by torch, 1997

Disclaimer: The characters and the setting belong to Paramount, upon whose rights I would never even dream of infringing. The idea of making those characters behave this way is solely mine, I'm afraid. This is rated R for language and descriptions of various sexual acts. It's a sequel to The wilder shores of love, The art of conversation and The name of the game (yeah, yeah, spot the trend, anyone...). Do not archive this story without permission.

The declaration of independence

"There's something missing here," Tom said critically, leaning back against the bar and studying the holodeck resort. His brows drew together and his eyes narrowed the way that signalled Deep Thought, and usually made prudent people duck and run for cover.

Harry just smiled. He'd decided long ago that when it came to Tom, he wasn't prudent and he didn't want to be. "Well, B'Elanna's not here playing with her towel boy," he said.

"That's not what I meant," Tom said. "It just lacks a certain something... ah. Computer, initiate subroutine Paris 42."

Nothing happened. Several crew members bustled past, got drinks from Neelix and settled down in a happy chatty group around a table. Harry looked quizzically at Tom, who smiled blithely back. Finally he asked, "That was it? I hate to tell you, but nothing happened."

"It's kind of slow," Tom said. "Let's go sit somewhere." Straightening up, he grabbed his padd and his drink off the bar and headed for a couple of deck chairs set to one side, where they would not be overheard or easily joined by anyone intent on company.

Harry smiled at Neelix, and followed Tom, taking pleasure in simply watching the way the man moved, but being discreet about it. They were still being 'just friends', keeping the same type of physical distance from each other as always. But they couldn't look at each other the same way they always had. Whenever their eyes met there was an added awareness there, all the more acute because it was still a secret. It had made for a bit of a distraction at the meeting this morning. Tom had blushed at least twice, which had made Harry squirm a little in his chair; he wondered how the captain had interpreted that.

Hopefully things would change soon enough. It was no use trying to keep secrets aboard this ship. You had to tell people what you were up to; it was either that or be found out. Tom knew that as well as anyone, and Harry felt confident that Tom would eventually realize that it applied to their present situation as well.

Their present situation. He smiled as he sat down, and looked at Tom again out of the corner of his eye. My love. My lover. Harry felt like laughing. "You look like a kid on Christmas morning," Tom's voice broke into his thoughts. "What are you thinking about?"

"You." They looked at each other and there was an instant of absolute silence and breathlessness; then at the same moment, they both looked away again. Harry wondered distantly how his clothes could feel too tight when he was wearing a tank top and a pair of shorts. Then he took a deep breath, and managed a disapproving look at the way Tom was concentrating on his padd. "Come on, put that away. You said you thought we ought to talk."

Tom raised an eyebrow. "I said that?"

"Yeah." Harry smiled at him. He was pleasantly surprised at how much easier it was getting to read Tom's real feelings through the casual-bordering-on-arrogant attitude he maintained.

The look on Tom's face was half dismayed, half genuinely teasing. "You're rubbing off on me."

"I should damn well hope so," Harry said.

Tom laughed. It was a real, honest, startled laugh that made some of the others glance their way. "Okay. Yeah. I did say that." Slowly, he looked more sober. "I need to tell you a few things, but I don't know where to start."

"At the beginning?" Harry suggested, leaning back. There was no use trying to rush Tom, or press him by asking questions. He had time, he could give Tom time.

"No. Last night, maybe." Tom looked to one side, hands shifting round the padd. The man thought with his fingers, thought in patterns of movement as though tracing the path of neurons firing in his brain. As though monitoring himself and his own responses the way he monitored the flight path of the ship. "But I don't have any words for that either. All the things that could have gone wrong didn't. So." His smile was slightly crooked, but at the same time there was a lightness about it as though some burden had been lifted. "I guess I don't have any excuses any more."

Harry wasn't quite sure what that meant, but there was another part of what Tom had said that concerned him more. "I wish you would tell me," he said, "what could have gone wrong. I don't want to do something accidentally that will, well, make you feel uncomfortable."

"I know," Tom said and there was the same sudden lightness in his eyes. "I know. You're not like that. And I'm different too, it's not the way it was years ago."

