The Last Goodbye

by

SoulfulSpike1880
(formerly CherPal2)


 
Tom gently tapped the shuttle console key that would stop recording his final official log. His hand lingered over the console for a few seconds before he slowly leaned back into his chair, sighing softly and closing his eyes, resigned to his fate. It wouldn't be long now. He was still vaguely aware of the shuttle's warning chirps and beeps but they no longer meant anything to him. He had stopped paying attention to them the same time he had silenced the annoying computer voice. That had been over an hour ago. The only warning message that affected him at this point was the countdown until life support was terminated -- and he really didn't want to hear the computer droning on and on about how much time he had left. It wouldn't change anything anyway.

The mission had started off benignly enough: return the visiting L'Kaser ambassador to his planet and rendezvous with Voyager at Scrianti3 the following day. The trip to L'Kas had been very enjoyable. The ambassador was a jovial creature with a wicked sense of humor and Tom and he had hit if off from the start. Tom reached for the parting gift the ambassador had presented to him after dinner -- was it only last night? Tom thought silently, unconsciously shaking his head in disbelief.

He gently turned the beautiful crystal-like object over in his hands, wishing for regular illumination instead of the dim emergency lighting that now filled the shuttle. In the L'Kas sunlight the crystal had shimmered with all colors of the rainbow. The crystal signified joy and peace and, according to L'Kas legend, protected the possessor -- if deserving -- from harm. It was one of the most beautiful things Tom had ever seen and he had planned to give it to B'Elanna over a romantic dinner in his quarters. He wouldn't be able to deliver it to her personally now, but he hoped that Voyager would find the shuttle eventually and she would someday have it.

Not normally taken in by folklore, Tom had been entranced by the story behind the crystal and had whimsically hoped that the part about protecting the possessor were true. He silently kicked himself for his childish thinking. What was wrong with him? After all he'd seen and done, how could he possibly believe such silliness? But then, maybe it wasn't so silly. More likely it was that he wasn't deserving.

"No!" Tom jumped to his feet, quickly grabbing the back of the chair for support as a wave of dizziness overcame him from the decreased oxygen in the shuttle. No, he repeated silently to himself. Maybe at one time in his life he hadn't deserved anything, but that had all changed since coming aboard Voyager. Since Captain Janeway, Harry and, more importantly, B'Elanna had entered his life.

Slowly he made his way to the back of the shuttle, placing his hand on the shuttle walls for support along the way. Even knowing that expending precious energy was detrimental, he couldn't sit still. Before making his way back to the navigational controls he checked, not for the first time, the EVA suits hanging in the shuttle locker. Just what did he expect to find? he chided himself. That the energy blast and subsequent explosions hadn't really damaged the suits after all? Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how he wanted to look at it, the rear of the shuttle had endured the brunt of the blasts. Had they hit the front of the shuttle, helm control, and Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris, would have been toast, literally. Maybe the crystal had really worked after all. At least he had time to say his goodbyes. For that he was grateful.

He had never really envisioned himself as an old man. For as long as he could remember, he had thought his death would come suddenly and violently. The path his life had followed had always been tempestuous, from his relationship with his father to his brief career in Starfleet and then the Maquis. New Zealand hadn't been a bed of roses, either. Even his life aboard Voyager began turbulently. But tossed into the Delta Quadrant by the Caretaker and left to deal with the Kazon, Seska, and all of the other hardships they had encountered out here had been relatively easy compared to making a new life for himself aboard a ship of devoted Starfleet and Maquis crewmembers. And yet, coming aboard Voyager and being stranded out in the Delta Quadrant had been the best thing that had ever happened to him. Voyager and her crew had been his salvation. He didn't understand why he had been given a second chance. He only knew that he had never been happier or felt more fulfilled than he had in recent months. After a lifetime of  discord, he had finally found peace, not only with the universe around him, but within himself.

He had no illusions that Voyager would find him in time. When the anomalous energy wave suddenly appeared it had swept the shuttle into a cloud of erratic energy bursts, throwing him off course and fatally damaging the shuttle. The energy wave had then disappeared as swiftly as it had appeared. With the sensors off-line he didn't have any data on the phenomenon -- and he had no way of knowing where he was. But he could tell from the star configurations that he hadn't been pushed back to where he'd come from, nor was he on course for meeting up with Voyager. He had spent the better part of three hours desperately trying to make repairs. But as soon as he had one system operational, another would go down, until eventually there was a cascade failure. He knew the shuttle inside and out, but without the proper equipment the repairs he was able to make were only temporary.

