by Delta Story

January 2007

~ A VAMB Secret Santa Story ~

Disclaimers: As usual, Paramount/CBS own it all. I've borrowed characters, names and some 'facts' from canon, splashed in a healthy dose of Jeri Taylor's good stuff from Mosaic and Pathways and then tweaked it all with a few bits and pieces from my own little world.


Timeline: An A/U-ish story. Action takes place late in the first year of Voyager's seven-year journey.


Flames spewed from around the view screen, framing the helm console area in lapping tongues of iridescent reds and oranges. Electrical charges crackled, ionizing the air, its acrid pungency searing at delicate membranes of eyes, noses and throats. Through the smoky haze and chaotic situation, several bridge crew flew into a well-rehearsed routine, grabbing fire-extinguishing packets and racing to the blaze before it could engulf the bridge in a fiery inferno.

Reverberations from phaser hits to the hull rocked the ship, denying solid footing to anyone who remained standing. Janeway grabbed the railing in front of her but still her small body catapulted into the barrier. What little air she had managed to gulp in a few seconds earlier forcefully expelled itself with the powerful blow to her midsection.

"Status reports!" she managed to utter through a groan as her face contorted with the pain cascading through her torso.

"Direct hit on port side, between decks ten and eleven, Captain," Harry Kim choked out. "Glancing strikes to port nacelle and impulse engine housing, same side." His monitors buzzed and lit up like a firework display and she saw his eyes widen as reports came in from around the ship. "Three... four... no, five fires in engineering, Captain - they're working to contain them."

"Tuvok, get a team to that hull area; we can't take a chance with a breach," the Captain wheezed, her voice husky from the fetid air and her erratic breathing.

"Already done, Captain," the Vulcan answered, his fingers flying over his keyboard. "And might I add that our efforts appear to have caused as much damage to the lead Kazon vessel than we have sustained. It seems that one of our phaser bursts managed to destroy their central weapon bank and set off residual interior explosions. The ship is retreating."

Janeway struggled back to her conn chair and sank into its welcome support with a sigh. "Let's be thankful for small favors -one ship down and two to go."

Chakotay stumbled back to the conn area from leading the fire fighting efforts. His eyes widened as they followed a stream of information flooding his data screen, and he allowed a slight smile to form. "We may have some breathing room, Captain. It looks as if the other two Kazon vessels are dropping back to help with their damaged comrade ship."

Janeway shook her head. "Or to salvage the remains - I don't think any Kazon would be that altruistic. They'll probably gear up for another offensive, trying to gather in another vessel or two before they attack. I just hope we can be better prepared for them by then."

She leaned forward towards her console, ready to key in a message just as the screen came alive. "B'Elanna," she acknowledged as Torres' face appeared, her dark eyes piercing through the smoky haze that blanketed the area.

The chief engineer looked drawn yet animated as she spoke. "Captain, we've contained the fires here in engineering but the energy shocks have destabilized the warp core and we're going to have to take it offline for a while to make sure it's okay."

Janeway shook her head - this was not the news she needed right now. "How long?"

"An hour - two at the most," Torres responded. "But I'm short-handed right now. Ferguson was close to the warp core when it surged and Mertok and Tomai were directly in one of the fire fields. All three are in sickbay."

Janeway gave a silent nod to Chakotay who chimed in. "We'll get some support to you right away, B'Elanna. Are you alright?"

"I'm fine, but I'm concerned about having stable conditions for the repairs," the Klingon woman answered, her voice tense and on edge. "Are we going to have to prepare for another attack?"

"It seems that our 'friends' have retreated for the time being," Janeway answered. "I'm just now going to call for a stand down to yellow alert while we decide what to do - or where to go - next."

"Well, I have a couple suggestions as to where they could 'go' next - and what they could do with themselves when they got there!" B'Elanna fumed.

Janeway suppressed a grin at her chief engineer's vehement words. "I'm sure you do, Lieutenant; I'm sure you do! Just get that warp engine back on line."

"Yes, ma'am," came the curt reply. "I'll keep you posted."

Janeway arched her back and emitted a surprised gasp as she gripped her midsection.

"Are you alright, Captain?" Chakotay asked, noting her attempt to sublimate some obvious pain.

"I'll... I'll be fine, Commander; probably bruised something in that bit of jostling a little while ago."

"Maybe you should go see the doctor," he continued.

Her responding glare had enough power in it to fix the warp core. "I said that I'm fine, Chakotay. Besides, I'm sure the EMH more than has his hands full with the injuries from engineering. And we need to make some plans as to how we're going to prepare for our next encounter with Maje Fumal and his cohorts." She glanced around the area as several crewmen continued the clean up and repairs from the earlier attack. "I'm going to my ready room and I want to see you, Mr. Tuvok, Mr. Paris and Neelix in the briefing room in fifteen minutes - we've got to get something in place as soon as possible. I want to be more than ready for the Kazon-Relora when they return... and they will return, of that we can be certain."

Tuvok and Paris nodded their understanding as Chakotay hit his comm badge, alerting the Talaxian of the strategy meeting.


Janeway stood by the wide window behind her chair. She turned, suddenly broken away from her thoughts as the briefing room's doors opened and the invited quartet entered. As she walked back to the conference table, she swept her arm in a wide arc, a silent invitation for them to be seated. She took her place at the head of the table and hurriedly tucked some hair tresses into place that had fallen loose during the attack; she unconsciously held her side as she sat.

"Well, gentlemen, it seems as if the Kazon, in some shape, form or fashion, are going to be nipping at our heels for quite some time. No sooner do we get out of the territory of one sect than we find we are violating the space of another one - Olga, Nistram, Hobii, Relora. I can barely learn the name of one sect and there's another one, another Maje to face off with and try to placate." She turned to Neelix, her face riddled with questions. "Just how much space in the Delta Quadrant is populated by these people, Mr. Neelix?"

The Talaxian squirmed in his seat. "I really can't say, Captain. They're rather nomadic and the sects do little to communicate with one another. Their one common goal is to rid themselves of domination by the Trabe or anyone that appears to be like the Trabe and will travel far and wide to accomplish just that. As long as we wave our technological superiority in their faces, they'll be there to attack us."

"That's not what I wanted to hear," the captain sighed. She twisted a lose lock of hair, as if to stimulate her thoughts. "How come I feel like everywhere we turn, we have a junkyard dog nipping at our heels? I... we... have no real quarrel with them; how do we get rid of them? Although I'm certain we could win battles, I'm not so sure of winning the war. These skirmishes are taking their toll and as long as we have them ganging up on us in packs, the damage could be severe, if not fatal."

Tuvok cleared his throat. "Captain, I may have a suggestion."

"That's what we're here for," Janeway responded.

"Our sensors have pinpointed a small planetary system a light year away. Most of the planets, although they are not M-class, are surrounded by thick atmospheres and they are separated by several asteroids belts of high ferric content. Might I suggest that we head to this area? I believe there would be enough electromagnetic disruption to camouflage our position long enough to discourage the Kazon from searching any further for us."

Chakotay's eyes brightened. "Harry says that our deflector shields are functioning at almost a hundred percent. We could use them to reflect tachyon particles, hopefully enough to further lead any Kazon ships on a wild goose chase. We can monitor them on long range scans and as soon as we have full warp and repairs in place, jump ahead in the opposite direction."

