Author's Note - This is my first fan fiction and my first attempt at fiction at all in years. Please be gentle.
(A huge thank you to Photogirl1890 for some post-publication beta-ing of these chapters!)

Disclaimer - The characters do not belong to me. Nor does the ship or anything else in this particular fictional universe.


What Comes Before

I.

Immediately following the events of "Tattoo", early Season 2...

The glass slid and stopped neatly centimeters from her fingers as they rested on the wooden table top, the golden liquid within barely disturbed. Breaking attention from the PADD of engineering reports in her right hand, she arched an eyebrow and looked first down at the drink and then up at the pilot who had sent it her way and who was still standing (uncertainly? Was Tom Paris ever uncertain?) across the table, his own glass and a bottle in hand.

"Thought maybe you could use a drink," he suggested simply, and, when not immediately met with a hurled epithet in response, he folded his long frame into the chair opposite her. He quirked an eyebrow at her. "It's been one of those days."

"It has," she acknowledged cautiously, as she set down the PADD, which spelled out in lurid technical detail just how long the day had been, and picked up the glass. "Isn't it traditional to ask before buying someone a drink?"

"Would you have said yes?" Eyebrows raised. She gave him a small half smile at that since they both knew the probable answer. "Better to seek forgiveness than to ask permission then."

It should have sounded practiced: a line that Paris had used before on countless women. It would be accompanied by a soulful gaze from those crystal blue eyes asking forgiveness for whatever petty trespass had just been committed and permission for a whole lot more. But perhaps he had become wise enough not to play that game with her or perhaps it had simply really been that long of a day (or perhaps she was the one woman in the galaxy that held no interest for Tom Paris and that should be a good thing, right?) because even though he did catch and hold her eyes, all she read in his was a shared understanding of just how fucked up this day had been.

Which decided it, and she took the glass in hand, offering her companion a brief salute and downed it in a single swallow, giving only the slightest gasp as the alcohol (real alcohol. Of course it was real alcohol. Trust Paris to know that nothing else would be appropriate for this day) slid and burned down her throat. "What is it?" she asked, hoping that he didn't notice the wheeze in her voice.

"The Delta Quadrant equivalent of whiskey, as far as I can tell," he offered, looking impressed and the tiniest bit amused and refilling her glass. "It's actually rather drinkable," he added, taking his own drink at a more leisurely pace.

Taking the hint, she shrugged and sipped and sat across from what might be the best pilot in two quadrants of this galaxy and shared a drink and the knowledge that neither he nor she, one of the best engineers in those same two quadrants, had been able to keep their ship in the skies that day. There were no excuses, no what if's or perhaps maybe's, no platitudes that they had done their best. There was nothing that either had missed and no one that either could blame. There had been no more rabbits in either of their hats. And Voyager had fallen. To be saved only by a deus ex machina worthy of a Greek comedy or B grade film.

She swirled her drink and contemplated its golden depths before glancing up and finding herself caught by a particularly intense gaze from the pilot. Whether as a result of inherent Klingon stubbornness or Delta Quadrant whiskey fed courage, she refused to drop her eyes. Paris, for his part, seemed unfazed. No, that wasn't quite it. For Paris, the appearance of unconcern was a mask he wore often and one that she loathed. His look was assessing, curious, even kind. The mask, she realized, had dropped.

Which realization made her stomachs perform a queer double flip, and she perhaps hastily took a largish gulp to finish off her drink. Paris's mouth twitched and he wordlessly moved to fill the glass one more time and, against some better judgment, she did not resist. "Tom," she started, taking advantage of his activity to resettle stomachs and nerves, "can I ask you a question?"

"Are you wondering if I'm trying to get you drunk?" Paris quipped lightly.

"No – that would take some work, by the way. Klingon metabolisms have evolved around blood wine after all." She caught his eye again, knowing she was throwing him an almost irresistible challenge and smiled, but then looked down and toyed with her drink. "I've wanted to ask you – needed to ask you – what happened after you left the Liberty?"


"I've wanted to ask you – needed to ask you – what happened after you left the Liberty?"

Tom sat for a beat, then two. A cascade of sarcastic responses reeled through his head, but her eyes caught his again and he found himself nauseated by his own defensiveness. She needed to ask him. He could ask her why, but he already knew. It had to do with Vidiian caves, twisting hulls, Kazon Majes and falling ships; it had to do with finding yourself trusting someone with whom you still had unresolved history. So he fought down the sarcasm, the defensiveness and perhaps even a bit of the self-loathing that fueled them. "I would have thought that you would have already looked up the records."

She held his gaze and nodded. "I did."

"And?"

"The official report is that you encountered a Starfleet patrol ship and were ordered to stand down and prepare to be boarded. You ran, were caught and sent to prison."

He considered. "I'd say that's fairly accurate."

"It leaves a lot to interpretation," she pushed, mouth twisting into a half smile.

And therein lies the rub. Everything was up to interpretation. An interpretation that would be based on one's perceived character. So, once one managed to thoroughly fuck up one's perceived character, interpretation would forever be against one. Perhaps Klingons were on to something in holding personal honor so dear after all. Must be all that story telling they do.

But she was here and asking him about it. Needing to ask him about it.

Again fighting both urge and instinct to slouch back in his chair, to cross his arms and lace his voice with contempt, he instead leaned forward onto the table, still watching those dark eyes. "So what is your interpretation, B'Elanna?"

Instead of answering his question, she asked, "How did the colonists on Selka know where to find us, Tom?"

He felt his face begin to color and cursed his fair-skinned heritage for betraying him into answering a question on which he would otherwise have kept silent.

Her head cocked to the side as she read her answer. "You sent a message to Selka somehow. When you knew you were going to be intercepted. And then you ran to lead Starfleet away from us." Her voice was soft. He snapped his gaze down and away. "Look, B'Elanna, I..." whatever nonsense he was about to spout was cut short when she reached out and laid her hand over the back of his. "Tom..."

He looked back up and their eyes locked once again. He felt the pressure of her hand against his and heard her say his name and felt every nerve in his body react and oh shit this could not possibly be good...

"Tom, there you are!" Harry called from across the bar, and B'Elanna's hand skittered back across to her drink. She shot the remainder of the liquid down as quickly as she had gulped down the first glass, and he knew that she was about to leave and his slightly addled brain could come up with no excuse to ask her to stay. Harry wound his way towards the table. "B'Elanna, are you leaving already?"

"Sorry, Starfleet – I need to put a couple of engineering reports to bed," she made her excuses, getting up to leave and turning toward the exit. At which point his thoughts finally caught up with themselves and he called after her – "B'Elanna, wait!"

She turned, one hand on hip. He sought her eyes one more time. "Thank you," he said simply. She smiled (gods, one could make it one's life's work to get her to smile more often) and nodded before moving toward the door. Tom's eyes followed until Sandrine's doors swung shut behind her.