Chapter 12 – Pandora's Box

The prosecution, as expected, easily anticipated the accused's legal arguments. But rather than set out a detailed submission of her own, counsel wrapped up quickly and smugly, expecting the bulk of her case to be made in Judge McPhee's instructions to the jury.

The judge had been rather easy to read, after all.

Stan McFaddyen's submission by contrast pulled out all the legal stops, including a few the prosecution had missed or ignored: The Prime Directive had no application because the K'rikians had initiated contac;, the Lumen's warp capability was a red herring because of their inherent nature; and the assistance rendered had come at the request of one party to the conflict and with the consent of the other.

Technology was not handed over and remained under Starfleet control. Tom twitched a little at that one, 'control' being a relative term, but he had allowed Fincher to argue this himself, and knew that his lawyer was simply covering all the bases.

That was, after all, what he was paid to do.

The centrepiece was, of course, the 'morality' argument – that a law so obviously wrong should not be allowed to stand. McFaddyen referred the jury to his clients' statements on these matters, which, as he noted, made the case rather more eloquently than he could as a mere lawyer. Images from the various away teams' transmissions punctuated the submission, based on the old lawyer's adage that one should never underestimate the power of the holographic image.

Then McFaddyen went after Judge McPhee, with guns blazing. Listed all the instances of the investigating judge's evident bias during the hearing, the attacks on his clients' integrity and professionalism, the assumptions, the speculation on evidence that negated objective assessment. The media lapped it up. Clearly, McFaddyen was expecting to lose, and setting up avenues for appeal.

And of course, the tactic backfired spectacularly.

In the wake of McFaddyen's verbal assault, Judge McPhee's instructions to the jury were delivered with considerable venom. He took judicial notice of the fact that neither the Lumen nor the K'rikians were members of the Federation. The issue of warp capability, he stated, was at play even if only one of the species was beneath that state of development. Hence, the jury were instructed to ignore Mr. McFaddyen's arguments about the Lumen.

He further instructed that consent was not an issue in matters relating to the Prime Directive, and must be disregarded. How many times after all had species asked, no pleaded, to the Federation for assistance and intervention, and been denied? Was Lieutenant McFaddyen so ignorant, that he was not aware of the long list of existing precedents and shining examples of forbearance in this regard?

Two of the commissioners shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

As for the final argument put forward by the defense, McPhee counseled the jury to ignore it entirely. If an exception to the Prime Directive were to be made on the basis of egregious circumstances, as suggested by counsel for the accused, this would lead to the inevitable conclusion that it would be left to individual commanding officers to interpret the law as they saw fit. Individuals like Commander Paris, who clearly lacked the fundamental understanding of how Starfleet officers needed to conduct themselves. McPhee doubted very much that mere Starfleet officers could be entrusted with that kind of responsibility, and the jury was advised to take this into account.

The law had to be clear and unambiguous.

It was not lost on the audience and the journalists in attendance that the members of the Military Commission, before retiring for their deliberations, asked the judge to confirm that while he could direct a verdict of acquittal to countermand a finding of guilt on their part, he would not be able to impose a conviction should they decide to acquit.

They returned within the hour.

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Three days after the verdict, Admiral Kathryn Janeway came to see her former helmsman and chief engineer. It was a sunny spring day, still a little cool, and a soft breeze was blowing across the pine-scented estate that generations of the Paris family had used as a haven, to escape from battles both real and imagined.

The images of Tom and Will shaking hands and clapping each other on the back were still plastered across news screens across the sector, as were those of Judge McPhee's sputtering indignation at the unanimous acquittal, and of Owen Paris' tear-stained face.

The jury had found as a matter of fact, not law – as was their prerogative, regardless of the Judge's directions – that the Lumen were a warp capable species and the K'rikians had initiated contact with the Federation on their own accord. Consent of both species to the intervention, too, was a matter of fact, not law, and hence could be determinative of the outcome in the case. In conclusion, the Prime Directive did not apply.

