Author's Note: To K, with thanks, for seeing what I saw in this.
By the time Harry sees Tom step off a turbolift and onto deck two, the Ensign's empty stomach is long-beyond protesting, digestive acids cannibalistically attacking his intestinal lining as Kim stands a dozen meters from a room filled with plentiful-if-questionable culinary offerings.
"Where have you been?" Harry demands. "You were supposed to meet me half an hour ago!"
"I told you I had a meeting," Tom shoots back quickly. "Why in the world did you wait instead of just going in and grabbing lunch?"
The irrationality of waiting for Tom like a forlorn puppy is beyond defense. A large part of Harry knows this.
But it isn't as if he's going to confess out loud his aversion to being seen eating alone by hordes of people he's (loosely) in charge of. Let alone confess it to a man who manages to look like he fits in everywhere, despite being hated by almost everyone on board.
"We agreed on a time," Harry defends, a bit childishly. "Why didn't you at least comm me?"
"I was with the Captain," Tom says finally, shooting Harry a cool look as they make their way down the corridor. "I didn't think it was appropriate to interrupt a meeting to tell you I'd belate to recess."
The comment is mocking, but not in a way that's actually meant to wound. This much Harry can already read about Tom, however short their friendship.
Which isn't to say that his friend's remarks don't make the younger man feel self-conscious. Like he has something to prove.
"What could you possibly be going over that long, anyway?" Harry presses.
"Navigations logs?" Harry repeats, with a cocked brow and a suggestive tone. "Is that what people call it these days?"
Harry expects Tom to smirk at the innuendo, maybe even chuckle, but all he gets from the ex-con-turned-pilot is a frown and a muttered "that's a lame joke, Harry."
Kim's ears blush with an embarrassment that he does his best to hide. His bruised ego pushing him to redouble his comedic efforts as he puts up a paper-thin cocky facade; nudges Tom with an elbow and an exaggerated wink.
"Have any other 'meetings' scheduled with the Captain, Lieutenant Paris? Does she make you call her 'ma'am?"
A snigger is heard behind them, from a group of passing crewmen. And immediately Harry freezes, looking down at his shoes until the group in question have made it around the corner.
When Kim looks up, it's just in time to see the rage on Tom's face as the older man pulls him into a side corridor, pinning him to the wall with an arm across his throat.
"You do not make jokes like that about the Captain," Tom hisses, as soon as startled brown eyes meet intense blue ones.
"Tom- what the. . . " Harry manages to choke, Paris' arm pressing firmer as the body beneath it squirms.
"Harry. . . You do not make jokes like that about the Captain," Tom whispers, this time sounding desperate. "And you do not make jokes like that about the Captain and me. . . Do you understand?"
Harry struggles again, the arm against his throat finally relenting.
It's then, with the second or third big gulp of air, that Harry recognizes it in Tom's eyes. The anxiety and the fear.
Shit. He's actually. . . ? With the Captain?
"Tom," Harry begins shakily, but doesn't know how to continue.
"You know what. . . I'm not feeling particularly hungry," Tom shakes his head, then abruptly turns around, hiding his face from view. "I think I'm just gonna go back to the bridge."
"Tom. Wait," Harry calls helplessly, watching as his best friend walks away. A previously broken man retreating as though he's once more had something of value pried from his hands.
The pilot disappears from sight; the hunger in Harry's stomach now supplanted with the fear that he's shattered something that was never his to touch.
. . . . . .
It's an odd thing for him to think about now. But nevertheless, all things considered, Harry wouldn't call Chakotay a particularly dense person.
He's a smart man. Quick on his feet, and a clearly a seasoned officer.
It helps Harry's estimation, too, that the Commander's been on both sides of Starfleet protocol; can make value judgments independent of the preconceived Federation notions to which Harry himself clings too fiercely.
And yet. . . the man had two spies under his nose, back on his own ship. Two different spies. One of whom even shared Chakotay's bed. That has to be a record somewhere; perhaps be included in some Maquis manual as a case study in tactical failure.
It's the kind of puzzle that could bother Harry endlessly, makes him wonder what kind of events conspired to make it all possible that such a smart man failed to notice the obvious.
There had to be cues Chakotay completely missed: out-of-the-ordinary behavior, explanations that seemed a little odd. A million small, misplaced mannerisms that all should have added up to something in the man's seemingly capable mind.
There has to be a good reason. Of this much, Kim is convinced.
And as he squints through sun of Hanon IV, he looks over to where Chakotay stands, a shocked (pained?) expression still across his bronze face.
"The ship is yours, ma'am," Tom had said, only moments earlier. Took in the looks of a crew who had given him up for dead and giving them a grim nod.
