"I'd learned a lot. I hoped. Next time around, no one was going to know that I was terrified. The hand on the tiller was going to be as firm as a rock – even if the shop was sinking – the Captain goes down with the ship. But he doesn't yowl about it. He just quietly does his best." – Katharine Hepburn
B'Elanna's funeral was big news. She was the first of the Voyager crew to pass since their homecoming. Tom Paris knew that B'Elanna would have found it an honorable death, dying in the line of duty but to Tom, it just seemed senseless. A waste. At first, there was so much to do – funeral arrangements, contacting friends and loved-ones, taking a leave of absence… but after the funeral there was only Tom and Miral and a big hole where B'Elanna used to be.
The funeral wasn't a big show. B'Elanna had been assigned to the Messenger and Tom had dutifully gone with her. He hadn't wanted to get back on a ship – he'd wanted to stay on the planet they'd fought so hard to get back to but B'Elanna's final implication had been clear. She's was going to take the commission and Miral would be going with her. If Tom wanted to stay with his daughter, he would have to go too. So he did.
It had been a long year on board that ship. B'Elanna was a part of the senior staff but he was on the beta shift. She was busy, rarely in their quarters. If she had known that he was unhappy, she didn't show it. Unhappiness was relative, though. There was a stability in his life that he'd never appreciated before. He'd grown accustomed to routine on Voyager and with the baby, the routine became important. B'Elanna worked days, and so Tom stayed with the baby. In the evenings, B'Elanna would be home for an hour or so before Tom went on duty. Neither had requested a shift change.
Still, when she was gone, it was devastating. The service was held on the ship with the crew and Paris put in for a transfer to Earth, which was accepted immediately, and then put in a transfer for a leave of absence. It was also granted. Tom took his daughter and went home.
Home, too, was relative. Miral had spent almost no time planet side and so he took an apartment in San Francisco and though he didn't want to admit it, he mostly hid. It was easy for Starfleet officers to find housing in San Francisco but the downside was being so near to headquarters and the academy meant too much notoriety to just go out and about. Mostly he stayed in and on sunny days he would bring Miral onto the balcony to sit in the sunshine.
Two weeks after the funeral, and five days since he'd exited the apartment, he had a visitor. He ignored the chime at first, but it was persistent enough that he finally opened the door.
"Captain," he greeted, stepping back.
"Actually, I'm an admiral now," she said. "But for today, you can just call me Kathryn."
He stepped aside and scratched the back of his head, allowing her to enter. He had been wearing the same clothes for a few days now, clothes that were barely a step up from pajamas. He was unshaven, unwashed, and generally unkempt.
"Come on in," he said. She, on the other hand, was dressed impeccably in a black dress with black heels, styled hair, and make-up. "Was there… something you needed?"
"This isn't an official visit, Tom," she said. "Rather, I'm not here on behalf of Starfleet."
He looked down at her dress and closed the door as she walked to the center of the room. The room was messy – unrecycled dishes, dirty clothes; the blinds were closed so it was dark and moody. She smoothed the wrinkles from her dress and smiled, largely, encouragingly.
"Why are you here?" he asked.
"I was… I am worried about you," she said. "I heard about your sabbatical and I wanted to make sure you were okay."
"I'm fine," he said. "We're fine."
"Good," she said. "May I see…?"
"She's asleep," Tom said quickly. "She… she doesn't understand."
"I would suppose not," Janeway said, a little sadly. Tom sat down on the couch and rubbed his face, shaking his head.
"She's down the hall, on the left," he muttered. Tom didn't care if he was being a poor host. Any joy of seeing his former Captain was shadowed by the pain of seeing a living reminder of life before B'Elanna was gone, that he and Miral were alone.
Kathryn moved quietly down the hall, the sound of her shoes muffled on the carpet. The door on the left was open partially and she could see Miral standing in her crib, her small hands wrapped tightly around the metal bars. At the sign of the stranger lingering in her doorway, she began to yell. It wasn't a cry, or a scream, just a loud noise that made Kathryn flinch. She was like a scaled down version of B'Elanna. The same olive skin, forehead ridges, the same thick, dark hair. Her hair was tangled and her cheeks were sticky with drying tears.
"Hi, sweetheart," she whispered, walking in and closing the door behind her. "You probably don't remember me."
Miral stopped yelling long enough to look critically at her. When she started to cry, she was quiet and put up her skinny arms. It had been a long time since Kathryn had picked up a child but it was an innate action, something performed without thought. Miral's body fit into Kathryn's own naturally. A small head on her shoulder, short legs around her hips. Kathryn laid her down on the changing station and put on a fresh diaper. Next came fresh clothes, and a hairbrush, and, because it was there and she was reaching for it, a bottle. With the baby in her arms, she walked back into the living room.
"You need help."
He was used to her voice over his shoulder.
"I'm not crazy," he said. "Is that what you think?"
"I don't think you're crazy, but I think you're sad and I think you're neglecting your child," she said.
"With all due respect, Ma'am, you've been here ten minutes," he said.
"You aren't alone, Tom," she said.
"Miral usually cries when anyone else holds her," Tom said, finally. "She's been angry."
"She's doing all right now," Kathryn said, and moved to sit next to him on the couch. "She needs you."
"It's not like we're strangers, her and I, but look at her! She is B'Elanna." He reached out and touched his daughter's smallest toe.
"She's going to have a hard road ahead of her if all she can be is her mother," Kathryn said quietly, taking the bottle away and setting it on the coffee table. Miral had fallen asleep, her stomach full of food. Tom didn't know what to say to that. "Can I come back tomorrow?"
"Yes, Ma'am," Tom said. He was so used to compliance with her. "I mean, yes,"
"Good," she said. They sat in silence for a while and when Miral had fallen into a deeper cycle of sleep, Kathryn handed her to Tom and let herself out.
The next time she came back it was later, after the sun had set and she came with a bag of fresh food on her hip. She was in her uniform, but not regulation. She'd lost the pips, the jacket, the comm. badge. She let herself in and startled him.
"Hi," he said. He was sitting on the floor with Miral on her stomach, sleeping.
"Hello," Kathryn greeted softly.
"I didn't think you'd come," he admitted.
"I know it's late," she said. "I brought you some fruit from the market on the corner."
"You didn't have to," he said, but he was glad she did. He watched her move around his kitchen, opening cabinets and drawers, making her self familiar with the space. She came back with an apple cut into slices and sat on the floor next to them.
"Are you going to go back to work?" she asked, watching him eat a slice of apple. She put her hand on Miral's back and woke the girl slowly.
"I have another month of approved leave," he said.
"That is hardly an answer," she said. Miral rolled over, sat up, reached for the fruit.
"I don't want to go back to the Messenger," he said.
"You don't have to," she said.
"Will they ever bring Voyager out of retirement?" he asked. She shook her head.
"I'm trying," she said. "They like me at a desk."
"It's the only ship I want to go back to," Tom said.
"All those years of trying to get home," Kathryn said. "Was it for nothing?" Tom didn't tell her he'd already been home. That now, he didn't quite know where he was.
"It was just me and B'Elanna and Miral for so long. I don't have anyone else anymore," he said, allowing Miral to crawl into his lap. She mashed apple into his leg. He felt the wetness but ignored it.
"Are you trying to tell me that I wasn't a very good friend?" she asked.
"You were a good Captain," he said.
"Point taken," she said. "Why don't we have lunch tomorrow? Bring Miral – it's been beautiful in Golden Gate Park all week."
"All right," Tom agreed. He could still recognize when she was trying.
Miral liked to ride on his shoulders. She liked being tall, looking across the tops of people. Tom had put her in a blue jumper and her legs were soft against his neck. He'd brushed her hair after her bath and it had dried thick and wavy. He'd smoothed sun protection into her skin and she'd squirmed and smacked her small hands at him. Walking to the park, though, she was happy in the sun.
Kathryn's hair was highlighted with red and it stood out in a way it never had with the artificial lights of the ship. She waved at them and when he set Miral down on the grass, she was a little uneasy on her feet.
"You made it," she said.
"Out in the open," he said.
"You even shaved," she said. Tom leaned down and grabbed the back of Miral's jumper so she didn't run off. She struggled against him.
"I did," he said. "You have a reputation to uphold, after all." She motioned for him to sit down and he sat down on the picnic bench. There was a basket of food that she opened. Miral was pulled into his lap and she reached for the basket.
"What does she like to eat?" Kathryn asked.
"Just about anything," Tom said. "Soft things, usually."
"I brought her some noodles, a banana, and some milk," she said, removing the containers.
"She thanks you," Tom said, getting his daughter settled. They fell into silence while they ate. Tom used to be talkative and entertaining but now he was quiet, only talking when Miral required it.
"I saw Seven this morning," Kathryn said, in effort to start conversation. "She's going through the Academy, you know."
"I hear she is doing well."
"Top of her class, of course," she said. "Academically, anyway."
"And socially?" Tom asked. Kathryn shrugged.
"Chakotay has… subdued her a bit, I suppose," she said, without much conviction.
"Why was Seven at headquarters?" he asked.
"To see me, we have coffee once a week. I like to be informed about her training," she said. "We passed Admiral Picard and I swear, Tom, Seven went white as a sheet."
"Why?" Tom asked. Kathryn leaned in as if telling a secret.
"Locutus," she said. Tom laughed, surprised.
"If Seven is scared of a borg, I am scared." Tom shook his head ruefully.
"My thoughts exactly," she said. "She's adjusting very well. Better than I thought."
"Better than you?" Tom asked.
"Better than you?" she retorted.
"Fair enough," he said. After they had cleaned up, Kathryn picked up Miral and they went for a walk. "Starfleet has asked me into the judicial system."
"Law?" Tom asked.
"They want to start me on the track to become a judge," she said.
"That's wonderful," Tom said. "Have you accepted?"
"I'm a scientist, not a lawyer," she said. "I have until the end of the week to decide."
"And if you say no?" he asked.
"I suppose I will sit behind my desk forever," she said. Tom shook his head.
"You could put in a transfer request to take a science post," he offered. "You could teach at the academy."
"They want me somewhere very public, very visible," she said, "But I don't know that I want that."
Tom didn't know what to tell her.
After a few weeks of constant visits, Kathryn didn't come for three days. Each day she didn't appear, Miral's mood became worse. The first day was fits, the second day listlessness and by the third day, all his daughter did was cry. She didn't want food, she didn't need to be changed, she was just sad and full of tears. She would crawl around, looking under tables and behind draperies and Tom would watch her.
"You're looking for something that isn't there," he would tell her. "Maybe we should go find her, huh?"
Miral didn't say much for someone pushing three. Kathryn had commented on her lack of speech but he wasn't worried. Some kids started late, and Tom had been one of them. He watched Miral lift up a corner of the area rug and peer beneath it. Her eyes were brown and wet.
Kathryn Janeway lived in Starfleet housing, but because of her rank, it was nice Starfleet housing. Miral hadn't been able to sleep the whole night through, so Tom had put her in bed with him, but her little body was restless and warm and she whimpered in her sleep. He was afraid he was raising a sad child. B'Elanna had been a sad woman, but she'd masked it with anger. Still, her breath had hitched in just the same way at night. B'Elanna had been sad and now Tom was sad now, too. The only good influence in Miral's life was Kathryn and lately she'd disappeared. It was clear they needed her back.
The weather was sour for summer, but the bay lent itself to unpredictable weather. Tom had finally given up on sleep around five am and filled the tub shallowly with warm water. Usually, Tom just held Miral in front of the sonic shower, but he knew they were going to see Kathryn, so he wanted her to look her best. Part of him thought about calling, just sending a message instead of the grand gesture of showing up unannounced but Kathryn had done just that – appear on his doorstep and if she didn't stand on ceremony, he wouldn't either.
Now, they faced her building. Miral hated her stroller and constantly squirmed to get out but it was cold and the air was heavy with mist; he'd tucked a blanket around her and she knew better than to upset her warm cocoon. A cadet was stationed at the door of the apartment building and Tom sent him a sympathetic look. It was a poor assignment, standing for 10 hours in the cold – something that resulted in being late or mouthing off. It was an assignment Tom had served himself. The cadet nodded at him as he entered – maybe because of the sympathy or maybe because he recognized Tom. Tom paused in the doorway.
"Janeway?" he asked. The cadet wasn't supposed to give out information and was probably only supposed to speak with officers or residents but the cadet looked away and muttered,
Tom was grateful and pushed the stroller swiftly into the turbolift. Kathryn had the entire floor, and from the look of the building outside it had high ceilings and wide windows. It was a luxury, a space like that in an over-populated city like San Francisco and it was housing given not to a particularly high ranked officer but to a celebrity. Tom pressed the chime, waited, and pressed it two more times.
She answered the door looking impeccable – tailored, pristine, perfect. It made him feel unsettled, uncomfortable, and she looked up at him, even in heels.
"Tom," she said. "Come in, please."
"We didn't mean to intrude," he said. "Well, we did, but we hope that's all right."
"Would you like anything from the replicator?" she asked.
"No," he said. "Miral missed you."
"Hello, sweetheart," she said. Miral had kicked off the blanket and was now squirming unsuccessfully to get out of her stroller. Tom crouched to unhook her and she slid out.
"Kathryn?" he asked. "What's up?"
"I've been busy," she said. "I didn't mean to abandon you."
"You look nice," he said. She wore a white blouse and a beige skirt with black heels and a pretty necklace. Her hair was smooth and bright. She had clear skin and bright lipstick and long, dark eyelashes.
