Sea Changes, by Lisa A. Browning
Sea Changes: A Star Trek Voyager story. Copyright September, 1997, Lisa A. Browning. Paramount owns the rights to the characters and all things Star Trek, but this is an original story. No copyright infringement is intended. Special thanks to my husband for the title suggestion and editing. This story does contain violence and adult themes,PG-13, so reader discretion is advised. This is my first attempt at writing, so I would welcome any constructive comments. I can be reached at JGBrowning @aol.com.
Summary: Tom Paris is abducted and tortured while on an away mission. After he is rescued, Paris must come to terms with what happened and take responsibility for his own actions. He learns a lesson in responsibility and friendship. This is a character study involving several characters from the show. It takes place after the events in The Gift. This is a stand-alone story.
Captain Janeway sat tensely at the conference table surveying the grim faces of her senior staff. It had been three days since Lt. Paris’ disappearance in the capitol city on Trylan V and there was still no word on his status. Ever since they had arrived to negotiate for supplies, something just hadn’t felt 'right', although Janeway couldn’t point to any reason for her feelings. Minister Kalain and his staff seemed friendly enough, and there hadn’t been any indication of trouble on the planet. She sent Chakotay, Paris, and Kim down in a shuttlecraft to work out the details of the trade. Even though Chakotay had cautioned him against doing so, Paris had gone off to explore the city. He never returned.
Now, after three days, Janeway was growing suspicious. Minister Kalain had refused every offer she made to assist in the search, insisting that the remaining away team members return to the ship. The Minister’s reasons seemed plausible enough; he couldn’t guarantee their safety. Trylan V was protected by a planetary shield, preventing Voyager from scanning the surface. With little to do but wait, Janeway’s frustration was mounting, and as she looked around the room, she could see she wasn’t alone.
“Mister Tuvok, what is the latest information from the Minister?” Janeway was hoping her voice didn’t betray her emotions. She admired the Vulcan security officer’s ability to remain composed in almost any situation.
“Minister Kalain has reiterated the need for patience in this matter. His information indicates that a small group of heavily armed, anti-government terrorists is responsible for Mr. Paris’ disappearance, but he has yet to determine where they may be holding him, and to what end.” Tuvok’s statement brought a wrinkle of disagreement to the first officer’s forehead.
“Captain,” Chakotay began cautiously, “the Minister’s explanation doesn’t make sense to me. If Paris was kidnapped be ‘terrorists’, then why haven’t they made any demands? Why go through so much trouble if they’re not going to gain anything by it?”
“Commander, the ‘terrorists’ may have motives to which we are not privy. We simply do not have enough information about the political situation on Trylan V to speculate about the logic of their actions.”
Janeway was not surprised by the contrasting views of these two officers. Although their perspectives differed greatly, Janeway had come to rely on their opinions, and respected both men.
“We can’t just sit here and do nothing!” Harry Kim blurted out, exasperation at their lack of progress clear in every line on his young face. “We have no idea what has happened to Tom, if he’s all right...”Harry’s voice trailed off, suddenly feeling guilty at his emotional interruption.
Janeway gave him a sympathetic smile. Even after nearly four years in the Delta Quadrant, Harry was still an open book, especially when he was worried about his friends.
“As much as I agree with Mr. Kim’s sentiments, Minister Kalain has given us little choice, at least officially. We can’t return to the surface, so I suggest we continue our efforts from here. B’Elanna, have you figured out a way to scan past their shields?”
B’Elanna had been unusually quiet throughout the meeting. Janeway guessed that she was feeling angry at her inability to solve the scanning problem. *Or maybe she had a more personal reason for her dark mood,* Janeway speculated silently.
“Their shields are modulated at a rotating frequency, Captain. It’s a very complex pattern. Given enough time, we will be able to penetrate them without permission from the Minister’s government, but I can’t say at this point how long it will take.” B’Elanna fought to hold back her temper as she bit off each word. “Even if we succeed,” she continued, “locating Tom won’t be a simple matter without his communicator.”
The Minister’s people had returned it, along with Paris’ tricorder. They claimed to have found in near the market square on the northern outskirts of the city. Harry Kim continued B’Elanna’s thought.
“Even though the Trylanians are humanoid, there are physiological differences, but it will still be difficult to distinguish Tom from them unless we use an extremely narrow search band. Without knowing where to search, that type of pattern could take weeks.” Kim’s voice sounded as desperate and weary as Janeway felt.
“I simply cannot accept that our hands are completely tied,” Janeway’s words were measured and deliberate. “There is a solution here, and we need to find it.” After an uncomfortable silence, Chakotay spoke up,
“I have a suggestion, Captain, but I’m not sure you’ll be receptive to it.”
“Go ahead, Commander.”
“Maybe, it would be possible to contact the ‘terrorists’ ourselves.” Chakotay glanced around to gauge everyone’s reaction to his idea. Seeing varying degrees of surprise and agreement, he continued,
“We may be able to verify what Minister Kalain has told us about their participation, and we may be able to speed up the process a bit.” Chakotay could see Tuvok’s reaction, so he added, “I know you wanted to limit our involvement in their interplanetary affairs, but the longer Paris is missing, the less likely it is that he will be returned unharmed.”
The first officer hated to be that blunt, especially in front of Paris’ friends, but he felt it was important to make his point clear.
Janeway sat back in her chair with a sigh. Nobody else in the room made a noise as they waited for the captain’s response to the commander’s statement. Chakotay had a valid point; it was a possibility that Paris’ life could be in danger. She weighed her options quickly; the decision was made.
“Mr. Kim, send out a wide-band transmission to the surface. Let’s see if the ‘terrorists’ are willing to talk. In the meantime, let’s continue our efforts to scan through their shields.” With that, the meeting was adjourned, and the senior officers headed to the bridge.
Tom awoke once again to find himself in the interrogation room, still strapped to an inclined table. Paris’ head was still swimming from the mix of drugs, pain and exhaustion from the last 'session'. He could barely make out the shadowy figures in the darkened room, but he knew who they were, and what they wanted. It had been the same drill for three days. First came the hypospray, then the questions, then pain, unbelievable pain. The interrogator, Borla, had mentioned something about the injections heightening his nervous system’s response to external stimuli. Tom didn’t really care; all he knew was it made him feel sick and made it difficult for his mind to focus. Somehow, he doubted if the pain would have been much more bearable without it.
Wires had been attached to his chest and groin. *Crude, but effective,* Tom mused, trying desperately to summon the courage to face the next round of questions. It had been the same questions over and over; he had them memorized. These people, for whatever reasons, wanted Voyager, and they were going to use whatever methods necessary to get her. The thought made Tom shudder. *The Captain will come for you, just hang on, just hang on.* Tom was finding it very difficult under these circumstances to maintain a positive attitude. All he had wanted to do was see the sights. Negotiation and diplomacy had never interested him. Now he wished he hadn’t ignored Chakotay’s warning. Borla moved out of the shadows, peering down at the pilot with a look of sick enjoyment on his broad face.
“You have been most uncooperative, Mr. Paris. You really have made this much more difficult then it has to be.” Borla smirked, enjoying watching the young Lieutenant’s anger as he spoke. “Your shipmates will be quite unable to locate you with our shields in place. You’re not going anywhere, Lieutenant, and we will get the information one way or another.”
“I’m not going to tell you anything, so you might as well just get this over with!” spat Tom, trying to sound more sure then he felt.
Inside, he was quaking with the memories of the previous times. He wasn’t sure how much more of this he could stand. He couldn’t see straight; the room was bending at the edges of his vision, and his head was pounding.
“Well, if you insist upon refusing to cooperate, perhaps one of your colleagues will be more receptive.” Borla taunted.
As far as Paris knew, the entire away team had been captured, and, even though he had not seen them since being brought here, it seemed perfectly reasonable to assume this was true. The idea made Paris feel more then a little guilty.
“They won’t help you either, Borla,” Paris strained to keep his voice from quivering. The thought of Harry having to go through this made him nauseated.
“We will see,” Borla sneered, “I have a little surprise for you. I thought you might like to try something ... different. Perhaps it will be a better motivation then our previous efforts.” Borla’s cryptic tone made Tom’s blood run cold. Borla signaled to the unseen guard standing by the doorway.
*What is going on? What is this sick, sadistic bastard going to do?* Tom’s mind was racing; he could feel the panic rising as a knot twisted into his stomach. *Get a grip, Thomas! Panicking won’t help!* As Tom struggled with the fear that was threatening to overcome him, he could hear the guards dragging someone into the room. He couldn’t make out who it was; his vision was as cloudy as his drugged-out mind. Borla leaned down close to Paris’ ear and whispered venomously,
“Don’t you recognize your crewmate, Mr. Kim?”
Tom squinted at the large figure being held only a few meters from the table. *Is that Harry?* Tom felt confusion mixing with the panic. The slumped prisoner look too large to be human, and his skin was a deep red in color. *I can’t think straight!* his mind screamed. Tom tried harder to focus. As he did, the man suddenly began to look like Harry Kim.
“Harry, is that really you?” Tom asked desperately. Something didn’t seem right, but Tom’s befuddled mind was telling him that his best friend was standing in front of him. The slumped figure didn’t answer him.
“I’m tired of playing games with you, Mr. Paris.” Borla snarled, not giving Tom any time to clear his foggy head. “I will ask you one more time, what is the type and frequency of Voyager’s shield configuration?” Silence followed the familiar question.
“Perhaps your people don’t value life as much as we do here on Trylan V. That will be most unfortunate for Mr. Kim.” Tom was beginning to understand the full implications of Borla’s threat. A wave of guilt and anger swept over the lieutenant.
“No! You can’t do that!” Tom protested, staining against the straps holding him down.
“Then answer the question, Mr. Paris!” Borla’s eyes narrowed as he intently stared at the lieutenant. Tom couldn’t think. There was no way he could answer the question, but how could he let them kill Harry?
“I’m growing very impatient, Lieutenant!” Borla wasn’t going to give Paris any time to think rationally.
“Answer the question!” he screamed at the panicked officer.
“No, I can’t... please, don’t make me... I can’t tell....please!” Tom pleaded, tears flowing down his pale face.
“You are leaving me no choice, Lieutenant. For the last time, what is Voyager’s shield frequency?!” Borla’s voice stabbed at Paris. Tom was still pleading with Borla,
“NO!... PLEASE DON’T!... I CAN’T TELL!.... “ Tom’s voice was strident with fear. Borla signaled the guard standing next to ‘Harry’, who drew out a sharp knife and placed it to the prisoner’s throat. “NO!!!” screamed Tom.
“Have it your way, Lieutenant.” With that, the guard sliced the man’s throat, nearly cutting his head off. Tom dissolved into a sobbing mess on the table.
“I’ve got an incoming message from the surface, Captain!” Harry Kim’s voice leaped from his throat excitedly. “It’s on a low-frequency band, but I think I can still get a visual.”
“On screen, Ensign.”
Janeway’s response was measured; she didn’t want to get her hopes up just yet. The viewscreen flickered with interference momentarily, then cleared.
“I am Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation starship Voyager. To whom am I speaking?” Janeway stood in front of her command chair, hands resting firmly on her hips.
“You are speaking to Toba Veria of the 5th Resistance Group. Why have you contacted us?” he demanded harshly.
