Disclaimer: Paramount are in charge of the Voyagers by law, but we are by heart--that's priceless.
Authors' Notes: We wrote this on the only sun-spoilt day in London we had, in the middle of Covent Garden, with a string quartet as our muse. Of course did we write this on the back of a postcard, which we sent to Kirsten. This story is was inspired by challenge #55 by Kendra Crispin at JuPiter Station.
Written 4/00 - 7/01
Covent Garden- Part 1
The Answer Feather
after a concept by Claudia and Fabie
Tom Paris felt Tuvok's inquisitive gaze in the back of his neck when he passed his station to get to the captain's Ready Room. The Lieutenant had to hand in his final report about the attempt at the transwarp flight. He still felt pretty awkward about what had happened then, despite the captain's having forgiven him. But Kathryn Janeway had always been a woman whom he'd deeply admired, and what had happened was embarrassing, to put it mildly.
After hitting the doorbell he didn't even have time to take a last deep breath before the captain bid him enter. He stepped into the office more slowly than he usually would, but Janeway didn't seem to notice. She was engrossed in contemplating a feather she was holding gingerly. Ignoring the feather and the questions that all of a sudden kept popping up in his mind, he stood in front of her desk and held the padd out for her. Eventually, she put the feather down very carefully, almost lovingly, and reached for the proffered padd.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Paris?"
Tom reminded her of the report she'd had him write after they'd been released from Sickbay. After they had finished their shoptalk, a short pause settled in the room, a pause that should have been used for his dismissal. Instead, their gazes were fixed on the feather on the desktop. It was a small fluffy down, grey-brown in colour, with two glass beads decorating the short shaft. Curious as ever, Tom had to ask about it. What would Janeway need a feather for? She was smiling when she answered, although she seemed to be a little sad.
"It's an answer feather. Chakotay gave it to me." When Kathryn noticed his puzzlement, she explained herself. "It's supposed to help me find an answer, and make a decision."
Once again--as it was so often--Tom's tongue was faster than his mind. "Mother's Little Helper. The Rolling Stones."
Kathryn shot him a shocked glance. What did he know? How came he knew? Question after question popped into her mind, but as always she could rely on her calm façade. Only when she saw his confusion, the furrow on his brow, noticed the way his eyebrows knitted, did she realise that he had no idea what he'd just cracked a joke about. At least not yet.
When his eyebrows grew even closer Kathryn could tell that he was realising. He opened his mouth to say something, then thought better and closed it. Then he gave it another try. "Is this about what happened down on that planet?"
Kathryn nodded, her mind racing. "It seems as though we're going to be parents again." She paused to let the words sink in, not only into his conscience, but into hers as well, now that she'd voiced this for the first time. To her great surprise she felt strangely relieved now. So she might as well continue. "This time, though, it's not going to be little lizards. Their DNA is definitely human, a perfect blend of ours. But I can only keep one of the four embryos, if any at all."
"Hence the feather," Tom sighed, and suddenly a feeling of jealousy swept over him. But at the same time he understood why she hadn't asked him. It had only been one day that the original DNA had been restored, and he could see that she needed to make up her mind first.
"So, does it work?"
"No--" she began, but then changed her mind. "Well, to be honest, I don't think I really need it." Kathryn gestured for him to sit. He had only now realised what they were discussing. Back on that planet, they had mated--as some kind of future humans in the bodies of amphibians--and as a result had had three young ones. After that they must have mated again. This time, however, they were talking about human babies, quadruplets. And he, Tom Paris, was going to be a father.
And Kathryn Janeway was the mother.
Only she had told him earlier that she didn't want to have children with him. "So I take it you have already made an appointment," he said bitterly, hiding his disappointment behind his trademark sarcasm. For one second, Kathryn's face seemed to be washed over by a pang of wistfulness, and hurt, and anger. But then her lopsided smile won, and she said wryly: "Yes, but it's not going to be until next April."
