PLAGUE
By: R. Mackenzie

Date: February 10, 1999

Setting: Voyager comes to the aid of a planet suffering from an unknown disease.
Disclaimer: Paramount owns them, I‘m just borrowing them.
 

Ensign Tom Paris exited his quarters and made his way to the turbolift, shifting the bag slung over his shoulder and walking quickly, ignoring his surroundings. The Captain wanted the conn schedule for the next two weeks before he left and he was almost out of time. She had actually wanted them earlier this morning and he had attempted to work on them last night, but had gotten a little distracted.

Work had been conspiring to keep him from seeing the woman he loved, Lieutenant B‘Elanna Torres, for the last several weeks. Finally, last night they had found sometime together and spent it together. She had been gone when he had been awoken by his alarm, but that was nothing unusual, engineering was always calling for their chief at odd hours. He just wished that he had had the chance to say good-bye. After all, he was going to be gone for almost two weeks.

Sighing, he tried to push the thoughts of last nights activities to the back of his mind and concentrate on the data padd in his hands. But every time he moved his body shouted out its reminders. He was sore in places that he didn‘t think should be sore. He may not have been able to say good-bye to her, but she sure tried to give him a proper send off.

As the turbolift doors opened, Tom stepped inside, called for his destination and returned his full attention to the data padd in his hands. He had to get this done or the Captain was not going to be happy with him. Trying hard to keep his mind focused, Tom didn‘t realize that he wasn‘t alone until he felt a finger drawing lazy circles across his back. Starting, he was about to turn around and demand what was going when he recognized the familiar smell of plasma coolant.

Feigning ignorance to the other person‘s presence, Tom continued to make entries on his data padd. He was able to pretend that she wasn‘t there until the finger turned into insistent hands that slid up and down his back a couple of times before moving along his sides. The ministrations briefly stopped while his duffle bag was removed from his shoulder and dropped to the floor. He tried to remain impassive as the hands returned to work their way under his uniform jacket and began running up and down his chest. Hadn‘t she had enough after last night? As the hands became more insistent, he realized that she hadn‘t.

Closing his eyes, his arms dropped uselessly to his sides. A growing man could only ignore this kind of assault for so long. As the familiar, soft body moved closer to his, pressing firmly against him, he nearly moaned out loud. He didn‘t have time for this. Remembering where they were and where they were heading, Tom decided that he was going to have to be the one to put a stop to this. Or else he would be in no condition to report for his away mission.

"You know, I have to report to the shuttle bay in fifteen minutes."

"A whole fifteen minutes, huh?" He heard her voice purr.

Tom could feel her smiling as she began to plant kisses along his back. He no longer cared if they were caught, his desire also throwing out any thought of fighting her.

"Computer, halt lift," she commanded while continuing her multi sensational assault against the body she knew and loved so well.

For his part, Tom was surprised she hadn‘t already tried to crawl into his uniform with him. She was driving him crazy between the sensations her lips and teeth were making on his back and the ones her hands were creating across his chest. Just what did she have in mind for him? And what ever it was, he wished that she would get on with it.

Tiring of the slow pace, B‘Elanna used her inherited Klingon strength to spin Tom around, snarling in satisfaction as his body slammed against the turbolift wall. She moved in quickly, claiming his mouth with her own, not wanting to waste any more of what little time they had. Both gave in as the kiss quickly became one born of need and desire. One would think that at some point they would be satiated, that they would have had enough, but there was just something that seemed to happen when they came together.

Discarding the data padd that hung uselessly in his hands, Tom tried to wrap his arms around the woman who was pressed tightly against his body. As B‘Elanna pinned his arms to his sides, he quickly realized that she wanted to be in charge of this little tete a tete, her kisses moving purposely down to his neck.

"You know, this would be a lot more satisfy for us both if you‘d let me do more than just stand here," he grounded out between clenched teeth.

B‘Elanna smiled at his frustration and continued with her teasing of his neck, alternating between licking and nipping at his pale skin. Ignoring the moans Tom was making, she felt his body totally relax. Her smile deepened as she continued her assault, tracing the lobe of his ear with her tongue. The relationship they shared scared her. Never before had she been given the trust and freedom to act upon her feelings so extravagantly with a lover. But than Tom wasn‘t just any other lover. At least not to her.

