Prior story in the Among The Bystanders series:
1) Standing Over The Sea
2) Looking Down
3) Searching For What Is Lost
Finding Only Pieces
by Isabelle S. Synbou@hotmail.com
It was insomnia that had brought Kathryn Janeway to the Mess Hall at 0320 hours. Despite her best effort, she had not been able to find peace of mind since the accident on the Frelian Planet three days earlier. Her fears of finally dreaming of Tom‘s fatal fall was terrorizing her. So, she had avoided sleep as much as sleep had eluded her. But, she knew that this little game would have to end soon before her body, or her mind, gave up.
"They say that warm milk with a touch of honey does wonders to cure insomnia," came a soft and friendly male voice that she knew well. "It‘s actually in one of my medical texts somewhere. Or was it in a cook book?"
Kathryn looked away from the window to see Tom Paris delicately put two bowls of warm milk in front of her. She smiled at the kind gesture. She remembered her mother saying something similar and her smile widen.
"How about we test this old-fashioned cure together?" he proposed.
"It would be my pleasure, Tom. Thank you. So, I gather that you can‘t sleep either."
He simply shrugged as he brought the warm liquid to his lips.
"Something on your mind?" she asked, seizing the opportunity to hopefully have a heart to heart with a friend whose well being had been a constant concern of hers for the last few weeks.
"Nothing out of the usual," he replied vaguely. "You?"
"You," she said quietly, meeting his gaze. Confusion clouded his red-rim blue eyes. "You‘ve been on my mind. You seemed rather shaken after what happened on Frelia."
His gaze flew to the window. He took another sip of milk. Kathryn saw his muscles tense despite the calming effects of the warm liquid. She felt somewhat ashamed for causing him discomfort, especially when she knew that he had come here to relax. But, the issue had to be discussed and she might never have a better opportunity. Tom rested his bowl on the table and brought a hand to his left temple. He sighed.
"I‘ve seen too many scenes like that one," he finally said sadly.
"It‘s never easy to see people or kids being coldly shot at in the streets," she sympathized.
"Scenes of people standing there in the crowd doing nothing..." His voice was a shadow of his usually strength, but it was not hiding his anger.
Tom was angry. He was not dead inside as she had feared, even as irrational as it sounded.
"...Hiding among the bystanders and watching," he went on. "Not being smart enough to understand that there‘s an emergency. Avoiding responsibility..." His sentence trailed off as a ghost of a memory passed over his now dark blue eyes. The sparkle that had once resided there was gone. Extinguished.
"There was nothing we could do, Tom," Kathryn tried to reason.
"We offered help, and it wasn‘t wanted."
"The almighty Prime Directive had to be respected, I know," he said bitterly. "It doesn‘t make me sleep better at nights... Nor you." He finally added, looking directly into her grey eyes.
A shiver went up Kathryn‘s spine as Tom hold up her gaze. She suddenly feared that he could see right through her. It lasted the instant of a second. A chilling second where she had felt as if someone had just walked over her grave.
Supported by an elbow on a table, Tom‘s was still resting head in his left hand. His gaze was lost in his bowl of milk.
He looked back up at her.
"If you don‘t mind me saying so, Captain, you seem like you haven‘t had a good night of sleep in weeks," he stated politely "Try to get some rest. Otherwise, you won‘t be able to get rid of this recurring headache of yours."
How did he knew she had a headache? A headache in her left temple... He went on, unaware of her confusion.
"It‘s sad, but you‘re right. We can‘t change the world if the world doesn‘t want to be changed. No wonder we turned out to be such good bystanders."
"You really think we‘re that bad?" Kathryn asked.
"Maybe not necessarily by choice. I don‘t." He took one last sip of milk. He shrugged. "It doesn‘t really matter, anyway."
"It matters, Tom," she disagreed. "Because being a bystander isn‘t what you want to be."
He gave her a timid smile. "There‘s not much we can do about it.
We better go back to bed and sleep."
"Tomorrow will be another day," she said more cheerfully.
"Right. Good night," he said rising up.
"Good night, Tom."
As she looked at him leave the Mess Hall, her heart ached to see him over-powered by so much helplessness.
"You‘re sure that you‘ll be all right?" Chakotay asked Kathryn, reluctant to leave her alone.
It was almost 0430 hours, when Kathryn was woken up by another nightmare. It was a curse that was still plaguing her every two or three nights. Chakotay had made himself available for her each time that she had needed someone to talk to about them. It was the only thing he could do.
