Tom sat in his darkened quarters, the soft light from the terminal at his desk casting the only light in the room. It reflected off his face. A face wiped clean of expression. It was the same face he had worn when exiting the chambers of the Federation court after being sentenced to Auckland for treason. Don't let them see how much you're hurting. Don't let them know it matters.
His commbadge signal jerked him out of his deep thoughts. He tapped it in reply. "Paris."
"Mr. Paris, I'd like to see you in my quarters. Five minutes."
Janeway had signed off before he had a chance to acknowledge the -- order? It had sounded more like a request actually, and why her quarters rather than the captain's ready room? Schooling his expression, he exited his quarters.
Kathryn Janeway looked up from the datapadd when her door chimed. "Come," she called, standing as Tom Paris entered. "Have a seat, Tom," she invited, indicating the couch. She took the chair next to the couch. "I wanted to talk to you privately about the messages everyone received from home today. Everyone but you." She leaned forward to place a hand on his knee. "I'm sorry, Tom."
He tried to smile and failed miserably. He knew he'd never be able to convince her it didn't matter so he didn't even try.
"I'm sure there's a very good reason why your father and the rest of your family didn't respond, Tom." Janeway tried to sound reassuring. There had to be a reason. She couldn't fathom a father who had lost his son not wanting to communicate with him once it was discovered that son was still alive. Kathryn could see the deep hurt in Tom's eyes even though he refused to acknowledge it.
"It's okay, Captain. It wasn't totally unexpected." A traitorous part of his subconscious made him add, "I guess."
Those two words told Kathryn Janeway just how deeply this had hurt him and how many past doubts had once again resurfaced. She didn't know what she could do or say that would make it better. There was nothing she could do or say. That was the problem.
Hearing the request in his voice, she focused on him. "Yes, Tom?"
"I'd appreciate it if we could keep this between the two of us. I'd rather the others didn't know I didn't receive a message from home."
Janeway's disturbed gaze rested on him for a long moment. "Even B'Elanna and Harry?" she finally asked.
"Especially B'Elanna and Harry." His tone was fierce. "Harry will be on cloud nine, having heard from his parents. And I suspect B'Elanna, even though she may not want to admit it, will be happy she heard from her mother."
"Please, Captain. I don't want their pity and I certainly don't want to take away from their excitement over having heard from home."
"All right," she reluctantly agreed. "It's your decision."
Nodding, Tom stood. As he turned to go, Janeway softly said, "If you decide you want to talk to someone about it, my door is always open to you."
He turned back toward her, an odd smile on his face. "Thank you, Captain. Maybe I just did receive my message from home after all. Good night."
She watched him exit, hoping that the family he had found here on Voyager would be enough to sustain him against the snub by his family in the Alpha Quadrant.
After a restless night of tossing and turning and staring at the ceiling above his bed, only to finally fall into a sleep haunted by images of his family, Tom strolled into the mess hall for breakfast, trying to look as if something hadn't put a big crack in his heart yesterday. As much as he wanted to avoid Harry and B'Elanna, he knew that would just raise their suspicions. Pasting a smile on his face, he grabbed some breakfast and joined them at their table.
As he sat, B'Elanna's eyes met his. He badly wanted to lean over and give her a quick kiss on the lips but they hadn't advanced to a point in their relationship yet where either was comfortable, especially B'Elanna, with public displays of their affections for each other. She did snake a hand across the table and briefly gave his hand a squeeze though. Harry pretended not to notice.
Harry and B'Elanna picked up their conversation where they had left off when Tom joined them. "Mom and Dad are doing well from the sounds of it," Harry continued. "Of course, hearing from me has set their minds at rest." Harry's voice dropped lower, losing some of its enthusiasm. "And Libby's moved on with her life. I guess I kind of expected that. It's been four years."
Tom searched his friend's face but Harry was already moving on past the topic of Libby. Apparently, Libby having found life after Harry had come as no surprise to the younger man Tom was glad to see. He watched as a grin creased Harry's face. "Mom asked if I had been practicing my clarinet. She has a one track mind sometimes." Tom had to smile at that, his own troubles momentarily forgotten.
