by torch, March 1997

Disclaimer: I borrowed the characters and the setting from Paramount — without permission, but with much affection and good if not honorable intentions. Title stolen from Will S. This is a sequel to The wilder shores of love, The art of conversation, The name of the game, The declaration of independence, The reputation of a rake and The rewards of good behavior. Yes, I know everyone thought Rewards was the last one. *hangs head in shame* Sorry.

Dedicated to Susie (who screamed at the title) for being such a wonderful beta reader all the way through the series, and to everyone who's encouraged me along the way with creative, intelligent feedback and persistent enquiries about when the next story would be finished. I've had a great time, but this really is the end. Do not archive this story without permission.

The marriage of true minds

He closed his eyes and tilted his head back, letting the warm water pour down across his face, waking him up slowly. Harry couldn't remember his dreams, but they had been good ones. All the same, something very like nervousness had woken him up early, when he had a day off and could sleep for as long as he pleased. He'd lain for a while enjoying Tom's warm presence, then he'd slipped out of bed and gone into the bathroom.

Standing under the shower spray, he tried to think calmly about things and go through it all again, but his thoughts kept scattering, blowing like fallen leaves through his mind, so he concentrated on the water and on taking care of his body, even if his mind wasn't cooperating. As if to compensate, his body was actually a little too awake. Last night they'd just kissed each other and fallen asleep, both of them tired and comfortable with being held. Now, well, it was morning and he'd woken up with a hard-on and it wasn't going away.

Harry trailed a hand down his chest, teasing a little, as a lover might; as his lover, in fact, frequently did. He stroked his erection slowly, while his mind showed him images of Tom, some of his most treasured memories. Tom sprawled on the couch in Harry's quarters, his clothes undone, panting and flushed as he stroked himself to orgasm. Tom wearing a blindfold, naked and gorgeous, quivering as he waited for the next touch. Tom cuffed to the headboard of a large bed, writhing against the bonds, his whole body begging silently.

A breath of cooler air wrapped around him and he heard, or maybe just sensed, his lover's approach. Moments later he wasn't alone any more. Tom stepped right in under the warm spray and put his arms around Harry, mumbling something in his ear that might have been "Good morning."

Harry hugged Tom right back, rubbing his cheek against Tom's shoulder and breathing deep of his early morning scent. "Morning, love. I thought you were going to sleep for another couple of hours."

"I was," Tom said, his voice a little clearer now. "But then my awesome psychic powers told me there was a sexy guy in the bathroom jerking off, who could use a little company." He bit at Harry's earlobe, then without warning sank to his knees and sucked Harry's cock into his mouth, going down on it so fast Harry let out a yelp of shock and delight and leaned back against the tiled wall for support.

Oh, Tom, he thought, suddenly those were the only words his mind could form, oh Tom, Tom... the sensations flooded him, teasing tongue and lips and teeth, and at the same time love so fervent it was almost painful. He wanted to come. He wanted to cry. Nothing could be this perfect.

Tom pulled back, running his tongue around the head of Harry's cock in a leisurely fashion. Water poured down on his head, beaded on his eyelashes, ran down his cheeks, dripped from the tip of his nose. Harry watched breathlessly, intensely aware of his lover; there was nothing in the universe but Tom and exquisite pleasure.

"I was thinking about you," he managed to say though he was unable to stop his voice from coming out as a low growl, "I was thinking about — you and me — oh god, Tom, you, you're the... oh!" Words faded into moans, and he let go of his thought processes with no regrets whatsoever. Harry couldn't tell if he was breathing air or water. His fingers pressed against the smooth tiles so hard he wouldn't have been surprised to find indentations later.

And then he came, hard, and hit his head against the wall.

Tom smiled as he got to his feet again, blinking the water out of his eyes. "I think I'm addicted," he said. "You taste so good." He drew Harry into an embrace again and stroked the back of his head. "Did it hurt?"

"Hurt?" Harry blinked, too, and recovered full sight to find that Tom was laughing at him. He growled and slid a hand across Tom's chest, found a nipple and pinched it. Then he leaned in and kissed Tom deeply, tasting himself, while his hand moved down to wrap around Tom's cock.

When they broke the kiss Tom had his eyes closed and was pushing slowly into Harry's hand. Harry set a slow pace, licking and nibbling at Tom's throat and chest. It felt strange: Tom wasn't supposed to taste of water. He started to use his teeth, biting gently at neck and shoulders. Tom was humming softly under his breath, little noises of aroused approval. Harry loved the sounds Tom made in unguarded moments, and he stroked Tom a little faster just to get him to moan out loud.

Trailing his fingers down Tom's spine, Harry watched his lover's face — lips parted, eyes tightly closed. He reached out blindly for the bottle of bath oil that was, for once, standing where it should, and managed one-handed to coat his fingers with it. It was unscented, and Tom didn't appear to notice anything happening until Harry slid his fingers into the crack of Tom's ass and started to stroke the opening.

"Mmm." Tom shifted his hips, spread his legs a little. Harry worked a finger into him, and Tom gasped and then coughed from the water. Harry paused. "No," Tom hissed. "Don't stop!" He arched back, moving against Harry's probing finger. "More, please, lover."

Harry nodded, forgetting that Tom couldn't see him with his eyes closed. He worked in a second finger and stroked in deeper, in time with his strokes on Tom's cock. Then he rubbed against the prostate, and Tom reached out blindly to support himself against the wall.

Alternating between slow strokes and faster ones, teasing and tormenting, Harry watched his lover's face and saw everything he did reflected there. He couldn't imagine a more beautiful sight existing anywhere in the universe. Tom licked at the drops of water on his lips, moaned, and bucked more forcefully against Harry's fingers. Harry smiled, and speeded up the pace. "Go on, love," he said softly, "come for me. Show me how good it feels."

Tom made another sound and tilted his head back, spreading his legs yet a little wider. Then as Harry slipped in a third finger, Tom froze, and clenched down, and came in long silent shudders, almost falling against the wall and gasping for breath when it was over. Harry wrapped his free arm around Tom to steady him, then carefully slipped his fingers out and held his lover tight.

"One day," Tom said against his neck after a while, "one day one of us is going to fall in here and break his neck." Then he laughed. "It's a wonderful morning, isn't it?"

"Mm hm," Harry agreed, and kissed the spot right beneath Tom's ear. "Liked that, did you?"

"I like everything you do to me," Tom said, straightening up enough that he could lick at Harry's lips, and then kiss him thoroughly. "Although—" He broke off, and his already flushed face turned a deeper shade of pink.

"Although, what?" Harry teased. He stroked Tom's shoulder. Then another possibility struck him. "Tell me, love. If there's something you don't like, speak up. You know I'd never—"

"No, that's not it," Tom said quickly. "It's, there's something I want you to do, but I don't know how to ask for it."

