The Honored Ones
By: R. Mackenzie

Date: January 14, 1999

Setting: Disaster strikes Voyager.
Disclaimer: Paramount owns them, I‘m just borrowing them.

"Enter," Captain Kathryn Janeway called as she shut off her computer terminal and leaned back in her chair. She nodded a silent greeting as her first officer, Commander Chakotay, walked into her ready room and proceeded to occupy his normal seat in front of her desk. "Commander?"

"Captain. I‘ve finished most of the crew interviews," he said while setting a stack of data padds on the edge of her desk. "To say the least, I‘m somewhat amazed at what I found out."

"You too," she commented, offering him a friendly, understanding smile, "I‘ve just finished going through about half of the *Acting Captain‘s* logs. They‘re quite the read."

She stood and walked to the replicator, ordering yet another cup of coffee. The last few days had been filled with a lot of catch up for not only herself and Chakotay, but Lieutenant Commander Tuvok and Lieutenant Torres as well. "Would you like anything?" he shook his head and she returned to her seat.

"For the abbreviated recap of what I‘ve read thus far," she began after taking a sip of the dark liquid to satisfy her addiction, "approximately six months ago, Voyager unintentionally entered a mine field. The resulting damage left her basically dead in space and most of the senior staff incapacitated, poisoned by an unknown gas that was released when one of the mines burrowed through Voyager‘s hull into the conference room," that thought still sent shivers up her spine. For six months, six months, they were in comas, placed in stasis in the hopes that the doctor would be able to find a cure and revive them one day. "After exacting the necessary repairs, Voyager was put back on course for the Alpha Quadrant. The Captain goes on to give an over review of the repairs and day to day activities that took place over the next couple of months. That‘s about all I‘ve read thus far," she had been rocking side to side, cradling her cup of coffee as she spoke.

"That was definitely abbreviated," commented Chakotay. He smiled at the glare she shot his way. They were both tired and more then a little confused at the events that had transpired while they were sleeping.

"Want more, read the logs yourself. Those are the high points, but you get the gist of it," she retorted, waving a hand at the computer screen. She had spent nearly every waking moment, after being released from sickbay and once she was sure her ship was still intact, going over the logs, trying to find out what she had missed. "They‘re concise and professional. I didn‘t think he had it in him."

"You and me both, wait until you see the crew interviews," he ignored her inquiring look and continued before she could comment, "Your first order to Tuvok and myself when we began this investigation was to find out why Tom Paris was in the position of acting Captain..."

At this point, Kathryn did interrupt, "You can‘t tell me it didn‘t surprise you to find out that Ensign Tom Paris was Voyager‘s Acting Captain instead of Lieutenant Joe Carey."

"I didn‘t say I wasn‘t," he retorted, annoyed at having been interrupted. Noting the Captain‘s raised eyebrow at his tone, he stood, running a tired hand across his face. "In the last five years I‘ve come to respect Tom Paris and we‘ve been able to put our past behind us and form a working relationship. But that did not prepare me for what I would find out about him while questioning the crew," gripping the back of the chair he had just been occupying, Chakotay looked straight at his commanding officer, "I‘ve been having to reassess a lot of my previous conceptions of the man."

Kathryn smiled comfortingly at him, watching his jaw work in frustration as he spoke. As his commanding officer for Tom‘s brief stint in the Maquis, Chakotay had put up with a Tom Paris that was totally different from the man they were now discussing- young, cocky and the world‘s biggest chip on his shoulder.

While looking out the view port, Chakotay continued with his report, he‘d deal with his own inner turmoil later, "After Voyager struck the mines, Carey was stuck in engineering, Paris and Kim were on the bridge. When they were finally able to get together, Carey flat out refused to take command. Apparently, Paris had been basically running things while Carey was seeing to the immediate, most serious repairs, and there were quite a few of them. It was Paris that had been making all the decisions, from what to do with the downed senior staff to whether or not to go forward or backward in the mine field once the engines were running again. Carey pointed out that he was not on the command track, he was an engineer and he didn‘t want the job," at this Chakotay stopped and looked back to the woman sitting behind the desk, "You‘d think that Paris would have jumped at the opportunity. Instead he fought with Carey, telling him that he was next in line, it was his job. It took Carey, and nearly the rest of the crew for that matter, threatening to resign to get Paris to accept."

"The crew threatened to resign?" Kathryn asked in amazement. Tom had mentioned a discussion taking place prior to his assuming command, followed by a statement from Carey voluntarily turning command of Voyager over to him. Nothing had been said about a near mutiny of the crew.

