To say Tom is the same person would be a lie. B'Elanna can't put her finger on it, exactly, but there is something about him that is just different. It's more than the time apart or being two years older. Something happened down on that ancient version of Earth that he isn't talking about.
She's read the report - they've all read the report. One would have thought it was the newest, hottest bestseller sent straight from the Alpha Quadrant the way that report got passed around. It wasn't authorized for anyone below Lieutenant but B'Elanna's certain there isn't a soul aboard that hasn't read it at least twice. But the report doesn't really explain anything. It speaks of beaming down, losing contact, staying in motels waiting for Voyager to return until the replicated money ran out. Learning to survive.
But it says nothing about how it must have felt. And the four of them don't speak of it. Not Tom, not Chakotay - a man she considers to be one of her closest friends. Obviously not Tuvok, and while she doesn't spend very much time with the Captain, it's clear to everyone that Janeway wants nothing more than to move ahead like it never happened.
B'Elanna eats lunch with Tom at least twice a week. Sometimes Harry joins them, sometimes other crewmembers but sometimes it's just the two of them. Tom has finally lost his tan, the brown around his eyes. His hair had been impossibly blond on the transporter pad. He'd also rushed past her like she hadn't just saved his life and for a brief moment, B'Elanna hadn't been sure it was even Tom at all.
Tom eats Neelix's food more often now. He used to blow through a months worth of rations in two weeks on grilled cheese sandwiches and bowls of mint ice cream but now he takes the tray from the galley without complaint. It's like he's used to substandard eating - like it hasn't yet occurred to him he once again has a choice.
"This is terrible," B'Elanna says, keeping her voice low. It is bad, but not the worst. Mostly, she's goading him into conversation. He looks down at his tray for a moment, at the red paste on his fork, and shrugs.
"It's all right," he says.
B'Elanna has to bite her tongue. She wants to knock the fork out of his hand, wants to demand the old Tom back. This Tom is docile and boring. He doesn't joke, he doesn't flirt, and he doesn't complain. He's suddenly the ideal Starfleet officer but he's also robotic and just going through the motions.
Carey summons her to engineering and she's not sad to leave him behind.
Chakotay has changed too. Instead of a steady and calm demeanor, he now seems agitated and short tempered. If reports come in late, he jumps down the throats of department heads. At senior staff, he sits to the right of Janeway with a stiff spine. He cancels he and B'Elanna's standing weekly hover ball game and never reschedules.
Twice a year, the Captain has a one on one meeting with her. She does it with all department heads and a month after they rescue Tom, her number is up. Janeway clears two hours for B'Elanna and requests that they not be disturbed. B'Elanna can't say she ever looks forward to these meetings but they're necessary.
The Captain offers her coffee and tea, both of which she turns down and they sit on either side of her desk with several PADDs between them. Past experience tells B'Elanna that Janeway won't waste time on small talk but rather will dig right in but Janeway surprises her.
"How have you been?" she asks.
B'Elanna falters for a moment, caught totally off guard.
"I'm fine, Ma'am," she says.
"We haven't had much time to talk," Janeway says. "I really haven't had time to properly thank you."
"There's no need," B'Elanna says, quickly.
"There is a need," Janeway says. "There's a huge need. You ran my ship for over a year."
"I followed the hierarchy protocols," B'Elanna says.
"You did more than that," Janeway says. "I've spent the last two weeks reading over ships logs, department reports, everything and you did my job, you did Chakotay's job, you did your job…"
"Captain, we nearly lost the warp core twice, morale was at an all time low, and for a while I thought we were going to have to find a planet and settle. The fact that we found the singularity, figured out how to use it to get to you is nothing short of a miracle," B'Elanna says.
"But you did find us," Janeway says. "And for that, thank you."
"You're welcome," B'Elanna says, because what else is there to say?
"I'd promote you if I could," Janeway says. "Since I can't give you Chakotay's job while he's using it, I've put a note in your file. Shall we get to work?"
It takes six hours instead of two and when they're finally done, B'Elanna can't wait to leave the ready room and get back to her engine. Sifting through data is tedious and B'Elanna having to relive some of her shakier command decisions in front of Janeway isn't her idea of a good time.
And when B'Elanna had tried to ask about the time on ancient Earth, Janeway had clammed up and dismissed her. It's curious, how they won't talk about it. When she sees Harry in the turbolift, he frowns at her.
"What's wrong?" he asks.
"This ship needs a counselor," she says.
"We could try adding more psychiatry subroutines into the Doc," he offers. B'Elanna stares at him and he squirms under her scrutiny.
"Would you want to confide in the Doctor?" she asks.
"Good point," he says.
In her ready room, Janeway feeds all the information from the PADDs back into the main computer. All her notes and B'Elanna's notes will be uploaded to the database and analyzed for her later perusal. Janeway doesn't know what's worse - having gone two years without her ship or coming back to find that the ship in great shape despite her absence.
When the door chimes, she feels like turning away whoever is on the other side. Instead, she calls for them to enter. She's unsurprised to see her first officer. He comes with more information, more things that need her approval. She wonders if she'll ever catch up. Chakotay sets the data on her desk and turns to go without a word.
Things are not right between them.
"Chakotay," she says. "Have you eaten? Stay for dinner."
"I'm not hungry," he says. He won't walk out on her, so she nods in understanding and watches him go. She keeps throwing out invitations in hopes of righting things between them, but it's clear to her that Chakotay does not want to things to be right.
When she had left Tom and appeared on the transporter pad, Chakotay had been waiting for her. In front of B'Elanna and crewman Morales, he'd pulled her into his arms and held her tightly. Finally, realizing she was safely aboard her own ship once more, she'd pushed him away and cleared her throat.
"I'd like to be caught up now, Commander," she'd said.
Maybe that hadn't been the reaction he was looking for, but the shock of it all had been overwhelming. She needed to find her Captaincy right away, needed things to be like before.
The next day, he'd asked her if she'd read his journal and she had admitted that she had.
"So now you know," he'd said.
"I can't talk about this until we get Tom back," she'd said.
Maybe that hadn't been right thing to say either, but it was the truth. Tom had been all alone down there. She'd become obsessed with getting him back, learning everything about the procedure and trying to find ways to speed it up. The endless waiting was almost as bad as being left alone in a foreign land.
Now, with the four of them safe and sound, she must face the realities of the time lost. They are low on every supply, two years behind schedule, and as always, in unfamiliar space.
It's well into the night shift when Janeway decides to head to her quarters to try to get some sleep. She likes to walk the corridors at night. Sometimes when she wakes up, she expects to see the dark wood ceiling of her bedroom in the cabin, sometimes she mistakes the hum of a stable warp field for the sound of the furnace spitting out hot air on a cold morning. It's strange to wake up and not know where you are and so she avoids sleep.
When she walks by Holodeck Two, she can see that Tom is inside. Tom has been spending a lot of time in the holodeck lately, which isn't that unusual for him, but she wishes he'd interact with other people more. She looks at the display to see what he's running, but it's just called Paris-17. It's a private program but the doors aren't locked, so she goes in.
Immediately, the forest is familiar. The way it smells, the sounds of the birds and the crispness in the air. She looks around as soon as the arch disappears and sees nothing but trees and the snowy ground. In the distance, there is a chain link fence but nothing beyond it. This program isn't complete but Janeway has a sinking feeling she knows what he's building.
Tom is crouched by a large rock. Inside is a hidden access panel and he's tinkering inside of it, his polished boots caked in snow.
"It's late," he says, when she doesn't say anything first.
"It is," she agrees, walking to him carefully. She sinks in the snow a little and already, she's cold. His feet must be like ice. "What are you doing?"
"Just making a few alterations," he says, noncommittally. She crouches next to him and peers inside, but she has no skill in holoprogramming.
"Mr. Paris," she says and then reconsiders. "Tom, we need to let this place go."
"There are a lot of historians who will be curious about our experience," he says, but he won't look at her face as he says it. "I like to program when it's all fresh in my mind."
"All right," she says. "But why don't we both call it a day for now, hmm?"
"I'm not tired," he says. "But if you want the holodeck, I'm about to move back to the hololab anyway."
"I don't want the holodeck," she says.
"You haven't been sleeping either," Tom says. She doesn't respond but her silence is easily interpreted as agreement. "At first I tried to tire myself out. Running, sports, fighting but nothing seems to work."
"I asked Neelix for warm milk," she says. "He gave me something that tasted like eggnog that had been left in the sun for a week."
"Did you drink it?" he asks, offering a small smile.
"I gave it to Chell," she says, smirking back. "He'll eat anything."
"I'll walk you to the lab," she offers and they both stand. He saves the program and shuts it down and then they are in the bright grid of the holodeck. It's late enough that they don't have to be so rigid with one another. While they walk, their arms brush and she tilts her head, uses a hand to try to knead a kink out of her neck.
