Thirty Days For Tom by D.A. Kent


E-mail:

D.A. Kent

Date:

January, 2000

Series:

VOY

Rating:

PG-13

Code:

J/C,P, VOY

Summary:

When Captain Janeway strips Tom Paris of his rank and relegates him to 30 days in the Brig, he isn't the only one suffering.

Note:

Takes place five years into Voyager's journey home from the Delta Quadrant, and just after the episode "Thirty Days." Contains spoilers for "Thirty Days" and a few spoilers for "Hunters."

Disclaimer:

Paramount owns the show and the characters, who in turn own too much of me.

Feedback:

I'd love it! All constructive criticism welcome.



Captain Janeway sat on the couch in her Ready Room. The cup of coffee she held in her hands was cold now. But she really didn't care; she was resolved to enjoy this damned cup of coffee, no matter what.

No matter that her Lieutenant in charge of the Helm had disobeyed direct orders, took the Delta Flyer out of the shuttle bay and literally disappeared into the ocean with it AND with another person on board, who just happened to be a member of the race they were defying by being here in the first place.

No matter that they had been FIRMLY asked by a high-ranking Manayan official not to interfere further with the emergency state of the ocean's containment field.

No matter that the Lieutenant's own Captain had asked him to check his attitude and leave things alone.

No, Tom Paris had intentionally and purposefully defied her direct orders NOT to interfere further in this matter.

Kathryn Janeway stood quickly, determined to get herself back on track. She finally allowed herself to put down the cup of cold coffee on the table in front of her. She sighed heavily and unconsciously glared at the coffee cup before she turned to walk away. She did not like to lose a battle, any battle, not even with a cup of cold coffee.

Crossing to her desk, she pulled out her chair and sat. It was time she stopped dwelling on Tom Paris and his unfortunate tries to make right some old wrongs. She turned her computer to her and brought up the following week's duty roster. Commander Chakotay had sent it to her for approval hours ago. He had already taken care of the roster for this week, shuffling people around to cover for Tom's absence on the Bridge.

Tom's absence on the Bridge.

Just another reminder of what had happened. Kathryn knew that she wouldn't be the only person thinking of the past several days and wondering how events could have turned out differently. No, Harry Kim would be there on the Bridge with her, and certain to be a constant reminder of his friend, Tom. She could still vividly recall the shocked, then wounded, look Harry had given her on the Bridge when he had unnecessarily reminded her that it was Tom who was on that shuttlecraft, only moments before she ordered Tuvok to fire the photon torpedo directly at the Delta Flyer.

And she had been momentarily angry at Harry Kim then, too. How dare he question her decision when it was one of the most difficult she had ever made? But when she had glanced at him, she saw the terror in his eyes. He was about to lose his best friend, and his Captain was about to give the order that would blow him to pieces.

But as hurt as Harry had been, Kathryn had been angrier. Regarding Tom, she had told Harry, and anyone else on the Bridge who cared to listen, "As far as I'm concerned, he forfeited his status as a protected member of this crew the moment he launched that shuttle."

And she had meant it. She would have destroyed Tom's shuttle, if necessary. And Tom knew that she would do it. But he had found a new mission in life, and nothing short of a photon torpedo would stop him.

But she had gotten lucky. Tuvok had timed the torpedo perfectly and had stopped Tom in his tracks. Voyager had brought the Delta Flyer back to the shuttle bay with a tractor beam, and no one had been hurt. Not physically anyway.

Oh, she hadn't wanted to fire that torpedo near Tom, but she had given him every possible opportunity to stand down. And he had had the nerve to not only defy her, but to actually terminate communications with Voyager! Tom Paris had moxy, she had to give him that.

Listening to Tuvok's countdown, she had steeled herself to give the order to fire. She had forced herself to sit calmly in her chair, awaiting the end of the countdown. Worse yet, she had those 10 full seconds during the countdown to reconsider her decision. But she knew there was no other way. She had to stop Tom from destroying those mines. This battle to the finish line was between Tom Paris and his Captain. One of her own crewmen, and a senior officer at that.

She could remember the interminable silence on the Bridge after she had warned Tom one last time to stand down or she would fire. That's when he had terminated all communication between them, and she knew what she had to do. That moment replayed itself in her mind again and again.

Finally, she shook her head and turned back to her computer screen.

She really didn't want night to come. She'd never sleep. And she had 30 damnable nights to get through before Tom would be back on the Bridge and things could hopefully get back to normal. And she could start the process of putting this episode, and the pain that came with it, away to the back of her mind, with all those other things she tried never to take out and examine in the light of day. No, she tried never to look back there too often, or too closely.

Kathryn abruptly pushed the computer screen away, then stood from her desk barely more than a minute after sitting there. She was still so upset over Tom's betrayal that she couldn't concentrate on anything else. Damn him!

Torn between anger and hurt, Voyager's Captain began to pace the room. No, she would not admit to being hurt. Focus on the anger. How dare Tom Paris put her in the position of having to actually fire a photon torpedo at him!

Pacing the room made Captain Janeway feel somewhat better, but then, she always felt better when she was moving around, especially if something were really bothering her.

She sat again on her couch, placing her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands.

Damn that man! She'd had to make many difficult decisions over these past years in the Delta Quadrant, but it was a hundred times easier to make snap decisions while in the heat of battle than it was to discipline a trusted crewmember, let alone to this magnitude.

Relegating Tom to the Brig, and reducing him to the rank of Ensign, had taken more out of her than she would admit to anyone, ever.

No one would ever truly know how difficult today had been for her.

Well, almost no one.

Voyager's Brig was empty most of the time; in fact, but for a few temporary instances, it had been empty since Ensign Suder had been released and confined to his quarters, just prior to giving his life while defending Voyager against the Kazon Nistrom. But that was so long ago now.

Damn Tom Paris for forcing her to have him confined there! No matter how hard she tried, she just wasn't getting past this.

*

Two hours later, Captain Kathryn Janeway was no closer to putting Tom's behaviour to rest, and consequently her own, than she had been all day. She had merely become more tired and less physically agitated.

As the door chime sounded on her Ready Room door, the Captain was standing and staring calmly out the viewport over the couch, still trying to store the entire matter into some sort of neat compartment in her mind.

At first she ignored the sound of the chime, not wanting to talk to anyone. Her crew had been kind enough to leave her alone for hours now, knowing that she needed some space, and time to work through this. Funny how well they had all come to know each other's habits and needs. Living together day to day on a starship left one with little true privacy, especially if one were the Captain.

The door chime sounded again, and the Captain knew she couldn't simply avoid answering it. That would surely make both her Commanders even more concerned about her than they were now. They would soon override her commands and enter her Ready Room anyway, to ensure that she was safe. It wasn't like her not to at least answer the hail, but she just couldn't seem to move, or to even open her mouth to answer.

She suddenly realized just how much energy this incident with Tom had cost her.

Just then the comm. line opened on her comm. badge, and Chakotay's voice came through.

"Captain?" She heard the underlying concern easily in just that one word. She knew him well.

"Come," she answered softly. He needed to see for himself that she was all right. And if she had to see anyone, she would rather it be Chakotay than anyone else. She could even imagine him exchanging quick, knowing glances with Tuvok right now just outside her Ready Room door, letting Tuvok know that she had responded to his voice, that she was letting him in. She allowed herself a halfhearted and wry, momentary smile.

The doors slid open easily, then Kathryn heard them close. Even though she had her back to the door, she knew Chakotay was in the room; she could always tell when he was in the room with her. Instinct, she always assured herself, on those occasions she questioned herself about the reason why.

Looking directly at the pane in front of her, she now saw Chakotay's reflection. He was standing several feet behind her on the lower level, with his hands behind his back, waiting for her to make the first move. He had come here as the Captain's First Officer then, and not as Kathryn's friend. But then, she was the one who had defined their parameters, all those years ago.

"I'm all right," she said softly, without turning to him.

"Are you?" he replied, just as softly.

