B'Elanna was pacing her quarters, stalking back and forth. She rounded on Tom.
"Is it Seven? God, it's Seven, isn't it, you utterly typical, slobbering - "
"No!" and Tom sounded so horrified that she was taken aback.
"No…?" with scorn.
"Seven's a child," Tom said. "I mean I know what she looks like, but she's like a child raised by wolves. God, 'Lanna - "
"You don't get to call me that anymore!" she flashed. He could see in her face that she was not just angry, but hurt. It made him ache. He hadn't stopped caring about her. But it wasn't working, and now he knew why.
"I'm - sorry. B'Elanna."
"All right, it's not the wolf girl. You're a saint. - So who is it? Harry?"
Tom opened his mouth and closed it again, stunned, blinking. She'd surprised him after all.
Her eyes went round. "It is Harry?"
Oh. B'Elanna hadn't guessed. She had been joking. And her incredulous tone made it worse. Tom could feel his ears getting hot.
"Yes," he snapped.
"Oh my God," she said, "that poor kid."
Tom sucked in his breath, his heart pounding. She frowned and looked away. She did that, when she realized she'd gone too far. But she didn't try to take it back, either.
"So when did this start?" she demanded, changing tack.
"Nothing has started. I haven't talked to him yet."
She laughed, a short, sharp bark without a particle of mirth.
"Oh, I hope he has better sense than I did! I hope he tells you to go fuck yourself, Tom Paris." She was visibly struggling with tears. "Oh, just - Get out. If you've left anything here, I'm throwing it out an airlock. Accidentally. Oops."
At the door he said, "I'm sorry," one more time.
"You sure are," B'Elanna said, her voice trembling. "You sorry son of a bitch."
The moment the door to her quarters closed behind his back, there was a thudding impact of something thrown against it. From the sound of it, it had been right at the level of Tom's head.
Well. That went… poorly. Or maybe it went well? Considering? She did at least let the door close before throwing whatever it was. A statement, versus an assault.
Either way, it was done. They were done.
He was full of adrenaline now. What she'd said - 'That poor kid' - made him furious - but Tom knew he had no right to fight back, or to make himself feel better. He had to let her take that shot at him without blocking it. The only decent response was no response. God dammit though.
Tom walked away from her door, for the last time.
The ship was a shambles, in the wake of the Hirogen occupation. They'd made Harry install holoemitters practically everywhere, and equipment had been shoved aside, moved elsewhere, maybe even recycled or destroyed - or thrown out an airlock - it wasn't as though they kept any records of what they'd done. Harry had been the only one not being used in simulations, but that didn't mean he knew where everything was. Even if he did, he was still recovering, sleeping off weeks of drugs and violence and overwork.
Harry had said some things, in an unguarded moment. World-shaking things. But - what if - Tom misunderstood?
Maybe B'Elanna would get her wish. Maybe Harry would tell him to go fuck himself. No, Harry wouldn't say it like that. Maybe he would say, I don't know what you're talking about. I don't remember that. I was out of my head. You broke up with B'Elanna? What's wrong with you?
There was nothing Tom could do now but wait.
In ordinary times, if he was this stressed out by something, Tom would go to the holodeck to work it out physically, to sail or ski if speed would help, or hang glide, if he wanted the sensation of terrestrial space and soaring vistas.
But after the last three weeks… Tom needed a break from the goddamn holodeck.
He wondered how Harry was doing. Tom had left him earlier today, once it was clear Harry had stabilized and would be okay by himself, to go to sickbay and help with the remaining patients.
When the doctor asked him, Tom had told him that Harry had been confused but that it had passed quickly; that he had been given the meds and supplements the doctor sent with Tom; that Harry had slept, including REM sleep. He wasn't pressed for details about the confusion, which was just as well, because Tom didn't want to describe the paranoia, or what had set it off.
"That sounds promising," the doctor had said. He'd been running a test in some kind of centrifuge, and his attention was on the spinning machine. "See if you can get him to eat something. And I'll want to see him tomorrow."