"The Doc will give you something," Tom offers. "Put you out for a couple hours."
"No," she says quickly. "I don't want that."
"Me either," he agrees. In the turbolift, he leans against the back wall and props his elbows on the railing. "I think my body will right itself eventually," he says and the way he says it sounds philosophical instead of scientific. Like body chemistry is a state of mind.
When the doors open, he waits for her to walk out.
The lights are lower here - the hololab is on a lower deck, tucked against the port side of the ship. Tom is, easily, the one who frequents it the most. B'Elanna is a close second, dealing with the maintenance of the Doctor, but there is no one ever stationed in this lab and it's a good place to get away for a while.
Instead of depositing Tom there, she leans over a dark console and watches him log into the system. Her body is tired, but she isn't sleepy and there's something calming about being in a quiet room with Tom. She's used to it, and the familiarity feels nice. They've clocked a lot of hours together, the two of them, and not just because of their time on Earth. Whenever she needs to take a shuttle, she has Tom come along. Anytime she has a problem with the holodeck, he is her first call. She likes to work with Tom. He has an easy temperament and she doesn't have to spend a lot of time explaining her ideas to him; he always seems to know what she means.
"It's sort of like Stockholm Syndrome," he says, pulling her out of her reverie.
"We were stuck there and all we could think about is getting home but now that I'm back on Voyager, I find I sort of miss it," Tom says. "I miss the cabin, I miss living on a planet. I even miss bartending a little."
"If you could go back, would you?" she asks.
"No," he says, and he doesn't hesitate in answering, which is good.
"I miss people calling me by my first name," she says.
"Kate," he says, smiling.
"Eugene," she teases right back.
"A maternal uncle," he explains. "And not what I would have chosen had you consulted me."
"Forgive me," she says.
"Okay," he says, his attention back on his console. "I have the interior. Want to see?"
Does she? She nods. He calls up the program. In the lab, things are not quite to scale and the projection isn't 360 degrees but rotates easily. When she sees the living room and the kitchen, the counter that divides them, she feels a sting in her stomach. She wants to walk down the dark hall to see if her clothes are still in the closet, to see if the wooden handled hairbrush still sits on the lip of the sink in the bathroom, but none of this is real.
"Bridge to Janeway."
The voice over the comm. line is startling, and she jumps visibly, like she's being pulled out of a deep dream. She taps her badge absently, glancing at him.
"Go ahead," she says softly. Tom seems to understand and shuts the program down.
"We're picking up some strange readings about 50 light years ahead," the night officer tells her.
"Send the data to my quarters," she says. "I'll take a look at it there."
She closes the line and looks at him.
"Duty calls," he says, a note of understanding in his voice.
"Don't stay up too late," she orders. He nods at her, but makes no promises.
She falls asleep around 0300. Voyager isn't close enough to the readings to make heads or tails of them yet, but it's something out of the ordinary to look forward too. Janeway wakes up just before her alarm sounds and this, at least, is something her body remembered how to do as soon as she returned to the ship. Her muscles anticipate the sound of the computer's voice before her mind does and the tensing of her body jerks her awake.
She resets the alarm before it sounds and leaves the lights off as she calls for a cup of coffee. She takes the cup into the bathroom with her and sets it on the counter while she starts the cycle of the sonic shower. In the mirror, she looks tired and underfed. Her hair is tangled and she runs the brush through it a few times before she hands herself over to the shower. The waves are warm and press against her skin and she closes her eyes, hand braced against the wall and tries to chase a few more minutes of rest.
On the bridge, Chakotay is on duty already and the sight of him makes her determined to get on his good side, at least for the day.
"Good morning, Commander," she says, forcing some cheer into her voice. "How did you sleep?"
"Fine," he says and she makes sure to hold his gaze until she's sure he's heard her and isn't just parroting the response he thinks she wants to hear.
"Glad to hear it," she says. She wonders about him, wonders if he kept the Dodgers hat that he'd been wearing when he'd been rescued, if the blue hat sits in his quarters on his desk, a reminder. She still has the clothes she was wearing and the small ring sits on the ledge of the window above her bed. Chakotay looks like he's going to say something else, but then more people spill onto the bridge, Tom among them. Janeway's eyes follow Tom to his chair and when she looks at Chakotay, his eyes have gone dark.
She's going to have to fix this but she just doesn't know how. She's worried about Tom, about how he's adjusting back to this life but all Chakotay can see is what he wants and can't have. He doesn't see the context of the situation, he doesn't know what happened between Tom and Janeway after he'd gone already and he only considers the worst.
The closer they get to the phenomenon, the more data comes pouring in to the computers. Harry is working on deciphering it and she's in her ready room trying to make sense of it as well when Voyager loses its warp bubble and abruptly stops.
Stopping a starship is a delicate procedure and the sudden stop throws Janeway off her feet and into the railing between her desk and her sitting area. Her right wrist takes the brunt of the damage - her wrist bone hits the metal and then the rest of her weight presses it ever harder. She cries out and holds her hand to her chest as soon as she finds her footing. She glances at her wrist - it's already becoming mottled and swollen but no time for that now. She stomps out onto the bridge and barks for information.
"The phenomenon collapsed our warp field," Tom says.
"Obviously," she yells over the red alert klaxons. "I want to know why."
"It's producing an electromagnetic field," Harry says and she turns to look at him.
"It's interfering with impulse, too," Tom offers. "It's also probably why we couldn't get a clear reading."
"Tom, get down to engineering and help B'Elanna figure out how to get engines back online," Janeway says. "I want some distance from this thing now." Tom nods and heads for the turbolift. She looks at Chakotay who sits at the helm in Tom's place.
Sitting in Tom's chair, Chakotay is still silently seething. There's nothing for him to do at the helm until engineering gets everything stabilized but Starfleet regulations say that an officer must be present at the helm at all times. Always, at least, two people on the bridge.
It takes over an hour for the panels in front of him start to beeping and blinking, to come to life.
"Move us back, Chakotay," Janeway orders and he does, he puts a great deal of distance between the ship and the anomaly. He knows what will happen now - Voyager will sit here for days trying to figure out what the phenomenon is, how it can be used to help them, why it exists and it will mean several more days not moving forward, not getting any closer to Earth - to their homes.
But when they all regroup later in the conference room, something surprising happens.
"I think we should move on," Tom says, when Janeway asks for suggestions. There's a small, tense silence when everyone stares at him.
"I agree," Janeway says. Harry's mouth falls open and even Tuvok looks slightly perplexed.
"We don't know what it is," B'Elanna says, finally.
"We know that it interferes with warp drive," Tom says.
"We can't just leave," Chakotay says, finding his voice. He's never, not once, heard Janeway suggest that they leave something unexplored and he's waiting for her to take back her statement but she just stares at him, expecting him to finish. "What if it affects other ships?"
"We'll launch a warning buoy," she says, dismissively. Everyone stands and hesitates for a moment, waiting to see if this is some elaborate joke but when nothing happens, Tuvok is the first to return to the bridge and everyone follows suit. Tom is the last to leave and then it's just Chakotay and Janeway. "You disagree," she says.
The thing is, he doesn't disagree. He doesn't want to waste a week poking around a dangerous anomaly, he wants to move on also but the fact that she wants to do so is upsetting.
"I think you're not yourself," he says. She scoffs, the mocking noise coming from deep in her throat.
"You're one to talk," she says.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Tell me, are you ever going to stop punishing me?" she asks, her hands settling onto her hips.
"I'm not," he says.
"You don't talk to me," she accuses. "I'm sorry I read that journal but had our roles been reversed you would've done the same thing."
"It's not about that," he says. She doesn't call him a liar but it's on her face as plain as day.
But it is about that, a little. On New Earth they had started something, had planted the seeds of a long and love filled relationship. Chakotay understands that aboard Voyager, nothing like that could or should take place, but on ancient Earth, they'd had an opportunity to rekindle those feelings and instead, she'd collapsed in on herself and never opened up. Instead, when times got too trying, she'd gone on long walks with Tom Paris.
"I know I'm not what you want me to be," she says and he braces himself. "But I have to run this ship."
"It's not about the ship, Kathryn," he says. "The ship is a great excuse, but it isn't what this is about, it is?"
She looks genuinely confused - a little line appears between her eyebrows and he used to find that little line endearing, but now it just upsets him even more.
"No," Chakotay says. "You don't, Captain."
Her title is a request for dismissal and because she can't think of what else to say, she grants it. The conference room is silent and she stares at the blank console on the wall feeling like she just lost the fight but still not knowing what the fight was about.