She didn't reply immediately. As much as she wanted to affirm once more that she was fine and dismiss him in order to be left alone again, she couldn't lie to him. On occasion, they had both been known to stretch the truth, usually to protect each other, but never to out and out lie. And she wouldn't start now.

Finally, after several moments, she realized he wasn't going anywhere, and he wasn't going to push her, either. He would stand his ground until he had some indication that she was indeed all right, then he would leave. Only then would he leave her to herself.

Without turning, she asked Chakotay a question in such a soft tone that he had to strain to hear her at all.

"Did I do the right thing, Chakotay?"

Chakotay was silent a moment, then he said "Captain, you did what you . . ."

"No," she stopped him firmly with her tone, and with her right hand raised in that way she had of stopping whatever it was that she didn't want to acknowledge. "The Captain is not asking her First Officer if she made the right Starfleet decision." She paused, and slowly returned her hand to her side. Then, in a softer voice, she said, "Kathryn Janeway is asking her best friend if she did the right thing by demoting Tom Paris to the rank of Ensign and sentencing him to 30 days solitary confinement in the Brig." Then she turned around slowly and faced Chakotay, waiting for his answer.

Chakotay looked at Kathryn. He could see the pain in her face, and the exhaustion and frustration that were tearing her apart. He knew what she was asking, and was thankful that she had decided to share a part of her burden with him. In return, he owed her the truth. His own heart was breaking just watching the turmoil within her. He wondered, not for the first time, if he would have been able to make even half of the good decisions she had made over the years, if he were Captain of Voyager instead of her.

He looked her squarely in the eyes and said, "Yes, you did."

Almost immediately, Chakotay noticed Kathryn's shoulders relax a bit. Then she allowed herself to sit tiredly on the couch and sigh deeply. After a moment, she looked at him gratefully, then motioned for him to join her on the couch.

After sitting beside her, Chakotay was silent, waiting for Kathryn to continue. She needed to talk about what had happened today, and he knew that he was the only one she would share these feelings with. And she would do so in her own good time. They often shared long comfortable silences with each other, and he would wait here with her until she was ready to talk. He was glad to be her comfort in times of need, but he wished with all his heart that she could stop taking every negative action by a member of her crew as a personal affront.

Now, sitting next to her First Officer on the couch, Captain Janeway felt the tension and pain in her head and neck begin to dissipate.

She lay her head back against the couch and closed her eyes.

Chakotay gently covered her left hand with his right, making a silent offer, and lay his own head back as well. And as they quietly thought their separate thoughts, Kathryn turned her hand over and laced her fingers through Chakotay's, as they had done first on New Earth, and then on several other occasions throughout the years. The intimacy was never lost on either of them.

After several quiet minutes, Kathryn lifted her head from the back of the couch, and turned to look at Chakotay. When she saw that he was studying her rather intently, she smiled tentatively, giving him an amused, almost embarrassed, look.

"How long have you been staring at me?" she asked softly.

He smiled back.

"For awhile. I was watching you let go, and relax, little by little."

She looked away.

"I nearly fell asleep," she admitted, sheepishly.

"I'm flattered," he stated quietly.

Kathryn laughed softly, shaking her head.

"Well, you're the first man to ever tell me he's flattered that I almost fell asleep in his company," she said in a low voice.

"Really? I can't imagine feeling any other way. It's quite a compliment to be trusted so completely, and to know that you feel that comfortable with me."

Kathryn looked over at this special man, as her smile slowly faded.

"You always bring new insights to old ways of looking at things. Sometimes I wonder who I was before I met you. Who did I turn to for that insight, for advice? Who did I trust with my innermost thoughts and feelings? Who set me straight those times I was too stubborn to see the right path? Who was my best friend, before Fate threw us together?"

Chakotay was quiet, but his heart was beating wildly. Kathryn had never quite said words like these to him before. She had alluded to them from time to time, but had never verbalized them so precisely.

"You had Tuvok," he said, forcing himself not to betray the emotion he was feeling inside.

"Yes," she said, looking away. "And I still do. He's very special to me, and always will be." She paused a moment, thinking. "But my relationship with Tuvok is very different than my relationship with you. He respects me as his Captain, as well as his friend. But there are times he can ONLY relate to me as 'Captain.' His advice and his friendship are priceless, but sometimes I need a shoulder to cry on as well, Chakotay. And Tuvok cannot supply me with what I need during those times." Again, she paused, and Chakotay realized she had completed that thought.

"You had Mark," he said softly. Time to hear how she felt about Mark now, knowing that time had moved them well away from each other and knowing that Mark had let her go, finally, and had moved on with his life. He and Kathryn hadn't mentioned her letter from Mark since she had first told Chakotay about it.

After a moment, she replied just as softly, "Yes. I had Mark." Then he heard a small sigh escape her lips and she put her head back against the couch again, closing her eyes.

Just as Chakotay was wondering if the subject of Mark was closed forever, Kathryn spoke to him.

"Mark and I were never going to be together forever, Chakotay." She remained still, eyes closed. "We were satisfied with our relationship. No mention of yesterday, no promises of tomorrow. He had his career and I had mine. Somehow we met in the middle and enjoyed each other's company from time to time." She paused, then opened her eyes and raised her head, still avoiding Chakotay's eyes, with her own eyes focused downward. "That was what we needed from each other, then. And I don't think we would have been able to make the transition if either of us had demanded more from the other. We enjoyed a . . . handy relationship." Then she was quiet for a long moment. "You know, Chakotay, it wasn't until AFTER I received Mark's letter telling me he had married someone else, that I realized for the first time I had never once thought about having a child with him." Chakotay didn't know what to say to that, but Kathryn didn't seem to expect an answer. Instead, she finished the thought herself. "How can you truly love someone and not consider the possibility of having children with that person?"

How indeed, thought Chakotay. He thought now of the children he had created in his mind long ago - the young boy with dark hair and dark eyes, and the girl with long golden hair and blue-grey eyes like her Mother's . . .

Finally, Kathryn sighed again, lost in deep thought. Then she pulled herself back to the present and looked at Chakotay with a sly grin on her face.

"Who says I can't be sidetracked from time to time?"

Chakotay smiled at her, wanting to take her in his arms. He didn't want anything else, just to hold her in his arms. He could spend his lifetime sitting here with Kathryn, and nothing else would matter.

Kathryn looked away from him then, almost shyly.

"Too bad I made you First Officer before realizing what a wonderful ship's counselor you'd make."

"If you'd rather I serve that purpose, Captain, then just change my commission."

"Never," she said softly, looking at their entwined hands. "I can't give you up now. I need you sitting beside me on the Bridge."

Suddenly, both the Captain and Commander seemed very aware of their proximity. Those old feelings resurfaced once again, and Kathryn Janeway gently but firmly pulled her hand away from Chakotay's and stood, intent on putting some distance between. This was the way of things; this was what she did in these times.

As Kathryn crossed toward the replicator, she called over her shoulder to Chakotay, "Tea? Coffee?"

Chakotay smiled to himself. He knew the rules of this game well.

"Tea, please," he replied in a soft tone, but his heart was singing.

This was how Kathryn reacted to her own feelings of attraction for him. She would never allow herself to give in completely, but there were times, like today, when she needed to feel his closeness, his undying love for her. And although she still felt her duty to the ship and crew came first, he knew she had long ago accepted the fact that he loved her deeply, and he knew that she loved him in return.

Chakotay lived for moments like these, reminders of her attraction to him.

No, she would not admit her feelings to him, even now, after all these five years, but he had somehow found peace anyway. He could see her love for him reflected in her eyes at times. Without realizing it, she would occasionally lower her shields just long enough for him to see her feelings for him. During those times, when he looked into the most beautiful eyes he'd ever seen, he knew there was no one else for him. Only Kathryn Janeway.

And he would wait for her. No other woman had proved to be worth his attentions, no matter how hard he had tried to push Kathryn Janeway out of his mind, and his heart, and move on. He had always been disappointed in other women. And even though he and Kathryn had disagreed over the years, and still disagreed over many things, he knew her to be passionate, strong and caring. Even if she made a wrong decision from time to time, as every human was apt to do, she still made those decisions with her crew's best interests in mind.

