At the End of the Ride
by pari106

Code: J/P
Rating: I don't know…PG-13? For a violent scene; maybe some language.

Summary: During the Thaw, Janeway finds herself trapped in a hellish illusion…one that unearths hidden
fears. With those fears comes the truth about her feelings for Tom Paris. But is it too late?

At the End of the Ride
by pari106


One after the other, Captain Kathryn Janeway focused on the brightly colored tapestries that filled her
cheerfully decorated, private little hell.


Having spent hours cursing her decision to come here, in Harry Kim's place, in order to initiate first contact
with the Kohl, Kathryn now focused her waning energy into playing her little game; seeing how fast she
could name, in her head, the patterns in which the tapestries' colors were arranged. She repeated the game
again and again, trying to beat her best time.

Trying not to think.

That would be their key to surviving this, she knew. Not thinking. Fear was a creature of the mind – it fed
on its victims' own thoughts and emotions. Now was no different, even if this "fear" they faced wasn't
some abstract feeling, but an actual, physical representation of terror. He could control them in this
computer-generated environment; could rule their reality, read their minds. But not instantaneously. And
they still had a chance of defeating him if they didn't give him anything incriminating to read.


She didn't know how long she'd been at it now, but she knew her captor was getting frustrated with it.

"Oh, come now, Captain," he clucked, his black and white visage puckered into a would-be-comical pout.
"Don't be this way. You know I'll find out what you're hiding from me eventually. So why tire your
pretty little head thinking about it, hmm?"

Janeway decided to ignore him, surprised when he let her. He was only humoring her, she knew, but at this
juncture, she really didn't mind. He was also either ignoring the thoughts that did manage to flitter through
her weary defenses, or, somehow, he'd been unable to catch them. Either way, he hadn't yet taken another
try at prying out all her well-guarded secrets and hidden fears. And she tried not to linger on the hope that
her shipmates would rescue her before he could. She tried not to linger too long on any one thought, which
was easier said than done. She was mentally and emotionally exhausted on a level she'd never experienced
before. And the doctor's previous, brief visit had been the only thing that had kept her from succumbing
long ago.

Seeing him had given her back some of her strength, somehow, and with it her resolve. She would survive
this; she *would*. She and the remaining Kohl would survive. In her engineer's mind lay all the possible
ways her crew would attempt to rescue her and the others, and all she had to was to keep that information
away from their captor at all costs. All she had to do, to do that, would be to keep herself sane. And sane
meant keeping "Fear" out of her deep, dark secrets for as long as she possibly could.

Once again, this was easier said than done. Kathryn suppressed the sigh that came to her lips, but Fear
beamed with glee anyhow.


**** ****

Meanwhile, in one of the cargo bays on Voyager, Commander Chakotay, Tuvok, Kim, Torres, and Kes all
stood around the hibernation pods they'd beamed aboard. The hibernation pods that were currently holding
their captain captive. The doctor was participating in the meeting through a console's viewscreen.

"And you're certain you can pull this off fast enough that he won't notice and start executing the
hostages?" the commander asked again, not liking this option, but knowing it was the most likely one to

Kim nodded. "With me and B'Elanna working on it together, yes. Fear won't even know what hit him.
As long as he's distracted," he said.

"And how do we go about 'distracting' Fear?" asked Tuvok.

"We could send the Doctor back in," B'Elanna Torres suggested, tone and expression serious. She was
thinking of her own brief stay in the pods' holoenvironment. And berating herself for leaving the captain
there, no doubt. "He seemed to make quite an impression the first time," she explained.

The Doctor didn't seem pleased with the notion, however. "If I must," he responded, looking weary with
concern. "But I'd feel much better about this procedure if I was allowed to supervise the captain's
recovery. The neural inhibitors I've been giving her have to be modulated exactly."