When she steps back onto the bridge, Tom glances at her questioningly. Chakotay must have not hidden his displeasure very well. She slightly shakes her head at him, which means later. Which means now is not the time and this is not the place.
Janeway finds herself thinking of Tom's program more and more. She hates to admit it to herself, but she's been wondering if he's finished it. There is something tugging on her, something that says she wants to go sit in the living room again, on that old sofa with the cracked brown leather and ruffled throw pillows. Wants to watch the fire die down and then spring to life again when she adds a log because the wood is so good and dry. Wants to let Tom hand her a white plate of scrambled eggs that came from actual chickens. Her mother had kept chickens on the farm growing up and replicated eggs, while molecularity identical, never tasted the same.
She walks by his quarters with a lump in her throat. She thinks about chiming, but she thinks if she sees his clean shaven face she might cry. But she doesn't get to make the choice, because his doors open. He's holding a stack of PADDs and a silver mug, like he's on his way somewhere but when he sees her, he stops.
"Hey," he says. Not exactly a formal greeting for one's captain, but then again, Tom Paris had never been overly concerned with formalities.
Maybe her lip trembles slightly. Maybe he can see the sheen over her eyes or maybe her shoulders slump, but he seems to know what's coming. He steps aside, offering her entrance to his quarters and she is not, absolutely not too proud to take it. He sets the things he'd been holding down on the table by the door while she turns her back on him and wraps her arms around herself. She tries to force it all to stay in.
"I won't bother asking if you're okay," Tom says. "So I'm just going to skip to the part where I ask if there's anything I can do."
"I feel wrong," she says. Not bad or good or ill or well, but wrong, wrong. She turns to face him, the soft skin under her eyes already wet. "I think we came back wrong."
"Maybe," he allows and this is not what she wants to hear. She wants him to make her feel better. "But if you're going to spend the next few hours scouring transporter logs or data from that day, don't bother, okay?"
"Because I've done it. Maybe we did come back wrong, but if something is wrong, it's inside of us. It's not science, Kath, it's psychological." He uses her name easily and just hearing it makes her feel a little bit stronger.
"I don't know how to fix psychological," she admits.
"Yeah," he says, handing her the mug he'd been holding. It's full of coffee, not hot enough for her taste, but she drinks it anyway. Coffee helps, it always does. She doesn't give the mug back. She wraps her fingers around it with both hands.
"You seem better than us," she says. "Well, except Tuvok."
"Tuvok is... I mean, he's Vulcan which sounds like a shitty excuse, but he's been trained to handle his emotions much better than any of us," Tom says and shrugs. "Short of being Vulcan, I don't think his methods are going to work for us humans."
"I wish I knew what would," she says. "This is my life. I need to want to live it."
He looks concerned now, but she waves it away. "That isn't what I meant," she says.
"Good," he says. "Are you off duty?"
"I should try to get some sleep, but I can't," she says, shaking her head. "I can't just lay there anymore."
"Then come with me," he offers.
"Hololab?" she asks. Maybe she'll get an answer to her question after all. But he shakes his head.
"I volunteered for shuttle repair duty," he says. She makes a face. "Come on, I know you're above manual labor, but sometimes doing something mindless helps."
"Okay," she says. "I will. I'll help you."
The shuttle bay isn't manned when they get there. She sees right away the shuttle that's down - it has weapon fire scorched into it's hull and part of the starboard nacelle is missing. She must have read the incident report, but she doesn't remember what happened. It could have been any time, anyone. They haven't been very good at making friends.
"In the Alpha Quadrant, this is what we would refer to as scrap metal," Tom says.
"Ah," she says. No wonder the regular maintenance crews hadn't gotten to it yet. Better to work on things that can be usable again soon then toil away on a project that maybe is a waste of time. "You know that I'm more of a lab scientist, right?"
"Can you follow instructions?" he asks.
"I seem to vaguely remember doing so," she jokes. "I mean, I wasn't hatched a Captain."
"Then we'll be fine," he says. He hands her some coveralls and she balks.
"I thought I'd be handing you a spanner," she says.
"So you don't want to help me, is what you're so tactfully saying," Tom says, reaching out for the coveralls, but she snatches them away.
"No," she says, kicking off her boots so she can pull the coveralls over her uniform. "And I'm not sure your tone matches my pips."
"My tone," he chuckles. "I'm sorry, I thought my friend Kate was helping me with this late night project."
"That is... a dangerous attitude," she says, watching him pull on his coveralls. Hers are too big and he helps her roll up the sleeves even while they're about to fight.
"It's dangerous to have friends?" he asks.
"I'm not normal," she says. "It won't be fair to you to have to constantly flip a switch. Friend to Captain, it's too much."
"Too much for you?" he asks. "It's not too much for me."
She takes her arms back and crosses them.
"Tom," she sighs.
"Don't worry so much," he says, patting her back as he would Harry Kim. "Come on, it's time to crawl under some consoles."
She follows him reluctantly, leaving her boots behind. She thinks he's purposefully not commenting on how the coveralls are swallowing her up. She must look like a child. Inside the shuttle doesn't look much better than the outside. The consoles are dark and the carpet smells dirty and singed.
"Who was in this shuttle?" she asks, her voice quiet. Voyager had lost two people in their absence, and it feels terrible knowing she was gone, helpless.
"No one," Tom assures her. "Everyone had transported out by the time most of the damaged happened. "What we need to do is repair the circuitry enough that the shuttle can accept a power transfer. Right now it's dead in the water." Tom always spoke in sea metaphors, even when talking about space vessels.
"Good," she says.
"You take the Ops, I'll take navigation," he says. There really isn't much space. When they crawl beneath their stations, there's nothing to do but to bump one another. Janeway keeps her knees bent, but her toes, clad in her black, regulation socks, still nudge his legs.
This is where B'Elanna finds them.
Tom is talking Janeway through her repairs, simple things really. B'Elanna could do the work Janeway is attempting blindfolded and probably do a better job of it, but something keeps her quiet, standing just outside the open hatch.
"Do you remember," Janeway asks, pausing for a moment. Her voice is low in the small space. "That time you went surfing?"
"With the frat boys from the next block?" Tom asks. "Yeah, why?"
"I always thought that if we had stayed down south, that I would have asked you to teach me how to do it," she says. Tom chuckles at this and the sound cuts right into B'Elanna. She hasn't been able to make him laugh, hasn't been able to get much reaction from him at all, about anything. And here they are, late at night, doing a crewman's job, chatting about their secret life together. B'Elanna feels her fingers curl into fists.
"I would have done it gladly," Tom says. "You'd be good, I think. You're small and strong."
"Maybe," she says. "Tuvok would have called it an unnecessary risk."
"He would have been right," Tom says. "That's why it's fun."
"Tom?" B'Elanna can't keep quiet any more and she doesn't want to hear what comes next, which is, she knows, Tom casually offering to give her lessons on the holodeck. She knows him, after all. They're friends, and there was a time when she thought that they were almost something more. They had been so close.
Tom crawls out.
"Hey B'Elanna," he says, his eyebrows lifting slightly. "It's late, you still up?"
Janeway crawls out next, looking completely ridiculous in a pair of mens coveralls and a streak of black conduit lubricant high on her cheek.
"Lieutenant Torres," she says, but she looks a little uncomfortable. "Good evening."
"Hi," she says. "I was just checking.... What I mean is, I never authorized repairs here for this shift but you seem to have it under control."
"I volunteered. I'm off-duty," Tom says. "The Captain offered to help."
"Did I?" she asks, giving him a lopsided grin. "I think you conned me into helping."
"Well," Tom says. "That might have been how it happened."
Their banter does nothing to make B'Elanna feel better.
"Okay," she says. "Be careful."
"B'Elanna," Tom says. She stops, nods, waits for him to continue. "We still on for lunch tomorrow?"
"Sure," she says. Tom does this, makes her feel like she's just another colleague one moment and then his closest friend the next. "Goodnight."
"Night," he calls.
Tom walks her home.
"She asks me about it a lot," Tom says. "I never know what to tell her."
"What's there to tell?" Janeway says. "We waited around to be rescued. We worked simple jobs and tried not to make waves."
"I understand her curiosity," Tom says. "But when I try to tell her it's like..." He moves his hand to his throat. "I just can't."
"You must have missed her," Janeway says. "And Harry."
"I did," Tom says. "I thought we'd pick up where we left off when I got back."
"But?" she says.
"Two years is... we aren't the same. I'm not the same certainly, and B'Elanna did all that great, heroic stuff, keeping Voyager going. It's like, I grew a beard and served drinks and she was the Captain. How does that even compare?"
"It's not a contest," she says. They arrive at her door. "Want some coffee?"
"Sure," he says, and follows her in. "I don't think it's a contest, Kate, but I can't see what she'd want in me."
