Disclaimer: Characters, places, and various incidents belong to Paramount. Also, to Jeri Taylor, from whom we borrowed certain events.

Summary: Everyone remembers their first lover, but it's the last one that matters.

WARNING: This story is rated NC-17 for mature content and sexual situations.

Lovers and Other Strangers
by Seema and Rocky

Everyone -- male or female -- remembers his first time.

First time sex, that is.

You remember the circumstances, the person, how you felt (well, it's very rarely extraordinary) and other minute details such as textures, colors, scents -- those kinds of things.

Mine took place when I was fourteen and she -- her name might have been Holly or Molly, I don't quite remember clearly now -- was fifteen. We were in the back of my father's flitter, parked at Stinson Beach. The upholstery of the flitter was rough, a tweed kind of material. The air smelled like lavender; I'd sprayed it in anticipation of tonight's date.

Molly was the daughter of one of my father's aides. We'd met at some boring Starfleet dinner and had fooled around in the garden for a while. I'd stuck my hand down her shirt and she'd rubbed up against my groin. We'd made arrangements to meet the very next night.

"I've never been out with an admiral's son," Molly said breathlessly when she got into the flitter. I offered her a quick smile.

I remember Molly as a vague jumble of shapes, even her facial features are an indistinct blur to me; still, I think of her with fondness because she was my first. We were awkward; first time sex always is and we were just a pair of kids trying to act out a lesson in a biology book (Yes, I had done my research ahead of time and even scoped out a couple of men's magazine articles on the topic of "How to Make Your Lover Scream").

I had tried to start off slow, like the articles had told me to. Very slowly. Kissing her gently, pushing her back against the seat cushions, unbuttoning her sweater, her blouse and then unsnapping her bra. Her breasts were round and full in my hands (everyone said Molly was the most developed girl in our class). She unzipped my pants and put her hand boldly on my penis.

"You want to go all the way?" I asked breathlessly. I'd been hoping, but didn't actually expect to get lucky tonight.

Molly shrugged. "Got a condom?"



So okay, not the most romantic exchange ever, but we were young, we were curious and we wanted to get on with it. Or rather, I wanted to get on with it.

I tugged down my pants, pushed up her skirt and pulled her panties down. She bent her knees a little. Her mouth formed a small O at the moment of penetration and she closed her eyes. Later I would find out that sometimes sex hurts for women. But at the time I didn't care. I was fourteen and male and I only had one thought on my mind. Afterwards, Molly pulled her dress down and I yanked my pants back up. She fastened her sweater and I said, "I'll call you."

I'd like to think at the time I was sincere, but I never did call. She didn't say anything at all on the flight to her home (Molly lived in Sacramento). Instead, she huddled in the corner of her seat, her arms wrapped around herself tightly -- a shield against me ever touching her again.

I remember the way they used to look at me, the only half-Klingon on Kessik.

When I was very little, it was disparaging looks, followed by whispers and giggles. My face burned with shame when I passed those sniggering groups of children. They never paid much attention to me unless they were looking for a victim, someone to make fun of. I still remember the burning in my knuckles after I split one boy's lip for calling me "Turtlehead", how it took days for the red marks--and imprints of his front teeth -- to fade.

Soon after my twelfth birthday, that began to change. Klingons physically mature earlier than Humans, my mother said, and even though my Human genes delayed my puberty for a few years, once it started it progressed rapidly. I wasn't taller than the other girls, but I had more curves. The groups at school still fell silent when I walked past, but any boys in their midst would whistle or send out catcalls. Sometimes one or two would follow me, careful to stay a few paces back. Or someone would bump into me, knocking my books out of my arms so I'd have to bend over. I heard the suggestive comments, the speculations, and I flushed. But in keeping with my mother's admonishments of proper Klingon behavior, of acting with honor, I never answered back.

One boy was particularly persistent. Johnny Kay used to trail me to and from school. He never said anything -- I was prepared to slug him as hard as I could if he did. But he was quiet. It was like having a silent shadow, so I didn't think anything of it, though once or twice I toyed with the idea of turning suddenly, just to see what he would do. And then one day, he caught up with me and spoke.

I don't remember his exact words anymore, something about the physics test we'd had that afternoon, how it had been much harder than he'd expected and he wasn't sure how well he'd done. I was shy, hesitant at first, but finally answered him. Physics was one subject that had always come easily to me, and before I knew it I found myself offering to help him study. I was lonely, and for the first time someone was reaching out to me, treating me like a person instead of half-Klingon freak. He had a nice smile. I smiled back.

Johnny and I met a few times after school over the next couple of weeks. He'd been right, he had done badly on the exam, as had a number of other students. The teacher announced a make-up exam. I told Johnny not to worry, I'd help him and this time he'd do much better. He was grateful. Soon we were meeting in the library every afternoon; I spent hours going over the equations with him. I didn't know why he was having so much trouble; it wasn't like elementary warp dynamics was such a complex topic.

"I just don't have the head for this stuff," Johnny said, with a rueful smile. "Not like you do." He reached up and I thought he was going to tap my forehead. Instead, it turned into a caress. He carefully ran his finger down the side of my jaw, then traced the outline of my lips. "Brainy and beautiful -- how'd I get so lucky?"

The librarian's approach put an end to anything further. But the next afternoon, when Johnny casually suggested we take the books outside because it was such a beautiful day, I was ready.

There was a patch of ground behind the gym, secluded, sheltered by enormous pine trees. It was there that Johnny led me. He leaned over and kissed me, gently at first, and then increased the pressure. Tentatively, I moved my lips under his and felt his tongue forcing entry into my mouth. I pulled away.

He didn't seem taken aback. With another of his smiles, he sat down and patted the ground next to him. "Here, have a seat. You'll be a lot more comfortable."

I sat. The ground wasn't exactly hard, due to the recent rainfall; the piles of old pine needles helped as well. I turned to Johnny questioningly, and stopped. There was something unfamiliar in his eyes as he pulled me to him. His mouth was hard on my mine, insistent. One of his hands was on the back of my head, in my hair. With the other he forced me back, on to the damp earth. His head moved lower, pressing against my collarbone, the stiff collar of his jacket cutting painfully into my shoulder. He fumbled with the waistband of my pants, and then I felt his hand slip inside.

"What do you think you're doing?" I gasped out.

He raised his head. "Don't play hard to get, B'Elanna. I know you want this. All those looks you've been giving me -- you know you want this as much as I do."

I tried to get up, but he had me pinned down. He kissed me again, his lips rough against my mouth and I thought about the day before in the library, how he'd said I was beautiful. And so I lay there, the smell of the damp ground mingling with the sharper scent of pine needles, the slightly smoky odor of his jacket. A sudden sharp stab of pain made me cry out. Johnny grabbed my wrists, pulled them above my head and pressed down.

"Oh, God, this feels good," he moaned. His hips rocked back and forth with greater urgency. His eyes, above mine, were slightly unfocused. A thin line of sweat formed on his upper lip. He gave one last thrust, and then he was still. His grip on me slackened.

I rolled a little away from him, wincing at the soreness between my legs, feeling an unfamiliar stickiness.


His breathing was still ragged, but he heaved himself to a sitting position and then stood.

"We should be getting back," he said curtly.

I expected him to offer me a hand to help me up, but instead he walked away.

I didn't see him the next day at school. I looked, but he was nowhere to be found. Gradually I noticed a different kind of silence when I passed by a group of students. "Well, I guess it's true what they say about Klingons, isn't it?" was one stray comment I overheard. I stopped, turned around. Instead of averting his eyes, the boy leered at me, and ran his tongue suggestively over his lips.

I ran. I don't know where I was going, or how long it was, but when I became aware of my surroundings, I was outside, near the gym. A wave of nausea rose up in my throat, and I retched.

"Are you all right?" I looked up to see Johnny. He exhaled a cloud of smoke, a burning cylinder in his hand. He regarded me curiously.

Embarrassed at being seen in such an unflattering light, I was nevertheless glad to see him. "Yeah, I'm fine."

He nodded. "Listen, I was wondering, would you like to get together later?"

I felt relieved. I didn't quite understand the new-found hostility confronting me in school, but at least I still had Johnny.

The next afternoon, Johnny and I met again, but with a difference. He'd brought a friend with him.

Afterwards, my hands shook as I attempted to straighten my clothes, keeping my head bowed to hide the tears I fought to keep back. I don't remember the name of Johnny's friend anymore. I just remember he had dark hair -- in contrast to Johnny's blond--and the beginnings of peach fuzz sprouting on his cheeks and chin. And I remember the way he laughed as he said, "You were right, John-boy, Klingons are easy."