"I was surprised to hear from my mother," admitted B'Elanna. Tom's eyes went to hers. They were alight with a strong emotion he hadn't seen there before. "She actually called me Daughter and didn't once make a reference to anything Klingon. She--" B'Elanna's voice caught.
"She sounded like a mother?" offered Harry with a smile.
"Yeah, Starfleet," agreed B'Elanna softly. "She sounded like a mother. My mother."
Silence reigned for a few moments at their table. Tom was genuinely thrilled for the both of them. So much so that he had forgotten about his own problems until Harry turned to him.
"You're being awfully quiet, Tom. What'd your family have to say?"
Aware of B'Elanna's gaze on him as well, Tom carefully kept eye contact with Harry, more than a little aware that a waver in his gaze at this moment would give all away. "About what you would expect," he replied vaguely, forcing a smile and hoping they would leave it at that.
"Your parents must be very proud of how you've turned your life around," offered B'Elanna quietly. Tom met her probing gaze and knew he was in trouble. He couldn't let her in without fear of being found out, but if he didn't let her in, she'd know something was wrong.
"What time is it?" he asked suddenly.
"0740," answered Harry. "Why?"
"Darn, I promised the Doc I'd stop by Sickbay to discuss my schedule with him before I reported for duty this morning," he fibbed. "I've got to run. See you both later."
Watching him hurriedly leave, B'Elanna and Harry shared a long look. "Something's wrong," said B'Elanna.
Harry nodded in agreement, his expression troubled. "You think this has something to do with our messages from home?"
"I'd bet on it. I'll talk to him later tonight about it. For now, let's just leave it alone. Maybe if we give him a little space, he'll come to us first."
Unfortunately, Tom hadn't talked to Harry or B'Elanna for the rest of the day. Harry had reported to B'Elanna that Tom had been unusually quiet on the Bridge during their shift. Both of them were sure it had something to do with the messages from the Alpha Quadrant.
Even since they had become close, Tom still hadn't confided much to B'Elanna about his father. He dropped tidbits from time to time that told her he hadn't had a good relationship with the elder Paris, but that was the extent of what he had said about his family. Having had enough of his silence, B'Elanna, determination in her step, marched toward Tom's quarters.
She hit his door signal harder than was necessary then paused to take a calming breath before barreling into his quarters. He wouldn't respond well to demands, she knew. They'd had a couple of disagreements since they had started seeing each other and she had quickly found out he didn't like to be pushed any more than she did.
The door slid open and Tom, still in his uniform, stood there. She shoved past him, not waiting for permission. Standing in the middle of his quarters, she turned around to face him. Arms crossed, she asked, "What's wrong?"
B'Elanna winced. That had come out sounding more demanding than caring. She tried to get control of her impulse to shake the information out of him. You care about this man, she told herself. Stop treating him like an adversary. She made a conscious effort, unfolding her arms when she realized she had taken up a defensive posture.
Watching his face, she could see he was struggling. He wanted to tell her. Whatever it was, he did want to tell her. She could see that.
"Nothing's wrong," he finally said. "What makes you think something's wrong?"
Now his arms were crossed over his chest in a defensive posture. This is ridiculous, thought B'Elanna. She'd discovered since she had been with Tom Paris that a little caring went a lot further than yelling did. She watched him warily eye her as she walked toward him. Then she surprised him by placing her hands aside his face, tenderly cupping it and pulling him downward. Her mouth touched his, lips moving lightly against his, before she released him. Her hands rested on his arms, which were still crossed over his chest. "Tell me what's wrong," she said softly. "Please."
Their eyes locked for a long moment. Dark brown ones probed shuttered blue ones. The blue ones shifted evasively before coming back for another look. The shutters were gone. He let her in.
"I didn't get a message from home."
