Prior story in the Among The Bystanders series:
1) Standing Over The Sea
by Isabelle S. firstname.lastname@example.org
Captain Kathryn Janeway walked with assurance onto the bridge of the U.S.S. Voyager. It was the beginning of a new day in the Delta Quadrant. Quickly, she surveyed the room. It was bit quieter than usual. Tuvok was at the security station. Harry Kim seemed lost in his work at Ops, and Seven was occupying the engineering console. Chakotay got up from the Captain‘s chair and greeted her. As she sat down, she realized that the unusual silence was due to the absence of certain well-articulated pilot.
"Where‘s Mr. Paris?" she asked her second in command. "Shouldn‘t he be here already?"
Chakotay looked at her, first with surprise, then with sadness. She saw him pale as a solemn expression came onto his face. He gently took her hand.
"Kathryn," he murmured. "Tom is... gone. Remember?"
"Gone?" she repeated. She did not remember Tom going anywhere.
A shiver ran down her spine as she saw the distress in Chakotay‘s dark eyes. The atmosphere on the bridge was suddenly heavy. The room was even more quiet, if that could be possible.
"Kathryn," he said again on that soft tone of his. "Tom died three days ago."
Died? No, Tom could not be dead. She had seen him with B‘Elanna in the Mess Hall this very morning. Had she not?
"Why don‘t we go to your ready room?" Chakotay suggested.
She simply nodded as her voice seemed to be caught in her throat. As they walked toward her ready room, she noticed that everyone was looking anywhere but at her. Their sadness was obvious on there faces.
The doors of her ready room closed behind Chakotay and herself.
She turned to face him.
"Tom died?" she asked as if he had to prove it to her.
"Maybe I should bring you to sickbay, instead. You‘re obviously not ready to go back to work yet," Chakotay said. "This could be due to post-traumatic stress," he rationalized.
"Chakotay..." Kathryn was at lost for words. She felt fine other than she could not remember that a member of her crew had died. "Bare with me, please. What happened to Tom?"
He placed both hands on her shoulders. He breathed deeply, then hold her gaze. He did not like what he was about to say.
"Kathryn, Tom committed suicide three days go."
"Su-i-cide..." she repeated as if she had just learned a new word in a foreign language. " No. Chakotay, Tom would never do something like that. He is been through a lot, but he is a strong man. He‘s a survivor. He... he seemed fine..." her voice trailed off.
"So he seemed," Chakotay granted. "His pain was great, Kathryn. He could not live with it anymore. None of us saw it coming. None of us saw his distress."
"It was hidden behind the mask," she realized, remembering Tom‘s ability to hide behind a facade.
"More like a brave front," Chakotay commented.
"Why?" she croaked.
"I don‘t know. More I read through his personal logs, more I feel his pain and distress. But, why he chose to end his life, now? I don‘t know. Maybe you do." He looked away for a moment, before saying: "Kathryn, you were with him before he died."
She suddenly felt cold. Tears came to her itchy eyes.
"If I was with him before he died...."
Tears started to roll down her cheeks.
"Why couldn‘t I stop him?...."
"You tried," he consoled her. He took her in his embrace as deep heartbreaking sobs ran through her small body.
"Kathryn," Chakotay called softly. "Kathryn, your crying."
Kathryn Janeway opened her eyes. Her face was damp from fresh fallen hot tears. She was sitting on the floor of her ready room, her back against the couch. Chakotay was seated beside her. His akoona and her medicine bundle were displayed on the table .
"What... What‘s going on?" she asked between two sobs.
"You were in a vision quest, remember?" he replied. "You started crying. Do you want to talk about it?"
She met his gaze. She could distinguish some concern for her in his dark eyes, but there was no grief on his tattooed face as she had just seen a moment earlier.
"Tom..." she finally managed to say. "Tom is still with us, isn‘t he?"
Chakotay looked back at her questioningly. He never had seen her looking so distraught.
"Tom Paris? Sure he is. Why?" he said gently.