"Do you have plans? Are we interrupting?" he asked.
"No, just a quiet day at home. It's my day off," she said.
"Well you look great," he said. "I love your place."
"Me too," she said.
"Did I mention that Miral missed you?" he said.
"I believe you did," she said. "And I'm sorry."
Across the room, Miral banged her hands on the glass coffee table. Kathryn would wipe of tiny fingerprints later with a damp cloth, after her guests had gone.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"No, I mean, you look sad," he said.
"You just told me I looked good," she said, finally, walking over and picking up Miral swiftly, and resting her on her narrow hip. Miral looked relieved and pulled her hair, yanking hard.
"Some people carry sadness well," Tom said. Kathryn untangled tiny fingers from her hair and patted Miral's back softly.
"Some days are harder than others," she said.
"I know," Tom promised. "I know."
"Will you…" she smiled, and swallowed. "Will you take me out to dinner and be nice to me?"
"Sure," he said. "What about the munchkin?"
"I have a friend who owes me a favor," she said. "I think you know him."
Usually Tom would take a girl to get drinks and then to a poorly lit, crowded restaurant on the water so he could tear a lobster apart, but this was Kathryn, this was his captain and she was wearing white and beige so he took her somewhere where she could at least get a nice glass of wine. Harry Kim had been happy to watch the baby with his new girlfriend and Tom didn't worry too much while he was apart from Miral. Kathryn was distracting. At first he tried to charm her but soon it was clear that she didn't particularly want or need to be charmed. They were mostly quiet, involved in their meals and the particular atmosphere of the restaurant. Kathryn liked to watch the people around them.
"Have you decided what you're going to do?" he asked, finally.
"About the job offer," he prodded. She set her wine glass down, making sure it was stable in the midst of the plates and utensils before letting go of the thin stem.
"I've accepted," she said, carefully. "I start training in three days."
"You did," he said, and he was a little surprised. He had expected her to fight her way through this like she did so many things. The idea of Voyager ever returning to the skies was finished. Without Janeway fighting, the ship would be dismantled and memorialized. They might retire the name, even. "Well, congratulations, Admiral."
"Thank you," she said, though she didn't look particularly pleased.
"Are there any perks, at least?" he asked.
"You mean, am I to be rewarded for following orders?" she asked. "I suppose so. I get new office space in the legal bank of buildings. I get a staff of one or two, depending on where they place me within the court system."
"You'll excel no matter what," he assured her.
"I was hoping you'd come with me," she said, nodding at a passing waiter who refilled her glass.
"What?" asked Tom.
"You've already mentioned that you don't want to return to the Messenger. Why not?"
"Well," he said, scratching the back of his head. "To be honest, I was considering not returning at all."
"Not returning?" she asked, as if scandalized. "But you have a daughter to raise."
"It's a big universe – there are plenty of opportunities outside of Starfleet," Tom reminded her.
"And still plenty of opportunities within," she countered.
"Behind a desk? I'm a pilot, Ma'am," he said.
"You're not just one thing," Kathryn said. "You… you are a man who has seen the worst side of the criminal justice system. This is a chance for you to help people."
"People like me," he said. "Criminals, you mean."
"No," she said. "You aren't a criminal."
"Not since I had you to spring me from prison. Do you think I can't do anything worthwhile without your help?" he asked.
"Tom!" she said. Their food came and it gave them both a minute to compose themselves. "Tom, I'm not asking you to come work for me because I think you need a handout."
"Then why me?" he asked. "You have all of Starfleet at your feet, I'm sure."
"I do," she said. "So to speak."
"Because I need you," she said. "I need it to be you."
With that, she tucked into her dinner.
It turned out that the end of Janeway's training coincided with the end of Tom's leave of absence. Starfleet had wanted to place her outside of San Francisco – outside of California but somehow she had negotiated her way back into main headquarters – at least for the first year. Tom didn't ask how she'd managed this because he'd seen her do more impossible things before breakfast just for a decent cup of coffee.
Her chambers were small – her desk and through a door, his. Miral seemed to take to daycare. She cried the first day he left her but in the end, the socializing did her good. On Tom's desk, he put a picture of his daughter.
"We're both going to have to learn a little more about the law," Kathryn said, setting down a stack of PADDs on his desk.
"Yes, Admiral," he agreed.
"I mean, I had to run a few civil trials on Voyager but this is out of my league, the things they're asking," she said.
"Having second thoughts?" he asked.
"I can do it," she said, hearing the challenge in his voice.
"Of course, Admiral," he said.
"Look, Tom," she said, leaning against his desk. "I know that you're my subordinate but after seven years of being the highest ranking officer around, I'm pretty sick of formalities. What do you say when it's just you and me, we leave the titles aside, hmm?"
"You want me to call you Kathryn in the office?" he asked, a little surprised.
"It'll be our little secret," she said and left him to his work. He rolled the name around his head for a while. Of course he knew her name, had heard her introduce herself a thousand times on the bridge. Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager. His father had held a soft spot for her too. "Katie Janeway," he'd said once. "What a ball of fire that one is," he'd told Tom. This was just before Tom's accident, his mistake. Right before Janeway switched over to the command track, probably. It was funny how things worked out.
"Kathryn," he said out loud.
"Yeah?" she called from her office.
"Just practicing," he said. He heard her chuckle.
Tom didn't really see her again until the end of his shift.
"I'm going to go get Miral," he said, sticking his head in her office. She looked up from the stack of training information she was trying to absorb before next week when she'd start shadowing other judges. Within the month, she'd have her own courtroom. Starfleet was nothing if not expedient and efficient.
"Okay," she said. He hesitated. He knew Janeway well, despite the time spent apart after their return to Earth. If he left, she'd stay all night.
"Why don't you come for dinner," he offered. "I'll replicate something nice."
"I'm just swimming in work," she said.
"An hour to eat," he pleaded. "Even you need to eat."
She sighed and looked up at him, her face level.
"All right," she said. "Because I am hopelessly in love with your daughter only." Her face broke into a smile but she reined it back in. "I'll be along in an hour."
"Great," he said. "And if you're not, we'll come for you." She waved him away.
It took her an hour and fifteen minutes to arrive but she did. Miral clapped delightedly and lifted her arms.
"Aunt Kathryn is tired," Tom said but Miral was persistent and Janeway scooped her up easily.
"I have everything programmed," he said and disappeared to start bringing the food into the dining area. Janeway helped Miral into her seat and buckled her in. She took off her uniform jacket and put it on the back of her chair. She still wasn't quite used to the new uniforms, especially the admiral's uniform. It didn't feel right after spending seven years in the exact same outfit.
She really had to start wearing civilian clothes more. She wore them more than she used to – she made the rule that she wouldn't wear the uniform on her days off but days off had been fewer lately. Tom came back with food and loaded it onto the table.
"Looks fine," she said, smiling. He watched her serve Miral first. She cut the food into tiny pieces and made sure the girl was settled before helping herself. They were quiet as they chewed. Miral managed to say a few words – Daddy, apple – that sort of thing.
"Maybe we need more friends," Tom said, suddenly. Janeway looked up from her dinner.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I used to be a popular guy," he said.
"You still are," she said, comfortingly but he knew that's what it was. Comfort.
"I'm done hiding out, I've decided," he said. "Going back to work, moving on… these are good things."
"I agree," she said.
"I need to get my social life back on track, too," he said.
"You mean… like dating?" she asked. He looked confused.
"No," he said. "I meant having friends."
"I'm your friend," she said.
"My only friend," he pointed out. She looked a little hurt. "My best friend," he amended.
"Tom, I'm entirely sure that I don't know where you're going with all of this," she said.
"I think we should throw a party," he said. She stared at him in disbelief. Miral took a chunk of peach and hurled it – it hit the wall with a wet splat.
"Stop it," Janeway ordered and Miral looked chastised.
"So what do you say?" he asked.
"A party for what?" she asked.
"Fun," he answered. "We could invite Harry – some other Voyager crew. I mean, I'm not saying I want it to be a reunion party, but those we were close to. We could invite our families – you could invite some of your new colleagues."
"You work there too," she interrupted.
"Fine, our colleagues even though I'm your lowly assistant," he said.
"Don't say it like that," she sighed. "You're an integral part of the team."
"The team being you and me," he said. She set her napkin down on the table. "Which is fine. So, what do you say?"
"A party," she repeated. She looked around. "We'd have to spruce the place up a bit."
"Actually," he said carefully. "I was thinking about your place."
"Oh you were, were you?" she said.
"It's bigger. Has an amazing view," he said.
"You want ME to throw a party and let you come," she said. "It's all becoming clear."
"We could always rent out a holodeck," he said.
"No," she said. "I don't like holodeck parties. They always feel so impersonal and insincere."
He grinned at her hopefully.
"All right," she sighed. "But only because you're becoming a recluse."
"Whatever reason makes it all right," he said, taking another bite of food smugly.
Janeway really hoped that all eighty-five people she and Tom had invited wouldn't show up because her apartment was big but not that big. Tom was in the kitchen, finishing setting the bar up and she was at her vanity with Miral playing on the floor beside her. She was leaning into the mirror, finishing her make-up. Miral was trying to put her little feet in Janeway's high heel and walk at the same time but kept ending up on her butt. Still, the girl wasn't deterred. She simply got up and tried again.
"Maybe in a few years, hmm baby?" Janeway said, glancing at the girl's progress in the mirror. Miral smiled and moved to put the shoe in her mouth. Janeway was just snatching it away and slipping it onto her foot when Tom knocked.
"Daddy," Miral said, sounding very pleased with herself.
"Hi love," Tom greeted. Janeway couldn't help but smile at the endearment. She was so pleased she got to bear witness to this sweet and fragile young family. Tom wasn't exactly the youthful man she'd sprung from Auckland, but she herself was sporting some white streaks in her hair these days so she didn't judge. "I was going to put her down, now."
"Oh, let her stay until Harry arrives," Janeway said. Harry had RSVP'ed with her a few days ago and had expressed his longing to see the girl again.
"Your aunt is a pushover," Tom said, hefting the girl to his hip. Miral pulled her fingers from her mouth and pointed at Janeway.
"Mama," she said. Tom laughed uncomfortably and Janeway stood and crossed her arms.
"I suppose that's something to think about," Janeway said and then walked passed them and out into the living room. He heard the chime of the door before he could decide what to do. Miral was in her pajamas already – a soft orange jumpsuit that zipped up the front. Her little arms wound around his neck and he carried her out to greet the guests.
Tom let Harry have half an hour with Miral before declaring it bed time. Miral was getting cranky and over tired and her head lulled against Harry's shoulder.
"I'll take her," Janeway said, scooping the girl up into her arms. Miral curled comfortably into her arms. "Excuse me," she said and disappeared down the dark hallway.
"Spill it," Harry said, immediately. The room was full – Harry was really the only Voyager crewman who ended up coming. The Doctor was there, too, but on the other side of the room, his holo-emitter attached to his sleeve. He'd suggested inviting Seven and Chakotay but she'd shot that down right away and he hadn't wanted to press. Yet.
"Spill what?" Tom asked.
"You and the Admiral?" Harry pressed. "I mean, I know you can woo any woman you'd like, but I didn't realize just how far those skills extended."
"She's my boss, Harry," Tom said. "And technically, yours too though not as directly. You know her as well as I do. We're all friends."
"I do not know her as well as you," Harry said. "We could have been on that ship the predicted 70 years and I wouldn't have known her as well as you."
"It isn't a contest," Tom protested.
"Good thing, because I'd be losing," Harry said.
"Miral loves her," Tom said. "She was there for me after… after B'Elanna went. She's a good friend. A great boss."
"Okay," Harry said. He stopped pressing the issue but Tom knew that it wasn't the last of the conversation. When Janeway returned, she brought Tom a fresh drink and stood with her hand on his shoulder while she picked up her conversation with Harry. Tom noticed a piece of orange fuzz on her ribcage from Miral's pajamas and didn't hesitate to reach over and pluck it off.
"Thanks," she said, and let her hand rest on the top of his head for a moment before moving on to mingle with another group. Harry leaned back in his chair as if his point had been clearly made.
Tom saw the last of the guests out the door and sighed with relief when the door slid closed.
"That was fun," he sighed. When he received no response, he looked around to see that he was alone. "Kathryn?" Down the hall, her bedroom door was open and he looked through the frame to see her curled on the bed with Miral. She was still in her party clothes. It looked as if she'd come in to check on the girl and had drifted off. Why she'd put Miral in her room instead of the guest bed was a question for another day. He'd planned to transport home that night, but the girls made a sweet picture that he didn't want to disturb. He pulled the shoes from her feet and covered them both with the throw blanket that sat at the foot of the bed.
In the main room, he loaded the replicator with empty glasses and dishes and recycled the lot. When the room was clean, he let himself into the guestroom and collapsed on the bed.
The sun through the windows woke him up. It was the last day of the weekend. On Monday, they'd be back to work and back to formalities in the presence of other officers. He rolled over in the unfamiliar bed and tried to find a chronometer to no avail. The position of the sun made him feel that it was later than he usually slept.
He got up, wanting to check on his daughter. Kathryn had drank just as much as he had and he didn't want them both to sleep through Miral's breakfast time. His clothes were rumpled and uncomfortable but he went out into the apartment anyhow. He could hear Kathryn's voice in the kitchen. She was talking to Miral who was making her way happily through a bowl of oatmeal.
