AUTHOR‘S NOTE: March 99, it has been a year since Louise and I wrote Neoplasm following the death of my friend Kathy of breast cancer. It seems to us that the story has taken on a life of it own, touching many in the process. We sought understanding. It prompt us to do more research and, especially, to write more. Isabelle S.

DISCLAIMER: Voyager‘s crew are Paramount‘s, but the story, the Amnesty, and unrelated characters are Synbou‘s. This is a P/T story rated PG. Set after 30 Days. It is 2/3 of the Corridor series.

WARNING: READ THE PRIOR STORIES! You can find them on the Synbou‘s Fan Fiction Web page at: Oh, and by the way, expect again lots of anguish...

Prior stories in the Neoplasm Universe.
        1) Neoplasm
        2) In The Dark
        3) Decytologenesis
        4) Corridor: The Secret Pain.

SYNOPSIS: Tom‘s cancer is back less than two years into his remission. Him and his friends have to cope with this shock fact as Voyager continues toward her meeting point with the Amnesty.

Corridor: the Secret Past
By Synbou-

Faith had tricked them. The Enemy was back. It was back sooner than expected.

They had never been presumptuous enough to believe that they had won the battle once and for all. History had taught them otherwise. However, life had settled into its desirable comfortable normality and the Enemy had slowly faded away from the daily concerns. It had become a dark phantom of the past, an uncertain threat for the future. Now, that phantom had returned to haunt them.

Before being completely eradicated, the Enemy had retreated. It had gone into hiding where it could rebuilt its strengths, readying itself to attack at the first sign of weakness. It had taken them by surprise, unguarded, unprepared. The assault had been quick, efficient, and devastating, recreating deep and painful wounds.

B‘Elanna slowly walked out sickbay, then accelerated her pace as soon as she had cleared the doors. The tears that she had been holding back were threatening to break into the open, and B‘Elanna Torres was not going to cry and rage in one of Voyager‘s hallways.

She had just spent the last few hours holding Tom‘s hand through the first, of what seamed like an endless series of chemotherapy. Her mouth was suddenly dry and she felt painful lump in her throat. Keeping her anger at bay and trying to hold a strong front had stretched her strength to the limit.

She could not hold back anymore. It hurt to much as she asked herself for the thousandth time: Why?
Why was the cancer back?

Why now of all times?

Why Tom?
Why had she not see this coming? She was the closest to him. They had spent almost all of their free time together. She should have seen that he was not well sooner. Why did the doctor not check on him when Tom went to sickbay? And why did the Captain have to confine him to the brig for a whole month? Was demoting him not enough?

"Mess Hall," called Harry as they entered the turbolift.

B‘Elanna glared at him. She had forgotten that he had been there too.

"We should get something to eat," he explained.

"I‘m not hungry," she grumbled.

"You need to eat," Harry said gently.

"Deck six," B‘Elanna ordered the computer.

The turbolift came to a halt and B‘Elanna stepped off, heading in the direction of Tom‘s quarters.

"B‘Elanna, you shouldn‘t go there. Please come with me. Let‘s go to the Mess Hall," Harry insisted.

She turned towards him, her fury striking out like an angry viper. For a second Harry thought she was going to hit him. He had misunderstood her silence as pain and guilt, not anger.

"Mind your own business!" she shouted at him, after a second. "I don‘t want ANY food! Just leave me alone."

Harry took a step back. He did not know what to do else. He felt so useless, so ignorant. Tom would know what to do. Tom always knew what to do. But, his friend was in sickbay now, fighting for his life.

Harry felt like curling up into a small ball under the covers of his bed and never coming out. But that was not how a Starfleet‘s officer would conduct himself, was it? However, being Starfleet did not help much at the moment. It did not tell him how to help B‘Elanna, or Tom. And he wanted to help so much. He wanted to make everything better, but he was the less capable of doing so. He could not even help B‘Elanna.

Torres, for her part, did not notice Harry‘s musing. She had simply turned around and walked into her lover‘s quarters. Nobody had been there since they had found him almost 24 hours before.

She strolled into the bathroom where Tom‘s unconscious body had been found. The automatic cleaning systems of the ship had removed the blood, but a faint stain could still be seen.

B‘Elanna felt so mad.

Why in the hell was the universe doing this to her again? How dare they threaten to take Tom away from her again? She could fell her blood boil in her ears. She walked back into the main room and took hold of the first largish object that was with in her grasp and hurled it through the room and against the wall.

The coffee table shattered into a thousand pieces, each a piece of her soul. She crumbled to the ground. All of her energy was gone. All of her fight was gone. Tears came to her eyes. All she had the energy to do was cry.

Harry came over and placed an arm around her shoulders and started to cry too.

It was a place that he had not visited in a long time. A place that was not his. A place that he had discovered with a mix of surprise and delight. In the past, he had found many answers there. Again, seeking understanding, he had returned to the Winter Garden.

It was as peaceful as he remembered it. Although, it was somewhat colder and less bright under the winter sun. Leaving footsteps in the crisp white snow behind him, Chakotay made his way to the bench facing the icy pond. Slowly, he sat down. The breeze was playing with the thin branches of the tall bare threes. Horses of snow were dancing in the air, disappearing over the hillside.

*Now, the past has caught up with you and you can‘t hide or ignore it anymore,* Chakotay remembered telling Tom.

His friend had sighed heavily.
More than you could ever know, Tom had replied with another sigh. I‘m just so tired...

A long soft pitiful meow caught Chakotay‘s attention.

