Tom gets left on an alien planet. Not quite so typical as you might think.
Not what you might expect from me, and I can safely say that I, at least, have never read anything quite like this.
Categories: Paris/Harry Fanfiction Characters:
1. Prologue: In which there is a memorial service and a freight train... by Lady Shadow
2. ONE by Lady Shadow
3. TWO by Lady Shadow
4. Three by Lady Shadow
Prologue: In which there is a memorial service and a freight train... by Lady Shadow
Title: The Redemption of Paris
Series: The Paris Redemption Sagas
Author: Lady Shadow
Rating: PG to NC-17
Pairing(s): P/K, undecided
summary: contained in chapter title
Disclaimer: I do not own or claim to own Voyager in any capacity, including characters. No infringement of any rights, copywrite or otherwise is intended and no profit is made from this endevor.
Author's Notes: A/N: The base culture and some of the
Names for my aliens have been burrowed
From the wonderful Faded Sun Trilogy
By C.J. Cherryh (which I recommend for all
SF readers out there). You will find many
Elements of the culture as well as names and titles
Have been changed, in the event that you have read or will
Read the series.
Sarcastic, but mildly pertinent Author's notes: And, as with the vast majority of my stories, and being
That I get to be God so long as my fingers touch the
Keyboard, I have messed with cannon. In this universe
(which is alternate, if you didn’t notice) Tom is 26
and they’ve been in the DQ for 1 year.
I don’t care how old that would actually make him
And further more, I don’t really care what actually
Transpired in the first year of their unplanned and unwanted
Trip through uncharted space.
Book One: The Redemption of Paris
Prologue: In which there is a memorial service and a freight train...
The captain, flustered, met her away team at the transporter pad.
“Where’s Paris?” she asked sharply, quickly taking stock of the four on the pad when there should have been five. Chakotay shook his head and grabbed his knees as he leaned over to catch his breath.
“He wandered off from the group!” Chakotay said, equally sharp. “Typical Paris behavior –there one minute, not there the next. We were attacked before we could find him.”
“Get yourself to sickbay, all of you,” the captain ordered. “And report for debriefing as soon as you’re released,” she added. Chakotay nodded and, slipping an arm around B’Elanna’s waist, headed for sickbay, Gerron and Ayala mimicking their superior officers and following them with little more than a glance in their captain’s direction.
“Where were you, exactly, when Paris disappeared?” Janeway asked. She wasn’t exactly pleased with her pilot at the moment. She didn’t count out that Tom could have been attacked from behind or grabbed before the rest of the team could notice, but she was also well aware of his tendency toward more-than-necessary curiosity that involved wandering off in the direction of something that looked interesting. She had found Tom’s curiosity endearing when he was a child, but as a man of twenty-six, he should have learned to control himself.
Chakotay pointed out a position on the holographic map they had pulled up of the area the team had been surveying.
“The shuttle was here, and we’d gotten maybe five or six kilometers before we were attacked. I noticed Mr. Paris was absent just before then, but he had taken up the rear, and I hadn’t looked back since our last break, about two kilometers back, so he could feasibly have gone missing anytime between here and here,” Chakotay finished, marking the two places with both forefingers. Kathryn looked at the space in dismay; it was a large patch of forest on one side and a fairly sizable canyon on the other of a long stretch of terrain.
“Given the time that he’s had since our departure,” Chakotay continued, “and assuming that he left of his own volition,” he added when Janeway looked like she was ready to correct him, he could be anywhere in this sphere.” A light pink half sphere was brought up. It was at least twenty kilometers in diameter.
“My god,” Kathryn whispered. Some of the terrain would be hard to navigate and he might not be that far –especially if he ended up going into the canyon- but then again, Mr. Paris, under his father’s tyrannical tutorage, was very good with wild terrain. If he had wandered off, been chased off, or –heaven forbid- had deserted, he could easily be that far or farther within the seventeen hours that had passed since the away team was beamed aboard.
As soon as Janeway realized she didn’t have Tom aboard, she had immediately set the transporter bay to lock onto his signal and beam him up. When beaming up familiars –essentially crewmembers, or anyone wearing a com badge- the transporter simply found Star Fleet’s uniform transmitting signal and latched onto it, consequently pulling up the life form the badge was attached to. Without the badge to go by, the computer had to scan for DNA signature. This was easy enough for a computation system that had as much computing power as the transporter banks did, but it took longer and expended more energy. In the end, all they’d ended up with was Mr. Paris’ com badge and their DNA scan, and then blanket human signature scan had failed utterly, bleakly reporting that there were no beings with Tom Paris’ DNA signature on the planet, and further more, there were no beings the computer could decisively identify as human.
One or more of a few things could have happened. If Tom had been separated from the away team by accident, he could be near certain metal or mineral deposits that would foil the scanners. If had wandered off, the same could have happened. If he’d been taken, his signature might be masked. If he had deserted, Tom, being as clever as he was, could easily have concealed himself from the ship’s computer. Lastly, and least desirable, but unfortunately a possibility that could not be overlooked, he could be dead. Dead humans didn’t put off the kind of signature the computer was looking for, and the type of signature a dead human would put off would be extremely difficult to lock onto, as most dead things, as well as most inanimate things, put off the same basic signature.
Normally, she would send search parties out with tricorders programmed to send out a wide signal on a broad band, but there was the little problem of the creatures that had attacked her away team in the first place, perpetrating the emergency beam-up. Basically, they were at something of an impasse.
“Did you happen to get a reading on those creatures before you were beamed up?”
“The type of signature they put out is tantamount to the surrounding region, in which everything, animate or otherwise, puts off the same signal.”
“Damn. What could be causing that?”
“My only guess is that there’s some nutrient in the soil or the air that so heavily ingrained in everything that it complicates whatever natural signal they might have,” Harry offered, shrugging slightly, though obviously anxious and disappointed with himself for not having a better answer.
“Alright… our only course of action then, is to send down a search party en masse and hope the creatures won’t attack a large group. Damn!” the captain swore again, though not taken to swearing, especially not in front of her crew. “Alright. I want a skeleton crew on the bridge. Set us to orbit with just enough power to maintain it and divert all remaining power to transporters. We’ll go down in shuttles, but if anything goes wrong, I want Voyager’s transporter arrays capable of transporting anyone in danger, or everyone if need be, back to the ship immediately. We’ll set up emergency shields in the shuttle bay and set that as emergency transport pad. Any questions or suggestions? No? Alright then; everyone get teams organized, make sure phaser rifles, sidearms and tricorders are fully charged and in working order. We’ll set up base camp here; you said this hill would be fairly easy to defend?”
“Yes, Captain,” Chakotay agreed reluctantly.
“Then lets get moving.”
“Captain,” Chakotay interrupted before anyone could get up to carry out her orders. “Permission to speak?”
“Of course, commander.”
“No ill meant toward Mr. Paris, and no personal feelings brought into the matter, but do you think its wise to send the entire crew onto a hostile planet in which we can’t even differentiate between a harmless fern and a man-eating beast?”
“Are you suggesting that we leave him there?”
“No, captain, I’m not. I’m only suggesting that we go down in smaller parties, set to strategic locations rather than dissert the ship entirely. Star Fleet regs allows us a minimum of two weeks and a maximum of five to find the lieutenant before we have to denote a change in his status. Five weeks with the entire crew planet-side, especially with the planet being so hostile, will strain our resources tremendously and endanger the entire crew. Ma’am,” he added, seeing the captain’s expression. The captain was, as were they all, of the school of thought that no man gets left behind, but realistically, they couldn’t risk the safety of the entire crew, and possibly the ship if someone were to come upon her inadequately manned, which would strand them on a hostile planet. Kathryn glared, Harry and B’Elanna did as well, but Chakotay held his ground.
“I’m not going to lie; there’s no love lost between the lieutenant and myself, but I wouldn’t want to see him abandoned any more than the rest of you.”
“I believe Chakotay has a point,” Seven intervened finally. Chakotay looked at her in shock. “Losing Mr. Paris would be a devastating to the ship’s operation. However, landing the entire crew in hostile territory for the sake of one man who is not irreplaceable is inadvisable.” Several of the crew stared at her in shock and abject terror.
“What do you mean by not irreplaceable?!” Harry demanded sharply. Tom was the pilot for God’s sake!
“Mr. Gerron is a pilot of exceptional skill, and there are several others whom I have observed to have the necessary skills to pilot a space craft,” she answered smoothly. Janeway glanced between the former Borg woman and her first officer.
“What do you say, Mr. Tuvok?” she asked finally. If anyone could be trusted to give an honest opinion, it was the Vulcan. Tuvok, having been silent the entire meeting finally leaned forward.
“I’m afraid I must concur with Commander Chakotay and Seven,” he answered finally, with the most amount of reluctance a Vulcan could muster. Kathryn sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Captain!” B’Elanna interrupted. “Please tell me you aren’t considering abandoning him!”
“Captain,” Harry added, breath accelerated and voice holding a note of pleading. “Tom is down there all alone… he would never have deserted or left purposefully, especially not if it meant being alone. Please, captain; we can’t leave him down there.”
“None of us are suggesting we leave him, ensign,” Chakotay said gently. “We’re just suggesting more care in the process of retrieving him.”
“With all due respect, commander, I don’t see the difference! There’s a lot of territory down there and every minute we sit up here debating, the sphere could be expanding, or Tom could be… he could be in pain or… he could be dying! Small search parties aren’t going to be able to cover enough territory! Captain… please, captain,” Kim repeated, returning his tortured gaze to the torn captain.
