The corridor was remarkably empty. The two women, neither of them clad in Starfleet uniforms, saw only each other as they strode briskly down the hallway, covering a remarkable distance in a very short time. They did not speak. Their silence was understandable, considering the extreme emotions both had experienced just before they entered the corridor. They were not ignoring each other, however. One or the other would look over at her counterpart and take in a detail of her profile, her carriage, or expression, then the other would do the same. What thoughts or conclusions either might have entertained, however, were not shared with her companion.
When they reached the turbolift door, the two women paused to wait for the lift to arrive. Both started to speak at once, stopped, and then expressed their amusement simultaneously, the human with a giggle, the Klingon with hearty laughter.
"I wonder how long we should wait in the transporter room for the two of them," Miral said. "I think they had much they wished to 'talk about.' "
"I don't think it will be too long. Tom usually cuts his arrival time to affairs like this fairly close, but he always manages to get there before he's actually late."
"You are accustomed to attending affairs like this? Grand receptions?"
"I've had to go to my share over the years. But certainly one who is of the House of Martok has had to go to such 'grand receptions,' also?"
"In the last year or so I have attended two. Before that, never."
"How can that be?"
"It is as my daughter said. Martok is a great warrior, a general, but he earned his position himself, rising from the lowest of ranks. Becoming Chancellor of the Klingon Empire was a fluke, a consequence of the vagaries of war. Our family was not born to this station, as yours was."
Alicia Paris laughed at that comment, catching her breath just as the turbolift door slid open, permitting the two to enter. After announcing, "Transporter Room 2," she confided, "Oh, I wasn't born to this life either. Owen comes from a long line of distinguished Starfleet officers-he's not the first admiral in that bunch. On the other hand, I didn't come from a Starfleet family. I had a couple of relatives who enlisted before my dad did, but both of them were long gone before I was born. They were in the 'Fleet more than a hundred years ago. My father was the first to enter the Academy. He never rose above the rank of commander. He retired shortly before I married Owen. I had to get used to all of this 'pomp and circumstance' myself. I never have been able to take it all quite so seriously as Owen does. I'm afraid Tom takes after me that way."
"I see. Tom does not take such responsibilities seriously?"
"Oh, I didn't mean to leave you with that impression. He always takes his responsibilities seriously. Sometimes too seriously for my taste. Well, perhaps I should say, he always did take them seriously . . .it's been a while, after all."
"Anyway, while he always came to these affairs and behaved with perfect manners, even when he was quite young, he always had a twinkle in his eye. And he always had something funny to say during the goings-on, and after it was over, too. I missed that when he was . . . gone . . . I couldn't bear to go to anything like this. It hurt too much."
"Once you learned Thomas was alive, when the Voyager's holographic physician came to the experimental vessel-the Prometheus, was it not?-were you able to enjoy yourself at them once again?" The Klingon woman cocked her head as she waited for the answer.
"This is the first one I've attended since we received word that Tom-and your daughter B'Elanna-were safe."
"Ah. I see. I am not surprised." Miral paced to the opposite side of the turbolift. She turned and looked pointedly at the human woman's hands.
When Alicia realized where Miral's eyes had traveled, she reflexively clasped them together. A second later, she spread her fingers out fully and said, "You are a very perceptive woman, Miral of the House of Martok."
Miral shrugged, "I saw the picture of your family in Thomas' quarters. You wore a ring on your hand when the image was taken. I followed the custom of wearing a marriage ring when B'Elanna's father and I lived together. After he abandoned us, I wore it for a few months more, hoping he would return. Once it became clear he would not, I set it aside. I still have it, laid in a box next to the betrothal necklace he gave me. I do not know if I should give them to B'Elanna or not. Perhaps they are unlucky."
It was not until after the turbolift reached its destination and they had exited to begin their walk to the transporter room that Alicia responded, "I removed my ring when I left Owen. He still wears his. Mine is set aside, too, in a drawer. I hope to be able to put it on again one day, but I don't know if, or when, that may be. There are certain . . . conditions that must be met first."