Now he was just adrift at sea, so to speak; dead in the water, up the creek without a paddle . . . gee, what other adages could he come up with? Tom thought dismally before deciding that he really didn't want to go there. He didn't have a lot of time left and he certainly wasn't going to waste it playing word games with himself. It was time to say his last goodbyes.

Back at the helm, Tom tinkered with the communication system again. He couldn't send a subspace message but he could still record audio messages and logs. He wasn't sure where to begin or who to begin with; vocalizing his true feelings didn't come easily to him. But he resolutely decided that he wasn't going to leave this life without letting those closest to him know how he felt and what they had meant to him. He had let too many opportunities in the past slip by without saying what was important -- what needed to be said. What should have been said long before now. But still, he was glad the messages would only be in audio. It made it a little easier.

Taking a deep breath he ordered, "Computer, create personal message file to Captain Kathryn Janeway, authorization Paris Delta Pi Omega 4. Begin recording." Suddenly he realized he had straightened up, as though at attention. He chuckled softly as he made himself relax. The recording picked up the sound as he began speaking.

"Captain, here I am recording an audio message to you, and I'm sitting at attention! I think that must be because you are the only Starfleet captain I have ever truly respected and admired. I'd do that in the past when recording messages to my father, but that was only because he intimidated the hell out of me. Not that you haven't intimidated me on occasion, mind you, but it just wasn't the same. I think you know what I mean.

"I know that you are probably sitting there, in your ready room, feeling awful and feeling responsible that I'm gone. Please don't. You are not responsible for my life ending. On the contrary, you were responsible for giving me my life. A life worth living, that is. Because before you came to see me in New Zealand, my life had no meaning. No purpose, no direction . . . nothing. I didn't think I had anything to offer anyone, professionally or personally, and you changed all that for me. And I've never really thanked you or told you how much you and everything you've done has meant to me. Maybe because there just aren't any words. Whenever I've tried to tell you before I didn't even know where to begin. 'Thank you' just doesn't cover it. You were my angel when I didn't even recognize that I needed one. I don't think you know how much you mean to not only me, but the entire crew.

"When I was growing up, my impression of a Starfleet captain was someone who was distant, unapproachable and unbending. Someone who expected perfection, who had no time to waste on others who didn't fit the mold. Someone who demanded respect but didn't necessarily earn it. It was a big part of why I didn't want to go into command, besides loving to fly ships, of course. I just couldn't be like that. But you aren't like that at all. You are warm and caring. You nurture and support. You let me make the mistakes I needed to make and learn from them. And you didn't give up on me when I made them.

"Captain, I cannot even begin to tell you how much I admire you. You were forced to lead this crew into unknown territory and deal with one crisis after another. No matter how bad things got, you never gave up. I know how heavy the burden is for you, being alone out here without Starfleet command for backup or space stations to stop at for repairs and supplies, yet you've never once wavered. It's your strength and courage that keeps everyone going when things are at their worst. That, and your honest concern for everyone on board. Did you ever think you'd have 140 children? I know I never thought I'd be part of such a large family. But I wouldn't trade it for the world.

"Please don't grieve for me. You gave me more than anyone ever has, more than I ever thought I deserved. If my life had ended before Voyager -- well, I don't even want to think about that. If you ever feel that the pressure is too much, that you just can't go on, please remember that you're not alone. The crew loves you and will do anything for you.

"I wish I could be with you on your journey home -- and I know you're going to get them home -- but my journey is taking a different path now. I'd ask you to look out for Harry and B'Elanna for me, but I know you'll do that anyway. I do have one favor to ask of you, though. When you get home, please tell my family, especially my father, that I'm sorry -- for everything. I kept in touch with my mom and sisters while I was in prison, but my father and I . . . well, despite all that happened between us, I want him to know that I do love him.

"God speed . . . and thank you.

"Computer, close message file."

Tom brushed the tears from his eyes. This was going to be more difficult than he thought. Saying goodbye was never easy. Saying goodbye forever was even harder.

