by torch, fall 1996
flambeau@strangeplaces.net

Disclaimer: Paramount owns every character whose name you recognize in here. Those whose names you don't recognize are mine, mine, mine! Paramount also owns the starship, the Delta Quadrant, and the leola roots, not that I'd want those.The fun and games definitely belong to me. Original inspiration provided by Sin with a C, title by W. S. again, chocolate mousse at a discount from Theresa's props company. (Those of you who have seen The chute may substitute fudge rippled pudding here.) Comments of all kinds except the purely ill-natured are warmly welcomed. Do not archive this story without permission.

Too dear for my possessing

"It was love at first sight," he said dreamily, remembering it.

"No, it wasn't."

He raised himself up on one elbow and looked indignantly down at his lover. "Yes, it was. Well, maybe not for you, but..."

Harry laughed. "You are such a liar, Tom Paris. But you're my favorite liar."

He sighed and bent his head to place a soft kiss at the corner of Harry's mouth, giving up on this particular conversation for now. Perhaps this was enough, he thought to himself. They were here, the two of them in one bed, cuddled together all warm and happy and content. Mostly content. It was more than he'd ever hoped for.

Besides, if things went right, he would have all the time he wanted to convince Harry of how he really felt.

Tom went on kissing Harry's face, the smooth cheeks, the soft fluttering eyelids. One week now, seven days and seven night of this exquisite happiness, and he was scared to believe in his good fortune. There were moments when he hardly dared to touch Harry, afraid to discover that it was all just a dream. And there were other moments — he smiled against the silky skin — when he couldn't keep his hands off Harry at all. This was quite definitely turning into one of them.

He teased at Harry's lips with his tongue and felt a jolt of pleasure as Harry's mouth opened under his. Oh, God, he could have sold his soul for kisses like this. No one but Harry could be so gentle and so passionate at the same time. Tom brushed his fingertips across Harry's throat, down his chest. He moved closer, pressing tightly against Harry's body.

"You feel so good," he whispered. "To touch, to hold."

Harry reached out blindly and ran his hand down Tom's face, slipping a finger into his mouth. Tom sucked at it eagerly, felt a shiver run through Harry, and felt himself grow harder as well; he rocked against Harry's hip.

Harry smiled. "Again?"

"Unless you're tired," Tom said and let his hand trail down lower, to cup around Harry's rapidly growing erection. "Oh, you are tired," he said, stroking it lazily. "Never mind, then. I'll just go take a shower."

"Tom," Harry growled, pushing upwards against his hand.

"Yes?" He widened his eyes, a picture of innocence, and ran his fingertips around the moist head of Harry's straining cock.

"You are not going to take a shower."

"But I need it, Harry," he said, aiming to be sweetly reasonable. "I'm all sticky." Tom bent his head and flicked the very tip of his tongue over Harry's right nipple, feeling it pucker and stiffen as Harry jerked under his hands. "You came all over me, don't you remember?"

A strong hand wound into his hair and dragged his head up, and when he found himself staring into Harry's deep, dark eyes Tom nearly forgot all about the little game he was playing. Harry was so beautiful, especially like this, so deliciously flushed and hot and eager, with his eyes shooting sparks.

"You're not going to take a shower, Tom," Harry said firmly. "You are going to take me."

"Persuade me," Tom said wickedly, and the next second gasped as hands and lips began a determined assault. Harry rolled him over on his back and leaned half across his chest, kissing him deeply while trailing one hand along the inside of his thigh, scratching, soothing, teasing. Then the hand moved up to cup his balls, fingers feathering carefully across the sensitive skin.

"Please?" Harry breathed in his ear and sucked at his ear lobe.

"I'm thinking about it," Tom said and moaned involuntarily as Harry's fingers curled around his cock and stroked him with deliberate slowness. It was such wonderful torture; he'd never have guessed, before all this began, what a playful lover Harry was.

Harry moved down and started to trail his tongue in spirals over Tom's chest, cleaning him up. He really was sticky. But he loved it; he would have liked to keep the scent and taste of his lover with him all day. Tom tried to imagine the captain coming to ask him something, leaning over the conn and smelling sex on him. Smelling Harry on him, Harry's seed sweet on his breath, that small sign of possession.

He grinned, and then drew his breath in when Harry pinched one of his nipples only to soothe it instantly with his tongue. This was repeated on his other nipple and Tom groaned. Harry lifted his head. "Please?" he repeated, eyes full of lust and mischief.

"Don't look at me like that," Tom breathed. "It makes me want to fuck you silly."

"That sounds like a good idea to me." Harry sat up, but put a hand on Tom's chest and held him down when he would have followed. "No, just stay where you are."

"Don't leave me like this," Tom begged shamelessly as Harry moved across the bed. "I'll die, Harry, I swear I will." Then he saw Harry shift back again with a small tube in his hand, and widened his eyes. "Oh, God."

The quick grin that appeared on Harry's face made Tom's heart turn over. Then he groaned, as Harry squeezed out thick lubricant onto his fingers and began to smear it all over Tom's cock. When Harry put the tube aside again Tom started to lever himself up, but Harry pushed him back down again.

"I told you to stay where you are."

"But," Tom began and then broke off as Harry moved to kneel across him. It seemed that Harry was getting adventurous. Tom didn't know whether to be more surprised or delighted. Then he lost the ability to think clearly at all as Harry steadied Tom's cock with one hand and slowly lowered himself down. Tom closed his eyes, overwhelmed by sensation, the tightness, the heat, but even more by the knowledge of who this was, the one who gave himself so freely and without fear.

Looking up again he saw Harry with his head tilted back and his mouth slightly open, rocking in small careful movements, taking Tom in deep, deeper. Tom wanted to cry. He wanted to tell Harry that he loved him. But that hadn't gone down too well any other time he had said it, and so he just looked, and swallowed once, hard. It was too much. Too wonderful.

Almost too hard to believe that it could be happening to him. Tom lifted his hands and stroked Harry's chest. He wanted to give Harry so much pleasure, wanted to hear Harry cry out loud. Nothing else had ever made him feel as good as he did when he saw Harry's eyes close and his lips tremble as he came. He wanted to see that again, wanted to know that it was because of him.

Harry was smiling down at him now and then he started to shift again, rolling his hips, moving up and down and around in small exquisite motions, each of which seemed to send a pulse through Tom's entire nervous system. He wanted to grip Harry's hips and thrust up hard; instead he clenched his fists around the sheet and managed to lie still and allow Harry to set the pace.

"Like it?" Harry breathed, at the same time reaching down to gently pinch Tom's nipples. Tom moaned, and that seemed to be answer enough. Harry began to move faster and with more determination, bracing himself against Tom's chest.

He could feel his pulse speed up as the tension began to build. It was difficult to be passive, but that was outweighed by the incredible sight of Harry doing this just the way he wanted it, the tiny shifts in expression on Harry's face as he moved towards greater and greater pleasure. Just watching him was such an intense experience for Tom that he all but forgot about himself. All that was important was Harry, and the fact that Harry was enjoying this so much.

As the pace picked up even more, Tom let go of the sheet and put one steadying hand on Harry's hip. Then he closed his other hand around Harry's cock and began to stroke it in time with Harry's movements. Harry's head tipped back. "Oh, yes."

"Like it?" Tom teased back, but he was breathless, too, overwhelmed by both the sheer physical sensation and by what he was seeing. By now he was moving too, unable to keep still. Harry was so wonderful!

"Tom, Tom, I — I'm—"

"Yes," he whispered fiercely, and held on to Harry and thrust up hard, and he didn't know if it was the sensation of muscles contracting around his cock or the sound of Harry crying out that brought him over the edge too, delirious, ecstatic. "Harry, oh god, Harry, you're beautiful, I love you..."

It took some time before Tom could feel more than just dazed, sated warmth. Harry was lying on top of him, sweaty and sticky and utterly delicious. He wrapped his arms around the warm body of his lover and sighed in perfect contentment as he felt Harry's lips shape a gentle kiss against his shoulder. He had never been so happy in his entire life.

* * *

Harry sat alone at a table in the mess hall, eating without really tasting the food. He knew he ought to eat, and so he did eat, grateful for a moment to himself, a time to think. His mind was slowly revolving around the questions that wouldn't leave him alone, the doubts that wouldn't stop plaguing him. When he was with Tom there was no time to think. And he didn't really want to, either. Now, well, he still didn't want to, but he was doing it anyway, and getting steadily more depressed.

A plate was set down firmly on the table and B'Elanna took the seat opposite him, giving him a curiously amused look that bordered on a smile as he jerked his head up to look at her.

"Hi," he said cautiously, wondering why she looked like that.

"Hi yourself." She picked up her fork, then paused and shot him another bright glance. Yes, there was definitely a smile lurking there. "Haven't seen much of you lately. But then I suppose you've been busy. How are things with you and Tom?"

"What things?" Harry hedged. She couldn't mean...

B'Elanna rolled her eyes. "Harry, when the ship's computer says you're in his quarters at 0300 hours, two nights in a row, somehow I don't think you were memorizing Starfleet manuals together."

Harry blushed, more at the way she was looking at him than at her actual words. She was grinning as though it was the most amusing thing she'd heard in, well, years. Then he asked, "Why were you asking the computer about me at a time like that?"

"I was curious," she said blandly. "Insomnia will do that to you. It wasn't until I asked about you and Tom that I started to get interesting answers. So tell me, Starfleet. You having fun?"

She was teasing him, of course, but the way her eyes sparkled was more kind than anything else. Besides, he had to acknowledge this in front of someone, or he would go crazy. And she already knew. "I — well — yes."

B'Elanna looked closely at him. "But?"

"What do you mean, but?"

"That sentence sounded as though it should have a 'but' coming right after it. Tell me." She'd stopped smiling.

"It's nothing."

"Tell me," she insisted with a trace of fierceness, but more concern.

Harry sighed, unsure of whether he ought to or not. He'd never been in a situation quite like this before and although he felt he had no real right to talk, he was surprised by how much he wanted to. Still, it was one thing to for him talk about himself and his own problems, another to talk about Tom.

"It's really not important."

"It's making you unhappy," she said, growing fiercer by the minute. "Come on. Is he being a bastard? I'll beat him up for you if you like."

"No!" Harry exclaimed, flinging up a hand as though to bodily stop B'Elanna from tearing out of the mess hall and doing that right now.

"Well, I would," she said, but relaxed again and smiled to soothe his obvious distress. "If necessary. C'mon, Harry. I know now that everything isn't as it should be. You know I can keep quiet."

Looking down at his hands, Harry mumbled, "It's stupid. It's just that—"

"Yes?" she asked, with remarkable patience.

Well, he'd gone this far. It was just difficult to know how to put it. "He keeps saying that he loves me," Harry blurted out finally.

B'Elanna opened her mouth, closed it again, bit her lip, then bent her head and looked down as she punched her fist against the table repeatedly. Harry watched in some trepidation as her shoulders shook, and glanced around to see whether everyone else in the mess hall had noticed. Kes gave them a bright look from across the room, but that was all.

Then B'Elanna looked up again, her eyes wide with barely-suppressed laughter. "That's a problem?"

With a resigned air, Harry pushed his plate aside. He wasn't really enjoying the food anyway. He couldn't for his life have said what it tasted like. "I told you it was nothing," he said quietly, tensing and shifting his weight. "I have to go, I—"

Her hand shot out and grabbed his wrist. "Not so fast, Starfleet. You're going to have to explain this one to me."

"What's to explain?"

"Harry, why is it a problem that he says he loves you?" She looked serious now, serious enough that he stopped feeling hurt at the way he'd laughed at him. "It's what most people would want to hear from a lover."

Harry closed his eyes for a moment. She was right, of course. But that wasn't the point.

"The problem is that, well, I don't think he means it." He sank back into his chair. "You know how, how flippant he is." She nodded. "And you know what he's like with lovers."

"No, I don't," B'Elanna said and winked at him. "That was going to be my next question."

"B'Elanna!" Harry blushed again. "I didn't mean that. I just meant that, well, he isn't exactly famous for being monogamous."

"Maybe he's changed his mind."

"Or maybe," Harry said, finally voicing his fear, "this is just the way he is. For all I know he tells everyone the same thing. He could even mean it in a way, at the time. I—" He took a deep breath. "I don't dare trust him, B'Elanna."

She looked thoughtfully at him, then patted his hand before picking up her fork and making a new attempt at the food. Finally she said, "Have you told him this?"

"No!" he said quickly. "Don't tell him!"

"Don't panic, now. I'm not going to, I just wondered if you had. Why not?"

"Because I..." He trusted B'Elanna, he reminded himself, probably more than he trusted Tom, or at least, in a different way. "Because then he'd find out that I care," he said in a quick rush, his voice so low it could barely be heard.

B'Elanna stared at him, and dropped her fork. "Oh, Harry," she said, with more tenderness than he'd ever heard from her before. "Look, I have to be down in engineering round about now. Meet me in my quarters, 1900 hours?"

"If you promise me one thing," he said, struggling for a smile.

"What?"

"Don't go beating Tom up in the meantime."

"I'll try to restrain myself," she promised gravely, jumped to her feet and walked away.

Harry was left fretting, but at the same time feeling curiously relieved that he had told someone. Up until now he had felt as though the whole relationship existed in a vacuum; no one had been told, and somehow that made it all even more unreal. Whenever there was anyone else present, Tom was just the way he had always been. Harry sometimes found it unbelievable that the cocky pilot on the bridge and the passionate lover in his bed were the same person.

Perhaps talking to B'Elanna would make him feel better. He needed to explain it all to someone; perhaps that would help clarify his own feelings. And he'd feel better if he could get someone else's perspective on this. At least if B'Elanna stopped threatening to beat Tom up.

* * *

Tom caught sight of crisp black hair and a pair of broad shoulders, and speeded up, skidding into the turbolift next to Harry. "Hey, don't I know you from somewhere?" he grinned.

"It's possible," Harry said, deadpan. "I meet a lot of people, I can't keep track of them all—"

Tom leaned in and kissed him thoroughly. "Well, try to keep track of this one, okay?" He brushed lightly at Harry's hair, feeling as always the nearly irresistible impulse to muss it, and then told the turbolift to stop.

Harry looked surprised. "I thought you were due on the bridge."

"I am," Tom said with an innocent smile. "In ten minutes." He wrapped his arms around Harry, pressing him back against the wall. Just feeling Harry's body against his own was enough to make him forget the captain, the bridge, the ship... but he'd make it there on time.

First things first, though. He bent his head and started to lick at Harry's throat, pleased to note that Harry was wearing a loose shirt. The polo neck that went with the uniform could sometimes be a bit too much of a challenge.

"Tom," Harry said, half reproving, half pleased. From the way he was pressing closer, Tom guessed the pleasure would win out. At least he hoped so.

He nibbled at Harry's earlobe and whispered, "Come on, Harry, indulge me. I've always wanted to do this."

"Do what?" Harry asked, then his eyes widened as Tom slowly slid down to his knees and started to work at the fastening of Harry's pants. "Tom."

He tilted his head back and grinned, hands cupping Harry's groin and rubbing gently. "Don't talk so much," he said teasingly, "we don't have a lot of time." Then he pushed the cloth down and aside, pleased to see that despite the protests, Harry was already fully erect.

Tom took a moment to admire him. Everything about Harry was beautiful, including his cock: straight and smooth and thick, with that gorgeous curved head that fit perfectly into Tom's mouth. He licked it at first, flicked his tongue teasingly over the delicate membrane on the underside and filed the incoherent but encouraging response away for future reference. Then he sucked it in slowly, careful to keep his teeth out of the way. He knew already that Harry was too sensitive to enjoy that.

"Tom, we can't do this here," Harry whispered, but he was already clenching his fists rhythmically, and his hips were bucking forward. Tom would have smiled if he'd been able to. Instead he concentrated on making this as good as possible in the limited time he had. He licked and sucked and teased, and then without warning took Harry in deep, hearing an astonished gasp. "Tom! Please."

And then there were no more words, only breathless moans that grew in intensity until Tom slipped one hand up between Harry's legs and slowly pushed a finger into him, and Harry came with a choked cry. Tom held him steady, and rose to wrap both arms around him.

Harry leaned his head against the wall, breathing heavily. Then he opened his eyes, and Tom smiled, loving that look more than words could say. "You going to remember me till the next time now?"

"Oh, I definitely will," Harry said, still breathless. "But you have to let me..."

"No time," Tom said, already working on fastening Harry's clothes again. "You'll owe me one."

He was still smiling when he made it to the bridge. Tom did his best to tame his expression; there was nothing wrong with a smile, but he had a feeling he wasn't supposed to look delirious with happiness while on duty, or someone would think he was ill. As it was, the captain gave him a thoughtful look, and he felt reckless enough to wink at her.

Moments later she came to lean casually over the conn, and said under her breath, "I believe you have canary feathers in the corner of your mouth, lieutenant."

The look on her face as his tongue reflexively shot out to search for traces of what he had swallowed was priceless. Tom spent the rest of his shift trying not to have a laughing fit.

* * *

Standing outside B'Elanna's door, Harry tried to collect himself. He still felt the delicious aftermath of the orgasm in the turbo lift, and was pretty sure that even the most casual observer would notice the goofy grin he got when he thought about it. At the same time, the incident had increased his worries rather than comforted him. He lifted his hand, then let it drop again, not sure that he was ready to face her yet.

The third time he did this, the door opened and there she was, hands on hips. "What are you just standing there for? Come in!"

"Sorry," Harry offered feebly. "I was just thinking about things." He walked inside and stood there irresolutely as the door closed behind him.

B'Elanna looked him up and down. "Does thinking always mess up your hair and make you blush?"

"No, that was Tom," Harry said before he could think about it.

She grinned. "Oh, I see. The hair's easy enough, but how did he make you turn that interesting color?"

"Well, he gave me a blowjob in the turbo lift."

For once, Harry had the pleasure of seeing B'Elanna speechless. She looked him up and down incredulously. "Wow," she said after a long moment. "I didn't think you had it in you to be that adventurous."

"I didn't either," Harry admitted. "It's just that, well, I can't say no to him."

The smile was creeping back onto her face. She took his arm and pulled him away from the door and down to sit in a comfortable armchair, curling up on the couch herself. "I bet he likes that. Harry, tell me something."

"What?"

A devilish smile crept onto her face. "Is Tom even half as good a lover as he seems to think he is?"

Harry thought about it and felt himself blush, then peeked at her through his eyelashes. "You want to know the truth?"

"Why else would I be asking, Starfleet?" she teased gently.

"He's better."

B'Elanna sighed deeply. "You know, on reflection, I wish I hadn't asked." She pushed her hair back behind her ears. "Not that I'd say Tom is really my type, but this is turning into a long trip, you know what I mean?"

"Yes," Harry said dismally.

"There's no reason for you to look so glum about that," she said. "You've found someone."

"Yes, but..."

She looked up and met his eyes, and Harry saw to his great relief that the teasing mood slipped away and was replaced by concern again. "I'll listen," she said. "You can tell me."

Harry nodded his thanks. "I just don't know where to start. It's all such a mess."

"If it's all such a mess, then why are you even in this relationship at all?" she asked bluntly. "Are there any good points, apart from sex in the turbo lift?"

Harry smiled, as she'd intended him to. But he knew the real answer to that question. The good thing about the relationship was Tom. Just being with him. And the sheer joy Harry felt at that was so inextricably linked with all his worries that it seemed to him the whole affair was one big tangle of emotional threads that he'd never be able to sort out.

"There are many good things," he began haltingly. "But the more I think about this, the more I worry that maybe it was a big mistake. We were such good friends, B'Elanna. And now, it's..." Harry sighed. "It's wonderful. But I don't know if it's worth it. I don't want to be just another, another..." His voice wavered and he looked down.

"Another Tom Paris conquest?" she filled in for him.

Harry nodded. "I gave up everything for this," he said quietly. "I thought, to hell with our friendship. To hell with Libby. To hell with the fact that we have to work together. To hell with everything I know about how that man conducts his love life. Because I wanted him, I wanted to know just once what it would feel like."

"And now you don't think it was worth the cost?" she nodded. "It wasn't that good?"

Harry looked despairingly at her. "It's too good," he whispered. "And I know it's going to end and I'll have nothing. Tom never stays with anyone. And I, I, the more I have, the more I want, I'm so greedy for him, I don't think forever would be long enough!"

He didn't realize he was crying until she was standing next to his chair, gravely handing him a tissue. B'Elanna perched on the armrest, putting an arm around his shoulders. "Harry, don't." She stroked his hair. "How did it all start?"

Harry blew his nose and settled back in the chair, resting his head against her. "It was that night Neelix made the pink soup with the green blobs in it. Remember?"

"I could hardly forget," she said with a shudder, and Harry smiled.

"Well, we decided to replicate something more bearable for dinner, and I'd promised to lend him a book, so we went to my quarters. He was walking around, and I was at the replicator, and..."

* * *

~~ Harry tried not to feel self-conscious as Tom came up to look over his shoulder, standing just a bit closer than he usually did. "Hey, chocolate mousse. I'll get fat."

"I won't let you have any, then. I just hope the replicator got it right, it tasted funny last time." Harry dipped a finger into the bowl. At least the consistency was right. He brought his hand up, only to suddenly find that Tom was gripping his wrist.

"Why don't you let me try it," Tom said in a tone of voice Harry had never heard him use before. Harry was too surprised to react as Tom moved even closer to him and slowly sucked Harry's finger into his mouth.

The sensation of Tom's hot, wet mouth and swirling tongue on his skin was as shocking as it was delightful. Harry gasped involuntarily, closed his eyes and shivered. When Tom finally released his finger it was all he could do to force his eyes open again and stare at him helplessly.

Tom smiled at him, lifted a hand and cupped it around his cheek. "Tom," Harry whispered uncertainly, "I—"

"Shut up," Tom said sweetly, and kissed him.

Harry hesitated at first; he knew he shouldn't do this, he knew it was a mistake, but it was so hard to remember why. And he wanted this, wanted the kiss so badly his whole body was trembling. Tom's hand slid around to grip the back of his neck and tilt his head to a more convenient angle, and Harry opened his mouth eagerly to Tom's questing tongue.

Oh, it felt so good. Recklessly, he wrapped his arms around Tom's body, pulling him closer. They were pressed tightly together, and then Tom made a small sound and moved forward another step, pressing Harry against the wall, fingers digging into his neck, kissing him so deeply and eagerly that Harry thought he would come right there and then.

The kiss just went on and on, seguing into a series of lighter, softer, more teasing ones. Then Tom started to trail kisses along Harry's jaw, heading for his ear. The sensation of a tongue flicking there made Harry gasp. His heart was pounding so wildly he thought everyone on Voyager should be able to hear it.

"Tom?"

"Mm?"

"Tom, I don't think—" A kiss cut him off and he succumbed completely to it. He could feel Tom's erection pressing against his body, knew that Tom could feel his. It would be absurd to say that he didn't want this. It was all too clear that he did.

"I'll stop if you want me to," Tom whispered against his lips, long moments later. "That's a promise, Harry."

Harry closed his eyes. "Don't." He took a deep breath, then clarified, "Don't stop." He could feel all the reasons why he shouldn't do this slide away out of his grasp, powerless against the incredible sensation of Tom kissing him again and making his head spin.

Harry thought that he could probably have just stood there kissing Tom all night. But Tom had different ideas. The hand that wasn't around Harry's neck wandered slowly across his shoulder, down his side, to the small of his back and pulled him in even closer. Then Tom bent his head and kissed Harry's neck, and started to bite him, not too hard, and at the same time pushed a leg between Harry's and rubbed up against his groin. Harry gasped, and jerked, and banged his head against the wall.

Tom looked up, his eyes sparkling. "I think this is our cue to move somewhere else," he said.

Harry nodded, a bit reluctantly because he didn't want to let go. But Tom tugged him along, and soon Harry was being pulled down on his own bed, with Tom's arms going around him again, and they fell into another of those long, luscious kisses, and Harry knew he was kissing Tom as though his life depended on it, and for all he knew, it did. Tom was rubbing the back of his head soothingly in the exact spot where he'd hit the wall. It was strange that one could feel comforted and wildly excited at the same time.

Tom started to extricate Harry from his uniform with an ease and speed that spoke of long practice, and Harry managed to kick off his boots and then started tugging at Tom's clothes, too. He wanted to feel Tom's skin against his own. Now that he had made up his mind, he was determined to do everything he'd ever wanted. But at the same time, he felt shy. Especially when Tom had finally undressed him and lay there just looking at him silently, not even touching him at first. Harry blushed, and then Tom smiled and brushed a finger across his cheek. "You're beautiful."

That was ridiculous. Tom was the one who was beautiful. But Harry couldn't find the words to say that right then. He was still feeling a little awkward. He wanted this so much, and he wasn't sure he could do it right.

Then Tom slipped out of his own clothes and Harry reached out and pulled him close. And it felt so good. Harry sighed, and stroked Tom's back and shoulders, feeling Tom's hands feather their way over him ever so lightly and carefully. He turned his head and found Tom's lips, kissed him, and then their whole bodies were moving, pressing rhythmically against each other. That felt even better.

"Tom," Harry whispered, feeling stupid. "Tom, I—"

"Yes?" Amazingly Tom lay still, and just looked at him enquiringly.

"Well." Harry knew he was blushing. "I just wanted to ask you to, well, I'm not very experienced when it comes to—"

Tom put a finger across his lips. "Hey, it's all right," he said. "I won't do anything you're not happy with. And I won't ask you to do anything you're not happy with. Just relax, Harry." ~~

* * *

"So how experienced is 'not very'?" B'Elanna asked. "Was he the first guy you ever slept with, or what?"

"No." Harry shook his head. "I'd tried it before, but the thing is that it was never, well, I never enjoyed it much. It felt so strange, because I knew I wanted him, but at the same time I'd never really liked those things that I found myself wanting to do with him."

"Oh." B'Elanna kicked her boots off, swung her legs up and burrowed her feet in under Harry's thigh; he shifted to accommodate her. "So that's part of your problem then? I mean, if he even pounces on you in turbo lifts and you don't really like it..."

"I like it," Harry said with a wide grin, thinking about just how much he liked it. "It was just so different with him. I know this sounds silly and, and romantic, but he made me feel things I didn't even know I could feel, and he made me want things that I'd never wanted before. "

She raised an eyebrow. "I thought you just said that he said that he wouldn't make you do anything you weren't comfortable with."

"And he never does, either," Harry said. "He just has a way of making me want to do things. Things that I, well, that I would have thought were disgusting, before."

B'Elanna rolled her eyes. "How romantic. Do you guys do anything except screw each other's brains out?"

"We play pool from time to time," Harry offered with a straight face.

She laughed. "I'm relieved to hear it. But tell me, just how does he make you want to do things? And what exactly is disgusting? Details, Harry, I want details. If you can do it, you can talk about it."

"No," Harry said and clamped his mouth shut. The more he thought about describing in detail to B'Elanna the things he and Tom did in bed together, the more he could feel his cheeks heating up, and his ears, and his neck. To judge by the way she was looking at him, he must have turned some really horrible color.

"Tell me," she said coaxingly. "Please?" He shook his head. "Come on. Do it and I'll describe my perverted fantasies about Neelix."

"You have perverted fantasies about Neelix?!" Harry said.

"No. But I'd make some up." B'Elanna grinned. She worked her feet loose again and stood up. "You want something to eat or drink?" Walking over to the replicator, she requested coffee for herself, and Harry asked for some apple juice. "You sure you don't want wine? Maybe if I get you drunk you'll tell me."

Harry sighed, and smiled. "If I had realized you only wanted to satisfy your prurient curiosity, you'd never have managed to invite me here."

"I'm sorry," she said and brought him the glass of juice, sitting down again on the arm of the chair. "I didn't mean to belittle your problem. It's just that, well, don't be offended, but this is honestly the last thing I expected from you, Harry, and so I want to know what depths of depravity you've sunk to. Plus, the idea of Tom and you together is pretty damn appealing, I'm sure you realize."

"Well, it is to me," Harry said. "It's, I feel drunk when I'm with him. I can't think of anything else. And when he touches me, I..."

* * *

~~ He shuddered, unable to speak as his right nipple was trapped between Tom's teeth and teased gently but firmly. Harry wanted to reach out, too, to touch and caress, but he couldn't keep up; Tom was drowning him in sensory bliss. He had never imagined that every part of his body could be so sensitive.

When Tom suddenly moved away from him, Harry nearly cried. He opened his eyes reluctantly and saw Tom already out of the bed and walking across the room. Harry swallowed and tried to get his voice back. Had he done something wrong? Tom couldn't be leaving now, he just couldn't. He was so choked up with worry that he couldn't even really appreciate the sight of Tom walking around his quarters naked.

Then Tom was coming back again, carrying a bowl and smiling. "No need to waste this," he said and sat down at the foot of the bed. He dipped a finger into the bowl and Harry realized it was the abandoned chocolate mousse. He rolled his eyes; chocolate wasn't really the first thing on his mind. Was Tom really going to take a break just to have dessert? Although as Harry watched Tom delicately lick the chocolate off his own fingertip, he had to admit it looked pretty suggestive.

He felt more surprised than anything else when Tom bent down and kissed his foot lightly. And then again, and again, lots of tiny kisses like drops of rain falling on him. It felt good and he had just relaxed when Tom started sucking on one of his toes. Harry gasped at the unexpected jolt that shot straight to his groin. He had no idea why this was such a turn-on, but he felt himself get incredibly aroused as Tom went on paying attention to his toes, and his feet, and then his calves.

Tom was slowly working his way up Harry's legs, when Harry felt something cool and sticky being smeared on his skin. He raised himself up on his elbows to look. It was the chocolate mousse. And now Tom was licking it off him. Oh, God. Higher and higher, all along the inside of his thighs, and Harry shivered and sighed.

Then when Tom reached the very top of his thighs, he shifted his position and moved to lie next to Harry instead, and started to draw swirling patterns all over his chest and stomach, using the chocolate mousse as finger paint. Harry was breathing hard as Tom's clever tongue teased his nipples again. He knew what he wanted Tom to do, but he couldn't very well ask for it. Instead he felt himself move in response to the skilfull caresses, arch involuntarily under Tom's hands and lips, and when a chocolate-covered finger dragged across his lips he captured it and sucked at it, hard.

"Oh, Harry," Tom whispered, tongue dipping into his navel now, and Harry didn't know whether to scream with frustration or just break down and beg. Silently he vowed to himself that even if it took years, one day he was going to drive Tom as crazy as Tom was driving him right at this moment.

Finally he heard himself whisper, "Please," and although his eyes were closed right then he could have sworn he could feel Tom smile. The mattress dipped as Tom shifted his weight again. And then Harry felt Tom's hot, wet mouth close around his aching cock.

He lost track of the details after that. There was only the firm pull of Tom's mouth, then the light feathering caresses, one amazing sensation following another to create a state as close to heaven as he had ever thought to get. Harry was dimly aware that someone was crying out incoherently, and he thought it might be him, but it wasn't important. All that was important was Tom, and the incredible things Tom was doing to him.

Harry could feel his whole body tingle, could feel it build up in his scalp and in the soles of his feet; his skin was rippling with tiny electric shocks. For one brief moment everything stopped happening, and then he convulsed, and shook, and screamed so hard his throat hurt.

He opened his eyes again to find himself lying cradled in Tom's arms, and more of those tiny, sweet kisses being placed on his forehead, and his cheeks, and on the tip of his nose. Harry smiled. "I never would've figured you for a screamer, Harry," Tom teased. "I hope these walls are soundproofed."

"I don't know," Harry said, aiming a kiss for Tom's mouth but only managing to catch his chin, "and I don't care." He was slowly getting his breath back and his head was clearing enough for him to realize there was something he really ought to do. Trailing a hand down Tom's side towards his groin, he was surprised to have it intercepted.

