The Paris Journals: Amelioration, vol. VI

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Subject: REPOST: Amelioration
Date: 20 Apr 1996 12:08:27 GMT
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DISCLAIMERS: The original characters belong to Paramount, but the characters
of Caitlin Matthews, Atrebus, Praega, and the rest of the
village, along with the story, are mine. The story,
“Rainbow Crow”, is a children’s book by Nancy VanLaan. It is
based upon a Native American tale told by the Lenape. Further,
the lyrics that appear at the beginning and end of the story
can be found on the Cowboy Junkies release, “Pale Sun,
Crescent Moon”.

WARNING: THIS STORY DOES CONTAIN MATERIAL WHICH IS NOT SUITABLE FOR MINORS
OR THOSE WHO ARE EASILY OFFENDED. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

THE PARIS JOURNALS, vol. VI

Amelioration
Part 1

by Carly Hunter
copyright 1996

“…Do you remember when you’d pray
to never see the day
when someone would make you feel this way.
‘Cause you knew
they would cut right through you
and once inside, you were afraid they’d find
nothing to hold on to.”

*************************

The chime to my quarters sounded. I tossed down the PADD containing
tomorrow’s flight plan and glanced at the chronometer. A huge grin spread
across my face. “Come in.”
“Good evening, Lieutenant.”
“Commander. You’re late.”
Chakotay collapsed spreadeagle across my couch. “Chell came by to
complain about his duty shift,” he groaned. “And I wound up listening to half
of his family’s history. I have the sinking feeling I’ll hear the other half
when we return.”
I chuckled. “Once you get a Bolian talking. . . ”
“You’ll never get him to shut up. Yeah, I know. So, how are
you doing?”
“Not too bad. Do you want to put off our session until another day?
Haven’t your ears been talked off already?”
A tanned hand reached up and tugged gingerly on each earlobe. “No,
they seem secure enough; I think they’ll survive our little chat. I noticed
you and our intrepid Lieutenant spent quite some time together at Hamilton’s
birthday party. Things improved that much between you and Caitlin?”
For a brief moment, I scowled. “Not to the degree you’re intimating,
but our friendship is on much firmer footing, thanks to you. However, we are
still *only* friends.”
“Too bad. I was hoping you had progressed beyond that point.”
“You and the rest of the ship. I must have had half a dozen people
congratulate me the next day on the two of us getting back together, and Cait
received the same response. What made matters worse was the disappointment in
their voices when I told them they were wrong. What am I supposed to do?
Live my private life for their enjoyment? Don’t they know it’s tough enough
for the two of us as it is?”
Chakotay shook his head. “You judge them too harshly, Paris.
I believe they are only trying to show they care. The crew knows you’ve both
been through a difficult time, and they simply want to see you happy.
Unfortunately, it’s very easy for genuine interest to come across as nosiness.
I do know what you mean, though; sometimes this ship can seem very small.”
“Exactly. When I’m ready, I’m ready. I can’t push myself just to
suit them.”
“Nor should you. However, you should push yourself for you.”
I stared at him. “Come again?”
“It’s very easy to get complacent where you are, Tom. Your life has
almost returned to normal, but until you let someone into your life, be it
Caitlin or someone else, your recovery will not be complete. Finding the
courage to open yourself up to another is the final step in your healing
process.”
A long sigh of frustration slipped out as I sat back. “I know.
I know. You’ve told me this how many times? Believe me, Chakotay, I’ve tried,
but I just can’t do it. I’m scared I’ll hurt her. With my luck, something
will go horribly wrong, and I’ll hurt her.”
“Are you certain it’s only her you’re scared of hurting?”
My fingers tapped out an uneven rhythm on the sofa cushion. “Okay,
I’ll admit it. There is a part of me that doesn’t want to face the pain and
disappointment that exists within any relationship. Peace and quiet is all
that part wants, and I think it’s all I want, too.”
“And there’s nothing wrong with that, but you miss out on the happiness
and rewards within a relationship, as well.”
“Yeah, I suppose.” I stared up at the ceiling. *Think of what you
deny Cait, Thomas. It isn’t fair to her. Either let her in or let her go.*
“Paris?”
“Huh? Oh, sorry. I was just turning what you said over in my mind.”
“Mm-hm. Any conclusions?”
“None yet, but it isn’t like I haven’t had these thoughts on
my own already.”
“I see. Well, perhaps we should both call it a night; we’ve got a long
trip ahead of us tomorrow.” He rose to his feet and headed for the door.
“Remember, Paris, there’s a time for thought and a time for action. Don’t
think too long.”
I snickered. “You know, I don’t think anyone had ever said that to me
before. G’night, Commander.”
“Lieutenant.”

The senior staff assembled in the briefing room at 0900 hours the next
morning. Voyager had to attend to two trade missions at opposite ends of this
particular star system, and the Captain had decided that Chakotay, Harry,
and myself would take a shuttle to the planet, Taran, to conclude one of them.
We would then rendezvous with Voyager at pre-arranged coordinates the next day.
Because of my, er, mishap on Langar, each away mission now included a
member of the security team. On this particular journey, Baxter was to have
accompanied us, but a change of shift meant that Cait would instead.
I was a little anxious as I slid behind the helm controls at 1245
and began departure preparations; not because of Cait’s presence in the
seat next to me, but because this would be my first trade mission since my
capture. I had been on other away missions. However, they were only surveys,
no meeting of people involved.
At 1300 hours, we cleared Voyager. Taran was several million
kilometers from our present location, and at warp 1, it would take us almost
four hours to get there.
About an hour into the flight, Cait propped her feet up on the console
in front of her, her head lolling in my direction. “Bored yet?”
“Incredibly. What about you?”
“Stiff as duranium.”
Grinning, I briefly returned her gaze. “I hear Bathart and Nicoletti
have been after you to be in their play.”
“Yeah, and I don’t know any other ways of saying no. I’ve exhausted
three languages already. To make matters worse, Neelix has joined them in
badgering me. He thinks it would be good for my morale.”
“Have they decided which play they’re going to do?”
“Mmm-hmm. `Much Ado About Nothing’. They want me to play Beatrice.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle. The part was written for her. “You’ll
be perfect for the role.”
“So I’ve been told–repeatedly. Which is why I suggested you should
play Benedick.”
“You what!” I sputtered. “You didn’t. Please tell me you didn’t.”
“I did.” A mischievous grin lit up her face. “They were considering
asking either you or Rollins, and I’d rather be kissed by you anyday.”
I raised an unimpressed eyebrow. “Thanks, Matthews. Thanks a lot.”
“What are you two fighting about now?” Chakotay sat up on one of the
benches. It was going to be a long flight and he had stretched out to review
some crew reports.
“The Lieutenant, here,” I jerked my thumb in Cait’s direction. “Had
the nerve to suggest to Bathart and Nicoletti that I should be in their play.”
“Good. I’m glad to hear it. I think it’ll do you a world of good,
Paris.”
“Why did I just know you were going to say that?” Sneering, I turned
back to my console. *Of all the meddlesome, brainless things-*
“How much longer until we reach Taran?” Harry sung out from the back.
“About another two hours and forty minutes,” Cait quipped. “Read
a book.”
“What do you think I’ve been doing?”
BAMM!!
The shuttle swung violently toward port, tossing Cait from her seat.
“What the hell?” I swore. “We just lost warp drive, and I’m
reading a large fuel leak from the port nacelle.”
Cait clambered back into her seat. “I’ve got a containment field
around it, and it’s holding, but we’ve lost a lot of deuterium. Chakotay,
I’m not sure we have enough to make it to Taran, warp or no warp.”
The first officer staggered up behind me. “Then, we’ll just have to
find some place to set down. Check the sensors.”
She spun around. “We’re in luck. There’s an M-class moon one thousand
kilometers away. Heavily forested with scattered humanoid life in villages.
No sign of industrial activity.”
“We don’t have any choice. Alter course, Mr. Paris.”
“Yessir.” *Terrific. A trade mission was bad enough, but an
unfamiliar moon with an unknown population was definitely worse.*
“I’m not sure we can make it, Commander.” Harry studied the readings
over Cait’s shoulder. “The containment field is barely holding. If we lose it
during entry, the feedback from the nacelle could rupture the core’s
containment field.”
“Then, we’ll have to transport down,” Chakotay responded. “Try and
locate an isolated spot, Matthews; we don’t want to come into any contact
with the inhabitants if we can help it.”
“Understood. Should I set up an automated distress call for Voyager?”
“Good idea, but encode it. We don’t want any Kazon or Vidiians to
know what’s happened.”
“Yessir.” Her fingers punched up the necessary encription
sequence. “Distress call activated.”
“Good. Take us in, Paris, nice ‘n easy.”
For the next few minutes, the unsettled hum of overworked thrusters
filled the shuttle’s interior. *Only a few more kilometers to go. Keep her
steady, Thomas.*
“Warning. Power to antimatter containment field is below twenty
percent. Core breach in fifteen seconds.”
“Damn!” Kim swore. “We don’t have enough power to maintain the field
and thrusters.”
“Suggestions.” Chakotay requested.
“We should be within transporter range in ten minutes.” Cait turned
toward the first officer. “Why not cut power to life support to temporarily
boost power to the containment field? Once we’re within range, we can transfer
all power to the field, leaving just enough in reserve to transport down.”
“What do you think, Mr. Kim?”
Harry lifted his hands. “It’s risky, Commander, but I don’t think we
have any options. We should have enough breathable air to make it.”
“Then, do it.”
“Switching all available power to the containment field now.”
The familiar fade-off accompanied the disappearance of lights
throughout the tiny craft. Only the engineering and helm consoles
remained lit.
Harry heaved a sigh of relief. “That’s got it. I’ve programmed the
shuttle to shut down everything except the distress call after we transport
down. It’ll drift, but that should prevent a core breach.”
“Well done. We can’t afford to lose any more shuttles.” Chakotay
replied.
It didn’t take long for the shuttle’s air to become cozy. Beads of
sweat flowed down my back and chest. My vision grew fuzzy. I blinked rapidly
and made a quick pass over my forehead with my sleeve. *Steady.*
“We’re there.” Cait gasped.
“Get on the transporter!” The Commander jerked her out of the chair
and pushed Harry and her onto the pad. “Energize.”
“You and I are next, Paris,” he choked. “Computer, initialize safety
shut down program with a three second delay. Energize.”
We materialized on a small ridge in the middle of a forest. Chakotay
took an involuntary step forward and tumbled down the rocky slope. I made a
move to grab him, but only succeeded in pitching myself down as well. At the
bottom, Cait dusted her uniform off, while Harry sat holding his head. I
glanced over at Chakotay’s prone form.
“You okay, Commander?”
“Yes. Ow! I seem to be in one piece. You?”
“I think so.”
He looked over at Cait and Harry. “How about you two?”
“Just swell.” Harry grimaced. “Once my head stops ringing.”
“I’ve got a couple of scrapes, but other than that, I’m alive and
kicking,” Cait replied with a smirk.
Rising to my feet, I stumbled over to her. “Let’s see them.”
Some were on her palms, but they were pretty superficial. The nasty
cut was on her right arm where the uniform was torn. Dirt was visible
inside it.
“Hmm.” She frowned. “I suppose a medikit is out of the question.”
“‘Fraid so, kiddo. We’ll have to make do with what we can find, but I
definitely want to get that cleaned up.”
“You won’t get any argument from me. Hey, Chakotay,” she hollered.
“We need to find a water source.”
“Already on it, Matthews. I’m reading a fresh water stream about
two kilometers away.” He slipped one of Harry’s arms around his shoulders and
set off into the trees with Cait and myself in pursuit.
About an hour later, I had bandaged Cait’s injuries with a sleeve off
my turtleneck, having cleaned the wounds three times for good measure.
Harry had started to feel more like his old self and had begun helping Chakotay
construct two lean-tos.
“Not quite, Harry. Like this. If you do it that way, one medium wind
and your head will be ringing again.”
“Sorry, Commander. I never did much camping as a kid.”
“Shame. On the occasion, it could be fun.”
“Oh, yeah. Sure, it could.” I called over. “The bugs, the poison
ivy, the cold baths. Every day I’m on Voyager, I wish I was out in the woods
instead.”
“You’re not helping the matter, Paris,” the first officer growled.
I flashed him a hurt look. “I’m just teasing, Chakotay. I’ve
always liked camping. Honest, Harry, it’s not so bad if you’re with someone
who knows what they’re doing.”
“That lets me out. Zakarian had an allergy attack leading my group.
Luckily, two of the kids in my class knew the woods like the back of their
hands, and we got out safely.”
Both Chakotay and I chuckled, good ol’ Sneezy. I glanced up as a large
black bird glided between two of the trees. It had been a long time since
I saw a non-holo forest like this one – tall, whispering pines interspersed
with broad-leaves. The leaves were changing colour, too, just like back home.
“Excuse me?”
Cait’s voice snapped me back to the present. I didn’t realize I had
spoken my thoughts aloud.
“I was thinking how much this reminds me of fall on Earth. Of course,
the last time I was in woods like these was with my father and the rest of my
survival class. Dad didn’t let us dwell too much on the beauty then; getting
in and getting out in record time was all that mattered to him.”
“You’ve got time now,” she noted with a tiny sigh. “It’ll take Voyager
at least twenty-four hours to locate us. Still, things could be worse,
I suppose.”
“Yep.” My gaze drifted skyward. A violet dusk had begun to fall.
I gave Cait a nudge. “Why don’t you and I get a fire going while they
finish up?”
A dangerous light flared up in the green eyes.
“Get your mind out of the gutter, Matthews.” I chastized. “I’ll get
the wood; you set up the hearth.”
“Whatever you say, lover.”
“Now cut that out.”
Despite our verbal skirmishing, we managed to get a good fire going
fairly quickly. Chakotay and Harry finished up and joined us around it.
“Not bad, you two, and just in time.” The Commander gazed up at the
rapidly darkening canopy above us. “I hate to send us to bed hungry, but
foraging in the darkness is right out. The last thing I need is for one of
you to get lost.”
“Well, look on the bright side,” Cait ventured. “We’ve got shelter,
fire, and water. Things could be much worse.”
“Sure,” I echoed. “And between the four of us, we could probably come
up with some pretty good campfire tales.”
“I don’t know any campfire stories,” Harry grumbled. He looked
miserable. No doubt about it, he was definitely not the outdoorsy type.
“Then, you’ve got it easy. All you have to do is listen.
Right, Cait?”
“Yeah, right. I’ll even start us off.” With a broad grin, she
proceeded to tell us about one haggling session she witnessed between her
father and a Ferengi. It was a story I had heard before, but it always left me
rolling on the floor. This time was no exception, even Chakotay had tears
coming out of his eyes.
“Your dad sounds like a great guy.” Harry commented when he caught
his breath.
A muffled sadness replaced the humor in Cait’s expression. “He was,
Harry. He would’ve had you and Tom reeling out of a bar in the wee hours
of the morning singing anything from `Scotland the Brave’ to the `Battles
of Kahless’. He always bought ‘Fleet people a round or two. He said it
loosened up their collars, but I think it was also in memory of his brother,
William.”
“William?” I glanced up from stirring the fire. “You never mentioned
him before.”
“I never knew him. He was several years older than my dad. The
only one in the family to join Star Fleet. He rose to the rank of Chief of
Operations before being lost on some mission.”
“Killed?” Harry stiffened.
“No, lost. They never found him or the shuttle. He and two crew
members just vanished. Poof! Official verdict: Lost, presumed deceased.
Kind of ironic considering Voyager’s predicament.”
The four of us fell silent, staring at the crackling fire. And now we
were lost from Voyager.
After a minute or two, Chakotay raised his head. “Your turn, Paris.”
My story explained how Cait and I first met, not on Voyager, but years
ago, when I was assigned to the Exeter. I told how neither of us knew the
other’s name or even recognized each other when she came on board.
“So it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that you realized she had
been the girl in the bar?” Harry asked, his mouth agape.
“Yep. Not until she pulled on those coveralls did all the pieces fall
into place. Strange, huh? All the little bends and twists life takes. Of
course, I proved much more forgettable to her than she did to me.” I winked
at him.
Cait shook her head vehemently. “That’s not fair, Paris. I met a lot
of people working for my dad. I can’t possibly remember them all.”
“I know, I know. I’m just kidding. Frankly, I’m rather relieved you
didn’t. I was quite an ass back then.”
“Still one now, if you ask me,” she shot back.
I opened my mouth to retort, but the Commander jumped in instead.
“Okay. Cease fire, you two.” He turned to Harry. “How do you and Torres put
up with them?”
My friend shrugged good-naturedly. “It’s free entertainment; what more
can I say?”
“Hmph. All right. We’ve had a tale of humor and a tale of fate. Now,
I’m going to tell you one of bravery and sacrifice.” Recrossing his legs,
Chakotay took a deep breath.
“Super.” Cait stretched out on her stomach and rested her chin in the
palm of her hand.
The story was fairly interesting: the kind I could see him telling his
grandchildren if he ever had any. It told how before humans were created
the weather grew cold and snow covered the land. To save his fellow creatures
from the growing drifts, the crow flew up to the sky spirits and sacrificed
his voice and colourful feathers to carry fire back to the earth.
“. . .But the sky spirits heard his weeping over the other animal’s
songs of praise, and they gave him one gift as a reward: freedom. He would
never be hunted; he would never be caged. And to this day, if you look at the
raven’s shiny black feathers, you will see the remnants of those rainbow
colours, a reminder to all of us of his bravery and his sacrifice.”
Cait rose up on her elbows. “That was wonderful. I’ve always enjoyed
your stories, Chakotay. They remind me of some of the ones my grandmother
told me whenever we visited her.”
He grinned. “I thought you’d appreciate that one.”
I stretched up, yawning. “I hate to break-in, but what about sleeping
arrangements?”
The first officer’s smile broadened. “Hash it out amongst yourselves.
This is one commanding officer who knows better than to delve into that
subject. Good-night.” He crawled under one of the lean-tos.
“See you two in the morning,” laughed Harry, scooting in beside the
Commander.
“I think it just got decided, Paris.” Cait’s eyes twinkled above a
suppressed grin.
“Mmm-hmm. Appears that way. After you, Lieutenant.” I gestured to
the empty shelter.
She crawled in and stretched out. I threw some dirt on the fire and
followed.
“You don’t still snore, do you, Paris?”
“What?” I flipped over on my side to face her. “I’ve never snored.”
“Oh really? As I recall-”
“Shut up the both of you and go to sleep.” Chakotay bellowed. “That’s
an order.”
“Yessir,” we responded sheepishly.
I rolled onto my back. Gods, I loved her sense of fun, but to be this
close . . . I shut my eyes, praying that none of my dreams, nightmares or
otherwise, would bother me tonight.