"He did not abandon you, then."
"Not in the usual sense of that word, no. I could not accept . . . certain positions he had taken . . ." Alicia sighed deeply. "By beating around the bush, I'm going to give you the wrong impression, I know. The truth is, we had a falling out over what some people would say was 'only politics.' You can laugh-or be scandalized, if you wish-but we separated when the Klingons attacked the Cardassians over the situation in the Demilitarized Zone."
Miral stopped in her tracks and stared openly at her companion. "That was the 'other thing' you blamed him for?"
"Other thing? Oh, yes, I did mention that before, didn't I? Yes that was it." Alicia coolly returned Miral's stare.
"Why would the Klingons attacking Cardassia bother you?"
"It didn't bother me. I was all in favor of it."
Miral lowered her head so that her expression was grimmer than before. "Explain."
Alicia sighed, "It's a long story. I may not get a chance to finish it before our children arrive, and if they do, I'll stop. I don't want Tom to know about my separation from his father until we can both tell him, down on the surface. I know Owen would prefer I do it up here-that's why he elected to stay at the reception and let me come up to get Tom. We agreed a long time ago not to tell him until we were together, though, so I won't."
"I understand. Shall we stay here, out in the corridor, away from the one who mans the transporter console? Not many of the crew have passed us. We are only steps away from the transport room door. We can see easily from both directions. "
Alicia smiled. "You have an eye for tactics, I see."
"Hah!" Miral replied heartily. "Not like my cousin, I assure you!"
"Yes, this is fine. Most of the crew are at the reception by now. Those who are on duty tonight were borrowed from other ships, so that all of the Voyager crew could attend their welcome home party. It should be safe enough." Alicia bit her lower lip, however, and looked down the corridor in each direction before beginning to speak.
"Owen and I have had difficult times before. In Starfleet families, that's the rule rather than the exception. Years ago, he and Captain Janeway were captured by the Cardassians and tortured. That affected him greatly." Miral bobbed her head in acknowledgment. "And then, of course, when Tom had his accident, and later recanted his testimony to admit that the pilot error was his doing, Owen was crushed. He tried to support Tom, in his own way, but Tom couldn't bear to see his father's disappointment.
"Tom left home and traveled around the Earth-and sometimes off it, I think, for the next couple of years. He was out of touch for months at a time, calling home only when he needed more credits. When he did contact us, Tom almost never asked to speak with his father. I really believe his estrangement from Tom was even more difficult for Owen than what he'd gone through when he'd been captured by the Cardassians.
"And then Tom joined the Maquis, and was captured, and put in prison, and . . . well, what else can I say? It was a terrible time for all of us, but for Owen, it dashed any hope he still had that Tom might work things out on his own. His 'crown prince' had turned into a frog . . . oh, sorry. That's from an old Earth folk tale I'm sure you wouldn't know. It means that Tom turned into an ordinary person, not the one who would be the 'greatest of all the Paris admirals,' the way Owen had always thought he would. It's the opposite of what happened to your cousin, the Chancellor, isn't it?"
"It is," Miral agreed.
"After Tom was lost with everyone else on Voyager, Owen seemed to lose his perspective on virtually everything. He didn't want to hear about my charity work, but we couldn't talk about what was going on in the Admiralty, either. Owen didn't say much, and what little he did talk about, I didn't like to hear. That whole Cardassian situation . . ."
Alicia paused and looked toward the far wall, her eyes unseeing. "I'd had a lot of reservations about that treaty with the Cardassians from the beginning. A lot of people did. Owen, too. But it was 'expedient' to sign the treaty, he said. We had to recover from all the fighting. Maybe it would work out, he said. To me, it was like taking refuge next to a building that's about to be demolished, just waiting for it to collapse on us. I knew no good would come of it. I wasn't alone in my opinion. The mass media on Earth were overwhelmingly skeptical that the accord would bring lasting peace. Once we started to hear rumors of atrocities in the DMZ, there was an even greater outcry against the treaty.