"Not yet," Tom said with a small smile. "We have a lot of time." Tom reached over Harry, and brought back a handful of chocolate mousse, which to Harry's surprise he started to eat as though it was the most normal thing in the world. "Have some, you need it more — after all, I'm the one who just got a protein supplement."

Harry blushed. "Um." He dipped his head to lick some mousse from Tom's palm.

Tom grinned. "You want to know something, Harry? You taste better than chocolate." He kissed Harry's throat, an open-mouthed, wet, sucking kiss. "And I didn't think anything did. I love surprises."

Harry wasn't sure what to say. 'Thank you' didn't seem entirely appropriate. He smiled shyly, then looked down, and caught sight of Tom's still unsatisfied erection. "But Tom, I want to — you know — it's your turn really—"

"If it's my turn," Tom said sweetly, "that must mean I get to decide what we should do. And I can think of at least five hundred and seventy-three places where I haven't kissed you yet." He was rolling Harry towards him as he spoke, and his next words were slightly muffled. "I think I'll start around here."

Harry still felt obscurely guilty, but it was all too easy to yield to Tom's caresses, those soft kisses, the gentle, clever hands that seemed to coax something out of him that he'd barely been aware of before. It was silly, but when Tom touched him he did, somehow, feel beautiful.

So he allowed himself to relax into the warmth of it. The tenderness that surprised him, delighted him. Harry could not have said when the subtle change started and when his blissful calm turned into renewed tension, he just suddenly became aware that Tom's lips on him burned like fire and he was no longer soothed by Tom's touch, but aching for it. Tom was licking his spine, sometimes pausing to nibble at the vertebrae. Was the place between his shoulder blades really an erogenous zone? It was now, Harry realized.

He made a move to turn over, but a light touch made him stop. Tom's lips in the small of his back, Tom's hands stroking his legs. The kisses moved lower with slow determination. No, no, he couldn't mean to— Harry stiffened, then jumped when Tom pinched him, and as he relaxed again from the surprise of it Tom pushed his legs apart and cupped his ass cheeks in both hands and kissed him again right there, and Harry would have died of embarrassment, except that he started moaning instead and spread his legs even wider.

So this was what it felt like, he thought, amazed. It was so intimate, and so strange, and almost unbearably arousing. "Tom," he tried to whisper but his voice wouldn't work properly. Tom was teasing him, licking and sucking very gently and then Harry felt Tom reach out, and he knew by now what that thick cool substance on his heated skin was.

Oh, God, he thought a bit desperately, I'm lying face down on my bed with Tom Paris licking chocolate mousse off my ass. And he'd never even dreamed that anything like this would happen, and he was hard as hell again, terrified and shivering in anticipation of what would happen. When Tom slowly pushed a finger into him Harry was too far gone to make even a token protest. He just whimpered. Tom's clever tongue was still caressing him wetly, and then Tom added another finger and Harry yelped out loud as something inside him caught fire.

He bucked his hips against the delicious pressure and felt Tom's kisses wander back up his spine again. Tom's fingers slid in and out, and Tom bit his ear lobe and whispered, "Harry? I want to fuck you, Harry." Oh God, those fingers, he was going to go crazy. "But you have to tell me you want it. I won't do anything you don't want me to."

"Mm," Harry said incoherently, then realized that Tom was waiting for a more verbal reply. As if Harry could talk right now, as if Harry could even think right now. "Please," he managed to get out, one of the few words his mind seemed to remember. "Oh please, do it."

Tom's fingers left him with one last lingering caress, and Harry got back to his senses enough to be able to roll to his side and watch as Tom smeared chocolate mousse all over his erection. Harry licked his lips. He made to move over on his stomach again but Tom caught him and rolled him the other way. "Pull your legs up. Yeah, like that." The sudden pressure startled him, but those clever fingers had done their work well. Harry found himself staring intently at Tom's face, at the way Tom's eyes closed as he slid into Harry's body.

It felt like nothing else, and he realized that as with everything else that had been happening in this bed tonight, his earlier experiences were nothing to go on. This was different. This was Tom. And Tom was moving in him very carefully and he felt stretched, opened up in more ways than one, so vulnerable it was frightening and just so incredibly aroused on top of that. Tom was slow and gentle. Too slow. He was biting his lip to hold himself back and Harry felt a hot rush deep inside; he found himself getting even more turned on by Tom's evident passion.

Harry wrapped his legs around Tom's waist and urged him deeper. "Faster," he choked out, far beyond embarrassment now, driven by desire. "Harder."

"I don't want to hurt you," Tom hissed.

"You're not, damn it!" Harry frantically pushed his hips up. He wanted more, he had to have more. And then Tom broke down with a groan and gripped Harry hard and started to drive into him with determined thrusts. It didn't hurt. It was as far away from hurting as anything could get and he couldn't get enough, he was sobbing, he wanted it to last forever, but they were both too far gone for that.

Harry felt himself balancing, amazed, on the knife's edge of orgasm, trying to stay there just a little longer, and then Tom slammed into him hard and cried out, and that did it, he was gone, lost in the heat and darkness, lost in some place where he could hear Tom's voice pant out, "Harry, I love you." And then, in a rush of breathless laughter, "Now this is what I call dessert." ~~

* * *

B'Elanna took a deep breath. "Let's ease up on the descriptive passages," she said, tugging at the neck of her uniform sweater. "My plans for this evening didn't include a cold shower. But honestly, Harry, I'm not sure I understand your problem. You have someone who says he loves you, and who does — that — to you, and you're not happy."

Harry leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and propping his chin on his hands. "B'Elanna, have you heard what Megan Delaney says about Tom these days?"

"I don't gossip with Stellar Cartography blondes," she said grandly.

"Maybe you should," Harry muttered. "She would, I quote, like to rip his lying tongue out and stuff it up his worthless ass." He remembered very clearly passing by a table in the mess hall and hearing that piercing soprano raised in indignant outcry. "She thought he loved her; he left her after two weeks. And I don't think she's the only one, either."

"Oh," B'Elanna said, sounding dismayed. "Oh, hell." She put a hand on his shoulder. "Are you sure you don't want me to beat him up for you?"

"I'll think about it," Harry said with a tired attempt at humor. He leaned back and sipped at his apple juice. It had a nice comforting flavor to it; it tasted of home. And he was reminded yet again of what he had lost, and what he had given up. He'd broken his promise to Libby for something that would never last, for someone who'd screw him and leave him.

For someone he loved. But that was beside the point.

"Harry, you can't go on like this," B'Elanna said. "You have to talk to him."

"And tell him what, exactly?" Harry shook his head. "As far as I can tell, I have about seven more days of this. What should I do, ask him to marry me? I should have known better from the start, B'Elanna. Now all I can do is wait for the end."

"You mean you're just going to give up?!" She sounded outraged. "I expected more of you, Starfleet."

"I'd like to get out of this with a shred of dignity left to me," Harry said.

B'Elanna shook her head firmly. "Harry! Stop talking as though it's already over! You could at least try."

He tilted his head back to look up at her. It had taken him some time to understand that that expression on her face did not mean she was going to bite his nose off any second. He didn't take her aggression personally, but he was, in fact, starting to worry that she might take it out on his lover. And he didn't want that. Harry felt a lot of conflicting emotions when he thought about Tom, but wanting to see Tom hurt wasn't one of them.

"What would you do," he asked her, "in a situation like this?" Harry put his glass down on the table and half-turned in the chair, resting his arms on her knees. "What would you do if you had, against your better jugdment, entered into an affair with someone and realized all you were going to get out of it was a ruined friendship?"

"You forgot something," B'Elanna said. "A ruined friendship and some great sex."

"My mistake." Harry sighed. "But if we're going to be scrupulously exact, a ruined friendship, a lot of great sex and a broken heart."

"Harry," she said softly, "it's no use asking what I would do. I'd probably leave Tom with dislocated joints. But if I were you, not me, in such a situation, I suppose I would try to find out what Tom is really after. If it's just sex, or if there's more to it than that." She touched his cheek with an unaccustomed gesture of tenderness. "I don't want to see you get hurt, Harry."

Harry drew a deep breath, then smiled. "Thank you." The smile deepened. "I was going to say that you're like a sister to me. But the truth is, you are nothing like my sister."

B'Elanna shrugged. "Probably not. But Harry, if your sister is anything like you, that is how the human half of me would like to be."

He was so touched, he could not think of anything to say, and sat looking up at her in silence. Then he finally took her hand and squeezed it gently. "I like you fine just the way you are," he said.

She smiled back hesitantly. "Well, good. And I like you, and I hope I can go on liking Tom. He has his moments." B'Elanna watched Harry's grin with a raised eyebrow. "I did not mean those moments." They both laughed, and Harry began to feel a little calmer. At least whatever was going to happen, B'Elanna would be there for him.

* * *

Kathryn Janeway pulled the pins out of her hair and sighed with relief as she felt it cascade down around her shoulders. She was feeling more cheerful than tired despite the late hour. It had been a peaceful day. None of the fun and games in the Delta Quadrant that she so enjoyed, and then felt guilty for enjoying.

Because they were trying to get home, after all. She felt she owed it to her crew to take that seriously. There were so many of them who wanted to get back and who trusted her to get them back. It wasn't right for her to take time out to play, to actually have fun.

The mission to get everyone home was still the one closest to her heart. But Janeway had come to realize that she herself was starting to change. She was still completely dedicated to that goal, but it was for them, not for herself. Oh, she missed everyone at home. And she did want to get back. At the same time, something inside her was saying, 'but not yet.' She was reminded of St Augustine. 'Take me to the Alpha Quadrant, Lord, but not yet...'

As to why she'd rather stay out here in the middle of nowhere a while longer, she avoided thinking of that with a skill born of long practise, and instead started to review her day, sifting through details to find out if there was anything she had missed, anything she ought to pay attention to. She had come to realize that her mind was good at filing away little facts and observations for later.

All that came to mind right now, though, was the expression on a certain blond pilot's face, and Janeway smiled as she remembered it.

She didn't know what had happened to transform Tom Paris, but it had to be something good. It was a subtle change; apart from an increased propensity for smiling contentedly to himself, there were no obvious signs. All she had to go on was a feeling. He seemed somehow more at peace than she had ever seen him before. And there were some moments when he appeared too smug for words, as when he'd made it onto the bridge for the last shift.

The captain smiled to herself as she remembered the way Tom had looked when he'd checked for canary feathers. Or something. Whatever he was up to, she could only approve. He appeared to be very happy.

In fact, she found herself almost envying Tom his peace of mind. At least the rest of her bridge crew was doing fine, too, she thought, going over them in her mind and bringing up only satisfying pictures. Until she got to Harry Kim. Janeway frowned. A small warning signal had sounded somewhere inside. There was nothing she could put her finger on, and he certainly performed his duties as competently as ever, but she had the impression all was not right with Mr. Kim, and she had learned not to discount those fleeting impressions.

She would just have to keep an eye on him. At least she didn't have to worry about Tom.

* * *

Tom slipped inside quietly and paused as the door closed and left him in complete darkness. He didn't want to wake Harry, but if he tried to walk around in here he'd probably overturn something. Finally he asked for ten per cent illumination and walked to the side of the bed, looking down at Harry, who was asleep on his back, beautifully and unconsciously posed.

With a tired smile, Tom bent to pull his boots off. He put them neatly aside next to a chair but let his socks just fall to the floor. When he straightened up again Harry was awake and looking at him. "Tom."

"That's me," he agreed and started to pull off the uniform. "Did I make too much noise?"

Harry pushed himself up on one elbow and ran a hand through his hair. It was wonderfully untidy, and Tom wanted to touch it too. He loved Harry's hair. "Tom," Harry said hesitantly, and Tom paused and looked at him. "Tom, don't get me wrong, but I'm not really in the mood right now."

Tom blinked. He was too tired to get it at first; then he shook his head, feeling a little disconcerted. "I just want to sleep, Harry," he said. "But if you don't want me to be here, I'll leave."

Harry's smile was oddly shy. "No, that's fine." He reached out a hand, and Tom took it, sitting down on the bed. He kicked the jumpsuit into a corner, then had to let go of Harry to take the polo shirt off. Lying down next to Harry, he breathed in deep of his lover's unique smell and felt contentment pour over him like warm water from his head down to his toes.

"Computer, lights out," he said and yawned, and wrapped an arm around Harry's waist. "You seem to have this view of me as a sex maniac."

Harry snorted. "Now I wonder why that is."

Tom smiled against Harry's neck. "You're just too damn gorgeous, that's the problem." He kissed the soft skin against his lips. "Maybe we should sleep."

He could feel Harry nod. They settled down, shifting slightly this way and that until Tom lay pressed against Harry's back, face against the back of his neck, one arm around him. Strands of Harry's hair tickled his cheek and he blew them away. Tom breathed slowly and tried to relax.

Only he couldn't. He'd been exhausted when he came in here, bone tired and wanting nothing more than to go to sleep next to the warm body of his lover. But now that he was actually here, he found himself increasingly distracted by Harry's presence. The way Harry felt, the sweet scent of him — his body knew only one reaction to those things, and it didn't seem to matter that he was tired.

Tom closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing. He tried to consciously relax all his muscles. Then he tried to count sheep, only to find that he couldn't visualize even one. White and fluffy, yes, but he couldn't get the shape of the head right. He shifted a little, trying to find a better position, embarrassingly aware that if Harry was awake he had to feel Tom's erection pressing against him. Sleep. He was supposed to sleep.

All he wanted to do was kiss Harry's neck gently, bite his shoulder, lick at his ear. All he wanted to do was to move, and push his leg up, and slide into Harry's body and meld the two of them into one hot delirious being, screaming for release. That was what he wanted. To be one with Harry, however briefly, to join with him the only way their limited bodies could manage. For them to be part of each other.

Tom stifled a groan and rolled away to lie on his back. This wasn't going too well. At this rate he'd never go to sleep; he'd still be lying here with a raging hard-on when Harry woke up in the morning.

Then Harry rolled over too, and came to rest against Tom again, his head on Tom's shoulder, his leg across Tom's. Tom sighed in resignation and kissed the top of Harry's head. He'd just have to lie here, then. Just as he thought that, he became aware of the way Harry felt pressed against his side, and felt Harry's hand slide down his stomach and brush against his cock. Tom made a small sound. Probably just an accident. Probably Harry was asleep already.

"You know what the worst part is?" Harry's voice said sleepily in the darkness. "You're turned me into one, too." Harry lifted his head and Tom felt lips searching for his own. He kissed Harry back for all he was worth and felt a rush of delight when Harry moved against him, pressing himself in a lazy rhythm against Tom's body.

"Don't blame me for what your hormones get up to," Tom murmured, drawing a finger down Harry's throat, down his chest, searching for the round puckered nipples. "I'm just the lucky guy who gets to take advantage of it."

Harry made a sound that might have been a short laugh, and then kissed Tom quite fiercely, making it impossible to talk. Tom yielded happily to it, shifting himself so they could thrust against each other, cocks gliding together silk on silk, it felt so good. So right. Then again, anything would be all right as long as Harry enjoyed it. Almost anything.

Tom bit his lip as Harry kissed his way down Tom's chest. Sooner or later he'd ask Harry to do it. Sooner or later. Maybe. He sucked his breath in as Harry bit his nipples firmly before continuing downwards. God, yes! Harry licked all along his shaft and Tom moaned. He clenched his hands to keep from clutching at Harry's head. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to just lie there and accept Harry's attentions. But then he couldn't handle it any longer.

"Will you just lie still?" Harry asked in affectionate exasperation.

"Wait," Tom said and shoved the sheet out of the way as he turned around. Then he settled down again with a contented sigh and spent a few moments investigating Harry's body by touch, before taking the head of Harry's cock into his mouth. This was all right. More than all right, as Harry went back to using his hands and mouth to drive Tom to distraction, too. He loved the taste of Harry; he could have licked and nibbled at him all night.

But they were too tired, and it wouldn't be fair to Harry to keep him awake for too long. So he drew on all his considerable skill and experience and deep-throated Harry, sucking him hard and rhythmically. Tom could feel Harry start to tremble, and hoped dimly that Harry would remember not to bite down as he came.

Then one of Harry's hands wound into Tom's hair and gripped him, and Harry pushed his hips forward, forcing himself deeper still. Tom jerked back, drawing away so fast his scalp hurt where Harry had pulled his hair. He lay still, panting, grateful for the darkness, grateful that Harry couldn't see his face.

"I'm sorry," he said when he found his voice again. "But I was choking." The lie came so very easily.

"Tom, I didn't mean to—"

He could hear that Harry was upset, and edged closer, finding Harry's body again and stroking him reassuringly. "It's okay." And now that he heard Harry's voice, it was. "I'm fine now," he drew a finger along Harry's erection, "and I think I have some unfinished business here."

It was fast now, Harry had been close, and Tom wanted to make up for the interruption. When he heard Harry's groan he knew he'd done a pretty good job after all. He sank back, lying flat and listening to Harry's breathing as it gradually slowed. Then Harry started to move and a hand slid up Tom's thigh towards his groin.

"I didn't forget you, you know," Harry said. Tom sighed as that hand began to stroke him confidently, and then he felt Harry's mouth again. He made himself relax and accept the pleasure. It was all right. It was Harry, and it was more than just all right, it felt so good. It was — ohh, it really was — just perfect.

And he came, his hands clenching the sheet tightly, and that warm mouth didn't leave him. Harry was licking him clean very gently, and Tom reached out and felt Harry's throat, felt Harry swallow, and then he thought he was going to cry again. But he didn't. He never cried, not even in the dark where no one could see him. They righted themselves and got all tangled up in the sheets and each other's arms, and fell asleep.

* * *

"Now he doesn't even bother to say that he loves me any more," Harry said desolately. He stared down into his glass of cheap holographic red wine, turning it this way and that. Sandrine's was crowded tonight. Tom was at the pool table, losing to the captain; Harry carefully did not look that way. He knew if he did he would get entirely too distracted.

Harry had always known that Tom was good-looking, but hadn't paid too much attention to that fact. The way Tom acted had turned his looks into just a part of some strange production number that Harry didn't much care for. But now, now he knew what Tom looked like when he slept, and in the tender moments after orgasm. Beautiful wasn't enough.

And Harry only had to look at Tom now to remember the taste of his mouth and how soft the skin on his throat was. What it felt like to touch Tom, seeking out love with his fingertips, knowing how right everything was locked together into this precise configuration, this frail bundle of flesh and blood and bone that had come to define beauty for him.

"Harry!" B'Elanna was looking sternly at him. "Snap out of it!" She leaned back in the chair across from him and drummed her fingers against her thigh. "You think it's a bad sign?"

Harry looked down, unwilling to show his uncertainty. "Well, why would he bother if he knows he can fuck me anyway?" He closed his eyes. "It's all going wrong, B'Elanna. I can feel it. I see the way he looks at me sometimes, and I think I'm just counting the hours now."

"What if you're wrong?" she countered. "You're never going to find out if you don't ask. Maybe I should teach you some Klingon interrogation techniques."

"No, thank you," Harry said quickly. He found himself looking towards the pool table anyway. The captain was laughing, and pushing Gaunt Gary out of the way as he attempted to advise her on a shot. Tom, next to her, shook his head in mock-resignation.

Moments later he pretended to break the cue over his knee. "... ashamed to lower crew morale this way, captain! A rematch?"

"No, Mr. Paris, I believe I'll leave you as you are."

"Crawling on the floor and with my confidence all but shattered? Captain!"

B'Elanna jumped to her feet. "I'll finish the job," she said with a quick wink at Harry. He watched her stride off and wondered just how much pleasure she would take in beating Tom, assuming she did. Her unexpected partisanship was making him feel both touched and somewhat uncomfortable. It was good to know that he had a friend who would back him up, but he had to handle this on his own.

Seeing Tom's open, friendly smile at B'Elanna, and B'Elanna's more guarded nod back, Harry felt something turn over in the pit of his stomach. He was setting himself up, he knew that. All set up for heartache. Amazing that it was so easy to mess up your life. Only ten days ago everything had been normal. Now all his emotional readings were off the scale. Happiness, unhappiness — everything had been redefined by this relationship. He was out of his depth, and every swimming lesson he'd ever had seemed insufficient.

"Mind if I join you?" There was no mistaking that voice, and Harry looked up quickly to meet the captain's bright eyes. He smiled and nodded at the chair B'Elanna had vacated, and Captain Janeway sat down with a pleased expression. "I almost didn't see you here in the corner. One day I may ask Mr. Paris to program a less smoky ambience."

Harry shook his head. "I don't think you'll ever get him to change anything about Sandrine's, captain."

"Very likely not," she agreed in that brisk way of hers. "Aren't you playing tonight, ensign?"

"I didn't feel up to getting beaten by you again, captain. Remember the crew morale."

She had such a warming smile. "I'm sure Neelix would be only too pleased to give you a pep talk." Harry made a face. The captain leaned forward, her eyes watching him intently. "Ensign. Harry. Is everything all right with you?"

Harry was startled enough to meet her gaze for a long moment. He hoped she couldn't read his eyes as well as he often suspected she could. Then he slowly nodded. "Yes, captain. Everything is fine."

Except that if that man over there at the pool table really loves me the way he says he does, why does he never show it in public? If he feels about me the way I feel about him, he couldn't be so oblivious to my presence here. Not a touch, not a word that might hint we're anything other than the friends we always were. And soon enough we may not even be that.

"I'm not entirely convinced, Mr. Kim," Janeway said and touched his hand lightly. "If there ever is something you want to say, please don't hesitate to come to me. I know I may seem preoccupied, but the welfare of my crew is very important to me."

Harry nodded quickly. He knew he never would. Too strange to try to explain to the captain what was happening inside him. Besides, she might consider that a difficult relationship between two of her bridge officers had a more negative effect on crew morale than any pool game. But it comforted him to know that she was concerned. That she kept an eye on him, on them all. And he would do his best never to let her down.

"I will, captain. Thank you."

She gave him another searching look, but then started talking about more neutral subjects. Harry relaxed and was able to keep up his end of the conversation without too much difficulty. When the captain walked away to speak to Commander Chakotay, Harry leaned back in his chair and watched Tom and B'Elanna at the pool table. He was relieved to see that B'Elanna was getting friendlier towards Tom as they played. From this angle Harry couldn't tell who was winning, and they both looked equally absorbed in the game.

He gave in to the temptation of just looking at Tom again. It was as though someone had turned a caleidoscope in front of his eyes and now he could really see Tom, could see past the deliberate gestures and the carefully judged smiles. And he couldn't stop looking. Harry realized with a small shock that he was letting his mind take one picture after another, snapshots to save for later. Stocking up on memories. Preparing for loss.

It was such a mistake. But Harry didn't know when he would have been able to back out. Even before the first kiss he had been lost. It had only made him realize what he had always wanted. A mistake, but he should be philosophical about it. It had been good while it lasted.

Then he shook his head, trying to clear it. It wasn't over yet. And now Tom was coming towards him, pool cue in hand. Harry couldn't help but smile back as Tom leaned against the table. "You're not bored, are you?" Tom tilted his head enquiringly. "I should send Sandrine herself to entertain you."

"I'm fine," Harry said. "I was talking to the captain just now."

"She's an evil woman," Tom said with a smile. "And B'Elanna's doing a good job of following in her footsteps. Once she's done with me..." Tom looked down, then up again. "I thought maybe we could go somewhere more private? I keep thinking of you and missing my shots."

Those words, and the look in Tom's eyes, made Harry's heart melt completely. He nodded. "I think that sounds like." He had to clear his throat. "Like a very good idea." Harry reached out to take Tom's hand, but Tom was already moving away again. He sat back in the chair, uncertain but hoping for the best.

* * *

It was getting to be really hard to concentrate. He hadn't been joking; his thoughts kept drifting to Harry the whole time, and that was definitely distracting him from his pool game. Tom hated to think that anything but love could be behind all those awful shots he was making. He smiled and looked on in resignation as B'Elanna demolished him utterly.

What he really wanted to do was to consign the game to the devil and go wrap himself around Harry instead. But, well. The thought was tempting, but he couldn't make himself touch Harry in public. Not like that.

There were many reasons for it, but the topmost one in Tom's mind was that he didn't want to embarrass Harry. Particularly not as things were now. If Harry didn't even like it when Tom told him that he loved him, in the privacy of his own quarters, how would he deal with a public kiss? That wasn't something Tom really wanted to know, and so he avoided any situation where he might find out.

Tom sighed. He'd never anticipated that things would grow so complicated. He hoped Harry would become more accepting as time went on. Harry could be so reserved, so self-contained. Tom felt an intense need to express his affection, but he didn't think this was the right moment. Perhaps not the right place, either. He couldn't help but wonder how everyone would react.

They'd probably wonder what on earth Harry saw in him, Tom reflected. After all, that was what he wondered himself.

He let his eyes wander towards that corner, and found himself worried all over again by the serious expression on Harry's face. There had been moments lately when he had felt that Harry was strangely distant, and didn't respond to Tom's attempts to love him as whole-heartedly as Tom could have wished.

Maybe Harry was changing his mind. Or maybe Harry had never been all that interested. Thinking back, Tom knew that he had more or less dragged Harry into this relationship, ever since the first moment when he had acted on impulse and reached out for that first momentuous touch. Harry could be coming to his senses now, realizing what a mistake he had made.

Because it was too hard to imagine, really, that Harry could feel about him the way he felt about Harry. And he didn't deserve to have Harry at all, much less—

"Tom, it's your shot!" B'Elanna was watching him impatiently. Trying to collect himself, Tom nodded and moved around the table. He was getting paranoid. Better to remember the smile on Harry's face as Tom had suggested that they leave. Suddenly he couldn't wait to finish this damn game of pool. Harry wanted to be with him, and nothing else was important compared to that.

He didn't try to lose, but lose he did. B'Elanna almost smirked at him, but he just smiled. Any unseemly gloating and he'd reprogram Gaunt Gary to be in love with her. Tom handed his cue to Chakotay and stepped away from the table. Sandrine came up and put a hand on his arm.

"You look far too happy, mon p'tit chou, for someone who just lost a game." She was smiling at him knowledgeably. The real Sandrine had always looked like that: as though she knew more about people than they really wanted her to. This one only had the look, though, not the real knowledge. Which was just as well, Tom thought.

"My smiling face hides a desolate soul," he told her mockingly, in case anyone was listening. Then he turned away and caught Harry's eye, and nodded towards the exit. Harry got to his feet and started to head that way. Tom followed, and caught up with Harry not far from the turbo lift. "Your quarters or mine, ensign?" he asked.

"Yours," Harry said and took his hand as they stepped into the lift. The small gesture made Tom's heart soar again. He rubbed his thumb across the palm of Harry's hand. "Why should I always be the one who has to have embarrassing stains removed from his sheets?"

"You're right, it isn't fair," Tom agreed, pulled Harry closer, and kissed him. As always, he lost himself in that and his heart started to beat faster. It was all right. It would be all right. He loved Harry too much for it all not to be all right.

* * *

Tom tried to remember that he was glad and proud to be the pilot of Voyager and that he enjoyed every moment at the conn. Nothing was happening that required his particular attention, the ship proceeded on its orderly course through the Delta quadrant, and he had plenty of time to just sit and think. Except that it was completely unsuitable for him to be brooding about his private affairs while on duty. And he couldn't seem to stop.

Last night was the first night he and Harry had spent apart since they began their relationship, and Tom still didn't know why. Harry had just insisted, and Tom had acquiesced. If that was the way Harry wanted it, that was the way it had to be. If Harry was tired of his lovemaking...

That didn't have to be it. There were many reasons why Harry might want a night alone. And Tom had to admit that they hadn't been sleeping as much lately as they probably needed to. He just hadn't missed sleep; he'd rather be with Harry than sleep, any time. Still, if they were to do their best, as responsible senior officers, they needed to be well rested.

Oh, to hell with glib explanations. He was terrified that Harry was getting tired of him. He just didn't know what to do about it. Maybe, Tom swallowed as he considered it, maybe it had been foolish of him to try anything with Harry in the first place. Things had been so simple before. Harry had always been there, a constant and unattainable presence, and Tom had played around with others and suffered love silently. A near-perfect arrangement.

Then love and passion had collided with such force that Tom was starting to wonder if he was going to survive the impact. The joy he'd felt at finally holding Harry, touching him, kissing him, making love to him the way he'd always dreamed of doing — had it really been worth the risk of losing Harry completely? It was impossible to imagine going back to being just friends now, when he knew just how wonderful things could be.

Tom blinked, and concentrated on the instrument panel. He wasn't going to lose Harry. That was impossible. He loved Harry too much for that. The universe couldn't do that to him.

Although he knew all too well that the universe loves to pile loss on loss, and then laugh in your face.

Whatever was bothering Harry, Tom wished Harry would just get around to talking about it. He was wary of asking. Harry was always so quiet, and kept his feelings to himself. It was hard to talk about personal matters. Tom was surprised at himself when he thought about how he had confessed his own feelings for Harry. It had just broken out of him, unexpected and unstoppable, a wellspring of fresh water breaking from barren rock.

But there had been no similar confession in return.

"Captain!" The sound of Harry's excited voice ringing out distracted Tom as nothing else might have done, and he half-turned in his seat to see Harry staring intently at his screens. "Captain, I believe — I think — I may have found another wormhole."

There was a brief moment of silence and then the bridge erupted into activity as captain Janeway strode over to look at Harry's readings and ask for details. "Where, ensign?"

"Approximately point seven light years away, captain. It's not too far out of our current flight path."

Everyone went to hover around Harry, except for Tom, who was stuck where he was. He didn't really mind. He didn't think he could have managed to look as happy and excited as the rest of them. The news made him feel cold all the way through.

Another wormhole. A possible way home. How nice. Home to prison, home to Daddy, home to the real world where Harry had a girlfriend waiting for him. Wonderful. Tom swallowed. He had to keep a tight grip on himself. He could just picture the look on Tuvok's face if Lieutenant Paris suddenly started beating his head against the panel and screaming.

When the captain gave him new coordinates, he plotted a course that was as good as he could make it. Janeway came to stand behind him and put her hand on his shoulder in that way she had that always made him feel both comforted and appreciated. Now his muscles bunched and tensed under her touch. She was tense, too, Tom could tell, but he felt completely certain that it wasn't for the same reasons.

"Let's get a closer look at this wormhole, Mr. Paris." She'd be full of hopes and fears, too. It was to her credit that she looked as calm as she did. He had always admired her way of projecting resolute optimism even in the face of danger. Now she was walking a fine line between keeping everyone's spirits up and preparing them for another possible disappointment.

"Aye, captain."

If they really were going to find a way home... Tom tried to be as calm as the captain looked, as Voyager locked onto its new course and started to head for the wormhole. It hadn't happened before. It might not happen this time. Then he hated himself for thinking that way. Everyone else wanted to go home more than anything. He was the only one who really stood to lose from it. And what he wanted couldn't be allowed to count.

Harry wanted to go home. Tom knew how much Harry missed his family. It wasn't a feeling he could really understand, but he envied Harry that closeness and sense of belonging. And of course Harry's family must miss him so very much. They deserved to have him back.

It was probably the same for everyone on the ship. They had families and loved ones waiting for them. The former Maquis members might face considerable difficulties, but the captain would speak up for them, he couldn't imagine that she would not. So many of them had done such good work here on Voyager.

Tom knew how wrong it was of him to hope that they wouldn't get home this time either, and he'd worked up a nice case of black guilt by the time the ship was getting close to the wormhole. He was quite willing to take Voyager straight through right there and then just to prove that he wouldn't let his private wishes interfere with the greater good.