The Doctor had begun giving her the inhibitors ever since he'd entered the computer environment himself.
They'd hoped the drugs would make the captain's stay with Fear a little more tolerable, seeing that they
were meant to slow response times between her thoughts and the computer. They'd also hoped that these
drugs would help keep Fear from figuring out their rescue attempts before they could carry them out and
that he would assume Janeway's delayed reactions were just a part of a human's natural reaction to a
prolonged stay in the Kohl's hibernation pods. Apparently, the inhibitors were working as they'd hoped in
all three respects, as the captain's vital signs had been relatively steady, considering the situation. But there
was always the concern that something would go wrong. After all, this was alien technology they were
allowing to go snooping around in Janeway's brain.

Chakotay nodded, grimly. He liked this plan even less now that the thought had occurred to him.

"Acknowledged. But you may be our only choice, Doctor. And I'm sure Kes can supervise in your place."
The young Ocampan in question nodded back at him in affirmative. "You're the only one who can get in
and out of the environment safely. And even if you weren't, you're the only one here who won't give the
plan away the second you get in there."

"Not exactly," came a voice from the entrance. And in walked Tom Paris.

"Tom?" Kes said, voicing everyone else's surprise. Everyone else but Harry. He was the only one
amongst the group, as Tom's best friend, that had any idea just how concerned the pilot must be over
Kathryn Janeway. He looked at Paris with a mixture of sympathy, understanding, and concern. He didn't
want to lose the captain, but he didn't want Tom sticking his neck out, either. Literally. Alas, from the
glint in the other man's eye, he could tell that this was what his friend had in mind.

"*I* can't give the plan away," Tom continued, joining the others. "Because I don't know what plan we're
talking about."

"Aren't you supposed to be at the helm, flyboy?" B'Elanna asked, an amused glint in her eye.

"My shift's over."

And everyone in the immediate vicinity knew that wasn't true, but noone called him on it. At least, noone
would have but Tuvok. And Tom was determined to get his case out before he could.

"Listen, let's talk about shift rotations later. The point is, you need somebody to "go in", as you say.
Well…I'm your man." Tom held his arms out in a gesture that made B'Elanna role her eyes, and Harry
stifle a laugh. But beneath that remained the concern of everyone present, who knew what a personal risk
Tom was taking by offering to do this.

"Tom…" Chakotay started, but Tuvok finished.

"Lieutenant, if we were to let you enter the pods' computer environment we would be placing you in the
same jeopardy from which we are currently endeavoring to remove the captain. We would be giving
"Fear" another hostage."

"But not for long, right?" Tom asked, looking for the entire world as though he were suggesting an evening
stroll. Leave it to Paris.

"If this plan of yours works, it won't really matter, right?"

Tuvok shifted, expressing familiar discomfort with Paris' odd brand of logic. The younger man had always
succeeded in riling the Vulcan like noone else. It was an unconventional friendship, theirs. But then, these
were unconventional times.

"Tom, we don't want to put anyone else at risk," Chakotay told him, but the pilot could see that his XO was

"And I don't want to take any more chances with the captain's life than we have to," he replied.

And the decision was made.

**** ****

It wasn't just another day in the devil's paradise. Apparently "Fear" had decided to take the lengthy
absence of further interference from Janeway's crew as a sort of unspoken acquiescence. Great celebration

Or at least you could call it that.

Somehow their computer-generated companions seemed all the more ghastly for their cheerful faces and
costumes. They laughed and danced, sang and strummed the cords of a decidedly eerie sounding song. All
sorts of delectable-looking dishes had been placed out…and Janeway would be damned before she dared
take the risk of trying one.

Meanwhile, they urged Janeway, Viorsa, and the others to "have a good time". Have a good time. After all
they'd been through? Their clownish captor had been particularly punishing to his charges only a short
time before the festivities commenced, and now they all showed the signs of stress in their expressions and
their posture.

Janeway watched Viorsa, in particular, with concern. He was not holding up well. If things continued at
this rate, Fear wouldn't need his guillotine illusion. The Kohl leader's heart would give out all on its own.