Tom fell silent, staring at nothing for a while, then shifted his gaze to Harry, but didn't meet his eyes. After a while Harry grew concerned. "What's the matter?"

"What?" Tom asked, sounding a little dreamy.

"You're staring."

"You have beautiful hands." Tom flashed him another smile. "I couldn't help looking at them. And then I remember what it feels like when you touch me, and I get distracted."

"If you keep looking at me like that, you're going to get a lot more than just distracted. You were going to tell me about your past," Harry prompted, trying to ignore the way his heart started to pound faster when Tom looked at him that way. He wanted to drag Tom back to his quarters and rip his clothes off. Taste his skin, lick him all over, drive him into a screaming ecstasy of surrender...

Wait a minute, he told himself through the tide of sudden wildness that threatened. Wait a minute. Where the hell did that come from? Meanwhile, Tom made a face. "Why did I ever say that?"

"So I wouldn't do something stupid by mistake." Harry thought about that, concentrated on it, drove other thoughts aside. "You know, you took a real risk last night, telling me I could do anything I wanted. If there are things that really bother you..."

"It depends on what you mean by taking a risk," Tom said. "I mean, I trust you not to hurt me. Physically. And then there are other things that would disturb me if someone else did them. But it's different when it's you."

Harry settled back and looked at Tom thoughtfully. Tom looked sincere, and Harry's initial reaction was to be pleased, but he needed to be sure of what Tom meant. "Why is it different?"

"Because it's you. Us." Tom made a vague gesture, connecting them, and Harry found himself smiling. "I guess it's easier if I just tell you what it was like then, and you'll see. But the point is that when it comes to us we're not interchangable, it's not a game with a lot of players, it's the two of us, you and me specifically. You said the only reason you did this was because you care about me."

"Because I love you," Harry corrected. Then he smiled again, looking at the expression on Tom's face. "Does that bother you? That I keep saying that?"

"In a way," Tom admitted, not meeting Harry's eyes. "It's like you're giving me something that I'm not sure I can handle."

Harry laughed. "That's the way I felt last night. Trust me on this, Tom: challenges are fun."

"Surely that's my line?" They laughed together. Tom leaned back in his chair, too, and put the padd aside finally. "I'm not sure where it starts, Harry. With Caldik Prime, I guess." Saying those words made his face change, his voice change. Harry felt a new kind of breathlessness now. He had a sudden impulse to back away, as if he had been offered to inspect someone's still-open wound. But he couldn't do that. "With the time right after, with me walking away with three people's lives on my conscience, booted out of Starfleet, booted out of my family, wanting nothing more than to get so drunk I wouldn't have to remember my name was ever Thomas Eugene Paris. So drunk I wouldn't have to be Thomas Eugene Paris ever again."

Harry made a listening sound. He didn't know what to say. He had somehow assumed that the pain and the bitterness had faded over the past couple of years; he'd never realized it was so vivid in Tom's mind still. Thinking about it he knew his assumption had been stupid. "Go on," he said softly, when he realized Tom was waiting for something, some kind of sign from Harry that it was all right, that Harry would listen.

"I guess I really wanted to get so drunk that I could forget I had been responsible," Tom said. "And that just wasn't possible. After a while drinking just seemed to make it all worse— You know," he almost interrupted himself, "the first time the captain put me in charge of anything I thought I was going to puke. All I knew was that I couldn't let her down. But god, I thought I was going to die, every time she gave me any kind of responsibility, every time I took something on."

"It never showed," Harry said. Then he thought about it. "Well, hardly ever. After you were captured by the V'diians..."

A visible shudder ran through Tom. "Yeah," he said. "I was responsible for Pete Durst, and he died. I didn't know when they took him away. I asked them to take me instead, Harry. I did." Tom pressed his lips together. "I hope I would have even if I'd known what was going to happen."

"Tom, it just happened that way. You can't take everyone else's risks for them. We're all in this together."

