In the rush, the celebration, the madness, they are separated. She will get pulled to headquarters for debriefings and meetings for who knows what or how long. His father wants him and then he has to face a panel because - and he's not making this up - he violated his parole. But before they take leave, he leans down and murmurs into her ear.
"I'll meet you at the cabin," he says. "A week from now."
She'd nodded, as good as a promise.
But now, he's uncertain. She has a lot more to answer for than he does and even though Voyager's return is being treated as something to celebrate, the senior staff has all spent hours answering questions separately before a panel of Admirals.
They go over mission reports, line by line, detail by detail. Tom supposes they want to make sure all the stories match up. Tom tells the absolute truth. He's learned his lesson about lying, and anyway, he's not ashamed of the life they led on Voyager. It isn't until Thursday that the questions start to change.
"Tell me, Lieutenant Paris," says Admiral Sulu, granddaughter of the famed Hikaru Sulu. "Are you married?"
"No." He doesn't hesitate in answering but internally winces.
"Are you engaged to be married?" she asks.
"Do you live alone?"
"Currently I live with my father in Marin, California," he says. "Admiral Owen Paris." They know, but he reminds them anyway.
"On board Voyager," she amends.
"Every senior bridge officer is assigned their own quarters," he says. Admiral Sulu looks at him hard, but he isn't going to hand her anything on a platter.
"Where are yours?"
"Deck 9, Section 12," he says.
"Tell me about away mission 647-12," she says, changing tactics. Generally, Tom doesn't bother to memorize mission ID numbers; instead it was the mission with that fruit that made everyone sick or that mission where Jarvin broke three ribs... but this mission he knows.
"We called it the long away mission," Tom says. "A euphemism."
"You spent 714 days out of your timeline," Sulu says.
"Not voluntarily," Tom says. "In fact, it was a ship from the future that put us there."
"Captain Braxton," he says. "Charming fellow."
"We've all read the mission report, but I'd like you to describe for us an average day for you, Lieutenant Commander Tuvok, Commander Chakotay, and Captain Janeway," Sulu says.
"Something funny, Lieutenant?" asks Admiral Busch.
"Just the notion of anything being average when you're somewhere you're absolutely not supposed to be," he says.
"Humor us," says Busch.
"Okay," Tom says. "We'd wake up, eat breakfast. Captain Janeway went to work in the morning. I went to work in the evenings. Commander Tuvok made dinner. Sometimes we'd monitor the news broadcasts before sleeping. On Wednesdays, I did laundry."
"Tell me about the employment," Sulu says.
"Captain Janeway worked for a technology company as a computer troubleshooter - or what they called computers. I waited tables in a restaurant and later, I tended bar."
"Did Captain Janeway ever improve or advance the technology?" Admiral Cain asks.
"She was careful," Tom says. "But you'll have to ask her what she did or didn't do." He doesn't talk about the false documentation, the entering databases without authorization.
"Don't you think it would have been better to stay out of society in an effort not to contaminate the timeline?" Sulu asks pointedly.
"Yes," says tom. "But we had limited resources. We had to eat. Had to live. Ultimately, that's why we moved north to a more remote location."
"But you waited a year," Busch says.
"Captain Janeway had hoped to be rescued," Tom says.
"You didn't?" Sulu asks.
"Hope in one hand..." Tom says.
"You spent the longest time away from the ship," Sulu says. "What happened once you were alone?"
"I went to work," Tom says. "And I made sure that there was nothing left from our timeline - no evidence of us."
"I thought I might be next," he says. "And I was."
"Are Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay particularly close?" Sulu asks.
"Close?" Tom says. "Sure. They clocked a lot of hours together if that's what you mean." It isn't, they both know it.
"What about you and Commander Chakotay? Would you say you were friends?" Sulu asks.
"I respect Chakotay as first officer," Tom says.
"No, then," says Cain.
"We have different styles," Tom says.
"You prefer Captain Janeway?" Sulu asks. It's tricky, that question.
"Her leadership style is more familiar. She was a protege of my father," Tom says.
"Tell me about her leadership style," Sulu says.
"Firm, but fair," Tom says. "Willing to work down in the trenches. She made it a point to know even the lowest ranked crew members."
"Was she closer to any crew members than others?" Cain asks. Tom internally rolls his eyes.
"She spent the most time with senior staff."
"You knew Captain Janeway before your tour on Voyager," Sulu says.
