Shuttle Down VI
by Judy and Jacki
SUMMARY: When Tom Paris and Harry Kim crash on Earth almost 400 years in the past, Voyager mounts a rescue operation with the help of Sam Beckett, who has 'leaped' into Tuvok, and Admiral Al Calavicci, and with the sometime hindrance of Captain Braxton of the 29th Century Time Police.
CHAPTER 14, EPILOGUE, AND AUTHORS' NOTES: The concluding chapter to Shuttle Down. PG-13.
WARNINGS: RATING: R. Mostly PG-13, but turns into serious R after later parts. The R is for mature themes concerning post-traumatic stress. There's lots of Tom angst. Spoilers for 'Future's End' and any other episode ever shown! Set during end of 5th season.
DISCLAIMER: Paramount owns Voyager and its characters. Quantum Leap was a Universal television series created by Donald P. Bellisario. We've borrowed all of them with no intent for profit. (Consider the cost of the computer, the software, the Internet connection, etc.) The story is ours, copyright 1997, 1998.
ARCHIVE: Archiving is okay, just ask us. We'll probably say yes. Please keep the disclaimer and our names attached.
E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CHAPTER 14 :Restorations
Sam stood at the window of his guest quarters, staring at the circling currents of the wormhole. He'd spent the day wandering around the ship, learning as much as he could, hoping that he might find a way to control his own leaps. When hours passed and he didn't feel the familiar tingling that preceded leaping, he decided to slow down a little and enjoy this experience. There was so much of this leap that he wanted to commit to memory and take with him if he left.
"You waste so much energy worrying about something so simple," Haylene said, shaking her head.
Sam didn't feel her presence until she spoke. He noted that Haylene's head shaking was a very human gesture and wondered if she was aware that she'd picked up the affectation. But he was too distracted by her words to pursue it any further. "Simple? I'm sorry, but I don't think you know what you're talking about. Leaping may seem like child's play to you, but this isn't easy for me. Do you know how long I've been living like this, or how little time I've spent in my own body over the past few years?" he asked.
"Of course we know. This is the path you chose, is it not?" Haylene's colors swirled and Sam saw a re-creation of the last time he leaped into his own body, just as if they were back on the holodeck. Here, in his quarters, Haylene's powers were enough to create the image. At that last leap into himself, Sam was given a choice to go home or to save Al's marriage; he chose to do the latter, which wasn't a tough decision. No, the tough part was being told that he always had the ability to go home and only continued to leap because he wanted to. This was difficult for him to hear again and he turned away. As close as he'd been to Tom before, Sam couldn't fully appreciate what the younger man had endured on the holodeck until the same process was turned on him. Despite his own pain, Sam admired Tom's courage even more at this moment.
Haylene ended the image and enveloped Sam with comfort. "You corporeals -- you're such a mystery to us. You easily speak words like 'responsibility' and 'guilt' to Tom, yet you cannot see these in your own life. How can your vision be so clear for others and so muddled for yourself?"
Sam mused. "I don't know. I guess it's part of the human condition. That's part of why we need a family. By seeing our own pain for us, the others can protect us from ourselves."
"Ah, that is why you have Al." she replied with conviction.
"I hadn't thought of it that way, but yeah, that's one of the things that he does for me," Sam responded quietly. "Haylene, why are you showing me this now? Am I going to leap soon? Am I going to stay? What's happening to me?"
"Still such little understanding," she said, shaking her head again. "You told us to give Tom freedom to choose his own future. We complied and now we wait for his decision. Similarly, we give you freedom to choose. You'll decide whether to stay or go. We will simply watch, with interest."
Sam sat down, and quietly studied his hands. The yearning for home was so strong that it was almost physically painful. But if he went home, how long would he stay in his own body before he started leaping again? What about the other people who wouldn't be helped if he stopped leaping, what was his responsibility to them? And what about Al and everyone else at the Quantum Leap Project? Al had sacrificed so much to keep the project going, could Sam turn his back on him now? And Ziggy - - if they were shut down, the government could confiscate the computer and use it for harmful or dangerous projects.
There were so many reasons to go home. And yet . . . the desire to stay here was incredibly strong. The simple joy of being in his own body, being a complete person was almost intoxicating. He might have a chance to create a whole new life here, but could he be that selfish? There were so many things he could learn and do in the 24th century that went far beyond his imagination. In the end, could he do more good in this world than in his own?
"Freedom is difficult," Haylene whispered with a new understanding.
"Sometimes," Sam agreed with a crack in his voice.
"Yet, you've changed so many lives," Haylene replied with admiration. "You have sent many ripples through existence."
Sam looked at her. Worried that Tuvok's admonitions about interference were true, he responded, "I don't understand what you're telling me. Have I done something to throw off a timeline? Have I damaged existence somehow?"
"Oh, no," she glowed warmly and reached into him in much the way she reached into Tom. "Listen."
At first Sam didn't hear or feel anything. Then some vague whispers began to enter his consciousness and images started to take shape. It took a few moments before he recognized faces of the people into whom he'd leaped. He'd set a lot of events in motion and Haylene showed what happened after the leaps were over. Their lives weren't perfect, but there were a lot of happy marriages, adored children, successful careers, blissful reunions. And more than that, he could see that so many of them had reached out to help their own friends and families in ways he never anticipated. Sam didn't know it was possible to feel this complete. When Haylene finally pulled away and the images faded, Sam couldn't speak for a few moments. Finally, he reached out to her and said, "Thank you. I lived on the hope that I was setting things right, but I couldn't be sure until now."
Her silver eyes sparkled. "We explained that emotional energy signatures are permanent. If you stop leaping, what you have done will not be lost. If you continue, more will be added. In either path, you'll provide much to these signatures."
"Haylene, you've given me a lot to think about."
Haylene's colors turned a pale blue. She caressed his mind once more before disappearing.
Captain Janeway normally liked to keep a cool demeanor at senior staff briefings as a way of instilling confidence and maintaining command, but today was different. She knew that she had a smile affixed to her face throughout the meeting and didn't mind it at all. All the reports from ops, security, engineering, astrometrics, personnel, and sickbay were good news, and when was the last time that happened?
Plus, Tom and Tuvok were back! Tom looked so good that she could hardly believe it. He participated in the meeting, made a few jokes, and in a lot of ways, he was his old self. Yet, she felt something more from him, a kind of lightness in his spirit. She couldn't wait to talk to him alone and get a better sense of him. Janeway also noticed little changes in Tuvok that no one else would pick up. Somehow, he was more tolerant and less distant from the humans around him. Given the circumstances, she'd invited Sam to the briefing and was glad for it now. There was a gentleness about him that she found very affecting, and in the back of her mind she started considering ways that he might add to the crew if he stayed on Voyager permanently. 'Whatever Haylene did,' she thought, 'I approve.'
"Well," she summed up, "it sounds as if our ship and crew are in top flight condition. If we had time for a party, we'd have a lot to celebrate."
"A party! What a wonderful idea!," Neelix chimed in, elated. "Thank you for the inspiration, Captain. Now what should be the theme? Every good party should have a theme . . ."
"Slow down," Janeway interjected, "I wasn't serious. Our situation is still somewhat precarious. We don't know when we're leaving stasis and I don't want the crew to be caught off guard."
"I'm not sure a party is such a bad idea," Chakotay responded. "The crew has been in a pretty monotonous routine and they might start making sloppy mistakes. A social event might provide enough stimulation to re- energize them. I could put full crew complements at all of the primary stations so we would be ready for any sudden changes, but I'd make it short shifts so that people can rotate visits to the holodeck if they wish."
"Stasis has taken its toll on morale, Captain. And we have important crew back with us, all healthy. Surely, that's an occasion worth celebrating," Neelix beamed as all eyes turned to Tom Paris.
For the first time today, Janeway noticed that Tom looked uncomfortable. He didn't want to deny other people a little pleasure, but at the same time he wished that he could turn into a Changeling, sink into the floor, and become lost in the carpet.
The Captain leaned forward and gently asked, "Tom, what do you want to do?"
He stared down at the table for a moment and sighed. Finally, he said, "Believe me, I'm glad to be back and appreciate all that you've done for me." Tom looked around the table at everyone. "You all know what I've been through and you've been great about it. Normally, I'd be the last one to turn down a chance to party, but this experience was very . . . personal, and I don't feel ready to be the center of attention at a welcome back celebration."
Neelix felt a little sheepish about putting Tom on the spot, but his party enthusiasm hadn't waned. His eyes began to glisten with a new idea. Tuvok anticipated Neelix's attention shifting to him and spoke up before Neelix volunteered him to be the center attraction. Tuvok stated firmly, "I concur with Tom. Our holodeck activities would be open to scrutiny in the social conversations that emerge at such gatherings. If these events were intended to be shared, Haylene would have created different parameters for our encounter."
Sam leaned back in his chair and watched as the group debated the merits of a party. He saw his role as an observer in this meeting and remained silent. So he was more than a little surprised when the Captain turned to him and asked, "What do you think, Sam?" He started to say that maybe his opinion in this setting wasn't valid, but then he noticed Tom's eyes fixed on him. "I think Tom has stated his objections very clearly and he's earned the right to set some limits for himself. On the other hand, I can see the value of celebration for the rest of the crew. So maybe a compromise would be workable -- you could hold a party for another reason, one that didn't put Tom in the spotlight."
Fortunately, those words seemed to work. Tom and Tuvok were relieved, Neelix was thrilled, and Chakotay approved. Harry and B'Elanna appeared happy that Tom was satisfied. To everyone's surprise (except Harry's), Seven added that she'd appreciate another opportunity for a little companionship that a party might provide. The doctor looked very pleased with Tom and Seven's responses. 'Excellent,' thought Janeway, 'Sam may serve very well as part of our family.'
With a little more input, the party theme was developed: A night at a coffeehouse on old 20th century Earth. To the Captain's delight, Tom volunteered to work with Neelix to create the right atmosphere and invited Sam to help them as the resident expert on that time. Harry volunteered to organize some entertainment, and Neelix began contemplating all the wonderful dishes he could make with the new cookbooks and supplies. Caught up in the spirit of the event, Janeway donated some of her precious coffee stash for the occasion.
"Sounds like we have a plan," Janeway stated with satisfaction. "You can get started immediately." As the team began to head toward the door, Janeway casually leaned toward Tom and asked him to meet her at her ready room in ten minutes. She wasn't sure how he'd respond, but he grinned and nodded to her before he caught up with his friends.
As usual, Chakotay waited for a few minutes alone with her. "That was very generous of you to offer so much of your coffee."
She touched his arm, "I know it isn't really *mine*. It belongs to all of us."
He grinned down at her. "Well, as long as not everything in here belongs to everyone."
She leaned up and planted a kiss in the middle of his dimples, right about on his lips. "Why, Chakotay, are you jealous? I've never seen this side of you before."
"Not jealous," he clarified, pulling her closer. "It's just now that things are changing between us, I wanted you to know that I prefer some things to be . . . exclusive."
He stroked her face with his hands and with his lips. For her part, Kathryn put more force behind her kisses and felt a very satisfying response from Chakotay. Each a little breathless, they pulled apart. They looked at each other with longing, but both heard the signal from Tom that he was waiting outside her ready room door.