"So, when the Maquis first began to fight the Cardassians, I fully expected Owen to attempt to get the Federation to support their cause. After all, Owen, of all people, knew what it was like to be held prisoner by the Cardassians. But he said the Maquis began the conflict and didn't deserve our help! Many times I wanted to ask him, 'Who are you and what have you done with my husband?
"Did you think he was a Changeling, the way our Martok was taken over?"
"No, that was before they came here, except for that Changeling constable on Deep Space Nine. It would be easier if I could have blamed it all on that, wouldn't it? But this Owen really was my husband. He had taken Tom's being thrown out of Starfleet so hard, even before Tom got involved with the Maquis, that he became unbelievably rigid. He began to obsess about the Maquis 'getting us involved in a war before we were ready.' And after Tom was sent to prison for being a Maquis, we could barely talk about it."
Alicia's eyes dropped, no longer able to meet Miral's. A strain came into her voice. "After Voyager was lost in the Badlands, Owen came out in support of the plan to let the Maquis fight the Cardassians as a 'delaying tactic.' The Federation had to prepare for a war with the Cardassians that was 'inevitable,' according to Owen. So the Maquis could just hold them off while we got ready. After all, they started it, right? He was so callous! He denied being the one who came with the idea; I hope he's telling the truth. It's just about the only time he's agreed with Admiral Nechayev on anything!
"It bothered me so much, I can't tell you. I know how it is with military decisions. I've been around long enough to know that the 'needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.' Even though I didn't like it, I would have understood-if it were strictly a military decision. But it wasn't, not on Owen's part. He was punishing the Maquis for stealing away his son. He blamed them for Tom's being on Voyager in the first place. Never mind that he could easily have been assigned to Voyager if Tom had never been thrown out of Starfleet in the first place! When I pointed that out to Owen, he said it would still have been the fault of the Maquis, because that's who Captain Janeway and her crew were chasing when they disappeared.
"And then your fleet attacked Cardassia."
"And this made you happy?"
"I applauded them. I thought that with your warriors attacking the Cardassians, the front would move out of the DMZ long enough for us to rescue some of the families-the children, especially. They were suffering terribly by that time. Owen was . . . well, he wasn't very happy with me. And it's true. When the spouse of one of the most important admirals in Starfleet isn't being 'politically correct,' it reflects badly on the admiral. But by that time I couldn't stand trying to be the 'good little admiral's wife' any more. I had to follow the path my conscience demanded of me." The tears that had been glistening in Alicia's eyes began to spill over. Miral reached out her hand. Alicia grasped hold of it, as one does a lifeline, seemingly unaware that she had done so.
"I began to work with a group that was helping the families of the Maquis and the people of the DMZ right after Tom disappeared, even before Voyager was declared lost. The Desdichado Foundation-that means 'the disinherited ones,' from 'Ivanhoe,' an old book about knights and chivalry. When I started to work there, I used my birth name Alicia Kelley, so that I wouldn't embarrass Owen. Some of the rescue workers knew who I really was, but they were very good about not saying anything publicly. Still are, actually. I just felt I needed to do something for somebody else. I couldn't help my son. I was sure he was gone forever. Helping people who had become homeless because of war seemed to be the right thing to do."
"A most honorable thing to do," Miral agreed, in a mellow voice for a Klingon.
Alicia smiled sadly. "It was little enough I could do. Food, medicines, clothing, finding them a new place to live-that was all fine. But those are just things. It couldn't bring their lost loved ones back to life. And the Maquis casualties were horrendous."
"All wiped out, but for a handful, Martok told me."
"Yes. There are a few still in hiding, more than is generally acknowledged, I hope. Some who had been recovering from wounds when the movement was crushed just stayed put when it was all over. They had no comrades to rejoin. I've been in touch with an old friend of Tom's from his days at the Academy who left the Maquis for personal reasons, long before things got to be so desperate. She's still alive, too. There may be others who have a story like hers. But outside of them, almost all were lost, unless they were 'lucky' enough to have been imprisoned by the Federation! And that's the thing I can't stand to see now, Miral. Since the Dominion War ended, we have been helping the Cardassians rebuild, yet the captured Maquis are still in prison. If we can forgive the Cardassians and the Founders, why can't we forgive the Maquis, too?"