"Understood," Tom had said.
Now, still smarting from the scene in B'Elanna's quarters, he took a deep breath, let it out, and tapped his communicator. "Paris to Kim."
Harry was slow to answer. Tom winced at the sound of his sleepy voice when he did. "Kim here…?"
"Sorry if I woke you. How are you doing?"
"Mostly… okay." Harry's yawn was audible: Tom struggled not to yawn himself at the sound of it. "Had, like, three more showers and slept. That's about it."
"Had anything to eat? I could bring you something." Though there wasn't likely to be much. Neelix's kitchen was a disaster area after the Hirogen.
"I had something," Harry said vaguely. Tom wondered whether that was true. But then he specified, "Chicken soup, with ginseng and ginger. Little while ago. I'll have something else. Something sweet."
"Fudge ripple pudding," Tom said.
"Ooh. That sounds good. I'm having that. Then more sleep. I'm wrecked."
"Okay, buddy." Tom was trying to be casual, but his tone was warmer than that. "Rest well. The doc wants to see you tomorrow."
"Okay..." and it didn't sound like Harry was going to get to that pudding, he sounded so gone. "Night, Tom."
"Night, Harry," he said, and closed the connection.
It was a perfectly simple, aboveboard conversation. Harry was half asleep throughout. But Tom's heart was pounding. They were in this strange, in-between state now, and it felt hideously fragile to Tom, something he could kill with a single misstep.
He wanted to go and look in on Harry for himself. Did he really eat? No, Harry wouldn't have made up a specific lie. Would he?
Besides, he didn't want to wake Harry up again. Sleep was what he needed more than anything.
Tom… could let himself in. Quietly. He'd done it before.
No. It was the worst possible time for anything like that. How could Harry trust his talk about consent then? Tom could easily set off another flashback just being in the room. That would be a disaster, and not just the gross social faux pas it always had been.
Tom went back to his own quarters. He had already made the unpleasant discovery that one or more of the Hirogen had been sleeping there. He cleaned up as best he could, but there was just no way he was sleeping on that bed with its sharp reek of predator pheromones. It would have to wait till he could replicate new stuff.
Tom took a shower, put on pajamas - he could tell someone had worn his robe, so he recycled it - and slumped in his chair, closing his eyes. He could sleep on the couch, maybe. He'd get up in a minute.
He was tired, but it was nothing, compared to the way Harry was tired. Tom had seen that for himself, in excruciating detail. Wrecked was an apt way to put it.
He sat so passively while Tom undressed him. His eyes were open but he didn't seem to be looking at anything. He twitched from time to time. The doctor had been able to counteract some of the drugs in Harry's system, but he still had to weather the effects of those already metabolized before then. It could take days.
Tom just talked to him the whole time, a river of nonsense, trying to be reassuring, trying to reassure himself too, that Harry was okay.
Harry let himself be bathed, too. Tom was braced for a fight, some hint of defensiveness - but when Harry moved his hands it wasn't to block him. He seemed to be trying to help, but it was like he was in a trance.
Tom was at a loss for a minute as to how to dry him off, but once he coaxed Harry into standing up, Tom got the bright idea to just wrap a big towel around him in a hug.
It felt good. But he thought: he shouldn't be taking pleasure in this, should he? He apologized to Harry while he did it, reflexively. Then practical concerns reasserted themselves. He got Harry to stand in the sonic shower so he could run a quick cycle, get him all dried off so -
Then Harry jolted and wheeled around, hands raised defensively. His teeth were bared.
He thought Tom was a Hirogen. Or, no, he was asking Tom where the Hirogen were. It took some convincing for Harry to accept that they were gone now. Harry's voice sounded terrible, as ragged as though he'd been screaming. Had he been screaming?
He got Harry to calm down, got him dressed - at every moment Tom was expecting a fight, but it was only the shower that set Harry off. That naturally led Tom's mind to a chain of worrying thoughts. But he'd been there when the doctor was scanning Harry and there'd been no mention of that kind of injury - of course, Tom was aware that not everything that could happen to a guy left injuries you could scan.
