Immortalessence

Immortal Essence

Disclaimer: Characters and Premise are borrowed from the shows "Star Trek: Voyager" and "Highlander"

The last thing Tom remembered was his head impacting the bulkhead wall. "How long have I been out?" he wondered silently.

"Welcome back Tom," Seska purred.

"Too long," Tom thought answering his own unspoken question.

"Your little diversion would have worked better if you hadn't been caught in the blast, not very good planning Tom. You could have broken your neck, and that would have ruined all my fun," Seska continued. "I have my own plans for you."

Tom tried to stand and realized for the first time that he had been restrained. Tom also realized that he really didn't have anything he wanted to say to Seska.

She was a spy, a Cardassian and a traitor to Voyager. She and Michael Jonas, another traitor, one he had been asked to uncover, were leading Voyager into a trap. He had to warn the Captain, he didn't have time to converse with a Cardie spy.

"What, no jokes, no little sarcastic jabs? I'm disappointed Tom. This is so out of character for you."

"You're not worth the effort Seska, say what you have to say and get out of my face." Tom retorted. And then I can pick these locks and get out here, he thought.

"Oh I have nothing to say to you, rather I'm here to listen to what you have to say to me. About Voyager, her current status, about Janeway, her plans, what does she know? What does she suspect?" Seska said.

"I'm not going to tell you. Why don't you ask Jonas, he seems to like talking to you," Tom replied.

"Oh yes," Seska said. "But you're here, so I'm asking you. You know Cardassians regard torture, as an art form don't you Tom? I really don't think you know anything I can use… but finding out will entertain me during the trip to Hemhick."

Hours later, Tom felt ready to cry from frustration, Seska's abuse had left him shaking from exhaustion and pain. The Kazon's primitive restraints shouldn't have been a challenge.

Amanda would be disappointed in him, Tom thought as his fingers refused to cooperate with him.

==============================================================

"Excellent Thomas," Amanda exclaimed clicking off the timer. "You're a natural at this."

"Thank you," Tom replied gallantly handing his beautiful, dark haired mentor the twentieth century handcuffs that he had just removed. "I always appreciate the opinion of an acknowledged genius in the field."

"You're so charming Thomas," Amanda replied. "I'm glad someone appreciates my talents."

With a long suffering sigh, Amanda's companion, Nick Wolf, looked up from his chess game and said, "It's not your talents that I'm objecting to Amanda, it's how you apply them. You didn't have to steal that necklace."

Amanda pursed her lips in a child-like pout, raising one hand to finger the exquisitely colored Tamar stone hanging around her neck. "It caught my eye," she said.

"Oh yeah, that's a great reason for breaking into a Starfleet Admiral's home and stealing his wife's jewelry," Nick exclaimed. "You can't do things like this Amanda!"

"It's not like Mom really liked the necklace," Tom said. "It was just another one of Dad's status symbols."

"See," Amanda added, "Now the gem had a home where it's valued."

"It's your turn Nick," Suzi Crabtree, Tom's girlfriend said impatiently.

"Now darling, lets move on to a more modern form of restraints," Amanda said to Tom.

"Amanda quit corrupting that child!" Nick snapped.

"I am not a child!" the seventeen year old protested.

"It's bad enough that you stole the Admiral's property," Nick continued, ignoring Tom. "But taking his kid? Amanda what the hell were you thinking?"

"We've discussed this already Darling," Amanda said, a warning clearly heard in her voice.

Nick spared a quick, distracted glance at his opponent across the chessboard, then glared back at Amanda. "That discussion isn't over."

"Come on Nick, lighten up," Tom interjected. "It's not like Amanda kidnapped us or anything, Suzi and I were leaving anyway. Amanda just offered us a lift."

"Offered you a ride?" Amanda asked with a grin. "That's not what I recall young man. You threatened to call the police if I refused to take the two of you with me."

Tom grinned back, charm oozing out of him. "That's why you love me, isn't it?" he asked.

"Why I invited you here in any case," Amanda replied. "You, my dearest boy, are trouble looking for a place to happen."

"So you bring him here?" Nick said. "That's just brilliant Amanda."

Angrily Amanda jumped to her feet and stalked over to where Nick was sitting, without a word she grabbed him by the arm and levered him to his feet then dragged him out of the hearing range of their young guests.

"What was I supposed to do Nick?" she hissed. "Leave those two to their own devices? Thomas would have gotten them both killed within the month, I wasn't kidding about him looking for trouble. He's desperate to do anything that his father would disapproved of, he doesn't even think about the possibility of getting into real danger."

"You should have given him the ride then called the police yourself. Let his parents deal with him," Nick said.

"Because they've done so well already?" Amanda replied. "And what would you have done about Suzi? You know as well as I do that she's pre-Immortal. Should I have let the police take care of her too? They haven't been much help to the others have they?"

Nick remembered the business that had brought them to San Francisco, the latest in a series of brutal murders in which the victims had been beheaded.

Methos had told them that the victims were all people suspected of being pre-Immortals by the watchers. The police, of course, hadn't been able to discover the victim's link and if Methos' fears were corrected they wouldn't be able to deal with the killer if they did find him.

Which was what had lead to Nick's involvement. Duncan Macloud, Methos and several other Immortals were already looking for the killer, but the weren't having much luck. They thought Nick might do better, he'd been a cop before his first death, and had worked as a private investigator since the end of the twentieth century.

"You're right," Nick sighed. "We have to protect Suzi, I just have a bad feeling that we're going to be brought up on kidnapping charges, despite Tom's assurances otherwise. We don't have time for that."

"Look no one's going to find us. I took care of that." Amanda said.

"What are you planning to do with Tom?" Nick asked. "In the long term, I mean, take him on as an apprentice sneak thief?"

"No, of course not, you know I don't want a partner in crime."

"So why are you teaching him to pick locks?"

"It keeps him entertained and out of trouble."

"Amanda you never cease to amaze me. Only you would consider teaching a teenager to be a burglar as a good way to keep him OUT of trouble."

==============================================================

"Come on Tommy, focus," Tom muttered. "Amanda taught you better than to let a little discomfort stop you."

"Voyager needs you, Captain Janeway is depending on you. Come on Tommy, you've got to get free."

"No!" Tom exclaimed. He could feel the Kazon ship accelerating rapidly, shifting direction repeatedly, but never entering warp. Tom knew what that meant; they were in a battle.

"Please don't let it be Voyager," he whispered.

The battle didn't last long; Tom tried to tell himself that that proved that it wasn't Voyager. Voyager would have put up a better fight, he told himself.