Veria had unremarkable features for a Trylanian, at least as far as the captain could tell. Although they were humanoid, they averaged several centimeters more in height then the average human and had very large, muscular frames, even the females. Trylanians had yellow-colored eyes and a nearly red skin tone. Veria’s yellow eyes were scanning Janeway suspiciously as she addressed him.
“We have contacted you to inquire about one of my crew. We were told that you might know where we can locate him.” Janeway was doing her best to sound diplomatic. Her overtly professional tone was met with a haughty laugh.
“I take it that you believe that we have your missing crewman.” Veria’s mouth twisted into a sarcastic smirk. “What were you expecting, Captain? That we would simply turn him over when you came looking for him?” he sneered tauntingly. “Your people are as naive and weak as we had heard!” Janeway struggled to maintain her decorum.
“I contacted you to verify our information.” she replied coolly. “Since you brought it up, I’ll be direct. Do you have our missing crewman?” Veria’s insulting tone had not changed.
“If we had him, do you think we would have replied to your hail?”
“I’ll take that as a ‘no.’ If you don’t have him, then do you know where he might be?” Janeway was losing her patience, but the resistance leader continued to scoff.
“I am not in the business of doing charity work, Captain. If you want my assistance, then it will cost you.” Janeway felt disgusted having to deal with this arrogant man.
“I have no intention of negotiating with you ...” Veria cut her off before she could finish.
“It would seem to me that you are not in a position to refuse my generous offer. If you could find him yourself, then you wouldn’t be looking for him here.”
Veria knew he had the upper hand, and he had no problem lauding it over those ...pathetic... humans. His informants had alerted the resistance to the arrival of the alien starship days ago. His information told him that they had far superior technology, but the aliens themselves were small and weak, peacefully exploring the galaxy on their way back to some far distant home. They did not value strength and combat as the Trylanians did. *No wonder that snake, Kalain, was trying to take their vessel. If I had the ships, I’d do it myself!*
Janeway had no intention of letting this repulsive being dictate terms. *The best defense is a good offense, Kathryn.* she reminded herself of an old lesson she had learned in the academy.
“And how do I know that your help is genuine? You could easily be lying to us right now,” she ventured, hoping to lure something out of him that could be useful. Veria wasn’t easily deflected.
“I suppose you can’t know if we are lying. I guess you will just have to trust me.” he sneered.
“I don’t trust you, Veria, because you haven’t given me any reason to do so. Surely, you don’t expect me to bargain with you without sampling the ‘product’?” This brought another laugh from the resistance leader.
"Well, I suppose that would be fair, if this were a fair game. But right now, I’m the one holding all the cards.” Janeway could feel the blood rushing up from under her collar. Veria looked very satisfied with himself as he continued,
“I won’t try and take your whole ship, Captain, but perhaps we could work out an exchange for some of your phaser rifles and other supplies. I understand that you have some very impressive technology on that starship of yours.” His smugness was infuriating. Janeway could barely control the rage in her voice as she spat out,
“I don’t know where you got your facts, and I don’t care. I will not trade you weapons for information!” Janeway was about to signal Kim to disconnect the transmission when Veria responded.
“Have it your way, my dear, but if I were you, I would reconsider.” His cocky tone made her want to jump through the viewscreen and slap him. Veria was so caught up in self-satisfaction that he let slip,
“The people who have your crewman will want more then just a few weapons; they’ll take your ship. Once they learn from him how to attack you, you’ll wish you had dealt with me.”
A moment latter, the viewscreen went blank, and then returned to the view of Trylan V.
Borla stared down with disbelief at the trembling figure on the interrogation table. He had promised Minister Kalain quick results. Kalain himself had assured him that these aliens were ‘soft’. Breaking the pilot had seemed a simple task. Now, four days later, he still had nothing. *Somehow, I doubt Kalain will be understanding*, mused Borla. He dreaded the report he was going to have to make. He could almost hear the Minister’s tirade in his head. He would, of course, have to take the blame for this failure.
*What went wrong?* Borla’s mind searched for an answer, but found nothing. He was so certain that the human would crack when he brought in those prisoners and told him they were his crewmates, killing them in front of him. Both times, Paris seemed to believe the situation was real, but he hadn’t reacted as Borla would have expected. *That’s the problem with interrogating aliens; they can be unpredictable,* Borla sighed. He doubted the Minister would take that as an excuse.
“Take him back to his cell”, he instructed the guards standing by the door. Paris’ body was still shuddering violently from the ‘session’ as the guards lifted him roughly from the table and dragged him, face down, towards the cell. Borla sighed again as he watched, then turned to his view screen to contact Kalain. *This isn’t going to be a pleasant conversation.*
Paris was barely conscious as the guards pulled him into his cell. He couldn’t swear to it, but he didn’t think he had spent much time here. He could hear the guards snap on the security forcefield. *Not much chance of an escape attempt, fellows,* Tom laughed to himself. Another violent spasm racked his body, pushing all of his thoughts away. Tom curled up into a tight ball, trying to will the continuing pain away. *Damn, those injections!* he grimaced. They seemed not only to heighten the pain while he was being interrogated, but prolong it afterwards. Or at least it felt that way.
As the spasm subsided, Tom was left alone to his thoughts. *Some way to end up, Thomas old boy, alone in another dark, miserable prison,* he taunted himself, *Not that you don’t deserve it. You didn’t listen to Chakotay when he said it wasn’t a good idea to go out alone, did you? Always think you know better, Thomas, don’t you?* The images of Chakotay and Harry being executed ripped at his mind. *The only thing you’ve managed to change in your life is location, Thomas. You should be used to screwing up by now. You can’t do anything right!* Tom felt the tears running down his face. As miserable as Borla’s ‘sessions’ made him feel, they were nothing compared to the pain of living with his own actions. Borla had been more successful then he realized, but Paris wasn’t going to give him what he wanted. It didn’t matter what the bastard did to him, not now. He had killed his best friend and his senior officer. *How can I ever face the Captain again?* As Tom slowly sank back to unconsciousness, one thought raced through his tired mind. *Please, let this end.*
They were in the conference room, again. Janeway sighed deeply. They were getting nowhere.
“The only information we can correctly infer from the communication with Veria is that Lt. Paris is being used to gain access to Voyager,” Tuvok spoke flatly. “All other speculation serves no purpose.”
“But Veria said he didn’t have Paris. That must mean that Kalain is the one holding him!” Harry Kim’s voice rose with frustration.
“Mr. Kim, might I point out that there may be more then one faction vying for power on Trylan V. Also, we do not have any reason to trust the veracity of Veria’s statements. We simply do not have enough facts to support your assumption,” corrected Tuvok.
“Then we are right back where we started!” Kim raked his hand through his dark hair as he sank back wearily into his seat.
“That is not entirely correct either, Mr. Kim,” Kim shot Tuvok an exasperated look as he continued. “We now know the motives of the individuals who have kidnapped the lieutenant. As such, we can discern that whomever they are, trade with them would most likely involve Voyager’s technology, which is unacceptable. We also now know that our continued presence in this system is endangering this ship and crew.”
“You’re not suggesting that we just leave him here?!” B’Elanna growled dangerously.
“I am simply stating the facts as they exist, Lieutenant. As of yet, I have not offered any suggestions as to the proper course of action.” Tuvok’s cool, even reply did little to calm Torres.
“B’Elanna, how much progress have you made on their shields?” interjected the captain, hoping to distract her enraged engineer.
“Very little, I’m afraid. The shields appear to rotate on an almost random pattern. My team has been monitoring it for days, and we still haven’t any ideas on how to penetrate them.” B’Elanna’s voice fell as she spoke.
“We can’t penetrate their shields with our scanners, but we can communicate with the surface.” Harry spoke as if an idea were just beginning to form in his mind. He paused momentarily, gathering his thoughts. When he spoke again, his eyes brightened, “Wouldn’t it be possible to hide a narrow scanning beam in a subspace transmission?” B’Elanna seemed to understand what Harry was getting at.
“Yes, in theory, we could reroute the scanning beam through the communications array. We would have to reconfigure the short-range sensor grid and shunt the signal through the array.” B’Elanna’s words quickened as she spoke, working the problem over in her mind. “We would need more power to insure the field integrity of the beam. We could bypass the overrides and shunt power directly from the deflector grid!” Torres glanced excitedly at Harry. Tuvok’s voice didn’t share the optimism of his colleagues.
“As you pointed out earlier, Mr. Kim, a narrow search beam may take a considerable amount of time to find Mr. Paris. Also, once we have located him, how do you propose we return him to Voyager? We cannot transport through the shields.” Captain Janeway could see that Kim’s plan had not been thought through to that point. Harry’s deflated expression mirrored her own feelings.
“It’s a start, Ensign,” she said gently, trying to bolster the young man’s confidence. “Ms. Torres, how long will it take for you to set up the beam?"
“With my whole team on it, maybe three hours.”
“Get on it right away, B’Elanna. The sooner we start, the sooner we locate Tom,” dismissed Janeway. B’Elanna nearly sprinted for the door. Chakotay, who had been silently observing the discussion, offered,
“Once we locate Paris, we could take a shuttle into the atmosphere and transport him out using the sensor’s coordinates.” Again, Tuvok seemed bent on quashing any hope.
“Commander, while the Trylanian’s technology is not as advanced as our own, we should not take it lightly. Our away team scans indicated a defense grid which will pick up our shuttle once it leaves Voyager, as well as ships capable of attacking and destroying it. Given what Veria knew about us, it is logical to assume that the resistance groups may have access to that information as well as the government. Therefore, taking a shuttle down to retrieve Lt. Paris would be an unacceptable risk.”
“It’s a risk I’m willing to take!” Harry Kim’s dark eyes flashed angrily at the security chief. The captain raised her hand in Kim’s direction to calm him down. The last thing she needed was for Harry to lose his temper. Chakotay leaned forward and suggested,
“Couldn’t we take Voyager down into the atmosphere?” Tuvok’s brow arched with this unexpected idea.
“While Voyager may be able to withstand an assault by the Trylanian vessels under normal circumstances, we cannot guarantee that Mr. Paris has not already provided them with enough information to severely damage this ship. We would be risking the entire crew.” Chakotay was not dissuaded by Tuvok’s statement.
“If the Trylanians who are holding Paris had gotten what they were looking for already, don’t you think it would be ‘logical’, Tuvok, that they would have attacked us by now?” Tuvok ignored the commander’s attempt to goad him. Janeway had heard enough.
“All right, gentlemen. If and when we find him, we’ll take Voyager down and beam him out. I wouldn’t mind the opportunity to show the Trylanians our flag.”
Her face twisted into a mildly vengeful sneer. It brought similar grins from around the table, except for Tuvok, of course. It seemed like ages since she had seen anything but grimaces.
“Captain, the sensor beam is on-line,” rang Torres’ voice over the comm system.
“Good work, Lieutenant,” Janeway replied. “Mr. Kim, initiate the subspace array and begin your scans.”
“Aye, Captain,” Kim said almost absently as he busied himself with the array. “Focusing the beam now, Captain. I’m starting the sensor sweeps at Paris’ last known position, in the city market.”
“Acknowledged, Mr. Kim. Keep me informed.” Janeway turned to her first officer, “Chakotay, you have the bridge. I’ll be in my ready room.” The commander nodded his acknowledgment as she strode off the bridge.