There was no way for Tom to go to sleep that night. Again he wondered why it was only now that the news began to sink in, making him fully conscious of the far-reaching implications they enticed. He was going to be a father. Period.
It sounded both like the promise of completion and peace and like a burden too heavy to carry with his own childhood memories in mind. Tom had to allow, though, that in fact his childhood had been wonderful. The trouble had only started when he had realised what he was expected to become a perfect replica of his father. It seemed impossible to him then to live up to the expectations of his father, simply because he hated it to disappoint people. So instead of trying to give his best, he revolted against everything. It was just as well a disappointment, and yet it was different. In denying everything his father was Tom would be considered not taking after his father. His father had to become aware of that sooner or later and let him make his own choices. If he failed him in trying to be just like him, Tom saw nothing but disgrace and everything but a life as an individual. That way he would always stand in his father's shadow, the chances of changing that would be infinitesimally small.
You had to be Kathryn Janeway to being able to do that.
He had never met her personally during the time his father had sponsored her. He had been only eleven years old then, but still he remembered her very vividly because his father used to speak a lot about her. He did that so fondly that one could get the impression that he was more of a daughter to him than his own children. Moira and Kathleen, Tom's sisters, were not in an Academy prep school because they didn't want to step in their father's tracks. Moira already knew that she wanted to become a doctor, and Kathleen was a formidable chef. Tom, however, had no idea what he wanted to do for a living. His father knew, though; he wanted him to carry on the legacy of the Paris family. Owen Paris was well aware of the burden of this task, but he had managed to cope, and so would his son.
Sometimes Tom had hated the three of them for that. His sisters for having found a way for dodging this legacy, for being able to lead their own lives, and his father for never asking him whether he really wanted this. And he had hated Kathryn Janeway who was a role model he could hardly follow. Plus she too came from a family of splendid Starfleet officers.
Yet at the same time he adored her. He had seen pictures and holovids of her, and he was mesmerised by her beauty. If he had known her personally, though, he would have known about the strength she radiated. Knowing that he would never be able to live up to her and his father's expectations, he didn't even try to.
Now he did. Tom was cussed but he wasn't stupid. He didn't carry on regardless when offered a second chance. And he was in love. He had been ever since the day she had come to see him in Auckland. But he had hidden his love for her, kept it to himself, and turned its power into strength he could invest into the modelling of his new life. Only to grab her when his animal instincts took literally over, and to put her into disgrace by making her pregnant. It was only a matter of weeks until the crew figured; they weren't stupid. They had read the reports, and despite Chakotay and Tuvok's careful choice of words they could put one and one together--literally.
It wasn't as if he had planned any of this. But he certainly wasn't going to leave Kathryn alone with this, even though she had made it clear in her subtle way that that was something she didn't want. But they were his children as well, and she couldn't deny him his wish to support her. He just wanted her to accept his help, at least his help since she didn't want his love.
"Good morning, Tom," Kes said when Tom entered the Mess Hall the next morning.
He smiled at her, playing along. "Hello, Kes."
The two of them sat in the mostly empty room, sharing the silence and privacy over coffee and fruit juice. It was still early. Usually, Tom wasn't an early bird but for once he wanted to be left alone, at least until the whole transwarp affair had been forgotten. Some of the crew paid him back for his teasing them, and he couldn't even blame them.
"Has the captain talked to you?" Kes eventually asked. She still was his best female friend on Voyager, the only person next to Harry and Neelix who treated him friendly. They wanted to get to know him regardless of the stories spread about him. Tom was very grateful for that. So grateful that he didn't even think twice about flirting with Kes in a way he used to with other women. But those other women had been different, not so wise, so dignified.
Tom nodded, turned his mug between his palms. "I'm not sure she wants to keep the babies."
"Well, do you want them?"
He looked at her. He hadn't asked himself that. He had been too busy with his hurt and anger about the fact that she had confided in Chakotay first. But Chakotay was her friend, maybe even more than that. Did he want to be a father? "I guess so, yes. Even though they're not planned."