"Your mother could make a warp core sing and dance if she wanted to," Kathryn was saying. "She was smart and clever, quick on her feet. And she was beautiful. You know how I know? Because she looked just like you, and you, darling, are the most beautiful little girl I've ever…" Janeway looked up to see him. "Say good morning to Daddy," she said, her voice slightly less confident.
"Daddy!" Miral said. "Oatmeal."
"Good morning," Tom said, leaning down to kiss Miral's face. "Sorry I overslept."
"Nonsense," Janeway said. "I'm sorry I stuck you with cleaning up."
"You were tired," Tom said. "It was a good party."
"Very," she agreed. "I'm glad you stayed."
"Thanks for… thank you," he said. "We should go. Leave you to your Sunday."
"Actually," Janeway said. "I was just making breakfast. Stay, eat."
"Sure," he said, sitting at the table. She set a plate of eggs and toast in front of him and poured him some juice. They ate quietly. Janeway was in her robe – a pale blue cotton thing that was tied tightly around her. It was no more revealing than her uniform but there was something intimate about seeing her in informal clothes, about waking up to find her so near. Her hair was longer now, like it had been at the start of things, and she had it loose and gathered over one shoulder. Last night it had been clipped partly up and curled at the ends but those had fallen out and her hair was straight now. He tried not to stare.
"If you'd like a day to yourself, I'd be happy to keep her," Janeway said suddenly. "I could take her to the zoo or, Phoebe has a son only a year older than her. I bet she'd like a play date."
"Your sister?" Tom asked. She nodded. "All right. If you want. If it's not an imposition."
"It isn't," she assured him, smiling. "I'll replicate her something to wear. She's growing out of the clothes she has as is."
"Like a little weed," he agreed. Miral clung tightly to Janeway and waved goodbye to her father when he left for the day.
He returned to pick up his daughter that night. The exchange was pleasant. Miral was tired from her afternoon with Edward, Janeway's nephew, and her eyes closes as soon as Tom buckled her into her stroller.
"She had fun," Janeway said. "I had fun."
"Good," Tom said. "Thank you."
"Well," she said. "I'll see you in the morning, then." They stood staring at each other for a moment and Tom felt the need to do something more. He leaned in and kissed her cheek, but it was awkward and hesitant when it should have been comfortably and smooth.
"'Night," he said, and quickly pushed the stroller down the hall and out of sight.
At work, she was all business. He only saw her briefly in the morning, before she left to go shadow another judge. Tom stayed in the office, intercepting her communications and scheduling her calendar. He tried not to feel like a glorified secretary. He was a pilot, after all, but Janeway assured him once she got more established, the job would become more entertaining.
"Anytime I go off world, you're flying my shuttle," she promised. It was a good job, really. Many people wanted to be stationed at headquarters and it was a stable job for raising a small child. Tom had always had problems working in the Starfleet system until he worked for Janeway. There was something about her that kept him walking the line. He wanted to do it for her, needed to please her. Maybe that would never change.
In the afternoon, when boredom was threatening to overwhelm him completely, his console beeped with an incoming transmission.
"Admiral Janeway's chambers," Tom answered listlessly.
"Is that you Paris?" Chakotay looked surprised.
"Chakotay," he said. "Long time no see."
"I'll say," Chakotay said. "I was looking for the Admiral."
"I run her office these days," Tom said trying to make it sound as exciting as he'd like it to be. "She's out on assignment right now, I'm afraid. I can patch you through to her message center if you want to leave a note."
"No," Chakotay said. "Just tell her I'd like to speak with her when she gets the chance."
"Sure," Tom said. "How's Seven doing?"
"Just fine," Chakotay said.
"Tell her I say hi," Tom said.
"Will do. Chakotay out."
Tom stared at the blank screen for a moment.
"Awkward," he mumbled.
"What's awkward?" Janeway asked, walking briskly into the office.
"Has anyone ever told you that you have impeccable timing?" he asked. She grinned. "That was Chakotay on the monitor. He wanted to speak to you at your leisure." Her smile faded a bit.
"I'll bet," she said.
"Want me to get him back for you?" Tom asked.
"No," she said. "No, I'll do it later."
"Want to talk about it?" he pressed.
"Absolutely not," she said and disappeared into her office.
"Awkward," he said again and she scoffed, having heard him again.
For Miral's birthday, Janeway wanted to take them on a vacation.
"She needs to see this planet," Janeway said.
"She's three. She won't remember it," Tom argued. "You don't need to do anything so extravagant, Kathryn."
"I know I don't need to. I want to," she said. Miral, in the last few months, had started talking more. She sat in the transport with them, babbling about ducks and trees and everything that passed by the window she was looking out. She tugged on Janeway's fingers excitedly at the sight of someone walking their dog. "I see that, baby," Janeway acknowledged. "What does a doggy say?"
"Woof!" cried Miral.
"Exactly right, my bright girl," Janeway praised. The three of them were traveling from headquarters to the transport sight. They did this every night they left at the same time. They would walk to the daycare center to retrieve Miral, take a seven-minute transport ride to the transport station and transport to their destinations. About once a week, he would go with her or she would come over and share a meal. Tonight they would go their separate ways. He could feel the tram slowing already.
"Where?" he asked.
"I don't know yet," she admitted. "But I'll come up with something wonderful." They disembarked and they both took one of Miral's hands while they waited in line.
"Maybe we should rent a shuttle," Tom offered. "Take her into space."
"She's awfully young for that," Janeway said.
"She was born in space," Tom said.
"Out of necessity." Tom was beginning to notice something about Janeway. She didn't want to leave the planet. She'd chosen to stay planet side and work for headquarters rather than take another ship and even now, she didn't even talk about space, about leaving.
"I respect your choice to stay on Earth. You thought you'd never see it again and that's fine. But Miral is my daughter and if I want to show her the universe then that's my choice," he said. She looked startled at his tone and hurt by his words. She let go of Miral's hand and stepped back, slightly.
"Of course, Mr. Paris. You're absolutely right."
"Kathryn," he said. "I didn't mean…"
But they were at the front of the line and she stepped onto the transporter pad first and quickly.
"Seacliff," she barked and disappeared before any more words could be exchanged. Tom helped Miral on the pad and they stood straight.
"Mission," he said. They disappeared. It looked like her and Miral would be spending the night alone.
Chakotay was trying to contact her still.
"Captain," Tom greeted.
"Tom," he said. "Is she in?"
"She's in court today," Tom said, which was the truth.
"I see," he said. "Will you relay my message?"
"Captain, I don't mean to pry or assume," Tom said. "So I won't. But if you truly wish to speak to her I suggest coming down here."
"Surprise attack," Chakotay said with a small, sad smile. "I suppose so."
"I'll save you a block of time this evening," Tom said. "But I'll leave your name off the calendar."
"Is she going to tear you a new one if you do?" Chakotay said.
"Well, I can't say I'm exactly her favorite person right now any how, so…"
"All right, I'll see you this evening," Chakotay said. "Chakotay out."
Tom just hoped whatever happened between his former Captain and First officer was something reparable.
Janeway came in tired and already in a foul mood. Things had been tense with him for the last few days. He'd reverted back to calling her Admiral and she hadn't bothered to correct him. She'd also been finding excuses to stay late so that he'd have to pick up Miral and walk to the transporter station alone. Miral's birthday was this weekend but if Janeway chose not to celebrate with them, what could he do?
Well, he could apologize, but he knew Janeway well and she'd brush off the apology. He'd hurt her feelings and that would take some time to repair.
"Good evening, Admiral," Tom murmured when she came in, pulling off her robes to reveal the uniform beneath.
"Mr. Paris," she said.
"You have one more appointment tonight," he called. She hesitated just outside the door. "He's, ah, in your office now."
"Is he?" she asked, rubbing her forehead tiredly.
"He is," Tom confirmed. She studied his face, looked at him longer than she had all week.
"I know you," she said, lowly. "I'm not going to like this, am I?"
"That remains to be seen," he said. She threw up her hands and walked into the office. A second later she stormed out and stood in front of his desk with her hands on her hips.
"You are in trouble," she seethed.
"Kathryn," he said. "He's been calling you for two months. You had to know eventually he'd show up."
"Don't Kathryn me, Tom Paris," she said, her voice rising in anger. Chakotay came into the outer office.
"It isn't his fault, Admiral," Chakotay said. "I just wanted to talk to you."
"I don't want to talk to you, did you ever think of that?" she said. Tom watched this with his mouth open. He'd seen Janeway happy, sad, disappointed, and extremely pissed off but he'd never seen her lash out irrationally like this before. "And he doesn't need you to defend him," she said, pointing at Tom who stepped back, pressing his back against the wall.
"I did," Chakotay admitted. "But hear me out, please!"
She crossed her arms but said nothing.
"Starfleet has granted me the Captaincy of a ship," Chakotay said.
"Congratulations," Tom said when the silence began to stretch out.
"What ship?" she asked in that same dangerous voice.
"Voyager," Chakotay said. Tom heard himself gasp. He thought for a moment that Janeway was going to punch him or throw something but instead she just stormed out.
"She tried for a year to get that ship out of port," Tom said softly.
"I know," Chakotay said. "I thought she might be happy that Voyager was out at all."
"They wanted her behind a desk. They were never going to give her a ship," Tom said.
"Maybe," Chakotay said.
"You could have left this news in a message," Tom accused.
"I'll admit I have an ulterior motive for coming down," Chakotay said. "I've chosen almost all of my crew, but as it turns out, I'm still on the market for a first officer."
"You want me?" Tom asked. Chakotay nodded.
"But… why? I mean, I respect the hell out of you Chakotay but we've never been friends."
"I don't need a friend," Chakotay said. "I need a number one."
"I don't know," Tom said.
"You know the ship as well as anyone," Chakotay said. "As well as the Admiral, better than me." He paused. No one, not even Janeway, knew the ship as well as B'Elanna and her unspoken memory hung heavy in the air.
"It's a fine offer," Tom said finally. "But I can't leave her."
Chakotay smiled softly in complete understanding.
"Well," Chakotay said. "We don't ship out for two weeks. So if you change your mind?"
"I'll let you know," Tom said. "But don't hold your breath."
"Can I ask you something?" Chakotay asked.
"You outrank me," Tom said which Chakotay supposed meant the affirmative.
"Are you and she… living together?" he asked.
"That would be a violation of Starfleet fraternization protocols," Tom said. "Where'd you hear that?"
"San Francisco is a small city," Chakotay says. "People talk."
"We're friends," Tom says. "That's always been the case."
"I'm not your commanding officer any longer and I know how easy it is to follow Admiral Janeway but, Tom, be careful. Don't let your loyalty derail your career," Chakotay said.
"I need to go find the Admiral," Tom said, coolly. "Excuse me."
He knew exactly where she would go and it was, indeed, where she was. Tom was late in picking up Miral and so his daughter and Janeway were the last people left in the place. Tom nodded to the woman who ran the center and she looked relieved. She wanted to get home.
"We'll just be a minute," he promised her.
Inside the play area, Janeway sat on the rug with Miral who was stacking blocks precariously upon one another. Janeway was sitting quietly watching his daughter intently. Miral looked up at her father and smiled.
"Tower," she said.
"I see that," said Tom. "Very tall."
Janeway stood carefully, not wanting to upset the blocks.
"I'll leave you to it, then," she said.
"Please don't go," Tom said. She let her hand rest on her hip and sighed. "Can't we talk about this?"
"What is there to talk about?" she asked.
"Things haven't been right, for one. I was harsh the other day and I didn't mean it."
"You were right," Janeway said. "I don't want to leave the planet. I've seen what space can be like and it's not always pretty. I just… I wanted the best for this little girl. She's already lost too much."
"I'm sorry I let Chakotay in," he said. "I didn't know what he wanted."
"Well," she said. "I simply have to get used to taking orders again. If HQ doesn't want me on the bridge of my ship..." She paused. "On Voyager, then that's something I simply have to accept."
"There's, uh, something else," he said.
"What?" she asked.
"He asked me to be his first officer," Tom admitted. Her eyes dropped to Miral but then she squared her shoulders and forced a smile.
"That's a wonderful opportunity for you, Tom," she said.
"What?" he asked. "No! I said no."
"It's an automatic promotion," she said. "I'd be happy to write you a glowing recommendation."
"Are you firing me?" Tom asked.
"No," she said. "I'm giving you permission to go."
"I appreciate your permission but I decline," Tom said. At their feet, Miral knocked over the stack of blocks forcefully and began rebuilding.
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"Look, I don't know about you but to me, family is important. I'm not splitting this one up," he said. She touched his shoulder.
"Thank you," she said. He took her hand and pulled her into his arms so he could give her a proper hug. He froze for a moment, but not for long, and then relaxed into him – even hugged him back. Tom stepped back first.
"The truth is, everyone who is important to me has disappeared over the years. I've disappointed my father; my sisters live off planet. My wife is dead," Tom said. "If you want me out of your life, you're going to have to shoot me."
"Understood," she said softly. "Come on. Let's go home." She picked up Miral and they headed for the exit. Even thought it was late, they all went to Janeway's apartment. Tom chose, now that he was back in her good graces, not to mention the late hour. Inside, Janeway did what she always did – started shedding her uniform on the way to her bedroom. "Why don't you give her a bath," she called. "I'll make dinner."