Tom looked at him and his eyes were shining with pain now, not laughter. "Do you know what it feels like to find that you have killed people not because you had to, and not because you didn't have a choice, but through sheer stupidity?"

"No," Harry said because Tom was looking at him, expecting an answer, "no, I don't. You know I don't. But Tom, it was a mistake. A really horrible mistake, but still—"

"It was," Tom said clearly, "an error in judgment. And I'll never know, don't you see, I will never know if anyone else would have been stupid enough to do the same thing, or if I'm the only one. Maybe if someone else had been where I was those people would still be alive. I wasn't smart enough to see the mistake before I made it, and I couldn't fix it. And they're dead. They'll always be dead no matter how much I regret it and no matter what I think now and no matter what I do—"

Harry reached out and touched Tom's hand, squeezed it firmly until Tom fell silent. "Yes," he said, because it was true. And he could almost feel Tom's pain, stinging on his skin and in his soul like the sting of nettles. "There's nothing you can do to change that." He swallowed. "But there's a lot you can do to change yourself. And you have, Tom."

"What, I'm not the same arrogant idiot any more?" Tom was looking furious and blinking back tears at the same time. At least Harry thought he was; it was getting harder to see Tom's face clearly. He frowned and looked around. The sun had almost set. The sun—? Oh. Tom's subroutine. But Harry couldn't comment on that because Tom went on, "At least I can talk about it now. Back then I couldn't even think about it."

"So that's why you drank," Harry said, remembering the Tom he'd met back in that alternate universe, the one he'd thought a cynical, cold-hearted wreck at first. Then he'd come to realize that nothing could make Tom cold-hearted, in any universe.

"Yeah. And when it didn't help to drink I went looking for something else that would take me out of myself. Found it, too. It was pure chance, I thought it was just another bar until I was dragged into the backroom." Tom tried to laugh. "I'd never seen so much leather in all my life."

"But," Harry wasn't sure what he wanted to say, the transition from Caldik Prime to the search for sexual oblivion had been so abrupt, "but was it, did they..."

Tom closed his eyes. The soft bluish shadows of early twilight smoothed out the lines of pain. "It was a nice place," he said, possibly the last words Harry had expected. "Clean. Safe. And I knew people went there for kicks, thrills, but to me it was comforting, somehow. Reassuring. All I had to do was walk in there, and all my choices would be taken away from me. I wouldn't even have to say anything."

I bet not, Harry thought, looking at Tom and assessing the probable effect of someone like him suddenly appearing, all beauty and vulnerability, in a place like that. Oh, I bet not. He tried to choke down the hot, irrational jealousy that threatened to take him over. This was years ago, they hadn't known each other. But he belongs to me, a voice whispered inside him. He's mine. No one else is going to touch him like that ever again. Harry valiantly attempted to ignore those words. "And that helped?" he asked instead.

"Yeah, for a while. All I wanted was not to have to think for a while. And when you're tied to the wall and all you can feel is the stroke of the lash or when you're on your hands and knees with one guy's cock up your ass and another in your mouth, rational thought is really far away."

"Who were these people, Tom?" Harry asked softly, anger pounding inside him. "The ones who touched you, took you, took you away?"

Tom shrugged, without opening his eyes. "I don't know. I never really knew anyone's name. And I liked to go blindfolded, then I wouldn't even have to recognize their faces afterwards; it wasn't as though I wanted to know them, you know? I didn't want them, I just wanted what they did to me. What the things they did did to me."

Harry started to feel uneasy. At least that took the edge off his anger. Not that he hadn't heard Tom say this before, if not quite so bluntly. But the comment about the blindfold really bothered him. And to hear Tom state again and again that he had completely separated sex and emotion made Harry wonder to what extent Tom still did that. Maybe every apparent softening of Tom's attitude over the past couple of days was nothing more than protective covering, a reflection of Harry's openly confessed feelings.

"You wanted to be out of control," he said, not quite a question.

"Yeah. Not the way people usually mean it. Not the way it was last night. I wanted to have absolutely no control whatsoever over what happened to me. Not to know whether the next sensation would be a stroke or a caress, not to be responsible even for my own physical responses any more. Sure, they made me scream, they made me come, but that was more of a side effect."