The blue-grey Himalayan cat, he believed was Tom‘s animal guide had joined him. Gently, Chakotay picked up the cat and let it rest on his lap. He noticed, as in his dreams, that the cat was in a bad shape. He was boney. Its once shinny thick pelt was thin, dull and matted. Its eyes, usually so blue, were a pale shade of grey. Like Tom, the cat was sick.

I‘m concerned about you, Tom, Chakotay had admitted to the younger man. *I have been for quite some time, now. You need to take better care of yourself. I know you‘re worried about your friends and all of us, but getting sick over this won‘t help.*

What do you want me to tell you, Chakotay? Tom had asked. *I have a bad feeling. I‘m just so damn afraid that something will go wrong....*

Things had started to go wrong, indeed. Tom had felt it. But like to the rest of them, the truth had been too inconceivable. Even if the telltale signs of the cancer were manifesting themselves, it was a poor excuse. All of them should have seen the signs for what they were.

Why didn‘t I know? Chakotay though to himself. Then he looked down at the cat and asked: "Did Tom know?"

The cat lifted up its head and meowed softly.

"If he knew, he‘d never admit it, right?"

Again, the cat just meowed what sounded like a ‚yes‘. Its head rested back on Chakotay‘s lap.

"We will take good care of Tom," he promised.

The cat placed a wide paw on Chakotay‘s hand and let out a low and long meow, that too him sounded a lot like a ‚I know.‘ Then the Himalayan jumped onto the ground and after looking at Chakotay over its shoulder one last time, it set off towards the direction of Tom‘s house.

"Your right, Puss, go back to Tom now. He needs you."

Captain Kathryn Janeway dismissed the senior staff at the end of their meeting and found herself alone in the big room. The meeting had been brief and to the point. There had been no fussing, no chatting. The atmosphere had been solemn. The cause of Tom Paris‘ absence weighed heavily on everyone‘s mind. Almost like two months before. Although this time, anger and disappointment were not the feelings that were tormenting her. This time it was pain, sadness, and guilt.

A padd in one hand, she reached for her coffee cup and leaned back in her seat. She read the first two lines, then sight. Of all padds she had to review, she had to pick the one containing the last updates regarding the Corridor project.

Her mind wondered.

Had it already been over three weeks since Tom had found out that Voyager had been contacted by the crew of the Amnesty? His former colleagues from the Silver-Seas Foundation had apparently pulled together the resources to meet with them. They were hoping to bring Voyager and her crew home via the Corridor. Again, everyone‘s expectations and hopes were running high.

Tom had dove head first into the project from the very beginning. He, better than anyone, knew what was coming. His knowledge of the Corridor was in fact quite impressive. But there had been more to it than that. The project had allowed him to not think about his incarceration.

Tom had walked out of the brig more affected than he wanted to let on. More than he knew himself.

The sight of Tom lying on the bathroom floor in a pool of blood was still a vivid memory in her mind. It had shaken her and scared her. What had come next, she had been even less prepared for.

I‘m detecting abnormal cells in Mr. Paris‘s blood, the Doctor had said. What kind of cells? she had asked fearing the answer. Leukemic cells, had been the Doctor solemn reply. Oh Spirits..., Chakotay had breathed.

At that point Kathryn‘s barriers broke down. Tears escaped her grip, they started to run down freely as her mind kept on going like a dull knife in a deep wound.

Tom‘s cancer was back not even two years into his remission.

Already at that point, a good portion of his bone marrow had been destroyed by the blast of an acute nonlymphocytic leukemia which could mean death in a matter of weeks. If they had only caught it earlier? Just a few weeks earlier. Had the Doctor not told them that early detection had made the difference the last time Tom had faced cancer?

Why had she confined him for so long? A week would have been enough. Her point would have been made. She would not have lost her authority on the crew? And since when did she have to be so authoritative? Since when was she taking this so personally? Everyone on board were professionals, they would follow her lead, she did not need to set an example. Since when had she started to feel this insecure? Since the hot flashes?

The worse was that she had taken it out on Tom. She could not dismiss what he has done. After all, he had broken the prime directive, had disobeyed her direct order, and almost started a war with an alien race. But in retrospective, demoting him should have been enough. His principles had been admirable. Why had she been such a bitch toward someone she knew was so fragile both physically and emotionally? She had not used command presence, she had abused it.

Now, because of her, her best pilot was in sickbay being poisoned by chemicals that might just save him. But that could kill him too, along with the disease.

Loud sobs escaped her. Her troat was hurting, the muscles were so tight. Between ragged breaths and sobs and tears, all she could whisper, over and over again was:

"I‘m so sorry, Tom. So sorry."

Harry felt pretty stupid, standing there in the middle of sickbay. He knew that there was nothing he could do there, still that‘s where he had headed the minute his shift had ended.

The EMH was working around Tom‘s bed behind a force field. Harry could tell that Tom‘s sleep had been induced just by the stillness of his body. He knew from time past with his best friend on away missions, while going camping during shore leave, and from Tom‘s all too frequent stays in sickbay, that the man was a restless sleeper who tossed and turned during the four or five hours he could manage to get. These days, Tom was sleeping nearly sixteen hours a day, trying to cope the best he could with his illness.

The EMH crossed through the force field and barely looked at Harry as he went to put his tricorder on a tray.

"Doctor, how is he?" Harry asked.

"Sleeping," the Holodoc replied in a dryly tone that was not surprising Harry anymore.

"That I can tell," he retorted.

Something was bothering the Doctor. It had to do with Tom and it was more than just due to the return of his friend‘s cancer. The EMH looked like a guilty man and he was passing his frustrations on to the rest of them. Well, Harry thought, he had better to get himself together before he, or B‘Elanna, put their threat to execution and highjack his program.