He had to promise Harry that he wouldn't leave, in order to persuade him to lie down and sleep. Tom didn't want to leave him anyway. If there were one bed available in sickbay, Harry would be in it, but there wasn't.
Harry closed his eyes and his breathing slowed down and Tom was sure he was asleep. He leaned over to check if he could see whether Harry might be in REM sleep when Harry terrified him by gasping and sitting up, recoiling, rasping Stop it!
Tom tried again to tell him he was okay. And Harry said, I'm not okay. And he was right. The Hirogen had tortured Harry, not letting him sleep; they'd been well on the way to working him to death. And if he hadn't been molested, he had at the very least been threatened with it, Tom was certain.
Tom, it turned out, had threatened Harry too, with a gun, though he couldn't remember it. The character he'd been had done - or said - something awful, Tom guessed. Twentieth-century awful. He really didn't want to know.
I'm sorry, Harry said then, and Tom had no idea why.
But then Harry lay down again and slept for a little while, which was a relief. Tom sat beside him on the bed. He started to doze off, leaning against the bulkhead, but woke when Harry was seized with obviously-painful muscle cramps.
Tom had known this was a possibility: the doctor had mentioned it along with severe headache, confusion, irritability, flashbacks. Cautiously at first, then with more confidence as Harry allowed it, Tom kneaded his rock-hard shoulder and neck muscles, and Harry moaned.
And it sounded like sex, and they both knew it. Oh my God, Tom.
Tom could only laugh at himself. I am pretty good at this. Well, yeah, he was good enough at neck rubs, but also he was spectacularly good at screwing up, as everyone well knew.
Harry was the only one who had never held that against him.
Tom had really only done him a good turn out of reflex, that first day. It had been more about discomfiting the Ferengi than about helping 'the kid.' But that one careless good deed had been like a lucky bet that made Tom rich.
Then Harry started sobbing, which sounded like terrible sex.
Not funny, Tom.
There was no point in talking, Harry probably wouldn't even hear. Tom just kept on at the knots in Harry's shoulders and neck. It was the best thing he could think to do.
When the storm had passed, and Harry was starting to sag under Tom's hands, he steered Harry to lie down, and ended up lying down with him. Well. It seemed all right. They'd slept together before, situationally.
Not all snuggled up like this before, though, no. Still, the impulse seemed to be rewarded: Harry relaxed, breathing evenly, and Tom held him, and it was peaceful.
It was nice. It was warm. And it was good for both of them, after these fucked up weeks of captivity, to feel safe.
Tom was tired, too. He dropped straight into sleep. He surfaced again, after a little while… but not all the way. Enough to be in his body. Not enough to be in his head.
Did he know it was Harry? Or did Tom's body think he was sleeping with B'Elanna? She didn't actually like to sleep that way, but that wasn't to say it had never happened even once. Maybe... he thought he was dreaming.
Maybe he'd done more things on the holodeck than he knew about. He would never know.
It felt good, and Tom thought he was dreaming. He kissed the back of Harry's neck, felt the warmth of his skin under his lips, soft hair brushing his face… and felt Harry respond, and then he did it again.
What would have happened - when and if he would have stopped - Tom couldn't know. He definitely hadn't been fully awake.
But he was very awake a moment later, when Harry jerked away and rounded on him. Tom woke up completely, adrenaline placing his brain on red alert, realizing what he'd done, horrified at himself, but then it became apparent that this was nothing so simple as a 'what the fuck are you doing, Tom.' This was, You're not Tom, nothing is real.
Tom kept his temper the best he could. It wore on him, being accused of not being real, after he'd spent the last weeks not being real. Taking care of Harry physically had been the easy part. This fallout from the chemicals assaulting Harry's mind was exhaustion itself, for both of them.