After her conversation with Tom in the Mess Hall two weeks earlier, Kathryn had made Chakotay promise that he would not breath a word of this to Tom. It was an issue that she would deal with the younger man when she felt that he would be ready. For the moment, he was still too vulnerable, already feeling too helpless. Chakotay was forced to agree. They feared that if Tom was to learn that he had been the source of Kathryn‘s distress for all those weeks that it would literally send him over the edge.
If they only knew the real underlying reason for Tom‘s distraught behavior? What had he seen prior to the Frelian incident that had made things spill over? Was it really a matter of empathy? How much could Tom feel other‘s pain and distress?
"For the third time, Chakotay: *yes, I‘m sure that I‘ll be all right," Kathryn replied with a grin. "I‘m all better. Thank you."
They both stood up from Kathryn‘s couch and walked to the door which opened behind him.
"You call me if you need anything," he insisted.
"I will. See you on the bridge later," Kathryn told him.
As Chakotay turned on his heels to leave, he almost ran into Tom Paris, dressed in a loose pair of slacks and a T-shirt.
Red-rimmed blue eyes looked up to them with surprise and a bit Of confusion as if he had just been awaken. He then smiled, Visibly embarrassed, as he seized up his two commanding officers standing in the entrance of the Captain‘s quarters, both dressed for the night. His smile widened as he put two and two together and came up with five. He brought a finger to his lips and kept on his way without saying a word.
Kathryn and Chakotay did noticed however the sideways look he gave them before shrugging the entire thing away. They stood there for an instant, wondering if Tom had really ran into them, before Kathryn pulled Chakotay back into her quarters.
"Have you taken a good look at him?" she asked. "He looks awful!"
Chakotay simply nodded.
"What was he doing here so early, anyway?" she wondered.
"I don‘t know, Kathryn," he replied. "Although, something tells me that no one will hear of this."
"Frankly, it would actually reassure me if he would start a rumor about this," she confessed.
Kathryn Janeway took a second glance at the food Neelix was serving for lunch. She seemed a bit suspect, but edible. The Talaxian cook would always amaze her by the diversity of his colorful creations. She had to admit that she had gotten used to it. That was what a home cooked meal tasted like now. But, it would never beat her mother‘s cooking.
At Tuvok‘s invitation, she sat down at his table by the window. They exchanged a few words, then she went back at contemplating the content of her plate. Her Vulcan fiend had never been much interested in small talk. Right now, that was just fine by Kathryn. She was not in the mood. They were too many things that the Captain of the U.S.S. Voyager had to be preoccupied with.
She suddenly turned her head at the sound of laughter. Tom Paris‘ laughter. He and Torres had just walked in, making their way to the counter. Kathryn unconsciously smiled. She could tell, by the facial expressions of the other crew members present, that she was not the only one pleased. It was a sound they had not heard ever since the Frelian incident.
"Let me hear that again," B‘Elanna asked him joyfully.
"Oh no, that was just for you to hear," Tom replied teasingly.
"Tom, let me hear that again, please."
Kathryn found herself jealous that Tom would reserve his soft laughter for the joy of B‘Elanna only. She wished that she could hear Tom laugh again as well. It had been too long. Way too long.
"B‘Elanna, I can‘t. We‘re in public," Tom said. "I don‘t want to add this to my already long list of felonies."
B‘Elanna smirked. "Tom, signing in public is hardly a crime."
"It is on Harvest IV, Cideru, and Kohorsa," he argued.
"It is? Well, it‘s not on Voyager. We could ask Tuvok. He‘s over there."
Tom looked around the room. He seemed embarrassed. His smiled had disappeared. Obviously, the little game he and B‘Elanna had been playing was not amusing him anymore. Nor did it do to B‘Elanna, whose expression had sifted from joy to chagrin. A sentiment that was now shared by everyone in the Mess Hall.
Tom carefully chose a few sandwiches from the buffet, served himself a cup of coffee—Kathryn felt somewhat shameful to refer to it as coffee, but she did not had a better name for it -- then Tom made his way toward a table. Was he only going to eat that little? No wonder he was losing weight, she told herself.