Miral preferred baths. Generally, Tom set her in the sonic shower or took her in with him, but sometimes, he treated her. There were spare pajamas for her in Janeway's room and that was where the only tub was as well. He waited until she came out in civilian clothes and then she waved him in.
"There are clean towels in the cupboard," she said, brushing by him in the narrow hallway.
"Thanks," he said.
She was oddly open about her space, especially after being so closed off on Voyager for so long. She didn't mind if Miral ran into her bedroom or if Tom ran in after her. Sometimes she would send him in her room to get a PADD or a spare blanket. He tried not to linger, to intentionally intrude on her space, even if she didn't consider it an intrusion.
But now, he went in with his daughter. He helped her onto the toilet – she'd been toilet trained only a few months now, and then helped her undress. He put warm water into the tub, let it run until it was a few inches deep and then set Miral into the water. At home she had toys for the tub but here all that lined the shelf were shampoos, conditioners, and bubble bath products. He washed Miral's hair with Janeway's shampoo and conditioner and cleaned her skin with Janeway's soap. When he pulled Miral out of the tub, he wrapped her in Janeway's clean towel and set her on Janeway's bed while he got her some clean pajamas. When she was dressed, he brushed her hair with Janeway's hairbrush. When he set her down, she ran out into the living room, glad to be free to play.
There was food on the table when he came out. Miral had been fed at the daycare center when they'd both been late, so they sat at the table and watched her play while they ate. He wet hair dried into a mass of curls. B'Elanna had always used the sonic shower so her hair could be straight. More normal, she'd said. Tom was going to try to make sure his daughter grew up never feeling bad about herself or her appearance.
"Things change when you have a child," Tom said.
"I'm beginning to learn that," she said. "I mean, she isn't mine, but…"
"She is," Tom interrupted. "I mean… in a way. You took us in when we needed someone."
"I was worried," she said. "I did what I would do for any member of my crew."
"We weren't part of your crew any longer," he pointed out.
"You'll always be part of my crew," she said. He smiled.
Tom slept that night with Miral in the guest room. His daughter smelled like Janeway to distraction and Tom vowed to himself that there would be no more baths for her here – only sonic showers which left a person clean and odorless. It took Tom a while to slip under. Next to him, Miral, like her mother, slept like the dead. Her little body put off waves of heat and only after hours of restless turning did Tom manage to sleep, his head under a pillow, trying to block out the silver light of the moon.
She didn't wake him, exactly. Somehow, Tom just knew that she was there, in the room.
"Kathryn?" he asked, sitting up, the pillow sliding to the floor.
"Sorry," she murmured.
"What's wrong?" he asked, a small jolt of adrenaline making sure he would not get back to sleep tonight.
"Couldn't sleep," she said. He got up; made sure Miral was tucked in tight. She wouldn't go anywhere, but she wouldn't fancy waking up alone, either. Tom tiptoed out into the main area with Kathryn just in front of him. "Do you want some Tea?" she asked. He might as well. She replicated two mugs and gave him the hot mug. She sat on the couch so he followed her lead.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he pressed.
"Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night and I panic," she said. "Do you know why?"
He shook his head.
"I can't hear the ship," she said. "I don't hear the hum of it and I think something is wrong. It takes me a moment to remember that I'm on a planet. Isn't that crazy?"
"It's not," he said. "I could give you the medical term for that, but you know you aren't crazy."
"People can get very good at hiding their crazy," she said. "Be careful of me."
"I'll take my chances," he said, leaning in as if sharing a secret.
"When we first got home, I slept like a baby," she said. "Now, it's like I'm back on the ship. Climbing the walls at all hours."
"I could give you a sedative," he offered. She shook her head.
"I just want your company, okay?" she asked.
"Okay," he said. They watched the newsfeed for a while, letting the light from the screen flicker over them in the darkness. It was not exactly news to her, especially on the Starfleet channel. She was an admiral and got daily briefings on everything happening in the region. Slowly, he realized that she was leaning against him. Lightly at first and then more as her head dropped to his shoulder. When he looked down, her eyes were closed. It didn't look comfortable so he raised his arm and she moved closer into his body and nestled herself under it. She opened her eyes once and met his gaze but closed them again and fell asleep against him, her head tucked into his neck.
In the morning, there would be no blaming this on moving in one's sleep.
Morning came in only a few hours. Her windows were huge and let in the earliest light. They were on the couch, sleeping. In the night, they had managed to stretch out. She was tucked between the couch and his body, comfortable with such a small amount of space. She used his chest as a pillow, his stomach as an armrest. He wasn't sure who woke up first, but she moved first. Miral was crying in the other room. She crawled over him and stumbled a bit as she yanked her foot out from beneath him. He woke up fully, bleary eyed and confused. He saw her disappear down the hallway, her hair tangled and her pajamas wrinkled.
She returned with Miral in her arms. He could tell just from Miral's posture that she was in a foul mood. Her little legs were wrapped tightly around Janeway's hips and her face was buried in Janeway's neck. She was sobbing.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"I don't know," she said. "I think she's just scared." Tom stood helplessly while Janeway held her, twisting her body in a rocking motion, swaying on her feet. She shushed the girl, speaking directly into her dark here. "There, there," she said. "We're okay."
In the other room, Janeway's alarm began to sound. They had to go to work but the noise only renewed Miral's tears. Tom rushed passed them to silence the noise. He didn't realize it was so late. He would have to wear yesterday's uniform. While he was in her room, he pulled an outfit for Miral out of the dresser. Keeping clothes for her here was the smartest idea Janeway had ever had, in his book, and she was an idea woman.
In the living room, though, Miral wouldn't leg go of Janeway. When he tried to pull her away, she screamed and thrashed. Janeway snatched the outfit and took her down the hall to dress her. Miral was a pretty calm child, considering her heritage but every once in a while she had those angry Klingon days and he supposed that was today.
Tom dressed in his old uniform and skipped the shower all together. He replicated three quick bowls of cereal and waited for them. Janeway came out in her uniform; her hair up in an elaborate and nostalgic bun and Miral was dressed. She carried Miral on one hip and the girl's legs dangled down. She clutched a stuffed toy.
"You're too big for this," Tom told her sternly. Miral pouted and threw the toy down angrily. "Eat your breakfast."
"No," Miral spat, and crossed her little arms in a perfect imitation of the mother she didn't remember.
"Miral," Janeway said in her stern command voice. "Sit in your chair."
"I don't want to," Miral said.
"Sit down," Tom said. Miral turned on her heel and ran back into Janeway's room. Tom rubbed his face and sat down. "Are we being punished?" he asked. She shook her head.
"Welcome to age three," was all Janeway said.
For the first time, they arrived to work together. Chakotay's warning rang loudly in his mind. He tried not to look suspicious, to notice the people who watched them. Miral squirmed in her seat on the transport. He knew she would not want to stay in daycare today. Janeway already looked like she was nursing a headache.
"I'll take her," Tom said. "Go on ahead."
"No," Janeway sighed. "I think it'll be easier with both of us."
Miral held both their hands and drug her feet so they practically had to carry and swing her along the path to the center. Finally, Janeway tired of this behavior and scooped her up by the waist and carried her at her hip like a Compression Phaser Rifle. Miral bounced around squirming and complaining.
"When you act like this, this is how you get carried," Janeway snapped at her. Tom was happy to let Janeway deal with his little brat this morning and he hurried ahead to open the door. The woman at the desk frowned.
"I see," she said, knowingly, looking at the tantrum that was about to take place.
"Miral, look, it's your friend Sasha," Tom tried helpfully. "Why don't you go play with her?" When Miral was on her own two feet, she stuck her tongue out at Janeway and ran into the playroom.
"I swear twenty minutes ago she would have no one but me," Janeway told the woman.
"It's fine, Admiral," she said. "Children can be unpredictable."
"Let's go before she wants us back," Tom said and pulled Janeway by her elbow out of the center. To get to their building, they had to walk up a flight of stairs – concrete steps that helped to make the hilly landscaping more pedestrian friendly. Janeway was used to using Tom's arm for stability as the crested the top of the steps. At the top, though, she paused and yanked her hand away.
"Kathryn?" he asked, worried. But instead of answering him, she picked up her pace and left him behind. When he finally reached the top, he saw whom she was walking toward. It was Admiral Owen Paris, standing outside the entrance to their building.
"Admiral," she said, her voice filled with a forced cheer.
"Hello Kathryn," he said. "Tom."
"To what do we owe this pleasure?" Janeway asked, smiling.
"I was hoping to have a moment of your time," he said. Tom keyed open the doors and led them into the offices, the lights coming on as they sped through. He opened the door to the outer office.
"Can I get you something to drink, Admiral?" he asked.
"Tom," Owen said. "I'm your father, not your boss."
"On HQ grounds, you're both, sir," Tom said.
"No thank you," Owen said, turning the drink down. "Let's have a seat," he said, turning to Janeway. "Have a chat."
"Sure," she said. "Tom, hold all transmissions, would you?"
"Yes Ma'am," he said, powering up his terminal.
"Actually, I'd prefer it if Tom would join us," Owen said. Tom got a bad feeling about where the morning was about to go. Perhaps Miral's tantrum had been a warning that they all needed to skip the day and climb back into bed. Or onto the couch, as the case may be. He tried not to think about how it felt to hold her with his father in the room.
"All right," Janeway said and they went into her office. Janeway sat at her desk and he sat next to his father in one of the chairs across from her. "You know me well, Admiral Paris, and I don't like to beat around the bush so let's have it."
"Fair enough," he said. "The truth of the matter is, I'm here to brief you on fraternization policies." Janeway's shock was clear.
"With all do respect, Dad," Tom said. "The three of us are poster children for the Starfleet family life style. We know all the regulations."
"Then you'll have no problem with me asking after the nature of your relationship?" Owen said.
"That's enough," Janeway said. "I've done everything Starfleet has asked of me since I've returned home and I'm through being punished."
"Punished?" Owen asked.
"Keeping me behind the desk I understand. Denying me Voyager, fine. Giving Voyager to Chakotay, fine. But accusing me of behavior unbecoming to an officer is crossing a line," she said.
"I'm not accusing you of anything, yet," Own said.
"Yet?" Tom asked. "Seems like you've made up your mind already."
"All I'm looking for is information," he said. "Sit down, Kathryn."
Janeway sat back into her chair but looked on the verge of murder. The truth was, Admiral Paris was hitting a little to close to the nerve.
"Junior Admiral Janeway is listed as Miral Paris's alternate next of kin at the daycare facility," Owen said.
"Not a crime or a violation of protocol," Tom said.
"But an honor generally reserved for parents and other family members," Owen pointed out. "I'm not even on that list."
"You never even see Miral," Janeway said. "She wouldn't know you."
"You and my son are rarely seen apart and you hosted a party together a few months ago," Owen said.
"Are you putting your son on record or Lieutenant Commander Paris?" Janeway spat.
"No one is going on record," Owen said. "I just want to make sure that protocol isn't being breeched."
"Admiral Janeway is like family to Miral," Tom said.
"And what is Admiral Janeway to you?" Owen prompted. Tom looked into his lap, unsure how to accurately answer the question. "I see," said Owen. "I've brought a few alternate assignments for you, Tom. We can clear this up right now without anything going into anyone's file."
"Tom doesn't need an alternate assignment, he works for me," Janeway said, her voice as cold as ice.
"If you, if both of you, can assure me right now that you have no feelings for one another outside the commanding officer-subordinate officer relationship, I'll leave right now and not worry about it again," Owen said, standing. Protocol dictated that they rise as well so they did. "Can you give me that assurance?" he asked, looking at both of them. Tom glanced at Janeway who looked at him and then looked away quickly. The silence seemed to drag on. Finally, knowing that he couldn't give his father the rock solid assurance he wanted, he held out his hand for the PADD.
"I expect your choice by the end of the shift, Lieutenant Commander Paris," Owen said. "I should write both of you up, but I won't on the understanding that this is the last we'll speak of or hear of this issue. Understood?"
"Yes, sir," Toms said.
"Yes, sir," Janeway echoed.
"I'll let myself out," Owen said and strode quickly out of the office. The air hung heavy in the room. Janeway looked out her window, Tom looked at the floor. Finally, she broke the tension.
"What's on the list?" she asked, her voice breaking slightly. She cleared her throat. Tom brought the PADD to his field of vision.
"Uh, shuttle design… cargo transport… and flight instruction at the academy," he read, dully.
"Those are good opportunities for you," she said. He looked at her and her face looked wide open. She didn't look happy or pleased for him. She looked sad.
"I guess," he said.
"I'm going to be late for court," she said. "Will you… will you be here when I return?"
"Of course," he said.
"Good," she said. "Yes. Good. Then… you're dismissed."
He let himself out of her office and a few minutes later, he heard the hiss of her escaping through her back door.
He was just sending off his selection when she came back in, pulling off her robe and hanging it on the coat rack by the door.
"Hi," she said.
"Hello," he said. "How was court?"
"Fine," she said. "Well. I was distracted, so I assume it went well."
"I just… send my selection off to my father," he said.
"Oh," she said, her face falling slightly. "What did you choose?"
"Flight instructor," he said. "I thought staying in San Francisco would keep things mostly the same. You know, for Miral."
"Ah," she said. "Yes. Well, I'm glad you'll be nearby."
"I won't even have to move," he said. She nodded.
"Congratulations," she said and started to walk past him.
"Kathryn," he said and she stopped. "When I took the… the list I didn't mean to imply… it's just that you're family and you are such a part of Miral's life. We do spend a lot of time together and it isn't the normal CO relationship."