THE PARIS JOURNALS, vol. VI

Amelioration
Part 2

by Carly Hunter
copyright 1996

I awoke with a start, my eyes searching frantically in the thick
darkness. Again, the far-off wail. *They’re coming!* My heart leapt into my
throat. Someone was beside me. Then the slow shuffle of wind reached my ears.
*Oh, yeah.* That someone was Cait as she burrowed into my back seeking warmth.
Embarrassed, but relieved, I carefully turned over to face her.
“Cold?”
“A little,” she mumbled.
“C’mere.” I took her in my arms, pulling her against my chest.
“Better?”
She nodded.
“Good. Now go back to sleep.” I closed my eyes, her comforting body
heat blending with mine. It had been so long. *Easy, Thomas. Only friends,
remember.*

“Tom.”
The first time I barely heard her.
“Tom.”
“Hmm?” I raised up on one elbow, rubbing my eyes.
Cait stood at the foot of my bed bathed in a golden spotlight.
A sly smile curled the sides of her mouth.
“Cait, what is it? What do you want?”
“Nothing, except for you to enjoy the show.”
“Show? What show? What are you talking about?”
“You’ll see. Computer, music.”
As sensual music filled my quaters, she turned her back to me.
With deliberate hesitation, she released hairpin after hairpin, letting
her hair fall in precise rhythm with the music. When it all hung down,
she shot me a come-hither gaze over her shoulder. I stared back
dumbfounded as she slipped a portion of her uniform off that
same shoulder.
“Cait, what the-?”
“Shhh. Just sit back and enjoy.” Her hips began to undulate
seductively, her movements merging with the music in perfect harmony.
I watched in stunned fascination as item after item peeled
away from the porcelain skin. My heart raced; my arousal growing with
each piece of clothing that hit the floor. At last, she stood naked
before me.
Her hands roamed all over her body: stroking her throat,
caressing her breasts, sliding over her hips and thighs. Finally, her
fingers disappeared between her legs. She let out a deep groan and
closed her eyes.
It was more than I could bear. I threw back the covers and
sat up. I had scarcely made a move toward her when strong, invisible
hands grabbed my arms and slammed me back down onto the bed, pinning my
wrists to the headboard.
“Don’t touch the dancer,” a deep voice growled in my ear.
Cait placed her hands on the bed, a feral expression on her
face as she crawled up to straddle me, careful not to touch any part
of my aching body. Her mouth halted millimeters away from my own.
“Do you want me, Tom?” Her breath fluttered across my chin.
I shut my eyes, praying her lips would touch me. Anywhere,
it didn’t matter. “Oh gods, Cait. You know I do. Please.”

Slowly, I came to my senses. Cait still lay asleep in my arms. To my
horror, my right hand cupped her breast and my leg rested over her thigh,
trapping her in place. I was hard as could be, my erection pressing urgently
into the small depression between her stomach and pelvis. If I hadn’t woken up
when I did, who knew what I might have done.
Mindful not to wake her, I disentangled myself and crawled out of
the shelter. A blue-grey dawn peeked through the trees overhead, and I heaved
a sigh of relief to find that I was the first one awake.
A few meters from camp, I found a secluded tree and relieved myself.
*Ohh gods.* I had never felt more humiliated, betrayed by both my body and
my dreams. At least, Cait had still been asleep; if she hadn’t been, I don’t
know what I would have done. There was no way I could have apologized.
She had trusted me, and my subconscious had proven faithless to both of us.
On my way back to camp, I picked up some more firewood, and by the time
the others stirred, a cheery fire was going. “Rise and shine, sleepyheads.”
I made my voice as annoyingly chipper as possible to hide my lingering unease.
A chorus of groans and grunts answered.
“Oww,” moaned Harry, rolling onto his belly. “I feel like I’ve slept
on a rock the entire night.”
“That’s because you have.” Chakotay held up a small pebble before
flinging it into the woods.
Laughing, Cait emerged from our lean-to, rubbing her arms to get the
circulation going. “You Star Fleet fellows. I thought you had to go through
some tough physical training to get through the Academy.”
“We do,” Harry protested. “But advanced training is optional.”
“Lay off, Matthews.” The Commander interjected, twisting his back from
one side to the other. “I can remember a time when you couldn’t tell a carrot
from a poisonous casca root.”
“But I learned.”
“Yeah, when I snatched it out of your hand before you took a bite.”
His gaze wandered skyward. “Seems like another lifetime ago.”
“It was,” she observed, sitting down by the fire. “For all of us.”
“You got that right.” I reached over and began undoing her makeshift
bandages. “Your hands look okay. No bandages necessary. Now, let’s see how
that arm is. Good. You’ve got a nice scab, and there’s no sign of redness
or swelling. Is it tender?” Gently, I poked at the skin around the wound.
“A little, but not abnormally so.”
“Okay, then all we need to do is put a fresh bandage on it for
protection.” I undid the front of my uniform to the waist and slipped my
unexposed arm out. Seizing the sleeve at the seam, I ripped it off my now-
sleeveless turtleneck. “Brrr.” I jammed my arm back in the jumpsuit and
closed it up. “Nippy this morning.”
“Just a bit,” Chakotay conceded, warming his hands over the fire. “I
believe food is the first item on the agenda. I don’t know about the rest of
you, but I’m starving. Even some of Neelix’s leola root broth would seem good
about now.”
“Damn, you are desperate,” I chuckled, slicing the sleeve into strips
with a sharp rock.
“Told you,” he grinned back. “However, since we have only one working
tricorder, we’ll have to be careful. The last thing I need is for one or more
of you to drop dead from eating a poisonous plant. Hmm, Matthews?”
“Hey, I know better now.” Cait started defensively.
“Hold still,” I muttered, grabbing her arm. “Let me finish tying this
before continuing your apologia. There.”
“That’s too tight.”
“Well, hold still, and it won’t be.” I untied the knot and loosened
the wrappings. “Better?”
“Better.” She flashed me a bright smile of gratitude. “So what’s the
plan, Chakotay?”
“We’ll split into pairs; you go with Paris and I’ll take Harry with me.
Don’t go any further than a kilometer, and we’ll meet back here in an hour.
Just collect possible food samples; don’t try anything until you get back
to camp. Understood?”
“Yessir.” I got to my feet and offered Cait a hand up. “We’ll see you
in about an hour.”

