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Absumption

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Absumption
by Dr Squidlove
May, 1999.

Absumption: (n) the process of being wasted away or consumed

At some point the whine and creak of the settling ship had faded, and an eerie stillness had taken hold of the bridge. No warp vibration, no shifting air currents. No groaning of injured crew.

Janeway sat up slowly, trying to work out why everything looked so wrong. It was the angle. She was lying against the conn, tangled under Tom's chair. Jarvin was lying a few metres away, head at an unnatural angle. She should go to him, but she couldn't move. Was she paralysed? Janeway did a limb-by-limb check, but she could feel everything, could wiggle all her fingers and toes. And she'd sat up. She just couldn't move.

Could she talk? She swallowed awkwardly. "Status?"

The chair above her creaked. A moment later, "Screwed."

She looked up to meet Tom's gaze, which widened in alarm. "Captain, you look awful. I'll get a medkit." He stood, and froze.

"Tom?"

"Kahless."

He was sickeningly pale, swaying, so she croaked a little louder. "Tom?"

Finally, he looked at her. "It's bad."

It was a moment before she understood. She hadn't yet thought to wonder why she was lying under the conn. The slipstream.

"Help me up."

Tom ignored her, fetching the medkit from behind the command chairs. "You're not going anywhere until I check these wounds."

"I'm fine."

"You're bleeding."

Janeway checked herself over again, and discovered a deep gash under her right rib, bleeding heavily. "I didn't notice..."

"We're in shock."

"Where's the rest of the crew?"

Tom dropped to his knees, face grim. "We need to get you back in action before we worry about anyone else. I don't suppose... Paris to sickbay?" Silence. Tom took a breath. "You've done a lot of damage to your liver, but I can patch that pretty easily in the short term." He ran a regenerator over her. "There's not much I can do about the concussion, but that's mild anyway. The blood loss is a problem."

Janeway looked ruefully around her dark puddle. "I don't suppose you've got a sponge on you?"

His look was faintly incredulous, but she was too tired to give a damn.

"If you get me to my chair, I can start running diagnostics."

"The computer's offline. Everything's offline." Satisfied with her condition, he dropped the tricorder into the kit and pulled out the regenerator to run over his own shoulder. "I've done what I can. I'm going to check the rest of the bridge crew, and then I'll be back, okay?"

"Okay." She watched him go, frowning. She was the Captain. She didn't need her hand held like some inexperienced ensign.

Tom was wandering around the bridge, moving from person to person far too quickly to help them. It was dark; Janeway hadn't noticed that before. Only a fraction of the emergency lights seemed to be working. Tom reached Tuvok, where he slipped into a flurry of activity.

"Tom?"

"He'll be fine."

"The others?"

A series of beeps and a clunk of equipment. "There's nothing I can do."

"You should get down to sickbay, make sure the Doctor is online. We're going to need him."

"I'll go as soon as I finish the bridge." He climbed to his feet and checked the remaining crew, face growing harder with each lost cause. Eventually he returned to Tuvok, dragging him over to lie beside Janeway. "He'll wake up on his own. Just keep an eye on him."

Tom stood to go, and nausea washed through her. "Don't be long."

He leaned forward to squeeze her shoulder. "I'll be as quick as I can."

He didn't even try for the lifts, heading straight to the Jeffries tubes and disappearing into the ship.

Janeway looked at Tuvok, who might have been asleep, from all appearances. The slipstream had gone wrong. Janeway had vague memories of gripping the handrests as the ship rocked and jarred, voices shouting, all of it pointless because it was out of their control. Jubilation wrenched away with a sickening twist as Janeway realised they weren't going to make it home. And sicker, now. Nobody else here was ever going home.

This was what she'd always feared more than anything. She'd taken a risk and woken up in a pile of other people's bodies.

Someone was shaking her. "Captain."

"Tom? That was quick."

"I was gone for almost an hour. You passed out."

"Oh."

"I've got some blood." He clipped a flask to a hypospray and held it against her neck.

"How does the situation look in Engineering?"

"There isn't one." His face was perfectly neutral.

"Care to explain that to me?"

"There is no Engineering. It's a wonder the core didn't breach."

"Have the crew got a forcefield in place?"

Tom sat back, tossing the hypospray into the kit angrily. "No. There is no forcefield. There is no crew. We're not going anywhere, ever."

"It can't be that bad-"

"Ken Dalby and Jen Delaney are searching the rest of the ship for survivors. Vorik is paralysed, but I think he'll pull through. There's no one else."

"What about the Doctor?"

"The sickbay computer is offline. The holoemitter seems fine, so we might be able to retrieve him later, but right now..."

"Right now, it's not an option." Janeway was already feeling clearer. "Finding survivors is our first priority."

"I've got Ken and Jenny doing a search of the major centres, assessing the damage as they go."

"Then I need you to get me to Environmental Controls. We need life support back online before we lose the remaining heat from the warp core. Can we leave Tuvok here?"

Tom ran the tricorder over him. "It will be better to wake him. Not ideal, but it should be okay, now. I think." He pressed a hypospray to the dark neck, waiting tensely until Tuvok stirred.

His eyes opened slowly, taking in his companions before he attempted to speak. "I take it our slipstream experiment failed."

Tom helped him sit up. "In a big way. The ship is virtually destroyed. Most of the crew are dead."

"My condition?"

"You've got some pretty severe cranial injuries. I've stopped the bleeding and eased the pressure, but you'll need to have the Doctor look you over. Can you walk?"

"I believe so."

Janeway leaned on the conn to stand, glad to find the dizziness was only slight. Tom pulled Tuvok to his feet and wrapped a supporting hand around his waist. They began the long journey to Environmental Controls.

=/\=

Janeway's hand slammed against the panel.

"I fail to see how jarring the circuitry will improve matters."

"Do you have a better idea, Tuvok?"

He'd been full of helpful suggestions as to why everything she tried wouldn't work, and little else.

"Problems?"

Janeway looked at Tom, who'd appeared in the doorway. "You could say that."

"It's starting to get cool in here."

"There are ruptures all through the system. It'll take days to get even minimal life support back online - and then only if I can lay my hands on a powercell. Do we have any powercells?"

Tuvok shifted. "Most of the powercells were stored in Engineering. There may be a small number stored in cargo bay one."

Tom moved closer. "So what do we do in the meantime?"

"We gather together, choose a base. Have you seen the shuttle bay?"

"Not yet. It's heavy going through most of the corridors. A machete and a pith helmet won't get you back that far. The mess hall is probably our best bet. It's intact, there's food, and there's no one there." He stopped, thinking. "You know, Ken made some crack about starting a bonfire; that may not be a bad idea."

"Excellent thinking. I want you to gather some environmental suits in case the temperature drops too far, and meet us in the mess hall. I'll get back to this later when we can drag a powercell up." She pushed herself to her feet, swiping her jacket from the floor and pulling it on. The last of the heat from the warp core was already fading into the cold outdoors.

Tom looked at her companion in concern. "Will you be able to support him on your own, Captain?"

"Your concern is wasted. I will need minimal assistance."

Janeway just raised her eyes to the ceiling at Tom's puzzled look. Tuvok had been terse since he woke.

Tom moved to leave, and Janeway sucked in a breath. "Tom! Did you find anyone else?" She pretended her fingers weren't digging into the console.

He didn't need to answer. "Not yet."

When he'd gone, Janeway moved to Tuvok's side but he refused the offered hand, leaning on the wall for support instead. When he finally seemed ready, she took his arm and tugged him towards the door.

