The Hard Choices by Spiletta42

VGR


Rating: M™©


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Warning: Graphic bodily injury to a main character and field treatment of same.


Categories: GEN, Ship, Het, Drama, Friendship


Pairings: Janeway&Paris friendship, Janeway/Chakotay, Paris/Torres


Characters: Tom Paris (primary), Kathryn Janeway, Chakotay


Spoilers:  Set sometime after Lineage. Mention of the novel Mosaic by Jeri Taylor. References to the Original Series episode The Deadly Years and the DS9 episode Life Support.


A/N: Janeway and Paris run into serious trouble on an away mission. It came to me in a dream and demanded keyboard time.


Credits: Beta thanks due to Anne Rose, Kim, and Squirrelly. References include Star Trek The Next Generation Technical Manual by Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda, The Starfleet Survival Guide by David Mack, Star Trek Science Logs by Andre Bormanis, The Starfleet Medical Reference Manual (allegedly by Leonard McCoy, M.D. and sadly out of print), and The Star Trek Encyclopedia by Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda. Without these valuable resources it would be much harder to create plausible stories with authentic Star Trek settings.


Disclaimer: Paramount has made some darn foolish decisions.


The Hard Choices

"Eject the core!" Janeway had to shout for Tom to hear her over the Delta Flyer's warning klaxon. She climbed to her feet and returned to the tactical station.

"Warp core ejection failed. Antimatter containment failure in three minutes."

Janeway moved to the engineering console, swore under her breath, and propelled herself out of the main cabin. "Tom, you're on your own."

She didn't wait for his answer. A jammed plasma injector had aborted the core ejection, and if they still had antimatter on board in three minutes they wouldn't survive.

Toolkit in hand, she plunged into the access hatch and tried to block out the computer's warnings. Two minutes. Her hand shook as she struggled to work in the small space. One minute. The injector came free and she manually initialized a core ejection from within the access hatch.

Just as she backed out of the hatch, the small ship pitched hard, throwing her to the floor, and everything went black.


x

Tom struggled to keep the damaged vessel from colliding with an asteroid. The captain's last volley of phaser fire had destroyed the enemy vessel, but not before the Delta Flyer suffered significant damage.

The malfunctioning navigational system resisted his efforts to clear the asteroid field, environmental systems generated dire warnings, but little else, and antimatter containment had failed. His console told him that they no longer had a warp core, which qualified as good news under the circumstances.

"Captain?"

She didn't answer, and Tom could only assume she'd gone below to triage the failing systems. The computer announced a drop in oxygen levels, and he hit his combadge. When she didn't respond he went to investigate.

Tom's heart dropped when he found her on the floor, her face sticky with blood. The rise and fall of her chest set loose the breath he held. Then he read his tricorder. "No."

He carried her to the sleeping quarters, administered a hypospray for her cranial swelling, and used the dermal regenerator to fix the cut on her forehead. It took two tries to fill the hypospray again. He paused and tried to get a grip on his emotions.

Seven years ago Captain Janeway had given him a chance at a fresh start in life. Everything he had he owed to her. She had made him a better person. He'd watched her sacrifice for her crew as they struggled across an unknown and hostile expanse of space. She'd accomplished the impossible with courage and determination. And now he had to tell her that she wouldn't live to see Voyager reach the Alpha Quadrant.

He choked down the lump in his throat and pressed the hypospray to her neck.

She awoke with a groan, blinking at the light, and started to sit up. "We made it?"

"Easy Captain. Just rest a minute."

"We need to -- "

"Everything's done. You need to rest."

"I need a more detailed report than that."

"The hostile ship was destroyed, we're clear of the asteroid field, and I launched an emergency beacon before we took that last hit. It's broadcasting an automated distress call."

"Impulse engines?"

He shook his head. "Useless without navigation anyhow." He swallowed. He couldn't put this off. "Captain -- " His throat closed, unwilling to let him speak the words. "Captain, when you ejected the core -- "

"It's okay Tom." She laid her hand on his shoulder. "I know. The radiation."

He nodded. "I gave you hyronalin, but it won't be enough. Maybe the Doc could do more, I don't know -- "

"I know that you'll do everything you can."

"I should have been the one -- "

"Nonsense. There wasn't time. Besides, I want that baby to know her father."

"She will," Tom said. "And she'll know how her brave Aunt Kathryn turned her daddy into a father worth knowing."

The captain smiled. "You did all the hard work yourself, Tom. I'm proud of you."

"Thank you, Captain. That means a lot."

"That said, please stop talking like I'm already gone. Let's see what we can do about getting back to Voyager."

"Yes, ma'am."


x

The Delta Flyer drifted helpless in space. They had thrusters, emergency power, and little else. The captain, of course, found a way to use what little resources they possessed.

