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Tom Paris looked at the newborn, only a few minutes old, cradled awkwardly in his arms. She weighed only a few kilos, but felt so solid, so real to him. Her skin was reddish brown and wrinkled. Thick, coarse black hair covered her skull, which was larger even than a human baby's. With a tender finger, he traced the small ridges that furrowed her brow. As he watched, she yawned and waved a tiny fist in the air, almost defiantly, as if she dared anyone to come between her and a nap.
"She's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," he said, and even as he acknowledged his daughter's wrinkled ugliness, he knew the words were completely true. He glanced over at B'Elanna. "Except, of course, for her mother."
Gently, he sat down on the sickbay bed beside her as she smiled tiredly at him.
"Nice save," she said, with a hint of her old robust demeanor.
"How's Mommy feeling?" he asked.
"Mommy's felt better," she admitted, and extended her arms for the child.
"Mother and child are just fine, though Mother is understandably cranky," said the Doctor. "You should be able to return to duty in approximately three days, Lieutenant. I feel compelled to inform you that I have downloaded everything in the database on the care of both Klingon and human infants." He preened a bit. "I'd make an excellent baby-sitter."
Tom grinned and gave his wife the baby, and his arms felt oddly empty as B'Elanna guided the child to her breast. He could get into this whole father thing, he thought.
"Janeway to Lieutenant Paris."
Tom grimaced, then replied, "Paris here."
"Report to my ready room."
He looked at B'Elanna. "Aye, Captain." Reluctantly he rose. "I thought we were on parental leave, but apparently duty calls. Sorry, girls."
B'Elanna gave him a strange look that he couldn't read. She reached out and touched his face tenderly. "I love you, Tom."
Now, why would she pick this time to say that? What was going on in that head of hers? "I love you too," he said, taking the hand that caressed his cheek and kissing it. "Both of you. Be back as soon as I can."
When he reached the bridge, he was surprised to see Captain Janeway sitting in her command chair, not in the ready room. He raised an eyebrow in question. In response, she nodded toward the room. "In the ready room, Mr. Paris."
This was getting downright confusing. "Yes, ma'am," he said.
The door hissed open. An imposing-looking, white-haired man rose from where he had been sitting at Janeway's desk. Tom's throat went dry.
"Dad," he breathed. Then, snapping to attention, he said, "Your pardon, sir. I mean, good day, Admiral Paris."
Of course, this was going to happen. Admiral Owen Paris had been heavily involved in Project Voyager. Tom knew that. Of course, as the project's nominal head, Paris would be the first to board when the lost vessel finally returned home. But Tom had been so thoroughly engrossed in thoughts of his wife and child that the likelihood that he would soon be reunited with his father had completely slipped his mind. Now he understood B'Elanna's peculiar look as he had left. She had figured it out before he had.
Admiral Paris's face was carefully neutral. Damn, thought Tom, he looks so much older, so much more careworn. The years that had passed since they last spoke had not been kind to him. Tom wondered how he appeared in his father's eyes.
Admiral Paris folded his hands behind his back, mirroring his son's formal stance.
"Lieutenant Paris. It's...it's good to see you. I'm glad you completed your mission so successfully. Your captain has many glowing things to say about you."
"No more than I have to say about her, sir. It's been a privilege to serve with her these past seven years." Why were his eyes stinging so? And that lump in his throat....
Later, Tom would never be able to remember just which of them had made the first move. Maybe both of them did. But the next thing he knew, he was in his father's arms. It was a sensation he had not experienced since -- he couldn't remember. Had his father ever embraced him so freely, so tightly, before? Had he ever wanted to open his arms to the rigid authority figure the untouchable, aloof Admiral Paris had always represented?
It didn't matter. His head resting on his father's shoulder, Tom smelled the familiar scent of aftershave, and for the first time really believed that, finally, he was going home.
"Dad," he whispered, brokenly.
"My boy," Owen Paris replied, his own voice hoarse. "My boy. I'm so glad you're home."
