Lieutenant Commander Thomas Eugene Paris grappled a moment with his bags, nearly dropped them, then recovered and shouldered them again as he made his way off of the docking ramp from the passenger shuttle that had brought him to the conference location. He hadnt really wanted to come in the first place, administrative meetings like these bored him to tears, but as the top rank flyer and chief pilot of the Starfleets Pilot Elite Corps (a kind of crem de la crem club for Starfleet Pilots), hed been unable to get out of it. Actually, this conference might not be so bad, there were going to be other top-notch pilots from different Federation allied planet species and worlds that were not necessarily represented in Starfleet but had their own top gun pilots in each species respective service. He was looking forward to meeting them, exchanging stories of adventure and near-misses at the helm.
Of course, not even the rare renegade ex-Maquis fighter pilots from decades ago would be able to top the stories and adventures Tom Paris would have to tell as chief helmsman on the Delta Quadrant-stranded Starship Voyager that made it home nine years ago. He had tales that would awe the most discerning combat pilots and merchants alike, not just his three children at home that listened enraptured to his tales every night.
Of course, to them those tales of valor were not as amazing or mystifying because all the friends of the family that came over to see them so often were also former members of that fabled ship. There was no want for stories for his nine year old daughter Miral, six year old son Tyler, and adorable two year old daughter Deja. Their little family was a bustle of excitement and tales of adventure around the dinner table anyway, but when guests came like Uncle Harry or Uncle Chakotay, or even more exciting for the children visits from the former CAPTAIN Aunt Kathryn, the dining area became a stage. And the children ate it up.. when Miral found out that she had actually been born of Voyager, barely but still born aboard her, shed adamantly insisted that made her technically one of Kathryn Janeways crew and took to calling her Captain like her parents still did.
Tom smiled warmly to himself, remembering how hed at first, when Miral started calling Janeway Captain when theyd given Kathryn honorary aunt status to the children, hed tried to apologize for Mirals behavior. He wasnt going to insist Miral stop calling Janeway that, of course.. he knew that when living with Klingons you had to pick your fights carefully. But Janeway had dismissed it with a smile, assuring him it was perfectly all right.. that if she had something against being called Captain then she was in the wrong line of work. To Mirals expressed delight, Janeway started calling her her little ensign. Never one to be left out, Mirals little brother Tyler started calling Janeway Captain, and even baby Dejas babbled name for Janeway was turning into a bubbly cupinn.
The sun was sweltering over the Mexican landscape, skyscrapers in the distance from Mexico City wavering in heat waves. Whoever decided on Mexico for this conference had poor planning, as far as Tom was concerned, anyway. He wasnt sure what other species were coming, but any sensitive to heat were going to be in a world of hurt. The only ones who probably were comfortable would be any Vulcan representatives.
Civilians and military (a hundred different militaries apparently represented) alike milled about before Tom as he stood in his spot, looking around. A few were from branches and species he could identify.. some he wasnt so sure about.
A Bolian dressed in civilian clothing and a Starfleet insignia on his chest approached Tom Paris, greeting as he neared in question, Commander Paris?
The Bolian made his best imitation of a human smile, Im the hotel valet, can I take you to your room?
Tom didnt even know he had a plan now that he was here until he started to say it, Actually.. I wanted to find a comm station before I did anything else.
The Bolian nodded, Of course.. of course, then may I take your bags to your room?
Tom shrugged, handing the burden over.. let someone who worked here swelter under the weight of so much junk. Over the years he still hadnt managed to get BElanna to stop packing his stuff for him, and she still planned for EVERY contingency when she packed. Of course, that was just something else he loved about her.. besides, if it REALLY bothered him he would have put a stop to it years ago. Instead, it was a warm reminder of home to sit in his hotel room or away quarters and be knee high in clothes from home. Some wives might leave a letter with a lipstick kiss on the paper.. BElanna gave him thirty shirts.