She never thought of herself, and her own needs, in difference to her dedication to her mission, and her promises to her crew. Five years ago she had made a promise to get them home, and she would either get them there or die trying.

And today, after five years of traveling through the Delta Quadrant, he still wished with all his heart that Voyager and her crew would arrive safely home, back to the Alpha Quadrant, and Earth. Five years ago, he had personally wanted to return home in order to continue the fight against Cardassia, in Honor of his family, and in defiance of the Federation's Treaty. But now his home was here on Voyager, and with the woman he loved.

Today he wanted to return to Earth for another reason. Kathryn needed to get her crew home before she could move on with her own life. And he wanted to help her keep her promise to the crew, and then he and Kathryn could stop, finally, and examine their own relationship. He needed her, and he loved her. And he had to see if she would finally come to him and admit that she loved him as well.

Chakotay knew that time would tell. But time itself could wait endlessly for its answers, while he could not. Five years was a long time to wait for someone who was so close, and yet so very far away.

Returning with cups for each of them, Kathryn sat Chakotay's tea in front of him, and her own cup of coffee on the table in front of her. She sat on the couch, this time with a good space between them.

Chakotay smiled, knowing that this too, was her way.

If Kathryn noticed Chakotay's smile, she didn't mention it.

Sometimes it was better this way. It kept Pandora's box safely closed.

"Tell me," she finally said quietly, looking forward. "How was I right in my punishment for Tom? Make me understand."

"You don't need me to explain it to you, Kathryn. You know you were right to do what you did."

"I know it is well WITHIN my rights, Chakotay. But it feels so wrong. He did what he thought was right, in order to save an entire race of people, the Manayans. Was that so unlike my own decision to destroy the Caretaker, and strand Voyager in the Delta Quadrant, in order to save the Ocampas?"

There, that was a part of it then. This was part of her struggle.

"Don't compare the two, Kathryn. That's not fair to either of you. By destroying the Caretaker, you took the risk of stranding Voyager and her crew in the Delta Quadrant, yes. But you were not foolhardy with the lives aboard this ship. You decided we would explore other options and continue our journey home another way. We would . . ."

"Other options, Chakotay? What other options have we had open to us? Wormholes that were nonexistent, or too small, or leading to wrong destinations?"

"Don't, Kathryn. This is not the time to take a mental journey back over the past five years . . ."

"No? Then when is a good time, Chakotay? Every time I think about it, I have more questions than I do answers. And suddenly I don't feel too well. What could that be? Conscience, maybe?"

"Don't."

Kathryn rose from the couch, and began to pace the room in front of the coffee table.

"Why not, Chakotay? I have made thousands of decisions over the past five years that have affected each and every life aboard this vessel. I have tried to keep our thoughts and our actions on course, tried to keep our destination in the forefront. I have tried to get us home again, yet we still have over 35,000 light years ahead of us." She stopped and turned to look out the viewport at the stars streaking by. Then she said softly, "And I am so tired."

"Kathryn, we have already traveled over 35,000 light years, in only five years. Don't consider that lightly. And right now, don't consider it at all. If you are concerned about your actions regarding Tom Paris, stop now." Chakotay stood and crossed to Kathryn. He placed his hands on her shoulders, forcing her to turn toward him, and look him in the eyes. "The glass is half full, Kathryn, not half empty," he said softly.

When Kathryn looked away, Chakotay continued his thought.

"Kathryn, I know Tom Paris is one of your personal causes. But this time he made a wrong decision, a VERY wrong decision. And you have to make him accountable for that. If he is to be a trusted member of your senior staff, he has to be held responsible, and he must be reliable. You were right to punish him for his behaviour. He took unnecessary risks, and not only violated the Prime Directive, but defied his Captain and endangered the lives of every crewmember on board Voyager, as well."

Looking Chatokay squarely in the eyes, Kathryn felt the tears begin to surface, but forced them down again.

"And how many times have I taken those same risks, Chakotay?" she asked softly.

Chakotay released her shoulders, and began to pace the floor himself. She could be so damned stubborn!

"That is different! You are the Captain!" He turned to her. "Your rights are not his rights! You have the right, as Captain, to take certain risks you deem worthy, Kathryn!" Stopping himself, Chakotay paused, and took a deep breath. He was here to help her see the truth, not to react to her opinions regarding Tom Paris.

Turning to Kathryn again, Chakotay held his emotions in check.

"Kathryn, just because Tom Paris's actions were worthy in sentiment does not make them right. You know that. You knew that when you demoted him. Don't forget your reasons for punishing Tom." He paused, and his voice quieted. "You can't carry his burdens, nor exercise his demons, Kathryn. Those are things we each have to do for ourselves."

Chakotay saw the raw hurt behind Kathryn's eyes even as she turned away from him yet again. He immediately closed the distance between them, and without warning, reached out and turned her to him, wrapping his arms around her. She tensed at first, but then allowed herself to gradually let down her guard, settling into his arms and resting her head against his chest.

They stood that way for several minutes, each thinking about all that was at stake here. Chakotay just wanted Kathryn to let go, to let it all go. She tried so hard to be there for everyone, but that was impossible to do. She had yet to learn that in taking care of herself she would be stronger for those around her. Chakotay tried to catch her when she stumbled. It was his job, he told himself.

Finally, Kathryn pushed herself away from Chakotay gently, even though it would have been so good to allow herself to melt into him for just a little while longer, to allow him to continue to share her burdens with her. But she always knew her limits. She knew when she had to push away, before it was too late, before she was too weak to do so. He was always there for her. Did she appreciate him enough?

Now only a few inches from Chakotay, with her right hand on his chest to keep him at a distance, as well as to steady herself, Kathryn Janeway felt that old familiar feeling of being protected, cared for, and loved. She knew they were both stronger together than either of them was alone. How they had reached this stand, she didn't know, couldn't quite remember. But it had happened over a five-year period. And things have a way of happening if they are meant to, whether they are invited or not.

Chakotay knew that, once again, he had pushed a limit. But that was okay. Over time, he had discovered that he no longer had to keep a tight handle on the parameters of their relationship; Kathryn would remind him whenever he reached one of those boundaries. And she was reminding him now. Gently. Ever so gently. Maybe someday she wouldn't be so quick to push him away.

Releasing Kathryn, Chakotay stepped away from her reluctantly. She turned her back to him then, and sighed nearly imperceptibly.

"You're right, you know," she said quietly. "You know that Tom is a special . . . reclamation project . . . for me. He became that the moment I brought him aboard Voyager, even though I didn't realize it at first. But I quickly saw the pain behind the attitude and the cockiness. And knowing his Father so well, I understood where Tom's pain came from."

"That was a long time ago, Kathryn," Chakotay said gently. "You've given Tom everything you possibly could. You've done more for him than anyone else in his entire life has ever tried to do for him. And it's made a difference in who he is, Kathryn. Tom Paris isn't the same man he was when he first arrived on Voyager. Don't forget, I knew him before. And I know the man he is today. What he did in defying your orders was wrong, and he had to be punished, but that doesn't change the man he has become under your charge."

"Doesn't it?" she whispered in response to Chakotay's statement, her back still to him.

"No, it doesn't!" replied Chakotay. Sometimes Kathryn Janeway could be so stubborn she was infuriating! And when she was like this, she was hurting dreadfully. And there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it.

Chakotay continued, wondering if he were wasting his breath.

"We are all capable of making mistakes, Kathryn. And we WILL all make mistakes. It is still part of the human condition. Tom made a mistake. And he needs some time to think about it, which is what solitary confinement will afford him. It doesn't mean you have broken his spirit, Kathryn; you have simply shown him he can't do what he wants to do when he wants to do it, without following the rules. He has to follow the SAME rules as everyone else. There are no exceptions."

