Part 2

Part 2

"...four, five, six... Damn it, I thought I had a few more left! Looks like I'll have to cut back. If I have half a ration bar a day, I should be able to survive almost another two weeks," B'Elanna muttered to herself. "But as long as the warp drive can keep functioning and if Voyager stops traveling at warp, I have a chance, providing this hunk of junk stays together."

B'Elanna turned away from the near vacant food storage bin and surveyed her surroundings. The small alien ship wasn't any bigger than one of Voyager's shuttles, it was ill kept and looked like it wouldn't be flight worthy. It belonged in the junk yard and not flying in space. It was only through her resourcefulness and ingenuity that it flew at all. Sighing she crawled up into the command chair and that had been serving as her bed and pulled an tattered blanket over her.

Sleep crashed down on her. She deserved it, working hours upon hours on the shuttle before she allowed herself any food or rest. B'Elanna welcomed the slumber. Predictably, she dreamt of her mate. Tonight, Tom Paris appeared to be looking healthier than he had in several weeks, but this time she pictured him talking with Chakotay which was very unusual. Tom and Chakotay never sought out each other's company.

The dream then revealed that Tom was working on something that involved an ancient form of transportation. Recalling her engineering studies, B'Elanna remembered that the item in question had been called a train.

She was just starting to make note of the intricacies of the holoprogram Tom was designing when the ship's computer started to beep wildy. B'Elanna sprung from the chair, throwing the blankets off of her, and she reached out to the computer console. Not being able to read the display, she started performing her own check of the ship's systems. When she reached the communication's array, she knew what the problem was. The already weak emission network had finally sputtered dead. Try as she might, despite hours of labor, she couldn't get it back up and running. Dejectedly she sat back in the chair and wrapped the blanket around her body.

"I'm coming, Tom. Watch for me. I'm coming," she murmured before she once again returned to sleep.

* * * * * *

Entering Holodeck One later that evening, the smell of freshly popped popcorn was the first thing Tom Paris noticed. The second thing was that instead of Harry, Marla, Neelix, and the Captain waiting for him, only Janeway was present. She was dressed casually in a loose V-necked blouse that hinted at her cleavage and a long soft forest green skirt that hung midway between her knees and ankles. Chakotay had been right, she did look good in green.

"Where are the others?" Tom asked. He knew that he was at least five minutes late for the movie and they should be there, yet somehow he also knew that they wouldn't be showing up.

"I don't think they can make it," Janeway told him casually, taking a good look at Paris. He was wearing a pair of black slacks that soft blue shirt of his that she loved which enhanced the color of his eyes. "Harry had to work tonight to cover for Mitchell, and Marla and Neelix were drafted to assist in Security. Seems like there was a serious mixup in the shift schedules," Janeway explained. Nonchalantly, she tucked a lock of her auburn hair behind her left ear. Taking the shift schedules off Chakotay's hands this morning had been a good idea, she concluded. She didn't feel like any excess company tonight.

He also made note of that predatory gleam that lit Janeway's eyes, a look that he had seen before, but usually on one of the Delaney twins when they were on the prowl. Knowing that he obviously had been set up, Tom played it cool.

Janeway approached him, a slight smile on her face. As she neared, Tom could smell her fragrance; a delicate natural sandalwood, that was anything but innocent. "The show's about to start, would you like to get some popcorn?" Janeway asked motioning to the refreshment stand.

"Of course, can't go to a movie without something to eat," Tom moved over toward the stand and ordered an extra large bucket of popcorn, a jumbo size root beer, and a box of jujubes from the holographic attendant. "Can I get you anything, Cap..."

She gave him the famous Janeway evil eye.

"...ah, Katie?" he quickly corrected himself.

"No, thank you. Are you going to eat *all* that stuff?" she asked incredulously. She didn't feel like competing tonight with snack food to gain his attention.

"Well I missed supper," he explained, a half fib. He had eaten a light meal in is quarters. "Sure I can't get you anything?"

"I'm sure." {All I need is you.} "Let's just go in and see the movie. I understand this is a classic."

Tom nodded and Kathryn Janeway led the way through the heavy wooden doors that separated the lobby from the theater. Gripping Tom by the upper arm, Janeway steered him through the aisles to a pair of seats toward the darkest part of the theater--all the way in the back.

"Sure you don't want to sit closer to the screen?" Tom asked pulling away from her grip slightly.

Kathryn tightened her hold. "No, actually, this looks very comfortable," she insisted and pulled him along until they were finally at their destination.

Sitting in the "make-out" area wasn't a good idea, he thought. Placing the popcorn on the floor, Tom pulled the seat down behind him and sat down while Kathryn did the same. After they were both seated comfortably side by side, he reached down and picked up the popcorn, offered her some which she refused, and began nibbling on it.

They settled in to watch the movie. The lights dimmed in the theater and soon the introduction came on the screen explaining about Richard the Lion-Heart and the situation England faced at the time, followed by the movie itself.

Keeping the popcorn in between them provided enough of a barrier to keep Janeway from becoming too close--and it seemed to work-- for awhile. Tom made it through the plotting and scheming of the Sherif of Nottingham and King John. He and Janeway watched the Robin Hood meet and become friends with Will Scarlet, challenge Little John, and force Friar Tuck to carry the archer across the stream. All the while he didn't notice that Janeway had started to help herself to the popcorn, his defense mechanism was becoming weaker all the time.

Then the scene he had been waiting for came on the screen--Maid Marian and her party had just been taken captive by Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and the famous feast in the forest had begun. Seeing the variety of foods being prepared for the meal, Tom leaned toward the Captain and whispered in her ear.

"That looks like a roast boar," Tom commented seeing a large pig- like animal on a spit being turned over an open fire.

"I like pork, but I don't think I could eat that. It seems so crude," Janeway admitted scrunching her nose reflecting her distaste.

"Not your favorite?" Tom asked trying to draw out some information that he and Chakotay could use.

Janeway tilted her head nearer Paris. "No, I actually prefer Italian," she admitted.

"I bet you went to Giovanni's when you were at the Academy," Tom concluded.