The Bolian swung the baggage on to his shoulder easily, thicker build taking the weight without so much as a blink, and he handed a key card to Tom, Guest suite 302-1 at the Galaxy Retreat whenever youre ready to retire for the day, Commander.
Tom took the card, pocketing it, Thanks, then wandered away from the Bolian aid who shuffled off with his bags easily and with lithe in his step. Ok, so the Bolians didnt mind the heat so much, but surely this conference wasnt full of heat-loving species.
Tom found his way to a communications station, a number of people milling about. A number sat at semi-private alcoves looking at the vidscreen and talking to their families or work back home. Civilians were bustling about a little irritably, having to elbow and browbeat for clearance to use a station with so much military and ambassadorial brass about also wanting to use the comm station.
There were certainly advantages to rank and employment in Starfleet, Tom mused. He made his way over to an area that seemed to be heavily congregated with humans and Starfleet officers. Approaching one of the communications coordinators (a Ktarian Starfleet attache looking quite frazzled by his surging workload), who looked at his collar and command pips and greeted wearily, Commander.
Tom nodded, Lieutenant Commander Tom Paris, outgoing to Earth, United States, California, San Fernando Valley?
The Starfleet Ktarian nodded his almost feline head, sighing and leading Tom to a line of bystanders waiting in line for an alcove.
Without preamble, the assistant inserted Tom into the front of the line, a number of groans erupting from behind from the civilians and a number of suppressed grumbled from junior Starfleet officers whod seen Toms rank and knew he had rights to cut before them.
Normally, Tom might have felt weird about just stepping in front of a bunch of people whod been standing there waiting a long time, but he was looking forward to talking to his wife.. so the rest could just get a display of the benefits of Starfleet rank.
The person inside the alcove left, Tom stepping in and, trying his best to ignore the open bustle of humanity behind him right over his shoulder, input the comm codes for his and BElannas California home. They had decided to live somewhere semi-rural and rugged, mainly for the children. Klingon children liked rough and tumble, adventurous games.. the semi-arid desert around their slightly more suburban than most home was as close to living on Kronos as they could comfortably get.
The vidscreen was blank a moment, then the image of their living room came into view, cluttered with Klingon and human childrens toys. His wife stood in the middle of the image area. BElanna was turned to say something to one of the children out of view, .. dont care who started it, Im trying to talk to your father.
Tom smiled, resisting the urge to chuckle.
Dad? a voice from outside the view image pipped, and Tom recognized Mirals voice. Suddenly, her small face popped into the screen at the bottom half, craning slightly to see the reciprocal screen image of her father, Hi, Dad!
Hello, Miral.. are you giving your mother a hard time?
Miral sneered in what always reminded Tom of a Klingon grimace.. she had a propensity to do that much more than her mother ever had. Mirals wavy dark hair, which usually hung to her shoulders, was pulled back into a ponytail.. which made Tom assume shed just come in from outside. She was a gorgeous little girl, really coming into her age (which Tom regretted and dreaded every moment when he thought of his baby growing up and of all the boys hed have to beat off of her when she was a little older). Miral blinked her blue eyes innocently, but her facade only lasted a moment before she sneered her full lips again and her brow, cranial ridges and all, crinkled as she retorted, Tyler called me a Denebian slime devil.. I was just... letting him know I dont like that.
Tom shook his head, glancing up at BElanna standing behind Miral who looked exasperated, saying again to his daughter, You know the rules.. I better not hear about any broken bones when I get back; you two can go at it Tuesday in karate class when youre both padded.
Miral smiled, white teeth as human and charming as her mothers.
Wheres your brother? Tom asked to divert the conversation and keep it moving.. he didnt have unlimited call time.
Miral looked to the side again, beckoning with her hand, Come on, Tyler.. Dad wants to say hi.