Sensing that B‘Elanna had pretty much assumed that she was in control, he waited for an opening. Not that he was complaining, by any means. He had absolutely no problem with what she was doing to him, he just wanted to participate as well. Give as good as he was being given.

A few moments later, B‘Elanna shifted positions to administer to the features on the other side of his face, loosening her grip on his arms. Taking his cue, Tom inched one of his legs between hers and pushed forward with his upper body, completely throwing her off balance. As B‘Elanna exclaimed in surprise, losing her hold on him completely, Tom expertly and efficiently reversed their positions, pushing his dark haired beauty to the turbolift wall, meshing his body to hers. B‘Elanna growled at him as he grinned and leaned over to first plant a kiss on her ridged forehead and than once again claim her mouth, taking his time to explore its varied textured surfaces with his tongue.

While Tom took his revenge by slowly torturing her, B‘Elanna began to unzip his uniform jacket. The time for game playing was over. She wanted him and she wanted him now. Sensing her thoughts, Tom broke the kiss and took a step back.

They stared at each other, lust filled blue eyes to brown ones, while they both tried to catch their breath. They didn‘t have much time left. Eventually, someone was going to realize that the turbolift had been halted and put it back into motion. Both hoped that it would be after they were done. Neither wanted to spend time on report. Not to mention the embarrassment of being caught in such a compromising position.

Both sensing the others desire and need, they moved together. All thoughts of possible repercussions disappeared. He wanted her and she obviously wanted him too. That was all the motivation that they needed.
 
 

Captain Kathryn Janeway stood in the shuttle bay, surveying the final preparations being made for the away mission. It was simple, really, Voyager was in need of mineral and food supplies. The minerals more than the food. Sensors had detected an uninhabited planet several light-years away rich in mineral deposits, but the place was a virtual waste land. They could get all the raw materials they needed, but none of the food. Which presented them with an all to familiar predicament.

In their recent travels, they had met up with several traders who spoke of a planet notorious for it‘s abundance of foodstuffs and it‘s willingness to trade. Only problem, it was in the opposite direction of the supply of minerals. Not wanting to miss an opportunity when it presented itself, she decided to send an away team to make contact and obtain any supplies they could.

She watched as Commander Chakotay and Ensign Harry Kim directed various crew members in stocking the long range shuttle. All calculated, they figured round trip would probably take ten to twelve days, with Voyager and the shuttle scheduled to rendezvous back at their current position. As always, there was the feeling of dread whenever she had to send members of her crew out into the unknown of the Delta Quadrant, but they were use to this. With no Starfleet to fall back on, they had to rely on themselves and take advantage of the opportunities that came along.

But that didn‘t stop her from worrying. These people had become her family and she had no desire to lose any of them.

"Everything about ready, Commander?" she asked as the last of the supplies were loaded. Paris had been put in charge of the mission and she had been expecting to find him already here, overseeing the preparations. Instead, she had found Chakotay and Kim doing his work for him. Curious about his absence, she had queried the computer for his location. Noting that more than ten minutes had passed since the computer had divulged that he was in a turbolift on his way there, she idly wondered what was keeping him. It would just be like Paris to go and get himself hurt or into trouble before leaving on such a long away mission. It was a constant wonder to her how one man could attract so much bad luck. Or maybe it was just a large case of dumb luck. Who knew.

"All supplies have been loaded and all systems check out okay," Voyager‘s first officer reported while walking over to his commanding officer, coming to stop by her side, "they‘re ready to go."

"Just missing one pilot," she commented dryly, casting her eyes about the spacious room, coming to rest on her first officer. While his attention was focused on making entries on the data padd in his hands, she took the moment to study his features. Dark hair, dark skin and that irresistible tattoo, all features that perfectly offset her own short, strawberry blonde hair, fair skin and light eyes perfectly. She shook her head, sighing in the process. What was she thinking?

"Something wrong?" Chakotay asked, seemingly oblivious to her scrutiny. This was an old game between them. Always willing to look, but never willing to touch.

"I hate that we‘re having to separate to do this," she voiced her concerns, looking into his brown eyes, wanting to get lost in them. No matter what their personal turmoil, she knew he‘d back her without question if she changed their mission plans, even this late, "We could go and mine the minerals we need and then go get the supplies. It‘s not like we‘re that pressed for time. But then again, why waste time if we don‘t need to."

