This is a re-entry story. It's been done before, of course, and well - but most authors tend to gloss over the details I'd like to know about – exactly how did Tom and the Maquis get out of their legal problems? ("And they were all pardoned" is a bit simplistic, while "Tom had to stand trial again" is just plain wrong…) How would Voyager's dramatic return play in the real world of politics, Starfleet regulations and media interest? How do you pick up the pieces of a life, a career, and family connections after seven intense years in "the field"? The result of my musings is essentially a character study – mostly of Tom Paris, but also a number of other crew members – and a series of vignettes of the first year back, with wispy plot strands weaving through.

There's a bit of a TNG crossover element, and it is there that I have taken most liberties with canon. Essentially I have ignored the timeframe/sequence and events of Star Trek: Nemesis – you know, the one where Picard is still a Captain, Janeway does a cameo as an admiral having already returned from the DQ, and Riker gets command of the Titan. As far as I'm concerned the Star Trek: Titan books are NOT canon and Will belongs on the Enterprise, a sentiment with which I'm sure he'd agree (after all he spent 15 years on the ship!). All I've really kept from that part of canon is the Riker-Troi marriage. If that troubles you for theological or other reasons, read no further.


The characters (except for a couple whose names you won't recognize) and universe aren't mine; their current thoughts and predicaments are though, so please ask if you wish to archive elsewhere. I write for fun, not profit.


By Alpha Flyer


Day One

Admiral Owen Paris stormed into his office with a stride that belied his years, impatiently waving off his aide's attempts to hand him a couple of PADDs. Growling "No disturbances, please", he shut the door behind him - forcefully.

The motion had come as close to a slam as the flustered young lieutenant had seen from her temperamental, but usually tightly restrained, superior officer. She exchanged a concerned look with Nicole, the Admiral's normally unflappable secretary. With unspoken agreement they busied themselves over their respective consoles, sifting through the day's messages to see if they could discern a possible reason for his unusual behavior, and get ready for the next round. When you were working with Admiral Paris, luck definitely favoured the prepared.

In the privacy of his office, Paris sat down heavily behind the massive desk, put his elbows down and rubbed his face, eyes closed, for some time. Taking a deep breath, he reached for the picture of a young Starfleet cadet with a handsome, too-serious face. The small frame occupied a prominent place on his desk, one of the few personal touches found in the otherwise almost Spartan surroundings. He absently stroked the face on the picture with his thumb, then set the frame down again, hard.

"Stan McFaddyen, at Miller McFaddyen and Burns, private line, privacy locks, authorization Paris Lambda Pi" the Admiral's clipped tone instructed the computer. Before long its disembodied, flat voice confirmed, "Mr. McFaddyen will accept your call. This call is protected by solicitor-client privilege."

The face of a man about the Admiral's own age appeared on the screen, thinning but still dark hair combed carelessly over a high forehead, wire-frame glasses perched precariously atop an aquiline nose. Paris had always suspected that the sharp brown eyes did not require artificial assistance – whether to read notes, see through an opponent's arguments, or melt a jury's hearts. But the old-fashioned accessory suited the man, and no doubt served as a valuable prop in court.

Stanley McFaddyen, lawyer to the elite, untangler of difficult cases, and champion of lost causes; the exorbitant fees happily paid by those who could afford his services financed his fascination with the second, and his occasional devotion to the latter. But he did not play favourites. Once McFaddyen took on a file, Paris knew, that case received his full attention and the client could expect the best.

The two men had known each other since their days as roommates in Starfleet Academy. McFaddyen had initially pursued a career in the Fleet JAG Corps but dropped out after only a few years to, as he put it, "broaden my legal perspectives". That he had done. Renowned across the sector for his intellect, he had turned down three invitations to sit on the Federation's Supreme Court, preferring the work "in the trenches", as he put it. His penchant to work for free in the service of justice or an intellectual challenge meant, however, that the suits he wore were somewhat less exclusive than one would expect.

Paris looked his old friend in the eye. He got straight to the point; no social niceties were needed between them. "Stan, I need your help. Remember what we talked about at the Restoration fundraiser?"

McFaddyen nodded. "Voyager?" he asked, raising one eyebrow; extra words were something he generally reserved for advocacy.

It was the Admiral's turn to nod. "Indeed. You'll see it on the newsvids soon, possibly tonight. They came out of a Borg transwarp conduit. Tom flew them out, from inside a Borg sphere."

Despite the note of pride in his voice, the Admiral shuddered briefly at the memory of that harrowing few minutes, when another Wolf 359 massacre had seemed all but inevitable to the small, war-depleted fleet he had been able to scramble. Eighteen starships to defend Earth, only half of them battle-ready. Forty-seven Borg vessels reported. It had not looked good.

He schooled his face back into the impassive command mask. "Needless to say, Federation Council was informed at once. I'm sure the President will want to have a grand public welcome for the 'heroes of the Delta Quadrant'.

"But as I mentioned, there've been rumblings ever since Pathfinder made contact, and they're getting louder. The Maquis crew on Janeway's ship will be stirring up skeletons some people would rather keep buried, and Tom and my daughter-in-law are in the thick of it. I expect the wolves at the gates within hours, not days. You're the best, Stan. Can I count on you?"

McFaddyen regarded the Admiral with a frank and appraising look. "You ready to see it through this time? Do what's necessary?"

The Admiral knew what his friend was asking; they had talked about it, more than once; he had made his decision before activating the comm. He took a deep breath and looked at the view screen with determined, steel blue eyes.

"Yes. Yes, I am."

"Good. Do you want me just for your son and daughter-in-law?"

"It's not up to me, but ideally you would act for all of the Maquis, provided of course they agree. Julia would ask you if I didn't – you know how she feels about the Cardassians and … that Treaty. I'll ask Janeway to talk with the crew and will get back to you. As for the retainer, you have my credit information on file. Take security against Palings. Authorization Paris One-Oh-Beta-Four-Seven."

"Understood and noted. We'll work out a rate. This could be very, very interesting." McFaddyen's eyes sparkled momentarily: A client who could pay, a fascinating legal issue and a social cause, all rolled into one – it didn't get any better than that. That he was helping a friend in the process was icing on the cake.

Within seconds, he was all business again. "Now here's what needs to be done, Owen," McFaddyen counted off his fingers while looking his friend in the eyes.

"One. They'll go after Tom first; he's easy pickings because there's no new case to be made, and thanks to you – sorry - he's high profile, so the politicians can show they play no favourites in order to 'serve the law'. He's been convicted already, so this will just be about sending him back to Auckland. Let him know we're on it - and do so nicely, Owen. I don't want him to blow a relay and go back to that clown who defended him at trial."

Owen flinched, briefly. Another sore spot. McFaddyen had extended the offer to defend Tom against the treason charges he faced after his short-lived stint with the Maquis, but relations between father and son had been at their lowest point then. Whether the offer was never properly communicated or whether it was stubbornly refused was irrelevant; the result was the same: Tom had chosen a public defender over the high-profile counsel available to him through family connections and resources. The defense McFaddyen had been itching to put forward was never tested, and a quick-and-dirty guilty plea pushed on him by an inexperienced lawyer had netted the younger Paris eighteen months at the Federal Penal Settlement in Auckland.

Things would be different this time.

McFaddyen continued. "Two. Cases against the others will not be ready for court so there'll be a delay, but there are existing arrest warrants so they'll be put in pre-trial detention. We could ask for bail, but on terrorism charges we probably won't get it. Best we can do is negotiate conditions for detention.

"Three. No one talks – not to the media, not to Starfleet, not to anyone. It would be great if that included Janeway and the rest of the crew, but make sure at least the Maquis understand this. These cases are more political than anything, and controlling public messaging will be key.

"Four. I assume Fleet protocol will impose quarantine on Voyager for a while, but I need access as soon as possible. Can you arrange for us to get onboard Voyager, or at least have private, unmonitored comm lines for privileged discussions?"

"Yes, I will see what I can do. And, Stan – thanks."

"Don't thank me, Owen. It's what I do. Just remember what you need to do, if we're to do this right. I'll be in touch. McFaddyen out."

The screen went dark. Admiral Owen Paris leaned forward, elbows on his desk, and rubbed his eyes again. He looked at his son's picture one more time, took a deep breath, and requested another comm line.

"Paris to Captain Kathryn Janeway, USS Voyager."


Day Two

Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris's eyes flew up from the PADD he was holding, and flashed at Kathryn Janeway in disbelief. "They WHAT?" he spat.

He started pacing around Captain Janeway's ready room, pausing at the observation window. For seven long years, it had held nothing but unfamiliar stars; now, the silver arms of McKinley station, where Voyager was docked pending debriefings and completion of quarantine, filled the view. Why did the graceful duranium arches, which had embraced them in welcome only yesterday, suddenly feel like shackles?

Tom had known deep down that this might be coming, but buried the knowledge until it became a distant echo from his past. A past that no longer bore any connection to the life he had forged for himself. Now, the summons staring at him from the PADD scored his mind like a whip.

He turned back to face his Captain. Kathryn Janeway sighed inwardly as she saw the bleakness in her helmsman's eyes. Even worse, as far as she was concerned, was the speed with which the mask of cynicism she had first seen in Auckland snapped firmly back into place on the pilot's handsome face.

"I know, Tom, after all that's happened, this borders on harassment, malice even. But we all expected something of this sort; we just didn't know what it would look like. Now we do, and we can fight it."

The release order she had obtained when she took Tom Paris, disgraced former member of Starfleet and convicted Maquis traitor, out of Auckland to assist Voyager's mission into the Badlands had been a temporary one. Release was based on the usual conditions – regular reporting in, and the inmate was to "keep the peace and be of good behavior". The deal with the Rehab Commission specified that Inmate # 0766 would be returned to New Zealand upon completion of the mission, and would be eligible for early parole upon return based on her report. "We'll put in a good word at your next Outmate Review," she had told Tom then.

She had provided that "good word" and more when she filed a report to the Rehab Commission over a year ago - when the Pathfinder project first made regular contact with Earth possible. She had reported on Tom's performance in the most glowing terms, and requested that his release be made permanent. If he had remained in prison, he would have completed his sentence years ago. Surely time under her supervision in the Delta Quadrant counted?

In the absence of a response from the Rehab Commission, she had expected that the issue of Tom's return to Auckland had become moot. Clearly, that was a mistake.

Tom looked up from the PADD again, his normally bright blue eyes hard and cold. "So – I'm supposed to go back to jail because I failed to file bi-weekly reports while I was out on temporary release? And because I failed to return following the agreed period of temporary release? Where the hell do they think I was? Risa?"

Janeway was glad Tom didn't mention the other grounds cited by the Federation for the revocation of his release.

The summons, which she was tasked with executing on behalf of the Federation, dispassionately cited five instances where Tom had allegedly failed to "keep the peace and be of good behavior". Her glance fell on the impersonal text sent to her screen and copied to the PADD that looked close to being crushed by Tom's long fingers:

Conviction on charge of second-degree murder (Banea);

Conviction on charges of membership in a terrorist organization; material support for terrorism; acts of terrorism including intentional discharge of an explosive device resulting in 47 deaths (Akritiri);

Disciplinary offences including insubordination, unauthorized use of a shuttle craft and conduct unbecoming an officer (USS Voyager/Monean Maritime Supremacy);

Arrest on suspicion of murder and drug trafficking (Nekrit Expanse Space station);

Arrest on charges of public disorder and assault, including assault on a peace officer (Markonian Outpost Space Station).

Someone had done their homework and studied Tom's personal record with a careful, if highly selective eye. No context, no further explanations. Legal? Perhaps. Just? Absolutely not.

The fact that Janeway's own disciplinary action against Tom featured on the list was a personal affront. She had little stomach to see that old wound reopened for either of them.

"Tom," she said, putting as much conviction and calmness as she could into her voice, "you know that this is all utter nonsense, and probably motivated by some political game-playing for which we don't have the necessary background as yet. We can beat this, and we'll do it together. Your father has connected with the best lawyer in the sector, and I will provide him with a deposition that will put all of these … these allegations into the proper perspective."

She watched her words sink in. The mask slipped a little, replaced by a glimmer of – what? Hope? Trust?

"I know I can't tell you to take it easy; I'd feel insulted too, after all you have done for me, for this ship, her crew, and for Starfleet. But we will set this right. You and I – we have been through much, much worse together. We can't let sudden bureaucratic … zeal … and political agendas get us down now, at the finish line. Just play the game, and you will come out of this stronger than ever. We all will. Trust me."

Tom fixed his gaze on his Captain, the woman who had not only given him his second chance but who had stood by him every step of the way, including through false accusations and horrific encounters with other, even less forgiving justice systems.

Even when Janeway herself had thrown him in the brig, for his efforts to save the Monean water world from destruction, she had quietly acknowledged that she privately supported his principles and admired his willingness to act on them. The punishment she had felt compelled to impose on him then had, to a large extent, been intended to make him reflect on what it really meant to be a Starfleet Officer.

Tom Paris had, in turn, repaid her belief in him many times over - with his piloting skills, his tenacity, his loyalty, his often brilliantly unorthodox solutions to unforeseen problems, and his readiness to lay down his own life for her and her crew. Trust cut both ways. It had to.

Their eyes locked, and he gave a slight nod. She was right; they would get through this, together.

"Thanks Captain," he said, softly. "I'll go and break the news to B'Elanna. With any luck she's still too tired from Miral's birth to work up a serious temper." He paused briefly and continued. "I guess the axe will drop on the rest of Voyager's 'criminal elements' in the next couple of days?"

Janeway took a deep breath. No point in pretending, and as B'Elanna's husband, he had a right to know. "Yes, we expect so. I may even be formally asked to execute the arrest warrants I was given when we originally went after Chakotay's ship." She clenched her jaw a little and stared at the ceiling for a while, taking a deep breath.

"Your father has suggested that all affected crewmembers accept the services of the law firm that he's engaged to represent you. I gather McFaddyen is as good as they come and I will pass the offer on through Chakotay; please do talk to B'Elanna about it. As I understand it, your father has even offered to put up the funds for the initial retainer, for all of the Maquis crew members."

Tom quirked an eyebrow at that, and a small, slow smile stole onto his face. Now that was interesting. Starfleet's stalwart, supporting the Maquis?

"It's good to see the Old Man seems to have picked a different side this time," he said. "Let's make sure it's the winning one."

"It will be, Tom, it will be. Now go and see to that beautiful family of yours. Dismissed."


Day Three (morning)

"Lieutenant Paris to the Captain's ready room, please." Tom looked at B'Elanna across the crib where they had been watching their baby daughter sleep, still unable to grasp the little miracle before them. He hit his comm badge. "Paris here. On my way."

The pilot's long strides carried him quickly to the bridge, where there was little activity. He noted a couple of unknown Starfleet officers idly lounging against the wall beside the ready room doors. The new uniforms still took some getting used to.

He nodded at the visitors politely, wondering briefly what had brought them. Voyager was officially under quarantine for at least another few days, while both her crew and her systems were checked for dangers to the Federation. The lesson of the Changelings had been a painful one, learned well. If these people were onboard, there had to be some important business behind their presence.

Tom entered the ready room, and instantly froze at the sight of the man who sat with Janeway on one of the pale green couches. Both rose, and Janeway said softly, "I'll leave the two of you alone." She briefly patted Tom's shoulder as she moved past him and through the door.

Tom stood stock still, a thousand emotions running through his head. Finally, his mind cleared enough to manage a single word, hoarsely.


Owen Paris, although just as stricken at the reality of his long lost son before him, had had the benefit of anticipating the encounter and recovered first. With a few steps he crossed the ready room and before Tom could move, enveloped him in a tight embrace that Tom could not help but respond to.

For several minutes father and son stood holding each other, neither speaking. Owen broke the silence, his first words – utterly unrehearsed, comically inconsequential - to his son forever after etched into both their minds, the first indication that their long estrangement was finally over:

"I had forgotten how tall you are."

Tom chuckled at that, and they separated, a little awkwardly. "I didn't think family members were allowed to visit quite yet," he said.

Owen looked a little guilty. "They aren't. But I was dispatched for the official welcome, and … well … I pulled a few strings with your Captain. But I shouldn't abuse the privilege. We have only a few minutes. I just … needed to see you."

"Then just let me tell you in person – B'Elanna had the baby, just as we were coming through the conduit. You're a Grandpa. Again." The pride in Tom's voice was unmistakable, and it warmed Owen's heart. "We named her Miral."

"That's beautiful, Tom. What a lovely name. Miral Paris – I like it. Your mother will spoil her absolutely rotten." Both Tom's sisters had children, five boys between them, so the news during one of the Pathfinder transmissions that their only son was expecting a little girl had thrilled both Tom's parents beyond all expectations. That she was the first grandchild to bear the Paris name was an additional cause for celebration, even if Owen kept this sentiment to himself.

"So that's why you looked so distracted on the bridge when you came out! I was wondering what could possibly be more important than your first look at the Alpha Quadrant. And me."

"Yeah – I kept looking at my console for updates from sickbay. The Doc called me just after you signed off. You almost got to hear her first cry. Do you have time to see her?" Owen shook his head, regretfully. "I'm afraid not. I shouldn't even have taken the time to see you – I'm expected back at Headquarters, and it isn't fair to the others onboard."

The Admiral straightened his uniform, and looked Tom squarely in the eye. "The real reason I asked to see you is that I wanted you to know … needed you to know … no matter what happens in the next few days and weeks, I'll be there for you, Tom. Every step of the way." He looked down for a split second, as the painful memories of their last encounters threatened to overwhelm him, then returned to lock eyes with his son. Almost defiantly, he added, "Whether you want me to or not."

Tom swallowed, as a sudden wave of emotions, the culmination of the roller coaster of the last few days, the last ten years, came down on him with the force of a tsunami. With a barely audible voice, and blinking back tears, he whispered,

"Thanks Dad. I … I do want that. Very much."

The hiss of the ready room door was a welcome distraction. Kathryn Janeway took in the scene before her briefly, and allowed herself a small smile before saying, softly, "Admiral – I'm afraid it's time."

She held out her arm to Owen, an invitation to him to be escorted out the door, and looked at Tom. It did not take a Betazoid to understand that he might need a few minutes to compose himself. "Lieutenant, feel free to stay until you're ready."

Tom nodded his gratitude, and turned towards the window where Earth was rising, beautiful and crystal blue against the glittering stars.



Day Three (afternoon)

On the fifty-first floor of the Starfleet Communications building, in a large glass-enclosed office cluttered with PADDs, papers and holo-images, Eric Henderson was pounding his desk in frustration, causing one PADD to bounce off and onto the carpeted floor.

Eric was in his mid-thirties, in reasonably good shape although getting a bit squidgy around the edges, with a full head of red hair and a temper to match. The latter was flaring now. What the hell were they thinking over in the Federation Council?

A civilian, he had spent the last eight years doing communications work for Starfleet – through the emergence of the Borg and the nightmare of Wolf 359, the near disaster of the Dominion War, betrayals and suspicions, the unexplained loss and sudden rediscovery of USS Voyager. Henderson specialized in turning apparent dissent within the ranks into healthy, unifying debate, and debilitating defeat into glorious celebrations of defiance against insurmountable odds. His memorial service for the lost Voyager crew had been both elegiac and incandescent; the news of Voyager's tenacious odyssey through the Delta Quadrant was spun into a beacon of Starfleet courage, a healing balm as war was ripping the fabric of the Federation and shook people's faith in its survival.

He was good at his job, and he knew it. But not even Eric Henderson, wizard of the eloquent image and spin-doctor extraordinaire, could counteract the lunacy he saw on his screen. He needed help, and he needed information.

Time to call in some chips.

"Computer, get me LaTasha Lederer in the President's Office. Private line, authorization Henderson Alpha Bravo."

The face of an attractive woman appeared on his screen, the beautiful planes of her face, large dark eyes and flawless ebony skin enhanced by the severe manner in which she had pulled back her hair. Her full lips quirked a smile at her erstwhile lover, Berkeley classmate and close friend.

"Eric, this better be good or important. We're hopping here."

"All right, I'll keep it brief. It's Voyager, and the Maquis. The comms picture I see is this: We have a bunch of Rip van Winkles, still in the uniform of Starfleet's glory days, bursting out of a fucking Borg cube like a bat out of hell and coming to a screeching halt in front of half the Fleet – you wouldn't believe the vids! – on their way home – HOME! - from the back of beyond. Perfect photo op for your boss, feel-good story of the week – hell, the year! – and a chance for the Council and Starfleet Brass to show some post-war unity and goodwill to all men. I could write the script for a dozen speeches.

"And what does your lot do? Instead of ordering a blanket pardon for our intrepid heroes, someone goes and pushes to have, like, a quarter of them put under house arrest – on their own ship, yet! - pending prosecution for so-called crimes no one gives a shit about anymore! And to top it off, they go after Old Man Paris' son with guns blazing. The guy's a fucking hero. Remember the Warp 10 thing? Fleet brass are spitting nails. They want a welcome home party, and some hero worship. Your boss should too. So tell me, what the hell is going on?"

His rant finally exhausted, Eric looked at the screen expectantly. Tasha drew a deep breath.

They had kept hailing frequencies open throughout the Dominion wars, when second-guessing of each other's decisions, policies, strategies and tactics had become a blood sport between the two main organs of the Federation. Their little back channel may at times have skirted the boundaries of professional ethics, had it not been quietly encouraged by some of the more enlightened among their superiors. More often than not, their private exchanges had succeeded in nuancing public statements that could otherwise have led to a full-fledged war of words between Starfleet and its political masters, at a time when unity was needed.

It was clear to Tasha that Eric wanted and needed something. So, now that she thought about it, did she.

"It's Burton. Chomyn too," she said, naming two prominent Councilors.

"Those two have been sucking up to the Cardassians since forever, and they're afraid that now that the Snakes have come crawling back to the Federation, the Maquis will remind everybody of who pushed the original peace treaty. With an election coming up, Burton and Chomyn probably figure that reviving the 'Maquis-equals-terrorism' mantra, and allowing the Cardassians some righteous public indignation, will make people forget that the snakes played for the other side in the Dominion war. And then the failure of that treaty won't stick so badly to our dear Councilors. Celebrating the status quo ante is the term of art, I believe."

Eric chewed his lip thoughtfully. Interesting. "And the Admiral? Do they carry a grudge against the guy for some reason, that they want his son back behind bars so badly?" It was not necessary to specify which Admiral he meant.

"Not sure, but my guess is that Owen Paris is in a better position than many to remind people of the Good Councilors' Cardassian interests. You know better than I do that Starfleet isn't happy with the idea of cozying up to the snakes again; the Fleet wore the failure of the treaty pretty badly, especially Nacheyev. Paris would be doing her a favour, and would have a lot of credibility if he chose to speak out - having a son in jail would go a long way to undermining that."

"But Paris has never publicly spoken out against the Council's Cardassian policy?" Eric tested her theory. "He's as loyal a soldier as they come. Word is, he practically disowned the son when he was convicted of flying for the Maquis eight years ago."

"True, and I think the idea would be to keep it that way – as in, disgraced son keeps Dad in check."

Eric took a deep breath. "Okay, thanks. Good to know. I'll have to chew on that for a bit, but just so you know – we'll be pulling out the stops over here on the hero angle. I even heard rumblings that Paris junior may be up for some serious-shit piloting medal, something they normally only give to dead people."

Tasha chuckled softly. "We live in interesting times. The decorated felon – someone should write a holovid about the guy." She reached for the disconnect pad.

"Oh, and Eric – I have a feeling that the Council isn't particularly united about this. The President will want that photo op with the heroes, and Burton and Chomyn's love fest with the Cardassians may have reached its sell-by date. They're not as influential as they think anymore, even if they may have managed to kick-start the Sector Attorney into initiating those prosecutions. Problem is, once an otherwise perfectly proper legal process a triggered, even if it was done on dodgy motives, my boss can't be seen to interfere. Much as he might like to. Have a nice day." She winked at him, and cut the connection.

Eric sat back in his seat, digesting what he had just heard. Interesting times, indeed. A slow smile spread across his face as he turned a particular idea over in his mind. The decorated felon. He could work with that…


Day Five

Kathryn Janeway was seething. Again. How could such a joyous time, the fulfillment of everyone's dream of home, have turned so sour, so quickly?

Her fingers toyed with another dry, perfectly proper and utterly morale-sapping missive from Bureaucracy Central – this time, the response from Starfleet's Personnel Records Department to her formal requests for certain promotions and recognition of field commissions.

Ensigns Harry Kim, Sam Wildman and Vorik – all had their promotions to Lieutenant (jg) approved. Lieutenant Carey's posthumous promotion to Lieutenant Commander, effective the day before his senseless death - approved. Field promotion of Lieutenant Tuvok to Lieutenant Commander - approved.

That was the good news.

But then. The field commissions she had given to Chakotay, Torres, Paris, Ayala and Galwat – all "refused, pending determination of fitness for duty in light of outstanding criminal proceedings." Bureaucratese for "talk to us after the dust settles." Janeway swore again, softly, under her breath.

Tom had been dealt a double blow. She had requested his promotion to Lieutenant Commander, something she would – should - have done long ago, her intentions in this regard having been derailed by his demotion to Ensign after the Monean incident. The promotion request was "denied given the non-validity of the field commission" and – this one stung – because "even if his commission and reinstatement are confirmed, Mr. Paris has spent insufficient years in grade" as a Lieutenant. This was timed from his reinstatement, of course, and did not take into account his five previous years as a field-commissioned Lieutenant, nor the year he had spent on the Essex, before Caldik Prime and his dismissal from Starfleet.

If Captain Janeway insisted on pursuing with this particular request for promotion, she was invited in due course to resubmit same to a special panel for "exceptional determination, based on merit, that may override the minimum service requirement".

The citation of the various applicable articles of the Starfleet Personnel Order alone made Kathryn's head spin. While she could, when called for, be a stickler for Starfleet Protocol, the finer points of administrative rules and regulations had always irritated her. The Delta Quadrant had suited her just fine in that regard, despite Tuvok's frequent and dutiful reminders of a reality she just as soon would have liked to forget. A reality that now came crashing down on her.

But this utterly professional bureaucrat – a Vulcan, judging by his name - did helpfully point out that, since all the affected personnel had served under a "legitimate expectation" that their work would be compensated by Starfleet (slavery being illegal in the Federation), they would be entitled to retroactive pay at the appropriate rate, regardless of ultimate status determination, as well as a pro-rated pension entitlement. Oh, and the same happily applied to non-commissioned personnel. Each individual would be provided with a detailed calculation of his or her retroactive pay entitlements in due course.

