Title:  Thirty-one Days
Author:  Julie Evans
Email: Juli17@aol.com
Series:  Voyager
Codes:  P, All
Date posted:  5/23/00
Rating:  PG
Summary:  This time Tom gets thirty-one days--in Sickbay.  Set during the episode "Lifesigns."  This is a challenge response to the question of what Tom was doing during the month the doctor was in the Alpha quadrant and Tom was acting chief medical officer.

Archive:  Okay to archive to the ASC, PT Collective archive, PTFever archive, and BLTS.  All others please ask author for permission.

Disclaimer:  Star Trek and its characters are the property of
Viacom/Paramount.  I am borrowing them for fun only not profit.´

Thirty-one Days
by Julie Evans

DAY ONE:  "Pushover."

"Hey, Tom."

Tom looked up from the padd he was reading as Harry walked in.  "Hey, Harry."

"Thought you might want to know the doctor's gone.  Guess we'll be seeing him again in about a month.  He was still moaning about all his lost enhancements before he left."

Tom's lips quirked.  "I'm sure he'll be thrilled to get his opera voice back, even if no one else will be."  He made a quick notation on the padd and dropped it on the doctor's desk.  "As long as his program went through the data stream okay..."

"It did."  Harry gave Tom a sharp look.  "Were you worried?"

Tom shrugged.  "I'm a medic, not a doctor, Harry.  I can handle the routine stuff, even the small emergencies.  But what if something happens that requires major surgery?  I've assisted the doctor, but that's not the same as doing it by myself.  I'm not sure even the doctor's instruction programs would be enough."

"Well, we are going through a very quiet region of space," Harry said, comfortingly.

Tom snorted.  "That's never been much of a guarantee in the Delta quadrant."

"True," Harry agreed.  He gave Tom an encouraging smile.  "But no need to borrow trouble before it happens.  I'm sure everything will work out fine." Then his look became curious.  "I am kind of amazed that you agreed to do this though."

"Quite honestly, Harry, the doctor all but begged me."  Tom sighed.  He'd seriously considered refusing, because he'd meant what he'd just said to Harry.  The chance that something might happen that he couldn't handle did scare him a little.  "And the real Doctor Zimmerman does need the doc's help.  I just couldn't make myself say no."


Tom's eyebrows rose at Harry's teasing tone.  "Maybe I am.  But the whole crew agreed to forgo sending messages home so the doc could go through the data stream.  Including you, and I know you wanted to respond to your parent's letter."

"Yeah, I guess we're all pushovers," Harry said, looking a little glum.  "But I can wait another month to answer my parent's letter."  His face brightened.  "It was just great to hear from them in the first place."

Tom smiled.  Everyone had gotten a letter or two from home, all by necessity brief, but at least the connection was established.  And the connection was permanent.  They could send and receive letters every thirty-two days now.  Harry had read his parent's letter to B'Elanna and Tom in the Mess hall the evening before.  It had been only a few lines, but cheery, and full of open, easy affection.  "It was a great letter, Harry.  I'm sure your parents will be thrilled to hear back from you, even if they have to wait another month.  At least now they know it will be coming."

"Yeah."  Harry smiled back.  "That makes all the difference, knowing we'll have contact with everyone back home once a month.  The waiting doesn't seem so bad as long as you know when it ends.  So, what about your father's letter?"

Tom met Harry's searching gaze blankly.  "What about it?"

"You don't mind waiting a month to answer it?"

Tom shrugged.  "Why would I?  There wasn't a lot to reply to.  Like everyone else's, it was pretty short."  And unsentimental.

"Well, since you didn't let me read it..."

"I didn't know you wanted to, Harry," Tom replied, his tone unintentionally sarcastic.  Harry had hinted his interest, but hadn't come right out and asked what was in the letter.  And Tom hadn't volunteered any information.  "I wasn't hiding anything."

"Okay..." Harry said, sounding irritated, and a little hurt.

Tom sighed.  "Hello, Tom.  Your mother and I are gratified to hear that you are doing well on Voyager.  Since space is very limited on this transmission, your mother and sisters will send you their own greetings in a future letter.  Right now they just send their love.  We miss you and look forward to hearing from you.  Take care of yourself.  Your father, Owen Paris."

Harry's eyes widened at Tom's flat recitation.  "Memorized it already, Tom?"

"It was pretty short," Tom said.

"They all were," Harry reminded him.  "But it was a nice letter anyway.  They miss you, Tom."

Tom nodded slowly at Harry's almost gentle tone.  He might not have believed it a few years ago, but he knew it was true, though he still found himself fighting a self-protective impulse to distrust it.  "I know."

"Don't take this the wrong way, Tom, since I know you really are fond of the doctor--"

Tom snorted, though he knew it didn't fool Harry in the least.

"Still, it occurs to me that now you won't have to reply to your father's letter for another month."

Tom was silent.  Coincidentally B'Elanna had said the same thing to him when he'd told her that he'd agreed to take over for the doctor in Sickbay.  With some sympathy, since she'd openly admitted that she was relieved to have more time to reply to her mother's letter, which had been even more abridged and to the point than his father's.  It was not much more than a simple acknowledgement that she now knew B'Elanna was alive and doing well and expected to hear from her soon.  Tom had detected concern and even warmth in Miral's blunt words, even if B'Elanna interpreted them less favorably.  Just as he'd looked at the word "gratified" in his father's letter, and couldn't stop himself from reading it as "amazed."  B'Elanna had sighed at that.  They were a pair, all right.

"If you don't want to talk about it--"

"There are still a lot of issues between us, Harry," Tom said.  "Those haven't just gone away because I disappeared for a while."

"No," Harry agreed.  "But maybe the passage of time and everything that has happened since has put them into perspective, Tom.  You've become a different person now.  Your father seems to recognize that."

Tom wanted to believe it could be that easy, after all the bitterness that had festered between them.  Bitterness he knew he'd nurtured inside himself all these years, as a defense against his own sense of shame and guilt.  "Maybe you're right, Harry.  Though I did dictate my father one letter already."  That was another issue to be dealt with.  Perhaps when his father read that one, he would realize that he'd been mistaken to be so proud of his son's accomplishments on Voyager.

Harry was silent for a moment.  He knew all about that letter, of course.  "Are you going to send it to him?"

Tom shrugged.  "So far, there hasn't been an opportunity to send anything beyond critical tactical data and mission logs back to the Alpha quadrant.  But eventually the captain will send the individual department and officer's logs, including her own.  My father will find out what happened one way or another."

"Send him the letter, Tom," Harry said resolutely.  "He'll understand why you did it."

It had been a lot easier filing that letter to be sent when they got close enough to the Alpha quadrant, when that time had been some undefined point in the future.  Now that the moment was here, Tom was a lot less confident.  "I hope so."

"For what it's worth, Tom, I really don't think it will change anything," Harry said.  "Your father will still be proud of you."

"So you think it won't matter to him whether I come home an ensign or a lieutenant?" Tom asked ruefully.