"My father knew her," Tom says.
"And yet, she pulled several strings to get you out of a penal colony to fly Voyager," Sulu says. "Quite the favor for a perfect stranger."
"I guess my reputation proceeded me," Tom says.
"I'm going to be frank, Lieutenant," Sulu says.
"I wish you would," Tom says, sighing. He is tired of this cat and mouse game.
"Several of your crew mates have reported that you and Captain Janeway are engaged in a romantic relationship and that you cohabitated on Voyager for several years," Sulu says.
Tom says nothing.
"Is this true?" Busch asks, leaning forward.
"Yes," Tom says. Sulu leans back, looking rather smug. Unfairly, Tom thinks. He never lied - they only had to ask.
"As this is a clear violation of regulations, the panel will need time to consider what action to take," Cain says. "We will reconvene in two weeks time."
Tom steps out of the building into the bright sun. It's windy so close to the water but this new uniform is warmer than the old one and already he is used to the stiff gray shoulders and red around his neck.
He's seen Janeway only in passing - across a long hallway. He'd noticed her hair, swept up in a clip he'd given to her for her last birthday. It had been a subtle hint to let the hair grow. She hadn't seen him even though he'd tried to catch her eye.
His father's empty house is quiet when he returns. He'd seen his mother on their second day back. She'd come all the way from the Vega system to see him. Apparently, she'd left his father not long after Voyager had been declared lost. But she'd gone back the next day with a promise to visit again once things 'settled down'.
He spends about an hour in his father's house before leaving a note, packing his things, and heading north. The cabin isn't there of course. The exact coordinates of its once location now is an elementary school, so Tom takes a room at once of the ski lodges. It's the off season, so the place is pretty barren, but it includes other amenities, like a spa and a bar.
"I know you," says the bartender, setting a menu in front of him. "You're from that ship. From Voyager."
"Yep," Tom says. "Can I get a beer? Whatever you have."
"Sure," she says, pulling something from beneath the bar - a white bottle that foams a bit when she pops the cap off. He tries it and it's bitter at first but has a pleasant sort of aftertaste. "You from the area?" She says this like a local, with a tone of someone who would never come back if she didn't have to.
"I lived here for a little while," he says. "Weird the places you miss when you've been gone a long time."
"I'm Maya," she says.
"Tom," he says.
"The pilot," she says with a smile.
"Yep," he says. He knows she's flirting with him, knows she likes him for his fame, but he also knows he won't take her up on any offer past her giving him drinks.
"I love to fly," she says.
"What's the best way to get to the lake these days?" he says.
"South down the main road," she says. "It's well-marked. I could give you a tour. I could take you there if you want."
"I'm sure I can manage," he says. Her face falls a little but she nods, and soon someone else sits at the other end of the bar and she leaves him alone. She has taught him a valuable lesson about being recognized and when he gets to his room, he changes out of his uniform. On Earth, being a member of Starfleet is generally an asset, especially in a town or area where the fleet doesn't have a large presence, but he'd rather trade that for anonymity now.
He spends the next few days at the lake. He walks around a bit to see if anything is familiar but nothing much is. On the day she's supposed to arrive, he goes to the school. He doesn't have to wait very long before he sees her walking down the road, but as she gets closer, he realizes it isn't her at all. He squints, thoroughly confused.
"Mr. Paris?" the woman says.
"I'm Gretchen. Kathryn sent me. You should come with me, please." She is abrupt in a familiar way.
"You're her mother?"
"Yes. Do you have your things with you?" she asks.
"They're at my hotel."
"Well, let's go," she says. She's spry for an older woman, keeping pace with him easily.
"Where is Captain Janeway?" Tom asks.
"Oh come now, Mr. Paris," Gretchen says.
"All right," he allows. "Kathryn."
"Hearings," Gretchen says. "I've barely seen her myself but she sent a note to fetch you from these coordinates and look after you for a while."
"And she told you about us?" he asks. It doesn't seem like Kathryn.
"She didn't have to," Gretchen says, hurrying around the corner onto the main walkway. She seems to know where they are going without him telling her. "Haven't you been watching the news feeds?"
"No." He hadn't had the time during the panel investigations and now he doesn't have the will.
"They're accusing her of inappropriate fraternization and then she wants me to take in Owen's boy with no explanation?" Gretchen shakes her head. "Doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to solve that mystery."
