Family Ties

Written by Dawn and Phancy

"Is there anything else we need to discuss?" Now that her meeting with Chakotay was ending, Kathryn was eager to work on some calculations that B'Elanna had attempted earlier in the day.

"Actually, yes there is." Chakotay's tone was serious enough to pull Kathryn's thoughts away from quantum physics – not an easy achievement.

"Is something wrong?"

Chakotay set his PADDS down on the side of her desk and leaned forward in his chair before speaking. "I've mentioned something to you several times… and made a considerable number of requests that have been ignored."

"By me?" Kathryn was carefully searching her mind for what she could have overlooked that would be so important to him.

"Yes, by you." Chakotay was finding it difficult not to smile while she racked her brains for what he was talking about.

"I hate to say it, but I'm at a loss. Whatever it is, I'll address it today, you have my word." Kathryn couldn't stand the thought that she had missed something vital.

"I'm glad to hear it. I'll expect all seven of my Harry Potter books back in my quarters by 19:00."

Kathryn narrowed her eyes in response to his demand. He had tricked her! She stared at him for a full minute while he looked back at her with a very smug smile. Finally, she said, "As long as dinner, cooked by you, is served at 19:01."

"They're my books, Kathryn."

"But they are in my possession and I'm rereading book 4 at the moment. So if you want them back, you're going to have to make it worth my while."

"And me cooking dinner for you is better than The Goblet of Fire?" Chakotay eyed her suspiciously.

She leaned forward on her desk, closing the distance between them. Her eyes became heavy with seduction as she said, "I have a feeling that you can make it better."

"You enjoy my cooking that much, huh?" He definitely enjoyed her flirtations, although he knew she didn't quite realize how easily he could take her the wrong way. However, he sometimes wondered if she meant it just how it sounded and he was too polite in his interpretation.

Before she could respond, the door chime interrupted them. She called out, "Come" as she settled back into her seat, winking at him in the process.

Neelix entered and handed her a PADD and said, "Sorry to interrupt, Captain, but we just received this letter and I thought you would want it as soon as possible."

"Who is it from?" she asked as she took the PADD.

"Your mother. It came in at the very last minute, just before we lost contact with the Alpha Quadrant. Mr. Paris received one from his dad at exactly the same time."

Glancing at the inactive screen she asked, "Did you, by any chance, read it?"

Stuttering his reply, Neelix said, "I… I… I would never!"

Kathryn held up her hand to stop his distress. "Of course not, I was just hoping you could warn me about whatever it might say."

"But it's from your mother! Surely you're not worried? Are you expecting bad news?"

"No, nothing like that." She paused for a moment and then dismissed him. "Thank you Neelix. Will that be all?"

"That's all, but be sure to stop by for dinner this evening. I'm trying out a new recipe with those vegetables we got last week." He left before she had the chance to respond.

Chakotay watched in amusement as Kathryn stared down at the inactive PADD. He couldn't help but think she looked like a cat watching an insect to see if she had succeeded in killing it.

"Are you afraid it's going to bite?"

Kathryn looked up at him and then back down at the PADD. "It just might."

"Here." She handed it to him. "You read it and tell me what it says."

"Are you really afraid to read a letter from your mom?"

Groaning, she said, "Yesterday, I got a letter from Phoebe. She said that she couldn't tell me, but Mom had some news that was going to shock the hell out of me and to be expecting a letter." Kathryn looked up at Chakotay. "The way she said it made me think it would be news I didn't want to hear. I thought I was safe until this…" She motioned to the PADD.

Chakotay chuckled and turned the PADD on. He relaxed back into his chair and began reading.

Not thirty seconds later, Kathryn interrupted him. "Well are you going to read it to me or not!?"

Laughing, he said, "You wanted me to tell you what it said, not read it to you." He quickly finished scanning it, turned it off, put it down on her desk, and tried really hard to not smile.

"What does it say?" She did her best to force it out of him with her eyes, but his mirth couldn't be contained.

"You…" Chakotay couldn't finish the sentence, as his enjoyment was no longer suppressible.

Kathryn snagged the PADD away, thoroughly exasperated by his inability to control himself. She turned it on and began reading it herself.

After she was done reading the letter, she quietly and deliberately laid her head on her desk. As Chakotay laughed even harder at her reaction, she lifted her head enough to level a glare at him and then began to repetitively bang her head as she said over and over, "This is not happening."

