Hi, all! Here's a little PG-13 P/T alternate universe story that's been floating around in my mind ever since "Message in a Bottle" aired. No, it has nothing to do with Owen Paris. ;) I wasn't sure I was going to do it until someone on the PTF totally independently expressed an interest in the general plotline.
A thousand million thanks to Kim for her invaluable help with this story. She a) prodded me in the right direction as I was writing it, b) proofed and betaed it, c) suggested some alterations which made the story a heck of a lot stronger, and d) came up with the title. :)
A note on the title: "Honoris Causa" means: as a token of respect or honor, especially when used with the conferral of honorary degrees.
DISCLAIMER: Paramount owns everything lock, stock, and barrel. I have no excuse for stealing them except that I am an obsessed fan. :)
by Margaret Berger (MaisieRita@aol.com)
(Voy, P/T, PG-13)
The comm buzzed in the middle of the night. "Kim to Paris."
Tom groaned and rolled over, carefully avoiding crushing B'Elanna. "Paris here. What is it, Harry?"
"Could you meet me in Sickbay?"
"Harry, it's ... " A quick check of the chronometer next to the bed provided the answer. "... 0300 hours. Can't this wait until morning?"
"No. Alyssa just threw up all over the place and she's got a fever."
"Trikalian flu, Harry. If she already threw up the worst is probably over. Give her an analgesic for the fever and some water to settle her stomach, and bring her into Sickbay in the morning."
"Harry, it's the middle of the night!"
"Trikalian flu isn't serious, Harry. All the kids are getting it. Jared and Krissy both had it two days ago, remember? They're fine. Jared will be back in school tomorrow."
"Tom, *please*. Seven's worried. Alyssa's never been sick before."
"It's nothing, Harry. Trust me."
B'Elanna mumbled, "Get out of bed and go already, Tom. He's your best friend, remember? Humor him."
Tom sighed. "Fine. I'll be there in five minutes, Harry."
"Thanks, Tom. I owe you one."
"No, you owe B'Elanna one. Paris out." Tom planted a quick kiss on the cheek of his very pregnant wife and threw the covers off the bed. "God, I hate this. Why do kids always get sick in the middle of the night?"
"Because they love to torture you." B'Elanna rolled over, trying to get comfortable. "I'm not going to be able to get back to sleep. The baby's kicking."
"Yeah?" Tom stopped getting dressed and sat back down on the bed, placing an affectionate hand on B'Elanna's stomach. "Good one! I think it's another boy."
"That's what you said about Krissy."
A very sleepy voice floated through the room. "What did you say about me?"
Tom looked up to find a little red head poking through the door. "Nothing. Why are you awake, sweetie?"
"Heard Unca Harry on the comm. 'Lyssa's sick?"
"It's nothing, sweetheart. Daddy will make her all better."
"Can I come?"
"No. Go back to bed."
"I can help!"
"Sweetie, it's the middle of the night."
"I'm awake. I wanna help."
Tom exchanged glances with B'Elanna. "You can come to Sickbay tomorrow, Krissy. Maybe you can help me sort all the equipment."
"Don't wanna go tomorrow. Wanna go *now*. 'Lyssa's sick."
B'Elanna shifted position on the bed. "You might as well just take her, Tom. It'll take her an hour to go back to sleep anyway."
Tom frowned. "I don't think it's a good idea to take her out in the middle of the night."
"It'll be fine if you don't make a habit of it. You take Jared every once in a while."
"So? Krissy's much more interested in medicine than Jared is."
"She's four, B'Elanna. I think it's a bit too early to be planning her medical career."
"You flew your first flight simulator when you were five. You already knew you wanted to be a pilot."
Tom snorted. "And look where it got me." He got off the bed again and pulled on a blue medical uniform. "Come on, Krissy. Mommy says I should take you to Sickbay."
"Hi, Unca Harry!"
"Hi, sweetie. What are you doing up so late?"
"I wanna help 'Lyssa. I heard you say she was sick."
Harry threw an apologetic glance at Tom and mouthed "sorry."
Tom shrugged it away and pulled out a medical tricorder. "Now, let's see what the problem is." He ran his tricorder over the little girl snuggled into Harry's arms, her face buried in his neck. "Come on, Alyssa, let me see your pretty face."
"No." The high-pitched voice was muffled by the fabric of Harry's hastily donned sweatshirt.
"Sweetie, I need to check your throat."
Harry tried. "Alyssa, let Uncle Tom take a look at your throat."
"No! Don't wanna! He's gonna hurt me."