"Guess not," he says. "This is the building."
"Well go on!"
"What's the rush, exactly?" he asks. "Are we being watched?"
"What?" she asks. "No! I just hate to leave Indiana."
"I've been here before," Tom says, walking up the porch steps slowly. "At least, I think I have."
"You have," Gretchen says. "Your mother and I were friendly. You used to come to dinner here when you were a young boy. Kathryn was already away at school, I think."
"This is strange."
"A little," Gretchen concedes. "I'll put you in her room. Then we can have some sweet tea and a little chat, hmm?"
He settles into what must have been her childhood room and opens the console on the desk. He expects a message from her or something, but there isn't one. There's plenty to cull through - official fleet messages, letters from old friends, media outlets looking for interviews, a high priority message from Harry using a Voyager security code that is one line only, saying simply, Where are you? He closes the terminal. He wants to call her, but if she's lying low, she must have her reasons.
Downstairs, her mother waits. She has the pitcher of tea and two glasses and when she sees him, she starts to pour.
"Please," says, motioning to the seat across from her. "Will you tell me about my daughter?"
"What would you like to know?" he asks, sitting.
"Everything," she says. "Tell me everything."
So he does.
Tom is working in the garden. It's still early - soon the humidity will settle down and it will be too miserable to trim hedges or turn soil or any of the harder labor Gretchen has set aside for him. Tomorrow, he has to go back to San Francisco for the next hearing. The only consolation is that he thinks he will at least get to see Kathryn. Will she be there? Will they kept her separate from him? He just wants to see her, to speak to her. What if the brass are convincing her that she made a mistake being with him? What if the next time he sees her, she is cool and distant - speaks with him only to end things? He's put years into this relationship, years of hard work. It is the most important thing in his life. In fact, he's planned the whole rest of his life around being with Kathryn. Take her away and he has no plan, no clue what to do.
He comes in for breakfast which Gretchen has left for him on the table. She's upstairs, getting ready for the day. After Tom eats, he gets in the shower. It's practically an antique, the small porcelain tub with water and pipes, but it does get hot and he stands there while the water washes the dirt and sweat away. But not his worry.
He waits all day for her to come. He really thinks she will, he starts at every sound, but as the sun starts sinking lower and lower, he can no longer hide his disappointment. Gretchen pats his cheek. She looks a lot like Kathryn, the way she wears her hair all twisted up, the blue of her eyes, the shape of her finger nails. It's almost harder being here.
She keeps him busy, though. She walks with him a quarter mile to where she keeps chickens and they gather the eggs. He holds the wire basket while she shoos the chickens and snatches the warm eggs away. They walk quietly back toward the house. Gretchen's not much of a talker and Tom's so distracted and worried he can't pick up the slack. They round the bend and Gretchen stops for a moment, looking toward the house.
"Is that Kathryn?" she asks. Tom see's the figure on the porch swing and his heart speeds up. It's Kathryn, it's her. She stands up, the swing moving behind her. Tom drops the basket and starts running toward the house. He doesn't waste a second - he grabs her face and kisses her like he hasn't seen her in a year, not a week. Her mouth opens under his and she twines her arms around his neck. Their tongues touch, hot and slippery and he breathes through his nose, remembers how perfect and familiar she smells. He could go on kissing her forever. He lets his hands travel down to her waist and he lifts her, lets her slide down his body.
It doesn't occur to him to be embarrassed until several moments later. He takes his hand off her backside, his other hand out of his her hair and steps back. Gretchen clears her throat.
"Thomas Paris, you broke every single one of these eggs," she says in a stern voice. But when he looks at her, she's smiling.
"Sorry," he says, and then turns back to Kathryn, still loosely in his arms. "Hi there."
"Hi yourself," she says.
"Where have you been?" he demands.
"We need to talk," she says. His heart sinks so quickly that it must show on his face because she looks concerned. "What is it?"
"Please don't do it," he says, softly. He doesn't want to beg in front of her mother, but he will. "Please don't let them convince you that this is wrong."
"What is wrong?"
"You and me," he says.
"Tom, don't be crazy," she says, touching his chest. She looks at her mother. "How long has he been like this?"
"You have that boy worked into a frenzy, little girl," her mother says.
"Well," Kathryn says. "Will you come back to the city with me tonight?"
"Yes," he says, "Of course."