When Chakotay calmed down, he said, "Come on... You can't tell me that you've never wanted a little brother to pick on before?"

She picked her head up and lifted her eyebrow in a decidedly Tuvokian manner. Chakotay didn't know if she was contemplating the possibilities or trying to decide if he had lost his mind. Before he could find out, she dropped her head again and continued to repeat her mantra, "This is not happening."

Neelix entered sickbay to find Tom organizing the supply cabinet on the far side of the Doctor's office. "Good afternoon Tom! I have a letter that came in at the last minute from your father and wanted to bring it to you right away."

Tom took the letter and scanned it quickly, a mischievous grin forming immediately. "Thanks Neelix." As Neelix turned to leave, Tom stopped him. "Hey… did the Captain, by any chance, also receive a letter?"

Proud that he could answer affirmatively, he said, "Why yes, she did. Both of you received a letter at the last minute, and I've already delivered hers."

"Thanks again." Tom went back into the lab and got permission from the Doctor to be excused in order to share an exciting piece of news from home with his wife.

Tom found B'Elanna running around Engineering, shouting out orders to many frantic-looking crewman. Thinking his news would not only put his wife in a better mood, it would save his fellow crewmembers from her wrath. He called out to catch her attention. "Hey B'Elanna. I have something to tell you."

She motioned him to follow her as she moved across the room. "We've come up with a new theory on energy use that I'm trying to prove before the Captain gets to it."

He watched her as she entered a series of calculations into one of the engineering consoles and compared it to the PADD she was carrying. Her mind was definitely focused on the task at hand and not on him. He began having a conversation with himself just to see if she was listening.

"Hi, how was your day?" Tom asked.

He answered, "My day was fine dear, how about yours?"

"It's been wonderful. Did you get any news today?" he queried himself.

Answering, he said, "Why, yes I did. It turns out I have a new sister – well, actually I have two new sisters."

To avoid an awkward silence, he asked himself the next logical question. "Really, how did that happen, honey?"

He continued with his story. "It seems that my dad ran off and eloped."

Trying to impersonate her inquisitive nature, he asked, "Do you know his new wife?"

"Why no, I don't think I've ever actually met her, but I do know one of her daughters quite well."

He was sure that if she'd been listening, she would ask, "Oh really?"

"Yes, she happens to be the one and only Captain Janeway."

B'Elanna looked over at Tom. "Did she send you down here for something?"

"Who, the Captain?" He asked, knowing B'Elanna hadn't heard a word he just said.

B'Elanna nodded.

"No, I just came to see you."

"Oh." Getting a little aggravated that he was distracting her, she said, "Well, since you seem to have a lot of extra time on your hands, why don't you make yourself useful and program these navigational coordinates so we can run a simulation."

Realizing that he was getting nowhere with his wife, he took the data and went to work… using the time to think of all the fun he could have with this new information.

At the end of alpha shift, Chakotay re-entered the ready room to find Kathryn sitting on the sofa, staring out into space. "Quit worrying about it and let's get something to eat."

All thoughts about quantum physics and Chakotay cooking dinner were forgotten. She turned to look at him. "How can I face him and Neelix's 'new recipe' at the same time? Wouldn't that be considered torture?"

Chakotay realized that Kathryn forgot about him cooking dinner for her and Chakotay thought perhaps it would be best to save that for another night. He pulled on her hand to bring her off of the sofa. "You just be the strong, brave captain that I know you are, and you'll be fine."

She groaned as she stood. "He's going to find a way to make this more amusing than he should, you know."

Kathryn was standing a little closer than usual, but he didn't want to take a step back. "Don't you want to welcome your little brother into the family?"

Giving him a look that could only be interpreted as belligerent, she said, "You owe me big time for this, you know."

"I owe you?" He didn't quite follow her logic.

She touched his chest as she said, "Well, someone has to take care of the daughter of the bride and it sure isn't going to be my little brother."

While pulling her a little closer, he said, "Oh? Does the daughter of the bride receive special privileges?"

Faking a little pout and fiddling with his combadge, she said, "Well, after all, I didn't get to be the flower girl."

His hands had settled on her hips and their legs were closer than he could recall them ever being. "Tom didn't get to carry the ring."

"Tom is at least wearing a ring, you know." Shocked that she had voiced that aloud, she wished she could take it back. Her eyes shot up to his, waiting to see what his reaction would be.

