Summary:  The long war between the Dominion and the Alpha Quadrant is finally over.  How will this affect Tom and B’Elanna’s relationship?<P>

Note:  This is the third and, I think, last in the Dynamics series.  If you haven’t read the first two, I highly recommend doing so before you tackle the conclusion.  Rated PG-13 for language.  I’d appreciate any and all feedback at Zorb17@aol.com<P>

<center>Dynamics 3</center>


<DD><I>"This is Admiral Ross of the United Federation of Planets to all within the sound of my voice.  The Dominion War is over.  Repeat: the war is over.  The Dominion has relinquished its claims on Alpha Quadrant territories and is now removing its forces.  The Cardassians give up all claims to the colony worlds of the former Demilitarized Zone.  Any persons wishing to return to these worlds are welcome to do so and are under Federation protection.  All war criminals not allied with the Dominion are officially pardoned and requested to contact a Federation Starbase.  I ask only that anyone receiving this message send it on as far as possible, that the galaxy may celebrate together.  Ross out."</I><BR>


<DD>The crew of the Liberty sat mutely at their posts on its tiny bridge, staring in disbelief at the stars, futilely trying to see through the vast darkness to the lights of Deep Space Nine.<BR>

<DD>Without turning in her chair, B'Elanna Torres spoke.  "So what happens now?"  A good question.  The entire purpose of the Maquis was to fight the Cardies and regain the colony worlds.  Although their mission had changed over the years, becoming more concerned with fighting the Dominion and less hostile towards the Federation, war had been their lives.<BR>

<DD>Her captain continued to stare impassively ahead.  "We wait for verification.  The communiqué looks clear, but I want to be absolutely certain before..."<BR>

<DD>Gerron Tem spoke up from behind him.  "Before what?"<BR>

<DD>Chakotay paused as the entire crew turned their faces towards him.  He smiled broadly and relaxed.  "Before we go home."<BR>

<DD>One by one, the stunned faces melted into grins.<BR>

<DD>At the helm, Tom Paris's grin felt brighter to him than he imagined the others' must feel.  He'd been waiting for this day for so long, not only because it would bring an end to the struggles and suffering of so many, but also because of a promise...<BR>


<I>One year ago...</I><BR>

<DD>Tom rummaged through his meager closet in a desperate attempt to find something new and dashing to wear.  He woefully recalled his sisters' complaints that they never had anything to wear and mentally apologized for mocking them.  He finally settled on the least worn articles he owned.  This was it.  Tonight, he'd do what he'd been dreaming about for nearly a year: ask B'Elanna to be his wife. <BR>

<DD>At 2100, the pair stepped off the Liberty onto the packed earth of Lumaria VI.<BR>

<DD>"You know, I keep expecting to end up in a spaceport when we disembark."<BR>

<DD>"Really, Tom, I thought by now you'd have learned to expect the unexpected."<BR>

<DD>"If a bunch of colonists want to create a 'getting back to nature' society, that's fine with me, as long as they'll give me food and let me keep my sonic shower."  Beside him, B'Elanna silently agreed.  Lumaria was a beautiful planet, but she certainly wouldn't want to make it her home.<BR>

<DD>They strolled through the woods, their way illuminated by the brilliant starlight.  Tom's musings turned from his surroundings to his companion.  It was strange how things worked out.  A year ago, he'd been certain he would only ever know her from two weeks together at the Academy.  Now he thanked his lucky stars -- hopefully, the same ones out tonight -- for that slimy trader whose ignorance had been the means of their reunion.  In the past year, they'd become reacquainted, with each other and themselves, exploring their minds, hearts, and souls, not to mention bodies.  Both had confronted their long-standing demons, and he knew they were more at peace with themselves than they'd ever been.  That was why Tom felt fairly confident that B'Elanna would accept his offer.<BR>

<DD>They emerged from the trees by a creek, its waters babbling excitedly as they navigated the rocks of the underlying streambed, almost as if the creek knew what would soon take place by its side.<BR>

<DD>'That's enough, Tom.  I'm not going another step until you explain why you haven't said a word in twenty minutes."<BR>

<DD>Had it been that long, he wondered? "Just enjoying the atmosphere and the pleasure of you company, my dear," he replied suavely.<BR>

<DD>"Nice try."  She continued to glare at him.<BR>

<DD>*It's now or never.*  "B'Elanna, let's sit down."  No conveniently placed rock or fallen tree presented itself, so they settled on the gently sloping bank.  Tom positioned himself so that he was lower, and, taking her hand, got on one knee.<BR>

<DD>"This won't be terribly eloquent, so I'm just going to say it.  B'Elanna, I have no ring, no possessions, no solid future to offer you.  All I have is myself and our love.  What I'm trying to ask is...will you marry me?"<BR>

<DD>As Tom waited expectantly, B'Elanna's face showed nothing but surprise.  She opened her mouth, closed it, opened again; then her fearfully hesitant expression made his heart sink.  "Tom...I love you, you know that..."<BR>


<DD>"But now's just not the right time.  There's a war going on, and we don't exactly have safe, stable jobs.  What if one of us was captured?  Or even killed?"<BR>

<DD>"That doesn't matter, it only matters that we love each other and want to spend our lives together.  Look, I'll make you a deal.  Promise you'll marry me, and we'll stay just engaged until the war ends."<BR>

<DD>He could see she was tempted, but doubtful.  "I don't want to make a promise I might not be able to keep.  If it's okay with you, Tom, I promise I'll become engaged to you if we come out of this alive."<BR>

<DD>Tom didn't see much difference, but he smiled and squeezed her hand.  He'd take what he could get.  "<I>When</I> we come out alive."<BR>


<I>Present time...</I><BR>

<DD>Because of all the excitement, Tom didn’t have a chance to talk to B'Elanna or even catch her eye all day.  The Liberty rendezvoused with two other Maquis ships and received proof of the Admiral's words.  Everyone gathered on the largest ship, a former Bolian freighter, for an impromptu celebration.<BR>

<DD>The room buzzed with talk, nearly drowning out the music.  People were making toast after toast and getting gloriously drunk, celebrating as only the Maquis could.  Amid the excitement were questions.  Would they be compensated for losses?  Could they return to their old jobs and homes?  Contact friends and relatives lost to them for years?  The more sober among them had different questions.  Why did Starfleet want to see them?  Would bureaucracy hinder them?  Would there be opportunity for them to honor their fallen friends and colleagues?<BR>

<DD>Tom wanted answers to these questions, but at the moment he didn't care.  He was too busy dodging raucous partiers in search of B'Elanna.  Once or twice, he thought he saw her, but she kept disappearing into the crowd, probably, he thought, looking for him.  He knew they'd meet up eventually, and what better place to announce their engagement than a party?<BR>

<DD>He left off searching among the group and instead backed up to circle the room.  There!  With her back turned, walking quickly away from him!  He ran to catch up.<BR>