"Computer, create personal message file to Ensign Harry Kim, authorization Paris Delta Pi Omega 4. Begin recording.

"Harry, it looks like this is it, buddy. After all we've been through, all the trouble we've gotten into -- okay, I've gotten us into -- it looks like instead of going out with a bang or a big ball of fire, I'm just going to close my eyes, fall asleep and never wake up again. I should be scared, shouldn't I? I don't know why I'm not. Maybe the lack of oxygen, who knows? It's probably a good thing, anyway. If I had to spend the last few hours trapped in a shuttle, alone and scared, I don't know what I'd do. This way at least I feel like I have my friends with me so I'm not really alone.

"You know, when I was a kid I always wanted a younger brother. My sisters were older and I was always the baby of the family. But then by some fluke of luck, Captain Janeway pulled me out of prison and onto Voyager and I met you -- the younger brother I was meant to have. It was fate, you know. I have no doubt. Especially after that little shuttle trip you took to that other timeline with the other me. Which I never did really understand, by the way.

"Meeting you that first day at DS9 triggered something in me that I hadn't felt in a long time. I'd been so wrapped up in my own life and the disaster I'd made of it, that I forgot about thinking of others. Until I met you. Because you needed me that day. And no one had needed Tom Paris in a very long time. Sure, Captain Janeway needed me to track down the Maquis, but that was different. At the time I felt I was just being used -- how was I to know she was doing me the biggest favor of my life?

"But everything was new to you and you needed someone to show you the ropes. Even after you found out everything about me you still wanted to be my friend. Back then I couldn't figure out if you were just incredibly naive or the most genuine person I'd ever met. Fortunately for me, you are the real thing -- a true friend. The best one I've ever had. And even after you didn't need me anymore as the big brother protector you were still my friend. And then one day you became the protector. I know you still carry some guilt about our time in prison, but you shouldn't. You didn't try to kill me -- you saved my life. Even with the clamp making you crazy you didn't give in to it. Harry, you have to remember that. I have never forgotten what you said when those guys tried to get me. It was just you against those madmen and you said "This man is my friend. No one touches him." You saved my life.

"Do you remember when you told me you wanted to be more like me? I couldn't believe it. Here I was trying to be more like you and you actually wanted to be more like me! I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to be like me. To be like me meant you were a screwup, a loser, someone not worth caring about. At least that's how I used to feel. I don't anymore. Having your friendship has helped me become a better person. I know now that when I die, at least my life had some meaning . . . that my being here made a difference.

"I don't want to get all sentimental -- it's not the manly thing to do, right? Except I really don't care anymore. Why is it that men aren't supposed to talk about their feelings for one another? Why shouldn't someone know how important he is or how much he's loved just because he's a guy? Or maybe it's just because I'm a Paris and that's how it is if you're a Paris. I can't even remember my dad ever saying he loved me. But I remember him telling my sisters. I guess it doesn't matter now. But I want you to know that I love you. I admire you. I appreciate you. I always have. I think you are one of the most amazing people I've ever met. And you are a terrific clarinet player, to boot!

"I don't want anyone to grieve for me. I ended up having a wonderful life -- and you know that coming from me that means a lot. I know you and B'Elanna will take care of each other. Harry, please don't let her go back to her old ways. I don't want her to be alone.

"Take care of yourself, buddy. And remember, practice, Harry, practice!

"Computer, close message file."

The air was getting very stale in the cabin. And all the talking was making him very thirsty. Fortunately he had replicated some water while the replicator was still functioning so he took a large drink from one of the canteens before continuing. Time was running out and he still had people to say goodbye to.

"Computer, create personal message file to Neelix, authorization Paris Delta Pi Omega 4. Begin recording.

"Hi, Neelix. You know how much I hate goodbyes. And I was just thinking of the last time we said goodbye, when I left Voyager to join the Talaxian ship to flush out the Kazon spy. Do you remember that? You came to see me in my quarters. You didn't want me to go and were worried that you were part of the reason I was leaving. And you hugged me. I was so surprised and touched that you really cared about me so much. We had such a rocky start, didn't we? And look how far we've come.