Janeway nodded, her face rigid and expressionless. "Yes, that just might work - for now. But I'm concerned about how many of these marauders lay ahead and how we can better defend ourselves then." She stiffly rose from her chair and began to pace around the table, her eyes flitting back and forth from each of the men. "Voyager is a good ship and this crew knows how to take care of her. But she can take only so much battering. The same is true with our crew - with every skirmish, we risk more loss of life. If we are to survive returning to the Alpha Quadrant, we must minimize all of these risks."

"Maybe we should consider a wide swing around this area and try to evade the Kazon completely," Paris interjected. "What's another few thousand light years if we can save our ship and butts?"

Chakotay shifted uneasily in his chair, his eyes locking onto those of Paris. "And what if there is some other group of Delta Quadrant inhabitants that are more advanced than the Kazon and do more than - as the captain said - 'nip at our heels'? We've already faced the Vidiians and..."

"But the Vidiians are just as widespread as the Kazon," interrupted Neelix. "I know that it may sound foolhardy, but I think we should stay the course and just know that we will have these continued encounters for a while longer. If we can get our reserves up and be prepared, I'm sure that Captain Janeway can get us through. There are several planet systems ahead in our current course that are inhabited with populations that would be sympathetic to our plight."

The captain placed her hands on the back of one of the empty chairs, silent but obviously thinking about the available options. With a sigh, she resumed her pacing. "As tempting as it sounds to change our route and take our chances in making a flank maneuver around the Kazon, we are getting low on energy and supplies, especially now that we need to make major repairs to the ship. If Mr. Neelix says that there are indeed a few worlds with potential friends and allies along the current direction, we need to stay the course and take our chances with future encounters with the Kazon. We must be ever vigilant with our sensor readings for potential problems and always try the diplomatic solution first. In the meantime, I think that Lieutenant Tuvok's plan of hiding ourselves amongst the asteroids while we complete our repairs, along with the use of the tachyon 'red herring' signals suggested by Commander Chakotay, is a valid plan. Do we know of any problems in navigating the area?"

Tuvok's dark face became darker with a shadow of concern. "It would seem that we could navigate the area without many problems, particularly with a good pilot at the helm." A wide smile came across Tom Paris' face with the unexpected compliment from the Vulcan. "However, the strongly magnetic materials that make up most of the asteroids and the many photonic storms we've noted within the planets' atmospheres might interfere with some of our sensing and communication equipment."

"How about a scouting run in a shuttle, just to get a better feel for any problems?" Tom asked. "As soon as we get within a few hundred thousand kilometers of the system, I could make a quick flight."

"But what if you got into trouble?" Janeway asked, obviously concerned. "How would we get in contact with you?"

"I can take some phosphoritic flares with me. When discharged, their trails can be seen by sensors for thousands of kilometers - visual sensors shouldn't be affected by the EM fluxes from the asteroids."

Janeway shook her head, still not convinced. "You're our best pilot, Tom; I don't know if I want to risk you in such a trip."

Chakotay cleared his throat. "I can do it, Captain; I've been known to handle shuttlecraft pretty well."

"And you have been known to lose a couple, too, Commander," Janeway smirked. She drummed her fingers on the back of one of the chairs, weighing the possibilities. Finally she began moving again, her decision made. "No, it's Tom's plan and I say we let him do it. But - you are not to go alone, Tom." Before Chakotay could volunteer, she continued. "I'll go with you."

"You?" Chakotay yelled, jumping to his feet. "That's absurd - you're needed on Voyager!"

"And following through with this idea is my decision, Commander," she retorted, her hands-on-hips position defying him to challenge her again. "Besides, as Mr. Paris has stated, we will never be out of sensor sight of Voyager. And - it will allow you to play 'captain' for awhile," she continued, her smile taking on a bit a mischievousness. Can I trust you with that?"

Chakotay knew his hand been called. He shook his head, once more conceding who was the 'boss' on Voyager. "Yes, Captain."

"Good. Now that this is settled, you and Tuvok follow through cataloging on the damage we've sustained and getting a priority list made. Neelix, I'd like for you to get together with Mr. Kim to get our sensor systems attuned for phosphoritic flares and other auxiliary means of communication. Mr. Paris, I want you to get a shuttlecraft ready for our little excursion, laying in any supplies that you think we might need for working within an area of magnetic fluxes for a few hours. I'm going to engineering to see how B'Elanna is progressing with the warp core repairs. As soon as we can get to warp, even if it's only 1.5, we'll head to the asteroids."

The quartet nodded their understanding of Janeway's assignments and exited the briefing room. As the doors slid closed behind them, the captain arched her back and the smile that had been on her face suddenly became a grimace of pain.


Torres' fingers flew over the control panel at the main station in engineering and a wide grin broke across her face as she looked up at the swirling eddies within the warp core. "That's it, Captain - I think we can manage to get speeds up to about warp five for at least a few hours... long enough to make it to the asteroid system."

Janeway way patted her chief engineer on the back, the smile on her face mirroring the one on B'Elanna's. "Good work as always, Lieutenant." She looked around at the other eight people scattered at various posts in the cavernous room. "And thank you to all of you who have helped out. This latest encounter has hit this section hard, but you all have responded with outstanding efforts. With a little bit of time - and luck - we'll have everything back to full function within a day or two."

Joe Carey peered out from underneath the console where he had been working. "How are Ferguson, Myra Tomai and Mertok?" he queried about his injured co-workers.

Janeway's smile faded a bit with his concern. "Myra and Mertok are responding well and should be back with you shortly. But the doctor says Tim has some internal radiation damage that's responding a bit more slowly to treatment." Not wanting to precipitate any undue anxiety with the already strained department, she quickly changed her tone to one of optimism. "But you know our EMH - I'm sure he'll have Mr. Ferguson trading tirades with all of you again very soon."

"Good," B'Elanna nodded. "We wouldn't want it to get too peaceful down here without him."

Janeway tried to contain a chuckle. "I'm sure that will never happen as long as we have you here, Lieutenant."

A few chortles from the rest of the crew drew a stern look from their chief but the buzz of Janeway's comm badge cut off any retort that the Klingon woman might have had.

"Janeway here."

"Captain, I have the shuttlecraft Hubble ready anytime Voyager is up to a following speed," Tom Paris informed her.

"She's ready now, Mr. Paris, according to our splendid engineering staff. Let's meet again with Tuvok, Kim and Chakotay and make our final plans - my ready room in ten minutes."


The entry hatch of the Hubble slid closed behind Janeway and Paris. Paris immediately began a final checklist in preparation for their launch while Janeway hit her comm badge a final time before departure.

"No closer than 200,000 kilometers, Commander," she said. "No sense in putting Voyager into any danger of the EM fluxes than necessary."

"Understood," Chakotay's voice rang back. "We have Ensign Jenkins at the helm and next to Tom, she's our best pilot."

"Not you, Commander?" Janeway's voice joked back at him, knowing that he still felt badly about losing one of the shuttlecraft in his recent solo trip during which he had an altercation with the Kazon and one of their young soldiers.

"If I did, who would be keeping your chair warm?" he countered back.

"Just don't let it get to be a habit," she said, not letting him get the last word. "We'll keep in communication with you as long as we can, then I hope you can trace our path alright. We have a dozen phosphoritic flares ready for use as a final necessity. Janeway out."

Paris signaled the large doors of the shuttle bay to open and the Hubble glided through the gaping orifice into the darkness punctuated ahead with the dark forms of the asteroid field.

