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"Closing In"
by Margaret Berger (BergerMS@aol.com)
copyright 1997
(Voy, P/Tish, PG, 1/3)

Hello, again, everyone! Usual introductory spiel: First of all, don't be scared off by the PG. I didn't put the rating in the subject line because last time I did that ("Enmity Mine") I think a lot of people didn't even bother to read the story, figuring it was for kids.

This one's not. There's nothing in it to offend a minor's sensibilities, but it's not a kiddie story. Also, regarding the "P/Tish" romance code above: This is not a romance. This is not even a P/T story, really. It's got P/T as a backdrop, but it's actually an Owen Paris introspective.

Some of you may have seen the first part of this story before, through CPSG or PTF (it was posted in 2 parts to PTF). This is the first time the rest of the story is being posted.

Onto the disclaimers: Yaddy yaddy ya. Everyone under the age of 35 belongs to me, everyone else belongs to Paramount. I've granted names to all the characters who haven't been named in canon.

Archive and distribution: Sure, wherever you like! Just keep my name and the above disclaimer securely affixed to the story.

Feedback, as always, is warmly welcomed at the above edress.

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"Are they here yet, Papa?"

The voice shatters my concentration, and I turn from the window where I've been standing, robot-like, for an hour. "No, not yet, sweetie. They're not here yet."

The innocent angel with my daughter's face and her father's dark hair pouts. "When will they get here?"

"Soon, sweetie. Ask Grandma to give you a snack to help pass the time."

Blue eyes light up. "Maybe she'll give me some chocolate!" The imp scampers out, thoughts of the momentous occasion soon to occur apparently outweighed by the thought of some of Grandma's homemade chocolate. Well, after all, how momentous is it, really, to her? Another uncle, another aunt. Some more cousins. She already has plenty of those, albeit mostly on her father's side.

But are any so notorious as the uncle she is due to meet today? Tom Paris. Her uncle. My son.

I turn to the window again, caught by an unexpected but not unfamiliar rush of emotions, and look impatiently into the sky. I don't know how long I've been standing there when I see it, the faint smudge in the sky that quickly resolves itself into a Fleet hovercar.

I've seen hundreds of them approach the house in the past 20 years, but none have ever affected me this strongly. *He's* flying the craft. I can tell, even after all this time. Maneuvers, quick and deliberate. Unbearably graceful. The hovercar dips towards the ground at the last instant. He's not showing off, mind you. It's just the way he flies. Perfectly. Naturally. Like the way his mother paints, like the way his sisters sing. Like nothing I do is natural, except, perhaps, for breathing.

I haunt the window, hidden by the curtains. The hovercar lands, flawlessly. I'm grading the landing in my mind before I realize it, and of course he gets a perfect score. I wonder if I'll tell him, this time. I never told him the mental grades when he was younger, unless he did something and it was less than perfect ... I just assumed he'd know that if I said nothing, it meant he did it right. Stupid. He was just a boy. What was I thinking?

The hovercar has settled down now, and the hatch opens. Children come tumbling out. My grandchildren. I thought I had two, but it turns out I have six, four from a son I'd long since given up for dead. My son...

I see him, now, and my breath catches in my throat. He's as tall and slender as ever. As handsome as his sisters are beautiful, and fortunately immune to the Paris tendency to put on weight in mid-life.

His hair is glinting blond in the sunlight, and I see a bit more scalp than there used to be. At least that's not my fault. It's that pesky X chromosome he inherited from his mother; her father was completely bald by 35. Tom's escaped the worst of it, luckily. He's still got most of his hair. If I were him I'd have had treatments to arrest the hair loss, but Tom would never do something like that, if only because he'd know I'd approve of it.

He's so stubborn. *That* he inherited from me. Oh, I'm sure he got a healthy dose of it from his mother -- his sisters are certainly strong-willed -- but Tom got the special brand of bullheadedness long associated with the Paris male, passed down directly from father to son on the Y chromosome. "You're such a Paris," my mother would say to me, rolling her eyes. She'd say the same thing to my father, and my brother, and my uncles, and any other male Paris who happened by. We could always be counted on to say *something* that branded us as stubborn and obstinate and generally unable to budge an inch.

Tom's helping someone out of the hovercar. I see the ridges on her forehead and realize that the woman is B'Elanna Torres, the dark-haired engineer who's captured my son's heart. I look closely at her through the window. An exotic beauty. Raven haired and fiery-eyed, as different from my son as night is from day. She's carrying a bundle in her arms. The bundle is squirming. Presumably it's Harry, my youngest grandchild.

Well, now. They're all out, milling about the hovercar. Tom ducks back inside, and starts reaching for baby equipment. He hands a stroller out the door, and the tallest child pops up to take it, blonde hair fairly glowing in the sun. This one must be Katie, the oldest, "named after me!" Kathryn had said proudly when I'd spoken to her yesterday. I'd still been in shock. *Four* children? My boy, the one I'd been convinced would never settle down long enough to get married, had been married for over seven years and had four children? Kathryn had raised an eyebrow and leaned in close to the viewscreen. She was not, she confided, entirely convinced that Tom and B'Elanna were finished yet. They had too much fun with the babies.

Tom and B'Elanna. B'Elanna and Tom. Kathryn rarely mentioned the one name without speaking the name of the other in the same breath. Inseparable, apparently, and you can not imagine how difficult it is for me to imagine my son like this: a happily married man, a devoted father, a dedicated and decorated officer.

I pause in my thoughts and look out the window. Tom's not wearing his uniform, so I won't get to see the newly minted captain's pips I know he's been granted. I wonder how he took it. A full pardon, *and* a promotion to captain, all in one day, probably in the space of 5 minutes. Kathryn was never one to hold back good news. I wish I'd been the one to tell him, but that pleasure really belonged to the woman who did the mentoring job I wasn't able to. Kathryn had gotten confirmation of Tom's new rank while she was talking to me, and her eyes sparkled with an almost maternal pride. "I couldn't help it, Admiral," she'd said. "I *had* to keep promoting him. He kept on saving the ship." Starting from the beginning of their unplanned voyage, it seemed, Tom had been a hero, even risking his life to save Chakotay's, when, as far as I can tell, he'd had no reason to do so.

The first promotion came pretty quickly; Kathryn granted Tom a field commission barely a day after they'd escaped from the Kazon. I always knew she was intelligent. The second promotion took a few years. Seems Tom had something of a self-confidence problem for a while -- no real surprise, there. I wonder how much of it is directly my fault, and how much of it can be blamed on unfortunate circumstances.

I shake my head. Thoughts like these serve no purpose. What's done is done. I can't change the past, much as I might like to. I can only hope to shape the future into a better one than I'd ever thought I'd have the chance to see.

A soft step alerts me to another presence. A familiar, loved scent, and a gentle touch on my arm. Mariel looks out the window, sees the Paris-Torres clan getting organized. "How long have they been here?" she asks, softly.

"A few minutes," I confess. I should have called her immediately. After all, Tom is her son as much as he is mine, maybe more. But she's not filled with the same anxiety I am. She will open her arms and Tom will come into them and hug her until she can't breathe. Same as always. She knows this, as do I, and we also know that Tom will not greet me the same way, if he can bring himself to greet me at all.