<DD>"B'Elanna, there you are," he said, putting his hand on her shoulder as she turned around.  He bent and gave her forehead a quick kiss.  "Well?  Aren't you going to say anything?"<BR>

<DD>"All right, I'm glad the war's over."<BR>


<DD>"And it'll be nice to be a legal citizen.  Satisfied?"<BR>

<DD>Her flat voice puzzled him.  It wasn't like her.  "Come on, B'Elanna, you know what I'm talking about.  Just give me your answer and we can announce it to everyone at once."  He tried to catch her hand, but she avoided him and drew back.<BR>

<DD>"Tom, I...I hate to do this, but I have to break my promise.  I'm sorry."<BR>

<DD>"What?  Why?"<BR>

<DD>"Something Chakotay told me when I first joined the Maquis: don't make any life-altering decisions unless you're absolutely certain.  I can't get it out of my head."<BR>

<DD>"So you're saying you're not certain you want to spend your life with me?  You doubt you're in love with me?"<BR>

<DD>"NO!  No, Tom, I love you and I want us to stay together.  I -- it's just -- I'm not ready to get married."  He said nothing, pleading in shock with his eyes.  "I'm going back to the ship.  I'll see you tomorrow."  And with that, she dashed out the door.<BR>

<DD>Five minutes passed before Tom closed his gaping mouth and straightened.  He was upset and incredulous, but mostly confused.  She loved him but rejected him?  Would spend her life with him but not marry him?  Slowly, anger overcame his confusion.  How dare she do this to him?  Breaking promises, expecting him to sit patiently and wait?  She was an adult, for crying out loud, and fully capable of making mature decisions!  He was sick and tired of this "maybe, maybe not" crap.  Tom stormed to the door, intent on finding B'Elanna and giving her a piece of his mind, but before he got out a hand grabbed his arm and pulled him off to the side.<BR>

<DD>"Paris," Chakotay said, "Have you got a minute?"<BR>

<DD>"Uh, yeah, sure."  B'Elanna wasn't going anywhere, and he really didn't want Chakotay to know they were arguing.  "What's up?"<BR>

<DD>Chakotay thankfully didn't notice Tom's preoccupation.  "I want your opinion on this 'request' to report to Starfleet.  What's their objective?"<BR>

<DD>Good, an easy question.  He wasn't sure if he could handle complex thought right now.  Actually, he was amazed this conversation was even happening.  Two years ago, Chakotay could barely stand to be in the same room with him.  They'd finally come to respect each other, but they weren't exactly friends.  "It seems obvious to me, Chakotay.  The Feds may have won, but they took heavy losses.  They probably want to beg us to join up, in case somebody takes this opportunity to attack their weakened forces."<BR>

<DD>"Just like that?  No Academy or anything?"<BR>

<DD>"There'll probably be a brief training course for people who were never in Starfleet, but they're not stupid.  Starfleet needs good, experienced people, <i>now</i>.  It's not unheard of.  And we have the upper hand."<BR>

<DD>"Huh.  I wonder how much they're willing to offer us to rejoin?"<BR>

<DD>"A lot, I'd guess.  Thinking of rejoining the Fleet?" he half-teased.<BR>

<DD>"I'm considering it.  My loathing of them has lessened considerably since the war started.  What about you, Paris?"<BR>

<DD>"Good question.  I didn't exactly 'resign,' you know.  I don't know if they'll want me back."<BR>

<DD>"You said it yourself, they need all the good people they can get," Chakotay reminded.<BR>

<DD>"True."  He sighed.  "I suppose I'll wait and see.  Now if you'll excuse me, I'm heading back to the ship."<BR>

<DD>Tom went back to the Liberty, but not to B'Elanna's cabin.  Talking to Chakotay had given him time to cool off and questions to answer.  Be didn't really care what Starfleet did or didn't want him to do.  All that truly mattered was staying close to B'Elanna, so that's what he was going to do.  He'd have his talk with her later.<br>


<dd>B'Elanna collapsed onto her bed and buried her face in her hands.  She sat there a moment, collecting herself, then activated her computer.  The nice thing about being a Maquis engineer was that you got first dibs on such technological luxuries.  It was a far cry from modern, but it packed enough for her needs.<br>

<dd>"Computer, resume recording file Torres-Delta-6."  She paused to gather her thoughts.  "Remember when I told you my entries would be less frequent because I wasn't sure how much more data I could compress?  Well, I take it all back.  The war is over.  Of course, you know that.  This means that not only will I have access to decent equipment, but I'll actually be able to find you and send this extremely long letter.  Maybe.  I haven't decided.  I've been recording this not only to tell you about everything in my life, but...well, because sometimes, I have nowhere else to go, no one else to talk to.  I'm not close to very many people.  Chakotay wouldn't understand, and Tom...I know I told you I could tell him anything, but <I>he's</I> the problem this time."  She sighed deeply, then her logical engineer's mind took over.<br>

<dd>"I'll start at the beginning.  A year ago, just before I began this letter, Tom proposed to me.  I told him I'd accept if we both survived the war.  So naturally, Tom expected me to make good on my promise today.  But I couldn't do it.  I just...Kahless, why can't I?  I love him, he loves me, I want to be with him, but for some reason, I can't say yes.  I can tell he's confused, and I don't blame him.  I'm confusing myself.  All my life I've wanted love, to be loved, and now I have it, but it doesn't seem to have make me honorable enough to keep my promises."<br>

<dd>"The key thing I'm trying to figure out is why I have no problem with saying I want to spend my life with him while having extreme difficulties with engagement and marriage.  My mind tells me that the only distinction between them is a ceremony and certificate.  I <I>know</I> that.  And I have no trouble committing to a life-long relationship.  But when I try to tell that to the rest of me, I balk.  Something inside just...turns around and heads for the hills."<br>

<dd>"A psychiatrist would tell me it's a result of growing up in a single-parent household, or of my mixed heritage, or a formative childhood experience, or some other psychobabble.  Oh!  That sounds like I'm blaming you -- I don't.  At all.  It's my problem."<br>

<dd>"You know, maybe I can talk to Tom about this.  He deserves a better explanation than that crap I gave him.  But not now, I'm exhausted.  Later.  And Dad, I promise I'll give you all the details.  That's all for now.  Computer, close file and save."<br>


<dd>As often happens with tasks we are reluctant to do, later never came.  A few days of tacit travel were all it took for them to come running back into each other's arms, no questions asked.  Of course, it was slightly strained, but neither wanted to bring up the dreaded subject.  They were all too aware that their entrance into legal civilization could mean their separation.<br>

<dd>The Liberty's crew had agreed to be the first Maquis ship to officially visit Starfleet, in case this was some kind of trap.  Arriving at Starbase 48, they were invited to dock.  Admiral Paige, a tiny but imposing gray-haired woman, met the first group.<br>

