Chapter 6

"The fragile nature of a living body is often forgotten or ignored as a result of the fascinating technological advances in the medical field. And what can be more disconcerting to the dedicated physician than a patient who believes a dermal regenerator can fix everything! Admittedly the dermal regenerator is a wonderful tool, but it is not a heal all." The Doctor eyed his patient to ensure that he still held his full attention.

Tom concentrated on the device he held in the fist of his right hand. It looked like a child's toy. A small brightly colored plastic sphere with springs in the middle. He compressed it in his fist for the count of ten, then released.

"Dr McCoy, the physician on board the Enterprise-B; under the command of Captain James T Kirk; also took part in inventing some of the most astounding medical devices of his time! And it was not sedentary study that brought forth such amazing discoveries, but rather the need for innovation!"

Already frustrated by the Doctor's non-stop self-gratification, Tom felt the need to intervene. "I think Dr. McCoy's discoveries were somewhat more complicated than a plastic sphere with a spring in the middle." He tossed the devise at the doctor.

The EMH caught the ball easily and contemplated it thoughtfully. "Often the simple things in life are the most effective." He tossed the ball back to his patient.

Caught off guard Tom raised his right hand to catch the ball. He almost caught it, but as the ball came in contact with his hand his fingers wouldn't respond and he couldn't grip it properly. The ball dropped.

The Doctor observed his patient's failure with a smug grin. "I will have you know the Compression Sphere you just so casually allowed to fall to the floor contains micro sensors within the springs to monitor and adjust to improvements in your condition."

Tom hopped off the bed and picked up the offending devise. "How long before I can play the piano again Doc?"

"Maybe never." The Doctor narrowed his eyes and savored his patient's reaction. "Maybe next week." The Doctor struggled to understand his hostility towards the Lieutenant, no, not hostility. Even the new psychological subroutines he added to his program were useless. It helpless. It was just,was just that Tom Paris always brought out the worst in his program. "So long as you continue with the exercises I outlined, there is no reason why you shouldn't recover completely."

Tom nodded. "Now I can go, right?" He said completely fed up.

"Yes. Oh, I was to inform you of a senior officer meeting in the Captain's ready room at 1400." The Doctor watched his patient walk out, and contemplated yet another visit without the normal stimulating repertoire between them. He sighed. With luck Tom would be back to his irritating self in no time.

Tom asked the computer for the time. "The time is 1425 hours". It said replied. He picked up his pace and headed straight for the meeting.

All heads turned to him as he entered and took his place at the table.

The Captain stopped in the middle of what ever she'd been saying and turned to him. "I'm glad you could join us Lieutenant."

"Sorry I'm late." He hesitated in the doorway, unsure whether or not his presence was welcomed after all.

The Captain simply smiled. "I understand the circumstances. We have been going through your report."

He accepted the padd she handed him and he looked through it briefly, recognizing it as his own written report. "Is something wrong?"

"Not at all. We are simply reviewing the tactical data before filing it for official record. Unfortunately as I mentioned before, all data in the shuttle was irretrievable."

Tom nodded, finally understanding the purpose of the meeting. They did the same thing after every away mission to access what problems might have been avoided and how to improve missions in the future. Usually they would review the data from the ship and compare it to the report made by the away team and suggest possible improvements and accomplishments. In this case they had only his report to go by, and so any clarification had to be done by memory.

The next hour passed by incredibly slowly, by the end of which they still were not finished the official report. Harry stared at Tom with worry. He hadn't seen his friend since before the mission into the gas cloud, and his appearance shocked him. He looked paler than usual with dark circles under the eyes, and as time passed, he noticed Tom steadily looking worse.

Tuvok looked to Tom again and asked his next question. "What were the co-ordinates of the shuttle craft when the Kazon tractor beam locked on?"

"I don't remember." Tom answered mechanically for about the fiftieth time.

"What evasive maneuvers did you program to take effect when the Kazon ship was destroyed?"

Tom looked at the Vulcan as though he grew two heads. "I didn't know when that would happen! I was only drawing fire until Voyager arrived."

"So I am to understand there were no precautions taken to avoid damage when the Kazon ship was destroyed?"

"Even if I had-"

B'Elanna interrupted him. "It's in the report. Line 286."

Tuvok raised an eyebrow in speculation. "It is standard procedure to double check tactical information referred to in Away Team reports as a means to verify accuracy."

B'Elanna turned to the Captain. "We've been going over the same information for oven an hour. What is there left to verify?"

Janeway regarded her Chief Engineer thoughtfully. "You have a point. Lt. Tuvok, I expect a detailed list of any extra questions you wish to have answered by tomorrow morning. Dismissed." She stood up and walked out.

Harry watched B'Elanna watching Tom, and berated himself for not being the one to stand up for his friend.

"How are you holding up?" B'Elanna asked Tom as she entered some last data into her padd.

Tom shrugged. "Tired. I didn't realize the debriefing would be an interrogation."