But the captain wasn't about to order anything that foolhardy, as Tom well knew. They sent out a probe, and then there was nothing to do but wait.

* * *

Harry paced his quarters, too tense to even sit down. He could feel the beginning of a headache, a dull pressure behind his eyes. Sleep would help, only it was impossible to even think of sleep now. So he walked this way and that, flexing his fingers and wishing he had something to do with his hands.

The probe still hadn't exited the wormhole when Harry's shift had ended, and he'd left, very reluctantly, at the captain's insistence. He knew he should take the opportunity to get some rest. Once the probe came through, all senior officers would be wanted on the bridge.

A wormhole. A way home. Harry's mind was reeling. He knew he shouldn't get his hopes up too much. He remembered the crushing disappointment he'd felt when other chances at returning to the Alpha Quadrant had fallen through. But just imagine, if it were possible, if they could go home: he could see his parents again, he could see Libby again.

That thought stopped him short. Yes, he wanted to see his family again; now that there was the faintest possibility that he might be reunited with them, he longed for them all so much it hurt. There had been so many moments when he had wished that he could ask his mother's advice, or hear his father's soothing voice.

But Libby. Harry found to his dismay that he didn't want to think about seeing her again at all. He probed at the feeling, like probing a wound, trying to find out what hurt most. He'd betrayed her. If she was still waiting for him... hopefully she wasn't. If events in the alternate reality were anything to go by, there had been a memorial service a long time ago. She probably thought him dead, and that was all for the best. Because he'd broken the promise he'd given her, and he couldn't imagine telling her about it.

Or telling the rest of his family about it. Something deep inside Harry's chest burned. He'd broken his promise, and that was what really hurt, broken his promise not for something that they would understand but for a casual affair, something not meant to last.

In other words, he had been an idiot. It was only now when he was faced with the consequences that he began to understand what he had given up when he'd entered into this affair. Not just Libby. She'd been lost to him, Harry realized as the burning feeling settled into a steady dull ache, a long time ago, back when his love for Tom had still been hidden from him, something his mind did not wish to acknowledge. No, it was more than that.

He was ashamed to think of even trying to tell her or his family what he had been doing. And that was what made him realize how wrong it was. If he didn't feel he could explain his relationship with Tom to those who meant so much to him, he had to face the fact that he was making a mistake.

Harry started moving again. He went to his desk and called up his personal files, the pictures of everyone back home, the long letters he wrote that he knew he could never send. Recently he hadn't written anything, unable to set down in words what had been going on, what had been so important to him. That had been a clear sign, only he hadn't wanted to understand it. He was ashamed of what he was doing. It was wrong.

He'd always believed in love. Growing up with his parents' sterling example before his eyes, he'd hardly had a choice. And he'd been certain from an early age that it was that or nothing; he wanted what they had together. Anything else would just be a waste of time. When he'd met Libby it had seemed so easy to accept that this was it, and to plan a future for the two of them.

Now he had given up more than just the dream of a life shared with Libby. He had given up his belief in a life with someone he loved, just for some admittedly incredible sex with Tom Paris. Then again. Harry sighed. It wasn't just sex. Not for him. He'd followed his heart, and his heart had led him wrong. He had known from the start what Tom was like.

And it all seemed so predictable now. The first wild nights together, Tom's extravagant words of love, the elaborate seduction that had led to more sex, and fewer declarations. Harry suspected that there were several others who could have told a similar story. He'd seen it happen. Why hadn't he seen it when it was happening to him?

All Tom seemed to want from him was to get him into bed as often as possible. And that wasn't what Harry wanted out of a relationship. He had to admit that making love with Tom was like nothing else in the universe, but there were moments when he felt he was being treated to a performance, and he was starting to wonder just how he measured up to Tom's standards, and when Tom would start to be bored with Harry's inexperience. There had been signs, some moments when Tom would suddenly withdraw and Harry would know that he had done something wrong, but Tom would never tell him what it was. It was as though he was just expected to know, but he didn't, and it was so frustrating!

Harry sighed. He didn't know what to do. Looking at the picture of his mother, he wished he could ask her for help, but then again, he knew that he couldn't have explained all this to her even had she been standing at his side at that very moment.

The door chime rang and moments later Tom stepped inside. Harry looked up, and immediately shut down the screen, hiding the pictures. He didn't want Tom to suspect what he'd been brooding about. Tom had that closed, distant look on his face and Harry wondered if something was wrong. "Did the probe come through yet?" he asked.

Tom shook his head. "No. You won't miss it. The captain's bound to call for us." Walking over to the desk, Tom put his hands on Harry's shoulders and started rubbing them softly. "Maybe we can name this wormhole for you instead."

Harry tried to laugh a little. "Maybe." He took a deep breath. "I can't stop thinking about it. That we might actually get to go home."

"Yes." But Tom sounded cold, almost uninterested. Harry turned his head to look at him.

"I'm scared," he made himself go on. "I don't want to get my hopes up this time." He really wanted to get around to talking about everything that was important, but it was so hard!

Now Tom's hand brushed across the back of Harry's neck very lightly. "Relax," he said. "It won't do any good to think about it now." Fingers trailed down Harry's throat, coaxing a shiver out of him.

Harry reached up and removed Tom's hands, and stood up. "But I have to," he said. "There's so much I need to think about, to decide." He couldn't interpret the look that flickered across Tom's face at that, but it didn't take much skill to read the studied indifference that followed. "But I don't need to bore you with all that," Harry almost snapped.

"Hey." Tom stepped closer and put an arm around Harry. "I can't do your thinking for you. But I can take a shot at distracting you."

"No!" Harry stepped aside, bumped into his desk, and swore. All the frustration he was feeling rushed up and he suddenly found himself angry. "Oh, get your hands off me, just stop it, I'm tired of this—"

Tom released him so quickly, Harry staggered again. "Of course." Harry barely had time to react as Tom moved away from him. There was hardly any real expression on Tom's face, it was just shuttered, blank. Distant. "What can I say, it was fun while it lasted."

Harry watched, stunned, as Tom simply turned his back and walked out of the room again. The idea of making a move to stop Tom never occurred to him, he was too startled. He stood for a long time just staring at the closed door. He'd never imagined it happening like this. Not so fast. Not so easily. And the truth was finally clear to him. The answer to whether Tom had ever wanted more than just sex from him was painfully clear.

It was over and now he had nothing, nothing, nothing. Harry started to move slowly, walking over to the bed. He sat on the edge of it, then lay down and buried his face in the pillow. There it was, faint but clear, the smell of his lover. Former lover. Harry gasped, then started to cry.

* * *

He knew his face showed nothing as he walked along the corridor. It was a skill he'd learned, and although being around Harry, Captain Janeway, and the rest of the crew had started to soften some of his defenses, he knew he could count on them in an emergency. And this was one. Oh, was it ever. Tom dug his nails into his palm, trying to remind himself that he was still alive. It didn't feel that way.

Harry had made his choice. They were going back — they might be going back — and Harry didn't want him any more. It was over.

Reaching the door to his quarters, he stood there for several long moments before he could remember the code that would open it up. He walked inside, asked for lights, looked around. So empty. There was nothing here. Nothing for him. As if for the first time, he noticed how few personal possessions he had. A swath of bright cloth from a bazaar on a planet long since left behind, a tiny plant Kes had given him that was about to die because he never remembered to water it, a Kazon knife he'd taken as a souvenir. The rest was generic starship decoration. Nothing here that would be instantly recognized as belonging to him and no one else.

He'd never been good at holding on to things.

Tom sighed. He'd known even before he'd gone to Harry's quarters that Harry had been troubled. It wasn't too hard to imagine that the possibility of a way home would mean a lot to Harry. And Tom had been ready to try to be happy for Harry's sake, no matter how he felt himself. Or to comfort Harry should Harry need it.

But Harry had rejected Tom's attempt at closeness, had made it clear that he wanted no more of Tom. And that decision had to be accepted. Respected. What the hell else could he do?

Except throw himself at Harry's feet and beg. But Tom knew that wasn't the way it worked. Ask for something and you won't get it. Show that something's important to you and it will be taken away. Oh yes. It always happened that way, so why was he surprised this time?

He stood for a moment longer, and then his knees just gave way and he hit the floor. It hurt, but the pain was somehow remote, seemed to belong to someone else. That was the way he'd always done it when things got too bad. He could move away from it all, shut it off, and the pain would grow less and the horrible things would happen at a distance, and it wouldn't touch him, wouldn't hurt him too much.

Maybe it was possible to do that now, too. If he could shut it all off, he wouldn't have to care that Harry had rejected him. It wouldn't matter. But it did matter. It mattered so much.

He didn't cry. He never cried. He lay there on the floor, shaking, wrapped around the bright core of pain, trying to shut it down, shunt it off, get it away before it destroyed him.

Tom bit his lower lip until it bled, and repeated again and again the only truth he remembered. "He never lied to me. He never said he loved me."

* * *

The probe didn't exit the wormhole until three hours into the day shift. Harry had hovered over the consoles like a mother over the cot of her first-born baby, partly out of ever-increasing tension as he waited for the probe to exit, partly so that he did not have to look at Tom. They had entered the bridge scant minutes after each other, but not exchanged so much as a nod of greeting. And Harry had realized, looking at the cool and distant expression on Tom's face, that he had been right in his fears. He'd lost not only his lover but his best friend as well. Nothing would be as it had been, ever again.

And so he had concentrated all his attention on that probe, praying silently. Going home was all he felt he could reasonably hope for now. Harry was proud of himself at hearing that his own voice was perfectly steady as he finally announced, "Captain, the probe has come out."

"Where?" The captain was at his side almost as soon as he had spoken, her eyes flashing. Harry looked at her eager face and felt terrible at having to be the one to say it.

"In another section of the Delta Quadrant."

Janeway was at his side now, and most of the others had gathered around as well. Commander Chakotay was trying to read the screens upside down; Tuvok was looking over Harry's shoulder with his accustomed impassivity. Harry wished he could be half as calm. He felt he could do with a bit of Vulcan detachment.

B'Elanna made her way into the group, not exactly shoving anyone aside, but all the same managing to get past the others and check his readings. "Where?" she asked. "Perhaps it's a shortcut. It could be a help, even if it doesn't take us all the way home."

"It isn't," Harry said.

"It appears to come out at a considerable distance from our present location, but in the completely opposite direction from where we wish to go," Tuvok said. "Unfortunate."

Harry gripped the sides of the consol. He felt slightly weak as relief and disappointment fought inside him. It was hard to tell which feeling was more powerful. He wouldn't have to go home and face Libby, but he wouldn't get to see his family. He wouldn't be separated from Tom, but then, Tom didn't want him any more, so what did that matter?

He became aware that B'Elanna was watching him closely, even as the rest of the bridge crew moved back to their accustomed positions, with varying degrees of reluctance. Harry attempted to smile at her. "Later," he said in a low voice, and she nodded and headed for the turbo lift again.

"Mr. Paris, resume our previous course," the captain ordered. Harry watched her thoughtfully and listened as she made a ship-wide announcement, explaining that the wormhole had turned out to be another disappointment. He admired the way she did it, and at the same time he felt slightly guilty. It was his discovery; he was the one who'd set them chasing this wormhole that had turned out to be no good. And now the captain had to stand there and explain that no, they weren't going home this time either.

It was almost enough not to make him want to find any more wormholes.

Harry suffered through the rest of his shift in silence. It was a quiet day, and he had nothing to do but brood and watch the back of Tom's head when no one could see him do it. He didn't even begin to understand what had happened last night. Even though he'd been prepared for Tom leaving him, he'd never imagined that it would happen quite so abruptly, that Tom would just walk away like that rather than talk to him.

And now they were setting a pattern for the future. A pattern of ignoring each other. Harry knew that people would wonder what had happened to break up their friendship. He knew that there were some who would ask about it. And then what would he say? He couldn't begin to imagine.

It was a relief when he could finally leave the bridge. He made his way to Engineering, looking for B'Elanna, only to be told by Carey that she had gone to dinner. Harry finally tracked her down in Neelix's improvised galley, hovering over a pot and looking suspicious.

"Just stir it regularly!" Neelix called from across the room before vanishing. B'Elanna prodded at the contents of the pot with a ladle, and a cloud of fragrant steam rose up and made Harry sneeze.

"There you are," she said. "I wouldn't eat this if I were you. But there is a very nice steamed leola root pudding." Then she peered at him through the steam. "What is it? You're sad. You wanted that wormhole to go to the Alpha Quadrant, didn't you."

"I don't know," Harry burst out. "I don't know what I—" He broke off as Kes came in carrying an armful of vegetables from her airponics bay. She smiled as she headed for a work surface at the back of the room, and Harry made himself smile back. "B'Elanna," he said in a lower voice, "I'd like to talk to you."

She put the ladle down with an air of relief. "Have you eaten yet? Grab some of that pudding and we'll go find a table."

Harry reluctantly did as she said. As they settled down together out in the mess hall he noticed that the general mood was subdued enough that his own unhappiness might pass virtually unnoticed. There were many who had been hoping to go home and who had had their hopes shattered once again. One more glum face drew no attention.

He dug into his food and found that B'Elanna was right, the pudding was quite acceptable, and remarkably lacking in exotic spices and unusual colors. "This isn't bad," he said.

"No, but you look awful," B'Elanna said frankly. "Harry, you can't get so worked up about every wormhole we discover, or you will have a nervous breakdown long before we ever get back to the Alpha quadrant."

"It isn't that," he said and forced down some more pudding. "Tom and I broke up last night."

Harry looked up just in time to see shock and sympathy register in B'Elanna's dark eyes. She put a hand on his. "I'm sorry." After a few moments she went on, "What happened?"

Unexpectedly, Harry felt an upsurge of anger as he thought back to the events of the night before. He clenched his hand on the fork until his knuckles whitened. "What happened was that I was in a bad mood and I didn't want to have sex with him and he dumped me just like that. He just walked out on me, B'Elanna, no discussion, just goodbye." Harry stabbed the pudding. "Made it pretty clear to me just how much he meant those I love you's, anyway."

B'Elanna made a growling sound in the back of her throat. "I don't believe it. What a shithead." She squeezed his hand so hard that Harry winced. "I wanted to think better of him."

"So did I," Harry said tiredly. "So did I."

* * *

He activated the privacy lock — he didn't care how many others might want to go to Sandrine's tonight, he didn't want to see them. Tom walked inside, barely registering the presence of the holographic crowd. He sat down at the corner table where Harry had been sitting the last time they'd been here. It was the kind of pointless nostalgic gesture he so despised in himself.

It might be nice to get drunk, he reflected, drunk enough that he couldn't even remember his own name. Even as he thought it, Sandrine came bustling over to his with a glass of red wine. Tom smiled wryly. Wine, wine everywhere and not a drop to drink.

"Here you are, mon cher, it's so pleasant to see you here!" As the program dictated, she slipped into French when he was the only one present. He considered taking his comm badge off so he could actually hear it. "You're here to have a good time, Thomas?"

"No," he told her honestly.

She frowned. "But why not? That is what people do here at my establishment, they have a good time!" Sandrine put an arm around him. "I can't allow people in here who don't have a good time, it would ruin my reputation."

Tom sipped experimentally at the holographic wine, wondering if he could get holographically drunk. Perhaps if he believed in it hard enough. If he believed that it would blunt his pain and dull his senses. His heart started to beat faster, and he ran his nails into his palm, willing himself to stay in control.

"I'll just have to leave, then," he said and watched as her face fell.

"Ah, no, I cannot let you do that! I will find something that makes you stay," she said and left him sitting there. Tom leaned back in the chair again. This was coming to be a tradition, he realized. It was at Sandrine's that he'd tried to drown his sorrows when Ricky had left him. Sandrine herself had come to drink with him, sensing his grief but tactfully not asking about it. Her presence had helped, a little. But being with her holographic counterpart was doing nothing for him tonight.

Then again, there was a world of difference between losing Ricky and losing Harry. Tom knew that very well. He remembered Ricky with affection these days; he'd been considering removing her character from Sandrine's. It had been a small, pointless revenge on his part to have her there, sweetly affectionate and looking a lot less dignified than she ever had in real life. As he'd come to love Harry and his relationship with Ricky had been put into perspective, he'd realized how petty it was to keep her around like that.

He'd cried over Ricky. That had been back when he could still cry. Now all his feelings seemed to have come to a grinding, shuddering halt. He didn't know what to do. Everything hurt; it hurt to breathe, hurt to think.

Looking up, Tom saw Ricky heading for his table. He closed his eyes for a moment. Of course the holographic Sandrine would send Ricky over. This had been a mistake. "Computer, end program." Moments later he was sitting on the floor. It hadn't worked. There was no place he could go.

He leaned against the wall and tried to breathe normally. Harry was gone and he had to cope with it. He had to. Hadn't he always told himself he was a survivor? His father hadn't broken him. Caldik Prime hadn't broken him... much. New Zealand hadn't broken him. That thought trembled for a moment on the verge of another revelation, but he held it back. He could live through this, too. Not because he wanted to. Not because it mattered to him personally if he lived or died.

But because the ship needed him. Someone had to fly Voyager, and he was the best person for the job. The captain counted on him. Trusted him. He would have to do it. He had to at least try.

And never mind that he hurt so much he couldn't even see straight.

* * *

"Stand down from red alert." She took a few deep breaths, appalled to find that the anger she had suppressed during the emergency was coming back, even more intense now that she had heard the damage reports. Captain Janeway straightened her back. "Bridge to engineering."

"Torres here."

"How long will it take you to get all systems back online?"

B'Elanna's disembodied voice was tight with frustration. "It's going to take at least forty-eight hours. Maybe more, since we're short-handed as well with Peterson and Atter in sickbay."

"Do the best you can. Janeway out." Looking around the bridge, she saw that things were settling back into a semblance of order again. And that meant there was one thing she had to do. "Mr. Paris, I would like to see you in my ready room. Now. Commander, you have the bridge."

She didn't turn her head to see if he was following her, she just walked inside and sat down. Once the captain looked up she saw that Paris was standing in front of her. He wasn't meeting her eyes, he appeared to be studying his own feet. "Captain," he said, his voice almost inaudible. "You wanted to see me."

"I'm sure you know why," Janeway said, hearing the edge in her own voice. She tried to rein herself in, but it was hard. "Mr. Paris, can you give a satisfactory explanation to why you flew us through that subspace disturbance belt when I specifically asked you to take us on a secure course around it?" She couldn't help it, she was getting angrier as she went along. "Now we have a hull breach on deck five and fourteen injured crew members in sickbay. What were you thinking?"

"I'm sorry, captain."

Janeway waited for more, but nothing was forthcoming. She took a close look at her pilot. Of course she knew that something had happened to disturb his good mood. The days when she had marvelled at his contented expression were definitely over. But this wasn't like him. When had he turned into this — this zombie? He just stood there, his lower lip bleeding slightly where he'd probably cut it as everyone had gone flying across the bridge.

She rose to her feet again. "Look at me, Mr. Paris."

He finally lifted his head and she could look him in the eye. Janeway felt her own eyes widen. There was nothing there. Paris looked carefully blank, his expression giving nothing away. "Captain?"

"I want an explanation." Again, she waited, and again, nothing happened. "Mr. Paris, there must be a reason."

He finally reacted, but all he did was to shake his head silently. Janeway was feeling ready to shake him. Then he said, "It won't happen again, captain."

"You're right, it won't," she agreed. "Mr. Paris, you have disobeyed a direct order, and risked the lives of everyone aboard this ship. I can't allow you to remain at the conn if—"

"Captain!" Now, finally, she got a reaction. The ice in his eyes shattered and she could see real pain, real disturbance there. So, at least there was a way to reach him. Janeway was starting to feel seriously concerned about the young man's behavior. "Please, captain, I promise—"

The look of distress made her soften slightly, but she didn't allow it to show. "Mr. Paris," she said, "I don't have time to deal with you right now. You may go to your quarters. I will speak to you later, and I hope that by that time you will be able to explain to me exactly what happened."

Captain Janeway knew it wasn't the best solution. By sending Tom away like this, she was making it clear to the whole bridge crew that she blamed him for the incident. But then, it was his fault, no two ways about it. There had been no instrument failure, nothing involved but the human factor, to wit, one Thomas Eugene Paris. And she had been telling nothing but the truth when she'd said that she couldn't let him fly Voyager if there was the slightest chance that he would put everyone at risk again.

With all her heart she wished that he would explain it to her, say something that would make it all clear, would make her understand. But he just stood there, tense with unhappiness, staring at her with those pleading blue eyes.

"Captain."

"Yes?" she said, a little too quickly, hoping that he was going to talk to her after all.

"Am I confined to my quarters immediately?" He looked away. "I just thought, they're going to need help down in sickbay."

Janeway blinked. "Yes," she agreed slowly. "But Mr. Paris, the people who are in sickbay might have objections to being treated by the person who put them there in the first place."

Paris bit his lip and she saw another bright drop of blood well up in the same place. "Yes, captain. May I go?"

"To sickbay?" She nodded slowly. "If you feel that you want to, certainly." After another thoughtful look, she finally said, "Dismissed."

He walked out of the room, back straight, head high as always. But Janeway had the sudden disorienting feeling that if she so much as tapped him with a fingernail, he would break into fragments. Slowly, she sat down again. Something was very, very wrong with Tom Paris. But her first concern was, always had to be, for Voyager. Once she'd done everything she could for the ship, then, and only then, would she do everything she could for her pilot.

She sighed, and found herself wishing they could all be transported back in time to the night not so long ago when her only real concern had been some slight disturbance in Harry Kim's composure. She'd never taken the time to look into that, either. And now Harry Kim would just have to wait.

* * *

"Can I help?"

Kes took one look at him and thrust a medical scanner into his outstretched hand. "Yes. Start in that corner." She pushed him in the direction she wanted him to go, and Tom obeyed. He could understand her concern. The place was crowded, with patients lying on the biobeds, sitting on chairs. The doctor appeared to be performing emergency surgery and hadn't noticed his entrance.

Tom wasn't about to change that. Seeing the people who were here brought it home to him far more clearly than the captain's anger had done. This was all his fault. Those huge bruises, that broken bone. All of it because he hadn't paid enough attention to what he was doing.

At least no one had died. Not this time. He ran the scanner over the unconscious crewman in the corner and wished, childishly, that he could change everything that had happened. Or at least take all this on himself somehow, all the hurts, every single injury. If he could have physically transferred the pain from their bodies to his own he would have done it. His fault, others suffering for his error yet again.

He got hold of a dermal regenerator and started working on the lighter injuries, leaving the serious cases for Kes and the doctor. But that meant all the crewmen were conscious and not only able but very willing to talk. After the third comment of 'first you fly us to pieces and then you stitch us up' Tom had to keep a tight rein on himself not to wince as he turned to his next patient.

"What happened?" Ensign Lee asked. "I went to sleep on my bed and the next thing I knew I was lying across the room with this," she gestured at a nasty contusion, "on my head. Did we get rear-ended by some left-over Kazon or what?"

"We accidentally flew into a subspace distortion belt," Tom said, setting the scanner and checking her for signs of concussion.

"Some accident," she said, looking around the room. "But why did it happen? Did something mess with the readings, or were we being chased, or..."

Tom shook his head reluctantly. "No." The regenerator was doing its work, the swelling was going down. He gently pushed her hair aside. "It was just a mistake."

"You should take greater care, lieutenant." Tom's hand jerked when he heard the doctor's dry voice right behind his shoulder. "I said greater care, not less." The doctor grabbed the instrument away from him. "Why are you here, anyway? Shouldn't you be on the bridge making sure that we don't have any more of these unfortunate accidents?"

"I thought you could use some help here," Tom muttered. For a moment there he had been convinced that the doc already knew who was to blame for this. Not that Tom didn't know it would be all over the ship pretty soon.

"And we could," Kes said warmly, turning away from a patient and coming to join them. "It was good of you to come, Tom." He clung to her sweet smile, willing it to heal him. But it didn't really help.

Ensign Lee felt cautiously at her head, then jumped down off the biobed. "Well, I'm fine now, I think. But lieutenant, I think you would be better employed flying the ship, then I wouldn't have to pick myself up off the floor." She was flirting, Tom saw to his great surprise. "Who was at the conn?"

"I was," Tom said quietly. From the look of surprise that passed across her face, she hadn't been expecting that.

"I see," the doctor said in his most sarcastic tone of voice. "Here to repair some of the damage you've done? Lieutenant, far be it from me to disparage your usefulness as a nurse, but I think you'd be better employed preventing accidents rather than curing the eventual damage."

Tom opened his mouth to say something, though he didn't know what. But someone else beat him to it. "He's good at causing accidents," a crewman with a black eye commented loudly. "At least none of us died — this time."

The direct echo of his own thoughts was no real surprise. Someone would have brought it up sooner or later. Tom set his jaw. He'd already gone through this once with the whole crew. It reminded him of that first evening in the mess hall when everyone except Harry had walked away as he came to the table. Everyone except Harry. The regenerator fell to the floor as his fingers suddenly refused to hold on to it.

"This time?" the doctor echoed, looking from Tom to the crewman and back again. "Mr. Darin, from what I can see, you don't appear to have died even once, although so many strange things happen on this ship that I should perhaps not be surprised if you have."

The doctor had to be the only person aboard Voyager who had not heard of Caldik Prime, Tom reflected to himself as Darin began to explain, still in the same loud voice. He bent down to pick up the regenerator only to find that Kes had beaten him to it. When she put it in his hand again he stared stupidly at it.

"You should let me fix your lip, Tom," she said softly. "It doesn't look too good." She was probably right there; he'd bitten it bloody one time too many. "Sit down for just a moment."

Tom shook his head. "It's not important, there are others who are worse off."

"Not any more," Kes said. "We've done what we can and the doctor can take care of the rest now." She pushed him down to sit on a biobed and reclaimed the regenerator. Tom turned his head to look at Darin and the doctor. There was a small crowd gathering around them, and he tried to see who the others were. "Tom, sit still."

"Yes, ma'am." That made her laugh a little. Tom stayed where he was and accepted Kes' ministrations, then when she put the regenerator away he tried to get up. She pushed him back again. "Kes, my lip's all right now. And I—" He sighed. There was no use trying to hide it. "If we're done here, I have to go. I'm confined to my quarters, really."

"Why?" she asked and picked up a medical scanner instead.

"Weren't you listening?" he said tiredly. "This," he nodded around the room, "is all my fault." Tom had to approve of the efficiency with which she checked him out with the scanner while she listened. "Another beautiful mess courtesy of Tom Paris. I made a mistake, just like on Caldik Prime. And it's just sheer chance that no one died."

He only whispered the last words, and maybe she didn't hear. Kes was looking intently at the readings. Then she fixed her eyes on his face. "Tom, I think you should—" She broke off as Darin came over to them with two others trailing behind.

"We just thought you ought to know, lieutenant," Darin spat, "that we don't think you should be allowed to fly Voyager. Or anything at all where there's a chance you'll break more than your own ugly neck. And we're going to tell the captain so."

"I'm sure she'll appreciate your advice," Tom said. "But there isn't much you can tell Captain Janeway that she doesn't already know."

"I'm not willing to have you risk my life," the woman next to Darin said. "They should never have let you fly anything again after Caldik Prime. Three officers killed, and all of them better people than you. My brother went to Starfleet Academy with Harper, and—"

"That's enough." Kes stepped between them. "Doctor," she raised her voice, "will you please ask everyone who's been treated to leave sickbay?"

"With pleasure." The doctor looked around the room. "All of you who are able to walk out of here, do so. Particularly you, Mr. Paris." He was about to add something more, when Kes caught his eye and shook his head. The doctor raised an eyebrow but said nothing more as people started to file out.

"I think you'd better give me five minutes, doc," Tom commented. "Or you'll have to start all over again with the bruises and black eyes."

Kes looked up at him. "They wouldn't!"

"Yes, they would." Right now, they would, because they were angry enough to forget Starfleet regulations. And it was almost tempting to go out there, get in a fight, get hurt. It was only what he deserved. But it would get them all in trouble with the captain, and she had enough to deal with right now.

Besides, Darin was right. He didn't deserve to fly Voyager. He'd screwed up. Again. And he'd have to pay the price for it. The thought of losing everything that Captain Janeway had given him hurt so much that for a moment, one brief moment, he didn't remember Harry. When he realized that Tom smiled, without humor. Fight pain with pain. It was probably the only way.

"Very well, lieutenant, just sit in a corner and stay out of my way," the doctor said. "Kes, we need to—"

"In a minute," she said and took Tom's arm. "Tom, I'll walk you to your quarters."

"Just like that?" The doctor looked annoyed. "Need I remind you that your first duty is to your patients?"

"No, you don't," Kes said, thrusting the scanner at him. "He's one of them." She tugged at Tom and finally got him moving. He turned his head to look back and saw the doctor studying the scanner readings with a puzzled expression on his face. "Come on, Tom."

He went with her. Kes was stronger than she looked. But Tom was starting to feel stupid, led to his quarters like this. At the turbo lift he was far from surprised to see Darin and the others standing in a small angry crowd. Kes raised her chin and dragged Tom into the lift. He could feel himself blushing. Protected by a tiny Ocampa against those hulking Starfleet brutes. Good work, Paris.

"You don't have to do this, Kes," he said as the lift started moving. "The doc's right, I'm fine, and there are others down in sickbay who need you more."

"The doctor can take care of them," Kes said calmly. "And I didn't want you to either be beaten up or pass out on the way to your quarters."

Tom tried to laugh. "Give me credit for some knowledge of self-defense. You'd be amazed what you learn in prison." For a moment that phrase spun a web of dark memories around him, but he shook them off. "And I'm not about to pass out."

"According to the scanner readings, you are," she said surprisingly. "When was the last time you ate anything?"

Tom blinked at the unexpected question. "What?" He thought back. "I, well..."

"Exactly," she said rather tartly, and grabbed his arm again as the lift stopped and they walked outside. Tom was starting to feel ridiculous. Besides, even if he did suddenly keel over, she wasn't going to be able to do anything about it, unless she was a lot stronger than she looked. When they reached his door he keyed in the access code and then paused for a moment before stepping inside. At his side, Kes looked around. "A bit of housekeeping wouldn't hurt."

"I wasn't expecting guests," Tom said feebly, bending to right the nearest chair. As he stood up again, his vision blacked out and he had to sit. At least there was nothing terribly embarrassing lying around, like pictures of Harry. Because he didn't have any. All he had were a couple of black hairs that he'd found clinging to the pillow. He'd folded them up in a small square of silk and hidden them in a drawer of his desk.

Kes walked over to the replicator. "Computer, one bowl of hot chicken soup." She brought it to him and pushed it into his hands. "Eat." A sudden smile spread across her face. "I should stay and make sure you eat it all. But I have things to do. Will you promise me, Tom?"

"I already have a mother," he complained, but accepted the bowl and spoon. The smell of the soup was at once enticing and sickening. But he'd do his best; she had been so kind. And it wasn't her fault that kindness made him hurt even more.

* * *

When Kes walked onto the bridge, things were settled enough that Janeway could greet her with a smile. She really was relieved to see Kes there; it had to mean that there was no longer a crisis in sickbay. Perhaps Tom really had gone there to make himself useful. It had been a brave offer, Janeway thought, though perhaps not a sensible one.

Then she noticed the serious expression on Kes' face and her mood sank again. "Captain, I'd like to speak with you — privately," Kes added, looking around the bridge.

As the captain led Kes into her ready room, she braced herself for the worst. Although she would have expected truly bad news from sickbay to have been delivered on screen by the doctor. It was his responsibility to be the one to inform her should any member of her crew die while under his care.

Janeway sat down, and gestured for Kes to do the same. "What can I do for you?" she asked. "Do you need more resources in sickbay? Or is anything seriously wrong?"