Chakotay nodded is head, smiling in consolation at her disbelief, "Every person Paris mentioned with a higher rank then himself, immediately declined. And anyone with a lesser rank refused also, just to make sure he knew that he was it. They‘d already decided who they thought should be in charge, regardless of his recent demotion or how much he had tried to protest. Ensign Kim stated that he‘d never seen Paris more flustered. They gave him no option."

Janeway stared at her first officer. She knew Paris was capable of a lot of things, had more faith in him than Tom himself did and even though she‘d had to demote him from the rank of Lieutenant, she had not expected this type of support from the crew. These were people that for the most part had only recently stopped openly hating and despising him and yet they chose to rally for him to command them. What a shock.

"Amazing, isn‘t it," Chakotay commented at the perplexed look on her face as he reclaimed his seat, he was exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally.

"By the look on your face, I take it there‘s more," she had abandoned her coffee by this time, absently running a hand across her forehead.

"The abbreviated version," he threw the comment back at her with a smile, "Paris accepted command and got them out of there, making the decision to go thru the mine field. Setting a course for home, it took them more than three months before they found a supply of the minerals needed to repair Voyager," his dark eyes met hers as he continued, "Three months of living on rations because the food supplies were too low, and the region of space offered no place to replenish our stores; three months of energy levels being so low, they barely had enough power to maintain a speed of warp two and minimal life support and keep the replicators up for emergency use. They shut down life support and power on all non-essential decks, which meant a lot of the crew were bunking together."

"And they didn‘t kill each other?" Janeway asked incredulously.

"No," Chakotay responded with a half smile, "There were a couple reports of minor incidences, arguments and the like, but nothing that couldn‘t be handled. Nothing got out of hand. They wanted Paris in charge and no one wanted to make matters any worse than they already were."

"Apparently, even I have been underrating Mr. Paris‘s charm and abilities," Janeway‘s comment reflecting the ever increasing respect she felt for the young pilot.

Chakotay nodded, hesitating before continuing with his next question. He leaned forward, resting his arms on his legs and clasping his hands in front of him, "What do you know of the attack Voyager suffered about a month ago?"

Casting a curious glance at him, absently wondering why he was jumping so far ahead in the events of the past six months, she related what she knew, "Voyager had wandered into yet another area of space where the locals didn‘t like trespassers, they preferred attacking to talking. We suffered heavy damage that they were able to fix after coming to terms with who ever the race was," Janeway paused as Chakotay began shaking his head and muttering to himself. Brushing back the strands of auburn hair that had fallen forward on her face, she stated, "I take it that‘s not all."

"You might want to mention to Mr. Paris that details never hurt when leaving a log entry, they help accentuate the facts," the commander responded. "It was a surprise attack, six of their ships to our one and they weren‘t taking any prisoners. As Mr. Baytart explained it, Paris did nothing short of preforming a miracle. They‘d taken out the warp drive; life support was out on decks seven thru ten; power levels were dropping, rapidly; several injuries, some serious, including the acting captain, who by the way refused to be treated until they were out of danger," he shot her a look that said ‚remind you of anyone else we know‘. Kathryn just glared at him.

"And yet he managed to get Voyager out of there intact," he continued, "They came to terms with their attackers by out thinking and maneuvering them. There was never any contact made, they refused to answer any of our hails. It took them three days to get out of their space and to get the warp drive and life support functioning again. They barely had enough power to limp to the next port. What should have only taken a couple of days travel took more than two weeks. Using what can only be termed as the famous Paris charm, he made nice with our current hosts and was able to get Voyager the supplies and materials she needed."

"Wow," was Janeway‘s only response to the tale. The Acting Captain‘s logs, what she had read of them, left a lot to be desired on the finer detail side of things. "Definitely going to talk to Paris about his log keeping," And quite a few other things, she thought to herself. "So where does that leave us?"

"Thanks to the Valtarians, ship‘s repairs stand at 90% complete, the rest to be finished within the next four days, two if B‘Elana has her way," after her release from sickbay, the excitable half-Klingon had stormed down to engineering to find out what Carey had done to her engine room in her absence. Chakotay noted Carey‘s relief that the chief was back, that the responsibility was no longer resting so heavily on his shoulders. "All the injured have been taken care of, including Mr. Paris. The Doctor reports that he has been able to finally heal the injury to his right hip and leg, and with some rest and physical therapy, he should regain total use of it."