The next few minutes were silent as the two shuttle inhabitants continued adjusting instruments for trajectory and communications. Tom finally broke the eerie silence while still keying in information. "So - do you trust Commander Chakotay to act as captain in your absence?" Tom queried with a smile.

"Oh, I'm not worried about any job security," Janeway countered. "Are you? Sara Jenkins is a mighty good helmsman and I've heard some stories about some fancy maneuvers she can pull with just about any form of spacecraft that comes her way."

"If that's true, why didn't you choose her to be your number one pilot? You obviously knew of her skills when she came aboard. Why not her in that position instead of an ex-con?" Tom's words sounded light, but his face darkened as he obviously thought back to Janeway's initial reasons for 'recruiting' him.

"I'll admit that sometimes I wonder about that myself," she countered. "Maybe I just like to see the constant sparks between you and Commander Chakotay."

Again her words hit a hot spot in the man. "That's over, Captain. Ever since I pulled him out of that crumbling cave on the Ocampan planet, he's owed me and he knows it."

"Hmm. They way I hear it, that particular debt has long been repaid," she declared. "Besides, I think that he thinks that you're always doing something a little bit... shall we say... covert, not quite legal..." Her eyes began dancing as she saw him redden.

"Look, as long as no one is hurt, what's the problem with a little bit of fun and games? It's not like he can report anything to Starfleet..." He stopped short as the meaning of her words hit home. "You know about that? Uh, oh. And I guess he does report to you ..."

She reached across to him and tapped him gently with her fist. "Relax, Lieutenant; neither the commander nor I will interfere with your 'fun and games' unless it does begin to impede on the ship's operations... or harms someone. Besides, I think it's good for crew morale to let them think that you're pulling something off behind command's back." She leaned over towards him and winked. "Just don't let them know that I know."

The sweat that had begun to slide down his temples suddenly stopped in its tracks and a look of relief swept over his face. "Thanks, Captain - it will be our little secret."

"For a week's worth of replicator rations," she continued jibing him.

A sudden jolt to the ship interrupted the conversation. "Looks like we're hitting the outskirts of the asteroid belt," Tom said, fingers logging in flight moves. "Hold on, Captain; it could get a little bumpy before this is over."

Janeway's attention focused on the sensor system displays in front of her. "Just get us in there, Tom. I want to find something that will act as a fortress until we can get ourselves back to fighting strength. And with a little bit of luck, maybe some of these asteroids will contain some dilithium or deuterium." With what seemed to be a third hand, she hit the comm link to Voyager. "Mr. Kim - can you read us?"

The ensign's face and voice showed up clearly on the view screen. "So far, no problems, Captain."

"I'm keeping this channel open, Harry. Lock in on us and hold that frequency," she stated. "Tell Ensign Jenkins that she's doing a good job at keeping up with us yet giving Voyager plenty of space to back out if the ride gets too rough. And let Lieutenant Torres know that we're keeping our eyes open for any possible energy sources."

"Yes, ma'am," Kim smiled back at her.

Tom's skills steered the small craft into a slalom-like pathway through the large space rocks. While the deflector shields bounced the smaller ones off into new trajectories like ping-pong balls, he careened through the bigger ones with dexterity. His face radiated with pure pleasure as he dodged the huge hunks of solid minerals.

Janeway sat back in her seat, watching with obvious admiration as the younger man applied his expertise to the helm. A sudden 'breep' from the sensors in front of her drew her attention back to her job on their expedition.

"Tom, I think I've found something. There's a moon-sized asteroid about 50,000 kilometers away. Its composition looks as if it's got enough ferric content to shield any warp signals that might give away Voyager's position. Do you think that Jenkins can follow your path through this maze?"

"Sara is a good pilot and I know that she enjoys 'shooting the asteroids' as much as I do - she won the Terra system tournament two years in a row when she was at the Academy."

"You seem to know quite a bit about Ensign Jenkins, Lieutenant. Why is that?" There was a teasing tone to Janeway's question.

Tom's face reddened a bit. "Not for the reason you're probably thinking," Tom mumbled. "I just like to keep track of anyone who might be making a run for the record."

Janeway smiled knowingly. "And do I know the someone who holds the record?"

"Just might," he smiled, rapidly losing any earlier modesty. "I won it in '64,'66 and '67 and have the all-time speed record for the 2366 contest."

"What happened in 2365?" she asked, curious about the gap.

"I... I was away that semester. Went to France for a year," he responded, not adding anything else and concentrating on the dense field of rock they were in.

"Oh, yes; I remember reading that in your files. If I recall correctly, we have that year in France to thank for the Sandrine's holodeck program," she said with a grin. Another signal from the sensors drew her attention back to the task at hand. "I think we'd better get in touch with Voyager about..."

Her comment was interrupted as the small craft suddenly jolted, twisting into a sixty-degree arc, throwing Janeway into the instrument panel. "Sorry, Captain," Paris shouted, attempting to stabilize the ship's rotational movement. "It's hard to keep ahead in compensating for all these fluxes."

"I think I've just bruised my bruise," she groaned, settling back into the back of her seat, her right arm cradling her midriff.

Paris eased the ship into a stabilized forward movement pattern. "What bruise?" he queried, daring to glance away from his instruments towards her.

"I took a bit of a blow during that little fiasco with the Kazon earlier," she answered, leaning back but obviously favoring the tender area right above her waist.

"What did the doc say about it?" Tom asked, his visual attention still alternating between panels and view screen.

""Never saw him," she answered, her lips tightening to hold back a show of pain. "But it's alright - just a bit of a bump."

Tom's eyes narrowed, giving her a visual reprimand, the most he could do in response to a commanding officer. "You know that..."

She cut him off before he could say anything. "Yes, I know, Tom. But there were other things that had higher priorities - like attacking Kazon raider vessels, fires all over Voyager and a limping warp core."

"We could have held off in our little excursion," he interjected. "At least long enough for you to get yourself checked out. That's only common sense... and a command officer's responsibility to stay fit."

"That's quite enough, Mr. Paris," Janeway snapped. "I'll be fine."

The comm line activated and Chakotay's face appeared in front of them. "Captain, looks like our friends have discovered our trail. We're going have to come into that asteroid belt earlier than we wanted if we're to prevent their catching up with us. What's your status?"

"We've run into some magnetic turbulence but Tom's plotting a course that will give us wider access. And we've found an asteroid that should shield Voyager enough. We can also spray out those tachyon patterns within the belt; that should further confuse them. But I don't think it would wise to tackle a flight through here at more than warp two. I'm sending you our coordinates and Tom's trajectory right now."

Chakotay's eyes flashed to his monitor. "Got them!" he smiled. "And Jenkins is nodding that she has them, too. We'll be following you to what I hope will be a safe haven."

"As do we, Commander." A blinding white flash shot across the monitor in front of her then there was nothing - only a dark screen with a snow of static.

Tom's face jerked around at the suddenly silence. "What happened?" he asked.

Janeway's fingers flew across the instrument board in front of her. "I don't know; maybe those magnetic fluxes have put us offline with Voyager. I'm working to get the link back." Her face grew taut with concentration as she tried various wavelengths.

"Nothing," she said with exasperation, turning to the sensor readings, looking for anything that might have disrupted the communications. "That's strange - we still have long range sensors on line. They should have been disrupted at the same time." She looked at Tom, her eyes wide and bright against her white face. "Unless..."