She grinned. "How did you guess?"

"Well, Gio did have the best Italian food. I, in particular, loved his shrimp scampi served over linguini."

"Mmmmm, that was good, but I always favored that special he served on Tuesdays. Maybe you remember, he used the bow-tie pasta and served it with a light garlic sauce with grilled vegetables."

Inside Tom smiled. He had the information he needed for Chakotay, now he just had to make it through the rest of the movie.

Turning back to the movie, Janeway sighed when she saw Robin Hood and Maid Marian together. He was the dashing nobleman turned to living among thieves and she was the proud aristocratic lady. In some ways she thought of how it mirrored her and Tom's situation at one time when he first came on board.

Sitting down for dinner together, the movie pair started to trade barbs but quickly became more amiable towards each other. Robin Hood seemed to intrigue Maid Marian; much like a certain former Chief Pilot intrigued the Captain.

/*/"Are you really interested in learning why I turned outlaw? Or are you afraid of the truth, or of me perhaps?" Robin asked Maid Marian with a devil-may-care smile on his face./*/

/*/Defiantly, Maid Marian replied. "I am afraid of nothing, least of all you!"/*/

"I think she should be afraid," Tom commented, taking advantage of the opportunity. "She knows almost nothing about him, other than he was a nobleman turned thief."

Janeway tilted her head to the side and looked up at her companion. "Don't you believe in love at first sight?"

Tom thought for a moment, and then spoke, carefully selecting his words. "Sometimes I do, but I have found that it's a rarity. Mostly I think people mistake love at first sight for lust at first sight, particularly if they are lonely. After they get to know the person, they find that their original impression doesn't usually come up to par." Tom hoped she'd take the hint.

"But sometimes you just know," Janeway countered and leaned closer, her lips almost touching Paris' ear. "Sometimes your heart doesn't lie," she whispered huskily. Tom could feel her warm breath against his skin. "Sometimes you have to act."

He turned toward her and she leaned forward. Their lips pressed together. Kathryn felt white hot passion and parted her lips to allow him access. Tom though felt only warmth and embarrassment and promptly pulled away.

Not deterred, Janeway leaned in even closer. He stopped her by quickly grabbing a hold of her upper arms with both of his hands and pushed her back. "Captain!" Tom gasped. "I'm sorry, I just can't. Computer," he called out, "stop movie, and increase illumination 20 percent."

::::Acknowledged::::

The film on movie screen froze and the overhead lights lit the theater in a soft glow. Tom could see the droop of Janeway's lip and the blush on her cheek, and he knew how disappointed and embarrassed she was that he hadn't returned her advances.

Embarrassed, she pulled back. "Tom, I'm...I'm sorry. I feel so...so ashamed."

"No, I'm the one that's sorry. I knew that you were feeling something, but I convinced myself that it would pass. I should have talked to you about it."

"It's my fault," she replied. "I don't know why exactly I went after you. You are damn good looking, and fun to be around, but you are nothing like Mark."

"Perhaps you were lonely?" Tom questioned tenderly. "We've been out here a long time, Katie. Following Starfleet regulations, you're choices have been very limited as to who you could get involved with."

She smiled slightly. "I've always been a stickler for the regulations."

"You shouldn't deprive yourself. Even you deserve to be happy."

Janeway sighed. "Just not with you, huh?"

"I'm flattered, really I am. But my heart belongs to B'Elanna. We were joined, both physically and in here," Tom tapped his chest above his heart.

"It's too soon for us."

"It may always be too soon, not only for us, but for anyone else. I just can't see myself with anyone but B'Elanna. I really hope you can understand."

She nodded and a gentle smile lit her face. "B'Elanna was a lucky woman, Tom..."

"No I'm the lucky one to have found her," he corrected.

Janeway placed her palm against Tom's cheek in comfort, but he didn't waiver in his gaze.

::::Captain, alien vessels are approaching Voyager.::::

Despite the situation, Tuvok's voice remained as calm and cool as always.

Janeway sighed and removed her hand from Paris' face. "On my way, Commander. Call Commander Chakotay to join me on the bridge."

::::Aye, Captain.::::

* * * * * * *

"Not going on shore leave, Paris?" Chakotay asked poking his dark head into Astrometrics only to find Tom poring over readouts and star charts. By good fortune, the aliens they had encountered turned out to be very friendly and hospitable, thus affording Voyager a chance to replenish its stores and allowing the crew to enjoy some well-deserved shore leave.

Tom looked up at the Commander and smiled. "No, you go ahead. I have something I want to check out here, while Seven is gone."

"While she's gone?"

"Yeah, Harry convinced her to go with him to the planet, so I'm taking advantage of it. She tends to hover when she's in here with me. Seems to think I can't manage on my own. Like this," Tom tapped at the blip on the screen in front of him. "She'd tell me this was nothing but a sensor echo or a spatial anomaly and dash all my hopes."

Chakotay inhaled slowly, held it for a moment to try and remain, and then released his breath and his thought. "Perhaps, she'd just be telling you the truth?"

"Perhaps, but something about this..." Tom swung his arms wide. "...feels different than before. I just can't explain it. There is nothing on any of the computers, that can back up that feeling, but it's here." He struck the middle of his chest with a clenched fist. "Call it intuition, desperation..I don't know, but it's strong!"

"Is there anything I can do? Do you need any help?" Chakotay couldn't believe that he was asking Tom if he needed any assistance. Was he starting to believe as well that B'Elanna might have survived?

"Thanks for the offer, but I think I have it pretty well under control. The computer is extrapolating information, and probably won't be done for sometime. In fact, now would be a good time to finish the holodeck program."

"Are you sure."

"You bet."

* * * * * *

With a tap of his finger, Tom terminated the holodeck program. For the time being Chakotay's program, or as Tom referred to it "Cyrano de Bergerac meets the Tattooed Terror" was complete. The program was ready to be used for the first time, and in the future Chakotay would be able to alter and augment.

"Remember, Chakotay, if the Captain asks, you did the programming."