Another head joined Mirals at the bottom portion of the view screen, this one slightly lower than the girls. Tyler was, some had said, what Tom would have looked like if hed been a Klingon. Tylers hair was sandy blonde and faintly wavy, with his skin fairer than his sister, Mirals (who had always greatly favored her mother). His eyes were chocolate brown like BElannas, but his cranial ridges were the least pronounced of the bunch.. only one real noticeable ridge and a second faint one that nearly disappeared into his brow. He had Toms face for the most part, too.
Tyler craned to see the screen better, smiling a completely human and sweet smile, Hey, Dad.. hows Mexico?
Hot.. how are things back home?
Tyler shoved at Miral, whod apparently been deemed in his space, and answered, Its all right.. when are you coming home?
Soon enough... just dont kill each other while Im gone, understand? he smiled at his son.
Tyler smiled back, nodding while throwing a look at Miral like she may have kicked him underneath Toms view. Miral glowered, then smiled, to which Tyler rolled his eyes but couldnt help smiling back faintly. For brother and sister (and Klingon tempers aside), they had always gotten along well, and BElanna was thankful that they had each other... so each would always have someone else like them around growing up. Of course, after Deja the quarter Klingons in the household outnumbered their parents.
Speaking of, tiny fingers strained and barely registered in the bottom edge of the screen. An angry and frustrated whine came from off screen, and Dejas little voice insisted, Up!
BElanna parted through the two older children, reaching down and pulling from beneath the dancing baby fingertips the entire child. Dejas head craned, trying to see the screen as BElanna hitched the girl up on her hip. Deja was just like her mother, almost in every way imaginable. They had nearly identical cranial ridge patterns, Dejas as pronounced and clear as if she were half Klingon instead of quarter. Her hair was deep brown, like BElannas, and eyes as doe-like as her mothers. She also, more than the others, had her mothers temper. Tom had always understood the youngest child to be the most mellow, but that title fell to Tyler.. maybe it was the slightly greater dominance of human attributes in him. Never before would Tom have ever considered himself sedate when he was a kid, but compared to a rowdy bunch of Klingons hed been a kitten as a boy. Of course, being part Klingon, Tyler was more along the lines of a lion cub rather than any calm house kitten.
Deja waved at the screen, Hi, Daddy!
Tom waved back, Hi, baby.
Deja frowned, almost scowling. She, of course, hated it when her father called her a baby, but she seemed to a have strange understanding that it was a name meant in affection.. didnt stop her from scowling when he called her that, though.
Tom chuckled, Well, everyone looks in one piece and unharmed.. why dont you let me talk to Mom for a minute?
Miral started for the bedrooms, stopping to call back for Tyler. Tyler paused, considered the screen again, then turned and followed after his big sister.
Deja, always hating to be left out of the big kid stuff, grumbled impatiently to be let down, clomping quickly after her siblings when BElanna set her back on the floor.
BElanna sighed, then faced the screen, How is it?
Tom nodded, stating again for her benefit with a humorous snort, Hot.. everything all right back home?
BElanna brushed a lock of hair out of her face, Yeah.. Chakotays coming over to take the kids camping tonight.
Toms eyes widened, Alone? You think he can handle the whole bunch? because, of course, Deja would not stand to be left out. Tom and BElanna rarely had the heart to segregate her from anything her brother and sister could do, so it was fair to assume the youngest one would be going, too.
BElanna smiled wickedly, like chuckling at an inside joke, and said, Well... Sevens going with them..
Tom smirked, trying to imagine Seven of Nine corralling a threesome of energetic Klingon children. She had mellowed and come to embrace her humanity more and more over the last nine years, but asking one to babysit three under ten years old Klingon children was a trying task to ask of someone who hadnt had an identity crisis before in their lives. Although, their bunch could give someone a crisis.
BElanna smiled, Im keeping the emergency room commchannel ready just in case.. although Im not sure who Im expecting to have to call it for.
BElanna laughed to herself in response then cocked her head, crossing her arms and shifting her weight to one foot, Talk to anyone interesting down there?
Tom shook his head, Just got here.. I came to the comm station first.
BElanna regarded him with warm, velvety brown eyes, I miss you, too.
