by torch 1997

Disclaimer: The characters and the setting belong to Paramount. I own this particular sequence of contrived events. Any similarity to Steve Miller's The Joker is entirely coincidental. This is a sequel to The wilder shores of love, The art of conversation, The name of the game and The declaration of independence. And no, I had no idea that this series would grow so long... one more to go, then it's over, I promise. Or two, maybe. Do not archive this story without permission.

The reputation of a rake

"I recommend the red tea if you're having the Sekel rolls. A delicious combination, and very strengthening, if you know what I mean."

Harry did his best to look innocent in the face of Neelix' waggling eyebrows and suggestive winks. "Thanks, Neelix, I could use that," he said and waited a second before adding, "I have a long shift ahead of me today, so I should probably get a big breakfast."

The leer on Neelix' face turned into disappointment that he manfully tried to hide. Handing Harry a steaming mug, he kept hold of it long enough to say, "Oh, you must be hungry, I couldn't help but notice that you didn't eat in the mess hall last night, and neither did—"

"I replicated something," Harry said truthfully, twisting the mug out of Neelix' grasp. "You don't have to worry about me." He thought about adding that his diet had been quite high in protein lately, then decided to be sensible. Instead he smiled and went to find a table.

"Harry!" A hand on his arm made him turn around and there was Jenny, grinning from ear to ear. She started to push him towards a table. "I hear you managed just fine without a red ribbon."

Harry smiled back at her as he sat down. "Told you I could do it without your help."

"I never doubted you," she winked at him. "You know, the ship is buzzing, lover boy. People haven't talked so much, so fast, since the time Chakotay was spotted outside the captain's quarters at two in the morning."

Harry sipped at the red tea; it tasted at once flowery and bitter, not at all unpleasant. "I'm flattered." Then curiosity overtook him and he asked, "What are they saying, then?"

"Most of it sounds like 'I don't believe it!', actually," Jenny said. "But considering how many eye witnesses there were..." She tried to look stern. "Damn it, couldn't you have waited until Megan and I got there?"

Another kind of smile entirely tugged at the corners of Harry's mouth. He remembered the breathlessness, the passion, the sense of absolute rightness that had made all his objections seem insignificant. "No," he said.

"Oh, well," she shrugged philosophically. "It's funny, though. You know, most people on board this ship don't know you very well."

"What do you mean?" Harry asked, but before Jenny could answer, they were interrupted, as a tray was all but slammed down next to them and B'Elanna sat down by Harry, poking a finger into his shoulder so hard he thought she'd put a hole in his uniform.

"You!" she said menacingly. "You little — you never said a word! I am never going to give you any confidences again, Starfleet!"

"But you never have, B'Elanna." Harry paused artfully and glanced at Jenny. "Unless you count the time you told me about playing truth and dare with Carey and finding out that he wears his wife's—"

"Harry!" She looked about to rip his head off. Then she laughed. "Well, you know how to do things in style. Nicoletti swears that little scene in the holodeck last night almost set off the sprinkler system."

Harry, remembering, was inclined to agree. Jenny heaved a sigh. "Now I'm even more sorry I missed it. You wouldn't consider an encore?"

"A charity show," Harry deadpanned. "How much do you think we could charge people?"

"Depends how far you'll go," B'Elanna said. "Starfleet, is this, um, were you two just suddenly overcome with lust, or is there something more to this?"

Before last night, he wouldn't have been sure how to answer that question. But the kiss in the holodeck had set the seal on an agreement Harry couldn't imagine breaking. As far as he was concerned, this was forever. "We're serious," he said. Then he smiled at Jenny's raised eyebrow and B'Elanna's thoughtful look. "You don't believe that?"

"I'll believe that you're serious," B'Elanna said. "Being serious is one of the things you're very good at. Tom, though—"

"He's not exactly famous for his long-term commitments, is he?" Jenny chimed in. "Although I bet if anyone can change him it's you."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence." Harry noticed that B'Elanna was still giving him that concerned and at the same time mildly skeptical look. "Could you please stop thinking about me as heartbroken before the fact, at least?"

She shrugged. "Oh, all right. Where is Tom, anyway?"

