by jamelia

Whenever I think of him, I also think of her. That day in the resort, when I saw them together, burned the two of them into my memory as one unit that I was sure could never be broken.

I had helped bring them together. I should have been happy for them. And really, I think I was happy for them. I know I told myself I was.

If only that hollow feeling hadn't been there, inside the pit of my stomach-that feeling that I'd lost something precious, even though it had never been mine to lose. And by feeling that way, I lost something else equally precious that was mine to lose.

I'm not saying this very well. I'm sure Chakotay could tell the story far better than I, but it isn't his story.

Perhaps I should just begin again. Really, I'm usually well-organized when I choose to tell a story; but when it comes to Tom Paris, I can't seem to be as crisply efficient as I usually am. Perhaps it's a matter of the story reflecting the man.

The first time I met him face to face, I wasn't expecting much.

Perhaps that isn't completely truthful. I had a preconceived notion about what he would be like, and my demeanor probably reflected that. I had read his file. I knew his potential. I knew what he had done. All that promise, wasted! So there I was, in my prim professional bun and Starfleet uniform, and there he was.

The traitor.

A very handsome, well-built traitor, to be sure-Tom Paris, cashiered Starfleet officer, ex-bum, ex-Maquis. Each fall from grace had been worse than the last. He'd plunged to earth faster than a meteorite, once it began.

His father had always predicted his son would be a great man. He was always lavishing praise about his only son to any of us who would listen. What an ungrateful young man this was, I'd thought, to throw away all of his advantages and talents, to thumb his nose at his father's ideals. It certainly didn't help that I couldn't expunge from my mind the image of the impish towhead with the angelic face from the picture his father kept on his desk. It sickened me to have to come to him for aid. As soon as he opened his mouth, I felt even worse. That sleazy, unrepentant attitude he had-that cockiness. Surely, this was the last man in the galaxy I would care to be beholden to, but I had no choice. I needed to find Tuvok. There simply wasn't anyone else to ask.

I didn't yet know how to see through the opaque masks guarding the heart of Tom Paris to see what was hiding there. He could be a magician that way, with a very unique sleight-of-hand technique: flashing a brilliant smile and a sarcastic attitude, Tom would keep his vulnerable soul hidden. It could only be glimpsed occasionally-now you see it, now you don't. Mostly, don't.

It was only later I learned that the boy Tom never had the privilege of learning that his father had been proud of his accomplishments, as everyone at Starfleet Headquarters had. He'd heard of his father's expectations, yes, but never the acknowledgment that he'd actually met any of them. There was always more for Tom to do, another skill to master, another fact to learn, another step on the road to becoming another of the illustrious line of admirals bearing the name of Paris. His father didn't want him to ease up before reaching the prize. Perhaps that was the reason the prize slipped away out of reach. I wish I had known that then. At least I would have understood him better, from the beginning. I may have treated him a bit differently.

When he looked up at me that first time, with the warm New Zealand sun highlighting his aristocratic cheekbones, he didn't look to be all that much older than in the picture on his father's desk. He had that same baby face, although the years had contoured it into the visage of a man. It was impossible to miss the hardness in his eyes, however, the wariness that comes from being disappointed too many times in life-and Tom was barely twenty-seven years old!

Although I offered him the chance to leave prison and become an observer (actually, the chance to be an informer), Tom had the nerve to whine that I was making a mistake when I told him he wasn't going to be allowed to pilot my starship! The gall of the man! I almost changed my mind about offering him a way out of the penal colony right then.

And yet, when we were walking along a path, he picked up a bit of trash lying on the ground, discarding it later in an appropriate receptacle. It was curious behavior for someone with anti-social tendencies; I recognized that even at the time. The contradictory nature of Tom Paris was already asserting itself. I found myself hoping that this bad boy might be able to redeem himself, to some extent, by going with me to the Badlands to find his "friends" in the Maquis. Perhaps, when his next outmate review took place, he would be able to make a fresh start. Starfleet would be out of the question, of course, but perhaps I could guide him to some useful occupation. He might even qualify for being a civilian pilot, if he did well. I would have been willing to recommend him-I just didn't want him piloting my starship.

How ironic! By the time his next outmate review took place, Tom was declared "missing, presumed dead," as were we all. I was the only one who knew that in fact he had been able to start over, in the Delta Quadrant, and as the chief conn officer of Voyager.

When the displacement wave hit Voyager and shook us around the way a dog would shake a toy; when we investigated the situation at the Caretaker's Array; when he entered the tunnels on Ocampa and, at the risk of his own life, saved Chakotay (even after Chakotay had called Tom a traitor)-at every critical juncture, the bad boy proved his worth. Then, as later, he settled for nothing less than playing the hero, even if wise remarks were an integral part of his modus operandi. It was as unexpected as it was gratifying. That Starfleet training coming through, I remember thinking. Habit, ingrained from his Academy days, seemed strong enough to overcome even Tom Paris' personal demons.

