Tom misses Kes. It's strange - while he was gone with Tuvok and Chakotay and Kathryn, Kes wasn't someone he thought of often. He thought of Harry and B'Elanna mostly, but now that Kes is gone, Tom feels the void she left. He had been spending a lot of time with her. Tom thinks now that Kes knew she would be leaving. She'd been teaching him things about sickbay, about helping the Doctor. Tom still doesn't like to sit alone in his quarters and one couldn't be on the holodeck all the time, so hanging out in sickbay with Kes had seemed as good as doing anything else.

Now Tom works in sickbay and Kes is gone. The Doctor seems to miss her too, not that he confides in Tom. When he's not pointedly annoyed at Tom's presence, he seems listless and lost in thought.

Or he's busy with the newest crew member.

The only time Tom spends with Kathryn lately is when she's overseeing Seven of Nine in the sickbay. It takes time to remove those implants and Tom gets a little more practical, hands-on sickbay experience than he's ready for. The Doctor doesn't startle easy which is lucky because when the implants activate before their eyes, Tom is the first to duck and cover.

"Do try to be brave, Lieutenant," the Doctor says dryly.

"You can't be assimilated!" Tom says.

When Janeway is there, though, Tom does try to appear less frightened. Janeway watches the surgeries like she is watching a play - standing back in the darkness. They can only do so much at a time and so Seven becomes human in phases. She spends a lot of time unconscious - sedated on a bed in sickbay or regenerating in the makeshift alcove in the Cargo Bay.

They are finished for the day, Tom and the Doctor, and Janeway is standing over Seven. Seven has finally started to lose her gray, mottled color and looks rosy and pink under the spotlight above the biobed.

"I'd like to give her a day of rest," Janeway says.

"You mean a day of consciousness," Tom says.

"I want to be able to speak with her," Janeway says. "We need to help her find her place on this ship."

"Captain," Tom says carefully. "What if she doesn't want a place on this ship?"

"She doesn't know what she wants," Janeway says with certainty.

"But you do?"

"Lieutenant Paris, please inform the Doctor. I'll be on the bridge," she says.

"Kath," Tom says, and she hesitates for a moment, looking at him wearily. He needs to find a way to reach the woman, not the Captain. "We're taking bets on her hair color. You want in?"

"She's blond," Janeway says, softening slightly. "At least she was as a child."

"Thanks," Tom says. "I'll use that information to my advantage."

"You'd better not," Janeway says as she strides out of the door.

oooo

Tom has the unpleasant duty of waking up the drone. He winces and chides himself. He shouldn't think of her as a drone, despite the fact that she's still more machine than person. He finds some skin and presses the hypospray against it. The Doctor is by his side. Seven opens her eyes and sits up rigidly. It has to hurt, all that tender, regenerated skin but she doesn't wince or complain. She looks around.

"Captain Janeway would like to see you in the cargo bay," the Doctor says. "Lieutenant Paris will escort you."

Tom and two security guards. Tom has a certain amount of natural strength but he knows Seven could take him, even in her... disassembled state. He also knows she is still capable of assimilation. He'd see the Doctor inadvertently activate her assimilation tubules on more than one occasion.

"How are you feeling?" Tom asks as they make their way down the corridor. Seven doesn't respond, merely looks at him and continues walking. "I'm doing good," Tom mutters. Behind him, Ensign Ayala makes a noise like a stifled snort. Tom sends him a hard glance over his shoulder. "You know, Captain Janeway wants very much for you to fit in here."

"Do you speak for Captain Janeway?" Seven asks without looking at him. Tom hesitates.

"No, but..."

"Then Captain Janeway will say what she wants," Seven says.

Now both of the security officers are making noise. Luckily, they are outside of the Cargo Bay.

"Here we are," Tom says. He looks at the guards. "Thanks, gentlemen."

"We'll wait out here," Ayala assures him. In the cargo bay, Janeway is waiting, staring up at the alcove, the green circuitry lighting her eerily.

"That'll be all, Lieutenant Paris," Janeway says.

"Captain, I don't think you should be alone in here," Tom says.

"Seven isn't going to hurt me," Janeway says. Seven doesn't look as if she's about to readily agree. "Dismissed."

Tom hesitates for only a moment, but Janeway doesn't look at him with any sort of kindness in her features.

He leaves.

oooo

"She's not talking to me, either," Chakotay says, falling into the chair across from Tom in the mess hall.

"Sorry?" Tom asks.

"Your expression," Chakotay says. "It's for the Captain?"

"Should I bother to lie?" Tom asks.

"No," Chakotay chuckles. Tom and Chakotay are still not best friends, but they've been getting along for now. They do have one thing in common, after all.

"Your fight with the Captain is pretty much common knowledge," Tom says. He doesn't say it to be cruel, but Chakotay has to know. "The strain is trickling down."

"The whole crew is tense," Chakotay agrees.

"I don't think anyone quite trusts our newest crew member either," Tom says.

"Kathryn trusts her," Chakotay says. "And she thinks that should be good enough."

"May I join you?" Tuvok stands by the table, holding a tray. Tuvok doesn't usually eat with others.

"Sure," Tom says. Tuvok sits.

"What's on your mind, Tuvok?" Chakotay asks.

"I am concerned about the Captain," Tuvok says. "She has become reckless in her goal of acclimating Seven of Nine."

"You sat at the right table," Tom says.

"I'm not sure what we can do," Chakotay says.

"She'd been almost... almost happy before we hit Borg space," Tom says. "Relaxed."

"She'd been using that new holodeck program," Chakotay agrees.

"The DaVinci one?" Tom asks. "Yeah, I wrote that for her for her birthday."

"I believe her alliance with the Borg has left her unsettled," Tuvok says. " She is in moral turmoil."

"And she's trying to make herself feel better by saving the drone... by rescuing Seven," Tom says.

"You wrote that program?" Chakotay asks.

"Yeah," Tom says. "Wasn't complicated. Just the workspace and the character. It doesn't extend out into Florence. I mean, I guess it could... all of Florence would take months to program..."

"Please focus," Tuvok says.

"I can't make her talk to me," Tom says now. "And Chakotay..."

"We have a working relationship," Chakotay admits. "But at the moment not much more."

"You told her to retreat," Tuvok says.

"Yes," Chakotay says. "And even though we made it through this fight, all she remembers is I told her I thought she was wrong."

"You stood behind her," Tuvok says. "You fulfilled your role as her first officer."

"Maybe so," Chakotay says. "But it's not what she remembers."

"But why is she pissed at me?" Tom asks.

"It's not you," Chakotay says. "Whatever is happening with her, is with her. The problem is inside, not any one of us."

"Captain Janeway deserves our continued support," Tuvok says.

"We're the three people on this ship who know her best," Tom says. "We need to give her more than just support!"

"What do you suggest?" Tuvok asks Tom. But Tom doesn't have an answer.

oooo

Tom can relate to Seven, he realizes while in his bed. He has about twenty minutes before his alarm goes off. He used to sleep through it, to let the bleating of it drag him out of bed and into the shower, but now his body wakes him as if the sun were rising outside. He's not as tired as he used to be either - he sleeps less. But more hours in the day are not always a good thing. B'Elanna had ranted at him for several minutes about Seven having the audacity to ask for a duty shift in engineering. Tom had let her talk for a while but had finally interrupted her.

"B'Elanna, she's bored," Tom had said. "She's cooped up in that cargo bay completely alone and all she can do is think about how alone she is."

"Are you defending her?"

"I just understand what it feels like on this ship when no one wants you here," Tom had said.

Now, in bed, he thinks about how it had been. When Tom had boarded, there had been at least one person who had vouched for him no matter what. Kathryn Janeway. He'll make sure to do Seven better and make sure she has at least two. And then, he realizes, that he needs to let Kathryn know this.

"Paris to Janeway," he says.

It takes a moment for her to answer and when she does respond, she's a little groggy.

"Go ahead."

"I don't think you made a bad decision," Paris says. "And I'll support Seven of Nine."

There's a long pause.

"What time is it?" she says, finally.

"0510," he says. "I thought you were an early riser."

"I am, but come on," she says.

"Have breakfast with me, Kathryn," Tom says. "Please."

"Fine," she says. "My ready room. 0600. Janeway out."

Maybe she just agreed to get him out of her hair, to savor those last minutes of sleep and warmth in her bed, but they haven't shared a meal for some time and he is pleased.

When he enters the bridge, Tuvok raises an eyebrow. His shift doesn't start for forty-five minutes, but when Tom inclines his head to the Captain's door, Tuvok nods his approval.