"On his way to the bridge, I hope." Harry finished the Sekel roll; it wasn't bad, despite the funny color. He thought he'd better not mention that Tom had had to miss breakfast in order to go to sickbay and fix a bad case of rugburn. "And we should get going, too."

They got up together and B'Elanna volunteered to clear away the trays; she was her own boss, after all, and could afford to be a minute or two late down to Engineering. Harry and Jenny parted company outside the mess hall doors; she took off for Stellar Cartography and he went to take the turbo lift to the bridge. Lee and Ayala were waiting for the lift already, talking intently about something. When Harry got close enough to make out what they were saying, he heard, in Lee's soft soprano, "I give it two weeks at most. It's sad, isn't it?"

"Yeah, but what can you expect?" Ayala growled. "Paris should be ashamed of himself, preying on the young and innocent. I think—"

As they caught sight of Harry, Lee and Ayala fell instantly silent, before recollecting themselves enough to say good morning. Harry smiled back and they rode the turbo lift in silence. He didn't know what to say, and was just as happy that they didn't seem to, either. They arrived at the bridge and Harry saw that Tom was already in place, swivelling around in his chair at the sound of the lift. Their eyes met for a long silent moment and the rest of the world turned dim and distant. Then they broke contact again, Tom turned back to the conn and Harry went to his station.

The morning conference went well. Nothing much was happening, after all. Well, nothing much that got spoken of; there were plenty of undercurrents. Harry was aware that people were watching him and Tom closely. It was kind of funny, actually. Chakotay looked openly thoughtful; Neelix wasn't suppressing his curiosity very well; Kes had a twinkle in her eye as she glanced from Tom to Harry and back again. Finally, when B'Elanna glowered at him, Tom started to blush, and then Harry was the one who couldn't stop looking. God, he wanted to bite the man, right there, and kiss his eyelids softly, tenderly, the way he'd done early this morning.

"Ensign Kim, I'd like a word with you," the captain said as everyone else got up to leave. Harry nodded, although he rose as well; the captain was standing up and he would feel more comfortable facing her on his feet.

When the room was empty except for the two of them, he said, "Yes, captain?"

She stood looking at him, leaning her arms on the back of her chair. "Harry, I'm going to be frank. It's been brought to my attention that you and Tom Paris have found each other."

To judge by the look on her face she wanted some kind of confirmation, so Harry nodded. "Yes, ma'am. We didn't have to look all that far, actually."

That made her smile a little. "With the new fraternization policy, that shouldn't be a problem in itself, but I want you to know that I've considered assigning you to different bridge shifts."

"No!" Janeway's eyebrow went up at the vehement exclamation. Harry cleared his throat. He hadn't meant to try to give her an order, after all. "I'm sorry, captain. It's your choice. But I would very much appreciate it if you didn't do that."

"I'm sure you would, Harry, but having the two of you working together could be a problem."

"But captain—" She looked at him again, the same look, but Harry went on anyway. "It's not that it matters so much to me whether I get to work with Tom or not. But we would both appreciate it if we were free at the same time as much as possible."

The corner of Janeway's mouth twitched. "I see. That does sound understandable, of course. Do you think you'll be able to work together just as before?"

Harry thought about it. "I don't see any reason why we shouldn't," he said. "And captain?" He hesitated for a moment. "I don't want to try to influence your decision or point out the obvious. But you'll be setting a precedent here, because although we're officially the first couple to work the same shift, I'm very sure we won't be the last."

"Officially?" she asked, while her eyes pinned him in place and dared him to say it.

"Yes, officially," Harry said with a small smile. "There are some people — in various departments — who are uncertain about the fraternization policy, and afraid that they will be reassigned if they're found out." He looked down at his hands, then up again. "It's an irrational fear, of course. If people were to be rotated between shifts every time relationships changed, arranging crew schedules would be a full time job. And I'm sure Commander Chakotay has better things to do."

That was as close as he was going to get to what she didn't want him to say; she realized that, and suddenly chuckled throatily. "I believe you're right, ensign."

"Perhaps," Harry ventured, "it would be a good idea to remind everyone of the revised policy and make it a little more clear."