"Thank you, Neelix. Thank you for your friendship. For believing in me and being there when I needed you. I know how much you've helped B'Elanna, too. Not that you would ever say anything. But B'Elanna told me what you offered to do for her last year on the Day of Honor. Offering to be her pressure valve . . . not only was that very thoughtful of you, it was downright courageous! Now I'm afraid she'll need you even more than ever but won't admit it. So you have to go to her, Neelix. I know you'll do whatever you can for her. I don't mind dying so much -- except for having to leave her behind. She's so much like me in so many ways. And, unfortunately, one the things we have in common is keeping painful things inside. Please don't let her get away with it. If anyone can help her, I know it's you. I've always wondered, are all Talaxians so persistent or is that just one of your finer traits?

"I have to tell you, the one good thing about dying is that I never have to eat another leola root. Nothing against your culinary skills, Neelix, but I just never acquired a taste for those things. But I did always love your tomato soup and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I probably never told you how much I appreciated all the trouble you went through to make our favorite foods, but it really meant a lot.

"You are a very special person, Neelix. I am grateful that I not only got to know you, but that I could call you my friend.

"Computer, close message file."

"Computer, create personal message file to Lieutenant Commander Tuvok, authorization Paris Delta Pi Omega 4. Begin recording.

"Tuvok.,  you're probably surprised that I left you a personal message. I'm sure it doesn't seem like a logical thing for me to do. But then, when have I ever been logical, huh?

"So why am I leaving you a message? Because I  admire and respect you and wasn't sure that you knew that, since I know we haven't always seen eye to eye on things.  I don't know why, but somehow you always seem to bring out the worst in me -- and the best. I've always been confused about that. In the beginning you reminded me of my dad: don't show your emotions, do everything perfectly, Starfleet is the only way . . . you know what I mean. So I guess I was a little um . . . troublesome back then. Or maybe you think I still am. I hope not, because I really did try to change.

"And I wanted you to know that I consider you a friend. You've helped me out of some bad situations more than once. And you didn't judge me. That surprised me. I guess that's when I realized you weren't like my dad, after all.  I always . . . well, almost always . . . enjoyed working with you. And not only because you were fun to tease, but also because you are a good teacher. I actually thought we made a good team. Somehow, between your logical approach and my 'impulsive methods', we balanced each other out. I think I learned to not be so impulsive -- sometimes anyway -- and I think you actually learned to 'lighten up' a bit from me.

"While I know that most of the time you probably barely tolerated me, I knew that I could always count on you. Your friendship was important to me. Live long and prosper, Tuvok.

"Computer, close message file."

"Computer, create personal message file to Seven of Nine, authorization Paris Delta Pi Omega 4. Begin recording.

"Seven,  I had all these great words of wisdom that I wanted to share with you to help you fit in with the crew. But my time -- and my air -- is running out. So I will just tell you this one thing:  let the others help you. The captain, Harry, Tuvok, Neelix, even B'Elanna. They can help if you let them. You've already come so far. There'll come a time when they won't even think of you as 'the Borg' anymore, trust me. And maybe when that time comes, you'll be ready to take back your name, Anika. Just remember, you are human and you're not alone -- Voyager is your family now.

"Computer, close message file."

Tom rubbed his eyes tiredly. They burned from the sweat that was dripping from his brow. He emptied the first canteen in three giant gulps. Breathing was becoming more difficult and he was feeling lethargic. But he still had a ways to go and he knew his life wouldn't be over until he said his last goodbye to B'Elanna. Hers would be the most difficult -- and the last -- message he recorded.

"Computer, create personal message file to the EMH, authorization Paris Delta Pi Omega 4. Begin recording.

"Well, Doc, it looks like you're losing your number one patient. Not to mention your nurse. Again. I'm really sorry about that. Even though I didn't want to be your medical assistant the first time around, I've really enjoyed working with you the past few months.

"Before I say goodbye, I want to tell you how impressed I've been with how you've grown. I always forget that you're a hologram -- you seem so human to me. Maybe it was when you created your family, or maybe even before then, but I think of you as part of our family. Thank you for treating me like a friend, asking for my advice and all that. Not too mention, saving my life countless times. How many times was it, anyway?

"I wish I could say more but I don't have much air left. I'm already getting pretty tired and feeling numb. Doc, thanks for everything. And don't ever stop trying to become a better person.