"Come in," Janeway says. Tom hopes to see breakfast already waiting - perhaps Kathryn sitting on her sofa enjoying her first cup of coffee but this, he knows, is a dream. Instead she's standing over her desk, trying to sort out which reports need to be addressed first and from the hovering, flighty way that she moves, he knows this is at least cup three. Still, they are here, together.

"Morning, Kate," he says.

"Eugene," she says, dryly. "I haven't replicated anything and I'm busy, so you don't mind if this is a working breakfast?"

"I do mind," he says. "You can sit down with me for half an hour."

"Tom, I'm busy," she says helplessly. "We're still trying to get the ship back to a respectable state, half the crew hates me for bringing Seven aboard, the other half wishes Chakotay was still in command, the Doctor keeps pestering me about his accomplishments in saving my life and Harry's, except I don't know what I'm supposed to do about that. Promote a hologram? And anyway this is the Delta Quadrant and he's already the CMO, so what good would a promotion do anyway and I don't like feeling obligated to thank him simply because in doing his job he saved my life..."

"I will deal with the Doc," Tom says, cutting off her rant. "Come sit down with me. Eat some food. Then, tackle the day."

"Fine," she says, falling onto the sofa. "Twenty minutes."

"Thirty," he says, moving to her replicator and calling up eggs, toast, and bacon for two. "And that's hogwash, by the way."

"What?"

"People wishing Chakotay was still in command," Tom says.

"I don't know," she says, shaking her head. "The Borg..."

"It's not like you to second guess your command decisions," he says.

"I'm not!" she says indignantly. "I just know that people hate the Borg, and rightfully so, and not only did I work with them, but I brought them on our ship."

"How are you liking the Maestro?" Tom asks, changing the subject. He wants breakfast and conversation, not the Kathryn Janeway self-pity hour.

"Tom, the program is wonderful," she says, allowing the shift. "You should get it published!"

"I'll put it on my Alpha Quadrant to-do list," he promises. "But I made it for you."

"I love it," she says. "It's so simple but complex."

He chuckles.

"I mean," she says. "There isn't much to do but relax and create, but the detail, Tom, is staggering. The way the fire crackles, the way the birds sing outside the window. The way the clay smells."

"My mother was an artist," Tom says, wistfully. "Is, I suppose."

"I've met her a few times," Janeway says. "At Starfleet functions. Once, when I escorted your father home."

"After the Icarus," Tom says. "I remember."

"You do?" she asks, her blue eyes wide.

"Sure," Tom says. "My father was a force, as you can imagine. Always making noise, always a loud speaking voice. It wasn't often someone brought him in like a puppy in from the rain."

"It was a hard mission," she says. "I don't remember you."

"I was a child," Tom says.

"A teenager."

"Barely. I watched from the stairs. You didn't stay long."

She looks at him.

"You aren't eating."

"Sorry," she murmurs. She pops half a piece of bacon into her mouth and chews.

"I remember your blue uniform," he grins. "When did you switch to Command?"

"Not long after," she says.

"Anyway," he says, spreading jam on his toast from a small pot. "My mother had a studio in the house. It always smelled a certain way. How your program smells. Wet clay, sawdust, paint."

"Chakotay does these amazing sand paintings," Janeway says.

"Chakotay," Tom says. "He's been in the program?"

"Once," she says.

"You've never invited me," Tom says.

"I invited you to have breakfast with me," she says.

"I invited myself," he says.

"I thought you said it wasn't a competition."

"It isn't," Tom says. "But you don't talk to him, you barely talk to me."

"Are you two discussing me?" she asks.

"The fact that we're worried enough to speak to each other shouldn't make you mad," he says.

"I'm not mad," she says. She pokes at her eggs with her fork.

"I don't think you made the wrong choice, if my opinion at all matters," Tom says. "In regards to Seven."

"I know that people are... disinclined to trust her. So am I," Janeway says. "But I've got to try."

"You trusted me," he says. "I'm a felon, after all. I could have abandoned you in California and led a very quiet, very happy life."

Her face sobers.

"Did you consider that?" she asks. "Leaving us?"

"You would have found me," Tom says. "You would have never stood for it."

"But you thought about it."

"I would have never left you," he assures her.

"What about when I left you?" she asks. He shakes his head. They shouldn't go here, shouldn't play this game of what if.

"This is our real life," he says. "Just think of that time like a dream."

"Is that how you think of it?" she asks.

"Doing laundry. Making oatmeal. Wearing jeans. How could that have been real life?" he asks.

"Checking chemistry books out of the library," she grins.

"I'll help you with Seven," he says. "And other people will too. She's not a punishment, you know."

Janeway looks so chagrined that Tom knows he hit the nail on the head. Janeway had made a deal with the devil and now a piece of that deal remains on the ship. She's been working hard to make that piece into something less... evil.

"I have a block of holodeck time tomorrow evening," Janeway says. "Master DaVinci is traveling and will be away from his studio."

"Is that an invitation?" Tom asks.

"You said you wanted to help with Seven? Then help you will," she says.

oooo

Tom hasn't been to his program since he'd gifted it to Janeway. He beats her to the holodeck and activates the program. He notices right away the small alterations she's made. He'd programmed the simulation to follow their day - be light in their morning and dark at their night, but when he activates the program, it is suspended in twilight, the room bathed in a fading orange light that never actually fades. The candles are all lit, but they don't burn down, wax pooling at their base.

He pokes around the piles of parchment, the stubs of charcoal. It's easy to tell which are part of the simulation - the detailed drawings of animal anatomy and intricate mechanical devices - and which belonged to Kathryn.

"Lieutenant Paris," Seven says. It's probably all the greeting he is going to get.

"Hey, Seven," he says.

"Where is Captain Janeway?" she inquires.

"Probably running late," Tom says. "You ready for arts and crafts day?"

She doesn't understand and raises one eyebrow delicately, her implant moving with it. He tries to picture her face with no metal, but it's hard not to see past the drone.

"I do not understand the holodeck," Seven says, looking around.

"It's just photons and force fields," Tom says. "The matrix supports up to..."

"I understand the technology," Seven interrupts. "But not the purpose."

"Entertainment," Tom says. "Relaxation. Escape."

"An inefficient use of time," Seven says.

"Au contraire," Tom says. "Relaxation helps us to function more efficiently."

"Explain," she demands.

"The Borg need cybernetic implants to maintain that level of efficiency, but humans need rest and time spent not working in order to be more productive when we do work."

"And standing in a fabricated, archaic environment constitutes rest?" she asks.

"For a woman like Kathryn, yes," Tom says.

"I'm late," Kathryn says, walking through the wooden door.

"Speak of the devil," Tom says.

Tom stays out of it, mostly. He finds him self a clear space of workbench and a hunk of moist clay and sits himself down on a wobbly bench. He's close enough, though, to hear them clearly. Seven stands in front of a large easel with a palette of paint beside her. Kathryn is working on a smaller easel with what looks to be watercolors. He can't see what she's painting, but he can see what Seven is creating clearly enough and it looks like the inside of cube - black and geometrical.

"Is that a ship?" Kathryn asks when she came over to check on him.

"Does it looks like a ship?" he asks hopefully.

"It looks like the Enterprise."

"I always wanted to fly the Enterprise," he admitted. "Flashy. Did you know the saucer section separates? I could be in the saucer section and fly the other half remotely."

"Really," she says.

"I could fly two ships at once," he grins. "That's like... living the dream."

"When you got out of the academy, did you apply for the Enterprise?" she asks.

"Uh, actually, I decided to stay on Earth so I could have one more year of flying shuttles competitively, and then... well, you know the rest," he says.

"Indeed," she says. She reaches out and smooths a lump on one of the nacelles.

"I am finished relaxing," Seven says. She has managed to completely cover her canvas without getting any paint on herself.

"Looks very... pretty," Tom says.

"It is time for me to regenerate," she says. "I must leave."

"All right," Kathryn says. "See you tomorrow."

"Regenerate tight," Tom calls after her. Kathryn smothers a laugh. Tom looks at the painting with a more critical eye. "Borg art."

"I'm not going to hang it on my bedroom wall, that's for sure," Janeway says. "But I did tell her to paint what she knew."

"And that is what she did," Tom laughs. He looks down at the clay he'd been working with and uses both hands to cram it back into a shapeless lump.

"Tom!"

"It's not real," he says. "And I think our time is almost up."

"A perk of being the Captain is that no one rushes me out of the holodeck," she says. "But you're right."

"I'll walk you home," Tom offers. "Computer, save program and end."

The clay on his hands doesn't disappear when they leave the holodeck and his fingers are stained red and there is clay beneath his nails.

"Come in and wash your hands," she says, lightly. He doesn't argue with her. He has never been invited into her bathroom before, not this one anyway. For their time on Ancient Earth, they had all shared everything. Their toothbrushes in the same glass, all different bright colors. His had been orange - hers red. Her hairbrush had always sat on the edge of the sink or the back of the toilet. She'd forgone make up all together until she'd gotten an office job that more or less required it, so they'd gone together to the the drug store and she'd picked out some things while he waited in another aisle.

