Author's Note: So I've been giving Alpha a little grief about moonlighting in a world of assassins (fictionally speaking... so she claims). Here's my apology. Of sorts.

Did Wander Darkling

. . . . .

Tom knows that after six years, none of them are idealists. And if Janeway still talks the talk most of the time, he's smart enough to realize it's out of raw necessity.

Which isn't to deny that part of him wanted her to still mean all those grand, ethical pronouncements. Wanted, so desperately, to believe that even someone as tired and hardened and pressured as Kathryn Janeway could protect, deep within her, that of kind flickering hope about humanity.

Now, feeling that part of himself recede farther and farther away as he sits next to Janeway in the Delta Flyer, Tom reflects on whether its absence really changes anything.

"May I ask you something?" Tom says finally.

"You can ask," Janeway replies softly, "though I may be unable to supply an answer, given the present circumstances."

'Present circumstances' is a rather handy shorthand for describing the nature of the mission they've just completed. Then again, Tom thinks the phrase 'facilitating the disappearance of an alien official for personal gain' isn't the kind of thing that rolls off the Starfleet tongue.

They have an hour until they rendez-vous with Voyager, welcomed as heroes for bringing back the basic supplies of which the crew is in dire need. That's only an hour for Tom to convince himself that he can lie to his friends and colleagues about what, exactly, it took to accomplish trade.

He's pretty damn sure Janeway didn't even tell Chakotay.

"He's an oppressor, Tom. It's his own people- members of his government! who are asking for our help in this."

"How do we know that's even true? Even if this is their only option, don't we need some corroboration?"

"Do you really want to know the truth? ... Will it make it any easier?"

Janeway had a point then, when she first briefed him in the Flyer. Rigging a personal transport to explode at half impulse isn't any easier if the person inside deserves his fate. Assuming he even did.

"Did you bring me because you thought it wouldn't be the worst thing I'd done in my life?" he asks her now, and if she's surprised by the question she doesn't show it.

"I needed someone who could fly, read a room, blend into a crowd. You were the only option." She adds, sounding sincere, "I'm sorry for that. This isn't... Tom, this isn't the kind of plan I had for you, when we first met in Auckland."

It isn't the kind of plan she had for herself, either. But this goes unstated, the depth and span of their shared silence encompassing confession and regret.

"I'm not sure what to say to B'Elanna," Tom acknowledges. "Believe it or not, I don't make a habit of lying to her."

"Try not to fabricate if you don't need to," Janeway advises solemnly. "It's wiser to stick with omission alone."

"That easy, huh?"

"To accomplish?" she retorts, unphased by the open accusation of Tom's tone. "Usually, yes. To live with?"

She doesn't finish the thought. But Tom knows from his time in Sickbay that the bed she never sleeps in could finish it for her.

"I'm sorry I couldn't do it alone," she says, much later, and sounding pained.

For all his cynicism, Tom believes her.

"Voyager to Delta Flyer."

"Delta Flyer here, Commander," Janeway responds.

"How fared the traveling traders?"

"Tell the senior staff we made out well. What we brought back should tide us over for another three months."

"Excellent. Make any new friends while you were at it?"

"Sir," Tom replies, when Janeway seems a beat too slow. "We're just ready to be back."

"Good to have you back, Tom. Captain. I'll give the news to the crew."

The comm line closes, and Tom watches as the Flyer is slowly tractored into the shuttle bay, Voyager's familiar lights a welcome contrast to the last few days.

"I can't say that I've done anything worse," Tom confesses. "But I have done things for much worse reasons."

"Hold onto that thought," Janeway whispers, and puts a hand against his chair.

It's an ethical comfort neither would put stock in, were it not for raw necessity.

"I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill'd into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings—the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum'd,
And men were gather'd round their blazing homes

To look once more into each other's face..."

Lord Byron, "Darkness"