Chakotay smiled and just listened as she debated the issue with herself. She had already made her decision and unless something came along to show her that it was the wrong one, they would go with the planned separation.

Before either could comment further, the shuttle bay doors opened and a disheveled Tom Paris sprinted through. Taking a look at her mission leader, she placed her hands on her hips and addressed the man coming to a stop before her, trying not to let on to her amusement, "Usually when someone reports for duty, Mr. Paris, they are to be properly attired."

Tom cast her a questioning look before glancing down at his uniform. Shifting his duffle bag, he mumbled an apology and tucked in his turtle neck, silently cursing B‘Elanna for not telling him that he hadn‘t gotten his clothes back on properly. It was after all her fault that he was in the state he was in and late on top of that.

"Mr. Paris," Janeway continued in her best command voice, "I thought that you would have been here to oversee the preparations for your away mission. Instead, you show up late looking like you just dragged yourself out of bed. Care to explain?"

Self-consciously clearing his throat, Tom tried not to shuffle his feet while avoiding the questioning looks his superior officers were giving him. He could feel his skin turning a bright shade of red. Of all days for B‘Elanna to want to have her way with him in a turbolift. "I, uh, was delayed?" he stated simply, trying not to smile.

Janeway gave him her sternest, disapproving look. Just what had he been up to? Before she could ask, the doors opened once again to admit a slightly rumpled B‘Elanna Torres. Janeway took one look at her and rolled her eyes. It was more than obvious what had delayed the pilot.

Keeping her face a mask of professionalism, she nodded to her chief engineer as she made her way over to them, and then turned her attention back to Paris, noting that he looked like a little boy who‘d just got caught doing something he knew he shouldn‘t have done. Sighing inwardly, she asked, "Mr. Paris, do you have the conn schedule?"

She heard Chakotay cough to cover his laugh as B‘Elanna cast them a sheepish look and handed the report over. While accepting the data padd, Janeway continued to scrutinize her two junior officers and wondered if maybe she should press the matter. Then she remembered where the computer had said the young man was and that it had taken an awfully long time for that lift to reach its destination. No doubt, if she asked, she‘d end up with more than she ever wanted to know.

"Do you have any questions about your mission?" Janeway asked, returning to the reason they were gathered together, deciding there were some things that one didn‘t need to know about.

"No, ma‘am."

"All the information we have about the Rivvans has been uploaded to the shuttle‘s computer, along with the flight plan and long range sensor readings. Make sure you study the information before making contact. We don‘t want any incidents," ignoring the who me look on Tom‘s face, she continued, "As soon as you‘re clear, Voyager will be heading out. You‘ll be out of communications range within twenty-four hours." She still had an uneasy feeling and attributed it to the man before her. Some days he was absolutely irrepressible.

"The shuttle‘s been checked out," Chakotay continued the informal briefing, handing Tom the data padd he‘d been fiddling with, "Crewmen Gerron and Ayala are already aboard."

"Anything else?" Tom asked, switching from little boy to Starfleet officer before their eyes as he accepted the proffered instrument. When no one said anything, he added, in the way only Tom Paris could, "Well then, I guess we‘ll see you all later."

Janeway held her tongue at the non-regulation remark. "Good luck, Ensign."

Nodding his head at his commanding officers he turned toward the shuttle, shooting a special smile at B‘Elanna. She answered it with a smile of her own, knowing that the next two weeks were going to be extremely lonely and long. She wanted the mission to be over already so they could return to their previous activities.

Shaking his head, Tom climbed into the shuttle. He hadn‘t even left and he was already starting to miss her.

"Harry, unless you‘re coming along, I would suggest you get out," Tom stated to his best friend as he stowed his things and climbed into the pilot‘s seat, "‘cause this ship is leaving, with or without you."

"I can tell when I‘m not wanted around," the Asian Ensign commented while displaying a wounded look.

"No offense, there buddy, but you‘re holding us up," Tom threw back while beginning his pre-flight check.

Harry just shook his head. "You‘ve got a one track mind," he stated while gathering his things. He knew exactly what his friend was thinking- the sooner he left, the sooner he‘d be back and in B‘Elanna‘s arms. "Good luck, Tom," Harry called as he moved to exit the shuttle, "try to stay out of trouble this time."

"Harry, Harry, Harry," Tom responded, turning in his chair to face his friend, "Have you no faith in my abilities?"

Rolling his eyes, Harry just laughed and walked out the door, letting it slide shut behind him.