Tom was given a year-long pay cut, of course. They would not recognize his field commissions, but had no problem accepting his demotion to Ensign for the purpose of salary calculations. Another trail blazed for bureaucratic efficiency. Janeway shook her head.

For the hundredth, possibly thousandth, time, she questioned her own judgment in submitting Tom Paris to the harshest of all the disciplinary measures she had meted out during Voyager's time in the Delta Quadrant. The Doctor had benefitted from this self-reflection, and had been given only a week's confinement to sickbay – with credit for "time served" - for ignoring direct orders, unauthorized use of a shuttlecraft, and handing Voyager's warp core to hostile aliens. And that was after the incident in which he had kidnapped B'Elanna, taken a shuttlecraft, and exposed Voyager to hostile holographic aliens.

She could not undo what she had done to Tom, nor could she change the consequences her actions had triggered. But she could, and would, fight back on his behalf.

Janeway sighed. As per normal procedure, it was left to the officer requesting the promotions to communicate the outcome to the individuals concerned. Was she really up to delivering yet another kick in the guts to some of the finest members of her crew?

Chakotay would likely care the least. He had already confided to her that he would be resigning from Starfleet in any event, to pursue a career in xeno-anthropology. An inexhaustible supply of data and first-hand experiences with species unknown in the Alpha Quadrant virtually guaranteed him offers from the most prestigious institutions, including possibly a civilian position at Starfleet Academy. She had not sought his promotion to the captaincy for that reason - he simply wasn't interested.

But the others, she knew, all wished to pursue careers with Starfleet. Would they still, after this?

Fiery, impetuous, brilliant B'Elanna, born to rule over a starship's engine rooms, but needing to complete academy training before her career could advance beyond a lieutenancy. If she were permitted to keep even that. Silent, efficient, utterly dependable Ayala, whose two sons had been so visibly proud of seeing their father in the gold uniform that first time, via the Pathfinder link. Young Gerron, with nothing to return to on Bajor except the charred reminders of Cardassian perfidy. He had all the makings of a fine and dedicated officer.

Janeway was – mostly - confident that the charges against them would be resolved, one way or another, and their commissions confirmed. But what a loss it would be if all these excellent Starfleet prospects took this response to her requests for recognition as insult added to injury, lost faith, and left …

She reached for her comm badge. Good news first; the bad news could wait a bit.

"Janeway to Ensigns Kim, Wildman and Vorik, please report to my ready room. Samantha, please bring Naomi along … ."



Day Six

Julia Paris sat quietly in her son's family's quarters, looking over a collection of holo-images and Delta Quadrant souvenirs. With the quarantine suddenly lifted for family members – she had to remember to have Owen thank the admiral responsible for this humanitarian gesture - they had spent several hours catching up, laughing, crying, reminiscing. But now Tom had to meet with his lawyer and she was, for the moment, at loose ends.

She probably should have left, but simply could not bring herself to do so just yet. Instead, she was content to sift through bits of Tom's and B'Elanna's lives, looking up once in a while to let her eyes drift over her son's athletic form at the table, or into the bedroom where B'Elanna – still recovering from childbirth, despite protestations to the contrary - was finally napping, curled around Miral.

Just looking at the three of them was enough, and Julia felt blessed beyond all things. Tom, her youngest, her baby, lost in so many ways long before he disappeared, feared dead for years, had not only returned to her in full health but with such a beautiful family. Her optimistic mind dismissed the threat of a return to Auckland. They couldn't – could they?

Tom and Stan McFaddyen were sitting at the dining table, papers strewn around them, talking quietly. It was clear that Tom would rather be anywhere else, talk about anything else, but his voice had been calm and composed throughout, only the set of his shoulders betraying the tension within.

Julia was not really listening, catching only the occasional snatch of their discussion: "… number of commendations …" "… Akritiri…" "… groundless specification, possibly malicious …" "disciplinary action …" "character references …" and so on.

They seemed to be drawing to a close, as McFaddyen reached for his briefcase, another of his small, anachronistic affectations – rounding out the picture of the 20th century country lawyer. No wonder he and Tom had hit it off so well. Julia smiled to herself.

But then.

A deep, shuddering breath. "Stan," Tom said, his voice husky, almost raw. "I can't go back in there. With the other prisoners. Please."

She stilled, frozen in place. It was the ragged hitch in his voice when he said "please" that almost was her undoing. She knew that tone ... Barely breathing, her hand clutching a PADD as if to crush it, Julia Paris listened - hoping they would not remember her presence, so she could hear; hoping they would, so she would not have to.

McFaddyen set his briefcase down and looked intently at Tom, over the rims of his eyeglasses. Quietly, he said, "We have already filed a motion to keep you out until the night before the actual hearing, and I'm confident we'll get consent, given the Federation's agreement to let the Maquis stay onboard Voyager instead of in detention. But for special treatment once you're in Auckland I will need to give reasons."

Tom drew a shuddering breath. "Will it go public?" he asked.

"We can ask for a publication ban. What is it, Tom?" McFaddyen's voice had softened at the question, and he watched his client compose himself. He knew what might come; Tom's tone had told him more than enough. Tom would need time; Stan was prepared to give it.

Tom looked at his long fingers, now steepled tightly on the table, the tips turning white from the pressure. Only B'Elanna knew of this long-buried part of his past, revealed one night when the nightmares had boiled to the surface - beyond the reach of his iron daytime self-control and well-constructed defenses. The telling had helped, surprisingly, as had the unconditional love and support he had allowed her to provide that night.

B'Elanna had insisted that he raise the matter with McFaddyen; the thin scar tissue that her support had helped form over the raw memory was what enabled him to speak now. Trust had never come easily to Tom Paris; neither did the acknowledgment that he needed help, and even less the willingness to ask for it. But he was learning, slowly, and he knew that B'Elanna was right. This was such a time.

Not looking at McFaddyen, he spoke in a low, flat voice of just how the curse of the Paris name, his privileged upbringing, his boyish yet aristocratic looks had marked his days in Auckland. Of the viciousness with which some of his fellow prisoners had set about "teaching the Admiral's brat a lesson about bein' better'n us". The violence, the pain, the helplessness, the humiliation.

The incredulous guards who thought the golden boy traitor and proven liar was merely looking for attention and special treatment - this was a Rehab Colony after all, nothing untoward ever happened there.

How he had learned to shut out everything and everyone to survive; had focused on that welding torch everyday with single-minded intensity, looking for the goal of early parole, the memory of flight sustaining him in the darkest hours.

The last night in Auckland and the whispered promise of a "welcome home party" when he returned from his "holiday".

McFaddyen clicked off the small recording device and sat back in silence, the breath of those last words hanging in the air between them like icicles. Softly he asked, as he must, "Can anyone corroborate this?" Tom gave a small, bitter laugh. Nothing from Auckland; no one had believed him and access to medical services had been denied. McFaddyen made a special note of that last statement.

Then a thought struck Tom, but he visibly hesitated to give it voice. McFaddyen reached over to put his hand on his client's arm. "Anything. Anything at all I can use?"

Tom drew another deep breath. "The EMH," he said. "He discovered some … scar tissue, first time I was in sick bay. Asked whether he should heal it. He didn't ask any questions, but … he probably formed some views at the time. He'll remember."

It had been hard to tell active disapproval from the Doc's usual brusque bedside manner, but Tom was convinced that the EMH's holographic alter ego for him, Lieutenant Marseilles, sexual omnivore, probably harked back to the conclusions the Doc had drawn based on what he had seen that day.

"I never bothered to enlighten him, but he should be able attest to the medical consistency of what he saw and healed that day with what I just told you. He'll have the records and, being a hologram, he does have perfect recall."

"Do you want me to talk to him, or will you?" McFaddyen asked, softly. Tom sighed. "I'll do it. In for a penny … I'll ask him to be in touch with you."

McFaddyen nodded, understanding that no more would be said or done today. He rose, slid his various PADDs into his old-fashioned briefcase, and briefly put his hand on Tom's shoulder – a gesture meant for his friend's son, not just a client.

"Hang in there, Tom," he said. "You'll get through this. We will get through this. Be seeing you." He let himself out of the quarters quietly, to seek out some of his other clients on the ship. Tom stayed at the table, rubbing his face with his hands, trying to brush the memories from behind his eyes, to put the pieces back together before B'Elanna would wake up.

In her corner, Julia finally expelled the breath she had seemingly been holding forever. With something close to a sob, she got on her feet, needing to get to her child, her youngest, her beautiful boy. She crossed the room on legs that barely supported her weight, heard him gasp as he realized. "Oh Gods, Mom – I am so sorry, I forgot you were here, you shouldn't have heard this …".

Her arms went around his shoulders, her face buried in his hair; the fierce embrace of a mother desperate to make it better, knowing she would fail. Tom stiffened a little at first but he did not resist when she held on to him for dear life for the second time that day; as she had earlier, when she welcomed his return from that other journey. Eventually he relaxed into her embrace, hugged her back, and allowed a deep breath, almost a sob, to escape.

"Oh Tom," she managed to get out. "Tommy, my poor Tommy … we didn't know … I should have known …" And, suddenly, understanding. "Is that why you refused to let me and your sisters visit you in Auckland?" She felt him nod against her face, the final admission.

It had been one too many lines crossed, the final humiliation. His lowest point. Rock bottom. He had sworn to himself, alone in his cell after the first time that his family, his mother especially, would not, must not see him as he was then. She would know, and it would break her.

Now she did know. She held him, if anything, more tightly.

In the bedroom, B'Elanna stirred. The sound brought both mother and son back to the now. Tom looked at his mother, his eyes glittering but his face composed, as always, if a little tight. Julia swallowed back her own silent tears. She made a decision, then.

"Tom, you have to speak with your father. About this."

"Dad? Oh no, no. No. No way. And don't you even …" The familiar shutters threatened to come down, the Paris chin ready to set in the stubborn defiance that Julia had spent an exasperated lifetime trying to crack in both of the men she loved.

"No, Tom, listen to me. Just listen. You don't know. You can't know. You see …" She took a deep breath, breaking a confidence, a long silence, for the sake of her child and her husband's, too.

"He will understand. Better than anyone. You see, the Cardassians …" Her voice trailed off as she saw the realization dawn in his eyes. Tom sat in silence, knowing, finally understanding.

The changes in his father after that fateful mission. The single-minded drive to mold his son in an impossible image of toughness and perfection, to inure him against what he must have seen as his own failure in strength. Don't show weakness. Never cry. Be the best. Be tough, my son, or they will destroy you. He had succeeded, in a way, but at what price …

The circle had closed. Yes, he and his father needed to talk.


Day Ten

Owen Paris looked into the eyes of Fleet Admiral Alynna Nacheyev. The Ice Queen, they called her – the severe Nordic beauty who rarely smiled and spoke few words, but always made things happened when she did either.

"Alynna," he began, "We've known each other for a very long time and I believe I owe you the courtesy of letting you be the first to hear this." He took a deep breath. "I'll be resigning from Starfleet effective tomorrow; the official letter is just waiting for me to push 'send."

"I would ask why," she responded in that cool voice of hers, "But I have a feeling you're about to tell me."

Paris smiled ruefully, and nodded. "You are of course aware that the push to go after Janeway's former Maquis crew members, including my son, is coming from certain elements within the Federation Council. We all know that the peace accord should never have been made. The Cardassians" – his voice, as it always did when he spoke that word, cracked just a little – "broke that treaty a dozen times over, yet the Council voted several times to keep it alive, and we … Starfleet … supported them. It was thought necessary, and against my better judgment, I agreed.

"But now - now that Cardassia has come crawling back from their Dominion adventure for our help, there is absolutely no need that I can see to appease them by prosecuting those few Maquis they didn't manage to slaughter. And I refuse to play the game this time."

He drew a breath, knew she would not interrupt him, despite the lengthy recital. Alynna Nacheyev was quick to make decisions, but she would always hear people out before doing so. Owen continued.

"I don't condone the Maquis' methods, and many of their members are probably guilty of some crime or other. But the very premise of the charges they're up against, that they were committing treason against the Federation, that has always been purely political and now more than ever has been proven to be just plain wrong. And I have to say so."

His superior stirred in her seat, briefly; she raised one eyebrow in a half question, but remained silent, watchful, listening.

"My lawyer tells me that speaking out about this, and about the political machinations and corruption that went into creating and maintaining the treaty, would put me in direct conflict of interest. Not with Starfleet – I know most of us, including you, now share my views on this. But Starfleet remains bound to carry out the will of the Council. Unless the Council's position officially changes, I can no longer in good conscience do that. I am, as my lawyer says, 'conflicted.'" He added, ruefully, "In more ways than one."

Sensing Paris had finished, Alynna Nacheyev leaned back in her chair, regarding the older man thoughtfully. She had gotten to the position she now held over many more senior admirals by the sheer force of her intellect, and the deftness with which she maneuvered the often rocky waters between Starfleet and the Council. She knew exactly what he was talking about, what he might say in defense of the Maquis.

"I don't suppose we can talk you out of this, Owen?" She asked softly, not because she thought she might succeed, but because she had to.

"I'm afraid not," he replied. "You see, I should have done this a long time ago, I was just … too bound up in habit and protocol to do what was right. Tom … It took my son to open my eyes to the importance of doing the right thing.

"I should have seen it when he came forward after the accident at Caldik Prime. " He shook his head. "You know, in Starfleet we always say, the First Duty is to the Truth, but I was so angry over the embarrassment he was causing the Paris name with his belated admission, that I didn't see the example he was setting for me when he did speak up. For the Truth. When he set the record straight, at the price of his career in Starfleet, I should have been there to support him. But I wasn't. Then I learned of the incident on that water world …"

Owen looked at Nacheyev, saw her nod her understanding of what he was referring to, and continued. "Now that I finally understand him, I am so very proud of my son. His sense of honour and principle has twice put Starfleet protocol to shame, and I am glad to finally have found my own. I have to speak out. For him, and for his crewmates. The silence has gone on too long."

He waited for her reaction. When it came, it surprised him.

"You're right," she said, flatly. "It is time to speak. Most of the Council would probably agree, now, but … some of them most definitely will not. The Fleet can't be seen to take sides. That doesn't mean we don't have views, of course. But we will have to keep those within the Starfleet family." She smiled, tightly.

"I will accept your resignation, Owen. You're service to Starfleet, and to the Federation as a whole, has been tremendous. In my view, it continues in this."

Owen looked up at that, recalling once more Nacheyev's keen sense of political nuance, which had benefitted Starfleet more times than he could count. Her approval was more than a personal gesture, he was certain, and he would have to replay their conversation in his mind after he left to understand it all. In the meantime, he would have to be content with listening for the artful pauses with which she habitually made her points.

"And by the way, I just signed off on your son being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Galaxy class." She watched that sink in, her tight smile almost tinged with a bit of warmth as she watched a glowing pride settle in his eyes.

Initially an Earth honour awarded for flying gallantry in combat, with a long and distinguished history, the DFC had gradually evolved into the highest Starfleet commendation for piloting achievement, in battle or in peace time. Although it had been awarded a dozen times or so over the last hundred-an-fifty years, only twice before had the recipient been alive to learn of the honour. The last recipient had died at Wolf 359 after flying his ship into a Borg cube's main weapons system, allowing a dozen or so escape pods to get away.

Now the DFC would be given to his son.

Nacheyev was not finished. "Starfleet regulations don't allow Tom's commission to be confirmed … yet, and certain … elements … within the Council are keeping an eye on how closely we follow those regulations. But that doesn't mean the Fleet can't recognize Lieutenant Paris' astonishing achievements as a pilot while he was … in our service in the Delta Quadrant."

Nacheyev's smile almost reached her usually veiled eyes as she delivered the final piece of seemingly innocuous information. "My advisers suggest that a good time for the public announcement on the DFC might be … just before his hearing."

She rose, signaling the end of the meeting. She was, after all, a busy woman. Owen got to his feet as well, momentarily speechless, still digesting the numerous messages he had just been given.

"Admiral Paris," Nacheyev said, with more formality than either of them had shown throughout the discussion, "Starfleet can never repay you the service you have provided, or the sacrifices you have made. I do hope that when this is over, we may call on you again, in some capacity or other?"

His blue eyes bored into hers; after so many years, so many battles fought together, they understood each other very well.

"Of course, Fleet Admiral," he responded, crisply. "You will always know where to find me."


Day Twelve

Voyager's crew was gathered in Holodeck 1, the only space on the ship big enough to hold all of them and the family members who had come aboard for the occasion. Kathryn Janeway's eyes roamed over them, her companions over the last seven years. They were all here – Tuvok, standing close to his wife, T'Pel, who had come from Vulcan to welcome her husband and bond mate. Sam and Naomi Wildman, the child holding the hand of the father she had never met, who could not stop beaming down at her.

Tom and B'Elanna, standing close together, with Baby Miral in a carrier strapped to her father's chest. Young Gerron, only recently fully grown, stood beside tall, silent Michael Ayala, who had his arms around two boys nearly his height.

They would not be leaving today; like the other Maquis and the remainder of the Equinox crew, they were under effective house arrest on board ship until their respective trials. But they were here for this moment, to say goodbye. Their family was breaking up today.

Janeway swallowed, as her mind marked the absences. Plaques with the names of those who had not made it home had been affixed on the walls: The thirty-two Starfleet officers and twelve Maquis who had not survived the displacement wave that had sent both their ships into the Delta Quadrant. Bandera, the first to die there, and the farthest from home. Hogan. Ballard. Carey, last of the lost ones, whose family was here in his stead; his sons, the older in a first-year cadet's uniform, were standing at full attention.

Holo-images represented those who had travelled with them a ways and had made their own way home – Neelix and Kes, good friends, deeply missed. Janeway drew a deep breath.

"The day has come," Kathryn Janeway said with a smile, her comm badge set to project her voice through the crowd. "We have been orbiting Earth for a few days now, but many of you will now finally be allowed to leave the ship and rejoin your families, reclaim your lives."

"I cannot tell you how proud I am of all of you. The crew of Voyager has travelled a long road together, and, in the words of a poet from Mr. Paris' beloved 20th century," she gave a smile and a nod in Tom's direction, "we have 'met with triumph and disaster, and treated those imposters just the same' - with dignity, with professionalism, and with our principles intact. And we have done this together."

"We have shared experiences others will not be able to fathom. Many of us will spend the rest of our lives trying to make them understand; they may not. But the things we have seen, the things we have learned about ourselves, will continue to shape our lives in ways we cannot yet imagine."

"We have lost or said farewell to friends who will never be forgotten, but who live in our hearts, always. We have made new friends along the way, welcomed new members into the Voyager family." she gave a nod towards Icheb, Seven, the members of the Equinox crew who were standing close together. "Two very special children, Naomi Wildman and Miral Paris, were born on this ship; they bear a unique legacy of which they can be very, very proud."

"The chapter of Voyager's journey through the Delta Quadrant has been written. I have no doubt that her story is not finished though. This proud, beautiful ship will journey again – whether any of us will be on board when she does, time will tell."

"In the meantime, I wish you well as you go home to spend time with your loved ones, reflect on the last seven years, and perhaps seek out new assignments – whether with Starfleet or elsewhere."

Janeway drew a deep breath, a slight frown crossing her face.

"But as you know, not all of us are free to leave today. Some old shadows have come back to haunt us and, while I have every confidence that reason and justice will prevail," here she looked with a familiar steely determination at Chakotay, Tom, B'Elanna and the other former Maquis members of her crew, "some work needs to be done to help some of our friends reach the finish line. I will stand beside them as they do, and I know you will as well." Her voice rose a fraction, became sharper.

"Until our friends too are welcomed home, I will not give anyone the satisfaction of celebrating Voyager's safe return. The world is ready to embrace us, to hear our stories, to share in our accomplishments. I will not give anyone that satisfaction. I cannot tell you how to respond to such approaches; you are free to choose your own path. You have been confined by circumstances far too long. But I personally will not speak publicly about our journey together until all of us are able to do so."

"I am telling you this so you will understand that my public silence about your accomplishments in the coming weeks is not a lack of appreciation, but my way of showing solidarity with those of Voyager's crew who have been singled out for different treatment. I am confident that all the outstanding issues will be resolved, and that soon we will all be made equally welcome."

"For now though, I wish those of you who are leaving a most happy return to your homes and your loved ones. Thank you for everything you have done, thank you for being the finest crew in Starfleet, thank you for standing by me, by each other through the tough times. Safe home."

There was silence on the Holodeck as she finished, the emotion of the moment too much for some. A muffled sob or two was heard, a few throats cleared. Then a clear voice rang out – Harry Kim's, whose two best friends were among those who would be left behind.

"Safe home – for all of us!"

His shout was quickly picked up, first by Jenny Delaney, then her sister. Pablo Baytart and Gerry Culhane, the relief pilots, followed; then Susan Nicoletti, all of the engineering team and for all Janeway could tell, the entire rest of the crew. Tuvok, the EMH and Seven, not usually given to demonstrative vocal outbursts, solemnly nodded their assent.

Then there were the deeply felt hugs, the tears and the laughter, the awkward handshakes and pats on the back, the hoarsely whispered farewells, the promises to stay in touch. This time, everyone knew those promises would be kept. They were family, and family does not forget.

And it was with tears of joy and sadness and a fierce pride that Captain Kathryn Janeway embraced each and every one of Voyager's departing crew, and she watched in silence as they melted away one by one from the holodeck towards the transporter rooms, and home.


Day 20

Tom picked up Miral gingerly, supporting her sleepy head as he held her to his chest, kissing the soft dark hair and listening with a broad smile as she made soft baby noises into the crook of his neck.

His daughter, his love, his life. He looked at B'Elanna, who was watching her husband and child with a smile in her eyes.

"They can lock me up, tell me I'm a criminal, do and say whatever they want," Tom said softly. He stroked Miral's back, feeling the slightly raised spine, so like her mother's. The baby sighed contentedly at his touch, smacking her lips a little. He marveled again at how something so small could make such sounds, be so warm, so perfect. "But they cannot take this away from me – from us."

Tom set Miral down in her crib, and tucked her into the blanket the Captain had given her. He gave the Klingon bird-of-prey in the overhead mobile a little tap, watched the star ships start a slow dance. The baby looked at the movement for a moment, her bright-blue eyes following the bird-of-prey - his eyes, as the Doc had predicted. They were beginning to close sleepily. One last kiss on her forehead and he turned away from the crib, walking over to where B'Elanna stood watching.

Tom hugged B'Elanna tightly, feeling her arms go around his neck, and bent down to brush her lips with his own. She responded by opening her mouth under his touch. Their kiss was not a passionate one, but allowed them to draw strength from one another, a reminder of who and what they were, together. Tom buried his face in his wife's hair, breathing in the scent that was uniquely B'Elanna – part the citrusy smell of her favourite shampoo, part plasma coolant, and (a recent development, that) a hint of baby powder.

With a deep breath he let her go, picked up his small duffel bag – "I think they'll provide the clothing" he had noted wryly when he packed - and headed for the door, his hand securely and tightly wrapped around hers.

Stan McFaddyen's motion for special accommodation had succeeded, assisted by a report from the Doctor, filed under seal and order of non-disclosure. Tom had never seen the Doctor so at a loss for words as when he had framed his request. "Of course," the EMH had said, after a long silence. "Yes of course I recall the procedure I performed on you. " He had paused again, as flustered as it was possible for a hologram to be.

"Mr. Paris – I really don't know what to say, except … I am so very sorry." The Doc had not made it clear what it was that he regretted – whether it was what the scars represented, or his original assumptions concerning their origin. But his report was extensive and unassailable, made all the more devastating by its painstaking neutrality and clinical detail.

The Commissioner's decision was quick and decisive, followed by a sharp, private exchange with the chief warden on the issues of access to medical care and investigation of credible allegations of assault. But the Commissioner had no power to allow a convict whose release was the very subject of the hearing to walk into her hearing room a free man. There were rules to be followed, and sharp eyes watching to ensure that they were.

And so Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris, late chief helmsman of USS Voyager, once more became New Zealand Federal Penal Settlement Inmate Number #0766, ready to report to Auckland.

Lieutenant Harry Kim was waiting in the transporter room. Knowing that B'Elanna was not free to leave Voyager, he had insisted on accompanying Tom on the transporter trip and through the in-processing. There was no way, he had informed his best friend, in a voice that brooked no dissent, that Tom would enter Auckland alone this time.

Harry cast an approving look over Tom; the decision to go to New Zealand in his Starfleet uniform (complete with his lieutenant pips, at Janeway's insistence) sent the right signal, he thought.

"Let them take it off you," he had told Tom when he had suggested it. "You have a right to that uniform, and don't you forget that, Paris." Being Harry, the eternal optimist, he had added "And besides – that way it'll be handy when you get to walk out of there."

The young ensign at the console watched them with frank curiosity and undisguised awe. She was not a member of Voyager's crew. With all but the Maquis crewmembers and Captain Janeway having left the ship to rejoin their families, Starfleet had detailed additional staff to maintain skeleton operations while Voyager remained docked at McKinley Station. A transport operator was necessary to assist in the comings and goings of the maintenance crew, who were providing the repairs necessary after seven years in the Delta Quadrant, and an ever-growing number of wide-eyed Starfleet engineers who were cataloguing its astonishing array of modifications, alien technological improvements, and ingenious lash-ups. Then there were the debriefers, the curious members of Starfleet brass, the public relations types, the lawyers, the reporters, …

Ensign Lindsay Peterson had been thrilled by the assignment. An indifferent student at the Academy, she had been unable to find an immediate space mission. But this was so much better, she thought. Although the work itself was not terribly challenging or prestigious, being on the ship that remained the top news story throughout the Quadrant made her the envy of many off-duty conversations with her erstwhile classmates.

Transport and shuttle traffic were constant, but contact with Voyager's original crew had become rare and Lindsay was thrilled each time it happened. Tom nodded his head in polite greeting as he provided her with a PADD containing their destination coordinates. He and Harry took their places on the platform.

Lindsay mustered her courage, cleared her throat and said "Lieutenant Paris, good luck. We're … we're all behind you. Everyone is."

Tom smiled a polite thanks when the door to the transporter room swished open and Captain Janeway strode in. "At ease, Ensign," she said when the young woman stiffened at her first sight of the legendary captain.

"Tom," Janeway said, "I just wanted to see you off and wish you well. Also, I just heard that the formal announcement about the DFC will be made later this morning. Good timing, I must say. Downright … visionary."