"No, captain." Kes shook her head. "Nine of the injured have been released, and of those who remain, all are stable and only Ensign Phair is in a moderately serious condition. I'm sure the doctor will let you know if anything changes."

"I'm glad to hear that. If you tell commander Chakotay on your way out, he can start to work out a new rotation schedule for crew shifts."

Kes nodded. "Yes, I will. But captain, first I want to talk to you about Tom Paris."

"So he did go down to sickbay, then?" Janeway nodded slowly. "I see. Kes, I can understand that you're upset to hear that Tom caused this accident, but—"

"That's not it," Kes interrupted her. "I'm surprised that he hasn't caused an accident before this." Her voice grew slower and more formal. "Tom — that is, Lieutenant Paris is suffering from severe sleep deprivation and lack of nourishment. Medical scanner results indicate that he's been living on coffee and nerves for the past fourteen days or so."

Janeway stared at the Ocampa, taking in Kes' absolute sincerity and intense look. "That explains a great deal. And the lieutenant shouldn't have been at the conn at all."

"No," Kes agreed. "I think he probably just blacked out. He isn't fit for active duty. If it were up to me, I would have kept him in sickbay, but I didn't think that it would be beneficial for either Tom or the doctor." The captain couldn't help but respond to the faint twinkle in Kes' eyes. "Besides, I think he is safest in his quarters for the time being."

"Safest?" The captain leaned forward. "What do you mean?"

"There was an incident in sickbay," Kes said slowly. "Some other crew members were referring to Caldik Prime? Tom seemed to think that they were likely to take their anger out on him."

Janeway straightened her back even more to keep from slumping in her chair. Of course, she should have seen that coming. Tom Paris probably had. "I will have no fighting aboard Voyager," she said firmly. "If necessary, I will make a ship-wide announcement and remind everyone of that." Then she allowed herself the luxury of heaving a deep sigh. "And I expect I had better go talk to the lieutenant."

"Yes, captain," Kes agreed. "We can solve his immediate physical problems easily, but—"

"But unless we find out why Mr. Paris hasn't been eating or sleeping, we may have the same problem over again," Janeway finished for her. "Kes." The young Ocampan's eyes met hers. "Do you have any idea what is really wrong with him?"

Kes shook her head. "I'm sorry, no, I haven't. He looks very unhappy. That's all I know."

"And that's all I know, too," Captain Janeway said wryly. "I should have taken the time to speak with the lieutenant long before this ever happened." She rose to her feet. "I can only try to make up for my deficiency now." Janeway looked at Kes. "It should be made clear to the crew that Mr. Paris' error was due to his physical condition. But I believe I'd like to speak with him first, before anything is made official."

Kes nodded, and got to her feet as well. The captain walked out of the ready room and looked around the bridge, finding Commander Chakotay over by Harry Kim. She met his eyes, shook her head a fraction and then nodded towards the turbo lift, and he acknowledged the message by a briefly lifted eyebrow. Not for the first time she found herself thinking that the understanding they'd built here was truly remarkable. Then she made herself look away from him, only to see Harry Kim looking for one instant truly miserable. Then that expression was replaced by the ensign's usual calm face so quickly that Janeway wondered if she was imagining things.

She headed for the turbo lift and Kes followed her. "There is another thing you should know, captain," Kes said as the doors closed. "I couldn't help but notice that—"

"Yes?" Janeway said encouragingly. She needed all the information she could get if she was going to be able to get a handle on what was going on with Tom Paris right now.

"Tom's broken a lot of the furniture in his quarters," Kes went on reluctantly. "I really don't think he's happy."

* * *

He managed half the soup, eating mechanically and far too fast, before his stomach convulsed. He barely made it to the bathroom, throwing up again and again. Dizzy, he sprawled across the floor for long minutes before managing to get up again and rinsing his mouth with water. It occurred to him that he didn't know the answer to Kes' question. He couldn't remember the last time he'd managed to eat a whole meal. It had become impossible for him to sit in the mess hall. Conversation was mostly beyond him these days and besides, there was always the risk that he would see Harry. Or B'Elanna. Or both of them.

Rumor had it that the two of them were lovers, and Tom didn't know what to believe. All he knew was that B'Elanna had practically stopped speaking to him right after the breakup. Whatever Harry had told her, it had been nothing too complimentary. But then that was hardly to be expected. Tom tried not to imagine Harry in someone else's arms, in someone else's bed, making those little sounds of sweet desire under the touch of someone else's hands.

The sound of his own fist hitting the wall brought him back to his senses. Tom flexed his fingers and found that nothing was broken. It hurt, but not enough to distract him. Slowly he walked back out and picked up the bowl of soup again. It was cold now. But he made himself eat one spoonful, and then another. The trick was not to eat too fast, he remembered now.

After a while he put the bowl aside, deciding that that was all he could handle right now. He didn't want to be sick again. It was a good thing Kes hadn't stayed to see that. Tom took a turn around his quarters. It looked like hell in here, he started to realize. He started to try to tidy it up, righting furniture, putting dirty clothes away. The table wobbled badly; one of the legs was half broken. And Kes' plant had finally died, and the pot it had stood in was just shards now where he'd thrown it at the wall.

Getting down on one knee to tidy up, he saw the Kazon knife lying half hidden under the desk. Tom picked it up, then paused, staring down at the old-fashioned weapon. The blade had slipped partly out of the sheath and the edge shone wickedly bright. That was pain right there, he thought, staring at it as though hypnotized by the metallic sheen. It looked almost like a promise. He pulled it out and looked at it, tested the edge with his thumb.

The door chime rang. Tom levered himself up again and walked towards the door. "Come in."

When the door slid open the captain stood there, wearing her most serious face. Her eyes swept over him and then came back to rest on his face with almost unnatural calm. "Lieutenant," she said gently, "put that knife down."

He looked at the knife in his hand blankly for a moment, then nodded. "Yes. Yes, of course." Tom turned around and plunked the knife down on the table; it wobbled again. "Please come in, captain."

She walked into the room, looked around, but did not comment on the state of his quarters. Instead she sat down, after quickly checking the balance of the nearest chair, and nodded to him to sit down too. Tom sank down gingerly on the edge of the couch, his eyes fixed on the captain's face. "Kes tells me that the accident today was very likely due to your physical condition, lieutenant. You blacked out, didn't you?"

"I guess so," Tom said. "I..." He sighed. "I don't remember anything between you saying I should go around, and suddenly being in there and seeing that the stress was tearing the hull apart." Now, remembering it, he shivered. "Almost didn't think I'd get us out again."

"But you did. However, lieutenant, you should not have been at the conn. It was highly irresponsible of you."

"Yes, ma'am." She was right. Only now did Tom realize the full extent of his own idiocy. He could have killed everyone on the ship. He could have gotten Harry killed. Oh, God, what had he done?

"What's wrong?" Her voice was so soft and gentle, it could have been part of his thoughts. The captain put a hand on his arm. "I should have noticed earlier. Something is wrong, and I'd appreciate it if you could tell me, Mr. Paris."

Looking at the captain, Tom was on the verge of opening his mouth and saying, 'I never understood before how much I love you, captain.' But then he realized she might take that entirely the wrong way. He did, though.

"It's a personal matter, captain," he said finally. "I can't really talk about it."

But when she had that expression on her face, the one that said she really did care about him, he found it hard not to tell her every secret he'd ever had. And sometimes he wondered if she didn't know that. "I've noticed that you've spent all your time off duty alone lately, lieutenant," she said. "Has something happened to disturb your friendship with Ensign Kim? He seems to be spending all his free time with the chief engineer."

Tom leaned back abruptly, out of her light grip on his arm. "Yes. But you know how it is, captain. Things change." He dug his nails into his palms again and wondered how hard he could do it before he drew blood.

"So that has nothing to do with your current state of physical and mental health?"

Damn the woman. She could see right through him. When she looked kind and concerned, like this,there were moments when he was tempted to just toss his soul into her hands and ask her to heal it. But she couldn't, and he knew that. The worst thing was, he couldn't lie to her. "It does, captain. But I'd rather not talk about it."

"I can understand that," she said, still perfectly calm. "But lieutenant, consider my position. I am responsible for you, and for everyone aboard this ship. I take that responsibility very seriously. For the sake of everyone aboard Voyager, I must be certain that you, as a pilot, are in a state to fly the ship. And for your own sake, lieutenant — I'm concerned for your well-being, and I do know that talking about something can make it easier to bear."

"Nothing's going to make this easier," Tom gritted out. "It's kind of you, captain, but it won't help."

"Lieutenant," she said slowly, "what did you intend to do with that knife?"

He looked at the captain, honestly startled for a moment. Then he managed a weak smile. "I'm not going to kill myself," he told her.

"Is that a promise?"

"On the heads of the children I'll never have," he said, then to his own surprise slid off the couch and down onto the floor. Janeway instantly dropped to her knees next to him. "It's all right," Tom told her, looking up. "I'm just a bit light-headed."

She tugged at him and got him to sit up, then dragged him onto the couch. "I'm giving you three days off," she said, "and during that time I expect you to eat and sleep and nothing else. Kes will be monitoring you." The captain lifted Tom's legs onto the couch, tried to perch on the edge of the table, but ended up kneeling on the floor instead. "You will not be back at the conn until she declares you fit for duty."

"But captain," Tom protested weakly, "there's nothing all that wrong with me."

"If we had a ship's counselor, he or she would already be with you," the captain went on unheedingly. "As it is, Commander Chakotay—"

"Please, no," Tom said.

Janeway raised an eyebrow in a way Tom wondered if she had picked up from Tuvok. "Lieutenant, you need to talk to someone. Very well, I'll give you a choice. Commander Chakotay or myself."

"You," he said instantly. "Captain. But there's not much to tell. I had an affair, it's over." He closed his eyes. It felt good to lie down.

"And now you hurt?" she asked gently. He felt a hand brush across his hair.

"I miss him so much," Tom whispered. "But I," his voice was growing slower, sleepier, "I made a choice. I chose to stand in the heart of the fire. I have to accept being burned."

It was nice of her to touch him like this. Her hands felt kind. For the first time in four days, he fell asleep.

* * *

"Damn." B'Elanna straightened her back and rolled her head loosely; an ominous crack from her neck made Harry jump. He tapped in another command sequence and stood back to wait. "It's no use, Harry. It was a good idea, but those conduits won't hold if we reroute everything from the main power system. We're still looking at another thirty-eight hours' work."

Looking down at the simulation that was flashing on the screen, he realized she was right. But at least trying to work out a shortcut had provided ample distraction from the day's events. Now Harry nodded slowly. "We'd better get on it, then."

"Harry, you've been here for six hours, ever since your shift on the bridge ended. Go get some sleep. Or at least some food."

"You've been here just as long," he pointed out. "If I go get some food for both of us, will you take the time to eat with me?"

"All right," she agreed, the anger in her voice not directed at him but at the damage done to Voyager. B'Elanna loved the ship so much. Harry suspected she would have liked to pat the warp core and tell it good night whenever her shifts ended. He smiled faintly at her, then took the turbo lift to the mess hall.

It was nearly empty, as most of the crew was either on night shift duty or asleep. Darin and a few others from Security were huddled together at one table, carrying on a low-voiced conversation. Harry nodded at them, and was starting to wonder if he'd have to turn to the replicators, when he heard the unmistakable sound of Neelix humming something that might have been a Talaxian war song, or a lullaby for that matter. Moments later he spotted Kes' bright head.

"Is there anything left to eat?" he asked her. "We're working late down in engineering, and I think B'Elanna forgot to have dinner."

"No wonder," she said sympathetically. "There must be a lot of repair work to do. I hope it's going well. Neelix!"

"Yes, dearest?" Neelix came up to the counter, carrying a plate of flaky filled pastries.

"Can we spare some of those for Harry and B'Elanna?" Kes asked. Neelix looked down at the plate in obvious reluctance, and she bent forward and kissed his cheek. "You worked so hard on them, someone besides me should have a chance to appreciate your skill."

"That's true," Neelix said, brightening again. Harry started to protest that he could just get something from the replicator, but Neelix shook his head and started to put pastries onto a smaller platter. "No, here, here. I feel it is suitable that members of the crew who put in extra work for the common good should have a special little treat." Harry couldn't help smiling. Sometimes Neelix really was the perfect morale officer. He certainly did his best.

"Thank you," Harry said, took the plate and turned to go, but nearly bumped into Darin. The group in the corner had left their table so silently, he hadn't even noticed. Darin nodded at him, and one of the others smiled.

"You're still working down in Engineering?" Darin asked. "How long will we be stuck here?"

"As the captain said in her announcement," Harry answered carefully, "it will be another thirty-eight hours before the hull breach is repaired and all systems are back online. We tried to work out a shortcut, but it wasn't possible to cut the time down any more."

"Yeah, well, I guess we're lucky to be alive," someone else said. "At least maybe now the captain will give us a pilot who knows what he's doing."

"Bit of a miracle that Paris hasn't screwed up before this," Darin agreed. "Everyone should have realized it was just a question of time. Good thing the captain finally pulled him off the bridge."

Harry just stared at them, speechless. As he tried to frame a reply, any reply, Kes walked out from behind the counter and came to stand right in front of Darin, staring up at him. "Tom will be back on duty as soon as the doctor and I declare him fit," she stated clearly. "The accident was due to a neglected health problem."

"And that's supposed to make us trust him?" Darin scowled. "He can have all the health problems he likes, as long as he has them far away from the conn." Looking at Kes, he seemed to be struck by an idea. "Couldn't you declare him not fit for duty? Save us all a bit of trouble."

Kes raised her chin even more. "I intend personally to make certain that Tom gets well and stays well," she said. "And his skill as a pilot has saved all our lives from time to time. Maybe you should try to remember that before you take your complaint to the captain."

Harry just stared at Kes, the plate in his hand completely forgotten. For a moment longer Kes and Darin held each other's looks, then Darin turned and walked away, the others following him. Harry blinked. Again, he opened his mouth to say something, but this time Neelix got in ahead of him. "Dearest, you seem very concerned about Tom Paris."

Kes wasn't really looking at him as she answered, "I think it's terrible that there are people who still haven't changed their minds about poor Tom. And I think you as morale officer, and as his friend, should have noticed that something was wrong with him!"

"Me?" Neelix nearly dropped his plate. "Well, yes — but Kes—"

"Oh, I'm sorry, Neelix," she said in a lightning change of mood. "I suppose I'm just feeling guilty because I didn't notice either." She leaned against him, and Neelix put an arm around her.

Harry cleared his throat. "I'll be going, then," he said. "Thank you for the food." He took one step towards the door,and stopped. "Kes?" She looked enquiringly at him. "What was really wrong with Tom?"

"Medical records are confidential," Neelix pointed out.

Kes nodded, but then she said, "It wasn't really an illness or anything. He just hadn't eaten or slept very much for some time." She was looking him straight in the eye. "About fifteen or sixteen days, I'd say."

A chill ran down Harry's spine. He managed to wrench his gaze away from Kes', with an effort. "I see," he said meaninglessly. "Thanks for this." He gestured with the platter. "I'd better go." He turned and left the mess hall and nearly ran for the turbo lift. Kes had seemed to see straight through him, and it was an unnerving experience. "Engineering," he ordered absently.

Had Tom told her something? Or maybe she just knew anyway. Or she could be guessing. In either case there had been something in her look, not accusation, precisely, but something harder than her usual friendly acceptance. Harry sighed deeply. So Tom hadn't been eating or sleeping properly since they broke up. Did that mean— Harry tried to stop the emotions that churned up within him, making it hard for him to think straight.

Maybe it had meant more to Tom than Harry had thought.

As though reacting to that thought, the turbolift came to an abrupt halt, and the lights flickered. Harry rubbed his shoulder where he'd hit it against the wall, then touched his comm badge. "Kim to Torres."

"Go ahead."

"I just got stuck in the turbo lift. How soon can you get me out?"

"I don't know." Harry sighed. "An hour, max. Did you get food?"

"Yes."

"Don't eat it all. Torres out." The lights flickered again, and it went dark. Harry shrugged and slid down the wall, seating himself as comfortably as he could, and fumbled across the platter until he could pick up a pastry. He took a bite, then coughed. Neelix had gone to extremes with the pepper sauce again. Still, if you scraped the sauce off, the actual pastry was quite tasty.

He wondered how Tom was doing. Harry would never have guessed that anything was wrong with Tom. He'd seemed, well, normal was maybe the wrong word, but holding up, anyway, self-controlled, together. Nothing in the way he looked or acted that had hinted that anything was bothering him. Not that Harry had noticed. But then again he'd been trying very hard not to notice Tom, because seeing Tom always made him feel as though something inside was trying to leap right out of his body. Probably his heart.

Kes had been very specific in her dating of Tom's problem. Harry didn't need to be reminded of how long ago it was that he and Tom had broken up. He knew. To the hour. But did that mean — could it mean — didn't it have to mean that Tom was a lot more bothered by that breakup than he was letting on?

Harry swallowed hard, and choked on a piece of pastry. He coughed for a long moment, then leaned his head back against the wall. Sudden memories flooded him of being in the turbo lift with Tom, kisses and caresses and the added excitement of being in a completely unsuitable place. Tom had had a weakness for surprising him, and a beautifully delighted smile every time Harry allowed himself to be surprised.

Maybe he should go see Tom. Just to find out how he was doing.

It only took B'Elanna forty-five minutes to get him out, but by then Harry had eaten two-thirds of the food. She gave him an exasperated look and pulled the plate out of his hands, and they went to sit down on two of the few chairs that were tucked away down there. B'Elanna started to eat, and Harry yawned.

"How are we for time?" he made himself ask.

"Delayed," she said, making a face. "The power drain we got that caused the lifts to stop added at least another hour. But Carey's doing good work on the hull breach." B'Elanna bit viciously into another pastry. "Damn the man."

"Carey?" Harry was surprised enough to start feeling more awake. B'Elanna and Carey hadn't had a serious argument in, well, at least a month. Most of the time they got on extremely well.

"No, idiot. Paris." She pushed the plate aside and started to get to her feet. "What will he do for an encore, crash us on a nice asteroid somewhere, maybe?" Tucking her hair behind her ears, B'Elanna grabbed a last pastry. "I don't see him down here. Or on deck five. He could damn well weld hull plates with the rest of us, considering it's all his fault."

Harry swallowed. "Kes said he's under medical supervision," he said. "That he — he wasn't well, and that was why it happened."

Halfway to her work station already, B'Elanna paused to look at him over her shoulder. "Really?" Then she started walking again, more slowly. Harry got up as well and went to assist her. "I suppose that explains it," she said grudgingly. "Hope they make sure he's all right before he gets back in that seat again."

Harry nodded, thinking of Darin's vicious comments. There was a world of difference between what B'Elanna had just said, and what Darin had meant. "I'm pretty sure they will."

Suddenly he found himself liking her so much, he had to put an arm around her shoulders and give her a quick hug. She gave him a surprised look. "We're supposed to be working, Starfleet," she said in a slightly teasing voice.

"I was carried away by your charm," Harry said, straight-faced. She whacked his fingers with the flat of her hand, and they went back to work.

It wasn't until 0330 hours that Harry staggered out of Engineering, sped on his way by B'Elanna's hand in the small of his back. He had tried to point out that she needed to sleep too, but she'd just growled at him and ordered another cup of coffee from the replicator. He'd decided it was probably best to let her be. She was still awake enough to know what she was doing, which was more than could be said for him.

The work had almost made him forget his earlier decision. Now, though, he found himself unaccountably taking the way past Tom's quarters, even though this wasn't a good hour to pay any kind of social call. It was more, Harry thought, in the nature of an emotional experiment. As he got closer and closer to Tom's door, things were starting to move inside him; despite his exhaustion, his feelings were kicking in at full strength. He had to stop for a moment and try to calm down.

It wasn't as if he was going to go in there now, he told himself soothingly. Later, when he had slept, when he was in a better state to deal with things, then he'd talk to Tom. Or at least find out how Tom was doing, somehow. Or...

Leaning against the wall, Harry swore as the lights flickered, went out, and were replaced by emergency lights. He hoped that B'Elanna was just rerouting power again and that this was deliberate. At least the doors were still working; he heard one opening right ahead.

It was, in fact, Tom's door. Harry's heart jumped. Then he froze as he saw Kes walk out. Her hair was slightly rumpled and she was pulling at her short tunic, straightening it. Harry had time to see that a dim light shone inside Tom's quarters, before the door closed again. Kes stopped, yawned and stretched, then headed down the corridor in the opposite direction.

Harry remained frozen where he was. His mind was reeling, cataloguing possibilities and discarding them. Kes had said that she was the one who was keeping an eye on Tom. But at this hour? Then again, if you were checking up on someone who hadn't been sleeping lately...

But why should that involve getting your clothes and hair all rumpled? To his surprise Harry found that he was growling, rather like B'Elanna. She was rubbing off on him. Of course he had occasionally wondered, along with nearly everyone else on the ship, what Kes saw in Neelix. But he'd been willing to accept that it was something. His mother had always told him that love came in a different shape to everyone, and Neelix did have a way of growing on you, whether you wanted him to or not. Now, though—

He's just her patient, damn it! Vivid memories of the time Tom had confessed to being in love with Kes came back to dance in Harry's head. Of course Tom had claimed he'd never actually do anything about that. But Harry found it very hard to believe that the attraction wasn't still there.

Harry made his way to his own quarters and made sure that he'd activated the privacy lock. Then he sat on the edge of his bed for a long time, staring at nothing.

* * *

"Thank you for bringing this problem to my attention." She paused briefly and studied their faces, one by one. Mostly security, not known as troublemakers, three Starfleet, one former Maquis. The captain knew their names, their ranks; she could get details on their past. And she would have to report their complaint and enter it into the ship's log. "Dismissed."

As they slowly filed out, she found her eyes resting on the back of Darin's head. Captain Janeway made a slight adjustment of her previous assessment. Mostly not known as troublemakers. There had been complaints about Darin, but nothing that had made it into his records; rumors of transgressions while off duty that had for various reasons been overlooked, the charges withdrawn. To judge by his temper, he seemed the type who might end up in a fight easily enough.

The question was what she was going to do about what he and the others had told her. Their statement that they were only a few representatives of a large silent majority she took with more than just one grain of salt, but the fact remained that there were obviously people on Voyager who even after all this time were unhappy with Tom Paris as a pilot and who had been reminded, by this accident, of Caldik Prime. It didn't seem to matter that the two incidents weren't even remotely similar; it was enough to have the word 'accident' linked to 'Paris'.

Janeway made a mental note to have a conversation with Tuvok about morale among the security personnel, and another with Chakotay about how best to make it clear to the crew that they both still had every confidence in Tom's ability as a pilot. Because she did; she knew deep down that she'd never seen anything half as good as that young man. At least when he wasn't suffering from depression and heartache.

She rose, and stood for a moment stretching her spine before heading for the door. It was time for her appointment with Tom Paris himself. The captain had to admit that she felt flattered at the fact that he was willing to talk to her and no one else. At the same time, she was concerned. She had no training, nothing to offer other than a sympathetic ear and whatever she could dredge up out of her own experiences that might apply. And that was a problem right there, because she couldn't very well tell the lieutenant intimate details from her past just to make him feel better.

Shrugging, she went into the turbo lift. She would just have to do the best she could. The important thing was that Tom talked to someone, and now it would have to be her.

Outside Tom Paris' door Janeway met Kes, who was carrying a covered bowl and a spoon. "Captain." Kes smiled. "Neelix made a special soup for Tom. He says it's going to help him recover."

"I'm glad to hear that. I can take it in, if you like." The captain accepted the bowl and relished the warmth of it as she held it in her cupped hands. "Has your patient been all right?"

"More or less," Kes said. "He was very upset last night, but I got him to sleep finally." The Ocampa looked down for a moment, then up again. "You do know, captain," she said hesitantly, "that there are people on this ship who are very angry at Tom."

"I know," Janeway said, more dryly than she had intended. "Some of them came to see me not long ago. I'll see what I can do about it."

"I'm glad to hear that." Kes' smile was positively radiant. "It would mean a lot to Tom to hear that you still trust him." She walked off in the direction of the turbo lift, and Janeway rang the door chime and waited for the faint 'come in' before opening the door.

Tom was up and dressed, and someone had made an effort to clean up the room. He sat curled up on the couch, wrapped in a blanket over a simple white shirt and grey pants. Now that she knew what to look for, Janeway could see the telltale hollows in his cheeks and the dark smudges under his eyes. That they'd all missed this before — people only see what they expect to see, she reminded herself. Tom had managed to act more or less normally, and it had deceived them.

"Neelix has made you a special soup," she announced and set the bowl down in front of him, then settled herself on the couch as well.

"Oh, joy," Tom muttered and the captain smiled; he sounded almost like his old self. She watched him pick up the bowl, taste a spoonful, and choke. "Captain, are you sure he isn't just trying to finish me off?"

"Eat your soup, Mr. Paris," Janeway said firmly. "And I'd also like you to talk to me about what has been happening recently."

"My mother always told me I shouldn't talk with my mouth full," Tom said, swallowed some more soup, looked at the bowl and made a face. The captain sighed. She'd caught him with his defenses down last night, but it was clear that now they were up again and operating at full strength.

"Lieutenant," she said. "Perhaps I should make something clear. I do not want to harass you or interfere unduly in your private life. But some kind of counselling session is mandatory before you will be allowed back on duty. You chose to talk to me rather than Commander Chakotay, and I've gone to considerable trouble to fit this session into my schedule. So." She suddenly smiled at him. "Talk."

Tom went on staring into the bowl of soup silently for a long time. The captain merely sat and waited. She knew that she was not by nature a patient woman, but nothing would be gained by trying to rush Tom into a confession of any kind. Whatever he said had to come from deep inside of him, and she couldn't just charge in and demand to have his soul on a platter.

Finally he said, so quietly that he could have been talking to himself, "It was stupid of me to think that it could ever have worked." He lifted up another spoonful of soup, looked at it, and let the spoon fall back again. "I think it was doomed from the start only I was too damn blind to see. I didn't want to think that it was hopeless."

"Why do you think it was hopeless?" she asked carefully.

"Because we're too different. It's very simple really." Tom smiled, a smile so sharp you could cut yourself on it. "He's good, I'm not."

"Are we, excuse me for interrupting, but we're talking about Ensign Kim?"

"Yes." Now Tom turned his head to look at her, but his eyes were curiously distant, as if focused on a different reality. "I thought I told you that last night, captain."

"You hinted," Janeway said, "and that was the conclusion I came to."

Tom nodded. "Captain, don't judge him on one mistake. Harry really is good. Getting mixed up with me was just a temporary detour." The muscles in his throat moved as he swallowed convulsively. "I'm sure he won't do anything as stupid as that again."

The captain stared at him, appalled. She had always suspected that Tom didn't have a very high opinion of himself, but this... "I would not consider that having a relationship with you was a mistake on Ensign Kim's part," she said, at the same time wondering worriedly whether a counselor was really allowed to express such a definite opinion. But what else could she say?

"He did," Tom said. Janeway saw that his hands were shaking, and he quickly put the bowl of soup down. "He left me."

"And how did you feel then?" she asked.

"I wanted to die." Tom must have seen her stiffen where she sat. He turned towards her and put a hand on her arm. "Captain, I promised you that I wouldn't kill myself." Janeway nodded, startled by the turn of events that had him trying to comfort her. "I won't do anything that— I want to fly Voyager, captain. That's all I want to do."

"And you don't still want to die." She knew she had to ask. The possibility of having a pilot with a death wish chilled her to the bone. But he'd been at the conn already, and what had happened had been an accident due to exhaustion, nothing else.

Tom shrugged. "I suppose it would be expedient to lie," he said. "The truth is that I don't really care, personally. But if—" Suddenly his eyes were on hers, and she saw it again, the crack in the façade, the raw need that showed through. "If you still feel you need me as a pilot, I'll always be there for you. Captain. I'll never risk everyone else's life again. I swear."

Janeway threw her professional detachment overboard, leaned forward, and took him into a hug. He was awkward and surprised at first, but then, suddenly, he leaned his head against her shoulder, and she stroked his hair. She was well aware that this was not how ship's counselors were supposed to act. But she also had a strong feeling that it was what Tom Paris needed.

"You're the best pilot I could possibly have," she said, trying to convey all of her sincerity. "And as soon as you're feeling better, you'll be back on the bridge." She stroked his back soothingly. "Try not to let your personal problems get the better of you, lieutenant. It's understandable that you're grieving for the end of a relationship. But things will get better. You'll get over it, and I'm sure there will be others who are willing to comfort you."

He stiffened at that, but didn't withdraw from her embrace. "I don't ever want anyone else," he said, quietly and with complete conviction. "Never."

Captain Janeway found herself suddenly possessed of a highly unprofessional desire to wring Ensign Kim's neck.

* * *

When the door closed behind her Tom sat still and concentrated on his breathing. He could feel his heart beating, much too fast. The captain trusted him. She still trusted him.

And she'd made him talk about Harry, and the pain burned so high in him that he didn't know if he could move. It was threatening to take him over, to consume him whole. Slowly, Tom got to his feet and noticed dispassionately that he was swaying. He walked across the room, over to his desk, and opened the top drawer. He reached in and touched the folded-up silk that lay there, then nearly doubled over as another wave hit him.

As soon as he could breathe again he closed his fingers around the second object in the drawer. It was comfortingly cool in his hand as he pulled it out.

Tom pushed his left sleeve up and looked thoughtfully at his arm. It was going in and out of focus, but what he saw was clear enough. Rows of narrow white scars set crosswise at regular intervals, from the fold at the elbow and about halfway down towards the wrist. He drew a finger over them. Old friends.

One more breath, he could manage one more breath, he could do what he had to do to get this back down where it belonged. To curb the pain so it didn't rule him any more. Tom clenched his hand tighter around the shaft of the Kazon knife. He set the edge against his skin, and a bright line of blood welled up.

* * *

Harry balanced the low, wide cup in both hands as he curled up more comfortably in his chair in B'Elanna's quarters. As usual, she was sitting on the arm rest with her feet tucked in under his legs. When he stopped moving and leaned against the back rest, she dropped a lump of sugar into the cup with the air of a magician putting the rabbit back into the hat again.

"You know the replicator would have sugared this for you," Harry said.

"That's not the point," she said. "Now stir it slowly and then drink." Harry smiled at her, and followed instructions. It was good. B'Elanna picked up her own cup from the table and sipped at it. "Of course, I like mine unsugared," she went on thoughtfully.

"I'm not surprised." He drank some more. It was very comfortable to be here with her. She had given him not just support when he and Tom broke up, but something to do, a pattern to shape his days. All that free time would have seemed horribly empty if she hadn't been there. Tom seemed to be spending a lot of time alone. Or with Kes.

"Harry, you're spacing out again," she said with a grin. "And out here that can be pretty serious. What are you thinking about?"

"Nothing." He tried to shrug it off, but she put a hand on his shoulder and looked seriously at him.

"Whenever you say nothing, that usually means Tom." She squeezed his shoulder, then let go. "So am I right?"

"Yes," he admitted. Harry drank some more tea, then looked up at B'Elanna again. "Yeah, I was thinking about him. I just wonder."

"What?"

"Oh, how he's getting on. What he's doing. How long it will be before Neelix comes after him with a meat cleaver."

"What?" B'Elanna put her cup down. "Harry, what are you talking about?" Then he saw the light go on in her eyes as she understood. "No!"

He couldn't believe he'd said that. Then again, if he couldn't trust B'Elanna, who could he trust? Harry smiled wryly. "Well, I don't know anything for certain," he said. "I saw her come out of his room at 0340 hours once."

"She could have just been checking up on him," B'Elanna said with the air of one being excruciatingly fair. "If this was back when he was still off-duty?"