"Good," she says. "Go get your stuff. I need to speak with Mrs. Janeway, here."
Tom heads up the stairs feeling 1000 kilotons lighter. He hears just the start of their conversation, hears Gretchen say, "You won't even stay for supper?"
They don't stay. Tom kisses Gretchen's cheek and thanks her and is rewarded with a dish of brownies.
"Come back soon," she says. "I want that dish back."
"I'm sorry," Kathryn says, once they are out of earshot. "I wanted to contact you, but I had to get through the investigations before I could."
"What did they say?"
"Strong reprimand," she shrugs. "I imagine tomorrow you'll get the same."
"All this waiting for a note in our file?" he asks, exasperatedly.
"If I were the man, probably not even that," she says. He knows she's right.
"Your father said we should've just married," she says. "It would have made it look more legitimate - his word."
"I asked," Tom says. "It's not that I didn't ask."
"I know. I told him we had a 400 year old marriage license somewhere under pseudonyms."
"I'm sure he loved that," Tom snorts.
"He told me I was too old for sass." She rolls her eyes.
"Okay," he says, taking her hand in his. "Here's the plan. Step one - go to my hearing and get my smack on the wrist."
"Step two - get married."
"Wait, what?" she exclaims.
"Step three - find a place to live," he says.
"Whoa there, let's go back to step two," she says.
"You said a conditional yes," he says. "You said you wanted to marry me but not while you were my Captain."
"I guess I did," she says. "But if I take another command, you're sure as hell going to be my pilot."
"Then we'd better get hitched in the interim," he says. "You still have the ring I gave you?"
"Do you still want to marry me? Kate?"
"Yes," she says. "Of course I do."
"I'm not saying no, Tom, but I think we need to get through the next couple days before we start picking out flowers," she says.
"Sorry," he says. "I just have been stewing here, alone, for several days."
"I know." She squeezes his fingers.
"Do you want to take another command?" he asks. "Go back into space?"
They're outside the transport station now, but he hesitates outside.
"I have that option," she says.
"Or I could take the promotion."
"Promotion?" he says.
"I told you we needed to talk," she says, smiling. She pushes him into the building and refuses to say more until they step off the pad in San Francisco, near the Embarcadero. It's the area of Starfleet housing. They've put her up in a temporary, furnished apartment. It's not great. He could offer to take her to his father's house but he'd rather be in this dingy, transitional apartment alone with her than to share her.
"What promotion?" he asks as soon as they are in.
"Vice Admiral," she says. "It's a headquarters job."
"Among other things," she says.
"Where is Seven?" he asks, remembering now.
"Family," Janeway says. "Starfleet couldn't hold her so I told her to go until she decided what she wanted to do."
"What are you going to do?" he asks.
"Marry you, it seems," she says. "Past that, I just don't know yet."
Admiral Sulu's first recommendation is to strip Tom of his rank. Her next recommendation is to leave his rank provisional - Janeway fights against this, too. Several crew members step forward to speak in his defense, including B'Elanna and Chakotay. Were they sleeping together? Tom can't tell, but he thinks so.
He got to keep his rank in the end.
"Damn, Paris," Chakotay says with a grin. "What did you ever do to Sulu?"
"I don't know!" he says. "But thank you."
"We're having a party," Kathryn says. "At the farmhouse in Bloomington now that everyone is on their re-acclimation leave. I can't order you to come, anymore, but I hope you do."
"Wouldn't miss it," says B'Elanna. "Right Chakotay?"
"Right," he says.
"Family and friends and whoever," Tom says. "Big bash."
"Just as long as you two aren't planning a secret wedding or something. That's so cheesy, I hate..." She trails off. "Shit. You're getting married aren't you?"
"You have the worst poker face!" Kathryn accuses Tom. "It is cheesy, I know, but we don't want to make a big thing about it with press and all of that."
While the women discuss details, Tom pulls Chakotay aside.
"I could feel guilty, but I don't," Tom says.
"It's been years, Paris," Chakotay says. "You have to think better of me than that."
Tom nods, concedes. It's true, but Tom stays vigilant anyway. Perhaps it's time to let that go.
"You're right," Tom says. "Really, though. Thank you for speaking up for me against Sulu."
"I'd do anything for a member of my crew," he says. "Same as you."
"Same as me," Tom says smiling. "Hey, by the way, are you nailing B'Elanna?"