Tom smiled, a bit grimly. "Thanks, Captain." He hesitated, searching for the right words. Deciding to keep it simple, he took a deep breath. "I mean it. Thank you, for everything – and I mean everything. You … ." She waved him off as she impulsively crossed the room, stepped up to the transporter pad, and gave him a reassuring hug.

Tom blinked back his surprise. The Captain had never hugged him publicly before, had only once came close – when he turned her ship back over to her from the Kazon on Hanon IV. The only physical contact between them that she had ever allowed herself in front of others had been her hand on his shoulder, a near-daily occurrence that, after all they had shared, had sustained both of them far more than either would have cared to admit to themselves, let alone speak of aloud. But for her to touch him in this intimate manner now, in front of Harry and B'Elanna, spoke to the depth of her concern for his well-being. He felt himself to be profoundly moved.

"I'll be at the hearing tomorrow. I managed to get out of the briefings for the day. So this isn't goodbye, just good luck." She released him.

Tom carefully schooled his face into impassivity, his mouth setting in the hard, cynical line Harry remembered from their early days and months on Voyager. Harry knew that his friend's shields would be up for the duration, and felt a deep flash of anger at those responsible for what he considered an unforgiveable perversion of Tom's naturally sunny personality.

One last, long look at B'Elanna, and Tom called for "two to beam down." The familiar tingling sensation crept over their skin as he and Harry dissolved into beams of light, and he briefly wished he could stay without molecules for the next two days.

Janeway turned to B'Elanna, determined not to leave her alone to brood at this time. "Time for a coffee, Lieutenant? And a look at my beautiful goddaughter?"


Day 22

Eric Henderson sat in his office at Starfleet Communications, feet on his desk, sipping his favourite Vulcan coffee, extra milk, extra sweet. Breakfast in a cup, as far as he was concerned – all the major food groups necessary for his well-being, with caffeine the most essential. It was irrelevant that here in San Francisco night had fallen some time ago. His monitor was turned to the live transmission from New Zealand, where it was now nine a.m. Breakfast it was.

The familiar fanfare of the "Sector 001 News" piped up, and Eric swung his feet off his desk. Showtime.

The top anchor, John O'Donnell, came on; a good sign. Even better, behind O'Donnell's head was a projected image of Voyager, bursting out of the Borg sphere. Eric permitted himself a small smile. The lead story, and the channel was using the graphics Starfleet had helpfully provided. Eric leaned forward to listen.

"This is the day we have been waiting for ladies and gentlemen – the first public glimpse of one of the heroes of the lost Starship Voyager. Starfleet calls him a hero, in any event; Federation lawyers, and some politicians, insist on calling him a felon. Which will be the title Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris will bear at the end of today? We go to Auckland, New Zealand to find out. Pete?"

Eric's face lost none of his tension as the image on his screen flicked over to the on-site reporter, another top name in the news vid business, visibly bracing himself against a strong wind outside a non-descript building. It looked like a blustery autumn day down under.

"John, I am outside the Courthouse at the Federal Penal Settlement in Auckland, where hundreds of curious citizens and media are awaiting the first public glimpse of a member of the Voyager crew. As we all know, the Voyagers have proven extremely camera shy, refusing to make any public appearance until they all can do so. That means – no interviews until the charges against their Maquis crewmembers are resolved. This private protest has proven extremely irksome to a public eager to meet their heroes."

Eric permitted himself a small smile. Indeed. Tasha had told him over coffee that the President himself had been furious when she had been unable to procure an election-friendly photo op for him with Captain Janeway… .

"First in the limelight is someone with a name many of our viewers will recognize. Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris, son of the well-known veteran of the Cardassian war, Admiral Owen Paris. The younger Paris came aboard Voyager initially as an "observer", to help track the Maquis ship whose crew joined Voyager's after both ships were hurled into the Delta Quadrant. Paris was an inmate at FPS Auckland at the time, having been convicted of aiding the Maquis following an earlier dishonourable discharge from Starfleet in '69. He returned from the Delta Quadrant a certified hero – rescuing the crew after the ship had been taken over by hostile aliens, carrying out innumerable suicide missions and battles with the Borg, crossing the Warp 10 barrier, and finally piloting Voyager home through that transwarp conduit. Just yesterday it was announced that Thomas Eugene Paris would be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (Galaxy Class), only the third pilot in history to receive that award while still alive."

"But here he is, having to justify to the same Federation authorities who are honouring him why he shouldn't have to go back to jail, to serve the remainder of a sentence that should have expired years ago. Our Starfleet correspondent will try and make sense of all this for us. Hannah?"

Eric's face relaxed fractionally as a small number of his colleagues started to crowd around his monitor. The reformed and decorated Black Sheep of Starfleet played well …

A pretty blonde woman came onscreen, positioned inside the courtroom. "Thanks Pete. Yes, it is a bit of a puzzle. Had he remained in Auckland, Tom Paris would have completed his eighteen-month sentence nearly six years ago. It is clear that Starfleet, which once rewarded his decision to follow his conscience and come clean about a piloting mistake by drumming him out, is ready to welcome him back with open arms."

Eric smiled again, grimly this time. History, past events – the story was all in the telling. He briefly wondered what would have happened to young Paris had his error and subsequent actions concerning the events at Caldik Prime been reported in this manner before. Would he have been court-martialed and cashiered out of Starfleet? Joined the Maquis? Oh well. Water under the bridge.

He listened to the "expert" question whatever happened to the concept of a pardon, and where was the Federation Council, which could have made that happen with the stroke of a pen? "We know where the Fleet stands; now we're anxious to see what the Rehab Commission will make of this case. Pete."

Eric cautioned two of his colleagues who were whispering "yesss!" at the angle Sector 001 news was taking with the story. "Not over yet, guys. Here's hoping McFaddyen did his job as well as you guys did yours."

On the screen, the holovid showed a familiar figure – Admiral Paris. The reporter's attempt to elicit a comment was met with a terse "Not now, sorry. I need to be with my son. Thank you."

The Admiral, his wife and two younger women with the unmistakable Paris colouring – fair, bright blue eyes - made their way into the Courthouse. One of the younger women was in uniform, science blue. Three pips, two gold one black. All four members of the Paris family walked with confidence and determination in their stride. Starfleet royalty on the move, Eric thought to himself.

In a small room inside the Courthouse, Tom stood in classic Fleet at-ease, don't-mess-with-me position, straight and tall, arms lightly clasped behind his back, waiting to be led into the hearing chamber by two guards who were sneaking surreptitious looks at their famous charge. Tom had not been cuffed – he was grateful for that – but he was wearing prison greys, the infamous locator anklet searing his leg. He had been tempted to ask where they thought he might run to, given that his face was plastered over news vids across the sector, but he had promised B'Elanna that there would be no smart-ass remarks until he came home. So he had heroically channeled his inner Vulcan and bitten his tongue.

The door opened and the guards motioned Tom to move. He nodded his gratitude when they refrained from gripping his arm as they lead him into the chamber. He walked ahead of them, head held high, as he had done when Janeway had sentenced him to serve time in Voyager's brig.

Once in the chamber, Tom blinked back his surprise. His first review hearing, the day he was given his temporary release, had been attended by a smattering of Rehab Commission officials, a demonstratively bored duty lawyer, and a Starfleet aide who had briefly outlined the purpose for his release.

This time, the room was packed – surely a record audience for a sentence review. Tom let his eyes swept over the audience and nearly dropped his carefully schooled impassivity. The room was a sea of familiar faces and figures, most in the new Starfleet grey, all rising as he entered. Harry Kim was there, of course, but beside him was Tuvok, accompanied by his wife, T'Pel. The Doctor, wearing his mobile emitter, stood beside Seven of Nine, who was attracting more than her fair share of camera attention. She inclined her head towards him gracefully, her ocular implant raised in greeting.

Naomi Wildman waved at Tom eagerly, in blithe disregard – or ignorance - of the occasion. Pablo Baytart, Gerry Culhane and the rest of his conn staff, excepting Sue Henley of course, had come to full attention at his entrance, a move that did not go unnoticed by the journalists present. They remained at attention until he sat down. Even Mortimer Harren was there, smiling (smiling?) encouragingly.

Tom didn't count heads but he knew in an instant that everyone who was free to come to New Zealand was here. To stand with him, to support him. Voyager solidarity.

He swallowed and bit his lower lip, hard, so as not to give the whirring holo-cameras the satisfaction of seeing the tears he was fighting back. When he was sure that he had pulled himself together sufficiently, he nodded to his friends, his crewmates, in silent thanks and acknowledgement.

His family, parents and sisters, were seated in the front row together with Captain Janeway, who gave him an encouraging smile. What a difference eight years make, Tom thought as his eyes fell on his father, the battle-hardened Admiral whose nervously shaking hand was being firmly clasped and steadied by his wife of forty-two years. Owen Paris had not attended his son's trial eight years before, but this was now, and things were different.

A number of long talks onboard Voyager and a late-evening visit last night in Auckland had allowed them to discard much of the baggage of mutual anger and resentment, replacing it with a growing understanding of how and why things had changed between them. Regret at past actions was already giving way to respect, and an appreciation for the role they could yet play in each other's lives. Some wounds, Tom and Owen Paris had found, do heal – even if for the time being they still moved carefully around one another, to avoid breaking only recently formed scabs. But both were daring to believe that they may yet recover the closeness they had shared during Tom's early childhood. Before the Cardassians.

Ignoring the holovid cameras that were trained on his face, Tom took his place beside Stan McFaddyen. The lawyer briefly grabbed his shoulder in a gesture of familiarity and support, whispering a word of encouragement in his ear as the door opened and the Commissioner walked in.

Back on Voyager, B'Elanna held her breath as Chakotay squeezed her hand. In Starfleet headquarters, Eric Henderson discovered that he was shredding the rim of his empty coffee cup, and resolutely set it down before anyone could notice.

When all was said and done, the hearing was anti-climactic, over almost before it began. The Commissioner, a petite, no-nonsense woman with a slight French inflection in her speech, started the proceedings by questioning sharply why the Outmate review Lieutenant Paris had been promised upon his temporary release had not been scheduled for the same time as this hearing. She reserved the right to make an order for permanent release.

Stan McFaddyen permitted himself a small smile. Lieutenant Paris? Permanent release? Things looked good.

He rose to begin his arguments against the various reasons given by the Federation why Tom's temporary release should be rescinded, but was peremptorily waved off. The Commissioner had read the written submissions, thank you, and did not need to hear from either side. She had found none of the reasons cited by the Federation convincing and concurred with defense counsel on all points. She would rule summarily in favour of the defendant. What was more, certain aspects of this case had led her to question either Federation counsel's competence, or good faith.

The holocameras whirred loudly in the brief silence that followed, then all hell broke loose in the audience. Commissioner Thibault looked at the commotion with stern disapproval and called the room to order, to provide the reasons for her ruling for the record.

In particular, she was at a complete loss to understand how Lieutenant Paris could possibly have been expected to file bi-weekly reports from the Delta Quadrant, when it took nearly four years for his ship to establish any communications? Was the Federation just bereft of common sense, or were ulterior motives at play?

The other specifications were just as swiftly dealt with. Thibault found the references to Tom's convictions on Banea and Akritiri – "barbaric justice systems unworthy of the name" – to have been made in bad faith and with a view to prejudicing the defendant, since both had clearly been the result of "deliberate miscarriages of justice". The reference to Tom's thirty days in Voyager's brig following the incident on the Monean water world, she surmised, was probably due to incompetence on the part of Federation counsel, since he should have learned in law school that disciplinary proceedings had no impact on criminal cases. Likewise, the references to alleged but unsubstantiated incidents in two space stations were "frivolous and vexatious", since no charges had ever been laid.

The Commissioner regretted the fact that she was not provided with sufficient concrete evidence to make findings of bad faith and political interference. She shot a sharp look at counsel for the Federation, who made a considerable show of shuffling through his papers.

McFaddyen's smile widened. As promised, the Commissioner could have been reading his submissions, but the editorial comments and conclusions were all her own. His mind was already calculating ways to include her ruling, complete with its helpful if unsubstantiated speculations, in the case against the Maquis.

The Commissioner concluded: "While Lieutenant Paris has clearly demonstrated a spectacular talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I see absolutely no basis for rescinding the temporary release order. Moreover, his record since he left Auckland speaks for itself: Innumerable commendations for bravery and piloting achievements; unwavering courage under fire; loyalty to his ship and his crew mates at the frequent risk of his own life; completion of the necessary qualifications for certification as a Field Medic First Class; becoming a husband and a father. We should be so lucky and see a fraction of this kind of turnaround from others who have come through this courtroom. The Federation's case for rescission of temporary release is dismissed."

Tom squeezed his eyes shut in silent thanks, the tension of the last week finally beginning to drain away from his face. But Thibault was not yet done. The temporary release was made permanent, and the remainder of Tom's sentence stayed, effective the day of his release for service to Captain Janeway.

That done, she fixed Tom with a direct stare. "Lieutenant Paris," she said, "I trust your counsel had advised you that you are eligible for a full pardon five years after completion of a sentence?" Tom, still processing the news that he was a free man, did not have the slightest idea what the Commissioner was on about and looked to Stan for clues. McFaddyen in turn had built a career on his ability to pick up on small hints from the bench, and he was certainly not going to miss one delivered with the force of a photon torpedo. He nodded vigorously on his client's behalf, mentally starting to calculate.

The Commissioner smiled enigmatically and spared him the trouble. "Based on the ruling I have just made, Lieutenant, you would have become eligible for a full pardon in 2376, five years after the start of your service onboard USS Voyager. Of course, a pardon requires an application to a Rehabilitation Commissioner such as myself. I can only assume, Mr. McFaddyen, that your client's … peculiar circumstances prevented him from filing such an application before today?"

McFaddyen happily played along, declaring in his most officious tone, "Indeed they have, Madam Commissioner, indeed they have. Would you be in a position to accept an oral application, upon my undertaking that your office will receive the written one later today?"

Pleased with his response, Commissioner Thibault leaned forward, directed a severe but benign look at the slightly dazed prisoner before her and intoned, "Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris, by the authority vested in me under Federation law, I grant you a full pardon for all charges in respect of which you appeared here today. Effective immediately, no criminal record attaches to your name."

She banged her gavel and glared at the court officials. "Will someone please relieve Lieutenant Paris of the security anklet and allow him to change into his uniform."

And with a final withering stare at Federation counsel, Commissioner Thibault adjourned the hearing and sailed out of the room before the audience's reaction could assault her sensitive ears.

Tom, stunned into silence, felt his hand being pumped by his lawyer, seconds before he was crushed in his sisters' and parents' embrace. The holovid camera crews and reporters were in heaven; this was as good as the locker room after the Federation Cup.

One reporter's voice managed to cut through the happy chaos, barely. "John, it's a madhouse in here. Can you hear me? The Paris family is embracing their own, so is Captain Janeway now – crew members are crowding to the front to congratulate the younger Paris, who has dropped his stoic demeanour and is now smiling widely. I may even be seeing tears in his eyes. Truly a remarkable scene, and what a turnaround for Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris, one of the heroes of Voyager! Wait, there's Captain Janeway herself. Captain – a word?"

Janeway turned to the camera and fixed it with a stare that would have quelled any member of her bridge staff. In a voice turned to gravel by the emotions she was hard put to suppress, she growled, "I will say one thing, and one thing only. The rule of law binds the Federation together; but the law must at all times be tempered by justice and by what is right. Today, justice prevailed. I trust the same will hold true for the remainder of my crew. Thank you."

The reporter, emboldened, pushed his way through to Tom and his family. "Lieutenant Paris, Admiral – a word please? A comment for our viewers? Mr. McFaddyen?" Tom and Owen both shook their heads and walked past to reach Harry and other well-wishers, but Stan had other clients to consider.

"Lieutenant Paris will not speak to the media until his wife, Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres, Commander Chakotay and his remaining crewmates have been cleared of the charges against them. I am authorized to say on his behalf, though, that he is grateful to Commissioner Thibault for restoring his faith in Federation justice. He also deeply appreciates the solidarity shown to him, in this entirely unnecessary and misconceived ordeal, by his family and his friends from Voyager, and is most grateful for the kind messages of support he and his crewmates have received from members of the public. Thank you."

The newscast went back to the anchor, who commented, "An amazing scene, Ladies and Gentlemen. The Commissioner all but accused the Federation of – what – incompetence? Malicious intent? The last chapter in this saga has not been written, mark my words."

Onboard Voyager, B'Elanna switched off the view screen with a sigh of relief and looked up at her friend and mentor. Chakotay was gripping her shoulder in silent congratulation. "I'm beginning to think this may work out," he said, a smile spreading on his face. The dimple in his cheeks appeared as he added, "Let's go to the Holodeck and call up Sandrine's. Tom and the Captain will be back here soon, and we'll all want to celebrate a bit. I'm sure Sandrine won't mind if you bring the baby, as long as she doesn't ask to be served …"

In San Francisco, Eric Henderson leaned back and smiled. Round One to Starfleet. Tasha owed him a beer.


Day 26

Lieutenant Harry Kim resolutely closed the door to his boyhood room. He truly appreciated his mother's enthusiasm for his return, but did she really have to share the celebration with everyone they had ever met in their lives, from a hitherto unknown third cousin, to an elderly neighbour from the Chicago suburb where they had briefly lived when Harry was a toddler?

The latest "inspection" of Harry Kim, Starfleet icon, had been conducted for the benefit of his Grade Five music teacher. Harry had resolutely drawn the line at demonstrating his skills on the clarinet, and had cited an alleged discussion with Starfleet administration to make his getaway. Barely four weeks after his return from the Delta Quadrant another deep–space mission was becoming increasingly attractive, and he considered actually calling the personnel division to put in a request.

Harry sighed deeply. He had rather rashly promised his parents that he would not look for, let alone accept, another assignment for at least six months, four months beyond the period of paid leave allotted to all Voyager crew members. A mere four weeks into this hiatus, and already the unfamiliar inactivity was starting to chafe. Where were the Kazon when one was in search of a bit of excitement?

Harry was in dire need of someone to talk to who wouldn't fawn over him as if he had been gone for years, or returned from the other end of the universe. Besides, he had a momentous piece of news to impart to someone, anyone, other than the redoubtable Mrs. Kim.

He sat down at the comm panel in his room, punched in his Starfleet access code, and issued a short command. "Lieutenant Paris, USS Voyager."

The computer's response threw him off his stride. "There is no Lieutenant Paris onboard USS Voyager. " Say what? Harry thought. "Thomas Eugene Paris," he said, more loudly and stressing each syllable, in case the computer was hard of hearing, "USS Voyager. NCC-74656."

The computer replied, sounding more officious than usual – and was that a hint of smugness in its tone? "Connecting to Lieutenant Commander Thomas Eugene Paris." Harry stared at the screen, an appreciative smile starting to curl up one corner of his mouth. Who said computers didn't have a sense of humour? Sure enough, when his best friend's face came on the screen, there was an additional pip on his collar.

"So," Harry said, "You still talk to mere lieutenants, Commander, sir?"

Tom snorted. "Don't you go B'Elanna on me, Har. She's still ticked that I have seniority again." He smiled inwardly, imagining the commands he was planning to issue to his loving wife later, when they would privately celebrate the promotion Captain Janeway had conferred on him only a few hours earlier.

"Besides, there are certain … wrinkles, just to make sure I don't get too uppity." Tom pulled his lower lip between his teeth in a familiar gesture. "You see, Harry, in accordance with…" he grabbed a PADD and started reading, "'… Rule 235.76 of the Starfleet Code of Discipline, Mr. Paris' field commission of Lieutenant can take effect only as of the date subject was cleared of all outstanding criminal proceedings'. I may be a Lieutenant Commander now, but apparently I was a Lieutenant only for about 96 hours."

Tom's face broke into the sarcastic grin Harry recognized too well. "In effect, that whole two-pips/one-pip/two-pips drama I went through in the DQ? Never happened, since the Captain's first commission apparently never actually took. A figment of our collective imaginations. Seems you can't give a valid field commission to a convicted felon, no matter how handsome and charming. I'm surprised Tuvok didn't catch that one and nip it in the bud … Anyway, the Captain is seriously pissed. B'Elanna, too – she actually started to throw things, but then the baby started to cry and she had to stop."

Harry stared at his friend, flabbergasted. "And you? Don't tell me you really think this is funny." He knew Tom had a finely honed sense of the ridiculous, but this wasn't a joke - it was a slap in the face.

Tom shrugged. "I'm trying really hard to get myself to care, but you know what matters a heck of a lot more to me than this crap? The fact that three of the most senior admirals in Starfleet, including Jean-Luc Picard, decided to hand me that extra pip even though I officially spent only four days as a Lieutenant before the promotion. Not counting time on the Exeter, of course."

A shadow briefly crossed his face at the oblique reference to his first aborted career in Starfleet, but within seconds the patented Tom Paris grin was back. "Look up the word 'Kafkaesque' sometime, Harry... No seriously, you gotta appreciate this on some level."

Harry shook his head. No point arguing; Tom's sense of humour had always been as black as the Void, and maybe he was right not to get worked up about this latest manifestation of bureaucracy run amuck.

But more than that, Harry was relieved to see that mischievous spark back in his best friend's eyes. The days leading up to the hearing in Auckland had been difficult, with Tom becoming increasingly withdrawn and that old cynical mask threatening to become a permanent fixture on his handsome features again. This was better, much better. He thought briefly to mention the possibility that Tom could raise the retroactive pardon to get them to acknowledge his lieutenancy at least back to that date, but what was the point?

"Anyway," Tom said, "you called me – anything exciting happening in your life? Your Mom stop trotting you out to all her friends-and-relations yet?"

Harry smiled ruefully. "Sadly, no. But something exciting is happening. I think. Umm … Guess what…"

Awareness dawned quickly on Tom Paris. For someone so adept at shielding his own feelings from prying eyes, Tom had a remarkable radar for other people's, and Harry "read-me-like-a-book" Kim could keep no secrets from his best friend. Harry had That Look – again.

"Alright, Har, who's The Unattainable Woman this time? A Starfleet Admiral? A Kyrillian merbeast? A member of the Vulcan Academy of Pure Logic and Utmost Emotional Restraint? No wait – don't tell me. She's … married!"

It was Harry's turn to grin. "Not anymore. Married, I mean. You see …" he hesitated a fraction, then drew a deep breath and continued, "One of the friends-and-relations my mother contacted was Libby … ." Tom raised an eyebrow, and Harry continued hurriedly.

"Turns out, she got over me two years after we disappeared and did get married, but it didn't take - sort of like your field commission, Tom – and she's … err … on the market again." He sighed, a little. A happy sigh. "We had coffee this morning."

Harry's voice drifted off, his mind a million miles away - or rather, in a sunlit café around the corner, sitting across from a woman whose eyes reflected the all the stars of the Alpha Quadrant. His grin softened into a wistful smile.

Tom raised the other eyebrow at the sight and turned away from the screen for a moment. He shouted into the room behind him. "Hey, Bee, come here! You're not gonna believe this! Harry's dating Libby again!"

Harry shook his head, as his other best friend's face appeared on the screen beside Tom's. "Okay, Harry, dish!" she said, with just a touch of half-Klingon imperiousness. Harry repeated what he had told Tom, adding "… and we're going to see each other again tomorrow! Guys, I think … maybe … possibly … ."

He stopped, looking a bit sheepish, but happy - quite definitely happy.

After a brief initial awkwardness, he and Libby had quickly slipped into the easy rapport they had enjoyed before he accepted the assignment on Voyager. A potentially uncomfortable brief encounter, arranged without his knowledge or consent by the ever-officious Mrs. Kim, had turned into a three-hour marathon of catching up, reminiscing and discussing of dreams and ambitions. Their encounter was cut short only when Libby had to rush to a meeting at the school where she was teaching music and art.

Neither Harry nor Libby had tried to pretend that last seven years had not wrought their changes. They were not the same people who were in love with each other during their academy and college days, or who said goodbye at the shuttle port when Harry embarked for his first mission.

But when he brushed her cheeks with his lips in a tender goodbye, the resulting spark of recognition had left both of them breathless. Libby had in turn raised her hand to his cheek, and simply said, her chocolate eyes never leaving his, "Tomorrow night? Dinner at my place?" Harry could only nod.

Tom and B'Elanna looked at each other, and back at the screen. "This is great, Harry. Really, really glad to hear it. I expect a full report … " Tom paused briefly, a wicked smile flashing in his bright blue eyes, "… the morning after. Ow! B'Elanna! What was that for?"

"Don't mind the pig, Harry!" Voyager's chief engineer said, rolling her eyes at her husband, but giving him a little kiss on the cheek to atone for the elbow, just in case it had hurt too much. "We're really happy for you, and hope that whatever you want to happen, will."

"Thanks guys!" Harry said, relieved that they seemed to approve, and to share his optimism. They made arrangements for him to transport up to Voyager for dinner and a toast to Tom's promotion at Sandrine's in a couple of days – with Libby, if Harry could get her to come along - and he signed off with a big smile.

As far as he was concerned, things were definitely looking up for Lieutenant Harry Kim. His seven-year streak of lousy luck with the opposite sex had been shattered with the Borg cubes in the transwarp conduit. Now, if someone could only remind his mother that her little boy was all growed up …

Tom was probably right – the foot that needed to be put down was his own.


Day 35

Lieutenant Commander Tom Paris was in dire need of distraction. B'Elanna and the other ex-Maquis crewmembers were cloistered with their team of lawyers in Voyager's mess hall preparing for their first pre-trial hearing, now a week away. There was a temporary lull in the steady stream of visitors to their quarters, and Tom steadfastly refused to go 'dirt side' for his amusement while his wife remained confined to the ship.

With Voyager remaining docked at McKinley Station and Miral squirming restlessly in a carrier strapped to his chest, there was little for a helmsman – particularly one on official leave - to do but wander around the ship, in a hitherto unsuccessful attempt to get his infant daughter to settle down to an afternoon nap.

Not that wandering around the ship was entirely without entertainment value. Tom derived a certain voyeuristic pleasure out of observing the army of strangers that had descended on Voyager, whether it was to study the various improvements and improvisations the crew had made over the year, or just to gawk. He was more than happy to offer comments helpful or facetious, depending on the attitude of the visitor, with his most obsequious and fanciful explanations reserved for Federation politicians or senior bureaucrats on gratuitous "study tours".

Sometimes he even volunteered for a spot of official liaison business, to help out the Captain or just to alleviate his boredom. Yesterday, he had whiled away a few blissful hours going over every inch of the Delta Flyer with an extremely interested and knowledgeable team of shuttlecraft engineers from the space yard at Utopia Planitia. They appeared to be deeply impressed by the sleek ship's design, layout and technical specs, and quizzed him in great detail about her handling, capabilities and situational performance.