"Should?" that didn‘t really convince her that the young pilot would be all right, "What aren‘t you telling me, Chakotay?"

Leaning back in the chair, Chakotay again ran a hand over his face, "He waited a long time to have the surgery, Kathryn, the damage was extensive. Plus there was a good amount of infection. The Doctor said that‘s probably what caused his collapse."

Kathryn closed her eyes and shook her head. It had been a shock to see Tom Paris‘s unconscious body beamed to sickbay just hours after she and the others had been revived. She and Chakotay had been listening to the Doctor brag about his great abilities at not only finding an antidote, but one that worked so rapidly and with no apparent side effects when the call for emergency transport came in. They were immediately ejected from the room so the Doctor could work. Not knowing what had happened, they began their investigation in earnest.

"Harry said he refused to have anything done other than the superficial treatment until Voyager was safe, and even then, there was so much to do..." he didn‘t see the need to say the rest.

"He should have gotten it taken care of immediately," Kathryn ground out between clenched teeth.

"Should have, yes, but he happens to be a lot like another captain I know," he was smiling softly at her, "always putting the ship before herself."

"He shouldn‘t have done it," she stated trying to keep her anger under control.

Chakotay just shrugged. This was a battle that Captain Janeway was going to have to fight with herself. If she needed to talk he‘d be there, just like always, but he wasn‘t going to initiate this particular conversation with either of them.

They sat in silence, both lost in their own thoughts. For them it had been a moment in passing, for their crew it had been months of struggling to stay alive.

"So, now what?" Kathryn finally asked.

Voyager‘s first officer tried not to smile, "Diplomatic niceties. Apparently the fact that Voyager was able to make it out of Lez‘Kentiv space in one piece, more or less, has made us quite the topic of conversation. The Prime Minister has requested an audience with ‚The Honored Ones‘, as he put it. They want us to attend some type of reception."

Kathryn snorted, reclaiming her cup of coffee, "Just what we need."

"Actually, I think it is," replied Chakotay.

"Come again?" Kathryn stopped mid-sip, almost choking on the now lukewarm, brown liquid, "You hate these ‚diplomatic niceties‘ more than I do."

"Yes, but this one isn‘t for us, it‘s for our crew," he leaned forward again to get his point across, "While the four of us -you, me, Tuvok and Torres- were sleeping the time away, they were fighting to stay alive and keep this ship, your ship, in one piece," he watched her to make sure she understood the import of his words, "They deserve the recognition for their efforts."

Kathryn just nodded her head, the meaning of his words sinking in. She began to wonder just what had been said during the crew‘s interviews. "All right, schedule the whatever, but make sure that it‘s not until Mr. Paris is able to attend. He is after all the Acting Captain of the Honored Ones."

Chakotay smiled, grateful that she understood what lengths the crew were willing to go to for her, "If there‘s nothing else?" He stood and turned to leave, there were still a few things that needed to be dealt with before he could turn in for the night.

"Commander," he stopped and turned back to face his commanding officer, "Thank you."

Smiling, Chakotay nodded and walked out of the room. Kathryn watched him leave and then turned to gaze out the view port, her mind churning over the things that she had been told.

"Are you sure we had to come to this?" Forced to put on his dress uniform, Tom stood uncomfortably, with the help of a set of crutches, in between his best friends Ensign Harry Kim and Lieutenant B‘Elana Torres as they waited for their hosts to escort them into the reception hall. Through no fault of his own, or so he had tried to claim, they were the last three to arrive for the grand event.

"Come on Tom, this could be fun," Harry stated while trying to keep the excitement he was feeling out of his voice by concentrating on their surroundings. He noted that the Valtarians weren‘t a flashy people, but they certainly knew how to decorate. Everything was alive with warm, rich colors. Their buildings and landscapes blending with the natural color and texture of the land. Quite an amazing feat of architecture and design. Plus their hospitality had been incredible, he couldn‘t wait for the night to begin.

"Besides," added B‘Elana as she leaned over to straighten his uniform, "as Acting Captain, you had no choice."

Brushing her hands away, he snorted at her comment while trying to maintain his balance. He couldn‘t understand why the reception was taking place and why it was necessary for the entire crew to attend. If things had gone his way, he would have stayed on Voyager, hiding out in his quarters. Unfortunately, the Doctor had agreed to go along with everyone else and had declared him fit enough to attend for a little while. After five days under the Doctor‘s care, torture as Tom referred to it, he just wanted to crawl into his own bed and try for a good nights sleep. A night without having to worry or feel responsible for anything. Instead he was standing in an itchy uniform trying hard not to let his annoyance get the better of him.