They sat and talked for a long, long time. Paris noted that they avoided anything of real import, like whether or not he'd be put back in jail or the fact that Admiral Paris was a grandfather. Tom was shocked to learn that, on a whim, his father had decided to take a cooking class and was laughing out loud at an anecdote about what "blackened chicken" really meant when the door hissed open.
Janeway stood there, smiling. "I wanted to give you some time alone together before I called the senior staff for Admiral Paris's preliminary debriefing. Tom, does he know...?" She lifted an eyebrow in question.
"Before we begin, Captain," said Tom, standing straight with pride, "is there time for my father to meet his daughter-in-law and granddaughter?"
Admiral Paris came as close to openmouthed gaping as Tom had ever seen in his life. Tension raced through him. Time to drop the other shoe: "B'Elanna will be so happy to see you, sir."
He knew Admiral Paris knew who B'Elanna Torres was. A half-Klingon and, like his son, a former Maquis. Silently, Tom pleaded that the fragile new camaraderie they had just established would weather this new storm.
There was a long, taut pause. Then a slow smile spread across the lined face. "It would be a pleasure."
When Tuvok reported to sickbay per the Doctor's orders, he felt a rush of surprise, which he quelled at once. Standing there calmly, his hands folded behind his back, was his eldest son, Sek.
"Greetings, Father," said Sek calmly. "It is good to see you."
"And you, my son. I assume that the Doctor requested your presence to administer the fal-tor-voh?"
Sek nodded. "Admiral Paris contacted me approximately fourteen hours ago. I studied the disease extensively during my trip to rendezvous with Voyager. I believe I am adequately prepared to meld with you, Father."
Privately, Tuvok wondered. A few hours spent reading material on such an intricate, complicated procedure hardly rendered his son, intelligent though he was, "adequately prepared." But he knew the situation was worsening. He looked at the Doctor, who answered Tuvok's wordless question.
"The genetic link is more important than actual familiarity with the procedure," the Doctor said. "And frankly, Commander, time is of the essence. I don't think anything would be served by waiting until Sek has learned more."
"Very well," said Tuvok. To Sek, he said, "We'll return to my quarters."
"If you don't mind," said the Doctor, "I'd rather have you here, so I can monitor your response. Not to insult you, Sek, but there's a chance that something might go wrong."
"It is impossible to insult me, Doctor," Sek replied. "I have no emotional response to critiques or commentary on my skills or lack thereof. Therefore, I can be neither flattered nor insulted."
"Vulcans," the Doctor muttered, rolling his eyes. Tuvok hesitated. This was an intimate, private ceremony. And yet, he was forced to admit that the Doctor had logic on his side. Reluctantly, he lay down on the biobed. He glanced over to see B'Elanna watching him; then she quickly looked away and returned her attention to nursing her child.
"I offer my congratulations on the healthy birth of your child," he said, somewhat stiffly.
"Thank you, Tuvok," she replied. She uttered no question or commentary on what she was witnessing, for which Tuvok was silently grateful. "Doctor," she said suddenly, "Tom and his father are coming down to meet me and Miral. I'd like to receive them in my quarters, if that's all right."
"As long as you go directly from that bed to your bed, you should be fine. The brief walk won't hurt you, and actually would be good for you. But if you start feeling weak, let me know at once, and don't overtire yourself."
"Believe me, I won't," said Torres. She eased out of bed, tapped her combadge, and, cradling the infant, headed out of sickbay while talking. "Tom, can you meet us in our quarters? I'm getting very tired of sickbay...."
Tuvok gazed after her, grateful for her discretion. The Doctor brought a chair for Sek, then placed cortical monitors on both Vulcans' heads. Discreetly, he stepped as far away as possible.
Tuvok looked up at his son. To his consternation, he felt a rush of emotion. He had missed his family so much. Sek saw the reaction and recognized it for what it was: a sign that the disease was progressing.