"I have a feeling the captain will give you your lieutenant pip back before then, Tom," Harry said.  His lips twisted in a wry smile.  "I just hope she promotes me so I don't have to go home the longest serving ensign in Starfleet."

Tom chuckled at Harry's deliberately exaggerated lament, though he suspected there was a thread of sincerity in Harry's words.  The captain had given almost no promotions in the past six years, beyond her initial field rank assignments.  Maybe it was because she didn't feel sanctioned by Starfleet in the Delta quadrant.  He wasn't exactly sure why.  If he were the captain, he would have promoted everyone several times, and then let Starfleet just try and undo the promotions later.  But he'd always had a small attitude problem when it came to caring about Starfleet protocols.  "You'll get a promotion, Harry.  Because if anyone deserves it, you do."

"Excuse me..."

Tom and Harry turned toward the doorway, where Billy Tefler stood.

"Sorry to interrupt," Billy said.  "I was supposed to have my biannual physical today.  But since the doctor is gone, maybe he meant to reschedule it?"

"I'll check," Tom said.  He pressed a key on the doctor's desktop console.  "I know that appointment schedule is in here somewhere."

"It's no big deal, Tom.  I can wait until the doctor gets back."

Billy's tone was easy and almost dismissive.  Tom was as familiar with Billy's hypochondriac tendencies as the doctor, and not long ago Billy would have insisted on the biannual physical immediately, coming in armed with a list of potentially life-threatening ailments he was experiencing.  In fact his biannual physicals were really unnecessary, since he managed enough in-between visits to have had every system and cell in his body scanned several times over.  But Tom hadn't seen Billy in Sickbay in close to two months now.  "You know how the doctor likes everything done right on schedule.  And here you are.  Biannual physical scheduled for eleven hundred hours."  Tom glanced at the chronometer on the computer screen and gave Billy a severe frown.  "You're late."

Billy was unfazed by Tom's deliberate impression of the doctor's irascible voice.  In fact, he pressed his lips together, as if he was smothering a smile.  "Sorry.  I had to finish up some work in the Science lab."

Tom shrugged, and grinned.  "No problem."  He indicated the main Sickbay with a brief nod of his head.  "Take a biobed, any biobed.  I'll bring up your file and be with you in just a minute."

"Okay," Billy agreed amiably.  "Hopefully this will be quick," he added and he stepped back through the threshold.  "I've still got a dozen reports to finish before lunch."

"Sure, I'll hurry," Tom muttered.  He hit another key on the console as Billy disappeared into main Sickbay.  "Patients are so demanding."

Harry laughed.  "Look out, Tom.  An hour on the job and you're already turning into the doctor.  I think I'd better leave you to your work now."

"Sure, Harry," Tom said distractedly.  He located Billy's file and picked up his medical datapadd.  "See you on the bridge."

"Not much you won't," Harry replied.  "But I'm sure Baytart and Jenkins can cover for you just fine."

Tom gave him an irritated look.  "Thanks, Harry.  So glad you'll all miss me."

Harry grinned.  "Take it as a compliment that you aren't completely indispensable on the bridge.  You're the one who trained them so well, after all."

"Yeah," Tom said grudgingly.  Still, he wasn't that fond of the idea of being relegated to second string in his own department for the next month.  Sometimes he wondered how he'd inadvertently become such a good doctor's assistant.  Maybe he'd let his early routine of trying to discourage the doctor by acting disinterested and slow to catch on fall by the wayside too soon.  Or he'd just started to like it too much, by accident.

Harry clapped his shoulder lightly.  "If we hit any really serious problems, the captain will have you in the hotseat in a minute, if only so you can make sure you don't have too many casualties to deal with here."

"Speaking of casualties, Harry..."

Harry grinned at Tom's mock threatening tone.  "I'm leaving, I'm leaving.  See ya."

"See ya," Tom echoed as Harry sauntered out of the doctor's office.  He looked down at the information on the datapadd and clicked past the repetitive set of instructions the doctor had so thoughtfully inserted to pop up every time Tom opened a file, any file.  Then he went to see his first patient, hoping the next thirty days would pass without too much incident.

DAY FIVE:  "Say 'Flotter.'"

Seven was giving Tom that relentless, slightly disdainful stare that had become her trademark.  Tom returned it with the careless, slightly insolent stare he had perfected into an artform as a teenager, probably before she'd been assimilated by the Borg.  "What?" he drawled.

Seven looked at the holoimager in his hands.  "I do not believe the doctor would appreciate you using his imager for nonessential

"Why not?" Tom asked a little belligerently.  It had been a long day.  He hadn't realized that having no patients was twice as tedious as being inundated by minor complaints.  He was definitely in an argumentative mood, and B'Elanna had been too busy to even meet him for lunch so they could trade a few witty barbs, an exercise that always reduced their stress levels.  "What's wrong with updating the images?"

"The doctor only updates the images once a year, unless injuries or biochemical changes occur.  There have been no such changes, and the doctor updated all the images three months ago."

"Seven, they're children," Tom reminded her.  "They are constantly growing.  And Icheb is an adolescent boy.  Biochemical changes occur in him almost every day.  Believe me, I know."

Seven raised an eyebrow at that.  "Be that as it may, you did not choose to update the images based on that reasoning.  You chose to do so because Naomi asked you.  I doubt she had any potential medical applications in mind."

"You're right," Tom admitted, grinning unapologetically.  "Naomi asked because she thinks it's fun to have her picture taken.  And since I didn't have anything better to do, I figured I might as well update all the children's images."

"I see."  Seven looked a little annoyed that Tom had so easily admitted the lack of medical purpose behind his actions.  "Your reason for doing this is simply because when it comes to Naomi Wildman you are...putty in her hands."

Tom laughed out loud.  "Where did you hear that expression, Seven?"

"I believe Lieutenant Torres used that expression once when referring to you."

Tom stared at Seven for a long moment, wondering if he'd imagined the slyly triumphant look that had crossed her face.  "Really?  Was it a sexual reference?"

Seven rolled her eyes in disgust at Tom's irreverent response, though her tightly pursed lips twitched just a little.

"We're here."

Neelix's cheerful voice carried across the room as he entered the Sickbay trailed by five children.

Naomi skipped ahead.  "Hi, Tom.  You've got the imager."

Tom waved the imager.  "All ready to start taking pictures."

"Do we get to look at them when you're through?"

"Sure," Tom said.  "What would be the fun of taking them if you couldn't see them afterwards?"

"Cool," Naomi said, and she and Mezoti grinned at each other.

"Cool?" Seven murmured.  Her eyebrow rose questioningly.  "Another term from the twentieth century, Ensign Paris?"

"Oh, that word has reappeared periodically through the centuries," Tom said.  "I can't take all the credit for reintroducing it aboard Voyager."  Well, actually, he probably could.

"Now don't be so modest, Tom," Neelix said, grinning at him conspiratorially.  "You have had quite an influence on the vernacular aboard Voyager."

Seven chose not to reply to that as Neelix glanced around Sickbay, which was quite neat and orderly.  "My, this place is spotless, Tom.  Sickbay duty must be agreeing with you."