He smiled, knowing that he caught her saying something she didn't mean to, but decided to push her anyway. "You know... I'd be willing to put up with Tom as a brother if you were interested in wearing your own ring and carrying your own flowers."

Her heart pounded in her chest as his statement soaked in. She didn't want to pull back, but she had to put some distance between them. She pushed away a little with her hands and said, "I think we better go see about Neelix's dinner."

Despite the distance, he hadn't released his hands from her hips. "Yes. I'm sure that whatever it is, it is probably better hot than cold."

Glad that Chakotay went along with the change of subject, Kathryn smiled and moved towards the door. He followed, his hand resting on the small of her back all the way to the messhall.

The trip was relatively silent as many thoughts competed for Kathryn's attention. Chakotay's earlier question and his hand on her back were both the most enjoyable and the most nerve-racking. However, her mother's marriage and how it would affect life on Voyager were certainly vying for attention.

As they entered the messhall, Kathryn spotted Tom and B'Elanna sitting in the far corner and pulled Chakotay in the opposite direction. In response to Chakotay's questioning look, Kathryn said, "Tom's over there."

As they stood in line for dinner, Kathryn and Chakotay began to talk with members of their crew. Several people wanted to tell their commanding officers about good news from home and Kathryn couldn't have been more thrilled with the overall happiness in the room. After she and Chakotay filled their trays with Neelix's very odd-smelling special recipe, they stood at the counter waiting for Ensign Gilmore to finish telling a funny story from home. Just as the laughter died down, Kathryn turned and saw Tom and B'Elanna heading in her direction. Her hopes of avoiding him vanished as her eyes locked with Tom's.

"Sis!" Tom yelled. His arms were open wide as he made a beeline for a hug from his newest sibling.

The crew standing nearby froze mid-conversation as they tried to figure out what Tom was up to. Just as Tom was about to fling his arms around her, she held her hand out in the non-negotiable signal to stop. That, combined with the fierce glare in her eyes, made Tom stop in his tracks. In her most serious Captain's voice, she simply said, "Step back."

As Kathryn deliberately sidestepped Tom, he murmured, "Talk about dysfunctional families."

Chakotay patted Tom on the shoulder and smiled at B'Elanna's shocked expression as he followed Kathryn to a table in the back of the room.

"Sis?" B'Elanna asked Tom, thinking he had lost his mind sometime during dinner.

Tom crossed his arms in front of him as he answered her with another question. "You weren't listening to a word I said to you today in engineering, were you?"

"What? When you were rambling on about…?" She concentrated as she tried to figure out what she had heard him say.

Deciding to spare her, he added, "When I was rambling on about some news from home that involved a certain captain's mother marrying a certain lieutenant's father." He left B'Elanna standing there with her mouth wide open as he turned and followed his new sister.

Thinking it was safer than sitting next to Kathryn, Tom slid into the seat next to Chakotay. He didn't say a word as he met Kathryn's stare while she ate. Chakotay was carefully concealing his grin behind bites of food.

A moment later, B'Elanna carefully slid into the seat next to Kathryn. B'Elanna cautiously studied the moods of all three and wisely chose to talk to Chakotay. "Is it true?"

After watching Chakotay nod his head, B'Elanna turned to Kathryn and said, "You know what this means don't you? You and I are sisters now."

Kathryn carefully set down her fork and focused on the two newest arrivals at the table. "Lieutenants, I don't recall inviting you to join us for dinner."

Unable to resist, Tom said, "We're family now. No invitations needed." Continuing to dig deeper, he added, "and you should feel free to drop by our place any time."

In a serious command voice, Kathryn stated, "While I appreciate the offer, Lieutenant, I am still your commanding officer, and I don't expect our parents' matrimonial affairs to change proper officer etiquette."

Tom reached over and took her hand in his. "Come on, Sis. Where's your love of family?"

Kathryn took the opportunity to squeeze Tom's hand as tightly as she could, making him wince. "I'm happy that you have reminded me of that fact, Mr. Paris. It is against Starfleet Protocol for family members to serve together on the same senior staff."

Glad when she released his hand, he answered in a way that only he could get away with. "Does that mean I get demoted again or do you get the pleasure?"

Looking at Chakotay, B'Elanna had an idea that might get the Captain to rethink protocols. "Captain, if that is true, then Tom and I serving together has been a violation of protocol since we got married."

Kathryn thought carefully about that before turning her focus back to Tom. "That's two strikes against you, Lieutenant."