"We have phasers, right? We can use one to charge one of the sarium krellide power cells. Maybe we can get subspace communications back online."

The captain held the hand lamp while Tom opened the phaser casing and adjusted the prefire control circuit to stabilize the nadion pulse output.

"It would be faster to use the phaser to power a console," he said. "It'll take almost four hours to drain this phaser, and we'd need what, ten more to fully charge the battery?"

"Twelve more," she said. "But fortunately we don't need a full charge for communications, and connecting a phaser directly to a console isn't worth the risk."

Tom didn't agree. Anything that might get them back on board Voyager even five minutes sooner was worth the risk. He didn't want to sit on this shuttle and watch his captain suffer and die. They needed the Doc, and some sort of miracle, before she ran out of time.

"Okay, let's take apart that power cell." Janeway started to climb off the bunk.

"I'll do it," he said. "You rest. It won't go any faster with two people and if you push yourself you'll start to feel sick that much sooner."

"Don't let the crystals touch. If one gets scratched it'll cause an overload." She settled back against the pillow.

"Aye, Captain."


x

Janeway tried to rest. Tom didn't need her looking over his shoulder to charge a power cell.

They wouldn't miss the scheduled rendezvous with Voyager for another two days. Even if the firefight hadn't thrown them too badly off course, the ship wouldn't find them for at least forty-eight hours. She didn't have that long.

She didn't fear death, but she didn't welcome it either, and she hated that Tom would have to watch her die. She wouldn't wish that on anyone. She promised herself that she'd do what she could to make it easier on him.

Her heart ached as she thought of Chakotay. What she wouldn't give to see him one last time. She'd left so much unsaid between them. He'd take it hard, and he'd have to deal with the weight of an extra pip at the same time. This was why -- but it was too late, and in more ways than one.

"It's charging." Tom picked up a tricorder and scanned her.

"How am I?" She tried to smile.

"You shouldn't start to feel sick for a while yet," he said. "We can try to contact Voyager in a few hours."

"I have a good feeling about that," she lied. "We'll make it out of this one."

"We will." He offered her a forced smile. "Are you warm enough? I can get another blanket."

"Don't fuss over me, Tom. Sit down and tell me what it's like to be an expectant father."

This time his smile looked genuine. "It's the most incredible feeling in the galaxy. I always thought it would terrify me. A helpless baby that would depend on me for so much. The responsibility seemed overwhelming. But now? I'm just excited. I know I can do this." He seemed to sober for a moment and he stared at the opposite wall. "I owe you so much, Captain."

"Consider it paid." She reached out and laid her hand on his shoulder. "You've become the kind of officer that every captain hopes to have on her bridge. It's been an honor to serve with you."

"We aren't done serving together," he said fiercely. "We're getting out of this." He stood and stalked out of the room.


x

It couldn't end like this. Tom dug through the tool kit, searching for anything they could use to boost their distress signal. B'Elanna or Harry would have thought of a solution by now. He needed them. He needed the Doc.

"Tom."

He turned his handlamp towards his captain, who stood in the doorway.

"You're not going to find a spare warp core in that toolbox. Let the phaser charge the power cell. If we can't get communications online after that, we'll use the other phaser to power the console directly."

"Aye, Captain." He studied her and hoped that it was only his own fear and the poor lighting that made him think her face looked flushed. If she was already sick, the hope that they could contact Voyager in time for a miracle was even more of a delusion than he'd thought.

She turned, stumbled, and grabbed the bulkhead for support.

"Captain!" He rushed to her side and wrapped an arm around her waist. She'd always seemed so indestructible before, with the strength of duranium in her small frame and the power of the warp core in her eyes. Now she seemed as frail as any human being.

She didn't argue when he helped her back to the bunk and tucked a blanket around her. Her face felt warm to his touch, and he scanned her again. She had a fever.

"Do you think you could eat something?"

"I'm not hungry."

"At least have a drink." He brought her a water packet from the emergency rations. "Sip it slowly."

He turned back to their supplies. Without power, he'd have to find a creative way to keep her hydrated when she reached the point where she couldn't drink any more. In sickbay, the biobeds would monitor her fluid levels and supply what she needed.

Sweat beaded on her forehead.

"Are you too warm, Captain?"

"I'm cold, but my face feels hot," she answered. "I have a fever, don't I?"

"You do." He pressed a cool, damp towel against her head.

"Tom, we can't afford to waste that water."

"Yes we can. We'll run out of oxygen long before we'll run out of water, and Voyager  will find us before that happens."

He didn't tell her they'd freeze to death before they ran out of air, or that without the Doc she probably wouldn't live long enough to even feel the chill.