Now, here is her hairbrush, her tubes of lip color. When he puts his hands in the sink, the water comes on, slightly warm. He washes his hands until the water runs clear. When he looks up for a towel, he can see her reflected in the mirror, watching him.

"I'm not snooping, I swear," he says.

"Not much to find, I'm afraid." She hands him a clean towel and he takes it, uses it, then leaves it on the ledge near the sink.

"Thanks."

"Seven asked me why you didn't show me proper respect," she says with a lopsided grin.

"Because of how I leer at you when you're not looking?" he asks seriously.

"That," she says, without missing a beat. "But also because you call me Kathryn."

"It's not disrespectful," he says.

"I know that."

"If anything, it's more respectful," he says. "I've heard the term 'Captain' spit out like an insult but the people who are allowed to call you Kathryn are..." He is going to say that they are the people who love her, but he changes his mind. "Your friends."

"I tried to explain it to her but I'm not sure she understood."

"This is the woman who orders you to the cargo bay. You," Tom says. "There's a lot she's not quite grasping."

She shakes her head.

"All I can do is try," she says.

oooo

He has a dream about her and then he starts to worry. He's been ignoring that persistent feeling for some time now, that little voice in the back of his head that whispers Kathryn, Kathryn, Kathryn all the time. It is usually pretty easy to just live through the days, working hard and trying to get her to loosen up a bit. Trying to make her laugh, to get her to share a meal with him, but this dreams is unsettling and it is, he sure, a sign of bad things to come.

He'll ignore it, he decides. One dream doesn't mean anything, he's had dreams about other women that had meant less than nothing, so why should this dream change that? He'd spent a lot of time with her the previous day on the bridge, and it was normal to dream about someone you saw often. He tells himself these things on his way to work in sickbay, psyching himself up for the day. Everything is fine. Just fine.

"What's wrong?" The Doctor asks when he comes in.

"Nothing!" Tom says, his voice a little higher than normal. "Nothing is wrong!"

"O-kay," the Doctor says, reaching slowly for his tricorder.

"I'm fine," Tom says. "I'll be in the lab."

And, once he shakes off that nervous feeling, he is fine. By the time he goes to bed, he really does feel fine and has no trouble drifting off, he face buried in his pillow.

He wakes up and realizes that he's had the dream again.

After a week, he has to confess to someone.

"Harry," he hisses, grabbing the back of Harry's uniform just before he walks onto a turbo lift.

"What?" Harry asks, looking around quickly, confused. "Oh. What? What the hell?"

"I need to talk to you," Tom says. "Come with me."

"I was going to dinner. Don't you want to go to dinner?" Harry asks hopefully.

"No," Tom says. "We need privacy."

"Can we privately eat dinner, then?" Harry asks. Tom has no problem with this, but he's not buying so Tom leads Harry back to his own quarters. Harry doesn't complain - he must really be hungry - and orders two plates of food before he let's Tom say anything.

"Harry," Tom says, pacing around the small space, his dinner untouched. Harry's is halfway gone. "Harry something bad is happening to me."

"What?" Harry asks, concerned now. "Are you sick?"

"Maybe," Tom says.

"Have you seen the Doc?"

"No," Tom says. "It's just... Kathryn told me once that she thinks we came back through that singularity wrong and I think she's right."

"Sit down," Harry says. "Tell me what's happening."

"I've been having these dreams," Tom says, flopping loudly into the chair. "These bad, bad dreams."

"Nightmares?"

"Not exactly," Tom says.

"What happens in them?" Harry asks.

"I'm with her," Tom says. "I'm with Captain Janeway."

"With the Captain," Harry says. "Then what?"

"No," Tom says. "I'm with her." He stares at Harry willing him to understand and just when Tom thinks he's going to really have to spell it out, Harry's face crumples into a mix of anger and disgust.

"You're having SEX dreams about Captain Janeway?" Harry yells. "Why are you telling me this?"

"I had to tell someone!" Tom says. "This is bad. This is really bad."

"The sex is bad?" Harry asks, confused.

"No! I mean, it's bad that I'm having those dreams," Tom says.

"Well, I mean, it's kind of freaking me out, yeah," Harry says. "But having those kinds of dreams about female friends isn't unheard of."

"But..." Tom says. "This is... this is Kathryn."

Harry rolls his eyes.

"Tom," Harry says. "Ever since you got back from... being gone, you've had a very different relationship with Captain Janeway. Maybe this is just a way that difference is manifesting."

"That sounds like a bunch of hooey," Tom says.

"Well what do you want me to say?" Harry asks.

"I want you to tell me that I'm crazy, that I should get my brain washed, that's I'm a bad person," Tom begs.

"You're having sex dreams about Seska? Yeah, you're a terrible person. You're having dreams about Janeway?" Harry shrugs. "Sorry man. You're just human."

There it is, then. Tom must decide to avoid the Captain until these feelings, these dreams disappear, or he must learn to endure them, silently.

Anything Chakotay can do, Tom is sure he can at least match and do with more swagger.

oooo

"Lieutenant Brooks told me he was parasailing on the holodeck, yesterday," Janeway mentions casually to Tom.

Tom snickers.

"What?" she asks. "He seemed like he liked it."

"Martin Brooks is asking for trouble," Tom says.

"I'm confused."

"Parasailing is our slang for… you know. On the holodeck," Tom says. Janeway looks momentarily appalled. "You really didn't know that?"

"That people have sex on the holodeck or that you all had a stupid name for it?" she asks.

"Both, I guess," he says.

"Have you ever… parasailed?" she asks.

"I enjoy the occasional water sport," he admits. "Oh come on. There's 147 of us – there's going to be at least one odd man out."

"Still."

"So you've never parasailed?" he asks.

"No!"

"Never? In all the years we've been out here?" he asks, shocked.

She shakes her head. "I can never seem to… get off the beach."

"Let's stop with that metaphor now," he says.

"I'm going to have to figure out how to humiliate Lieutenant Brooks," she says. "He deserves subtle punishment for his audacity."

"Invite him to go parasailing with you in front of a big group," Tom says. "Ask if he'd give you lessons."

"Now how do you make humiliation seem so easy?" she asks.

"I have lots and lots of practice."

The chime to her ready room sounds and he sits up a little straighter. He's sort of lying across her couch. At her desk, she waves his motion away, as if to say not to bother.

"Come," she says.

Seven of Nine walks in, as rigid as ever. She hands the Captain a report without a word.

"Thank you, Seven," Janeway says.

"You are welcome," Seven says, glancing at Tom. Tom knows that the Doctor has been giving Seven lessons on interacting with the crew. "How are you recuperating?" she asks him.

"I'm fine," Tom says. "Thanks."

Tom is fine. Sure, he got a pretty rude, high voltage shock from helm control from the shuttle he is about to give up on repairing, but the Doctor had fixed him right up and now he's okay. His joints are a little stiff, still, and he can't seemed to get the smell of burnt hair and skin out of his nostrils but he's okay. He's off work for today and tomorrow but he's bored in sickbay and bored in his quarters.

"You should get some rest," Janeway says when Seven leaves.

"I'm fine," he says.

"You almost died."

"But I didn't," he says.

"If Harry hadn't have been with you, you would have," Janeway says and she looks gravely serious. "I don't want you working on that project alone anymore."

"Guess you'll have to reprise your role as my helper," he grins.

"Stop joking," she orders. "I'm not losing you because of some stupid shuttle accident. Promise me you'll be more careful."

"I promise," he says. "I swear, Kathryn, I'll be careful."

"Good." She clears her throat and straightens the PADDs on her desk as she takes a moment to collect herself. "Now, we had an understanding. You could hang out in here if you let me work."

"Sorry," he says. He has a novel, some raw holocode. "I found a program of Tuscany in the computer."

"Thinking of going on vacation?" she asks.

"Not exactly. I thought I could expand your program."

"DaVinci?" she asks, her eyes lighting up.

"You seem to like it enough that it could be bigger." Tom looks at his work. "It's modern, the program, so it will take some time to modify it to renaissance times. I guess, in theory, we could make renaissance Europe, though it would have to span over both holodecks and…"

"Tom, you don't have to make an entire country to entertain me, though I appreciate the thought," she says, kindly. "I like my program how it is."

"Something smaller, then," he says, mostly to himself. She won't be able to persuade him, not to do it, and anyway, his focus now gives her time to work. There's something appealing about Tom being in the Ready Room with her – the company he gives her while she toils hours away. When she gets called to the bridge, which happens from time to time, she returns to her Ready Room to find him in the same place. She trusts him not to snoop, and when she comes in the door, he always glances up and smiles. Offers to resume his post or asks if he can help.