His voice was so quiet it almost didn't register with B'Elanna. Then she saw the flare of pain in those blue eyes. She grabbed onto it, taking it into herself, absorbing it, wrapping herself around his pain and trying to cushion the blow to his heart.
Finally, a hand emerged from those crossed arms and she took it in hers and pulled him over to the couch. She pushed him down, then settled herself in his lap.
They silently savored the closeness until B'Elanna asked the dreaded question. "No messages at all, Tom? Not even from your mother and sisters? I can't believe your father would hate you that much. You're his son."
"Maybe, but I guess his silence says it all, doesn't it? Nothing I do will ever make up for my past mistakes."
B'Elanna leaned her head on his shoulder, one hand idly playing with the hair at his nape while the fingers of her other hand intertwined with his. "I can't tell you it doesn't matter, can I? Because it does. I know you told him about your accomplishments here in the Delta Quadrant in your letter home. You have nothing to be ashamed of, Tom. Your father is the one who should be ashamed. Ashamed that he can't see past his own anger to what a good person his son is."
Tom planted a tender kiss on her forehead but said nothing, so she said it for him. "I love you, Tom. Is it conceited of me to think that love can take away some of your hurt?"
His hand touched her chin, lifting her face to his. She saw that he had tears in his eyes but was fighting the urge to let them flow. "Not conceited at all," he told her gently. A finger traced her jawline reverently. He touched his lips to hers.
"I love you," he murmured and felt the crack in his heart lessen a little as their love filled it.
B'Elanna knelt by the couch, watching Tom sleep. They had spent the rest of the evening quietly holding each other. Sharing caresses and kisses and just enjoying being with each other. They hadn't talked of Tom's family again. His hurt was still too raw. She wanted to give him time before delving in any deeper.
Pulling a blanket over his sleeping form, she bent back down to lightly caress his forehead with her lips before quietly exiting his quarters.
B'Elanna detoured to Harry's quarters on the way to hers. She had to smile when she found him practicing his clarinet. He put it aside, however, when she entered and looked at her expectantly.
"Well?" he asked.
"Well what?" responded B'Elanna, even though she already knew what he was asking.
"Did you talk to him?"
"Harry, this stays between you and I, all right? I don't think Tom wants it widely known." Harry joined her on the couch, his features clouded by concern. Continuing, B'Elanna said, "Tom didn't get a message from home."
"Nothing?" he repeated in disbelief. At her nod of affirmation, he sank back on the couch. "No wonder he hasn't been himself. I know how nervous he was about the message he sent to his father and the rest of his family. I don't think it ever occurred to him that they might not respond at all. Is he all right?"
"He will be," responded a sober B'Elanna. "He has us. We're his family now, Harry. We just have to make sure he knows that."
Harry's expression softened and he sent a smile in her direction. "And he has you," he told her.
"And he has me," she returned fiercely. Her eyes met Harry's. "I love him, Harry."
"I know. You think I don't see the little touches you two exchange when you think no one's looking? Or how his eyes light up when you come into the room? Or how you lose that 'Don't bother me; I'm working' look of concentration when he's anywhere in close proximity to you?"
B'Elanna opened her mouth to retort but Harry beat her to it. "Love him, B'Elanna. He needs to be loved. So do you. You're good for each other."
The sincerity of his words struck her speechless. Harry picked up his clarinet and began to play a cheerful tune that was one of Tom's favorites. He kept playing until B'Elanna bid him good night.
The moment she was out the door he was at his terminal. "Computer, display the records of the Alpha Quadrant message retrieval-authorization Kim Pi Seven." As the readouts began scrolling across the screen, Harry settled in for a long night of research.
Four days passed before Harry found it. Four days in which B'Elanna had time to heal Tom's heart a bit more. Four days in which others began noticing the normally chatty Tom Paris had retreated into long silences. It didn't take most of them very long to put two and two together and realize that this had something to do with whatever message Tom had received from home. All, independent of the other, kept an eye on Tom, waiting for him to bounce back from whatever had pulled him down. Tom remained oblivious to it all, except for an awareness of the Captain's concerned gaze resting on him from time to time and B'Elanna's constant vigil.
