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Volition

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**************

She had been standing there so long that her feet were numb, but only slightly more so than the rest of her body. She didn't shift her weight. Didn't move her hands from her hips as she watched what was happening through the glass. She just stood as still as she possibly could, trying to take it all in. Yet, somewhere in her mind, Kathryn Janeway was aware that the door had opened and closed a couple of minutes ago. She didn't turn around to see who entered the room. She didn't need to.

When he finally stepped close enough for her to feel his warmth across her numbed flesh and emotions, she wrapped her arms in front of her. A protective measure, she thought, though she wasn't sure what she was protecting herself from.

"How..." Tom started to say but his voice trailed off as Kes re-positioned the baby in her arms. Both of them could only stare as the being now in a recognizable human form stretched out its tiny arms before curling them back to his chest. Much like his mother was holding her arms now.

"How what, Lieutenant?" she asked slowly, still enthralled with watching the baby Kes was smiling down upon. Kathryn had held her child for a few minutes earlier but was willing to let Kes take over. Although her arms ached to hold the baby again, she knew she had to deal with something else first.

"How's he doing, Captain? Is he going to make it?" Paris asked, voice shaky and uncertain. He stood a little behind her and slightly to the side so he could watch without being in her line of sight. She didn't mind. She wasn't quite ready for eye contact yet.

"He's quite a fighter, but it's too early to tell what the lasting effects might be," she said, a smile curling up the corners of her mouth. As suddenly as it appeared, it disappears. "Someone told you... you know about the other babies, right?"

"Yes. I'm sorry." His voice betrayed the notion she guarded that she was the only one who felt the loss. She should have known better.

Only one child survived the procedure. The Doctor tried everything he possibly could but they didn't make it. Tom had returned to duty yesterday, not once voicing his opinion on what his captain decided to do and never questioning her motives. She wanted to know how he was feeling about the newest addition to the Voyager manifest but didn't know what to ask.

"I'm sorry, too," she said softly, finally dropping her arms down to her side. Janeway was still trying to deal with how losing someone she didn't know could hurt like this. But it was her child.

Their child.

She shut her eyes at the thought and rubbed her temples with numb fingers.

They now had a child. A bond that would never go away whether the baby lived or died. And if he survived these first few days, he would probably outlive them. Even if they didn't make it back to the Alpha Quadrant, he would.

When she decided to return to the planet and retrieve the beings Chakotay left behind, she didn't ask Tom and she knew she should have yet something else was driving her. It was her decision. She was the captain, after all and it was her decision.

A decision they would both have to live with. A decision the whole crew would have to live with, too.

"Tom, I want you to understand that you are under no obligation..." she started to say but he stepped up closer and cut her words off quickly.

"Like hell I'm not!" His words filled the room and the adjoining one. Kes looked up at them briefly before returning her gaze back to the child in her arms, affording them a tiny bit of privacy. Janeway didn't like his response in front of another crew member but would forgive him because of the situation they were both in.

"It was my decision to return there. It was my choice to turn them into a more present day human form. Besides that, their... his creation wasn't even a conscious one on your part."

"And it was on your part, Captain? I'm more to blame for this than you are. Why do you feel that you are solely responsible for the results of our actions?" he asked. She looked at him briefly, meeting his eyes for just a second. A flash of anger was there and she looked away. Looked back at the child in the other room. "Because you're the mother? The woman? The captain?"

She didn't have an answer that she could express in words. Maybe it was a combination of all of those things he just mentioned. Maybe because it just seemed less scandalous if she tried to raise the child on her own. Or maybe it was because at this point she just couldn't imagine raising a child on her own yet much less the child of Tom Paris.

He took another step forward until he was nearly touching the glass. Janeway could see him out of the corner of her eye as their stares both fixed on the same person. The child wasn't a newborn. They had missed that stage by several months of amphibian development. The captain was sure that if the child had always been human, he would be sitting up by now instead of being rocked in someone's arms.

"People already know, Captain. They know he's yours and they know he's mine. They're honestly more interested in his welfare than they are in any emotional melodrama we might be suffering through. He's now the only child of their captain and they want nothing but the best for him," Tom said, putting his hand up to touch the glass. She had been away from the crew for the last few days, spending most of the past day in sickbay as the Doctor performed countless procedures on their offspring. She didn't care what the entire crew thought of her decision. Only one other person mattered and he has said so little up until this point.

"I didn't think of all the little things before I decided to do this. How will I explain it to him? He'll have so many questions -- questions I don't even have the answers to. Tom, how will we ever explain... us? Explain how he started out life? He's sure to ask, don't you think?" she asked and he laughed.

"You never asked your parents embarrassing questions?"

"I'm sure my parents were aware of how I was conceived, Lieutenant. And I know they were aware of my birth," Janeway said, a slight smile crossing her face.

"Whatever he asks, we'll be able to answer. Or lie. I sure my parents told me plenty of lies," Paris said with a scoff.

"Oh, I don't want to lie. I just don't know how to answer some pretty simple questions. Like 'how come Daddy has to call you Captain?'"

Tom Paris sucked in a deep breath and it didn't pass her notice. "Daddy."

"Yes. Mommy and Daddy. That's us. The newest parents on Voyager." A small laugh bubbled up through her with those words. She knew from the moment she decided to go back to that planet that this was a possibility. She just never spoke the words out loud.

"That's a lot to comprehend, Captain... unless you want me to call you 'mom,' too?" he asked and now she snorted.

"In front of the child, I'm sure Kathryn will be fine."

"My mother called my father 'dad' when she was talking about him to me. I'm sure that's how it will be with us. *Your* mother and *your* father. By then, he'll probably understand why I have to call you captain," he said. She wrapped her arms around herself again, rubbing her arms as if she was cold while he continued to talk. "If we ever make it home, what is my father going to say?"

"It won't be that bad. If explained to him properly, he'll at least understand how it happened."

"Are you sure about that? I can hear him now. 'You broke warp ten, turned into a lizard and reproduced with your own captain? Can't you ever do anything right?' He isn't going to be kind."

"I don't know about that, Tom. Look at him," Janeway said, nodding toward the baby. Kes was still rocking him patiently, looking as content to be performing that duty as the baby looked to be in her arms. "Second chances rarely come so easily and in such attractive packages."

He fell silent as he watched. She knew it wasn't going to be easy explaining this to anyone back home. Not his father. Not Mark. She already had a hell of a time explaining it to Chakotay. But the baby was a reality that they would have to deal with.

"Did you... does he have a name?"

"No."

"Whose last name are you choosing? Mine? Yours? Damn. You know, they need to make some sort of protocol for situations like this," he said and they both laughed at the idea.

"When we get home, we'll have to bring it up with Star Fleet," she said as they both became serious again. "What would you like to do, Tom? What name would you like to use?"

He let out a heavy sigh and turned to look at her. "I really have no idea."

"Do you plan on having more children in the near future?" she asked, well aware that she wasn't privy to the personal side of all her crew members' lives.