"Oh." To judge by the look on Tom's face, it had to be something pretty special. Harry wondered if Tom really expected him to say no. "It's about time you asked for something," he said. He very much enjoyed anticipating Tom's desires, surprising him and finding new ways to push him closer to the edge, but to fulfill one of his lover's fantasies... Harry felt a spark of anticipation. "And you know I'll do anything you like. What is it?"

"I think we have to hurry up," Tom said. Even the tips of his ears were pink. "I'll tell you later." Harry nodded; he didn't want to push, so he contented himself with biting Tom's neck a little before letting him go.

They cleaned up, and dried each other with loving care. Tom shaved, and Harry tried to get his hair to behave. Then he pinched one of Tom's shirts to wear with his jeans. Buttoning it, he looked up to find Tom watching him, one eyebrow raised. "It's not a good color on you anyway," Harry said and ducked as Tom threw his uniform at him. "What, you think we should be formal?"

Tom shook his head. "I feel like I live in that uniform. Besides, this is—" He broke off, but Harry knew what he meant. This was private. And Harry completely approved of Tom out of uniform, wearing grey and dark brown, a nice tight sweater that hugged his chest and shoulders without those stupid uniform shoulder pads spoiling the line.

Heading for the door, they stopped at the same time, looking at each other, then moved into a soft embrace and a sweet kiss, a last moment of private tenderness before going out to face the world. Well, their little world, at least. Harry nibbled at Tom's lower lip and then reluctantly let him go. "Breakfast."

"I already had breakfast," Tom said innocently, but he turned to the door and dismissed the privacy lock, and they walked out. There was hardly anyone around, and when they made it to the mess hall, that was almost empty, too; they were about an hour behind the alpha shift breakfast rush. That was relaxing, but it also meant there wasn't much food left.

Neelix popped up behind the food counter in his usual alarming jack-in-the-box way and smiled exuberantly at them. "Well, well! I didn't think you two would make it out of bed for another hour!"

Harry wanted to say that he would infinitely prefer that Neelix didn't think about the two of them in bed in the first place, but then he remembered that the Talaxian actually had a reason for wondering about their hours this morning. "We're not going to miss it," he said. "We'll be on the holodeck in an hour. Is this all there is for breakfast?"

"No, not at all!" Neelix beamed some more. "I just this minute took some leechberry tarts from the oven."

He produced a tray of some quite nice-looking tarts, but Harry still hesitated. "Leechberry?" Picking up a Sekel roll instead, he sniffed it and then bit into it. Tom was evidently feeling more adventurous, or perhaps didn't care much what he ate; he finished off three leechberry tarts while Harry tried to eat his roll. Finally he realized he just wasn't getting anywhere with it. He drank his tea and looked at Tom. "Let's go, okay?"

"Okay," Tom said. They shared a quick smile, and then left the mess hall in silence with a nod at Neelix, and didn't say anything until they were standing outside the captain's ready room.

Harry discovered to his amazement that his hands were shaking, and it was Tom who touched the door chime. The captain's voice told them to step inside, and Tom squeezed his hand gently before they walked in.

Janeway looked up at them and smiled. "I didn't expect to see you two here today. What can I do for you, gentlemen?"

Harry opened his mouth, but the words caught in his throat; he was startled at how awkward this was making him. Not being able to eat breakfast was one thing, but he'd thought he had more backbone. Tom shot him a sideways look that teased and reassured.

"Well, captain," Tom said, "we have a request to make."

"Go ahead," she said with an encouraging gesture. It was probably a good thing that it was a slow day, Harry thought. And they'd caught her in a good mood, that much was obvious. And—

He took a deep breath, and managed to say it before Tom beat him to it. "We'd like to live together."

There was a moment of silence. Janeway leaned back in her chair and looked at them, then got to her feet. "You'd like to live together," she repeated, walking out from behind her desk. Harry fought the urge to turn and run as she got closer. "I assume you are aware of standard Starfleet policy on this issue."

"Yes, ma'am," Harry said. They most certainly were; they'd been over all this already. Starfleet normally only granted shared living quarters to married couples. Since most married 'fleet couples chose not to serve together, shared quarters were a rarity in Starfleet. Under ordinary circumstances Harry would never have dreamed of making a request like this of a Starfleet captain. But Voyager's situation was anything but ordinary.

"Harry, if your next sentence is going to include the word 'precedent,' don't say it." But the captain was smiling at him. "I am aware that there are couples on board this ship who are for all intents and purposes living together already, present company included. And I'm prepared to turn a blind eye to that, in the interests of preserving everyone's sanity."

"Then, captain—" Tom didn't get any further before she turned a rather more stern look on him.

"Hear me out. Turning a blind eye to what is already going on is one thing. If I were to officially sanction this behavior by granting a living quarters transfer, other people would follow in your footsteps, and then when relationships changed there would be yet another request. Quite apart from the infraction on Starfleet rules, we are looking at something that has the potential to mean a lot of additional work for someone."

"I don't honestly think so, captain," Harry said softly. "Not that many people are prepared to commit enough to actually make the request of you. And you could always make it more difficult by talking sternly to them and making them fill out a proper application."

"That ought to weed out the faint of heart," Tom added with a cheeky smile.

The captain smiled back. "And leave only the bravest and most devoted?" Her smile faded into friendly solemnity. "I have vowed to uphold Starfleet standards on Voyager, and that means enforcing Starfleet regulations. Every time a rule is bent aboard this ship, if not broken outright, we distance ourselves a little more from the home and culture we are trying to get back to, no matter how rational that rule infraction might seem. I'm not taking your request lightly, but I need to think about it and weigh the consequences."

"Of course," Harry nodded. "That's all we can ask. And we're not making this request lightly, either."

"I understand that." She looked from Tom to Harry and back again. "I will let you know as soon as I have decided." They nodded. "Dismissed," she said with a smile.

* * *

"What do you think?" Tom said as they were in the turbo lift. "At least she didn't say no straight away."

"No, she didn't." Harry didn't know whether to be more amazed by that, or by the fact that he himself had made a request that went against Starfleet regulations. The Delta quadrant certainly had changed a lot about him. He looked at Tom and debated with himself. "We've put her in a tricky position, Tom."

Tom smiled a little. "She's the captain. It's her job to make tough decisions."

"Yes," Harry agreed. "Still, maybe we should think about—"

"Harry." He saw the sudden tension in the way Tom's face grew still and unreadable. "We've already talked about this."

He nodded. They had, and now Tom was getting uncomfortable again, and so was Harry. This was the closest they'd ever come to having a fight. Harry bit his lip; he wasn't going to say it again, then. Instead he brushed his fingers lightly against the back of Tom's hand. "I need to go to my quarters and get a few things. I'll see you with the others in twenty minutes, okay?"