"Mr. Paris‘ condition is stable. The chemotherapy is giving him breathing problems, but nothing major. The treatments are working as expected. They are slowly destroying the cancerous cells," reported the Doctor.

"Can I see him?"

"Not at the present, Ensign. Mr. Paris‘ immune system is extremely weak and would be defenseless against any bacteria or virus that you might be carrying."

On that, the EMH left for his office leaving Harry standing there looking at his friend and feeling even more helpless.

"Harry," came Samantha Wildman‘s soft voice. "Why don‘t you put on a gown, sterilize yourself, and go sit by Tom for a while? He‘ll need a friend when he‘ll wake up."

"But the Doctor just told me ...."

"Leave the Doctor to me," she interrupted him. "Giving Tom comfort and support is the best way to help him right now."

They exchanged a small smile and Harry accepted her offer. As he prepared himself, she was the one who stood there contemplatively.

Poor Harry, she thought, his distraught was so obvious. He seemed so overpowered by the whole situation. Samantha‘s heart went to him. It also went out to B‘Elanna who was coping with the fear of losing yet again someone she loved, the best she knew how, with anger. At least, she was allowing herself to feel and expressing her anger. At the moment, it was more than understandable, it was healthy. The Captain, on her end, had retreated into her guilt which added a new strain on her relationship with Tom.

Bless the Commander for his support, she told herself. So far, he was the only one who had taken enough distance from the situation to be able to make a difference. The commander had been there for Tom several times to provide him support as he was waking up. Samantha also knew that Chakotay was keeping an eye on B‘Elanna, Harry, and the Captain. He had made himself available to her as well when she had broken into tears the day before.

Like Harry, Samantha felt overpowered by the situation, too. She was not the Doctor‘s regular medical assistant, Tom was. She was trained to give first aid during emergencies when Tom and the Doctor needed an extra-hand, but she did not know all that there was to know about cancer. Most of all, she was not prepared to deal with a possible terminal ill patient, to see a friend slowly fade away in pain.

And there was this problem with the Doctor which she was going to address just about now. Since Tom‘s admittance to sickbay three days before, the EMH had became quite overprotective of his patient. He was irritable and down right condescending with the rest of them. It was isolating Tom even more in the process.

Samantha Wildman entered into the Doctor‘s office without invitation. Putting her hands on the desk to draw his attention on herself.

"What happened between you and Tom?" she asked on a tone that would be met with an explanation.

The Doctor first looked at her surprised, then looked away clearly ashamed. She had successfully corner him, so that he could not flee or dismiss her.

"I..." His voice cracked. "Where to begin?"

Samantha said nothing. She stood her ground as she saw him struggle with himself.

"The day Mr. Paris collapsed. He had walked into sickbay. I mentioned that we didn‘t see him around here very often these days. I asked him if he had a boo-boo."

"A boo-boo?" Samantha repeated.

"A joke between him and I, so I thought. He told me that he had a bad headache that just wouldn‘t go away and I asked him if had hit his head again"

He paused for a moment, hesitant.

"Go on."

"He hadn‘t. Well then, I said. Why don‘t you sit on the biobed and I‘ll take a look at that boo-boo of yours as soon as I‘m done with this cell culture. ‚You know what? Forget it. I‘ll manage‘, he told me. That‘s when I realized that something was wrong."

"Oh, Doctor," Samantha breathed. "We really have to keep working on your social‘s skills."

"I realized that too. I apologized to him, but it was to late. He was already halfway out of the door. I told myself that if it was really bad that he would come back. I just didn‘t think he would come back the way he did. I could have prevented that," he finished looking away and ashamed.

Samantha sighed in dismay. She finally decided to sit in the chair facing the Doctor‘s desk.

"Yes, you could have," she said. "And Tom... Tom should have stayed."

"I could have detected his cancer much more earlier."

The Doctor leaned back in his chair.

"When he got hurt in the brig. He told me he wasn‘t feeling well. That I should bring him to sickbay and pass a few scans on him. At the time I thought he was thinking of a way to get out of the brig. If I had listened to him, as a good physician would have, I could have, should have, detected his cancer earlier. It would have been much more simple."

"Don‘t be so hard on yourself," she told him. "That whole situation was complicated enough at it was. We would still be at lost to as what‘s causing Tom‘s leukemia."

The EMH looked at the data on his computer screen.

"I‘m starting to think that we‘re looking in the wrong places," he said after a prolonged silence.

"How so?"

"Tom‘s doctors thought that his cancer was due to his Kimirian genetic heritage, but all the research done so far to identify a cancerous gene had turned out nothing."

"I knew Tom had lived on Kimira for many years and that Loreena had been from Port-Ayalexis, but I didn‘t know Tom had a Kimirian heritage."

"His mother is from there as well. Although, she moved to Earth before her wedding with Tom‘s father. Kimira is a Federation Colony. As well as on Earth, there has been there a lot of interspecies marriages, but Tom is fully human. He doesn‘t seem to have any recessive gene."

"Wouldn‘t his previous bone marrow transplants and the Decytologenis compensate for that?" she offered.

"Technically no. He hasn‘t been genetically altered. Or, has he?"

Tom started to get restless in his sleep, which told Harry that his friend was slowly waking up. Harry took Tom‘s cold hand, careful not to touch his blue and black flaking finger nails. He remembered how much Tom hated this particular side effect of chemotherapy. It was painful and limited his dexterity at the helm. Dermal regeneration of the fingertip would only be possible after all the poison had been purged from his body.

After the transplant, you‘ll be okay, right? Harry had asked Tom after the older man had told him of the return of his leukemia almost two years before.

Well . . . If it goes back in remission, yeah. What about the gene? Do you think the Doctor can find it? Harry had asked hopefully.