He had followed the briefing session with a demonstration in which he put the Flyer through her paces for the visitors – not to mention his own enjoyment - banking her through the rings of Saturn in a purely gratuitous display of piloting finesse that had his passengers greening around the gills but grinning in appreciation. He had the distinct impression that they had left drooling, notwithstanding some puzzlement over his Captain Proton-inspired helm console.

No such luck today though.

One of Tom's fingers was clasped firmly in the grip of Miral's baby fist. She waved her little arms excitedly at the sights and sounds that greeted them on their way, no nearer to sleep than she had been before they set out. Bowing to the inevitable and feeling the need to stretch his legs, he decided to give her the complete tour, starting with the bridge and moving on to engineering. Miral's bright blue eyes went very big at the sight of the pulsating warp core, and Tom chuckled as he appreciated for the first time what B'Elanna had been on about when, in an uncharacteristic moment of mushiness, she had compared its colour to that of his eyes.

Before long, Tom found himself in front of the doors to sickbay. He was explaining to a largely oblivious but happily cooing Miral that this was where she was born and where Daddy sometimes worked, when he noticed movement inside. The doctor, who had refused to have his experiences reduced to mere algorithms to be uploaded, was spending a considerable part of his days at Starfleet Medical debriefing colleagues on some of the more interesting problems he had solved in the DQ; Tom had expected sickbay to be deserted. This would be a good time to ask the Doctor a question he had been meaning to ask for some time.

"Ah, Mr. Paris, so good of you to stop by," the EMH said with a slight tone of exasperation, as if his erstwhile assistant was late for his regular duty shift. "Please fill a hypo spray with 100 cc's of tri-cortazine. You can set my goddaughter down on biobed two. Don't worry, she won't roll off. Computer, erect a holding field around biobed two." He readied a dermal regenerator even as the directions rolled off his holographic tongue.

Taking in the situation quickly, Tom did as he was asked. A man he didn't recognize occupied Biobed one, at the far end of sickbay. His grey uniform was accented in engineering gold, with a full commander's pips on its collar. He was bleeding profusely from a gash on his head and had burn marks on his right hand.

"Meet Commander Sanderson," said the Doctor. "Head of the Engineering Faculty at Starfleet Academy. He had a run-in with one of B'Elanna's improvisations in Jeffries tube 32."

Tom reached for the hypo spray with practiced efficiency. "What happened?" he asked, intrigued. Rolling his eyes a little, Sanderson sheepishly admitted that the wounds to his professional pride probably ran far more deeply than his physical injuries.

"I can't figure half this stuff out," he said. "Here I am, looking at what should be an ordinary EPS manifold, but it's linked to a tri-axial oscillator with a design I've never seen before. And as soon as I touch it with a hypo-spanner to get a closer look, my hand gets fried. So I jumped, and banged my head on the ceiling. I hate Jeffries tubes." Not really expecting an answer from the man he assumed to be a medical assistant, he closed his eyes.

Tom chuckled softly. "JeT 32? That would be where B'Elanna and Seven used a bit of Borg wizardry to rout extra energy to the deflectors, during the slipstream experiment. They were trying to compensate for the phase variance in the quantum matrix that I had noticed during the sims. The routing didn't really work for the slipstream and, as you found out, it has to be handled carefully, but B'Elanna found it upped warp core efficiency by some 3 % so we kept the modifications."

Sanderson opened his eyes wide at that explanation, scanning Tom's civilian clothing for a clue as to the man's status on this thoroughly confusing, exasperating and fascinating ship. "You're an engineer?"

"Nah, conn and navigation, with a sideline in emergency medicine," Tom replied. "But my wife's the Chief Engineer, and occasionally I find myself dragged into her more esoteric ideas. Over the years I've picked up a thing or two, I guess, and done a bit of tech design of my own. But if you have any questions, you should really be talking to her."

"So why am I not?" Sanderson mused. "Talking to the Chief Engineer, I mean. I can't believe no one told me she's still onboard. I assume she is here, anyway, since you are, Mr. … ?"

Sanderson had been thoroughly frustrated when he was told that none of Voyager's crew was available for the foreseeable future due to the extended leave they had been granted, and that any crewmembers left onboard were off limits due to their dubious legal status. He had not thought to ask whether any of them were engineering staff.

Although nominally the head of the Engineering Faculty at the Academy, Commander John Sanderson was far more scientist than administrator; as a result he could not wait to get his hands on the ship, from the ablative armour to the exotic technology and lash-up jobs he kept hearing about. Maybe this odd medical assistant offered a way forward, even if he was apparently a civilian? The man certainly seemed to know his way around the ship's insides more than anyone he had met to date, if his little impromptu explanation was on the level.

Tom looked at him thoughtfully, and belatedly remembered his manners. "Paris, Sir. Tom Paris. As for your question why you haven't met with my wife - one, she's preparing for trial on charges of terrorism and treason against the Federation." He let this remark sink in, unable to hide the bitter edge his voice.

"Two, Starfleet bureaucracy has seen fit to relieve all of Voyager's former Maquis members of duty pending their trial. I'm sure that's why no one suggested you should meet her. They're probably afraid she'll trick you into hurting yourself or something." He nodded meaningfully at the man's burned hand, which the Doctor was busy repairing with the regenerator.

"Of course, if someone in a position of some authority were to suggest that talking to the Chief Engineer of Voyager might be a useful approach to understanding the engineering marvels of Voyager …"

Tom let his voice trail off. He knew that B'Elanna was as keen to be active again as he was, much as they both enjoyed spending time with Miral and getting to know each other as a new family. She loved being a mother, but the enforced inactivity on board the ship was trying her patience even more than it was his. He waited to see if his words had an effect on the man.

The EMH looked at Tom over his patient's shoulder, understanding gleaming in his photonic eyes. He still felt a bit guilty around Tom about the misconceptions he had been harbouring all these years, and here was an opportunity to do him a good turn.

Never one for subtlety, the Doctor added briskly, "What Lieutenant Commander Paris is saying, I believe, is that if you were to make a formal request, Lieutenant Torres may be able to prevent further injuries to personnel wishing to examine the ship's systems. As Chief Medical Officer I would certainly second that approach." Tom shot him a surprised and grateful smile.

The Doctor's deliberate use of Tom's rank - a first to the latter's recollection, except with malice aforethought during his temporary period as "Ensign Paris" - was not lost on Sanderson, whose pain-fogged brain finally clued into who had been helping treat his injuries. An engineer down to his molecular structure, he usually did not pay much attention to Starfleet gossip or the nightly news, but even he had heard of Voyager's pilot.

He was also vaguely aware of the extent to which the influential Paris clan as a whole was involved with the mystery ship whose inner workings had him stumped.

Flexing his newly regenerated hand, Sanderson jumped off the biobed with a new sense of purpose. "Thanks, Doctor," he said, before turning to Tom. "And Commander Paris. I assume your wife won't mind if I ask Starfleet to allow me to request her assistance?"

Tom chuckled quietly. "I'm pretty sure she won't," he replied. An idea was taking shape in his fertile mind, and he decided to pursue it. He would deal with B'Elanna's wrath later if he had to, in case she took exception to his speaking on her behalf. The opportunity was too good to pass up.

Taking a deep breath, he added, "And maybe, while you're working with her, you could consider whether the Academy could give her credit for her work. You see - she only finished her second year." Tom knew that in order to have the option of pursuing a meaningful career in Starfleet, B'Elanna would need an Academy degree, but he was equally aware that she would resolutely refuse to don a cadet's uniform again.

He decided to go for broke. "Dressing your collaboration up as academic research, for additional credit, would also allow the bureaucracy to save face, since it couldn't really be considered 'active duty'." He waited, a bit anxiously, for Sanderson's response.

A smile spread slowly on the Commander's face, took hold and refused to leave. "Brilliant, bloody brilliant! Yes, that's it – that's it!" he exclaimed, clapping Tom on the shoulder. He winced slightly when he realized that while his hand may have looked healed, it was still quite tender. After thanking the Doctor, he swept out of sickbay, a man with a purpose.

"Good work, Mr. Paris," the Doctor said with unusual generosity. It was not clear whether to Tom whether he was referring to his nursing skills or his diplomatic acumen, but since the EMH had never in seven years complimented him on his medical work, he rather suspected the latter.

He was in for yet another surprise.

"What about yourself? Have you thought about going 'back to school', as you would put it? You may wish to consider a career in the medical field. You do have … some aptitude."

Tom was flabbergasted. "Me? Medicine? With all due respect, Doc, I'm a pilot, not a doctor."

But the EMH was not to be deterred. Since it had been his idea, it was inherently meritorious and worthy of consideration. "Just think about it, Mr. Paris. You're currently not doing anything … particularly useful," he paused when Tom raised his eyebrows at this, hastily adding, "apart from looking after my goddaughter, of course. I would be happy to provide you with a course of study consistent with the academy's requirements for certification in emergency medicine.

"I am certain the work you have done under my expert tutelage would be credited to some extent, although you would, of course, have to pass a formal examinations at some point."

The Doctor's tone left some doubt as to whether he considered Tom to be capable of doing such a thing. He may not be a qualified counselor, but over the years he had learned a thing or two about how to goad his recalcitrant assistant into a direction he might otherwise be reluctant to take; questioning his abilities was the most reliable approach.

The EMH was rewarded with a glare that pleasantly energized his satisfaction subroutines. The seed had been planted; whether it took or not was out of his hands.

"I'll think about it, Doc," Tom said, having no such intention but wanting to keep the Doctor well-disposed for the moment. He had come to sickbay with another purpose in mind, one that required the EMH's cooperation. He, too, knew how to manipulate his nemesis.

Tom lowered the force field around his now blissfully sleeping baby daughter and picked her up gingerly, placing her on his shoulder rather than back in the carrier. In his most casual voice, he asked, "In the meantime, remember our discussion about my low-brow literary aspirations? You wouldn't happen to have the contact details for your publisher handy, would you … ?"


Day 41

One by one they filed into the courtroom, past stone-faced security guards, court officials and holovid cameras. Chakotay. Torres. Ayala. Dalby. Golwat. Henley. Gerron. Kathryn Janeway nodded at each of them in turn as they took their seats in the defendants' section, expanded to two rows to accommodate all the surviving crewmembers of the lost Maquis ship Valjean.

Because they had not been convicted of a crime as yet, they were spared the prison greys Tom had been forced to don at his hearing; all seventeen had elected to wear newly replicated versions of the leathers and vests of their Maquis days. They were, however, wearing locator anklets, having been deemed a "flight risk" once they had been transported off Voyager.

Tom Paris sat beside Janeway, alternately chewing his fingernails and his lower lip. Janeway marveled again how the pilot could be such an expert at masking his emotions when it came to his own issues, or display no more than a feral smile in the heat of battle, but would turn into a complete nervous wreck whenever his wife was concerned. Janeway put a reassuring hand on Tom's arm, only to be rewarded with a skittish twitch.

The remainder of Voyager's crew, as they had at Tom's hearing, took up the majority of the available public seating in the room. The media were having a field day, eagerly scanning the elusive, famous faces. They lingered the longest on Seven of Nine, in the front row with Captain Janeway and Tom. The latter was also a subject of interest, with the cameras zooming in on the Lieutenant Commander's pips on his turtleneck and the discreet little titanium winged cross clipped to the collar of his new uniform.

Tom was very much of the view that displaying evidence of his commendation was unnecessary and ostentatious – the words he had actually used were "totally tacky" - but after checking that Starfleet protocol permitted the wearing of medals on formal occasions, Stan McFaddyen had insisted. He called it "court room choreography". The "reformed flying-ace felon" with the Starfleet pedigree and his accused terrorist wife continued to fascinate the public, especially with rumours swirling that the pilot was about to close a holovid deal with a well-known publishing house; no lawyer worth his salt would willingly give up that amount of free public goodwill.

As for the Captain, speculation was rife that she would trade her pips in for an Admiral's bar as soon as her crew's ordeal was over, and her still only four-starred collar was accorded the same diligent attention.

Some commenters noted the absence of Admiral (ret) Owen Paris, despite his declared loyalty to his daughter-in-law. One legal expert explained that since he had provided material evidence for the motion now before the Court, it would be inappropriate for him to attend. But it was much more fun to speculate on his absence, and the factual explanation received little airtime.

"All rise," came the traditional call to attention. Little had changed in Earth's courtroom procedure over the centuries; the symbolic trappings designed to elicit respect for the justice system had been carefully and deliberately reinstated following the reign of the mob courts of the Eugenics War. Many of Earth's procedures had even been adopted by non-human member planets of the Federation.

"Proceedings in case number 2378-1106 Alpha, Federation of Planets versus Chakotay and others are now open. Motion to dismiss all charges for want of jurisdiction. The Honourable Moran Dal of Betazed presiding. Please be seated."

As had been the case in Tom's hearing, no witnesses were called, all submissions having been made in writing. Oral argument was limited to half a day for each side. The motion was one Stan McFaddyen had wanted to present for years: a challenge to the treaty between the Cardassian Union and the Federation Prosecution. If he succeeded, there would be no legal basis for a finding that the Maquis had acted contrary to Federation law, or could be considered a terrorist organization.

And history would be rewritten.

McFaddyen's opening statement was a litany of political corruption, broken promises and war profiteering, and devastating statistics of systematic atrocities against the civilian population of the so-called "demilitarized zone" by Cardassian forces. The attacks that had started almost immediately after the treaty's conclusion, had not been halted or even protested by the Federation, and had given rise to the Maquis' un-sanctioned efforts to defend the colonies. Evidence of the Cardassian Union's alliance with the Dominion, enemy of the Federation, came next.

Those were known matters, subjects of vigorous political debate at the time; hearing them in Court as part of a legal argument was new though, and the judge was taking careful notes on a PADD.

What was also new was the detailed description, in a submission sworn by Admiral (ret.) Owen Paris, of the undisclosed financial interests held by certain members of the Federation Council in the DMZ. McFaddyen combined this information with publicly available evidence of the same councilors' voting records: Each and every time the treaty or the 'Maquis question' were voted on, the councilors in question had delivered the deciding two votes.

Votes that would ensure that the Cardassian Union would give preferential access to the planets vacated by Federation colonists to the companies in which the good councilors had a stake.

Votes that would ensure Cardassian forces, in their indiscriminate attacks on the colonies, would exercise restraint when it came to locations and facilities belonging to these companies.

Votes that would confirm that the colonists who objected to the treaty and the crimes committed by Cardassia would be branded terrorists and traitors against the Federation.

Votes that would oblige Starfleet to hunt them down and keep the so-called DMZ clear, so that Cardassian interests – and those of certain companies – could prosper.

Having due regard to the Federation's own rules on conflict of interest, the 'Honourable' Councilors should have recused themselves from voting on matters that concerned their business dealings. Having failed to do so, their votes should be invalidated, McFaddyen argued. With those votes removed, decisions changed dramatically; the treaty could not be regarded as valid Federation law. There could be no treason, no terrorism charges against the Maquis. They were merely colonists lawfully exercising their inherent right to self-defense against acts of aggression, war crimes and systematic atrocities against civilians.

The ruling was swift, and decisive. The Judge declared Admiral Paris to be a highly credible witness, despite his relationship to one of the accused. Tom smiled broadly at this, silently balling his fist in triumph and whispering "Good for you, Dad."

Most importantly, the court found, the retired Admiral's assertions had not been contradicted by any other evidence.

In her final comments, the Judge noted that she could not change time and undo what happened in the DMZ – allegedly in the name of lasting peace, but in reality in the name of profit and corruption. She could, however, find that any claim that the Maquis were acting against the interests of the Federation, and that their movement had been properly characterized as a terrorist organization, was without basis in law. As a result, the court had no jurisdiction to deal with any criminal charges based on membership in the Maquis movement.

The motion was allowed, all charges dismissed. The defendants were free to resume their lives. The Prosecution was, in addition, invited to review the cases of any Maquis member who remained in Federation custody. The judge declared herself willing to rule on any cases reported to her within 21 days. The gavel banged.

And then, a number of things happened at once.

In that San Francisco courtroom, Commander Chakotay and Lieutenant Commander Tom Paris separately discovered how physically challenging a full-on embrace by an enthusiastic mate could be when delivered, respectively, by a former Borg drone and a half-Klingon. But both gave as good as they got, and no permanent damage ensued.

For the third time since Voyager's return to the Alpha Quadrant, Kathryn Janeway burst into tears. No one thought less of her for it.

In Auckland, New Zealand, a rehabilitation commissioner turned off her view screen and permitted herself a small, very private smile before calling on her computer to access certain files. She intended to review them overnight.

At Starfleet Headquarters, Eric Henderson, prince of media relations for Starfleet Command, pumped his fist and called in another bet.

Unfortunately, his counterpart in the Federation Council Office was unable to take his call; she was busy putting the finishing touches on a press release announcing the immediate resignation of Federation Councilors James Burton and Noam Chomyn. The press release would diligently note that the forthcoming investigation into the conduct of the erstwhile councilors was not linked in any way to the Utopia Planitia consortium (shuttlecraft division), in which they held shares, nor to any current contracts awarded to that company by the Federation.

At Starfleet Command, Fleet Admiral Alynna Nacheyev rescinded a number of old standing orders to Fleet vessels patrolling the Demilitarized Zone. Next, she ordered an immediate review of certain personnel records, as well as a much-delayed promotion ceremony.

And in a simple but elegantly furnished study on a leafy estate in California, a retired admiral, holding hands with his wife, felt a burden lift from his shoulders - one he had carried for many years.


Part 3 – MOVING ON

Day 45

Anyone standing on the back porch of the Paris family home was struck by the view, a glorious expanse of woodland offset by the twinkling lights of San Francisco in the distance. Even on an Earth brought back from the brink of over-population only an elite few could lay claim to such extensive lands, or to such a beautiful location. Then there was the mansion itself, unostentatious but large and solidly built, with several outbuildings; a small shuttle port; and a private transporter pad, which made it possible to commute to Starfleet Headquarters and certain orbiting space ships.

Yes, it was an awe-inspiring, however discrete, display of refined taste, old money and older influence. But to the former Chief Engineer of USS Voyager, the additional sentiment that came to mind was - a sense of annoyance.

"You didn't tell me about this," she growled into the shoulder of her husband of slightly over a year as he enveloped her in his arms from behind, breathing in the pine-scented air of his childhood home.

"I did too," he defended himself. "You just didn't listen. I always said our house was pretty big and had a nice view."

"Yeah," she said, stepping away from his embrace and glaring at him. "You just forgot to mention that you owned that view. And … all the rest, too. A shuttle port, for Kahless' sake!"

With infinite patience, Tom explained, "That's because I don't own any of it. My parents do. And besides, I'd been pretty well expelled from the Paris family, as I recall, and had little prospect or intention of ever seeing any of it again."

He sighed contentedly. "But it sure is nice to be back. In more ways than one. I do have some pretty happy memories of this place, before …" he paused briefly, "… things went off the rails."

Hearing the soft echoes of pain in Tom's voice, B'Elanna allowed herself to be mollified, to a degree, and she snuggled back into his embrace. There was still something disconcerting, though, in discovering just how privileged Tom's upbringing had been; it put certain things in a sharper perspective. The pressure he must have felt to live up to this environment and the expectations it generated. The full extent of his public fall from grace, and the depth of his resulting self-loathing. And the realization, when she first walked into the granite entrance hall – a place about as far removed from her upbringing on Kessik IV as California was from the Delta Quadrant – that she and Tom truly were children of different worlds.

It was a miracle that they had found each other.

But now was not the time to spend in analysis, even if B'Elanna were so inclined by nature, which she was not. The setting sun lent a breath-taking grace to the scene before them that invited peace and acceptance, and for once Tom's penchant for lightening tense situations with humour seemed appropriate to his spouse.

"I guess all this" – she waved her arms expansively at the horizon and the mansion behind them – "explains why you always insist on picking the wine, hmmh?" Tom chuckled appreciatively.

"Yep. And speaking of which – we have a promotion party to get back to. Not to mention having to stop poor Harry from hyper-ventilating in the presence of the Great and the Good."

Arm in arm they returned into the large living room, where Tom's father was preparing the toast to his former protégé, Kathryn Janeway, now Admiral Janeway. The gathering was a private and exclusive one – members of the Janeway family, Voyager's senior staff, and a good helping of Starfleet brass.

Owen Paris' speech was sincere, moving, and full of humorous anecdotes; Admiral Nacheyev's formal presentation of the bars to the new member of Starfleet's most exclusive club was appropriately formal and dignified; Admiral Janeway's response was gracious and full of tributes to Voyager's crew, those present in particular.

It was, in short, precisely the sort of Starfleet event that made B'Elanna feel completely like a fish out of water. Her attendance was a personal tribute to her former Captain, and even at that had required some coaxing from her husband. If asked, she would have happily confirmed that she preferred crawling through a Jeffries tube, up to the elbows in plasma coolant.

The number of pips and admirals' bars in the room was as daunting as she had expected, and B'Elanna found herself self-consciously touching the two shiny Starfleet pips on her own collar. They were full ones, now that she had been formally confirmed to the rank of a full Lieutenant – eligibility for further promotion depended on successful recognition of her qualifications by the Academy – but even so, they made her and Harry the lowest-ranking officers in the room. Still, many of those present seemed to know who she was and treated her with respect; being related to the host must count for something, she thought.

But even as she wished herself several billion parsecs away, B'Elanna could not help but be impressed by the effortless ease with which Tom moved among the assembled elite. She had previously glimpsed him in diplomatic mode at receptions onboard Voyager, but had always thought his relaxed ease in august company was due to his natural gregariousness. Now, in the wood-paneled splendor of the Paris mansion, she saw it for what it was – a practiced grace that arose out of years of relentless exposure to the highest echelons of power.

"To the manor born," B'Elanna found herself thinking, prepared to start viewing her mate in an entirely new light. Starfleet royalty, all spit and polish. She wasn't sure she recognized this man.

B'Elanna watched with morbid fascination as her mate advanced on the stooped figure of an elderly retired admiral, who was treating a very obviously squirming Harry Kim and Libby to a lecture on How Much Better The Fleet Was In The Olden Days. Towering a full head-and-a-half over the old man, Tom smoothly inserted himself into the discussion, reverently asked a question, and nodded in fervent agreement at the response. Then, just as smoothly and with a deeply apologetic expression, he clapped Harry on the shoulder and with an air of sincere reluctance steered his grateful friend and his date out of the man's orbit and towards B'Elanna.

The old admiral was left standing on his own, but didn't really seem to notice or mind. He visibly seemed to bask in the sense that not only was the younger generation still willing to learn at the feet of their elders and betters, but was also still capable of exceedingly good manners.

B'Elanna shook her head at this casual and slightly scary display of social prestidigitation. Unwelcome thoughts of alien possession or split personality wormed their way into her mind, until she saw Tom, now safely out of the old man's direct view, roll his eyes and perform a quick retching motion with his finger in his mouth.

B'Elanna stifled a relieved giggle. Her own irreverent, irrepressible Tom was still there, and clearly not all that deeply hidden under the polished surface of the Starfleet prince ...


Unnoticed by either of the three junior officers, one of the guests stood quietly in a corner, sipping a glass of wine with the air of a connoisseur. Standing straight but relaxed, the balding man observed the scene with clear, keen eyes, and no little amusement. He made his move as soon as he saw the young Lieutenant Commander detaching himself from the other two to head for the wine bar.

"Mr. Paris?" Tom heard the cultivated tenor behind him, a voice that would not be out of place in a Shakespearean actor. He turned, putting on his best genial, well-behaved smile. It froze on his face, and he felt his throat suddenly go dry. He recovered quickly though, and managed a polite and formal, "Admiral Picard? It's an honour to finally meet you in person."

Now, Tom Paris had met many admirals in his life; hell, he'd lived with one for the better part of two decades. Admirals as a species neither scared nor impressed him, if in fact he gave them any conscious thought at all. This man, however, was the real deal - a genuine legend, not just in his own mind. The note of respect in Tom's voice was both genuine and sincere.

"Jean-Luc Picard," the man confirmed pleasantly. "Congratulations; that was quite the smooth extraction op. You must be the first person in a decade to escape Windbag MacPhee's clutches in under half an hour; rescuing two hostages at the same time is virtually unheard of."

He paused briefly, giving the younger man a chance to digest the compliment before continuing, "I've been looking forward to meeting you as well. I've read your file."

Tom did not miss the implied challenge in that remark. Of course Picard had read his file; he had been a member of the special promotion committee that had given him that third pip. He would have read all of it - Caldik Prime, Auckland, the Warp 10 experiment, Hanon IV, Monea, the DFC …

Tom took the challenge. "Oh dear," he winced demonstratively. "That must have been a very mixed blessing for you."

"Entertaining, certainly," said Picard. Good – the man stood by his record. He decided to cut him some slack. "I think my personal favourite was the report of you holding the leader of the Q continuum at gunpoint. Now that I would have liked to have seen."

Tom readily recalled Janeway's tales of the caustic relationship Picard had developed with His Supreme Omnipotence over the years. He also saw an opportunity to pay Picard back a little for his challenging conversational gambit.

"Yeah, that felt good," he drawled, adding with an enigmatic smile, "Someone had to pay for the Captain's aborted bubble bath."

Picard raised a questioning eyebrow, then grinned appreciatively when it became obvious that Tom had absolutely no intention of elaborating further on this tantalizing tidbit. So, young Paris liked to fence, did he …?

Quite some time later, when Tom finally returned from the wine bar, he found himself besieged by his best friend. Harry had left Libby talking with B'Elanna, and was practically bouncing up and down with curiosity.

"So what did you and Picard talk about for all that time? You were in that corner with him forever!"

Tom frowned a little, trying to remember. The time with the admiral had passed quickly, a give-and-take of questions, answers, anecdotes and wisecracks. "Oh, I dunno Harry. Q. Flying through Borg Central. Malfunctioning holodecks. The Kazon. Building the Flyer. The Ares. Friendship One. Cabbages and kings."

The more Tom thought about it, the more he realized he'd been grilled, subtly, but thoroughly, by someone who did indeed seem to have an intimate handle on his file. Oh well, the man had earned the right to ask questions, he supposed, as he fingered his collar. As long as he didn't ask for that third pip back…


Day 50

With B'Elanna about to hurl herself full-time into the process of educating Starfleet's engineering elite in the more exotic aspects of Voyager's technological innovations, Tom had already turned down several offers of assignments that would result in their (however temporary) separation. It was gratifying to catalogue the number of opportunities that had been sent his way, but he had made his wife a promise that he would not leave her and the baby, and he was going to keep it.

