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Title: Ten Years Gone

Contact: MEGDENTON@prodigy.net

Series: Voy

Date: 12-21-00

Disclaimer: If they were mine, J/C would have done the naked pretzel a long time ago. Apologies to delicate ears.

Summary: Inter-connected vignettes (ooh, they're fun to write). My last story was B'Elanna's POV. Now I have to do a Tom one. They're a team, after all. They're almost home. Tom walks and thinks. There's apples, sheep, blue slime and a wet shoe. Enjoy.

Ten Years Gone

By Starbaby

Weep if you must

Parting is hell

But life goes on

So sing as well--

Joyce Grenfell

It all began here, in this shuttle bay.

Nearly a decade ago, he'd arrived here with Lieutenant Stadi. She was a fine, upstanding girl; someone on the fast track with all the prospects Tom Paris lacked. Naturally, he'd made a pass at her.

In those days, he'd hit on everything in a skirt, desperately seeking assurance of his own worth, needing to know that he wasn't repugnant to everyone. The pride in Stadi's voice had been unmistakable: That's Voyager. He'd heard it echoed in his own often enough. She was gone now, an early casualty of war, and Tom hoped he'd done well in his inherited seat. It was a place of honor, one he'd been awarded in an extraordinary act of faith. Tom owed Kathryn Janeway his life; he hoped she knew that he'd forfeit his own for hers. In a matter of days they would be back in the Alpha Quadrant, and he hadn't begun to repay the debt.

Tom rested his head against the solid comfort of the Delta Flyer. At her controls, he'd become a better pilot. At Voyager's helm, he'd become a better man, kinder to himself and to those around him. He no longer feared loneliness, or the dark. He had overcome dishonor and cheated death, the last, worst enemy. A few short years ago, the thought of returning to Earth depressed and terrified him, now he faced the future unafraid. A different Tom Paris was returning to Earth, for he'd come home long ago. Home wasn't a place…it was people. It was where you were happiest. It was Voyager for a shining moment in time.

Tom left the shuttle bay, moving through the bustling corridors. Voyager was being readied, prepped to return in glory. And after that--what? What would become of Voyager, the strongest and most faithful? Would other Captains treat her like the lady she was? Would other pilots whisper endearments when she jumped to warp?

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His musings led him to the holodeck. There were memories there, as well. Good memories.

He'd done many things in his time on Voyager. Some of it he was proud of, some he was not. Some he'd probably have to answer for at that Judgment Seat he'd heard so much about. All he could say to the man in charge was this: I did my best.

He was proud of Fair Haven. It was his creation and his gift to the others, a retreat from the terror and uncertainty of their daily lives. It was a thriving little hamlet that harkened back to the days when parts of Earth remained unexplored. Everyone came to Sullivan's. Even B'Elanna had been here. Tom leaned on a fence rail and turned his face to the sun. He remembered that day. He would always remember.

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Tom pulled the car door open for B'Elanna. "You're late."

"Sorry. I was keeping Voyager running." She wrinkled her nose. "It smells here."

"Those are cows, B'Elanna. They have a natural odor." Tom looked on the bright side, as usual.

"They have a disgusting odor." B'Elanna pouted. "Why do I have to learn to drive here? This wasn't what I had in mind when I asked you to teach me."

"You're not ready for the L.A. freeway. Fair Haven will have to do for now. Get in." Tom waved her into the driver's seat and went around to the other side.

"Turn the key...that's right." Tom was pleased that B'Elanna's mood seemed to be improving. She looked adorable with that little white driver's cap perched on her chestnut hair. "Now don't step on the gas too--"

His instructions were cut short as B'Elanna planted her foot down hard on the pedal. The little car took off with a giant roar. They flew down the dirt road, heading for the main square faster than Tom liked.

"B'Elanna, slow down! Step on the brake! The brake!" he reiterated.

"Where's that?" B'Elanna shouted over the screech of the abused engine.

Tom didn't get a chance to answer as B'Elanna veered in the wrong direction. The car rocketed off the road into a plowed field. A herd of sheep scattered in terror, parting like the Red Sea. Tom grabbed for the wheel, but B'Elanna hunched over it protectively.