"Can't you?" she asks, facing the replicator. "Two Coffees, black."
"Thanks," he says, taking the cup.
"Did you know that she had to enter us into the computer as missing and presumed dead in order to gain command of Voyager?" Janeway asks. He shakes his head. "I can't imagine. And then when Tuvok came back, she had to transfer the power over, and then again to Chakotay and then finally, back to me."
"She must have been relieved," Tom murmurs.
"It's like we came back from the dead," she says. "We knew Voyager was out there somewhere but B'Elanna had to have incredible faith to believe we were still alive and to believe she could get us back. "
"And here I am, rewarding her by shutting her out," Tom says. "I'm a jerk."
"Not just you," she says. "Chakotay, me."
"It's easy to say, let's just go back to normal but I'm thinking that isn't how it works," she says, with a sad smile. "So, what we need is a new plan."
"I used to think that if I could just have B'Elanna then life would be perfect," Tom says, sinking into her sofa. Janeway perches on the edge of her desk. "But I don't want to date her anymore."
"Then I suggest you tell her that," Janeway says.
"And you?" he asks.
"I definitely don't want to date B'Elanna, not that she isn't lovely," Janeway says dryly.
"I mean... we both read that journal."
Janeway shakes her head, holds up her hand, seems to clam right up in front of him.
"There's too much you don't know about that," she says. "No. No."
"Okay," he says quickly. "I'm sorry." She still looks massively uncomfortable. He sets his coffee down. "Thanks for the help, Captain. I'll see you tomorrow."
She doesn't stop him from leaving.
Chakotay comes into Sickbay while Tom is on duty and the Doctor is off, still enjoying the privileges of his mobile emitter. At least there is one good thing to come out of their time on Ancient Earth. Good for the Doctor, anyway, but Tom gets stuck in Sickbay healing scrapes and upset stomachs alone. Chakotay pauses when he sees Tom and Tom thinks for a second that Chakotay might just turn around and walk right back out.
"What's up?" Tom asks.
"I have a headache," Chakotay says. "I can come back if you're busy."
Tom looks around. They are alone. He hadn't even been cataloging the samples the Doctor had left for him, he'd been reading a novel sitting on one of the biobeds.
"I think I can squeeze you in," he says, pointing to the bed. Chakotay sits on it. Tom runs the medical tricorder over him. "There's some muscle strain in your jaw."
"You've been grinding your teeth," Tom says.
"You're clenching them right now, I can tell," Tom says. "If you're feeling stressed, perhaps giving yourself a lighter duty load this week would help."
"Look, Paris, I just wanted a painkiller so I can go back to work," Chakotay says.
"Sure," Tom says. He loads the hypospray but pauses as he reaches for Chakotay's neck. "You know, Commander, I bet if you just talked to her..."
"Never mind," Chakotay says, hopping off the bed and heading for the door. "I feel fine."
Tom is shocked. He and Chakotay have never been the best of friends, but Chakotay has always been a good-natured and gentle man. This man is brooding and full with anger. This is more than just being upset. Tom knows what he has to do. When the Doctor returns to relieve him, he goes to the bridge. Harry smiles at him but Tom just waves and walks to Janeway's ready room. He chimes and she calls him in.
"To what do I owe the pleasure?" she asks, looking at him and the PADD in his hand.
"It's about Chakotay," Tom says.
"I thought I was clear before," Janeway says, her good cheer fading.
"You were, and I respect that," Tom says. "But this is an official report. I'm... look, maybe I'm overreacting, but I'm worried."
She takes the report and scans it, her frown deepening with every line of text.
"Just walked out?" she asks.
"In all honesty, he walked out after I suggested he speak to you," Tom says. "But he's been on a short fuse ever since I came back on board and it doesn't seem to be letting up."
"No, he doesn't," she agreed. "But I can't force him to confide in me."
"You can force him to talk to the Doc, or complete some sort of anger management holodeck therapy," Tom suggested. She pointed to the sofa and they moved away from the desk area and sat next to each other on the sofa. She put her feet up so he follows suit and they slouch next to one another, just like they were back in their duplex, scanning the nightly news for signs of the ship after work.
"I don't want to do that to him," Janeway says. "The truth is, I miss him. I miss the Chakotay from before. It's like something broke inside of him and he's snarling at me like a wounded animal, not letting me close enough to see or try to fix it."
"Exactly," Tom says. "I can't say I feel totally back to myself, but I know that you're here for me and Harry is too... I know I have support."
"I am here for you," she says.
"Right back at you," Tom says. There is a moment of silence. "I finished the cabin."
"Did you?" she asks.
"Yeah," Tom says. "I got sort of obsessive, but now that it's done, I don't even want to run the program."
"Do you want to see it?" he asks. "Give me a second opinion. You know, for the historians."
"Okay," she says, carefully. "Tonight?"
"Sure," Tom says. "Tonight."
She pats his knee and then gets up.
"Thanks for the report, Lieutenant," she says, dismissing him.
"You're welcome, Ma'am," he says and lets himself out. Chakotay is on the bridge when he exits and when Tom nods at him, he doesn't nod back.
"You've been clocking a lot of time in the holodeck," B'Elanna tells Tom at dinner. He's been trying to be better about spending time with Harry and B'Elanna, his friends from before. He's been trying to be better, too, about making conversation. In those last weeks alone in the cabin, he'd had no one to talk to and he'd gotten comfortable with the silence. Now he looks at her with a smirk.
"Have to make up for lost time," he says.
"Yeah, what did you do for fun anyway?" Harry asks. Tom tries not to flinch. How does he tell them that fun was an afterthought to survival?
"Mostly we worked," Tom says. "But for a while I worked as a waiter in this snooty French restaurant. I would teach teenage boys curse words in French."
"Of course you did," B'Elanna says.
"We lived by the beach," Tom says. "Now it's all coral reefs, but it was kind of cool to see how it was before the big earthquake."
"I bet," Harry says.
"I went to the movies a few times. There was this old theater that played black and white movies for a dollar on Wednesdays," Tom says. "But don't tell the Captain. She doesn't know about that."
"How much is a dollar again?" Harry asks, furrowing his brow. "And when did it switch over to the international currency?"
"Money is kind of a weird concept," B'Elanna says. And then they're off discussing a bartering system that Tom doesn't understand, from a planet that they had visited while he'd been gone. Tom finishes his meal and thinks about the last film he saw. It had been his favorite - the thin, red headed actress had reminded him of Kathryn.
Janeway brings Chakotay to the holodeck with her. Any displeasure Tom might feel about this is eclipsed by the obvious progress that Chakotay has made in just a few hours. Tom suspects Janeway has stopped coddling him and started out by giving him a verbal lashing. Chakotay looks slightly ashamed, following a half step behind her.
"Hey," Tom says - male for 'no hard feelings'.
"Hi," Chakotay says, meaning 'sorry and thanks for letting me off the hook'.
Janeway rolls her eyes.
They're both quiet when he activates the program. They are standing in the driveway near the front door. Chakotay makes a noise of surprise. Janeway is, of course, the first to forge ahead and twist the knob of the door - push it open, step inside.
"Paris," Chakotay says, shaking his head. "You do have an eye."
"I didn't spend much time in your bedrooms," Tom says. "Maybe you could help me with that?" It's almost true. Chakotay and Tuvok's rooms are lacking. Kathryn's is nearly perfect. He won't tell this to Chakotay - seems mean to twist the knife. Knowing Janeway as he does, she'll keep her mouth shut too.
It isn't perfect. He built it entirely from memory. No tricorder scans, no data carried over. The contents of the cupboards and draws of miscellaneous things are inaccurate. He can't get the lumps in the couch right; doesn't know how to make the television seem real without writing algorithms for programming and advertisements for every station. The data in Voyager's historical databases is insufficient.
The food in the refrigerator is holographic. The coffee pot will not really brew. Chakotay and Janeway are walking around in awe but he can only see the flaws.
"It's not perfect," he says. He's having second thoughts about sharing his work now that they're here.
"It's remarkable," Chakotay says, standing at the sliding glass doors and looking into the forest. "How far out does it go?"
"Not far," Tom says. "House and woods."
"Still," Chakotay says. Janeway looks relieved and happy at Chakotay's positive reaction.
"Come here whenever you want," Tom says. When Janeway and Chakotay go to explore the upstairs, Tom slips out of the holodeck.
Janeway finds her helmsman with Harry Kim. She tries to think of the last time she'd been in Harry's quarters but she can't quite place it, and anyway, it was never a social call. It isn't really social now, though he offers her tea and she accepts the cup. The quarters seem frightfully small with the three of them sitting there. His loveseat holds Tom and Janeway and Harry has dragged over the desk chair. They sit in silence. Tom looks intently into his tea cup.