Then, suddenly, the music stopped. The characters froze in place.

This did not bode well, from Janeway's way of thinking.

"What…what's happening?" Viorsa's wife whispered, warily. Janeway laid a comforting hand on her
shoulder; her husband lay one on the other.

Then the clown was speaking.

"Oh…oh, this is interesting."

Janeway rose.

"What? What's going on?"

He smiled. "It seems that another member of your crew has decided to join the party," he told her. "Now
you see," he yelled over his shoulder at his large, hooded friend. "I told you these humans weren't all a
bunch of spoil sports." The dark monstrosity merely shrugged.

"I can feel him entering the system already," Fear said, giving Janeway a look that created a strong sense of
dread within her.

She suddenly had a very good idea who would be joining the festivities.

'Oh no.'

Despite everything B'Elanna had reported in that morning's staff meeting, Tom hadn't really known what
to expect after he lay down in that pod and closed his eyes. He really didn't think it would be as realistic as
he'd heard. Nonetheless, the environment being created by the pods' computer – and its unwilling
inhabitants – was very, very real, both in itself and the way Tom found himself there. It was if he blinked
and suddenly the world around him had shifted and changed. That was how quickly, how seamlessly, the
computer had taken control.

He hadn't expected that.

Nor had he expected to find the captain in such an obvious state of distress, though he'd feared as much
ever since she'd been taken hostage.

"Captain!" he called out, striding towards her. He hadn't even taken a step towards Kathryn before
someone else was in his path, greeting him.

That someone was fear.

Tom recognized the…whatever it was…by Torres' descriptions, but also by his forward demeanor, and
immediately steeled himself. This was who had taken Kathryn Janeway hostage. Tom was torn between
wanting to fly fists-first at the man and wanting to laugh at him. What self-respecting representation of
Fear would manifest himself into a clown?

But Tom did neither of those things. He had a reason for being here – to negotiate. He'd told Chakotay
and the others he had a plan of just what he'd negotiate. And he figured he'd better really come up with
one now that he was in the position of needing it.

"Well, well, well…" Fear was saying, jumping between Paris and Janeway. "What have we here? Another
mighty member of the human race. I certainly hope you're more fun than this one," he said, leaning in as
though confiding in Tom a great secret. Janeway rolled her eyes in irritation at his antics. "She's easy on
the eyes, your captain, but a bit of a bore, you know."

Tom would have smiled if he didn't find this creature so bothersome. He couldn't imagine anyone else
calling Kathryn Janeway boring with a straight face. Or surviving it if they did.

"You know, we've been saying that on the bridge for years," he quipped, matching his adversary grin for

And earning Janeway's famous death glare in the process. The security of having a familiar face suddenly
close by revived the captain and she stepped around Fear, raising an eyebrow at Paris.

"Why, thank you for your support, *Ensign*," she drolled, menacingly, but without any real sincerity. And
Paris couldn't help it – he was just so damned glad to see her that he smiled again.

Then Fear and his otherworldly companions burst out in raucous laughter and Tom flinched. Spooky.

"See?" Fear was saying. "I told you this one was different." And his friends began to gather round; an
unusually tall, dark fellow made totally invisible beneath his ghoulish costume and a short, elderly dwarf of
a woman dressed like a fairy. The word that came to Tom's mind was "heebie-jeebies".

Then he noticed Janeway's expression, so tense, so uncertain beneath all her glower. He'd never seen that
on her face before and had never wanted to see it. Further back, three lone somber figures, who he
gathered to be the Kohl, cowered into one another. Tom was reminded of his mission.

"And since our dear captain isn't fulfilling her duties as the entertaining guest…why don't you let me send
her back home where she won't bore you any further."

Just like that, the clowns' demeanor went from friendly to frightening. Tom suddenly faced an army of
painted faces contorted into expressions of fury.

"You think you've come here to manipulate one of my hostages away from me? You think you can
manipulate ME??" Fear raged. "Never!" he and all of his companions exclaimed as one.