Laughing, Chakotay hugged her again. "After all these years, now Tom Paris learns to be punctual. If I didn't know better, I'd wonder if he planned this."
Janeway smiled in return. "I'll see you again as soon as I'm free." Tom tried to resist the urge to pace while he waited for the Captain to arrive. He wasn't totally sure what she wanted, but thought he had a pretty good idea. Still, she was never late for a meeting - - was this a bad sign? However, she was smiling when she approached him and lightly patted his arm as she led him into the room. "Tom, please come in."
Tom followed her and stood in the middle of the room, waiting to see if she was moving towards the couch or the desk. Janeway chose the couch, and he heaved a little sigh. Maybe this was just going to be a casual little chat. Starting to turn on the charm, Tom was taken aback as he sat down and met her gaze. Janeway didn't say anything for a full minute, just looked at him. No, not at him, through him. Tom felt she was reading him as clearly as Sam had on the holodeck. Finally, he had to break the tension. "Captain?" was all he could utter.
Janeway turned down the intensity of her look a little bit. "Tell me how you're doing, Tom."
"I'm okay, I guess. You know, it's a lot better here than it was on the holodeck," he smiled a little nervously.
"Nobody's told me anything about what happened there, but I can only guess how difficult it must have been for you," she responded sympathetically.
Tom tried to be a little flippant. "No, it wasn't really that tough. More like a vacation . . . all the fun of a ski trip without the cold weather. Great fun. Loved every minute." The Captain looked a little worried and Tom stopped himself. "I'm sorry, Captain. I didn't mean to . . . I guess old habits die hard . . .I want to be truthful with you."
He sighed a few times and could feel the tension building. "It was hell," he admitted, his voice tightening, "I cried everyday. And I'd almost rather die than to let anyone see me do that. There were times I hurt so much that I wanted to just quit. I'm not exactly proud of how I treated Tuvok or Sam most of the time, but they stuck with me and pulled me through." With tears brimming in his eyes, he looked at her. "For what it's worth, they gave me my life back."
Kathryn was moved by the depth and sincerity of his words. She reached out to him and smoothed her hand across his arm. "I can't imagine what that was like for you and I'm so sorry that I couldn't do more to ease your pain when you first came back from the planet. Tom, in some ways I see you as more experienced than the other crew members - -" she saw his painful expression at her words and hastened to add, " - - and often assumed that you could take care of yourself, but I misread what you needed. When Harry and Neelix came back from near death experiences, I encouraged them to take some time off to deal with the impact on their lives. But I failed to do enough of that for you. I just thought that you'd bounce back in a day or two like you always have, and you'd change your mind about flying then."
"Well frankly, I made it easier for you to think that. I mean, I'd usually just smile at you, no matter how I felt. I didn't know how to send clear signals when I was in trouble."
"Oh, the signals should have been clear enough; in my relief at getting you back on board, I just didn't see them right away. But when the time came, you chose to accept help and you showed a lot of courage. I don't know if I could have gone through what you did," she replied.
Tom saw true admiration in her eyes. "Thank you, Captain," he choked a little. "You were the first person to believe in me in a really long time. Your opinion means a lot." Tom debated moving forward, but if he didn't ask now, he might never have the courage to do it later. "Captain, there's something else. Something I need to know."
"Of course, Tom, what is it?"
He spent a moment tracing random patterns on his knee with one finger and he wouldn't, couldn't meet her gaze. Tom felt some compassion from her and wondered if he should risk their relationship over this. Taking a breath as if it might be his last, he dove in. "You knew the Admiral, I mean my father, and worked with him for a long time. I . . . I need to know what you knew about *me*. Did you know what was happening to me?"
Once the question was out, he was able to sneak a look at her. The expression on his face almost broke her heart. If he'd been made of porcelain, a touch would have shattered his features into jagged edges and white shards. She noticed a slight throbbing in his temple and realized he was frightened into near immobility by what he asked of her. Kathryn was tempted to reach out and comfort him, but was afraid of pushing him over the edge. So, very softly, she began to speak. "Tom, I'll tell you anything I know. I'm not sure what you need . . . he seemed proud of you, of your accomplishments." Searching his face, she sensed she was on the wrong track. "If there's anything you want to tell me about Owen, that's okay. I can handle it."
"But you liked my father, respected him. If I told you what he did, you might . . . " Tom's voice trailed off and he seemed lost in his own thoughts.
Kathryn picked up the thought for him. "I might not respect him anymore?" Tom nodded. 'Unbelievable,' she thought to herself, 'something horrible happened to this boy and he's trying to protect *my* feelings.' Based on what the doctor, Harry, and even the earth doctor, had told her about him, she'd already guessed what might have occurred. He was so vulnerable that she could hardly let him go on, but she understood that Tom wanted to do this, even if it wasn't easy.
She very gingerly reached for his hand. When he didn't pull away, she continued. "It's all right, Tom. You're the one that matters now. There are things you need to say, and I need to hear them."
His eyes searched her face, and until he spoke, she wasn't sure if he would stay or flee. His voice was very small, almost childlike. "If . .. if you knew that . . . that he beat me back then, would you have done something?"
Even though she anticipated this, her heart still missed a beat at those words. How could Owen do that? And how could someone like Owen be so generous to her and such a monster with his own child? Still that was how it often happened: Those rare reports of abuse always included friends and neighbors who were surprised that a 'nice' man or woman could do such a thing. She squeezed his hands a little more tightly -- they seemed so cold. "Gods, Tom, I'm sorry that you suffered such an ordeal. I had no idea that was happening to you, that Owen was that kind of man. If I had known, I'd have done all I could to help you."
"Even if it meant your career? You were only a cadet and then an ensign in those years, and you would have been going up against an admiral," he warned her.
The Captain's look was as intense as when he first sat down. "Helping a child shouldn't have jeopardized my career, but that would not have stopped me. Your father, the Admiral, was wrong. I'd have turned him over to the authorities and I wouldn't have given it a second thought. My only regret is that I didn't have a chance to do just that," she said firmly. As his eyes clouded with magnifying tears, she knew he believed her. He turned away from her for a moment and she allowed him the privacy he needed to pull away from his past. Still, she had to let him know. "Tom," Kathryn added gently, "there may be more about this you want to tell me someday. Or more questions you want to ask. When you're ready, I'll be here for you, no restrictions."
"Thank you," he whispered, sniffling a little. A long, silent moment passed. When he faced her again, a laconic grin graced his features. "There's something else you need to know about what came out of the holodeck. Haylene gave me a choice to stay here or go with her to help some people, especially some kids that are going through the same kind of life that I did. What you just said, about putting your career aside and protecting a child, well maybe those words apply to me. Maybe I should go."
Janeway was grateful that Haylene had helped Tom so much, but she didn't like this turn of events at all. Had Haylene been manipulating them all along for this final purpose? Or, Janeway had to admit to herself, was she jealous that Haylene could lure Tom away with a more attractive life? If he could be happier someplace else, did she have the right to deny him that chance?
She chose her next words very carefully. "I don't know anything about those other people that Haylene showed you and there might be plenty of reasons for you to go. I have no doubt that you could help them. But don't simply go out of a sense of guilt or responsibility. Go only because that is where you feel you belong." She sandwiched his hands between her own and looked in his troubled eyes. "The same standard should apply if you stay with us. I won't hold you back if you don't want to be with us anymore. But, whether you ever pilot Voyager again, you'll have a place here with us. We . . . I missed you when you were away."
"Missed me?" he repeated, a smile ghosting around his lips. It never occurred to him that anyone would feel his absence.
"Yes, very much. You seem surprised. Why's that?"
"I don't know," Tom began. "It's just that ever since I've come off the holodeck . . . I mean people have been polite and asked how I'm doing . . . but I've still had this really strange feeling. It's like this is different somehow. It's--"
"Unfamiliar?" she offered.
"Like you're sort of yourself, but not completely. And there are moments that you feel as if you're walking around in somebody else's skin," Janeway added.
"Yeah," Tom replied with conviction, "that's exactly how it feels. How did you know?"
Her eyes clouded slightly as she answered his question. "That's the way it was for me when I came back to the ship from New Earth. I had been changed during the experiences on that planet and it took a while for this to feel like home again. I wanted to fit in right away, but to be honest, it didn't happen that way."
"So what did you do?" he asked carefully.
"I wish I could give you a better answer, but it was simply time. Each day, I did something that was part of my old routine. It was like trying on old clothes - - I kept the things that still fit me and tossed the rest. After a while, everything felt natural again." "Like maybe flying will for me," Tom volunteered.
The Captain knew they had to get to this issue, and she was glad he brought it up first. "Yes. I don't want to pressure you too much, but I have to make some decisions soon. I've heard good reports from Chakotay and the doctor - - they both say that you look able to fly again if you want to. But the most important opinion here is yours. Do you feel ready to pilot the ship through the wormhole?"
Her question came back at him almost too quickly and he swallowed hard. "I'll be honest, Captain . . ."
"I can tolerate nothing less on this issue," she interjected seriously.
Tom sat up a little straighter. "Right. There was a time that I might have said, 'absolutely, I can do it, no problem' whether I believed it or not. I won't just give you a line now. I've been thinking about this a lot and I took Chakotay's simulations very seriously. You asked me where I belong, and if I stay here, I belong in the pilot's seat. I'm pretty sure I can do it. Please let me try. If I freeze up, or get overwhelmed, I'll step out and let Chakotay take over. I won't fight you on that. And if I can't fly, I'll learn to adjust and find another way to be useful."
"Why shouldn't I just let Chakotay fly us through?" Janeway asked noncommitally.
Tom felt stung by her words, but he couldn't deny it was a fair question under the circumstances. He considered for a moment before answering. "Maybe in your place, I would put him in the pilot's seat. I know a lot depends on our making it through the wormhole and he's been working on exit scenarios longer than I have. But, frankly Captain, I'm a better pilot. That's not a false brag, it's just a fact. There's something about it I can't explain very well, but I know what needs to happen and this ship responds to me." Feeling his confidence building, he looked her straight in the eye. "Captain, I can do this."
She stared at him and searched his face for bravado or doubt, but found none. After a moment, she stood and nodded at him. "Very well. Continue the simulations with Commander Chakotay, simulations which I guarantee will become more challenging. If you do well, and if you decide to stay, the pilot's seat is still yours. At the first sign of trouble, you'll be relieved and we'll re-evaluate your status once we're back in normal space."
Tom stood as well and smiled at her. "Yes, ma'am. And thank you. For everything."
She smiled warmly in return. "You're welcome."
Watching him leave, she noticed an easy gracefulness in his motions. Janeway wondered what he would decide and whether she should have tried harder to prevent him from leaving. 'No,' she concluded, 'trying to force him is the worst thing to do. He must want to be part of this family if he's ever to be happy.' She cursed Owen for what he'd done to the boy, but she was very proud of the man in her midst.
