Disclaimers: I don't own Star Trek or anything remotely related to it. I'm not trying to infringe on anything. I'm just having fun.
Summary: Companion piece to the last reality visited in "Quantum Fluctuations" (if you haven't read that one yet, I would recommend reading it first). A long shuttle ride early in their trip back home gives Captain Kathryn Janeway an opportunity to get to know her new chief helmsman, and he fills the time by telling her about his history with his wife--Lt. B'Elanna Torres, who is still back home in the Alpha quadrant.
A/N: I almost didn't post this story just because it's almost like a repeat of "If I Knew You Then." The basic premise is the same: Paris and Torres met while still at the Academy. However, everything after that set-up is completely different (aside from the things that were established in canon; ie, Torres' participation on the track team). There will be some other similarities, which I tried to avoid but found were necessary for the story, and so I hope you forgive me for recycling plot lines.
To avoid any further confusion, let me make a few more points: 1) Since Torres wasn't with Chakotay's cell, there's no reason why his ship would have been pulled into the DQ (the Caretaker was interested in her, not anybody else on the ship). The Maquis were captured by Voyager in the Badlands before the Caretaker took them away. 2) Paris wasn't at his station when the displacement wave hit, which is why he wasn't killed like Lt. Stadi was.
I hope that helps clear things up. Enjoy the story.
"Course laid in, Captain. We should be arriving in another fifty hours," Lt. Tom Paris said, punctuating his words with a few jabs at the helm controls in front of him before rising from the pilot's chair of the small shuttle.
"Very good, Lieutenant," Captain Kathryn Janeway replied. She paused slightly. "That was some rather impressive flying, Tom."
He grinned at the compliment before turning and heading toward the rear of the shuttle, probably to use the head, which after ten hours of nonstop maneuvers through the largest asteroid field she had ever seen, was probably necessary. Not for the first time, she was glad she had a pilot of Paris' caliber on Voyager. Another pilot probably could have managed to get the shuttle through the asteroids, but it would have undoubtedly taken longer and probably resulted in some external damage to the hull.
She sighed deeply and leaned back in the copilot's seat, glad that that harrowing obstacle was now behind them. She had had nothing to do with getting through the asteroid field, but the constant adrenaline rush of seeing the large rocks appear to head directly for their viewscreen pretty much made any effort to get some work done while Paris was doing his thing impossible. Now that they had nothing but empty space ahead of them for the next several hours, she could get back to the report Neelix had provided her on the people she was to be meeting with. Who were they again? She searched her mind idly for a minute, then gave up. With all of the new species Voyager had encountered over the last seven months, they were starting to merge together, and she found she didn't have the mental energy to try to sort them out at the moment.
With another sigh, she glanced over at the empty seat next to her. The massive obstacle course that had lain between Voyager and her destination necessitated bringing the senior pilot along, but she probably would have chosen him for this mission anyway. Even though they had been on the same ship for seven months, she felt like she hardly knew the pilot any better now than she did the day she asked him to take Voyager for a spin through the Badlands; she almost hadn't gotten the chance to get to know him at all. They had just finished securing Chakotay's Maquis crew in the cargo bay after finding the dilapidated ship on a small planetoid in the Badlands, and he had been crossing the bridge to return to the helm when they were hit with the Caretaker's displacement wave. The dying entity had later told her that he had healed Lt. Paris' concussion and underlying traumatic brain injury as a sign of his good faith before returning the pilot to the ship. She had passed that information along shortly after they began their journey back toward home, and he had listened impassively. He had murmured something sarcastic about not having the opportunity to thank him before he left her ready room. And now, seven months later, she still knew little more than the fact that she had enjoyed working with Admiral Paris both at the Academy and at her first posting on the Al-Batani, and if Lt. Paris was anything like his father, she was sure she would enjoy working with him, too.
She frowned slightly as she spied what appeared to be a piece of paper stuck to the top of the helm controls. She couldn't remember the last time she had even seen a piece of paper; she couldn't think of a single reason why her helmsman would have one with him. On impulse, she leaned over and reached for it, tugging it gently to free it from where Paris had secured it.