How naïve I was to think it was only training, although surely that played a part. That hidden heart of Thomas Eugene Paris, I later realized, was the key. That, and having someone who believed in him who let him know about his successes, not just his failures.

Strangely enough, the two on Voyager who seemed to be the most naïve of us of all were the ones who believed in Tom first. Harry Kim and Kes both saw what I didn't, or perhaps refused, to see from the beginning. Harry became his friend even when Tom warned him away. Kes accepted Tom's admiration with a pure heart. She never allowed his feelings for her to become more than a schoolboy's crush. In fact, I doubt he was ever the relentlessly pursuing Lothario his reputation would suggest. The only relationship Tom ever had in those early days to which I can attest for certain was with Megan Delaney. Somehow, she saw through him, too. Truthfully, the playboy the crew spoke of was more a construct of gossip than observation.

I succumbed to that gossip myself. For too long a time, all I saw was Tom Paris, the arrogant flirt, with his engaging grin, self-deprecating sarcasm, and sly tongue. Shallow, even if he was beautiful and heroic. Of course, that's what Tom wanted us all to see. He flirted with me, and I flirted back, neither of us meaning anything by it.

This was, after all, the man who built a French club to share with a crew who almost uniformly hated him, populating it with a gigolo, a pool shark and a couple of rather trampy women who draped themselves around his neck. It was so easy to see the "pig," as B'Elanna had called him to his face that first night in Sandrine's, when one of his creations made advances to her. Why didn't I see how this fantasy filled up the emptiness in his life? He'd created a place where Tom Paris would be welcome, where the bar denizens would be happy to see him, since almost no one on Voyager was. I took what he gave us at face value. Sandrine's was charming, just like its creator. The pain beneath the levity escaped me.

Of course, I wasn't alone in missing what now is obvious to me. B'Elanna Torres saw even less in Tom in those days than I did. B'Elanna had no use at all for him, preferring to go to Seska, and to a lesser extent, Harry Kim, when she wanted company off duty.

I, at least, thought of him as someone to salvage. Perhaps Kathryn Janeway would be the one to bring Owen Paris' prodigal son home and return him to the place in society he had seemingly forfeited forever. Tom didn't make it easy. Getting involved with that Liddell woman. Fighting with Neelix in the messhall. He could try the patience of a saint, which was something I never claimed to be.

It never occurred to me, back then, that I could have any feelings for him other than that of a mentor for her protégé.

Of course, with my nights spent worrying about being attacked by the Kazon or having our bodies carved up by the Vidiians, at the beginning of our journey I even managed to keep Mark out of my mind most of the time. Starfleet protocols clearly prohibited any romantic relationships between a captain and a member of her crew, even though, historically, many male captains have had few scruples about ignoring these strictures. When they had needs they wished fulfilled, they found someone - damn the protocols! I was not one to set them aside, despite the desperate, clearly unique situation into which we'd been tossed. Rather than a saint, I preferred to be the Good Mother to my crew. As time when on, however, I came to be called something less flattering.

Although Tom had become a valuable member of my senior staff shortly after we began our trek through the Delta Quadrant, the first time most of the rest of the crew could see him in a truly positive light was after the Vidiians captured Tom and B'Elanna, along with Peter Durst. A Vidiian medical researcher transformed B'Elanna into two beings, one wholly Klingon, the other completely human. Klingon B'Elanna was accidentally killed by the scientist, although her body was returned to Voyager. Poor Lieutenant Durst was carved into medical treatments for the Phage. Only Tom and the human B'Elanna returned to us alive.

Since she couldn't survive without it, B'Elanna had to be treated by the Doctor with her dead Klingon doppelganger's DNA, even though she would have much preferred to remain looking only human. During her recuperation, B'Elanna told us how Tom had been a source of support and strength to her in her weakened and divided state. Telling us this was superfluous, however, because everyone could see him do the same thing during her recovery. Despite his own aversion to sickbay, Tom spent almost all of his off duty time with her, keeping her company, regaling her with silly stories, and perhaps most importantly, telling her that she was "looking better and better" as her Klingon heritage sculpted her face back to its former shape. When the treatments had reached the stage where she admitted to him that she was "back to my old ugly self," he told her, "No, B'Elanna, you're much more beautiful this way." The Doctor told me this afterwards. It was the first time since he'd begun to treat her that he'd seen B'Elanna smile.

They were friends after that. Oh, she'd tease him sometimes, still roll her eyes at his wisecracks in meetings in the conference room, but there was an underlying warmth between them that I perceived could develop into something more. When Tom volunteered to rescue her from the robot ship, I wasn't surprised. He was always volunteering to go to the rescue, of course, but this time there was more vehemence in his voice. B'Elanna needed his help.

