Idle Gossip

Disclaimer: Star Trek and its characters are the property of Viacom/Paramount/CBS, and I am just borrowing them for fun, not profit.

Synopsis: Set three years post-"Endgame." PG-13.

Prequel to my trilogy Ad Infinitum, but you don't have to read that to understand this.

Now that they've settled into life in the Alpha Quadrant, the Voyager crew are starting to make some major life changes. Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres prepare for new posts, Chakotay and Harry Kim rediscover old friends, and Admiral Janeway stares down several ghosts from her past. Meanwhile they all discover the rumor mill that existed on Voyager is just as strong as it used it to be in spite of the light-years between them. Slight fluff.

Pairings: P/T, J/C, K/f.

Language Note: Klingon expressions were translated using several different sources. I have not provided the English translations here, as the meaning should be more or less evident from context.

Notes: Voyager Relaunch, Pathways, and Mosaic are not canon. (For that matter, I don't consider "The Fight" canon, but that's neither here nor there.)

Earth, San Francisco, Starfleet Command, Main Reception Hall, 2380

The annual gathering of admirals and cadets was one function Admiral Kathryn Janeway had never had the misfortune of attending. This year, however, was different. Among the sea of nameless cadets was one young man preparing to start his final year at the Academy – a young man she had seen through adolescence. The monumental occasion of his final year at the Academy merited celebration.

The reception hall was bustling, but Janeway quickly found the one person she wanted to see. He was standing with a group of cadets – friends, she hoped – but he looked a little overwhelmed by the sea of people in attendance. She wasn't surprised. After all, he'd spent his formative years in relative solitude. She decided to rescue him.

Janeway laid a confident hand on his shoulder as she came up behind him. "Icheb?"

The young man turned around to look at her with a smile. "Admiral Janeway." He looked back at the group of cadets. "Will you excuse us please?" he said politely to them. He then followed Janeway through the crowd to a more secluded table in a corner.

"They looked like a nice group of people. Your friends?"


Janeway pursed her lips slightly. She knew the transition to life at the Academy had been hard for him, but she had hoped he'd made a little more progress at socializing. After all, it had been two years.

"You're starting your final year. Are you thinking about what you'll do after graduation?"

"I'm feeling…eager to be in an environment with fewer young people," Icheb admitted. "My classmates are unusually preoccupied with recreation. They do not fully appreciate the dangers that lie ahead of them on their assignments."

"Oh, I'd say that's quite usual," she corrected gently. "I think they're aware that they'll be expected to behave differently once they graduate, and they want to enjoy life while they can. There's nothing wrong with a little fun." Even Seven managed to figure that out. "The Academy isn't just about studying, Icheb. It's a time to prepare for life as an adult, and part of that is learning how to juggle work and play." She squeezed his shoulder affectionately. "Join a sports team this year. Or maybe the chess club."

"There is a kal-toh tournament next weekend."

"That's perfect," she encouraged. "You can ask Harry to help you prepare."

"I haven't spoken to Lieutenant Kim in several months," Icheb told her.

"Then you're in luck," she said with a smile. "He'll be here shortly."

Harry arrived about a half hour later, tugging on the hem of his dress uniform as he entered the reception hall. He was more than annoyed to in the uncomfortable get-up, particularly since his team was in the middle of a crucial test of a new Borg-inspired sensor array. He also knew he'd be one of very few officers at the reception who wasn't an Academy instructor. But he'd come at the admiral's personal request, a request he could not turn down, and he did genuinely want to support Icheb.

He found his surrogate family crowded around a table together. The Doctor and Reg Barclay looked as though they were competing for attention while Icheb, the admiral, and Admiral Paris listened attentively. As he approached them, Harry felt his bad mood lifting.

"Hello, everyone." He shook Paris's hand. "Admiral."

"How are you, Lieutenant?" his best friend's father inquired politely.

"Just fine, sir." Harry smiled at Janeway. "Nice to see you, Admiral."

Janeway set down the glass of chardonnay she was working on and laid her hands on his cheeks. "Harry, it's been too long."

"Yes, ma'am," he agreed. "We've been working pretty hard on the new sensor design." Harry glanced at Icheb. "We could certainly use your expertise. After all, it does involve the use of Borg technology. Any room in your schedule this semester for an internship?"

"Harry," Janeway intervened, "I was actually trying to encourage Icheb to work less and play more this semester."

"And that's why no one will ever offer you a teaching position at the Academy," Admiral Paris teased her. Harry noticed that his eyes sparkled like Tom's when he smiled.

"Work less and play more is probably a philosophy I should embrace myself," Harry admitted. "Doc, anything new with you?"

