Second Chances
By Lanna (
Codes: P, All
Summary: Voyager becomes the center of an inter-dimensional battle when
two alternate versions of Tom Paris appear onboard the starship. Takes
place after Season 7's "Drive".

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters on Voyager. This story was written
because I love the show, not because I want to make a buck.

Notes: Some spoilers for Jeri Taylor's novel, "Pathways". No, make it
*lots* of spoilers. You will need to read my AU story "Assassin" first
to understand one of the characters -  You can get the story
here. Try not to skip this
step as it'll enhance this story further.

Recently, I discovered that Lisa A. Browning wrote a story with the same title.
This was a mere coincidence, and after much thought (and after trying
fruitlessly to come up with another title), I decided to stick with this one.  As
you read the story, you'd understand why. Thanks to Sian for her careful
corrections, wise remarks and great patience! Thanks a mil! And of course I love feedback -
write to me at Chiao!


Dimension 14790
Shima Territory,
Rugad Arilius.

 He lit his chuntpah.
 Beneath his hood, the smoke wafted out, temporarily masking the
putrid odour of rotten foodstuffs left at the side of the roads. Rain
had pounded the Shima Territory relentlessly these past weeks, and it
had only let up yesterday, leaving the streets muddy.
  Cold blue eyes accessed the Romulan general dispassionately,
watching out for weaknesses - they noticed a slight limp on the left
leg and a tendency to favour the left hand for tasks. Also, the general
did not go anywhere without an escort. And that escort was a very
capable Tal Shiar agent.
 Anger simmered in his eyes.
      Petty squabbles among Romulan ranks were a waste of his time and
talents. But his employer thought that a hired assassin would be better
than a hired hand from the Romulan empire. Untraceable, they thought.
 Perhaps, if his patience ran thin, he would leave some traces for
these backstabbing Romulans to find. The Tal Shiar would be very
interested to know that Praetor Zoles was intent on murdering the Right
Hand of the Romulan Empress.
  It was a foolish wish and a potentially deadly move for the
Praetor. However, Zoles was intent on winning the Empress' favour, and
without General Vitak in the way, he would do anything - even risk
 On schedule, he noticed the Tal Shiar escort stumble and look
bewildered; then pained. He clutched his stomach and looked ashamed as
he whispered something in the General's ear.
 General Vitak frowned in anger and whispered something harshly to
the agent, which in turn made the agent blush a deep green.
 <Something wrong, Tal Shiar? A little upset tummy, maybe?
 The mild poison that he had released into the agent's room was
potent enough to cause acute pain. A lesser Romulan would have been
rolling on the floor in agony by now - but the Tal Shiar had trained
the agent well. At least, well enough to mask acute agony.
 Both Romulans turned back, following the trail that would lead
them to their official residence on this Romulan protectorate planet.
There, the Tal Shiar agent would leave the general for a moment, a
chance for *him* to do his job.
 He walked quietly behind them, pulling his muddied cloak around
him. When the Tal Shiar agent looked back suspiciously, he turned down
an alley. The maneuver would have made the Tal Shiar agent more
suspicious, and if he was as good as they reported him to be - he would
follow their shadow, corner it and rid them of the nuisance. But the
Tal Shiar agent was in poor condition and would not risk a fight.
 He counted on that.
 As he rounded the corner that would bring him to the Praetor's
temporary residence, he heard something that he never imagined he would
hear again.
 "Tom Paris," called a voice.
 Only his induction into the ways of the Sharbokh, the ancient
guild of Romulan Assassins, prevented him from freezing and turning
around. Instead, he continued his normal pace. Only his hand sneaked
into his cloak pocket to remove a concealed laser blade.
 "Tom Paris."
 This time, he stopped in shock.
 The voice was *too* close, as if whispered into his ear.
 He recoiled, but it was only a fraction of a second later that he
struck out with the activated weapon to slice the neck of the intruder.
 The blade met nothing.
 His eyes widened and he whirled to the front, his pose defensive.
The one that called his name stood before him, studying him with golden
 The alien's skin was an ebony so deep that it seem to absorb
light. It wore a black cloak that trailed on the muddy floor, but
strangely enough, he realized, the alien was not wet from the rain, nor
was his cloak stained from the mud.
  The golden eyes flickererd in the dim evening light. They seemed
to glow.
  "I have come to ease your pain," the alien said, its voice deep
and resonant. It reached out a hand.
 Tom knew better than to sit back and wait. With a flick of his
hand, he threw the blade at the creature's neck. The weapon sank into
the alien's throat with a wet sound, slowed before emerging from the
other side to land heavily on the muddy ground below. The hole in the
alien's neck began to close.
 Tom could only stare in shock as the wound began to seal as the
alien stood there, not bleeding, still breathing.
 "Do not fight," it chastised. "I have come to correct the
failure," it replied. Then the hand touched his forehead.
 Tom wanted to flinch away, strike the creature, but he could not
move. Paralysing pain gripped his body and he began to shake.
 Then there was a bright light, and everything went away.

Chapter 1

Dimension 20895
Marseilles, France.

  Moira Paris hated the bar, so she had to remind herself why she
was here, and how important it was to her.
 <No. Not to me. To Tom. It's important for Tom.
  The rough and scruffy customers of the bar studied her with mild
curiosity. Most were nursing a drink. Moira Paris certainly looked out
of place in this establishment; what with her elegant white pant suite
and her straight, long blonde hair in a neat ponytail. Tom had once
described her colourfully: "a classy lady that would make a seedy hovel
cry out in shame". This hovel was screaming now. She did not understand
why Tom would want to stay *here*.
  She brushed a stray lock from her eyes and scanned the room
anxiously, hoping he would be here.
 She had searched for him for so long. If not for the sporadic
messages their mother received, they couldn't be sure if Tom was dead
or alive. Then six months ago, the messages stopped. Moira and Kathleen
had pleaded to their father to do something, anything. After all, they
had argued, he was a Starfleet Admiral. He could pull strings, send
someone to look for him.
 But Owen Paris would always give them a steely glare and say the
same thing: "If he wants to be found, he will tell us where he is."
 After nearly two years - two years after the terrible trial where
Tom revealed that he had lied about the shuttle accident that killed
three people - Admiral Owen Paris had still not forgiven his son.
 They knew their father well. He was not the sort to tolerate
flaws or weaknesses in his cadets, much less his son.
  "Give him time," Elizabeth Paris would say in her soft, level
voice. "Your father needs time. So does Tom. Things will be alright."
 Only their mother had sounded defeated, not hopeful. And each
time she received a missive from Tom - usually a dismissive "Hi Mom.
Having a great time. Will write soon." - she would lock herself in her
room and cry.
 So the sisters decided to take things into their own hands. It
took some poking and the liberal use of the Paris name, but they found
him. He had been staying in a bar in Marseilles, France for the past
six months.
 "Can I help you?" asked a French-accented voice.
 Moira jumped, but composed her face in time to face the blonde
woman behind the bar. When she did that, the woman's face changed from
mild curiosity to surprise.
 "You are looking for Tom, oui?"
 Surprised, Moira could only blink. Then she said, "Yes! I heard
he was staying here-"
 "Yes he is," the woman said gravely. "I'm Sandrine. You must be
his sister. The resemblance is strong," she nodded, as if confirming a
 Moira only returned the nod, feeling impatient. She cared only
for Tom. "Please, can you take me to him? I need-"
 Sandrine came to her side so quickly, Moira did not have time to
finish her sentence.
 "Oui, I will bring you to him. He needs you. If you had not come,
I thought of contacting his family. Come, this way."

