Thanks to Geordi at JuPiter Station for providing the challenge that inspired this story.
Nets of Silver and Gold
by Diane Bellomo
All Tom Paris could manage at first were a few muttered "I’m sorrys," never quite able to meet his captain’s eyes.
Janeway, on the other hand, actually went on at some length about having children and about how it was sometimes the female of the species that initiated mating. At least they had progressed to a more mature conversation about commendations and breaking personal barriers before she retreated to the relative safety of her biobed.
Now, in a fetal curl on the bed facing the wall, Kathryn Janeway allowed the one thing they had not talked about to seep into her consciousness: The three infants adjusting to their humanity, lying side-by-side in a hastily-replicated crib in one corner of the hydroponics bay.
Somehow, breaking the warp ten barrier seemed like an incredibly insignificant accomplishment next to those tiny beings. Beings she helped to create. Dear God, she may have been the one who had initiated their creation. She pounded the bed in frustration and in a futile attempt to ward off tears. The sound she made registered on a pair of small, delicately-pointed ears, the owner of which came to her, tissue in hand.
"Captain?" She pressed the tissue into Janeway’s hand. "Are you feeling all right?"
Janeway dabbed at her eyes and nose. "No, Kes, I’m not, but I guess you knew that, didn’t you?" She cleared her throat and tried to change Kes’ focus. "How is Tom?"
"Tom is recuperating, just as you are. Have you given anymore thought to—?"
"No, I haven’t. I’m tired now, I’d like to sleep."
"Yes, Captain." It never occurred to Kes to be upset by the abrupt nature of her dismissal. She merely left the captain’s bedside, dimming the lights over her bed as she did so.
Janeway lay there, listening to Tom talking quietly to Kes, and then later to B’Elanna, who had stopped by during her dinner break. He seemed to be coming to grips with this. Why couldn’t she? Squeezing her eyes shut against the sound of his voice, she fell into uneasy slumber, cursing her cowardice.
* * *
Chakotay had come twice to see Janeway, but both times was told by the Doctor that she was sleeping. Chakotay did not believe him either time, but he left without forcing her to see him. Besides, he had more than enough to do covering for both she and Tom on the Bridge.
At the turbolift outside Sickbay after his second attempt to visit, he was raising his hand to summon the lift when a thought struck him so hard it was almost painful: He had made a horrible mistake, bringing the babies on board. She would never accept them, and this in turn would upset the entire operation of the ship. He should have left them as they were on the planet. His hand dropped like a stone to his side, and he stood frozen in front of the lift.
Into this stillness came his animal guide, materializing in his mind’s eye as clearly as if she were sitting before him. She did not visit as often as she had in the earlier days of their journey, sensing his dependence upon her was not as critical as it had been then. However, when she did appear, it was always with good reason and impeccable timing, when he needed her most and expected her least.
Chakotay, she whispered through a long, velvet muzzle that did not move, why do you concern yourself with such absurd thoughts? I know you are worried about your captain—and well you should be, for she is very frightened right now—but you did not make a mistake. Janeway only needs time to adjust to the existence of these children, just as you need time to adjust to the existence of your own child.
He felt a tremor pass through him at the mention of what Seska had done, a jumble of emotions that defied definition, and he knew the wolf felt it, too. Do not allow your pain to cloud your ability to help ease the pain of others, Chakotay.
And in her suitably spiritual way, she was gone from his head as if she had never been there, leaving him feeling detached and unsure of his place in all this. He was no longer unsure of the decision he had made about bringing the babies on board, which he knew was the wolf’s intention all along, but he was unsure about where he should go from here. And that was the hard part, which he also knew was the wolf’s intention. She never gave him all the answers.
He finally called the lift and, stepping in, fervently wished—not for the first time—that Voyager had a proper ship’s counselor. Suddenly curious, he exited on Deck 6, checking the nearest database for the person Starfleet considered Best of the Best. He was unsurprised to discover it was Deanna Troi.
Determined to take some sort of positive action for his captain, he then went so far as to re-create Troi in the Holodeck Research Lab. Unfortunately, he was never much of a programmer and could barely get her to look like Troi, much less respond like her. Tom was the expert when it came to programming holopeople. Harry was next best, but with his regular duties on the Bridge and his new duty as rumor control for the "situation in triplicate" in Hydroponics, Harry’s dance card was pretty full. Add to that the pressure of providing support to both his best friend, who didn’t want him to leave Sickbay, and his captain, who acted as though she wasn’t even in Sickbay, and poor Harry wasn’t anymore available than Tom.