Janeway and the Kohl cringed. But Tom was calm. More calm than he might have expected. He'd
realized what he was going to do the moment he saw Kathryn standing there, looking so pained and
exhausted. And now that he had resolved himself to that decision he didn't feel afraid. There would be
plenty of time for that later.

"Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of a trade," he said, piquing the creature's curiosity.

"A trade?"

"Yes…" Tom looked the captain straight in the eyes. "Her…for me."

"I can't believe this…"

Kathryn ceased her pacing, dropping down on a step to sit beside her subordinate…her friend. Viorsa and
his companions sat nearby.

'Of all the stupid, damned-foolish, heroic…'

Janeway rested a hand on Tom's knee – a testament to how vulnerable she'd become in this place. She
wouldn't normally dream of such a breech of protocol. Now protocol seemed like such a petty matter.

"Tom, why…how… Chakotay sanctioned this…this insane proposition?" She couldn't believe the
commander would resort to this sort of choosing of the lesser of two evils…

Then she saw something in Tom's eyes that she didn't like.

"He didn't, did he?" She said suddenly. He doesn't know at all." Her tone took on a steely quality, a

Paris' smile was one of plain guilt.

"You are the captain, Captain," he said. "If it's any consolation, I think the Commander will consider it a
fair trade…once this is all over."

"Lieutenant Paris…"

"And you can dispense with the 'lieutenant', Captain," Tom said, interrupting her in the middle of her
building ire.

"I'm pretty sure he's in charge here, right now. And if it takes a decommission for insubordination to get
you out of here, then so be it."

Kathryn stopped…just like that. She stopped all the ordering and pretending and anger and just looked at
him. Not like a lieutenant, or her mentor's son, or her personal reclamation project…she just looked at
him. Like a person; like Tom.

"Why are you doing this?" she asked. "There are other ways. Surely…"

"Yes," Tom agreed. "There are probably other ways of getting you out of here. Risky ways. With no
guarantees. That's not good enough, Captain. The only way to be sure you'll get out of this okay is to get
you out as soon as possible. I think this might do it."

She just looked at him.

Then Viorsa's assistant was speaking.

"Excuse me, not to intrude, but…" he looked from Tom to Janeway. "I understand your wanting to protect
your captain. But why would Fear…no offense…trade the captain of your ship for a lieutenant."

At first Kathryn didn't understand either. She was just so tired…so concerned with the fact that Tom had
offered himself up to such risk that she didn't consider just how grave that risk was. For Tom. Her eyes
filled with horror as realization dawned…and as Tom explained.

"This guy feeds off of Fear, right? Tormenting his hostages with images from their imagination…" He
looked at Kathryn, knowing she understood. Then looked quickly away. "Or their past," he finished.
"Let's just say…I make a much easier target."

Kathryn swallowed. 'Oh, God.' Tom's past. She'd never truly seen the younger man afraid, before. He
was brave, like his father. Maybe more so because he'd had to deal with situations the elder Paris never
had. But fear wasn't the real issue here…it was the past. If their host wanted someone to torment with it,
then Tom was by far the most likely candidate. There were things in his past that tormented him without
the aid of some demented computer character.

"No," Kathryn insisted, strongly, firmly. And at exactly the same time that Fear returned.

Oddly enough, Tom actually felt relieved to see their captor returning. At least with him around, he
wouldn't have to really answer Kathryn's question.

' "Why?" Doesn't she know why?' Tom thought, knowing she didn't. And she couldn't. She was the
captain…and he was a lieutenant. Ten years younger than her. An ex-con, flying her ship on a field
commission alone. Loving her anyway.

She didn't know and he had to keep it that way. Just another reason to get her out of there as fast as
possible. And before Fear could figure out the 'why' himself.

Then Fear spoke and Tom's relief disappeared.

"We've been thinking about your generous offer…" he said, exaggerating the sarcasm in his voice and
exchanging exaggerated looks with his companions. "And it has some merit," he said.