"I understand," she said.
"I don't mean to make you feel… uncomfortable," he said.
"You didn't," she said quickly.
"If me leaving this post will make your career more smooth, then it's for the best, really," he said.
"It isn't your job to worry about my career," she said, softly.
"I want you to be happy."
"I am happy," she promised. "I have been… very happy lately."
"Me too," he said. She smiled softly.
"Can you be happy teaching cadets to fly?" she asked.
"We'll see," he laughed. "It's time to get the little girl. Do you… want to come?"
"Sure," she said. "Let me shut this place down."
He waited a few minutes for her to walk with him. The night was chilly and they walked closer than usually to try to ward off getting too cold. In the center, Miral was sleeping.
"She had a hard day," one of the aides informed them.
"Us too," Janeway said. Tom lifted her off of the small mattress and held her like he used to when she was a baby. He carried her to the transport and they boarded together. On the tram, Janeway stroked Miral's hair absently.
"Tough day," Tom murmured.
"Will we… I mean, I'd like to continue to see you and Miral," Janeway said. "If that's all right with you." He leaned in, his mouth close to her ear.
"I took the transfer so we could see you whenever we want," he murmured. She looked at him, her eyes soft in the dim light.
"Do you mean that?" she asked. He chuckled.
"I do," he said.
A week later, Tom was standing in front of a class of first year cadets. It was the first day of the new quarter at the Academy and he was teaching four classes of Introduction to Warp Flight. He wasn't nervous – it was a class he could teach in his sleep, but he was worried about getting bored. He was a top-notch pilot with a degree in astrophysics and plenty of deep space experience and now he was teaching 18-year-olds where the go and stop buttons were.
The cadets sat straight in their chair. He remembered his first day of the Academy, how bright his future seemed, how badly he wanted to do well, to not disappoint his family.
"Welcome to Warp Flight," he said. "I'm Lieutenant Commander Tom Paris."
Everyone stared at him with rapt attention.
"You can call me Commander Paris," he said. "This is a required course for every student, even if you don't plan on piloting in the future. I suggest you pass on the first try. Any questions?"
Slowly, a hand went up in the back.
"That was mostly rhetorical, but go ahead," Tom said.
"You were on Voyager," the young cadet said.
"That wasn't a question," Tom said. "Look, you can access my personnel file from any terminal on this campus. We really don't have time to talk about things irrelevant to the class. Now, access the first data file on your terminal. What do you say we get started?"
He wasn't worried at all.
That night, Janeway came to the mission district. Miral's day was always better after a good nights sleep in her own bed and so Tom had been trying to give her a dependable routine. Miral was already bathed and fed when Janeway arrived. The sun was setting over the bay and Miral was watching some educational program on the console.
"What is that?" Janeway asked, after letting herself in.
"It's supposed to teach her the alphabet," Tom said. "She seems to be entertained anyway."
"She's three, what does she need the alphabet for?"
"She'll be four on Saturday," he said. "Can't hurt."
"I guess," Janeway said. "I know last time we spoke about her birthday we fought."
"Yes," he said. "And?"
"Let's take her to the beach," Janeway suggested. "Just you and me."
"That's not a bad idea," Tom said. "But Harry is going to be planet side and he wants to see her. Is it all right if he comes along?"
"Of course!" Janeway said. "I just didn't know he'd be around."
"He messaged me this morning," Tom said. "He said he got her something that we'd all like."
"Hmm," Janeway said. "Wonder what that means."
"Me too," Tom said.
"Well, I'll plan everything. Don't worry about it at all," she said.
"You could invite Phoebe and her family," Tom offered. "If it's a party."
"All right," Janeway said. There was an odd note in her voice.
"Miral likes Edward," Tom said, unnecessarily.
"I know she does," Janeway said. "It was a good idea."
Janeway offered to put MIral to bed but they ended up both doing it. Miral's room was small but cozy and Janeway tucked her into bed tightly, making sure the blankets were snugly around her small form and that her stuffed toy was within arms reach. Tom waited in the doorway, watching.
"Tell your father goodnight," she ordered softly.
"Night Daddy," Miral said, rubbing her eyes. She was tired which was a good thing. Janeway leaned down and kissed Miral softly on the lips.
"I love you, darling," she said.
"I love you, too," Miral promised, her eyes closing. Tom shut off the light and let Janeway out before closing the door so only a crack of the light from the hallway came in. At the dinner table, they ate in companionable silence.
"How's the new office mate?" Tom asked, finally.
"I loathe her," Janeway said, honestly.
"I thought we decided she was a good choice! Her credentials were outstanding," Tom said. "We looked at hundreds of profiles."
"On paper she's fine," Janeway said. "And a Lieutenant junior grade is much easier to boss around than you, but she's just so eager. And young."
"You can make her into whatever you want," he said.
"I can't make her into you," Janeway said softly. Tom didn't know what to say. Their own relationship was in a tenuous, transitional place. Janeway was a permanent fixture in his life – she was practically raising his daughter with him and they did nearly everything a couple would do in regards to social niceties but they hadn't crossed any lines. "And anyway," she continued. "I doubt Lieutenant Dallas wants to stay in this posting for more than a year so I won't dwell."
"A year goes by quickly," Tom said pushing his plate away from him.
"Tell me about your day," she urged. He shrugged.
"Red means stop, green means go. Don't hit that planet. Next," he said. She laughed.
"It's a little more complicated than that!" she argued.
"I guess," he said. "Actually, the first half of my unit is spent on theory. Warp fields and all the quantum physics that applies."
"I can imagine you being a good teacher," she said. "My Intro to Warp instructor was extremely dry. He had to have been about 400-years-old."
"And did you pass?" he asked.
"Of course! Full marks," she said. "I love quantum physics."
He opened a bottle of wine and they sat drinking in silence.
"We have no life," he said.
"We have a four-year-old," she retorted. "Or, rather… I mean, you do."
"She's yours too," Tom said. "When you're gone, she talks about you constantly. She adores you. She is as much yours as mine."
"Did I take to much?" Janeway asked. "Did I take her from you?"
"Don't be insane," Tom said.
"For so long, I was focused on us getting back that I never once thought about what it would be like once we did. If we did. I never realized that getting back meant going with life and doing something new." She laughed. "Raising a child was pretty far from my thoughts."
"You aren't obligated to stay," he reminds her.
"Now who is being insane?" she said. "It has nothing to do with obligation. You are in my heart and she is too."
"Good," Tom said. "Then we should really stop having this same insecure conversation."
"Agreed," she said laughing.
Harry Kim appeared with a puppy.
"Happy birthday!" he cried, and Miral shrieked as she wrapped her arms around the white ball of fluff with obvious glee.
"Oh Harry," Tom said. "A dog?"
"You like dogs," Janeway said. "And so do I. And so, apparently, does your daughter."
"You're walking it," Tom said to her.
"Her," Harry offered.
"Fine," Janeway said. "Miral, love, what would you like to name her?"
Miral seemed to consider this deeply.
"Fluffy," she said, finally.
"Really?" Tom said, sounding rather disappointed. Janeway elbowed him in the ribs.
"Really," Miral confirmed.
"Fluffy it is," Janeway said. "Thank your uncle Harry."
They left for the beach with Fluffy on a small leash. Janeway had made sure everyone was slathered with sun protector. They were to meet her sister and nephew at the shore and fun would, in so many words, commence.
Phoebe was late, of course. Janeway's idea of going to the beach was sitting on a blanket and reading a book or working. Harry was content to take Miral to the edge of the water and so Tom sat beside Janeway, enjoying the sun.
"That's a nice color on you," he said.
"You think?" she asked. She wore a standard one-piece suit in an almost turquoise color with a matching sarong around her hips.
"Yeah," he said. "You look nice."
"Thank you," she said.
"I like your hair longer, too. I'm glad you let it grow," he continued.
"You angling for something here, Mr. Paris?" she said, a light sarcasm in her voice.
"Just making conversation," he said. "Pleasant conversation."
"Where on earth is my sister?" she asked, looking over her shoulder at the people surrounding them. "Her sense of timing is not something we share."
"Do my complements make you uncomfortable?" Tom asked pointedly. She glanced at him before letting her eyes return to Miral, ever watchful.
"All complements make me uncomfortable on some level," she said.
"We should work on that," he said.
"Work on it?" she repeated.
"You do that," Tom said. "Repeat what I say to buy yourself time. Don't think I don't notice."
"You do it too," she accused.
"Yeah, because I picked it up from you!" he said. "I'm going to give you a complement every day from now on. You're going to learn how to take it gracefully."
"That sounds miserable," she said, patting his shoulder.
"It shouldn't be," he said. "Let's practice."
"You already gave me two!" she said.
"You're beautiful," he said.
"What do you say to that?" he pressed. She sighed.
"Thank you," she said.
"Now if you could only do it without the sigh of contempt…"
"Kathryn!" Phoebe's voice was dim, being swallowed by the sound of the surf but Janeway was up and off the blanket in a heartbeat, walking to greet her coming family.
Miral smelled of salt and sand and was like a limp rag doll in Janeway's arms.
"Can you take her?" Janeway whispered. "I can't feel my fingers."
"Yeah," he said. Phoebe had just packed up Edward and left and Harry was behind them, cleaning up their beach things. The sun was disappearing quickly behind the horizon and they needed to go before it started getting cold. Despite the sun protector, they all had rosy cheeks and shoulders. Janeway pressed Miral against his chest and their fingers and arms brushed in the exchange. "It's a short walk to the transport station."
"Is Harry ready?"
"We're ready," Harry said, coming up behind them. He had a blanket under one arm and the puppy in the other. Fluffy was just as sacked out as Miral. They started the companionable walk away from the water toward the transport station.
"I'm so glad you came," Janeway said to Harry.
"I don't get a lot of shore leave," he admitted. "This was a nice way to spend it."
"Next time you come for leave, please don't bring anymore pets, all right?" Tom said. "I'm not even supposed to have pets in my building."
"I didn't think of that," Harry said, apologetically.
"Fluffy can live with me," Janeway said. "You're there half the time anyway."
There was an awkward silence.
"I just mean… I have a guestroom," she added lamely.
Tom snickered into the darkness.
"What she means to say is, Miral likes spending time at her place," Tom supplied.
Harry wisely said nothing.
"Did I make a fool of myself with Harry?" Janeway asked, standing in the middle of her apartment. Fluffy was asleep on her newly replicated bed and Miral was asleep in the guestroom.
"No," he assured her.
"I feel like I wasn't clear," she said.
"We don't have a clear relationship," Tom pointed out.
"You make a fair point," she said.
"Do you really care what anyone thinks?" he asked.
"I don't know anymore," she said. "I guess I care what you think."
"I think it's fine," he said. "I think today was a good day. I think you look pretty in that swimming suit and that you make my daughter into a happy little girl."
"Tom," she whispered.
"Yeah?" he said.
"You're killing me with these complements," she said. He smiled and kissed her cheek. When she kept smiling, he kissed the other one and when she still seemed happy, he planted one right on her lips. It was a quick kiss, a friendly kiss that was meant to convey joy. But when he pulled back, they were still close. There were only a few centimeters of space between them and it was easy for her to push up onto the balls of her feet and press her mouth to his.
Suddenly, a gentle friendly peck had turned into standing in the living room making out. Their arms were tight around one another and their tongues fought fiercely for control. Her skin was warm everywhere, hot to the touch in the places the sun had gotten to her fair skin. His fingers tugged at the dip in the back of her swimming suit and she broke the kiss.
"What are we doing?" she gasped.
"Something we should've done a long time ago," he said. He waited for her to stop him, he really did. He didn't want to force her into anything she didn't want but when he started pushing her body toward her bedroom, her feet moved just as easily as his did.
Some time in the night, drowsy and sated, Kathryn murmured something about putting on clothes.
"Why?" he groaned, dragging his lips across her shoulder blade. They were completely exhausted but he couldn't stop touching her.
"Because half the time Miral spends the night, she crawls in bed with me around 0500 and I think she's too young to scar," Kathryn said. So they pulled on clothes. She put on a nightgown and he slid on some shorts and a t-shirt. Sure enough, Miral came in. Kate woke up first, sensing the little girl at the bedside and she smacked Tom's arm.
"Kathryn," Miral whispered.
"Yeah," she said, tiredly. "Come on."
MIral climbed up onto the mattress. Kathryn was curious as to what she would say when she encountered her father's half asleep form but she said nothing at all. She merely positioned herself between Kathryn and her father and fell into a deep and happy sleep.
Perhaps Owen felt guilty about splitting their working team up or perhaps he felt guilty because he'd been right, but no matter the reason, he appeared at their apartment that fall. Tom and Miral had moved in only a few weeks earlier. Kathryn had made the guestroom into Miral's room, changing the white walls to a pretty green for her. Fluffy was happy to have everyone in one place all the time and everything just got a little easier. Tom was happy with Kathryn and he thought she was happy with him.
They were just sitting down to an early dinner around the table when the door chimed. Tom had just started his new session at the Academy and Miral had started school. They were all happy she was done with daycare.
"Are you expecting anyone?" Tom asked. Kathryn shrugged and headed for the door.
"Nope," she said. When he didn't hear anything, he got up.
"Hon? Who is it?" he called rounding the corner, only to stop abruptly. "Hey, Dad."
"Son," Owen greeted. "I'm sorry to just drop by unexpectedly but I wasn't sure you'd want to see me otherwise." Kathryn stepped back to let him in.
