As we're laying in the quiet, the thought occurs to me that there is another story I should have told her. Although she had joked about my acceptance of Tom Paris, she was probably a little bit closer than she realised. And it's not because I still have animosity towards him -- hell, this many years of working by his side has changed that.

It's that I know another story of his.

I lay beside her, internalising all of these thoughts. I think maybe she has fallen asleep. Typical. Perhaps it is for the better, anyway-

"-What's wrong?" She rolls over to face me. "I can almost hear you thinking."

Perhaps I was reluctant to tell the story because in many ways it was a special moment for both of them, with both of them. In many ways, some stories are never meant to be told again.

Owl Dance
by Laura Williams

He sits on the side of the hill at the edge of the gathering, far enough away that he can draw back into the shadows, but still close enough to feel the warmth of the fire. He sits alone and watches the dancers dance.

He would hardly call it dancing. It's more a shuffle, really, two short hops on the left foot and another on the right. Then a pause as each dancer finds the beat and the balance again, and hop-hop-hops forward. Most of them are in pairs, a man and a woman linked at the elbow. A few women dance alone with their eyes closed, their faces solemn. Remembering, he realizes. Thinking of the fathers and uncles and brothers and sons they've left behind. The rest of the gathered men sit in groups, talking quietly together and watching the dancers shuffle in wide circles around the big drum at the center of the clearing, and the four men beating out the rhythm.

He glances at them, recognizing the three men who had organized the gathering, three of his former Maquis shipmates. The trio are all from Dorvan and have taken pains to preserve as many of their old ways as they can here in the Delta Quadrant. They have their heads thrown back and are singing, chanting words he does not understand in high, falsetto voices.

The fourth drummer does not sing. He stares at the drum with fierce concentration, his face and tunic drenched with sweat. He is not from Dorvan and so does not share the language of the singers, but he understands rhythm, and seems to have abandoned himself to the drum completely. Tom imagines that he is pounding out his frustration over Seska and her recent departure with the Kazon.

Tom's attention is drawn back to the dancers. B'Elanna Torres is escorting Joe Carey around the clearing, half-dragging him by the arm while he laughs. They've come to some kind of understanding, Tom knows, and while he is glad to see it, he feels a pang of... something... when he sees them laughing together. They're becoming friends, as are many of the Maquis and Starfleet crew. He looks around and sees more 'Fleet crew than he had expected at a Maquis gathering. But there they are Harry Kim being danced away by both the Delaney sisters, one of them clinging to each arm; Kurt Bandera hopping alongside Samantha Wildman; Ayala and Hargrove and Jonas sitting lower down on the hillside and tapping their toes to the beat. It's good to see, all those little groups of 'Fleet and Maquis personnel.

And here I sit alone, he thought.

The singers' voices rise in an impassioned cry and the drumming stops suddenly at the end of the song. There is much laughter as all the partners are exchanged; the men step back and allow the women to choose their own partners in the tradition of the Owl Dance. A handful of unchosen men find places to sit on the grass around the fire. The drummers begin to drum again and the dancers, arm-in-arm, shuffle into the ring.

As usual, no one approaches Tom.

I hate it here, he thinks to himself. He toes angrily at the dirt. When he looks up he finds Chakotay staring at him from across the gathering, regarding him as if he were some sort of disease. It's the same kind of suspicious look Tuvok gives him, made up of equal parts distrust and distaste. The Starfleet crew, with the exception of Harry, usually give him a wide berth. And the Maquis crew can barely contain their hostility toward him.

I'll never fit in here, he thinks, almost wishing for his cell back in the New Zealand penal colony.

He is ready to leave the gathering and request a beam-out back to the ship when a shimmer of sparkles catches his eye and someone in uniform steps into the clearing: the Captain.

Tom raises his eyebrows with interest. He hadn't expected her at the gathering, hadn't even thought that anyone would invite her. But as he watches her take in the two dozen shuffling dancers and the drummers and the rest of the crowd, he knows who must have extended the invitation. Sure enough, she sets her shoulders, smiles slightly and heads across the clearing to the drum and the drummers. One of them in particular.

Chakotay looks up, surprised, when her hand touches his shoulder. He leaves off his drumming and rises to greet her with a wide, happy smile. Their heads bend close together as they talk over the drumming; her hand strays from his shoulder to his upper arm. Tom chuckles to himself, watching them. He wonders briefly if their budding friendship will ever become something more, but he soon rejects the thought. She would never allow it, even though it might be the best thing for both of them. For all of them, probably.

