Okay, so I can't keep to a straight time line. (Chronological uni-directionalism is highly overrated anyway, in my book …) Eventually it will all make sense, this private little post-Endgame universe of mine; in the meantime, I hope you can put up with the fact that I skip back and forth in time, throwing paint on the canvas in the order dictated by my fickle muse. (Next, just to confuse matters, I'll be jumping back again to the time where Tom Paris still serves as XO on the Enterprise…)

This story takes place a couple of weeks after "Responsibilities", which in turn follows on "Choices" and "The Andorian Incident". I hope that what is happening here is sufficiently obvious that you won't need to read any of those, but as always, I'd be deliriously happy if you did! If you have only a few minutes and are so inclined, the last chapter of "Responsibilities" will give you the immediate context. The present piece also echoes my short little M-rated supposed one-off "Questions", which posits an evening -following the events of the much-maligned Season Two episode 'Threshold" - in the course of which Kathryn Janeway and Tom Paris find some momentary reassurance in each other.

Otherwise, I hope that this little vignette will speak for itself. Oh, there's a bit of a mush alert at the end.



By Alpha Flyer

She sat silently in the moonlight – softly shimmering, a mirage of sleek metal. Although on the surface she seemed delicate, almost translucent to him, her soaring nacelles bore testimony to her resilience and indomitable spirit; her strong nose stared with proud defiance at the square Academy buildings that surrounded her, beyond the field where she had rested for two years.

He stood and watched her for a while, the ship that had given wing to his soul. She had taken him from blackest despair to brightest hope, and beyond. In so many ways, her journey and his own had been intertwined, and he was beginning to understand that perhaps being returned to her – and having her returned to him – at this moment in his life was fitting, and right.

Slowly, almost reverently, he walked up towards her and stretched out his hand to stroke the smooth struts, cool now with the night air, looking up at the hull above. His long fingers caressed her skin as he might a former lover's arm, unsure whether his touch would still be welcome after all this time.

"I missed you, babe. It's been too long. But tomorrow we'll be together again, you and I," he whispered, then swallowed as he felt his voice quiver unexpectedly. "You won't mind, will you?"

He stood silently, waiting for a response that he knew wouldn't come.

Until it did.

"She won't mind, Tom. I know."

He turned around, startled.

Kathryn Janeway, dressed as he was in civilian clothing, walked across the night-damp grass that had muffled her approaching steps. "I thought I might find you here tonight," she added with a small smile, her eyes glittering with something he couldn't quite define.

"I suppose I should have expected you, as well," he replied, returning her smile, albeit a little shyly in acknowledgment of her superior claim on the ship gleaming in the moonlight behind them. "Come to say goodbye? I'm sorry if I got in the way."

"Don't be sorry, Tom. I'm glad you're here. In fact, I was hoping you would be."

They stood side by side now, a cool breeze ruffling her now shoulder-length hair. The smell of freshly cut grass from the field where Voyager had been resting filled the night air, and Tom Paris took a deep breath.

"Regrets?" he asked softly, looking down at his former Captain.

Kathryn gave a deep, throaty chuckle. "Always. Never."

"Now there's a classic Janeway answer. Leave 'em guessing." She chuckled again.

"I'm glad you decided to accept the commission. Really glad. For many reasons." Simply said, but the look she gave him when she tilted her head up at him nearly took his breath away: Relief. Gratitude. Pride. Something else …

Under any other circumstances, he might have made a smart remark, about how the trial and the time that followed had made him long for the Delta Quadrant sufficiently to hijack Voyager and take her back. But this was not the time.

He shrugged, but without his usual diffidence. "Saying yes was hard, really hard, but I think I knew I would, the second you said her name."

"Now there's a classic Paris answer. Straight and to the point."

For a moment they stood in silence again, lost in their own thoughts. He hesitated, then cocked his head in invitation. "Come aboard for a private nostalgia tour?"

She scowled at him in disbelief. "You have the command codes already? Thomas Eugene Paris … Captain or no, there are rules about these things …"

He grinned. "Rules, Admiral? You forget to whom you speak … Once a felon, always a felon." She snorted, and smacked him lightly in the arm.

"No, truth be told, I weaseled my father's codes out of his secretary this afternoon. Pays to have connections. Nicole knows everything the old man knows, except she actually remembers stuff. Let's hope they haven't changed them yet."