What about Jonas, a traitorous part of his mind whispered. How much had Jonas been able to compromise Voyager's defenses because Tom had failed his mission?

Seska strode into the room interrupting Tom's dark musings, "Well, Tom, it looks like we'll be moving to a new home."

Three armed Kazon guards filed into the room. Tom was released from the restraints, seconds later he felt a transporter beam surrounding him.

Tom, Seska and the guards rematerialized on Voyager's transporter pad. Michael Jonas was operating the controls.

Tom was moving the instant the beam released him; he dove over the consul and had his hands around the traitor's throat before anyone could think to stop him.

Tom and Jonas hit the floor together. Tom used his momentum to slam the other man's head against the deck plates before turning his attention to crushing Jonas' windpipe.

Nick had taught him that in a fight it was always best to take and keep the initiative. Tom could almost hear his mentor's voice. "Start it like you intend to finish it…" He intended to see Jonas dead, if it were the last thing he accomplished.

==============================================================

"Good Tom," Nick shouted. "Keep pressing your advantage."

The clang of swords almost drowned out his instructions. Tom grunted in response, he knew Nick was only blocking his blows, not even trying that hard really. Still he had forced the older man back a step.

The weight of the sword in his hands was a strange one. Tom had taken lessons in fencing but that was an entirely different situation from the one he was currently engaged in. Fencing was all about rules, attack and repose, touch and the scoring of points. The combatants wore padding and masks to protect them from the blunted, flexible, light weight foils.

The type of sward fighting Nick and Amanda were teaching Tom and Suzi was only distantly related to that genteel sport. The swords they were wielding were ancient, heavy, pieces of steel, sharp edged and deadly. Furthermore they wore jeans and tee shirts to fight, they're safety guaranteed only by Nick and Amanda's skill. Tom and Suzi knew better than to even consider sparring with one another.

However the real difference between this and Fencing was in the rules. The only rules in this game was survival, they were being taught how to fight to the death.

Tom had noticed that Nick's lessons in boxing and other marshal arts were equally driven. This type of fighting wasn't a game it was life or death.

Tom had been taking classes in self-defense since he had been a child, those classes had been taught by Starfleet personnel who all worked to impress upon they're charges, mostly Fleet Brats like Tom, that there might come a time when those skills could save their lives. They hadn't convinced Tom, Nick and Amanda did, this wasn't some route speech for future cadets, this was what they lived.

More and more Tom found himself wondering about the strange couple he and Suzi had fallen in with since running away from home together.

Tom's distraction lasted only a moment, but it was more than long enough for Nick to bring his sword around in a crashing blow that jolted Tom's weapon from his hands. A second sweeping blow ended with the edge of Nick's sword caressing Tom's throat.

"I told you to focus," Nick said softly.

Tom nodded in agreement, his eyes wide with fear.

"You do everything with half of your mind on something else," Nick continued. "That habit could get you killed you know."

"Sorry Nick," Tom said leaning away from the sword that was still close enough to his throat to take his pulse.

With a sigh Nick pulled the sword away, smoothly returning it to his scabbard. "It's okay Tom. You doing great for a beginner, you've just got to learn not to let your thoughts wander. Come on let's get some dinner."

Tom smiled and nodded, glancing over at Suzi and Amanda who were still deeply involved in their lesson.

"They'll come when they're finished," Nick said.

"Sure," Tom replied following the other man to the house, after returning his sword to the rack hanging on the garage wall.

"Tom, I'm curious about something," Nick said. "Why were you and Suzi running away?"

Tom was surprised, after five weeks he'd begun to believe that his hosts weren't interested in that particular topic. Still they'd given them a place to stay, fed them, and hadn't asked for anything in return. The least he owed Nick was the truth.

"Suzi's parents are both Starfleet," Tom started, "And you know my Dad's an Admiral. We've grown up in the fleet. Living on our parents' ships for months at a time, going to all these classes to prepare us to be officers, we've been bound for fleet careers since birth."

"And you don't want that?" Nick asked. "Couldn't you have just told your parents that?"

"It's not that simple," Tom explained. "I love piloting, when I'm flying that's the only time I really feel alive, and Starfleet's where I'd get to do the most challenging types of piloting, but sometimes I just wish someone would ask me what I want."

"Dad's all set on me being Starfleet's youngest Captain, but I've seen what command does to people. I don't want that. I don't want to have to make decisions that get people killed. I don't want to have to hide away everything I feel for the sake of the mission. I saw what it did to Dad, after awhile he couldn't put the mask away. Command mode just sort of took over his life."

"Even if you do go into Starfleet, you don't have to follow in your father's footsteps," Nick said. "It is your life after all."

Tom snorted, "It's not my life now. I'm Owen Paris' protégé pilot, the heir to the Paris legacy. At least ninety percent of my so-called friends are only interested in that person. They don't care at all about Tome Paris, they don't even know him."

"I'm so sick of living like that, I can't trust anyone. They just want to use me. I can't stop 'em either; I just have to use them back. At least then I get something out of it. You knew I used to try to hide in my room, if I were alone I could be sure no one was taking advantage of me."

"I want out, but I can't give up the flying. It's part of me, I'd be dead without it."

"So how does running away solve anything?" Nick asked.

Tom slumped tiredly. "I'll go back," he said. "I always knew I'd go back, but I thought maybe if I scared them, maybe if they weren't so sure of what I could do, maybe then they'd start asking what I want to do. Maybe they'd really look at me instead of just assuming I'm what they expect me to be."

"Besides," Tom continued more brightly. "I'm enjoying this, it's like a vacation from being my father's son."

"When are you going home?" Nick asked.

"I'll have to go back in September, before classes start at the Academy," Tom replied. "You've got to be missing the last four or five months of high school," Nick pointed out. "Won't that stop you from entering the Academy?"

"Naw, I graduated early, plus I've already been accepted into the Academy. Dad wanted me to do this Fleet prep thing, future cadets spend eight months living on a starship under the supervision of a mentor, so they get a better idea of what Starfleet's like and what career path they want to follow."

"Sounds like a good program," Nick commented.

"Yeah, but there's only a limited number of slots and what would I learn from it anyway?" Tom replied.

"The selection process is pretty secretive, Dad shouldn't even realize I didn't apply until the final choices are made then it'll be too late. Besides which, I never planned on being around then anyway."

"Sounds like you had everything laid out," Nick commented. "How long had you been planning this?"

"Since last summer, almost six moths ago," Tom replied proudly. "Of course, I was going to wait until next week to leave, that way Dad wouldn't have had the time to look for me. He'd have just been leaving for his next deep space assignment. He won't be back till after I start school. That way even if I got caught I wouldn't have to live with him again."