"Computer, close message file."

"Computer, create personal message file to Commander Chakotay, authorization Paris Delta Pi Omega 4. Begin recording.

"Chakotay. There was a time when I thought I hated you. I don't think I ever really did. I just hated myself so much because I thought you were everything I wanted to be but never could be. So I took it out on you. Everything you did was always right. Everything I did always turned out wrong. You did things for the right reasons. I did them for the wrong reasons. You left Starfleet for a good cause; I got kicked out. I guess I could go on but there just isn't enough air left for me to list everything and it's a moot point now, anyway.

"I'm glad that's behind us. I always did respect you. I didn't always agree with you, but I admired your strength of character and principles. And you are a damn good pilot, too, which, of course, always impressed me -- not that I ever told you, but I'm telling you now. You were always fair to me on Voyager and I appreciated it, knowing you had good reason to hate me.

"I suppose I'm being presumptuous here, but it doesn't matter anymore so I'll say it anyway. I've seen how you look at the captain. And I've seen how she looks at you when she thinks you're not looking. I hope things work out for the two of you because I think you're good for each other and I want both of you to be happy. But she's in a difficult position and it's not going to be easy for her to take that step. Don't give up on her.

"Enough advice to the lovelorn. I still have to record B'Elanna's message and it's not going to be easy. She's going to need her friends now, Chakotay, and next to me, you know her better than anyone. I'm worried about her. Don't let her bury herself in the engines.

"Thanks for everything, Chakotay. It really has been an honor working with you.

"Computer, close message file."

Tom picked up the crystal and looked at it through half-closed lids. He had to stay awake. Just a few more minutes. He tried rolling the crystal around in his fingers but they were so numb he could barely feel them. Tom felt a sense of panic at the thought of running out of time before he could finish B'Elanna's message. It gave him the small rush of energy he needed to carry on.

"Computer, create personal message file to Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres, authorization Paris Delta Pi Omega 4. Begin recording.

"B'Elanna. God, I don't know where to begin. I love you. I know I don't say it enough, but I do. I always have. From the first time I met you in the Ocampan tunnels, I knew there was something special about you. But you hated me then. Or at least you didn't have a very high opinion of me. Thank God we had the chance to find out how we really feel about each other.

"You have made my life complete. I can't even imagine what my life would have been like without you. Which makes this so much harder. Because I know you have to go on without me. You can do it, B'Elanna. Please don't stop living because I'm gone. You deserve to be happy. I can't bear the thought of you spending the rest of your life alone. Please promise me you won't bury yourself in your engines, or cut yourself off from those who love you. Talk to Harry and Chakotay and the captain and Neelix. They're your friends and they want to help you.

"I was trying to think of what exactly made me fall in love with you. And there are so many things. Everything. Everything about you. I don't think of you as half Klingon and half human -- I never have. You're the one who always separated yourself like that. You've always been B'Elanna to me. When the Vidiians split you into the Klingon B'Elanna and the human B'Elanna, I saw what made you you. Does that make sense? You're the sum of your parts, B'Elanna, just like all of us. And I love the whole you. I love your strength, your courage, your determination, your sense of humor and your sense of honor, which you had long before that Day of Honor last year. You're beautiful and smart and honest . . . and I'm rambling and not doing this well. I'm sorry. I wish my thinking were clearer . . . no, I wish I'd said all of these things to you a long time ago so I didn't have to leave you now not knowing if you really knew how I felt about you. You're the most beautiful woman I've ever known, inside and out. You never cease to amaze me. I wish I'd told you more often when I'd had the chance. I hope you never doubted my love for you. I know it took me awhile to admit it. It took me a long time to really believe that you could actually love me.

"I don't have much time. Things are getting fuzzy and I can barely keep my eyes open. It's like déjà vu -- only last time you were with me and you told me that you loved me. God! I was so stunned. And ecstatic. And sad. So many emotions. Just like now. I don't want to leave you, B'Elanna. But I am so grateful for the time we had.