The jury went further, but because the additional pronouncements went beyond their mandate, their statement that charges should never have been laid in the first place made for good headlines but was otherwise without consequence. Nor would any obligation to Starfleet arise out of their recommendation that it was time for the Prime Directive to be revisited.

Public debate, however, was raging. Politicians' aides were working overtime to determine on which side their principals should most profitably take their principled stand. Starfleet was talking about nothing else.

It was no wonder Tom had taken his family here, into the wooded hills.

Kathryn also knew that this would not be an easy conversation; holding it on Tom Paris' home turf would make it that much harder.

She saw them long before they became aware of her presence, and she paused in order to take in the picture before her. They were sitting on a wooden bench, watching their daughter and a little boy – probably a cousin - play in the sunshine.

They were in civilian clothing, Tom wearing a scuffed, well-worn leather jacket against the chilly morning air; it reminded her forcefully and perhaps not inappropriately of his Captain Proton outfit, except for an apparent phaser burn in the left pocket that she did not recall. Tom's arm was loosely draped around B'Elanna, occasionally and absently combing his fingers through her hair or stroking the soft scarf covering her shoulders against the slightly chilly breeze. B'Elanna's head was leaning against his shoulder. Kathryn Janeway was struck by the unconsciously protective quality of her former helmsman's position, as if he were shielding his wife's back against unknown enemies.

It had taken her a while to see this quintessential part of Tom Paris, even though it had surfaced almost immediately upon their journey together, when he insisted on helping her find Harry on the Ocampan homeworld. Only later had she learned that he had rescued the young ensign once already by then, from the clutches of a Ferengi in a bar on DS9. Then came his near-fatal rescue of Chakotay in the caverns; a few weeks on, he dove in front of a little boy to take the bullet that would have killed the child.

At first she had thought these were the actions of a man bent on self-destruction, whose life held so little value to himself that he would risk it without a thought, perhaps looking for a way to escape his demons in a blaze of glory. Later, when she sent Tom on what was essentially a suicide mission to infiltrate the Kazon and expose a traitor, she believed that what she was taking such calculated advantage of was his desire to perfect the redemption that she knew he sought so desperately.

She now knew how wrong she had been in all those instances, in all her perceptions. For Tom Paris, as she now knew, putting himself between danger and those he loved or those who needed his help was an instinct as natural as breathing. He would probably stare at her blankly if she suggested it; at best, he might concede to having some sort of vaguely defined personal code of honour that called on him to act in situations where he felt he could make a difference.

She knew better. She had seen it, known it to happen, again and again. In the Vidiian caves. Hanon IV. Monea. And now, in the Trifid Nebula. Protecting others was a responsibility Tom shouldered instinctively and without question; if he considered any consequences at all, it was only those of failure to act.

And yet, for the longest time, Starfleet – herself included, Kathryn thought ruefully - had been utterly reluctant to accept who and what Tom Paris was, to welcome what he was only too willing to give. The system had reacted with suspicion, demotions, jail time even, citing rules that could never contain him when the need to protect others became the call that he would follow above all else.

And even though he had been repeatedly condemned, including for his flying for the Maquis, no one could ever have honestly said that he had been wrong.

She hoped that he could see the acquittal as a victory, but she also feared that it might have come, in the end, at too great a cost.

Tom and B'Elanna were talking in quiet voices now, smiling occasionally at the children's rambunctious antics. The structure Miral and her cousin Jamie were using as the basis for an elaborate game of chase was built in the shape of an improbably and gaudily coloured medieval castle, which stood in frivolous contrast to the dignified, stone-grey grace of the Paris mansion and its landscaped gardens.

Kathryn recognized the fortress as a close relative of one Tom had built for Naomi Wildman on Voyager's holodeck: between the turrets and ramparts where princesses could rescue princes in distress or slay imaginary dragons, there were innumerable options for climbing, sliding, swinging, dangling, digging, or just hanging out. She rather suspected that the home-made looking castle's appearance on the beautiful but somewhat staid estate – at the edge of the woods where shade would be found during long, hot summer days – was the realization of an old childhood dream. Kathryn also knew from the Admiral, with whom she had exchanged a few words on arrival before she headed outside to find his son, that it had instantly elevated Tom to God-like status in the eyes of his numerous nephews.