Tom felt a pang of homesickness for his family.. best to stop before it turned into something bigger that would sour his trip and his mood.
BElanna seemed to catch on to his thoughts or felt them at the same time, because she dropped her arms and stood square even as Tom sighed, Well.. I should probably look around and see where Im supposed to be tomorrow.
BElanna nodded, Yeah, I should start dinner before Deja throws a tantrum, and she smiled knowingly at Tom. It had taken a while for BElanna to really accept the Klingon in her, but she slowly stopped detesting it as much.. it probably helped to have three children that she loved dearly who happened to have Klingon in them too. Seeing it in them, and loving them for (or in spite of) it, shed grown to see it differently in herself. For Tom, it was a good feeling to know she was beginning to understand how he saw her.. always had, Klingon outbursts and all.
Tom stood from his station, still staring at his wife. Every time he saw her like this, having to leave and not see her for a number of days, he thought again and again, Will she ever stop being beautiful to me?
He voiced it only by saying, Ill be home as soon as I can, Bella.
BElanna smiled gently at the nickname, knowing what Tom really meant when he said it, and teased, You better be.. I wont believe flight delay from you.
BElanna brought up a hand and blew him a kiss, mostly to see him have to stand awkwardly among strangers while she did it. She laughed at his faint frown and glance around, then moved to turn off the vidscreen.
From the hallway, Miral came bursting from the dark recesses of the house, calling out, Bye, Dad!
Tom raised his own voice to be heard at the distance Miral stood from the screen and to get in his farewell before BElanna terminated the connection, See you soon, Miral! then the screen went blank.
Tom smiled to himself, feeling better and regrounded already, stepping out of the alcove back into the sweltering heat.
He nearly ran into an older gentleman, civilian, who was staring at him strangely as he exited the comm station alcove.
Tom apologized, tried to walk past, but was strangely pinned by the mans stare. There was something kind of familiar about him, but Tom couldnt remember meeting him before.
Im sorry, do I know you? Tom asked helpfully.
The other man, probably in his fifties, shook his head, brown hair flecked with gray and brown eyes studious as he answered, No.. we havent. I couldnt help overhear, but did you... I heard you say Miral.
Tom thought only a second as to why this stranger would care, but couldnt help but smile in response as the proud father he was, Yeah.. its my oldest daughter.
The man seemed a little confused, Thats a Klingon name.
Tom frowned, now suspicious, and stepped aside from his direct path in front of the nosey stranger, Yes... it is. Shes quarter Klingon.
The strange mans eyes widened a bit, then he shook his head sadly and commented almost to himself, You must have the constitution of a Vulcan to handle Klingons in your house.
Tom glowered, insulted and sure that not only his wife, but his children had been too. He retorted, Excuse me, SIR, but Im perfectly happy with my family situation.. I wouldnt have it any other way. Who are you to make any judgments, anyway?
The man blinked, a little hurt and vulnerable (like a man whose spirit was broken so long ago), I didnt mean... I just, I lived with Klingons once.. I know it can be difficult. I didnt mean to intrude, but I just heard you say Miral and... I just, I used to know someone named Miral.. thats all.
Tom studied the strange gentlemen, stepping aside to avoid a bustling Ferengi, and asked, Hows that?
The man smirked faintly, My.. ex-wife.. she was Klingon, and her name was Miral.. Im sorry, but I just... overhead the name and.. Im sorry for intruding. The strange man turned to leave.
Tom reached out quickly, snatching the mans arm and keeping him from leaving. Tom was sure this man couldnt be who he THOUGHT it was.
Whats your name? Tom insisted.
The other man, a little surprised and wary, pulled free his arm from Toms grasp and answered, John.. John Torres.. why?
Toms mouth gaped open faintly, staring in shock at the strange man before him.. the man he just now discovered was his father-in-law.
Johns eyes narrowed curiously at Tom, studying his command pips and beginning, Commander, Im sorry, but is there something else I can do for you?