"Yes." Harry nodded. "Yes, it was. Only she was fixing her clothes. And you know what Tom is like, I mean if she tried to comfort him, maybe it got out of hand, and — and they just—"

Harry broke off and set his cup down abruptly, hotly ashamed of the feelings that were taking him over. For one moment he had really, truly hated Kes. It was a new experience. He'd never hated anyone before. And he didn't like it. I don't even know if it's true! he wailed to himself. Besides, Kes was so sweet, so kind, and so devoted to Neelix.

"Harry, I know you may find this hard to believe," B'Elanna said, "but there are some people in this universe who don't find Tom Paris irresistible. So far, Kes has shown every sign of being one of them." She suddenly grinned. "It's an interesting thought, though. I hope she doesn't persuade the Doctor that this is the best way to treat patients in the future."

Harry couldn't laugh. He took a deep breath. "I could kill her," he said, then instantly shook his head when he heard his own words. "No, I didn't mean that."

B'Elanna shifted so that she could see his face better. "You're that jealous." Harry looked at her, but couldn't say anything. She ran a hand across his hair, and he leaned against her knees gratefully. "You still love him."

"Yes," Harry said quietly, "I do. I love him. And it doesn't seem to matter that time passes. Oh, I know it hasn't been that long. And it doesn't matter that he found someone else to comfort him, that fast. I don't care. I mean, I do care, but—" Confused, he tried to put his feelings into words. "You know how I said that it was just sex, that I felt cheapened, I suppose, that I was losing my self-respect. Well, if he said that he wanted me back now, for just another short affair, for a day, for an hour, I'd go. Even if I knew it didn't mean anything to him. I'd say yes, because I miss him so much, I'd rather have an hour with him than a lifetime with anyone else. Oh God, B'Elanna," now his voice was shaking, "I'd do anything. Anything."

"Harry." She hugged him, very lightly. "Harry, I have something to suggest to you."

"What?" he asked desolately.

"Two things, actually. One, that you stop sniffling on my uniform, and two, that you go and say to Tom what you just said to me." She tugged at his hair, forcing his head back until he had to look at her. "If you really feel this way, Harry, what have you got to lose?"

"Nothing I haven't lost already," he admitted. "I'm just scared to tell him. It feels like I don't belong to myself any more."

"Tell him," she repeated firmly. "And stop making those lost puppy-dog eyes at me; I'm the wrong person."

He managed a grin. "All right. Sorry. But I need to think about this." Harry held up a hand. "Don't tell me I shouldn't be nervous, it's too late, I already am. Besides, I want to see what happens with, I mean, if things are fine with him and Kes," he made a face, "there would be no point."

"First of all, you don't even know if there is anything between Tom and Kes, so stop talking about it like they're married or something. Second, even if there is something, it can hardly be fine, considering it would have to be hidden from everyone on the ship, particularly Neelix." B'Elanna pursed her lips thoughtfully. "You know, I really think you're wrong. Kes isn't that stupid."

This time Harry really laughed. "I notice you don't say anything about Tom."

"You're so observant." She smiled. "Harry, go talk to the man."

"Yeah." Harry still hesitated. The thought of going to Tom and telling him the truth, asking for the relationship to be resumed, was at once appealing and frightening. It was one thing for Harry himself to realize that Tom had claimed him body and soul, and another for him to tell Tom that.

He thought again of the way Kes had looked at him as she told him about Tom's health. She knew, she had to know. And she'd been trying to tell him something, but what? That he'd hurt Tom? That thought made Harry feel horrifyingly elated. If it had meant enough to Tom that Tom had actually felt bad when the relationship ended...

Or maybe Kes had just been telling him to stay away from Tom. She was, after all, the officially appointed comforter now. Harry didn't know what to think. He'd never been so bewildered. All he knew was that he missed Tom every hour, every minute.

"Don't get hung up on gossip," B'Elanna said. "If everything people say about other people on this ship were true I think you would have had my baby by now."

"What?" Jerked from his thoughts, Harry stared at her in surprise. "You and me? I mean—" Then he looked around. "I do spend a lot of time here, don't I."

B'Elanna nodded. "You do." She heaved a dramatic sigh. "There's a whole ship full of lusty young crewmen out there, lonely and horny, and what do I get? I get to spend my evenings with an ensign who cries all over me because he's in love with the pilot." Tapping his nose with her index finger, she said, "You want to know the real difference between Starfleet and the Maquis, Harry? In the Maquis, I could at least get laid."

Harry gave her an innocent look. "You could always try to comfort Neelix, if Kes — ow!" When he recovered enough to breathe again, he added, "If I had known I was interfering so badly with your dating schedule, I would have taken my broken heart elsewhere, B'Elanna."

She shook her head and smiled. "I'd've hated to miss all those great I-remember-when-he-used-to-do-this-to-me stories."

The wink that went along with that comment would have made Harry blush once, but spending time around B'Elanna had at least toughened him up somewhat. "I'm still waiting for you to tell me some good Klingon mating stories in return." Then he remembered something more serious. "B'Elanna, you hear most of the gossip, don't you?"

"I don't know," she said. "I suppose so. Why?"

"I just wondered if you knew whether those people who were angry at Tom back at the time of the accident have settled down again," Harry said. "You remember I told you about meeting some of the Security people in the mess hall."

"Hmm." She worked her feet loose and stood up. "I haven't heard anything about that. But I'll see if I can find out anything, if you like." Halfway across the room, she stopped and looked at him over her shoulder. "Do you know if they ever made a complaint to the captain?"

Harry shook his head. "If they did, it never came up in a staff meeting — well, you know that — and it doesn't seem to have affected her decision on reinstating Tom at the conn again."

"It would be stupid," B'Elanna said, "to waste Tom's abilities just because some people are getting nervous." She pulled out a drawer in her desk and fished out a box. "And now, to save you from moping all night, I am going to beat you at chess and leave you broken and bleeding."

"You're too kind."

"I know." She grinned. "Call it a character flaw."

* * *

Things were under control. More or less. More, he hoped. Somehow he had managed to strike a precarious balance between the things that were holding his life together: his duty shifts, his talks with Kes and the captain, and the edge of the Kazon knife. It was getting easier to smile at others, to act normal on the bridge, to keep the pain shoved away into the darkest corners of himself.

He still couldn't turn around and catch sight of Harry without wanting to scream, but he was getting used to that, too.

The captain, thank heaven, treated him just the way she always had. She still put her hand on his shoulder in that wonderful way she had, but she didn't do it any more often than she ever had. Tom found her professionalism an inspiration and a relief. It was a matter of some importance to him that no one else should find out how close he had been to a complete breakdown. The captain knew, Kes knew, but he didn't want anyone else to know.

He had found out when he returned to duty that everyone seemed to have accepted the statement that the accident had been due to an illness. Something wrong with him and he blacked out, but they fixed him up in sickbay, he had overheard one crewman tell another in the mess hall. For a moment he had wondered if that wasn't as much of a coverup as his original report on Caldik Prime. But then he realized he had told the captain the truth. This was her interpretation.

It made him wish he could do something for her, anything at all. Tom swiwelled around and looked at her discreetly. Maybe he could write her a nice relaxing holoprogram. Then he grinned to himself before returning his attention to the controls. The question was whether she would trust him enough to run it, and to be honest, he had a few doubts as to how far he could go with the concept without offending her.

When it was time for him to go off his shift he yielded his seat gratefully to Ensign Bateheart and slipped away, relieved to notice that he was actually hungry. At least he knew someone who would be happy to hear that, so he crossed the bridge, carefully not looking towards the Ops station, and took off for the mess hall.

There were lots of interesting smells, and lots of people. He leaned across the counter and peered into the galley. "Kes?"

"She's not here right now," Neelix said, popping up out of nowhere with flour on his nose and his chef's hat completely askew. "Was that all you wanted to know? Or can I tempt you with some leola root patties and a delicious leola root sauce?"

"Suddenly I'm not so hungry any more." Tom sighed, then smiled. "But yes, go ahead and tempt me. You don't have any of that pepper sauce left, do you?"

"I didn't know you liked my pepper sauce!" Neelix exclaimed with a delighted look.

"I find it does wonders for leola root," Tom said innocently and accepted his plate. He looked down at the food, then waited until Neelix had turned his back, pinched a salt shaker, and went to sit down. Out of habit he chose a table to himself. There weren't many people in here that he knew particularly well, anyway.

Moments later Neelix came out of the galley with a small bowl in his hands. "You're in luck! Just a little pepper sauce left over from yesterday." Neelix hesitated. "Or maybe the day before. Or the day before that. Anyway, enjoy!" He smiled and turned around only to be met by Kes, who promptly kissed the tip of his nose. "Dearest!"

Tom looked down and poked the leola root patties, wondering whether to risk the pepper sauce or not. Oh death, where is thy sting. In the sauce, conceivably. Sometimes life was so crazy all he wanted to do was laugh. Or cry, if he could remember how to do that. And why did the sight of Kes and Neelix make his throat close up? Something about the way they were together, the way they looked at each other. Don't go there. Don't think about that.

Neelix went back behind the counter and Kes sat down across the table from Tom. "Your eyes are red," she said.

"It's the pepper sauce." Tom drank some water. "Sometimes I just can't tell if Neelix is trying to poison me or if he's being nice to me. And I still haven't thanked him for that special soup he made for me. It was good, really."

"I'll tell him if you like," Kes said, smiling. "He'll be so pleased. Tom?"

"Yes?"

"Have you thought about what I suggested last night?" With her head tilted to one side, she looked like an inquisitive little pixie. Vague memories of old fantasy literature flickered through Tom's head and he suppressed a smile. That was actually quite easy when he considered her question.

"Yes, I have." The truth was that he had thought about little else ever since then. "But Kes, I don't really think it's a good idea." Her face fell. "Romantic, yes. But..." Tom took a deep breath. "It's no use. Really. He's made his choice and he seems to be doing all right. What would be the point of my messing it all up again?"

"The point," Kes hissed, "is that you love him. Tom, life is too short to waste on silence. You've got to let yourself be honest about how you feel."

Those words, from her, stopped him short. For a long moment, Tom sat looking into Kes' eyes. Then he dropped his gaze. "I was," he said. "I did tell him. Several times, some of them quite loudly, I seem to remember." Stabbing one of the leola root patties viciously, he added, "It's no use. I tried, I failed, and now he's got a gorgeous engineer to console him. He doesn't need someone like me, he never did."

"Tom." She put her hands on his. "What do you mean by someone like you?"

"A miserable no-good fuck-up who can't do a thing right," he quoted from memory. His father, an authority on the subject. "I tried giving him what I have to give, and if that's not what he wants, then what the hell can I do?" Looking up, he offered her a lopsided smile. "Hey, it's all right. If it's any consolation to you, I'm used to failing. Wouldn't know what to do if something went right for once."

"That's the first thing you've said so far that I can agree with," Kes said. "Tom, take a look at yourself. You're out of prison. You're piloting a star ship. You have a field commission of lieutenant, serving under a captain who trusts you, on a ship where you have made friends who care about you. That does not sound like failure to me. It sounds like success." She smiled at him. "And if you can manage that, then you can get Harry back, too."

He shook his head slowly. "All those things just happened. Sheer chance."

"Yes." Now her smile was even more brilliant. "Don't you think it's amazing that we get all these chances to do something with our lives, all the time, and all we have to do is take them?"

Tom stared at her, then gave up the fight. It wasn't what Tuvok would call logic, but it was what he needed to hear. He lifted the hand that was resting on his, and kissed it. "Kes, get back into the galley before I start acting like a complete idiot."

She gave him another searching look, then bounded to her feet and walked away. Tom sat staring into space for a long time before returning his attention to his by now cold food. Only then did he realize that she'd taken the salt with her as she left.

* * *

Captain Janeway could hear the sound of raised voices as she came down the corridor, and when she got closer it was possible to make out words as well. "He kissed your hand! Right out there in front of everyone!"

Yielding to temptation, she slowed down and peeked cautiously into the galley. Neelix was bristling with outrage, face to face with Kes who had her hands on her hips. "I thought we were over this. I wish you would just trust me — and Tom," she said intently. "He meant it as a friendly, innocent gesture!"

"Innocent!" Neelix banged the wall with one fist. "There is nothing innocent about Tom Paris! Dearest, you don't understand. That's an old romantic gesture back on this Earth of theirs. If he's trying to take you away from me—"

"He isn't." Kes walked closer and stroked Neelix' cheek. "And even if he was, he wouldn't succeed. Don't get upset. Tom is your friend; you like him."

Neelix tried to give her an outraged stare, but then slumped defeatedly. "I do," he admitted. "And I shouldn't — it was just that he—"

"I understand," Kes said softly. "But believe me, you don't have to be concerned. We're just friends, you know that."

"Yes, I know that. I know." Neelix sighed. "Perhaps you should just hint to him that he could be a bit more friendly and a bit less romantic."

The captain decided that she had overheard quite enough, or possibly too much. She cleared her throat as loudly as she could, and walked forward. Neelix caught sight of her and smiled, and Kes, seeing his reaction, turned around as well. "Captain! Did you miss dinner?"

"No, Kes, I didn't. But Neelix told me that he wanted to discuss the food situation." Janeway turned her gaze on the Talaxian. "I have noticed a certain prevalence of leola root lately. Is that part of what you wanted to tell me?"

Neelix nodded. "We're running short of nearly everything," he said. "There is still plenty of leola root, but..." Janeway nodded. There would always be plenty of leola root. He went on, "If we could find somewhere to stock up on fresh vegetables, the menu would improve immensely. Not that there is anything wrong with Kes' airponics bay," he patted her hand, "but there simply isn't enough coming from it right now."

"I'm between crops at the moment, captain," Kes said. "I try to stagger what I grow, but a lot of plants react unexpectedly to the artificial environment."

"That's understandable," the captain nodded. "Neelix, I'll see to it that we investigate the next M-class planet we find for suitable supplies. How bad is it? Can we continue on our present course, or do we need to look around in every direction?"

"We'll manage just fine for a few more days, captain," Neelix said reassuringly.

"Very well." Janeway nodded. "But I will see to it that we get a chance to stock up as soon as possible. I would hate to have a leola root mutiny on my hands."

* * *

~~ So smooth under his hands, all that beautiful golden skin. Feeling it wasn't enough, he had to get closer still, and he ran his tongue along the collar bone, caught a drop of sweat that had rolled into the hollow above. Yes, that was it, that was exactly it, sweet and salty at the same time, and he could taste the beginnings of arousal. Could smell it, too.

He went on kissing the strong throat, sucking at the skin hard enough to leave marks. Oh, he wanted to do that. Stake a claim. Tell the world, look, he allows me to do this, he's not ashamed to let you see. That I've loved him, touched him, been so close to him I could lose myself.

Hands were touching him too, running across his shoulders slowly, then fingers dancing down his spine. Did you always know how to do that, how to make me shiver? Or did I show you, could you read it in my body, the way I came alive at your touch. Every time. Every damn time.

Love me.

It was good, not to hurry in the slightest. To linger here and let his mouth wander over the broad chest, tracing the muscles with the tip of his tongue. Yeah, I can feel your back arch, hear your breath come faster. But you've got to be patient. I want to touch every part of you, until I know you better than you know yourself. You do taste like molasses. I swear.

He sighed as he felt those caressing hands halt, fingers digging into him for a moment. Mm, sensitive nipples. And the taste here always a little more bitter, I wonder why that is... oh God, touch me again. Right. There.

Harry. ~~

Tom sat bolt upright in bed and dug his hands into the mattress, holding it hard. It wasn't safe to sleep. At least when he was awake he could consciously avoid some subjects. But his dreams sought them out, and no torture could have been conceived that came anywhere near such a level of loving detail. They wouldn't let him forget exactly what it was he wanted.

His heart was beating so fast and it wouldn't slow down. Pain pumping through him, carried in the blood. "Computer, lights," he requested in a sleep-hazy voice, then winced and closed his eyes. This was stupid, he should go back to sleep, but Harry was in his dreams and it wasn't safe.

With a muffled curse he got out of bed and started to walk. Around and around. Damn, but these quarters were small. Maybe he could go to the holodeck and run a kilometer or ten. Maybe he should replicate himself some hot milk and go back to bed. Ah, the endless possibilities. Tom stopped and looked back at the bed. He could remember Harry lying right there, lazily dipping a finger into one of the sticky puddles on his chest, bringing it to his mouth, tasting, testing.

Turning away again, Tom leaned against the wall and closed his eyes. He wasn't going to break anything. He wasn't going to scream. He'd find a distraction somehow. Hot milk, holodeck, anything. Now his heart rate was speeding up again. A glass of hot milk would work wonders.

He'd always hated the stuff, of course. Tom pushed himself upright and walked towards the replicator. Then he found himself walking past it, going to his desk, opening the top drawer. Reaching inside. It wasn't right, but it was the only thing that helped. Trading pain for pain.

Staring at the edge of the knife, feeling the way it pulled at him, Tom slowly nodded. Maybe then he could sleep.

* * *

It felt a lot less formal to meet like this, across the pool table at Sandrine's, and she thought it showed in Tom's behavior. He looked a lot more relaxed, especially as he was out of uniform. "Nice shirt, lieutenant."

He shrugged, and smiled. "It's not every day I have a date with the captain." They started playing, and Janeway got so absorbed in the game that she didn't notice at first that they weren't talking much. She loved pool, the combination of the thrill of the game, and the lovely mathematical precision of it. Then she lowered her cue and looked contritely at Tom.

"We're not here just so I can have fun, Mr. Paris." Watching him set up his next shot, she added, "Although I would appreciate more than token resistance."

He grinned at her. "Let's finish the game first. Then we can sit in a corner, and open this place to the public. Otherwise people would imagine that we were up to all kinds of hanky-panky in here. You have no idea how wildly the gossip runs on Voyager."

"On the contrary, I have a very good idea," Janeway said briskly. She'd be a poor captain if she didn't. "Mostly it's harmless, of course. But sometimes it can get people very upset. I've heard that some people are less than happy with having you as a pilot."

"After the accident?" Tom gently pushed a holographic barfly out of the way. "I know. But there isn't much I can do about that." He surveyed the pool table again, then bent forward and pushed his loose shirtsleeves up, preparing for the shot.

"Lieutenant." Janeway kept her voice level. "You appear to have injured your arm."

The shot went wide and Tom looked up at her, his eyes looking suddenly dark as all color left his face. He straightened up slowly and looked down at his left arm. She watched as the corner of his mouth drew up in something that just wasn't a smile. "Yes," he said, "it seems I have."

"Would you like to tell me about it?" She knew it was touch and go now. They stood facing each other across the green felt table, in the circle of warm golden light, in this place where she knew Tom had always felt at home. Maybe that had nothing to do with it, but she saw his eyes flicker around the room, then return to settle on her.

"Maybe you'd like to go look it up in the medical database first," he said. Then he bent again and concentrated, and made a perfect shot, before putting his cue down. "All right. But in that case, we're keeping Sandrine's closed."

She nodded, and followed him to a corner table. When she sat, Tom slumped into a chair and stretched his legs out. Janeway studied him cautiously. If she'd felt inadequate as a counsellor before, it was nothing against this. "Lieutenant."

"Yeah." Tom threw a quick look at her. "It's depression-related," he offered in a neutral voice. "And it's got to do with control. I always thought so anyway. It's like — when you're being hurt, when you feel out of control and everything's just a piece of shit, you can focus it all down to something you're doing to yourself." He shrugged. "It makes the pain go away. For a while."

Janeway's voice was strained as she said, "I didn't realize you hurt so much."

Tom, who had been looking away,met her eyes with a look almost of surprise. "Oh." He shrugged. "It's okay. I can stay on top of things. I'll be okay."

She shook her head. "Mr. Paris, if this is the price for your continued reliability as a pilot, I am not prepared to pay it." Janeway made a wry face. "I thought I told you to put that knife away."

"I tried." Tom looked anxious. "Captain, you can't pull me off duty!"

Taking a deep breath, she thought about it. His performance had been exemplary ever since the doctor had declared him fit for duty again. And it seemed he was attaching more importance to flying Voyager than to just about anything else right now. Tom Paris was so strangely frail, and it was that which made her want to pull him off the bridge, and let him stay, all at once. If she let him stay, he might crack. If she took him off duty, he would almost certainly crack.

Hell of a choice, Kathryn Janeway thought to herself. "No," she said finally, slowly. "But lieutenant, you have to promise me that you try to stop with this. I don't want you hurting yourself. Even if," she tried to project calm, gentleness, authority, "even if you're hurt by things, you owe it to yourself to care for yourself, love yourself." The look on his face made her add, "You're a good person, lieutenant. You deserve it."

Conflicting emotions fought on his face but then he said, "You mean I'd better love myself 'cause no one else is going to do it? Hell, I already knew that, captain. I've been left enough times to know that."

She cursed mentally, and took his hand. Janeway had always felt that it was easier to get along with people if you touched them every so often, as though it created some kind of channel between her and them. A bond that helped her reach them, helped her do her best for them and vice versa. Now she tried to reach Tom, reach past his spiky fears and the jagged edges of hurt and distrust.

"I can't promise you any miracles," she said warmly. "But if people could not see you clearly enough to love you, it was their loss, Mr. Paris. Don't hurt yourself just because others hurt you. You can do better than that."

There still wasn't complete conviction in his face, but then she hadn't expected that. No miracles, after all. But he was listening to her. That was good enough. When his fingers closed around hers and he squeezed her hand back, the captain started to feel a bit easier.

"I'll try," he said finally.

Janeway nodded, and looked down at his arm. "I trust you will, Mr. Paris. I don't want to say that I'll be watching you..." Another thought struck her. "You know a dermal regenerator would have taken care of those marks."

Tom Paris smiled wryly. "Yes. I suppose — I suppose I wanted someone to find out." He sighed. "It's funny. I got rid of them when I joined Starfleet Academy. And again, when you took me away from New Zealand. And you know what? I can still see them, all of them." Tom brushed absently along his arm, and Janeway swallowed hard, seeing the extent of damage he was indicating.

"You mean it's — you've been doing it for that long—" Appalled, she blurted out, "But didn't your father notice?"

The look in his eyes hit her like a blow. "Why do you think I started?" Then he looked away just as abruptly. "I'm sorry. I know you like him. And, oh, never mind. It's weird, you know. Some kids go through hell and they come out all right. And some of us can't deal with anything."

"And New Zealand?" she whispered, knowing she shouldn't even mention it. Tom didn't meet her eyes now.

"A lot of things happened there," he said quietly, as if to himself. "People come to prison and they think they know who they are, and then it all starts, and everything changes, and you find yourself doing things you never imagined you—"

Her fingers were starting to hurt, he was holding them so tight, but she wasn't about to remind him. Janeway thought back to her first meeting with Tom Paris, his cool arrogance, how the only thing that had seemed to get through to him was when she said he could come with her on Voyager — and then said he couldn't fly the ship. "Identity," she thought now. "What we perceive ourselves to be, what we think we're good at."

"Yeah," Tom said and she realized she'd spoken out loud. "I can fly a ship, captain. I can. What else I'm good at, you don't want to know. Didn't you ever wonder how someone who was supposed to be a traitor twice over could have a record as a model prisoner? A lot of people expected me to be killed in there. By Maquis prisoners, by loyal guards."

"But you were a model prisoner," she said. "The board was pleased with you, you were getting better work duties..." Janeway let her voice trail off as Tom faced her again.

"Let's just say I worked hard for it." Then he stood up abruptly. "Captain, I think we should open the place up. It's time. I hate to see the pool table just standing there with no one playing."

"Who are you calling no one, Tommy boy?" Gaunt Gary said plaintively.

"All right," the captain said and got to her feet as well. "Enough for now. But," she said firmly, and put a hand on her arm, "remember to take care of yourself, lieutenant. That's an order."

He raised an eyebrow, then smiled, a tired smile, but still a smile. "I suppose I'll have to go back to breaking furniture."

* * *

Once they had lifted the privacy lock, the place started to fill up. Sandrine's was a good place to spend time, cosier than the mess hall and with more private corners to sneak off into. Tom always thought that nearly every ship romance had started right here. He leaned against the bar and watched as the captain challenged Tuvok to a game. Tom smiled to himself. When even the chief of security hung out here, the place had to be a success.

There were moments, when there were a lot of people around, that he felt insanely tempted to start one of the subroutines — the bar fight, for instance, or the can-can dancers. Just to see how everyone would react. Then again, maybe he'd save the dancers for some special occasion. Tuvok's birthday?

"Tom?" Arms wound around his neck, and he nearly jumped. "Tom, it's so good to see you again."

He still hadn't deleted Ricky. Mostly because he didn't want anyone to ask why he'd done it. Now he wriggled expertly out of her grasp. "I was just leaving."

"You never want to be with me any more," she pouted, in full hearing of the three crewmen standing nearby, and he silently vowed to reprogram her the first chance he got. It wasn't right to keep her like this and besides, she was starting to annoy the hell out of him. Why had he ever thought he enjoyed the clinging attention of a holographic woman, a mockery of a real person? The other characters at Sandrine's had been programmed with affection and respect, at least.

"Go cheer up someone else," he suggested. "Time for me to leave." Talking to the captain had stirred up a lot of things inside him. She had been kind, almost unbearably kind. She just didn't know, there was so much she didn't know. And he'd tried to start over, but things kept coming back. Tom looked at Ricky, at the way she batted her lashes and made herself cheap for him the way the real woman never would have done. No more. Never anything like that again.

Walking towards the door, he turned his head in time to catch the captain's eyes on him. She gave him a firm nod, and a softer smile, almost questioning. Tom nodded back and tried to look reassuring. Then he left, wishing not for the first time that he could get the smell of the sea air right.

Coming out into the sterile corridor, Tom paused for a moment and ran a hand through his hair, working out his options. He wanted to get back to his quarters. Clean the place up a bit, read something, listen to music. Go to bed early. Prove to himself that he could be in the same room with that sharp knife's edge that drew him so, and not give in to it. Because the captain didn't want him to.

She was right, of course. It was wrong, it was a stupid thing to do. But then he'd always known that, really. And although it helped, although he clung to that when things got too bad, there was always the awareness that it made him even more of a failure, for not being able to handle his life without this peculiar crutch. For not being able to take a little pain.

He would just have to work at it. To his quarters, then. But Kes' advice was running through his head again, her suggestion that he should try to see Harry, talk to him. Tom wondered if he could do that, if he could figure out just what Harry had meant when he'd said he wanted no more of Tom. Oh, that hadn't been what Kes had suggested, exactly. She thought he ought to go tell Harry how much he loved him, but Tom didn't think that was the greatest idea he'd ever heard. Considering the number of times he'd told Harry just that, Harry would have to be a lot more stupid than Tom had ever seen any sign of not to get it.

Still, he could try to talk to Harry. Harry had been very upset back then, with the possibility of going home and everything. Now it was clear that that wormhole wasn't taking them anywhere, and Harry had B'Elanna to comfort him. Tom managed a faint smile over the black wave of jealousy that rolled through him. Maybe it would be possible to at least start talking to Harry again. To salvage some part of their friendship.

Then he tried to imagine hanging out with Harry in the casual way he'd done before. Tried to imagine being around Harry and B'Elanna, seeing them smile at each other, touch each other. No. It wouldn't work. No way was it going to work. The pain flared up inside him, brighter and hotter than ever, and he concentrated so hard on fighting it down that he didn't even notice there were other people in the corridor until someone put a hand on his shoulder.

"All alone, lieutenant?" Tom looked up in surprise to see crewman Darin glaring at him, and at the same time someone ripped his comm badge off. "We'd like a word with you."

He backed away, right up against somebody else who instantly grabbed his arms, and they all started dragging him away. "What the hell is this?" Tom asked aggressively, and Darin backhanded him across the mouth. He felt the sting as his lower lip split and started to bleed. Tom jerked his head back, hoping the person behind him wasn't too much shorter than he was. He heard a satisfying crunch and a grunt of pain.

"You bastard," a woman hissed next to him. "You killed my brother's lover." Her knuckles drove into his side, right beneath the ribs. "And they let you fly this ship!"

He wrenched himself free, but all four of them converged on him again. Tom had time for the self-mocking thought that now he didn't have to break any furniture after all, and then things started to get complicated.

* * *

"Mr. Tuvok, come with me." She knew he'd follow her instantly as she put the pool cue down and headed for the door. And yes, there he was when she turned her head. "I think we may have a problem," Janeway said as they walked out of Sandrine's.

"What kind of problem would that be?" Only then did she remember that she'd never spoken to Tuvok about the crewmen who had complained about Tom Paris, or mentioned Kes' fears. It had slipped her mind, unaccountably. She should have made a note. Seeing Darin and his cronies slip outside not long after Tom had left would have meant nothing to Tuvok. She'd nearly missed it herself, engrossed in the game.

But then she had remembered, and reacted to the oddly furtive look on crewman Darin's face. The man made a lousy conspirator. Still, she did not want any further trouble and so she thought she'd better get out there and break up anything that might have started. "I'm concerned that some of the crewmen may try to pick a fight with Mr. Paris."

Tuvok said nothing, but she could feel him think a few choice thoughts about that. When they left the holodeck, the corridor they found was empty. Tuvok moved up ahead of her and bent down to pick up something from the floor. "A comm badge, captain."

"Mr. Paris', presumably," Janeway said and heard the sound of a dull thud from up ahead. She picked up her pace, but Tuvok was already running that way. When she rounded the corner, she found Tom Paris lying on the floor, and Tuvok pursuing four running figures. She shook her head. "Idiots," she said concisely, then dropped to her knees next to the pilot. He didn't look too good. Split lip, broken nose, a gash across one eyebrow, but those were only the things she could see easily. He'd probably taken a blow to the head, since he was unconscious. "Janeway to transporter room two. Beam Lieutenant Paris directly to sickbay."

Once she arrived in sickbay herself, Janeway gave in to the self-recrimination she seldom indulged in, as the doctor fussed over Paris. She should have taken those complaints more seriously; then perhaps this would never have happened. A disciplinary problem of this magnitude wasn't going to be easy to deal with. Concerned as she felt for Tom Paris, the captain considered the worst problem to be what she was going to do with the people who had done this to him. Throw them in the brig? Lock them in their quarters? For how long? There was no way she could get rid of them, the way she might have gotten rid of troublemakers normally. Precious few other ships for them to transfer to, and there was no way she could abandon them out here for just one transgression.

No, she was going to have these people in her crew for a good long time, and she had to figure out a way to settle this problem and make sure they settled in and started behaving like rational creatures again. Janeway sighed. The door opened and Kes came in, half-running. "Captain? Are you all — oh!" Catching sight of Tom on the biobed, Kes headed that way, and the doctor nodded at her.

"You're here. Good. You can set his broken nose." Kes looked mildly dismayed, but set to it, and the captain resumed pacing around sickbay. She wanted to ask the doctor how Tom Paris was doing, but she was waiting for something, and she did not have to wait long.

"Tuvok to Janeway."

"Go ahead."

"Captain, I believe I have captured two of the offenders. I am certain there were more of them, but they will not give me any names." She picked up the sound of a curse in the background. "I am reluctant to lock them up at once, captain. They appear to be in need of medical attention."

"Very well, Mr. Tuvok. Please bring them to sickbay, and we will discuss this. Janeway out." She walked to the biobed and came to stand next to Kes, who had finished manipulating Tom's nose and was attending to the cut on his brow. "How is he?"

The doctor turned around with a hypospray in his hand. "Most of Mr. Paris' injuries are superficial," he said. "However, there was some internal haemorrhaging due to repeated blows to the abdomen, and in addition, the lieutenant is suffering from a severe concussion. Everything is under control, and he should be recovered in a day or two."

"Can you get him to wake up?" Janeway asked.