"So why'd you and Suzi hitch up with Amanda that night?"

Tom grinned, "Too good of an opportunity to miss. She knew everyone was supposed to be out that night right? That's why she broke in then wasn't it?"

"Yes," Amanda said as she and Suzi joined them. "Your parents were at a conference, and you were supposed to be staying with your sister Kathleen until they got back. I tapped into your com system to gather information about timing. I believe your parents were attempting to keep you out of trouble?"

"I was just maintaining a time honored tradition of throwing wild parties while my parents were out." Tom said with a shrug. "I don't see why they got so upset. Anyways leaving the house empty was just a waste and Kath doesn't care what I do. She just said to be sure that no one called the police this time."

"Which wasn't going to be a problem this time." Suzi added slipping an arm around Tom's waist. "We had a very quiet party, just the two of us."

Tom blushed slightly then leaned down to kiss the shorter blond girl. "But we still had a good time I hope?"

"Oh the best Tommy," Suzi replied.

Amanda rolled her eyes at the two teenager's antiques.

"Anyways," Tom continued. "I'd just finished telling Suzi about how I was planning on taking off for a awhile when we see Amanda coming over the wall. We were sitting on the roof watching the stars. Well since there's really nothing much I care about that house I just decided to watch, rather than call the police and get in trouble for being home when my parents were contacted."

And wow, it was a show worth watching. Amanda, I know the security measures around the house are top notch, but it took you less time to get in than it would have taken me, and I have the codes. Which was when it occurred to me that you wouldn't be leaving a trail when you left. So Suzi and I introduced ourselves and here we are."

"Thomas, did it ever occur to you that what you did was dangerous?" Amanda asked. "I dislike messes, but most thieves would have just killed you."

"I had a phasor," Tom answered.

"It wouldn't have been enough," Nick said. "The two of you have got to learn to protect yourselves."

==============================================================

Tom regained consciousness in Voyager's brig. He vaguely remembered the beam from the Kazon's weapon burning into his should as he fought to remain conscious long enough to finish killing the traitor Jonas.

He wondered if he had succeeded.

As he become more alert Tom recognized the itch of newly regenerated skin across his shoulder.

Tom smiled at the Cardassian woman on the other side of the force field. "You're taking awfully good care of me Seska, you must want something from me. Why don't you tell me what it is so I can refuse you?"

"Not right now," Seska replied. "I just wanted to tell you that your precious Captain wasn't very reasonable. I had planned on just abandoning Voyager's crew on some out of the way planet, but she refused to surrender." Seska shook her head in mock sadness, "She forced us to kill them. I just thought you might want to know."

Tom slumped back against the wall of the brig. This wasn't possible, Voyage's crew dead? No, this couldn't be happening.

Seska left him to think about that alone.

Tom sat quietly in the brig, tears silently trailing down his cheeks as he mourned his crewmates, the first people he'd been able to trust or truly care for in almost a decade.

All of them gone; Harry, B'elanna, Kes, Neelix, and the Captain all gone. All dead, because of Seska and the Kazon and because of Michael Jonas. No, because of him, because he failed in his mission.

Tom took a deep steadying breath. Now wasn't the time to fall apart. The captain would never forgive him if he left the ship in the Kazon's hands. As the last member of Voyager's crew it was his duty to see her destroyed.

Since Seska had been so kind as to have his injuries healed it wasn't difficult for him to override the force field. Tom wondered how the guards at Auckland would have felt if they'd known how easily he could have disabled their systems. There had been times when he'd been a heartbeat away from doing just that. It hadn't been their force fields and ankle bracelets that had held him there, it had been the knowledge that he had nowhere else to go.

Despite everything he'd learned from Amanda and Nick in the nine months he'd stayed with them he couldn't live like they did, apart from society and invisible.

To start with his appearance was simply too well known.

Until now, Tom had never really found a use for the skills and abilities he'd gained during that part of his life. Now he wished he were more like Nick and Amanda. If he were this would be easy.

==============================================================

"Amanda, I got a lead," Nick said. "It turns out that our man had been using phaser to stun his victims, then he kills them, allows them to revive and beheads them. I traced the registry on the phaser to one Doran Ricaw.

"Do the Watchers have anything on him?" Amanda asked.

"Oh yeah, but it's not what you'd expect. It turns out that the guy was a Watcher. He was recruited just three years ago. Furthermore, Methos is certain he hadn't experienced his first death at that time." Nick replied.

"Damn Watchers," Amanda said. "If they're not causing trouble one way, they're doing it in another. Do we have any clue where he's headed next?"

"Not really, he knows so much about us no one knows who he'll go after next. In time like these I curse transporters; basically he can reach any point on the Earth in seconds, and his last kill is old enough that the transporter logs have been written over."

"So we just wait for him to kill another kid and hope the body turns up before the transporter logs get over written?" Amanda demanded.

"No, Doran is a Watcher problem, so they're actively helping us on this one. They're looking for him, and watching all the pre-Immortals they know of. We've also contacted all the Immortals who are associated with a pre-Immortal or who have new students, they're on their guard against Doran too." Nick said. "The next time he approaches anyone the Watchers know about he's ours. He won't have the chance to hurt anyone else."

==============================================================

Tom climbed through the Jeffries tubes. Seska had secured all the phasers but she hadn't even known about his stash of archaic weapons. Tom was armed with several daggers, plus the short sword Nick had given him.

Tom had been fortunate Sandrine had been able to meet him with the things he'd left in her keeping before he left Earth for Deep Space Nine. At the time he had considered it a sedimental gesture. His desire to have his mementos with him, even for the two weeks that Voyager's mission was supposed to last, had been incredibly strong. More than anything else they had truly made him feel that he had his freedom back. Tom had never envisioned the day that he'd put Nick's gifts to their intended use.

In fact the truth was he had gone to certain lengths to ensure that he was never forced into the situation where he would need the things Nick had given him.

Now, he was on his way to Sickbay. Tom realized that there was some chance that the Doctor was still on board, and Tom needed allies, badly, if he were to accomplish his goals.

He hoped ho wouldn't run into too many more Kazon on the way, leaving a trail of bodies wasn't in his plans.

Carefully Tom listened at the panel that would open into Sickbay; he didn't want to walk in on a room full of Kazon. Once he felt confident that the room was empty he removed the panel and crawled in, calling, "Activate Emergency Medical Hologram."

"Please State… Lt. Paris, how did you get out of the brig? And what is that?" the Doctor asked staring at Tom's sword.

"Sorry, no time to explain. I need your help, we can't let the Kazon have Voyager, so we're going to have to destroy her."

