The Courtship
by
Fever


He sat alone in the darkness of Voyager's Observation Lounge, contemplating the starscape speeding by outside. His mind moved inward as he contemplated his life, reflecting on the changes wrought on it in the past few years and the more recent changes brought on by--

His mind stuttered to a stop. B'Elanna. Sighing, he slouched down in the seat and rested his head on the back of it. Closing his eyes, he let the images wash over him once again.

B'Elanna in the transporter room, full of vigor, raring to go on the away mission.

B'Elanna falling from the cliff's side, torn away when Neelix's piton had given way. His relief at discovering she was not seriously injured.

B'Elanna biting him. Tom's hand went to his left check, rubbing it in remembrance of the bite.

B'Elanna and he trapped together in the caverns. He had wanted her so desperately, but not like that. He wanted -- no, he needed for her to want him as much as he wanted her and for the right reasons, not because some chemical imbalance had shot her mating urges through the roof.

Tuvok telling him he had no choice but to help B'Elanna.

Together in the woods with B'Elanna. She atop him. He atop her, only to be ripped away by an unexpected presence.

The fight between B'Elanna and Vorik. His heart had been in his mouth the whole time. He wouldn't have hesitated to defend her, but she hadn't required defending, and that was one of the things he loved about her. Loved . . .

Was he in love with her? He let his memories jump back to when he had first met her. It had been on the Ocampan home world.  She had been ill, dirty, tired, and one of the most beautiful women he had ever laid eyes on. It hadn't been how she looked so much as the expression in her eyes. Despite everything she and Harry had been through on the Ocampan world, there had still been some fire in those eyes.

Then later, when they had encountered the Vidiians who had split B'Elanna's heritage in two, creating two unique individuals, Tom had been touched by the vulnerability in the Human B'Elanna. She had needed caring for and encouragement, but there had still been an underlying strength in her that could not be dismissed. The Klingon B'Elanna he had not gotten a chance to know, but Tom had been caught off guard by the attraction he had felt for her in those brief glimpses. He had been truthful with B'Elanna when he had told her he wouldn't mind seeing more of her Klingon side.

He let out a frustrated sigh and surged to his feet to pace about the small Observation Lounge, replaying the recent turbolift scene in his mind, something he had been doing for days now.

Be careful what you wish for, Lieutenant. What had she meant by that? Was she trying to encourage him? Discourage him? What?

Paris stopped his pacing to lean against the wide viewport and peer out into space. This was making him crazy. She had given no overt signs in the succeeding days that she was interested in pursuing anything more than a simple friendship with him, and even that friendship had cooled somewhat since the incident with Vorik. They simply didn't know what to say to each other and, as a result, had not spent any time together socially. B'Elanna seemed to be keeping to herself these days, he mused. Of course, he was one to speak. At dinner tonight, Harry had commented on Tom's infrequent appearances on the holodeck lately.

He hadn't been feeling much in the mood for Neelix's resort program lately. In fact, Sandrine's was more in fitting with his mood at the moment. Mind made up, he went to the computer terminal in the lounge, tapped in a command, then asked, "Computer, are there any holodecks available for use at the moment?"

"Holodeck One is occupied. Holodeck Two is not in use."

"When is Holodeck Two reserved for its next use?"

"Commander Chakotay has it reserved at 2100."

That would give him a good hour at least, thought Tom. "Computer, reserve Holodeck Two for Lieutenant Paris. Effective immediately."

"Holodeck Two is reserved for Lieutenant Paris," confirmed the computer.

Pausing outside Holodeck Two, Tom tapped in some commands to establish the parameters of Sandrine's. No Gaunt Gary or gigolo tonight. He grinned slightly in remembrance of the Captain's introduction to the gigolo. Stepping inside, he headed for the door to Sandrine's. Opening it, he entered the French bistro. The lights in Sandrine's were turned down low, creating a mood to go with his. Tom took a seat at the bar and watched as Sandrine sauntered toward him. Leaning across the bar, she kissed him on each cheek before asking, "Why so glum, mon cheri?"

Tom shrugged as she placed a drink before him. Idly drawing circles in the condensation on the glass, he said, "Not glum, exactly. I just needed some quiet time, I guess."

"Ah. Woman problems."

Tom opened his mouth to refute that but quickly changed his mind. Wasn't that why he had come here? Sighing, he leaned his forearms on the bar top. "Sandrine, I don't understand women."

"What man does, cheri? Who is she? Who is this woman who troubles you so?"

Tom took a deep breath. Might as well go for broke, he thought. "B'Elanna."

"The fiery-tempered one? I always did say you like them with a little bite, Thomas."

He grinned, rubbing at his cheek once again.

"So what is the problem, Thomas?"

He resisted the urge to jump to his feet and begin pacing again. "It's kind of complicated."

"I have plenty of time, cheri. Tell Sandrine what troubles you."

Sometimes he thought he had done his job too well when creating a holo image of Sandrine. It was easy to forget she was a holoprogram. "I've been attracted to B'Elanna for quite a while," he finally admitted.

"Yes, cheri, I know."

"You know?!"

"I've watched you both when you've been here. There is a light in your eyes when you see her."

"Well, it's one-sided, I'm afraid."

"Oh, I think not, Thomas. She watches you, that one."

Tom's eyes widened at this. "Really?"

"Oh, yes." Sandrine came around the bar to take a seat beside him. "This has been going on for some time, Thomas. Why are you suddenly so concerned? Is another trying to take her from you?"

Tom thought of Vorik and B'Elanna's reply to that overture. "Not exactly. We--" His voice cut off abruptly when the door to Sandrine's swung open. Damn! He knew he had forgotten something. The privacy lock! He swiveled around to see Harry entering.

Tom grinned as Sandrine left his side and went to Harry. She had developed a fondness for the Ensign and Tom always enjoyed watching Harry squirm under her attentions.

"Harry, it has been much too long since you have come to see me," chided Sandrine as she ran a hand over his shoulders. Leaning in close so that only Harry could hear, she whispered, "Thomas needs a friend to talk to. You will see if you can help him, hmm?"

Surprised, Harry looked in Tom's direction. The pilot, a cheerful grin in place, was watching them. "He looks like he's doing okay to me," Harry told Sandrine.

"Oh no, it is just for show," Sandrine assured him. "My Thomas' heart is breaking. You must talk to him."

Harry never knew whether to take Sandrine seriously or not. Nodding, he made his way to the bar. Slipping onto a barstool, he said lightly, "Sandrine said your heart is breaking."

That stopped Tom cold. He swiveled back around to stare moodily into his drink. Harry's warning bells began ringing. He gazed quizzically at his friend and, in a more serious tone of voice, said, "Tom?"

Tom's gaze rose to meet Harry's in the mirror behind the bar. "It's nothing. Sandrine's exaggerating." His gaze returned to the bar top.

Tom's voice said it was nothing but his eyes had revealed something else. Concerned, Harry decided it was time to brave the wall both Tom and B'Elanna had put up regarding discussion of a certain away team mission. "Is this about what happened between you and B'Elanna?"

Tom's gaze flicked briefly to his. "Nothing happened, Harry."

"Did you want something to happen?"

Damn, thought Paris, he's not going to leave this alone. Tired of hiding his feelings, he said defiantly, "What if I did?"

Harry grinned. At least he was finally getting some reaction. "Then why didn't something happen? You're not bad looking. You probably could have convinced B'Elanna, especially seeing as how she was under the influence of pon farr--"

"You don't understand, Harry!" Tom's voice was filled with frustration.

Gently, Harry said, "Then explain it to me, Tom. What did happen down there?"

Tom ran a hand through his hair. "The short version? B'Elanna and I were trapped in the caverns. She wanted-she wanted . . ."

"She wanted what?"

Tom's hands tightly gripped the glass holding his drink. "She wanted sex, okay?"

Harry's eyes widened, but all he said was, "Okay."

Tom looked up at Harry's mild tone. "You're not shocked?" Not waiting for the other man's reply, Tom continued. "I was, especially when she jumped me and started kissing me. I wanted--" He stopped, letting out a shaky breath.

"You two didn't . . . ?" Harry finally ventured when the silence dragged on.

"No. I couldn't. She wasn't herself. She would have hated me later. It's not that I didn't want to, Harry, but . . . not like that. I want her to want me for me."

Harry nodded in sympathy. This conversation was revealing one surprise after another. "So what's the problem?"

Tom looked at him as if he had gone mad. Hadn't Harry heard anything he had just said? Unable to sit still any longer, he jumped to his feet and began pacing back and forth. "I've been after B'Elanna for months now. I thought I was finally making some headway when she agreed to come to the luau with me, then Vorik stepped in the middle of things."

"She's not interested in Vorik," Harry offered.

"I know that!" Tom took a deep breath. "Problem is, I don't know that she's interested in me either."

"Tom, I, uh, I heard she bit you when you were on Sakari?" Harry's tone was tentative, unsure of the reaction he would get.

"So? Like I said, she wasn't herself. She was under the influence--"

"I don't think so," Harry interrupted.

Tom halted his pacing to look at his friend. "What?"

"Think about it, Tom. She may have been out of control from the pon farr's influence but it was her instincts, her feelings, her emotions. She chose you. There must have been a reason."

"Yeah," replied Tom sarcastically. "I'm not hard to get."

"What?" Harry's mouth gaped.

"She told me I'd never been hard to get."

Recovering, Harry asked, "What else did she say?"

Tom strolled over to the pool table and idly started bouncing a ball off the opposite side cushion. Not looking at Harry, he replied, "She said she knew I wanted her because of all my invitations to her for dinner, and because she had seen the way I stared at her on the holodeck when I thought she wasn't looking. And how I get jealous when she's with someone else. She said--" He swallowed and his voice grew hushed. "She said she was interested in me. That she wanted us to happen. I couldn't do it, Harry. Maybe it was her speaking. I don't know! But I do know she would have hated me later and I didn't want her like that. I want her to want me of her own free will."

Harry blinked at the deep hurt he heard in Tom's voice. This was more serious than he had originally thought. There would be no joking him out of this mood. "Have you talked to B'Elanna at all?"

Tom let out a short bark of laughter as he began racking up the balls. Taking the hint, Harry grabbed a cue stick and prepared to talk this out over a game of pool.

"We . . . encountered each other in the turbolift the day she returned to duty."

"And?"

"And she wanted to forget it ever happened."

"B'Elanna doesn't like being out of control," surmised Harry. "She's probably embarrassed."