Thank God he hadn't fallen in love with one of those cheerleader types, Tom thought. B'Elanna didn't push him, didn't insist he smile, didn't even insist he talk about it. What she did do was remain a steady constant in his life. Something he could hang onto and slowly, ever so slowly, he began to heal.
Then everything changed -- all because Harry had refused to give up.
Harry stared at the terminal in his quarters, surprised he had actually found something. A huge smile cracked his face as the rest of the sensor report began pouring in.
Janeway had been surprised when Harry had called her in her quarters after hours. He had remained vague about why he needed to speak to her, only insisting it was urgent. Pulling her uniform back on, she awaited the Ensign's arrival.
It didn't take long. Moments later, Harry Kim was in her quarters, datapadd in hand.
"What's this about, Harry?" she asked as she indicated he should take a seat on her couch.
"Captain," began Harry, "I'm aware that Tom didn't receive a message from home."
Janeway's head bowed in relief. "He told you."
"Not exactly. He told B'Elanna. She told me." Janeway almost smiled. Tom had chosen B'Elanna to confide in, although if she knew her chief engineer as well as she thought she did, it was probably more than likely that B'Elanna had forced the issue with Tom. However it had happened, Kathryn was gratified that Tom was no longer alone with his pain.
"Captain," continued Harry, "I just couldn't believe that Admiral Paris wouldn't try to contact Tom, so I did a little digging."
"You found something?" asked an intrigued Janeway as she sat in a chair next to Kim.
Harry nodded, excitement shining from his eyes. "There was, for lack of a better term, a hiccup in the transmission. It scattered some of the messages that came through and they weren't retrieved. I think I located all of them. Unfortunately, I can't get the original quality back on some of the messages and there may be short sections where the message was lost completely."
Harry smiled happily. "Tom's family did send him a message. Not only did they send him one, but so did Sandrine." Janeway couldn't help but smile at that. Harry sobered somewhat. "Tom had the bad luck to have not one but both his messages scrambled and lost by this hiccup in the system. I managed to recover most of Sandrine's message to him but I'm afraid there are a few small sections that were unrecoverable in the message from his family."
Janeway lay a hand on Harry's arm. "I'm sure he'll be thankful just to know there is a message, Harry."
Harry nodded in agreement. "I have nine other messages for various crewmembers that were lost in the scramble too."
"Why don't you see that they're distributed to the appropriate personnel, Harry," suggested Janeway. "After all, you found them; you should deliver the good news."
Tom was just exiting the bathroom, fresh from the shower, when his door chimed. He frowned. It couldn't be B'Elanna. She was working tonight. Pulling on his robe and running fingers quickly through his damp hair, he answered the door.
"Hi, Tom," greeted Harry. "Mind a little company?"
"Come on in, Harry."
Tom retreated to the couch, looking up in surprise when he realized Harry was still standing by the door, looking slightly nervous. "What's up?"
"Tom, don't be angry with B'Elanna. She told me . . ." Harry trailed off.
Tom frowned when he figured out what Harry was trying to tell him. "She told you about me not getting a message from home, didn't she?" His tone conveyed a hint of betrayal but when he next spoke it was with a sigh of resignation and no anger was evident. "Harry, don't worry about it. I'll survive."
Relaxing a bit, Harry joined Tom on the couch. "I couldn't believe your family wouldn't try to contact you, Tom. I--"
"Harry," interrupted Tom, "we all don't have wonderfully supportive parents like you do. And don't take that the wrong way. I'm glad you have such a good relationship with your parents. If anything, I'm envious."
"You don't have to be." Harry pushed the datapadd into his hands.
"I did a little digging. Seems there was a slight glitch in the transmission when we attempted to retrieve the messages from the Alpha Quadrant. I found eleven messages floating around that hadn't made it through the transmission. I managed to piece them together for the most part. There's two messages there for you."
