Addiction, by Lisa Browning
Addiction: A Star Trek Voyager story. Copyright February, 1998. Paramount/Viacom owns all things Star Trek. I'm just borrowing for a while. No copyright infringement is intended, I promise. This story, like Sea Changes, is rated R for language and subject matter.
Well, I know it's been a while, but I've finally managed to come up with a follow-up to my first story, Sea Changes. I never intended to write a sequel, but here it is. I would recommend reading my first story before you try this one, since I refer to events in that story here. Thanks to everyone who wrote me about my first effort. I hope you enjoy this one as much. Again, I would welcome any and all constructive feedback at my e-mail address, JGBrowning@aol.com.
Summary: Tom Paris returns to duty after putting his experiences on Trylan V behind him, or has he? A new problem threatens to bring Tom's universe crashing down on him and the rest of the crew. This story is set a few weeks after the events in my last story, during the fourth/current season. Both stories are set after The Gift, but before Day of Honor.
"Chakotay, do we really have to go over this again?" Tom complained, barely containing his mounting frustration and irritation at the commander's inquiry.
"Tom, you agreed to cooperate with me as your counselor, and that means talking about everything, even if you don't think it's important."
"It's just a stupid dream! It doesn't have any hidden meaning!"
Tom began pacing back and forth. *Why won't he just let this go? Is he going to pick on every little thing? At this rate, I'll never get back on the bridge!* It had been over two months since Paris was kidnapped and tortured during the away mission to Trylan V, and he was still on indefinite medical leave. As hard as he tried to convince the first officer that he was ready to return to normal duty, Chakotay remained reluctant to give his okay. *This is a no-win situation.* he sighed.
"Fine," he bit off angrily, "what do you want me to say? That I'm still having the same nightmare? All right, I'm still having it! Is that what you want to hear?"
Chakotay sat patiently and watched as the pilot continued to pace back and forth. The commander understood Tom's frustration, but as sympathetic as he was, he couldn't ignore his responsibility to the safety of the crew, or to Tom. It was at times like this that Chakotay really wished they had a trained counselor on board. The commander had done the best he could, but he was not a professional, and he wasn't sure that Tom was really okay. The continuing nightmares concerned him, as did Tom's reluctance to talk about what the Trylanians did to him. Sure, Paris was willing to discuss his feelings of guilt and remorse about his own actions, but Chakotay couldn't seem to get the pilot to open up about much else.
Frankly, the commander thought it would have been just the opposite. After ignoring every offer of help, Paris came to him and poured his heart out. Chakotay was surprised by the breakthrough, but it seemed genuine. Paris improved dramatically over the past several weeks. Still, the commander had a nagging doubt in the back of his mind that he just couldn't place. Watching the pilot pace agitatedly did little to relieve his suspicions that things were moving along just a little too easily.
"Is it the same dream, Tom?" he asked quietly, fishing.
"Pretty much, yes. I said it was, didn't I?" replied Tom sharply.
"Are you sure that nothing is different?"
"Yes, I'm sure!" exploded the pilot. "This is totally pointless!"
"Tom, sit down, calm down, and tell me about it. Humor me," coaxed Chakotay, trying to hold his temper. Paris really knew how to get under his skin.
"Just because your people believe dreams have some significance doesn't mean the rest of us do. We've gone over and over this, Chakotay! I've told you that I see myself in the interrogation room, just like it happened. Why do you insist we go through this again?" he replied, still angry.
"Because, there must be some reason that you're still having these dreams, maybe something we've overlooked or haven't dealt with." explained Chakotay calmly.
"Trust me, Chakotay, we've dealt with everything."
"Maybe not," insisted the commander. "I'm not willing to risk your mental health or the lives of this crew..."
"Chakotay, I'm fine!" interrupted Paris shortly. "And I'm not going to endanger the crew. This isn't about me, it's about you!"
"Excuse me?" The commander was genuinely surprised by Tom's statement.
"This is about your lack of counseling training. Trust me, Commander, you've done a great job. I'm fine!" insisted Paris.
The problem was, Chakotay wasn't sure that Tom wasn't right. Maybe he was over-reacting. Paris passed every flight simulation they did on the holodeck, and, by all appearances, seemed to be fine. The Doctor took him off of the anti-depressant a couple of days prior and cleared him for duty. The captain was asking Chakotay daily when the pilot would be certified fit for duty. Maybe Paris was right.
"Okay," Chakotay said after a tense pause.
"Okay, maybe you have a point. Maybe I am being overly cautious," sighed the commander. He took a deep breath and made his decision. "All right, I will release you for duty, but I will be watching you closely, and if I see any reason..."
"You won't, Commander. And thanks," interrupted Tom enthusiastically.
As Chakotay left to inform the captain of his decision, Tom sat back on his sofa tiredly. He felt relieved; he had been trying to convince the commander to let him return for a couple of weeks. The argument left Tom with a splitting headache and feeling a bit shaky. Tom walked over to his replicator and ordered himself a glass of juice to help calm his nerves.
Paris had to admit he felt a bit on edge for the past couple of days but he felt he could handle it. Also, he had trouble sleeping, but he didn't see that as any reason to keep him off duty. Paris didn't believe these minor complaints had anything to do with the nightmares Chakotay was so concerned about. Paris had been having them ever since his return from that god-forsaken world. Besides, the Doctor mentioned that he might experience some increase in anxiety when he stopped taking the anti-depressant, naproxalin. Tom decided he was definitely not going to tell Chakotay about it. The commander was just looking for an excuse to keep Paris off duty. Tom was sure it would pass, and, as soon as he was back at the helm, he'd feel as good as new.
"It's good to have you back, Mr. Paris." greeted Captain Janeway as the pilot entered the bridge.
"Thank you, Captain," Tom replied with a sunny smile, "It's good to be back."
Harry Kim flashed him a warm greeting from his position at Ops. Even Tuvok nodded a polite greeting from the Security station. Tom really missed being part of this team. He couldn't wipe the happy grin off his face as he crossed the bridge to his station. Paris relieved the ensign from Gamma shift, and eased himself into the chair at the Conn.
Despite his good mood upon returning to duty, Tom couldn't help but notice the first officer's scrutinizing glare as he crossed the bridge. Of course, Chakotay said he'd be watching him, but that fact didn't lessen Tom's irritation at the commander's apparent lack of faith. *Well, look all you like, Commander, you won't find anything.* thought Paris. Despite the fact that he was supposed to stop taking the anti-depressant, Tom wanted his first day back to go well. Tom was surprised that he was so nervous about returning to duty. Paris still had a couple of doses left over from the prescription, so...
*Well, the important thing is that I'm back on duty and I feel great!* thought Tom happily. *I just needed it to take the edge off today. Once I'm back into a routine, I won't have any reason to use it.*
Lunch break came quickly, at least it seemed so to Tom. He was busy running diagnostics most of the morning so the time flew by. Unfortunately, Tom's nervousness began to reappear shortly before the break. He was eager to get off the bridge and settle himself down. Harry Kim raced to catch the turbolift before it closed.
"Whoa, Paris, you got a hot date?"
"What do you mean, Harry?" asked Tom, his voice sounding a bit tense.
"You practically sprinted off the bridge. I know you can't be that anxious to sample Neelix's latest, so, what's the rush?"
"No rush, Harry," Tom answered nervously. Seeing the doubt in Harry's eyes, he added, "I guess I'm just a bit hungry."
"Sure, Paris," replied Harry suspiciously, waiting for Tom to say something more. After a few moments, Harry decided that Tom wasn't going to continue, so he let it drop.
The turbolift deposited them on Deck 2, and the two friends headed for the mess hall. They entered silently, grabbed a tray of food each, and sat down at an empty table by the window. The silence was uncomfortable, so Harry decided to try again to engage Paris in a conversation. Ever since Trylan V, Paris would often 'zone out', deep in thought. Harry just couldn't get used to seeing his normally gregarious friend so sullen, and the behavior continued to worry the ensign. Paris was beginning to feel pretty lousy. It took all of his concentration to remain seated calmly and eat his lunch.