His eyes grew wide at her question. "I... I don't think so. I wouldn't know who... I don't know," he stammered, looking somewhat embarrassed. She supposed that if anyone else asked him that he wouldn't look so uncomfortable and she wanted to laugh at the whole situation. Their child was in the next room yet here he stood stumbling over a simple question.

"Your chances seem better than mine. You'll have to think about that, you know. When we choose a name..."

"We?"

"Yes, we. I offered to free you from any obligations just a few minutes ago and you adamantly refused. So now you get to help name him. He's yours, too."

"I know. I just didn't think... I don't know what I'm thinking," he said, looking at her troubled eyes. She was sure hers looked the same right now. He already said it. Some things just aren't addressed by Star Fleet and though she managed to get through a million situations so far, this was just something she never imagined.

"I want you to think about it because in all likelihood you're going to meet someone and fall in love and eventually want to start a family. A family with a woman you love."

"Captain... I..."

"And I want you to be sure when we pick a name for this child that you keep your future in mind," she finished. The words weren't easy to say because she knew someday that would just be one more thing they'd have to explain to this son. His parents were never married. His parents were never in love. How was she going to explain that?

"Are you saying we shouldn't name this one Thomas Eugene Paris, Jr. because someday I might have a son with someone I love more -- I mean someone I'm married to?" he asked and her eyes snapped from the child she was staring at to the man standing before her.

"Lieutenant, I don't want you to harbor any romantic notions about this situation. Do I make myself clear?" Janeway stated, placing her hands on her hips. She never even considered that there would ever be anything more between them. Ever. Their relationship outside the care of this child would remain the same. It had to in order for things to run smoothly. No matter what either of them might feel, it just had to be that way.

"Yes, ma'am," he answered but she could read what he was really feeling in his eyes.

"This is going to be messy enough as it is," she said in all seriousness. The answers for half of the questions running through her mind just weren't coming easily. How was she ever supposed to send Tom out on an away mission from which he might not return? If she sent him and he didn't return, how would she ever explain that to this child? How could she explain it if she didn't send him to the rest of the crew?

"I understand." He said it as if he honestly meant it and she wanted to believe him but she just couldn't.

"You have to, Tom. I have a feeling we'll be spending a lot of time together because of this and I just don't need to have to deal with anything else. Please promise me at least that."

He didn't answer her right away but instead, looked back towards Kes who was shifting the baby from the crook in one arm to the other.

"Why did you go back?"

"Excuse me?"

"Why did you go back, Captain? You could have just left them there. Come to speak of it, you could have just left me in prison and you could have just left them... left him down on that planet. What is it about us Paris men that calls out for you to rescue us?"

"I needed you," she answered simply. She wasn't sure if he would read more into her words than she intended but it was the truth. "I needed you to..."

"I know what you needed me for. But what about him? Why go back after him?" he asked.

"I had to."

"Why, Captain? I just want to know why you went back. Did you need him, too?"

She didn't answer right away but instead waivered between telling him she's the captain so she can go back and do what she wants within certain parameters or telling him the truth. She looked up into his eyes and the truth won out.

"I told you that I thought about having children someday," she said, watching him nod his head yes. It was in the sickbay during their first few hours back in their usual form. Both were embarrassed by what happened but the feeling was nothing like what was happening now.

"Just not with me," he added with a quick grin.

"Yes. But then I started thinking. I was afraid this might be it. My last chance. We could be out here for years and I was... I had to do something. I had to try."

"You had to do something even though he's mine."

"Even though he's yours." She smiled at him and looked down, avoiding his eyes once more. "This isn't how I wanted this all to go, you know. I was hoping to create a family in the traditional method. A part of me was looking forward to the memories of pregnancy and the birth of any child I might have. A part of me wanted to feel that anticipation as I waited for my child to be born."

"And I was really looking forward to remembering the conception of any child I might have," Tom added with a smile. She laughed and knew that sooner or later, they would have to stop lingering on this side of the glass. They would have to leave this way of life behind and step into their new life. They were now going to be tied together for the rest of their lives no matter what else happened.

"We better go in there. Kes can't hold him forever. Besides, we have the business of naming him to deal with."

"Yes, we do."

They entered the room and Kes gave them a smile. "Are you ready to hold your son?"she asked, standing up easily with the baby still in her arms.

"Me?" Tom asked, his trepidation apparent on his face.

"Yes, you, Tom. Have a seat," Kathryn said, motioning to the chair Kes just abandoned.

"I... I don't know if I'm ready for all of this."

"No one ever is," Janeway said with a sigh. She wasn't even sure if she was ready. She had successfully faced a lot in her years with Star Fleet but not parenthood. This was bigger than everything else combined. Bigger, yet somehow more satisfying. She could feel that already.

Tom sat down and tried to figure out what to do with his arms but before he could think about it too long, Kes deposited the baby into them. Within seconds,whatever fear that had dominated his expression a second ago was gone and Captain Janeway couldn't help but to smile as she watched father and son together for the first time.

Kes left them alone together and the only sound that filled the room for several minutes was that of the baby making soft cooing noises and his father making noises back at him.

"We have a lot to talk about, Captain. A lot," he said, not taking his eyes of the baby held close to his heart.

"I know." She reached out and stroked the baby's fine blond hair before placing her hand on Tom's shoulder.

"Who do you think he resembles?" Paris asked, cocking his head to the side to get a better look as he pulled back the baby blanket a little.

"You," Kathryn Janeway said with a smile.

"That's not such a bad thing, you know?"

"I know."

****************

She never imagined being this exhausted. Nothing was ever this exhausting before in her life, not even the worst days of command. Janeway put her face in her hands and sighed, wishing she could sleep but knowing that as soon as she did, her infant son would wake up. It was inevitable.

His name was Caulder Paris. His given name was the family name of some hotshot pilot who helped get mankind from Earth to Mars. Leave it to Tom to name their child after something obscure from the historical data files. There really wasn't that much debate over whether he should be a Janeway or a Paris. Or not as much debate as others expected. Paris was just as good a name as Janeway, with as much history behind it, so why not?

She looked over at the tiny child, sleeping so quietly, and she dared to close her eyes. She was sitting at the table on her quarters, knowing full well if she even tried to go to her bed, the rustle of sheets would be enough to wake him. If she could just sleep for a few minutes right here, she'd be happy.

And then her door chimed. Before she could even think to say 'enter,' Caulder started crying.

"Oh..." she said, checking the words that naturally wanted to come next. "Come in."

The door opened and Tom stepped in, blinking to adjust to the dimmed lights. "Did I... he was asleep, wasn't he?"

She didn't even have to answer. She was quite sure the expression on her face told everything.

"What did you need, Tom?" she asked, her voice rough from the hours she had already spent singing lullabies to get the baby to sleep. She didn't know she knew so many songs, but apparently her ability to recall them grew with how desperate Caulder's cries became.

"I thought you could use a break. You were on the bridge for twelve hours and I know he hasn't been sleeping well," Tom replied, walking over to his son's crib.

"I'm fine," she said, and stiffened when he gave her a doubting glance.

"You need some rest. You have this whole ship to command..."

"And you have it to pilot. When was the last time you slept?" she asked but that didn't stop him from proceeding to the baby's crib and picking his son up.