On one hand, when a single man was lost on an alien planet, a wide scale search was not generally organized, but in the Delta Quadrant, they couldn’t inform other ships of their missing crew member and request ships passing by the location keep a look out for him, so, on the single other case when they’d lost a small party –of four- a wide-scale search had been organized. But that was on a friendly planet, with friendly, willing natives. This was a very unfriendly planet, with extremely unfriendly and hostile natives. Could she afford to risk her crew in the pursuit of one man, who could have, as much as she hated to admit it, deserted? Harry claimed that Tom would never desert and Kathryn might have believed that at one point, but lately Tom had grown restless and unhappy with shipboard life.
“Captain?” B’Elanna pressed with something resembling a growl lacing her voice. Janeway’s eyes slid shut.
“I’m sorry. Belay former orders,” she said and immediately Kim and Torres were arguing. “I said belay former orders!” she snapped, silencing them. “Set two search parties of eight armed with phaser rifles, sidearms, tricorders and supplies. Each team is to report in every hour on the hour, and the transporter room is to have a constant lock on all members. Cycle crews in ten hour shifts.”
“Those are my orders, Mr. Kim!” Clenching his teeth, Kim stood, his back straight and arms at his side as though he were fresh out of the Academy, or still there.
“Captain, ensign Harry Kim; request permission to lead first search party!”
“Denied, ensign; I need you here. I’m sorry.”
“Request permission to head second cycle.”
“Still denied. You may excuse yourself, Mr. Kim. Go cool off; I need a cool head on your shoulders so we can work on the problem of finding his signature.” Harry’s fists tightened until his knuckles were white.
“Am I dismissed, ma’am?” he asked stiffly.
“Dismissed, ensign.” Sharply, Harry left the room, his fists still clenched. A trickle of blood worked its way between his fingers and ran over one knuckle.
Steaming to the point that she could barely see straight, yet alone speak, B’Elanna stood up as well.
“Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres; request permission to head first search team,” she said stiffly. She’d spent a grand total of four days at the Academy, but she could have been there for four years, or all her life, for as much as it showed.
“Denied,” Janeway said wearily.
“Request permission to join any subsequent search
“Likewise denied.” B’Elanna’s jaw and hands mirroring her friend’s she took two deep breaths, her nose flaring angrily.
“Request permission to log my complaint and subsequent requests in the log!” Kathryn closed her eyes and sighed. She had a right to of course, but the right hadn’t been utilized by any of her officers since entering the Delta Quadrant.
“Granted,” she said reluctantly.
“Computer! Access ship logs! Open new entry. I, Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres, chief engineer, log my objections to current course of action regarding the rescue and retrieval of Lieutenant Tomas Paris, and further more protest to my denied request to be on any of the search teams. Sighed, B’Elanna Torres. Close entry, close log.” She turned her angry eyes to her captain.
“Am I dismissed, captain?”
“Dismissed, lieutenant.” Silence fell once the doors closed on B’Elanna’s tense back.
“That didn’t go well,” the captain said, her head dropping back a little. “Chakotay?”
“You and Mr. Tuvok will head the first two teams down. Mr. Ayala and Mr. Dalby will head the second. You will alternate as you see fit. Pick your teams, get them outfitted. When you return, I want a duty roster out. We have five weeks by regulations, but the reason I wanted a full out search is because we don’t have five weeks to sit here. We need to find a supply source soon. I can give you two weeks tops; make the best of them. Seven, when Kim and Torres cool down, I want the three of you, and every other available engineer, working on the signal problem. Dismissed.”
Having been bared from physical searching for their friend, B’Elanna and Harry concentrated all their efforts on trying to track down his signal while teams worked tirelessly on the ground and on the ship.
It wasn’t until yet another team was attacked –being the third such attack not including the original attack on the away team- and a sixth crewmember was sent to sickbay with grievous wounds that the captain was forced to regulate searching to shipboard only. This infuriated, and further inspired, the chief engineer and ops officer and they worked nearly around the clock on the problem, often working while Seven was forced to stop. By the fourteenth day, the crew was beginning to mutter ominously about the situation and the captain dare stay in orbit no longer or risk overtaxing their already overtaxed resources.
With a heavy heart, Kathryn Janeway listed Tomas Eugene Paris as ‘assumed deceased’ and entered the date into the log. The bridge and engineering were sealed and the entire crew was summoned to the cargo hold. They stood in neat lines according to section, resplendent and somber in their dress blues. Harry Kim, admittedly being the closest thing Tom had to family, stood at the captain’s right, a black sash draped over his left shoulder as a symbol of mourning. His face was lax and his eyes were dull. He’d been given a hypo by the doctor to help calm him down, as he’d been extremely agitated, but now his mood had swung completely in the other direction, and he was overtly somber.
Harry, knowing full well Tom’s loathing of his father’s religion, and really all religion as a rule, had expressly forbade the captain from saying the words that would damn Tom’s soul to his father’s indifferent god, and so Janeway stood in front of her crew, at a loss of what to say.
“There is much that Tom loved,” she said finally, her voice rising unsteadily. “He had a love of all manner of oddities, an unmatched curiosity toward anything and anybody of which he knew nothing about. He had a fierce love of flight in all of its form, and a respectful awe of the ships he piloted and the space he piloted them through. But most of all, he loved his friends. And so, I commend Mr. Paris’ soul, not to a god, but to those things for which he held the utmost respect and love. I commend his soul to the recesses of space, in hopes that he will find peace. I commend his soul to the skies of every heaven, in hopes that he will find the unhindered flight he so longed for. I commend his curious soul to everything and everyone out there of which he’s knows nothing. Most of all, I commend Mr. Paris’ soul to his loved ones, so that they may keep him forever safe.” She took a deep breath and resisted looking at Harry or B’Elanna, knowing either would shatter her composure.
“Activate the belt,” she said. The rails that the empty coffin stood on activated, propelling the coffin to the inner hatch. There had been much debate on whether or not to list Tom as MIA, and leave him forever in stasis, or to list him assumed deceased and hold his memorial and funeral, giving the crew some closure. After many hours, the latter had, obviously, been decided on.
“I commend you, Mr. Paris,” she said, her voice still even despite it all, “to your place of final resting, where ever that may be. Be it peaceful.” There was a soft ripple of ‘amen,’ and the captain pressed the small control in her hand. With a sound that was horrifically loud in the silence, even muffled by the air-sealed hatch, the outer hatch slid open and the plain white coffin, with the plain lettering inscribing his full name and dates, was pulled out of the bay and into the dark emptiness beyond. There was silence for a moment, and the captain began to speak again.
“I was there,” she said, her voice faltering a little, “when Marina Paris held Tom for the first time. His father was so proud! The look on his face could lit up a solar system… and there he was, little Tom Paris, all pink and wrinkled, and yet cute as can be. I was there on his first birthday, when his mother held him too close to the cake, and he ended up tearing it to pieces while we sang ‘Happy Birthday’.” She paused, remembering the tall cake, all five layers of it, go crashing to the floor and baby Tom giggling in delight while his father gaped wordlessly. “I was there on his fifth birthday, when he managed to get into all his presents in the time it took the cook to bring his cake out. I was there the first time he got into the cockpit of a shuttle at seven. The first time he piloted one at eight. I was there when he walked through the Academy doors.” She paused again. She was Tom’s godmother, though she doubted the other man knew it, and had come very close to being his biological mother as well… she’d been close to the boy when he was too young to remember, but was increasingly away the older he got until they were only casual acquaintances. Since Auckland, they had grown to being casual strangers. In a way, Kathryn resented him for that. In a way, she resented herself. She cleared her throat and continued, raising her voice a little louder.
“There are more recent firsts that some of you are better acquainted with. The first time Tom Paris sat at Voyager’s helm. The first of many times Tom’s skill for and love of flight saved this crew. The first book, the first night Sandrine’s was open, the first game of pool… the list goes on. His record not withstanding, Tom Paris was an honorable man and an honorable officer. It weighs heavy on my heart even now, and will for the rest of my days, that I’m saying these words at all… I know there are many of you who already understand the effects of his absence. We will all miss him.”
With a gesture, she brought Harry forward.
“Tom…” he started and then had to stop. Taking a deep breath, he started again. “Tom was my best friend. At times, I was his only friend. And at times, he was mine.” There were many abashed looks turned to the deck and Kathryn could not find it in her heart to even glare. “Tom Paris,” he continued, “record being entirely irrelevant, was the best man I have ever known in my life. He was kind, and loving… and completely forgiving. He was strong, and resilient… and optimistic when no one else could be, when no one –not even he- wanted to be. Tom Paris, as I’m sure everyone is well aware, was disowned by his father and cast out by society… he was betrayed, and abandoned, and before you get indignant, I don’t refer to…” he waved his hand uselessly, unable to even say what ‘it’ was. “From day one of this ill-fated mission, I have been his family, and I’ve stood by his side in everything. In death, I remain where I always have been… and I pray –Gods, spirits, Q, whoever’s listening, I pray, I beg!- that Tom Paris finds some measure of peace… finds the happiness that…” he stopped, unable to go on for a moment, his throat choked with the tears that were pricking at his eyes. “The happiness that I was able to give him for only a short while. Tom Paris was my best friend… and the love of my life,” he pressed out finally, startling not a few people. The first thought into many a heads was ‘when did that happen, and how was he so discreet?’
“If he’s been irritable lately its because I refused again and again to reveal to you what I do now…” He held up his left hand and the light glinted off the gold band there. “We were never officially married, but we would have been, if I hadn’t been such a coward.” If Harry had wanted to continue, he didn’t, couldn’t and finally stepped away, viciously squeezing the bridge of his nose in an attempt to stop the tears he couldn’t let fall, not here, not now, not in front of the entire crew; he would not dishonor Tom that way.