"So, how did it feel to be back on duty?" Harry asked, carefully.
"Um, great,... I really missed it," Tom stated, distractedly. He didn't really feel like talking to Harry at the moment, but he knew it would only worry the younger man if he didn't.
"You okay, Paris?" asked Kim, with a concerned look on his face.
"Huh? Oh, sorry Harry. My mind wandered for a minute. I didn't get that much sleep last night...," Tom replied, trying to shrug off Kim's uneasiness. "Harry, I'm fine. It's been a while since I've been back, and..."
"You're telling me that Voyager's cocky, self-assured pilot couldn't sleep because he was worried about his first day back on duty?" teased Harry. Tom could tell the ensign was still uncertain despite the humor.
"Yes," admitted Tom, with a small self-deprecating smile spreading over his features, "I guess even us cocky pilots get nervous. I'll be fine, Harry. Stop worrying so much."
Despite Tom's assurance, Harry still felt there was something wrong. He watched the pilot silently as they ate, and something just didn't seem right. Harry just couldn't put his finger on it. Harry tried to shrug it off; he was so worried about his friend over the last couple of months. Maybe he was just over-reacting.
"Well, do you think you'll be up to going to the Resort tonight?" inquired Kim.
"Maybe,.. sure, I'm in the mood to do a little celebrating," Tom replied cheerfully, though to Harry, it seemed a bit forced.
"What's the occasion?" asked B'Elanna Torres as she approached from behind them.
"Just my 'Welcome Back to Duty' party. I hope you'll plan to attend," quipped Paris flirtatiously as she took a seat next to Kim.
"I wouldn't miss it," she replied wryly.
"I don't know about a party, but we could have a few drinks, a few laughs, you know, like ...old times," offered Kim tentatively.
"You mean like the good ol'days before Trylan V?" asked Paris pointedly.
The comment brought the conversation to a screeching halt, along with Paris' attempted good mood. After a heavy pause, Tom began, angrily, "Look, I'm sick and tired of everyone tip-toeing around me because of what happened. I'm tired of everyone watching me to see if something will set me off. I'm fine, and I don't need everyone looking over my shoulder all the time!"
Kim and Torres watched, dumbfounded, as Paris stormed out of the mess hall. After a few moments of confused silence, B'Elanna asked, "What the hell just happened?"
"You got me," replied Kim incredulously. "One minute we were talking about tonight, then the next he ..."
"I know, I saw that part, Harry," she blurted out, cutting him off. "Were you talking about anything else that might have upset him?" Torres was very concerned by what they both just witnessed.
"No," insisted Harry, "I asked him how it felt to be back, but he didn't seem upset until just then. All he said was that he didn't sleep well and that he was a little nervous about his first day back."
"Maybe that's it, Harry. Maybe he's just a little tired," offered B'Elanna after an uneasy silence, not really convinced herself.
Back in his quarters, Tom was pacing, trying to calm himself down. *Why did I go off like that?* he wondered. He felt guilty for having yelled at Harry. The kid hadn't said anything to deserve that. The sense of well-being he started the day with had faded, leaving the pilot a nervous wreck. *I've got to pull myself together before I head back to the bridge,* he reminded himself.
Tom headed into the bathroom and splashed his face with some cold water. As he toweled off, he noticed that his hands were trembling. *Shit*, he thought, *How can I go back on duty like this? Chakotay will relieve me for sure.* He needed more time to calm down, but he didn't have it. He was due back from lunch in less than ten minutes. Tom spotted the vial of naproxalin on the edge of his vanity. He hesitated, but only for a moment before injecting the drug into his vein.
Tom Paris sauntered onto the holodeck whistling happily. He managed to take a short nap after his shift, and, with a little booster of naproxalin, he felt calm and relaxed. He spotted Harry and B'Elanna near the bar, so he headed in their direction.
"Good evening, guys," he chirped warmly.
"Hi, Tom," they answered cautiously, in unison.
"So, what's going on? It seems pretty dead tonight," he commented casually.
"Yeah, I guess it is," replied Harry, warily.
"What's the matter, Harry?" asked Tom, looking confused.
"What do you mean?" he laughed uneasily.
"I mean, what's wrong? You're looking at me like I've grown a second head," retorted Paris, sarcastically.
Harry tried to shrug off his friends inquiry, but Tom wasn't buying it. With a quick glance at B'Elanna, Tom stated, "This is about lunch isn't it?"
"You could say that," stated B'Elanna, dryly.
"Look, I'm sorry about that. I was feeling a bit tired, that's all. I didn't mean to take it out on either of you. Can't we just forget it happened?" Tom gave Harry and B'Elanna his best innocent puppy look, along with his most angelic smile.
Both Harry and B'Elanna wanted nothing more than to shrug off Paris' earlier behavior, but each had a nagging suspicion that there was more to it than just fatigue. Still, he appeared to be fine, now. They were discussing it before Paris arrived, and with a quick glance, Torres could see that Kim was thinking the same thought. *Maybe it's nothing; maybe we're just looking for something to be wrong.*
"Fine, Paris, just don't let it happen again," scolded Torres gently, giving Tom a warm smile.
"I promise, it won't," answered Tom with a grin.
"So, how's it going, Tom?" asked Harry Kim cautiously as he entered his friend's quarters.
It had been two weeks since Paris returned to duty, and Harry was definitely sure that something was wrong. Tom was acting erratically. Sometimes, he was calm, energetic, and gregarious like the old Tom Paris. Other times, however, he was moody, tired, and a bit paranoid. Harry was never sure which Tom he'd be facing at any given time. So far, Harry and B'Elanna only seen these changes after hours, but he was certain that someone else would take notice soon. Harry wished he could get Tom to talk with him, but every time he asked, Tom avoided the question.
"What's that supposed to mean?" snapped Tom.
"What do you mean?" sighed Harry. *Here we go again*
"I mean, what did you mean by your statement? Don't play games with me, Harry, I'm really not in the mood for this," retorted Paris shortly.
"I simply asked how you were, Tom. You know, standard Terran social customs..." Harry's sarcasm was met only by a scowl, "God, even Seven of Nine knows what I mean by something like that."
"Sorry, Harry, it's been a long day," Tom replied haggardly, after a brief pause.
*Longer than you know,* thought Tom. He felt so tired and edgy. Although he hated to admit it, Tom still found himself needing naproxalin to get through the day. Paris convinced himself that the first couple of days were just very stressful, since he hadn't been on the bridge in a long time. After that, Tom tried to cut out the injections, but he found it difficult to get through his shifts. He would become jumpy and his hands would shake, not to mention his inability to concentrate. He thought about mentioning it to the Doctor, but he knew what would happen. The Doctor would report it to Captain Janeway and Chakotay, and he'd wind up right back where he started three months ago. The last thing he needed was to wind up on indefinite medical leave again.
Besides, he didn't think the problem was that big of a deal. So, he needed a booster every now and then to calm him down. *Some people need coffee to jump start them in the morning. Some need to work out or socialize to relieve stress at the end of the day* he justified. It wasn't anything he couldn't handle. It wasn't affecting his piloting, so it wasn't a problem.
"What can I do for you, Harry?" Tom inquired, collapsing onto his sofa.
"I'm meeting B'Elanna for dinner, and I thought I'd see if you were up to joining us," replied Harry noncommittally.
"Thanks, but I think I'll pass," answered Tom, curtly. Tom saw the concern flash onto Harry's face, so he added, "I overheard someone say it's leftover night, and, believe me, once was enough."
"All right, if you're sure," Harry said, watching Paris closely.
"Yeah, I'm sure, Harry," Tom repeated a bit too sharply, with an inaccessible look on his face. "Bon appetit."
Harry left Tom's quarters feeling helpless. He felt hurt and angry at Tom's silence. And, worst of all, he knew there was nothing he could do. Or was there?
Commander Chakotay looked up from his paperwork when he heard his door chime. It had been a long, dull day doing sensor sweeps of an asteroid field rich in metals that Voyager hoped to mine. Supplies were always a constant concern, being stuck 60,000 light years from the nearest starbase, so, whenever some were available, they made a point of gathering them. It wasn't always very interesting, but it was necessary. Chakotay wasn't really in the mood for visitors, but, as first officer, he didn't have the luxury of not being available.