"I can," the doctor said in measured tones, "but it would be advisable to wait. Is it urgent?"

She shook her head. "No, doctor. It can wait." If Tuvok's two — she was reluctant to use the word prisoners, but found herself at a loss for a synonym — would not speak, tomorrow would be time enough for Tom Paris to name his attackers. "But tell me, doctor, is there any indication that the injuries were intended to be lethal?"

The doctor shook his head. "Not if they were inflicted by someone who is aware of the extent of medical treatment available on Voyager, captain. If Mr. Paris had been attacked in a place where he could not be placed under medical supervision, it is possible that he might have slipped into an irreversible coma. But there is, of course, no way for me to tell whether this was deliberate. It is extremely difficult to judge a blow to the head."

That at least made things a little easier. Janeway would have hated to have been forced to charge any of her crew with attempted murder; Suder had been enough of a problem, and he had at least confessed. Even as she found herself thinking about him, the door opened again and Tuvok marched inside followed by a security detachment, leading two crewmen who looked somewhat the worse for wear.

Darin was not one of them, and Janeway looked thoughtfully at the man and woman who stood there. Tuvok cleared his throat. "I was unable to capture the others, captain."

"There were no others to capture," the woman said sullenly. Janeway noticed that Kes visibly hesitated before crossing over to them, medical scanner in hand. The doctor followed her and stood next to her, apparently watching her analysis.

"Here is another opportunity for you to practise how to set a broken nose," he said. "You are aware, of course, that if too long time has passed since the injury was sustained, it is necessary to break and re-set the—"

"I know," Kes said, looking thoughtfully at the man in front of her, who got a distinctly nervous look in his eyes. The captain looked at Tuvok and nodded towards the doctor's office. They went inside, and Janeway allowed herself to lean against the desk, arms crossed as she looked at her security officer and old friend.

"There were others," she said abruptly. "Two others, and I could give you their names. But I think we ought to wait and see what Mr. Paris says when he wakes up." Tuvok opened his mouth, and Janeway held up her hand. "I am interested in seeing whether they will come forward, Mr. Tuvok. We know who they are, and they certainly aren't going anywhere. Besides..."

"Yes, captain?"

Janeway smiled wryly. "It will give me a little time to figure out what to do. This is a bit of a problem. In the meantime, as soon as these two have been treated, they should be locked up. And I believe it would be a good idea to leave a guard here with Mr. Paris."

"Yes, captain." Tuvok frowned slightly. "Do you believe there is a chance that the perpetrators might return? That would be risky, not to say foolhardy."

"So it would. But it was foolhardy to attack the lieutenant in the first place. Let's not take any risks, Mr. Tuvok." The captain sighed. However hard she would argue against Tom's attitude that the universe was out to get him, at this moment, she was starting to understand how he felt. He certainly was having a run of bad luck.

The doctor appeared in the doorway. "Captain, I would like a word with you." He looked at Tuvok. "In private." As soon as Tuvok had walked out, at her nod, the doctor came up to her. "It concerns Mr. Paris, captain. I noticed when I was treating him that apart from his most recent damage, Mr. Paris appeared to have some injuries that I believe to be self-inflicted. Although the injuries themselves are insignificant, their presence indicates that Mr. Paris is in need of a type of treatment that I am not qualified to give."

Janeway met the doctor's dark eyes. He looked, for once, more concerned than sarcastic. There were moments when his genuine desire to help and to heal shone through so clearly that she could not think of him as anything but a real person. No matter what he had been created to be, now he was a member of her crew, and one she valued greatly; he had exceeded her wildest hopes.

"I'm aware of the problem, doctor," she said. "I know I can trust you to keep this confidential." He drew himself up a little, as though offended that she could even hint that he might not, and Janeway smiled at him. "There is no counselor for you to refer patients to, and it was correct of you to tell me. I believe that Mr. Paris is dealing with this as best he can. Hopefully the problem will not recur."

"While I agree with you in hoping that, captain, I feel I must tell you that everything in my databases indicates that this is a chronic condition. People who have taken to this pattern of behavior are extremely prone to go back to it in times of stress or depression."

"I know." The captain sighed, thinking back to Tom's brief mention of the other times when this had happened. "We will just have to hope that the lieutenant is spared any further emotional traumas."

Janeway wondered if it would do any good for her to have a quiet word with ensign Kim. There were moments when she really wanted to. But trying to help Tom recover was one thing, and interfering in the private lives of her crew members was quite another. Presumably Harry Kim had never imagined that anything like this would result from his breakup with Tom Paris, and to tell him would, apart from being unethical, serve no purpose except to make him feel guilty. Knowing Harry Kim, he certainly would.

* * *

Harry looked surreptitiously around the table, wondering where Tom was. He couldn't be late for the meeting! But now everyone else was here and the captain started to speak, not even waiting for Tom to show up. Which had to mean she had known he wouldn't.

"Our task for today is to gather food," the captain said with a smile. "The planet we are currently in orbit around looks promising in that regard. We are beaming down two teams, one led by Commander Chakotay, one by Mr. Tuvok. Commander, Neelix goes with you."

"Yes, captain."

"Captain," B'Elanna spoke up, "there may be some useful minerals, possibly even dilithium. in one of the mountain ranges. I'm getting a lot of interference, but I'd like to get a closer look at it."

"An excellent idea. Go with Mr. Tuvok's team, and take Mr. Kim with you." The captain nodded decisively at them.

"Captain," Harry found himself saying before he even knew he had decided to speak, "where is Lieutenant Paris?"

"He is in sickbay," Captain Janeway said. Harry started slightly, but kept himself from leaping to his feet. She looked calm, he told himself, she looked a lot too calm for there to be anything seriously wrong. But what had happened? Tom had looked just fine when he went off his shift yesterday. In fact, Harry thought with a silent sigh, he had looked better than fine, he had looked wonderful.

"What's wrong with him?" B'Elanna asked bluntly.

The captain looked at Tuvok for a moment, then back at B'Elanna and Harry. "There is nothing seriously wrong with Mr. Paris," she said. "He will be all right."

"Captain," Commander Chakotay spoke up, "the rumors were flying all over the mess hall when I went to get breakfast. You can't keep this quiet. I think you should tell the senior officers the truth."

It sounded almost like a reproof. Harry watched, fascinated, as the captain and the commander locked eyes across the table. "Very well," Captain Janeway said finally. "I believe you are right, commander. Mr. Paris was injured in a fight with some other crew members last night. We are unable to get the details until he wakes up, which the doctor assure me that he will during the course of the morning. But it seems that the lieutenant was subjected to an unprovoked attack. Two of the crewmembers involved have been taken into custody by Security," she nodded at Tuvok, "but two others got away. We are waiting for Mr. Paris to identify them."

Harry caught hold of B'Elanna's hand under the table and squeezed it hard, and to hell with correct behavior. He could feel slow, powerful, unaccustomed anger moving inside. His mind filled with pictures of Tom being hurt. Damn them. To judge by the way B'Elanna's lips were curling back and the way her teeth were showing, her thoughts were going the same way. Her fingers closed around his and she nearly crushed his knuckles before letting go.

"What will happen to the offenders?" Chakotay asked.

The captain looked at them all and then spread her hands wide. "I don't know," she said. "Mr. Tuvok believes we should follow Starfleet protocol. If we do, I have legal grounds to dismiss those people. But I'm sure you all realize that I can't possibly do that. It's one thing to dismiss crew members in Federation space, but out here..." She made a small gesture that managed somehow to encompass the whole Delta quadrant. "I am still waiting to hear what Mr. Paris will say about the incident before I can make any kind of decision."

Just turn them over to me, Harry thought. Then he almost shook his head in surprise. Like his previous jealousy, this intense anger had caught him unawares. He wanted to hurt these people, although he didn't know who they were. It felt a bit scary. Most of all he wanted to rush to sickbay and stay there until Tom woke up, until he knew absolutely, certainly, that Tom would indeed be all right.

And then, Harry sighed to himself, he would tell Tom exactly how he felt. He had to. It was no use trying to deny his feelings, and if there was a chance, even the slimmest of chances that he and Tom could get back together again...

Only there was no time for him to go to sickbay. He was on duty, and when the meeting ended he and B'Elanna collected the equipment they needed and joined the rest of Tuvok's team in transporter room two.

* * *

They came down in a sub-tropical valley, thickly wooded. It was warm, and a light rain fell. Tuvok started to direct the team to various areas, and Harry thought a few people looked enviously at him and B'Elanna as they took off for the mountain range, probably thinking that they were going to find a nice dry cave. Harry wasn't actually too keen on that idea. He enjoyed weather, real weather.

B'Elanna walked ahead briskly and he hurried to follow her. It was a walk of less than a kilometer, and Harry considered suggesting that they take it easy, but then he caught sight of the expression on her face. Where he would have liked to go slowly, and think long thoughts, she wanted to channel her anger into action. It made as much sense as anything else, and so he lengthened his stride to keep up.

They walked together in silence for a while. Then she said, "Why do you think they did it?"

Harry shrugged. "I don't know. Tom can be pretty annoying. The captain did say it was unprovoked, though." He fell silent as he remembered something. The mess hall, and Kes and Darin staring at each other. "B'Elanna, I know who did it."

"Good." The heels of her boots bit into the ground as she walked. "Then I can go wring their necks." Then B'Elanna actually laughed. "And to think I offered to beat him up for you. Now that someone's done it, I'm so angry I don't know what to do."

"Me, too," Harry admitted. He smiled a bit self-consciously. "You know, this is the first time I've ever really not wanted to follow an order. I don't want to be here. I want to be up there."

"All in good time, Starfleet," she said. "First we find the dilithium. Then we kick a few people around. Then you and Tom get back together again." She had slowed down a little now, and he saw her grin broadly. "This is the first time I have ever preached patience to anyone."

"Probably the last, too," Harry said. After a few moments, he went on, "He will be okay, won't he? I mean, the captain said he would be okay."

"She wouldn't lie about it," B'Elanna said. Harry knew she was right. Although he knew the captain to be an optimist, she was an honest optimist. If she said Tom would be fine, then that was what the doctor had told her. Harry just didn't like the sound of 'when he wakes up' at all. What if Tom was in a coma? What if he never did wake up again? "Stop anguishing," B'Elanna ordered him and he realized it must all have shown on his face.

"I just want him to be all right," Harry said. "I don't care if we never get back together, I don't care if he never speaks to me again, just as long as he's all right."

B'Elanna sighed. "You've got it bad, Starfleet." She shook her head reprovingly at him, but he could tell she was worried too.

When they reached the edge of the first foothills they turned right and started walking along them, Harry scanning for dilithium traces and B'Elanna looking for caves. It was easier to walk here as they were on higher, dryer ground. Harry realized that his left boot had started leaking. There was a damp patch right over his toes. He trudged on, only half his mind on what he was doing.

He wanted Tom back. It all came back to that. He'd been an idiot to have let Tom walk out of the room that night without even trying to make him stay. Without telling him at least once that he loved him. Harry made a face to himself. He still didn't know how he would explain this to his family, given the opportunity. But there was no way he could fight it.

At least he would have the satisfaction of telling the truth. Hell, Tom might even be flattered. If it hadn't been serious for him. If it hadn't been serious, then why had Kes told Harry that Tom had stopped eating, stopped sleeping? If it had been serious, then what about Kes? Was there anything between Tom and Kes? Shaking his head, Harry checked the tricorder readings instead.

"I think there's something in here." B'Elanna stopped and came to stand by him, looking at his results. "About a hundred meters in." Harry nodded at the rock wall to their left.

"I want a cave," B'Elanna said dreamily. "A nice big cave full of dilithium." She pointed her tricorder at the mountainside with the air of someone prepared to blast a cave into it if necessary. "There are open spaces in there. We just have to find a way in."

"All right," Harry agreed, and they went on walking.

* * *

The first thing he saw when he opened his eyes was Kes' face. She smiled, a wide, delighted smile. It reminded him of people who supposedly saw angels during their near-death experiences. Perhaps they, like he, had just been lucky in their nurses.

"Doctor! He's awake!" Yes, it seemed he was. His head hurt, but apart from that things seemed to be okay. Thinking back, Tom remembered being picked up and slammed bodily backwards against something, and then he supposed he'd hit his head and blacked out.

"Within fifteen minutes of the time I predicted," the doctor said and appeared in Tom's field of vision. "Very good. How are you feeling, Mr. Paris?"

"I'm okay," he croaked out, then grimaced. "Can I have some water?" The inside of his mouth felt as though he had been drinking all night. All the disadvantages and none of the fun, he thought. Waking up in sickbay was sometimes as trying as whatever put you there in the first place.

Kes reappeared again. "I thought you might like some fruit juice," she said.

"I'll contact the captain," the doctor said and walked off. Tom tried to raise his head but had to have help from Kes before he could get enough of an angle to drink. He did feel okay, just a bit weak, and the back of his head throbbed a bit. Once he'd finished drinking he lay back and let Kes play around with the medical scanner again.

So he had been fighting. Yes, he could remember that, vaguely. Turning his head, he saw that the other biobeds seemed unoccupied. Tom made a face. Too bad. Not only had he been fighting, he had apparently lost. He wrinkled his brow in an effort to bring it all back. There were only fragmented images: Sandrine's, a corridor, a fist approaching his face.

He brought a hand up and felt his own face. It seemed to be the same. Kes laughed. "I fixed it all," she said. "I even set your nose right. Or would you have liked to have kept the break?"

"I don't think so," Tom said. "You can't improve on perfection." He grinned at her, and she smiled back. "Would you mind telling me something? What exactly happened to put me here?"

Kes looked dismayed. "You don't remember?"

The doctor reappeared. "Minor memory loss is perfectly consistent with a head injury," he pointed out. Tom grimaced. So he'd been in a fight, he'd taken a blow to the head, and now his memory was acting up. Fine. Great. Thinking back, though, he realized that everything was clear up until right after the conversation with the captain at Sandrine's. After that, it was a blur.

He drank some more fruit juice and worried at his incomplete memories while the doctor went through the list of his injuries. Most of them didn't interest him much, though he did wonder what his face had looked like last night — if it had been last night. "How long have I been here?" he interrupted.

"Just overnight," Kes reassured him. That was a relief. He would have hated to lose even more than that. A few hours was nothing a drunken binge might not have wiped from his mind, not that he'd had any of those in a long time. Clean living was a way of life on Voyager. There weren't many alternatives. "The memories might come back eventually, Tom. That frequently happens."

He nodded. Moments later he heard the sound of the door opening and someone striding briskly into the room — more than just one someone, he amended as a second set of footsteps joined the first. It didn't take the doctor's "Ah, captain!" for him to identify that first energetic footfall. He'd heard her walking behind his back on the bridge so many times.

The other person to enter was Tuvok, Tom saw when they came closer. That was a bit worrisome. He wondered if the chief of security was there to charge him with something. After all, it appeared that he had been fighting, even if he couldn't remember it very clearly. But Tuvok stayed in the background and let the captain talk.

"I am glad to see you awake, Mr. Paris," she said. "And sorry to have to bother you so soon, but there are a few questions we need to ask you." She waited for his slow nod before continuing, "Do you think you can identify the people who attacked you last night?"

Tom blinked. Was that what had happened? He had a fleeting impression of a very angry face, but it was hard to make out the features, everything seemed to blur together. Tom shook his head, then regretted it and drew his breath in quickly. "No, captain. I'm sorry, but I don't remember very much. How do you know I was attacked?"

"Mr. Tuvok and I found you," Janeway said, "with some people running away as we approached. Two of them were caught. I was hoping you could identify the others."

"I see," Tom said, "but I think I should tell you, captain, that I honestly can't remember what happened. For all I know, I got in a fight — I mean, maybe it wasn't unprovoked. I," he frowned, "I can't recall being in a fighting mood, exactly, but that might have changed. I just can't know."

"There is no point tiring yourself out trying to remember," the doctor said dryly. "The memories will probably come back by themselves eventually. Trying too hard will merely give you a headache."

"Already have one of those," Tom said with a small smile.

The captain looked grave. "I understand," she said. "This poses a bit of a problem."

Thinking about it, Tom started to see that it did. To have one crew member attacked by another was a serious issue. Not for the first time he got a feeling for how small Voyager was, how oddly fragile, how much they all depended on each other. There was no room for this kind of internal trouble. He'd felt the same way during the Kazon takeover, so strangely protective of this ship and everyone on it. Remembering that at least helped him put this episode in perspective.

"Captain," he said thoughtfully, "if I don't remember, there's no way you can prove anything. Maybe you'd better let them go." He couldn't miss the expression that passed across her face, momentary relief followed by more concern.

"Your memory may return, Mr. Paris," she pointed out.

"It almost certainly will return," the doctor put in. "Given enough time and rest, the damage should be undone. It is possible that the memories will return rather suddenly and startlingly, but there will be no cause for concern."

"I promise not to panic, doctor," Tom said and winked at him. "Captain," he resumed, "all I can say now is that I don't remember. I know that doesn't give you anything to go on, but there's nothing I can do about that."

"Of course not." She nodded, and glanced up at Tuvok, who also gave a slow nod. "It seems we have no solution to the problem of your prisoners, Mr. Tuvok."

"Let them go," Tom said impulsively, and realized he might have been speaking out of turn when they both turned to look at him. Still, he had started and he might as well go on. "It can't be right to keep them locked up when I may never charge them with anything. They're just being pointed out to the rest of the crew. And there's nowhere they can go, they're hardly going to disappear." In the face of a concentrated stare from both Janeway and Tuvok, he found himself fading out.

"We have to discuss this, Mr. Tuvok," the captain said finally. "Mr. Paris, get some rest and try to get better. I've taken the doctor's advice and given you sick leave for the next two days. If you do remember anything, I would appreciate it if you contacted me or Mr. Tuvok as soon as possible, though."

"Of course," he agreed and watched them leave, along with a couple of security guys. Tom wondered what would come of this. He also wished he'd taken the opportunity to ask them just who they thought had attacked him and why. Things seemed hazy and pleasantly distant, but he doubted they'd stay that way. If someone was really out to get him, it would be useful to know who it was.

Kes came and helped him drink some more, explaining that he was mildly dehydrated after having slept so long as well as having lost some blood. After a while she said, "I think they did attack you. They have been angry at you for a long time."

"You know who these guys were?" Tom asked, surprised.

"Yes, I do. Though perhaps I shouldn't tell you, it might affect the way you regain your memories — your mind may make things up based on what I say."

"Just tell me why you think they are the ones," he said. Tom didn't really care what his mind might come up with, he wanted to be prepared in case there was trouble. He'd rather deal with it his own way than leave it to Tuvok and the captain.

"Tuvok brought the two he caught here last night so I could treat them," Kes explained, "and I recognized them as part of a group that I know has been unhappy with you since the accident. I think the others in that group were in on this too. There are four of them, and they were comparing the accident to—"

"Caldik Prime," Tom said. "Darin, it's Darin, right?" He felt a moment of obscure pleasure at knowing he'd done some damage in return before he went down. The moment Kes had reminded him, he had recalled Darin's angry behavior right here in sickbay. But he couldn't place the man at the scene last night. He still couldn't place anything from last night.

Kes refused to discuss the issue any more with him, and the doctor ordered him to rest, so he spent most of the day in a light doze, waking to drink some more and go back to sleep. He tried reading, but it made his head hurt. Kes did tell him that they were at an M-class planet, gathering supplies. Tom thought hopefully that some fresh food would be nice. The rest of the time he slept, without any disturbing dreams.

When he woke up towards what his body told him was evening, he was hungry. Tom stretched, then slowly sat up. The doctor came out of his office, padd in hand. "Are you feeling better?"

"Much," Tom said. "How long do I have to stay down here? I wouldn't mind going to the mess hall and getting some food." Seeing the hesitation on the doctor's face, he added, "Come on doc, you'd get some peace and quiet. And I'll give a yell if I black out."

"You would not be able to," the doctor pointed out. "But presumably someone else would. Very well, Mr. Paris. But please check in here again afterwards. Then you can spend the night in your quarters, if you prefer."

He definitely did prefer, Tom thought. Sickbay wasn't the most comfortable place to stay unless you were feeling really awful. And he was a lot better now; the slight feeling of lightheadedness would go away once he'd eaten. Besides, he wanted some time to himself to consider what he should do about the people who'd put him in sickbay last night. A few creative additions to their favorite holodeck programs ought to do the trick nicely.

* * *

"Harry, will you stop picking those disgusting fungi?"

"We're here to gather food," Harry pointed out and stretched up on tiptoe to reach another large clump on the rock wall. The fungus resembled nothing so much as a lump of mashed potatoes, only pale pink, and he couldn't really say looking at the ones he'd picked so far made him feel hungry. But the tricorder readings indicated that they were high on vital nutrients, and maybe Neelix could do something creative with them. Knowing Neelix, that was, in fact, a given.

Harry bent down and placed his latest find in the ever-growing heap, and looked up to find B'Elanna mock-glowering at him. "We're here to find dilithium!" she said. "And you'll never be able to carry all of those, anyway."

"You'll help me," Harry pointed out. "And as soon as we get out of here we can call someone and ask for assistance." He checked the time, and looked up at her in consternation. "B'Elanna!" She raised an eyebrow. "We should have been out there an hour ago!"

"Oh, shit." She bit her lip. "I'm sorry, Harry. I wasn't keeping track, but then neither were you," she pointed out. Then she tucked her hair back behind her ears and scowled. "And we don't even have any dilithium to show for being late."

"No, but we have a lot of nice fungi," Harry said with a grin. "And I just figured out how to carry them, too." He slid down the fastener of his jump suit and started to pull off his shirt.

"I appreciate the striptease," B'Elanna said, "but it's not going to persuade me to carry those slimy things—" Harry shrugged the top half of the uniform back on again, and tied the neck and sleeves of the shirt together; then he started piling the clumps of fungi into it. "All right," she said grudgingly, "that was clever."

"Wasn't it?" Harry straightened up, makeshift bag in hand. "Now let's go, B'Elanna, before someone comes looking for us. I don't feel up to the innuendo."

"Okay. I think we came this way." She caught his eye, and laughed. "Just kidding, Harry. Come on."

Harry didn't remember walking that far. They'd kept on and on and on, spurred by B'Elanna's insistence that there had to be a useful concentration somewhere and not just all those damn traces that her readings showed. It had been partly to distract himself from her curses as yet another cave turned out to be a failure that Harry had taken to food-hunting instead. Now, trudging back, he wished he'd thought to check the time every now and then.

He really wanted to get back to Voyager. He wanted to get down to sickbay. Harry discovered with something like amazement that his mind was completely made up on the subject. Somewhere over the past few hours his subconscious had apparently made a decision for him, and now he was committed to finding Tom and telling him how he felt. The sooner the better, although Harry had to admit to himself that once back on Voyager he might feel a bit more nervous.

Stubbing his toe on a protruding rock, Harry muttered a discreet curse. B'Elanna strode ahead as always, and he was tempted to tell her it was her turn to carry the fungi. Then something else drove the thought from his mind. "B'Elanna, do you hear that funny noise?"

"What funny noise?" she said without turning her head or lessening her speed. Then he could almost see her think about it. "That funny rumbling noise?" For a moment, she slowed down and they looked at each other, then without a word picked up their pace until they were all but running.

Harry couldn't feel anything in the stone, no weird tremors, but something was definitely wrong. It didn't sound like an earthquake, precisely, or a rockfall. It just sounded unnerving.

After what seemed like far too long, they finally saw daylight, and another rushing sound started to rise over the low rumble. Harry hit his comm badge in midstride. "Away team to Voyager." Nothing happened. "Away team to Voyager!"

"Maybe we have to get right outside," B'Elanna said, panting only slightly. Harry felt envious; he was nearly out of breath. They continued towards the cave opening, and then B'Elanna stopped and Harry walked into her back. "There could be something in the geological composite that inhibits— Screw it."

It was raining outside. No, Harry amended, not raining. It was pouring down water from the sky, so much that he could barely make out the trees that he knew was out there. Those that still were there, because he could dimly make out at least one fallen trunk. Everything outside the cave mouth resembled one big mud slide. The trail they had followed had turned into a stream that ran alarmingly fast and looked alarmingly deep. In fact the whole valley looked set to turn into one big river. "You want to walk out into that?" he asked her.

The chief engineer was glaring at the rain as though it were her personal enemy. "No, but one of us has to try it, because I'm not going to sit here until the animals come walking two by two and demand that I build an ark for them."

Harry laughed. "I'll do it," he said and handed her the shirt full of fungi. Stepping outside, he gasped as the rain hit him—the drops were so large and heavy they hurt, and the water was a lot colder than he had expected given the climate. At least there was enough air for him to breathe, he thought and took a few steps away from the rock wall. "Away team to Voyager. Away team to — oh hell!"

The soft ground he was standing on suddenly crumbled away under his feet and he found himself on his back, sliding down towards the stream. Harry tried to grab hold of something, anything, and latched on to a tree root. For a moment he clung to it, then it started to give and he slid another meter and slammed into a rock. There was mud all over his face and he gasped for breath. At least the rock was stopping him from sliding any further. Although, he suddenly noticed, his left arm hurt rather a lot. He started to move sideways along the edge of the rock, using his right arm to pull himself along.

"Harry!" A strong hand gripped the back of his uniform and started to pull him up and away. "I've got you." B'Elanna tugged him back onto the relatively stable ledge right outside the cave opening. In the process, his left arm banged into something and he yelped. "Are you hurt?"

"Something wrong with my arm," he muttered, tried to stand up, and sat down again. "It could be a broken ulna. Or just a sprain." Harry poked at his arm gingerly but had to give it up when the pain brought a rush of nausea. "I don't think I got through." Lightning cracked in the distance. "This storm is probably playing havoc with communications." He reached for his comm badge again, only to discover it had disappeared somewhere in the mud.

"We're looking at a lot of atmospheric disturbance," B'Elanna agreed with a wry half-smile. "Sit down, Harry, and be careful of that arm of yours. We're not going anywhere. We'll just have to wait until someone comes to get us."

Looking out at the valley, Harry could only agree. "Is it just my imagination, or is that noise louder now?"

* * *

It was surprisingly quiet in the mess hall. He hadn't expected cheers, but everyone was oddly subdued. Wondering to himself whether he had inadvertently been in a fight with the most popular person on Voyager last night and didn't know it, Tom accepted a plate of food and looked around for a good spot to sit. Finally he decided on the free seat next to Ensign Wildman; she could catch him up on bridge gossip.

"Hi," he said in her ear and to his surprise she actually jumped a little. "Hey, what's wrong?" He hoped her kid was fine. She was a cute little thing, really.

Wildman managed a faint smile. "It's nice to see you out of sickbay," she said. "I'm just in a hurry, I need to get back to the bridge. Maybe Carey will have managed to boost the transporter beam."

Tom frowned. "Why?" he asked and poked at the food, noticing with some interest that it wasn't leola root this time. "Why do we need a stronger — hey. Wildman. Something's really wrong, isn't it?"

"I guess no one told you in sickbay," she said. "There was an away mission to gather food, and Kim and Torres went to look for dilithium, and I guess they got away from the others. They didn't beam back up with the rest of the team, and now we can't get hold of them either to hail them or get a transporter lock on them. We've got a problem because of the weather, and — lieutenant! Tom!"

He was already running out of there.

* * *

The captain spun around as the turbo lift door opened and someone skidded out of it and narrowly missed slamming into the nearest console. It was Tom Paris, in a rumpled uniform and with his hair on end. Hard on his heels came Ensign Wildman, looking at once apologetic and concerned. Janeway had no difficulty in coming to the conclusion that Wildman had been telling Paris about the current status of the away team. The lieutenant only came to a stop right in front of her.

"Have you found them yet?" he asked, adding an absent-minded "captain" in response to a look from Tuvok.

Janeway opened her mouth to tell Tom Paris that he wasn't supposed to be on the bridge, then closed it again. "No," she finally said, "we haven't." Ensign Wildman went quietly to her station, and the captain wondered if the woman had really had time to eat dinner. "But I'm sure it's just a question of time."

"Why don't you send someone down in a shuttle?" The look on Tom's face was bringing all her own fears up to the surface, but she couldn't really blame him either for being here or for looking like that.

"The flying conditions aren't very good down on the surface," she replied. "It would be a lot easier if we could just beam them up, as soon as we can get a lock on them."

"Captain," Regan said from Ops, "it looks as though the storm is getting worse. I've narrowed the scan down to that approximate area, and there is an increased amount of electric discharge, and the rainfall is intensifying."

"That may add to our problem," Tuvok said in a measured tone, walking over to look at the screens. "At the present rate of rainfall, and given the water level in the mountain range, a flash flood will result that could drown out the valley, and possibly any adjacent cave or cave system." He looked up, and met Janeway's eyes. "We are running out of time, captain."

"Let me go after them." She turned her head and looked at Tom. He had his chin up in that way she was starting to recognize, but his eyes were pleading with her. "If the storm's getting worse, and you can't get a lock on them now, it's the only way."

"It is inadvisable," Tuvok said. "The atmospheric conditions are highly unstable. There are strong thermal currents, and the wind at the surface is increasing in strength."

"Let me go!" Tom said again. "I can get down there, I know I can. I may not be able to get them back up if the high-altitude currents are getting worse, but I can at least get them away from that valley."

"If you can find them."

"If I can find them," he agreed, and his voice didn't shake, but he reached out and took her hand and squeezed it hard. Kathryn Janeway looked at him and knew she ought to say no.

"Lieutenant," Tuvok said, "have you been cleared for duty?"

Tom cast a desperate look at Tuvok, and then looked back at her again. "Captain. Please." His voice dropped so low she could barely hear it, although he must have known Tuvok would hear him anyway. "Please don't make me disobey your orders, captain."

"You know that if you go down there we won't be able to beam you out, either, if anything goes wrong." He nodded. "Very well, lieutenant. Go." She attempted a smile, but the way his eyes lit up and his lips quivered was too much for her. Tom looked straight into her eyes for a moment, then took off at a run for the turbo lift.

"Captain," Tuvok said, "if we were going to send someone down, it would have been more sensible to send a crewmember who had not been recently injured."

"Yes," she sighed, "it probably would have been. But I don't think I could have found a crewmember willing to go down there who would have had either Mr. Paris' flying skills or his degree of motivation. Please make certain that the shuttle has the latest known coordinates of the away team." She left Tuvok to ponder on that and went to sit down, unwilling to show how worried she really was.

Commander Chakotay finished his discussion with ensign Wildman and came to sit next to her. He leaned forward, his eyes on her face. "Why did you let Paris go?" he asked in a low voice.

"Because," she replied truthfully, "I think the only way of keeping here would have been to either lock him in the brig or have the doctor sedate him." Seeing her first officer's surprised expression, she looked around the bridge to make sure no one was overhearing them. "Because I am convinced that if we lose this away team, we are going to lose Mr. Paris as well, one way or another."

Chakotay looked closely at her. She wondered if he was going to ask her, but no, he sank back in his chair with the air of someone who was going to think long and hard about this — in between worrying about what was happening down on the surface of the planet.

* * *

Trees were being uprooted and dragged along by the stream that had grown into a river; the water level was rising towards their little ledge, and the rain showed no sign of stopping. Harry thought it had increased, but he didn't say anything. B'Elanna could see that for herself. It was dark now, but lightning rang across the sky often enough for them to see what was happening. Not long ago, a small waterfall had appeared to the left of the cave opening and it was growing steadily stronger.

"Maybe," Harry raised his voice to yell above the noise, "we should try getting up higher." He didn't like the look of the valley at all, and the caves all sloped down, so it was no use going back in. Besides, even if they found a way upwards into the mountain, they could easily get trapped there if the water rose enough.

