The Price of Freedom

The Price Of Freedom: The Price Of Freedom
By Jessica Ferroni

He’d never thought he’d need to make the choice.
He’d always just figured he’d stick it out to
the end, that he’d be the one to pilot Voyager
into spacedock.
But that was when that spacedock was 70,000
lightyears away.
Five years. Five long years in the Delta Quadrant,
and now Tuvok had found the wormhole that would
lead them to the Gamma Quadrant, and from the
Gamma Quadrant they could get the coordinates to
the Alpha Quadrant wormhole. The coordinates for
home.
No. That wasn’t right.
He had no home in the Alpha Quadrant. Voyager
was his home. The only things waiting for him in
the Alpha Quadrant were imprisonment and solitude.
He couldn’t go back to that. After being free for
so long, that couldn’t be an option. It wouldn’t
be an option.
It would destroy his spirit. Everything he had
worked for over the last five years, everything
he’d gained would be gone like a shooting star
in the night sky.
If he stayed in the Gamma Quadrant, he could
be free.
With only an empty place in his heart as a
reminder of what could have been.

* * * * *

He was alone at Sandrine’s, something that been
occurring more and more frequently lately.
She hesitated for a moment at the threshold, then
turned away. This was his private time, and she
didn’t want to disturb him.
He caught sight of her hesitating it the doorway.
“Captain,” He sounded surprised. “Kinda late
for you to be out, isn’t it?”
“I could say the same for you, Lieutenant
Commander,” she replied evenly. He laughed,
conceding defeat, then gestured to the empty
chair across from him. “Care to join me?”
She smiled. “I’d be delighted.” She sat and
they lapsed into a comfortable silence, broken
only occasionally by attempts at small talk.
However, Janeway knew both of their minds were
on the same thing; it was only a matter of seeing
who would be the first to breach the subject.
After another silence had stretched between them,
she decided she would have to be the one to do it.
Given the option, he would choose to keep quiet
about it, trying to deal with it by himself. He
needed to know that she would be there for him,
whatever his decision.
She reached across the table to place a hand
on his arm.
“Tom, you’ve proven yourself an invaluable
officer over the time we’ve been out here. You’ve
grown, matured, and I can’t think of anyone on
this ship — even Chakotay — who would hesitate
to call you their friend.
“The choice is yours to make. I can tell you
that I wish you would go with us to the Alpha
Quadrant, but I will respect any decision you
make.”
Paris nodded. “I understand, Captain.”
She studied his face for a moment. Something
about the way he kept his eyes on the table and
the way his hands moved nervously told her that
he’d already made his decision.
And what that decision had been.
“You’ve already chosen, haven’t you?” she asked
gently. “You’ve decided to stay.”
He looked up at her, surprise flashing across his
features.
“It’s alright, Tom. I know.”
His head dropped. “Yeah. I’m staying,” he almost
whispered.
Her heart sunk. She’d been hoping against all hope
she had been wrong, but she’d known she wasn’t.
“Can I ask why?” she prodded. He would have to
convince her — as well as himself — that he was
doing the right thing by staying behind.
“Sure, Captain.” He stood and moved over to the cue
rack, picking up his personal cue and pretending to
study it. This wasn’t something he wanted to drag out.
He was stalling and they both knew it.
She surprised him by picking up a cue of her own.
“Want to play a game, Tom?”
He smiled slightly, grateful that, in her own
way, she was giving him a chance to collect his
composure. “I guess we may as well….” He didn’t
finish the sentence, but Janeway knew what would’ve
come next:`….Since we’ll never be able to play
together again.’
They both played poorly. Tom couldn’t concentrate
on the game and neither could she. Finally Tom sunk the
last ball and they gratefully reclaimed their seats.
