BCWYWF… Part 7: The Five Stages Of Grief

At 0700 hours, Tom Paris began his first full day in command of Voyager. If one could command a derelict junk pile being tractored back to Federation space by another vessel. His decision to move the crew back to the ship had received no real resistance from the Resnick’s captain, and he was grateful. He wouldn’t have wanted to force his friends to take sides in a conflict between him and Captain Wheaton this close to reclaiming their places in the Fleet.

His first task of the day: conducting a deck-by-deck sweep to assess the ship’s condition, with the assistance of his new first officer. They’d start on the bridge and work down. Of course, he’d have to get there first. Except for those in sickbay, what remained of the crew was bunking in temporary barracks on Decks 13 and 14. Call it ‘captain’s privilege’ or ‘I have a very pregnant wife who shouldn’t be sleeping in a make-shift dormitory,’ but Tom had turned one of the computer labs on Deck 11 into temporary quarters for himself and B’Elanna. Since the turbolifts were still offline, this saved her from having to crawl through the ship’s Jeffries tubes to get to her station in Main Engineering. Of course, it also mean Tom had an eleven deck climb to start his day. Partly to meet up with Seven of Nine and partly to break up the grueling ascent, he decided to stop in sickbay on his way up.

Thinking it might be less than dignified for the ship’s commander to crawl out of the sickbay access tube in full view of his crew, Tom entered Deck 5 from the vertical junction at the far end of the corridor and walked the last few meters to the medical bay.

Seven was still in her regeneration alcove when he arrived, so he took a moment to check on the captain.

“How’s she doing, Doc?” Janeway had regained consciousness briefly the day before, but the doctor was concerned when her vital signs didn’t improve after the coma broke. Tom knew just enough about human synaptic function to know the doctor was right to be worried.

“No change, I’m afraid. She’s been sleeping since you left her yesterday afternoon, but I’ve detected no REM cycles–she hasn’t been dreaming.”

“Yet you’re sure she hasn’t slipped back into the coma?” Tom asked.

The doctor nodded. “Yes. She’s only asleep. One of my two Sleeping Beauties, as a matter of fact.” He gestured to Seven’s alcove in the biolab.

“What do you mean?” Tom asked.

“Seven. She’s been regenerating for almost ten hours. I’ve scanned her, though, and there’s nothing wrong with any of her cybernetic implants.”

The men walked into the Doctor’s office. Tom watched as the EMH called up his readings from Seven’s medical file. “Maybe I should have Icheb run a full diagnostic of her alcove,” Tom suggested. The doctor nodded. He didn’t have a better idea.

“How are the others?” Tom asked, concerned not just as their friend, but as their new commanding officer. He had taken the responsibility for moving the injured back from the Resnick, and he worried if he’d made the right call.

“Crewman Jor’s burns are healing nicely, but the muscle and tissue regeneration can be quite painful, so I’m keeping her sedated. She should be on her feet again in a day or so. Ashmore is almost fully recovered. The prosthetic leg he received needs some minor adjustments, so I’m keeping him here until they’re complete. I imagine he’ll be released some time this afternoon.”

“Any improvement in Chakotay?” Tom watched the physician’s face fall.

“I’m afraid not. He has only minimal brainwave activity, and we’re sustaining his cardiopulmonary functions artificially. If he were stronger, I’d attempt to repair some of his neural pathways with Borg nanoprobes, but he’s too weak to withstand the treatment right now. Yet he’s holding on. I’d say he’s surviving only on the strength of his will at this point.”

Tom wished the turbolifts were working. It was killing B’Elanna that she couldn’t visit her friend, and Tom was worried that Chakotay might die before his wife could see him. “Keep me posted, Doc,” he said.

The two men turned as they heard the voice of the computer that served as Seven’s ‘alarm clock.’ “Regeneration cycle complete.” The young woman opened her eyes and took a step forward. Tom couldn’t help but notice that she looked less than refreshed.

“Good morning, Seven,” he greeted her.

She looked slightly disoriented. “What time is it?” she asked.

The doctor answered, “8:07. You overslept.” He picked up a medical tricorder and began scanning her.

“I apologize for keeping you waiting, Lieutenant,” she said softly.

Tom was worried now. “Doc, is she okay?” The fact that Seven wasn’t protesting the examination was a bad sign.

“She’s showing some indications of fatigue, but she’s well otherwise. How are you feeling, Seven?”

She seemed distracted. “I’m fine,” she said less than convincingly, “Shall we begin?”

Tom looked to the doctor, who could only shrug. “Doc, notify B’Elanna that I want Icheb to get back up here and check out Seven’s alcove.” He changed his tone to mask his concern, “I can’t have my first officer falling asleep on duty, now can I.” He would have expected a sarcastic comeback from Seven. She barely seemed to notice.

They hardly spoke during their climb to Deck 1. Tom saw that Seven was having trouble keeping up with him, but he chose not to say anything about it. He punched in his security code and the corridor access panel opened.

They climbed out into the aft corridor, and Tom knew immediately it would be a long time before anyone worked on this deck again. The damage was worse than he had imagined. He and Seven climbed over and under the massive debris, cataloguing the compromised systems as they went. Bridge access from the corridor was blocked by a huge section of collapsed ceiling, so they were forced to try and enter through the Briefing Room.

They found it in better shape than the corridor, the only major damage being the chairs littered around the space (wherever they happened to fall when artificial gravity was restored), and some scorching where the computer console had exploded and burned. They were able to reach the door to the bridge fairly easily. Tom engaged the suction handle and pushed. His eyes widened at what he saw when it opened.

Devastation didn’t begin to describe it. They had to crawl under a dangling piece of the ceiling to get inside, only to find more debris blocking their way. Once they made it to an intact area near the main view screen, Tom took a minute to absorb the scene in front of him. ‘How did any of us survive this?’ he couldn’t help but wonder.

Of the eight crewmen on the bridge at the time of the accident, all were killed or critically injured. Except him. He could see now the ‘cave’ created between the falling ceiling support and the conn. He must have fallen under his console moments before the collapse. Just as his brain seemed to start to grapple with the realization of how lucky he had been–and instantly wondering why he had been spared when the others hadn’t–another part of his mind pushed the thoughts away. ‘Focus,’ he said to himself, and shook it off.

Seven, on the other hand, felt numbed by it all. Not dispassionate or logical as she might have normally convinced herself to be in a crisis, but deadened, sedated. She also couldn’t remember the last time she felt so tired, physically. She found a clear spot on the deck and sat down, waiting for Tom to continue their survey. For a moment, she thought Paris might be too affected by the shock of what they were seeing to continue. He seemed to push his emotions aside, however, and was soon working his way across the room. She supposed she should get up and follow him.

It didn’t take Tom long to complete his analysis: the bridge was a total loss. None of their patchwork fixes would be enough here. Weeks in spacedock might make a difference; he wasn’t even sure of that. Looking around him, Tom realized Kathryn’s plans for a future aboard this ship might be over. He wondered how she would handle it if Voyager were scrapped instead of refit. For the second time in five minutes, he pushed his feelings aside and went on.

There was no point trying to get into the captain’s ready room from the bridge. The entire starboard area from the engineering station past tactical was a mass of twisted metal. Tom allowed himself two seconds to think that at least Tabor and Tuvok probably died instantly. He was working his way back toward the briefing room when he had to stop to scale a pile of debris along the aft railing. He supported his weight–one hand on the ops console, the other on a piece of fallen ceiling support–and vaulted over the mess. When he cleared the debris, he felt a sticky/chalky residue on his palms, which he noticed were now rust colored. Dried blood. Probably Chakotay’s, he realized. Another instantaneous visceral reaction, and another door quickly slammed shut inside his head. He wiped his hands on the legs of his uniform and went on.

Seven was only a few steps behind him. They re-entered the corridor and fought their way starboard.

The ready room doors were harder to open, but he and Seven pushed together and were able to wedge apart a space large enough to squeeze though. Tom had a fleeting memory of the first time had had entered this room–also through this seldom-used door–and how nervous he had been that day. He was getting a chance to redeem himself, not only in his new captain’s eyes, but in his own. He knew he had to look calm and cool in front of the young ensign tagging along with him, though, so he had worn the ‘Paris mask’–part grin, part sneer, part intense stare–to hide his fear. He wasn’t as nervous as Harry, of course. ‘Mr. Kim, at ease before you strain something.’ Tom smiled at how far his friend had come since those first days. No one could imagine that kid, that Harry Kim, commanding a starship one day. Now, though, Harry was a seasoned pro, confident, almost desperate for the next step in his career. Harry was ready. Harry was…. These emotions were harder to bury, but Tom searched for the biggest boulder he could find to roll in front of this particular mental door, and forced himself to move on.

The paradoxes he found as he looked around him were striking. Pieces of the furniture, sturdy chairs and tables, were smashed and twisted–barely recognizable. Yet most of the captain’s china tea set was unbroken, resting gently in various spots around the room. Her desk was mostly intact, as were many of her artifacts. He spoke to Seven for the first time in several minutes. “Add this room to your duty list. When B’Elanna can spare someone, have her send up a crewman to salvage the captain’s personal effects.” He knew how much these things meant to Captain Janeway, yet he didn’t want her to have to see her Bridge and office in this condition. Besides, who knew how long it might take before she would be physically capable of making her own way up here?

Tom turned and headed out the door. Seven took a moment to look around. She had spent a lot of time in this room with the captain. They’d had some of their best arguments and philosophical conversations here. In many ways, it was the classroom for her most important lessons on the road to reclaiming her humanity. Yet while she could sense her own sadness at what she was seeing, somehow she couldn’t really feel it. It was an odd sensation.

“Seven, you coming?” Tom was calling her. She took a deep breath and turned to follow him.

~*~*~*~*~

B’Elanna had just finished screaming at her third crewman of the morning, and she was only three hours into her shift. Why her staff, so talented just a few days ago, had suddenly become so inept, she couldn’t fathom. It had been years since she had felt so furious at their stupidity. Why couldn’t they get the most basic things right?

She also felt herself angry at her own limitations. Normally, on those rare occasions when her staff let her down, she would go ahead and fix the problem herself. But she was in no condition to go crawling around the bowels of this broken ship. What had she been thinking–allowing herself to get pregnant while living in such dangerous circumstances? Here she was: failing her captain, failing her child, failing herself. She couldn’t make anything right for anyone, it seemed, and it was pissing her off.

“Vorik!”

Conventional wisdom says Vulcans are incapable of showing fear, yet the ensign was practically trembling as he turned to her. “Yes, Lieutenant?” He was hesitant to get within striking distance.

“Why am I still showing power fluctuations in the structural integrity field? Haven’t you been working on those systems all morning?!”

She had broken his jaw once before–granted under very different circumstances–still he couldn’t help but remember that incident as he answered. None of the engineering staff had seen their chief like this in years, but the memories of her turbulent first months–and the tongue-lashings they occasionally got during those times–were burned in their memories. He screwed up his courage and answered her. “We’re in the process of switching from the back-up power cells to the new power grid. Fluctuations are to be expected as the new relays come on line.”

She couldn’t believe he was making such feeble excuses. “If you calibrated the relays properly, there wouldn’t be any fluctuations. That field is the only thing keeping whole sections of this ship together. Get back in there and level off that power transfer before we lose containment.”

Vorik knew he was right, but he only nodded before walking away. Working so closely with this temperamental half-Klingon engineer, the young Vulcan had learned many lessons, the first of which he followed now: ‘It’s better to know you’re right and be quiet than to say you’re right and get decked.’ He’d see what he could do about leveling out the fluctuations.

Without knowing it, her next victim was coming up behind her. “I finished the survey of the central turboshaft. Should I give you my report?” Neelix, not being a regular member of the engineering crew, had almost no experience working with B’Elanna when she was like this. He was unprepared for the torrent of emotion he was about to face.