"No, the crew…"

"Is dead, I know, Seska already told me."

"Tom! No, the crew isn't dead. Seska stranded them on a pre-civilization planet. We have to rescue them. She didn't even leave them their com badges."

Shock caused Tom to drop onto one of the biobeds. "They're okay?"

"They're alive," The Doctor replied.

"Taking the ship back is going to be a lot harder than blowing it up." Tom said. "I can't just challenge every Kazon to single combat."

==============================================================

"Are you two non-human?" Tom asked.

"Why do you ask that Thomas?" Amanda replied.

"I've been listening to you and Nick for months, I know your looking for someone whose killing your people. I know that you think the police can't differentiate your people from the rest of us, probably they'd think they were human, cause you two seem human. But you're not are you? You talk about ancient history like you were there. When you talk about humanity, even when you talk about the Federation, you set yourselves apart from us."

Amanda and Nick shared a bemused glance.

"Come on tell me, maybe I can help, I want to help," Tom said. "I owe you."

"It was easier before they knew about the existence of other species," Amanda muttered.

"Why couldn't Suzi have been the nosy one?" Nick whispered back.

"Come on guys, you can trust me," Tom pleaded.

"Alright, you were right about us looking for a murderer, but we don't need any help, we have everything under control," Nick said.

"And the rest?" Tom asked.

"Thomas, has anyone ever told you that you have a very active imagination?"

Tom blushed, "Well about the first thing, I meant it when I said I wanted to help you, just let me know how."

==============================================================

"Doran was spotted, he went after a kid in Kiev, one of the Watchers interfered. The kid's okay, but Doran got away," Nick said.

"So what now?" Amanda asked.

"We're going to Kiev, along with everyone else Methos has managed to enlist. He won't get out of the city."

==============================================================

"They went to Kiev," Tom said. "If we want to help we're going to have to follow."

"Tom, if they wanted our help they would have asked," Suzi objected.

"Come on Sue, they think we're kids. We need to show them that we can help, they'll appreciate our help once it's over."

==============================================================

"This is insane," Amanda snapped.

"We've got him cornered," Nick said. "It's only a matter of time."

"Don't get over confident," Methos warned. "He'll be more dangerous than ever. He's already killed a full Immortal. Kelran was one of the old ones, cautious and a warrior with centuries' worth of experience."

"I knew Kelran," Amanda said. "A child like Doran shouldn't have been able to take him."

"Kelran expected an honorable opponent, he offered a challenge, Doran excepted it. When Kelran showed up at the appointed place he set off a booby trap, before he recovered Doran shot him twice then took his head."

==============================================================

"All right Tom, I tapped into their communications," Suzi reported. "They've tracked this guy Doran Ricaw to the old sector of Kiev."

"Thanks Suzi, I've almost finished breaking into Starfleet's satellites," Tom replied. "With they're scanning abilities I should be able to narrow it down even further."

"If we get caught Starfleet's going to kill us." Suzi warned.

"I won't get caught," Tom said. "I've been breaking Fleet lock-outs since I was ten. How do you think I got access to the really good flight simulator programs?"

"How long since the last time you got caught?" Suzi asked.

"Three years," Tom said.

"If you get caught this time, no one's going to think it's cute."

"Relax Suzi, I'm in," Tom said. "I'm going to have the satellites scan the area, we're looking for anyone not quiet human, I'm also checking for hidden or fortified rooms."

"This is a long shot Tom, we're not trained for this."

"We can do it," Tom argued. "We owe Nick and Amanda. They've been good friends to us for no reason at all. We took advantage of them, they've never even tried to get anything from us."

"Okay Tom, I'm in already," Suzi said.

==============================================================

"So I hear you two have taken in a pre-Immortal yourselves," Methos said.

"Yeah, Suzi Crabtree, adopted daughter of Commander Nathan Crabtree and Lt. Issa Trevor. Currently a run away," Nick replied.

"And the boy?" Methos asked.

"Thomas is her boyfriend," Amanda explained. "They ran away together. He's not Immortal, but I like him."

"His father is Admiral Own Paris," Methos remarked. "Don't you think that letting him stay with you might bring more official attention to our community than would be advisable?"

"Tom knows what he's doing," Nick said. "He's going to go home before things really heat up."

"It's your risk to take," Methos shrugged. "All I know is I'm not ending up as someone's science project."

==============================================================

"We have something," Suzi said.

"Great," Tom enthused, tossing her a phasor. "Do we still have control of a transporter padd?"

"We're good," Suzi assured him.

Tom took a long look at the swords Amanda and Nick had been training them to use. He thought about the fact that swordplay was obviously not a game or a hobby to them. Tom removed the swords and scabbards from their rack. "Suzi, I think we should bring these too," He said.

Suzi shrugged and belted on the light single blade she preferred. "I think the phasers will be more useful. Ready to go?"

"Let's do it."

Suzi set the commands on her terminal, seconds later the transporter pad nearest to Owen Paris' office activated itself, curtsey of a backdoor program Tom had added a year earlier. He had found that doing a remote transport was infinitely preferable to climbing out the window when he wanted to leave the house undetected.

The transporter took the pair from Nick and Amanda's Seacouver apartment to a poorly lit room in Kiev.

Several floors below that room alarms began ringing in another room. A slender, nervous looking, dark haired man quickly activated a monitor.

"What have we here." He muttered. He through a switch instantly sealing the room Tom and Suzi had beamed into.

"I don't recognize them," Doran Ricaw said, frowning. He captured several images of his uninvited guests and fed them into another computer terminal. "No matches found," the computer reported.

"Who ever they are the Watcher don't know about them," Doran concluded. "I think I need to take a closer look at them."

He pressed another button and a bluish gas began filling the room on the monitor. Inside the room Tom and Suzi's argument faded into gasping sounds then all sounds ceased as the two teenagers fell unconscious.

Hurriedly Doran ran up the stairs and pulling on a breather opened the door. He stopped just inside the room as the faint tingling of a pre-Immortal signature made itself felt. "Well this is a surprise," he breathed, examining the unconscious teens more carefully.

==============================================================

"Ricaw to Pierceson," the com system crackled.

Methos answered, "Ready to surrender Doran?"

"Don't be stupid, Pierceson," Ricaw snarled. "I'm just letting you know that the rules of the game just changed. I've got two hostages."

Doran adjusted the settings on his com terminal and the picture enlarged to show Tom and Suzi, hands bound behind their backs sitting on the ground behind Doran.

"Damn!" Amanda exclaimed, running to another computer terminal.

"You want these kids back alive, you'll get rid of the blockade," Doran continued.