Kathryn‘s gaze met with B‘Elanna‘s. The younger woman sighed with dismay. Kathryn returned an encouraging smile. She would have to have another conversation with Tom soon, she told herself. In the last few weeks, the two of them had rebuilt the foundation of their friendship. Tom just was not very talkative when it came to the Frelian incident, or the effects it had on him. Kathryn knew now that Tom had nightmares of his own. B‘Elanna had told Chakotay and herself that very morning. Unfortunately, she couldn‘t say what they were about.
Kathryn, on her part, had dreamed of Tom‘s death eight times since the incident. Each time, it had been different. But, it always started moments following Tom‘s fatal fall and ended before she could see his body at the bottom. It was stressful and frustrating, but she had come to take comfort in that fact. It reassured her somewhat to never see the end and to never see him jump. It told her that it was not too late.
Later that afternoon, after being summoned by Seven of Nine, Janeway walked into the Astrometrics Lab. Chakotay, Tuvok, Torres and Seven, of course, were waiting for her. She nodded her greeting.
"Report," she said, looking at the Commander.
"Seven detected a large deposit of dilithium on the fifth planet," Chakotay explained.
"With such a deposit, we could make a reserve that would last us almost five years," B‘Elanna commented enthusiastically.
"The planet also contains other minerals that could be transformed in various metals and materials," added Chakotay. "The vegetation seems to be rich as well. There‘s a good chance that we could refill our food reserves."
"Sounds like it‘s our lucky day," Janeway told them, visibly pleased.
"There is a problem," said Seven. "The planet‘s atmosphere is sporadically disturbed by ion storms. It will interfere with transporters and could make shuttle flight hazardous."
"You said sporadically," Janeway pointed out. "I guess timing will be everything. Other hazards we should be aware of?"
"There is none that I could identify," Tuvok replied. "However, caution is advised."
"Good," Janeway acknowledge. "What‘s our ETA?"
"Three hours at warp six," Chakotay informed her.
"We‘ll reconvene at that time with away team status," the Captain concluded. "Dismissed."
She exited the Lab, Chakotay by her side. They exchanged a Sideways look, both dreading the subject matter at hand. They walked in silence toward the turbolift. Once inside, they voiced at once:
"What about Tom?"
"Hold turbolift," Janeway ordered the computer. She sighed. "We talked about this before, Chakotay. I can‘t keep him off away mission forever, especially in circumstances like these. Tom is still our best pilot. He has not participated on the last three away missions. If this continues, we‘ll be sending the wrong message. The last thing we want is that Tom, or the rest of the crew, believe that we lost our faith in him."
"I‘m well aware of that," stated the Commander. "I suggest that we include him. But, if he doesn‘t want to go, don‘t force him."
"I don‘t like it Chakotay," Kathryn told him nervously. "I have this feeling in the pit of my stomach that a catastrophe is about to happen. That this mission is going to be it."
"So you said the last time," he reminded her. "Kathryn, if you keep on anticipating the worst, it will happen." He gave her a reassuring smile. "Like you said: we can‘t keep Tom away from away missions nor can he avoid them forever either. How about I make sure that I send him in areas away from cliffs and seas. Would that work?"
"That would work," she said returning his grin. "Resume turbolift.
Captain Janeway walked into sickbay to find Ensign Tom Paris and
Lieutenant Susan Nicoletti sitting side by side on a biobed. They
were talking softly. Paris‘ gaze flew in her direction. He nodded
to her, then his attention went back to Nicoletti. His expression
was solemn, reflecting his empathy and compassion
"I better go," the engineer said trying to hide her tears.
"The Captain can wait in the Doctor‘s office or she can come back later," he said loud enough for Janeway to hear.
It was Janeway‘s turn to nod as she made her way to the CMO‘s office. Once inside, she sat in front of the Doctor‘s desk. She did not want to pry, but she could not help giving furtive looks towards the two officers.
Tom was attentively listening as Susan was talking. He was giving her support as she was crying. Janeway could not hear their conversation, nor did she wanted to, but she slowly saw Susan‘s sadness being replaced by a grin. Whatever Tom was telling her was successfully cheering her up. Tom had good people skills. It was his strength as a medical assistant. Approximately ten minutes after Janeway‘s arrival, Tom and Susan stood up.
"I wish the Captain hadn‘t seen me like this," Susan confessed as they walked toward the exit.
"Don‘t worry, Sue," he told her. "Even captains cry from time to time."
A moment later, Paris finally joined Janeway.
"Sorry for keeping you waiting, Captain," he said coming to sat behind the desk.
"It‘s quite all right. I‘m not here for a medical reason."
"Captain, if it‘s about this morning..."