"But that would be a lie, you did most of the work."

"I'll deny it if I'm ever asked. I'll just say that you asked me a few questions, but you did all the programming yourself."

"I don't know, Paris, it is very dishonest."

"What she doesn't know, won't hurt her. Besides, I thought you wanted to take her out on a special date? But perhaps I was wrong, I could always upload this program into the public access area, and anybody on the ship could use it."

"Don't you dare!"

Tom grinned. "Have fun, and remember everything I told you."

Chakotay nodded. "Thanks, Cyrano, I think I owe you."

"Please, not again. Just chalk this up to me being a romantic at heart. Okay?"

Chakotay smiled. "Thanks."

* * * * * *

Turning down the corridor to her cabin, a tired Janeway having spent most of the day on the planet in diplomatic discussions walked to her quarters and keyed open the door. As soon as she entered her cabin and the door swished shut behind her, she began to remove the stifling Starfleet dress uniform. Her fingers stilled on the neck fasteners when she noted that she had a message on her communications system. Accessing the message she was surprised to see that it contained an invitation to participate in a program on the holodeck. It even stated that the appropriate attired would be provided upon entry into Holodeck Two, but the message itself was unsigned.

"Tom, you didn't have to," Janeway murmured thinking that this was the pilot's way of saying that he was sorry he had rejected her advances. Quickly, she left her cabin, buoyed with renewed vigor and enthusiasm. Her steps quickened as she made her way to the holodecks.

When she arrived, she entered the Holodeck to find that a luxurious velvet green dress had been laid out on a high-backed chair in a candle-lit entry way behind the main holodeck doors.

Accompanying it on a mahogany side table was a pair of black heeled shoes and a matching black beaded handbag, as well as a pair of onyx and silver combs that sparkled in the candlelight. Removing her dress uniform, she pulled on the shoes using the accompanying buttonhook to fasten them, and dropped the full- skirted dress over her head.

The detail on the dress was exceptional, with a contrasting tan- colored braid that adorned the skirt and the high-necked ruffled bodice. Next she pulled her hair back on each side with the help of the combs, and was about to leave the room when she saw that under the dress hung a silver necklace that had a black onyx pendant attached to it that matched the design on the combs. Fastening the necklace around her neck, she found that it easily reached her waist.

Tom certainly had good taste she concluded. She was anxious to discover what lay behind the other door in this changing area. Inspecting her dress in the large mirror that was hung on one of the walls, Janeway smoothed the skirt and adjusted her hair combs one more time before the moved towards the door. There she found on a shelf beside the door a pair of soft black kid-leather gloves and leaning up against the wall next to the door was a green parasol that matched her dress. She tugged on the gloves, finding that they fit like a second skin; and grabbing the parasol she opened the door and stepped into the holodeck program that was already running.

The sun was shining brightly, and the temperature suggested that the time of year must be mid-spring. Following the example of the holodeck characters that she noticed, she opened the parasol and placed it against her shoulder to protect herself from the sun's rays. Turning around to observe her surroundings, Kathryn Janeway found that she was in a city, with a number of large brick buildings and towering above them silhouetted against the morning sunshine was none other than the Eiffel Tower.

{How appropriate, in Paris with Paris.}

"Kathryn!"

Surprised, Janeway realized that if wasn't Tom who called her name, it was her First Officer. Pivoting on her heel toward the sound of the well known voice, she saw the ex-Maquis leader approaching her. He was dressed in a dashing black suit offset by a stark white shirt and a gray and white stripped tie, and he was carrying a black shiny silver-tipped walking stick.

"Chakotay?"

"Well, what do you think?" he flung his arms wide.

"It's impressive. Did you do all this yourself?"

"Don't you like it? I think you look wonderful in green," he sidestepped her question, pointing to the dress.

Janeway smiled and smoothed out the skirt with one gloved hand. "It's wonderful. I love the color. The weather is beautiful, the flowers are in bloom, and everything looks very authentic."

"I'm glad you like it." Chakotay joined her and guiding her with a hand on her elbow down a small, but quaint side street. "I hope you don't mind that I didn't create a hat for you, but when I saw the pictures of the hair combs in the database, I couldn't imagine covering them up with one of those large hats they wore back then--besides I like your hair."

Kathryn reached up and touched one of the combs and smiled at her First Officer fondly. "I think you made the right choice. I was never much for wearing hats, and I love the combs."

"They're yours, a gift from me to you."

"The occasion?"

Chakotay grinned and his dimples deepened. "The occasion? Well let's see, is it your birthday?"

"No. Not for another two months."

"Hmmmm, anniversary of some type?"

"Not that I know of."

"Then, I guess you'll just have to consider it a gift of friendship and aff...affection."

"You shouldn't have, they must have cost you a week's worth of replicator rations."

"Actually, three, but they are worth it, Kathryn, if they make you happy. Please keep them."

Janeway smiled softly. "All right. You convinced me, but where are we going?" The smell of fine French roast coffee permeated the air and it made the Captain yearn for a cup. "These little French cafe's look delightful, and the smell of the coffee is..." She breathed in deeply. "....divine."

Chakotay hurried her along past the cafes. "We'll be late if we don't hurry."

"Late? Where are you taking me?" she asked as she tried to keep up with his long legs.

"Don't you trust me?"

"Of course, it's just that..."

"You're in the holodeck, Kathryn. Forget that you are the captain for once, and let me worry about all the who, whats, wheres, and whys."

He was beginning to intrigue her. Was this the same man who had sat beside her on the bridge for the last six years? "It's forgotten."

"Really?"

"Well...um...I'm willing to at least give it a try."

Turning a corner down another street that was lined with shops and flowers, they hurried towards their destination.

"Good, we haven't missed it," Chakotay remarked.

"Missed it?"

A loud whistle blew and the unmistakable chug-chug of an approaching train could be heard.

"The train, Kathryn--the famous historic Orient Express."

She would have stopped dead in her tacks, if it hadn't been that Chakotay was pulling her along. Chakotay escorted a spellbound Kathryn Janeway onto the train, and true to Tom Paris' original description, many of the other passengers waiting to board whispered about them, speculating about who they were and where they were going.