"Why should we trust you?" Methos asked. "We already know you'd murder a child or shoot a person in the back."

"Exactly, you know I'll kill them if I don't get what I want," Doran said.

"So I co-operate with you this time," Methos said. "And we get these two children back and you're free to go on killing how many others?"

"If you won't deal with me, I'm sure Starfleet will," Doran snapped. "These two have the pedigrees to ensure it. You have fifteen minutes to decide."

==============================================================

Tom listened in horror to his capture's demands. He'd only wanted to help, to even the score for having blackmailed Amanda the night he met her, but everything had blown up in his face. Now this bastard was going to get away because of him.

Tom bit the inside of his cheek, using the pain to focus himself. He couldn't see his phaser anywhere, but his sword lay with Suzi's just a few feet away. Next he concentrated on the blinders around his wrists, he recognized them! They were a commonly used restraining device, one of the first that Amanda had taught him to defeat. A quick grin formed on Tom's lips, he could still save the day.

Tom left the last manipulation of the blinders until Doran Ricaw was busy contacting Nick and Amanda's friend again. That gave Tom the time he needed to reach his sword before Doran could react.

Tom attacked Doran immediately, to his surprise the other man countered by drawing a blade of his own.

After the first exchange of blows Tom was smiling confidently, thanks to Nick and Amanda's tutelage Tom was clearly the superior swordsman.

Tom easily kept Doran on the defensive with smoothly practiced attacks that forced the other man to stumble back, desperately blocking. Tom intended to disarm his opponent but Doran stubbornly kept hold of his blade, taking a number of cuts rather than releasing it.

Internally Tom shrugged, blood-loss would eventually cause Doran to pass out, thus ending the battle in Tom's favor.

Ten minutes into the fight Tom was getting confused. As far as he could see Doran's injuries were healing almost as soon as they were inflicted. Even more worrisome, Doran wasn't tiring. Tom, on the other hand was, he knew it was only a matter of time before he made a fatal error.

Needing to end the fight soon, Tom dropped his attempts to disarm Doran and attacked in earnest. As the pace of the battle intensified Tom felt himself allowing instinct to take over. He wasn't consciously planning his blows; just reacting to the openings in Doran's defense with the responses Nick and Amanda had drilled into his muscles. Tom saw Doran over extend himself to block a cut to his side and allowed the weight of his sword to pull him into a hard spin, raising the level of his own blade as he came face to face with his opponent once again. The heavy blade cut through Doran's neck with a sickening wet noise. Seconds later the head thudded against the floor, the body followed more slowly, the severed veins in the neck still squirting blood.

Tom collapsed to his knees, choking on vomit. It wasn't supposed to be like this, he wanted to be a hero, not kill people. He looked across the room at Suzi, who was still bound. Tom could see horror and revulsion in her eyes.

Then lightening filled the room, arcing between Doran's body and Tom's sword. A cloud of mist rose from the body to surround Tom. He could feel it seeping into his skin, searching for something in him. Tom knew beyond all doubt the mist was sentient and it wanted him.

He could feel its confusion as it failed to find what it sought in him. Reluctantly it began to withdraw from his body.

Then Tom felt a much more familiar sensation as a transporter beam locked on to him.

==============================================================

"When Doran calls back you keep him talking as long as possible," Amanda instructed. "I'll trace the signal back to its origin. Then we transport out all life signs in a four meter radius, hopefully we'll get all three of them."

A beep from the com panel alerted them to an incoming call.

"Show time," Methos remarked activating his monitor.

"Pierceson, do I deal with you or Starfleet?" Doran demanded without waiting for preliminaries.

"Us," Methos replied, then he found himself grateful for centuries of practice in maintaining a poker face as he watched one of Doran's hostages dart across the room.

The tow-headed boy moved back into the view screen's range carrying a sword.

Doran drew his own sword, a look of fear crossing his face. The fight quickly moved out of the range of the view screen, but the sounds of swords crashing against each other carried clearly across the connection.

"Does Tom know how to use one of those?" Methos asked.

"He's very good… for only having had five months of practice," Nick replied.

Amanda intensified her efforts at tracing the signal.

"He's got a good chance then," Methos replied. "Doran has yet to get in a fair sword fight, he prefers his opponents dead, unconscious or bound before he gets around to using his sword."

"Yeah, but I never told Tom how to kill one of us," Nick said. "Hell, I did my best to see that he discarded any notions that Amanda and I weren't human."

"Discarded?" Methos asked.

"Yeah," Nick replied. "He's an observant kid. It won't help him when he turns his back on Doran after stabbing him."

"We'll tell him," Methos said. "It'll be okay."

"Oh right," Nick snapped. "How often does it turn out okay for a mortal that gets involved with us."

"You should have thought of that before you involved him," Methos replied coolly.

"You're a real bastard, you know that don't you Methos?"

"I prefer the term realist."

"I've got it!" Amanda cheered, "Transporting momentarily."

Nick and Methos turned toward her when a brilliant flash brought their attention back to the view screen. After a second flash it blacked out.

"A quickening!" Nick exclaimed.

"Whose? Doran's or Suzi's?" Methos commented.

"I've got two people," Amanda said.

Nick and Methos drew their swords taking up positions on either side of the sparkling columns.

Nick lowered his sword with a relieved sigh as the sparkles condensed into Tom and Suzi. "Thank God you're safe," he said.

"It's in me," Tom moaned, "I can feel it."

"Tom?" Nick asked.

"I killed him," Tom breathed. "I cut off his head, I cut off his head."

"It was the only way," Nick said, hugging the trembling teenager. "It wasn't your fault. I trained you to take that blow it wasn't your fault. Come on Tommy don't fall apart on me. What's in you?"

"It came out of him, now it's in me," Tom repeated.

Nick looked up at Methos to see the oldest Immortal staring at Tom.

"Take care of Suzi," Nick instructed.

"Sure," Methos knelt beside the bound girl; a moment later the restraints fell away from her.

"It was so weird," Suzi exclaimed. "There was lightening and then this fog came out of the body and it went to Tom."

"Nick you said the boy was mortal?" Methos said.

"He is," Nick answered.

"Pay attention to your senses," Methos instructed.

Nick stared at the boy collapsed in his arms, "He wasn't."

"Well, it's not everyday I see something new," Methos commented.

"What are you two talking about?" Suzi demanded.

"This is going to take some explaining," Nick said.

"Especially since we don't know what's going on," Methos added.

==============================================================

"Okay Doc," Lt. Tom Paris said. "Here's the plan, I'm going to cut life support. Can you pilot the ship? I might need you to take Voyager back to the crew."