“Can I ask you something?” I inquired as we hiked along, following the
stream that ran by our camp.
“You can always ask, Paris, but-”
“You’re not promising an answer. Yeah, I’ve heard that refrain before.
You know, Matthews, when you die, no one will know because your vitals will
give non-commital readings.”
“Maybe,” she laughed. “What’s on your mind?”
“What made you suggest that I be in the play?”
“Misery loves company. What else can I say?”
“The truth for one thing. I can’t believe you thought of this on your
own; you know it’s the last thing I’d want to do.”
“Truthfully?”
“Yes.”
“You’re right. It wasn’t my idea. I was more or less the go-between.”
“Oh?” Both of my eyebrows shot up. “And just who’s bright idea
was it? Neelix’s?”
Cait turned to me, a wide grin on her face. “That information
is restricted.”
“Aw, c’mon, Cait. Tell me. I’m just curious.” I let the ol’ baby
blues work their magic. “C’mon. Tell me.”
“Oh, all right, but you can’t let on that you know.”
“Promise.”
She hesitated a moment. “Well, if you must know, it was Chakotay.”
“Ch-Chakotay?” My jaw dropped two meters. “You’re joking.”
“Not at all. He thought it would help you connect with the crew more.”
“And when did I get to have my say in this little plan of yours?”
I sneered.
“I only told them yesterday evening. I imagine they’ll approach
you when we get back. It’s still up to you to decide to give it a try or not,
but if you say yes, I will.”
“My answer will be `no'” I turned away and silently watched a yellow
leaf bob along in the water. I was furious with both of them. I never liked
being a pawn in someone else’s plan, even if they did think they had my best
interests at heart. That justification had been used once too often
in my lifetime.
“Oww!”
I spun around. Cait stooped over some plant wringing her hand.
“Now, what did you do?”
“Nettles,” she winced. “I didn’t see them.”
I took her hand in mine, examining the latest wound. “You’ve gotten
one in pretty deep. Come over in the light.”
We moved closer to the stream, and she took a seat on a low rock while
I knelt at her feet. “Damn! You really got it in here. I don’t want it to
break when I remove it, but it may. Damn, come on.” The offending spine
slipped out of my grasp.
“Ow!” Her arm jerked.
“Don’t move.”
“Sorry.”
I flipped her a quick glance out of the tops of my eyes. “Did I ever
tell you you were a horrible patient?”
“Mmm-hmm. About as often as I’ve told you the same thing.”
“Well, guess what, it still goes. Now, hold still. There.” I scowled
triumphantly at the thorn. “In spite of your best efforts, I got it all.”
“Thanks, Doc. Next time something happens, I won’t even bother going
to sickbay.”
“Oh, no. The Captain tried me in that role; I hated it.”
“But you always take good care of me.” Her voice and expression
softened; the emerald eyes holding my gaze.
My pulse began to race. Her lips–full and newly blushed from biting
during the excision–were so close, only centimeters away. *Just kiss her,
Thomas.* I stood up quickly. “Yeah, I’m a regular mother hen. C’mon, let’s
find some breakfast.”
I moved away, my breath finally catching up with me. Cait, however,
remained seated, looking across the water into the trees. Curious, I crouched
back down beside her and placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Cait?”
“Hmmm?” She was a million kilometers away.
“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I was just thinking of Rowan, and how we never got to take
him on that picnic he wanted.”
“Oh.”
“I don’t know why really; he just popped into my head. He does that
sometimes, and I wonder where he is, if he’s all right, even if he remembers
us.” A brave smile tried to curl her mouth and failed. “Do you ever think
about him?”
An embarrassed warmth crept up my face, and I looked at the ground.
“Not lately, no. I guess I’ve been too wrapped up in my own problems.”
Shutting my eyes, I could see his grey eyes smiling up at me. *”I’m in
the doghouse with Daddy.” “Daddy and I are gonna watch the stars go by.”
“Don’t cry, Daddy. I love you.”* A hole opened in the middle of my chest and
I fought hard to close it. His small presence had made the hope of having a
child with Cait a reality, and I had loved him as if he had been our own son.
For that one brief week, we had been a happy, albeit slightly unusual family.
Maybe I wanted to forget just how wonderful it had been.
“Tom?” Cait’s hand caressed my cheek. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah,” I replied huskily, running my thumb under my eyes. “We’d
better get back to work.”
“Yes, I suppose so.” She stood up and walked away, her hips swaying
ever so slightly under the dusty black fabric.
I watched after her for a moment and then shook my head to clear
my mind. Unfortunately, my effort wasn’t very successful. For the remainder
of our brief excursion, memories of Rowan and Cait dogged my every thought.
Finally, we headed back to camp with a few samples of tubers and
berries; of course, whether any of them would kill us remained to be seen.
Chakotay and Harry showed up about two minutes later with many of the same
items. After several scans, it was determined that the black berries and some
of the tubers were safe to eat. So, while Cait helped Chakotay construct
a roasting bed, Harry and I went back out to collect more of each.
We had hiked about seven meters from camp when Harry vented his
curiosity. “Things getting cozy between you and Caitlin?”
“What do you mean?”
“I saw how close together you slept, a lot closer than the Commander
and I did, that’s for sure.”
“She was cold; so we cuddled a little, nothing more.”
“Uh-huh. And if I had been lying cold beside you, would you have held
me that way?”
I didn’t answer. I simply kept walking, hoping he would drop the
subject altogether.
“I thought as much,” he replied smugly.
That tore it. “You know, Harry, I am really getting tired of everyone
sticking their noses into our personal lives. You, B’Elanna, Chakotay, the
rest of the crew. If something happens between Cait and myself and we want you
to know, we’ll tell you. Until then, stay the hell out!” I wheeled about
and stormed off. Why couldn’t people mind their own business?
A few minutes later, he spoke again. “You’re right, Tom. It is none
of my business. I’m sorry.”
Taking a deep breath, I stopped. “It’s okay. I shouldn’t have blown
up like that; I did the same thing to Chakotay last night. Simply put, Cait
and I have got enough problems. We don’t need others watching and analyzing
our every action. It’s like living in some petri dish.”
He laughed uneasily. “I can imagine.”
“No, Harry, you can’t. Not until you’ve been there.”
We trudged on until we came to the small patch of plants Cait and I had
found earlier. Of course, the tubers that were safe to eat were also the ones
buried the deepest; it took you almost five minutes of digging with your bare
hands to uncover one. I was “fortunate” enough to find a particularly large
specimen, and no matter how much I dug I couldn’t get the damn thing to come
out.
“Roots must be wrapped around the moon’s core,” I muttered. “Hey,
Harry, give me a hand, will ya?”
“Be right there.” Behind me, I heard him scramble to his feet. “What
the hell? UNH!”
I turned around in time to see him crash heavily onto his back. In
front of him stood a stocky male with a spear.
“Harry!” I leapt to my feet only to receive a sharp blow on the back
of my head. Everything went black.

When I opened my eyes, my head throbbed in the bright daylight, and it
took me a few seconds to realize I lay on my side with my wrists bound
securely behind my back. Harry lay next to me.
“You okay, Paris?”
“Aside from a doozy of a headache, yeah. You?”
“My chest is a little sore where he hit me, but I’ll live. That is if
they let us.” He jerked his head in the direction of two men. “I’ve been
trying to figure out what they’re saying; however, the universal translators
are having a difficult time deciphering their language.”
I strained against my bindings. I wasn’t going anywhere, and my
agitation intensified. All I could think of was waking up in that prison cell:
the soreness of my arms, the two dark figures of the torturers, and the
helplessness, always the helplessness. A uncontrollable tremor rocked me all
the way down to my feet.
“Paris? Tom, are you all right?”
I stared at Harry, not actually seeing him. He was only a shape before
my eyes. *Don’t panic, Thomas. It won’t help you or Harry. C’mon, breathe.
That’s it. Breathe.*
“Tom?”
“I’ll be all right. Just a bit of a flashback, but I’ve got it under
control.”
My friend nodded before glancing at our captors. The humanoid who had
hit him was the smaller of the two. Blond-haired and bearded, the man wore a
colourful plaid cape over a belted tunic and plaid pants. His taller companion
sported a bushy brown mustache and carried a bow. I figured they had to be
hunters; they were armed too lightly for primitive warfare.
I looked back at Harry. “Can you activate your commbadge?”
“Unh-unh. I’ve already tried, but maybe I can activate yours.” He
leaned toward my chest, stopping when a spear tip stabbed the ground
between us.
“Menag!”
“Goddamn.” Harry swore. The spear point had missed his nose by the
tiniest fraction of a millimeter.
Strong hands grabbed one of my arms, hauling me to my feet, while the
blond did the same with Harry. They spun us in the direction of our camp and
gave us a shove.
“Peata mir!”
Reluctantly, we began walking. A couple of times I tried to change
direction or appear lost, but they knew where they were taking us. Within
minutes, we crashed through some shrubbery and into our camp.
Both Cait’s and Chakotay’s heads snapped up, as we were pushed to our
knees. “What the devil-?”
“We’ve made some new friends, Commander,” Harry began. “And they
insisted on being introduced.”
“Cuthlain!” A kick to my friend’s back pitched him forward into the
dirt.
“Hey! Leave him alone!” Cait jumped to her feet.
The two hunters stared at her in surprise before bursting into
laughter. “Kikla tir a daina.” The taller hunter snorted. “Torag mitsu
chakla.”
The blond hunter approached Cait, prodding her gently with the spear
handle as he circled around her. “Dilu, ches dilu.”
Reaching a hand toward her cheek, he found it immediately slapped away.
Before he could respond, a blow to his stomach doubled him over, followed
swiftly by an upper cut to his chin which flipped him onto his back.
Red-faced, he scrambled to his feet and lunged at her with the spear.
Dodging the weapon, she seized its handle, using his continued hold on it to
land some well-placed kicks. Crying out, he released the spear and grabbed his
ribs. Big mistake. She retained her grip on it, determined to adopt it as a
quarter staff.
She stalked her opponent with an ingrained wariness, spinning the
weapon slowly between her hands. I watched with pride. It had been
a long time since I saw her fight hand-to-hand; I had forgotten how impressive
her skills were.
The taller hunter grasped Harry’s hair and pulled his head back to
expose the throat. From the holster of his belt, the man drew a knife, placing
it against my friend’s throbbing jugular.
“Bata! Dir a danin tulath!”
“Matthews, drop it!” Chakotay called.
“What?” Cait glanced over at Harry and myself. The full meaning of
the untranslated words hit her and she threw down the spear.
The bearded man scrambled to his feet. He forced Cait to her knees,
twisting her arms roughly behind her. He must have pulled the bindings
very tight because she bit her lip rather than cry out. I stared at the
ground, ashamed to meet her eyes. *Helpless again, aren’t you, Thomas?*
As the blond walked over to Chakotay, the Commander knelt and allowed
his wrists also to be bound. There wasn’t much else he could do, but he hated
it as much as she did. You could see it in his eyes, a fierce light that would
not be extinguished.
While he bound up the Commander, the hunter’s gaze dropped to the
tricorder attached to Chakotay’s uniform. Reaching down, he plucked it out of
its holster. *Uh-oh.* Curious, the humanoid opened it and immediately dropped
it. When it hit the ground, the device snapped shut.
“Kantour lugh.”
The mustached man looked doubtful. “Cosci?”
“Kantour lugh. They no lugh maccan.”
I shook my head. I could have sworn I heard a pronoun. One glance at
Harry confirmed my suspicion.
“Kantour lugh? Maccan? You wikiit to Atrebus.”
“I don’t. Mak la.”
Shrugging, the taller man released Harry. Walking over, he picked up
the tricorder and opened it. “Dalu. Quisi. Bitii, it’s not witchcraft.” He
smacked the smaller man on the back of the head and then shoved the device
under Chakotay’s nose. “What is it?”
“It’s called a tricorder,” the first officer replied quietly. “It
tells us what foods are safe to eat.”
“How? Show me.”
“We don’t know how,” Cait piped up. “It was a gift from our provider.”
All three Star Fleet mouths dropped open. “Come again, Matthews?”
The Commander asked.
“You know, Chakotay, from our provider, the Voyager.” She cocked her
head to one side and lifted her gaze up to the sky.
A look of slow understanding crossed his face. “She’s right our
provider gave it to us to help us find food in unfamiliar territory. It tells
us what is safe to eat.”
The bearded man peered over his companion’s shoulder at the device.
“We should take it and them to Praega.”
“Agreed.” The dark-haired man snapped the tricorder closed, prior to
placing it in a small pouch attached to his belt. “Get up, all of you, and
follow Mordak.”