She held up her hand and interrupting him. "I know that if something was going on between the Commander and I, which is not the case, that you wouldn‘t say a word about it."
He blushed. "It‘s none of my business. What brings you here?"
"To tell you the truth, Tom, you did. You didn‘t look well this morning."
"Looks can be deceiving," he pointed out. "I assure you, I‘m fine. What about you? With all due respect Captain, You didn‘t listen to me when I told you to get some rest. You still seem like you hadn‘t slept for weeks."
He hold on her gaze. Again, she felt ill at ease. What could Tom see behind the facade of her gray eyes?
"As a member of your medical staff," he continued. "It worries me. Is there something the Doctor or I could do?"
He was avoiding her question once more. He was very skilled at that. It reminded her of their first year on Voyager. Tom might no longer be as arrogant as he had been back then, but he was still as enigmatic. Protecting his true self from others had became for Tom a matter of survival. It sadden her.
"Like you said, looks can be deceiving," she replied with a grin.
"Obviously," he grinned back. "As for the examination..."
"It will have to wait, Mr. Paris," she stated. "I have an away mission to prepare. Seven found a planet with a huge deposit of dilithium that made the B‘Elanna very happy hand possible food supplies that would delight Neelix. We‘re expecting severe ion storms in the planet‘s atmosphere. Your services as Voyager‘s best pilot will be required."
He returned her smiled.
"Our ETA is in less than three hours," she informed him. "I expect you and the Doctor to be ready on your end."
The senior staff walked on the bridge from the conference room. Torres made her way to engineering, while Seven of Nine left for the Astrometrics Lab. The final details concerning the away mission had been taken care off. Three away teams were ready to go planet-side as soon as it was determined that they could beam and fly down safely.
"Any problems?" Tom Paris asked Pablo Baytart.
"The ion currents are making it hard to keep a stabile orbit," the pilot answered vacating his seat. "It‘s like the controls are sluggish."
"Noted. Thanks," said Paris.
He made a few readjustments to the ship‘s inclination. He thoroughly analyzed his sensory readouts. The atmosphere was extremely volatile. Ion storms were braking out with little warning. Such storms could dangerously interfere with Voyager‘s system. It was forcing the helm officer to realign the ship position constantly. As Chief Pilot, Paris had to make a recommendation.
"Captain," he called, looking away from his station just long enough to make eye contact with her. "Voyager won‘t be able to maintain this orbit very long. I suggest that we move to a higher position."
"Very well, Mr. Paris," Janeway acknowledged. "Move us up"
"It won‘t be safe to use the transporters," said Chakotay. "We should only use them in case of emergency."
"Agreed, Commander," said Janeway. "Mr. Kim, see if you can enhance the transporters‘ efficiency to work in such an atmosphere. If we run into trouble, I don‘t want to be stranded.
"Aye, Captain." Kim replied.
The following three days had been delightful. The away teams had settled down by the edge of a dense green forest where they were protected from the ion storms. There, they had installed a base camp for the duration of their stay from where they had an easy access to dilithium deposits, water, and food reserves.
For Captain Janeway, seeing her crew relax and enjoy themselves was a blessing. Extracting the dilithium and gathering other valuable supplies were hard work, but the favorable conditions were making it so much more pleasant. For the first time, since their memorable stay at the Klouani Monastery, Kathryn had finally been able to sleep and to achieve some peace of mind.
"This planet is too good to be true," Harry Kim had commented one night as the senior staff and a few other crew members were gathered around a campfire. "The place is beautiful and we‘re almost finding everything that we need."
"The Eldorado of the Delta Quadrant," Janeway had pointed out.
"What is the Eldorado?" had asked Neelix.
Janeway had gave Paris a sideways look. Voyager‘s unofficial historian had returned her smile as he had picked up her cue.
Tom had first told their Talaxian friend about the Europeans of the fifteenth and sixteenth XVe and VVIe centuries who, searching for a quicker route for the Orient, had stumbled upon the Americas. He then had explained that for the Spanish Conquistadors, that New World had meant the Eldorado—the Promised Land of richness, gold, and other countless luxuries. Eldorado had then seemed an appropriate name to grant to their host planet.
That night, after being elaborately setup by Kathryn, Naomi, and B‘Elanna, the crew had made another discovery about the enigmatic Tom Paris. He was also talented signer.