The pair talk a moment longer, then she gives him arm a little pat and squeeze and withdraws. Tom watches her make the rounds through the crowd, smiling at all of the dancers, stopping to chat briefly with the men who are sitting out this particular round. She works the crowd like a real professional, putting everyone at ease with her presence. Even the fiercest Maquis crewman can't help but smile as she passes by.

It's a full five seconds before he realizes she has seen him watching her and is headed his way. He starts to rise but she waves him back down and, to his surprise, seats herself beside him on the grass.

"Captain," he acknowledges.

"Lieutenant," she replies, smiling. "Having a good time?"

He hesitates, not knowing exactly how to answer. Finally he shrugs. "Oh, it's all right. Not really my kind of party, though."

She frowns at him. "Why don't you go and dance, Tom? I'm sure any of these women would be delighted, if you'd ask them."

Tom laughs slightly, looking across the clearing at the drummers. One of them in particular. "Chakotay didn't tell you what kind of dance this is, did he?"

"He called it an Owl Dance. He said it wasn't one of his tribe's tr aditions, but it goes back hundreds of years before the resettlement on Dorvan."

Tom nodded. "Yes, it's all of that. But it's also a ladies' dance, in a way. The women ask the men to dance."

"Rather like a Sadie Hawkins dance," she says with a smile.

"Well, sort of," Tom says, nodding at the heritage they both share. "But there doesn't have to be anything romantic about it. Girls can ask their brothers to dance, or their uncles and fathers. And women dance with their sons sometimes."

"That's a charming tradition."

"But there's another catch."

"A catch?" she asks warily.

"If a man refuses to dance with a woman, he has to pay her whatever she wants. And he has to get up in front of everybody and explain exactly why he turned her down."

"I see." Tom glances over at her and sees her lips pursed with a wry smile. "Sounds like an interesting icebreaker."

He chuckles. "Yes, I suppose you could say that."

The drumming stops again, and again no woman comes to him. He shifts uncomfortably, all too aware of the Captain sitting beside him, watching him. He does not know how to gracefully extricate himself from this situation, and so he sits miserably when the partners change before them a second time, and a third.

He is ready to make an awkward exit when the Captain leans back on her hands and sighs. "It's good," she muses aloud, "to see the way the Starfleet Crew and the Maquis crew are starting to mingle. Isn't it, Lieutenant?"

"Yes," Tom murmurs, his eyes downcast. "Yes it is."

"It's good to see the way they've begun to trust one another. Even in something so simple as an off-duty Owl Dance."

Tom feels his face redden. The acrid smoke from the fire stings his eyes and he wonders why she is deliberately trying to hurt him. Surely she knows he has not been invited to dance even once tonight. He wipes sweat from his brow.

"Trust is a tricky thing, Captain," he says softly. "Sometimes, no matter what you do, you just can't earn it. As much as you'd like to."

She turns to look at him squarely, her face suddenly serious. "And sometimes, Tom, trust has to be earned gradually, one person at a time, and demonstrated in action for all to see."

The drumming stops momentarily and the frenzied shuffling of partners begins. The Captain rises and brushes dirt from her uniform. He supposes that she is preparing to leave and rises beside her, finally seeing his escape at hand. But she surprises him, turning to him with her hands on her hips, a wide smile on her face.

"I just don't think my feet will let me sit this one out, Tom. Care to dance with the Captain?"

He stops in his tracks, stunned by the obvious significance of the gesture. He nods mutely and lets her lead him by the arm to the ring of dancers. He feels dozens of eyes on him but ignores them, too surprised and grateful to react to their scrutiny.

The drumming starts up again and after a few awkward steps they find the rhythm together and go hop-hop-hopping around the ring. He begins to relax a little, forcing himself to be at ease with her, to pretend he is only sharing a dance with a friend, not receiving an overt demonstration of trust from his commanding officer. But then as they come around the drum his eyes lock with Chakotay's, and the smile drains from his face.

He stumbles slightly, the path suddenly rough beneath his feet, but the Captain pulls him up by the elbow and leads him on. Chakotay's eyes narrow, watching them over the drum. Then the big man's face softens, one corner of his mouth quirking up into a slight smile.

Tom doesn't know if the smile is meant for him or for the Captain. But Chakotay nods directly at him, still smiling. Tom squeezes the Captain's arm a little tighter to his side and nods solemnly back at the First Officer, acknowledging whatever has just passed between them.

He hops on with the Captain, smiling a shy smile, feeling the path beneath his feet grow smoother with every step.

* * *

I know instinctively that there is no place for talking now. I put my fingers up to her face and can feel her smile. I listen to her breath and fall slowly asleep.

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