Kathryn slid exhaustedly into the chair at her desk in the ready room. She felt as if she hadn’t slept in years. Even though she could not control what had transpired over the past four days, she still felt responsible. *I should have known,* she scolded herself silently, *I shouldn’t have sent them down without knowing the situation more fully.* It didn’t comfort her that Minister Kalain had lied, telling her Trylan V was a peaceful planet. She was the captain, and she demanded better of herself. *If anything has happened to Tom...,* She forced the thought from her tired mind. She didn’t want to think about the possibility. The Federation abhorred the use of violence to gather information, but this wasn’t the Federation. More than one species they’d met in the Delta Quadrant had a less than enlightened attitude about such things. The idea made her shiver. She must have fallen asleep, since the next thing she was conscious of was the beep of her comm badge.
“Chakotay to Janeway,” Janeway responded automatically, not fully awake yet.
“Janeway here, go ahead, Commander.”
“Captain, B’Elanna’s skeletal scan has found something. I think we’ve located Paris.”
Janeway rushed smartly onto the bridge towards her first officer’s chair. Chakotay was reading the display monitor between his station and her own.
“Report,“ she ordered.
“B’Elanna set the sensor beam to scan for Paris using the skeletal parameters program she developed before we had our ‘dealings’ with the Borg and Species 8472, since there are obvious physiological differences between humans and Trylanians. We’ve found a reading that could be human near the government complex in the capitol city.”
Chakotay indicated the readings on the monitor for Janeway to confirm their findings. Janeway looked up expectantly, then turned to Ops.
“Mr. Kim, if we get past the planetary shields, do you think we can get a lock on him?” Harry checked the display in front of him carefully before responding.
“Our tricorder scans didn’t indicate any other barriers on the surface when we were there. I don’t think we’ll have a problem.”
“All right, then, Mr. Hamilton,” she commanded, switching her attention to the Conn, “take us down to the appropriate coordinates.” Hamilton acknowledged her order and proceeded to ease Voyager into the planet’s atmosphere.
“Captain, I’m reading five ships with Trylanian energy signatures closing on an intercept course from the surface,” Tuvok warned from the Tactical station.
“Time to intercept, Tuvok?” Janeway inquired.
“They should intercept our course in approximately two minutes.” The captain stored the information, then asked the conn officer,
“How long before we are in transporter range, Mr. Hamilton?”
“We should be there in about one minute, Captain.”
Janeway was satisfied with the response. It would be close, so they would have to time this perfectly. Tapping her comm badge, she signaled the transporter chief.
“Transporter room, lock on to the sensor coordinates and stand by to transport Lt. Paris directly to Sickbay.” She did not wait for the chief’s reply. “Janeway to Sickbay. Doctor, get ready for an incoming patient.”
“I’ve already completed preparations for Mr. Paris’ arrival, Captain. Standing by.” Janeway stood in the middle of the bridge, watching her staff carry out her orders.
“We’re in transporter range, Captain,” announced Ensign Hamilton.
Janeway quickly contacted the transporter room and order the chief to begin. There was a brief pause, then the chief informed the bridge that transport was successful.
“Reverse course, Ensign,” ordered Janeway seconds before a blast jolted the ship. “Report.” Tuvok was the first to respond,
“The Trylanians have hit our rear deflector, Captain.” Tuvok paused briefly to confirm his readout. “No damage sustained.”
Voyager continued to climb out of the planet’s atmosphere, with the five smaller vessels continuing their pursuit. Although the ship rocked with each blow, the smaller vessels did not have the firepower to seriously damage the starship. That did not deter the Trylanian crews from continuing to follow Voyager as they cleared the ionosphere.
“The smaller vessels are continuing on a pursuit course, Captain.” Tuvok announced.
It was hardly necessary since Voyager was still being bombarded with phaser blasts. Janeway did not want to get into a violent exchange, but the smaller ships following them seemed to be forcing the issue.
“Return fire, Mr. Tuvok. Mr. Hamilton, evasive pattern Beta Gamma One.”
Janeway hoped that the smaller ships would break off the attack once they realized they were no match for Voyager. Her thoughts were answered by another volley of blasts, followed by sparks erupting from a monitoring station near the Ops position.
“Shields are still holding, Captain, but they are down to eighty percent,” shouted Harry over the noise of the battle. “I’m getting reports of minor hull damage on decks eight, nine, and twelve. There are a few minor injuries, nothing serious.” Janeway set her shoulders and placed her hands on her hips.
“All right, they want to play rough,” she commented to no one in particular. She turned to the Tactical station, “Mr. Tuvok, fire at will.”
The captain was facing Tuvok as she spoke, so she couldn’t see the satisfied smiles creeping up on the faces of her bridge crew. It was over in a matter of minutes. Voyager destroyed three of the Trylanian vessels and disabled the other two before they retreated. Voyager had taken a little damage, but nothing too serious. Harry dispatched repair crews as Voyager set course out of the system. Janeway was about to contact Sickbay when her comm badge beeped.
" “Doctor to Janeway."
“Go ahead, Doctor.” Janeway heard the concern dripping from the hologram’s voice as he replied.
“Could you please come to Sickbay, Captain? I need to discuss Mr. Paris’ condition with you.” Something in the Doctor’s tone made Janeway’s stomach tighten. She shared a concerned glance with Chakotay, who was standing next to her.
“On my way, Doctor.” She had just started for the turbolift when Chakotay called after her,
“Captain, may I accompany you?”
The request seemed odd to her; it was no secret that the first officer disliked the pilot. Her expression must have betrayed her thoughts; Chakotay moved up close to her and stated quietly,
“I feel partially responsible for what happened, Captain. I was in charge of the away team. I should never have allowed him to go out on his own. I would like to see if he’s okay.”
Janeway’s eyes searched his for a moment. She had never considered that her first officer might be blaming himself. She gave him a quick nod.
“Mr. Tuvok, you have the bridge.”
The Doctor was stunned by Paris’ appearance when he arrived in Sickbay. The hologram had an extensive database which covered all the medical problems associated with the use of physical coercion, but it was quite another thing to actually see the results in front of you. Paris materialized on the biobed curled up in a tight ball, his body shaking violently. His eyes were half-open, but he did not seem aware of where he was, or even that the Doctor was present. His hair was in disarray, and his face was so pale he looked ashen. His pasty complexion only made the black, exhausted circles under his eyes more pronounced. Paris’ features looked drawn and sickly. His trembling body was covered by his filthy, torn, and bloodied uniform. The pilot was muttering something almost incoherently over and over. The sight was ghastly and disturbing.
The Doctor steadied himself after his initial shock and began his treatments, ignoring the sounds of the space battle going on outside. The possibility that he would soon be inundated with casualties annoyed the Doctor. *You would think, for once, we could just get out of a situation without being the whipping boy of the Delta Quadrant,* the Doctor mused as he worked. The pilot continued to tremble uncontrollably, pain twisting his gaunt features. Fortunately, there were only a few patients, which the Doctor’s new assistant handled while he dealt with the lieutenant. *Fortunately for you, Mr. Paris, you’re in very capable hands.* The hologram frowned as he scanned Paris with the medical tricorder. It never ceased to amaze him how badly sentient beings could treat each other. The Doctor completed his examination, injecting Paris with a sedative to counteract the alien stimulant in his blood stream. The pilot collapsed into a pained state of unconsciousness.
A few minutes later, the captain and first officer arrived. They had shared an uncomfortable silence in the turbolift, neither one wanting to speculate about the Doctor’s serious tone. Chakotay had seen political prisoners before. The Cardassians’ reputation for torture was well known, and, unfortunately, the commander had several opportunities to admire their handiwork in the Maquis. He doubted that Janeway had any similar experiences. Torture had not been used in the Federation for centuries, and, even though all Starfleet officers were trained to deal with the possibility of being captured by a race who did use it, Chakotay knew she wouldn’t be prepared to see it up close and personal. He hoped she wouldn’t have to find out what it was like.
That hope shattered as the two officers entered Sickbay. Janeway came to an abrupt halt as she saw her Conn officer lying on the biobed. She just stared at him, mouth open slightly, unable to move. Chakotay sighed and averted his eyes. Even from where they stood, they could see how badly injured Paris was. The Doctor had noted their arrival as soon as they entered. Seeing the shocked look on the captain’s face, he gave her a moment before he addressed her.
“Captain, I’ve just completed my examination of Lt. Paris.” he ventured quietly, “I would like to discuss treatment options with you and Commander Chakotay.” The Doctor was speaking very softly to the stunned captain. “We can continue this in my office if you would like.”
Janeway shored herself up, taking a deep breath before nodding in agreement. The Doctor led both officers into the office. Chakotay was watching her very closely, trying to gauge her emotional state. Janeway took the seat behind the desk, crossing her hands in front of her. She was barely able to control her voice from quivering as she spoke.
“Will he recover?” The Doctor, again, spoke with considerable gentleness as he addressed his upset captain.
“Mr. Paris is in bad shape, but I see no reason to believe there will be any lasting physical concerns.” The Doctor’s voice seemed to catch on the word ‘physical’.
“The biggest medical problem is the presence of an unknown narcotic in his system, but from what I can tell, it should run its course in a couple of days. He has suffered other physical injuries but I can heal those with little concern. They are not life-threatening. The drug is some type of neural stimulant, but I don’t foresee any lasting side effects from it. For now, though, it is causing severe agitation, muscle spasms, and nausea. It also seems to be surpressing higher brain functions by overloading the neural pathways with sensory stimulation. I would like to keep Mr. Paris sedated until the drug clears his system on its own.”
The Doctor paused to let his report sink in. Janeway looked up at the hologram as if she knew she wasn’t going to like what he said next.
“There is a copious amount of information in the ship’s medical database on the appropriate treatment of the physical effects of torture,” the captain winced at the hologram's use of the word, “but there is little on dealing with the emotional impact this experience will have on the lieutenant. That would be the job of a ship’s counselor; Starfleet probably didn’t think it would be necessary for an EMH to have access to those files.”
Janeway had regretted not having a counselor ever since their arrival in the Delta Quadrant. Now, she was faced with the possibility of losing a senior officer because of the oversight. Her voice was subdued as she spoke.
“There is little we can do about that right now. We are going to have to handle this situation as best we can. I would appreciate any suggestions either of you have.”
Janeway’s face looked strained with worry. It was one thing to expect crew members to deal with their grief at losing their homes and loved ones. It was quite another to expect a crew member to deal with the deep psychological scars of torture. A heavy silence hung over the office. The Doctor was the first to break it,
“I can assist Mr. Paris with anti-depressants and sleep aids. They should take some of the edge off of any mood swings he may experience.” The captain gave him an appreciative smile.
“Thank you, Doctor, that will be helpful.” Commander Chakotay sighed before he made his offer,
“Captain, I’ve had some limited counseling experience in the Maquis, as well as my own use of vision quests and my Spirit Guide. I don’t know how much good it would do, but I would be willing to help if Paris is open to the idea.”
Janeway knew it took a lot to get Chakotay to offer his assistance, considering his poor relationship with Tom, but she was grateful that he had.
“Whatever help you can provide will be just fine, Commander. Tom’s going to need all of our assistance. I will try and talk with him as well, and between us and his friends, maybe we can get him through this.” The first officer silently nodded as Janeway gave his forearm a reassuring squeeze.
“Speaking of Mr. Paris’ friends,” interrupted the Doctor, “as much as they may want to see him, I would suggest keeping them away from Sickbay, at least until we have a chance to gauge his emotional stability when he regains consciousness. We will want to take things slowly until the lieutenant adjusts to being back aboard.”