In the end, Chakotay had to abandon his holoproject in favor of just getting through the day. He knew Kathryn Janeway was a strong woman, but he also knew strength could not always be counted on to get the job done. Sometimes you had to lead with your heart, and he knew Janeway had a much harder time with that. He resigned himself to the tasks at hand, knowing this was the one way he could help her. He vowed to himself that he would be there if she needed anything more, but swore not to hover if she didn’t. He allowed one fleeting thought that if she wouldn’t accept direct help from him, maybe she would accept it from Tom or Kes, and had to let it go at that.
In his mind’s eye, he saw a toothy, canine smile.
* * *
"C’mon, Har," Tom pleaded, "one more hand, please? I’m going crazy in here!"
Harry threw his cards down, having been beaten soundly once again. "No, Tom, I can’t possibly beat you and besides, I’ve gotta get to work, and you know it."
"Yeah, well, ya can’t blame a guy for wanting some company, can you?" He cocked his head towards the biobed on the far side of the room. On a console beside it was a vase of brightly-colored fresh flowers, almost identical to the vase beside his own bed. Kes had brought them early that morning from Hydroponics. She had set them down quietly by Janeway, touched her shoulder briefly, and left her. Tom reported this to Harry.
Harry lowered his voice and leaned closer to Tom. "What are we gonna do, Tom?" The whole ship’s talking about the babies and about how the captain hasn’t moved from her bed. They say she doesn’t talk to anyone. They say she’s not eating. They say she’s trying to starve herself to death! Why would she do that?" Harry’s voice was edged with panic. He had been trying for nearly 48 hours to keep the rumors from getting too out of hand, but each time he saw his captain, it became harder to believe they were just rumors.
"Harry, Harry, Harry, trust me, she’s eating, and if she weren’t, don’t you think the Doc would be doing something about it? But I know she’s eating because I’ve seen her, and then a few hours later, she gets up to use the facilities. She talks, too, okay? She talks to Kes. So relax, would ya?"
Harry didn’t respond. His attention had been drawn to Janeway, trying to get a glimpse of movement from her.
"Yeah? Oh, yeah, Tom." His eyes had not moved from the still form across the room.
"Didja hear what I said about Kes?" Even though it was a tiny white lie, he wanted to make sure Harry heard it and passed it on to other crewmembers.
Harry finally directed his eyes back to Tom. "Yes, I heard you. You said she talks to Kes."
"Right. And here’s something else you can tell the crew. Tell them tomorrow before we’re released, I’m going to talk to her about…about…" And here he stumbled, unsure of how he should phrase it, even to his best friend.
While Tom Paris may have been a screw-up, a drunk, and a snitch, he was none of those things now. He was a young man who had just done the impossible by breaking the warp ten barrier. In doing so, he had become more than a young man. And in doing that, he had created life. Life for which he and his captain were now responsible. He wasn’t sure just when he had become caregiver and protector, he only knew that now he was, and he was not about to treat his new responsibilities lightly. His voice steadied.
"About the babies, Har, I’m gonna talk to her about the babies. And I’m going to make her get up and go with me to see them."
Harry was mostly dumbfounded by this announcement, and every bit of it showed on his face. Tom grinned and made shooing motions at him.
"So go, already, and spread this bulletin around the ship. Maybe you can get Neelix to make some sort of announcement in the mess. Nah, skip that."
Harry huffed in amusement. "You’re a good man, Tom Paris."
"Yeah, whatever. Get outta here." As Harry exited Sickbay, Tom looked over at Janeway. Okay, so maybe he told a second fib to Harry about when he would be talking to her. Tomorrow, tonight—a detail like that wouldn’t matter to the crew.
* * *
She approached his bed. "Yes, Tom?"
"Who’s watching the babies right now?"
"Sam Wildman. She’s been feeling especially maternal since the arrival of, um, what did she call them? ‘Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.’"