I'm still surprised he agreed to come here. The night I threw him out, he swore he'd never come back, and even though it happened almost 15 years ago, I wouldn't be surprised if the harsh words we'd exchanged weren't as fresh in his mind as they are in mine. Stubborn, I tell you. Those Paris Y chromosomes are always hard at work.

Mariel watches the family outside for another minute. It seems to be taking them a long time to get ready. Then she says softly, "I'll tell the girls they're here." She leaves the room, and I'm alone again, hovering behind the curtains.

The people outside the window look like they're ready to move forward. The three older children are running around the lawn, aiming in the general direction of the house, and B'Elanna takes a few steps forward before she realizes that Tom isn't following. He's standing back, milling about by the hovercar. My heart sinks. He hasn't forgiven me. All this time has passed, and he's still angry.

Then I notice his stance, the particular set to his jaw, the way his arms are crossed defensively across his chest. I recognize the posture. Before track meets, before baseball games, before tests ... I've seen this pose before. He's nervous.

It hits me like a phaser bolt. My boy, my youngest, my baby ... who has grown into a man, who has flown a shuttle at warp 10 -- warp 10! -- who has faced death more times than I care to imagine, who has risked life and limb for his ship on countless occasions, this proud, fearless, heroic man is afraid. Of me. My son is afraid to see me.

I'm trembling. I need to see him. I need to hold him and tell him all the things I've never said out loud, but I can only do that if he is willing to take the steps to the house, because I can't go out there and impose myself upon him. He may hate me. I know, he's my son, but still -- he may hate me. The things I said to him that night ... they're burned into my brain, still playing in my nightmares. "I'm ashamed of myself, Tom," I'd had the audacity to say. "Ashamed that I've somehow managed to raise a son with so little sense of morality or basic judgment."

Ashamed of *myself*? Good gods. It's a wonder he didn't punch me. How could I have been so self-centered, so blind to everything? On what must have been the worst night of Tom's young life, when everything he'd ever wanted had just crumbled to dust beneath his fingers, I'd been stupid enough to say I was ashamed of *myself*, as if even the credit for Tom's errors belonged to me. I can see it now, of course, how I'd always taken credit for every success he had. It had been, surely, *my* encouragement, *my* praise, *my* dedication that had led to his achievements. And then, when those achievements were erased, that was my doing, too.

On top of it all, I'd said that he had no sense of morality, when he'd clearly demonstrated that very quality by confessing in the first place. Of course I'd ignored that entirely, as had everyone else in Starfleet. Because, of course, what was important was *not* that he'd confessed, but that he'd lied in the first place. I'm sorry, but I can't tell you why he did it. I never took the time to ask. I do know at least part of the answer, and I'm ashamed to admit that the reason has in large part to do with me, me and my unrealistic expectations that no one could possibly live up to.

I wish I could blame someone for this, not take responsibility for a father-son relationship that went so dreadfully astray, but I can't. I can't say I lacked appropriate role-models; I had a close and wonderful relationship with my father, and he with his. No, this screw-up was my fault and mine alone. It was just that Tom was *so* talented. So bright, so witty, precociously adept at the helm. I knew he'd be another star in Starfleet. I *knew* it. So I pushed, from the beginning, and we spent weekends at the Academy, in the museums and at the flight simulators and in the massive library. Would you believe that Tom was accepted to the Academy at 16? He was. Of course he was; he'd been prepped for it his whole life. And, more fool I, I never took the time to see that beneath the junior officer veneer was a little boy who should have been spending his time fishing or playing baseball.

I feel a few tears well up in my eyes. Kathryn couldn't stop talking about the officer Tom had become, how she and Commander Chakotay had started to give him command responsibilities slowly, and how he'd risen to the challenge. How eventually, in the ninth year of their journey, Chakotay had recommended Tom for the promotion that would put them at equal rank, and ahead of Tuvok. How Tom had commanded Voyager when Kathryn and Chakotay had been stricken with an alien virus, and had lain in Sickbay, barely alive, for almost six months. He'd succeeded at command far beyond their wildest hopes. Of course he had. I'd trained him to lead since he was a child. I just wish I'd let him *play*, more.

As in so many things, it is far, far too late to correct those errors of the past now. At least I can take solace in the knowledge that the past hasn't traumatized Tom completely. In the midst of all the constant craziness that was Voyager's daily life in the Delta Quadrant, Tom somehow found the time and energy to woo and wed B'Elanna Torres, no easy feat, Kathryn assures me. A half-Klingon. I'm not surprised. Tom never liked anything to be too easy, and that extends, I suspect, to romantic and sexual entanglements as well.

Sexual entanglements. Hmm. I purse my lips. Tom and B'Elanna have been married for seven years. Katie will turn eight next month. I am resolved *not* to comment, afraid that Tom will take it the wrong way, but surely it's a little amusing? An accidental pregnancy, in this day and age? I couldn't care less about things like that -- certainly Tom knows this about me, at least. A baby born in or out of wedlock is still a baby in need of two loving parents, and Katie had them, so why should I care when the wedding took place, or if it took place at all? They love her, and they're raising her together, and from what Kathryn has told me, Katie is a bright, cheerful, mischievous little girl, always getting into trouble and charming everyone she meets with an impish grin inherited directly from her father.

They've been outside for almost 10 minutes now, and Tom hasn't moved any closer towards the house. More footsteps behind me. The girls. Good lord, Emmy is closer to 50 than 40, and Becca just turned 44. I should really stop referring to them as the girls, but I can't. They're my babies, too, no matter how old they get, and anyway, they still call me Daddy.

"Daddy?" It's Emmy's soft soprano. "Mom says they're here." I nod and move aside, let my blonde beauties peek out past the curtains.

Becca's got a warm, soft smile on her face. She looks just like her mother when she smiles like that. "He looks good," she says.

"They look happy," Emmy answers. I peer out the window. B'Elanna has her hand to Tom's cheek, soothing him. It's a tender and intimate moment and I look away, feeling as if I'm intruding.

It takes a moment longer before the girls realize that Tom isn't moving towards the house. Becca turns to me with her mother's frown. "Aren't they coming in?"

"I don't know," I say honestly. "I'm not sure Tom wants to."

"He'll come," Emmy says confidently. "He made it this far, Daddy. Give him a minute. This must be hard for him."

I look at her, blue eyes so like her brother's, and wonder what she knows. They hadn't been home that night, THE night. I'd made them all leave as soon as I'd found out Tom was home. By the time they returned, the next morning, Tom had packed his bags and was gone, not to be heard from nor heard of again until Ben Sisko had contacted me a year later. "The border patrol arrested your son Tom", Ben had said seriously. "He was flying for the Maquis. I thought you'd want to know." He mercifully hadn't said the rest, that Tom was surely going to be convicted of treason and sent to prison.