"The L'Kaser ambassador gave me this crystal before I left and I had planned to give it to you. When you find the shuttle and get this message, make sure you look for the crystal. It's beautiful in the sunlight. Bright, sparkling colors. It's supposed to protect the possessor from harm and bring joy and peace. I know it probably seems pretty absurd to you, especially considering the circumstances. But I really believe it works. Maybe it's silly, but I'd like to think I didn't die right away because of the crystal so I would have time to say my last goodbyes to everyone. And I do feel peaceful and full of joy. I have been so lucky. When I thought I'd hit rock bottom and had no where to go I found myself on Voyager. And I found you. All I want for you is to be happy. Please show me you love me by making a new life for yourself without me. I love you, B'Elanna. I will always love you.

"Computer, close message file."

He could tell he had slurred some of his words. Please, God, make the message clear enough for her. He was so tired. The  lethargy was quickly overwhelming him. Slowly he staggered over to the alcove to lie down on the bunk. With a final sigh he closed his eyes and surrendered himself to the fates as life support aboard the shuttle terminated. Moments later the crystal fell from his limp hand onto the floor, a soft humming emanating from it. The humming quickly increased in intensity until the crystal was pulsating wildly as a multitude of colors swirled within.

"Doctor! I think he's waking up!" Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres cried as she leaned over her lover, holding his hand tightly, close to her chest. The faint movement she thought she had witnessed had stopped. Had she only imagined it?

The doctor and Captain Janeway practically flew to her side, the doctor's medical tricorder already scanning before he reached his patient. Kathryn and B'Elanna looked at the doctor expectantly, unconsciously holding their breaths.

Time stood still for them as the doctor methodically ran his tricorder over Tom. Finally, he snapped his tricorder shut, turned to the two women and announced with a triumphant smile, "His vital signs have improved dramatically. He should be waking up anytime now." After a moments pause he dryly added, "You may resume breathing now, before I have to treat the both of you for oxygen deprivation as well."

Relief washed over B'Elanna as she and the captain hugged each other joyfully. After hours of helpless dread, not knowing if Tom would live or die, she felt almost giddy. Not a very Klingon emotion, she knew. But she didn't care. Tom was going to live. And to prove it, just at that moment, Tom moaned and stirred.

"Tom?" B'Elanna whispered softly against his ear. "Tom, it's B'Elanna. You're back on Voyager and you're going to be okay. You're going to be okay," she repeated, as much for her benefit as for his.

Kathryn Janeway tapped her combadge, "Janeway to Bridge."

"Chakotay here, Captain." Was that trepidation she heard in his voice? She had felt for some time that her first officer had overcome his initial resentment and anger at the helmsman. He was just as worried about Tom as she was.

"Mr. Paris is regaining consciousness and it looks like he's going to be just fine," she reported and then smiled when she heard Harry Kim's shout of happiness at the news.

Chakotay's relieved chuckle came through the comlink as he responded, "Thank you, Captain. I think you've just made everyone's day -- even Tuvok's."

The security officer afforded him a stoically blank look before acknowledging his comment with, "Indeed, Commander. I am relieved that Lieutenant Paris is going to recover. Life aboard Voyager would not be as . . . intriguing . . . without him." Everyone within hearing distance laughed in agreement.

Kathryn notified Neelix next. "Captain, that is wonderful news! You tell Tom that I'm whipping up a pot of tomato soup right now and will stop by Sickbay later on with it."

"I'm sure he will appreciate that, Neelix. I'll let him know. Janeway out."

Tom regained consciousness in stages. As he drifted in and out he could have sworn he heard familiar voices:  the captain, the doctor, B'Elanna. But how could that be? He was aboard the shuttle, dying. He remembered that much. He must be hallucinating  -- his subconscious was trying to protect him, make him think he was safe and that all was well.

"Tom?" He felt someone brush their fingers over his forehead, through his hair. He struggled to stay awake. "Tom?"

Tom opened his eyes and found himself looking into the most beautiful brown eyes he had ever seen. Beautiful, worried, brown eyes.

"B'Elanna?!" he croaked hoarsely, his throat parched and his head pounding. Wincing in pain, he reflexively rubbed his temple as he tried to sit up. "But, but . . . how . . . ?" The doctor, B'Elanna and the captain simultaneously reached for his chest and shoulders to push him back down on the biobed.

"Please remain still, Lieutenant!" the doctor ordered as he pressed a hypospray against Tom's neck. "Give yourself a few minutes for your equilibrium to adjust. This should help your headache. B'Elanna, please get a glass of water for Mr. Paris."