He put his hand lightly on Kathryn's lower back to guide her towards the ramp. She gave a light shudder at her former helmsman's intimate touch, but masked it quickly. "It's getting chilly. It'll be nice to be inside."

The outer hatch opened with a hiss. Kathryn took a deep breath and stepped inside. "She smells … different, a little. But still the same, somehow."

The ship's interior had been cleaned to a sheen in the last few days, all evidence of her two years as one of San Francisco's main tourist attractions removed in anticipation of her formal re-commissioning, and the arrival of her new Captain.

They entered the turbolift. "Bridge," Tom said, the familiarity of the command in this place, and in the presence of the woman beside him, suddenly causing an odd echo to reverberate in his mind.

They stood in silence as the turbolift ascended, a slight awkwardness between them now, both looking for something to say.

"Do you remember …" it came out from both of them at the same time. They looked at each other, a little flustered, before dissolving into helpless laughter.

"Oh, Kahless," Tom said, between sobbing gasps, "I remember everything. How could we forget? What a ride. I mean, where do you even start?"

She looked at him, sobering a little. "It's funny," she said. "But when I think about those years, what I remember most is things like the mess hall. Morning briefings, all of us sitting around the table. You and Harry, cracking jokes at each other. Tuvok, desperately tying to ignore both of you. B'Elanna running in late, smelling of warp plasma. Neelix, trying to sell me yet another vile substance as 'coffee'. Chakotay, staring at me with those basset hound eyes, telling me I needed more sleep. Seven and the Doc, trying to teach each other to be human."

He nodded. "Yeah. I find that when I remember something, it's always a time, not so much a place. It'll be hard to be here without … the people. The ship won't be the same as it was. If anything gave me pause before I actually told Nacheyev yes, it was that. You can't ever go back."

The door to the bridge wooshed open. At a quarter illumination and devoid of personnel, the bridge seemed larger than either of them remembered. "Computer, lights," Tom called out.

He bounded lightly down the few steps to the conn, his feet leading the way even before his head had decided that's where he wanted to go. He let his long fingers run over the familiar console. "It'll be odd, not sitting down here. I bet for the first few weeks, whenever I come on the bridge, this is where I'll be headed …"

He looked up to where she was now standing, beside the Captain's chair, her own fingers doing a similar dance over its back as his had just done over the helm. "And it'll be really odd not to feel your hand on my shoulder when the going gets tough, or … just … because."

Their eyes locked, as a long unspoken memory arose between them. It was Kathryn who summoned the courage to give it voice.

"Do you ever think … about that day? About … us?"

He held her gaze, smiled a little, unaccountably glad of the physical distance between them. "Yeah. Not often, but – yeah. I do."

He hesitated, trying to look for the right words, the right balance between that bright moment of truth between them, and the years that had passed since. Between the love and friendship he had found in the woman who was now his wife, the mother of his child, and the one moment in which Captain and Lieutenant had dropped all the barriers between them – ever so briefly – to seek and find reassurance in one another.

A reassurance that had sustained them both through the remainder of the journey, even as they had not spoken of it since.

"It meant … the world to me, that night, then. And still does."

"Why, Tom?"

"Because you trusted me. Not with flying your ship, or that I wouldn't screw up again. But with yourself. That … was a gift beyond anything I ever expected. And … " he searched for the right words again. He had never been a poet, or even particularly eloquent when it came to expressing his feelings, and she deserved the truth, unvarnished.

"I think, the fact that it was me you came to when you needed something yourself – me, and not, say, Chakotay or Tuvok … it was … it told me something I thought I'd never hear. From anyone." He hesitated briefly, afraid that what he would say next might not come across the way he intended. "And that … trust, that confidence made it possible for me to find B'Elanna."

Kathryn nodded her understanding, slowly, even as she swallowed back something she didn't want to think about just then. "Does B'Elanna … know?"

He smiled, and shook his head 'yes'. "We keep no secrets from one another. Not anymore. And that one would have stood between us like a sharpened bat'leth."

"And … she never … she doesn't …" He bounded up the steps from the conn to the command chair, and put both his hands on her arms, forcing her to look straight up into his face, lest she end up with her nose in his soft flannel shirt.