*I don‘t know. I don‘t have any unrealistic expectations about that anymore. Right now, I would settle for a remission.*

Tom wish had been granted back then. His cancer had gone into remission, but for such a short time. The bone marrow transplant had been successful, but the cancerous gene had not been found. The Doctor still did not know what was causing the leukemia and doubted that another bone marrow would hold.

Tom moaned under his shallow breaths which increased as he became aware of his body and its discomfort.

"I‘m here, Tom," Harry reassured him. "Try to relax."

"Harry?" Tom croaked just above a whisper.

Tom stiffen with pain and Harry became anxious.

"I‘ll get the Doctor," he told him.

"Harry!" Tom tried to get a grip of his friend‘s hand. "Don‘t leave me."

"I‘m not leaving you. Don‘t worry. You‘re my best friend and I‘ll stay with you as long as you want me to. Okay?"

"Okay... Just don‘t leave me."

With one hand, Harry brushed Tom‘s forehead. His skin was so pale due to anemia, it was scary.

"I‘m staying right here," he assured Tom. "I‘m not going anywhere."

I just wish I could do more, he thought.

Tom let his padd fall on the coach beside him. He had finally returned to his quarters two days earlier after a six-day stay in sickbay. Now, he was feeling restless. He had tried to read, listen to some music and relax, look over the latest up-dates on the Corridor project, but nothing seemed interesting enough to hold his attention. If he had not felt so weak, he would have paced long enough to make a hole in the carpet. If the Doctor had not confined him to his quarters, he could have gone to the holodeck. Hell, if he did not have cancer he just would not be stuck in his quarters. Dammit anyway.

Regardless of the treatments with their nasty side effects and the symptoms of the disease, Tom still had a hard time convincing himself that he had cancer... again. The cognitive self knew that he had leukemia. But his emotional self could not accept that fact. It had been less than two years since his last battle with the disease. His remissions had always lasted over five years. It just did not add up. Quite frankly, Tom did not want to believe that he was sick and, in moments like these, he chose not to. So, he picked his padd back up and concentrated on his reading until the chime of his door ran.

At his invitation to come in, Commander Chakotay walked in the room. He nodded to Tom before impulsively looking around.

"You‘re alone?" his question was more of an observation of the apparent absence of B‘Elanna and Harry.

"Yeah, unbelievable, isn‘t it?" Tom replied with a smirk. "It took a lot of grumbling on my part, but they finally left me on my own. You think I‘ll survive? Or, have they sent you to babysit me?"

Chakotay chuckled despite himself.

"It‘s that bad, eh?" he asked.

Tom gave him an if-you-only-knew expression.

‚Don‘t worry," the Commander assured him. "I‘m not here to babysit you. I have two issues regarding the Corridor project that I want to go over with you."

"Oh, good," Tom said pleasantly. "Have a seat, then."

"Well, the other pilots and I finished the last simulations you gave us. Here are the results," he began lending a padd to the Chief Pilot. "Riding the over-rails, like you say, it‘s strange. It really has nothing to do with piloting in normal space. It kind of remind me of driving a boat on water, having to compensate for the waves. We had a little more difficulty when it came to change Inter-layer."

"The wave got bigger," Tom said.

"You could said," Chakotay agreed. "Still, there were no major catastrophes."

"Glad to hear it. You‘re ready to up the ante a bit?"


"I put the latest simulations in the computer, already. Just look it up. They are in consecutive order."

"You‘ve been busy," Chakotay commented.

"Have to, the time is flying by." Tom replied.

Chakotay wondered for a second as to what Tom had been referring to: the fact that they would soon meet with the Amnesty, or the fact that, due to his leukemia, Tom‘s future had become so uncertain.

Surely, he was seeing himself with all them when they would rendezvous with the Silver-Sea Foundation‘s flag ship, Chakotay told himself.

"As for my second objective," the Commander finally said. "I made a draft of the personnel schedule on a four-hour rotation, like you asked. It‘s going to be a little tight in certain departments, but it‘s manageable."

"It‘s going to take some getting use to, like with everything else," Tom granted. He looked over the data that Chakotay had presented to him. "I don‘t see much problem with it," he said after a moment. "I‘d like for people to start on this schedule at least a week before you enter into the Corridor."

This time, Chakotay felt his mouth go dry, but manage to keep his voice neutral as he pointed out.

"You said ‚you‘, not ‚we‘."

"I did?" Tom asked sincerely surprised.

Chakotay flashed him a grin in order to hide his sadness.

"You‘re still coming back to the Alpha Quadrant with us, are you?"

"Of course, I am" Tom replied returning the smile, but it did not really come across.

An uneasy silence fell between the two men.

"Tom, can I ask how you‘re doing?"

"How I‘m doing? I don‘t know. How do you think I‘m doing?" he asked a bit defiantly. But, it did not cut it with the Commander who stayed silent. "You‘re sure you want to hear about this? Because, I feel like hell and I have a long list of complaints."

"You just started, you might as well continue," Chakotay encouraged him.

Tom gave him a sideway look. He had heard that one before.

"‘How I‘m Doing‘ by Thomas Eugene Paris... I don‘t know. I feel like doing something one minute, and doing nothing the next. I see all there‘s to do to prepare the crew to the Corridor, and... I‘m not up for the challenge. It‘s REALLY frustrating."

If it would not been so tiring, he would have got up and walk around. He sighed.

"Being stuck in here aggravates me like hell. But then again, I don‘t have the strength to go anywhere anyway. The pain killers that Doc gives me work, at least for now, but the chemo and the anemia makes me too tired. When I feel like I can go somewhere, I have B‘Elanna and Harry to remind me that Doc confined me to quarters and ordered me to rest. I might as well go back to the brig," he joked, which made Chakotay smile.