 Sandrine led her behind the bar to a flight of stairs that looked
rickety but seemed sturdy enough to be climbed. As they walked up the
stairs, Sandrine spoke in a low, hushed voice.
 "He spoke often about your family. Especially about an elegant
and beautiful sister he adored," Sandrine threw her a knowing smile. "I
can see that he misses his family, so I do not know why he does not
return." Sandrine gave her a pointed look that was a question in
 Moira did not know how to answer her. She just looked away.
  Sandrine took her silence in stride, continuing: "I heard about
the accident. I can understand why he is this way. But your brother, he
is not well," Sandrine said worriedly, confirming what Moira had
 Moira was immediately anxious. "In what way?"
 "He sometimes spends days in the room - does not come out.
Sometimes, he forgets to eat - but don't worry, I force him to eat. Tom
and I, we are old friends, you can say. He is a shadow of his old self
- back when he was here with his Odilee, he was life itself! But now...I
tried to ask him once why he was this way, but he looked...terrified."
Sandrine gave her a look that was a cross between puzzlement and worry.
 "Oui. I think...sometimes, he looks beyond my shoulder, and his
face becomes white, his eyes large. He looks, frightened! I look
behind, but there's nothing there. This has happened many times. I have
tried to ask why but he just waves me away. He doesn't want to talk
about it, he says," Sandrine's French accent became more pronounced as
she became agitated.
 Moira frowned. What Sandrine was telling sounded like Tom
was suffering from depression. Or something worse. Moira blanched,
thinking about Sandrine's statement about him being frightened by
something unseen. "How long has he been this way?" she whispered.
 "I think it has happened a long time before he came to my bar six
months ago. Although he fears what he sees, he does not appear to be
surprised by them."
 Was it true then? Were the rumours she heard two years ago from
the USS Copernicus crewmen true?
  She had been treating some members of the crew for wounds
sustained in a violent plasma storm when they docked at Deep Space 5,
where she had performed her residency. They had commented that Tom had
"lost it" before the trial where he confessed his lies.
 "He crawled on his hands and knees to sickbay. Saw him myself,"
the ensign from Astrometrics had said.
 "Really?" asked his female crewman curiously.
 "Shame, really. He was had a good pedigree," the ensign had said
morosely - as if he cared, which Moira seriously doubted.
 By that time, she had exited the sickbay in a fit of rage, and
nothing could bring her back to treat the crewmen, not even Dr. Zolan's
threat to have her residency cancelled.
 "I'm glad you came, Moira. I am so worried for him."
 Moira blinked, brought back to the present by Sandrine's voice.
 They finally landed on the first floor. There appeared to be only
one room on the level, and as Sandrine rapped on the single brown door,
Moira clenched her fists in fear and anxiety.
 "Tom? There's someone here to see you," Sandrine said gently.
 No answer.
 Sandrine knocked again. "Tom? Please open the door."
 Moira heard a faint shuffling behind the door. Sandrine gave her
a hopeful look before she stopped away, giving Moira full view of the
  She steeled herself when the door opened a crack and a blue eye
peered through. It scanned Sandrine, then shifted to her and widened.
She smiled at it hesitantly, hoping the smile looked natural, not as
strained as she felt now. The eye lingered on her for a while, then the
door creaked open slowly.
 Despite telling herself to expect the worse, nothing prepared her
for Tom's condition. He was thinner, his face gaunt and unshaven. His
blond hair, usually cut according to Starfleet standard now fell in
unruly waves almost to his shoulders. His pale features were made worse
by the brown shirt he wore over his scruffy black pants. But what
shocked her were his deadened eyes, and the furtive look he cast about
them; as if he expected someone to jump out from the shadows any
 "What...what are you doing here?" he rasped. His voice was weak and
 Moira's chin trembled, and it was difficult not to let her tears
fall. She brushed a hand brusquely over an escaping tear and looked up,
forcing a smile.
 "Why, I came to take you home, Tommy," her voice sounded strained
to her ears, but she didn't want Tom to see how distraught she was over
his condition. Not until she ran a medical tricorder over him to find
out what was wrong with him.
 Tom's shoulders slumped - not the reaction she expected. She
expected outrage, some sulking - or even some sarcastic tongue-lashing
- but not this defeated look he gave hher.
 "Tom...please," she pleaded, not knowing what she pleaded for. She
reached out hesitantly to touch his shoulders. "You're obviously not
well. I can' can't go on like this. Please come home - Mom is
worried sick. is too," she pleaded, all pretence of happiness
 "You're lying," he said almost immediately, his eyes narrowing.
Some spark returned to the blue eyes. Moira recognized it as anger.
Good. Good. Let him be angry. Anything but this depressed shell of a
 She was, indeed, lying. Admiral Paris had been dismissive and
aloof about his only son. As far as he was concerned, he had no son.
When their father became angry, he stayed angry for a long time.
 Her mother had tried to explain it away, saying that that was her
father's way- he loved his son so much that anger was the only reaction
he would naturally have when Tom threw his life away. And Kathleen had
agreed with Elizabeth Paris, which secretly angered Moira - though she
knew that her sister took after their patient mother and would not even
blame a fly if it caused a Denebian plague.
  "Anger at himself, more than anything else, Moira," Elizabeth had
told her once. "He's mad at himself, at Starfleet, even at Caldik
Prime. He's confused and he needs time to sort things out."
 <But you can't deny it, Mom. Dad is mostly angry at Tom.
 "It doesn't matter," she told Tom forcefully, pulling herself
from the memories. "I'm taking you home, whether you like it or not.
Then I'm going to make you well again, do you understand me?" her voice
became a plea towards the end, and she reached out to touch his hand.
 He touched hers tentatively. They were cold. To her surprise, she
saw tears in her brother's eyes. He had stopped crying when he was six
- a Paris did not cry, went the sayingg  in the family. Tom had not even
cried after the accident, nor after the trial when his life seemed
absolutely ruined. She rushed to him immediately, desperate to comfort
her little brother the way she did when he was small, anything to take
the pain away. She wrapped her arms around him as sobs shook his body.
 <Don't cry, Tommy! Don't cry! she pleaded silently, but Tom did
something she never though he'd do, and it terrified her more.
  He begged.
 "Please help me, Moira. I'm so scared," he whispered.
 Moira wrapped her arms tightly around her brother biting her
bottom lip to stop the tears. She wanted to protect him from the demons
that haunted him, but she knew that no matter how hard she tried, they
would never go away with her strength alone.