"Okay." Tom nodded and smiled as the lift stopped and Harry got out. He headed for his quarters at once, went inside and started getting things together. He was bringing his clarinet, of course, and the blue blanket, and there was something he'd promised Jenny she could borrow, but what was it, again...

Harry stopped what he was doing, and stared down at the blue blanket in his hands. He must have done something wrong, he thought, but he didn't know what, and Tom didn't want to talk about it. It was surprising somehow, that it hurt so much. He took a deep breath, and dismissed it from his mind, or tried to. Blanket, clarinet, if there was something else Jenny could just ask him for it later.

He looked around his quarters. Surprisingly neat; they hadn't been here much lately. Tom had left a padd and a sweater lying on the couch. His plants needed water. Harry walked around slowly and tidied things up, saved the plants' lives, moved the padd from couch to table so no one would sit on it by mistake. He didn't know what to do with the sweater; he folded it, rubbed his cheek against it, then smiled and put it on top of a pile of other sweaters in his closet. He'd just see how long it took before Tom missed it.

Then he picked up the things he needed and headed out the door again, and took the turbolift to deck six. Kes was already waiting outside the holosuite, and he'd barely said hello to her when Megan, Jenny and Geron arrived, talking and laughing. Harry smiled at them. Geron still looked a little shy when he was seen in public with the two vivacious Delaney sisters. But he also looked rather pleased.

"Hey, Harry, isn't that Tom's shirt?" Megan asked, her eyes sparkling. "Are you stealing the clothes off the poor man's back now?"

"Every chance I get," he told her, and dodged quickly when she would have tickled him. Tom and Neelix came walking from the turbolift, carrying a picnic basket and a square bag that clinked in a promising way.

"Isn't this just a wonderful day for a picnic!" Neelix enthused as they got closer.

"Yeah, the weather's perfect," Tom deadpanned.

"The weather is always perfect on the holo—" Neelix glared up at Tom. "There's no need to get like that, Tom Paris. I meant that it's a wonderful day because we could all get time off at the same time."

"Sorry, Neelix." Tom smiled at all of them, but with a special smile for Harry that made him feel warm inside. He wondered if Tom would always do this to him, tomorrow and the day after and fifty years from now. He hoped so. Meanwhile, Tom tapped at the holodeck panel. "Computer, run program Paris 1013, subroutine CB42JA."

When the doors slid open they were looking at an Earth forest in the summertime, somewhere in the northern hemisphere. Giant oaks rose with solemn dignity towards a clear blue sky, and the fresh green grass was dotted with flowers. A path led from the door where they were standing straight into the heart of the woods. "It's beautiful," Kes said softly.

"Let's go, then." Tom ushered them all inside. "Just follow the path." He fell into step beside Kes, who started asking him about all the plants and the occasional sign of wildlife. Harry saw two squirrels playing high in one of the trees, and smiled. The weather was perfect, of course, sunny and warm and with a mild breeze blowing.

"This is so Robin Hood." Jenny tucked a hand under his arm. "It's amazing. You okay, Harry? You look so serious."

"I'm smiling," he protested.

"Well, there's smiling and then there's smiling, you know?" She smiled up at him as if to demonstrate. "I'd ask if you and Tom had a fight, but after that mushy look you gave each other out there, I guess that's out of the question."

"Yeah," Harry said and looked hard at the squirrels. Jenny's hand bit into his arm. "Ow!"

"Right," she said, dragging him off down a narrower path to the right, "we're taking a detour. I'm sorry I haven't been around much lately, Harry." She was almost pushing him forward through the summer sunshine. This path looped its serpentine way through a tangle of blackberry bushes and down into a narrow ravine where it followed a clear stream. "It's just that, well."

"You've been busy chasing cute Bajorans," Harry filled in for her. "You don't have to apologize, Jen. I know what I was like when Tom and I were getting together."

"You're still like that," she teased, letting go of him when the path turned too narrow. "It hasn't been that long, you know." They squeezed through the gap at the end of the ravine and found themselves at a small still pond, its surface shining with reflected leaves and the golden glitter of the sun. Jenny settled down on a sun-warmed rock and tugged Harry down too. "So tell me what's going on."

"I'm just a bit nervous," Harry said. He debated with himself whether to speak up or not. But Jenny was a good friend, and he really felt that he needed to talk to someone. "Tom and I went to the captain this morning and asked for permission to share quarters."

"What?!" Jenny gave him a wide-eyed look. "But that's against regulations." Harry nodded. "Besides, you are living together. More or less."

"I know." Harry sighed. He pulled up one leg and propped his chin on his knee. "We just want it to be for real. More instead of less." He couldn't help smiling as he added, "Not to mention, it might convince a few people that Tom's not out to break my heart after all."

Jenny sat silent for a while. "I know it's none of my business," she said after a while, "but if you're that serious about it, then why not just get married? Isn't that the easiest solution? Then she'd have to grant you shared quarters, and there are all kinds of nifty legal benefits."

Harry sighed. There it was. "Tom doesn't want to marry me," he said. He was shocked to hear how forlorn he sounded.

Jenny turned her head sharply and looked at him. "Why not?" she asked.

"I don't know." Picking up a stone, he rubbed his thumb over it before tossing it into the pond and watching the rings on the water. "He just won't."

She tucked her hair back behind her ears. "You asked him to marry you, and he said no?"

Harry nodded glumly. Jenny put her arm around his shoulders and gave him a comforting squeeze; he turned to face her. "I can't keep asking him," he said. "I don't want us to have a fight about this. At least he agreed that we could ask the captain about living together."

"Well," Jenny said, putting on what he called her reasonable voice, "maybe it's a bit early to talk about marriage. You haven't been together that long, and..."

"And it's Tom, and everyone knows what Tom is like," Harry filled in for her. He couldn't stop the sharpness that tinged his words. Jenny tilted her head to one side and looked at him. "Sorry," he said. "It's just..."

"Are you still getting that?" she asked neutrally. He nodded. They were. People had grown more discreet about their comments, but Harry had become proficient at picking out the hints. He knew there was a betting pool going on when exactly the relationship would end, although his friends were too kind to mention it. Most of the time, it didn't concern him. But now... Jenny rubbed his shoulder. "Don't let it get to you, honey. You know he loves you, you can afford to let them be wrong."

Harry swallowed. Right. He knew that. Didn't he? Not that Tom had ever said it, but Harry knew it anyway. Or thought he did. He'd been so sure, and now he was confused. It wasn't just the fact that Tom had declined to marry him; it was Tom's blank refusal to even discuss the idea.

"I'll try to take things easy," he said. "I'm even prepared for the captain to turn down our request. It is against regulations, and she's bent so many rules already. We just thought it was worth a try."

Jenny nodded. "Well, I hope it works out for you," she said. Then she started to get to her feet. "I think we'd better go find the others. They're going to think we eloped or something."