"Harry," Janeway says, because after all, she chimed on his door. "How have you been?"
Tom looks at her with a look of pain on his face. It is the best she could come up with.
"Well, Captain," Harry says.
"Good," she replies. There is more silence. "And you?"
"I'm doing fine," she says.
"Was there something I could do for you?" Harry asks. Tom rubs his face in his hands like he can't believe he's witnessing such a moment. But he remains quiet and lets them fumble through this small talk.
"No," Janeway says. "I just realized that since I've been back, I've neglected to really catch up with you."
"Oh," Harry says. "Well... that's... that's nice of you."
"Stop," Tom says. "Just stop."
Both Janeway and Harry look at him with wide eyes.
"You came to talk to me," Tom says to Janeway. "You know this, I know this, Harry knows this so let's just all agree to not take offense to that."
"Fine," Harry says, quickly.
"Fine," Janeway echos, setting her tea down. "Sorry, Harry."
"Hey," Harry says. "Tom is the one who has been in here hiding for the last hour watching me work."
"I'm not hiding," Tom says. "I'm just sick of my quarters."
"You could have stayed in the holodeck," Janeway snaps. "It was rude to just leave. I was worried."
"You two seemed like you needed some time alone," Tom offers. "I was trying to do a nice thing."
"Nice?" Janeway asks, as if it is shocking to even consider the possibility.
"You're the one who sprung him on me," Tom says, refusing to back down.
"This didn't just happen to you and me, you know," Janeway says. "He's having a really hard time."
"He's making it hard on himself," Tom accuses.
"He processes things differently than you and me," Janeway says.
"I'm just..." Harry stands and looks around uncomfortably. "I'll give you some space."
They ignore him as he walks out of his own quarters.
"Processes things differently?" Tom scoffs. "He's not processing anything at all."
"He's trying," Janeway defends.
"He's pissed off!" Tom yells. Janeway stops, startled by his volume. "I think he's pissed off at you and he's taking it out on me."
"I told you I didn't want to talk about this with you," she says.
"I don't care," he shoots back.
"Kathryn," Tom says, grabbing her hand. "Do you want to know what's wrong with Chakotay? He's upset that you and I are friends."
Janeway takes her hand back and looks into her lap.
"He's upset that you talk to me. He's upset that you come to the holodeck with me, that you helped me with that shuttle, that you and I were left alone on Ancient Earth, that you and I were in charge while we were there, that we took walks on the beach, that we had a fake marriage and I think the thing that made him the most mad was that we wore those fake rings."
"You're right," she says after a long moment. Her voice sounds thin. He hopes she doesn't cry. "He's been upset about those rings since I brought them home."
"It wasn't real," Tom says.
"It was real to him," Janeway says. "Or, rather, he didn't understand why it couldn't be pretend with him."
"Look," Tom says. "I don't know half of what goes on between the two of you but I don't understand why I'm the one to blame."
"It isn't you," she says. Her chin is wobbling. He winces. "It's me. I'm the problem. He's so... open and I'm so... I can't."
The dam breaks.
Harry paces outside his door. It has been over an hour. Is he just supposed to not come home? Not sleep? He's happy to let the Captain have whatever she needs, but he really thought that Tom would have come out by now at least to say something. Finally, he can't take it any more. He opens the door.
Tom is sitting at Harry's desk and Janeway is sitting on the loveseat and neither are saying a word. Harry can tell immediately that the Captain has been crying. Her face is mottled and red, her eyes swollen, her nose running and she has a tissue crumpled up in her hand.
"Oh Harry," she says, tearing up. "I completely forgot where we were."
"Nope, it's fine, I'll come back," Harry says, already backing out into the hall.
"No, no," Tom says. "Sorry, Harry. It's late, we'll go."
"I can't go out there like this," Janeway says. Harry can see she isn't yet done with her crying. She's already sniffling and dabbing at her cheeks again. Harry feels like he shouldn't be seeing this and turns slightly. The Captain is the Captain, his fearless leader. To see this vulnerable side of her is unsettling. Tom seems oddly unperturbed. Maybe he saw a lot of her crying on Ancient Earth.
"I can rig a site to site transport," Harry offers. She looks up at him. "I mean, that is against protocols, so no, I can't."
"No," Tom says. "Do it."
"It's a waste of energy," she says.
"Your quarters are four decks up on the other side of the ship," Tom reminds her. She looks torn for a moment and then nods at Harry.
"May I see your comm. badge?" Harry asks. She plucks it off her uniform and hands it to him. He has an engineering kit beside his desk and he pulls a tool from it and pops the cover off her badge. "I can tie your signal directly into the buffer instead of going through the main computer and then it won't get logged. Or rather, it will get logged as a power fluctuation. That way, Tuvok won't ask questions."
"Officially, I am appalled," Janeway says. "Unofficially, I am impressed."
"Understood," Harry says. He hands the badge back to her and she puts it on. "Ready?"
She nods. He pushes a few buttons on his computer monitor and she fades away.
"Neat," Tom says. Harry turns to him.
"Tell me everything," he says.
"Harry," Tom says. "You're my best friend. I trust you with my life. Trust me now when I say I am not telling you anything."
Janeway turns away from her reflection with a grimace and starts filling her tub with hot water. She feels pretty disgusted with herself; she feels tired and drained. Not only did she make herself completely vulnerable in front of Tom Paris, but Chakotay is still barely speaking to her and she'd let Harry Kim break protocol just so she wouldn't have to face the world. She'd thought, when she was on Ancient Earth, that if she could just get back to her ship, things would be okay. She would find her center somehow, reclaim the things that had powered her through the first three years of this lifetime sentence. But now that she's here, if anything, it seems harder to close herself back up.
She sheds her uniform and steps into the tub, careful not to slip on the sloped side. The water is perfect, just a little hotter than what is comfortable. She likes a good bath to burn, to leave her red and warm all the way to her center.
Chakotay is in love with you, Tom had said while she had cried and cried. It isn't going to go away. You need to deal with it.
Tom had said something else, too. He'd said in passing and maybe it had just been words thrown out to try to console the sobbing woman in front of him, but he had said, I can't blame him.
She'd let the comment go, but she'd heard it. Getting stranded with Tom has brought them closer together than she has ever thought they could be. Her relationship with Tuvok is fundamentally the same. Her relationship with Chakotay, worse. Why the switch, she wonders.
Chakotay had thought that the time on Ancient Earth would be the same as New Earth, that it was for all intents and purposes, a second chance. An opportunity to pick up where they had left off. But they hadn't been alone, and they hadn't been the only two humans on the planet. She needed to make sure they were all taken care of and that they could fit in to a mostly unfamiliar society. There hadn't been time to renew a fledgling romance and if there had been, she isn't sure she'd want that.
Her time on New Earth with Chakotay was special and meaningful but it was a long time ago. She has moved on. He hasn't.
And Tom Paris is oddly perceptive when it comes to Janeway and Chaktotay's relationship.
She sinks down lower into the tub, so the water comes up to just below her nose. Her hair floats around her, still light from living so long in the sun. The roots are growing out darker, redder, like the hair underneath by her neck. Soon, it will be as if she'd never been gone - her tan has already faded, her freckles too. She wears only her uniform, lives the life of a Starfleet officer through and through.
Is it so bad to have me as a friend? To talk to me? Tom had asked.
No, she had answered. It's too good.
Janeway asks Chakotay to lead an away mission and he orders Tom to come with him.
Tom hasn't gone on an away mission since Janeway had ordered him down to Ancient Earth and he wavers now. Janeway furrows her brow at his hesitation, so he follows Chakotay into the turbolift.
"You know," Tom says, forcing himself to sound airy and unconcerned. "Ensign O'Connor has been asking for more away missions and she's a fair pilot. Why don't you take her instead of me?"
Chakotay holds his gaze for too long and Tom has to swallow, shift his weight.
"Sure," Chakotay says. "Let her know and return to your post."
When Tom walks back on the bridge, Janeway looks up at him.
"Get lost, Mr. Paris?" she asks.
"No, Ma'am," he says, taking his seat. "Just doing my duty as a senior office to give opportunities to the lower ranks."
"Is that so?" she says. She doesn't believe him.
"Yes, Ma'am," he says.
She leaves him alone and he thinks he gets away with it and is just about to put himself to bed when she summons him to her quarters. He groans. He takes off his pajamas and puts on his pants and turtleneck. He'll be damned if he's getting back in full uniform. When he gets there, she's in her bathrobe with pajamas underneath. She's totally covered up, there's nothing untoward about it though he knows she wouldn't show herself in this state to just anyone but Tom has seen her in her pajamas a hundred times.
"A little late for a social call," he says.
"I wanted to ask you something," she says.
"You could have come to my quarters, you know," he says.
