Part IV: Justify the Means

Two weeks later 1400 hours

Present Time

"And that is the sequence of events leading up to the physical exam of Lieutenant Torres?" asked Captain Janeway, perched in her chair uncomfortably. Is this room hot? She tried not to pull at her uniform: beneath it, she was beginning to sweat.

No one else looked overheated. She shifted once, leaning her chin on one elbow, shifted again.

It wasn't environmental controls, she knew that. It was her.

Tom was seated at the other end of the table, surrounded by his co-conspirators. He nodded shortly, eyes meeting hers without evasion and with utter confidence.

Much like he was when I reduced his rank for the Monean incident, she thought. Perfectly cool. Perfectly in control. A Starfleet officer to the tips of each finger, even in the relaxed yet alert attitude he showed her, showed all the Senior Staff. They were meeting today in the conference room to hear the sequence of events leading to their "awakening" so to speak, the week before. This was the third day of the Inquiry, and everyone was emotionally drained, forced to listen to Tom coolly recited the events of that lost week.

She still shuddered from the memories. Those first hours, the knowledge of what she had done while infected began to seep into her conscious mind, dreamy, intangible, but undeniable. She couldn't look at her First Officer, nor at any of her Senior Staff at all; each glance resurrected a new memory or reinvigorated an older one, and it hurt. So she focused on Tom, on what had happened while she--

Don't think like that. Don't. Not now. We have too much to do right now to indulge in memory catch-up.

"For the record, Mr. Paris, please answer my question with a yes or a no." She winced internally, hearing how harsh she sounded, and chased her statement with a quick smile to remove the sting. The group surrounding Tom, however, did not respond to the smile. Sam's eyes narrowed, her hands, clasped together on the table, tightened perceptibly, until the strain of tendons through pale flesh was clearly visible. Ayala's frown darkened, and Sue's look of attention became more hostile.

Tom had earned their loyalty.

Well, it would be hard to pull off a mutiny without it. They have as much to lose as he does here.

That thought was unfair and she knew it. Not one of them had come in here expecting to be let off the hook, none had tried to deny their roles in what had occurred, from the original mutiny to the chemical torture of infected fellow crewmen. Tom had deflected attention from their actions as best he could, but Janeway was certain she had never witnessed a group of people so eager to share the blame.

And there was already so much to go around.

Chakotay stirred beside her, and she returned her gaze to Tom.

"Yes, Captain, that is the sequence of events up to the exam of Lieutenant Torres," he answered calmly, never looking away.

Tom had been here before, and she desperately wished it did not have to be like this, that he had to be called again to a reckoning. How many times can a single person go through this kind of inquiry, and still believe in themselves as much as Tom did? She swallowed, trying to make her voice more mellow, easier on the ears. Not so condemning, not making the crew wince with her every word.

She glanced around at the other officers present, taking in their expressions. Chakotay looked slightly distant. Seven was as blank and cool as always, only the long-fingered hands, twisted together in her lap, betraying her own inner demons. Neelix, no longer a bundle of cheery energy, but had turned quiet, introspective. Even Tuvok, always impassive, no difference now, except for the slightest ashy color beneath the dark skin.

And Harry. She winced every time she looked at him, she couldn't help it. Golden skin sallow, eyes haunted. Under pressure, he had always been full of nervous energy, yet here, he seemed drained, head down.

Never looking at Tom.

She remembered, unwillingly, the first day of the Inquiry, when Tom and his cohorts first entered the room, and Tom's blank expression had cracked on seeing Harry--just for the briefest moment, something had shown, something…unhealed? Still raw? Then the clear blue eyes darkened, and he had turned away, taking a seat. Sue was immediately beside him, and Janeway had watched with interest as she, too, seemed uncomfortable when she saw Harry.

And B'Elanna, for that matter.

No. Not now. I can't afford to lose perspective now. She cleared her mind, focusing on the task at hand.

"And after the examination?"

Tom leaned forward on his elbows, looking around the room before meeting her eyes again.

"The Doctor took the results to Sickbay to work on a way to remove the K'eya from those infected."

How could he be so calm, when she felt as if she would break out of her skin? An aftereffect of the K'eya, she knew, and took several calm breaths.

B'Elanna, to her left, was so unnaturally still it made her even more jumpy. The lieutenant's head was up, her hands clasped in her lap, seemingly attentive, but the brown eyes were focused on something far away. Not once had she looked at Tom; not when he entered, not when he answered a question, not even through his description of her examination.

B'Elanna may have fared the worst under the K'eyan infection. Her body had not accepted the physical changes, so her parasite had not been able to take control completely. While B'Elanna had not been able to do very much to help herself, she had been witness, a conscious witness, to everything the K'eya did, everything the K'eya said, and everything that had been done to her.

Everything done, both by and to her. Harry. Tom. Her two closest friends, one her lover, both the causes and witnesses of her ordeal.

Janeway had debated asking what had been done to remove the parasite while B'Elanna was present, knowing the young woman had the intense memories of the procedure, which had not been pleasant. But she had to know and turned to B'Elanna.

"If you want to leave during the next part--" But B'Elanna was already shaking her head, slowly, apparently willing to listen to Tom explain what the Doctor had discovered. A quick glance at Chakotay's set face, then at the other members of the staff, and Janeway turned back to Tom.

"At this time, we would like you to describe the procedure by which you removed the parasite from the body of Lieutenant Torres."

It was the first time Janeway had seen Tom react during the Inquiry. He paled, glancing shortly at B'Elanna, then quickly, back to the Captain, and she saw something flicker in the blue eyes. Sue placed her hand over his clasped ones, and he met her eyes for a moment, as if to draw strength. He nodded, almost to himself, then let out a breath and spoke.