The clowns started crowding into the area they were sitting now, and the Kohl rose, huddling together as
they were wont to do now after having endured this together for nearly two decades. Something was
obviously about to happen. Kathryn took a step closer to Tom.

"No. As his captain, I do not…"

But Fear wasn't listening.

"Unfortunately, we can't accept," he said suddenly, slightly surprising both Kathryn and Tom.

"You can't?" she asked, at the same time as he was saying "Why not?"

But Fear had eyes only for Janeway."Why? Oh, my dear captain…" Fear leaned in close. And his smiled
suddenly disappeared. "Because it would be so much more fun to keep you both." And suddenly Tom
vanished from where he'd been standing, and reappeared on the other side of the large arena, a small band
of Fear's minions at his side, holding his arms to keep him from running back to the captain's side.


"Tom!" she yelled at the same time. Both were certain Fear had planned something unpleasant for the
other. And before Kathryn could so much as move, Fear was stepping before her, a large, alien-looking
phaser rifle in his hands.

Both Tom and Kathryn froze.

"I'm surprised at you, Mr. Paris," he said to Tom, never looking back. "Underestimating me like this. Did
you really think you could simply ask me to send your pretty little captain back home, no problem…let's
just send her home and let her shut down the whole system!" For a moment, the creature seemed to be in a
rage…but then he calmed. "Did you really think I would be so stupid?"

"No! I…"


Fear raised the rifle. "Cap…" Tom yelled for her, but at a wave from Fear, one of the clowns clamped a
surprisingly strong hand over Paris' mouth, muffling him.

"And you…" he was saying to the captain, as he sighed. "You and I could have been so good together,
captain. We could have shared so much, you and I."" He glared at her. "But *you* had to go and mess it
up! Resisting me at every turn! Shutting me out!" He took a step towards her. "But you couldn't shut me
out forever, captain, oh no! You can't hide from me! You can't hide what you know, what you feel…I
know what you know! I feel what you feel!"

He turned and strode over to Tom, and when Kathryn would have stepped towards him, the large, hooded
clown put a restraining hand on her shoulder.

"And you…," Fear said now, his voice low and filled with displeasure. "It would have been okay if it
hadn't been for you. She would have come to realize the futility of her efforts…eventually. If it weren't
for you."

Tom stood still, eyeing the rifle pointed at him without a trace of fear, but with an obvious confusion. He
had no idea what the man was talking about.

But Janeway did.

She knew only too well. And she felt nearly panicked with the knowing. She knew what Fear was going to

He turned towards her, aiming the rifle straight at her head, striding closer to her.

Tom began to struggle anew against those holding him.

"And now it's too late," Fear was saying. "Now we can never be together. You'll never allow it, I see that
now. You'll never accept it…what is it with you, anyway? Why is it you can't accept such a natural, such
a powerful entity…as fear?"

In any other situation, Kathryn might have told him that she respected fear, but that she could not give in to
it. That starship captain did not succumb to fear. But now all she told him was yes, yes she could accept.
She could learn to accept it. Because at that moment, seeing that rifle and knowing what he would do with
it made her feel that maybe she could accept anything. Anything but that.

The problem was that Fear knew this.

"Liar!" he yelled. "You lie! You won't accept me! You can't!" He fingered the trigger of the rifle. "But
you will," he promised. "You will accept me…you will accept fear. Once your greatest fear has been

"No! I can…"

"Say goodbye, captain," Fear said, and then he fired.

At the same time, each of the clowns released their holds on Tom and Kathryn.

"Kathryn!" Tom yelled, as soon as he was able.

"No!" she screamed at the same time.

She'd known what Fear would do. And she was right.

He'd aimed the rifle straight at her…and had fired. But not before turning so that the rifle was pointed in
the opposite direction.

Straight at Tom.

For Kathryn, time stood still for just a moment. Silence descended.

And then everything began moving forward once again.