"But something did happen, Harry!" Tom paused as he lined up a shot and took it, sinking a ball in a pocket. As he moved around the table for his next shot, he said, "After Chakotay and Tuvok dug us out of that cavern, B'Elanna was in bad shape and we couldn't contact the ship. Tuvok said she would die if something wasn't done."

"You told me you didn't--"

"We didn't. Vorik interrupted us."

"Vorik interrupted you," repeated Harry slowly. "Just what did he interrupt?"

Tom slowly straightened. His expression candid, he said, "Me and B'Elanna. On the ground. Bonding."

Harry's wide eyes met his. Tom broke the eye contact and bent down to take his next shot. He missed.

Walking around the table as he tried to line up a shot, Harry finally asked, "What do you want from B'Elanna, Tom?"

"A date would be nice," came the surprisingly hushed reply.

Taking his shot, Harry said, "That's it? Just a date?"

"For starters."

Harry grinned to himself. This was getting interesting. Harry Kim giving Tom Paris dating tips. He had been watching Tom and B'Elanna snipe at each other for so long that he had grown to take it for granted. When he thought back over the past couple of weeks, he realized that he missed watching them go at it and had to now admit that he had completely missed the sexual undertones that had been present. Harry Kim, he told himself, you are one blind man.

"Have you asked her for a date since the mission?"

Thinking about it, Tom said, "No. We haven't even talked except that one time in the turbolift. You think she would go out with me?"

"You won't know 'til you ask. A piece of advice?"

At Tom's nod of agreement, Harry continued, "She is a woman, you know. Just because the two of you are friends, doesn't mean you can't woo her a little."

"Woo? Harry, where do you come up with this stuff?" Tom grinned, the first real grin Harry had seen out of him tonight. Laying his cue stick down, Tom asked, "You mind if we finish this game later?"

"Sure. Just tell me when."

At the door to Sandrine's Tom stopped and turned back to look at Harry, who still stood beside the pool table. "Thanks, Harry."

"Hey, that's what friends are for."

After Tom had exited, Sandrine came over and planted a passionate kiss on Harry's lips. "You were wonderful, darling. My Thomas has a mission now. He will not give up until he gets what he wants."

"I have a feeling you're right," agreed Ensign Harry Kim.

As the senior staff seated themselves around the table for the morning staff meeting, everyone couldn't help but notice the large velvety-looking Tarktalian white rose that resided on the table at B'Elanna's seat. They watched as the Chief Engineer bemusedly picked it up. A red ribbon was tied about its stem and from the ribbon dangled a note. As B'Elanna peeked at it, Kathryn Janeway glanced around the table. Her eyes came to rest on Tom Paris. The scoundrel! she thought amusedly. So, he was finally making his move and deciding to go public with it. Kathryn turned her attention back to B'Elanna, wanting to catch her reaction.

Aware of the scrutiny of those around her, B'Elanna quickly read the note to herself.

No catches
No questions
No past
Just the two of us
Tonight
Dinner in Holodeck Two
~T

Her eyes flew up to his face but Tom was carefully looking elsewhere, pretending he didn't notice her looking his way. Glancing around the table, B'Elanna saw she was the object of attention from several pairs of eyes. Frowning, she placed the flower back on the table and picked up her datapadd, pretending to study something there, but her eyes kept straying back to the rose and Janeway didn't miss the slightly pleased upturn of the corners of her mouth.

Deciding it was time to get on with business, Kathryn Janeway called them to attention and began discussing the ship's current status, but inwardly she was tickled at what she was seeing. She had feared that what had happened on the planet might push them apart and ruin a blossoming friendship. Instead, the opposite now seemed to be happening and it appeared the friendship was blossoming in unexpected directions.

As usual, events in Tom's life never seemed to go as planned. The ship had come upon an unexpected gaseous anomaly that was giving off extremely strange readings. Not wishing to take Voyager through it without closer examination, the Captain had sent Tom and B'Elanna in a shuttle to take a closer look. Things had been progressing smoothly until the shuttle had encountered a surprising energy pocket in the anomaly. It had blown several panels in the shuttle. Voyager had managed to get a tractor lock on the shuttle but not before a panel had exploded in B'Elanna's face.

Now, Tom paced Sickbay, waiting for word of her condition. He stopped his pacing when the Doctor emerged from behind the privacy screen, where he and Kes had been working over B'Elanna. "How is she?" he asked the Doctor anxiously.

"She will recover, Lieutenant," the Doctor assured him.

Tom breathed a sigh of relief that was quickly cut off at the Doctor's next words.

"However, there has been some damage to her eyes."

"What kind of damage?" asked Tom with a sinking feeling of impending bad news.

"Lieutenant Torres is blind at the moment. I'm unable to determine if this is a temporary condition or not. At this point, it doesn't look promising. I don't wish to make a firm diagnosis, however, until she has been given some time to heal. It is possible that her sight may return in a matter of days or weeks."

Nodding, Tom asked, "Can I see her?"

"Of course," agreed the Doctor. "Please, don't stay long though. She needs rest."

Tom walked around the privacy screen. B'Elanna lay there, staring sightlessly into space. "B'Elanna?"

Her eyes moved in his general direction. Tom frowned at the vacant look. "Tom." Her voice was flat, unwelcoming. "I'm fine. Please leave me alone."

He moved to her bedside. "You're not fine," he told her. "The Doctor told me--"

"What?" Her voice was harsh, reminding him of the Klingon B'Elanna the Vidiians had extracted. "That I'm blind? That I'm useless? Go away, Tom."

There was a long silence and B'Elanna thought he had indeed left, until his voice came from nearby, startling her.

"Listen to me, B'Elanna," Tom said firmly. "No matter how this turns out, you're going to get through this. We're going to get through it together. I'm not going to let you push me away. I'll be back later after my shift ends."

With shock, B'Elanna felt his lips touch her forehead in a tender kiss, then he was gone.

Tom paused at the door to Sickbay, turning back to look at the Doctor. "When will you be releasing her from Sickbay?"

"If everything goes well, probably late this afternoon," replied the Doctor.

"She's going to need someone to help her get around in her quarters and the ship until she gets acclimated to this," said Tom.

"Yes," agreed the Doctor. "I thought perhaps Kes--"

"No."

The Doctor looked up in surprise at the firmness in Paris' voice.

"I'll be here to pick her up when you release her. She doesn't need to be handled with kid gloves; she's going to need a firm hand and someone who won't let her feel sorry for herself."

"Are you volunteering, Mr. Paris?"

"Yes, I am."

"And if Lieutenant Torres refuses your help?"

"She won't. I won't give her that option."

The Doctor watched the door to Sickbay slide shut behind Lieutenant Paris' exit. His expression thoughtful, he turned back to the log entry he was completing to the Captain regarding Lieutenant Torres' condition.

Janeway, sitting at the desk in her ready room, looked at the two men seated across from her. Chakotay sat watching her, waiting to hear her response to the unexpected disaster that had befallen the shuttle when it had attempted passage through the gaseous anomaly. Paris, on the other hand, seemed preoccupied, but he snapped to attention when she spoke.

"Mr. Paris, your opinion of whether Voyager should attempt passage through the anomaly or not?"

"I think a ship Voyager's size will be fine, Captain," he told her confidently. "We may have to make some adjustments to the ship's shields, but other than that, I don't think we'll encounter any difficulties."

"I agree with Paris," said Chakotay. "I can get B'Elanna on those modifications--" He halted abruptly, remembering that B'Elanna was in Sickbay and most likely wouldn't be doing any work in Engineering for a while.

"How is B'Elanna?" asked Janeway, looking to Tom, who had come straight from Sickbay to this meeting.

"She's hanging in there," said Tom vaguely. "The Doctor plans to release her from Sickbay this afternoon. Captain--" He hesitated; then, mind made up, he leaned forward to state his request. "Captain, B'Elanna's going to need a little extra attention until she gets acclimated to not being able to see. I'd like to volunteer to be her eyes for a while, but I may need some time off here and there to accomplish that."

Looking back down at the datapadd she had been perusing, she said, "Yes, the Doctor indicated you had volunteered your services and he recommended that course of action." Her voice turning dry, she continued, "I believe he stated something about 'Lieutenant Paris seems capable of handling Lieutenant Torres' outbursts of emotion.'" She smiled at Tom. "I see no problem with reworking your schedule to accommodate B'Elanna for the time being. The Commander can work with you on a schedule that will be agreeable for all involved. If that's all, gentlemen?" Janeway stood. "I suggest we proceed with the shield modifications and get through this anomaly as soon as possible then."

The trio exited the Captain's ready room and took up their stations on the Bridge.

Having been notified by Kes that their patient was being released from Sickbay, Tom arrived in Sickbay prepared to deal with an obstinate B'Elanna. He didn't figure she was going to be too happy about accepting his help. Kes looked up at his entrance.

"She's ready to go, Tom," Kes told him.

Nodding, Tom went to where B'Elanna sat on the edge of a biobed. "Hi," he greeted cheerfully. "Ready to make your escape from Sickbay?"

Her sightless eyes moved in his direction and Tom was disheartened to see her stone-faced expression. Sliding off the biobed, she said, "I'm ready."

Surprised at her quick acquiescence but not wanting to push her too far too quickly, Tom silently took her right hand in his left and led her out of Sickbay. Both remained quiet until they reached the turbolift. Once inside, Tom asked, "How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine," was her short reply. Her tone indicated that was the end of the conversation, but Tom could be stubborn too.

"I know you probably aren't feeling up to following through on my dinner invitation for tonight. We can postpone it until another night."

"There won't be 'another night'."

"B'Elanna," Tom's voice turned firm, "one way or another we're eventually going to discuss what happened between you and I on that planet. Maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow, but sometime soon."

She frowned but offered no comment. When the turbolift arrived at their destination, Tom once again took her hand, leading her to the door of her quarters. Once inside, she turned to face him. "Thank you for seeing me to my quarters. I think I can take it from here."

"Yeah?" Tom leaned against the wall, his arms crossed across his chest. "I don't think so."

Her mouth tightened. "Leave me alone, Tom."

"B'Elanna, you're stuck with me whether you like it or not. The Doctor and the Captain have both given their official approval for me to be your eyes until you can get around on your own. And Chakotay and I are rearranging my duty schedule so I can be here to help you."

"Who appointed you my keeper! I don't need your help!" She turned and took several steps into the room, immediately bumping into her desk.