“Are you an idiot?! Can’t you see I’m in the middle of fifteen things?!”

Her friend’s eyes widened. “I’m sorry, Lieutenant. I just thought…”

Perhaps because she was getting tired, perhaps because she had turned to look into the face of this man who had always been so kind and caring to her, but B’Elanna regretted her outburst as soon as she saw the fear in his eyes. “Neelix, I’m sorry. I’ve just had a rough morning.” He had offered once, she remembered, to act as a pressure valve for her–volunteering to let her scream at him if she ever needed to vent her frustrations. Ironically, he had helped her learn to unload her anger. Instead of withstanding a torrent of insults, however, he had become a sort of therapist/sounding board for his volatile friend. Neelix had helped her through some of her most difficult times. Somehow, just being near him made her calm down.

“It’s alright, B’Elanna. I can take it. Get it out of your system.” Somehow his bravery made her smile. He decided to leverage the moment. “How about if we go sit down someplace and you can insult my parentage for a while.”

She knew Neelix was trying without saying it to relieve the tension and get her off her feet. She had promised Tom and the doctor that she would take it easy, and here she had been pacing the deck frantically all morning. Her blood pressure had to be through the roof as well. She decided to let her friend talk her into a short break.

“Fine,” she acquiesced. “Five minutes. Then we both have to get back to work.”

They walked into the corridor and down to her new ‘quarters.’ Voyager’s replicators were still offline, but Tom had smuggled several self-refrigerated thermoses of orange juice from the Resnick’s mess hall before they left the ship. B’Elanna missed her coffee, but she knew this was healthier for the baby. She offered Neelix a cup, which he declined. They sat facing each other on the room’s two bunks.

“Looks like your temper’s gotten a workout today,” her friend started the conversation.

She didn’t know what to say in response. “I don’t seem to be able to stop myself,” she answered honestly. “I know they’re doing the best they can–they’re all exhausted. We’ve got more work than we can handle. I just get so mad when I think…” Her voice trailed off.

“When you think…?” he pushed her to continue.

Her face changed from rage to sadness. “Chakotay was right. We should have settled on that planet, Neelix. We never should have made this crazy attempt to get home. What in the hell were we thinking?!” She was upsetting herself again, but Neelix wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. Maybe she needed to get this out. “When I think about him lying up there, barely alive. About what happened to Harry, and Tuvok, and…I just get so furious!”

“At Captain Janeway?” Neelix pressed.

“No! No. Of course not. She gave us all a choice. We could have stayed behind. It was our decision.” Torres was on her feet again, pacing the room.

Neelix nudged her on, “Then who are you angry at, B’Elanna?”

She picked up a datapad as she answered him. “At this goddammed ship!” she screamed as she hurled the PADD across the room and watched it smash into the bulkhead. “This stupid ship we have killed ourselves maintaining for seven years. We were almost there, Neelix. One more hour and we would have been home. Alive. All of us.” Her arms were in front of her face but there were no tears to hide. B’Elanna had long-since cried herself out. Neelix went to her anyway, and put his hand on her shoulder.

“And now you have to pick up the pieces again,” he said softly.

She nodded when no words would come. “I hate it,” she seethed. “I’ll never forgive Voyager for quitting on us.” They stood together quietly for a moment as B’Elanna worked though her fury at this ship she had once loved. She regained her composure quickly–she was too busy to let herself dwell on her anger any longer. She reminded herself of Neelix’s report.

“So you checked out the main turboshaft? What did you find?”

He was happy for the change of subject because it gave him an opportunity to give her the first good news of her morning. “The internal sensors were right–it’s structurally sound. My crew is clearing some debris and checking the power couplings, but we should have vertical operation between decks two and fourteen by late this afternoon.

“That’s wonderful, Neelix. Good job.” She knew this meant she could visit Chakotay soon, and she was grateful. “You know, I think our five minutes are up.”

He put his hand back on her shoulder as they started out the door. “I think I make a fairly good engineer if I do say so myself,” he kidded.

She smiled for the first time in days, and brought her hand up to cover his. “Yes you do,” she agreed.

~*~*~*~*~

She was sitting on a rocky beach looking out over a magnificent sunset. Behind her was a lush tropical forest. It was the place she felt most content, though she couldn’t remember where it was or when she had last been there. She drew her knees up to her chest, and took it all in.

From the corner of her eye, she caught a quick movement. A rustling from out of the trees and onto a felled log just behind her. She turned slowly–so as not to scare the creature off. She saw it–a small lizard, perhaps a chameleon, though she wasn’t sure, perched silently on the branch. It seemed to be calling to her, without words. “What are you trying to tell me, my little friend?” she asked softly.

She was surprised when she heard its thoughts. “What is it you need to know?” it seemed to say. “Your question is not for me, but for yourself.” She supposed that if a reptile could speak its thoughts, it shouldn’t surprise her it would talk in riddles.

Before she could ask it another question, it scurried off the log and back into the trees. She knew before she stood that she would follow it. The creature seemed to be leading her somewhere, deep into the forest. Each time she would lose her footing or stray from the path, it would wait for her to catch up. She knew it held some secret, some answer she was seeking. She called to it, “Are you my spirit guide?”

She heard its voice deep inside her, “Am I your spirit guide?” It mocked her, yet she wasn’t angry. She knew the answer to the question before she’d asked it.

“Where are you taking me?” she wondered.

“Where do you need to go?” it replied. Learning the lesson that her questions would be answered in time, she continued to follow.

Soon they came to a clearing in the forest, a beautiful, peaceful spot where the nearby stream pooled before continuing on its way. She watched the lizard pause at the edge of the pool, perhaps to drink, she thought. She was startled, then, when a snake surfaced from the water, and made its way toward them. For a moment she feared it would devour the smaller creature, yet almost as quickly she knew they were safe. The snake was huge, green and yellow, however she wasn’t frightened anymore. She watched as it welcomed the lizard onto its back like a trusted friend. “You know each other,” she said to them.

“As well as we know you.” She heard two voices now, one distinctly female. “What is it you’re trying to tell me?” she asked.

“You have been on a quest.” The voices spoke in tandem. “You have searched for many years, desperate to find what you seek. Yet it eludes you, still.”

She couldn’t deny it. “Yes,” she answered.

“What it is you search for?” they asked her. It was the easiest question to answer.

“Home,” she replied.

“Is that truly what you seek?” She was startled by their response. “Or has your desire for home blinded you to your true quest? Perhaps what you search for is both easier and harder to find.”

She didn’t understand. The pursuit of a way home had been her one true mission for the last seven years. “Then what is it? What is it I’m searching for?” she asked.

“What is it you’re searching for?” they mimicked back to her.

“I don’t know the answer!” she cried out to them.

“Of course you do,” the voices laughed.

The snake suddenly started to slither away, carrying her tiny animal guide with it deep into the underbrush. “Wait!” she cried out to them.

“Wait!” Kathryn Janeway was sitting straight up in the biobed, her heart racing wildly. She was suddenly wide awake and gradually becoming aware of her surroundings.

“Lie down,” the doctor was scolding her firmly but gently as he ran the tricorder over her. “You’re in sickbay. You’re going to be fine.”

She took a moment before obeying his instructions. “Where are we? What’s happened?” The rush of adrenaline had passed and she was now almost too weak to move.

“We’re crossing through Klingon space on the way to Starbase 32. You’ve been injured, and I need you to relax so I can finish checking you over.”

Her head was swimming now, as much from the information as from her injuries. “Klingon space…that’s in the Beta Quadrant. What are we doing…?”

Her physician was hesitant to tell her too much too quickly, but he knew better than to evade her entirely. “Let’s just say we came up a little short in our attempt to get home.”

“Home.” She searched to understand what he was saying. They had been in the Delta Quadrant. They were running out of food and energy. She had sent Tom and Harry off looking for supplies. Now the doctor was telling her they were in the Beta Quadrant after some unsuccessful attempt to reach home. How long had she been unconscious? She didn’t have time to ask the question before she heard the doors swish open.

Tom was in the middle of surveying Deck 4 when the EMH called, so he didn’t have far to go to reach sickbay. Apparently the captain had suddenly entered an active REM state, and the doctor felt she might finally wake up. As Voyager’s acting commanding officer, Tom needed to be notified of any change in the condition of his crew and, while the doctor didn’t request his presence, he knew Mr. Paris would want to be close by if Janeway regained consciousness.

Tom had just walked through the door, and was happy to see the captain’s eyes open, even if she looked to be very weak. “How is she?” he asked as he reached her bedside. I

t was Janeway who answered, “She’s awake enough to wish you wouldn’t talk about her in the third person.” This was a good sign. Maybe she felt feistier than she looked.

“Sorry, Captain,” he apologized. “How’re you feeling?”

She could only answer honestly. “Awful. My head is throbbing, and I can’t imagine for the life of me how I got here.” Tom looked up to see the worried expression on the doctor’s face. “I was just telling the captain that we’re crossing through Klingon space on our way to Starbase 32. She doesn’t seem to remember our little ‘trip’.”

God, Tom thought, if this were true, he didn’t know how he was going to tell her. He needed to find out how much she knew. “What’s the last thing you remember, Captain?”

She closed her eyes as if to summon the memory, “We were in a dead zone of space. Short on supplies. I sent you and Harry off on a scouting mission…” she tried to concentrate all of her will on remembering beyond that point. It was useless. “Then I woke up here.” She could see from the expressions of the men standing over her that her memory was less than complete.

“Tom, how did we end up in the Beta Quadrant?”

Paris looked again at the doctor for permission to answer. The look he got back suggested he might want to be vague in his reply. “We got a message from Starfleet; a plan to get us home. We spent the last month making modifications to the ship, getting ready for the trip. We made it most of the way, but…something went wrong. The ship was damaged. And we ended up a little off the mark. But Starfleet came to rescue us, and we’re on our way home. We should be in Federation space within forty-eight hours.” Somehow he knew this wouldn’t satisfy her.

“So I’m missing more than a month of memories? Doctor?”

He gave her the only answer he could. “Occasionally a severe head injury will damage short-term memory storage. Sometimes a patient will lose a day or even a week. Severe cases have lost as much as a year. It’s not uncommon in conditions such as yours.” He answered the next question before it was asked. “Sometimes the memories return on their own. Sometimes they’re lost for good. I’ll scan for engramatic activity. I may be able to come up with a treatment.”

Janeway was stunned. Not only had she lost a month of her life, she was hearing that they had made a risky attempt to reach home, only to fail. She had apparently been badly injured, yet Tom was fine. Her observation sparked a new flood of questions. “The ship was damaged? How bad?”

This would lead to questions he didn’t want to answer. “Captain, why don’t you get some more rest…”

“How bad was the damage, Mr. Paris?” she knew now that he was deliberately evading her question.

“Bad,” was all he could bring himself to say at first. He quickly resigned himself to getting this over with and continued. “There’s massive structural damage throughout the ship. The bridge is a twisted pile of junk. There are minor radiation leaks on decks one through Seven. Decks eight and nine have lost a lot of their hull plating; we’re keeping them together with emergency forcefields. We were able to restore life support and partial power. Plus the sickbay systems. That’s about all that’s working at this point.”

She was stunned. “How were you able to keep propulsion online?”

He couldn’t help but laugh a little at this. “We didn’t. We’re being tractored by a Starfleet tactical cruiser. We won’t be able to move under our own steam for a long while.” He didn’t want to say, ‘maybe never again,’ though it’s what he thought.

“B’Elanna’s working on the turbolifts and replicators, but we’re so shorthanded…” He hadn’t meant to lead her mind there. It was too late. “Shorthanded. What were our casualties?” Tom didn’t want to answer, but she was his captain and she needed to know. “The current compliment is a little over ninety.” She could do the simple arithmetic. Her eyes widened before they closed. Before they opened again, it was clear she had done another basic computation: four minus three equals one. Tom wasn’t here as the medic. He was fourth in command, yet he was here as Voyager’s senior officer.