"Tom you can control where life support is cut," The Doctor objected. "It isn't necessary to kill yourself."

"I know that," Tom said. "But I'm going to have to keep them from reinstating it. They won't just drop dead when I pull the plug. Can you fly the ship?"

"I think so Lieutenant."

"Okay, we're doing this."

"Good luck."

=============================================================

Tom crawled back into Voyager's Jeffries tubes. By now Seska knew he was loose of the ship. She'd be looking for him. The faster he could bring this to a conclusion the better. Hopefully she'd come after him herself, Tom thought. He wasn't comfortable with the idea of killing Chakotay's unborn child, but he'd have to trust Seska to either take care of herself or come to him. He didn't have the time to go chasing after her.

Tom found two Kazon in life support, at least he hoped there were just the two. He could hear them talking. In preparation Tom drew a throwing knife and his sword, then kicked open the panel and dove into the room. Tom threw his knife as he smoothly rolled to his feet. The knife embedded itself cleanly in the bigger Kazon's throat.

The second Kazon just had time to raise his blaster before Tom's sword pierced his chest.

Tom ignored the two bodies, turning to the nearest consol. "Computer, disable all universal translators," Tom ordered as he began entering commands into the terminal. "That should complicate they're lives."

Tom watched the life signs on another display, noticing that Seska was alone in the Captain's ready room. Smiling, Tom brought up force fields to contain her there, then reinstated life support for her.

Tom watched as a number of Kazon and one human life sign began to converge on his position.

"Well I guess we're going to find out how Immortal I really am," Tom sighed. Closing his eyes briefly Tom reached for the otherness he kept buried in the back of his mind.

Tom envisioned it as the mist that he had seen rising from a decapitated body thirteen years ago. He pictured that mist spreading from a newly unsealed door in his mind to fill his entire body. With the mist came a heightened awareness of his surroundings as well as the screams of thirty-two murdered pre-Immortals and the desperate fear of their killer. Tom pushed all their emotions down, focusing on the one essence that could help him: The ancient Immortal whose presence had in it the echoes of thousands of other, yet was still uniquely and only itself.

Unlike the others Kelran was calm, accepting, his essence flowed over Tom's melding with him. For years Tom had resisted this, but not this time, now he needed the hunter. Kelran quickly incorporated the others into a single being.

Tom walked over to the dead Kazon and collected their blasters, then pulled off a few wall panels to create a makeshift breastwork. All that was left to do was wait for the Kazon.

=============================================================

"So what does that make me?" Tom asked after listening to Nick, Amanda and Methos' explanations and demonstrations of Immortality.

"I'm not really sure," Methos replied. "You were a typical mortal, now you're not. Mortals have killed Immortals before, it never transformed them, on the other hand I've never heard of a mortal and a quickening essence being locked in a transporter beam together before."

"You feel like a Pre-Immortal," Amanda continued. "But you can sense Immortals."

"I think we should test Tom's condition," Methos suggested. Seeing Tom, Suzi and Nick's horrified expressions Methos laughed. "Good God, I'm not suggesting we kill anyone here. Just a small cut, that's all. Nothing a regenerator can't put to rights."

Amanda said, "It's a good idea. Tom quit looking at the man like he's grown a second head and hold out your hand."

"Why?" Tom protested. "Let's wait for me to get a scrape or something naturally. Why do you guys want to cut me up?"

"Because the existence of Immortals is a secret," Methos said. "If it turns out that you heal like an Immortal you're going to have to take precautions to see that you don't do it in front of a doctor or scientist."

"You don't want us to join Starfleet do you?" Suzi asked. "That's why you helped Tom and I run away, so that I wouldn't end up coming back to life with a bunch of Fleet scientists as witnesses."

"No," Amanda protested. "I didn't know about you till that night. Then I wanted to keep you close until Doran was dealt with. After that I would have kept an eye on you, yes, but I wouldn't have interfered in your life until your first death. Then I would have told you all this, helped you to adapt to your new existence and then let you move on, that's all."

"Immortals are a secret," Nick continued. "But we're not a society. We all keep the secret because it's in our own best interest to do so. We live our lives as we see fit. Some things, like the Game and the sanctity of holy ground are beyond our control, but we don't make rules for one another."

"You're going to make Tom learn 'preventive measures' so that doctors don't find out about your secret. He can't do that on a Starship, people get hurt in the Fleet, its just part of life, so is Sickbay. If anyone on a Starship saw someone healing like you did they'd report it. Where would that leave us?"

"As someone's lab rat," Methos said. "But if you want to risk that it's your choice. Just don't tell them about the rest of us. Or do what Methuselah did when Kirk and the Enterprise –A found him… lie."

"I guess I need to know," Tom said. "But leave my hands alone, I'm a pilot."

The slender blond watched in trepidation as Methos drew the blade of his dagger across his forearm.

Tom felt vaguely sick as he watched the blood well up behind the knife. Methos wiped the blood away with his thumb only to see fresh blood take its place.

"Well I guess that answers that," Amanda said reaching for the regenerator. "Tom might become Immortal after dying, but he's not now."

"Wait," Methos said. "Tom, you said you could feel the quickening essence in you. I want you to concentrate on it, bring it to the surface."

Tom swallowed harshly, eyes locked on his blood slowly dripping onto the floor.

"Close your eyes," Methos instructed. "Reach for the power, let it fill you." His voice was resonant and hypnotic.

Tom's eye's closed obediently, for a second his face was calm, almost meditative. Then a look of panic over took him. A moment later Tom came out of his trace panting heavily. "It wanted to take me over!" He exclaimed.

"But it worked," Methos said pointing to Tom's fully healed arm.

"It's like the quickening isn't fully integrated with his body," Amanda said. "When he called on it, it healed him and the essence tried to merge itself with him, but Tom fought it off."

"You mean that's normal?" Tom exclaimed. "You guys go around collecting other people's souls on purpose? Letting them in your heads? Letting them change who you are?"

"It can happen," Methos said. "If an Immortal takes the head of someone more sure of their identity than they are, then the quickening can change a person. Darius was all set to concur the world and then he takes the head of a holy man and turns into a pacifist. A dark quickening could turn a boy scout into a murder. It can happen, but it usually doesn't, usually the personality that still has its body wins out when the two merge. Just think of it as having the home court advantage."

"What about those other times?" Tom asked.

"Well dark quickenings usually occur when the personality absorbed is insane. The insanity is so focused on its goal that it overwhelms everything in its path," Methos said. "What happened to Darius was similar, except that the end result was different, because the goal of the essence was different."