"He's not going to hurt you, pumpkin."
"Yes he is! T'Bango says doctors poke you with needles."
Krissy took offense. "That's 'diculous. My daddy doesn't hurt anybody. My tummy hurt yesterday and he gave me med'cine and then I felt all better."
Alyssa sniffed into Harry's shoulder. "T'Bango says ... "
"T'Bango is a stupid boy. He doesn't know anything. Daddy won't hurt you."
"Promise. Cross my heart."
Alyssa sniffed again and then turned slowly to face Tom. Tom smiled soothingly at her. "That's a big brave girl. Open your mouth for me and I'll check your throat, okay? Then I'll give you a lollypop, all right?"
"Grape," Tom said seriously.
A few minutes later, Tom confirmed the diagnosis of Trikalian flu, prescribed an analgesic and gave Alyssa a hypospray to settle her stomach. Then he patted her on the head and smiled. "See, that wasn't so bad, was it?"
"No. Can I have my lollypop now?"
"Yes. But you have to wait until tomorrow to eat it, or your stomach will start hurting again. Okay?"
Alyssa thought about it then nodded and said, "Okay."
The doors to Sickbay swished open and Jerron walked in holding his three year old son. "Oh good. Look, Baleyr, Doctor Paris is already here."
Tom pointed with the tricorder. "Let me guess. He just threw up?"
Tom smiled ruefully and shook his head. "Have a seat. I'll be with you in a minute."
0630. Janeway and Chakotay entered Sickbay. Chakotay was holding seven-year-old Lucy's hand, and Janeway was carrying their five-year-old son Jacob. Tom glanced up from where he was entering medical data into the computer. "*Both* of them?"
Chakotay nodded. "Jake took one bite of breakfast and threw up, and before he was out of the bathroom, Lucy ran in there too." He looked around the messy Sickbay. "Busy night?"
Tom ran his hands tiredly over his eyes. "Your kids are the sixth and seventh I've seen since 0300. It's nothing serious, but I've given up trying to convince people of that."
Janeway put Jacob down on a biobed and nodded her head to Krissy's sleeping form. "I thought she'd gotten it already."
"She did. She's just sleeping. She wanted to come to Sickbay with me in the middle of the night to help Alyssa and she fell asleep around 0430 after we took care of Naomi Wildman."
"Alyssa caught it? I thought her Borg nanoprobes fought off all infections."
"Nope. This is apparently a very infectious virus."
"You don't think the adults will catch it, do you?"
"I hope not. I've been exposed about fifteen times in the past three days, but the virus isn't in my system. It's interesting. When I have a chance, I'll probably study it a little more closely. Maybe write a paper." As he was speaking, Tom was running a tricorder over Lucy. "Trikalian flu. What a surprise." He patted Lucy's head. "Hold on, sweetie, I'll give you something that will make you feel all better."
"Thanks, Uncle Tom."
Tom grinned at Janeway as he prepared a hypospray. "I'm kind of glad it's your kids this morning."
Janeway frowned at him with her hands on her hips. "You're glad our children are sick?"
"No. But except for Alyssa, all the kids in here were calling me Doctor Paris. Every time I hear it, I keep thinking they're talking about my grandfather."
Chakotay lifted Jacob up onto a biobed. "It's been almost ten years, Tom."
"I know. I'm still not used to it yet, I guess. Haven't gotten used to the blue uniform either, to tell you the truth."
Janeway looked at him seriously. "I'm sorry, Tom."
"Don't apologize. You didn't plan it, and I'm not such a terrible doctor."
"You're a very good doctor, Tom. You always have been."
"The Holodoc didn't think so."
"Yes, he did. He wrote me several memos while he was training you. He thought you had excellent potential as medical staff. He specifically requested you as an assistant after Kes left us."
"Really?" Tom raised his eyebrows as he started to scan Jacob. "I always felt like he was barely tolerating me."
"No. He was very pleased with your progress. In fact, before we lost him, he suggested that we increase your shifts in Sickbay. He wanted to start training you more seriously."
"Well, he got his wish. Too bad he wasn't here to help me through it. It was a lot easier learning from him than learning from textbooks and holovids. And if he'd been here, we might not have lost Tuvok." His voice was quietly bitter.
Chakotay frowned. "That wasn't your fault, Tom."
Tom rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I know. There was nothing I could have done."
"If I'd have known what I was doing, I could have saved him."
"You tried your best."
"Wasn't good enough. I didn't know the surgical technique, so we lost him." Tom injected Jake with a hypospray and sent him off to find his sister. "I couldn't save Ayala or Chell from that virus either."