Janeway nodded. "It might, at that. And you've made your point. I won't ask Commander Chakotay to make any alterations, then. But if there is any change in the relationship that would make a shift rotation desirable, please tell me."

"Any—" Then Harry got it. "Not you, too, captain!" That eyebrow went up again, but he was feeling so frustrated that he just went on anyway. "No one expects this to last, do they."

"Harry." She straightened up and walked over to him, and put a hand on his shoulder. "Harry, I understand how you feel. You're young, in love, everything looks perfect. It's not fair to ask you to be realistic, but you know that things don't always work out the way we want them to."

Harry didn't know whether to laugh or bang his head against the wall. It was both funny and frustrating. "Captain." A deep breath. "Thanks for your concern. But—" He had to break off for a moment. "You are the fifth person today to tell me that Tom is probably just playing with me. No offense, but I'm getting tired of it. I didn't realize people had such a poor opinion of him." Then he couldn't help smiling. "Or is that what you would call 'being realistic'?"

"Extrapolating from the available data," she suggested with a twinkle; then he could see her remembering that this was his love life they were talking about. Not to mention the love of his life, although she didn't know that. "I'm not saying it has to be like that, Harry. I just—"

Before she could apologize, he said, "If I were that sensitive about it, I'd already have broken down in tears. I guess I'll just have to be patient." Harry smiled reassuringly at her. "Don't worry about it, captain." Then he couldn't help sighing. "Everyone else is already doing that."

Janeway smiled back. "In that case," she said, "I'll do nothing but wish you happiness. And if there is — anything — please don't hesitate to come to me." He nodded, and they walked out of the conference room together.

Harry went to his station and took over from Ayala, determinedly ignoring the concerned look he was getting. He thought about giving the man a reassuring smile, but then he decided he'd stick with playing oblivious for a while. This was interesting. Tom's previous affairs had been rather noisy, of course. And short. It did make sense that people would think this one would be the same. But why did everyone give in to the impulse of warning Harry, as if he hadn't been on the ship all this time and seen it all for himself? Tom was his best friend, for heaven's sake; they couldn't think he hadn't noticed.

It was a slow day. The sensors weren't giving him any trouble so far, and they weren't giving him any interesting information, either. Tom went to lunch at the first available opportunity, which wasn't surprising, given that he'd missed breakfast. Harry ran another diagnostic to give himself something to do. While he studied the screens he ran an internal diagnostic as well.

No, there really was no fear in him that Tom would up and leave in a couple of weeks' time. This relationship of theirs could be described in a lot of ways, but 'casual' was not the first word that came to mind. Harry had never been so serious in his life. He thought back to the moment when he had asked Libby to marry him. No, not even then. The solemn joy he felt now was a new emotion and one he cherished.

As to whether Tom was equally serious, Harry could only guess. And add two and two together. He'd known Tom well before this, and knew him even better now. And he intended to go on with that process of discovery for as long as possible. It worked two ways, too. There were things about himself that he would never have found out or acknowledged if it hadn't been for Tom.

I think we're turning into the people we really are, Harry thought, and even that idea didn't worry him all that much. Sure, he wasn't quite the way he'd always imagined himself. But the disorientation he'd felt over that was passing. What was important was that he was with Tom, the two of them fitting together with absurd perfection.

His internal check lights came up green, just as the screens told him everything was all right. Harry smiled. He asked Ayala to take over and went to lunch; Wildman joined him in the turbo lift. "Do you mind some company?"

"Of course not! Everything all right with you? And Washington?" She nodded and told baby stories until they got down to the mess hall and met Tom in the door, leaving.

"Hi, Sam. Harry. Sorry I can't stay." Tom smiled at both of them, then leaned in and brushed a light kiss across Harry's lips before taking off for the turbo lift. "Stay away from the green stuff," he called over his shoulder. Harry looked after him briefly, then turned to Wildman and they went in, to be met by a strong odor of curry.

Wildman sniffed the air. "Chicken curry? Has Neelix given in and used the replicators?" They went to look. Whatever the food smelled like, it certainly didn't look like curry. Also, nearly all of it was green; Harry wished Tom had been a bit more specific. Feeling adventurous, they got a little of everything and sat down in a corner.