"Have you asked her? To keep the babies."
"No. She said she didn't need to think about it at all."
Kes was being as merciless as his grandmother. Wise and loving, thus merciless in letting him see his ways. He loved her. "About what?"
The Lieutenant was dumbfounded. He had been so absorbed in his thoughts that he hadn't really listened to what she had said. "Well, she said she couldn't keep all of the embryos, one at most if even any at all."
"For medical reasons, yes. But has she told you whether she was going to keep them or not?" She paused, but didn't do so long enough for him to come up with an answer. "Tom, I have to go."
"Yes," Tom acknowledged somewhat absentmindedly. Hadn't Kathryn said something about next April? He could have slapped himself. Egotism hadn't been an issue for him in ages. Why hadn't he listened to her better? Janeway must think he wasn't interested in her at all. When he looked up, Kes was already gone. He hoped she knew how grateful he was. That didn't prevent him from making a mental note to talk to her later, though.
Later into their shift, Kathryn withdrew to her Ready Room. She had looked tired this morning, like she had spent a sleepless night. Tom had noticed that the instant she had entered the bridge. How couldn't he, it was his fault after all. Why did he always have to put other people through pain like this, just because of his damn pride?
Eventually, when the time was right, he got up from his seat at the helm. His relief jumped in at once, as did Tuvok raise an eyebrow. "I'll be back in a sec," Tom murmured, careful not to meet the Vulcan's gaze. The pilot had a suspicion that Tuvok knew anyway. It was no secret that he and the captain were friends.
"Captain, I---" he began when the doors of the Ready Room had closed behind him.
"No, Lieutenant," Kathryn interrupted him at once. "No, this time it's not about you. It is about me, and the kids. You said you didn't want this. Fine with me, you don't have to. That's it. I can do without you."
"The decision is not mine to make," the Doctor said. He was sitting behind his desk, his hands folded on the shiny, sterile tabletop. The computer was turned around in a way that Kathryn could look at it without having to crane her neck too much. The screen was filled with the three-dimensional scan of her womb. With lots of experience and expertise one could just about make out four silhouettes floating in it. Four embryos, one of which was already dead, and a second one dying.
"How do you weigh human life, Doctor?" Kathryn's equanimity was a surprise to say the least. She propped her elbow on the table, balanced her chin pensively on three fingers. It looked so light, so elegant, and yet the Doctor knew her well enough not to let himself be fooled by that. She was thinking hard, weighing thoughts against thoughts, reason against her heart. Neither did she let herself be fooled. No one was going to make the decision for her. All she wanted was advice.
"I don't," the Doctor pondered aloud, "some would say survival for the fittest. One of the embryos is already dead, another one dying. As for the other two, the--"
Kathryn held up a hand. She wanted him to stop, she didn't want to know the babies' sex. But then, silly, it was too early to tell. "I'm sorry. Please go on."
"--there is definitely a good chance for the youngest," he continued unflustered, because that was what he had wanted to say all along, of course.
"What about the weakest one?"
He shook his head. "I'm afraid there's nothing I can do. It is close to a wonder anyway that they survived the DNA change."
Kathryn bit her lip. "I see. What about the chances that I can keep the youngest?"
He couldn't tell her, he'd never treated a case like hers before, and there was no precedence, at least not for that early stage of pregnancy. She lifted her head. "Do what you deem best. I trust you."
"Well." He always said that. Why did he do that? Couldn't he just accept this? "Have you talked to Mr Paris about this?"
Kathryn nodded with a dismissive wave of her hand. "I see." The disapproval in his voice hardly went unnoticed. "We will get you through this, Captain," he added in a sudden wave of sympathy, accompanied by a gentle pat on her hand.
"Thank you, Doctor." When had she last felt that alone?
"You never bring things to an end."