Kathryn stood perfectly still, remaining in the same position, with her back to Chakotay. Her arms were crossed in front of her, a pose she never allowed anyone other than her First Officer to witness, and rarely did he ever see it. She thought of this as a position of weakness, and unbecoming a Starfleet Officer.

"Kathryn," Chakotay tried again. She didn't turn to him, but he saw her react and knew she was listening to him. He didn't want to bring up unpleasant memories for both of them, but time had brought them past this one. "Four years ago, when I went after Seska, alone and in a shuttlecraft, I was wrong. You put me on report, and you were right to do it."

"Yes, but I didn't throw you in the Brig. And I didn't take away your rank."

Chakotay sighed. That was another part of it, then. Now she was going to focus on the type of punishment.

"Kathryn, we can stand here all night, and well into tomorrow, recounting every decision you've made over the past five years. We can discuss them, dissect them, and grade them. We can make judgments, if you think that will make a difference now. But no matter what we decide here tonight, what's done is done. And nothing can change that." He paused, to let his words sink in, and carry weight. "You've done well, Kathryn. I don't know of any Captain in Starfleet's vast history who could have performed his duty better than you have over these past five years . . ."

"Don't, Chakotay . . ." Kathryn held up her right hand to stop him from continuing his thought.

Chakotay sighed, determined that his frustration would not get the best of him.

"Then go talk to him, Kathryn," he said quietly.

"What?" Kathryn asked in disbelief, finally turning to face Chakotay.

"That's right. Go to him. Talk to him. There's nothing wrong in that. Make him understand what a difficult position he put you in by having to punish him. Tom Paris knows better than anyone that you took him under your wing five years ago. He knows that in his own way, he is special to you."

Looking at him as though he had finally lost all his faculties, Kathryn was at a loss for words, another condition Chakotay had rarely seen her in.

"Kathryn," Chakotay walked toward her, then stopped. "Tom's thirty days in the Brig is supposed to be HIS punishment, not yours." Finally, Kathryn took hold of herself. This was ridiculous. She couldn't go see Tom; that would completely destroy the purpose for confining him to the Brig in the first place. He wasn't to have visitors at all. He was only allowed to see Neelix, for a moment, when he was given his meals three times a day. Other than that, there was only the Doctor, when necessary, and the security personnel who stood watch outside his cell, one at a time. And they were well instructed by Tuvok never to speak to, nor react to, the prisoner.

Besides, it wouldn't do for the Captain of the ship to visit the Brig to inquire if the Lieutenant she had just demoted was . . . what? Comfortable? Sorry?

Kathryn took a deep breath.

"No," she said firmly. Then she turned and walked back to the viewport. She stood quietly and watched the stars streak by. Finally, she completed the thought.

"I can't do that, Chakotay. I would be undermining the very purpose for Tom's punishment. My appearance in the Brig would make me appear . . ."

"What? Weak?" asked Chakotay, incredulously, cutting off her words.

"Ineffective," replied the Captain, in a quiet voice, still staring out the window.

"After all these years, Kathryn, do you really think the crew would think you INEFFECTIVE for caring about Tom? For caring about any of them?"

"Perhaps I would FEEL ineffective, Commander. I can't do it." Her voice had taken on the Captain's edge, and Chakotay knew there was no reason to try to convince her of anything more today. She had made up her mind. That was that. For now. But Chakotay also knew she would continue to think about it, consider it. But she would be damned if she'd let him know about it.

Sighing once more, Chakotay forced himself to close the topic for the evening. He knew Kathryn would get no sleep tonight. She would more than likely be up and about, roaming the ship at all hours of the night, and making the beta and gamma shifts uncomfortable with her unexpected appearances.

Kathryn Janeway didn't quite realize the effect she had on people, simply by her presence. She was born to be a Captain, he thought suddenly. He had never really thought about it before, but just now he couldn't imagine her being anything else.

"I'll leave you then, Captain," he said softly. "I know you have a lot on your mind."

Kathryn Janeway nodded her understanding, and a silent dismissal.

She and Chakotay rarely needed to acknowledge formal protocol anymore when they were alone.

At the door, Chakotay turned back to look at his Captain once more. She still had her back to him, and was watching the stars streak by in the darkness outside the viewport. She had been in the very same position when he had first entered the room earlier tonight. He sighed to himself; he only hoped he'd been able to relieve her of some of her burden by allowing her to talk about the situation.

"I'll make certain you're not disturbed again tonight, Captain" he said softly.

"Thank you, Commander," she replied softly, as well, never turning around, but continuing to look out the viewport as though the answer lie somewhere outside the ship.

Chakotay left the Captain's Ready Room, and as the doors slid closed quietly behind him, the Captain sighed heavily and closed her eyes.

Well, Chakotay was certainly right about one thing. She wondered if Tom Paris were suffering as much from his punishment as she was . . .

*

Several days later, as the Captain was staring at her computer screen in her Ready Room at 18.00 hours, the buzzer sounded on her door.

"Come," she called out automatically.

Chakotay stepped into the room, padd in hand.

"Captain," he said in greeting.

Slowly, the Captain looked up at her First Officer and nodded.

"Hello, Commander, what can you tell me about our situation?"

Chakotay handed Kathryn the padd he had brought for her perusal, then stood with his hands behind his back. Kathryn nodded at him, a silent indication that he should be seated, and at ease. He sat in the chair in front of her desk, waiting for her comments.

Finally, Kathryn sighed and lay the padd on the desk in front of her.

"That bad?" she asked, already knowing the answer to the question. Chakotay simply nodded.

"Well, I'm not surprised. I was just hoping the news would be better," she said wistfully.

"Tuvok is working with B'Elanna and Harry on the schematics of the secondary plan. They may be successful with this. Let's not give up hope quite yet," he added.

Kathryn nodded at his words, yet her thoughts were elsewhere.

"Captain . . ." began Chakotay.

"Coffee?" asked Captain Janeway, as she stood and crossed to the replicator. "My treat," she added. "It's the real stuff," she added, with an enticing lilt in her voice.

Chakotay smiled slightly. If he didn't know how hard she was trying to make light of the moment, he would have enjoyed an easy banter with her, but he needed to know how she was doing, and there wasn't room for pretext.

"Why not? It's been a long day," he replied. This would give him additional time in her Ready Room with her, and he could see for himself that she was holding up all right in Tom's absence. He hadn't had much time alone with her recently, but he watched her from the corner of his eye on the Bridge each day, as she held her Captain's façade firmly in place, ignoring the obvious absence of her primary Helmsman.

As Kathryn asked the replicator for their coffee, Chakotay watched her. She moved easily, gracefully, as always. But she was forcing herself to behave normally, for his sake. He could tell she was exhausted, and he knew for a fact that she had spent much of last night roaming the corridors again. Today was the sixteenth day since "the incident," as the crew referred to it, and Tom still had another two weeks left in the Brig.

Chakotay sighed silently. He had no doubt that Tom Paris was faring better in the Brig than Kathryn Janeway was faring on the Bridge.

Returning to her desk, she placed Chakotay's coffee cup in front of him, then took a sip from her own cup before sitting. He had to hand it to her, she was awfully convincing when she wanted to be.

"How are you holding up, Captain?" he asked, taking the coffee cup from her desk.

"I'm fine. But if we could just get the propulsion systems working properly, I might be able to rest a bit easier."

Chakotay smiled to himself. She hadn't looked at him when she'd spoken, and he knew she was trying to make him think she wasn't sleeping well because of the problems they were having with propulsion. But he knew better. They'd faced worse situations than this before. No, she knew that he was aware of her late night visits to the Bridge and to Engineering. But she was too proud to admit to him that maybe he had been right about her going to visit Tom in the Brig.

"Well, I'm sure you'll rest easier soon enough," he said nonchalantly, taking a sip of coffee. Kathryn sighed, and he could see her relax slightly. She thought they were past talking about her restless nights.

"And, in case you're interested, I hear Tom's holding up rather well, all things considered," he ventured.