"Yesterday, but I'm fine. I'm not the mommy," he said with an easy going smile as he tried to quiet the baby down. "No... I'm the daddy. And I'm here for things like playing and tickling and..."

"We get the picture," Janeway said, folding her arms and pressing them against her swollen breasts. Stimulating milk production was a last ditch effort when every other nutritional supplement didn't seem to agree with the baby and now she was beginning to regret it. The feedings just made her more exhausted. Some days it made her feel chained down to this child. The Doctor thought it would work but now even he wasn't sure of what to do next, so she alternated between nursing and some sort of baby formula. That didn't make the ache in her breasts go away and now that he was crying, it only grew worse.

Janeway wanted to cry, too, knowing how much some women loved this feeling. She didn't know why she couldn't be one of them, content to spend hours cradling her son in her arms as he suckled milk. It didn't make her any less of a woman or a mother, Janeway convinced herself, but she wished she could feel like a mother right now. It was hard when nothing made the child happy.

Caulder scrunched up his face at his father's efforts to quiet him down and Tom laughed. "You look just like your mother when you do that," he said, catching the captain's attention.

"Would you care to explain that, Lieutenant?" Janeway asked, trying to adjust her arms so her discomfort wasn't so obvious.

"Caulder and I have to keep some things to ourselves, don't we?" he said, swaying with the baby, trying to keep him quiet. The constant switching of positions combined with continuous motion was the only thing that worked some nights. "We have to talk about something when we're pacing the halls."

She stared at the two Parises, envious of whatever it was Tom had going with the child. He seemed more at ease than she did lately. Of course, he didn't have all the other responsibilities piled up on him, too.

"Just be careful with what you say. Remember, some day he'll be able to talk," Janeway commented, standing up and moving towards them. She stood with her hands on her hips even though her breasts were tight against the front of her uniform. She couldn't spend her life with her arms crossed over them.

"You know, other people are more than willing to watch him. They wouldn't feel as if it were an extra duty assigned to them. They're volunteering, actually," Tom said and she just nodded. So far, the only people who have had Caulder for any amount of time were Kes and Neelix. "Even Tuvok volunteered, stating that perhaps the child needed a more calm center in his life."

"Is that to say I'm not calm?" Janeway asked, fighting everything that was raging around inside her right now. Exhaustion. Depression. Uncertainty.

"As calm as Tuvok?"

"I see your point. I'll take it under consideration."

Caulder started to quiet down, his cries turning into whimpering little baby noises.

"Captain?" Tom asked, looking away from her. He usually didn't do that anymore, call her that when they were alone. Most of the time he would be talking to Caulder, referring to her as 'your mommy.' When he did talk to her directly, it was either Kathryn or nothing at all.

"Yes?" she asked. He looked back towards her, nodding his head at the front of her uniform.

"Do you need to feed him before I take him?" he asked and she looked down, watching as dark, wet streaks formed on the front of her turtleneck. Her black uniform jacket was gone, making the dampness quite noticeable as she tried to hide her embarrassment. She shouldn't feel this way. He was there when the Doctor suggested this. Yet, he wasn't there when she finally tried to feed their child that way and no one besides the Doctor and Kes have seen her doing it.

"I, uh..." she started to say, wrapping her arms back around her chest again, trying to make it stop. Naturally, with the baby crying, this was bound to happen.

"Here," he said, handing her the baby. "I'll be waiting right outside."

"You don't have to do that. I'll go... over there," she said, nodding towards her sleeping area. "No need for you to start pacing the corridors already. You'll have all night to do that."

************

He wasn't used to this yet. Actually, he wasn't used to so many things, but standing in the Captain's quarters while she nursed their baby was one of the many. He looked in every direction but towards where she was.

"You can sit down," she called, stopping his pacing across her floor. "This will take a few minutes."

"Thanks," he said but he didn't move towards the couch or any of the chairs. He didn't start pacing again, though. Instead he stood as still as he could near the door and stared straight out the viewport. The room was nearly silent except for the soft sounds of mother and child, the gentle murmuring of the Captain and the occasional fussiness of Caulder.

Tom's eyes drifted in that direction, but all he could see was Janeway's back, her long hair loosened from it's usual bun and hanging down in a ponytail. Her shirt was pulled out of the waist of her pants and her hands were busy with the baby. She didn't seem to notice what he was doing at all now that he stopped moving. The rocking chair that was replicated for her was out here, in the living quarters, placed in an ideal spot so she could watch the stars as she fed the baby. He should have left the room so she could have nursed in comfort.

"Oh -- I can't -- what a mess," he heard her mutter from where she was sitting. She looked around the chair and he noticed her shoulders slump when she realized something was missing.

"Are you okay?" he asked and she didn't answer right away. "Kathryn?"

"Tom, there should be some rags near the couch... and a small blanket. Can you bring them here?" she asked, sounding defeated.

"Yes, um... I see them," he answered. He retrieved the requested items, all of them faintly scented of baby and sour milk, and brought them into Janeway. He stood behind her, and slid them across the lounging chair she was perched on the edge of.

She grabbed for the cloth, while supporting the baby with one arm, and dabbed at something wet. Then she pulled the blanket over the baby's head, covering herself and the child.

"I know it's the most natural thing in the universe, but still, I can't help but feel that it's also so..."

"Intimate?"

"Yes," she said, adding a short chuckle. "I keep picturing this image of me sitting in my chair on the bridge, baby pressed to my breast, while I give out commands. I don't think the crew is ready for that yet."

"You'd be surprised what the crew is ready for," Tom said, stepping one step closer. She lifted her head up but didn't turn to look at him. "When it comes to you and this child, they're willing to accept most anything."

"I don't think *I'm* ready for that yet," she said, sighing with exhaustion. "You want to know the worst part about this?"

He could only imagine the many ways it could be bad. He was there when the Doctor went over the wide varieties of ailments that could accompany breast-feeding, along with his talk about how enjoyable it could be. The captain merely raised an eyebrow at the time as he went through the list. Now she was living it.

"What?"

"No caffeine!" she said with a moan. "I don't know how I'm going to make it. I also don't know how my mother... both our mothers, really, did this parenting thing alone for so many years. I have a new admiration for them."

Something inside of him recoiled at her words as he tried to extract some meaning from them. "I didn't know you were alone in this," he said, his tone questioning, and she turned enough to look him in the eyes.

"That's not what I meant... oh, I don't know what I mean anymore. I feel... alone," she admitted then looked down at the baby, still covered with a blanket. "I don't know how I can feel that way, considering I'm never really alone. A ship full of people who need me. A baby who needs me. You... I don't know why I feel this way."

He wasn't accustomed to this, to her admitting things so easily. Although they now shared something that pulled them past the captain and subordinate relationship he was used to, this was something he didn't know how to deal with just yet. He knew she was human for he had his father to teach him that lesson. He didn't know what to say, because part of him was feeling just as alone.

"This isn't how I imagined any of this," he said, sitting down beside her. She slid over a little to allow him room and didn't say anything about the intrusion into her privacy. "I know people say that you can't even begin to imagine what it's like, what it's like to be a parent, but I'll have to admit this isn't even close."

