The Man of Honor
He sat in all-encompassing darkness, relieved only slightly by the 3% lighting he had specified. He'd always liked that level. It was suggestive of light spilling through an open window on a clear night on Earth.
He could see her, sprawled in utter exhaustion on the bed. Their bed for many months now, except on those nights they chose to sleep in his quarters. Then his bed became theirs. It had never mattered much which bed they slept in. Both had been well-used since they had come together over three years ago.
It was all about to end now, that easy way they had come to have with each other, her fire balanced by his ironic cool. Threatened, ironically enough, by the hard work they had done together, with the aid of her engineering staff, Harry Kim, and Seven of Nine.
The folding space technology, brought to them when an alien thief had temporarily absconded with Tom's body, finally had yielded its secret: it was, in fact, only a variation of the slip-stream drive and the Borg transwarp conduit. All depended upon the same underlying principles of physics utilized by those who were recognized by the people of Bajor as their Prophets of the Celestial Temple and by the Federation as the wormhole aliens. The folding space technology Steth had shown them turned out to be superior to all the other variations for a very mundane reason. It could safely be adapted to Voyager's use. Once that key fact was recognized, it was only a matter of time before the door to the Alpha Quadrant would be opened.
The Holy Grail of Voyager. The Alpha Quadrant. Home.
Home, where Thomas Eugene Paris had been the scion of a noble Starfleet family, a child prodigy at piloting, and, due to his own cowardice at a critical point in his life, a ruined man.
Cut loose from Starfleet and all that he loved, most damningly, he lost sight of his own soul. Abusing his body with alcohol and sex to numb the pain he felt every time he looked at the man staring back at him from the mirror, he had managed to cast himself away even while living on his own home planet.
Almost despite himself, he had drifted into a noble cause. In the brief time he had been in service to the Maquis he had done little, save to sacrifice himself so that his compatriots could escape a Starfleet trap. He had had no mechanism to get word to them of his selfless act, even if his pride would have allowed him to admit it. Since there was no way for them to learn the truth, they presumed he was their betrayer, not their rescuer. Instead, he accepted the label of traitor to the Federation and went to prison. In the eyes of those who followed the principles of Starfleet, he had lost his honor for the second time.
And then, when he was as debased in his own eyes as he could be, incarcerated, reduced to being a mere mechanic in a rehabilitation colony when once he could pilot a starship as well as or better than any person alive, a woman had offered him the chance to serve again. Once that mission was over, he would be cut loose to drift from woman to bar, from bar to woman, but for those few weeks, he would be able to step on the deck of a starship again-if he were willing to betray his fellow Maquis, this time for real.
The lure of the stars was greater than his capacity to do the noble thing and say, "No."
Six and a half years later, that "brief" mission was finally about to come to an end. After years of working hard to gain the respect of his superiors and his peers, earning a field commission, a demotion, and finally promotion again, he and all on Voyager were about to return to their Alpha Quadrant home. Fate decreed that they would face all the phantoms from their pasts. Starfleet boards of inquiry for his captain. Possible courts martial for his love and her fellow Maquis. A prison out-mate review for himself-as if he hadn't been "out" as far as possible for over six years while exceeding the length of his expected sentence four times over.
The very thought brought a bitter smile to his face. Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris had changed a lot-and for the better, as he fervently believed-in the intervening years. One thing he was never likely to lose, however, was his ability to recognize and laugh at absurdity, particularly if it pertained to his own stumbling path through life.
Shaking his head, he tried to think of other things, anything, to sidestep the one great truth he could not ignore. The Delta Quadrant was far more home to him now than the Alpha Quadrant had ever been; but, like all of the crew, he was bound towards the one place in the universe he'd rather not be. "Home."
"Tom?" a sleep-slurred voice called from the bed.
"Yes, B'Elanna, I'm here," he said, guiltily aware that his lover-his *par'machai* in the Klingon tongue-must have been awakened by his sarcastic murmuring of the word which had become a curse to him.
She sat up in bed, the gleaming intelligence in her eyes shrouded by darkness. "What are you doing over there?"
The slightest of chuckles emanated from her direction. In just the right, light tone of voice, he tacked on the addendum she would be expecting: "Unthinkable as that may be."
"Get over here, Tom. Now. We've done enough thinking for one day, don't you think?"
/For six and a half years we've done enough thinking, yeah. And fighting, and dying, and surviving in spite of it./ But he let no hint of these thoughts slip into the saucy, "Yes, ma'am," he drawled as he sauntered towards the bed.
