Another Chance

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Subject: REPOST: Another Chance
Date: 12 Oct 1995 11:28:15 GMT
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All characters, (except Caitlin, Kria and Ylan, which are my creations), are
the property of Paramount and are used here for purely entertainment
purposes only.

Another Chance
Chapter I

by Carly Hunter
copyright 1995

Kathryn Janeway looked at the PADD Commander Chakotay, had just
given her. Food reserves, below twenty percent; medical supplies, down
thirty percent; materiel reserves, below fifteen percent. Never before had
Voyager been so desparately in need of almost everything; it had been their
last violent encounter with the Kazon Ogla that had drained most of their
resource so badly.
She glanced sideways into the grim face of her first officer.
“I imagine, I don’t have to tell you exactly what this means, do I Commander?”
She kept he voice to a whisper so the rest of the bridge crew could not hear.
He nodded. “We have to find some way of augmenting our dwindling
supplies fast, Captain, or we won’t make it to the next star system, let alone
the Alpha quadrant. Most of the crew are aware of the situation we face,
though, possibly not the full severity, and they have made what adjustments
they can to bolster the reserves, but it isn’t enough.”
Janeway glanced back at the PADD and frowned. Abruptly standing, she
touched her commbadge. “Janeway to all senior officers. Report to the
Briefing Room immediately.”
“Captain,” Chakotay rose in response to her order. “If you don’t
mind, I’d like Lt. Matthews to join the meeting. She reminded me yesterday
of a possible solution, which, as Maquis, we’ve made use of in the past.
I think you should hear what she has to say.”
The Captain regarded him thoughtfully for a moment before nodding
her permission. At this stage, any hypothesis was worth at least a listen.
“Chakotay to Lt. Matthews.”
“Go ahead, Commander.”
“Report to the briefing room. I want you to inform the Captain about
what we discussed last night.”
“On my way. Matthews out. So, Neelix,” Caitlin turned back to the
Talaxian, who was busy creating the Delta quadrant’s equivalent of chili.
“Can we use your ship or not?”
“Yes, yes, of course. Anything to get more food supplies. I’m having
to use the last of the veluchii spleen, as we speak, to meet the requirements
of this recipe. I mean, how does the Captain expect . . .”
“Thanks, Neelix. That’s all I needed to know.” She was only too
happy to exit the tiny kitchen as the small humanoid took out a large
purplish piece of meat and plopped it on the cutting board.

“You see, Captain,” Caitlin began. “For the amount and variety of
supplies needed, I think alternative sources should be considered.”
“Just what do you mean by alternative sources, Lieutenant?” the
Captain raised one eyebrow.
Caitlin’s mouth crinkled slightly and her eyes took on a mischievous,
knowing glow. “Trader bars, Captain. The seediest dives where the best
traders, smugglers, and thieves do business.”
Janeway frowned. “Are you suggesting we do business with criminals,
Ms. Matthews?”
“No, Captain. But I am saying these people will know the best sources
for our needs, and with the, um, proper persuasion might impart some of this
wisdom to us. Permission to speak freely?” At the Captain’s nod, Caitlin’s
face became serious; it was the soldier inside her talking now. “You and I
and everyone else on this ship know how dangerously low we are on supplies.
One crisis could wipe out the last of our reserves. We need fortifications and
we need them in the quickest, most comprehensive way possible. We can’t afford
to puddle-jump between small pockets here and small pockets there. Going
directly to the merchants will solve this. Captain,” Her manner softened
a little. “This used to be my life; I can deliver what we need with minimal
breaches in protocol.”
The Captain looked at her first officer. “She’s right, Captain,” he
replied. “I’ve seen her work. I think this is our best chance to replenish,
however, temporarily, most of those items we need, as well as obtain some
useful intelligence for the future.”
“Mr. Tuvok,” Janeway swung on her security chief. “What do you think?”
“While under normal circumstances, such a mission would clearly violate
Starfleet protocol, I must point out that currently we are hardly operating
under normal Starfleet conditions. Lt. Matthews’ plan may be unconventional,
but its risk and chance of success are within acceptable parameters,” the
Vulcan concluded.
The Captain took a deep breath. “Very well; as you say Mr. Tuvok,
these are not `normal circumstances’. Lieutenant, this is your mission; how
do you propose to go about it?”
Surprised to be given the role of mission leader, Caitlin snapped
herself back to attention. “Mr. Neelix and I have already discussed which
spaceports have the best chance of yielding either the information or the
supplies we need. First of all, we will need to offload Neelix’s ship.
It is a small cargo vessel, and for security reasons, I don’t want Voyager
going anywhere near these places. Second, only four of us will go; besides
myself, I suggest Commander Chakotay, Lt. Tuvok and Lt. Paris. I believe the
four of us have the most experience and hence, the best chance of emerging
relatively unscathed.
“We will not wear uniforms,” she continued. “Civilian clothes only.
Uniforms have a tendency to make these people a little jumpy. We’ll dock,
get what we need, and then meet Voyager at pre-arranged coordinates.”
Janeway again raised one eyebrow. Somehow, she didn’t think it would
go as smoothly as the Lieutenant was leading them to believe, but since they
had no alternative plan- “All right. Assemble your team, Lieutenant; I’ll
order the necessary preparations for the launch of Mr. Neelix’s ship.
Dismissed.”

Two days later, at 0700 hours, Caitlin emerged from her quarters
wearing a black catsuit, black riding boots and a short black jacket.
Her dark auburn hair was pulled into a ponytail, while on her hips rode a belt
carrying her phaser and tricorder. The suit revealed the strength, as well as
every curve, of her body.
Tom couldn’t resist a wolf whistle as she strode with a comfortable
arrogance into the shuttlebay. *So this is what she was like before we met,*
he thought, marvelling at how alike they would’ve been. Tough, cocky, ready
to take on anything and anyone. He chuckled silently. They would’ve killed
each other within a matter of days. Voyager, it seemed, gave them both the
discipline and the patience they needed to stay together.
At the sound of Paris’ whistle, Caitlin looked over and ran an
appreciative eye over her lover. He wore a loose ivory blouse with a navy
vest followed by black, close-fitting pants and black boots. The whole
ensemble emphasized his slim, well-built form, making him appear more
roguish than ever. She whistled back before swinging herself on top of the
vessel in one crisp, acrobatic move.
She was in the process of inspecting the outer hull when Lt. B’Elanna
Torres and Neelix entered with Chakotay and Tuvok.
“Hey, Neelix,” Caitlin sung out, half in jest. “You sure this thing
will fly?” She lowered herself to the shuttlebay floor and proceeded to check
out the belly of the craft.
“I assure you, Lieutenant,” the Talaxian replied, looking injured.
“I have either overseen or personally done most of the repairs myself. She
will get you where you want to go, and back,” he added.
Paris and Chakotay glanced at each other, brief expressions of worry
and amusement crossing their faces. Tom allowed himself an uneasy laugh.
“What’s your opinion, B’Elanna?” Matthews queried, a cool
professionalism overtaking her actions.
“I ran a complete diagnostic on the engines, the conn and weapons.”
The engineer replied. “All are functional. You’ll have full impulse and
Warp 3 capabilities; only I wouldn’t push the engines too much. The weapons
are low-powered phasers only, and the shields are almost non-existent by
Federation standards. In other words, don’t get into any combat unless
you want to scatter yourself across space.”
“Understood.” Caitlin headed inside. A metallic thunk followed by
“Oww” came from within the ship. She emerged with her hand on her forehead.
“I advise you to duck low,” she told the three men. “Or you’ll be seeing
stars before we leave.” She touched the commbadge concealed beneath her
jacket. “We’re just about ready to launch, Captain, any final words?”
“Be careful and good luck, Lieutenant.” came the reply. “We’ll
rendezvous with you at the agreed-upon coordinates in two days.”
“Yes, Captain. Well, Commander, shall we get started?” Her business-
like demeanor was betrayed by a slight flush of excitement on her cheeks.
Chakotay smiled. “After you, Captain; this is your mission.”
They boarded the craft. Tom took the conn, and Tuvok sat beside him
at weapons. Chakotay and Caitlin took their seats behind them. The cabin
was cramped and exuded the musty smells of burnt metal and sweat.
Paris switched on the engines, which whined in response to his
request. B’Elanna opened the shuttlebay doors and began the launch procedure.
“We’ve cleared Voyager.” Tom said at last.
“Good; set course three-one-zero mark eight-nine. Warp factor two,”
Caitlin replied.
“Aye, Captain,” he turned and flashed her a roguish grin, which she
acknowledged with a wink. “Course three-one-zero mark eight-nine laid in.”
“Engage.” Caitlin ordered, settling back in the uncomfortable chair.
It had been over four years since she had given up her own ship to join
the Maquis. A pained grin settled on her lips as her spine rebelled against
the stiff back of the seat; still, it felt good to be back in command, even
if it was only temporary.
Chakotay studied her face. *She probably made a good captain,* he
reflected, noting the look of accustomed ease on her face. *Too bad
circumstances decided otherwise.*