You're a hologram, or a puppet, and this theme repeated in a crescendo until it was a fucked-up backwards confession of unrequited love that shocked Tom to his bones.
(It was not a misunderstanding. Maybe he'd walk it back later, or disclaim it, even, but Harry did say it, it was clear what he was saying.)
Harry finally calmed down enough to let Tom give him the meds the doctor had sent along, and he had the gall to thank Tom for taking care of him, 'whoever you are.' Argh! It was a good thing for Harry that he looked so sweet and peaceful when he was sleeping. For all his best intentions, Tom would have liked to strangle him a little bit. If he weren't, you know. Technically a patient.
Harry kept on sleeping, this time, for a number of hours. When Tom scanned him, his blood levels were hugely improved - he was through the worst of it. And when Harry woke up, he was lucid, and he remembered everything without needing to be told. Tom appreciated that.
Because it wasn't unrequited.
He told Harry that he was going to break up with B'Elanna, and that when Harry was cleared for duty, they were going to talk. About things. And Harry agreed.
Now, Tom shifted in his chair, which was not very comfortable, and wondered if he was gambling again.
Even if Harry denied ever saying what he said - Tom thought that he had done the right thing, even though it was painful, in telling B'Elanna that it was over. His heart wasn't in it with her - because it was elsewhere. Her volatility was unsettling - and it was probably heightened because he wasn't fully in it, and she was no fool, she could sense that.
He really did owe her an apology, if she'd ever accept it. He hadn't known what he was doing, but that ignorance didn't hurt her any less.
Tom fell asleep for an hour or two, waking when his neck got so stiff he could barely move out of the miserable position. He collapsed on the couch and if he dreamed, he didn't remember a thing.
He woke at last to the repeated sound of the door chime.
"Whoa," said Harry, when the door opened. "You look like I felt yesterday."
"Uh," said Tom. His brain was laboring like some old engine. He rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand. "They used my quarters. My bed. I slept on the couch."
"They…?" Harry's brief confusion hardened into comprehension. "Oh."
Tom stood back to let him come in. "You've been to sickbay?"
"Yup. Hours ago," Harry said. "The doc said that all of you who were in the holodecks were likely to need a lot of sleep. But… you're probably not gonna get any of those memories back."
"What about you? You look better." Harry wasn't in uniform - he did need a new one - but was instead wearing the sort of civilian clothes you might wear planetside, to blend in.
"I'm cleared for duty. Only I'm not actually on duty till tomorrow."
"Oh," said Tom. He hoped he wasn't, either, because he didn't even know what time of day it was right now.
Harry tilted his head to one side, looking at him, then he smiled. "You're not really awake. Why don't you get a shower and come to the mess hall before there's nothing left for lunch."
Well, that told Tom what time of day it was. He smothered a yawn as he nodded.
Clean and dressed, he was much revived. If there was anything decent to eat he might be somewhere in the vicinity of all right. That was a long shot, though.
In the mess hall, he spotted Harry in the midst of a cluster of Engineering crew, all getting their lunch at once. Harry's face brightened when he caught sight of Tom coming in.
Tom wasn't the only one for whom lunch played the part of breakfast today. Neelix was still serving coffee. Tom gratefully took a big cup. After a few memorable missteps, Neelix had settled down and accepted the parameters of what humans - specifically, the captain - considered 'real coffee,' in the absence of actual coffee beans. That is, it had to be served hot; it had to have a certain concentration of caffeine; its viscosity could not exceed such and such a measurement, and so on.
There was still some oatmeal left, too. It had a whiff of something like curry about it, and Tom suspected some kind of algae or seaweed lurked in there too, but he took some because it was quicker than waiting for whatever that was in the wok.
When he got to Harry at the corner table, Harry looked up at him with a huge smile. "Have you heard the news?"
In his excitement Harry looked younger, rewound to the beginning, almost. Before the Hirogen, before the Akritirian prison - before all of the hard and terrifying things, when he was green enough to blurt out anything in his mind without thinking who he was talking to. That Harry had looked at Tom and found him tolerable, even a little bit admirable, even when he knew better.