And so the most sought-after pilot in Starfleet prepared to keep himself busy for a while settling his little family into their new apartment near San Francisco Bay. He also kept himself tolerably amused by polishing the thirty-six chapters worth of Captain Proton adventures he had rescued from Voyager's holodeck files, on a home programming unit he had acquired with part of his back pay.

Tom had never quite forgotten his arguments with the EMH about socially relevant holonovels. In fact, the Doc's ritual denigration of Tom's creations (in which the EMH had only been too happy to participate, despite his condescension) still rankled. And so Tom had decided to carry out his own little experiment in comparative publishing, with no less a company than the one the esteemed Doctor himself had graced with his oeuvre.

As it turned out, the adolescent holovid market was in dire need of fresh ideas; "low-brow entertainment" was what it craved, and what Tom was happy to supply. To his intense satisfaction, the deal Stan's firm had negotiated far exceeded the one the EMH had received for his "profound and socially relevant" exposé of hologram exploitation. In fact, the money he'd been offered was so ludicrous that he hadn't found the heart to tell the Doc, and found himself limited to gloating to Harry and B'Elanna in private.

This wholly unexpected side effect of Captain Proton's second career was that Tom and B'Elanna had been able to pay up front for their apartment; the lien on the Paris estate in favour of a certain law firm was lifted; and Voyager's former Maquis crewmembers had found that their legal bills had been covered by an anonymous benefactor. And that was just the initial signing bonus, for the first six chapters.

In the absence of any financial pressure and with holovids to polish and a gurgling baby to lavish attention on, Tom certainly didn't feel in a desperate need to head back into space. He fully intended to stay in Starfleet, but for the moment he was happy not to follow the classic Paris pattern of sacrificing his family for the stars.

So it was with very mixed feelings that the pilot saw the message that was blinking on his computer screen. Coming from none other than Admiral Picard, it was headed, somewhat ominously, "Your Next Assignment?"

Running his fingers through his already unruly hair, Tom got up and replicated himself a cup of coffee. Then he checked on Miral, who was fast asleep in her crib. He considered comming B'Elanna, then Harry, then his mother - just to chat and see how they were doing. He checked on Miral again and was just about to give in to an urge to tidy up the living room, when he was forced to admit to himself that he was procrastinating, and in a pathetically obvious manner at that.

He sighed and headed back to the computer.

When he finally did read the message, Tom determined that it should have been subtitled "Your Father's Wet Dream Come True". Turned out, the friendly discussion with Picard at Janeway's promotion party had been … a job interview. Tom kicked himself mentally for his naiveté; it appeared he had fallen for Picard's jovial inquiries hook, line and sinker.

And he had passed the test, whatever it was.

What would he have done had he known the admiral's agenda? Tom wasn't sure, but he rather suspected his tendency towards self-sabotage might well have put in an appearance, assuming he even knew what he wanted with sufficient clarity to sabotage it. Or were those days behind him now?

Tom mentally rolled his eyes at this sudden and unaccustomed deviation into self-analysis, and read Picard's message for a second time. It did not change: Lieutenant Commander Thomas E. Paris was "invited to consider enrolment in Starfleet's Advanced Strategic and Tactical Command program," at the Academy's prestigious James T Kirk Centre.

Tom understood perfectly well that he should feel flattered. The course was offered to mid-level officers by recommendation only; in this case, the recommendation had come from Captain – now Admiral – Janeway.

He had heard that the curriculum had been considerably revised, based on a hard-edged – unpublished and highly classified - analysis of lessons learned by Starfleet during the Dominion War. Scuttlebutt had it that the Federation's heavy losses had been ascribed in part to a lack of original strategic and tactical thinking, and to a Headquarters command structure and senior field personnel that discouraged initiative and imagination and had become mired in protocol.

Indeed, Picard's message noted that the aptly named James T. Kirk Centre – of which he was the newly appointed head – would be targeting "unorthodox strategists and officers with natural leadership abilities, capable of 'thinking outside the box'."

Tom shook his head in disbelief. True, he'd never met a box he had felt comfortable thinking inside, and during the last seven years he had come up with his fair share of seemingly hare-brained schemes that somehow carried the day. But leadership? Command? Thomas Eugene Paris, erstwhile Starfleet reject and habitual screw-up? The man who had barely managed to croak out a disbelieving "Me?" when Janeway had granted him a field commission in the Delta Quadrant? This had to be some kind of joke.

Tom read the message again.

Having been advised that Paris Jr. generally required direct confrontation with his achievements before accepting that people might actually consider them worthwhile, Picard had peppered his message with examples.

Unquestioning assumption of bridge command, effective conduct of search and rescue operations and superior combat flight following Voyager's unscheduled trip into the Delta Quadrant, all despite not having been on the bridge of a Starfleet vessel for three years, lacking any kind of status onboard and without expectations of advancement. Mobilization, strategic and tactical command of an alien armada when retaking Voyager from the Kazon. The rather unorthodox rescue of a race of photonic life forms, in the context of a highly unusual holodeck scenario. Taking charge of the mission to retrieve the Ares when the commanding officer had jeopardized the mission. Winning the hearts and minds of a people whose lives had been destroyed by Federation technology.

Fine, Tom conceded to himself. So he could run a few things when he had to. Anybody could. Right?

He scrolled down further. Picard pointed out, presumably by way of enticement, that successful students would find themselves on a fast track to senior command. Tom shuddered. Great. The grand prize – something he'd banged his head bloody rebelling against.

He had laughed at Harry when he suggested regular night shift command "for practice". He was a pilot, not a …

Tom started to chew his lower lip.

Come to think about it, as fourth ranking officer in Voyager's command structure he had probably logged more hours in the Big Chair, or running the bridge from the conn, than Harry had ever done on Gamma shift. On the Flyer, he was always in charge, able to order even Captain Janeway around when the situation required.

Being in charge had been fun, especially when he didn't really think about it. His best battle performances had been when he was just told to "do it" and the what and how had been left up to him …

A sudden frown creased Tom's forehead.

He had spent considerable time in his adolescence doing things he didn't actually enjoy, solely because he knew they would run against what the world expected from him or because they would annoy his father. Could he swallow his pride, and for once do exactly the kind of thing everyone had told him was in his DNA? And admit that he wanted to?

Generations of Parises would stop rotating in their graves if Thomas Eugene went into advance command training. The look on his father's face would be priceless.

Tom started pacing in front of the terminal.

Janeway actually thought he was cut out for command, after looking over his shoulder for seven years. That meant something. Tactics, strategy and command rescued from Protocol Hell. Would he be able to save the next Monea …? Getting to mess with people's expectations and be rewarded for it. Could be fun.

A Paris, working under Picard, in a place named after Kirk. There was an undeniable 'cool factor' in that thought ...

Tom's mind started racing.

Accepting Picard's offer meant he could stay in San Francisco while B'Elanna worked with the Engineering faculty and got her Academy credits confirmed. Miral? His Mother would happily look after her only granddaughter during the day when neither of them was available. Logistics were a breeze.

His combat flight holosims, especially the Borg variations, might come in handy, as would his knowledge of shuttle design and space anomalies no one had ever heard of. Surely piloting, astrometrical and navigational expertise on one hand, and strategic command on the other, were a match made in heaven? Traditionally pilots were simply told by someone else where to fly; what if one was let off the leash? Which stars could he reach?

A radical thought: If he ran with the Doc's idea of upping his medical credentials, specialized medical knowledge could also provide novel perspectives. The EMH himself had proved time and again that a medical and pharmaceutical background combined nicely with fighting odd threats. Not to mention that these skills came in handy when away missions went south…

Come to think of it - how many times had his knowledge of holo-programming contributed to Voyager's success? In battle sims, testing new technologies, allowing the crew to let of steam? Even his knowledge of history had come in handy once or twice.

Tom pursed his lips and slowly nodded to himself.

Maybe his unwillingness – inability? - to settle on just one thing wasn't the "lack of focus" everyone had always berated him for, but a strength to build on? Maybe Picard was on to something …

A slow smile spread across Tom's face.

By the time B'Elanna had come home and he had discussed Picard's offer with her, then Harry, and finally his father, Tom had worked up enough enthusiasm to power Voyager for a month.

Owen Paris, for his part, wisely and judiciously refrained from saying anything that could remotely be construed as sounding like "Finally!" or "I told you so, son!"

He may, however have expressed these sentiments in private to his wife, once or twice.


Day 70

Ensign Jenny Delaney was bored, bored, BORED.

Jenny loved Stellar Cartography with a passion – bringing order to an unruly universe filled her days with endless wonder and satisfaction. Indeed, she loved her profession so much that she had foregone the second month of extra leave granted to the Voyager crew. Together with her sister Megan she had accepted an early and urgent offer to convert Voyager's enormous store of data from the Delta Quadrant into tactically useful charts for Starfleet.

Her position at the prestigious Institute for Stellar Cartography on Jupiter Station provided professional fulfillment galore. She was busy, respected, and up for a lieutenancy in the next round of promotions. During the day, all was well, and Jenny was happy.

But the evenings – or what passes for evenings on a space station where the light is always artificial – and off-duty times were a different matter entirely. Sure, there were bars, pubs, and holosuites on Jupiter Station, and seven years' of accumulated back pay meant that she could afford any form of entertainment she chose, and any party outfit she set her mind on.

What was missing, though, was someone to share the fun with. Her twin, alter ego and best friend, her companion in social mayhem, had abandoned her. And without a partner, Jenny was lost.

As soon as he had heard of the Delaneys' assignment, the Doctor had made the fatal mistake – however kindly meant – of introducing the twins to his friend, Reginald Barclay, another resident of Jupiter Station. Not unreasonably, the EMH thought they might like to get to know each other, and enjoyed the feeling of usefulness it gave him to be the instrument of their acquaintance.

The first time the twins physically encountered the shy Lieutenant, Jenny had smiled politely, cast an appraising glance over Barclay's physique, noted his nervous twitch, thanked him from the bottom of her heart for his devotion to the Pathfinder project, and moved on.

Megan, for some reason, had lingered.

Jenny still felt shivers run down her spine as she recalled the predatory gleam in her sister's eye when, later and in private, she enumerated the shy Lieutenant's numerous and well-hidden qualities. Jenny could for the life of her not figure out how, after having scoffed for years at mild-mannered Harry Kim's attempts to get her attention, Megan had decided on the even more milque-toasty Reginald.

But Megan had, and now Jenny's evenings were dull, dull, DULL.

The younger – by three minutes – of the Delaney twins stared wistfully out of the porthole in her quarters at the swirling clouds of Jupiter. Loneliness was an unfamiliar feeling after seven years of having family and friends always at hand. What she pined for was a good, old, rollicking Delta Quadrant space anomaly, and a handsome man into whose arms she could swoon when the inertial dampeners went off-line. Or at the very least an evening of shooting pool at Sandrine's.

In the absence of such things, talking to an old friend would have to do. Someone who could be counted on to make her smile. She opened a comm line, scrolled down her contact list, and punched a button. Luck was with her.

"Hey, Malicia," said a familiar voice. "How's life?"

"Tommy… . " sniffled Jenny. "Damn, you're a sight for sore eyes." Then she remembered her manners. "How's the Kuvah'magh"?

Tom smiled fondly. "Lively," he said. "You ever been around a teething quarter-Klingon? Weapons-grade vocal chords, enough to bring the Empire to its knees."

Jenny giggled, already feeling a little bit better. She still had a hard time picturing Voyager's chief flyboy as a doting dad, but it was getting easier when he glowed like that.

"So, what's up?" Tom asked. He looked at his friend's unusually long face; he had always been good at reading people and Jenny had sob story written across her forehead. "Don't tell me. Homesick?"

Jenny sniffed again. "Lord, you have no idea. I mean, I like looking at Jupiter, it's very pretty, especially that spot, but sometimes I just wish it would MOVE. I even dreamed about the Hirogen the other day. And it was a good dream! I know we've only been here for a month, but you can't imagine how BORING life is now that Meg has taken up with Reg Barclay…."

"She what?" Tom interrupted. This was news, and while gossip was no longer hard currency in the betting pool, it was still good for a cup of coffee with Harry. "Alright, Delaney – details!"

Jenny complied with a sigh. "They've been together basically since we got here. Poor guy never knew what hit him at first, but he seems to be resigned to his fate now." Then she brightened a little. "At least he's lost his stammer since they started having sex."

Tom tried to wrap his mind around the images that conjured up. Some things were better left unimagined - Reginald Barclay in bed with his ex (however-brief) girlfriend, Megan "Demonica" Delaney, was way up there. Good thing he was married now, or he'd have felt obliged to stage an intervention … He winced.

"Oh sorry … that too much information for you, Tommy? Point is, all my friends are pairing up, and I am getting sooo sick of being left out in the cold! You've been off the market since, like, FOREVER, Harry's as good as hitched, Gerron's totally engrossed in the Academy … If I can't have a man, the least I need is some excitement!"

Tom chewed his lower lip thoughtfully. This was serious. He turned away from the screen, and hailed the love of his life. "B'Elanna – come here for a sec. Jenny needs a man. Do we know any good ones?"

B'Elanna came into view on her screen. "I know a ton of engineers," she said, "but they're all geeks. All engine, no thrusters, if you know what I mean."

Tom cleared his throat. "Excuse me ladies, would you like me to leave now, so you can have a serious girl talk?"

"Hey," Jenny protested, ignoring him. "I'm not THAT desperate for a guy. I'd just be happy with something to do after work. Damn, I sure miss Captain Proton and the holodeck …"

Tom snorted. He was actually getting a bit sick of Proton and his monochromatic universe, and beginning to wish he'd wiped the files. It was one thing playing Proton, but quite another dealing with him as a business venture. The runaway success of his handiwork threatened to take over his life, and if there was one thing Tom Paris hated, it was being taken over. His publisher was forever bugging him to do publicity, sign holovids, sit still for interviews – and since Tom couldn't have cared less about the idea of becoming independently wealthy, none of the activities designed to increase vid sales were of any interest to him whatsoever.

"You want Proton?" he said. "You can have him, for all I care. Ever thought of getting into the entertainment industry?"

B'Elanna looked thoughtful at that, then broke out in a crooked smile. An idea struck her. What was that about killing two birds with one stone? Clearly a principle an engineer could get behind. When the peasants are revolting and the castle's moat monsters are starving, what's the obvious solution?

All she needed was some bait. What was the name of that editor guy Tom was forever trying to escape? Stefan something? Male, het, unattached, reasonably good-looking?

She nudged her husband aside to seize possession of the comm link. "Alright Jenny, here's the deal. You come visit us on the weekend. We'll get some people together for dinner and cheer you up."

Huh? Tom was a bit mystified by this sudden development, especially since B'Elanna was not usually the one to add to their social lives. But his old friend looked desperate, his wife smug and up to something, and if there was anything Tom Paris excelled at, it was going with the flow. So naturally, he was willing to play along, especially when he saw Jenny's face brighten at the invitation.

He even remembered to be polite. "Hey, that sounds great. It'll be nice to have you, Jen. We'll get the spare room ready and some drugs to knock Miral out for the night so you can sleep." His wife elbowed him, everybody laughed, and they signed off with a wave.

And thus it came to pass that Captain Proton, Spaceman First Class, Defender of Earth and Scourge of Intergalactic Evil and the younger (by three minutes) of the Twin Mistresses of Darkness entered into a mutually beneficial, if surprising, partnership. For fifteen percent of the in-flowing royalties – how much that was Tom had no idea and cared less, but Jenny found out to be rather a lot, and growing -she became his faithful henchwoman and agent.

"How different can this be from running the betting pool?" Tom had very reasonably asked as they shook hands on the deal.

And suddenly, Jenny Delaney found her formerly empty evenings at Jupiter Station to be happily spent planning launch parties for the next Proton installments, answering media inquiries, and making up inventive excuses for an increasingly reclusive author.

Oh, and she started taking regular calls from one Stefan Bayer, senior editor (juvenile division) at Random House Holovids, to whom she had been introduced over dinner at the Paris-Torres household. As it turned out, both Ms Delaney and Mr. Bayer came to very much appreciate the fact that she still had her Malicia costume.

But that is quite another story.


Day 75

They stepped off the transporter pad into a bright autumn morning. It was surprisingly warm, with none of the foggy damp that so often plagued the Bay area. Tom's and B'Elanna's shoulders touched as he whispered something into her ear that made her giggle, and she swatted his arm lightly in a gesture familiar to anyone who knew them.

Their respective destinations lay in opposite directions, and they paused for a brief exchange before going their separate ways. B'Elanna cupped her husband's chin with her right hand, lightly stroking his cheek with her thumb. "Knock 'em dead, hotshot!" she whispered. Tom smiled down at her impishly. "No breaking any noses today, eh, Chief?"

He kissed her lightly on the top of her head and they parted, hands touching until her retreating steps took her out of reach. Tom's eyes followed B'Elanna as she headed towards Voyager and another day of teaching what she knew to people anxious to maintain the fiction that she was the student.

His glance shifted to Voyager. The ship rested gracefully on the open field by the Engineering complex. Setting her down in that confined area amid the landmark buildings had been a considerable challenge to his skills, but a fun and fitting end to their journey together. Now, her matte metallic hull glowed in the sun, the shimmering heat rising off it giving the illusion that she was just out of reach, in another dimension.

Tom swallowed back a sudden wave of – what, melancholy? - that threatened to overwhelm him as he suddenly found himself envying B'Elanna's ability to spend so much of her time aboard their old home. Quickly, he shook himself.

"Nostalgia is irrelevant," he chided himself in Seven's voice; time to move on. He resolutely turned around, and walked away.


Tom remembered his first day at the Academy, some fifteen or sixteen years ago now, with something less than fondness. He had been too busy worrying about what people would think of him - the Admiral's son reluctantly come to fulfill the family destiny – and too focused on perfecting his personal brand of detachment and diffidence, to fully take in the sights and sounds of a bustling campus, full of excited cadets embarking on the adventure of their lives.

Today was different. He walked along the sunlit boulevard with a sure step, observing his surroundings with a keenness that could only be ascribed to enthusiasm for the new challenge before him.

Time had left its mark on the familiar campus. The central mess hall was still bright pink, a shade Tom had always thought as conveying a near-pathological desperation to please. It seemed to have acquired a new wing - maybe a decent cup of coffee could be found there now? Doubtful. Janeway's permanent Delta Quadrant quest for palatable caffeine had actually started during her Academy days, in that same pink building; some things would never change.

The Ops Centre was probably the most transformed of his former haunts, almost completely rebuilt after a successful sabotage attack by an agent for the Dominion had taken out the sensor labs. Tom made a mental note to familiarize himself with the new facilities at the earliest opportunity.

Sunlight glinted off the solar collectors on the roof of the Exo-Botany complex; not much had changed there, and the alien trees and shrubs that surrounded it were as wildly exotic and colourful as ever. He used to go there sometimes in those days, to sit quietly in the shadows of giant leaves, pretending he was in a world far away where no one knew his name.

Tom focused his attention on the cadets scurrying every which way. Everyone he saw seemed so very … young, and so damned eager. Had he ever been that shiny-faced, that enthusiastic? He didn't think so.

He mentally took inventory of that long-ago version of Tom Paris, a man he barely remembered except as a study in unresolved conflicts. As Captain of Nova Squadron, Tom had finished his time at the Academy as something of a campus celebrity, holder of every piloting record and award available. His extra-curricular activities were many and varied; he was voted Most Desirable Lay by the inhabitants of two out of the three female residences. The social butterfly, who would flee to the arboretum to find the solitude no one knew he craved.

Academically, he excelled only in the rather eclectic selection of subjects that really interested him – anything related to flight technology and astral navigation, Earth history, holo-engineering. He scraped by in the mandatory subjects he did not care about, deliberately baiting his father with at times ostentatious underachievement, but then would spend his weekends outclimbing all other cadets on the rock faces of Yosemite, just because he could.

Tom shook his head at how screwed up he had been, about pretty well everything. This time, he was prepared to fly - in all respects.

But still, he slowed as he approached the James T. Kirk Centre.

"Wondering what you're in for this time around?" a gentle voice asked beside him. Tom stopped, and looked down. An elderly man, white hair shimmering in the sun, was kneeling half-hidden behind a rose bush, quietly and competently pruning the thorny branches.


No first name, just – Boothby. An Academy installation, more counselor than gardener, he could always be relied on to say the right thing to the cadets he took under his wing. Even if he was at times more enigmatic than the Oracle of Delphi in his pronouncements. Tom smiled at the memory of the many times when Boothby had kept him from imploding, simply by stopping him in his tracks briefly as he raced through his day.

Tom squatted down beside the old man; towering over him seemed inappropriate. "You know it," he replied. No point being less than honest or direct with Boothby, or suggesting he didn't know who he was talking to. "But at least this time I know for sure that I actually want to be here, and that should help."

"You've travelled a long and hard road, Thomas Eugene Paris," said Boothby as he snipped another branch, "but you've come home now, and you are finally where you belong. That is all that matters. Ouch!" He sucked a small drop of blood from his thumb where a hidden thorn had pricked it. "Sixty years on, and these darn roses still get me," he said. "But they always look so much better after we're done with each other."

His gray eyes, slightly clouded now with age, looked into Tom's bright blue ones. "I knew who and what you were when we first met; now you are beginning to know it yourself. And I have a feeling you will like what you find."

Then he smiled impishly, sucking on his finger again. "And don't let the pricks slow you down."

He bent over his rosebush again. Tom laughed as he rose, recognizing the dismissal. "Thanks, Mr. Boothby," he said. "I'll keep that in mind."

Tom briefly wondered whether Boothby had been told that his fame had spread to the Delta Quadrant and fluidic space, and about the role he had played in their encounter with Species 8472. Maybe he would tell him - but that was a conversation for another day.

Tom bounded up the stairs to the James T. Kirk Centre and stepped through the doors.


Day 89

Admiral (ret) Owen Paris stood on the bridge of USS Voyager, surveying the scene before him. Small group of eager students were being led through the ship, stopping at key places – "… and this is Captain Janeway's chair … this is where Commander Chakotay sat, the former Maquis Captain … the conn here was manned by Tom Paris, the only pilot to break the Warp 10 barrier …"

It had been an inspired idea to bring Voyager to rest, temporarily, on the grounds of Starfleet Academy. Her presence in San Francisco not only enabled the Engineering Faculty to have easy access to a research facility and teaching tool beyond their wildest dreams, but also slaked the public's thirst to see and touch the ship that had caught their imagination like few others before it.

Owen smiled when he thought of Tom bringing her down to Earth. Ever the hotshot, he hadn't been able to resist the ultimate "fly by", through the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge where thousands stood to watch, before swooping in for a butterfly-delicate landing. The picture of the little stunt had been the top story on all the newsvids; the spike in Starfleet recruitment figures that week helped the brass overlook the fact that Admiral Janeway had failed to obtain the necessary approvals for a flight that close to a historic monument.

As for Owen Paris himself, his very public link to the Pathfinder project and the resolution of the "Maquis question" had made him a natural choice to oversee Project Voyager for Starfleet. It was the perfect job for a retired admiral who was content to no longer be in the thick of the action, but too energetic to sit on his porch and count shuttles all day.

He turned to his assistant, who was waiting patiently to get his attention. "Yes?" he asked in that almost benign, fatherly tone that still managed to throw off those Fleeters who had worked with him in his volatile days as a battle strategist. Yes, Owen Paris had mellowed, even he acknowledged that. He liked this new self.

The young Kitarian handed him a number of PADDs that required him to enter his approval code, which he did with his customary decisiveness. "Anything else?" Owen asked.

The young woman hesitated, not sure whether she should bother him with her question. "If you don't mind, Sir," she said, "we just received the third request this week to book a private reception on Deck Nine, Section Twelve. We have no idea where that interest comes from. Since you had family on board, I thought maybe you might know?"

"Receptions? For what?" the Admiral inquired, head tilted.

"Weddings, sir. This week, it's all weddings. Last week we had a request to book a wedding and an engagement party, and someone was found proposing to his girlfriend on their knees inside one of the officers' quarters." She frowned, evidently puzzled. "What I am wondering is this – why specifically Deck Nine Section Twelve? Why not the mess hall, or the Holodeck? That Irish programme is quite popular since we started using it as a rest stop and snack bar."

"Good question," Owen replied. He thought for a moment. Deck Nine. Wasn't that where B'Elanna had her quarters before she and Tom got married? She might know. "Leave it with me, Ensign," he said. "I think I may be able to find out."

"Thank you sir!" she said. It wasn't a hugely important issue, but knowing what was behind the little mystery would allow her to determine whether to recommend approving the puzzling requests.

"One other thing – people from Starfleet procurement and Utopia Planitia are here to have another look at the Flyer." She paused for a bit, looked down at her PADD. "The group from Utopia Planitia includes two former Federation councilors. Will you want to meet them?" In the Admiral's role as Starfleet's point man, courtesy meetings with VIPs were a regular part of his day. "Who are they?" he asked diffidently.

"James Burton and Noam Chomyn," she replied, looking the names up on her PADD. Majority shareholders in the shuttlecraft division at UP, I gather."

The Ensign saw the Admiral's eyes narrow briefly, and something hard and unreadable descend on his normally relaxed features. She swallowed; this was not the almost-teddy-bear she had been working with.

"Thank you, Ensign," the Admiral said tersely. "I am unavailable, I'm afraid."

"Shall I give them your apologies, sir?" she asked. "No, absolutely not. No apologies. Please let me know when they have left the ship." He turned on his heel and strode off the bridge, one of his fists clenching and unclenching slowly.

Later that evening, the Admiral waited for his son as he arrived on the private transporter pad at the family estate to pick up Miral. Tom looked tired. He had had an intense day at the Kirk Centre, introducing his Borg flight simulations to Picard's class (with particular emphasis on multiple vector targeting analysis and shield variance options), and then squeezing in a test on Vulcan physiology for his medical certification.

But it was a good tired, Owen thought. Tom had the look of someone who knew where he was headed and was enjoying the trip, even if it left him out of breath on occasion.

"You'll be interested to know that two of our special friends were on Voyager today," Owen said by way of greeting. "Chomyn and Burton. I made a point of ignoring them, so I have no idea what they wanted, although I gather they were there on behalf of Utopia Planitia. I'm surprised no one has confiscated their shares in that yet."