"How long until that phaser is drained?"

"A couple of hours yet, Captain." He kept sponging her face. "Do you think you could eat something?"

"Definitely not," she answered. "That's not good, is it?"

"It just means that it's time for a hypospray." He pressed it to her neck. "That should take care of the nausea and help keep your strength up."

"Thank you."

"Promise me something, Captain. Don't try to put on a brave front. I need to know exactly how you're feeling."

She nodded. "Then I should tell you that I need to use the washroom, and I think I could use your help getting there."

"Of course, Captain." He helped her to her feet and offered his arm. They walked the short distance without incident. "I'll wait right here in case you need me."

Once he helped her back to bed he went to check on the power cell. He tried not to think about what he'd say to Chakotay, or how they'd all cope without their captain. Right now he needed to concentrate on keeping her, and the hope for a miracle, alive.


x

The nausea worsened until Janeway felt like her insides were melting in an attempt to escape. She told Tom, although she knew there was little he could do.

He gave her another hypospray. "How's that?"

"A little better."

"Don't lie to your medic." He ran a tricorder over her again. "I think you need another dose."

She nodded.

This time she did feel a little better. She even managed to sip a bit more water.

"That's good," he said. "It won't be much longer before we can talk to Voyager. I'd rather have you conscious for that."

Alive and conscious, she thought. That was her goal -- to live long enough to talk to Chakotay.

"Once I've talked to the Doc I'll be able to help you a lot more," he said.

She had doubts, but she could see that he needed to believe it. "You're doing a fine job, Tom. I'll be okay for a few minutes while you check on the power cell again."


x

Subspace communications failed. Tom struggled with the system for over an hour, and tried every option the captain suggested, but nothing worked.

The relays were fried, and he had another patient that required his attention. "How are you feeling, Captain?"

"I've felt better." Sweat coated her face and she looked pale. "Hopefully that emergency beacon will do the trick. I'm glad you had time to launch it."

He nodded. "It would be nice to have direct contact, but Voyager  has tracked down an away team with less to go on before."

"Tom, I -- " She rolled onto her side and he barely had time to grab a pan before she vomited.

He emptied it and returned with a packet of water. "Rinse out your mouth, you'll feel better."

The pattern repeated half a dozen times. All he could do was hold the pan and keep her hair out of the line of fire.

"I'm sorry, Tom, I -- "

"Hey." He smiled and sponged the sweat from her face. "I'm about to be a father. This is good practice."

"Has B'Elanna had morning sickness yet?"

"Yes, but don't tell her I told you. She's afraid you'll reduce her workload."

"That's between her and the Doctor."

"She'll be relieved to hear it." He picked up the tricorder again and studied the readings. If Voyager  was on the way now, she had a chance. Maybe the trade negotiations had fallen through, or perhaps they'd finished early. They needed the Doctor. If only they had power, he could place her in transporter suspension.

Her voice broke into his thoughts. "Did your father ever talk about the time we were captured by the Cardassians?"

"No, not to me."

"They locked me in a shed while they tortured him. I could hear him screaming, and I couldn't do anything about it. I'd never felt so helpless."

"Then you know how I feel right now."

"That's just it," she said. "You're doing something, and I'm grateful for it. I want you to know that."

He gave her hyposprays and sponged her hot face with the cool towel. Every time she vomited, he emptied the pan for her, and in between he tried to entertain her with stories about the crew.

"Freddy Bristow shouldn't drink," he said. "At least not without having his uniform sewn to his skin."

She laughed softly, then pointed to the pan. He raised it and steadied her while she retched.

They both stared at the blood in the pan, shiny and red, destroying the happy lie. The ship wouldn't make it in time.

Tom got up and emptied the pan as he had before, rinsing the evidence away. He returned with another water packet, had her rinse her mouth, and reached for the damp towel.

"I need you to do something for me, Tom." She caught his hand, her grip still surprisingly strong, although her voice faltered. "Tell Chakotay that I love him, that I've loved him for years, and that his friendship has made our time in the Delta Quadrant the best years of my life."

"Of course, Captain."

"I want him to find happiness," she said. "Help him find love. Don't let him make the same mistakes I did."

"Were they mistakes?"

"I thought it would be too hard, but life is short. I thought we had time, that it would be easier if we waited, but isn't love worth the extra work?"

"I think so," he said. "But I understand your decisions, and I know Chakotay understands too. He loves you, Captain."

"I know he does." Her eyes glittered with tears. "I wish he didn't. I've never done anything but hurt him."

"That's not true. I've known him longer than you have, and you've brought something to his life that he didn't have before. You've done that for so many people, and we're all grateful for it. Don't dwell on your regrets, because your contributions are so much greater. You are my hero, Captain."