She can work with Chakotay, too, but it never feels quite the same. He always tries to fill the silence if it goes on too long – continually asks her if she's doing all right as if her silence is wrong, somehow.

Janeway knows without asking exactly why Tom's silence is different, more comfortable and natural. Janeway, as a child, spent hours in her father's office while he worked, careful not to make a sound. Tom would have done the same as a young boy – at least until their falling out. And now, the children of admirals sit together.

"It's dinner time," Tom says softly.

"Go on ahead," she says. They've been together hours. Unusual, but welcome.

"All right," he says. "Don't work too long."

She won't promise anything, of course. She'll work as long as she needs to, longer than what she should. And that's what she does until well into the night when Tom reappears at her door.

"Go to bed, Kate," he says. "When the computer told me you were still here…"

"I'm working," she says, blearily.

"It'll be there tomorrow," he promises.

"Easy for you to say," she says, gathering up things she wants to take back to her quarters with her. "You have tomorrow off."

"I'd gladly come on duty," he says, but she shakes her head.

"I bet your chest is still red where you got hit," she says, allowing him to walk her across the bridge. Tuvok is sitting her chair, but he stands as she passes. "Goodnight," she calls.

In the turbolift, Tom takes her work from her. She knows by offering to carry it, he is telling her that he'll walk her to her door.

"It was nice having you today," Janeway says before the turbolift doors open. "I spend hours in there by myself."

"I didn't distract from your work?" he asks.

"You made me take breaks," she says.

"It has long been my goal to teach you how to relax," Tom says.

"Well," she grins. "There's always parasailing."

She's trying to be glib – a little inside joke for them to share, but Tom colors so quickly and so thoroughly that Janeway knows she has made an error.

"What?" she says.

"It's late," he says, shoving the PADDs back into her hands. "Goodnight, Captain."

"Tom!" she calls, but he doesn't turn around, only rushes away.

oooo

"I think I did something stupid," Janeway says.

These are words that Chakotay doesn't generally hear from his Captain and he looks up, his face open and surprised.

"We'll get the roster updated," Chakotay says. "This security detail thing is just soldiers letting off steam. It isn't your fault."

"No, it isn't that," she says, tossing down the roster they've been pouring over. She rubs her brow, her eyes. They've been working in Chakotay's office. It's not conveniently off the bridge, but the change of scenery is nice. Tom hadn't shown up to spend time with her and the empty Ready Room had seemed uninviting instead of the haven it usually was.

"Then what is it?"

"I made a sort of… off-hand, off-color remark to Tom yesterday and he ran off like a scared little rabbit." she says.

"Tom Paris?" Chakotay asks. "Scared of a dirty joke?"

"Yes," she says.

"He's the source of half of the tastelessness on this ship," Chakotay says.

"I know you two aren't friends, exactly, but even you can see Tom isn't the same guy who came aboard with a chip on his shoulder," she says.

"Still, you know he's the kingpin of any gambling on this ship."

"Every ship has betting pools," she says. "At least Tom keeps it good, clean fun."

"What was the joke?" Chakotay asks, getting back on topic. This is an argument he won't win. She lets Paris get away with almost anything and she has since day one. Every time Chakotay had mentioned this fact to her, she'd waved it off saying something like, "Well, that's just Tom."

"It doesn't matter," Janeway murmurs, coloring slightly. "I'll figure out how to fix it."

"You've been spending a lot of time with him lately," Chakotay says. "Maybe you just need some space."

"Maybe."

"Let's make a night of it," Chakotay suggests. "Dinner. Wine. We could play a game."

Janeway smiles at him, a thin little curl of her lips that lasts only a second.

"Sounds nice," she says. "Your place or mine?"

"Mine," Chakotay says. He says it decisively, nodding once to punctuate himself.

oooo

Of course, with avoiding Janeway and Harry working nights for a while, Tom doesn't have a lot of friends left. He starts to get bored. He lets Tuvok teach him a Kal-Toh lesson but Tom doesn't have the heart for the game. It's not that he doesn't understand it, it isn't even that he's no good at it, it's just the sitting still and plotting fifteen, twenty moves in advance is not his idea of fun.

Sitting with Tuvok isn't bad though. Tuvok has a way of calming the space around him. It's like Tuvok reaches out to Tom and silences the mania that runs rampant through his veins. And for a while, it's enough, but then his leg starts shaking, and he can't see the game anymore.

"You've known the Captain a long time, right?" Tom asks, pulling out a rod too hastily. The board shifts into a disaster and at least nine rods fall to the table. Tuvok lifts his eyebrow in disapproval. He knows Tom isn't even trying anymore.

"Long is a relative term," Tuvok says. "But yes."

"For you," Tom says. "But you knew her when she was young."

"She is still young."

"Younger, I mean. Green."

Tuvok has this thing about precision of language and Tom can never live up to his standards.

"I knew her when she was a Lieutenant," Tuvok says. "I had just returned to Starfleet."

"What was she like?" Tom asks.

"She was the same," Tuvok says. "She has gained knowledge and experience, but her character has remained the same."

"That isn't a very satisfying answer, Tuvok," Tom says.

"What is it you would like to hear?" Tuvok ayss, and then picks up one of the fallen rods. He replaces it carefully, and the board regains some of its previous structure. Because he has improved things, he gets another turn. He picks up another rod and looks carefully at the board. Tom leans back. He won't have another turn for a while.

"I don't know," Tom says. He does know. He just needs to ask. "You knew her when she was engaged?"

"I met her fiancé once," Tuvok says.

"Mark."

Tuvok nods.

"What about the one before that?" Tom asks.

"Perhaps these would be questions better suited for her, Lieutenant," Tuvok says.

"No," Tom shakes his head. "I just want to know what she was like then. When she was… in love."

"Love," Tuvok says.

"I know, asking a Vulcan about love is an exercise in futility," he sighs.

"Captain Janeway has always hid her personal feelings well," Tuvok says. "Even then."

"So you're saying you don't know."

"I am saying that if she wants you to know how she feels, she will be the one to tell you," Tuvok says. He places another rod. The board changes and Tom can already make out the winning shape.

"What do you say we call this one in your favor," Tom says.

"Indeed." Tuvok looks straight at him. "Do I need to remind you of Starfleet's fraternization policies regarding a relationship between a superior and insubordinate officer?"

"No," Tom says. "Or you'd better give it to Chakotay too."

"I do not worry about the Commander," Tuvok says. "Captain Janeway only ignores regulations for an elite few."

"You think she ignores regs for me?" Tom asks, surprised.

"I think you are at the top of the list," Tuvok says. "What does Ensign Kim call it?"

Tom grins.

"Captain's pet."

Tuvok frowns.

oooo

Tom's off duty when he feels the ship begin to shudder. He'd set their flight plan this morning himself, and it is supposed to be a full day of warp flight through a clear patch of space – just flying straight. There isn't anything in their path that should cause this sensation.

He's in the middle of the ship, not by any ports, but he knows exactly what this feeling is. It's the feeling of Voyager moving through an atmosphere. He finds meets Harry in the lift – all senior bridge officers have been summoned by Janeway's grave voice.

"Does anyone besides you know how to land this thing?" Harry asks, looking worried.

"Maybe," Tom says. "But no one but me ever has."

They spill onto the bridge awkwardly as Voyager strains.

"Tom, take your station," Janeway barks. Ensign Sanders looks terrified. Tom knows why.

"The vector is off, pull up hard," Tom orders because he can't get there fast enough. They're going to land on their nose if they don't slow down.

Sander's hands shake as she tries to adjust the formula. This is when Tom wishes that manual controls were the procedure. Sure, the computer is far more precise but sometimes, Tom just needs a physical controller that he can jam up in a hurry. He shoves her out of the way and palms the button for manual control. The shaking gets worse but at least he doesn't have to worry about crashing and doing math anymore.

"What the hell happened?" he yells over the blaring klaxons.

No one responds to him. They aren't even in gray alert and they're barreling toward the surface. It's barely a planet – it's hardly above a moon and if they crash and breech the hull, there's a pretty good chance they'll die. The atmosphere is toxic.

And then, she's right at his side.

"Easy Tom," she says, managing to speak softly and stay above the din. "Set her down at the base of that cliff – it'll give us some protection."

"Put your hand here," Tom says, grabbing her fingers and jamming them against the controls. "Keep her balance. Make sure the red line stays in parameters. Don't move your finger. Good," he breathes. "Extending landing struts."

"We're coming in too fast," Chakotay yells.

"No we're not," Tom says, but he speaks only to Janeway who is working intently to keep the ship level. "It'll be bumpy, but we'll land."