The rest of my school days on Kessik weren't much different. The pattern was set. There were other Johnnys -- boys who'd express an interest in me. Boys whom I'd go with -- because it was better than being alone -- while their interest lasted. Some were better than others; those were the ones who'd still smile occasionally or say hi when I went past, even after they'd gotten what they were after.

My mother must have known what was going on, but she never showed any sign of it, or any inclination to intervene. Only once did she ever say something. I'd gotten back home late one evening, to find her still awake. She never waited up for me, never seemed to care what I did as long as it didn't contradict her precious Klingon traditions or code. Those lectures I got in plenty; there were times I wanted to scream back at her, "If it's so important to you, why the hell are we living out here instead of Qo'noS? Together with other Klingons, where we -- where I -- wouldn't be so out of place?" But I never did.

On this particular evening, she took in my disheveled hair, my bruised and swollen lips, the uneven closures on my sweater. She turned back to her PADD. I was halfway up the stairs when I heard her speak.

"If you think what you're doing is going to make them stay, you're mistaken. They always leave; remember that. No matter how much you give, it's never enough. They always leave."

I froze in mid-step. The subject of my father's leaving was one we never discussed, not even once. I turned around, but saw only the back of her head, her proud profile not softened even in the muted light. A million questions rushed to my lips, there were so many things I wanted to ask her. Things I wanted to scream at her, what kind of a mother was she to let me do this, did she know how lost I was, did she even care. But I said none of them. Instead, the image of Johnny Kay rose up in my mind, grunting as he rocked back and forth above me. Only the face looming above me, contorted with lust, was my father's.

I couldn't get away fast enough. I stumbled into my room, threw myself on my bed. But the tears wouldn't come.

I went to Starfleet Academy because it was expected of me. It was unthinkable that Owen Paris' son not pursue a career in Starfleet and because I didn't really have any idea of what else I wanted to do with my life, I said what the hell, passed the entrance exams, and decided to major in physics and astronomy because I loved to fly and figured I'd be a pilot. My father didn't particularly care -- he wanted me in Starfleet and he wanted me to be a credit to the Paris name. Well, I did excel at the Academy, but not quite in the way my father probably wanted.

I earned quite a name for myself at the Academy as a ladies' man and to be frank, I was rather proud of my reputation and more importantly, my skill as a lover. There had been many other girls since Molly, and none of them complained or acted as if they weren't enjoying themselves as much as I was. Maybe I'd learned a little finesse, or maybe I just happened to pick girls who were more experienced and knew what to expect, didn't just lie back with their legs open and expect me to do all the work. It was, I thought, a win-win situation.

"They say you're the best fuck around," a third-year named Lily said one night. She was straddling me, and I reached up to cup her breasts in my hands. Granted, I'm mostly a leg man, but I'm not going to shy away from a beautiful pair of breasts either.

"I certainly do try my best," I said modestly, trying to move my hips upwards, but Lily wasn't having any of that. She settled back slightly so the tip of my cock brushed up against her ass. A singularly frustrating and uncomfortable position to be in, especially since she insisted on continuing to move back and forth at the same time.

"I'm pretty good myself." Lily leaned forward so that the tips of her blond hair skimmed her nicely tanned shoulders.

"So I hear." It was hard to talk properly with a view like the one I had.

"Well, we'll just have to see who's better then, right?"

I grinned. Now there was a challenge I liked to hear. I flipped her onto her back and pinned her arms above her head with my hand.

"What are we playing for?" I asked.

"Hmmm," Lily said. "You're only a first year. You just got here in September, right?"

I nodded.

"Then we'll do it this way. You win, I introduce you to my friends. I win, vice versa."

I'd seen Lily's friends. Gorgeous, all of them, terrific bodies. I cupped her face in my hands. "Now those are terms I can agree to."

We only spent one night together, Lily and I, but we thoroughly exhausted each other. Thanks to that encounter, I suddenly had access to a whole phalanx of upper class females, none of whom objected to fucking eighteen year-old boys. My success with Lily emboldened me. I already knew I was handsome and on occasion could be very charming. My father was an admiral and even though the two of us weren't close, I had no problem telling women I had the inside track in Starfleet. They seemed to like that, that sense of power. I'd say, "What area are you interested in? Maybe my father knows of a good posting for you."

My intentions were good, honestly, but at some visceral level, I also knew my father would have no interest in helping anyone out on anything other than merits; competence in bed, at least for him, wasn't a factor in climbing the Starfleet ladder. Maybe if our relationship was different, if we were actually close, I might have had a chance at not being a liar. The last thing I wanted my father to know was that my credo at the Academy wasn't to become an honor and tribute to the Paris name, but rather to work my way through as many women's beds as possible.

I had no sooner left one woman when I was already thinking about the next conquest. I was a man in motion; the more women, the better. And yes, I did skip classes often to chase after a woman. I might not be able to calculate the rate of decay for a planetary system off the top of my head, but my education in other areas more than made up for it. Anna, a life-sciences major, gave me a piece of trivia I'll never forget.

She'd been crouched between my legs -- we were in a utility closet on the first floor of the Cochrane building -- and I'd been pressed back again the wall, the shelves cutting into my skin. My hands clutched at her hair, pulling her closer because, I liked the feeling of a woman's tongue running the length of my penis. Oh hell, I wasn't picky -- any tongue would do. The warmth, the sensation, and I had closed my eyes, my breath coming out in short, hot bursts. I hadn't thought to warn the woman, so intent on my own pleasure, which it came as a complete shock when she spit out on me.

"What did you do that for?" I asked. The other women I'd had always swallowed.

Anna stood up, wiping her mouth on the sleeve of her gray tunic. "Semen has the same amount of calories as white wine and frankly, I'd rather have the wine."

When I turned eighteen, I left Kessik for Starfleet Academy. I still couldn't believe I had been accepted, though the guidance counselor had told me more than once my scores in math and the sciences were high enough. It was with pride mixed with trepidation I told my mother the news. It's funny, now that I look back on it, that it took something positive like this -- a chance for me to make a fresh start, among people who didn't look down on me -- to make her blow up the way she did. I don't even remember anymore, exactly what she said, but her meaning was clear enough. She accused me of deliberately running away, turning my back on her and everything she represented. She wasn't far wrong, though it only occurred to me much later.

San Francisco was a bewildering mix of noise, of flash and crowds. After my first few tentative forays, I tended to avoid the city itself, though my cadet uniform afforded me anonymity, allowed me to move without attracting a second glance. I knew all about being invisible, and it wasn't something I enjoyed, even though it was a relief at first. I made few friends; my shyness was misinterpreted as aloofness, even arrogance. I only knew one way to break the ice, and I was determined not to do that here. I'd left the old B'Elanna behind.

Or so I'd hoped. Yes, the promiscuous behavior was gone, but the hot Klingon temper remained. Instead of fighting with my peers, I found myself clashing with my professors. Soon I'd made a name for myself, all right--as an unruly, argumentative individual, someone who probably wouldn't make the Starfleet cut. Not for lack of ability, my advisor told me, but for my insubordinate attitude.

It was in the midst of all this that I found my first real boyfriend.

When I think back about Max Burke, I realize the term doesn't really apply to him, never did, but I didn't know what the hell else to call him. A boyfriend was supposed to be someone who tenderly loved you, made you feel like a 'real woman' --at least according to the Terran romance holonovels my roommate left lying around. My relationship with Max was closer to the Klingon model; we argued almost nonstop. Everything was a constant competition, to see who could best the other--in the classroom, the lab, the gym, even in bed. I hated the 'pet name' he called me, BLT, the smug expression in his eyes when he thought he'd won another round in our eternal contest. But there was no denying there was something exhilarating about him, that something inside me responded to him in a way I never had to anyone before.

Not that it was a particularly healthy, or desirable, relationship. Especially after I'd scored higher than him on a lab practical, or out-distanced him on the quad (those redundant Klingon organs did wonders for my stamina), he'd find a way to put me down. With just a few well-chosen words, Max could reduce me to tears. He knew exactly what to say -- and how much it hurt. Afterward, he never apologized or ever referred to it again. But we both remembered.

Sex with Max was different than it had been with the boys back home. For the first time, I felt occasional twinges of excitement, instead of the emptiness I'd always had felt before with other lovers, a feeling that had made me think sex wasn't all it was cracked up to be. It wasn't just a question of technique--though Max wasn't a fumbling adolescent boy--but I couldn't put a name to it, either. Maybe it was because he didn't tire of me, kept coming back for more. When two months had gone by, I was on edge, expecting it to end. But he showed no signs of running away. He never said anything about loving me, not that I expected it. At times I wondered if I could possibly be falling in love with him.

The first few times we made love, in his cramped and messy dorm room, I'd kept my top on, afraid of someone walking in, despite Max's assurances he'd set the privacy lock.