"Are you sorry for not walking away when you had the chance?" she asked, shuffling the baby around under the blanket. He looked away as she straightened everything out, bouncing the baby on one shoulder as she tucked herself in.

"Here, let me," he said, avoiding her question. He took Caulder from her, covered his uniform with a rag and patted the baby on the back.

“So, are you?" she asked again, watching him as he continued to shift the baby around a few times, while he continued to get fussy again.

"Are you?" he asked, and they both smiled as Caulder finally burped up the bubble of air. Along with it came a splash of milk. Janeway jumped up, wiping it off of his uniform, looking slightly embarrassed.

"I'm sorry about that," she apologized.

"Not at all," he said as she continued to wipe it off him, as if he were the child. Caulder cooed happily in his lap, sated and comfortable now. "Nothing like getting acquainted over a little regurgitated human milk."

She stood back and laughed, sounding happier than she had in days. She certainly sounded more relaxed. "Neither of us has answered the question," she said, her eyes meeting his.

"I wouldn't miss this for the world," he finally answered. "It hasn't been perfect, considering the circumstances, but he's... everything. I can't imagine life without him now."

"Neither can I," she said, taking the baby from his arms and holding him tight. She leaned in to kiss the baby's cheek and rocked him a little. "It's not going to be easy. None of this has been easy, but we'll do just fine."

************

"Warning. Hull breach on Deck 3."

It was something they've all heard the computer say before but this time the words were enough to knock Janeway backward into her seat.

"Structural integrity is at 45% and dropping. The hull is starting to buckle. We are losing life support on Deck 3." It was the calm voice of Tuvok. The computer was still going on about something and Janeway was trying hard to focus. It didn't matter how hard she tried, all she could hear was 'Deck 3.'

"I am trying to initiate an emergency containment field. The collision has caused a power failure on Decks 3 and 4. Rerouting power to compensate," she heard Harry say over the clamor, his words filtering down from behind her slowly. No one seemed to be speaking in real time. Everything was going so slow.

"Containment field activated. Sickbay has reports of casualties from Decks 3 and 7. No report on the identities of two..." The voice trailed off at someone's command.

"Captain?" It was Chakotay's voice from right next to her but it might as well have been a million miles away. She felt his hand move to hers but the touch was cold. She fought the urge to recoil and pull into herself. "Captain?"

Janeway couldn't move but instead remained frozen in that moment. She knew she shouldn't be sitting there in silence. She should be asking questions, coming up with commands or at the very least running as fast as she could to the sickbay to see...

But she couldn't. It was just easier not to know. Her mind shut off for the first time in years and she had no commands to give. She looked forward, watching Tom Paris' fingers move nervously across the conn. He was shaking and then she realized she was, too. He blinked hard, still fighting with the ship to evade whoever the hell was shooting at them this time. His mind couldn't quit now and neither could hers. Paris completed some evasive maneuver and figured out how to buy them a little time before their pursuers came after them again. He ran his hand across his face quickly before looking back at her. He didn't have to say a word.

"I'll go down to sickbay..." Chakotay offered, his voice soft against the alarms that no one had shut off yet, and she nearly nodded 'yes.' She stopped herself, though. She put up her hand and the klaxon ceased immediately.

"I'm going." The words didn't come from Janeway but rather they were spoken by Paris. It wasn't an offer like Chakotay had made but more of a decree. She narrowed her eyes at him but he motioned for someone to take over the conn and then strode off toward the turbolift before she could speak again. She heard the lift shut and she closed her eyes, knowing the news would arrive soon enough.

"Kathryn," Chakotay said, his voice farther away than before. It was so soft and muffled she wasn't completely convinced he had said anything at all. She opened her eyes and realized he was still watching her. He had said her name. All the muffling was being done by her numbed brain.

She pulled out of under his touch and finally found her legs. They were still shaking and for a moment, she considered following Tom to the sickbay. She should be there but her feet wouldn't carry her in that direction.

Instead, she moved towards her ready room and left the bridge behind.

****************

Tom wasn't sure he could make his legs keep moving. They felt as if they were made of rubber, unable to support him the rest of the way down the corridor to sickbay. He stopped, putting a hand on the wall for a second while he tried to will his heart to slow down.

He had lost things before, in his past. Lost a lot of things. He had even lost someone he loved dearly. Yet, none of it compared to this. He was torn between wanting to know the truth and being content with ignorance. Without knowing, he wouldn't have to deal with the potential pain.

"Deal with it. That's part of the job," he mumbled, pushing himself forward.

People were racing by him in the hall, trying to get the ship back into condition so they could get themselves out of this. No one seemed to notice him, struggling to move against the wall. He felt a hand on his shoulder and he turned to see a concerned face. Right now, he couldn't remember her name but he was sure he shared drinks with her once at Sandrine's. Her hand moved down his arm, supporting him.

"Lieutenant, are you all right?" she asked, looking him over.

"I'm okay. I have to get to sickbay," he said, looking that way down the corridor. "I have to find out. . ."

"I'll help you," she said softly, the motion of her body giving his the will to move.

The doors to the sickbay opened and there was Kes, with Caulder crying in her arms, as she tried to help the casualties.

"Thank you for your prompt arrival, Lieutenant. This is a sickbay, not a nursery," the Doctor said, and Tom nodded to the person who escorted him here. She let go of his arm and went on her way but he still couldn't move.

"Is he okay?" he asked and Kes stopped what she was doing and smiled at him.

"He's a little frightened, but otherwise, he's perfectly fine," she said, bringing Caulder to Tom. The baby's face was bright red from his crying, but when he got into his father's arms, nothing else mattered. Tom held him tight, trying to come up with the questions he knew he should ask.

"How... why is he here?" Tom asked, looking his son over. "Was he injured?"

"Not at all," the Doctor answered, moving quickly from one patient to the next. "But if you or the Captain ever decide to miss one of his appointments in the future, could you inform me? I can adjust my schedule accordingly..."

"We missed what?" Tom asked, looking from his son to the Doctor. Caulder was calming down in Tom's arms, his crying now settled down enough that he just made soft gasping sounds.

"His weekly appointment," Kes answered, allowing the Doctor to continue on with his patients. "Don't worry about it. Neelix and I brought him in. Actually, he was in here when we went to red alert. He's fine though you look a little bit shaken."

Tom didn't say anything right away before he finally mumbled that he was okay. As everybody continued to rush around him, he just held his son tight, knowing he had to take Caulder to his mother soon. She looked positively terrified when he left the bridge and he was quite certain that he didn't look any better. It was their first test and he wasn't sure if either of them passed. They all made it out alive. The ship was still intact, more or less. That had to count for something.

He just wasn't sure if he was ready to go back out there and face the enemy again. His confidence was shaken, not so much in his ability to pilot the ship, but more in his ability to accept whatever may come their way. Now there was something he just couldn't live without.

The baby gurgled, his little fingers holding on tight to Tom's uniform. He left sickbay and headed back down the corridor toward the turbolift, his arms wrapped tightly around Caulder. Only once he was alone with the baby behind the closed doors did he finally realize what this all was.