* * * * *

Dressed in his blue robe, Tom was in his bathroom sonic brushing his teeth. He was about to turn in for the night when the door chime to his quarters sounded twice.

"Hold your warp core, I'm coming!" Paris called out. Padding over to the door he keyed it open, only to find Chakotay standing anxiously on the other side.

"You got a minute?"

"Sure," Tom waved him inside. "Come on in."

Chakotay quickly stepped inside and the door hissed closed.

"How'd it go, Romeo?" Tom asked and motioned for the First Officer to have a seat.

Chakotay lowered himself into the sofa, a grin plastered on his tanned face. "I think it went very well."

"I can see that, if I'm not mistaken, that's the Captain's favorite shade as of late."

Chakotay looked quizzically at the pilot, not understanding the remark.

With a flick of a finger Tom touched his own cheek. The older man then realized to what the pilot was referring to, and rubbed at the faint mark that still remained of Kathryn Janeway's lipstick.

Tom sat down on the chair and leaned back, quite proud of the apparent success of his program. This matchmaking stuff was pretty easy if you knew what you were doing, he thought. "Looks like our program worked out fine," he remarked.

"It was better than fine, Tom. She had a fabulous time. Kathryn told me that she adores Earth's late 19th century. She also told me," dimples in evidence, "that she always thought there was something romantic about train travel."

"Excellent. Some things work out even better than you can imagine. So give me some details....at least the ones you can share."

Chakotay chuckled. "She loved her dress and the hair combs. I told you green was the right color to chose."

Tom grinned. "That you did, but I don't remember you inserting any hair combs into the program."

"They were a gift from me to her...and she loved them."

Tom reached over the punched the First Officer in the shoulder good humoredly. "You don't need any help from me, you're doing just fine on your own! That was a nice touch."

"Thanks but she was a little upset that I wouldn't let her stop and go into one of those Parisian cafes. She soon forgave me though when she saw the train."

"So, you did like I suggested and led her right past the cafes?"

Chakotay nodded.

"They may deny it, but most women like a man to take charge at least some of the time."

"I wouldn't have believed Kathryn would have felt that way, but she proved me wrong.

Tom leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees. "So did she like the meal?"

"She loved it." Chakotay grinned broadly. "She savored every bite."

"And afterwards, she kissed you?" Tom prompted.

"No, not yet."

The smile on Tom's face fell a little.

"Afterwards, she sat next to me while the train wove its way through the French countryside. The steady thrum and movement of the train relaxed her and she rested her head against my shoulder while she dozed." Chakotay tapped his right shoulder. "It was wonderful. Kathryn seemed very comfortable with me."

"I'm happy for you," Tom said but he was getting frustrated. "So when did she kiss you?"

"Haven't I told you yet?"

"No!"

Chakotay smiled, he liked to see Paris get anxious for a change; usually the pilot played it so cool and confident.

"Well I'm coming to it. Our holodeck time was coming to an end. As we disembarked from the train she leaned over to me, thanked me, and kissed me on," he motioned to his face. "...my cheek."

"And?" Tom stared at the First Officer his mouth agape.

"And, that's it, I didn't expect much more on the first date. My grandfather always told me if it was meant to be it will happen."

"Sounds like he was a wise man," Tom noted. "So are you going to ask her out for real this time?"

"I'm already ahead of you, I made a date for next week. Kathryn asked when we could use the program again. She even suggested that we work on a scenario together for the 'Romance on the Orient Express' program during the week."

"Nice name. Your idea?"

Chakotay grinned. "No, hers, and next time she wants to add some mystery and a maybe spy or two."

"Sounds perfect," Tom beamed. "Looks like already I've outlived my usefulness."

"Are you telling me if I have any questions or need to discuss an idea or two, you won't hear me out?"

"Not at all, my door is always open," Tom generously replied.

"Thanks, Paris."

"No problem. I hope it works out for you two."

Chakotay extended his hand and Tom took it in his own and shook it. "Me too, and if it does, we'll have you to thank."

* * * * * *

With the last of her emergency rations eaten, B'Elanna couldn't keep her eyes open any longer and crawled up in the ship's command chair so she could nap. It was austere looking, with its heavy use of synthetic leather and metal trim, but it provided the most comfortable sleeping accommodations on the small ship. Extending a tired arm she made a final check of the ship's sensors

B'Elanna looked at the ship's sensor readout. It was faint, but definitely there. Weak as she was from lack of food and sleep, she was overjoyed--she had finally caught up with Voyager; there was no mistaking a Federation warp signature in this corner of space. With the last of her strength waning, she activated and locked the autopilot onto Voyager and collapsed, not noticing that another vessel was approaching hers.

* * * * * *

Wide-eyed, Tom Paris bolted upright from his bed. The image had been so clear, so distinct this time. She was ill and she needed him. In his mind, he could still see his B'Elanna as she lay curled up in a ball in what appeared to be either a large chair or some type of bench. Throwing the covers off his body, the pilot pulled on the pair of rumpled tan-colored slacks he had worn the day before, and flew out of his cabin en route to the bridge.

His journey did not go unnoticed. It wasn't everyday that a bare-chested Tom Paris ran through the corridors of the ship. If the female complement of the ship had their way though, it wouldn't be the last.

* * * * * *

The turbolift doors were barely open when Tom sprung onto the bridge. Due to his half-dressed state, he elicited a lot of curious looks.

"Captain!" Tom called out.

Janeway, still seated in her command chair, and oblivious to what the other bridge crew were gawking at, turned at Tom's urgent voice. She stared at her former chief pilot, not knowing immediately how to respond.

Tom approached the railing that ran along behind the command center, and gripping it tightly he leaned over towards Janeway. "Captain, we have to go back!" he continued.

Janeway rose to face him, Chakotay followed suit. "Mr. Paris, explain yourself. What are you doing on my bridge dressed in such a state, and what do you mean 'go back'?!"