“Very good point, Doctor. We don’t want to make things any worse for him,” agreed Janeway.
“I’ll take care of speaking to Harry, B’Elanna, and Neelix, Captain,” offered Chakotay, “I’m sure they will understand and cooperate if it means helping Tom out. I’ll also arrange the duty roster to cover the Conn indefinitely.”
Janeway nodded her head solemnly at the last part of his statement. As she and Chakotay left Sickbay, the captain sighed to herself, *At least we have a plan.* She hoped that their efforts would be enough.
Tom Paris lay silently in Sickbay, not daring to move. He could feel that he was conscious, but he did not open his eyes. Something was definitely different. His mind struggled to focus on what that could be. It took several minutes for Tom to realize that he was not in pain. *Strange,* he thought,*you’d think a guy would notice something like that.* He could hear the sounds of the monitoring equipment next to him, and he noticed a familiar scent drifting into his brain; it was almost..... antiseptic.... Then his brain finally clicked. *Sickbay?!* The thought penetrated some of the cobwebs from the sedation. Tom blinked several times before his eyes focused on the face peering down at him.
“Welcome back, Lieutenant,” greeted the Doctor dryly.
Paris just stared at him silently. The lack of response brought a concerned frown to the hologram’s face. He scanned the young man with the medical tricorder to reassure himself that he hadn’t missed any medical problems which could cause the lieutenant’s sullen behavior. Seeing none, he glanced over his shoulder towards the captain and the commander. He had asked that they be present, hoping that the two of them would be a reassuring sight for Paris. Janeway moved to the side of the biobed and placed her hand lightly on Paris’ arm. Her heart skipped a beat as she felt him flinch at her touch.
“Tom. It’s okay. You’re in Sickbay, on Voyager. Everything is going to be all right.”
The sound of her voice seemed to reach him, slowly. He gazed up at her; his blue eyes searching her face blankly. His lack of response had her very concerned.
“Tom, you’re all right. You’re back on Voyager.” She waited patiently for him to say something.
“Captain?” His quiet voice seemed to be pleading more then asking.
“Yes, Tom. I’m right here. You’re safe. You’re on the ship.”
He looked up and around at his surroundings as if he had just realized there was space beyond the captain’s body. He closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath, trying to steady himself. When he opened his eyes, they were much clearer, and his voice was stronger.
“How long have I been back?” Tom’s voice was flat, almost monotone as he spoke. Janeway gave him a grateful, warm smile.
“A couple of days, Tom,” she replied, “The Doctor had you sedated. He found a stimulant in your system, and he felt it was best that you remain unconscious while it worked its way out of your body. He didn’t want to cause you any further discomfort.”
Paris nodded his head to acknowledge her comments, but said nothing. The silence was uncomfortable; he was no longer looking at her, but at some spot on the biobed next to him. Janeway hadn’t known what to expect, but silence from her normally gregarious pilot wasn’t it. She decided to change the subject, hoping it would pull Paris out of his sullen, withdrawn mood.
“Why don’t we get you something to eat, Lieutenant?” She tried to make her voice sound more cheerful then she felt.
Tom gave her a quick “okay”. The captain gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder. He made a feeble attempt at a grateful smile, but failed. *Why does he look so miserable?* Janeway wondered. She hadn’t expected him to be happy, but she swore he looked like a child who just lost his dog.
“What can I get for you, Mr. Paris?” the Doctor quipped too cheerfully as he moved back towards the biobed to stand next to the captain. Clearly, the Doctor was making a pitiful attempt to keep the mood light. Paris looked up at him sharply, as if he just realized that the hologram was still there. Tom’s eyes began to look around the room, stopping as he spotted the commander. Paris’ face went completely white. His eyes stared at the first officer as if he had seen a ghost. Captain Janeway was the first to sense Tom’s reaction.
“Tom, is something wrong?”
She touched his arm to get his attention, and she could feel it trembling under her fingers. She also noted that his skin was cold and somewhat clammy. His reaction caught her off guard.
“Tom, what’s wrong? Talk to me, Lieutenant.” she demanded. That seemed to snap Paris out of his shocked trance.
“I don’t understand.... I saw .... they were dead.... they wanted......I couldn’t....” stammered Paris, incoherently. Janeway’s face clouded with concern.
“Slow down, Tom and tell me why you’re so upset.” She was trying to keep the young man’s eyes focused on her, not the commander.
“In the prison.....they were there.....I saw them....Harry.... I saw them....” Paris was becoming more agitated by the second. Then, suddenly his expression changed to one of horrified realization. “NO!” he screamed angrily, looking at her intensely, “I won’t tell you anything! You bastards!”
Janeway shot a startled look at the Doctor, who was already ahead of her. Paris continued to rant wildly as the hypospray pressed the sedative into his neck. The pilot settled back into a restless unconsciousness.
“What the hell was that?” asked a stunned Chakotay.
“I believe the lieutenant had a panic attack, but I can’t speculate on what might have caused it,” diagnosed the Doctor.
“He was calm until he saw Chakotay,” Janeway stated, trying to reason out what had happened, “Why would seeing the commander upset him so much?”
“The only person who could answer that is Mr. Paris,” replied the hologram, “That’s assuming he will talk to anyone. He clearly seemed to be questioning the reality of being back aboard Voyager.” The hologram paused to allow the other officers to catch up.
“So how do we convince him that this is all real?” inquired Chakotay. He had no idea how they were supposed to deal with this.
“I’m a medical doctor, not a therapist,” quipped the hologram. His response brought a frustrated, annoyed sigh from the commander.
“The only thing I can think of is to keep telling him this is real until he believes it.” offered Janeway with a shrug.
There was nothing more they could do until Paris regained consciousness. As she and the commander headed out of Sickbay, Janeway couldn’t help praying that their efforts would be enough.
Paris was eyeing the commander suspiciously, watching every move he made intently. *At least he hasn’t gone screaming into the corner,* Chakotay thought wryly. The lieutenant hadn’t said anything since the commander arrived in Sickbay. The silence was unnerving, but he wasn’t sure how Tom would react if he tried to converse with him. He felt as if he were trying to approach a wounded wild animal.
Chakotay had considered withdrawing his offer to counsel Paris after the visit yesterday. Given the young man’s reaction to seeing him, he doubted if he could be of much help. He had gone over the incident in his mind a hundred times, and he still had no idea what he had done to cause it. Chakotay had consulted his Spirit Guide as he usually did when events or decisions troubled him. She always advised him well, even if he didn’t always like what she had to say. His guide told him to stick with it, no matter how much resistance he faced. Now, all he had to figure out was how to make Paris believe he was safely aboard Voyager, and how to get him to talk openly with Chakotay. *Knowing Paris, he will make that as difficult as he can,* mused the commander as he approached the pilot’s biobed.
“How are you feeling, Tom?” he ventured, trying something innocuous to begin with.
Tom stared at him silently. *This can’t be Chakotay. I watched the guards slice his throat,* Tom was trying to find some way to make sense of the contradiction. *Maybe that was the lie, but how can I be sure? This could all be some delusion; I might still be on Trylan V.* Tom was trying to sort out a way to tell which version of reality was true; he was no closer to an answer, and his head was pounding from the effort. He wanted to shut everything out so he could have time to think this through. He had been struggling to keep himself in control; he desperately wanted to avoid the sickening feelings that had come crashing through yesterday. Tom couldn’t see any way to sort through it on his own. Paris decided to try something,
“I’m fine,” he stated, watching the commander’s face carefully.
*Maybe, if I’m lucky, this Chakotay will give me some reason to believe that he is real,* hoped Paris. He was looking for something, a gesture, a tone of voice, anything that would help solve the conflict raging in his head. The commander seemed pleasantly surprised to get a response to his question.
“You seem calmer than you were yesterday,” Chakotay commented cautiously, “I have to admit, I was a little taken aback by our visit.” The commander was watching Paris’ face, trying to gauge his reactions.
“I was a bit out of sorts. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable,” he replied, just as carefully.
Tom’s voice contained none of its characteristic sarcasm. Paris’ tone and demeanor left a strange knot in the Maquis’ stomach. He was beginning to wish they could go back to the silence.
“There’s no need to apologize, Lieutenant. I’m sorry that our visit caused you so much distress.”
Tom’s face clouded with suspicion. *The real Chakotay would never apologize to me!* cried the paranoid voice in his head. *But, he is acting like him, and he looks like him, even down to that blasted tattoo.* The confusion settled back into place. Chakotay saw the emotions run across Paris’ features, but he had no idea what they meant.
“If you feel the need to talk about that, or anything else, I would be willing to listen.” Tom looked as if he had been struck by a bolt of lightning. Struggling to keep his composure, he cried out shakily,
“I don’t know who you are, but I’m not playing your game! I will not tell you anything about Voyager!”
Paris was shuddering uncontrollably as he pulled his knees up towards his face. Chakotay felt a rush of sympathy for the young man. He had blamed Paris in part for what had happened, just as he had taken responsibility for his own actions. But even the worst transgression couldn’t justify what the pilot had been put through. He had no idea what the Trylanians could have done to make Tom doubt his own senses, but the thought made Chakotay physically ill.
“Tom, calm down!” he implored the young man, “I’m not here to hurt you; I’m here to help.”
From Tom’s reaction, he could tell that hadn’t worked. He continued to reason with the pilot,
“Tom, look around you. You know where you are. You know who I am. Trust what you are seeing.”
Tom’s face clearly expressed the conflict that was raging inside. His blue eyes pleaded desperately as he looked at the commander.
“I don’t know what to believe,” Tom whispered, his voice trembling. Paris’ eyes were filling with tears.
Chakotay reached out to try and console the fragile young man. That was definitely the wrong thing to do. Paris snapped back from the commander’s touch as if he had put a hot skillet on his arm instead of his hand.
“The real Chakotay would never act like this!” Paris raged at him.
The Maquis was stunned; everything he was trying was being questioned. He was beginning to regret not being nicer to the pilot before this.
“Tom, I don’t know if there is any way to convince you that this is real. I can continue to try, but it’s up to you to listen or not.” Chakotay hoped he was getting through to him. “I will come back later, after you’ve had a chance to think things over. Try to get some rest, Paris.”
Chakotay watched the lieutenant curl up into a protective ball on the biobed as he exited Sickbay.
Janeway sat in her ready room, trying unsuccessfully to concentrate on the stack of reports which had piled up since they had left Trylan V. She had been unable to get the visit with Tom out of her head. Kathryn knew she couldn’t have predicted what had happened, but she felt responsible just the same. Setting the fuel consumption report aside, she let her mind drift back to the events of the past five days. The whole situation gave her a very big headache. She hoped that Commander Chakotay would be able to get through to the young man. They needed their best pilot on the bridge if they were going to get home. Also, she thought with a smile, things just wouldn’t be the same without him.
She had grown very fond of the mercurial young man, despite her initial opinion of him. She’d taken an almost maternal pride in watching him grow more confident and self-assured over the past four years. All it had taken was giving him a little encouragement. Now, she worried that he would never be able to return to the Conn, and that all of his fragile confidence would be shattered. The thought made her feel angry at the Trylanians and herself. *This isn’t going to help, and your driving yourself to distraction, Kathryn,* she scolded.