"I never thought of Klingons as having a sense of modesty," he said, laughing. His hands, kneading my shoulders through the material, dipped down lower, making contact with my dorsal ridges. For a moment, he faltered. My breath caught in my throat -- Max had never referred to my alien heritage before. I heard the echoes of taunts from years gone by, heard too, "Is it true what they say about Klingon women?" And then his hands moved lower, to my panties, and slipped inside. "Suit yourself," he said, tugging at the fabric. "Just as long as these come off."

The next weekend, perhaps emboldened by the news that Max's roommate had gone home for a few days and we had the whole place to ourselves, I pulled off my shirt and tossed it on the floor. In the near-gloom, Max pulled me to him, his mouth sliding down my throat, then to my breasts. I moaned as he took one in his mouth, began sucking hard. His hand teased the nipple of the other breast, evoking sensations I'd never felt before. He thrust deep inside me, and I cried out. As the pace quickened, I felt a heightened sense of anticipation, of a rising storm. My hips began jerking, spasms rippling through me. I heard Max make the sound deep in his throat that always heralded his climax, just as I crested in an orgasm of my own.

Max collapsed on top of me, his breathing slowly returning to normal. He made as if to get up -- probably to jump in the shower like he always did afterwards -- and then stopped. "What the fuck?"

"What is it?" I asked, my voice sounding far away to my own ears. "What's the matter?"

"I fucking can't get out!" he exploded. "My cock is stuck!"

I couldn't help myself, I giggled. Partly at the note of panic in his voice, partly in relief mixed with wonder that I'd finally managed to come. "It's the Klingon withdrawal reflex," I said, at last, and bit back a snicker as I remembered how my mother had described it long ago. "Or rather, an anti-withdrawal reflex. It's perfectly normal."

"What the hell are you saying? This is normal? It never happened before!"

"The vaginal muscles contract after orgasm," I explained, self-consciously. In the dim light, I couldn't make out Max's features very clearly but he didn't look happy. "It's supposedly an evolutionary relic to ensure mating resulted in fertilization--"

"How long does it last?" he interrupted.

"Just a couple of minutes, it should be subsiding soon." Even as I spoke, I could feel the muscles relaxing.

"There, you can--"

Max was up and out of the bed immediately, with an unmistakable sigh of relief. A sudden blaze of light from the open bathroom door blinded me; all I could see was his dark silhouette in the doorway. His voice perfectly level, he said, "By the way, did you know your breasts are uneven? I can understand why you wanted to keep your shirt on."

He disappeared into the bathroom. I clutched the sheet to me, and tried to hold back my tears.

That was the last time Max ever fucked me in the conventional way. His preferred method for getting off was to have me suck him -- which was something I hated. Not that he cared how I felt about it, or ever offered to reciprocate. He'd simply pull down his pants, lie down on the bed and say, "Do me." At least this was something I could do fully clothed, didn't have to worry about any unflattering comments about my body.

Only once did I ever object, try to tell him this wasn't what I wanted. He didn't listen to my protests. He caught my wrists and forced me down on the floor at his feet, in a kneeling position. With his other hand, he grabbed my head, and thrust his cock in my mouth. I gagged and fought to turn away, but to no avail. Finally, he was through.

He tucked himself back in. "That's more like it." I would have killed him if I hadn't been so busy spitting and choking.

The next day, he acted like nothing had happened.

I don't know how things would have gone after that, as far as Max and I were concerned. I was thrown out of the Academy a few days later--excuse me, 'invited to leave' is the expression the Commandant of Students used, implying it was to our mutual benefit if Starfleet and I parted ways. It was either that or else undergo formal proceedings including a hearing. It was a foregone conclusion; I knew I was going to be expelled for 'conduct unbecoming to a cadet.' I had split a fellow engineering student's lip and broken his nose after the damn fool made a crucial error in the warp simulator which would have resulted in a cascade reaction. I was already on probation: the note in my personal file said 'displays persistent inability to get along with fellow cadets.' This was the last straw. I didn't give them the satisfaction--I quit before they could kick me out.

So there I was, a failure, someone who hadn't managed to get past the beginning of second year. One or two people expressed their regrets. Max wasn't one of them. The last time I saw him, I was coming out of the dormitory, the duffel containing all my possessions slung over my shoulder. Max was standing on the lawn, talking to a few other cadets. His eyes met mine, then slid to my bag.

"Tough luck, BLT," he said.

"Yeah," I answered.

He smiled, in that irritating way that always made me want to smash his face in. "See you around."

I had no clear idea what I was going to do next. Kessik was out of the question--I hadn't been back home, nor had my mother and I even spoken, since the day I left, a little more than a year before. I had no credits, no job, no place to stay. But I was damned if I was going to hang around San Francisco. "Sure," I said. "I'll see you." In hell, I added silently.

My life was irrevocably changed during my third year at the Academy when my father recommended I study at a campus other than the main one in San Francisco. He suggested Sydney, which had a strong flight training program, but to be contrary, I went to Marseilles (I majored in women, but that's neither here nor there).

I never intended to fall in love.

Odile was French, beautiful, and intelligent. I admired her, not just for her physical attributes (which were considerable) but for her mind. Yes, a cliché, I know, but I didn't mind spending hours in the library with Odile. My grades had never been better, I had never been happier. In occasional moments of whimsy, I indulged in those daydreams often attributed to women, and not to men. I could see myself spending the rest of my life with Odile. I could think of nothing better than the daily routine and comfort of always waking up next to the same woman.

Sex with Odile was different. Not only did she seem to enjoy herself as much as I did, but I was fascinated by her utter lack of inhibition, how she wasn't afraid to ask for what she wanted. The women I was used to were more docile, more intent on pleasing me than on their own satisfaction. I didn't care about equality, let alone ever considered relinquishing control to a partner-- until Odile.

"No, Tom," she would say to me in that sweet, lilting French accented voice of hers, "not like this, like this." And she would take my hand (or sometimes she would say, "You try this time with your tongue") and show me exactly what (and where) it was she wanted. And she would tell me, "If you don't like what I do, then you tell me."

The concept was completely foreign to me. I'd been very much a graduate of the "slam, bam, wham, thank you ma'am" school and it took me some time to get used to the fact that what I wanted wasn't always what Odile was in the mood for or that I needed to consider her needs as much as my own.

Odile taught me things outside of bed, too, like French, little convenient phrases here and there. My father had once lectured me on the follies of relying too much on the Universal Translator, but until I met Odile, I had no desire to learn another language. But Odile managed to turn even speech into a shared intimacy.

"Je t'aime, mon petit chou," she said one night as we lay in bed.

"Did you just call me a cabbage?" I asked, puzzled.

"It is a term of endearment."

"I got the 'I love you' part. It's the cabbage I'm not understanding." I nibbled at her ear, pressing my lips in quick succession up and down her hairline.

"We say it differently here. You know there are stories we tell les enfants, that they were born in a cabbage patch. We find them, you see, when the cabbage blooms."

I laughed and kissed her some more, wrapping my arms around her. "Odile..." In that moment, I could imagine an entire lifetime. Hell, I even imagined our own little cabbages. I imagined us walking hand in hand to little shops, buying our groceries on a daily basis. I started practicing by ordering cheese and bread at the local stores, and was gratified when the store owner (his name was Henri) smiled politely at my accent.

"Il apprend bien," Henri said to Odile after I successfully managed an entire transaction in French one day. Odile smiled at me fondly and nodded at Henri.

"Oui," she said, and then pointed at a jar of chocolate. "We will take some of that too." Her lips turned up seductively at the corners and Henri nodded knowingly. I felt a little embarrassed going back to the store after that incident, but Odile insisted we were fine.

"This chocolate, he is not for cooking," she said, telling me what I'd already figured out. It was a warm day, just a hint of breeze and not a cloud in the faded blue sky above. And so we took our time as we walked hand in hand back to the little flat we shared. "They know this, all the store keepers. There is no secret when you buy. Trust me, you will like it."

I let her spread me with chocolate, and she very carefully and very slowly licked it off me. I told her that night, in her own language, that I loved her. And even though I found it a little silly, I called her a cabbage. She smiled and kissed me on the cheek, before snuggling in my arms and falling asleep. I lay awake that night, thinking about the future and what it would mean for us.

Forever with Odile didn't happen. I killed her. So now you know the truth. That I killed the one person I loved more than anything in the universe because I insisted on going through with the fucking starburst formation, even though it was against Academy – hell, Starfleet -- regulations. But I wanted to do it anyway because we were on spring break and I thought it'd be a way to blow off some steam. We needed four pilots, so along with two of my buddies from San Francisco, an apprehensive Odile agreed to fly the fourth jet.