"Come in," he called.
"Good evening, Commander," greeted Harry Kim. "Could I have a word with you?"
"Certainly, Ensign," he responded, putting down his PADD. "What can I help you with?"
"Well, sir, I know this isn't really any of my business," he asked hesitantly, "but have you noticed anything strange about Lt. Paris' behavior lately?"
"Well, apparently you have or you wouldn't be here," said Chakotay with a smile.
Chakotay hadn't seen anything to be alarmed about, but he knew Paris' friends had more contact with him. He observed Paris while they were on the bridge, and he seemed fine but Chakotay hadn't spent as much time with the pilot after his return to duty. If Harry was concerned enough to come to him, then maybe there was something he should be worried about.
"Yeah, I guess you could say that," laughed Kim nervously.
"Why don't you tell me your concerns, Ensign, and I'll see what I can do to help." offered Chakotay, trying to put the ensign at ease.
"Well, it isn't that easy to explain, actually," Kim began. "B'Elanna and I have noticed a bunch of little things that, taken separately, don't seem too serious but, if you put them all together..."
"What sort of things are you referring to, Ensign?" Chakotay inquired, cutting off Kim's solicitous rambling.
"I don't know, just little things, like the fact that he hasn't been sleeping well, and sometimes his mood will change suddenly. Sometimes, he seems distracted, and..," answered Harry uncertainly, his voice trailing off. "I don't know, Commander. Sometimes, I think I'm just seeing something that isn't there, but..."
"Have you tried to talk with him about any of it?" inquired the commander, growing more perturbed.
"Well, I've tried, but, he either laughs it off or he gets angry and defensive, depending on his mood," explained Kim.
"Well, at least I'm not the only one," laughed Chakotay, wryly.
Paris refused to continue their counseling sessions once he returned to duty. While the commander wasn't happy about the pilot's decision, he hadn't seen it as a warning sign that something more serious was going on. Now, Chakotay wasn't so sure.
"I don't know what it means, Commander, but the more I push him, the more reluctant he is to talk to me about anything," complained Harry. "I feel like he's in some kind of trouble, but he won't let me help him, and I don't know what to do."
The young ensign looked miserable. Harry wasn't sure what the commander could do to help, but he felt powerless. Harry knew the problem was more serious then Paris was letting on. As his friend, he couldn't just sit back and watch Tom self-destruct. Harry hoped that Paris would listen to Chakotay, before it was too late.
"There may not be anything we can do until Tom is ready to face this," Chakotay explained, "but I will try to talk to him again. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Ensign."
Chakotay sat back worriedly as Ensign Kim left his quarters. *Paris was acting a little distracted on the bridge, and he was rather abrupt when I stopped by to visit,* remembered the commander. Paris insisted that he was fine, but, now, Chakotay wasn't so convinced. So far, whatever the problem was hadn't seriously effected Tom's performance, but the commander felt that it would only be a matter of time before it did. Chakotay would talk to Paris again, but, if he wasn't willing to cooperate, the commander knew he would have inform the captain.
Tom Paris felt like death warmed over. Correction, he wished he felt as good as death warmed over. He hadn't slept well and his nerves were on edge, not to mention the throbbing headache. Most mornings seemed to begin like this, at least until Paris settled himself down with a boost of naproxalin and a cup of coffee. The door chime wrung out again as Paris put on his robe and stumbled into the living area.
"Come in, already," he called out grumpily to his early morning visitor.
"Good morning, Lieutenant," greeted Chakotay energetically. "May I have a word with you?"
Chakotay looked well-rested and chipper, the exact opposite of how Paris was feeling at the moment. *It's too damn early in the morning for this* grumbled Paris silently.
"What do you want, Commander?" he asked, rubbing a hand across his tired eyes.
"I want to talk to you about how you're feeling, Tom. Is everything okay?" inquired Chakotay cautiously.
He could see what Harry Kim had been talking about. Paris seemed agitated and irritable, and not just because he hadn't had his first cup of coffee. Tom's face was haggard and pale, like he hadn't rested well. Chakotay hadn't seen this before. When Paris was on duty, he seemed fine. The commander assumed that he would be able to detect a problem by the pilot's job performance, but from all appearances, he was wrong.
"Everything is just fine, Chakotay," replied Paris, measuring his intonation carefully, "Can we discuss this later? I'm due on the bridge at 0800."
"I'm aware of that, Paris," reminded the commander.
Chakotay wasn't going to let Paris talk his way out of discussing this. Tom stared at the commander for a moment, then realized that the first officer wasn't going to let it drop.
"Fine," he sighed, indicating for the commander to take a seat on the couch.
"Are you still having trouble sleeping, Paris?" began Chakotay, although he could see the answer to his question right in front of him.
"Occasionally," answered Tom nonchalantly. Chakotay waited for Tom to continue, but Paris wasn't going to make this easy.
"Are you still having nightmares?" asked the commander, getting more irritated at Paris' lack of cooperation.
"Sometimes," he replied evasively.
"Look, Paris, I didn't come here to waste my time. I know that you're having difficulties, and I'm concerned about it. Not just as your counselor, but as first officer of this ship. I expect you to cooperate," Chakotay fumed. He hated losing his temper, but Paris always seemed to know just how to rile him.
Paris regarded the commander coolly. He was very careful around the commander, not wanting to give him an excuse to remove him from duty. Tom was sure he hadn't let anything slip, so the commander must have gotten this from somewhere, or someone, else. Tom had a suspicion that this involved a certain nosy ensign...
"I don't know what you're talking about, Chakotay. I haven't had any 'difficulties'," he denied vehemently. "I don't know who you've been talking with, but they're wrong."
"Who said I've been talking with anyone?" queried Chakotay elusively. He wasn't about to let Paris twist the conversation into an argument about Harry Kim. "I don't need to ask anyone about your behavior; I can see it plainly for myself."
"And what exactly do you think you see, Chakotay?" Tom snarled angrily.
"Are you kidding, Paris?" he asked incredulously, "Have you looked in the mirror lately? You look like hell! You haven't slept, you're pale, your hands are shaking, not to mention your pleasing disposition..."
"Fuck you!" Tom spat furiously. "You have no right..."
"Excuse me, Lieutenant," interrupted Chakotay incredulously, emphasizing Paris' rank, "Have you forgotten that you are addressing a superior officer?"
That seemed to shock Paris out of his tirade. Tom exhaled deeply to calm himself and sank back into the couch.
"I'm sorry, Commander," he apologized contritely.
"I have every right, Lieutenant," Chakotay lectured, still angry. "I am the first officer of this ship, and it is my responsibility to insure the safety of this crew. I have the right to question the behavior of any crewman who I think might be jeopardizing their safety."
Paris didn't have a reply for the commander's statement. He was right, of course, and the last thing Tom wanted was to put the crew at risk. He would never do that, he told himself. Okay, so he was still using naproxalin to calm his nerves, but it wasn't like he couldn't handle it. The Doctor was the one who prescribed it! Tom honestly didn't believe that things were as bad as the commander was saying, but he knew he couldn't win this argument.
"All right," he acceded after a heavy silence. "Maybe I've had some trouble sleeping and it's making me somewhat irritable. I still don't think I'm endangering the crew, but what do you suggest?" Tom was willing to try anything if it would keep him on the bridge.
"I think we need to get to the bottom of this. We need to figure out why you can't sleep and deal with it," replied Chakotay more calmly. "I think we should continue our session, for one thing. Also, maybe you should go to the Doctor and see if there is anything he can do..."
"No," Tom blurted out, cutting Chakotay off. "I don't need the Doctor poking around. Let's just try the counseling and see how that goes."
"Okay, we can start this evening," agreed the commander.
Chakotay succeeded in getting Tom to accept counseling, so he wasn't going to push his luck. He felt somewhat relieved that Paris agreed to it; he hoped they would be able to work through the problem. Chakotay left Paris' quarters mollified.