Tom stared at the datapadd like it was a foreign object. "Two?" he finally asked.
Harry nodded. "One from Sandrine. It's almost wholly intact, and one from your family. There may be some small pieces missing from it. It was damaged in transit but I think I got most of the message."
Tom's eyes lifted to his friend's. "I don't know what to say." His gaze returned to the datapadd in his hand, obviously itching to get at the messages.
"Nothing to say," Harry told him softly. "I'll leave you alone so you can listen to them."
Harry was at the door before Tom worked the lump out of his throat so he could talk. "Harry. Thank you."
Harry gave him a smile and then was out the door.
Deciding he wanted to view the messages on the bigger viewer at his desk terminal, Tom sat at his desk and plugged the datapadd in. He hesitated. Which one first? He was a bit afraid to listen to the one from his family. What if his father refused to acknowledge his efforts to turn his life around? What if it made no difference to him? Tom tiredly rubbed at his eyes. What if what if what if. You can't keep this up. First you were upset because you didn't get a message from your family and now you're upset because you did. Not quite working up the nerve to listen to it yet, he turned instead to Sandrine's message.
He smiled when her image popped up on the viewer. "Thomas." Her eyes sparkled with laughter. "You are alive. I am so glad. And to hear you are doing so well. This was perhaps a good thing for you, no? Although I miss you terribly. And your B'Elanna sounds wonderful. You need a woman who will keep you on your toes, cheri."
He listened, soaking up Sandrine's voice, her smile, her sparkling eyes, as she told him of various goings-on at home. He could almost imagine he was sitting in Sandrine's again and she was teasing him. The holographic Sandrine's had come close but it still couldn't beat the real thing.
Sandrine talked at length, putting Tom at ease. Finally, she closed her message to him with: "You sounded happy in your message to me, Thomas. What you've found out there, so far from home, is perhaps the sense of belonging you've longed for ever since I've known you. Be happy, cheri."
He watched as she faded from view and realized he had a wide grin on his face. The grin slowly faded as he contemplated the other message. Taking a deep breath, he activated it. The first sight that greeted him was his sister Vicki's face, a big grin threatening to split it.
"Tom! Thank God you're all right! We'd given you up for dead. Not just you, but everyone on Voyager." She gushed on excitedly for a few more minutes in typical Vicki style before slowing down some. Her voice softening, she said, "I have a surprise for you. I have a son. He's two years old now, and he's the spitting image of you. Even Dad says so. I guess he should be since he was named after you."
Tom stilled in shock. His tomboy sister Victoria had finally grown up and was now a mother. That was enough of a shock in itself but the fact that she had named her son after him put the same grin on his face that had been on hers moments earlier. He watched as she pulled a tow-headed blue-eyed youngster onto her lap.
"Say hello to Uncle Tom, Tommy."
Tom watched in amusement as the youngster peered in puzzlement at the screen, obviously not seeing anyone to say hello to. A sticky jam-encrusted hand found its way to the monitor and smeared it with strawberry jam. Tom chuckled as Vicki pulled the hand back and tried to wipe the monitor clean. She peered through the monitor at him.
"See?" she exclaimed. "I told you he was just like you!" She planted a gentle kiss on young Tommy's head and looked back up, her expression more somber now. "Take care of yourself, Tommy. It sounds like you're happy. I hope so. I love you."
Suddenly young Tommy came to life. "Unc' Tommy! Unc' Tommy!" He squirmed restlessly in his mother's lap and the camera darkened on them as Tom, smile on his face, watched his sister trying to control the uncontrollable.
The screen brightened again and this time it was Tricia, his oldest sister. Just as she began speaking, the image fuzzed around the edges then disappeared in a wave of static. Tom played with the controls to no avail. Harry had warned him that some areas of the message might not be retrievable. He was about to give up when the screen suddenly cleared and Tricia's voice came through loud and clear.
"Be happy, Tom. This B'Elanna you mentioned several times sounds like a real firecracker. Maybe I'll get to meet her some day. Make it home safely to us, Tom. We all need to see you again. All of us," she stressed and he wondered if she had said something about their father in the portion of her message he had missed.