"Ah," Tom nodded his head in understanding. "It’s a reference to an old Earth child’s poem." He began to recite:
"Wynken, Blynken and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe—
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
Into a sea of dew.
‘Where are you going and what do you wish?’
The old moon asked the three.
‘We have come to fish for the herring fish
That live in this beautiful sea;
Nets of silver and gold have we!’
Said Wynken, Blynken, and Nod."
"That’s very sweet, Tom."
"Yeah, it kinda is, isn’t it? It’s really a poem a mother recites to her child to get him to go to sleep. Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes and Nod is a little head, doncha know? My mom used to read it to my baby sister."
Kes smiled. Tom could be so childlike himself at times. She knew he would make a wonderful, caring father. At this point, she wasn’t nearly as certain about how the captain might do as a mother. She wanted to give the captain every opportunity to accept the babies and so had wisely refrained from telling her about the crewmembers who had come forward almost right away, offering to take the children in the event the captain and/or Tom were unable to. Actually, what most of them had offered was to take the children as fosters until such a time as the captain and Tom would be able to take them. Samantha Wildman, herself hugely pregnant, had been the first.
Kes had known the moment she saw these people on her homeworld almost two years ago, that the crew of the starship Voyager was a very special group. She hadn’t realized just how special until now.
She suddenly remembered Tom had called her to his bed. "I’m sorry, Tom, you needed something?"
"Yeah. Listen, I told Harry I was going to talk to the captain about the babies and go with her to see them tomorrow, but I’d like to—hey, why are you smiling like that?"
"You want to talk to her now, don’t you?"
He grinned and threw his hands up. "Busted, fair and square."
"I think that would be a very good idea." Kes sobered as she glanced across the room at Janeway. "The captain’s physical discomfort must be reaching a critical—"
"Physical discomfort?" Tom struggled to keep his voice low. "Critical? What are you talkin’ about? What’s wrong with her, Kes? The Doc never said anything about physical discomfort!"
Kes placed her tiny warm hand on Tom’s arm to calm him. "Tom, do you know how some women are able to feed their young offspring?"
He was stumped for about a second and then it dawned on him. "Oh. Oh!"
"The captain will soon either need to express the milk herself or—"
"Allow the babies to suckle—"
"Or she won’t be able to nurse at all," Kes finished.
Tom started. This part he didn’t know. "What? Whaddaya mean? Geez," he said almost to himself, "we gotta stop calling them ‘the babies.’ They need names."
Kes smiled warmly and answered his question. "Unless she begins to nurse…Wynken, Blynken, and Nod…she will lose the milk and they’ll have to be bottle-fed exclusively instead of just as a supplement."
Tom was silent for a moment, too distracted by what Kes was saying to catch her joke. "That means anybody could feed them, doesn’t it? It wouldn’t have to be her. Does she know that?"
"I haven’t said anything."
"Kes, can I ask you to leave while I talk to the captain? I promise, if she gets too upset or anything, I’ll shut up and bring the Doc online, okay?"
Kes trusted Tom implicitly. "Of course, Tom. I’ll go relieve Samantha and when you and the captain arrive in Hydroponics, I’ll go on to my quarters."
He marveled at how Kes was so confident that he and the captain would end up in Hydroponics, even though he harbored no such confidence. He could only give it his best shot. "Thanks, Kes, you’re a peach."
* * *
Tom sat on the edge of his biobed for a full ten minutes after Kes left, wiping and re-wiping his sweating palms on the sheets. If he didn’t get started soon, he’d short out the bed’s circuits. He slid off the bed and padded barefoot to a point halfway between his bed and the captain’s.
"Captain?" He knew she was awake and had already decided he would not continue to call her after this one attempt. Instead, he waited, bouncing on his toes. If she didn’t answer, he would scrap this attempt and try a little harder again tomorrow, as originally planned.
"Yes, Tom?" Relief washed through him. They were the first words she had spoken to him in two days.
"Permission to approach, ma’am."
* * *
Kathryn Janeway smiled ruefully at the wall at Tom’s formal request. She was so tired and at the same time unable to remain asleep for any length of time. It would have been funny—if it hadn’t been so pathetic. Hostile aliens she could handle, but this? Starfleet Academy never offered a course in child rearing, and even if it had, she knew she’d never have taken it.