 For a moment, he thought he was hallucinating again. So he waited
for it to pass, and when Moira smiled at him, something sparked and he
realized she was real.
  She stood there in the dark corridor, looking so serene and
peaceful in her elegant beauty. She radiated the confidence and
stability that he craved, and when she smiled, he felt safe for a
little while.
  Moira's smile assured him the way it had when he had left the big
doors of the Academy courtroom, effectively cashiered from Starfleet.
"You're still my brother, Tommy. Nothing can change that," and she had
smiled that smile and had taken his hand, leading him away from that
horrible place that left him without a reason to live.
  For a while, her bright presence made him forget about *them*.
 Sometimes they would creep up behind him, terrifying him when he
happened to glance at a mirror or look behind. Sometimes they appeared
behind the shoulders of people he spoke to. Most of the time, they
appeared to him when he was alone, usually on the verge of sleep.
 They - Odile, Charlie...Bruno - never left him alone.
 He thought he would get used to them, perhaps be less afraid as
time went, but the terror was fresh after each encounter. The guilt,
worse. They were still unappeased; despite his life being irrevocably
ruined. The spirits of his slain friends and lover were not satisfied.
They wanted something more from him.
 And as time passed, they grew more and more disfigured by decay.
Sometimes he could smell their rot. They stared at him with milky eyes,
and the accusation in them left him in torment.
 He thought of going to Betazed - to search for Lissine, the
Betazoid who had awakened the darkness within him. But he never made it
past the shuttleport - because Odile would always block his path,
staring at him with sad, listless eyes.
 They didn't want him to leave.
 When he slept, his sleep was haunted by nightmares -
usually of something chasing him, or worse, memories of their happy
times together. Those hurt him more than the chasing dreams because the
dreams alluded to the fact that these things would happen again. But
that could not be. When the nightmares became worse, he found his mind
trapping him in inexplicable mazes in which he found himself trying to
correct the wrong, trying to prevent it. Trying to avoid all the voices
and faces that accused him. People he knew, like his father, his
mother. The captain. Charlie's mother. A priest he had met as a child.
A stranger on the street. There was no escape.
 The only escape he found was through alcohol, which deadened him
and threw him into dreamless sleep. For a time. Then that, too, did not
work. *They* had found a way to break through. Soon, he discovered
sleeping medications - sleep, but no dreams. He was safe at night. But
it did not stop them from visiting him during the day. So, he often
took the medication during the day. But, he could not always be asleep.
 Sometimes he tried speaking to them, but their decaying
appearance unnerved him too much for him to try. And the guilt. It was
the guilt that stopped him the most. And the fear of what they would
say. What they would demand.
  He was pulled back into the present. Saw Moira looking at him
anxiously and he turned away, fixing his eyes on the fast moving
scenery outside, wishing everything would just go away.
 Everything happened in a blur after they left Sandrine. Moira had
wrapped some sort of coat around him and had bundled him into a
transport. She spoke to him, but he didn't understand what she was
saying - all he could do was close his eyes and wish the exhaustion
that had plagued him these past two years would go away. He knew she
was worried about him, and a part of him that still cared wondered how
his mother and Kathleen - he didn't care much about what his father
thought  - would react to his condition.
 Admiral Owen Paris. Did he care that his son was alive? Did he
care that his son was on the verge of insanity? Did he care beyond the
fact that the Paris name had been sullied by his apparent heir? Did he
love his son?
 Once, Tom was sure of the answer. But now, torn apart by years of
strained silence between them, he was no longer sure. Not that he
cared, he quickly thought.
Their last conversation - two years ago - had been disastrous.
 "All that effort, all that training, all that investment in
Starfleet! After all I've done for you, after all I've taught you - you
lied! You did the thing I taught you never to do. A Starfleet officer
upholds his fellow officers, he does not frame them for pilot error!!
Do you know what this means, Tom? You can never fly again! Not in
Starfleet, not out there. What kind of life are you going to have?
Spinning the dabo wheel in some Ferengi bar? You threw your life away,
Tom! Damn it-" his father clenched his teeth in an effort to control
 Tom had always feared his father. He wanted his approval so badly
that his whole life was spent as if he walked on a tight rope; taking
one false step would have led to disaster. And did he ever fall.
 And he reacted the way he always did when his father showed his
disapproval. With anger.
 "You mean *your* life, Dad? What, you lost your trophy son? No
one to brag about to your admiral friends anymore? Well, if that's so,
I'm glad I've *thrown away my life*! I'm glad to see you disgraced! And
I'm glad to be the one to do it!!" his voice had risen a notch with
each word until he had screamed the last word.
 "You idiot," Owen Paris said in a harsh, low voice. He looked as
if he wanted to strike his son. "You damn idiot! Get out of my sight.
Get out of my sight, and don't you ever come back to this house again!"
his voice rose in fury.
 Each word had cut into his heart like a knife, but he somehow
forced a smug grin on his face. "Gladly, Dad. Gladly. You won't see me
again. I promise that much."
 It took ten minutes to gather what he needed - and he was gone.
 And now...he was crawling back again. He felt humiliated, but at
the same time he wanted so desperately to return to the comfort of the
familiar - to Kathleen, who sat by the lake to paint every Sunday
evening. To his mother, who baked the best apple pie. To Moira, who
made Medical school the most exciting topic at the dinner table. He
wanted all that like a man dying of thirst wanted water. Something
normal, something that protected him from the ghosts that would never
leave him alone.
 <When I come home, *they* will leave me alone. Moira promised she
would help me. Mom will help me...Odile, Bruno, Charlie...they will leave
 Even as he thought that, he knew how frail the hope sounded. And
how very empty the promise was.
 Exhausted, Tom could only curl his body closer to his corner.
Finally, he lost the battle and fell asleep.

 Moira looked at her brother anxiously when he finally slumped in
his corner. Gently, she took out her medical tricorder - she never left
home without it - and scanned him. She was afraid that the beeping
noise it made would wake him, so she cut the sound and watched the
instrument intently. He slept on, apparently exhausted from whatever
ordeal he had gone through.
 She frowned at the readings. Dangerously low glucose levels. Some
signs of malnutrition. Exhaustion...and she read slightly elevated
dopamine levels. Moira's heart fluttered. Could it be true? Was Tom
 She toyed with the idea of sending him to the hospital
immediately - but she remembered his eyes lighting up at the mention of
home and thought against it. No, Tom needed something reassuring right
now, not the cold, sterile confines of a hospital.
 They arrived at the transport area in Paris half an hour later.
With the help of the driver - a Starfleet ensign who had assisted her
in her search - they supported Tom as he alighted the transport. He
looked dazed and confused and paid no attention to his surroundings as
she spoke to the Ensign to arrange the transport to San Francisco.
 Gently, she guided her brother to the assigned transporter bay,
trying to get a response from him through empty banter. She tried to
keep her fear in check when she realized how weak and disoriented he
was. So she continued her banter, hoping he would come to life a little
or, at least, be assured by her voice. Tom didn't seem to react until
she mentioned her mom baking him his favourite dessert.
 He looked at her slowly and smiled a faint smile. "Apple pie?" he
 Moira nodded. "Apple pie," she replied, blinking tears.