"It was four hours after the Doctor removed to Sickbay to review the results that he contacted me on the Bridge…"

* * * * *

Day 5 1900 hours

Two weeks earlier

Tom ran into sickbay at a full sprint, practically sliding into a stop in front of the nonplussed group of scientists surrounding the Doctor. It was an endearingly boyish action that brought smiles to many of the otherwise solemn faces. He blazed a cocky grin in their direction, but his eyes were on the Doctor.

"You found a way?"

The Doctor nodded briefly, but Tom could tell he was far more excited than he let on. But--Tom had learned to read the Doctor like a book, and knew there was something about this that would not be so pleasant. He waited while the Doctor dismissed the group to their separate pursuits, and led Tom silently into his office. He surprised Tom by closing the door and initiating the privacy lock, further irritating Tom's suspicions. Tom waited, standing in front of the desk, until the Doctor sat down, motioning him to sit too.

After an endlessly long look from Doctor, Tom finally asked again.

"You found a way to remove the parasites from the crew?" He was treated to the unique spectacle of the Doc nervous, absently playing with a spare PADD, fiddling with his uniform collar, finally settling both hands on the desk, tightly clasped, and fixing Tom with another long look.

It made Tom nervous.

"Spit it out. What did you find?"

"There is a way to remove them," he said slowly. "Rather easily, actually, once the physiological changes are reversed." He paused again, as if searching for words.

Tom's irritation took a leap into actual fear.

"The drug you gave to the crewmembers during interrogation--"

"IS117." Tom didn't like where this was going.

"An illegal drug of Cardassian manufacture," the Doctor said softly. "In the doses you gave, it had certain properties relating to the crew's physical responses, did it not? It made them willing to talk--" he trickled off. He had not seen Tom conduct the interrogations, had not wanted to, but needed to know now. Had to know if he was correct.

"Yes." Shortly, and the blue eyes darkened to indigo, his face becoming professional, blocking out whatever thoughts and memories tortured him during his private hours. "Convulsions, erratic heartbeat, hypertension, adrenaline spikes, endorphin drops--"

"Pain responses."

"Yes." Even more short, the word spit out, hanging between them, and the Doctor took a moment, letting Tom regain control. When he did, the Doctor continued.

"You ordered Ayala to bring me the medical vitals of Crewman Ricarla from one interrogation."

"Yes. She was the original test subject after we found the correct drug. Ayala brought the results to you when you asked." Very professional, voice clipped and calm.

"During the interrogations, the entity seems to have--some difficulty keeping connected to the host body."

Tom's face drained of what little color still remained.

"Does that mean the crew could remember--"

"What I am most worried about," the Doc jumped in, "is the length of time we have between the repair to the physiology of the crew and the administration of the drug." He watched Tom carefully. In his heart, he knew, as few did, just how much a scientist the young man was, and how easy it was to forget that, given Tom's reputation and personality. Give him a mystery he had some personal interest in and there was no stopping him. This was one of those times.

Doc had no intention, however, of letting Tom know that there was a real possibility the crew had perhaps become "conscious" during those times. They simply needed him too badly right now.

"So what happens during those times of drug administration?" asked Tom. He hadn't forgotten it, but he was distracted. That was a good thing.

"During those times, the entity has to struggle to keep in touch with the body. If higher doses were administered, for a longer period of time--" he trailed off, seeing Tom's face.

"You want me to torture them to death?" His voice was calm, expressionless--the Doctor was disturbed by the coolness in his voice. He's changed. And the words he used, the harshest possible. Tom leaned back, crossing his arms across his chest. Eyes narrowing, studying the Doctor carefully.

"The crewmembers weren't permanently damaged, were they?" the Doc said desperately, retreating into curtness to hide his own horror in what he suggested.

Tom blinked, staring at him.

"No." Softly. "No, Cardassians didn't want damaged prisoners when they used that particular drug. They wanted them broken."

"I've run several simulations," the Doctor continued quickly. "Now all we need is a test subject." The Doctor kept his eyes on the PADD. Tom stood up, walking to the replicator to get a glass of water. His hand was steady.

"A subject."

Their eyes met, knowing who would have to be used.

* * * * *

1452 hours

Present Time

Tom paused, and by his elbow appeared a glass of water. Gratefully, he took a sip, giving Sue a smile for the thought, and glad, too, his hands had something to do. He tried to relax the muscles in his back and neck, they had begun to tense badly, and would probably grow even worse before he was done.

"So you decided to use the procedure the Doctor outlined?" Janeway asked. For the record.

"Yes." Tom put the glass down on the table, but his long fingers drummed lightly against its surface. A characteristic gesture; Tom was famous for his inability to sit still. His face was turned away for a moment.

Janeway wondered how much more he could say. How much more she could listen to.

It was quiet for a long time. Finally, a voice broke the silence.

"Finish it, Tom."

His head came up sharply, and all eyes went to B'Elanna, who no longer seemed to be in another dimension altogether. Her small hands rested on the tabletop, brown eyes were fixed on Tom, her expression intense.

Janeway sucked in an audible breath while Chakotay found something on the table to fix his gaze on. No one else seemed able to look away, watching with a kind of sick fascination as B'Elanna and Tom stared at each other, almost daring the other to look away first. A long, breathless moment, and Tom closed his eyes, breaking the lock. Sue moved the water when he motioned at it, which surprised him as much as anybody. First officers really are empathic. The thought should have amused him, broken the terrible tension in him, but it didn't, it merely added to it. He braced himself.

And continued.

* * * * *

Day 6 0800 hours

Two weeks earlier

"Mr. Paris?"