Her eyebrows raised at what appeared to be a photograph, although it was more likely a print of a holoimage. The woman in the picture appeared to be unaware that her image was taken, her attention focused on an open access panel of a planetary shuttle, tools in her hands and a triumphant smile on her face. She wasn't beautiful in the classic sense, but was undeniably exotic, with sculpted features, full lips, dark eyes, and delicate ridges on her forehead, most likely coming from having one Klingon parent. Her hair was thick and curly, most gathered in a quick knot at the nape of her neck, except for a few locks that had freed themselves and fell along her face. Her body, probably slender and fit, was concealed beneath a Starfleet cadet's uniform, the four rectangular pips on her collar identifying her as a Cadet First Class, a senior at the Academy.
The sound of a throat clearing brought Janeway's attention back to the present, and she guiltily turned toward the rear compartment, feeling like a kid caught peeking at her Christmas presents. Tom Paris didn't look annoyed, however, just amused, probably at catching his captain snooping around. "Friend of yours from the Academy?" Janeway asked lightly, holding up the piece of paper.
"I guess you can say that," Paris replied, still amused as he took the few steps back to his seat. He held out his hand for the photograph, which he returned to its previous location after she handed it over. He held up his left hand briefly. "My wife, actually."
Janeway felt her eyes widen in surprise, her face reddening as she realized that not only did she not know that the former test pilot was married, but that she hadn't made the connection between the gold band on his ring finger and marital status; after all, her parents, the traditionalists that they were, worse similar bands. "I didn't know you were married," she finally said, a twinge of guilt in her voice. "You never said anything."
He shrugged a single shoulder, not looking in her direction. He knew what she was talking about—the first senior staff meeting after Voyager had been stranded in the Delta quadrant, the officers still in shock, many discussing what was left behind. Ensign Harry Kim had moaned about missing his parents, the new chief engineer, Lt. Joe Carey, had mentioned his wife and two boys, even Janeway had commented on her own losses, her fiancée and the dog that had been like a child to them. "There didn't seem to be a point," he finally said. He turned to look at her. "Nobody was happy to be stranded here, and everybody had left something behind. Hearing one more sob story wasn't going to make anyone feel better or get us home any faster. I knew you had already sworn more than a hundred percent to the crew, so it wasn't going to make you any more dedicated."
He did have a point. She felt guilty enough about her decision to destroy the array, thus condemning the crew to what could potentially be a futile journey across the galaxy in a quest to get home, and hearing one more story wouldn't make her feel any better. "For what it's worth, though, I'm sorry."
"Thank you," he said politely.
They continued to ride in silence for several moments. Janeway considered pulling out that report, but she felt like there was still more to be said. She got the impression that, although Paris was a fairly private person—and very much like his father in that respect—he really did want to talk about this, and suddenly, she found that she wanted to as well. "Do you ever worry?" she asked. "I mean, worry about what they must think, us disappearing like that…" Her words trailed off, very much unlike her. She usually said what she meant, not mincing words, but suddenly found this too painful of a topic to vocalize. In her mind's eye, she could see Mark, back in San Francisco, mourning the loss of his fiancée and her crew. In had been seven months; would they have been declared dead? What would have happened to Molly and the puppies? Was Mark starting to move on?
Paris knew what she was thinking, and closed his eyes briefly at a sudden flash of memory. "I'm only getting married once, Flyboy. Don't you dare die on me..." "No," he said firmly, his eyes opening. He looked over at her. "No," he said again, softer this time. "I don't worry about getting home in another ten or twenty years, or even another seventy, and seeing that B'Elanna has moved on and married someone else. She won't."
His words were insistent, and Janeway mistakenly got the impression that he was trying to convince himself of that fact. "How can you be sure? They're going to think that we died. They would have looked at first, they might still be looking, but two years after we disappeared, they're going to stop and declare us dead. That's standard protocol for such things."
"I'm only getting married once, Flyboy. Don't you dare die on me."