"Do not worry, Father," he said gently. "Soon, these distractions will be gone." Sek closed his eyes, calming himself, then reached and placed his long, slim fingers on his father's brow. "My mind to your mind...your thoughts to my thoughts...."
Sek's presence in his mind was like oil poured on churning water to Tuvok. At first, there was only a surface calm; then, gradually, Sek's thoughts penetrated deeper. He felt the young man's mind traversing his own, finding and searching out the synapses that carried the destructive virus.
He and his son had not melded since Sek was an infant. Tuvok, T'Pel, and Sek had bonded then in an extremely deep and profound union of minds. It was an ancient rite, lost for centuries and then rediscovered, that dated back to when Vulcans first began to harness the incredible powers of the mind. It had been easiest to meld with family members with whom one shared blood, then with more distant relatives, then strangers and, finally in recent history, members of other species. But the initial bonding, established so that the helpless infant could be linked to his parents more firmly, had been the most sacred and powerful.
It was this familiarity that swept through Tuvok now. The irony was not lost on him that this time, it was his son who was nurturing him, not the other way around. In this case, the bonding was to protect father, not child.
Sek's thoughts raced through Tuvok's mind, finding the damaged part of the older Vulcan's brain. There they were, the mutated cells, and Tuvok could see in his mind's eye that they were unnatural and out of harmony with the complex, delicate balance that was the Vulcan brain. The disease was spread through the neurological pathways. Tuvok knew that Sek, whose mind was undamaged, would be instructing his father's own cells to protect the uninfected part of the brain. The blood bond between them magnified the intimacy of the connection. It was the only way the condition could have been treated. Reaching so deeply would not have been possible without that link.
On a cellular level, Sek began to "speak" to Tuvok's brain. There has been damage here. These cells are dangerous. You are not to access them any longer. Gently, but firmly, Sek urged the cells to put up their own barriers. Information and stimuli were henceforth to bypass these areas. They were to become inert. Tuvok felt a strange rush, an imaginary tingling sensation as, under Sek's gentle urging, areas of his brain that had hitherto never been used opened up and responded to stimuli. Cell by cell, Sek isolated and rerouted the way Tuvok's brain would function. For several long minutes, Sek gently disentangled his own thoughts from Tuvok's.
Just before Sek withdrew, Tuvok felt a powerful, joyful wave wash through him. It was the love that his son felt for his father, the delight at being able to help him. Tuvok saw a small Vulcan child, and knew it to be his granddaughter T'meni, named for Tuvok's own mother. They would not speak of it, but here, in the most intimate joining that was possible for any two Vulcans, Tuvok accepted that love and returned it as passionately.
Then his thoughts were his alone. He opened his eyes and gazed up into the impassive visage of Sek.
"How do you feel?" asked the Doctor.
Tuvok sat up, looked from his son to the Doctor, and announced, "I believe I am cured."
When the door hissed open, B'Elanna tried hard not to look as worried and apprehensive as she felt. Tom had told her only that he and Admiral Paris were coming down to meet her and Miral. He had told her nothing of how their own meeting went. She had guessed it had gone well, because of the lightness in her husband's voice, but that could have been an act for overhearing ears.
But when she saw Tom's nearly ear-to-ear grin -- the grin she saw only when he was so happy he simply could not wipe it from his face, no matter how hard he tried to play cool and collected -- she knew that her worries had been for nothing.
And when the imposing Admiral Owen Paris, practically a legend in his own time, reached toward her with outstretched hands, clasped her own, and kissed her warmly on the cheek, she almost wept.
"My son always had an eye for beauty," said Admiral Paris. "I'm pleased to see that he has learned to value character as well. I've read your captain's report on you, Lieu -- B'Elanna. Both of you seem to have won her respect and affections."
"Thank you, Admiral," she said, her voice thick.
"You may call me Owen, if you like," he said. "Now, let me see this lovely little grandchild of mine."
Torres handed Miral over to her grandfather and reached for Tom's hand. The older man handled the tiny infant with surprising grace, smiling down into her little face with obvious pleasure.