"Remember the day B'Elanna went to that Klingon hell of hers? And when she came out of it, she clung to you for dear life – even though I was right there?" She nodded, waiting. "There's not much difference, really, between us and how and where you fit into our respective lives, Kathryn, or what you mean to each of us." Her eyes widened at his use of her first name, for the first time since that night, and a pang of regret crossed her face.

He caught and held her gaze now, reading her – perhaps rather more closely than she had hoped. "Bee and I … we mean the world to one another. We're true mates, in the Klingon sense of the word, and all that entails – body and soul."

"But that doesn't mean that there isn't room for each of us to have a past, or to love others in the present, in all other respects. Sometimes you look to someone else for whatever it is that you need in a given moment. Love and friendship – they're not a zero sum game. Once you have figured out how to admit people into your life, there's always room for more. You just need to be secure in what you have."

Kathryn shook her head. "When did you get to be so wise, Tom Paris?" she asked, tears suddenly stinging in her eyes as found herself starting to take inventory of how few people she herself had dared to admit, how many she had refused.

Where this man before her fitted into this picture of her life. Protégé, one-time lover – friend? Friend.

His hands still on her arms, Kathryn allowed her own hands to go around his waist. She pulled her former helmsman into a light hug, laying her head on his chest, briefly, but decisively, enjoying the warmth and the closeness of another body that she so rarely permitted herself these days.

Here, now, in this place – nothing had ever felt so right.

He responded to her by pulling her more tightly to him, and placing his chin on her head. She could feel him smile into her hair, feel his lips plant a light kiss before he said, "Some people insist on seeing wisdom in what's really just an absence of bullshit."

She chuckled at that, glad in a way to break the spell of the moment before it would undo her, in memory and in the now. "And your lack of tolerance for any form of bullshit is already becoming legendary, Captain."

She stepped away from him, none of the earlier momentary awkwardness between them now even as he regarded her thoughtfully.

"You know, I bet for the first … oh … six months every time someone calls me that, I'll be looking over my shoulder, expecting you to stand there. Took me weeks just to respond to 'Commander'."

"You'll get used to it more quickly than you think, Tom. I'll let you in on a secret – there's nothing, nothing like running your own show, with no one looking over your shoulder."

He looked at her skeptically. "Maybe. But what I do find hard to imagine is this bridge … without you." He looked down at his feet for a second, then back into her eyes with renewed resolve.

"I'm going to say something here that B'Elanna would describe as completely sentimental mush, and that, if it gets out, will completely erode that alleged reputation for low bullshit tolerance you just mentioned."

Kathryn looked at him curiously, and raised a questioning eyebrow.

"The truth is … I always thought of you as Voyager's soul. Whenever I was at the conn … it was as if I could feel you. Not physically, but … there. And I don't know whether she can fly without you." He let out a long breath, and looked at her, apprehension darkening his eyes. "There. I've said it. I know it sounds stupid. So don't tell anyone, okay?"

Kathryn fought the tears that she felt welling up in her eyes. Silently, she shook her head, and crossed the few steps that had she had allowed to open up between them again. Reaching up, holding his sapphire eyes with her own, she cupped his cheek with her right hand and lightly stroked it with her thumb.

Hoarsely, she whispered, "It's not stupid, Tom. It's not even silly. For me, you were always her heart. The one thing that made her soar. Without you, the ship was … dead."

She hesitated a little, considering how much to tell him, as she felt him grow very still. Her little finger, splayed along his neck, felt the throbbing of his pulse, as steady and as rhythmic as Voyager's warp core.

Deciding he had a right to know, on this day of any days, Kathryn Janeway blew out the last of the walls between herself and her former helmsman.

"I've never told you, but … that time, after Monea … those weeks when you weren't at the helm …"

His eyes widened with surprise that she would touch that particular memory, at this particular moment. He knew this was not about whether what he had done was right or wrong; they'd had that discussion, after the Trifid trial. But he had known then that there was more, something she had held back.

And so Tom Paris made no move away from the hand that was now travelling down to his chest, ready to hear what she had to say. Waiting, knowing that Kathryn Janeway did not make confessions anymore easily than he did himself.

When it came, it was almost as if she were speaking to herself, even as her fingers were fingering the collar of his soft shirt – absently, as if she were touching a memory.

"Without you at the helm, it was … it was as if Voyager was made of solid lead, or frozen in amber. The bridge – it was like a morgue. There was no life in the ship, or in her crew. The battle we almost lost, with Culhane at the helm, was the least of it. It was ... like the ship was in mourning."