The sound of pounding footsteps pulled her to a halt.

"Paris! Lieutenant!" Dalby rounded the door. "Oh, Captain, have you seen Paris?"

"He just left. Have you found someone?"

"There's a whole bunch in Stellar Cartography, but they're in a bad way. Megan Delaney's there."

"Tom's on his way to collect some environmental suits. Send him to Stellar Cartography, but I want you to get three suits to the mess hall before you join him. That's our new base of operations."

Dalby nodded. "I'll meet you there. And Captain - I'm glad you're alright. You, too, Commander."

Tuvok straightened, waiting until he'd gone. "Crewman Dalby has developed a talent for insincerity."

Janeway stared at him in appalled surprise. "Did it ever cross your mind that he meant it?"

Tuvok started forward, forcing Janeway to keep up. "It is doubtful."

=/\=

Just finding Stellar Cartography was an impossible task. Janeway had dropped Tuvok in the mess hall with a tricorder and an order to find something flammable. Now she was searching through a ship that should have been more familiar to her than her own body, but debris made many corridors impenetrable, and a couple of the Jeffries tubes had been sheared clean away. Occasionally she would come across a body, and try to move past before she recognised it, but she always did. Allyn. Mannick. Neelix. Henley.

Stellar Cartography was hell. A third of the floor had been pushed halfway to the ceiling, trapping people in so far that they couldn't be reached to treat if they were treatable at all. Vorik was lying on a litter, propped on his elbows to run a regenerator over Ensign Ashmore. Ensign Ashmore needed a lot more than a regenerator. Ken and Jenny were digging through the rubble, while Harrison tended to someone who seemed to be pierced straight through with a long shard of metal.

At the centre of it all was Tom, hurrying between the three patients that had been laid out along the wall, clipping out orders to whoever would listen.

"Could you use another set of hands?"

"Captain, did you bring another medkit? Good. Hand it here and start digging."

Janeway joined Jenny, who was scanning a particularly deep pile of debris. "How's Megan doing?"

"She didn't make it. She died before Tom got here."

"I'm sorry."

Jenny moved a little further along. "What's one more?"

Janeway watched her, trying to read accusation in the indifference, but Jenny was already absorbed in her work.

For what seemed like hours they tunnelled through the broken lab, hauling aside pieces of wall and chunks of console and things that seemed to belong to nowhere at all.

Janeway took a step back to stretch her muscles and push the hair off her face. There was a patch of uniform in the corner. "I've got someone." She pulled aside the metal girders, barely noticing as another pair of hands joined hers to heave the heavy bars out of the way until they could see his face. Half-crushed.

"Jerron." Janeway sat back, wondering when she'd dropped to her knees. "What was Jerron doing in Stellar Cartography?"

Jenny let the bar rest back across him. "Probably looking for me. He's been trailing me around a lot, lately." She picked up her tricorder and moved on.

By the time they were sure there was no one left in the rubble, Harrison's patient and one of the crewmen by the wall were dead and Tom looked ready to collapse. Or cry. They didn't have time for either.

Janeway retook control. "We need to get these people to the mess hall. Everybody take one end of a litter except Tom."

"Captain, I'm fine."

"Tom, I want you to collect a couple of extra medkits and meet us there. Is there anything you need from sickbay?"

"I could use a few things. Nothing I can't carry."

"We'll see you soon."

=/\=

The mess hall was unrecognisable. A large section of the floor was bare, the carpet rolled into sections and piled against a wall near a reasonably-sized fire. Most of the tables and chairs had been pushed to the side, a few left for the remaining crew and a number of tables bound together to serve as medical beds.

Tuvok stepped up to the kitchen counter, though he was leaning heavily for support. "It appears that Voyager's carpet is an ideal fuel. I have built the fire under a Jeffries tube to act as a chimney, but it we are to settle here permanently, I would suggest we adapt the tube accordingly."

"Agreed." Janeway and Delaney settled Vorik onto one of the improvised beds, while the men lifted Nozawa's and Powell's unconscious bodies onto the others. "We're going to start a deck-by-deck search - where there are decks - checking private quarters and anywhere else we can find. Tom will be here soon. I want him to get some sleep. Nerve pinch him if you have to. He's our only medic, and I need him alert."

"You need to eat."

"We don't have time."

"A sick Captain is of less use to her crew than a dead one. I have collected a number of ration bars, and you will each consume one before leaving this room."

Janeway met his firm gaze, and then caved. The crew had to eat.

=/\=

Hunger sated and loaded up with a fresh medkit, Janeway took the starboard side of the habitation deck with Harrison. Room after empty room, hauling each door open manually, stepping through scattered possessions, taking down the names of the bodies on a PADD, collecting extra clothes when they realised how quickly the temperature was dropping.

She almost moved past her own door, but the search had to be methodical, and there were some schematics in there that could be useful. She clamped the manual release onto the door and pulled it open, sweating a little even in the cold. She barely looked at the room. It was much as she expected, shattered goods, just like all the others.

She quickly tossed through the pile of PADDs in her desk drawer. Personal letters, crew evaluations, supply manifests. Mostly irrelevant. Through the door to the bedroom, where the rest had been left on her bedside table. Now they were lying across the floor.

Harrison hesitated in the doorway, looking strangely at her bed. It annoyed the hell out of her.

"Yes, Crewman, I sleep in a bed. I do sleep, I'm human."

"Have you come across Mannick, Captain?"

Janeway's sorting slowed. "Yes. Yes, I did. I'm sorry."

A loud breath. "Oh. I... I guess it's good to know. One way or the other, I mean."

She scooped up the entire pile. "Let's keep going."

=/\=

Tuvok was scanning the patients when they returned, but it was clear there was no change. Vorik was lying on his back, hands steepled in a healing trance. Tom was out cold on a pile of grey carpet by the fire.

"How long?"

"Lieutenant Paris has been asleep for 72 minutes. I persuaded him to take a mild sedative."

"Good. Any sign of Dalby and Delaney?"

"They have not yet returned."

Janeway piled the clothes they'd collected on top of a table near the sickbeds. "I don't want to leave until we've had time to catch up with those two. How's the food situation?"

"There is adequate food stored here for the near future, and I imagine that the stock in the hydroponics bay can be maintained. The snow outside is composed of pure water, so that will not be a problem."

"First good news I've heard."

"I'm glad someone has some." Dalby trudged in, Delaney close behind. "There's no one left." The pair of them flopped into the first chairs they found.

Janeway looked over the group. Everyone was exhausted. They all needed to rest and regroup before they moved on. "There's nothing more we can do today. We need to compile our crew lists and then we rouse Tom and Vorik and organise a plan of action for tomorrow over a proper meal."

Harrison cleared his throat. "I'm a passable cook, Captain. I could organise a hot dinner from the fresh supplies while you sort through the names."

"Good work."

The remaining four gathered around a table and began to trade the names of the dead. Janeway uploaded the names on Delaney's PADD to her own, plus eight officers present. That left sixty two people who still hadn't been accounted for.

"We need to try to remember who we've seen while we've been moving about the ship. Has anyone seen Chell?"

Silence.

Janeway hit 'unconfirmed'. "Jerron... we saw. Rollins?"

"Dead."

"Golwat?"

"I haven't seen her, but I know she was in Engineering."

Janeway listed her as dead. "Tabor?"

"Dead."

"Nicoletti"

"Dead."

"T'Rahn."

"Dead."

"Sam Wildman?"