"Oh?" Kathryn stiffed again slightly, feigning indifference, but Chakotay couldn't resist baiting her.

"Yes." He put the coffee cup carefully back on her desk. "Well, I'll leave you to your work, Captain." He stood.

Kathryn immediately put her cup on the desk and turned directly to Chakotay.

"Oh, no you don't, Commander. Sit." She pointed at the chair he had just vacated. He sat, with a grin on his face. They looked at each other across the Captain's desk, and Kathryn's face suddenly relaxed. "You think you're pretty clever, don't you?"

Chakotay looked her in the eye.

"I can read my Captain's body language well enough."

Kathryn sighed. She leaned back in her chair and dropped all pretense.

"I hate it when you do this to me, you know," she said softly.

"Do what, Kathryn? Force you to admit you're human?"

She chuckled half-heartedly.

"No, I'll gladly admit that. I hate it when you allow me to think I've gotten away with something, only to prove to me that I haven't."

"If I tell you everything I know right away, you don't always appreciate it," he said.

"True enough." She sighed. "All right, Commander, tell me about Tom Paris."

"He's bored, restless, and in the process of writing a letter to his Father," he stated matter-of-factly. "But otherwise, he's holding up just fine."

"Well, that letter could take awhile," she said sarcastically.

"Maybe I'd better give him an extra thirty days for good measure. He might have time to finish his letter then."

"Tell me, Kathryn," said Chakotay, ignoring the tone of her last comment, "Is Admiral Owen Paris really that difficult to communicate with?"

"Oh, Chakotay, what I could tell you would fill volumes. And I'm sure Tom Paris could fill several more volumes that I can." Kathryn paused, focusing off in the distance, somewhere in the past.

Chakotay realized he had nudged the conversation in the wrong direction. He wanted to make Kathryn feel better, not worse.

"It was good of you to allow Harry to visit Tom," he said. His tone was matter-of-fact, yet Kathryn knew him well enough to detect a subtle hint of admiration in his voice.

Kathryn closed her eyes.

"I had to, Chakotay. Looking at Harry, every single day on the Bridge, with those puppy dog eyes and that lonely expression on his face, made me feel so awful, I had to do something to put him out of his misery. Or me out of mine."

Chakotay grinned, and picked up his cup of coffee from Kathryn's desk again.

"What?"

"I beg your pardon?" Chakotay asked, glancing up at Kathryn, and seeing that she was looking directly at him.

"What is so funny about what I just said?"

"Nothing's funny. I just smiled, that's all."

"You were grinning."

"So I was grinning," he said, again reacting matter-of-factly. "I was just thinking that I can't stand to see Harry's expression any more than you can. He's really taking Tom's absence on the Bridge hard."

"Hard? He's practically crying at his console every day, Chakotay. Even B'Elanna's doing better than Harry."

"B'Elanna knows Tom made a choice, and now he's paying the consequences."

"Hrumph. She didn't speak to me for days, Chakotay. She couldn't even establish eye contact with me."

"Is she better now?"

"Yes. Is that due to your influence?"

"Maybe. All I said to her was if she had something to say about the matter, she was to go directly to you to discuss it."

"She never came to me."

"That's probably because she realized there was nothing to discuss."

Kathryn turned away, thinking about what Chakotay had just said.

"That doesn't make any sense, Chakotay."

"Kathryn, it makes perfect sense."

They sat in companionable silence a few moments longer.

"Do you think seeing Tom made a difference for Harry?" Kathryn asked.

"Yes. Harry seems much more relaxed this evening. He even cracked a smile in the mess hall earlier."

"Good. I hope that difference is visible on the Bridge tomorrow morning," she replied, in a voice that said she'd believe it when she saw it.

"I'm sure you'll notice a difference."

They sat in silence a few moments longer, and then Chakotay asked softly, "And what about you, Captain?"

"What about me, Chakotay?"

He sighed softly.

"Have you given further thought to my suggestion?"

"About seeing Tom?"

"Yes."

"No."

"No, you've not given my suggestion further thought, or you've given it further thought, and the answer is 'no'?"

Kathryn sighed heavily.

"The answer is 'no'."

"I see."

"Oh, don't say that like I've just committed some sort of crime, or condemned an innocent man to death."

"Kathryn, all I said was 'I see.' Any sort of additional inference is something you've managed to read into it."

"Chakotay, I want you to understand something." She straightened up in her chair, then turned toward him. "I appreciate your concern. But I just don't feel comfortable visiting Tom in the Brig. Do I make myself clear?"

Chakotay looked her in the eye, and nodded.

"Perfectly clear, Captain," he said softly.

Kathryn nodded back slightly, then looked away. She hadn't wanted to treat this as a command situation, but sometimes Chakotay didn't back off as quickly as he should.

Chakotay looked down at the cup in his hand. He knew Kathryn was beginning to feel pressured, and he certainly didn't intend to push her, but he could also sense her hesitancy. She was actually beginning to think about visiting Tom, he knew, although she'd never admit it, and this was where her sense of insecurity came from. She disliked knowing about any uncertainty within herself. He'd leave her now, and let her fight her internal battle alone.

"Well, Captain, it's been a long day. I'll leave you to your work." He placed the coffee cup back on her desk, and stood. "Just try to get some rest tonight. I'm sure you can use it," he said, genuinely, then turned to leave.

"Chakotay?" Her voice was gentle, Kathryn's voice.

He paused.

"Thanks for letting me know. About Tom. And Harry." She didn't look at him when she spoke, and Chakotay knew she was already thinking about other things. He just hoped she would either visit Tom, or put her guilt to rest some other way. She looked tired, and there was nothing he could do for her. Besides, the beta and gamma shift crews needed some rest, too.

"Sleep well, Captain," he said softly.

Kathryn nodded absently, and Chakotay exited her Ready Room.

Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Kathryn turned back toward the computer screen she'd been staring at earlier, when Chakotay had first interrupted her. She hadn't seen the words then, and she didn't see them now, either, although she didn't realize it.

After several minutes spent staring at the screen, Kathryn found herself in front of the viewport, where she usually contemplated seemingly unmanageable predicaments. How many times had she stood in this very spot and pondered the problems she had before her?

She'd experienced every emotion imaginable in this very spot: hurt, anger, fear . . . happiness. And she'd questioned every command decision she'd made these past five years from this very spot, as well.

Kathryn closed her eyes, but she could still see the Delta Quadrant star system that was just outside the viewport. It was ingrained in her head, in her mind's eye.

She sighed. There was no reason to continue trying to convince herself that she was all right. Tom Paris had served half of his thirty day sentence, and she was no closer to putting the situation to rest than she had been on the very first day, the day she had taken away his Lieutenant's commission.

Finally, now that she was facing the fact that this wasn't going to just go away by itself, she knew she had to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and do something.

And the only thing left to do was go to the Brig, to see Tom for herself. There was just no other way around it. She had to see him, even though she didn't know what in the hell she would SAY to him when she got there.

Her mouth turned up into that half-grin she felt whenever she thought of Chakotay. Did he have any idea what he did to her? And did he know how aggravating he could be? She shook her head. She really hated it when he proved to her that he knew her so well. And that he was right, and she was wrong. It was a tough job, all right, but he did it so well.

Her course of action decided, she breathed a silent sigh of relief and headed back toward her desk, and the waiting computer terminal. As she read the same sentences once again, she felt rejuvenated and much better than she'd felt in days.

Funny what taking a little breather could accomplish.

*

Captain Janeway slowed in the corridor outside the security area, wondering yet again if by coming to visit Tom Paris she were making an error in judgment. Criminals didn't often receive visits from their commanding officers while serving time in the Brig.

She took a deep breath and steeled herself. It was too late to change her mind now; she couldn't retreat and risk having other crewmembers see her hesitate outside the doors to the Brig.

The doors of the security room opened and Captain Kathryn Janeway entered the room. Her shoulders were squared and her chin was tilted upward. She could be a commanding presence in any situation, and she was damned if she would be anything less than that right now.