That night, the coffeehouse on the holodeck was packed with crew members. Many had been mystified by the long delay in going back to the Delta Quadrant, and bored by the lack of duties other than diagnostics and maintenance. On top of that, some were concerned about the secured holodeck as well as the prolonged absence of the security chief and head pilot. The coffeehouse night reassured them and allowed them time to be together. Neelix, Tom, and Sam had done a wonderful job of capturing just the right atmosphere. The place had soft lighting, couches and chairs that were arranged to be both intimate and open, and the walls were decorated with deep rich earth tones. The room seemed to wrap itself around each person as they entered and were welcomed into this world. And to the surprise of many, the food was actually all right. Particularly popular were the salty snacks from Earth, the flavored coffees, and Neelix's pastries, which were exceptionally good. Chakotay observed that it was amazing what Neelix could do when he faithfully followed the recipes.
Seven and the doctor entered together and stood by the door, observing their surroundings. "Now remember," the doctor whispered to her, "this is just like the practice parties we've had on the holodeck. Join a group, ask relevant questions and then contribute a comment of your own. Stay for a while, then move on to another group."
"That is mingling?" she asked, scanning the room.
The doctor noticed a slight strain in her voice and worried that he might be overloading her with information. He looked at her sympathetically, remembering how difficult these social encounters were for him until he mastered interpersonal relations. No one else would likely have picked up how nervous she really was, but the doctor thought this was good medicine for her. "Yes, that's mingling, but don't worry about it. Have a good time." To the holodoc's relief, Chakotay and Janeway saw her and waved her over to their table. He watched her for a few moments, then satisfied, began to mingle himself.
Eventually, he found his way over to Tom's table and joined them. Tom, Harry and B'Elanna had chosen a table back in the corner, away from the entrance doors and from a small stage, where a guitar duet was currently performing. The doctor was initially concerned that Tom was reverting to his old behaviors and that maybe the party was a mistake. But upon closer inspection, Tom seemed relaxed enough. In fact, all three of them seemed to be having a wonderful time.
As Harry watched quietly, Tom chatted amiably with B'Elanna and the doctor. Tom was occasionally interrupted by a number of people who came to their table, greeting Tom as if they were glad to see him. Harry noticed that Tom was nice enough, but a little uncomfortable, so he didn't let anyone stay too long. After the most recent contingent left, he asked, "Are you okay, Tom?"
His friend smiled a little weakly and answered, "Yeah. I guess I'm a little surprised. I didn't expect to see so many people. That's sort of why I chose this table in the first place."
"We can move or leave if you want," B'Elanna volunteered, wrapping her fingers around his hand.
Tom stared at her hand for a moment and then seemed to brighten when he looked at her. "Thanks. No, let's stay a little while longer. I really am enjoying myself." With a dramatic sigh and a very innocent look, he added, "I guess, it's just all that time away -- I forgot what a popular guy I am. It can be a terrible burden, you know."
B'Elanna playfully jabbed him in the ribs and he hugged her in response, laughing. The doctor rolled his eyes at Tom, but couldn't keep the smirk from his face. Harry would have smiled as well, but he was struggling with the coffee that was going down his throat and the laugh that was pushing up his throat. After Harry caught his breath and regained his composure, he shook his head and said, "Tom, you have no idea how dull it's been around here without you, but at least I could eat and drink in peace. Warn me next time you're going to do something like that."
Tom laughed again. "Harry, I told you that I might shake things up a little."
"So you did," Harry conceded, "and now it's my turn to shake things up."
At that, Harry headed towards the stage and picked up his clarinet. Chakotay had talked to Harry earlier in the day about performing and he'd initially declined. The Commander hadn't made it an order, but eventually made it clear that it was something that the Captain would appreciate. Although seemingly nervous about performing, Harry agreed. Now Chakotay could see what music did for Harry, how the young man abandoned himself to the joy of the experience. Although casually jamming, the quartet Harry had put together from the crew played with a surprising tightness.
Chakotay discretely looked around the table to see if Kathryn was enjoying it as much as he hoped, but his eye was captured by the expression on Seven's face. She seemed to be scanning the room and noticing how much others were responding to the music. When Seven looked back to the stage herself, she seemed mesmerized by the music and smiled a little when she'd look at Harry. Chakotay wondered if Seven knew that she was actually tapping her fingers in time to the music. In turn, he noted that Harry smiled and his cheeks reddened a little each time their eyes met. 'Is something going on?' he wondered.
The Captain interrupted his train of thought. Grinning, she said, "They play beautifully. Who knew we had such talent on our ship? We have to do this more often." She turned to Neelix and Chakotay, "Thank you for arguing for a party. You were right -- this is just what the crew needed."
"Thank you, Captain," Neelix beamed. "You know, I already have an idea for our next party."
The Captain laughed, "I'm sure you do, but let's just enjoy this evening before we get started on the next one."
"Good idea," Chakotay added. "Harry's taking a break. Shall we go offer our congratulations? I'm sure he'd appreciate our compliments."
Kathryn nodded and they walked over to the table. Harry did indeed glow at the Captain's words. Shortly after the couple's appearance, Tom pushed himself to his feet. "Well, it's been fun, but I think I'm going to take off."
A little alarmed, the Captain asked, "Tom, are you alright? Is anything wrong?"
"No, everything's fine. It's that . . . I've had enough and I need to get out of here. I . . . I just need to be alone for a while," he replied.
"You may still be adjusting to the new adrenaline levels. Perhaps a rest would be a good idea," the doctor nodded approvingly.
"Want some company?" B'Elanna asked.
"Not right now." He leaned down and kissed her cheek, then whispered, "I'm not shutting you out, I'm just kind of overwhelmed. I'll talk to you later." Standing, he added for everyone else to hear, "Please, stay and enjoy yourselves."
"Hail us if you need anything," Chakotay reminded him as Tom started to walk away. Tom smiled and waved at him in response as he headed out the door.
They sat around in silence for a few seconds before the Captain asked the question that they were all considering, "Doctor, does he seem okay to you? Is there anything that we need to worry about?"
"Well, I've learned that it's considered poor etiquette to bring a tricorder to parties," he sniffed, "but I didn't detect anything abnormal in his general demeanor. Tom has been here for a couple of hours and has interacted with many people in his typical fashion. He even made Ensign Kim choke at a joke. Overall, Tom seems very normal. Or at least, very normally Tom."
"We have to trust him to reach out to us if he needs us," B'Elanna added.
"Okay," the Captain responded, satisfied for now. "So, where's that fresh pot of coffee I smell?"
Outside the holodeck, Tom walked slowly back to his quarters. The quiet of the halls was soothing and he was looking forward to being inside his room away from all the attention. By the time he reached his quarters, he was starting to feel a little relief.
Normally, Tom liked a lot of activity in his room. He usually turned on music and lots of lights within a few seconds of coming inside. But tonight he felt a little sensory overload and was drawn to the window. Tom stood in silence, admiring the wormhole's tapestry of swirling colors.
Tom didn't know how long he'd been standing there when he heard someone at his door. He expected it to be B'Elanna or Harry and was a little ticked that one of them would follow him back so quickly from the coffeehouse, but decided he'd be nice and just send whoever it was away as soon as possible. So he was surprised when he opened the door.
"Sam? What are you doing here?"
"Yeah, uh, hi," Sam looked a little nervous and smiled sheepishly. "I'm sorry if I'm disturbing you. I don't know exactly why I'm here. We didn't get much time together at the party and I . . ."
Tom had never seen Sam look nervous before and it seemed important to make him feel comfortable. "No problem," Tom smiled and waved him in. "C'mon in. Would you like something? I could replicate us a few raktajinos. You might find the first one a little strong, but B'Elanna got me hooked on it and I love them now."
Sam smiled, a little more relieved. "No thanks. I think I've had my fill of coffee - - or whatever you called that drink - - for the night." He looked out the window. "Of course I guess the idea of 'night' and 'day' is a little different here."
"But it's going to change soon, isn't it? We both feel it." At Sam's nod, Tom asked, "Is that why you're here?"
"Yeah, I guess so. Right after you left, Tuvok and I were sitting together and we both felt something different from the wormhole. I don't know what Haylene is doing -- in fact, I was visited by her earlier today. She essentially told me that I have to decide whether I leap home or stay here. So you and I are sort of in the same boat about choosing our own futures. I don't know how much more time we'll have together, so, I felt the need to check in with you once more. Now that you're with the rest of the crew, how are you doing?" Sam asked earnestly.
Once again, Tom felt that familiar wave of comfort and warmth. He didn't need it as much as before, but it still felt as if he were being sheltered in a soft blanket. "Thanks, Sam. It's okay, I guess. You were right about a lot of things. Harry, Chakotay, the Captain - they've all been great. And all those people tonight, well, it was just amazing. I mean, they seemed so genuine and so happy for me. . ."
"What about B'Elanna?" Sam prompted.
Tom's glowing report hit a more somber note. "I know we've still got some things to work out, but I think we're off to a good start. She came with me and met Little Tommy at the beach. The three of us had a picnic." As he said those words, the happiness returned, "Oh, Sam, it was so good."
"I'm glad for you, Tom. It sounds like it's been a pretty good couple of days. Is there anything else happening for you?"
Tom hesitated a little and Sam noticed the little nervous habits kicking in. "I don't want to borrow trouble. I'm trying to be happy, really."
Sam smiled at him. "Tom, being a happier person doesn't mean you have to feel good all the time. And it doesn't mean you're falling apart if something is bothering you. It's a good idea to just identify what's happening and try to deal with it."
"Okay," Tom began. "Like I said, most everything is great. But I'm not the same person who left a few weeks ago and I don't feel as if I fit in here in the same way. The Captain said something about giving it time, but what if time doesn't make much difference?"
"Tom, do you like who you are now?" Sam asked simply.
"Yeah, I do. It's still strange, but a good strange if that makes any sense," he admitted.
Sam smiled, "That makes perfect sense to me." Their link was still strong and Tom felt not only the usual warmth, but Sam's own sense of differentness from the rest of the crew.
"You've made some major changes," Sam acknowledged, "but your basic essence, what makes you unique is still the same. You don't have to get rid of everything that was part of your life before you entered the wormhole. Just look at the physical or verbal barriers that you use to push people away and set those aside. See if you can be without them one day at a time. And when you get back to what you do best, it will probably feel even more normal."
"You think so?"
"I do," Sam confirmed.
Tom was encouraged by these words, but he also felt a little embarrassed. "I wish I could have figured this out for myself."
"You would have," Sam reassured him. "Remember, you're still making a lot of adjustments. Don't be too hard on yourself. The best piece of advice I can give you is to be as patient with yourself as you'd be with Little Tommy."
Tom grinned and smiled. "Yeah, okay. Thanks, Sam." More seriously, he asked, "What are you going to do now?"
"Yes, what are you going to do now?" They both turned to see Haylene materialize in Tom's quarters. Haylene's colors were sea blue and navy, swirling in a slow dance through her body. The crystal she carried, so easily balanced in her hands, was nearly half their height and glinted brightly. Both Tom and Sam were fascinated by the dozens of facets of perfectly polished crystal planes. "Gentlemen," she continued, "it is time for each of you to choose."
Tom and Sam exchanged glances, each a little nervous for himself and for the other. Haylene turned to the younger man first, "Tom, you've had more time to choose. Do you come with me to Mendarin's world or stay among these corporeals?"
"Wait. Before I answer your question, I have some of my own."