I couldn't answer him. The shock was too great. *My* son, in prison? Branded a traitor to the Federation? I couldn't wrap my mind around it. When I told Mariel and the girls, they insisted on going to the trial. I would have forbade them, if I'd thought they would listen to me, but I settled instead for simply not going, myself. I couldn't bring myself to appear there, to indicate in any manner whatsoever that I supported the man my boy had become. And yet ... I watched the proceedings on a secure Fleet channel, and when I heard them pronounce the guilty verdict, I'd cried, alone in my study.

We all make bad decisions, decisions that haunt us for years afterwards. But the decision I'd made that night after Tom was forced to resign his commission ... this one was different. Never had I so clearly seen the consequences of my own actions. A few words. That's all it took to set Tom down a path of self- destruction. "Get out of my house," I'd ordered. If I'd only said, "Get some sleep and we'll talk about it in the morning," who knows what might have happened? Instead I yelled at him, said horrible things, used terrible cutting words no man should use to a stranger, much less to his own son. What a complete miscarriage of parental responsibility. I still have nightmares about it, even now, that wake me up drenched in sweat. And I still remember the deadened look in Tom's eyes after I'd finished my tirade, a look that told me clearly I'd stripped away whatever little self-respect he'd had left. I know my god will forgive me, but I pray, too, that Tom might find the same forgiveness in his heart.

I've been very quiet for the past few minutes, but the girls are used to that, and they don't comment. I've become very reflective since Tom disappeared. We watch out the window. Tom is shaking his head slowly, arms still wrapped across his chest. He won't, or can't, come closer to the house. Katie sees his hesitation and bounds across the lawn to him, tugs at his shirt. He bends down, way down, so their eyes are level. I'm not sure what she says to him, but I see him glance uncertainly at the house. Instinctively, I shrink back into the shadows, though I know full well Tom can't see me through the tinted glass.

B'Elanna is at Tom's shoulder, and her lips are moving. Tom glances up at her, and I'm struck by the trust I see in his eyes. Katie's speaking again, now bouncing up and down on her heels in a manner familiar to any Paris parent. Suddenly, Tom swoops and envelops her in his arms, planting a rainfall of tiny kisses on her head. Decisively, he stands up and takes a deep breath. Stomach in, chest out, head tall, just the way I'd taught him.

They start across the lawn, and suddenly my knees feel a little bit weak. My heart is pounding in my chest. When they've almost reached the door, I turn to the girls and croak, "Go get your mother." They look at me reproachfully before they leave the room, knowing full well I'm sending them away so that I can greet Tom and his family at the door, alone.

The doorbell rings. I panic. I don't know what to say. What if he won't talk to me? What if he still hates me? What if, what if, what if ... I feel like I'm drowning. I can't breathe.

I can't do this.

I have to do this. He's my son.

I love him.

My hand is reaching for the doorknob even as my heart thuds in my chest. It takes a real effort of will to turn the old- fashioned knob. It's an big brass knob, several feet from the ground, and Tom used to hang from it when he was a boy.

The door's opening, even though I'm not conscious of exerting any force to make it happen. Suddenly the house seems very quiet. I hear nothing but the pounding of my pulse in my ears. With a sudden tensing of my muscles, I pull the door open all the way, and I see Tom's family up close for the first time.

Tiny Harry, in his mother's arms, looks at me curiously for a moment before his eyes are drawn to the sunlight reflecting off the panes of glass set high in the door. Little Megan is hiding behind her older brother Sean, and he in turn is half hidden behind Katie. I lift my eyes up, meet B'Elanna's frankly appraising gaze. Her deep brown eyes are neutral, neither particularly friendly nor particularly hostile. I wonder, not for the first time, what Tom has told her about me.

Lastly, I let my eyes rest on Tom. It almost hurts, to see him so close, in the flesh, and to be so aware of the chasm that still separates us -- a chasm of my own creation. Tom looks back at me, tensely. His eyes are veiled and guarded, and he's silent, waiting for me to take the first big step into speech.

I'm not sure I can bring myself to do it. What words can I say to make it right, to begin to rebuild the shattered bonds of a relationship that had once meant so much to both of us? I'm surprised to hear myself begin to speak, and I wonder what I'll say.

"Welcome home, son."

His eyes jump to mine, blue meeting identical blue in wide- eyed surprise at the acknowledgment of the familial bond. He still doesn't speak, but there's a softening of the hard lines etched around his eyes and mouth, and I see his hand squeeze B'Elanna's arm briefly.

They enter the house, and as I shut the door behind them, I allow myself the tiniest thread of hope. He's my son.

-----

I turn around after making sure the door's shut completely, so that no errant drafts creep into the already chilly hall. Tom's standing stock still, gazing around with eyes that perfectly mask the jumble of emotions which are surely running through him. The children are silent, too, although I don't expect that state of affairs to persist for very long. Rambunctious, Kathryn had said, after searching for several seconds to find a word to describe the Paris-Torres children. Definitely ... rambunctious. This doesn't surprise me in the slightest.

However, for the time being, the little ones are quiet, staring around the massive entranceway with no small amount of wonder in their eyes. It is, admittedly, an impressive hall, both in design and content, built specifically to display the assorted relics of our family's imposing military history. Medals, awards, commendations, photographs, holographs ... each commemorating one historical occasion or another at which a Paris was present. As big as the hall is, it's not big enough; to display everything, we're forced to rotate the collection periodically.

B'Elanna is looking around, too, her gaze flicking quickly from one memento to another. I find myself searching her face for a clue of what she's thinking, and I'm frustrated that I can find no hint of it. I'm suddenly desperate to get to know her, to understand her and talk to her. Not out of some pathetic desire to have her tell me stories about my son, but because I'm afraid that only through B'Elanna will I have any chance of reaching Tom.

None of them have yet said a word. The children keep looking over at their father, waiting, I suspect, for a cue from him that it's okay to break the silence. He says nothing, and I realize with a sinking heart that he's simply not going to talk to me. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

No! I dismiss the gloomy thought. He's here, isn't he? There's hope, still.

Quick, hurried footsteps echo in the hall. A joyful cry torn from two throats at the same time. "Tommy!" A flash of movement and Emmy and Becca are in Tom's arms, wrapped tightly in a double hug, and for a second I can imagine it's 25 years earlier, and the girls have just arrived home from their summer abroad and have rushed in from the hovercar to find Tom waiting impatiently in the great hall for them, for the first time taller than them both, and so excited to see them he's nearly bouncing off the walls.

Then I blink my eyes and the vision fades, but not entirely, since Tom is still hugging Becca and Emmy, and they're still hugging him. He hasn't spoken yet but he's wearing an utterly delighted smile on his face, and I'm almost pained by the brilliance of it. I haven't seen that smile on him in a long time, long before he left the house, long before I'd lost him.

"Tom?" A hesitant voice floats through the hall and Tom looks up, the smile fading as something very similar to grief crosses his features.

"Mom?" Emmy and Becca slip out of Tom's arms and he swallows, blinking back a sudden onslaught of unexpected tears as Mariel walks a few steps closer to him. I'm struck, suddenly, by how small she is in comparison to him, yet how strong she looks. Composed, collected, with a welcoming smile on her face that speaks of nothing but warmth and love. He's over to her in an instant, and as I knew he would, he picks her up off the floor and wraps her in a hug so tight that she says, as she always has, "Tom, you're choking me."