Tom held the carefully prepared hypospray in one hand, staring into space, then shook his head sharply.

"All right." He hit his comm badge. "Paris to Ayala. Are you ready?"

:::Ayala here. Yes, sir.:::

"On my mark, ten seconds, then cut the forcefield. Is Sue in the Holodeck with you yet?"

:::Yes, sir.:::

Tom nodded, almost to himself.

"Paris out." He hit his badge to cut the transmission. Glancing over at Vorik and Henna by the chosen bio-bed, he saw both were armed and ready with phaser-rifles. He took a deep breath. Looked at the Doctor, keeping his face neutral.

They'd run a dozen simulations since they'd decided on this course of action. They were as ready as they would ever be.

"Are you sure we have to use her?" It wasn't really a question.

The Doctor nodded.

"She has the strongest resistance to the entity, Mr. Paris. She's the perfect test case to see if this will work at all."

Tom nodded shortly and hit his comm badge.

"Paris to Zephyr."

:::Zephyr here, sir.:::

"Activate transporter on my mark, from Holodeck Two to Sickbay. Do you have it programmed in?"

:::Yes, sir.:::

Tom took a deep breath. Looked at the Doctor, who held the hypospray that would sedate her before transport. His strained face wasn't comforting.

"Computer, initiate site-to-site transport program Paris Gamma 3, authorization Paris Alpha One, Alpha Two, Beta One. Lock on to the Doctor's emitter. Energize."

The Doctor shimmered out of sight, and Tom waited the eternal minutes until his comm badge chirped again.

Can't even use a sedative to keep her unconscious, can't keep the paralytic field in place so her movements won't hurt her…dear God, what am I authorizing?

To his officers, Tom appeared perfectly in control, but the thoughts were disturbing him. Sedation took away the entire point of this exercise: if they couldn't feel the pain of IS117, then they couldn't become "distracted." The paralytic field stopped the physical movements of the body, and couldn't be used for the same reason. Distraction. Yeah, that's a word for it, all right.

:::Ready, Mr. Paris.::: The Doctor's voice sounded strained. Tom took another breath, hit his comm badge.

"Zephyr, Ayala, mark."

Vorik and Henna each took one side of the biobed, ready for materialization.

The Doctor shimmered back into existence, holding B'Elanna carefully. Looking slightly frazzled, he placed her on the biobed, activating containment and paralytic fields. Within seconds, he was ready to begin to reverse the changes done to B'Elanna's body. They had worked out the times the night before, knew the period between the reversal and the administration of the drug had to be short. Tom looked at the dosage in his hand again. Shook slightly.

It was a fifteen minute procedure to fix the changes, and Tom was ready the instant the Doc stepped back, just as B'Elanna became conscious. She blinked, looked around her, and watched Tom approach with the hypospray.

The brown eyes widened.


Her voice sounded so familiar, so--so normal. He forced himself forward.

"What are you doing?" Her voice took on a frightened edge. B'Elanna wouldn't act scared, she'd be pissed. This isn't B'Elanna. It's not.

He checked the settings on the biobed, knew he was delaying the inevitable.

"Tom?" Her voice began to shake. "Don't do this, Tom, please." B'Elanna wouldn't beg, she'd simply kill me. This isn't B'Elanna.

He realized his hand was beginning to shake, and he called up all of his control to stop it.

"Tom, I am your B'Elanna, in every way that matters." Her voice came faster, breathlessly. "I remember everything about us, Tom. Please don't do this. I can be more to you than she ever was, Tom. I'll love you forever, just don't do this, please, don't."

He pressed the hypospray into her neck, and watched tears form in the chocolate eyes, desperate fear twist her face, somehow having guessed what he was going to do. Her head, the only thing free of the paralytic field, turned to meet his eyes. Her eyes glistened wetly.

"I love you, Tom," she whispered.

He released the hypospray, the hiss making him wince, then released the paralytic field, leaving containment. The restraints already in place over her from the operation. Wide, horrified eyes met his an instant before they rolled back, and her body convulsed, arching her spine.

Tom watched the restraints stretch.

She screamed then, and Tom stumbled back another step. An arm caught him, gently pressing him back, near the wall, and he recognized her touch long before he opened his eyes.


She stood beside him, one slim hand still on his arm, a wry smile twisting her face.

"Privilege of rank. Two of Ayala's security people were off-duty and I ordered them into the holodeck for babysitting. I didn't think you would want to be alone during this."

"I'm not alone."

One eyebrow arched in an excellent Tuvok imitation. He breathed out, slowly, until another scream cut through him, and his eyes were torn back to the bed, then to the readings on the panel above her on the wall, where the Doctor tracked the entity possessing her. Sue took his hand in hers, letting him squeeze until her bones seemed to meet. Her eyes followed his to the woman on the biobed as another convulsion snapped the scream off into an eerie silence.

No one else in the room, except perhaps Vorik, was doing much better than they were, and she guessed part of Vorik's calm came from the fact that he had participated in several of these interrogations already. Henna looked as if she wanted to be sick, and the Doctor--if a hologram could look nauseous, well, he was doing just that, hands gripping the back of a chair nearby.

"How much longer?" Sue asked, trying to distract Tom.

"I don't know. When the readings are completely clear. They can't stay in a non-altered body for more than a few hours." His voice sounded better, and he seemed almost grateful for something to distract him from the biobed, focusing the entirety of the dark blue eyes on her, a slight smile twisting his mouth. "If the Doctor is right about the drug--maybe a matter of minutes. I never administered more than 10cc at a time." His voice was matter-of-face now, and Sue once again found herself surprised by his coolness.

