He hadn't thought it would be like this.
Nearly three hours of fist-clenching, jaw-tightening anxiety. Sometimes, he thought his heart would leap into his throat - it was beating so furiously.
Tom Paris wasn't given to inaction. Sitting at the helm controls, even as his fingers flew fast across the consoles, his left foot tapping rapidly, he wasn't doing enough.
He wanted more.
He wanted to take a phaser rifle and take on the Borg cube himself; heaven's knows, he had enough adrenaline running through his arteries, veins and capillaries to take on the Collective.
In the background, Chakotay, looking slightly flustered, paced. Tom knew what Chakotay must be thinking.
To Borg or not to Borg, that was the question.
Who the hell came up with these ideas anyway?
There was no clock, nothing to tell them exactly to the second, how long it had been.
Felt damn near like forever.
All a matter of perspective, of course. When on the holodeck, re- enacting Captain Proton scenarios with Harry, three hours was never enough. There was always one more villain to capture, one more seductress to entice, one more mystery to solve.
But this, this was something else.
What if they couldn't pull the Away Team out?
But of course, he couldn't think like that.
In Starfleet, it was always positive, no matter what. Each day, bright shiny happy, and then move on when tragedy struck. You didn't think about the past and you certainly didn't think about the consequences of the moment previous.
Don't think like that. We'll get them out.
The Borg cube loomed enormous on the view screen, its skeleton construction frame aglow with pent-up Borg fury.
Again, Tom knew he should not think like that, but how the hell did that Vulcan, with his superior mind control, manage to slip out those security codes to the Collective?
Tom would never say those words out-loud. Chakotay would not like it. Bad for morale, the former Maquis leader would say.
Tom knew better. Chakotay wouldn't like the truth anyway.
Fatalism didn't become Chakotay the same way it did Janeway.
It wasn't that Tom had a death wish; he was merely a realist and he could see, with shields at twenty percent and hull breaches throughout, exactly where Voyager stood.
This was where it would end. Voyager, once a proud ship, reduced to debris and ion warp trails, somewhere in the Delta Quadrant.
There would be legends back in the Alpha Quadrant. "The Legend of Voyager," a brave ship captained by Kathryn Janeway who threw it all away for the sake of individuality.
Who cared about a handful of Borg drones? Tom certainly didn't.
He understood motivations. Understood that this was the way to end the Borg threat once and for all.
He didn't understand why they had to be the ones to do it, didn't understand why they had to be the heroes.
Tom Paris wanted to be on the holodeck. He wanted to be in Fairhaven, hanging over a fence, watching cows smack their fat lips. He wanted to be in the mess hall with a bowl of tomato soup. He wanted to watch television, those silly little cartoons with their vacuous expressions and disproportionate bodies.
He wanted to see the Roadrunner outwit the Coyote once again.
He wanted to be anywhere but here.
Damn it all.
How long had it been? He didn't dare ask.
He remembered the Borg cube. He had been there once, remembered those the constant metallic clanging, those unblinking eyes, those stiff jerky movements, robots all of them.
Tom had been afraid.
Thought he was going to die there, the unfortunate victim of assimilation experimentation.
Of course, as always, things turned out for the best and he was back in B'Elanna's arms.
After she'd yelled at him of course. Tongue lashing, damn, she was good at that. He didn't mind at the time; he was so grateful at not being the newest inductee into the Collective that he would gladly submit to B'Elanna's whip lashing a thousand times over. Even double or triple shifts in Sickbay didn't sound so bad in comparison.
Tom wanted B'Elanna to be here.
He wanted to hear her sharp voice echoing in his ear, feeling the vibrations of her fury traveling down the ear canal, reverberating against hammer, anvil and ossicles.
And as soon as the battle had started, it was over.
The Doctor, his voice tinged with relief and concern, announced that the Away Team was safely on board.
Tom whirled in his seat, wanted to go immediately, but Chakotay's stern look kept him in his seat.
"They're in surgery, Tom," Chakotay said. "And I need you here. Get us out of here. Set a course for the Alpha Quadrant."
Terrific. Piloting now through the endless gauntlet of destroyed Borg cubes.
Tom didn't want to wonder about the dead. Didn't want to think about them and their momentary individuality.
The Queen was dead. Long live the...?
The Borg would be back. Tom knew this in the same way he knew to breathe.
When he did get up from his seat, his muscles were stiff, his joints creaky.
"Thank you," Tom said in passing to Chakotay.
"You're welcome," Chakotay replied in an equally low voice.
"Not yet," Chakotay shook his head. "Maybe later."
The corridors between Sickbay and the Bridge seemed endlessly long. He had never noticed before how big a ship Voyager actually was. Knowing something in theory and then actually having to live it, well, those were two different things. His legs, already jittery, did not seem strong enough to cover the distance. Turn left turn right turbolift.
And then, Sickbay.
The Doctor was humming, a good sign.
Tom nodded a greeting.
"They are all fine," the Doctor said. "They were only assimilated for a few hours, so the nanoprobes and implants did not have a chance to fully assert themselves. Tuvok, though, may have some neural damage and I've given him a regeneration treatment. I'm pleased to report that the neural suppressant did its job fairly well."
"Good to hear," Tom said. His eyes drifted anxiously to B'Elanna. She was lying on her side, her cheek resting against the top of her hand.
"I could wake her up," the Doctor offered.
"No," Tom said. He touched B'Elanna's cheek lightly, and then tucked a tendril of hair behind her ears. "Let her rest."
Tom took a step back, looked at B'Elanna, Janeway, Tuvok. Resting, healthy, all of them.
In the morning, he would ask.
Was it worth it?
~ the end ~
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