His grip on her loosens just a bit, and he clings to her for a few more minutes before one of them, I can't tell who, subtly breaks them apart. Mariel is blinking back tears, too, as are Emmy and Becca. As I stand to the side viewing this emotional reunion I feel awkward and uncomfortable, almost like I don't belong here, wishing I could be part of it, but knowing that I can't. It's my own fault, I know, but that knowledge makes the pain no less difficult to bear.

Mariel is happier than I've seen her in a long time. It's not that she hasn't been happy -- although of course she was miserable after Voyager was lost, and all hands assumed lost with it -- but she's got an inner glow about her now. She'd thought she'd lost her baby, and now she's got him back. She rests her gaze briefly on each member of Tom's family, but in between she can't stop her eyes from coming back to Tom himself, standing there, alive and happy and healthy and finally home.

It's time, I see, for introductions. Antonio and Kurt have come into the hall, Tony carrying 7 year-old Lily, and Kurt holding 10 year- old Jacob's hand. Tom does the honors for his family, introducing B'Elanna, Katie, Sean, Megan, and baby Harry. In turn, he introduces them to Mariel, calling her "Grandma" with a wicked grin, not realizing that she's gotten used to that term years before. Aunts Becca and Emmy are next, then Tom pauses, hesitating, not sure which brother-in-law belongs to which sister.

Becca rescues him, patting Tony's arm fondly, and finishes the introductions. Kurt, ever gallant, graces B'Elanna's hand with a kiss, and Tony makes a remark about how he's glad to have another brunette in the family to help fight off all the blondes. B'Elanna grins at him and flashes a relieved smile at Tom -- I remember belatedly that Kathryn thought B'Elanna was a bit worried over the reception she'd get, being half-Klingon. As if that could possibly matter.

Finally, it's my turn, and they all turn to me. I swear to god, the temperature in the room drops 10 degrees in 10 seconds. Everyone tenses up, even the kids, although they're just taking their cues from the adults. Tom swallows hard and unclenches his jaw only with considerable effort. "Admiral Owen Paris," he says, by way of introduction. "Kids, that's your grandfather." He doesn't even look at me. At least, I think wryly, he remembered my name.

It's obviously not going to be easy with Tom, so I concentrate on my grandkids. Slowly, I bend down. It's best, I've learned, to greet children on their level. "Hi," I say solemnly.

"Hello," Katie says, scrunching up her brow in a very familiar manner. She's clearly the leader of this crew. Sean and Megan nod their heads at me nervously. They stare at me in silence for what seems to be a very long time to my poor aching knees. Finally, Katie says, "How long have you been an admiral?"

It's not a question I was expecting, but it's one I can answer readily enough. "A long time, Katie. Over 35 years."

Katie nods seriously. "Did you really used to teach Auntie Kath?"

I'm at a loss for a second until it dawns on me that she must be referring to Kathryn. Heavens. Auntie Kath? I have great trouble processing the image of the ever-poised Kathryn Janeway permitting herself to be called Auntie. However, that being neither here nor there, I nod. "Yes. I was her advisor when she was at the Academy. Then she served under my command for several years."

"She likes you," Katie says. "Do we have to call you Admiral, or can we call you Grandpa?"

"Grandpa will be fine," I say gravely, trying to be as serious as she is, although it's something of an effort.

"Okay," Katie says, then turns away, having apparently decided to conclude the interview. She looks up at Mariel hopefully and says, "Daddy said you always have some home-made cookies in the kitchen."

Mariel looks sideways at Tom, who shrugs back at her and raises his eyebrows, beatifically innocent. She smiles down at Katie. "That's right."

"I can show you where she keeps them," Lily volunteers.

"No, *I'll* show them!" Jacob insists.

Lily pouts. "You always get to do *everything*."

"That's 'cause I'm older," Jacob answers instantly. This is a very familiar argument which I'm not yet tired of hearing.

Katie intervenes, speaking to Lily. "Maybe you can show us where the kitchen is, and he can show us where Grandma keeps the cookies."

Lily and Jacob are temporarily silenced, and I'm impressed. Finally Jacob displays the familial Paris shrug, and says, "Okay." In a blur of confused motion, the 5 mobile children are out of the hall and off towards the kitchen.

Mariel smiles indulgently after them, and turns to Tom.

"She's quite the little diplomat."

Tom laughs. "Nah. She's just showing off. Wait until she gets comfortable here. She's the biggest terror on the ship."

Present tense, I note. As if they're still living on the vessel which was their home for so many long years. An understandable slip, but one that makes me wonder exactly what plans Tom and B'Elanna have for the future. Tom, newly commissioned captain, has already been offered his own ship, but I know the Academy would dearly love to have him at the flight school. B'Elanna, too, is being sought after by the Fleet Engineering Corp, and she'll have her pick of prestigious assignments. Wherever they decide to go, I know they'll go together, but I can't help hoping they'll stay here in San Francisco at the Academy. Close to home.

Selfish? Maybe so. But nonetheless, I want them here, where I can watch their children grow up.

Mariel's leading everyone out of the hall and towards the dining room. She's got a light lunch prepared, a simple buffet. Lots of Tom's favorite foods, and plenty of sweets for the children, if they can tear themselves away from the cookies in the kitchen. There's also a dish made out of something called leola root, which has got to be the vilest substance I've ever had the misfortune to taste, but which, it seems, is a favorite of all the children on Voyager.

Everyone's gone from the hall now, except for me. I don't know whether to follow them or not. Tom obviously isn't ready to talk to me, and I don't want to force him into it. I hear laughter from the kitchen, and head that way. I've got a sudden yen for a homemade chocolate chip cookie.

*****

Many hours later, I'm lying restlessly in bed. It's early morning, too early to be up, but I can't lie here any longer. While the reunion with Tom hadn't gone as badly as I'd feared, it also hadn't gone as well as I'd prayed for. Truth be told, it hasn't yet gone *anywhere*. He didn't say more than 10 words to me in total.

I see the tension in his face whenever he looks at me, so different from the simple joy in his face whenever he looks at anyone else. At least we didn't fight, and that's something of a relief. If nothing else, it gives me hope that we might still be able to have a civil conversation someday.

I can't stand this. I've been aching to talk to him for so long, to explain, to apologize -- but he won't talk to me, and I don't want to force a confrontation. I must have hurt him worse than I'd imagined. It's funny what memory will do; I remember ever single word of the shouting match we had on that last, terrible evening. I remember the anger in his voice, in *both* our voices. Most of all I remember the defeated look in his eyes. I'd destroyed him. What choice did he have but to leave?

And yet, memory is funny. Despite the crystal clear recollections etched in my brain, I'd still been able to convince myself over the years that those events actually weren't as bad as I remembered. That the words weren't truly so harsh. That the anger wasn't so violent. That the despair written in Tom's eyes wasn't so overwhelming. I managed to convince myself that Tom and I could somehow once again come together as father and son, but I'm not sure I believe it anymore, not now when I can see the way he looks at me.