"You handle babies quite well...Owen," said Torres, trying out the name with caution.
Admiral Paris smiled. "I've certainly spent enough time with them. You never knew, did you, Tom, that I was the one in charge of diaper changing?"
Judging by Tom's dumbfounded expression, he clearly did not. Torres smothered a smile at the thought of this distinguished elderly man changing Tom's soiled diapers, but the ease with which he carried Miral made his statement believable. He looked down at his new daughter-in-law and the smile faded somewhat.
"Tom and I discussed your family situation on our way here," he said. B'Elanna felt the heat of embarrassment rise in her cheeks. "I understand that you are without family."
"Not entirely correct," she said. "My father...chose not to be with me and my mother when I was young. I spoke to him for the first time in years just weeks ago. I have reason to believe that my mother died while we were in the Delta Quadrant."
"That was what Tom said," Admiral Paris confirmed. "I wanted to tell you that now you do have family. You and Miral are now dear and valued members of the Paris clan. My wife and I will love you like our own child." He turned to look at Tom and said, "And that is a great deal indeed."
Torres smiled, even though she felt like crying with joy. "Thank you, sir. That means a lot to us."
"Now, when Voyager first appeared," Admiral Paris continued, "we of course immediately notified all families. Nearly everyone has recorded messages from loved ones. Once I learned who my new daughter-in-law was, I checked to see if we had any for her. We did -- two."
Torres's breath caught. She couldn't think of any one person who'd want to send her a message, let alone two. Admiral Paris handed them to her. "If you'd like to view them in private, Tom and I can -- "
"No." B'Elanna spoke swiftly. "You are my family now. Whatever this is, whoever sent it, you can watch it with me."
After a moment Tom nodded and activated the viewscreen.
A handsome man with Torres's dark hair and eyes appeared. B'Elanna stared. Father. It appeared that he'd been serious after all about wanting to stay in touch. She hadn't let herself believe it.
"Hello, B'Elanna," he said softly. "I got your letter. I'm glad you wrote me. It's so good to hear from you, know that you're well." He hesitated. "I have a lot of explaining to do. I hope you'll let me do it in person. I want so badly to see you again, to try to put things right...if they can be put right. If you don't want to see me, I'll understand. But I want to let you know that I love you, and that I'm sorry. Maybe you're old enough to understand that, and forgive me. I won't come to the banquet if you don't want me to. I'll wait to hear from you. If I don't...well, that's my answer, and I won't bother you again."
He blinked rapidly and his eyes looked very bright. "I love you, my little one. I hope to see you soon."
She felt Tom's arm around her, felt Admiral Paris's sympathetic gaze. She swallowed hard.
"Do you want to see him?" Tom asked, very softly.
"I -- I don't know," she managed. She fumbled for the second message and handed it to Tom. "Let's see who this one's from."
Tom inserted the disk. A lovely but stern Klingon visage appeared, one Torres didn't recognize, and said, "I am Commander Logt. We must soon meet and speak of your mother. It is a matter of some urgency."
Torres recalled the words she and her mother had spoken in Grethor, the Klingon hell:
We will see each other again.
In Sto-Vo-Kor...or maybe...when you get home.
Perhaps this Logt knew what her mother had meant.
Janeway's heart lifted as Tuvok entered the room. Their eyes met, and he nodded. That was all she was going to get out of him, but it was enough. The fal-tor-voh had been successful. He would require regular, mild doses of medication to keep the disease from recurring, but the dreadful mental deterioration of which her future self had warned had been averted. How easily it had been accomplished; how devastating it would have been to watch this beloved friend fall to pieces slowly, irreversibly, in front of her eyes.
She permitted herself the briefest pang of envy. Both Paris and Tuvok had already gotten to see family members, and they had been in the Alpha Quadrant for only a few hours. Of course, each of their situations had been unique. Paris's father had been the head of this project and had been involved on a professional as well as a personal level. And getting Sek to his father had been a true medical emergency.