<dd>"I'm Chakotay, and this these are my five oldest crewmembers."<br>

<dd>"On behalf of the entire Federation, welcome back.  I realize this arrangement must seem suspicious, but I assure you it's for real.  Shall we continue in the briefing room?"  Chakotay, Torres, Paris, Gerron, Dalby, and Henley followed her through the base and ended up seated around a large table.<br>

<dd>The Admiral spoke.  "I'm not going to give you any bull, because I know you won't accept it.  The bottom line is, we need people.  Starfleet is willing to grant any requests you might have, as long as you become loyal Federation citizens -- or at least, not hostile towards us.  As enticement, you're all welcome to Starfleet commissions, provided you undergo a short, on-the-job training session -- or retraining, as the case may be."  Tom shot Chakotay a smug look.  "It may sound to good to be true, but I think if you reason it out for yourselves, you'll see my point."<br>

<dd>"What do we have do?" asked Chakotay.<br>

<dd>"All I need now are your names and occupations, that we may determine appropriate ranks and positions.  Captain, I'll need your personal evaluation of each crewmember.  You don't have to decide what you want to do immediately.  This is an open offer."<br>

<dd>Four hours later, Tom caught up with B'Elanna on the base's commercial deck.  They'd just received their official offers.<br>

<dd>"So what do they want you for?" he asked playfully.  B'Elanna was staring incredulously at her padd.  "Hello?  Paris to Torres, come in, Torres.  Must be something good to make you go deaf.  They want me to join a three-ring circus.  I'm head clown."<br>

<dd>"Huh?  Oh, sorry Tom, I'm kind of shocked.  I've been offered Chief Engineer on a starship.  The captain wants to meet me at my earliest convenience.  Her former Chief resigned when the war ended."<br>

<dd>"Wow, congratulations!  That must've been some recommendation Chakotay gave you."  He lowered his voice.  "And you deserve every word of it."<br>

<dd>She smiled in thanks.  "Now tell me what you got.  Seriously."<br>

<dd>"What, you don't think I'd make a good clown?  In light of the present circumstances, Starfleet has decided to overlook my dismissal.  They want me to test pilot new ship designs and maybe train new pilots."<br>

<dd>B'Elanna felt a lump in her throat.  This was a scenario she'd been dreading.  "Did you accept?"<br>

<dd>"Did you?"<br>

<dd>They stopped walking and faced each other.<br>

<dd>"Because," B'Elanna continued, "I think you should.  That's a wonderful opportunity for you.  You'll get to do what you want and reconcile with your family like you've wanted to."  Kahless, this was painful.<br>

<dd>He was quiet, considering.  "Are you trying to tell me something, B'Elanna?"<br>


<dd>"You seem awfully eager to get rid of me."<br>

<dd>"Tom, that's not what I meant.  I'm just thinking about what's best for you.  I want you to stay with me, but I don't want you to give up your dreams for me.  This is an offer you can't refuse."<br>

<dd>"Unlike the offer you refused?"  She didn't understand, so he elaborated, bright blue eyes turning hard with anger.  "I have those dreams, true, but it seems that I can't have the most important dream.  I would give up all the others for that one."<br>

<dd>Oh. That dream.  So they were finally having The Conversation.  She was ready for it, having logically ordered all the things she needed to say.  "Tom, I understand what you're saying.  I love you with all my heart and--"<br>

<dd>"Yeah, yeah, you want us to be together.  I know.  I've heard that part before.  What I don't understand--"  People were staring, so he drew them into an unoccupied corridor.  "What I don't understand is why you won't marry me if those things are true.  I need an explanation, B'Elanna!"<br>

<dd>"Dammit, Tom, that's what I was doing when you interrupted me!  You know what your problem is?  You jump to conclusions!"<br>

<dd>"And you can't make up your mind!"  She didn't reply, just stood there returning his glare full force.  This wasn't going how she planned.  What happened to her calm explanation?  Realizing their folly, she relaxed and tried to continue.  Unfortunately, Tom took her expression for an admission of guilt.<br>

<dd>"Fine.  You know what I was going to do?  I told myself that I'd follow you, stay with you and give you time, but this is ridiculous.  You've had time.  And if that time hasn't convinced you that we should get married, maybe it's better that we don't."<br>

<dd>"Tom, wait!"  But he ignored her and stalked off, disappearing into the throng.  *Fine then.  Let him go.*<br>

<dd>Later that day, she regretted not following him, but upon seeking his location, she found that Tom had hopped on the first Earth-bound ship.  Perhaps, she thought, he was right.  Maybe they weren't meant to be together after all.<br>

<dd>In the days that followed, more Maquis ships arrived at the Starbase, but B'Elanna didn't feel like celebrating with them.  It was time for her to move on.  She bade a calm farewell to her long-time shipmates.  Other Maquis had come and gone, but this group had been constant.  Chakotay and Gerron had accepted positions in the Fleet, while Dalby and Henley wanted to spend time with their families before deciding.  As for B'Elanna, although she had planned on looking up her parents, she decided to immediately accept her commission and perform her search from there.  After only two days on the Starbase, she left and didn't look back.<br>


<dd>Tom promised himself he wouldn't look back, and while he sometimes came close, he never did.  Upon his reaching Earth and Starfleet Headquarters, the Admiral on duty performed a brief reinstating ceremony and gave him his new Lieutenant's pips.  He proceeded to his new apartment across the Bay, where he found messages from important people -- including one from his mother.  She welcomed him back and invited him over for dinner.<br>

<dd>This was his biggest worry.  Back in the Maquis, he and B'Elanna had talked about their parents often and eventually decided to make amends with them, but saying and doing were, as always, vastly different things.  He wasn't worried about his sisters, but would his parents accept him?  His mother seemed ready to, at least...<br>

<dd>He laughed mirthlessly.  After all these years, his father still terrified some part of him, deep inside.  But as B'Elanna had told him so many times, he had to face his fears and make an honest effort to reconnect.<br>

<dd>He arrived at the house at exactly the suggested time, not wanting to lose points for tardiness.  Before he could press the bell, the door flung open.<br>

<dd>"Eeeeeeeeeeee!" screamed two identical voices.<br>

<dd>"Eeeeeeeeeeee!" Tom mockingly screamed back.<br>

<dd>Then no one could scream, because Alexandra and Rebecca threw themselves at their brother and the siblings nearly hugged the breath out of each other.  They relaxed and smiled giddily at each other.<br>

<dd>"God, I've missed you two.  Still identical?"<br>

<dd>"Not entirely," said Alex mysteriously.  She held up her left hand.  "As you can see, my last name is no longer Paris."<br>

<dd>He gaped in astonishment.  "You're married?"<br>

<dd>She smirked.  "Don't waste all your shock on me, little brother.  Becky's boyfriend is about to pop the question."<br>

<dd>Rebecca rolled her eyes.  "Lex <i>thinks</i> he's going to.  We have a bet going.  Want in?"<br>