"Can you climb with that arm?" B'Elanna crouched down next to him and shone her wristlight to get a better look. "Harry, it's starting to swell up," she put a hand on it, "and it's hot."

"The rain will cool it off," Harry said. He'd noticed that his arm was throbbing unpleasantly, but there wasn't anything to be done about it. "And I'd rather climb a mountain with a broken arm than drown in a mudslide, if it's all the same to you."

She actually laughed. Wet and muddy, in a soaked uniform and with her hair blown every which way, she was a wild and wonderful sight. Harry grinned in response and steadied himself on her shoulder so he could get to his feet. He didn't want to think about what he looked like, himself. His arm wasn't feeling too good, but he thought he could make it up the cliffside if it wasn't too steep.

B'Elanna carefully stepped outside and peered upwards, shielding her face with one hand and shining a light up the mountain with the other. Of course any guess they made as to which place was the easiest for a climb was bound to be skewed, Harry realized, as they could only see for a very short distance. But every little bit would help, he guessed, looking at the valley. It was only a question of time before the water level would be up to where they stood, and then they'd really be uncomfortable.

"We can't get up here," she said, gesturing to the side she had just inspected. Harry didn't doubt her, but on the other side was the waterfall, and he had a feeling that that would be even more difficult to negotiate. Nevertheless he watched her cross over to that side and start to investigate as best she could, alternating between shining her torch and pointing her tricorder and swearing.

Harry leaned against the wet rock wall. He was already soaked through, so it didn't really matter. The temperature was dropping, and he wondered if it was going to make any difference if he threw the fungi away and put his shirt back on again. He was starting to feel cold. Then again, if he and B'Elanna were going to be stuck down here for any longer period of time, they could use something to eat. He tried to imagine persuading B'Elanna to try one of the pink horrors, and nearly giggled; his head felt curiously light.

Moments later she came back again, her face set in an angry, frustrated expression. "No luck?" Harry asked, though he could guess.

She shook her head. "I could manage it. Maybe. But you couldn't, not with that arm. And I don't think I could carry you. Why are you shivering like that?" B'Elanna briskly put one hand on his forehead and another on the back of his neck. "You have a fever, Starfleet."

Another dazzling bolt of lightning lit the whole valley. Gazing towards the higher end, Harry saw something dark crested with white breaking down a distant slope. He thought he could make out trees vanishing beneath it before there was no more light and just the dull roar of water.

"Did you see that?" He knew he should be frightened, but thing were starting to seem curiously distant. Even the speed the flood wave was moving at seemed so unreal.

B'Elanna was looking at him with a serious expression in her eyes. "I'll have to try to carry you up after all, Harry."

"Wait," he said slowly. "I can hear something."

"What, the rain?" she asked sarcastically. Another light cut through the darkness, one that was steadier and less dazzling than the lightning. It appeared right over them and then swivelled around, scanning the area. Looking for them.

"That."

* * *

Tuvok had been right. Flying conditions weren't exactly ideal. In fact, they were downright hellish, and Tom kept up a running stream of half-voiced curses as the shuttle hit the first thermal current and he had to ride it a few miles before he could ease himself down into a quieter layer and head back again. He was fighting the air; the currents were going in different directions at different heights and as they fluctuated wildly they created eddies between that tried to suck him in and spin him around.

It was no use trying to head for the exact coordinates he'd been given. Tom concentrated on getting down far enough to actually see something, in roughly the right area. The whole situation was starting to remind him of a certain flight sim back at the Academy, which had killed around ninety-eight percent of the students.

He'd made it through that one. He was going to make it through this. All right, here were the clouds, and the gale-force winds were starting to make themselves felt, but at least that was more predictable than the way the currents ran at higher altitudes. No way down but through, and he checked his position and discovered he wasn't too far away from where he ought to be. Maybe there was a God.

Once he broke through the cloud layer, the rain hit. He was above a mountain range, and that had to be the high mountain lake Tuvok had worried about, right over there. Coordinates, this way, as fast as he dared...

Tom scowled at the clouds, at the darkness, at the rain, at the wind that caught the shuttle and made it quiver. They weren't going to get Harry or B'Elanna. Like hell. He kept the shuttle balanced and crept forward slowly, going down as close to the mountain as he dared until he swooped out over the edge. Harry and B'Elanna should be here somewhere. They had to be here somewhere.

As he trailed the search beam over the area he saw that the whole valley was flooded and for a moment he wondered if he was too late, if Tuvok's prediction had already come true. He felt cold, and a wail rose in his throat as he looked around frantically. But then Tom caught sight of two small points of light to one side, right by the edge of the cliff, too steady to be anything but Starfleet regulation issue wrist lamps. Whenever they got back to the Alpha Quadrant, he was going to track down the people who made those things, and kiss them. He swept the beam in that direction and saw two standing figures pressed against the cliff wall.

Tom started to move over that way, flashing the search light to show that he was aware of their presence. Then he realized there was nowhere to land; it was all water and mud and broken trees, no way could he put the shuttle down—at least not if he wanted to get it up again. "Damn it all to hell," he swore quietly. This thing wasn't made to hover. He stabbed at the panel, overriding the safety locks, and managed to get the hatch to spring open.

The shuttle shuddered as the wind caught it and he had to fight to get it to straighten up again. Closer, lower down, but he was still a good five meters above the ground. He patted the control panel. "Come on, baby, you can do it," he coaxed it and took her lower still. Two meters, and he was going to get smashed into the cliff wall any moment now. Damn it, where were they! The engine was whining now, complaining.

The impact of a body landing on the floor rocked the shuttle, and Tom heard a muffled cry of pain. Moments later there was another sound of someone getting inside, and Tom turned his head briefly to see Harry lying curled up around one arm, and B'Elanna hanging on to the edge, pulling herself in slowly. "Go!" she yelled at him. "The wave's coming!"

Tom didn't have to be told twice; he took off upwards and outwards, trusting to B'Elanna's strength to pull her inside and get the hatch closed. When he finally heard it slam shut he sighed in relief. "You okay back there?" he yelled, not daring to turn his head again. There was the damn flash flood wave — holy shit! Tuvok hadn't been kidding.

"Is there a medkit somewhere here?" B'Elanna yelled back. "Harry's got a broken arm and—" She was cut off as Tom pulled them abruptly upwards to get away from the wall of water that came thundering down the valley.

* * *

Harry was feeling really out of it. When he'd landed on his arm it had hurt like anything, but now he was starting to be beyond pain and about to tell B'Elanna to never mind about the medkit and see if Tom needed any help with the shuttle systems. Then everything tilted all at once and B'Elanna landed on top of him; he saw a bright flash, felt the shuttle rock and saw Tom go flying from the pilot seat and slam into the wall.

"Get up!" he screamed at B'Elanna, pushing at her. "Get to the controls!" She got to her feet and staggered forward and Harry followed her, crawling on his knees. Tom was trying to get up, too. He had hit his head, and blood trickled down one side of his neck.

"Are you all right?" B'Elanna asked, trying to steady Tom with one hand and reaching the other forward.

"I'm fine! Just let me get at the goddamned—" His hands were on the controls before he'd even finished speaking, and the shuttle evened out again. Harry's muscles chose that moment to stop working and he sank down right where he was and swiped weakly at his face to get all the water out of his eyes. He lay quite still as Tom got them away from the valley, away from the storm, half a continent away to an open plain where nothing moved at all.

We're still alive, Harry thought, amazed. He came and got us out of there and we're still alive. B'Elanna had left her seat and come back to check on him again, fixing a makeshift sling for his arm and feeding him some antibiotics she'd found, just on general principle, Harry thought. Now she sat with one arm around him, keeping him upright.

Tom put the shuttle down so gently, Harry hardly felt a jar as they touched the ground. He shut down the engines and rose from his seat, took two steps towards them, and went down in a heap. Blood poured from his nose and from the cut on his head, bright against the pale skin.

B'Elanna went from sitting to standing in one jump and was right there; Harry didn't think he could stand up, but he dragged himself over. "I don't know what's wrong," B'Elanna said a bit wildly. She patted her shoulder for her missing comm badge, then rose again and leaped for the control panels. "Voyager! Voyager, do you hear me!"

Harry reached out for Tom's right hand and gripped it hard. He could see faint freckles on Tom's skin that he'd never known existed; Tom was paper white and his eyelids fluttered. "Tom, can you hear me?" In the background, B'Elanna was cursing the comm unit. "Tom, goddammit, don't die on me now! I love you!"

Tom looked up and focused for one brief second, the one look crystal clear. "Good," he said. Then his eyes rolled up in his head and he passed out. Harry slumped down over Tom, half sobbing.

* * *

"Away team to Voyager, whoever the hell designed this thing I'm going to wring his neck, Voyager, do you hear me!"

The captain jumped to her feet at the sound of B'Elanna's furious voice, the relief for a moment so strong she couldn't get her own voice to work. All around the bridge heads lifted and smiles began to appear, hesitantly, on people's faces. Then she collected herself and said, "Voyager here. Go ahead."

"Captain!" B'Elanna sounded at once overjoyed and frantic. "Can you get a lock on us? Get Paris and Kim straight to sickbay! Lock in on Paris' comm badge, Kim's lost his and so have I. I'll fly the shuttle back up."

As the rest of the bridge sprang into activity, Janeway asked, "Are you all right?"

"Yes," B'Elanna said firmly. "I'm fine, nothing but a few bruises. And I hope you've got Tom and Harry, because they just vanished. I'll be up as soon as I can."

"You must be tired," Janeway said. Even B'Elanna was usually a little more formal when communicating with the bridge. "Take a little time to rest, and eat something. You don't have to hurry back. There should be emergency rations somewhere in the shuttle."

She almost didn't believe her ears when she heard something that sounded suspiciously like a giggle. "That's okay. I've got a pink fungus. Torres out."

Captain Janeway shook her head, but didn't want to spend too much time trying to figure that one out. She caught Chakotay's eye, and he nodded towards the turbolift, understanding her wish to get down to sickbay as soon as possible. Then he rose and came with her. The last thing the captain saw before the turbo lift door closed was a look of relief on Ensign Wildman's face.

Chakotay looked enquiringly at her. "Did you understand the bit about the pink fungus, captain?" She looked back at him, and shook her head helplessly, and they both laughed.

Entering sickbay, Janeway felt herself sobering rapidly. Tom was back on that biobed again, paler than she'd ever seen him, with the doctor frowning and running the scanner over his head again and again. Harry sat on the next bed with his arm in an improvised sling, leaning forward with an expression on his face that was so painfully anxious, the captain found herself wanting to hug him. She went forward and touched his shoulder, deciding to ask no questions but wait until the doctor was ready to tell her about Tom Paris' condition.

Harry looked up at her, his dark eyes huge. He was wearing the tattered remains of his uniform, minus the shirt, and he felt hot under her touch. And his boots were so soaked, they were dripping water onto the floor. "Ensign, you should get out of those wet clothes."

"He can't die," Harry said intently, turning his head to look at Tom Paris again. "I won't let him." Janeway took in the glazed look and the flushed cheeks, and touched his forehead again. Definitely a fever. She knelt down and started to tug the boots off. "Captain!"

Janeway looked up at Harry. "The last thing that dies on you will be your sense of propriety, ensign." To distract herself from the low-voiced conversation the doctor was having with Kes, she finished taking Harry's boots off and started to hunt around for a blanket to wrap him in. With Chakotay's aid, she tracked one down and made sure the ensign was at least keeping warm. He refused to lie down, or move in any way that would mean taking his eyes off Tom.

Finally, Kes came towards them with a faint smile. "Harry, let's get a look at your arm."

Harry's other hand shot out and gripped Kes' wrist. "How is he?" His voice sounded suspiciously hoarse and the captain didn't think it was all due to the fever. Kes patted his hand carefully.

"I'm sorry," she said and Harry looked up at her with wide, panicked eyes. Janeway couldn't blame him, she thought, she must be looking much the same herself. Kes glanced at her and then at Harry again. "No, no, I mean I'm sorry I didn't tell you at once. He'll be fine."

Harry drew in a long, slow breath and then he slumped forward and his shoulders shook. The captain turned away discreetly as Kes put her arms around the ensign. She met Chakotay's eyes to find that he looked just as relieved as she felt herself. "I think we were all just very lucky," she said quietly, and walked over to the biobed where Tom lay. "Doctor, what can you tell me?"

The doctor straightened up and looked seriously at her for a moment, shifting a hypospray from hand to hand. "In my professional opinion..."

"Yes?"

"Mr. Paris appears to have a head made of solid wood. For which he should be very, very grateful." The doctor allowed himself a tiny smile. "I've cleaned up the subarachnoidal bleeding, and there seems to be no real damage done. Whether Mr. Paris' memory has been affected again is hard to tell, of course."

"Of course." For a moment her mind entertained the thought that Tom Paris could wake up and have forgotten everything about Harry Kim. Then she seized that thought by the scruff of the neck and booted it out. "Are you going to let him sleep it all off again?"

The doctor shook his head. "We are dealing with a more serious concussion here, and now that the most urgent problems have been attended to, I'll try to wake Mr. Paris up and keep him awake."

The captain smiled. "I'm sure Mr. Kim will help you with that," she said. Chakotay, appearing at her side, made a small sound that wasn't quite a cough. Illumination comes to the unobservant, she thought to herself. God, the man could be so dense sometimes.

"Mr. Kim should be given a sedative and get plenty of rest," the doctor said reprovingly. "He is running a high fever, with some indications of incipient pneumonia, and the fracture in his arm appears to have suffered a lot of stress after the break took place."

"I can imagine," Janeway said, wishing B'Elanna would get there soon so she could get to hear the whole story. She watched the doc ready another hypospray and apply it gently to the side of Tom's throat. "But you may have a problem persuading the ensign."

Tom's eyelids fluttered and he gave a weak cough. Janeway put her hand on his shoulder lightly. Moments later he opened his eyes. He looked disoriented at first, but then his gaze focused on her. "Captain." She smiled. Then Tom's eyes widened and grew wilder. "Where are they? Harry — B'Elanna—"

"B'Elanna is bringing up the shuttle," Chakotay said. "She'll be here soon. And Harry Kim is—"

"I'm here," Harry said. He had to lean on Kes as he walked over, and Janeway prudently moved aside so that Tom could see him. Harry slowly, hesitantly reached out and touched his fingers to Tom's cheek. "I'm right here."

The captain unaccountably found her vision blurring just a little, and she thought she shouldn't be looking at that expression in Tom's eyes, so she turned away, only to see Chakotay watching the encounter with an extremely thoughtful expression on his face. Janeway stepped on his foot, and he jerked and followed her away to a polite distance. It seemed Kes was maneuvering the doctor aside, too, meeting his insistent pronouncement that Harry Kim should be in bed with a gentle but firm, "In a minute."

Chakotay cleared his throat. "Captain?" He glanced back towards the biobed. "I was under the impression that Harry Kim and B'Elanna..." He let his voice trail off.

"I'm sure they'll work everything out," Janeway said with more confidence than she felt. "Everything will be fine, commander." Or so she devoutly hoped.

* * *

Harry just stared at Tom, unable to find anything to say that would let him express how he felt. He could barely remember that there were words any more. Leaning uncomfortably against the biobed, he might have gone on looking into Tom's eyes indefinitely if Kes hadn't brought him a chair and made him sit down in it. "I'll let you stay up," she said softly, "but I won't have you falling over."

Harry looked at her, confused. There was something almost unnaturally understanding about the way she smiled at him and the things she said. Making his fever-hazed mind think back, he realized that she'd seen how much news of Tom's recovery would mean to him, she'd held him when he cried. She knew. And she didn't mind.

Any jealousy he might have felt trickled away. It didn't matter any more. He honestly didn't care if she and Tom had slept together or not. It didn't matter in the face of the way she was making it clear now that she thought he ought to be right here, right now.

The doctor returned again and briskly moved Harry's hand away from Tom's face and started to run a few tests, lifting Tom's eyelids, tilting his head this way and that with impersonal precision. "Your hands are cold," Tom muttered.

"Are you planning to live in sickbay on a permanent basis, Mr. Paris? Because if you aren't, I'd appreciate it if you stopped hitting your head on things at every available opportunity." The doctor scowled. "You're bound to find a vulnerable spot if you just work hard enough at it."

Tom grinned weakly. "I never knew you cared, doctor." Harry was distracted by Kes, who clapped another hypospray to his neck and then handed him a couple of pills and a glass of water. He tried to remember if anyone had told him what was wrong with him. His arm felt a lot better now, but his head was spinning a little.

"Mr. Paris, when you feel up to it, I want you to try to think back and see how much you can remember this time. Perhaps you can check your memories against those of Mr. Kim, since it seems to be impossible to get him to lie down."

"Tom, maybe you'll find that you have the rest of your memories back too," Kes offered brightly. Harry gave her an alarmed look. This was the first he'd heard of any memory loss, and he didn't like the sound of it at all.

"I remember," Tom said, sounding tired but collected. "I took a shuttle down to the planet, found B'Elanna and Harry and picked them up, hit my head — again," he threw a smile at the doctor, "flew out of there and fell in a heap. That's the way it happened, isn't it, Harry?"

"Pretty much," Harry agreed, then leaned forward with his eyes fixed on Tom's face. He had to say this. "Except that I tried to talk to you right after you collapsed. Do you," he almost didn't dare ask, "do you remember what I said?"

Tom closed his eyes for a moment. Then he looked up again. "Not if you don't want me to," he whispered. His voice gathered a little more strength as he went on, "I mean, it was a stressful situation, I can understand if you lost your head. But now everything's all right, and B'Elanna's coming back here soon."

"What's B'Elanna got to do with it?" Harry asked, bewildered. "Tom, I, you can't think I didn't mean it. Maybe it wasn't what you wanted to hear, but I can't help that, I had to tell you. I love you."

Then his heart nearly stopped as Tom's eyes lit up and he smiled, and tried to get a hand up, reaching out. "Harry." Harry thought he was going to fall right into Tom's eyes and disappear. He closed his fingers around Tom's and held on tight. Tom sighed deeply. "Oh, Harry. I love you, I love you so much..."

It was just a moment, just a heartbeat but it seemed to go on forever, bright and perfect like a diamond, incorruptible. They were looking into each other. This one moment shone so brightly in time, it could never be lost.

The doctor cleared his throat. "Now that we have that straightened out," he said dryly, "I'd like to suggest that Mr. Kim should lie down and have his fever treated. This is a starship sickbay, not the last few scenes of a romantic holonovel."

Harry allowed himself to be dragged away, and he did notice that the room stopped spinning almost immediately once he was lying down. He smiled happily at the doctor, at Kes, at the sickbay ceiling. He couldn't see anything clearly except for his memory of that look in Tom's eyes, and it wrapped around him, warm as sunshine. Harry gave a contented sigh. He felt wonderful. Who needs painkillers, he thought woozily.

* * *

"It was my fault," B'Elanna said decisively. "I was in charge, and I should have noticed that the time was getting away from us." Her dark eyes were calm as she looked from the captain to commander Chakotay and back again. "And I sent Ensign Kim out into the rain so that he fell and broke his arm. I accept full responsibility."

"You can't be blamed for Mr. Kim's accident," Captain Janeway pointed out. "There was no way of knowing that he would slip and fall."

She wondered to herself if B'Elanna really did believe that the captain was going to charge her with irresponsible behavior, or if she was just trying to point out subtly how necessary Tom's rescue mission had been. 'Another two minutes and we would probably have been dead,' B'Elanna had estimated with clinical precision, and after seeing the scans of the area, Janeway could only agree.

"Under normal conditions, your delay would not have been a problem," Chakotay said. "We sent the away team down with incomplete information about the weather. You didn't know that the storm would break out or that the valley would be flooded."

B'Elanna nodded slowly. She had been given time to clean up and change, and now she looked as tidy as ever, but the captain remembered her as she had looked when she'd gotten out of the shuttle earlier: her uniform torn up, mud from head to toes, with scratches on her hands and face, and her hair a matted, muddy tangle of elf locks. Despite that, her stride had been as brisk as usual. She'd looked magnificent, every inch a warrior, and she'd been carrying a repulsive pale pink fungus in one hand.

"I'm very glad to have you back," Janeway said warmly, leaning forward. "You and Mr. Kim and Mr. Paris." She studied B'Elanna closely, wondering what kind of reaction she would get.

The chief engineer smiled. "Captain?" There was a glitter in her eyes. "Captain, do you know if those two idiots — I'm sorry, I mean, do you know if Mr. Kim and Mr. Paris finally — well—" She looked down. "I suppose I'd better go and see for myself."

"B'Elanna," Chakotay said, his voice warm, "I don't think you should force any type of confrontation." He was leaning forward too, his eyes compassionate. "Perhaps it would be best if you waited a little, and had a talk with Harry Kim when he comes out of sickbay."

"I've had enough talks with Harry Kim on that subject," B'Elanna said and rolled her eyes. "Frankly, Chakotay, if those two can't handle it on their own now, I'm going to wash my hands of them."

For one instant Chakotay looked so honestly startled that the captain had to bite back a laugh. But he caught himself up with admirable smoothness, and finally smiled. "I think they'll be fine," he said. "It appeared to me that they had managed to discover just what was important to them."

"Good," B'Elanna said briskly, and looked back at the captain again.

"To return to the subject of this debriefing," Janeway said with a smile, "I'd like to know whether you did, in fact, find any dilithium."

"Not in any useful concentrations, captain," B'Elanna stated. "There were traces all over the caves, but not enough to be worth collecting, even if those caves weren't under water right now. But if the other side of the mountain range is accessible, I would suggest investigating that, too, before we give up on this planet."

The captain nodded. "Very well. We'll look into that, and make sure the climate conditions are perfect before we send anyone down. I'd rather not lose any more comm badges." Chakotay looked mildly shocked, but she and B'Elanna smiled at each other in perfect understanding.

* * *

Tom was starting to feel that he would spend the rest of his life waking up in sickbay. He was also starting to feel that he wouldn't really mind. Because Harry was there, and it hadn't all been another dream to torment him. When he turned his head he could see the other biobed, and hear the doctor's dry comments, and there was nothing seriously wrong with Harry, he would be fine.

He felt strange, all hollow and filled up with joy. It was as though the very substance of his self had been changed into something lighter and more enduring. For a long time he lay there and tried not to give in to the way his eyelids tried to fall shut; he knew the doctor wanted him to stay awake for a while. Presumably to find out if he was going to have some kind of after-reaction. Tom smiled to himself.

Then he slowly attempted to get up into a sitting position. It worked just fine. He swung his legs over the side of the biobed and sat there rubbing his eyes and yawning. The thought floated into his head that some food might be useful. I never did have any dinner last night, Tom remembered. And neither did Wildman.

Those memories were pretty clear, at any rate. And he hadn't been lying when he said he remembered everything that had happened during the rescue mission. He didn't think he was ever going to forget. But how about before that? Long boring day in sickbay. He looked around with a grin. A home away from home. Waking up with someone asking him how much he remembered, now that was starting to feel very very familiar.

What did he remember? Talking with the captain in Sandrine's, a very painful conversation that his mind shied away from trying to recall too closely. He'd made a promise, anyway, and it was one he intended to keep. After that, oh yes, thinking he ought to remove Ricky from the program. And then he'd left, and those people had come after him. Tom blinked. He remembered it perfectly. A bit too perfectly, even. He brought one hand up to his nose to check that it wasn't still broken.

Well, so now he knew who they were. And the captain would want to know, too. Tom wondered if she had taken his advice and let the two who had been caught go, or if they were still sitting in the brig, seething. He hoped not. That would just make things too complicated.

Kes came over to him. "Are you feeling better?" she asked.

"I'm fine. Just hungry." Tom smiled. "I can't remember when I ate last, and I'd like to change that." He looked more closely at her and reached out to pull her down next to him. "You look wiped out. I'm sorry."

She leaned tiredly against his shoulder for a moment, then straightened up. "I'll be fine. But try not to have a relapse any time soon," she said. "You had us worried. Harry's fine, we're sending him back to his quarters to get some rest."

Tom tilted his head enquiringly. "And may I leave, too? No offense, but I'm getting tired of this place."

"I'll ask the doctor." Kes slipped off the bed and Tom followed her example, noticing only slight dizziness. If Harry was getting out of here, so was he. Harry sat up too and turned his head, and they looked at each other for a moment that got longer and longer. "Doctor, can we let the patients go now?"

Tom walked over to Harry, took his hands and pulled him to his feet. They stood like that, close but not touching except for their joined hands. Harry looked tired too, but there was sweetness in his eyes when Tom looked for doubts. Then Harry looked down quickly, and up again, and stepped in closer for a very soft, careful kiss that nevertheless took Tom completely by surprise.

He let go of Harry's fingers and slid his hands up Harry's arms, willing himself not to clutch, not to grab fiercely at everything at once and never let go, just try to take it easy. It's real, it's happening. Tom looked into Harry's eyes, dazed. Oh, let's try another kiss. If this is going to kill me I want to go out in style. Now Harry was holding him, too, and it felt as though they would lock together like this and never break apart again.

"Yes, definitely." The acerbic voice cut into Tom's consciousness. "Gentlemen, I'd appreciate it if you conducted your private life somewhere else." The doctor was frowning at them, and next to him, Kes was beaming.

Tom smiled sunnily, and managed to let go of Harry. "Doc, I know I've been a pain. But I want to thank you for taking such good care of me." He seized the doctor's hand and wrung it. "I really appreciate it. And don't tell me you were programmed to do it. There's good programming and then there's compassion. You have both." He winked at Kes and then turned to Harry. "Let's go."

"Mr. Paris." The doctor looked at a point some five inches to the left of Tom's head. "I feel I should point out that neither you nor Mr. Kim ought to participate in any kind of strenuous activity for some time yet." Tom had the sudden suspicious that the doctor wasn't in the least embarrassed — that the doctor was, in fact, teasing him.

"I'll try to restrain myself," he said innocently. Then he reached out and took Harry's hand. "But it isn't going to be easy."

"Out!" And out they went. Harry was laughing and shaking his head, and Tom stopped to look at him as the door closed behind them. Oh, so beautiful. Harry grew serious under that look and met it steadily.

"We're going to have to have a long talk," Harry said. Tom nodded hesitantly. It sounded ominous, but Harry was still holding his hand and tangling their fingers together, and he didn't show any sign of letting go.

"All right." Not even when B'Elanna came walking towards them with determined strides. She looked from one to the other, and then at their joined hands, and then a smile like a sunrise appeared on her face.

"Oh, good," she said and seized Harry in a bone-crunching hug. Seeing the way Harry hugged her back, Tom felt a moment's uncertainty. Then B'Elanna turned to him instead. "Tom." Did she look a little hesitant there? "I'm sorry, Tom. That I've been so unfriendly."

"Hey." He shrugged. "So you like Harry better than me. It's no big deal. So do I."

She met his eyes, then glanced at Harry, and finally just hugged Tom, too, so hard he lost his breath. "I just came to see how you two were getting on," B'Elanna said. "Now that I know, I have to get back."

"We'll walk you to the turbo lift," Harry said. "We're going back to our quarters to rest and take it easy."

"Right," she said and the corners of her mouth twitched. "I'm sure you will." Tom had to smile. He didn't know whether to be pleased or not that Harry wasn't blushing, just giving her a long level look before chuckling as well. "Harry," B'Elanna said as they walked into the turbo lift, "I brought some of those fungi back. I think Neelix is planning a special dinner for you."

"I thought we'd managed to lose those at the cave," Harry said. "I know I dropped the bag when you threw me into the shuttle."

"There are some things you just can't get rid of," B'Elanna said. "I don't know why I brought them, I was just trying to save what I could. Well, back to work. You two play nice, now." Tom couldn't help the dreamy smile that appeared on his face at those words, and B'Elanna winked at him as she got out at engineering. Harry wrapped an arm around Tom's waist.

"I can see what you're thinking, you know."

"Good. I wouldn't want it to come as a shock." Tom turned his head and kissed Harry's temple, nibbled at his eyebrow, drew his tongue carefully across the soft eyelid. Warm. Alive. Here. Not a dream.

They got out of the lift with their arms around each other, and went to Harry's quarters because they were closer. Almost falling inside, they were kissing before the door closed again. Tom could feel himself melting, changing shape in response to Harry's touch, reforming into someone who was — who maybe could be — loved. It was such a heady feeling, he wanted to ask Harry never to let go again. But that would be too much. There could be no guarantees. Harry was with him now, here, and that was the only thing that counted.

Breaking out of the kiss, Harry placed one hand on Tom's chest. "Wait." He smiled. "The doctor had a point, you know. We should talk first and save the wild sex for later, that way we can.... Tom? What's wrong?"

"Nothing," he said, letting go and trying to turn away. He didn't want to do anything that might upset this and make Harry leave again. He'd do whatever Harry said.

Harry came after him and pulled him closer again, held him. "It's important to you, isn't it?" Harry asked slowly. "To make love now." Tom nodded silently. "Why? I mean, I want it too, but..."

Tom looked at Harry in consternation. It was so damn hard to put things into words! But he'd had some practice lately. It was just so strange that Harry didn't understand. "Because I want to — I need to show you how much I love you." He dropped his eyes and gritted out, "I need to give that to you. Please, Harry. It's all I have, it's the only way I can—"

It was all he had to give, all he had to offer that anyone might want. And he had to give it to Harry, to try to express everything that was inside him. The love he felt that grew so hard to contain it was as though the entire universe was trying to push its way out of his body.

Harry cupped his face in one hand and looked at him, looked into his eyes, searching for something. Tom looked back desperately. There isn't more of me, he wanted to say, please, just take this. Please let me. Don't push me away.

"No, there's more," Harry whispered. "But it's all right. We have time." And he tugged Tom along, and pulled him down on the bed. "This is more important to you than talking is to me right now. And I can't say I really mind."

"Good." Tom sighed, and pressed his face into Harry's neck, and bit at it gently. Harry's hands were stroking his back in a touch that started out as comforting, but changed soon enough. They kissed again, carefully at first but then with increased wildness, sucking at each other's lips and tongues. Tom kicked his boots off and went to work methodically on Harry's uniform. Trying to strip each other, all they managed was to get in each other's way, and they had to pull apart to get undressed.

Then Tom drew Harry into another embrace, less frantic now, relishing the slow glide of skin on skin, the warmth. He could always push his own desires aside, but Harry — to feel the heat, the hardness, the wanting, it was too much. Tom licked at Harry's chest, tracing a spider's web all across it, and then attacked the nipples with firm strokes like little slaps. Harry moaned. "I like that," he gasped. "I don't know why I thought this could wait."

Tom laughed quietly and pushed Harry back and up until he leaned against the pillows, not quite sitting up. He loved the way Harry was suddenly breathing hard, loved the urgency in his eyes. Shifting his own position, he drew the tip of his index finger across Harry's lips, then pushed his fingers into Harry's mouth and at the same time bent down and took Harry's cock in his mouth. The result was everything he could have hoped for. Harry jerked, and made a sound like a growl in the back of his throat, and then licked the fingers in his mouth, following the same pattern that Tom's tongue was tracing around the head of his cock. Tom could feel his own breath come faster, too, and the thunderous heartbeat in his ears was his own, he knew.

He alternated between deep, firm strokes and little gentle licks, finding the spot just under the head and teasing it until Harry's nails were digging into his shoulder way too hard. It was so good, and he should draw it out, but he wanted to taste Harry, the same way he really wanted those nails to leave marks. Wanted the reality of it. Tom felt Harry thrust up and he picked up the pace a little, sucked harder, and that was really all that was needed. He could feel it happen as though it was happening to him, the final singing tension, the shivers that meant no turning back now, and the way Harry's head fell back and he cried out and came, and came.