Slipping under the raised covers, he stopped her mouth before she could say anything more. He kissed her hungrily, knowing she would respond, just as she had a few hours ago, just as she always did. For one more time, and for as many more times as they had left to be together, he would bury himself into the comfort of her arms and love, always conscious that he would hold back just a little of himself, the same as he always did.
Because tonight might very well be the last time she would look at him with love and see the man who still bore a shred of honor in his soul. In the Delta Quadrant, he could fool himself, and his half-Klingon love, into thinking he was a man worthy of her love.
In the Alpha Quadrant, that would be impossible.
B'Elanna straightened her dress uniform. They would be coming any moment to Tom's quarters. The admiral and his lady. Tom's parents. His mother had called to say she'd be transporting up to Voyager, in orbit around Earth, to see her only son. To see them.
She tried to tell herself she wasn't nervous. She almost succeeded. Almost. To cover the shiver she felt beginning to creep up her spine, she squared her shoulders and prodded Tom, "Straighten your collar. It's folded under."
"I hate these uniforms. And I thought our black jumpsuits were bad!" he complained.
"I may not have to worry about wearing it too much longer."
"The board of inquiry is going to conaffirm your commissions, B'Elanna. They would have already announced holding courts martial if they were going to do anything else."
"They still could, after the inquiry."
"No, they're not. It's going to be fine. I know it." He smiled at her, his clear eyes opening up his soul to her sight. Virtually his entire soul. Always, there was that slight sense of detachment, as if he were unable to completely share himself with her even though he wished to, desperately. As soon as the thought occurred to her, she dismissed it as unworthy. He'd never given her reason to think that, ever. He had always supported her in everything she did.
Except in one way. She'd never heard The Words from him.
"Do you think we should go to the transporter room to wait?" B'Elanna asked, to divert herself from musings she did not wish to follow to their natural conclusion. The chiming of the door prevented him from answering.
At Tom's voicing of the word "Enter" the door opened, but instead of an admiral and his wife, a petite but powerful Klingon woman of middle years stood there, shifting her weight from one foot to the other before her eyes met B'Elanna's. After a moment of shocked silence, B'Elanna walked warily forward. Joy mingled with apprehension flooded through her. "Mother?"
"Lanna! *puqbe'wIj*!" B'Elanna's mother cried hoarsely, jumping into the room.
"I didn't know you were coming! Why didn't you tell me?"
The mother threw her arms around her daughter, hugging fiercely enough to squeeze the last breath from the prodigal's body. B'Elanna wanted to yell at her mother to stop, yet despite herself, B'Elanna hugged her back with equal vigor, not quite sure if the sounds coming from her mouth were words, laughter, or sobs.
B'Elanna relinquished her hold on her mother to step away, so she could see her mother better. Her mother did not totally release her. Raising her hand to B'Elanna's jaw to hold it in place, the Klingon woman studied her child's face. Her blue-green eyes glittered as she drew her lips back to reveal sharp teeth. "You look older, my daughter. Wiser, too, I hope. And your hair! Finally, you have stopped straightening it into a poor imitation of a human's! I'm glad to see those beautiful waves! You are my daughter again, B'Elanna! Ha!" Her delighted bark of laughter reverberated around the room.
The flicker of anger that flared up when her mother mentioned B'Elanna's past transgressions against her hair quickly died in the face of her mother's obvious joy. Her mother had come to *her,* to Earth, where she'd sworn she would never come when they'd parted in anger on the eve of B'Elanna's escape to the Academy all those years ago. Until now, it was the last time they had seen each other in life.
/It's good to know I managed to do at least *one* thing right in the past twelve years,/ B'Elanna thought, reaching up to grab a lock of her hair. Nervously tugging at it, she confided, "Tom was after me forever to stop straightening it, so I finally did. He likes it this way. And speaking of Tom . . ."
B'Elanna whirled around to find him standing in the far corner of the room, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed in front of his chest, silently observing the Klingon family reunion. Despite his overtly relaxed pose, she could perceive the slight awkwardness she always saw when he was unsure what his next move should be. B'Elanna had seen him like that often enough the first couple of years on Voyager, when she wouldn't give him the time of day and he tried to look like it didn't matter. He hadn't shown it much lately. It disturbed her to see it now, even though she could imagine that meeting her mother wasn't going to be any easier for him than meeting his parents was going to be for her.
/Meeting. Oh, right. That's what we need to do now. I knew I was forgetting something./
"Mother, Thomas Eugene Paris. Tom, my mother, Miral, of the House of Martok."