The room was dark and hazy. As their eyes adjusted to the lack of
light, a long, u-shaped bar appeared occupying the center of the room, while
conspiratorial alcoves ran along the walls. Tom’s eyes roamed over the
denizens, careful not to make contact with any of the unfriendly gazes.
*What a dive!* Even he wouldn’t have frequented a bar like this.
He looked over a Caitlin. Her expression was watchful and guarded,
but at the same time, she seemed curiously relaxed, almost at home in this
scum-filled saloon. He continued to regard her with amazement; if they lived
to be two hundred, he didn’t think she would ever stop surprising him with
the diverse facets of her personality.
“Okay, gentlemen,” Caitlin commanded quietly. “Let’s get ourselves an
inconspicuous table and scope out this place for a while.”
They settled into one of the alcoves, Tuvok and Chakotay on the inside,
Paris and Matthews on the outside. A full-busted, blue-skinned woman wandered
up behind Tom. Running her hand seductively through the back of his hair,
she looked at the others. “Wadall ya have?”
“House ale,” Caitlin answered. “Four of them.”
The woman tilted Tom’s chin up toward her. “What about you?” she gazed
licentiously into his blue eyes. “She always order for you, honey?”
He smiled flirtatiously. “She’s the Captain,” he replied, nodding his
head across the table. “She pays the bills.”
The blue woman laughed. “Four ales, coming up.”
She returned shortly with four tall glasses. “This it, or you running
a tab?”
“Running a tab,” Caitlin responded, her eyes narrowing as the woman’s
hand fell casually on Tom’s shoulder.
“Good,” the waitress cooed, twining some blond hair around her finger.
“That means you’ll be here a while. The name is Kria, by the way, if you need
anything,” she concluded, giving Paris a suggestive poke before moving away
from the table.
Tom followed her voluptuous form with his gaze; he always had managed
to attract the best-looking barmaids. He turned his head back to the table
and found Caitlin’s green eyes glaring at him. Shooting her a playful grin,
he shrugged his shoulders.
“If you are through undressing her, Mr. Paris,” she hissed, unappeased.
“I suggest you turn your attention back to the matter at hand.”
Tom felt his face flush, as Chakotay choked down a swallow of ale and
Tuvok raised one eyebrow. Trying to recover her own composure, Caitlin sat
back against the wall, placing one ankle on her knee. She took two long
swallows of the bitter brew, letting her eyes wander over the crowd. “Wait
here,” she commanded. “I’ll be back.” She stood and moved over to the bar,
aware that at least three tables of eyes besides Tom’s followed her bold gait.
Paris watched as after a few words, the bartender jerked his head
toward the other side of the counter at a much-too-handsome male humanoid.
Caitlin nodded her thanks and crossed over to other side, taking a seat beside
the stranger. Tom felt his own blood begin to boil as he saw her negotiate
flitatiously with the libertine. Presently, he rose and made his own way over
to the bar, settling himself on a stool by Kria. “So,” he asked as she waited
for an order. “How long have you worked here?”
She turned and smiled at him. “For more years than I’d want you
to know.”
He laughed gently. “I wouldn’t say that; experience can be very
useful at times.” His pale blue eyes returned her enticing golden gaze.
“Hold that thought,” she purred, raking her fingernails down the top
of his thigh. “I’ll be right back.”
She delivered her order and returned. “Now, you were saying something
about experience . . .” She placed a slender blue hand on his upper thigh
almost touching his crotch, her yellow eyes glittering hungrily.
Paris gave an involuntary gasp at her forwardness. *Perhaps I’ve
gotten in a bit over my head,* he thought to himself a little too late.
Reading his hesitancy, Kria chuckled softly and removed her hand. “But
I bet you meant experience in another way, like knowledge, eh, blue eyes?”
Tom nodded, embarrassed that he was so out-of-practice in barroom
vamping. “We have a client,” he began quietly. “Who is interested in
purchasing a few supplies.” He rattled off some of the items. “I was
wondering if you knew who would be most likely to have a good inventory of
those things.”
Kria nodded. “That villan that your Captain is talking to, Ylan, is
your best bet. He’s one of the better traders around.”
Caitlin threw back her head and laughed mirthlessly. “Just because I’m
new to this sector, doesn’t mean I’m new to trade. Three thousand mirins, and
that’s my final offer.”
“Four thousand.” Ylan’s dark eyes held her gaze.
“Three thousand.” Caitlin repeated, her green eyes sparkling like
gems.
“You are a fascinating creature,” he remarked. “I’ll let you have the
stuff for thirty-five hundred.”
She moved a little closer to him. “Are you sure three thousand is out
of the question?”
Ylan smiled at her boldness; she clearly was not new to this
profession. *A very worthy competitor,* he thought to himself. *I wonder if
you are this exciting in the bedroom.* “All right, perhaps this time I can
make an exception in the interest of fostering good business relations.” His
green-tinted hand glided up her arm to the top of her shoulder.
She chuckled and removed his hand. “Three thousand, it is then.
Agreed?”
“Agreed.” He smiled lasiviously, hinting at later possible activities.
He swept his gaze across the room. “Hmmm, one of you crewmen might be getting
himself into a little trouble,” he observed. “Kria’s mate doesn’t exactly
approve of her flirtatious ways.”
Caitlin followed his eyes and saw Tom chatting very amicably with the
waitress unaware of the four large beings congregating behind him. Swearing,
she muttered, “Excuse me” before making her way around the counter towards
Paris.
Tom’s brain barely had time to register the alarmed expression on
Kria’s face before a large hand clapped him on the shoulder and spun him
around. Standing up to meet the challenge, he felt an equally sizable fist
land a blow to his midsection. He doubled over, but two grey hands grabbed
his vest, standing him back up. He saw on the of hands form a fist and pull
back level with his head. Then, it was gone. His assailant lay on the ground
cursing in a loud voice and holding his side where Caitlin had kicked him.
Chakotay and Tuvok rose from the booth to intervene, but found their
way blocked by onlookers. Bar fights had always provided unscheduled
entertainment for those not personally involved.
As Paris fought to get his breath, he saw two more grey-skinned men
grab Caitlin simultaneously from behind. In spite of her best efforts, she
was no match for their combined strength. The humanoid on the floor slowly
got to his feet. “Hold her,” he ordered. “I’ll show her how we handle
meddlers.”
Tom made a move to aid her, but a well-placed blow to his groin sent
him to his knees, his hands automatically covering the injured area. He saw
a flash of metal come from behind the humanoid’s back. *A knife!* his mind
screamed, a faint, high-pitched “NO!” issuing from his mouth.
As the being raised his arm, a greenish hand shot out and grabbed it
around the wrist. “I really wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Ylan uttered
menacingly. “This person and I have just concluded a business deal and I
would hate to have it fall through due to your interference.”
“Nor would I,” came a voice from behind the bar. The bartender was
pointing a weapon resembling a phaser-rifle at the grey head. “Tell them to
let her go,” he ordered. “I’ll not have any murders in my establishment.”
The knife clattered to the floor, and the humanoid nodded to his
companions, who released their hold on Caitlin.
“Now get out,” Ylan grated, removing his hand.
As the four chagrined beings beat a grumbling retreat out of the
tavern, Ylan stepped quickly over to Caitlin. “Are you all right?”
She nodded, looking past him over to Tom, who Kria was helping up onto
a stool, his face pale and drawn from pain. She crossed over to him and placed
a solicitous hand on his shoulder. “Tom, are you okay?”
“Sure, he is,” Ylan replied. “Aren’t you, kid?”
*Kid!* Now his humiliation was complete. Not only had he almost
gotten Caitlin killed and been unable to save her, but now, this smirking
lecherous being was calling him kid. He looked up into the supremely confident
black eyes and felt a small shudder go through him.
Matthews felt his body tremble under her hand. “Tom?” she inquired
again anxiously.
“I’m okay,” he muttered weakly. “Really.” He managed a wan smile.
Her hand squeezed his shoulder in response, as Chakotay and Tuvok
finally broke through the crowd.
“Are you two all right?” the Commander inquired. He had been afraid
for a few moments that he was going to have two bodies instead of supplies
to deliver to the Captain.
“Just fine. Ylan, allow me to introduce my crew. Tuvok, Chakotay, and
you’ve already met Paris,” she smiled, rumpling the blond hair in a familiar
way. “Ylan, here, has just what we are looking for and at a more than
reasonable price. I believe our clients will be pleased.” She turned back to
the tall humanoid. “Why don’t you join us at our table so we can hammer out
the details of our agreement.”
Ylan stepped aside, gesturing for her to lead the way. Chakotay put
his arm around Paris and helped him off the stool. For once, he found himself
in sympathy with the younger man; after all, he had been young, in love, and
jealous once himself. “Come on, hotshot,” he teased gently. “That means
you, too.”

The provisions were to be transferred to the ship tomorrow; after all
the items were aboard, Caitlin would meet with Ylan to deliver the final
payment. Then, the four of them would rendezvous with Voyager as planned.
Caitlin shifted uncomfortably on one of the ship’s small bunks. If she
was cramped, she couldn’t imagine how the men must feel. Thunk! Her knee hit
the wall. “That does it!” she muttered angrily, jerking the pad out of the
bunk and throwing it on the floor. She stretched out on it. *It may be
harder, but at least I won’t hurt myself anymore.*
Tom opened his eyes and looked at her. He was still mortified by what
had happened earlier. How could he apologize for almost getting her killed?
All a part of him wanted to do was hold her, to feel her warm body next to his,
but an unseen force prevented this. He had failed, just like at Caldik Prime.
But somehow even that didn’t compare to seeing himself in Ylan’s smug, moss-
coloured face. *Dad and Chakotay were right,* he reflected silently. *I am
a hedonist and an amoral mercenary. I don’t deserve someone like her.*
Caitlin turned on her side and saw him staring at her. She smiled and
beckoned for him to join her. He shook his head and twisted onto his back.
She frowned. It was obvious that while she had forgiven him for his earlier
mistake, he had yet to forgive himself. *Besides,* she thought grimly. *That
kid remark of Ylan’s probably didn’t help any either.*

“Warning!” the computer sounded. “Impact in four seconds, three, two,
one . . .”
And then he saw them, twisted, broken and bloody lying in the wreck
of the shuttle. There were four bodies now, instead of the familiar three that
still visited him from time to time. Freeing himself from the debris of the
conn, he crawled toward them through the smoking wreckage.
The fourth body shifted, falling over to expose its burnt and heavily
bruised face. He could barely make out its features, but it didn’t matter.
He knew it was her. A pair of frightened green eyes held his gaze. “Help
me,” the lips mouthed soundlessly.
“Hold on; I’m coming,” he heard himself reply, moving aside one of
the fallen panels. A shower of sparks fell from the ceiling, and a fire
continued unabated in the engineering console. As he reached out to her, one
of the hoses broke open sending a cloud of gaseous steam between them. Pulling
back, he covered his eyes momentarily to shield them from the stinging gases;
when he removed his hand, he was in the dock at his own court martial.
One by one, they testified against him, their faces centimeters from
his, hurling names and accusations. His father had been first. “. . . Tried
to teach him . . . Wouldn’t listen . . . Selfish, unprincipled . . . Ashamed of
him.”
“But Dad, I-” A hand on his shoulder spun him around.
Captain Janeway was staring at him, her face a mask of disappointment.
“I trusted you, Tom; she trusted you. How could you fail us so? Why did you
make her pay for your mistakes?”
“Captain, I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry. I wouldn’t-”
“I knew it all along, poocuh. You’d sell out everyone to save your
own skin.”
He whirled on the Indian. “No! No! I wouldn’t do that to her,
Chakotay. I’m not like that anymore. I’ve changed.”
“I thought you were my friend, Tom.” Harry’s angry voice came from
behind his back. “She thought you were her friend. How could you hurt her
like that? Why didn’t you try to save her?”
“Answer the question, Mr. Paris.” boomed the voice from the darkened
bench. “Well, what have you to say for yourself?” Its demanding tone echoed
relentlessly through his head.
“I tried to save her. Honest, I did. I never wanted to hurt her.
I tried to save them all. Please, you’ve got to believe me. I didn’t want
to lose her. I tried to reach her, but I failed. I’m sorry. It’s my fault,
all my fault . . .”
“Wha-?” Tom sat up on the tiny bunk, a salty mixture of tears and
sweat trickling down his cheeks. He raised the back of a shaking hand to his
face and wiped his eyes. Everyone else was still asleep, thankfully. Slowly,
he lowered himself back down onto his side and drew his knees toward his chest.
Closing his eyes, he felt his ragged breath gradually begin to even and slow,
as sleep overtook him once again.

The loading of the shipment went smoothly with Caitlin and Ylan over-
seeing every detail. They worked well together, too well, in Paris’ opinion.
There was just something about that guy. An undefinable sensation, more than
simple jealousy, seized Tom’s gut every time he looked at the taller alien.
*Tuvok’s watching him closely, too,* he noted with a degree of satisfaction.
*Maybe I’m not the only one with a bad feeling about this guy.*
“Well, that’s the last of it,” Caitlin finally said, inspecting the
last box of materials.
“Except for your final payment,” prompted Ylan.
“Which I will bring to you shortly,” she finished. “It’s been a
pleasure doing business with you, Ylan.” She extended her hand.
A strong, green-tinted hand grasped it firmly. “I look forward to
dealing with you in the future, Caitlin,” he purred.
Tom felt a shiver go up his spine as the Ticonian spoke her name, and
he decided there and then that there was no way she was delivering the final
payment alone. *Even if I have to tail her,* he told himself.
“All set and ready to leave, Captain.” Chakotay emerged from the ship
after securing the cargo doors.
“Good. Ylan, I will meet you at your office in twenty minutes with the
final payment.”
“Twenty minutes,” he repeated before striding down the docking corridor
followed by two members of his own crew, who had been assisting them.
Ten minutes later, Caitlin closed the case. “I should be back in
fifteen minutes, and then we’ll take off and meet Voyager.” She grinned.
“Just think decent-sized, comfortable beds. You know, Commander, I think we’re
getting soft.”
Chakotay laughed. “May be, Lieutenant. See you in a little while.”
Paris stepped in front of her as she headed for the hatchway. “I want
to come with you. I don’t trust him.”
She smiled and shook her head. “No, Tom, that wouldn’t do. Believe it
or not, there is a code of ethics involved here. If you had been with me when
I dropped off the first payment, it would be okay, but to show up now, after he
has come through for us, would show distrust and jeopardize any future business
dealings.” She placed a reassurring hand on his arm. “Don’t worry. I’ve done
this many, many times before. I’ll be fine.”
Tom watched her get halfway down the corridor before putting his own
phaser in its holster.
“Lieutenant,” Tuvok’s voice halted his apparent exit. “Did not
Lt. Matthews tell you to stay here? By following her, you will be breaking
a direct order.”
Paris whirled quickly on the Vulcan. “No, she didn’t say precisely
for me to stay here; she said I couldn’t accompany her. Well, I’m not. I’m
shadowing her. Come on, Tuvok; you know you don’t trust him either.”
“Whether I trust him or not, is not the problem. The problem is
whether you are disobeying the orders of our mission commander.”
“To hell with you and your orders,” Tom spat out impatiently. “If you
want to court martial me, fine. If you want to strip me of my rank, fine; it’s
been done before, but if something happens to her that I could’ve prevented,
I’ll turn in my pips anyway. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” Tom ducked out the
door and sprinted down the hall.
“Lieutenant!”
“Let him go, Tuvok.” Chakotay placed his arm against the Vulcan’s
chest. “If nothing happens and he stays out of sight, no harm will be done.
Besides, I’ve got a funny feeling he may be right.”