<dd>Tom laughed.  "Either way, you win?  No thanks.  Let's go inside."  He was thrilled for his sisters, but all this marriage talk was affecting him, and he didn't want to think about that now.<br>

<dd>He was barely two steps inside when another figure flew at him.  This one, though, wasn't screaming.  Although Tom was more than a head taller than she, Elena Paris could more than hold her own in a bear hug.  Tom took a good, long look at his mother.  Her hair was mostly silver now, the dark hair she had given her twins having finally faded, but her eyes were still as clear and blue as they had been in his youth.  And as always, her smile said everything.  Tom smiled back, silently communicating his love and thanks.<br>

<dd>All four were talking at once as they make their way to the living room.<br>

<dd>"So is this a party of four, or what?" Tom asked, sitting in his favorite corner of the couch.<br>

<dd>Alex flopped down on the carpet, but before she could reply, Becky reprimanded, "Lex, don't do that!  You should be more careful!"<br>

<DD>The twin in question rolled her eyes.  "I'm pregnant, not a china doll."<br>

<dd>"You're pregnant?" Tom sputtered.<br>

<DD>"I just found out.  You're going to be an uncle, Tommy!"<br>

<dd>"Congratulations, that's wonderful!  I can't wait to meet the lucky father-to-be."<br>

<dd>"Well, as I was going to say before I was so <i>rudely</i> interrupted," she replied with a murderous glance at Rebecca, "Harry's coming, and so is Mike -- Becky's boyfriend.  Harry will probably arrive with Dad, since they're both coming from Starfleet."<br>

<dd>Before Tom had time to react, a new voice called out, "Aloha!  Anybody home?"<br>

<dd>Elena and Alex burst out laughing, as Becca replied, "In here!  That's Mike," she explained to Tom.  "He's a writer, and he just got back from an extended research visit to Hawaii.  Now he thinks he's some kind of native."<br>

<dd>"You could have come, you know," said the new arrival.  "You must be the fabled Tom.  Hi, I'm Mike Deloire," he said, shaking Tom's hand.  He was shorter than Tom, with dark European features.<br>

<dd>Mike had hardly sat down next to Rebecca when more voices were heard in the hall.  Alexa leaped up to go greet them.  The tension in the room increased dramatically.  Tom could feel his mother's concerned eyes on him.  He gave her a reassuring look, elated that they could still understand each other perfectly without words.  He steeled his nerves for what was to come.<br>

<dd>Alex returned pulling a laughing Asian man in a gold Starfleet uniform by the hand.  Tom rose, and his sister introduced them.  "Tom, this is Lieutenant Harry Kim.  Harry, my brother Tom."<br>

<dd>"So you're the man who finally managed to tame Alexandra the Great," Tom said, shaking his brother-in-law's hand.<br>

<dd>"I wouldn't call her 'tame,' but I'll agree with you on 'Great.'  I've heard so much about you, Tom."  Harry seemed like a smart, friendly guy.  Tom had a crazy feeling they'd be good friends.<br>

<dd>And now he felt a familiar presence enter the room.  Admiral Owen Paris stood framed in the doorway.  Father and son stared at each other.  Suddenly, the Admiral did something Tom hadn't seen him do in a long time.  He smiled.  "Welcome home, son."<br>

<dd>"Dad..."  And then they were in each other’s arms.<br>

<dd>"Can you ever forgive me, Tom?"  Tom only hugged his father tighter.<br>

<dd>Relieved smiles broke out around the room.  Owen released his son, and suggesting they all adjourn to the dining room, led the way.<br>

<dd>Before Tom could follow, Alex caught his arm.  "What's up?" he asked as the room emptied.<br>

<dd>"Tom, you should know...Mom had a stroke last year," she said softly.<br>

<dd>"What?  Is she okay?"<br>

<dd>"Inside, she's exactly the same as ever, but she doesn't talk as much now, and she moves a little slower."<br>

<dd>Tom's heart constricted.  "Thanks, Al."  They followed everyone to the dining room.<br>

<dd>His mother had prepared his favorite foods.  The family spent the meal catching up, regaling each other with stories and jokes.  Everyone was excited to hear about Tom's Maquis adventures and Harry's Starfleet heroics, from which Harry was on a working shore leave.  Then the inevitable happened.<br>

<dd>"...and that, as they say, was that," said Mike as he finished the story about his and Becky's first meeting.<br>

<dd>Becky laughed.  "More or less, anyway.  Well, Tommy, two Paris kids have paired off.  Any chance of making that three?" she asked innocently, a twinkle in her eye.<br>

<dd>To her surprise, Tom responded with a short, "Nope, sorry to disappoint."  He immediately launched into another Maquis story, but his subtle change of mood hadn't escaped his sisters.  Alexandra and Rebecca exchanged a look.  If Tom didn't want to talk now, they'd certainly make him do it later.<br>

<dd>Tom left that evening feeling sad but fulfilled.  His distress over his mother's stroke was assuaged by his father's attention to her -- he'd never seen the Admiral exhibit so much emotion for so long.  Tom deduced that the stroke had been something of a turning point for Owen.  He was relaxing in his apartment the next day, reflecting on his family's warm acceptance, when the door chimed.  His sisters came in and quickly made themselves at home.<br>

<dd>"What brings you two to my humble abode?" he asked pleasantly.<br>

<dd>The girls gave him identical knowing looks.  "Come on, Tom, you know why we're here," said Alex.<br>

<dd>Nonchalantly, Tom threw his arm across the back of the couch.  "Enlighten me."<br>

<dd>Becky shook her head.  "Stubborn as ever.  Have it your way.  We know you're having girl problems.  Spill it."<br>

<dd>His sisters' uncanny ability to seemingly read his mind never ceased to amaze Tom.  "Trust me, I can handle it.  I don't need your help."<br>

<dd>Unfortunately, his sisters were as stubborn as he was.  Their twin stares were unnervingly like his father's.  The odds were against him.<br>

<dd>The whole story came pouring out.  B'Elanna tutoring him at the Academy -- falling in love again in the Maquis -- her promise -- her rejection -- their final argument.  His big sisters listened without judging.  "I don't know, maybe I shouldn't have reacted so strongly, but I was just so fed up, you know?  I felt like she was taking advantage of me and that...whether she knew it or not, she wasn't really in love with me."  He sat back.  "Satisfied?"<br>

<dd>As one, Alex and Becca sat on either side of him and hugged as his eyes grew moist.  The siblings spent an hour talking about things that they couldn't the previous night.  Tom learned that he was right -- Elena's stroke had effected the profound change in Owen.<br>

<dd>"You should see him, Tom," gushed Al.  "It's like everything that he lacked came out.  He's fun to be around now, and the way he looks after Mom is adorable.  Did you know, when she got sick, he actually took a leave of absence from work?"<br>

<dd>"Even with the war and all," Becky added.  "But don't think that one incident was a complete turnaround.  I think he'd started to regret his behavior before then.  Especially towards you."<br>