No answer.

"Naomi?"

There was a long silence, and Janeway was just about to hit 'unconfirmed' when there was a soft "Dead," from Dalby. Her finger lingered for a moment, and then pressed 'confirmed'.

"Bridge crew... Seven, Ayalla, Jarvin, confirmed, confirmed, confirmed."

Ensign Harry Kim.

Delaney leaned forward to see why she'd paused. "Do you think they made it?"

"I don't know."

"Risk analyses indicated a 15% likelihood that the Delta Flyer would complete its journey if Voyager was knocked out of the slipstream. The odds are against them."

Janeway's lips thinned. "I'll choose to believe that they made it."

"Claiming they survived will not make it so."

She glared at him, a hundred retorts flooding through her mind. And then she marked them as alive and moved on with the list.

For an hour they sifted through names, itemising their colleagues, until they'd exhausted their memories. Finally, Janeway rested back in her chair, watching the names scroll through her PADD. "Tom should be able to clarify a few more names."

"Captain?" Harrison leaned over the counter. "If someone can lend me a hand, dinner will be ready in a few minutes."

"I'll go." Jenny pushed her chair back and disappeared into the kitchen.

"Tuvok-"

"I will rouse Vorik and assess our patients."

Janeway left Dalby to clear the table and crossed to crouch beside the sleeping pilot. "Tom." She shook his shoulder, but he didn't stir, so she pressed a counter-sedative into a hypospray and put it to his neck.

She shook his shoulder again. After a long moment his eyes fluttered and he groaned slightly, shifting. "Captain?"

"Dinner's almost ready."

He nodded, and she dropped her hand as he pushed himself onto his elbows. "Did you find anyone?"

"No. Take a minute if you need it."

Dinner was a thick stew and bread. Janeway let everyone settle into the meal for a few minutes before she brought the meeting to order. "We need to set an agenda for tomorrow."

Tom slid into the seat next to her, fresh from checking the patients. "We need to get the Doctor online. I can keep those two stable for a few more days at most."

"Understood. Delaney, did you find those extra powercells?"

"There are four undamaged units, but we'll need to clear some corridors before we can get them through."

"That's our first priority in the morning. Congratulations, Vorik. You're our new Chief Engineer."

"I will endeavour to fulfill the role to your satisfaction."

"Get the Doctor online and I'll be satisfied. How are you doing, Tuvok?"

"I will be perfectly capable of fulfilling my duties tomorrow."

"Excellent. You're going to lead Dalby and Delaney to retrieve the powercells, then I want you to take Delaney and get the environmental controls online. Dalby, when you've got a cell to sickbay, you're to assist Vorik. Harrison, you'll stay here to see about organising our food supply and play nurse. Tom, you're with me. We need to find out what state the shuttles are in. We might even be able to resurrect the comm system through a shuttle, so I want you all to make sure you keep your badges with you. Is there anything else?"

Vorik spoke up from his bed. "Should we organise a distress beacon?"

"Yes, but that's a low priority. Survival is our first. Any more questions?" She barely paused. "If we're finished, then I suggest we get some sleep. I'm setting the tricorder to wake us six hours from now. Make the most of it."

They made mattresses from the sheets of carpet, and someone fetched sleeping bags from a nearby storage room. As the temperature dropped further, they decided it would be best for the humans to sleep in pairs to conserve heat. Tuvok and Vorik declined; the control required to counteract the touch telepathy would have overridden any benefits.

So Janeway found herself set to share a bed with Tom Paris, while Dalby and Harrison curled up either side of Delaney. Janeway would have preferred to sleep with Jenny for appearances' sake, at least, but their two slight bodies would have had little heat to preserve. And at this point, appearances seemed to be of little consequence.

So they slid into their shared sleeping bags in their dirty uniforms. Tom did one last scan of the patients and then turned off the lights, finding his way to her bed by the glow of the embers. He felt his way cautiously into the sleeping bag, no doubt wary of brushing something he shouldn't.

For a few minutes they shifted, trying to find a way to settle without too much bodily contact, and then Janeway sighed into the air. Sharing body heat was the whole point. She felt across until her hand brushed Tom's chest. He was on his side, facing her. Without thinking too much, she rolled over to put her back against his chest. Reassured, he settled a hand across her ribs to pull her closer.

His knees rested in the backs of hers, the weight of his arm immobilising her in the curve of his body. She wriggled, trying to find a more comfortable angle for her shoulder, and his arm lifted, waiting until she settled before curling around her again.

Janeway lay perfectly still, listening to the periodic rustling in the other bed.

A few minutes later it was Tom's turn to shift. He moved back, stealing away their pooled heat, and she instinctively shuffled back into it. He shifted again, and she felt an erection prod her tailbone. They both froze.

She took a long breath, and then moved back against him and laid a hand on his hip, stilling him. When he finally curled closer, she placed her hand over his and they faded into sleep.

=/\=

The beeping of the tricorder woke everyone. There was the unmistakable groaning and muttering of interrupted sleep from the other beds, and from under her head. Janeway was lying across Tom with her head on his chest.

She reached out of the sleeping bag to turn off the tricorder and cursed. The air was icy, dangerously cold even through her jacket sleeve. She picked up the phaser, glad she'd left it within reach, and aimed the beam at the fire. "Take a few minutes, everyone. I want this room heated before we get out of bed."

She pulled her arm back into the sleeping bag, shivering already. Tom wrapped his arms around her, passing her his warmth.

Ten minutes crept by before Janeway pulled away. It was still cold, but not unbearably so, and there was too much to do. She climbed out of bed, quickly followed by Harrison.

"I prepared some porridge yesterday. It should only take a few minutes to heat."

Janeway nodded, teeth already chattering. "Not my favourite way to start a day, but it's a good choice. We're going to need whatever it takes to get warm this morning."

=/\=

Janeway dropped through the hole, and turned to catch the equipment Tom threw down before following himself.

She shone her wristlight up the dark corridor; even the emergency lighting had given up far behind them. "There isn't much damage here. It seems the front of the ship took the worst of the crash."

"That's not much good to us. We can hardly get half the ship off the ground."

She pulled her pack back onto her shoulders and started walking. "Maybe not, but if the shuttlecraft are intact we may be able to find a better planet to settle on."

Their lights bobbed strangely in the abandoned corridor, making everything freshly strange. Yesterday morning they might have walked this same carpet while discussing the latest mining mission or bantering about Academy escapades.

"I never thought I'd hear you say that."

It took her a moment to remember what he was talking about. "I never thought I'd find myself hiking through Voyager's frozen remains."

They let the conversation lapse, until they reached the shuttlebay doors. Janeway slapped a manual release on and heaved, but the frozen door wouldn't budge. Tom added his own release, and with their combined weight swinging on the door they managed to crack it open.

Janeway let go, shaking her arm, and paused. "Is that a draught?"

Tom peered through the crack, and his eyes widened. "It's snowing."

They levered the doors open, and stood in wonder. There was a thick white carpet where the shuttlebay used to be, and a wide grey sky above them. Janeway took a few steps out, marvelling as she sank to her knees.

"Don't go too far, Captain. We don't have the resources to treat pneumonia."

She took a deep breath from the frigid air, feeling it tingle in her throat and lungs. She looked around and back at him, where he hovered cautiously on the door ledge. "Where are the nacelles?"

He leaned out, swinging from the door jamb, and then gave up and waded out to join her.

"My, god."

There were a few shreds of metal in view from the port nacelle mooring, silver ribbons like stars from warp. To the left there was nothing but sky.