Caitlin pressed the office door’s chime.
“Come in,” came the deep response.
“Here’s the final payment, as promised.” She placed the case on the
desk in front of Ylan.
He opened it, an malevolent grin spreading across his face. “This is
not the full payment.”
“What do you mean?” Caitlin said. “Three thousand was the price we
agreed upon. This fifteen hundred plus the fifteen hundred I gave you earlier
equals three thousand.” A warning bell began to go off in her head.
“Surely, you don’t think I agreed to this low price just on the
possibility of future business dealings?” He rose from his seat and came
around the desk toward her. “You are a fascinating creature, Caitlin.”
His hand shot out and grabbed her upper arm, halting her retreat. “Ever since
I saw you in the bar, I’ve wondered what you would be like.”
Her fist struck him hard across the face, allowing her break free of
his hold. As his face came back around, drops of green blood appeared on his
lip. Swearing, he wiped the blood away with the back of his hand. She drew
her phaser, but before she could take aim, the back of his fist made contact
with her own face, sending her to the floor, the phaser skittering to a stop
a few meters away.
Stars danced in front of her; in a way she was lucky, his full fist
would probably have broken her jaw or worse. As she slowly pulled herself
to her knees, two hands firmly grasped her upper arms, hauling her up. She
kicked out, making contact with one of his legs.
Swearing some more, he pinned her roughly to the wall with his body,
his hands cruelly closing around her arms until she cried out in pain. He
laughed. “Clearly, you are not familiar with a Ticonian’s strength. It will
be a pleasure demonstrating it to you.” His mouth brutally closed over hers,
the blood from their respective blows mixing together.
“Let her go!”
Ylan pulled his face away from Caitlin. “You’re a little out of your
league, aren’t you kid?” he growled without turning around.
Tom flinched at the last word, but maintained the aim of his phaser.
“I said, let her go, or so help me, I’ll drop you where you stand.”
Ylan spun around so that Caitlin was between them, a brownish mixture
of red and green blood staining both of their mouths and chins. “That would
not be wise,” the Ticonian continued. “You see, part of the price was that
your Captain would allow me unlimited access to her lovely body, and so far,
she has withheld payment. Now, run along, and let us conclude our deal.”
One of his hands flew from her arm to her throat. “Or,” he menaced. “She’s
dead where SHE stands.”
“No deal. I won’t let you hurt her.”
“You’re too late for that, kid. Look at her face.” He let go of her
other arm and twisted her face toward Tom.
That was the break Caitlin had waited for. With all her strength, she
sent her elbow into Ylan’s gut. His over-confidence had made him under-
estimate the amount of fight she had left. The grip around her throat
contracted briefly and then relaxed, allowing her to break free. She dived out
of the way, as Tom fired his phaser. Grabbing her own weapon, she spun around
to see Ylan collapse into an unconscious heap on the floor.
“Can you make it back to the ship?” Paris regarded her with deep
concern.
She nodded, wiping her mouth and chin; her mind was still functioning
on autopilot.
“Then, we’d better get out of here before his crew returns.” He
grabbed her hand and pulled her out the door.
They ran through the corridors of the spaceport, Tom’s longer legs
keeping him slightly in the lead. “Paris to Chakotay.”
“Chakotay here.”
“Commander, I suggest you have those engines fired up and ready to go
by the time we get to the ship. There was a slight complication.”
“Understood.” The First Officer squeezed into the cramped pilot seat
and switched on the engines. Tuvok sat down beside him.
“It would seem Mr. Paris found the trouble for which he was looking.”
the Vulcan observed.
“Either that or Caitlin found trouble for which she was unprepared.”
The Commander noted grimly.

Running footsteps in the corridor announced their arrival. Settling
Caitlin in a chair, Paris spun around and secured the door. “Get us out of
here, Commander,” he yelled. “And I suggest you go to Warp, as soon as
you can.”
As Chakotay guided the ship away from its moorings, Tom brought out
the medikit and knelt before Caitlin. After scanning her thoroughly, he
treated her superficial physical injuries; her glassy stare and listless
response told him the emotional injuries were for the moment beyond treatment.
Once they went to Warp, Chakotay came over to where she sat. He knelt
down and took her hand, while Paris slid into the pilot’s seat. “Caitlin, are
you okay?” He reached out a hand to smooth away some of her hair.
She flinched involuntarily, but replied, “Yeah, thanks to Tom.
Commander,” She looked into his concerned face. “I’d rather not discuss what
happened, right now.”
The Indian straightened up. “Of course, I understand, whenever you’re
ready.” He took his seat behind Paris. Tom looked at him, but the older man
shook his head. *Not now, Tom,* he said silently. *Give her time.*
Caitlin turned and stared at the wall, her fingers running absently
over her injured mouth. She had forgotten how real the danger of rape was in
this business. In the Alpha quadrant, the reputation of her father and his
crew had protected her. Here, though, she was alone, and the danger had
returned in full force.
She could feel Tom’s concerned gaze on her. Ylan had been right about
one thing; he was a kid in some ways, in spite of prison, sheltered by virtue
of his father’s position from some of the worst elements of life. A life that
she knew all too well.

By the time they had reached Voyager, Caitlin’s physical injuries had
almost completely healed, and no one except for the four of them and the
Captain knew what had happened. Only the silence that had since reigned
between Lts. Paris and Matthews provided the crew with any indication of the
near tragic events that had occurred.
As the weeks passed, this silence became more and more unbearable to
Tom. He noticed that Caitlin seemed to isolate herself during her off-duty
hours; no longer coming to Sandrine’s; no longer eating with Harry and
B’Elanna.
“I don’t know what to do, B’Elanna. I’ve never seen her like this.”
He revealed in desparation one day at lunch.
Lt. Torres shot him a sympathetic look. “She’s always been one to
work things out on her own. Part of how she’s survived, I guess; not depending
on anyone else. But if you’re so concerned, why don’t you talk to her?”
He shook his head. “I’m probably the last person she needs or wants
to talk with.”
“Well, maybe you could get Chakotay to speak with her. He and Caitlin
have always had a special respect for each other. He probably stands the best
chance of anyone besides yourself of getting her to open up.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right.” He paused and then brought his fist
crashing down on the table. “God Dammit!” He pushed his plate away, a look of
pained anger on his face.
B’Elanna almost dropped her fork at this outburst, and several other
crewmen turned and briefly stared at the young Lieutenant.
“Tom, are you okay?” She reached out a hand to touch his arm; it had
been quite a while since she had seen him lose control like this in public.
Paris jerked away. “Hell, no, I’m not!” he cursed. “I’m angry,
B’Elanna. I’m mad as hell that-” he caught himself.
“Mad about what?” B’Elanna wished she knew what was going on behind
those stormy blue seas.
“Nothing. Look, thanks for the advice, okay.” He rose quickly to his
feet. “I’ll see you around.”

Later that evening, he found himself pacing up and down in the corridor
outside of the Commander’s quarters. Eventually, he took a deep breath and
pushed the chime.
“Come in. Mr. Paris, what can I do for you?” the Indian looked up
from his PADD.
“Commander, it’s about Caitlin.”
“Yes?” The older man studied him carefully; he knew they were having
trouble, heck, the whole crew did. “I suppose you want me to talk to her
for you.”
“Well, yes and no. Not for me, for her. Look, Chakotay.” Tom’s jaw
tightened defiantly. “I know what you think of me. That I’m some kind of a
mercenary, and I can’t say you’re too far wrong. I fully realized that I’m no
better than Ylal, and she deserves better, a hell of a lot better. But I can
tell when she’s hurting; when she needs to talk, but won’t. You know her.
I thought maybe you could get her to open up.” A slight tremor crept into his
voice. “I don’t have that right anymore.”
Chakotay looked at the despondent man before him and frowned. Paris’
unselfish actions of late had made him uncomfortably aware of his own
prejudices against the young pilot, but never more uncomfortable than he was
right now. It was obvious that Caitlin was not the only Lieutenant in need
of counseling. He got up and walked over to where Tom stood. “All right,
Mr. Paris. I was hoping she would come either to me or to someone else on
her own, but you may be right. I’ll talk to her sometime in the next
two days.” *And I’ll get the Captain to talk with you,* he added silently.
Tom raised his head and gave a weak smile. “Thanks, Commander. I’d
really appreciate it. I’m sorry if I disturbed your evening.” He turned
to leave.
“That’s all right, Tom. I’m glad you did.” After the door closed,
Chakotay touched his commbadge. “Chakotay to Janeway.”
“Go ahead, Commander.”
“Captain, if you’re free, there’s something we need to discuss.”
“Well, I was going to read some before turning in, but if you think
it’s important, I think `Mauprat’ can wait.”
“Yes, Captain; it’s very important. I’ll be there shortly.
Chakotay out.”

Ahh, the end of another duty shift. Paris rose and nodded at his
replacement. Maybe he could grab Harry for a couple of games of pool after
dinner before returning to his empty quarters. *Gods, I miss her,* he thought
heading for the turbolift.
“One moment, Mr. Paris.” The Captain’s voice halted him in his tracks.
“I’d like to see you for a minute in my ready room.”
“Yes, Captain.” Tom turned on his heels and followed her through the
door. Off hand, he couldn’t think of anything he had done wrong lately.
Janeway took the two steps up to the informal seating area and motioned
for Tom to take a seat on the sofa. “Can I get you something? A cup of coffee
or tea, perhaps?”
“No, Captain. Nothing for me, thank you.” *Okay, so I’m not in
trouble, what gives?*
“Green tea, hot.” she requested. “Ensign Kim introduced me to this.
He says his grandfather swears by its calming and curative powers.” She
chuckled. “I guess out here I’ll try just about anything to make it through
some days.”
He stared at her, not knowing what, if anything, he should say.
“The Commander informs me that you came to see him about Lt. Matthews
last night.” She took a sip of the tea before joining him on the sofa.
“Yes, Captain. I did.” *Though why he felt compelled to tell you-*
“He also informs me that he doesn’t believe Caitlin is the only one in
need of counseling. To be blunt, Mr. Paris, he’s concerned about you, and I
may add, he is not the only one.” She gave her words time to sink in before
continuing. “The Commander believes that for some reason you’ve decided you
are somehow unworthy of whatever affection Ms. Matthews bestows upon you.
Now, I hesitate to meddle in my crew’s personal lives, even when they come to
me; however, in light of what happened and what you said to Mr. Chakotay last
night, I felt it was my duty as a Captain and a friend to speak with you.”
Tom’s gaze traveled from her face down to the carpet. At last, he took
a deep breath and spoke. “What do you want me to say, Captain? Everything
he’s told you is true. Yes, I almost got her killed in the bar, and yes, I
feel she deserves better than me.”
“Why? Because of the bar fight? Tom, she entered the fight on your
behalf, but of her own volition. If she had been acting in her job as a
security officer, it would’ve been no different. She will always risk her own
life to save another, especially if that person is her friend.”
“I realize that, Captain, and believe it or not, I’ve I accepted that
fact.”
“Then what, Tom?”
He sat back, tilting his face toward the ceiling. The hands on either
side of his thighs clenched into two tight fists, as he squeezed his eyes shut.
Janeway sat patiently. Whatever `it’ was, he was having to summon up
all his inner strength to tell her. She only hoped he would be successful.
Presently, his eyes opened, but remained staring at the ceiling. “Have
you ever met someone, Captain?” he began slowly. “And said to yourself, this
is me in five years, ten years or twenty? You know, when it feels like you’re
almost looking at a mirror image of yourself.” He turned his head sideways to
look at her. “Have you ever had that happen to you?”
She shook her head.
“Well, it happened to me at the spaceport when Caitlin introduced Ylan.
It was looking at myself after I left Starfleet and joined the Maquis.
A tough, selfish mercenary whose only concern was for his own pleasure and
survival.”
He raised his face toward the ceiling again. “It scared me, Captain,
and I decided that evening that my father had been right all along and that she
deserved someone better. What happened later only confirmed my decision.”
He closed his eyes tightly, trying to shut out the memories of a lifetime.
Janeway stared at her tea, which was rapidly growing cold, searching
deparately for the right words to say. “Tom, I didn’t know you as a young man.
I do know that when I met you at Auckland, my opinion was not much higher than
the Commander’s former opinion.”
*Former!* Paris’ eyes flew open.
She continued. “But I also know that you have changed both of our
views greatly in the time that we have all been together. Whatever you were
in you past, Tom, I cannot believe that you were truly like Ylan. Similar in
some aspects, maybe, but not a carbon copy. Tom, you must believe me.” She
placed a hand on his knee, silently commanding his blue eyes to stare into
hers. “You are *not* a rapist. All your recent actions have shown you to be
a decent, caring individual, someone I have been proud to have under my
command.”
“Captain, I-”
Janeway shook her head. “Think about what I’ve said. I know you may
not accept it now, but it is imperative that you begin to believe this as
time goes on, for your own sake. You’ve had a lot of labels placed upon you
in your lifetime. One of your problems is that you’ve allowed them to dictate
who you are, whether it’s an admiral’s son, an adept pilot, or a rogue. Well,
it’s time for you to stop listening to them; be who *you* want to be, not what
someone else tells you you are.”
Paris gaped at her. No one had ever spoken to him like this; not his
friends, not his former superiors, and certainly not his father. Turning his
face away, he felt tears of gratitude begin to surface. To check them, he
ran his thumb under each eye before confronting her compassionate gaze again.
“I-I don’t know what to say. I- Thank you, Captain.”
“Thank you is more than enough, Lieutenant.” She smiled gently and
patted his knee. “I hope I have been of help. As far as Caitlin goes, give
her time, and when she asks for it, your support. I don’t know if things will
ever be the same between you two, but she is a tough person. I think with help
and support, she’ll be all right.”
He nodded in agreement, a feeling of hope slowly beginning to fill his
spirit. “Yes, Captain. Permission to leave?”
“Dismissed. And Tom, if you should need to talk again, either my door
or the Commander’s door is always open.”
“Yes ma’am, I mean, Captain. Thank you.”
Janeway gave a half-smile, as the door shut behind him. *One down,
Commander; now, it’s your turn.*