The harsh words were ringing in Tom's ears as though he'd just heard them. It had been almost two decades since he'd last heard them. His father had said them, stating a fact. Tom had known back then that his father was right. Yet he had not admitted that openly.
This truth had not been that hard to cope with, Tom had admitted to it in silence after all. It was his father's tone that had had him defiant. Sure, he was his son, a child, as such he had no right to tell his father what he thought. So Tom had turned his anger into this calm, quiet way of ... well, not really punishing his father, but letting him know that it didn't go unnoticed.
Every so often his father would wonder why Tom responded so well to what his mother said. But all the tinsel of Starfleet adorning Owen did not make him realise that in fact it was his tone, the way he said things.
Tom now knew that it had been the concern speaking, the wish to make him learn that you just couldn't quit halfway through a task upon realising that it was hard or disagreeable.
When he heard his father's words echo in his mind now, they sounded quite different. Sad somehow, maybe a tad disappointed. The old man was right.
Absolutely, damn right.
That was why Tom was so angry with himself right now. He had to go to Captain Janeway and try to mend matters, mend his ways. How could he have misunderstood her so utterly?
He hadn't even really listened to her. As a consequence, she had turned him away so brusquely earlier. And he couldn't even hold her any grudges. Janeway was proud, and he was proud, too. They were stubborn and determined once they'd set their mind to something. They were ...
What were they? Friends, maybe--not after what had happened lately. Lizards they had been. And as such they had mated.
"Sometimes it's the female of a species that initiates the mating."
True. But was it in their case? Why would Janeway mate with him--even though a lizard--of all people? Had it been some instinct, pheromones, or had it been something more? Somehow he couldn't quite believe that an evolved human species would be subject to something like that. On the other hand, Vulcans were. That was just like his luck: evolve into a higher form of human life just on time for the pon farr.
It must have been like that. Janeway would never get romantically involved with him, or with anyone aboard Voyager for that matter. Not even Chakotay. God knew the Commander had a crush on her. Maybe, sometimes, there was just the tiniest of inklings that the Captain felt the same way. Considering that she had asked him for help in the decisions she'd had to make lately spoke volumes.
And yet ...
Never would Janeway want to be with him, be his lover and beloved. Sometimes, she was, in his dreams, but never ... "Sometimes it's the female of a species that initiates the mating." Even Vulcans were picky in the pon farr, weren't they? Otherwise they wouldn't have to die if the object of their desire didn't quite reciprocate the feeling.
Tom didn't want to pursue this thought any further. The very idea that Janeway might have chosen him--not by instinct but by free will--or, heavens beware, even "initiated the mating" intentionally made him shiver in that wonderful way he'd last felt with Odile. No, that was too good to be true. Even now that he had come to live with his past, to accept himself for who he was, even to try to understand the ways of his father.
He was determined, though, to mend matters between the two of them. Talking to her was on top of his list. Making her angry or sad was what he absolutely didn't want, not after all that she'd done for him. Leaving her alone with the kids and all the decisions and responsibilities that came with this strangest of pregnancies was just what the old Tom Paris would have done.
Hadn't he decided that from now on, he wanted to change?
He did want to bring this to an end. Change his life, change Kathryn Janeway's life, and the unborn lives'. He had to. It was his fault, too, after all. He hadn't tried to fend her--the lizard--off.
Because the Commander was not the only one who had a crush on the Captain.
Kathryn's eyes fluttered open when she felt the artificially warm and solid hand of the Doctor touch her shoulder. She was lying on the narrow, suddenly very uncomfortable bed in the main surgery area, and felt as alien as she felt alone. Yet this was her very own Sickbay, and she had been here a couple of times too often, just as was the case now. This had become absolutely essential, and it was for her own good, and for the ship's. It wasn't like she had any choice in this. No matter how she turned it, there was no way around it.