He noticed her cocked eyebrow, so much like Tuvok, and realized she'd acquired human aspects much as she'd given them some of her own emotional uniqueness in their connectedness to each other. He forced his attention back to his questions. "It's about the wormhole. And I guess I have two questions. The first is about the way the wormhole opened up right after I went to warp in the cloaked shuttle. Why? Why did it appear then?"
"It was your emotional energy, Tuvok's telepathic abilities . . . all of those things and more. Perhaps Chakotay could explain some of this. He and I talked about it. And, yes, the cloaked shuttle going to warp was like an emotional trigger as we felt your excitement and your fear."
Tom tried to absorb her explanation, but remained confused enough to believe he'd better talk to Chakotay. "O-kay-y."
"Your other question, Tom?"
"In order to get back to our own time, we need to go back through your wormhole. When we come out of stasis, will it stay open long enough for us to go through safely?"
"Perhaps that long, but no longer. When we leave for our new home, it will collapse."
"Can't you stay until we get through it?"
"I'm sorry. The cumulation of emotional energy is at the highest level we can handle. Our home is very differently constructed from that of the prophets where ships can pass back and forth without causing difficulty for the prophets themselves. One more pass of Voyager through and we would be permanently destabilized and then both ourselves and the wormhole would collapse instantly. If that happened, you would have no chance for survival. The pilot of Voyager will face a challenge, but should be able to fly through successfully."
"Is there a way that you could shift the other end of the wormhole so that we could emerge in the Alpha Quadrant in the 24th century?" Tom asked brightly.
The longing for home' Haylene recognized. "There are limits to our abilities. We are not the Q. I am sorry that we cannot send you home. You should know, it is not yet time."
"What do you mean?" Tom asked.
"You can be safe in the Delta Quadrant, but it is not time for home," was all she would say.
''Not much in the way of reassurance,' Tom thought. And although she'd promised she'd not take him with her until Voyager was through to the Delta Quadrant, her words helped him to see clearly what he had to do. Tom braced himself with his hands on the back of a chair. He didn't know how she'd respond and hoped it was not with anger at his decision. Nonetheless, he knew he couldn't act out of fear of what Haylene might do. "I can't go with you. I want to stay here," he told her simply.
Haylene's silver eyes shut and her colors turned a dark purple. Tom began to wonder if the others would be punished for his choice and he held his breath until her colors paled. She opened her eyes. Upon feeling and seeing his fear, she brushed his mind. "All is well, Tom. We will not retaliate or force you to go. But we want to know why you choose to stay."
Tom tried to explain. "I just came back from a party. I left a little early because I was kind of overwhelmed, but it was still okay that I went. One of the things that Sam and Tuvok showed me was that I may not be able to depend on my biological family, that I have other choices. This crew can be a family to me, and Little Tommy, and maybe B'Elanna. . ." Sensing that he was babbling and Haylene did not understand, Tom opened his mind to her and simply said, "Look."
Sam was a little worried about Tom being overwhelmed again, but he sensed that Haylene was being very careful this time. As Tom was wrapped in blue energy, Sam saw sparks dance inside Haylene and outside in the wormhole in a graceful ballet of light and movement. He didn't know how long it was going to go on until Haylene pulled back from Tom. "Ah, so this is family for you. This is why you must stay."
"Yes," Tom whispered. He took a few more breaths to balance himself and continued. "Haylene, I honestly hope that you can help Mendarin and his people. Show them how to stop the violence and how to take care of the children. I hope you find the ones who are hurt and tell them that they might have someone who will help them if they'll let them into their lives. Maybe they'll turn to you, if you allow them that choice. Maybe it will be others. I just know it can't be me."
"Yes, now we know. Your place is here," Haylene smiled gently as she turned to the other. "And what do you choose, Sam?"
Sam had almost forgotten about his choice, as he was completely absorbed in Tom's experience. But she was right -- he couldn't go on indefinitely as if he had no control or responsibility for his leaps. Tom didn't say anything, but Sam could feel his longing for him to stay. And this crew was so warm, so much like a family to him. Ironically, however, Tom's words reminded him of where he really belonged. "Haylene, this has been the most important experience of my life. I don't know how to thank you for all you've given me. But, I think I'm ready to leave. I want to go home."
Her silver eyes fluttered ever so slightly as she processed his words. To his relief, her colors stayed a warm and inviting pale blue. "So you go back to add more to the signatures," she stated knowingly.
"In time, I will," he agreed. "But first I have to take care of my own." Looking at Tom, he added. "You've reminded me how important it is to be with the family who loves me. I've asked them to wait for me long enough."
"So, if I hadn't opened my big mouth, you might have stayed here," Tom muttered a little bitterly.
"Oh, no, Tom," Sam said reaching out to him. "What you gave me was a great gift. Just as I helped you see some things that you were hiding from, you helped me see what I was hiding from. I kept telling myself 'maybe the next leap will be the leap home,' but I wasn't willing to accept that I was choosing to give more to strangers than to my own family. You've shown me that in my own way, I was avoiding my shot at happiness. After this, I can try to balance my need to help and my need for home. Now we can both try to be free."
"But, what about if we need you again?" Tom asked. "Not just me, but the others on the ship could gain so much from you."
"If there was a way to bring my family here and keep leaping, I would, but I just don't know if that's possible," Sam answered honestly. "If I could go back and ask them, that would be one thing, but I can't unilaterally decide that they'd give up their lives in the 20th century. And frankly, I could never survive without knowing that Al was with me somehow. I need him like you need Harry." Tom nodded a little sadly, but with understanding.
"Choices," Haylene murmured. "So difficult for existence in a linear world."
"Yes," Tom smiled at her, an idea forming in the back of his mind. "It is difficult for us, but it may be easier for you." In his best Huck Finn mode, Tom told her and Sam what he wanted to do. They both agreed with his plan and for the first time in a long time, Tom felt that he had done something truly good for his family.
Sam wanted to delay his next leap home another hour so that he could say farewells to his friends on the ship. Tom declined to come back to the holodeck with him because he wanted to work on his plan with Haylene. Tom and Sam said their goodbyes before Sam left for the holodeck.
Tom hugged the man who had helped him so much and blinked back the hot rush of tears. "Thank you, Sam. I don't know what else to say."
Hugging the younger man back, Sam grinned at him through his own tears. "It's me who needs to thank you." Stepping back, Sam kneaded Tom's shoulder a little and told him, "You're truly a good man, Tom. Don't ever forget it."
The bittersweet moment hung in the air until Tom reassured Sam that he'd see him again soon. As Sam headed alone back down the hall, he already missed the young pilot.
When he reached the coffeehouse, it was a much quieter place. Most of the crew had come and gone, but the senior staff were still there. Sam was glad that he'd have a chance to speak to everyone. After making his announcement, he was particularly touched by the degree of regret that each person expressed. Still, no one tried to coerce him to stay.
He finally found a few minutes with the Captain alone. "Sam, I can't thank you enough. I don't know what we would have done for Tom without you," she began.
"Well, I have to give you a lot of credit. I arrived here under unusual circumstances--"
"To say the least!" Kathryn added, and they both shared a laugh.
"Still," Sam continued, "you trusted me and Al with the lives of your crew when you had very little information about us. And if you hadn't rushed back here to the wormhole, Tuvok and I might have spent eternity in Haylene's rooms."
"Well, you earned my trust at every turn, Sam. I share some of Tuvok's concerns about your leaping around in time, but I can't fault the results for us," she smiled.
Sam leaned a little closer so that the others in the room wouldn't overhear their next exchange. "I hope I'm not violating that trust now, but can I ask about you and Chakotay?"
"Oh, so you're a matchmaker as well?" Janeway asked.
His grin broadened. "I wouldn't call it that, but I have noticed that you two seem very close right now. From my own experience, I wanted to tell you that he seems like a great guy and if you have a chance at happiness together, don't let it pass you by. Second chances are rarer than we hope."
Kathryn was deeply touched and hugged him. "Thank you. It took a lot to break through the barriers that I'd put between us and in a way, your friend Al helped me see the chance I have now. This experience has reminded me how fragile my life can be and maybe I should be a little more appreciative of what I have here." Pulling back to look at him, she added. "You've been a great addition to the crew. I will miss you and if you ever find your way back to us, you'll be welcome to our family."
At that, Kathryn hugged him once more and headed off to sit with Chakotay, their hands intertwined on the table in plain sight of anyone who cared to look, their gazes locked onto each other. Sam was glad to see how happy they looked. As he scanned the room, he noticed that Tuvok was sitting alone in a corner. Although he didn't look lonely, Sam felt a little sympathy for him. He hesitated to approach him, but Tuvok nodded at the seat in front of him.
"Thanks. I expect that you've had your fill of human contact for one day," Sam volunteered.
"You are correct," Tuvok acknowledged, "but you are welcome here."
Sam didn't know how to say easily what he wanted to tell Tuvok, but he made a stab at it. "I want you to know how much I admire your compassion and courage."
"You have given me much to consider as well. I do not expect that it will change my commitment to logic as the premise of my existence, but I can now accept that there is value to emotional responses under specific conditions. The Captain will no doubt consider this 'progress' on my part." Lifting one eyebrow, Tuvok added, "I will give you all the credit that is due for this progress."
Sam recognized that he was being affectionately teased, but he was too gracious to openly respond to the gesture. Tuvok continued, "Haylene has continued to communicate with me. For reasons that she did not articulate, she feels it is necessary to give each of us a 'gift' of some sort. Before you go, I should like to offer you one more 'gift'. You and Haylene may share the same commitment to changing things for the better, but you do not share her capabilities. If you must continue to tread through time, do so lightly. Look around you -- we are your future. Each time you 'leap', you take on the responsibility of affecting our existence."
With a lump in his throat, Sam could only nod. He hadn't thought about leaping in this way, but Tuvok was right. The lives of people centuries ahead of him were now very personal to him. Sam stood to say goodbye, as did Tuvok, who raised his hand. "Live long and prosper, Sam."
Sam repeated the gesture and then put his hand forward. Tuvok complied and they shook hands, an experience that Sam found to be surprisingly warm and open. He thought any more words would be redundant and walked away with a slight nod of respect when Tuvok released his hand. Sam couldn't be sure, but he thought he saw a fleeting smile pass the Vulcan's lips.
This encounter was a little more intense than Sam expected, so he stepped to the coffee house 'window' for a second to catch his bearings. He'd never had the chance to say many goodbyes during his leaps, and now he wondered if that wasn't such a bad thing. He turned away and saw Harry walking towards him.
God, Sam really liked this kid. He had come to see a lot of himself in the younger man; they both came from strong families and loved science and music. More deeply than that, Sam sensed that he and Harry shared the same kind of optimism about helping others. To each's occasional dismay and more frequent delight, they had chosen a best friend who was both guarded and reckless, who pushed them to stretch their own limits. Still, they both had the capacity to see the finer qualities in their friends that other people so easily missed.
Sam started to speak, but Harry interrupted him. "Please let me go first. Sam, I want to apologize. When we were on the planet, I was angry with you when you occupied Tuvok's body. I felt like you were caving in too easily to Warrington and that made it easier for them to hurt Tom. I know that you probably made the rescue possible by keeping us together in one room. But what I knew didn't change how I felt. I was enraged and you were just an easy target. I'm sorry."