THE PARIS JOURNALS, v. VI

Amelioration
Part 3

by Carly Hunter
copyright 1996

We stumbled downstream in silence. Once or twice, Cait winked at me.
At least, she was okay.
Several kilometers along, the stream joined a river, which we followed
until a log wall loomed in front of us. On the other side, twenty to thirty
wooden dwellings surrounded a bustling market. Our appearance caused many
curious glances, and the men led us like trophies to the largest building at
one end of the market. As we entered, a thin man with stringy black hair
looked up.
“Who are they?”
The taller hunter gave a slight nod of deference. “We found them in
the forest and thought it best to bring them to you, Praega. One of them
carried this.” He reached into his pouch and brought out the tricorder. “He
says their provider gave it to them to find food.”
The leader’s dark eyes studied us carefully before opening the device.
A gasp of amazement slipped through his lips. “I have never seen such a thing.
They said it finds food?”
“Yes, it tells us what is safe to eat.” Chakotay replied.
“Silence!” Mordak commanded.
“You both did well.” Praega observed. “I believe the three men will
do well in the forest. They look strong enough, and we need more wood chopped
for the festival.”
Standing, he circled around Cait, his dark eyes glittering. “Very
nice. With training, she might make a good servant or wife.”
The taller hunter laughed. “It will take more than training. I’ve
seen tamer kikla cubs. She almost defeated Mordak.”
“Really?” The leader raised an amused eyebrow. “Is this true,
Mordak?”
The blond man shifted on his feet and glared at the ground. “It is an
exaggeration. Given the opportunity, I would have emerged victorious.”
A wiry hand stroked Cait’s cheek. She stood rigid in defiance, her
fierce gaze challenging his. “Ah, she does have spirit; it’s in her eyes.
Take the men away and put them to work. Catalla will show this one her
duties.”
“I beg to differ, Praega.” A hooded figure limped forward out of the
shadows, its bony hand clasping a carved staff for support. “Dawning is in two
days; should any harm befall them, the spirits will be angered.” The cowl fell
away to reveal a wizened face with dancing black eyes. “I have seen them.
They mean us no harm. These four have become separated from their own tribe.
As they have come to us during Caillach’s feast, we should welcome them as
guests, not prisoners.”
The leader regarded the man in silence. “Atrebus, you have never given
my father or me bad counsel, and your connection to the spirits remains strong,
even in your old age.”
A smile flickered across the elderly face. “Indeed. Some would say it
increases due to my age.”
“Therefore, I will bow to your wishes. Our harvest has been good this
year, and we have much to be thankful for.” He turned to our escorts.
“Release them and take the men to the river. Have them bathe and bring them
clean clothes. Rhineld, take the woman to the spring and do likewise. Go.”
A thin, dark-haired girl moved up beside Cait and gave a quick jerk of
her head. “Come. Follow me.”
Cait glanced at Chakotay, who nodded, before following the young woman
out of the building.
The hunters escorted the three of us down to the river. “Strip.”
I hesitated as Harry and Chakotay began unfastening their uniforms.
I was nervous enough; the thought of anyone seeing the scars only made matters
worse.
The old man hobbled up to me. “Come, you are among friends. You have
no reason to be frightened.”
My face heated up, and I started undoing my jumpsuit. In the meantime,
Harry had taken a deep breath and waded out into the water.
“Holy-! It’s freezing!”
The hunters laughed. “Spoken like a true bitii.”
As I slipped out of my briefs, the old man wagged his head sadly. “You
bear the scars of battle.”
My hand flew across my crotch in a feeble attempt to hide my
disfigurement.
Chakotay stepped up behind him. “You’re right. He fought well at the
risk of his own life.”
Atrebus nodded. “And your sacrifice has been greater than you ever
thought it would be, hasn’t it?”
I stared at him, unsure of what he meant.
He smiled. “Go. Join your friend in the stream.”
A bit too eagerly, I splashed in after Harry. “Yow!”
The Commander laughed along with the hunters. “You two have had it
too soft for too long.” But he grimaced a little himself as he stepped in.
Mordak threw each of us a long fleshy stem. “Snap it. Use the juice
to clean yourselves.”
Harry obeyed and gave a small yelp. “It stings.”
Chakotay snapped his and sniffed. “It smells like witch hazel and may
have the same cleansing properties.”
“Yeah? Well, I’d be mighty careful where I rubbed the stuff.”
As unpleasant and cold as the river was, I did feel more invigorated
when we finally waded out. On the bank, new clothes waited for us along
with our boots, commbadges, and rank insignia. The pants itched like crazy,
but they were warm, and after a while, I stopped noticing. We fastened
the cloaks around our shoulders with our commbadges, slipping small knives
into sheaths on the belts as a final touch.
“Come. Praega and your companion wait.” The taller hunter beckoned.
Cait sat in the leader’s house by the fire. She wore a long teal-green
dress and a full-length gold cape. Her hair had been released from its ponytail
and was gathered back in two places by metal combs. I had never seen her in a
dress before. No longer a security officer, she had transformed into some
woodland maiden from a fairy tale. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
“Ah, Chakotay.” Praega looked up as we entered the dwelling. “I have
been trying to convince Caitlin to show me how the tricorder works, but she has
refused. She claims your provider would be displeased. However, she has been
sharing the story of your journey with us.”
“Oh?”
Cait flashed the Commander a re-assuring smile. “Yes. I told him how
we were taken from our various peoples by a powerful being and left to fend
for ourselves. I also told him how with the help of the Voyager we have joined
together in an attempt to return to our various homes.”
Praega nodded. “A very noble tale. Atrebus is correct; you are worthy
of our hospitality.”
“Thank you. We appreciate your generosity,” Chakotay replied with a
slight bow of his head.
The chief acknowledged the supplication with a small nod of his own.
“You will stay with my family in our houses while you are here. Caitlin will
stay with my daughters, unless she is your wife.”
Harry glanced at me as Cait stifled a snicker. The Commander shook
his head. “No, those arrangements will be quite satisfactory.”
“Good. You are fortunate to have come when you did. It is a special
time for us; a new year is about to begin. The feast to honour Caillach will
begin tomorrow at sundown in the center of the village. I hope you will
attend.”
“Of course. We would be honoured to.”
“Excellent. Please feel free to move about the village. If you are
hungry, you will find plenty to eat in the market. Tell them you are my
guests, and your needs will be met. Dinner will be at sundown; Rhineld will
fetch you.”
“Thank you. You have been most kind,” Chakotay acknowledged. “May I
have the tricorder back?”
A taunt line of mutual suspicion stretched between the two men.
Praega’s dark eyes measured the first officer with skilled deliberation.
“Here. Take it. I do not make a habit of stealing religious objects from
others. One day, they may do the same to me.”
The Commander placed the device in the pouch on his belt before
motioning for the rest of us to follow him out. Cautiously, we threaded our
way through the market, stopping by a food stand to obtain some fruit, bread,
and a few delicious pieces of roasted meat on a stick. As soon as I took my
first bite, I realized just how hungry I was; events up until that moment had
overshouted my rumbling stomach.
Most of the buyers were women, purchasing food and household items,
while their children dashed about all over the place. Laughter and intense
haggling ruled the day, and Cait’s face glowed with excitement.
In spite of the crowd, we tried to stay together, but two kids darted
around the corner of a stall and plowed straight into Cait. By the time I
helped her up, Harry and Chakotay had disappeared.
“Oh great,” I muttered. “Now, where have they gone?”
Cait dusted off her dress. “Does it matter? It’s a small market;
we’re bound to bump into them again.”
“I suppose you’re right.” My eyes sifted anxiously through the sea
of heads. It was irrational, but I half-expected some Langarian guard to step
out of a stall. I tried to shake off the fear, but it clung on tenatiously.
A comforting hand touched my arm. “Tom? Everything’s fine. We’re
safe. Don’t worry.”
“Yeah, I know.” Taking a cleansing breath, I squeezed her hand and
tried to smile. “Let’s look over there.” I pointed to the smoky stall of a
smith, who specialized in armaments.
Cait picked up one of his knives and flipped it in her hand. “Nice
balance. Good weight.”
I lifted my eyes skyward. “Wonderful, Athena. Shall I have him forge
a shield for you while we’re here, too?”
“Very funny, Paris, but I’m not all weaponry. I also have my
soft side. Remember?”
I stroked my chin. “You know, I think I heard a rumor to that effect,”
She stared at me quietly and then looked away, her voice barely audible
over the smith striking a sword. “Even myths have some basis in fact, Tom.”
A painful ache twisted in my chest. I could remember all right: the
pliant breast beneath my hand this morning, its tight nipple poking the
center of my palm. I cleared my throat. “Let’s move on.”
I grabbed her elbow and led her toward the next stall, almost colliding
with the old man, Atrebus, in the process.
“Ah, there you are. Are you enjoying yourselves?”
“Yes.” Cait brightened. “Very much so. The level of artisanry is
extremely impressive.”
“True. True. The time of Caillach brings out the best in people.
Oh, I have something for you.” Out of his bag, he withdrew a light cream-
coloured flower. “It is an eloren rose. I found it during my gathering. Rare
and beautiful. Like you, my dear. Ah, to be younger.” With a small chuckle,
he handed the blossom to Cait before disappearing into the crowd.
Tentatively, she took a sniff. “Mmmm. Smell. Lovely, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it suits you.” The scent was almost intoxicating in power, and
yet, not unpleasantly so. I tried not to laugh as she wrestled the flower
into her hair.
We took a few more steps; then paused while Cait adjusted the flower.
“Damn. I can’t get it to stay.”
“Here.” I guided her in between two dwellings out of the way of
the crowd. “Let me try.” I released one of the combs and imbedded the rose’s
stem firmly between two tines. “There. Now, let’s see if that doesn’t work.”
I pulled up a portion of her hair, pinning it gently in place with the
comb. Shining green eyes lifted up to me, and our gazes locked, the fragrance
of the blossom filling my every breath. She looked so beautiful, so incredibly
beautiful, that I clasped her face in my hands and kissed her. At first, she
tensed, but then her arms wrapped around my neck. Encouraged by a small moan,
my kisses grew in intensity. All I could think about was how much I wanted her
and how much she wanted me. A wedge of approaching voices finally forced
us apart.
“Cait, I-I’m so sorry.” I backed away quickly. I couldn’t believe
what I had just done.
Her hand reached out for me. “Tom, it’s all right. I enjoyed it.”
I jerked my arm out of her grasp. “Look, maybe we should split up
and search for Chakotay and Harry. They’ve got to be around here somewhere.”
“Split up?”
“Yeah, you check over there, and I’ll check over here. Yell if you
find them.” Before she had a chance to reply, I darted around the back of the
dwelling. I lied. I had no intention of looking for anyone; I only wanted
to get away from her. Passing behind some of the outer most houses, I sunk to
the cold ground beside the village wall.
“You’re such an idiot, Paris. A real screw-up, you know that. Just
how many ways can you find to cause her misery? Only friends. ONLY friends.
Goddammit!” I smashed my knuckles into one of the logs.
“You love her, don’t you?”
My head whipped around. Atrebus limped over and leaned against a pile
of wood. “Yes, I can see you do. And yet, you sacrifice that love willingly.”
“No.” I wrung my stinging hand. “Not willingly.”
“Then why?”
“Does it matter? She deserves someone better, that’s all. Someone
unscarred” I stared at the ground. Couldn’t he see I wanted to be alone?
“I do not understand. Scars gained in battle should be borne proudly.
Only those gotten through punishment should be hidden away. So, why do you hide
yours?”
“Look, you’re right. You don’t understand. I didn’t get them
in battle.”
“Oh? That is not what Chakotay says. He respects them and the man
who bears them.”
I cut loose a harsh laugh. *Amazing what a man has to go through just
to get a little respect.*
“There is nothing funny in what I just said, Paris. What I said is the
truth. What is amusing in that?”
“The idea of Chakotay respecting me. You don’t know our history.”
“I see.” His brow furrowed for a moment. “If you did not receive your
scars in battle or as punishment, how did you obtain them?”
*Oh, what the hell, Thomas. Tell him. He’s already seen them; you’ve
got nothing to lose.* I took a deep breath. “We were on a trade mission for
our people. Another, er, tribe had agreed to provide us with some needed
supplies. At first, they were friendly, but without provocation, they took me
prisoner and tortured me. The scars are what remain of the wounds they
inflicted.” I grinned ruefully. “Hardly something to be proud of, being
trussed up and helpless.”
The grey head cocked to one side. “Why did they capture you?”
“They wanted me to give them information.”
“To what end?”
I sighed impatiently. “I guess you could say they wanted to conquer
our people.”
“And did you give them what they wanted?”
“No.”
“So,” the old man paused, looking up at the sky. “Under great pain,
you refused to betray your people. Noble, very noble.”
“Yeah, right. The scars simply scream nobility.”
His staff smacked the ground. “Young fool! Look beyond what your eyes
see. Your eyes can lie; smiling, kind faces lie. Open your heart. See what
exists beyond the flesh. Would the woman, Caitlin, give herself to one so
dishonoured as you feel yourself to be?
“No.” He answered his own question before I could reply. “She would
not.” He hauled himself to his feet and shuffled over to pat my shoulder.
“The spirits have brought you here to be healed, my boy. Allow it, and then,
claim the reward that is offered.” With a knowing wink, he moved slowly back
toward the market.
I stayed there a few minutes longer before heading to the market
myself. Cait had found Chakotay and Harry, who were watching with amusement
as she took on two other hunters in a knife-throwing competition. She didn’t
win, but the game was close enough to remind me to keep sharp objects out of
her reach whenever we had an argument.
Harry spotted me as I walked up. “Hey Paris, where the devil did
you disappear to?”
“Me? I was looking for you two, and then, I got sidetracked by the
village shaman.”
Cait turned around, her eyes lighting on my scraped knuckles. A small
flush crept into my cheeks as I hid my injury behind my back. Should I pull
her aside and apologize? Part of me didn’t want to apologize. Part of me had
enjoyed kissing her and wanted to do it again. Of course, that same part
wanted to touch her, bite her, and taste her until she screamed in pleasure.
The insidious scent of the rose crept into my nose. Oh gods, what do
I do? “Keep your distance, Thomas.” A voice inside my head commanded. “You
aren’t ready yet.” I took its advice.