The captain leaned over and smiled at Tom. "Welcome back, Lieutenant."

"Glad to be here, Captain," he replied, returning her smile, albeit weakly. "But I still don't understand how you found me -- in time, anyway." He sat up again, slowly this time, and leaned back on his elbow as he reached for the water B'Elanna held.

"Just relax, Tom," B'Elanna said as her free hand moved to support the back of his head while the other held the glass to his lips. He drank the entire glass before leaning back with a sigh.

"I should be dead," he stated matter-of-factly.

"Yes, you should be," the doctor began. He was summarily stopped by a double barreled glare from the captain and B'Elanna.

The captain placed her hand on Tom's chest; possibly to reassure herself that he was indeed alive and breathing? She could feel his heart beating under her hand and still marveled that he was actually alive. "According to your log, life support should have terminated at 1200 hours yesterday. When we found the shuttle it was almost 1800 hours." She smiled at his bewildered expression. "I know. We haven't been able to figure that one out yet. By the way, there are a number of personal logs on file that I assume you want returned to you?"

Tom nodded gratefully. "Thanks, but how did you find the shuttle? I couldn't send an emergency message or buoy; I was off course, although I couldn't tell by how much. So how . . . ?" he finished weakly.

"Well, that's another mystery," B'Elanna chimed in. "We did receive an emergency message of sorts. Sensors picked up an old fashioned SOS signal which led us to you. Only once we brought the shuttle on board we found that no message had been sent from the shuttle. My team is still working on that one."

Janeway glanced at her chief engineer with amusement. Any other situation and B'Elanna would be frustrated as hell that she couldn't solve the mystery. This time, however, she didn't care as long as it meant Tom was alive.

Tom suddenly bolted upright, startling the others. "The crystal! Where is the crystal?" he asked excitedly. They looked at him, puzzled by his outburst. "The Ambassador gave me a crystal that . . . well, it has . . . I mean . . ." he stammered. He took a breath to compose himself and proceeded to tell them of the wonders of the crystal.

When he had finished he found B'Elanna looking at him incredulously, the captain looking at him dubiously, and the doctor running another scan on him. "Look, I'm not making this up! How else do you explain what happened to me?" he asked imploringly.

The doctor nodded his head. "Well, I'm afraid I can't offer any medical reason as to how you could survive for six hours without oxygen," he yielded. "I believe this is what would be classified as a miracle."

Tom expected the others to scoff at the notion, but was surprised instead to find that they were willing to consider the possibility. Two of the most scientific minds he'd ever met, believing in a miracle! Until . . .

"Where is this crystal, anyway?" B'Elanna demanded. "I want to examine it . . ."

"Yes," interjected the captain, "Could it be a life form of some sort, with telepathic abilities?"

"Or some kind of computer?"

They were on a roll as they excitedly discussed the possibilities. Almost forgetting about Tom, B'Elanna hastily squeezed his leg as they quickly left Sickbay in search of the shuttle and the mysterious crystal. Tom looked at the doctor in mock dismay, "Well, nice to know I mean so much to them, huh, Doc?"

The doctor was at a loss for words, so unexpectedly had things turned around. Tom laughed, "Don't worry about it. Looks like everything's pretty much back to normal. So, when can I get out of this place -- not that I don't enjoy your company or anything."

The doctor harrumphed as he pushed Tom back down on the biobed. "Well, make yourself comfortable, Mr. Paris, because you're going to be here until at least tomorrow morning."

"Ahh, Doc . . ." Tom began to whine. The doctor quickly turned on him with hypospray in hand and Tom immediately closed his mouth. The doctor harrumphed again, this time in satisfaction, before turning away and returning to his office. He didn't miss the lieutenant chuckling behind his back. Yes, things were definitely back to normal.

Tom lay quietly for a long time and the doctor assumed he had fallen asleep. But Tom had too much on his mind to sleep. He had nearly died. But the crystal had saved him. Of that he had no doubt. The crystal that was supposed to protect its possessor, as long as he was deserving. Who would have thought? he asked himself in amazement. Whereas before he thought the crystal had allowed him to record his final goodbyes, now he realized it had actually given him the chance to say what needed to be said in person. And that was exactly what he was going to do.


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