Elsewhere, Tom slowly pulled himself upright and looked around in a daze. Where…? Slowly, memory began to return and he blinked owlishly as he coaxed it out of the haze surrounding his head. He and Harry had gotten into a fight, the usual; Tom wanted to ask the Captain’s blessing, but Harry staunchly refused. Again. They shouted a bit, Tom started to walk out, like he usually did when they got into this particular fight, but Harry pulled him back with a startled squeak. Tom was going on an away mission and Harry didn’t want him to leave with them angry at each other. Kissing his fiancÚ soundly he promised they would talk to the captain when he returned from the mission. Tom had been doubtful for a moment, he’d been led on too many times by too many people not to be, but Harry had never lied to him.
Grinning like an idiot, he tackled his soon-to-be and they made love right there on the floor, with the door unlocked, and neither of them caring.
Okay… so far so good. Then what? He’d left the mission, spirits high, but a bit snappish and antsy; he wanted the mission to be over so he could finally marry the man who had been his fiancÚ for seven of the thirteen months they’d been in the Delta quadrant. Chakotay had been irritated at him, as per usual, and even more so considering that Tom was in such a good mood. By the time they got to the planet, Tom’s good mood was almost, but not quite squashed. He’d been gruffly ordered to take the rear and had done so without comment. They picked a random direction and started out, Chakotay keeping an almost constant line with Voyager open.
Tom sought to remember the next detail, somehow understanding that it was the most important. He’d been so absorbed in thoughts of Harry that he hadn’t seen… what? What was it? All he could remember was that one moment he was following along like a good rear guard, keeping a distracted eye on the treetops and canyon when his foot had pressed into something soft and then…he’d fallen straight through it. How far? He couldn’t tell for sure. That was the last thing he remembered.
Finally understanding his predicament, he looked around, taking in the darkness and searching for something…any little indication that light existed somewhere.
“You’re awake?” a soft voice said gently, obviously not intending to startle him. Whoever it was didn’t succeed however and he yelped loudly and jumped, though he quickly realized the folly of his action as his ankle immediately began to scream. More accustomed to pain than startlement, Tom was able to stifle his cry of pain.
“Who are you?” he hissed, sinking back into the sitting position he’d tried to leap up from.
“I did not intend to startle you,” the other said. A male, Tom decided, trying to follow his voice and at least give him a general direction of where his assailant was. “You find yourself in dire straights, my friend,” the man said, and Tom finally latched on to where he was just in time to grab his wrist before the man made contact with his arm. “Impressive. Are you able to see me?”
“I don’t need to be able to see you,” Tom, trained by marines, special ops units, and the much revered Captain Taag of the elite, privately funded Shadowguard, had no need to see his opponent in order to take action. He was well out of practice however and was embarrassed by his previous shout. He should know better than to cry out when startled, that being one of the worst things a man in his position could do. In the darkness, if his opponent couldn’t see him any more than he could see his opponent and was trying to smoke him out by making him give himself away, Tom’s outburst could have gotten himself killed.
He sensed, with a sort of prickling sensation up his neck that whoever this man was, he was amused. Growling, Tom twisted the wrist held tightly in his hand slowly backwards and the left.
“Who are you?”
“Do not waste your energies, young one. I mean you no harm. I am Kesh; you are my Ward.”
“Your what?” Tom demanded sharply, but quietly, twisting Kesh’s wrist harshly. The man made not a sound, but began calmly applying pressure and pushing back to balance the awkward angle.
“My Ward. The Mysterious One placed you in my path, and I must honor His wishes. If I strike a light and allow you to see me, will you release me?” he asked calmly, a hint of playfulness in his silky voice.
“That depends on what I see.”
“Also impressive. Very well.” He hit something against his leg hard enough to make a dull snapping sound and then a faint blue light blossomed, revealing him to the suspicious lieutenant. First, he of course checked to make sure none of the man’s friends were in the area, and then surveyed his assailant. There wasn’t, however, much to survey as he was covered from head to foot in swathes of black cloth. Only his eyes and his fingertips were left to scrutiny. His skin –from what Tom could see of his fingertips- was a rich golden color and his eyes a light brown. From what he could see, he could guess that the man was probably a little shorter than the pilot was and likely had dark colored hair, though he couldn’t base that on anything other than his experience with those species he’d met in his travels.
“Satisfied?” Kesh asked, his tone still amused. He wasn’t. Without bothering to hide his intent, Tom checked him visually for weapons. He had two swords strapped across his back. The closest thing he could liken then to, being only able to see them at a rather skewed angle, was a katana or an Arabic sword of ancient Earth. Anther hung from his side and Tom could make out what appeared to be a crossbow within fairly easy reach. Other than that, his only other adornments were some rather curious disks tied to his belt, which may or may not have been something like a ninja star.
Finally, he realized that with his ankle broken and the other man armed to the teeth he could do nothing, and with a resigned growl, he released the man’s wrist.
“I thank you,” Kesh said, inclining his head respectfully.
“What are you planning on doing with me?”
“I told you. You are my Ward. I must care for you; the Mysterious One placed in my path for a reason, and I must take you to the pa’ani for acceptance, or else accompany you until He pulls us apart.”
“Well…” Tom said, his voice a touch sarcastic and a touch vicious, “if you’re lucky that could be very soon. I need to get back to my ship. The people-”
“Those you were with?”
“Yes. Can you take me to them? And then I’ll… absolve you of your obligation to me.”
“I’m afraid that is not possible.”
“What’s not possible? Going to the ship or the absolution bit?”
“Why not?” Tom asked, blatantly suspicious and already scheming on how to get one of swords off Kesh’s back. It wouldn’t be too difficult; the man hadn’t moved away from him and was making no effort to keep the weapons out of his reach. Perhaps he thought Tom was too injured or else knew Tom wouldn’t be able to get them if he reached for them.
“Because. You fell down through the moss bed-”
“On this world, the trees grow very tall, due to something in the air, and the moss grows between them, up at the canopy. The moss is usually very thick, but there are places where a hole has formed, and then moss grows back, but it’s thin for a while and there is no dirt or smaller plants on top of it. You stepped on one such part and fell through. You are lucky that there was a second bed growing underneath you. The fall to the floor is almost a thousand spans.”
“How much is a span?” Tom asked, a little breathless all the sudden. Kesh held up one long, delicate hand.
“About this long,” he said, indicating his middle finger to slightly past his recently assaulted wrist. Tom winced. The length was about equal to a foot, maybe a little longer. A thousand foot drop? Wow.
“And that’s how I landed in your path?”
“Yes. I was camped there, awaiting the return of my fellows and my dusei when you fell right next to me.”
“How far did I fall?”
“About twelve spans,” Kesh estimated. Tom shook his head. Not too bad, he had survived worse.
“So what does that have to do with me not returning to my ship?”
“Aw, you see, the people you were with came too close to the camp and the dusei, who are very protective of their masters, attacked them. Your people fazed.”
“Beamed?” Kesh shrugged his broad, but somehow delicate shoulders. “They didn’t come back?” Tom asked, his insecurity breaking through momentarily. He had some rather nasty abandonment issues.
“Oh, yes, they did. We attempted to speak with them and tell them that you were well and here, but they became enraged and frightened and attacked us. The Dusei do not take well to such hostility, and they too became enraged, but not frightened, and attacked as well. We attempted to contact them two times more, but each time, they did not listen to us and started firing energy streams. Each time they were attacked by the Dusei. We have concluded that for some reason, your people did not want you back. They left the atmosphere two cycles ago.”
“Two cycles?” Tom asked, hoping against hope that a cycle was an hour, even as he reached up to tap his com badge.
“Two turns of the planet.” Tom whimpered, both at the answer and the fact that his com badge was no longer attached to his rather filthy, torn uniform. Again, he thanked the captain for making the senior officers get the universal transmitter implanted. It wasn’t an obligatory procedure for Star Fleet crew, as the process was still relatively new –it had only been in use for about forty years- and they didn’t quite have the long terms effects noted, but in the Delta quadrant, the procedure had been invaluable numerous times, like presently.
“Okay…” Tom said quietly, taking a deep breath. “I assume you’re a space-faring species?”
“Then… could you possible help me catch up with my people? I would consider whatever debt you owe me cancelled if you could do just that. I have to get back to my ship… to my fiancÚ!” Kesh tipped his head to one side and gave him a curious look.
“FiancÚ. The-” Tom barely stopped himself before he said ‘the man I’m going to marry’ not knowing how Kesh’s culture looked on same-sex relationships. He amended it to, “My partner.”
“Your partner? You are Trill’ell?”
“You are not a warrior?” the man asked, obviously confused, and even a little agitated. Warrior was probably the closest thing to what he was, and further more, he was quite skilled in combat.
“I am a warrior,” he stressed.
“Ah,” Kesh said, seeming to be relieved and understand at the same time.
“I’m a pilot,” he added.
“A… never mind. Warrior.” Though Kesh looked confused, he did not comment.
“I will re-set your ankle; you have unset it in your startlement,” Kesh said finally, his voice betraying a hint of criticism, “and then we will go to the ship. We are not capable of linear travel and our own system will take us very far ahead of your ship,” he said, shrugging as if to say there was nothing to do for it. “But if your ship catches up to us, we will signal them.” Tom’s shoulders slumped, defeated. He would try to figure out more about this system that would apparently take them ahead of Voyager, but now his head was starting to pound furiously.