Tom felt even more drained then when he first awoke. He hurried into the bathroom and quickly filled the hypospray with his morning booster of naproxalin. Relief and a sense of well being slowly came over him. Tom quickly showered, shaved, and got dressed. As he did, Tom began to relax about meeting with Chakotay. Paris figured he could distract the commander by discussing his dreams for quite a while. As long as he remained calm and in control, the sessions wouldn't be a problem. With a little boost of naproxalin, Tom knew he could handle the commander.
Tom wandered over to the replicator, still partially asleep. It took a couple of failed attempts at ordering a cup of coffee for it to sink in to Paris that he was out of rations, again. *Terrific*, he moaned, grumpily. There were still three days until rations would be dispersed, and Tom realized he only had two doses of naproxalin left. He sighed, accessed Harry Kim's account, punched in the kid's code, and transferred enough credits to his own account to last. Tom always felt slightly guilty when he 'borrowed' from his friends like this, but he promised himself that he would pay the kid back. Eventually.
Tom was using naproxalin almost constantly to maintain a 'normal' appearance, especially for the commander. Chakotay was always looking for something for them to 'discuss', and it was difficult keeping him from prying too deeply. It took a lot of effort to maintain his calm demeanor, so, Tom began using the naproxalin before their sessions. He found he slept better when he took a dose before bed, and, of course, he was using it before his shifts. Tom was conserving his replicator credits by eating almost constantly in the mess hall, but, even so, he never seemed to have enough.
He tried asking Harry and B'Elanna to borrow some of their credits, but they both wanted to know why he needed them. Paris ran out of excuses, and the last thing he needed was for his friends to get suspicious. He avoided them as much as he could without it being too obvious. Tom was annoyed that they continued to pry into his personal life. *There's nothing for them to be worried about. It's bad enough having to fend off the commander without them butting in as well,* grumbled Paris. It was just much easier to take the credits. Besides, neither of them seemed to notice.
Tom was especially uptight this morning. Today, he was going on his first away mission since Trylan V. The captain was apprehensive about rushing Tom into an uncomfortable situation, but it had been several months and he needed to be able to do all of his job. At first, Paris appreciated her concern, but, after so long, it chafed. Janeway finally agreed to assign him to an away team, and Tom was eager to prove that he was ready.
Tom quickly filled the hypospray and emptied its contents into his arm. It only took a moment before his nerves steadied and he felt ready to face the day. He quickly got ready and headed to the shuttle bay where B'Elanna's engineering team was gathering to prepare for the mission. They had assembled all of the necessary equipment and were going over last minute details when Paris entered.
"Good morning, Lieutenant," Torres greeted him as he approached.
"Good morning," Tom replied cheerfully. "How are the preparations going?" Tom knew Torres would be right on top of things.
"We've started to load the second shuttle. Ensign Batehart has already headed out with the first team, and, as soon as you're ready, we'll follow."
B'Elanna continued giving out orders to the crewmen loading the second shuttle, so Tom headed inside to begin his pre-flight checklist. He was feeling more confident about the away mission. He always admired B'Elanna for her energy and efficiency, among other things. Tom felt comforted by the fact that she would be in charge on the planet. All he had to do was pilot the shuttle.
Tom's job was simple; he and Ensign Batehart were going to provide transportation for the mining team. Voyager found an abandoned mining colony rich with duratanium, a material they needed for hull repairs. The planet wasn't very hospitable but it still had a breathable atmosphere. Unfortunately it was swirling with ion storms, rendering the transporters useless. The storms weren't anything that an experienced pilot couldn't handle, so Tom had little to worry about. The captain purposely chose an innocuous away mission for Tom's first time out.
Torres' team finished loading the shuttle quickly as Paris completed the checklist. Everything was in order. B'Elanna took the seat next to Tom's as the pilot closed the hatch and signaled the bridge that they were ready to depart. The shuttle quickly made its way down to the planet surface without incident. The ion storms buffeted the shuttle roughly, but they were never in any danger.
Once they landed, Tom assisted in unloading the equipment. Since there was an abandoned mine, most of the ore was easily accessible. There was little for Paris or Batehart to do while the team worked, so the two pilots took tricorder scans of the area and the atmosphere for the astrometrics lab.
The day dragged on as the pilots gathered information about the planet. There was little vegetation on the rocky surface of the desolate world, and, aside from the mining colony itself, there were no other abandoned structures. *This place definitely won't make my list of hot vacation spots of the Delta Quadrant,* mused Tom as he worked. Paris speculated that this had probably been a mining outpost for some race whose main colony was elsewhere.
As the day wore on endlessly, Paris could feel himself getting more edgy. During the briefing, Torres had estimated that her team would be done with the excavation in about five hours. That was three hours ago. Voyager was informed of the delay, so there wasn't any cause for concern. The solar system was as abandoned as the planet. Even so, Paris really wished he were back on Voyager instead of this empty rock. He hadn't planned on being away from Voyager so long.
They scanned for some time when Tom realized that the storms were increasing in intensity. It hadn't been noticeable at first, but now the sky was beginning to look ominous. Long streaks of lightning danced on the horizon, moving closer to their position. Tom's tricorder confirmed it, and the senior pilot felt a knot of anxiety twist in his stomach. *There's no need to panic,* he reminded himself. *You know what to do, Thomas. You've been in much worse situations than this.* Taking a deep breath, Paris signaled the ship.
"Paris to Voyager," he stated as calmly as he could, tapping his communicator.
"Voyager here, Lieutenant," came Chakotay's voice over the increasingly strong wind.
"Commander, I think the storms are intensifying. Could you have Ensign Kim verify it?" Paris tried to keep his voice from shaking as he spoke.
Chakotay nodded to Kim, who began to scan as soon as he heard Paris' message.
"Confirmed, Commander," replied Kim from Ops. "The storms are increasing in severity... the away teams may need to seek shelter if they can't complete the mission in the next thirty minutes."
"Did you hear Harry's report, Tom?" asked Chakotay.
"Yes, sir," replied Paris. "I'll check with the mining team and get back with you. Paris out."
Paris took a deep breath to calm himself before he and Ensign Barehart headed back to the mining site. *There's no way I can last a couple more hours down here,* Tom admitted to himself. Once they returned to Voyager, he was sure everything would be fine.
Paris and Batehart returned to the mining site to find the team already beginning to load the first shuttle. Paris told Batehart to prepare the shuttle for takeoff while he informed Torres of their situation. Paris tried to will his hands from shaking as he approached the chief engineer.
"B'Elanna," he called out to her as she began to head back down the mine shaft.
"What is it, Paris? I'm a little busy," she replied brusquely. Tom knew that she hadn't meant the question to be rude. The half-Klingon was always abrupt when she was occupied with something she considered important.
"The ion storms outside are getting a bit violent. Harry says we need to be done in the next half hour or we'll have to find shelter and ride it out," Tom informed her. His statement was greeted with an annoyed frown.
"That's not enough time," she complained shortly. "We might be able to get everything loaded in an hour, but thirty minutes is really pushing it." Torres was too pre-occupied with the situation to notice Tom's anxiousness, at least for the moment.
"We could load what we can now and come back for the rest later," Paris suggested nervously. He really wanted to get moving, not stand there analyzing the situation.
"It doesn't look like we'll have much choice, but I'd like to get as much aboard as possible. We may not get the chance to come back," she replied, still obviously annoyed at being inconvenienced. She looked at the pilot closely, for the first time, and noticed how jumpy he appeared. "Relax, Paris, we'll be back home soon. I'm sure she'll forgive you for being late," joked Torres, hoping to ease his tension.
"Huh?" asked Paris blankly, then, realizing B'Elanna was kidding, he continued, "Oh, yeah, well,..no such luck, I'm afraid. I just want to beat the storm. Besides, you know you're the only one for me."
He flashed her his most devastating smile, hoping his flirtation would deflect the engineer's concern. He was relieved when Torres diverted her attention back to loading the shuttles. B'Elanna barked orders to the crew to begin loading as quickly as possible. Tom knew he would have to monitor the storm's intensity; Torres would hold out as long as possible before leaving. The first shuttle was ready to leave within twenty minutes. Paris helped load the second shuttle. He was getting less controlled by the minute, and he desperately wanted to return to Voyager before the storm hit.