"I can do this!" she called, flooring the pedal and pulling the car back onto the road.

"Stop!" Tom yelled as they shot onto Fair Haven's main drag. "Look out!" Children and dogs fled to safety. B'Elanna's hat flew off into the wind.

What the hell...the car had never gone this fast for Him.

Seamus stumbled out of Sullivan's, blinking blearily in the light. He yelped and ran back in as B'Elanna headed straight for him. His voice echoed out of the tavern.

"A crazy woman has Tommy-boy!"

She swerved at the last moment, pulled the car into a donut with Klingon strength, and plowed into Maggie O'Halloran's flower cart before coming to a stop.

As Tom picked tulip petals out of his hair, B'Elanna piped up.

"Tom, what's a freeway? Am I ready for that now?"

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Airponics bay.

This was Kes's place. Her touch worked magic on the vegetables and fauna, as if her life force were being filtered into the soil. She gave of herself, and the Ocampan's spirit remained in the healthy orange carrots and still-flourishing cabbage plants. Tom had been a little in love with her in those early days.

Whatever happened to her, after she left for the last time? If she didn't get home, Tom hoped she'd died among decent people. Tom wasn't religious, but he'd prayed many times in the last ten years. When he and B'Elanna were floating in space, he'd prayed for one more moment to look at her face. When the Borg children captured the Flyer, he'd prayed for a botched assimilation rather than life as a drone. When he and Harry were imprisoned at Akitiri, he'd prayed for the strength to meet death on his feet. When Kes's ninth year came and went, he'd prayed that someone would bury his friend properly, and write Kes of Ocampa on her memorial.

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Tom was walking by the airponics bay when he heard Kes singing. She had a pretty voice. He couldn't carry a tune himself, though Gaunt Gary greatly admired his rendition of "Row Me up Some Brandy." Tom stuck his head into the plant-filled room. Kes looked up and smiled.

"Tom," she called, "Come see my cabbages!" Kes's voice had a smoky quality that seemed more suited to someone older. "I was about to have lunch. I'm hungry today!"

They sat cross-legged on the floor, eating Kaferian apples. She had a big appetite for such a small girl.

"You have a nice voice." Tom spoke almost shyly, to his own surprise. There was something delicate about Kes, a fragility that disguised the strong spirit within. Neelix was very lucky.

"My father used to tell me that," Kes sighed. "I miss him."

"I don't miss mine!" the words tumbled from Tom's mouth before he could stop them. Of all the insensitive things to say. Then again, he wasn't famed for his delicacy. B'Elanna Torres, who was rather scary, thought he was a pig. It bothered him more than he cared to admit.

Kes looked straight at him, her eyes filled with compassion. "What was your father like, Tom?"

Tom swallowed the apple he'd stuffed in his mouth to keep from making more asinine comments.

"He was kind of tough on me." Tom didn't feel comfortable complaining about his father to someone who didn't have one anymore. No one ever asked about those things, which was fine with him. He jumped up and went to look at Kes's seedlings.

"There's a really nice grove of pines not far from Starfleet academy. I was in the graduating class that planted them. If we get home in, say, ten years, they should be grown. I'll show them to you when we--" Tom broke off, horrified at what he'd just said.

He prayed for death, right there and then. If Chakotay still wanted to shoot him, Tom would load the phaser and wear a target.

Kes just smiled and patted his hand. Tom looked at her, crestfallen. In ten years, Kes would be dead, gone from their lives.

"Come on, Tom," Kes said kindly, "Help me carry these cabbages to the mess hall. I could go for some Lokar beans!"

Boy, she was a hungry little thing. Tom hummed a tune as he picked up the green plants. Kes joined in as they left the room, learning the words as they headed for the turbolift.

Row me up some brandy,

Oh, row me up some more...

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He came to Sickbay with a heavy heart. What would become of the Doctor, his verbal sparring partner, his friend? If any of them were at the mercy of Starfleet, it was the Doctor. Would he deactivate himself one day and never return? What would become of that vibrant, egotistical personality, with all it's rich knowledge and love of culture? Kathryn Janeway would do her best to keep him from joining the other Mark 1's in menial labor. They would all testify to the humanity of a hologram. Ten years ago, such a scenario was laughable. For the Doctor, they would do the best they could, as this crew had for one another from the very beginning.