“How long was I unconscious?” he asked finally.
“Seventeen cycles,” Kesh answered without pause.
“Ye, gods!” Tom exclaimed in startlement, startling his companion with his out burst. “I must have taken some bump to the head!”
“Truly, you did. As you fell, your head several times hit many obstructions. We guess you were unconscious when you finally hit my post. You landed almost head first. We were quite concerned for the amount of blood you lost. Sath’ell Alouri healed you very well. You should reward him with a sigla for the act,” Kesh added.
“What?” Tom asked, not sure what a sigla was, and therefore, was quite suspicious of it.
“I will explain it to you later. Give me your ankle.” Tom hauled the requested appendage out of the man’s reach.
“I’ll take care of it,” he said sullenly, gingerly feeling his ankle for the break. He was well acquainted with this little number.
“But-” With no preamble and little more than a tug and a quick twist, Tom reset his own bone, which was broken cleanly just above the ankle. He hissed through his teeth as the bone rejoined, shooting a spark of pain up his body in retribution, but otherwise he didn’t show any outward signs of the pain. How he had managed a fall that cracked his head without breaking a few other bones, Tom would never know, but as Kesh splinted and wrapped the freshly set bone, it was explained that he made it through with relatively little injury, baring the life-threatening ‘bump’ to the head.
When Kesh was satisfied with his splint, he pulled out a slender container and shook out what Tom identified as a pill.
“What is it?” Tom asked suspiciously when Kesh offered it to him.
“It will help with the swelling.” Tom waved it off.
“I can’t take that. I have no idea how it will react with my body.”
“You’ve already taken it,” Kesh interrupted before Tom could explain the consequences of taking alien medications.
“Several times. To reduce the swelling in your head and help you heal.”
“You could have killed me!” he roared, angry, not for his own sake, but for Harry’s. If he’d died he would have had no chance of getting home and Harry… he didn’t have all the good of a chance as it stood, but there was hope.
“No, we could not have,” Kesh argued stubbornly. “Sath’ell Alouri made sure you wouldn’t react poorly to it. You are chemically almost identical to the mri.” He thrust the little pill forward again, and Tom sighed. He really shouldn’t trust this man; he had no way of knowing if there was a ‘Sath’ell Alouri’ –presumably a doctor of some sort- or if the man had actually scanned him, or if he’d actually been given this pill, or, if given medication, if it was the same pill he was given. However, Tom reasoned, if Kesh had wanted to kill him, he would have done so already, and if Tom refused the medication, Kesh could force it on him and Tom was in no position to defend himself.
Sighing heartily, he slowly took the pill and set it on the far back of his tongue. He’d expected it to taste revolting, simply because it was medication, but, astoundingly, it tasted quite good. Almost like fruit actually.
“You shouldn’t make medication taste good,” Tom said once he’d washed the little pill down with a swallow of water.
“Because people might eat it like candy then, just because it tastes good, and become addicted or overdose.”
“Why would anyone do that? And what is c-ha-andy?”
“Sweets? Treats? Dessert?”
“Sweets, yes. But I don’t think you understand-” Tom opened his mouth to argue, and then abruptly weaved and slumped over, darkness running over him like a freight train.
Any thoughts would be much appreciated.
ONE: In which seven linear years have passed…
“Oh… now what?” Kathryn asked helplessly, seeing the alien vessel on approach.
“We’re being hailed,” Harry announced, exhausted and depressed, as they all were.
“Yellow alert,” she said wearily. “On screen.” The face that came on screen was almost completely covered with black cloth except for a pair of startlingly blue eyes.
“Hello,” Janeway greeted. “I am…”
“Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager,” the man finished, his voice oddly familiar. Stunned, Janeway said nothing, contemplating what she could do about the situation, if she should do anything at all. “Hello, captain,” the man finished and Kathryn abruptly recognized the voice, but not before Harry did.
“Tom?” he asked breathlessly. The man’s attention turned to the Ops officer who had left his post and was cautiously approaching the command island of the bridge.
“Hello, Harry.” Silence fell for a moment as the two regarded each other, Harry trying desperately to recognize his once-fiancÚ through the veil and failing. “Captain, I suppose we have a lot to talk about. Permission to come aboard?” Tom asked formally, turning his attention back to the still stunned captain.
“Granted,” Janeway whispered, barely resisting the impulse to check if Chakotay could see Tom or if she was finally going mad.
“Acknowledged, captain. Myself and two Kel will be beaming over. We will be armed, but we mean no harm,” Tom said, closing the channel before the captain could say anything, leaving no doubt in Janeway’s mind that the issue was not up for debate. She ordered Chakotay and Harry both armed and turned the bridge over to Tuvok.
“You sure you’re up to this, Kim?” she asked as the trio approached the turbolift. Harry took part of his lower lip between his teeth, but nodded.
“I’ll be professional, captain, I promise.”
“Good. Let’s go gentlemen, and see what this is all about.”
They reached the transporter room several minute before Tom and his officers, whom she assumed the ‘Kel’ were, arrived.
“Captain,” Tom greeted with stiff formality as he stepped off the platform. The two other men behind him were both dressed from head to toe in black and veiled, like Tom, but Tom had a dull silver lining on the veil and sleeves. All three had their forearms resting casually on a sword that was slung from one side.
“Tom… I don’t know what to say! Welcome back?” She held out her hand, her tone almost hopeful. Tom’s blue eyes glanced from the captain’s hand and then back to her face. The two men behind him had immediately moved as though to leap forward, but Tom forestalled the motion with a slight hand gesture.
“We do not touch ts’mri,” Tom explained, his voice deeper than Kathryn remembered it to be. She didn’t know what ‘ts’mri’ was, but couldn’t decide if she should take offense as it was delivered in a very matter-of-fact manner and seemed not to be aimed at causing offense. There was a tense silence and then Tom released a breath in a soft sort of sigh.
“Perhaps the council chamber?” he suggested.
“Of course, right this… well, I guess you know the way,” Kathryn said wryly, though she still sent Chakotay ahead. Any number of things could have happened to Tom in seven years, and, especially if he felt bitter about being left on the planet, he could be dangerous.
Without another word, Tom walked out of the transporter room, his two men following behind silently, not even sparing a glance for the ts’mri. At a loss for what else to do, she called for her senior staff and had sentries posted at the council chamber as a matter of regulation, though she didn’t really know why she still bothered with them. When they reached the council chamber, two young –not so young anymore- security personnel stood at the entry, their uniforms not as pristine as they would have been seven years ago, but rather wrinkled and unkempt. Tom didn’t comment, but she could almost feel his distaste as they entered the chamber and the two came wearily to attention and rendered sloppy salutes.
Military courtesy had fallen off and salutes and titles were hardly ever used anymore so the two were obviously out of practice. Inside, the senior staff came to attention and Tom and his men stood stiffly behind seats while the captain walked to her place at the table. She made a gesture and seats were pulled back and occupied.
“So…” Kathryn started a little uncomfortably. “What’s happened to you in these last seven years?” Tom, still painfully straight in his chair, didn’t relax at all.
“I was taken by the mri to the pa’ani and Accepted and then Cleansed and trained. I am Kel’en,” he said shortly.
“Oh.” He’d gone native. Not that the captain could blame him.
“We didn’t intend to leave you…” Tom waved a hand.
“Shtre en-tru,” he said simply, as though that solved the matter. The words didn’t filter through the translator and so had no meaning to the senior staff.
“You,” Tom continued after several heartbeats of uncomfortable silence, “have not fared so well.” Janeway winced; true enough.
“No. We haven’t,” she agreed. Tom seemed to be waiting for an explanation. “About six months ago there was an accident in engineering. The warp core was damaged beyond repair; we were lucky to have saved the ship.”
“There were causalities?” There were many visual winces.
“Sixteen,” the captain said quietly. “B’Elanna and Seven among them.” Tom made a slight motion with his head.
“My condolences,” he offered, his tone rather distant. That stirred something of a reaction and Harry nearly screamed,
“That’s all you can say?!” Janeway turned to the newly made lieutenant as if to silence him, but the menacing growl from Tom’s men, who had not taken seats, beat her to it. Harry looked at Tom in confusion and betrayal. Tom barked a few words to the men in their –his? – language, and the two settled again, though seemed displeased.
“Do not pay them mind,” Tom said. “They are new and rather irritated.”
“Is there something we can do to alleviate the irritation?” Janeway asked quickly, not wanting to make yet another enemy because of something simple she could fix. Tom shook his head shortly.
“They find your state of undress offensive,” he confessed, though his tone held steady and there was no trace of apology in it.
“Undress?” the captain asked, blinking in confusion. Tom reached up slightly and tugged at his veil. Comprehension dawned, but all she could do was shrug. Tom made a dismissive gesture and then said a few more words to his men.
“I wish to extend to you and your senior officers an invitation to dine on my ship,” Tom said finally. “Do you accept?”
“I will send over specifications of clothing you would be advised to wear,” he continued. “Dinner time will be set for…” his eyes narrowed as he made the conversion from the time he was accustomed to, to Voyager’s time. “Four hours. Is this sufficient?” Kathryn winced a little, finally deciding that Tom sounded like a Vulcan. Or Seven… She cleared her throat.
“Four hours will be sufficient,” she answered hastily.
“Then our current business is concluded?” Tom asked, standing. Voyager’s senior crew hurried to copy his motion.
“I suppose so,” she said reluctantly, realizing that she was being dismissed, even though Tom would be the one leaving.