Mariel shifts restlessly beside me and I force myself out of bed. No use lying here tossing and turning and bothering her. Wrapping myself in an old, old bathrobe, I stumble out to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. I'm surprised to hear low voices coming from the sitting room. I can't imagine who else could be awake at this hour.

Carefully, stealthily, I cross the hallway and peer into the sitting room. Good lord. The kids -- or rather, my children -- are still up. They must have been talking all night. Tom's sprawled on the couch, lying on his back with his head in B'Elanna's lap. Becca's curled up on the floor, leaning her back against Tony's legs, who's relaxing in the big green leather chair. Emmy and Kurt are sitting next to each other, leaning against the wall. Photo albums, conventional and holographic, are scattered around the room.

They're talking, quietly, but not so quietly that I have to strain to hear. They're discussing Tom and B'Elanna's children. Emmy and Becca are having a tough time picturing Tom as a father. They still see him as their baby brother, and his long absence fixed the image in their minds of him as an irresponsible, carefree 25 year old. When they saw him change baby Harry's diaper yesterday, with the ease and skill of long practice, I thought their eyes were going to pop out of their heads.

"So, let me see if I've got this right," Emmy says. "Katie is going to be eight. Sean is five." Tom nodded as best he could given the position he was lying in. "Megan is three?" Emmy waited for Tom's second nod before finishing, "And Harry is 6 months old."

B'Elanna answered, this time. "Right."

Becca's staring thoughtfully at Tom, working out something in her head. "Wait a minute," she says, and suddenly I know what she's thinking about. "*How* long did you say you've been married?"

"Seven years in August," Tom answers.

Wicked comprehension streaks across Becca's face. She sits up straight and exclaims gleefully, "Tommy, you knocked up your girlfriend!"

There is absolute silence in the room. I'm mortified. Common sense and tact have never been Becca's strong suit. I risk a peek at Tom. He's staring at Becca in consternation which is quickly turning into ... amusement? Without warning, he bursts out laughing, falling back against the couch and shaking helplessly.

Emmy and Becca are laughing too. In fact, all three of my children are in hysterics while their respective spouses stare at them in confusion. Tom gets his voice back first and manages to say, through the choked laughs, "Whose room is first?" at which point the three of them start laughing even harder.

Tony pokes Becca in the side. "What's going on?"

Becca is holding her stomach. "We bet ... when Tom was 17 ... we bet that'd he'd ..."

Emmy adds, "If he lost he'd have to scrub our rooms with a toothbrush..."

Tom gasps out, "Isn't there a statute of limitations on these things?"

B'Elanna's looking at the three of them, mystified, just beginning to get a grasp of the twisted sense of humor my three children shared. As bad as each one was alone, when they were together, there was nothing left sacred. "Are you telling me you bet that Tom would get his girlfriend pregnant?"

Emmy's still laughing, but she manages to nod. "I'm sorry, B'Elanna, but you have to understand what he was like when he was a teenager. He and that girl ... what was her name? Allison?"

"Amanda," Becca corrects, giggling.

"Amanda," Emmy repeats. "They were all over each other, like rabbits in heat. Hormones were flying all over the place."

Tom's finally got his breath back enough to talk again. "You're a fine one to talk, Emmy. You and Charlie were just as bad. Anyway, Amanda and I never did it in the greenhouse."

I'm not sure I should be listening to this, but I hold my ground anyway while Emmy flushes scarlet and glares at Becca. "I can't believe you told him!"

Becca's looking mystified. "I never said a word, I swear."

"Then how does he know about the greenhouse?"

"Ambrosia," Tom says, presumably as an answer, although it leaves them -- and me -- mystified. He sees everyone's puzzled expressions and explains. "Your diary. The security code was 'ambrosia'."

Emmy's eyes go wide, then she shrieks with adolescent indignation that's very funny coming from a woman in her late 40's. "You read my diary! You creep!"

Tom shrugs and B'Elanna bites her lip to keep from laughing. She's obviously finding this interplay highly amusing, and I wonder whether it's because she's seeing a new side of Tom, or whether she's seeing an old familiar one. I'm guessing it's the latter.

Tom turns his head fractionally towards Becca. "I hope you're not still using your birthday as your security code. At least with Emmy I had to work for it. It only took me about 2 seconds to break into *your* diary."

Becca stares at him, startled, then frowns in mock indignation. "Just for that, Tommy, I really *will* make you clean my room!"

They're laughing again, easy, intimate laughter, and I'm reminded of innumerable family vacations at the beach, watching the three of them run around together, Tom always content to trail around after his two older sisters, and the girls always incredibly patient with their sometimes pesky younger brother.

Those were good times. I wrap myself in memories and head to the kitchen for some coffee.

*****

Night, again, already. Another day spent wandering around the house, seeing my grandchildren explore all the wonderful hiding holes their father explored a lifetime ago. Another day spent listening to Tom and Becca and Emmy talk non-stop about everything they can think of, trying to make up for fifteen years in fifteen minutes. Another day of catching Mariel standing to the side not even trying to contain her smile. Another day wishing I could, for five minutes, speak to Tom as the others do.

I see him looking at me sometimes out of the corner of his eye, watching me be a parent to Becca and Emmy, and a grandfather to all the younger kids. I'm good at it, really. I have a marvelous relationship with the girls, and the kids all love me. Even Tom's kids. I don't think that bothers him. Not much, at any rate.

But still, I haven't been able to speak to Tom. It's frustrating, and more than that, it's exhausting. I quietly leave the family room in the midst of the 35-year-old video of Tom and Becca's now- legendary magic show, and wander the house in search of a quiet place to think.

Unintentionally, I think, I wander towards the old bedrooms, past Emmy's room, past Becca's room, and into Tom's. The lights are out and the curtains are up, so that the stars shine directly into the room. The windows are enhanced to block out San Francisco's ambient light, so that the stars viewed through the glass appear much, much brighter than what you'd see if you were standing outside. We installed the special treatments years ago, when Tom was just a boy, at his request. In those days, he'd finish his homework, turn out the lights and stare at the stars for hours, not moving, not speaking. The only other times he'd stay in one place for so long were when he was in the simulators at the Academy.

As my eyes adjust to the dim light in the room, I realize that I'm not alone. Katie's standing in front of the window, dressed in her pajamas and clutching something very much like a teddy bear in her arms. She's watching the stars out the window, and when she turns her face to the side, I see so much of Tom in her that I'm suddenly thrown back in time over 35 years.

-----

There's a meeting, in the house, of captains and admirals and other Starfleet personnel -- the up-and-coming and those who've already come up and arrived. We're discussing military strategy and Fleet politics, and we've been at it for hours, straight through lunch and dinner. A tentative knock on the door interrupts us.

"Daddy?" It's Tom, poking his head in. "I came to say good night."

I motion for him to come into the room. I haven't seen him all day, and, at 8, he already knows most of the guests in the house. It can't hurt for him to meet the rest. Tom pads in softly, already dressed in his pajamas, blue flannel covered with little starships. He's holding on to his raggedy stuffed bunny with one hand, and clutching a story padd in the other.

He smiles charmingly at the room, greeting everyone he knows by their correct name and rank, and I nod silently in approval before I introduce him to the rest. "Captain Picard. Admiral Olsen." I save the best for last. "Captain Levesky."