Her other hand came up to touch his face. "You're a good man, Tom. Your wife and daughter are very lucky to have you."

He squeezed her hand and fought against tears. He would not fill her last moments with his grief.


x

Tom struggled for composure as he watched Kathryn Janeway die. Each breath she took surprised him. Then he felt the familiar tingle of the transporter.

They materialized in sickbay, and he turned the Doctor. "Delta radiation. Help her."

"I intend to, Mister Paris." The EMH ran a medical tricorder over his patient.

Tom wanted to scream at him, sure the captain would take her final breath in those few seconds of delay, but he could only stand and watch.

When he found his voice, he hit his combadge. "Chakotay -- "

"I'm here." Chakotay strode through the door, his eyes on the captain's still form. "Is she -- "

"She's in bad shape," Tom said. He could see the fear in the other man's eyes. "Go see her."

He heard the captain's rusty voice as Chakotay took her hand, and gave thanks that she'd stayed conscious long enough to see him. Please, he prayed, please God let her pull through this.

The Doctor called Seven of Nine, and Tom watched the frantic efforts to program the necessary nanoprobes. He knew the moment the captain stopped breathing from the strained sound of Chakotay calling the Doctor.

"She'll be okay," Tom said. "She has to be. Give the Doctor room to work."

Tom assisted as they worked to resuscitate her.

"Ten milligrams cordrazine." The Doctor snatched the hypospray from Ensign Campbell almost before she filled it. "Cortical stimulator. Now. Mister Paris, when was her last does of hyronalin?"

"We ran out -- "

"Give her more, now! Ensign Campbell, again!"

Tom hurried to administer the hypospray between jolts from the cortical stimulator.

"Seventy-five milligrams inaprovaline," the Doctor ordered.

"She'll go tachycardic -- "

"If we don't she'll die."

"Do it," Chakotay said, his voice strained. "Do everything you can."

"Seven! We need those nanoprobes. Tom, begin direct synaptic stimulation."

"She has a pulse," Campbell announced. "Blood pressure is rising."

Tom stepped back to let Seven administer the nanoprobes, and felt Chakotay's iron grip on his shoulder.

"Will she live?"

"I think so," Tom answered. "She's strong, and we have the best doctor in the galaxy." He didn't add that if they didn't, she wouldn't have a chance.


x

Tom helped Lyssa put away equipment, his eyes returning to his captain every few minutes. The Doctor monitored her heart rate carefully, but the multiple stimulants had yet to cause a serious reaction. Chakotay stood beside her, apparently content just to watch her breathe.

The tense curl of his fingers betrayed his outer calm, and Tom knew that in Chakotay's place, he would have wanted to feel the rise and fall of her breathing, and the warmth of her skin.

"That was close," Lyssa said.

"Too close," Tom agreed. "I would have lost her on the Flyer if -- hey, how did Voyager get to us in time?"

"Luck," Lyssa said. "The Serhi refused to open trade negotiations. Harry said our hailing frequencies offended them."

"Good," Tom said. "Sometimes it's nice to meet a good old-fashioned uptight species of xenophobes."


x

Janeway felt more types of pain than she could mentally catalog. She opened her eyes and blinked against the light. Sickbay. She closed her eyes again, grateful that she could take her time waking up.

"Kathryn?"

She hoped sickbay was deserted, because that waver in his voice would make the junior officers nervous. She obviously wasn't dead. Death didn't hurt like this. She remembered the Flyer, hostile aliens, and vomiting blood. "Where's Tom?"

"He's fine," Chakotay said. "He went to get cleaned up."

"Good," she said. "That's what I need to do." She sat up, ignoring the pain in her head. The rest of her aches seemed to fade in comparison.

"Take it easy, Kathryn. There's no hurry."

Her gaze locked on his. "I'm fine, and I'll feel a lot better when I get into a fresh uniform."

He offered his arm, but she ignored it and jumped down. Aside from a headache, there didn't seem to be anything wrong with her.

"Captain!" The EMH emerged from his office and blocked her way. "I simply must insist that you stay here."

"Doctor -- "

"Please don't argue, Kathryn."

She leveled a glare at Chakotay. "You aren't captain yet."

He looked stung by her comment, but turned and left without another word. When the Doctor threatened to relieve her of duty, she returned to the biobed.


x

"Chakotay didn't deserve that." Tom watched the anger flash in his captain's eyes. "I have a change of clothes for you."

She held out her hand, but he didn't give them to her.

"I have something to say first, and you may not like hearing it, but as your friend I have to say it."

"Tom -- "

"Don't worry," he said. "We're alone."