"I guess all that cross training in sickbay was fortuitous. I won't be piloting again."

Janeway pulled out her tricorder and scanned the trail Voyager had left. "There's a lot of debris that way, but too much interference to be sure if any of it is intact. Either way it's no good to us now. We'll have to come back with environmental suits and time to spare." She wrapped her arms around herself, shuddering, as the cold penetrated. "We may as well be getting back."

Tom gave her a hand up into the ship, and shoved the door closed against the wind.

=/\=

The fire was still crackling when they returned. They dumped their packs by the pile of supplies at the door and Janeway headed to the table where Delaney was sitting quietly with Harrison, peeling off her outer jacket as she went. "I take it the environmental controls are still offline."

"Commander Tuvok spent hours repairing circuits one by one, but it's not going to do any good. The base junction is destroyed."

"It's not retrievable?"

Delaney shook her head. "The wall from the deck below was pushed up through the back wall of Environmental Controls. The base junction has been sheared away. Tuvok said there was nothing salvageable."

Tom was already tending to his patients, rifling through the medical supplies, but he paused at Delaney's tone. "Where is he?"

She looked at Harrison, and then to Janeway. "He collapsed. There was nothing I could do."

Janeway ran her hand over her mouth. Now there were six.

Something clattered in the medical bay corner. "Why didn't you fetch me?"

Delaney returned her gaze to the table. "He was dead, Tom. A cranial haemorrhage."

"But I thought I-"

"You told me yesterday that you'd done all you could," Janeway interrupted. "You admitted he needed the Doctor. We've got better things to do than sit around claiming blame." She turned to Harrison, who was heading towards the kitchen. "Any word from Vorik?"

"Dalby dropped in an hour and a half ago to pick up lunch. He said they were having some problems. A lot of the circuits burnt out, and Vorik said he'll have to repair them all to be sure to retrieve the Doctor intact." He began to pull out plates. "Did you reach the shuttlebay?"

"What's left of it. The rear of the ship has been ripped clean away."

Harrison shook his head, barely even registering surprise. "Chicken or tomato soup?"

Approaching footsteps pulled their attention to the door just before Dalby stuck his head in. "Oh, good, you're back. Captain, we have a problem."

Janeway felt her eyebrows crawl upwards.

"Another one. The cold is starting to creep into the ship's systems and the gel packs are going to freeze. If we don't get the Doctor out soon, we won't be able to retrieve him at all."

"How long?"

"Vorik said thirty six hours. Forty eight at best. We could use a couple of pairs of hands."

"Delaney, Harrison-"

"We're on our way, Captain." They pulled on an extra layer of clothing and followed Dalby out.

"Looks like you're babysitting again, Mr Paris. You should get some rest. I'm going to have another look around Environmental Controls, see if I can't find a way around the problems."

"What are we going to do if they can't be fixed?"

Janeway put her hands on her hips. "You're the historical expert. What did they do before environmental controls?"

Tom looked out the window. "I can't say I ever imagined I'd live out my life in an igloo."

=/\=

Tuvok was laid out near the main console, no doubt left where he'd fallen. Not much point in ceremony. Janeway had to lean over him to access the base junction. It was as bad as Delaney had said - not even retrievable for parts. Some of the couplings were retrievable, but the environmental controls were useless.

She wiped her hand across her brow. The strain was wearing, exhausting. On a whim she prised open another panel and felt inside. The gel packs were already firming up. She considered taking them with her, but outside the ship's regular systems they were useless. She sealed all the panels, and headed back to the messhall.

=/\=

Warm air flooded out as Janeway pulled the mess hall door open, like the wind from a furnace, stinging her fingers and nose. She stayed a moment, and then pushed the door closed again.

"It's getting hot in here. Might be worth venting some air."

Tom looked up from his PADD, surprised to have missed her entrance. "Air conditioning."

"Pardon?"

"That's what they did in the twentieth and twenty first centuries. They used fans to blow air through mechanical heaters. The design principles were pretty simple." He picked up a second PADD. "I had another idea, too. We could build a system of tubes into the walls and pipe the smoke from the fire around this room. It would be good to keep the fire, but this way we would save a lot of wasted heat."

Janeway skimmed through the PADDs. It all looked in order. "Excellent work, Tom. We're going to need it. Can we scavenge the parts?"

"That shouldn't be a problem, but I'd like to run the design by Vorik first. See if he's got any input."

"Good idea." Janeway collapsed into the chair beside him and sighed. She picked up his glass of water. "You mind?"

"Go ahead."

She drank, closing her eyes in relief. Damn, she was thirsty. And she'd already finished the glass. "Oh, I'm sorry. I'll get you another one."

Tom looked at her properly for the first time since she'd got back and put a hand on a wrist to still her. "Captain, you don't look so good."

"We're all tired, Tom."

"Yes, but not all of us are yellow." He pressed the back of his hand to her forehead. "No wonder you're running around without the extra jacket. Wait here." He fetched the medical tricorder and scanned her. "Forgive me for asking, but are you peeing dark?"

She flushed. "I suppose I am."

"Your liver's not coping."

"It can wait."

"No, it can't. We need to clean your blood or you're going to collapse."

Janeway gritted her teeth. "So how do we do that?"

"I don't know. We have biobeds for that sort of thing. I'm just a damned nurse."

She took in the hard press of his lips, and his unsteady breaths. "The Doctor will be running tomorrow. We only need to hold over for one more day."

"We don't know that. Vorik's no expert in holotechnology. I don't think he's ever even assisted in the Doctor's maintenance."

"But he's taking it one step at a time and he's doing his best. You've done an excellent job, so far, Tom. Just one more day."

He nodded and ran a hand through his hair, then sat beside her. "I'd be okay if I at least had access to the medical files. I don't, so I'll have to keep it simple. I can't filter your blood - not without better technology. Which means that the best I can do is a large-scale transfusion." He kneeled beside her chair to scan her abdomen. "I can regenerate a little more of the damage. It's still patching, but if you'll agree to lie still for the rest of today, you'll be able to hold over for a few more days."

"Will I be able to work tomorrow?"

He shot her a token glare, but didn't bother to argue. "Ordinarily, even after proper treatment, you'd be confined to light duties for a week. Under the circumstances, I'll just insist that you stay under my supervision."

"Fine. We'll head out looking for the shuttles tomorrow."

He sat back on his heels, preparing for an argument. "That wasn't quite what I had in mind."

"It has to be done, and I want you and I to do that together. The weather should keep my temperature down."

Tom let out a breath, considering, and then gave up and headed to the kitchen. "I need to fetch some supplies from sickbay. I want you to lie down until I return. And drink as much of this as you want." He placed a jug of water and a glass beside the bed and waited for her to climb in. "You're not to go anywhere until I get back."

=/\=

Janeway woke to a hand on her shoulder.

"Captain?"

"Tom?"

"It's Jenny. Tom's setting up the equipment."

Finally Janeway managed to wake well enough to focus on the Ensign. "Shouldn't you be in sickbay?"

"I'm going to assist Tom. They'll be finishing up soon, anyway. Vorik's not strong enough to work through, so they're just insulating the packs to hold them overnight."

Janeway pushed away the coverlet as she realised how damned hot it was. She could feel herself sweating. "But he's retrievable?"

"We won't know until we attempt to download him." Delaney showed her a damp cloth before laying it over her forehead. "Sometimes the old methods are the best."

Janeway placed her hand over the cloth, glad when the young woman drew back, respecting her space.