"Why couldn't something less--something else have been used? Reverse the changes and sedate them, since the parasite can't survive in the host body without the changes?"

"It was a thought, but the entities have a certain method of bio-control. They can kill the brain tissue of their hosts before leaving. I couldn't take that chance." I. Not we. He's taking this personally. "When under the influence of IS117, they are too--distracted--to do very much in the way of damage, and in itself the drug doesn't permit the--recipient--to fall unconscious." His mouth tightened perceptibly. Sue wished she hadn't brought it up.

She lifted one hand to brush her fingers across his cheek, wiping away the dampness that she hadn't seen until that moment. The bright Sickbay lights fell on his face when he looked at her, and she felt herself pause, tensing, felt him tense at the contact.

"Tom! Please, m-m-ma-make--" her voice ended in a moan that ripped into the air. Tom's eyes left Sue, darting to the bed, and Sue's followed, watching B'Elanna's spine curve impossibly. The Doctor stepped forward, then stopped himself, and a low groan vibrated in the air around them.

"The readings are showing her clear," he said, and Tom realized the Doctor had moved to the diagnostic panel. Quickly, he moved to the bed, the antidote already in hand, until the Doctor's hand stopped him. Wide blue eyes met understanding brown.

"Three more minutes."

Tom stared at him. Tried to find the words.

"What?" His voice cracked. Sue moved quickly to Tom's side, keeping a small distance, but making him aware of her support.

"We have to be sure it's gone. The projections show that they can't live outside the body for more than a minute or two, but I don't want to take chances and--" He trickled off, seeing Tom's expression.

"If she remembers nothing else, she'll remember this," Tom said softly, his face so stark Sue felt tears fill her eyes. "You didn't tell me that. Why the hell didn't you tell me that?" His voice was rising, louder with every word. Vorik and Henna both turned to look at him. "We are torturing her for three more minutes, and you didn't even fucking bother to warn me?"

"I wasn't sure you would go through with it if you knew," the Doctor said calmly. He checked the chronometer, even though imbedded in his program was an already perfect time sense. "Two more minutes."

Tom walked away from them, going to B'Elanna's side for a moment. Blood slid down her chin from the lip she had nearly bitten through. He hadn't thought to put something in her mouth, to keep that from happening. Her eyes were closed, her breathing so heavy Tom's chest ached in sympathy, and he stood there, waiting for the brown eyes to open, to see him, to condemn him, to hate him for what he was doing to her.

"Tom, move back." Sue's voice seemed to come from far away. B'Elanna twisted against the restraints, and he watched them strain. Watched her spine bend almost seemed in danger of snapping, eyes jerking open, and another scream sliced through the room, through the occupants. Through Tom.

"Tom, don't. Please come here."

Then Sue's hand was on his shoulder, his arm, gently easing him back. He didn't want to go, didn't want to move, but her gentleness was stronger than he was, and he let her ease him away.

"One minute."

Tom shuddered, his face blank. Sue kept her grip on him, hoping that would hold him long enough, that he could last out this last minute. Her heart pounding against her chest in an erratic pattern of fear and hope, looking at the bed.

This could be our cure.

Tom was tense beside her, so tense the muscles under her hand had become stone. B'Elanna screamed again, mumbling in something in Klingonese none of them could understand, hopefully not completely aware of what was happening to her, probably aware of nothing but the agony she was experiencing. The delicate fingers were splayed, bare feet pointed, head thrown back until a muscle spasm contracted her body tightly, another kind of agony, before forcing it out again, stretching her out to her full height, arms straining against the restraints. Blood trickled from her nose. Sue remembered during an interrogation that had happened, and wondered vaguely what caused it.


Tom jerked forward, stumbling to B'Elanna's side to lower containment and press the hypospray against her neck. A brief few seconds, the brown eyes looked up, met his--and closed as she fell unconscious.

The Doc checked her scans, nodding.

"It worked, Mr. Paris."

Tom nodded, staring down at her, face unreadable. The Doctor gave a glance towards Sue, who acknowledged the hint and gently took Tom's hand.

"Come on. We have planning to do in getting the rest of the crew up here." He blinked, nodded slowly, almost as if in a dream. "Do you want to go back to your quarters?"

He shook his head sharply, and she tried to smile.

"We'll go to mine. I'll order some breakfast and we can begin the logistics of getting the crew back up here. You're the planner, Tom, not me."

He nodded, rather absently, but followed her. As she led him out the door, she glanced back to see B'Elanna's brown eyes open, looking at them leave, before closing again as the Doc gave her a sedative and began working to repair any damage IS117 had done to her body.

* * * * *

1600 hours

Present Time

The group in the conference room was silent for a long moment. For almost everyone, there was no memory of the torture; it was either blocked or delayed. B'Elanna, however, had kept a clear memory of the entire fifteen minutes she was under the influence of the drug. Tom's face was utterly expressionless, matching that of his cohorts, and Sue's--Janeway noticed, not for the first time, how completely focused the young woman was on Tom. As his First Officer, it was natural she had learned that, but for some reason, and Janeway wasn't sure why, she knew it wasn't that.

She derided herself for paying attention to something so trivial, in the midst of what was happening now.

"Do any of you have anything to add?" she asked, breaking the terrible quiet. The conspirators looked at each other, then shook their heads, almost in unison. She glanced at the time, realizing how late it was, and sighed. They'd been at this since 0800 for the third day straight. The short lunch breaks had not helped the eternal tiredness that seemed to have settled over her since her release from the entity. Parasite. Good description, I like it, damn protocol anyway. She glanced around at her officers and rose.

"This Inquiry is adjourned until 0800 tomorrow, at which time we will finish the sequence of events and I will decide on the appropriate action. Dismissed."