Event though she could not tell how long the structure had been on the grounds, she chose to believe that the play castle's presence meant that the irrepressible lightness of being, the offbeat humour she had always treasured in her former helmsman, had not been crushed by the events of the last few weeks. The interrogations, the accusations, the court martial, the screaming headlines.

Kathryn took a deep breath, readying herself to do what she had come here to do, and approached the bench. Tom and B'Elanna looked up when they heard their former Captain's footfall on the dew-damp grass; both smiled a surprised welcome, albeit one that was almost immediately replaced by caution and – this hurt more than Kathryn had expected it would - suspicion. She decided to make the first move.

"Hiding from the media?" she asked, in the gravely voice they both knew so well and had missed greatly during the last year. Tom nodded as they rose to greet her, an unaccustomed weariness clouding the usual sparkle of the sapphire eyes she remembered so very well.

"That and from the sheriff. You never know when Starfleet might want to charge me with something else – having a conscience, trying to prevent war crimes, ecocide or the death of a species or two. Filing my fingernails to too sharp a point."

Kathryn winced at the bitterness in his voice, and he softened a little.

"I'm sorry." His apology was sincere, albeit delivered with a slightly twisted smile. "I know my current predicament has nothing to do with you. It's good to see you, Cap … Admiral."

Janeway smiled. "Captain will do," she said, adding wistfully, "I do miss hearing it, some days. And I missed you two. A lot. I'm sorry I couldn't be at the trial. I was on one of those diplomatic missions you'd have loved. But I watched every minute that I could on the newsvids."

Deciding that a sunlit meadow adorned with a garish fantasy castle was not the place to stand on formalities, she moved to hug first B'Elanna, then Tom. Tom returned the embrace, but quickly withdrew his arms from her shoulders and took a step back.

"Are you sure you want to be seen with me?" he asked lightly, but with unmistakable tension in his voice. "Given my track record, I'm not exactly fit company for an admiral."

He briefly reconsidered his words before adding, in the interest of fairness, "With the possible exception of my father, who seems to have resigned himself to my talent for attracting controversy. Or else he's just decided that he has to put up with me, if he wants to continue spoiling Miral. But you … you probably shouldn't be here. If you don't mind my saying so … Captain."

She felt the distance he was trying to put between them in more than the physical step back that he had taken. And she knew, with a certainty that almost made tears well up in her eyes, that it was for her that he was creating this space – not for himself. To protect her, in case someone saw them together and took exception.

Kathryn Janeway cast a thoughtful glance at her erstwhile 'reclamation project' – projects, really, since B'Elanna had been just as much in need of a psychological overhaul as Tom had been when she first met them, and just as successful in quelling her demons. Here they both were, clearly grateful and pleased that she had come, but wary – so wary now.

Despite Tom's studiedly casual and distant demeanour, there was a challenging gleam in his eyes, a mixture of pride and defiance. She had seen that look before – all through the vid transmissions of the Trifid trial; in her ready room on Voyager, the day she had taken that pip from his collar and sentenced him to thirty days of solitary confinement. She had seen it in Auckland after their return from the Delta Quadrant, when politically motivated machinations had sought to return him to prison. And she imagined that he had worn it, too, the day he was thrown out of Starfleet, as a reward for coming forward with the truth about the accident at Caldik Prime and about the mistake he had made trying to avoid responsibility for it.

The look of someone who, although utterly convinced that he had done the right thing, had lost all confidence in the ability of others to understand what drove him. The look of a man whose own code of honour would not permit him to take the easy route – never the easy route, but always the route of his conscience – and expected to be punished for it.

And it was clear from the way B'Elanna stood beside her mate that they were together in this, as they were in all things. She had made her own choices, in her own time – and had not infrequently clashed with Kathryn in the result. Her stance now was a signal that she would accept the challenge, should one be made.