"That's a little beneath my station, don't you think?" she smirks.
"Kathryn," Tom says. "What do you want?"
"Actually," she says. "I really did order you here as your Captain."
He stands up straighter.
"Sorry," he says.
"Tom, are you afraid to go on an away mission?"
He considers lying to her, but she always seems to know.
"I hadn't really thought about it before Chakotay ordered me to," Tom says. "But when he did, I knew I had to get out of it."
"So you gave it to O'Connor," she says.
"Chakotay let me," Tom says. "Even though he knew."
"I knew too," she says. "And I even understand but you know that I can't let you get by with that again."
"I understand," he says. "I just can't help but think that if I step of this ship again, there's a pretty good chance I won't be stepping back on."
This takes the wind out of her sails a bit.
"I would do my best not to let that happen," she promises.
"I know what it means to be in Starfleet, I know what might go wrong but what if this time I get stranded alone?"
"Maybe you should talk to the Doctor about your concerns," she suggests.
"I'd rather talk to you about it," Tom says.
"I didn't mean to leave you alone down there," she says.
"I don't blame you but the isolation was so severe," he says. "But, the next time I'm ordered to go, I'll go."
"Yes," she says. "You will."
"Captain, I was wondering," he says. "How are you feeling?"
"Okay," she says. "Better. I'm sorry that I..."
"Don't apologize for being human, you know how I hate that," he chides.
"I'm not human, I'm your Captain," she jokes. An old joke, one that neither ever laugh at.
"Do you think there will ever be a point where we're friends first and other things after?" he asks.
"I'm trying," she says. "You get more than most people because you're charming and a little sneaky, but don't push me. Old dogs don't learn new tricks."
"You aren't old or a dog and all you do is learn new tricks," Tom says. "Kathryn, I just think we can help each other."
"You know what's odd?" she asks. "You called me Kathryn down there because Captain was inappropriate but you never really switched back to protocol."
"You want me to stop using your name?" he asks, slightly hurt.
"No," she murmurs. "You just have gall, is all."
"I'm chock full of gall," he says. "You can fight me all you want, you know, but you'll always be my first wife."
"Maybe so, but if you make that crack in front of Chakotay, he'll punch you in the face," she warns him.
"Noted," he says. "Now can I go to bed?"
She raises her eyebrow.
"In my own bed, in my quarters, far from here," he clarifies.
"See you in the morning," she says.
Chakotay finds Tom in the burnt out shuttle. Tom has been able restore primary power, but he can't seem to make her space worthy. Every time he starts the diagnostic on the impulse engines, something blows.
"Did you try patching the giant hole in the side of it?" Chakotay asks, leaning against the bulkhead. They both know Chakotay isn't much of an engineer.
"No use wasting materials on bulkhead if she won't fly again," Tom says, tossing the spanner down. Maybe he needs a rest. "Did you need something, Commander?"
"Part of my mandatory anger management program is to make apologies," Chakotay says. Tom winces, and then offers a tepid smile.
"Good to see you're taking it seriously," Tom says.
"I'm not mad at you for reporting me," Chakotay says, sitting on the bench near the hatch. "I came to apologize to you for my attitude lately. Nothing that happened to us was your fault. In fact, you did a lot to hold us together down there."
"Thanks," Tom says.
"Thank you," Chakotay says. "Tom, the Captain told me about your reluctance to go on another mission."
"Yeah, sorry about that," Tom says. "I sort of froze up but I told her it wouldn't happen again."
"You probably deserve a little slack," Chakotay allows. "You were down there all alone, after all."
"Yeah," Tom says. "That wasn't fun."
"What did you do?" Chakotay asks.
"Do?" Tom asks. "Went to work. Got rid of the evidence of our existence. Tried not to go crazy."
"Read my journal," Chakotay says.
"Kathryn read it," Tom says. "Then it was her journal and when she was gone, yeah, I read it."
"So now you know," Chakotay says.
"Don't take this the wrong way," Tom says, picking out a different tool from the pile at his feet. "But I didn't have to read your journal to know that."
"Hiding my feelings isn't my strong suit," Chakotay admits.
"My mother always told me to have faith. Things will work out as they should be," Tom says.
"And what if the way things should be aren't the way I want them?" Chakotay asks.
"I don't know, I never asked her that," Tom says, peering into a panel. It looks as if the last explosion burned out the new power coupling he'd just installed. B'Elanna isn't going to want to give him a new one. He works on extracting it to see if it can be repaired.
"It seems like from the moment we got on that planet, everything I wanted from Kathryn she gave to you," Chakotay says, looking at him. Tom is surprised at his honesty. Maybe they should all take an anger management class.
"I don't know about that," Tom says. "But if you're mad at me for that, I'm sorry."
"I just don't understand why," Chakotay says. "I've been there for her from day one."
Tom shoots him a glance.
"Okay, day two," he allows. "I'd bend over backwards for her a thousand times. But she just won't talk to me."
"I don't think it's talking that you want," Tom says.
"I understand her principles, her decision on that matter," Chakotay says. "But she's taken back her friendship and she's given it to you."
Tom pulls out the coupling and looks at it. He might be able to salvage it.
"If it's any consolation, I promise to take good care of it," Tom says.
"Then I guess what you have to do is figure out a way to show her that friendship isn't finite," Tom says. "Good luck, Commander."
Chakotay looks displeased.
"I thought you might help me," Chakotay says.
"I accept your apology," Tom says. "And I understand where you're coming from, but one heart-to-heart in an old shuttle doesn't exactly make us friends."
Chakotay nods slowly.
"Fair enough," he says.
Tom has been back on Voyager for four months. When he wakes up, he doesn't have to figure out where he is; he knows he's on the ship in his own time. But there is not a day he doesn't think about his time spent on Ancient Earth. When they'd been there, they'd resigned themselves to a new life and now that he's back, there are certain things he finds that he misses.
He misses sunlight, the forest, a nice breeze through an open window. Those things are on any planet he knows, but there are specific things he misses. The blue Honda, and driving with Janeway in the seat next to him and listening to the radio. He misses watching baseball on the television, he misses fast food, and alcohol that didn't come from a replicator.
He misses walking into the bathroom just after Kathryn got out of the shower and the whole room smelling sweet and warm.
There's something about Kathryn, some quality that Tom has never encountered in any other woman. She is a woman who people just want to follow. No matter how closed off she makes herself, people want to know her more and now that Tom does know her better, it hasn't satiated is curiosity at all. He just wants more.
Tom walks onto the bridge 46 seconds late for his shift. This is better than most days and he generally doesn't worry because the shift change is never where the excitement is, but on this day there is already commotion. It takes Tom a moment to realize that there is an unfamiliar presence on the bridge and then a few minutes more to suss out that it's Q. Not just any Q, but the Q. And then, after some time, it becomes clear that Q is here on a mission: To win Janeway.
Get in line, he thinks to himself and when he thinks this, Q looks directly at him with that all-knowing pompous smirk and Tom looks away.
And inside the Q continuum feels a little like being stranded in the wrong time. Harry looks around in awe, down at the uniforms that marked them as American soldiers.
"It's like the being on the most realistic holodeck ever," Harry says. Tom doesn't see it quite like that. He knows that what they're seeing is just a metaphor for something larger, that they are not really on Earth, but his heart still beats fast in his chest and all he wants to do is get Kathryn and get back to Voyager.
When she sees him, she looks relieved.
"Nice dress," he says. She's been freed, but whoever did it just hacked at the ropes. She still has pieces knotted around her wrists. He takes her hands and starts working on the knots.
"You're a sight for sore eyes," she says.
"Always here to help," he says. He gets one wrist free and drops the rope. She offers her other wrist.
"I think we've dodged any real danger," she tells him. "And I think I know a way to get us home and get Q off my back."
"Have his baby?" Tom asks, with a grin.
"Oh please," she says. This knot is harder, so he pulls the knife from his belt.
"I don't know," he says, sliding the blade carefully between the rope and the pale skin of her wrist. She knows better than to move. "Having the power of Q at your beck and call is a tempting offer."
"Then you procreate with him," she says. He tugs the knife toward him and the rope falls away. She rubs her wrists.
"No," he says. "I see your point. Your repulsive point."
"Exactly," she says. "Gather all our people together. Hopefully we'll be home soon."
"Oh, how I've heard that line before," he says and walks away. He doesn't see her surprise or then, the fluttering of pain behind her eyes.
It's almost as if nothing has happened to the ship. Even the amount of time that has elapsed on the chronometer feels wrong and the ships computer has no new information on the Q or their continuum. When they're returned, the Civil War era clothing is gone and their uniforms are back in place. Kathryn had been dirty, sweaty, and ripe but now she feels clean and groomed. There are no earrings in her ears, no corset binding her into a proper posture. No silk shoes on her feet.