 When they rematerialized at the lakeside, she felt Tom tense
beside her. Quickly, Moira shot him a look and was relieved to see a
smile on his face.
 "The gardens...they're beautiful. Mom - I forgot how much she loved
the lake and the gardens," he said quietly.
 Moira smiled and patted him on the shoulder. Before the
transport, she had given Kathleen a call - telling her to tell Mom to
expect them. Elizabeth had grabbed the communicator from her daughter
and demanded, in a breathless voice, whether Tom was alright. Moira
didn't know how to answer her, but she finally said: "Please don't
expect much, Mom. But please don't make him feel bad either."
   She finally saw them. Kathleen and Elizabeth Paris stood at the
end of the garden. Elizabeth had her hands clenched, while Kathleen -
calm Kathleen - was rubbing her shoulders as if she was cold.
 "Tom..." she motioned towards them.
 Tom's eyes lit up and he smiled hesitantly. That did it -
Kathleen and Elizabeth ran towards him and enveloped him in a hug,
crying and laughing at the same time.

 He was home.
 He felt Kathleen and his mother's arms around him, and how happy
they were. He felt glad, but he still felt strangely hollow - and that
alarmed him a little. He had been hoping to feel more when he set foot
on his home soil. When he pulled away, he wanted to smile, but then his
eyes shifted to the lake - just to see what it was like, that favourite
spot of his mom's - when he saw *her*.
 He paled, and he began to shake. He wanted to scream in terror,
but he did not have the strength.
  His legs shook as he stared at Odile. Her condition had worsened
since the last time she had appeared to him. Her flesh had long turned
blue. Her eyes were no longer a vibrant green as they had been in life.
They were filmed over in death, and flakes of skin peeled around the
eye sockets.
  She was suffering, he thought. And he imagined her body, lost in
space - deprived of the peace it sought on home soil.
  She stared fixedly at him - reminding him that he was the one
that condemned her to a life of the living dead. <It's your fault,
  <Your fault, and don't you ever forget that Odile whispered in
his mind. He had stopped debating whether the voice was real. It was
real. It was just...real.
 Faintly, he heard his mother calling out to him as if from a
great distance. Someone shook his shoulders. With great effort, he
pulled his gaze from Odile to fix it on his mother's.
 She was afraid. Her blue eyes were wide, and her mouth moved. She
was saying something, but he found it too difficult to concentrate on
the words.
 He only shook his head and pulled away from them, walking
woodenly towards the house - afraid that they would see his tears.

Chapter 2

 "Why do you want to be a scientist, Kathleen?"
 Kathleen remembered raising an eyebrow at her then pesky 12-year-
old brother, wondering why she had to answer his question, knowing that
he'd use the answer to annoy her.
 "Because I like exo-biology," she replied simply, returning her
gaze at the complex equations before her. Declared a prodigy, her tutor
had recommended her entrance to Oxford University at age 9, the oldest,
and most prestigious university on Earth. She was to start on her PhD
next semester.
 Tom, thin and gawky, as boys his age were, was relentless. "Why
do you like exo-biology?"
 "Because aliens are fascinating."
 "Because they're not my irritating brother, that's why," replied
18-year-old Kathleen, wishing earnestly that he would shut up.
 "He's trying to needle you, Kath," Moira had said from her seat,
looking extremely amused.
 "Why doesn't he needle you?" Kathleen accused, honestly wondering
 "Because I'm never patient like you are, so he doesn't bother,"
Moira had answered, returning her gaze to her textbook. At 16, Moira
was already preparing for her medical entrance exams, and by the looks
of her scores, she was going to gain an easy entrance to the
prestigious medical university in Iowa she had set her eyes on.
 Tom shook her arms again, "Why not piloting, Kath? Like me? Do
you like flying like me? When I grow up, I'm going to fly a starship
like Dad-"
 "Daddy's a Captain," she had replied patiently, correcting his
 "Yeah, well, it's better than exo-biology," he had taunted. And
when Kathleen reached out to smack him with her PADD, he had skipped
away, laughing gleefully.

 Kathleen could still hear that gleeful laugh as she gazed at the
sleeping form on the bed. But it was a mocking memory of a time where
their lives were more predictable, and their futures secure.
 After stumbling into the house, Tom had suddenly collapsed on his
knees in the living room, apparently too weak to climb up the stairs to
his room. His condition frightened them; it sent their mother into a
frenzy of anxiety, where she rushed to the communicator to contact
their father. She and Moira had helped Tom to his old room, where he
promptly collapsed on his bed, fast asleep.
  Kathleen reached out to touch his brow. No fever. Somehow, she
had expected some physical symptoms, but Moira had said that
physically, he was fine except for some signs of malnutrition and
exhaustion, both easily rectified. It was his depression that made him
so exhausted.
  Tom was sleeping on his side, his face almost buried beneath the
blankets that came up to his chin. He slept the sleep of a man who has
not known real rest for a long time.
 <Tommy. Why must this happen to you? she wondered, feeling an
old familiar sorrow in her heart.
 It pained her when he had left hastily two years ago. Part of her
felt guilty that she had not stopped him. If she had, perhaps he would
not be in this state now.
 But the look in his eyes had stopped her. It was full of pain and
anger; and Kathleen instinctively knew that he had to go away to deal
with those issues.
 But perhaps, that had not been the way.
  To be honest, *she* had not known how to deal with the loss of
his bright future. She did not know what to say to him, and worse, when
he had the trial that would effectively cashier him out of Starfleet,
she had not attended. She regretted her decision till this day.
  Especially *this* day.
 She brushed stray locks that fell from his forehead.
 "Dr. Peterson is coming soon."
 Kathleen jumped a little. She turned to look at the shadowed form
at the door of her brother's room.
 "Moira, you scared me."
 Moira walked straight to Tom, pulling out her medical tricorder.
She was silent as she studied the readings.
 "Any word from Dad?" Kathleen asked for perhaps the twelfth time.
  "No," Moira replied curtly. "Damn it," she cursed suddenly. She
turned away, rubbing her forehead with her right hand. Kathleen could
see her clenching the tricorder tightly.
 "Moira," she said softly, going to her. "What is it?"
 Moira turned to face her and blinked away tears. "I can cure
physical illnesses, Kath. But...this is not my area! I feel so *damn*
 Kathleen nodded, understanding. Tom and Moira...they were more like
their father than they would ever admit. All three wanted control in
every situation, and when they had no control, they could not accept
 Kathleen put her arms around her sister, and felt Moira sniffing
over her shoulder. "He's going to be okay, Moira. He's back home now,
and we're going to make it okay for him again," she promised.
 Moira pulled back and brusquely wiped her tears away.
 "We have to get Dad," she announced. With that, she marched away
from the room, her shoulders stiff with determination.
 Kathleen could only watch her go and return to Tom's bedside.
Settling into her chair, she watched the placid lake through the
window, wondering how the setting sun could make such a beautiful place
gloomy. Then she turned back to her brother, hoping he'd wake up to
drink some water.