Tom looked down, only then realizing that he hadn't bothered to pull on a shirt before he had left his cabin. He pushed aside any momentary embarrassment and addressed Janeway. "That doesn't matter, Captain. But we have to go back, B'Elanna, may be dying."

"Excuse me?"

"I...I had a...er...dr..dream, Captain. B'Elanna was on a ship and she was very ill. I've dreamt of her before, but this time the feeling was so much more intense." Tom facial expression implored wordlessly that she believe him.

"Tom, I explained to you, that B'Elanna is..."

"I know what you explained to me, but you're wrong--everyone is wrong. She's alive, or at least she is right now, but she may not be for long if we don't hurry," The desperation that he was experiencing was plainly evident with the way his blue eyes sought out her understanding.

"Tom," she began, reverting to his first name, "we cannot..."

"All I ask is to have, Tuvok..." Tom turned around to look at the stoic Vulcan, "...adjust his instruments to scan for the presence of Tyberian ore and scan for a small ship that is approaching us from an approximate heading of 5407.2."

"Tyberian ore?" Janeway questioned.

"It's a predominate mineral in this section of space, that I believe is used to construct spaceships in this sector. Please, Captain!"

Janeway looked over to Tuvok and nodded slightly. "And if we don't find anything, you'll report to sickbay. You've been under a lot of stress and I think it's time the Doctor..."

Tuvok who had quickly adjusted his sensors to the specifications Paris had suggested looked up from his panel. "There is a ship matching our course, Captain...and there also appears to be another ship--a larger ship--rapidly closing on the smaller ship's location."

Tom slapped his hands in triumph against the metal rail. "It's B'Elanna!" he called out.

"I cannot confirm or deny the presence of anyone on either vessel, Mr. Paris," Tuvok noted.

Harry from his station looked up apprehensively, waiting for the command to hail either ship.

"One thing at a time, Mr. Paris," Janeway cautioned. "Mr. Kim hail the lead vessel."

"Aye, Captain." Harry made the necessary adjustments, and tense silent seconds passed before he finally looked up toward Janeway. "I'm receiving no reply, Captain. It could be due to that Tyberian ore that the ship is constructed with. I know in the Alpha Quadrant, that some members of the Federation have tried using Tyberian ore but the Federation discovered that it wasn't compatible with the transporter or communication frequencies."

Janeway pondered the information for a moment. Was it worth it to reverse their course with only Tom Paris' feelings as a basis for investigation?

"Can you raise the larger ship, Mr. Kim?" Janeway asked, though her gaze remained locked on Tom Paris.

"No, ma'am. No reply."

Tom eagerly leaped over the rail and stood face to face with the Captain. "Let me take the Delta Flyer and investigate, Captain. Please. Voyager isn't functioning at peak efficiency and is unable to achieve optimum warp..but the Flyer can. I can dock with the ship and be back before the larger ship can catch up."

Janeway looked over her shoulder to her First Officer. Chakotay merely nodded.

"Very well, Mr. Paris. You can go, but I'm warning you, make it quick," Janeway relented.

"Yes, ma'am." He looked over her head and to Harry Kim.

Harry didn't have to be prompted twice. "Captain, permission to accompany Mr. Paris?"

The Captain turned and faced her ops officer. Having Harry go with Tom would be good insurance. "Very well, but be careful...both of you."

* * * * * * *

"You sure you want to come with me?" Tom asked, now dressed in more appropriate civilian attire.

From his station on the Delta Flyer Harry adjusted this control panel. "I didn't think I had any choice," he quipped. Even Robin Hood had his Merry Men. Just think of me as Little John."

"Little John?" Tom never envisioned that Harry held any resemblance to that large man of yore.

"Will Scarlett?" Harry tried.

"Better, at least we knew he was musical," Tom laughed and continued to prep the Delta Flyer for the mission. "Systems all set to go, you ready?"

Harry flipped a couple of switches and adjusted a knob. "All set, Tom."

* * * * * * *

"Delta Flyer will dock with the vessel in twenty minutes, Captain."

"Very good, Mr. Tuvok, continue to monitor them."

This heroic action Tom was taking reminded Janeway of the film she had recently seen with the pilot. She could imagine him as Robin Hood, sweeping in to save a damsel in distress. And while she could respect Tom's daring, somehow it didn't dazzle her the way it might have in the recent past. She had found that her First Officer possessed depths that intrigued her more, and she was anxious to examine them further.

"Captain, the larger vessel is hailing us."

Janeway turned to the tall redhead that was manning Harry's station. "I thought we couldn't establish communications due to the Tyberian ore?"

"It seems that the aliens have the ability to decide how and when they make contact, Captain."

"They may have some type of dampening field that they can activate at will, Captain," Tuvok explained.

Janeway nodded and turned toward the view screen sitting tall in her command chair. "Very well, Tuvok, put them through."

The view screen came to life and a clearly irate alien was displayed. He was extremely pale of face, to a point where he looked like a mime. His facial features resembled a human, except for an extra triple fold of skin that encircled his head from just above his black eyes. It looked like his halo had slipped.

::::My name is Commander Xytah of the Salian merchant fleet. I demand to know why you have sent a ship to intercept one of our shuttles::::

"I'm glad to make your acquaintance, Commander," Janeway remarked cooly. "My name is Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager. The small ship you see approaching your vessel is merely trying to ascertain if there is anyone on board that requires medical assistance," she reassured him. No point in letting him know that Voyager was unable to detect any life signs at all on the scout ship.

::::There is no need, Captain, we were just coming to provide the necessary assistance. You see the person on board that ship, confiscated the vessel illegally. We are here to return our property, and to return that person to her owner.::::

{Her? Is it possible Tom was correct? B'Elanna would be very capable of stealing a vessel and fleeing the aliens.}

"To her *owner*, Commander?" Chakotay remarked.

::::Alas she was not born with the markings of the upper caste,:::: He touched his circle of folds. ::::According to our custom, even though I know it sounds barbaric to outworlders, she is part of one of the lower castes, and her role in our society is that of a servant::::

Janeway glanced down to computer readout that was situated between herself and Chakotay. She had to stall him for another five minutes before the Delta Flyer could dock with the other ship so Tom would have enough time to return to Voyager safely.