Clearing his throat, Sam placed a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Harry, you have nothing to be sorry for. I knew you were focused on saving Tom and all your instincts were right. Remember, I didn't try to stop you when you slugged the MP." They both smiled at that memory. "Besides, I couldn't have protected Tom through the nightmares without you."
Harry lowered his voice so others couldn't hear. "I know that I can't violate the Prime Directive, but I want you to know that I've started working on the problems you described about Ziggy and leaping. If I ever find a solution, I promise I'll try to help."
"Harry, I appreciate that, but don't waste your time on this. Even if you find the solution, it would be too late." Sam wanted to turn away, but he looked Harry straight in the eye, hoping to get through to him. "I'm going back to a world that'll be 400 years behind you. My leaps don't matter any more in your time. You know I'm dead and gone in your century."
"Don't say that!" Harry was surprised at the intensity of his own reaction. Sam watched carefully as Harry calmed himself. Looking a little sheepish, Harry muttered. "I'm sorry, Sam. I didn't want to recognize that fact, but I know it's true."
"And it doesn't change the way you feel," Sam added sympathetically.
"Yeah, and there have been so many losses," Harry choked a little. "I mean, we've lost Kes, we've lost our home, we're losing you, we almost lost Tom . . . It's just hard."
"I know, and I'm sorry," he responded gently.
"Yeah," Harry muttered. After a moment, he brightened a little. "Okay, so maybe you are gone. But there's still a one in a million chance. We run into temporal anomalies, noncorporeal species, things you couldn't believe. I'll just keep my eyes open for something that might help you, that's all."
Sam knew he was not going to completely dissuade Harry from this idea. For Harry's sake, he wished they were a little less alike at this moment. But at least he could try to protect Harry from himself a little bit. "I want your promise that you won't obsess about this."
Harry saw in Sam the same gentle firmness that he'd often seen is his own father's face and felt a twinge of nostalgia. "I promise."
Sam stood and said warmly, "Take care of yourself. And keep an eye on Tom for me."
"You, too. Take care. And the next time, you see Al, tell him I said hello and thanks," Harry replied.
Sam smiled and sighed. "Yeah, I guess we each have our hands full."
"Tell me about it," Harry laughed. "Can you imagine what it would be like if we got the two of them together?"
"Please!" Sam countered, "I'm not sure that either of our worlds is ready for that!"
Laughing again, Sam was surprised to hear a familiar voice behind him. "Oh, Sam, now that hurts! I'd say that I'm exactly what this place needs. I mean, you call this a party? Where's the noise, the dancing, the fun? Geez, I bet you even made this one of those no-smoking cafes. Where's a guy supposed to enjoy a decent cigar?"
Sam whirled to see Tom, Haylene, and Al at the coffeehouse entrance. Haylene's colors flared with intensity - - however she was doing this, it must have been taking tremendous energy. Sam looked to Tom, and Tom nodded meaningfully - - their plan would be a success. Sam met Al and hugged him. For the first time in how many years, he was really with him. Not a hologram, not a dream, but the real Al. Resplendent in an iridescent orange suite with a shiny brown shirt, Al slapped the younger man on the back and just repeated, "It's good to see you, too, kid. It's good to see you, too."
After a moment, the others approached. They had lots of questions about how he'd arrived and what he was doing there, but Al had no answer. Finally, he turned to the Captain. "Listen, I'm not holding out on you. I really don't know how I got back here. At first, I just thought it was a dream. I've had a lot of dreams since I left here. The last thing I remember I was sitting at Sam's desk in his office and then whoosh -- the next thing I know I'm looking at Tom," Al glanced at Tom and they both smiled, "who seems to be in pretty good shape. I figure 'Oh, I must have fallen asleep again,' you know, no big deal, I'll just go with the flow. So anyway, we're chatting away and then Blue Bonnet here shows up," he added jabbing a cigar in Haylene's direction, "and I know there's no way that I dreamed her."
"I am called Haylene. I am *not* a Blue Bonnet," she responded with an imperiousness the doctor would have admired. Her colors swirled in a way that Sam had never seen before. He didn't know if it was possible for a noncorporeal entity to be insulted, but Haylene's reaction came awfully close.
Haylene and Al sized each other up, and Al thought better of the next smart-ass remark on his mind. "Okay," he conceded, "you're Haylene." Al stepped up to his friend and squeezed his shoulder, "I don't know what the hell is going on, but Haylene said I'm here to take you home. If she can help make that happen, that's good enough for me. So what do you say?"
Sam's eyes with brimmed with tears. He looked to Haylene and she glowed with a soft light and nodded at them both. He was actually going home, but Sam almost didn't dare believe in it. How many times had he dreamt of this moment? How many moments in his own life had gone by? How --
"Sam," Al interrupted his thoughts, "are you ready to go? We've got wives waiting."
Sam smiled at him. Al had good instincts -- this wasn't a time for thought, but a time for action. "Yes, I'm ready to go."
"Is there anything we can do to help?" Kathryn asked.
Sam looked warmly at all of them and said simply. "Wish us well."
Then they took a step away from the group and all held their breath.
"Sam, I know I've done this once or twice, but it's Swiss-cheesed my brain. What does leaping feel like?" Al asked quietly.
Sam looked at Al and then to Tom. Smiling, he replied, "It feels like flying."
At that, they both coalesced into blue light as if exploding from within. Sam felt the familiar tingling sensation run over his skin like warm water, the waves of energy that were pouring outward, the last glimpse of Al as he began to fall into the Nothingness between leaps. His last conscious thought was 'I wonder if this is what it's like for Haylene - sentience without sensation, existence without boundaries.'
Haylene's colors burst forth as well and the three energy patterns melded. The crew was stunned by the brightness of the colors and yet it did not hurt their eyes. A few seconds passed and then the blueness formed into the solitary figure of Haylene. She was a translucent blue and her eyes sparkled like silvered diamonds. All of them felt her warmth as she said, "It is done. They are home."
Then she disappeared.
Unnerved and still needing to be alone, Tom left the holodeck immediately after Sam's leap and returned to his quarters. Resting on his couch, not sure of how much time had passed, he roused himself when the door chime rang. Sitting up, Tom said, "Come in."
He wasn't surprised to find B'Elanna entering his quarters. After all, he'd said he'd talk to her later. But he'd made two abrupt departures from the coffee house and didn't know if she had taken them personally. Warily sizing her up, he interpreted the body language as friendly. "Tom. Is this okay? My coming here?"
"Hi, I'm glad you came." He stood and gathered her in his arms. Nuzzling her neck, he said, "It's good to be with you again."
"Sam's gone now," She wasn't sure if he'd seen that in his haste to leave the holodeck.
"I know. I was just thinking that it's only been a little while and I miss him already."
"He was very special to you."
Tom nodded. "Yeah, he was." Looking at her, he added. "Sam had to choose what was right for him, and so did I. I just let the Captain know that I'm staying on the ship. I want to build a life on Voyager. More than that, I want to build a life with you."
She could hear the request, the pleading in his voice. His vulnerability pulled at her heart. Still, she didn't automatically succumb. "I can't make any decision like that now, Tom. We need to talk about some things."
As she spoke, B'Elanna wondered if the threat of talking would drive him away. Talking seriously about their relationship was definitely not part of Tom's repertoire.
He seemed to struggle as an almost infinite range of emotions played through him. She tried to study his face and saw sincerity, pain, regret, and hope. Eventually he started, "B'Elanna . . . you mean everything to me. I want to make things right. Will you let me try? I'd do anything."
"Be careful, Tom," she warned him. "Don't make any grand gestures here to impress me. I need something more substantial."
His blue eyes centered on her face. "I've been out of balance my whole life. In flying, I wasn't careful enough and in relationships, I was too careful. I don't want to be careful like that anymore if it's going to put up a wall between us. I'll do whatever you ask."
"I don't want to be shut out again, Tom. If we're to have a relationship you must let me in, tell me what is going on with you. When we went to the holodeck and you introduced me to Little Tommy . . . it means a lot to me. But when you broke up with me . . . " Taking a deep breath and looking him straight in the eyes, she announced firmly, "It wasn't easy for me to open myself up to you either, but I did it. And you weren't the only one in pain when you came back from earth, you know. I was mad -- mad that you got hurt and almost died and left me alone and broke my heart. I was so upset that Neelix had me murdering tomatoes."
Tom had been trying to listen carefully, but this last line threw him for a loop. "Huh?"
"Tomatoes!" she repeated, with a firm nod.
"I don't get it. Should I?"
She took a big, disgusted breath, feeling the old anger resurface. All right, she'd explain it to him. "When the Captain came back from Earth, she brought a lot of fresh fruits including tomatoes. Neelix was fixing your favorite foods, which apparently require a lot of tomatoes--"
"Of course, the pizza!" he interjected.
"Don't interrupt," she admonished. "Now Neelix first told me to think about each tomato as someone who had hurt you. So I skinned them, knifed them, mashed them, and mutilated them. I murdered the tomatoes."
"You killed them for me? Thank you," Tom responded with approval.
"You may not want to thank me, yet, flyboy," B'Elanna warned. "After a while, when I picked up a tomato, I thought of *you* as I worked over those tomatoes. Do you have any idea what you put me through? All that worry and anguish, and I didn't think I could feel any worse. Then I finally get you back and you dumped me, *dumped me*. And before I can get my bearings, you disappear to the holodeck and I don't get to shake you to your senses or . . ." her voice temporarily lost some of its vehemence, "or find out if you're all right. I tried to break in, but never got through."
He risked a smile at her. "You were trying to break in? To rescue me again? I'm glad to know that the calvary was charging over the hillside."
She tried to look angry, but couldn't completely keep the smile from her face. "Don't tease me. I'm serious. At first, I was doing it out of curiosity, but it very quickly became something more than that. I was in agony for you and because of you, and was left with no way to make it stop. Got it now, Paris?"
Reading her mercurial moods and threats was not easy at the best of times and he knew this was not the best of times. Careful not to provoke her further, he chose his next words carefully. "I think so. Gods, I hope so. You . . . you wanted to hurt me like I hurt you? Is that it?"
"Oh, yeah, for a while I wanted to hurt you big time," she confirmed.
Tom wasn't sure whether he heard a slight growl in her response. After the Pon Farr incident, he told B'Elanna that he'd seen her big Klingon scary side and that it didn't get to him, that he'd like to see it again. Now, he wasn't sure that was such a good idea. Tom took a step closer. "Okay. I hurt you badly and you have every right to want revenge. Do you still want to torture me? If that's what it will take to make our relationship work, then go ahead."
Even though Tom had spoken his last words softly, B'Elanna saw him steel himself for an attack much the same way Neelix had, and she felt the same enticement. Circling him, she was tempted to teach him a lesson, but it was important to stay focused on what she really wanted. "No, that's not enough," she whispered in his ear, "besides it would only end up hurting me."
Now Tom was totally confused. Was he under attack or not? And if she was the one who wanted revenge, how was he hurting her? Partly out of self-defense and partly out of frustration, he stepped back and turned on her. "What's going on here? Is this some kind of mind game? I'm trying . . . B'Elanna, just tell me what you want."
She saw that look of pain in his eyes and realized that she may have gone too far. Maybe he was really trying. "All right. I'm trying to show you something important."
"What? That I'm a tomato? Got it," he spat out.