They were clearly expecting her to ask what would be next for them. Whether they would rejoin the Enterprise, after her decontamination from radiation exposure at McKinley station. Or whether they were ready to give up on Starfleet, like Chakotay had, and find their own way.

Kathryn shivered a little. This was the third time Thomas Eugene Paris had acted against the acquired wisdom of Starfleet and been met with the full force of its wrath. He had won this time, but how often was enough? When would he decide to throw down his bat'leth and just walk away?

Would she be able to convince him that the windmills he had been tilting against all his life were starting to turn to his tune, slowly but surely?

"I'm afraid I have to disagree with you, Tom. Not only is it proper for me to be here, in fact, I was expressly asked to come and talk with you."

A bitter laugh escaped his lips. "Ah, I see. Did they send you to drop the axe? How very fitting. Well, this time you're welcome to take all my pips, Captain. I'm done."

His voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. "There's no place for me in Starfleet. I think we know that now. And I'm sorry if that means I've been a disappointment to you." B'Elanna stepped closer to him and laid her hand on his arm, gripping it, leaning in.

Somewhere in the background, incongruously, the children's giggles dissolved into shrieks of laughter.

Kathryn heard the pain behind Tom's words, despite the defiant manner in which they had been spoken. The regret that she thought she detected in them gave her hope. If he felt that, it may not be too late.

"You underestimate us, Tom," she said softly. "You underestimate the new, post-Dominion War Starfleet. Your reputation is quite secure. In fact, you have won the respect of a great many people these last few weeks. Including at the highest levels."

B'Elanna snorted angrily. Her eyes flashed at Janeway. "Right. Sure. If that's the case, why then did the new, improved, post-Dominion-War Starfleet appoint the dodgiest old codger this side of the Eugenics War to preside over Tom's case? The man was a bleeding menace. It was a miracle the jury essentially ignored every direction he gave them. If the case had gone according to that guy's vision, Tom and Will would be chopping rocks in a Cardassian concentration camp."

Kathryn raised an eyebrow. "Really." she said. "You two still haven't figured it out, have you? Then again, neither did Will and Deanna; Picard had to enlighten them, too." She placed her hands on her hips, seguing into classic Janeway lecture mode as if she had never left Voyager's bridge.

"'Windbag' McPhee was the most astute choice to preside over your case that Alynna Nacheyev could possibly have made. Every time that man opens his mouth, on behalf of anything, the opposing side gains a thousand converts. That includes members of a jury. I know your lawyer had it figured out, even if you hadn't. He allowed you to play the man like a violin, judging by the transcripts. McFaddyen's final submission was a stroke of genius, pushed every button the judge had. I'm surprised McPhee didn't come out of the court room with a nose ring in place."

She watched her comments sink in, saw the dawning understanding in Tom's eyes, his lips curl upward a little in appreciation. Obviously, McPhee hadn't been the only one who'd been played... He would have to have words with his lawyer about fulsome attorney-client communication.

But there was more important information in what he had just learned.

"Nacheyev?" he asked softly.

The Fleet Admiral's pale, cool fingers had touched his file far too often in recent years, and the mere thought sent shivers down his spine. What was her game this time? One thing he knew for absolutely certain, whether she had intended her intervention for his detriment or his benefit, it would not have been personal. Never personal.

B'Elanna frowned. "You mean Nacheyev hand-picked the judge so we would win? Isn't that against every principle that the Federation and their much-vaunted 'rule of law' are supposedly about? Not that I mind in this case, but …"

Tom shook his head, slowly, as Kathryn watched in silence. "No. I don't think so. If she had wanted to dictate the actual outcome, she would have had to stack the jury. And those weren't people who could be bought, at any price." He paused for a moment, thinking, coming to a conclusion.

"If what the Captain is saying is right," he smiled apologetically at her for even only hypothetically suggesting she might be wrong, "she probably picked McPhee to polarize the proceedings. To make sure that even the most superficial observer would 'get' what the issues were, and that whatever the outcome of the case was, it would be crystal clear. No grey zones."