"But you did save B'Elanna and Joe Carey."
Tom took a deep breath. "Yeah. I guess."
Janeway patted him on the arm. "No guessing. You saved them, Tom. And you've saved lots of us since then."
Tom nodded. "I suppose. It's just that I always feel like I don't know enough. I'm always second-guessing myself." He leaned back against a biobed. "I never had to think like this when I was flying. It was pure instinct, pure adrenaline. I just *knew* what to do, and I did it."
"You don't feel that way about medicine?"
"Well, I can set broken bones in my sleep by now, if that's what you mean. It's just not the same."
Janeway shook her head sadly. "Tom, I know how much flying meant to you. But after we lost the Doctor ... "
"I know," Tom nodded. "There wasn't anybody else remotely qualified to serve in Sickbay, and we had plenty of pilots. Kathryn, we went through all of this ten years ago."
"It was more than that, Tom," Janeway said gently. "I should have let you read those recommendations from the Doctor. In one of his last medical logs, he mentioned that his ultimate goal was to get you permanently assigned to Sickbay. He wanted you to become a full-fledged doctor, rather than an assistant."
"Really?" Tom was surprised. "Why didn't you tell me this back then?"
Janeway sighed softly. "Two reasons. First, he meant it to be a confidential assessment of your skills, and second, I didn't think you'd want to hear it. You weren't too happy with the whole idea, as I recall. You wanted to stay at the conn."
"Just resisting the inevitable, I guess," Tom said ruefully. A yawn caught him off guard and he covered it with his hand.
"You look exhausted," Janeway said sympathetically.
Tom rubbed a hand over his eyes. "I *am* exhausted. I was here until 2300 hours last night."
"And back at 0300?" Janeway said. "You should go take a nap."
Tom shook his head. "I'll be all right. I just need some coffee."
Chakotay nodded over at Krissy, who was still sleeping on a biobed. "Why don't you let us take her, and you can relax for a little while? I'm not on duty until the afternoon. She can nap back in our quarters, and I'll drop her off at daycare after lunch."
Tom nodded. "Thanks. That'd be great. B'Elanna could use the morning off, anyway."
"I can imagine," Janeway said with a sympathetic smile. "How's she feeling?"
"Like she's nine months pregnant. She wants her stomach back."
Janeway laughed a little wistfully. "I remember that feeling." Chakotay exchanged significant glances with Tom. "Kathryn, you said two was your limit."
"I know," Janeway agreed. "But being around pregnant women always gives me that itch again."
"Hormones," Tom said. "It's all hormones."
"Hormones and sex," Chakotay said with a grin. "Come on, Kathryn. You're due on the Bridge, and I'm going to take my sweet little goddaughter back to our quarters so our good doctor can catch a few z's." He gathered up the sleeping girl, running an affectionate hand through her hair.
Tom settled himself into his office chair. "I'm not going to sleep, Chakotay."
"Well, then relax a little bit, all right?"
"All right. See you two later."
After everyone cleared out of Sickbay, Tom spent a half an hour cleaning up his office and taking an inventory of his supplies. When he finished that, he collapsed into the comfortable chair at his desk and ran a hand over his eyes. God, he was tired. He'd never been this tired when he was assigned to the helm. He leaned back in the chair. Maybe he'd just close his eyes for a minute ...
Tom was asleep before he could even finish the thought.
He sat in near-darkness, as if by dimming the lights he could hide from the truth for a little bit longer. It wasn't working. He couldn't stop himself from remembering what had happened, in vivid flashes of noise and color and light.
Warning bells ringing so loudly he'd had to turn them off to concentrate.
The lights on the diagnostic monitors flashing furiously.
Ensign Carter speaking with a touch of panic in her voice. "His vitals are weakening, Lieutenant. We're losing him."
His hands, covered in greenish blood and starting to shake.
The knowledge, as he fought desperately to save the dying man, that his best efforts weren't going to be good enough this time. Cranial hemorrhaging, massive systems failures. There was too much damage, and he simply wasn't trained to handle this kind of catastrophic injury.
A sick feeling of nausea settled in his stomach as the hours dragged on and he stared at the placid face of the unconscious Vulcan on the biobed. The slight purplish cast to Tuvok's skin was the only external sign of the internal trauma that had damaged his body beyond repair.
He continued working long past the point at which he had any hope of saving his patient. Carter finally stopped him by gently removing the neural regenerator from his hand. "He's gone, sir. There's nothing more you can do. Come sit down." She led him out of the surgical bay to his office, sat him down and stripped off his surgical overclothes. "Would you like me to make the entry in the medical log, Lieutenant?"