"Yeah, sure," Tom said.  "Truthfully, I've been bored to death today.  No patients at all.  I was reduced to tidying up the place."

Seven not surprisingly chose to reply to that.  "Boredom is an unnecessary and wasteful human response.  There are innumerable methods of occupying yourself and simultaneously enlightening your mind.  For instance, there are many thousands of medical reference files I am sure you have not yet read which would greatly enhance your knowledge of medical procedures--"

"We mere humans have a limited capacity for retaining knowledge over any given period, Seven," Tom said, cutting her off.  "For me, more than half an hour a day of reading dry text and my brain rebels."

Seven gave Tom haughty "I do not doubt that" look, then noticed that the children had wandered away into the alcove where the doctor had set up his imaging center.

"If you get too bored here, Tom, you just let me know," Neelix said, as Seven moved toward the children.  His voice dropped to a near whisper.  "I can always prepare the leola root just a bit...off, if you know what I mean.  Cause a few minor stomach ailments so you can have something to do down here."

Tom's mouth had dropped open, and he stared at Neelix in astonishment.  "Neelix, I hope you're kidding."

Neelix grinned and slapped Tom's arm.  "Of course I am, Tom.  Just a little humor to brighten your day."

Tom followed Neelix slowly as he moved to join Seven and the children, thinking maybe he should replicate his meals for the next few days.

"Can we look at some of the filed images?" Naomi asked as Tom joined them.

Tom shook his head.  "They're protected by doctor-patient
confidentiality, Naomi.  If they're not your own images, you would need permission from the subject."  He shot a quick glance at Seven.  "But if Seven wants to give you permission, you can look at her from the inside out."

There was a small sound from Neelix, and Icheb perked up.  "Can we, Seven?"

Seven speared Tom with a look nearly as frosty as Janeway's best while she answered Icheb's question.  "No, you *may* not."  She looked at the children again.  "Perhaps Ensign Paris or Mister Neelix would like to share their images.  Or you may view your own images."

"I want to see my own image," Mezoti said.

"Let's get started taking these pictures then," Tom said.  "Who wants to go first?"

Naomi raised a hand quickly, and immediately assumed a stiffly
standing position on the imaging platform.  Since the holoimager had been brought into use, Tom knew Naomi had probably been imaged
upward of thirty times by the doctor.  Tom wasn't the only person who was putty in her hands.

"All right, Naomi.  Are you ready?"

She nodded as Tom positioned the scanner and looked through the viewer.

"Say 'Flotter.'"

DAY NINE:  "You're cured."

The current patient in Sickbay sighed heavily.  "I hate these biannual check-ups."

Tom adjusted the scanner as his patient shifted on the biobed.  "Your temporary resident doctor isn't all that thrilled with them either, so quit moving."

"You're sounding a little testy, Tom," Joe Carey said, as Tom moved the scanner over him again and punched something at the base.  "Not enjoying playing doctor?"

"I'm fine with it, when my patients are cooperative," Tom said.  "Quit moving!"

"Sorry," Joe said, becoming stationary again.  "I wasn't being intentionally uncooperative.  You know me.  I'm not good at sitting still."

Tom's lips quirked a little.  "So I've noticed."

"So, a lot of your patients are uncooperative..." Joe mused.

"Are we on a ship full of Starfleet officers?" Tom asked sarcastically.

Joe grinned.  "Good point.  So, when is B'Elanna's next biannual checkup?"

Tom's hand paused in mid-motion.  "Not for two months.  Thank GOD."

Tom's voice was fervent and Joe stared at him for a moment, then pressed his lips tightly together.  They both burst out laughing.

"Don't tell B'Elanna I said that," Tom finally spoke.

"Mum's the word," Joe assured him.

Tom repositioned the scanner again.  Much as he loved her, it was hard to imagine a patient who could have a worse attitude than B'Elanna.  It was kind of fun to watch, when it was the doctor who was getting hell from her.  But he certainly didn't want to be her doctor.  No, sir.  Unless of course they were just "playing" doctor...

Tom stopped the scanner in mid-motion, and his lascivious smile faded, luckily before Joe noticed it.  He looked curiously at the scanner.  "Hmm..."

"Hmm?" Joe repeated, sitting up a little.  "Something wrong?"

"Take off your uniform shirt."

Joe's eyebrows rose.  "Gee, Tom, won't B'Elanna be jealous?" he quipped.

"We'll just keep it our secret," Tom returned dryly.

Joe pulled his shirt over his head.  "So what is it?"

"There's an irregularity in some of your stomach cells," Tom said.  He adjusted the scanner.

"Oh."  Joe watched as the scanner moved closely over his abdomen.  "I've been having a little bit of indigestion lately.  And a cramp or two.  Maybe Neelix is trying out some new ingredient in his food."

Tom shook his head.  "Nope.  He was just kidding."

"What?"  Joe asked, confused.

"It's not anything you ate," Tom said.  "You have some abnormal cell growth in your stomach wall.  Quite a few cancerous cells in fact."

"I do?"

"Yep.  Nothing to worry about.  It's easily fixed.  I'm just checking...uh huh...there."  He looked from the scanner to Joe.  "There are a couple of stray abnormal cells in your pancreas, and in your sternum.  Early signs of incipient metastasis."

"I don't feel anything," Joe said, touching his sternum lightly.

Tom dropped the scanner on the table and picked up a cell regenerator.  "Oh, you wouldn't have any symptoms there for months at least.  Those cells aren't malignant yet.  They're just hiding out right now waiting to get to that stage.  But we can take of those too, along with the ones in your stomach."

Joe was silent for several moments as Tom refined the settings on the cell regenerator, and positioned it.  Then his brow furrowed.  "The doctor mentioned some sort of...indicator or something once.  He said I might have a tendency to develop something like this."

"Genetic marker?" Tom asked.  He moved the regenerator over Joe's abdomen.

"That's it."  Joe looked a little sheepish as the regenerator began to hum over his skin.  "I guess I should have come in a few weeks ago when my stomach started bothering me.  But I figured it was nothing."

"Neelix's cooking, right?" Tom replied.  He watched the indicators on the bioreader carefully.  "Once upon a time it would have made a difference."

"What?" Joe asked.

"Detecting the cancer in an early stage," Tom clarified.  He moved the regenerator over Joe's sternum.  "A few centuries ago, once it metastasized it was usually incurable.  It's still easier to take care of it at

an early stage.  If it was actually metastasized, I'd probably have to keep you overnight for further treatment.  Good thing you just happened to have your biannual check up today."

"All right, all right," Joe grumbled.  "I shouldn't have kept putting it off."

"Just don't do it again."  Tom moved the cell regenerator away and looked at the bioindicators, then switched off the regenerator.  "Okay.  You're cured."

"That's it?"

"Pretty much." Tom reached for a hypo.  "I am going to give you an injection that contains a targeted auto-immune suppressor.  I won't bore you with the specifics, but it should keep any of more of your cells from becoming cancerous."

"Then I can go?"