“Where are Chakotay and Tuvok?”

What was the protocol for answering the questions of a gravely ill captain when her health was at stake? Tom had to wonder, though, if he was trying to spare her or himself. “The bridge was badly damaged, Captain. There were a lot of injuries.” He couldn’t stall much longer. “Chakotay is here in sickbay. He’s pretty bad off. Tuvok. He didn’t survive.”

Janeway could barely absorb what she had heard in the past ten minutes. Her ship was practically destroyed and her two closest friends were dead or dying. And she couldn’t remember any of it. This had to be some horrible, cruel joke. Yet she knew it was true.

“I need to get out of here,” she said suddenly, swinging her legs over the bed as she sat up. She was on the floor before they could stop her, and her knees instantly buckled.

“You’re not going anywhere!” the doctor was scolding her. She pulled herself upright, however, and could now see Chakotay as he lay motionless in the surgical bay. She took a few tentative steps toward him; the doctor and Tom moved to support her arms as she walked.

She found her footing quickly enough, and took the final steps unassisted. She rested her weight on the edge of the table, and reached up to brush the stray hair from her first officer’s forehead. “What’s his condition?” she asked, her voice quaking.

“Minimal brain function,” the doctor said solemnly. “He’s been on life support for the past week. I’ve done everything I can until he stabilizes.” She raised her eyes and blinked to stop the tears from welling.

“I have to do something,” she said, searching the faces of her friends. They didn’t know how to help her.

“You have to let yourself heal,” the doctor said. “You need to get some rest and…”

“I don’t want rest! I don’t need rest! What I need is to get the hell out of here and figure out what to do–”

Tom moved to take her shoulders in his hands. “Captain! Kathryn! There’s nothing you can do.”

Tom had never called her by her first name before. Not that she could ever remember. It shocked her back into the moment. “I can’t just stay here while my ship, my crew…” He understood how angry and helpless she felt.

“I’ll make you a deal,” he said softly. “Stay for just a little while, let the Doc check you over, and I’ll find out how B’Elanna’s coming with that turbolift. If she’s on schedule, I’ll help you make a full inspection tonight.”

She realized how pointless it was to resist them. She could barely stand up, much less take command of this ship. She nodded slightly. “Aye, sir,” she said wryly, looking up at Tom. He grinned at her nod to his new status.

He and the doctor helped move her back to her bed. She was already drifting off before Tom let himself leave. “Keep an eye on her, Doc,” he said softly as they walked toward the door. “You could have your hands full keeping her here when she wakes up.”

Luckily for the doctor, his most difficult patient was sound asleep when he returned to her beside. “Pleasant dreams,” he said wistfully before leaving her to her rest.

~*~*~*~*~

Seven had continued her sweep through the ship after Paris was called away. Under normal circumstances, this was a job she could have completed on her own in minutes. Somehow today, she just couldn’t seem to concentrate. Her body was as sluggish as her mind. She forced herself to keep moving, however, and was now in Deck 4, Section 3. She pushed open the doors to the cabin to her left and began to survey the damage.

It only took her a moment to remember why the room looked familiar. This was Lieutenant Paris’s old quarters, long since emptied of any of his belongings when he was relocated after his wedding. Seven had been here on several occasions during her field study of human mating rituals. She would occasionally make excuses–delivering astrometric reports, information on navigational problems–to justify following Lieutenants Paris and Torres during their courtship. At the time it seemed a perfectly reasonable way to learn more about human behavior. Of course, she now had a better understanding of why Lieutenant Torres threatened bodily injury when her study was discovered.

The room was mostly intact, but the furniture, pillows and bedding were now scattered around the room. Seven found herself turning a chair upright and sitting down. She wasn’t sure why; she rarely sat unless the protocol of the situation warranted it, such as in briefings or social situations. Yet, she couldn’t shake this fatigue. She was still sitting there three minutes later when Paris returned from sickbay.

“Seven?” she could hear him in the corridor before he appeared. He took a look around his old quarters as he entered. “Hey, I haven’t been in here for a while.” Tom had a lot of good memories of this room. It had been his first real home after the Penal Colony. He’d rediscovered himself here: his nights searching the database for 20th century music and movies, conducting research for his holoprograms, playing poker with Harry, dictating long entries into his personal log as he worked to redefine Tom Paris. Even after he and B’Elanna had gotten serious–a time when he was just as likely to spend the night in her quarters as in his own–he had treasured the refuge of this room. He didn’t miss it; he loved the new home he shared with B’Elanna. But he found it comforting to be back here at a time when so much of his world was turned upside down.

It took him a second to realize how unusual it was to see Seven sitting down and taking a break. “Are you alright?” he asked.

“I was resting,” she said softly.

Tom had tried to ignore Seven’s odd behavior all morning, but this had to be a sign something was wrong. He righted another toppled chair and sat facing her. “I’m a little worried about you, Seven. Are you feeling sick?”

She took a moment to answer; another bad sign. “I believe I am undamaged. I just…” Seven always had a good working relationship with Tom, but they were hardly close friends. He was surprised, then, when she started to confide in him.

“I am finding it hard to motivate myself. I feel…tired.” She looked up as she continued, “Perhaps you should select another first officer.”

Tom had to smile that she was concerned about letting him down. “Seven, there’s probably just some malfunction in your alcove. I asked the Doc to have Icheb check it out. I’m sure you’ll feel better once it’s fixed.” He hoped that was all it was.

“What if the malfunction is in me?” she asked softly.

He hadn’t seen her this vulnerable. “Then the Doc will find it and fix it. But don’t jump to any conclusions until then, okay?” She didn’t answer. “Let’s finish up this deck,” he suggested standing up and heading for the door, “then you should head back to sickbay and let the Doc check you over. I’ll get Icheb to help me with this.”

Seven didn’t move. “That’s an order,” Tom said only half-jokingly.

“Yes, sir,” she said under her breath. It took all of her will to stand up and follow him.

~*~*~*~*~

Despite her morning rampage, B’Elanna knew her staff was talented and dedicated. She trusted their judgment and the quality of their work–so much, in fact, that she decided to be the first guinea pig to test out their repairs to the main turbolift. “Deck five,” she said as she stepped inside. Her confidence was rewarded as she made the rapid rise with no problems.

“Torres to Neelix, it worked perfectly. Good job.” She had been in a better mood since their talk this morning.

“Thank you, Lieutenant. Should I tell Mr. Carey you’ll be taking your lunch break now?”

B’Elanna smiled. She hadn’t told Neelix this was more than just a test-drive, but he knew she had been desperate to visit Chakotay in sickbay. “Yes, thank you. Torres out.”

She walked as quickly as her condition made practical and was in the medical bay in a matter of moments.

She noticed Icheb scanning the regeneration alcoves in the biolab and took a moment to check in with him. “Did you find anything?” she asked as she came up behind him.

B’Elanna always seemed to make him nervous and he stammered a bit as he answered. “Um, no, Lieutenant. According to my diagnostics, the alcove is operating within normal parameters. I was just about to…”

He was interrupted by his combadge, “Paris to Icheb. Can you meet me on Deck 6 as soon as you’re finished in sickbay?”

The boy looked relieved. “On my way, sir.” He excused himself and headed out the door.

B’Elanna headed for the surgical bay. She found Chakotay, as she knew she would, looking weak and still. His frailty almost made her weep. He had been her strength, her rock, for so many years. It killed her to see him so fragile. She found his hand at his side and took it into hers, just as the doctor came in from the corridor.

“You should talk to him,” he said softly as he noticed her. “Try to motivate the commander to heal himself.”

B’Elanna leaned over to put her lips near his ear. “Chakotay.”

She said his name with the subtle emphasis his native people put on each syllable, a slight change from the way his friends normally pronounced it. She had spoken it this way only occasionally, when she wanted to let him know just how well she knew him. She spent the next ten minutes reminding him of what he had meant to her, of adventures they’d had on the Liberty during their battles with the Cardassians. How grateful she was for the new life he had helped her make on Voyager. She told him of the duties he would need to perform as her child’s uncle, that she still needed him in her life. And she reminded him of the secret he had shared only with her: that his dreams of a peaceful, happy life with the woman he loved were so close at hand. She suspected, somehow, that the promise of this future he had fought for and waited for so long might be all that was keeping him alive now.

B’Elanna was still sitting with Chakotay when Seven returned and headed into the Doctor’s office.

“Back so soon?” he greeted her as she entered.

“I was unable to continue my work. Lieutenant Paris asked to me report here for an examination.”

The doctor was worried. Of anyone on board, he knew Seven best, and yet the woman standing before him was a stranger. Borg corset not withstanding she was practically slouched over, her hair was disheveled and there was a distant look in her normally sharp eyes.

Ever since the accident, they had spent very little time together–the Doctor standing vigil over the injured, Seven hovering over Icheb. Since they returned to Voyager the day before, each had been occupied with their duties. She had barely spoken two words to him since they had become ‘roommates’ the night before. He could see now that something was terribly wrong, and tried to reassure her, “I’m sure it’s nothing serious.” Somehow the comment seemed to set her off.

“Are you implying that I am lying about my condition? Do you think I’m trying to shirk my responsibilities?”

Her friend was taken aback–of course he’d meant no such thing. “Seven, I only…” She wouldn’t listen.

“I don’t know why I thought you might be able to help me, when I can look around this sickbay and see how little you can do to help any of us.” The doctor was speechless.

B’Elanna didn’t mean to eavesdrop; in fact she was concentrating intently on her words to Chakotay. But the volume of the conversation in the Doctor’s office was rising, and she couldn’t miss the bulk of what was said.

“I’m worried about you, Seven,” the doctor was practically shouting.

“Leave me alone!” Seven’s voice was loud but flat, emotionless. B’Elanna heard the unmistakable swish as the biolab doors opened and closed. She assumed it was Seven who left. Her suspicion was confirmed when the doctor reappeared from his office. He was clearly wounded and lost in thought.

“She didn’t mean that,” B’Elanna said to him gently.

He looked up at her, unconvinced. “She has a point,” he said gruffly. “I certainly don’t seem to be able to do much for any of them.” B’Elanna knew there was some kind of special connection between the Doctor and Seven, even if she didn’t understand exactly what it was. She recognized, though, the kind of cruelty one saved for the person they were closest to. It was great for creating distance–a reason to be left alone. She knew from her own experience: it was a weapon she had used adeptly on Tom on more than one occasion.

She also imagined it had to be hard for the Doctor, their only fully trained medical professional, to bear the sole responsibility for the health of the entire crew. He had faced so much loss in the last week, so many catastrophic injuries, without any way to intervene. And now all he could do was to keep a vigil over his injured friends–their fates almost totally beyond his control. She wished she could think of something to do to help him.

B’Elanna allowed herself to slip for a moment into one of her other jobs: doctor’s doctor. Only this time, her patient called for a counselor instead of a holoprogrammer. “Scan me,” she said to him out of the blue.

“Excuse me?” He didn’t understand..

“I’ve been here for over thirty minutes and you haven’t once checked on the baby. Go ahead, scan me.”

Feeling even more chagrinned at his oversight, the doctor picked up his tricorder and examined her. “You and your daughter seem to be just fine,” he said a little dejectedly.

“Are you sure? I remember being told I had a serious concussion just a few days ago.”

He couldn’t understand why she was saying this. “You’re fully recovered. Other than some minor constriction of your lower back and some edema in your feet, you’re in perfect health.”

B’Elanna kept at him, “Do I have some kind of miraculous powers of self-healing? Did I perform some ancient Klingon therapeutic ritual?”

The Doctor was surprised it took him so long to catch on to her scheme. “No. You were saved by my many years of experience treating smashed skulls–so kindly provided by your husband.”