Caitlin looked up from her security PADD as the door chirped its
familiar greeting. “Come in.”
The panel slid open to reveal a stern Chakotay.
“Commander, what can I do for you?” Caitlin tossed the PADD onto the
coffee table before folding her arms across her chest. *I’ve been wondering
when you were going to come see me,* she thought.
Chakotay flashed her a tight-lipped smile. “I believe that’s my line,
Lieutenant.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“Oh, come off it, Matthews,” he snarled, using a soft approach would
only insult her pride, making her retreat further away. “We’ve known each
other for how long? Four years? I can tell when something is bothering you,
and when you need to talk. So you might as well get it over with because I’m
not leaving until you do.” He flopped down into a chair opposite her and
waited expectantly.
“I see,” Caitlin responded sourly. “And just what brought you to this
conclusion? Has the performance of my duties suffered lately? Have I, in
true Torres fashion, bashed any heads in lately?”
“No, to both questions, but that doesn’t mean anything. It’s your
attitude off-duty to which I am referring.”
“What attitude? Really, Chakotay, I’m afraid you’ve been letting your
spirit guide run a little to freely.” Her jaw tightened visibly.
“No, I haven’t and you know it. You get off duty, and you return to
your quarters; after dinner, you return to your quarters. Every waking moment
of the past month, when you are not either eating, working, or training, you
spend in here, and that’s not normal for you. I gave you time to sort things
out alone because I know that’s your style, but it’s become increasingly
obvious that it’s not working this time. Whether you like it or not, you need
some help, and I’ve been the one disignated to give it.”
Caitlin’s eyes narrowed. “Who put you up to this? Paris or the
Captain?”
“Tom did come to see me.” Chakotay replied truthfully. “But I had
already decided to approach you anyway. He only convinced me that it was the
right course of action.”
“Why can’t he keep his big mouth shut and mind his own business?” she
growled, flushing with anger and embarrassment.
“Because he cares about you. And so do a lot of other members of this
crew, for that matter. They are all concerned about you, Caitlin. but none of
them know quite how to approach you.” He paused and lowered his voice. “C’mon
Matthews; it’s me. You know, the one who knows you’ve got feelings. The one
show knows you’re not as tough as you think you are. The one who saw you cry
after the Rina’ar massacre.”
She stood up and paced the floor like a newly-trapped wild creature.
“What do you want me to say?” she exploded. “That I was scared? That I’ve
woken up nights terrified that he was on board, in my room?”
“It would be a start.”
“Okay, then. I’ve said it. Now, you can go.” She gestured toward the
door.
He shook his head. “It goes deeper than that. You’ve also been hiding
from something. Would I be too far wrong to guess that it involves Tom Paris?”
She glared at him for a moment before her eyes became unfocused and all
the colour drained from her face. Chakotay made a quick move to stand. He had
never known her to faint before, but she looked more ready to now than she
ever had in the past. Somehow, though, she made it over to the sofa, and an
involuntary sigh of relief escaped his lips, as she collapsed on it. Placing
her elbows on her knees, she buried her face in her hands.
He waited patiently. Now, was the tricky part; too much sympathy, and
she would clam up; too little, and she wouldn’t explore the issue as fully as
she should.
Finally, she raised her head and stared at the table in front of her.
“Tom would do well to forget about me,” came the whispered response.
“Funny, he said the same thing about you.”
Caitlin shook her head. “I’m not surprised. Now, that he’s seen what
kind of life I’ve come from what would an admiral’s son possibly want with a
two-bit, filthy slut like me? Aside from the obvious?” she added cruelly.
Stunned, Chakotay stared at her, his mouth open in disbelief.
She laughed harshly at his surprise. “Oh, don’t look so shocked,
Commander. I’ve been called worse, but not for a long time. It took Ylan
to remind me of who I was and where I came from. That all this `respect’
from the Maquis and from the crew here is no more deserved by me than,
quite frankly, Tom is.”
Chakotay got up from his chair and sat down beside her on the sofa.
Taking her pale face in his hands, he gazed deeply into her tearing eyes.
“You listen to me, Lieutenant. If anyone deserves respect on this ship, you
do. You’re a good soldier, a good officer, and a good friend. You’re
second in command at security and trusted to lead away missions.
“I’ve seen you risk your life to save people, whether you knew them
or not. And of all the Maquis I’ve known, you are the one I could always
depend on to either follow me to the death or knock me on my ear and tell me
I’m wrong. Dammit, Matthews! You’ve earned my respect, just like you’ve
earned Tuvok’s and the Captain’s, and we don’t hand that out freely to
anyone who happens to walk by.”
He gave her head a little shake. “Listen to me, Caitlin. You deserve
Paris as much as he deserves you or anyone else. You are no worse than he is,
son of an admiral or not, and you are certainly *not* what you called yourself
earlier. In fact, if I ever hear anyone refer to you in those terms, I’ll
deck them myself.” He flashed at grim smile. “Even if that means decking you,
understand?”
She gave a little laugh and silvery tears began to trickle down
her cheeks.
He released her face and gathered her into his arms. “Come on,
Matthews; let it out. I promise I won’t tell,” he whispered, feeling her
shoulders start to jerk in a familiar rhythm.
A few minutes later, her head emerged from his now damp shoulder.
“Your uniform’s soaked,” she sniffled with a tiny grin. “Sorry.”
“I don’t care about that. I care about you.” He cupped her chin
gently in his hand. “How are you doing?”
“Better, I guess. Maybe I just needed you to knock me on my ear for
a change, huh?” Her green eyes, red from crying, did seem a little more
focused than they had over the past few weeks.
“Anytime,” he replied. “Just remember what I told you about deserving
our respect.”
She nodded. “Yeah. Thanks, Chakotay. I owe you one.”
“Keep you head on straight, Matthews; that’ll be thanks enough. Oh, by
the way, I don’t want to interfere, but you know Paris really cares about you.
You might want to stop treating him like the enemy, okay?”
She regarded him strangely for a moment, her eyes hardening slightly.
“Is that an order, Commander?”
“I prefer to call it a friendly hint aimed at smoothing relations
between the two crews.” He smiled gently, fully aware that there was still
much more going on inside her head than she was willing to admit.
“Yes sir. Now, if you don’t mind, I think I’d like to get some sleep.”
“A sound idea, Lieutenant. Some rest will do you good.” He rose and
headed for the door. “Good night, Lieutenant.”
“Good night, Commander, and thanks again.”
“Anytime, Caitlin, anytime.” He flashed her a supportive smile and
then left.
She stared at the door for a few minutes after his departure,
contemplating all that he had said. Finally, rising from the sofa, she went
into the bathroom and gazed at her reflection in the mirror. *Slut . . .
cwene . . . harda’an.* The abusive words echoed in her head. She shook
herself and took a deep breath. “All right, Commander. I’ll try to be his
friend, if that’s what you want, but I cannot allow myself to become his lover
ever again.”

Over the next few months, Paris noted with some relief that Caitlin
had slowly emerged from her cave, and her behavior seemed almost back to
normal, except where he was concerned. Yes, Lieutenant; no, Lieutenant; I’m
fine, Mr. Paris, how are you? Such formality used to be a private joke
between them, but not any more. Now, when he smiled at her, she responded
with only a protocol nod; if he winked, she looked away. The first few rides
alone with her in the turbolift had been torturous, especially when he
remembered how much fun they used to be; the kissing, the groping, the ever-
present threat of being interrupted.
Damn! He had tried everything he could think of to break down the
wall she had constructed; finally, he realized there was nothing left to do
but give up and wait. Gods, how he hated waiting, but if he wanted her back,
he knew he didn’t have much of a choice.

“Tom, hey Tom.” Harry Kim kicked his friend under the table. “Didn’t
you hear what I just said?”
Paris looked up, dazed. “Huh, what? I’m sorry, Harry. I must have
been a thousand kilometers away.”
“I said, Ensign Golder in Engineering thinks you’re pretty cute and is
interested in playing pool with us tomorrow night. You know, B’Elanna and I
against you and Connie. How about it?”
Tom shook his head. “C’mon, Harry. Stop it. You used to hate it when
I’d try to set you up on a date. I realize she’s cute and available, but I’m
not interested right now.”
“Tom, this isn’t like you,” Kim observed. “It’s been over six months
since you and Caitlin broke up, and you haven’t been on a date since. You said
yourself, Connie is a good-looking girl, and it seems to me that maybe you
could use a shoulder, a `female’ shoulder to cry on.”
The older man smiled and shook his head again. “Harry, Harry, Harry.
You sound too much like me for your own good. Look, I appreaciate the effort.
No, really, I do. But I’m just not interested right now, okay?”
“Okay, Tom, whatever you say.” The young Ensign stared down at his
food. “I just thought you might be needing some company.”
“Janeway to Lt. Paris.” The Captain’s voice made them both jump
a little.
“Go ahead, Captain.”
“Mr. Paris, is Ensign Kim with you?”
“Yes, Captain, he is.”
“Good, I need both of you to report to the bridge.”
“On our way, Captain.” Harry responded for the both of them. They
were almost through with lunch anyway.

The doors of the lift opened depositing them onto the bridge.
A bluish-green planet was on the viewscreen.
“Establishing synchronous orbit now, Captain,” the ensign on duty at
conn reported.
“Good. Lt. Matthews, are you picking up any lifesigns?”
“Affirmative, Captain,” replied Caitlin from behind the tactical array.
“Sensors are reading a diverse plant population, but no animal lifeforms of
any kind. Strange. You’d think that with such abundant plant life and natural
resources, there would be at least some form of animal life.”
“Is the atmosphere safe for an away team?” Janeway asked.
“Yes, Captain. Sensors indicate a nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere; it
should be safe for transport.”
“Mr. Paris.”
Tom jerked slightly. He had begun to wonder if the Captain had
forgotten about him and Harry. “Yes, Captain.”
“I want you to lead an away team down to the surface. Ensigns Kim and
Keeling, Lt. Matthews, you’re with him.”
Silently, the four left the bridge in the lift, heading for transporter
room two. Paris allowed his gaze to stray sideways over to Caitlin, familiar
waves of desire washing over him. Suddenly, he realized her eyes were holding
his. Blushing slightly, he redirected his stare to the lift doors. *You’re
the leader, Thomas. Act like it.*

The area in which they beamed down was prairie-like with tall
grasses swaying in the wind; about fifty meters away was a forest of trees.
Just as on the ship, their tricorders read abundant plant life, but no animals.
“Spread out,” Paris ordered. “But keep in contact. If you find any-
thing unusual or get into trouble call.”
They moved off in different directions, with Tom heading towards the
woods. A few meters inside the forest, his tricorder began reading a fresh
water source. Following the directions indicated, he came to a ledge about
two-and-a-half meters above a pebble-strewn beach. A stream about three meters
across meandered slowly below.
“Considering the positions of the stones and the erosion on some of the
bigger rocks, I’m willing to bet that this planet is in drought and that this
stream was at one time more like a river. I wonder if- Hey!” The dry ground
beneath his feet suddenly crumbled, pitching
him head first down the rocky slope.

“Janeway to Paris.”
“Mr. Paris, do you read me?”
Silence.
The Captain frowned. “Janeway to Lt. Matthews.”
“Matthews here.”
“We are picking up a large energy storm heading towards your position.
The four of you must return to the original transporter coordinates
immediately. The energy discharges are beginning to interfere with our sensor
readings.”
“Understood. Matthews to away team.”
“Kim, here.”
“Keeling, here.”
“Return to the beam out sight. We’ve got an energy storm on the way.”
“Acknowledged.”
Within minutes, the three met at the coordinates.
“Where’s the Lieutenant?” Ensign Keeling asked.
“Kim to Paris.”
No response; Harry shot Caitlin a worried look.
“Matthews to Paris.”
The wind was blowing fiercely, whipping the grasses around
them, as the storm picked up speed and strength.
“You two get back to the ship. I’m going after Lt. Paris,” Caitlin
ordered. She was security, and the safety of the away team was her burden.
“Wait. We’ll come with you.”
She shook her head. “No, Harry; get back to the ship. There isn’t
any sense in four of us getting lost down here. The Lieutenant’s safety is
my responsibility.”
Harry nodded, reluctantly obeying her order. “Kim to Voyager. Two
to beam up.”
Caitlin didn’t wait to watch them dematerialize. The storm was getting
closer by the minute, and she had to find Tom before it hit.
*Damn!* The energy fluctuations were making scanning more than a few
meters virtually impossible. She looked up at the sky; its dark grey colour
bearing down upon her. *Tom, where the hell are you? If I don’t find you
soon, we’re both done for.*
Suddenly, the tricorder blipped, indicting another tricorder about four
meters to her left. *Well, at least I know he came this way. Now, where-
Oh no!* “Tom!”
Peering over the ledge, she spotted his body lying motionless in the
dry river bed. She lowered herself slowly down to him, and scanned his body.
No broken bones, just a concussion. *Thank the gods.*
“Matthews to Voyager.”
“Voyager, do you read?”
The storm was almost on them; its energy discharges making her skin
tingle. Looking around, she spotted a small overhang carved out of the rock.
Lifting his unconscious form into a sitting position, she put her arms under
his, clasping her hands across his chest. *Any port in a storm,* she thought
to herself dragging him over to the ledge. Crawling under herself firsT, she
pulled his upper body then his lower body in after her. She placed his head
and shoulders in her lap and drew her knees up. Covering both their faces with
her arms, she waited for the storm to pass.