And they do. They land hard. Tom feels his teeth slam together and jar into his skull. Janeway's short hair is wild and fly-away and her lip is bleeding slightly. Everyone is panting hard.

"What happened?" he asks.

"We lost warp in a cascade failure that spun us into the atmosphere of the planetoid," she says, pushing her hair out of her eyes.

"What collapsed the bubble?" he asks. She throws up her hands and walks away from him.

"Reports," she barks. "I want damages, casualties, and for God's sake, someone get B'Elanna to tell me what the hell happened down there!"

oooo

Tom has to turn his whole head to look at Joe Carey with the helmet on, but he does so because Joe needs to see the expression on his face.

"No wonder it won't retract," Joe says. "You buried us in solid rock!"

"I did?" Tom says, his voice echoing rather oddly because of the environmental suit. "I saved our asses."

"So we could start a nice life on this lovely little planet?" Joe asks. "No thanks."

The landing struts are almost completely beneath the surface. And Tom knows once they dig their way out of this mess, the struts themselves will be badly mangled. They're going to be here for a while. Or they'll have to go on without them, knowing that Voyager lacks the ability to properly land.

"We need a jack," Tom says.

"Did you check the boot?" Joe grins.

"All right, gentlemen." Janeway's voice gets filtered in through the comm system in their suits. Clearly she's been listening. "Come on home."

"Aye," Joe says.

Janeway is in the decompression outer chamber when they come in, waiting with her arms crossed.

"It's bad," Joe says. "Real bad, Ma'am."

"Is there damage besides the struts?" she asks.

"Hard to say at this point," Tom says, starting to pull the suit off. "It's likely there's damage to the bottom of the ship – at least the outer hull and Harry reported that Mortimer's station still hasn't gotten power back, so probably the relays are either crushed or fused."

"All right," she says, holding up her hand. "What's it going to take to get her back in the air?"

"Cutting us free of the rock," Joe says. "That's step one."

"Organize engineering teams, Mr. Carey," Janeway orders. Joe nods and walks past them.

"I know it looks bad," Tom says, shoving the suit back in the locker next to Joe's. "But no one died."

"My ship is stranded, B'Elanna still can't tell me what caused the cascade failure and our feet are literally stuck in the ground," she says. "This is turning out to be a pretty bad day, and I have a lot of bad days."

"We're in a dead area of space," Tom says. "We're safe here, at least."

"Until we run out of supplies," she mutters.

"Hey, I need some optimism here," he demands. "You're bringing down my morale."

"Please," she says. "Please be the one person who supports me instead of the other way around."

He drapes his arm over her small shoulders and guides her back into the main corridor of the deck.

"We're going to be okay, Kate," he assures her. She slumps into his body slightly. "We'll dig the old girl out and get her up in the air once more."

"Hey," she says, stopping him with a hand to his chest. "Tom, I'm sorry about the other day."

They haven't talked about it and Tom had thought maybe he could go on like nothing had happened, but apparently Janeway isn't taking the same route.

"Don't worry about it," he says.

"No, I made you uncomfortable and I'm sorry." She gives a small, very lopsided smile. "I really treasure your friendship but you need to let me know when you need me to be your Captain first."

Tom doesn't know how to explain to her that he never wants her to be the Captain first without it sounding like a criticism of her very captaincy.

"Torres to Janeway."

Janeway glances down to tap her badge.

"Go ahead, Lieutenant," she says.

"Please report to Engineering."

"On my way," Janeway says. She squeezes his arm. "Duty calls."

"Torres to Paris."

Tom grinned. "Guess it calls me, too." He tapped his badge. "Let me guess, report to Engineering?"

"Are you standing next to the Captain or something?" B'Elanna asks, sounding distracted.

"I just have good intuition," he says. Janeway rolls her eyes and gives him a good shove toward the turbolift. When they arrive in Engineering, Seven is there too, and the place looks wrecked. B'Elanna is pretty good about keeping things both functioning and neat, but right now Engineering is neither. Panels are exposed, their covers on the floor. There are patches of carpet that have been singed - there are open engineering kits everywhere, tools left unattended and everyone looks tired and overworked.

And as B'Elanna starts to explain what went wrong, Tom can see Janeway looking more and more concerned.

"This is what's coming," B'Elanna says finally, somewhat gravely. "Parts that aren't reg, jury-rigged to work, no maintenance, and we don't need maintenance, Captain, we need an overhaul. There's no relief in sight either, no fresh minds, just us trying to make it work and I..."

Janeway holds up her hand, a silent plea for B'Elanna to stop.

"I understand," Janeway says. "I know that you're doing the best you can. Work with Seven to find someway to get us warp back. Mr. Paris can work on impulse from the bridge."

In the turbolift, she runs her hands through her hair and then tries to tuck in behind her ears. She hadn't told him she was going to cut it off, had just shown up on the bridge one morning surprising everyone. Tom's fantasy of burying his hands in her hair took a blow, but the cut suited her at least. Her hair seemed lighter and fuller without the weight of length and it had to be easier to keep up. He could see, though, that she still wasn't used to it, not used to the hair having freedom to move instead of being pinned into order all the time.

"This is it," she says. It sounds very dramatic.

"What?" he asks.

"This is our decline," she says. "The point where we must decide if we want to keep fighting this hard or..."

"Come on," he says. "We're having a bad day, I'll give you that much but we're getting home. We're not giving up today, got it?"

"I'm sorry," she murmurs. "I just woke up with this heavy feeling and I can't seem to shake it."

He feels bold, maybe because she's being so honest with him. He takes her face in his hands, cradling her jaw and feeling her hair move against his finger tips. She looks him at him, her eyes blue and bright.

"Don't worry so much," he says. He leans in and kisses her forehead.

He does this, just as the turbolift doors open to the bridge. Chakotay turns his head and his mouth falls open and Tom can see that almost everyone on the bridge sees them step apart guiltily. Tom tries to diffuse the situation immediately with a joke.

"Guess I timed that poorly," he says with a strained smile. Janeway looks at him with daggers and this expression that says, 'What are you doing?'

"Report," she barks. Tom decides the best thing he can do is get to work, so he moves to the engineering station to get to work on the impulse engines. Chakotay comes over with a hard look.

"My office," he says. "1800."

"Yes, sir," Tom says.

oooo

Chakotay gives him the lecture on fraternization that Tuvok had threatened and Tom sits through it, biting his tongue. It isn't Tom's intention to go against regs, to flaunt his breaking of the rules, to be a bad officer for the sake of causing mischief, but this is Voyager. They're not patrolling the DMZ or going out on diplomatic missions, or on a scientific expedition. They're alone, they're lost. What are they supposed to do, exactly?

"I understand, sir," Tom says. "Permission to speak freely?"

Chakotay wants to say no, but doesn't.

"Fine."

"It's just... Captain Janeway wants Voyager to be a community as well as a functioning starship and if that's going to work, she needs to be a part of the community, not outside of it," Tom says.

"I agree," Chakotay says. "But there is a time and a place, Paris."

"Look, I know that was unfortunate and I am sorry. I'm sorry you saw it, I'm sorry it hurt your feelings."

"This isn't about me," Chakotay says.

"Okay," Tom relents quickly. "But we're just friends. Captain Janeway and I are friends and she was having - is having - a really shitty day. I was trying to make her feel better."

"I get it," Chakotay says. "I do. Just don't be an idiot about it. The last thing we need is everyone distracted from this crisis by gossip."

"Yes, sir," Tom says.

He goes back to the bridge even though technically he's off duty. There's still plenty of work to be done and everyone will be working overtime until the ship is in better shape. And when there is no more he can do from the bridge, he goes back to the bowels of the ship and suits up, intending to help with the manual labor. Generally, bridge officers - senior officers wouldn't pull that kind of duty but on Voayger, he doesn't mind lending a hand. He knows his status is borrowed, knows that if they ever do get back to the Delta Quadrant, he will have his rocky past still to face.

He's gone through half a quarter of the oxygen in his tank, when Janeway's voice gets filtered into his helmet.

"What are you doing?" she asks. She's cut directly into the comm system, no hails needed.

"I think the term is 'getting out and pushing,'" he says.

"Come in," she says. "Get some rest."

"The rest of the people out here aren't getting rest," he says.

"The rest of the people out there aren't pulling a triple shift," she says. "I'm not asking, Lieutenant. Call it a day."

"Aye, Captain," he says. He gets the attention of Carey who is still overseeing everything and points to the ship. Carey nods and waves. They are making progress, but cutting through takes time and has to be done diligently, carefully. And when his head hits his pillow, he realizes he is tired and he sleeps all the way through the night.

oooo

Friendships with women are hard. This is a conclusion that Tom draws often, but still, with every woman it feels like he must learn it anew. He understands it at an intellectual level - getting closer to a woman is to create a certain level of intimacy and with intimacy comes, at least for men, sex. With Kathryn, Tom is in this limbo between friend, commanding officer, and something more. It's hard to navigate; the waters are treacherous and deep.