She had spent most of the previous night awake, feeling pressure building in her breasts. She knew what was happening to her—she was a scientist, after all—but it just seemed so strange. How could her body be reacting to births she had given while in another form? Well, scientist or not, biology was never her strong suit, and her breasts were becoming more than just the ‘physical discomfort’ she had overhead Kes say to Tom. She knew she was running out of time.
One of the other things she had overhead Tom say was that the babies needed names, and she had realized immediately how absolutely right he was. Such a simple thing, too. It caused a ripple in her denial, but it wasn’t enough to make her want to get off the bed—that is, until she heard Tom’s request to approach.
It had finally come time for her to stop allowing her cowardice to rule her. She shook herself mentally. Time to get up and get on with her life, even though she had no idea what that might mean. Tom was waiting patiently so far, but she wasn’t sure how long that might last and suddenly had no desire to test it.
* * *
"Permission granted, Lieutenant."
He was beside her so fast, she thought he must have been standing right behind her. He helped her sit up and handed her her hairbrush. At first, she thought it was because she probably looked a fright, but upon deeper reflection, she knew it was because Tom was considerate that way, despite his bad boy act. She started brushing out the tangles in her hair.
"Captain, you don’t know how good it is to see you again." He spoke as though she had been gone for years, rather than merely in the bed across the room for two days. She put the brush down and cut to the chase.
"I’m afraid of this, Tom, and believe me when I tell you, I’ve never been afraid of anything in my life."
"Oh, yes ma’am, I believe you. But this is nothing to be afraid of. They’re just babies."
‘Just babies.’ How easy for you to say. She braved a question. "How’re they doing?"
"The Doc says just fine. Healthy but small. He’s got some kind of oxygen-adjustment thing going on in Hydroponics, but Kes told me they don’t really need it. I think he’s just being an overprotective uncle EMH."
Janeway laughed out loud at the idea of their haughty Emergency Medical Hologram being anyone’s uncle, and from there she and Tom launched into their first real discussion about the children and the way their lives were now changed because of them.
"Lieutenant, you seem to be taking this a lot better than I am. Do you have any suggestions as to how we should proceed?"
"Captain, forgive me, but we’re not in a senior staff meeting. We’re talking about you and me and three little kids. But since you asked, I do have a request."
"Let’s hear it."
"I’d like larger quarters."
"What? What does that—oh, no, Mister Paris, I see where this is going. You’re not going to shoulder this alone. Request denied."
"Oh?" He teased, eyes sparkling. "So what are you saying, Captain? You wanna get a place together?"
She spoke a little to quickly. "No!"
To which he responded just as quickly. "Thanks a lot."
"No, Tom, that’s not what I meant." She berated herself. Well, that’s fine then, Katie, what do you mean?
He echoed her thought. "What do you mean?"
"I mean…I mean…" She threw her hands up in exasperation. "I don’t know what I mean! This conversation is ludicrous, Tom. We’re getting nowhere."
Tom hopped up onto the biobed beside her. "Look, the way I see it, Captain, you and I have two choices. We can either share the raising of the children in separate quarters or we can share it in the same quarters."
Purposely not giving Janeway a chance to respond, he spoke again. "Actually, there are other options."
She leaped on it. "Such as?"
"Well, a number of crewmembers have volunteered to take the children in case, uh—"
"In case their captain doesn’t want them?" That came out harsh, but she figured she’d pretty much nailed her crew’s feelings.
It was fairly evident in Tom’s reaction that perhaps she hadn’t quite ‘nailed it.’ He rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Aw, c’mon, Captain, don’t be so hard on yourself. People said they’d take the children only until you…and I…were ready to take them ourselves."
She was skeptical of his answer and it blinded her to the subtle way he had worded it. You and I. She knew her crew would do anything for her, but she was still more inclined to think her own answer was closer to the way they really felt about this particular matter, and she said as much.
He continued to be firm in rejecting this. "Nope, you’re wrong, and believe me, I can lay odds on it." She didn’t doubt that for one second, but his tone convinced her he was telling the truth about the crew. However, that option wouldn’t quite work on Voyager.
"Tom, think about that. It wouldn’t make any sense. Either we take them one hundred percent or we allow someone else to. Anything else wouldn’t be fair to the children, and would probably confuse the hell out of them, to boot. Remember, we don’t have a counselor!"