"It looks a little like spinach," Harry said doubtfully, looking at what was on his fork. He tasted it. "Ugh. I think this was what Tom meant."

"No, I think it was this," Wildman countered, digging into something virulently lime-green and steaming. She wrinkled her nose, then took a bite. "Maybe not. This was actually quite good; here, Harry, have some." She pushed half of it onto his plate. "Harry, about Tom..."

"Yes?" he said suspiciously.

"When did this start? Was it just yesterday, really?" Her eyes sparkled as she looked closely at him. "I thought there was something you weren't telling me the other night, but I didn't think it was something like this!" Wildman gave his arm a friendly poke. "Talk, Harry. Tell me the whole story!"

Harry heaved a relieved sigh. "As long as it's not all over the ship in five minutes," he said warningly, then smiled at her injured look. "Sorry, Sam. It started about three weeks ago when we were on shore leave on Zerdea."

"That long ago?!" Wildman stared at him before trying the third green concoction on her plate. "I'm amazed at your discretion." From the way her mouth suddenly pursed, Harry figured that particular foodstuff wasn't something he'd regret missing out on.

"That was just the first time," he explained. "Due to a slight misunderstanding, we didn't get together again until just a few days ago. But now it's official."

"I'll say." She winked at him. "Harry, that's not half a story. What about all the things you're not telling me?"

"That's private," he said sweetly.

"I don't want details of what you do in bed together," she protested, then broke off and looked thoughtful. "Well, actually... no, never mind that. You'll never tell me anyway. But Harry, how do you feel? Are you in love? Are you happy? Did you see this coming or were you just suddenly in the middle of it?"

"Oh, you want the emotional details," Harry said. He thought about it. "Truth is, I'd been in love with Tom for the longest time, but I never thought I'd get around to doing anything about it, until Zerdea. And now, yeah, I'm happy." Then he chuckled. "More than happy. I've got fluffy pink cotton wool for brains right now."

Wildman giggled, too. "Isn't that sweet. Just make sure you keep your feet on the ground. I mean, don't take offense, please, but Tom can't be the easiest person in the world to have a relationship with."

"I'm hardly going to be offended by that," Harry said, "it's the mildest warning I've had today. And you're right, of course. He isn't. But he's worth the trouble, believe me."

Her eyes were innocently wide. "That good, huh?" Harry made a face at her and she giggled again. "Sorry, but you asked for it. Just don't let him break your heart, okay, Harry?"

"I wasn't planning on that, no." He looked at her plate. "You finished? I think we should get back." Harry got to his feet and Wildman followed, and they put their trays away and left the mess hall.

Before they got to the turbo lift, she stopped him with a hand on her arm. "Harry." Wildman looked up at him, serious now. "I did offend you, didn't I. I'm sorry."

"It's okay," he said softly. "It's just, it doesn't hurt me for myself, but for Tom, the way no one trusts him."

Wildman wrapped her arms around him and hugged him so hard he lost his breath. "I'm sorry," she said again. "It's not that I don't trust him, I just, to be honest, I was wondering if he can trust anyone enough to get seriously involved."

"I'm working on it," Harry said. Her perspicacious comment took the edge off any anger he might have felt. "This really is different. I know that's the kind of thing people say when they're stupidly in love, but it is."

Wildman nodded slowly. "There's only one thing to do, Harry," she said. "Go ahead and prove everyone wrong. And just think of all the fun you'll have, doing it."

Harry rubbed his cheek against the top of her head. "I think you're right, Sammy. Thanks." She let him go and they returned to the bridge. The rest of the shift was equally peaceful, and Harry amused himself by studying everyone on the bridge and counting the Looks they gave him. Wildman wasn't doing it, of course, and neither was the captain. But every time Chakotay walked around the bridge he ended his tour by looking thoughtfully at Harry before sitting down again. And even Tuvok, of all people... well, to be honest, the expression on Tuvok's face could best be described as detached bemusement, the same expression that greeted anything the Vulcan thought peculiar, from shouting matches in the mess hall to whistling in the turbo lift.