Tom's posture became Starfleet perfect as he took the three long strides he needed to reach B'Elanna and her mother. He held his hand out, a warm smile on his face, and said, "Miral, of the House of Martok, it is an honor to meet you."
His smile faded as Miral failed to take his hand. "Thomas Eugene Paris. I've heard of you." The sudden chill in the air was unmistakable, although the heat suffusing B'Elanna's face threatened to disperse it explosively within seconds.
"Mother!" B'Elanna squeezed out between clenched teeth.
Before anything else could be said to turn the reunion into a complete debacle, the door chime rang again. It was not difficult to guess who would be behind the door this time. Tom called out again, "Enter."
Although a couple was expected, only one person was behind the door. The short, human woman with silver-streaked blonde hair and very blue eyes cried out, "Oh, Tom!" and broke into tears as he rushed over to her.
"It's okay, Mom! You don't have to cry," he answered, but he hunched himself over to bury his face in her shoulder as she rubbed him on the back, comforting him like one would a small child who had become lost, then was found again.
Taking advantage of the distraction, B'Elanna clasped her mother's wrist and dragged her into the corner, away from Tom and his mother. "How could you be so rude to Tom!" she hissed. "Is that the 'honorable way' Klingons are supposed to behave?"
"He's not worthy of you, B'Elanna. Surely you know that. I pity his parents. To have to live with his disgrace for the rest of their lives." There was no anger in her voice, only a weary resignation which dismayed B'Elanna more than righteous anger would have.
"Mother! You don't know him. He's put all that behind him. He's the bravest man I've ever met!"
"Not when it counted, B'Elanna! He cannot be trusted. He is not worthy of you."
"Not worthy of me?! Of course he is. More worthy of me than I am of him!"
"He does not understand Klingon ways, B'Elanna. Even humans know he has no honor!"
Incensed, B'Elanna retorted, "Not understand! How can you say that? The only reason *I* understand anything at all of 'the Klingon Way' is from the way he constantly pushed it down my throat. He never stopped telling me I couldn't hide from who I am. That being Klingon was an important part of me. Not until he made me believe it! If he doesn't have enough honor for you, Mother, then neither have I!"
In the sudden silence that followed her outburst, B'Elanna felt not only her mother's, but two sets of blue eyes staring at her as well. When she turned her head, she saw one pair staring at her in horror, while the other blinked and looked away, as if the owner could not meet her gaze.
B'Elanna released her mother's wrist and went to him. "You see, Tom! This is how it always ends! Twelve years, and we still can't speak to one another. In less than ten minutes we start screaming at each other!"
"B'Elanna . . ."
"Let's go! I can't stay here one more minute!"
"B'Elanna, your mother's right."
"Tom, if she can't see that you . . ."
"If she can't see what? That I'm dishonorable? Of course I'm dishonorable, to a Klingon. There's no way I can ever undo what I did. She's right, B'Elanna."
"I won't accept that!" B'Elanna reached for him, but he slipped his hands up to her elbows and held them firmly, to keep her hands away from him, as if to ward off a blow.
"You'd better," he said sorrowfully. "I always knew this would happen. In the Delta Quadrant it was fine. Everyone on Voyager learned to have faith in me, but look how long it took! I have to start all over again to win people's trust." He shut his eyes, shaking his head slightly, not able to meet her burning eyes as he said quietly, "And we both know some people will never trust me again. If you stay with me, I can only bring you down. Your mother is right. I'm *not* good enough for you."
"That's not true, Tom, and you know it. Of course you're good enough ." Between his averted eyes and the blurring of her own, B'Elanna couldn't see his expression. "You don't think you're getting away from me that easily, do you?" she joked feebly.
She was unable to draw even a slight smile from him. "I *was* a coward, B'Elanna. With one stupid lie I lost my honor. I have no one to blame but myself."
"Maybe you *were* a coward once, but you certainly aren't one now. How many times did you risk your life to save us all on Voyager?"
"That doesn't matter. Once, a lot of years ago, I stood in front of a board of inquiry and shoved my own error off on those who weren't around to defend themselves. You can't deny that was wrong."
"You made a mistake, Tom. Everyone makes mistakes. Even Klingons make mistakes!" B'Elanna clutched desperately onto Tom's elbows as the floor fell away from under her. This couldn't be happening. Tom couldn't be pushing her away now, not after all they had been through.