And there was a large hole gaping in the center of Tom's stomach, where the discharge of the rifle had hit.

Tom stood there for just a moment, not moving, not speaking. The body tends to do that when in a state of
extreme shock – it shuts down. The mind must focus everything it has on wrapping itself around the fact
that it is dying. And Tom stood there, and his hands had involuntarily moved to the point of impact the
moment he'd been shot. Now he pulled them away…covered in blood. And fell to his knees.

"No!" Kathryn yelled again, and this time the sound was the most frantic, the most ragged sound she'd ever
heard come from her own lips.

Around her the computer characters resumed their frivolous dance and play as before, in a loud,
disorganized manner that matched her current state of mind. Perhaps they had drawn the Kohl in with
them, perhaps not. Kathryn saw nothing of any of them or anything else. Only Tom.

She was at his side before he hit the floor.

And then she was cradling his head in her lap.

"Tom! Tom, hold on…Lieutenant!" She called out to him, frantically, not knowing what else to do. She
tried to remain the calm, rational captain she was supposed to be…but calm ration left her the moment that
rifle had swung in Tom's direction.

"Hold on, Tom! Just hold on…"

'Hold on, hold on, hold on, oh, God, please…'

"Ca…Kathry…"Tom tried to speak, but the ability was leaving him. He simply stared up at her, trying to
breathe. Trying to hold onto to consciousness just as his captain had ordered. Had to follow the captain's
orders. 'Kathryn…'

Death was advancing fast. Tom had never imagined that he would die slow. But still, he hadn't imagined
that life could be so fleeting, either.

"Shhh. Shhh, don't talk. Save your strength, Tom. You'll be okay, just save…"

Kathryn couldn't even finish the sentence. Tears began to fall, mingling with Tom's blood on her hands as
she held them over his wound, trying to stop the precious life seeping out from him. All that she'd told
herself when she'd first arrived in this place fled her; all she'd said about this not being real. It was real
enough. Real enough to kill someone if they believed they were dying. Not even a Vulcan, perhaps, could
convince themselves of the unreality of the situation if they were lying there with half of their abdomen
gone from them.

And Tom was hardly Vulcan. He was emotional. Passionate and alive and so young…dear, God…


A sense of calm slowly spread over her. Shock, she realized. She was suddenly very calm…as she
watched Tom's blood flowing through her fingers. Right through her fingers; just like that. Someone so
strong; so dear to her, and she couldn't save him. Couldn't feel the tears she knew were streaking down her

Tom knew he was about to die. He saw the darkness creeping up the side of his vision, felt the pain leave
his body. And somehow he managed the strength to grab one of Kathryn's hands, slowly moving it up to
the side of his face, not caring that her hands were bloody. This was as close as he had ever gotten to being
in her embrace. And it was as close as he would ever get.

"Oh, Tom…" Kathryn stroked the side of his face, catching his hand when it would have fallen to Tom's
side as his final bit of strength left him.

He was still staring up at her – gorgeous blue eyes she'd always thought were just the color for him, the
color of the sky. Which is where he belonged, in the sky, in the stars – flying. She'd always felt a strong
pull from space, as if it were calling her to it. It was one of the reasons she'd entered Starfleet – that little
tug she felt to explore everything and anything within her reach. She'd felt that same tug the first time
she'd looked into Tom's eyes, seemingly a lifetime ago in New Zealand.

Now those eyes were searching hers, but didn't really see her.

Kathryn rocked with Tom's head in her lap, crying and not noticing that neither Fear nor any of his
companions were left in the pod environment.

She didn't know what to say – there was so much. And so, in that way that people sometimes do when
confronted with a situation too shocking for them to fully comprehend, she said the first thing that came to
her mind.

"You finally called me Kathryn," she whispered. On her lips were the words she'd always meant, but had
never spoken. 'I love you.'

"I love you, Tom," she whispered now.

And then the world around her began to dissolve, as Voyager's crew came to the rescue at last, shutting
down the Kohl hibernation system.