"Unless it was on Voyager's end," Tom said, finished her thought.

The long-range sensors began flashing their readouts as he spoke and they gasped in unison. They saw readings for two ships: one Federation and one Kazon.

"Voyager's been hit!" she cried out in panic. "That's why we went off-line!"

"We don't know that, Captain. It could still be electromagnetic interference," Tom said gently, trying to calm her. "Let's not jump to conclusions."

"No, no - I can feel it, Tom! Something awful has happened." Her voice became shrill and strident, her body rigid and tense. She began keying in alternate communication paths to the sensors in an attempt to get more information. A cold sweat broke out one her forehead and her breathing came in rapid pants.

Tom pulled the shuttle behind a large asteroid, quickly slowing the engines to hover mode so that he could attend to the captain's erratic actions. He reached over to Janeway, trying to calm her frenetic movements. "Captain, slow down; this isn't you. There is no reason to panic; I'm sure Chakotay and Tuvok have things under control. After all, it's only one ship..."

"We've got to help them," she continued, her eyes wild and wide with fear. "They need us!" The beads of sweat ran down her cheeks and she appeared to have lost all color. Her face, though normally angular, seemed more so, pinched with some sort of pain. "I'm going to send off one of the phosphoritic flares," she said, twisting out of her seat to get to one of the starboard panels while trying to elude Tom's reach.

She had barely gotten onto her feet when she turned to look at him. Her face was ashen; she hit the 'send' button to the flare and reached for him, barely able to say his name before she crumbled to the floor of the shuttle.

"Captain!" he yelled as he jumped to her side. Instinctively, he placed his hand on her forehead - her skin was cold and clammy. His fingers sought the pulse in her neck and he noted that her heart was beating faster than that of a scared rabbit. "Shock... she's in shock," he mumbled under his breath as he grappled through the paraphernalia he had stashed earlier. "Med tricorder... I know there's one here."

His hands finally located the instrument. He quickly turned it on and began scanning her inert form on the floor. Something was definitely wrong with Janeway: her breathing was shallow and almost matched her racing heart. He rolled her over onto her back and noticed that there was a swelling around her waist. He forgot any protocol and, with his free hand, he ripped away her jacket and rolled up the lower edge of her turtleneck. A mound of reddish purple taut flesh met his eyes as the tricorder told him what he feared: Captain Janeway had suffered a massive contusion earlier on Voyager and she added more injury to it when she slammed into the shuttle instrument panel. But, more seriously, the instrument indicated that she had a lacerated liver and was bleeding internally.

Tom sank back onto his heels and ran a hand through his hair. "What a time to lose contact with Voyager - I really need to talk to the doctor," he mumbled as if someone would answer him. He reached over to the front panel, trying to call up Voyager but all he got was the earlier static of nothingness.

"Okay - let's not panic," he continued. "Basic first aid for shock: keep the patient warm." He pulled her clothing together and reached into the overhead compartment and found a blanket, covering her from neck to over her feet. "Feet - I think you're supposed to raise the legs to stabilize internal bleeding," he continued with his mental checklist, grabbing a cushion from her shuttle seat.

Janeway moaned and began thrashing around in the cocoon he'd placed her in. "Shhh, shhh - it's okay, Captain; just stay still," he whispered while attempting to lightly restrain her from further movement.

Her eyes flitted open, giving a glint of life to her otherwise deadly appearance. "What... what's the problem?" she asked, trying to sit up.

He gently pushed her back to the prone position. "Seems your insides have taken a bit of a beating. You've got some bleeding coming from a hepatic tear. You've got to take it easy."

"Voyager..." she muttered.

"We still can't get them. But I'm sure we'll hear from them soon," he said, his voice trying to sound reassuring. "And I brought along a medical tricorder," he smiled, holding the instrument up so she could see it. "I'll bet I can find something in it that will help."

"The shuttle database," she murmured, trying to get up again. "Maybe I can find something..."

"No!" Tom cried out, pushing her back yet again, much more forcibly than he meant. "You've got to stay still, Captain - we don't want to make it any worse. I'll make a search and, in the meantime, I'm going to see about making some modifications to this tricorder and see if something will help."

"My head's spinning," she moaned.

"So lay back - that should stop it," he answered, putting down the instrument and easing her into a more comfortable position. "Now take it easy; that's an order, Captain."

She started to say something but another wave of pain caught her and her face became pinched as she tried to take a deep breath to stave it off. As the pain ebbed, her face relaxed somewhat and her eyes closed; her head lolled to one side.

"Captain!" Tom yelled, thinking the worst, reaching to feel for a pulse in her carotid artery. But her heart rhythms were still there and even calmed somewhat. Her skin felt a bit warmer and less clammy, too - maybe he was doing something right for a change.

He felt secure enough with her stabilization to sit back and think through his idea with the tricorder. The readings had told him that the tear was about three centimeters long. It hadn't damaged any of the major hepatic vessels and, because of the thick vascularization of the organ, the loss wasn't coming at an alarming rate. Still, she had already lost a little more than a liter of blood and it was continuing to leak. In a couple more hours, the blood loss would be fatal; he had to find a way to at least partially mend the tear.

He rifled through the items in the med kit he had thrown together before they left. Past experiences with his skiing expeditions during Academy days had taught him that you could never be over-prepared for emergencies. The dermal regenerator wouldn't work, neither would the osteo-regenerator; he needed something that could mend the internal injury without adding more trauma to her body. He began to break out in a cold sweat as his own anxiety levels rose.

What he needed was some sort of micro-cauterizer, a laser beam that he could aim at the tear and seal it. The medical tricorder could guide his efforts but it didn't have any ability to act as a cauterizing device. He drummed his fingers against his head - there had to be something! Then the answer jumped out at him. Resting against the med kit was his phaser: maybe he could rig up some way that he could miniaturize a phaser beam to do the job. The leak was far enough away from her heart and lungs that with a steady hand, a microscopic beam might work.

Tom rummaged through the toolbox and found a package of mylar putty. He managed to attach the control compartment of phaser to the auxiliary attachment port on the med tricorder and adjusted the weapon to emit the narrowest beam possible. He aimed the phaser at the back of his seat and drew a fine line with the outburst as he squeezed the release. A narrow black line appeared in the polyresin mesh as the fabric melted that immediately resealed itself as it cooled. There wasn't any residual smoke and ash, only a faint line where he had aimed the weapon.

Time for a test on a biological subject. He didn't want to try anything on the unconscious woman so he settled for himself. He rolled up his pants leg, exposing the tight muscles of his calf. He figured that a small amount of damage to that area of his body would be the least likely to cause him a debilitating injury that would prevent him from piloting the shuttle. He keyed in the information into the med tricorder: scar tissue on soleus muscle. An old injury had left residual scar tissue that he could use as a target. Gritting his teeth and holding his breath, he released the phaser charge.

He grimaced as a small burst of pain followed in the wake of the phaser beam but it disappeared almost as quickly as it had appeared. The tricorder readings indicated that the beam had found its target and a small amount of the scar tissue had been burned away. A small red circle, no wider than a couple of millimeters, indicated where the beam had entered his leg. He flexed his foot, testing the movement in the leg - he couldn't feel anything amiss. Maybe his jerry-rigged instrument would work! He'd wait a few more minutes to see if there was any residual injury to his leg.