"Our ship can reach the vessel much quicker than yours can. Surely you don't begrudge our assistance?" Janeway asked.

::::I assure you it isn't necessary.::::

"My dear Commander, I believe it is."

* * * * * *

"They are hailing us again, Tom," Harry called out, having received a hail from the large alien vessel.

"Ignore them, let Voyager handle any communication. We have other things to do."

"Right."

"We are almost in position, are you ready?"

Harry came forward to help Tom with the docking mechanism.

"I'm preparing to dock, be ready to activate the docking clamp."

"I'm on it."

With a soft thud the Delta Flyer connected to the smaller ship.

"Since we've docked, I am now able to scan the ship, Tom. The atmosphere inside is breathable, and..." He looked up to his friend who was already preparing himself to leave the Flyer. "There is one life sign...a female Human-Klingon hybrid. Her life signs are weak."

* * * * * *

Tom pushed against the access hatch of the alien ship, his heart was beating madly at the prospect of seeing and holding his love in his arms once again. He put all his weight against the rusty hatch before it finally moved. With a terrible creaking sound, the hatch opened. Cautiously he stepped inside, his weapon drawn prepared for the unknown.

"B'Elanna!?" he called out, but received no reply.

The interior of the ship, he discovered, looked even worse for wear that the ship's outer hull. Wires hung from the ceiling, in what looked like a make-shift repair...something that B'Elanna specialized in during times of emergency. Stepping around ductwork that had fallen from the overhead and detouring around a spaghetti pile of cable, Tom worked his way forward.

Continuing to call her name, Tom quickened his pace. Reaching the ship's small bridge, Paris noticed the large command chair that was placed in the center of the area...and one small hand that hung over the edge...a hand that he'd know anywhere.

{Please, God, let me get to her in time. Don't let her be...}

He circled the chair and saw the same B'Elanna Torres that he had been seeing in his dreams. She was dirty and frail, but he thought she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen..... Gently, he pulled the limp form of his lover into his arms.

"B'Elanna," he whispered brushing her dark hair away from her face, "it's Tom." Seeing the ugly scar along her cheek he grimaced at what might have inflicted such damage to her. "B'Elanna, it's me. Can you hear me?"

A lip moved slightly and an eye fluttered. "Tom?" a small voice answered back. B'Elanna's eyes parted slightly, and upon seeing her mate she softly smiled and drifted off back to sleep or unconsciousness. Tom wasn't sure.

:::Tom, we have to hurry, the larger ship is closing in.::::

"I found her, Harry. We're coming."

A broad grin spread across Harry's face as he waited anxiously in the Flyer for his friends return.

Hearing the sound of Tom's footsteps get closer, Harry moved to the docking portal.

"Give me a hand, Harry!" Tom called out from the other side of the docking area. "I'm going to pass her through the opening, then I want you to place her on the emergency biobed. Before we head back to Voyager, I want to examine B'Elanna and stabilize her condition."

"I'm ready, Tom. Just pass her through to me," Harry replied, holding our his arms he accepted the gift that Tom entrusted to him. He was relieved to finally see his long time missing friend...a friend that he thought had been dead. Only Tom had believed that she was still alive. He marveled at how light she was, and then was almost sickened when he realized that it was due to the ill-treatment and amount of weight she had lost since she had left Voyager. Gently, Harry took her to the back of the ship and placed her on the emergency biobed.

Tom pulled his long frame through the opening, and he observed that Harry had already placed B'Elanna on the biobed that was located in the aft section of the ship. The pilot quickly joined them and helped Harry strap B'Elanna safely to the bed.

"She looks bad," Harry noted.

Tom palmed B'Elanna's dark hair away from her face before he reached for the medical tricorder. On Voyager she had taken great care of her tresses, even though perhaps only he knew what great pains she took to keep her hair shiny and manageable. Being a private person, it wasn't information that she would have circulated through the ship. She had never even told him, but he knew, that she considered her richly colored mane to be her one beauty. She always short-changed herself, Tom thought, when it came to her appearance.

"She looks beautiful to me, Harry," Tom remarked and began scanning his patient. "Two broken ribs--improperly set if they were set at all--one cracked jaw, signs of malnutrition...," Tom reeled out a long list of assorted injuries and bruises. "Doesn't look like she's had a decent meal in a long time...let alone a shower or bath. If it wasn't for the fact that she's half-Klingon, I don't think she could have survived."

"But she made it," Harry stated. Paris selected two hyposprays-- one filled with a nutritional supplement and the other containing a combination pain killer and antibiotic.

"Yes, she survived, but at what cost?" Tom asked.

Harry looked up and noted the mixture of love, relief, and pain that was expressed on Tom's fair face. "You know you can rely on me if either of you need anything," Harry offered.

{You standing by us, is something I'd never question.}

Nodding, Tom returned the hypospray to the medkit. Turning back to B'Elanna he double-checked the biobed restraints and bending over her, he placed a kiss on lips that he thought he'd never feel again. The last time he had tasted their sweetness though they weren't chapped and cracked--but the best part of all was that they were warm. She was alive, and he was determined that she'd stay alive. We'll bring you back to health, he promised silently, before he lifted his head to look at his friend.

"Let's get going, Harry. The sooner we are within transporter range, the sooner B'Elanna..."

::::Alien vessel approaching on a course of 253. Interception will occur in twelve point three minutes::::

The pair didn't need to be prompted twice and dashed to their respective stations. Tom quickly prepped the Flyer for takeoff and Harry released the docking clamp.

"Ready whenever you are," Harry rang out. "I've sent a transmission to Voyager instructing them to transport B'Elanna as soon as we are within range."

"Excellent! Let's rock and roll!"

Harry activated the Flyer's forcefield and Tom powered up the swift ship and began heading back to Voyager.

"How long until Voyager can beam her aboard?" Tom asked.

"Present rate of speed--approximately fifteen minutes."