"There is no reason not to. You are right, of course, Alicia Paris," Miral said. Her companion smiled briefly before her mask of pain descended again, dulling the blue eyes she had bequeathed her son.
"So you see why I . . . I really can't go back home. Not yet. I can't rebuild my life with Owen . . . not until they are free to rebuild theirs. Even Alynna Necheyev would probably have the sense to keep her mouth shut if Owen spoke out for their release. She's been keeping a very low profile lately, since she was the one who helped muck everything up by agreeing to that damned treaty in the first place! It's so hard. I really do still care for him. But until Owen takes a stand to help the Maquis, his wife can't work openly for the foundation. And I won't give up my work. It's too important to me, and to too many others."
A little out of breath from her tumult of words, Alicia Paris responded gratefully when Miral shook Alicia's wrist warmly, as a sign of respect in the manner of Klingons. "What you are doing is important. It is a noble deed."
"Thank you. I wish I felt noble doing it, instead of mortified it has to be done at all."
"Doing the right thing fills the heart, does it not, Alicia Paris?"
"Yes, it does," Alicia replied. "And that's especially important when your heart feels empty."
After a short pause, Alicia smiled crookedly. "You know, I only just met you, Miral, but here I am spilling out my life history to you. You must think Tom's mother is crazy, speaking like this to a stranger."
"No, not crazy, and perhaps I am not truly a stranger. We are just learning about each other, which I think we must do for the sake of our children, if they are saying to one another what I think they must be saying! They are taking long enough!" Miral spoke loudly, as if she were ordering them to come even though they could not possibly hear her. Alicia's smile broadened into a grin before Miral said, "I spoke half in jest in Thomas' quarters, but now, from what I have just heard, I truly believe we are allies. Or perhaps sisters in heart, even though we were not born of the same people. Not everyone goes to battle in a starship in open combat to show their courage. You are a warrior in your own way, Alicia Paris. That is what I always tried to teach B'Elanna, but she was not able to understand. I hope it will be different now. I am glad to see that Thomas Paris learned about honor from his mother as much as his father. Perhaps more from his mother than either of you know."
"Thank you," Alicia said softly. "You know, even now, I just want to be reconciled with Owen, if I can do it . . . honorably. That word seems to come up a lot around Klingons!"
Miral grunted but said nothing in response immediately. Finally, she admitted, "At least you know why you are apart. I wish I could say the same about my separation from B'Elanna's father. He never told me why he left." Grief, after so many years, was still easy to hear in her voice.
"Miral," Alicia said, sympathetically, "I'm so sorry."
The Klingon accepted the human woman's compassion with the barest of nods. "I was bitter against all humans at first. I decided to take my daughter away from Kessik, away from the memories of her father. We went to Qo'nos, but . . . since you have been so honest with me, I will share this with you. I have made mistakes in my life, too."
"Everyone does, Miral. I think we all were able to agree on that tonight."
"We did at that." B'Elanna's mother was melancholy as she said, "I made most of my mistakes with B'Elanna. The greatest was trying to take away her memories of her father, because I did not wish to think of him myself. I should not have done that."
"If it was so painful for you, and not knowing why, it must have been hard to talk to B'Elanna about it. Was she old enough to understand when he left?"
"She was almost six years old, old enough to remember him. And to miss him, as I did. Maybe more. After he left, she became fearful of many things. I tried to make her stronger, to bring out her Klingon side. I even sent her away one summer, to a monastery, to study Klingon ways! I should not have bothered. It was useless. She came back full of resentment for being sent away. And, I missed her so."
"You did what you thought was best, didn't you? That's all we can ever do, as parents."