“Then we will speak again after evening meal,” Tom said by way of farewell. He presented a small bow to the captain, his men reluctantly offering deeper bows, and then left. The two crewmen at the door –who had been leaning against the wall- quickly jogged to keep up with him. It was obvious that they weren’t doing much by way of escort, but there wasn’t anything else they could do.
Captain Janeway tugged at her veil a little to bring it away from her eyes. All her senior staff were similarly veiled, though they all remained in their uniforms. The veils were thin and a soft sand color, which Tom assured her was absolutely necessary as any other color might be taken offensively or confuse his crew. She didn’t have the energy to ask about it.
With a nod, she had the ensign activate the transporters. Harry, Chakotay, Tuvok, Elean Bradd, her new chief engineer, and Gerron, her chief pilot were accompanying her. She couldn’t express to them how grateful she was to have them along. Tom met them in his ships transporter bay and gave them a cursory glance before nodding in approval.
“Most of the Kel will ignore you,” Tom explained as he led them out of the large room and into the corridor beyond, “do not take offense. It is our way.” Kathryn winced visibly. //Our way.//
“During dinner, you must not speak on matters of business; it is forbidden.”
“Can they understand us?”
“What can we talk about?”
“There is not much speaking during meal times, but you may speak of trivial matters, if you feel so inclined.”
Harry, in the back of the group, fingered the black mourning sash that he had yet to remove and watched his one-time lover. The man seemed taller, broader, and far more confident. He walked with a sort of graceful swagger that Tom had never before managed to pull off. Perhaps their pervious term of engagement would be trivial enough to speak of during dinner.
They were led into a large chamber that was scattered with cushions and lengths of cloth that had piles of food set on them. Their own stores had been dwindling and the crew had been put at three-quarters rations the week before, so the piles of fruit and unrecognizable dishes were a welcome sight, though the captain new her officers would feel guilty eating it with the crew chewing the tasteless rations they’d been given. Not for the first time, she missed Nelix. The man’s food hadn’t been gourmet, and there were many that had complained, but the Telaxian had had a knack for turning not a lot into something at least mildly palatable. He had, unfortunately, been lost on the last supply-gathering mission.
Something of the truth must have shown on their faces, for Tom abruptly snapped his fingers. One of the black-robed men hurried forward, leaning close over Tom’s shoulder to hear what he had to say.
“I have had food sent over to your crew,” he said simply, once the man had left.
“That’s-” Janeway started; taking charity was against her nature. A flush rose to her covered cheeks, but Tom waved away her protest away with that simply hand gesture that seemed to be a silencing mechanism. He gestured to the cushions and Voyager’s officers gratefully sat down.
No one did anything for a moment, the away team surreptitiously surveying Tom’s crew. They were all sitting motionlessly on their knees, hands resting in their laps. After several moments of silence, Tom began to speak. His voice was soft and silky, and the language was smooth and sounded vaguely Asian, though subtler. The crew said something after he stopped speaking and then chatter began to softly fill the silence. Tom relaxed from his pose and turned to his guests.
“Are you well this evening?” Tom asked politely. As it happened, Harry ended up on his left –more by design of the crew than by accident- and the captain was to his right. It wasn’t obvious whom he was addressing, so everyone answered.
“I have selected dishes that will perhaps not be so offensive to your stomachs,” Tom said after a minute, this seeming to be his subtle clue to start eating. They did so, cautiously selecting bits of the main platter in the center and bringing them on to their plate, as those around them were doing.
“How is Nelix?” Tom asked after a moment.
“He died,” the captain offered quietly. There was a moment of silences.
“My condolences,” Tom repeated, his voice still hallow and distant.
“What’s happened to you, Tom?” Harry asked helplessly. Nelix and B’Elanna and Seven and the fourteen other crewmen who had died in engineering had been Tom’s friends. Most of the time.
“We will speak after meal time,” Tom said a little stiffly. “The conversation we must have is not appropriate for public ears.” Harry, chastened, again fingered his mourning sash and turned his attention to his food. He didn’t speak for the rest of the meal. Out of all of them, Tuvok was surprisingly the only one who could manage trivial conversation that was appropriate for mealtime. Talking about technology was apparently forbidden at all times, as was any academic subject. It was Tuvok who finally brought up music. Tom made a slight gesture and after a moment, there was a band playing. The music was very similar to Vulcan pieces and so Tom and Tuvok shared soft conversation while they compared the two forms. Everyone else was silent.
Two: In which there are conversations held which are not appropriate for the public…
After the meal –which was far from being ‘offensive to the stomach’ or the taste buds- Voyager’s officers were led out of the hall and into what appeared to be their equivalent of a council chamber.
“Please,” Tom said by way of offering seats. “First we will speak on official matters. What aid can I lend you?” Kathryn almost drew away, she was so shocked by the abruptness of the question. Seemingly unconcerned, Tom watched her and waited.
“We’ve been limping along at impulse for the past six months…” she said finally. “The crew is exhausted and demoralized. When we started this god-forsaken voyage we barely had enough manpower, even with the Marquis, to maintain long term basic ship operations. With the losses we’ve taken, everyone is pulling double shifts and everything is a mess,” she said finally, not knowing how to ask what she knew she needed to ask.
“I cannot supplement your crew, captain. However, I can offer to send you my engineers. They are only vaguely familiar with warp drives from what I have told them, but perhaps they can be of assistance. I can offer you supplies and the like.”
“Tom…” Kathryn said with a weary sigh. “Even if we could get the warp drive fixed, we have two engineers, and not enough crew to train more. We can’t function.” Tom was quiet for a minute and the away team nearly held their breaths, waiting for his answer.
“What exactly are you requesting of me?” Tom asked finally, cautiously.
“We thought… we’re ready to…” she swallowed hard because it was hard to say, “give up,” she pressed out finally. Tom tipped his head to one side.
“You’re requesting sanctuary, or placement?”
“Are you requesting to integrate yourself with our culture, or are you requesting we find you somewhere to colonize?”
“We thought… well, you’ve done so well…”
“And if I can do well, anyone can?” Tom hazarded, almost viciously. Before anyone could say anything he made that dismissive hand gesture.
“Do not respond to that. It was dishonorable for me to suggest it.” Silence fell again. “I don’t think you quite comprehend what you’re requesting, captain. The life of the mri is very difficult. It would be hard for you.”
“No more difficult than our current situation, certainly… and I’m sure we can help you, there is information we can share-”
“That is what you will find most difficult captain. In mri society only the Sath’ell and the Trill’ell and the Kel’en are allowed to learn, and as to matters involving space, only the Kel’en. It is a very strict culture with a semi-rigid caste system, in which there are many boundaries. It is not the Federation you are accustomed to.”
“We’ll survive,” the captain said, though with less conviction.
“What of the rest of the crew? Have you spoken to them about this?”
“I have. Most agree. Only a handful don't.” Tom hesitated.
“I must speak with the pa’ani; it is her decision, not mine.”
“Could we just… settle on the planet somewhere?”
“That would be ill-advised. There are three types on the planet. Mri, ts’hath and ts’mri. The word ‘mri’ means People. We are the People. The ts’hath are animals, of which there are few; Kiset is a harsh planet. Ts’mri is a word that means not-People. They are our enemies.”
“Couldn’t we just stay out of it all together?”
“Ts’mri is any who is not mri. If you are not mri you are ts’mri.” Tom shrugged and Kathryn’s shoulders fell.
“I will send to you information regarding our culture. You would do well to read up on it, before making a decision. We could find for you a planet elsewhere for you to settle.”
“I’m loath to settle so far from anyone we know.”
“It is a risk,” Tom agreed. “I will speak to the pa’ani. You and your crew should read the information I send you. It will not be completely comprehensive, as there is much I cannot reveal to a ts’mri about the mri.”
“Alright. I guess that’s all we can ask for.”
“In the meantime, I will send you supplies and anything else you require.”
“Thank you,” the captain said, her voice almost a whisper.
“Of course. It is the least I can do. Is there anything more?” The captain shook her head slowly. Tom had definitely changed; he was to the point, and seemed to have no patience for small talk. “If you have no further topics for discussion, I wish to speak with your…lieutenant, if I may.”
“Of course,” the captain said hastily.
“If you wish to return to the dinning hall, I’m sure there is still entertainment going on.” They looked at him dubiously. “Do not worry. They will not harm you in any way. Do not remove your veils, and make not attempt to touch anyone. My lieutenant will make sure no one takes offense to anything you may do. We are a proud people.” Without waiting, Tom called in his lieutenant. The man was dressed like the rest of the crew, but had a lavender pattern stitched onto his veil. Tom spoke to him softly in the flowing tones of their language and the man presented him with a low bow and then stood and turned slightly so he was looking over the heads of their guests.
Harry remained seated, nervously toying with the backside of his sash.
“Perhaps you would accompany me to the side chamber? It is more comfortable.” Harry nodded and stood quickly, needing to move. They entered the side chamber and Tom closed a semi-transparent screen. He gestured to the mounds of cushions in the center of the room and Harry fell into them.
Tom sat across from him, and after a second’s hesitation, pulled his veil out of one side and let it dangle. Harry absently did the same, succeeding only in pulling the entire thing off while he gazed upon Tom’s face. The man had changed much, and his face was somehow harsher than it had been, though that might have been from the three horizontal blue tattooed lines that fitted neatly over his left cheekbone, or the golden tan that made his eyes so vibrantly blue.
“Hi,” Harry offered lamely. Tom’s lips twitched in a small smile and Harry wanted to cry, because he wanted Tom to grin at him like he used to.
“Do you wear that for me?” Tom asked quietly, gesturing to the black sash. Harry nodded.