He held Caulder out, staring into little eyes that were more like the child's mother's than she would ever admit to. "So this is love?" he asked no one in particular and was answered only by the soft cooing of his son.

****************

The door chimed and it took considerable effort for her to able to say 'come in.' She couldn't make herself turn her head to look, too scared of what the answer might be. She sat with her arm across the back of the couch, staring out into the nebular cloud they were in.

That's when she heard the soft gurgling sound that could only be made by one person: her son. She fought the tears hard, feeling their sting all the way through her soul. Janeway didn't want to cry though she knew the person holding her child wouldn't fault her if she did. After a moment of blinking hard, she knew she was losing the battle as the tears welled up in her eyes.

Janeway still couldn't look. She was afraid she was imagining his sounds. They were so ingrained on her mind that she knew if something did happen to him, she would never forget the noises he made.

She heard the familiar shuffle of a baby being moved from one hip to the other. The soft crinkle of a diaper on a baby's bottom. Some things just didn't change with the passage of time. She breathed in deep and could smell the soft baby scent of him from the other side of the room. That was one of the things that never changed. The scent of a baby.

"You can look. He's okay," Tom said but she couldn't look yet, afraid she'd lose the last tenuous bit of control she had. Did she really have any? She didn't on the bridge and was sure she had less even now.

"I knew it would be hard, going into battle with him on board," she said, still staring out at nothing but the murky cloud surrounding them. "I just didn't realize..."

Her voice cracked and she fought to bring it back under control. She turned and looked at Tom, holding their son on his hip. Baby fingers played with the pips on his father's collar and Janeway closed her eyes, wanting to capture that very image forever in her mind. In case one day Tom didn't come back with her child, she wanted to remember this. Remember that every split second decision called on the bridge could end this 'family' of hers.

"A long time ago," she went on with a sigh, trying to find the words that just wouldn't come to her. Her hand moved in the air but it didn't help express what she was trying to convey. "You had an accident when you were a senior at the Academy."

It wasn't a question but he answered her anyway. "Yes."

"I was there with your father when he got the news. At that moment, seeing the fear on his face..."

"Kathryn," Tom interrupted, using her given name as he always did now whenever they were alone with their child. She put her hand up with a purpose this time.

"He was terrified that he lost something he could never replace. You, his son. And I was so thankful that day that I didn't have anything to lose like that. Yes, I've suffered my share of losses... my father... my..." her voice trailed off again and she looked from one pair of eyes to the other. Both matched perfectly. "I've lost many people close to me. But nothing could compare to this."

Tom shuffled the child around again and came to sit down with her. A little pair of arms instinctively reached out for mother, and she pulled him in close.

"There would be no way to replace this," she whispered, clutching the child close to her chest. She buried her nose into his soft hair, breathing in deep. He still smelled so clean. So young.

"No, there wouldn't be. Even having another wouldn't replace this person."

She knew when she went back to retrieve this 'child' that it could be her last chance for motherhood. A part of her was frightened to leave that chance behind. Another part of her was afraid of what any child would do to her ability to command under duress. Now she knew. To be the captain she wanted to be, she should have left him behind. On the other hand, this little person made her feel like the woman she hardly ever imagined she could be. Something with a far better title than captain.

"Where was he when this happened?" she asked, still snuggling her child to her chest. Tom reached out a hand and smoothed down the little boy's sandy colored hair. Both of them needed contact with him, to assure themselves that he was okay.

"Not on Deck 3," Tom said with a smile.

"He was supposed to be in my quarters. Someone was watching him in my quarters. Where was he?" she asked. Caulder looked around the room with avid curiosity. The room was new to him for she would never allow him on the bridge. It was hard raising him here on a ship never designed for children, but they were coping. Her one steadfast rule was he was to never be brought here. She didn't that part of her personal life getting tangled up with who she was here on the bridge, even though she knew that was impossible. But she didn't mind it this one time and when she closed her eyes, she could imagine the look of relief that must have crossed all the faces on the bridge when Tom exited the turbolift with his son in his arms.

"He was in sick bay."

"What?" she asked, opening her eyes to look at Tom.

"Today was his weekly appointment with the Doctor. It seems you and I forgot so Neelix took him in," Tom said and she shook her head.

"I'm not good at this mothering thing," she said softly.

"It was just a forgotten appointment," he said as his son crawled back towards his arms. "We were a little bit busy up here and we forgot."

"It's more than that, Tom."

"I know," he said as he kissed Caulder on the forehead and held him close. "If for one second you think I wasn't terrified, then you're wrong."

"But you aren't the Captain. I can't lose it out there. I can't lose my composure because of one member of the crew," she said, standing up from the couch and pacing the floor.

"He's not just one member of the crew. He's your baby and this is the first time..."

"It doesn't matter. I nearly froze out there. Did I give you the command to perform evasive maneuvers?" she asked, turning to him. She was trying to remember it all but only one image would come to mind through the whole thing. What if something happened to her baby? The other people on board didn't seem to matter for those few second. It was all about this baby.

She couldn't command a ship like this but she didn't know what else to do.

"I don't remember exactly what happened. It went too fast but we're safe for now and we have time to perform repairs. And who knows -- maybe they'll give up on us and we get get out of here unnoticed," Tom said. Janeway let out a 'hmmf'' and they both knew that the chances of just flying out of here unnoticed was slim to none.

They were going to have to shoot their way out of this and that notion scared her to death.

*******************

He watched her from his spot at the conference table as she stared out the window. There was nothing to stare at, really, but she stood there, hands on hips, staring out it anyway.

The others were bouncing suggestions off of each other, trying to brainstorm a way out of their latest predicament, while Tom and Janeway remained silent.

Then the whole room fell silent. Tom looked at the people around the table and they were all looking back at him.

Torres cocked her head to the side as if she was waiting for something. "What do you think, Lieutenant?" she asked but he didn't have a clue as to what to think. He didn't even know what they were talking about.

Tom's eyes met Harry's, but he had the same puzzled expression on his face that B'Elanna did.

"Think about what?" he finally had to ask. A murmur of exasperation went up in the room and Janeway turned from the window, and stood behind her chair, her hands on the back of it as if she needed some sort of support.

His eyes met hers briefly and judging from the expression on her face, he knew he had to pull it together. They both did if this was going to work. He looked down at the table and away from her glance.

"Please repeat it," she said and he wasn't sure if that was just for his benefit but also for hers.

The others repeated their various parts of the plan and Tom nodded, adding what he needed to here and there. It was all very feasible, and they would probably escape this crisis unscathed. Or almost unscathed. He wasn't sure if he was ever going to be the same again and he was almost certain that the Captain wasn't going to be, either.

After all the options were presented and put together, Janeway glanced over the group and said, "Do it," before turning back to look out the window. They all stood to leave to their duty stations but she turned around again. Tom paused, thinking she was going to ask him something, but she didn't. Instead, she asked for Chakotay to stay.

She didn't even look his way as he left the room.