"I guess you‘ll have to be patient," Chakotay said with empathy.

"Some days are bound to be better than others."

"I know. Still..." He shrugged. "The first time I had cancer. I had it for what three-four weeks. I was still going to my classes at the Academy and hanging out with my friends. The second time, I had it for about five months. I was not stuck in a room. I could go on with a ‚normal‘ life the best I could. I was working part-time for the Foundation, I was teaching at the University in Port-Ayalexis. We..." His voice cracked. "We were getting ready for Solenn‘s birth... And Sayana... My little girls... I miss my little girls so much. They are growing up without their parents. How could I let that happen?"

Tears tumbled down his pale cheeks.

"I‘m scared," he whispered. "I don‘t know how I‘m going to make it this time."

B‘Elanna and Harry had joined Tom in sickbay. The Doctor had just finished another blood transfusion in order to rise Tom‘s iron level and counteract his breathing problems due to the anemia.

"You‘re ready to go?" asked Harry.

"Always ready to walk out of here," Tom replied. "Nothing personal, Doc."

The Holodoc shrugged.

"Don‘t worry, Mr. Paris. I got used to it."

"Well, before we leave," B‘Elanna said. "We have something for you."

She gave a little box wrapped in a blue shining paper with a white ribbon. Tom smiled at the unexpected gift. He slowly unwrapped the present, careful that his fingernails did not come in contact with the edge of the paper. He opened the box and looked up at his friends with surprised.

"A personal force-field emitter?"

"It is as strong as the bio force-field around the surgical bay," Harry explained. "With that, you‘ll able to go anywhere on the ship without worrying about viruses or bacteria."

"Can it carry me too?" Tom inquired.

"Well, no. It doesn‘t have an anti-gravity." Harry continued seriously. "But, if you want it. I‘m sure we can come up with something."

"Harry... I was joking. I‘m not up for the wheelchair yet."

"Sorry," the younger man said a little embarrassed.

"How about we get out of here and put your force-field to the test?" Tom said

"How about we go the holodeck?" B‘Elanna suggested. "There‘s a new program that we want to show you. Neelix changed the resort around again."

"Sounds good to me," Tom replied enthusiastically.

Tom was walking from sickbay to the Astrometric Lab. It had become a frequent journey in the last week. It was as frequent as wearing the force field emitter that isolated him form the rest of the universe around him. He was now back on restrictive duty. The captain had considerably reduced his bridge shifts so that he could concentrate on the upcoming trip into the Corridor, get the rest he needed, and receive the treatments that were keeping him alive.

He had about an hour and a half before the side effects of the drugs that the Doctor had just put into his system manifested themselves. Tom decided to take full advantage of all the time he had to work on getting Voyager ready for the trip home. That last statement was still hard to believe at times.

Tom entered the Astrometric Lab. Seven was already waiting with the latest projections on the Corridor project. Tom liked working with Seven in a way he had never thought he would. Her lack of interest for his state of health was refreshing in compare to the rest of the crew who were always tiptoeing around him. Always asking how he was doing, suggesting that he should take a break, get some rest, get some food, go and see the doctor...

Tom knew when he had to lay down. He knew when he felt like eating. And the Doctor always made sure he did not forget his appointments. Tom Paris did not need anybody else to do so! Seven treated him like a normal human being, well at least, like she treated everybody else that is.

"Hi, Seven," Tom greeted.

"Ensign Paris," She acknowledge.

"What‘s today‘s news?" he asked putting all of his thoughts behind him.

"Shield adjustments are on schedule. Lt. Torres was having some trouble with some of the modulations. They have been resolved. "

Tom listened to her long narration on the state of readiness of the ship, while making mental notes of what was still left to do. When he was up to it, he would have to get the pilots together to practice the latest simulations he had created. He still had to design a few more so that they would be able to cope with all the unique situations of the Corridor.

"Anything from the communication array?" he asked hopefully.

"Nothing as yet," Seven replied. "The last message was received at 1920 hours yesterday. There is still a six-week delay between the date they are sent and the time we receive them."

"Well, six weeks is better than the original four months," Tom commented. "Still, I wish we could manage to have a more coherent conversation."

"We are broadcasting on the Amnesty‘s carrier wave. It is the most efficient."

"It‘s still not fast enough," Tom said as he brought up the different carrier wave they could use to broadcast both through normal space and the Corridor. As he carefully examined the different inter-layers of the Corridor and their respected current. He consulted the information he had gathered over the years. He sighed. "I only see one solution to that problem," he said after awhile.

"You want to do what?!" Captain Janeway asked in disbelief.

"I want to take the Delta Flyer into the Corridor," repeated Tom calm and serious.

They were in her ready room. She was sitting at her desk. Her back straight, as captainish as one could be. Tom was sitting in one of the chairs facing her. He did not have the energy to sit up as straight as her. These days he had only the energy to focus on one thing at the time, and at that moment it was in his arguing. Chakotay stood behind Tom, as if he wanted to place a hand on the younger man‘s shoulder to transmit energy to him.

"Tom, you are in no condition to take a ship into the Corridor," she pointed out.

"Captain, I realize that I‘m not in top shape. But because of it, we have lost considerable time. At this rate we will never be ready to enter the corridor when the Amnesty gets here." Tom had said this in one breath, before the Captain interrupted.

"But we are on schedule," she argued as soon as she could.

"The modifications to Voyager structural integrity and to the impulse and warp engines might be going along as planned, but the crew has to be more prepare for it." And after a second hesitation, as if he was admitting something to himself: "I‘m not ready."