She smiled. “So, I guess you’re not totally inept,” she said slyly. He was fighting back a grin himself. “You’re not a god, Doc. You’re doing everything that can be done.”

It wasn’t his normal arrogance that forced him to agree with her assessment. He had searched his program repeatedly and knew it to be true–particularly where the captain and first officer were concerned. Still, he hadn’t found anything physically wrong with Seven, and Icheb had ruled out a malfunction in her alcove. “I wish someone would explain that to our drone,” he said a bit sarcastically.

B’Elanna wasn’t finished playing diagnostician. “Did you check her neurotransmitter levels?” she asked.

“Not specifically, but the tricorder would have indicated if they were outside normal parameters.”

Still, B’Elanna was convinced she recognized something in Seven’s behavior. “Take another look at your readings: check her dopamine and seritonin levels.”

The doctor nodded, suddenly understanding. “You know if you ever decide to give up engineering….”

B’Elanna smiled. “I just have some personal experience in this area,” she said, not needing to explain what she meant. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I only have another twenty minutes on my lunch break before I need to get back to work, and my other ‘patient’ needs me.” She indicated Chakotay, whose hand she still held.

“Fifteen minutes,” he corrected her. “The last five you will spend actually eating some lunch. You’re lucky enough to be in the one place on this ship with working replicators, you know. Or did I forget to mention your empty stomachs when I scanned you?”

She smiled. They took good care of each other, she realized. Then she focused her attention back to Chakotay.

~*~*~*~*~

Icheb found his commanding officer rummaging through the debris that had been the lieutenant’s newly-settled, newly-decorated home. Perhaps the impact had been more severe in this part of the ship–or maybe it was just the number of objects that had been crammed into these four walls, but the cabin was a mess. Broken glassware, dishes, and electronic devices seemed to be in pieces all over the floor. Still in place among the debris, Icheb was surprised to see the huge bed that dominated a third of the cabin. There was barely room for other furniture, he thought, though he had an admitted lack of experience in the subtleties of decorating. He could see the Lieutenant’s feet sticking out from a pile of–what was it–clothing? Bedding? He wasn’t sure.

“Lieutenant Paris?” he called out.

The pile began to move and he heard a muffled voice from inside, “Got it!” The feet began backing out until the officer’s entire body was clear. He was holding an unusual furry object meant to resemble some sort of animal. “Just rescuing a friend, Icheb. Can you put him in that crate?” The boy turned to see a small collection of the Lieutenant’s personal effects in a regulation storage container. He took the ‘creature’ from his commander–using only two fingers to touch it–and dropped it quickly into the box. “He won’t bite you, I promise,” Tom said laughing.

Paris moved closer to the bed and gathered the pillows and a huge, white comforter. He could barely hold them in his arms. “You’ll have to carry these, Icheb,” he said as he practically buried the young man in a mountain of feathers and ticking. “I don’t know how we’re going to get them through the Jeffries tubes,” he wondered out loud.

From under the bedding, Tom heard a muffled reply, “The main turbolift is back online.”

Tom compressed the pile until he could see Icheb’s face again. “Great. Let’s make a quick detour to Deck 11,” he said gathering a few pieces of clothing and other personal items. He threw them into the crate and headed into the corridor, his newly deputized chamber maid in tow.

~*~*~*~*~

B’Elanna made a stop on Deck 10 on her way back to her post. She had a hunch she would find what she was looking for on her upper engineering platform, but she wasn’t about to use the vertical ladder to check out her theory. She’d cheat and enter through the Deck 10 corridor. Her hypothesis was confirmed as soon as the doors opened.

Normally, if she were hiding from the Doctor or Icheb, Seven would be here pouring over the console, running a diagnostic or using her skills to increase the efficiency of some key system, trying to look and stay occupied. With her suspicions about Seven’s current condition, however, B’Elanna wasn’t totally surprised to find that–this time–she was just sitting on the steps, leaning against the wall.

B’Elanna moved closer before she spoke. “Seven. Is there something I can do for you?” She knew she needed to act nonchalant if she were going to keep her patient from running out on her.

“I was…I should go,” Seven wanted to stand up, but couldn’t seem to find the energy.

There was an eerie quality about this, B’Elanna thought, like looking in an old, broken mirror. She recognized the dull expression on Seven’s face, the vacant look in her eyes, her lack of energy for the things she normally enjoyed. B’Elanna took a moment to think that, if she herself hadn’t done such a good job of pushing everyone away when she was at this stage, she might have been treated before she tried some of the dangerous stunts that had almost killed her. B’Elanna had become so desperate, she knew, just to feel something again. Hopefully, she could reach Seven before it came to that.

“You can stay. You’re not in my way. And I could use the company while I work.” B’Elanna went to the main panel and pretended to occupy herself with its readouts.

“I’m not sure I will be very good ‘company’,” Seven said softly. “I don’t seem to be good at much of anything lately.” Self-pity. Another marker. B’Elanna was now pretty sure of her diagnosis.

“Then you can just sit here while I work,” she said, refusing to feed the illness. After a minute, she decided on a more direct approach.

“Seven, are you familiar with the term ‘clinical depression’?” B’Elanna asked softly. “It’s a kind of chemical imbalance in your brain. Some people are prone to it because of their physiology. For others, it can be triggered by a traumatic event.” Seven was quiet–didn’t even seem to hear what B’Elanna was saying. She was getting nowhere. Torres stopped pretending to work and joined Seven on the steps. This would be easier to say if B’Elanna didn’t have to look at her.

“A little over three years ago, I found out that most of my friends from the Maquis–all except those here on Voyager or in Federation prisons–were dead. They’d been butchered, murdered. I felt so furious. And helpless–that I wasn’t there for them when they needed me. That maybe I could have done something to save them. I think I even felt a little guilty that I was still alive.” B’Elanna couldn’t help but relive some of those memories as she spoke.

“I had trouble coping with those feelings. I started to withdraw from the things and people I cared about. I felt tired all the time. And numb inside. I started avoiding Tom, starting fights so he’d leave me alone. I stopped caring about him, my job–anything.” She couldn’t help but remember how she had treated everyone–especially Tom–during that time. The memories were painful. “I didn’t get help, then, Seven. I thought I would just get over it. But I didn’t. Then one day I found myself doing dangerous things just to try and make myself feel something, anything. I almost died.”

“I wasn’t aware it was that severe,” Seven said softly.

“Well, you and I weren’t on the best of terms in those days, if you remember.” B’Elanna tried to close some of that distance now. She really did want to help Seven through this.

“How did you recover?” her ‘patient’ asked.

“Someone who cared about me forced me to look at what I was doing to myself. Forced me to face my grief head on.”

Seven nodded as if she understood. “Lieutenant Paris,” she assumed.

B’Elanna smiled. “No, actually, it was Chakotay. Tom was too close, too worried about what he might have done to make me so distant, too wrapped up in how my pain affected him. Sometimes, the people who love you the most can’t be the ones to help.”

Seven started thinking about her conversation with the Doctor, and about the ways she had shut him out of her life in the past few days. About how quickly she had changed from wanting his company to wanting him to leave her alone. Was this her way of avoiding her pain?

“I am having trouble coping with what happened,” she confessed softly. “I keep wondering if there was something I did…something I could have done to prevent it.”

B’Elanna nodded as Seven spoke. Of course she had thought the same things. They were both accustomed to pulling off last-minute miracles of engineering. This time, they’d been powerless. “It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t our fault. Sometimes things just happen.”

“Yet Commander Tuvok, Ensign Kim, and the others…they’re all dead. And I’m alive. I’ll live to see Earth. Getting home was all they dreamed of for seven years. But it’s meaningless to me. How is that fair?”

“You’re right. It isn’t fair,” B’Elanna agreed, thinking now about her latest loss. “But it isn’t your fault. You have to forgive yourself for living through it.”

B’Elanna put her hand on Seven’s arm. It was an unusually personal gesture between two women who had once been bitter rivals. “Go see the Doctor. There are medications you can take to get you through the worst of it. They’ll help fix the chemical imbalance, and make it easier for you to adjust. And you should find someone to help you talk this through. Don’t keep it inside.” B’Elanna felt truly sorry for her friend. If Tuvok or Chakotay were here, they’d know what to say to help Seven. Just as they had helped her. Even the captain…

“I could…. Lieutenant, would you be willing to ‘talk’ with me after my treatment?”

Wow. B’Elanna didn’t know what to say. Except, “Of course. Anytime.”

~*~*~*~*~

The grizzled old man was sitting in the middle of the farmyard, picking out a sad tune on the banjo. He barely seemed to notice her approach until she was standing in front of him. Clearly, seeing her annoyed him. “Why have you come back? You don’t have what I need.”

She didn’t have time for these games. Her reply was curt, but she didn’t give a damn. “I don’t know what you need. And, frankly, I don’t care. I just want our people back and I want us all to be sent home.”

“Well, aren’t you contentious for a minor bipedal species…?”

She’d had just about enough of this. “Where are our people? What have you done with them?”

She was reaching full-blown desperation, yet the old man continued to ignore her pleas. “You don’t have what I need. They might. You’ll have to leave them.” How could she make him understand: she would never abandon her crew.

“I am their commanding officer. I am entrusted with their safety. They are my responsibility.” Without taking a step, she suddenly found herself in an old barn, looking through what had just been a solid wall into a strange, sterile laboratory. ‘Tuvok!’ she screamed to no one as she saw her friend lying there, unconscious, as a long metallic probe was lowered into his chest. She was powerless to stop it. “Tuvok!”

After having had no dreams for almost twenty-four hours, Kathryn Janeway was now trapped in a rolling nightmare that she couldn’t seem to escape.

Suddenly, she could hear the sound of a tinny piano. Someone was singing. Seven? She’d had this dream before. She was both an observer and participant in this strange scene. “Welcome to La Coeur de Lyon. I am Katrine. The first round is with my compliments on one condition: you leave the war outside.” Was this a movie she had seen? No, these were her people. Her crew. They were in a tavern, or was it a nightclub? She and Seven were standing at the bar counting some kind of currency.

“How did we do?” she heard herself say.

She had never seen Seven dressed like this. Her hair was long, curled, and down around her shoulders. “Insufficient for a Saturday night.” They were going to have one of their arguments, she could tell from the tone in their voices.

She heard herself speak, “Well, it should be enough to buy us safe passage to Earth.”

Seven was now angry–again. Why did she always question Katrine’s decisions? “We have more pressing needs.”

Why did she always think she knew better? “Such as?”

“Food. Energy. Safety.” How typical. Seven was totally missing the whole point of their mission. “We’re not trying to build a colony here.”

Her ‘singer’ clearly disagreed, “Maybe it’s time we did. I’m tired of living on rations and risking our lives. We should be settling on the nearest habitable planet.”

Enough of this. She knew Seven would never understand. This debate was getting them nowhere. It was time to lay down the law. “I am the captain of this ship, so right now my opinion is the only one that counts.” They were going home. She didn’t care what it took. She was sorry if this drone couldn’t understand that. But she had battled the Borg before and won…

The cube came up on them quickly, but she was prepared. “We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” The bridge was bathed in the crimson glow of a red alert, yet she knew she had taken them into this situation on purpose. She had sought out this encounter.

“Borg vessel. This is Captain Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager. I have tactical information about Species 8472. I want to negotiate.” She had honed her powers of persuasion to the point that she was now confident in her ability to talk almost anyone into almost anything.

The Borg seemed prepared to listen. “State your proposal.”

“I am prepared to trade you the lives of fifty of my crew for safe passage to the Alpha Quadrant.”

And it continued.