Even though the blue-green globe hovered tantalizingly in sight, they were traveling slowly on their way back to Earth, in order to get all the necessary red tape cut before their arrival. And, she thought, not to overwhelm her crew. Certainly, they wanted to get home and see their loved ones. But the whole thing had happened so suddenly, so unexpectedly, that it had been quite a shock. One of the first things Janeway requested, besides Sek's presence, was a counselor. Her request had been granted as well as she could wish. The Enterprise had sent its own counselor, one Deanna Troi, who had also apparently been at least peripherally involved with Project Voyager. Upon greeting the dark-haired, soft-spoken woman, Janeway had immediately felt confident in her abilities. Her crew was fortunate to have this capable woman to turn to.
Tuvok slipped quietly into a seat and everyone turned his or her attention to Admiral Paris.
The admiral didn't immediately launch into his speech. He took a moment to look at each of them in turn, smiling a little. Janeway was pleased to see his eyes linger affectionately on his new daughter-in-law. Torres had insisted on being present and the Doctor was keeping a close eye on her. Despite the slight risk, Janeway was glad she was here.
"There aren't words to articulate how happy I am to see you all here," Owen Paris began. "It's difficult to believe that in a short time you'll be home. We've been sending you information for some time, so you know about the Dominion War and its outcome. But there are some questions many of you, especially the former Maquis among you, must still be concerned about. I requested and was granted permission to be the one to give you the news.
"During the last days of the war there was a shortage of trained, capable officers. The situation was desperate. A general pardon was therefore offered to any of the Maquis who chose to return to Starfleet, absolving them of any wrongdoing, and after the massacre on Tevlik's moon, it was argued that there was no reason to doubt their commitment to the cause. To be honest, I opposed the amnesty. I did not think Maquis could be trusted. I have never been so happy to be proven wrong. The former Maquis served bravely and loyally. Therefore, I hereby extend the amnesty to all those who Captain Janeway informs me have served her so well."
Admiral Paris smiled, then spoke again. "Which means I'm spared the unpleasant duty of escorting my new daughter-in-law to prison."
There were smiles all around. Come to think of it, mused Janeway, there had been a lot of smiles on this ship over the last several hours. She met Chakotay's eyes. They hadn't spoken of it -- there was no point; he knew that she would have to surrender him to the authorities if it came to that, although they both knew she'd fight tooth and nail to get his sentence commuted -- but Janeway felt a fierce surge of joy to know that he, along with every other member of the crew, would be returning home a hero, not a prisoner.
"But it won't be a utopia to which you'll be returning, either," Admiral Paris continued. "War is never easy, but this one has truly been a hell to endure. It's taken a terrible toll on everyone. We lost millions of lives. We'll need all of you to pitch in and help us rebuild."
"You can count on us, Admiral," Janeway assured him.
"I'm sure I can," said the admiral. "After all, you should be well rested -- you've had a pretty long break."
There was a general chuckle, and Janeway knew the admiral meant nothing negative by the remark. Nonetheless, it stung. This hadn't been a seven-year picnic. They'd been in some terrible battles. She'd lost good people, and had suffered her own private pains at the things she'd been forced to do...and forced not to do.
At the same time, in a way they had been lucky. Who knew who would have survived and who wouldn't have, had they all been in the Alpha Quadrant during the Dominion War? Maybe she'd have lost even more crewmen. But maybe they could have made a difference, too. Shortened the war, somehow.
She shook off the thoughts, both the good and the bad. The situation was what it was. They were about to come home and, as the admiral had said, pitch in and help the Alpha Quadrant rebuild.
"And now," the admiral was saying, "there's someone else you need to meet."
The air beside him shimmered, and when the image solidified, Janeway saw the large-eyed, earnest Reginald Barclay. His face split into an enormous grin.
"Gosh," he said, "it's so good to finally get to see you all."
And regardless of what either Janeway or Admiral Paris had in mind, the room erupted into shouts and whoops as her well-trained, disciplined senior staff literally overturned chairs in order to embrace the man who had risked everything to bring them home.
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