“Mr. Kim, can you get any reading on them?” The abrasive tone to
Janeway’s voice belied her concern for the missing officers.
“Negative, Captain. The storm is passing, but now there is some sort
of energy field surrounding the area. Sensors can’t penetrate it. Captain,”
the young man paused. “It seems like something or someone doesn’t want them
to be found.”

Paris felt cool water on his face. Someone was bathing his forehead.
*What the-oh yeah, the fall. You clumsy idiot. Some leader you are.* He
opened his eyes, but promptly shut them. The light hurt his head way too much.
“Good, you’re awake.” He heard a familiar voice say. “How do you
feel?”
He squinted up to see Caitlin sitting beside him, peering anxiously
into his face. *Oh, gods, of all the people to find me.* “Not too bad,”
he lied and tried to sit up, but pain ripped through his head causing him
to see stars.
“Easy. Lie back down.” She took the back of his head and neck in her
hand and gently lowered him back down. “You’ve got a concussion; not a serious
one, but a concussion nonetheless. So, you’re going to be out of commission
for the next few days.”
“Where are the others? Why didn’t you beam back on board once you
found me?” He thought his head was going to split wide open.
“There was an energy storm, and when you didn’t return to the
transporter coordinates, I had Harry and Michael beam up while I went to search
for you. I found you just as the storm hit. It’s over now, but I haven’t been
able to raise Voyager. You know, I’m beginning to think that you and I
shouldn’t go on away missions together,” she teased.
Tom chuckled, sending another bolt of pain through his skull. “Don’t
make em laugh; it hurts,” he muttered weakly.
“Here. Maybe this will make you feel better.” She placed two large
wet leaves across his forehead. “Without a medikit, it’s the best I can do
for a compress. Are you thirsty?”
“A little. I guess.” The cool leaves did feel good.
“Don’t move. I’ll be right back.” Caitlin returned quickly. Kneeling
behind him, she raised his head and shoulders off the ground and into her lap.
“Drink.” She held a cup made of the same leaves to his mouth. *Smart idea of
mine to have Chakotay teach me some survival tricks.*
He took a couple of sips before the pain became too great and his head
fell back against her arm. She lowered him smoothly to the ground. Then,
grabbing her tricorder, she scanned h.
“Just checking,” she said. “But as long as you take it easy, you
should be fine. Do you feel good enough for me to leave you alone for a
little while? I’ve tested the commbadges, and they are still operational, so
you can call if you need me. I didn’t want to stray too far when you were
unconscious, but now, with darkness starting to fall, I really should gather
some food and wood for a fire.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ll be fine.” Paris grumbled. Over the past few weeks,
all he’d wanted was some time alone with her, and now that he had it, he was as
helpless as an infant.

In about an hour, she returned with firewood and some food, consisting
mostly of tubers and berries. Not exactly tasty, but nevertheless nourishing.
Tom ate only a few bites. Sitting up hurt like hell and made him
dizzy. As he lay under the overhang, he watched her tend the fire. Why did
she still keep her distance? Didn’t she know he still cared for her? Didn’t
she still care for him? He closed his eyes. The answers to these questions
seemed no closer to him now than they had two months ago; besides it hurt
his head to think anyway.
“Going to sleep?” she called softly.
“Yeah, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot else I can do.”
“Probably a good idea. I think I’ll join you,” she added, kicking dirt
over the fire. She crawled under the overhang, and Tom felt her body stretch
out beside his, cuddling slightly due to the narrowness of the space. It was
nice to have her by his side again, comforting even. A small smile crossed
his lips, as a healing sleep overtook him.

When he awoke the next morning, she was gone. Keeping his eyes closed,
he raised himself slowly up onto his elbows; then he opened them. His head
throbbed, but there was none of the blinding pain of yesterday. He decided to
try and sit up, but realized that he was too tall for the space. He edged
himself out from under the overhang and into the bright morning sun. *OWWW!*
The light carved a shaft through his eyes and deep into his skull. *Keep
going, Thomas. Take a deep breath. Now, slowly. . .*
Ignoring the pain, he grabbed the outside of the overhang with his
right hand, and eyes closed once again, he used the rock to pull himself up
into a seated position. Breathing heavily, he rested his pounding head against
the stone and waited a few moments before re-opening his eyes. *Oh gods,
it hurts.* But his determination was equal to the pain. Soon, his temples
eased down to a slow throb and he gradually opened his eyes. Downstream, he
could see a figure bending over the water. He touched his commbadge.
“Paris to Matthews.” *Ah, so professional.*
The figure sat up. “Matthews here. Good morning, Lieutenant. I’ll
be there in just a minute.”
He watched her stand and gather up whatever she had been working on.
As she approached, he noticed that she had removed her turtleneck and was
using it as a sack. She crouched down next to him and opened the bundle;
inside were more tubers, nut and berries. He closed his eyes, groaning
inwardly. *More squirrel food.*
“I’m sorry I can’t offer you anything else,” she said reading his
thoughts. “But I’m still only covering a narrow range. I figured I’d go a
little further east after breakfast and see what I can find.”
She reached across him and turned over two hollow stones. “I found
these this morning and washed them. They’ll make better cups than the leaves
do.” She stood up and walked over to the stream. She returned with each
stone full of water and handed one to Tom.
He didn’t really know how thirsty he was until the cool water touched
his lips. He drank quickly, emptying the cup in a few swallows, before handing
it back to her. She handed him hers, and grinned as he promptly drained that
one as well. Returning to the stream, she refilled them; then, sitting back
down next to him, she urged him to eat. He ate some of the berries and
one of the softer tubers, but the nuts caused him more pain than it was worth.
“Still no word from Voyager?” he asked.
Caitlin shook her head. “Nope, and I’ve said `Matthews to Voyager’
so many times, I’ll probably be saying it in my sleep.” She joked, running
her tricorder over his head. “Now let’s see how you are doing. Damn! I wish
I had a medikit; I’d rather have a more accurate reading of your condition.
But at least, this says you are improving,” she noted encouragingly.
As she finished her breakfast, Tom became aware of his desire to use
the bathroom, and pride couldn’t bring him to ask for her help. Before she
could stop him, he struggled to his feet. The blinding pain returned almost
instantly, and he felt the ground sway beneath his feet. He grabbed for the
wall of rock behind him, as his legs began to buckle.
Caitlin caught him as he collapsed to his knees. “What the hell do you
think you’re doing?” She sounded angry. “You aren’t strong enough to stand by
yourself, yet.”
“I-I need to use the-the facilities.” Paris managed to gasp.
“Well, say so the next time. Here, let me help you.” Bending, she
swung one of his arms across her shoulders and the other around his waist.
“Easy does it now.”
Gradually, with her assistance, he pulled himself up and stood swaying
slightly. Closing his eyes, he waited for the throbbing in his skull to ease.
“Okay, I think I’m ready.”
“All right, it’s over this way.” She led him a few meters downstream
around another rock outcropping. Behind some bushes, a small columnal
indentation about half a meter in depth had been carved into the bank a good
five meters away from the stream.
“I think I can handle it from here.” He steadied himself against
the side of the rock.
“Are you sure? You don’t need any help?”
He grinned slightly. “Not since I was about three or four.”
“If you say so. I’ll be waiting right over here; call me when you’re
done.” She moved off a discreet distance and turned her back.
Tom unfastened his uniform and sighed with relief as his bladder
emptied. When he was done, he called to Caitlin.
She hurried over. “Better?” she teased.
“Better,” he grinned, and for just a moment it was like old times.
Then her professionalism returned. “Good. Let’s get you back to camp.”
As she lowered him back down under the overhang, she said, “I’ll fill
up the water cups, and if you’re settled in, I’m going to go explore some
more.”
“Sure, go ahead. I’ll be fine. Maybe you can find us some tastier
samples of plants.” Grinning, he lay back and closed his eyes.

About four hours later, she returned excited. “You won’t believe what
I’ve found Lieutenant. A small farmhouse. It has furniture in it and working
well nearby. I don’t understand why I haven’t picked it up on my tricorder
before now, but boom! I walked into a small clearing and there it was. I
thought for a minute I was dreaming, but I went inside. It’s real, which means
we don’t have to spend another night out here. Now, I’ve just got to some way
of getting you there.” She began looking around.
“Whoa, slow down, Cait. I mean, Lieutenant. What did you say?
A farmhouse?”
“Yeah.” She turned back to him. “Look, I know there’s no intelligent
life as we know it here, and I can’t explain it either. But there’s one thing
I’ve learned being in the Maquis: when you see an opening, go for it.”
“Uh-huh. How about if something seems to good to be true, it
usually is?”
“I know, I know.” She was beginning to calm down. “Look, if you want
to stay here, we will. I just figured you might find a bed more comfortable,
that’s all,” she added wickedly.
*A bed, that’s a low blow.* “I didn’t say we should stay here,” he
backpedaled. “I just think we should proceed with caution.”
“Well, we can’t proceed anywhere, if I can’t get you up this bank and
over land. It’s too far for you to walk,” she stated bluntly. “Hey, wait a
minute. I got it. Will you be okay on your own for about another hour or so?”
“I think so. Why?”
“There was wood back at the house. Maybe I can rig up some kind of
sleigh or something. I’ll be right back,” she called, scrambling up the slope.

Another Chance
Part II

by Carly Hunter
copyright 1995

The clatter of dishes awakened Tom. He sat up in bed, dazed by the
dream he had been having, but it had been just that, only a dream. They
were still here on this godforsaken planet, and she was just as remote as ever.
He rubbed his hand over his chin, feeling the fuzz of his growing
beard. They had been trapped here about five days now, and he had made almost
a full recovery from his injury. *Damn, this thing itches.* He scratched
along his jaw. Shaving was always an option, but the idea of using only a
sharp stone and water made him wince. Besides, Caitlin seemed to like it;
said it made him look older and more Maquis than Starfleet.
After a good stretch, he reached for his uniform; he was determined
not to stay around this two-room cage one more day. Not that he wasn’t happy
she found the cabin. It had certainly been better than camping out of doors
with no gear, but sitting around here for two days with nothing to do except
prepare vegetables for dinner was driving him crazy.
“Good morning,” he sung out cheerfully as he stepped into the area
which served as the living room and kitchen.
Caitlin spun around from the small tub they used as a sink. “Oh!
Good morning, Lieutenant. You startled me. I was just fixing myself a
small lunch to take on my hike.”
“Make it enough for two. I’m going with you today.”
She eyed him uncertainly. “You sure you feel up to it?”
He nodded. “I’m not a bloody invalid anymore, you know; I haven’t
been dizzy or in any pain for almost forty-eight hours. Besides, do you
have any idea how boring it is here all by yourself?”
“All right, Lieutenant. You can come, but promise me that if you
start feeling badly, you’ll say so. I don’t want to have to haul you back
here.”
“Promise, and by the way, in case you’ve forgotten, my name is Tom.
Even Paris would be preferable to this Lieutenant nonsense. We’re not
strangers, Cait; at least, we didn’t used to be.” He had almost begun to hate
the sound of his cherished field commission.
“I would prefer to use Lieutenant.” Caitlin replied, deliberately
hiding behind protocol.
“Well, I wouldn’t.” Tom stated angrily. “And since I was made leader
of this away mission, I order you to use my name. Dammit, Caitlin, is it
really that repugnant to you to acknowledge our past?”
“Okay, okay. Tom it is.” It was infinitely better to make this small
concession than answer his question. “There, the lunch is packed. Are you
ready to leave?”
“Yeah,” he sighed despondently. “I just need to make use of the
latrine, first.”

