Pressure

Summary: Captain Chakotay's Starfleet crew and Kathryn Janeway's Maquis have merged into one crew aboard the Federation starship Voyager, stranded 70,000 light years from their homes. The command team must find a way to reconcile their past relationship. Old betrayals, new attractions and the dangers of an unknown quadrant are brought into play when the one crewmember who belongs nowhere is caught up in an interstellar conspiracy.

 

Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Paris, Kim, Torres, Kes, Tuvok, EMH, VOY crew

Codes: Janeway/Paris, Janeway/Chakotay, Kim/Torres

 

Disclaimer: A company named Paramount would likely be disturbed about my borrowing its characters. But it's not fattening my purse.

 

Related episodes: Caretaker and Ex Post Facto.

Rated T

Chapter Eight
Stardate 48619.2



Somebody was kissing him.

Warm dry mouth, pressed against his own; the first touch of a tongue exploring his lips. The cool brush of hair against his hand. He smelled jasmine, heard a tinkling laugh. She broke away. "Let me make you some tea," she murmured, and he followed the swish of her skirt.

Tom Paris jerked awake.

There was a face hovering above him, a woman's face. Strong features, shadowed eyes, wide mouth; Bajoran ridges on the nose. "Seska," he said involuntarily.

"Relax, Lieutenant; you've been unconscious for fourteen hours." He felt the hiss of a hypospray against his neck and his mind began to clear.

"Were you just kissing me?" he asked suspiciously.

Seska raised an eyebrow. "I most certainly was not, Lieutenant. I don't make a habit of molesting my patients."

Tom flushed, struggling to sit upright. "Where's the Doctor?"

"Still offline. I'm covering for Kes while she's at dinner." Seska straightened, and tapped her commbadge. "Seska to Captain Chakotay."

~Go ahead.~

"Lieutenant Paris is awake, sir."

~On my way.~

Tom grabbed her wrist before Seska could move away from his bed. "What happened to me? Where's Commander Janeway?"

Seska looked down at his fingers in distaste. "Please remove your hand, Lieutenant."

His grip tightened. She pulled against it without success; he was stronger than he had any right to be in his current condition. "Tell me, Ensign," he warned.

"Commander Janeway returned to her quarters ten hours ago," she answered stiffly, "despite the Doctor ordering her to remain in Sickbay overnight. As for what happened to you, I'm sure the Captain will fill you in. Excuse me." She wrenched her arm away, lip curling.

Tom Paris looked at her properly for perhaps the first time. "You don't like me very much, do you, Seska?" The knowledge made him curious; nothing more.

"Like you?" The Bajoran faced him. "Mr Paris, you killed three Starfleet officers with your stunt at Caldik Prime. You betrayed your Maquis shipmates to Starfleet for a get-out-of-jail-free card - and don't look at me like that. I may be a Starfleet officer but I'm also Bajoran. Some of my friends and family joined the Maquis. And on a more personal note, you usurped my rightful position as chief conn officer when Lieutenant Stadi was killed. So, no. I don't trust you, and I don't like you very much either. Sir."

She was pleased to note the hollowness in his eyes before she turned away.

The Sickbay doors slid open. "Report," Chakotay ordered briskly. Seska's face was carefully blank as she listed Paris' vital signs. Paris watched disinterestedly; the captain's demeanour was purely business, nodding impatiently, asking questions, Seska's a mask of helpful obedience. Until she finished, and Chakotay turned away, and the mask slipped briefly, and for an instant her face was naked.

She wants him, Paris realised.

Now, that was interesting.

"Tom?" Chakotay was quirking an eyebrow at him. "Are you alright?"

"Sorry, Captain." He snapped to attention. "I feel fine, except for this headache."

Chakotay rested one solid thigh on the edge of the bed. "Commander Janeway gave us a run-down of the attack. She said one of the Baneans mentioned that you had a neural implant. Can you shed any light?"

Tom's brow furrowed. "Neural implant? No, sir. I don't remember anything about that."

"Well, maybe you can fill in some other blanks for us. Can you tell us what happened the night you and the Commander had dinner with the Rens?"

He tapped long fingers absently on the sheet, remembering. "We finished the trade," he began, "went back to the Rens', ate. After dinner Professor Ren and Commander Janeway went to his lab. They were in there - it seemed like forever."

"What were you doing?"

"I was -" He flushed. "I was with Mrs Ren."

Oh no. Chakotay didn't like where this was going. "Go on."

"Nothing happened," he said hastily. "Well - nothing much. At least, I don't think it did ..." He pulled himself together. "Mrs Ren asked me to help her get a dish from a cupboard in the kitchen, and when we returned to the dining room the Professor and Commander Janeway had gone to the lab. I said I should probably go with them. Mrs Ren, uh ..."