"We're just eating dinner, Admiral. Won't you join us?" she said. Tom gave her an urgent look as soon as his father walked by but she held up her hands in defeat. What were they to do? Kathryn set another place at the table and continued bringing the food over from the replicator.
"Miral," Owen said. "Look how you've grown."
"Miral, this is your grandfather," Tom said. "Do you remember him?"
Instead of answering, Miral slid off her chair and went to hide behind Janeway's skirt.
"She's shy," Tom said, which wasn't really true. Owen was just a daunting figure. They sat down to dinner and though Janeway was usually stern about table manners, she let Miral sit in her lap. The girl squirmed and didn't want to eat. There were several minutes of small talk. Owen asked after Tom's new posting – Janeway asked after his daughters since Tom didn't talk much about his family. Finally, the truth began to emerge.
"I'd like to spend more time with you, Tom," Owen said. "And Miral, of course."
"I'll try not to take that personally," Janeway said.
"And you too, Kathryn," Owen added.
"Obviously," she said. Owen cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Admiral you out rank me as an officer but as a family member and as someone I once looked up to… I have to say, I'm disappointed."
"Kathryn," Tom said.
"Let her speak, son," Owen said.
"You've missed too much time in my book," Kathryn said. "Nearly all of Miral's life and the majority of your son's. You've upset my career, forced Tom's in an unexpected direction. I don't see how you think you can just show up here, uninvited, and think all well be well because you simply want it to be!" With that, she stood, deposited Miral in Tom's lap and stormed into the bedroom, the door hissing closed behind her.
"Well," Owen said.
"There's a bad side I recommend you stay off of," Tom said.
"I recall," Owen said.
"She had a point," Tom said.
"Did she?" Owen said. "Perhaps I should go."
"Don't go," he said. "You were a bad father. You cared too much about your career and not enough about your wife and kids. But, that part is over. You have a chance to be a better grandfather. I can't forgive the past but we can start again now, for Miral."
"I never meant to be a bad father," Owen said.
"I know," Tom said.
"I'd like to start again," he said.
"And Kathryn?" Owen said. "Will she forgive me?"
"That, I don't know," Tom said.
"We were close once, she and I. She was a fine officer with a sharp mind. I'm glad she's with you know, son. I couldn't think of a finer daughter-in-law than a Janeway," Owen said.
"Don't rush me," Tom said. "Anyway, I'll tell her you said goodbye. Perhaps you can come for Christmas?"
"I'd like that very much," Owen said.
When his father was gone, Tom tucked Miral into bed and went to look for Kathryn. She was on the bed, curled into a ball. He could tell she'd been crying.
"I shouldn't have done that," she said.
"I like that you're opinionated," he promised.
"It was insubordinate," she said.
"Because you're the first woman to tell off your in-laws," he said.
"It's going to make taking orders from him uncomfortable," she said.
"Which rarely happens. You're in different departments," Tom said. "And furthermore, I think he really heard you." He slid onto the bed next to her. "I invited him for Christmas. Miral deserves a grandfather. We're going to give him chance."
"It's been a long time since the Janeway's and the Paris's have shared a holiday together," she said. "I was a little girl the last time. You weren't even born yet."
"Charming," Tom said. "Sorry I missed it."
"Think of how things would've been different if we'd kept up those parties," Janeway said. "We could've met a decade earlier."
"Why do you think that would've changed things?" he asked.
"Maybe it wouldn't have," she said.
"Maybe I would've lost my virginity to you instead of Elizabeth Blonkins," he said. She shoved him.
"Maybe we would've been friends," she said. "But you're probably right. The war really changed everything."
"So you aren't angry?" he asked. "That I invited your father?"
"No," she said. "I just want you to be happy."
"I am happy," he said.
Christmas was spent in Indiana. Gretchen Janeway has been more than happy to host the festivities on her farm. They wouldn't get a white winter on the California coast.
Tom loved Christmas. It had nothing to do with it's religious foundation and Tom was never a particularly religious guy, but the idea of family gathering to exchange gifts was a nice one. He liked the tree with its colorful accessories and twinkling lights. Most people who celebrated a winter solstice based holiday had holographic trees but Kathryn had assured him that her traditionalist mother would have a real tree.
Three days before they were set to leave, Kathryn got quiet and moody. Tom let it go at first – families and travel could be stressful. But her mood didn't get better; in fact, it got worse. Her moodiness turned to irritation. She didn't sleep. Either she tossed and turned in bed or he woke up alone. Even the dog failed to bring out her affection.
"Is this about my father?" he asked. "Are you anxious about spending time with him?"
"What?" she asked. "No."
"Then what's the problem?" he asked.
"I don't have a problem," she said.
"Well, then, I have a problem," Tom said. "You aren't talking to me, Miral asked why you were mad at her an hour ago, and Fluffy leaves the room whenever you come in!"
"I'm not mad at Miral," Kathryn said.
"No, you're mad at everyone and that just includes her," he said.
"I'm not mad, I'm just…" She rubbed her forehead and sat down at the foot of the bed. "I haven't exactly been honest with you." Tom sat next to her.
"How so?" he asked.
"I was always a daddy's girl," she said. "I love my mother, and we were happy to be reunited but as to our day to day relationship we don't always see eye to eye."
"It's not my father that's making you anxious, it's your mother," he said.
"Yes," she said. "And no."
"I don't know what you mean," he said.
"My mother knows that we're friends and that I help you with Miral but she doesn't quite know how… involved we are," Kathryn admitted sheepishly.
"What?" he exclaimed.
"And she doesn't yet know that your father is coming," Kathryn said.
"I didn't mean to lie! It's just that, after you were born, when the war with the Cardassians began, our families had a falling out. My father and your father disagreed about diplomatic solutions and then, when your father and I were taken prisoner, my father blamed Admiral Paris for my trauma and things… fell apart. When my father died, your family didn't attend the services."
"I had no idea," he said.
"After that, my mother has always held a grudge. When I recruited you for Voyager, she wasn't happy. Now, we mostly exchange superficial pleasantries."
"Your mother hates me," he said.
"No, she just… doesn't know you."
"But what about your sister?" he asked. "She knows about you and I – Miral and Edward play all the time."
"Phoebe and I have an understanding," Kathryn said. "I don't tell mom about her and she doesn't tell mom about me."
"Well, when we get there and your father shows up, what the hell is going to happen?" Tom asked.
"Don't yell at me, Tom."
"You wait until the eleventh hour to tell me that this is going to be awkward and I'm not allowed to yell?" he said.
"I'm just trying to be honest," she said.
"Now," he said.
"That isn't fair," she whispered.
"You've never lied to me before, have you?" he asked.
"No," she said. "No!"
"Do you want to cancel the trip?" he asked.
"No," she said.
"Are you… ashamed of me?" he asked. "Of Miral?"
"Heavens no," she said. "I love you and Miral."
"Then for a woman who stood down the Borg more than once, you're acting a little off," he said.
"Everything is going to be fine," she said but he felt like she was telling herself this, rather than him. "We're just going to take it one step at a time."
"I hope the first step is calling your mother," he muttered.
The night before they were to leave, Tom took Miral out of the house to let Kathryn finish packing and have whatever final meltdown she needed to have in solitude. There was an ice cream parlor down the road from their building that he took her to sometimes when Kathryn was working late. It was old fashioned and that appealed to Tom. The tables were made of scrolling wrought iron and the person behind the counter wore a striped shirt with a paper hat. They had sixteen flavors that were mostly different every time. Oh, they had the basics – Chocolate, Vanilla, and raspberry swirl but everything else came and went with the season.
Miral wanted peppermint so he got it for them both. They sat at a table by the window.
"It's going to rain," Miral said, her face already covered with the sticky sweet. Since they moved in with Kathryn, Miral's speech had improved. She hadn't been much of a talker but now she could speak in full and concise sentences. Kathryn spoke to hear as if she were a tiny adult and encouraged Miral to ask questions if there was something she didn't understand. Pairing that with starting school had improved things considerably.
"I hope not," Tom said. "I didn't bring our umbrella."
"Kathryn will be mad if we get wet," Miral said.
"She will," he chuckled. "You love Kathryn right?"
"Yes," she said. "I like when we play at the holodeck."
"Yeah, that's fun," Tom said. "Do you think you'd want to make her a part of our family forever?" He could tell by the look on her face that she didn't understand the question. "Would you want Kathryn to be your mom?"
"My mom is dead," she said, matter-of-factly. There was a picture of B'Elanna on Miral's dresser in her room next to a picture of Tom, Kathryn, and Miral from the beach. He and Kathryn had spent one day very carefully explaining to Miral about B'Elanna – about how much her mother had loved her, about the accident, about what happens to people when they die. They told her that no one would ever replace B'Elanna but that new people would come to love her as her life went on.
"That's true," Tom said, a little taken aback at her bluntness. "The mother who grew you in her body and gave birth to you died, but Kathryn has been with you since you were a baby. She does a lot of stuff that a mom would do."
"Like fix my lunch?" Miral asked.
"Like that," he confirmed.
"Sometimes she brushes my hair and makes two braids," Miral said, holding up two fingers to illustrate. "And on Thursdays, she picks me up from School." Thursdays, Tom had a late class.
"See?" Tom said. "Just like other people's mothers."
"Yeah," said Miral.
"How would you feel about calling her Mom?" Tom asked.
"Okay," Miral said.
"Really?" he asked, surprised at her willingness.
"Did you know that George at school has two moms?" she asked. "And no daddy?"
"Sometimes that happens," Tom said, smiling.
"Now I have a mom and a dad," Miral said, sounding pleased.
"You always did," he assured her. "Are you done?"
"Yes," she said.
"Did you eat any of it, because I think it's all on your face," he said, reaching across the table to wipe her face with his napkin.
"I ate it!" she said, trying to dodge him. When they walked outside, there was a light but steady rainfall. "See, daddy?"
"Right again," he said. "Put on my coat." It had a hood and though it dwarfed her, it kept her dry for the short walk home.
Tom went straight into the shower to warm up and let Kathryn put Miral to bed. They were supposed to arrive in Indiana by breakfast, so they were going to bed at a reasonable time to get an early start. Tom thanked the stars for sugar-free ice cream. He was just thinking about shutting the water off when Kathryn came into the bathroom and, surprisingly, stepped into the shower with him. She was naked and crying.
"What's wrong?" he asked, opening his arms. She stepped into his embrace and her skin was cool and dry against him.
"She called me mom," Kathryn sobbed. Tom rubbed her back, ran his hands over her sharp shoulder blades.
"You don't like it?" he asked.
"I love it," she said. "I'm so happy." Tom laughed and leaned down. He bit her earlobe affectionately while she held onto him hard.
Phoebe was waiting for them at the transport station when they arrived. It was snowing and too cold to walk so she'd brought the hover car to take them to the farmhouse.
"Where's Edward?" Kathryn demanded. Phoebe raised her eyebrows at Tom who just shrugged. He was resigned to her bad mood and she'd been in it since she woke up.
"With Bryant at the house," she said. Bryant was Phoebe's husband. Tom hadn't met him yet – he'd been on a deep space mission for the last several months and had taken leave for the holiday. Tom was hoping they got along because he had the feeling he'd need the solidarity.
"Did you get in last night?" Tom asked.
"Yeah," Phoebe said. "We're going to move to the Inn today, though."
"What?" Kathryn said. "You're leaving?"
"If Admiral Paris wants somewhere to sleep, then yes," she said. "Come on, let's go." Phoebe picked up Miral and loaded her into the car. Kathryn climbed in first and Tom followed. He held her hand and she squeezed his fingers.
"How did Mom take the news of Owen coming?" Kathryn asked.
"You mean how did she react when she read your note?" Phoebe asked. "She was thrilled."
"Sarcasm is unattractive," Kathryn muttered.
"A little effort would go a long way," Phoebe scolded. "I'm sick of playing diplomat for the two of you."
"I'm sure everyone will get along fine," Tom offered.
"We've been together for five minutes, Tom, how well do you think it's going so far?" Kathryn snapped.
"Uh oh," Miral said. "No fighting!" Phoebe laughed and Kathryn and Tom just shut their mouths for the rest of the ride.
The farmhouse had been kept up well in Kathryn's absence – she had to admit that. When she'd come home the first time, only days after Voyager's return to the Alpha Quadrant, she'd been so out of it that she didn't remember the time very well. She slept in her bed and let her mother and sister pamper her. She'd only stayed a week and then went on trial for over one hundred protocol infractions. She was cleared of them all, of course, but it had been a trying time. She had just gotten into a comfortable and seemingly long-term routine when she'd gotten the news about B'Elanna and then, later, the news about Tom rotting away alone in his apartment with that little girl.
Gretchen stood on the porch in a long coat and a bright purple scarf, her hands on her hips.
Tom almost gasped – he'd never realized how much Kathryn looked like her mother. She only really spoke about her father and he'd always thought that Phoebe would take after Gretchen. Kathryn said that Phoebe was the beauty of the family. She had dark skin and those crisp blue Janeway eyes. Where Kathryn was fair and pink, Phoebe had skin like porcelain, flawless and smooth. She had the curves of a seductress and was at least three inches taller than her older sister.
Tom could appreciate her beauty sure, but didn't quite believe that she was the best-looking Janeway. He wasn't exactly impartial.