In this room, he had witnessed feats of medical wonder. He had lain injured himself and comforted the stricken. He'd assisted a new life into this world, and held the hands of those leaving it. He knew that the final moments are anti-climactic, merely a last echo of the rousing cheer that is a life well lived. He'd learned other things here, as well.

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"Are you sure she's okay, Doc? She just keeled over in the middle of engineering." Tom made a plopping sound to illustrate his point.

The EMH gave Tom a withering look. B'Elanna glared at him for speaking like she wasn't there. She sat up, and Tom gently pushed her back down. Finally, she lay back. It was a measure of how far they'd come.

"Yes, she's fine, and so are you. As am I, as is Ensign Kim over there." He nodded at Harry, who'd been hovering worriedly.

The Doctor tapped on his tricorder, while Tom puzzled over the odd statement. He wasn't really worried about Harry right now.

Finally, the Doctor continued. "As is little Zimmerman."

Tom, Harry and B'Elanna glanced at each other, confused. Either Doc was malfunctioning or he'd been dipping into the Chateau Picard.

B'Elanna spoke up, her voice rising. "Who the hell is little Zimmerman?"

Doc looked smug. At least that was normal.

"Considering that I've saved both of your lives on numerous occasions, the least you can do is let me name your child." He smiled condescendingly.

Child, what child?

Tom sat stunned. B'Elanna regained her voice first, naturally.

"Zimmerman? You think I'd name my baby Zimmerman? Is your matrix damaged?"

"Lewis Zimmerman, I'll have you know, was my creator." Doc rocked on the balls of his feet. "A brilliant man--"

The Doctor's words were interrupted by Tom exploding off the biobed. He grabbed the EMH and swung him around.

The Doctor slapped at him. "Lieutenant, shouldn't you be hugging your wife?" Tom partially dropped him and turned to B'Elanna, who flung her arms around him. Even the Doctor had to smile.

The joy of the moment--long awaited and well deserved--was infectious. Harry joined in and it became a four-way hug, since the Doctor was still attached to Tom. Laughter rang through sickbay.

A cough broke into the mirth. Four pairs of eyes swung toward the door. Seven stood there, looking haughty.

"Heartwarming," she smirked.

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Ah, the mess hall. Here, they celebrated in times of joy, and gathered in moments of sorrow. He remembered his first meal on Voyager. Plain tomato soup. Even the replicator was hostile in those early days. It was little wonder, as Tom hadn't done much to endear himself. He was preparing for the fall, all set to die young, when a few, kind words started him on the long climb to redemption.

I've entered into the ship's log that, on this stardate, I'm awarding a field commission of Lieutenant to Thomas Eugene Paris…Congratulations…You've earned this, Tom.

He hadn't really, not then. The earning came later, in the bloody battles against the Viddians and the Borg, and in the wars with the Kazon and Species 8472. The helm was his from the start, but he earned it a bit more each time that Kathryn Janeway spoke the words Excellent flying, Mr. Paris. Each time he steered Voyager safely through the fire, Tom respected himself a little more. When people stopped moving away from him in this very room, he'd dared to hope.

What a strange group they were, a complex crew led by a complex Captain.

No one would believe him when he told the stories.

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Tom raced out of holodeck two, flying down the hall like a Kradin beast was on his tail. Complaining crewmen jumped out of the way as he thundered toward them, muttering among themselves. The Lieutenant probably had a date on deck nine.

Tom scooped little Naomi out of his path and tucked her under one arm like a football. A shield would be useful. He burst into the Mess hall. A few tables were full. Chakotay looked at him suspiciously, a bite of terra-nut soufflé inches from his lips. Tom offered an innocent smile.

The diners turned around when a bellow echoed through the room, followed by wet, slopping sounds. The slopping sounded like it was moving closer.

"Tom! Paris! You're a dead man!"