Janeway looked once again at the pile of PADDs in front of her. They seemed even less appealing then they had a few minutes before. She decided to leave them and get something to eat. The Doctor and Neelix were always telling her that she should make an effort to eat more regularly. Now seemed to be the perfect time to take their advice.
As she entered the mess hall, Janeway noticed Kim, Torres, and Neelix huddled together at a table in the far corner of the room. It was late, nearly 2000 hours, so there were few other crewman still eating dinner. The captain walked over to the serving area and filled her plate with some of the remains of the meal Neelix had prepared. As usual, the colors of the foods struck her as a little too bright and ‘wrong’ somehow. Neelix had toned down his gourmet touch a bit over the past four years, but the food was still a bit too exotic. Looking at the meal on her plate brought her mind back to Tom. Thinking about some of his acerbic comments about the Talaxian’s cooking brought a sad smile to her face. She hoped he would be making more jabs soon. She sat down and began to pick through the dish, trying to find the most edible parts. She hadn’t noticed the approach of her officers and Neelix.
“Good evening, Captain. It’s wonderful to see you eating in the mess tonight,” chirped the Talaxian cheerfully.
Janeway looked up and acknowledged the three people silently, trying to find some way to swallow the distasteful selection she was chewing. Neelix took her silence as a signal to continue,
“Might I say, I was going to speak to you earlier about your eating habits again. You have been under a lot of stress lately, Captain, and there’s nothing like a good, hot meal to melt away the tension!”
Somehow, Neelix always seemed to be in a good mood, and he was hell-bent on making sure everyone else was the same. Fortunately, the captain finished her mouthful before he could get on a roll.
“Thank you for your concern, Neelix. Is there something I can do for all of you?” Janeway ventured, hoping to turn the conversation away from her dining habits.
“Well, now that you mention it, we were discussing the situation with Tom, and we were hoping to have a word with you about it.”
Neelix wasn’t one to beat around the bush. Janeway really hadn’t wanted to have this conversation, but there didn’t seem to be a way of keeping his closest friends out of it. She signaled for the three of them to join her. There was an uncomfortable pause before Harry spoke up.
“Captain, I know Commander Chakotay told us to keep our distance from Sickbay for now, but it’s been three days since he was rescued, and we’ve heard nothing. We don’t want to make things more difficult for him, but we do want to help. I don’t understand how seeing his friends would be harmful.” Harry’s face was etched with concern, as were B’Elanna’s and Neelix’s. She looked at the three of them solemnly.
“It is not my place to discuss Tom’s condition with you. That is between him, the Doctor, and Commander Chakotay,” she said softly but firmly. She could see the three of them were about to protest, so she quickly added, “Tom has been through a very traumatic situation. He needs time to readjust to being on this ship. You’ll just have to be patient.”
“But Captain, we wouldn’t do anything to upset him. We just want him to know that we are here and that we care about him,” added B’Elanna.
“I’m sure the lieutenant knows that, B’Elanna,” Janeway scolded gently, “but right now, he just needs a little time and space to sort things out.”
Harry put his hand on B’Elanna’s arm as a signal to back off. Each of them shared a glance before Harry continued,
“Do you have any idea how long it will be before we can visit him?” Janeway shook her head sadly,
“I’m sorry, but there is no way to predict that, Ensign.” Janeway looked at the desperately worried faces surrounding her. She felt badly for them; she knew how frustrating it must be to not be able to do anything but wait.
“I know this is difficult, but there isn’t anything that can be done about it. We will all just have to be patient,” she reiterated.
The food on her tray was looking even less appetizing. No longer hungry, Janeway rose to leave. *There’s no way you can avoid thinking about this, so you might as well get back to work, Kathryn,* she thought, as she left the three friends alone with their frustration.
Paris wasn’t sure whether he believed that he was aboard Voyager or not. If it was true, then Harry would be as alive as the commander, which would be great. He would be relieved to know that the kid hadn’t paid for his latest screw-up with his life. He already had enough dead officers on his conscience with what had happened at Caldik Prime. Somehow, though, the thought didn’t bring as much relief as it should have. It didn’t change what he had done. Paris knew he had risked both the away team and the ship, and for what? He half expected Chakotay to haul him off to the brig. It was what he deserved. *You’ve done it again, Thomas, you’ve managed to throw away everything you’d gained because of your own stupidity.* If this was real, then he was going to have to face up to it. *There’s no one else to blame this time, Thomas, you did this one all on your own.*
Still, the captain and the commander hadn’t punished him; they’d both been sympathetic and nice to him. And none of his friends had come to visit since he came back. The paranoid voice in the back of his head kept telling him that he was still in the prison; that this was some sick torture to get him to reveal information. The voice was strongest after the nightmares he had been experiencing over the past three nights. The Doctor had told him that they were to be expected, but that didn’t make them any easier to deal with. As Paris noted the first officer’s arrival, he wondered if he would ever get past the feeling of doubt.
Chakotay was waiting for Paris to say something. The pilot always seemed to be lost in thought lately, distracted by some internal conversation which he didn’t feel comfortable sharing. The commander was concerned about the change in Paris’ demeanor. Before, Tom was always quick to say what was on his mind, even at the expense of protocol. Chakotay had always found those comments irritating, but now he wished he could hear one. A sullen, withdrawn Tom Paris was very disturbing. He hoped that he would not evoke an unexpected reaction from the volatile young man.
“The Doctor tells me that there is no medical reason for you to stay cooped up here in Sickbay,” he began carefully, “Would you be comfortable moving back to your quarters?”
Normally, Tom Paris would jump at the chance to get out of Sickbay, but Chakotay wasn’t going to make any assumptions about the pilot’s reactions. He also knew that they would have to walk through the ship to get there, and he didn’t know how comfortable Tom would be with that. He didn’t want to stress the young man out.
“I would like that,” stated Tom quietly.
“We’ll have to walk through part of the ship to get you there. Are you going to be okay doing that?
Tom hesitated, thinking carefully before he replied. *Why does he have to be so nice to me? It’s not like him, and I don’t deserve it.* He felt the paranoia creeping up. Tom struggled to push it to the back of his mind.
“It’s a short trip, I’ll be fine.”
“All right, I’ve already gotten the Doctor’s release, so, we can head out whenever you’re ready. I brought you a change of clothes in case you were receptive to the idea.”
Chakotay handed the bundle to Tom carefully, as if he were afraid that any sudden movements might scare the young man. Tom noted the commander’s actions with an amused snort,
“Why, thank you, Chakotay. That was very... thoughtful.. of you,” sneered Paris.
The pilot’s tone brought a relieved smile to the Maquis’ face. *Maybe he’ll be okay after all.* he smirked.
Paris changed quickly; it felt good to get out of those blue medical pajamas. He was looking forward to getting out of Sickbay. Not that he hated the Doctor; he just liked the privacy of his own quarters better. Chakotay was waiting patiently for him in the examination area.
“You ready?” he inquired with a warm smile.
*Damn, I just wish he wouldn’t act so, un-Chakotay-like!* sighed Paris. He shrugged it off as the two of them headed out into the corridor. They walked silently, heading straight for the turbolift. There were a few crewmen in the hall, but Paris did his best to avoid looking at them. He hardly noticed that several of them turned to stare at him as he passed, or that the first officer fended them off with a dark glare. They headed into the turbolift without incident.
*So far, so good, Thomas,* he quipped, *Just a little further, and everything will be fine.* Paris was feeling nervous, but he was under control, at least for now. The short trip was harder then Tom had hoped. Every sound made him jump. Even the hypospray the Doctor had given him earlier wasn’t calming his nerves. The hologram had said that increased anxiety was also an expected reaction. *A lot of good that is going to do me if I flip out,* mused Paris as he entered the turbocar. The Doctor still didn’t empathize fully with his patients, even after four years as the only medical officer.
Chakotay instructed the computer to head to Deck Four, and Tom could feel the turbocar shimmy in response. Tom caught a glimpse of the Maquis in the corner of his eye, watching him very carefully. Paris ignored him, standing silently, eyes staring straight ahead, patiently waiting for the lift to stop. Tom’s quarters were in Section Three C, just a few meters down the corridor. Chakotay heard the young man take a deep breath as the turbolift stopped and the doors slid open onto Deck Four. Neither of them spotted Neelix coming towards them.
“Tom!” he yelled excitedly, “It’s so good to see you!”
Paris froze; a look of both surprise and anxiety lept onto his face. Chakotay had been caught off-guard as well. Neelix, in his exuberance at seeing his friend, ignored the expression in Tom’s eyes.
“We’ve been so worried about you!” exulted the Talaxian, moving closer to greet the man he had been so worried about for days.
Chakotay moved in quickly to divert the cook, hoping he could physically block him before he reached Paris. The Talaxian ignored him, moving deliberately around him. Neelix finally realized what was happening when Paris sank back into the turbolift in terror. The pilot’s reaction shocked Neelix,
“Tom!? What’s wrong?” he stammered, “Are you all right?” Chakotay grabbed Neelix’s arm and yanked him forcefully away from Paris.
“Leave him alone, Neelix! You’re not helping!” shouted Chakotay harshly. He continued, a little calmer, “Stay out of the way. He’ll be fine.”
With that, the Maquis practically lifted Paris out of the turbolift, and rushed him down the hall to his quarters. He could hear Neelix call out “Commander?” in a startled, confused voice behind him.
Chakotay worked the access code quickly and ushered the pilot into the darkened room. Paris hadn’t made a sound, and the commander could feel him trembling as he eased him onto the sofa. The Maquis called for illumination, hoping the familiar surroundings would calm Tom down. *Damn it! We were so close!* screamed Chakotay’s mind in frustration. Unlike the other panic attacks, Tom seemed to be settling down fairly quickly. It was only a few minutes before the commander felt he could approach Paris.
“Are you okay, Tom?” he asked quietly, crouching down near the pilot.
Paris was still visibly quaking, with his arms wrapped tightly across his chest. He was taking in deep, shaky breaths to try and force himself to calm down. He nodded to the Maquis in response, but it did little to reassure him. Chakotay eased himself onto the coach next to Paris and waited for him to gain enough composure to speak.
“Neelix startled me, that’s all,” he explained, his voice still trembling.
“I know, and I’m sorry. I hadn’t expected us to run into him,” Chakotay apologized, “Can I get you something to help you relax? Maybe a glass of water?”
Paris shook his head affirmatively. By the time Chakotay returned from the replicator with the drink, Tom had regained most of his composure.
“Thanks,” he said, taking a sip, “I feel like such an idiot,” he continued, “I can’t even see one of my friends without falling apart.”
Paris’ voice sounded miserable. Chakotay sighed, trying to think of something to say that would comfort the pilot. At least, he thought hopefully, Paris seemed to believe he had actually seen Neelix. As unsettled as Paris had been since his return, the loss of control at the Talaxian’s over-enthusiastic greeting didn’t worry Chakotay as much as his continued brooding.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Paris. You can’t expect things to just suddenly be okay after what you went through. It’s going to take time,” soothed the commander. He saw Paris’ shoulders slump in resignation as the pilot nodded slowly. “I’m sure Neelix didn’t intend to upset you,” Chakotay continued.
“In a few days, when you’re feeling more sure of yourself, maybe we’ll invite some of your friends here for a visit. But until then, we’ll just take things slowly.”
Paris looked at Chakotay very intently. For a moment, the Maquis wasn’t sure if he’d said anything to upset Tom further.