He stared at her blankly for a second before he could answer. "No," he said dully. "I'll do it. You can leave, Ensign."
Carter hesitated. "Are you going to be all right, sir?" He didn't answered, and Carter bent down next to him. "You did everything you could, Tom. It's not your fault."
He wasn't able to look her in the eyes. "Go get some sleep, Sarah. You've been up all night. I'll finish up here."
After she left, Tom cleaned up Sickbay by rote, carefully moving Tuvok's body into a stasis chamber and cleaning up all the medical instruments he'd left scattered around during his futile attempt to save the other man's life. When he was finished, he looked around. There was no sign of the unsuccessful life and death battle he'd waged there an hour before. Sickbay was clean again. Sterile and silent, waiting for the next patient. Tom had never loathed it quite so much.
He went into his office and turned out the lights.
B'Elanna found him there a few hours later, still sitting in the semi- darkness. When she stepped into the room he didn't even look up at her. "I couldn't save him, B'Elanna."
B'Elanna turned up the lights and Tom winced against their brightness. Kneeling down in front of him, B'Elanna grasped his hands. "No one blames you, Tom. It's not your fault."
"He never had a chance."
"The damage was too severe, Tom. There wasn't anything you could have done."
Tom laughed bitterly. "That's the whole problem. There *was* something I could have done; I just didn't know how to do it. Tuvok's injuries shouldn't have been fatal, B'Elanna. If we'd had a real doctor on board, he wouldn't have died."
"You don't know that."
"Actually, I do know that. There's a surgical technique that would have stopped the cranial bleeding long enough for me to repair some of the neural damage. A doctor could have done it." Tom took a deep breath. "How many more people are going to die because I don't know enough to save them?"
B'Elanna gripped his hands a little more tightly. "Tom, you can't blame yourself for Tuvok's death. You weren't trained for this."
"Damn right I wasn't! So what the hell am I doing in Sickbay?"
"You're here because we need you here, Tom. Trained or not, you're the only doctor we have."
Tom shook his head. "I'm not a doctor, B'Elanna."
B'Elanna spoke calmly. "You have to be." Tom stared at her in silent dismay until she wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tight. "Come on," she said softly, "let's get you out of here for a while."
"Please," Tom answered.
B'Elanna took him back to his quarters and made him take a shower. While he was in the shower, she cleaned up the room a little, laid out shorts and a T-shirt, and replicated some tomato soup and warm bread.
Tom looked at the food sitting on the table. "I don't think I can eat right now, B'Elanna."
"When was your last meal?"
"I don't know."
"You need to eat. Just one bowl of soup, all right?"
Tom's voice was acerbic. "B'Elanna, Tuvok is *dead*."
B'Elanna led him to the table and sat him down. "You still need to eat. Starving yourself and collapsing from exhaustion won't bring him back, but it might prevent you from helping the next patient who needs you."
"God," Tom said heavily, dropping his head into his hands. "I don't want there to be any more patients."
"I know," B'Elanna responded sympathetically. "But they're still going to come, anyway."
"I hate it, B'El. I hate medicine, I hate having to play doctor, and most of all I hate Sickbay. If I never have to see it again it'll be too soon."
B'Elanna was quiet. "It was bound to happen someday, Tom. Even real doctors lose patients."
"Well, maybe they take a course in med school on how to handle it, or something. Maybe it's easier for them. Maybe when they lose someone, they know there wasn't any way they could have saved him. Maybe they didn't have to sit there watching their patient's life slip through their fingers because they didn't know enough to save him. Damn it!" Tom rose from the table and stalked into the bedroom.
When B'Elanna entered the room, Tom was sitting huddled on the bed, arms wrapped around himself. "I only ever wanted to fly, B'Elanna," Tom said quietly. "That's all I ever wanted to do. It didn't seem like I was asking for much. Just a starship and a captain to tell me where to take it."
B'Elanna sat next to him on the bed. "I know," she said softly.
"No, you don't. I feel like I spend my whole life in Sickbay, and when I'm not there, I'm in my quarters studying medical texts or in the holodeck practicing surgical techiques. I couldn't tell you the last time I ran a flight simulation, and I don't even want to *think* about how long it's been since I was at the conn."
B'Elanna took his hand in hers and brought it to her lips for a gentle kiss. She held his hand there for a minute, then helped him lie down and pulled the covers over him. "Do you think you'll be able to sleep?"
"I doubt it."
"Try. For me?"