"Where is he?" she asked a bit challengingly.
"On the bridge." Chakotay could tell that his answer was not convincing her, so he called: "Computer, locate Ensign Tom Paris."
"Ensign Tom Paris is on the bridge," replied the cold female voice of the computer.
She closed her eyes and visibly sighed with relief. Chakotay got up and replicated some hot tea for both of them. He gave her a cup telling her that the tea would help her calm down.
"Kathryn, what upset you so much?" he asked on a soft tone.
She sipped the tea for a moment and when she felt calmed enough, she told him about her vision.
"Is this what‘s going to happened?" she asked. "Will Tom really commit suicide? I can‘t imagine him of all people doing something like that, And... and I CERTAINLY don‘t want him to die!"
Chakotay gave her a sympathetic smile to appease her distress.
"It could be a possible future, but it doesn‘t mean that it would happened. I would have never thought of Tom committing suicide either."
"But why did I see something like that?" she asked in a mix of confusion and anger. "You think that he is alright? There‘s got to be a reason why I had such a vision." She paused to take a breath. "Like we were saying in my vision, Tom always been able to hide his emotion behind an unreadable mask. Maybe he is suffering inside and we don‘t even see it."
"Or maybe it has nothing to do with Tom‘s emotions," Chakotay challenged.
"What do you mean? That I have some unresolved feelings toward Tom? It‘s obvious that our friendship is still suffering since his stay in the brig, but we have been working on it."
"I don‘t know. Have you?" Chakotay questioned. "When is the last time you had a talk with him?"
As she looked back on the past months, she had to admit that the conversations she had with Tom had been strictly professional. There had been no more talks about classic stories over a warm cup of coffee. What a pleasurable discussion that had been... It had occurred just before Tom had gone against her orders. Now, she realized that, like during the first weeks that had followed his release from the brig, that he was still avoiding her. Or, was she the one that was avoiding him?
Whatever it was, it did not felt good at that moment. Tom did not deserve a cold shoulder, and neither did she.
"You are right, Chakotay," she confessed. "It‘s been a long time since Tom and I talked about anything that was not ship business," she sighed. "I think the closer we came to something personal was when I played Queen Arachnia."
Chakotay chuckled as he remembered, not only how sexy she looked in that costume, but also how much she had enjoyed playing the part despite the situation with the photonic aliens.
"You have to admit that you had fun nonetheless," he told her.
Kathryn grinned. "I did. Maybe I should propose to him to do it again? Tom always been more at ease in his programs. Remember Sandrine‘s?"
"Looking back," Chakotay said. "Sandrine‘s was an elaborate cover up. The Tom Paris that we came to know over the years is not like the Tom Paris most of the crew met in Sandrine‘s five years ago."
"True," Kathryn agreed. "Which just proves how well Tom can play a role and not show how vulnerable he can be. I‘ll see if I can interest him in another installment of ‚The Adventures of Captain Proton‘," she decided.
Chakotay grinned at her assured tone of voice.
"I‘ll look into it also, if you don‘t mind," Chakotay suggested. "Maybe his friends have seen changes in his behavior. Surely, B‘Elanna would know if something was wrong."
"Remember that B‘Elanna has been in a depression herself, not so long ago," Kathryn pointed out. "In order not to hurt B‘Elanna, Tom may decide not to confide in her. He loves her very much."
Kathryn‘s gaze met Chakotay‘s as she suddenly thought of many awful circumstances that could drive lovers apart. Tom and B‘Elanna had a rocky relationship to say the least, but they seemed to love each other. Still, she could not help but wonder:
Was B‘Elanna returning Tom‘s feelings? If not, could it be enough to drive him to suicide? What if she was to die? Would Tom been able to cope with the lost?
"Whatever this vision is about," she finally said. "We owe it to ourselves, and to Tom, to do something. Anything that would prevent him from taking his own life."
She suddenly looked at him with a flash of recognition in her eyes.
"What is it?"