"Right," Harry said guiltily, and stood up too. He took a last look at the beautiful scene before them and then followed Jenny back up the narrow ravine. "So why don't you tell me," he said to her back," how you're getting on with Geron?"

"Well." Jenny giggled, and regaled him with a number of intimate details as they walked. Harry was glad she was in front of him so she couldn't see him blush. When they got out of the ravine and could walk side by side again, she tilted her head and looked at him. "How come you never tell me any details about your sex life?"

"I don't have one," he said immediately. "Tom doesn't believe in premarital sex. That's why I really want him to say yes."

Jenny was still laughing when they made it to the glade where the others had spread out blankets and were unpacking the picnic basket. Harry went straight to Tom to give him a hand with the plates and glasses. "Sorry, we got sidetracked."

"Did you go chasing a squirrel?" Tom asked him, smiling, and kissed him briefly. Harry felt his heart melt all over again. "There's a lake down that path," Tom raised his voice to address everyone, "in case you want to go swimming." Kes immediately jumped to her feet, and tugged Neelix along. He looked a bit hesitant. "I cheated on the water temperature," Tom added helpfully, and Neelix allowed himself to be persuaded.

Harry sat down on the blanket and leaned back against a sturdy oak trunk, soaking up the sun. It felt good to get warm. He dug out a padd and started to read. Megan, Jenny and Geron were playing a lazy game of some kind, tossing a ball back and forth. Tom joined them for a while, then he came to lie on the blanket too. He sprawled comfortably in the sunshine, pillowed his head on Harry's leg and fell asleep.

When Neelix and Kes came back from their swim, they settled down and started handing around food. The leechberry tarts made an appearance again, and Harry took one, reasoning that it hadn't killed Tom yet, so it probably wouldn't kill him either. To his surprise, it was delicious. He sat watching his sleeping lover until he couldn't resist the temptation to start running his fingers through Tom's hair.

"Harry, do you want more lemonade?" Kes held out a glass to him, and he leaned forward carefully and took it out of her hand. "Maybe we should wake Tom up before we finish all the food."

"Maybe," Harry agreed. He brushed his thumb along Tom's hairline. Yes, it was definitely getting higher. He couldn't help wondering how Tom would cope when this became more obvious.

"What are you smiling at?" Tom asked sleepily, blinking against the sunlight.

"Tell you in a few years' time," Harry said. "Sit up and eat something." Tom rolled up on his elbow and accepted an egg salad sandwich and a couple of tarts. Neelix beamed; he seemed to be convinced that Tom needed to eat about twice as much as he usually did. Harry wasn't at all sure of that, but he didn't mind helping Tom get an extra workout to counter the extra calories.

Megan had got hold of some chocolate and was feeding it indiscriminately to Geron and Jenny, and then to Kes as well. Harry laughed at the sight. He rubbed at his leg; it had fallen asleep. Standing up, he stretched and announced, "I'm just going down to the lake."

"I'll go with you," Tom said immediately and got to his feet with the last fruit tart still in his hand. They strolled off together, and Tom took Harry's hand in his. When they were out of sight, he looked despairingly at the tart. "Sometimes when Neelix is around I feel like a pig waiting for Christmas."

Harry choked with laughter. They crossed a low ridge and came out by the lakeshore. It was stunningly beautiful here, too, and Harry stopped to admire it: the trees, the wide glittering sweep of water, the beach where small waves lapped invitingly against rocks and sand. He turned to Tom and kissed him. "This is lovely," he said softly. "Thanks for sharing it."

Flinging the leechberry tart away, Tom tugged Harry into his arms. "Why wouldn't I share?" he asked, lips against Harry's temple. "Everything that's mine is yours, Harry, you know that."

Harry held on to Tom's shoulders and leaned back. "Then tell me something, Tom. I just want to know, okay?" The expression on Tom's face said he already knew what was coming. Harry took a deep breath and said it anyway. "Why won't you marry me?"

Tom sighed. He turned his head and looked out over the lake. His profile was coldly perfect and rather forbidding. Harry waited. After a while, Tom turned back to him again. "You really haven't thought about it, have you, Harry?" There was a hint of roughness in his voice that hadn't been there in a long time. "You haven't thought about what it will be like when we get back again. Are you prepared to waltz up to your parents and tell them you married a convicted traitor while you were away, and oh, Mom, he just went back to jail again, but I'll introduce you when he gets out?"

"You are not going back to jail again," Harry said firmly. "Not if the captain has anything to say about it, and not if the review board has a grain of sense."

"And it would wreck your career," Tom went on as if he hadn't heard. "You'd do better to keep your record clean. They couldn't really hold it against you, of course, it would never be said in so many words, but you could kiss your chances of a good commission goodbye."

"Tom," Harry said, keeping his voice in check, "I think you haven't quite understood what my priorities are. Do you seriously believe that when we get back I'll let you go back to prison, and go off to take a new commission without a second thought, whether we're married or not? Are you out of your mind?" He became aware that his fingers were digging into Tom's shoulders, hard. "The only way we're going to break up is if you leave me, because I'm sure as hell not leaving you."

Tom stared down at his feet. "What if I do leave you?" he said, his voice so low Harry had to strain to hear. "Harry, I'm not — I'm not very good at this kind of thing. I've screwed up every single time so far. I've been engaged once, you know, to Ricky. It wasn't a good idea. I felt trapped after five minutes, I started sleeping around..."

"And are you planning to start sleeping around now?" Harry couldn't help but remember that damn betting pool.

"No," Tom whispered. "But I never mean to. Hell, Harry, I never meant to get kicked out of Starfleet. I never meant to make such a mess of joining the Maquis. Maybe I'm jinxed. I know how it goes. I try to commit to something and it just falls apart, doesn't matter if it's personal or professional, things just go straight to hell."

Harry took a deep breath. "Tom." He shook his lover slightly. "Tom, you're being..." He hesitated for a moment, trying to choose the best word, and finally settled on, "paranoid. You can't believe that." Another thought struck him. "You don't believe that, you know you don't. You've made a commitment to Voyager now, and to Captain Janeway, and it's working out, isn't it?"

"That's different," Tom said. "It's not supposed to be forever. It's only until we get back." He still wouldn't meet Harry's eyes.

"Well, that might not be for another seventy years," Harry pointed out. "So it could well be a lifetime commitment. Pretty much like getting married, you don't know if it's going to last forever or end tomorrow. I mean, one of us could die any time." Tom's hands suddenly closed around his arms, hard. "But it's okay, Tom. If this is what you feel like, it's okay. Just remember that I'll make you any promises you'll let me, Tom. Whatever you agree to, it will be enough."