THE PARIS JOURNALS, vol. VI

Amelioration
Part 4

by Carly Hunter
copyright 1996

At sunset, the market place cleared and cheery fires lit the insides
of the homes. As we approached Praega’s house, Rhineld came to the door and
welcomed us in with a gap-toothed smile.
Two tables, low to the ground, stood next to each other. On the floor,
piles of skins served as cushions. Fifteen of us were present: the four of us,
seven men, and four women. Praega sat at the head of the tables and motioned
for Chakotay to sit on his right. Cait sat next to him; then came Harry and
me. Atrebus placed a heavy hand on my shoulder and lowered himself to the
ground with Rhineld’s assistance. I wasn’t quite sure if he would be able to
get back up, but I kept my mouth shut.
The meal consisted of some meat, several vegetable dishes, fruit,
and bread. To drink, we were served a sweet, mead-like substance in large
clay mugs. There were no eating utensiles; you used your knives and fingers.
We all took generous portions of most of the dishes, but Chakotay
abstained from taking any of the meat. Some of the men noticed this and made a
few effeminate jests. With a frown, Praega silenced them, but could not
restrain his own curiosity.
The Commander smiled indulgently. “I do not eat meat. It is against
my religion.”
“But the others do.” The leader pointed to the three of us.
“Our people are from many different tribes, Praega. We all follow
different beliefs. Vegetarianism is part of mine.”
“Then, it is a religion for children and toothless old women.” A man
with a flaming red beard laughed.
Chakotay regarded him silently as a corresponding hush fell over the
tables. “That is your opinion, but it is incorrect.”
“Really?” The mustached upper lip curled. “Do you sit there willing
to prove it?”
“If it is necessary.”
“Stand then, and show your courage, or your lack of it.” The agitator
jumped to his feet brandishing his knife.
The Commander glanced around the table. “I do not wish to fight you.”
“He must,” Atrebus whispered. “To not do so is a sign of cowardice
and disrespect to Praega.”
I nodded. “C’mon, Chakotay. Show ’em what you’ve got.”
He glanced at me in surprise. I jerked my head toward Atrebus, who
bobbed his approval.
With cautious ease, the first officer rose to his feet, removing
his cloak. “Very well. If you wish to challenge me, I accept.”
Praega’s mouth spread in a wide grin. “Well, Cordix, your challenge is
met. Now, what will you do?”
“Make him regret he took it.”
The two men stepped away from the table. Cordix lunged at Chakotay,
who neatly sidestepped the blow. Undaunted, the hunter attacked again.
This time, the Commander caught the man’s wrist, and in three quick moves,
he had Cordix on his knees, the knife resting against the beard.
“There. I believe this should settle any questions you had.” Tossing
down the weapon, Chakotay retook his seat.
“Well done.” Praega acknowledged. “I have never seen such moves
before. You must teach them to me.”
“If there is time, I will,” the Commander responded guardedly. “But
the moves are deceptive. They are not as easy to master as they appear. Those
particular moves can only be used at certain times. On other occasions,
different responses are appropriate.”
“Fascinating. Tell me more.” Praega leaned closer to Chakotay, and I
watched in amusement as the first officer squirmed under the weight of the
prime directive.
I polished off my first cup of mead, and it blazed a path to the pit
of my stomach. I had to be careful. Only potent liquor did that to me this
quickly on top of food.
“Take it easy on that stuff,” I mumbled in Harry’s ear. “I’ve got the
feeling it’s got an evil kick.”
“I have the feeling you’re right,” he slurred. “I’m already pretty
relaxed.”
“Then, eat some food, especially bread, and don’t drink any more if
you can help it.”
“What are you two talking about?” Cait leaned over Harry, her eyes
shining with a dulled brightness.
“I’m warning him off the mead. It’s pretty potent. Maybe you should
cut back, too.”
She giggled. “So, I get a little tipsy; I’ll be careful.”
“Cait.” I tried to scold her, but felt the sudden urge to laugh
myself. Maybe I was a little further gone than I had first thought.
“You should have mentioned that your cup was empty,” a soft voice
purred in my ear. One of the women leaned across me to fill it, allowing her
breasts to graze my arm. She was pretty, I’ll give her that, and, um, quite
well-endowed.
I flashed her my trademark grin out of habit. “If I had known you were
so near, I would have said something.”
She giggled and winked before moving on to fill Harry’s mug. After
making the rounds of the tables with her pitcher, she settled herself between
Atrebus and yours truly. She slipped an unwanted arm around my neck and
proceeded to dunk a piece of bread in the libation and raise it to my lips.
Afraid of insulting her, I accepted the offering, but I could feel Cait’s
eyes upon me.
One of the hunters pointed at me and laughed, whispering something to
Mordak on his right. Mordak, however, didn’t find the comment so amusing
and rose rapidly to his feet. He stepped around the table and slapped her arm
from around my shoulders. Grabbing my tunic, he hauled me roughly to my feet
and addressed the young woman beside us. “So, now you prefer the blond lack-
beard here.”
“Look,” I began. “There’s been a bit of a misunderstanding. I didn’t
know you and she were together. If I had, I-”
A fist struck me hard on the side of my mouth, cutting off my apology.
I swung my head slowly back around, tasting the blood, my blood. I gazed into
his angry face, and something inside snapped. *I’m not going to let them hurt
me again.*
I broke free of his grip and hurled him across the table. I leapt
after him, and he intercepted me in mid-flight, sending us both to the ground.
We rolled over and over, until I landed a blow on his jaw. As he lay there
stunned, I scrambled up and jerked him to his knees, smashing my fist against
his face. I brought his head back around with a stinging backhand, leaving a
smear of blood across his cheek. I drew my fist back to hit him again when a
strong hand caught my wrist. Furious my attack had been halted, I spun on
the interloper.
A worried Chakotay stood beside me. “That’s enough, Paris. Let
him go.”
I looked from him to the bloodied man I held in front of me. At first,
I didn’t even make the connection between what he said and what I was doing.
It was like he was talking to someone else.
“Let him go, Paris.”
Dazed, I released the fabric in my hand and watched Mordak crumple.
The woman who had caused all this rushed over and knelt beside him. Angered
and probably humiliated, he shoved her away.
“Are you all right, Tom?”
I stared at Chakotay blankly. *If he hadn’t stopped me . . .* I had
never felt such blind rage before. I couldn’t even see the room, only the man
in front of me, who I wanted to-. *Oh, gods!* I shuddered. I didn’t want to
think about it.
Behind the first officer, all eyes in the room focused on me.
Praega’s, Harry’s, Cait’s. A warm wave of nausea rose within me. I had to get
out of there.
“Excuse me.”
I stumbled out of the building to a tree a few meters away. My stomach
gave a telltale lurch, and I threw up. As the heaves subsided, I became aware
of someone standing beside me. Figuring it was Cait or Chakotay, I glanced up.
Atrebus leaned on his stick. “They have given you a new name.”
“Oh, yeah?” I slid down the tree in exhaustion. “What’s that?”
“Camulos. It means crazed one.”
I examined my hand. The skin over the knuckles was shredded.
A disparaging smirk settled on my lips. “That’s me, a complete loon. I don’t
know what happened; I could have killed him.”
“You carry far more anger in you than you realize. It is good that
you have been brought here. It is indeed time that you were healed. Come, we
will go where we can talk and replace the dinner you have lost.”
“No. That’s nice of you to offer, but-”
“Stubborn fool!” His stick tapped me on the leg. “That is not a
request; that is an order. Now, get up.” The staff prodded me again.
“All right, all right. I’m coming. Just stop poking me.”
I followed him to a small dwelling a few meters away from the others.
In its center was a small hearth; opposite the door was a mud ledge covered
with a skins to serve as a bed; along the walls hung a variety of drying herbs.
The old man released a rope from a hook on the wall, and a large, thick
hide fell across the doorway. “There. We will not be disturbed. Welcome to
my workshop, Paris. Sit. Sit.” He motioned to the bed. “Make yourself
comfortable while I see about your dinner.”
I didn’t know what he had in the larder, but faced with the choice of
staying here or going back to the others at Praega’s house, I opted to stay
where I was. It would be far less humiliating. Taking a seat on the bed, I
watched him busy himself over a small table. First, he poured out two mugs of
mead; then he sliced some bread and raw vegetables, placing them on a wooden
serving board.
“Here.” He handed me a mug and the board. “Eat. Difficult topics
cannot be discussed on an empty stomach.”
I took a sip of mead. It left a trail of fire all the way to my
stomach. Hesitantly, I bit into the bread and swallowed. That helped some.
So, I ate a little more, and before I knew it, I had cleaned the “plate”.
“Good,” he noted, nudging the cup in my hand. “Now we will talk.
When you were captured, did you fight back?”
I sipped the mead nervously. “Look, do we have to talk about this.
I’ve been over it already with Chakotay.”
“And did he say you had mended?”
“Not completely.”
“Then, we must talk about it.” He grasped my damaged hand and released
it before hobbling back to the table. “Did you fight back?”
“No, I couldn’t.” I paused for a minute trying to figure out how to
phrase my reply. “You see, the others more or less jumped me and knocked me
out. When I came to, I was bound too securely to do anything.”
“But you managed to escape.”
I shook my head. “Wrong again. I was too injured to do that.
Chakotay and Harry rescued me. For days afterwards, I was so sick, I couldn’t
even eat.”
“I see, and this shames you, doesn’t it?”
“Wouldn’t it you?”
He stroked his chin. “Perhaps. Have you fought these people
since then?”
“No. Once I was back, we discontinued any contact with them. The only
place they’ve appeared since then is in my nightmares.”
“Ah, that is important. Do you fight back in your dreams?” Atrebus
took my hand again and began to bathe it with a cool cloth.
“No, I can’t.”
“Then, you remain helpless in your dreams and in your life. When the
dreams come, you must fight back.” He tied the cloth over my knuckles.
“Do not continue to perceive yourself as powerless. Tonight has shown that you
are not. Now, you must show yourself this.”
I took a few more swallows of my drink and blinked a couple of times
to refocus my blurred vision.
His fuzzy image smiled with compassion. “You are tired. Sleep here
tonight. No one will disturb you.”
“But my friends-”
“I will tell them where you are. For now, it is important that you
sleep.” He stood up and taking the mug from my hand, pushed my shoulders down
onto the bed.
I was in no condition to argue. Exhaustion overwhelmed my defenses.
Cradled in the warmth of the mead, my body lacked the will to resist the lure
of sleep.
“Remember,” the wrinkled voice whispered. “Fight your enemies in the
dreams. Show yourself that you are strong and full of life.”