* * *

  "Do you think it'll be a girl?"
 Tom opened his eyes, the question still ringing in his ears.
 Odile had visited his dreams again, and this time, she became the
future they'd hoped to have. Pregnant with his child, flushed with the
first bloom of motherhood.
 It tortured him.
 "Tom, do you want some water?"
 He blinked, and his eyes focused on the woman beside his bed.
 "Kathy," he murmured.
 Kathleen smiled, and helped him sit up. He sipped at the water
cautiously and shook his head to indicate he had enough. Kathleen
merely nodded.
 "Your hair. You cut it," he remarked.
 Kathleen touched her hair in reaction, smiling.
 Like Moira, Kathleen was stunningly beautiful. But unlike Moira's
icy and perfect beauty, Kathleen was a gentler version which reminded
him of their mother. Her hair had always cascaded around her shoulders
in gentle waves, not tied up in the recent style like Moira's and her
blue eyes always held humour and understanding.
 He had missed her.
 "You've been asleep for almost eight hours. Do you want to eat
something?" Kathleen asked gently, helping him lie down.
 "No," he murmured, averting his eyes. "I want to be alone," he
said hoarsely. He saw something flicker in Kathleen's gentle eyes
before she nodded. It made him feel guilty.
 After a few seconds, he opened his eyes a little and saw that
Kathleen was walking towards the door. When the doors slid quietly
behind her, he sank into the bedclothes, shivering and staring at the
 But he didn't want to be alone, not really.
  But he couldn't deal with Kathleen, or Moira, or even his mother
now. He could see the questions in their eyes and now, he was just too
exhausted to answer them all. So he stared into the darkness for a long
time, trembling in fear, waiting for *them* to visit him again.
  He always thought of his sins - what he had done, the crimes he
had committed, the crimes to which he had confessed. It was a vicious
cycle that kept repeating itself in his mind over and over again,
tormenting him with questions of What If?
  And from the start of his nightmare with the phantoms that
haunted his dreams and waking moments, he had confided in no one. Not
to the Doctors, not to his family, and especially not to Starfleet
  The 'Fleet was only interested in culpability of the resulting
accident. Such an organization could not worry about the anger
generated by the actions of a selfish father that drove his selfish son
into completely disregarding the responsibility he had for his fellow
officers. They had branded him as a coward, a liar - worse, a traitor.
Starfleet had casted him away like a worn out warp core.
  But he had been selfish, so very selfish. And his selfishness
caused the innocent to die. So, in essence, maybe it had not been an
accident that they died.
 But the accident was just waiting to happen.
  Tom shifted in his bed, closing his eyes, willing his turbulent
mind to stop debating and jabbering, but it went on, and he heard his
voice, so calm and rational, speaking out in defense of his actions.
  <But, I did not led them to their deaths. Not knowingly. Not
willingly. It *had* been an accident.
  But he was guilty. He lived and they died. Where was their
  <But is it justice for me to suffer so much for an accident? Loss
of career. Loss of friends. Loss of credibility. Loss of ever having
Dad's love and respect? I confessed. Gave up everything.
  Was he to be punished forever? What more could he do to appease
  Images of their exploding spacecrafts crept into his mind. He
imagined Odile crying out in terror as she was burnt alive-
 Tears escaped his eyes, and he turned his face aside, letting
them fall. Then he began to sob his fear and grief in earnest, ashamed
of his weakness.
  His days were filled with these thoughts and more. Over and over
and over. Analyzing. Reanalyzing. It never ended. Except when he slept.
  Tom burrowed deeper into his covers, willing himself to sleep.
 If he slept, he would be at peace.
* * *

 He spent the next few days asleep in his old room - nothing had
been touched there. Everything was where it had been when he left it
two years ago, but it brought no comfort to him. He downed the sleeping
pills discreetly, afraid that Moira would discover them and throw them
away. On the fourth day, after their cajoling and talking failed to
rouse him from his sleep, Moira had appeared by his bedside with a
hypospray. He blinked at it lazily, wondering what she would do with
 "I'm administering an anti-depressant, Tom. It will help you,"
she whispered as she injected the medication.
 Did that mean she was a Doctor now? When he left home two years
ago, Moira had been in her last year in Medical school. Had she made it
already? Was she Dr. Paris now? Vaguely he heard a strange, male voice
in the room. Who was it? Why couldn't he recognize it? The answers to
these questions seemed too difficult to contemplate, so he slipped into
sleep once more.
* * *

 "I'm so afraid for him, Moira," her mother whispered, listlessly
pounding the dough on the kitchen counter.
 "Dr. Peterson did say he would recover, didn't he?" Kathleen
asked, her voice strained with worry.
 "Yes he will. He *must*," Moira answered, her eyes narrowing. She
was seated near the kitchen table, studying Dr. Peterson's reports on
Tom's condition. So far they confirmed her diagnosis. Dr. Peterson
recommended transfer to Starfleet Medical once he was more stable -
perhaps in two days.
 "Have you called your father?" Elizabeth asked, her expression
tight. For days they had tried to contact the Admiral, but it had been
the same message: He was `engaged' and there was a `communications
black out'. This time, Moira had an answer for them.
 "He was in the Donari Sector with the Enterprise. They were
searching for some damn Maquis base. They said he is on the way back,"
Moira replied bitterly.
 "When he transports back, I'll have a word with him," Elizabeth
 "No," Moira said quickly. "I will."
 "Mom. I found Tom. I know what's wrong with him."
 Elizabeth knew it was more than that, and she wondered whether it
was wrong of her to dissuade her daughter from doing it.
 "Alright, Moira. Alright."