"No! That's not . . ." she sighed, determined not to let her anger get the better of her.
For the first time, he saw the same frustration in her eyes. Tom remained wary, but he sensed a glimmer of the B'Elanna he loved. He kept his distance, but laughed a little. Putting up his hands, he said, "I'm not laughing at you. I just can't believe that we're both so good at our jobs and so lousy at this. How'd we ever get together?"
"Just our luck," she replied with a mix of sarcasm and affection.
Tom took that affectionate tone as a hopeful sign and slowly walked up to her, taking her hand. "It was luck, good luck. But I've learned that relationships can't survive on luck. They need work." Taking a deep breath, he continued. "So I'm willing to try one more time to keep an open mind. What's the important thing you're trying to tell me?"
B'Elanna worked to gather her thoughts. "I learned the only person that I hurt when I'm angry is me, so it's not worth it to be angry at you. I learned that if I wasted my energy, expending anger on a tomato, then all I did was hurt myself. I didn't pay attention and cut myself. The doctor was not happy with the wounds." Tom look concerned and gently turned her hands over, but she assured him, "Oh, they're okay now. That's not the important thing."
She could see Tom getting lost again. "What I mean is, . . . I didn't know that I loved you that much or that you could wound my heart so deeply. I know you were in pain when you came back from Earth, but that didn't give you the right to take it out on me. I can't soak up your pain and my pain too, and if we can't learn to handle our problems better than that, then we really don't have much of a future. I need to know that it's okay to set some limits here, for both our sakes."
"Does this mean we have a chance now?" Tom asked her, allowing her to see the urgent wish behind his words.
"I want to believe you when you say you worked hard on the holodeck and that you've changed. I'm willing to give us one more chance if you can live with the following ground rules. First, we have a relationship meeting once a week. We're going to talk about how it's going for each of us and deal with problems when they're little instead of waiting for them to explode."
"Okay." He moved forward as if to hug her, but she shook her head and he stepped back.
"I'm not done. Second, we're not substituting sex for solutions. If there's something wrong or one of us is upset, no more trying to sleep it away. Don't get me wrong - - I'm very satisfied with that side of our relationship. But I don't want to destroy it by trying to make it soak up everything we feel, good and bad. I want us to share passion for the right reasons."
She was surprised that he didn't turn on the charm over that one, but he simply replied. "You're right. I'll try to be more honest about what I really need."
"I'm glad to hear you say that, because that's the third condition. Before we go any further, I need to know everything."
"What do you mean, 'everything'?"
"Just what I said, everything. Now that you're here, I can see that you really did deal with some things on the holodeck. But, I know that you still have stuff you need to work on and will for a long time to come. If I'm going to be part of your life, then I want to be part of that process. So I need to know everything that's important for you so we can face it together."
Tom didn't say anything for a long time and B'Elanna wondered if this was too much for him. Still, she knew what she needed and if he couldn't give it to her, it was best to know now. Finally, he said, "Maybe it would be all right if we sat down? This could take awhile."
She nodded and claimed a seat at the far end of his couch. When he sat down, at a respectful distance, he leaned toward her and fixed his eyes on hers. She wondered what he was doing, staring at her like that. "You're staring, Tom."
"Yeah. I guess I am. I have missed you so much." At her look, he turned off the charm. "Okay, in the past I never told you much about my life growing up; you know what everyone knows about my screw-ups and that my family, my father, disowned me. There's a lot more." Unsure of himself, Tom asked, "Do you really want to hear this?"
"Do you want to tell me?"
He grinned at her. The way she threw his words back at him were a reminder of how they'd so often behaved towards each other in the past. It was nice to feel normal for a minute. She let him see a faint smile as she understood why he was grinning. "I need to tell you."
Several hours later, she'd heard most of it. B'Elanna was amazed when he'd actually allowed her to see tears in his eyes over a holodeck incident. "When I saw the way the Admiral smiled when I made a simple mistake . . . all I did was tip over the glass 'cause my hands were shaking so hard . . . but when I saw his expression . . . it was as if he was pleased or satisfied."
She saw nothing but pain in his eyes and reached out to touch his face. "I'm sorry, Tom."
"Me, too," he said, taking a couple of deep breaths. "But I confronted the Admiral and it freed me a little." Tom struggled to put into words what the moment had meant to him. "I knew then that he never loved me, never would. But the fault wasn't mine. It was his. He . . . he isn't . . . he can't. I don't know why. But I finally realized it wasn't because I never lived up to his expectations. He just put those out there so he had an excuse."
Bitterness mingled with Tom's sadness. She tried to comfort him, "Tom."
"No." Afraid she was feeling rejected, he immediately corrected himself. "I'm sorry, that's not what I meant. I'm trying to tell you . . ." He looked down at the floor and silently hoped he had the courage to take the next step. "I don't want to be like him. I want to feel something real. B'Elanna, there's something else I haven't told you. I should have, but . . . I didn't know how."
He reached across the distance that had gradually narrowed between them and, after seeking her permission with his eyes, held her hands in his. He lightly thumbed across the surface of her fingers. Then he pulled them up to his mouth and kissed them as he watched her reaction. "B'Elanna, Tommy asked me on the holodeck about loving you and I was able to tell him that I do. But, now, I need to tell you." His softly spoken, but intensely felt words settled on her like delicate touches. "B'Elanna, I love you."
She wanted to believe him, but this was no time for lingering doubts. "Don't say those words if you don't mean them. I won't live a lie."
He moved a little closer and opened his soul. "I mean them. I love you, I love you."
B'Elanna stared at him for a moment and then got to her feet. Tom thought that somehow he'd blown it, she didn't believe him and he could feel himself shattering. But she reached out to him and gently took his hand, restoring his hope. He was confused for a moment as she started to walk towards the door. But at the last second, she turned towards his bedroom. Tom resisted a little and she turned, concerned. "Tom, are you okay with this?"
"I want to, I do . . . but are you sure? You said that we shouldn't substitute sex for solutions. I don't want to rush things if you think . . . "
B'Elanna walked up to him and kissed him gently. "This is the way it should be. We're not having sex as a way to avoid each other. We're making love because we're part of each other. I've never felt closer to anybody than the way I feel with you right now. This is the good side of passion that I wanted for both of us."
Still a little surprised, he allowed her to lead them to his bed. Almost afraid to hear her answer, he pulled back enough to ask, "Can I take it that you love me, too?"
"Oh, yes. I love you, Tom." She said softly. He began to kiss her when she abruptly pulled him off his feet and onto the bed. "Now, get over here," she growled and pulled his head to hers, kissing him fiercely on the lips, devouring his mouth, and taking his breath away. There was a satisfying surprise in his eyes as she launched herself at him. She bit him on the cheek hard enough to draw blood. He fell back and dropped her hands, his own fingers flying to his cheek and coming away with blood on the tips. She was looming over him, some of his blood on her lips, a dark hunger in her eyes. She dropped her mouth to his and kissed him again.
Doubt fled as love and desire fused in his return kiss. He put every bit of passion that he felt for her into his lips and tongue and hands. As their mouths developed new formations and statements of love, his fingers splayed through her hair, drawing her head as close to his own as possible. It was only when forced to break away to breathe that he was able to open his eyes and murmur her name aloud just as it had been resounding throughout his heart. "B'Elanna, B'Elanna, I love you so much."
Dark flares seared his face as her eyes spoke her response. Breathless herself, B'Elanna whispered his name. "Tom." Unspoken messages sparked between them and he slowly undid her top. Four sets of hands trembled from need, from craving, and from the danger to each if the other one backed out of the urgent drive toward intimacy. Her top undone, he let his fingertips and palms caress her face and cheeks and touch her eyelids with a lightness and tenderness that reassured her that he was fully there. He touched butterfly kisses on her eyes, her nose, her chin, her soft neck, and worked further down from there, murmuring his love for each freely given part of her.
Her hands pushed up under his tunic and slowly trailed a path to his shoulders where she stilled his hands momentarily by pulling his top up and over his head and off his arms. She had no idea where it went when she tossed it aside. It was not important, but kissing him was. With a howl, she pounced on him again. Her arms went around his bare back and kneaded the muscles in his shoulders and neck. His answering groan of pleasure was part of her reward. The other part was in what he did for her.
Later as they lay together, Tom stroked her hair and kissed the top of her head. B'Elanna didn't lift her head from his chest, but she reached upward to intertwine her fingers with his. Caressing her hand, he asked very sweetly, "B'Elanna, what happened to the 'Tom' tomatoes?"
She looked up at him and purred, "Trust me, you don't want to know." But then she reconsidered and with a 'Tom Paris' smirk, told him, "Think of it this way: I would pick up a tomato and I would imagine it was the color of your butt when I finished with it." A satisfying flush spread across his features and she relented. Taking his hand in hers, she softened her voice and said, "All you need to know is that I plan to treat the real 'Tom' much better."
Heaving a sigh of great relief, Tom knew to quit when he was ahead.
Haylene stationed herself at the farthest edge of the village in a copse of brush and trees, almost a mile from the nearest cabin. The crystal rested beside her, nearly as tall as she was, a dull gleam in the predawn light. The people in the village were just beginning to stir.
Finally, Mendarin walked the path that was only ten feet from her. He was alone and appeared bruised and defeated. She called his name very softly. "Mendarin."
The boy's purple eyes darted around as if expecting to be attacked any minute.
"I won't hurt you," she told him.
His head cocked to one side, he regarded her skeptically as he saw her face among the branches. Silver eyes, huh. "Yeah? Who are you? What are you?"
She smiled at him and her warmth drew him in closer. They were both obscured from view now and no one else was on the path. Mendarin worried that he was either in a very dangerous situation or about to go on the adventure of his young life. He really hoped it was going to be an adventure.
She spoke to him again, "I am Haylene. I am from a people far away from your village. We have seen what you've endured and wanted to help. This is a crystal that I bring to you as a gift."
His eyes narrowed at the size of the crystal, as tall as he was and fuller in the center. The morning light gave it a clarity and purity that almost overwhelmed him. "It's beautiful. What do I do with it?"
Haylene's colors swirled with a warm blue green and pale blue all mixed together. She banked her energy down to meet the capabilities of the boy. The lessons she had learned from Tom Paris, Sam Beckett, and Tuvok were unforgotten. "Mendarin. The crystal has many lessons in it if you would care to look. I have come from a young man named Tom Paris who had a childhood much like yours, beaten and humiliated by others; his story is in there. He has begun to overcome these terrible experiences and appreciate his own worth and value to himself and to those who love him. There are many other stories that are different from your own, but you can learn from them as well. You will see that your world does not have to be as it is."
Mendarin was a quick thinking youth, but her words were beyond him. "I don't understand."
"Take the crystal and use its energy for your own growth, for it contains more than the story of one man. There are examples of people who were cherished by their families and who thrived. Look at Harry Kim and Kathryn Janeway. Remember those names."
"How does all this work?" he asked with a certain practicality.
She placed his hands on the crystal and it glowed as if for him alone. For moments it held him transfixed by the images and experiences in the crystal. Haylene was careful to keep the stream steady and not too fast or too much for him to keep up with. When it was finished, he gazed up at her silver eyes with awe in his own. "Are you a god?"