I woke up what seemed like hours later. The fire in the hearth
had gone out. I pulled the blanket up over my shoulders and rolled
over. Someone was beside me. I touched the shoulder; it was cold
and bare. I gave it a gentle shake. “Hey.”
The reply was a small wimper.
“Hey, it’s okay. I won’t hurt you. I just want to know who
you are.”
Another wimper responded, and the shoulder shrugged away from
my hand.
I got out of bed. The ashes in the hearth still smoldered,
and after a couple of attempts, I managed to get a fire going again.
Now I could at least see the figure. Whoever it was had pulled
the blanket over his head and lay curled up in a tight ball.
I sat back down, giving the shoulder another shake.
“Hey, c’mon. Talk to me. Maybe I can help.”
“No, please. Go away. Leave me alone.”
“That’s not a very healthy attitude. C’mon, at least let me
see your face.”
“If I do,” the figured snuffled. “Will you leave me alone?”
“If that’s what you want, yes.”
“All right.” With another snuffle, the figure turned over and
lowered the blanket.
It didn’t even look like a face anymore, the injuries had
deformed it so. The lower lip had ballooned to twice its normal size
and had split open in three places. A crusted trickle of unwiped blood
ran from the left nostril to the jaw. The blackened right eye had
swollen shut. The left eye registered my horror in its blue depths
and misted over.
“There, now you’ve seen me; so go away.” I pulled the covers
up over my head and rolled away. “No one can help me. No one.”
A noise came from outside the dwelling. *Oh gods!* They were
coming back! The flap of the door rose. A tremor ran through my body
as a long, dark shadow fell against the wall.
“Wake up, my boy. It’s time for the feast.” Atrebus patted
my shoulder. “You don’t want to miss that.”
“Wha-? Oh-uh-no.” I sat up, groggy. “I just need to get
dressed. Um, where are my clothes?”
“You don’t need them. You are among friends. Come.”
A withered hand pulled back the blanket, exposing my body.
I glanced down at the scars. “I-I can’t go out there. Not
like this.”
“Nonsense. Do you think you’re the only one who bears scars?
You’re a fool if you do. Now come on.”
Taking a deep breath, I sluggishly got to my feet.
“Good.” He pulled aside the skin and we stepped out.
Small fires lit up the market place. Some of the villagers
danced or chased one another around them. Others gorged themselves on
food, and still others engaged in open sex. My mouth fell open.
An honest-to-gods Bacchanalia!
I scanned quickly for Cait and the other officers. Chakotay
danced around one of the fires, but I didn’t see Harry or Cait. Then,
I spotted them sitting together. Jealous, I watched my best friend’s
hand slide over Cait’s shoulder and down her breast. A small smile
spread across her face as she leaned forward to kiss him.
My fists clenched at my sides. How could they? He knew how
I felt about her.
“It seems that you have lost her,” Atrebus observed. “Or have
you? Are you willing to stand here, or are you willing to fight?”
“I-I don’t know.” I averted my eyes. Too late. The image
seared its way into my mind.
“You can still stop them. They have not consumated their love
yet, but you must act now.”
I looked back. Harry’s hand was between her legs. *NO!*
Only I touched her like that. I ran over and grabbed his arm,
jerking him to his feet.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Paris?”
“Me? What about you?”
He smiled lasciviously. “I have every right to touch her. She
was sitting here all by herself when I found her. Weren’t you, Cait?”
I shoved him, hard. “Don’t call her that! Only I call her
Cait.”
“Then, why don’t you? She said no one called her that anymore.
She said no one touched her anymore. She needed someone, and I was
here. If you want her, take her; otherwise, get out of my way.”
I glanced down at Cait, her pale skin golden in the firelight.
She looked up at me with wide eyes.
“Do you really want me, Tom?”
My breath caught in my throat. I knelt in front of her and
began kissing along her collarbone. “Yes, Cait, I do. More than
anything.”
Her arms wrapped around my neck. “Then make me yours.
Please.”
Tiny shivers of electricity coursed through my body. We kissed
deeply, our tongues darting about in hungry exploration. She was mine.
I was hers. We were finally together.

I rolled over and stared up at the roof. Overhead, a thin beam of
daylight forced its way through the thatch and hit me straight in the eye.
Atrebus walked in just as I bolted up.
“Good. You are awake. How do you feel?”
I searched for his image between the multi-coloured spots. “Okay.
How long have I been asleep?”
“Several hours. It is now mid-day, and you must be hungry. Here.” He
passed me a bowl of assorted berries and two other pieces of fruit, as well as
a mug of cold water.
Without hesitation, I downed the lot. I was surprised. After last
night, I figured my head would be the size of a watermelon, but I actually felt
halfway decent. “My friends must be worried.”
“No, I told them you were fine. I even brought Caitlin in here to
prove it. She would not take my word.” His mouth crinkled. “She sat and
watched you for almost an hour this morning. Such love and devotion is rare.
You must not waste it.”
“I don’t want to waste it. She means a great deal to me; I’ve told her
that time and time again.”
“Then, why keep her away? Share your heart with her.”
I gave a wry chuckle. “Easier said than done.”
“Hmph. For a coward, perhaps, but are you such a coward? Didn’t you
fight back in your dreams?”
“There was no one to fight, at least the other tribe never showed up.”
“Fear is not your enemy? What about hesitancy? Don’t you see? It is
not the other tribe you must fight; it is yourself. The scars do not keep you
from enjoying life; you do. What was it Caitlin said you told her? `The past
makes us who we are, but it does not control who we become’?”
I coughed. “I said that?”
“A long time ago, according to her, but it still holds true today.” He
patted my shoulder. “Go down to the stream and bathe. It will help you wake
up. Tonight is the feast, after all, and you don’t want to miss that. The
singing, the dancing, the food.” A nostalgic expression wandered across his
face, yielding quickly to one of sorrow.
“You and your friends were fortunate to come when you did. The harvest
was plentiful this year, for us and for most of our neighbors, but this is not
always the case. A good harvest brings contentment; a poor one brings war.”
He lowered himself onto the bed beside me. “I have seen much in my
lifetime; some might even say too much. I have witnessed acts of both bravery
and cowardice, and I have learned that sometimes the only difference lies
in the eye of the beholder. For example, many, many years ago, a young man
about your age came to this village with his wife and their newborn child. He
was only a fair warrior and an even worse hunter, but he was a great speaker.
He could settle disputes with one word, and everyone in the village grew to
respect his opinion. In no time, his wise counsel came to the attention of
our leader, Gotan, Praega’s grandfather, who quickly seized upon this young
man’s potential.
“The next year, we had a terrible harvest, as did most of our
neighbors, and as a result, the tribes took to raiding each other for food.
The young man derived a solution to the problem, but it required him to journey
as an envoy to each of the tribes. While he was away, one of the tribes
attacked this village. Within two weeks, he returned and brought peace, having
convinced all the parties to lay down their arms and share their meager
resources. He was hailed as a hero by all, save his wife and child. They had
been killed during the raid.
“For years afterward, he was praised both at home and abroad for
his brave deed, but inside, he carried the guilt and shame of a coward because
he had not been here for his family. Deep down, he knew that if he had been
here they might have died anyway. More importantly, he knew that he might have
died, too, and with him the possibility for peace. But none of this
mattered, and each decision he made after their deaths was tinged with fear,
lest someone else pay the same price his family had.
“He avoided the close company of any woman, even though most families
saw him as an excellent match for their daughters. Gotan, himself, tried
to arrange a marriage between his own daughter and this young man, but he
would not accept it. However, three years later, a new family moved into the
village. They, too, had a daughter. She was not beautiful like Gotan’s, and
she was not rich, but she had a smile that shamed the brightest dawn and a
quick wit that shamed most of the hunters. The moment he saw her, the young
man fell in love; yet, he did nothing. He watched her turn away suitor after
suitor, but still he did nothing. Unaware of the man’s feelings, her father
came to him in desperation and begged him to help his daughter see reason.
“It was at that time, the advisor realized what the spirits had been
trying to tell him all along: that there comes a time when fear has to be put
aside; that life must continue, no matter what sorrows may accompany it.
The following year, they presented their newborn son at Caillach’s festival for
blessing.
“Decisions must be made, my child. Life does not stop because one
is afraid; it continues, leaving those who hesitate behind.” A stern frown
creased his brow. “Do not let it pass you by. Overcome your fears, and let
your new life start tonight.”
I swallowed hard under his crushing gaze. “Like I told you, easier
said than done.”
“Of course, if it was easy to do, you would not need my wise counsel.”
He chuckled, taking the bowl from my hand. “Go. Take you bath.”
In silent obedience, I rose to my feet and picked up my cloak. At the
door, I paused. “What happened to the man and his family, if you don’t mind
my asking?”
“Ten years later, he died a hero’s death defending the village. Thanks
to his efforts and those of others, many – including his wife and child –
survived.”
“Not a very happy ending, is it?”
“That depends on how you look at it. For those ten years, the family
was very happy. At his death, he left his wife and son with nothing but
pleasant memories, while he had the satisfaction of dying a noble death
defending them.”
“I guess.” I lifted the flap and ducked out. A cold dip actually
sounded refreshing.