"Yep," Tom said.  "I'll schedule you for a follow up appointment in six weeks.  Everything should be clear, but if any abnormal cell growth reappears, the doc will take care of it."

"The doc?" Joe said.

"Yeah, right after he reads you the riot act for not coming in sooner in the first place."  Tom pressed the hypo against Joe's arm.

"I guess I deserve that."

Joe rubbed his arm after Tom pulled the hypo away, something almost every patient did, even though it was completely painless.  Except Tuvok, of course.  Tom had finally put it down to some sort of automatic human response.  He'd caught himself doing it inadvertently.  "Okay, Joe, you can go now."

Joe practically jumped off the biobed.  "Thanks, Tom."  He pulled his shirt back over his head.  "By the way, you're pretty good at this.  Ever consider switching careers?"

Tom snorted.  "No, thanks.  I don't mind Sickbay duty, but I like flying too much.  I've only been on the bridge three times in the past ten days, what with pulling a shift, or sometimes a shift and a half in Sickbay.  I miss it."

Joe slapped Tom lightly on the shoulder.  "Well, B'Elanna hasn't been too surly in Engineering so you must be handling the extra duty pretty well."

"Sure."  Tom smiled ruefully.  "We just haven't had enough time together to annoy each other.  Another drawback of the doctor being gone."

Joe chuckled.  "Hang in there, Tom.  Only, what...twenty-one more days to go?"

"Thanks for rubbing that in, Joe," Tom said sarcastically to Joe's departing commiserate smile.  "You have a nice day now."

DAY FOURTEEN:  "Poor Baby."

"Hey, flyboy.  Or should I call you 'doc' now?"

Tom turned around at the sound of a familiar voice.  "B'Elanna.  What are you doing here?  Nothing's wrong, is there?"

"Healthwise?" B'Elanna asked.  "Nope.  I'm just fine.  But I'm starting to miss you a little."

Tom smiled.  "Me too.  Sorry about last night."

"Uh huh," B'Elanna said noncommittally.  "Well, at least you showed up.  Though I had something a little more...energetic in mind, up until you fell asleep on me."

Tom frowned.  He didn't want to hear that, especially since he'd had the same thing in mind.  But he couldn't remember anything past reclining on the couch after a late dinner, until he'd awakened early this morning to find a blanket wrapped over him.  He must have dozed right off.  That had become a pattern lately.  "I guess was more tired than I realized."

"It's a good thing you're kind of cute when you're asleep," B'Elanna said forgivingly.  She tugged on the lapel of the white coat he was wearing.  "You really are getting into this doctor role, aren't you?"

Tom looked down at the lab coat.  "Oh.  I was checking on some samples in the lab and didn't want to mess up my uniform."

B'Elanna patted his chest lightly.  "This coat looks pretty clean."

"I'm just a neat guy," Tom said, flashing her a grin.

"Hmmm," B'Elanna replied, her tone dubious.  "So, what else are you doing down here in Sickbay, besides playing with lab samples?"

"Biannual check ups, treating the assorted bumps and bruises, updating patient files..." Tom's voice trailed off.  He sighed and gave her a woeful look.  "Most of it's pretty tedious.  And I miss flying a lot."

"Poor baby," B'Elanna murmured, rubbing her hand soothingly over Tom's chest.

Tom's eyebrows rose at B'Elanna's tender expression of comfort.  Poor baby?  Then she looked up at him, her gaze openly seductive.  His lips quirked.  "Is that real sympathy, B'Elanna, or are you just trying to get under my coat?"

"I didn't sound sympathetic, Tom?" B'Elanna asked.  She slid her hand down his chest.  "That's funny, because I'm feeling *very* sympathetic right now.  And since you miss flying, maybe I can help you."  She rubbed herself up against him suggestively.  "Fly, that is.  At least by one definition."

"You can...ah, B'Elanna..." He drew a sharp breath as her fingers slipped into his pants.  She gripped the waistband and tugged hard.  He cleared his throat and tried again.  "B'Elanna..."

"Don't you get a break around here, Tom?" B'Elanna asked meaningfully.

He jumped as her fingers popped open the top fastening of his pants.  "Sure, but I took one an hour ago."

"So take another. Or if you can't, then..." She pulled one hand out of his pants and pressed it dramatically against her forehead, swaying slightly.  "Oooh, maybe I do need a doctor.  I've been feeling a little...faint lately."

"That's a very serious symptom, B'Elanna," Tom said as somberly as he could manage, trying not to grin at the image of B'Elanna swooning.  "How long has this been going on?"

"Oh, about thirty seconds."  She smiled wickedly.  "I think you'd better check me out thoroughly, *doctor.*  Who knows what part of me needs intense personal treatment.  Maybe all my parts."

"Then we'd better start that treatment regimen right away," Tom said, his voice husky.

"Whatever you say, doctor."  B'Elanna tore her uniform jacket off and tossed it on the nearest biobed.  Then she yanked her tank out of her pants.

"B'Elanna," Tom choked.  He looked around.  "We're standing in the middle of Sickbay.  Anyone could walk in."

She shrugged, but she let her hands drop.  "Looks pretty quiet in here to me.  Not all that much different than a Jeffries tube in Engineering."

Tom shook his head, bemused.  "It's a little different."  He was usually the one who wanted to boldly do it where no one had done it before, and B'Elanna was the one who generally nixed his more venturesome
suggestions.  This was a little unusual for her.  "You really have been missing me, haven't you, B'Elanna," he said smugly.

"Maybe," she replied cryptically.  She slipped a hand into his pants again, and grabbed a fistful of his coat with her other hand.  "Or maybe it's this white doctor's coat.  There's something very sexy about it."

"I wish I'd known sooner," Tom said dryly.  "I could have replicated one years ago."  Not that there weren't plenty of other items of clothing that had turned B'Elanna on at one time or another.  Her fingers wiggled a little, and he glanced quickly toward the main door again.  They needed somewhere just a little more private.

B'Elanna read his mind.  "Let's go into the doctor's office.  Then you can take off everything but the white coat."

Tom's gaze whipped back to B'Elanna, and he grinned slowly at her throaty suggestion.  "B'Elanna, that's kind of...kinky."

"And I'll take off everything but my boots."

Damn.  She knew how he loved that.  He checked around one more time for hidden patients.  It looked like they were safe.  "Not the doctor's office.  The glass wall, remember?"  B'Elanna's hand was tugging harder at his pants.  They were going to slide right down his hips in a minute.  He tried to think quickly.  The medical lab was connected to the science labs, and someone might walk through...  "The medical supply room!  No one ever goes in there."

"Fine," B'Elanna said, her voice reaching a dangerous frustration level.  "Let's go.  Now."

Tom pulled her hand out of his pants, and they half-ran to the small supply room on the other side of the doctor's office.  He could only hope no one decided to come looking for him during the next few minutes.  Especially since the door didn't lock, only the drug cabinet did.  He got there first, and even as he turned to face B'Elanna, she bodily shoved him against one of the tall shelves.  A handful of items fell to the floor, and so did his pants.  He barely noticed the disturbance around him as B'Elanna's mouth slammed into his, creating a whole different kind of disturbance deep inside him.

