Set during "Life Lines." Characters and places belong to the grand poobahs at Paramount. For what it's worth, no profit or infringement intended.
He saw her immediately when he entered the mess hall. He could tell by the way she was sitting – leaning forward over a PADD, her cheek leaning against the palm of her left hand – that she was deep in thought, oblivious to his presence.
Tom Paris made his way to B'Elanna's table, muttering pleasantries to those he passed. He touched her shoulder lightly as he rounded the corner to sit opposite her.
B'Elanna straightened immediately.
"Hey," Tom said.
"Hi," she offered him a smile. "I thought you were scheduled for sickbay right now."
"I'm taking a break," Tom said. "Just a short one."
"That's good," B'Elanna smiled. "Have you been resting? You looked tired last night. The double shifts you've been pulling… it's not healthy."
"It's just for a short time. It's not so bad," he grinned at the obvious concern in her voice.
"I hope you intend to collect from the Doctor when he returns."
"Don't worry, I plan to. What are you working on?" he asked.
B'Elanna looked down at the PADD, frowning slightly.
"I'm working on a way to use dilithium more efficiently so we use less, hence no detours to replenish the supply and we get home quicker. What do you think?"
"You spend too much time with Seven," Tom laughed. He took a cursory glance at the schematics B'Elanna had been reviewing and pushed the PADD back towards her.
B'Elanna frowned, "I do not. I think sometimes she offers meaningful suggestions."
"Are you offering an olive branch?" his blue eyes twinkled in mirth.
"Hardly," B'Elanna said. "I'll have you know I worked out this design myself."
"It shows all the hallmarks of your brilliance."
"Flattery will get you nowhere, helmboy," she retorted, but Tom could tell B'Elanna was pleased.
"I didn't expect it to," he replied smoothly.
B'Elanna tapped the table with her long fingers; Tom leaned in, covered her restless hand with his own.
"Something bothering you?" he asked gently.
"No," B'Elanna offered back a smile. "I was just thinking about when the Doctor comes back."
"You have plans?"
"Lots of them," she said.
"Any of them include writing a letter to your mother?" Tom asked lightly.
B'Elanna tensed, her shoulders rounding in as she hunched over the table.
"I don't know what I would say," B'Elanna confessed. "I've thought about it ever since we found out we could send messages every month, but I'm not good at reconciliation and neither is she."
"Who said anything about reconciliation? I think a simple `Hi mom, how are you? I'm fine,' would suffice."
"It wouldn't be enough for me," B'Elanna told him. "There's so much I need to tell her, I don't know where to start."
"How about the beginning?"
B'Elanna raised an eyebrow at him, her expression telling him exactly what she thought of his rather flippant comment. A second later, her features softened, her lips turning into a half-smile.
"Have you?" she asked delicately. "Thought about it, I mean? Writing to your father, that is?"
Tom leaned back in his chair, his fingers pulling away from B'Elanna's.
"On occasion," he admitted. "I did write the one letter, remember? When I was in the brig?"
"That's a good letter, Tom. I think you should send it."
"I've been thinking about it," Tom said. "I guess it will be a last minute thing. You know, don't think about it, just do it?"
B'Elanna nodded, "I know. I've been thinking about writing to my father. More than my mother, I want to make contact with him, let him know how I am, that I'm alive and well. The crazy thing is, I don't even know where he is or if he wants to hear from me."
"You've got to do what's right for you, B'Elanna, regardless of what other people want. Initiate contact and see what the response is. At least you won't feel guilty you never tried."
"You're right," B'Elanna said half-heartedly. "Maybe I will."
"I'll help you," Tom offered.
"That's sweet of you," she smiled. "I suppose I'll want someone waiting for me when we get home."
Tom's brow furrowed slightly, his eyes suddenly growing intense.
"What is it, Tom?"
"What you just said… getting home. Are you… concerned?"
"Concerned? Not really. It's home, after all. After being out here for so long…"
"That's not what I meant," Tom leaned forward, grasping both of her hands tightly. "I overheard the Captain and Chakotay talking earlier today on the Bridge."