"I could be, but I chose not to be. I want you to know that we care deeply about you and your people. I will be here for you if you need me. But I warn you, I don't do miracles -- my people will let you choose your own path. We wish my presence to be healing and helpful, but other than stopping the abuse of the children, we will not directly intervene. My one rule by which you must live is one I have adopted from another culture long ago and far away: Treat others, including children and other sentient beings, as you would want to be treated yourself. Protect your children and love them. Simply do this and all will be well."
Mendarin tried to adjust to all that he'd seen in the crystal and to Haylene's words. "I don't think that's going to work here."
"It starts with one person, Mendarin."
"How do you mean?"
"Your crystal. Use its strength and wisdom."
Once again, the boy cocked his head at her. He doubted if he could lift the crystal, much less use it. As if reading his mind, she told him, "The crystal will remain here. It can't be moved, it can't be destroyed, it can't be used by those with evil in their hearts. Bring others to it who will look into it, see it and feel its message, and let them believe in its healing power. Then they will go out, one by one, to others in your village and eventually to other villages. The crystal will stand here as a symbol of the value of children everywhere."
Mendarin had so many questions for her that he didn't know where to begin. Alarmed, he thought she was about to disappear. "Wait! Don't go! What if I need you?"
"I will return."
"Is that a promise?"
"Yes. It may not always be when you hoped for, but I will always return. In my absence, the crystal is also a symbol of my love for you."
"Why?" he asked, desperate to understand.
"Why did I choose you when I had a universe from which to choose?" The boy's purple eyes told her he needed to know. "Because you needed me."
In a swirl of blue, she was gone. Although it was tempting to believe that he had imagined the whole exchange, the crystal remained. When he touched it, it glowed, but even when he shoved at it with all his might, it remained immovable. Finally, he sat down and simply gazed at it, wondering how he was going to tell anyone about the experiences of this morning.
The shadows lengthened until it was almost dusk. He was reluctant to leave it, but knew he had to return to his clan's cabin. From the trail, as he looked back, he could not make out the shape of the new mystery in his life.
When he approached his cabin, they were waiting for him in the plaza. The two ruling brothers of his clan blocked his path; one held a leather belt and the other had a heavy rock in his hand. Ranged far behind them were his mother, sisters and younger brother. It was the time of leaving and he would be beaten bloody and senseless, as had so many others before him, and then dumped many miles from the village. He'd seen the procedure only a short time before on his best friend Keeban and then he had never seen his friend again. Mendarin knew what was supposed to happen next.
At a somewhat safe distance, Mendarin stopped. Selartal and Fritensen slapped their weapons ominously. Shaking with fright, but certain of what he had to do, Mendarin carefully addressed the ruling brothers. "I have a message for you. The beatings have to stop."
Fritensen howled with laughter. He nudged his brother and almost bent double from mirth. "That is some message, Mendarin." Then he laughed some more.
When the brothers began to advance on him, Mendarin stood his ground. The first blows from the belt and the rock landed on him and drove him on hands and knees to the dirt. He wiped the blood from his nose and through the hail of blows concentrated his thoughts on the crystal. His back was to it, so he only had the later reports of others to tell him what happened next.
The crystal glowed and sent up enough light to make the village seem as if in the full day's sun. A tendril of blue light was seen lashing out from it like lightning. The tendril touched the belt and it burned in Selartal's hands and he dropped it quickly. The rock was pulverized into steaming pieces before Fritensen could drop it, leaving his hands burned from the blue blaze. The brothers stepped back, howling in pain and rage. Mendarin dared to look up at them from his bowed position in the dirt. When he realized that they were no longer interested in beating him, there was relief and awe in the boy's dark purple eyes.
He drew himself up to his feet and addressed the entire village. His child's voice carried over the entire area as he told them, "Haylene wants us to protect our children and each other. No more beatings."
Mendarin's mother pushed forward, but was careful to stand apart from the ruling brothers. "Are you now the ruler, Mendarin?"
"No. Selartal and Fritensen are still the rulers."
"And who is Haylene?" Selartal sneered.
"Someone to be treated with respect," Mendarin told him. He flinched when Selartal raised his hand as if to strike him, but Mendarin focused his purple eyes on the hand and Selartal stopped. It wasn't that Mendarin had actually done anything more than stare at his hand, but Selartal remembered the way the belt had gone up in smoke. He dropped the hand.
"How did you do it?" Selartal whispered.
The child's voice once again carried over the area of the village to all those who were now out of the cabins, observing the scene. "I did not do anything. There is a crystal that we all must study and try to understand its message. Come. I will show you."
He led the group to the crystal. Even in the dark, it still glowed with enough energy to light the path from the village. Mendarin approached it first and placed his hands on it. He was wrapped in a blue light, smiling. When he stepped away, he looked to his mother and offered a hand to her. She gingerly approached him and Mendarin walked her to the crystal. She had a similar experience and encouraged other villagers to take turns approaching the strange artifact. Its glow varied slightly for each adult, but it brightened for each child.
Having watched this for a few moments, Fritensen angrily pushed others out of his way and put his burned hands on the cold bright surfaces of the crystal. In a moment, his hands were healed. He withdrew them and gazed at Mendarin in wonder and awe, his newly healed hands held out in front of him. To Mendarin and to the villagers he said, "We will study this."
''Good', Mendarin thought, 'the crystal allowed him to be healed, there must be some good in him after all.' Stepping up, Mendarin placed his own hands on the dimming crystal. Its warm light flared. A holographic image of a young alien with dark yellow hair and blue eyes appeared. They all could hear the words he himself had listened to more than once on this remarkable day.
"My name is Tom Paris. When I was growing up my father beat me with his hands and with his words. When I was older I did some things I shouldn't have and was put in prison. Even worse things happened to me there. I made some really bad choices." They saw a pained smile on the man's face. "My father didn't make me do the things I did, but I think I could have made a lot better choices had my father protected me and loved me. I wish every child could grow up protected and loved."
Mendarin absorbed the words and images and allowed the strength of Tom Paris to flow through him. With complete conviction, he told his village, "Tom Paris is right."
Mendarin's mother put her arms around her son and gazed down into his determined face in the waning light of the crystal. "Yes. Let's go home now."
She smiled at him and he smiled back. Selartal and Fritensen stepped out of the way as mother and child walked back to the village, the mother's arm across her son's shoulders, the boy's arm around her waist. With Haylene's power, the crystal's message and enforcement, and very important to him, with his mother's support, Mendarin knew that he had made a beginning.
The wormhole turned outside of their viewport, time began to register again, and Harry and the Captain were the first to realize that the stasis was dissolving. When Kim's probe sent back confirmation that the other side of the wormhole was indeed in the Delta Quadrant and in their time in the 24th Century, Janeway called Tom Paris to the bridge.
He walked onto the bridge as if he belonged there. Harry called to him, "Telemetry's on the helm console."
As Tom walked down to the helm to take his seat, he could feel some of the fear and trepidation that he'd experienced not so long ago. Still these feelings were mixed with an excitement about flying that he'd deeply missed. 'The Captain was right,' he thought, 'it is just like putting on old clothes.' He stretched his fingers, rubbed them against his palms, then dried his palms on his pants legs. Finally, he placed his fingers back on the helm and was relieved that the panel had a familiar touch under his fingertips. Even though he knew it was irrational, he sort of felt as if the ship had missed him as well.
He sensed B'Elanna enter the bridge not long after him as she took her station at the bridge's engineering terminal. Briefly, he glanced back at her before turning his attention to the helm controls. Her wide grin was reassuring. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Janeway's own smile. Chakotay was watching him, but it was a casual look of approval, not the glare of assessment he'd expected. Whatever happened next, Tom knew he'd made the right choice to stay on Voyager.
He took a deep breath and took in Harry's readings. Plotting the course, he announced, "Ready, Captain." To himself he wondered if he was ready. Would he be up to the challenge ahead? He wasn't going to back off, get sick, or run from the bridge. He had to do this.
Tom turned back to look at the captain, her face now in command mode. She nodded at him, "Take us back to the Delta Quadrant, Tom."
His hands danced over the console as he guided the space craft through the center of the wormhole. He made adjustments as they went, his eyes and hands working in tandem, so busy that there was no time for his doubts.
Harry told them all something they dreaded to hear. "Captain, the wormhole's destabilizing."
"How much time?" she asked.
"One minute to collapse."
Before she could address him, Tom gave the captain his response, "Don't worry, Captain. We have seconds to spare."
With the massive wormhole collapsing around them, Tom kept his hands steady and Voyager's course true as it threaded its way through the space-time waves that buffeted the ship. He became less sure of the amount of time left than his words to Janeway implied as the currents buffeting the ship grew stronger and the wormhole began imploding behind them.
"Ten seconds," Kim counted down. "Nine . . . eight . . . "
At eight seconds they still could not see the end of the wormhole. Tom's hands flew across the controls, keeping Voyager going almost by sheer force of will through the cross-currents and eddies that threatened to throw them into the maelstrom. At six seconds, a huge wave threw Voyager sideways in the wormhole, its inertial dampers momentarily going off line. It knocked Tom momentarily away from the controls, his head hitting against the console. He blinked it off and hurried back to his job. At five seconds, the great ship continued to slew sideways and sparked off the disintegrating interior wall of the wormhole. At three seconds, the darkness of the Delta Quadrant could be seen.
Like a pianist playing a difficult piece, his hands knowingly touched the right controls. "Almost there, Captain," Tom told them even though his voice reflected the strain. A trickle of blood threaded down his forehead. Impatiently, he used the uniform covering his shoulder and upper arm to deflect the path of the blood threatening to course into his eye. If the captain saw the blood, he worried that she might replace him and he knew he could do this. Just a little more . . .
At one second they burst through as the wormhole collapsed behind them in a spectacular display of color and light. They were tossed by the loose waves from Haylene's former home. Tom brought them through on to a steady course and announced, "Full impulse, Captain."
"Nice flying, Tom," she congratulated and the pilot basked in her praise.
As the bridge crew cheered, Tom slumped back into his chair. Inside him he heard another cheer, one voiced by a small child. 'Hey, Tom. Good job,' Little Tommy congratulated and Tom smiled ruefully at the thought that his inner child wanted to comfort him. His head hurt, not like on the shuttle ride the other way through the wormhole, but enough to tell him that a visit to sickbay loomed in his future. But it didn't matter. What mattered were the challenges he'd faced, and that he had faced them, not run away or lied or tried to kid himself that they didn't exist. The captain stepped down to his chair, noted the smear of blood on his forehead.
"Are you all right, Tom?"
He grinned up at her. "I will be, captain. I will be."
"Very well. As soon as we're safely out of here, report to sickbay." Turning to ops, she asked, "Harry, what's our location? And Stardate?"
"Checking," the ensign told her. "We've returned to the Delta Quadrant thirty-three days after we left. And our position . . . " he paused to check his readings. "Captain, we're eight years closer to home."
"What? Tom, did you know about this?" she asked.
"No, ma'am," he replied honestly. "Haylene told me that the wormhole would lead back to the Delta Quadrant, but that's all. She never said anything about where we'd come out."
Chakotay stood and approached Kathryn, taking her hand. "This was her final gift to us. She told me that if Kes cared enough to send us 10,000 light years closer to home, then we must be corporeals of great worth. Haylene inferred that there are still some things that we must accomplish here, but she would help us get closer to home."