Though they judiciously left most of their clothes on, over the next several minutes Tom and B'Elanna proceeded to make up, vigorously and very satisfyingly, for everything they'd missed during his recent bout of sleepiness.  And though the sounds of minor breakage through the closed door might have inspired an impromptu investigation, no one came into Sickbay until twenty minutes after B'Elanna had left.  By that time the breakage had been cleaned up, and only the most critical eye would have noticed that Tom's uniform was slightly askew.  As for his coat, B'Elanna had taken it with her to keep for later use.

DAY TWENTY:  "Relax, Tom."

Tom was sweating.  He could feel his whole body dripping under his uniform.  He hadn't even known they were coming until the Sickbay doors slid open and Vorik had burst in almost carrying Shaun Mulcahy, who had burns over his face and upper body, where his uniform was half burned away.  Before Tom could get the whole story from Vorik, three more casualties had come in, Sue Nicoletti and Tabor, both limping in under their own steam, and Freddie Bristow, being led by Chakotay, who'd been near Engineering when the accident had occurred.  Chakotay was trying to tell Tom something about a chain reaction in the plasma relays when Tuvok had called to report one more casualty being beamed directly to Sickbay.  Tuvok hadn't waited for an acknowledgement, and for one heartstopping second Tom had been sure Tuvok had omitted mentioning the name of the casualty because it was B'Elanna.  But the figure that had appeared on the biobed had been male--amazingly enough, Mortimer Harren.

Tom had breathed an audible sigh of relief that it wasn't B'Elanna, noticing then that Chakotay was watching him, and he realized he'd stood there as motionless as a statue during the beam in.  Janeway called at that very moment, as Tom regained his mobility and moved toward Harren, to say that Sam Wildman and Michael Ayala were both on their way to Sickbay.  He heard her also say that Harry was on his way to Engineering to assist B'Elanna, who'd been out of main engineering at the time crawling through Jeffries tubes near the Shuttlebay, where some plasma relays had gone offline, probably what had overloaded the main Engineering system.  Tom began scanning Harren's deep burns, knowing in the back of his mind that Shaun Mulcahy was seriously injured too, and that Vorik was running a scanner on him to begin an initial assessment of the damage.  Tom's relief knowing that B'Elanna was safe calmed his mind a little, and he mentally ran through what needed to be done as he evaluated Harren's scans.  He dimly heard Chakotay say something about heading to Engineering to help, and barely felt the hand that squeezed his shoulder in support as the first officer took his leave.  Sam and Michael rushed in as Chakotay rushed out, and Tom quickly told Sam to take care of Shaun, and Mike to check on the others.

Tom had focused on Harren then, quickly assembling the dermal and neural regenerators he would need.  He removed the charred clothing, and dosed Harren with both anesthetics and fluids, and confirmed that the radiation exposure was minimal.  The plasma burns were the serious problem, and Tom went to work with the dermal regenerator first, setting it to deep scan mode.  He barely noticed the passage of time as he worked on Harren, and fielded questions from Sam, who was
performing similar procedures on Shaun Mulcahy.  Shaun's burns were less severe than Harren's, though several on his face and upper body required deep dermal regeneration.  Vorik, who'd stayed, informed Tom of the obvious, that Harren and Mulcahy had taken the brunt of the explosion.  Freddie, Sue and Tabor had all been a short distance away and had received mostly second-degree surface burns.  Freddie's were fairly extensive and Mike was treating his burns while Sue and Tabor, who'd both been given a painkiller, were sitting up comfortably and contributing their own recall of the incident to the occasional tense conversation.  Tom's concentration was so intense that he really didn't hear most of that conversation.

He also didn't hear Janeway come in.  He wasn't sure afterwards how long she'd stood there watching the scene in Sickbay.  He'd been busy checking the neural scans on Harren, verifying that the nerve
regeneration he'd begun was progressing as it should, when Janeway spoke.

"How are they, Tom?"

Tom was startled enough to nearly drop the neural regenerator.  Janeway stood almost behind him, but she was looking at Harren, whose face was still mottled with serious burns waiting to be healed.  "Harren got the worst of it, Captain," Tom told her quietly.  "And Shaun Mulcahy.  I know they look pretty bad, but they'll be all right, after a night in Sickbay."

The captain compressed her lips and swallowed.  "Good," she said.  Tom wondered if she'd been struck by the same momentary terror he had knowing that the doctor wasn't on board.  Her sweeping gaze took in the rest of the patients.  She looked at them, assessing each individually, to Tom's mind in the way a mother might look at her children to reassure herself that they were really okay.  Then she took a deep breath and relaxed.  "Very good."

"Captain Janeway."

Tom looked up to see Noah Lessing approaching.

"Ah, Mister Lessing."  Janeway looked at Tom.  "I figured you might need a little more help, and Mister Lessing has had some medic

Tom hadn't known that.  He did know that Noah wasn't in the Doc's medic training program on Voyager.  Not yet anyway.  But Tom was grateful for any help he could get.  "Hey, Noah."  He motioned with his head.  "Sue and Tabor are waiting for dermal regeneration.  Could you take care of that?"

Noah Lessing nodded silently in acknowledgement and moved toward Sue and Tabor.

"Tom, it looks like you have everything under control here," Janeway said.  She gave him a genuine smile, the earlier tension on her face gone.

"I think so, captain."  He looked away from her again, concentrating on the neural regeneration he was performing on Harren.  He bit his lip briefly, and lowered his voice to keep his words between them.  "I can't say I wasn't worried for a moment or two, but it's not as bad as it could have been.  We lucked out."

"Hmmm." The captain's murmur was indistinct.  Then she moved behind Tom and pressed her hands on his shoulders.  "Relax, Tom.  You're doing a fine job."

He hadn't realized he was so tightly wound.  It almost hurt when she kneaded his shoulders hard, forcing him to relax his muscles.  "Thanks, Captain."

"You're welcome."  Her grip loosened and she squeezed his shoulders once before removing her hands.  "And you're right.  We did luck out.  You're better at this than you think."

Tom turned and met the captain's frank gaze.  "I'll check back here later," she said.  "If you need me for anything I'll be in Engineering in the meantime.  Keep up the good work."

The captain flashed him a final, supportive smile, and left.  It was a long rest of the afternoon, but by dinnertime only Harren and Shaun were left in Sickbay, both resting comfortably.  Neelix had hand delivered Tom's dinner, which he'd eaten while filling out all the bureaucratic medical reports he hated.  B'Elanna had stopped by to check on the condition of her officers, and to tell him that she'd be in Engineering most of the night supervising the repairs.  Which was okay, since he'd elected to spend the night in Sickbay on one of the spare biobeds to keep tabs on his patients.  They'd had to content themselves with a quick kiss and a hug.  He'd appreciated the fact that B'Elanna had extended the hug, rubbing her hands firmly over his back for several seconds, no doubt feeling the tension there that still hadn't completely dissipated.  He'd been ready to hop on the desk and beg her to give him a massage.