* * *

 " you believe in ghosts?"
 Kathleen stopped her knitting to look at his bundled form before
the fireplace. It was evening, and because of the cool autumn air, they
had lit the fireplace early.
   She forced a smile. It had been five days since he had returned
home, and this was the first time he had initiated a conversation.
Perhaps this was a good sign.
  "Not particularly. Scientists don't usually indulge in
superstition," she answered, giving him a small smile.
 That was obviously not the right answer. Tom turned away from
her, fixing his eyes on the flickering of the fire.
  Inwardly, Kathleen cringed, dismayed by his reaction to her
answer. Frantically, she tried to understand what she had said wrong,
but she could not come up with an answer.
  She put aside her knitting and knelt beside his armchair, taking
his hand in hers. He stirred, turning to look at her. She wanted so
desperately for him to smile a genuine smile, or for him to tease her
the way he had in the past, even if the jibes made her mad most of the
 "Tom, you can talk to me," she said softly.
 "Can I?" he whispered, his voice flat.
 Kathleen blinked, and remembered how she had been so stunned by
his trial that she couldn't bear to attend. But she had apologized to
him later, although he did not acknowledge her. Sometimes Kathleen felt
that she was no better than their father; that in some way she had
betrayed him.
 "I'm sorry I've never been there for you. But you know I love
you, Tom. Please, tell me what...what I can do for you?" she wanted to
ask him what was wrong with him, what made him this way, but she didn't
want to remind him of his condition.
 "I want you to make the ghosts leave," he said, lines of pain
forming beneath his pale eyes. "I want to stop being afraid."
 Kathleen was frightened by his answer, but she pushed on,
desperate to understand what was happening to him. She bit her lower
lip and gripped his hand. Moira had told her that he was possibly
seeing things. She had not welcomed that possibility, but Tom was
trying to tell her something, and she was not going to let it pass -
even if it terrified her that her brother could be losing his mind.
  "Do you know these ghosts? Can you tell me what they do?"
  He looked at her as if he was deciding if she could or would
understand or if he would be wasting his time.
  "Please, Tom. I want to help you and I can't do that if you don't
tell me what's happening."
  He stared at her a little more, seeming to make a decision. He
took a deep breath. "Odile. Bruno. Charlie."
  Kathleen felt her heart pound harder. In as calm a voice as she
could muster, she asked:
 "Are they here now, Tom?"
  Eerily, his eyes shifted somewhere behind her left shoulder.
 "Yes," he said in a curiously flat voice, still staring at that
imaginary spot.
 "What are they doing?"
 His lower lip trembled and he squeezed her hand in a sudden vise-
like grip. He rubbed his temples with his other hand, as if to will
something terrible away.  He closed his eyes, his breath coming in
harsh gasps.
 She could guess what was running through his tormented mind, and
she ached from the knowledge.
  "Tom, it was an accident," she said, her voice firm. She hoped
she didn't sound as frightened as she felt, because she was terrified
now. "You confessed and you were punished accordingly. It's in the past
  "Oh God, how can it be in the past if they're here?" he said in a
pathetically small voice, his eyes still closed, his hand still to his
head. His body shook like a reed. "They hate me, they hate me, they
hate me-" he whispered monotonously.
  "Tommy, don't say that!" she cried, desperate now. "Don't think
that. They were your friends. They would understand it was an accident.
They would understand you were afraid and they would be relieved you
finally told the truth-"
 He continued to tremble violently, caught in his private torment.
He looked as if he was trying to suppress his tears, but doing it
unsuccessfully. Even in the most dire straits, he still refused to cry
- a Paris to the last.
 "Tom!" she reached out for him.
 He jerked his hand away from her touch as if it was acid. He got
to his feet and stumbled away from the chair.
 "Tom, please-" she rose, going after him.
 He only looked at her with dazed blue eyes, his expression slack.
 "I need to sleep now," he whispered, walking unsteadily away.


* * *

 Moira looked up from Dr. Peterson's reports to see Moira standing
at the doorway to the study. Kathleen looked strange.
  "What's wrong, Kathy?"
 Kathleen's eyes were red from recently shed tears. She was the
only one in the family that was not shy about her tears, Moira noted
 Kathleen sighed and turned her head away for a while.
 "Tommy-" she closed her eyes for a few seconds, her face
contorting in pain. "I checked up on him, and he's asleep in his room.
He just told me- God, I wish I knew what was going through his mind! He
has to go to Starfleet Medical *today* Moira," she said with
uncharacteristic sternness.
 Moira thought the same, but somehow, she knew that wasn't the
issue now. "What's wrong?" she insisted, her brows coming together in a
 Kathleen fixed her with a look that made her pause for a while.
It was a frank, somber look - something Kathleen reserved for big
  "I never seem to say the right things to him, Moira. I want to
reach out so much to him but..." she paused to take a deep breath, then
returned her gaze to Moira. It was steadier, calmer now. "I love him so
much, but he loves you more," she said softly.
 Moira felt a mix of emotions - hurt, at Kathleen's assumption.
Anger, which she quickly smothered - at Tom who made Kathleen feel that
way, and guilt, because secretly, she had known it all along - and had
enjoyed the privilege of being the favourite sister.
  Moira fixed her eyes on the PADDs before her, not sure how to
answer Kathleen.
 "I'm sorry, Moira," Kathleen said after a brief silence. She
looked embarrassed by her outburst. "I didn't want to bring this up."
  Moira could only give her older sister a small smile. "Kathy...I
want to prove you wrong one day," she could only say.
  Suddenly, the communicator in the study beeped. Kathleen walked
to it, and saw the message on the screen. She looked uncertain.
 "What? What is it?" Moira asked, half rising from her seat. She
wondered if Dr. Peterson had discovered something else about Tom's
 "Daddy's home," Kathleen responded, her eyes shadowed. "I'll be
with Mom," and she left Moira alone.
* * *
  Tom had left the room after Moira checked on him. He thought then
that he had to get away from the house full of people, to be alone to
figure things out. So he had left his suddenly claustrophobic room to
wander by the lakeside, hoping that happy memories of that place would
bring some comfort to him.
 But the ghosts came to him anyway - the place he thought he was
safest: the lakeside, where he had spent many peaceful evenings with
his family in the past.
  She had appeared behind him, and had laid a hand on his shoulder.
It shocked him of course, terrified him as usual - was he never going
to be rid of this exhausting fear?
 He was so tired. Tired of being afraid all the time.
 Odile stared at him with her filmy eyes. He shrank away from her,
stumbling into the lake, feeling his bare feet sinking, muddy into the
 He looked at Odile. Then stiffened when he felt something behind
him. He turned - it was Charlie. He stumbled away, only to collide with
something else. He didn't have to look to see that it was Bruno.
 "Why are you doing this to me?" he pleaded to the apparitions.
"Haven't I done enough? Haven't I cleared your names? What else do you
want from me?!" he asked desperately, shivering miserably.
 <You're pathetic, Paris. A first-class pilot, indeed. The Paris
name has never sunk this low before. How do you feel about being the
break in a perfect line of Starfleet admirals? How do you feel, slowly
losing your mind like this? taunted his own voice in his head.
 Tom clamped his hands over his ears to stifle the voice, but it
droned on. This time it was Charlie's voice that taunted him.
 <You deserve this, Tom. You do. Do you think we'll leave you
alone? We died, Tom. You are still alive. How can this be fair? We were
supposed to be alive, Tom.
 "Shut up, shut up, shut up!" but it was more of a plea than
anything else.
 And they did. After so long - he didn't know exactly how long -
he looked up. Odile was still there, only she was staring at him with
some sympathy in her filmy eyes.
 "What do you want from me, Odile?"
 But she had disappeared.
 Exhausted, he sank to his knees, then lay on the mud, too tired
to care.
 Water lapped to the shore. He stretched his arm to touch the
water, just an inch from his face.
 He was tired, so very tired.
 He could not pull himself up again if his life depended on it.
Nor could he endure another day. Another day of living in his own head.
Never able to sleep. Never able to rest.
 He closed his eyes.
  It all had to end somehow.

 Admiral Owen Paris was clearly exhausted. It was clear had not
changed from his uniform, because it was smudged from what appeared to
be soot or burns.
 "Now, what's the emergency, Moira? I don't appreciate being
recalled from the Enterprise in the middle of a Maquis raid."
 "Oh, you will appreciate it, Dad. You have to," Moira replied,
her voice harsh and angry.
  Owen was not used to Moira speaking to him this way. But then
again, their relationship, although loving, had not always been easy.
His wife had secretly called Moira his "female twin", because despite
the differences in careers, she was very much like him. She held people
at a distance with her icy and unapproachable beauty, and she was
fiercely dedicated to her career and would not hesitate to sacrifice
family time for it. For these similarities, they had interesting
debates, and intense shouting matches,  especially since his son-
 No. He had no son. Not when he had not bothered to talk to him
for two years. He threw away his career and future for what?
  He felt the anger buffer him from his confusion.
  "What are you talking about?" he almost barked.