Tom rose, and almost in unison, his conspirators followed him. It never ceased to intrigue her, the instinctive rapport Tom had built with them; even now, they waited for his action before reacting themselves. Tom nodded and left the room, Sue beside him, the others only steps behind. When the doors were closed, Janeway sat down, looking around her at the rest of the staff. Her staff.

She took pity, and dismissed them as well. Then she leaned back into her chair, watching B'Elanna leave, her gait, as always, steady and sure, her face calm, as it had been during the entire Inquiry. As she left the conference room, Janeway knew she was making her way to Tom's quarters, where she had been sleeping for the last two weeks. Where she spent every minute off-duty as well. Janeway knew Tom did not share them with her. He had taken up residence with Baytart when B'Elanna had been released from Sickbay.

She wondered what had driven B'Elanna out of her own quarters, what had been done there that she couldn't bear to face, and decided that she didn't want to know. Her own half-formed memories were enough to keep her occupied, she didn't need the addition of anyone else's to haunt her waking hours.

She stared at the computer that had recorded everything Tom and his crew had told her over the last three days of questioning and wondered what the hell she was supposed to do with it

She knew why she was asking, that was easy. The question was dealing with an unprecedented situation, at least as far as Starfleet records went. Half of the crew too traumatized by their possession to be very reliable while on duty, the other half implicated in a mutiny, no matter how justified. Neither side yet able to rebuild trust, rebuild rapport with each other, the one thing that Voyager absolutely required.

Not strictly true. Tom and the unpossessed crew were just fine, they all trusted each other, got along, performed their duties quickly and efficiently.

But the others--the others were living through their own version of hell.

She closed her eyes, fighting back her memory again. She couldn't afford it. She wondered, yet again, why she had forced herself to return to duty so quickly. Tom and crew had been doing a fine job, and she certainly could have used the time off.

She stood up, stretching her back, and looked down at her Chair in distaste. She could almost swear the thing was trying to sink her. Slowly, she left the room, entering the Bridge, hoping there would be something to do.

Something to keep memory at bay.

* * * * *

2200 hours

Present Time

Sue and Megan sat on Ensign Baytart's floor as Tom expertly dealt the cards for poker. The Big Twelve, as Megan dubbed them, had voluntarily removed themselves from active duty until the Inquiry was complete and Janeway gave her verdict on their fate. That left them with a lot of time on their hands, and none were comfortable wandering around the ship. They might meet a memory in the hall. The Holodecks were not an option either. They were booked with those whose trauma needed dealing with, so none of them had tried to get any time.

With an odd naturalness, they turned to Tom.

Sue and Megan had been bunking together since Jenny had been released. Megan had forgiven her sister, but could not yet forget, and Jenny was unable to face her twin. The two had decided to separate until the trauma had passed. Trauma that had stretched to a week and a half, in fact, with no sign of rapprochement. Megan was not quite able to make the first move, and Jenny was unwilling to face her sister.

Gerron didn't even try to see Megan, eager to try and drink himself into insensibility. Tom and Baytart had spent several nights drying him out. It was strange, but the "repossessed" (sick joke, yeech, who came up with that? Tom had to wonder about their sense of humor.) turned to the unaffected crew whenever possible for comfort. Sue spent a great deal of her time counseling Jenny Delaney, while Tom and Baytart were often called, early in the morning, to come and rescue a distressed or drunken crewman.

No one ever commented on Tom's living situation. One look at his face that first night had ended any speculation.

Life in the Delta Quadrant. Weird--part of the job indeed.

Samantha Wildman and her daughter were present, though Naomi was asleep in Baytart's bedroom with Anna Zephyr. When Anna had tried to enter her own quarters, she'd begun to hyperventilate, almost passing out in her own doorway. Samantha, ever one to nurse those with a broken wing, had offered her a place to stay for awhile. Anna's strong empathy was a hindrance, it had very nearly kept her off-duty, and only now was she relaxing enough to perform her duties.

Tom finished dealing and picked up his hand. Carey, sitting beside Sam, tossed out a comment.

"Engineering is doing well."

Everyone looked up.

"My department is fine. Ivanovich is doing a great job holding things together," commented Tom, as he prepared to discard.

"Stellar Cartography has been reopened," offered Megan as she tossed her discards down.

"Everything seems pretty calm," offered Baytart as he picked up a carrot stick from the vegetable platter Sam had brought.

They had this conversation every day, about the same time in the evening, none were sure exactly why. Maybe it was to convince themselves that they had departments to return to. That this inquiry did not mean the end of their futures as officers.

Maybe just so life would seem more normal. Not that it was normal to be hunched up in Baytart's quarters, all of them, playing poker at 2200 hours.

Megan drew her cards and made the opening bet. Sam reached for some celery.

"We can't hide in here forever," said Joe Carey softly, staring at his cards intensely.

"We can until the end of the Inquiry," answered Megan.

"We should at least go to the Mess Hall," offered Ayala as he discarded two cards and reached to draw two more. "A lot of the crew are feeling nervous. They'd like us to be more visible."

Tom nodded as he decided whether to bet.

"You're right, but--" he shook his head, tossing the cards down. "Who's up for a Mess Hall experience?" They had yet to forget their first entrance after Captain Janeway reclaimed her command. The silence of the repossessed crew. The long looks. Not hostility so much as--what? Distrust? Fear, perhaps, shame, guilt, pick one, they all fit. Their crew had welcomed them openly, with intense relief, and the Mess Hall suddenly seemed like a battlefield with two armies encamped. Once Maquis versus Starfleet, now Tom's crew versus those once infected. It had been desperately uncomfortable. Worse, Tuvok and Chakotay had both shown up, staring at the divided crew as if they had never seen them before.