But her exhaustion is real and she still has several hours on her shift.
"I think you should go see the Doctor," Chakotay tells her.
"I'm fine," Janeway tells him.
"You were there the longest," Chakotay pushes.
"I'll go too," Tom offers, drawing their attention. "I'd like some peace of mind."
"Is something wrong?" she asks, worried. "Do you feel okay?"
"I think so," Tom says. "But I'd like to be sure."
In the turbolift, she looks at him with narrowed eyes.
"Did you just say that to make me go see the Doctor?" she asks.
"Do you think that's the last of Q we'll see?" Tom asks, ignoring her question.
"No," Janeway says. "He doesn't seem like the sort to let us have the last word."
Janeway gets a clean bill of health.
"You could use some sleep," the Doctor says.
"I'll sleep when I'm dead," she says. She doesn't wait around for Tom.
"And what's wrong with you?" the Doctor asks.
"Nothing," Tom says. "I just came down here so she would. Did she seemed pissed off at me?"
"Why, what did you do?" the Doctor asks.
"I don't know," Tom says. "Sided with Chakotay, I guess?"
"She seemed fine to me," the Doctor says.
"She's usually chattier with me," Tom says.
"Oh this is about you being Captain's Pet," the Doctor says. "And I'm not at all interested in that, so go back to work, Lieutenant."
"Captain's Pet?" Tom asks, with a grin. "I don't care about that."
"Please," the Doctor says. "Put her in a room with you and Commander Chakotay and it's a miracle the place doesn't fill up with saliva."
"I hear the gossip," the Doctor says, sniffing.
"We were in the past for two years," Tom says. "Of course we're a little friendlier for it, but that doesn't mean I salivate around her." He scrunches his nose at the thought of drooling all over himself.
"I don't run the gossip mill," the Doctor says. "And you're fit for duty, so..." He shoos Tom away. Tom heads back to the bridge. He'll have to grill Harry about whatever has been floating around the crew - Harry will break. He always does.
"I don't know anything!" Harry says. They're playing tennis on the holodeck. It's one of the few sports that they're pretty evenly matched on, a sport they were both taught as privileged children. Harry is even a little better than Tom. It isn't that Tom lacks the skill, he just gets bored more quickly. If it were up to Harry, they'd just play on a green rectangle with the grid of the holodeck around them, but Tom insists on programming new courts. Wimbledon, Risa, Golden Gate Park. Always something new.
"Don't lie to me," Tom says, bouncing the ball. It's his serve, but he keeps hesitating. Bounce, bounce, never tossing it up to hit it.
"Come on, just serve," Harry begs.
"Hey, you know what would be fun?" Tom asks, pocketing the ball. Harry throws up his hands and then tosses the racket down.
"Tom! Look, people talk. It's a small ship and you were gone for so long! What do you want from me?"
"I want you to tell me what people are saying," Tom says. They've walked toward one another and now stand face to face with the net between them.
"People think," Harry says uncomfortably, not quite meeting Tom's eye. "People think that you and Chakotay are in some sort of competition for her."
"That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard," Tom says.
"Is it? You spend way more time with her than you used to, and it's off duty time," Harry says.
"And anyway," Tom says. "Competing? Aside from the fact that it's an idiotic idea, Kathryn would never go for something so barbaric. She's a grown woman who can make her own choices."
"Is that what Kathryn would do?" Harry says.
"I understand gossip," Tom says. "I understand the need to create news and entertainment in a situation like ours. But you guys weren't down there with us and you have no idea about how hard it was. So when everyone starts about Commander Chakotay and I trying to win her heart like knights of the goddamn round table, maybe you could remind everyone that this is the Captain who has spent years taking care of us at her own expense."
"Okay!" Harry says, quickly. "I'm sorry!" They still have half an hour of time left, but Tom doesn't feel like playing tennis anymore.
"I'm sure the computer will create you a better opponent," Tom says. "I'll see you later, Harry."
In the corridor, he feels a pang of guilt. It isn't Harry's fault people are gossip and Tom has been the source of many untrue rumors aboard this ship, but when it comes to Kathryn, he loses perspective.
He's sweaty and decides to head back to his quarters to shower and spend some time alone.
"Janeway to Paris."
Tom winces. He's pulling his shirt over his head, but lets the hem drop back down.
"Paris here," he says. She's probably not on duty because she is using a closed line, not the general use one activated from the bridge.
"Would you mind stopping by for a minute?" she asks.
"Your ready room?"
"My quarters," she says.
"Uh, sure," he says. "I'll be there in twenty minutes."
"Twenty minutes?" she asks. "What could keep you that long?"
"Shower," he says. "Tennis. Sweaty."
"I don't care about that," she says flippantly. "I sat next to you every night while you smelled of sweat and French food. Why should I care about a little sweat now?"
There are several remarks that spring to mind but he grits his teeth instead.
"On my way, then," he says.
She's out of uniform only because she's bundled up in a white robe that is at least a size too big. It covers her from chin to ankles. Her hair is pulled back, though not as elaborately as she tends to favor.
"You hurt my feelings," she says the moment the doors close behind him.
"I tried to warn you about the sweat," he says. "You didn't care."
"I'm being serious," she says. "I was just going to ignore it, but Chakotay suggested I speak to you about my feelings instead."
"Okay," Tom says. "I'm sorry."
Janeway rolls her eyes.
"Don't you want to know why I'm upset?"
"Captain, I didn't start those rumors but rest assured I'm doing everything to discourage them," Tom says. Something in her face changes and he realizes he's made a mistake.
"No rumors," he says quickly. His mother had always laughed when he'd done this sort of helpless, pointless backpedal. The damage was already done, after all.
"Why are you mad?"
"Because you implied I couldn't get us home in the continuum! Now what rumors?"
"I didn't imply that," Tom says.
"You said you'd heard that line before. About getting home," she said, crossing her arms. "You don't think I'm capable of getting this ship home."
"That's ludicrous," Tom says. "I was making a joke. An admittedly bad one, I guess, but a joke. Of course you're going to get us home. I don't have to believe it, I know it to be true."
"How can you know that?" she asks.
"I have faith," he says. "I didn't mean to make you think otherwise. I'm sorry."
"I accept," she says. "What rumors?"
He groans and rubs his face with his hands.
"Apparently, people seem to think ever since we all got back - this is silly - people think that Chakotay and me are in some sort of - I mean, really, it's weird - some sort of competition."
"Competition for what?" she asks, her eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
"Foryourlove," he says quickly, tucking his chin to his test.
"For my what?" she asks.
"Your, uh, your love," Tom says.
"My love," she repeats. "How exactly does this competition work?
"Captain..." Tom says. "It's just gossip."
"For you and me it's just gossip," she says. "For Commander Chakotay it's more delicate."
"His advice to you was to confront me about your feelings?" Tom asks.
"His advice was to open up in general," Janeway amended.
"To him, you mean," Tom says.
"He, ah, wasn't clear," she says.
"Are you going to tell Chakotay that we cleared this matter up through an intimate late night chat in your quarters?" Tom asks.
"You and I have had many late night talks," she says. "We watched the news."
"I remember watching re-runs of All in the Family," he says. She rolls her eyes.
"Go shower," she says. "Get some sleep."
"Thank you, Captain," he says. She elbows him as he walks by.
"Kathryn," she says. "But only during late night talks."
B'Elanna decides to forgive Tom. He hasn't exactly wronged her, technically, but it had hurt nonetheless when he'd made it clear that whatever relationship might have been budding before he'd disappeared, nothing was going to happen now. He'd been kind about it, gentle which hadn't seemed like Tom at all. But Tom was different now, had been for some time. It wasn't a radical change, it didn't worry her, but it was noticeable.
He was more mature - calm, less inclined to make mischief and spread gossip. It was, if anything, more attractive.
She scowled, gripping the edge of her console a little harder. She could squeeze with all her might and never dent the alloy, but it felt good to get some aggression out.
The door hissed open behind her and she glanced over her shoulder to see the Captain come in with Chakotay by her side. She doesn't really feel like answering her questions right now. There's been a phase variance in the dilithium chamber and while B'Elanna is sure that Janeway knows about it, she hopes Janeway will just lay off.
"Lieutenant Torres," Janeway says, walking up to her with a sense of purpose in her stride. "Do you have a minute?"
"Sure," B'Elanna said dejectedly. She squared her shoulders. "My staff has been working around the clock."
Janeway looks surprised and opens her blue eyes widely for a moment.
"I know," Janeway says. "They're doing good work."
"Oh," B'Elanna says.
"Aren't you off-duty?" Janeway asks, her hands moving to her hips.
"Sort of," B'Elanna concedes. "I mean, technically. I'm running a diagnostic on the dilithium chamber."