Gretchen had the same body as Kathryn – narrow hips and a compact, efficient form. She wore her long hair in a bun and while the hair was mostly white, Tom could see a few streaks of auburn fighting to remain. Gretchen had the same cheekbones, the same jaw line and lifted her head in just the same way as they climbed out of hover car and walked down the icy sidewalk. Tom held Miral in his arms so she didn't fall and put on a big smile.
"Kathryn," Gretchen said, opening her arms. "Welcome home."
"Thank you," Kathryn said. "Mom, you remember Tom Paris?"
"Of course," Gretchen said. "Nice to have you, Mr. Paris." Tom shook her hand. She even had the same hands as Kathryn, the same round nails and narrow fingers.
"Thank you for having us, Mrs. Janeway. Especially my father," Tom said.
"Yes," Gretchen said, warily. She looked at Miral. "And who is this?"
"This is my daughter," Tom said. "Miral."
At the sound of her name, Miral turned her face into her father's neck. He could feel her cold nose on his skin.
"It's freezing," Phoebe said, pushing them all inside. "We can do this inside, can't we?"
Inside was warm and inviting. Tom smelled the evergreen tree immediately though he couldn't see it yet. He set Miral down but she didn't move until Edward ran in.
"Mimi!" he said and threw his arms around his cousin. Kathryn and Tom both watched this exchange carefully. Edward was a full year older than Miral but tended to be much more sensitive. He was sweet with a good heart – it was Miral who had more of a temper and a lower tolerance for Edward's affection. Today, however, Miral seemed relieved and hugged Edward back. "Do you want to see my room?" Edward asked, already pulling Miral toward the stairs. Miral looked back at her parents and Kathryn nodded once with a smile.
"Go ahead, darling," Kathryn said. Tom was happy that Miral wouldn't be bored. "Where's Bryant?"
"Oh," Phoebe said. "Upstairs, probably. I'll get him."
Left alone, they hung their jackets on the rack and Gretchen offered them something warm to drink. In the kitchen, they sat at the table and looked at one another.
"Thank you for having us," Tom said.
"Yes, you said that already," Gretchen said.
"Mother," Kathryn said.
"So Miral is Klingon, is she?" Gretchen asked.
"A quarter," Tom confirmed. "My wife passed away three years ago."
"Oh, I'm so sorry," she said, sounding sincere.
"Thanks," Tom said. "Kathryn really took us under her wing."
"That's what my daughter does best," Gretchen said, looking at her.
"Tom is teaching at the Academy now," Kathryn piped up, clearly not wanting to be discussed while she sat right next to them. "I think he'll be on the next list of promotions."
"I'm not holding my breath," Tom said.
"The Paris family is practically Starfleet royalty," Gretchen said. "I'm sure you'll go far."
"You could say the same about the Janeways," Tom countered. "Kathryn is what, the fourth Janeway Admiral?"
"Fifth," Kathryn said softly.
"Then it only make sense that our families are friends," Tom offered hopefully.
"One would think," Gretchen said a little icily. Footsteps on the stairs alerted them to people coming and Phoebe entered with her husband.
"This is Bryant," she said. "Bry, this is Tom Paris and you know Kathryn."
"Nice to meet you," Bryant said, shaking Tom's hand.
"You too," Tom said.
"I was pretty outnumbered before you got here," Bryant said. "Nice to have a man around."
"You loved being in a houseful of Janeways," Phoebe teased.
"Oh yeah," Bryant said. "Thrilled."
They all chuckled.
"It's nice to finally meet Miral, too," Bryant said. "Eddie talks about her all the time."
"They're good friends," Kathryn said. There was a pause. "Tom, why don't we get the bags and get settled. I can show you around?"
"Good idea," Tom said.
"I put a cot in Eddie's room for Miral," Gretchen said. "Phoebe and Bryant are in your old room, Kathryn, and I've saved the guestroom for you and your… friend."
This was an obvious invitation for them to come clean to Gretchen, to tell her precisely what she already knew.
"That will be fine," Kathryn said, refusing to do so. She let Tom get their suitcase and carried Miral's smaller one in from the car. Tom didn't bring anything up because he just didn't want to fight. He considered this a first contact situation and Kathryn was the expert in diplomacy. He'd follow her lead. Even if she led them right off the edge of a cliff.
Upstairs, the guestroom was nice – there was a bed and a bureau and a window that faced the back cornfield. Kathryn let him unpack a little and then they took Miral's suitcase to Phoebe's old room where the kids were staying. Miral and Edward were on the floor and he was showing her how to pilot his holographic spaceship.
"A boy after my own heart," Tom commented.
"Daddy, Edward can fly," Miral said.
"I can fly too you know," Tom said, sitting on the floor with them.
"Really?" she asked.
"Oh yes," Kathryn said, sitting at the edge of the cot. "Your dad and I used to work on a Starship together. I was the captain, and he flew me where ever I wanted to go."
"Cool," said Edward. "Will you take us flying?"
"Please daddy?" Miral begged.
"Your dad works on a starship," Tom told Edward, ignoring the plea.
"But he doesn't fly it," Edward said. "He works in Stellar Calligraphy."
"Cartography," Kathryn corrected with a laugh. "But that was pretty close."
"I want to fly," Miral pouted.
"That is up to Mom," Tom said, looking at Kathryn. She scowled him.
"Great, now I'm the bad guy," she said. "Baby, some day your daddy will take you flying, I promise."
"Right now?" Edward asked.
"Not today," Kathryn said. "Today we are staying here with Grandma."
"And Grandpa," Miral said.
"My grandpa died before I was born," Edward said.
"Mine is coming," Miral said. "Right?"
"Right," Tom confirmed. "Tonight for dinner and he'll stay tomorrow for Christmas."
"I'm hungry," Edward announced, clearly bored with all this talk of grandparents.
"Go downstairs and get one from Grandma," Kathryn said. "Take Miral."
The kids ran downstairs. They followed at a less frantic pace. In the kitchen, Gretchen wore an apron and stood over the plasma stove. Kathryn had warned Miral that her mother's house didn't have a replicator; that her mother believed in fresh and organic food.
"Please Grandma?" Edward wheedled. "We're hungry."
"Mom said we could," Miral said, getting a very familiar bossy tone in her little voice. While her personality and forthrightness were inherent traits she had from B'Elanna, her little hands on her hips was all Kathryn and Tom knew that Gretchen saw it too. Gretchen glanced at her daughter at the word 'Mom' and bent down to Miral's level.
"Well then," she said. "I guess you'd better start calling me Grandma, okay?"
"Okay," Miral said. Gretchen gave them both some cookies and sent them back up to play. She faced Tom and Kathryn.
"I think it's time we sat down and had a little talk, the three of us," Gretchen said. "I'll make some coffee."
With hot beverages for the three of them, they sat at the table.
"What would you like to know?" Kathryn asked, her face set in an unreadable mask.
"Why didn't you tell me that you were with Tom? That you were raising his child?" Gretchen demanded.
"I know how you feel about Tom's family," Kathryn said.
"This really seems like a mother-daughter discussion," Tom said. "I'd be happy to step out."
"Don't go," Kathryn snapped, more of an order than a suggestion.
"All right," he said. "But can I point out that what happened between our families happened a long time go. Kathryn and I were children! I don't see how any grudge should change our relationship."
"I have no problem with your relationship. I'm thrilled that you're happy," Gretchen said with a sniff.
"And when Owen Paris arrives in a few hours?" Kathryn asked. "Will you still be thrilled then?"
"I said that Owen could come. I didn't know you expected me to throw a parade," she snapped.
"Mrs. Janeway," Tom said, pleadingly, "The truth of the matter is, we don't get along with my father all that well either. Last time we saw him, your daughter nearly ripped him a new one. But, he wants to be a part of Miral's life and I have to give him the opportunity to redeem him self. After all, he's the only parent I have left."
"I went to your mother's funeral," Gretchen admitted. "Before Owen and Edward had their falling out, we were friends."
"I appreciate that," Tom said.
"Mom, no one says you have to be best friends, but Christmas is about family and we're trying to fix ours," Kathryn said.
"And if it doesn't work out, I'm sure my dad will be the first one to walk away," Tom said. Kathryn glanced at him, surprised at the bitterness in his voice but said nothing.
"Fine," Gretchen said. "We will all play nice."
"Thank you," Kathryn said.
"So," Gretchen said, clearly changing the subject. "Should I expect a wedding sometime soon?"
Kathryn's jaw fell open and Tom looked up, suddenly fascinated with the crown molding that lined the room.
Tom and Kathryn took both children to the transport station. The snow had stopped and the night was crisp and clear. Tom carried Edward on his shoulders and Kathryn was pointing out familiar constellations to Miral as they walked. They had bundled up the kids sufficiently for the half-mile walk and they seemed pleased to have escaped the house for the time being.
While Kathryn had grown up on the farmland of the Midwest, the Paris family had been stationed closer to Headquarters. He'd grown up in California, like Miral was doing now. It was nice to listen to Kathryn point out her favorite view of the stars, the best trees to climb, and where she used to play tennis as a young girl.
At the transport station, they all stood waiting for Owen. He materialized on transporter PADD in a warm coat, looking stern and a little tired.
"Hey Dad," Tom greeted. Owen stepped off the PADD and surveyed his surroundings.
"It's been a long time," he said, looking at the placard that informed him he was in Bloomington, Indiana. "How are you all doing?"
"Well," Kathryn said. "This is my nephew, Edward."
"Hello, Edward," he said, shaking the boy's hand. "I'm Owen."
"That's my grandpa," Miral announced knowledgably. Owen allowed a small smile at this.
"It's not a far walk back," Tom said. "Kathryn's sister has the transport – they're staying at the inn."
"I didn't even know Phoebe had a child," Owen said. "I've been… out of the loop."
Kathryn was walking ahead of them a few meters, trying to stay between the men in the back and the children who were running ahead, playing in the snowdrifts. She was either giving them space to sort the next two days out or she didn't want to speak with him if she didn't have to. Tom's bet was on both. Kathryn was willing to jump head first into any dangerous situation… until it involved her personal life. He tried to cut her some slack – she'd spent seven long years in virtual isolation in regards to her personal life and now it had become habit, keeping everyone at arm's length. Tom and Miral seemed to be the exception, but even that sometimes wasn't true.
"I hope everything goes well, Dad," Tom said. "I'm not sure what happened between you and the Janeways but it was a long time ago, and we're trying to teach Miral that family is important. It'd be nice if we all acted if that were true."
"Family is important," Owen said. "It isn't an act."
Tom reserved his opinion on that matter. At the house, the kids ran in and the adults stood on the porch for a moment. Owen unzipped his small bag and pulled out a bottle of wine.
"For your mother," he told Kathryn. "A token of peace."
"It's a start," Kathryn said. "Come on."
Gretchen and Owen sat at the heads of the table, which had seemed a good idea at the time. Space and distance was key but in practice, it left the two heads of the family to stare at each other in a somewhat stony silence. The kids made sure to keep up noise enough for all of them. Their booster seats were attached to the chairs and put them up at everyone's level. Tom and Bryant spent the whole meal trying to keep food on plates instead of in hair and on the walls while Kathryn and her sister were having an entire conversation with their eyes and eyebrows without saying a word. Tom had two sisters and he knew whatever they were saying, that they were waging a silent battle.
Phoebe gave in first, which surprised Tom not at all.
"Admiral Paris," Phoebe said. "How are your daughters?"
"Very well, thank you," Owen said.
"They live in another system," Tom said. "They don't get back to Earth much."
"They didn't go into Starfleet like Tom," Owen said proudly.
"There are plenty of other careers outside Starfleet," Phoebe said, coolly. Owen had unintentionally hit on a touchy subject.
"Of course there are," Gretchen said, looking at her youngest daughter lovingly.
"I almost resigned," Kathryn blurted, suddenly and a little too loudly. This brought he conversation, already staggering and slow, to a screeching, painful halt.
"What?" Tom asked.
"When we got home. When I got Voyager home. I had to sit through all of the trials and… well, I almost just walked away," she said. "I could've, oh I don't know, done anything I guess. Or done nothing."
Everyone was silent. There was the noise of silverware hitting plates and the clinking of ice in glasses but no one knew what to say to her confession.
"Tomorrow, we'll have brunch at 10," Gretchen said, finally. "Is that all right with everyone?"
There was a murmur of agreement and Kathryn and her sister rose, as if cued by some invisible sign, and started to bring the dishes into the kitchen.
"Bath time!" said Bryant.
The next hour was spent chasing the kids and finally catching them and depositing them together in the warm and soapy tub. When Tom came downstairs, his father was sitting alone in the living room. Phoebe and Bryant were sliding on their jackets, trying to leave quickly, to embrace a night without their son. Tom could see Kathryn and her mother dutifully saying goodbye but instead of joining them, he sat next to his father on the sofa.
"How's work?" Tom asked. It was the one topic they could talk about without things immediately disintegrating into an argument.
"Busy," Owen said. "Rebuilding takes decades, sometimes."
"You could've retired five years ago," Tom pointed out.
"And do what?" Owen asked. "I've no wife and no hobbies. My daughters never visit and for most of the last decade, I thought you were lost."
"Not lost now," he said.
"No," Owen said, studying his sons face carefully. "I can see that."
"Maybe you should start dating," Tom said and Owen chuckled.
"No woman wants me," Owen said. "I don't have the energy for courting anyhow."
"I just worry about you, that's all," Tom said.