"Something Brother Tiul told me before we left the Klouani home
world. He said that I might still be able to make a difference‘"
"What did he mean?" wondered Chakotay.
"When I asked, he just told me to remember that Tom‘s empathy is what drives him. Losing that will kill him inside. You think that it‘s what happened in my vision? That it‘s why he committed suicide?"
"I don‘t know, Kathryn. I really don‘t know."
Kathryn found Tom sitting alone in a corner of the Mess Hall. The dim light was just bright enough to allow him to read the content of the data padd that he was holding in one hand. His other hand was resting on the table, his long fine fingers laced around a cup of coffee. His half-eaten meal had been pushed aside. As she came closer from behind him, she noticed sharp little movements in his shoulders and he was making soft muffled sounds.
Was he actually crying?
"Tom?" she whispered. "Are you alright?"
He almost jumped out of his seat, then turned to face her. She first saw his shining wet blue eyes. His surprised expression got momentarily replaced by a grin.
"Captain, don‘t do this to people when they are reading a good novel. You scared me half to death!"
She smiled a bit embarrassed.
"I‘m really sorry, Tom," she apologized. "It‘s just that for a moment I thought... I though that you were crying."
He flashed her another grin.
"No. I assure you, I‘m not crying," he replied. "In fact, I‘m trying very hard not to laugh too loud." He showed her the padd. "This novel is so funny. I have read it about a thousand times already. It is like the first time every time!"
She took the padd and realized to her dismay that the text was in French.
"Daniel Penac was a 20th century novelist. I think he was a French teacher too. He wrote mainly police intrigues. He wrote an entire collection about Benjamin Melausene, scapegoat of profession, and big brother of his eclectic family. I love Penac‘s style. His writing is a mix of very good French and French argo."
"It sound very interesting," she said not immune to his enthusiasm. "Unfortunately, I don‘t read French. Do you know if there is a translation?"
"There must be. I haven‘t looked. I always try to read novels in their original language. Many details are lost in translations and some can be important."
"Do you read other languages than French and English?" she asked suddenly interested in this new insight about this man who kept surprising her by the diversity of his knowledge.
"Oh, ten or eleven . Reading is often the easy part," he replied a little too vaguely for his captain‘s tastes. "I don‘t necessarily speak them, however."
"Ten or eleven languages," she repeated quite impressed. "Like what?"
"They are mainly from Earth: Latin, Italian, Spanish, German, Celt, Greek, French and English of course. But there‘s also Sandorian, Vulcan, and Klingon."
"Very rich cultures," Kathryn commented.
"Yeah," Tom agreed. "How about you, Captain? Speak other languages?"
"A bit of Latin and the American Sign Language," she answered.
"I know that one too. We probably took the same courses back at the Academy," Tom pointed out. "Ah, well," he dismissed. "Was there something I could do for you? Or, did you just come by because you thought that I was crying?"
"Frankly, I was feeling a little bored and was looking for something fun to do. I have some holodeck time reserved and I was wondering if you would be interested in another installment of Captain Proton and Queen Arachnia."
He looked twice at her. Obviously, he had not expected that one.
He smiled a little sadly.
"I‘m afraid that it‘s impossible. I erased the program."
"Why? It was a good program."
"I got tired of it," he simply said.
Seeing that there would be no point in trying to make him talk about it, she asked: "Can I interest you in another program?"
"I‘m flattered, Captain," he told her sincerely. "But, B‘Elanna should join me in about an hour or so and I really would like to finish my book. Maybe some other time?"
"I would like that," she said.
"Maybe I could interest you in a good book? It always cheers me up when I‘m bored or feeling down."
"Were you feeling down?" she asked, not losing the opportunity to probe into his feelings.
"Bored," he emphasized. "B‘Elanna found herself a new project down in engineering and she didn‘t need my help," he finished with sweet puppy face that made Kathryn chuckled despite herself.
"Sorry to hear that," she sympathized. I‘ll look up that book, even if I have to read the translation. Have a good evening, Tom."
"You too, Captain."