Tom shrugged. "Money just sticks to some people, no matter how dirty their hands are. I refuse to give these assholes any more thought; they've wasted enough of my life already. How's Miral been today, did Mom say?"

"Fine, I think. She's certainly been good since I came home. She's a pretty good baby, unlike her father or her cousins, who were serious hellions at her age. Guess girls are just different … "

They were nearing the main house, when Owen remembered the question his assistant had raised earlier that day. "Listen, Tom, I came across an interesting question today," he said as they headed into the living room, where Julia was getting Miral ready for departure. "Does Deck Nine Section Twelve ring any particular bells for you?"

"Yeah, sure, that's where B'Elanna's quarters were before we got married," Tom diffidently confirmed his father's earlier guess as he picked up the baby and kissed her on the head. Miral cooed and smiled brightly at her daddy, her blue eyes sparkling like his own. He jiggled her a little, eliciting a delighted squeal.

"Alright, then can you tell me why people are so interested in getting engaged or married there? We've had a number of requests from Fleet personnel. What do they know that I don't?"

Tom swallowed. Oh, shit. No, it couldn't be …

In his head he clearly heard Seven's voice again, that inimitable impassive inflection: "There isn't a person on Deck Nine Section Twelve who doesn't know when you are having intimate relations".

Harry, giggling hysterically and spewing synthale as he told him of the betting pool subunit entitled "9/12: Best Sex on Voyager", with items such as "number of successful missions in 24 hours", and "single session endurance"; people whispering to each other in the mess hall and stopping when he walked in. Tom never did succeed in establishing whether Harry's tale was on the level, but it didn't really matter, did it?

No one had dared mention any of this to B'Elanna, of course - she would have taken the head off anyone so reckless - but Tom had suffered for weeks. Well, maybe not suffered, exactly; there was something just a little bit flattering about the whole thing, but …

And now, crew members with a similar sense of discretion as a certain ex-Borg appeared to have turned the episode into a little piece of Starfleet lore. Not the sort of thing to tell your parents about, was it?

"Ah, no … really, I have no idea what that's all about," he stammered in response to his father's inquiry, even as his fair skin took on a distinctly pink shade.

Owen observed his son's changing complexion with forensic interest. "Really. Uh-huh."

Tom was clear on one thing: this conversation needed to be dragged to safer ground, and fast. He turned to his mother. "So, how's the little one been behaving herself? Any problems getting her to nap? The Doc tells me that she responds well to opera, falls asleep almost instantly."

After two decades in the admiralty Owen knew when he was being blown off, and was having none of it. He nodded slowly. "Alright, I get it," he growled. "Don't think for a moment that this is the end of it. If you won't tell me, I'll find someone who will."

Julia Paris, who had watched the last exchange with a mixture of interest and amusement, decided to come to her son's rescue. "Does it only work when her godfather sings, or would any recording do?"

Tom gratefully engaged his mother in a discussion of the relative merits of Verdi over Klingon opera, hastily packed up Miral's things, and fled the premises.

His parents exchanged bemused glances as father and child shimmered out of existence. Clearly, there were some mysteries yet to be resolved about their son and daughter-in-law's time in the Delta Quadrant …


Day 91

Message From: ADM (ret) O. Paris USS Voyager

To: LCdr T. E. Paris Starfleet Academy (JTKC)

Subject: Voyager Enigma


Never mind. I spoke with your "literary agent". Don't worry, won't mention it to your mother.


PS: Good on you, son.

Message From: LCdr T. E. Paris Starfleet Academy (JTKC)

To: Lt J. Delaney Jupiter Station

Subject: High Treason




Message From: Lt J. Delaney Jupiter Station

To: LCdr T.E. Paris Starfleet Academy (JTKC)

Subject: Re: High Treason

Tommy dearest:

Awful sorry. Your Father could teach Chaotica something about the art of persuasion.


PS: Maybe I should tell Meg and Reginald to visit 9/12 for luck and a spot of inspiration?

PPSS: Spot of business. I told the Guinness people that Fairhaven is not for sale, like you asked me. They didn't buy your line that installing it in every other Irish pub in the Quadrant would piss off the Fairies, and offered more money. So I told them *confidentially* that you were a totally eccentric auteur who valued his artistic integrity over the lure of crass mammon, and they finally backed off. You're really not into that money thing, are you. Good thing one of us is, at least on occasion!

Oh, and I told Sandrine you'd be fine with her hanging up some pictures of you in the bar. Hope that was ok? She promised to stick to vids from the Voyager version, and not to use anything from your "barfly period". Care to elaborate?


Message From: LCdr T. E. Paris Starfleet Academy (JTKC)

To: Lt J. Delaney Jupiter Station

Subject: Re: Re: High Treason


PS: I forgive you (since you were at least discrete enough not to mention the Sullivan problem to the Guinness reps). Don't do it again though or I'll sic B'Elanna on you.



Day 110

Tom looked at Harry over his mug of piping hot tea. The small cafeteria at the back of the James T. Kirk Centre seemed incapable of replicating a decent cup of coffee, but for some obscure reason managed a palatable Earl Grey.

The two friends were sitting in a quiet corner. Tom had picked a seat near the fire exit, with his back to the wall, from which he could oversee all the comings and goings in the room. His peculiarity when it came to choosing a seat – which extended to waiting until the right table became available, or refusing to enter an establishment altogether if nothing suited him - had come in handy once or twice in the rougher space stations in the Delta Quadrant. Here, in a light-flooded cafeteria filled with Starfleet's finest, Tom's pickiness seemed a tad silly, but Harry had stopped commenting on it when their proximity to an escape route had saved their lives on Akritiri.

"So, Har, how does your mom feel about you getting back to work?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "She made a show of being unhappy, but truth be told, I think the reality of having me around the house all the time, after seven years, was a bit more 'real' than she had figured. Also, Libby hinted that I was starting to go round the bend; she never would have believed just me, I don't think."

Tom chuckled. "Glad to hear you'll be getting back into things. You'll like the new Ops Centre when you get there for your brush-up. They have stuff there that'll make you drool."

Harry's first step back into Fleet life would be a two-month familiarization period, to enable him to catch up on various systems advances and changes to protocol implemented by Starfleet while Voyager was lost in the Delta Quadrant. Tom had recommended that he ask for the training as soon as he had encountered some of the changes in one of his tactical courses. For an ops officer, even one as intuitive and brilliant as Harry, familiarity with the new systems would be critical.

"Actually, once you get into it, I'd like your opinion whether the new sensor modules they've developed could be linked BOTH into helm control AND weapons systems. A direct interface could speed up combat reaction time hugely."

Tom paused briefly for a sip of tea, and explained, "Tuvok and I had a pretty good tag team thing going between flying, positioning and targeting, but the point is we were playing tag, and not everyone at tactical is as good as Tuvok at picking off opportunities. Half a second lag time can be critical in a fight. The interlink idea is something I've been playing with in one of my courses, but I have a feeling the instructor thinks I'm nuts and thinking too much like a pilot or something. So I could use some help convincing them. I'd like to try it out, but I need access to the equipment."

Harry listened to the torrent of words and stared at Tom in wonder. "Who are you, and what have you done with my best friend? You being possessed again?"

Tom chuckled ruefully. "Sorry, getting carried away. But let's chat when you get settled in over there, ok?" Harry nodded, and they settled into one of their regular catching up sessions. 'Touching feelers,' Tom called it. B'Elanna, less charitably, referred to it as a 'gossip fest'.

"You'll never believe who I ran into on my way over here," said Harry. "Chakotay and Seven! He was in civvies, she in her shiny blue cadet uniform." Tom grinned and waggled his eyebrows. "Yeah, I've seen her in that – makes you miss that cat suit … Don't tell B'Elanna I said that?"

To Harry, his former shipmates had appeared happy as clams, Chakotay all relaxed and professorial looking, Seven wearing a genuine smile. "He told me his first public lecture is next week, at the Institute for Xeno-anthropology. I think the topic's something like 'The Hirogen: A Culture of Hunters and Warriors'."

"Ewww," Tom shuddered. "I think I'll give it a miss. I saw that one live, and got all the Hirogen culture I can handle in this lifetime, thank you very much." Harry nodded in sympathetic agreement.

"The two of them make a cute couple though," he noted. "Too bad the betting pool is no more ..."

"Speaking of happy couples," Tom chipped in. "The Captain – Admiral Janeway, that is – came by to guest lecture for our Borg module earlier this week. She and Picard were comparing notes on assimilation experiences. They practically threw green sparks off each other!" He smiled at the memory of the two legendary captains topping each other's insights as if they were in a competition.

"We had coffee after; she still slugs the stuff back like there's no tomorrow. When I told her that it wasn't good for her, she gave me the Janeway Death Glare and suggested I drop the medical training, it was turning me into the Doc. "

Harry looked at his friend thoughtfully. Tom was definitely turning into something; what that was, he wasn't entirely sure yet. But as long as the old Paris humour and irreverence remained intact, he could adjust.

A dark-haired, mustachioed man in his late thirties, dressed like Tom in civilian clothing and without rank insignia, chose that moment to approach their table. "Hey Paris," he said jovially. "Hope I'm not interrupting, but I just wanted to say congrats!"

"For what?" Tom looked at him with genuine confusion, then remembered introductions were in order. "Sorry, Harry - this is Jarod Tervellyan, one of my classmates here at Jim Kirk. Jarod, Harry Kim."

"Ah, Tom's friend from Voyager," Tervellyan smiled broadly. "Maybe the congrats concern you, too?" Tom raised a questioning eyebrow. "Please, do enlighten us, Jarod?"

Jarod pulled up a chair, when they nodded their invitation to him. "Sorry – I thought you knew… Starfleet just announced that they've picked the Delta Flyer as the new shuttle standard, to replace the old Class IV and V scrap buckets. No one told you? I thought the Voyager crew created it and you'd all know."

Tom and Harry looked at each other. Tom's face became unreadable, as it usually did when he needed time to sort out new information.

"Actually, Tom's the one who designed it," Harry told Tervellyan. "Me and a couple others just helped him build it. Hey, just think, Tom, hundreds of pilots will be able to curse that ridiculous Protonesque console of yours every day!"

Jarod looked at Tom thoughtfully. The guy was full of surprises. Now he was a shuttle designer as well? "Is there anything you don't do, Paris?" he asked. Harry chuckled. "Yeah, he sucks at temporal dynamics, and I'm told he's no good at hunting spiders." Tom rolled his eyes.

Jarod smiled obligingly, but was not so easily distracted from what he had just learned. Before he was drafted into the training programme at the Kirk Centre he had been in engineering, and his first love had been propulsion systems. He smelled a kindred spirit.

"So, Paris, you design the whole thing? Hull, ops and propulsion systems, nav, tactical, defense?"

Tom demurred, refusing to take credit he felt should be shared. "Actually, my wife helped with the thruster specs, Seven of Nine added some modifications to the weapons system, and the shielding I adapted based on something our Tactical Officer had come up with for an atmospheric probe. But yeah, most of the rest of it I kind of made up myself." He flashed a grin. "Especially the console Harry likes so much. The definitive Paris touch."

Jarod whistled silently. "Holy shit. That's pretty impressive. Anyway, I hear Utopia Planitia has been contracted to build 500 Flyers. No need to putz with prototypes since they already have yours, so they're going straight into production."

Tom's eyes narrowed. "Did you say Utopia Planitia?"

"Yeah, why? "

"Don't they just build the big fleet ships?" Harry asked.

"They used to, but just after the Cardassian peace treaty they started a shuttlecraft division, private money. Some politicians with potfuls of money and inside knowledge where to invest it. The Fleet wasn't doing so well and they picked up a lot of business pretty quickly, what with all the losses we suffered during the Dominion War. Guess you guys still have some gaps to fill, eh."

He paused, looking thoughtful. "Someone's going to get rich – sorry it won't be you! Too bad Starfleet officers don't own the bright ideas they come up with in the line of duty."

Harry looked at Tom, watched the familiar tightness descend around his mouth and his eyes turn to blue steel.

"So that's what those jerks were doing on Voyager," Tom growled. "My Dad said Burton and Chomyn were onboard the other day. He refused to meet with them, so didn't know exactly why they were there."

Jarod looked confused for a second, then enlightenment dawned in his eyes. "Ah yes, those guys are particular friends of your family, aren't they. Ouch."

Tom remained silent, his hand tight around his teacup, his face a study in barely banked fury and concentration. Jarod was taken slightly aback. This was not the same easy-going, fun-loving officer he had gotten to know and like; this looked like someone you didn't want to cross in a fight. He filed that information for future reference.

Suddenly, Tom took a sip of his nearly cold tea and set the cup down with a sharp rap. He turned to Tervellyan. "Jarod, what did you say again – 'Starfleet officers don't own the bright ideas they come up with…"

"… in the line of duty? Yeah. I worked with Geordi LaForge on the Enterprise for a bit, and he came up with all sorts of gadgets. Couldn't patent any of them – shame really, because he'd never have to work again. Be able to buy his own ship with the patents alone, never mind licensing royalties."

Tom looked thoughtfully at Harry - or rather through Harry - his lips pursed in calculation. Harry recognized the look; his friend was chewing on an idea. He sat back, willing Jarod into silence with a quick frown, and waited for whatever would come next.

"Starfleet officers in the line of duty." Tom repeated. The fury had left his eyes, and a lopsided grin spread slowly across his face.

"Buster, get ready for a new chapter in our lives: Captain Proton's Revenge on the Corporation of Evil."

Two pairs of eyes stared at Tom in bewilderment. "Care to elaborate?" Harry asked.

Tom was beginning to enjoy himself. "Jarod, what's the Jim Kirk mantra?" Jarod, even more puzzled than Harry, quoted, "Battles are won on many fronts. Weapons come in many shapes. Make your own."

"Right you are. So here's a toast to bureaucracy, the weapon of choice for the Delta Quadrant defense force." With these enigmatic words, Tom lifted his teacup and drained it, before letting his friends in on his plan.


Day 127

There were many boardrooms at Starfleet Command Headquarters, but none as deliberately daunting as the one attached to Admiral Nacheyev's office. Designed to receive emissaries from far-flung worlds and impress them with the might of the Federation's military arm, it boasted genuine wood paneling and an enormous table whose top was carved from a single slab of a fallen Cygnian Redwood. The chairs were of a Betazoid design that ceased to be comfortable after almost exactly an hour - the maximum amount of time the busy Admiral was willing to devote to any given individual, regardless of rank and importance.

The walls were adorned with holographic images of spacecraft from the Federation's history, and Starfleet's finest vessels. Captain James T. Kirk's Enterprise, NCC-1701, held pride of place, next to Zephram Cochrane's Phoenix.

Eric Henderson sat in one of these chairs now, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter. He was picturing an image of the Delta Flyer on that wall, with a little plaque, something to the effect of "Pissed off Pilot's Patented Payback". Hell, there was no graceful way out if this one, so he may as well laugh about it.

Admiral Nacheyev glared icily at her chief of communications from the head of the table. "Care to share the joke, Mr. Henderson?"

Eric cleared his throat and shook his head, trying his best to control himself. He looked at the stern Fleet brass around the table, whose carefully schooled faces were enough to make anyone sober up, and at the PADD in front of him. "Thomas Eugene Paris et al vs Utopia Planitia (Shuttlecraft Division)."A patent case – quite possibly one of the most boring things in the world. Eric suppressed another giggle.

Nacheyev called the meeting to order. "Colleagues, thank you for coming. I'll keep this brief. Utopia Planitia's Shuttlecraft Division has asked Starfleet to intervene on its behalf in a law suit brought by one of our officers, Lieutenant Commander Paris, his wife, Lieutenant Torres, and a Senior Cadet at the Academy, Annika Hansen. The Federation Patent Office awarded them patent rights to a number of items related to the Delta Flyer, the shuttle chosen a few weeks ago by all of us here as the new standard runabout for the Fleet."

Eric stared at the list of items subject to the patent ruling; technobabble was not his forte, but it sure looked impressive. External tetrabyrnium hull; retractable warp nacelles; internal and command station layout; specialized helm control system design, configuration and circuitry model "Proton ™"; integrated photonic weapons and delivery systems; retractable impulse thrusters. Not to mention that it was one of the sleekest looking rides Eric had ever seen. He idly wondered whether it would be available commercially (minus the military hardware, of course).

Nacheyev looked at Admiral Picard, who seemed to share Eric's amusement. "I believe Mr. Paris is now one of your students, Jean-Luc, isn't that right?" Picard inclined his head in acknowledgement.

"That he is," he said with something resembling pride. "Top of his class, too. And I should mention – I'm thinking of giving him credit for this little project. The law suit, I mean. Sheer genius."

Nacheyev glared at him, although for a second Eric could have sworn there was a twinkle in her eyes. Nah. Couldn't be. Must have been a reflection.

"Well, it looks like Jean-Luc's … genius … has succeeded in convincing the Patent Office that, thanks to the regulation which prevented Starfleet from accepting his and his wife's field commissions until after Voyager's return, Starfleet cannot lay claim to any inventions they made while they were in the Delta Quadrant. As the argument went, they weren't officers at the material time. Neither, of course, was the former Borg who helped them, Seven of Nine, now Cadet Hansen."

Eric revised the title for his imaginary little plaque for the Flyer. "The Shuttle That Hoist Bureaucracy By Its Own Petard" had a nice ring to it. He started doodling on his PADD.

Nacheyev continued. "Utopia Planitia now faces the prospect of having to pay out a substantial part of their earnings as compensation to the patent holders – something they would not have to do if Starfleet owned the designs. Simply put, they want us to declare that we applied our regulations incorrectly."

Admiral Bullock cleared his throat. "Of course, many of us felt that those regulations were applied too rigorously at the time, thanks to pressure brought by folks in the Federation Council. I seem to recall they didn't 'want to be seen to be playing favourites'. Giving those two their commissions as of the time they were actually awarded to them would be doing the right thing, wouldn't it?" A couple of the other admirals nodded their agreement.

Eric stopped doodling. Something nagged at the back of his mind. He punched a few commands into his PADD, linked it into his office database, and called up a press release. He motioned for the floor, which Nacheyev granted with a raised eyebrow. Her comms officer normally did not speak at these meetings; he was there to follow the debate so that he could provide the appropriate nuancing to any messages on decisions that were made in the room.

"This is from the Federation Council's press release, following the Maquis decision." No need to specify which decision that was, in this forum. "The release announcing the resignation of the two councilors who had pushed the Cardassian treaty."

Eric started to read from his PADD. "… the forthcoming investigation into the conduct of the former councilors Burton and Chomyn is not linked in any way to the Utopia Planitia consortium (shuttlecraft division), in which they hold shares, nor to any current contracts awarded to that company by the Federation."

He looked up, in time to watch Picard's grin widen. And was that another gleam in Nacheyev's eyes? Why did he have the sudden feeling that he wasn't telling these two anything they didn't already know?

There was some muttering around the table as understanding dawned in the other admirals: This was not a get-rich-quick scheme by Starfleet malcontents. This was payback. And certainly not aimed at the Fleet. A couple more smiles broke out.

Bullock spoke again, carefully weighing his words. "If I get this right, the Fleet doesn't lose anything if we don't intervene, and we don't gain anything if we do?"

Nacheyev nodded, and gave one of her brief, tight smiles. "That's right. The obligation to pay any patent holders rests with the company. The JAG also advises that the three … claimants are not interested in personal gain; they have filed with the Court a direction to sign over any proceeds from this lawsuit and any future licensing of the Flyer and its components to the Restoration Fund." She paused, as was her habit, for effect. "The donation is specifically targeted to assisting displaced colonists from the DMZ who wish to return to their homes."

She let that sink in and added, "The way I see it, Starfleet must stand by its rules. Of course, if the rules are flawed, they can and must be changed. Mr. Henderson – what messages do we send the public if we change them … retroactively at this stage?"

Eric thought quickly, and counted down his fingers. "One – Starfleet messed up. Two – Starfleet changes the rules when asked to do so by powerful people. Three – Starfleet supports Chomyn and Burton."

Nacheyev looked pleased, albeit in a slightly sour way. "And what messages do we want to send? Mr. Henderson?"

Eric smiled, getting into the game. "One – Starfleet messed up. That one we can't change so let's get points for admitting it. Two - We cannot interfere with the rule of law, and have to stand by the rules as they were. Three – if the law is flawed, it must and will be changed. Four - Starfleet does not take sides in a private lawsuit."

"Excellent, Mr. Henderson." Nacheyev looked around the table. "Any issues with that?" Observing the shaking heads, she said, "Decisions recorded as follows: Starfleet will not intervene in the law suit. Personnel regulations for field commissions to be revised, so as to allow for greater flexibility in the future."

Picard spoke up, deadly serious. "And I suggest the Admiralty send a note of thanks to counsel for Utopia Planitia for pointing out the flaw in our rules, and spurring us on to fix them." Eric almost dropped his PADD in surprise, but recovered quickly. "My office will be happy to draft it, Sir."

Nacheyev smiled her assent and closed the meeting with her usual efficiency, a mere twelve minutes after it had started.

And as she gathered up her PADD, Eric heard Fleet Admiral Nacheyev mutter something under her breath, almost inaudible. He couldn't be sure, of course, but would swear forever after that what he had heard the usually icy Admiral mutter was two words:

"Fuck 'em."


Day 170

"The Enterprise? Congratulations, Harry – that's fantastic!"

Genuine pleasure coloured Tom Paris' voice as he looked at his friend across their habitual table in the Jim Kirk cafeteria. He grinned broadly, toasting him with his mug of Earl Grey. The perfumy flavour was growing on him; it reminded him of Neelix' cooking. In a good way.

He leaned over to finger the solid new pip on Harry's collar. "And a full lieutenancy, too – about bloody time, I say. So, when do you ship out?"

"Well, the Enterprise is coming to dock at McKinley in a couple of weeks. Captain Riker says she'll be there for an upgrade of the sensor system for about a month, so he wants me onboard for that, but we'll be in orbit. After that, who knows. I don't think they have their next mission yet."

Harry took a deep breath. "There's one more thing." Tom looked at him expectantly. "More? As in, good news comes in threes?"

It was Harry's turn to grin broadly. "Yep. Guess what?" Tom shrugged expectantly, although he was beginning to guess.

"Libby and I are getting married!" Harry paused for effect, looking slightly disappointed when Tom's jaw didn't drop. "Hey, can't you at least act surprised?"

Tom had been watching his friend with his lower lip caught between his teeth to stop himself from grinning too broadly. "Harry read-me-like-a-book Kim. The truth was written on your face so long ago, I could practically have booked the hall. But hey – congratulations, buddy. I'm really, really happy for you." He gripped Harry's arm across the table. "So, what made you pop the question? Warp core breach? Mom threatening to redecorate your room?"

Harry snorted. "Basically, I decided I'm not getting onboard another ship without her. Luckily, the Enterprise allows for families. And you know the best thing? Captain Riker's wife has convinced him the ship needs an arts and music teacher to balance out all the science being taught in the onboard school. Libby is meeting with the head teacher tomorrow. It'd be absolutely perfect if it worked out."

Tom shook his head. "My inner cynic tells me it's too perfect, but hey – you guys deserve this. I'm sure she'll get the job. So when's the Big Day?"

Harry beamed at him.

"You free a week Saturday? I'm not wasting time, and I need a best man. Repay the favour?"


Day 182

Since Voyager was currently not in active service, Kathryn Janeway remained on the log as the ship's Captain until such time as she would be formally relieved. As such she was authorized to do what Captains through the ages have been privileged to do: perform weddings onboard ship. When Harry and Libby had asked her to do the honours at theirs, she had been delighted to accept.

It was only her second such ceremony – the first had been the rather impromptu wedding of Tom and B'Elanna. She chuckled to herself as she remembered having to talk them into at least washing the explosive residue out of their hair and putting on clean clothes; having reached their personal epiphany after three years of turbulent courtship they hadn't wanted to wait another second.

She had been given a bit more lead time for this wedding - although not that much, all things considered. After seven years apart and having given up on the idea of ever seeing each other again, Harry and Libby had made up for lost time rather quickly. Harry for his part seemed fiercely determined not to let Libby slip away from him again.

Seeing their happiness so clearly written across the faces of the bride and groom, Kathryn Janeway felt a twinge of regret and envy. Her dead fiancé; Mark; the brief weeks of closeness with Chakotay on New Earth; one other bright, explosive moment of attraction, a collision course she could never admit to but treasured in memory… mere possibilities, lost, surrendered to circumstance.

Children. What kind of mother might she have made – stern and authoritarian? Neurotic and over-protective? Indulgent and forgiving? All of the above? Idle thoughts. Irrelevant, as Seven would say.

Janeway put the smile back on her face and stepped forward.

The Paxau Resort programme was perfect for the simple and informal ceremony - even Harry's mother could not have wished for a better setting. Although the air outside was autumn-chilly and a fog had been rolling in from the Bay since the morning, on Voyager's Holodeck the sun shone as brightly and the breeze was as mild as the programming allowed.

There were beautiful, bizarrely shaped flowers no one from the Alpha Quadrant could have named; holographic servers in colourful sarongs presented guests with delicacies that not only looked exotic, but delivered bursts of flavor that surprised and delighted even Mary Kim's critical palate.

And the best thing – the two-way vidlink to New Talax, hooked into Voyager via the Midas array: B'Elanna's wedding gift to Harry had enabled Neelix to participate in the festivities. Some of the dishes were based on his better recipes, the more to make him feel a part of the day.

Everything was perfect. The words had been spoken. The rings had been exchanged. All the expected tears had been shed and dried. Harry and Libby were husband and wife. The guests were beginning to relax into party mode.

Then why was Harry Kim getting nervous? Why was he looking around as if expecting to see something large, hairy and unpleasant crawling out from under the palm fronds?

At Harry's express request, the Paxau resort had been cleared of its scantily-clad holo-denizens. Even though the buxom beach volleyball babes and muscular masseurs had added considerably to the program's allure during Voyager's long journey, Harry rather thought his bride – not to mention his mother - would fail to appreciate their particular endowments at this joyous but solemn occasion.

But Harry had made one critical mistake. He had left the final configuration of the programme to his Best Man, and it had only just occurred to him that this was foolishness, bordering on recklessness. And so the groom sat at the head table, casting surreptitious glances at Tom Paris, as the latter prepared to deliver the traditional best man's toast.

What would he come up with for his punch line? Satanic Robots and Armies of Evil? Revenge of the macro virus? Harry shuddered.

Tom Paris, wearing his dress uniform rather than the Hawaiian Big Daddy-oh shirt he usually sported in this particular locale, rose gracefully to his feet. His hand held an empty glass, which, ever the traditionalist, he clinked with a spoon to get everyone's attention.