His words were soft and intense. "I would give anything to live that moment over, to tell the truth this time. God knows, I've turned it over and over in my mind to try to understand why I lied. I wish I could figure it out. I really don't know why I did it."
"Don't you?" a shaky voice said from behind him. B'Elanna and Tom both turned their heads towards the distressed woman who had stood in silence next to her son throughout his painful confession. "No matter what it cost you, you always went along with what *he* wanted. If *he* wanted you to study in the summer to pass your Academy entrance exams sooner, you buried yourself inside your room surrounded by piles of books and PADDs. You told me you wanted to go into the Earth navy, but when *he* said, 'Starfleet,' to the Academy you must go . . ."
Tom stared at his mother as she spoke in tones that dripped with bitterness. "Everyone knew it would have been a waste. Dad said I was a natural pilot," he finally countered.
"Would it have been so terrible for you to have 'wasted' a year in the Navy finding that out for yourself-instead of just taking your father's word for it? How many years did you waste on the ground because of a mistake you couldn't admit in front of your father? Don't look at me that way, Tom. Can't you see, even now? If your father wasn't there when they started questioning you, do you think you would have lied? But in front of *him* . . ."
Tom broke in, "Mom, nobody told me to lie. I did that all by myself. I can't blame Dad for that! Neither should you."
"I don't blame him for *that,* Tom. Other things, perhaps, but not that," his mother muttered, making B'Elanna curious about what those "other things" might be for which she felt her husband deserved blame. When Mrs. Paris' eyes stole quickly over to her at that moment, B'Elanna was convinced there had been a deeper-or perhaps a double-meaning to her words. Before B'Elanna could ask her about it, words poured out of Mrs. Paris again.
"Of course your father would never tell you to lie, Tom; he didn't even have to! You were expected to be the Perfect Starfleet Officer. Admit to failure? That was something you just couldn't do. Oh, God, I blame myself for that! I knew he was demanding too much from you. I was never strong enough to stop him."
"Mom, stop it! Don't start blaming yourself now!"
"I have to, Tom. In my heart, I always knew we weren't teaching you everything you needed to know. I should have made sure you were given the chance to learn how to fail, then how to pick yourself up after a mistake and carry on. I only thank God the Maquis and Kathryn Janeway finally gave you that chance!" His mother's eyes spilled over with tears again, but these were not tears of joy.
Tom put his arms around his mother and hugged her tightly. "Don't do this to yourself. You were the best mother a guy could ever have. And even if you missed teaching me a few things, I should have learned them on my own. It doesn't excuse me for what I did. I knew every Starfleet officer is expected to tell the truth, not only the perfect ones. I just didn't do it soon enough."
The embrace of the mother and son lasted a long time. Glancing over at her own mother, the cause of all this grief, B'Elanna felt more lost than angry. Miral stood with her back to all of them, including B'Elanna, studying the Paris family portrait Tom had always kept in his quarters, as if she had nothing to do with what was happening to Tom and his mother-and B'Elanna.
/Shut out again,/ B'Elanna thought grimly. And she had harbored such hopes that it would be different this time.
After B'Elanna's near-death experience, when she'd "met" her mother on the barge of the dead bound for Grethor-Klingon Hell-B'Elanna had vowed that if her mother was still alive when they returned to the Alpha Quadrant, they would settle their differences and finally understand each other. When Voyager gained occasional contact with the Alpha Quadrant, B'Elanna was able to confirm that her mother still lived, though they sent no messages to each other. Once they met face to face again, perhaps it would be different.
But now . . . if her mother could not accept her daughter's choice of mate, there was no hope for a permanent reconciliation after all. B'Elanna did not regret her choice; she knew she would never waver from him. No matter what her mother might say, B'Elanna knew Tom *was* a man of honor. Listening to Tom take responsibility for his own disgrace made her even more sure of him. She wanted to stand in front of her mother and scream at her for her blindness, but she could not. It was no use. They would never understand each other.
Before B'Elanna could demand that her mother leave, Tom's mother released her son and paced to the corner where Miral stood. Outwardly calm, although B'Elanna was sure she was seething with anger, Mrs. Paris pushed her way forward to confront Miral. In a hoarse voice, she said, "I overheard what you said before-about pitying Tom's father and me for his disgrace. Don't bother. Tom should have told the truth the first time. I won't deny that. He couldn't undo the lie, once told. But I *am* proud of him for coming forward with the truth later on, even though he knew he would lose everything that he cared about."