Tom dropped to his knees beside the bed and pressed a hypospray to her neck. "This is a muscle relaxant. We're going to drain three litres, so I'll need you to lie absolutely still. I'll give you another anaesthetic to put you to sleep in a few minutes, but I can't put you too deep without better monitoring systems." He leaned forward to lift her and she pushed him away.

"I can get to the table on my own, Tom."

"I didn't convince you to lie here only to have you walking around, increasing your heart rate again." He pushed her down and scooped her up. "The more relaxed you are, the better."

There was a blanket on the table, but it still felt cold and hard after the carpet-mattress. Delaney laid a second blanket over her. "You'll be cold when we transfuse the new blood."

Tom reappeared, hypospray in hand. "See you in a few hours."

=/\=

Quiet murmuring and the click of cutlery drew Janeway to consciousness. The others were sitting at the table, discussing how much of the ship should be sealed off to live in for the long term. She lay still and eavesdropped, too tired to do more.

Dalby wanted to heat as wide an area as the damaged decks would allow. Delaney was leaning in his favour. They would need privacy, and there was no telling how much damage the creeping frost might do. Tom wanted to start small, conserve energy. There were no small rooms nearby that would serve as private quarters anyway.

Harrison was content to listen, until he saw her move. "Captain."

Tom was on his feet in an instant. "Don't sit up, yet." He scooped up a tricorder and began to scan. "I overestimated how much blood you could lose. Your body will need a few more hours to recover from the shock. How do you feel?"

"Tired." Her voice was rusty, and she realised her mouth was dry. "Heavy. A little dizzy. Apart from that, I feel fine."

He propped a couple of pillows behind her and put a glass of water with a straw carefully into her hands. "I've given everyone a check-up to see if I'd missed anything else. Dalby has some mild internal bleeding I'd missed, so I think he would be best left here tomorrow. We were thinking Harrison could assist Vorik while Delaney starts scavenging through the ship. Collect parts, phasers, tricorders - whatever looks useful."

Janeway released the straw. "That sounds like a plan. Don't go too far, though, Ensign. I'd prefer that we stay in pairs as much as possible for now."

"Understood."

Tom started filling hyposprays. "Nutrients. You weren't processing food properly anyway." He nodded at the next bed, where the Vulcan was deep in sleep. "Vorik's spine isn't healing well. He should be in a stasis field, pondering the teachings of Surak, not shifting through circuits. At this rate the damage may become permanent."

"There isn't much we can do until we have the Doctor back."

He sighed. "I know. Give yourself a few minutes to wake up properly and then I'll help you to bed."

"Finish your dinner. I'm more comfortable up here while everyone's awake, anyway."

He nodded, understanding, and contented himself with refilling her glass. "Let me know if you need anything."

=/\=

Janeway woke deep in the night. Breathing was heavy in the still room, and there was a cracking sound that she slowly identified as grinding teeth. She propped herself up slightly to look around, but the room was set in shades of black, the shapes of the other beds crude silhouettes against the deep grey of the walls.

She was lying half-on Tom, her left leg between his, and her chest had been pressed against his ribs. She settled down again, searching for the comfortable spot she'd just abandoned.

It eluded her, bumps and bones intruding wherever she rested, seeming to follow her as she shifted back and forth. His arm was lying where she wanted her shoulder, and his chest was the wrong height to position her breasts. His thigh was solid between hers, a cord of muscle lying past her crotch, rubbing as she moved. Burning. She froze as she realised what she was doing, and then a hand settled on her lower back.

The hand nudged her up until she was lying on him, her crotch pressed hard against the top of his thigh, the soft ridge of his forming erection digging into the delicate flesh inside her hip.

Janeway turned her head away so that his shoulder was digging into her cheek, and for a long time they stayed there, unmoving. Their breathing fell into counterpoint, Tom inhaling as she exhaled, exhaling as she inhaled.

She began to wonder if he'd drifted off again, pressed her hips against him. He pressed up to her, and their hips began to rock, somehow absorbing a rhythm from the breathing of their companions.

The tension of the past two days slowly contracted, sliding though her body to settle in her hips and lower spine, licking forward as Tom tilted his hips up to hers.

Friction burned through her body even as cold bit at Janeway's cheeks and ears. The air dripped down her neck like ice water, melting at her centre.

Hot fingers slipped up under her jacket, unzipping her trousers and waiting only a moment for an objection she didn't make before pushing them over her hips and down her legs. When he'd reached as far as he could she wriggled them the rest of the way off and lifted up so that he could push down his own pants.

She rested against him and snapped back. He was flaming, inhumanly hot. His hold loosened, and she forced herself back against him. Tom's hands pulled her harder against him so she twisted her hips, taking him inside, forcing herself open, the moment marked only by his quick intake of breath.

The first contact she'd had with a man in four years, and it was a stolen moment in a room full of sleeping crew. She rocked for a long time, rhythm unchanging, until she felt Tom stiffen against her, his twisted breaths pulling at her hips, and she slowly, gently, came.

=/\=

The clash of pans woke her. The room was already bright and warm, the fire burning high. She'd set the tricorder to go off more quietly this morning, but evidently too quietly. She'd slept straight through it.

Tom and Harrison were working on a hot breakfast while everyone else slept, leaving Janeway the privacy she needed to retrieve her trousers from the bottom of the sleeping bag.

She climbed out and crept into the adjacent bathroom to clean up. Someone had left a flask of hot water and a cloth for a sponge bath, so she cleaned up as best she could. She put on a new uniform - there was no way to wash the old one, but at least it could air a little - and pulled her unwashed hair back into a ponytail. She felt surprisingly human. Even if she was still peeing dark.

Tom was setting the table when she went back into the mess hall, while Harrison woke Dalby and Delaney.

Tom looked up, face grim. "Nozawa has taken a turn for the worse. He had mild convulsions about forty minutes ago. He'll probably have more."

Harrison joined them. "I've been telling Tom he needs to stay here today."

"There's nothing I can do, Captain. Either the Doctor will be repaired in time, or he won't. In the meantime, all I can do is watch."

Janeway put her hands on her hips. "Then I guess we're going shuttle-hunting. When will breakfast be ready?"

"Five minutes. The darlot fruit are steaming."

"Thank you, Mr Harrison. Is there anything I can do?"

He shook his head, so she made her way over to Nozawa's bed. It was hard to tell if he looked any different from yesterday; everyone looked pretty exhausted. He'd been this pale, hadn't he? Powell looked no better. Whatever happened, it was out of her control, now.

Tom came over and handed her a couple of hyposprays. "Breakfast. You haven't been processing your meals properly, so you'll have to keep taking nutrients this way until the Doc can fix you up. You can have a little to eat, if you want something in your stomach, but it won't make much difference. How are you feeling?"

"Much better." Janeway injected herself. "I think my temperature has finally evened out."

Tom scanned her. "It has. Not great, but you should be able to travel."

"Breakfast is ready."

Since she couldn't eat, Janeway organised Vorik's breakfast, a hypospray special much like her own, that the Vulcan could take lying down.

Vorik hid the humiliation of being cared for by his Captain quite well, though he didn't have a fraction of Tuvok's control.

As soon as Tom had cleaned his bowl, he joined Janeway at the clothes rack. They pulled on an extra layer of clothing before helping each other into the environmental suits. With a simple nod to the rest of their companions, they put their helmets under their arms and headed out into the corridor.