"Look Tom, I appreciate everything that you did for me, but -- "

"No buts, Captain. Earlier today you told me you had regrets, that you didn't deserve Chakotay, that you loved him and wanted him to be happy."

"I did, and I hope you'll keep that to yourself, seeing as I'm not dead."

"No, you aren't, but you came damn close. Maybe you were right to say you only cause Chakotay pain. He needed something from you just now, and you ignored it."

He could see that he'd struck a nerve. As much as he hated to hurt her, he couldn't stop there. "Chakotay needed, physically needed, a hug. He just watched the woman he loves almost die. He didn't need your callous dismissal."

She cringed.

He squeezed her arm and softened his tone. "I know it must be hard, trying to mask your feelings in the name of protocol, and I know you do it for all of us. But think about what you said earlier. Love is worth the effort it takes. Protocol isn't."

He laid the clothes on the end of the biobed. "I meant everything I said before, Captain. You are an extraordinary person, and I owe you everything. You deserve happiness as much as I do. Take it."


x

Tom's words echoed in her head. If anyone else had dared speak to her like that, she'd throw them in the brig. Tom only escaped that fate because he'd just saved her life. Or because she knew he was right.

She'd hurt Chakotay; she'd seen it in his eyes when he'd left sickbay. She'd done it before, and it would probably happen again. Her command came first, and it often put a strain on their friendship. A romantic relationship would never survive.

Chakotay needed to move on without her, marry a nice ensign perhaps, and find happiness. She wanted that for him, and she could swallow a little jealousy. Then if she went and died, he could fasten on that fourth pip and command Voyager without trying to mourn the woman he loved at the same time.

"Dinner tonight, Kathryn?"

"I'm working late," she answered. "I'm behind on a dozen things."

"You still need to eat."

"I'll eat at my desk." She focused on the PADD in her hand.

"Kathryn." He used that gentle voice he saved just for this situation. "What's bothering you?"

"My headache is my own concern, Commander. I'd suggest you pay more attention to the problems in environmental control and less attention to my eating habits."

He moved over to the replicator, and a moment later set a bowl of soup in front of her. A few drops splattered across her desk. "Eat, Captain, or I'll take it up with the Doctor."


x

Tom spotted Chakotay sitting alone at a booth in Sandrine's and slid in across from him. "Is the captain joining you?"

"Doubt it. She's avoiding me."

Tom nodded. He'd feared that she would. "Don't take it personally, she's probably had a hell of a headache for the last two days."

"Should I worry about that?"

"No, it's a side effect of the hyronalin. That, and the Doctor told her she can't have coffee. She'll be fine in another day."

"Good," Chakotay said. "I hate to see her so withdrawn."

Tom stared into his synthehol and considered betraying his captain's confidence. His pep talk obviously hadn't done any good. It tempted him. Everyone would benefit, and he'd survive a month in the brig.

Unfortunately, he knew better. The situation was a little more complex than that. He valued Janeway's trust and friendship. He'd honor her wishes, at least for now.


x

Janeway enjoyed the solitude of her ready room. Her headache had finally receded, and she could even have a cup of coffee after the Doctor checked her over again. She moved over to the couch and stared out the viewport.

Once again, she'd cheated death. It didn't feel quite as good this time. She missed the celebration she usually shared with Chakotay on such occasions, but she'd just have to get used to it. If this latest episode proved anything, it was that Chakotay needed to move on with his life, and he couldn't do that over cozy dinners in her quarters.

She ignored the door chime. Tuvok had orders to leave her alone, and since she hadn't noticed a red alert, only Chakotay would dare disturb her.

"Captain, we need to talk."

Well, Chakotay or Tom Paris. "Not now Lieutenant."

"That doesn't work on me." He crossed the room and sat beside her on the couch.

"Are you having trouble hearing, Mister Paris?"

"It must be going around," he said. "I don't think you heard a word I said the other day. If you had, Chakotay wouldn't be sitting in Sandrine's, looking like a first year cadet without a prom date."

"I'm trying to do what's best for him. He deserves to be happy."

"This might surprise you, but stomping on his heart isn't really the key to giving him lasting joy."

She sighed. "I don't know what else to do."

"I'd suggest kissing him, but I'm not a starship captain."

"No, you're not, so you can't understand -- "

"Don't start with the protocol lecture. If we were holding fast to that, I wouldn't have a baby on the way. This is the Delta Quadrant, and you've had to make your own rules a dozen times."

"If this were about my career . . . but it's not. What I do could jeopardize the freedom of the former Maquis once we reach home."

He had the audacity to roll his eyes. "My wife is one of those Maquis, and I still say you deserve happiness. I don't think the risk is there. It hasn't been for years, not since we got the news from Tevlik."

"I wish it were that simple," she said.