As they explored the forested area that now served as their home, he
learned that she had not only been gathering food, but also had been
accumulating a small, botanical medicine chest.
“See,” Caitlin bent over to pick three leaves off a small bush. “The
tannins in these leaves, when boiled, will produce an antiseptic; whereas the
tannin in this plant can function as an anthelmintic. And the alkaloids in
this tree bark can be used as a tranquilizer and antispasmodic, but only in
very small quantities.”
Tom stared at her. “Where the hell did you learn this?”
She grinned. “From our resident shaman, Chakotay, who else? Years ago
when I first met him, the Maquis group we were with had to flee into some hills
to avoid a Cardassian patrol. We had very few supplies with us, and it was
only through his knowledge that we were able to survive. To someone who had
spent most of her life in ships and spacestations, this was pretty damn
amazing. So, I got him to teach me a little here and a little there whenever
there was a break in the fighting.” She looked at the flower she twirled
between her fingers, remembering what her mentor had said a few months ago.
“We’ve forged a pretty special working friendship over the past few years.
He’s a good leader. I guess, in some ways, he’s replaced my father,” she
added softly.
Tom regarded her silently, a little jealous of the affection in her
voice for the older man. *It was probably good, then, that I got Chakotay
to talk to you,* he reflected. *I just wish I knew what had been said.*
They hiked along a tree-covered ridge, which ran behind the house;
on its slope, they paused to eat their lunch. Paris looked down over the house
and through the trees at the small, peeping, blue patches of water from the
nearby pond. Memories of their first away mission together filled his mind.
Taking a swallow of water, he looked over at Caitlin. She was sitting only
about a meter away, but the distance between them seemed five times that,
even greater than it had when they first met. *Gods, Cait, why won’t you let
me back into your life? I know a part of you wants to; I can feel it. Why
can’t you just admit it?* he mused, unaware that she had become conscious of
his gaze.
“What are you thinking about?”
“What? Oh, nothing.” He turned back to his lunch.
“For nothing, you were staring at me pretty hard. What is it?”
Paris took a deep breath. “I was just remembering our first away
mission; the fights, the swimming, and to be honest, the sex. In a way, this
place reminds me of that planet with the pond and trees. There, now you know.”
Embarrassed, he picked up the remains of his lunch and moved further up
the ridge.
Caitlin looked down the ridge. *He’s right,* she admitted. In some
ways, this place was more like that planet than the holodeck re-creation they
had designed together. She wondered if the program was still in the holodeck’s
memory or if he had purged it. A small voice inside told her it was still
there. Choking back her emotions, she finished the piece of fruit she had been
nibbling on and set out after him.

That evening, they lay together, both more aware than ever of the
invisible sword that divided the tiny bed between them. Conversation had been
kept to a minimum all afternoon and evening. There was no more small talk left
to be made, and the larger issues that remained were to daunting to approach.
Caitlin lay on her side, watching Paris through lash-filtered lens.
All day long, memories of their first mission had distracted her; his touch,
his smell, all of it had come back. *Not that it ever left,* she mused.
*I just got good at suppressing it.* Now was different, though. The
recollections had awoken a yearning inside that seemed to come from the very
core of her being. Her heart pounded in her chest, and her breathing was
rapid and shallow, despite efforts to the contrary. If she could just make it
through the night, her self-control should re-assert itself in the morning.
*As long as we don’t touch; as long as he keeps his distance,* she thought,
firmly shutting her eyes.
Tom lay on his back, listening for the deep regular breathing of
slumber to come from the other side of the bed. He turned his head toward her.
Her eyes were closed, but he didn’t think she had fallen asleep yet. He
reached across with his left hand and caressed her cheek. As his fingers
moved along her jaw, the eyes opened and silently returned his gaze. Placing
his hand behind her neck, he rolled over and brought his lips to hers.
Memories of their past proved to be too much for both of them, and she
desperately returned his increasingly passionate kisses.

Tom rolled over on his side, his arm falling against the empty spot
next to him. He opened his eyes and gingerly traced the indentation in the
pillow with his hand. Closing his eyes again, he turned over onto his back.
He could still feel her pressed against him; their bodies moving with the
confidence and rhythm experienced lovers share. It had been so good to hold
her again. Hearing water splashing in the other room, he reached down and
picked his uniform and underwear up off the floor.
Caitlin stood at the sink washing last night’s dishes. Her dark auburn
hair fell loosely below her shoulders. He stared at her from the doorway for a
moment before coming up behind her. Placing one hand on her waist, he pulled
down the collar of her turtleneck and gently kissed the tiny bruises he had
left on her neck the night before. “Mmmm, good morning.”
She stiffened under his touch. “What?” he asked. Receiving no reply,
he whispered against her hair, “Cait, what’s happened to us? Why won’t you
let me in anymore? Was it something I did, something I shouldn’t have done?
“What, Cait? Please tell me.”
“It’s not your fault, but things have changed. I’m sorry, but we
just can’t be like we were before.”
“No you’re wrong. Nothing’s changed.” He insisted, bringing his hands
up to her shoulders. “Didn’t last night prove that to you?”
She took a deep breath. “Last night was a mistake. I shouldn’t have
allowed it to happen.”
“No, no, it wasn’t. You and I both wanted each other; we needed each
other. We still need each other. Caitlin.” He turned her around to face him.
“Please, you can’t mean that.”
She looked up into a pair of anguished blue eyes. *Oh gods, don’t look
at me like that,* she begged silently. Averting her own gaze, she replied
faintly, “I’m afraid I do.”
Paris pulled away, running his fingers through his hair. He
took a few steps toward the front door and spun around. “Why?” He yelled
in frustration. “Why was it a mistake? Tell me, because I don’t think
it was.”
She sighed and put down the dish she had been cleaning. “Please don’t
ask me that,” she pleaded, feeling her eyes beginning to mist. *Don’t cry;
don’t let him see you cry.* She turned away. “It just was, isn’t that
enough?”
“No, dammit, it isn’t! How could you even think it would be?” He
grabbed a chair and sat down behind her. “Cait,” he continued quietly. “All
I’ve wanted to do for the past few months is hold you. Not make love to you,
just hold you and try to correct whatever mistakes I made with us in the past.
Please.” He rested his elbows on his knees, covering his face with his hands.
“Please, the last thing I ever wanted to do was lose you.”
She pivoted around and stared at him. His shoulders were shaking
silently. She never wanted to hurt him like this, and she crossed over to
where he sat. Emitting a wounded cry, he threw his arms around her legs and
pressed the side of his face into her stomach. Caitlin put one arm around his
shoulders and with her free hand smoothed the touseled blond hair. “Tom, I’m
sorry. I never meant to hurt you so. It’s all my fault.”
He looked up into her emerald eyes; the expression on his face, so
pained and vulnerable, cut her to the very bone. “Cait, I honestly think I
love you. Doesn’t that count for something?”
Taking his face in her hands, she gently brushed away some of the
tears. “Of course, it does, more than you know, but I don’t know if I’ll ever
be able to say the same thing to you.” She gazed deeply into his eyes. “Tom,
please believe me, I would if I thought I could.”
Paris grabbed her wrists pulling her hands away from his face.
The blue eyes hardened, as the old impassive mask dropped into place.
“I don’t understand; I guess I probably never will, but I’m sure that doesn’t
matter. Now, if you will excuse me, I think I’ll go take a bath in the pond.”
He grabbed a nearby towel and left, slamming the door behind him.
Caitlin collapsed into the recently vacated chair. *It’s not fair!
Why can’t I admit that I’ve never been as happy as when I am with him? Why
can’t I tell him last night wasn’t a mistake?* The promise she had extracted
from herself a few months ago reared up in response. It was obvious that he
had been unable to accept their break; now, it was up to her to enforce it.
She placed her feet on the edge of the chair, drawing her knees into her
chest. A low moan of despair emerged from deep within her chest.
Tom sat by the edge of the pond. *Well, that’s it, Thomas. She
doesn’t love you, and nothing you say or do will change that fact.* He lowered
his head as some powerful unseen force painfully twisted his heart.
“Oh, gods,” he groaned. “Why?” Closing his eyes, he tried to shut out the
feeling of utter hopelessness that was seeping into every bone and muscle in
his body. Presently, he stripped and plunged into the cold water.

*I don’t want to go back in there, but I have to. I know she’s not
telling me the truth,* he thought. He had been turning her recent actions over
and over in his mind during the past ten or so minutes. *Damn!* His hand
smacked the water. Where was Voyager? Why had they left them here?
Climbing out of the water, he pulled the towel he had brought around his waist
and headed back to the house.
Caitlin was preparing fruits and vegetables for lunch. She didn’t
bother to look up as he stalked past her into the bedroom.
He returned a few minutes later fully dressed. Sitting down at the
table across from her, he took her hands in his. “Cait, look at me. If we
are going to be here for awhile, we’re going to have to deal with this
situation sooner or later. Maybe we should have dealt with it a long time
ago on Voyager, I don’t know. All I do know is that ever since that damned
trade mission, we’ve treated each other like strangers, which is something
we’re not, and last night only served to bring that fact home to us.
Cait, talk to me please. If only because of our past, I think I deserve
to know why you want to keep me at arms’ length.”
He was right, and she knew it. Whether or not she could bring herself
to tell him was entirely another matter, but she had to try. Maybe once he
heard her side, he would understand why they had to stay apart. She sighed
deeply. “Tom, how well do you think you know me?”
“Until recently, pretty well, I thought. I mean, I know what kind of
person you are and that’s all that really matters.”
Caitlin shook her head. “No, that’s not enough. What Ylan tried to
do to me was nothing new. When I was fourteen, a Rigellian succeeded in
doing the same thing. He stopped by my father’s ship when I was the only one
on board. I let him in because he wasn’t a complete stranger and because he
said he was waiting for my father to conclude their business deal. We talked
amicably for a while, and then, he grabbed me and kissed me. I told him to
stop, but he wouldn’t, and the more I struggled the more he hurt me. Finally,
I just stopped fighting back, figuring it would be less painful for me if he
did what he wanted and left. Somehow, though, it only made him angrier. He
called me a lot of horrible names, some of which I had never heard before or
since, but I knew what they meant.”
She closed her eyes. It had been along time since she had told anyone
about this. Tom’s hands curled protectively around hers, giving her the
courage to go on.
“After a while, I’m not sure how long, he left, but all I could do was
lay there in my own filth and cry. Dad and J’nok, my godfather, found me. Dad
got one of his waitress friends to come help me clean up, and he and J’nok went
out looking for the guy. Hours later, they came back, but didn’t say anything.
A couple of weeks passed before I found out that the guy had been reported
missing since that night. I never asked, but I always assumed that J’nok, who
is, I mean, was Klingon, killed him to avenge my dishonour. After that, it
became pretty well-known that you didn’t mess with the crew of the Taliesyn,
especially the Captain’s daughter.”
“Cait,” Tom whispered softly, compassionate blue eyes holding her
gaze. “I don’t know what to say. I’m so sorry. I wish-”
“I’m not done yet, Tom. Let me finish.” Her hands squeezed his to the
point of pain, but he didn’t say a word. For her, they were anchors to the
present, while painful memories drug her mercilessly into the past, and he
understood this feeling all too well.
“Tom, I was so angry and so bruised that when anyone touched me,
I screamed and lashed out at them. There was no way to comfort me, no matter
how hard my father tried. Eventually, though, my body healed, and my father
realized that if I was to stay with him, I had to be taught to defend myself.
I think up until then he had harbored the hope that I might turn out a bit more
refined like my mother. Anyway, over the years, I became a full-fledged member
of my Dad’s crew, learning the business from the inside out. My suppressed
anger made me seem tough on the outside; no one knew how hurt and humiliated I
still was on the inside.
“Then, Dad disappeared and the Federation made peace, removing the only
possible outlet for both my new and old anger. Joining the Maquis solved all
of this. At first, I used my own small ship to smuggle weapons and supplies,
until it was destroyed about four years ago. Then, I began fighting the
Cardassians properly. I took any mission thatI was offered, preferably
ones where I was on my own. It didn’t matter if I got killed or not, who would
miss a two-bit trader slut like me? But somehow I survived and got my own
command. You know, I think that’s what finally, made me deal with some of my
anger and pain; the knowledge that other lives now depended on me. It gave me
more than just a superficial sense of self-worth, and yet, it allowed me to
still keep people at an emotional distance. You crossed that distance, Tom; I
was happier with you than I had been for a long time. Unfortunately, Ylan
reminded me of where I was from and who I was, and I realized that ex-con or
not, you were still the son of a Starfleet admiral and had no business in a
relationship with the likes of me. I’m sorry, Tom; I wish things could’ve been
different. To pretend that they are, wouldn’t be fair to either one of us.”
She withdrew her hands from his and strode quickly out of the cabin.
Paris sat there too stunned to protest her departure, not that he knew
what to say. He supposed he could start with the fact that he loved her and
that none of the rest mattered, but that would be a lie because it did, just
not in the way she thought. *Oh, gods, Cait. Why didn’t you tell me before?*
Closing his eyes, he saw the twisted bodies from the shuttle; hers was there
again, too, bruised almost beyond recognition by repeated blows. Out of his
reach, he was powerless to help her. He opened his eyes and stumbled outside.
Even deep breaths of fresh air didn’t stop the wave of nausea rising in his
throat. He dropped to his knees and threw up, unaware that Caitlin was
watching from behind a nearby tree.