Patricia's image disappeared to be replaced by his parents. Both of them still looking as if they had always been meant to be together. It had never failed to amaze Tom that despite all the problems between his father and himself the one thing he had always been sure of was that his parents had a happy marriage. His mother was a strong woman who could not only stand up to Owen Paris when need be but would stand behind him in support unfailingly.
Tom stared at them. They had aged. Both of them. Had it been that long since he had seen them or had his mistakes and subsequent disappearance done this to them? His mother did most of the talking, updating him on family happenings and such. The message turned into static several times but Tom got the gist of it.
His mother's hand reached out toward the screen. Tom reached back. "Tom." She smiled. "It sounds like you're finally doing what you want to do. You're flying and I could tell from your message that you've found a purpose in life now. You were floating around lost for so long I couldn't help worry. And I'm thrilled you've found someone special to share your life with. I'm happy for you. So happy. We'll see each other again. I know we will. My motherly intuition tells me that; it's not just hope speaking."
She paused, turning to exchange a look with Tom's father. "I'm going to leave now, Tom. Your father wants some time alone with you. I love you, honey."
Tom felt tears drown his eyes as she disappeared from view. He longed to feel his mother's warm embrace. She'd always been such a demonstrative person with her affections. He had missed that.
His attention was suddenly riveted to the screen, intently focused on the elderly Paris' face and the eyes so like his in color but so different in personality. He was so focused on the screen that he didn't hear the door to his quarters slide open nor see the slim figure quietly slip inside and move to stand in the shadows.
"Tom," began his father, "a lot passed between us before you left. Most of it not good. I think I could have been a lot more understanding and that realization came to me too late. You were gone. Gone forever I thought." The image suddenly fuzzed out again into static.
"Nooooo!" hissed Tom, pounding a hand on the terminal. It didn't help any. The static continued. He stared helplessly at the screen, fearful that was all of his father's message he would receive, then the screen cleared and Tom watched in amazement as his father wiped at his eyes, brushing away tears. He'd never seen his father cry. Not ever. For me? Tom wondered, eyes wide. Smiling self-consciously, his father met his gaze. "I have to ask, Tom. I know you can't answer me, and I may never get the answer. I do know you have a big heart with the capacity for a lot of forgiveness. God knows you didn't get that from me," he mocked himself. He stared intently at Tom, not the laser blue stare that intimidated the hell out of Tom but an intense look that seemed to be trying to see into his soul. Then the look disappeared and the elder Paris' eyes brimmed over with more emotion than Tom could ever recall seeing there.
"Forgive me, son. Please. I wasn't a father when you needed one. I love you, Thomas." The screen went to static again. Tom sat there in silence, stunned by what he had heard and so full of emotions he couldn't sort them out. The static didn't clear up this time except at the very end of the message. There was a group shot of the whole Paris clan, including young Tommy, who was clinging to the Admiral's hand and looking adoringly up at Grandpa Paris. Owen Paris scooped the young boy up in his arms, fondly ruffling his hair. A changed man in more ways than one evidently.
The message ended. Tom quickly rewound it back to that last image of his family. Reaching out a hand to caress them, he whispered, "I forgive you, Dad." His breath caught in his throat and turned into a sob. Tears were rolling down his face, freely and unashamedly. He didn't even start when a pair of arms circled him from behind. He leaned into the familiar warmth.
"Harry told me," she breathed softly into his ear. "Are you okay?"
Something broke loose inside him and a great flood of tears suddenly overwhelmed Tom, but it felt good to finally release it. It was healing and the presence at his back never retreated. She crooned to him and soothed him with soft caresses. She was his rock. In her arms, everything fell into place and the crack upon his heart was healed. Healed by the love of his family in the Alpha Quadrant and by this woman who held him, not to mention the family he had come to treasure here on Voyager.
Home is where the heart is and his heart at that moment was overflowing.
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