"Everybody needs help once in a while," came Tom's soft reply at her side. She hadn't even heard him move. "The hard part is not offering the help, it's accepting it."

She opened her mouth to retort, but he beat her to it. "It doesn't matter what you say to me, B'Elanna. I'm not leaving. Now, where should we start? Dinner? Or would you like to get out of your uniform into something more comfortable first?"

She turned to him, saying, "You listen to me, Tom Paris. You are not," she jabbed a finger in his chest, "undressing," another jab, "me." One final jab. "Got that?"

Tom grinned. Some of the old fire was back in her eyes. "Yeah, Torres." He rubbed at his chest. "I got that. I don't know what you were thinking, but I was just offering to get you a change of clothes out of the closet. That's all."

B'Elanna couldn't help herself. She grinned at his innocent tone. "Top drawer of the dresser in the closet. There should be a matching dark red top and pants."

As she listened to him rummaging around in her closet, several thoughts ran through B'Elanna's mind in a matter of seconds. Thoughts ranging from why Tom was doing this to the staff meeting earlier today, and his unexpected invitation to dinner. Thoughts of what had happened on Sakari and finally thoughts of how she was going to get him out of her quarters so she could be alone. She was quickly becoming aware that Tom Paris was interested in more than a simple friendship with her, but she couldn't deal with that right now. Not with this new complication of her blindness. She needed some time to herself to think over her options. B'Elanna ran a hand over her eyes, wishing her sight back and knowing it wasn't going to be that easy.

"Got it," Tom called, emerging from the closet. He caught sight of her standing there helplessly. She looks so alone, he couldn't help thinking. Approaching her, he asked, "You okay?"

She started to bite out a sharp retort but instead snapped her mouth shut. It wasn't Tom's fault. It had been a stupid accident that nobody could have foreseen and now she was quite possibly permanently blind. She would just have to deal with this on her own.

"Come on." Tom gently took her hand in his, leading her toward the bathroom. "I'll leave you in the bathroom so you can get changed then we'll decide what comes next. You just have to take things slowly and one step at a time, B'Elanna."

She wondered what he meant by that. He was talking about her blindness, wasn't he?

After he got her situated in the bathroom, Tom wandered around her quarters. He'd never actually been here before. Looking around, he saw that she really hadn't done much to personalize them, but then she probably hadn't had much in the way of personal belongings with her aboard Voyager. Figuring she wouldn't want to go to the mess hall for dinner, he checked his replicator account to see how many credits he had left. If he completely canceled out the planned dinner  for tonight and they did nothing fancy for dinner, he figured he should have enough credits left for two or three meals for the two of them.

Hearing the bathroom door slide open, Tom turned to watch B'Elanna enter the room. His eyes lit up. She looked much better out of uniform, he decided. He'd have to get her into casual clothes more often.

"Ready for dinner?" he asked.

B'Elanna hesitated in the doorway. "Um, that's all right. You go ahead. I don't feel much like mingling in the mess hall tonight."

"I didn't figure you would. I thought we'd dine off my replicator rations tonight. Anything in particular you'd like?"

"Tom, you don't have to do that."

"B'Elanna, would you stop being so difficult and let me help?"

"I'm not being difficult."

"Yes, you are. And argumentative."

"I am not."

"Are too. How about something simple? How do grilled cheese sandwiches and French fries sound?"

She sighed. "You're not going to leave, are you?"

"No." He programmed the dinner into the replicator. When it was ready, he set it on her desk and guided her to a seat there. He pulled another chair up and sat across from her. Reaching across the desk, he took her hand and guided it first to the water glass then to the sandwich and French fries. Placing a napkin in her other hand, he said, "There. You're all set."

He kept an eye on her as she hesitantly picked up the sandwich and took a bite. Her fingers fumbled a bit on the plate before encountering the fries. Once he was satisfied she was doing all right, Tom tackled his own dinner.

They ate in silence, each immersed in their own thoughts. B'Elanna was feeling terribly self-conscious and not liking that feeling one bit. For all she knew, Tom was sitting there staring at her. Deciding that the sooner she finished her dinner the sooner she would be rid of him, she ate quickly, hoping she wasn't dropping food down the front of her.

Once dinner was finished, Tom quickly cleaned up everything before turning his attention back to B'Elanna.

"Penny for your thoughts," he offered.

"I don't think you would want to hear them right now. Tom . . ." She sighed. "I appreciate everything you've done, but I'd really like to be alone now. Would you just leave, please?"

"Not until you're in bed."

"What did you say?" Her voice had turned dangerously low.

Thinking about it, Tom realized how it must have sounded. "Uh, I didn't mean that, B'Elanna. Really. I just meant, you know, once you get settled in for the night and I won't worry that you're going to trip over anything, then I'll leave."

"Why are you doing this?" she demanded.

"Doing what? Sitting her arguing with you?" That won him a hard-earned smile, but it was worth it to Tom when he saw the smile grace her face.

"You know what I mean. Kes would have come here to help me out."

"Right. And you would have ran her out of here in the first five minutes. You're not getting rid of me so easily."

"Obviously," she said dryly. Trying to appeal to him on a more personal level, she said, "I really would like to be alone. I'm not just saying that to get you to leave. I just need some private time. Don't you ever feel that way?"

"Yeah, I do. In fact, I was feeling that way last night until Harry caught up with me. You know, B'Elanna, it's not a bad thing to admit you need someone, maybe even lean on their shoulder once in a while for support."

She knew he was trying to tell her not to be so stubborn about accepting his help but she heard something else in his voice. Frustrated over his refusal to leave her to her own devices, she rapped out, "Are you admitting that you need someone, Paris? Mr. I-don't-like-to-talk-about-my-feelings?" The minute the words were out of her mouth, she regretted them, but it was too late to take them back. She could feel his hurt reverberating across the empty space between them.

B'Elanna jumped to her feet and took two steps toward the direction where she thought her sleeping quarters lay, wanting nothing more at the moment than to escape this conversation and his presence. She tripped over something and it was only Tom's quick reflexes that kept her from falling.

Tom held her by the shoulders. She was so close he swore he could hear her heart beating. He knew she hadn't meant what she said a moment ago. She had said it only to goad him into leaving. After steadying her on her feet, he stepped back.

"If you're not going to leave, then at least get me to my sleeping quarters," she snapped.

Taking her by the arm, he led her to the door to her sleeping quarters. As she passed through them, he said, "I'll be out here if you need anything."

"I need for you to leave me alone."

"I'm not leaving."

"Stubborn verengan Ha'DibaH," she muttered.

Tom's brows raised. He hadn't heard her use much Klingon before. "I'm still not leaving."

"Suit yourself." She waited for the door between them to slid shut before slowly making her way over to her bed, where she plopped down and wondered what the hell a blind engineer was going to do on Voyager and tried to erase the intoxicating feel of his hands on her shoulders and the smell of his scent, reminding her of his nearness. The last thing she needed right now was the added complication of Tom Paris in her life.

Tom, thinking he would get caught up on some reading, pulled out his PADD and settled down on B'Elanna's couch. Then, as a thought occurred to him, he smiled and searched the database for files pertaining to Klingons and their customs, pulling up several of them to study. If she was going to start flinging Klingon at him, he wanted to be prepared.
Several hours later, Tom awoke with a stiff neck from the uncomfortable position he had fallen asleep in on the couch. The PADD lay abandoned on his stomach. He checked the chronometer. 0200. Slowly sitting up, he stretched to work some of the kinks out.

He froze when he heard a noise coming from B'Elanna's sleeping quarters. Quietly getting to his feet, he padded over to the door and listened intently. There it was again. She wasn't crying, was she?

"B'Elanna?" he called softly.

No answer, except for another whimper.

"B'Elanna?" he tried again. When he still received no answer, he keyed the door open. Peering into the darkness, he could just make out her form on the bed. Entering, he said, "B'Elanna, I don't mean to intrude--"

"No!" she gasped and it was only then that he realized she wasn't awake, but caught up in the middle of a dream. Hurrying to the bed, he sat on the edge of it and firmly took her by the shoulders, giving her a slight shake.

"B'Elanna, wake up."

"No! Not my eyes!" Her hand lashed out indiscriminately and caught him across the right cheekbone with a backhanded slap. Tom's head jerked back.

"B'Elanna! Wake up! You're dreaming!"

She suddenly sat up in bed, eyes wide open and staring. "I can't see!" she cried.

Tom pulled her to him, enfolding her in his arms. "I know," he said softly. "I know."

B'Elanna sank into the warm comfort of those welcome arms as he murmured softly to her. With memories of the nightmare still fresh in her mind came the realization that this particular nightmare had come true. She was blind, and she was sitting in her bed and . . . what was Tom Paris doing in her sleeping quarters?

"Let go of me," she said quietly, her posture stiffening.

He did so promptly. "I'm sorry," came Tom's voice out of her darkness. "You didn't answer when I called and I was worried."

"I'm fine."

"No, you're not," he argued. "You're scared. I would be too. You don't know if the blindness is permanent, and if it is you're wondering how you're going to manage for the rest of your life without your eyes. I understand, B'Elanna."

"How could you?" she lashed out at him. "You're not blind! You can still report for duty. You can still fly this ship and do what you love to do!"

"B'Elanna--"

"I can't even do a simple thing like finding my way around my quarters! And I don't want to hear from you that everything is going to be all right! It's not! I'm not! I'm damned angry and I wish you would just leave me alone!"

She took another breath to continue her tirade, and Tom remained quiet, letting her unleash her anger and frustration at him. He knew she wasn't really angry at him. She needed to vent her frustration at something -- at somebody.

She continued to hurl accusations at him until her anger slowly died out. At the end of her tirade, B'Elanna turned silent, withdrawing from him. She sat on the bed, arms clutched around her drawn-up legs.

With the return of her composure also came the realization that she had just been very unfair to Tom. After all, he had only been trying to help. "I'm sor--" B'Elanna was startled to feel a fingertip gently come to rest against her lips.

"Don't," he told her. "There's no need to apologize. I'd probably feel the need to vent a little too if our situations were reversed." His voice turned rueful. "I may have to put in for hazard pay though."

"My temper can get pretty vicious," she admitted, thinking he was talking about that and not realizing that she had inadvertently hit him before she had fully awakened.

"I can take it," he said bravely.

"You shouldn't have to."

"Hey." His voice turned soft, serious. "You remember me telling you I wouldn't mind seeing more of your Klingon side? That means the bad as well as the good. We're friends, B'Elanna, and that means being there for each other during the good and the bad times. Harry's worried about you too, you know. So are several others. Let us help you."