Returning his attention to the flight preparations, Tom noticed that Ayala and Gerron were trying their best not to laugh. Tom sighed and wondered why the Captain couldn‘t have let B‘Elanna come along. She would have been much better company for him.

Harry joined his fellow officers as they watched Tom effortlessly maneuver the shuttle out of it‘s holding cell and into the waiting darkness of space. As it jumped to warp, Janeway again had the nagging feeling that something just wasn‘t right. Shaking her head, she chalked it up to over protectiveness and brushed the negative thoughts aside.

"Commander," she called, breaking the silence that had descended as they watched the shuttle disappear from sight, "let‘s get going ourselves." Without waiting for a response, she walked out the doors, knowing that her officers weren‘t far behind her.
 
 

"Paris! Paris!"

Tom turned at the gleeful cries of his name. A tired, loving smile spread across his pale, worn features as he watched the little red-haired, five year old girl run down the aisle toward him. Pulling himself up from the chair he had been occupying, ignoring the stiffness of his muscles and joints, his blue eyes tracked her as she bound his way. Her cheerfulness brought a bright spot to the suffering and death they were surrounded by.

It had been nearly two weeks since he had sent Ayala and Gerron back to Voyager for help. Help that he had hoped would have come long before now. The information that they had been given was slightly out dated and their mission to obtain supplies turned into one of mercy. The Rivvans were suffering from some type of plague, one that their medical researchers had not been able to identify or find a cure for. One that Paris couldn‘t let them just succumb to without attempting to help.

Without having to think about it, he had the shuttle‘s medical supplies beamed down and then told Ayala and Gerron to return to Voyager. He was leaving it to them to explain what was going on and to bring her back to help, hoping that with Voyager‘s more advanced medical equipment and knowledge a cure could be found.

Paris may have been the outcast during his time on Voyager, but that didn‘t mean the others in his away team were just going to abandon him under such conditions, leaving him alone among a people that he didn‘t even know. But Tom proved just how stubborn and sacrificing he could be. Pulling rank, he ordered them to leave, not letting either risk themselves to the unknown disease that had already wiped out a fourth of the planet‘s population. Grudgingly, the two men broke orbit, taking with them samples of blood and body fluids for their Doctor to study. Hopefully he would be able to find a cure by the time they returned.

Seemingly immune to the debilitating effects of the disease, Tom moved among the sick, offering aid and comfort where he could. His optimism and pleasant smile giving hope that eventually a cure would be found. Even during the first days, when the smell of decaying flesh and death hung thickly in the air, he continued to believe that there could be a positive ending. Somehow, someway, everything would work out for these people. They just had to hold on until help arrived.

As the end of the first week approached, his optimism began to sag just a little. The sight of the dead and dying was haunting him at night, making it difficult to sleep. More and more people were being taken by the day, by the hour. His mind began to wonder-What if Voyager arrived too late? What if they arrived, but there was nothing they could do? Had he made a mistake by staying? Would he also become one of the many nameless, faceless victims?

With a smile that reached to the very core of his blue eyes, Tom held out his arms as his little angel flung herself into his arms, wrapping her own around his neck and resting the side of her head against his. Returning the hug with just as much enthusiasm, he asked, "What have you been up to, Miss Ahgy?"

"I was playing. But Batta says it‘s nap time," she stated disappointedly, pulling back to look at Tom‘s face, "could you tell me a story, one to keep the bad dreams away?" she asked shyly.

This had been their ritual for more than a week, ever since he had found her huddled by one of the many beds, her tiny hands clasped in the lifeless ones of her mother. He had picked her up and held her while she cried, whispering gentle words of comfort until the tears abated. Tom later learned that her mother had been the last of her family, all the others had already been taken by the plague.

Just as much as she had needed some one, so had he. In the days that followed, they became inseparable. Where ever he went, so did she. Many commenting that she was his little shadow. Tom was just grateful that she had come into his life. Because of her his longing for Voyager, his friends and especially one very special woman, stopped being so painful.

Holding her in his arms, he walked out of the large room, to a smaller one toward the back of the building. Many of the sick had been transported to the large buildings in the main cities with the thought that caring for everyone in one place would be easier than having to travel all over the countryside. The number of the sick far exceeded the number of people who could care for them, they had no one that could go house to house.