"Transmission coming in from the alien ship," Harry called out.

"Put 'em through," Paris barked.

::::Voyager ship, we demand that you return our property immediately.:::: The voice sounded deep and menacing.

"Property?" Tom questioned.

::::The woman that you removed from the ship, she belongs to us. We insist that you relinquish her.::::

"The woman in question happens to be a member of my ship's crew," Tom spat, "and my mate."

::::The captain of this vessel legally purchased her at the slave market on Oblig. She belongs to him.::::

"B'Elanna Torres could belong to no one. Your Captain may have thought that he owned her, but he was gravely mistaken. B'Elanna has returned home to her ship and to me, and I'll be damned if I'll give her back to you!" Tom roared. Harry hearing the barely contained rage in Tom's voice, was very glad that he was not the recipient of his friend's ire.

::::You will give her back or face the consequences!:::: The alien's voice sounded strained and on the verge of erupting in uncontrolled anger.

"And you and your ship can go straight to hell!" Tom snapped.

::::You have been warned.::::

"They've terminated communications," Harry commented. "They've also reinforced their shields and powered weapons."

"Looks like we are in for a fight," Tom concluded. "Can you raise Voyager?"

"Not yet--still too much interference--but I'll keep trying."

"Can the Flyer's forcefield keep our guests at bay?"

"Hard to tell--but I doubt the shields will hold long enough for us to reach transporter range, and Voyager can't transport with the shields up."

Tom flipped a series of switches and adjusted a few knobs. "I guess we'll just have to distract them."

"Do you have a plan?"

"I'm working on it. Man, the tactical station and prepare aft torpedoes and phasers."

Harry nodded, spun around and moved to another console. He nimbly initiated a series of commands.

"All set, Tom," he noted.

"Good. Keep me informed of their location."

"Aye, aye. Tom, they fired!" Harry warned.

"Initiating evasive maneuver Beta 5," Tom automatically called out. The pilot banked the Flyer and easily avoided the first volley of pulsing projectile. Then he resumed his original course back to Voyager, but this time with a variety of zigs and zags thrown in. "Fire at will, Harry, but only the phasers. I have something else planned for the torpedoes."

"Acknowledged."

"How much longer until they reach the alien shuttle?" Tom asked, his hands in constant motion.

"Seven point two minutes," Harry called out. The ops officer was busy trying unsuccessfully to harm the larger ship with phaser power, but the shots just ricocheted off the other ship's shields.

"In approximately five and a half minutes, I want you to launch a photon torpedo aimed at the shuttle," Tom ordered.

"You're going to blow her up?"

"That's the plan."

Harry grinned. He liked it.

"I want this timed so the ship explodes as near to their shields as possible," Tom instructed. "I'm betting that whatever is powering that shuttle will have enough of an impact to disable the larger ship."

"Well our weapons certainly don't appear to be having much of an affect," Harry replied. "I'll plot the alien ship's course."

"Good. The timing has to be perfect to achieve the optimum effect." Tom swung the Delta Flyer away to avoid another volley. "You let me know just before you're going to fire, and I'll level off. I want your shots to be as accurate as possible."

"Don't worry, Tom, I won't let you down."

The pilot nodded, and concentrated on his task, knowing that there was nobody else he'd want manning tactical aside from Tuvok.

Harry carefully monitored his instruments. The minutes ticked slowly by while Tom tried to avoid the enemy's fire. Finally the time was nearing and the distance between the little shuttle and the big ship closed.

"It's time, Tom."

"Acknowledged. I'll keep the Flyer steady for as long as I can. You just make sure that you blow that sonofabitch up."

"Don't worry, I won't miss," Harry vowed.

Tom held the ship steady, Harry held his finger on the button.

"C'mon, just a little but further," Harry coaxed the large ship. "Just a little bit more, and we'll get you back for what you did to B'Elanna. Hold it steady, Tom." Harry cautioned and purposefully pressed the launch button and one strategically aimed photon torpedo shot out of the Flyers' torpedo bay and headed towards its target.

"Torpedo away, Tom. Impact in 10 seconds, 9, 8..."

Sweat broke out on the young ops officer's forehead as it continued the countdown.

"5, 4...."

Tom banked the ship to starboard to avoid being hit.

"2...1!"

The small ship exploded and neatly stopped the large ship in it's warp tracks. "GOT IT!" Harry yelled out as the flash of the blast illuminated the Flyer.

"Way to go, Robin Hood," Tom called out happily. "Now let's get B'Elanna within transporter range so the Doc can look her over."

"I thought I was Will Scarlett?"

* * * * * * * * *

"It's good to see that B'Elanna is on the road to recovery," Chakotay whispered in the Captain's ear. They were standing in sickbay near the main door. Across the room Tom Paris was seated on a chair beside the biobed where B'Elanna lay, her head propped up with pillows. The newly pipped ensign held her hand in both of his, and by the looks of it, was talking softly to her.

"They belong together, don't they?" Janeway whispered. Chakotay who stood beside the Captain tilted his head in her direction, his lips grazed her ear.

"Yes, I believe they do. A love like theirs is very special, it comes along once in a lifetime. My grandfather would say that it's a love that can't be denied. I envy the bond that they share."

"I think maybe we should leave them alone, Commander. They have a lot to catch up on," Janeway looked up at her companion, her eyes lit with a softness that melted Chakotay's heart. "Maybe we could see if one of the holodecks is vacant and we could take a ride on the Orient Express again?"

"Of course," he replied. "Since our last visit, I've added a few things...a little more character and a lot more mystery." Janeway smiled, she was starting to appreciate the quiet man that sat beside her on the bridge more and more. Galanty, Chakotay offered her his arm and the pair left Sickbay.

"Tom, you don't have to stay," B'Elanna insisted. I'm not going to disappear."

Tom Paris slowly stroked the back of her hand with the pad of his thumb, like one would rub a talisman for good luck. "Indulge me this little pleasure, B'Elanna," he replied. "I'm afraid if I leave this will all have been a figment of my imagination. This is the first day since your return that the Doctor has let me stay for more than a few minutes, and I work in here. I can think of nothing I'd rather do than be here with you."