"Now, that felt good! "B‘Elanna Torres said as she stepped down from the boxing ring, followed by Chakotay. "Although, something tells me that whatever was on your mind before the match, is still there."
"That‘s very perceptive of you," her companion grinned.
"What‘s on your mind, Chakotay?"
They both sat on a nearby bench. Chakotay gave B‘Elanna a towel and a water bottle. He took a few mouthfuls from his own.
"It‘s like told you earlier. It had been a while since we did something together other than work. The fact is: I‘m wondering how you‘re doing," he told her. "How are you really doing?"
"I‘m fine. I am really fine. Why?" she asked, tossing him a suspiciously glare that he met with a side way look.
"Your life seems to be back on track," he said. "I‘m just wondering how you‘re doing. How are you feeling? How‘s work? How‘s your relationship with Tom going?"
"That‘s a lot of questions," she replied in a childish tone. She took a deep calming breath as she pondered how she was going to answer Chakotay‘s questions.
"Work‘s fine. We‘re keeping up with maintenance and various repairs. There‘s not much to say. As for Tom and I, were fine too, I guess."
"You don‘t sound convinced," Chakotay pointed out.
"I don‘t know," she sighed. "Tom loves me. I know he really does.
I love him too more than I can say. But... The passion is gone.
It‘s been gone for a long time."
She stayed silent for a moment. As if by admitting what was lost, it felt more real.
"I suppose that it was bound to happen. The worst is, it‘s my own fault. I‘ve been pushing Tom away for months. Now that I want more, Tom doesn‘t seem too. He seems content with the little I‘ve been giving him."
Chakotay cleared his throat, a bit hesitant to ask his next question.
"You think he is faithful you?"
B‘Elanna looked at him appalled.
"Of course he is faithful to me!" she retorted. "He has always been faithful to me. How dare you question Tom‘s fidelity?!"
Chakotay did not reply. He just looked ashamed, which made her realized that he was not implying that Tom had a relationship with another woman. Just that he was concerned about something. Looking for clues.
"You know as well as do that Tom is faithful to me and that I am to him," she told him meeting his guilty gaze. "What his this all about, Chakotay?"
Her friend breathed deeply.
"It‘s just that the Captain and I found that something was amiss with Tom and that maybe you would have clues about what it is."
"So this is not about me," she said. "It‘s about Tom."
"And you," Chakotay added. "You‘re both my friends, B‘Elanna. I care about you. How did Tom seem to you the last few weeks?"
"Frankly, I haven‘t notice anything particularly wrong with him.
What makes you think something is wrong?"
"He seems more quiet, even maybe a bit withdrawn. He looks as if he has lost some weight and is tired."
B‘Elanna‘s gaze now met Chakotay‘s concerned one.
"Quiet.... maybe?" she conceded. "Although, it‘s hard not to be when you pass all your spare time reading books. Sometimes, he reads until two or three in the morning. He does look tired after a while. But, withdrawn? No. Not around me anyway."
"You don‘t think that he lost weight?" Chakotay asked.
"He might have lost some weight," she agreed. "But, it‘s no big deal. Tom‘s weight always been like a yo-yo. He is so picky on food that he often prefers a skipping meal than trying Neelix‘s strange concoctions. Harry, Megan, Jenny, and I know what he is not going to like, so we buy him dinner or something." She paused, reflecting on what she had said. "Chakotay, I think that you‘re worrying for nothing. Although, it‘s kind of you to be concerned about Tom and I. Thanks."
"You‘re welcome," he said returning her smile. "Just remember that I‘m here for both of you if you need me."
The lights were dimmed in Kathryn Janeway‘s quarters as she and Chakotay shared a friendly candle dinner together. Soft music was playing in the background. It felt somewhat romantic. But mostly, it was relaxing since Kathryn would never allow it to be more, at least not as long as she was captain in the Delta Quadrant. Trying to bring Voyager home and looking after the well-being of her crew would always be her priorities. It was a choice that left her lonely at times, but she didn‘t regret it.
