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Bound Each to Each

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Stardate 49373.4

Mortimer Harren hunched over his plate, one hand gripping a PADD detailing the previous week’s survey of an ‘evaporating’ planet, the other mindlessly swirling his fork in the yellow mush that Neelix cheerfully called ‘lunch.’ He was so deep into the equations that explained the dynamic of a planet’s surface so heated that not only did it vaporize everything in its orbit, but was in the process of self-immolation, that he didn’t notice Michael Ayala and Elgin Tabor until they’d pulled out the chairs opposite him.

“Sorry to bother you but there aren’t many open places available,” Ayala said apologetically, glancing sideways at Tabor.

Harren lifted his head. How had he missed the Mess Hall filling up? He saw B’Elanna Torres, his superior officer, entering with Harry Kim. The two of them immediately took one of the last two empty spots by the viewports. And was that Jenny – no, Megan – Delaney standing with Tal Celes and Vorik? Kes, in all her blond radiance, had arrived, her arm intertwined affectionately with Neelix’s as they made the rounds of the room.

“What’s going on?” Harren asked.

“I guess you missed the announcement. It’s a party,” Ayala said. “To celebrate Tom Paris’ breaking the warp ten barrier.”

Harren grimaced. “That fool?” He didn’t have much use for Voyager’s chief helmsman. He found the man infuriatingly shallow, always focused on making wisecracks and planning parties. Harren had heard a few of the female crew members discussing Paris in glowing terms; he was just an empty-headed pretty boy, in Harren’s estimation. How Paris had managed to make it through Starfleet Academy with passing grades mystified Harren, though he speculated Tom’s father being a prominent admiral may have eased the way. “Breaking the warp ten barrier isn’t a big deal, you know.”

“I didn’t see you volunteering for the mission,” Ayala shot back. “This is a first in the annals of space flight! No one has ever done this before, and we made it happen.”

We? What the fuck did Ayala have to do with the breaking of the transwarp barrier? He was a security officer, a former Maquis who’d never been to the Academy.

Harren knew Torres and Kim had worked overtime with Paris to make the flight possible. Over the past few months, he’d seen the three of them in the Mess Hall, discussing plans and theories, and even in Engineering, he’d heard a few people – Susan Nicoletti, for example – excitedly discussing the concept. If the experiment worked, Voyager could return to the Alpha Quadrant within weeks. Harren had edged closer to the discussions a few times, once even volunteering a relevant theorem or two, but Torres seemingly hadn’t heard him. He’d soon retreated to deck fifteen where he could lick his wounds over these slights, secure in the knowledge he was operating on a much higher plane than the rest of Voyager’s crew. Without his input, he’d been convinced the transwarp experiment would be a disaster, but here Ayala was saying it was a success.

Commander Chakotay entered the Mess Hall just then, followed a minute later by Paris and Captain Janeway. There was no way for Harren to escape now. He thought longingly of his “office”, the nook he’d claimed in the plasma relay room on deck fifteen. It wasn’t very big, but it was his. It was where he worked on his own projects, such as disproving Schlezholt's Theory of Multiple Big Bangs – much more important than the trifling little duties he performed on Voyager. Now he was stuck in the Mess Hall with what seemed to be the ship’s entire crew complement. And to make matters worse, Janeway stopped just a meter away from Harren’s table, making his escape from the social gathering increasingly impossible.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Janeway said, her husky voice filling the room. “Thank you for coming today to recognize Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris for successfully crossing the warp ten barrier. As you all know, this has been a theoretical possibility for years, but Lieutenant Paris made it a reality. While we are not able to leverage this accomplishment to get the ship home, I don’t want to minimize what our crew was able to accomplish, and the bravery required of Lieutenant Paris to execute this historic flight.” With that, Janeway turned toward Paris who sat nearby, her hand resting lightly on his shoulder. “For that reason, I’m entering an official commendation into his record. It may be seventy years before anyone in the Alpha Quadrant learns of this achievement but let there be no doubt on this ship: this is exactly the type of dedication and creativity I expect will get us home one day.” Paris rose to his feet, and Janeway gripped his hands between hers. “Lieutenant Paris, thank you.”