Then at Tom. With that look. As if I am deliberately trying to keep the crew divided. Give me a little credit, if I wanted the ship that bad, why the hell did I bother to bring you back? Tom shook the thought away, knowing very well that wasn't what they had meant to convey. But it sure as hell felt like it.

But they had to face it sometime. Tomorrow the questioning ended and Janeway would make a judgement. Tom looked around the ten faces carefully, and stood up. They followed, in that odd synchronicity they seemed to have developed over the days of their command of the ship.

"Tom." Sue said softly, catching his attention. "I know what you're going to try to do tomorrow and my advice is--don't."

His face didn't give a damn thing away. Carey, standing at her shoulder, arms crossed, gave Tom a placid look.

"What do you think he's planning, Sue?" asked Carey, the corner of his mouth twitching.

"Probably trying to take all the credit for our adventure," Megan answered dryly. They were all relieved to hear her sense of humor return. Tom's mouth quirked.

"He's such a hog for glory," Baytart grinned, leaning against the couch. Vorik tried to do the same, but Vulcan posture did not allow for much slumping. Tom bit back a grin.

"Well, can you blame me, look what it got me!" Tom countered, motioning at Baytart's couch. At that, they all broke out in slightly maniacal laughter.

"Don't try it, Tom. None of us have any intention of backing down on this issue. Equal blame, equal consequences." Samantha looked determined.

"Sam, I appreciate the gesture--"

"It's not a gesture," Sue interrupted. "It's a fact. No matter what happens, all of us are equally to blame. No matter what."

He shook his head slowly, but didn't answer. Sue knew he hadn't been quenched of this desire to assume blame, but she was confident they could stop him before he did anything silly.

With the blue eyes filled with humor and his mouth upturned into a smile, her heart skipped a beat, and she squelched the feeling instantly, the regret that she hadn't known him better at the beginning, before he and B'Elanna. Before--before a lot of things.

She smiled and gestured to the door.

* * * * *

B'Elanna curled up on Tom's couch, staring out the viewport at the rushing stars, wrapped firmly in Tom's robe, so she could breathe his scent, feel closer to him. She knew where he was now, had found out easily, and imagined him in Baytart's quarters, playing cards with that innocent grin that had fooled far too many people into betting far too high with too few decent cards. It amused her, infuriated her, hurt her beyond her ability to express.

Tom had not spoken to her since her release, though the Doctor, in an uncharacteristic gesture, told her that Tom had been with her every moment he could while she'd slept. He had run many of the scans personally to ensure that she was clean of the infection, sometimes just watching her when he wasn't needed on the Bridge. When she'd been released, though, Carey had been the one to meet her.

* * * * *

Day 7 1000 hours

She met the gentle blue eyes of her second in command and found herself, to her horror, retreating.

Before she could move far, embarrass her self further, he reached out, catching her elbow. A smile of kind understanding curved his mouth as he kept the distance between them, respecting her need for space, but connecting them with his hand, to show her he was not afraid, not bitter, not angry.

He didn't have to be angry. She was bitter and angry enough for both of them.

"It didn't happen," he said carefully, meeting her eyes again, forcing him to look at her. "What happened in engineering--B'Elanna, I knew even then it wasn't you."

To her horror, tears stung in her eyes, but her Klingon side didn't accept human frailty and they soon disappeared, leaving her eyes bright but dry. Carefully, he pulled her arm.

"Tom sent me to take you to your quarters. Or maybe you want to go down to engineering and see what atrocities I've performed on your engines?" His mouth turned upward in a sly grin, and she found herself answering it instinctively, despite what she had done to him.

"I don't know what to do first, get in uniform or check on my engines to see if they're still in one piece," she joked, motioning at the loose hospital gown and robe disparagingly.

"Tom gave you the next week off, but if you're really eager to finish my reports--" he suggested archly, the words dying when the look on her face changed abruptly.

"Tom did?" She made the connection suddenly. "But--"

"You are the first we recovered," Carey explained as he led her out of Sickbay. "Do you remember?"

She shook her head shortly, and Carey, who had spoken to the Doctor, gritted his teeth beneath his closed-mouth smile. There was the hopeful possibility that the torture had not registered in her memory. This sometimes happened with extreme trauma, but the Doctor had not been too sure of that, one of the reasons Tom had ordered Carey off-duty to look after B'Elanna. It would not be a good idea for her to see Tom right away, and if she got her memory back and he was near--Carey, like Tom, didn't want to hurt her any more than necessary.

As they walked down the halls, B'Elanna became more and more aware of the stares. Anyone in a Sickbay ensemble might be stared at, perhaps, but--distrust. Dislike. She had never felt so unwelcome before. So uncomfortable on her own ship.

Carey noticed too, but kept his head, not wanting to yell out that the gawkers were idiots. Instead, he chatted calmly with B'Elanna, trying to make it clear to all who saw him that not only was he comfortable being with her, he did not hold anything she had done against her, either.

Both of them knew it would be a long time, if ever, before the rest of the crew felt the same.

As they arrived at her quarters, she looked around the neat, clean living-room and into bedroom. She knew she hadn't left it like this, but refused to remember the circumstances now, not when she wasn't alone. Yet, somehow, she found herself staring at the neatly made bed, the images wouldn't stop, and she choked, her hand pressed hard against her throat as she remembered more…and more…and more…


She shook her head, backing out, hitting the wall hard before regaining her composure, searching for an explanation to give to Carey. By the look of sympathy on his face, she realized she didn't need to bother. He might not know what she had done, but he knew that she was remembering something.