“All the time… except in bed, but I don’t get there often enough for it to count,” he added wryly. Harry looked down at the sash and silence fell. Soon after Tom’s disappearance, they’d been attacked and boarded by some hostile alien or another. Harry had killed half a dozen of the boarders himself, he being the only person on the bridge when they finally broke through. Once they were gone, he had pinned six little medallions onto the sash, and since then it had become his badge of honor. Every time they faced an enemy and survived, Harry added another. Along the sides there was silver embroidery, for every friend he’d seen die. There were twenty of the symbols: Nelix, B’Elanna, Seven, Tom, the fourteen other crew who had died in the engineering accident and the two that had died during the boarding incident.
“Who warms your bed, Harry?” Tom asked quietly, his voice betraying a little nervousness. Harry choked out a little laugh.
“No one,” he said, shaking his head a little. “B’Elanna once, but… I just couldn’t do it. And then…” and then she left me too.
“I am sorry,” Tom offered.
“Tom, what’s happened to you? They were your friends,” Harry pressed out finally, wanting to understand why Tom wasn’t affected by their deaths.
“Their deaths are not mine to share,” Tom said, tipping his head slightly to one side. “They are not mine to mourn. They are private.”
“They were your comrades and companions, Tom!”
“No. They were yours. It is hard for you to understand, but I am Kel’en. That will have to be enough. They died good deaths; I am pleased with them. Good deaths are not to be mourned by those who could not share them,” Tom explained, trying and failing to make Harry understand.
“Tom…” Harry moaned, those tears that he had held at bay at Tom’s ceremony finally coming. “I’ve missed you so much…” He hunched over and hugged himself as he cried, wanting Tom to hold him so badly and not understanding why the man wouldn’t.
“Can I…?” Tom asked finally. Harry had no idea what he was asking, and indeed could barely hear him through his own grief. “Can I touch you?” Tom clarified awkwardly. The question made Harry sob harder; Tom, the man he had loved –loved still- had to ask to touch him?
“You have to ask me, Tom? After ten months of sleeping in my bed, you have to ask to touch me?!” He was almost angry, and the terror and anger boiling through his blood was cutting off the tears and making him shake harder. Tom, in the space of a few heartbeats, was across the distance that separated them and pulling Harry into his arms.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “There is much about me that has changed in seven years, Harry… I am sorry. I will not again request your permission to touch you,” he promised. Harry didn’t care. He was back in his fiancÚ’s arms, their status unchanged as he had never removed the ring and still had it logged in the ships computer that their marriage was pending. Not that it was likely to occur now.
They stayed like that for a long time, silent, unmoving, until finally there was a knock at the door. Tom pulled away from Harry reluctantly and helped the lieutenant replace his veil before expertly fixing his own. He called out and the screen slid open to reveal Tom’s lieutenant sitting on his knees with his head bowed. They exchanged a few words and then Tom looked at Harry apologetically.
“It is time for you to return to your ship,” he said softly. Harry nodded, reluctantly to leave, afraid that if he did, he would wake up in his cold quarters and find himself alone with another double watch looming on the horizon.
“I will see you again shortly,” Tom promised, standing and helping the lieutenant to his feet. “Sleep pleasantly, Harry Kim,” Tom whispered, gently urging the man out of the room. Harry meekly followed Tom’s lieutenant out of the room, the man’s growl reminding him of Tom’s previous statement to the captain. We do not touch ts’mri. His face glowed red and he hoped he hadn’t gotten Tom into any sort of trouble.
THREE: In which there are Husbands and a duel…
“Why did you soil yourself with that ts’mri?!” the lieutenant asked sharply, spitting the word out like a curse.
“Kesh!” Tom snapped, stopping him from saying anything else. “That was my fiancÚ,” he whispered. Kesh fell silent. He remembered Tom telling him about his ‘fh-ounce-see’ when they first met.
“I am sorry,” Kesh said quietly. He did not mean to upset his captain. Tom waved it away.
“You couldn’t have known.” Kesh nodded; there was nothing else he could do.
“What will you do with them?”
“I will speak to the pa’ani and do with them whatever she decides,” Tom said simply, rising from the mat. Kesh rose as well; the matter was closed and he would not ask again.
“I shall inform Homeworld of your imminent arrival,” he said, bowing as he backed out of the room. Tom turned his attention to one of the ship’s few portholes and gazed on the familiar planes of Voyager.
“Why now?” he asked the ship. “Why do you come now? Why not before?” Silent as the grave, the ship did not answer, and Tom turned away and prepared himself for sleep.
Tom secured his veil tightly before stepping out of the shuttle and onto the warm soil of Homeworld, his dusei following faithfully. Kiset was a desert planet with a single ocean that, all told, covered only a quarter of the planet. The rest of the world’s water was concentrated on the equator, a thin strip of land that was essentially a broken oasis. The People used to inhabit the land surrounding the Oasis, until the ts’mri came and pushed them further and further into the desert, claiming their lands. Tom was not on the planet when this occurred, nearly fifty years ago, but nonetheless, the very thought sent fire hurdling through his veins. He had not exaggerated when he’d said settling on the planet without integrating with the mri was a bad idea. The People would have been outraged and Tom would not be able to stop their righteous war.
Tom walked leisurely to the endun, the central dwelling place of the mri, the heat not affecting his pace in the slightest. He had learned very quickly that no one had business that was so important as to engender running. Kiset immediately sucked the moisture out of those fools who did. When he finally reached the system of caves and stone outbuildings that made up the endun, he waited patiently at the base of the stair to be challenged and admitted while his dusei wandered off to his own entrance.
“Speak,” the sentry called. They had learned quickly that because a man waited at their doorstep in the garb of a mri, didn’t mean he was mri.
“I am Kel’en Paris, of Hope,” Tom called back, his voice only loud enough to carry, which wasn’t loud since he stood in a natural courtyard that projected his voice upwards.
“Come, Kel’en, and welcome home,” the sentry called back.
“Gracious, brother, and thank you,” Tom said with a small bow. He mounted the steps and climbed, his pace as leisurely as his walk. When he reached the top the sentry waited with hand outstretched. This was a finally test; if Tom were an imposter, he would take the offered hand and allowed himself to be pulled to the landing, where he would be unveiled, and possibly thrown from the Heights to the floor below, a twenty-five span fall. As it was, Tom ignored the offered hand and grabbed a handhold in the left wall to haul himself up. The sentry backed away graciously and Tom passed him with only a short nod in greeting. The mri were a people of little speech, especially to those they were not Familiar with.
Tom walked calmly through the well-know passages, ignoring those he passed; he was Kel’en and need take notice of no one but the pa’ani and her Chosen, unless he chose to do otherwise. His feet carried him to the narrow stairwell that led to the pa’ani’s audience chamber. She would have been notified of his arrival and should be waiting for him. Though the pa’ani was the Mother of the People, and by law was above all the People, by custom, she was subject to the whims of the Kel’en, the Heaven Warriors.
When Tom reached the top of the stairwell, a small hall led to a tall door made of precious wood. Tom knocked once and then lowered himself to his knees off to one side of the door to await the pa’ani’s pleasure. The door opened a few minutes later and a gold-robed Sath’ell ushered him in with a slight hand motion. Tom lowered his forehead to the ground once, in a sign of respect, and then stood and walked past the Sath’ell into the carpeted chamber beyond. The pa’ani was the only one of the People who went regularly without a veil, veiling herself only when there were ts’mri in the endun. She was well advanced in years, and her creased face showed the marks of good breeding and nobility. She had been beautiful once, but beauty was wasted on a pa’ani, as she and her Chosen were celibate.
“Welcome home, Son,” she greeted, inclining her head elegantly. She was seated in her high-backed wooden chair, her back not touching the fine red cushions.
“Gracious, Mother. Are you well?” he asked. She inclined her head and then relaxed against her cushions. This was her treasured Son, and she had no need for formalities beyond the greeting.
“You have a request to make of me, Tom?” she asked, using the private name that she above all others had liberty to.
“Indeed, Mother. My people, whom I’ve told you of, have come across us. They are very poor condition and request sanctuary.”
“Ah. And what did you tell them?”
“I told them that life among the mri would be difficult for them.”
“And they persisted?”
“They are desperate and in need of a home.”
“We cannot supply them, repair them?”
“They are shorted drastically on personnel. Even with supplies and repairs they would not survive long.”
“We cannot supply them with personnel.”
“I understand that, Mother, and I explained that to them. They do not wish to settle with any of our neighbors, and I believe I have been successful in dissuading them from settling elsewhere on the planet.”
“That is very good. The People would not tolerate it. I will put it to the Husbands; they will decide tonight.” Tom simply nodded; the matter was closed, and Tom could not bring it up again until the Husbands had been notified and had discussed the matter. They spoke for a moment more on the state of affairs in the endun. A young Trill’ell had been drafted into the ranks of the Kel, and a female Trill’ell had been taken into the Sath’ell. A Kel elder had taken the Long Walk into the realms of Shadow, and a new Kel had risen to the rank of Husband in his place.
“Go, my Son and get some rest. The Husbands will meet here tonight; you should be here.”
“I will, Mother,” Tom promised. He touched his head to the floor and propelled himself backwards with his arms two paces before rising and backing away.
“Rest well,” the pa’ani said in parting.
“Thank you, Mother.” Tom closed the door silently behind him and turned away. The stairs led him back to the main corridor, and from there to another set of stairs that was wide and led down into the homes of the People. The chambers of the Kel’en were on the upper levels, with the Sath’ell, on the levels below were the Kel, and below them were the Trill’ell. The different castes mingled very rarely, and though the lower castes were not prohibited from entering the sleeping corridors of the upper castes, nor the upper castes of the lower, there was rarely any occasion to do so.