Finally, everyone seemed ready to leave. They pushed it, just as Tom feared they would. The wind was whipping violently as the shuttle took off, and the black sky was laced with lightning. Tom was tempted to stay put until the storm passed, but he knew he wouldn't make it through another several hours without a booster. His hands were already shaking noticeably, and he felt like he was going to jump out of his skin.
The shuttle shook violently as it struggled to make it out of the planet's atmosphere. The electrical storm was coming dangerously close to them, and the mining crew sat tensely as Paris fought to maintain control of the ship and himself. He seriously doubted that anyone, especially B'Elanna, who was seated next to him, could miss the strain on his face as they continued to climb towards Voyager. He caught her staring at him, very concerned, out of the corner of his eye.
"Are you okay, Paris?" she asked quietly, so the others couldn't hear her. Tom tried to shrug off her question.
"I'm fine, but this storm is really kicking the hell out of us," he lied, forcing himself to concentrate on the displays.
Torres wasn't convinced that Paris was this agitated because of the ion disturbance. She had seen him pilot through tough situations before, and he was never as unhinged as he was this time.
"Can I help?" B'Elanna offered, not sure what to do about Tom. Paris knew she could see he wasn't okay.
"Sure, you can monitor the nacelles," he instructed. "Try to watch for an ion build-up. If you see any, flush the fuel injectors."
Tom could use all the help he could get at the moment. He just prayed they would get back to the ship in one piece. It was a mistake to take off; he knew that now. *I should have said something. We should have stayed down there and waited for the storm to pass,* he reprimanded himself. In his haste to return to Voyager, he put the away team in jeopardy. Tom swore to himself that he would never endanger anyone else's life again, not after Caldik Prime and Trylan V. The realization that he had done just that hit him like a slap in the face. Tom knew he was out of control.
Fortunately, the storm dissipated as they reached the upper atmosphere. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as Voyager came into view. The other crewmen didn't seem to have noticed Tom's shaky demeanor, but the same could not be said of B'Elanna Torres. Tom looked over at the chief engineer; he knew she wouldn't keep quiet about his near meltdown. As they disembarked in the shuttle bay, Tom confronted her.
"B'Elanna, please don't say anything about this to the commander," he begged quietly.
"You know I can't do that, Tom," she replied sympathetically. She didn't want to get Paris into trouble, but she couldn't ignore what happened. Tom knew she was right.
"I'm not asking you to lie, B'Elanna," he explained. "Just give me the chance to tell Chakotay myself. Please?"
B'Elanna searched Tom's face scrupulously. She cared about the pilot; he was one of her best friends, possibly more than a friend. She wanted to believe he would talk to the commander, but he had been so erratic lately. She didn't know if she could trust him anymore. Tom could see the doubt in her eyes.
"I swear, B'Elanna, I'll talk with him as soon as possible," he promised. "If I don't, you can go to him in the morning and report it. Just give me that much time, as a friend."
"All right, Tom. You have until tomorrow morning," she acquiesced after a long silence. She hoped she was doing the right thing.
"I won't let you down again, I promise," replied Tom gratefully. He knew what he had to do.
Commander Chakotay stood outside Paris' quarters, uncertain what he'd find when he entered. Tom asked him to come by to talk. They were meeting every night for the past two weeks, but Chakotay would hardly call those sessions productive. Tom seemed to be playing some sort of game, and Chakotay was getting tired of it. They did a lot of talking, but there wasn't much substance to their discussions and certainly no progress in dealing with what was bothering the pilot. The commander was almost ready to give up trying to get Paris to open up to him. He was hoping that tonight would be different since it was Tom who had initiated it. Chakotay waited patiently for Paris to answer the chime.
"Come in," Paris called wearily from his spot on the sofa.
"Hello, Tom. You asked to see me?" greeted the commander calmly.
Tom gestured for Chakotay to sit down. He took a seat next to Tom on the sofa. The commander waited for a moment for Tom to say something, but the pilot just sat, staring at his trembling hands. *If he's playing another game,* thought Chakotay, with irritation, *I'm going to walk out of here.* He was getting more aggravated with every silent passing minute. Finally, Tom looked up and spoke.
"I need you to relieve me of duty," he said almost so quietly that Chakotay wasn't sure he'd heard him correctly.
"What did you say?" was all he could muster after a moment of stunned silence at Tom's bombshell.
For weeks, the pilot clamored to stay at the Conn, despite Chakotay's suspicions that something was wrong. Now, he was asking to be removed. It didn't make sense.
"I need you to relieve me of duty," he repeated in a louder voice. Tom looked as if he was on the verge of tears. The pilot looked terrible; he was very agitated and upset.
"May I ask why?" inquired the commander with concern.
Tom reached into his pocket, pulled out a vial of some unknown liquid, and placed it onto the coffee table in front of the commander.
"Do you know what that is?" asked Tom sadly. Chakotay looked at the vial but he didn't have any idea what it contained.
"No," he replied, with confusion creeping into his voice. He waited patiently as Tom picked it up and stared at it for a moment before answering.
"It's an anti-depressant called naproxalin," informed Tom as he fidgeted with the vial. Chakotay still wasn't making the connection.
"Okay, so what does that have to do with anything, Paris?"
"The Doctor prescribed this for me after Trylan V," he explained. "The drug was supposed to even out my mood swings, calm down my nervousness. It worked pretty well, too. I was supposed to stop taking this before I returned to duty. Problem is, I haven't."
Now Chakotay was beginning to understand. He hadn't even considered the possibility that Tom's behavior was caused by something like this. Drug addiction was practically unheard of in the Federation, with the only exceptions being on poor outpost colonies which didn't have access to Federation medical care. He was dumbfounded. Clearly, if Paris hadn't stopped taking the drug, he had been on it for nearly four months.
The enormity of the problem was beginning to sink in. His suspicions that Paris hadn't dealt with everything after Trylan V were now confirmed. Chakotay realized that Tom's dependency was more than just physical, but emotional as well. Chakotay knew Paris would have acknowledged his problem sooner otherwise. He hoped that Paris would see it as well, if he could convince him to open up and talk honestly with him. They would have to get Paris straightened out, then they could deal with the cause of the problem.
"Paris, how much of this stuff are you taking?" he solicited calmly, trying to get a handle on the situation.
"Well, usually I take some in the morning when I get up," Paris answered, mentally calculating his response. "Then I take another dose at lunch, one after my shift around dinner, and another at bedtime. I'd say that would be two vials a day."
Chakotay didn't need to be a doctor to realize that was excessive. He let the information sink in before he continued.
"Have you tried to cut back or stop?"
"Yes," laughed Paris sardonically. "I've tried. Do you really think I would keep using this stuff if I didn't have to?"
"No, I don't suppose you would," agreed Chakotay sympathetically.
"I didn't know what to do," Tom began, his voice trembling. "I thought I could handle it, that it wasn't a big deal. I didn't want to lose the Conn..." Tom stopped as a few tears escaped. He took a deep breath to steady himself, then continued, "I realized that was wrong on the away mission; I could have killed everyone. I'm really sorry."
"We'll deal with that later," soothed Chakotay. "Right now, we have to deal with you and this dependency. Once we get you off of the drug, we can go from there."
"I don't suppose there's any way we could not tell the captain?" Tom asked, already knowing that it wasn't possible.
"Sorry, no," replied the commander.
He understood why Paris didn't want her to know. Tom worked hard to gain her trust and respect since they'd been in the Delta Quadrant, along with the rest of the crew. This situation could easily jeopardize her faith in him.
"So, what do we do now?" asked Paris miserably.
"The first thing I'd suggest is a trip to Sickbay," answered Chakotay. "The Doctor may be able to treat your dependency. Then, we'll talk with the captain, and go from there."