"D'accord," she said when I asked her if she was still willing to go through with the starburst formation. "Si vous voulez faire cela, nous pouvons essayer." Her use of her native language betrayed her uneasiness, but for once I wasn't listening to the cadence of her speech. I heard the lack of enthusiasm, but I pushed for it anyway because I was already dreaming of the glorious moment when I and three of my closest and dearest friends pulled off this risky and tricky aerial stunt. That day, instead of ending with champagne toasts in a trendy upscale bar, exploded over the skies of Caldik Prime.

My career was in Starfleet was over before it had even started, my father bitterly disappointed, but fuck all that.

Odile was dead.

I had killed her.

In the days/months/years following the 'incident' at Caldik Prime, I couldn't get Odile out of my mind. I kept seeing her face in the crowd as I wandered through the French countryside (France felt like home at this point in a way San Francisco never did). A pale oval-shaped face, gray eyes, hair of a certain shade of red, a tinkly laugh, long fingers topped with red nails -- and every now and then, I'd think I'd heard her voice. One night, in a Marseilles bar, surrounded by a bevy of long-legged scantily clad beauties, I thought I saw Odile, in the flesh, miraculously returned to life. I jerked nervously, spilling my drink all over myself.

My voice was hoarse when I approached the woman in question. Up close, I could see it wasn't Odile after all, but the similarities were still striking. She said she had a place just down the rue, perhaps I'd like to come up for some vin et formage?

I never got her name. I've always thought of this woman as Odile La Deuxieme, abbreviated in my mind as La Deuxieme. What I remember of this women amounts simply to body parts. If my memory was cruel to Molly, it was even crueler to La Deuxieme. La Deuxieme had long legs which she wrapped around me, her heels pressing round indentations into my back as I moved above her. She had long hair -- the same color as Odile's -- and even her perfume was the same. She wasn't soft, but rather hard and sinewy. There was no comfort in La Deuxieme other than the ferocity of physical release. She was like Odile in that way: not shy, not sensitive, and certainly, very vocal. I stumbled out of her flat the next day, my head spinning, my body aching. There were red marks on my wrists from where she had bound me and I was convinced the sticky sensation on the insides of my thighs were from leftover chocolate.

But the encounter with La Deuxieme banished at least one demon. Odile was gone, replaced now by a faceless woman with long legs and a skillful tongue. Even though I no longer needed to drink to forget Odile and Caldik Prime, I still did. Drinking had become a habit, much like breathing -- and fucking. I still thought of myself as sexy. I never felt so much power as when I saw a woman eyeing me with undisguised lust. Despite the fact I was essentially a homeless wanderer, I managed to gain quite a reputation and as a result, I rarely slept alone.

Sandrine, the bartender at a Marseilles pub I frequented quite often, had a soft spot for me. She was an older woman-- older than I liked, to be honest--with bleached blond hair and faded blue eyes. A little on the heavy side, but she was warm and comforting, and hell, a pretty fine fuck too. Some nights, I was too drunk to make it home on my own and Sandrine would drag me upstairs to her bed. She would tuck me in (the sheets smelled of lavender, which reminded me of Molly), and would slip in next to me, wrapping her solid arms around me.

After one such night, I woke with a splitting headache. I could smell coffee brewing. I groaned. Even with the shades pulled halfway down, the light in the apartment was too intense.

"Sandrine?" I called weakly.

"You are awake," she said. Her step was heavy on the wood floors. "How do you feel?"

"Like hell."

Sandrine sat on the edge of the bed. The sudden motion made my stomach lurch. "You cannot continue like this, Thomas."

I groaned. God. A lecture? Now? Fuck.

"You eat now," Sandrine said. She stroked my forehead gently. "And then you must go, Thomas."

I must have looked blank; hangover or no, I was usually on my way within a short time of waking up the next morning.

"I mean, do not return here again." She repeated the words in French. "Ne revenez pas."

Huh? She was throwing me out? Sandrine? Unable to think clearly, I said, my voice cracking, "Where do you expect me to go?"

"To your family. They will aid you."

"Shit, they won't," I said. I got up, nearly stumbling in my disorientation. "I told you all about Caldik Prime, didn't I? I told you what happened there? I told you about Odile! And you know my old man fucked me over, don't you? That he just sat there, bastard, and let them kick me right out of Starfleet." I didn't bother mentioning that I never had an especially strong desire to be a Starfleet officer. "You think they will help me? Fuck no!" I was screaming at her now.

Sandrine got up quietly and left the room. I sat back heavily on the bed. After a few minutes, I got dressed and walked into the kitchen. Sandrine was gone, but a baguette, with some brie, and a mug of steaming espresso was waiting for me on the table, along with some credits.

After leaving Sandrine's, I headed off-world. No more Earth for me. It was time to seek my fortune (such as it was) elsewhere. Mars was still too close to home, so I headed towards Betazed. I heard there were profitable trade routes there and so I landed an apprenticeship with a freighter company. Piloting stuff from point A to point B isn't the most exciting job in the world, but it got me back behind the controls of a ship again. And hell, I enjoyed myself. Different destination every day, different bars, different women (and men too; don't get me wrong, I preferred women, but like I said before, I wasn't picky), and all in all, just more conquests for Thomas Eugene Paris.

I'm not ashamed to admit now that I hated sleeping alone. Sleeping alone meant darkness and silence, the coldness of sheets against my bare skin. It didn't matter to me who curled up next to me as long as I wasn't alone. My education continued. I found out that Bajoran women are partial to having the inside of their elbow suckled, that Ktarian women like to be on top, that Betazoid women like it slow and gentle, and believe it or not, Vulcans can go on for hours. In my mind, I kept a mental checklist, crossing off each species, doing my best to remember the details of pleasure. I didn't have much to keep me occupied in those days, but what little I did have, I was determined to excel at.

For the next year or so after getting kicked out of the Academy, I drifted. There's really no other way to describe it, both physically and mentally. I spent my first night out of the Academy on a park bench. The next morning I bummed a ride on a shuttle to Luna City and found myself a job in a Replimat, waiting tables. Within a few months I'd saved enough to book passage out of the Sol system.

There followed a series of lowly maintenance jobs, on a motley collection of space craft, one more decrepit than the next, whose owners couldn't afford to ask too many questions or bother about an employee's lack of credentials. It quickly became obvious I had a knack for this sort of work. Battered space yachts, Ferengi trading vessels, smugglers' cutters, Rigellian 'steamers', surplus Federation runabouts bought dirt cheap at auction -- I handled them all. My private nest-egg was growing; I began to entertain thoughts of maybe buying a craft of my own one day, setting up my own trade routes.

I was working in the engine room of a tramp freighter -- Bolian registry -- when the situation with the Cardassians came to a head. I didn't think too much about the peace treaty, nor about the rise of the Maquis movement. It was all a million light years away, as far as I was concerned.

Until the Cardassians boarded my freighter, and killed everyone else on board.

I didn't know what the cargo was, locked in the hold, nor did I particularly care. If I'd been told we were smuggling phaser rifles to the Maquis -- or Abaccan creampuffs -- I would have shrugged and gone back to my work without further thought. Yet, fighting for my life in that very same hold, I was grateful to have a weapon in my hand. At least I wouldn't go down without a struggle, like some honor-challenged p'taq. The thought startled me -- I had purposely turned my back on anything Klingon long ago. It's funny what goes through your mind when you think you're about to die.

But I didn't die, thanks to Chakotay and his fellow renegades. I accompanied him back to their base, together with the precious weapons whose safety had been paramount in his mind, had been the reason for the 'rescue' operation. I didn't care; I was grateful to be alive, grateful, too, for any scrap of kindness that came my way. I'd learned the hard way how rare that was. That evening, sitting around eating a meal--for all they were fugitives, Chakotay's cell had a seemingly better diet than I'd managed in a long time--I felt more than gratitude. Listening to his soft voice explaining why he'd chosen to resign from Starfleet to fight for a cause an impartial observer would deem lost even before the first shots had been fired, something stirred inside me.

"Could you use another engineer?" I asked off-handedly, as if it didn't matter very much to me either way.

A smile lit his face. "We can always use people," Chakotay said, the look in his eyes one of unqualified welcome. Their warmth seemed to reach deep inside me. "Especially someone of your caliber."

Nothing came of that initial attraction, of course. One of the other women, a Bajoran called Seska, let me know immediately and in no uncertain terms that she and Chakotay were an item. I remember how she walked up to him, in the midst of our conversation, and slipped her arms around his neck, pulled his head down to hers. Keeping his arm securely around her waist, Seska smiled when Chakotay made the introductions. I didn't even blink. I'd had enough of 'relationships', thank you, and the last thing I wanted to do was complicate my standing among the Maquis.