"It's exactly that simple," Tom said. "You love him. You should tell him that, and work it out together."

"I can't tell him that," she said. "I will, but not as long as Voyager  is out here."

"You're not leaving me much of a choice. Either tell Chakotay how you feel about him, or I'll do it for you. He shouldn't hear it from me, but it's better than not hearing it at all."

"You wouldn't. I trusted you."

"And I hate the thought of breaking that trust, Captain, but this is too important. Please don't make me do it. Talk to Chakotay."

"If you talk to Chakotay about this, you'll land in the brig so fast you'll get the bends."

"Then I'll land in the brig." Tom shrugged. "It's worth it." He stood up. "I'll leave you alone now, Captain, but please think about this. I will tell him, but only if you leave me no choice."


x

Tom had made many decisions in his life. Some good, some bad, and some that he'd cut off an arm to take back. This decision he had to get right.

"What's wrong, Flyboy?" B'Elanna slid into the seat opposite his in the mess hall. "You don't look well."

"I'm thinking."

"That explains it." She poked at her leola root and tried to find a combination of condiments that would render it edible.

Tom watched with a detached interest.

B'Elanna studied him for a moment. "Tom? What's wrong?"

He met her gaze and tried to figure out what to say. "I can't really tell you. I will, when I can."

She didn't argue, to his relief.

"Have you felt the baby kick yet?"

"You'll be the first to know. I think it's still too early, though."

"It is, but I'm eager."

She grinned. "You'll be changing dirty diapers soon -- " B'Elanna slapped her chirping combadge. "Torres."

Tom sighed as Vorik outlined a dire situation with a plasma injector. Sometimes he thought that Vulcan saw his wife more than he did.

"Sorry Tom, duty calls." She pecked him on the cheek. "See you later."

The leola root surprise failed to engage his interest, and his mind returned to his pending decision. The subjects of that decision entered a few moments later, and he wondered if perhaps the answer was staring him right in the face.


x

Janeway couldn't turn down another dinner invitation. She and Chakotay shared at least half of their meals, and she didn't really want that to change. Besides, shop talk over leola root gruel in the mess hall lacked the dangerous intimacy of a cozy dinner in her quarters.

"I've been short with you lately," she said. "I owe you an apology."

"It's already forgotten." He caught her eye. "If you took better care of yourself when you were under the weather, you wouldn't have to apologize afterwards."

"I read your report on the Serhi. Perhaps if we -- "

"Mind if I join you, Captain?"

She looked up into Tom's smiling face and her heart started to pound. "Of course, Lieutenant, have a seat."

"Evening, Chakotay. I hope I'm not interrupting anything?"

"Nothing that can't wait," Chakotay said.

"Good," Tom said. "There's something we need to discuss."

Adrenaline flashed through Janeway's body and she tightened her grip on her coffee to stop her hand from shaking. "We need to give the Serhi one more try. We could use the deuterium."

Chakotay stared at her as if she was speaking Klingon and she barely heard his response over the rushing of her own blood.

"What can we do for you, Tom?"

She watched Chakotay's face, her throat too dry to speak. She couldn't do anything to stop Tom now. In a moment, everything would be out of her hands. Her breath quickened. She clutched the coffee cup.

Tom spoke. "Love is a wonderful thing. B'Elanna and I have been blessed, and we owe that to both of you. So in a way, I really don't want to bring this up."

Then don't, Janeway thought. She didn't move, and couldn't have torn her gaze from Chakotay's face if she'd tried.

"Go ahead, Tom," Chakotay said. "If we don't like your request, we just won't approve it."

If only it were that simple, Janeway thought, but she kept silent.

Tom turned to her and grinned. "Just as long as I don't land in the brig. I wouldn't want to waste a minute of my time with B'Elanna, especially now. And that brings me to my question."

Janeway shot Tom a brief, pleading glance, then focused on Chakotay again. She at least wanted to see his face when he heard the words.

"I'd like to request some time off, for B'Elanna and myself, before the baby comes. One last romantic getaway while we still can, if you know what I mean."

"I'm sure we can arrange something," Chakotay said. "Kathryn? Are you feeling okay?"

"Just a headache," she lied, her voice rusty. "I'll be fine."

The relief sank through her, and the rapidly souring adrenaline made her feel sick. Maybe she'd excuse herself and take a nap.


x

Tom watched the tension drain from Janeway's face. She looked like he'd punched her in the gut. In a way, he had. He swallowed his guilt.

"I think you should go to sickbay," Chakotay said. "You look pale."

She didn't look prepared to argue.

"It might be the hyronalin," Tom said. "I can get you a hypospray for your head, and then you should get some sleep."

"Maybe that would be best," she said. "Tomorrow we'll see about getting some of that deuterium from the Serhi."