Paris smiled a bit bashfully and said, “This isn’t my accomplishment alone. This, this belongs to all of us.” The first scattering of applause started, likely instigated by Neelix. “Thank you.” And in a lower voice he turned to Janeway, “And thank you for not giving up on me.”

 “You’re destined for great things, Lieutenant Paris,” the captain said softly. “This is just the beginning.” She released his hands and then started clapping. The rest of the assembled crew joined in. Biting back a sigh, Harren joined in too. At least it was over, and he could hope that the crowd would start to thin. In the meantime, he remained trapped in his seat, and watched while many crewmembers lined up to talk to Paris.

“Congratulations,” Harry Kim said, clapping his friend heartily on the back. “Well deserved.”

“You helped a lot in this effort, too, Harry.”

Kim shrugged. “Maybe, but you were the one who manned up to actually go through with the mission.”

Torres joined them. “I’m glad you’re feeling better,” she said, her brown eyes filled with warmth. Harren had never known B’Elanna Torres to be anything but curt in manner. That she seemed to display some softness towards Paris was astonishing. Could the legendary Paris charm be working on the half-Klingon Maquis as well? Harren’s lip curled in disgust.

“Congratulations, Paris,” Torres said.

“Thanks,” he said.

“Harry and I have a holodeck reservation tonight,” Torres said. “At 1900 hours. Do you want to join us? We’re going orbital diving with Susan, Pablo and Megan.”

Harren stiffened a little bit. Susan? He’d asked Susan a few days ago if she’d wanted to go hiking with him on the holodeck and she’d declined his invitation saying she was already booked. Now he knew what those other plans were.

“Maybe a raincheck,” Paris said. “I’m still a little tired.” He gave a small laugh. “Hyper evolution and the subsequent de-evolution take a toll on a person.”

Torres gave his hand a quick squeeze, a gesture Harren found curiously intimate. “Sure. I’ll check in on you tomorrow.”

After Torres and Kim exited, Ayala leaned across the table.

“Tabor and I are going to offer our congratulations now,” he said. “Want to join us?”

Startled at being addressed, Harren briefly considered. “Not yet. Why don’t you go ahead?”

Ayala shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

Harren focused his attention back on his PADD, but the words kept slipping off his screen and he found it hard to focus on his analysis. The conversations happening just a meter or so away distracted him and it seemed incredible to him that everyone had such glowing words for Paris. Even the captain seemed to be unable to keep her hands off him. Light touches here and there, on his arm, on his shoulder, and the way she leaned toward him. As if she was being pulled into his orbit. Harren blinked as he watched the captain move even closer.

“Tom,” she said in a low voice, “if I could see you later?”

Paris frowned. “Is something wrong?”

Janeway placed her hand on the small of Paris’ back. “Nothing we can discuss here,” she said, glancing over her shoulder.  Harren frowned as he watched the two of them standing barely centimeters apart. Weren’t there regulations about how close a commanding officer could stand next to a subordinate? Harren made a mental note to investigate as soon as he returned to deck fifteen; he prided himself on a thorough understanding of Starfleet regulations. It was a continual source of irritation that a Starfleet ship – especially one whose crew was a third Maquis – wasn’t run in strict accordance. Janeway dropped her hand and in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, said, “Congratulations, Lieutenant.” She smiled brightly in Paris’ direction and departed.

The Mess Hall rapidly emptied once the captain left. Neelix came by Harren’s table to clean up.

“All done?” Neelix asked brightly. “It was really great you were able to stay for the gathering. We have so few happy occasions to celebrate.”

“Well, this was a failure, if you ask me,” Harren said. “What’s the point of celebrating an achievement we can’t use? A waste of time and resources.”

Neelix paused. “Perhaps, but we learned a lot from the experiment. Maybe there’s something we can use to make our next attempt more successful.”

“Well, if they had asked me, it wouldn’t have failed.”

Neelix looked at him. “If you had something to volunteer, you should have told Lieutenant Torres.”

“I did. She didn’t listen.”

“If at first you don’t succeed…,” Neelix said. Really, the man’s perpetually cheerful attitude was nothing less than infuriating. “I’ve always found Lieutenant Torres to be open to new ideas.”