After B'Elanna left, Tom tossed his dinnerware in the recycler, and went to check on his patients.  Shaun had a visitor, Jenny Delaney.  That new development might get the rumor mill going.  He nodded to the two of them, glancing at Shaun's bioreadings as he passed.  Then he stopped at Harren's bed, his eyes focused on the bioreadings first, before he looked down.  Harren was awake and looking up at him.

"Not much of a view down here, huh, Paris."

Harren's tone was dry, but neither belligerent nor disparaging, and Tom's lips quirked a little.  "Just your face, Harren, and it's not very pretty."

Harren's eyebrows rose, barely, since they were newly regenerated.  The skin on his face was red, shiny and tight, but no longer ravaged by burns.  In a few days he would look good as new.  Harren moved his facial muscles experimentally and frowned.  "It doesn't feel very pretty either."

"The new skin is tight right now," Tom told him.  "In three or four days it should feel normal.  And you'll look like your old self."

"Hmm.  I was hoping you were actually good with a dermal regenerator, Paris, and there'd be some improvement."

Tom snorted lightly.  "Sorry, that's not my field.  In your case, I'm not sure even the doctor could accomplish that."

Harren almost smiled.  They stared at each other for several moments.  There was a fine line between malicious digs, and amiable insults underscored by mutual respect, and Tom got the feeling that he and Harren might have just crossed that line.  And here it was the third time they'd actually spoken directly to each other.

"Thanks, Paris."

Harren's expression of gratitude was brusque and a little grudging, but it was sincere.  Tom spoke in the same tone.  "You're welcome."

Harren rose up on his elbows slowly.  "So, I can leave now."

Tom responded to Harren's statement as if it was a question.  "No."

Harren's eyes narrowed.  "When?"

"Tomorrow morning.  If your bioreadings stay the same.  You need to stay prone so they don't spike again."  Tom didn't bother to explain what spike meant, since he was exaggerating the likelihood that the readings would change at all.  Sometimes it was fun being the doctor.

Harren's look was disgusted.  "I have to stay here all night?"

"Yep.  And don't try and stand up, or you might fall over."  That much was true.  It would take at least twelve hours for Harren's body to resolve the immediate trauma of both his injuries and the treatment.

Harren eased himself back to a prone position.  Tom noticed he winced a little, no doubt feeling stiff from all his body had been through.  "What time tomorrow?"

Tom shrugged.  "After breakfast.  Ten hundred hours.  But you'll be on limited duty for a week.  Your body needs to completely recover."

Despite the annoyed look on his face, Harren didn't argue.  He was clearly and not unexpectedly tired.  He closed his eyes slowly, probably unwillingly.

"Get some sleep, Harren," Tom said softly, surprised himself at how gentle the words came out.  Well, he'd worked on the guy for hours after all, and he felt a strange kind of protectiveness.

If Harren noticed the tone of Tom's voice he didn't acknowledge it.  "Go 'way, Paris," he mumbled drowsily, his eyes still closed.

Tom smiled and did just that.  He returned to the doctor's office and plopped down in the chair, satisfied that his patients were comfortable and secure.  He stretched a little, and thought about a long hot water shower.  Damn, would that feel good.  Almost as good as a massage from B'Elanna.  Instead of enjoying either, he flicked on the doc's computer.  He still had several hours of reports and medical logs to update before he could stretch out on one of the biobeds and get some sleep himself.  It was going to be a long night.  But not as long as the day had been.  Long, tense, and tiring.

Yet, strangely enough, what he felt most of all was a deep, abiding sense of satisfaction.

DAY TWENTY-SIX:  "Congratulations, Ensign Lang."

"What is it?" the patient of the day asked.

Tom was staring at the scanner in his hand, bemused.  It definitely wasn't what he'd expected to see.  He didn't know about Amanda Lang.

"Did I get some sort of food poisoning or something?"

Tom shook his head.  Poor Neelix.  Every case of stomach pain or nausea on the ship was always first assumed to be the result of Neelix's variable cooking skills.  "No, it's nothing like that.  That's usually an acute problem.  You said your stomach's been queasy off and on for a week or more."

Amanda Lang nodded.  "It has."

He asked, even though he knew the answer.  "Are you still on your monthly birth control boosters, Amanda?"

"No, I..." Amanda's mouth dropped open and her eyes widened.

Tom smiled.  "Congratulations, Ensign Lang.  You're pregnant."

"Oh my god.  I am?"

"Uh...yes, you are," Tom said patiently.  She looked stunned, even though he could only assume she'd deliberately gone off her birth control with this intention.  "Didn't you want to be?"

"Yes.  Yes."  Amanda shook her head.  "Gerry and I stopped our boosters a month--no, I guess it was two months ago.  I just didn't expect it to happen this soon."

Tom shrugged.  "It happens that way sometimes.  You're five weeks pregnant."

A wide, beatific smile crept over Amanda's face.  "I'm pregnant," she repeated softly.  Her hands touched her flat stomach almost in awe.

Tom smiled again and let her enjoy the moment.  The doctor had
mentioned more than once that someone was eventually going to get pregnant on Voyager, and that he wanted to be ready for it.  Tom knew in exactly which file the doc kept his nursery plans, though the doctor didn't know Tom was even aware of them.  This development might not indicate the need for a nursery yet, but it was the first baby to be conceived on Voyager, since Sam had already been pregnant when
Voyager had left the Alpha quadrant.  Tom wondered if the doctor was going to be annoyed that he wasn't the one who got to diagnose this momentous first on Voyager.

"I can't wait to tell Gerry," Amanda murmured happily.

"I'm sure he'll be very happy," Tom said.  Gerry Culhane was one of those chronically happy, easy-going kind of guys anyway.  He was a pilot after all.  Tom had no doubt he would be thrilled.

"Is the baby all right?" Amanda asked anxiously, for no particular reason than that she was now realizing there was a fragile new life inside her.  It was time to start worrying for eight months.

"The baby's great," Tom assured her.  He almost used a gender specific pronoun, but stopped himself at the last moment, "It's, uh, pretty small right now, of course.  But perfect.  You and Gerry can decide if you want to know the sex before your next visit."

"I think we'll want to be surprised," Amanda said.  "But I'll let you--I mean, I'll let the doctor know for sure.  So what should I be doing?"

"All your regular activities, for the most part," Tom said.  "I'll give you some prenatal vitamin supplements, and the doctor will probably want to see you once a month to keep tabs.  I'm sure he'll work out an
appointment schedule for you when he gets back.  The doctor has some restrictions filed under various job headings, so I'll find those for you.  Though since you're in the operations department, the restrictions should be fairly minimal."

"That's good," Amanda said.  Her hand was lightly rubbing her belly.  "I guess it would be harder if I was assigned in Engineering or some place like that."

"There would be a few more restrictions because of potential radiation exposure," Tom agreed.  "But it would be workable."

"Even for the chief engineer?"