He was clearly warming up to his analysis. "Come to think of it, Nacheyev probably didn't give a shit whether we won or lost. Starfleet just needed a nice, clean verdict on a tricky issue. Whether it was triumph or disaster for me and Will personally, hey, who cares – we were just the sideshow. Either outcome would allow Starfleet to pick up its toys and go home with clean hands, no messy ambiguities or questions at the end of the day. Isn't that right, Captain?"

Kathryn nodded her agreement in silence. Tom certainly was developing an appreciation of politics. It ran in his family and would serve him well down the line, as it had generations of Parises before him.

"The only question I have now," Tom said, very softly and with a dangerous glint in his eyes, "is why. Assuming it wasn't personal. She must have known that the case would start a public debate, especially as handled by McPhee. Regardless of the outcome. Was it the debate she wanted?"

Holding his eyes steadily with hers, Kathryn responded. Not smiling, but with a tone in her voice that left no doubt that she approved of the objective, regardless of her views on Nacheyev's methods to get there.

"Just before I left Headquarters, Alynna Nacheyev directed the JAG to draw up a Third General Exception to the Prime Directive. If I remember it right, it will say something along the lines of its application being 'suspended in situations where inaction would threaten the survival of a species, result in the destruction of a biosystem, or lead to mass casualties among a civilian population'. Under those circumstances, Tom, the responsibility to protect life will, from now on, override the principle of non-interference, and if Starfleet has the capacity to intervene successfully and without causing additional casualties, it may."

She paused for a moment, to let her words sink in.

"Rumour has it that a draft for this has been in the admiralty's drawer for years, waiting for the right occasion for someone to be able to pull it out and sell it to the public. There have been too many cases where Starfleet officers, good people, have found themselves in a position to have to either act against their conscience, or act against the law. You and I know that perhaps better than anyone, and yes, before you ask - my thinking on the issue has evolved considerably since … Monea, thanks to you, Tom. The Trifid case was the perfect testing ground for Starfleet to see whether we could survive a change to one of its founding principles."

She shook her head, remembering the details of the case she had been watching from afar. "Such a small intervention, with such a huge permanent impact on two beautiful, peaceful peoples. Had you lost, there would have been public outrage. Either way, the case clearly showed the need for some kind of change. And the public response to the verdict has proved that the change could be sold."

Tom laughed, a little cynically. "Interesting to learn that all this ... crap Will and I just got put through all fitted nicely into some little plot of Nacheyev's. So glad to be of service."

Kathryn put her hand on his arm, digging her nails into the leather of his jacket just a little to make her point. "No, Tom. You shouldn't look at it like that. Not just like that. Your actions in that nebula were a catalyst, to allow Starfleet to do what they had been hoping to do for some time, but could not. Three hundred years of tradition, three hundred years of a policy of non-interference are not so easily shed overnight, especially with the war we so recently finished. There had to be a … trigger.

"And in the process of serving as that catalyst, you saved several million lives in the Trifid, and possibly many more elsewhere in the future. That isn't so bad, is it?"

The Admiral's voice turned from gravel to velvet, took on a tinge of pride. "And no matter what you may think of the immediate means Starfleet command chose to get there, I already heard people at Headquarters refer to the new exception as 'the Paris principle'."

Tom shook his head in disbelief. "So I guess I'm supposed to be pleased to have been used in such a good cause? Way I see it, being used is being used. This may come as a surprise, but a kangaroo trial actually is spectacularly little fun when you're the 'roo. Even if you win."

"You're right, Tom, and if I were in your shoes I'd probably see it exactly the same way. I'd also probably see more than a little hypocrisy in my showing up here to congratulate you on your acquittal, after what I did to you over Monea. All I can say in respect of that is, again, that you changed my thinking. And what matters in the end is that after numerous attempts and Lord knows how many arguments with your father, with myself and with anyone else, you've actually succeeded in rewriting the Prime Directive. In fact, Commander, you may just have changed the face of Starfleet."