"Unlike you and Icheb, I seem to have plenty of time for a social life," the Doctor gloated slightly. "In fact, I'm dating a dancer. Her name is Elina. We should have dinner together some time."

"I'd like that."

"How about you, Harry?" Reg Barclay chimed in.

"Harry and I are married to the job," Janeway interrupted. She linked her arm around Harry's elbow. "Don't be afraid to get a divorce," she warned in a low voice. "Life's too short to spend working on sensor arrays."

Harry didn't say anything for a moment but wondered if she was right. In the three years since they'd returned to the Alpha Quadrant, his career seemed to be flourishing; his social life, not so much. Janeway, though, dismissed her own advice as soon as it came out of her mouth. She was married to the job, she knew, and she loved it. She had neither time nor inclination for anything else.

Starbase 174, Torres-Paris Family Quarters

"Where is the bathroom? NuqDaq 'oH puchpa''e.'"

"Nuke – dahk – oh – pooch – pah – ay," B'Elanna Torres repeated slowly as the doors to her quarters swooshed open.

"It's down the corridor," the instructional voice continued.

"B'Elanna, what are you doing?" Tom Paris asked as he came toward the sofa on which she was seated. He cocked his head slightly and listened as the instructional voice continued in a series of harsh, guttural sounds that could only be one language. "Are you learning Klingon?"

"Computer, pause playback," his wife said with mild exasperation. "I thought you weren't going to be home for another hour."

Tom dropped onto the sofa beside her. "Are you trying to learn Klingon in secret?"

B'Elanna rolled her eyes. "Well, I don't remember very much of the language, and I thought maybe now that Miral is starting to learn how to read that we could teach her Klingon."

Tom smiled slightly. "I think that's a great idea. But I should learn, too. Computer, resume playback."

"Tom – " she protested.

"Thank you. Qa tlho'," the computer continued.

"'Where's the restroom?' and 'Thank you'?" Tom asked with evident skepticism as the voice continued. "What is this – Klingon language instruction for those who never plan to talk to actual Klingons?"

B'Elanna glared at him. "Make a joke," she said angrily. "But just think about how my mother felt trying to learn to talk to humans. She'd never had to say, 'Hello. How are you? Pleased to meet you.' She probably felt ridiculous."

"That's what I'm saying. If I'm going to learn Klingon, I want to learn useful expressions. You know, like, 'If you look at me that way again, my wife will throw you into a plasma fire.'"

B'Elanna rolled her eyes, but there was a slight smile on her lips. "Computer, cancel playback." She turned to him. "Your daughter got her first haircut today."

"And?" he asked with anticipation.

"I think it's cute."

"Is she still in her room?" B'Elanna nodded, and Tom promptly rose from the sofa. He crossed their small quarters to the entrance to their daughter's room and poked his head in.

Miral Paris was a good child, quite content to amuse herself. When B'Elanna was pregnant, Tom wholly expected he'd spend the first ten years of Miral's life chasing her up and down the corridors of Voyager, trying desperately to keep up with her Klingon exuberance and willfulness. Instead, he'd spent the past two years falling in love with a small thing that he often found sitting on the floor of her bedroom, playing and talking to herself. If this was the "terrible twos," he thought, then maybe he could handle fatherhood a lot better than he'd anticipated.

He didn't mean to disturb her, but Miral caught sight of him out of the corner of her eye. "Daddy!" she shrieked, running toward him. He scooped her up and threw her in the air. She shrieked again. Then he gave her a big hug and a kiss on the forehead.

"You got a haircut today, munchkin." Miral nodded.

By the time Tom carried her back to the common area, B'Elanna was busy at work with a stack of padds. She didn't even look up as she called, "I'm working on the plasma flow regulators for that new runabout. Did you run the simulation today?"

"Yes, and you'll have my report first thing in the morning."

"Just tell me now."

Tom rolled his eyes slightly. While their cooperative posts were convenient – and usually fun – they were not without drawbacks. Having to answer to B'Elanna's exacting work ethic at all hours of the day and night was definitely a drawback. "I really don't want to think about work right now," he whined. He sat down on the couch next to her, and Miral slid off his lap and ran away.

B'Elanna eyed him sharply. "Pilot Paris? It's a new series runabout! You don't want to talk about all the amazing feats you managed to pull off during the test flight? Just tell me so I don't have to wait for your report."

"Yes, ma'am," he conceded with a little smirk. The eyes grew sharper. "The thrusters are fine, but the nacelles take too long to engage. Most people probably wouldn't notice, but I'd say there's a definite half-second delay. Could be a problem with the power relays."