Tom made a choked sound, let go of Harry and turned away. He started to fling his clothes off and left them in a pile on the beach as he strode into the water. Harry stood watching him, wondering what to do. After a while he undressed as well and followed Tom. The water was quite warm and it reminded him of Zerdea. Tom was swimming straight out, but Harry was content to splash around in shallower water and wait for him to come back.

It took a while before Tom turned around and headed back to shore. Harry lay floating, trying to let the warmth of the sun relax him. He didn't know what to think. He had hoped that Tom had stopped seeing himself as a failure, as a loser; that the scars from Caldik Prime and the court-martial had started to fade. Tom had done so much good work aboard Voyager, had earned everyone's respect — at least professionally, Harry amended.

Maybe it was too soon, he thought with a sigh. Maybe Tom just needed to grow accustomed to being loved. He could ask again later. In a year or so. The thought of having that year made him smile a little, feel a little better. Tom wasn't really going to leave him, was he? Harry shook his head resolutely. They belonged together. Tom had already acknowledged that. He just needed time to really get used to the idea.

Harry was distracted by Tom coming up to him and running a hand across his chest. He rolled over and grabbed hold of Tom's shoulders, and they shared a wet hug. "Harry," Tom whispered, nibbling at his lips, kissing him tenderly. "Oh, Harry."


* * *

It was around 2000 hours when they walked into Sandrine's together: Harry, Tom, Megan, and Kes. Neelix was still in the kitchen tidying up after the dinner rush, and Jenny and Geron had volunteered to stay behind and help him. Harry wondered whose decision it had been to run Sandrine's tonight; the resort program had been more popular lately. Not that it mattered much to him. He liked both places, but he had a weak spot for Sandrine's just because he knew how proud Tom was of that program.

Megan had decided to teach Kes to play pool, and wasn't taking no for an answer. When Tom offered to join in, she rapped his knuckles and shook his head. "I know you. She might learn, but she wouldn't have any replicator credits left. Go play with Harry." Then she laughed at the expression on Tom's face. "But remember you're in public, Paris!"

At the bar, Harry ordered a beer and was surprised when Sandrine asked him if he wanted synthetol or real alcohol. Before he could figure out if this was a bug or a new part of her programming, Tom came up behind him and kissed the back of his neck. "Hey, handsome."

"Tom, you are supposed to behave yourself in here," Sandrine said, mock-sternly. "And what kind of whisky do you want?"

"Um," Tom's attention wasn't entirely on what she was saying, as he kissed Harry's neck again, "I don't know, Laphroaig?" He nuzzled at Harry's ear, and Harry moved away and tapped his nose reprovingly.

Harry turned to Sandrine. "Has someone asked for real alcohol?"

She nodded, and gestured to a table in a corner. Looking that way, Harry caught a glimpse of blonde hair and could hardly believe his eyes. " Sammy?" He looked at Tom, who appeared equally concerned. "Maybe we should have a little talk with her."

He took a step away from the bar and was stopped by Sandrine's hand on his arm. "Your beer," she reminded him, and he accepted the cool bottle, cradling it in his hand as he walked over to the table where Wildman was hiding. Tom was right behind him, and they sat down on either side of the blonde ensign.

Wildman looked up as they joined her, and shook her head. "Not tonight," she said softly. "No offense intended, but I'm not really in the mood for company, Harry. Tom."

"You shouldn't drink alone, Sammy," Tom said. "Trust me, I know." He sipped at his own drink, and raised an eyebrow. "You've corrupted Sandrine, too."

Harry put a hand over Wildman's. "What's wrong, Sam?" he asked. She turned her head away, but there was Tom on the other side, looking at her too. Wildman stared down into her glass.

"Nothing's wrong," she said. "I'll be fine."

Tom picked her glass up and sniffed at it. He frowned. "You'll be drunk, that's what you'll be. Come on," his voice took on that coaxing tone Harry knew so well, "talk to us, Sammy. We're your friends. If nothing else, we can get drunk right along with you."

That brought a corner of her mouth up, for a moment. "You're right, I shouldn't be so irresponsible," she said. "It's just that it's my wedding anniversary today." Despite her attempt to sound resolute, her voice broke a little on the last word. "And I don't have anyone to celebrate it with, so."

"Well, you have us now," Tom said, putting his arm around her shoulders. He put her drink down again in front of her, and picked up his own. "We'll drink to it." Harry nodded, Wildman took her glass, and they shared a silent toast.

"How long have you been married?" Harry asked. He knew she wouldn't be able to stop thinking about it anyway; it might make her feel better to talk about it at least.

"Five years," Wildman said, rubbing absently at her ring. "It's so strange." She took another sip of her drink. "I'll spend days, weeks, not thinking about it. And then I wake up in the middle of the night and I miss him so much I can't breathe." A single tear ran slowly down her cheek, but she didn't seem to notice. "Time passes and I worry that I'll forget, that we'll be out here forever, that one day I won't remember what his voice sounds like."

Tom took her hand and closed it around her glass. "It'll be all right, Sam," he said. "To reunions," and they clinked their glasses together solemnly. Harry, who knew full well Tom dreaded meeting just about everyone who waited for him in the Alpha quadrant, drank beer straight from the bottle and wished he could do something to help Wildman.

"We weren't going to get married," she said, startling him out of his brief reverie. She was still touching her ring, slowly, reverently.

"Why not?" Tom asked, sounding a little hoarse.

"Oh, Katarians don't do that," Wildman explained. "Or, well, it's different. Once you've chosen someone, that's it. They call it ai'thea chree, heart bond." Then she smiled a little. "Well, not the heart, actually, but it makes more sense that way to humans."

"It sounds a little casual," Tom remarked and drank some more whisky. Harry wondered if Sandrine had given him the real thing, too. Oh lord, here she came walking out from behind the bar, with more drinks for Tom and Wildman and another bottle of beer for him.

"Thank you," Wildman said with a sweet smile to Sandrine, before turning to Tom. "I thought so, too. But I came to understand after a while that it's taken very seriously. And these days I agree. It's not a question of what vows you make, or don't make, what's important is what you mean." She interrupted herself to drink some more and Tom seemed intent on matching her. "But he knew how I felt then, so we had a wedding after all."

"So you're really married twice over," Tom said. "Legally, and — with the heart."

"Yes," Wildman agreed. "And his family forgave him after a while, so..." She sighed. "There's nothing else I regret about this. I love this ship and everyone on board, and I've always wanted to be an explorer. But I miss him, I miss him so much."

Her lower lip quivered. Tom resolutely pulled her close and held her, and she cried on his shoulder. Harry got up and went to the bar and got Sandrine to give him some tissues. He came back just in time to hand them to Wildman, who was looking embarrassed.

"Tell us more about your husband," Tom said. So she did. They sat and talked for over an hour, while Sandrine kept bringing them fresh drinks. Wildman was alternately crying and laughing, but it seemed to do her good. Eventually Harry reached behind her to tap Tom's shoulder and get his attention. They really had to get Wildman back to her quarters while she could still walk. Or while they could still walk.