“Thanks, Captain,” Tom said sincerely. “I mean it.”
Janeway smiled ruefully. “Thank *you*, Mister Paris.”
Tom grinned and leaned back in his chair, a teasing
light in his blue eyes. “You weren’t cheating, were
you, Captain? You didn’t let me win?”
Janeway feigned horror. “Me? Cheat? Tom Paris, if
you ever suggest such a thing again, I’ll have you
thrown in the brig!” she warned.
Tom laughed, bringing a genuine smile to Janeway’s
own face. “Yes, ma’am.”
Janeway realized how empty the bridge was going
to be without the exuberant presence of Thomas Paris.
However much she preferred not to be called “ma’am”,
there was something about the way he said it that
made her relish it. She was going to miss him.
“Tom,” she hesitated. “You haven’t been….
uncomfortable on Voyager, have you?” Why couldn’t
they have a counselor?? She was no good at this sort
of thing!!
“I was at first,” he admitted. He caught the look
on her face and hastily added, “But I’d expected that.
No, Captain, not anymore. After the first couple of
months it got better. I have friends now, people to spend
time with.”
“Then why are you alone here tonight?” she challenged.
He needed to be pushed into realizing the full consequences
of his decision. If he decided he did indeed have friends,
he might change his mind.
“Because most sensible people are in bed?” he joked.
“What about all those women you always talk about
chasing after?”
He actually smiled at that, though there was no
humor in his voice. “Honestly?”
She nodded.
“I was looking for someone to fill the void, Captain.
I want to get married, have a family. But I want to
find someone who will be there when I need her.
I thought — I hoped — I’d found the right one, but
I don’t think she — ” Suddenly embarrassed, Tom
stopped.
But Janeway wasn’t stupid. She knew the way he felt
about her chief engineer. “You love B’Elanna, don’t you?”
He smiled, a little sadly. “Is it that obvious?”
“Tom — ”
“It’s okay, Captain. It doesn’t matter anymore,
anyways.”
“You don’t have to leave, Tom.”
“I am not going back to prison!” he snarled, and
Janeway was surprised at the level of anger in his
tone. Finally admitting he loved B’Elanna Torres
must have unnerved him very much.
He quickly reigned his temper in. “I’m sorry,
Captain.”
“It’s okay, Tom. I understand how you feel —
but you must know that your record will be cleared
when we return.”
“Really, Captain?” he asked with the faintest
trace of sarcasm. “And you think Starfleet will
just let me be, then? And what about the Maquis?
You think Starfleet won’t watch every move every
one of them makes? You think they’ll just let us
live our lives in peace? We both know that’s not
going to happen, Captain. We both know that isn’t
possible.”
She had remained silent during his tirade, and
his voice softened. “I owe you an apology, Captain.
I’m sorry.”
She shook her her head. “You don’t owe me
anything, Tom.”
“Yes, I do,” he replied truthfully. “I owe you
everything.”
She was taken aback. “Tom….”
“You gave me my life back,” he said gently. “You
gave me a chance to fix some of the things I messed
up, and you gave me your trust. You gave me hope,
and you made me believe in myself.”
“No, Tom,” she corrected. “I might have gotten
you the chance, but you did the rest on your own.
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
“Thank you, Captain,” he said quietly.
Janeway rose to go. He needed some time to
himself now. “And, Tom?”
He looked up. “Yes, Captain?”
“I will tell your father, Tom. You deserve his
respect.”
Tom nodded, unable to say more.

* * * * *

The silence hung heavy on the bridge the next
morning. By all rights, everyone should have been
elated. They were going home.
But all was still. Not a smile or a laugh
pierced the quiet, and the sound of the silence
was almost deafening.
The wormhole was beautiful. Tom Paris looked
on in admiration, and Captain Janeway gave
*the* order.
“Mister Paris, take us through.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied lightly. *Gamma
Quadrant, here we come….*