"Mrs Ren what?"

"She kissed me."

Chakotay sighed. "I see. And then what?"

Now Paris really did look perplexed. He rubbed his forehead, trying to concentrate. "Well, I remember her making tea. We went into the conservatory and we talked for awhile. She was telling me about her childhood, and then -" He scratched at his forehead. "Sir, the next thing I really remember is walking back to the shuttle with the commander. I guess Mrs Ren and I just talked for a couple of hours, but - I can't really remember anything much about it. I'm sorry."

The captain frowned. "That's it?"

"That's it." Paris stifled a yawn.

Chakotay noticed. "Alright, Tom. Lieutenant Tuvok has gone to investigate; he should be on Banea by now, so we should have some answers soon. Get some sleep." He patted the helmsman's shoulder and turned to leave.

"Captain." Paris' voice was slurred, struggling against fatigue. "Is Commander Janeway alright?"

There was something in his voice that Chakotay couldn't quite identify. "Yes, Lieutenant," he stressed the title deliberately, "Commander Janeway is quite well. Now rest."

Seska's dark eyes followed him as he walked out of Sickbay.

 

=/\=


"Captain, we're receiving a subspace communication from Lieutenant Tuvok."

"Put it through to my ready room, Harry. You have the bridge."

"Yes, sir," Harry said delightedly to Chakotay's back.

Chakotay turned the monitor toward him, settling behind his desk. "Report, Tuvok?"

Tuvok's dark eyes regarded him from the small viewscreen. "I have spoken with Mrs Ren. She claims that Lieutenant Paris made sexual overtures toward her, which she rejected. She also claims she did not recognise the two men who attacked Commander Janeway and Lieutenant Paris at the shuttle."

"I take it you don't believe her."

"I am reserving judgment pending further information, but suffice to say I did not find her story completely credible."

Damn Vulcans. "What else?" Chakotay asked impatiently.

"I have spoken with the Banean security force. It seems there was a witness to the events at the shuttle. An attendant at the shuttleport was in the vicinity when the attack occurred; he notified security, who apprehended one of the perpetrators, a Mr Carron. He is in custody and will be interviewed shortly. I intend to be present at that interview."

"Good. Check in again when the interview's over, okay?"

"Aye, Captain." The screen went blank.

Chakotay leaned back, tapping his fingers. Nothing to do now but wait. Tuvok wouldn't report in for another few hours at best; Torres still couldn't work out what was wrong with the Doctor's program; Janeway - he hoped - was sleeping and probably couldn't shed any more light on the strange Banean situation anyway. He rolled his neck and felt the cracking of tense joints; with most of the senior officers out of commission, he'd pulled a double shift and was well into a third. He felt stale and stupid. A few hours' sleep would do him the world of good, and Kim was perfectly capable of manning the bridge while they were in cloaked orbit around Ruata. Chakotay hauled himself up and headed back to the bridge.

Harry Kim leapt from the big chair like a guilty child. "Captain on the bridge!"

"At ease." Chakotay tried not to grin. "Ensign Kim, I'm going off duty. As the senior bridge officer, I'm putting you in command til I return. I want you to let me know as soon as Lieutenant Tuvok contacts us. Oh, and try to keep Voyager from falling apart, okay?"

Kim's eyes shone. "I'll do my best, Captain. Sleep well."

Chakotay let the grin appear as the turbolift doors slid shut. By the time he returned to duty, Kim would probably have the Banean case solved, the Doctor back at peak efficiency and the bulkheads scrubbed to a shine. He'd really have to put the kid in charge more often.

 

=/\=


~Baxter to Ensign Kim.~

"Kim here."

~I've just tried to run my gym program on Holodeck 2 and it seems to be malfunctioning. Could you come take a look?~

"I'm taking the command shift, Lieutenant." He tried to sound as though Chakotay left him in command every day. "I'll send Ashmore down for you."

~Acknowledged, Captain.~ The grin in Baxter's voice came through clearly.

Harry nodded to Ensign Ashmore, clearly bored at the Ops station, and commed Lieutenant Torres. "B'Elanna, Baxter just reported problems with Holodeck 2. I thought you'd like to keep tabs in case there's any relation to the EMH malfunctions. Any progress on those, by the way?"

~No,~ snapped Torres after a short pause. ~When did the holodeck problems start?~

Kim tapped the console next to the command chair. "They've only just been reported, but nobody's used either holodeck for three days. I've sent Ashmore down to check it out."