Tom doesn't fail me. His eyes grow round. "Captain Levesky?" He turns to me and whispers, not softly enough, "*Julianna* Levesky?"

I nod and Tom whips his head around to stare at the woman. She smiles at him. "You've heard of me?"

Tom's almost speechless. Almost, but not quite. "You wrote the Golochek simulations!"

"That's right," Julianna says, surprised amusement lighting her eyes. She's just rejoined Starfleet after a 10 year absence, so she hasn't yet heard about what Tom can do. A few telling glances fly around the room, from those who *have* heard about what Tom can do, or have even seen it for themselves. "You know about the Golochek simulations?"

Tom's eyes light up with excitement. "They're some of the best shuttle simulations *ever*. The Academy cadets train on them. They're really hard." He says it so seriously, Julianna can't help but smile indulgently.

"Have you tried them?" She's kidding.

"Yeah," Tom says, matter-of-factly. He frowns. "But I can't get past level 3."

Julianna blinks. "Level 3?"

"Yeah," Tom says again, unhappily. "I keep getting caught in the gravity well of the Arkana pulsar." He kicks at the ground, scowling. "I'm not tall enough yet."

Julianna's still blinking. "Not tall enough?" she repeats automatically.

Tom sighs with juvenile frustration. "The secondary thruster controls are at the back of the conn, and I can't reach them. I have to stand on the pilot's chair to get to them, but after I get out of the asteroid belt I don't have enough time to climb up on the chair before I'm already trapped in the pulsar's gravity well, and then the ship explodes."

Julianna finds her voice, barely. "Have you tried rerouting additional power to the primary thrusters before you exit the asteroid belt?"

Tom frowns at her. "That'd be cheating."

"Why?" Julianna's eyes narrow. She still thinks this is some sort of hoax, and she's waiting for Tom to prove it to her by saying something stupid. It doesn't happen.

Tom explains it patiently. "Because you made it part of the simulation that the long-range sensors aren't working, and short- range sensors don't pick up the pulsar until I'm already out of the asteroid belt. So I can't give extra power to the primary thrusters when I'm still in the belt, 'cause I'd only do that if I knew I'd need it, and if I were really flying the shuttle, I wouldn't know that yet."

"Oh," Julianna says, faintly. She's staring at Tom, and starts to smile. "Are you using a regulation-size conn?"

"'Course I am," Tom says, puzzled.

"I'll tell you what," Julianna says. "How about I modify the program for you a bit, and move the conn down so you can get to the secondary thrusters without climbing on the chair?"

Tom's eyes light up. "Would you? Really?"

"Really," Julianna says. "I'll do it tomorrow. It'll be ready by Friday morning."

Tom turns to me, practically jumping with excitement. "Can you take me to the Academy on Friday, Daddy?"

I try to look stern, but it's not easy with those blue eyes glowing only inches from my face. "You've got school on Friday. I'll take you on Saturday."

Tom pouts for a second, but then looks at me out of the corner of his eyes and wheedles, "If I wait till Saturday, can I run a combat simulation, too?"

Combat simulation. Heaven help us all. "We'll see."

"Great!" Tom says happily, then announces to the room at large that "we'll see" always means "yes." He flings his arms around my neck and hugs me, says goodnight and dashes out of the room, dragging the bedraggled bunny after him.

"Remarkable child," Julianna says in amazement, staring at the door as it closes behind Tom.

I nod, and am about to speak when the door bursts open again and Tom runs back in. "Forgot my padd," he says, scampering over to the floor where he'd dropped it. He's about to leave again when he sees Julianna looking at him. He says, shyly, "It was nice meeting you, Captain. I didn't recognize you from your picture on the wall at the Academy."

Julianna nods understandingly. "That picture was taken a long time ago, Tom. I look much older now."

Tom shakes his head and graces Julianna with a million-watt smile. "No, you don't. You just look a lot prettier in real life." He flashes that brilliant smile again and says, "Bye," then dashes out of the room, leaving Julianna blushing and Don Sullivan convulsed with laughter.

When Don can finally speak again, he gasps out, "You'd better watch him, Owen. That one's going to be trouble."

*****

Trouble. Yes, indeed, that one was trouble. But still, I remember Julianna Levesky staring at Tom with wonder in her eyes and whispering, "Remarkable child," and I hug to myself the knowledge that he really was remarkable, in so many ways.

I bring myself forcibly back to the present, find myself staring at Katie. She turns around at just that instant and grins at me, and she looks so much like the Tom in my memory that for a second, I think it's him. But then she moves forward into the light and I see the faintest of bumps on her forehead, and the cute little nose that's nothing like her father's, and I am entirely back from the past.

"I know I'm supposed to be in bed," she says, whispering. "I'll go back right now. I just wanted to look at the stars again. Don't tell my mom and dad you found me here, okay?"

"Okay," I agree, earning a look of approval and a quick kiss on the cheek.

Katie runs down the hall less than a minute before I hear another soft set of footsteps approaching. I turn around to find B'Elanna stepping into the room. "I thought I heard Katie in here," she says, calling for the lights.

I wipe all traces of expression from my face and say, "It's past her bedtime."

"I know that," B'Elanna answers, a hint of a smile tugging at her mouth. "I guess it must have been my imagination."

"I guess so," I say, thereby exercising my grandparental right to cover for my grandchildren.

B'Elanna snorts softly and crosses her arms across her chest. "You spoil them."

I have an iron-clad excuse. "They're my grandchildren."

"Not just them. Your own kids. You spoil them, too."

I quirk an eyebrow at her. "They can't be spoiled. They're adults."

B'Elanna shrugs. "You used to spoil them, then. Tom's the same way. He lets the kids stay up late, replicates whatever they ask for, gives them snacks in the middle of the night..."

"Did Tom tell you I gave him snacks in the middle of the night?" I'm surprised to hear it, because I never did. Snacks before dinner, yes, much to Mariel's displeasure, but never in the middle of the night.

However, B'Elanna shakes her head and says thoughtfully, "No."

There's something about the way she won't meet my eyes that makes me question, "Did he *ever* talk about me?"

Her eyes slowly raise to meet mine, and they're simply honest. "No."

"Never?" The pain is almost physical.

"Rarely. He mentioned something about summer crew cuts."

"Two," I mutter. "In his entire life I gave him two haircuts. I wouldn't have done it if I'd known it would traumatize him."

The words hang heavy in the air between us. I was talking about the haircuts, but from the look on B'Elanna's face, she's thinking about the aftermath of Caldik Prime. He must have told her what happened between us. "He's still angry," I speak in a voice not much louder than a whisper.

"Yes," she agrees, neutrally. "He can be very stubborn."

"Y chromosome," I say in response, which understandably confuses her a bit. "Paris males," I explain. "We're all very stubborn. It's passed along the Y chromosome."

B'Elanna smiles just a bit. "That would certainly explain it." She pauses, and lets her face grow serious again. "He's here, though, Admiral."

"Owen," I correct. "I only go by 'Admiral' when I'm on duty."

"Owen," she says, accepting it. "It took a lot for Tom to come back here. He didn't have to."