*******************

Janeway watched through the windows in her quarters as they moved smoothly and quickly through space, trying to get out of this region as fast as they could. They certainly didn't make any friends today. Instead, they blew apart the ship that came after them earlier. They weren't afforded any other options and she knew what she had to do.

She looked over to where her child was sleeping peacefully in his crib, as exhausted from the day as she was. They kept him safe and she survived through being apart from him even when she wanted to do nothing more than clutch him tight to her chest. Motherhood and career just didn't mix today. Maybe they never would; not with her career.

Janeway scooped her son out of his bed and brought him to hers. She curled up next to him, watching him as he slept. It was a guilty pleasure, stealing him from his own bed at night so she could watch him for hours, but she couldn't help herself. He was beautiful and the expressions he made in his sleep always made her smile. Soon enough, he would turn toward her warmth, his fingers holding on tight to the fabric of her nightgown.

She was nearly asleep herself when her door chimed. She moaned, not wanting to part from her son, but she moved him to the center and boxed him in with pillows before pulling on her robe and going towards the door.

"Come in," she said and the doors slid open to reveal Tom standing there, looking as exhausted as everyone else on the ship.

His eyes traveled up the length of her body before he looked away. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize you would be in bed already. My shift just ended and I wanted to see... I'm sorry. I can come back in the morning."

"No, it's okay. Come in," she said, motioning him to come into her quarters. He walked over to the crib and then looked at her when he discovered it was empty. "Sorry. He's... I put him to bed with me."

She looked towards the doorway to her sleeping quarters and so did he. "Oh. Well, I'll just come by in the morning and see him. Just after today, I really wanted to... it's okay."

Janeway could tell by his expression that it wasn't okay, that he really needed to see if Caulder made it through the day. "Tom, you can go in there. I don't mind," she said, tilting her head towards the door. He had been in there before, back when she was still struggling through the motions of breast-feeding. She wasn't sure why he was so insecure now. They had a baby together, evolved humanoid lizards who *supposedly* remembered nothing, and him going into her quarters should be no cause for alarm now.

He left her alone in the living quarters and she heard him rustle around in the other room. Probably moving the pillows. She got a glass of water, drank it down and then went into the room herself.

She found Tom lying on her bed, one arm over his son, while softly brushing Caulder's cheek with his fingers. He looked at her and tensed up, embarrassed to be caught like this but she motioned for him to remain there. He had just as much right to see his son as she did.

"You know, I miss him on the nights you have him," Tom said and Janeway smiled, sitting down on the edge of the bed opposite of Tom.

"I miss him on the nights you have him, but it's nice to be able to clear my head for a while. To realize I'm not alone in this," she said and that made him smile. "Soon enough, I'm sure he'll want to spend all his time with his dad, playing on the holodeck. Learning to fly a shuttlecraft. I'll probably never see him again once he gets his hands on a shuttlecraft."

"Shuttlecraft? That's small stuff. I can't wait for the day to come when I can teach him to pilot Voyager," he said and she shook her head and smiled at the look on his face. She knew that day would come sooner than either of them could even imagine. A blink of an eye. That was how life worked, especially with children.

She nestled in on the other side of the baby, taking one of his small hands into hers. Janeway was regretful that he would never know what it was like to have a family like this. A mom and a dad who loved each other, not just respected and cared for each other. Parents who could pull him into their bed on the nights he cried. Who were both there when he woke up in the morning. She felt as if she was cheating him of something but then shook those doubts away. He had two parents who loved him. A lot of children didn't even have that.

"What did you discuss with Chakotay after the briefing?" Tom asked and Janeway was briefly taken aback. "I have a feeling that it had nothing to do with the situation we were in."

She didn't answer for a while. She could feel Tom's eyes on her, waiting for an answer, but she continued to play with the fingers of the sleeping baby. "I wanted to know why he left them behind when he and Tuvok found us. I wanted to know if it was because he didn't think I could handle it. If he was protecting me."

"What was his answer?" Tom asked tentatively.

"He left them there because he didn't know what I would want," she answered and Tom made a huffing noise. "I have to believe him. I don't know why else he would do it."

"I doubt he did it because he thought you'd make a bad mother or being a mother would make you a bad captain," Tom said, his eyes meeting hers now.

"I can't even answer those questions yet. I don't know anything about what kind of mother I am or what kind of captain I am now. All I know is that life is held together by a tenuous thread. He's ours right now, but is he only on loan? Are we going to have to pay for this gift or is he really the miracle I think he is?" she asked, looking back down at the baby.

"I guess the best we can do is love him," Tom answered, moving the baby even closer to him.

"Love him like we don't know what tomorrow will bring," Janeway said. " And learn I can't control everything."

"I thought you already knew that?" he asked and she smiled. "I thought you would have learned that when we were pulled into the Delta Quadrant?"

"That doesn't mean I've stopped trying," she said. They both rested their hands on their son, needing to hold on to him, and eventually all three of them were sleeping soundly.

******************

"Chakotay to Lieutenant Paris."

That was the sound that woke all three of them up.

"Uh... Paris here," Tom replied, trying to get his bearings. This wasn't his room, that he was certain of, and this definitely wasn't his small bed.

"You're late for your duty shift."

"I'm... I was with Caulder. I'll be right there," he said, ending the communication with a tap of his badge. Janeway remained frozen on her side of the bed, staring at him.

"Computer, what time is it?" Janeway asked.

"It is 0700," the voice replied.

"Damn. I was supposed to be on the bridge at 0600. I'm sure Chakotay knows where I am by now," Tom said, wiping his hand across his sleepy eyes. Janeway still said nothing. "Kes said she would be here before 0900 to take Caulder for a few hours and then Samantha Wildman was going to take him for a while. That should be enough to cover our shifts."

"This can't happen again," Janeway finally said, her voice still coated with sleep.

"Like most of this, I didn't exactly plan on it happening this time. Not that anything happened... I mean, obviously more has happened before and..." he knew when to quit and that would be now. Caulder stirred between them and turned towards his mother, seeking someone who would provide him with food. Tom reached for him, pulling him with as he stood up. "I'll get him changed and dressed before I go."

"You're late. I'll do it," she said, and he wasn't quite certain if it was an order or not. He assumed it was.

"Okay," he said, putting the baby back down on the bed. "I'll see you on the bridge."

She didn't say a word as he turned to leave.

****************

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

The holodeck doors closed behind her and the only sound she could hear was laughter. Captain Janeway stopped and looked around, trying to figure out what direction the noise was coming from. She already recognized the two very different laughs, and she smiled at the one that was bubbling over with what could only be described as youth. She stood there, her arms cross before her as she just listened to the sweet sound of it.

"Call for Mommy," she heard Tom Paris say and she waited to hear her favorite word spoken by her son.

"Mama!" Caulder called out and the smile on her face grew even wider.

"Tom? Where are you guys?" she called back, still unable to pinpoint their exact location in the holoprogram. It was some kind of park, set somewhere on Earth, and it was autumn.

"Over by the lake, Captain," he called back and she honed in on the direction of his voice. "Head towards the bridge."