After a moment of silence, she said in a calm voice, "I have to deal with this on my own. I don't want to have to depend on anybody."

The matter-of-factness in her voice disturbed Tom. He almost preferred to see her anger instead of this impassive resolve she was now exhibiting.

Deciding a change of subject was in order, she asked, "What time is it?"

"About 0230."

"02 -- what are you still doing here?"

"I fell asleep on your couch," he admitted.

"Oh."

A small smile lit Tom's eyes. At least she wasn't telling him to get out like she had been earlier. Progress at last. "Can I get you something or do you want to try to get some more sleep?"

"I'm going to try to sleep. Why don't you go back to your quarters and get some rest? You have to be on duty later, don't you?" Sensing his hesitation, she added, "I'll be fine, Tom. Really."

She felt him get up off the bed. "Okay," he agreed. He pressed her commbadge into her hand. "You need anything, call me. I don't care what time it is. All right?"

"All right."

"Promise?"

"I promise. Now go, so we can both get some sleep."

Minutes later, Tom crashed wearily on his bed. As he drifted off to sleep, he remembered that he should have gone by Sickbay to get his bruised cheek treated. He'd probably have a real shiner come morning. His final thoughts as sleep claimed him consisted of a fierce determination to not let B'Elanna push him out of her life. He would see this through with her.
Wincing, Tom stared at his reflection in the mirror. B'Elanna had hit him harder than he thought. He tentatively touched the colorful bruise on his cheek. Shrugging, he straightened, figuring he should have enough time to drop by Sickbay and get it fixed and then go by B'Elanna's for a quick breakfast before reporting to duty.

Tom and Harry reached the turbolift at the same moment. Harry's eyes widened at the colorful bruise marring Tom's face, but he said nothing. Stepping aboard the lift, they both called out their destinations then lapsed into silence.

Finally, Harry broached the silence. "How's B'Elanna?"

"Pretty good, considering. She's a little more shaken up by this blindness business than she wants to let on, but she's doing okay. I'm going to take her breakfast after I finish up in Sickbay."

"That's quite a shiner you've got there. What happened?"

"Harry."

"Yes?"

"It's not wise to get close to an angry Klingon when she's having a nightmare."

"Oh. B'Elanna did that to you?"

"It was an accident. Listen, why don't you join us in her quarters for lunch today? I think she could use someone else's ear to bend besides mine."

"Sure. I'd like that."

Reaching Deck Five, Tom stepped off. Harry put a hand on the closing lift door, halting it as he leaned out. "Tom?"

Turning back, Tom lifted an inquisitive brow at his friend.

"The rose yesterday? Nice start." Harry grinned and let the door slide shut.

Tom continued on toward Sickbay thoughtfully. Harry had a point. He had made a good start in courting her. No reason not to follow up on that. Maybe it would distract B'Elanna from her current problems. He would just have to get extremely inventive in finding ways around her blindness.

A frustrated B'Elanna stood in the middle of her quarters. She hated to admit that Tom had been right, but she did need a pair of eyes until she learned her way around. She couldn't find anything, was getting bruises on bruises from bumping into things, and had already broken several items this morning. Both Chakotay and Captain Janeway had called her this morning to inquire if she needed anything. It was anyone's guess who would be next. When her door chime sounded, she snapped out irritably, "What?!"

"B'Elanna, it's Tom."

He stood patiently outside her quarters, balancing a breakfast tray in one hand. When B'Elanna didn't answer, he said, "I have your door code, you know. I could just walk right in." At that proclamation, her door slid open and he entered, grinning when he saw her. She stood in the middle of the room. Somehow she had managed to locate a uniform and get it on, but she had bright red socks on her feet instead of the standard Starfleet-issue black ones and her hair was all over the place.

"What are you doing?" she asked suspiciously when he said nothing.

Tom started to offer a flip reply about just enjoying the view, but thought better of it given her current blind status. Instead, he said, "I brought you some breakfast." He set the breakfast tray down. Going to her, he led her back to her desk and sat her down. Getting her acquainted with her breakfast and what was where, he then said, "Let me see if I can find your boots and a hairbrush." Her hand went to her hair in an entirely feminine gesture Tom had never seen from her before.

He snatched a piece of toast off the tray on his way by, figuring he wasn't going to have time for more than breakfast on the run this morning. Looking for her boots, he finally located them in the bathroom, where she had changed the night before. Searching  for her hairbrush, he called out, "You have any plans for today?"

"Like what? I'm certainly no use to anyone in Engineering."

Tom winced at the bleak tone in her voice. Peeking out of the bathroom, he asked playfully, "You wanna come up to the Bridge with me and help me drive the ship?"

He saw B'Elanna frown, but her tone had that sardonic snap of wit back in it when she replied. "Oh, I'm sure the Captain would love that."

Tom disappeared back into the bathroom as she continued to play along. "Besides, there's only one seat at the helm. Where would I sit?"

Hairbrush located, he exited the bathroom. "You could always sit on my lap. I'd even let you steer."

Despite herself, she smiled.

"Aha! Caught you! I knew you could still do that!"

"What?"

"Smile." Kneeling down, he took one of her red-stockinged feet and slid a boot on it. "You know, you have a beautiful smile. You should do it more often."

B'Elanna didn't know what to say. Tom quickly put her other boot on, then standing, he reached for the an object that had been on the breakfast tray he had neglected to tell her about. Picking it up, he took her hand and wrapped it around the object then moved it to her face, allowing the soft petals to brush her cheek. She jerked back in surprise but relaxed when she realized she held another Tarktalian rose.

"White?" she asked softly.

"No, this one's pink. Have you ever been on Kersus II?" At her nod of affirmation, he continued, "Imagine the sunsets there and you'll see the rose."

She remembered the soft pink sunsets of Kersus II. Smiling, she brought the rose to her nose, inhaling its fragrant scent. She started in surprise when Tom ran the hairbrush through her hair. Jerking away she exclaimed, "What do you think you're doing?"

"Brushing your hair," he replied, as if it were something he did everyday.

"I can do that myself, thank you." She held out a hand for the hairbrush.

"I don't mind--"

"Well, I do! Hand it over, Paris."

He relinquished the brush to her. Sitting down across the desk from her, he munched at the remains of her breakfast. "You never did answer me about what you have planned for today. I invited Harry to join us for lunch, but you can't sit here and do nothing until then."

B'Elanna frowned. When was he going to get the message that she didn't want his help? Why did he insist on insinuating himself in her life like this? Before she could reply to his inquiry, her commbadge chirped. "Neelix to Lieutenant Torres," came the Talaxian's agitated voice.

"Torres here."

"Lieutenant, the thermometric regulators have gone out again. It's imperative that they get fixed right away--"

"Neelix," interrupted B'Elanna, "call Engineering. I'm sure they can find somebody to fix them for you."

"But you did such a superb job last time, and it really--"

"Neelix--" B'Elanna's tone was turning angry.

"Hold on a minute, Neelix," intervened Paris. Watching B'Elanna, he put a challenging tone in his voice, saying, "You told me just a few weeks ago that even an ignorant pilot could fix those regulators blindfolded. Now's your chance to prove yourself."

"I was being facetious."

"I'm not. I don't think you can do it, Torres. Maybe you're not such a hotshot engineer after all. I think--"

"All right," she snapped, getting to her feet. Tapping her commbadge, she told a relieved Neelix that she would be right there. Glaring in Tom's general direction, she said, "Well? Let's go."

Grinning, Tom took B'Elanna by the arm and led her out of her quarters.

The morning shift passed quickly for Paris. He had still been grinning when he had arrived on the Bridge after leaving B'Elanna in the mess hall. Neelix had given him a wink, and Tom had known that the Talaxian would keep her occupied for most of the morning with a sudden deluge of needed repairs in his kitchen. Amazingly enough, B'Elanna had not caught on that she had been set up.

When they broke for lunch, Harry went directly to B'Elanna's quarters while Tom went to the mess hall to get a lunch tray for the three of them and to check on how the morning's repairs had gone.

Tom found Neelix in his kitchen, humming happily. "How'd it go this morning, Neelix?"

"Oh, Tom, hello. Everything's working much better now that B'Elanna's taken a look at practically every piece of equipment in my kitchen." Grinning, Neelix said, "She was in quite a temper by the time she left."

Tom's brows raised. "About?"

"I couldn't quite catch what she said. She was muttering quite a bit toward the end. I did catch your name a couple of times though."

Uh oh, thought Tom.

"Here's your lunch tray," offered Neelix. "If there's anything else I can do to help, just let me know."

"Thanks, Neelix," smiled Tom as he made his exit from the mess hall.

Harry entered B'Elanna's quarters and received a hot-tempered blast of B'Elanna Torres.

"Tom Paris! How dare you! You set me up with Neelix! You--"

"B'Elanna!"

There was a long silence.

"Harry?"

"Yeah. If you want to yell at Tom, he should be along in a few minutes. He stopped by the mess hall to pick up a lunch tray for us."

Sighing, B'Elanna turned away, then turned back in confusion. From the expression on her face, it was clear to Harry that she had lost track of where she was in the room. Taking her by the arm, he led her over to the couch. As she sat, he asked, "So, what was that all about? Why are you so hot under the collar at Tom?"

"Never mind. He's just more sneaky than I gave him credit for."

"Never underestimate Paris," said Harry sagely. "How are you doing, B'Elanna? Really? This can't be easy."

"I wish people would quit asking me how I'm doing."

"We're just worried about you. I talked to Kes yesterday. She said there's still a chance your sight might come back."

"And there's an equally good chance it may never come back."

Harry frowned at her sharp tone. Spying the pale pink rose keeping the snow-white one company in a vase, he decided a change of subject might be in order. "Nice roses," he commented.

"What? Oh, those."

Harry was amazed to see a faint blush graze her cheeks. He had never seen B'Elanna blush.

"Just Tom's way of being friendly," she remarked offhandedly.

"Really? He's never given me roses."

B'Elanna burst out laughing.

Tom was gratified to hear B'Elanna's laughter as he stepped through the doorway. "What's so funny?" he asked as he set their lunch tray down.

"Nothing," B'Elanna gasped between fits of laughter.

"Hey," Harry protested in mock outrage, "if you won't tell him, I will." Standing, Harry walked over to the vase holding the roses. Fingering the petals of one of them, he complained, "B'Elanna says you've been giving her flowers as a show of friendship. How come you never give me roses, Paris?" He winked.