Tom stared at her in surprise.  Amanda Lang was fairly reserved by nature, but now she was looking at him with open curiosity.  "I'm sure it could be worked out, even if it happened to the chief engineer."

"Will it?"

Her directness caught him offguard.  "I don't know."  He looked down at the scanner in his hand, and wondered what it would be like to see readings like this for the first time on a scan of B'Elanna.  The thought caused something to flutter in his stomach.  And in his heart.  He shrugged lightly.  "Maybe one day it will."

"I'm sorry, Tom."  Amanda's expression was apologetic when he looked up at her.  "I didn't mean to pry.  That's not like me.  It must be the pregnancy."

Tom gave her a teasing grin.  "How come women get to use pregnancy as an excuse to say and do anything, just because their hormones are 'out of whack?'  We men don't get that luxury."

Amanda smiled back.  "We have to get some advantages, in-between the morning sickness and the swollen ankles.  I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable though.  I'm just so happy that I guess I was projecting my own feelings."

"It's okay." Tom touched a spot on the scanner display to send the bioscan to Amanda's patient file.  "I guess we just haven't gotten there yet."

Amanda seemed to understand.  She nodded.  "I know what you mean.  Gerry and I have only been together for a year, but we felt it was the right time.  Maybe it's because there are more children aboard Voyager now.  Or maybe because you just know when you're ready, no matter how long it takes you to get there."  She smiled sheepishly.  "I'm probably not making much sense."

"You are," Tom said softly.  Amanda's hand was resting on her abdomen possessively now, though she probably didn't even realize it.  He had a sudden image of B'Elanna's hand resting like that on her own flat stomach, protecting a tiny new life they'd made together.  Of his hand resting there.  It was disconcerting.

"So, can I go back to work now?" Amanda asked.

"Uh, yes."  The file download was complete so Tom shut off the scanner.  "We're done here for right now.  I'll send the list of restrictions to your quarters, and the prenatal vitamin supplements, as soon as I replicate them.  I can give you something for the nausea too, if you need it."

"It's not the bad right now.  If it gets worse I'll let you know."  Amanda sat up and slid off the biobed just a bit carefully.  "I have some work to finish.  Then I have to plan a nice romantic dinner tonight."

Tom chuckled.  "Just make sure Gerry's sitting down when you tell him.  He's a little excitable."

Amanda beamed in anticipation.  "He will be excited.  How do you think Captain Janeway will feel?"

Tom heard the slight hesitation in her voice.  "She'll be thrilled for you, Amanda.  Really."

Amanda smiled again, reassured.  "I guess I'll have to make an appointment with her so I can tell her."

"The captain's in the mess hall at ten-thirty every morning for her mid- morning break and cup of coffee," Tom told her.  Unless Voyager was in a crisis situation, which happily wasn't the case right now.  "Arrange to take your break then, and tell her there."

Amanda nodded.  "Okay, I will.  Thanks, Tom.  For everything."  She surprised him by giving him a quick hug.

"You're welcome," he replied easily, as she moved quickly toward the door.  Then she stopped and turned around, with an odd stunned look on her face.

Tom looked at her, concerned.  "Is something wrong?"

Amanda seemed to suddenly remember his presence, and she shook her head slowly.  "No.  I just realized that in the space of a few minutes, everything in my life has changed.  Forever."  She smiled slowly.  "But it's very right.  See you later, Tom."

Amanda left Sickbay, leaving Tom staring thoughtfully after her.

DAY THIRTY-ONE:  "Welcome home."

It wasn't like he was counting the minutes.  Or monitoring
communications, waiting to breathe a sigh of relief when the doctor's program made it through the data stream, across some thirty thousand light years of space, and was back safe and intact on Voyager.  And it wasn't like he'd been pacing impatiently since the doctor had indeed arrived, safely, twenty-six minutes ago.

Even as Tom was wondering how much longer he'd have to wait, the doctor burst into main Sickbay.  He stopped in the middle of the room and surveyed the place with a wide, self-satisfied smile, like he was surveying his kingdom.

"Good to be back, Doc?" Tom asked dryly.

"Actually I almost decided to stay on in the Alpha quadrant," the doctor said.  Then he smirked as Tom's jaw dropped.  "Just kidding, Mister Paris.  Just kidding."

"Very funny, Doc," Tom muttered.

"So how were things here?" the doctor asked.  His gaze moved over the biobeds with a critical eye, and he swept a finger along the main counter.  "Very tidy.  Apparently nothing too exciting happened while I was gone."

"Nothing too exciting," Tom agreed.  "So, did everything work out for Doctor Zimmerman?"

"Yes." The doctor's smile was just a little smug.  "After a great deal of exhaustive research and effort, I managed find the cure."

"That's great, Doc.  I'm sure Doctor Zimmerman was grateful."

"Umm, yes, he was."

Tom heard some sort of undertone in the doctor's voice.  He'd tried once or twice to imagine a meeting between the doctor and his creator, on whose personality he'd apparently been modeled.  The Clash of the Giant Egos.  It might make good holovid material.  But the doctor had obviously survived, even thrived.  "Well, I'm glad it was a successful trip."

"Indeed it was," the doctor said, obviously pleased.  "I gave the captain a brief recap of my trip, though I will be filing a complete report of my thirty-one days in the Alpha quadrant.  It's too bad I didn't get beyond the Jupiter station.  Have you ever been to the Jupiter station, Mister Paris?"

"Once," Tom said.  When he'd been a cadet.  A lifetime ago.  Or maybe two.  "It's been a long time."

"It's quite an advanced facility," the doctor said.  "There is a new research wing you probably didn't see.  I was impressed, though I spent most of my time in the medical labs, and with Doctor Zimmerman and Mister Barclay.  But I did manage to take some pictures."

"I don't doubt that," Tom replied to the doctor's complacent tone.  He knew where this was going.

"I plan to schedule a slide show in the next day or two, so everyone can see the facility.  Not to mention my creator, Doctor Zimmerman, and Mister Barclay."

"I'm sure everyone will look forward to it, Doc."  For a change, Tom meant that.  Usually the doctor's slide shows were reason enough for most of the crew to volunteer for double shifts, or to set up minor sabotage in some system or another so they could be called away at the critical moment.  B'Elanna had pulled that one once, leaving Tom sitting alone enduring two hours of slides from some ice-locked planet Voyager had visited briefly.  But the crew would certainly turn out to see something of home again, not to mention the man who'd made the
Pathfinder project successful and had facilitated this monthly contact with the Alpha quadrant.

"I do know that the crew gave up something to let me go to the Alpha quadrant to cure my creator, and I feel like I should give something back."

Tom heard the open sincerity in the doctor's tone.  "You'll have a full house, just to get a look at Reginald Barclay."

The doctor nodded.  "He is quite a complex and fascinating individual.  Not as complex and fascinating as Doctor Zimmerman, of course.  Though Mister Barclay is certainly cleverer than he looks."

Tom cleared his throat to avoid smiling at that.  "It must have been an experience meeting him, Doc.  Both of them."