Shaking her head, Miral laughed, "To finally admit to the lie when they have caught you in it-when there is no longer a way out? Why should that matter? There is no honor in admitting it then, when you are trapped and can no longer deny the truth!"
At that, B'Elanna could not contain herself. "Tom was never 'caught' by anyone! He confessed what he'd done himself, on his own!"
"You expect me to believe that? They found him out! They made him tell!" Miral marched defiantly to Tom and stood mere centimeters from him. Tom towered over her in a way that would have been comical, if the subject being addressed were not so deadly serious.
Perhaps it was the incongruity of the scene, but B'Elanna suddenly feared that Tom might laugh off her mother's accusation with a wisecrack, to deflect everything away from what mattered and turn it into a cheap joke, as he so often did. The crooked smile that had momentarily adorned his face melted into a grimace of pain, however, as he confessed, "No. I'd gotten away clean. As far as anyone knew, it was a case of 'pilot error'-and I wasn't even the pilot who made it. No one would ever have found out." His voice died away to a whisper.
The Klingon woman stood quietly for several seconds, her piercing gaze fastened upon the silent man's abject misery. Grabbing Tom by the chin, just as she had B'Elanna when they'd first seen each other, Miral held his face so that he could not look away from her. "Tell me again. If no one had found out, why did you confess?"
"I had to. I had to tell or go totally crazy. I couldn't live in my own skin anymore."
Miral stared into his eyes for what seemed like ages. Releasing his chin, she rested her hand lightly on his chest. "So, he has a conscience after all. Perhaps all is not lost."
It took a few seconds for what she had said to register. When it did, his eyes opened wide in astonished disbelief. "What I did was dishonorable . . ."
"Yes, it was. You richly deserved to be punished," Miral replied severely, punching him soundly on the left clavicle. The hope that had begun to flicker in his eyes wavered until she added, "but one dishonorable deed does not always mean a warrior is beyond redemption. If that were so, Sto-Vo-Kor would be a very empty place. Few can live their lives without making a single mistake. Even Klingons know that. Otherwise, my daughter would have been lost to me forever, too."
Miral's sharp sideways glance at B'Elanna was softened by the hint of a crooked grin, stifling the instinctive angry retort B'Elanna was about to make. B'Elanna, of all people, could not deny she had made mistakes in her life.
"I always thought what I did was so terrible, no Klingon could ever forgive me."
"The deed *was* terrible, Thomas Paris. But then, if you could no longer live with this lie, you already know that." Miral dropped her hand from his chest, glancing into the face of the mother, so much like the son's, before speaking again to Tom. "Those who truly are without honor cover up their crimes from father to son. They deny their misdeeds, as if by denying, they can undo the evil. Their dishonor stains one generation after another. I can see now you have not gone so far down that path."
"Are you saying there's hope for me? Despite what I did, there's still a chance to regain my honor in your eyes?"
"Do you think you are an honorable man?"
Tom answered hesitantly but sincerely, "I can never forget that three of my best friends lost their lives because of me, and people thought badly of them for a while . . . because of me. I have to live with that for the rest of my life. No matter how many brave things I do, I'll never know if they wouldn't have done more, if they'd lived long enough to have the chance. The best I can do is strive to make up for that the only way I can-by acting as courageously as I can in their memory, as well as for my own sake. I don't know if that's 'honorable' enough for you or not."
"That is all anyone can do, Thomas Paris. You understand more than I thought. Just remember, all will recall your past error. They will always watch you, wondering if you are capable of doing it again. You have no room ever to make another mistake such as this."
Wordlessly, Tom nodded in agreement, smiling in relief, first at B'Elanna's mother, then his own, and finally, at B'Elanna.
The crushing grip of guilt released its stranglehold on Tom's heart. Totally dissipated-no. It never would be; he could accept that now. But no matter what happened with boards of inquiry and outmate reviews, he knew he could bear it. B'Elanna would not have to turn her back upon her Klingon self just to stay with him. If the two of them could be together, he knew he could handle whatever challenges he might meet along the way . . . what he might meet . . . who he would meet . . .
He slapped himself on the forehead. "Did we all get a chance to introduce everyone here? B'Elanna? Did I introduce you to my mother?"
"I think we all figured out who we were, Tom," his mother said, dryly.
"Yes, we have!" Miral's grin was feral. "And we have met in the best way! We have fought well, and we have come to a truce. But, I must tell you, Thomas Paris. I prefer to know the names of my adversaries-and my allies."
"I'm so sorry! Miral, this is my mother . . . I guess you figured out that part . . . Alicia Paris. Mom, this is Miral of the House of Martok. And this is B'Elanna."