"Now that's not fair, Sis." Tom couldn't help but call her sis as often as possible. "B'Elanna and I have been working better together while married than we ever did before. And besides… there are a lot of married couples serving together in Starfleet now."

All attention was focused on Kathryn after that statement. She then assigned Tom a task. "All right, Mr. Paris. By tomorrow at 08:00, I expect a report on my desk detailing all of the senior staffs with family members that are currently serving together on a Starfleet vessel, and how long they have been working together after Starfleet was informed of their familial status."

"No problem, Sis!" Tom grabbed B'Elanna and made a quick exit.

As B'Elanna was pulled down the corridor, she asked, "What are you doing, Tom?"

"Didn't you hear? I have an assignment."

"You have an assignment. I do not." She yanked her hand away from him, but still followed.

"Don't you want to help me? You don't want me to get demoted again do you?"

B'Elanna could tell that her husband was scheming, but did not really want to be pulled into it. "What are you up to?"

"I have a plan!"

Later that evening, Kathryn found her mind running away with all the jumbled thoughts the day had brought. Hoping she would be able to think more clearly after a good night's sleep, she decided to go to bed. After she changed into her nightgown, her door chime rang. As she pulled on her robe, the computer told her Chakotay was at the door.

"Come," she called out.

Chakotay entered, holding something behind his back. Seeing her in her robe, he said, "I'm sorry to bother you so late, but there is something that I wanted to give you."

She smiled as he presented her with a bouquet of fresh flowers. "They are beautiful."

"Befitting the loveliest flower girl in the Delta Quadrant."

She blushed under his compliment. "I think you're biased, mister." Changing the subject, she said, "Help yourself to the replicator while I get these into some water."

Chakotay ordered two cups of tea and sat down on the sofa. He watched Kathryn arrange the flowers in a vase and set them down on the coffee table in front of him.

Kathryn picked up the second cup of tea and sat down next to him. They were quiet for a minute while they looked at the flowers.

Breaking the silence, Chakotay spoke. "Kathryn, I wanted to apologize for my forwardness earlier today in your ready room."

She sat up straight and said, "Look… I just don't think…"

Chakotay touched her lips and shook his head. "Please don't cite protocols or put any distance between us. I shouldn't have said what I did and I'm sorry. Can we just pretend that it didn't happen?"

Not wanting to change the flirtatious nature of their relationship, she acquiesced to his request by nodding her approval. "I don't want any distance between us either."

Chakotay pulled her back to relax with him. He decided that they really should talk about the news she received. "Do you want to tell me how you really feel about your mother getting remarried? Regardless of who her groom's son is?"

Kathryn took a sip of her tea as she thought about it. "I think I'm happy for her."

"Not sure?"

She glanced at him and smiled before answering. "Oh, I am. I just didn't expect that I would be. I guess I didn't expect her to remarry."

"Do you feel like she's replaced your father?"

Chuckling, Kathryn said, "You know that's very ironic."


"Because Owen felt more like a father to me than my own did ever since I started working with him at the academy." Kathryn paused as she remembered her experiences with Owen. "I was so nervous about speaking to him at first, but eventually we became friends. Well… as good as we could be since he was my commanding officer, I suppose."

"Oh, I don't know. I think I'm pretty good friends with my commanding officer." Chakotay put his arm around her shoulders and drew her close.

Kathryn felt warmed by Chakotay's embrace and was surprised that she didn't feel the need to pull away. "I've been through a lot with Owen."

Chakotay rubbed her arm. "You're talking about the Cardassian prison?"

Nodding, she laid her head on his shoulder. "Yes. Neither of us was the same after that."

"I wouldn't think you would be." Chakotay squeezed her to him and lightly kissed the top of her head. The thought of her going through that ordeal, no matter how mild it may have been, always made his stomach turn.

Kathryn knew she shouldn't let him kiss her, no matter how chaste it was, but the truth was that she needed the small comfort so she pretended that she didn't notice. Returning to the subject, she said, "So I can imagine that Mom and Owen were both lonely and probably found each other through their missing children. Owen is a great match for Mom and I know that I can trust him. He won't hurt her."

Chakotay remarked, "He'd be in serious trouble if he did."

"And having Tom for a brother really isn't so bad. I've always felt a kinship to him… maybe as an aunt." Kathryn looked up at Chakotay. "But don't you dare tell him that I said that."

Laughing, Chakotay said, "My lips are sealed."