Miral looked away from Alicia. "Most of the time I did what I thought best. About one thing, I must confess, I knew it was wrong even as I was doing it. I convinced myself my Lanna would be upset, but I knew she had every right to them."
"A right to what, may I ask?"
"Messages. Her father sent them to her. To me, too. Not many. One or two a year, that is all. After the first one, when I saw he did not explain his leaving, I could barely bring myself to open my own. I just glanced at them to make sure he had not said something about coming back. I set them aside, and B'Elanna's with them. I always meant to give them to her when she was not so unhappy, when she was content to follow Klingon ways. Then, I thought, she would be ready for whatever was in them. But that time never came. Always, she tried to be all human, even though she never could be that, no matter how hard she tried. She was always too much my daughter."
"So you kept them all these years, unread?"
"I finally did read them after the final ones came." Miral hesitated. "B'Elanna had left the Academy by then. I had no idea where she was, so I could not send her messages to her. She may have been with the Maquis already; I cannot say. I never even knew she was a Maquis until her vessel was declared lost, along with Voyager."
"Final messages? Your husband is dead?"
"Yes." Miral looked straight into Alicia's eyes. "He was killed in action. The Cardassians killed him."
Alicia closed her eyes and bent her head. A little moan escaped her lips.
"I opened his last message to me. He said I should know he always honored our vows and remained faithful to me even while we were apart. That he still loved me and regretted nothing of our time together. He was sorry, but he could not explain his absence. I wonder now if he didn't know himself the reason he could not stay with us, or if he could not face the reason enough to tell me, even after death. I went back to read all of his messages, to me and B'Elanna's, also, since as far as I knew, she too was gone. There was nothing in them but a few words, saying that he was sorry he could not be with us, but he hoped she was being a good girl, learning the lessons her mother could teach her." Miral shook her head. "He told her he loved his 'beautiful little girl'
"That is when I knew I should have given them all to B'Elanna when they first came. She always thought her father believed she was ugly because she had inherited ridges on her forehead from me! When she was small, she tried to hide her head with scarves and hats, to look more human. How could she think that? Would he have thought a Klingon a worthy bride if he had hated how I looked?" Miral looked into the distance. "He always called me his 'fierce beauty' . . ."
"You will have to share those messages with her now."
"Yes, and just as you and Admiral Paris must tell Thomas about what has happened to your marriage, I must tell B'Elanna she will never be able to ask her father why he left us."
The two women stood together for a few moments, communing in silence, perhaps gathering strength for the ordeals both would have to face. Alicia was first to speak, her face relaxing into a fond grin of remembrance.
"You know, when Tom was young, his father always made him get a military haircut in the summer. Owen said it was 'good for discipline.' Tommy always wore a hat to hide it from his friends. I knew he was ashamed of it. Even his friends who had parents in Starfleet didn't make them get their hair cut like that." She sighed. "Every spring, I used to ask Owen if Tom really needed to get all his hair shaved off. Every spring, I went along. It's easy to see the mistakes we've made in hindsight, isn't it?"
"QaghmeylIj tIchID, yIyoH."
"I can see I'm going to have to brush up on my tlhIngan. I'm afraid I don't know how to say much more than Qapla'."
"You will when I am around, but B'Elanna seldom speaks it unless she must." Miral replied. "It means, 'Have the courage to admit your mistakes.'"
"That's always good advice. I think Tom has finally learned that."
"I hope my daughter has."
"I believe she has."
"They are much alike in some ways, your son and my daughter."
"Not too much alike, I hope! That isn't always so good! I wonder what they can possibly be doing? We're definitely going to be late now."
"I hope they are . . ."
Down the corridor from where the two mothers were standing, the door to the turbolift swished open and belched out Tom and B'Elanna.
"I'm sorry we're late. We got a little distracted and lost track of the time," Tom called out as the two hurried towards their mothers. B'Elanna was almost running, trying to keep up with Tom's long strides.
As they approached, Alicia made a show of checking her chronometer but bent close to Miral to whisper, "When we get down there, share what I told you with B'Elanna. She needs to know it. All of it."