Janeway knew her former helmsman well enough to understand that he did not thrive on grandiose statements like this, however true.

And so she smiled at him, a little warily now, and added, "Not to mention that you changed the face of the Trifid, to the point where we'll probably have to rename it in a few years, but we won't get into that. Now – do you want to tell your father all that, or should I?"

Tom relaxed a fraction and smiled at Kathryn a little; the messenger might yet be left alive. She let out a silent breath.

"I suppose I'll tell him. He's earned the right to hear it from me, after all those shouting matches, not to mention having to sit through the trial. It was really hard on him, for a great number of reasons." B'Elanna gave her mate's arm a squeeze and he momentarily buried his face in her hair, breathing in her scent, steadying himself.

"But if you came to convince me to stay in Starfleet …"

He let the sentence trail off. Kathryn swallowed. This was harder than she had expected. No, that wasn't quite true. This was proving to be every bit as difficult as she had expected.

Still trying to slow down the roller coaster of his feelings, Tom turned towards the children, whose high-pitched giggles chimed in the increasingly mild morning air. Miral slid down the play structure, her cousin initially in hot pursuit, but suddenly giving up and heading for the sand box instead. The little girl raced across the meadow towards her parents, flinging herself into B'Elanna's arms.

"Mommy, Mommy, Jamie can't catch me!" she exclaimed breathlessly. "I'm faster than the wind!" " Are not," came a slightly morose voice from behind the play castle. "I let you win!"

"Did not!" came the outraged response. "Did not!"

"Shh, sweetheart. Don't gloat. Jamie is just a bit jealous how fast you can run and climb. You felt the same way when he beat you at rings, didn't you?" B'Elanna turned to Kathryn, grateful for the distraction, the temporary lightening of the moment offered by the breathless little girl.

"Miral, you remember your god-aunt Kathryn, don't you? You haven't seen her for a while, since you were very little. She lives in San Francisco now, not in space like we do."

Miral turned in B'Elanna's arms and inspected Kathryn carefully and deliberately, much to the latter's delight. "I 'member," she pronounced with all the solemnity a two-and-a-half-year-old was capable of. "Your picture is in our house."

B'Elanna explained hastily, with a smile, "She means the 'family portrait' the Doc took at the Ancestors' Eve celebration on Voyager. We keep it on the TV in our living room on the Enterprise."

Miral didn't particularly care for the explanation, but her curiosity was tweaked. "Why are you here, Aunt Kaff-ryn?"

Janeway chuckled. "Straight to the point, isn't she? Just like her Mom!" Then she turned to her goddaughter, and tenderly stroked her dark curls even as she lifted her eyes to look straight at Tom.

"I came to bring your Daddy a present. If he wants it, that is."

There, it was out. She reached into her pocket and took out a quite ordinary, small square box. B'Elanna's eyes went wide at the familiar sight.

Tom's breath came out in a hiss, but he made no move to reach for the box. His immediate instinct screamed at him to grab it and throw it far, far into the woods that lined the Paris estate, but the person holding it was Kathryn Janeway - the woman who had given him his life back once before, and had stopped him or nudged him along the way a dozen times more.

But he also knew, as clearly as he knew anything, that if he took it and accepted what was inside he would be committed to something that mere minutes ago he had been fully prepared to throw away - after spending most of his adult life getting to the point where he could admit to wanting it.

Tom looked at B'Elanna, and once again Kathryn marveled at the apparent ability of the couple to exchange whole conversations in just one look. Finally, B'Elanna nodded her reassurance, but for which decision, Kathryn couldn't tell. She settled on the assumption that B'Elanna was simply encouraging Tom to make his choice, without judgment of any kind, and that she would give her support to whatever he decided. After all, they had gone to the end of the world and back together already, and they would go further still.

Finally, after what seemed to Kathryn like an eternity, Tom took the box from her hand. His long fingers, shaking slightly, popped the lid on the box as if expecting all the demons of hell to spring forth from inside.

B'Elanna let out a long, slow breath.

It was what it was.