His chambers were made from one of the natural caverns in the cliffs. The floor had been leveled and smoothed, but otherwise the cavern was left much as it had been. A door on the far side of the main cavern opened into a smaller one that he used as a sleeping area. The main room was for guests and day-to-day activities, and housed his dusei, who was already on his gigantic stone couch, dozing lazily. He approached the animal and patted its gigantic, hunched shoulders with a rough sort of fondness. In response, the dusei, who was not named and had no definite sex, lifted its head and nudged Tom in the chest with its large flat face. Tom scratched him roughly behind the ears and then withdrew, removing his veil, turban, and gloves as he did so. Unconcerned, the dusei lowered its head back to where it had been resting between its large, clawed paws.
Tom checked the heavy woven curtain that separated his home from the hallway and began to disrobe. In one corner, a large basin had been carved into a naturally raised rock formation. On Kiset, water was precious, but beneath the endun there was a lake that was roughly a kilometer across and likely several hundred feet deep. It was one of a scattering of underground lakes, and was the main reason the endun had been founded in the middle of an extremely long stretch of desert. Therefore, those of the People who lived in the endun enjoyed the privilege of baths. Nonetheless, when Tom opened the narrow pipe, he let only enough warm water flow into the basin to allow him to wash, and was extremely careful not to let any of it get on the floor. He had never really appreciated how precious a commodity could be until it was scarce, but over the last seven years had grown accustomed to saving as much of the endun’s water as he could. Initially it had been because he felt it wasn’t his. Now, it was because he knew it wasn’t. The water belonged to the People.
After bathing and carefully drying off, Tom pulled the drain. The water would follow a system of pipes and would be purified by the purple moss that grew inside of them before being pumped back into the lake.
On board Voyager, Janeway and her senior staff sat around the now seldom used table and pondered what to do. No one was under the misconception that, even with aid from Tom, they could continue as they had. Everyone was frankly exhausted. Six months of double shifts and insufficient nourishment had left everyone sickly and depressed. They’d managed to survive this long by virtue of their tireless holographic doctor and the vitamin implants they’d all been given two months ago. Which were due for an exchange. Not that they had the stores to replace them. The situation would quickly degenerate into utter hopelessness not long after the supplement implants finally gave out.
“I don’t see that we have much of a choice,” the captain said finally. It had been very difficult when, after Tom left Voyager, they sat down to hash out a plan. It had been Tuvok, ever logical, who had suggested that they follow Tom’s example. No one wanted to admit that they had all been thinking it. No one had to.
“Have you all spoken to your departments?” They all nodded, slowly, still unwilling to admit to what they were doing. They were abandoning their journey home; a journey that may have been abandoned a hundred –a thousand- times before, but wasn’t. They were admitting defeat. “You’ve given them all the information Tom sent us?” Again, they nodded, this time grimacing a bit. The information they’d been sent had been pretty general. It involved their caste system, a basic overview of their religion, and some of the customs of the People, all of which seemed very harsh.
“We really… we haven’t much choice,” Kathryn said, trying to convince herself as much as anyone. After all, they were deserting. It was an offense punishable by death, regardless of whether they were at war or not.
“We have no choice,” Kim amended quietly. Over the last few days, the supplement implants had been releasing so little of the vital chemicals that had kept everyone healthy and nourished, that her crew was beginning to resemble ghosts.
“Then… then I guess all we can do is wait for Tom to return.” More nods, more silence. Outside, the great abyss seemed to hum.
The Husbands were five of the oldest and most decorated Kel. Here there was a strange dance as well. By law, Tom and the pa’ani both outranked these five withered old men. But by custom, Tom had to treat them as a superior and accord them all the respect he would accord an equally aged and decorated member of the Kel’en. Likewise, by custom, the pa’ani had to consult and listen to their advice on all matters that affected the People. She would have to have a very good reason not to take whatever advice the Husbands offered, yet by law she could technically ignore them completely and not even include them in discussions if she desired. Not that she would be pa’ani long if she did so. The People would be incensed and some younger, more orthodox Sath’ell would take a champion from the Kel and challenge her.
So, when Tom came into the room, the Husbands stood, recognizing his rank as defined by the silver lining on his clothing, but it was Tom who bowed, low, with his eyes turned down. Everyone was seated. Not being a Husband himself, Tom felt odd sitting in on the discussion, but they would likely need his council on the matter since Voyager had once been his home and her crew once his people. He sat on his knees by the pa’ani’s empty chair and cast his eyes down, indicating that he did not wish to be drawn into conversation. The Husbands ignored him accordingly and Tom turned his thoughts again to his old comrades. To Harry.
//“Harry, I have a present for you!” Tom sung out. Harry
came out of his sleeping quarters, dressed in soft white pants and a black tank top, showing of his arms and the muscles on his chest that he’d been working so hard on. Tom grinned.
“What is it?” Harry asked, curious.
“C’mere and see.” Harry approached the table cautiously. They had just finished a very nice, romantic dinner to celebrate their three-month anniversary. Sitting on the cleared table, was a round chocolate box, with raspberries spilling out of it, and a decorative swirl of dark red syrup around the plate.
“Mmmm…” Harry said, smiling. He loved chocolate and raspberries. Tom sat him down insistently and Harry picked up his fork, and lifted the lid. Instead of finding raspberries swimming in syrup as he’d expected, he found another box with a few of the sweet barriers around it. Lifting an eyebrow, he opened the other box. No barries this time. Sitting on a black velvet cushion was a simple gold ring. //
“Please be seated,” the pa’ani announced. It wasn’t until then that Tom realized she had entered and he had automatically stood. Brought back to the present, he sank back to his knees, his hands resting lightly on his thighs, back straight and head up, indicating that he was approachable. The Husbands removed their veils; there were no veils between them. Tom did not.
“Husbands,” the pa’ani said, starting the meeting, “Kel’en,” she acknowledged. He was the only Kel’en in the room and subsequently, he would now be addressed only by his title, as he now represented every member of his caste. His inclined his head slightly and remained silent.
“We have at our doorstep weary travelers who seek sanctuary.”
“Is that wise?” the youngest Husband, who had only recently been taken into the caste, asked, almost immediately. “Is it wise to allow ts’mri into our homes? We once welcomed ts’mri to Homeworld and showed them how to survive, and helped them survive, and they have turned us out of our homes.”
“It is my understanding that there are not enough of them to be a threat to the People,” the pa’ani said, though her tone was conversational, not to be quoted. She would not be blamed if it went badly.
“Spies,” the same Husband suggested. His tone held heat where there should have been none; this was supposed to be a logical meeting in which the choices were presented and thought through until a decision could be made. The young Husband’s brethren heard to the tone and turned to him with cool eyes. He averted his gaze in silent apology and the eyes turned from him. Tom watched the exchange with curiosity; there was much he had learned about the People, much he had been forced to learn, but there was also much he didn’t know. He had been among them for seven years –ten of Kiset’s years- and he had taken well to the culture and the religion, but he had not grown up among them. He had mastered the series of looks and gestures that were useful in battle, things he could use in a meeting with his own men. He had not learned the subtleties involved in politics. It was astoundingly intriguing.
“These travelers-” Tom was grateful that she kept calling them ‘travelers’ and did not allow ‘beggars’ to be inferred. The mri did not believe in begging. “Are brethren to one of our own,” she finished. For a moment Tom expected to be introduced to this mri who was brethren to a ts’mri, and then remembered that she was referring to him. The Husband’s turned their gazes to him, curious, and also relieved.
When Tom first arrived with Kesh, he was treated poorly. His Guardian had to draw blood –or duel- for him half a dozen times. He’d had to draw blood for himself twice that many. Children spat at his feet, mothers quickly hid their babies when he passed and no one would honor his eyes, that is, make direct contact with them. When he was induced into the ranks of the Kel, that all changed immediately. In an instant, he was no longer ts’mri. When he walked, self-conscious in his plain black robes, the children danced around his feet and tugged at his hands, wanting to be picked up, mothers grabbed their children away to keep them from annoying a Kel, and he was greeted with courteous nods. A year and a half later, the pa’ani had pulled him into the vaunted ranks of the Kel’en, recognizing that the talents of his previous life could be put to good use.
The pa’ani touched him lightly on the top of his head, and he looked up, sought her brown eyes and held them for a moment.
“Speak on behalf of your people,” she urged.
“They are not my people,” Tom stated dispassionately. He would not argue with the pa’ani, as such an act bordered on a capital offence unless he had just cause, or impunity. He had not been granted impunity –a favor bestowed on her closest confidants and her Chosen- and the point was not large enough to merit cause.
“They were once,” the pa’ani said gently. Tom held her eyes for a moment longer and then nodded slightly and turned his face so he was again looking at the Husbands. Now he did unveil, as it was unthinkable to address and congress of the Husbands veiled.
“The people of Voyager are strong,” he said. “They are honest to a fault, and trustworthy. There are many among their numbers that could defend the People-” that is, could be Kel, “and many more who would faithfully bare our children and our faith. The People would be safe with the crew of Voyager,” he concluded. Long windedness was not a trait that was favored among the mri, especially not in council.
“It is obvious to the Husbands,” Jeri, the oldest and most notable Husband said, having the ability to speak for his brethren, “that your words are honest and your advice sound. This we shall take into consideration.” Tom bowed his head, recognizing that he was being more or less dismissed, but only from the conversation, and was not expected to leave the room. He remained unveiled as they began to speak in earnest.