Paris nodded his head silently at Chakotay's plan of action. As bad as Tom felt, at least the problem was going to be resolved. He tried to take some comfort from that. He felt embarrassed and ashamed of his actions over the last several weeks. He lied to his friends, the commander, and himself. Paris was relieved that all of the deception would soon be over. He just hoped he'd have friends left when this was through.
Captain Janeway entered Sickbay shortly after Paris and Chakotay arrived. The commander signaled her to meet them there to discuss Tom's situation. Janeway was worried; Chakotay indicated that Paris was having a problem but he hadn't been specific. After everything the pilot had been through, she sincerely hoped that this wasn't too serious. She always felt very protective of Tom Paris, but no more so than after his ordeal on Trylan V.
When she arrived, she found Paris seated on a biobed, looking agitated and haggard. His face was pallid and he appeared to be trembling, as if he had a fever. The Doctor was busily scanning him with a tricorder. Chakotay spotted her, and pulled her aside.
"Captain," he greeted her with a nod.
"Report," she ordered. "What's going on here, Chakotay? Was there a problem on the away mission?"
"Yes and no, Captain," he replied elusively. The commander saw her frown at his answer, so he went on to explain, "The problem began before the away mission. It seems that Tom has developed a dependency on the anti-depressant the Doctor prescribed for him."
Janeway couldn't hide her alarm at the information. "How long has this been going on?" she asked astonishedly.
"A couple of months, since Paris returned to duty," Chakotay informed her. "I had no idea, and neither did his friends. Tom admitted it to me when he returned to the ship. Something must have happened down there, but, since everyone returned safely, I figured I would deal with this first."
Janeway nodded her approval of the commander's decision. She was still dumbfounded that something like this could happen on her ship. She hadn't seen any signs that anything was wrong. *How could I have missed it?* she chastised herself. Janeway shrugged it off. If Paris' friends and counselor hadn't seen it, then Tom was obviously doing a good job of hiding it. She couldn't help but feel disappointed in him.
The Doctor finished his initial examination, and signaled the two officers to join him. "I think you'll find this very interesting, Captain," the EMH stated as they approached Paris' biobed.
"What is it, Doctor?" asked Janeway, not looking at Paris, who was fidgeting restlessly.
"Well, when the commander brought Mr. Paris in, I was a bit confused," the EMH explained smugly. "Drug addiction is not commonplace. At first, I couldn't understand what Mr. Paris could have gotten himself addicted to."
Janeway's brow furrowed with her confusion. "What are you talking about, Doctor. Chakotay said he was taking the anti-depressant you prescribed."
"Exactly," the EMH chirped self-satisfactorily. "Naproxalin is non-addictive. I would never prescribe an addictive medication for long-term use."
All three officers had the same baffled expression on their faces at the Doctor's assertion. After a moment, Paris broke the silence.
"I don't understand, Doctor," he contended. "I didn't take anything else, I swear."
"I didn't say that you did, Mr. Paris," corrected the Doctor.
"Then, what's going on?" demanded Janeway, getting annoyed at the hologram.
"Normally, naproxalin is not addictive, at least not physically," explained the Doctor haughtily. "When Mr. Paris returned from Trylan V, he had an unknown narcotic in his bloodstream. Since I had no data on the substance, I decided to allow it to run its course instead of trying to flush his system. I believed the drug would be purged naturally."
"Yes, I remember that, Doctor," interrupted Janeway. "You said doing that wouldn't pose a threat to Tom."
"At the time, I believed that to be true," agreed the Doctor. "However, my scans have revealed traces of the narcotic still in his system. On its own, the drug would appear to be inert. However, the combination of that drug and naproxalin seems to be highly addictive. There was no way of knowing that when I prescribed the anti-depressant," he added defensively.
"What do we do now?" asked Chakotay. "You can treat this, can't you Doctor?"
The Doctor hesitated before answering the commander's question. He was pretty sure they wouldn't like what he had to say.
"Yes and no," he replied ambiguously. "I can remove the trace elements of the narcotic from Mr. Paris' system once the naproxalin is gone. However, it would be very risky to introduce any other medications into his body at this time. The combination of these two medications appears to be highly reactive. There's no telling how they might interact if we try to introduce a third."
"So, what exactly are you saying, Doctor?" asked Tom testily.
"I'm saying that I can't risk medicating you until the naproxalin is out of your system completely. The physical symptoms you're displaying, the nervousness and irritability, are only the beginnings of what was commonly called 'withdrawal' back when drug addiction was more prevalent," explained the EMH. "The symptoms of withdrawal are unpleasant, but it would be too dangerous for me to give you anything to counteract them. You'll have to ride out the symptoms on your own."
"Oh, that's just terrific," sneered Paris disgustedly. "How long will this 'withdrawal' last?"
"The most severe symptoms should dissipate within the first thirty-six to forty-eight hours," answered the Doctor nonchalantly.
"Forty-eight hours!" exclaimed Paris, outraged. "You've got to be kidding!" Paris was in no mood to hear that he would have to suffer for days like he was now, or worse.
"Calm down, Tom," instructed Chakotay, trying to pacify the agitated pilot. "Isn't there anything that can be done, Doctor?"
"No, not with medication," insisted the hologram. "He will need to stay hydrated and he'll probably need to watch his electrolytes, but that can be done without any further drug interaction. Anything more would be too risky."
The doors to Sickbay opened, admitting a concerned Harry and B'Elanna. B'Elanna told Harry about the incident in the shuttle, and both went looking for Paris after dinner. They tracked him down when he wasn't in his quarters. Janeway greeted the pair and pulled them aside to fill them in on the current situation.
"Since there isn't much you can do, Doctor, can Tom return to his quarters?" asked Chakotay.
He stole a look at Tom, who nodded his approval of the question. The commander knew the pilot would be more comfortable there, especially if the Doctor couldn't do much for him. He realized how difficult this was going to be for Tom. Chakotay doubted that Tom would want the further embarrassment of having to go through it in Sickbay.
"Well, as long as he is constantly monitored, I don't see any reason why he can't be treated there," capitulated the Doctor. "I'll prepare a couple of hyposprays of saline and electrolyte-based solutions. You'll need them, and I will bring more by in the morning." A self-satisfied grin appeared on the Doctor's face as he added, "Well, it looks like I'll be making my first 'house call'." He hurried off to prepare the mixtures.
Chakotay excused himself to join the captain's discussion with Kim and Torres in the corner. Paris couldn't hear their conversation, but he could see worried glances being thrown in his direction. *Terrific,* he sulked. He was tired of being everyones' problem, but he knew he needed them to get through what was to come. He was beginning to feel really lousy, so he laid back on the biobed and closed his eyes. He couldn't believe this was happening. After all of the pain he went through on Trylan V, Paris didn't think he could take it. *I'm not going to get through this,* he mused miserably. Paris felt like crying, but the tears wouldn't come. He felt numb and worn out. He wished he could just be normal again.
Harry and B'Elanna walked quietly over to the biobed where Tom was resting. The captain left and Chakotay went into the doctor's office to access his computer terminal. He had to adjust the crew roster to cover the current situation. Since the Doctor was busy preparing hyposprays, the three friends were alone in the main part of Sickbay. Tom looked extremely pale, and he was shivering noticeably. Harry Kim didn't think Tom had looked this bad since he nearly bled to death in the Akitiri prison.
Tom opened his eyes when he heard his two friends approaching. He wasn't sure how they'd react to him knowing everything that was happening. Tom trampled on their friendship once again and he really couldn't blame them if they didn't forgive him this time. Instead of anger, his friends' faces were filled with concern.
"You look awful, Paris," stated Torres bluntly. Tom couldn't help but smile at her abrupt comment.
"I feel awful. At least I'm being consistent," he replied sardonically.
"Chakotay said the Doctor was releasing you to your quarters," said Kim, still looking a bit wary. "The commander said you'd be sick for a few days."
"That's right," agreed Tom tentatively.
"We agreed to help, that is, if you don't mind," interjected B'Elanna. The engineer could feel the tension between Kim and Paris. She was trying to keep the conversation going until they worked things out.
"I don't, but I wouldn't want you to feel obligated if you don't want to," replied Tom, eyeing the ensign.