"I appreciate it," Owen said. "I think perhaps I'll try to get some sleep. I haven't spent Christmas with anyone in a long time, I suspect it will take some energy on my part."
"Goodnight," Tom said, rising when his father did. He watched him walk up the stairs and waited until he heard the door latch. In the kitchen, he found Kathryn drying dishes with a towel. Gretchen sat at the table, peeling and slicing apples for a pie. It was late and cold but no one felt like sleep. He sat at the old wooden table and when Kathryn dried the last plate, she came and slipped onto his lap. Tom glanced at Gretchen but she didn't look up from the fruit in her hand. He did see a small smile, though.
"Are you tired?" Tom asked, putting his arms around her waist.
"No," she said. "I'm not sleepy," she modified.
"Me either," he said. "You know, you never told me you thought about leaving Starfleet."
"I thought we all did at some point," Kathryn said.
"My side of the camp was more worried about retaining our commission at all," Tom offered.
"It was a passing fancy, I guess."
"If you would have left, half of Voyager would have too," Tom offered.
"I know," she said. "It's why I didn't. And besides, you can't ever really leave Starfleet. They would've hired me as a consultant, hounded me for lectures, used my name and face for their purposes regardless of their wishes."
"True," Gretchen said. "Too true."
"It's worked out anyhow," she said. Tom put his nose against the nape of her neck where she smelled the very most like herself. Outside, snow began to fall into the night. They listened to the sound of Gretchen's knife slide through the crisp, wet flesh of the apples; the chunks of fruit falling steadily into a ceramic bowl.
That night Kathryn dreamt that she was pregnant. That her body was thick and full and inside she could hear Miral beating on the wooden drum Harry had given her the last time he'd come to visit. In the dream, Kathryn lifted her shirt and saw a small hatch just above her belly button. When she opened it, Miral waved to her before pulling the door closed again and beating out a steady rhythm.
She woke up startled. There was no finding her way out of sleep – she was alert immediately. A hard habit to break after living seven years in a state of perpetual crisis. On Voyager, during the bad weeks, she slept in her uniform and in her boots. If there was a red alert any time during the night, she could make it to the bridge in under three minutes.
Tom slept heavily beside her. He'd been a good sport about the whole trip, about the life that they shared. She had been trying to be more open to him, more present, and he dutifully peeled back each layer that she allowed, never complaining about the pace.
In the darkness, she reached between the covers to feel her flat stomach. Such a strange dream had left her rattled and for half a second, she wanted to find a tricorder to make sure that there was no life growing inside of her. But, of course, she knew there wasn't. Too many years in space, one doctor said. Too much phaser fire for one body, too many hits to the abdomen. She was too old, her body had incurred too much trauma. No life would find purchase in her womb, no child to grow beneath her skin.
She'd given up on the idea of children long ago and so having Miral in her life left her full and happy. She'd never thought about more children until now. She lay next to Tom and tried to imagine what a child might look like with their DNA. In some ways, she and Tom did have children left on a far away planet long ago. Their baby would be fair, blue eyed and willowy. Things that Miral, little Miral with her hot blood and fiery temper, were not.
She couldn't sleep so Kathryn pulled on her robe and left Tom alone to check on the kids. Both were sacked out on their respective beds. Edward was just a lump under a heavy, hand-made quilt but Miral had kicked her bed linens away and slept on her stomach, her arms and legs outstretched. When Kathryn climbed on the cot with her, she shifted but did not wake.
She was too old to spend so many nights with her parents, but Tom and Kathryn were just as guilty of climbing into her bed as she was of climbing into theirs. Kathryn rolled her onto her back and slid into the space left in the mattress. She supported her head with her elbow and peered down at her daughter with such love that she could've started to cry. She pushed the girl's dark hair out of her face and traced her forehead ridges with a delicate finger. Miral's back was not as smooth as a human's. Her spinal cord was twisted and hearty and the bones pushed her skin into a narrow mountain range from her neck to her tailbone. Miral could eat anything; Miral hardly ever caught colds. In so many ways she was not Kathryn's daughter and yet, in the only way that mattered, she was.
The voice woke her up.
"Yeah?" she asked, sitting up a little. Outside, it was still dark but she could see that sunrise wasn't far off.
"You woke me up," Miral said, looking unhappy. Kathryn must've moved in her sleep – elbowed the girl or snored or something.
"You want me to go back and sleep in my own bed?" Kathryn asked.
"Yes," Miral said.
"Okay," Kathryn said. She tucked Miral in and picked up Edward's stuffed elephant and set in on the pillow next to him. "Goodnight, love bug."
"Night," Miral sighed, happy to have the entire mattress to herself once again.
Their room was cold. Tom had, much like his nephew across the hall, burrowed into the covers completely trying to compensate for her missing warmth. Her feet were cold and she was tired from waking up too many times. When she climbed into the bed, she invaded his space and didn't worry about waking him up too.
Tom muttered when her cool skin pressed against him but he didn't push her away. Instead, he slipped his warm hands beneath her clothing and fit his fingers into the depressions between her ribs. Maybe he'd woken up a little or maybe he hadn't but it was nice to think he still wanted her even while unconscious.
In the end, Admiral Paris left before lunch. There was no great fight like Tom dreaded and Kathryn expected. Instead there was only a communication from Headquarters marked urgent and confidential. He took it in her father's old office and was gone with in twenty minutes. No one asked him to reconsider and no one begged him to stay. Tom was actually relieved and then guilty about the relief.
"I hope you're all right," Gretchen told him.
"Fine," Tom said.
"Not the first holiday he's walked out of, hmm?" Gretchen said.
"No," Tom said. "I imagine you know a little something about that?"
"I do," she said. "Indeed I do."
Tom went up to look at the room where his father had stayed. He'd missed it on the tour – first Phoebe and Bryant had been staying there and this his father. Now it sat empty. He wanted to see the place where Kathryn had been a child. He could tell right away that it had changed over the years. The room lacked personality. Instead of the small narrow bed a child would have there was a larger, firmer mattress with a generic comforter. The walls were yellow, the curtains white. There were no toys, no pictures, no trophies or knick-knacks. Despite this, he could feel Kathryn in the room. In the warm wooden floors, worn down smooth.
"Find anything important?" Kathryn said, coming up behind him. In a few hours they would transport back to San Francisco. The holiday was over, the gifts unwrapped, and the food eaten. They had paid that family dues and had months of smoothing sailing ahead of them free of the obligations of parents or siblings. Ironic, considering the trouble it took to get back to the loved ones in the first place.
"Just looking," Tom said. "Trying to imagine you here."
"I didn't spend much time indoors," she said. "I liked to play sports, be active. I even liked to study outside."
"I am shocked to hear it," Tom said. "Just shocked."
"Tom, I know that this is my family and you've been really great, but I just want to go home now," she said.
"God, me too," he moaned.
"Do you think it's strange that while I was busy missing my family on Earth, it turned out that only family I ever wanted was on the ship with me the whole time?" she said.
"People are adaptive," Tom said. "You could always make the best of a bad situation, Kath."
"You aren't a bad situation," she said.
"I know, I just meant…"
"Tom, I love you," she said. "You know that right?"
"I know," he said. "You're so good to Miral and me, how could I not know?"
"I love Miral too, Tom, but you understand that even if you didn't have a daughter I would still be in love with you, right?" she said. He hadn't understood that, not until she said it. When she kissed him in the hallway of her mother's house, he kissed her back hard.
Miral was almost too heavy to carry. It was a short walk to their building but it was uphill. Kathryn could carry her own weight during a crisis but tired and drained, she struggled with both suitcases. Tom's arms were going numb but they trudged on.
"One day she's going to have to learn to walk," Tom grumbled. "She's a big girl."
"Enjoy this while it lasts," Kathryn huffed. "It's already slipping away."
"I do enjoy it," Tom said. "Every goddamn second." They crested the hill – and both sighed when their building came into view.
"I," she said. "I, uh…"
"What?" he asked.
"I have one more surprise," she said. "One more gift."
"Why?" he asked.
"I arranged it with your father, it's from him too," she said. "In the morning, we're going to take Miral into space."
"What?" he asked.
"You have a class two federation shuttle at your disposal for twelve hours. Well, I do. But I'm looking for a capable pilot to fly my daughter and me around. Know one?" she asked.
"I thought space was unsafe? I thought she wasn't ready?" he asked.
"I wasn't ready," she admitted. "And maybe I won't ever be but the only way to conquer your fear is to face it and taking the people I love best up with me is how I'm going to do it."
"Class two, huh?" he asked, letting her key in the code to their door.
"Yes sir, shiny and new," she said.
"I'll do it," he said. "Admiral."
"Good, Lieutenant Commander, I'm pleased," she said.
They put Miral to bed and as soon as their own bedroom door was latched, he started pulling off her clothes. He surprised her a little, but she took it in stride. She raised her arms for him, stepped out of her slacks and when he backed her into a wall, she didn't complain about the cold against her skin.
They had fallen quickly into an easy pattern of living. It had happened without much thought, their affair. It was based on affection, not lust. They were in it for reasons bigger than themselves and that was fine. But the presence of Miral had kept them responsible and levelheaded. They'd never gone through that period of lust in which they refused to get out of bed and couldn't keep their hands off of each other. Their lovemaking was just like their relationship – easy, comfortable, good, and right.
Tom had never been so demanding with her before tonight. Perhaps he'd been apprehensive – she'd been his boss for a long time and they both knew she didn't take orders well. But she had been waiting for this, waiting for him to take her some place new. All her lovers have been gentle – Chakotay touched her like he was having a religious experience. Mark had been predictable and sweet. The only man she'd ever slept with who managed to surprise her every time had been Justin. Tom reminded her of him now.
Tom's teeth dug into her neck and the room was filled with the sound of their heavy, hot breathing. Her hands were trembling and he pushed them up over her head, holding her wrists with one hand. It hurt where his thumb pressed into delicate bone and in the morning, there would be a bruise but it was a good pain.
She felt the moment he came back to himself. The moment he saw her white fingers, her flushed skin and her eyes pinched closed tight. Her hands fell from over her head, the blood rushing down.
"Hey," he said. "Am I hurting you?"
"God," she sighed. "No. No."
He pushed her down onto the bed. She let herself be pushed; air escaped her as she landed hard. He crawled over her, his hands forced her knees in opposite directions. This wouldn't be the long, languorous lovemaking he sometimes preferred. It would be fast and hard and over soon but she was certain she didn't have hours and hours of soft touches and petting in her.
"Yes," she said, encouraging him to do what he would. He wasted no time pushing into her in one rough stroke. The sensation was so intense that her back arched and she cried out. His hand flew over her mouth, gagging her. The walls weren't as thin as on the ship, but Miral's ears worked just fine and Tom didn't want to risk it. Kathryn's eyes widened when he silenced her, but the glazed, lust-filled look in her eyes told him she didn't mind at all. He didn't stop moving inside her; instead he sped up so the only sound was her muffled breathing, his gasps, and the wet noises of their bodies connecting. He was about to move his hand to prop himself up for more leverage when she started to keen. Her body writhed and clenched beneath him and her eyes rolled into the back of her head.
It wasn't until after, when he was laying on top of her trying to catch his breath, that he realized she had bitten him. There was a smear of blood on her pale, bare shoulder. He looked at his hand – the welling blood and the scalloped half moon of her teeth.
"Ow," he said, more at the sight of the blood than the pain. He was so full of endorphins that nothing was going to penetrate him for the next hour.
"A delicious pain," she confirmed. Her voice was muffled by his neck and her eyes weren't even open but he still smiled at her obvious pleasure.
"You drew blood," he said. "But I'm glad you had a good time."
"What?" she asked, opening her eyes. She looked at the hand he was holding up and then at her own shoulder. "You're bleeding on the sheets! There's a dermal regenerator in the bathroom," she said, pushing him off and going into the bathroom. She came back with a damp towel and the regenerator. He let her dab at the wound with the towel and then run the regenerator over it. The skin knit together and he flexed his hand.
"Thanks," he said.
"Sorry," she said, smiling sheepishly.
"I didn't know that's what you wanted," he said, scratching his head.
"I like how you touch me," she promised him. "But sometimes it's nice to just…"
"Get fucked?" Tom said. She laughed. There was no reason to be embarrassed. They were naked and sweaty, still flushed and she trusted him more than anyone she'd ever known.
"Exactly," she said.
"I'm going to go check on Miral," Tom said, pulling on his robe.
"I'll change the sheets," she said, suddenly tired.
MIral was sleeping heavily. Tom rearranged her blankets and kissed her forehead. When he came back into the bedroom, Kathryn had put on a nightgown and was turning down the fresh bed. He hit the panel for the lights and slipped his robe off.
In bed, he snuggled up to her.
"It's pretty late," she said, a gentle warning that she didn't have another round in her. But the truth was, he only wanted to kiss her. He pressed his mouth to hers and her lips parted, allowing him entrance. Tom tried to, in some ways, make up for lost time. He treated her gently. He held her hand, touched her often, and kissed her thoroughly – all things she would've missed out on during seven years of isolation. He knew about her few encounters with her first officer, but it wasn't a real relationship. She'd lacked intimate companionship and he wanted her to have it now.
Her enthusiasm in kissing him back was genuine. He felt her fingers move through his hair, her nails scratching his scalp affectionately. He wanted to kiss her to sleep. He kissed her until her hands slid down his back to the mattress. He kissed her neck softly until her breathing became deep and even, until he was sure she was sleeping the sleep of the deeply and impossibly loved.