"Oh," Janeway says with a dismissive wave. "It's probably that docking clamp that Mr. Neelix acquired in our last trade. It isn't standard issue, there's bound to be some problem, don't you think?"
"Probably," she says. Janeway is in a good mood and it's puzzling and making B'Elanna feel unbalanced. She doesn't know what to expect. "What did you need, then, Captain?"
"Parrises squares," Janeway says. "Do you play?"
"I have..." B'Elanna offers. Janeway has that look on her face, that look on her face that she gets when she has a plan that just means more work for everyone but her. "I haven't been on the team since high school."
"Perfect," Janeway says. "Samantha Wildman is organizing a tournament - pairs and I've been looking for a new partner."
"Have you asked Harry?" B'Elanna asks. "He's not half bad."
"No," Janeway says. "You!"
"Why me?" B'Elanna asks.
"We're about the same height," Janeway says. "Pairs always goes better with someone of equal weight and stature. Plus, I just think you'd be good and I want to win."
"Parrises squares," B'Elanna says. "Uh, sure. I guess."
"Not the enthusiasm I was hoping for, but I'll take it." Janeway touches her shoulder. "I'll send you the schedule."
Chakotay comes over and looks fondly at her. "Did you get what you came for?"
"I did," Janeway says, smiling back to him. B'Elanna rolls her eyes and the pair and turns back to her console. Maybe she should just leave the test for the next shift and go home.
When she gets to her quarters, there is already a flashing light indicating a message on her console. It's the tournament schedule as well as a few proposed practice sessions. It's hard to believe that Janeway had been serious about participating. She generally let the crew have their fun and stayed out of it, but apparently not this time. B'Elanna counts the practice sessions. Janeway is serious about winning as well. She sighs, frustrated with her self. Janeway had caught her off-guard - it's why she'd agreed to it. Too late to back out now.
She meets Janeway in the holodeck holding her mallet. It wasn't hers, she'd borrowed one from Jenny Delaney but she supposes she should replicate her own. This one is a little tall for her. She grips it tighter, hefts it over her shoulder, and enters the holodeck.
Janeway is standing near the ramp, talking to Tom Paris and Harry Kim. B'Elanna glares at the three of them, internally cursing Janeway.
"Lieutenant!" Janeway calls merrily. "We were just about to call."
"Sorry," B'Elanna says, though she's not.
"Hey B'Elanna," Harry says.
"You're our sparring partners?" B'Elanna asks. Harry grins. "Captain, Harry has like three Parrises squares academy titles. Are you crazy?"
"Don't worry," Tom says. "I'm terrible so it will even out."
"He is," Harry says. "Trust me. It's embarrassing."
"Let's go," Janeway says, taking her position. Parrises squares with teams of two instead of four is actually a bit more difficult even though the games tend to be shorter and B'Elanna finds herself to be out of shape, missing easy hits and stumbling off the edge of the ramp.
"Careful," Janeway chides. For someone who has fifteen years on her, Janeway looks remarkably unphased by the vigor and pace of the game. She's sweating, but is single-handedly carrying their team in scoring points.
At least Tom is awful. B'Elanna lobs a shot right at him and instead of using his mallet, he ducks and it flies past him and out of bounds.
Janeway laughs and Tom shrugs.
"Those things hurt," Tom says.
"I offered you pads," Janeway says.
"You aren't wearing pads," he says.
"I'm not an amateur," Janeway says. "If you're afraid we're going to hurt you..."
"Hey, hey," Tom says. "How many times has my stellar sense of self-preservation saved your hide?"
"You wish, helmboy."
"Who told her about that?" Tom cries, spinning to Harry who looks pretty guilty. They start punching each other in the arm.
B'Elanna stands off to the side, feeling left out. Tom and Janeway banter with a practiced ease and Harry seems totally comfortable as Tom's best friend and Janeway's favored son. B'Elanna picks up her mallet.
"I have to go," she announces. The mirth dies down and Janeway furrows her brown in concern.
"We have fifteen minutes left," she says. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I just remembered I told Joe I'd come on a shift a little early... we'll make it up next time, Captain," B'Elanna says and hurries toward the door. She just hears Tom.
"Kathryn! You scared her off!"
She thinks for a moment about spinning around and telling him that nothing scares off B'Elanna Torres but she grits her teeth and keeps on walking.
And since when is Tom Paris on a first name basis with Janeway anyway? B'Elanna feels like spitting.
Tom chimes at Janeway's door on Saturday evening. It's not quite late, but it's pushing on a decent hour. Still, Tom doesn't think she'll mind. He has her ion mallet. In their last practice session, she'd busted the head off it on the edge of the court. He'd offered to fix it.
The door opens.
"Tom!" she says. She seems uncomfortable, hesitant about stepping aside to let him in.
"I fixed your mallet," he says. "It took years of skill and hours of hard, manual labor but it works fine."
"Thanks," she says, taking the mallet. He didn't let go.
"What's going on in there?" Tom asks.
"Going on? Nothing, why?" she asks.
"You're being... shifty," Tom says.
"You're silly," she says. "Thanks again. This is great." She holds up the mallet and he dropped his hand.
"I'm silly?" he asks. "Okay. Then let's have a cup of coffee. I want to try a new holoprogram but I wanted your input first."
"Actually, I'm tired," she says. "Tomorrow over breakfast?"
"Did you just turn down coffee?" Tom asks.
"Is Chakotay in there?" he asks.
"Oh, just let him in, Kathryn." Chakotay's voice comes from deep within the quarters. Tom knows he's seated on the loveseat against the far wall.
Tom throws up his hands.
"Why did you lie to me?" he demands. She steps aside, her arms crossed defensively and lets him. Chakotay gives a smug wave. There's the remnants of a dinner on the table and an open bottle of replicated wine.
"I didn't want you to feel uncomfortable," Janeway says.
"Because of our competition?" Paris asks with a smirk. "Guess you get this point, Chakotay."
"I'll make a note of it," Chakotay says, smiling back.
"We have a board you know. A big scoreboard with your picture on it surrounded by little hearts," Tom grins. Janeway's mouth is a thin, hard line.
"You two think you're so funny," she fumes before spinning on her heel and marching into her bedroom.
"Ohh," Tom calls. "Come on!"
"You can let yourselves out!" she yells, her voice hoarse and low.
"Kathryn," Chakotay says. "We're just teasing."
"OUT," she barks.
"What were you doing anyway?" Tom asks. Chakotay shrugs.
"Dinner," he says. "I don't know why she got spooked."
"Hmm," Tom says.
"We should probably make ourselves scarce, Paris," Chakotay says.
"Go on," Tom says. "I'm going to apologize."
"If she actually tries to kill you, call security," Chakotay suggests before leaving. Tom moves to the doorway between the sitting area and her bedroom. He can't see her because it's dark in there. She could be hiding in the bathroom or sitting in the shadows. He knocks on the bulkhead.
"I said go away," she says, quietly. So she's in the bedroom, then, probably sitting on the mattress with her hands tucked between her knees.
"I'm sorry," he says. "Can I come in?"
"Where's the Commander?"
He winces. Ranks are never a good sign from her.
"He left," Tom says. "Kate, I shouldn't have teased you." He takes a few steps in and sees her just where he thought she'd be. Her head bowed, her hair slightly obscuring her face. She was wearing civilian clothes - a sweater with a high neck.
"No," she says.
"I don't understand why you felt guilty enough to lie," Tom says.
"I'm not guilty," she says quickly.
"That smacked of honesty," he drawls. She rolls her eyes.
"Maybe I was a little thrown by that gossip," she admits. "For so long I was careful not to let anyone get too close and now I have friends, close friends." He understands. She is wary to giving too much of herself away - wary of losing all she has so carefully cultivated.
"Okay," he says. "You're a little rusty on friendship. That's okay. Have dinner with Chakotay. Have coffee with me. Both are completely acceptable."
"Really, I just came to return your mallet and now I have, so I'll leave you be."
"It's not exactly the same though, is it?" Janeway asks.
"Commander Chakotay is in love with me," she says. "You aren't."
Tom flushes and hopes that she can't see that in the darkness. He clears his throat.
"You advised me once not to lead B'Elanna on when I didn't return her feelings," Tom says. "It was good advice."
"I don't know how." She shakes her head. "I don't know how to keep him at my side while breaking his heart."
"If he really loves you, he'll endure the pain," Tom says. Janeway makes a face.
"Would you do it?" she asks. "Spend every day with a woman you loved knowing she'd never return your feelings? Try to be content with that?"
Tom tucks his hands into his pockets.
"Yes," he says.
Tom walks back to his quarters looking normal, moving at a leisurely pace but inside, his heart beats like a drum.