I was glad of my decision more than once in the ensuing weeks. Seska wore a determined air of sweetness, of almost girlish friendliness -- which could turn hard and coldly calculating in an instant. I walked in on her 'interrogation' of a prisoner one time, something even my Klingon stomach found hard to watch. I shuddered when she turned away from the battered pulp that had once been a living being, and said, "Well, I suppose that's all we're going to get from that one." Without missing a beat, she went on, "By the way, B'Elanna, you did very well today. We picked up a few cases of Saurian brandy on the last raid, you know. There's going to be a celebration tonight -- make sure you don't miss it." She smiled. "I know Chakotay will be disappointed if you're not there."

Yes, I got the message loud and clear. I worked hard, keeping the 40-year old engine of our battered ship running as smoothly as possible. I kept my head down and didn't make waves. As the months passed, I settled in. I never thought too much about where I was and where I was going -- life in the Maquis wasn't conducive to long-term plans. Not when every day might be your last. We were soldiers in a war where the odds were tremendously against us. The enemy -- and the Starfleet vessels assigned to hunt us down were just as much our enemy as the hated Cardassians responsible for unspeakable horrors in the DMZ -- were better fed, better equipped, had manpower and resources vastly exceeding our own. Yet we never gave up. We went on raids, fought our battles. Sometimes in space, sometimes on the surface of a planet or moon, hand to hand, with phasers, knives or our bare fists. Some of us were injured, some died, and some lived to fight another day.

Relationships among the 30-odd members of our cell were at once deeper and more superficial than I remembered from life 'on the outside.' Casual coupling was the rule of the day for most, particularly people like Dalby and Henley. Those two slept with anyone and anything, regardless of species or even gender. I balled my fists the first time Dalby approached me, but fortunately he knew how to take no for an answer. Why make a fuss when there was always someone else available? Sex in the Maquis had little if anything to do with love or tenderness. No, it was a way of asserting that you were still alive.

Celebrations after successful raids, licking our wounds when we'd been bested in a firefight -- it made no difference. Everything -- and everyone -- existed on a more basic, primal level.

Even Chakotay. Sometimes I used to wonder about him and Seska. He was such a contradiction. He could fight -- and hate -- as well as the best of us, and yet at odd moments, there was an innate gentleness that seemed out of place, a softness that had should have burned away long ago. And I used to wonder with barely disguised envy how he could stand to live this way, how he had managed to see so much pain and horror and ugliness and yet keep a firm grasp on his soul. It wasn't Seska who was responsible for that; there was nothing spiritual or soft about their relationship.

Time passed. Our struggle never seemed to get easier; every success had its losses. People came and went -- some through death, others capture. We lost Mikela, our munitions expert, on one particularly disastrous raid on a Cardassian ore refinery. She was young, like most of us were, barely out of her teens, but with a face and manner that made her seem even younger.

Chakotay put his hand on Bendera's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Kurt," he said softly. Mikela was some type of relative of his, I think, perhaps a distant cousin. She'd joined us after the rest of her family had died in the Zegovinian massacre, and Bendera had always been protective of her.

Bendara stood staring at the doorway of the crumbling warehouse we'd taken shelter in, almost as if he expected her to appear any moment. His eyes moved around the room, shifting from person to person. There was no one present who didn't have some kind of injury, some superficial, others that would prove to be fatal despite--or because of--our meager medical supplies. Chakotay himself was very pale beneath the bandage wrapped somewhat clumsily around his forehead. Seska had approached him with the dermal regenerator earlier, but he'd waved her on to someone else.

Finally, Bendara spoke, his voice oddly calm. "Killed?"

Chakotay shook his head. He seemed to sway on his feet as he said, "Captured."

Bendara turned away. We all knew what happened to the prisoners the Cardassians took. "Was she wounded?"

"I don't know," Chakotay said. "I didn't see what happened."

Tuvok looked up from dressing Hogan's shoulder wound. "She sustained a disruptor blast to her left leg," the Vulcan said, no trace of emotion in his voice. "I could not tell how serious it was."

"The Prophets grant it's serious enough that she dies of her wounds soon," Bendara said softly. No one answered.

Later that evening, I took a bottle of cheap but potent Skagarian ale from beside Ayala, who lay snoring with his head on the table, and went outside to where Bendara sat alone. He didn't say anything as I sat down beside him, but he did accept the bottle. He took a long drink, then passed it to me. I drank as well, wincing at the harsh taste, my eyes watering as it burned its way down my throat.

"She was so young," he said at last.

"I know," I said quietly.

We finished the bottle between us. Finally, Bendara held it upside down, but only a few last drops trickled out. "Damn," he said and threw it aside.

"I think there's another inside," I offered and started to rise.

"No," he said. He held my arm to keep me from going. "That's not what I want."

It wasn't making love. It wasn't even about lust, just a basic reaching out between two people. Or would have been, if we both hadn't been so cock-eyed drunk. If I'd thought about it, I wouldn't have done it. I liked Kurt, he was a good and decent man. He wasn't wrapped up in bitterness like some of the others. Like Chakotay, he'd managed to hold on to some basic essence of himself, in his case, an absurd sense of humor about himself and others. I didn't want to risk losing his friendship, but I couldn't stand seeing him so completely quenched.

There wasn't any finesse to the act. We groped each other furtively, roughly pushing aside any clothing in the way. A few quick thrusts and it was over.

Bendara never said anything afterward, not the next morning or in the ensuing weeks, to indicate that he even remembered what had transpired between us. And that was just fine by me. I was determined to keep myself strong, and as I'd surely learned by now, the best way to do that was to make sure I belonged to no one but me. Any passion was poured into an all-consuming rage directed at those who sought to destroy us, fueled by every injustice and slight I'd ever felt.

Occasionally, Chakotay would pick up a new recruit from somewhere. Tom Paris was one of them, but he barely registered on my personal radar. He was no more than a transient -- a very transient, as it turned out -- annoyance. He was only with us a matter of weeks before the damn fool managed to get himself captured -- or turned traitor (there's a difference of opinion on this, depending on who you ask) -- on his very first mission. Seska had cautioned Chakotay about sending Paris out on his own, but we simply couldn't spare someone to accompany him. A good thing, as it turned out.

Paris himself was no real loss. For all his reputation as a hot-shot pilot, he'd seemed to spend more time hitting on the female members of the cell than in contributing anything useful. Not that he ever tried anything with me. I probably would have killed him if he'd so much as glanced in my direction. No one wasted any tears on him once he was gone; the loss of the scout ship was much more serious. No, I never gave him another thought -- until our paths crossed again in the Delta Quadrant.

Hell of a way for an admiral's son to end up. Carting shit from one end of the galaxy to the other. Beta Quadrant, Alpha Quadrant -- it all blurred together after while. And yeah, I'd be lying if I said the freighter job wasn't fun at first and for once in my life, I didn't fuck it up. I got my goods delivered on time, made my pick-ups, and hell, half the time I was ahead of schedule. But it was a dull life and I wanted something more. So when I ran into a man with a tattoo on his forehead, looking for a pilot, I stepped right up.

"Are you good?" the man called Chakotay asked me. "We can't afford second-rate pilots."

"The very best." I offered him my best (and most flirtatious) smile, but Chakotay wasn't so easily won over.

"You were Starfleet, weren't you?"

"'Were' being the operative word. Got kicked out." I leaned casually against the bar. Chakotay was dressed in leather, his hair cropped short, and I have to say, I found him damn attractive; if he had been willing, I'd have dragged Chakotay off to my bed right there and then. But I knew he probably lacked the spunk in bed that I preferred. Chakotay had a calm, modulated voice and a languid way of moving. I found it hard to believe that he could ever conjure up the enthusiasm needed to motivate a group of freedom fighters (terrorists?), but here he was, telling me that he was leader of a Maquis cell. "I had a little accident at Caldik Prime." Amazing how years later I could be so glib about what happened there. There had been a time when I could not even mention the location where Odile had died without choking up. But here I was in a smoky bar, my throat scratchy, pretending that the Academy had simply overreacted to a simple joyride.

"And your father didn't do anything to help you?" Chakotay's eyes narrowed suspiciously.

"You know who I am?"

A small smile played on Chakotay's lips. "Give me some credit, Paris. In my line of business, we don't just randomly approach people and ask for volunteers. We never know when someone will betray us."

"I just want to fly," I said. "You won't find anyone better than me." I leaned forward a little. "I like to dabble in a little excitement on the side, a little bit of risk." I cocked my head to the side. "I'm not going to turn tail and run the first time someone fires on me. You can count on that." Chakotay still didn't looked convinced so I tried one more time. "I've smuggled stuff before, have outrun the authorities more than once. I've got the experience and skills you need on your team. I've got no loyalty to any one anymore." I looked at him straight. "I just want to fly. Give me this opportunity and I'll be the best damn pilot you could ever have."

Chakotay looked me up and down carefully. "Don't make me regret this."

"You won't." We even shook hands on this.