It might have appeared that the Husbands had promised to take his advice as a nicety only, but Tom had learned, through the few occasion in which he had sat in on councils, that if the pa’ani brought anyone not a Husband to a council of the Husbands, his advice was to be taken with the utmost gravity. They paused only briefly to allow a gold-robbed Chosen into the chamber in order to bring them refreshments.
After twelve grueling hours, the Husbands finally made their decision and passed on their advice to the pa’ani. She, in turn, took leave of the Husbands to make her own deliberations. The Husbands remained in the pa’ani’s audience chamber until, three hours later, she returned and announced her decision. Tom was given the task of carrying it back to people of Voyager.
Tom released a small sigh of relief as he stepped back onto his ship, his dusei lumbering out after him. He always felt much better when he was on board the Eternal Hope. The endun was his home, but Hope was his heart.
“Tom,” Kesh greeted, holding out a hand. Kesh had been his first –and for a very long time, his only- companion and friend among the mri, and they had grown very close. Tom took the offered hand without reservation and allowed his friend and lieutenant to pull him into an embrace.
“Good to have you back,” Kesh said with a grin that Tom couldn’t see, but knew was there. Among themselves, there were no veils, but there were others in the room they were less familiar with.
“Any problems?” Tom asked.
“Silent.” Tom nodded distractedly and headed for the wide door. All the doors on the ship were wide except those that led to delicate parts of the ship –such as engineering and the shrine- where they didn’t want their bulky dusei entering. The corridor outside was equally wide and they had no problem walking side-by-side, even with Tom’s dusei on his other side.
“Hail Voyager. Request a meeting with Captain Janeway and her senior officers. Politely, Kesh.”
“Of course, my captain,” Kesh said, again his grin dancing in the air between them.
When Janeway and her crew arrived –again, dressed in their veils- they were escorted immediately to Tom’s council chamber. Two armed mri stood at the door, but they didn’t so much as look at the ts’mri as they passed. Tom was seated at the oblong table, leaning back casually.
“Sit, captain,” Tom ordered gently. Her heart beating loudly against her ribs, the captain waved her officers to seats and took the chair directly across from her former chief pilot.
“You have been placed in my path,” Tom said once they were seated. “And so I can do nothing but aid you, or accompany you until He takes us apart,” Tom continued.
“What does that mean?” Janeway asked carefully.
“You and your crew are my Wards. I must now care for you.”
“Do you understand, that should you be offered sanctuary… it would be difficult for you. Especially for you, captain. Do you wish to withdraw your request?”
“What if we do?” Tom was silent for several long seconds.
“I would be compelled to accompany you back to Voyager, and aid you in what way I can before our paths diverge.” Janeway took a deep breath. Have Tom back at the helm? It was tempting, and for a minute, she felt that with Tom back, they would be okay. She pushed the thought aside. No; they wouldn’t be okay. One man couldn’t replace the nineteen others they had lost.
“We do not wish to withdraw our request.” Tom nodded shortly.
“Then I take you and your crew under my wing. From this moment on you are to me as children to a parent. You will be taken to Homeworld for Acceptance and Cleansing. If you are worthy, you will be taken into the arms of mri. If not, you will remain my wards. As of now, you are no longer a captain of a starship; you have no rank, no standing and no authority. The same goes for all of you. You are now wards of a Kel’en. You will follow my every instruction without hesitation; understand that when I tell you to do something, it will be for your own well-being. Voyager is now forfeit; it belongs to the People. It will be taken to su’luni for re-outfitting.
“Welcome,” he said, masterfully imitating the tones of Kesh the first time he’d set foot on a mri vessel. “To the wings of the People.”
Voyager’s officers- now Wards to a Kel’en- were silent. They hadn’t quite expected it to be so… harsh. Tom stood.
“For convenience, you will bring Voyager to su’luni under the instruction of my pilot and lieutenant and will be transported planet-side from there. Both are Kel, and my most trusted; they will understand that you do not yet know our ways, and will not take offense to anything you do. Within reason. You must not, for any reason, attempt to touch them, they will not honor your eyes, so do not attempt eye contact. You will make sure the crew is veiled at all times in the presence. So long as you follow those instructions, no one will come to any harm. If anyone disobeys, I cannot be held responsible for his fate.
“You will remain for a meal, before returning,” Tom finished, his tone leaving no room for questioning. “You may think I am harsh,” he said, much quieter, something of the tones they remembered of Tom Paris reappearing, “but I am only protecting you.” Tom made a slight gesture with both hands and, stunned, they rose. He paused only briefly, seemed as though he were about to say something, and then decided against it, and strode briskly for the door. Janeway lead her deathly silent crew –former crew, she reminded herself- after their Guardian.
The table of honor was subdued, though made an effort to revive the conversation he’d started the night before. His attempt was met with little success and finally a bell rang to signal the end of the dinner hour. All around the hall, people got up leisurely, finishing bits of food as they did and wandered out. One such wanderer stumbled as he passed their table and Harry reached out immediately to catch him. Tom shouted a warning too late and then the man was leaping back, a startled exclamation pushing harshly passed his black, unadorned veil. Before Harry could even apologize, a sword seemed to leap into the Kel’s hand. The hall had fallen deathly silent and those still left in the room, stood by and watched the exchange.
Harry held his hands up to show them empty and took an experimental step backwards. The Kel hissed and advanced, bringing his unblemished, curved blade to bear.
“Whoa,” Harry said, making a placating gesture with his hands. “I meant no offense.” He couldn’t understand the other man’s reply, but it hardly sounded complimentary.
“What did he say?” he asked Tom, turning his head slightly, but keeping his eyes on his assailant. Without replying, Tom stepped between them and placed both fists on his hips. Terse words passed between them.
“What’s going on?!” Harry demanded, not necessarily of anyone in particular.
“You are being quite thoroughly insulted. As is your Guardian,” a smooth voice answered. Harry followed it back to it’s source and recognized Tom’s lieutenant.
“Excuse me?! What for?”
“You touched him,” Kesh explained, shrugging his shoulders slightly.
“And what is it he wants?”
“He seeks blood.”
“Does he? And why is he insulting Tom?”
“Because he’s protecting you. As he should.” The last few days piled onto the last few hours piled onto the last few months and Harry suddenly snapped. All his pent up emotion curled into a tight ball in his chest and then just seemed to explode.
“You want blood?!” he demanded sharply, stepping around his protector. “Then come and take it if you think you’re able!”
“Mr. Kim! Stand down!” Janeway demanded, taking half a step forward, but Harry was already advancing on the anonymous Kel. Though the other man couldn’t understand him, he understood the body language and turned his attention away from his captain and onto his opponent.
“Harry!” Tom started sharply.
“Leave it!” Harry nearly screamed. He wasn’t armed, and his opponent had at least a kilo on him, but there was adrenalin pumping through his veins and he felt, at that moment, like he could take on a whole army of Klingons. The pale brown eyes of the Kel narrowed and then he made a jerking motion with his chin. Tom sighed and slowly pulled one of his long, tapered swords out and handed it to Harry, hilt first.
“May she serve you well,” he murmured, his eyes flashing with an emotion his voice didn’t betray. Harry accepted the weapon and tested the weight with a little bounce before settling into a crouch. It was no bat’leth, and there were no holosafeties, but damned if he cared. Boldly, the Kel advanced, his sword held up by his left ear as he prepared to bring it down in a diagonal arch. Harry bounced out of the way easily as his holo-Vulcan master taught him, and brought his elbow down on the attacker’s back, sending him sprawling forward. With a curse, the Kel picked himself back up and charged again, sword brought up in the same position, intending the same strike. Abandoning the Vulcan tactic that largely involved tiring an enemy, Harry brought one foot sharply forward and thrust upward, turning the blade sideways as though it were a bat’leth. He felt the blade sink into flesh, and then slipped under the warrior’s arm and around his back before he could retaliate. He was coming around for another strike when Tom sudden stepped between him and his prey.
“First blood!” the Kel’en declared sharply, stopping Harry in his tracks. He growled at his one-time fiancÚ. “Are you satisfied?” Tom pressed, his eyes boring into Harry’s meaningfully. It took a moment for Tom’s words to pierce Harry’s anger-induced battle haze, but he slowly nodded.
Tom turned sharply to the injured Kel, whose sleeve had been ripped open at the bicep to reveal a deep gash.
“Do you wish to press?” Tom asked him. Reluctantly, the man shook his head. “Then report to Sath’ell Ts’liu.” The man nodded once, sharply, and then, surprisingly, presented a modest bow to Harry and sheathed his weapon before turning on his heel and leaving the room. The hall cleared after that, the ship’s crew resuming their leisurely exit.
Coming down from his almost euphoric high, he flipped the sword over and pointed the hilt toward Tom. With a little shake of his head, Tom unbuckled the belt and sheath from his waist and, with an easy motion, glided it around Harry’s.
“It was my first blade,” Tom explained gently, running his sleeve along the edge to remove the blood. “She has taken good care of me.”
“You must. I’ve already given her to you. It would be offensive if you returned it to me; you’ve drawn blood with it.”
“For?” Harry gave him a puzzled look, and then realized that Tom was smiling. He couldn’t see the smile, but his eyes still squinted, just a little, around the corners. He grinned widely.
“Thank you.” Tom touched two fingers to his forehead and then brought it down to his collarbone, seeming to indicate that Harry’s was welcome.
“Now,” he said, briskly breaking the silence, you should all return to Voyager. My pilot and lieutenant will join you shortly.”
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