Chakotay doesn't have much of a poker face either, old Chakotay who wears his bleeding heart for all to see. He looks down, his cheeks flushing slightly. Does he think Tom will be upset? Sure, Tom and B'Elanna have a little bit of a history, but nothing substantial and over their time on Voyager, he and B'Elanna even regained the footing of their friendship.
"That's great news," Tom says. "Well, not so much you regularly defiling my friend, but the relationship part is good."
At first, Chakotay looks like he wants to smack Tom upside the head but instead, he reconsiders and leans in.
"She's pregnant," he says and smiles big enough to show teeth and dimples.
"Two months," Chakotay says. "Due in the spring."
"Congratulations," Tom says, shaking his hand. "Really."
"You're getting hitched," Chakotay says. "Tom Paris tied down. Hard to imagine that the same kid I booted off my Maquis ship would be marrying a Starfleet Captain."
"What are you talking about now?" B'Elanna asks, coming back over. Tom grins stupidly at her for several moments and then she turns and socks Chakotay in the arm.
"It's not a secret if you tell everyone!" she seethes. "Let's see, you told Harry, your cousin, the transport attendant, Janeway, and now Tom!"
"I see I'm low on that totem pole," Tom says. "But it is good news. You should share it." He's happy for them, but he can't help but wonder what life would have been like had they not gotten stuck in 1996 - would he have fallen in love with B'Elanna? Would the child inside of her be his? It's awfully hard to imagine. "Do you know the sex?"
"It's a girl," B'Elanna says. "Miral. After my mother."
She didn't think things would feel different, but they do. Tom isn't different - he's still Tom. Scruffy and amiable, always happy to see her. He's a romantic, too. On their wedding night, he'd rolled over and said, "I can't believe I get to wake up and see you every day."
But things are different. Life on a spaceship has a certain pace and order and planet side, on Earth, things seem slow and bureaucratic. Living in a house brings its own challenges. Tom wants plush, over stuffed furniture while she prefers clean, straight lines. She wants to wake up to sunlight and he wants heavy drapes to keep it dark. Maybe the most disconcerting thing is her name. He'd asked her to change it, to take his, and she'd said fine. It was a small concession, but it was answering to the new one that was giving her some trouble.
Her new assistant had finally, out of frustration probably, just reverted back to calling her Admiral Janeway but Kathryn had shaken her head.
"I'll never learn that way," she'd sighed. "Am I a bad wife already?"
"No, Ma'am," her assistant had said. "Just a new one."
Her new father-in-law is strangely distant. They have always had a good, comfortable working relationship, but it seems like as a family member, he has no idea how to treat her.
"You really are a member of the family now," Tom says. It isn't exaclty the comfort she'd been seeking.
Tom is going to take a job as a pilot. She thought he might try to find something on the ground, but he has been offered a promotion to Lieutenant full-grade if he takes a slot on the Georgia, a Starfleet transport ship that travels between Jupiter Station and the mining colony on Dorlax 12. It is three weeks gone, two weeks home for a tour of at least two years. It is a good job for him, a good way to prove to the Alpha Quadrant brass what she already knows - he is a good, trustworthy officer. Still, she is jealous of him getting to be on a ship.
"What will I do while you're away?" she asks when he tells her.
"Pine for me," he says. She rolls her eyes. "Babe, you'll be plenty busy. You'll appreciate the time to work without me always pestering you for sex and attention."
"I like the way you pester me," she says. "And we're supposed to being having sex all the time, we're newly weds!"
"You are the best wife ever," he says seriously.
"I'm your only wife," she reminds him.
"But you're my wife twice," he says. "That's got to count for something."
In their bedroom, they still have the cheap, knock-off wedding rings she'd gotten them to wear on Ancient Earth. Chakotay had been right to be mad when she'd brought them home, the day they'd argued on the patio with the sliding glass door closed. He'd accused her of favoring Tom, of playing house with him and forgetting about their true mission of finding a way back to the ship. She had called him ridiculous, called his words hurtful, and had apologized for hurting his feelings nonetheless. She'd taken Chakotay's face in her hands and had reassured him that she still valued the command structure, that she would get them home and things would go back to normal.
He'd been right at the time, though, hadn't he?
The wedding rings they wear now look very similar to their first set, though are of a much higher caliber. They don't turn skin green, at any rate.