"Of course," Miral murmured. "You must tell Tom what I told you, also."
Tom smiled quizzically at his mother when they arrived at the transporter room door. She quickly tapped her wrist and said, loud enough for all of them to hear, "And I was just saying to Miral that you were always punctual arriving at this sort of event. Look at the time! We're twenty minutes late!"
After apologizing profusely, they entered the transporter room. Tom asked the technician, "Can we transport inside the Grand Ballroom safely?"
"Just outside, Lieutenant. The transport area is clear."
"The advantages of being fashionably late, right, Mom? Miral? B'Elanna? " Tom held out his hands to assist both mothers onto the transporter pad before he took B'Elanna's hand and held on to it as they stepped onto the pad together.
"You will let us know what you were talking about for such a long time," Miral ordered.
It was not a question.
B'Elanna and Tom shared a quick smile as the transporter beam swirled them all away in a sparkle of light.
The "transport area" was, as the technician said, only a few steps away from the entrance doors of the Grand Ballroom at Starfleet Headquarters, where the reception was being held. As Miral's vision returned to normal, she immediately spotted the tall man in the admiral's uniform standing outside the doorway. From holoimages, she recognized him immediately. Even if she had not, the sudden catch in Thomas' breath would have alerted her to the identity of this man.
As soon as the transporter beam faded away, the admiral began walking towards them. He was not really smiling; his expression was too vulnerable for that. Admiral Paris' face reflected years of grief, worry, and hope for the miraculous conclusion of an almost unimaginably long journey, a miracle which had come to be. Knowing what she now did, however, Miral could also see the tension in his jaw, which would not be relieved until painful revelations had been shared-and perhaps, not even then.
When father and son grew close enough, they threw their arms around one another and came together in a great big hug, while the three women stood watching them. B'Elanna looked somewhat irritated when the embrace became prolonged. When Miral lightly touched her daughter's upper arm, B'Elanna calmed down and waited patiently until Tom backed up a little and asked, his voice husky with emotion, "I'm not going to be dressed down for an improper Public Display of Affection, am I, Dad?"
"Not unless I get the same dressing down, too, son," Admiral Paris replied, his face glowing, his hand still cupped around the back of Tom's head, as if he didn't dare lose contact or his boy might vanish again into a distant quadrant.
Thomas moved slightly, inviting B'Elanna to take a step forward, and said, "Dad, I'd like to present B'Elanna Torres, the best engineer you'll ever meet!" He turned to smile at her. "And the most beautiful, too. And this is her mother, Miral of the House of Martok. Perhaps you've met before?"
Admiral Paris greeted Miral with a quick clasp of the wrist. "Very pleased to meet you, Miral of the House of Martok." Releasing Miral's hand, he turned to B'Elanna and took both of her hands in his. He looked down at their joined hands momentarily before meeting her eyes. "It's a very great pleasure to meet you, B'Elanna Torres. Welcome home."
Miral lost track of B'Elanna's reply and Thomas' happy chattering response. She watched the admiral and saw the shadow cross his eyes when he realized his son had not been given the news of the change in his parents' relationship. She felt a measure of pity for the man, that he still did not understand his wife after so many years of marriage; but then, who was she to judge, when she did not even understand why John Torres had left her?
There was nothing Miral could do for the admiral. He must face this challenge himself, do what must be done. At least he would not be alone. Alicia would be there at his side, though the news the couple would deliver to their son would be bitter. Miral would not have that luxury when she told B'Elanna what must be said.
A somewhat awkward lull fell in the conversation, until Thomas suggested, "It's time we went into this party, isn't it?"
Alicia answered quickly, "Not quite yet, Tom. With all the . . . excitement . . . of meeting B'Elanna and Miral, there were a few things we never had a chance to discuss in your quarters. Isn't there a lounge here where we can speak privately, Owen?"
"Yes, there is, down the hall," he replied in a subdued voice. "You will excuse us for a few minutes, B'Elanna, Miral?"