THE PARIS JOURNALS, vol. VI

Amelioration
Part 5

by Carly Hunter
copyright 1996

The water chilled me to the bone, but I braved it, feeling much more
energetic when I waded out. Instead of heading immediately back to village,
I detoured into the woods.
Everything seemed so full of life, even though it was fall. The
weather-beaten surface of every tree radiated a strength which tingled in my
fingertips; with each step, the newly-lain carpet crackled beneath my feet.
Through the overhead whispers of half-naked branches, the hushed thrum of
powerful wings reached my ears. A large black bird whooshed past and beckoned
me to follow. Like some kid, I chased it along its wind-guided course,
my heart pumping furiously as I scaled a ridge in pursuit. With a loud cry
of triumph, the bird landed in a tall pine.
Gulping down air, I collapsed to the ground beneath the tree,
tears of sweat trickling down my face. Warm sunlight shone down through the
branches. I hadn’t felt this alive in a long time. No shame. No guilt.
Only flushed, glowing freedom.
With another cry, the bird disappeared, but I remained there, not
thinking, not wanting to think, only listening to the living sounds around me.
The uneven murmur of the wind. The steady thud of nearby axes. Twirling a
gold leaf between my fingers, I sat in an exhausted peace, as silent as the
tree which supported me.
Unknown amounts of time passed before the vermilion sky told me it was
time to head back to the village. On the way, I stopped by the river to scrub
the salty crust off my cheeks. As I smoothed my hair back, I checked my
reflection in the shiny pommel of my knife. A lot of good it did me.
The image was too distorted to be of much use. I’d just have to smile and hope
for the best.
The market place had been cleared and tables were brought out of the
dwellings to form a crescent at one end of the yard. In the middle of the
area, great loads of wood had been gathered into a huge mound, with smaller
piles located nearer the tables. Atrebus marched solemnly before the large
mass with a torch. Uttering an incantation, which I couldn’t hear, he lit it.
As I watched the pyre catch, a shoulder nudged mine. Harry stood
beside me. “Hey, sleepyhead. Looked like you were going to sleep through
tonight’s festivities for a while there.”
“Maybe, but I’m bright-eyed and bushy-tailed now. Where are the
others?”
“Chakotay’s trying his damndest to uphold the prime directive, and
Cait’s helping Rhineld and some of the women prepare the food.” He chuckled.
“I always forget she can cook. Somehow it seems too domestic for her.”
I snickered with him. “I know what you mean, but she’s fantastic in
the kitchen. Although, a part of that might have something to do with Neelix’s
unusual cuisine, and what he does to spice up time-honoured recipes.”
“Probably.” He paused, knitting his brow. “How are you doing,
old man? The other men were impressed by your actions last night, but to be
honest, it worried me. I’ve never seen you lose control like that before.”
My gaze dropped to my bandaged hand. “To tell you the truth, Harry,
it frightened the hell out of me. I’ve never been so angry in my life,
not even after I was kicked out of Star Fleet. I passed way beyond anger and
flew straight into blind rage. I guess I didn’t realize how much ire I had
suppressed over a lot of things. But now I do; so now I can deal with it.”
I tried to sound optimistic both for him and for myself.
My friend nodded. “And if you ever need help, my door is always open,
no matter what time it is.”
“Unless B’Elanna’s visiting,” I teased.
“I’m serious, Paris. Even if B’Elanna’s there. We’re both your
friends; we both care what happens to you.”
“I know, and believe me, I’ll probably take you up on that offer some
day. But a lot of this I can only work out on my own.”
“I’m aware of that, but I wanted to confirm the offer anyway.”
My hand clapped him on the shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. “You
are one helluva friend, Harry. Thanks.” Glancing back to the main fire,
I blinked away the mist in my eyes. “C’mon, let’s go see what we can do
to help them.”
He and I helped carry in some more wood and tended one of the smaller
fires until we were relieved and shown to our seats. Just as last night,
Chakotay sat next to Praega, followed by Cait, Harry, and myself. The seat
next to me remained empty; so I assumed it was for Atrebus, who stood before
the large bonfire presenting food before the blaze, an offering or blessing,
I wasn’t sure which.
Immense amounts of food were passed around, and liberal portions
were encouraged to offset the great quantities of mead which were poured forth.
Three men brought drums and a pipe before the main table to accompany a bard.
After his tale, there was more music, and some people got up to dance.
I looked from table to table. Everyone seemed to be having a good
time. Praega, Chakotay and Cait talked and laughed. Maybe she was telling him
the Ferengi tale. Harry spoke with the pipe player, one musician to another.
I just sat back and watched Cait. For some odd reason, I didn’t feel left out
of their conversation; it was simply nice to see her having a good time, eyes
sparkling, mouth spread in a wide, infectious smile.
She turned her head and saw me observing her. Pulling herself across
the skins, she settled in beside me. “Having fun?”
I nodded. “You?”
“Mmm-hmm, but you looked lonely over here.”
“Not really. I’m just taking it all in. Watching everything and
everybody.”
“Oh?” A flirtatious eyebrow shot up. “Including me?”
“Yeah, including you.” Gods, she looked beautiful in the firelight,
exactly as she had in my dream.
Her face lit up catching me off-guard. “I like the sound of that.”
“I thought you might.” My heart pounded. She sat so close. I took
a big gulp of mead to bolster the ol’ nerves.
She glanced down briefly. “You know, I was pretty worried about you
after last night. The old man said you were all right, but I didn’t believe
him.”
“I know. He said you made him bring you to me.”
She nodded. “We’ve had our blowouts in past, but I’ve never seen you
that angry before. If Chakotay hadn’t stepped in, I honestly thought you
would, well, that is, I was afraid you-”
“Would kill Mordak?” I finished. “Harry said as much to me earlier.
I guess I’ve been carrying a lot more anger inside than even I was aware of.
Chakotay warned me this might happen if I didn’t- well, if I wasn’t careful.”
My gaze darted nervously back toward the bonfire. After last night, there was
no way in hell she would let me come near her. If I was a woman, I wouldn’t.
“Are you still angry at the Langarians?” She pressed on. “I thought
you had worked past that.” (Sometimes she just doesn’t let things drop.)
I sighed and slowly set my mug down. “No, I’m angry at myself,
I think. Part of me is ready to get on with my life, another part isn’t, and
I’m caught somewhere in the middle.”
“I can remember how that is.” She leaned in closer. “Even after I had
healed physically from the rape, I kept saying I felt sick just so I could stay
in bed. I didn’t want to see anyone or do anything; I couldn’t face going on
with my life. I think my dad knew all along I was lying, but he let me get
away with it for a while, hoping I would snap myself out of it. When I didn’t,
he finally sat down on the side of my bed and told me how proud he was of me,
of how well I had handled myself, of what a fighter I was, etc. The next day,
I pushed myself out of bed. I wanted to show him I was worthy of his
praise. It was hard at first, but with each day, it grew easier. I simply
needed a gentle prod to get going.” A distant, wistful expression covered
her face as she gazed out at the dancers. “He knew me so well; even after all
these years, I still miss him.”
“I know you do,” I whispered. I took my hand and brushed some of her
hair behind her shoulder. “And he wasn’t the only person proud of you.”
The green eyes swung back to me, firelight flickering in their
cheerless depths. All I wanted to do was comfort her, to somehow wipe away
the pain she felt. I lowered my head towards hers. Without warning, she
pulled away.
“Whoops! Looks like I lost my seat.”
I could not believe Harry’s poor timing.
“No, that’s all right. I’ll move.” Before I could say anything, Cait
scooted away.
My friend sat down, a contrite look on his face. “I’m sorry, Paris.
I didn’t mean to-”
“No, no. It’s okay,” I muttered. “My timing was off anyway.”
The dark eyes cast me a worried glance before he spiked a roasted tuber
with his knife. I swallowed the last of my mead. I doubted I would have
another chance like that tonight.
As the evening wore on, the music became more intense, the dancing
more frenetic. I think I was on my third cup of mead when, looking over
Harry’s head, Cait’s glassy eyes again met mine. My breath became short and
quick. *If we were only on Voyager. . .*
“Take her to my workshop. No one will bother you there.”
Dragging my gaze from Cait, I turned to Atrebus. “But-”
“No buts. Caillach’s healing power fills us all tonight. Do not waste
the chance you have been given. Go.”
I must have been a lot drunker than I realized because I didn’t stop to
think about what I was doing. Scrambling to my feet, I crouched down behind
Cait taking one of her hands in mine. Her eyes opened wide, but she didn’t say
a word, allowing me to lead her to the tiny dwelling.
Once inside, I released the rope from its hook and let the thick hide
fall over the opening. A fire was already lit in the center hearth, casting
lively shadows along the walls. Through the door, I could still hear the music
keeping time with my racing heart. Gingerly, I removed the combs from her
hair and brought my mouth to hers, the sweet taste of mead present on her lips.
The scars, the memories that haunted my every moment suddenly didn’t matter so
much anymore. The only thing I cared about now was showing Cait how much I
loved her.
I don’t actually remember undressing her or myself. One instant we
stood face to face fully clothed; the next, I knelt naked before her, drinking
in her scent. I kissed her belly repeatedly, circling the womb that I had
hoped would one day carry our child. As she sighed softly, tears welled up in
my eyes and I pressed my cheek to her stomach to staunch their flow, my breath
trembling. I didn’t know if I could go through with it. I felt warm, then
cold, then warm again. My stomach twisted, sending acid into my throat.
Her fingers raked lightly through my hair. “Tom, it’s all right. We
don’t have to.”
*Coward.* Giving into fear seemed so easy, so simple, but if I did,
I would lose Cait for good: not because she would walk away, but because
I would. “Yes, Cait. We do. I want to make love to you tonight.”
I rose to my feet, and she led me to the bed. We touched. We kissed.
We reacquainted ourselves until instinct took over, spurning the music outside
for an internal rhythm all our own. With a loud groan, I abandoned myself in
her warm embrace. Only the two of us existed now; the universe was ours alone.
Nothing and no one could intrude. We moved as one, our energies building and
fusing until I shattered into thousands of iridescent fragments.
Gasping, I fell forward into her arms. It was incredible. I felt so
vulnerable and yet, never more happy and complete. I clung to the sensation
as long as I could, releasing it one finger at a time. When it finally slipped
from my grasp, my own tears mingled with Cait’s on her cheeks.
“Cait, I-” I stopped. I didn’t know what to say; even `I love you’
seemed inadequate.
She pulled my face down and kissed me. “Shhh. Don’t talk. Just hold
me. Please.”
I rolled off and pulled her into my arms, pressing my lips to her hair.
Gradually, her breathing became slow and regular. I drew the furs more tightly
about us and watched her sleep.

When I opened my eyes, the first light of dawn peeked through the
thatched roof. The village was quiet, the revelries of last night yielding
to the twittering of waking birds. I undid the cloth on my hand and gazed at
the scabbed, chartreuse knuckles. They would heal well enough on their own.
No more visits to sickbay for me.
Cait lay on her stomach beside me, her face turned away. With an evil
grin, I slipped a hand between her legs, fingering her ever so gently as I
kissed a path along her spine. She groaned softly, and I rose up on my elbow
to bring my lips to her ear.
“I want you, Cait. I want you right now.”
“Mmmmm.” Her legs parted in agreement.
I moved between them and slid slowly into her, savouring each
millimeter of wet flesh surrounding me. Delicious.
Our breath came in ragged gasps as we struggled to stay together, but
my wave broke first, rushing full-force into her. She bucked wildly, almost
throwing me off as her own intense pleasure overtook her. Compared to last
night, it was all over in an instant, but oh gods, I enjoyed it, and I thought
she had, too.
I rose up on my elbows and seized her earlobe with my teeth. “Good
morning.”
“Mmmm,” She stretched. “You always did give the best wake-up calls.”
Snickering, I rolled onto my side, and she snuggled back into me.
Kissing her bare shoulder, I tasted the saline of wedded sweat. “Do you have
any idea how much I love you?”
“Ooooh, lots and lots?”
I nuzzled the nape of her neck. “Nope.”
“No?” She flipped over, the jade eyes wide in mock amazement.
“Nope. Try lots and lots and lots and- Mmph.”
Her lips covered mine, sucking my tongue into her mouth. A second or
two later, she released me. “I think I get the picture.”
A familiar rumbling drifted up from beneath the blanket. I grinned.
“Was that your stomach or mine?”
Her gaze shifted in embarrassment. “Mine, I think. I’m starving.
For food,” she added quickly as I raised a suggestive eyebrow.
“I believe we’re on our own as far as that goes. No one else is-”
I blinked. No, it couldn’t be. Fruit? Bread? And on the floor was a bucket
of water, a cloth, and two of those fleshy leaves Harry loved so much. “Why
that old-”
“Old what?” Cait turned over to follow my gaze.
“The old man. He left them for us.”
“What? When?”
I scrambled out of bed and brought the food over. “He left this
for us. I don’t know when. They could’ve been here last night, I suppose;
I-ah-wasn’t really paying attention.”
Cait giggled and popped a berry in my mouth. “I don’t suppose he left
us something to drink, too?”
“I don’t- Wait a minute. Hold this.” I shoved the bowl of fruit into
her hands. On the table was a pitcher and a mug. I raised the vessel to my
lips and took a tentative swallow. Just what the doctor ordered. Water.
I drank some more, its soothing coolness slithering down my parched throat.
“Ahem.”
I poured out a mug and carried it over to Cait. She drank greedily,
emptying the cup in a few loud gulps.
“I didn’t realized I was so thirsty,” she said somewhat apologetically,
handing me the mug.
“No problem. More where that came from.” I refilled the cup and sat
back down beside her.
As we ate, I didn’t notice how chilly the morning air was until Cait
shivered. Goosebumps dotted her arms, and she tucked her knees under her chin.
I grabbed a few pieces of wood from the small woodpile under the table
and started a fire in the hearth. Then, I pulled one of the skins off the bed,
spreading it out on the floor. “Come over here. You’ll be warmer.”
She sat down in between my legs, and I wrapped my cloak around us. We
cuddled for a while and watched the fire, the odor of burning wood overpowering
her subtle scent. She didn’t shiver now, except when I nibbled a certain
sensitive spot on her neck.
Little by little, the noises of a waking village penetrated the hide
door, reminding us of the real world that lurked outside.
“I guess we should get dressed.” A distinct note of disappointment
intruded into her voice.
“Probably, but I think a bath is in order first.”
“Agreed.”
Throwing off the cape, I grabbed a leaf. Snap. Gently, I began
rubbing the juice into her skin.
“Careful with that stuff. It stings.”
I laughed. “You sound like Harry.”
“Well, it’s true,” she protested.
“I know. Now, stand up so I can do the rest of you.”
When we finally emerged into the morning sun, the tribe’s clean-up
committee was in full swing, clearing away the remnants of last night’s
festivities.
“Did you have a good time?”
We both spun around. Atrebus stood behind us, his dark eyes shining
in knowing mischief. “Hmm, I can tell by your expressions you did. Good.”
Cait grinned. “Do you always answer your own questions?”
“My dear, when you have lived as long as I have you already know many
of the answers.” He smiled. “A long and prosperous life to both of you.
I came to tell you that an early morning messenger has arrived from your
people. He and the others wait in Praega’s house.”
Cait and I looked at each other. “We’d better hurry,” she said.
I nodded. “You go ahead. I’ll be with you in a second.”
“All right.”
As she walked off, I turned back to Atrebus. “I don’t know how to
thank you for all that you’ve done. You’ll probably say it was Caillach’s
doing, but it was also you. I-I owe you a lot.” A lump rose in my throat,
choking off any other deficient words I might have uttered.
“It’s all right, my boy. I understand. Your expressions this morning
were thanks enough.” A venerable hand patted my shoulder. “However, you must
remain vigilant. Do not allow your enemies to recapture your dreams. Now, go.
The others wait.”
I flashed him a bright grin, which he returned, before I trotted off.
In Praega’s house, a bemused Walter Baxter stood with the rest of the
marooned away team. After thanking the leader for his generosity, we gathered
up our uniforms and left the village. Once we were far enough away, Chakotay
gave the command to transport.