~Fine, I'll tell her to keep me informed. Torres out.~

Harry settled himself more comfortably in the big chair, watching the infinitesimal progress of the planet on the viewscreen. Voyager's orbit had her currently positioned right above the dilithium caves he and B'Elanna had explored a few days ago. The Ruatan fireflies had been every bit as magical as he'd hoped; even pragmatic, blasé B'Elanna had been awed. In the silence of the cave, as tiny sparks of indigo and pink and gold winked into existence all around them, she'd reached for his hand, needing contact to ground her amid the ethereal display.

~Ashmore to Ensign Kim.~

Harry jumped, glad Ashmore couldn't see his reddened cheeks. "Go ahead?"

~Sir, it looks like the holodecks are experiencing the same malfunctions as the EMH. When I try to activate a holoprogram, parts of it start to destabilise. It looks like there's some kind of energy field interfering with the holomatrix, but I can't tell what, or where it's coming from.~

"Have you informed Lieutenant Torres?"

~Yes sir, she's on her way to the holodeck.~

Kim told her to keep him posted and cut the connection. He glanced over at Batehart, half-asleep at the conn; at ever-silent Ayala, manning the tactical station. The bridge was dull as dishwater without its senior officers. Dynamic Chakotay, trading quips with mercurial Paris while Tuvok radiated Vulcan aloofness; and enigmatic Janeway, whose truculence could scare Ensign Kim into cowering at his station, hoping not to attract her disapproval, and whose lighter moods could encourage the Captain's magnetic grin and cause colour to rise on Paris' pale skin. Harry tapped idly on the arm of the command chair, recalling Paris bolting from the holodeck to chase after the Commander. He recalled as well his own relentless teasing of Paris afterwards. "She's not your usual type, Tom," he'd kidded, his curiosity fully engaged when Paris refused to be drawn. "I thought you liked girls like the Delaneys ... all that fresh, sweet naughtiness?" Still Harry's needling had gone unrewarded, and, piqued, he'd punched his friend lightly on the arm and said, "Besides, I get the feeling you'd have some serious competition. But if you like a challenge ..."

It wasn't until he saw the blue flash of anger in Tom's eyes, so quickly hidden it was barely there, that Harry realised his teasing had found its target. More than that, he was suddenly reminded of the steel backbone behind Tom's cocky flyboy persona. Harry had clamped his mouth shut. This man who was now his best friend had survived horrors a fresh-minted Starfleet Academy graduate could barely conceive of; he might play the part of the joker, but the real Tom Paris was hidden behind walls and layers and veils, and who knew what parts of him he kept concealed? Harry had tried to ask, but Tom wasn't telling.

"Incoming subspace message for the Captain," Ayala informed him, his voice sounding rusty from disuse. "It's Lieutenant Tuvok."

Harry checked the chronometer; the Captain would have had maybe five hours' sleep, but he had said to alert him as soon as Tuvok contacted the ship. "Ensign Kim to Captain Chakotay," he said tentatively.

There was a brief pause, then Chakotay answered, sounding wide awake. ~Yes, Ensign?~

"Mr Tuvok is on subspace for you. Shall I put him through to your quarters?"

~No, it's alright. I'll be in my ready room in just a minute. Chakotay out.~

He'd been so tired he'd fallen on the bedcovers in his uniform pants and turtleneck. Chakotay rubbed at the sleep creases on his cheek, pulling on his jacket as he boarded the turbolift. "Deck one," he yawned, voice flooded with the fatigue he'd kept at bay when Kim called him. The lift halted and he stumbled into the ready room. "Kim, you can put Tuvok through now."

The terminal on his desk came to life. "News, Tuvok?"

~Yes, Captain. Mr Carron has confessed that he and the other Banean who attacked Commander Janeway and Lieutenant Paris were hired by a Doctor Valen, who is employed by the Banean Ministry of Health. Doctor Valen has also been questioned. Although reticent at first, he has admitted that he and Mrs Ren conspired to sedate Mr Paris and install a communications device in his brain which would be disguised as false memory engrams. It was designed so that Mr Paris would believe he had become enamoured of Mrs Ren, and been rebuffed by her, while Professor Ren and Commander Janeway were otherwise engaged.~

"To what end?" Chakotay was baffled.

~Their plan, it seems, was to use Lieutenant Paris to carry information on Professor Ren's weapons research to one of the Numiri ships in orbit of Banea. They hoped that Mr Paris would be sufficiently embarrassed not to mention the incident before the Numiri had captured him and destroyed the shuttle, thus concealing the fact that the Numiri had allies on Banea.~

Chakotay's face darkened. "What went wrong?"