Alicia embraced B'Elanna warmly. Turning to Miral, she extended her hand, to have her wrist clasped firmly and shaken with enthusiasm. Before retrieving her limb, Alicia inquired of the Klingon woman, "The House of Martok? Are you any relation to the Klingon Chancellor?"
"He is my cousin, but we are counted among those of his house."
B'Elanna looked at the two mothers and laughed. "The Klingon CHANCELLOR? Mother, don't be ridiculous. Uncle Martok is a general. He's always hated politics!"
"And still does, but that does not mean he has escaped its grasp. Destiny often has a cruel sense of humor."
B'Elanna shook her head. "Mother, this is a joke, right?"
Then Tom remembered. "B'Elanna, I read about it in one of those 'briefing messages' from Starfleet that Reg Barclay sent to Voyager. There was something about a General Martok who was named Chancellor at the end of the Dominion War . . . you're related to *him*?"
"I told you we are. Do you doubt my word, Thomas Paris?" Miral's reply was fierce, but her eyes glimmered with amusement.
"Never," Tom replied smoothly. Miral was every bit as formidable as B'Elanna had always told him she was, not that he was particularly intimidated. Being involved with B'Elanna for almost four years had prepared him well for her mother.
Alicia Paris rolled her eyes and patted him on the shoulder. "That's enough of the legendary Paris charm for now, Tom. We don't have time for it. We were supposed to be at that reception at Starfleet Headquarters by 2000 hours. We won't make it to the transporter room before then if we don't leave right now."
Raising his hands in mock defeat, Tom capitulated, "You're right, as always, Mom. Why don't the two of you get started. B'Elanna and I have something we have to talk about first."
"Don't take too long, now, you two," Alicia admonished, waving her finger at her son. Tom grabbed his mother's hand to stop the wagging, giving it a quick squeeze.
"I don't have to worry about the two of you getting into any arguments on your way to the transporter room, do I?" he said with mock severity.
"I will be at my most diplomatic," Alicia said primly. Miral grunted in the background in what could pass for a chuckle, for a Klingon. Raising her hand to her son's face, Alicia gently stroked his cheek with the back of her fingers. When her hand reached his ear, she closed her fingers to tug ever so gently on his earlobe, their old signal when one wanted to say something to the other privately, even in the midst of a crowd. Tom grinned quickly at the memory and bent his ear down to catch her whispered, "Klingons are never dull, are they?"
"Nope," he replied, his voice as soft as hers. "But they sure keep you on your toes. And they're *always* exciting."
"Ah. I can certainly see the attraction for you, then! Please, Tom, don't be too long."
He nodded. She gave him a last quick pat on the chest before walking briskly through the doorway, Miral of the House of Martok following closely on her heels.
As the door closed behind them, B'Elanna remarked, "I like your mother, Tom. She's wonderful. Why did you always talk so much about your father and almost never about her?"
"You know, I have to admit it's strange I never talked more about her to you. I guess I was always obsessing about whether or not my father would approve of what I did. I never had to worry about whether my mother was proud or angry with me. I always knew she loved me, no matter what."
"I wish I'd felt that way about my mother."
"B'Elanna, I think she does feel the same way about you-she just has a different way of showing it."
B'Elanna shrugged, but she did not disagree as Tom caught up her hands in his own.
"I just wish I knew where my dad was. Why wasn't he here?"
"Is it possible he's tied up with this reception at Starfleet Headquarters-the one we're already supposed to be at?" she asked pointedly.
"Ah! That's probably it. That wouldn't be unusual." He squeezed the hands he was holding and looked down at B'Elanna, who was staring expectantly up at him. "We should go, but first, I have something I have to say to someone else, not my father."
"Tom, does this 'something' we have to talk about have anything to do with Klingons, honor, or anything like that?"
"Maybe just a little," he said lightly. Kissing her knuckles softly, Tom leaned in close to her. "It's something I've been meaning to tell you for a long, long, time. I think I finally found the right time to say it."
He looked into her dark eyes, so fiery, yet so soft when they gazed upon him. Finally he was free to whisper something he'd never felt the right to say to her before.
As he said those three simple words, B'Elanna's face brightened with such rapturous joy he regretted they were duty-bound to attend a dull public reception. Tom would much rather have stayed in quarters for a private celebration.
He felt even more regret about their obligation when B'Elanna threw her arms around his neck and whispered back, "I love you, too, Tom."