Tom enters the mess hall at the height of lunch. Most of the tables are filled but he does see an empty chair at one table - the table holding Tuvok, Chakotay, and Janeway. He knows the crew would not find it strange if he were the one to occupy that fourth chair, but now it feels as if too much time has passed. He is too subordinate to sit with them, too involved with the people already there. They are not the four from the longest away mission of his life, they are simply officers aboard the starship Voyager. Tom chooses, instead, to sit with Megan Delaney. She smiles at him with a raised eyebrow.

"You used to perpetuate the gossip on this ship without becoming a part of it," she says.

"Hello to you, too." He sets his tray down and sits.

"I'm just saying, everyone knows. Thought I'd bring up the elephant in the room right away," she says.

"And what, exactly, does everyone know, Delaney?" he asks. Megan leans in, a piece of her hair falling away from her forehead.

"That you want her," Megan says.

It would be one thing if the gossip community was most often wrong. If the mill was saying that Tom was already sleeping with Janeway, that it was tawdry, outlandish, but in this case, they are not wrong. Tom does want her, but he doesn't have her. He probably never will.

"Maybe everyone should just focus on their duties, for once," Tom says, scowling. Megan laughs delightedly. She really is the evil twin.

"We all love the Captain," Megan says, glancing over to where Janeway was sitting. "Some of us just deal with it better."

"How are things in Stellar Cartography these days?" Tom asks, desperate to change the subject away from Janeway, whether serious or teasing.

"Jen and I are down to three shifts a week and never at the same time," Megan says, clearly displeased. Astrometrics was putting them out of business. "Jen spends most her time backlogging reports and I'm down in data storage."

"The change of scenery must be nice," he says.

"I didn't go to four years at the Academy and three more to specialize in star charting to be a librarian," she says bitterly. Tom regrets choosing Megan as a lunch partner and is relieved when she is gone. Tom is just contemplating busing his tray when Janeway appears at his side.

"Walk me to the bridge?" she asks.

"Do you think that's wise?" They haven't discussed his snafu. She seemed upset at the time, but not now.

"I'm pretty sure you can't tell the Captain no, so up and at 'em, Lieutenant." In the corridor, she brings it up. "Boy," she says. "Did you piss off my XO or what?"

"Captain, I..."

"He's mad at me too, if it's any consolation," she says.

"Is he mad at the situation or mad because I'm the one in it, not him?" Tom asks.

"You have to understand, Chakotay carries a lot of anger," Janeway says. "His calm demeanor is a facade."

"I know," Tom says. "I was on his Maquis ship, remember?"

"You do play the fence," she says. It stings a little.

"I may not be the best Starfleet had to offer, but I'm a Janeway man through and through," he promises. "You order me off a cliff, and I'll take the edge at a run."

"I know," she says. "I'm not mad at you, Tom."

"Good," he says, calling for the lift.

"Just another day as captain on this ship," she grins. She's in a terribly good mood - it's peculiar. In the lift, she turns to him, her arms crossed. "We should probably cool it for a while, thought."

Ah, he thinks. The other shoe.

oooo

It's a couple weeks later that he is woken up in the middle of the night cycle by repeated chiming at his door. He ignores it, but then the door opens anyway. Not many people have that kind of authorization, so he hurries out of bed just in time to see Janeway come in, her uniform rumpled, her face lined in worry.

"What's wrong?" he asks.

"This isn't working for me," she says.

"What isn't?" he asks, confused. He searches his brain for some project he'd forgotten, something he didn't know. Voyager is back in space, the landing struts repaired, the ship running at about 78% efficiency - good not great, all things considered. So, what is it?

"This cooling our heels," she says, sitting on his sofa. "I can't sleep at night. I feel all stopped up inside when I don't tell you things."

He can't help but feel instantly elated. She leans back and closes her eyes. But he must check his enthusiasm when he takes a closer look.

"Why are you sweating?" he asks. It isn't hot, if anything, he keeps his quarters rather cool.

"I'm not," she says, dragging her sleeve across her brow. He finds a tricorder and scans her. She has a fever.

"And you say you aren't sleeping?" he asks.

"I'm trying to open up to you here."

"Let's be open in sickbay," he insists.

"I'm fine."

"Look, you made me be a medic, now you have to face the consequences," he says. "Come on, Kathryn. I'm tired and I don't want to drag you."

"As if you could," she says, looking at him with a steely gaze.

"Is that a challenge?" he asks. She raises her chin slightly, accepting. "Are you sure?" He has to give her one last out.

"I'm. Fine."

"Okay," he says, and shrugs.

It's ridiculously easy to pick her up and put her over his shoulder. He surprises her and in doing so, gains a few moments of her being still. He uses those moments to move toward the door. She isn't heavy - she has the weight of a grown woman, but she isn't tall and she's slim. It doesn't require much effort to lift her. He can feel the slight dip of her waist, hear the breath expel from her lungs as her stomach hits his shoulder. She's warm, even through the fabric that separates them.

Then she snaps out of it and starts to struggle.

"Put me down!" she demands, squirming. She hits his back with her fists, kicks her feet. The longer he holds her, the harder she fights until she is truly trying to get free.

"I warned you," he says, navigating through the door, careful not to bump her head. She simply isn't strong enough to get out of the hold.

"Security!" she calls, but she his bluffing. She didn't activate the comm system first and he knows it.

"This is embarrassing for both of us," he agrees. Perhaps even more for him. After all, he is in his night clothes - blue cotton shorts and a t-shirt. He hadn't even put on a robe.

"I'm serious."

"Me too," he says. She stops for a moment and changes her tactics. He feels her hands grab both of his butt cheeks and in his surprise, he lets her fall. She doesn't land gracefully. She's on her feet for a moment but then she stumbles back and lands on her butt on the floor in front of him. He stares down at her in surprise and she offers him a sly look in return. Then her expression falters.

"I don't feel well," she admits. He offers his hand to help her up.

"Let's go," he says. In sickbay, all is quiet. The Doctor is deactivated and neither call for his program to come online. Tom finds a medical tricorder; Janeway hops up on a bed. He scans her, his brow furrowed. "Fever," he confirms. "Some fluid gathering in your lungs."

"What is it?" she asks. He shrugs.

"Cold? A virus, probably." He loads a hypospray. "This will give you some relief while I process your blood work."

She allows him to administer the spray knowing full well that "some relief" is a euphemism for putting her to sleep.

The Doctor activates automatically at 0500. Tom is still in sickbay, still in his pajamas, still staring intently at Janeway's file on the screen at the Doctor's desk.

"What are you doing and what are you wearing?" the Doctor asks.

"The Captain's medical records," Tom murmurs. "I'm no medical expert, but doesn't this much exhaustion and malnourishment often lead to nervous breakdowns?"

"The Captain chooses not to heed my advice on those matters," the Doctor says, coming to look over his shoulder. "Why is she here now, Lieutenant?"

"She didn't feel well," he says. "A thought a solid night of sleep couldn't hurt her."

"Go get dressed. I'll take a look at her. You're on duty here in an hour anyway. She'll be here when you get back." The Doctor's tone implies an order, so Tom reluctantly goes.

oooo

Janeway wakes up and feels considerably better. The pressure in her chest has eased and when she pushes herself up onto her elbows, she isn't even dizzy. Someone has removed her uniform and put into a blue medical gown.

"You're awake," the Doctor says, approaching her.

"I feel better," she says. "What was wrong?"

"The body has limits," the Doctor says, vaguely.

"Was I making myself sick?" she asks.

"What a very complex question," he says. She frowns. "The virus you picked up was real, if not extremely menacing. But a lack of sleep, no proper meals, and too much stress will give even the most innocuous virus a stronghold."

"Well, you fixed me," she says, swinging her legs around. Almost every conversation she has with the EMH devolves into a lecture. The only thing that changes is who is doing the lecturing.

"Mr. Paris fixed you," the Doctor corrects. Janeway freezes - she had seen Tom, hadn't she? Busted into his quarters and announced that she missed him or something of that ilk.

"Where is Lieutenant Paris?" Janeway asks in what she hopes is a dignified manner.

"On the bridge, I imagine," the Doctor says, handing her a folded up uniform - her own, though it had been cleaned. The Doctor knows by now that can't keep her in sickbay, nor will she willingly retire to her quarters. She doesn't even bother with the privacy screen, just pulls off the gown and starts to dress. She has nothing he hasn't already seen and it seems silly to be embarrassed in front of a doctor or a hologram, let alone, both. "If you feel worse..."