Laying her down on the bed, he removed her shoes and pulled his Starfleet issue blanket up to her shoulders. Placing a kiss on her forehead, he sat down on the simple, wooden chair next to the bed. The room wasn‘t much, but it was their‘s, a place for them to escape the horrors that existed on the other side of the walls. A place for them to pretend that all was well and they had nothing to be afraid of. Getting comfortable, he asked, "So, what story do you want to hear today?"

"Tell me about Voyager," her soft voice demanded as she snuggled under the blanket, turning her small frame so she could see his face, "I like it when you tell about your ship."

"All right than, a story about Voyager." Tom tried not to smile, imagining what Captain Janeway would think of his little angel calling Voyager his ship. Closing his eyes, he thought about the many things that he could tell her.

In the last week he had already recounted many tales for his fixated audience and Ahgy had listened to them all, hanging on every word as he spoke. Her eyes lighting up as he told of the adventures that the great Starship and her mighty crew had faced. "Well, there is the story of Kes."

"Yeah, that one," she nodded her head in agreement, her eyes wide with anticipation.

Tom smiled, folding his arms across his chest and relaxing back in the chair, "Okay, then. Once upon a time..."

"Wait!" Ahgy exclaimed, sitting up and looking around the room frantically, "Where‘s Fus?!"

"I‘ll find him," Tom reassured her, standing up to look around the small room. He quickly found the missing Fus under the bed, exactly where she had placed him that morning for safety. "Here you go," he said while placing the ragged looking stuffed animal in her arms and nudging her to lay back down. He had quickly come to realize that it was the last thing she had left that was hers and she used it as an object of comfort and security while she slept.

Sitting back down, he waited for her to get settled, Fus hugged tightly to her chest. When she looked up at him, her brown eyes wide with anticipation, he took that as his cue and he began, "Once upon a time...."
 
 

Two more days passed and still there was no sign of Voyager. Totally exhausted, Tom finished with his latest pass of the room and then collapsed on the nearest, empty bed. He and the few others that hadn‘t attracted the disease, had been working almost non-stop doing what they could for those laid out around the rooms in the various buildings scattered threw out the city. It just never seemed to be enough. But no matter how futile it seemed, he couldn‘t stop, couldn‘t give up on them. Even the dying needed to know that someone cared about them.

"Paris, please, you must wake up."

The persistent shaking of his shoulder and the frantic words quickly brought him awake. He hadn‘t realized that he‘d even fallen asleep until he was struggling to open his eyes. Rubbing his hands across his face, he sat up, vaguely wondering how long he‘d been out. Focusing on the petite, gray haired woman standing in front of him, he drew in a deep breath and stood up, "What‘s wrong Batta?"

"I‘m sorry, Paris."

Tom saw the unguarded sadness in the woman‘s eyes before she bowed her head, unable to look at him.

"No!" he gasped between clenched teeth, closing his eyes and shaking his head.

"We found her a few minutes ago," Batta tried to explain.

"Where?" he asked, his closed lids unable to stop the tears that had begun to roll down his face.

"She‘s in your room," she reached out her hand as he went to move past her, "Paris, she‘s too little. There‘s nothing..."

She stopped talking as Tom continued to shake his head vehemently.

He wasn‘t going to lose her.

Dropping her hand, Batta stepped to the side, "I am sorry," she stated again to his retreating form, her heart breaking for him. Without being asked and without thought to himself, he had stayed to help them. Giving everything to care for those who could no longer care for themselves. And now, the one ray of hope he had found was quickly fading away. Batta cursed anyone and everyone for the state of her people.

They had tried to always live in peace, giving to those who were in need, helping who ever came their way. When the disease began, it became their turn to seek for help. But no matter the amount of pleading, no one would come. Instead, everyone fled, afraid they would contract the disease if they even spoke to them. Not that she could blame them. Fear was a very powerful adversary and the knowledge that less than one percent of their population seemed to be immune was proof enough that the risk was too great. Until the people from Voyager came.

She had watched in awe and trepidation as the blonde haired, uniformed man beamed down, figuring that he‘d take one look at their hopeless predicament and leave as fast as he‘d come. Instead he offered what help he could, sending those with him to bring back more. Everyday he kept saying, soon his ship would be there, soon they would have a cure, soon everything would be okay.

But with the imminent death of Ahgy, his little angel, Batta knew that Paris‘s hope wouldn‘t last too much longer. She hoped that he was strong enough to survive the pain of losing her.