In the meantime, he wanted to make sure that Janeway was stable. A quick scan with the tricorder indicated that she was no worse off than she had been five minutes earlier. He scooted back into the pilot's chair, adjusting the engines to hold the shuttle in its hover pattern. Another check of the sensors showed EM interference now that they were within the shadow of the large asteroid. But Janeway had managed to release the flare before she collapsed - maybe Voyager had seen it.

Paris put his leg through several more exercises. Satisfied that he hadn't harmed himself with the make-shift laser treatment, he knew it was time to try it on his captain. He knelt down beside her and supported her body as best he could with several cushions from the seats. He pulled back her jacket and rolled up the gray undershirt. The livid tones of the bruised area pulled taut by the seeped fluids within her abdominal cavity jutted out like an overripe Tarunian melon. The ugly convex area had to have been almost twenty centimeters across and a good ten centimeters from top to bottom. Tom gently touched the protrusion, finding it hard and warm, quite in contrast to the pale cool skin of the rest of her body.

A slight tremor shook his hands as he adjusted the bulky instrument, locating the source of the internal tear. He held the phaser end over the area and took a couple of quick breaths to calm himself. Then, holding his breath, he squeezed the trigger, following the designated area indicated by the tricorder.

Janeway groaned and shifted as the beam did its job. With his free hand, he steadied her so that the shaft of energy would remain on target. She settled down with his touch, as if assured that he was helping her. A faint odor of burnt flesh wafted to his nose, something he hadn't noted with the 'experiment' on himself; but then, the entry area on her was much larger than it had been on him.

He scanned the internal area and let out a sigh of relief - it appeared the tear had been sealed. There was still some slow leakage, but that might just be from the burn inflicted on the tissue. It had worked.

Tom used the dermal regenerator to heal the outer burns to her skin, adjusted her clothing and covered her with the blanket. Shock could still be a factor and he had to keep her warm.

He suddenly realized that he was freezing. A quick check of the instrument panel showed that the temperature within the shuttle was dropping - earlier, he had diverted energy from the climate control system to enhance the deflector shields, to try to prevent major jarring of the shuttle by surrounding asteroids while he worked on Janeway. He hesitated in adjusting the allocation yet, as he wanted to make sure that she was out of danger.

His thoughts were interrupted by a crackle from the comm. He hit the activation panel and sighed with relief as Chakotay's face began to appear on the screen. The man's lips moved but there still wasn't any sound. Tom adjusted the frequency and words came through as the picture cleared.

"Captain... Tom... are you reading me?"

"We're here, Commander," Tom smiled as he climbed into his seat. "Good to hear and see you again." As he spoke, he tried to straighten up the disheveled appearance of the small cabin.

Chakotay's eyes darkened as he scanned his visual field into the shuttlecraft. "Is everything alright? Where's Captain Janeway?"

"Uh... she's resting, Commander; we had a small problem," he answered.

"Seems that we both did. You first - what's your situation?" Chakotay queried.

"The shuttle is okay. Uh... how did you find us?"

"Your phosphoritic flare," Chakotay answered. "But we almost lost it in the middle of another encounter we had with the Kazon. Tom - the Captain..."

Tom rubbed his hand across his face, trying to wipe away the sudden weariness he felt. "I think she took quite a beating in that earlier skirmish today; then, when we hit some rough going through the asteroid field, she re-injured herself and things got a bit tricky."

"But she's okay now?" Chakotay's face became dark with concern.

Tom allowed a slight smile. "As far as I can tell. I'd brought along some med stuff and I think we're alright. But she should definitely see the doc as soon as possible. Speaking of which..."

"We're following the coordinates you sent earlier. Following them, we should have your trail and pick you up on sensors in about..." He turned around, obviously waiting for a confirmation from Kim. "...in about sixty-three minutes. I'm sure we'll be able to pick up your tachyon signals soon."

"What about the Kazon ship?" Tom asked, suddenly concerned about another attack.

"Chakotay shook his head. "We won't have to worry about that particular ship again - we'll fill you in when we get to you. In the meantime, we're scattering any residual evidence from out path. "

Tom's face relaxed, reading Chakotay's unspoken words. "Some good news... finally! And I think this location will provide a good safe haven for Voyager for a few days. The asteroid is about two thousand kilometers in diameter, enough to hide Voyager in hover mode. I'm getting strong geomagnetic readings from some of the cavernous areas, so we might find deuterium there."

Chakotay allowed his face to soften. "Good job, Tom - on all accounts. Hang tight; we'll see you soon."

The view screen slipped into safe mode. Tom let out breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and slipped onto the floor, next to Janeway. "You hear that, Captain? Voyager's on her way." He brushed some loose strands of her hair back from her forehead and noticed that her face was less pallid. Her features were still drawn, but the clamminess of an hour ago had dissipated. He studied her for a couple of minutes, trying to imagine the pain she had been in. "You are one hell of a woman," he murmured, brushing her cheek. "And beautiful, too." He blushed slightly, realizing that, even though she was unconscious, she still may have heard him.

Even though the temperature of the shuttle was on the rise, he thought she still felt cold. Without a second thought, he slipped in next to her, pulling the blanket snuggly over both of them, hoping that his added body warmth would add to the healing process. Exhausted, he fell asleep within seconds of lying down and curling around her small frame.


Tom sat up, startled and disoriented, as the comm module crackled with Chakotay's voice. "Tom? Are you there?"

The younger man let out a gasp as he saw where he had been, snuggled next to his captain, spooning her like an Academy coed. He groaned as he climbed over to the command module in the shuttle, hoping that Chakotay wouldn't notice how his body had unconsciously responded to the sleeping woman. "We're here, Chakotay," he finally managed to mumble.

"As are we," Voyager's acting captain said. "You want to bring the Hubble aboard or do you want us to use the tractor beam?"

"Uh... I can manage, Commander." He rubbed his face and began taking readings. "Sorry; I seem to have dozed off for awhile."

"How's the captain?" Chakotay asked.

Tom looked down at the sleeping woman, noting that her breathing had become deeper and slower. "I think she's better. But I'll be glad to get her to sickbay as soon as possible."

"We can transport her there right now," Chakotay offered.

"Yeah, why don't you?" Tom answered. "I'll meet you there as soon as I get the shuttle docked."

"Good," Chakotay nodded. "See you in a few minutes."

Tom looked around at his 'patient', who had begun to stir. He reached behind his chair and patted her leg. "Hang on, Kathryn - we're almost there. We're going to beam you directly to sickbay."

Her eyes sprang open with surprise and just before she de-materialized in the shower of transport, she managed to eke out one word. "Kathryn?"


Paris barely spoke to the team waiting for him in the shuttle bay. He broke all records for his final check of the instruments and ran for the turbolift to get him to sickbay.

Chakotay had just arrived at the medical facility, too, and turned to greet Tom, slapping him across the shoulders as he puffed his way to the entrance. "Take it easy, Lieutenant; the doctor says she'll be fine."

Kes' smiling face turned to greet the pair as they entered. "Commander... Tom," she said, ushering them over to the large circular area containing the surgical facilities.

The EMH stood over the tubular surgical compartment, engrossed in his assessment of the captain's condition.

"How is she, Doc?" Tom blurted out.

The holographic doctor turned to him. "Resting but stable." He shook his head, obviously replaying what he had just seen with their senior officer. "Whatever you did to staunch the bleeding seems to have worked, Mr. Paris. A primitive method but acceptable. If it hadn't been stopped by now, I don't think there's much even I could have done to save her."