"Don't worry, I'm not planning on it."
He nodded slowly. "You're right. In less than a year and a half, they're going to declare us dead, and a lot of people will begin to move on, to live their lives again, and some spouses and significant others will find other people and make new lives with them, but I don't worry about that with B'Elanna. I think I would actually feel better if I knew that was a possibility, because I can't stand the thought of her living the rest of her life alone and grieving over me. She's far too young for that—she turned twenty-three about three months ago—and far too full of life. Eventually, she'll grow to resent me, to hate me for marrying her. I worry about that every day."
His vehemence was enough to stun her into silence, and the minutes stretched on, seeming as hours. Finally, she spoke again. "How do you know?"
He looked surprised at the question, as if it never occurred to him to question that. "Because she's half-Klingon," he said matter-of-factly, "and Klingons mate for life. It was actually something that we discussed in great length before we married, because she wanted to make sure I knew exactly what I was getting into."
"I've heard of Klingons marrying again after a spouse has died. In fact, Klingons have divorce, too, don't they?"
He nodded, slowly. "Yeah, that's true, but as ironic as it sounds, with B'Elanna being half-human, she has to be more Klingon than some full Klingons in some respects." He paused for a moment, trying to figure out how to explain. "Klingons bond when they mate—it's a chemical thing, hormones and pheromones and everything. I know the details, but it's pretty dry and boring, so I won't subject you to that. The biochemical processes in a full Klingon make it possible to form that bond twice, or even three times in some cases, but for whatever reason, B'Elanna's missing a key enzyme, and she can only bond once. She could legally marry again, but she can't form that kind of bond again, which plays a role in attraction and emotions and those kinds of things that are necessary in a real relationship. In other words," he broke into a wide, roguish grin, "she'll never find another man as attractive as me." He sobered slightly, and added, "I don't worry about her marrying again because I know she won't—she has too much honor to get involved with someone when she can't give him a hundred percent of herself." And then there's the baby… He stayed silent on that particular topic. The captain felt guilty enough about splitting families apart.
The two officers again lapsed into silence as Captain Janeway thought about what the young pilot had revealed, and began to understand his position. He loved his wife enough to want her to be happy, even if it was with another man. If it took them the full seventy years to get home, she'll be in her nineties when they return, possibly still active and healthy, as the average Klingon lifespan was over 150 Standard years, but much too old to have children, to have a real marriage. At twenty-three, her life should just be beginning, with romantic adventures and dreams of kids playing in the backyard. She felt that familiar pang of guilt that always came when she thought about the sacrifices she had forced her crew into making, without even asking them. "Tell me about her," Janeway said softly.
"Captain?" Paris asked, surprised.
She smiled thinly. "Your wife. Tell me about her. How did you meet?"
Slowly, a smile emerged on his face, and he leaned back in the chair, getting comfortable for what was going to be a long story. "Well, we were at the Academy. She was a plebe, and I was her company commander."
She knew the surprise she felt must have been evident on her face. She had been a company commander when she was cadet first class, and could still remember the endless lectures about not getting involved with the plebes in her command, not as if she had any reason to be tempted to do so. She knew that Lt. Tom Paris had a somewhat indifferent attitude toward rules and regulations he didn't see the purpose for, but as an admiral's son and former Academy plebe himself, he had to have known how important that rule was—if caught, the plebe would be removed from the Academy, and the company commander would have the incident permanently on their record—and most commanding officers took that sort of infraction very seriously. "You must have liked living dangerously even then," Janeway said, managing to keep her voice from sounding too stern.
"What?" he asked, confused. After a minute, he understood what she was saying, and began to laugh. "No, no, it wasn't like that." He took a moment to collect himself, still chuckling slightly. "No, we weren't actually dating until she was almost a senior, when I was a lieutenant jg and most definitely not in her chain of command. In fact, when I was her superior officer, she was not only not interested, she downright despised me. When people talk about how important first impressions are, they aren't joking. After all, her first impression of me lasted more than a year…"