"What do you mean, Paris?" Kim asked indignantly. "Of course I want to help. Why would you think I wouldn't?"
"I know I've been hard to deal with lately, and I've done some things...," answered Tom hesitantly, not sure if he should admit everything to them.
He really needed their help to get through the next couple of days. If they knew about the replicator credits, Tom figured they would be so disgusted with him that they would finally wise up and walk out. He wasn't sure he should tell them or wait until after he got through the withdrawal.
"I've done some things I'm not very proud of in the past few weeks, and I would understand if you were angry and didn't want to be around me," Tom said after thinking it over.
"Okay, maybe I am a bit angry and hurt by everything that's happened," admitted Kim, "but I'm still your friend, Paris. I'll say it as many times as I have to until it sinks into that thick head of yours. We discussed this, remember?"
"How could I forget?" replied Tom wryly.
"I told you then that I wanted to help you if you had a problem, because that's what friends do for each other. Nothing you've done in the past few weeks could change that, okay?" lectured Kim.
It still irked him that Paris had so much trouble accepting his friendship as unconditional. Kim knew Tom had lost people in the past who hadn't stuck by him when things got rough. The ensign didn't know if he could ever really convince Paris that he wasn't going to be one of those people.
"Okay," answered Tom quietly, "I am sorry. I've been very difficult and I shut you out, even though I promised I wouldn't do that any more."
"You aren't used to letting people in," said Kim sympathetically.
"I guess I'm going to have to practice," replied Tom with a slight smile. "The next couple of days should be good for that. This isn't going to be easy."
"Paris, you never make things easy," stated Kim, with a teasing smile.
"What can I say, I'm a high-maintenance friend," Paris retorted selfdeprecatingly.
"You could say that again," added B'Elanna, patting Tom's arm gently.
Chakotay stepped out of the Doctor's office and gathered the hypos from the EMH before returning to the main area where the three friends were talking. Harry spotted him as he approached.
"Commander," Kim greeted him with a nod. "Are you ready to head back to Tom's quarters?"
"Yes, I've got everything we should need."
"You're staying with me tonight, Chakotay?" asked Tom.
"Yes, I'll be there tonight, B'Elanna will be there tomorrow, and Harry will be with you tomorrow night. I'll be watching you again the following day," informed the commander. "The Doctor said your symptoms should ease by then and there will be less need for supervision."
"Supervision," jeered Tom. "I feel like a child being baby-sat."
"Well, there will be a bit more than keeping you company involved, I'm afraid," chided the commander. "Things could get pretty rough, Tom."
Tom nodded his head with understanding. "Maybe I should apologize to you all now, while I'm coherent enough to remember it," he suggested, only half-kidding.
"Don't worry, Tom," answered the half-Klingon, with an encouraging smile. "We'll let you make it up to us."
If Tom were feeling better, he would have made a suggestive comment with an opening like that, but he was getting more shaky by the minute. A muscle spasm hit and he doubled over in pain. He shook it off quickly, but he knew there would be more to follow. Tom didn't argue when the commander urged him to head out of Sickbay and return to his quarters.
Chakotay sat on the sofa in Paris' quarters working on reports while the pilot slept. The commander was grateful that he was getting some much needed rest. Even though they had many arguments in the past few weeks, the first officer felt badly that the pilot had to go through this. Fortunately, the symptoms were lessening, and Tom was finally sleeping soundly after two days of sheer hell.
The first night had been very difficult for both of them. Tom threw up so often that he and the commander spent the entire night in Tom's bathroom. Chakotay brought in a pillow and blanket, and Tom rested uncomfortably between bouts of dry-heaving and violent retching. As embarrassing as it was for Tom to have the commander see him like that, there was nothing he could do about it. He was so drained by the sickness that Chakotay had to hold him upright when he vomited. Neither of them got much sleep.
The commander knew that the second day and night hadn't been much easier for the pilot. The nausea let up shortly before B'Elanna arrived, but the muscle cramps and spasms were worse, and Tom was extremely agitated when the engineer got there. From what Harry told the commander when he came in that morning, Paris' symptoms had only begun to subside around 0600. Harry looked exhausted when Chakotay arrived.
Chakotay knew that detoxification was only the beginning. Once the pilot was past the physical dependency, he would have to face the underlying emotional problem. Tom had been avoiding that discussion for weeks, and Chakotay hoped he would be able to get the pilot to open up to him. Paris wouldn't be able to put this behind him and move forward until he did.
It was mid afternoon before the pilot stirred. He was less agitated, and the shaking had eased, but Tom still looked awful. The days of sickness had taken a toll. He was extremely pale, with dark, bruising circles under his eyes. Tom was still tired despite getting some sleep, and he was still a bit weak. He wandered listlessly into the living area with his blanket wrapped securely around his sunken shoulders.
"Hi," he uttered quietly as he sat down gingerly on the other end of the sofa.
"How are you feeling?" asked Chakotay carefully.
"How do I look?" retorted Tom acerbically.
"Okay, it was a dumb question," acknowledged the commander. "Do you feel up to talking?"
"Would it make a difference if I said no?" Tom snapped back.
"Look, Tom, I'm not trying to start another argument with you," chastised Chakotay, trying not to lose his temper, "but you know we have to talk about what's happened, and why."
"I was hoping we could wait until I felt a little better," Tom grumbled.
"You seem better than you were, and we've got nothing better to do," offered the commander.
Paris closed his eyes and sighed deeply. He was dreading this conversation, but he knew it was inevitable. He thought about making another excuse, but he doubted the commander would buy it. He was too tired to fight it any more.
"Fine," he acquiesced. "Where do you want to start?"
"Why don't we start with your nightmares?" suggested Chakotay.
"Not that again," complained Tom with a disgusted look. "Why do you insist on talking about that? You know I don't believe there's any hidden message in it. We've been through this a hundred times."
"And each time, you duck my questions and change the subject. What are you afraid of?" challenged Chakotay.
"Fine," he replied, sounding annoyed. "What do you want me to tell you?"
"Start at the beginning and tell me what you remember," coaxed the commander.
"I was in the interrogation room, strapped down to a table. They put wires on me...." Paris paused of a moment as the pain of the memory hit him. "I saw the interrogator, Borla, looking down at me, laughing at me."
Tom's eyes were staring unfocused at a spot on the floor, his voice bitter. Chakotay listened quietly, being careful not to interrupt. He knew that Tom needed to let this out and face the emotions that went with these memories and haunted him in his dreams.
"I tried to struggle, but I couldn't move," he continued more softly as he concentrated on remembering the details of the nightmare. "Borla said that nobody was coming to help me. Then, I saw you and Harry being dragged in. You both begged me to tell Borla what he wanted to know, but I couldn't. Then he had the guards kill you."
Tom stopped, his voice trembling as he finished his account. Chakotay waited for him to continue, but he didn't. The commander knew there had to be more to the dream then Paris was saying, so he decided to prod the younger man with questions.
"Is that when the nightmare ends?" he asked, hoping to draw Tom out.
"Borla kept yelling at me to answer his questions, but yes, that's pretty much it," answered Tom.
"All right, so nothing else happened of any importance," agreed Chakotay, for the moment. "Why don't you tell me how you felt during the dream?"
"How I felt?" asked Tom, a bit confused.
"Yes, how did you feel?" repeated Chakotay. "You wake up from this dream unsettled, so what exactly did you feel during the nightmare that makes you so upset?"
Tom hadn't tried to analyze it quite like that before, and he wasn't sure how to answer the commander's question. He sat silently for a few moments, thinking about the dream. When Tom continued, he spoke slowly, his face as unguarded as Chakotay had ever seen it.
"I guess I was scared," he said quietly.
"What were you scared of?" countered Chakotay softly.
"What do you mean?" asked Paris.
"What were you afraid of? Did you think they would kill you?"
"No, I don't think so," he replied carefully.
"Were you afraid that you wouldn't be rescued, that you'd be left there?" suggested Chakotay.
Paris had talked about his fear of abandonment with the commander before. It was one of the few things he opened up about. Tom admitted to being afraid that the captain would give up searching for him and that he would lose his friends because of his actions on Trylan V, after he returned. Chakotay didn't think he was still having a problem with that, but, so far, Paris wasn't offering him any other answers.