~Banean neurological science is far more advanced than that of the Federation, Captain, but Lieutenant Paris' neurology was unfamiliar to Doctor Valen. He was unable to predict the effect the implant would have on Mr Paris. It was not intended to cause him any pain or, indeed, alert him to anything unusual, until it was too late. My extrapolation suggests that the Numiri would have killed Mr Paris as soon as they had the information contained in the device. The destruction of our shuttle and the deaths of Commander Janeway and Lieutenant Paris would have been considered an act of Numiri aggression unrelated to any occurrences on Banea. If you recall, Mr Neelix and Mr Zigan did warn us that the Numiri tend to attack any ship attempting to trade with the Baneans.~

"I recall," the Captain replied grimly. "So if the Numiri were supposed to attack the shuttle once it left Banea, what was the purpose of Mr Carron and his friend?"

~Professor Ren had questioned Commander Janeway regarding both the shuttle's and Voyager's defensive capabilities. Mrs Ren reported the information back to Doctor Valen. I can only assume that Valen was sufficiently impressed by our weaponry that he decided to have Commander Janeway killed, and Lieutenant Paris incapacitated, before leaving Banea. Mr Carron was to have piloted the shuttle and delivered Mr Paris to the Numiri. Evidently they underestimated the Commander's hand-to-hand combat expertise.~

"Evidently. Why did Mrs Ren get involved in this?"

~Mrs Ren's marriage is not a happy one, sir. She is romantically involved with Doctor Valen. Her level of complicity remains to be seen, however. It is possible she is unaware of the purpose of the implant, or indeed, of the Numiri involvement, as Doctor Valen claims. I understand that security personnel have already been sent to apprehend her.~

"And the implant - can it be removed?"

~Doctor Valen claims that he or any of his associates can remove it quite simply and with no lasting ill-effects to Lieutenant Paris, provided the operation is performed as soon as possible. However, I must inform you that Minister Solar of Banean Security has insisted that the extraction be performed here on the planet, as he is unwilling to risk sending any Banean citizens outside the planetary shield grid. You will need to return Lieutenant Paris to the surface within the next forty-eight hours. You should also be aware that the number of Numiri vessels in orbit has increased to three warships and four scout vessels. It would not be advisable to transport Mr Paris in a shuttle, and Voyager will likely suffer significant damage if detected by the Numiri.~

Chakotay leaned back. "In that case, we need a battle plan. Tuvok, find out as much as you can about the Numiri from your local contacts and send me the data. I'll meet with Zigan as soon as I can, and in the meantime, I'll consult with Commander Janeway." He paused. "Oh, and Tuvok?"

~Yes, Captain?~

"Good work."

The screen went black and for a moment the Captain sat motionless, but for the pulse and jump of a vein on one temple. He flattened his hands carefully on the desk, exhaled slowly, and stood.

"Computer," Chakotay said, "locate Commander Janeway."

~Commander Janeway is in Sickbay.~

 

=/\=


She felt like a misbehaving schoolgirl, creeping along darkened corridors in the middle of the night. A snatch of conversation wafted toward her and she ducked into a turbolift. "Deck five," she said quickly.

As she'd hoped, Sickbay was deserted but for its lone patient. She padded silently to his bedside and, looking down at him, wondered again what insane impulse had sent her here in the first place.

He was still so pale, lines of pain and fatigue scored deep between his eyes. She touched a finger to them, as though she could smooth them away; she traced the dip of his aristocratic nose; her fingertips came to rest on the curve of his mouth. She felt lightheaded. Paris stirred.

She snatched her hand back, barely breathing, but he didn't wake, and after a few moments she dared to touch him again, this time curving her palm to the contour of cheekbone and jaw. The faint stirring of his breath tickled her wrist and she curled her fingers into his hair. The memory hit her like a fist to the gut and she closed her eyes. His beautiful face, bloodless. His twisted mouth, his bewildered eyes, the words he spoke that made no sense. Her fingers in his hair. Her terror and despair. Her understanding that he might die.

"Kate."

Janeway leapt away from Paris' bed. "Chakotay," she snapped, furious with embarrassment. "For Christ's sake, what are you doing here?"

"I could ask you the same thing." He folded his arms and she saw the ill-concealed hurt in his eyes. "Checking up on your protegé?"

She lashed out from humiliation. "You sound like a jealous lover."

"Because that's how I feel."

His words dropped like stones into the space between them, Chakotay as shocked as Kathryn by his admission.

Finally she remembered to breathe. "Chakotay, you can't -"

"I know," he snapped, and turned away. When he looked back at her his face was blank. "Commander, I came here to update you on the Banean situation. Perhaps you could join me in my ready room" - a touch of anger returned to his voice - "when you've finished with Lieutenant Paris."

She flushed, straightened. "Yes, Captain."

The doors of Sickbay were sliding closed almost before she'd finished speaking.