This silenced the Captain for a moment. Chakotay finally placed his hand on Tom‘s shoulder to offer some support. He could tell that Tom had started to tire.

"The thing is, I need help. I can‘t do it alone anymore." That had been as hard to admit as to the others to hear. Somehow, it was as if he was admitting to defeat.

"You are hardly alone..." said Janeway a little shaken. "We can help."

"Captain, will all due respect, you don‘t have any idea of what is coming. The Corridor is an efficient way to travel over relatively short distances, but when it comes to a trip as long as the one we are about to embark on, it can be quite hard on both the ships and the crews. If I thought that it would be a piece a cake I would have suggested the damn thing five years ago."

"You already made that clear. But I still don‘t see why you want to take the Delta Flyer into the Corridor."

"I need the help of an experienced crew. By going into the Corridor with the Delta Flyer, I will be able to contact the Amnesty and have a few of the crew sent ahead to help me prepare Voyager. They could be here in a few days by using a smaller craft."

She just sat there looking at him, not changing her position. She did not say a word, but both Tom and Chakotay could read her expression.

Chakotay could tell that Tom was getting really tired. His shoulders had slumped over a bit more. His head seamed a bit too heavy.

"Who would you like me to accompany you on the Flyer?" asked the Commander.

"You and Seven," Tom replied looking back at him. "The experience would be even more useful for you since you‘re most likely to be the one who is going to enter Voyager into the Corridor."

Chakotay gave him a sympathetic smile.

"The Captain and I will discuss the matter and we‘ll get back to you, all right?"

Tom shrugged. "I suppose so," he replied getting up, slowly.

"How about you ask Harry to walk you back to your quarters?" Chakotay proposed on a neutral tone, as to not offend, as he accompanied Tom to the door.

"No, I can make it on my own. Thank you"

Tom left and when the doors closed Chakotay turned toward the Captain. For a long minute, they did not say a word. The silence became heavy and Janeway broke it by saying: "I can‘t let him do this."

"And why not?"

"You just saw him. He‘s so sick... If the Corridor is half as bad as he says, there is no way he can successfully accomplish this mission. He could even get killed in the process," she was firmly set in her opinion.

"Captain, I disagree, I think Tom can still do this, if we help him. But, I do agree that he may not have long. Preparing a ship for an endeavor of this type is a lot a work for a healthy person. I understand why Tom has decided to not do it alone."

"But we can help," argued the Captain.

"Not in the way Tom needs us to. I don‘t have the faintest idea of what the Corridor holds. Do you?"

"No," Janeway admitted.

"We need to contact these people." Chakotay could see that his captain was still not convinced, so he added: "This may be the only time Tom might see his friends. Let‘s face it, Kathryn. He might not make it to next month, heck he might not make it to next week. I would rather see him die in the Corridor knowing that he has done all he could to get us home, than in his quarters thinking that he could have done more. It is important to him Think about it, Kathryn. Put yourself in his place for a few seconds."

She looked away from him. Her gaze scanned the room, then with a sigh of resignation she said: "Okay, but I want the Doctor to go as well," She added the end of the sentence rapidly, as if by doing so, she was not completely capitulating to the situation.

"I had planed on doing so," Chakotay acknowledged. "I‘ll go and ask Tom when he wants to leave." Before exiting the ready room, he looked back at her pensively. "Kathryn, when Tom had cancer the last time, do you remember telling me that even if you were the captain that you intended to give him as much support as you could? That you would prove him wrong?"

She looked up at him in mute surprise. Chakotay knew that he had hit a nerve.

I‘ll prove him wrong, she recalled Prove him wrong? had echoed Chakotay puzzled.

She had sighed again. She had done that often that day. *The other day, he told me it was strange to have his Captain around like this. That was just not the way he had been raised—for that matter, both of us. We are both children of admirals. We have to follow the hierarchy, honor the chain of command, and not derogate from protocol. Never get close or emotional, we are after all ‚Starfleet officers‘.* She had gave a strange emphasis on the her last sentence.

Something, in the conversation she had with Tom, had hurt her.

The truth.

But, this crew is not functioning under normal circumstances, she had continued. *We can only count on each other. Tom is not only my junior officer, he‘s my friend, and is part of this family. How did you refer to him once . . . as ‚my personal reclamation project?‘

You are right, I have a soft spot for him. He came such long way since he first walked on this ship. I‘m going to prove to him that a family can stick together in sickness ‚and‘ in health.*

"Can you still prove him wrong before it‘s too late, Kathryn?" asked Chakotay.

Kathryn had tossed and turned all night. Sleep had eluded her as she had desperately tried to flee from the truth of Chakotay‘s words. She had often wondered why Tom had never sought the support of his parents during his first two battles with cancer. He had never even told them about the disease. Oh, she understood why and admired that, the first time he had cancer he wanted to spare his father more emotional pain.

I didn‘t want my father to know, Tom had told her and the Doctor when they had asked why there were no mention of his leukemia in his medical file.

Janeway‘s heart had sank.

*I mean . . . Dad was still coping with having been captured and tortured by the Cardassians,* he had explained. *If he could pull through that, so could I. I was going to be fine, there was no reason for him to know. It would just had hurt him more.*

But what about the second time? When he came so close to death that they resulted to a decytologenesis... Why not tell his parents then? Was the disagreement and disappointment between Tom and Owen so bad that the son could not turn to his father in a moment of need?

*Tom, I know you and your father didn‘t get along too well. But, ‚tell me‘ that you weren‘t alone when you underwent this decytologenesis?*

He had gave her a warm, sad smile that virtually had brought his face back to life.