"I'll let you know," she says. "Or Tom."

He sniffs.

"That was uncalled for," he says. He always manages to look so wounded. She touches his arm and then hunts around for her boots.

On the bridge, she comes in quietly. She wants a systems report, but first, she wants to put the fear of God back into Tom Paris for his little stunt.

"Lieutenant Paris," she says, startling him, because his shoulders jump. "My ready room, now."

"Yes, Ma'am," he says, standing. She hears Harry's sharp intake of breath behind her and has to make herself not smile. No one respects her authority like Harry Kim and she loves him for it.

In the ready room, Tom seems to know that he's not actually in trouble. He's at attention, but not exactly rigid and he looks right at her.

"You left me in sickbay all night and half the day," she accuses.

"Yes, Ma'am," he says.

"Because I had a cold," she says.

"No, Ma'am," he says. She cocks an eyebrow. "Because you needed to sleep."

"Do you feel that you're in any position to question me, right now?" she asks.

"I feel that it is the job of every crew member to support their captain," he says. "Ma'am. And that's you."

"Not just me," she says. "All of us. We take care of each other."

"Yes, Ma'am," he says.

She crosses her arms and perches on her desk. "I never should have come to your quarters last night, Tom. You're not my therapist. You're not responsible for my feelings."

"Permission to speak freely?" he asks. She hasn't put him at ease, not officially anyway even if the use of his first name was a mild invitation to informality. She waves her hand slightly to indicate yes. "You don't need a therapist. You just need a friend."

She rolls her eyes.

"You cut me out because you thought we needed to cool it and now you feel like crap. If that doesn't convince you that you need a friend, then I'm not sure what will."

"Tom," she sighs, rubbing her forehead. "We can have this same conversation for the next fifty years, but it simply doesn't change anything."

"Okay," he says, tossing his hands into the air. "I give up."

"What?" she asks.

"You make yourself sick, you be alone, you be happy, you be scared, or whatever. You do whatever you want, Kathryn. I'm out. I'm not going to worry about it. I'm not going to lose sleep. I can't make you be happy so why should I keep trying?" he says, sounding supremely frustrated.

"I don't expect you... Tom, I didn't mean..."

"Permission to return to duty, Captain?" he says.

"Granted," she says, softly. He turns on his heel and walks back onto the bridge. The door hisses closed behind him and then she is alone.

She swallows. Once, twice, takes a shaky breath.

oooo

Tom's bedroom is easily the most detailed part of the program. The common spaces are good, but Tom's bedroom in the cabin is exquisite. She can run her finger along the glass panel on top of the bureau and there is dust. Outside his window, there is a spiderweb up in the corner. The mirror is slightly tilted on its nail, the bed rumpled, the light bulb in the closet burnt out. He'd explained a light bulb to her one night, after Chakotay and Tuvok had fallen asleep. He'd taken the bottom off and let her touch lightly the filament there. She'd understood the basics of electricity, of course, but he made it come alive somehow, made it seem exciting. He made the act of flipping a switch seem like a gift.

The room, now, is cold. It's the side of the cabin that the sun never fully hit because of the trees, so his room was always on the cold side. Through the window, she can see patches of snow on the ground and the sky is cloudy and gray. She kicks off her boots and pulls back the comforter. She shrugs out of the jacket, pulls off the turtle neck, fumbles for a moment with the fastener to the pants. In her tank top, and her fleet issue underwear, she crawls into the bed.

She shouldn't be tired, but she is. She'd slept all that time, but this is the sort of tired that goes bone deep, the kind that carries a very real, very heavy weight. She sinks down into the mattress and she swears that the pillow actually smells like Tom.

Then she falls asleep.

"Captain."

The voice pulls at her from a seemingly great distance.

"Captain Janeway, do you hear me?"

She'd know that voice anywhere, but Tuvok knows better than to use her formal title on this planet. The last thing they need is to contaminate the timeline, to leave a real record for someone to find.

"It's it six already?" she mumbles, rubbing her face. She doesn't have to be to work until eight, but it takes time for the water in the shower to heat up, and there's breakfast to worry about and if it snowed in the night, they'll have to scrape the car and let the engine warm up.

"No."

"I should just call in sick," she chuckles. She opens her eyes to see him sitting on the other bed. He's wearing his Starfleet uniform, looking at her with a quizzical brow.

"Do you know where you are, Captain?" he asks. She sobers a little, feels very awake in a rush.

"Voyager," she says.

"Yes," he says. "The Doctor sent me to find you. You activated the security lock on the holodeck. Why?"

She sits up and runs her hand through her hair. She realizes just in time that she shouldn't get out of the bed. "I'm fine."

"Did you not hear our hails?" he asks.

"Tuvok, can I have a minute to get dressed please?"

"Of course," he says and makes his way down the hallway. She dresses, makes sure that she's presentable. There's not much to be done about her hair - she wishes she hadn't cut it. In the living room, Tom looks at the large pinecone on the mantle. "Remarkable."

"Tuvok, did the Doctor send you?"

"The Doctor requested Lieutenant Paris come, but he asked me," Tuvok says. "He does not hold the clearance to override your security lock."

"Right," she says. "Clearance."

Tuvok taps his badge. "Tuvok to the Doctor. We're on our way to sickbay."

"Understood," comes the Doctor's tinny reply. She doesn't even have it in her to argue. Sleeping through hails is worrisome, especially since she's a fairly light sleeper as well as someone who has never needed much sleep to get by.

"Perhaps," Tuvok says, ushering her through the doors into the corridor. "Commander Chakotay can rearrange the duty roster to give you a vacation."

"We'll see," she murmurs. Tuvok knows her well enough that she means no, but also knows her well enough to be surprised that she hadn't just said no.

Tom isn't in sickbay when she gets there, nor is he on the bridge later, when she takes her station. He's not in the mess hall, on the holodeck, or anywhere she goes. She doesn't see him until the next morning, in fact, when he's eating breakfast with Harry. Harry is getting off the night shift and Tom is just coming on. She hesitates for a moment when she sees him, but he doesn't look up at her and then she feels stupid, so she makes herself go to the counter.

"Good morning, Captain!" Neelix says. "Are you feeling any better?" Word travels fast.

"I feel just fine," she assures him. "May I have some coffee?"

"Of course," Neelix says cheerfully. But instead of simply handing her the mug, he sets it in the round groove in a tray also filled with food and hands her the whole contraption. "Best way to start the day is with a hot meal."

"Neelix, I really don't need all this," she insists.

"Well, just eat what you can," he says. "I'll even sit with you if you'd like."

"Are you saying you're going to watch me until I eat this?" she asks.

"Well, of course I can't force you to eat it," Neelix says. "The Doctor was very clear on that."

"The Doctor," she says.

"Oh," Neelix says, clearly trying to figure out how to backpedal. "Well, the Doctor has of course briefed me on the diverse nutritional needs of the human species and since you, yourself, are human..."

"Save it," she says. "I'll eat it, I'll eat it."

She sits alone, her back to Tom and Harry and gives her self a moment to smell her coffee, take a sip and feel the warmth travel down.

Regulations on niceties aren't exactly clear. When the captain enters, say, the bridge, a formal announcement is required. Most of the time, if it is at the start of her shift, Tuvok will announce "Captain on the Bridge!" and then not again no matter how often she comes and goes. In a place like the mess hall, however, rules about acknowledging the captain become somewhat open to interpretation. For an officer like Harry Kim, she will almost always get something. A 'good morning', a nod, even a smile. So when Harry and Tom walk by her, she looks up at them. Harry nods at her and looks away quickly, as if pained. Tom does nothing. He just walks right by like he doesn't see her.

She fumes, pushing her tray away from her body. The day Tom Paris turns Harry against her is the day she assigns him 70 years of cleaning the hull. He'll still be cleaning it when its docked in Jupiter Station. He'll still be cleaning it when Voyager gets decommissioned and dismantled. He'll clean the damn pieces!

"Captain?"

She looks up to see Chakotay.

"You look like you're about to murder someone."

"I'm fine," she says, her teeth grinding.

"You ready to go to the bridge?" he asks. "I thought we could walk together."

His face is open and earnest. Chakotay is kind and handsome and cares for her. Hell, he's in love with her; he has told her so over and over again. Maybe it's enough, or it should be, his love for her. She loves him too, though not in the same way that he has professed for her, but with time and effort, with some careful cultivation, maybe should could feel what he feels.

"Yes," she says. "Let's go." He smiles and the grin gets wider when she loops her arm through his. "You want to have dinner tonight?"

"With you? Of course," he says.

"Good. I feel like we haven't spent enough time together lately," she says.

"I'll bring the report on the intranet restructuring for Astrometrics you wanted to go over," he offers.

