay grimaced at the interruption. "Sorry, looks like I've got to go."

"No problem, we can't do much until after I talk to the Captain tonight anyway."

"Maybe you should try and get some sleep in the meantime?" Chakotay suggested.

"I'll try and save any sleep for tonight, right now I have to get down to Astrometrics, and then I have a holodeck program to start working on."

"Okay, then we'll talk tomorrow?"

"Sure. Same time..." "...same station," the First Officer finished and with a wave he was gone.

* * * * * * *

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