"He wanted to see his mother and sisters," I say. "He had to come, even if it meant seeing me."

"No," she says firmly. "He could have met them elsewhere, but he chose to come back here, to this house and to you."

I haven't considered this before, and I can't stop the short but wild burst of optimism that runs through me. "Do you think he might talk to me?"

"Maybe. I think he wants to, but he's too stubborn to make the first move. Stubborn *and* afraid."

I nod. I knew he was afraid. "I'm afraid too," I admit. "I'm afraid I'll lose him again. I don't think I could take it."

B'Elanna looks closely at me, captures my eyes with her own, and for a second I get distracted as I realize again how entrancingly lovely she is. "You really do love him," she says, as if just now figuring it out.

"He's my son," I answer simply. "You love him too."

"Yes," she says, smiling. "He's a very lovable guy. Aggravating sometimes, but very lovable."

I chuckle. "If you think he's aggravating now, you should have seen him when he was 25, and everything he said was a wisecrack."

She cocks her head slightly to the side. "You used to fight a lot."

"Yes," I admit. "You're lucky you don't fight with him."

She laughs outright at that. "Oh, we fight."

"Really?" I'm surprised. "You seem so happy together."

"We are happy together. But we've both got bad tempers, and fighting is sometimes a great way to blow off some steam. Plus," she says, lowering her voice, "it's a hell of a lot of fun making up. It's very Klingon, actually."

I pretend not to know what she's talking about.

She gets serious again. "Owen, I've been with Tom for so long now, I don't remember what it was like *not* to be with him. I know him better than anyone, because he tells me things he won't tell anyone else." She's focused, now. Intent. "I know all about the accident at Caldik Prime, and why he lied about it, and why he eventually confessed. The only thing he won't tell me is what you two said to each other the night he left."

"He didn't leave. I threw him out."

B'Elanna's silent.

I'm very quiet, now. "I told him to get out, but I didn't mean forever. When he left, though, he swore he'd never come back."

B'Elanna's looking at me, and I swear it's sympathy I see in her eyes. We pass a few seconds in silence, then B'Elanna's eyes focus on a point behind me and they soften noticeably. I turn, unsurprised to find Tom leaning against the door frame, looking at us both.

"Talking about me?" he asks softly, neither angry nor amused, just resigned. He doesn't meet my eyes for an instant. As soon as I turn my head towards him, his attention lands fully upon B'Elanna.

B'Elanna smiles, completely unapologetic, and walks to him. She gives him a small pat on the arm and a kiss on the cheek, and he turns to her with genuine love and affection in his eyes. "Talk to him, Tom," she says gently but firmly.

"You can't order me," Tom says with a hint of playful teasing in his voice. "I outrank you." Their eyes meet and I get the impression this is an old, old game between the two of them, one that is comforting in its familiarity.

"Talk to him," B'Elanna repeats, and kisses him again, this time on the lips. With a glance at me that could have contained a hint of a warning, she slips out the door, leaving me to face Tom, the two of us finally alone, both of us unprepared and unprotected. I could find my son here, or I could lose him for good, and I fight down the panic that threatens to grip me at the latter thought.

Tom is still leaning against the door frame, and I see the faint pencil marks against the white paint on the frame that show Tom's height at various ages. The line at the top is darker than the others. It's my height, marked out as a benchmark against which Tom could measure himself. Last time we measured him, his mark was still a few inches below mine. Now, though, the mark indicating my height is barely level with his eyes.

"You're taller," I think to myself, but when Tom narrows his eyes and looks at me curiously, I realize I've said it out loud. I clarify, "You used to be shorter than me."

He doesn't move from the door frame, but he crosses his arms across his chest. "I've always been taller than you."

It's the first complete sentence he's said to me since he arrived home.

I shake my head. "No, I used to be taller than you." Tom's looking at me warily, and for one brief instant I think I read worry in his eyes; he's afraid I'm losing my grip on reality. I force a smile and try to explain. "I was taller than you the first time you flew a shuttle simulation. I was taller than you when your little league team won the county championship."

His eyes meet mine, cautious and wary, but not openly hostile. My voice a little stronger, I continue. "I was taller than you the night you came in second in the school spelling bee. I was taller than you the first time you won a swim meet. I was taller than you the night of your first date."

"Barely." His lips are tight, his arms are still crossed on his chest, but the muscles in his jaw are slowly unclenching, and he's relaxing, just a bit, against the door.

"I was always taller than you, Tom. I don't know when it changed." I rub my hands across my eyes, trying to force my memory into cooperating, but I'm unsuccessful. I give up, finally, and whisper, "One day I realized that to look into your eyes, I'd have to look up. You'd grown up and I'd missed it, somehow."

He's silent, not sure what point I'm driving at. He's trying to control this conversation the only way he can, by not giving away more than necessary. I wish I could read his face, the way I can read his sisters', but Tom's mask is perfect. God. I taught him this, called it a command face, told him to don it when confronting an enemy in battle. I'd never expected him to become so good at it, and I'd certainly never expected to find myself facing it.

I have a sudden desire to go to him and hug him, see if I can melt the mask away, but I stop myself before doing anything so rash. Much as I might like to pretend that something so simple as a hug could heal the wounds that lie between us, I know life doesn't work that way.

I look down at my hands. They're trembling, slightly. I like to think it's nerves but I suspect it's age catching up with me. Luckily, my job doesn't require an extraordinary amount of manual dexterity. I clench my hands together firmly, to stop the trembling, and look back to see Tom watching me, closely. He seems a bit taken aback, and he's searching my face. I get the sudden impression that he hasn't allowed himself to look at me, really look at me, since he's been home. I wonder if he's surprised by the changes. Hair completely grey by now, lines around my eyes and mouth, skin not nearly so taut as it was when he left. I'm older than he remembers.

He completes his silent inspection and looks down at the floor, crossing his arms in that same defensive posture I'd noted yesterday afternoon when he'd arrived. He's afraid, again. God. I'm frustrated, and I let it out. "This doesn't have to be so hard."

Tom's eyes meet mine for an instant. "Doesn't it?"

"No." I try to sound like I believe it. "Tom, you have to believe me when I tell you how sorry I am --"

"Sorry?" Anger leaps into his voice, and I sigh to myself. He's still looking for a fight, falling right back into the same awful patterns we'd established years before. "I don't think sorry quite cuts it, Admiral."

I smile ruefully. He always called me Admiral when he was trying to annoy me. Said I treated him like a cadet, not a son. Maybe I did, although I don't remember it that way. "Can you knock it off for a second, Tom? Pretend just for a minute that you don't hate me?"

This hits him hard, which I don't expect. In the past, it wouldn't have slowed him down at all, and he'd have made some smart-ass comment that would have launched us into a full scale shouting match. But now, he looks drained all of a sudden, and his next words catch me completely by surprise. "I'm sorry," he says, softly. "I don't hate you." He's looking away from me. "I just don't know what you expect from me."