At the Academy, my status as a future aviator was a formula for insta-sexiness, a magnet for the ladies. The Maquis, however, were not impressed with my charms (though admittedly, the years of heavy drinking and womanizing were starting to take a toll). They were more interested in how I performed as a pilot, not in bed, and even then, my flying skills didn't win widespread admiration. For once in my life, I was at a total loss and my usual source of comfort -- sex -- wasn't available to me and hell, that rotgut liquor the Maquis were so fond of burned my throat as it went down. It tasted little better oil used to lube up the interior of a plasma manifold system, but it was enough to keep me going and the Maquis, they loved their drink like nothing else.

They were a hard-drinking, hard-playing group of folks, scarily intense; their sense of purpose, their moral righteousness, their determination -- all of that threw me off guard.

Two women -- B'Elanna Torres and Seska -- were Chakotay's main confidantes. Neither woman paid much attention to me and I wanted so much to believe that they were too busy fighting the Federation to have sex or build close relationships, but that wasn't the case. I knew Seska had a thing for Chakotay and once, I saw Bendara and Torres slip off together. I followed them, just because I couldn't imagine the pugnacious Torres with anyone, especially not the quiet and taciturn Bendara.

"What are you doing?" Seska stood behind me. Her hand was tight on my shoulder.

I turned slowly around. For a Bajoran, Seska was quite tall. I tried to remember the name of the last Bajoran woman I'd fucked, but drew a blank. Whoever she was, she was good, very vocal (I enjoy screamers), and not afraid to take the initiative.

"I, uh, was looking for, uh, Chakotay," I said.

Seska's eyes narrowed. "I don't like you, Paris," she said. "None of us do."

Bad enough I had gone without sex and quality alcohol for six weeks now and then this crushing blow. I knew I was a fuck-up, but did I really want to be reminded of my inferiority on such a constant basis? I lifted my chin defiantly.

"I'm here to fly," I said. "Your opinion of me doesn't matter."

"Maybe it does, because Chakotay listens to me." Seska's lips curled up a little. "Don't betray us, Paris, or we'll hunt you down." With that, she turned sharply around and left, disappearing into the shadows. I stayed in my spot, straining to hear. If I tipped my head just a little, I could see Bendara pushing Torres up against the wall, her legs wrapped around his waist. I took a deep breath and walked away, feeling suddenly and painfully alone.

The next morning, I flew my first and last mission for the Maquis.

I never expected to wear a Starfleet uniform again. I figured, when they kicked me out of Starfleet Academy, that was that. I expected to be a Maquis till the day I died (which could be tomorrow, or next week or month). But then came that fateful day in the Badlands, and everything changed.

There's a giant blank spot in my memory of everything that happened after the Caretaker's wave hit our ship. One minute I was trying desperately to keep a stable warp field as we wove in and out of the plasma streams, trying to evade Gul Evek's pursuit -- the next, I was waking up in the underground Ocampan city. Even afterward, there's just a jumble of emotions in place of the events that happened next: the horror of being used for some type of alien experiment, the feeling of being trapped, the frantic attempt at escape, the blasting heat of the arid planet surface, the cool air currents in the Starfleet vessel's sickbay for treatment -- and the last desperate battle against the Kazon which ended with Chakotay's destruction of our ship, effectively stranding us on Voyager. And then Janeway's order to destroy the Array, trapping us permanently on the other side of the Galaxy. I could have killed her then and there -- and probably would have, if it hadn't been for Chakotay.

It was cold comfort to realize that the rest of the Maquis -- and even some of the Starfleet crew -- were just as furious as I was. But there we were. I listened sullenly to Chakotay's explanations of the need to make the best of things -- both in public and in private. And I grudgingly agreed to go along with him.

It was hard, those early days. Constantly on edge, it's no wonder my temper often flared up at everyone around, particularly those Starfleet idiots in Engineering. I thought I'd be spending the rest of my life in the brig, if they didn't unceremoniously dump me on some planet. But Janeway didn't work that way. She meant what she said, all those words about 'second chances' and 'fresh starts' weren't mere lip service. I laughed in derision, while hoping so desperately it was true. I'd made more attempts at beginning again than I cared to remember; who was to say this time would be any different?

I was certainly persona non gratis on Voyager for the first couple years. The Starfleeters hated me because they knew about Caldik Prime. The Maquis hated me because they thought I'd betrayed them. And worse of all? No alcohol on the ship. Not a fucking drop of anything that wasn't synthehol. It was almost as bad as being back in prison, in that respect. I'd taken Janeway's offer to be an observer on her mission to capture Chakotay not only because I wanted out, but because I was sick of being such a fuck-up. Just a few weeks on Voyager and after we got back, Janeway agreed to put in a good word for me with the parole board; so yeah, I was looking at Voyager at a kind of 'get out of jail free' card. The Caretaker, however, had other ideas

Despite my unpopularity aboard Voyager, I enjoyed a handful of liaisons, mostly of the one-night stand variety. I admit to having a 'thing' for the Captain and once or twice, we played pool in the holodeck version of Sandrine's bar and another time, had dinner in her quarters. She took a keen interest in me, but hers was more of a professional interest and she always maintained a cool dignity and slight but discernible distance from her subordinates. Once while shooting pool, I shifted position and (accidentally?) bumped her in the ass. Janeway glared at me and carefully moved aside. That was the end of that. Lesson learned: never, ever make moves on your captain, especially one who served with your old man. Flattering, maybe, appreciated? Not in the least bit.

And then there was the Ocampan. Kes caught my attention -- pretty, intelligent, soft eyes, feminine and as I've made it clear, it didn't take much to stir me up. I flirted shamelessly, but in the end, my friendship with Neelix won out and I grudgingly left her alone.

So in the absence of 'the real thing', I made do with holographic beauties (trust me, light energy does not compare to flesh and blood) and on occasion, both of the Delaney twins. In Megan and Jenny, I recognized the same need for physical contact and connection that I had. Sleeping with them -- sometimes one at a time, sometimes both together -- was nothing less than mind-blowing. I had spent years honing my skills, growing more sophisticated with each encounter, and Megan and Jenny were as adventurous and daring as I could hope for.

Once Jenny told me that she had always wanted to "do it in the turbolift." I raised an eyebrow. I had tried it once on the mandatory training course that was part of the second year curriculum at the Academy, but the attempt had ended badly with the lady tumbling to the floor when the turbolift lurched unexpectedly and then, a few seconds later, a lieutenant from Engineering had walked in on us. But this was Voyager, everyone already expected me to behave badly anyway, and so we went for it. Jenny pressed up against the wall, long legs wrapped around my waist, breasts pushed up against my chest, her arms around my neck. It lasted exactly two minutes and by the time the turbolift doors opened, we were back to normal (albeit slightly disheveled with some telltale stains in certain parts of our uniforms). The gossip concerning what Jenny and I had done made its rounds through the Voyager grapevine and at one point, I thought Captain Janeway would call me in on the carpet, but she never did.

I wasn't thrilled to be on Voyager in the first place, and I was even less thrilled to discover one of my fellow 'Janeway Rehab Projects' was the very same Tom Paris I'd hoped I'd seen the last of. He didn't seem to be any more popular among the Starfleet personnel than the Maquis were, and there were plenty of our people who had no lost love for him either. Ayala told me how Chakotay almost decked Paris on Voyager's bridge when he first beamed over and caught sight of him. Even the news of Tuvok's spying didn't rouse quite the hatred among the Maquis that Paris did, with his smarmy expression, his smart-ass comments. I didn't know why Chakotay suddenly changed his mind about Paris -- about wanting to kill him, that is -- let alone make it known to all that Paris was under his protection and not to be touched. I still expected someone to attempt to take him out before long. Hell, I was tempted to do it myself, but I didn't want to mess up what I'd been precariously granted, my new lease on life aboard Voyager.

So I kept my head down and tried to steer clear of Paris whenever possible. Not an easy thing to do, with both of us on the senior staff. I saw plenty of him, whether I liked it or not. And there was plenty not to like. His womanizing was legendary among the crew. According to rumor, there was hardly anyone on board he hadn't slept with, except for maybe the captain (though even that was considered plausible by some) and Seska. And myself.

It had become obvious shortly after we joined Voyager that Chakotay and Seska were through, at least from Chakotay's perspective. I admit I did entertain a few private fantasies about Chakotay, even as I saw him setting his sights in another direction. But that's all they were, fantasies; I didn't need Seska to remind me that he saw me as a little sister, nothing more. And I certainly wasn't interested in anyone else romantically, not Harry Kim for all he was a good friend, and definitely not Tom Paris.