"What is it Daddy? What is it?" asked Miral excitedly, squirming in her mother's arms to get a better view. Tom wordlessly held up the open box for her inspection.

"Oh," she said, disappointment and a little reproach for Kathryn's lack of imagination evident in her voice. "It's a pip. But Daddy already has three!"

"Yes, sweetheart, he does," Kathryn said softly. "And now he has four. If he wants them, that is. And I sure hope you do, Captain Paris. Starfleet command does, too. You are what they need, whether they want you or not. And people like Nacheyev, Picard, Bullock – they are beginning to recognize that."

"And this is supposed to make me want to come back for more?" Tom asked evenly, but with a glint in his eyes that made Kathryn's heart sink. "What are they going to do the next time someone decides to throw me a court martial, or tries to toss me in jail just to score a few votes? Offer to make me an admiral? There's only so many times I'm prepared to bend over and spread my legs for a career in Starfleet, and I think I may just have reached my limit."

Kathryn did not bother to respond to the crude comment, too obviously calculated to provoke her into letting go, making the decision for him by taking the box back, snapping it shut.

Instead, she held his gaze, grey-blue eyes locking with sapphire ones. She, too, could pass silent messages to her former helmsman.

He got it alright. It took a few minutes of reciprocal glaring before he shrugged in something that might, in anyone other than Tom Paris, be construed as resignation.

"Fine. I suppose you're trying to tell me to stop pouting and start acting like an adult. To forget about being put through the wringer for the sake of politics, take that goddamn post-traumatic chip off my shoulder, and deal with this for what it's worth."

Kathryn's lips twitched. Thomas Eugene Paris never did mince words unnecessarily, even when it came to judging his own actions and behaviour. Especially not then.

But he wasn't done yet. "I assume that's why Nacheyev sent you out here - because she knew you were the only person who stood even the remotest chance that I would listen to them, whom I might possibly, conceivably, not throw … this back at. Smart woman, our Ice Queen. She really has read my file."

Kathryn stayed in silence, waiting for him to puzzle out the rest, as B'Elanna watched their interplay with keen eyes. She obviously – and uncharacteristically – had decided to stay out of this discussion, not claiming her influence on Tom.

For her part, Kathryn was very well aware that Tom Paris knew her almost as well as he knew his wife; it would not take him long to figure things out, understand why she had to come herself to force this choice on him.

He did not disappoint.

"But you – you wouldn't allow yourself to be played like that anymore than I would, would you? You sure as hell didn't come out here just to hand me this pip at the behest and bidding of Fleet Admiral Alynna Nacheyev. There's … there's something else, isn't there? Something you thought I'd actually want, or else you wouldn't be here."

"You're right, Tom," she said, softly, her voice but a whisper.

"There is something else, but I'm afraid it does come with that pip. Something I wouldn't want them to give to anyone else but you. Or that I would want anyone else to give away but me."

And as she saw the understanding dawning in Tom's face - and quite possibly his acceptance, but it was too early to tell - Kathryn Janeway's eyes filled with tears, and she broke into a smile brighter than a thousand suns.

"Voyager."

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AUTHOR'S END NOTE

If you found Tom's progress through the ranks a bit quick – only a little over a year as First Officer, you say? - recall that fast-tracking was predicted with enrolment at the James T. Kirk Centre of Advanced Tactical and Strategic Command (see my story "Choices"). That said, I am planning to provide more insight into Tom's time on the Enterprise with a couple of additional stories – this one just wanted "out" first.

A couple of notes drawn from real life. The 'responsibility to protect' is an emerging principle of international law – still contested - that authorizes intervention by the international community when a state is unable or unwilling to protect its civilian population from war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide or ethnic cleansing.

The 'Paris principles' do exist. They deal with the treatment of children affected by armed conflict, specifically child soldiers. Not quite relevant to this story, but how could I resist?

In 2010 alone landmines and other explosive remnants of war killed approximately 4,000 civilians, mostly farmers tilling their fields or herders tending their flocks. In most countries children make up over half the victims; they do like to play with shiny things.