“My friends?” Paris asked expectantly.
Chakotay’s eyes narrowed as he searched Tom’s face. *What does he mean ‘my friends’? Tom knows he has friends on Voyager.* Paris could see that the commander was confused by his question.
“Have they been asking about me?” ventured the pilot. Chakotay was still not sure he understood what was going on in the other man’s head.
“Of course they have. They’ve been very concerned about you. But,given how unsettled you’ve been, the captain and I didn’t think we should rush you into socializing just yet.” Chakotay continued to search Tom’s face, hoping to gain some insight into his thoughts.
“Even Harry?” The mention of Ensign Kim confused Chakotay even more. *What’s going on?*
“Yes, Harry, Neelix, B’Elanna, ... I don’t understand what you mean, Lieutenant?”
Tom’s face looked relieved, as if a huge weight had lifted. *This is really Voyager, it has to be, if Harry and Neelix are on board,* Tom reasoned with himself. He hadn’t been sure in the hallway; Neelix had startled him and all of the control he had been struggling to maintain had faltered. But now the commander had given him a rational reason for why his friends hadn’t been there. He knew he was home.
“Thank you for running interference for me, Commander,” said Paris honestly.
Tom knew he couldn’t face anyone. He doubted that anyone, even Harry, would hold him in high regard. It was enough, for now, that he knew the young ensign was alive. He couldn’t deal with the rest yet.
Chakotay watched as the pilot sank into deep thought. The Maquis felt frustrated; he still didn’t understand what was going on in Tom’s head, and he was no closer to helping the pilot work through this then he had been days ago. He wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him until he snapped out of it. It had been a long day, and from Tom’s tone, Chakotay knew he wouldn’t get much more out of him. Chakotay would let the matter drop, for now.
It had been a long, dull day, with nothing to do but systems checks and diagnostic reports. Normally, with so little to do, Engineering should have had a relaxed, quiet atmosphere. But since Tom Paris’ abduction, B’Elanna Torres had made everyone’s lives miserable. She seemed to be in a perpetual snit, growling orders and slamming PADDs. Things hadn’t changed when the lieutenant was rescued. Her entire staff was being very careful not to set her off, or at least to limit it as much as possible. If B’Elanna had noticed that they were keeping their distance, she didn’t let on to it. She ignored their sudden silence when she walked by and the hush of conversations whenever she entered the room. At least until today.
B’Elanna normally didn’t listen to gossip or rumors. Most of the time, they were way off, and they were a distraction. Still, with the more informal protocols of Engineering, it was difficult to keep the crew from engaging in it. *There must be something really juicy on the gossip mill today,* mused B’Elanna as she noted several crewmen huddled together in the corner, chattering excitedly. She felt slightly irritated for a moment, then relaxed. *It’s been a slow shift, and our diagnostics are nearly finished,* she rationalized, as she decided to ignore them. Just then, a strain of conversation reached her ears,
“ ... and then. he just freaked out, right there in the turbolift! Chakotay could barely get him to his quarters!” whispered Ensign Bristow excitedly.
“I thought Neelix was going to pass out from the shock!” added Ensign Meyers, who had also witnessed the event.
The mention of Chakotay was what drew Torres to the huddled group. She knew he was officially off duty to assist Paris. B’Elanna walked slowly towards the group, listening intently.
“What caused it?” inquired Lt. Nicoleti with a shocked expression.
“I have no idea. Neelix hadn’t done anything, as far as I could tell.” answered Bristow, with wide-eyed honesty.
“The look on Paris’ face was total terror. I’ve never seen anything like that,” added Meyers with a head shake. Everyone was so engrossed by the story that they didn’t notice Torres’ presence.
“What are you talking about!?” she demanded, coming up behind Freddie Bristow. He was so startled he nearly jumped.
“Lieutenant!” he stammered, “We didn’t see you..uh...sorry.”
“What are you talking about?!” Torres repeated venomously. The others moved quietly away as Torres focused her anger directly on the young ensign.
“It’s nothing, just something that happened on my way back from lunch. No big deal.” he stated evasively. He desperately didn’t want to be on the receiving end of Torres’ wrath.
“It seemed like a pretty big deal a moment ago,“ she growled, pressing the issue. “Out with it, Bristow.”
“I saw Commander Chakotay and Lt. Paris on Deck Four when Meyers and I were heading back to Engineering,” sighed Bristow, knowing there was no way to avoid telling her. “They were coming out of the turbolift when Neelix spotted them. Paris flipped out, and Chakotay yelled at Neelix to get away from him. Then, the commander rushed Paris to his quarters.”
Bristow looked as if he expected Torres to take his head off at any second. Instead, B’Elanna frowned, with a look of deep concern on her face.
“Did anything else happen?” she asked in a quieter voice.
“No, Lieutenant, it was over pretty quickly,” Bristow replied, still waiting for the unseen blow.
Torres just nodded her head silently and walked away. Bristow took the opportunity to scurry away, feeling very lucky to be in one piece. What she had heard only added to her concerns over the pilot. Torres wasn’t exactly known for her patience, and she was very frustrated by the lack of any news about Tom. This wasn’t what she had hoped to hear. She trusted both the captain and Chakotay, but it was hard to sit back and just wait. She had hoped that they were just being cautious; that things really weren’t that bad. Now, she had a sinking feeling that the situation was worse then she could have imagined. She checked the chronometer and saw that shift change was less then an hour away.
“Torres to Kim,” she called out, tapping her comm badge.
“Kim here, what’s up B’Elanna?” came back the familiar voice of the Ops officer. Torres knew that Harry wouldn’t have heard anything about the incident, being on the Bridge all afternoon.
“When are you off duty, Harry?”
“At 1800 hours. Why?"
"Something’s happened that I need to talk with you about. Can I meet you for dinner?”
“Sure, I’ll meet you in the mess hall. Kim out.”
B’Elanna sighed deeply. She knew Harry would be upset, and she didn’t want him hearing about it from some gossip. *Who knows how the truth will be distorted by the time it reaches him,* she mused. They were both going to have to speak with Neelix, as well. *You never make things easy, do you,Tom.* Torres could barely concentrate on her work for the rest of the shift.
Harry, B’Elanna, and Neelix were huddled together at the table in the corner of the mess hall. Harry was shocked to hear what had happened on Deck Four that morning. It was already all over the ship; it was the main topic of conversation, and speculation had run rampant. Harry was even more worried about his best friend then he had been already. He knew it was irrational, but he couldn’t help feeling guilty about it. *I should have stopped Tom from going out on his own,* chided Kim. He had been there on the planet surface. He knew B’Elanna had blamed herself for not finding a way to rescue Tom sooner. Harry had felt the same way about his own failure, and they had admitted it to each other. Somehow, he didn’t think he could explain to her, or anyone, how he felt about his actions on the planet. Except, maybe, Tom.
He knew Tom wouldn’t want him to feel that way. It was this type of thing that he could always talk with Paris about. Tom would never let him get away with blaming himself. He had depended on Paris to reassure him time and again since they’d been stranded in the Delta Quadrant. Tom was the big brother he’d never had. Now, when Tom needed some help, he wasn’t there. Hearing Neelix describe the incident convinced Harry that he couldn’t just sit back and wait.
“We’ve got to do something. Tom needs our support. I can’t believe the captain and the commander won’t let us help,” protested Kim.
“After what happened today with Neelix, I don’t think Tom is ready to see us,” cautioned Torres.
“I don’t believe that. Neelix startled him, and the commander overreacted,” insisted Kim.
“I was there, Ensign, and I can assure you, Commander Chakotay didn’t overreact. I’ve never seen Tom look so ... terrified,” added Neelix, sadly.
“That’s precisely why we need to talk to him,” explained Kim, “If Tom knows we are here for him, then maybe he won’t be so upset when he sees us. He’s been back aboard for a week, and I can’t see any progress, can you?”
“No,” admitted Torres, “but we haven’t been close enough to see if that’s true or not.”
“Exactly my point,” stated Kim emphatically, “We know Tom better than anyone. If he trusts anyone, it’s us. We could be helping him so he won’t react the way he did today.”
“But the captain told us not to get involved,” argued Neelix. Neelix knew that neither officer would contradict her request lightly.
“We are Tom’s friends,” reiterated Kim, “If the situation were reversed, he would be there for us. We owe him the same.” B’Elanna nodded in reluctant agreement.
“All right, Starfleet, what do you propose we do? We can’t just walk in on him and force him to talk with us,” stated B’Elanna sarcastically.
“No, I’d suggest we knock first,” returned Kim, with a smile.
“Don’t you think that might upset him?” asked the Talaxian, ignoring Kim’s attempt at humor.
“Neelix is right, we can’t all go to his quarters and ambush him. If he’s as shaky as he appears to be, that could do more harm than good,” agreed B’Elanna.
“All right, then maybe just one of us should go,” suggested Harry. There was a brief silence as each of them glanced at the others.
“You should be the one to talk to him, Harry. You’re his best friend,” stated B’Elanna. Neelix nodded his agreement as she added, “You might want to wait a day of two before you go. He might be more receptive then he would be tonight. He’s already had enough for one day.”
“Okay, you may be right,” agreed Kim, “I’ll let you know what happens.”
Somehow, just the idea that they were going to act made Harry feel better. He hoped that Tom would feel the same.
Paris awoke with a startled scream. His sheets were damp with sweat, and he couldn’t stop his hands from shaking. It had been the same each night since he had come out of sedation in Sickbay. The confused, muddled images faded back into his subconscious slowly, leaving the same feelings of terror and guilt as they always did. Paris called for illumination, put on his blue robe, and walked over to the replicator to order a glass of water. His rations account was still nearly full, he noted absently. Chakotay had asked him about his eating and sleeping habits almost daily since he had returned to his quarters. Like everything else, Tom refused to discuss it with him.
He didn’t want the commander to know he hadn’t been doing much of either, because Chakotay would follow procedure and inform the Doctor. The last thing he wanted was another visit from him. The hologram came each day to administer his anti-depressant, which Tom could swear wasn’t doing a bit of good. If the Doctor knew he wasn’t eating or sleeping, he might make him go back to Sickbay. The thought of another trip through the halls was enough to make Tom start shaking again.
Paris finished the glass and checked the chronometer. It read 2000 hours. It wasn’t unusual for Tom to be sleeping that early in the evening, at least since Trylan V. The nightmares always left him shaken, so Paris rarely slept for more than a couple of hours. He would be up until the exhaustion caught up with him again. Tom didn’t want to dwell on his dreams. The image of Borla staring down at him, Harry and Chakotay with their throats slit, mixed with other images from his past. A shuttlecraft plummeting towards the ground, his three friends crying out as they crashed. All of these jumbled together until he woke up screaming. They left him rattled and unsettled for hours. The first officer came by each day and tried to get Paris to talk about his experiences. He’d even offered to show him how to contact his Spirit Guide. Each time, Tom had refused to talk with him. He didn’t want Chakotay’s help, or anyone’s. He’d even refused to let his friends visit. He wanted to be left alone.
Paris picked up a PADD, sat down on his couch, and tried to concentrate enough to read. He hoped that a mindless novel would distract him from his troubles, even for a little while. He had barely started when he heard the door chime. *Strange,* he thought, *Chakotay usually doesn’t come this late.* Without thinking about it, Paris called out, “Come in.”