~*~*~*~*~

Tom had finished his little detour to Deck 11, and was pretty proud of his handiwork. B’Elanna deserved some small taste of a normal life, and he was determined to give it to her. He had transformed their temporary quarters into a home-away-from-home courtesy of one over-stuffed down comforter, four of the fluffiest pillows a Starfleet replicator had ever made, and one tiny, dog-eared stuffed targ. He had also rescued several pictures, a few of his favorite t-shirts, and their half-read PADDs on childrearing. He’d salvage the crib and the rest of their belongings later. The toaster, unfortunately, was toast.

He was happy, too, that he’d been able to fashion a single bed for them to share. He and B’Elanna had spent only one night in their quarters on the Resnick before beaming back to Voyager, and she had been unconscious for most of it. The past two nights, they’d slept side by side in separate dormitory bunks in their makeshift cabin. He needed her closer to him, though, to feel her body against his as he slept. Not that he had sex on his mind–B’Elanna’s pregnancy had passed the safe point for their usual, strenuous physical activity, and the conditions they were facing hardly inspired romance–but he had been restless, having trouble sleeping. He just missed her. There was a kind of comfort and peace he knew he could only find lying in her arms.

As he headed back to work, Tom was grateful that the turbolift was back online. Maybe he was getting soft in his old age, but the eleven decks he had climbed this morning had worn him out. He was pushing himself to continue on, though. If he could complete the survey through Deck 7 today, he and Icheb could probably finish checking out the rest of the compromised decks tomorrow.

He found his assistant cataloguing the damage to Holodeck 2. Looking around, Tom figured this room had probably seen its last party. Still, Icheb was right to include it in his checklist. Their mission to document Voyager’s systems needed to be thorough, and a little Borg meticulousness was just what was called for.

“I guess you won’t get to try out my racecar program after all,” Tom teased. Not that Icheb ever would have taken him up on the offer. “Looks like you’ve got this under control. I’m gonna start at the other end of the corridor.”

When Tom realized what room was next on his survey, however, he almost changed his mind. He stopped at the door, and put his hand on it softly.

He had spent the whole day pushing aside one emotion after the next. Tom Paris was an expert at the game of denial, with a lifetime of experience in pretending the pain didn’t get to him. Yet, standing at this door, he couldn’t help but remember who it was who had first broken through that wall of defenses.

Harry Kim had been his best friend–not only on Voyager, he realized, but since the Academy. Since before Tom stopped allowing himself to have friends when he had killed three of his closest in a shuttle accident so many years ago. He stood for a long moment at the door to Harry’s quarters. He couldn’t make himself move.

But Tom was in command now–at least until the captain woke up–and he couldn’t permit himself the luxury of dwelling on his loss. He hammered another support against his wall of grief and forced the door open.

Almost instantly he thought he heard it. Harry’s clarinet. Playing a tune he knew but hadn’t thought of in years. Something classical and annoyingly upbeat. It bugged him as much today as it had six years ago. “Play something pessimistic,” he heard himself asking. He shook his head until the music and the thought passed.

Harry would freak out if he saw this mess, Tom thought. Always fastidious, never so much as a PADD left out of place, Kim was the kind of officer who made his bed to Starfleet specifications everyday–because he wanted to. Tom loved nothing more than to mess up the pillows on Harry’s couch or rearrange the knickknacks on his tables, just to see his friend compulsively straighten them. Now, the place was almost unrecognizable.

Tom took out his tricorder and began a survey of the damage. The relays that ran behind the bed had blown out and the entire wall was scorched and burned. The replicator was a melted mass of glass and metal, and there was a high-pitched squeal coming from the bathroom–probably something had triggered the damaged sonic shower when partial power was restored to this deck.

Tom worked his way through the debris and across the room. He had to shut off that noise before it drove him crazy. When he finally reached the shower assembly, he saw the controls were fused. He tried hitting the manual ‘off’ button, but the whistle continued. He grabbed a piece of metal from the floor and gave the panel a hard whack. Nothing. Another. Nothing.

Before he knew it, he was beating the panel with all of his strength, smashing it over and over, long after the noise had finally ended. “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! ” he kept repeating with each blow. The power coursing through the wall sent sparks flying, but he couldn’t help himself. A week’s worth of pent-up rage poured out of his hands and into the bulkhead before him. He would have his revenge, if only on this piece of machinery. His arms and hands ached with exhaustion before he could make himself stop.

He threw his ‘weapon’ down to the deck and felt himself sinking to join it. He sat on the floor holding his throbbing head in his hands as he felt the fury leech out of him. This wouldn’t fix anything, he knew intellectually. Yet he was still overwhelmed with anger.

If only Harry hadn’t gone to Astrometrics. That was ridiculous–then they’d all be dead. If only they’d stayed in the Delta Quadrant, settled on New Phoenix. Tom knew that wasn’t an option for Harry either. His friend had been more than willing to risk his life to make it home. He would have been miserable stuck on that rock in the middle of nowhere. Still, Paris couldn’t help but think of all the different decisions they might have made, choices that might have stopped this from happening.

The Peter Pan part of Tom now kicked in. This is all a dream, he thought. A terrible nightmare. ‘If I close my eyes and imagine hard enough, I’ll wake up and we’ll be back in the Delta Flyer, drag racing comets.’ His reopened eyes revealed what he knew in his heart he would see. He’d have to do better than wishful thinking. ‘I’ll find a way to go back in time, stop us from ever trying this stupid stunt.’ Bad idea. Everyone knew that the subtleties of temporal mechanics weren’t Tom’s forte, and there was no way to guarantee a better outcome–the next time they might all be killed. His mind began to race, trying to think of anything he could do to change what had happened. He would have made a deal with the Devil if he thought it would help–and if he hadn’t already unloaded his soul years before only to reclaim it on this ship. Sooner or later he would have to face it. Neither Captain Proton nor Tom Paris would be coming to the rescue this time.

He was in full contact with his powerlessness now, and it was all-consuming. He pulled himself to his feet and picked up his tricorder and PADD off the floor where he’d dropped them. He looked at these things, these toys–what had he been doing? Oh, right, playing captain. Pretending to command this Barge of the Dead. He began questioning why he had moved them all back here, why he had brought everyone–including himself–face to face with the scene of their most horrifying defeat. Because some bureaucrat had insulted him? Treated him like the criminal he used to be? It was time to face the truth: his fantasy life in the Delta Quadrant was over. Welcome to reality, Tom.

He took a few steps toward the door only to hear a clang as his foot kicked something metal. He bent down to pick it up–Harry’s saxophone. It was like a splash of cold water.

Tom remembered the day he replicated it–for Harry’s birthday. He’d told his friend that the clarinet was a girl’s instrument. Men played the saxophone. Besides, all of his research of 20th century music–from jazz to rock and roll–said that women loved sax players. He laughed out loud at that thought now. While the instrument had made Harry’s music more palatable to his friends, it hadn’t done a damn thing for the man’s love life.

“I’m sorry, Harry,” he found himself saying out loud. “I’m sorry.” He tucked the saxophone under his arm, took a final look around the room, and headed for the door. “Paris to Icheb,” he found himself saying. “Let’s call it a night.”

~*~*~*~*~

It was the hardest decision she would have to make: to turn around, find a safe place for her crew to settle down, or push forward, despite what she knew to be insurmountable odds and incredible danger. She’d searched the database for the advice of her peers, but none of them could know the situation she and her crew faced out here in the middle of nowhere. She needed the counsel of someone who’d been there, at her side the entire time, to help her sort it all out. She gazed out at the starfield as she spoke to him.

“This day was inevitable. We all knew it. And we’ve all tried to prepare ourselves for the challenge ahead. But at what point is the risk too great? At what point do we come about and retreat to friendly territory? Could the crew come to accept living out the rest of their lives in the Delta Quadrant? I keep looking to all these captains, my comrades in arms, but the truth is I’m alone.”

After all this time, she still didn’t understand. He moved to stand with her. “If that moment comes, we’ll face it together. And we’ll make the right decision. You’re not alone, Kathryn.”

She saw the sincerity in his expression and couldn’t help but smile. “Three years ago, I didn’t even know your name,” she said gently. “Today, I can’t imagine a day without you.” She reached out and placed her palm over his heart. They were connected now, a lonely former-Maquis and a lonely Starfleet captain. Yet it was more than their isolation that brought them together. Somehow, all these light years away from both their homes, the bitter and angry soldier and the disciplined, distant scientist had found the matching pieces to their incomplete souls.

“You don’t ever have to be,” he said with equal tenderness, “…without me.”

The walls of her ready room melted around them, but the stars were still there. She could smell the salt air and what sounded like waves crashing on the shore.

“I’ve been in love with you for six years. I’ve gotten used to waiting for you, Kathryn. Just don’t make me wait my whole life.” She leaned over to kiss him, but before their lips could meet, she was back on the bridge. The ship was being tossed violently. Harry was yelling something.

“We’re losing power!” No, it wasn’t Harry’s voice. Why was Chakotay at ops?

She turned back as Tom shouted, “The helm is sluggish! I can’t hold her…!”

Seven’s voice now, from somewhere else on the ship. “The wedge is collapsing! Attempting to compensate!” She could hear B’Elanna frantically shouting orders.

“Hull stresses are increasing!” Chakotay warned. “Whatever you’re going to do Seven, do it now!”

She could hear Tom muttering under his breath. “Come on, Seven. Give me the signal.”

It must have arrived, for she heard Chakotay begin the countdown, “Exiting the singularity in five. Four. Three…”

Once again Kathryn awoke from her dream sitting straight up in bed, her heart pounding so hard it threatened to push through her chest. Only this time, she knew where she was. She knew what had happened. She remembered it all.

The sickbay was quiet. The doctor was either deactivated or out of the room, and the lights were dimmed, probably to help her sleep, she guessed. She swung her legs slowly over the edge of the bed, and tested her equilibrium before sliding onto her feet. She walked the three or so meters to the surgical bay and checked the readings on the main console. Something was different.

She didn’t hear the doctor come up behind her. “He’s going to be fine. His condition began to stabilize a few hours ago, and I was able to treat the commander with the modified nanoprobes. He was conscious for a few minutes, but I sedated him to let his body rest. He should be fine in a few days.” Thank God, she thought.

The doctor reached for a medical tricorder and began to scan her. “Looks like you’re feeling better, as well.” He knew as soon as she turned to face him that her soul was in much worse shape than her rapidly-healing body. “You remember…?” he asked softly.

“Everything,” it was all she could do to squeak out the word. She turned to put her hand on his arm. “I need to see the casualty reports.”

He realized that there was only so long she could be protected from the brutal truth of it all. Besides, she could order him to give her the information. He wouldn’t make it worse by fighting her.

They walked to his office and the doctor offered her a chair. The main computers were still down, so he handed her the datapad from his desk. Then he left her to read the names in private.

Each one hit her like a dagger to the heart: Allen. Ayala. Baytart. Culhane. Each name flashed a personal, specific memory. Each name brought the full weight of it home to her. Delaney-J. Delaney-M. Hopkins. J’Amond. Kim…

She sat the PADD on the desk and stood quickly, staring blankly at the wall. Her impulse was to run, as fast as possible. Yet there was no place to go. She couldn’t hide from this. She dried the tears from the corners of her eyes and returned to the chair. By the time she finished the list she realized she wasn’t alone.

He was sure there was something official he should do or say. His first impulse was surely not the way Starfleet envisioned the orderly transfer of power. But when did he ever stand on protocol? Tom walked up behind his captain, put his hands on her shoulders and squeezed tightly. More than anyone else probably could, Paris imagined what she was feeling. This crew had been his responsibility for just a few days. To have carried that burden for so many years only to face this kind of loss. He wasn’t sure if he could have withstood it. She dropped her face into her hands at his touch, but there were no tears. The magnitude of her grief was overwhelming her, he could tell.

“Will you be okay?” he asked softly. She could only nod. He moved to kneel beside her chair. “I guess you want your job back,” he said gently, unable to fight the impulse to distract her from her pain.