<dd>"I was amazed.  I was prepared to get down and beg for forgiveness."  He sighed.  "I just wish I'd been able to introduce him to B'Elanna last night."<br>

<dd>"Tom," Rebecca said hesitantly, "You probably don't want to hear this, but I think B'Elanna was right, in a way.  When you get caught up in something, you don't notice what's going on with other people.  You've been doing it since you were little."<br>

<dd>Tom didn't respond, and Alex squeezed his shoulder.  "Don't give up on her, Tom.  I have a feeling she'll come back to you.  You know what, why don't you come with Harry and me tonight?  We're going to the new restaurant over at the Fleet Headquarters.  Becky was going to come, but she's got big plans this evening."  She wiggled her eyebrows.<br>

<dd>Rebecca blushed.  "Yeah, Mike's taking me on a dinner cruise around the Bay."<br>

<dd>"Oooooh!" teased her siblings.  So she did what any sensible young woman would do in her situation.<br>

<dd>It took Tom's pillows a month to recover.<br>


<dd>Although Tom became friends with both his brothers-in-law (Alexandra won the bet), he was especially close to Harry.  At first he'd been inclined to protect the younger man, but he soon realized that Harry had no such need.  Harry's workload was light and occasional, and Tom's job allowed liberal leisure time, so the two could often be seen together while other family members were working.<br>

<dd>Because of that arrangement, Tom and Alex were the only two present to see Harry off when his ship picked him up.  Everyone else had said goodbye the previous night.<br>

<dd>Alexandra stuck to her husband.  "Why do you always have to go?" she asked rhetorically.<br>

<dd>Harry grinned.  "I've never seen you this clingy before."<br>

<dd>"It's the hormones," she replied grouchily, eyes overflowing.<br>

<dd>"Come on, honey, we've had this talk before.  I wish I could be with you, but I can't.  I'll talk to the Captain about another leave or letting you move onboard, and we'll go from there," he softly reassured her.<br>

<dd>Tom stood apart from the couple.  His mind was light years away.  Where was B'Elanna now, he wondered?  Did she think of him?  God knew he thought of her, all the time.<br>

<dd>"Sorry there's not enough time for a tour, Tom.  She's a beautiful ship."<br>

<dd>"Next time, Harry."<br>

<dd>The Kims said their final goodbyes, and Harry stepped onto the transporter pad.  "Energize."<br>

<dd>Tom led his sister away gently.  His mind wandered from the quietly weeping woman to his friend in the sky.  For some reason, he was seized with a sudden desire to be up there with him.  But no, he reprimanded himself.  Harry made him promise to look after Al, and he would.  Unlike some people he could name, Tom knew how to keep a promise.<br>


<dd>B'Elanna sighed in relief as the Captain announced their departure.  She didn't mind giving the engines a break, but Earth was the last place she wanted to be.  It wasn't so much the planet as who might be on it.  She could almost <i>feel</i> his presence down there.<br>

<dd>She gladly obeyed the Captain's orders, still marveling even after a month onboard at how the ship responded without her having to beg or beat it into submission.  The uniform still felt strange to her, but B'Elanna was beginning to like her new job.  It hadn't been that way at first...<br>


<i>One month earlier...</i><br>

<dd>B'Elanna peered curiously out the window as the shuttle reached its destination: the starship Voyager.  It wasn't as large or threatening as some ships she'd seen, but Voyager had a sleek, elegant beauty that made B'Elanna think, for the first time, that perhaps this choice would be more than just an escape.<br>

<dd>A crewman escorted her to the Captain's ready room.  She noted, with surprise, that her palms felt a little sweaty.  Why should she be nervous?  She was going into Starfleet, for Kahless's sake.  These were her recent enemies!  Wiping her hands, she lifted her head and strode inside.<br>

<dd>Captain Kathryn Janeway dismissed the crewman with a nod.  "Have a seat, Lieutenant."  It took B'Elanna a moment to realize the Captain was talking to her.  That title...well, it would take some getting used to.  Janeway indicated the chair opposite the desk and then sat in her own seat.  Clearly, this was a business meeting.  B'Elanna sat and tried to assess the shorthaired woman before her.  The Captain seemed like a no-nonsense woman, but she also had a very...Starfleet look about her.  B'Elanna's confidence wavered a little, so she set her features in a defiant stance that was her best recourse in these situations.<br>

<dd>"I hear you're the finest engineer in the Maquis, although I must admit I find that somewhat hard to believe.  I know for a fact that there are Maquis engineers with more Starfleet training than your...what was it, one year at the Academy?"<br>

<dd>She stiffened.  "Two.  Starfleet training isn't always the best or brightest."<br>

<dd>"Regardless, this is a Starfleet vessel, and we'll operate under Starfleet regulations.  I expect you to follow orders and carry out business just like all the other crewmembers.  No special favors."  She smiled, and B'Elanna was surprised at how naturally it came to her face.  "B'Elanna, I'm not going to lie to you.  I expect the best from you because I know you know what you're doing.  Welcome aboard."<br>

<dd>B'Elanna left the meeting feeling confused.  She thought she had Janeway figured out, but apparently she had been mistaken.  Or had she?  Those comments about Starfleet training -- was that honest or was it a test of sorts?  B'Elanna shook it off.  The Captain could run the bridge in her way, and B'Elanna would run Engineering in her own.<br>


<i>Present time...</i><br>>

<dd>It hadn't been easy, but B'Elanna finally felt she was fitting into her new job.  She'd gotten over her frustration with Starfleet methods and was starting to integrate them with her own.  Her views of Captain Janeway had also changed.  After witnessing the Captain's cool, efficient, yet compassionate ways of carrying out their mission of reestablishing order in the Federation, B'Elanna had come to respect her superior.  In fact, the respect was mutual, and Janeway had become a sort of mentor to B'Elanna.<br>

<dd>As for her personal life...well, it was improving.  Slowly.  She got along with everyone and acknowledged their abilities (although she had to admit that Stadi's piloting paled in comparison to Tom's), but she couldn't call them close friends.  Now, as the ship flew away from Earth, she found herself wondering if maybe she should have contacted Tom.  The Captain's summons to a staff meeting cleared her mind of that thought.  No, she couldn't contact him.  She had a new life now, one that was both literally and figuratively taking her away from him.<br>


<dd>Harry Kim missed his wife as soon as he materialized with his duffel on Voyager, but he could hardly contain his excitement at seeing his shipmates again and meeting the new crewmembers, especially the two new senior staffers.  He hurried to unpack in his quarters, then headed to the staff meeting.  He was one of the first to arrive.  "Captain, Commander, great to see you again!" he greeted, taking his place on Janeway's right.<br>

<DD>She squeezed his shoulder as Commander Tuvok, Voyager's first officer, nodded at him from her other side.  "Lieutenant Kim.  I trust you had a restful shore leave?"<BR>