Janeway shivered as soon as she stepped into the frigid air, noticing Tom did the same. They shared a glance, and then Janeway led the way to the Jeffries tube. The skis were stored two decks down: an annoying delay, particularly when it meant climbing ladders in suits, but the skis would make all the difference once they got off the ship.

The headed through deck four, pretending not to notice that they were stepping over the bodies of their friends, already aged with drawn grey faces and frosted hair. They would have to decide at some point what to do with all the dead - if anything - but it was a problem to deal with later.

They picked out skis and stocks, and made their way astern.

=/\=

=/\=

=/\=

Spirits. It was like a ghost ship. Their flashlights bounced strangely off the thick layer of white frost that covered everything; a chunk out of his past, out of him, literally frozen in the ice.

Chakotay pushed back his hood and goggles, felt Harry do the same beside him.

"Not exactly the way I remember it."

They found their way to a wall-panel. Harry brushed the ice off with his sleeve, and Chakotay clipped a power cell to the surface. Felt a little of the tension ease when the panel flickered to life.

Harry's fingers flew over the keypad, instant familiarity. "Power grid's been destroyed. Neural gel packs frozen solid. Decks nine through fourteen are now deck ten. They've been compacted."

Chakotay watched the information flash by. "Looks like they hit the ice at full impulse." He should feel more than this, shouldn't he? "The EMH?"

"I'm trying to access sickbay. The relays aren't responding." The panel began to flicker. "I'm losing the interface - reset the powercell!"

Chakotay started tapping buttons, but the panel went blank.

Harry's fist hit the wall "C'mon!"

"Let's get moving." Chakotay had to keep him on the job; Harry with time to think was always a problem. "Keep an open comm link."

Harry shifted off, and Chakotay headed for the turbolift shaft to the bridge.

=/\=

Chakotay hauled himself up through the floor of the turbolift, cursing the thick snowsuit. Better than cursing his old body. The doors were open, giving him a full view of the bridge.

Welcome home, Chakotay.

Frosted bodies at their posts, white silhouettes he might never have recognised if they'd been somewhere else. If he hadn't assigned them to these very posts on their last day.

He walked slowly past Ops, needing to give some passage to these people before he turned to business. It was a graveyard, like they'd had centuries ago on Earth, but these people didn't need stones to mark their places.

The abandoned conn, set in white; the empty command level.

Kathryn should have been right here. He played his torch around the stairs, needing to see her, but she wasn't there. He turned back to the conn. Tom wasn't here either. He hurried around to finish his circuit of the bridge. Tuvok, too.

"Chakotay to Tessa. Run a scan for lifesigns."

"Lifesigns?"

"Do it!"

He could feel her frown. "There's still too much interference-"

"Harry to Chakotay."

Chakotay felt something curl in his stomach at Harry's tone. "Go ahead."

"I'm in sickbay. Someone's been here recently, and I can't find the Doctor's holoemitter. I've gone back to the corridor, and there's a Starfleet issue door clamp on the door in front of me."

Chakotay was already heading for the shaft.

=/\=

Harry was waiting for him. "Do you think the Doctor was left on his mobile emitter?"

Chakotay didn't answer. He didn't want to imagine living alone in this tomb for fifteen years. Better that someone raided the empty ship.

They pulled the door open together, jaws dropping as light poured through the crack and a warm breeze flowed around them. They exchanged a glance, and slowly moved inside.

A cord of lights ran down the centre of the ceiling, lights that had clearly been scavenged from somewhere else in the ship.

From somewhere ahead came the low drone of quiet voices. Harry pulled out his tricorder, scanning the corridor. "Lifesigns."

"I told you, I didn't leave the door open!" It was a boy's voice, moving quickly towards them, until he came around the corner and pulled up in amazement.

He was a teenager, twelve or thirteen years old, with a slight build and brown, tousled hair. His blue eyes were wide, terrified.

Chakotay took a few steps forward, and the boy inched back against the wall.

"It's okay, we're not-"

"Dad! Dad!"

Chakotay spared a glance for Harry. He looked like he was about to throw up.

"Callan?" That voice... The boy swung to meet its approaching owner, clamping himself to the taller figure who raised his arms in surprise. "What is it? Cal?" He nudged at the boy's shoulder, never looking up.

"Tom?" Harry asked, shakily.

Tom Paris's head jerked up, shock spreading across his features. For a moment he just stared, from one to the other, mouth opening and closing. Finally, he licked his lips. "Harry? Chakotay?" He waited for confirmation, for Chakotay's nod, and then peeled the boy off and met them halfway, throwing his arms around them both. "You made it?"

Harry pulled back, the familiar loathing filling his voice. "All the way."

Chakotay grabbed Tom's arm. "How many? How many survived?"

"There were seven of us. A few more survived the crash, but we didn't have the resources to save them. We've been living in the mess hall. We knew you'd come back for us." He looked around until he saw the boy, who'd slipped past them to close the door. "Callan? This is Harry Kim and Chakotay."

His mouth formed a small 'o'. "You were on the Delta Flier."

"That's right."

He looked exactly how Chakotay might have imagined Tom and B'Elanna's child would look, if a little shy. For a long moment they all just stood there, looking at each other, and then Tom tugged their sleeves.

"Come on. You have to see everybody." A smile touched his eyes. "Everybody has to see you."

Callan led the way down the corridor, throwing frequent looks over his shoulder at his father's friends. Father... hell.

Tom watched him affectionately. "He's never seen strangers before. And your names come up frequently." He smiled at each of them. "We always believed you made it."

Callan stepped into the mess hall a few seconds ahead of them. "Everybody. It's Harry Kim and Chakotay!"

The mess hall was almost unrecognisable, most of the furniture gone and replaced by one large, round table where Kenneth Dalby and Vorik were staring, unashamedly. Brad Harrison was at the serving counter, soup ladle dripping. A boy no older than ten and a toddler in a pink suit were watching warily from a blanket in front of an empty fireplace in the far corner.

Vorik moved first, standing awkwardly. "Commander. Ensign. It is... a pleasure to see you."

"A pleasure, hell." Dalby pushed his chair back and circled the table to clap them both on the shoulder, hesitating, and then hugging them both. "It's fucking wonderful."

Callan picked up the toddler and brought her over, the boy trailing close behind. He looked over Chakotay's shoulder to seek Tom's approval, and then lifted the girl up to show her. "This is Kit. That's Toby."

Chakotay went down on one knee. "Hello, Toby."

Toby backed up behind Callan, who turned around, shooing him forward.

"This is Chakotay and Harry. From the Delta Flier."

Toby wasn't impressed.

Dalby swept the boy up in his arms. "We're going home, Toby." A kiss on the nose. "Home!" He settled him on one hip and then guided Chakotay and Harry in, pulling off their coats without ceremony or regard for the child in his arms, and shoving them towards the table. "Come in, come in. You have to tell us everything. What was the homecoming like? Is the war over? Is anyone with you?"

Vorik sat back down, leaning heavily on the table. "May we presume you completed your journey?"

Chakotay flashed a smile. "All the way into Federation space. We didn't know where you came out. We've both-"

"Harry?" They all swung around in time to see Jenny Delaney bound, shrieking across the room, leaving the Doctor agape in the doorway. She wrapped herself around him. "I don't believe it! You found us!" She didn't let go of Harry, but Chakotay did receive a wide smile.

The Doctor wandered in, hands clasped behind his back. "We'd begun to think you weren't coming."

"Speak for yourself, Doc."

"So where are we?"

"What have you both been doing for the past fifteen years?"