Kathryn smiled sadly. “Right now, I’m not sure that I do.” And for that moment, she really meant it. “But I guess I don’t have a choice.” She looked him in the eye. “Thanks.”

He smiled gently, “Any time.”

Perhaps focusing her on some better news might help. “I guess it was inevitable. It was just a question of whether you or Chakotay would kick me out of the chair first. The Doc says he’s gonna be fine in a day or two, so I guess I better not get too comfortable as your first officer.”

His diversion worked. She had almost regained her composure, and the captain allowed herself the first optimistic thought since she awoke. ‘Maybe not, Mr. Paris,’ she thought silently. They were almost home; Chakotay’s days in Starfleet were numbered.

Tom stood up, and helped her to her feet. “How about if I make one last command decision before you take the reigns?” he asked a bit mischievously. He motioned for her to follow him into the surgical bay. “Doc, get this lady a uniform. I’m springing her. That’s an order.”

The doctor raised his eyebrow, but played along with Paris’s power play. “Aye-aye, sir.” Ten minutes later, they were on their way.

~*~*~*~*~

On the ride down in the turbolift, Tom gave her an update on their status. “I submitted a formal report on our survivors and casualties to Starfleet yesterday. Admiral Paris told me he’d make sure the families were notified right away.”

“Admiral Paris? Tom, you spoke with your father?”

He nodded. “Twice. It was kind of funny; he didn’t know if I was dead or alive, and called in asking for Voyager’s senior officer. I don’t think he ever imagined it would be me. He’s on his way to meet us at Starbase 32.”

She couldn’t tell yet how it had gone between her former captain and his son. “I guess it was strange, seeing each other that way after so many years.”

Tom chuckled under his breath. “Yeah, it was pretty bizarre.” He didn’t offer any more details and she didn’t want to pry.

She had wanted to go to the bridge, but the lift couldn’t take them higher than Deck 2. She agreed instead to head for engineering, the closest thing Voyager had to a command center at this point. Based on what little she had seen on their walk through Deck 5, Janeway realized the damage to her ship was extensive. “I can’t figure out—with the ship in this condition—why the crew wasn’t evacuated.”

Tom knew he’d have to tell her about the reception they had received from Captain Wheaton, and why he had felt the need to take matters into his own hands. He hoped she would understand his reasoning. “We were evacuated. We spent the first five days on the Resnick. Everyone thought Voyager was uninhabitable.”

Janeway was confused now. “How did we end up back here?”

“The Resnick’s captain had some…issues…with some of our crew. He wouldn’t let us install the Borg alcoves so Seven and Icheb could regenerate. He wasn’t going to bring the bodies of the dead back with us. And, let’s just say he was pretty familiar with my record, and seemed to have some issues with the Maquis.

“I had to do something. So, Seven and I got our crew together and started fixing what we could. When we had the basic systems restored, I ordered everyone back onboard.”

Kathryn was stunned and disappointed at what she was hearing, but she supposed that the Starfleet officers in this part of space—who probably hadn’t even known about the rescue plan—were probably unprepared to see a long-lost Federation ship with a part-Maquis/Borg/alien crew show up in such a diplomatically-sensitive region. The Resnick’s captain probably thought he was doing the right thing. Still, it sounded like Paris had really risen to the occasion during his brief time as Voyager’s commanding officer.

“I’m glad you brought everyone home, Tom. I don’t want you to worry about this, though. I know Starfleet’s going to do the right thing by this crew.”

Tom had never been convinced of that. “I hope you’re right,” was all he could say.

Tom hadn’t called to say they were coming. He didn’t want B’Elanna and her staff worrying about what the captain would think of their efforts, and he thought the surprise might lift all of their spirits. When the doors to engineering swished open, it was Carey who noticed them first. He snapped to attention, “Captain on the deck.” He called out to his startled crewmates. They turned to see what he was talking about and were stunned for a moment to find Janeway in front of them. It only took them a second to start a spontaneous smattering of applause.

“As you were,” she called out. She was genuinely moved. Their display of affection was sweet, but she felt a little uncomfortable enjoying it in light of all they had been through.

B’Elanna was on her feet and walking toward them. “Captain. Welcome back. How are you feeling?”

Kathryn had two instantaneous thoughts: she was happy to see B’Elanna looking so well, and she was also embarrassed that she hadn’t thought to ask Tom about his wife and their baby. “I’m fine. Unfortunately, I had to bump your husband down to first officer. I understand he did quite a job while I was gone.”

B’Elanna was proud of Tom. “He was a benevolent dictator, that’s true.”

This was as much personal conversation as Janeway could allow herself at the moment. “What’s our status?”

“Considering the extent of the damage, I think we’re doing pretty well. We’ve stabilized the structural integrity field, we’ve gotten the radiation levels almost back to normal in the mid-decks, and we now have five functioning replicators. We’ll be fine until we can get to a starbase. The crews at McKinley Station are going to be busy for a long while, though, if Voyager’s ever going to fly again.”

Janeway nodded. “Then they’ll have to get busy. Voyager and this crew have come a long way together. I’m not about to let them retire her just yet.”

Once again, Tom wasn’t as convinced, but this time he didn’t say so.

~*~*~*~*~

The dig was going better than he had expected. They had already uncovered the outer walls of what had clearly been a primitive city. He was impressed by the stone formations—they were incredibly well-engineered for their day, and had no doubt kept the city’s residents safe from all sorts of real and imagined invaders.

He hadn’t found ‘it’ though—the archeological treasure he knew was buried inside these walls. Truth be told, he didn’t even know what it looked like, though he had been seeking it out—uncovering it layer by layer—for over six years. Sometimes the quest had been frustrating, and he had considered giving up, changing his sights to something easier to reach. But a feeling in his gut told him that—if only he could dig deep enough—he’d have his prize, and the answers that came with it. Now, after so many years, he was close to a breakthrough. He was sure of it.

His efforts paid off. In front of him, now, he could see it take shape: the outline of a small obelisk right in the heart of the city. He switched tools from the clumsy pick to a gentle brush, and began to work the ash and soil away from the delicate structure. As it was revealed to him, its beauty and grace overwhelmed him. It was even more lovely than he had dreamed, and more precious. Surrounded by the city’s hard, cold, stone walls, its fragility and power—and the contrasts they represented—took his breath away.

He could see the opening now, a small door carved into its side, so well designed as to appear invisible to the untrained eye. He searched for the mechanism that might cause it to open, finally finding the lever. He pushed ever so slightly and it was revealed to him. What he had searched for so desperately was now in his grasp. He inhaled deeply and stepped inside…

Their San Francisco apartment was always a mess. Neither spent much time there, and—when they did—it was usually just to catch their breath before changing directions. He would check in with the Federation Science Station whenever his findings were ready to publish. Each time Voyager was in spacedock, Kathryn would stop by on her way to Headquarters—or Indiana. They always seemed to be coming or going, often in different directions. Yet this was a happy time in their lives.

Today, she would start a month-long layover while Voyager’s engines were refit. They had it all planned: a quick dinner with Tom and B’Elanna down on the Wharf, then he’d fly their shuttle to Bloomington for three long weeks on the farm. The last week would be a more traditional vacation on a Mexican beach. He knew their time together would fly by and he was anxious to get started.

He checked the chronometer: it was nearly six o’clock. Kathryn was due back at five. Maybe he’d just missed seeing her come in. He walked through the apartment calling her name. No answer. He started to get worried. His wife was the most punctual woman in Starfleet. Where could she be?

He walked out onto the terrace. For some reason, he could sense that she was in danger—no, in pain. She was hurt. He grabbed his jacket and ran down to the street. Where was she? He began calling her name. “Kathryn! Can you hear me? Kathryn!”

“Kathryn!” Chakotay was mumbling her name as he woke up in sickbay, stiff and sore, but alert and aware of his surroundings for the first time in a week. The Doctor was there in an instant.

“Good morning, Commander; or should I say good evening.” His patient was attempting to sit up and continued repeating, “Kathryn….” It only took a gentle push to urge him flat on his back once again. The doctor answered his patient’s unfinished question. “The captain is fine. I released her a few hours ago. Lieutenant Paris is bringing her up to speed on the damage to the ship. So just lie back down so I can finish examining you.”

Chakotay did as ordered, his heart still pounding from his dream. It was so real: his archeological dig and the treasure it was about to reveal, the dream of their future lives, then the sense that Kathryn was in some kind of pain. Yet he knew the Doctor wouldn’t lie to him. “What’s our status?” he asked, hoping the answers would offer some clue.

The EMH filled him in on the details: their less-than-successful mission, the damage to the ship, their casualties. As Chakotay listened, he imagined the impact this news would have had on Kathryn. He understood that she would be in pain right now, and in what ways. He was feeling it, too. As she had said on many occasions, this was their crew. He had lost good friends as well as colleagues, all under his command. He needed to talk to the one person who would understand their loss from this unique perspective.

“I need to get out of here,” Chakotay said as soon as the doctor was through his examination. “Can you release me?” The EMH knew how a situation like theirs inspired a need in his human crewmates to take some kind of action, to find some way to feel less impotent against the circumstances they found themselves in. Yet, as a physician, he needed to ensure his patients’ complete recovery before he returned them to duty. He tried to find an equitable balance, but it was a struggle.

“Your body has been through an incredible ordeal. Your muscles were severely weakened by the injuries you sustained in the accident. You’ll hardly be able to walk….”

None of this mattered to the commander, “Then replicate me a crutch, but I’m getting out of here.”

The doctor tried to delay him. “Fine. Let me get Mister Paris up here to help you, though. I’ll certify you for duty, but take it slowly. Your body needs time to rest and recover before you start crawling all over this ship.”

Chakotay was nothing if not reasonable. “That’s a fair compromise, Doctor, thank you.”

If he’d been slightly more self-aware, the Doctor would have also admitted his other reason for being reluctant to release the first officer: his sickbay would be empty for the first time since their crisis began. He’d have no distractions from dealing with his own grief, loss, and feelings of inadequacy at the deaths of so many friends. And he’d also have plenty of time to worry about the rapid disintegration of his relationship with a certain ex-drone.

~*~*~*~*~

Kathryn Janeway looked around her new quarters. They were smaller than she was used to, but she wasn’t complaining. In fact, she was grateful for all the work Neelix, Icheb, and Naomi had done in making a nice welcome for her. They had spent several hours, she could tell, gathering some of her personal effects from her devastated home on Deck 4. Her favorite chair, a few pieces of clothing, and her books were among the things they had salvaged. She also noticed a small crate of items from her ready room. She supposed she had Tom Paris to thank for that.

Like Tom and B’Elanna, she was now living in an adapted space; her new home, on Deck 12, was formerly the crewmen’s reading room, with the bulk of the tables and chairs replaced by a standard double bed and a salvaged desk. It was off a secondary corridor, and she was glad for the seclusion. She was also glad for the view of space the room’s windows afforded her. The stars always helped her do her best thinking.

Her walk around the ship had been painful. She was happy to see her crew, though she couldn’t help but notice how many familiar faces were missing. As much as she had been anxious to get out of sickbay and back to work, she was now equally grateful for this time alone. She had to figure out how they’d go on, how they’d make it past this tragedy that had cost them so much.

She took a moment to change into one of the pieces of her clothing the crew had salvaged, a simple green dress she often wore when home alone for the evening. It was long enough to keep her bare feet warm when she tucked them up under her in her reading chair. She knew she’d be spending most of this evening curled up in that spot, and she wanted to make herself comfortable.