Tom managed a pale imitation of a smile. "For you, love, anything." B'Elanna kissed him gently on the lips, then rose and turned out the lights. "B'Elanna?"
"I don't think I can keep doing this." Tom's voice was quiet in the dark of his quarters.
"Of course you can."
"What if it's you next time? What if you get sick and I don't know how to fix it?"
"You'll do your best, like you always do. I trust you, Tom." B'Elanna's silhouette was outlined in the doorway to Tom's bedroom. "You have to learn to trust yourself."
<Brrp> Tom's comm badge chirped.
Tom came to slowly, realizing with some surprise that he'd been asleep for almost two hours. <Brrp> The comm badge chirped insistently. "Daddy?" Tom sat up with a start and tapped his badge to activate it. "What's up, little man?"
"Mommy said to tell you ... " Jared's voice faded off and he heard mumblings in the background for a few seconds. "I don't understand how water can break but Mommy said her water broke and the baby's coming now and you should beam her to Sickbay."
Tom was in motion instantly, moving to the emergency transporter controls. "All right. Jared, go find Uncle Chakotay and stay with him, all right?"
"All right, Daddy. Mommy's yelling things in Klingon."
Tom grinned. "I'm sure she is." He hit a few buttons and B'Elanna shimmered into existence a few feet away. "Hi, love. How are you feeling?" He helped her onto a biobed and raised it into birthing position.
B'Elanna growled at him. "Like I'm having a baby two weeks early."
"Relax. You've done this before. Have the contractions started yet?"
B'Elanna grimaced. "Yes. They're really bad."
Tom frowned. "They shouldn't be bad yet." He pulled out a tricorder and ran it quickly over B'Elanna's stomach. "B'El, according to this you've been in labor for four hours already. When did your water break?"
"Right before I had Jared call you on the comm." She grimaced again. "Ow! Kahless, I hate this part!"
Tom frowned at the tricorder display again. "You didn't notice you were in labor?"
"I thought the baby was being really active. I didn't realize it was contractions until a half an hour ago and I knew you were busy so I didn't want to disturb you and ... OW!"
B'Elanna growled at him again. "You always say that like it's going to help. It doesn't, you know."
Tom shrugged. "I've gotta say it. Part of the Hippocratic Oath, I think." He felt B'Elanna's stomach tenderly. "Damn."
"What? Ow ow ow!" She took a deep breath. "What's wrong?"
"The baby didn't turn. He ... or she ... is still feet first. Little troublemaker already."
B'Elanna forced a smile. "Just like his daddy. Ow!"
"You're in the last stage of labor already. If the baby were head first, he or she would be moving into position for delivery."
"Ow! Well, what are you going to do about it?" B'Elanna demanded. "Can't you beam the baby out or something?"
"I could," Tom said, nodding. "But it's not the best birthing technique for your body. Even surgical removals are better."
"A C-section? You're not really going to ... OW! ... cut into me, are you?"
Tom shook his head. "No. I'm going to try to turn the baby." He gave B'Elanna a hypospray of medication and placed firm fingers on her belly, poking and prodding methodically and applying gentle pressure.
"Does this really work?"
"Sometimes," Tom said. "I had to do it for Donna Henley. The technique has been around for centuries, but I got some medication from the Ekadians that helps a lot. It would never work this close to delivery, otherwise." He slapped at his comm badge. "Paris to Ensign Carter."
Carter's soprano voice answered immediately. "Go ahead."
"Sarah, I need you in Sickbay."
"Understood. I'll be there in a minute."
"How can I relax with you poking at me?"
"I'm not poking at you. I'm poking at the baby." Tom pointed a mounted tricorder at B'Elanna's belly and set it up to monitor the baby's vital signs.
"What are you doing?" B'Elanna asked suspiciously. "OW! Damn it!"
"I'm keeping an eye on the baby's heart rate," Tom said. "If the baby goes into distress, we'll have to try an alternate method."
"If the baby goes into distress?" B'Elanna repeated angrily.
"Breathe, B'Elanna, and stop worrying. I've delivered 56 babies so far, and they've all been fine. I know what I'm doing."
The door to Sickbay swished open and Sarah Carter walked in. "B'Elanna!" she exclaimed in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
"What does it look like," B'Elanna growled back. "I'm having a baby!"
"I didn't expect you here for another three weeks. You were a week late with Jared *and* Krissy."
"This one's obviously -- OW! -- impatient."
"If it's any help, sweetheart," Tom said as he prodded gently at B'Elanna's stomach, "this one's likely to be a bit smaller. The birth should be a little easier than the others."