Tom snickered, but the ‘we’ was not lost on him, and this time he didn’t cut her any slack. "We take them, Captain? We, as in both of us, you and I?"
She avoided answering by asking another question. "You said there were other options?"
"Only one more that I can think of. They could be raised—"
It came to her and she finished his sentence. "Communally."
"Right. Though I suppose we could arrange to have final say in matters of discipline, if you thought that might be necessary." Cocking his head, blue eyes twinkling once again, he added, "and that way you wouldn’t have to worry so much about that ‘we’ thing."
When had this young man become so very clever?
"Captain, we don’t have to decide right this instant. The babies are content in Hydroponics for now and could probably manage another couple days in there. After that, well, I guess we are gonna have to come up with some sort of plan, but not right this second, okay?"
She looked at him, half-smiling, voicing her thought. "Lieutenant, when did you become so clever?"
He focused on the ceiling. "Oh, I don’t know. I guess it was somewhere between my father’s influence and…" he dropped his head and met her eyes, "my mother’s."
Janeway did not resist the impulse to reach over and squeeze his hand. Their conversation then turned into a sort of twenty questions regarding more immediate matters.
"So, Tom, have you seen them?"
"Nope, not yet. I was waiting for you."
"What…oh God, this is going to sound stupid. What are they? I mean, boys or girls?"
"Oh! Two girls and a boy."
"The Doc says roughly three months."
She almost didn’t ask her next question, already knowing the answer, but she went ahead anyway, suddenly curious as to what he would say. "Names?"
"Nameless at present. Waiting for you on that one, too."
At that, she nearly admitted she’d already known they hadn’t been named, but she managed to stop herself in time. He was ‘waiting for her’ before visiting and naming these children they had created together. She blamed raging hormones for the fact that she felt about ready to cry, and turned that emotion into firm resolve, swallowing back the tears and slapping the tops of her thighs. "All right then." She slipped off the bed and donned a robe and slippers.
If Tom noticed her shining eyes, he did not mention it. Instead, he found his robe and shoes, too, and then held out his arm. "Shall we go say hello, Mom?"
All that talking and determination, and she was still nowhere near ready for that one. She swayed against Tom as black dots danced in front of her eyes. Tom realized his faux pas at once, holding her firmly until she regained her balance.
"Oh man, Captain, I’m sorry. What was I thinking? I shouldn’t have been so flip. I’m sorry."
She never hesitated. "Apology accepted, Tom, but I suppose it’s a title I’d better start getting used to, hadn’t I? I’ll do better the next time, I promise. Shall we go?"
* * *
Two crewmembers saw Janeway and Paris as they walked together, bathrobe-clad, down the corridor. Even though those particular two were not known for their gossiping tendencies, word spread like wildfire throughout the ship.
By the time Janeway and Paris reached Hydroponics, the entire ship (gel-packs included) knew their whereabouts. Everyone was afraid to move, afraid even to talk, for fear they would jinx whatever spell they were sure had been cast. Tuvok and Vorik were especially careful not to touch anyone, certain if they did, their heads would explode from the tension.
* * *
The bay door slid open and Janeway was met with the humid, earthy scent of healthy plant life. She cast her eyes around the room, but did not see anything that looked like a crib.
A soft voice from the right rear caught her attention. "Captain? Tom?" Kes appeared from behind a row of Talaxian tomatoes, carrying a squirming bundle.
Janeway froze, a burst of adrenaline warping through her system, making her fingers tingle and her toes go numb. Kes stopped, too. Tom wanted more than anything to take the baby, but he resisted the urge and stayed beside Janeway.
"It’s all right, Captain," Kes said evenly. "I’ll put her down and you can come to the crib when you’re ready. I’ve just given her a bottle, but her brother and sister are still hungry." She paused a moment and the blanket fell away from a tiny, strawberry-blonde head. Janeway couldn’t help but see a pair of blue-gray eyes peering curiously at her.
Kes held her ground as the baby continued to capture her mother’s attention. "It’s good to see you, Captain."
Dragging her gaze away from the infant, Janeway met Kes’ eyes. "I think it’s good to be here."