With his clear baritone voice, accompanied by Harry at the clarinet, Michael Ayala at the guitar, Joe Carey at the fiddle, and the angelic soprano voice of Megan Delaney, Tom had proven to have quite a repertoire of Earth folk music. In English, French, in Celt, and in Spanish, they had sang good old campfire songs, tales of incredible journeys, of long lost drunk sailors, and of undying love. They had kept the sweetest of all for the very end, a Celtic ballad that had lulled young Naomi in a peaceful sleep.
That particular day was exquisite! The air of Eldorado was warm, not too humid nor too dry. The sun was shining giving a surreal brightness to the colors of the vegetation.
Kathryn closed her eyes as she tentatively brought her cup to her lips. She sighed.
Its color and the texture were just right. Its sweet roasted almond smell soothing. Its taste as close to real coffee as they ever been able to find in the Delta Quadrant.
"Whomever made that discovery deserves a promotion," she declared.
"I‘m sure Tom would be happy to regain his lieutenant rank," Chakotay said teasingly.
Of all people, it had to be Tom Paris. It was not that surprising when she thought about it. It was just like him to make looking for coffee a priority. She knew he loved it as much as she did and, that like her, he could barely tolerate Neelix‘s substitute. Her smile took a thoughtful twist as she considered Chakotay‘s comment.
"I‘m not so sure about that," she told him. "Tom‘s got to be the one with the least ambition to climb the chain of command on Voyager."
"He did took his demotion surprising well," Chakotay pointed out.
"*Handled* would be a better word than took," she said sadly. "As one goes up the rank, he or she has to show leadership. Tom isn‘t a leader and he knows that."
"I disagree Kathryn," Chakotay argued. "He might not be the type of leader people expected him to be. Tom isn‘t a task-oriented leader like you, or his father could be, but he‘s a great people-oriented leader. He‘s a skill listener and a good teacher. When he‘s put in the right situation, he can use his team very efficiently. Maybe it is because we don‘t put him in the right situations to showcase his talents."
"What you‘re saying is that we don‘t use his skills properly," the Captain paraphrased. She looked away a bit ashamed and drew in a breath. "So, we keep on breaking him in order to make him fit into the mold."
"I‘m sorry Kathryn, I didn‘t want to bring you down that path,"
"Don‘t apologize, It‘s my fault," she told him. She took another sip of coffee. It was so good. She pushed the dark thoughts away and changed the subject. "I agreed to Neelix‘s request to stay a few days longer. This way, he will have the time to dry his food supplies, Torres and her teams will be less rushed, and the crew will be able to enjoy shore leave."
"Including the Captain, I hope," came Paris friendly voice.
The tall blond man was walking up to them, along with Neelix. They had containers of dry fruits in their hands. Kathryn could not see Tom‘s blue eyes, hidden behind his sunglasses, but she could imagine a teasing sparkle in them just by the softness of his smile.
"Especially the Captain!" she emphasized.
Her three male companions nodded at each other visibly glad.
"That‘s good to hear," said Chakotay.
"You still haven‘t told me where we‘re going," Janeway reminded her pilot who was seated beside her in the cockpit of the small shuttlecraft Miramichi.
"I told you, Captain, it‘s a surprise," Tom said mischievously.
"We‘re almost there. Look at the starburst."
Slowly, Tom made his descent toward a range of green grassy hills. He flew over them for awhile, then the shuttlecraft cleared the top and they were momentarily flying over a moving blue lake. No, not a lake, she corrected herself as they got closer. A sea of little blue flowers. The sight took her breath away!
"Incredible, isn‘t it?" Tom whispered to her. "It reminds me of the fields of lavender in the south of France back on Earth.
"It‘s... gorgeous Tom," she agreed her voice caught in her throat.
"Wait until you see the fields of coffee by the other side of the mountain!" he told her with anticipation. "Captain, you said that you wanted to relax and I found the perfect place."
Kathryn‘s month went suddenly dry. Her stomach cringed as she took in the view. She closed her eyes feeling sick. The images came crashing in her mind.
A shining beautify day.
A moving sea of little blue flowers.
Tom and herself by the edge of cliff.
Tears raining down from a clouded blue sky.
A misguided step, a hand too far away.
And then nothing.
End of Part 4
The next part:Standing Up For Oneself
Big THANKS to Louise who kept me on track and to PJ in NH for proofing this text and for her suggestions. Feedback is always appreciated.
Isabelle S. Synbou@hotmail.com
Copyrights @ may 1999