Disclaimer: I do not own nor claim to own any of the following characters, places, or events.
Author's Note: Because Cerulean Phoenix7 asked, and because I couldn't get the image of Tom knocking on a door out of my head. Set shortly before season seven's "Drive." Stands alone, but is connected to my piece "A Father for His Daughter." (And echoes my Faces fic, "The Gift," in thought alone...)
Tom rubbed damp hands along his pants, then stopped when he realized he'd probably wrinkled his uniform. Maybe he should've worn civvies. After all, what he was about to ask wasn't exactly work related. But it concerned Voyager, and his life, and work was part of his life—Voyager too—so technically this was work related. Did it even matter? He shook his head at the convoluted logic and raised his hand.
. . .
An utterly foreign sound traveled through his quarters, and Chakotay looked up from his book with a frown. Had someone just knocked on his door? Setting the book aside, he rose and walked hesitantly to the door, head cocked and tattooed skin furrowed. Either he was about to look like an idiot, or the person on the other side of the door was. He hoped it was the latter. Chakotay took a breath and tapped the keypad.
As he waited for it to slide open, he wasn't sure what to expect. Neelix maybe, too excited about his latest morale boosting scheme to remember the door announcer, or perhaps even the unfortunate crewman elected to speak to the First Officer about shift assignments on Deck 15. But when the bulkhead slipped back to reveal Tom Paris' pale and fidgeting form, Chakotay had to work to keep his eyebrows out of his hairline.
"Something wrong, Lieutenant?"
"Wrong? No, no, sir. Nothing wrong. Why do you ask?"
"I…" The shade of Tom's cheeks deepened to match the red of his uniform. "Sorry, sir. I…guess I got a little excited."
A little? Chakotay wanted to phaser the pilot's feet to the deckplates, they were moving around so much. "Why don't you come in?"
"I will. Thank you. For seeing me this late, I mean."
"What's this all about?" Chakotay asked once the door had closed.
Tom swallowed visibly—painfully, too, it looked. Whatever he had on his mind, he looked ready to faint. Or jump out of his skin.
"I'm here because I have a question."
"And what question is so important that you forget you're in the 24th century? People haven't knocked on doors for centuries, Paris."
Tom dragged his hands along his thighs and shifted his feet before looking at him. Full on, eye to eye contact. No pretenses here. "I want to marry B'Elanna."
"Really? Well, that's quite a surprise," Chakotay said, returning to his chair.
"With all due respect, Commander, I'm not being funny."
"I know you're not, Paris. Now sit down."
"I said sit down. We've got some talking to do."
The helmsman swallowed again and backed himself onto the couch, still rubbing his hands on his pants.
"Now," he began once Tom was seated, "let's start with the basics. Why'd you come to me?"
Tom blinked. "I came because you're the closest thing B'Elanna has to a father, and I'm not about to shortchange you or her on this."
Now it was Chakotay's turn to blink. Six years of watching Paris' fancy flying at the helm hadn't prepared him for this. The pilot was actually…sincere. But Chakotay didn't show he was surprised—he couldn't let him off that easily.
"All right. Why do you want to marry her?"
"Because I love her," Tom answered without blinking or swallowing.
"Prove it to me."
"Excuse me, sir?"
"Prove it to me. How do I know you love her?"
"Could you be more specific?"
"Tell me why you love her. How do you know? When did you know? Was it before or after you noticed her body?"
Tom blushed at that last one. Twice in one night Chakotay thought. I'm on a roll.
"In answer to that last one, after. Being completely honest. But that's not why I love her."
"Okay. We'll come back to that. For now, let's concentrate on the first. How do you know?"
"I can't look at her without my knees going weak, and I think about her all the time."
"Except when you're busy saving the world on the holodeck, brushing up your grease monkey skills, or refurbishing jealous alien ships."
"Touché," Tom winced.
"Besides, going weak at the knees isn't proof of love. I go weak at the knees whenever word gets out that Neelix is experimenting in the kitchen again, or when I'm facing a Nausicaan in the boxing ring."
"I'm protective of her."
"So am I when I'm around my little sister. And I'm sure B'Elanna could say the same about Harry." A beat. "Let me give you a hint, Tom. If you're gonna convince me, you'll need to use better examples than your hormones."
Tom pressed his lips into a line, blue eyes hard against Chakotay's black ones. "There was the time in the Vidiian prison camp."