While Tom is gone, she twists the ring around her finger, thinking of him often. She has lunch with Chakotay and B'Elanna who is already starting to show. The birthrate will be slightly accelerated due to her Klingon half. B'Elanna has taken a ground job and Chakotay hasn't taken any job yet. Kathryn suspects he is considering taking no job at all, but doesn't pressure him to tell her about it.
"Do you miss Tom?" B'Elanna asks.
"Yes," she says, flashing a quick, forced smile. "It's not even him not being physically with me, but I can't even call him whenever I want to."
"Nowhere to hide on Voyager," B'Elanna says. "Now he's got the whole universe."
Kathryn raises her eyebrow.
"Not that he'd want to hide," B'Elanna adds quickly.
"Paris? Hide from you?" Chakotay scoffs. "I've never seen a man so stupid for another woman in my life."
"That's certainly one way to phrase it," Kathryn says, slightly uncomfortable.
"Seriously," he barrels on, unaware. "When it was time for her to get home from work, on Ancient Earth, I mean, he'd go down and meet her at the bus stop! I could see him pacing the corner!"
"Chakotay," B'Elanna says.
"Then you'd spend the whole night together," he says. "Walking, getting coffee, watching the television. I mean, I saw it at the time, you know, but I didn't really see it. I should have. He was always your favorite."
"I thought you and Tom had worked through your issues," Kathryn says, sounding more like an Admiral than a friend.
"We have," he says. "But I just find it ironic that your complaint is about not being together enough. You two are constantly together. Don't you appreciate the break?"
She could snap at his snide tone, the wound that obviously hasn't healed. Snap at him for making B'Elanna look hurt and feel discarded, like second place. But she takes a deep breath. This is an old fight and she's tired of it, so she's just going to let it go. Maybe it's a good thing that Chakotay is considering taking more time than most. He needs to sort things out.
"I don't," she says. "I guess I'm just stupid for him."
Tom finds his wife in her garden. She has started up this project without consulting him or soliciting him for help. So, mostly, he stays out of the garden all together and when she is in it, he endeavors to give her some space. But this news cannot wait, so he pushes the button to activate the backdoor and steps into the sunshine. It isn't cold, exactly, but there is a cool breeze and as he makes his way to the back corner of their yard, he follows a windy path to stay in patches of sunshine. The garden is coming along now. He can see green where once there was only dirt and she sits on the ground, coaxing and cooing at her tomato plants. She'd struggled, at first, with dry, rocky soil but one of the newer groundskeepers from headquarters had come over one Sunday and worked some sort of green thumb magic and now, things flourish.
"Kate?" he says. She looks up at him, squinting into the sun and lifts one dirty hand to her brow to shield her eyes. "B'Elanna had the baby."
"She did?" Kathryn says, standing up and wiping her hands on her jeans. Actually, they are Tom's jeans and her hips barely hold them up. She won't replicate a pair of her own, but she's perfectly happy to traipse around through mud and muck in his. "When?"
"Last night," Tom says. "You want to go see them at the hospital?"
"Chakotay invited us. They're in Oakland. Transport leaves in 30 minutes."
"Yeah," she says. "Yes. Just let me go wash my hands."
"And change your pants," he calls after her.
"Shut up!" she yells back, but there is never any malice when she says this.
They just make the transport, jumping into the last car right before the doors shut. On a Sunday afternoon, most of the seats are empty. They are dressed as civilians, though they both have communicators in their pockets. They both sit - it is a short ride from Petaluma to Oakland. As they go past the choppy, blue waters of the bay, she points out a sail boat to him and they watch it glide swiftly with the wind.
"We could do that," she says. "Get a sailboat. You and I."
"Easy-peasy," he says. She leans her head on his shoulder.
When the doors open, they step out. It's four blocks to the hospital. They sign in, but the ensign sitting at the desk knows who they are and waves them through.
"Room 12, section 3," she says. Everyone knows the Voyagers, how they remain close, how they stick together. Tuvok teaches a history course on their decade long journey now.
B'Elanna is asleep when they arrive, but Chakotay takes them down the hall to gaze at the little girl, asleep in the nursery. The baby is dark - has more Klingon coloring than her mother - and has a shock of dark hair and long eyelashes. Her forehead ridges are still pronounced, but she has full lips and her father's dimpled chin.
"So beautiful," Kathryn says. "You did fine work, Commander."