"I can't stay here." Did I speak?

Carey hit his comm badge.

"Carey to Paris."

:::Paris here. What's up?::: His voice sounded jocular, almost playful, more like the old Tom, and Carey suddenly hated to be the one to tell him this.

"Are there any empty quarters right now?"

A long pause, and then Tom spoke again.

"Take her to mine. I'll get a few things out later and stay somewhere else."

Carey looked at B'Elanna, who didn't care where she went as long as it wasn't here--Harry, Tom, that damned bed--get it out of my mind it wasn't me, it wasn't, it wasn't--

Easy to think the words. Harder to believe them. Carey led her to the couch, making her sit, and went to pack what she would need. Under any other circumstances, she would have realized that his going through her personal belongings would embarrass her, but she was too deep in her memories to notice or care. Her mind was full of random images trying to paint a coherent picture that she did not want to see, and when Carey took her arm to urge her to her feet, she didn't even try to resist, caught up in her internal battle.

Walking into Tom's quarters was easier. Carey planted her on the bed and replicated her something dark brown with synthehol properties he called Brandy.

"You need to sleep," he said gently.

"I've slept enough," she argued.

"No, you haven't. B'Elanna, please, you are exhausted, I know you are. Get some rest. You need it badly, trust me."

She'd agreed, finally, the liquor getting the better of her, and she heard Carey call for the lights to go off as she closed her eyes…

* * * * *

2300 hours

Present Time

B'Elanna, curled up in his robe, wondered if he would ever forgive her.

She remembered everything now. Her sleep was haunted by it. When she had awoke alone in Tom's bed every night, she heard herself gasping. Half-killing Joe in engineering. Sex with Harry--and Tom saw it.. De-activating the Doctor.

She remembered the procedure that removed the entity--the parasite, the creature-- from her body, all fifteen minutes of it. The entity within her had tried to cling to her body and she had fought it off, almost welcoming the pain, the irresistible unstoppable force of it, because it hurt with her, and then the welcome bliss of being free in her own mind--

It was worth it, every damned second of it, every second.

And her first memory free of both pain and parasite was seeing Tom holding that hypospray, face set, eyes dark and unreadable. Wanting to reach out and touch him, smooth the set lines of his face away, before she felt her eyes close and the Doc was between them--

The last time she saw Tom, he was leaving Sickbay, with Sue holding his arm.

She hated that memory. When Sue looked back, there had been something in her face, something recognizable.

She wants my mate.

B'Elanna was Klingon. She knew. She knew it with ever fiber of her being, and had wanted to deactivate the Doctor again when he hyposprayed her into unconsciousness.

Doctor had explained why they were keeping her in Sickbay for twenty-four hours and, at her insistence, gave her a brief history of the last three days. Tom in command. Wow. Doing a decent job. No big surprise to B'Elanna, she'd seen long ago the natural command ability he possessed.

Doc had skipped parts, but the Inquiry had taken care of that.

Even now, B'Elanna burned at that. Inquiry. Just looking for a reason to court-martial them because they managed to save the ship without her oh-so-necessary help. Damn her, why the hell is she doing this? She could have simply taken back command, gotten a private sealed statement from each of them, and moved on in getting this crew together. But noooo--that's not Starfleet procedure, we can't do it any other way unless it's Janeway that needs the slack…and it isn't helping the crew reintegrate either. No one wants Tom and the others court-martialed for what they did, even the interrogations they performed, and she's splitting the crew worse every day continuing with this ridiculous farce. Half the crew won't talk to the other half, my engineering section alone is a nightmare without Carey and Nicoletti--

She stopped there, taking in a deep breath. Reminding herself she was a Starfleet officer.

Doc said they chose me first because they could tell I was more resistant due to dual heritage--who knew it would come in so useful? It took a week to uninfect the rest of the crew. Kahless knows how they did it, getting everyone off the planet all at once, putting most of them in stasis so they couldn't hurt the bodies, and Tom administering the dose that got rid of the parasites…watching it every time, Doc said, what he put everyone through. He wanted to take all the responsibility for what he called deliberate torture, would I have done it any differently? No, not if all the options were the same. I would have done it all, and there would have been no regrets. I wonder how long it will take before he forgives himself.

She sipped the tea she had replicated, wrapped the robe closer around her. Breathed him in.

We have to talk. We have to, soon, before the silence goes too long. I've learned something, something he showed me, about not talking. He'll let the silence stretch forever, like I wanted it to after Sakari, I know he will. No matter what happens at that inquiry tomorrow, we have to talk. We have to.

* * * * *

Harry was curled alone in his quarters, staring at the walls.

He had always been a back sleeper, almost at attention even in rest. Yet tonight, and for every night since his release, he had found himself on his side, burying his head beneath a pillow, letting his memory ride him until he was too exhausted to do anything but sleep. Then the dreams would come, waking him again, pulsing with unpleasant sensations, unfamiliar emotions, intense imagery that sickened him.

His door chimed, and he ignored it, as he had ignored everyone that had come to his door over the last week. He had taken up his duty shift as soon as the Doctor had certified him physically capable, and immersed himself in his work until he was too physically exhausted to do anything but lie on his bed, unmoving, until sleep finally claimed him.

The chiming didn't stop, and his temper snapped.

"Get the hell away!"

Instead, the door opened, and Harry sat up, blinking, trying to see who it was entering. Couldn't, the light in the hallway made the figure a tall silhouette…tall…

"Tom?" His voice cracked with disbelief.

The figure paused for a moment, hesitating, then moved in further, and the door closed behind him.

"Computer, lights fifty percent."