Tom, leaning against B'Elanna's desk, crossed his arms, and drawled, "Gee, Harry, and all this time I thought you liked me for my pretty blue eyes and my winning smile."

B'Elanna let out a loud hoot of laughter. Tom didn't think it had been quite that funny, but it warmed his heart to hear her laughter. He watched her face with rapt attention as the laughter lit it up, bringing her to life. He turned to give Harry a smile of gratitude and found his friend watching him watch B'Elanna with an amused look on his face.

Finally getting herself under control, B'Elanna said, "Even those baby blues and that crooked grin of yours won't get you out of this one, Paris." She tried to make her voice sound stern and failed miserably. "Just what did you think you were doing setting me up with Neelix to spend the morning fixing imaginary problems in his kitchen?"

"Hey, you fixed them, didn't you? Neelix said things haven't worked this well in ages." His voice softened. "And lack of eyesight sure didn't slow you down, did it?"

B'Elanna turned quiet once he had made his point. Finally, she said, "So, what's for lunch?"

Tom and Harry traded looks. Both could hear the doors slamming shut as she once again shut them out. Tom shrugged.

The three friends sat down to lunch. It was almost like old times, Harry thought. Tom and B'Elanna were once again going at it, like they always had before the incident with Vorik. Except for the occasional stumble, he almost forgot B'Elanna was blind, but looking at her, he knew she hadn't forgotten.

Tom, for his part, felt as if he were taking two steps forward and three steps back with her. Every time he felt as if he were making some headway, an obstacle reared its ugly head.

That evening, Tom, pulling out his PADD, asked, "Have you ever read any Dumas?"

"Dumas?" asked B'Elanna, puzzled. "What's a Dumas?"

Tom grinned at the old joke B'Elanna had unintentionally uttered. "Not what. Who. He was a famous French author from Earth's 19th century. Some claim that on his deathbed he was heard to say I shall tell her a story, and she will be kind to me." He paused, wondering if B'Elanna would pick up the unspoken message in that phrase. When no reaction was forthcoming, he doggedly continued. "I thought we could pass some time with me reading one of my favorites of his aloud to you."

What did he mean by that quote? wondered B'Elanna. Was there a hidden message there or was she reading too much into what Tom said?

"B'Elanna?"

"What? Oh, I'm sorry. My mind wandered for a moment. What kind of story did you have in mind?"

"It's called The Count of Monte Cristo. The story takes place in 19th-century France and is about a man who's betrayed by his enemies and thrown into a dungeon, doomed to spend the remainder of his life there. The story follows his subsequent escape and his carefully planned revenge."

"You sound as if you're reading that straight from the book," she accused.

"Caught me!" She could hear the grin in his voice. "They summarize it a lot better than I ever could," he admitted. "So, how about it? How's a little 19th-century romance and mystery sound to you?"

B'Elanna wasn't sure about this, but she figured it was better than sitting here doing nothing or having to talk to Tom. She was afraid where a conversation with him might eventually lead and she wasn't ready to tackle that subject yet. Resigned to spending the evening with him since nothing she had tried seemed to dislodge him from her quarters, she shrugged, saying, "Go ahead."

She listened to his soft voice as he began reading. He read the story with great exuberance. It was obviously a favorite of his and listening to the story unfold, she could understand why.
 

. . . With the last word he felt himself flung into space. Fear clutched at his heart as he fell like a wounded bird, down, down, down. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, there was a tremendous splash and he plunged like an arrow into the icy sea. He uttered a scream which was immediately choked off as the water closed over his head. He was being swiftly dragged to the bottom by a cannon ball tied to his feet. The sea is the cemetery of the Chateau d'If.*


Before continuing on to the next chapter, Tom looked over at B'Elanna, who was curled up on the other end of the couch. She was nodding off, fighting to keep her eyes open. Setting the PADD aside, he rose to his feet. "Come on, sleepyhead. Time for bed."

Her eyes drifted open. "No. I want to hear if Dantes survives the sea . . ." She trailed off as a huge yawn overtook her.

Smiling, Tom said, "Tomorrow. I'll read some more to you tomorrow. Come on, let's get you to bed." He pulled her to her feet and escorted her to her sleeping quarters.

At the door, B'Elanna stopped and turned to Tom. She reached out a tentative hand to touch his face. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" asked a confused Tom.

"Kes told me about the bruise," replied B'Elanna, remembering her shock when Kes had mentioned the livid bruise she had healed for Tom that morning in Sickbay. B'Elanna had inadvertently gleaned from Kes that she had been responsible for Tom's bruise when he had awakened her from the nightmare the night before.

Taking her hand in his, he said, "Don't worry about it, B'Elanna." Squeezing her hand, he bid her good night and she let the door slide closed between them.

That night B'Elanna wasn't plagued by nightmares of losing her eyesight. Instead, she dreamed of Alexandre Dumas' Edmond Dantes, except her Edmond Dantes had blond hair and blue eyes and a gentle voice that graced her dreams and brought a smile to her sleeping lips.

Days passed. B'Elanna's prognosis did not improve and the Doctor's reports were not encouraging. Tom did his best to keep her spirits up. He spent every free hour with her. Sometimes they roamed the ship as he filled her in on what was happening aboard with various crewmembers and in the different departments. More often than not, they shared a quiet night in her quarters. Tom told her stories of his youth. B'Elanna in turn told him of hers and they discovered a common bond in the distance both had put between themselves and their parents.

Every night Tom read a bit more of Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo to her. B'Elanna was, as Tom had hoped she would be, enthralled with the story. On this night, they sat on the bed in her sleeping quarters, both reclining back against the headboard, as Tom read to her.
 

"God forgive me," said the count, smiling, "but I think I'm as weary of life as you are, and since the opportunity has presented itself--"

"Stop!" cried the young man. "You love and are loved in return; you have faith and hope -- don't do what I'm about to do! That would be a crime. Farewell, noble and generous friend; I'm going to tell Valentine everything you've done for me." Slowly, but without the slightest hesitation, Maximilien swallowed the mysterious substance.*


Tom lay the PADD down, saying, "That's it for tonight."

"What? Tom Paris, you can't stop there!"

Tom grinned at B'Elanna's indignant tone. "Sure I can. I'm saving the ending for tomorrow night."

"I can make you read it," she threatened.

"Oh yeah?" Paris challenged her.

She grabbed him about the waist and began tickling him. Tom tried to squirm away. "Hey! No fair!"

"You call withholding the ending of a story from a blind woman fair?"

"B'Elanna! Don't!" He laughed. "Stop! Aghhhh!"

"Are you going to read the rest of the story?"

"No way!"

She pounced on top of him, renewing her tickling tactics. Tom tried tickling her back without much success. "Klingons aren't ticklish," she told him triumphantly.

Breathlessly, Tom retorted, "You're only half Klingon, Torres. There must be a spot here somewhere that's ticklish."

Tom's stomach was starting to hurt from laughing so much. He grabbed B'Elanna by the waist and flipped her over onto her back on the bed with him landing atop her and the game suddenly turned sensual.

Tom nibbled then blew on her ear. "Ticklish there?" he asked softly. Looking down at her, he caught his breath. She was beautiful. He wished he had the words to tell her how much. He let his lips gently caress hers in a light feathery touch, then, exhaling loudly, he pushed himself off her and off the bed.

"Tom?" Her sightless eyes searched for him.

"I'm sorry, B'Elanna. I shouldn't have done that."

She slowly set up. She wanted to ask him why not but wasn't sure she wanted to hear the answer.

Taking her silence as affirmation, he picked up the PADD, saying, "I'll be in the other room if you need anything. See you in the morning."

Once she heard the door to her sleeping quarters slide shut, she let herself plop back down on the bed. Fingers went to her lips, touching where his lips moments ago had touched. She swallowed. Damn the man! Her whole body was lit up. Now she would never get to sleep. She gave serious consideration to going out there and dragging him back into her bed, but her unsureness over where she wanted a relationship with him to lead held her back. She sighed and wished someone would inform her traitorous body that it didn't need Tom Paris, but a voice in the back of her mind that was steadily growing louder with the passing days was telling her Who are you fooling? You want him. You've wanted him for some time. Stop fighting it.

In the outer room, Tom paced back and forth. Feeling guilty for thinking it, Tom was glad this once that B'Elanna hadn't been able to see. His body had reacted right on cue to hers and when he had pushed off her, he had prayed she couldn't feel the burgeoning erection he now had. He was desperately in need of the proverbial cold shower.

Why was he torturing himself like this? Why didn't he just face the problem head on? He should make her talk about what had happened between them on that planet. Make her talk about it? You've lost it, Paris, he told himself. Nobody makes B'Elanna do anything. She's definitely got a mind of her own. Looking down at the PADD he held in his hand, a smile replaced his frown. Maybe when he finished the story tomorrow that would be a good time to bring the subject up. The frown reappeared.

She had a doctor's appointment tomorrow. He hoped the Doc would be able to give her good news for a change. He'd been through several mood swings with her over the past three weeks, and although it appeared to everyone else that she was adapting well to her blindness, Tom knew otherwise.

Still frowning, he grabbed the blanket off the back of the couch, turned down the lights and settled in for the night. He had given up the pretense after that first night of going to his quarters to sleep. In the intervening days he had decided it was simpler to just stay in her quarters and B'Elanna seemed to have accepted his continual presence here. Tom knew the ship's rumor mill was running wild with speculations about what occurred inside her quarters. Harry was the only one Tom had confided in. The only one who knew that every night B'Elanna retired to her sleeping quarters and Tom to the couch. Not so much as a kiss had been shared between them -- until tonight.

Tom approached B'Elanna's quarters apprehensively. He had just gotten off duty for the day. Since he hadn't heard from her he was guessing the news the Doctor had given her hadn't been good.

Letting himself into B'Elanna's quarters, he stopped short at the scene before his eyes. It looked as if a hurricane had hit the place. He knew things had been going too well. B'Elanna had been taking all of this business regarding her eyesight just a tad too calmly. Her quarters looked like the volcano had finally erupted.

Picking his way through the debris, he tentatively called out. "B'Elanna?"

She appeared in the doorway of her sleeping quarters, looking wild and still in a temper. "Get out!" she yelled.

"B'Elanna--"

She threw his datapadd at him. Tom ducked, wincing as the PADD clattered against the wall behind him. "B'Elanna, listen to me--"

Another item went sailing through the air past him. "So this is where she starts throwing heavy objects," he muttered.