They continued talking for a while longer before deciding to call it a night. Although they had been close as they talked, the night ended with an awkward goodbye when Chakotay tried to hug her and she tried not to let him, without pushing him away.

A sudden and abrupt movement woke B'Elanna in the middle of the night. Opening her eyes, she saw her husband sitting straight up in bed. "What's wrong?"

"I just had the strangest dream." Tom said with a stunned look on his face.

Concerned, B'Elanna placed a hand on his shoulder and asked, "What happened?"

Tom turned himself sideways to look at his wife. "I dreamt that you and I were walking slowly down an aisle in a room full of people. Sitting on both sides of the aisle were members of Voyager's crew and they had huge smiles on their faces. You were wearing the most ridiculous-looking fluffy purple dress and carrying a little white basket full of rose petals. I was wearing a black tux and carrying a little pillow with rings on it. We reached the end of the aisle and my father was there. We stood on each side of him and turned around. Then everyone in the room stood up and turned with us to see Chakotay and Captain Janeway standing at the end of aisle."

He stopped and stared into space then looked at his wife. "What do you think it means?"

B'Elanna rolled her eyes. "That you're crazy! They are never going to get married, no matter how much scheming you do!" She dropped down again with her back to Tom and quickly fell asleep.

Tom's mind was racing with ideas. Since he wasn't going to fall back to sleep anytime soon, he decided to get up and work on the information he had put together for Captain Janeway. He wouldn't just put in the vital statistics about families working together on starships. He would add some hints of how she could make a relationship with Chakotay work the way others had.

The next morning, Kathryn found Tom's report on her desk citing six examples of married couples serving together on senior staffs. He indicated that no siblings fell into that category, but hoped that she would graciously reconsider demoting him because he really enjoyed working closely with his big sister. She had to chuckle at that comment.

Kathryn took the report over to the sitting area and perused it while she had her morning coffee. Tom indicated that four of the couples got married after serving together and had continued since – some only for a few months and some for almost five years. That surprised Kathryn because it appeared that Starfleet didn't have any plans to reassign the couples. And to top that, the other two couples were placed together after they were married. Three of the six couples included a captain.

Taking the information back to her desk, Kathryn began to research Starfleet's protocols to see if a change had been made that she was not aware of. She strongly believed that it was part of her duty, as Captain, not to get involved romantically with a member of her crew. The primary point of having Tom prepare this report was to give him busy work so he would allow her and Chakotay to have dinner in peace. However, the dinner conversation made her think about the secondary point, which was to take a good look at their senior staff to determine if a change was needed in light of Tom and B'Elanna's recent marriage. She didn't think it was necessary, but it never hurt to give Tom a reason to squirm a little.

However, as Kathryn looked at Tom's report, it made her question her decisions about her own personal life as opposed to Tom's. She did a search of the rules and regulations regarding marriage and found nothing prohibiting a Captain from marrying a member of his/her crew. Knowing, without a doubt, that the regulation existed before, Kathryn spent the rest of the morning outlining the pros and cons of both the Paris/Torres marriage in addition to a potential marriage of her own.

During lunch with Chakotay, Kathryn decided to ask him what he thought without directly speaking about their relationship. "Chakotay… I was reading Tom's report this morning. What effect do you think Tom and B'Elanna's marriage has had on their attention to duty?"

"Hmmm." Chakotay wondered if she might be asking for an opinion on crew marriage overall, as opposed to just Tom and B'Elanna's. At least he hoped she was taking this opportunity to reexamine the regulations and protocols so he gauged his answer accordingly. "I see that their working relationship has improved because they aren't preoccupied with doubting each other's feelings anymore. Although they were dating for quite some time, there was always a fear that they could break up and be stuck serving together with no chance for escape. When they got married, they made a commitment to be together forever and it made them stronger as individuals, officers, and crewmates. Their focus changed from 'how does he or she really feel about me' to 'let's do everything we can to make Voyager a better place to live and work'."

Kathryn listened carefully and responded. "I believe you are correct. I even made a note in B'Elanna's records that I was pleased about the marriage because she has become a happier person and has consequently evened out her normally explosive temperament."

They ate in silence for a few minutes before Kathryn found the courage to ask, "Do you think that would apply to all cases of marriage among the crew?"

Chakotay studied her question for a moment before responding. "There aren't many crewmembers other than Tom and B'Elanna who have volatile personalities, so the difference before and after marriage might not be as noticeable. However, I believe that when people make committed decisions about their lives and relationships, they can't help but feel like the ground under their feet is more solid."