The Ensign on duty turned from his station and abruptly snapped to attention at the Captain's unexpected appearance.

"As you were, Ensign," said Captain Janeway in a kind voice, extending her right hand toward him as though to halt him in his movements, thus signaling to him that this was merely a visit.

Ensign Malik remained standing, but relaxed, beside his station. The Captain turned to look at the prisoner behind the confinement field in the one occupied cell of the Brig.

Tom Paris was standing at attention, tall and proud in the middle of the cell, looking directly at her. He was visibly shop-worn and a little rough around the edges, but he was still a Paris. At times like this, Kathryn was immediately reminded of Admiral Owen Paris.

Tom was more like his father than he knew, but she wasn't about to tell him that now.

The Captain turned to the Ensign.

"Please return to your duties, Ensign. I'm going to have a word with our prisoner." Then she moved toward the cell, only vaguely aware of the "Yes, Captain" which came from behind her. Her focus was entirely on Tom Paris, and his eyes held hers, as well. She stopped just outside the force field that prevented his leaving the cell.

They stared across the way at each other, and Kathryn saw only respect in Tom's eyes. It took every bit of resolve her Starfleet training had taught her not to turn away, and to keep her tears at bay. She hadn't realized until now how much it would have hurt her to see anger or hostility in his eyes instead. But that wasn't Tom Paris' way. He was much more forgiving, and understanding, than most people knew how to be.

"At ease, Mr. Paris," she said finally.

"Captain," he replied softly, relaxing his stance, his eyes never leaving hers.

She continued to look into his eyes for another minute, trying to capture whatever truths she could find there. Finally, she broke her gaze from his and moved the short distance to the disrupter panel beside the cell. Her fingers worked the controls, and the confinement beam disappeared.

"Captain?" questioned the young Ensign from across the room.

"It's all right, Ensign," she responded, speaking to him, yet returning her eyes to Tom's. "I'll let Mr. Tuvok know you were following my direct orders not to interfere. Carry on."

"Aye, Sir," replied the Ensign, if a bit reluctantly. He returned to his duties. As long as the Captain would protect him in her report to Commander Tuvok, he was safe from admonishment. Still, it wasn't a usual thing for the Captain to visit someone in the Brig, even if it WAS someone from her senior staff who was incarcerated.

Kathryn Janeway continued to maintain eye contact with Ensign Paris.

He hadn't moved from the center of the cell where she had first seen him upon entering the security room. Now, he moved aside slightly, an invitation for her to enter his domain.

Kathryn stepped into the cell and Tom gestured grandly toward the one item in the room, a small cot, which stood against the far wall of the eight by ten room.

"Please," he said, his voice not quite as grand as the action which had preceeded it.

Moving to the cot, Kathryn turned, then sat. She looked up at Tom expectantly. He moved to the cot, and sat on the other end. Both stared straight ahead, at the room beyond the entryway to the cell, but neither focused their thoughts there.

After a long silence, Kathryn took a deep breath.

"I'd forgotten how small these cells really are," she said softly.

Tom chuckled softly.

"Sounds like you're speaking from experience, Captain, and not just from standing outside that doorway, looking in."

Kathryn smiled slightly.

"Trying to find out if some of those old rumors are true, Mr. Paris?"

"Well, you know me, Captain. I like to keep things interesting." Kathryn ignored his comment. "Rumor has it you're writing a letter to your Father," she said.

Tom smirked.

"Word sure gets around."

"It's a small ship."

"Yes, but it's fast. And it's home, Captain."

Kathryn nodded silently, and they were quiet once more.

Turning to him suddenly, and with all lightheartedness aside, the Captain said softly, "You very nearly got us all killed, Tom." Tom looked away, and Kathryn could see that he was near tears. This was difficult for both of them, then. She looked forward again, giving him some space.

Finally, Tom spoke.

"It wasn't supposed to be like that, Captain. I just wanted to help them."

"I realize that, Tom. I even knew that at the time. I do know what sort of man you are, you know." She said this last part softly, knowing that she had to tell him. Still, she did not meet his eyes.

Not now. They both needed this distance.

Tom chuckled as he had a few minutes earlier.

"What sort of man am I, Captain? Tell me."

"You don't need me to tell you that."

"Maybe not, but I'd like to know what you think of me." Kathryn sighed. She'd gotten herself into this one. "You are thoughtful and kind, although you prefer to hide those qualities behind others that aren't so decent, and not as compelling." She paused, thinking, and then finally added other attributes of Tom Paris that wouldn't be fair to leave out. "You are a fine officer, and you'd sell your soul for something you believe in."

"Like my Captain?"

Kathryn paused, but decided not to acknowledge Tom's interruption.

"And I know that if there was an emergency, and I needed someone with a level head and a strong temperament to lead the way, I could depend on you to do it."

"I always aim to please, Captain," Tom replied, but there was a wistfulness in his voice that belied his cocky attempt at humor.

They were both quiet then, silently acknowledging that Tom's wisecrack hadn't really covered his true frame of mind. Tom leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes, and Kathryn continued to stare straight ahead, her thoughts straying, but nonetheless glad she was here with Tom Paris all the same. And these cells really were as small as she remembered them being.

Finally, Kathryn spoke softly.

"I remember an evening long ago. I was working late into the night, in the Science Lab at Starfleet Headquarters. It was well past midnight, when your Father came to see me."

Tom straightened up slowly, but it was obvious to Kathryn, from her peripheral vision, that he was very interested in hearing her story. So she continued.

"I was working on a project that involved some extensive research, and I was at a critical point of the experiment I was conducting. I had been in the Science Lab at all hours of the day and night for several weeks. Admiral Paris knew he could find me there most of the time. And so, on that particular night, he came to see me."

She paused, remembering that evening.

"He surprised me by stopping in so late, since it wasn't his custom. I thought he wanted to check my research results, but he wasn't interested in them at all, as I soon found out. What he really wanted to do was to throw a little dirt into the fire." She smiled to herself. "That night, your Father suggested I consider going into Command." She paused, remembering. "Just like that. Knowing how I loved science, and that I had worked long and hard to be a Science Officer, and that I loved being one, he suggested I go into Command. At midnight. In the middle of a very important scientific evaluation." She paused again. "And then he left."

Tom smirked.

"Sounds like Dad."

But Kathryn ignored him.

"The conversation was pretty much one-sided. It was over in less than five minutes. He was there, said his peace, then left quickly. I was stunned. I had studied under him for nearly four years, four difficult years." Again, Tom smirked, but Kathryn ignored him. She knew that he understood that what she said was true.

"I had even served under his Command on the last important mission he had undertaken, and I knew he appreciated my talents. I had gotten us out of hot water on more than one occasion, and I remembered how proud he was of me. I was his apprentice, in so many ways. So I couldn't understand why he would even suggest I go into Command. I'd thought he would want me to serve with him for many years to come." She sighed. "I was a very good Science Officer, Tom. I knew my craft. And your Father came to me at midnight to tell me that he wanted me to move on."

Tom nodded. He had no doubt there. His Father was a strange man.

"And I thought about it all night. I left the laboratory, went home, drank a bottle of red wine - alone, wandered about all night, and thought. All night I thought about why. Why would Admiral Owen Paris want me to give up that which I'd worked so damned hard for all my life? A vocation I loved; a vocation I was good at. And at the end of the night, I was no closer to discovering why than I was the moment he had walked out of the Science Lab, seven hours before."

Tom nodded again. The story of his life.

"And so, that morning, I took a hot shower and got myself together. I forced myself to eat a bowl of cereal, the worst tasting stuff I've had to this day. It was like cardboard, and every time I swallowed I had to drink something in order to wash it down my throat. But I had to be in top condition; I needed the energy the food would give me. Finally, I went to see Admiral Owen Paris."

She paused again, and this time her voice threatened to betray her, but she forced herself to go on.