"Who's babysitting?" he asked, and Wildman abruptly straightened up.

"Chell," she said, "and I promised not to be long, I hope he's not angry!" She tried to stand up, and overturned her chair. Harry picked up the chair while Tom put an arm around Wildman again, keeping her upright. "I have to get back."

"We'll walk you there," Tom said, and he was steady enough on his feet that it sounded convincing. "Come on, Sammy, let's get you home."

Harry waved at Kes and Megan, who were still busy around the pool table, and then went with Tom and Wildman out the door. They met Chakotay coming out of the turbo lift. He looked at them, and Harry could see him sniff the air silently, but Tom caught his eyes and something passed between them. The first officer just nodded, and walked away towards the holosuites.

Wildman went inside and stood leaning against Tom without saying a word. It wasn't until Harry looked closely at her that he saw she was crying again, soundlessly, tears sliding down her face in silent pain. He wiped her cheeks with another tissue. When the lift doors opened, Tom swung her off her feet and picked her up and carried her towards her quarters.

It wasn't far. Harry keyed the door open and walked in first, finding Chell on the couch rocking a sleeping Washington in his arms. He smiled, and said, "Sam's back, but she needs to go to bed straight away. I'm sure she'll thank you tomorrow."

Chell nodded. He raised an eyebrow when Tom carried Wildman into the bedroom, but all he said was, "I'll see you at breakfast, then. I was supposed to meet Ayala half an hour ago." He deposited Washington in Harry's arms and smiled as he hurried out. Harry looked down at the sleeping child's face and wondered what kind of story would make the rounds on Voyager once Chell got done telling Ayala about this. He smiled to himself, and went into the bedroom and put Washington in her cot.

"You going to be okay, Sammy?" Tom asked. Wildman was sitting on the edge of the bed; her hair was coming undone, falling over her shoulders.

She yawned. "I'll be fine." Then she rubbed at her eyes. "Drunk. Whatever. You know..." She yawned again. "I envy you two. Because you're together in this, you have each other. And you make a really cute couple." Wildman suddenly scowled at them. "Get out of here so I can take my uniform off." Then she slowly slid sideways until she was half lying on the bed, and her eyes closed.

"Maybe we should try to shake her awake," Harry said.

"No," Tom disagreed. "No shaking. Not in this state. Just let her sleep it off." He bent and lifted Wildman's legs up, and pulled the covers over her. "She'll be okay." Harry watched as Tom checked with the computer that Wildman had a wakeup call for tomorrow, and programmed her replicator to produce some kind of hangover cure to be ready after that wakeup call. He couldn't doubt that Tom knew what he was doing.

Then they ordered the lights out and left Wildman's quarters, walking slowly back to the turbo lift. "Where do you want to go?" Harry asked. "Back to Sandrine's?"

Tom shook his head. "No." He smiled. "We've been with other people all day. I just want to be with you." They took the turbo lift to deck four and walked down the hall to Tom's quarters. Tom ordered coffee from the replicator and Harry accepted it gratefully, walking around the room sipping at it and feeling his head clear a bit.

"I hope we get back soon," he said impulsively, then almost bit his tongue.

But Tom said, "Yeah. Poor Sam." He came across the room to put his arms around Harry. It was a bit difficult to drink coffee like this, but Harry couldn't say he minded.

"Tom?" he said, touching a finger to his lover's cheek. "What was it you wanted to say when we were in the shower, that you said you'd get to later?"

Tom dropped his eyes. "Nothing." He shook his head quickly. "It was nothing really, I — just forget about it, Harry."

Harry lifted an eyebrow. "Why? Tom." He tilted Tom's head up again and tried to catch his eyes. "After all the things we've done together, you don't exactly have to be shy." Tom blushed a little. "Why won't you tell me?"

After a moment, Tom looked up, and despite the blush his eyes glinted a little, almost angrily. "I don't know, I guess I learned at my mother's knee that if you ask a guy to tie you up, or blindfold you, or spank you, he's not going to respect you in the morning."

"But you've never asked me to—" Harry broke off, and looked at Tom. He fought a losing battle to control his expression. "Your mother was wrong, Tom." Tom tilted his head back a little, everything about him saying, 'oh yeah?' "I wouldn't just respect you, I would love and adore you and think myself privileged to be allowed to touch you." Then Harry grinned. "Of course, I do that anyway."

"Touch me?" But Tom's cool facade was breaking down, and something else was coming through, something so intense it charged the air. "Harry, do you... do you really want to?"

"Do I really want to what? Touch you? Tie you up? Make love to you until you pass out from sheer pleasure? You know I do."

Tom shook his head. "Marry me." He looked down at his hands. "Do you really want to marry me?"

Harry took a deep breath, swallowed, and managed to refrain from beating his head against the wall and screaming. "Yes, Tom," he said quietly. "I do. I really want to marry you. I wouldn't have asked you if I didn't mean it."

"But you don't have to," Tom said, sounding faintly puzzled, as though he was explaining something to Harry that he didn't see why Harry hadn't understood a long time ago.

"I don't have to?" Harry was so thrown by what Tom was saying, all he could do was repeat it.

"No." Tom looked up again and met his eyes. "You already own me. You claimed me a long time ago. You don't need this legal nonsense, it will only tie you down, like I said before. If you want more I'll give you more, Harry, I'll wear your brand, your collar, anything. But don't do anything irrevocable. If you want out—"

"Damn it all to hell," Harry said. He carefully put his coffee cup down, and put Tom's coffee cup down as well. Then he grabbed hold of Tom and wrestled him down on the bed, pinning him down, arms above his head. "You belong to me, Tom Paris," he said quietly. Tom nodded. "And I belong to you. Just as much. I've loved you for a long time, Tom, and now I have you and I'm not letting you go. We are not playing games. This is for real, do you get it?"

Tom was looking at him, wide-eyed. "Harry," he whispered.

But Harry went on. "Yes, I really want to marry you. I want to tell the rest of the world, this is how serious we are, this is what it means to us. I want to tell you that you're mine and we'll be together for the rest of our lives, and don't you ever forget it." He was growling now. "If you don't want that, we don't do it. But don't you fucking believe I'm going to let you commit to me if you don't let me commit to you. You can take that collar and shove it, it's a wedding ring or nothing."

Now Tom looked completely stunned. He gasped with what might have been hysterical laughter, but then his lips began to tremble. "Shit — Harry—" Tom drew a deep breath to try to say something but he was already shaking; he turned his head to one side in a vain attempt to try to hide the tears that rose in his eyes. When the first sob racked him, Harry let go of his arms and held him close, kissing his face and licking the tears away.

Finally Tom quieted, and Harry released him. He waited until Tom had blown his nose on a tissue before saying, "Now tell me the real reason you don't want to marry me."