Tom closed his mouth, standing taller and actually looking over this man before him. He was thin, dark like BElanna.. but he seemed too frail and simple. Could someone like BElanna really have come from him? If this was his constitution, there was no surprise he hadnt been able to handle a Klingon wife.
Tom shifted his feet, My names Paris.. Tom Paris.
John nodded, as though he was waiting for more, then when nothing more came he hesitantly offered his hand for a shake. Tom hesitantly took it, not sure he could be friends with the likes of this man, someone who had hurt his wife so badly so long ago, family or not.
Tom dropped the hand after a quick shake, continuing, Your daughters BElanna.. right?
Johns eyes flew wide, staring at Tom. He was quiet in shock a moment, then he stammered, How.. how did you know that?
Tom replied matter-of-factly, Because shes my wife.
Johns jaw dropped open, an ashy pallor coming to his face, and he whispered, Youre married to MY BElanna?
Tom nodded, although hed always kind of thought of her as HIS BElanna.
John blinked, stunned and confused, then his eyes shot back up to Tom and then moved toward the alcove, Then.. Miral, your little girl.. thats BElannas...
Tom moved aside from the crowd, pulling the newfound estranged family with him away from the crowd as he answered, Miral is our oldest.
John stopped, bringing Tom to a stop too as he asked, Your oldest.. how many children do you have with BElanna?
Three.. John repeated in a breathless whisper, still trying to recover from the first shock of coming face to face with a husband his daughter (that hed not seen in nearly twenty years) had that he didnt even know about. He couldnt imagine three Klingon children as well as a Klingon mother.. one child and mother had been enough to break his will all those years ago. How could anyone human live with four and remain sane?
John looked up at Tom, a new appreciation and respect in his eyes, as he asked, Do you.. have a holo of them?
Tom hesitated, wary, then reached into his uniform top and pulled a sleek holo from his breast pocket. He handed it to the older man, watching his reaction as he got his first look at his before-unknown grandchildren.
The holo was taken at a picnic attended by the former Voyager crewmen a year ago. BElanna was sitting on one of the park benches facing away from the table to pose for the holo. On her lap was Deja, who was one at the time. The baby was propped on BElannas lap and held carefully in place by loving hands, the little girls face upturned and looking at her father standing behind the holoimager with a bleary look clouding her deep brown eyes. Eight-year-old Miral was on the table top beside and behind her mother, sitting there with her feet on the bench. She was leaning into her mother, their faces inches apart as both smiled, Mirals smile that day being one of her more human ones and mother and daughters grins looking almost identical.. their hair colors, so alike, seemed to blend together in the image as mother and daughter were near to one another. On BElannas other side, perched with one foot under him on the bench and one on the ground, was five-year-old Tyler. He was inclined toward the women of the family, his face and completely human and soft smile inches from the confused Deja.
John Torres was entranced, looking at the image. Three children.. three part Klingon children and yet looking in the picture for all the world like a normal, happy family.. hed never imagined mixed heritage families (especially with Klingons) could be like this. Miral (he knew because she was the oldest), with her blue eyes, looked the most like her grandmother.. the small baby looked just like BElanna did as an infant, and the little boy.. John had no idea someone with Klingon blood could look so gently human despite an obvious Klingon ridge on his forehead.
John licked his lips, barely trusting himself to speak, What.. are the others names?
Tom stepped closer and looked over at the holoimage upside down, The oldest, you know, is Miral. The boy is Tyler, the little one is Deja.
John cleared his throat, Theyre.. theyre beautiful.. I dont know what to say.. theyre perfect.
Tom resisted the urge to ask if John Torres could really think so, he who had abandoned his Klingon wife and daughter because theyd been too much for him.
John let his eyes leave the children, traveling up to the woman in the center. To BElanna.. his little girl once so long ago. She was smiling at Tom and the holoimager, surrounded by her brood. Shed grown into a beautiful woman, nothing like the gangly preteen hed left so many years ago. She looked so wonderful, and so happy. The last time hed seen BElanna that happy was when she was about three.. before she started acting more and more Klingon.