Chakotay did a rather lousy job of not looking tense. "Let's go."

"Sit down and eat your dinner," Janeway said. "It doesn't take two of you to walk me to sickbay and it's just a headache."

"Maybe we should call for a transport."

"She's fine, Chakotay," Tom said. "I'll call you right away if there's anything to worry about."

Janeway glared at him, but he pretended not to notice. Neither spoke in the turbolift.

When they reached sickbay, he picked up a hypospray and waved it at her. "This isn't why we're here, is it?"

"You know damn well it's not. I should order you to degauss the transporter room with a microresonator."

"As long as you're prepared to explain the reason to Chakotay, I don't mind in the slightest."

"You had no right -- "

"Are you mad because I threatened to tell him, or because I didn't tell him? You looked pretty disappointed back there."

"I was disappointed," she said. "In you, Tom. I admitted something personal to you in a moment of weakness, and you're tormenting me with it. It's a breach of ethics and if you think that our friendship will save you from a court martial, you're wrong."

Tom swallowed hard, but he couldn't back down now. "That accusation would hurt if I let it, but you can't push my buttons like you push Chakotay's. Tell him the truth, or I will tomorrow at nineteen hundred hours. So the ball's in your court, Captain, and if you can't deal with that -- "

"What is going on in my sickbay?" The Doctor stood in the doorway. "Why are you berating my patient, Mister Paris?"

"Trust me," Tom said. "It's just what she needed."

The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "Exactly how much coffee did you have, Captain?"

"Not enough." She turned and stalked out of sickbay.


x

"Care to tell me why you're on gamma shift for the next two weeks?" B'Elanna glared at him. The air around her practically trembled with fear at the threat of her wrath.

Tom was used to that, and he had other things on his mind. "God, B'Elanna, tell me I'm doing the right thing."

Her face softened and she came to sit beside him on their couch. "What's going on with you?"

"I'll tell you tomorrow." He pulled her into his arms and buried his face in her neck. "By then I'll know how it all turns out."


x

Janeway sat on the bridge and tried not to snap at Chakotay for his whispered questions about her health, her sleep, and whether or not she'd eaten anything with her coffee.

If things changed between them, he wouldn't have to ask. She let herself imagine, briefly, how it would feel to wake up beside Chakotay every morning. Then she scolded herself.

They couldn't change their relationship. What she wanted didn't matter. The possible ramifications reached far beyond their friendship. She turned the bridge over to Chakotay and ducked into the solitude of her ready room.

"Fancy meeting you here, Captain."

"Not now, Tom. Out."

He didn't move. "I figured you could use a friend. Why don't you sit down and tell me all the reasons you can't be with Chakotay?"

"Will that change your mind?"

"Probably not, but who knows." He shrugged. "Maybe you do have one that isn't stupid."

She fiddled with her combadge.

"Please don't call security." The brashness disappeared from his voice. "Sit down and let's talk this out. All I want is what's best for you, Captain, and maybe you feel it's none of my business, maybe you're even right, but I don't think I can ignore what you said on the Flyer. You got another chance. I can't watch you waste it."

She sighed and got herself a coffee. "Want one?"

He took the drink. "If I had spilled the beans yesterday, would you have woke up alone this morning?"

"I don't know," she admitted. "Maybe not."

"And if you didn't wake up alone? What's the worst that could happen?"

"It could be awkward, working together after being intimate. It could damage our command relationship, I could lose my best friend, Starfleet could use it against the Maquis -- "

Tom snorted. "Forget the Maquis. It's a non-issue. Starfleet's not going to haul a bunch of people off to New Zealand because you had sex. So let's talk about the rest of that, because at least it makes sense."

"Starfleet protocols were created for a reason," she said. "Physical intimacy changes a relationship."

"I agree, but this isn't a one-night stand you're considering. This is the real deal, Captain, I've seen it in your eyes, and everyone knows how Chakotay feels. Once you two get together, there's not a chance in Hell he's letting you go."

"Isn't that what everyone always thinks?"

"Probably," Tom said. "But in this case it's true. Tell me, can you imagine your life without Chakotay?"

The thought squeezed her heart painfully. "No, I really can't."

"There's your answer, Captain. You don't have to take him to bed tonight, but you do need to sit down and have an honest talk about your relationship." He grinned. "Men love to talk about relationships."

She almost smiled. "And if I don't?"

"Please don't force my hand. Chakotay probably knows that you love him. I doubt it will come as news to him, but I still don't want to be the one to tell him. He deserves to hear it from you, and he also deserves that hug you owe him."