But Tom and I kept being thrown together, and eventually I couldn't help noticing another side of him, one he tried--usually successfully -- to keep well hidden. When the Vidiians captured us and split me into my Human and Klingon selves, I think I would have died if it weren't for Tom. I couldn't believe how comforting and supportive he was, and I was grateful. That was the first, but not the last, time I realized there was more to him than the arrogant fly-boy persona. Maybe he was growing up, or maybe our time on Voyager just did a better job of stripping away all veneers and pretenses and revealing what had been there all along.

It took years, and many hesitant steps forward and back, but somehow he wormed his way inside my defenses, and I actually let him in. I don't mean physically--when I was half-crazed from blood fever and throwing myself at him, begging him for it, he didn't take advantage of me. Who'd have thought Tom Paris had the soul of a gentleman?

"Someday I hope to hear you say those words to me again, and mean it," he said, when it was all over.

"Be careful what you wish for," I'd told him.

Little did I dream that in the weightlessness of space, on the Day of Honor, I'd fulfill that wish with my last, dying breath.

I'll say it honestly: B'Elanna isn't my usual type. As I mentioned before, we met during my brief and not so honorable stint in the Maquis. She didn't like me and it's safe to say that the feeling was entirely mutual. I didn't find her particularly desirable either. I reduced B'Elanna to a bundle of anger, noting the thinly veiled fury which always seemed to bubble up from inside of her. She didn't speak as much as she shouted back then and I didn't find her obvious disdain for me attractive either (and no, I didn't think B'Elanna was playing hard to get like some women do. She simply didn't want anything to do with me). Chalk this up as yet another first: I was suddenly looking at a woman as asexual. As much as I would have liked to have said I'd slept with a Klingon, B'Elanna Torres was not on my short list of women.

Which makes what just happened so... odd. That after four years on Voyager, after four years of verbal sparring, that she would be here, in my bed.

In the vacuum of space, with nothing between us, she told me she loved me. I was taken aback and came back with a snappy (if not thoughtless) remark about her timing. Yes, I had made no bones about my growing attraction to her, my desire to be something more than just her friend and occasional dinner partner or holodeck sparring buddy. The B'Elanna on Voyager was very different than the one I'd met in the Maquis, but I'm not sure if the difference was actually a change B'Elanna had undergone or a new perspective on my part. So mark that as another first. I had gotten to know a woman before sleeping with her and I was dismayed by the sensation of longing that had nothing to do with physical attraction, but more of a desire for her to want to be with me as much I wanted to be with her.

So in the corridor, outside of the mess hall after Tuvok's promotion, I kissed her. If the Doctor hadn't interrupted us, I would have asked B'Elanna on the spot if she wanted to come to my quarters with me. As she hurried away, I watched, absolutely weak in the knees over a kiss. A kiss. Unbelievable. And so, I invited her to dinner.

"I'll replicate it myself," I said.

"You're too good to me," she answered.

So that's how I, B'Elanna Torres, ended up here. In front of Tom Paris' door.

I hesitated in the corridor. My palms were sweaty; I cursed myself for being a coward. I knew all too well what had been his intention when he invited me to dinner. I glanced down at the outfit I'd chosen; I'd certainly conformed to his expectations. I wondered wildly whether it was too late to back out, and then signaled.

He greeted me with a wide smile. I saw a hint of worry in his eyes, which was quickly wiped away. Had he been afraid I wasn't going to show up? Somehow, that thought gave me confidence. I handed him the bottle of wine I'd brought.

Damn. Just. Damn.

She showed up in a knee-length blue dress I'd never seen before. Sleeveless, with a plunging neckline revealing just a hint of cleavage, and in it, she looked damned sexy. Especially those strappy blue high heeled sandals. Wow. She smiled at me.

"Aren't you going to invite me in, Lieutenant?" She tipped her head to the side, almost demurely.

"Uh," I said embarrassed, stepping aside. "Come in."

I saw that Tom had already set the table and the meal was waiting. "Let's start with this," Tom said, opening the wine. He poured two crystal glasses and handed me one.

"Thank you," I said, sitting on the couch. He joined me.

"Cheers," he said, clinking his glass against mine. Our hands met, and at his touch I felt something electric pass between us. He took a sip. "Tastes wonderful." Leaning forward, he kissed me, more softly than in the corridor outside the mess hall earlier. "And so do you."

In answer, I wound my arms around his neck and kissed him again.

Maybe it was the wine, but gradually I found myself losing some of my inhibitions. We made ourselves more comfortable on the couch. Tom touched my shoulder and traced his way slowly down my bare arm. I shivered in anticipation. His eyes met mine. Looking into their blue depths, I saw desire, but also something else, something deeper, more tender, than I'd ever seen before.

His hands were gently stroking both my arms now, and then my neck. Without being consciously aware of what I was doing, I reached up and smoothed his hair, then ran my hands lightly down his chest. His breathing changed; he was becoming more excited. So was I.

And then his hand brushed my breast. Automatically, I stiffened, then cursed myself for my reaction. This wasn't Johnny, I reminded myself. Or Max. Why the hell did I have to think of them now? I forced myself to relax again.

Tom hesitated, and then taking my smile for approval, resumed his explorations of my body. I lay back and closed my eyes, giving myself up to the moment. Tentatively and then with growing confidence, I began to trace circles on his back and shoulders, then moved lower.

We never made it off the couch. The lasagna I'd replicated slowly congealed, the salad turned brown and wilted. But I didn't care. Corny as it sounds, the wine -- and B'Elanna's kisses -- were enough sustenance for me.

During one kiss, my hand wandered down her body, cupping her left breast beneath the silky blue material. B'Elanna looked startled.

"Sorry," I said. I pulled my hand away.

She nodded. "It's all right."

I couldn't tell if she had accepted my apology or if it was all right to touch her. She didn't clarify and I forgot Odile's basic tenet of sex: it's okay to ask.

We finished off the entire bottle of wine that night. Her skirt inched up progressively as we made ourselves comfortable on the couch. She didn't seem to mind my hands anymore, not even when I pushed her panties aside. Her hands were exploring just as hastily. We lay there, me on top of B'Elanna, and she slipped her hand beneath the waist band of my pants.

I pressed my lips against her neck, in a place where I knew her uniform collar would hide any evidence of our off-duty activities. Her hands were stroking my hair, her legs curled around my body. It was a deliciously uncomfortable position. By now, I had pushed one strap of her dress to the side, exposing one breast completely. I reached to uncover the other, but B'Elanna pushed me away, struggling to pull her dress back on.

"I-- I'm sorry," I said awkwardly, pulling away. "I guess I just thought--"

"No, no, it's okay."

"I don't want to make you do anything you're, um, not comfortable with."

She took a deep breath. "No," she said softly. "I want to." Her eyes glistened in the light. "I've wanted to for a long time, Tom, but--"


"Someone...once told me my breasts--" she hesitated. "He said that they were uneven," she finished in a rush.

I sat back on my heels. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"A former lover. He didn't like them," she said, her lips twisting unpleasantly. I wanted to tell her that I wasn't like that other guy, that I wouldn't say those things to her. But then, I'd made a career out of lying to women just to have sex with them.

"And another thing," B'Elanna said, still not meeting my eyes. "I am half Klingon. There are more differences than just forehead ridges."

"And you think that matters?"

"It did to him."

So I took my shirt off first. I've never deluded myself that I have a perfect body. And now, I'm past thirty, gaining weight, and generally not as trim as I used to be. I have hair on my chest as well, something some of the women I've been with have found unattractive. There's a scar that runs down my side, a memento from a bar fight, the reason for which has been lost in the haze of years tinted with alcohol. There are a thousand deficiencies on my body, and I wanted B'Elanna to see that for herself.

"Well?" I said. B'Elanna didn't respond at first. She let her fingers run over my chest, circling my nipples carefully. And then, she pulled away and lifted her arms over her head. I took the hint and tugged at her dress. I'm not sure I said anything at first, only that I reached out to touch her. She lowered her eyes self-consciously as I held her in my arms. Her skin was soft, smooth, a beautiful golden-brown. Yes, there were slight anatomical differences, such as the more pronounced spinal column and the extra ribs, but I could see no imperfections. Maybe that's how I first knew this was something more than lust; she looked perfect to me. I lifted B'Elanna's chin up so that I was looking her straight in the eye. "You're beautiful," I told her and the color rose in her cheeks.

Sex on a couch is another one of those things that sounds good in principle, but in reality is very difficult. Especially when it's a Starfleet-issued couch. Those bureaucrats in Starship Interior Design believe a couch is for sitting, perhaps for lounging, but never for sex. I had one leg on the ground, bracing myself, and B'Elanna was squeezed up against the back, her neck bent in an awkward position. Her hands stroked my back as I explored every inch of her. She was quiet, B'Elanna was, surprisingly so. I had expected her to be loud, boisterous -- like I said, I'd never been with a Klingon before but I'd heard the stories. She wasn't like Odile or La Deuxieme, because she didn't react overtly to anything I did or direct me verbally. I had no idea what B'Elanna liked, had no previous experience with Klingons to guide me. I did know that I loved the taste of B'Elanna instantly, that I loved the feel of her skin against my tongue. I paused at the top of her thigh, and then moved my head lower.