Thomas' brow creased in puzzlement. B'Elanna opened her mouth, as if to protest, but Miral said smoothly, "Of course. My daughter and I have a few things to discuss with each other as well. As you said, Alicia Paris, there was much excitement when first we met. There are things I must share with my B'Elanna, too." Miral's eyes met Alicia's. Understanding passed between them.
B'Elanna and Thomas exchanged a private look of their own before he followed his parents to an intersecting corridor. Several doors could be seen from where B'Elanna and her mother stood. Miral noted which doorway they went through before turning back to her daughter.
B'Elanna's pique at being left out was not entirely dispelled. "I guess I can figure out where I'm going to fit into this family," she muttered, then froze, realizing what she had just let slip.
"I'm glad to see that that was one of the things you and Thomas discussed when you tossed us out of your quarters," Miral sniffed. "You know how I feel about those who settle for being par'machai rather than loDnal and be'nal."
"We have to get through the next few weeks before we can make any plans for me to become a be'nal, Mother."
"That would be wise."
"I still feel a little annoyed. What can they be talking about that I shouldn't hear?"
"It is not that you cannot hear what they have to tell Thomas, B'Elanna. Alicia told me what they wished to tell him, and she told me to share it with you. When you hear, I think you will understand why they wanted to be alone with their son at this time."
Miral shifted her weight from one foot to another and breathed deeply. Courage! It was time. "B'Elanna, I have some things I must share with you as well. Some I should have told you about years ago, before we parted in anger. Of others I only learned long after you left, when I had no way to reach you. Thomas will hear these things from his mother. There is a bench over there, you see? We can sit there, and . . . talk."
"Talk? The way our 'talks' always go, aren't you afraid everyone will hear us shouting at each other, out here in the open?"
"You may shout at me if you wish. I will deserve it. I hope you will listen, also, and learn from my mistakes. And when we are finished, we will wait together for Thomas and his parents. He will need you then, I am sure, as much as you will probably need him."
Her daughter looked at her intently. Miral remembered another who used to look at her that way, one she would never see again in this life. Now she would see this only as it echoed out of B'Elanna's eyes. Dark brown eyes, like her father's. Full lips, just like his. B'Elanna was as much her father's daughter as she was Miral's. She deserved to know what little she knew of his fate.
A half hour later, after some anger, no real shouting, but a lot of very intense "discussing," B'Elanna and her mother sat silently side by side on the bench. They had exhausted words, but that did not mean they were "not speaking to one another." For the first time in many years, they were not two individuals at loggerheads, but rather two members of the same family, comfortably at ease, who had reached a measure of understanding, and even more importantly, of acceptance of one another.
When B'Elanna heard a familiar step approaching the bench, she turned her head and jumped to her feet. Wordlessly, she walked into his open arms, to hold him as he held her.
To be there.
"The Man of Honor" and "Free Exchange" were written for the ASC 1001 "Finale Challenge: write a scene which you'd like to see in Voyager's final episode, supposedly, within 1001 words-something I am almost incapable of doing. The perceptive reader will also note that both stories contain more than one scene-but hey, the challenge is long over anyway. ;-) Both stories were written in April 2000, after "Barge of the Dead" but before "Drive" and "Author, Author" definitively established that B'Elanna's mother had died, her father was alive, and the couple had married. Since all fanfic is written in an AU, particularly when it's written prior to episodes rather than afterwards as a coda, this doesn't particularly bother me. I hope any readers will feel the same.
While some details, such as the state of the Paris marriage, appear in other stories I've written, no "unified field theory" of an AU universe is being presented. Once I get an idea I like, I use it wherever it fits. After all, the Voyager production team wasn't exactly known for tight continuity! Both stories were published in slightly different forms on ASC back in 2000, but thanks to incomplete computer files, both were revised when I had to retype much of each from hard copies and couldn't resist doing a little "fixing." Authors, take my advice: make sure you print up hard copies of your works, even with backups, because technologies change and incompatibility reigns! I'm sure glad I have hard copies. I'm going to print up the revised versions right now!