Silence descended as Tom looked around at the expectant faces. Harry braced himself.

"I'm told that as Harry's Best Man, I have to say a few words. Those of you who know me will know how hard that is for me to do." A few snickers went around the room. "But I'll try and keep this short."

"I haven't known Libby in person for very long, but over the last almost eight years I learned a great deal about her. I met her as a memory and a fantasy first, and even though we only met face-to-face a few weeks ago, it seems like we have known each other for a very long time." Libby beamed back at him at these words, and nodded enthusiastically. She and Tom had hit it off extremely well, especially when she disclosed that she had done her Masters' thesis on 20th century cartoon art.

"And Harry, let me tell you – you were right. So very right. She's The One for you, and I am glad you two finally found each other. Don't ever let go."

Harry breathed a secret sigh of relief. Tom was taking the high road, didn't mention the old line about the Borg, the hologram, the dead girl, the terrorist … . He relaxed and listened to his best friend, so unexpectedly serious and sincere.

"Libby – you probably already know this, but you could not find a better man, not on this world, or any other. You and many others who are here today have missed much of the last few years in Harry's life, so let me fill you in and tell you a bit about the man he has become, and about the best friend I ever had."

"Harry Kim is a man who takes chances on lost souls and helps them find their way back. I know this better than anyone. When Captain, now Admiral, Janeway took a chance on me after I'd done my very best to toss my life down the drain, Harry Kim offered friendship and acceptance before anyone else. 'I don't need anyone to pick my friends for me', he said to me, and those words, more than anything, let the light back into some very dark places in my heart."

"Libby, the man you married today will stand by you, no matter what people say, and give you comfort when you think there is none to be found."

Tom, not normally given to exposing his soul to an audience, paused for a moment to take a sip of water and collect himself. His light tenor voice, slightly husky now, had captivated all present and the silence in the resort was absolute.

He continued, his glittering eyes resting on Harry. "Harry Kim is a friend who will not leave your side, even in the face of certain death. To the end of my days I will remember him staring down a group of crazed and desperate men, armed with nothing but the words 'This man is my friend. No one touches him.' I stand here before you today because of Harry Kim's bravery."

"Libby, the man you married today will give his life to keep you and your family safe. You can count on that."

Tom paused briefly, flashing a smile to signal a change in tone.

"He'll also be brutally honest with you when you need a verbal slap in the face. No one, not even my wife – then my girlfriend – had the guts to tell me I was getting fat halfway through our trip. Harry did, and if I stand before you today a shadow of the self I became during our fourth year of our journey, it was because of what he said while we were clambering over some rocks in an environmental suit – 'Paris,' he said, cruelly but truthfully, 'you're out of shape. Start bicycling.'"

"I'm not sure what that means for you in the long run, Libby, but let's just say B'Elanna appreciated his honesty and advice more than I did at the time."

People laughed as B'Elanna raised her glass to Harry in a silent toast.

"Of course, on a seven-year mission, chances are you need to be rescued as often as you get to play the hero. There were a number of occasions in which we got to extricate Harry from … certain spectacular Delta Quadrant complications, holographic calamities, slimy things you don't want to know or think about. Libby, I am happy to report that the man you married today will at all times be as gracious in defeat as he is in victory, and will pick himself up off the floor laughing every time."

Tom now smiled broadly, his blue eyes fixing on Harry's dark brown ones with a distinctly impish gleam. Harry's heart, which had been deeply touched by Tom's earlier words, sank into his Starfleet-issue socks.

Tom lifted his empty glass again. "And while we're talking about spectacular holographic complications ... I can't in good conscience raise a glass to Harry and Libby without something inside to seal the toast with." He paused for effect, winked at Harry.

"Danuta, if you please?"

One of the Delaney sisters let out a scandalized little gasp, the other giggled.

Danuta, whose last name was lost to the murky recesses of sports history, Captain of the gold-medal winning Hungarian beach volleyball team of 2216. Harry's own highly decorative addition to the Paxau resort, lovingly rendered, as Tom had been fond of saying, not so much in 3-D as in Triple-D.

Oh no, no he wouldn't, Harry thought, desperately. Would he? Of course he would, this was Tom Paris …

Harry cast an appealing look at his Best Man, knowing it would do him absolutely no good whatsoever.

Tom snapped his fingers.

Harry blanched.

Danuta appeared with a bottle of pink champagne – a flash of expansive flesh, the deepest cleavage in the Delta or any other Quadrant, all brilliant teeth and golden hair, her assets bouncing as she stepped up and bent delicately forward to fill Tom's glass.

Then, before anyone could look too deeply down her valley of delight, her itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny yellow polka-dot bikini morphed into a demure navy sailor suit, complete with cap and white bobby socks; her blonde mane coiled into a severe bun; and her considerable endowments visibly strained under a white-and-navy-blue shirt buttoned (with some gaps showing) high up to her creamy neck. She filled Tom's glass, batted her eyelashes at Harry, pouted a throaty "Congratulations, Harry dear, and Libby daaarling" in their direction, blew them a kiss, jiggled her assets and vanished in a puff of … pink carnations and red hearts.

The momentary silence was broken by Mrs. Kim, who said "My, what a lovely and polite young lady! Why did you not introduce us before?"

Harry snorted back a sound that was a mixture of laughter and relief that things weren't worse, and resolved not to look at his bride, who was giving him a quizzical look. The knowing snickers and guffaws from those of Voyager's crewmembers present for the occasion resolved into heartfelt applause as Tom raised his glass and pronounced the toast.

"To Harry and Libby. A lifetime of happiness, wherever you will find yourselves."

An hour later, Admiral Kathryn Janeway moved among the guests, her smiling face hiding the slight wistfulness she still felt. She looked around as the holographic band struck up another dance.

From the head table, Tom Paris led his wife to the dance floor. He looked good, the regimen at Jim Kirk having melted away all the sympathy pounds he had gained during B'Elanna's pregnancy, notwithstanding Harry's earlier intervention. Occasional weight fluctuations not withstanding, Kathryn had always secretly admired the athletic poise with which her helmsman carried himself, whether wheeling around the conn or exchanging phaser fire with alien intruders on the bridge. B'Elanna, for her part, looked like she had never given birth. As slender and muscular as ever, she moved with a feline grace - a mixture of raw beauty and readiness to strike.

Together, they were breathtaking.

Janeway had watched them dance before only once or twice, on the rare occasions when Voyager's Holodeck had been transformed into a dance hall for a moral-building event or other. Despite their height difference, the couple moved as if held together by invisible strings - his fingertips directing her as subtly and surely as they had Voyager's helm, her body leaning into his or swinging away from him as if she were exempt from the pull of gravity. The electricity between them was palpable, crackling with sexual tension and promise. Totally absorbed in one another, they did not notice how the other dancers gave them the space to weave their personal spell.

But what struck Janeway most was the easy confidence they projected. Voyager's most troubled souls at the start of the journey, surrounded by walls so high they could seemingly never be breached, now moved freely and assuredly, secure in each other, in their future and in their place in the world.

Janeway sighed indulgently if somewhat enviously, and looked around at the other dancers and the small groups of people in smiling conversation. Tom Paris, B'Elanna Torres, Harry Kim, Naomi Wildman, Seven of Nine, Chakotay, Icheb, the Delaneys.

Face upon familiar face, here on Voyager – in the Alpha Quadrant. Home.

And for a brief moment she allowed herself a moment of pride in their accomplishment, and her role in it.

These were her children. Her family. Her legacy.

Kathryn Janeway smiled.



Day 246

"I can't believe it. " Tom shook his head as he watched his daughter toddle from the chair he was perched on to where B'Elanna was holding out her arms. "She's barely nine months old and she's walking. Next thing we know, she'll be piloting a shuttlecraft."

"You wish, flyboy!" his wife said as she ruffled Miral's hair and turned her around. "She'll be crawling through Jeffries tubes first." The exchange was a familiar one between the two of them, and they smiled at each other over their little girl's earnest efforts to remain upright.

Miral cooed in delight and headed back towards him, arms flailing a bit. Clutching at Tom's knees when she got there, she looked up at him with sparkling blue eyes so like his own, held out her chubby little arms and said "Da-da!" He picked her up and swung her to his chest, giving her a proud hug and a kiss on her dark, thick curls.

"Time to go, munchkin. Let's go watch Mommy get her pip. And don't you even think about swallowing this one. She worked hard for it." He settled Miral against his shoulder.

He gave B'Elanna a quick reassuring kiss, knowing how much she hated the kind of event that was about to take place, and how she loathed being the centre of attention. "See you in a few minutes, Bee. Hang tough."

The graduation ceremony was small and private, given B'Elanna's unique position within the Engineering faculty. Her "programme" had been specially designed for her by the Faculty's head, Commander Sanderson, and she had completed the assigned elements far ahead of schedule. Once she had done so, the Faculty had seen no need to delay the awarding of her academy credentials until the formal spring ceremony.

The promotion to Lieutenant Commander at the same time – at his recommendation, seconded by Admiral Janeway and agreed by the same 'special panel' that had conferred the third pip on Tom - had come as a pleasant surprise.

Tom carried Miral into the small room, ordinarily the conference room for the head of the Engineering faculty, where a couple of rows of chairs had been set up. His parents were already seated and had saved him a place in the front row. He nodded his thanks as Miral excitedly pointed at her beloved "g'amma".

A small number of B'Elanna's engineering staff from Voyager were present, as well as a dark-haired man in civilian clothing who fidgeted in his seat, seemingly unsure of his welcome. Tom hesitated a little, then went over to him. Feeling a bit guilty – but only a bit - about using his baby daughter as an ice breaker, he said softly, "Say hi to Grandpa John, munchkin."

John Torres looked up at the tall pilot and the little girl, who hid her face in her father's shoulder when he stood up to greet them. Tom smiled. "Don't take it personally, John. She's going through a very un-Klingon like shy phase." Then, seeking to relieve the other man's unease, Tom added, "B'Elanna will be happy that you could make it. I know I am. Come, let me introduce you to my parents."


Commander John Sanderson beamed broadly as he summarized B'Elanna's outstanding engineering achievements, and outlined how those had permitted the Academy to credit her with the two years that were missing from her record. He described the work she had done with the faculty's top talent, cataloguing and reconstructing an astonishing number of technological advances and jury-rigged alternatives, all of which would be integrated into the curriculum in the coming years. B'Elanna shifted her weight uncomfortably from one foot to the other during his speech, clearly embarrassed by the praise.

Then, with a mischievous grin, he added, "And, last but not least, we know that together with her husband and Cadet Hansen – another rising star in the engineering world, even if she seems to prefer astrophysics – B'Elanna Torres is responsible for Starfleet's latest major acquisition, our new fleet of Delta Flyer shuttlecraft." He nodded and winked at Tom who returned his smile.

"For all these outstanding achievements, I am pleased to award Starfleet Academy's Engineering Diploma First Class to Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres. And, as soon as she takes it from me …" he handed the little old-fashioned scroll to B'Elanna, "I will be in a position to confirm her promotion to Lieutenant Commander."

Still beaming, he fastened the additional pip on B'Elanna's collar and shook her hand enthusiastically. The room erupted in applause as B'Elanna tried not to look too embarrassed, or too pleased. She cast her eyes around the room, fastening them first on Tom, who gave her an encouraging nod and a wink, then on her father.

John Torres and his daughter looked at each other for a few long seconds, until she broke into a broad, happy smile that he was only too happy to echo.

Tom knew what needed to be done, and did it. "Champagne anyone?" He handed Miral off to her startled grandfather and headed to the corner of the room where half a dozen bottles and a number of glasses had been set up.

As he handed a glass to B'Elanna, he kissed her gently on the cheek in congratulations, before whispering into her ear. "Don't forget – I still outrank you."

But before she could glare at him, he gave her ear a quick flick of his tongue and added, in his most sensuous, husky drawl, "But tonight you get to call the shots anyway, Commander."

For a long second B'Elanna lost herself in her mate's bright blue eyes, which held hers with such a mixture of pride, love and desire that it threatened to take her breath away. The room, the other guests disappeared as the couple's unspoken messages to each other flickered back and forth.

The connection between true mates that B'Elanna's mother had always spoken of, and she had always derided as so much Klingon claptrap, had not come overnight; there was too much fear, too many barriers, and too many scars to readily allow the opening of the soul necessary for the bond to take hold. But it was there now, first manifest when they turned to each other instinctively even after their memories had been wiped clear by ruthless entrepreneurs in search of a work force. Moments like this were the reward for those times when one of them had been ready to give up on the other, but in the end did not. Tom softly kissed her on the lips.

Someone, probably his father, cleared their throat and broke the spell.

Tom broke the connection regretfully, but immediately became mindful of his hosting duties. While B'Elanna turned to retrieve a squirming Miral from her father, Tom poured glasses of champagne for the other guests, with help from Sue Nicoletti.

"So, what's next for you guys?" she asked, not having had the chance for too many direct chats with her erstwhile shipmates. Sue had remained in Starfleet but had opted for an assignment on Earth for the time being, with one of the research facilities working on decoding, and developing a way to mass-produce, the futuristic ablative armour with which Voyager had returned from the Delta Quadrant. Some of the elements of the armour were based on technologies that had not been developed yet, and hence were difficult to replicate successfully on a bigger scale.

Tom shrugged. "We stay put for now," he said. "I won't be done at Jim Kirk for another three months, and B'Elanna has more than enough on her plate with the Engineering Corps here to keep her occupied for a while. They're happy to keep her as long as she wants to stay. As soon as I'm done with my programme, we're open to offers."

"You considering a space assignment at all?" Sue asked. "Knowing you, you must be dying to get back to the conn."

Tom laughed. "Yes to the first. But as to the second, I'm actually doing quite a fair bit of flying these days, although mostly when I'm off duty." He knew he wasn't really answering her question, but he wasn't sure whether he was ready to admit to the possibility that he may just be willing to move beyond the helm. It was a realization he had only recently begun to examine for himself. Luckily, Sue was easily distracted.

"So where and what do you fly then? Don't they keep you busy with … whatever it is they train people to do there at Jim Kirk?"

Tom smiled mischievously, glad his little ploy had worked. "Believe it or not – I'm piloting the Flyer. I'm working on a tactical system that links up to both sensors and helm. Harry's been helping me install it in the Flyer. I may try and submit it for credit to Jim Kirk, or just give it to the Starfleet systems geeks to play with, but until I get it to work reliably I've been using the Flyer to test it out just for myself in my spare time."

"The Flyer? In your spare time?" Sue swallowed. Unbidden memories of Tom being charged with unauthorized use of a shuttlecraft rose to the surface of her eminently practical brain. "How'd you manage to get permission for that? Doesn't she belong to … "

Tom grinned. "Nope," he said. "She's mine. Part of the settlement with Utopia Planitia. We came to an agreement on the licensing for all the patents we held, and they pumped a fortune into the Restoration Fund. But once they got over the ignominy of it all, and thanks to the best damn lawyer in the quadrant, they offered a side deal to throw in the prototype that Starfleet had given them as part of their purchasing arrangement, in exchange for my training sims for the Proton console. So there it is. My very own Flyer, souvenir from the Delta Quadrant. Been thinking about renaming her Poetic Justice."

He bowed his head and whispered conspiratorially in Sue's ear. "B'Elanna is getting jealous."

Sue shook her head enviously. "Wow. That is so … cool. Well, not the making B'Elanna jealous bit, of course," she added out of loyalty to her former boss. "I thought you'd given up affairs with strange ships?" They drifted away, laughing, to chat to some of the other guests.

John Torres looked at his daughter. They had met a few times since Voyager's return from the Delta Quadrant, but a certain awkwardness lingered between them. "Your mother would have been proud," he said softly.

B'Elanna looked at him, speculatively. "Are you sure?" she said. "She wasn't too happy when I went to the academy."

John nodded. "True," he conceded, "but she valued people who stuck things out and followed through with their dreams. And you didn't take the easy route, either; she would have approved of your tenacity."

B'Elanna smiled wistfully. "Thanks, Dad. And … thanks for coming. It means a lot."

John looked at her, wanting to take his daughter in his arms, uncertain how she might react to the physical contact. "I couldn't stay away. Now that … I've found you again I want to be part of your life. I don't ever want to let go. You have to believe that."

B'Elanna looked at him with utmost seriousness, studied his pleading eyes. A decision made, she set down her glass and gave him a fierce hug that brought tears to both their eyes.

"I do, Daddy. I do."


Day 326

"So why exactly are we having dinner with these people again?", B'Elanna asked Tom as she was furiously trying to run a brush through her thick hair in front of the mirror of their San Francisco apartment. "We've never met them before, they don't know us, and I am never going to put that stupid braid in my hair ever again after tonight."

Seizing on the non sequitur as the easiest way to address B'Elanna's little outburst, her patient spouse explained, "But I like that braid. You wore it only once, on Voyager, and it just about made me want to jump you right there in the mess hall. Please, Bee?"

B'Elanna gave him her patented glare, but was betrayed by the corners of her mouth, which insisted on quirking up at the little-boy-wheedling note in her husband's voice.

"Fine. But you still haven't answered my question."

"Okay. The simple answer is, I don't know. Apparently Admiral Picard suggested it to Captain Riker; they were on the Enterprise together for something like an eternity before Riker finally accepted his own command. Maybe he thinks we've got something in common – I hear Riker is quite a poker player and likes seedy bars."

Tom straightened the black vest he was wearing over his shirt, and gave himself an appraising look in the mirror. Not bad – his weight was back down, and he was planning on keeping it off this time.

"And besides, his wife is the same counselor who kept Reg Barclay sane – okay, sort of sane – while he was working on the Pathfinder project. So we owe her, at the very least. In fact I'm looking forward to meeting her. She's half Betazoid."

B'Elanna rolled her eyes. "How could I forget – warm and sensual, right?"

Tom snorted. "No, that's not it. Okay, that's not all of it. Harry says she's the one who started the arts and music programme on the Enterprise, the one Libby is now running. Anyone who understands that there's more to growing up in Starfleet than learning how to push console panels and memorize technical specs is my kind of people."

Having been forced throughout his childhood to suppress his wildly unpredictable creative urges in favour of scientific and technical excellence, Tom was a firm believer in allowing children to explore their artistic side. It all came down to having choices, and for a child never to be allowed to explore all that was available before deciding on his or her path to him was tantamount to child abuse.

B'Elanna sighed her acceptance. She had finally succeeded in straightening her hair sufficiently to create the single small braid that Tom recalled with such puzzling clarity and fond nostalgia. "What do you think?" she asked, turning her head this way and that, critically studying the effect and getting used to the feeling and the weight of the braid in her hair.

Tom came up behind her, wrapping his armed around her from behind. He planted a tender kiss on her head. "It looks great. Very sexy. Downright seductive," he mumbled into her hair. "In fact," his long fingers began to work their way under the straps of the blue dress he liked so much, "I'm beginning to wonder whether dinner was such a good idea."

He caressed the soft swell of her breasts with both hands, slowly worming his way into her bra to tease her nipples. B'Elanna leaned back, closed her eyes and started to purr. If the braid was going to have this kind of effect on her mate every time, she would be happy to suffer through a little brushing more often.

Tom was just starting to nuzzle her neck with an open-mouthed kiss when the door chimed.

"Oh bother," he said, quoting the furry hero of a story he had read to Miral earlier. He removed his hands from their delicious location and straightened reluctantly. "Come in!"

The door whooshed open and admitted the EMH, his portable emitter shimmering in his sleeve. "We're just getting ready, Doc," Tom said, his voice just a touch husky. He cleared his throat. Good thing the Doc didn't have a tricorder in his hand, or he would doubtless have commented on the hormone levels in the apartment.

"Make yourself at home. Miral is asleep now, but that probably won't last long; she's teething again, I'm afraid. Hope your voice is in good shape?"

The Doc, immensely proud of his status as godfather, had eagerly volunteered to babysit at a moment's notice, and they had gladly taken him up on his offer on a number of occasions. Miral seemed able to take the edge off his habitual grumpiness like no other sentient being in the galaxy, and in turn had developed an extraordinary fondness for the singing Doctor. Her pudgy little hands loved to feel his bald head when he sang, a gesture he was not known ever to have tolerated from anyone else.

"My voice? Never better," the Doc replied smugly as he casually inspected his erstwhile crewmates' home. "I see my goddaughter is into building blocks now?" He picked up a handful of soft, rubbery cubes with numbers and letters on them that were littering the living room floor.

B'Elanna came into the room. "I think she's getting a head start on her engineering career." Tom, who had followed her in, dutifully rose to the bait. "A temporary aberration. She's trying to build shuttlecraft, so she can fly like her father." The Doc ignored the familiar argument and headed for the baby's room instead to coo at his godchild.

Since Voyager's return, the EMH's relationship with both Tom and B'Elanna had blossomed into something close to friendship. Miral was the obvious catalyst for his sudden personal interest in the couple, but his former assistant's successful pursuit of an emergency medicine certification had brought about a sea change in the EMH's attitude to Tom. An attitude that was only slightly soured whenever he saw the steady climb of Captain Proton's latest adventures on the holovid bestseller charts, but since Tom never mentioned it directly the Doc mostly refrained from commenting as well.

B'Elanna, having managed to steady her breathing, headed to Miral's room to properly greet the Doc. After the usual exchange of slightly acerbic pleasantries – which included a full-out compliment on her dress and hair that was marred only slightly by the element of surprise the Doc managed to inject into his vocal subroutines – B'Elanna suddenly remembered something.

"Say, Doctor – didn't you meet Deanna Troi during the time you spent at Jupiter Station? What's she like?" The Doc schooled his features into thoughtful remembrance. "Lovely woman, very warm …" "… and sensual?" came Tom's laughing voice from the doorway. The Doc glared at him, while B'Elanna rolled her eyes. "Yes, Mr. Paris, I suppose you could – you would – say that."

"She's also very determined and won't take no for an answer." The Doc harrumphed slightly, not really keen on disclosing Deanna's embarrassing little ploy to get him and Dr. Zimmerman to see past their mutual dislike and cooperate with one another. "I suspect you will like her."

"Good," Tom said, noticing the time. "I think we better get out of here. Thanks again for looking after Miral, Doc. Let me know what we can do to return the favour."

"Nothing at all, Mr. Paris. I enjoy spending time with my goddaughter." He uttered the word with audible pride. "And she appreciates opera, which is more than I can say for most people."

Tom, who knew he was included in the 'most people', grinned and clapped the EMH on the shoulder. "That she does. Just keep it down a little for the neighbours, okay?" He and B'Elanna took turns leaning into the crib and kissing Miral on her forehead, to which she responded with tiny smacking noises before rolling over and sighing contentedly in her sleep.

They headed for the door. "We probably won't be too late, but we both have our comm badges in case …" The Doc sighed in exasperation. "I know the drill. Just go already. We'll be fine."

Tom chuckled and they closed the door behind them, knowing the Doc would get his tricorder out and conduct a complete check-up on his charge as soon as they had left. Just in case they had somehow failed in their parenting.


Will Riker and Deanna Troi had arrived early and had chosen a table outside, given the mild air. As they sat down, Deanna looked at her husband with a stern gleam in her eyes.

"You're really going to keep these poor people in the dark, aren't you." It was a statement, not a question, and laced with a tinge of disapproval.

Riker grinned. "Yep. The Captain said watching Tom Paris on full red alert, with shields up and sensors on maximum range, is an experience I should not deprive myself of. And keeping him guessing is the best way I can figure how to get it."

Even though Jean-Luc Picard was an Admiral now, he would always be 'the Captain' to his former crew, just as Janeway was to hers. "The Captain is pretty clear on the guy's abilities, but says his personality is pretty complex, takes a bit of getting used to, and is something I really need to discover for myself. As for Torres – my mind is already pretty well made up. I know my Klingons. It's him I'm not sure about."

"And you want me to help you." Riker placed his large hand over hers, and looked into her eyes with a soulful expression. "Yes, imzadi. I will be guided by your counsel, as I am in all things." His wife gave a very unlady-like snort and rolled her eyes.

The restaurant Riker had suggested for their dinner was in New Orleans, a quick two-stop transporter ride from Tom and B'Elanna's place in San Francisco. Thanks to the time difference with the Coast it was already dark in Louisiana, and the reproduction gas lamps in the Latin Quarter were weaving a romantic spell over the cobbled streets as they walked the short two blocks from the transporter station.

Tom liked the place on sight – holographic smoke gave it a lived-in feel, which was accentuated by the wooden beams and slightly banged-up tables. The music wafting out of the windows and filling the rooms was mid-20th century jazz, which he himself had popularized among a number of Voyager's crewmembers. Combined with the smell of sizzling steak and seafood the place was as close to perfection as Tom could imagine. Like it was made to appeal to him. So where was the catch?

Tom's arm tightened around B'Elanna's waist, and he took a deep breath, trying hard to hide his own slight unease from his mate. The maître d', in period dress with a white shirt and skinny bow tie, led them into a small cobble-stoned courtyard, dominated by a large tree strung with old-fashioned fairy lights and surrounded by a wrought iron fence. Their hosts rose at their approach.

Tom found himself, for once, confronted with someone his own height, if not taller, and far more massively built. Captain Riker possessed a commanding physical presence even in civilian attire, a presence that was accentuated by his full beard – a rarity in Fleet circles. His broad smile and sparkling blue eyes went some way to dispel the intimidating effect of his appearance, but Tom couldn't help but notice the slight wolfish effect caused by a rather prominent set of canines.

His wife, much smaller than the Captain but built on the voluptuous side, exuded a welcoming warmth that both B'Elanna and Tom found themselves immediately responding to. Clearly intent on setting the younger couple at ease, she made the introductions, establishing the informal tone they clearly intended the evening to have.

"Tom, B'Elanna - I'm Deanna, and this is Will. We're so happy to meet you. Both Jean-Luc and Reg Barclay, and of course your friend Harry Kim, have told us so much about you, I feel I already know you." She smiled broadly, her deep black eyes sparkling with the genuine delight of someone who enjoyed nothing more than meeting new friends.

Riker nodded his own welcome. "Please, have a seat. I hope you didn't have any trouble finding the place?"

Tom, with his practiced social ease, took on the burden of first response. "None at all, thanks," he shook his head. "I've been to this part of New Orleans a few times before during my Academy days, although I admit I must have missed this place. It's got quite an old feel to it – I like it. Thanks for having us, and for choosing this."