"What did you say?!" Not waiting for an answer, she continued to rant at him. "I'm through listening to you, Tom Paris. You and your platitudes about how it will be all right! Well, it isn't all right! I'm blind!"

"What did the Doctor say?"

"It's none of your business! I want you out of here now! And don't come back! Ever!"

"Now, wait just a minute--" Tom's temperature was starting to rise. Trying to stay calm, he said, "I thought we were friends."

"Friends?! I know what you're up to, Paris. Poor blind B'Elanna. She can't be choosy now. Maybe she'll settle for Tom Paris."

"Now just a--"

"Forget it, Paris! I'm not going to be another notch on your belt!"

Calmness forgotten, voice raised, he yelled, "I never asked you to be! Besides, you're the one who tried to make me a notch on your belt!"

"It always comes back to that, doesn't it? To when I was under the influence of Vulcan pon farr! I told you to forget it!"

"And I told you I can't! I won't!"

Passersby in the corridor outside Lieutenant Torres' quarters could hear the raised voices from inside. They were unable to make out what was being said, but the angry tone was clear. It didn't take long for word of it to reach the Bridge and Captain Janeway.

Tom almost didn't hear his commbadge chirp over B'Elanna's raised voice. Angrily tapping it, he snarled, "What?!"

"Mr. Paris," came Janeway's level voice, "is there a problem in Lieutenant Torres' quarters?"

"NO!" they both snapped at the same moment.

On the Bridge, Janeway quirked an eyebrow at her first officer. He shook his head in bemusement. "Sounds like they're in agreement to me." His mouth tilted upward. "Although, you may want to have someone standing by with a medkit, just in case."

With difficulty, Janeway contained her smile. "Very well, Mr. Paris. Janeway out."

In three strides, Tom was across the room and in B'Elanna's face. "How dare you accuse me of only having the motive of trying to get you into bed," he said in a quiet, deadly voice that starship captains were known to use upon occasion. "I haven't once tried anything with you since you were hurt, and I've apologized for what happened last night." Dawning comprehension lit his eyes. "Or is that the problem, Torres? You want me to make a move?"

"Don't be an ass." She tried to step past him, but Tom gripped her shoulders, holding her in place.

Red hot anger flowing through her, B'Elanna grabbed Tom's upper arms and slammed him into the wall, knocking the breath out of him. Laying a restraining arm across his chest, she leaned in close and snarled, "I think you like what happened down on that planet! I think you're sorry you didn't take the chance when you had it."

"Now who's being an--" He chopped the sentence off. No matter how angry he was, that inbred gentlemanly courtesy wouldn't let him call a lady an ass, even if she were behaving like one.

As the red haze receded, B'Elanna became aware of Tom's body pressed between her and the wall. And his scent. Her sense of touch and smell had become even more heightened since losing her sight and she had become aware of Tom in the past three weeks in more ways than simple sight would allow. She had bitten him while down on that planet. She had tasted his blood. And it had not been purged from her system yet. Only to herself would she admit there had been more than the Vulcan pon farr at work on that planet. She had been attracted to Tom Paris for some time now. She just hadn't wanted to admit it. Holding him against the wall, she leaned into him, nuzzling his neck and his cheek along the jawline where she had bitten him.

Tom stiffened. "What are you doing?" he asked.

She pulled his head down into a fierce kiss, devouring his mouth. After a stunned moment, Tom responded in kind.

B'Elanna released him abruptly and moved away. As both tried to regain their breath, she asked, "Is that what you want? Sex?" She held out a hand and said in a challengingly tone, "Well, come on then, let's do it and get it out of your system. Then maybe you'll finally leave me alone."

No!" To B'Elanna's ears it sounded as if that "no" had been ripped from him. He heaved a huge sigh. "You just don't get it, do you? Fine. You want to be left alone; I'll leave you alone. I'll ask Kes to check in on you from now on."

She felt him brush past her. Tom stopped in the doorway. "I'm sorry, B'Elanna. I didn't plan on falling in love with you. I don't know when or how it happened. It just . . . happened."

The door to her quarters slid shut. B'Elanna stood there in stunned silence. Had he just said he loved her? Oh God. She slid down the wall to sit on the floor. What a mess she had made of things.

Chakotay, on his way back to his quarters from the mess hall, changed course when B'Elanna's agitated voice hailed him over the comlink. Arriving at her door, he signaled his presence.

"Come," she called.

Entering her quarters, he stopped in surprise. Looking around at the destruction, he couldn't help remembering part of the argument he had overheard when the Captain had contacted Paris in her quarters earlier. "What happened here?"

"Me."

His eyes moved to where B'Elanna sat on the floor beside the entrance to her sleeping quarters. Stepping carefully over the debris, he knelt at her side. "What happened? Where's Paris?"

"He's gone. Banished. He won't be coming back." Her voice was flat and unemotional, but she wasn't fooling Chakotay. Taking her arm, he pulled her to her feet. "Come on. Let's sit you on the couch and you can tell me what happened while I clean up this mess."

Chakotay slowly pulled the story out of B'Elanna piece by piece as he cleaned up her quarters. When she reached the part of the story where Tom had left, he stopped what he was doing to look at her in surprise. "He said that? He said he loved you?"

She nodded morosely.

"How do you feel about that? How do you feel about him?"

"I don't know!" Her voice was full of exasperation. "What does it matter anyway? He won't be coming back."

"You sound disappointed."

And she was, she suddenly realized. In the past three weeks, she and Tom had spent a lot of time together. They had talked of their childhoods, about Starfleet, about life's disappointments, life's joys. When she couldn't sleep at night, he had read to her. He'd even held her hand through a couple of nightmares. It was as if he had always been there for her and that was the way it was meant to be. So why did she question it? Question his motives? He'd never given her cause to.

"I don't want him to leave, Chakotay," she said with sudden insight. "I like having him here. Having him near."

"Can I ask a personal question?"

Thinking of past confidences they had shared, she smiled wryly. "Why not?"

"Have you slept with him?" Chakotay carefully watched the expression on her face. Was that disappointment? Regret?

"No. He's been every inch the gentleman."

Chakotay couldn't help it, he smiled and B'Elanna could hear the grin in his voice when he spoke. "You're sounding disappointed again. B'Elanna, why did you call me here? Why not Harry? He knows Tom a lot better than I do. Or better yet, talk to Tom."

"You're not Tom's friend. I can always rely on you to give me an honest opinion of him."

Chakotay sat beside her on the couch. "Okay," he agreed. "I can't believe I'm about to say this, but, B'Elanna, Tom's practically been living in these quarters with you for weeks now. Don't mistake his courtesy as disinterest. It's obvious he's interested in you. The fact that he hasn't blatantly tried to move your relationship to another level would indicate to me that he's being very careful not to damage what you already have. You're important to him. That became clear when Vorik tried to mate with you. How do you feel about him?"

"Chakotay, I probably wouldn't know love if it came up and bit me. I miss Tom when he's not here. I think about him constantly. I enjoy just being with him. There's so much more to him than he lets everyone see. And if he were here right now, I'd--" She gasped, a hand going to her eyes.

"B'Elanna?"

She shook her head, then blinked her eyes as if she were trying to focus. "Chakotay, I just got a flash of light. I saw light!" She blinked. "There! I just saw it again!"

"Let's get you to Sickbay and have the Doctor check this out."

Sitting in his quarters reading, Harry was surprised when his commbadge chirped to discover it was Tom on the other end. Most of Tom's time seemed to be taken up with B'Elanna these days. Harry didn't begrudge them that. He was glad to see them starting to work through the intricacies of a possible romantic relationship, but he did miss his friends and spending time with them.

"Harry, uh, never mind."

Taking note of Tom's agitated voice, Harry spoke quickly before he could close the link. "What's wrong, Tom?"

"Nothing. Really. I'll catch up with you tomorrow." Then the he did close the link.

"Computer," called out Kim, "location of Lieutenant Paris?"

"Lieutenant Paris is on Holodeck One."

Harry walked into Sandrine's. It was up and running with all the characters intact. There were even a few other crewmembers present. Spotting Tom at a table in a dark corner toward the back, Harry joined him. Tom didn't look surprised to see him.

"What's up?" asked Harry.

Staring out over the room, Tom said, "Harry, I blew it."

"Is this about B'Elanna?"

"What else?" he said tiredly. "She kicked me out."

"Why?"

Thinking back on their argument, he shrugged in confusion. "I'm not sure. I don't know what she wants, Harry."

"Does she know what you want? Do you?"

Tom laughed at some private joke. "If she didn't before, she does now."

"Meaning?"

Tom's eyes met his for an instant and Harry saw hurt and confusion there. This wasn't the self-confident Tom Paris he was familiar with. This was a man wearing his heart on his sleeve. Leaning forward over the table, Harry said, "What exactly did you say to her?"

"I told her I was in love with her." Tom's eyes dropped back down to the table top and a faint blush graced his cheeks.

Harry sat back in his chair. "I see. Boy, you don't believe in mincing words, do you?"

"I was angry," Tom admitted, "and it just sorta popped out. We had a pretty big blowout."

"And now you can make up," Harry suggested with a smile. "What did B'Elanna say after you told her you loved her?"

"I didn't give her a chance to say much of anything. I was on my way out the door."

"Tom, have the two of you talked about what happened when Vorik . . ." Harry trailed off, unsure how to phrase it.

Tom shook his head. "Not really."

"Don't you think you should?"

"B'Elanna doesn't want to talk about it."

"Since when does B'Elanna get everything she wants? You've never let her get away with that in the past."

Looking surprised, Tom said, "You're right." Holding his drink up in a toast to Harry, he said, "For courage." He took a healthy swig of his drink before standing and saying, "If I don't show up for duty tomorrow morning, send the Doctor to B'Elanna's quarters with a bodybag to collect my remains."

A grinning Harry watched his friend exit Sandrine's. "Good luck," he called after him.

The moment the door to B'Elanna's quarters slid open, Tom was through it before she had a chance to change her mind about letting him in. "We're having that talk now about what happened with Vorik and between us whether you like it or not."

"Fine."

Not hearing her, Tom plowed right on. "I told you some things down on that planet. I want to know how much you remember, and if you meant any of the things you said to me." He paused. "What did you say?" He looked to where she sat on the couch.

"I said fine." She patted the couch. "Come sit here beside me, would you?"