  Her father. In his I-will-not-tolerate-any-nonsense tone.
 He was still angry with Tom, Moira thought. And that made her
furious. Until now, she had never thought herself capable of hating
Owen Paris, but she hated her father now.
 "Tom is home," she said shortly, studying his features for
 Surprise, then worry - then the steely mask that she was
accustomed to appeared in quick succession. "Is he?" the voice was
 Moira reminded herself to be cool, that any angry altercation
would do no one any good, especially Tom. Moira had agreed with Dr.
Peterson's decision to allow Tom to recuperate at home, but after
seeing Kathleen so distraught, she thought better. Tom would go to
Starfleet Medical today, and Owen Paris was going to pull every string
he could.
 She needed to tell her father about Tom, and she knew that
somewhere underneath all that anger and self-condemnation was the
father who loved his son.
 "Yes. And he needs you, Dad. He needs you to help him," she said,
forcing calm into her voice.
 "Help him?" Owen snorted. "He doesn't need my help. He told me
that quite clearly two years ago. Or is he out of credits? Is it money
that he wants? Just give him some and send him on his way."
 Moira felt the fury flame in her heart at his cruel words. If Tom
had been there to hear him say this, he would have been shattered.
 <Thank God he's asleep, she thought.
  But despite her fury, she registered the dismay in her father's
face as the words stumbled out. Moira, the part of her that was
rational, knew that her father was relieved, even happy that Tom was
back. But he was so used to the anger he felt for his son that he did
not know how to react any other way. Like her mother had said, "He
needed time". Only this time, Moira was not going to give him any.
 "Tom is sick, Dad. When I found him in some seedy bar in
Marseilles, he could barely stand! How can you- How can you still be
angry with him after all this time?" tears misted her eyes. "Or was Tom
right? Don't you care anymore?" she whispered.
 "What...what do you mean?" he asked, stunned; his voice gruff and
low. But despite his concern, he still frowned, though his eyes were
sharp with anxiety.
 "He's suffering from severe depression, but I'm afraid it's
something more. Dr. Peterson recommends that we bring him to Starfleet
Medical once he's able. He's done nothing but sleep for the past five
days, and he barely has the strength to walk. *That's* what I mean."
 Owen's face crumpled and he sank to the chair slowly.
  "All he ever wanted from you was your approval. Just give it to
him for once," she said bitterly. Then she turned and left him
work things out.

* * *
 Moira turned to see her father coming into the dining room. She
had waited for him here, knowing that he would come to her once he
"sorted things out". And he took quite a while to sort things out -
almost an hour; and she wondered what went on in that quiet living
room. Perhaps he struggled with his own demons, she thought.
 Moira merely studied the Admiral at the mention of her name, her
face impassive.
 "I'm sorry," he breathed. Gone was the steely mask, the Admiral
of Starfleet. This was the most vulnerable she had seen him - not even
after the Cardassian torture had he looked so pained.
  "Why have things gone so wrong?" he asked her -or rather,
himself, sighing as he sat beside her.
 Moira was quiet for a while. Then she shook her head. "It's
called pride, Dad. And that damned Paris name."
 Owen clenched his fists. "We will need the best doctors in
Starfleet. I don't care if we have to ship them in from Vulcan. He'll
have the best care," he said in his full Admiral mode again. "He will
be better again, Moira," he promised.
 Moira sighed a small sigh. It was as far as he would go to admit
that she was right.
 "And then, once, when he is well, maybe he can fly again." He
gave her a small smile.
 But she never had a chance to react to that smile.
 And she knew that they would never see her father's secret dream
come true.

* * *

 He was a failure, like the one before him.
 The being clenched his fists, the obsidian skin rippling. Anguish
filled his heart as he studied the life in this dimension. How painful
it was to see this version fail, like the one before.
 The previous version had spiraled away from despair to violence.
This one had given in to despair. They were both failures.
 He would right the failure. He would.
 He stretched out his hand and his golden eyes glowed.

Chapter 3

Dimension 20895
San Francisco,
Two years later.