It was so good. Tom swallowed slowly. Harry, the taste of him. He rested his head against Harry's chest and wrapped an arm around his waist and just lay there, listening to the sound of Harry's heartbeat slowing down. Harry cupped a hand around his neck, then after a few moments tipped his head back and kissed his forehead and the tip of his nose. "I love you," Tom said contentedly.

He could have stayed like that forever, but Harry's other hand slid down Tom's side, brushed across his hip, then down to cup around his balls and scratch at them very lightly. Tom sucked his breath in, feeling nails play carefully against his sensitive skin. "What do you want?" Harry whispered softly, his lips brushing against Tom's now. "What do you want to do?" Harry's tongue licked at Tom's lips. "You want to fuck me, don't you." Now the hand moved up to play with his cock, fingers rubbing firmly along the cord on the underside. "I want you inside me, Tom, I want to know that it's you doing that to me, driving me crazy."

Tom couldn't answer, just the way Harry's voice sounded was sending shivers right through him, and the things Harry was saying— He caught Harry's mouth and kissed him ferociously. An unwelcome memory popped up and brought him partly back to his senses. "But we were supposed to take it, oh, easy." Harry reached out behind his back and moments later presented him with an already open tube of lubricant. "Are you sure?"

"You're the worst fever I ever had," Harry said. "I'm sure. I want you to." Harry took a deep breath. "I want you to do it just the way you want to. Hard or gentle, slow or fast, I want to be able to watch your face and see that it feels good for you, that you just love it, that you can't stop." Now Harry was smearing the lubricant all over Tom's cock and his touch sent a small series of shocks through Tom's body as though something was being transferred into him by way of Harry's fingertips. One more stroke and he wasn't going to be in any state to protest.

So he nodded instead and pushed himself up, and dragged the rest of the pillows together to prop Harry's hips up just right. Tom reclaimed the lubricant from Harry, squeezed out some more and applied it gently, sliding first one finger into Harry's body, then another. Harry sighed deeply and the tight ring of muscle began to relax. But Tom kept stroking until he was perfectly certain that Harry was ready and more than ready, until Harry was starting to move against his thrusts with renewed desire.

Not until then did he hold Harry's hips steady with one hand and guide himself in with the other, pushing into the heat, the slippery tightness, and more than that, his awareness of who this was. Tom held himself still and rested there for a moment, savoring that knowledge. "I love you," he whispered. He looked into his lover's eyes and found a connection there, too, as hot and electric as the way their bodies were joined together. "I love you more than anything." He was barely moving now, shifting back and forth in the smallest of motions. "And it scares me." More than ever now, he thought but didn't say it, more than ever because I know too much now; I think I'd die if I lost you again. "But I can't stop. I don't think I'll ever be able to stop."

As if the words had released something inside him, he started to thrust faster, finding a rhythm that matched the swift pace of his need. And Harry was right there with him. It was all right, he could trust in Harry's strength, he could let himself go. Harry's mouth and hands were taking him further, drawing him on to a point where nothing existed outside the two of them and the way they could make each other feel.

"Yes," Harry whispered, "yes, it's all right, just let go. I want you to." He shuddered. Harry's voice was drawing something out of him. It was driving him wild. He wanted to get closer, closer and closer. "You're so beautiful." Struggling now, so lost that he couldn't even tell if he was giving as much pleasure as he was receiving, so lost that he didn't even care, not if Harry said it was all right. He was going to break, he was going to disintegrate. "Tom." Right now. "I love you."

And those words shot through him like a trail of stars, ripping the breath from his lungs and the thoughts right out of his mind, and everything went dark.

* * *

"Tom. Tom!" One eyelid moved and Harry drew a deep sigh of relief. "Tom, don't do that. I nearly called the doctor."

Tom dragged in a deep breath that turned into choking laughter. "Oh, I'm so glad you didn't." He opened his eyes and Harry was relieved to see that they were clear and focused easily. "He would never have let us live it down."

Smiling, Harry pulled Tom back into his embrace again, and they scrunched down among the pillows. He traced Tom's eyebrows with one fingertip, tidying them. "I guess that means I don't have to ask if it was good for you."

"Harry." Tom chuckled again, then abruptly stopped. He tightened the grip of the arm that lay around Harry's waist. "It was. You know that. But it was more than that, more than just sex. It was..."

"Love," Harry said. And he did understand. He thought nothing could have shown it to him as clearly as this, particularly the stunning realization that he could bring Tom to a climax by telling him he loved him. That more than anything had made him understand that Tom really was there in bed with him, not just a warm body. That it had always been that way.

"Yeah." Tom relaxed again, his head on Harry's shoulder. "That's it." He sighed, and then one of his hands began to wander again, tracing Harry's shape as if he was trying to learn him by heart. "Hey. You didn't—"

"It doesn't matter," Harry said and then couldn't hold back a small sound of pleasure as Tom's hand set about coaxing him into full erection again.

"It matters to me," Tom said, stroking, teasing. He had the most wonderful hands, Harry thought, a way of making every touch feel right. When Tom's caresses grew firmer and swifter Harry bent his head and nudged at Tom's, seeking for his lips, to let the kiss show just how he was feeling. "I love it when you look like this," Tom whispered into his mouth. "That you look like this for me."

Harry groaned and stopped trying to fight the pace Tom was setting; he just let it take him, went along with it, although it was too fast and he wasn't ready, it was too much and he would lose it, another kiss and their teeth knocked together briefly with the wildness of it all, this wasn't going to work, it was too intense, not enough time and oh the way you make me feel, you have me now and all I want to do is scream for you, come for you. You've got me. I'm—

He came up laughing, and blinking against the light in the room. Tom's tongue was warm and rough against his chest, licking him clean slowly. Harry laughed again because it tickled, then jumped at the tingling aftershock as Tom sucked at the head of his cock. "Any time," he said faintly. He stretched, enjoying the wonderful lassitude that wrapped around him like a warm blanket. "Hey, stop that or you'll have to start over again."

Tom chuckled, and moved up again and tucked himself into the crook of Harry's arm. "Are we going to have that long serious talk now?"

"Oh, right, after you've just blown my brains out through my ears. I'm not sure I can think straight." Harry kissed the corner of Tom's mouth where it curled up. "It's a trick, isn't it. You're trying to distract me. And doing a hell of a job, too."

"I'm just trying to tell you that I love you." Tom was looking at him now, blue eyes unreadable. "Which isn't something I thought I would ever get round to saying. Do you remember telling me once that I only fall in love with people I can't have?"

"Yes." Harry remembered it very clearly. "I was also thinking of telling you that despite that, you apparently slept with anyone who was available, but it seemed tactless right then. I'm sorry, but you have to understand, I thought that you..."

"Oh, hell, Harry! You didn't!" Tom stared at him, outraged. "God, I told you I loved you, it felt like tearing my soul out, and you didn't believe me?"

Harry blushed. Now that he thought about it he felt that he should have understood. He'd just been so uncertain. "I didn't dare," he said finally. "Because I wanted it so much to be true. And trusting you as a friend was one thing, but I just couldn't tell if..." A new thought struck him and he broke off, staring at Tom, more than a little confused.

"What?" Tom asked intently.

"Oh, this is really embarrassing," Harry said, "but I'm going to tell you anyway. I didn't think it could be love, because the sex was too good."

Tom blinked, then started laughing. "Funny," he said, "that's one of the things that convinced me." He drew a finger idly along Harry's lower lip. "I always knew it would be wonderful with the right person." Harry had been on the verge of saying something, but that comment threw him completely. While he tried to get his mind to deal with it, Tom went on, "I just never thought I'd get to find out. With you. I thought it was safe to love you, because I could never have you, and that meant I could never lose you."

Shaking his head, Harry hugged Tom harder. There was so much here that they needed to work out and so much to be talked about, but only one thing that was really important. "I'm not letting you go," he whispered. "Not ever again."

* * *

The door chime rang, and she leaned back in her chair and pulled her shoulders back, hearing a faint crack as vertebrae popped back into place. "Come in." Tom Paris walked inside, looking neater, cleaner, and generally better than she had seen him in a long time.

He smiled at her. "Captain." In one hand he held a small package, but before she could get a good look at it he put both hands behind his back. "Do you have a moment?"

"Of course. Sit down." Janeway pushed her padd aside and rested her arms on the desk. "The doctor tells me you will be ready for duty again tomorrow. There is no problem with that?"

"Oh no! Not at all." He sat down, leaning forward slightly. "I'm fine. But there is one thing, captain."

"Yes?"

"About my loss of memory?" Tom looked seriously at her. "I'm sorry, captain, but it doesn't look as though those memories are ever going to come back."

"That must be distressing for you."

"Not really," he said. "I can live without knowing exactly how I got beaten up, actually. But since I can't remember anything that happened, I think you should drop the charges against those crewmen."

"I don't think we can do that. Mr. Tuvok caught them running from the scene of the crime," the captain pointed out.

"Yes, but you never actually saw them do anything to me, did you?" Tom straightened up in the chair. "All you can tell is that they'd been fighting with someone. And so had I, so perhaps you'd better put all of us on report and suspend our replicator privileges or something." He shrugged. "For all I know, I could have started the fight."

She looked at him for a long moment. He was still perfectly solemn, with that look in his eyes that she had come to interpret as meaning that no matter how he expressed himself, he wanted her to take him seriously. Very well, Janeway sighed to herself. He wasn't going to press charges. There had been a fight. Three people, from what she knew, had been involved.

So now she had to take appropriate action. "Replicator privileges suspended for two weeks, lieutenant." He nodded. "Are you sure you don't want to change your mind?"

"Perfectly, captain. After all, there is no reason why I should be treated differently from any other crewmember." He smiled at her now, and it was the impish, devil-may-care smile, the one that always made her feel she ought to pick him up and shake him. This time it just made her want to laugh. She certainly hoped that this was going to work.

"Certainly not." Making an effort, Captain Janeway managed not to grin back at him.

"I would like to ask a favor of you, captain," Tom said. "There is something that I would like you to keep for me. The captain of a starship may accept for safekeeping objects that crewmembers—"

"Mr. Paris, I am quite aware of the rules," Janeway said. "What is it that you want me to take care of?" He rose to his feet again and handed her the package he had been carrying, something long and slender and hard wrapped in a piece of padded fabric. It wasn't difficult to imagine what it was. She looked up at Tom. "Very well. For how long would you like me to keep this?"

"Oh." Tom smiled. "Until we get home?" He looked more seriously at her. "I don't want to destroy it," he said. "In a way I want it as a memento, but I don't want it around."

"I'll lock it away for you." For the moment, she contented herself with putting the securely-wrapped knife in a drawer of her desk. Then she looked at Tom again. "It will be good to have you back on duty, lieutenant."

"Thank you, captain. I hope you're not..." His eyes flickered for a moment. "I hope you don't anticipate any trouble from the fact that there is a relationship between two of your bridge officers."

Kathryn Janeway felt the corners of her mouth turn up; to hide it, she rose to her feet. "Frankly, Mr. Paris, I fail to see how that particular relationship could cause any more trouble. I will expect correct, professional behavior from you and Mr. Kim while you are on duty. What you do privately is no concern of mine."

Was she just imagining it, or could she detect a hint of a blush on Tom Paris' fair skin? Janeway tried to suppress another smile. "Yes, captain," Tom said. "And thank you, captain. For everything."

She looked into his eyes for a long moment, then reached out and touched his shoulder lightly. "You are worth going to a bit of trouble for, lieutenant. Dismissed."

* * *

Staring at the warp core for any longer period of time had a hypnotic effect, the way the blue light flickered and danced. Harry found himself getting distracted from the calculations he was trying to make, as the irregular patterns moved and shifted and he found himself reminded, for no particular reason, of Tom's blue eyes.

Of the way Tom looked getting out of bed in the morning, all sleepy and rumpled and muttering darkly to himself. Not a morning person, Tom Paris. Not if he had to get up, at any rate. Or, well. Harry sighed, and tried to discipline his errant thoughts. He was supposed to analyze the fracture patterns from the last hull breach and, if possible, try to suggest any way of strengthening the repair work. His private life did not belong in engineering.

Harry hoped this wasn't going to be a problem. He had assumed that getting back together again would mean that he would stop obsessing about Tom every waking minute. The way his mind was wandering now did not seem to support that theory. But the relationship still felt so new, so comparatively fragile. He was acutely aware of just how hard they were going to have to work at this.

Then again, it wasn't work he minded doing, really.

A hand tapped his shoulder. "Are you being at all useful right now, Starfleet?"

"Yes," Harry said firmly and indicated the patterns he'd laid out on the screen. "Take a look at this, B'Elanna. It looks as though there's a weakness in the material itself. It isn't the joins that give way first, it's the plates."

"Hmmm." She bit the tip of one finger with a thoughtful air. "We're not going to be able to rebuild the whole ship." Somehow she made it sound as though that would have been an interesting challenge. "But I'm glad to see the past few days haven't softened your brain too much." Harry glanced up in time to catch her wicked grin as she went on, "I'm not even going to ask about the effect on other parts of your anatomy."

"Please don't," he said faintly, looking around engineering to see if there was anyone else within hearing range. "But I can draw you a diagram if you like."

"Careful, Harry. I might take you up on that." B'Elanna leaned down and studied his work. "Maybe it would make a difference if we could set up a different pattern to work from and find a way to distribute the stress more evenly along the hull."

Harry started to argue the point, pleased to find that his mind was working just fine again. He didn't mind if his thoughts roamed to Tom in idle moments, just as long as they returned when he needed them.

Some time later, halfway through the third simulation of a hull breach and no closer to finding a solution, Harry remembered to check the time and discovered that he should have done it a while ago. As usual. "B'Elanna, I promised to meet Tom in the mess hall." She made a sound that meant she was trying to convince him she was listening, and he put a hand on her shoulder. "Come along, get something to eat."

"I don't want to be in the way," she said, pushing her hair back and bending to look even more closely at the screen. "You two want some time to yourselves, don't you?"

"If we wanted time to ourselves right now we wouldn't have decided to meet in the mess hall," Harry said. "Come on, B'Elanna. Bring the basic patterns and we'll see if we think any more clearly after we've eaten."

B'Elanna straightened up and nodded. "That should amuse Tom no end," she said with a small smile. Then she paused and looked at Harry. "Starfleet." He raised an eyebrow. "You really are happy now, aren't you."

"Yes." Harry couldn't repress the wide, delighted smile and he couldn't say he wanted to. "Yes, I really am happy." He started to download the relevant data into a padd. "More than just happy. That's such a small word, for the way I feel."

"Ecstatic, then," she suggested dryly. "That would seem to match the expression in your eyes, anyway."

Something in the way she sounded made him stop and look more closely at her. "You know, B'Elanna." Harry put a hand on her arm. "I just wish you could find someone too, the way Tom and I found each other."

"Some of us have standards, you know." Then she smiled at him just a little too brightly. "I have a theory that if we're stuck on this ship long enough, sooner or later we'll have rotated through all romantic combinations possible."

Harry decided not to pursue the matter right then. Instead he said, "Well, I intend to make sure that Tom doesn't rotate any further, thank you." He picked up the padd and handed it to her. "Let's go see if there's anything irresistible in the mess hall."

"Apart from Tom, you mean?" she said and winked at him. "And I still say you're wrong about the secondary breakup schematics. If we posit a pressure level of three hundred and—

"But there is no reason why we shouldn't be able to deflect the stress before it reaches a point where—"

* * *

Tom walked into the mess hall again and looked around. Harry wasn't here yet. No real surprise there; when Harry and B'Elanna had a new pet project, they needed alarms ringing to remind them that they should go off duty. He returned Ensign Wildman's smile and was on the verge of heading over to where she sat, when Neelix came hurrying out of the galley. "Tom!" Neelix dropped his voice. "Tom, I've been wanting a word with you. I haven't seen you much in the past few days."

"I've been otherwise occupied." Tom grinned, thinking about just how occupied he had been, and with what. The he took in the honest concern on Neelix's face. "Sure, let's talk. Do you want to go somewhere more private?"

"No, no. This is fine," Neelix said, leading the way to a corner table. When they were comfortably seated, Neelix looked around, then put his hands down on the table and looked serious. "Tom, I want to apologize."

"For what?" he asked, honestly bewildered. "I haven't noticed you doing anything that you need to apologize for. You've been great. I loved your special soup, did I tell you that?"

"Kes told me," Neelix said and looked momentarily pleased; then his features screwed up. "I — you spent a lot of time with her over the past few weeks."

"Yeah." Tom nodded. "And that means that if anything, I'm the one who should apologise. I didn't mean to neglect you, Neelix. Kes was just very kind to me at a time when I needed it very much." He felt sure that Neelix would also have done his best to cheer and encourage, given half a chance, but Tom had to admit that he preferred Kes' more gentle and tactful approach.

"I know. That's just the way she is, it's that sweet nature of hers, the compassion that — hm—" Neelix cleared his throat, and thumped the flat of his hand down on the table. "Tom. I know we already went through this, but I feel I have to admit it. I was jealous again."

"I see." Tom looked thoughtfully at his friend. "I can understand that. She did spend a lot of time with me, and some of it at some very odd hours."

"Yes," Neelix said miserably. "I didn't want to doubt you, and I knew I shouldn't doubt her, but..."

"But you did. It's okay, Neelix." Tom smiled, and shrugged. "Jealousy is a very irrational emotion, as I've had cause to notice. Neelix, I'm not the one you should be apologizing to."

"You're not?"

"No. There was no way you could know what was going on with me. But," Tom emphasized, "the one you owe an apology to is Kes. Because you should know by now, Neelix, that you're never going to have any reason to doubt her."

Neelix looked stricken. He put a hand on Tom's and squeezed it. "You're right. You're absolutely right. I will." He started to rise, then promptly sat down again. "Tom. Tell me, is everything all right with you now?"

Looking up, Tom caught sight of Harry entering the mess hall together with B'Elanna, both of them talking animatedly and gesturing at a padd in B'Elanna's hands. He smiled and felt something inside warm and soften at the sight. "Everything's just fine, Neelix."

"Good." Neelix squeezed Tom's hand again. "I am very, very glad to hear that. Lieutenant!" He looked up at B'Elanna and Harry, who had put their discussion — and the padd — aside as they reached the table. "Ensign Kim! I have something special for you two." Neelix smiled and waggled his eyebrows. "Remember that pink cave fungus you brought back?"

"Vividly," B'Elanna said, as she gave Tom a quick smile. "Why do you ask — oh no. Neelix, you didn't."

"Of course I did!" Neelix was beaming now. "I discovered just the right thing to do with it. Come with me and I'll show you. We'll give the lovebirds five minutes to themselves." Neelix took B'Elanna's arm and started to tow her away.

Harry sat down at the table and grinned ruefully at Tom. "Is Neelix going to call us lovebirds every time he sees us, do you think?"

"Probably," Tom admitted. "Do you think you can live with that?"

"Hey, I'm tougher than I look." Harry ran a fingertip lightly across the back of Tom's hand. They had agreed on preserving a proper Starfleet demeanor outside of their private quarters — at least, Tom had amended, most of the time. That decision seemed to increase the significance of those moments of intimacy, like this one, that they did allow themselves. "What was he being so serious about when B'Elanna and I got here?"

"Jealousy," Tom said. "It seems he had a few suspicions about me and Kes pop up out of hiding again." He shrugged. "I should have realized he might feel like that."

"He wasn't the only one," Harry muttered. Tom looked at him in surprise, and Harry met his eyes squarely. "Yes, I wondered about you and Kes, too. Considering the way you once said you felt about her..."

"I hope you're going to manage to forget that one of these days," Tom said. "It's very much in the past." Then he went on slowly, thinking it out as he spoke, "You and Kes have a lot in common, you know."

"We do?" To judge by Harry's face, this wasn't something he'd ever considered.

"Yeah. You're both wonderful, kind, thoughtful, considerate people and you're both too good for me."

"Tom!" Harry looked almost angry. "You have to stop saying things like that."

"But it's true." It was true; he was so much luckier than he deserved that he sometimes didn't want to think too hard about it, for fear that it would all vanish. Harry really was too good for him, and Tom felt he was honor-bound to point that out from time to time.

Now Harry was frowning at him. "What am I supposed to do, agree with you and get out of here?" His voice grew quieter and more intense at the same time. "I love you, Tom. If you want to get rid of me, you'll have to work harder than that." Then Harry suddenly smiled. "As to Kes, I might manage to forget it, one of these years."

Tom couldn't speak; he could feel himself blushing slowly, amazed and delighted and suddenly unaccountably on the verge of tears. It was too much. The promise in those words made him feel as though a bubble of golden warmth had burst inside him and filled him from head to toe. He was almost relieved when Neelix and B'Elanna came back, carrying a bowl of large, round, puffy objects. B'Elanna had one in her hand as well, and bit into it.

"They're really not bad," she said. "We should have picked some more."

Harry sighed, and looked suspiciously at the bowl Neelix was holding out to him. "Go ahead," Neelix encouraged him. "I sliced them thinly, and marinated them in lemon and old spice grass, and deep-fried them. They're delicious!"

Tom reached out and picked a fluffy fungus slice, took his courage in his hands and tried it. To his surprise he found himself smiling. "Not bad at all," he said indistinctly.

"I told you so!" Neelix sat down, bowl and all, and B'Elanna took the seat next to him. Moments later that padd she and Harry had been arguing over reappeared, B'Elanna waved her fungus slice in the air for emphasis as she reiterated various laws of physics that she'd like to change to suit her, Neelix tried to draw a parallell to his experiences as a scrap collector, and Tom sighed happily. Everything was just the way it should be, particularly when Kes came to join them and started to relate the doctor's comments at being asked to develop an exercise program for Ensign Phair's stiff finger joints.

They spent hours there, talking and laughing, with Neelix bounding away occasionally to fix more food or coffee for them and for the rest of the crew. At one point they grew rowdy enough that Chakotay stopped by to check that it really was just coffee they were drinking; once he'd verified that, he sat with them for a while, not adding much to the conversation, but smiling quietly to himself.

Eventually Tom found himself yawning more than laughing, and realized that it would look bad if he fell asleep at the conn tomorrow of all days. He touched Harry's arm and nodded towards the door. "It's getting late, and I have my first bridge shift tomorrow. I'd better go."

Harry nodded understandingly, and put his hands on the table. "We're going to bed," he announced, then looked around the table with a surprised look on his face. "What, no rude comments?"

B'Elanna opened her mouth, but Kes got in first. "Just don't get too carried away," she said. "I don't want to hear tomorrow that Tom hit his head on something again." That made B'Elanna give a snort of laughter, and Tom decided he'd much rather not know what particular inner vision had caused that look in her eyes.

"Try to remember that you're not just going to go to bed, you're going to sleep as well," she offered moments later. "And Harry, I'll have those equations worked out for you tomorrow. Neelix, can you fix another pot of coffee?"

As Tom and Harry walked out of the mess hall, Tom turned his head to look at the three people at the table, and smiled softly to himself. Then he turned back, only to catch sight of Darin in a corner, giving him a long look. Tom smiled sweetly at him, and returned his attention to Harry.

* * *

They settled on Tom's quarters this time. Harry wandered around looking at the pictures on the walls, and a very new little green plant in a very new little pot. He stroked a fuzzy leaf absently and listened to the sound of Tom rummaging around in the bathroom. It came to him suddenly, with a feeling more of surprise than anything else, that he felt utterly and completely at home standing right here, waiting for the man who was coming out now wearing a blue robe and a contented smile.

Harry crossed the room and put his fingertips against Tom's chest right where the robe opened. "B'Elanna asked me before if I was happy," he said, brushing at the crisp blond curls. "And I wasn't completely honest with her."

Tom's eyes widened and grew darker. "Why not?" he whispered.

"Oh, because..." Harry tugged at the robe, exposing more skin for his fingers to roam over. "It would take far too long for me to explain to her just how happy I am. I thought the short version would do."

"Harry." Tom cupped his hands around the points of Harry's shoulders. "I do worry that you'll come to regret this. There's a lot you don't know about me. Things that might bother you."

"Very likely," Harry agreed, and bent to kiss the hollow of Tom's throat. He felt so serene right now, not even Tom's doubts could touch him. "But whatever is in your past, it's part of what's made you who you are. And I love you. I might get upset. But I won't leave you."

"You can't promise that," Tom said, and his voice shook a little.

"Yes, I can," Harry stated firmly. He pressed his lips against the spot right underneath Tom's ear lobe, then whispered in Tom's ear, "I can and I do. I'm not leaving. You're stuck with me."

Tom sighed deeply, and his hands tightened on Harry's shoulders. Then he breathed out on a laugh. "Oh, I don't know how I'm going to survive this." He turned his head, his mouth wandering across Harry's face in light kisses and nibbles. Harry pulled the robe open, stepped in closer and ran his hands down Tom's sides.

They kissed, and kissed again. Harry loved the way it felt, the almost breathless sensation of complete intimacy. It had something to do with the way Tom kissed, the way he seemed to take it so very seriously, as though every kiss was a gift to be cherished. And it was, Harry thought. It was. He made a small sound of approval and excitement as Tom's nails scraped lightly down the back of his neck. Maybe this time he could get Tom to bite him a bit harder, too.

Then he got down to some serious nibbling of his own, tilting Tom's head back and attacking his throat, going over every sensitive spot with teeth and tongue. He was learning more and more about what Tom liked and the best ways of making his breath come faster and his eyelids flicker just like that. Harry smiled, licking along Tom's collar bone.

When Tom started to back them towards the bed, Harry went along with it and fell backwards, pulling Tom down on top of him and making sure the robe slipped off. He stroked Tom's back with both hands, then experimentally ran his nails across Tom's ass cheeks. Tom jumped and his eyes widened. "Ticklish?" Harry asked teasingly, and kissed him.

Tom wriggled, and started to work at getting Harry out of his uniform. He knelt back between Harry's legs and pushed the uniform down, then got off the bed to tug it off all the way. Harry pulled the shirt off himself; he knew how much Tom liked undressing him, Tom said it was like peeling off a candy wrapper, but he was starting to feel just a little, well, impatient.

He waited for Tom to come back again, but instead of returning to Harry's embrace, Tom sat down to one side of him and picked up the nearest of Harry's hands, brushing his fingers across the palm. Then Tom started to nibble on his fingertips, flicking his tongue across them idly. It reminded Harry of the first time they had ever touched like this, and that memory made him even more acutely aware of and sensitive to what Tom was doing.

One fingertip at a time was slowly sucked into Tom's mouth, teased, played with. Harry sighed deeply. Tom went on to kiss his palm, running his tongue along its lines in a touch that was part tickling, all teasing. Harry reached out for Tom with his other hand but had it pushed firmly back again. He resigned himself to this wonderful torture as Tom bit at his wrist, then moved on up his arm, biting, sucking, arriving at the fold of the elbow to lick it lovingly.

Harry whimpered. Tom straightened up and leaned across to run his tongue over Harry's lips, then bent to bite one of his nipples carefully. Alternating back and forth, Tom nipped and licked and sucked hard, being just a little bit more fierce than he usually was. Harry found himself shaking as it went on and on and he was too dizzily aroused to even manage to plead for release. When Tom pushed two fingers into his mouth he sucked at them gratefully, and made a complaining sound when they were withdrawn again. But moments later he felt a wet touch between his legs, those fingers pushing up between his ass cheeks to stroke at him, and tease him, and finally enter him.

He was lost, completely gone, aware of nothing except Tom's mouth shifting back and forth between his nipples and Tom's fingers stretching him and rubbing across his prostate, carefully at first and then with increasing urgency. That touch inside drew a response from him so intense that he wasn't sure he was breathing, and he never wanted any of this to stop, only he needed something, something more, something that would—

Then Tom thrust his fingers in firmly and bit down on one nipple at the same time, and suddenly, that was enough. There was no warning, the orgasm just slammed into him, fast, hard; it lifted him off the bed and blew his head full of candyfloss. And it went on for the longest time before he could open his eyes and find Tom looking at him with a slightly smug expression on his face. "I did wonder if that would work."

"Just you wait," Harry said hoarsely. "Just you wait." He concentrated on breathing for a while, and listening to the powerful beating of his heart. After a few moments he reached out and pulled Tom close, and they lay there together, trading slow caresses. "That never happened to me before."

"I'm glad to have broadened your experience," Tom said with teasing politeness. Oh, you've done that all right, Harry thought to himself. He kissed the tip of Tom's nose, and his mouth, and his chin, and a spot right underneath his jaw, and the hollow of his throat. Then he just let the kisses continue in a straight line, ignoring the way Tom wriggled, until he reached the navel and darted his tongue into it. "That tickles!" Tom hissed.

So Harry did it again. And while Tom was sucking his stomach in and saying eep, Harry ran his nails up Tom's side to the edge of his ribs, and back down again. Tom jumped. He really was ticklish. Harry smiled evilly, and attacked in earnest, tickling Tom's sides and his armpits and the backs of his knees until Tom was yelling and wriggling so hard he was on the verge of falling on the floor.

Then he started tickling the insides of Tom's thighs instead. Tom was still gasping for breath, but there was definitely a subtle difference in the way he was wriggling now. Harry shifted to a more upright position, and used his other hand to scratch light airy patterns around Tom's nipples, not touching them. Tom's skin was so sensitized now, he gasped and jumped at every touch, half laughing, half sighing with pleasure.

Once he'd made certain that that dark, dreamy look had returned to Tom's eyes, Harry went to work on the groin instead, running his nails down the edge of the pelvic bone and then feathering a caress across Tom's balls, feeling them move as the skin puckered under his touch. Tom was shivering almost continuously now, and it wasn't all due to ticklishness, Harry felt pretty certain of that. He watched in fascination the way Tom's hands kept clenching and unclenching in a tense rhythm.

Using both hands, Harry went on to brush the same light touches along the shaft of Tom's cock. He wasn't using his nails now but it was the same motions, the same almost-tickling, skittery, teasing touch. Tom was alive under it, sighing, moaning. Looking up at Tom's face, Harry saw that he was flushed, his eyes were closed, and his mouth slightly open. Perfectly unguarded, and suffering from simple and overriding lust.

Harry bent down and flicked his tongue along the length of Tom's erection, then wrapped his hand firmly around the shaft and sucked the head into his mouth as slowly as he could manage, considering the way Tom was jerking his hips. Those incoherent noises he was making were wonderful, too. Harry swirled his tongue around, trailing leisurely circles and tasting the pre-ejaculate. Then he gave in to the absolutely frantic sounds coming from Tom and set a steady rhythm with his hand, letting his mouth play more freely. He could tell this would be fast; he'd teased Tom long enough.

"Harry..." Harry raised an eyebrow; he wouldn't have expected Tom to be able to talk at all by now. "Oh God, Harry." Yes. Now. Harry drew the cock in as deeply as he could, and pumped his hand just a little faster. Tom's moans rose into a wordless cry and then his whole body convulsed as he came. Harry could taste his lover, a taste at once bitter and salty, but sweet for all of that.

Finally, when the last tremors had stilled, he moved up and pulled Tom into a gentle embrace. They lay together in a long comfortable silence, unmoving, just being, breathing, loving. Tom's head was in the crook of Harry's shoulder and he was just starting to wonder if Tom had fallen asleep, when he felt the soft brush of eyelashes against his skin. Tom shifted slowly and pressed a tender kiss against Harry's throat.

Harry reached out for the covers; they were both starting to cool down. "You didn't hit your head on anything, did you?" he asked and tucked the sheet around Tom's shoulders.

"You're only saying that because you know I'm too tired to try to hit you," Tom said sleepily. He lifted his head and looked into Harry's eyes. "Hey. I love you."

Harry smiled. "Good." He cupped a hand around Tom's head and pulled him down again, and they nestled against each other. Harry sighed and let his eyes drift shut. He had never been so happy in his entire life.

* * *

The perfect ceremony

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