"Easy for you to say," B'Elanna growled. "OW!"
"Sorry. Believe me, it's for your own good. Sarah, can you get a birthing gown for B'Elanna and set up a privacy alcove, please?"
"Yes, Doctor," Carter said promptly. She watched Tom's motions carefully. "The baby's breech?"
"Yup. I think this will work, though."
Tom continued his massage of B'Elanna's stomach. "Do you want something for the pain, B'Elanna?"
B'Elanna stared at him. "I thought you didn't give drugs in the last stages of labor."
"I didn't use to," Tom agreed. "But I got some herbal extracts from the Irridians that can be very helpful when they're mixed with some distilled leola root."
Tom grinned. "Believe it or not, the stuff has amazing medicinal properties. Sarah, can you prepare a hypospray for me?"
Carter reached for a vial on the table. "Can't we use the solution we prepared yesterday for Chell's sprained ankle?"
Tom shook his head. "Nope. I mixed some Aladrol in that. It'll travel right through the placenta and dope the baby. Fresh hypo please, ten ccs, equal parts herbs and root."
Carter nodded and prepared the hypo. When she finished, Tom injected it carefully into B'Elanna's neck, then went back to his steady massage of B'Elanna's stomach. "Feel better?"
B'Elanna sighed. "Yes."
"This will probably reduce your ability to push, you know."
"I don't care," B'Elanna said blissfully. "Anyway, I'm good at pushing."
Tom smiled and checked the tricorder for the baby's vitals. "Heart rate is steady. Poor kid. Has no idea what's about to happen." He placed his hand flat on B'Elanna's stomach, testing the baby's position. "Okay. B'Elanna, I want you to exhale and relax your stomach muscles as much as you can, all right? On three. One ... two ... THREE." On cue, Tom prodded B'Elanna's abdomen with a firm, deft motion.
"Whoa," B'Elanna said in surprise. "What was *that*?"
Tom had his hands flat on her stomach again. "That, B'Elanna love, was our child doing his first somersault."
"Or hers..." B'Elanna reminded him.
"Or hers," Tom said. He stood up and stretched his neck, reaching for a tricorder. "Excellent. Worked like a charm. Baby's feeling great, you're feeling great, you're fully effaced and eight centimeters dilated, and I think in about twenty minutes we're going to have another little baby Paris to deal with. Diapers, two a.m. feedings, spit ups ... you sure you want to go through with this, sweetheart?"
B'Elanna managed a smile. "Kind of late to be backing out on me now, Paris. If I recall, having a third kid was *your* idea."
Tom shrugged with a smile on his face. "Couldn't help myself. They're just so darn adorable." He ran his fingers gently over her forehead. "And they've got the cutest little bumps on their heads."
"Uh oh," B'Elanna said suddenly. "Tom?"
"I think it's time."
Tom checked his tricorder. "I think you're right. Sarah, would you prepare the post-natal cart for me?" Tom leaned over and kissed B'Elanna's cheek, then took up position at the foot of the bed. "Okay, sweetheart, nice and easy for me now, remember?"
B'Elanna settled back against the bed, gripping the handles to brace herself. "Tom, just promise me you won't drop the baby, okay?"
Tom grinned. "Haven't dropped one yet, B'El, and I don't plan to start with my own kid. Now let's see if we've got a Matt or a Melanie!"
Forty-eight minutes later, the call went out to the Bridge announcing the healthy arrival one half-hour earlier of Matthew Alexander Paris, 53 centimeters long, weighing approximately 3400 grams, and squalling like a banshee over the comm link. Mother and baby were doing fine, father was about to fall asleep on his feet, and all cases of Trikalian flu were to be brought to the attention of Ensign Carter for the remainder of the day.
Janeway and Chakotay came by a little while later with Jared and Krissy. Krissy stared at the tiny infant in fascination, but Jared took a quick glance and said, "Looks like all the other babies," before giving his mom a kiss and settling down in front of a computer terminal to play a game.
Tom ruffled Jared's hair affectionately. "Overcome by the emotion of the moment, I see."
"Like his father," Chakotay said with a grin. "You're very calm, too."
Tom shrugged merrily. "Ah, you know how it is. After a while, it loses its thrill. What's one more baby in the grand scheme of things?"
Janeway punched him lightly on the arm. "If I thought you believed that, you'd be in big trouble." She kissed him on that cheek and took one more look at the baby cradled in B'Elanna's arms. "Oh, Chakotay, isn't he sweet?"
