In my ongoing effort to teach myself how to write through fan fiction, I've done angst, drama, B-grade adventure, mystery, sci-fi, one rather intimate moment, and farce. (Special thanks to Tom Paris for holding more or less still throughout what must, at times, have been a major ordeal for him.) But I've never attempted … ahem … romance.

So here we are, then. Alpha Flyer takes a deep breath, relaxes her shoulders and loosens up her typing fingers. She casts an apologetic glance at all you much-loved readers out there who appreciate my slightly more meaningful/political stuff, and without further ado lunges straight for that bite in the cheek. Seriously - it had to be done. (Plus,Tom deserved a POV break.)

Rationalizations firmly in place, this is to confirm that I don't own the characters or the stories hovering in the background (which it will help to have seen); I sure won't be making any money off the rest. And yes, there'll be a new installment of "After the Ashes" soon.

Slow Burn

By Alpha Flyer

One - Caretaker

The hands that pull her out into the blinding light and scorching heat of the planet's surface are firm and strong. The fingers are calloused by manual labour, and she wonders – briefly and irrelevantly - why he is wearing the red.

The man stays close for some reason, holding on to her, and his smell assaults her: sweat, aftershave, something else. Distinctive, alerting her senses to … what? If she has to be saddled with these primitive Klingon instincts, it would be helpful if they came with subtitles.

She doesn't know or care who he is. She doesn't give a damn about anything beyond how weak she feels, and all she can think of is how she just wants to get off this pathetic excuse for a world, and back to the Valjean.

But then a not-so-distant light flashes; he shoves her down on the ground and covers her with his long, hard body just as the concussive effect hits. Does he really think she needs his protection? Her anger ignites.

Just who the hell does this guy think she is?


Two – The Cloud

The bar is smoky, just like those Bajoran dives in the Tarikoff belt where she sometimes went to satisfy an urge for … diversion, release. (Was that only a month ago?) But the smoke is artificial and doesn't make her eyes sting, and so she can see that the guy who just propositioned her is beyond ugly. Besides being a hologram. She's been angry enough before to say 'yes' more or less for the asking, but she's never been that desperate.

Then she spots Paris. Mr. Newly-Commissioned-Starfleet-Royalty-Turned-Ex-Con-Lieutenant, him with the major sarcastic streak and a chip on his shoulder that many of the Maquis would just love to beat out of him, regardless of Chakotay's orders.

She stalks over to him, pulls herself up to her full height and stares her challenge into his face. Kahless, the guy is tall. She could take him though, she knows – but there's Chakotay. Fine. She'll restrain herself. But that doesn't mean she has to be nice.

"You program that guy, Paris? He's a pig, and so are you."

She shoulders him aside, puzzled face and all, when suddenly she catches that scent again, for the first time since Ocampa. Funny that she even remembers. She'd never even thought to ask who it was that pulled her out of the tunnel and threw himself on top of her.

Good thing he doesn't seem to be expecting a thank-you note.


Three – Ex Post Facto

It's all over the ship: Tom Paris is a killer. Again. This time, though, word has it he's accused of actually murdering a guy, supposedly for his trophy wife. And now he's being tortured by looped memories, until he goes insane. Or dies.

The thought strikes her, unexpected: Nobody deserves to have his mind destroyed like that, not even a one-track one. And what kind of a trial was that, anyway? She tries to talk to Seska about it, but for a Maquis her friend sometimes seems oddly unfazed by rampant authoritarianism.

Morning briefing a day later brings a surprise. Tuvok used some obscure Vulcan mind technique to get more information, and apparently Paris didn't do it. Not the murder, not even the sex. He's is still in Sickbay getting his brain unscrambled, and they're getting the hell away from this region of space with Baytart at the helm. As she heads back to Engineering, she feels a curious sense of relief.

They really couldn't afford to lose their top pilot, could they?


Four - Faces

She lies on the biobed, her insides screaming in agony as her organs reinvent themselves in an arrangement she never asked for in the first place. Her skull and her forehead feel like they are bulging, the skin throbbing and stretching.

DNA as a concept has always been hateful to her, and now it seems that every strand of the double helix is punishing her for her contempt. The Doc isn't helping, humming along and glorying in his scientific achievement. And why does he keep this place so cold?

She closes her eyes, sees the face of the Vidiian with that grotesque overlay of what used to be Pete Durst, and opens them again quickly. Anything but that.

Staring at the white ceiling, she hears those hoarsely whispered words in her head – urgent but calm, calming. Courage doesn't mean that you don't have fear. It means that you've learned to overcome it. Sees his eyes, bright blue, holding hers until she can't look away. Feels the hands, firmly clasping her arms, infusing her with their strength. His breath, in her face.

Better. She feels better, remembering. Feels the warmth seeping back into her body.

As her second set of lungs fills with unexpected, burning, blessed air, she wonders briefly why the Vidiians didn't take those eyes.


Five – Prototype

She collapses into the shuttle, too dazed to make conversation. Life, created by her hand, and under her hands turned to destruction and death. Will it always be like that, with whatever she touches?

"I've got her," the familiar voice says into the comm, and then things turn blurry as the shuttle makes a series of impossible maneuvers, his face and dancing fingers the only constant in a jumbled universe. He's come for her, again, but this time she is too tired even to be angry at her own weakness.

She watches him fly, something she's never really done before, and not from this close up. The coiled tension in his body harnesses a spark that could power her engines. Does.


Six - Threshold

He's dead. The announcement comes over the conn, ship-wide:

"Attention all crew. It is with the deepest regret that I have to inform you that Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris passed away this evening, due to the unforeseen consequences of his historic flight at Warp Ten …"

There is a catch in the Captain's throat, almost like a sob, when she signs off. But all B'Elanna Torres wants to do is hit something. Really hit something. She does so, repeatedly, until the throbbing in her hands and the dent in the wall of her quarters tell her that if she keeps this up, someone will likely call security.