A Valtarian man dressed in a long sleeve, floor length, dark blue robe walked toward the trio. He bowed to them respectfully and then motioned for them to walk with him down the hallway to his left. Harry fell into step by the man as they started off.

Noting Tom‘s use of crutches to help him walk, their host asked, "Do you require a mobile transport?"

"A what?" asked Harry.

"No, I don‘t need a wheel chair," Tom quickly declined the offer, trying not to let his embarrassment show. He focused his attention more intently on working the awkward crutches the Doc had forced him to use, stating that his injury was still not sufficient healed for him to attempt to walk without assistance. Not that he would argue, he still couldn‘t put any weight on the injured leg without feeling intense pain and having it collapse under him.

"Tom, maybe it wouldn‘t be a bad idea," B‘Elana offered. She knew that he was still in a lot of pain and if this would help alleviate some of it, she saw no reason not to accept the proffered help.

"I‘m fine," Tom cast a glance her way to get his point across, he was not going to be treated like an invalid and be wheeled into the reception.

Harry tried not laugh as B‘Elana bit her tongue to keep from commenting further. This night was for Tom and he knew she didn‘t want it to start off with a fight that she had caused. Nothing further was said as the trio continued down the hall, walking slowly to accommodate Tom‘s unease on the crutches.

With his head down, concentrating on keeping himself upright and moving forward, Tom didn‘t realize they had reached their destination until he heard someone yell for the crew to come to attention. Stopping just in the doorway, he raised his head to find the entire assembly, even the locals, were standing as ordered, eyes focused on the stage where the Valtarian Ambassador stood, ready to address his audience.

"Honored Captain, we are pleased that you could join us this evening."

Tom turned his head to see if Janeway had some how slipped in behind them.

Trying not to laugh, Harry leaned over to clarify things for his friend, "He‘s talking to you, Tom."

"Me?" he couldn‘t hide the confusion in his voice, "I‘m not the Captain," he stated adamantly. Had there been some mis-communication while he was in sickbay? Surely someone would have told their hosts that Janeway was the Captain, he had just been the reluctant fill in. He wondered what she must be thinking of all this and inwardly began to cringe. Just how much trouble was he going to be in?

"Mr. Paris."

Tom turned to see Captain Kathryn Janeway making her way over to them. He stood still, waiting for her anger to explode all over him. This was the first time he had seen her since she had regained consciousness. He figured she was angry with him for taking command and had been too busy with correcting his mistakes to come and punish him. But instead of a hissy fit, she just smiled at him reassuringly and placing her hand on his arm, began to lead him toward the stage.

Not understanding what was going on, Tom allowed himself to be led forward. The Captain stayed with him until he was standing center stage, to the right of their host, the Valtarian Ambassador. As she released his arm, Tom cast a questioning glance behind him as he watched her join the rest of the senior staff who were also standing at attention. He watched in total confusion as Harry and B‘Elana took their places, also taking on the rigid pose.

"Honored Captain Paris, it is our privilege..."

He turned to face the Ambassador as the man continued to speak, not understanding what was going on. Sensing that maybe he was in trouble after all, his heart began to beat faster and his hands began to sweat. He didn‘t think he wanted to know what was going to happen.

" rare when someone of your integrity and virtue makes their way to our edge of space...."

The pounding in his chest moved to his head, making it hard to hear what was being said. Was this guy really talking about him?

"...a pleasure to met your people...."

Tom‘s wide, blue eyes wandered over the faces in the room, waiting for someone to stand up and start laughing, letting him know that the joke was on him. The faces were solemn, a few people were smiling, but no one was laughing.

"....for your unwavering bravery and strength...."

Swallowing the lump in his throat, Tom glanced behind him expecting to find the Captain staring daggers at him. Instead, she met his hesitant gaze with a warm, comforting smile. He felt like crying and he wasn‘t even sure why.

"....with great honor and reverence that I bestow upon you my people‘s greatest honor, the Jemblat...."

He watched as a little girl, all dressed up for the occasion, walked over to the ambassador from the right side of the stage and presented him with a long, thin box. Patting her on the head, he took the box and lifted the lid to show it‘s contents to the gathered group.

"....was created to remember with honor a man of our history that gave his life defending our people from an enemy without worth. His sacrifice has made our existence possible today..."