"I was with B'Elanna's human side; she was weak, nauseated, pretty much drained of her strength. She was terrified of the guards, because of what they'd done to her, and she couldn't do much work in the mines. At first, when I woke up in the barracks and realized that only Durst was there with me, I was worried in the way that an officer is when he's heading an away mission and loses a member of the team."
"But…as soon as they brought her in and I rolled over to stare into a face so…alien…in its humanness, that worry changed. It became personal, like my reputation—no. No, that's not the right way to put it." He rubbed his eyes. "Honestly, Chakotay, I don't know how to say it. It's like…it's like if I didn't get her out of there alive, I wouldn't be able to live with myself. I know it sounds horrible, but as awful as Durst's death was, I was able to accept it. Sure, I still have…" he cleared his throat. "I still have nightmares sometimes, but…"
"What made B'Elanna different?"
"She was so…broken, and vulnerable, and…it tore me up. I think the pain of seeing her so weak was what gave me the strength to keep on, actually. At first I saw her like I would my sister, but when we got back, and I could think about it clearly…it was more."
"So you didn't once consider taking advantage of her, that whole time she was clinging to you and crying?"
"No! Absolutely not."
"What about the incident with Pon farr?"
"Oh, come on, Chakotay! You can't be serious." Tom surged to his feet and paced.
"Well there's obviously something about it that still bothers you."
Tom laughed hoarsely. "No kidding! Those were the hardest two hours of my life!"
"Yes, really." He slowed and seemed to realize what he'd said. "But I don't regret my actions," he said softly. "And to me, that's what's important."
"And what actions would those be?" Chakotay asked coolly.
Tom looked at him, but his gaze was focused on something much farther away. "I wanted her." His voice was grim. "So badly that I thought I'd crawl out of my skin." He scoffed and looked at the floor. "She told me that's how she felt, actually, and nothing else that came out of her mouth after that helped the matter."
"And why didn't you? Take her?"
Tom's blue eyes were unflinching as they met his. "Because that's what it would've been—taking her. And it would have been wrong, using her like that. Using her at all. I wanted her, but I loved her enough to say no. And I don't regret that."
The confession hung in the room for a long moment, his sincerity vibrating in the still air. Finally, he returned to his spot on the couch and hunched over his knees, hands clasped and waiting for the next question.
Tom's answer had surprised him, that he couldn't deny. Chakotay had known the lanky pilot to be sincere on occasion, but he'd never been able to see him as more than the cocky playboy who couldn't keep his tongue in check in the presence of authority. Still, even though that image was fast beginning to change, Chakotay wasn't done with him yet.
"What is love to you, Paris?"
Tom twisted his hands absently before answering, as if the pain of wrenching his skin would give him the right combination of words. When he spoke, his voice was soft but steady, full of something Chakotay couldn't quite name. It made Chakotay's skin prickle.
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
A beat. Then, looking up, "It's from the Bible. I found it a few weeks ago, looking for a poem for her birthday, and I ended up with that—an embodiment of all I've come to feel—believe—in the past three years.
"I know I'm not perfect, Chakotay, but I also know that I love B'Elanna, and that I will respect and cherish her with all my heart. I already do. But I want to make my commitment permanent."
Chakotay looked at him for a long moment, really seeing him for the first time. This wasn't Owen Paris' son, a cheeky pilot in need of a good thrashing, or a jaded convict floundering in a world of hurt. Nor was he Lieutenant Paris, senior conn officer and level-headed helmsman under pressure.
This was Tom, Tom Paris, the man who'd bypassed the Captain in order to ask him for B'Elanna's hand in marriage.
"You said you loved her, Paris, and I asked you to prove it to me," he began, choosing his words like he would objects for a medicine bundle. "I'd say you've done a pretty good job."
Tom's eyes widened. "You mean…"
Chakotay stood, and Tom with him. "You'll have to get the Captain's permission, of course, but you have my full blessing."
"Thank you, sir!" Tom exclaimed, shaking his hand a little too enthusiastically. His smile would've given the Cheshire cat a run for its latinum.
"You have my blessing—but on one condition."
He sobered. "Yes?"
"If you ever do wrong by her, I swear I'll hunt you down and make you regret the day you were born. Understood?"
Tom had the good sense to swallow before he answered. "Yes. Yes, I understand. Completely."
"Don't ever knock on my door again."