"I'm flattered, but I still look horrible."

"To me, you're the most beautiful woman in the universe."

B'Elanna smiled at the now familiar compliment. "You need your eyes examined, it's a wonder they let you fly," she countered. He smiled at the often heard rejoinder, he had missed her quick tongue. "Doc may have healed my bumps and bruises, but I still have a ways to go before I regain the weight I lost. I'm all skin and bones."

"I still think you're gorgeous. Besides, it's not your fault you were in such poor condition when we found you."

"No, that's true, it was them--the Salian's--they were responsible for most of it."

"They were the ones that found you after the accident?"

B'Elanna shook her head, her dark hair swung away from her face. It wouldn't be long before she regained the shine to her tresses, Tom thought, already they were looking better due to the supplements the Doctor had been administering.

"No, that was another race--I never got their name.. I just called them the Big, Bad, and the Ugly. The were much like the Hirogen, except they didn't do that painting crap on their faces, and they stank like they hadn't bathed in months," B'Elanna crinkled her nose at the memory and then continued her tale. "They had three ships, a bit bigger than the Delta Flyer. We tried to get away but Mitchell did the best he could, we were outnumbered. You would have been proud of him, Tom." B'Elanna paused and bit her lip remembering the buoyant pilot.

Tom remembered the memorial service they had held for Mitchell, and the words that he had spoke at the ceremony. Losing anyone on a ship the size of Voyager was difficult, but losing one of his pilots was especially difficult.

B'Elanna's gaze captured Tom's and she smiled sadly. "He avoided the pair of alien ships as long as he could," she continued, knowing that Tom would want to know what had happened to his prot. "Finally, one of the ships put a tractor beam on us and pulled the shuttle toward them." She paused and reached for a glass of water that was on a stand next to the biobed. Her throat was parched not having spoken so much in such a long time.

"You don't have to continue," Tom cautioned noting her discomfort. "Janeway will want to hear all the details in your report--don't feel that you have to relive this.

B'Elanna replaced the now empty glass back on the stand. "Actually, Tom, I think it would help me if I talked about it. Do you mind?"

"Of course not. I want to know what you experienced. The more I know, the more I can help you."

B'Elanna's now healed lips curled up forming a smile. "You're too good to me, Tom."

"Never, B'Elanna. I'll never be good enough." He smiled back and refilled her glass.

"I think I better continue with the story before you sidetrack me." Tom looked up at her with those wonderfully innocent eyes, that were nothing but angelic. B'Elanna reached out and placed her palm against his cheek. Closing his devilish ocean blue eyes, Tom pressed his face against her hand before she finally withdrew it. He sighed and B'Elanna giggled. "Later, Tom, I promise."

Tom grinned. "Okay, then continue."

B'Elanna nodded. "Anyway, when I knew we were trapped, I knew that there was no way I was going to let those p'taQ have that shuttle. So I ordered Mitchell to purge the shuttle's databanks. Then..." B'Elanna swallowed down a lump in her throat. "...then I activated the ship's self-destruct mechanism just as we were boarded. They grabbed me first and when Mitchell tried to stop them, they killed him. Then one of the aliens took me back up to his ship and the other remained on board our shuttle.

"After I was on the alien ship, I guess their sensors detected an increase in the shuttle's energy frequency and they realized what I had set in motion. The commander of the ship was in such a hurry to get away from the shuttle that he left one of his own men on board. It was only after the shuttle blew up and he realized that he had left one of his officers behind that he backhanded me across the face."

"So that's how you got the scar," Tom motioned to his own cheek.

"Yeah, I woke up hours later in the ship's brig. The bleeding had stopped but I could tell that I had lost a lot of blood... but I survived. Survived long enough for the Big, Bad, and the Ugly to dock at Oblig."

"Where they put you up for sale on the slave market?" B'Elanna looked surprised that Tom knew about that. "The Captain explained to me that the alien tried to tell her that you belonged to his captain because he had bought you," Tom explained.

"Yeah. The Salian captain bought me and brought me on his ship, with the intention of having me work there in the reclamation section--deglazing minerals and stripping wires. I tried to escape a few times, that's when they broke a few of my ribs."

"And your jaw?"

"My jaw? No, that happened when a fellow slave tried to force himself on me."

Tom's face registered his shock at the information.

"No," B'Elanna reassured him with a grin, "nothing like that happened, but to the day he dies, he'll be talking in falsetto."

"You had me worried. So tell me how did you escape?"

"Well, eventually, my Klingon half, started listening to my Human half. I calmed down...at least a bit, and started making myself more useful to the Salians. I repaired some broken machinery, helped troubleshoot some equipment problems. Soon they found that my talents were being wasted in Reclamation, so they transferred me to their shuttlebay," B'Elanna smiled. "Then I knew if I just played my cards right and was patient--which wasn't easy." Tom chucked. "That I'd eventually have my opportunity to escape."

"It must have been difficult, even working in the shuttlebay."

"It was, but I was determined. I wanted to go home, and when I finally flew away from that ship I felt so free. I was away from the Salians and I was on my way back to you."

"I knew."

"What?"

"I could sense you coming, B'Elanna. At first I thought I was simply going crazy but--finally I knew that somehow we were--I don't know--connected, I guess. Every day the feeling it would get stronger."

"It's true," B'Elanna whispered in awe, her chocolate eyes focused on Tom as if seeing him for the first time. "I felt the same thing."

"What's true?"

"When I was a child, I was told that if a couple is truly meant to be together that there was a bond that would form between them. An inseparable bond that was a stronger than titanium steel...a bond of the heart. Like most of the Klingon tales I heard when I was young, I discounted them. As, I've grown, I've found that a lot of truth lies within their words and parables. This one seems to be no different. I've known for a long time that we were meant to be together, Tom, but this just reinforces it."

"B'Elanna, don't leave me again."

"Never, for if I ever do, you'll carry me here," B'Elanna touched his chest just above his heart and then touched her own chest, "and I'll do the same."

The End.

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