Confused at this turn of events and her seeming calm and accepting demeanor, he did as she bid. Tom watched as she picked up a PADD sitting on her lap and began reading from The Count of Monte Cristo where Tom had teasingly left off the night before.
 

Slowly, but without the slightest hesitation, Maximilien swallowed the mysterious substance. Little by little the lamps seemed to grow dim--*


"B'Elanna!"

She held up a hand, not taking her eyes from the PADD. "Shhh. I want to see how this ends."

"But -- your eyes! You can see!"

Her eyes, those beautiful smoky eyes, rose to meet his. She didn't say a word but her hand reached over to clasp his. Her eyes returning to the PADD, she continued the story.
 

Little by little the lamps seemed to grow dim in the hands of the marble statues and the odor of incense became less penetrating. Seated in front of him, Monte Cristo looked at him from the shadows and Maximilien could see nothing of him except his shining eyes. . . .*


Tom watched with rapt attention as she read from the PADD. B'Elanna could see! He squeezed her hand and sat back to listen to the conclusion of the story.
 

As for you, Maximilien, here is the secret of my conduct toward you:  there is neither happiness nor unhappiness in this world; there is only the comparison of one state with another. Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss. It is necessary to have wished for death, Maximilien, in order to know how good it is to live. Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart, and never forget that, until the day God deigns to reveal the future to man, the sum of all human wisdom will be contained in these two words:  Wait and hope. Your friend, Edmond Dantes. Count of Monte Cristo.*


B'Elanna sat in silence for a moment before raising her eyes to his and speaking. "That was what you wanted me to hear, wasn't it? Wait and hope."

"Something like that," he replied, embarrassment at being found out that he was a romantic at heart coloring his voice.

"You asked me a question when you came in a few minutes ago. About how much I remembered about what happened on that planet. I remember most of it, Tom. Some of it's a bit hazy, like a dream, but it's there." She set the PADD aside and rose to her feet to pace a few steps away. Standing with her back to him, she said, "I remember you wouldn't help me."

"B'Elanna." Tom held his hands out in a plea to be understood, but she had her back turned and didn't see his gesture. "You weren't yourself. I couldn't take advantage of you in that way, even if you were begging me to. Our friendship means too much to me."

"You said you were interested. We kissed--" She stuttered to a stop as remembered feelings washed over her. "I wanted you," she whispered.

"Because I was convenient. I was there, easy to get." Tom's voice was obstinate, determined to get the truth from her, even it was a truth he didn't want to hear.

"No." She shook her head adamantly and turned to look at him. "I wanted you." Their eyes met. "I wanted you, not because you were the only one available at the time, and not only because of the pon farr. . . ." She trailed off.

Tom stared at her, stunned. Had he just wrung the admission out of her he had been hoping to hear? "B'Elanna, in the cave, you said you'd been afraid to admit that you wanted me. What did you mean?"

Her arms crossed defensively and her face turned downward to hide her expression from his knowing eyes. She said nothing.

"Harry told me that he didn't think it was just the pon farr speaking, that you must have been attracted to me already to have chosen me," he ventured.

Her head snapped up. "You discussed this with Harry?" Her tone was full of disbelief and betrayal.

Deciding they needed to be completely honest here, Tom said, "Harry found me in Sandrine's the night before your accident. I was trying to work out what had happened between us and if anything more was going to happen. I guess-I guess I needed to talk and you and I . . . " He shrugged. "I want us to be more than friends, B'Elanna. I think I've made that clear on several occasions, but I don't want to jeopardize our friendship if you're not interested in pursuing something more."

"Something more?" She heard Paris snort in amusement and raised her head to look at him.

"Why do you and I always seem to do things out of order? Here we haven't even exactly been on a first date but we're practically living together--"

"--so you could help me," she inserted.

"Do you really think that was my only reason, B'Elanna?" He rose from his seat on the couch and stepped nearer, reaching out a hand to gently caress her face. "I care about you in ways that go beyond simple friendship. I want to be with you, but only if it's what you want."

"Tom." Her hand reached out to caress his face. "This isn't just about me. What you want is important too."

That stopped Tom. How many people had he known in his life who had said that to him? How many had put what he wanted or needed ahead of their own wants or needs? Damn few. One of them stood before him now. He wrapped his arms around B'Elanna's waist and pulled her close. She didn't resist.

B'Elanna watched as he bent his head down toward hers. She raised her face, her lips ready to meet his. The kiss at first was tentative, sweet, but then the passion they had both been keeping under wraps unleashed itself.

Tom felt B'Elanna's tongue probing at his lips and eagerly opened them. Their tongues clashed and did a quick tangle as they tasted the sweetness of each other. His hand went to her nape and moved upward to cup the back of her head. Her own hands moved upward of their own volition to run through his hair, tousling it.

Tom's lips left hers to run a fiery trail of kisses down her left jaw and onto her neck. B'Elanna arched against him, pressing her body to his. She heard Tom let out a sound halfway between a groan and growl that caused her breath to quicken. Her hands moved to his uniform top, quickly undoing it. She wanted to feel his skin beneath hers.

As if reading her thoughts, Tom pulled his uniform top and the turtleneck underneath off. B'Elanna ran her hands over his shoulders, his chest, the flat, muscled stomach. Tom removed her uniform top. B'Elanna sensed his hesitation to go further as he pulled her close, holding her against him.

Head resting atop hers, he quietly, breathlessly, asked, "B'Elanna, is this what you want?"

She could feel his heart beating a wild tattoo of anticipation, but he restrained himself from making any further moves. B'Elanna ran her hands over his smooth back, down to his buttocks. She pulled him in close so that his groin was pressed to her.

"B'Elanna . . ."

"I want you, Tom. Now. Don't hold back with me. Please. Let yourself go. Let me see the real Tom Paris."

Her words sent him over the edge. He quickly divested her of her turtleneck and the undergarment. Her back pressed to his chest, Tom reached around to cup her breasts, letting his thumbs rove over the erect nipples. She moaned. He nipped at her jawline, then her shoulder, his hands continuously caressing her breasts as he held their fullness in his hands.

She turned in his arms, pulling his head down into a passionate kiss. Tom felt her hands at his waist, undoing his pants. Still kissing her, he stepped out of his boots and allowed her to push his pants down. He quickly stepped out of them also, leaving him clad only in his briefs. B'Elanna pushed him down on the couch.

Quickly removing the remainder of her clothing, she stood before him, her excitement growing as she watched the predatory gleam in Tom's eyes intensify when his aroused gaze roamed her body. She straddled him, kissing him and nipping at his jawline. Tom arched up against her, his groin pressing against her. She could feel his growing erection, straining to escape the black briefs.

With a muffled groan, Tom grabbed her waist, pushing her down on the couch underneath him. One hand cupped her face, stroking it, while the other slid down her side to rest on her hip. He kissed his way down her body. B'Elanna arched against him, gasping loudly when he took one of her nipples in his mouth and teased it. Moving further downward, he pressed feather-light kisses on her stomach, feeling the muscles contracting spasmodically there in reaction. He moved down her legs, lightly brushing over the nest of hair between her legs but not delving into its depths yet.

"Tommm . . ." His name was dragged out of her. He moved back up atop her and she hungrily pulled his lips down to hers. Letting out a frustrated moan, she heaved her body and rolled so Tom would be underneath her. Forgetting they were on the couch, they rolled off, hitting the floor with a thump.

A whoosh of air was expelled from Tom as he hit the deck and B'Elanna landed atop him. Grinning down at him, she said, "Sorry. Maybe we should move this into the bedroom."

Without a word, he pulled them both to their feet. B'Elanna continued to hungrily kiss him. Tom picked her up and, her legs wrapped about his waist, they made their way to the bedroom. B'Elanna continued to lavish him with kisses as he gently lowered her to the bed.

She pulled his briefs off him before he joined her on the bed. Looking him over appreciatively, she said, "You're beautiful."

Tom, to his mortification, felt himself blushing. He'd never had a woman put it quite that way before. Joining her on the bed, he stroked her body, making her already heightened nerves tingle. "You're the beautiful one, B'Elanna," he said softly. His fingers moved into the moist warmness between her legs. He teased her clitoris, finding it already swollen with passion. The slightest touch of his fingers sent shudders through B'Elanna. He let his fingers roam deeper, into the channel, and plunged two fingers in, keeping up a steady in and out rhythmic motion until B'Elanna cried out.

"Tom! Oh God!" she cried.

He stilled his movements, kissing her gently on the forehead, her eyelids, her temple, then her lips before rolling them over so she rested atop him. B'Elanna took full advantage of the change in position. Using her body to pin him to the bed, she let her hand snake down to grasp his erection. Tom let out a loud gasp. She fondled his balls, cupping them gently her hand. Then, moving back to his erection, she ran a finger teasingly up and down it. Her touch sent quivers of anticipation shuddering through Tom.

Tom felt as if he were going to explode. He tried to move, to take her in his arms. Her hand left his erection and she grabbed both his wrists, holding them above his head. Tom opened his eyes to see her watching him. The heated look in her eyes alone almost drove him over the edge.

Taking a deep breath, he said, "There's such as thing as too much pleasure, you know."

"You don't believe in prolonging the ecstasy?" Her smile was teasing.

"Not right now," he gasped as she rubbed herself against his erection. "I'm going to--"

Smiling widely, she released his wrists and positioned herself above him, letting his hardness graze her moist depths. Without warning, she plunged down, taking all of him into her in one stroke. Tom arched up to meet her, moaning loudly. They both stilled, wanting to prolong this first moment of togetherness. B'Elanna reveled in the sensation of him filling her up. She felt whole, complete. She slowly started moving up and down. It wasn't long before Tom caught her rhythm and they moved together in an ages-old rhythm of man and woman.

Tom picked up the speed, sensing that she was getting close. He peered up at her. Her eyes were closed, her mouth slightly open, and her expression was one of vulnerable joy. He held her hips as she moved up and down, then a shudder ran through her. "Tom," she moaned. "Tom!"

Her hands came to rest on his shoulders as one orgasmic shudder after another took her to new heights. "Tom! I love you!" she gasped out as his seed burst forth into her. He bucked wildly as he, too, climaxed. She stayed with him as he rode it out.

B'Elanna watched Tom at the moment he reached the height of his climax. His head was thrown back, revealing his throat. It was too much for her. Always struggling to keep her Klingon side at bay, she couldn't resist the allure and, dipping down, she bit Tom in the exact same spot along his jawline where she had marked him weeks ago on Sakari.