Riker nodded. "Yeah, this place is a favourite of mine. They have live music later on, and sometimes they even let me play the trombone with the band. But just wait until you've tried the food; authentic Cajun cuisine, not replicated."

They all took their seats and Riker dispelled the initial awkwardness by pouring the wine that was already on the table. Tom took a sip, swished it around his mouth, and smiled. "Very nice," he said softly, without bothering to pick up the bottle to look at the label. "Californian Cabernet, Napa Valley 2371, if I'm not mistaken. Great with blackened … anything."

Riker's smile widened. The opening salvo had been fired. He was going to enjoy this evening tremendously.

Deanna, noticing how much more ill at ease B'Elanna was than her husband, did her best to draw her into a conversation. "I hear you have a little girl – how old is she?"

The two women quickly established an easy rapport, especially when Deanna mentioned the frustrations her close friend, Geordie LaForge, had expressed at some of Voyager's more exotic modifications. "I think he was ready to flush you out the nearest airlock until he actually met you in person!" she said, with a warm, throaty chuckle to which B'Elanna could not help but respond in kind.

Tom, for his part, decided to opt for a conversational diversion tactic and inquired lightly about Harry's well-being. Riker was pleased to confirm what Tom already suspected, namely that Harry and Libby had found their feet on the Enterprise relatively quickly. Harry in particular appeared to enjoy the Captain's confidence, although Deanna noted that the young couple were taking a bit longer to make friends.

Tom smiled wistfully, recalling a few late-night conversations with Harry on that point. "Yeah, after seven years with the same crew and on the same ship, it isn't easy to shift gears. Many of us have had problems with re-entry. I've been lucky; I'm in a completely different environment at the Academy. Somehow that makes the loss of the familiar easier to bear, I find. And B'Elanna had the opposite – she's been working on Voyager most of the time. But to be back on a Starship where things are close to what you're used to but not quite, must be a little tough. I'm glad Harry has Libby with him."

Will Riker studied his guest surreptitiously over the rim of his wine glass. He hadn't known quite what to expect from Tom Paris, a man whose Starfleet files and reputation were a matter of contradictions and puzzlement. Jean-Luc Picard's assessment of the man and his abilities had been extremely positive, downright glowing, but he had urged Riker to come to his own conclusions.

Now, even though he could certainly sense the wariness behind every word Paris had uttered so far, Riker found himself struck by the genuine fondness in Tom's voice as he spoke of his best friend. He also found himself liking what he saw in those brief glimpses he managed to obtain through the carefully schooled mask. Riker glanced at his wife, who gave him an imperceptible nod and a smile.

The two couples spent the first course in light-hearted if inconsequential discussion of mutual acquaintances, the men's respective fondness for jazz music, the quality of the food being served, and the challenges of deep space missions.

Riker's inquiry about Tom's idea for interfacing helm and tactical controls succeeded momentarily in drawing out his guest's enthusiastic side – until he indicated he might be interested in installing it on the Enterprise. Tom was immediately back on guard. He was not convinced that his system was "ready for prime time", as he put it, although with Harry onboard installation might be possible. "You'd need a good pilot for the shakedown," he said, warily.

Riker pursed his lips, looked at him thoughtfully. "I need more than a good pilot." Then he grinned broadly, with a wicked gleam in his eyes. "At least this little gadget won't be subject to patent claims. Geordi nearly fell out of his chair laughing when he heard what you did to Utopia Planitia. I think he was a bit jealous."

Tom grinned back, albeit a little warily. "No danger of a repeat there. Starfleet has fully embraced all of its black sheep. Probably a ploy to save future hassles."

B'Elanna was content to let her husband do most of the talking, given her natural reticence in social situations like this. Deanna Troi likewise was a natural observer, and most of the banter flowed between the two men.

Finally, even though Tom was actually finding himself enjoying the small talk, he decided to take the bull by the horn. He took a deep sip from his wine glass and looked Riker straight in the eye.

"Captain Riker, I'm really grateful for the opportunity to meet you and Commander Troi, and for Admiral Picard to have made the necessary connections." The sudden formality of address was not lost on his dining companions. "But what I would really like to know is – why exactly are we here?" B'Elanna cast her mate an appreciative glance at his very Klingon approach.

Riker was momentarily non-plussed. He had expected subtle probing, evasive maneuvers, a little verbal sparring; he did not expect a direct frontal assault. His wife and imzadi, acutely aware of his sudden discomfort, gave him an amused and slightly vindictive smile that in turn was not lost on B'Elanna.

Recovering quickly, Riker broke out into a broad grin that displayed his impressive teeth and brought appealing crinkles to his eyes. "Fine, I'll tell you the truth. I was … dying of curiosity. I wanted to meet the woman that drove Geordie LaForge to absolute distraction, and the man who holds Starfleet records for the most commendations, criminal convictions, alien possessions and number of holovids on the Federation Times bestseller list."

Tom flinched a little at this recitation of his achievements, both proud and dubious. He hadn't heard his checkered career put quite into these terms before, although the juxtapositions appealed to his streak of the absurd.

Riker continued, unabashed, but with a bit more of a challenge in his voice. "And I was curious about the pilot who broke all my records in his first year at the Academy."

The Captain's last remark provided the hook for an easy comeback. "Sorry about that," Tom drawled. "But I don't think mine lasted very long either."

Riker snorted. "Yeah, that's because you broke most of them again in your second, third and fourth year on Nova Squad. And those still stand." Tom's interest was peaked.

"Really?" he asked, with genuine surprise. "You're kidding. I had no idea. I just assumed … well, it's been a long time." B'Elanna decided to intervene. "Please tell me you're joking. Flyboy here has enough of an ego on him already." Deanna chuckled appreciatively, but kept silent as she watched the fencing match between the two men continue.

Riker took a slow sip from his glass. "Nope, no joke. I looked it up." Tom was instantly back on guard, and Riker realized he had made a mistake, disclosing the fact that he had done some in-depth research on his dinner guest.

Tom decided to go back into attack mode. "Anything else about me you looked up?" he asked, smiling broadly but with a challenging glint in his eyes.

The Captain of the Enterprise weighed his words carefully, decided on just one. "Monea," he said, softly, looking the younger man straight in the eye.

Both Tom and B'Elanna stiffened at his mention of the ocean world Tom had tried to save from perdition, at the cost of his freedom and his rank. The blue ocean of his dreams that had become a source of infinite regret.

Tom's smile vanished, and his voice turned cool. "And what about Monea?"

Deanna sat back with a gasp as her senses were overwhelmed by a blast of strong and conflicting emotions emanating from the younger man. Sadness, anger, shame, pride, defiance. Something darker, almost claustrophobic. Fear. Walls closing in.

Riker took note of his wife's reaction, would ask her about it later. For now, he focused on the pilot.

"You were right," he said, simply.

Tom blinked. Of all the possible responses, this was not what he expected to hear from the captain of Starfleet's flagship. "Excuse me?" he rasped.

His eyes never leaving Tom's, Riker explained himself. "Admiral Picard asked Reg Barclay to search the coordinates Voyage provided for Monea with the Midas array. We sent signals every day, for thirty days." Tom flinched a little at that, as did B'Elanna. "Nothing came back, not even an echo. The signals went through empty space. But you knew that, didn't you?"

Riker paused, as Tom and B'Elanna looked at each other. Tom pressed his eyes shut for a long moment, the hand holding his glass tightening into a fist, his teeth biting down on his lower lip so hard they drew blood. B'Elanna reached out to him across the table, gently placing her hand onto his, squeezing lightly.

Riker took a sharp breath, looked briefly at Deanna, who was clearly struggling with the onslaught of the feelings coming from both their guests. They hadn't known. Oh, Gods.

Behind Tom's tightly shut eyes flashed images of the beautiful blue world, the enormous waves you could see from space, that made the surface move in a continuous swirl … The spires of the underwater cities, the majesty of the creatures of the deep. He saw Riga, a deeply honourable man who had dared to speak truth to power and was jailed for his audacity. All gone now, dissolved into atoms in space. The sense of loss overwhelmed everything, left him breathless. Tom rose quickly from his seat.

"I'm sorry. I … I need a minute," he choked out and bolted out of the courtyard, B'Elanna hard on his heels.

Deanna glared at her husband. "Was that necessary, imzadi?" she asked in a sharp tone. Riker was unapologetic. "He asked, and he deserved an honest answer. But I thought he knew."

More quietly, he added, "There are still a few people out there who think Tom Paris is a self-absorbed golden boy, without principles to speak of and who cares about nothing than himself. Now I know they couldn't be more wrong. I can't regret that."

A few minutes later, Tom and B'Elanna returned to their seats. B'Elanna, fiercely protective of her mate, directed a hot glare at Riker that reminded him disconcertingly of another Klingon officer of his acquaintance. But before either of them could speak, the Captain held up his hand. "I'm so sorry, Tom, B'Elanna. You shouldn't have learned about Monea this way. I really thought you knew. I wouldn't have mentioned it otherwise."

Tom put his hand on B'Elanna's arm, stilled her even as he drew strength from the touch. "We didn't know. But it's not a surprise, really, just sooner than I would have expected. I'm sorry I ran out like that, it was just … a bit unexpected. Intellectually I've known that it was only a question of time, but I had hoped it would take longer. And part of me had hoped that our calculations were wrong, or that my friend Riga's research would somehow be put to use."

Riker looked at him thoughtfully. "Perhaps I should let this go, let you have some time to absorb what you just learned. But when I said you were right, I didn't mean it in the sense of assessing the danger the planet was in. What I meant to say was - what you tried to do, it would have worked. It would have halted the destruction sufficiently long for the Federation to make contact with the Monean Maritime Supremacy and to offer them incentives, alternative technologies."

Tom's voice was bitter. "And the Prime Directive?" Riker shrugged, seeking and holding Tom's eyes. "Questionable application. Again, you were right. At least in my view. The Moneans were not the original inhabitants of their world, and their exploitation was resulting in the destruction of those species that had lived in the waters long before the Moneans got there. The Prime Directive should not – or in my view, cannot - override the obligation to prevent xenocide. That must be the Prime Directive."

Tom resisted the temptation to laugh hysterically. Hell, he had made his peace with Janeway's response to his transgression years ago, had accepted the futility of what he had tried to do, and now this …

"Not sure those views would get you very far with senior command, Captain."

"They're shared by a growing number of people, you know. Jean-Luc Picard among them. You'll find that since the Dominion War, some of the things we considered to have been carved into stone tablets have faced their share of questions."

Tom's recovery was nearly complete – at least outwardly - and he decided to resort to humour to get the evening back on track. Having trained himself to compartmentalize his feelings from an early age, he would leave processing what he had just learned for later. In the meantime, there were still two courses left to go …

"I should have hired you as my lawyer, when Captain Janeway threw me in the brig." Grateful for the new direction, Deanna chimed in. "Actually, Will isn't half bad as a lawyer. He almost got our friend Data declared a non-sentient machine once …"

The rest of the night was spent in reciprocal reminiscences, story topping unlikely story – laughter, amazement, increasingly wild anecdotes and sarcastic opinions flying back and forth across the table. Even B'Elanna's reticence dissolved and she gave as good as she got, lacing her comments with the acerbic wit that so few people saw and that Tom found so endearing.

By the time dessert was served – Deanna and B'Elanna discovering a shared passion for chocolate mousse – all the initial awkwardness had disappeared. All four officers felt as if they had known one another a long time, and Tom and B'Elanna issued a sincere invitation to the older couple to join them for dinner at their home the next time the Enterprise was in orbit.

It was with mutual regret that they said their goodbyes, and it was only at the second transporter relay station that Tom realized he had never actually gotten a straight answer to his question - why the Captain had asked to meet them in the first place…

He did not have to wait long.


Day 370

The Enterprise's Chief Operations Officer was having lunch with his wife of six months, an activity he enjoyed tremendously. But as he looked around, he could not help feeling a little nostalgic.

Ten-Forward was much bigger than the mess hall on Voyager, and with the replicators in full swing, the food was certainly better and a zillion times more predictable. But Harry couldn't help if – he missed Neelix. The furry, spotty Talaxian may not have been the galaxy's greatest cook, but his presence had infused mealtimes on Voyager with a warmth and personality that Harry missed dearly.

The occasional barkeep, Guinan - who seemed to come and go at a whim of her own - was certainly friendly and wise and all manner of good things, and Libby thought the world of her. But as far as Harry was concerned, she had a touch of Boothby to her, when all he really wanted was Neelix.

Harry sighed, and Libby looked at him with some concern. "Something wrong, sweetheart?" she asked. Harry shook his head.

"Nah – just feeling a bit nostalgic for some reason. I mean, I like the Enterprise, but sometimes I just wish …" he fumbled for words. Libby finished the sentence for him. "That some of your friends from Voyager were onboard?"

Harry looked at her, grateful for her understanding. "Yeah. I mean, Sue Henley is here and Shawn Mulcahy, and a couple of others, but they're not … they're not the people I used to hang out with, you know."

Libby put her hand on his arm in a gesture of comfort. "Don't worry, Harry. It's only been a few weeks. You'll make new friends here, we both will. In fact, there's this really nice couple in Planetary Geology; they have a daughter in my music class …"

For a while they chatted about people they had met, people with – as Libby put it – "friend potential", when Harry suddenly remembered something.

"Our new First Officer is supposed to arrive this afternoon," he told Libby. "The Captain has been keeping fairly closed-mouthed about it – I don't even know whether it's a man or a woman, human or what. I just hope he or she is someone I can work with, not a jerk like the XO we had on Voyager before Chakotay, or a stickler for Protocol like Mulroney. That guy wouldn't have survived a week in the Delta Quadrant."

Ewan Mulroney had served on the Enterprise just over a year, since Riker had taken over from Admiral Picard, and while he was generally a competent officer, he lacked the intellectual flexibility to run a ship that encountered the kinds of missions for which the Enterprise was built. It was widely understood on board that the Captain was not particularly impressed with his Number One. He had fulfilled the role himself for fifteen years and was keenly aware of what it took to do it well, and whatever it was, Mulroney didn't have it.

Rumour was rife that Riker had demanded a replacement; of course, the official version was that Mulroney had asked for a planetary assignment to "spend more time with his family". And so the Enterprise was docked at Deep Space Nine to welcome a new First Officer aboard.

In addition, a couple of months ago the Enterprise's Chief Engineer, Geordie LaForge had been given his own command, on the USS Challenger. Sentiments ran rather high on board ship that he was irreplaceable, and none of he officers that were serving under him wanted to set themselves up for failure by trying to fill his shoes.

Harry had an idea who might be able to do so, but he had kept his views to himself. B'Elanna Torres, the best engineer he had ever seen, seemed content with rearranging the way Starfleet designed its systems from her advisory position with the Academy. So whoever the new Chief would be, Harry would need to establish a new relationship with him or her as well.

Libby laid a comforting hand on Harry's arm. "I'm sure the Captain has picked someone good. He inherited Mulroney from Picard's successor, but now he's got the choice. And knowing Will and Deanna, they'll make it count."

Harry snorted at Libby's offhand mention of "Picard's successor" – it had taken his wife only a few weeks to become completely fluent in Starfleet vernacular. "Picard's successor" was never mentioned by name, presumably because the crew felt that ignoring the woman's existence would somehow erase from the timeline a tenure that had been as disastrous as it was short. Just as Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth had for centuries been referred to only as "the Scottish Play" by superstitious actors, lest plague and pestilence befall them, "Picard's successor" was doomed to enter Starfleet lore without any identity of her own.

Fortunately, Starfleet Command had been quick to recognize that political connections were not as useful to command of the Fleet's flagship vessel as actual ability. Captain Riker was asked to transfer from the USS Titan, "Picard's successor" went into early retirement, and Riker was taking the necessary steps to erase the last remnants of her reign from the ship's systems and the crew's memory.

"What makes you think the Counselor will have input over the Captain's choice of XO?" Harry asked his wife curiously. He had of course had numerous interactions with Deanna Troi and knew the Captain took her advice on most decisions affecting the running of the crew, but part of Harry thought it would be vaguely unfair to engage an empath in something like a job interview. He said so to Libby.

"Besides," he added, "how would you do it? 'Hi I'm Captain Riker, I hope you don't mind that I brought my wife along for the interview?' I don't think so. No, I think the Captain will have to rely on his own judgment."

Harry's comm badge chirped before Libby could answer. "Riker to Kim. Please report to my ready room." Harry looked at his wife. "Sorry, gotta go. See you tonight!"

Libby smiled at him and watched him leave, a little frown creasing her forehead. Some day, hopefully soon, Harry would stop missing his friends and crewmates from Voyager and start his new life on the Enterprise. She gathered their plates and headed for the recycler.


Captain Riker looked up from his desk. "Thanks for coming so quickly, Lieutenant. At ease." He clicked off the screen he had been studying and turned his full attention to his Ops officer.

"Mr. Kim, I'd be grateful if you could welcome our new Chief and the new XO on board. They'll be transporting up at 1400 hours."

Harry's confusion was etched on his face. "But sir wouldn't you rather …"

Riker shook his head. "I prefer to meet them on the bridge, once they've been shown to their quarters and had a chance to settle in. It's what was done for me when I joined the Enterprise, and I have no inclination to mess with tradition." He gave a private little smile as he recalled his first few minutes on the Enterprise's bridge, and the tricky piloting maneuver Picard had made him execute just to test his mettle. He had to think of something similar, although it might be more difficult to ruffle his new Number One in that particular way.

"I've arranged a briefing with them for 1700 hours; in the meantime they're all yours."

Riker smiled his wolfish smile, the one he always used when he laid down a full house at poker, and Harry couldn't help but feel that he was being set up. But for what?

"Yes sir," he said crisply and left the ready room before Riker could finish saying "Dismissed."


An hour later Lieutenant Kim stood at attention in Transporter Room 2, trying desperately to recall which quarters might be assigned to the Chief Engineer. He knew where the XO's quarters were; they came with the position and would be the same as Mulroney's. But he belatedly realized that no one had told him where the new Chief's quarters would be located. What was worse, he had forgotten to ask. This was not a good start.

The transporter chief punched in a few codes and said "Three beaming up." Harry turned to her briefly. "Three? But I thought … ." Oh, of course. One of the new officers was bringing a partner; this was after all a family ship. Another detail he should have asked about. Harry really wasn't good at this protocol thing, and felt increasingly and woefully unprepared.

The familiar tinkling sound of the transporter cut short Harry's efforts at self-flagellation and he turned nervously towards the platform. Two silhouettes emerged, one very tall and in command red, the other much shorter, in engineering yellow. The figure in red seemed to be holding … a small child.

There was something oddly familiar about the picture that was gathering substance before him. Harry swallowed, utterly dumbfounded. It couldn't be.

It was. Them.

"What are you guys …" he stopped again. This just didn't seem to be his day for completing sentences.

Fortunately, Harry Kim was a highly intelligent man, and it took him only a split second to figure out how the words "Chief Engineer" might possibly relate to the half-Klingon woman who was now grinning at him in unholy glee.

It took Harry a few seconds longer to take in the sight of the three full pips on his best friend's collar, to digest their meaning, and to feel his jaw drop.

Yes, the new XO of the Enterprise was definitely someone he could work with … even if his first words of command were something to the effect of "Harry, Harry, Harry. Do close your mouth. People will get the wrong impression. Now, can you please take Miral while I deal with our stuff?"


Day 375

From: Cmdr T.E. Paris USS Enterprise

To: Adm (ret) O. Paris USS Voyager

Subject: On our way


Well, here we are, about to ship out on another deep space mission. Given how the last one turned out I thought I'd send a note before we leave Deep Space Nine; there are a few things I want to say in case the opportunity doesn't come again.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't still reeling a bit from the last few weeks. Getting the commendation from Jim Kirk was nice, although not as important to me as Admiral Picard pinning that new pip on my collar. And I'm really, really glad you got to be there for the occasion.

I honestly didn't expect to make Commander so soon – I mean, when you think about it, I was an ensign less than three years ago! But I guess this is where I would have been if I hadn't done my best to screw up my career, so maybe I should just take it and pretend I was trapped in a different time line for a while.

Still, I suppose if you had told me ten years ago that I'd end up as First Officer on the Enterprise some day I would have just rolled my eyes, made a smartass remark and walked out. The thought that your vision for my life and career could possibly become my own would have been inconceivable to me then (just like the potential usefulness of my love for 20th century B-movies was to you – but I digress).

I guess I have Kathryn Janeway to thank for getting that particular chip off my shoulder, in addition to all the other things I have to thank her for. It was during the 30 days I spent in the brig on Voyager that I realized something: being the best Starfleet officer I could be was something I actually wanted for myself – not for you, not for the Captain, but for me. A revelation that was, especially after all the angst I went through about being in Starfleet when I first put on the uniform.

Did I ever tell you what the Captain said to me after I got out and we were on speaking terms again? We were both feeling pretty mellow after the Arachnia thing and were shooting a game of pool, and I asked her why she had been so much harder on me than on any of the other people who'd broken the rules. I mean, other people had broken the Prime Directive, violated direct orders or stolen shuttlecraft, not to mention done things like kidnapping or shooting at fellow crewmembers, or endangering the ship by stealing the warp core. (Never a dull moment on Voyager.)

She looked at me long and hard, probably trying to figure out whether I was questioning her judgment or something, but concluded (correctly) that I genuinely just wanted to know. I thought I could learn something, and learning stuff from her had become pretty important to me over the years, even if I may not necessarily want to hear what it was. So she said the reason she slammed me so hard was this: "You will command a starship some day, Tom, but you need to learn to be the officer I know you can be and what it means to honour the responsibilities of command."

I can still hear her saying it.

Needless to say I questioned her – why did I need a lesson she didn't seem to be giving anyone else? You know what she said? Seven would be a fantastic officer but would never be a leader; being Seven, she'd piss so many people off every time she opened her mouth that no one would follow her anywhere. (Okay, she didn't actually say "piss off" but you get the idea. You've met Seven.) Chakotay, she thought, was much keener on anthropology than on command and if given his druthers, would be taking off the Starfleet uniform first chance he got. Harry had to stop looking over his own shoulder and Bee was only happy when up to her armpits in warp plasma - don't I know it! As for Tuvok, well, he'd be heading back to teaching at the Academy if he ever got the chance.

All rather prophetic, in hindsight!

So anyway, apparently she thought I could make a credible commanding officer, once I'd get over my obsession with piloting and knocked the I-don't-want-to-be-a-Paris chip off my shoulder. It was in my blood, she said – and not because I was a Paris but because I, Thomas Eugene, was made that way. She said a few other things but they were kind of personal so I'm not going to repeat them. But it all got me thinking, really for the first time, where it was that I wanted to go, and why.

And I figured out that it all came down to choices. My choices.

Until then, I'd always found myself drifting or being pushed into situations, taking the path of least resistance, and blaming circumstances – or sometimes you - if things didn't work out. I guess my first step towards trying to do things for myself was when I confessed to the truth after Caldik Prime. While it was absolutely the right thing to do, we both know that it didn't work out so well. And then of course there was my decision to fly for the Maquis, and Auckland, and the hell I went through there.

So for quite a while there I was convinced that any choices I made for myself were inevitably wrong, and I was getting ready to stop trying. So I just followed orders (don't laugh, I did - most of the time, anyway) and any decisions I made for myself were only part of a bigger picture in someone else's scheme.

Except B'Elanna, but that was another thing altogether. That wasn't a choice on either of our part as much as it was fate. It just took us a while to figure out.

Anyway, everything changed for me on Monea, when I realized that I'd be able to stand by my actions, provided I believed in what I was doing. And that it didn't matter so much what others thought, as long as I could look at myself in the mirror.

So that's when I decided it was okay for me to want to become the best Starfleet officer I could be, even though it was also what you wanted me to be. You are certainly to a large degree responsible for laying the foundation for my love for flying, for my interest in humanity's legacy in space and for my fondness for Starfleet – however reluctant I may have been at times to acknowledge it. For all of that and more, I am grateful to you. But the choice to be here now is mine, mine alone. No one else can take credit if I succeed, or will catch the blame if I screw up.

Having choices, I suppose, is what makes the decision to accept the assignment on the Enterprise more valid, and more real. Lord only knows, there's more money in holovids than in Starfleet, and it's nice to know that thanks to Captain Proton I don't actually ever have to work again. I could also join Starfleet Medical like Kathleen did, or get into shuttlecraft design, if I felt like it. But outer space, discovery, this ship, this post, and (hold on to your hat here) command responsibility and the occasional stint in sickbay - this is where I want to be right now.

It will of course be a bit odd to be issuing orders to the helm rather than flying myself. But Captain Riker assures me he'll let me take the conn on occasion when things get hairy, and I'll be doing some training for the pilots as well - I've brought my collection of "Anomalies R Us" and anti-Borg holosims. And, of course, I'll get to pilot the shuttles on away missions. We even have a couple of the new Flyers. But all in all, I'm ready to move on, up and out.

So this is what I wanted you to know before we ship out: Although I've taken a few detours to get to this point, and put up a hell of a fight on occasion, this newly-minted Starfleet Commander is a Happy Guy. I have the most wonderful wife and daughter in the universe; both B'Elanna and I seem to have the confidence and respect of the people that mean the most to us; and there are unknown and exciting challenges ahead. I'll do my very best to meet them.

Having Harry and Libby on board is of course icing on the cake. I get to boss my best friend around and play silly games with him, anytime we feel the need to drop the Serious Officer routine. Libby, as you know, has taken over the Enterprise's nursery and early childhood education program. It means Miral will get exposed to art and music, not just the science experiments and operating systems Fleet brats normally get to play with. How great is that!

So all in all, things are pretty near perfect (until we have a run-in with the Romulans, of course, although part of me is admittedly looking forward to the excitement …).

Our quarters are great, better even than the apartment in San Francisco (glad Moira will be using it, I would have been reluctant to rent it out to strangers). I guess being the XO and having a family adds up to a minor palace on a Galaxy class ship, although Miral and her toys have completely taken over one of the bedrooms already so it's not particularly serene. We do miss our old quarters on Voyager now that we're back on board ship, but once B'Elanna gets her engines online and the walls start to hum, this place will feel like home in no time.

Please tell Mom I'll be writing her separately; we have some holovids of Miral exploring the arboretum here, which is huge. I think she went from crawling straight to running and climbing; if we're lucky she'll learn to walk by the time she's a teen. I'm beginning to get an idea what you guys were up against with me!

One last thing – Mom mentioned that when Voyager goes back into service you were thinking of writing a book, on raising a family in Starfleet. Feel free to send me a draft when it's done; I may have some comments.

Yours, as ever ,