The crew watched in fascination as Tom‘s normally pale skin turned a bright shade of red as the Ambassador spoke. For them it was entertaining to see the man who never stopped talking or joking standing there looking shell shocked and totally speechless.

"...for your actions that made it possible for your crew to stand with us today, we bestow this most sacred honor upon you as a reminder to all of the man you are."

He motioned for Tom to lean down while he reverently removed the medallion from its case, handing the discarded box to the little girl, and placing the ribbon over his head. The Ambassador carefully straightened the material, making sure the medallion hung perfectly before stepping back. Tom continued to just stare at him.

Offering the obviously embarrassed man a reassuring smile, the Ambassador continued with the night‘s next presentation, "Your Captain Janeway wishes to say something to you as well."

All Tom could think that now he was going to get it.

Stepping forward, Janeway tried not to laugh at the bewildered look on Tom‘s face. When the Valtarians had told her what they had planned for this evening, she could think of no better opportunity to let Tom know that she was just as grateful for everything that he had done and gone thru for her, the crew and Voyager. Smiling up at him, she began.

"Several months ago, I made a decision based on your actions and I took something from you that I felt you no longer deserved to have," she knew he would understand what she meant without having to go into detail, "In that same regard, based on your actions again, tonight I am not only returning to you that which was taken away, but something that you have more than earned," stepping up to him, she placed two pips on his collar, one solid gold and the other black ringed in gold.

As she completed fastening his new assessories, Tom brought a shaking hand up to feel them for himself. His wide, disbelieving eyes watched as Janeway‘s smiled deepened and she whispered, "Congratulations, Mr. Paris, very well deserved."

She then placed a supporting hand on his arm, moving to stand by his side. Raising her voice she made her announcement, "Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure and honor to present to you Lieutenant Commander Thomas Eugene Paris."

Taking their cue, everyone burst into thunderous applause, many adding their cheers of approval. Rumor had it that Janeway was going to re-instate Paris‘s former rank, but no one had expected her to take it even further. Not that they didn‘t believe he didn‘t deserve it. They all knew that if it hadn‘t been for him, they probably wouldn‘t have made it and this was their way of letting him know how grateful they were for everything that he had done.

For his part, Tom was trying very hard not to fall over in shock. He had been expecting to be in trouble, not to be honored as some type of hero and definitely not to be promoted.

The Ambassador stepped forward again, bring up his hands to silence the exuberant crowd. Once everyone had settled down, he began with his next surprise, "I have had many an opportunity to talk with Mr. Paris and others during your stay with us and it has been noted that Honorary Captain Paris has a gift and a love of flying. Therefore, we wish to give him this."

As he gestured to the back of the room, everyone turned as the back wall began to open at the middle, the great walls moving silently away to reveal their surprise. Tom felt Kathryn‘s grip tighten on his arm as they saw his gift- a shuttle craft.

"We hope that it meets with your approval," said the Ambassador, beaming with pride. As a people they chose not to show off or brag about their technology and abilities, but they had wanted to give something special to this man. Especially after hearing that he had nearly died because of his refusal to seek treatment for an injury until his people and ship were safe. While helping repair their great Starship, the Valtarian engineers had learned enough about Starfleet technology and specifications to build this small craft that was now being presented.

Tom could only stand there, gaping at his gift. He didn‘t know what he could possibly say, thank you didn‘t seem enough. Why were they doing this for him? What had he done that was so special? He had done his job, albeit one he hadn‘t wanted, one that he felt any number of people could have done better. And why was he being singled out? Why were they only honoring him? This had been a group effort, the whole crew had gotten them to this point, not him alone. As his thoughts began to swirl, he was vaguely aware that it was becoming difficult to breath.

Seeing his distress, the Doctor made a beeline for the young man, and with help had him seated on a chair, running a tricorder over him. Checking the results, the Doctor then insisted that Tom be returned to Voyager, he‘d had enough excitement for one night.

The Ambassador instantly became apologetic for causing the man distress. Tom tried to tell him that he had nothing to apologize for, but no words would come out of his mouth. He could hear Janeway reassuring the Ambassador, saying something about him just having over done it in his condition. The next thing he knew, he was back in sickbay being helped onto his bio-bed by the Doc and B‘Elana. As his head touched the pillow, his mind shut down, he had had enough for one day.

Tom stood in the shuttle bay looking at Voyager‘s newest addition, The Jemblat. He still couldn‘t believe everything that had happened, even now, a month after that night.