"You want more wine?" asked Chakotay.
"No, thank you. I‘m ready for coffee, actually."
"You‘re always ready for coffee," he teased her.
"True," she replied with a grin. She stood up and walked to the replicator. She ordered two strawberry cheesecakes and coffee that she brought back to the table. They ate in silence for a moment, appreciating those little guilty pleasures.
"So, how did your meeting will B‘Elanna go?" she finally asked.
"She beat me at my own game," he said in a complaining tone.
"Wasn‘t that expected?" Kathryn chuckled.
"No. Anyway, she says that she‘s doing fine, that work‘s fine, and that her relationship with Tom‘s fine."
"Well, I guess she‘s fine." Kathryn commented.
"Almost," Chakotay agreed. "She also told me that her relationship with Tom had lost its passion. It really seemed to sadden her. She rationalized away quite easily the observations that we made about Tom."
"How does she explained that Tom seems to have lost weight, that he is more quiet and withdrawn, and that he looks tired?"
"Apparently, Tom doesn‘t seem withdrawn around her. She says his weight is like a yo-yo. It depends on what Neelix is serving most of the time. He apparently passes all of his free time reading. As she put it: ‚it‘s easy o be quiet when you‘re reading‘. She explained his tiredness by the fact that he often reads until two or three in the morning."
"Tom does read a lot," Kathryn confirmed. "Did you know that he could read in eleven languages?"
Chakotay looked at her incredulously. "I had no idea."
"I just found out myself last night when I proposed my rematch between Captain Proton and Queen Arachnia," Kathryn said.
"So, how did that go?"
"It didn‘t. He erased the program. He said that he got tired of it."
"That‘s not like Tom," Chakotay observed.
"Tom can be very impulsive at times," she pointed out. "One of his programs got involved in a possibly deadly incident, I got involved, and our relationship being what it has been since the last few months were all contributing factors. More I think about it, less I‘m surprised."
"I see your point," Chakotay acknowledged.
She sat back in her chair and took a sip of coffee pensively.
"When I asked him if I could interest him in something else, he preferred the company of his book." She sighed. "I checked in the computer. He hasn‘t called up any of his programs since. If he has been to the holodeck at all, it was with somebody else, and he was not the one requesting the program."
"He was embarrassed about the situation with the photonic aliens, maybe he just needs time. If Tom likes reading that much, maybe it‘s enough to entertain him. He might not need to use the holodeck at the moment."
"Tom has always been hiding in the holodeck," Kathryn argued.
"Obviously, he is not hiding there anymore. What we could see, could be the real Tom Paris."
"‘Tom is like an open book,‘ Brother Tiul told me back on the Klouani home world. ‚Look attentively. He will reveal all his Secrets before your eyes without even knowing it.‘ Do you think that we could be looking too hard and seeing things that aren‘t there?"
"We certainly could be interpreting things the wrong way," he said. "I would have asked Tom directly if, for a minute, I would think he would give me a straight answer."
"I know what you mean. So what do we do about it?"
"Beside those little odd things, Tom seems fine. My own vision quest hasn‘t revealed anything particular about it to me. I suggest we give it more time. Time to learn how to read Tom Paris."
"Time for me to work on regaining Tom‘s friendship," Kathryn added.
"I don‘t think that you ever lost it. Getting back in each other‘s good grace, could be easier than you think."
She smile. "We‘ll just have to keep on reading Tom Paris. We might learn very interesting things."
"It‘s still hard to believe that he can read eleven languages."
"Oh, I believe it." Kathryn stated. "His family wanted him to become an admiral after all."
"And fate had other plans in mind. Let‘s hope it‘s for the better."
"Let‘s hope that it will be enough to make the difference Brother Tiul was talking about," she wished.
"Only the future will tell."
Yes, it ends like this. For now.
Next part:Searching For What Is Lost
Thanks for reading this little piece.
Feedback is always very appreciated.
Isabelle S.- Synbou@hotmail.com
Copyrights @ April 1999.