She shook her head, as if still questioning what she had felt, during those thirty days that had felt like a lifetime to her, as she knew it had to him. "And I wasn't the only one who noticed it, I was just too angry at you, too stubborn to do anything about it. Everyone of the senior officers, including Tuvok, came to me to ask that I cut your sentence, and let you out early."

Tom had held perfectly still while she spoke, like a wax copy of himself, frozen in memory. He seized her wandering hand with both of his now, turning it, and brushing her palm with his lips. "Thanks for telling me. But you know, I'm glad you didn't. Let me out early, I mean. If I hadn't had that time to sit on the bunk and … mull over my life, I don't think I'd be here now, with people ready to call me 'Captain'. And to bring her back to life tomorrow."

He followed the half-kiss on her palm with a playful flick of his tongue and a light bite that had her draw a hissing breath in surprise. What …

"Even if you were downright fucking hypocritical about that whole Prime Directive bullshit, Admiral. Ma'am."

No matter how tense the situation or how intricate a particular emotional dance, if Kathryn Janeway had learned anything over the last nine years of her relationship with Tom Paris, it was that he knew how to defuse a difficult moment with just the right balance of daring, levity and truth – a sure touch that would take her breath away, once she stopped being irritated with him and had the time to think it through.

And so she punched him in the arm, knowing what he had just done, and knowing she would be grateful for it later. Eventually.


He smiled back, full-throttle. That blinding smile that had caused her the one night of – was it weakness? humanity? - she had permitted herself in seven years in the Delta Quadrant.


Then, almost apprehensive, but not in the least apologetic and with a growing smirk, he added, "I always wanted to say that. Just once. With all due respect, Admiral. Ma'am. Kathryn."

She shook her head at him. "Only you, Tom. Only you."

Together they stood in silence for a while, captain and helmsman, Admiral and Captain now, casting their eyes around the gleaming consoles and walls of the ship that had been their home for seven years, and would be his again soon. He put his hands around her shoulders and hugged her to him once more.

Finally he sighed, "I better get home. B'Elanna is probably wondering what took me so long, and Miral is cutting her molars. I guess quarter Klingons are a bit ahead of the pack in that way."

"You're right; let's go. We have an early morning tomorrow."

She cast one more look at the bridge, the plaque with the ship's name; the plaque with crew members lost in the course of duty. The empty chairs, soon to be filled with new people, ready to bring a piece of themselves - not to deny or to change who she was, but to add to her spirit.

They headed back to the turbolift and walked down the ramp together, in silence. She watched him enter the codes to secure the ship for the night, turn to her.

"Walk you back to your apartment?"

She shook her head. "No thanks, Tom. I'll be fine. You get back to your family. I think I'd like to stay for a bit longer. It's such a beautiful night." She gave him her best lop-sided grin, "And give my thanks to Nicole, and her indiscretion."

He smiled down at her. "Will do. See you tomorrow then. Nine a.m., Admiral. Don't forget - it's a date."

A brief pause, a softer look. "Good night, Kathryn."

"Good night, Tom."

She watched his tall form stride across the dew-damp grass, hands in his pocket against the night chill, headed for the transporter and the next day. When he had disappeared behind the main Engineering faculty building, Kathryn turned her eyes back to the ship.

She sat silently in the moonlight – softly shimmering, a mirage of sleek metal. Although to Kathryn her lithe, almost athletic grace seemed to lack the austere authority expected of a Starfleet vessel, and although her hull showed a few places where dents and battle scars had been visibly mended, her solid nacelles bore testimony to a resilience and indomitable spirit that set her apart from the Fleet. She seemed almost inclined to thumbing her strong nose at the square Academy buildings that surrounded her, challenging their assumptions with a personality born of adversity and irreverence that was uniquely her own.

Slowly, almost reverently, Kathryn walked back towards the ship and stretched out her hand to stroke the smooth struts, cooler now as the night was headed for morning, looking up at the gleaming hull above. Her slender fingers caressed the metallic skin as she might a former lover's arm, knowing her touch was still welcome after all this time.

"I will miss you, terribly. You know that. But tomorrow you will get to fly again," she whispered, then swallowed as she felt her gravelly voice quiver unexpectedly.

"Fly for him, Voyager."