"Have you seen any of our families?"

"What's been keeping you?"

Chakotay stared around the room, smiling. "You look damn good for a bunch of dead people."

Tom stood close to Harry, obviously worried by his old friend's distance, but by something else, too. "Jen-"

Delaney smiled at him. "She was right behind us. She just stopped to check the fuel levels on the generator."

Harrison finally made his way over to sit a couple of seats away from Chakotay, putting a bowl of soup in front of him. He smiled at Chakotay's questioning look. "Turns out the Doctor has quite the green thumb. The hydroponics bay has been thriving."

The soup was good - a blend of tastes he hadn't remembered in years, even... yes, that was leola root. "We noticed a forest about twenty kilometres west."

"Good for firewood, but there's not much to eat." A pause. "It's good to see you, Commander."

Chakotay took another spoonful. Leola root wasn't anywhere near as bad as he remembered. "I haven't been Commander for a while, now. It's just Chakotay, these days."

"You resigned your commission?"

"It was more a matter of..." Chakotay caught the pinched look on Harry's face. "Yeah, we resigned."

Dalby came closer. "And the homecoming?"

Harry folded his arms. "Antimatter fireworks, long-winded dignitaries, a Vulcan children's choir. We got medals pinned to our tunics. Chakotay gave a speech commemorating you all. Brought a tear to everyone's eye."

The silence stretched a little longer than Chakotay liked. "You're in the Tecarus Sector, just outside the Alpha Quadrant. You can be home in a couple of-"

His eye was caught by a figure in the doorway. Kathryn.

She was grasping the doorframe, unmoving. She'd let her hair grow long again, catching it behind with a pony tail that flipped over her shoulder. There was a hint of grey in her hair, frosting like the ship outside, and lines had settled gently into her face. She was smaller and more beautiful than ever.

"Mom!"

Mom?

Callan walked over and took her hand, pulling her into the room. "It's Harry Kim and Chakotay. They came back."

Kathryn let herself be led, eyes playing over her planet-bound family. She found Tom and he smiled reassuringly.

Chakotay stood and moved to meet her halfway. "Kathryn." When she didn't react he looked at Tom, who was watching sadly. Tom gave him a nod, and Chakotay pulled her into his arms, choking in relief when she hugged him back, hard.

"Tessa to Chakotay. Are you going to give me an update?"

Chakotay pulled back and took the comm badge Harry passed him. "We're here."

"Chakotay, we have trouble. There's a Federation ship on long range sensors. If we want to get this done, we'll have to get moving."

"There's a change in plan. We found them. There are survivors." His hand slipped around Kathryn's cheek and her lip tilted. Just barely, but he knew the beginnings of her smile as well as he'd ever known anything.

"Survivors? There's still-" Tessa stumbled, disbelieving. "I'm going to move behind the moon to evade their sensors. You've got six hours at best, Chakotay; let me know when you've got a plan."

The comm signal cut off, and Chakotay rolled his gaze over the assembled faces. Dalby was standing - close - behind Harrison's chair, grinning stupidly and clutching the girl while Harrison watched Chakotay, hopeful but restrained. Vorik was seated beside him, with a spark in his eyes that Tuvok would have disapproved of entirely. The Doctor was standing by the counter, arms folded, doing his best to look unimpressed. Jen Delaney was still clinging to Harry.

Only Tom seemed to have noticed something unusual in the exchange. "The Federation ship isn't a good thing?"

Chakotay let his hand fall, but didn't move away from Kathryn. "We're not too popular with Starfleet right now."

"Galaxy's most wanted," chimed in Harry. "We're wanted on two counts of treason and one of conspiracy to violate the temporal directive."

Tom looked at his friend as though he'd never seen him before. Which he hadn't - not like this. "You care to explain that to us, Harry?"

Chakotay jumped in. "We stole a Borg temporal transmitter from Starfleet. We were going to send Voyager new coordinates, change the timeline."

Harry stepped forward, out of Jenny's grasp, a familiar fear washing over his face. "So what's changed?"

Every set of eyes swung around to stare at Harry. Even Chakotay was speechless.

Harry crossed to him, pulling his arm until they faced each other. "One hundred and forty people are still dead!"

"Harry-"

He turned to the rest of the crew. "Don't you wish you could undo what's happened? I can stop it, I can bring the entire crew home safely!"

Harrison spoke, softly, "What about Toby and Kit? And Callan?"

Toby wasn't old enough to understand more than the fear, but Callan looked terrified. "What would happen to us? Dad, what would-"

"It's okay." Tom put his arm around the boy. "We won't let anything happen to you."

We. It was starting to sink in who Callan was. Son of Kathryn and Tom.

Chakotay wondered how long it had taken them to pair up. Not long: Callan looked almost thirteen. How the hell did they decide to raise children in this mausoleum?

Kathryn put a hand on each of them. "I think changing the timeline is out of the question." He almost had to lean into hear her.

Harry heard her perfectly well, spun around to shove her hand away. "Who the hell are you to decide that? You wouldn't even know what was gone!" He bolted from the room.

=/\=

Chakotay found Harry at the end of the hall where they'd entered, doubled over, gasping to hold back sobs. He felt Paris pull up beside him.

"Harry, seven people survived-"

"So I only killed 140 people. Yeah, that makes a difference, Chakotay." He shook his head. "You were with me. All these years. You can't pull out on me now."

Paris pushed forward to rest a hand on his shoulder. "It's not so simple, Harry. The last 15 years *did* happen. Nobody has the right to hit the rewind button when things don't work out how they'd like. You can't cut the mistakes out of your life. There's a balance to things."

Harry looked up, ice in his eyes. "That's easy to say when you don't live with the responsibility."

Tom humphed, more weary than harsh. "Look around you Harry."

Harry's gaze dropped to the carpet.

"I live with this every day. I live with Kathryn who has turned self-flagellation into an art form and the shell of the ship I couldn't land and I have a room set aside for the bodies of the people that survived who I still couldn't save. But I also live with a closer family than I've ever known and a son who has his mother's strength and sometimes I can be the one that makes Kathryn smile. We fought damned hard for the last fifteen years, Harry, and you don't have the right to take them away from us."

Harry looked up again, eyes wet. "Tom, you should understand, more than anyone. Does a day go by when you don't wish you could rewrite Caldik Prime?"

It was Tom's turn to stare at the floor, but not for long. He forced himself to meet Harry's gaze. "There are a lot of days now when I don't think of Caldik Prime at all."

=/\=

Chakotay left Harry in Tom's hands and returned to the mess hall. He'd been dealing with Harry's guilt for too long; perhaps he needed fresh ears.

The mood had mellowed somewhat after Harry's tantrum. The Doctor had taken over the kitchen; Harrison and Dalby were comforting Toby while Callan and Kathryn spoke quietly at their own corner of the table. Chakotay approached slowly, until they looked up to see him.

He sat on the other side of Kathryn.

Callan spoke first. "Is Harry alright?"

"He'll be fine. He's just..." Chakotay had no idea how to talk to the boy; he seemed old and childish by turns. "He wants to make up for sending the wrong coordinates, but he doesn't know how, anymore."

Kathryn frowned. "We didn't get the second set of coordinates. The comm signal broke up before he sent them."

Chakotay stared at her, feeling wild laughter echo somewhere in the back of his mind. He'd followed Harry through a fifteen year misplaced guilt trip.