"Desperate times, desperate measures, Doc," the young man blushed.

"Hmm," the EMH continued as he pulled the diagnostic chamber back from their slumbering captain. "As much as I hate to admit it, you just might have some natural medical talent hidden somewhere in that undisciplined mind of yours. I want to read a report of everything you did."

"And you'll get it as soon as I have his report," Chakotay said, obviously relieved. He took Paris' elbow and steered him towards the door. "Come on, Tom - we have a lot of work to do."

Paris twisted out of the older man's grasp. "With all due respect, Commander, I'd like to stay here with the captain until she regains consciousness," he pled.

The doctor saved Chakotay from having to deny Tom his request. "I've sedated her, Lieutenant, and it will be a while before she's awake." He looked at Chakotay and Tom. "I'll alert both of you as soon as she's awake."

"Promise?" Tom asked.

"Promise," the EMH nodded.


If Tom had felt exhausted on the shuttle, he was past that point now as he walked onto the bridge. His adrenalin high had bottomed out and he almost felt worse than he ever had with any of his alcoholic hangovers. All he wanted to do was to fall into a warm bed and sleep.

Ensign Jenkins moved to relinquish the helm to him as soon as she saw him, but Chakotay waved her off. "The helm is still yours, Jenkins. I need to debrief Mr. Paris and then fill him in on what our status is."

"Yes, sir," the woman acknowledged, turning back to her post while the convoluted surface of the large asteroid filled the bridge view screen, hovering a about a hundred kilometers from them.

"Paris, Tuvok, Kim - briefing room." Chakotay's words came out in a sharp staccato. Tom sighed as he slowly followed the others to the meeting room.

The doors closed and the quartet settled themselves around the large table, sequestered in a tight formation at one end.

"First off - welcome back, Mr. Paris, and thank you for pulling Captain Janeway through a difficult ordeal." Without looking at the young man, he continued, his words perfunctory and a bit hesitant. "Seems that your actions continue to show you to be a responsible person."

"Yes, I can be, you know," Tom snapped back, his weariness making him less than respectful of Chakotay's rank. He felt Harry's elbow nudge him sharply, reminding him of his place. Tom continued, attempting to soften his barbed response. "I'm sure any of us would have done the same, Commander."

Chakotay gave him a terse look but tried to back peddle his own biting words. "Thanks to your efforts, you have also led Voyager to this isolated place where we can hopefully get ourselves repaired and take on some energy sources. I've already assigned an engineering team to go to the asteroid to investigate the source of your readings."

"How is Voyager?" Tom asked. "Before we lost contact with you, we saw that there was a Kazon ship on your tail. Where did it come from? Was it one of the vessels that had retreated earlier?"

Chakotay shook his head. "No, it came from the opposite direction. We think it came in response to a hail made by one of the other ships."

"Yeah, it was like it pulled a flank maneuver around the asteroid field," Harry continued. "Its presence and signals were masked by the electromagnetic fields of the asteroids, just as we have planned to be. All of a sudden, it was there."

Tom was still puzzled. "But you said that we won't have to be worried about it anymore. What happened? Did you run them off, too?"

"They were a bit more persistent than the earlier vessels. In fact, we have more damage to repair from their phaser strafing than from the earlier attacks. But Tuvok devised an interesting modification to our own phaser banks that put an end to it quickly," Chakotay said, turning to the tactical officer. "Care to let Tom in on your own bit of tweaking, Tuvok?"

With his usual Vulcan downplay of any form of heroic efforts, Tuvok raised an eyebrow and added his part of the narrative. "It was rather simple in design. All I did was to recalibrate the phaser harmonics, allowing a single discharge to be broken into several hundred smaller discharges, over an arc of fire of one hundred and fifty-five point seven degrees. In essence, the phaser array had a target of almost half the Kazon vessel, disrupting many system arrays at the same time."

Harry's face widened into a broad grin. "In other words, he fired a shotgun blast into the side of a barn. Two fanned-out phaser shots and the ship was dead in the water."

"We're adding the modification to the tactical database," Chakotay smiled. "Might even call it the Tuvok salvo."

"I see no need for personalization of a simple modification," Tuvok commented.

"Seems like we all had a successful day by stepping outside the framework of Starfleet's instruction book," Tom said.

"I wouldn't go so far as to put it that way," Chakotay said. "But we do need to document all these 'corollary actions' for the logs. I'd like your reports as soon as possible, gentlemen," he continued, nodding towards Paris and Tuvok. "In the meantime, Mr. Kim, you can help me in setting up repair teams to work on the damages we've sustained."

Nods came from around the table and the foursome got up to follow through with their assignments. Tom was the last to pull out of his, obviously tired but understanding the need of documenting the events while they were fresh in his mind.

Harry and Tuvok had already left the room, but Chakotay waited for Tom to catch up with him. The older man saw the exhaustion in Tom's face, but there was something else underneath the physical fatigue, something that was draining Tom emotionally. "Tom, are you alright?" he asked. "Is there something you haven't told us?"

Tom shook his head, weighing whether he should allow Chakotay to know his thoughts. He rubbed his eyes, as if trying to understand himself. With a sigh, he continued. "It's the captain, Chakotay. Although I've known her a bit longer than you, you work more closely with her and probably know her better than anyone aboard the ship - possibly even Tuvok."

Chakotay let out a quirky grin and shook his head. "Might have known," he smiled. "What has she done now?"

"It's more what she didn't do. She knew she was hurt when we were attacked earlier; why didn't she have herself checked out with the doctor? Why does she think she can break the rules but we can't?" Tom asked.

"Be cause she's the captain - she makes the rules, so she can break them... or at least do whatever she damn well pleases with them." Chakotay's voice began to take on the same cynical frustration that was surfacing in Tom.

"But she does listen to you, doesn't she? After all, isn't that what you're supposed to do as a first officer? Why does she always think that the burden of decision is always hers? We're a small ship, in this God-forsaken situation together. We should be taking care of each other, regardless of rank or station. "

Chakotay shook his head. "The bottom line is that the final decision is hers, Tom. No matter what is said and done, she is the one who makes the hard choices."

"Even those involving her own safety?" Tom asked bitterly. "Doesn't she know that we would be lost without her?" He suddenly realized how his words must sound to Chakotay. "With all due respect, Commander, not that I don't think you could lead us just as well..."

"No offense taken," Chakotay assured him. "I understand what you're saying. And I couldn't agree with you more - she is one stubborn, frequently single-minded woman who thinks that she must bear the brunt of all the decisions alone, and must constantly prove herself to be self sufficient."

Tom shook his head; Chakotay's words merely reiterated what he had tried to express. "She's not going to see the end of this journey if she continues to keep pushing on full throttle, not letting up or letting others take over for her every once in awhile."

Chakotay began to pace, his thoughts about their captain making him uncomfortable and irritated. "You don't think I know this, Paris? I've tried several times to get her to unwind, to look at things through different eyes. I even tried to get her to understand the importance of meditation... introduced her to an animal guide."

"She could have died today, Chakotay," Tom sighed. "Maybe this brush with death will make her see that she's not invincible, that she's just as mortal as the next person."

"Don't bet on it," Chakotay said bitterly. "She's a loner and all loners think that they can control the entire world around them. Don't even bother to try to get to her, Tom; you'll be in for a big disappointment." His eyes became dark and cold as he continued with finality. "Kathryn Janeway doesn't need a salvation. The only thing Kathryn Janeway needs is Kathryn Janeway."