They finished their lunch without much more discussion. Chakotay could tell that Kathryn had a lot on her mind and didn't want to distract her.

Kathryn spent the rest of the afternoon trying to get work done, but her thoughts kept drifting to the possibilities that her discoveries opened up.

When Chakotay's door opened, Kathryn lost any benefit from the deep, relaxing breath she had just taken.

"Hi. Come on in. Dinner will be done in just a few minutes." Chakotay walked by, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek as he went. Over his shoulder, he called out, "Those my books?"

Kathryn placed the stack on his desk and said, "All but number four – is it okay if I keep it for a couple more days?"

Chakotay chuckled. "Of course."

"There is something that I want to talk to you about." Kathryn leaned on Chakotay's desk, not looking at him.

"Oh?" Chakotay didn't pause as he set the table for dinner.

"If I don't come right out and say it, then I'll probably lose my courage."

Chakotay looked at her and realized that she was anxious and nervous. "What is it?"

Looking up at him, Kathryn said, "I've been thinking a lot today… doing research, making lists, and examining something from as many perspectives as I could come up with."

Leaving his activity at the table, Chakotay moved closer to Kathryn. "About what?"

Knowing that putting it off was just going to make it harder to say, Kathryn took a deep breath and looked directly into Chakotay's eyes. "If you're still willing to accept Tom as a brother, I …"

Although she couldn't finish the sentence, Chakotay knew what she was saying. He could tell by her approach that she either wasn't sure about her decision or his response. He gently grasped her upper arms and looked at her with concern. "Are you sure this is something you want to do?"

Shaking her head, she said, "No, but it's something that I feel like I need to do."

"Marriage isn't a duty, Kathryn." He hoped that she didn't mean to make it sound like one.

"Of course not." She sighed as she thought about a better way to explain. "What I'm trying to say is that I love you and I very much want to marry you. But I have refused to let myself think about it because I'm not sure I can manage a successful relationship while we're out here. However, Tom showed me numerous examples of officers making it work and it leads me to believe that I'm not trying hard enough to find ways that we can be together. You deserve everything I can do."

Chakotay shook his head. "No. We deserve everything that we can do. You have never been alone in this. I know that I've slipped a few times – like yesterday – and put my love for you out in the open, but I really do understand why it would be difficult to manage a marriage as long as we're the command team on this ship."

She placed her hands on his hips, but didn't draw any closer to him. "Do you think we could make it work if we tried hard enough?"

"I don't know." He drew one of his hands up to cup her cheek. "But I do know that I don't want to risk losing you in the process. If it came down to a choice, we would both pick the ship first. If a marriage is going to work, we would have to make it the top priority. We don't have that luxury."

Closing her eyes, she tilted her head into his palm. "I'm so tired of fighting it."

"Then we need to find a compromise."

She opened her eyes and lifted her head. "What do you propose?"

Smiling and tugging on his ear, he took a step back. "With our feelings declared openly, we don't have to hide them any more."

"I suppose not." She urged him to continue.

"I have a strong feeling that we're going to be home soon. So we decide now that we're going to get married as soon as we're finished with debriefings and have our lives to ourselves again."

"And if we don't make it home soon?" She raised an eyebrow in question.

He took a deep breath as he considered the possibilities. "We could go ahead and get married and do everything we can to not let our positions to interfere with our personal lives."

"How about this?" She paused for a second to raise her finger to help point to her conclusion. "One year from today, if we're not home, we get married."

"Do you really want that?" He wasn't sure.

"Yes. I really do." Kathryn had come to a swift, but sure decision.

Happy to have a definite plan of action, he said, "All right then. In the meantime, we have a year to get to know each other without our personal shields up."

Kathryn took a step toward him and wrapped her arms around his neck. "No shields?"

His arms went around her waist and he shook his head. "No shields. When you and I are together, alone, we don't hide how we feel and we don't avoid getting close."

She moved her lips within inches of his. "I think I'm going to really enjoy that." Not giving him a chance to respond, she did what she had dreamt of for a very long time. She kissed him gently and tenderly to show just how much she loved him.

B'Elanna entered her quarters to find her husband asleep on the couch. She thought he looked entirely too sweet so she jumped right on top of him.

"Ooomph!" was all that Tom could manage as a response as he discovered that he was being kissed very, very thoroughly. His groan of pain soon turned into a melodic "mmmmm."