<DD>"I did indeed, Commander."<BR>

<DD>"How's your wife, Harry?" the Captain asked.<BR>

<DD>"Pregnant, to be frank.  Captain, I'll need more time off in...oh, seven and a half months."  As he was accepting their congratulations, Lt. Commander Stadi entered.<BR>

<DD>"Harry, it's great to see you," said the Betazoid.  "I've missed you disturbing my concentration."  Before he could reply, the door opened again for the Doctor and an unfamiliar person.  He wasn't able to see the new officer, though, because the Doctor enveloped him in an enormous bear hug.<BR>

<DD>"I'm so glad you're back, Lieutenant!"<BR>

<DD>"Gee, Doc, for a hologram you're pretty solid.  Yeah, I'm happy to see you, too."  The Emergency Medical Hologram had been activated three years ago, when the entire sickbay staff died in battle.  The crew had neither the resources nor the inclination to replace him with a flesh and blood doctor, but when the war ended Starfleet discussed deactivating him.  Voyager's crew protested, and that was that.<BR>

<DD>The door opened again, admitting the second new crewmember, and the Captain called the meeting to order.<BR>

<DD>"Now that I finally have a full staff, I'd like to officially welcome you.  This is just a brief meeting to introduce our two newest members to our much-missed Ops officer, Lt. Harry Kim."  She smiled at Harry, then turned to the officer two seats down from him, the one who entered with the Doctor.<BR>

<DD>"Harry, I'm pleased to introduce you to Ensign Nog, Head of Security.  Nog served on Deep Space Nine and the Defiant during the war."  Harry got over his initial shock at seeing a Ferengi in Starfleet, but despite his youth, the Ensign looked tough.  He suppressed the image of Nog, short even for a Ferengi, lecturing a burly security team, and smiled at the newcomer.  To his surprise, Nog smiled back, showing a set of twisted teeth.<BR>

<DD>Now the Captain turned to the young woman opposite Nog.  She had what seemed like toned down Klingon ridges on her forehead -- half-Klingon, maybe?  She regarded Harry with unrevealing eyes, which both unnerved and intrigued him.  "And this is Chief Engineer Lt. B'Elanna Torres.  She performed extraordinarily during the war as part of the Maquis."  Maquis?  Well, that certainly explained the less-than-regulation way she leaned on the table.  She returned his smile with a weak reflection and a nod.<BR>

<DD>"I'm certain you'll all come to like and respect one another as I do each of you.  I must say, I think we have the most diverse command staff of any ship in the fleet.  In my experience, that's an asset.  Dismissed."<BR>

<DD>As Harry left with his crewmates, he planned the rest of his day.  First, he'd finish unpacking and send a note to Alexandra.  Then he thought he'd pay a visit to that Torres woman and Ensign Nog.  He remembered being new to Voyager, not so long ago.  They could probably use a friend or two.<BR>


<DD>B'Elanna sat in her quarters, staring at the blinking computer screen.  <I>Send?  Send?</i> it asked silently, regularly, endlessly, as she knew it would until she either chose yes or no.  Three months she'd been on Voyager, and she still couldn't work up the guts to send her letter to her father.  Sighing, she hit no.  She hated her indecisiveness.  Oh, sure, she was fine in professional matters.  Her quick action was making her somewhat famous with the crew.  But in personal matters?  Forget it!  Her whole life was proof of that.<BR>

<DD>The doorbell chimed.  Eager for a mood shift, she called, "Enter," and Harry Kim entered the room.  "Hey, Starfleet."<BR>

<DD>"Hey yourself, Maquis," he replied, as expected.  Predictable, dependable Harry.  When she first met him, he'd seemed so much a part of the system, she gave him a suitable nickname.  He responded with the first thing that came to mind, and the names stuck.  At first, B'Elanna thought he was flirting with her, but when she learned he was very much married, she stopped brushing him off.  Now she considered him her best friend on Voyager.<BR>

<DD>"What are you up to?" he asked.<BR>

<DD>"Harry, how do you make a decision?"<BR>

<DD>He dropped into an armchair.  "What do you mean?"<BR>

<DD>"I mean exactly what I said.  How do you do it?  Just humor me, okay?"<BR>

<DD>"All right.  I suppose I weight he outcome of each choice and decide which is the more positive.  B'Elanna, you make choices every day, ship-wide ones.  Why are you asking me this?"<BR>

<DD>She ignored his question.  "I'm not talking about that kind of decision.  What about -- er -- matters of the heart?"  My, but that coffee table was captivating!<BR>

<DD>"B'Elanna, what's this really about?"<BR>

<DD>"Dammit, Harry, will you answer the question already?"<BR>

<DD>He didn't respond, and when she lifted her head, she saw him heading for the door.  "Where the hell are you going?"<BR>

<DD>"B'Elanna, you cannot keep doing this."<BR>


<DD>"It's always the same thing with you.  You call me your friend, you ask my advice, but you never let me in enough to help you, or really get to know you.  Frankly, I'm sick of it."  She didn't answer as he left.  She'd done it again.  Silently, B'Elanna cursed her mother for never teaching her what she really needed to know -- how to trust, how to be a friend, and of course, how to make a freaking decision!  With a yell, she hurled the couch pillow at the door.  At least she never had problems releasing tension.<BR>

<DD>Sighing, she realized Harry was right.  "Computer, location of Lt. Kim?"<BR>

<DD>"Lt. Kim is on Holodeck One."<BR>

<DD>B'Elanna set off.  It was time for an apology.<BR>


<DD>A few minutes later, she stood in a corner watching Harry playing hoverball.  She waited until he called for a break from his holo-opponent before stepping our of the shadow.<BR>

<DD>"Hi."  He said nothing.  "Harry, I'm sorry.  You're right, I'm wrong.  Well?  Say something."<BR>

<DD>He chuckled softly.  "It's okay.  I overreacted.  You remind me of my brother-in-law.  He refuses to tell me his problems, too, and I guess I was taking my frustration out on you.  Come to think of it, you'd look good together."<BR>

<DD>Now it was her turn to laugh.  "Oh, no, Harry, I definitely don't need another option."<BR>

<DD>They sat on the bench.  "So are you going to open up or what?"<BR>

<DD>"All right, Starfleet, I've learned my lesson.  It all boils down to indecisiveness in personal matters."<BR>

<DD>"B'Elanna, lots of people are like that.  It's not that critical."<BR>

<DD>"It is when it's ruining your life."<BR>

<DD>"Okay, now you've lost me."  Harry looked startled but skeptical.  "Don't you think you're exaggerating a little?"<BR>

<DD>"No."  She defiantly met his eyes.  "Kahless, there I go again.  Okay, this is the full story.  For what amounts to my last two years in the Maquis, I was -- um -- involved with a wonderful man.  Oh, all right, we were in love," she admitted under Harry's knowing look.  "Anyway, last year he asked me to marry him, and I told him I'd consider accepting when the war ended.  It did, and he asked again, but..."<BR>