She did just that and crossed the little foot bridge over a slow moving stream. She found them by the a shimmering lake, Caulder sitting on the ground, tossing leaves up in the air. His face brightened when he saw his mother and he threw his arms up, waiting for her to pick him up. "Mama!" he cried out and she picked him up and swooped him in the air.

"What are you and your daddy doing in here?" she asked and Caulder squealed instead of answering.

"That's a surprise for you," Tom said, standing up from the pile of leaves he was half buried in.

"This place is lovely," Janeway said, looking around while her son nestled against her body. It had to have been at least 48 hours since she last saw him, having been on an away mission with Tuvok, and she missed him the whole time. "What is it a program of?"

"Earth," he said and she smirked at him. That much was obvious. "New Hampshire or Vermont, in the fall. Yesterday we visited the Gulf Shore in the summer. Today, we're learning all about autumn."

"Tomorrow it will be winter?" she asked and Tom shook his head.

"Tomorrow, I'm working two shifts so unless you want to take him to see snow..." he started and she shrugged her shoulders.

"We just might have to do that," she said and Tom took their son out of her arms. "A nice cabin somewhere in the woods with plenty of snow but a crackling fire waiting for us when we get back."

"You're making me regret that I took on that extra shift," Tom said and Janeway smiled at him.

"Maybe we can wait for another day. We can all do it together," she said and that made Tom smile back.

"We do have a surprise for you," Tom said and whispered something in Caulder's ear. He smiled as he grabbed at the pips on his father's collar, little fingers trying to pull them off. "You think you can do it again?"

The little boy nodded and Tom put stooped down, holding Caulder up on his wobbly legs. Although he was thriving, he was still behind on many developmental skills. The Doctor would only say that's what happens when you start your life out as a lizard and tell them he would catch up soon enough and eventually would be running the place. Janeway was certain that, in a way, he was already running the place.

"You can do it," Tom said, encouraging his son, who managed to take a few steps holding on to his father before he let go and toddled to his mother as quickly as he could.

"That's wonderful!" she said, picking up the child and hugging him tight. "You've been working on this?"

"Since you left. We thought it would be a nice surprise for your return," Tom said, smiling proudly at Caulder, who was now struggling to get out of Janeway's arms and back onto the ground. "He can't make it far, but it's a start."

"It's a great start," she say, putting him down into a pile of leaves. He tossed them up in the air and gurgled with glee.

"You think he'll ever get to play with real leaves back on Earth?" Tom asked and Janeway turned to him.

"You can count on it," was her answer.

***************

"I don't understand how this could have happened," Tom said, following the Doctor around the sickbay, waiting for some sort of report on Caulder's condition. "We were just playing in the snow on the holodeck."

"Was it cold?" the Doctor asked, moving around quickly, preparing some sort of hypospray.

"It was snow, of course it was cold," Tom said, looking back at his son lying there helpless on one of the beds.

"It's a holodeck. Does the snow have to be cold?" The Doctor asked and Tom just shook his head.

"To be realistic, yeah. Snow is cold," Tom said, following the doctor back over to where Caulder was lying so still. "I just want to know what's wrong with him."

"That makes two of us," Janeway said, entering the sickbay. Her voice was tight and tense and she made her way quickly over to the bed, standing next to Tom.

"I don't have any answers yet," the Doctor told them and Tom could only watch as he injected his son with something. Caulder squirmed around but not as much as he usually did when the Doctor examined him. He looked so small and cold and Tom was berating himself for taking him into that holoprogram.

Janeway placed her hand on her son, soothing him but he didn't seem to even notice his mother was there. "What happened, Tom?" she finally asked.

"We were waiting for you outside of the cabin I programmed. He was playing in the snow when all of a sudden, he couldn't breathe. We transported here and this is... I don't know," Tom said, hanging his head.

"I'm detecting cellular degradation at the molecular level," the Doctor said.

"How could that be possible?" Janeway asked, her hand still moving over Caulder. His eyes fluttered shut without ever looking her way. "Doctor?"

"I will let you know when I figure that out," he answered, running another scan over the child's body. He got to Janeway's hand and looked up at her. "Captain?"

"Sorry," she said, pulling away slowly, her hand wavering just a little. Tom grabbed it and held it in his and they both just stood there, unable to move away from their child.

***********

She stared out of the windows in the empty mess hall at nothing in particular. They were stopped above some planet and a delegation was down there working on a trade but Janeway didn't know anymore than that. Chakotay said he'd handle it and this time, she let him. It was too hard to focus on one more thing besides running this ship and taking care of her son. She heard the door slide open and she didn't turn from the spot in space she was staring at.

She peered up at Tom's reflection in the window and then looked away, down at the planet beneath them. "The Doctor has stabilized him for tonight. He wants to keep him there for further observation."

"Does he know anything more yet?"

"No. But he did say that you can come and see him now," he said. She closed her eyes and swallowed hard. Earlier, she nearly lost it -- no, she did lose it -- when the symptoms started up again after three weeks of Caulder being healthy. She lost it and she was upsetting her child more than comforting him so she left, leaving Tom to stay by his side. Janeway knew she couldn't do that again. He needed her and now was not the time to lose her cool. It was just she had never had to deal with her own child being sick before.

They worked hard to avoid whatever it was that caused the degradation the last time but this time he was just sleeping in his crib. There was no cold holoprogram. No unusual item that he put in his mouth. It just happened and she couldn't accept that. Something had to make it happen. That's just how this universe worked. She opened her eyes again and stared out at that cold and sometimes horrible universe.

"I should have never gone back there... to get them, " she started to say and he moved closer, sitting down beside her on the couch. She still didn't look his way. She just wasn't ready to face anyone after what happened in the sickbay. "It cost two of them their lives already and now it's going to cost him his."

Tom remained silent as she tried to sort out all of her thoughts and turn them into words. She had put him through this before, put both of them through it, really.

"I think that's a pointless argument to have with yourself at this point, Kathryn," he said. She knew he stopped short of telling her it was also a pointless argument to have with him.

"It was selfish," she said, chiding herself for the millionth time. "I was afraid it was going to be my only chance to have this and now I'm losing it."

"He's not gone yet," Tom said, his voice not very sympathetic. She didn't care. She didn't need his sympathy. Didn't want it. She didn't know what she wanted. "Besides, why are you so confident that he's your last chance?"

That was enough to make her turn in his direction. He looked as tired as she felt and now they seemed to be at odds with each other.

"I'm a Starfleet Captain no where near home with no other . . . why am I even telling you this?" she said, stopping herself from explaining her feelings to him. He might be the father of her only child but that was just genetics and timing. Sure, they shared a child but they didn't share a life together. Not in the way that would deem it necessary for her to answer his questions.

"Nothing is going to happen to him. The Doctor won't let it," he said after they sat in silence for a length of time.

"The Doctor has never dealt with this before. You know that we're lucky we didn't experience more problems. The Doctor told me it was risky and I still did it," she said, and he didn't take his eyes off of her. She didn't know what he expected from her but this time she just didn't have the answers and this time it didn't matter what rank she was. She couldn't make Caulder healthy. "Now I have to live with what I did."