She had dug out a specific PADD from the pile on her new desk, and spent the next few hours searching for guidance from a long-dead mentor. When she had first decided to seek her own ship, an old friend, Will Riker, had given her a text containing what he claimed was the ultimate source of wisdom for any Starfleet captain: Reflections on Command, by Admiral James T. Kirk. She carried it with her to each posting, and she discovered that—while Federation life had changed so drastically since the book’s initial publication over ninety years earlier—the psychological burdens of command responsibility were very much the same. The book had become a good touchstone for her during her hardest moments as a captain.

She had found Kirk’s advice most helpful during the past seven years in the Delta Quadrant. Until then, ‘Captain’ Kirk’s experiences had seemed a bit alien to her. His Enterprise had been one of the first ships to explore deep space. Often cut off from Starfleet Command for weeks or even months, Kirk and the officers of his time had been forced to make most of their decisions without counsel. They found Starfleet’s Prime Directive a bit of a moving target in those days, as they confronted unexpected situations that seemed to call for an improvisational approach. She and Admiral Paris had once enjoyed long conversations where they marveled at how often Kirk and crew had—in their minds—cavalierly ignored the Federation’s most important law. Janeway and Owen Paris were literalists where the Directive was concerned. Or, at least, she had been.

Since Voyager was stranded so far from home, she had come to a more liberal interpretation of General Order One. So far away from the support and assistance of Starfleet, she had—like Kirk—come to see the Directive as an idealized but occasionally impractical concept. Yet she had also cared deeply about upholding the Federation principles she cherished. It had been a balancing act; she hoped Starfleet would come to agree.

It wasn’t advice about the Prime Directive she was looking for this time, however. She searched the PADD for a different kind of wisdom, and found herself re-reading a chapter she had visited more times than she would have cared to remember during the last seven years. ‘It is an inevitability that every Starfleet captain will face: losing crewmen as a result of a command decision.’ The chapter was a thoughtful and eloquent essay on finding the courage to live with the death of a person under one’s command. In it, Kirk related several anecdotes from his career: a time when a young ‘Lieutenant’ Kirk had hesitated in firing at a deadly gaseous cloud, causing several junior officers to be killed as a result. Having to choose one of his two best friends for a dangerous scientific mission, never expecting the one he selected to survive the encounter. The very personal loss (however temporary) of one of those two friends during the Genesis Incident. Kirk had faced this situation many times in his long career. Somehow, he had always come through it.

She always found herself coming back to a particular passage, an incident on an Earth-like planet where the Enterprise crew was captured and forced to fight in a Roman-style gladiator arena. Kirk had been required to make a difficult decision that might cost the lives of these same two officers—his dearest friends. He had tried to convince his captors and himself that this was an effortless choice. ‘I’ve had to select men to die before so that others might live…’ She reread this section several times, as Kirk revealed the pain that was hidden under those cavalier words. It was never easy to send someone to die—intentionally or accidentally. But the mark of a good captain was how one carried on in light of the loss.

She thought for a moment about Tuvok and Harry Kim. She had known Tuvok for much of her adult life. He had been a part of her extended family long before he served as her chief security officer. She had been sent on this assignment to rescue him, what seemed like a lifetime ago. Her mission, she now knew, would fail. And Harry had been her pet project, her young protégée, hand-picked and fresh out of the Academy when he came under her command. She had been advised against choosing a raw graduate for an important position like ops, but she saw something in Harry that couldn’t be ignored. The young man was a brilliant engineer, yet he was thoroughly self-effacing, and had an eagerness to succeed that she knew would help him past his inexperience. Besides, they were only going on a three-week tactical mission—or so she thought. Truth was, Harry had become a gifted officer on his way to a bright career. He had saved them all from life-threatening situations on a regular basis. Lately, he could also talk her into seeing his point of view on almost any topic. And he had become a dear friend. She knew now that Voyager would be his first and last posting. It broke her heart.

Her senior staff had functioned as a team for so long, she couldn’t imagine living with these two gaping holes in their ranks. She couldn’t stop thinking about these men, and the other crewmen who wouldn’t be making it home. And she thought, too, about their families. Somehow, she didn’t think Admiral Kirk alone would be enough to get her though this.

She put down his book and walked to the replicator. Coffee might not help, but it couldn’t hurt.

As she passed the desk, she could now see what was in the crate from her ready room. Her antique microscope—over six hundred years old—had survived with minimal damage, as had several others of her prized artifacts. She was about to continue on when she saw it, wrapped gently in a piece of fabric. Her lucky teacup. Her token symbol to herself that they’d all make it home safely. Surrounded by all this destruction, this fragile china cup had survived. She picked it up and examined it for cracks or chips or any sign it had been through this devastating accident. There were none.

Before she could stop herself, she hurled it across the room and into the bulkhead where it shattered into hundreds of pieces.

The door chime sounded just a moment later. She tried to regain her composure as she answered. “Come in.”

Her first-officer had heard the cup breaking as he approached. When the doors opened, he stuck his head in to make sure he wasn’t walking into the line of fire. “I’m unarmed, is it safe to come in?” he said half-seriously.

Seeing him was the medicine her wounded soul needed, “Chakotay.” It was the only word she could say.

He knew instantly that he had correctly guessed the toll their ordeal had taken on her. The doctor had warned Chakotay of her injuries, of her initial problems remembering the past few weeks, and her reaction when she had learned of the deaths of her friends and colleagues. The EMH hadn’t wanted to release the commander from sickbay—his recovery had been miraculous, but was still incomplete—but Chakotay knew he needed to get to her side. Tom authorized his release, and told him where to find her new quarters. He didn’t waste a moment getting there.

Now he walked—with the assistance of a cane—to her side. She saw the crutch and it shook her out of herself. “I told the doctor to notify me when you woke up. Are you alright?” He was at her side now.

“Just some residual muscle weakness—the Doctor says I’ll be dancing in a few weeks.” He reached his hand to her face and pulled her eyes to meet his. “Are you alright?”

She understood that he was asking about more than her physical health. “I don’t know,” was all she could say.

He pulled her into a tight embrace, and the tears came as soon as she felt his arms around her. He could feel her body wracked with sobs—a kind of full-body weeping he suspected was the outlet for almost seven years of pain and grief.

When he felt her regaining her composure, he pulled back from their embrace just enough to look at her face. He leaned in gently and kissed her cheeks, which were wet with tears. “It’s going to be alright,” he said to her softly. “Everything is going to be alright.”

She pulled back and turned away to wipe her face. She was embarrassed—she never broke down this way, ever. He could sense her discomfort. “Kathryn, it’s alright. You should let it out. It’s not healthy to keep that bottled up inside you.” She was walking to the couch as he spoke. He moved to join her. There was something he needed to know. “I spoke with the Doctor. He said you had some memory loss after you woke up.”

She had stopped crying and was sitting quietly with a pained, dark look in her eyes. “Yes. I didn’t remember the accident—or anything else from the past month. But—unfortunately—it all came back to me.”

He looked down and away before he asked his question. “So, you remember…our deal, then?”

She smiled. Like she had that night on the beach, she took his hand and linked her fingers in his, then mimicked the words he had spoken just a little over a week before. “Of course. I’m counting the days.”

He separated his hand from hers and moved it up to brush the hair out of her eyes. “You can stop counting,” he said softly. “I’m prepared to turn in my resignation tonight.”

She turned to face him, but her expression was not what he had expected. “Why? Why now, before we get home?”

He took her hand again. “Because you and I need each other to get thought this. We’ve suffered a terrible loss, Kathryn. We need to be there for each other, not just as captain and first officer. I need you. And I think you need me.”

She was undeterred, “You can’t do this. This crew needs you, too. They’ve been through so much, Chakotay. And the next few weeks will be pivotal for the Maquis. If they see you leave Starfleet now….”

She was right and he knew it. He’d be sending the wrong signal at the worst possible time. “Alright, I’ll put off handing you my resignation. But we’re going to have to amend our agreement, then—because I have no intention of leaving you alone tonight.”

She took a moment and thought again of the book she had just been reading. About how then-Captain James Kirk regularly broke every directive regarding fraternization—not only with members of his crew, but with women from alien races as well. Hadn’t she just been convincing herself that her circumstances—like Kirk’s times—had been very different from today’s normal Starfleet life. Couldn’t she make one more exception to her closely-held Starfleet principles. When she looked up into Chakotay’s eyes, she knew the answer.

“I wouldn’t let you out that door if you tried,” she said sincerely, the pain showing in her eyes. He smiled, sweetly, then leaned in to kiss her.

They spent the rest of the night sitting on her couch, hands entwined, talking though the accident, what went wrong, the friends they’d lost, their pain, and their next steps. After several hours, Kathryn fell soundly asleep in Chakotay’s arms, curled up in a bundle on her sofa. He had a decision to make, now. It wasn’t difficult; he shifted his weight slightly, just enough to wriggle his arms out of his uniform jacket. With great difficulty because of his injuries, he kicked-off his boots, and leaned back to make himself more comfortable. As if she had done it all of her life, Kathryn then instinctively rolled over to rest her head on his chest. He moved his arm around her shoulder, pulled her to him tightly, and stroked her hair until he dozed off.

For the rest of the night, in the worst of circumstances, hidden-away from their crew and with the weight of the world on both their shoulders, the woman who was the captain and the man who remained her first officer held each other and slept.

~*~*~*~*~

Seven of Nine wasn’t doing as well. She had spent the rest of her day avoiding everyone on board. She had taken her talk with B’Elanna seriously, and suspected the engineer’s evaluation was correct. There probably was some physiological component to her increasingly bad mood, but that didn’t make it any easier to cope with. She knew that the Doctor could probably help her, but—somehow—he was the last person she wanted to see right now. Still, it was getting late and she knew she needed to regenerate. She tried slipping in through the biolab, hoping the doctor would be occupied with caring for Commander Chakotay.

She hadn’t realized the first officer had already been released. Still, she was almost about to step into her alcove before the EMH noticed her. “Seven,” he said softly but firmly. “I think we need to talk.” He was walking toward her across his office. She tried ignoring him, and moved to activate the regeneration cycle. He put his hand across the panel, blocking her access. “Don’t make me order you to comply.” She knew his role as Chief Medical Officer afforded him certain authority over the crew where matters of health were concerned. In this case, resistance was, in fact, futile.

“Fine,” she said under her breath. There was no need to disturb Icheb’s regeneration, she reasoned, noticing the young man resting peacefully in the alcove next to hers. She stepped past the doctor and into his office.

Normally, Seven would have preferred to stand, but she once again found herself on the verge of physical exhaustion, so she took the seat across from the doctor’s desk. She was surprised when he didn’t scan her before sitting down himself. Instead, he keyed in a series of commands on his computer terminal and turned the screen to face her.

“These are the readings I took of you this morning. Your neurotransmitter levels are significantly lower than normal, and your body is showing signs of extreme fatigue as a result. I’d like to give you something to correct the imbalance. It will make you feel better.”

She nodded. “I know. I spoke to Lieutenant Torres this afternoon. She shares your diagnosis of my condition.” She paused. “I’m not sure…,” she wasn’t sure how to say this. “I don’t know if I want to ‘feel better’ just yet. I see the rest of the crew going about their work. They seem totally unaffected by what has happened, by how…irreparable this situation is. Somehow it seems wrong—disrespectful—to just get over it and move on.”

“Seven, I’m not suggesting that you ignore your grief.” He was speaking very softly, trying to be patient with her as she went through these unfamiliar emotions. “On the contrary, you need to experience all these feelings in order to get past them. But your body isn’t able to help you take the next steps. The treatment I’m proposing won’t take away your pain or your sense of loss. It will just help you cope with them.”

“I don’t think you’re capable of understanding how overwhelming these feelings are. You just can’t know what it’s like. You’re…” Even as she was saying it, the implications of her comment didn’t sink in to her.