He stormed out of the room, leaving Tom more confused, more perturbed and more exhausted than ever.


"You're next, Paris," Chakotay announced as he exited the captain's ready room the following day.

The helmsman grabbed the XO's arm as their paths crossed. "I thought the doctor told her to rest another day," he said in a low voice. "What's she doing back on duty so soon?"

"Remember our conversation yesterday?" Chakotay responded brusquely. "Need I say anything more?"

"No." Tom shook his head and retraced Chakotay's footsteps to the entrance of Janeway's office, sighing as the doors swished open.

He stopped just within the door; she was studying the monitor on her desk and looked up. Her face still bore the strain of her recent ordeal but her color was coming back. "Mr. Paris - please, have a seat," she smiled up at him, her hand offering him the chair next to her desk. "I've just finished reading your report about how you handled my little problem aboard the shuttle and want to thank you for all you did."

"Uh... it was more than 'a little problem', Captain," he gushed. "You were seriously injured..."

"And you took appropriate measures to stabilize the problem. Quite an innovative move, Lieutenant; the doctor was even impressed and we know how difficult that is," she continued.

"So how are you?" he queried. "I didn't think that the doctor wanted you back on duty for another day."

"Not necessary," she said with a brush of her hand. "How hard is it to sit at a desk and read reports?"

"And be right by the bridge, at anyone's beck and call in a second?" he broke in. "At least you could be in your quarters."

Her eyes darkened. "Might I remind you, Mr. Paris, that you are the ship's helmsman, not its medical officer or commanding officer. Those decisions are not for you to make."

"Sorry, Captain; I was only thinking of your welfare."

Her demeanor softened. "And I thank you for that. But the welfare of this ship must take precedence over any personal needs."

"With all due respect, Captain, that's what got you into trouble in the first place. You've got to learn to evaluate when personal needs do affect the good of the ship."

She shook her head and allowed a small smirk to surface. "You've been talking to Chakotay, haven't you? Are the two of you going to gang up on me? Are you going to pull Tuvok and the other senior officers into this little mutiny?"

"If necessary," he responded, his tone losing some of its previous formality.

She cleared her throat. "The doctor told me that he wouldn't mind having you learn some back-up skills in sickbay - he was that impressed with your response to the emergency."

Tom let out a laugh. "Would you want the EMH as your helmsman?"

"No," she answered. "Why?"

"I think my medical expertise would be equal to that of his trying his skills at the helm. Besides, he has Kes..."

"It's not a bad idea to cross train several people on board," she continued.

"You're serious," he stated, his eyes widening with realization.

"Yes, I am," she nodded, leaning forward towards him. "Tom, you have changed by quantum leaps aboard Voyager. You have readily assumed responsibilities, shown good judgment in decisions... you are not the same person you were when I first met you."

"None of us are," he answered. "Funny how a slight diversion in a flight plan can change your life." Her face immediately clouded with his words and he regretted saying them as soon as they hit the air between them. "I'm sorry, Captain; I didn't mean that the way it sounded."

"I know you didn't," she answered, her voice suddenly serene. "It's just that I... well, that I still don't sleep well nowadays, knowing how my decision to destroy the Caretaker's array has affected so many lives. I feel like I've condemned all of us to a life sentence in prison, with little hope of parole."

"Trust me - we have much more freedom here than we would have in prison!" Tom snorted.

Janeway shivered at the response of her ill-placed analogy. "Now it's my time to apologize - poor choice of contrast; sorry, Tom."

Tom leaned forward in his chair, clasping his hands in the desk that separated him from Janeway. "Permission to speak freely, Captain?"

She stiffened and sat back in her chair, grasping its arms as if to brace herself, suddenly afraid of what he might say. "What is it, Mr. Paris?" she asked, her voice and stature regaining the formality of rank.

He cleared his throat and concentrated on picking at a loose cuticle as he began to speak. "You and I are not that much different, Captain. Look at it - we were both raised in Starfleet families, by parents who had high expectations of us. We each had a father who found it difficult to place family before duty and even as children, we were taught to accept that as normal behavior."

"Oh, I don't know about that," she interjected. "I think I've always had a bit more ambition than you, Tom. And I think my father was satisfied with the way my life was turning out before he died."

He shook his head and looked up; their eyes met. "See - that's just it. Your father died before he could see your full potential; mine is still alive but wondering if I'll ever reach any point that can satisfy him. In a way, that's how we're alike - because your father is dead, you'll never know; because I am, well, me - and lost thousands of light years away - my father will never know anything about me except that I was a lying coward who had disgraced the family."

Janeway reached across the desk, covering his hands with hers. "No, he won't, Tom. We are going to make it back to the Alpha Quadrant and he's going to find out what a terrific son he has - I promise you that."

He didn't respond to her immediately but just kept drilling her eyes with his. "I'm not going to hold my breath on that."

She smiled as she patted his hand. "And I don't think I have any unfulfilled obligations to my father," she continued.

Tom pulled away from her; he didn't like the patronizing attitude she seemed to be developing. "No? Let's see - if memory serves me of what I've heard about Captain Janeway. She was an ensign when her father died... was on the same mission that proved fatal to him and she went into a lengthy period of depression following the incident. Not very stoic and Starfleet professional, was it?"

He watched as she tried to control her rising anger at his having found a vulnerable spot that she tried to keep hidden. She crossed her arms tightly across her chest, her body language telling him as much as any following words. "That's enough, Lieutenant," she declared darkly. "You have no business alluding to my private life. Besides, that was a long time ago."

"Maybe," he continued. "But you never got that confirmation of your father's approval, did you? In fact, I would venture to say that you feel that you might have had some responsibility for that crash."

"It was a wind shear," she stated flatly. "And Justin Tighe was an excellent pilot. I was thrown away from the aircraft and he and my father were trapped inside."

"And you lived while they died, left to wonder why," Tom snorted. "My, my - that story sounds strangely familiar, Captain."

"So we both have fought the demons of survivor guilt," she stated flatly. "What does this have to do with our lives on Voyager?"

"Everything and nothing, Captain. I think that each of us finds the challenges of this journey filled with risks and unknowns to be a constant reminder of unfulfilled acceptance by demanding fathers. I never could live up to what my father wanted and you never found confirmation of your efforts. Each day, we tempt fate to give us another opportunity to take chances to prove ourselves. I don't think we mean to hurt any others in our actions, but we do."

Her face, mixed with drawn lines of anguish but softened with relief, gave away that he had gone much deeper into her psyche than anyone had before. "Maybe I was wrong about you, Mr. Paris. Maybe your additional talents aren't as a physician's assistant but as a ship's counselor - although you would have to learn to be much more discreet."

His face brightened; the talk had become much too somber for him. "Now you've hit one of my weak spots, Captain. My mouth does tend to get me into trouble all too quickly."

Janeway got up, but her body, still weak, wobbled. Tom jumped up and grabbed her around the waist before she fell.

"Thanks," she said, her face reddening at his touch. "Guess I'm still not quite up to par."

"What can I get for you?" he asked, trying to turn her and get her back to her chair.

She brushed away his efforts to help and steadied herself against the edge of the desk. "I've got to keep moving - don't want to get stiff. And I was going over to my water pitcher - the doctor said that with all the fluids I've lost, I need to keep replacing them."