"Tom…" B'Elanna said reproachfully. "Eavesdropping is rude."
If he hadn't been so perturbed by his commanding officers' conversation, Tom would have smiled at B'Elanna's rather overbearing tone.
"The Captain is concerned, B'Elanna. Starfleet was very curious about the Maquis in their letter to her and she doesn't know what that means."
"I suppose they just want to know how we are all doing," B'Elanna said in a falsely cheerful tone. "That's only natural."
"That's not what the Captain implied."
B'Elanna took a deep breath, leaned back in her chair, and met Tom's glance squarely.
"You don't need to talk around it, Tom. I – we – we've known for a while that our reception may not be that friendly."
"It doesn't seem fair," Tom complained. "After all that we've been through, all that the Maquis have done for Voyager…"
"It's really not an issue of fairness, Tom. It's a question of law."
"You could get sent to New Zealand," he said.
B'Elanna smiled slightly, "I've been to worse places here in the Delta Quadrant. At least they have visitors' hours at the penal colonies. You will visit, won't you?"
Tom squinted back at her, as if trying to verify that it really was B'Elanna Torres sitting in front of him.
"I can't believe you're taking this so lightly," he said finally.
"I've thought a lot about it, Tom. Even before Voyager, I knew what the consequences of my actions would be and I accept the outcome, whatever that might be."
"Chakotay? The others? Do they feel the same?"
"Yes. Voyager merely offered us a reprieve from the inevitable," she said quietly. Tom glanced around the mess hall; the atmosphere was light and genial. Maquis and Starfleet mixed without prejudice.
"So you'll just accept whatever the Federation doles out?" Tom asked.
B'Elanna bit her lip, "I won't like it, but yes. After all, I don't have much else back home, do I? A penal colony is as good as any other place to me."
"I don't believe you."
"Tom," B'Elanna leaned forward. "I appreciate what you're saying and I love you for it, but we all make choices and we have to live with those decisions. It's the same for everyone, Maquis or Starfleet."
"Starfleet won't be ambushed by security the moment we dock," Tom commented bitterly.
B'Elanna's face softened; instinctively, she reached forward and touched Tom's cheek lightly with her fingertips.
"You'll visit me, won't you?" she whispered.
"Yes," he murmured, turning his face into the palm of her hand. "I wish you wouldn't give up so easily, B'Elanna. It's not inevitable."
"I'm tired of fighting," she said sotto voce. "So tired, Tom."
She drew her hand back, and looked down at her PADD.
"If this works," she said brightly, "we'll shave off a couple months off of our journey, maybe more."
Tom nodded, unable to speak. B'Elanna pursed her lips. Going home would not be easy for any of them, she knew. Even for the Starfleet personnel. Things changed in six years and certainly, none of them were the same people they had been before the encounter with the Caretaker.
"I don't like not knowing," Tom said finally. "It makes me nervous not knowing what kind of reception is waiting for us."
"It will be okay, Tom," B'Elanna said softly. "I don't want you to worry about what might or might not happen. We'll figure it all out when we get home. Deal?"
Tom paused before answering; a thousand thoughts ran through his mind, none of the particularly coherent. He wanted to say so much but knew that B'Elanna was not looking for endearments; only a promise he wasn't sure he could keep. Tom cleared his throat.
"Deal," he said.
"Good," B'Elanna said in a relieved tone. "I don't want you picking fights with any of the Starfleet brass. We may get sent to different prisons and I know there is no such thing as visiting hours between prisoners."
He offered her a crooked grin, his eyes twinkling back at her with some of their usual mischief.
"I'll find a way," he promised.
"I know," B'Elanna's eyes met his.
Once again, that uneasy silence fell upon them. Tom ran mentally through the gauntlet of things he could say without provoking B'Elanna and he finally settled on something a little less controversial than the Maquis' homecoming welcome.
"You mentioned plans for when the Doctor gets back," he said. "You never finished telling me what they were."
"Don't worry, helmboy," B'Elanna relaxed, letting the tension ease from her muscles. "You're featured prominently in all of them."
"I would love to hear about them…" Tom said in a low voice.