Chakotay sighed. "Time to get you out of here. Come on, Kathryn. We've got a ship to run."
"But he's so cute, Chakotay."
"Diapers, Kathryn. Lots of them. Diapers and diapers and more diapers, and baby food and formula and colic and ... "
"Hey!" B'Elanna said indignantly. "Do you mind?"
Chakotay grinned at her unrepentantly. "Sorry. You want us to take the kids to the mess hall for some food?"
"Please," B'Elanna said.
"All right, then," Chakotay said and pulled Kathryn away from the biobed. "Come on, kids. Let's go find Uncle Neelix and see if he won't give you some ice cream."
"Ice cream!" the children chorused excitedly, and sped out of Sickbay.
Tom sat down on the biobed next to B'Elanna and carefully lifted Matthew out of her arms. "He's so tiny," he said in disbelief, cradling the baby in one practiced arm.
"They're all this tiny when they're born, Tom," B'Elanna said affectionately, peering at Matthew's scrunched up little face.
"I know. Still amazing, though."
B'Elanna looked at him inquisitively. "Can I ask you a question?"
Tom smiled at her. "Sure, love. What is it?" He placed Matthew into the specially prepared bassinet next to the bed and gently tucked him in.
"Were you nervous at all that Matthew was breech?"
Tom thought about it for a second. "No. I knew what to do."
"I could tell," B'Elanna said sleepily. "You turned out to be a very good doctor, Tom. I'm proud of you."
Tom didn't answer except to brush his lips across hers. "You should get some sleep while you can. You're going to have to nurse him again in an hour or two."
"Slave driver," B'Elanna sighed happily, and settled into the pillow.
Tom waited until B'Elanna fell asleep before going back into his office and collapsing into a chair, feeling tired but exhilarated. Voyager's crew was a fertile one; in the past ten years, he'd delivered over 50 babies, and despite his earlier joke to Janeway, he'd never gotten used to the pure adrenaline rush and excitement of being present at the birth of a new life. It was somehow no more nor less exciting when the child was his own -- the breathtaking electricity of the moment was just as thrilling when the baby belonged to someone else.
In a way, Tom felt all the babies were partly his anyway. He'd brought them all into the world; except for Naomi Wildman, he'd held every baby on board during those first few instants of life, when tiny lungs filled for the first time and squalled a protest against the indignity of the moment.
The first time he'd delivered a baby, for Jenny Delaney, he'd been petrified he was going to drop the infant. He'd spent months studying birthing techniques, but he still hadn't been prepared for how slippery a newborn could be. Now he didn't even think about it anymore.
A flashing light on his console caught his attention. He tapped a button and a text message appeared from Janeway. "CONGRATULATIONS!" it said in large script. "He looks just like you! Thought you might find these files interesting when you're up with him in the middle of the night. --Kathryn."
There were several attached files. Tom opened the first and found it was a personal log from the Doctor. His finger pressed the pause button automatically. In spite of what Janeway had told him about the contents of the logs, Tom remembered all too well some of the more scathing remarks the Doctor had blistered him with during his 'apprenticeship' in Sickbay, and he wasn't sure he was in the mood to hear more of them. He was, for once, feeling pretty confident in his medical skills and thought he might enjoy the ride for a little while.
Tom sat with his finger poised over his console for a minute, then reached down and reactivated the screen. Kathryn wouldn't have sent him bad stuff. Not right after his baby was born. He smiled as the Doctor's familiar solemn face filled the screen.
"Chief Medical Officer, Federation Starship Voyager. Subject: Evaluation of Lieutenant Tom Paris."
Tom leaned forward to stare at the EMH's image, wondering what insult the Doctor would have chosen to start off the log with. The Doctor's next words caught him by surprise. "I am pleased to report on the remarkable development of Mr. Paris as a medical assistant. Despite only having been reassigned to Sickbay for three duty shifts a week for the past two months, Mr. Paris has made tremendous progress."
"Lieutenant Paris shows great medical intuition. His diagnoses are quick and accurate, and his suggested treatment regimens are generally correct. This is despite his complete lack of formal training in the medical area. Kes showed a similar potential in the medical field. It is a shame she is gone; I think with additional training Kes and Lieutenant Paris could have run Sickbay with little or no assistance from me."
Tom found himself staring at the screen with wide eyes. He forced himself to sit back in his chair as the Doctor continued.