Yes, it was Tom. Harry swung his feet over the side of the bed, unable to believe this was real, that Tom was standing here in his quarters, watching him with an unreadable expression.

They looked at each other, unblinking, searching for words.

Finally, Tom pulled up a chair, turning it backward out of habit and sitting, arms resting over the back, studying Harry on the bed.

"I know that it will be hard for everyone," Tom said quietly. "That recovery time is going to be needed. Everyone needs to think and put things in perspective. I know that. Gerron and Megan, Megan and Jenny, Sue and John--B'Elanna and me." A long pause. "Me and you.

"I'm sorry for what I had to do to free you from that thing. I know you don't remember it, and, hopefully, you never will. But if you do, I want you to know that."

Harry didn't answer, and neither spoke for a long time. Finally, Tom got up, as if to leave.

"That's all?" Harry's voice was high with disbelief. That is all he is going to say, after what I did to him?

Tom stiffened in the half-turn for the door, blue eyes narrowing. Turning back to Harry, his entire body still, hands fisted behind him, nails cutting deep into palms.

"What else do you want?" A dangerous edge to his low voice, but Harry was beyond caring. There was nothing, nothing, Tom could do to him, say to him, that he had not done, said, to himself.

"Why did you come here? To ask me to forgive something I don't even remember? After what I--"

"Don't." The quiet voice, utterly expressionless, did not even give Harry pause.

"What I did to you--with B'E--" Harry tried to force the words out.

"Don't! For God's sake, Harry…"

"With B'Elanna." His voice was hoarse. "You won't forgive me, I kn--"

"It wasn't you," Tom sounded desperate.

"It was!" Harry shuddered, too lost in his own private pain to hear Tom's. "Not all of me, but it was me, and I can remember--I remember the decision, and what happened--"

Tom moved then, grabbed Harry by the shoulders, shaking him roughly.

"Shut up, Harry! That isn't what I came here to talk about!"

It quieted Harry, cutting through the fog of guilt and grief, freezing him for a moment. Tom's breathing was audible in the silent room, half gasp, half pant, as he drew back, hands automatically moving down his thighs, as if to wipe the touch of Harry from his skin.

"I'm sorry Tom," he finally whispered, head down. "I'm so sorry, I swear I never would have done that on my own, never thought about it…"

"That's a lie." Tom's voice was harsh.

Harry's head snapped up. Met blue eyes that burned.

"You've thought about it."

Tom shivered suddenly, and he turned away. Going to the door. And Harry knew Tom, knew that once he walked through, he wouldn't come back, not ever.

"Please, Tom, listen to me!"

"It wasn't you, Harry, I know that." Tom spun to face him, blue eyes alight. "I know that, don't you fucking get it? I know it wasn't your fault, there was nothing you could do, that you're guilty about it and you need absolution. I know, probably better than you think, what you're going through. And I want to say 'everything's okay, everything will be fine, let's just forget it', but I can't!" He took a deep breath, shaking his head slowly. "I can't forget yet, and I don't want to hurt you further now, by showing that to you. Letting you see how much I resent it."

"I hate myself more than you ever could," Harry whispered, head still lowered.

Tom slowly sank into the chair, gaze fixed on nothing. His breathing hadn't evened out yet, it seemed to fill the dark room.

"I could've pretended, Harry, but I owed you better than that. It doesn't have anything to do with forgiving, there is nothing to forgive. I know you never would have done that to me. Nor would B'Elanna. But it isn't easy, Harry. I knew it wouldn't be easy, I knew that. But I didn't think it would be this damned hard, either."

A low laugh reverberated through the room, bitter, angry. Harry felt himself shiver through his T-shirt at the sound.

"I told myself a long time ago I wouldn't live in the past." He lifted his head, now looking at Harry with dilated blue eyes that seemed frozen over. "We need time, all of us, to remember how not to. You went through so much--no, I don't know how much, Harry. I don't pretend to, not your experience, not anyone's, just like you don't know what we went through when you and the others were taken."

Harry, until that second, had not really thought about anything beyond his own crushing guilt. He looked at his friend, really looked at him, for the first time since he had awakened in Sickbay, to see the face of his best friend over him, removing the hypospray. Harry remembered he had wanted to smile--memory had not yet returned--wanted to ask what had happened, but Tom had turned away too quickly, and then the Doctor had intruded.

Now he saw the ashen color beneath the pale skin, the bloodshot blue eyes, the incredible tightness of every visible muscle.

"But every time I think that, I remember what happened in that room, what I watched--what was deliberately planned for me to watch, with a message from B'Elanna waiting in my quarters, with the privacy lock off her door. Maybe--maybe if I had found out that something happened between the two of you under the influence of that thing, but didn't see it--that wouldn't have affected me as much. But I watched, Harry. I watched you with B'Elanna. I watched you touch her, I watched you kiss her, I watched you have sex with her, and possessed or no, it was real. You both remember it. And so do I."

Harry's eyes blurred as he listened to Tom's words, in that frighteningly flat voice.

"That doesn't mean I blame you, Harry. But it does mean it's hard to look at you right now and not think of it. To look at you and not hate you for what happened. To look at you and not--" Tom broke off abruptly, looking away.

Harry didn't need for Tom to finish that statement. He nodded. After another breath, calmer, more steady, than the last, Tom spoke again.

"I want you to understand that."

Tom got up, looking down at his friend. Hesitated, searching--

"With time--" his voice trailed off, not having the words. Maybe not wanting them either, not extending false hope. Harry understood that.

"With time," Harry echoed softly. And this time, he let Tom leave, and closed his own eyes to try again to sleep. Haunted by the blue eyes of his closest friend, a new memory to keep company with the others.

Somehow worse.