Harren lifted his chin haughtily, incredulous over this ridiculous statement. If Lieutenant Torres hadn’t listened to him before the flight, let alone understood the value of his ideas, well, he certainly wasn’t going to volunteer them now. It was so ridiculous that she’d solicit opinions from Paris over Harren’s superior intellect.

“No matter,” Harren said. He tapped his PADD. “I’m working on something far more important. It will change the way we look at the universe.”

“I look forward to hearing more,” Neelix said cheerfully as he gathered up some of the left-behind plates and cups.

“If you will excuse me, I have work to do.” With that Harren got up and went into the corridor. He was on his way to the turbolift when he saw Susan Nicoletti standing off to the side, gesturing animatedly, as she talked to Paris. Harren bit back his sigh of disgust as he passed by and stepped into the turbolift. He was about to ask for deck fifteen when Paris came in with Nicoletti. Neither seemed to notice him.

“Bridge,” Paris said with confidence.

“Engineering,” Nicoletti said. She looked at Harren. “What about you?”

He felt his cheeks grow warm. “Um, Engineering, I guess.”

“Great,” Nicoletti said. She patted Paris on the arm lightly. “You sure you don’t want to join us on the holodeck tonight? It’ll be fun.” Nicoletti’s gaze seemed to avoid Harren entirely, as if she didn’t quite see him standing there.

“No. I still feel queasy from the flight,” Paris said. The doors opened to reveal the Bridge. “Have a good time though.”

The doors slid shut after Paris’ departure and Nicoletti settled against the far curve of the turbolift. Harren waited for her to speak to him, perhaps even invite him to the holodeck since Paris couldn’t go, but she said nothing. The doors opened to Engineering and she stepped out without looking back. In that split second, Harren decided.

“Deck fifteen,” he said.

Harren ended up working well into Gamma shift, and when his eyelids felt heavy, he finally put his equations away. The answers he was looking were eluding him and perhaps after some rest and food, he would get the brainstorm he was looking for. The turbolift dumped him on Deck Six. Harren was halfway to his quarters when he was aware of some low voices just around the bend. He turned and stopped short as he saw the captain standing outside of Paris’ quarters. Harren frowned; weren’t the captain’s quarters on Deck Three, along with the other senior officers? He couldn’t recall ever seeing Janeway on one of the decks that contained the crews’ quarters before. Instinctively, Harren took a step backwards.

“I’m sorry for coming by so late,” Janeway said.

“It’s not a bother,” Paris said. He was out of uniform, dressed in loose blue pants and a grey t-shirt. The Captain was still in uniform. He leaned casually against the door frame. “Clearly you have something on your mind.” There was an insouciance in his tone that Harren found surprising.

“I haven’t stopped thinking about what happened between us, but I wanted to be clear we don’t refer to this event again,” Janeway said. “This whole incident is off the record. I won’t falsify my logs, but as far as I’m concerned, this never happened.” Her scrutiny intensified on the chief pilot’s face.

“I agree,” Paris said so softly that Harren had to strain to hear him. “And Captain, I’m sorry—”

Janeway placed two fingers on Paris’ lips. “There’s no need to apologize, Tom.” She sighed. “I’m just as responsible as you are.”

Harren pressed his back against the wall. There was a curious intimacy to the scene he was witnessing, and he watched as Janeway stepped closer to Paris. Paris bent his head low, and he could see that the two were talking, but he could no longer hear what they were saying. After another minute, Janeway placed her hand flat against Paris’ chest, her eyes half-closed, and the faintest of smiles dancing across her lips. Tom placed his fingers under her chin, lifting her face towards his.

“You can trust me,” he said softly. And then he brushed his lips against hers, the very faintest and quickest of movements. As if stung, Janeway stepped back. Paris straightened.  “Captain—”

She held up her hand. “As I said, this never happened.” She glanced down the hallway in both directions. “Good night, Lieutenant.” Janeway walked down the hallway in the opposite direction as Harren.  Paris stood there, watching her, and then with an audible sigh, he disappeared into his quarters.

Harren stepped into the corridor, mentally filing the scene away. He didn’t particularly care about what went on in other people’s personal lives; after all, entanglements and relationships were a distraction from the things that really mattered. But this interaction between Janeway and Paris, yes, it was interesting. But for now, he was hungry and tired, and he needed to be on his way.