“Hi, Tom. Are you up for a visit?” asked Harry Kim as he entered. Tom was surprised to see his best friend, and a little annoyed.
“It seems like you’re going to give me one whether I like it or not,” noted Tom as Harry walked towards him.
Paris’ statement wasn’t what Kim had expected. It never occurred to him that Tom might not want to see him. He’d thought that the captain and the commander were the ones keeping Paris’ friends away. This unexpected turn left Kim with a loss of what to say.
“I just wanted to see if you were okay,” offered Kim hesitantly.
“I’m just great, Harry, never better,” sneered Tom angrily, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I was in the middle of something.”
Tom gestured to the PADD in his hand. Harry was almost too stunned to speak. He stood silently for a second, turned to go, then thought better of it. *He’s trying to push me away!* realized Harry. When he addressed Paris again, he spoke more firmly.
“You’re not going to get rid of me that easily, Paris. I’m your friend. I just want to help you,” he stated.
“Terrific,” he replied sarcastically, “I’ll add you to the list.” Harry felt his anger beginning to rise.
“What is your problem, Paris?” Harry asked with an annoyed tone. “I haven’t seen you in a couple of weeks, we’ve all been worried sick, and this is how you act?”
“I’m sorry, did you say you came here for my benefit, or yours?” accused Paris.
Harry Kim rarely lost his temper completely. He was about to make an exception.
“You are such an asshole!” he spat, “I can’t believe that I’ve wasted so much time worrying about you. You always told me you were a loner and could take care of yourself. I guess that’s just the way you want it, isn’t it? You won’t let anyone get close to you, will you? You don’t need anyone’s help. Well, I 'thought' that things were different for you here. I 'thought' I was your friend.”
Tom stared at the young ensign in disbelief. He’d never seen Harry lose it like that. He felt a pang of guilt for upsetting him, but he said nothing. *Maybe it’s better this way,* he thought. *He’ll wind up paying for one of my mistakes sooner or later.* Tom sank into a deep, sullen silence.
Harry couldn’t believe that Tom didn’t have some comment after his tirade. He immediately felt guilty for his outburst. *What am I doing?* he scolded himself, *I didn’t come here to yell at Tom, I came here to help!* The heavy silence drained all of the anger out of Kim.
“I’m sorry, Tom. I didn’t mean to yell at you,” pleaded Harry, “I am your friend, Tom, whether you want me to be or not. I know you’ll realize that eventually, and when you do, I’ll be here for you. We all will. That’s what friendship is about, you know. Sticking by each other, through thick and thin. You’ve been there for me so many times. I hope you’ll let me return the favor.”
Harry couldn’t tell if he was getting through to Paris. Tom was still sitting on the couch silently, eyes fixed on a spot on the floor. Harry gave Tom a reassuring pat on the shoulder and left.
Tom watched his friend as he exited Paris’ quarters. Harry’s words left Tom feeling numb. He didn’t know what to think. Was he really pushing the kid away for Kim’s benefit, or his own? He knew the answer to that one, but he wasn’t sure he was ready to admit it. He wasn’t sure he was ready to admit to anything. The only thing he was sure of was he didn’t want to keep feeling the way he did. *It’s going to be a long night, Thomas,* he thought. He knew he had some soul-searching to do, and he knew he was going to need help sorting it all out. *Better figure out what you’re going to say, Thomas, old boy,* he sighed. Paris knew who he needed to turn to.
Chakotay had just about given up hope that he would be able to counsel Tom Paris. Every time he approached the man, he refused to talk to him. He had even asked the captain to give it a try. She had no better luck than he had. The commander never questioned the wisdom of his Spirit Guide until this. Still, each time he sought her out, she insisted that he should continue his efforts. He knew that Paris needed the help. One look at his tired, thin face told Chakotay that Paris wasn’t well. He was withdrawn, and he had refused to see anyone or to venture out of his quarters. *Maybe we should cut off his replicator rations and force him out,* mused Chakotay with a laugh. Paris no longer seemed to doubt that he was on the ship. Chakotay was grateful for that, but he didn’t know what had finally convinced the pilot.
The commander had never understood what made Paris tick and the events of the past couple of weeks had done nothing to enlighten him. When they had first met in the Maquis, Chakotay had taken an instant dislike to the young man. He didn’t like his devil-may-care attitude, and he didn’t trust him. Paris had thrown away his career, but what really irritated Chakotay was that Paris didn’t seem bothered by it. He didn’t care about that or anything. Since coming aboard Voyager, Chakotay had realized that much of the pilot’s carefree attitude was an act. He had tried very hard to fit in, and the commander had to respect that. Still, Paris had a way of surprising him just when he’d thought he’d figured him out. This morning was no different.
The last thing Chakotay expected to find on his monitor was a message from Tom Paris. It was a short note asking for the commander to come to his quarters for a talk. *I just don’t get him,* thought Chakotay as he headed towards Deck Four, *First, he throws me out. Now, he wants to chat.* He pressed the call button at Paris door and waited to be admitted. As the door slid open, he saw Paris sitting on his couch with a cup of coffee. He looked exhausted and pale.
“Thanks for coming, Commander,” greeted the pilot, “Can I get you something?”
“Sure, coffee would be great,” replied Chakotay, a little surprised at Paris’ cordial tone.
He took a seat on the couch as Paris moved to the replicator and ordered a second cup. Paris returned quickly, handing the steaming beverage to the Maquis.
“I was surprised to get your message, Tom,” Chakotay said carefully, “What did you want to discuss?”
Paris let out a deep sigh. He’d been up most of the night trying to work out what to say this morning. He wanted Chakotay’s help, but he knew there’d be a price. He would have to be totally honest with him, and Paris was beginning to lose his nerve now that the man was sitting across from him.
“I know I haven’t been very receptive to your offers of help,” he began slowly, “but I’ve reconsidered them. If you’re still willing, I’d like to try.”
Chakotay raised his eyebrows with surprise. He’d hoped that was what Paris wanted to say, but he didn’t want to bet on it.
"My offer still stands, Paris,” he replied, “but, first, could you tell me what changed your mind?”
“Let’s just say that a friend convinced me that I needed a little help.” Chakotay seemed to accept his cryptic response and let it drop. “I don’t know where to begin,” he said, looking expectantly at the commander.
“Start wherever you feel comfortable, Tom. And, don’t worry. Anything you tell me stays in this room,” answered Chakotay, with a quiet tone. Paris nodded and shored himself before beginning.
“Ever since I got back from Trylan V, I’ve been feeling pretty guilty about what happened. I should have listened when you told me not to go out on my own”, began Paris, still searching for the words to express his thoughts.
“Paris, I never ordered you to stay in the compound,” interrupted Chakotay.
“No, you didn’t, but I knew you were suspicious of something. I ignored you because I thought I knew better. I thought you were just trying to keep me in line, and I wasn’t going to let you do that.”
Chakotay wasn’t sure which surprised him more, Paris’ admission of his feelings about the commander or his taking full responsibility for his actions. Either way, it was clear to Chakotay that Paris was serious about the counseling. Paris continued,
“I put the away team and the ship in danger because I was bored. I realized that as soon as I was taken captive. I told myself that I couldn’t compound the problem by giving them what they wanted. I knew I would never be able to face the captain, or any of you, if I did that, assuming that the ship wasn’t destroyed because of me.”
Paris paused, taking in and letting out a deep breath. *Whatever he’s about to say is clearly difficult,* thought Chakotay. Paris settled himself back down, and went on,
“During the interrogations, they were giving me some drug that was causing, along with other things, hallucinations. I believed what I was seeing was real. The Trylanians must have known about that effect because they used it against me. In one of the sessions, they brought in two prisoners and told me that they were you and Harry. They said they would kill you if I didn’t tell them what I knew. Well, let’s just say I didn’t tell them.” Chakotay let the full realization hit him before he responded,
“Paris, I’m so sorry. That must have been ... I can’t even think of a word to describe how horrible that must have been. That’s why you questioned being back on the ship, isn’t it?”
"Yes, I wasn’t sure which was the delusion,” explained Tom quietly.
He was finding it easier to talk to Chakotay then he’d thought. He was glad the Maquis was being a good listener. He didn’t think he could repeat this once he got it all out.
“What made you believe this was reality?” That question had been bugging Chakotay for days.
“I guess it started with running into Neelix,” laughed Tom, “Then later, in my quarters, you mentioned Harry and my friends. I don’t know why, but I believed you. I wasn’t completely sure until that moment.”
Chakotay smiled at the mention of the fiasco with Neelix. *Well, I guess some good came out of that ugly incident after all,* he mused.
“Anyway, when I thought the two of you were killed, I wanted to die.”
Tom’s sudden return to the earlier discussion jolted the commander. Tom didn’t seem to notice as he sank back into his thoughts,
“It was my fault, because none of it would have happened if I’d listened to you. Even when I got back to Voyager, and I realized you were real, I still felt guilty. I didn’t want to face anyone, especially not my friends. I kept waiting for you and the captain to figure out what I had done, but you were both being so nice and supportive. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t deserve it, and I still don’t.”
“Don’t you think that you’d been through enough ‘punishment’ already?” interrupted the commander incredulously. *Could Paris think that he deserved the treatment he’d received?* wondered Chakotay.
“Yes, it had been pretty bad, but neither of you even said anything about what I had done. I felt like I’d gotten away with it, at least as far as you were concerned.” Paris’ expression was dismal.
“Well, if you want to be punished, the captain and I could force you to eat Neelix’s cooking for a month,” suggested Chakotay, trying to lighten the mood.
The small smile that crept up on Tom’s face told him that he’d succeeded. The tension that had risen while Paris had been speaking eased. He was grateful for the break, because what he had to say next was even more difficult.
“I felt that everyone would have been better off if I’d been killed,” he began, again, “That way, no one else would be at risk when I screwed up the next time, and, I knew there would be a next time. There always is. That’s the one constant in my life.” Tom seemed to sink into self-pity for a moment before continuing, “I guess I forgot that I’d gained more than just professional respect over the past four years. Harry came to see me last night.” Paris paused to check the Maquis’ reaction.
“Is that what you meant earlier about someone convincing you to get help?” inquired Chakotay. Paris nodded affirmatively.
“I tried to shut him out, like I’d done to you and the captain. He got very angry and yelled at me,” informed Paris with a snort.
Chakotay wondered what Kim had said to get through to Tom, but he went on without revealing it.
“He reminded me that I have friends, which I apparently had forgotten. It made me stop and really think about things,” admitted Tom.
“And that’s the reason you asked me here?” The commander’s question came out more like a statement.
“Yes, I was thinking about it most of the night. I began to realize that, by pushing everyone away, I was just hiding from the truth. If everyone left me alone, then I’d never have to admit I was responsible for what happened.” Paris had clearly put a lot of reflection into his conclusion. He continued before Chakotay had a chance to comment,
“This isn’t the first time I’ve run from my responsibilities, you know. I’ve gotten pretty good at blaming other people for my mistakes. My father, Starfleet, my co-pilot at Caldik Prime, you...” The last part caught Chakotay’s attention.
“What do you mean, Paris? What did you blame me for?” Chakotay didn’t understand what the young man meant.
“Oh, come on, Chakotay, you know what I’ve blamed you for.”
“Why don’t you just humor me.” That response illicited an amused smirk from Paris.