"This isn't like that," Tom said. "There isn't just one other personality, there's dozens and they're almost all scared and confused. They're screaming and crying in my mind. Then there's the other, he's cold, determined, he wants all of us."

"Kelran," Amanda said. "He was a hunter, he'd fight for supremacy. Doran was taking so many heads and he was so young himself, he didn't have the time or ability to merge them that fast."

"So he just pushed them all back?" Nick asked. "Left them rattling around his mind like ghosts?"

"I think so," Amanda said. "Remember how disconcerting your first few quickenings were?"

"Yeah," Nick said. "It was weeks until I'd feel completely like myself again."

"And then add to that two or three quickening a week," Amanda said.

"I'm me," Tom interrupted. "I don't want anyone else merging with me, or anything else. I don't want this, I want to be just me, mortal, human, normal me."

"It could work out that way as long as you prevent the essence from integrating with you. Your body will probably act like a mortal's." Methos said. "You didn't heal until you consciously choose to, if you died you wouldn't be able to make that choice. Which may mean that you'd stay dead, or maybe with your mind inactive you'd automatically heal and in the process become a true Immortal. It's impossible to say and personally I'd avoid testing it."

"No argument there," Tom said. "I don't even want to try that healing thing again. A regenerator works just as well and it doesn't try to steal your soul."

==============================================================

A few months later Tom went home, then on to the Academy. Suzi didn't come with him.

Tom kept the sword and daggers Nick gave him, as well as the lock picks from Amanda, as mementos of friends who had simply accepted and liked him for himself. He considered staying as Suzi had decided to do, but it wasn't his life. Tom's life revolved around piloting and Starfleet, and even though he rebelled against it, carrying on the family tradition. He just couldn't see himself living in the dark at the edge of society, but never quite a part of it. Chasing some unnamed prize, which was deemed more valuable than lives.

He forced the other thing he took away with him that summer into the darkest corner of his mind and tried to forget it was there.

Tom would be forced to dig out that uncomfortable legacy several times during the years that followed his being cashiered from Starfleet. When he found himself injured and alone far from anything that resembled help.

Each time he used it he swore it would be the last. Each time it became harder to force it back into it's box. Tom knew it was changing him, he'd run into an Immortal who'd actually challenged him. Tom had played dumb and eventually convinced the man he was still pre-Immortal, but the incident disturbed him. After that he always carried his sword.

He broke into a doctor's office several nights after the challenge and discovered that he was aging too slowly. According to the tests he ran, he was twenty-three, two years younger than his birth certificate would have shown. Still he was aging.

A month later, when a coolant leak poisoned the atmosphere on a freighter he'd been hired to pilot, Tom spent three days coughing up blood before giving in and healing himself. In the end he couldn't bare the thought of facing the ghosts who waited for him on the other side.

He was afraid of loosing what little remained of himself, but even more afraid of death and what might be beyond it.

Then Captain Janeway and the Delta Quadrant gave him back his life. And now to save the ship and crew that had become his home and family Tom Paris gave in to the destiny that had been trying to claim him for years.

He embraced the essence trapped in his mind and allowed his identity to be altered once more.

He had been a Starfleet officer; a mercenary, a drunk, a convict, and finally a Starfleet officer again, abet a more mature one. Now, with Kelran's presence strongly a part of him, Tom truly became an Immortal. He could remember battles dating back to the twelfth century.

Tom focused on his current goal, taking Voyager back from the Kazon and Seska. The rest he allowed to fall away. The Kazon were a large, warlike people and he planned to fight dozens of them. He needed every edge Kelran's experience would give him.

==============================================================

At first the Kazon trickled in, in ones or twos. Tom handled them easily, shooting them as they entered.

After that they got more cautious, clumping in the hall out side of life support and trying to catch him in their barrage of fire. Tom smiled, he liked this game, they stayed outside wasting what little oxygen they had left while he could heal the blaster burns he collected in seconds.

Still he had to be careful, he didn't know what would happen if he took a fatal shot. Even if he did revive it could give the Kazon time to get past him and reinstate life support.

Furthermore they'd have to rush him eventually. The thinning air would drive them to it.

A slight scuffling noise alerted Tom to a presence behind him. Jonas had led three Kazon into the Jeffries tubes. Tom spun firing twice before the last Kazon blaster riffle died. Tom screamed, grabbing up his sword and charging the traitor and remaining Kazon. The Kazon fired his own riffle, hitting Tom high on the shoulder. Tom never slowed down; the startled Kazon died a heartbeat later, his second shot going wild as Tom sliced through his arm and into his chest.

Jonas was staring at his former shipmate in shock. He'd never thought of Tom Paris as a fighter. The pilot had always been so friendly and laid back. Even when confronted with almost universal hatred and derision during the early months in the Delta Quadrant, Tom had remained calm, untouched by anger.

Jonas refocused on the battle much too late, Tom picked up one of the fallen Kazon's weapons and shot Jonas, turning to fire back through the doorway at the amassed Kazon in the hall before the body hit the floor.

Tom panted heavily his breath visible in the cold thin air. Deep space had a temperature so close to absolute zero that the difference wasn't worth mentioning; it simply consumed the ship's warmth.

Tom smiled, it wouldn't be much longer, he flexed his fingers, trying to keep them limber for the coming rush.

Four Kazon dropped before they could reach his position, then Tom dropped the riffle. In close quarters the sword and daggers would be more effective. There was little thought to this type of battle. Even the sword was too much a long-range weapon to be convenient now. Tom dropped it in favor of a second knife.

With life support off line and little time left it was a desperate battle. Nothing but death could deter either side. Tom struck out randomly with his knives, there was no way he could fail to connect and was so high on adrenaline he couldn't feel his own wounds.

The Kazon were almost as careless in their own attack, shooting into the melee unconcerned with the number of friendly fire casualties they were incurring.

Then it was over, finally. The lack of oxygen was taking its toll. All over the ship people dropped into unconsciousness.

In Sickbay the Doctor quietly asked the ship's computer to reverse course. He reinstated life support in Sickbay and the brig and began beaming the Kazon still showing life signs there. He pushed aside the knowledge that no human life signs had been found by his scans.

Hours later with life support restored to the entire ship and all the remaining invaders locked behind force fields. Voyager began beaming up its crew from the barren world where they'd been stranded.

==============================================================

"How is Voyager?" Captain Janeway asked her senior staff an hour later.

"The Kazon are pigs and idiots!" B'elanna snapped. "Engineering is a mess. Fortunately they didn't really cause any major problems, and all the minor things should be repaired in a day or so."

"Good, there was also an explosion in my ready room, when you have time please send someone up to repair the damage," Captain Janeway replied.

"What blew up in the ready room?" B'elanna asked.