Tom wiped half-heartedly at his eyes with the back of his hand. "Because I don't think I'm... this isn't that kind of relationship," he said raggedly. "I didn't think you could do all these things with me and — and want to marry me."

"Well, you're wrong."

"I'm sorry," Tom said, sounding completely sincere and so contrite, Harry's heart ached. "I really am. I just couldn't believe you really meant it. Not when you had me so completely anyway." He leaned back and took a deep breath, and choked on something that was half a laugh, half a sob. "I told you I wasn't very good at relationships."

Harry reached out and stroked his cheek softly, then wrapped his hand around the back of Tom's neck and pulled him close for a kiss. He was about to say that it was all right, that everything was fine. Then he started to smile.

"You're sorry?" he growled softly in Tom's ear. "You're really sorry?" Tom nodded. "You're so sorry, you'll let me do whatever I want with you?" Tom nodded again, and a slight shiver ran through him. Harry bit his earlobe. "Take your clothes off."

Tom's eyelashes were spiky with tears and his eyes were red-rimmed. He looked at Harry with sheer disbelief for a moment, then he sat up on the edge of the bed and pulled his sweater over his head. Harry knelt behind him on the bed and kissed the back of his neck, grazed it with his teeth, and scratched softly down Tom's back with his nails. He leaned forward to lick at Tom's throat and slipped his arms around Tom's waist, unfastening his pants.

After kicking his shoes off Tom stood up and pushed his pants down. Harry sat back on the bed and watched him, and stretched his hands out to Tom when he had finished, drawing him down again and into a tight embrace. He threaded his fingers through the short hair at the back of Tom's neck, held him close and kissed him until they were both breathless.

Tom squirmed a little against Harry's clothed body, and tugged at a shirt button. "Aren't you a bit overdressed?" Harry caught Tom's hand in his own and dragged it away, brought it up to his face and kissed the palm, running the tip of his tongue in little circles across it until Tom's breath came faster. "Well, I just — thought—"

"Don't think," Harry said and sucked on Tom's index finger, then each of the other fingers in turn. He had to admit that he kind of liked this; Tom seemed more naked somehow next to Harry's still-clothed body, and he really approved of Tom being naked. He stroked Tom's side, then settled his hand in the small of Tom's back and pulled him in closer and kissed him again.

Biting gently along his lover's neck, Harry admired the delicately flushing skin. He stroked Tom's chest, brushing casually across his nipples. Tom made a sound, not quite a moan. Harry smiled. He loved this: concentrating on Tom to the exclusion of everything else, loving him with such care and attention that Tom, too, lost his grip on the rest of the world, lost his carefully maintained control, existed only in sensation.

It was a thrill beyond anything else he'd ever experienced to be trusted so completely, to be given access to someone else's most secret desires, and Harry didn't think that thrill would ever fade. He bit Tom's shoulder again, carefully, stroked his back... mmm, nice. Under the gentle urging of Harry's hands, Tom moved to lie on his stomach, and Harry leaned forward and bit the back of his neck.

Tom growled softly. He moved under Harry's caresses, silently showing his enjoyment. Harry bent closer and sucked at Tom's earlobe. "Stretch your arms out in front of you," he said quietly, "and hold on to the edge of the mattress." Then he blew hot air against Tom's ear and felt him shiver. "You'll need it."

When he trailed his hand down Tom's back again he used his nails, just a little harder than he normally did. Harry reached Tom's ass and stroked it lovingly. He felt Tom tense up a little in anticipation. Smiling a little to himself, he reached lower and caressed the backs of Tom's thighs, stroking and then scratching very lightly with his nails, knowing full well this drove Tom wild. Harry didn't stop until Tom was swearing under his breath into the mattress, and writhing against Harry's light touch.

Then he kissed the spot right beneath Tom's ear, licked at it, nibbled at the earlobe and stroked Tom's ass with leisurely care. You're so beautiful, my love, every part of you. The gentle strokes turned into soft pats, and Tom squirmed. Harry propped himself up on his elbow so he could see better what he was doing. He swatted at Tom's bottom with no more force than he would have used to brush away a stray piece of lint.

Harry wasn't quite sure what Tom was expecting, but he wanted to do this his way. Only very slowly and gradually did he increase the force of his slaps, and he could tell exactly when it started to sting, when Tom's body shifted and its signals changed, from anticipation to another kind of tension altogether. Harry went on, and Tom made a sound between clenched teeth. He seemed to be struggling to hold himself still.

Beautiful, Harry thought, and then he thought, mine. Heat ran through him, desire so intense it left him breathless. He loved this man so much.

Tom was moaning now, twisting his hips up to meet Harry's hand and then grinding down into the mattress. Harry spanked him harder, spreading the blows over Tom's buttocks and the tops of his thighs. Looking at what he could see of Tom's face, he saw that Tom had closed his eyes and was biting his lip, gasping with each slap. But it wasn't quite enough.

Harry rested his hand on Tom's ass, and Tom made a soft sound of complaint and desire. He felt the heat of Tom's reddened skin against his palm and stroked it for a gentle moment. All that firm flesh waiting for his touch, Tom's whole body quivering under his hands, strength held in check, control voluntarily given over. He'd better make this good.

With gentle touches he made Tom get up on his hands and knees. Tom kept his eyes closed, and he shifted his knees a little farther apart, silent invitation. Harry smiled and ran a finger along Tom's cock; when he reached the head he used his fingertip to spread the moisture around. Tom growled, but it turned into a whimper when Harry wrapped his hand around the hard cock and stroked it. Then he went back to spanking Tom again with his other hand.

Tom made a breathless sound, arching his back, thrusting down into Harry's hand, shifting back against Harry's palm. When Harry timed his hard slaps to coincide with his gentle strokes on Tom's cock, he felt the first raw shudders run through his lover's body. This was where he wanted Tom to be, so lost, so perfectly here, completely free, giving himself in total surrender.

"Yes," Tom moaned, trembling and shivering, body begging for more, "oh yes," his voice broke on a sob, "yes, please, please Harry, more, oh god oh god..." He gasped for air. "Harry! More, please, harder, oh god yes, I love you, I — oh fuck — yes — yes—" Words failed him, he sobbed and moaned and yelled, and Harry gave him what he wanted, working lovingly on Tom with both hands, keeping him teetering on the brink for as long as possible until Tom finally came, shaking, exploding, screaming his throat raw.

As Tom collapsed in a boneless heap on the bed, Harry sat back, breathing almost as hard as his lover. He licked his hand clean, and slowly started to take his clothes off, surprised to find that his hands were shaking as though he was the one who'd come. When he'd wriggled out of his pants and thrown them on the floor he felt a hand seek for him, find him and pull him down. Harry snuggled close and put both arms around his lover; Tom pushed his hot, tear-stained face into Harry's shoulder and lay against him, sighing in satisfaction.