“All right, let’s see...I blamed you for my not fitting in with the Maquis...I blamed you for their opinion of me, and yours. The truth is, you were right; I just didn’t want to admit it. You saw me for exactly what I was from the beginning, a smartass who’d never taken responsibility for any of his mistakes. I blamed everyone but the person who was at fault, me.” Chakotay stared at Paris. He’d never expected Paris to admit that, especially to him.
“That was some night you spent,” he finally managed after a prolonged silence.
“Well, if you’re going to do something you might as well do it right. My father used to say that.”
There was no hint of the sarcasm that usually accompanied Paris’ reflections on his father’s teachings. Last night had been an important breakthrough for the young man, in more ways than one.
“You’ve come a long way, Tom. I hope you realize that there are more things you will need to work through, but it’s an impressive beginning,” praised the commander. His statement seemed to embarrass Paris a little.
“Thank you, Commander, I do know that, and I hope I can count on your help.”
Once again, Paris’ voice had no hint of its usual flippancy. Chakotay and Paris exchanged warm smiles. For the first time since this began, Chakotay felt good about the pilot’s chances of recovering.
Paris sighed as he headed out of his quarters towards the holodeck. He hadn’t been out of his quarters in weeks, and he was going stir crazy. It had been two weeks since his breakthrough with Chakotay, and Paris felt it was about time to return to the land of the living. There would never be an easy time to do it, so tonight would have suffice. He knew that most of the off-duty crew would be there. Tonight was Polynesian Night, an event that drew even the most introverted crew members. Tom had dressed appropriately, wearing his loud Hawaiian shirt and casual pants. Now all he needed was the courage to enter once he got there.
In the past two weeks, Paris had progressed pretty well, thanks to the commander and the captain. He was sleeping much better, with only a few recurring nightmares, and he had gotten back to eating regularly. He hoped that he would be able to return to duty soon. The endless days were really beginning to get to him. Chakotay had been encouraged by their sessions, but he didn’t want to push Paris too fast. Tom hoped that his surprise visit to the festivities would let him know that Paris was ready to move forward. They had spoken about taking a few short trips to the mess hall, after meal time, but they hadn’t done it yet. Tom also had a more personal reason for tonight’s sojourn. He wanted to speak with Harry.
Ever since their ‘conversation’, Harry Kim had avoided talking with Tom. Paris hadn’t been all that anxious to speak with him, but not for any negative reason arising from their talk. He wanted to be more confident and in control before he saw him again. He knew that his behavior towards his friends had been unpredictable and strange. He wanted to be ‘okay’ before they saw him again. He figured that they were waiting for him to make the first move. He owed a lot to the young ensign, more than Harry was aware of, and, tonight, he planned to tell him. To his face.
Tom reached the entrance to Holodeck Two. The corridors had been fairly deserted; most of the crew would already be there. Tom took a deep breath. *It’s now or never,* he thought, as he walked into the party. The sounds of music, talking, and laughter wafted out of the holodeck as the door slid open. Before Tom even realized it, he was inside. *There, that wasn’t so bad, now was it?* he reassured himself.
It took only a few seconds before the crew spotted him. The noise level dropped distinctly as they noticed him. Paris could feel a knot beginning to form in his stomach. *You sure know how to make an entrance, Thomas.* he joked, trying to remain calm. *The last thing you need is to have a panic attack in front of the whole crew. You’ll never get back into the pilot’s chair if that happens,* he reminded himself as he searched the room for a familiar face. He spotted the captain and the commander on the other side of the dance floor, sipping tropical-looking drinks. He steadied himself and headed towards them.
“Mr. Paris, I’m pleasantly surprised to see you!” exclaimed Janeway as he approached. “I had no idea you were planning to join us this evening.”
“I had no idea either, Captain. It was a last minute decision,” he explained, hoping neither officer noticed him jump when the holo-waitress came up beside him.
“How are you doing, Tom?” questioned Chakotay. He was watching Paris carefully for any signs of a problem. He could see how edgy he was.
“A little shaky, but I’ll live,” he replied, knowing the commander was watching him too closely to have missed his flinching.
“Are you sure this was the right time to try this, Tom?” asked the Commander. “We could have come to the holodeck when there were less people if you wanted to go here.”
“I’m fine, Chakotay, really. Besides, you know me. I never miss a good party,” he retorted, hoping to deflect the commander’s concerns with a touch of self-deprecating humor. He allowed a smirk to creep across his features. Chakotay relaxed when he saw it.
“Okay, Paris, have it your way. Just don’t stay out past your bedtime,” he teased.
“Yes, sir!” he returned with exaggerated formality and a warm smile. Chakotay’s face lit up with one of his own.
Janeway watched the exchange curiously. Apparently, their relationship had changed since Chakotay had been counseling Paris. She doubted if they would ever be close friends; they’re were too many differences in personality, but she was pleased to see that they seemed much more comfortable around each other.
Paris spotted Harry and B’Elanna over by the veranda. He excused himself from his conversation with Chakotay and the captain, and headed over to their position. Their vantage point hadn’t allowed them to see what all the buzz had been about moments earlier, when Paris had entered the holodeck. Harry and B’Elanna were deep in conversation, so neither of them saw Paris’ approach.
“This seat taken?” came the voice from behind Harry’s head.
B’Elanna saw him first, and she just looked at him with a shocked expression. Harry saw her face change, so he glanced over his shoulder to see who was behind him. His mouth dropped open as he recognized Tom.
“Tom? What are you doing here?” was all he could come up with.
“This is a public party, right?” he stated as if Harry’s question was the most absurd thing he’d ever heard.
“Well, yeah, of course,” stammered Harry, “I’m just surprised to see you. How are you?”
“I’m just great, Harry, never better,” he said, reminding Kim of their last conversation.
This time, Tom’s voice didn’t contain the hostility of the previous occasion. The reference wasn’t lost on Kim, who fell into a guilty silence. The pause gave B’Elanna a chance to regain her composure.
“So, Tom, I guess this means that things are going well with Chakotay,” she prompted, hoping to keep Tom talking.
“Yes, everything is fine. We’ve made a lot of progress in the past couple of weeks.” he replied, mimicking her somewhat formal tone.
“That’s terrific, Tom. I’m very ... relieved...to hear it,” she said, continuing the stilted conversation as Harry sat quietly.
“Relieved? Umm? Is that what you’d call it, Torres?” he taunted, giving her a knowing smile. The suggestive comment brought a grin to B’Elanna’s face.
“Yes, that’s what I’d call it, flyboy,” she teased.
She was so glad to see the old Paris again. It felt like ages since they’d playfully spared, and she’d really missed him. She noticed Tom glance at Kim intently, then he looked at her with a questioning expression. She understood what he meant without needing to hear it.
“I’m going to get myself another drink. Can I get you something, Tom?” she hinted. He gave her a knowing nod and a smile.
“Yeah, I’d like that. Bring me back something interesting.”
It felt so good to be back on the same wavelength with the half-Klingon. He’d have time to talk with her more later. Tom needed to talk with Harry; he was glad that B’Elanna understood. Harry still hadn’t said anything, even though Tom was the only person there.
“Well,” he began, trying to find a way to get Kim to respond, “What’s up, Harry? Anything new and exciting happen while I’ve been away?”
“No,” he said glumly,“just the same old stuff.” Paris realized he was going to have to be more direct.
“Look, Harry, I really need to apologize for my behavior when we last spoke. I was out of line.” Harry shot Paris a confused look.
“What are you apologizing for? I’m the one who yelled at you,” he asked guiltily.
“Harry, I was being an ‘asshole’, as you so delicately reminded me,” chided Paris.
“That’s no excuse for losing my temper. You weren’t in any shape for me to do that,” replied Harry. *Leave it to Harry to blame himself for my behavior,* snorted Paris.
“Come on, Harry. I had it coming. Besides, if you hadn’t yelled at me, I probably wouldn’t be here right now,” admitted Paris, trying to assuage the younger man’s guilt. He could see Harry respond to his words.
“What do you mean?” he asked cautiously.
“I mean that if you hadn’t told me what was what, I’d probably still be in my quarters hiding from the truth. You were right, Harry. I was pushing you and everyone else away. I guess I just forgot what friendship means, until someone reminded me.”
Harry met Tom’s gaze for the first time since he’d sat down. Paris looked intently into Kim’s eyes as he continued,
“I was responsible for what happened on Trylan V, no one else. I risked everyone's lives, and I’ll just have to live with that. I got lucky, this time. I’m the only one who paid for my mistake.”
“Tom, I should have tried to stop you.....” protested Harry.
“NO!” insisted Tom emphatically, silencing Kim. “It’s about time I take the blame for my own doings, Harry. There was nothing you could have done to stop me, and it wasn’t your responsibility in the first place. You’re not the ‘conscience I never had’ and you’re not my keeper. You’re my friend, my best friend. And it’s about time that I started acting like yours.”
“Tom, you have been my friend. You’re the one who talked me through all those nights when we first came to the Delta Quadrant. You’re the one who saved my life in that alternate time stream, and in the Akitirian prison.”
“Harry, I wasn’t really there in the alternate time stream, and, as I recall, I punched you in the stomach in the prison. You’re the one who saved my life,” reminded Paris.
“Tom, you’ve been there for me.”
“Whatever, Harry, but I’ve never let you be there for me, not really. I’ve never let you get close to me. Isn’t that one of the things you said when you were yelling at me?”
Harry sat silently; he knew Paris had won that one. Tom leaned forward and spoke more softly as he continued.
“You were right, I haven’t shared anything important with you. Maybe I thought that if you knew the whole truth, you wouldn’t want to be my friend anymore.”
He could see the younger man was about to protest again, so he quickly added,
“I forgot that part of friendship was being there, through thick and thin. I think someone told me that once,” he said with a wink and a grin. Harry matched his smile.
“You’ve done a lot of thinking in the past couple of weeks, haven’t you?”
“Yeah, Commander Chakotay is a real slave driver,” he kidded. They both sat quietly for a moment, trying to think of what to say. Tom broke the silence by adding,
“Part of friendship is trust, Harry. I haven’t trusted you, or anyone, for a long time, and I’m sorry. You deserve better. I hope, if it’s not too late, that you’ll give me a chance to make it up to you.”
“Of course I will, Tom,” Kim replied, “You know, another part of friendship is forgiveness.” That comment brought another smile to Tom’s face.
“Well, with a friend like me, you’ll get plenty of practice at that,” he laughed. Harry and Tom shared a warm smile. *It’s so good to have him back,* thought Kim.
Tom looked around him for the first time since he arrived in the holodeck. As he was talking with Harry, Tom noticed that he wasn’t as nervous as he’d been when he came in. Sitting with his best friend, Paris felt more relaxed and confident than he’d felt in weeks. He could still see Commander Chakotay glancing over in his direction every now and then. It made Paris feel good to know that everyone was so concerned about him.
He had told himself on many occasions in the past four years that Voyager was his ‘home’. Deep down inside, though, he had still harbored doubt that he’d ever really have a home or a family. Somehow, he’d manage to screw up and lose everything, just as he’d done so many times before. The incident on Trylan V should have been his worst nightmare come true, but it hadn’t happened. Tom sat back on the recliner and smiled silently. He had messed up, but instead of shunning him, these people had accepted him. He didn’t need to risk his life to gain their trust; he didn’t need to prove anything to them. They were his friends, and Voyager was his home. Tom Paris felt happier than he had in a very long time.