No, Captain, I wasn‘t, he had whispered. *I would never have had the courage or the strength to go through that if I would have  been alone. There would have been no point in fighting in the first place. I miss those people so much right now.*

She had looked more deeply into those clear blue eyes of his.

Well, you are not alone here either, she had assured him.

Tom had Loreena, their children, and friends‘ support back then. Now, he had B‘Elanna‘s love, Harry, Chakotay, Nelix, and so many others‘s friendship. And he had hers.

Kathryn would be damn if she was to ever let the whole incident regarding the Water Planet permanently ruin her relationship with Tom, like Caldik Prime had damaged the one between Tom and Owen. A broken relationship due to an incident which the true circumstances were yet to unfold. Tom and Owen might never have the chance to make amends, to salvage their relationship, to ever see each other again...

She decided that this would not happen to her and Tom. She would prove to him that a family could stick together in sickness and in health, disagreement or not.

Kathryn ran into Chakotay outside Tom‘s quarters.

"How‘s Tom?" she asked him in a low voice.

He looked down at her with a sad expression.

"Not so well," he whispered. "He has a fever, again. He is very disappointed that we have to put off our trip into the Corridor."

"I can imagine. Oh, Chakotay, I disliked the idea so much when he brought it up to us. Now, I‘m afraid that he won‘t be able to do it at all."

"He will be able to go," Chakotay said with confidence. "Today is just one of those bad days that we have to expect."

She simply nodded her understanding before asking:

"And B‘Elanna?"

"Tired. Grumpy. It‘s days like these I‘m happy she‘s not a full Klingon. She actually kicked me out."

"Do you think I should go and talk to Tom anyway?"

"Why not? You could order B‘Elanna to get some rest," he suggested. "She really could use some."

Again, Kathryn nodded as Chakotay departed for the bridge. She rang the chime. When the door opened, she was greeted by B‘Elanna.

"Captain," the younger woman acknowledged. "What brings you here?"

B‘Elanna was looking as tired as she sounded.

"I wanted to have a word with Tom, if he is up to it, of course."

"Well, he‘s resting," B‘Elanna replied dryly.

"You could use some rest as well," Janeway pointed out. "B‘Elanna, you do look exhausted. Why don‘t you go rest for a while. I‘ll stay with Tom."

"Tom is not feeling really good. You should come back later," she said not too tactfully.

The half-Klingon was standing straight in front of her, like a wall between Tom and whoever dared to enter his quarters. She looked very determined to protect the man that she loved. Kathryn realized that it was unlikely that she would be able to convince her to leave Tom for a few hours.

"B‘Elanna," came Tom‘s soft whispered.

The two women looked up toward the direction of his voice. Tom was leaning against the door frame of his room. Janeway quickly hid her shock and sadness at seeing him so sick again.

"The Captain is right," he said. "You should go rest. You‘re going to make yourself sick if you keep going on like that." He grinned. "We don‘t want that."

"I‘m fine," she stated. "And, I can rest while you can."

"Bee, I‘ll be okay," he assured her. "You can go. You need some time for yourself you know."

Kathryn ached to read the sudden worry on B‘Elanna‘s face. She approached her slowly and put a hand on her shoulder.

"B‘Elanna," she murmured. "I won‘t leave Tom alone. I‘ll take good care of him. So you can get some sleep."

Their eyes met for a few seconds. Enough time for B‘Elanna to communicate her unspoken fear. Kathryn took both of B‘Elanna‘s hands and searched for her gaze.

"He‘s going to be okay," she told her with conviction.

B‘Elanna looked back at Tom who encourage her with a smile.

Then, the half-human let herself be led toward the door by Kathryn.

"His medicine is on the bedside table," she informed the Captain.

Kathryn nodded her acknowledgment. The door closed behind B‘Elanna and she turned her attention to Tom. She could barely see him now. He had retired to his bedroom.

She found him sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall. Despite the darkness, she could see the tears on his cheeks. Gently, she brushed them away from his pale warm cheeks. A sob escaped his lips and he looked at the floor.

Kathryn sat beside him, just outside of his personal space.

"It‘s all right," she murmured.

"First Loreena... Now, B‘Elanna. It so hard to see her hurting like that," he managed to say between sobs. "She‘s trying to be so strong.... I hate to see her like that... I... I hate putting her through that again... all of you."

Kathryn moved in a little closer. She placed her arm around his shoulders. Tom, weak and tired, placed his head on her shoulder. They sat there for several long minutes. When Tom relaxed and his crying had subsided, Kathryn found that her cheeks were as wet as his.

"I‘m so sorry," he said a little ashamed of what he had just done.

"It‘s not your fault." she sighted. "If someone should be sorry here, it is me."

Tom went to say something when she stopped to take her breath, but she held up a finger indicating she wanted to keep on.

"I‘m sorry my decisions aggravated to your illness. I‘m sorry that I wasn‘t there for you until now," She said in one breath. And after an other second she added: "I was too busy feeling guilty," she confessed a little ashamed.

"There was nothing to be ashamed about," he said to comfort her.

Kathryn shook her head.

"Tom, I know that you better than anyone know how to make the difference between my duties as captain and the liberties I have as a friend." She sighed. "Remember that I‘m here for you and I‘ll always be in either or both capacities."

"I have always known that, Kathryn. Even when I was in the brig." he assured her, meeting her gaze.

She put a hand on his forearm and gave him a warm smile.

"How about we get you back to bed?" she suggested.

"I am a little tired," Tom confessed.

She helped him to his bed and checked him over with the tricorder the Doctor had left at Tom‘s bedside with the medication. Tom was asleep before she was done.

"Sweet dreams," Kathryn said as she left the bedroom for the main one.