He shook his head. The details were still sketchy, no matter how hard he tried to recall what had happened. He awoke in sickbay the following day thinking it had all been a dream, only to have the Doctor inform him that it had all really happened. Tom inwardly cringed, if in fact the events had taken place, he must have looked like one major idiot standing there with his mouth hanging open, not being able to say anything.

Three days later he was released from sickbay and gratefully escaped to his own quarters, collapsing on his couch. He sat, thankful for the solitude, and tried to come to terms with everything that had happened having had very little time to himself while in sickbay to think things through. From the time he awoke, the stream of visitors had been steady and constant, only stopping when the Doctor insisted that he be allowed to rest and even then, B‘Elana or Harry were always with him.

As everyone expressed their congratulations and happiness at his promotion and the honor that the Valtarians had bestowed on him, he found himself at a loss. These people didn‘t like him, had spent years never letting him forget what they thought of him and yet now none of that seemed to be true anymore. Had he really, finely proven himself to them?

And if that were the case, why didn‘t he feel more at ease with everything?

He jumped as a pair of arms slide around him from behind, wrapping themselves around his waist, bringing him out of his thoughts. Recognizing who it was from their touch and the smell of plasma coolant, he leaned back into the embrace.

"You seemed so far away, are you okay?"

Tom smiled at his lover‘s concern, pulling her around to wrap his own arms around her, "Just admiring my new toy," he replied off-handedly.

B‘Elana looked into his blue eyes as he spoke, seeing his true feelings of gratitude and amazement reflected there. Smiling up at him, she brought her head down to rest on his shoulder, loving the feel of his arms around her, "Just try not to get this one blown up," she replied jokingly.

His arms tightened around her and he brought his head down to rest his cheek against her forehead. As they stood there, enjoying each other‘s comforting embrace, B‘Elana brought her hand up to his collar, feeling the three pips that were there. She could feel Tom smiling as she fingered them.

"You‘re going to wear them down to nothing before I get to officially try them out."

She grinned as he spoke, "Just making sure they‘re real."

He kissed the top of her head and pulled away, taking a few steps toward the shuttle. She watched him go, noticing the slight limp as he walked. The Doctor had said that with a few more weeks of physical therapy that his leg should be back to 100%, the limp gone forever.

"Want to tell me what‘s wrong?" she asked. The joking, easy going Tom Paris from before the incident was slowly coming back to them, but there were times when his mood would turn to one that was pensive and thoughtful, like now. They had spent many a night talking about the things that had happened, how close they had come to losing each other, his sacrifices for Voyager. She couldn‘t believe that he still thought himself unworthy of the promotion he had been given and how embarrassed he still felt about all the attention and recognition that was being bestowed on him.

Not looking at her, he shrugged his shoulders. He had talked all this through with her before. She had helped him to understand and accept things as they stood, but there were times when his self-doubts got the better of him and he began to think that Janeway had made a big mistake and it was his job to find a way to straighten her out. Not that she would change her mind, she‘d made that quite clear already. He smiled as he remembered the astonished look on the Captain‘s face when he told her he didn‘t think he deserved the promotion. She had given him quite the earful that day.

Taking a deep breath he turned to find B‘Elana with her arms folded, staring at him, waiting for an answer. Smiling, he walked back over to her, "Last minute jitters," he stated with more confidence than he felt. Leaning down he placed a kiss on her forehead, "We better go. Don‘t want to be late for my first day back."

B‘Elana smiled at him, she knew he wasn‘t telling her what was really going on in that head of his, but she wasn‘t going to push. He‘d tell her when he was ready to and not before. Allowing him to slip his arm around her shoulders, they made their way out of the shuttle bay. As they walked to the turbolift, they were greeted by a few crew members who whole heartedly welcomed Tom back, making sure they emphasised his rank as they said it. She tried not to laugh at his discomfort, not making a comment on the shade of red his normally pale skin had turned.

Leaning against the wall of the turbolift, he closed his eyes and heaved a sigh as the doors slid shut, whisking them to the bridge. He kept telling himself that he could do this, he could show them that their confidence and faith in him hadn‘t been misplaced. As B‘Elana slid her hand in his, he opened his eyes seeing nothing but love and support in her gaze. Putting a smile on his face, he leaned over to plant a thank you kiss on her cheek and gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. Putting his nervousness to the back of his mind, he released her hand and straightened his uniform, trying to show more confidence in himself than he really felt.

As the doors slid open, he stepped onto the bridge, ready to face whatever came his way.

The End.