"Thank you," Janeway acknowledged, her sober look never giving way. "But what about her pilot?"
"Her pilot? . . . Pretty sure he's been yours for a while now, Kath."
And then, as if on cue, Tom broke into a grin.
"God. I missed you so much, Tom."
The two had kissed. . . In front of the entire fucking crew.
So why is it, Harry wonders with a new pain, the only people to be surprised are himself and the man who had two spies under his very nose?
. . . . .
They're only halfway through with the parrisses match, but Harry already feels like giving up.
Tom's never been the best partner in this game, but right now he's missing easy shots by light years; hardly paying attention to where he's standing, let alone the mallet in his hands. They're getting spanked by holographic opponents who were programed to be easy.
"Computer, end game," Harry calls, and Tom turns to him, obviously bewildered.
"Why'd you do that?"
"Because we're losing, Paris," he replies, dropping his mallet, "and not even in a fun way. What's wrong with you today?"
Tom seems startled, and Harry's curiosity intensifies. Nothing about the way Tom's been acting this last week adds up to anything good.
"You have a fight with B'Elanna or something?"
"Not exactly," the blonde sighs, quickly shaking his head.
"Well, if you're not fighting with the wife, what is it? You've been acting off for days."
Instead of responding, Tom crouches down to sit on the floor. Rakes a hand across his sweaty brow, misery now clearly etched across his features.
"Tom? What's going on?"
"I have something to tell you and you're not going to like it."
Undisguised self-consciousness on the part of Tom Paris- not a good omen.
Harry examines his companion with concern, the cross-legged pilot having now fallen silent.
"What is it?" Kim finally pushes, when he can't take the lack of information anymore.
"I'm going to be a father, Harry."
"Well . . . I guess it's kinda soon for you guys. . . But isn't that a good thing?"
Harry's genuine optimism is met by a dire look from Paris.
"Harry," Tom says slowly. As if willing his friend to understand.
Maybe the willing works.
Or maybe there have been more than enough clues over the last few months. Tiny lies Harry himself was ensnared in, even perpetuated; their sum never seeming all that consequential until now.
"Does B'Elanna know?" Harry hisses, turning away from his friend's sorrow- away from the twin reflections of his own guilt, trapped in blue, tear-filled eyes.
"I told her last night."
The room feels like it's getting smaller, and Harry forces his lungs to take in air that's thick enough to choke him.
He needs to get out of here; leave this room behind.
"I can't. . . This is your mess, Tom."
If only that were true. As the voice of conscience rises in Harry, the pressure at his temples expands.
"I'm doing everything I can to make it right. But it's complicated. . ."
Complicated. Harry's mind repeats the word, his lips failing to produce a sound.
" I need your support on this. . . Harry? Harry."
Tom's frantic voice fills his ears, easily drowned out by the noise of Harry's own frenzied thoughts.
B'Elanna. Gods. How she must hate him now.
It isn't until Tom is shouting behind him that he realizes he's made it all the way to the holodeck's exit. Is mere centimeters from putting a wall, and then a corridor, and then an entire deck, between himself and all this pain.
"Harry. Don't you understand? It's Kathryn. It's the Captain. What am I supposed to do?"
It's a piece of information Harry didn't have before, if solely because he never wanted it to fall into its place.
Complicated. Never was there such a laughably understated word.
But the last thing Harry feels like is laughing, as he stumbles out of the holodeck doors, leaving his friend behind on the other side.
. . . . .
It's a funny thing, the ship falling so quiet when they're this close to Earth.
Harry would have expected there to be parties, people spilling out in the corridors. Tuvok having to police the decks just to make sure people have remained reasonably sober.
It isn't that they're not happy to home. They are. He is.
It's just that he also feels like he's holding his breath, unsure as to what all happens next.
He makes his way to Sickbay, suddenly intent on finding Tom. Sometimes, when things are out of sorts, all you need is someone who reminds you which way 'up' is.
But what about after, when the person who used to remind you is light years away?
Which way is 'up' then?
It's dark in Sickbay, except the dim light coming from the Doctor's office. Harry passes by B'Elanna's sleeping form just in time to hear the murmur of Tom's voice seep through the office doorway, then sees the silhouette of the man in question, holding his newborn child.
"I want you to know how much your support has meant- to both of us."
"You're my crew," responds a gravelly voice, the obvious source obscured behind Tom's taller form.
"Kathryn," he hears Tom admonish, and Harry stops, unsure what to do. He doesn't want to interrupt Tom's conversation with the Captain, and any further movement he makes is likely bound to do that.
Pressing himself against a wall, he sighs. Hoping they'll at least keep the mushy stuff reasonably short.