Harry Kim barreled through the door seconds after Tom. He was dripping wet, trailing streams of greenish water. A few stringy weeds hung from his hair. He advanced on Tom, who held Naomi in front of him.

"You programmed that dock to collapse! I should have known it when you sent me out there to look at the carp…now put the toddler down and face me like a man!" Tom set Naomi on her feet and backed away. She was an innocent, after all.

Neelix darted out of the kitchen, waving a spoon with some kind of blue slime adhered to it.

"Now, Harry," he tried to mediate. "Maybe it was an accident." The Talaxian wedged himself between the two men.

Harry had fire in his eyes. "Right…that's why he was lying in the grass laughing before I even hit the water. I'm tired of being your whipping boy, Paris! I'm sick of being Buster Kincaid, and sick as hell of being the butt of your jokes!" Harry actually had tears of anger mixing with the pond water running down his face.

Tom swallowed. "Harry, I…" He took a tentative step closer.

The anger melted as fast as it had come, replaced with a triumphant grin.

"I had you, didn't I?"

Harry reached down and pulled off one of his soggy shoes. Tom backed up quickly, almost tripping over Naomi, who sat on the floor licking the blue spoon. Harry wound his pitching arm like a pro, and aimed the dripping missile.

Tom had almost reached the door when he changed tactics. As the wet shoe flew toward him, Tom ducked.

The diners gasped at the spectacular splat that resounded through the room. Slowly, Tom turned.

There stood Tuvok, water glistening in his hair and dripping from the tips of his Vulcan ears.

Little Naomi laughed and waved her spoon.

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Tom moved into the turbolift, his back automatically straightening. His shoulders squared as the lift neared the bridge. Who'd have thought Tom Paris could be officer and a gentleman in this lifetime? The doors opened, revealing the others already in their places. Some things never changed. Tom strode to his station, folding himself neatly into the pilot's chair. It was still his, in this last echo of the rousing cheer that is a great adventure.

So many were gone. He could see their faces in the stars outside his viewscreen. Lieutenant Stadi, the early casualty, and Joe Carey, the engineer; the doomed Lon Suder, fiery Lindsay Ballard, and Kes, who'd asked about his father as they sat eating apples. They were gone...and he remained. Those lost friends had to be guiding Voyager, scouting ahead and easing the way. For Tom, the flickering faces were beacons on Voyager's dark road, each one a star to steer her by.

He'd heard memory called the haunting of the heart. He turned slightly to look at the woman seated behind him. Was her heart haunted? Tom thought it must be.

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Tom raced through the trees, breathing heavily, swearing as brambles wrapped around his ankles. Pine needles crunched under his feet as he neared the dock area, breaking warp ten for the second time in his life. He drew to an abrupt halt at the tree line, straining to see the dock.

He was too late. It was the brig or bust.

Janeway was nearing the end of the dock. Tom opened his mouth to

shout a warning, to tell her there were no carp, but the dock gave way with a sickening crack. Tom clapped his hands to his eyes.

Seconds later, curiosity overcame fear. He cracked his fingers apart to look. There was no yelling and floundering, like when he'd dunked Harry. Quietly, Tom shuffled forward. His mouth dropped open.

Kathryn Janeway floated there, on her back, fully clothed. Her eyes were closed, and a soft smile graced her face. She looked younger and more at peace than Tom had seen in a long, long time.

Stepping with care, Tom moved away. He was a free soul, and glad of it. They all were, compared to her. The burden of responsibility weighed heavier than any of them could fathom. Maybe only another Captain could truly understand, one who'd been lost in the wilderness of space with 150 people looking to her for guidance. Voyager's fate was her cross to bear. When did she ever get to just float, with water blocking out the sounds and demands of the outside world? Tom was glad he'd accidentally given her that moment as a free soul.

He left her there, just floating.

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Tom was glad they were going home, if it would bring that rare peace back to Kathryn Janeway's face. She deserved it; he owed her his life. Whatever happened next, they would hold themselves proudly, for her. Maybe that would bring her peace, too.

Voyager cruised ever closer to Earth.

They faced the future, unafraid.

FINIS