"Of course it is. I’ll just put her down," Kes repeated, but made no move in the direction she had come. Instead, she sort of held the bundle out to Janeway, as if she might ‘put her down’ right into Janeway’s arms.
Janeway was even less ready for this than she had been for being addressed as Mom. She took a firm step backward and found herself up against Tom, who stood solid as a brick wall. She gripped one of his hands, not caring how he might feel about it or what Kes might think. She just held on for dear life, relieved when he held on right back.
"Oh, yes, Kes, put her down, please, and I’ll…we’ll…come to the crib."
Kes disappeared for a moment and then returned empty-handed, walking past them to the door. There she turned.
"I’m going to my quarters. I have the night shift tonight, so call me when you’re done with your visit. The babies will need to be fed." Her voice carried no threat, no suggestive tone, only a gentle reminder that life continued to move forward, no matter where a person might find themselves along its path.
"Will do. Thanks, Kes." Turning his attention back to his captain, who still had his hand in a bloodless grip, Tom politely asked if she would consider giving his hand a reprieve. She immediately dropped it, grinning sheepishly. "Sorry, Tom, guess I’m a little distracted."
"S’okay," he said, shaking out his hand, "no harm done. I’m just the pilot." His ability to inject levity into any situation was one of the things Janeway liked most about Tom, even when he injected it inappropriately. Right now, it gave her some much-needed courage.
She took a deep breath and cautiously stepped towards the rear of the bay. As she approached the far wall, she could hear cooing sounds.
She almost stopped again. Almost, but not quite. She was close enough to see a tiny arm waving in the air and get a whiff of the sweet, talcum-powder fragrance that all babies seemed to smell of. It drew her up next to the crib.
She peered over the crib’s railing, and immediately three heads turned to see who was having a look. Kes had dressed them in pink and blue for ease in identification by gender, at least. A pink on either end with blue in the middle. Of course, she had already met the redhead on the far left, but aside from the hair and eye color, they were exact little replicas of each other. Same size and build. Same shape of head, eyes, ears, noses, and mouths. A redhead and two blondes, one a distinct towhead and the other more sand-colored. One pair of eyes exactly matching her own and her sister’s. But the boy, the towhead, had eyes of blue that rivaled his father’s. She wondered absently if he would use those eyes to stir up trouble in the same manner as his father had. Only time would tell.
One fist stirred the air again, and Janeway could not resist reaching in to touch it with her fingertips. To her complete shock, the baby squealed in delight and at once she felt the front of her robe become wet. She looked down at herself and back up at Tom.
"Oh, my. I guess it’s dinnertime, isn’t it?"
"Captain." The sudden heaviness of his tone prompted her to frown at him. She held a hand to her leaking chest.
"Tom? What is it?"
He fidgeted, wouldn’t meet her eyes. He was clearly agitated about something, but she couldn’t for the life of her figure out what he would have to be afraid of here, now.
"Tom?" She repeated, more forcefully.
He finally looked at her, his forehead creased with worry. When he began to speak, it came out in staccato bursts. "Captain, you…don’t need to…to…do this. K…Kes told me…that, uh, that you’d…um, that the milk, um…you’d…" He stammered to a halt just as she began to understand. No wonder he looked so upset. He thought he still had to give her a way out, though he obviously didn’t want to. She knew the decision she had made, but nobody else did. It was time to give Tom a way out.
"Kes told you if I don’t get busy and nurse, I’ll lose the milk. You think if I allow that to happen, it’ll just be one less reason I’ll have to ever come near these babies."
He nodded mutely, his mouth dropping open slightly in surprise.
She wilted a bit. "I am so scared about this, Tom, you know that. But I want to be near these babies. I wouldn’t be here otherwise." Before he could gather himself enough to look stricken, she added softly, "And your arguments didn’t exactly fall on deaf ears."
His relief was a palatable thing, the expression on his face causing her stomach do a little acidic dance. A baby cooed again, returning them both to the moment. Tom found his voice.
"Would you like me to leave, Captain?"
Well, how ridiculous a question. No, she wouldn’t like him to leave. "No, Tom, no. I just need…I just need…" Hell, she wasn’t sure what she needed. She needed a baby at her breast. She needed to get the baby to her breast. She needed to tell Tom he could stop calling her Captain. She needed to find a place to sit down, and fast. Not fast enough, unfortunately. Suddenly lightheaded, her knees buckled, but Tom was ready and caught her before she could fall.