"He was waiting for me, Tom," she whispered. "To this day, I know in my heart that he was waiting for me. He knew I'd have a bloody awful night after his visit, and he was in his office early the next morning, waiting for me to arrive." She stopped, and willed her voice to continue to be strong. She hadn't realized what this trip down memory lane would cost her.

"I rang the bell, he gave me permission to enter. I walked in, he looked up at me from his desk, and didn't say a word." She paused and forced the tears back down her throat. "I looked at him, at this man I'd come to . . . appreciate, and all I could say was 'Why?' And he replied, 'Because Command will force you to break your bad habits.' That was it; that was all he said. We looked at each other a bit longer, and then I nodded at him, turned and left."

"What a typical thing for my Dad to say, Captain," Tom said softly.

"Yes," said Tom's Captain, "it was." She paused. "And I left his office that morning knowing that I was going to transfer to Command."

Tom turned to her quickly.

"Why, Captain? Just because HE wanted you to?"

"Because he was right, Tom," said Kathryn softly. "I was a good Scientist, but not a good Science OFFICER. I was too concerned about the good of the One, namely myself, and my own opinions, in any circumstance, and not committed to the good of the Many, the entire ship, her Captain and her crew." After a bit, and after Tom had turned away from her, Kathryn continued.

"I was young, Tom, and smart. I loved science. I could quote the best scientists and tell you of their findings. I could even replicate most of their experiments, if asked, and I would have been a valuable addition to any Starfleet crew. And I had been a valuable addition to your Father's Bridge crew. But he knew I could be more. He didn't allow his own concerns, namely keeping me as a Science Officer on his own ship, to benefit the good of the One, himself. Instead, he suggested I go into Command, and benefit the good of the Many, even though he knew he was jeopardizing his own relationship with me by suggesting it. And he knew I wasn't very good at accepting change."

She paused.

"For him to suggest what he did to me, after what I had sacrificed for years in order to benefit from his expertise, his experience and his teachings, was like a knife in my heart. And he knew I would feel that way, for a time. And that's why it hurt him to come to me as he did. But he knew he had to do it. And, years later, he told me he had prayed that I would understand, and forgive him, for dashing my hopes of contributing to the Federation's cause in a scientific way, as I'd always imagined doing."

Kathryn paused. They were both quiet. Then, suddenly, Tom stood and walked defiantly to the doorway of the cell.

"How could you still believe in him, Captain?" he hissed.

"Because he did what he thought was best, even at his own expense, Tom," she said softly.

"But, why?"

"Because he was right; I needed to break old habits. That part was true."

"I don't understand, Captain," Tom said, his back still turned toward her.

"Once, I would have done the same thing you did 15 days ago, Tom. I would have considered that form of action the best thing to do." She paused, and looked directly at Tom's back. Maybe he wouldn't turn to face her, but damnit she was going to tell him why she was here, whether he wanted to listen to her or not. "But as your commanding officer, I had to punish you for that same action, Tom. You weren't thinking of the Whole, of Voyager's crew, when you took it upon yourself to interfere in Manayan concerns."

Tom turned to his Captain.

"I was thinking of an entire civilization, Captain," he said, and Kathryn could see the depth of emotion in his eyes. She understood how he felt.

"But your own ship and her crew should have come first. And my Orders should have been obeyed, Tom. It was your duty, your obligation, to follow my orders. It was not your decision to make."

Tom turned his back to her again. Kathryn watched him, thinking again how much like his Father he truly was. And how much like herself.

"Yes. As a Starfleet Bridge Officer, I was wrong."

Kathryn bowed her head and closed her eyes. Oh, how she knew the turmoil Tom was feeling. After a moment, she had cleared her mind, then she raised her head again.

"Yes. You were wrong."

They were both quiet for a moment. Then Tom turned to face his Captain, and walked toward her. When he reached the center of the small cell, he stopped.

"But I'm not sure I'm sorry, Captain. What if I had that decision to make again? I'm not sure I'd do it any differently. And that's what bothers me, Captain. The not knowing."

Kathryn stood slowly and faced Tom. They were only a few feet apart now, and they looked into each other's eyes, desperately seeking the truth.

"And you may never know, Tom. I hope to hell we never face a situation like that one again; if that's what it would take for you to find out, I hope you never learn the answer to that question."

Tom nodded, then looked at the floor.

"Tom?" Captain Janeway asked softly. Tom looked up at her. "I'm proud of the man you've become. And even if, as Captain, I can't always support, or condone, certain behaviour, I want you to know that as a . . . friend . . . I understand."

Tom looked into the Captain's eyes, knowing she was telling the truth, and he was glad she had come to him tonight. He knew it wasn't easy for her to do this.

Kathryn Janeway nodded once at Tom, then walked past him and through the doorway of the eight by ten cell where he would remain for several more days. Then she engaged the force field around the entrance.

"Captain?" Tom asked softly.

"Yes, Ensign?" replied the Captain, in her on-duty voice.

"Do you ever regret going into Command?" Tom looked at her expectantly, and she knew he was seriously interested in her answer.

"The jury's still out on that one, I'm afraid, Mr. Paris. I'll let you know when I decide the answer to that question." She turned to go.

"Then, so far, you have no regrets?"

Tom just wasn't letting this go. She turned back to him, and knew in her heart that she would be honest with him, whatever the cost.

"So far, I regret it at some point every day, Mr. Paris." She looked at him through the invisible force field, and saw the surprise that registered in his eyes. As she turned to leave again, he spoke once more.

"Captain?"

Kathryn had nearly reached the exit doors to the Brig, but she stopped and turned toward Tom Paris one last time.

"Yes, Ensign?"

"Don't regret it." He paused, but only for a moment, and when he spoke again, his voice was genuine, and his eyes shone with respect.

"If you don't mind my saying so, Captain, there are plenty of good Science Officers out there, but there aren't nearly enough good Commanding Officers."

Then Tom stood at attention once more, out of respect for his Captain.

Kathryn Janeway felt the tears begin to form behind her eyelids, but she forced them away. Tom Paris knew that she had done what needed to be done. Right now, she would have settled for less than that.

"At ease, Ensign," she said gently, "Before you sprain something." Tom stood at ease, and looked at Captain Janeway. They smiled at each other slowly, and a bit sadly, and Tom knew she had intentionally made reference to his first day aboard Voyager, when he had taken Harry Kim under wing.

Suddenly, that seemed so very long ago.

Captain Kathryn Janeway took a deep breath, nodded once at Ensign Tom Paris, then turned and exited the Brig.

And Tom watched his Captain leave, knowing how difficult it had been for her to come to visit him, and thanking the Gods yet again that she had taken him with her on her mission to the Badlands all those five years ago.

Tom sighed, walked back to the cot, and lay down. All in all, he was a very lucky man.

*

Two hours later, Kathryn Janeway was finishing her paperwork in her Ready Room. It was 20.00 hours, she felt better than she had in days, and she was fully planning on enjoying a quiet evening alone tonight in her quarters, reading some late 20th Century poetry that the Doctor, of all people, had suggested she might like.

As she was shutting down her computer console for the evening, her door chime sounded. She sighed. Beta shift was managing just fine without her. Who could that be now, she wondered, as she stood from her desk and stretched her sore shoulder and neck muscles.

She stopped. Of course. Who ELSE would it be? She smiled to herself, then answered "Come."

Chakotay entered the Captain's Ready Room, with a padd in each hand.

"Captain," he said as he moved to the front of her desk. "I have the status reports from Engineering you asked for earlier. B'Elanna and Harry seem to have everything under control, but if you'd like those repairs completed sooner than tomorrow morning, I can assign additional crew to assist them."

Kathryn regarded her First Officer silently. She must have paused too long before answering him, because Chakotay looked up at her with concern.

"Captain?"

"Let's leave Engineering to B'Elanna and Harry, Chakotay," she said softly. "I don't want to risk putting the lives of innocent crewmen in B'Elanna's engine room while she's on a mission. And especially when she's tired."

Chakotay smiled, and nodded slightly.

"Agreed."

Kathryn looked at the padds he still held in his hands.