"Then let me get it for you, Captain. How about some juice, too? I'll even use some of my replicator rations for some," he smiled.

"Well, there's a first," she grinned back at him. She made her way around the desk and leaned against it as he walked to the replicator. "I think some cranberry juice might taste good."

"Two sparkling cranberry juices coming up!" he said, keying in the code for the precious rations.

With slow but increasingly steadier steps, Janeway made her way to upper level of her ready room, to the large sofa that spread out below her wide window. She patted one of the seat cushions as Tom turned. "Let's take a few minutes' break," she smiled. "I think we've both earned a little bit of down time."

She remained standing as he made the trip in a few long steps but sank down onto the sofa as he handed her the glass. She leaned back took a long sip and closed her eyes, relishing the refreshment. He loomed over her as she opened her eyes. "Thank you, Tom."

He appeared mesmerized by her, frozen in place, and she reached up for his hand, pulling him down onto the sofa next to her. "Are you alright?" she asked.

"I... I'm fine. Guess I'm a bit tired yet from yesterday," he said.

"You're much too young for that," she laughed, taking another long drink of the juice.

"Then it's probably from the worry involved," he answered with a sigh, sinking back into the sofa. "I didn't know whether to be mad at you for not having gone to the doctor initially or concerned that you really might die and there was nothing I could do about it."

"But you did do something, Tom, and for that I'm very grateful. And I would hope that the entire ship would be, too. The doctor told me that you even acted as a guinea pig for your unorthodox method before you used it on me," she recounted.

"Well, I really didn't want to spend the rest of this trip locked up in the brig for having killed the ship's captain," he managed to grin.

"Oh, I don't think that would have happened," she said shaking her heard. "Tuvok would probably have contacted the Vidiians and had them eviscerate you."

"Or Chakotay would have staked me out on the next desert planet to have me slowly bake to death," Tom added.

She let out a delicate laugh. "For your sake, I'm glad I didn't die."

"Me, too," he answered.

A momentary silence in the conversation suddenly brought an air of discomfort to the room. Janeway twisted her almost-empty glass in her hand while Tom stared into the dark, clear contents of his drink. Finally he looked up, his eyes as clear and deep as the cranberry juice. "We have each created our own worlds, haven't we, Captain?" he queried.

She feigned misunderstanding. "I... I don't understand what you mean, Tom."

"Our own worlds - in order to survive... in order to rationalize our actions."

"Perhaps," she nodded.

"You live in yours to separate yourself from the rest of us, to enforce that division of command and crew," he continued.

"As I was taught to do," she agreed.

"And I'm always wise-cracking, putting people off... creating a buffer around myself so they'll leave me alone," he confessed.

She reached over to him, her hand gently squeezing his arm. "Yes, that is what you do. But why? You're smart and talented... and you're not too bad looking, either," she smiled.

He began to pull away from her touch. "Because I'm poison, Captain. I'm the kind of person who somehow always manages to destroy the best things in my life: my relationship with my dad, then the accident with Charlie, Odile and Bruno... the lies and deception about my whole life."

She took his chin in her hand, pulling his face towards her for her own declaration. Her gaze glistened with tears that she dare not shed. "And am I any better? I lost two of the people dearest to my heart on a mission that I was on with them. And now, not a moment goes by that I don't think about the fateful decision that managed to separate almost one-hundred and fifty people from the lives they once knew... from families and friends who don't know whether they are alive or dead, not knowing when or even if we will ever see them again."

She let her hand fall and her eyes shut, as if trying to wash away the memories as they flooded her mind. She got up and slowly walked over to the recycler and placed her glass on its tray, pushing the activating button. The glass transmuted into energy particles and disappeared. "That's all any of us is," she sighed, watching the process in front of her. "We're nothing more than packets of energy, temporarily coalescing in physical form and given some sentient qualities for a brief moment in time."

"You make it all sound so futile and lonely," he said, walking over to her.

"Isn't it?" she responded.

"Not if we don't want it to be." He reached for her shoulders, knowing that what he was doing violated Starfleet behavior codes all over the book. "I think both of us have been in our self-relegated worlds of solitary confinement too long." He drew her fragile body towards his. "I think we need each other," he murmured into her hair pulling her as close to his firm torso as he could.

Janeway began to pull away, her body suddenly trembling. But in separating herself from him, she suddenly felt cold and the shivering intensified; she fell back into the warmth of his arms. "Tom, this has disaster written all over it. It isn't right... it can't be right - why, I'm old enough to be..."

"My mother?" he finished for her, laughing. "Not quite. And you're not exactly the type to be my sister, either. But do you always have to be my captain? Do I always have to be your helmsman? Can't we just be friends?"

"Good friends?" she asked, a smile creeping onto her face.

"Maybe even close good friends," he answered, running a finger down the bridge of her nose then beginning to trace her lips.

She took his finger and gave it the gentlest of kisses before looking into the pale blue of his eyes. "We would have to be discreet... very discreet."

"Didn't I say earlier that each of us knows how to be alone, that we seem to have a talent to drive people away from us?" he posed. "We would just learn how to be alone a different way - how to be alone together."

Her smile began to fade. "That could prove to be almost impossible on a ship this size, Tom. I don't know how we could ever..."

Her words were cut short as his lips met hers and they both felt their aloneness taking on a new dimension. He smiled down into her startled face as they finally pulled apart, a gleam in his eyes. "Trust me, Captain - as the master of holodeck program design on Voyager, I can make certain that there will always be a place for us. Both as a pilot and a person, I'm pretty good in eluding unwanted attention."

"In other words, you're sneaky," she grinned.

"That, too," he laughed.

Their laughter took them into another kiss, one much deeper and more hungry than the earlier one. Eager hands began to explore each other when her comm badge crackled.

"Captain," came Tuvok's voice, "Ensign Kyoto informs me that the hull breech on deck eleven has been contained and is awaiting your inspection. Are you feeling well enough to examine it?"

She rolled her eyes and sighed before answering his interruption, but a wide smile lit up her face, no longer drawn and tired. "I'm feeling much better, Tuvok; I'll be right with you."

"And that's the way I guess it will be, Tom. Do you think we can manage?" she asked, straightening his jacket and patting her hair into place as they began walking towards the door.

"Whatever it takes," he smiled down at her, planting one last kiss on the top of her head. "I would never presume a relationship with Kathryn Janeway to be an easy one."

She stopped suddenly and turned towards him, her face the happiest he had ever seen her. "That's it - that's what will do it!"

"What?" he asked, perplexed.

"Kathryn... you called me 'Kathryn'. Do you know how long it's been since I've heard my name spoken as something other than an official declaration? How humanizing the use of one's given name truly is?"

"Then I'll say it over and over again," he smiled, pulling her into his embrace once more, his eyes gleaming with delight. "Kathryn, Kathryn, Kathryn..."

"In private, mister - only in private. Any other time..." She put out an arm, pushing him back to a respectable distance and winked. "I'm always the captain."

The doors whooshed open and Lieutenant Paris and Captain Janeway primly exited onto the bridge. Paris walked to his position without looking back as Janeway joined Tuvok.

"Let's get to deck eleven, Mr. Tuvok," she said. "I believe there's work to be done. But later, I'm going to follow the doctor's orders and take some time off to further recuperate. Maybe I'll even try out a new holodeck program or two."

Voyager's helmsman grinned widely as he adjusted the ship's hovering position around the small planet sized asteroid, thinking about a new holodeck program.


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