It was always that way, really. Since Tom clearly was the best pilot on the ship, he was usually the logical choice for such actions. Besides, I wanted him to be the hero. It was part of my grand master plan to return him permanently to Starfleet. When we returned to the Alpha Quadrant, if his record were glittering enough, surely Tom would be allowed to reclaim his career. All those heroic deeds and accomplishments would permit his father to be just as proud of his only son as he'd always expected to be.

The Warp 10 Project. When Tom, Harry and B'Elanna had proposed it, I'd let them pursue it. Why not? Who could predict what avenue would yield the key to our returning home and my returning home to Mark? It didn't appear likely to go anywhere, but I was willing to give it a shot. Sometimes hope was in the shortest supply of any of the commodities we needed to keep Voyager running, and the trio's experiments provided that precious emotion to the crew. That they would succeed in their experiments and actually build a craft capable of flying Warp 10 was beyond my wildest dreams.

When they reported their success and I gave the go ahead for the test flight, Tom looked just like the little kid whose picture used to be on Owen Paris' desk. I couldn't help feeling that I'd given him something precious. I was proud of that moment.

Later, I had to go to his quarters to rescind my permission. The EMH found medical irregularities which he felt precluded Tom's being the test pilot. I felt terrible. I knew I was stealing away Tom's chance to redeem himself in his own eyes-more important, in the long run, than pleasing his father would be. I had no choice in the matter. I couldn't let him jeopardize his life when someone else could pilot the experimental craft.

I didn't count on how eloquently the man can beg. I knew Tom would gladly give his life if it meant that he could be the hero again, and I wanted to give him that chance. By the time he was finished with his plea, the risks really didn't seem all that great to me. I allowed those breathtaking blue eyes of his to seduce me into giving him the permission to go. I tell myself now it was only that I'd spent enough time away from Mark to be swayed by Tom's sincerity, believing that if he succeeded, we could all get home soon. I told myself it was his boyish enthusiasm to do a great thing that I was responding to, but let me be honest. There may have been a boyish quality in his pitch to me, but I was also very much aware of the man wearing a blue terry robe and nothing much else underneath. I have no illusions about that. Kathryn the woman responded to Tom's physical presence, even though she was too foolish to acknowledge it at the time.

So he went. He was successful, but something totally unexpected happened. The experiment was a success, to coin a phrase, but the experimenter still died.

I was sure that by allowing myself to be swayed from what I knew was the proper decision, I had cost Tom his life. As devastating as that was to me, I found that B'Elanna was even more crushed by losing him than I was. She blamed herself for building the craft that killed him and flagellated herself for it. That's when I realized just how much Tom had come to mean to her.

Chakotay told me he'd never seen her cry, ever, despite all the awful things they'd seen as Maquis, until she came into sickbay to view Tom's body. We tried to dissuade her, but B'Elanna has always been difficult to persuade from doing anything she's convinced she must do. I asked myself how much could it hurt for her to say good-bye to the man who had become her good friend. Now I see, even that early, he'd become more to her in her heart, though it was over a year before she could bring herself to tell him that.

We know now that to go Warp 10 without the protection of a transwarp conduit amounts to suicide. The stresses on the mitochondria from being everywhere at the same time are simply too much for them to remain stable. Chaotic cell division takes place. Dormant DNA becomes activated and causes the cells to mutate, not as a cancer does, but as evolution run wild. Tom Paris became a martyr to that process. The irregularities in his brainwaves, it turned out, had had nothing to do with his demise or his mutation into another life form.

Even as B'Elanna was crying over his corpse, changes were happening on the cellular level that would bring him back to us, but metamorphosed into a monster, a monster who kidnapped me, carried me away to a primitive planet, and somehow managed to reproduce with me in an obscenely short amount of time. After we'd been rescued and reconstituted back to our regular forms, he had the grace to apologize. I made a joke of it. The female often initiates mating, I reminded him. At the very least, she usually permits it to occur. I doubted very much Tom was guilty of lizard rape. Lizard love, though? Who knew if that was even possible?

Looking back on this incident now, I know that if there is one thing I would like to remember, but know I never will, it is the act that created the lizard babies Tuvok and Chakotay found in the swamp with us. The one time in her lifetime that Kathryn Janeway conceived offspring, and I couldn't recall making love! Oh, maybe I just laid eggs and he squirted over them - it happens that way in amphibian species on Earth. I prefer to think not, however. I would rather dream of scaly flesh uniting from instinct and, hopefully, something more - because of an irresistible attraction that transcended transformation into an entirely new species.

However those babies were created, I wasn't too shameless to use what transpired between Tom and I for my own ends. He was embarrassed enough by what had happened to go along with my plans. I used his gratitude that he'd been returned to his own body, his need to be the hero, to get him to agree to act like a malcontent to flush out a traitor. The man who had himself been branded a traitor in the Alpha Quadrant, who everyone once thought was an untrustworthy failure, was the perfect choice for the job.

And he was perfect in the role. Fortunately, I'd realized by that time what a consummate actor Tom was.

But I still wonder at the cost.