"Oh you will, in good time."
"Surprise," she affirmed. "I like to keep you on your toes."
He grinned back at her, and she was glad to see that he had returned to his normal, mischievous self. Anxiety, she mused, did not quite suit Tom, and she knew that out of the two of them, she was the better equipped to handle whatever happened when they returned to the Alpha Quadrant.
"Janeway to Paris."
"Report to the Bridge," the Captain said briskly.
"There's something interesting coming up on the sensors."
"On my way," Tom tapped his communicator. He looked at B'Elanna, encouraged by the slightly seductive smile crossing her face. "Tonight?"
"If you won't be too tired," she answered.
"Tonight," he said firmly. He pushed back his chair, rose, and touched her lightly on the shoulder as he passed.
B'Elanna tried to concentrate on the PADD, but she couldn't. She straightened and looked around, mentally classifying those still congregated in the mess hall.
Starfleet, Maquis, Maquis, Starfleet, Starfleet, Starfleet, Maquis, Starfleet…
She sighed; it had been so long since she had thought about who belonged to which crew. Over the years – and traumas past – the lines between the two crews had blurred. Mistrust and apprehension had dissolved into a genuine camaraderie. Some might even characterize the interactions between the crew as affectionate, warm, caring… the list of adjectives went on.
Starfleet will be hard-pressed to find a better crew than Voyager's, B'Elanna thought bitterly.
She hadn't meant to lie to Tom about how she really felt about going home, but what happened to the Maquis after Voyager reached the Alpha Quadrant was none of his affair. She knew he would vehemently disagree with that sentiment, but she did not care. What she did not want him – or any of the other Starfleet officers – to know was that she and the rest of the Maquis, Chakotay included, truly dreaded going returning to the Alpha Quadrant.
Being lost in space was in infinitely better than going where one was not wanted.
"We'll cross that bridge when we get there."
She did not even realize she had spoken out-loud until someone – Ensign Ashmore – looked at her oddly and said, "Lieutenant?"
"Nothing, Paul," B'Elanna smiled. "Just thinking aloud."
He looked relieved and moved on.
B'Elanna picked up the PADD and looked at the schematics which, if they worked, would get the crew of Voyager home quicker.
A quicker way home meant less time spent with Tom, less time here on Voyager, and less time to enjoy her freedom.
She tightened her grip on the PADD, knowing the uncertainty which lay ahead for the Maquis.
Tom's petulant voice said, "It's not fair," in her head and though B'Elanna would never admit it, she completely agreed with him.
Besides, they couldn't know for sure what the Federation intended to do with the Maquis and B'Elanna was sure that the Captain would do everything she possibly could for them.
In the end though, the Captain would have little say over the ultimate fate of the Maquis. It was a hard truth, but as her experiences had taught her, many things were hard and going home would be just another thing she would have to survive.
With a sigh, she put the PADD down and tapped her communicator.
"Torres to Carey."
"Joe, remember those schematics we were talking about earlier?"
"I think they're going to work. I'm on my way to Engineering now. Let's get moving on this."
"I'll get started right away."
"Thanks, Joe," B'Elanna said. For a moment, she let herself go boneless, slumping unladylike in her chair. Sitting there, surrounded by people, B'Elanna felt tired and alone. She covered her face with her hands and then pushed her hair away from her face.
There were things she could control and manipulate; their welcome home would not be one of them.
Unless… B'Elanna remembered Tom's offer to help her write to her parents' and for the first time in years, she felt absolutely certain about what she wanted to do. She would write to them and maybe they would respond; at least they would know, no matter what happened, that she did love them.
"Are you all right, Lieutenant?" Neelix stood over her, his face characteristically concerned.
"Yes," she said. "Just a little tired from going over engineering diagrams."
"Just an idea on how to get us home quicker with less strain on the engines."
"Will it work?"
"I think so, yes."
"That is good news, isn't it?"
B'Elanna looked around the mess hall, her gaze focusing on the Maquis members of the crew. She let her eyes drift for a couple more seconds and then looked back at Neelix.
"It's excellent news," she said quietly.
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