"What news?" Tom tried the oatmeal. It wasn't so bad, and, it turned out, he was very hungry.
"We're making a stop. Friendly planet. Shore leave." Harry said shore leave in a fervent tone, and Tom thought, yeah, Harry probably would love a chance to NOT be on the ship. "Three days."
"Only three days?" Tom sagged. It was assuredly better than nothing, but come on.
"I know. But we'll get there soon. Tonight sometime."
"I am ready for that," Tom said, dropping his spoon into the now empty bowl.
"Me too." Harry looked down into his cup, and back up again. "Can I ask you something?" His face, serious now, was less youthful and more subtle.
Tom wanted to say Here? Now? But he said, "Yeah?"
"Did you really break up with B'Elanna?"
Tom nodded, slowly, bracing himself for the worst: well-meaning Harry, urging Tom to go take it back. He cleared his throat. "Yes. I did."
"What was the reason you told her?"
"That I'm in love with someone else."
Harry's reaction was twofold: first, his pupils dilated, his lips parted - and he blushed - but in the next moment he terrified Tom by wincing. In sympathy, it turned out.
"That must have been - rough."
"It wasn't fun," Tom agreed.
The next logical phase of the conversation hung there between them. But the mess hall was filling up with people, all talking excitedly. Harry said, softly,
"Do you… want to go together? On shore leave."
"God, yeah," Tom said, gratefully.
Of course, they hadn't always had the best of luck on shore leave. But this one was better than most. They'd been given places in the first group to beam down, thanks to Harry.
Tom never did remember the name of the planet later. The information was surely in the ship logs, easy enough to look up, but everyone ended up referring to it as the "aurora rain planet," even though it was actually a moon.
The people who lived in the city they visited were easygoing, and they laughed a lot. It was impossible to say whether they really did that all the time, or whether they found the Voyager crew especially funny - their appearance, their interests and attitudes, their behavior. But if that were true, they were nice enough about it, and very generous, in a much less self-conscious way than some people they had met, like the Sikarians.
The food here was phenomenal. The drinks were, too - mildly euphoric, less debilitating than alcohol. They were in an outdoor food court of some kind, resplendent with awnings, gorgeous with decorations. Whatever the season was to the locals, it felt like summer to Tom. A summer night, a festival. There ought to be fireworks.
It was good, in and of itself. But being with Harry and seeing him enjoy the same things was like a focusing lens. The startling combinations of flavors, textures, temperatures - Tom felt as though he tasted them more acutely when he saw Harry reacting to them.
There was music, from several different parts of the court. Sometimes they clashed agreeably. Harry caught Tom looking at him again and smiled. Tom wondered if maybe there was somewhere they could slip off to, somewhere dimly lit and private, so that maybe Tom could finish his train of thought about Harry's face when he enjoyed something, and what his mouth might taste like after one of those sweet drinks.
Then the rain started.
"Here, get under the awning! Silly aliens," laughed the woman running the bar they were standing beside. "Don't you know anything?"
They stared out in amazement as the rain washed over from the horizon, and the sky lit up in coruscating layers of pearl and fire.
It was a little bit like the auroras on Earth - in that the lights in the sky were comprehensible as some kind of charged particles interacting with plasma in the magnetosphere. But unlike on Earth, this aurora was occurring in a temperate zone, as part of the rain.
"Does this happen often?" Tom asked the barwoman. "Is it - special?"
"It happens all the time in the summer," she told him. "I don't know what you mean by 'special,' but we like it." She laughed again. "It's as 'special' as being alive." Then her face changed suddenly and she called out, "Hey! What are you doing?"
Tom turned to see Harry step out into the rain. "Harry!" Alarmed, he asked the woman, "Will it hurt him? Is it dangerous?"
"No, it won't hurt him! But he's gonna wish he hadn't done that."