"Yes, it was," the doctor agreed readily.  "It was quite an amazing experience all around.  Especially being so close to Earth, even though I didn't have the opportunity to go there.  My lab work and dealing with-- caring for Doctor Zimmerman both took up all of my time, in any case.  The month went by very quickly."

"It did here too," Tom said, a little surprised that it was true.  "But I'm more than happy to hand Sickbay back over to you, believe me."

"Anxious to leave, Mister Paris?" the doctor asked dryly.

"No, of course not," Tom lied transparently.  "But I do have an afternoon shift on the bridge."  After he met Harry for lunch.  Then he was meeting B'Elanna for dinner, and not a late one.  In-between, he'd feel Voyager under his hands again, responding to his every touch.  And he'd have that view.

"Try not to look so downtrodden about it," the doctor said dryly, interrupting Tom's musings.  He looked around fondly again as he walked toward his office.  "I missed this place.  Much as I did enjoy my visit to Jupiter station, and the chance to meet my creator, this is where I belong."

"I know the feeling," Tom said, following him.

The doctor looked at Tom inquisitively.  "You do?"

"I missed being at the helm while you were gone," Tom said.  He'd managed a few short shifts a week, but even a day passing without the chance to fly seemed like an eternity.  That was where he belonged.  "Don't take this the wrong way, but I hope you never leave for a month again."

"I understand, Mister Paris," the doctor said.  He walked around his desk and clicked on the monitor.  "Though it is unfortunate, because you have the makings of a fine doctor."

Tom's mouth dropped open.  The doctor looked up, and his lips twitched in dry amusement.  "Don't look so flabbergasted, Mister Paris.  Do you really think I would have wasted nearly three years of my time on you if you couldn't do the job and then some?  There are a hundred and forty- seven other crewmembers on this ship.  If any of them were more suited to the job than you are, believe me they'd be standing here in front of me right now."

Tom regained his powers of speech, though what came out wasn't much more than a stammer.  "Uh, thanks, Doc."  He couldn't help feeling a little astonished.  And pretty darned good.

"Changing your mind and thinking I should go away again?" The doctor asked, with a touch of facetiousness.

Tom shook his head.  "Oh, no.  You can stay right here for awhile.  At least until Harry finally figures out how to back your program up, with all your quirks attached.  And I mean 'quirks' affectionately of course."

"Of course," the doctor said sardonically.  He looked thoughtful for a moment.  "I think I enjoy my uniqueness, being the product of my..." he gave Tom a sharp look, "quirks and experiences."  He smiled proudly.  "I have to admit, I'm rather gratified that I'm not reproducible."

"Well, you're definitely one of a kind, if that's what you're getting at, Doctor."

The doctor's eyebrows rose at the amusement in Tom's voice.  "What's that old Earth saying, Mister Paris?  'Takes one to know one?'."

Tom grinned.  "Thanks, Doc.  I'll take that as a compliment.  Can I go now?"

"Not so fast, Mister Paris," the doctor said.  "Is there anything I need to know?  Any major emergencies while I was gone?"

"There was a plasma explosion in Engineering that resulted in some serious burns," Tom said, sobering a little.  "But everyone is fine now.  And a few new notations in the patient files you might be interested in.  The medical logs are completely updated, right up to 1000 hours this morning."

"Completely updated?" The doctor echoed.  "I'm impressed.  I suppose there's no need for you to delay here then.  I'll review the medical logs, and if I have any questions I'll let you know."

Tom nodded, a little surprised the doctor was actually going to let him leave so quickly.  "Sure thing, Doc."

The doctor clasped his hands together.  "In the meantime, Seven should be here any minute to restore my program enhancements."

Ah, that explained it.  "I'm sure that was a hardship for you, Doc," Tom said sympathetically.  "Not being able to sing, dance, paint, write poetry..."  Doctor Zimmerman and Reg Barclay didn't know what they'd been spared.

"It was," the doctor agreed fervently, not noticing the slight edge of sarcasm in Tom's voice.  "I'm not just a doctor anymore.  All those abilities and interests I've explored are part of my personality matrix now.  Without them, I didn't feel like...me."

Tom nodded.  He supposed he could understand that.  "But it was worth it."

"Yes, it was."  The doctor looked almost sentimental for a moment, then he waved his hand.  "Go, Mister Paris.  Get out of my Sickbay.  I'm sure you're eager to find something else to do."

"I'm gone," Tom said agreeably.  "See ya, Doc."

He didn't quite make it to the door when the doctor called his name.


His first name was not a form of address the doctor used very often.  Tom turned around.

The doctor was standing in his office doorway, with an openly earnest look on his face.  "Thank you."

"You're welcome, Doc," Tom replied, with equal sincerity.  "But, as you said, you have a lot more people than me to thank."  Every one on the crew who'd given up not only their chance to send return letters thirty- one days ago so the doctor could go through the data stream, but to get letters from home today so the doctor could return to Voyager.

The doctor nodded in acknowledgement.  "By the way, the deadline for the datastream transmission back to the Alpha quadrant is 0100 hours," he said.  "I hope you will be sending a letter home, Mister Paris."

B'Elanna had already dictated a brief letter to her mother, one she'd agonized about, and had read over and over to Tom, until he'd finally been able to convince her that it was perfect.  And he had a letter to send too.  It had been filed in his personal database for a year and a half now.  It was just waiting for an addendum.  It was time his father--his family-- knew about his life on Voyager these past six years. *All* of it, the good and the bad.  Not just the moments he knew would make them proud, but about the mistakes he'd made too.  About the friends he had here, and all the people who were his second family now.  And about
B'Elanna.  About everything--and everyone--that had irrevocably changed the direction of his life.

Tom came out of his reverie and realized the doctor was staring at him, eyebrows raised high, as if he was wondering whether Tom had lapsed into a coma.  "I will be sending a letter, Doc."

"I'm glad to hear it," the doctor said, giving Tom a truly pleased look.

Tom nodded and started to leave, when he thought of something else.  He turned around once again.  "Oh, Doc, I almost forgot."  He smiled warmly.  "Welcome home."



Author's afterword:  I realize it was pretty presumptuous of me to write in a pregnancy on Voyager.  It's not likely that we'll see any of the crew pregnant or carrying babies off the ship when they (probably) return to the Alpha quadrant next season.  Heck, it's not apparent from the show that anyone actually has sex on Voyager, except for Tom and B'Elanna, and that knowledge is thanks to indirect references.  But even if we don't see it, who's to say it couldn't have happened.  So I wrote a pregnancy in just because I wanted to ;-)

As for Joe Carey's problem, it's such a dreaded word that we don't even like to say it, or write it.  But everyone who reads this story has no doubt had their own brush with cancer, with a family member, or a friend, and has gone through the pain of someone surviving it, or not surviving it. I hope no one takes Tom and Joe's nonchalant attitudes as trivializing cancer in any way.  Since Star Trek is about hope, and the realization of a better future, I wanted to impart the hope that some day in that future, even if it takes centuries, this disease that touches nearly everyone's life will no longer have that kind of power to spread so much grief.  Then it will be no more than a minor, even trivial, inconvenience.