<DD>"But you didn't."<BR>

<DD>She sighed.  "Right.  I gave him some lame excuse, he finally got fed up with me, and he left.  I went to Voyager after that, and I haven't seen or heard from him since."<BR>

<DD>"And that's why indecisiveness is ruining your life."<BR>

<DD>"I know it sounds melodramatic, but yes.  That's not the only incident where it's been a problem, but it's the biggest."<BR>

<DD>"Why do you think it's such a problem for you?"<BR>

<DD>"Honestly, Harry, I don't know.  I always start by blaming my mother, but that's not right.  It's my problem, and I need to fix it."<BR>

<DD>"Just remember, I'm always standing by in Ops to help with repairs."<BR>

<DD>"Thanks, Starfleet," she smiled.  "You know, I think you've got the wrong uniform.  You should have gone into counseling."<BR>

<DD>"And miss the opportunity to save the day with my brilliant solutions?  Not a chance," he laughed."<BR>

<DD>"So are you going to answer my question or what?" she demanded.<BR>

<DD>"Huh?  Oh, that question.  Let's see, how did I decide to marry Al?  Actually, it was one of the easiest, simplest decisions I've ever made."<BR>

<DD>"Simple?  Are you nuts?  Marriage is a life-long commitment, there're a lot of factors to consider."<BR>

<DD>He smiled ruefully.  "Not really.  When it comes down to it, all you need is love, cliché as that sounds."<BR>

<DD>Now B'Elanna was skeptical.  "That's it?  I can't believe that," she said, shaking her head.<BR>

<DD>"Sometimes the best way to repair something is the simplest way.  You know what your real problem is, B'Elanna?  You make everything more complicated than it needs to be.  Stop looking for something that doesn't exist and go with your heart.  It's the same thing you do in Engineering every day, just with different variables."  He knew he'd finally gotten through when she didn't respond.  "Come on, let's play a game.  I'm sick of photonic opponents."<BR>


<DD>To the innocent observer, it would appear that a graviton wave had passed through Lt. Kim's normally impeccable quarters.  Drawers hung at peculiar angles, their contents draped over chairs, tables, the clarinet case, and any other salient objects.  The closet, it seemed, was a textile volcano, as articles spewed forth and added to the clutter.<BR>

<DD>Harry was deep within said closet, and he was just starting to panic.  Where the hell was that shirt?  Everything had to be perfect for Alexandra.  Due to a mishap while aiding a Klingon ship with repairs, Voyager was docked at Starbase One for a long-overdue refit.  Janeway needed no pleading to implement Nog's suggestion that Voyager host a luau for the crew and their families.<BR>

<DD>The last time Harry went to a luau was during his shore leave.  Tom mocked Harry's plain outfit and replicated him a Hawaiian shirt, "pineapple motif."  Harry had raised an eyebrow, Tuvok-fashion, but Alex got such a kick out of the shirt that he wore it.  Naturally, it did not want to be found tonight.<BR>

<DD>He went to search the bureau again.  *Calm down, Harry,* he told himself.  *It's just a little party.*  But it wasn't, not really.  This was his first chance to show Tom the ship and introduce him to his friends.  He especially couldn't wait for Tom and B'Elanna to meet.  They were so alike, even more than he originally thought, judging from a conversation he and Alex had en route to Earth.<BR>

<DD>Harry had mentioned to her how anxious he was to see Tom again.<BR>

<DD>Even over the computer screen, he could see her change of mood.  "Harry...go easy on him, okay?"<BR>

<DD>"What do you mean?  Is Tom all right?"  If his friend was hurt...<BR>

<DD>"Nothing like what you're thinking, honey.  I just meant you shouldn't try to play matchmaker or anything.  Tom's recovering from incredible heartbreak.  It happened before he came home.  He's been better lately, but..."<BR>

<DD>"I understand.  You know, he should talk to my friend up here.  I think they're a lot alike."<BR>

<DD>She told Harry she would mention it to Tom.  That was two days ago.  Harry was proud of himself for managing to get B'Elanna to go to the luau.  She wasn't a terribly social person, and he had to call up every favor to make her go -- and make her dress up.  Of course, if he couldn't find his shirt...<BR>

<DD>"Hah!  There you are!" he said triumphantly, snatching the errant article from the third drawer -- exactly where he remembered putting it away.<BR>

<DD>Disregarding the messy floor, he hastily donned the shirt and dashed out.<BR>

<DD>The "sun" was still up when he reached Holodeck Two.  It wouldn't set until most people arrived.  The beach resort setting had been a contribution of various crewmembers, with Ensign Nog organizing the details.  Tiki torches were being lit by tanned holo-waiters, and exotic holo-waitresses milled about presenting flower leis.<BR>

<DD>Nog was the perfect Ferengi host, welcoming people at the door.  "Ah, Harry, glad you could make it.  That shirt is perfect!"<BR>

<DD>"Thanks," he replied, shaking his diminutive friend's hand.  "You've done a great job with this place.  Although..."<BR>

<dd>"What?  What?" He looked around frantically for a fault.<BR>

<DD>Harry made a suspicious face.  "It's just that you're strangely reminiscent of your uncle this evening."  Harry had an unfortunate run-in with that individual back when he was a green ensign.  Captain Janeway had rescued him before Quark could clean him out.<BR>

<DD>"Oh, that."  Nog grinned as he looked down at his outfit, which was in fact similar to one worn by his relative.  "Don't worry, I'm not making any material profit from this party."<BR>

<DD>"That's good to know," he replied.<BR>

<DD>People were starting to arrive in groups, and the holodeck doors were rarely shut.  Harry excused himself so Nog could get back to work.<BR>

<DD>He milled around, keeping an eye on the door.  Finally, he caught a glimpse of a dark brown head, and his heart jumped.  Nog had long since given up greeting each guest, and Alexandra was scanning the crowd.  At last, she found her target.  Ignoring propriety, she shrieked his name and ran towards him as fast as her condition would permit.  Luckily, he met her before she got too far.  Harry knew his crewmates were looking on as he passionately embraced his wife, but he didn't care, not even when some of them broke into applause.<BR>

<DD>When they finally let go, Harry looked her up and down incredulously.  "Lex, you look gorgeous."<BR>

<DD>"No, I look pregnant," she corrected.  Harry hadn't been quite prepared for what nearly six months of pregnancy looked like.  "Well, I think it's gorgeous."<BR>

<DD>He greeted the rest of the family as they caught up.  The Admiral and his wife, Rebecca and Mike, and Tom were all there.  Becky had a strange gleam in her eye.<BR>

<DD>All right, Beck, what's up?" he asked.<BR>

<DD>She took the opportunity she'd obviously been waiting for and thrust her hand in Harry's face.  "Congratulate me, Harry, I got hitched!"<BR>

<DD>"What?  But I thought the wedding was set for after the baby comes?"<BR>

<DD>Mike wrapped his arm around his bride's shoulders.  "It was, until <i>somebody</I> got impatient."<BR>