"I don't think so, I know I thought about that when I was there, but I don't remember that being part of the nightmare," he said, trying to remember exactly what he felt.
Tom sank back into the sofa frustratedly. Paris was certain there was something important that he just couldn't remember. Chakotay sat quietly, letting the pilot think it through. Tom was rubbing his hands tiredly across his eyes when the comprehension began to hit him. He sat upright sharply and looked at the commander.
"Borla was taunting me, saying that I couldn't get away and nobody was coming for me. He told me I should just tell him what he wanted to know, make it easier for myself, because.... it wouldn't end," Tom said, reasoning it out as spoke. "Nobody would come for me, and I couldn't stop them..." Tom hesitated, and then the realization flooded onto his face. "I couldn't do anything to stop them.."
Tom sank back into his seat again, stunned by the revelation. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that this was what he had missed. Tom drew his trembling hands to his face and sighed deeply, trying to keep control of his rising emotions. He wasn't sure what he was feeling, but fear, anger, and guilt were battling for dominance.
"I'm such an idiot," he whispered.
"You're not an idiot, Tom," soothed Chakotay. "You felt powerless, helpless, and it terrified you."
"But, why couldn't I face that?" asked Tom wide-eyed.
""I don't know," replied the commander noncommitally. "What do you think?"
"You really like playing psycho-analyst, don't you?" asked Tom sarcastically.
"Don't change the subject, Tom," chided Chakotay.
"Sorry," Paris replied, rebuked. He took a moment to think about the commander's question before he answered, "I'm not sure. Maybe it was because I didn't like being out of control."
"Maybe," agreed Chakotay.
"But, I don't understand something. If I was afraid of losing control, then why was my solution to inject myself with a drug?" asked Tom. "It doesn't make any sense."
"Doesn't it?" countered the commander. "Think about it, Tom. When you took the naproxalin, you felt calm and confident. You couldn't face the underlying emotion of helplessness, and the drug eased that sensation, so you continued to use it."
Tom thought about the commander's statement for a moment. For the first time, the addiction began to make sense to him. He needed the drug because he hadn't wanted to face the powerlessness he felt during his kidnapping. It was all becoming painfully clear to him now.
"I don't think I've ever been so completely helpless in my entire life. Even the other disasters I've been through were all my own doing," he reasoned out loud. "So, that's why I kept having the nightmare. I hadn't dealt with that. You knew that all along, didn't you?"
"Not specifically, but I knew your dream kept returning for a reason, even if you refused to admit it."
"I should have listened to you, again," acknowledged Paris with a sardonic laugh. "You'd think I'd have learned that by now."
"You'd think," agreed Chakotay with a wry smile.
"Chakotay, I'm sorry," he said softly. "You've tried to help me, but all I've done is make things as difficult as possible."
"I wouldn't have expected you to be any other way," ribbed the commander gently.
"Thanks," he said with a chuckle. "It's always good to know you're appreciated. I mean it, though, I really am sorry. I wouldn't have gotten through any of this without your help."
"You're welcome, but you do realize that we have more to talk about, don't you?" reminded Chakotay. "We have to work through what we've discussed today so you can put this behind you."
"Yeah, I know," Tom replied with a small smile. "There's always something more, isn't there. I promise I'll be more cooperative this time."
"You're not just saying that to get back to the Conn more quickly, are you?" asked Chakotay teasingly.
Paris affected his most injured expression. "I'm insulted, Commander. Do you really think I would do something like that?"
"Yes," replied Chakotay flatly.
"Well, I swear I'm not just saying this to get back on duty," promised Tom with an innocent expression. Tom added, more serious, "I mean it, Chakotay. I'm tired of being messed up. I really want this to be over with."
"Good, I'm going to remind you that you said that," warned Chakotay good-naturedly.
"I know you will," said Tom, smiling.
"Come in," called out Captain Janeway's gravelly voice.
She was seated on the couch in her ready room finishing up the latest status reports as Tom came in. She called the lieutenant to meet with her to discuss the away mission and her impending disciplinary action. She delayed dealing with the shuttle incident while Paris was ill, but both the Doctor and Chakotay had released him to return to duty. Janeway was dreading the conversation. She wasn't sure how she should handle the situation. She couldn't ignor what happened but there were mitigating circumstances to consider.
Janeway was very disappointed in Tom when she learned about the drug addiction. When Paris returned to duty, she thought he was past the problems he had after Trylan V. Janeway was concerned when she realized he wasn't, but she was upset with him because he hadn't sought any help. It made her doubt his judgment and her faith in him for the first time since they had been stranded in the Delta Quadrant. She was hoping this meeting would assuage her uncertainties.
"You asked to see me, Captain," said Paris as he crossed the room towards her.
"Yes, please, have a seat," she replied, indicating the spot next to her on the sofa. "How are you feeling, Lieutenant?" she asked conversationally.
"I'm feeling much better, thank you," replied Tom tentatively.
"Tom, I understand that you are ready to return to duty. I've spoken with the Doctor and Commander Chakotay, and they assure me that you are fit," she stated more formally.
"Yes, ma'am," agreed Tom quietly.
"I'm sure you understand that I have some reservations about returning you to the Conn," she continued. "Your behavior during the away mission was inappropriate, to say the very least,..."
"Captain," he interrupted, "I know you have every right to question my conduct. I have no excuse for my poor judgment on the mission and in not telling the commander about the drug problem sooner. You have every right to be disappointed in me. I'm disappointed in myself."
Janeway felt some relief that Paris understood her concerns. She and Chakotay discussed his drug addiction at length. She was surprised at how vehemently the commander had defended the pilot's actions. He seemed to feel that their counseling sessions were adequately dealing with the root of the problem. He assured her that he would see to it that nothing like that ever happened again.
"Tom, I've discussed this with Chakotay," Janeway informed him. "While we didn't talk about any of the specifics of your counseling with him, he did say that the two of you were making progress. He seems to feel that this problem won't be recurring."
"No, Captain, it won't," Tom assured her. "I hadn't dealt with some of the issues from the kidnapping. There were things I didn't want to face. With the commander's help, and my friends', I think I've managed to work through them."
Captain Janeway studied the young lieutenant as he sat quietly. She wanted to be able to trust him. Voyager needed him as a pilot and as an officer if they were going to get home. Regulations allowed her flexibility in dealing with the situation, especially since there were extenuating circumstances. Janeway learned a long time ago, even before they were stranded in the Delta Quadrant, that a good captain must remain flexible and open-minded, especially when dealing with her crew.
"The shuttle incident was very serious, even though no one was hurt. You were very fortunate to make it out of that atmosphere in one piece," she reminded him. "However, I don't think there will be another incident."
"No, ma'am, there won't," he agreed.
"I would be in my rights to remove you from the Conn," she noted, "but I don't think that would be in the best interest of the ship or you. I realize your decision to take off was made while your judgment was impaired. You're a much better pilot than that, and you've always placed great importance on the safety of others. Therefore, I'm placing a reprimand in your file for the shuttle incident. In six months, if there are no further problems, I will remove it. If there are any other problems, I will not hesitate to remove you from your post and ground you for the rest of the trip. Is that clear, Mr. Paris?"
"Yes, Captain, it is," he answered, barely containing a relieved smile.
"It's good to have you back, Lieutenant," she said, trying to surpress a grin of her own. "Dismissed."
Paris stood up and headed for the doorway to leave. Before he reached the exit, he turned back to Janeway, who was still seated on the couch.
"Captain?" he called out across the room.
"Yes, Lieutenant?" she asked, looking up from her data PADD.
"Thank you, for everything."
The two officers shared a warm smile before Paris turned and headed out of the room. Janeway was relieved. It was good to see Paris finally getting past everything that happened. She was confident that things would finally be returning to normal, at least as normal as things ever got on Voyager. For the first time in months, Tom Paris felt optimistic about his future. The dark cloud was lifting, and he knew everything would be fine, no matter what else they faced on the journey home.