"Why didn't you say anything?" she asked.
"I wasn't sure whether Tom and Sam's decisions would affect her willingness to help us and didn't want to raise false hopes among the crew," he admitted. "I thought it was the right thing to do."
The Captain nodded and spoke loud enough to hear for the bridge crew. "You were right. Harry, project the rear view on the screens."
As they all peered at the screen in awe, Kathryn moved closer to stand beside Chakotay, both unselfconscious of their close proximity. In front of them they saw an incredible sight: colorful eddies and swirls as the shape of a wormhole decomposed to random trails and patterns of color and light, all shades and hues of blues, blue greens, blue greys, light blues, sky blues, Mediterranean blues, and blues like jewels of sapphires, turquoise, opals, and lapis. Kathryn whispered to Chakotay, "I know that somehow you led Haylene to doing this. It is an immense gift, but you shouldn't have to carry that worry about false hopes alone. Please, no more secrets."
He pulled her closer to him. "No more secrets. I promise."
B'Elanna watched the colors and was initially as mesmerized as the rest of the crew. But then she was captured by a single streak of blue that was as clear as that of Tom's eyes, a blue that flooded the screen with its purity and brilliance. It stopped her heart as she mentally matched the beauty on the screen with the beauty she saw in the soul of her lover. She noticed him looking at her with a transparent love that radiated out from him as if all the forces in the galaxy had put his love gently and completely in her waiting hands. She accepted his gift and sent the forces of the galaxy back to him on invisible wings to settle on his heart and to float inward to tell him that he was truly loved himself. Tom's expression refracted like Haylene's crystal into a thousand images of joy.
Donna and Beth were indeed waiting when their husbands leaped home. At Al's insistence, and after making sure that all of Ziggy's programs were intact, Sam took six months away from the project, trying to make up for lost time with Donna. Among other things, they went to Indiana to see the farm where Sam was raised. They also spent time with his mother, his sister Katie, and his brother Tom. Eventually, Donna introduced him to his daughter from one of his leaps, Sammie Jo. Over the years, Sam and Donna had two more children of their own. Sam worked hard to be a caring and present father.
At Beth's insistence, Al took a little personal time as well. He could deny her nothing and continued to treasure Beth every day. They took a short trip to visit each of their four daughters. Over the years, Al never got used to being called 'grandpa', but he wouldn't have missed it for the world.
As Al expected, Sam couldn't walk away from leaping. Within a year, he'd begun to set right what once went wrong again. But Al noticed that Sam handled the leaps much better - - he was less disoriented and less worried about being lost in time. Significantly, Sam continued to find his way home on a regular basis through the coming years. He learned to balance help and home. He and Al both learned how to be happy, or at least happier, to the end of their days.
Rain Robinson graduated in the fall of 1998 with her master's degree and continued her work in the health field. The maid of honor at her wedding to Paul Johannsen was Rachel Hernandez. In a few years, when Rain and Paul had their first child, a girl named Tessa, Rachel was promoted to head the secret project monitoring reports of aliens. She was also named godmother to Tessa, a privilege she took very seriously. And Hammond Smith was delighted to play surrogate grandfather during his occasional visits.
Alicia Warrington and Hammond Smith finally 'retired' and accepted the invitation from Admiral Al Calavicci to help with project Quantum Leap in 2006. Warrington added the weight of her political connections to Al's network and between them, they were able to secure funding and protection for the project for many years. Smith liked the project immensely and was a true asset to the medical team. Hernandez and Warrington maintained a close working relationship. Rachel Hernandez did not forget about the alien response proposal developed by Warrington and Janeway. She pushed the proposals' guidelines at every opportunity and groomed her protégé to do the same. Over time, their work made small, but significant changes in first contact situations. Hernandez was genuinely thrilled to live to be one hundred years old and to experience vindication of her life's work when the Vulcans made First Contact with the peoples of earth. And their friends in the FBI were no longer alone. Warrington, Smith, and Admiral Calavicci watched their careers, shared information, and protected them when possible. Although Warrington initially had reservations, she came to respect them very much. In fact, her only regret was that her husband also became obsessed with sunflower seeds. As the agents continued their struggle to expose the truth, each maintained faith in the rightness of the cause that consumed their lives and the steadfast loyalty of one to the other.
Captain Braxton of the 29th Century Time Police continued his patrols out of his own century into the past, fixing what once went wrong when others played with the time line. Haylene had been a wild card in his operations on Earth in 2004 and his superiors accepted the fact that he could never successfully shut down Sam Beckett nor close the space-time anomaly of earth. However, his courageous flight to find Beckett and Tuvok at the wormhole in time for Voyager to reach them was deemed worthy of a commendation by his superiors, something of which his family was very proud. His actions inadvertently saved the lost Voyager and its precious information about the Delta Quadrant of the 24th century.
Haylene and her companions began to develop a wormhole in the same galaxy with the planet she now thought of as not quite hers, but of continued special interest to her. She visited Mendarin every so often and was pleased to see his growth as a young leader of his people.
Not surprisingly, B'Elanna and Tom's relationship continued to be volatile. They both wanted their relationship to work, but didn't have the tools to do it right. After a particularly anxious week of unresolved arguments, Tom suggested they visit the holodeck. B'Elanna initially refused, reminding him that picnics and children were no panacea for adult problems. Tom gently persisted and she grudgingly agreed. To her great surprise, they entered an office like setting. Walking towards them was Sam Beckett.
"What is this?" B'Elanna asked Tom. "Sam went home."
Sam introduced himself, "I'm Sam Beckett, your holographic counselor. How may I help you?"
Haylene also returned to the Delta Quadrant to monitor Voyager's progress towards its home in the Alpha Quadrant. Although Tom Paris still wrestled with the painful residue of his past, overall, she believed she saw a more hopeful and happier young man. She hovered outside of a meeting on the holodeck. There were eleven men and women seated in a circle, the holographic Sam sitting in as a facilitator. She heard Tom say, "My name is Tom. I'm an abuse and rape survivor." Before Haylene left, she heard a clear woman's voice say, "My name is Seven . . . "
The holographic counselor was a popular and helpful figure on the ship. The doctor's bedside manner improved somewhat under Sam's tutelage, and to his relief, Sam took primary responsibility for addressing the psychological ramifications of any injuries. In turn, the doctor provided the same medical mentorship to Sam that he'd provided to Kes. Between his own medical training and his extraordinary intellect, the holographic Sam quickly became an able colleague to the holodoc. Although he wouldn't admit it, the doctor was glad for the company and that he wasn't alone anymore. For his part, Tom encouraged Sam's medical interests at every turn, as it freed him from sickbay and let him spend more time on the bridge where he knew he belonged. Eventually, Captain Janeway gave both Sam and the doctor the rank of Lt. Commander.
Haylene initially helped Tom to create a holographic image of Al for Sam's sake, but he became valuable to many members of the crew. Janeway found that Al had an uncanny ability to read tactical situations and his military instincts still had merit in her time. With clear limits on his authority, Janeway allowed him to keep the full rank of Admiral. To Neelix's delight, Al also saw the importance of parties to staff morale and encouraged them frequently. But most of all, Al continued to be there for Tom. They had a unique relationship, and although he was only a hologram, Al came to be the kind of father figure that Tom needed. Sam and Harry were right - - they occasionally had their hands full when both of their friends were in full Huck Finn mode.
Shortly after their return to the Delta Quadrant, the Captain held a memorial to acknowledge that now that Voyager was in its rightful place in the 24th century, the friends they'd made in the late 20th century of earth were long gone. The losses were felt to some extent by all who had encountered Sam and Al, Warrington and Smith, Rain and Hernandez, Nurse Duran, Johannsen and Tarani. Tom and Tuvok privately honored Sam as well. Tom thought about overcoming difficult times and of the purple eyed boy named Mendarin. Tuvok diligently worked to maintain all he had learned in Haylene and Sam's presence.
By the time you read this, official canon may have replaced or rendered moot some of the ways we have envisioned the characters on Voyager. It may be that some episode reveals that Tom was never beaten by his father or that he was never beaten or raped in prison. Certainly, in the fanfic realm there is wide disagreement on this issue. This story presents our take on his life.
This story's length resulted partly from dissatisfaction with the incredibly fast resolution of complex situations and problems that we see on the show's episodes (and partly from our own underestimation of how long it would take to tell this story!). As of this writing, issues such as Kes' absence and the Hirogen's occupation of the ship have rarely been mentioned, much less resolved. Further no member of the crew displays any symptoms of psychological trauma, despite the constant threats and assaults that they endure. In our lives, events have consequences and, in part, we wanted to deal with these consequences in a more meaningful way than what the show often portrays.
Reese Air Force base actually existed, but as far as we know there has never been a secret facility there to monitor for aliens or anything else. It is 'closed' and has been taken over by Texas Tech University for some of its projects.
Lubbock, Texas actually exists. It was the home of Buddy Holly!
The counseling which took up much of the second part of the book is based on actual counseling and support group principles for victims of childhood and adult abuse. However, lots of liberties were taken for dramatic purposes: The pace of counseling was very fast, much of the mundane but essential work was omitted, and we do not know of anyone having access to Haylene's powers to help them in their work. The dual relationship of Tuvok and Tom as officers in a direct chain of command on Voyager and as counselor and client would be forbidden by most canons of ethics.
Don't try *any* of this at home, boys and girls! The therapy sessions may have appeared to go smoothly because Sam, Tuvok, and Tom always said just the right words at the right time - - something that almost never happens in real therapy or real families. If you or someone you care about has been abused, they should seek professional counseling. A local rape crisis center, mental health center, or hospital is often a good source of referrals.
A little about some of the content: Tom's behavior in prison -- taking drugs and thereby allowing his friend to be caught -- reflects where he was in a dark time of his life when he saw no future and no options. Someone in such a position, especially someone who had previously abused alcohol as a coping mechanism (which the canon suggests is true of Tom) would more easily succumb to the seductions of drugs and act in ways that reflect the drugs' power over his life and decisions.
For those who may have wanted a reconciliation between Tom and his father, such a turn of events would not have seemed realistic (a) given the way we portrayed the Admiral, and (b) the sad fact that most such confrontations do not result in reconciliation. Although Tom and his father could one day resolve their problems, it would only be realistic if both of them made an extensive commitment to participate in therapy together over time. At this point, there's no indication in the canon that Tom or the Admiral would be amenable to this approach. However, as we wrote, there can be empowerment for the survivor.
Although Voyager tackled the subject of repressed memories in the 4th season, it did so in an unsatisfying and unconvincing fashion. Can memories be false, even implanted? Of course. Can they be repressed? Yes, and we show this as part of Tom's recovery.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. It would be nice to think that programs and policies in place now would eliminate the need for such a month in the 24th Century.
We left untold a number of stories which could have been included in the main story we told here. In the interests of brevity (I know, surely we jest!) we left out some subplots and didn't fully develop others. We would be interested in feedback about story threads you'd like to see pursued in more detail. Revisit the web site from time to time and check to see if we've added any new stories from the Shuttle Down universe, or from Voyager. As always, we welcome your comments and feedback!
Judy and Jacki
May 20, 1998