Tom exited his bedroom. He was dressed in civies: a blue sweater, black pans, and a matching blue baseball cap. The last item had become part of his wardrobe to hide the fact that he was losing most of his hair. In addition, his uniforms had gotten too big to be comfortable. There was no point in replicating one anyway. It was not like he was going to have to wear one anytime soon anyway.

He found B‘Elanna standing in front of the window. Her gaze had got lost in the vast field of stars on the other side. Today was THE day, he, along with Chakotay, Seven, and the Doctor, would finally make their trip to the Corridor. Tom knew B‘Elanna was worried. He had confronted her the night before about it. But, obviously he had not been able to ease her fears.

He came up behind her and took her in his embrace. It took her a few minutes before letting herself relax and take comfort in his closeness.

"Bee, stop worrying so much," he told her softly. "Everything is going to be alright. I know what I‘m doing."

"I know," she simply said.

"What is it, then?" Tom asked.

She stayed silent for a moment, unwilling to share what was on her mind. He stayed quiet. There was no need to rush her. She would tell him eventually. Breathing the sent of her hair, he tightened his embrace around her and gave her a light kiss beside her right ear.

"I just wish I could go with you," she confessed. "Why can‘t I go with you?"

"I wish you could come too," he whispered. "But, with Doc tagging along, we won‘t have much space in the Flyer and I have the integrity of the away mission to think about. You know that."

It was tearing Tom inside to see B‘Elanna like this. At times, she could be so strong and at other times so fragile. It was like having two B‘Elannas, just like when she had been split in half by the Vidiians. He hated what he was doing to her. He had already put her through so much the last two years. She had supported him when his leukemia had reappeared after the mess with Steph. She had stood beside him after the accident that had put him in a coma for a week and during Voyager‘s subsequent encounters with the spacial Anomalies. He did not even want to think about his time passed in the brig. All that time, she had been trying to deal with the loss of her Maquis friends back home. And him, where had he been there for her?

Now, they both knew that his cancer was most likely to be terminal. He did not have much time left with her, he could feel it. Yet, he was about to take a risk by entering into the Corridor. But what else could he do? By undertaking such a long trip, the crew of the Amnesty was taking a great risk itself. Tom knew that the sooner Voyager would be ready to enter herself in the Corridor and meet with the Amnesty, the sooner everybody would be back home in the Alpha Quadrant. Helping things along was the least he could do.

"I don‘t know what to tell you to help ease your fear anymore," he told B‘Elanna. "Except that I‘ll be back to you very soon. I promise."

She looked up at him. Her moist brown eyes met his clear blue.

"I‘m holding you to that promise, Paris" she told him forcefully

Tom and B‘Elanna walked onto the bridge where the rest of the senior staff where waiting for them. Janeway noticed that Tom was not in uniform. She had come to expect it, but still it bothered her.

"Captain," he said. "Can I have a word with you before the briefing?"

"Of course, Tom," she replied inviting him to her ready room. As he sat on the couch she asked: "Do you want anything to drink?"

"No, thank you," he declined.

She could tell by Tom‘s demeanor that he was nervous and that he would be in need of her full attention. So, she passed the opportunity to order herself a cup of coffee. He was hesitant at looking directly at her. Whatever he had to say would not be easy for him.

"The day before yesterday, when you came to my quarters, you told me that you would always be there for me both as a captain and a friend or either." He sighed. "Well, what I‘m about to do will most likely hurt the captain, but I‘m hoping that the friend won‘t take it personally."

She did not have any idea of where he was going with this and by force of habit, she tended to anticipate the worst.

"During that little... discussion, we had before your sentence to the brig," he continued casually. "We both agreed that the Foundation and Starfleet were not seeing eye to eye on a lot of things, nor playing with the same rule book..."

He reached beneath the collar of his wool sweater and pulled out the silver necklace which was the symbol of the Foundation.

"You know I never stopped working for the Foundation. Despite our latest differences, I will always be proud to serve under your command. You‘ll always be MY captain. But, since Starfleet doesn‘t have any jurisdiction in the Corridor, I believe that it would be easier for me to deal with this situation as a Foundation representative. It would lessen the possibility of conflicting interests."

He presented his right hand to her which he slowly opened, revealing his ensign pin. He looked at her with sincere sadness and a timid smile.

"I never thought this would be so hard," Tom told her as she picked up the pin. "I can‘t tell you that it hurts as much as if it was my lieutenant pins, but still..."

She gave him a comforting smile.

"I do understand your decision, Tom." she said putting a hand on his forearm. "Don‘t worry neither the captain or the friend is taking offence. The captain will just hold on to that pin, like she had been holding to the lieutenant one. Like you ever cared about rank anyway," she grinned.

He grinned back.

"Chakotay told me that you hate being called Mr. Paris and I know that you signed your Astrophysics‘ honor thesis and your dissertation for your in criminology under another name."

"Among other things," he said with a mischievous smiled.

Kathryn shook her head from side to side with a grin. But, she had to admit that she was very happy to see that particular smile of his surface back.

"As a Foundation representative, as you say, do you have a specific title?"

"Whatever anybody says, just call me Tom," he quickly replied. "How about we get on with that trip before we have to put it off again."

"Good idea," she agreed.

End of part 2

Now, talk about a story (Corridor) that keeps going in unexpected directions. We hope you liked.
There will be a third part to this story eventually. Look for Corridor: The Secret Path.

BIG THANKS to PJ in NH for Beta reading this story and to Amanda B. for her support and the research she made on leukemia.

As usual, we need feedback. We want feedback! At
Isabelle S. and Louise B. (A.K.A Synbou)
Copyrights @ March 1999