Harry made himself ask, "Do you miss it all, the full experience? The pleasure and the pain?"

"No." Tom looked unconcerned. "I never got into pain, as such. That was just the price I had to pay for getting what I wanted, and it was worth it at the time." Then he opened his eyes. "Harry, I meant it when I said I didn't want that again. I don't. What we do, it's something else."

"And you like it?" Harry held his breath.

Tom smiled. "Yeah. I like it." He seemed a lot more comfortable now, past the first wrenching pain of confession. "I'll even lead an away team these days if I have to. And the things you do to me, the way you make me feel..." He paused. "It's not just me, is it."

"No," Harry said honestly. "The way it makes me feel, I don't think I can describe it. It's not like anything else." And now it was starting to frighten him, too. He'd thought that he was doing this for Tom, because he loved Tom, and that his own pleasure and enjoyment was something of a side benefit, to use Tom's terminology. That was before the apparent simplicity of his feelings had been complicated by this, Harry made himself face the word, possessiveness. He remembered the first time on the beach and the words in his mind, I want you, be mine.

Tom was looking at him, eyes sparkling. "Well, I wouldn't want to be just another hour of your life, oh you'd just as soon read a book."

"You have a really short memory," Harry teased him distractedly.

"What do you mean?" Tom looked honestly bewildered.

And Harry, looking into blue eyes, felt a momentary relief at being able to say it again, as though he had to let it out regularly, like blowing off steam. "I love you."

Tom nodded. Then he blushed. Then he said, "But you don't just do this because you love me." His next gaze into Harry's eyes was a lot more direct, slightly embarrassed but at the same time demanding. "Do you?"

Shaking his head slowly, Harry realized his hand was still on Tom's, and he started to take it away, but Tom turned his hand over and linked his fingers with Harry's. It was almost dark now and the stars were coming out, and from a distance Harry heard some other crew members talking delightedly about this warm, beautiful night.

"No. I thought I did," Harry said. "But then I..." The uncertainty inside him suddenly rose to the fore, unstoppable, putting words in his mouth. "Tom, maybe we should stop this."

Tom gave him a look of pure, startled disbelief. "Harry, you've got to be kidding." Harry shook his head silently. "You spend all that time and energy persuading me, and now you want to back out?" Tom's brows drew together in a way Harry was starting to recognize. "It was a game, then."

"No!" Harry said quickly, closing his fingers more tightly around Tom's. "No, I'm not playing with you, I couldn't, I love you, I do love you. I think that's the problem."

"That you love me?" Now Tom just looked bewildered, not hurt.

"That I can't play with you." Harry swallowed. "I think maybe I made a mistake, Tom. I was so sure I could do this, so sure I could handle it, that it was easy because I love you and all I wanted was to please you. But—"

"But what?" Tom leaned forward. "You're not feeling guilty because you enjoy it too, are you? 'Cause Harry, I would hate like hell to think after what we've done that you didn't really like it."

"I like it," Harry said. "I like it too much." He felt himself blush, slowly, painfully, and his breath caught in his throat. "I want you so much, Tom, too much. You were right, I do want to possess you, make you submit to me. I want you to be mine." There it was, the blunt truth. And this wasn't what Tom wanted at all. "We'd better stop." He tried to work his fingers loose from Tom's tight grip.

"Wait," Tom said softly. "Just wait a minute, Harry. Listen to me." He paused, and rubbed his thumb across the palm of Harry's hand, a gesture intended as pure comfort. "So you're serious, so what? I'm serious about what I want out of this. It's kind of reassuring to hear that we're playing in the same league."

"But I don't think we are," Harry said. "You don't even know if you love me. And can you really go to bed with me again knowing that I don't just want you to surrender to your own desires, I want you to surrender to me; knowing that I want to have all of you, body and soul, inside and out, that I want you to let go completely not just because you need it, but because I need it, I need to possess you like that."