The Doctor inferred her meaning, however. “Only a hologram,” he said matter-of-factly. It was something he’d never thought he would hear from her. Of all the crew, Seven had accepted his sentience without question, had championed his rights as an individual, and had never treated him as anything less than ‘human.’ Yet she was right. He’d never know the way one’s body chemistry could turn on itself. He could never be sure that his personality subroutines experienced emotions in the same ways as an organic heart and brain might. But he understood pain, he was sure. He was feeling it right now.

“Well, I suppose you’re right. But I assure you, Seven, I can understand how it feels to lose close friends, to watch them die and have to wonder if there wasn’t something you could have done to save them. I know what it’s like to know you’ll never see them again, never see your life the same way in light of their loss. I even know what it feels like to see someone you care for—deeply—in pain right before your eyes. And to wonder why she won’t let you help.”

He glanced at his arm to make sure he was wearing his mobile emitter. He was feeling the need for a quick exit, and he didn’t want to have to stop to transfer his program. It would make him feel even more like a walking database and less like a man. He was too close to those feelings at the moment without the extra reminder.

“I could help you though this, Seven, as your physician and as your friend. Frankly—I was hoping we could be there for each other.” His voice got quiet before he continued. “Let me know if you change your mind.” He stood up and rounded the desk.

“Doctor…” she called after him, but he didn’t turn back. The sickbay doors closed quietly behind him.

He wasn’t even sure where he was going. There was no holodeck to escape to, no patients to tend. He didn’t even have quarters to retreat to. He just knew he had to get out of that sickbay, and to put some distance between himself and Seven. There was only one way he could think of to feel useful. He entered the turbolift and called for Deck 11.

Tom wasn’t sorry to end his day third in command. Not only was he totally unsure he ever wanted such a big responsibility, his ‘demotion’ meant the captain and Chakotay were on the road to a full recovery. All he cared about now was enjoying a quiet dinner and a long night’s sleep with B’Elanna by his side. He was putting the finishing touches on his big surprise when his wife came home.

The computer lab never looked so romantic. Tom had fashioned a dining table out of a large cargo container, and had salvaged some of the few surviving flowers from the airponics bay.  Their dinner was a bit nicer than most of the crew were enjoying, since the engineering staff had each chipped in extra replicator rations to feed Voyager’s expectant mother. It was nothing fancy, but it was better than emergency provisions. He turned when he heard the doors open.

The effort and trouble he had taken—on top of all Tom had been forced to deal with during this insane and difficult day—took B’Elanna’s breath away. She stood just inside the door, shaking her head and smiling. “When did you have time to do all of this?” she asked. “Or is commanding Voyager easier than I thought?”

Tom smiled. “Icheb helped me rescue some things from our quarters. The rest—well, it was worth it just to see that look on your face.”

She smiled back at him. “What look?”

He walked toward her and pulled her into his arms. “I just haven’t seen you smile in a few days. I missed it. I’ve missed our ‘normal’ lives. I wanted to give you back a little of that.”

Her expression turned wistful. “Thank you,” she said as she leaned into his embrace. She pulled back slightly and began to laugh, “Although, I don’t think you and I have ever led ‘normal lives.’”

He smiled. “Okay, you’ve got me there. But I’ve loved the last few months. Coming home to you every night, sharing what happened during our day, falling asleep next to you. I’ve loved…”

She finished his sentence as she often did these days, “…being married.”

He smiled. “Being married to you.”

She couldn’t help but chuckle, “Who’d have believed it: Tom Paris, so easily domesticated!”

He was getting that intense and devious look in his eyes, and she loved where that was likely to lead. “I guess I just needed to find the right wife…” He leaned in to kiss her, with that perfect mix of passion and tenderness.

There was only so long she could let that kind of contact continue before she’d want more than just a kiss. That would have to wait until after dinner, she thought, keeping her promises to her doctor about her nutrition. Trying to distract them both from the mutual impulse, B’Elanna broke away from his embrace and decided to change the subject. “Dinner looks wonderful. I’m really hungry.”

Tom knew both he and B’Elanna had an appetite for more than just supper, but he also knew she had to take care of herself and the baby first. “Well, then let’s eat.”

He escorted her to the table and helped her onto one of the lab stools. Less than elegant dining chairs, but they would do. As B’Elanna began to nibble her salad, Tom remembered he had news to share. “I forgot to tell you. The Doc released Chakotay from sickbay.” She almost jumped back up out of her seat. “B’Elanna, sit down and eat. You can see him tomorrow. I don’t think he’d appreciate the company right now, anyway.”

She looked confused. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Tom tried to avoid smiling as he answered, “I dropped him off at the captain’s cabin a few hours ago. I told him to let me know if he wanted me to fix up quarters for him. Let’s just say he hasn’t called, and I’m not expecting him to.”

B’Elanna could only smile at that thought. She hoped it was true. Certainly, after all they had been through—and were likely to face in the coming days—her friends had earned a little mutual comfort and privacy. “Tom, you didn’t tell…” He interrupted.

“Nobody knows but you and me. And I don’t plan on telling anyone.”

At that, the enunciator sounded. Tom hoped to get rid of whoever was calling so late, and stood to walk to the door to make the point in person. The look on the face of his visitor changed his mind. “Doc? Is something wrong.”

“I was just in the neighborhood and thought I’d check on Lieutenant Torres and my goddaughter. One can’t be too careful in the last weeks of pregnancy.”

His story was obviously a pretense, but his friends didn’t care. Something was upsetting him, Tom could tell. “Sure, Doc, come on in.” The doctor walked into the lab and stood there awkwardly.

B’Elanna spun her stool around to face him. “Isn’t a medical tricorder usually necessary for a physical examination?” she asked. The Doctor’s hands were empty. He looked as flustered as he felt. She decided to give him an out. “If you’re here to spy on me, you’ll be happy to see I’m eating a nutritious meal then heading right to bed. I have a live-in medic, Doctor. You don’t need to worry.”

Their friend stammered to cover, “Yes, well…it’s good to see you’re following my instructions.” He couldn’t think of any other excuses to stay. “Well, I guess I’ll be going then.” He made no move to leave, however.

Tom wondered what was really going on, and was tired enough to get straight to the point. “Is something wrong, Doc?”

“I guess I’m just…. Well, I’ve released all of my patients, and with the main computer in such questionable condition, I’m hesitant to transfer my program out of the mobile emitter. So, I’m stuck online for the time being, and I guess I just wanted some company.” It was difficult for him to admit this to anyone, much less to Tom Paris. The Doctor and Tom had actually grown to like and respect each other during their years working closely in sickbay. But one of the parameters of their friendship was their ongoing banter, where each pretended to have little regard for the other. It kept the relationship light and comfortable, which is how they both preferred it. An admission of loneliness was an invitation for sarcasm the Doctor just didn’t feel up to at the moment. He was surprised when it never came.

“What about Seven? Isn’t she still staying in sickbay?” B’Elanna’s question was pointed. She wanted to know if her conversation that afternoon had helped.

From the look on the Doctor’s face, she guessed not. He didn’t seem to want to answer. “You know, if I’m interrupting you two…”

Tom Paris was more sensitive than most people gave him credit for. At least these days. He could tell the Doctor wanted to talk with B’Elanna, and that he was in the way. Despite the fact that his dinner and his wife were both rapidly cooling down, he decided to give them a few minutes alone. “Actually, I was just on my way to pick up something from our quarters. Why don’t you keep B’Elanna company until I get back?” He smiled at his wife, then headed out the door.

“He’s a lousy liar,” the doctor said, dryly.

“But he’s a good friend,” B’Elanna replied. “I think he thought this would be easier for you if he wasn’t here.” She motioned to Tom’s empty chair. “Why don’t you sit down and tell me what’s going on.”

He took her suggestion, but wasn’t sure how to begin. “B’Elanna, I’m worried about her. She’s not eating, she’s withdrawn, lethargic. She doesn’t have any interest in things she used to care about—her work, music…”

“You.” B’Elanna interjected.

He nodded his head before he continued. “I know I could help her, but she won’t let me. Not as her doctor or as her friend. I just couldn’t stand to watch her do this to herself. So I left.” He looked solemnly up at her. “Now, I’m not sure what to do. I know it’s not the same situation, but you’ve been there before, B’Elanna. If you could go back and change how Tom reacted to you back then, what would you have him do differently?”

Torres smiled. She took total responsibility for the way she had behaved during her own depression, and she knew Tom hadn’t realized exactly what was happening to her at the time. But she had thought about the answer to the Doctor’s question before. Tom had asked her the same thing as soon as she had recovered. “I’d ask him to be more persistent. I’d have him be there, even when I told him to get out. I’d make sure he knew it wasn’t his fault, that I was rejecting myself, not him. And I’d tell him to hold onto me—to us, even when I couldn’t.” She smiled softly at her friend. “That’s what I’d do.”

She leaned over and touched his hand. “Go back and tell her you’re not going anywhere. And mean it. Then just stay close. She’ll find you when she’s ready.”

The Doctor smiled, sadly, hoping his friend was right.

He stood outside the sickbay doors for a full ten minutes, trying to get up the courage to go back in. His fear almost got the better of him. Then he heard it, softly, though the bulkhead: music.

He walked in gently, not knowing what to expect. The lights were dimmed, and it took a second for his visual subroutines to adjust. For a moment, he thought the room was empty. Then he saw her, sitting on the floor against the back wall of the surgical bay, her knees pulled closely to her chest. Her head was down, resting on her crossed arms.

The Doctor walked over and sat down beside her. For a moment, they just rested there, silently, listening to the song.

Tell me, where is the shepherd for this lost lamb?

He reached over and put his hand on Seven’s arm, half expecting her to pull away. She didn’t. Instead she raised her head, still avoiding his gaze, and said softly, “I have injured you. I’m sorry.”

He couldn’t help but smile to himself. “I’ll be fine. But I’m not going to leave again. I’m going to help you through this, Seven, whether you want my help or not.” He reached over and turned her face toward him. Only then could he see the tears. This was a good sign.

She found the courage to look into his eyes. “We’ll help each other,” she said softly, then leaned her weight into his shoulder, and rested her face on his chest. She was silent—not so much as a sob—but he could feel her tears dampening his uniform, and he stroked her hair as she cried. He knew then that she’d be alright. They’d be alright.

It was almost an hour later that he felt her drift off to sleep. He would have recommended a full night of regeneration, but this would have to do. He moved her gently to a biobed, and prepared the hypospray: a mild sedative and an antidepressant. Then he kissed her softly on the forehead, and watched over her as she slept.

Six decks down, in the converted computer lab, B’Elanna Torres rolled onto her side and looked at the face of her now sleeping husband. He’d been so gentle with her—both physically and emotionally—in these last few weeks of her pregnancy. Under the worst of circumstances, this was ironically one of the best times in their relationship, she knew, when a crisis had actually pulled them together instead of apart. Yet she couldn’t help but think of how close they’d come to losing everything. The thought gave her chills.

She wiped a small bead of sweat off of Tom’s brow as she watched him. Somehow, these days, he didn’t look quite so childlike as he slept; she could see the toll this last week had taken. And she knew about the nightmares.

She was glad they were sharing one bed again; when he would slip into a fitful dream, she could be there, rub her hand on his chest, whisper to him that it would be alright, and fall back to sleep with him wrapped in her arms. She had survived the loss of close friends before—as had Tom—but these past experiences had taken a huge toll. She suspected the accident at Caldik Prime was a regular feature of Tom’s dreams these days—even if, this time, he wasn’t even remotely to blame for the loss of his friends. But Harry had meant so much to Tom, not only as a close friend, but as a symbol of and barometer for his reclamation and redemption. She knew that this hole in Tom’s life would probably never be filled. But—unlike Caldik Prime—this time Tom wouldn’t have to go through it all alone.

She saw his brow furrow, and reached a hand up to smooth it. “Shhh,” she said softly as he slept. “I’m here.” The she kissed his chest where her face lay, pulled him close to her and closed her eyes. “I’m right here.”

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