"Tell me, is there anything in those reports you think I ought to know about tonight?"

"Not a thing, Captain," replied Chakotay, placing the padds on a corner of the Captain's desk. "Tomorrow morning might even be better. B'Elanna's reports always sound better when read after a good night's sleep." He smiled at Kathryn, and she slowly returned his smile. B'Elanna's Engineering reports were always much too long and complicated, and the two uppermost commanding officers never looked forward to reading any part of them, but any reference to that was their own private joke.

"I was just going to retire to my quarters for the evening, Chakotay. Walk with me?" she asked softly.

Chakotay nodded.

"Be glad to, Captain."

Chakotay and the Captain left the Captain's Ready Room, and moved across the Bridge to the turbolift, nodding at the Lieutenant in charge of beta shift.

As the turbolift doors closed behind them, Kathryn turned to Chakotay.

"Did you see that?"

"What, Captain?"

"Don't tell me it's my imagination that everyone on the Bridge breathed a sigh of relief when they saw me leave just now."

Chakotay smiled to himself.

"Captain, I didn't notice," he said in his best nonjudgmental voice, as he turned forward to face the door.

Kathryn turned toward the front of the elevator again, as well, and sighed, as Chakotay instructed the turbolift to the appropriate deck.

"Sometimes I'm convinced you humor me in order to protect the crew, Chakotay."

"It is my job to protect the crew, Captain, that part's true." As the turbolift doors opened, and the Captain and Commander stepped out and continued on their way toward the Captain's quarters, Chakotay casually asked her, "By the way, rumor has it you visited the Brig today."

The Captain shook her head, and smiled.

"Word sure gets around."

"It's a small ship."

"Yes, but it's fast and it's . . . home . . ." Her voice faded, and she suddenly stopped walking.

"Captain?" Chakotay stopped and turned to her.

"Chakotay, do you have plans for tonight?"

Chakotay's face registered a bit of a surprise at her sudden question, but he shook his head.

"None. I thought I'd grab a bite to eat in the mess hall and spend a quiet evening alone, reading."

"I see."

"Unless you have a better offer, that is." He smiled at her, and the sight of those dimples made Kathryn's heart leap. Damn him, he still had that effect on her. But she found herself smiling back at him.

"I do, in fact," she said in a low, husky voice. She glanced quickly up and down the corridor to be sure they were alone, and then she stepped closer to him. "It's been a long time since we sailed Lake George together," she said. "I'll make a deal with you. I'll replicate a picnic dinner, complete with candles and red wine, and you grab the holodeck and initiate the Lake George program. I'll even read poetry to you over dessert," she said, with a promise in her voice, and a smile on her face.

"I think I've just been convinced," said Chakotay, laughing. "All right, I'll meet you at the holodeck in 15 minutes," he said, as he turned and headed back down the corridor toward the turbolift.

"Commander?" Chakotay stopped and turned back toward Kathryn. She was standing in the middle of the corridor with one hand on her hip, the other at her side, and a very intriguing look on her face. "For future reference, what did I say that was so convincing?" she asked, innocently.

"It wasn't what you said, exactly, Captain . . ."

"Then what was it?"

Chakotay smiled at her.

"You're buying dinner and paying for the entire date tonight. And I don't have to eat Neelix' Hiati lizard pie for dinner this evening."

Kathryn made a face at the pie reference.

"You were really going to eat that?"

"No choice. I'm fresh out of replicator rations."

"Hmmm, and I was so sure it was my poetry reading that convinced you."

They smiled at each other then, and Chakotay turned to go.

"Chakotay?"

He turned once more.

"I appreciate your convincing me to visit Tom in the Brig. It helped a great deal."

Chakotay knew that this was difficult for Kathryn to admit, and he was glad she was acknowledging it, even from down the corridor. But that was Kathryn.

Chakotay nodded at her, and she turned and walked away. Kathryn Janeway was as special as she was complicated. Chakotay sighed. She didn't always make it easy for him to love her, but sometimes, like tonight, he wouldn't change his feelings for her if he could.

The smile returned to Chakotay's face as he turned and continued toward the holodeck, and to Lake George.

*

Several days after he and the Captain had sailed Lake George, Chakotay entered the Bridge for his early morning duty shift. The Captain wasn't there yet. In fact, she wasn't due on the Bridge for another half an hour. Yet Chakotay sensed an expectancy in the air.

He grinned to himself, said his "good mornings," and moved to his command chair. It seemed that most of the Bridge crew had arrived for duty earlier than usual this morning; Tuvok was already at his post, and even Harry was at his.

Engineering had shut down all primary functions at 0400 hours and had run full diagnostics of all ship's systems. Chakotay knew that if anyone had been asked outright why he or she was extra early for duty shift today, the general excuse would be that all work stations must be operating at peak efficiency prior to leaving orbit, and if everything was found to be running smoothly, Voyager would be moving out within the hour. In fact, the Captain was in Engineering now, discussing the findings with B'Elanna.

But Chakotay knew the real reason behind everyone's early arrival on the Bridge this morning. Today was Tom Paris's first day back on duty at the Helm. The Captain had officially released him from the Brig yesterday, and Chakotay knew that everyone was anxiously awaiting the initial confrontation between the Captain and Ensign Paris.

And Chakotay knew that Kathryn knew this. He was anxious to see how she would handle this himself.

Several minutes later, Tom Paris stepped onto the Bridge from the turbolift. Commander Chakotay checked the chronometer. Good move. Not too early, and definitely not late for his shift.

Tom moved hesitantly at first, but the Bridge crew welcomed him openly with pleasant "good mornings" and Harry even moved away from his console to slap Tom on the back. Chakotay pretended not to notice.

Tom smiled and nodded at everyone, then moved tentatively toward his center console. As he passed the two command chairs, he glanced first at the vacant chair, and then at Commander Chakotay. Chakotay looked up and smiled at Tom.

"Good morning, Tom," he said, being sure everyone on the Bridge heard him. "Welcome back."

Tom breathed a sigh of relief, and paused.

"Thanks, Commander. It's uh . . . it's good to be back." He glanced once more at the Captain's vacant chair, then continued quickly to his chair at the Helm, and began to familiarize himself with the ship's current status.

Exactly three minutes later, the turbolift doors opened and Captain Kathryn Janeway strode onto the Bridge. She moved deliberately, and with zest in her walk.

"Good morning, Everyone," she called out, as she moved toward her command chair.

As hesitant "good mornings" were heard from every direction (something the Captain pointedly ignored), she moved directly down to the Helm and put her hand on Tom Paris's right shoulder.

"Good morning, Tom," she said to him alone, yet loudly enough for all to hear.

"Good morning . . . Captain," he responded to her over his shoulder.

"Welcome back. We've missed you," she said genuinely, then squeezed his shoulder.

"Thank you, Ma'am," replied Tom, and Chakotay could hear his voice begin to break. He could also hear the faint sounds of relief that emanated from various workstations on the Bridge.

Captain Janeway pretended nothing was amiss this morning, and moved with determination to her command chair.

"Good morning, Commander," she said jovially, as she turned to look at him, then sat in her chair.

"Captain," said Chakotay, nodding his head in greeting.

Kathryn smiled. All was back to normal. She shook her head with relief, and turned to catch her First Officer staring at her with a grin on his face. He leaned toward her slowly, and she moved to meet him.

"Nicely done, Captain," he said quietly, so that no one else could hear the comment.

"Thank you, Commander," she answered quietly, then straightened in her chair.

The Captain sighed audibly, not caring who noticed, and knowing that no one would say a word about it; not even Tom Paris would mention it today. All was well on the Bridge once more. She smiled to herself.

"Mr. Paris, move us out of here! Set a course for home, Warp 6."

"Yes, Ma'am!" came the reply from the Helm.

"Engage," she replied, in her strong, confident Captain's voice.

As the starfield rushed past the Voyager, Chakotay smiled. He looked over at the Captain, her eyes met his, and she smiled back.

Today was already a very good day.

THE END


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