At least Tuvok probably wasn't going to tell him to be careful, Harry thought and felt his spirits rise. He even teased B'Elanna over the comm link about her new and improved sensor repairs — but discreetly enough that the captain didn't do more than raise an eyebrow at him. When he picked up an M-class planet on long-range sensors, Chakotay suggested a course alteration.

"We could do with picking up some more supplies, captain. Food, of course, and B'Elanna has a list of metals and minerals as long as my arm. This planet seems to have at least half of them."

Janeway checked with the chief engineer and gave orders to Tom. Harry went on checking out the planet. It looked good; he downloaded all the relevant data on a padd and gave to the captain just before the ending of his shift. Then he waited. Bateheart came to relieve Tom and they chatted briefly at the conn before Tom rose and Bateheart slid into the chair.

Then Tom crossed the bridge and stopped by Harry's station. "You ready?"

"In a minute," Harry said and made a few final adjustments. He looked at Frazer, who nodded her understanding, and then registered the end of his shift in the log before going with Tom into the turbo lift. Once the doors closed, Harry let himself fall back against the wall. "I think this has been one of the most trying days of my life."

"No kidding," Tom agreed, and the amount of suppressed emotion in his voice made Harry look up. Tom's eyes were flashing, but it was hard to tell with what, exactly. "Harry, I don't know how the hell you've done it, but—"

"But what?" Harry asked and then the lift stopped again, the doors opened and Tom gripped his arm and dragged him outside. "Tom, where are we going?"

"Observation lounge. I want to talk to you somewhere there isn't a bed, so I don't get distracted." They went into the dark lounge and looked out at the vista of stars. As always, it made Harry's breath catch, and Tom fell silent for a moment too. Then he said, "Harry, I don't know how you've done it, but everyone on board this ship loves you."

"What?" Harry turned his head to look at Tom instead of the stars, and admitted silently to himself that this view was even better. "What do you mean?"

Tom sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I mean that everyone I've met today, starting with the doctor — the doctor, for God's sake! — has told me I'd better be nice to you, or else." Again that peculiar expression, halfway between anger and laughter. "Even the Maquis adore you. Dalby and Ayala hauled me aside at lunchtime and told me if I broke your heart they'd break my kneecaps!"

"You're kidding." Tom looked at him. "Maybe they were kidding." Tom looked at him again. "Well, I guess you'd better not break my heart, then." Then Harry sighed and put his arm around Tom's waist. "I'm sorry."

Tom's emotions finally seemed to swing far enough in one direction that he could give in to them; to Harry's relief, he started to chuckle. "God, this is crazy. I think we're going to have a shotgun wedding, Harry, with half the crew pointing their phasers at me to make sure I don't do you wrong."

"I'm sorry," Harry said again. "I guess—"

"I guess they don't know you can keep me in line without any help whatsoever," Tom said and planted a kiss on his nose.

Harry smiled. "At least you didn't have to listen to the captain talking about being Young and In Love, and Men who Betray." Tom's eyes widened. "It's okay, I got back at her, I teased her about Chakotay."

"Harry, you didn't!" Tom shook his head in admiration, then put both arms around Harry, and held him in a loose embrace. "Well, looks like we're stuck with each other."

Tilting his head back, Harry sought out Tom's eyes, tried to see into their depths. "Tom, are you okay with this?" He put his palm against Tom's cheek and brushed his thumb across the soft skin under the eye. "Not the threats, but—"

"But being stuck with you?" Tom tightened his grip. "I don't want you to think I'm staying with you just because I like my kneecaps the way they are. I mean, I do, but. Harry, I know what my track record looks like." All the laughter had left his voice now. "But it's not like that any more. I just want to be with you."

One of his hands slid up to grip Harry's neck, and Tom leaned closer and kissed him, gently, slowly. Tenderly. Harry felt breathless. He opened his mouth to Tom's, wishing they could share everything, breath and heartbeat.

The kiss ended and they looked into each other's eyes for a moment before kissing again. Not so much sweetness this time as a rising passion, the sudden pulse of desire, and Harry felt joyous amazement at the way it happened, the way it felt so new and so perfect every time. "Love," he whispered against Tom's lips before kissing his jaw, biting his throat. "Love..."