Tom looked at the bowl of half-prepared vegetables on the table,
untouched since this morning. After he had vomited, he had gone for a long
hike to clear his head. As a result, he hadn’t seen Caitlin since this
morning, but now, dusk was falling, and he was getting worried.
A quick scan of the area with his tricorder revealed no sign of her.
He touched his commbadge. “Paris to Matthews.” He waited for a response.
“Paris to Matthews. Caitlin, please respond.” With the exception of the
leaves rustling in the wind, he hadn’t realized just how ominous the silence
here could be.
*Okay, Thomas. Darkness is fast approaching; you’d better make this a
quick and successful search.* He headed off in the direction of the pond.
*Oh, please let her be safe.*
When he reached the water, he let out an audible sigh of relief as the
tricorder picked up no sign of her. Caitlin had never struck him as the kind
to commit suicide; she was too much of a survivor, but then, he hadn’t reckoned
on the amount of pain she was carrying inside either.
He headed back toward the house and caught the trail leading up the
ridge, stumbling over roots and rocks as he went. It was rapidly growing
harder and harder to see. “What I wouldn’t give for a wristlight about now,”
he muttered to himself.
Getting halfway up the ridge took him half-an-hour, leaving him in
almost total darkness by the time he started back down. When he reached
the cabin, his stomach was growling. He hadn’t eaten all day. He started a
small fire inside; then, sitting down on the hearth with the bowl of vegetables
beside him, he tore one of the towels into strips. After soaking the cloth in
one of the antiseptic solutions, he wrapped them around three of the thinner
pieces of unused firewood. Placing two torches in the sack they used for
gathering food, he shoved the other one in the fire. It caught quickly, but
seemed to burn slowly. Hastily extinguishing the remaining fire in the
fireplace, he picked up his tricorder and began his search once again.
As he walked along, the tricorder suddenly blipped; her commbadge, at
least, was nearby. Seven meters, six, five . . . still no lifeform readings.
One meter. The pin glistened in the torchlight. No wonder he hadn’t been
able to raise her; he stored the badge carefully in his bundle before going on.
About twenty meters from the stream where they had first camped, the
tricorder blipped again. A human female – alive! Paris broke into a run and
soon stood on the bank above the pebble-strewn floor. She was sitting, staring
into a small fire, her knees drawn up to her chest. He watched her rock back
and forth, her eyes never wavering from the flames. Tom tossed the torch down
onto the river bed a few feet away from Caitlin. She sprang to her feet,
pulling her phaser.
“Hey,” he called, slithering down the slope. “Don’t shoot. It’s
only me.”
She holstered her weapon and soon found herself the unwillingly
recepient of a tight embrace.
“Oh thank the gods, you’re safe,” he murmured, burying his face in her
hair. “I’ve been looking all over-Hey!”
Caitlin shoved him roughly away. “I suppose it never occurred to you
that I wanted to be alone.”
He stared at her in surprise before shaking his head. “No, I’m sorry;
it didn’t. I suppose you’ll want me to leave now.”
“If you don’t mind.” Her voice was cold, sending an involuntary shiver
down his spine.
“All right. Now that I know you’re safe, I’ll go, but I wish you’d
reconsider and come back with me to the house.”
She shook her head and turned back to the fire.
“Very well, if that’s what you want.” He reached into the sling. “By
the way, here’s your commbadge; you should keep it on if for no other reason
than to make it easier for Voyager to find you.” He grabbed her arm and
slapped it into her hand. Removing one of the unused torches, he shoved it
in the fire to light it before scrambling back up the steep bank.

Janeway looked around the faces of her senior officers. “I’m not
prepared to believe that there is no way to penetrate this shield which is
holding two of my crewmen prisoner on the planet.”
“Captain,” B’Elanna Torres spoke up. “We’ve tried matching our sensors
to the fields’ frequency in an effort to locate them; however, we haven’t had
much success. The data we keep receiving is contradictory.”
“Well, we can’t just do nothing,” exclaimed Harry. “There has to be
some way of getting to Tom and Caitlin. They could be hurt or-” He stopped as
the sickening thought of Vediians crossed his mind.
“It can serve no useful purpose to imagine overly dramatic
circumstances based on facts not in evidence, Mr. Kim.” Tuvok’s controlled
voice admonished the young ensign. “I suggest that the interests of the
missing crewmen would best be served by sticking to the data we have at hand.
Lieutenant Torres, have you been able to locate any cracks in the energy
field?”
“Yes, some very tiny ones.”
“Perhaps,” continued the Vulcan. “If we modified the sensors to
conduct a microscan of one of these cracks, we would be able to determine what
type of shield we are dealing with.”
“In other words,” Janeway inferred. “Focus on the shield itself,
rather than trying to penetrate it.”
“Precisely,” Tuvok acknoledged. “Since there is apparently no
intelligent life on the planet, I am curious as to why there should be such a
locally-effective force field. According to the tricorder readings we have
obtained, little reason exists for the use of such a defensive device.”
“We’ll have to take the sensors off-line for several hours to re-align
them,” Kim pointed out.
Janeway rose from her seat. “Do it. Mr. Tuvok, Mr. Kim, give
Lt. Torres a hand. I want this scan completed as soon as possible.
Dismissed.”

“Hey!” Tom called down from the top of the embankment, shielding his
eyes against the morning sun.
Caitlin glanced up and sighed. “What do you want, Lieutenant?” Her
voice had a tone of defeat in it he had never heard before.
Paris eased himself down the slope. “I brought you a few things from
the house. I figured if you’re determined to stay out here away from me, you
could at least be a little more comfortable.” He held out a small bundle
consisting of a blanket, a towel, a cup and a plate.
“Oh, ah, thanks, but you didn’t have to go to the trouble.” She
accepted the gift with a great deal of evident unease.
“I know, but I wanted to.” Tom scratched his whiskered chin. “Um,
listen, if you’ve got a few minutes, I’d like to talk to you.” Seeing her
look of annoyance, he quickly backpedaled. “Not about you, about me. There
are a few things I’d like to get off my own chest before we stop speaking
altogether.”
“All right; if it’ll make you feel better, Lieutenant.” Caitlin
acquiesced, lowering herself and the bundle to the ground. “What is it you
want to tell me?”
Paris sat down, too, but faced the stream, rather than her. “You know
how when we first met you called me a spoiled brat; well, you were right.
I was. When I was little, I thought my Dad was the most amazing man; everyone
respected him, and I wanted to be like him. Subconsciously, I think he also
wanted to make me like himself. Anyway, I tried to meet the standards he set
and failed miserably. My Dad hates failures, and there I was, his son, the
failure. Pretty soon, I started hating him for being so successful, for
making me feel so inadequate, and I struck back in the way I knew would bother
him most, by just sliding by. It was so easy. What I couldn’t get through
charm, I could alway get through my father’s status. It was my father’s
position which got me in the Academy; my grades barely passed the entrance
requirements. And it was his position, along with my piloting skills and
charm, that kept me in.
“At the Academy, I spent the better part of my years in and out of
bars, keeping up with my classes through any one of a dozen girlfriends’ notes.
The only classes I really payed attention in were techno-history and starship
flight operations and tactics, almost everyting else bored me to tears. And
after graduation, dear old Dad’s reputation once again pulled me a choice
assignment on Caldik Prime, but it was there, as you and just about everyone
else knows, that I began learning life’s little lessons the hard way.
“Cait, I had no business piloting the shuttle the way I did. I didn’t
have the experience or knowledge needed to execute the maneuver, but at the
time, I couldn’t admit it. After all, I was Tom Paris, Admiral Paris’ son,
the Academy’s golden boy pilot.” He gave a snort of self-derision. “I really
thought I could beat the odds on just everything I tried, and up until then,
I had.
“After the accident, though, I couldn’t live with myself. I killed
three of my friends; one of them was Ricki, my fiancee. We had been engaged
less than a week; we hadn’t even told our parents yet.” Tom closed his eyes,
remembering the laughter, the joking, and then the dreadful silence that had
followed. Shaking off the disturbing recollections, he continued. “I was
scared, Cait. I didn’t know what to do; so I lied, trying to cover up my
latest and greatest failure. But my conscience got the best of me for once in
my life, and I tried, albeit too late, to take the blame. Trouble was, I had
already hurt and disappointed so many people, that no one, let alone my father,
would stand up for me, not that I can blame them in retrospect. At the time,
though, it made me angry. Here I was trying to do the right thing, and no one
cared. So, after they kicked me out, I went out looking for a fight; I don’t
think the price really mattered, in spite of what Chakotay thought. Looking
back, I was probably angry more with myself than anyone else; I just didn’t
know it at the time.” He paused again; his blue eyes fixed upon some remote
place in time.
“And then I got caught and sent to prison. In a way, it seemed the
fitting end to a useless life. I was pretty much beyond caring what happened
to me by that point; of course, I couldn’t let anyone else know that, even now.
But when Captain Janeway brought me on Voyager, everything changed. All I
wanted was to be part of a crew again, to show that I could be useful, and for
better or worse, circumstances have allowed me to prove this point to myself
and to others.
“Meeting Ylan, though, reminded me of how shallow and opportunistic I
used to be, and I concluded that you deserved someone better, someone who
didn’t use people and throw them away. It took a talk with the Captain for me
to realized that I was wrong about that, too.”
Sighing, he turned and looked at her for the first time. “Cait,
listen. The past may make us who we are, but it doesn’t control who we decide
to become. Our particular pasts are over seventy thousand light years from
here; we’ve both started new lives. It’s who we are now and what we do in the
future that matters. Can’t you see that?” His hand reached out for her cheek,
but she pulled back.
“I’m sorry about Ricki, Tom; I really am. But I’m afraid it doesn’t
change anything between us.” Her face maintained it’s blank expression.
Paris regarded her silently, injured by her callous dismissal. *I give
up! How can I reach her? How?* Standing abruptly, he gave vent to his
frustration. “Goddammit, Caitlin! How much longer are you going to play the
silent martyr? Maybe I’ve never known the same amount of pain you have, but I
just spilt my guts out to you, and you act like you don’t even care.!” He
paced back and forth, trying to control his temper, but it didn’t work.
Reaching down with both hands, he pulled her to her feet, giving her a little
shake in the process. “Can’t you get it through that thick skull of yours?
We are trapped on this planet! We are the only two people here! We NEED each
other! We may not make it back to Voyager, much less the Alpha quadrant!”
His eyes roamed over her torpid face in desperation. “Oh, hell, just forget
it!” He released her swiftly and scrambled up the bank.
Once he was out of her line of sight, he broke into a run, stumbling
over roots and crashing through bushes, until he made it back to the cabin.
There, he collapsed into a panting, exhausted heap, tears of pain and
frustration coursing down both cheeks.

Harry Kim stared blankly at the console in front of him. Everyone on
the ship was worried; he knew he wasn’t the only one, but it still didn’t make
it any easier.
B’Elanna glanced up at him, a concerned look on her face. “Hey,
Starfleet,” she called softly.
His head snapped up; she only used that nickname on special occasions.
“You’re really worried about them, aren’t you?”
He nodded. “B’Elanna, neither of them has been themselves lately,
and now for this to happen. I’m more than worried; I’m almost frightened.”
Her hand slid across to his, clutching it briefly. “Harry, they’ll
be all right; we’ll find them. Look on the positive side. Sure, they’ve been
having their problems, but maybe this time alone has allowed them
to work some things out. You and I both know how hard it can be to find some
privacy on this ship; now just think how it must be when a relationship is in
trouble. They needed this time.”
He looked at her, partially returning her supportive smile. “I guess
you’re right. I just wish we knew if Tom was okay or not; Caitlin was at least
alive and well when we beamed out.”
“I know.” Her hand closed over his again. “Believe me, if Caitlin
found, him he couldn’t be in better hands. Chakotay has given her survival
training and she’s done impromtu triage work for the Maquis. Don’t worry,
they’ll be fine, especially once we can penetrate that damn shield. How’s the
sensor matrix coming along?”
“I’ve rewritten the command sequence to microscan the fractures with a
coherent tetryon beam, but I’m not sure whether the particles will be able to
punch deep enough into the fractures to give us an accurate reading.” Kim’s
voice still reflected his anxiety.
“Torres to Janeway.”
“Go ahead, Lieutenant.”
“We’re ready to begin our scans, Captain. Initiating beam at the sight
of the latest fracture.”
“Good. Keep me informed of any developments. Janeway out.”