"Tom, I meant it five years ago when I said I didn't want you to wait for me."
Wait for her? Tom?
"I know, but-"
"All I ever wanted was for you to be happy. B'Elanna, too. . . You both deserve this. All of it."
"You deserve to be happy too, you know. And you have your life back now. No ship to get home. No more excuses."
"Are you calling me a coward, Thomas Eugene Paris?"
"Never, ma'am. Just. . . a little out of practice."
Harry flattens himself further against the wall, listening to two hushed chuckles. A private moment of understanding he was never meant to hear.
"She's so beautiful, Tom."
"Just like her god-mother."
"Don't push it," Janeway teases quietly over her shoulder, moving past Tom to enter the darkened larger room.
"If I don't, who will?"
"No one else," Janeway admits. And as much Harry hates that he's able to spy on her, he marvels at the way she says it. The complete absence of pain as she looks at a man she apparently used to love, now holding the child his wife has borne him. "Now, make sure my god-daughter gets some sleep. Or I'll find a new, inventive way to torture you with all resources I have within the Alpha Quadrant."
It's a funny thing. But it's hiding against a wall in Sickbay that Harry decides they're all going to be alright.
. . . . .
It's the kind of thing that never gets easier. Not after a thousand battles, nor two decades in the Captain's chair.
"I'm going for a walk," he says to his wife, and she sizes him up with warm-if-knowing eyes.
Their youngest has left for art school on Andor. Not the worst thing, having both of their children off-ship during wartime. But it makes for awfully quiet quarters.
Add to that the stress of the ship. The lack of sleep. The shooting pain in his arm that, he assumes, is probably from being thrown around the bridge, yet again.
He's getting too old for all of this. He knows it, can feel it in his bones.
"Be home before I go to sleep," his wife instructs, and Harry presses a kiss into the hand she reaches toward him.
"Always," he nods. And without further comment , slips out of their living room and into the corridors of his ship.
He likes to go deck by deck. An admittedly odd compunction; one on which his family never hesitates to comment.
"I get enough chaos on duty," he always tells them with a smile. "I like my off-duty time to be as orderly as possible."
It's mostly true. But the part he can't tell his children- the part his wife already knows- is that the ship is now full of ghosts for him. It's easier to handle the specters' existence if he approaches them systematically.
Five dead today. Twenty in the last three months.
The casualty reports blur together in his mind as he passes through Main Engineering, Astrometrics, Sickbay.
It takes two hours, but he makes it to deck two, entering into the replimat that he, to this day, stubbornly insists on calling the 'mess hall'- to his senior officers' unanimous chagrin.
The two crewmen off in a corner, sitting together on a couch, wouldn't be all that obvious, were it not for the wracked sobs coming from one.
"Shh, Elira," the male crewman soothes, pressing his lips against the crying woman's hair.
Elira and Talber. Favorites of the shipboard rumor mill.
Were favorites, he corrects solemnly. Before Talber's console exploded in engineering today, killing him instantaneously.
Kim backs slowly out of the mess hall, making sure his exit goes unnoticed. It's one thing for him to put on a strong face for the crew, but no off-duty officer should ever have to pull it together, stop grieving just because their Captain happened to enter the room they're breaking down in.
It isn't until he's in the turbolift (craning his neck to get the kinks out, stretching his arm to dull the shooting pain that's now migrated to his chest) that something about the image of the officers in the mess hall jars something loose. .
A memory from Voyager; the day after they got him back from that damn Akritirian prison.
He was too far out of his mind with grief and guilt to think about it when it happened, but now he can clearly remember how Janeway openly sobbed in the mess hall that morning. The way Chakotay held her, trying to soothe away her tears.
Tom's death was a blow to Janeway as much as much as it was the rest of the senior staff. Still, everyone watching the scene in the mess hall assumed it was a glimpse into the private life of the Captain. The doting Commander openly embracing her in the face of the ship's latest unexpected loss.
But they all got it backwards. . . Didn't they?
It took him fifty years to solve the puzzle, but Harry Kim still shakes his head, smirking from ear-to-ear.
What a dirty sneak, Paris. Running all those betting pools about Chakotay and Janeway when it was you sleeping with her all along.
The pain in his body intensifies, before it finally falls away. He can even picture Tom standing next to him in the turbolift; his elbow propped casually against the wall and blue eyes sparkling with a dozen shades of mirth.
"Congrats, Har. You finally figured out the riddle of 'the ex-con who bagged the Captain.'" Adding with a wink, "what did I always tell you about underestimating the Paris charm, hmm?"
"Cocky bastard," Harry mutters, as Tom only grins. Claps his hand on Harry's shoulder as the lift hurdles them both up and away.
. . . . .