She put down her empty coffee mug and fiddled with her combadge instead. "I don't quite believe this, but I think I'm going to let you get away with blackmailing me. If I throw you in the brig now, I'll have to explain it somehow, and if I wait, the damage is done."

"True." He looked her in the eye. "You also know I'm right, and I'm not backing down."

"How will you know if I've talked to him?"

"You won't lie to me," he said. "Now please, Captain; promise you'll talk to him. I'm your medic, and I know what's best for you."


x

Tom sifted through the salvaged Borg components. Jenkins drove a hard bargain, but two weeks on gamma shift was a small price to pay. The captain deserved happiness. He hoped that B'Elanna would understand, but if she didn't, at least he'd have the promised romantic getaway as a peace offering.

He eyed an assimilation tubule warily. Did they really need to keep that? He moved to the next cargo container. It looked like he wasn't the only one hiding liquor in the cargo bay, and he started to fear that he'd lost his prize. Then he spotted a corner of the faded label.

"Eureka!" He pulled the dusty bottle from its hiding place with a grin of triumph.


He timed his stroll down the corridor on deck three perfectly. "Good evening, Captain."

She turned from her doorway and met his gaze. "Lieutenant."

So captains could look nervous. Good to know. He held out the peace offering. "I hope this will come in handy tonight."

"I hope so too." She took it and studied the label. "Is this real?"

"Yep." He grinned. "Good luck tonight, Captain, not that you'll need it. Chakotay's a lucky man."


x

Janeway started the sonic shower, then changed her mind and took a bath. When the soak failed to make her relax, she gave up and took a shower after all.

A little makeup, a softer hairstyle, a dress she hadn't worn in years. She eyed the results in the mirror, changed the dress, and went hunting for a pair of shoes.

The door chimed.

She started to swear in Klingon, muttered a Gaelic curse instead, and hurled her lone shoe back into the closet. Dammit, Kathryn, you're a Starfleet captain. Just open the door. "Come."

She stood there barefoot and looked up at him.

His eyes locked with hers. "Kathryn, you look stunning. What's the occasion?"

She reached out a trembling hand and grasped his fingers. "Come sit down."

They sank onto the couch facing each other. She caught his gaze again and swallowed hard. "I love you."

"I love you too." He grinned at her. "What should we do about that?"

"I wish I knew."

"Kathryn, you are many things, but indecisive isn't one of them. Tell me what you want."

"You," she said honestly. "I want you. In my life, in my bed, and beside me on the bridge. Can we have all of that? Can we make it work?"

"I'm sure of it," he said. "It might not be easy, but nothing really important ever is. Promise me you won't try to give up on us when things get tough?"

"The ship has to come first."

"I know that. That's not what I asked."

"I might need a little help." She looked down at their joined hands. Her knuckles were white. "I'm not good at this, Chakotay, and I can't stand the thought of losing you. We have to make this work."

"That's what I needed to hear. We aren't doing this half way. I want all of you. I won't let you hide from me, or push me away."

"Sometimes your strength is all that keeps me going," she said. "But other times, I'm afraid that if I let myself lean on you, I won't be able to stand on my own."

"You're the strongest person I've ever met, Kathryn, and sharing your burdens won't make you weak."

"I'll try," she said. "This won't be easy on either of us. I can't let command decisions be influenced by how they might affect us, and I can't promise to leave professional differences at the door."

"Of course not," he said. "We're not androids."

"I hope you can put up with me."

"I promise you that no matter what else happens, I will always love you. We may have our differences, but I'll never give up on us. I never have."

"No, you haven't." Her hand rose to stroke the handsome face she had loved for so long. "I really don't deserve you."

"I don't deserve you either, but fortunately for us, no one's caught on to that. So what do you say?"

She grinned. "Kiss me."

"I thought you'd never ask." He pressed her back against the couch and kissed her thoroughly.

All her doubts melted away. She slid her fingers into his hair, holding him to her, wanting this moment to last.

His combadge chirped.

"I almost forgot," he said. "I have a meeting with Paris."

"Not anymore." She tapped the combadge. "Go away, Tom, we're busy."

"Aye, Captain," Tom answered. "And congratulations to you both."


A  A  A



SEVF

This fic posted with pride on:

JCFicHaven


Voyager Romance

Betaed by Squirrelly Betaed by Anne Rose Betaed by Kim


If you'd like to read another J&P friendship fic, try Glacier, and to share a different sort of adventure with Tom Paris, read Kessel Run. You'll also find him in Returning the Favor, The Klingon Sex Manual, and Vulcans Don't Blush.


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Star Trek™©, Star Trek: The Next Generation™©, Star Trek: Voyager™© and related properties exist as Registered Trademarks of Paramount Pictures. No copyright infringement intended. No profits made here. © Spiletta42, February 2005.