Tom sighed, fingers digging into Harry's back. "Yeah," he breathed, his voice barely audible. "Maybe we'd better go somewhere else."

"No one ever comes here," Harry said. He put his hands on Tom's hips and pulled him even closer, grinding them together. Tom gasped, and Harry had to bite back a moan. "You worried someone will walk in and see us?"

"Yes." Tom kissed his ear, sucked at the ear lobe.

"Tough luck." Harry shifted backwards a fraction, and slid down the fastener on his uniform. Tom just stared at him, eyes dark with lust, as he shrugged out of the sleeves and pushed the uniform down, pushed his underwear down. "I've wanted this all day." He put a hand on Tom's shoulder, but Tom was already dropping to his knees, licking his lips with deliberate sensuality.

"You're crazy," he said, but not as an objection, and then he ran his tongue along Harry's erection, and Harry moaned. This was so good, Tom licking him slowly and thoroughly, wetting Harry's whole cock before taking the head in his mouth and doing something absolutely mindblowing with the tip of his tongue.

"Oh yes," Harry whispered, putting his hands on Tom's shoulders for support, "yes, my love, my beautiful love, yes, like that." God, that mouth. It was devouring him, taking everything he had. He looked down at the sight of Tom's lips around his cock and could barely breathe. Impossible to say which one of them was taking possession of the other, but it was happening. "I want to come in your mouth, I want to watch you swallow. I want to be part of you, Tom."

Tom's hands were on his hips now, holding him steady. This was going to be fast; Harry felt a fleeting sense of regret at that even as the rest of him screamed for release. Tom went down on him all the way and Harry almost sobbed, the way it felt, the way it was, Tom's hunger and his own. It was incredible. Tom was going after Harry's orgasm as if he needed it to survive. Harry felt his knees start to buckle.

The room, the ship, the galaxy narrowed down around them, and Harry knew at that moment he wouldn't even have noticed, let alone cared, if the whole crew was watching and cheering them on. His breath came short and he felt a cry rise in his throat, ripping out of him at the moment of explosion. He would have fallen, but Tom held him up.

After a few moments his thoughts started up again and he could stand on his own, although his legs felt shaky. When Tom slowly released him he drew a finger down the side of his lover's face, suddenly tongue-tied, lacking words to praise such beauty.

"I can't believe you asked for a blow job in the observation lounge," Tom said, although the creamy satisfaction in his voice robbed his words of any pretensions to being a complaint. "Weren't you supposed to be this sweet innocent kid?"

"Oh, you're bad for me," Harry said, laughing.

Tom looked up, and smiled affably, then licked his lips again. "Any time," he said, and stood up. "Any time." He pulled Harry close and kissed him, a kiss so long and intense that Harry was left in no doubt of Tom's most immediate wishes.

"I'd ask you to fuck me here," Harry said when he finally could get breath enough to speak, "but we don't have any lubricant. My quarters?" Tom was already helping him get back into his uniform, tucking the shirt down, straightening the sleeves. "You in a hurry or something?" Harry slid the fastener up and hoped he looked presentable, or at least not too debauched. Tom growled at him, and Harry grinned. "Let's go, then."

As they walked out of the lounge, they were met by Chakotay heading that way. Tom sucked his breath in through his teeth. "God, talk about living dangerously." Harry watched thoughtfully as Chakotay came up to them.

"Ensign Kim — Harry — I'd like a word with you." Oh lord, another one. "In private," Chakotay added and Tom immediately started to walk towards the turbo lift.

"I don't really have the time right now," Harry said apologetically, loud enough for Tom to hear. "Could it wait a couple of hours? Or until tomorrow?"

"I suppose so, yes."

Tom turned around; he must have heard. "Harry, come on."

There was sheer need in his voice. Harry took a step almost without thinking, then remembered he was having a conversation, and turned back to Chakotay for a few more moments. "I'm sorry, but I have to go."

"You shouldn't let him order you around like that." The commander's eyes were serious.

Harry took a deep breath, and chose his words very carefully. "Don't worry about it, Chakotay. I promise you, it isn't a problem."

Then he ran towards the turbo lift and Tom's waiting arms.

* * *

The rewards of good behavior

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