Tuvok heard the comment and stopped by the door to address the complaint. "My intention was not to cause you undue strain. It is not unknown for Away team mission debriefings to be carried out over the period of several days depending on the quality of information. If you are feeling unwell I suggest you return to sickbay."

"No thanks. I'm fine." Tom slowly stood up and stretched. Tuvok left to return to his post.

Harry and B'Elanna turned their attention back to Tom. Harry moved to stand beside the taller man. "The Doc finally released you huh?"

"Yeah." Tom answered without even bothering to look up.

"Are you sure you're alright?" Harry placed a hand on Tom's shoulder.

Tom shook him off. "It just hasn't been a good day Harry."

"You should get some rest." B'Elanna added.

Tom regarded them both. He wasn't angry, he felt too tired to be angry, but he disliked how they were both ganging up on him. "Thanks. See you later."

"Do you need-"

Tom looked back and cut Harry off from whatever he was about to say. "I'm fine." He said and walked out.

Harry sat back down at the conference table. B'Elanna sat beside him. "He's just tired. No one ever feels very sociable after prolonged exposure to the Doctor."

Harry smiled sadly. "Tuvok was right though, I don't think Tom had a plan of how to get out of there before the Kazon ship exploded. Even before he attacked them, he was out matched even if they were damaged."

B'Elanna looked down at the table. "It looks that way." She studied her Padd for a moment, then accessed a file. She placed it in front of Harry.

He looked at the information on the screen for a moment and frowned. "What's this?"

"Read it Harry."

He picked the padd up and scanned the first page. "How did you get this?"

B'Elanna shrugged. "It's a Maquis thing." She responded sadly and left. Harry sat alone in the conference room staring at the confidential medical files of his best friend.

Tom sat alone in his quarters with the lights off, trying to ignore the headache pounding behind his eyes. He was unwilling to go to the Doctor for an analgesic just in case the Doc might find it necessary to keep him in sickbay yet another night. At least he knew the headache would fade eventually and then he could get some real rest, but if he went to sick bay it would be another long night of insomnia.

The door chimed. Tom ignored it, but it chimed again. "Come in."

Harry stood at the entrance, and blinked at the darkness for a moment. "Uh, Tom?"

"Yeah?" Tom stood up. "Lights 70 percent. Come in Harry."

Harry held the padd in front of him. He placed it on the table, then stepped away from it. Tom took a look and recognized the heading immediately. He didn't touch it, and he didn't say anything. He merely walked back to the couch and sat down. Harry stood dead still, unsure what to do next. He'd expected some kind of reaction from Tom, not that he was looking forward to one, but he expected something.

"So now what?" Tom asked, finally breaking the silence.

Harry sat down on the couch beside him. "I didn't read it."

"Maybe you should have then. At least you'd know what you're getting into to."

"What do you mean?!" Harry said angry with Tom thinking so little of

"I'm tired. I don't mean anything." Tom stood back up and picked up the padd. "So where'd you get it from?"

Harry shrugged.

Tom considered the options. "B'Elanna?" From the look on Harry's face he guessed right. "So that's why she acted strange in the meeting." He said to himself, then turned back to Harry. "What do you think she meant to accomplish? To warn you away from me?"

"I never said it was B'Elanna!" Harry insisted.

Tom shrugged. "So be warned Harry, you're going to be disappointed. It's what I do best."

"If it was B'Elanna, and I'm not saying it was! I don't think she wanted to warn me about anything." He got up and walked over to Tom. "You're not going to disappoint me Tom. You're my best friend, we stand by one another."

Tom turned away. The whole conversation was getting way to deep for him. "So do you think whoever didn't give this to you had a chance to read it?"

"I don't know." Harry turned to leave.

"Thanks for not reading it Harry. And thanks for not asking."

Harry left and Tom sat back down to consider what to do next. B'Elanna sat in the mess hall having a quiet lunch. Neelix talked to her for about five minutes when she first came in, and then went on to pester the other diners. She didn't even see Tom until he sat down right across from her.

"Don't blame Harry." He said.

B'Elanna felt her stomach roll. She should have known better than to-

"I guessed. You never go that easy on me in briefings." Tom added.

B'Elanna sat still and didn't say anything. The embarrassment at being caught gnawed at her insides.

"Why did you take my file?" He asked. "Or did someone give it to you?"

"I swiped it from sickbay. I don't know why. Maybe I thought if I read it, I'd understand you better."

"Did it work?"

"No." She smiled, feeling like a complete idiot. "I do have a question though."

"What is it?" Tom asked.

"What were you thinking when you stayed by the Kazon ship?"

"I wasn't thinking." He smiled back and stood up. Almost back to his old charming self.

"You should be more careful." Paris was slightly taken aback by her concern for him. They were really only colleagues who hung out occasionally through their mutual friendship of Harry. It felt good to have people who cared about him.

"But what would be the fun in that Lieutenant?" He turned and left her alone. B'Elanna looked down at her half-finished meal and thought about what he just said.

The end. finally.

Note: Thanks for the reviews!!!! They are much appreciated!
I am interested to know if I managed to hold your attention, the what worked and what didn't sort of thing. :)