Tom made a small sound. The touch of his thumb on Harry's palm had changed from comforting to charged, erotic. "Harry," he said huskily, "if you keep talking like that I'm going to come in my pants." He chuckled, but there was an edge of truth in it. "I told you, we're playing in the same league now. You need it, I need it. I wouldn't have it any other way. Need it — hell — I need you." Taking a slow breath, Tom went on, "I don't think there's any turning back now."

His heart was still pounding and he'd forgotten how to breathe. Harry wanted so much just to say yes, to grab hold of Tom, kiss him, claim him. He dragged himself back from that precipice, barely, and said, "But Tom, it feels wrong. To be so possessive, it feels like insanity." He couldn't put it into words in any sensible way. "It's not right to want to own other people," he muttered, feeling like some awkward Federation anti-slavery proclamation.

"You're as bad as I am," Tom said. There was unsuspected tenderness in those words. "I trust you. You can trust yourself. If you can't, everything I've ever believed about you is wrong. Harry, would you ever try to make me do something against my will?" Harry shook his head, horrified. "Would you try to keep hold of me if I wanted you to let me go?" Harry shook his head again. "Would you try to keep me, if I wanted to be free?"

Swallowing the lump in his throat, Harry shook his head one final time. "No," he said. "I wouldn't. So just go, Tom, just go, okay?"

"But I don't want to," Tom said. "Not now. Maybe not ever." Against the backdrop of the soft warm night his voice sounded calm and reasonable. "I think there's an element of possessiveness in all love, Harry. And we back away from it and refuse to acknowledge it because we're taught to revere freedom above everything else, and we think that this possessiveness threatens the freedom we believe in. But you don't want to take anything from me, you want to give me something."

Harry shook his head slowly, not in contradiction, just in disbelief. "Tom, you were the one who said no, and I was the one who talked you into this, and look at us now. What the hell happened to you?"

"You," Tom said. "You happened to me." He lifted Harry's hand and kissed it gently, first the back, then the palm. "Harry, you make me feel that I belong. Not that I belong to you. But that I belong with you. And yeah, that scared me. I know now though, I know that I want it, I want to know you and be known by you in every possible way, so don't you dare back out."

That was it. Those words made it impossible for Harry to do anything else than slide out of his chair and kneel next to Tom's, to put a hand around the back of Tom's head and pull it down, to kiss Tom until he saw stars. "I love you," he said into the kiss, "I love you, I love you..."

And Tom was talking back just as silently, passionately, "Yes, Harry, yes, yes." When they finally broke the kiss they stared into each other's eyes for a long moment, and Harry felt love run through his soul like a river, a great crashing force, a frighteningly strong force, and he started to laugh as he surrendered to it. It was a lot more fun not to be afraid. "You're laughing," Tom said dreamily, delightedly, "you're beautiful when you do that."

Harry tried to catch his breath. "Is it just my imagination or is everyone staring at us?"

"They probably are. I say we get out of here while we still have our clothes on." Tom still looked unconcerned, though — Tom, who had asked only two days ago if they could keep this private for the time being. Now he was kissing Harry with sweet abandon in one of the most public places on the ship. "Or do you want us to stay, really give them something to stare at?" A mischievous wink went a long with that question. "I've never done it in a deck chair."

It was too much to believe. Almost too much to believe. Harry smiled, and got to his feet a bit shakily, and Tom rose out of his chair as well. They were standing too close to each other, they had to kiss again, share the heat, the longing. Finally Harry dug his fingers into Tom's shoulder and pried them apart. "Let's get out of here while I can still walk."

Tom nodded and they let go; it was almost painful not to be touching any more as they walked towards the exit. Harry was aware of nearly everyone watching them as they went and he was willing to bet that as soon as they'd left the noise level would rise by several hundred percent. He'd have to remember to ask B'Elanna tomorrow what, exactly, people had said. Right now he had more important things to deal with.

As if reading Harry's thoughts, Tom half-turned towards him and said, "We haven't slept in my bed yet."

They left the warm holodeck night behind and stepped out into the brightly lit corridor, and Harry smiled. "Tom," he said, "sleep is the last thing on my mind."

* * *

The reputation of a rake

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