B'Elanna scoffed at his attempt to diagnose the problem. "I thought the nacelles needed a little more work," she admitted finally, "but maybe the pilot shouldn't try to blow them out every time he goes to warp?"

If she was in a bad mood and heading for an argument, it wasn't going to work. Tom was tired, all right, but he was feeling happy. He just smiled and said, "If you got a less daring pilot, you'd never know about these little glitches." Before she could throw a padd at him, he leaned in close and dropped his voice. "What's with her hair?"

"She needed a cut."

"I know, but…" He wasn't sure how to approach this. "I just thought we agreed to keep it long."

B'Elanna made a face at him. "No, you said you liked it long. She's old enough to pick her own hairstyle."

"But it's so short!"

"I think she looks cute." B'Elanna realized something. "Actually, it's a little like mine."

Miral threw herself at Tom's feet. He picked her up and placed her on his lap. She was staring off somewhere, absently holding a corner of her favorite blanket to her mouth, and he took the opportunity to study her new hairdo. Her light brown hair had been in soft waves to her shoulders when he had gone on duty this morning, and now it was sleek and straight, falling just to her chin, where it curled under itself slightly. It was exactly like B'Elanna's. Tom wondered if that was why Miral had chosen the style. She turned her head toward him, and he looked at her creamy skin and hazel eyes – so different than B'Elanna's deep chocolate or his own icy blue eyes – and the very gentle cranial ridges that announced her Klingon heritage.

"What you look at?" she demanded with a pout.

He wanted to say, You're beautiful, munchkin, you know that? There's only one person in the entire world as beautiful as you. But he and B'Elanna had often talked about how they never really heard many emotional outbursts from their parents toward them, and how they were perhaps too eager to remind Miral that she was perfect and special. Tom didn't see a problem, in that it was the truth, but B'Elanna was worried their daughter was going to get a big head and have trouble in the "real world." So Tom lovingly stroked his daughter's new short hair and kissed her temple and answered her simply, "Just lookin' at you."

Earth, San Francisco

As Harry Kim made his way through the outdoor market, he mentally composed his next letter to Tom and B'Elanna. He knew he owed them one, and he had plenty to say. In fact, he'd mentally composed eight or nine paragraphs' worth of information about his post and his new apartment. What he hadn't done yet was get around to actually writing and sending the letter.

He paused in front of a flower vendor and looked at the cuttings of asters. It was definitely fall, and the late bloomers would be a nice present to bring to dinner that night with his mother.

"Do you have any yellow ones?" he asked the vendor.

A woman came up on his left and leaned close to the blooms. "I'd like a small bouquet of sunflowers, please," she instructed the vendor.

Something about the voice caught Harry's attention, and he turned to look at her. "Libby?"

"Harry?" she sounded genuinely surprised, and her eyes widened for a moment. Then she grinned. "Oh my god, Harry Kim, how are you?"

Her arms were around him before he realized what was happening. As they pulled back slightly, the vendor thrust a bunch of yellow asters at him, and Harry accepted them with a nod of thanks. He noticed something change in Libby's eyes for a split-second, and then the smile returned full-force.

"I can't believe how long it's been," she said.

"I know," Harry echoed, smiling back. "It's been…what? Over a year?" He tried to remember the last time they'd spoken or seen each other. There had been a few meetings when Voyager first returned to the Alpha Quadrant, but as time passed, their communication had grown more infrequent.

Libby fingered the two solid pips on his uniform collar. "You must have been working hard all that time."

Harry felt himself blushing slightly. "Something like that," he answered vaguely.

Then she nodded in the direction of the flowers. "Unless, of course, there's something else keeping you occupied…."

Harry looked down at the stems in his hand dumbly. "Oh, these?" It finally registered: the change in her eyes was disappointment. "These are for my mom. It's her birthday tomorrow, so we're having dinner tonight."

"Oh, that's right," Libby said. "Her birthday is in September. I knew that." She smiled again, and this time Harry could see it was sincere. "So, work?"

"Work. Planetary operations. You?"

"Museum of Aquatic Sciences. Like the job?"

"Love it. You?"

"Love it."

The flower vendor handed Libby a bouquet of sunflowers, and they found themselves falling into an awkward silence, each staring at the flowers in hand.

"Well, listen," Harry said finally in a slightly phony voice, "we should get together some time and use more than three words to describe our lives."

"That sounds great," Libby said with equal phoniness. "I'd better get going." She took a few steps away from him, but she turned to look over her shoulder at him. "Harry Kim," she muttered to herself as she moved away.