"Whoa, there! Here, right back here, Captain. See? Kes has a nice rocking chair all ready for you. Sit down. There. Okay? Are you okay?"
What a relief to sit! "Yes, Tom, I’m fine." Fine was a relative term in this case, for she didn’t have a clue what she was supposed to be doing, except she knew it would eventually involve applying baby to breast. She opened the robe and the front of the lightweight gown beneath it. Tom went to the crib to fetch a baby, and that was when Janeway noticed the padd on the table beside the chair. It was activated. Janeway picked it up and chuckled. Trust Kes to provide instructions on breastfeeding.
She was still trying to read it when Tom coughed quietly. She looked up. He was holding her son (her son!).
"Ready for him?"
"Well, I guess so." He bent down and placed him in her arms.
Professionals had written well-researched articles about the way a new mother’s anxiety could evaporate the first time she holds her child. If Janeway had read any of these, she would have scoffed at the idea that such a thing might be true. However, this is exactly what happened to her at the feel of the tiny weight in her arms. It did not necessarily mean she was suddenly confident of her abilities as a mother—or even of her abilities to nurse—only that her immediate fear of the baby himself had lessened considerably. She held him to her, amazed.
In the meantime, the hungry infant found what he was busy snuffling for and latched on with an intensity she was not prepared for.
"Ow!" She jumped in the chair.
Tom was immediately on his knees in front of her. "What? ‘Ow,’ what? What’s wrong?" It was clear his next move would be to summon Kes, but she stopped him.
"Tom, hold that padd out. Quickly now." She scanned it until she found what applied to her current situation. Following the suggestions, she made a few adjustments to both the baby and herself and very soon all was well. The baby was sucking contentedly and there was very little discomfort. In fact, she could already feel the pressure easing. She exhaled in relief.
"Okay, Tom, it’s okay. Keep holding that padd. I want to be sure everything’s going to stay okay."
* * *
She awoke without realizing she had fallen asleep, but her eyes were so heavy, she could not get them to open. She felt a gentle tugging at her breast and was unsure what it was. She was unsure where she was. She must have asked some kind of question, because she heard Tom’s voice, but he sounded very far away. Her entire body felt like it was made of lead.
"Cap—Kathryn, you’re in a rocking chair in Hydroponics, remember? Emily is just finishing her dinner. You are very tired and soon I think you should sleep. We’ll all be here when you wake up, I promise. We’re never going to leave you." She felt him brush a lock of hair off her forehead.
There was only one truly unfamiliar word in the entire string of words Tom had just said and she managed to repeat it back to him.
"Emily?" She struggled to lift her eyelids one more time. He was kneeling in front of her so that his face was just level with hers. He was smiling so sweetly. She didn’t think she had ever seen Tom Paris smile like that before.
"Yes, Cap—Kath—Cap, yes, Emily. Emily is your daughter, Christopher is your son, and Phoebe is your other daughter. Do you remember?"
Okay, okay, some things were coming back. "Yes, I remem…" She couldn’t keep her eyes open anymore. Doesn’t that suck-y sensation feel so good? Oh, I think I’d rather focus on that, it seems so much easier than trying to talk… She realized she was losing consciousness again, but she fought it. She had to get this out, so he would know she hadn’t forgotten. "I remember…naming our daughters and our s…son…our children. Us, Tom, we…"
"Yes, Kathryn," he said gently. "Go to sleep now." She finally stopped fighting and allowed the darkness to envelop her.
* * *
Several hours later, Kes and Neelix walked quietly into Hydroponics. When they reached the crib, Kes was very glad she had thought to leave blankets and a pillow.
Janeway was sound asleep in the rocker with a baby asleep on her chest and a blanket tucked around them both. Tom was curled on the floor at her feet, his long legs snarled in a blanket and his arms tightly wound around the pillow, appearing as though he had found what he was looking for and was never letting go.
She and Neelix returned to the corridor outside the bay, into the throng of silent, waiting crewmembers. Neelix gave them the "thumbs-up" gesture he had learned from Tom.
The whooping and hollering might have been heard in the next galaxy, but it did not disturb anyone in Hydroponics.