Tom had been about to dash out and grab Harry by the arm, but at this statement he turned back. "Is it - will he get in trouble? Is this a - cultural taboo, is it a crime?"
"No," she said, incredulously, "of course not."
That was enough: Tom ran out into the rain after Harry.
The aurora rain made a sound of its own, separate from that of the water striking the stones of the court. It was a humming/twanging/crackling song, enfolding his ears, enfolding the planet, which was really a moon. The light made a shifting, strobing, hallucinatory patina over everything.
Well, he'd wanted fireworks.
Harry had stopped moving, was standing still, looking up. Tom came to stand by his side.
It was neither dimly lit, nor private. The two of them were technically alone, standing out in the rain, but they were seen by hundreds of people, crowded together under awnings and tents, looking out from windows at the ridiculous aliens who didn't know enough to come in out of the aurora rain. He spotted Tuvok, also under shelter, holding an open tricorder: frowning, but no more than was normal on his face.
"What are you doing?" said Tom to Harry. He might as well have said, what are we doing.
"I wanted to feel it," Harry said.
Tom could respect an answer like that. Why had he wanted to reach Warp 10? He wanted to feel it. He couldn't really remember what it had been like anymore, but he knew he'd done it and that had definitely been why.
They were both soaked to the skin. Tom shivered slightly, but not from cold: the aurora fields were all over them too.
Tom said, "Can I - "
That didn't count. That wasn't consent. Tom didn't even get to ask the question.
Harry said, sparks reflecting in his eyes, "Was the next word 'kiss'...?"
That was enough.
"We're sorry about this, Captain," Tom said, but Harry said, " I'm not."
Janeway looked at the two of them, standing at attention, side by side in front of her in her ready room: one defiantly embarrassed, one just defiant, and both of them radiant as beings of pure energy.
It certainly was distracting. It wasn't just that they were shiny. They were painted - soaked - with aurora colors, which shifted and flared like the real thing. Janeway had been assured that her crewmen were not harmed, and would return to their normal appearance… in time. The doctor had confirmed this prognosis.
"The skin will fade first," she'd been told. The city representative had tried so very hard to keep a straight face. "But I'm afraid the hair takes a lot longer. Sometimes our children go out in the rain on purpose," which explained how they knew what to expect. "But, forgive me, Captain… I've never seen adults do it. How delightful your people are!"
She had strongly suspected that delightful was code for silly, and chose not to pursue the matter. They had, in fact, been spectacularly silly. But she couldn't exactly blame them.
Janeway had beamed down just in time to see the incident herself, as it happened. Some of the locals had reacted in consternation, but most of them just laughed. "They'll wish they hadn't done that," someone said. "But they'll find out!"
This had sounded alarming, but Tuvok had been scanning the aurora effect as it occurred. The aftereffects were only embarrassing, not harmful per se.
Of course, if one were looking at them now, on the next day, while one's head thumped with a slight hangover, then 'harmful' was up for debate.
But Kathryn had seen the whole thing. Everyone did. She saw Harry run out, and Tom follow after, and she saw them stand kissing in the rain, haloed by light.
"But I thought Tom was with B'Elanna…?" she had gasped, and Tuvok had said, quietly, "That association has been discontinued."
"Oh!" Sometimes the captain was the last to know the gossip. It seemed unfair, though, for Tuvok to know more about shipboard relationships than she did.
It also seemed unfair to have to wear sunshades on her own bridge, but for Tom to sit at the helm glowing like that was a problem.
"Well, gentlemen," she sighed, "sorry or not, we'll all be living with this for a while. I hope the impulse was worth it."
They glanced at each other - their eyes appeared normal, but they were filled with reflections of light - facial expressions were hard to read, but their body language was clear.
"Yes, ma'am." They both said it, not quite in unison.
"All right. You're dismissed."
Just as the doors were closing between herself and them, she saw Harry reach for Tom's hand. The light from each of them combined and flared up, swirling.
She wondered, for a moment, what that light would do when they did more than just touch hands.