<DD>"Completely ignoring her promise to wait till her beloved twin got skinny again," said a mock-annoyed Alex, "Becky kidnapped Mike and got married last night."<BR>

<DD>Harry laughed and congratulated them, then turned to Tom.  His friend's haggard look hadn't changed much.  "Tom, I see you're still sporting the Big Boy Beach shirt."<BR>

<DD>"That's 'Big Daddy-O Surf Special' to you, pineapple man."<BR>

<DD>"Whatever you say.  So how've you been?  Last time we talked was--"<BR>

<DD>"Awhile ago, I know.  I'm all right, not great, but..."  His gaze was distant for a moment, and he shook his head.  "Lex tells me you have a friend here who I should talk to.  Mind filling me in?"<BR>

<DD>"Sure, Tom.  Her name's--" A delighted laugh interrupted him.  He turned to see Captain Janeway dash over to Owen Paris.<BR>

<DD>"Admiral, I'm pleased you could make it," she said respectfully.<BR>

<DD>To the Captain's surprise, her mentor put his arm around her shoulders and squeezed.  "It's good to see you, too, Kathryn.  I'm glad you're looking after your crew's personal interests," he replied, winking at Harry and Alexandra.<BR>

<DD>Janeway quickly recovered from her shock at the extent of Owen's reform.  "Actually, I originally scheduled the refit for three months from now," she said, eyes twinkling, "but I suppose I'll simply let my Ops officer have another extended leave when that time comes."<BR>

<DD>Harry introduced the Captain to his family, some of whom she'd met before, and Tom set off with Mike to get drinks for all.  The Captain began chatting separately with the elder Parises.  "I wonder where B'Elanna is?" Harry remarked.<BR>

<DD>"B'Elanna?" the twins exclaimed in wide-eyed unison.<BR>

<DD>"She's the friend I keep mentioning," he replied nonchalantly.<BR>

<DD>The girls exchanged apprehensive looks.  "Harry," Al began.<BR>

<DD>But just then, he caught sight of her and waved.  "B'Elanna, over here!"  She looked relieved and was quickly there.  "I thought you chickened out on me."<BR>

<DD>"Not a chance, Starfleet, you'd never let me live it down.  Well?  Introduce me to your family, already."<BR>

<DD>B'Elanna had a certain way of getting straight to the point.  He followed orders gladly, although the distress evident on his wife and sister-in-law's faces puzzled him.  He was about to ask what the problem was when B'Elanna spoke.  "So Harry, where's this brother-in-law I'm supposed to meet?"<BR>

<DD>Alex was tugging on his arm, but Harry resisted her to respond first.  He barely opened his mouth when Tom's voice sounded behind him.  "Your servants have returned bearing drinks!" he proclaimed, passing the tray to Owen.<BR>

<DD>Harry whirled around, ignoring Al, who was now joined by her sister.  "Tom, perfect timing!"  He stepped back and grinned.  "Tom Paris, meet B'Elanna Torres."  He turned to B'Elanna.<BR>

<DD>Her expression was the last he had expected.  B'Elanna stood frozen, staring in shock at Tom.  Harry whipped his head around and found Tom had an identical shell-shocked face.<BR>

<DD>He didn't understand.  "Do you guys know each other or something?"<BR>

<DD>Tom recovered his tongue first.  "You could say that," was his clipped reply.<BR>

<DD>It was only then that Harry realized everyone nearby had fallen silent.  Becky smacked her forehead and Al was still tugging.  The elder Parises and Janeway moved off quietly, and Harry finally succumbed to his wife.  They backed off, followed by Becky and Mike, leaving Tom and B'Elanna frozen.<BR>

<DD>"What's going on?  What did I do?" whispered a thoroughly confused Harry once they were a safe distance away.<BR>

<DD>"B'Elanna never told you the name of the man she rejected, did she?" hissed Alex.<BR>

<DD>"No, it wasn't important."  Then the truth of what he had orchestrated dawned on him.<BR>



<DD>Neither Tom nor B'Elanna realized what was happening around them.  They were caught up in each other's shocked gaze.  Then as one, they became conscious of their surroundings.  Tom gestured off towards the tropical garden.  B'Elanna nodded and soon they were in a secluded cul-de-sac, the flowers' sweet aroma surrounding them in the mild evening air.<BR>

<DD>Tom's mouth turned up.  "We seem to have more in common than Harry bargained for."<BR>

<DD>B'Elanna continued to regard him seriously.  "Tom, we need to talk," she said, sitting on a small rattan bench.  He nodded and sat beside her.<BR>

<DD>"Before we start, I just want to say you look--"<BR>


<DD>"Actually, I was going to say smashing."  His comment elicited faint smiles from both of them.<BR>

<DD>There was so much to be said, and neither knew where to begin.  Months of separation had given them both ample time to think, to complete the soul-searching and self-discovery process they'd begun together.<BR>

<DD>B'Elanna went first.  "Tom, I'm so sorry.  I treated you like dirt.  I was selfish and inconsiderate."  She felt as if an enormous weight had finally lifted.<BR>

<DD>"B'Elanna, I'm the one who should be sorry.  I didn't give you a chance to explain yourself, not really.  I let my temper get control of me."<BR>

<DD>"I guess we both screwed up."<BR>

<DD>"Nothing new there."<BR>

<DD>"So many times, recently, I've been tempted to contact you."<BR>

<DD>"Me, too.  God, B'Elanna, if I'd known you were on Voyager, I would have done what I did a lot sooner."<BR>

<DD>Her brow furrowed.  "What did you do?"<BR>

<DD>"No one knows yet, but your pilot, Stadi, put in for a transfer to her cousin's ship.  I accepted the position here, just yesterday.  The Captain and Stadi were going to announce it tonight."<BR>

<DD>"Tom, that's incredible!" she exclaimed.<BR>

<DD>He looked pensive as he stood and plucked a perfect white hibiscus flower, its center and stem a gentle rose color.  Fingering the petals, he said softly, "There's one thing that would make it even more incredible."  Slowly, Tom reached out and brushed her hair back, tucking the flower behind her ear as he did so.  B'Elanna met his gaze with her own expressionless one.<BR>

<DD>Tom took a deep breath and knelt in front of her, as he had before.  Again, he took her hand.  "B'Elanna, I still don't have a ring.  I can do without that, but I can't do without you.  I love you, now and forever.  Will you have me?"<BR>

<DD>B'Elanna measured her words carefully and wet her lips.  "You know, Tom, I think those months apart were actually good for us, painful as they were.  We both still had some demons to conquer, a little more growing up to do.  I know because I'm ready to answer you now."  And then, finally, blessedly certain, she answered.<BR>


<DD><i>Dear Dad:  This is my last entry.  Yes, Dad, I've finally decided to send this to you, unedited.  I have one request of you -- come to Voyager so you can give me away to the man I love.  Your daughter, B'Elanna Torres.</i><P>