"Are you ready, Captain?" the Doctor asked. He didn't really expect an answer, but waited for her to nod before he injected her with a narcotic. It was just a local anaesthesia, and Kes had planned on staying with Janeway, to help her through this and distract her as far as possible to make this easier for her. But Janeway got her attention by touching her arm.
"Kes, please, I'd rather ... I think I will," she said softly, her usual secure command over words gone.
Surprise showed on the Ocampan's face, she had not expected this. She was reluctant to afford Janeway's wish. Already she could feel her patient's discomfort and fear and loathing of this procedure. It was embarrassing, but the need for comfort should outweigh this. How could Janeway want to be alone with this? "Are you sure, Captain?"
Kathryn's resolve almost faltered then. "Yes. Please."
Kes exchanged glances with the Doctor. "I have to begin now, Kes."
The elfin woman nodded slowly. "I'll be in the lab if you need me."
"Thanks anyway, Kes," Kathryn said, attempting a smile. Then she fixed her eyes on the ceiling and set her jaw.
"All right," the Doctor said, and, having made sure his patient wouldn't feel any pain, began the procedure.
Kathryn was fast asleep on one of the biobeds when Tom entered Sickbay. The Doctor had given her a mild sleeping drug so she got some rest. The hologram had probably deactivated himself. Just to make sure, Tom peeked into his office, and into the lab. The Doctor was nowhere to be seen.
Tom went back to Kathryn. She looked relaxed in her sleep, a little bit pale, maybe, but that might as well be the harsh glare of the lights. He ordered the lighting down to forty percent. "I'm sorry you had to do this alone," he began. His gaze swept over the bio-signatures displayed above her head. There were only two life-signs now. The shock of relief left him momentarily dizzy. How could he have ever thought her able to terminate her pregnancy. "Oh God, Kathryn," he said, unawares that he addressed her by her given name, "I'm so sorry." He didn't touch her, however much he wanted to. This would be taking advantage of her, and he didn't want to do this a second time. "Just let me be with you, and the child, please."
Some days, particularly her days off, which she had to take regularly now, Doctor's orders, were even more miserable than others. Those she spent mostly in the solitude of her quarters, working on ship's business rather than relaxing. After her surgery, the Doctor had advised her to take the rest she needed, even if she didn't feel like it. Hers was a strange, new pregnancy, and the Doctor rather felt safe than sorry.
Kathryn saw his point, didn't want to jeopardise her child any less, but this one and a half days' time off per week drove her mad. Her own company drove her mad, because once unleashed, her thoughts and worries and memories wouldn't leave her alone --- unless she worked on ship's business. Considering that they were in a very quiet sector of the Delta Quadrant, there was only so much she could do.
So she paid Kes some visits in the hydroponics bay. Kes, bless her soul, kept an eye on her all the time, and when she sent her back to her quarters, Kathryn went without any further ado. Kathryn had her own patches, and she preferred soil to air. Her courgettes and Talaxian tomatoes were a hit, although hardly anyone knew they were hers. Hardly any of the crew knew what was going on. Kathryn had decided only to announce her pregnancy when her condition began to show.
Chakotay knew, of course, and he mothered her. He had insisted they spend more time together, to talk and share meals. It was no secret that Kathryn Janeway hardly ever ate anything, so several people had made it their task to see to it that she did -- particularly now. She had improved, though, because she didn't want to lose her baby. Chakotay knew it was hard enough for her to cope with the loss of three of her quadruplets, one of whom had died during the surgery. Still she couldn't forgive herself, despite better knowledge that it wasn't her fault. Her mind understood, accepted the fact, but her heart was different.
It was also Chakotay who urged her to talk to Tom. The fact that she never told him what had happened between Tom and her didn't help matters of course. Sometimes he was very tempted to go and ask Tom, but whenever he was close enough to do so, he saw the pain in the younger man's eyes. It was then that he realised the change Tom had undergone and he didn't feel so bitter towards him anymore. It was enough to trust Paris to take action himself.
And take action he did.
Continued in Part 2: Peaches