Caitlin wasn’t sure just when she became aware of the smooth hum of the
warp engines; it was a comforting sound, quiet and regular like a heartbeat.
She sat up and looked around. She was back on Voyager.
“Computer, time.”
No response.
“Matthews to Paris.”
“Matthews to Captain Janeway.”
“Matthews to any Voyager personnel.”
Receiving no reply, she dressed quickly and stepped out into the
deserted corridor, heading automatically for the turbolift.
The doors to the lift opened, and a man in civilian clothes
stepped out. She recognized him instantly, the Rigelian trader from her
childhood. “No, no. You can’t be here; it’s not possible.” She began backing
away toward the corridor.
The figure grinned maliciously and lunged forward. Caitlin turned and
ran, hearing his footsteps fall behind her. Reaching her door, she pushed the
controls, but it wouldn’t respond, not even to the security override. The
footsteps were coming closer; HE was coming closer. Fleeing along the
corridor, she tried as many doors as she dared until she reached another turbo-
lift. Its doors opened and she entered. “Deck 1!” The doors closed just
before he reached her. Panting heavily, she tried to use the quiet ride for
calming herself; her knees were quaking and her entire body felt like it was
made of elastic metornite.
When the doors opened, she was on deck 6, not the bridge. She exited
and began walking along the corridor. Tom’s quarters were on this level, maybe
he could . . . *No, dummy, remember, you tried to contact him earlier. Oh, no.
No!* Footsteps were approaching from behind her. She started running once
again, but tripped and fell. Rough hands grabbed her and pulled her to her
feet. It was Ylan, the same evil grin on his green face. She spun her arms
around to break his grip. Hitting him in the stomach, she delivered a two
fisted upper cut to his jaw as he doubled over.
She fled along the hallway until she reached Tom’s quarters, her
ferocious pounding on his door, however, illicited no response.
“Tom, please open the door! I need you help! Please!” she begged.
“Please, Tom, he’s getting closer!”
The door opened and she crashed headlong into the broad Klingon chest
of her godfather.
“Why should he help you, petagh? He’s reached out to you; bared his
soul to you; treated you as his trusted mate. And for what? You have dis-
honoured him and yourself by throwing away your friendship. You must now
fight on your own.” His dark hands grabbed her wrists and threw her against
the opposing corridor wall.
“No!” she cried hurling herself at the closing door. “J’nok, please.
You can’t leave me out here.” Her fists banged painfully on the door. “Help
me! Please!”
Suddenly, a hand was on her shoulder. With a Klingon war cry, she
closed her eyes and lashed out with all her strength, hitting her assailant in
the face. She heard a grunt of pain, as he collapsed to the floor. Opening
her eyes, she stared into a pair of confused and hurt blue seas.
“Oh, Tom, I’m so sorry.” She made a move to kneel beside him, but he
scrambled to his feet and ran down the hallway. Pain and fear etched upon
his beautiful, bleeding face.
“Tom!” Caitlin sat up, her head narrowly missing the stone roof above
her. All around was quiet except for the rustle of the leaves and the
gurgling of the stream. She wasn’t on Voyager after all, but her sense of
relief didn’t last long as the memory of the nightmare returned. She lay down
and drew the blanket Paris had brought her tightly about her shoulders. “I’m
sorry,” she whispered to the bloody face in her mind. “I’m so sorry. I never
meant to hurt you.” Her voice trembled, and she began to cry.

“Lt. Torres, do you have something?” It was 0200 hours when Janeway
strode purposefully into engineering with Chakotay at her side.
“Yes, Captain. I believe we do. Take a look at these readings.” She
gestured to a nearby panel which displayed a layered view of the planet’s
atmosphere. “We’ve been assuming that we were dealing with a single force
field, but we haven’t. We’ve actually been dealing with two. The first is
located in the uppermost atmosphere and is made up of hyperonic radiation.”
“Hyperonic?” the Captain echoed.
“Yes, which is why our sensors have been giving us such confused
readings.”
“But hyperonic radiation is dangerous to humans,” Chakotay broke in.
“Is there any chance our people have been effected by it?”
“I don’t think so,” the young engineer replied. “The radiation only
makes up a thin layer in the upper portion of the atmosphere; a much thicker
hyperaccelerated graviton field makes up the second shield. We think that this
probably protected Matthews and Paris from exposure.”
“But what or who is causing it?” Janeway queried. “And more
importantly, how does this bring us closer to rescuing our two crewmen?”
Harry stepped forward. “We think this may be a natural phenomenon
caused by the energy storm we witnessed. Possibly the energy discharges
affected certain atmospheric particles in such a way as to create the `force’
fields. Our guess is that over time, this effect slowly dissapates. Over the
past twelve hours, we have witnessed a ten percent increase in the number of
fractures, and they seem to be growing larger in size as time goes on. We
estimate that within another six hours we should be able to penetrate them
completely with our scanners and safely transport Tom and Caitlin back
on board.”
The Captain looked at the two young officers in front of her, their
excited faces belying their lack of sleep. They worked well together, each
complimenting and supporting the other. She smiled; one more instance of the
two crews pulling together. “Good work. I believe you two have earned some
well-deserved rest. Lt. Torres, have your team continue to monitor the
decay rate of the shields for the next six hours. We’ll begin modifying the
transporters, then.”
“Yes, Captain.” came the chorused reply, as Chakotay shot them a
proud-of-you grin before following Janeway out the door.

Paris was sitting at the edge of the pond, throwing pebbles into the
water and watching them break the morning sun’s reflections with their
circular ripples. He hadn’t bother to eat breakfast; somehow, he just hadn’t
been hungry since yesterday afternoon. Aware of approaching footsteps, he
didn’t bother to turn around. What was the use? She wasn’t going to change
her mind, and he sure as hell couldn’t change how he felt. In the past, he
had been the one who chewed up people’s emotions, always keeping his own
safe and secure. Now, he understood how they had felt when he callously
tossed them aside. “What goes around, comes around,” he snorted under his
breath.
Caitlin’s boots stopped beside him. “Mind if I sit down?”
He gave her a suit-yourself shrug.
“Tom,” she began, lowering herself to the ground. “I really don’t know
where to start. I owe you an apology, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all
if you didn’t accept it. I know how hard it must have been for you to tell me
those things yesterday, especially the part about Ricki, and I was so
self-absorbed that I brushed your feelings off like so much dirt. I understand
now why she was part of your Sandrine program; why you clung to her, up until
we started seeing each other. I just want you to know I really am sorry.”
She studied his detached expression intently, hoping for some sort of response.
Paris tossed in another stone watching the ever-expanding rings
dissipate slowly. “What do you want me to say, Cait?” he answered finally.
“I know you’ve had a tough life; even considering the past few years, my life
doesn’t begin to compare.” He closed his eyes, choking back the emotions that
threatened to engulf him. “Don’t you think that if I could erase your pain, I
would, in an instant?” All I wanted you to understand was that in spite of
everything that’s happened, I care about you. Yes, it hurt me deeply that you
dismissed my little confession as lightly as you did, but I guess, considering
the pain you’ve been carrying inside, I can’t really blame you for doing it,
either. The confession of a reformed libertine doesn’t begin to rival the
suffering of a rape victim.”
He never once turned to look at her, keeping his eyes fixed upon the
water, instead. It seemed to have a calming effect, preventing him from
exploding into all the emotional fragments he felt spinning uncontrollably
inside.
“I’m so sorry, Tom. I never wanted to cause you so much pain; that’s
what I was trying to prevent.” A lump began to form in her throat, tears
filling her eyes. “You do mean so much to me.” A hand tentatively reached out
to touch his arm.
He looked at her, his own blue eyes moist from held-back tears. “Then
don’t keep pushing me away. I need you, more than I realized. Let me share
your pain; let me help you, if I can.”
Caitlin shook her head. “Tom, even if I hadn’t been attacked, people
like you don’t belong with people like me.”
He frowned. “What do you mean, people like me?”
“Think of where we come from; you couldn’t find two more opposing
backgrounds if you tried. I’m the child of a border trader; I don’t belong
with the Starfleet upper crust. Whether you like it or not, you do.”
A small chuckle erupted from Paris. “Cait, in case you hadn’t noticed,
I got kicked out of that society years ago.”
“But you’re not a convict anymore, Tom; you’re an officer, which is
what you deserve to be. The Captain granted you a field commission, and
I’m willing to bet Starfleet will honour it in light of all that’s happened
when we get home.” She stood up and looked out over the water. “I, on the
other hand, will be lucky to get only a five or ten year sentence.”
He jumped to his feet and grabbed her arm. “And what if they don’t?
They may just cut me loose like they did before, and I’ll be free to go
wherever I want with whomever I choose. Well, I’m choosing now; I want to be
with you.
“Cait, can’t you see? All that you’ve told me about your past doesn’t
change how I feel about you; if anything, it makes me respect you even more.
We belong together, at least, for the time being, and who knows, maybe for the
future, too.” Spinning her around, he took her face between his hands. “I
love you and I think, you love me. That’s all that matters.”
She felt her resolve weaken under the intensity of his gaze. “Still
the charmer, aren’t you, Lieutenant?” she asked, a soft, teasing smile playing
upon her lips.
“Not now,” he replied huskily. “Not with you; you’d see through it way
too fast.” He smiled and gently brought his lips to hers. “Let me in, Cait,”
he whispered. “Together, I know we can face whatever problems we have.”
One of his hands slid from her cheek to the small of her back, pulling
her body toward his. To his immense joy and relief, she didn’t resist, and he
felt her arms snake their way up his chest and around his neck. He hugged her
tightly, almost afraid she would vanish like a dream. “Oh, Cait.” His breath
was warm against her cheek. “I’ve missed you so much. I-”
“Voyager to away team.”
At any other point during the past few days, the Captain’s voice would
have been a welcomed sound, but at this particular moment, Tom couldn’t think
of a more annoying noise. “Ignore it,” he mumbled into Caitlin’s ear. “Just
ignore it.”
“Janeway to Paris.”
“We can’t ignore it.” She pushed gently against his chest. “If they
have communications, they may be able to beam us out of here.”
“Janeway to Matthews. Please respond.”
Caitlin touched her commbadge, desparately trying to retain her
composure as Tom’s mouth moved down her neck. “Matthews…here…Captain.”
“Are you all right, Lieutenant? Is Mr. Paris with you?”
Closing her eyes, Caitlin suppressed a small moan. “Ahh, yes, Captain.
We’re both fine.”
“Good. Prepare for immediate transport. Mr. Kim, lock onto their
signals and beam them aboard.”
“Acknowledged. Energizing now.”
Janeway waited. “Mr. Kim, do you have them?” she demanded.
“Um, yes, Captain. We have them.” The young ensign looked at the
couple in front of him, Tom’s face still buried in Caitlin’s neck. Harry
glanced over to B’Elanna, who shrugged and gave him an I-told-you-so look.
“Good,” came the authoritative reply. “Have them report to sickbay
immediately. I want them both to undergo a thorough examination.”
“Yes, Captain. Um, hey, Tom. The Captain wants-”
Paris raised his head and regarded his embarrassed friend with
amusement. “I know, sickbay.” He took Caitlin’s hand and pulled her out
the door.
Harry turned and looked at B’Elanna. “How about that? Not even a
thank-you.” He said with good-natured irritation.
She smiled in reply. “I told you they just needed some time alone.”

Neelix had arranged a welcome home dinner for both of them in the
hydroponic garden, which was attended by almost everyone on board. It was
rewarding to discover just how much the rest of the crew cared, and both
Caitlin and Tom had blushed at the warmth of the reception.
Afterwards, Caitlin returned to her quarters, undressed and settled
onto the sofa with a PADD. She had a lot of work to catch up on and she
might as well start now, in spite of the fact that the Captain had given
Tom and her the next two days off. She stretched her arms up and yawned; it
felt good to be home. Funny how that sounded; her calling a Starfleet vessel
home, but Tom was right. Voyager was her life now; this was where her friends
were, where her work was, and where he was.
She looked down at the shimmering silk of the gown she was wearing.
It was Tom’s favourite. He had created it for her on her birthday with his
replicator points after accidentally tearing her blue one. Besides,
according to him, the dark green colour complimented her eyes and hair better.
Tonight, she had put it on just for him. Even though he hadn’t said so, she
knew he would be coming by.
Nervously, she glanced back at the PADD before throwing it down in
disgust. She couldn’t concentrate, not now at least. Going into the bathroom,
she critically appraised her reflection. *Not bad, maybe the hair.*
She picked up the brush and ran it through the dark auburn waves. Pulling her
hair up into a loose bun, she allowed a few soft wisps to hang down,
attractively framing her face. As she grabbed a few hairpins to make the
necessary final adjustments, the door chimed. “Come in.”
“Cait, I-” Paris stopped and looked around. “Cait?”
“Be right there.” Her voice floated out to him. With one more glance
of approval in the mirror, she smoothed the gown over her flat stomach and
headed for the door.
“Listen, Cait, I know you said that . . . you . . .” Tom’s mind went
blank as she appeared from the adjoining room. A whispered “Wow!” substituted
for the speech he had so carefully rehearsed.
She smiled broadly, a warm glow radiating across her cheeks. “I take
it you approve of what you see.”
“Approve? Why I-ah-Cait, you’re beautiful.”
She laughed as he drew her to him, covering her face with tender
kisses. “So beautiful,” he murmured. “So beautiful.” His fingers threaded
their way through the length of her hair, scattering the pins onto the floor.
Cradling the small of her back in his left, his right hand glided smoothly over
the rise of her chest, cupping one breast. Through the silk, he teased the
nipple gently with his thumb.
Caitlin let out a small sigh. How could she have ever thought this
was wrong? Her own hands slid down his chest, gradually opening the front of
his uniform. “Are you sure?” he whispered, briefly releasing her mouth from
his possession. “We don’t have to.” He pulled his face back to look at hers.
“I mean, if you want to wait, we can.”
Glazed emerald eyes stared up into his smoky blue ones. “Tom, I
don’t want to wait; I want you to make love to me tonight.”
His mouth fell open slightly as the full impact of her words sunk in.
There were still quite a few bridges to cross, but at least, now he knew they
would be crossing them together. A huge, mischievous grin spread across his
face. He bent down and scooped her up. “Your wish is my command,” he beamed,
laying her down gently on the bed.

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