John brought up his hand, finger resting lightly over BElannas face, Lanna... if only I could.. and even his own musings fell silent on his lips.
John slowly handed back the holoimage, trying to regather himself and asking, Is she.. are you two happy?
Tom tucked his family picture away, regarding the man a long time before answering what Tom knew the man really wanted to know, She was hurt and angry for a long time.. but were both happy now.
John nodded, feeling like he had to amend.. explain.. he had to say something in the face of this man whod done what hed been unable to do, and done it three-fold.
I... I tried, but things with her mother.. Miral was so.. and BElanna was starting to act just like her.. I didnt know what else to do..
So you left them? Tom pinned.
John stopped talking, duly reprimanded.
Tom shook his head after a silence, thinking, then said, You dont owe me anything, much less an apology. Id say that if anything you owe me for the effort I put into my wife cleaning up your mess, but I dont even want to give you any of that. I loved every minute of healing the damage you did to her when she was just a little girl.
John dropped his eyes, I never meant to hurt her... I just.. living with two Klingons..
Tom crossed his arms, not buying that, but of course, why would he? He lived with four.
John looked up at him, in awe, How do you do it?
To Tom, that was the easiest answer in the world, Because I love them.. each of them more than anything. I couldnt bare to lose them.. I cant even imagine ever leaving them. Theyre everything to me.. BElanna is everything to me.
John averted his eyes again, unable to meet this mans eyes, a man so much younger but yet a person so much his better, I.. thank the heavens you found her, then. I never wanted anything bad for her.. I just... Im glad she found someone to love her.
Tom spoke softer, something between compassion and a warning, Its so easy to love her.. Im lucky she let me. The miracle is that she loves me back.
John glanced up at his sudden son-in-law.
Tom added, She had a lot of bad experience with love that made her afraid to for a long time.
John dropped his eyes again, nodding, I know.. I know I hurt her.. Im sorry.
Tom nodded slowly, watching the sad old man in front of him, then turning and moving back toward his hotel room. He wasnt going to tell BElanna hed met her father.. not yet. She had just begun to get past what the man had done to her, the pain hed caused. He wouldnt ask her to relive that until she was ready.
John jumped after him, Wait!
Tom stopped, turning.
John smiled weakly, frowned, then asking, Could I.. do you think I could see her?
Tom balked, instincts screaming his shouldnt, but the more responsible part of him saying this was BElannas decision, BElanna choice, and he couldnt make it for her.
Tom studied the man a long time, as though just staring at him pointedly would cause him to change his mind about wanting to contact his daughter. It happened to be the only time John Torres didnt look away in shame under the scrutiny.
Tom said evenly, slowly, Thats not up to me.. youd have to discuss that with BElanna.
John smiled faintly, nodding at Tom, Thank you, his voice as though he felt hed made some kind of connection with Tom.
Tom glowered, turning to face John Torres full, speaking directly to the point, I dont know if BElanna can ever forgive you, maybe she can, but Ill never be able to. I cant forgive you for not being strong enough to be the father BElanna needed you to be.. the kind of father she deserved.
Johns smile faded and a distance came into his eyes, but he nodded understanding.
Tom nodded back almost imperceptibly, giving John Torres another critical, withering look, then turned and walked toward him. He pulled out a scratch piece of paper, wrote their home number on it, and extended it toward John.
As John Torres brought up his hand to take it, Tom gripped it tighter and caught Johns eye. John looked up at him, meeting his gaze.
Tom said slowly, This is between you and BElanna, but if you hurt her again.. if you hurt her, Ill show you just how volatile humans can be. Youd look forward to Klingon temper when I get through with you.. if you dare to hurt her.
John grew still, motionless, then slowly took the paper from Tom. John nodded understanding again.
Tom turned his back on BElannas father, moving toward his hotel room. If nothing else between father-in-law and son-in-law, at least they understood each other.