"B'Elanna broke two bones in my hand," Chakotay says. "She doesn't know that, of course."
"When can you take them home?" Tom asks.
"This evening, when B'Elanna wakes up," he says. "Miral came a little early - I thought we'd have another week!"
Chakotay has finally settled on a job, working for Starfleet Academy administering the entrance exam and interviews to prospective cadets. It is a desk job, a soft job, a job that someone takes when they don't really want to stay in Starfleet but are too afraid to really leave. B'Elanna works for the engineering corps and she works mad hours, the opposite end of the spectrum from Chakotay. Maybe it works. Maybe Chakotay can be happy doing the majority of the parenting while B'Elanna works herself ragged designing warp cores and shuttles, and who knows what else.
"Can I hold her?" Kathryn asks, unable to contain herself any longer.
Seeing his wife hold a baby does something to Tom, gives him this peculiar feeling lodged just beneath his ribs and it's not until they are in the transport heading back home that he recognizes it.
Kathryn is 57. To say she is still in her child bearing years is unrealistic. It's not impossible, older women have done it, but it would involve trips to the doctor, hormone therapy, careful monitoring, and no more 12-hour days and then, when the baby came, if it came, he would have to re-evaluate his duty assignment that required him to be gone so much.
"I'm sorry," she says simply. For a moment he is concerned that he has said something out loud, but he is almost certain he hasn't.
"For what?" he asks.
"Oh please," she says, sounding just like her mother. "I know you better than anyone. Your thought process marched right across your face."
"If Kathryn weren't so old, we could have a baby. I wonder if she would endure years of medical torture to have a baby? Probably not. Should've married someone my own age," she says, in what he supposes is supposed to be a mimicry of him.
"That... is not right at all," he says. It's not the most wrong either, but he doesn't point it out. "I have never once thought I should have married someone my own age. The only person I've ever wanted to marry is you."
"I can't have a baby," she says.
"That's okay," he tells her. She presses her lips together, a thin line of disbelief.
"You know how my job is. And yours."
"I said it's okay," he says, touching her knee. "You are all I need."
They fall into an uneasy silence. By the time they get off the transport, the sun is setting and they squint as they walk west toward their house.
"Do you think Chakotay is happy?" Kathryn asks.
"I think he'll be a good dad," Tom says.
"That certainly isn't what I asked," she says.
"I think... a long time ago that Chakotay felt like he got the consolation prize and now he doesn't know how to feel anything else," Tom says. "I think Chakotay can be happy if he wants to. Is he as happy as me? Probably not."
"I'm happy too," she says, looping her arm around his waist. They walk the rest of the way home like teenagers, bumping into each other with every third step.
Kathryn brings home a puppy. Tom is on leave while Starfleet decides where they want to place him. Kathryn tells him it's a gift for his promotion to Lieutenant Commander. Of course, she made full Admiral last year and they didn't acquire any pets, but the puppy is tiny and golden and when Tom takes it into his arm, it yawns and he gets a whiff of that sweet puppy breath.
Kathryn looks smug.
"It's a girl," she says. "A teenage boy had a carton of them on Montgomery street."
"And you just took one?"
"If you're going to be home more often, now, I thought it was a responsibility we could handle," she says. "You always had a dog growing up. I did too."
"What's her name?" Tom asks.
"She's your dog," Kathryn shrugs, clucking her tongue against the roof of her mouth. She disappears down the hall toward the bedroom, already removing the various parts of her uniform.
He holds the dog up to his face to stare into her eyes and the puppy unrolls a long, pink tongue from her mouth and licks his nose.
"Okay," he says, grinning. "You can stay."
He names the dog Kes and when he tells Kathryn, her bottom lip wobbles so furiously that he almost changes his mind, but then she wipes beneath her eyes and forces a smile and nods.
"Kes," she says as if repeating it is what makes it so.
Tom replicates a leash and a pink collar, a soft bed and two food bowls and a pile of toys before Kathryn makes him stop. Kes hates the collar at first, but then, when they attach the leash and take her outside, she doesn't seem to mind so much anymore. The puppy tugs against the restraint, her little tail wagging euphorically.
"Thank you," he says. "This is a wonderful present."
"You're welcome," she says.
They walk down the street together, the three of them keeping a steady gait as the sun sinks lower and lower, a heavy orange ball on the horizon. When the wind blows, Kathryn leans into him, seeking warmth.