THE PARIS JOURNALS, v. VI

Amelioration
Part 6

by Carly Hunter
copyright 1996

Back aboard the grey confines of Voyager, the welcoming party of
B’Elanna and the Captain gaped in amazement at our attire.
Barely suppressing a smirk, Chakotay stepped off the platform and
modeled his cloak. “I know it’s not exactly regulation, Captain, but it was
all we could find to wear. What do you think?”
Contolling her own urge to smile, the Captain met his gaze. “I think
you should go change, Commander, and then report to my ready room. I would
appreciate a detailed account of your sojourn.”
“What do you think?” Harry turned slowly around in front of B’Elanna.
“I think you’ve been gone too long, Starfleet. It’s quite obvious
your taste has suffered.”
“Oh really? Well, maybe my taste in women has changed, too,” he
responded cooly.
“It’d better not have,” she growled. “I didn’t spend my time
tracking down the shuttle for the fun of it.”
Laughing, he slipped an arm around her waist and led her toward the
door. “I’m touched, Maquis. I didn’t know you cared.”
Cait stepped off the platform and paused to glance back. “You coming,
Paris?” She held out her hand.
“What? Oh yeah.” Dazed, I headed for the door, ignoring her
outstretched hand. It was strange. I was home, and yet, it didn’t feel like
home. I walked absently out into the corridor and headed toward the lift,
leaving Cait behind. I didn’t even hear her call my name until she drew
abreast and caught my arm.
“Tom, are you all right? Didn’t you hear me?”
“What? I-uh,” I glanced about in confusion. “Yeah, I’m fine. I just
need to be alone for a bit, okay?”
“I don’t understand. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Really, I’m fine. I just need a little time to myself.
I’ll see you later.” With that, I shook free of her grasp and strode away.
I hurried to my quarters to shower and change. I couldn’t understand
it. Why was I afraid again? If I could show Cait I loved her on the moon,
why should it be any different up here on Voyager? This was our home; these
people were our friends. It didn’t make any sense. Why had I felt more
comfortable with total strangers than this crew?
I sank down on the sofa, letting my head fall into my hands. I wasn’t
only afraid, though; I was angry. Less than an hour ago, it seemed like I had
made so much progress, and now here I was right back where I started.
“Goddammit!” I hurled a nearby PADD across the room. “Why? Why here?
Why now?”
I threw my back against the sofa and stared up at the ceiling.
Hot, angry tears of frustration bubbled to the surface. I hated how weak
I was. And I hated myself for how this would hurt Cait.

Naked, I followed Atrebus out of the dwelling. Except for an
odd dancer or couple here and there, the feast was over and all the
participants now lay with their mates. With care, I picked my way over
the bodies looking for Cait. She couldn’t have; she wouldn’t. Then, I
found her with some man’s body draped on top of her. She cradled his
head between her breasts, partially obscuring his face with her arms.
I crumpled to my knees and closed my eyes. I was too late.
“Tom,” her sleepy voice called out to me. “I’m sorry. I tried
to wait for you, but it got so late, I had no choice. Now, I am his.”
My throat constricted. I could barely choke out the word.
“Whose?”
The body on top of her shifted, raising up on its hands to turn
and look at me.
“Ch-Chakotay? No. No, it can’t be.”
“I warned you, Paris, but you waited too long.” He lowered his
head and gave her a kiss, which she eagerly returned.
My chest caved in. I couldn’t breathe. “No. No.”
I whimpered. “No, Cait. Please, no.”

“Nunh-” My eyes flew open and I bolted up on the sofa. Cait and
Chakotay. It had always been my most jealous fear, but I thought I had buried
it a long, long time ago. Funny, what your subconscious could dredge up.
“Computer, location of Lt. Matthews.”
“Lt. Caitlin Matthews is in her quarters.”
With a new-found sense of urgency, I dashed out of my room, pausing
only to adjust my dissheveled appearance. I didn’t have a choice; I had
to see her. Within two minutes, I stood in front of her door.
“Who’s there?”
“It’s me, Cait. C’mon. Let me in.”
“Paris? Hold on. I’m coming.” The door slid open. “What the devil
do you want?”
“We have to talk.” I brushed past her into the room. “Something very
special happened between us last night, and I need to know where that
leaves us.”
“Where do you want it to leave us?” Her arms folded across her chest.
My eyes narrowed. “That’s a nice evasive answer, Matthews.”
“Comes from hanging around you, love.”
“Dammit, Cait. I’m serious.”
“So am I. Just what the hell do you want from me, Paris? You’ve been
through hell, and I’ve tried to be patient and understanding. I’ve kept
my distance; I’ve talked to Chakotay; I’ve done my best to be there for you.
But I am not going to be some therapy tool for you to use to get your
confidence back. I’ve never played games with my personal life and I’m not
about to start now. Not for you. Not for anyone. Is that clear?”
“Game?” I sputtered. “Therapy tool? Is that what you think last night
was for me? And this morning. What was that? Rehearsal for Bathart’s play?
Goddammit, Matthews! What kind of a twisted ass do you think I am?”
“I don’t know. You tell me. You’re the one who hasn’t touched me
since we came on board.”
“Oh yeah? Well, maybe I should change that.” Before she could react,
I seized her shoulders, pressing her against the wall with my body.
She wrenched her face away, willfully exposing her neck. I let out a
small growl and caught the tender flesh in my teeth. Her body shuddered. With
a low laugh, I released her neck and licked my way up to her ear.
“You’re mine, Matthews,” I whispered possessively. “Go ahead. Try to
escape. I dare you.”
Her face swung around, the emerald eyes glittering wildly; at times,
I’d swear she’s got Klingon blood in her. “Wrong choice of words, Paris,”
she snarled.
“I don’t think so.” I angled my head to kiss her, but she beat me to
the punch, so to speak, breaking free of my grasp with a move that sent me
sprawling to the ground, unhurt. I leapt to my feet and tackled her in mid-
flight, both of us crashing onto the bed.
She twisted helplessly in my arms. “You’re wearing too many clothes.”
“Then, do something about it,” I taunted, ripping open the front of her
uniform.
“All right, I will.” With a burst of strength, she bucked me off and
climbed on top, her fingers eagerly fumbling with the fasteners of my jumpsuit.
I shook my head disparagingly. “You’re out of practice. Too slow.”
Flipping her over, I sat on her chest, pinning her arms underneath my
legs. I wriggled my arms out of the jumpsuit and peeled off the turtleneck.
“Now, where were we? Oh, yes.” I stretched out upon her, trapping her wrists
above her head. “Something about being out of practice.”
“Out of practice?”
“Yeah,” I breathed. “We both are, with each other.”
Her expression softened. “Tom, I-”
“Shhh.” Releasing her arms, I quieted her with a lengthy kiss.
“I meant what I said on the surface, Cait. I do love you, and I honestly don’t
know why I froze up when we came back on board. That’s what I’ve been trying
to figure out. I’ve never wanted to hurt you, even though sometimes I think
that’s all I do.” I kissed her once more for emphasis. “You’re the best thing
that’s ever happened to me.”
Fingers raked slowly through my hair. Her eyes held a different glow
now, something softer, more tender. “Tom, I was so confused. I didn’t know
what to do. I thought about stopping by, but then it occured to me that I
might be the last person you wanted to see.” She paused, a rueful grin
spreading across her face. “You know, sometimes we really do have lousy
communication.”
“Yeah. I know we do. And tumbling into bed isn’t going to solve our
problems either. Okay, it might help,” I snickered. “But it won’t solve them.
So let’s take thing nice and slow this time; let’s talk more and work things
out. You’ve stepped out of my life twice now, Cait. A third time might mean
for good and I don’t want that.”
I nibbled the underside of her jaw. “I love you, and I promise when
we walk into the mess this evening, no one will doubt my affection for you.
That is, if you let me.”
“Let you?” She giggled. “Just try taking your unseemly hands off me,
Paris; I want them where I can feel them.”
“Lieutenant!” I thundered, trying my best to keep a straight face.
“Don’t you ever call me `pig’ after that remark.”
Cait’s giggles turned into out-right laughter. “Somehow, I thought
you’d appreciate it.”
“Appreciate it?” I slipped a hand beneath her shirt. “I intend to
adhere to it, to the very letter.”

Hours later, my eyes slowly opened to the ceiling. The chronometer
read 1645 hours. I blinked sleepily. I was tired, but in a good way, if you
know what I mean. Turning my head to the right, I gazed at Cait. She lay on
her stomach, a curtain of auburn hair partially covering her face. With my
hand, I drew it back.
“Cait,” I called softly. “It’s 1647. What do you want to do about
dinner?”
“Hmmmm?” Half-asleep, she moved over and snuggled into the crook of my
shoulder.
“Dinner. You know, sustenance.”
“I don’t suppose Neelix does room service?”
“‘Fraid not, kiddo. Besides I thought you wanted everyone to see how
in love we are.”
She hugged me closer. “Who cares what they see or think? I just want
to be with you.” He face tilted upward, a drowsy smile parting her lips.
“You’ll get no arguments from me on that point.” I raised my head to
kiss her. “But if you don’t mind, I could really use some dinner. I’m
starving. All I’ve had today is a few pieces of fruit and some bread.”
“My goodness!” She pulled away in mock horror. “Well, we certainly
must get you some food. We can’t have you passing out, especially not later on
tonight.” An evil grin dallied on her lovely features.
I rose up on one elbow. “Oh? And just what’s so special about
tonight?”
A hungry tongue slid over her lips. “You’ll find out.”
By 1730 hours, we strolled down the corridor toward the lift.
I was happy, real happy. A smile wider than the sol system was on my face,
and there was no way in hell it was coming off. As the lift doors closed,
I pulled Cait into my arms.
It had been a long time since we made out in a turbolift. Timing the
stops just right was key, and it became evident how out of practice we both
were when Chakotay cleared his throat.
“Sorry, Commander. I, er, we didn’t know the lift had stopped.”
“Yes, I could tell that, Mr. Paris.”
My face flushed. Trying to regain some dignity, I drew myself up and
ushered Cait quickly out of the lift. As I passed by, he grabbed my arm and
brought his stern face within centimeters of mine.
“Congratulations, Lieutenant, but next time let’s keep the celebration
confined to your quarters, hmm?” Chuckling softly to himself, he released my
arm and entered the lift. “Deck 10.”
I stared after him. Congratulations? On getting laid? From Chakotay,
no less. A wide grin spread across my face; it was just too funny.
My stomach gave a prodding rumble. Cait waited patiently a few meters
away at the entrance to the mess. Without hesitation, I joined her, and we
dined alone at one of the corner tables.

Two weeks have passed since then. Right now, it’s 2246 hours. Cait’s
asleep in my bed, and I’m trying to finish this blasted weekly report. I’m not
having much success though; my gaze keeps bouncing between her and our picture,
the one taken at Harry’s birthday party. Some time ago, I buried it in a
drawer because it was too painful to look at, but no longer. I have it on the
coffee table where I can see it every day, just like her.
Gods, she is beautiful. I guess my luck really has changed for the
better after all. My friends, conn, and now, Cait. Yep, I’m not quite
the loser I once was, and this time, I’m determined to keep her.
How did that song go?

… And they’re thinking of the long road ahead
and the strength they will need
just to reach the end.
And there in the silence they search for
the balance between this fear that they feel
and a love that has graced their lives.

I love you, Cait. I’m not afraid to say it anymore.

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