"Why do you think you're the only one responsible in this? If it weren't for me and what I did, none of this would be happening. Why don't you blame me? Or why don't we blame the Doctor for even trying with Caulder or the two we lost? Why don't we..." he started but she stopped him with a stern look and a hand placed on his arm.

"Because in the end, I'm the one who made the decisions. I'm the one who's responsible for allowing you to break warp ten. I'm the one who's responsible for telling the Doctor to do what he did. I'm the one who's responsible for..."

She turned away and looked out the window again. "For us being out here in the first place?" he asked and she didn't answer him. "That's a lot for one person to take on even without having a sick baby."

His voice had grown so soft and soothing and Janeway hated when he did that. She didn't need anyone's comforting. She was the captain, after all, and she was responsible for them and for getting them home. She wasn't his responsibility.

"I'm capable of handling it all," she said, sitting up straighter and pulling her hand off of his arm.

"What if something happens to him?" he asked.

"You said it wouldn't," was all she answered.

"He doesn't have to be your last chance," he said and something in her recoiled at the tone in his voice. It was so personal. Too personal. She moved back away from him and tried to read his expression but he wasn't giving her an inch. He wouldn't even give her a smirk. "I don't want you to feel that way. I would..."

With that, she stood up off of the couch and stared down at him, her hands placed firmly on her hips. "I have to go see my son. I'll see you on the bridge."

Then she left him sitting there alone in the darkness.

**********

Tom followed Caulder down the corridor, watching as he toddled along. Every so often, he'd fall down and pull himself right back up to continue their journey. The crewmen they'd pass would all smile at the child and Caulder did his best to entertain them with his bright grin and gleeful giggle.

They were having a good day which simply meant that Caulder didn't have to be subjected to hours of examinations by the Doctor and a series of hyposprays that never seemed to help much anyway. Instead, they spent a few hours on the holodeck and now were exploring the halls before it was time for him to go back to his mother's quarters.

She didn't have much to say to Tom lately and he knew why. Although they had to be together because of the child they shared, she didn't like it when he crossed a certain line. He crossed it that one night and he knew it. Janeway wouldn't even let him explain why he said what he did. She wouldn't even let him apologize.

"Where's your door?" Tom asked and Caulder ran up to it, pounding on it with his little fist. Tom swept him up into his arms before it could slide open. When it did, they were met with the captain standing right there, waiting for them. Caulder slid from Tom's arms into Janeway's and she gave him a hug. He looked over her shoulder into their quarters and upon spotting something he wanted, he wiggled away, leaving the two of them to stare at each other.

"I... I have to be on the bridge in twenty minutes," he said, looking down at his feet.

"I know," she said and he looked up and into her eyes. "How did he do?"

"We had a great time. I tried to introduce him to this new program I'm working on but he didn't like it so we went back to the park. That one is his favorite," he said and Janeway just nodded her head. They stood there in silence for a while, Tom shuffling his feet around until he decided they obviously weren't going to discuss anything in the twenty minutes he had until his duty shift began. "I'll be going now."

"I'll see you in the morning," she said, dismissing him. The door slid shut between them and he just shook his head before heading down the corridor.

**************

"If we keep him on this regimen of treatments he should remain stable," The Doctor said, handing Caulder over to Kes. She moved off with him to the other side of the sickbay to complete the day's therapy and Captain Janeway stood there, facing the Doctor, her arms crossed over her chest.

"And if he doesn't remain stable?" she asked, looking over towards the child.

"Then we will try something else. I am continually searching all the data to find anything that might help him hold his cellular integrity longer. Keeping an over-evolved human in present day human form is not something you find in many medical journals. If we ever get close to home, your child alone would be enough for me to fill up not only a journal with articles but possibly a book..."

"I just want you to find an answer and quickly. I want my child well," Janeway said as Kes brought him back to her.

“Captain, we all want him well,” Kes said in her soft voice. “We won't stop trying.”

“There has to be a point where we will have to make a decision. He can't spend the rest of his life as an experiment, living in some isolation field in sick bay. That's not a life,” Janeway said, holding her son close.

“We are no where near having to make any such decisions, Captain,” the Doctor said with Kes nodding in agreement.

“But...” Janeway started, looking at him with questioning eyes.

“But if we get there, I will let you know. You and Lieutenant Paris will then have to make a decision together based on all the medical facts,” he said. “Just remember that I did not let either of you die when you came back here in that form. I will do my best to make sure your son lives in this form.”

Janeway could feel her heart in her throat. How would she ever be able to make that decision? Life without Caulder... what would her life be? There really was no way to put this genie back in the bottle and pretend it never happened.

“Bring him back in tomorrow if that will make you feel better, Captain. Otherwise, his next treatment is three days from now,” Kes said, reaching out to touch Caulder's fingers. “Or I can stop by later tonight.”

“No, no need to do that, Kes. I'm sure everything will be fine until morning,” Janeway said, nodding at both of them and leaving with her son.

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

For days, Tom refused to have that conversation. No matter how many times Janeway said they had to, he couldn't. If the Doctor could keep him alive while he evolved and keep them both alive while they devolved, he could keep his son alive.

He spent all his spare time in sickbay, playing with Caulder while the Doctor and Kes did everything in their power to make him better but he soon realized that the captain wasn't doing the same. She was withdrawing from everyone, including their son. Except when she was on the bridge, he didn't even know where to find her most of the time and as captain, she could hide her location from him with ease.

She wasn't going to avoid him tonight because he searched the ship until he found her, sitting in the shuttle bay staring at the damn shuttle that started this whole mess.

“Kathryn,” he said softly as he approached her. She looked up at him, her eyes showing all the pain he knew she was in.

“Is... is everything okay?” she asked and he nodded, watching her let out a sigh of relief.

“You have to come see him. He misses you so much,” Tom said, sitting down beside her.

“I can't.”

“You have to. We have to. No matter the outcome of this, we have to be there for him,” Tom said, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and pulling her close. She didn't fight him or pull away.

He never imagined there would be a moment where he would be the strong one in this strange relationship the two of them now had. Not for a minute did he think he'd ever see her falter this hard. He wasn't sure how much longer he'd be able to hold up.

“I can't lose him and I'm too scared to see him because when I do, I realize what I'm going to lose and... it just can't happen. It can't,” she said and he nodded.

“We aren't going to lose him.”

But he knew that was a lie. He could keep denying it but something in him knew. He just wasn't ready to stop fighting.

And even though they might not want to discuss it, every single day was now a battle to stay on top of their son losing everything. The Doctor would fix him but nothing stabilized for long. There was no answer to why it lasted as long as it did when he was first brought on board. A punishment? So they'd have time to fall in love with him? A lesson in reaching too far and wanting too much? Tom didn't know.

“No one else can see me like this,” Janeway said, drying her eyes with the back of her hand. He pulled her closer and gently kissed the top of her head. She stiffened in his arms and he pulled away from her, afraid of what was coming next. “No. You're fine. Don't leave me. I can't lose you, too.”

“You aren't going to lose either of us.”

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

To Be Continued... I Promise!!