 Owen made sure that Tom stayed in his sight. Tom tended to
disappear sometimes - wandering where he shouldn't, ending up in places
that Owen would rather he not be.
  Tom was still in the garden, making cooing noises to Buster. He
looked happy and content in the sunny area, sitting cross-legged on the
warm grass, surrounded by colourful Rokalian tulips. And as he stroked
the golden retriever, a big, indulgent smile lit up his features. Tom's
blue eyes practically twinkled.
 The sight should please him, Owen reminded himself. But it
didn't. It stabbed him each time.
 Tom laughed, a childish laughter devoid of any adult worries.
"Dog!" he cooed, hugging the dog. Buster gave him a sloppy kiss. Tom
laughed and shot Owen a delighted look and laughed happily again.
 He returned the smile, albeit forcefully.
 And he was reminded again, about his failure. His stupidity, and
the pride that had destroyed his son.
 He closed his eyes, and once again saw himself running with Moira
towards the direction of his wife's screams...
 He arrived only to see what he didn't think he'd ever see: his
son, floating face down in the middle of the lake, lifeless; his wife,
swimming desperately towards him.
He did not think, he dove - and perhaps it was because of his
desperation and mindless fear, but he got to Tom first.
"Oh my god, Owen!" Elizabeth gasped, shivering beside him as she
tried to pull her son away from him.
"I've got him, Elizabeth! I've got him!"
Tom's skin was a pasty grey and his lips were blue. He was cold
to the touch. And so still. Frighteningly still.
"Owen? Is he-? Oh my God, Owen! He's not breathing!" his wife
whimpered and shrieked at the same time.
And he swam faster, trying desperately to reach the shore. It
seemed to take forever to reach it. When they got there, Moira ran to
them, her face white with fear, medical tricorder in her shaking hands.
She paled further when she saw the readings.
  She threw the tricorder aside and immediately initiated mouth to
mouth resuscitation. Owen could only stare helplessly as Moira tried to
breathe life into her brother. He heard Kathleen running towards them
and faintly registered Elizabeth telling Kathleen what had happened
between hysterical sobs. And Kathleen saying that she would get the
medical emergency unit, her usually calm demeanor shaken by fear. Then
everything began to slow down, and he saw things in slow motion.
 When the medical unit arrived, they had immediately placed Tom on
minimal life support, but as Moira shone light into his eyes, Tom's
pupils had not reacted, but had remained dilated. The medical personnel
exchanged grave glances.
   "No, no," Moira moaned, denying what their looks said. "No, Tom.
Don't do this, Tom!" she shook his limp body.
 "Ma'am, we have to take him now. Ma'am-"
 "What is it?" Elizabeth had demanded. "What's wrong?" her voice
rose in panic.
 "I'm a doctor," Moira said shakily. "Please, let me go with him."
 One of the medical personnel nodded and the emergency team had to
take Tom away.
  "Oh, God," he heard Elizabeth moan in anguish. "I should have
checked on him sooner...I should have..."
 They were too late. *He* was too late.
 Owen walked towards his son, holding his son's favourite food:
peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
 "Time for lunch, Tom. Since you're not going inside like you
should, you'll have to eat it here, not that you mind."
 Tom looked up and stared at him blankly. The pale blue eyes held
neither recognition nor understanding at what he had said, but when
they shifted to the sandwiches, he gurgled with delight and reached for
 Owen let him take it, watching Tom sadly as he wolfed down the
sandwich, sharing a few morsels with Buster.
 The doctors had speculated that his son had been without oxygen
for almost forty minutes. By rights, he should not even be alive.
  Later, it was discovered that Tom had ingested high amounts of
sleeping pills before his drowning. The doctors theorised that his
"accident" may not have been an accident after all. The report by Dr.
Peterson about his severe depression managed to seal their suspicions
that it was indeed, an attempt at suicide.
  Owen kept imagining that scene in his mind. He could see his son
walking unsteadily deeper into the lake, perhaps unaware of his
surroundings as the drugs dulled his mind. Perhaps he had walked to the
middle of the lake before he had tripped on a stone at the floor of the
lake. He would have sank into the water, and would have been too tired
- or too ill - to swim to the surface..
 Or perhaps, Tom had taken the drugs on purpose, and had walked
into the lake, each step calculated, each step determined. Until the
drugs took over and he sank into the water, pulled under by sleep.
  No one could determine what had actually happened, but the
doctors assured them that Tom had not suffered. He had simply fallen
asleep...and drowned-
 -while he argued with his daughter, Moira. And while he sat on
the armchair in the hall, struggling to break the pride that kept him
from seeing his son.
 He had never forgiven himself for that damning pride. Neither had
Moira, whom he had not seen in two years.
 His family had never been the same after Tom's...accident. Moira
had distanced herself, and Owen knew her enough to know that she blamed
herself for not discovering the sleeping medication. The occasional
communiqué he received from her was always about Tom, and she had asked
her questions brusquely and without much emotion. The last he had
heard, Moira had posted herself to Deep Space 11, putting as much
distance away from them as possible. Kathleen, on the other hand, had
gotten married. She visited them often, and hers was the only name Tom
 Elizabeth had been devastated. She had the lake drained.
   "I'm going now."
 Elizabeth's voice brought him to the present. He turned towards
her and she returned his gaze impassively. She had lost a lot of weight
since the accident, and looked almost gaunt. Her once long, blonde hair
was now cut short to her shoulders, and it had more white than blonde
these days.
  "When will you be back?" he asked in response.
 She shrugged. "In an hour. I need to take Tom for his
 He nodded.
 They stared at each other mutely for a while, then Elizabeth
broke the silence. "I've signed the documents," she said shortly.
 "I see," he could only say.
  "Don't hold me back," she said accusingly, fixing him a steely
glare. Then her chin trembled, and she looked away. "I'll be back in an
hour," she said again.
  With that, Elizabeth walked into the garden.
 He watched her kneel next to Tom, speaking to him in her gentle,
lilting voice. Tom paid her little attention, his gaze on the dog. Owen
knew that Tom's obliviousness to the people around him was what hurt
her the most.
  He didn't blame her for divorcing him. He had caused her enough
pain. He would leave her this house, and he will shift to an apartment
near the Bay so he could visit Tom often.
 Ironically, the only thing that still kept his family remotely
tied together was Tom.
 Owen sighed, walking towards the study doors that faced the
  The doctors had managed to save Tom's life, but large portions of
his brain had been damaged by oxygen deprivation. The vital parts that
controlled motor and automatic functions were repaired, but the
surgeons were unable to save the areas that gave him speech, memories,
 In essence, his son, once a boy infatuated with all things 20th
century and a piloting prodigy with a bright future in Starfleet had
been reduced to a shadow of his former self, barely aware of the world
around him. The Doctors had likened his condition to a now easily
corrected condition called autism, though for Tom, his impairment was
  Tom was gone. His body was alive, yes - but *he* was gone,
drowned in the lake behind his house.
 The man in the garden with the dog was a faint shadow of the
past. His only joy was the dog, and when he uttered his first word
since the accident, it had also been "dog". In a way, Owen resented
Buster. Buster was the only creature Tom was aware of.
  Yet, it had taken them a year to get him this far. Until Buster -
the dog - Tom had isolated himself from all physical contact, screaming
whenever anyone touched him. The simplest tasks eluded him. It had
taken him a month to learn how to use a spoon, more than half a year to
relearn how to walk. Starfleet Medical had almost given up on him until
Kathleen brought him that puppy. Tom's blue eyes - which had been blank
for so long - lit up with delight, and he did something no one thought
he would ever do again. He *reached out* for the puppy.
  He started to improve immediately, and his growth had pleased the
Doctors.  He would never be the same Tom Paris, the doctors said, but
he could live a marginally independent life in time.
 <But what kind of life is this? What kind of life did his son
have with his memories gone, his intelligence and understanding and
everything that made him Tom erased?
 He entered the study, keeping a watchful eye on his son through
an open French door. He gathered his lecture notes absently, wondering
why he still lectured at the Academy when his spirit was not in it
anymore. He had resigned his commission two years ago, and only at the urging of
Admiral Shawn did he take up the lecturing post at the Academy.
  His eye caught a note on his table. Written in Kathleen's neat
cursive, the note read: Will be here for dinner. Bringing Alex along.
Says he's heard of a new treatment. Moira called - her return will be
delayed by a week. Don't be sad, Daddy.
 He felt a mix of emotions at the simple note. Alex was Kathleen's
husband, a doctor she had met at Tom's rehabilitation center. Owen
liked him immediately - perhaps because of his dedication to cure Tom.
  And the mention of Moira made him sad - despite Kathleen's gentle
reminder. "She's in pain, Daddy. And she's dealing with it in her own
way. Don't hate her for it," Kathleen had told him. Owen did not hate
Moira for it. He was merely grieved.
  As he shuffled the PADDs, his eyes caught Tom's picture at the side
of the table. Tom was dressed in his Academy uniform. He beamed
proudly, as proudly as Moira who had her arm slung around his
 Owen sighed, knowing what he'd do next but helpless to resist the
urge. He opened his drawer and stared at the holoprojector, wondering
what good it would do to stare at old pictures.
 He activated it.
 There was Tom, looking sullen in his Holloween costume - a bunny
costume that Elizabeth said he simply looked adorable in. He had been
eight, and when Owen had taken the picture, Tom had just finished
saying: "This is a stupid Earth tradition, Dad!"
 Next picture.
 Tom, on top of a snowy slope, resting on his skis. He had thrown
Elizabeth - for Owen had never been in any of his ski competitions - a
cocky grin boys that age wore.
 Tom, standing proudly beside his first light shuttle, looking
very pleased with himself for having qualified for the best piloting
team in the Academy.
 Owen shut the holoprojector, feeling both saddened and resigned.
 Owen was glad that despite his condition, Tom was now happy,
blissfully unaware of what he had lost. Thank goodness for small
 The burst of light caught him by surprise. Decades of Starfleet
training made him fling himself down on the floor, thinking it was a
detonating device. When the thought came to him, Owen opened his eyes
in panic.
 He got up, heedless of the blinding light - but the light was
normal. He scanned the garden desperately, and he felt fear gnaw at his
 Tom was gone.