"I don't expect anything from you," I say, and am taken aback by the look of utter skepticism that crosses his face. "I just want a chance to get to know you, again." I'm talking desperately, emotions laid out clearly in front of him. "When I hear the stories, all the things you've done, I'm so proud of you -- " I see his face grow a fraction colder and I hurry on, "Maybe you think I don't have the right to be proud. These accomplishments, they're all yours, they have nothing to do with me, nothing to do with any hopes or dreams or expectations I might have had for you. I know that. You have to believe me, Tom, I know that. But it doesn't stop me from being proud of you. You're still my son."

He looks away for only a brief instant. "You keep saying that. To B'Elanna, to Mom, to everyone. You keep stressing that."

"Because it's true," I say. "Because I'm proud to be your father."

"You weren't," he says, and the pain is back in his voice and I want to weep. God, it hurts him *still*, after all this time.

"Tom," I say quietly. "Whatever I might have said to you -- and I remember exactly what I said to you -- I was always proud to be your father."

"You said you were ashamed." His voice is accusatory.

"I remember. I *was* ashamed. Ashamed for you, ashamed of your actions, but never ashamed to be your father, Tom. Never." He clearly doesn't believe me so I press on. "Listen to me. I was confused, I was upset, I said things I didn't mean ... can't you understand that?"

He shakes his head. "You never came to see me." He's sullen, now, but not so angry, and I find that strangely encouraging.

"Where?"

"Auckland."

"You told your mother you didn't want to see me. I respected that."

He snorts and rolls his eyes. "What did you expect me to say? God, Dad, I might have been in prison but I still had some pride."

"Too damn much," I say, then hasten to add, "Both of us had too much pride. I didn't want to visit if you weren't going to see me."

"And I didn't want to ask you to come if you were going to say 'no'."

We're quiet for a minute, contemplating. I'm thinking about that damn Y chromosome again. Finally I break the silence with a question I need to ask, but to which I'm not sure I really want to hear the answer. "Was it terrible in New Zealand?"

"Yes," he says, confirming my worst fears, then assuaging them in the next breath. "But not because of the conditions there. Just because I knew how much I'd lost." He shakes his head, sadly. "You can't imagine what that's like, to realize you've lost everything that's important to you through your own stupidity."

I smile ruefully. "I imagine it's about as bad as knowing you've lost your only son -- though your own stupidity -- and then finding out he's dead before you've had a chance to set things right." I look at him, standing in front of me, and muster a weak smile. "But then it turned out you weren't really dead."

"No," he says, smiling back just a bit. "And I ended up getting back most of what I'd lost. More than what I'd lost, really." Unconsciously, he's playing with his wedding ring.

"B'Elanna's wonderful, Tom," I say. "Not that you need my approval, but she's really wonderful."

He smiles a warm, loving smile. "I think so." He crosses the room to the shelves that still hold some of the model starships he used to build, picks one up, and looks at it speculatively. "You know, there was a time when piloting a starship was the most important thing in my life."

"I remember," I say.

"No, you don't," he replies, shaking his head. "It was on Voyager. The first few years. I didn't have a lot of friends, I wasn't with B'Elanna yet, and piloting was what I lived for. It made everything else tolerable, knowing that for eight hours a day I could fly. Sometimes I'd even work double shifts just to get in some more time at the conn." He smiled at the recollection. "Now, I can't wait to get off duty and home to B'Elanna and the kids. I still love flying, but ... my family's my *life*."

"As it should be," I answer. He's surprised at that.

"You're so different from how I remember you," he says slowly. "It's like I don't know who you are, and I don't know if you've changed or if I've just got all the memories wrong."

"Both, I imagine," I say quietly. "I certainly like to think I've gotten a little smarter in my old age."

"You're not so old," he says, and there's definitely a smile lurking around the corners of his mouth.

"Old enough," I say. "But the memories can't be all bad, Tom. I thought ... surely you've got some good memories. When you were a boy, I wasn't such a terrible father."

"No," he says, and he sounds a bit surprised to be admitting it to himself. "I guess you weren't. I was a happy kid. I just -- by the time I went to the Academy everything was different. You expected so much from me, I was sure I'd let you down." He looks down at the floor. "Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy."

"Not in the end," I say.

"I lied--"

I shake my head in firm negation. "Stop it. It happened. It was a long time ago. Starfleet's forgiven you, Tom. They wouldn't have made your commission official otherwise. Don't you think it's time you let me forgive you too?"

"Let you forgive me?" He smiles bemusedly. "That's an odd way of putting it."

"I guess so. But forgiveness is really a two-way street, don't you think?"

Tom's looks at me wonderingly. "Who are you and what have you done with my father?" I'm in shock for a second. Tom's joking with me. My god, he's actually standing there *joking* with me. I feel the urge to hug him again, and I wonder what would happen if I gave in to it.

I move a step closer to him, and am relieved when he doesn't step back. "Please, Tom," I ask quietly, "can't you let us forgive each other? I want to get to know you and B'Elanna and your children. I want to be your father again."

He looks down at me and I hear a catch in voice when he says, "You never stopped being my father." Amazingly, *he* steps closer to me, and now we're only inches apart. "I spent a lot of time being angry at you, but ..." He blinks and stops speaking, sounding a little choked.

"But what?" I prod, gently.

"But every time I did something good on Voyager, I wished more than anything that I could tell you. So you could see how much I'd changed." He swallows, and blinks, and I can *swear* I see a tear in his eye. "I missed you."

This time, I don't fight the instinct to hug him, and amazingly, when I bring my arms around him, he brings his arms around me too. We stand there for a long time, and I'm not sure if I'm crying or laughing. Maybe I'm doing both.

I realize we're not quite alone when I hear a soft child's voice whispering, "Look, Mommy! Daddy's hugging Grandpa. I told you they'd make up."

"Yes, you did, sweetheart," I hear B'Elanna whispering back. "Go back to bed."

Tom and I release each other and he looks into my eyes for a second, smiling. Then he turns to Katie and says, firmly, "You're supposed to be asleep, young lady."

"I just wanted to make sure you were okay, Daddy."

"I'm fine, sweetie. Go to bed."

"Okay," she says, then runs to him and pulls him down for a quick kiss on the cheek. "Love you, Daddy."

"I love you, too. Now get back in bed." He gives her an affectionate light swap on the behind and she runs out of the room and down the hall.

"Are you really okay?" B'Elanna asks us. She's still standing framed in the doorway, looking back and forth between us.

"I think so," Tom says, looking at me for an instant. "I think we will be." He walks over to B'Elanna and drapes an arm over her shoulder. "I'm really tired."

"You didn't go to sleep last night," she reminds him, and he grins back at her, nothing but affection in his eyes.

"I know I didn't. Neither did you. What do you say we go to bed early tonight to make up for it?"

B'Elanna smiles. "Lead the way."

As he's about to leave the room, Tom turns to me and says, "Good night, Dad."

"Good night, Tom," I answer, and as they leave the room I feel a few tears prickling behind my eyes. Oh, I've got no illusions that we've solved everything tonight. We're not nearly through yet; there's a lot more talking that needs to be done. But I know, now, that we'll get the chance.

I turn the lights out and I spend the rest of the night in Tom's room, looking out the window at the stars, holding a model starship in my hands and smiling.

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The End!

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