After shift was over, he returned to his
quarters to pack his things. He would be supplied
with everything he needed, including one of
Voayger’s own precious shuttlecraft.
But the loneliness….Not that he couldn’t
make it back to the Alpha Quadrant if he wanted
to. The Captain had made sure he had the
coordinates firmly embedded in the shuttle’s
memory. But they wouldn’t be able to find
him unless he wanted to be found.
Sure, they probably had sophisticated enough
equipment to track him if they really wanted
to, but Tom figured the people back at
Starfleet Command really didn’t care to find
him, just so long as he was out of their
hair.
And he didn’t care. He wanted to avoid them
just as much as they tried to avoid him.
The door chime bleeped; surprised, he called
out, “Come in,”
It was B’Elanna.
“Hi,” he mumbled. Why did it have to be her?
*Stupid,* his mind chided, *Were you just going to
leave without saying goodbye?*
Yes, he answered silently.
Typical B’Elanna, she charged right in. “Why
aren’t you coming back to the Alpha Quadrant
with us?”
He sighed. He didn’t want to have this
discussion again, with her of all people.
“Do you care?” he retorted, grimacing. He
hadn’t meant to sound so sharp.
“Well, yes, I….” she stumbled. Hands on hips,
she resorted to glaring a hole through him.
“B’Elanna, you don’t understand. You guys
have a chance — maybe — that you’ll get to
live your lives. I don’t even have that chance.
And, besides, B’Elanna, what have I got to
go back to? A home? A family?”
“You’ve got all of us,” B’Elanna reminded him
quietly. If she’d said `You’ve got me’, she
might have convinced him to stay on Voyager. But
she didn’t.
“I can’t face my father again,” Tom said
softly. And that was true. Not after the self-
confidence Janeway had given him. He wasn’t ready
for all she’d helped him build be torn down
again so soon.
“Then you’re a coward!” B’Elanna spat. She
turned and quickly left before he could see the
tears in her eyes.

Tom hugged Kes gently. “You take care of Neelix,
okay?”
She smiled. “I will, Tom. You take care of yourself,”
He grinned lopsidedly. “Isn’t that what everybody
says I do the best?”
“Tom,” she reproved.
“Sorry,” he muttered.
“Hey, Tom….” Kes reached out for him and hugged
him again. “It’ll be alright.”
“I know, Kes,” he whispered into her hair. “But
it feels so hollow.”
“You can stay,” she reminded him.
“No, I can’t,” he said. “I can’t do it, Kes.”
“Surely your father can’t still be angry at you
after all this time,” Kes said.
Tom smiled mirthlessly. “Oh, yes, he can. I remember
when I was a kid….”
“Tom,”
“Sorry,” he apologized again. He paused on his
way out of Sickbay. “Kes? Could you….Would you
keep an eye on B’Elanna for me?”
“Yes, Tom, I will,” she promised.

That was everything. All that was left was to bid
his goodbyes to the Captain and Harry, and he would
be gone.
Tom slung his duffel over his shoulder and prepared
to leave his quarters. He almost plowed down B’Elanna
Torres on his way out.
“B’Elanna.”
She looked awkwardly at the floor. “Tom.”
He smiled sadly. “You came back.”
“I came to say goodbye,” she whispered. Impulsively
she threw her arms around his neck and embraced him
tightly. When she finally released her hold, she
could see that tears glistened in his eyes as well.
She brushed an errant lock of hair of hair from his
forehead and smiled at him through her tears.
“Goodbye, Tom.”
He looked in her eyes. “Goodbye, B’Elanna.”
She turned to go, but paused. “Tom?”
He looked up at her. “What?”
“You’re not a coward.”
He smiled. “Thanks, `Lanna. Good to hear that from you.”
She nodded, and walked away, and the door hissed shut
behind her.

To be continued….

_____________________________________________________________________________

Copyright November 1996 by Jessica Ferroni on all original story content.
Not meant to infringe on copyrights held by Paramount or any other copyright
holders of STAR TREK: VOYAGER. Please do not reproduce for anything other
than personal reading use (including fanzines) without written consent of
the author. Comments are welcome at jessica@p24818.cle.ab.com.

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