"No," she says. "No work."

He looks so pleased she thinks he may burst.

oooo

Seven is complaining to her about all of humanity again. It's fine, she'd rather Seven vent her frustrations to the captain instead of anyone else, but Janeway has been listening, rather patiently she thinks, for over ten minutes.

"What, specifically, is troubling you today?" she says.

"Social rituals are complex," Seven says. "Much of it is unspoken. How am I to understand why something is occurring if asking about it causes other individuals discomfort?"

Janeway leans back slightly in her chair. An easy fix.

"You know you can ask me anything."

"The end of romantic relationships should create more harmony but instead they seem to breed only discord," Seven says. "If two partners cannot get along, why should separating make them act even more unsatisfied?"

"Well, it's not that simple," Janeway says. "You aren't taking into account the emotions of the people involved. People don't split up to create harmony, they break-up because they no longer make a compatible partnership. And not being compatible with someone doesn't necessarily mean those people do not still love one another and breaking up love for something practical like compatibility can be a very painful experience."

"Pain causes humans to act irrationally," Seven says.

"Not just humans," Janeway says. "Seven, was someone's behavior toward you making you uncomfortable?" Janeway hasn't heard of any break-ups, but that doesn't mean one hasn't happened. She is often the last to hear that kind of gossip.

"Lieutenant Paris is generally," she pauses, searching for an appropriate word. "An upbeat individual, but during my scheduled maintenance in sickbay, he seemed uneasy, distracted, and unfocused."

"Did he hurt you?"

"No," Seven says. "The Doctor simply stepped in."

She'll have to speak to him about the incident - or better yet, have Chakotay do it. But first, this misunderstanding Seven is having.

"Why do you think Mr. Paris's mood has anything to do with a romantic relationship?" she asks with a smirk. Perhaps B'Elanna had been ranting about Tom in Engineering - she'd been hard on the pilot ever since he'd declined to pursue a relationship with he'd finally returned to Voyager. Or maybe Seven just can't interpret unspoken social cues.

Seven is looking confused again.

"I was under the impression the relationship that had ended was between Lieutenant Paris and yourself."

The smile disappears from Janeway's face.

"Seven," she finally manages. "It's inappropriate for me to have a romantic relationship with any member of my crew." Seven nods once but looks unconvinced. "Try not to confuse rumors and gossip with fact. That'll be all, Seven. Dismissed."

Seven leaves because it is in her nature to follow orders but Janeway knows that she pulled rank to end the conversation. What she couldn't explain to Seven is that one doesn't have to be in a romantic relationship to get dumped.

oooo

Chakotay doesn't find Janeway's anecdote very amusing. She has to tell him about her conversation with Seven so Chakotay can speak with Tom about his behavior in sickbay, but she tries to make the exchange sound as humorous as possible. But the deeper she gets into the tale, the more grim he looks. Finally she stops speaking, clears her throat which is suddenly quite dry, and takes a sip of her wine. 2238 Merlot - something Tom had programmed into the database. It's good and they all drink it often.

"For the record," Chakotay starts out. This won't be good. "I think if you were in this situation with anyone else, you wouldn't be laughing."

"I'm not in any situation," she says, setting her glass down. "Seven simply misunderstood what she saw."

"Did she?" he asks. "Everyone knows you and Paris are in the middle of some little spat but you won't talk about it and he just sulks around. It isn't a great leap of faith to call it a lover's quarrel."

"You know it isn't!"

"Well," he says, and then nothing else.

"I think we're a all little different because of our experience," she says. "Spending time in the past was traumatic."

"It's been a year," he says. "We can't keep blaming stuff on that forever."

"You don't think we've changed?" she presses. She feels different. It was like, for a little while she didn't have to be the captain, didn't have to be in charge and now that heady feeling of freedom is in her and she can't shake it.

"People change, Kathryn," he says. "But you can't change and still go around like everything is exactly the same. That's when people start to ask questions."

"What is it that you'd like me to do, then?" she asks, exasperation creeping into her tone.

"Tell me the truth!" he says. "Tell me about Tom Paris, Kathryn. You at least owe me that much."

"I don't owe you anything like that," she says, exasperation turning quickly to anger. "We made the best of a bad situation. On New Earth and in California, but I told you over and over what I was willing to give. I know you think you're in love with me-"

"I think?"

"But," she continued, "you and I aren't going down that road so just drop it."

"Because you're half way down that road with Paris!" Chakotay says standing. "And you're rubbing my nose in it."

"Bullshit," she snaps. "Tom Paris can be my friend without pining for me which is more than I can say for you."

Chakotay laughs. "Is that what you think?"

"Yes."

"Well, you're wrong," Chakotay says. "And apparently blind."

"Sit down, Commander, we aren't through." He follows the order, at least.

"This isn't about my behavior or his," Chakotay says, sounding a little calmer. "It's about yours."

"Mine," she says. "Why don't you enlighten me?"

"Falling asleep in the holodeck? Running yourself ragged with all nighters? Fixing shuttles with Paris? It's like you're hiding from something or trying to outrun it."

When he stands up again, she doesn't stop him. This fight has ruined their dinner already, why force him to stay?

Did he have a point? Instinctively, she pushed the thought away - of course he was wrong, and out of line, but she took a few deep breaths and drained her glass of wine and then tried again. Was he right? Was she avoiding something - herself and her feelings? Tom had told her just as much, hadn't he? That she was trying to live life exactly as she always had. That's why he'd wiped his hands of her.

Her mother had taught her that the first step to righting any situation was to apologize. So, that's what she would do. Chakotay would need some time to cool off, the night at least, but Tom deserved to hear from her now.

She walks to his quarters with a sense of growing purpose. She will apologize, will ask for forgiveness and things can be right between them.

"Captain?" Tom asks, tightening the sash of his tattered blue robe.

"May I come in?" she asks. He steps aside. His quarters are messier than usual - clothes and dishes everywhere.

"Wasn't expecting company," he says. "What's up?"

"What's up." She chuckles at his slang. She has missed him. "I guess what is up is that I wanted to tell you that you were right and I was wrong and I'm sorry I took your friendship for granted."

"Oh, is that all?" he says with a small smile.

"Also, that I miss you." She nods. "That's it."

"What brought this on?" he asks.

"I just... I had this very odd conversation with Seven," she says.

"Does this have something to do with the new one Chakotay just ripped me?" Tom asks. "Because I'm sorry about that. I never meant to upset her."

"Chakotay was here?"

"You just missed him," Tom says. "He seemed, actually, more loathing of me than usual."

"We had a fight."

"It's good to know that anger wasn't about me," Tom jokes. Janeway hesitates.

"Well..."

"You were fighting about me?"

"We were fighting about me," she assures him. "He just can't seem to separate the two." Tom looks confused so she tells him about the concern Seven had raised with her and how Chakotay had reacted to it, editing slightly as she went.

"You know what's weird?" Tom asks after she's done speaking.

"What?"

"Seven was right. I did break up with you and I am miserable because of it," Tom says. "I told you I didn't want to be friends anymore. Why did you let me do that?"

"It was your right," she says, sadly.

"Is it too late to take it back?" he asks.

"I don't know," she says, honestly. "I hope not."

"I heard about the holodeck," he admits.

"I'm fine now," she says. "I was just tired."

"Tuvok told me what program. Where you were," Tom says.

"Tuvok told on me? How unlike him," she says.

"He's just worried about you," Tom says. "In his own special way."

"Well," she says. "I thought that maybe if I went to your program, I could remember how it felt to be there. You know, when it was just you and me."

"Kate, you cried every day," he reminds her, slipping into using her nickname from that time.

"And you worked your ass off to cheer me up," she says.

"Any time you feel the need to sleep in my bed, you're welcome," he offers. He means the program, of course, but realizes what he just said and his eyes go wide. "Sorry."

"Don't be," she grins. "It's a tempting offer. I can't remember the last time I shared a bed with someone. With a man." She says this wistfully.

"Cuddling is a human necessity," Tom says. They are going down a dangerous path, but when she doesn't say anything, Tom takes it as permission to barrel on. "It's late now. We could try and catch you up."

"Tom," she says, a reluctant, though not warning tone in her voice.

"Why did you come here tonight?" he asks.

"To apologize."

"You could have apologized in the morning, in your Ready Room," he says. "But you rushed over."

"Well."

"What did you and Chakotay fight about, exactly?" he presses. She's silent. "It was me."

"Yes," she says.

"It was you and me," he says.

"Yes."

"Chakotay is in love with you but you aren't in love with him," Tom says.

"Yes."

"You're in love with me," Tom says.

"I-" She falters. "I don't know!" She hides her face in her hands.

"Well," he says, exhaling slowly. "That's not no."