"Love," Harry said into his hair, "my love." They stayed like that for long moments, Tom exhausted and sated, Harry still on fire but unwilling to drag his lover out of this contented state. It wasn't until he shifted a little and his erection brushed Tom's hip that Tom stirred. A hand moved lazily across Harry's belly and closed around his cock. He groaned. Tom started to stroke him slowly, and he moved with that touch, eyes closed, wanting it fast and easy, now.

But then Tom seemed to wake up a bit more and pushed himself up on one elbow. He worked his free hand in under Harry's neck and held him, turning his head. "Look at me," he said a little hoarsely. "I want you to look at me."

So Harry opened his eyes again and stared straight into Tom's, and felt himself shiver — suddenly that look was a far more intimate contact than that of Tom's hand moving with such wicked gentleness on his cock. He was drowning in Tom's eyes and he couldn't look away. Caught, he thought, oh you've got me now... and then he made a sound and pushed into Tom's sure touch. So good.

"Kiss me," he whispered, and Tom did, and Harry kept moaning softly into Tom's mouth. He was so hard, so desperate, his whole being focused on the need to come, he would have yelled at Tom to get on with it if he'd been able to manage anything other than soft whimpers as Tom kissed him and worked on him. Pleasepleaseplease, he thought incoherently, please, and then Tom withdrew from the kiss and they stared into each other's eyes again.

And Harry was pinned in place by that look; he felt himself hang suspended and perfectly still in a spinning universe for a long moment, and then it all started deep inside him and filled him with liquid fire, until he had to explode or die. He couldn't catch his breath enough to cry out, he just clung to the look in Tom's eyes, shivering and shaking, until the world went dark.

Tom was kissing his eyelids, and he blinked. The soft kisses moved down his cheek, grazed the corner of his mouth. "You're beautiful when you come," Tom said against his lips. "Beautiful." Then he tilted his head back enough to catch Harry's eyes again. "And mine." It was a gentle statement, but definitive.

Harry sighed. "Oh, yes," he agreed, and snuggled in closer to put his head on Tom's shoulder. Everything was so warm and comfortable, Tom's arms around him, their legs tangled together, he just wanted to lie like this forever, though he had a vague feeling there was something he should do.

Turning his head, Harry pressed a lazy kiss against Tom's throat and felt his eyes fall shut. Tom tickled the back of his neck; he just made a contented sound and burrowed in closer. Then Tom tugged at his hair. "Harry." Another soft tug. "Hey, Harry."


"Go wash up, okay?"

* * *

The morning conference had been brief and to the point. Regular system diagnostics were being carried out all over the ship, and everything appeared to be checking out. The gas sample that B'Elanna had beamed aboard yesterday had turned out to be too unstable to be of any real use. Stellar Cartography had worked out a way to coordinate Zerdean star charts with Illyrian, and they now had a reliable guide to this part of the quadrant; their present course looked good.

As they all rose to their feet and got ready to return to their duties, the captain cleared her throat. "Mr. Kim, Mr. Paris, I'd like a private word with you two, if I may."

Tom and Harry both nodded and stayed where they were as the others walked out — Neelix last of all, looking over his shoulder several times as the door closed behind him. Harry tried not to laugh. It was impossible for Neelix to hide his curiosity. He turned back to face Janeway. "Captain, is this about the request we made yesterday?"

"Yes, it is," she said. The captain put her hands on the back of her chair and gave them each a quick look. "It wasn't easy to make a simple decision on this issue. You made a good case for breaking the rules, but I still believe that the farther away we are from home and Starfleet, the more we need to work with and preserve our rules and regulations, so we will still be recognizable as a 'fleet ship when we get back home."

"But captain," Tom started to say, "it's—"

She held her hand up with a slight smile. "Hear me out before you start to argue. There are good reasons behind all Starfleet rules, but they were never intended for a crew caught in a situation like ours. While I don't think we should ever compromise on our work standard, or fail to follow Starfleet protocol on duty and in our encounters with other cultures, I realize that our isolation makes it impossible to enforce the regulations concerning the crew members' private lives. That is why the fraternization policy was changed. And that is why I am prepared to grant you shared living quarters."

"Thank you," Tom said warmly. "But captain?" She raised an eyebrow. "We've changed our minds."

"You don't want to live together?" Janeway looked a little disapproving. "After the serious request you made yesterday—"

"That's not it, captain," Harry said hurriedly, looking at Tom and wondering what the hell he was up to. Changed our minds? When did we change our minds? "It's just that, um—"

"We want to get married," Tom said.

The captain looked from one of them to the other, her face set in a frown. "Really," she said, "after all the hard work you caused me with this request!" Then she broke into a wide smile. "Congratulations, gentlemen. That's wonderful news." Janeway came forward to shake Tom's hand, but he grinned and pulled her into a hug; Harry had to chuckle.

Then he was taken by surprise as she quickly turned and embraced him as well. When she stepped back he unthinkingly reached out for Tom's hand and they laced their fingers together. "Thank you, captain."

"Have you set a date yet?" she asked. Harry shook his head. "Well, just tell me when you do, and what kind of ceremony you want to have." The warm smile was still on her face as she added, "I hope you'll be very happy together."

Harry walked out of the conference room in a daze, still hand in hand with Tom. When the door closed behind them he turned to his lover. "You," he said, "have a hell of a way of accepting marriage proposals."

Tom laughed out loud. "Are you mad at me?"

"No." Harry smiled, looking into Tom's eyes. Moments later they were in each other's arms, kissing, completely unaware of their surroundings. Harry only came back to reality when he became aware of a distracting sound; breaking away reluctantly from Tom's lips he discovered that the whole bridge crew was not just watching them with interest, but applauding.

Tuvok's was the only disapproving face; Chakotay tried to look stern, but a corner of his mouth twitched. "Congratulations," he said in his usual calm voice. "Now, if you would consider getting some work done..."

"Yes, sir, commander, sir," Tom said meekly, winked at Harry, and went to the conn. Harry walked to his station, putting his feet down carefully because he felt, absurdly enough, as though he were walking on air. When he passed a rather pale-looking Wildman she glanced up at him and gave him her sweetest smile.

Ayala turned over Ops to Harry, but stayed right by him, hovering at his elbow until Harry turned his head and looked at him. "Was there something else?"

"You're getting married?" Ayala blurted out; his voice was low but the surprise was coming through loud and clear. Harry nodded. "You and Paris?" Harry nodded again, trying to keep the grin off his face as he wondered how much money Ayala had put into that betting pool. "Well, I'll be—"

"Yes," Harry agreed, "I'm sure you will be." Then he turned to his screens and prepared to run a diagnostic. He had a long day ahead of him.

* * *

The lease of my true love

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