Her mouth tastes like ashes. How dare he make her feel so … so abandoned?


Seven - Investigations

Chakotay is furious, and she sees his point. Tom Paris has been acting like a jerk lately, as if trying to live up to the reputation she has never, come to think of it, seen him actually deserve.

She knows a thing or two about not fitting in and so she tries to talk to him, but he just brushes her off. Fine. When he leaves the ship, she doesn't go to say goodbye, although she does ask Harry later how it went. Neelix' speech almost makes her … cry?

After he comes back, after the Doc patches him up, she goes straight up to him in the mess hall and reads him the riot act. About leaving his friends in the dark (although she knows better and wouldn't have done a thing differently herself, that's not the point). What really burns her up, though, is that flip on-air apology.

He really is incorrigible, but that won't stop her from trying.


Eight – Blood Fever I

She finally falls asleep; Vorik's attack last night has shaken her more than she thought. And now she's having the dream again. It's been months, and the implanted Inaran memories should have been pushed far, far below the surface by now.

But there it is – the cool night air, a curtain in the breeze, a caress that is soon replaced by long fingers. They are much smoother than the day she first felt their touch, now running over her skin like rain. She catches her breath as they deepen their exploration and arches into him; she feels his weight gliding over her, not for protection this time.

Her body suddenly fills with a heat she has never known - not even when the dreams were at their most vivid, before. Dreaming, she surrenders to the fire. When she wakes at the moment of release, she hears a voice gasp out a name.

Her voice.

His name.



Nine – Blood Fever II

"Careful what you wish for, Lieutenant."

Had that really been her, uttering a remark worthy of the Delaney sisters at their vampish best? But he is right – something did happen. And now she knows.

Knows the taste of his blood.

Knows his scent.

Knows that he wants … her.

Knows how his mouth feels on hers, and the brush of his tongue licking the sweat off her neck.

Knows the span of his hands on her breasts as she straddles him on the ground, and the laughter in his eyes when he finally understands.

Knows her rage when the fire kindled between them is extinguished before it takes hold.

Knows what she wants.

Careful what you wish for.


Ten – Real Life

He really needs to work on his pick-up lines, but after more than three years' working together and what happened on Sakari IV she can't really blame him for being awkward about it. (Come to think of it, being called a "beautiful woman" may be tacky, but is not unflattering …)

The touch of his fingers as they wrestle for the PADD with that stupid novel on it is electric. She almost doesn't pull back, almost grabs his hand to hold and harness the lightning. She is more than relieved when the anomaly appears in the window and they're both called to the bridge.

And then he's gone. The realization kicks her in the gut with the force of a targ's hind legs, and she momentarily gasps for air. Barely notices when the Captain briefly lays a hand on her arm, to steady her. (What does she think she knows?)

When he returns, she focuses on all that plasma he brought back. She smiles when she realized that he won't have to eat leola root for a month.


Eleven - Displaced

They materialize in the bright light of the human habitat, his arms around her. He is almost as cold as she is, and yet manages to give off a wave of heat that she can feel deep in her core.

Someone – Nozawa? – cackles at the sight of them. What does he think is happening here? Paris and Torres, in a PDA clinch? P'taQ.

She disentangles herself quickly, rubbing her freezing hands together to make a point that no one seems interested in scoring. She stops when she sees him doing the exact same thing.

But later, in the resort, when she stretches out like a cat beside him to soak up the warm sun and his smile in equal measure, the memory of his arms around her waist makes her shiver.


Twelve – Day of Honour

There she is once more, in Sickbay, staring at the brightly lit ceiling and trying to ignore the Doc's incessant hum. How can anyone so sour be so … so goddamn cheerful? She mentally starts to redesign certain of the EMH's subroutines, for the next time he comes to her with a glitch in his programming.

It doesn't take her long to admit, though, that plotting the Doc's partial demise is just a way to avoid … other thoughts. She's movd that far past self-denial at least.

Slowly, cautiously she looks over to the other biobed, unsure of what she wants to find there. He's gone; he'd lasted longer than she had when the oxygen ran out, and must have recovered faster. The reflexive relief she feels at the sight of the empty bed tempts her, ready to cover her like a familiar blanket.

But she knows that her words will continue to hang in that vast empty space they occupied together, and that sooner or later he will find them again. Find her.

She closes her eyes, but the bright light remains . And she knows she has run out of places to hide.


Thirteen - Revulsion

"Shut up".

She grabs him and pulls him into her quarters, when he stutters something about hoping to continue their 'talk by the turbolift'.

She'd been afraid that he wouldn't get the hint - the way she'd looked at him and said, "Lieutenant…?" Afraid that he wouldn't follow her, after the Doc tried his utmost to wreck even the moment when, finally, it all came together.

For she is done now with that cautious dance they've been dancing far too long - orbiting each other, getting closer, never touching. He is here, and she is done waiting.

As is he, judging by the speed with which his fingers find the fastenings on her tunic even with their lips still locked. She doesn't care when his turtleneck rips a little as she pulls it off, and she suspects he hasn't even noticed.

His scent is intoxicating, and she breathes him in, deeply. His skin calls to her tongue, her lips, her teeth. In turn, his hands play her body like they do the helm; she finds herself going places she has never been before, his fingers blazing the trail as all her senses ignite.

She rakes his back with her nails – Mine! – as he effortlessly pulls her off the floor and braces her against the wall.

Later, there will be time to explore one another, to learn what it means to be together, beside and with each other.

For now, she is content to collide, and burn.