Chakotay sighed, "Apparently Lt. Paris trapped Seska there when he was retaking the ship. She tried to short out the force field but underestimated the amount of power she'd rerouted into the circuitry. The backlash from the blast killed her."

A pause followed, no one was sure whether or not the Commander would appreciate any inquiries about the fate of the child Seska had been carrying.

"All ninety-eight of the Kazon who boarded Voyager have been accounted for," Tuvok said. "Seventeen Kazon died from injuries sustained in phaser battles. Twelve more died of wounds inflicted by bladed weapons, a knife or sword. Five Kazon were killed when they lost consciousness while climbing in the Jeffries tubes. Thirty-seven Kazon where asphyxiated before the Doctor was able to relocate them to a secured area of the ship. The remaining twenty-seven Kazon were put off the ship with a distress beacon, per your orders. Michael Jonas' body was found in life support."

Captain Janeway nodded, acknowledging Tuvok's report.

"Um Captain," Neelix said hesitantly. "Is there anything I could do to help with the funerals?"

Kathryn Janeway sighed tiredly. Six members of her crew dead in a little less than a week, plus Lon Suder and Michael Jonas. Ensign Hogan, Ensign James, Lt Hamliton, Crewman Loran and Crewman Hanly all lost to the hostile world the Kazon had stranded them on. And Ensign Wildman's daughter was still terribly ill and might not make it either. And Tom Paris, her personal reclamation project, that death would hurt for a long time to come.

She hoped her blue-eyed helmsman had found the redemption he sought with this final act of heroism. Tom had put himself at risk so many times since coming to the Delta Quadrant in his quest to prove himself. He had actually died breaking the Theoretical Warp Barrier. But that time he had been miraculously returned to them. Captain Janeway knew better than to hope for his return this time.

Even if he had survived the loss of life support his injuries had been severe enough to have killed him three times over.

"Thank you Neelix," She replied at last. "I've asked Ensign Kim and Commander Chakotay to arrange the funerals, they'll advise you as to what is needed."

=============================================================

He gasped for air, heart racing in panic, lungs starved for oxygen. His attempt to sit up abruptly ended by the object only a few inches above his prone body.

"What the hell?" The part of him that was still Tom Paris wondered, but Kelran knew what had happened. "Buried alive," he whispered.

His memories filled their mind, instant, overwhelming, it had taken him almost fifty years to escape that coffin. Half a century of beating against unyielding wood while he waited for suffocation to kill him yet again, only to wake moments later and go through the same horror again.

Kelran's desperation grew as Tom Paris' knowledge filtered through his memories. This time there would be no escape, not to death, not to freedom. Only eternal existence floating through endless space sealed in a metal torpedo casing.

A hysterical giggle fought its way free of Tom's throat. "I always thought you had to die to go to hell," he whispered.

For the first time in all his centuries of existence the entity, which knew itself as Kelran, longed for non-existence. Thirteen years ago it had rejoiced when a transporter beam had allowed it to incorporate itself into Tom Paris. Now it cursed that day. It tore at the slender threats joining it to the young mortal.

Slowly a distant voice penetrated Tom's consciousness "… Lt Thomas Eugene Paris…"

"My funeral," Tom realized. "I'm still on the ship, it's not too late."

"I'm not dead!" He screamed beating on the metal casing. "Let me out! I'm not dead!"

A light mist began to appear, filling the casket, it seemed to cling briefly to Tom's skin, then dissipated. For a moment Tom paused, remembering that same mist entering him after a long ago sword fight. "Thank you," He whispered realizing that at least this way he would be able to die.

A second later it occurred to him that he would suffocate shortly if he wasn't rescued from this premature grave, and he renewed his pounding with a vengeance.

==============================================================

Kathryn Janeway's words stumbled to a halt as the smooth metal beneath her hand began to vibrate under repeated blows.

She found matching expressions of stunned disbelief on the faces of her crew, even Tuvok looked startled.

"I'm not dead!" Tom screamed. "Let me out!"

Chakotay was the first to recover; he quickly entered a code into the panel on the side of the casing, the lid slid back with a faint hiss.

"Welcome back Lt," Chakotay managed to say in something resembling his normal tone of voice.

"Glad you heard me," Tom panted, struggling to get free of the casket.

Still looking bemused, Chakotay offered the young pilot a hand.

Shaking off their shock Neelix and Harry rushed over to assist Tom as well. As soon as he was on his feet they pulled him into a hug.

"Paris," B'elanna rasped, moving to grasp the pilot's arm. "No more dieing!" she ordered. "Or I'll kill you myself."

"Tom, I think you should go to Sickbay," Kes said.

"Yes," Captain Janeway added, finally reclaiming her voice.

"I'm fine Captain," Tom protested.

"A few minutes ago you were dead," Chakotay pointed out.

Tom looked at the expressions on the faces surrounding him then sighed in defeat, "Sickbay it is."

"Excellent choice Lieutenant," Captain Janeway said, taking his elbow in a proprietary grip. Tom found himself grinning as he realized she intended to personally escort him to Sickbay. Harry also seemed very reluctant to release him and B'elanna was glaring at him as if she believed he'd died just to frighten her.

The rest of the crew present at the funeral still looked like they were in a state of shock.

The service had been piped throughout the ship for those still on duty and they'd heard, but not quite believed, the current turn of events. Tom smiled at the number of people who had found some reason to be loitering in the halls between Sickbay and the shuttle bay.

The Doctor was waiting for them at the door and quickly took custody of Voyage's wayward helmsman, saying, "Mr. Paris, I have added a note to your medical records advising any future physicians to wait at least a week before declaring your death. Having to fill out then rescind your death certificate is becoming a highly inefficient use of my time."

Tom smiled, "I promise Doc, no more dieing. I wouldn't want to be accused of making anyone do extra paperwork."

"I intend to hold you to that promise," the Doctor replied, helping his most frequent patient on to a biobed.

"I have to get back to the funeral," Kathryn Janeway said softly. "Is there any chance that any of the others might revive as well?" It was impossible to ignore the wistful hope in her voice.

"It is unlikely," The Doctor said gently. "But I won't discount it until I can learn what caused the Lieutenant's recovery. After all there was a time when I believe that death was inevitably a permanent condition."

==============================================================

"Well Mr. Paris, you are in perfect health," the Doctor reported several days later. After running every test he could think of or devise on the blond pilot.

"So I can finally leave?" Tom asked.

"Not quite yet," the Doctor stated. "First I want an explanation of how you became four years younger!"

"It's a long story Doc," Tom said leaving the room. "And you'd never believe it anyway."

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