"Mr. Paris, of course, does not have the benefit of the large medical database built into my program, but his skills with the computer allow him to efficiently access the information he needs. Furthermore, I have observed that the patients coming into Sickbay are noticeably more relaxed with Mr. Paris than they are with me. This is perhaps due to the fact that I am a hologram, but I suspect it is because the Lieutenant has a friendly and comforting bedside manner which I cannot yet emulate. In fact, I am surreptitiously studying his interactions with our patients in order to improve my own interactions with them."
"I have great hopes for the Lieutenant in Sickbay. In time, I would like to train him to become another practicing doctor for the ship. I confess that I am worried that the ship relies so heavily on me. I am, after all, a hologram and I was not designed to be operated continuously for this long. We have already had one near-disaster due to degradation of my program. I would prefer to train Mr. Paris before another disaster can strike."
"I foresee only two problems with turning Mr. Paris into a doctor. One, he considers himself to be first and foremost a pilot, and so far as I can tell, has no desire to give up his position at the helm. I am attempting to subtly change his mind. Second, and more troubling, Mr. Paris truly seems to believe that he is coming to medicine too late. In effect, he thinks he cannot possibly learn all there is to know in order to be a doctor."
The doctor shook his head slightly. "I wish I could convey to him that no one, neither human nor holograph, can ever learn all there is to know about medicine. All one can do is the best one can. I need to convince Mr. Paris that his best is enough."
"Computer, end log."
The computer screen winked off, and Tom blinked a few times. "Well, I'll be damned," he muttered under his breath. He clicked on Janeway's original message. There were four more attached files. Tom decided he'd follow her suggestion and save them for some late night feeding sessions with Matthew. If they were all like this one, they'd be just the thing to cheer him up at 0230 when he was wondering why he'd ever been insane enough to have another child.
He looked around his office. It had been ten years since the Doctor had been lost on that alien array, and all of a sudden, for the first time, Tom felt like he could really call the office his own. "Doctor Paris," he said softly, smiling at the sound of it.
As if on cue, his comm badge beeped. "Kim to Paris."
"Hey Tom, congratulations!" Harry's voice wasn't quite normal.
"Thanks, Harry. What's up?"
"I hate to bother you, but Alyssa's still running a fever."
Tom smiled wryly to himself. "Call Sarah, Harry. She's perfectly capable of handling a fever."
"I know that, but ... "
Harry sighed. "You know how Seven is. She doesn't trust Sarah. She claims she's 'insufficiently versed in medical practice' to take care of Alyssa."
"Harry, tell her that my wife just had a baby and I'm off duty."
"She said that B'Elanna's probably sleeping and it would take you less than five minutes to look at Alyssa, and that your personal life shouldn't interfere with your duties as ship's doctor."
"She's got it all figured out, doesn't she? Harry, I'm *tired*."
"Please, Tom? For me, your best buddy, the guy you almost named your first kid after, the guy who'll be sleeping on the couch tonight if you don't get your butt over here?"
"Don't drag your sex life into this, Harry." Tom sighed and lifted himself out of his chair. "Fine. You owe me twice now, Harry, and I *will* collect."
"I know it. Thanks a lot, Tom."
"Yeah, yeah. Paris out."
Tom gathered up a med kit and stepped into the outer room. B'Elanna stirred and cracked open an eye. "Where are you going?" she asked sleepily.
"House call at the Kim residence," Tom answered. "You'll be all right here for a few minutes?"
"I'll be fine," B'Elanna said. "If the baby starts to cry, I know what to do." She patted Matthew's back. "I had the strangest dream. I dreamt the Doctor was back on board, and he was talking to you."
Tom grinned. "Not quite a dream. Kathryn sent me some of his old logs. I only read the first one. He was evaluating me."
"Oh really? Must have been interesting."
"It was. He thought I had great potential for a career in medicine."
"He was right," B'Elanna said.
"Maybe," Tom said thoughtfully. "It's funny. Growing up, I was so sure I'd spend my life at the helm, and now the only time I'm there is when I manage to sneak in a flight simulation on the holodeck, or when we're on shore leave and I take us planetside in a shuttle. On the other hand, I can recite the first three chapters of 'Gray's Anatomy' from memory."
"You're all right with that?" B'Elanna asked.
Tom smiled. "Yeah. It's not a bad life, B'El, just a different one. And when I look at everything I've done -- " He patted Matthew's cap-covered head softly, "-- I know it's a really good life. Now I've gotta go see Alyssa before Seven has a nervous breakdown." He planted a kiss on B'Elanna's head and rose from the bed.
As had become a habit for him, Tom paused at the door to the corridor and took a look around his Sickbay. His Sickbay. Tom smiled to himself as the door shut behind him. He liked the sound of it.
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