Tom quietly stepped into his room and looked at the listless body laying on the bed, a shadow of the happy, playful person she had been just that morning. Walking over to her, he knelt down by the side of the bed, taking her small, frail hand in his own. The tears continued to fall as he watched her struggle against the pain to open her eyes and look at him. He smiled at her gently, hoping that she could focus, see that it was him.

"Paris?"

He fought down the sob that threaten to escape his throat, "Yes, it‘s me, angel."

Her pale lips turned upward in a small smile as she asked, "Will you tell me a story?" she struggled over each word, her breath coming in painful gasps, "one to take the bad dreams away?"

He stood and gently picked up her small body, his heart tearing with each gasp of pain that escaped her pale lips. Settling himself on the bed, his back to the wall, he held her close. Kissing her damp forehead, he began his tell of a place far away, where they were together, laughing and playing, where there was no pain, only happiness and love.

As he talked, his eyes roamed over her face, memorizing every line, every tiny feature. They had found each other, had so little time together and now she was leaving him. He fought to control his voice, he had to finish the story, had to finish it for her.

Batta stood in the doorway, feeling so much older as she watched him lovingly cradle the little girl‘s small, frail body. He spoke to her softly, brushing a hand across her fevered forehead as he told her the tale.

The disease had been a fickle one, attacking without thought to age or sex. In one victim it would slowly consume them, in the next, it attacked quickly, taking them before a good-bye could be said. She again cursed whatever had brought this death to them. If she could, she would trade places, give Ahgy the chance to experience a full life. But it was not to be.

She watched as Ahgy struggled with her last breath, her small body going limp in the arms that held her. The sight and sounds of the grieving had become common place for her over the weeks since the disease began to decimate then, she hadn‘t cried since those first few days. But as she watched Tom wrap his trembling arms around the small, lifeless body, pulling it tightly to his chest, it became too much for her. She backed out of the room, tears streaming silently down her face. When was it going to end, she thought bitterly, when would this nightmare end?

Much later, as his tears slowly subsided, Tom took one last look at Ahgy‘s precious little face. "I‘m sorry," he whispered to her as he leaned over to place one last kiss on her forehead. Taking a deep breath, he stood up and walked out of the room.

Batta walked over to him as he emerged and held out her arms. As she had done for countless others, she would prepare her small body for burial.

Tom shook his head at her out stretched arms, his dull, pain filled eyes silently pleading with her to understand. He couldn‘t save her life, but he could at least see her body safely to it resting place. It was the least he could do for her.

Stepping aside, Batta allowed him to pass. She had seen the look in his eyes many times over, one of a father who had just lost his beloved only child. She understood his need to do this.
 
 

Three days later, Voyager finally arrived, cure in hand. Captain Janeway, flanked by the Doctor and Commander Chakotay had beamed down, anxious to find their missing officer and friend. What they found was a man that was a shell of the person they knew. His movements were mechanical, almost as if it was a struggle to do anything and his eyes, usually so bright and full of expression, were lifeless and dull. From what Ayala and Gerron had told them, they knew things were bad, but Tom‘s face told them it had been much worse than they had ever imagined. Janeway cursed the accident in engineering that had delayed their arrival. Fate seemed to hand Tom Paris another raw deal.

Over the next few hours, people from Voyager were beamed down to help administer to the sick, giving everyone doses of the cure the Doctor had found. The results were almost non-existent at first, many fearing that the great Starship had indeed arrived too late. But as the hours passed, slowly, improvements could be seen. It was working.

Although, not for everyone. There were those that were just too far gone and no amount of medicine was going to save them. For them, they could do nothing more than offer relief from the pain and a small amount of companionship.

Two days later, the survivors began to stir from their beds. It was time to try and piece what remained of their lives back together. In total, more than two-thirds of the population had fallen victim to the still unnamed disease. They had never ever found it‘s origins. There were many speculations, but no one seemed to really care, it was over.
 
 

"Doctor," Janeway called to her medical officer as she and Chakotay made their way over to the hologram.

Four days after their arrival, almost everyone had recovered enough to leave the main cities and head toward their homes. The few that remained were quickly improving and were being moved to the central hospitals. Soon the buildings would no longer be giant hospitals and mortuaries, they would be cities, communities, once more.