She jerked against me and I raised my head to look at her. Her eyes were closed, a thin sheen of perspiration across her forehead ridges. Her fingers tightened against my shoulders and so I kept licking between her legs, pressing my face against her, breathing in that musky scent that was uniquely B'Elanna. I stroked her long and deep, pressing harder. B'Elanna gasped, her body jerking involuntarily. She lay still after a couple of moments, her breath shallow, almost guttural since it came from deep in her throat.

"Hey," I said.

She opened her eyes and looked at me with embarrassment.

"I enjoyed that," she said shyly. She could mean one of two things and both made me feel vaguely discomfited and guilty. I worked my way up her body, settling myself unevenly across her. She stroked my skin idly. "I've never been good in bed," she confessed.

"It's okay," I said, feeling vaguely stupid. As if it didn't matter. It did matter. It mattered to me that she got something out of it, that she understood that it wasn't just me here, but the two of us. And it bothered me that someone had once told her that her breasts were uneven. I thought they were beautiful; round, soft, soft pink nipples surrounded by pale brown. I sucked on her left one, my hands moving downward, and I heard her sigh contentedly, and felt her reach for me. She pulled my pants down, and then my boxers. Finally, skin on skin. She reached down to stroke between my legs. Her movements were no longer tentative.

"B'Elanna," I said, trying to position myself to enter her, but the angle wasn't quite right. I tried once and then a second time. My thrusts were low and shallow. Finally I said, "This isn't going to work."

B'Elanna giggled, a little self-consciously.

"Um," I said, "maybe you should, um, sit up and, um, swing your legs over the edge..."

B'Elanna nodded and I could tell she was embarrassed. "Better?" she asked after repositioning herself.

"Much." I braced myself against the back of the sofa and pushed into her, slowly at first. B'Elanna leaned her head back, her neck arching as I pushed all the way into her. Her legs curled around my waist, pulling me in closer. Her head tipped back as I leaned into her, pushing harder, faster.

B'Elanna gasped. Louder than she had the first time she'd come and she dug her fingernails into my back. "Come on, Tom," she whispered, her voice sound strangely hoarse. "I know you're close, go on..."

"B'Elanna," I whispered to her in that moment before I collapsed across her. She held me, her hands warm against my back and after a moment, I tried to withdraw, but couldn't. I could feel B'Elanna's muscles contracting around me. "Uh..."

B'Elanna blushed. "Uh, it's a Klingon thing..." she mumbled under her breath. "Wait a few seconds."

I relaxed and despite the unfamiliarity of not being able to withdraw, (I also hoped I wasn't too heavy) I found that the sensation was pleasant. I kissed B'Elanna.

"I love you," she said, resting her head against my shoulder.

Sleeping arrangements after sex are always tricky, but even more so when you are colleagues who are most definitely going to see each other again. After cuddling on the sofa for some time, we somehow made it to my bed but after a few minutes, I felt B'Elanna rise. I grabbed her by the wrist.

"Where are you going?" I asked.

"Back to my quarters." She was sitting on the edge of the bed, not looking at me, still naked. I ran my fingers down her back and she shivered. "I sleep better there."

"Stay," I said quietly. And I meant more in that word than simply "don't leave me alone." I meant it as in "don't leave me ever." A subtle distinction, one I was uncomfortable with, but could accept. This wasn't just about sex. I wanted her to know that.

"I have an early shift."

"And I have an alarm."

We stared at each other. And then, B'Elanna smiled, and lay back down. I spooned my body around hers, wrapping one leg around her. I meant it as a sign of comfort, but now, in retrospect, even at that early stage in our relationship, I think I was trying to tell B'Elanna that now that I had her, I was never going to let her go.

Something was prodding me in the lower back. More asleep than awake, I shifted slightly and felt a pair of arms tighten around me. I rolled over and came face to face with Tom. Full memory of the night before flooded over me; a night of 'firsts.' The first time Tom and I had made love, the first time I'd been on the receiving end of oral sex, the first time I'd spent the entire night in someone's arms and woke to see him smiling at me.

I stared at him wonderingly. His blond hair was tousled; paler stubble on his chin matched the hairs on his chest and arms. "Hey, beautiful, " he said softly.

"Hey yourself," I said and blinked back sudden (and inexplicable) tears.

He pulled me closer, kissed me softly, lingeringly. I closed my eyes as he began to make love to me again. Not like the heated passion of the night before; this was softer, slower, gentler but with no less feeling. I don't think he was completely awake. Afterward, we both lay back on the pillows, sated.

The chime of the computer roused me from the light doze I'd fallen into. "I need to get up!" I said, pushing the covers back. "I've got alpha shift."

"Me, too," Tom said, getting out of bed as well. He gestured toward the bathroom with a grin. "To save time, you know, we could shower together."

"To save time, yes," I replied with a straight face.

The sonic shower felt good, as did Tom's hands moving over my body once more. I welcomed his touch, but I was a little uncomfortable with the intensity of his gaze. Without realizing it, I'd crossed my arms over my chest. Gently, he moved them aside and bent to kiss the hollow between my breasts. I moaned softly.

"That's better," he muttered "Mon petit chou."

I blinked. "What did you say? Did you just call me a shoe?"

He looked at me, his lips pressing into a straight line. "No," he said finally. He shook his head. "Never." He leaned down and nibbled at my neck. I let my fingers run through his hair as he held me close.

The sonic pulses massaged the bruises (from the rough material of the sofa, to name one source) and soreness away. The side of my chest was tender, where B'Elanna's nails had raked me. I saw several welts on B'Elanna's skin, hickeys, including a rather large one on her left breast. She seemed uneasy but I couldn't help but trace the outline of each one with my fingers. She held on to me in a way that wasn't sexual, and when I knelt between her legs, she pressed back against the wall, letting me explore.

"I want to memorize you," I told her. It was a line I'd used on a dozen women before but with B'Elanna, I meant it. She didn't speak, only nodded her permission.

I kissed her, wrapping my arms around her tightly. I loved the feel of her skin against mine. Neither of us spoke. It took the second chime of the computer to remind us that unlike the night before, time was in limited supply this morning.

While Tom made breakfast for us, I wandered into the next room and picked up my clothes. I frowned over the limp dress. Even if it wasn't creased, there was undeniably a large stain down the front of the skirt.

"Do you mind if I use some of your replicator credits?" I asked him. "I'll pay you back later this morning."

Tom looked up from the jar of peanut butter. "What?"

"So I can replicate a new uniform." I blushed. "I can't very well wear this thing -–" I indicated the dress "-- in the corridors at this hour."

"Why not?" Tom said, laughing. He took the crumpled material from my hands. "Start a new fashion."

I didn't know what was harder to accept, the tender, considerate lover of the night before or this teasing, totally at ease companion of the present. Sex was one thing, but I'd held myself apart for so long, never letting down my guard for fear of being hurt that I wasn't quite sure how to respond to an actual relationship. I went to the replicator and punched in my codes.

"I have a shift with the Doctor all week," Tom said. "Between that and regular Bridge duty, it's going to be a tough week. I'm not sure I'm going to have a lot of free time."

"I understand," I said automatically. Why was he telling me this? The toast stuck in my throat as I suddenly realized this was his way of letting me down lightly. Sure, it's been fun, B'Elanna, and I'll see you around. Maybe. I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks. My mother's words echoed in my mind: they always leave.

"But I'll call you," Tom said.

"Call?" I asked, confused.

"Comm you. You know, so we can figure out when's the next time we can get together."

My knees felt weak at the wave of sudden relief that went through me. Curiously intent, Tom's eyes met mine. "I mean it," he said.

I nodded, and then caught sight of the chronometer. I gave my uniform jacket a final tug and then got up. "I've really got to get going."

"I'm sorry about dinner," he said suddenly. He looked as though there were more he wanted to say, but didn't.

I smiled. "Thanks for breakfast." It seemed like such an inadequate thing to say after all he'd done for me, but there it was. "See you."

I stared at the door for a long time after she was gone. I admitted to feeling a little apprehensive. She had seemed distant, almost cool, and I wondered if perhaps I had done something to upset her. But as I busied myself cleaning up the remains of our breakfast, I knew I wouldn't let B'Elanna go. I'd most certainly give it another shot; I'd waited too long for this to let her get away from me now.

"I love you," I said quietly. When I turned around, I saw her blue dress, still lying on the sofa. I picked it up and held it to my face.

~ the end

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