When Tom's lips were released from his wife's attention, he said, "Hi."

"Hi," she said as she smiled back at him.

"Nice kiss." Tom reached up and folded his arms around her back.

B'Elanna laid her head on his chest and said, "Tom?"


"I'm sorry."

Tom was silent for only a second before he said, "Wait. Did I just hear you apologize?"

B'Elanna raised her head and looked sternly at him. "Do you always have to be a smart ass?"

He ran his fingers through her hair. "I'm sorry."

Laying her head back down, she said, "I wanted to apologize for not listening to you yesterday." She paused for a second before she continued. "It's just when you say things like that I tend to think that you are joking… like you are dreaming up another scheme of some sort. I mean, how was I supposed to know?"

He touched her lips with his finger. "Shhh. It's okay."

They were quiet as they took a rare moment to enjoy each other's warmth. B'Elanna asked, "How do you really feel about the captain being your new sister? Are you okay with your dad's marriage?"

"Are you kidding? I now have enough ammunition to torture her all the way home."

B'Elanna just shook her head and smiled at him.

Blushed a little, Tom said, "Actually, I think it's great. I'm honored to be her brother." He thought about it for a second and then continued. "I've always felt like her brother anyway because she's had such a close relationship with my father. And I've always admired her – thought she was brilliant and incredibly strong. I'm sure there is no other captain I'd rather be out here with – and having her for a sister is kind of comforting. I hope that she's just giving me a hard time and that she really isn't all that upset about us being family."

B'Elanna said, "I don't think she's upset at all."

"Oh?" Tom was curious how she came to that conclusion.

"Chakotay came and talked to me this afternoon."

"About what?"

B'Elanna shrugged her shoulders and said, "Basically, he just wanted to tell me how proud he is of me and the woman I've become."

Tom's eyes widened. "That's pretty cool. What prompted that?"

Shaking her head, B'Elanna said. "I'm not sure. But I asked him if the captain really had concerns about you and I being married. He said that he didn't think so. If anything, he thought she was just trying to get you off her case at dinner last night."

Tom asked, "But you don't think she's upset about the marriage?"

"No. Chakotay said she was just a little rattled and you did come on pretty strong last night."

Chuckling, Tom said, "Yeah, I did."

"So Chakotay assured me that everything was fine and not to worry. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't back off her a little."

Tom lifted his head to nuzzle B'Elanna's neck. "Don't worry about that. I've got plenty to keep me occupied right here."

B'Elanna's response was somewhere between a laugh and a growl.

After dinner and many kisses later…

Chakotay's quarters looked a little like a war zone. Dinner dishes had been forgotten on the table. Uniform jackets had fallen on empty chairs. Turtlenecks had landed where they were tossed. Boots were randomly strewn on the floor.

Kathryn sat sideways on the sofa, with her leg folded under her as she watched Chakotay and took the last sip of her coffee. He was slouched down in just his pants and tank, staring up at the ceiling with his head resting on the back of the sofa. She smiled as she set down her cup and moved to mimic his position.

After a long period of silence, Chakotay repeated his earlier statement. "I really do think we'll be home soon."

"Hmmmmmmm." Kathryn was enjoying the relaxation and didn't question his foresight.

"We could have an outdoor wedding… somewhere in a beautiful garden."

Kathryn started imagining the scene in her mind, but didn't say anything.

Chakotay added, "I think I'll ask Tom to be the ring bearer."

Chuckling, Kathryn said, "Do you think B'Elanna would be the flower girl?"

"Oh, I can see it now. Will she have to throw the petals out of a tiny little basket?" Chakotay was trying to imagine B'Elanna in a little flower girl dress carrying a basket of rose petals.

In a seriously sarcastic tone, Kathryn answered, "Of course."

They both smiled at the almost ridiculous image.

Minutes later, Chakotay said, "Things won't be much different between us after we're married, you know. There will just be more benefits."

She lifted her head to look at him. "Benefits?"

Chakotay looked back at her and waggled his eyebrows.

Laughing, she shook her head and returned it to its resting position. However, it didn't stay there long because she could tell he was still watching her. She looked up again and said, "What?"

He blushed and said, "Oh nothing. I'm just fantasizing about my future wife."

Kathryn laughed again and leaned over to give him a short, sweet kiss. "I can already tell that growing old with you will never be dull."

He pulled her into his arms and said, "Not a chance."