Her crew had helped out as best they could, even transporting people to their homes to save them from having to travel long distances. It had been difficult to watch as the people, now recovering, could openly grieve for their loss. Janeway tried not to focus on it, they had done what they could. She just wished that they could have arrived sooner. Maybe if they had, they could have saved more lives. Especially that one little life that had meant so much to her chief helmsman.

"How is everything?" she asked as he closed his tricorder and turned to them.

"Although we have been unable to determine the exact cause and origin of the disease," the Doctor stated boastfully, "it is safe to say that it is gone. The Rivvan physicians and I all believe that we have successfully wiped it out."

"That‘s good to hear, Doctor," Janeway stated, reflecting the grateful smile that Chakotay had on his face. The nightmare was finally coming to an end. At least for some, she thought as her eyes fell upon the lone figure of Tom Paris. She watched as he listlessly walked between the few occupied beds at the other end of the room. He hadn‘t spoken more than two words to anyone since their arrival. "What about Tom?"

"He‘s suffering from exhaustion and malnutrition," the Doctor stated, following her gaze to the man across the way, "My initial scans showed that he had the beginning stages of the disease, but we‘ve been able to successfully treat him. As for the rest," he turned to face them, his eyes showing his own sadness and concern, "He‘s going to need time and more than likely a bit of counseling. Commander, I believe that would fall under your realm of things."

Chakotay nodded his head. He had involuntarily become Voyager‘s counselor, a job that he had been trying his best to do. But how was he suppose to help Tom Paris through something like this? The young man had shut himself off, not letting anyone near him, including his best friends, B‘Elanna Torres and Harry Kim. He wished for the disheveled, irrepressible man that had left Voyager all those weeks ago. They all did.

He would have to consult his spirit guide over this one and hope that something would get Paris to drop his walls and let them in.
 
 

That afternoon, the crew of the Starship Voyager began to return to their ship, it was time for them to continue with their own journey. Janeway watched as the last group gathered at the beam up sight. Her eyes filled with concern as Tom walked over to them, not acknowledging anyone, even B‘Elanna and Harry as they took up positions on either side of him.

As Janeway accepted the final farewells and thank yous from the surviving members of the Rivvan government, she watched as Batta made her way over to them, coming to a stop in front of Tom. The other members of the group watched as she pulled out his hands and set a ratty looking mess of stuffed material in them.

"She would want you to have this. To remember her by," Batta stated as she watched Tom‘s listless eyes focus on the animal, "Remember her always. She loved you dearly." Squeezing his hands around the mass of stuffing, she placed a kiss on his check and then turned and walked away.

Janeway and the others watched as Tom just stared at the object in his hands, the expression on his face was one of confusion. Looking toward her first officer, she returned his small, comforting smile. They all knew Tom needed time, she understood that, but it was so hard to see him standing there looking so alone and lost.

Motioning for everyone to take their positions, she waved goodbye and called for Voyager to beam them up. As they materialized in the transporter room, she stepped down from the platform, anxious to get underway. The others followed her, also wanting to put the planet and it‘s nightmares behind them.

Noticing that Tom wasn‘t beside her, B‘Elanna turned to see him still standing where he materialized. "Tom?" she asked tentatively, stepping toward him, unsure of what to do.

The others stopped their departure and turned to look at the desolate man.

"Why?" he asked so softly, the others weren‘t sure that he had even spoken. Silence hung in the air, no one knew what to say to him.

The tears he had denied, began to fall, one after the other, down his grief stricken face. The pain in his heart had become too much. He had tried to shut it away, tried to push past it. Wasn‘t that what he was suppose to do? Wasn‘t he suppose to live his life, even though apart of it had died with that little girl and had been buried with her on the planet below? What was he going to do? How was he suppose to go on without her?

Unable to hold himself upright, Tom crashed to his knees, his hands still wrapped around Fus, Ahgy‘s precious stuffed animal. B‘Elanna was instantly beside him, wrapping him in her arms, bringing his head to rest against her shoulder. She wanted so much to take away his pain, wishing that he hadn‘t had to loose something, someone, so dear to him.

Chakotay stopped the others from going to the couple. There would be a time for them to offer Tom their support and comfort, but now was not it. Silently, he moved everyone out of the room, leaving B‘Elanna to help the distraught man, hoping that her love would be enough to see them both through the pain and anguish Tom was experiencing.

The End