Not that this journey had been entirely Harry's. He'd had his own reasons, just as misplaced. And someone had stood by him, even as he searched for a way back to the people and the woman he'd loved. He wondered what Tessa would think, to meet Kathryn and realise the oh-so-romantic attempt to change the timeline wasn't going to happen.

He didn't realise he was staring until Kathryn pushed her chair back. "I... need to check something." She walked out. None of the others watched her go.

"She needs some space, sometimes."

Chakotay looked at Callan. "Is she always this sad?"

"Mostly." He shrugged. "I try to make her happy. I've made her laugh, sometimes. No one else can do that." He darted a look around the room. "She was happy when you knew her, wasn't she?"

Chakotay smiled. "When we get off this planet you should take her exploring. The years fall away."

Callan smiled shyly and leaned back, imagining his mother as an explorer.

The others took it as a sign they were welcome. Harrison turned a chair and straddled it. "Since when does the Federation charge people for treason?"

Chakotay had asked himself that question, many times. "The war with the Dominion did a lot of damage to the Federation, and it wasn't all physical. Some of the ideals are still there, in the people, but it's not the same union it was twenty years ago." He looked around the group, realising how familiar this graveyard atmosphere was. "Millions died. The entire Alpha Quadrant is jaded. There's no exploration anymore; the officers limped home and they're still there, licking their wounds."

"How long ago did the war end?"

"Technology scavenged from the Delta Flier made all the difference. A peace treaty was signed almost a decade ago, but the war didn't so much end as fizzle out. There are still skirmishes along the borders because neither side has the resources to enforce the treaty."

Vorik tipped his head from his seat across the table. "Intriguing."

"What is?"

"After all these years of regret, it turns out that our experiment saved the Federation. In effect, we were the casualty of war that made all the difference."

That was a truth Chakotay had always avoided in their little crusade. If Kathryn had seen the future set out in front of her, she would have made the same decision. Sacrificed her ship and happiness to save her precious Federation. Chakotay would have fought harder to oppose her. He'd let her seduce him into supporting her that night, and he had his own baggage of guilt to carry for it.

It hadn't been the shamelessly manipulative romantic dinner; he'd known that's all that was. It was the self-loathing in her voice that had undone him. He couldn't refuse her a chance at peace, no matter how slim that chance might be.

Harrison wasn't so intrigued. "What happens now?"

"I guess you wait for the Federation ship to arrive." He smiled. "Take you home."

"If we have homes." Harrison looked around for Dalby, who pulled a chair up to sit beside him, and wrapped a hand around his shoulders. Harrison leaned in, gratefully. "Ken and I both come from border colonies. I don't suppose you've heard much about the systems around the Chorzein sector?"

"Nothing specific. But most of the old Maquis fighting grounds are a mess. Entire sectors are uninhabitable."

The Doctor folded his arms. "What about yourself and Mr Kim?"

And that was the big question. They were going to restore the timeline or die trying. They'd never had a plan C.

Paris walked in, exhausted, but still sized up the room in a moment. "Where's Kathryn?"

The Doctor shot an unreadable look at Chakotay. "The generator room, I expect. It's been rather intense in here."

Chakotay ignored him. "Is Harry alright?"

"He doesn't look like he's been alright for a long time." Tom fell into the seat Callan had abandoned. Chakotay hadn't even noticed the boy was gone. Tom noticed his frown, and wiped a hand across his face. "Callan's with Harry now. He's been keeping Kathryn afloat for years; Harry should be easy."

"She seems..."

"She has good days and bad days. Once the initial disaster was taken care of she began to shut down. You knew her well enough to imagine what living here, like this, could do to her."

Chakotay didn't want to imagine. If he thought at all, he was amazed she'd coped at all, cut off from hope, from action, from her stars. And he didn't want to know that Paris had pulled her through it. "Maybe leaving, she can finally move on."

"She's here." Kathryn walked in, more steady now. "You said your time is limited, Chakotay. Perhaps we should get down to business."

Chakotay gave her a smile, as glad as she was to return to action. "The ship following us will be the Challenger. Captain LaForge is a good man; he'll take care of you all, but I think the Doctor should come with us."

"Why me?"

"Like I told you; the Federation has changed. The time we spent out here doesn't exactly give us ownership rights over Voyager. Starfleet impounded the Delta Flier almost as soon as we arrived, and as far as they're concerned, our taking it back was theft. I doubt they'll grant you sentient rights as long as they believe you could be useful to them."

Vorik leaned forward, head cocked. "You will continue to evade the authorities?"

"We need to get the Doctor out of the way. After that, I guess Harry, Tessa and I will need to talk."

"Who is Tessa?"

"The voice of reason." He smiled at their blank stares. "She's a friend. A friend who will be glad you're all okay."

=/\=

=/\=

=/\=

Tom and B'Elanna seemed to be arguing over yet another holodeck game.

Janeway watched them over her breakfast, observing with a little more than her usual curiosity. She'd always considered them a strange couple. They'd acted like teenagers back when Alzen was running her little scientific experiments, but at least then there'd been some sort of attraction between them. Since the effects wore off they'd seemed little more than distant friends, spending time together out of habit rather than any real desire for each other's company. B'Elanna's depression might have gone some way to explain the distance, but if you didn't turn to your lover in times of need, what sort of relationship was it?

B'Elanna threw one last well-intentioned insult at her partner as she picked up her tray. She gave him a nod and a cheeky smile before heading out. No kiss goodbye, and Tom didn't expect one. He went happily back to his own meal, not bothering to watch her leave.

He seemed different, too. Janeway couldn't put her finger on it, but since he and B'Elanna had been together, the old spark had been missing. She'd believed it was an awkward personal problem solved when he found B'Elanna, but somehow it had only complicated her feelings as she watched the life sucked from both of them.

And now it was more complicated than ever, as information she had no right to know teased at her hopes.

"Would you mind some company?"

Janeway's head jerked up; she hadn't noticed Tom's approach. "No- Have a seat."

He sat, and leaned forward on his elbows. "For a while there, I really thought we were going to make it." He was trying to disguise concern with small talk, but he was watching her closely.

Just as she was watching him. Those eyes had a new familiarity, and his voice seemed to echo. "Maybe we weren't supposed to make it. The person who sent the coordinates to bump us out of the slipstream must have sent them for a reason."

She had no right to tell him. That future didn't exist, and this one wasn't hers to change.

=/\=

She hadn't told Harry about the second message in Seven's implant, either. A boy had stared up at the screen through nervous blue eyes set in translucent skin, as though he'd never seen sunlight. He looked about thirteen, though he might have been older. Thick clothes hid a wiry frame.

It took only a moment to recognise the interior of the Delta Flier behind him, but she'd had no idea who he was until he pushed his fingers through the tousled brown hair and began to speak.

"My name's Callan."

She would have known that voice anywhere.

"In another lifetime, where a few survived the accident, I'm your son."

Her son?

He shifted feet, still unsure of what to say. "You didn't want this but you'll never be happy here. None of you will, so Harry and I are fixing it." Fingers reached up to touch the screen. "There's no way you'll know how much I loved you, but at least this way you'll remember me."

Harry's voice called him, and he glanced nervously offscreen.

"I don't have time for more. I'm not sure if it's right to tell you who my father is, but you told me once that you liked him from the first time you met him, even though you were sure the relationship would never work. It's been fifteen years and you still watch him and smile when you don't think he's looking, Mom, so if you know who I'm talking about, it's worth a try."

"Cal! Now!"

He took a breath. "I love you, even if you'll never know it." He pressed something to the side of the screen, and dissolved into static.