His hands released her hips and moved to pull her down upon him, rolling them over so he rested half atop her. They held each other as their breathing returned to normal, enjoying the closeness and the quiet.

B'Elanna opened her eyes, realization dawning that she must have dozed off for a moment. Tom's arm tightened around her and he sleepily murmured something too softly for her to hear. Raising herself up to rest on his chest, she watched him sleep and felt an overwhelming wave of tenderness and love for this man wash over her. She ran a fingertip over the bite she had left along his jawline. B'Elanna bit her lip worriedly. She hadn't meant to let go so completely and do that.

"Don't do that," came Tom's drowsy voice.

Startled, her eyes flew to his to find him watching her through heavy-lidded eyes. "What?"

"Stop worrying about it. Didn't I tell you I wanted to see more of your Klingon side? Don't ever hold yourself back with me, B'Elanna." He let a hand trail down her face before pulling her to him for a kiss. "I love you," he murmured against her lips. "Don't hide from me."

Wondering why she had denied herself this for so long, B'Elanna took his face between her hands and bravely looked him in the eyes, letting all her defensive masks drop away. "I love you, Tom Paris."

Tom smiled an open and honest smile, full of love and adoration as he pulled B'Elanna to him. He held her in a lover's embrace. Past his shoulder, B'Elanna spied the vase on her nightstand. The vase that had not been without a Tarktalian rose since Tom had moved in when she had been blinded. At the moment, two pink Tarktalian roses resided there, twined together like lovers. Like she and Tom. Smiling, B'Elanna melted into her lover's embrace, fulfilled and happy.

A grinning Harry joined B'Elanna for lunch in the mess hall. Nobody had been able to dissuade her from returning to duty right away with the return of her sight. In all honesty, nobody had wanted to. Sitting down across from her, he said, "Tom said to tell you he'd be along in a few minutes. The Captain wanted some tests run on the helm and he stayed to finish them up." Harry paused a moment before jumping in with both feet. "I take it you and Tom have worked out your differences?"

"What makes you think that?" B'Elanna's gaze was curious. She and Tom had made some decisions last night about where their relationship was headed, but only the two of them knew that. They hadn't been out in public together yet and she hadn't said anything to anyone. Surely Tom hadn't--

"What's he been saying?" she asked sharply.

"Who? Tom?" Harry's expression was pure innocence. "He hasn't said a thing." Turning thoughtful, Harry added, "Maybe the bite on his face gave it away."

"The bite . . ." B'Elanna swallowed. "He reported to duty without going to Sickbay to have it healed?"

Harry shrugged as he looked past her shoulder to see Tom entering the mess hall. "Here he comes now," he told B'Elanna. "You can ask him yourself."

B'Elanna turned to look at Tom. Sure enough, the bite was in evidence on his left jaw. It showed up very nicely against his fair skin. Becoming aware of stares from the other occupants of the mess hall, she turned back to her meal. Stabbing at some leafy thing on her plate, she hissed at Harry, "What are you grinning at?"

"Me? Nothing. Nothing at all."

B'Elanna didn't look up when Tom joined them. When her silence continued, he gave Harry an inquiring look. Harry tapped a finger against his jawline. Tom's eyes widened.

Picking up his fork, Tom started in on his lunch before softly saying, "Have I offended you in some way, B'Elanna?"

B'Elanna's head jerked up in surprise to stare at him. He spoke in Klingonese, she thought, the astonishment evident on her face. "No," she replied shortly, returning her gaze to her lunch.

Tom, never looking up from his lunch, said in Klingon, "You're hiding again. What have I done?"

"Why didn't you get the bite healed?" she returned in Klingon.

At his blank look, she realized she had spoken too quickly and he hadn't caught what she had said. Reaching out, she gently touched the bite on his cheek.

Reverting back to Standard, Tom said, "Why should I? We're together, aren't we? I'm your mate. Why shouldn't I wear your mark?"

B'Elanna's face colored. "It doesn't embarrass you?"

Tom put his fork down and turned to face her, completely oblivious to the watching crowd in the mess hall. "B'Elanna, nothing about you embarrasses me."

Her intense gaze met his. After a long pause, she said, "Nothing?"

"Nothing."

B'Elanna looked around the room, very aware of their audience. She frowned at Harry, who sat there with a goofy grin on his face watching them. Looking back at Tom, she saw nothing but love in his eyes. Reaching out with both hands, B'Elanna grasped Tom by his uniform front and pulled him toward her until their faces were a mere inch apart. She could feel his breath on her lips. Keeping her voice low so nobody else could overheard, she spoke softly in Klingon.

"Idiot."

Tom shot a quick reply back in Klingon. "You're beautiful."

"Flirt."

"You love it."

"You're full of it."

"That's my B'Elanna."

She caught her breath at the "my B'Elanna," liking the way it rolled off his tongue. With a mock glare and still speaking in Klingon, she retorted, "Pig."

"Are you going to start throwing things?"

"Don't tempt me."

"I'd like to tempt you."

She felt his hand on her thigh. Reverting back to Standard, B'Elanna said, "Paris, your accent is atrocious."

Tom grinned, replying in Standard also, "But you love me anyway."

Grinning, their lips met in a heated kiss, and it was only when Harry loudly cleared his throat did they remember they were not alone. As they pulled apart, applause broke out in the mess hall. Tom's face colored. Grinning self-consciously, he turned back to his meal, trying to calm his breathing back down.

Harry shook his head. "Didn't they teach you about PDA's in the Academy, Paris?"

"Harry."

"Yes?"

In unison, both B'Elanna and Tom said, "Shut up."

The three friends laughed and turned their attention back to their lunches. Under the table, Tom held B'Elanna's hand in his. He gave it a gentle squeeze, which she promptly returned. He sincerely hoped there would be several more incidents of public displays of affection in their future. The words of Dumas' Edmond Dantes came back to him. Wait and hope. Some things were worth waiting for, he thought, overjoyed by the recent turn of events.

Two weeks later:
B'Elanna, with a last armload of items from her old quarters, entered their new quarters. Quarters which Janeway had happily signed off on, wishing them both all the best. Chakotay had just shaken his head when he had handed B'Elanna the new room assignment, but his smile had told the Chief Engineer that he was happy for her.

Not seeing Tom in their quarters, she proceeded on into the sleeping quarters, where she came to an abrupt stop. The lights were off and the room was lit by candles spread throughout the room. Setting her armload of personal possessions down, she gazed about the room at the romantic setting. On the bed, spread out over the foot of it, lay a satiny white gown, obviously meant for her. B'Elanna picked the gown up and eyed it thoughtfully. On the pillows at the head of the bed rested two pink roses. Below them lay an old-fashioned paper-bound book. It lay open. Picking it up, B'Elanna read the marked passage from The Count of Monte Cristo.
 

. . . there is neither happiness nor unhappiness in this world; there is only the comparison of one state with another. Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss.*


In the margin, Tom had written:

I've found my bliss with you, B'Elanna.
I love you.
Yours forever,
Tom

B'Elanna smiled as a pair of arms came around her from behind and pulled her back to lean against a firm male body.

"Do you like it?" Tom asked her softly.

"I love it. Thank you. Thank you for making our first night here special."

"I'm not done yet."

"No?"

Tom heard the smile in her voice. He pulled her around to face him and kissed her gently on the lips. "No, I'm just getting started."

"Maybe I should go change into something more comfortable." She looked down at the white gown she held between the two of them.

"Maybe you should."

Pulling away from him, she headed for the bathroom. Tom watched her go, happier than he could ever recall being.

B'Elanna stared at herself in the mirror. Tom had chosen well. The style of the gown accentuated her curves and the white satin emphasized her darker coloring. She stared at herself for a long moment, not recognizing the woman in the mirror. Giving the happy-looking woman a smile, she exited the bathroom and returned to Tom.

She watched his eyes rove deliciously over her, his gaze clearly appreciative. Taking her in his arms, he said, "You're beautiful, B'Elanna."

She pulled him down for a lingering kiss before moving away to circle him. Taking his hand in hers, she brought his wrist to her nose, inhaling his scent, before circling around behind him. She slid her hands over him, exploring his body, then her hands were moving around from behind him to the front of his uniform. She deftly unfastened the front closure and pulled the top of his uniform off him. Reaching downward, she let her hand brush over his pelvic area. She pressed a hand to his groin. Tom's head fell back toward her shoulder as he groaned.

"Why, Mr. Paris," she exclaimed, "you seem to have a problem here. I think we'll have to do something about that." She rubbed her hand against his groin before pulling away. Going to the bed, she lay on it, reclining in a provocative pose. "Take your clothes off," she commanded.

Tom didn't utter a word. Never taking his eyes from hers, he removed his boots and socks, then pulled the turtleneck up over his head. The pants and underwear quickly followed. He walked to the bed but made no move to join her there. He waited for her to make the first move.

Taking one of the roses from its resting place on a pillow, she dragged the soft petals of the flower across Tom's abdomen with deliberate casualness, watching the muscles there contract at the soft touch. She moved the flower down a hip and along the outside of his leg, then back up the outside of his other leg and the hip. The flower moved over his stomach again then up to his chest to tease his nipples. Without warning she let the flower drop to his groin. Tom jerked when the soft petals caressed his erection. His hands fisted but remained at his side. She continued to tease him with the flower until . . .

"B'Elanna," he finally ground out.

She tossed the rose back up to join the other one and pulled him down atop her. His mouth ground into hers, demanding and passionate. Her own reply was just as intense. Tom's hands moved from her shoulders to her breasts then down to her hips. He pulled the gown up over her hips and caressed her inner thighs. She parted her legs but he refused to take what she was offering.

"You're a tease," she said breathlessly.

"Me?! What about you?" Tom bent over her and nipped at her shoulder, then he bit her there, leaving teeth marks but not drawing blood. She rolled them over so she was atop him. Straddling him, she quickly pulled off the gown before plundering his mouth with hers. Her lips moved down to his neck and then continued on to his stomach. She grasped his erection, stroking it.

Tom's hand dove between her legs and into the familiar warmth there. She shuddered. As he rolled them back over, B'Elanna brought her legs up and wrapped them about him as he thrust into her. Tom grabbed her hands in his, their fingers intertwined, and held them above her. She arched up, meeting his thrusts and rode the wave of the climax, feeling him shudder as he reached his own peak with one final thrust into her.

Twined together in a lover's embrace, they found bliss.


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* These passages are from Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo.