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Acid Truths

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"Can you make it, Tom?"

"Sure."

Kathryn glanced over at him in concern. His voice was tight and strained, pain carrying clearly through his efforts to mask it. She wished again for the hundredth time that she'd been able to find something, anything, that could substitute for crutches, but there had been nothing on the barren landscape but the rocks. Deuranium-laden rocks, "worth twice the price of admission," Tom had joked before they'd realized how bad the break was.

The medkit, damn it, was safely stowed away in the shuttle. Inaccessible now; the five-mile hike back to the landing site might as well have been five hundred for their ability to make it before the storm hit. As it was, she was concerned that they might not even reach the relative safety of the caves in time. The wind was picking up rapidly, and they were moving far too slowly.

Kathryn grasped Tom a little more tightly around the waist, trying to take as much of his weight off his ankle as possible. The vast difference in their heights had never been so noticeable as it was now; he had to stoop to lean on her shoulders and she was sure his back was hurting him nearly as much as his shattered ankle.

"We're almost there," she encouraged, although they weren't, not really.

He couldn't contradict the lie. His gaze was locked on the ground as firmly as it had been for the past twenty minutes, either to concentrate on his footing or to keep her from seeing the tears of pain in his eyes, Kathryn wasn't sure which. His jaw was clenched so tightly it hurt her just to look at it.

The wind whipped her hair around and into her eyes. It was a scene out of a nightmare, one of those when you felt you had to hurry but you couldn't move fast enough, like you were moving through molasses ...

He stopped, suddenly, and she nearly fell at the abrupt lack of motion.

"We need to keep moving," she said gently.

He shook his head. "I think you should go on ahead."

"Tom-"

"The storm's nearly here, Captain. We're not going to make it in time."

"You're being pessimistic."

"I'm being realistic. It's another kilometer, at least."

"We can make it in fifteen minutes."

"We don't have fifteen minutes. Can't you feel the air?"

She could. Hot and heavy, eerily charged as it had been when she'd been a child in Indiana, just before a summer storm.

His voice was lightly rueful, but the pain in it grated against her ears. "In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have packed the site-to-site transporter with the rest of the gear."

"It's not your fault, Tom. You had no way of knowing the rockface was unstable. You're lucky you only broke your ankle."

He caught his breath, raggedly. "I guess." He didn't, clearly, feel lucky.

Kathryn's nerves were still on edge, adrenaline rushing through her in useless desperation. She'd seen the rockslide start, had watched in horrified fascination as Tom scrambled to get out of the way of the rushing stones. He had been quick, quick enough to avoid the tumbling boulders that would have crushed him, but the ground beneath his feet was wildly uneven and he'd fallen. She'd seen his ankle twist and imagined she'd heard the bone crack as well.

It hadn't seemed like a tragedy at first. They'd been bemoaning the loss of the mineral-gathering kit under the rockslide, and had been debating how long it would take Kathryn to get back to the shuttle on foot, when they'd felt the sudden pressure drop that heralded an oncoming storm. The same conditions that gave the planetoid its rich concentration of deuranium also contaminated the water. "Acid rain", Tom had christened it, and though it wasn't the same concept Kathryn had studied in ecohistory, it was close enough. Prolonged or excessive exposure to the toxic water would kill them, painfully if not quickly. It was why they'd brought along the site-to-site transporter in the first place, and why they were hurrying now, too slowly, towards safe haven in the caves.

She tugged at his arm. "Move it, Mr. Paris."

He shook his head, calm and resigned. "I'm sorry."

"Not as sorry as you will be. Keep moving. That's an order."

He was calm, too calm for her taste. "I can't. It's too far. You should go."

"I am not going to leave you here."

"You're going to have to. I can't walk any more, and you can't carry me."

She would have, if she could. But she'd never make it to the caves holding him, might not even make it alone, unencumbered and running. The ions in the air skittered across her cheeks restlessly like swarming gnats. She scratched absently and scanned the surroundings, searching for something, somewhere ...

She saw it then, barely, a small break in the base of the mountain, a dark smudge barely visible against the equally dark rock. It wasn't a cave, exactly, but it would be shelter enough. And it was close. They might not make it before the rain hit, but they'd be safe before the exposure became lethal.

She tugged on his arm. "Come on."

"Captain-"

"Come on. There's shelter over here." She waved in roughly the right direction and pulled him along with her.

He squinted towards the mountain, wasting precious seconds staring dubiously at the small gap which was to be their shelter. Kathryn tugged at him and he moved, but slowly, strangely reluctant, almost as if he'd already accepted death as inevitable and was having trouble with the concept of the alternative.

The rain hit two minutes later, halfway to their goal. Kathryn moved steadily forward, resisting the urge to pull Tom along faster. The pace was already too quick for him; she could feel the tremors that ran through him with each step, could feel his breath ragged and painful on her cheek. Her skin burned where the rain soaked slowly through the fabric of her uniform, and she tried to keep her head down as much as possible.

She shoved Tom into the break in the mountain ahead of her, ignoring his gasp of pain as he landed uncomfortably on his ankle. "Can you move in farther?" She was not entirely out of the rain; the wind blew it into the entrance. She wiped the stinging droplets off her face with panic-tinged irritation.

"I'll try ... " His body against hers shifted and tensed as he inched a little further into the small space. He moved slowly, awkwardly, feeling his way into the cramped grotto. "I hope there aren't any snakes."

"No life-signs," she reminded him lightly. No life-forms of any sort, which meant no food. It was all right. The storm would last a few hours, half a day at most. They'd be hungry, but they wouldn't starve.

"Sometimes the sensors miss the small ones," he joked readily, but there was a tension in his voice that was more than pain.

She tried to see his face, but the dim light was fading quickly as the storm clouds rolled in, and he was surrounded in shadows. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine."

"Your ankle?"

She felt, rather than saw, his answering shrug. "I can't feel it at all."

"That's not very good, is it?"

"Depends on how you look at it."

She chuckled, and tried to settle as comfortably as possible against the rocky wall. It was not so terrible. Their body heat warmed the small space quickly, and there was just enough room to spread out. She could probably even stand, if she wanted, though Tom certainly couldn't. She'd been stranded in far worse places.

They settled in companionable silence for a little while. "This is cozy," she commented finally.

Tom's answer was a fraction of a second too long in coming. "Sure is."

That odd tension in his voice was back again. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine."

"And your ankle-"

"I told you, I can't feel it."

His voice was too quick, too sharp, laced with a thin edge of anger that she hadn't earned. Still, she responded automatically, "I'm sorry."

He exhaled slowly. She imagined his eyes closed, head resting against the wall. "Don't apologize. You didn't do anything. It's just ... "

She prompted when he trailed off into silence. "Just what?"

He was hesitant, almost embarrassed. "It's just ... it's a little close in here."

"Are you telling me I stink, Mr. Paris?"

"Of course not." He laughed, but it was forced and uneasy, and suddenly Kathryn remembered. Oh. Oh damn. She looked around at the shadowy walls. Such a quick change from cozy to cramped, just a minor shift in perspective ...

"The storm should pass quickly, Tom. We won't be in here for long." He breathed again, heavily, but didn't otherwise answer. To Kathryn, it sounded like he was forcing the air in and out of uncooperative lungs. "It's better than being out in the rain."

"Right."

He didn't sound entirely convinced, and she was suddenly glad that she was sitting between Tom and the entrance, blocking his way from what had by now become a toxic downpour that could kill him in minutes. "I thought ... " she mentioned tentatively, "I mean, I didn't think ... I didn't realize it was this bad."

He didn't bother to ask what "this" was, obviously felt no need to give a name to the formless dread that hung heavy in the air between them. "It wasn't always. It's gotten worse since—" He stopped abruptly, stiffening, and fell silent.

Kathryn was for the first time grateful for the blanketing darkness so she couldn't see the blush surely spreading across his cheeks, nor he hers. God knows she was still humiliated by her own behavior. If she could have taken it back, if there were any way to give him back that month, she'd have done it in an instant. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

"Don't be. You couldn't have known."

And there it was, opportunity handed to her on a silver platter ... because of course she'd known. She had known exactly what she was doing, and it bothered her suddenly that she'd gotten away with it, that after all this time, he still didn't know the truth.

If she was going to tell him — and she was suddenly, stubbornly, determined to tell him — she'd have to start back at the beginning. Or at least, what she knew was the beginning. "It was Ambassador K'vet who suggested that I bring you along on the mission to find Chakotay's ship," she offered into the silence. "She said she'd always had a soft spot for you."

She heard Tom's soft and amused exhale. If the sudden shift in topic struck him as odd, he didn't say. "I should have known."

"I only knew of you from your father," Kathryn continued softly, "and from your reputation. To be honest, I wasn't sure at first that bringing you along was such a good idea, so I did a little research. I read your files, the parts that weren't classified. Your dossier from Auckland said you got into a lot of fights."

She heard him swallow in the darkness, but he offered neither explanations nor excuses.

"I didn't want a troublemaker on board, Tom. I didn't have the time to deal with someone who picked fights, was contentious ... so I asked for permission to read the detailed reports." She waited briefly for him to say something, and kept going when he stayed silent. "They didn't give me much, bits and pieces mostly, just enough to put my mind at rest. On one of the reports, after one of the fights, there was a comment at the bottom regarding the disciplinary action to be taken, waiving solitary confinement as per GMO 17. "

He swallowed again, and she continued, fighting the urge to rush through the explanation, to gloss over the damning parts. "I thought the 'M' stood for 'military'. I thought ... I thought maybe Owen was pulling strings, having them go easy on you ..."

Tom snorted. "Fat chance."

"General Medical Order 17." Her eyes were adjusting to the darkness now, and she could just make out Tom's profile, could see him staring, eyes wide, at the wall in front of him. She wasn't, apparently, telling him anything he didn't already know. "It protects an inmate from any treatment, disciplinary or otherwise, which could be harmful to his emotional or psychological health. I didn't know why it applied, exactly. Not back then."

He was quiet for such a long time then, she imagined the silence crystallizing into the small space between them. The illusion grew so vivid in her mind that she was surprised when he spoke and nothing shattered. "You were in Auckland, Captain. You saw it. It wasn't such a bad place, for a prison. It even had a private beach." He took a deep breath, noticeably shaky, and she would have put a hand on his arm if she weren't afraid the touch would be unwelcome. "It was still a prison, and they were pretty strict about the rules. If you were caught fighting, you got four days in solitary. It was automatic. It didn't matter who threw the first punch."

He'd been in a lot of fights. The reports had such an astronomical figure she'd assumed it was incorrect until she received verification from other sources.

"I'd only been in the penal colony for a few days. I couldn't believe it when they brought me to the cell. It had a cot, a sink, and a toilet, and maybe enough room to walk ten steps, if you didn't mind going in a circle. No windows, just a slit in the door they could put a tray through. It was the first part of the place that actually looked like a prison." He was still and silent, remembering, and she didn't want to say a word for fear of disturbing his quiet reflection. "I was never very good in small spaces," he said, finally.

"They left you in there for four days?"

He chuckled bitterly. "Not quite. I lasted five hours."

"What happened?"

"I don't really remember. Some sort of panic attack, I guess. I remember waking up in the infirmary with a sore throat and two doctors working on my hands. Class 2 claustrophobia, they said. Told me I'd been screaming and punching the walls."

She nodded. "No more solitary confinement?"

"Modified confinement to quarters, which were bigger and had windows. They also let me out to walk around a couple of times a day. It wasn't great, but at least I wasn't screaming."

Kathryn could see him staring in the dim light, could see from the short jerky movements of his head that he was judging spaces and distances, and wished she could think of something to say that would be more than meaningless, empty comfort.

"I didn't start those fights," he said quietly, a few long minutes later. "When I swung first it was because ... because I was provoked." His good leg was pulled up to his chest, and he wrapped his arms around it, resting his forehead on his knee. His voice, when he spoke again, was muffled and she had to strain to hear it over the steady roar of the wind and rain. "I didn't want to fight them. I didn't want to interact with them at all. They figured that I thought I was better than them, the admiral's son in among the riffraff." He exhaled softly, somewhat less than a sigh. "I just wanted to be left alone."

That was no surprise. It was still his preferred way of dealing with things, and Kathryn wondered sadly whether there had ever been a time when he'd trusted enough to let others help him deal with his crises, or whether he'd always felt his burdens to be his alone. She touched him gently, just the lightest whisper of her hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I knew the risks when I joined the Maquis."

"Did you? Did you really think you might end up in prison?"

"No." He inhaled, then let the air out in a little puff of wry amusement. "I expected I'd end up dead, not in Auckland. But I knew the possibility existed, Captain. We all knew it." She felt the subtle motion as he shivered. "I just didn't realize the cells would be so small."

"If you'd known ... when Chakotay recruited you, if you'd known, would it have made a difference?"

He considered it. "Probably not. I didn't really have any other options left at that point."

"And before Monea?" The words were out before she could stop them, though spoken so softly she was almost convinced he couldn't possibly have heard them.

He had. "If I'd known what the punishment would be, would I still have done it, you mean?"

"Yes." To her ears, her voice was tiny, almost lost to the wind roaring outside their small haven.

Tom frowned, and took a deep breath. "If you'd asked me that in the beginning, the first few days, I'd have said no, it wouldn't have made a difference. But by the end ... " He shivered, his voice filled with unease. "I don't know. Maybe."

"I'm sorry." Easily the tenth time she'd said it in the last hour. Two small words, so easy to say and so woefully inadequate.

"Don't apologize. You didn't know—"

"I did." There, it was out now and too late to take the words back.

He stared at her in the dim light, eyes wide and confused and searching.

"GMO 17, Tom. I told you I didn't know why it applied, back in the beginning, but when we went into stasis and you kept coming out ... I realized then."

He was still staring at her, and there was something very much like betrayal blossoming in his eyes.

Much too late to take the words back, as it was too late to give him the month back, too late to undo any of the damage she'd inflicted, too late to do anything but set the truth belatedly free. "I knew how hard it would be for you to spend a month in the brig. I counted on it." GMO 17 didn't apply to disciplinary action on a starship. Technically, she hadn't done anything wrong. It didn't make it any easier to meet his eyes. "I didn't just want to punish you, Tom. I wanted you to suffer."

He said nothing to that, but simply turned away, face carefully devoid of expression, jaw tight.

She couldn't even bring herself to scramble for words to temper the damning confession. It was no more nor less than the truth, and she felt cleaner for having said it. Still, she wondered sadly if the compulsion to clear her soul was worth the sacrifice of the few shreds of friendship they had managed to salvage since that awful time.

The silence stretched on, now tight and fraught with tension. She was determined not to be the one to break it this time, not to let her uneasiness force her into meaningless chatter. He would talk to her if she forced the issue, not because she was his captain but because he'd understand her discomfort and try to ease it even now, and she didn't think she could take any compassion from him at this point, when they both knew how little she deserved any.

She only knew she'd fallen asleep when she woke up, and for an instant she was completely confused, utterly bewildered as to where she was, why she'd been sleeping sitting up in the blanketing darkness. Then she heard a breath, his breath, forced and ragged, and clarity returned with startling speed. The rain was falling still.

Tom let out another breath, loud to her ears though she could hear how he sought to keep the harsh sound quiet. She imagined she could feel his terror trapped in the cave with them like some wild, frightened animal scrabbling at the walls, and she wondered with dismay how long she'd slept while Tom sat and fought his fears in silence. Five hours, he'd said; five hours before he'd been screaming in that cell at Auckland. Surely, they'd been here nearly that long ...

A slight movement next to her, so small she might have missed it if she hadn't been so close to him, followed by a nearly silent gasp. He'd kicked his bad leg into the wall.

She responded without thinking. "Don't do that."

His entire body went rigid, either from simmering anger or embarrassment at having been caught at some bizarre self-mutilation.

"Tom-"

"I thought you were asleep."

"Not anymore."

"Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."

The words were bland, but his voice was tight and hostile. Both angry and embarrassed, then, Kathryn thought sadly. "Don't be. How long was I asleep?"

"A couple of hours, I think."

Not long enough, his tone accused. He didn't want her awake, didn't want to have to cover his panic for her. Especially for her.

"How's your ankle?"

"Still broken."

"Does it hurt?"

"Not enough."

It was a confession of a sort, an acknowledgment of weakness that surprised her, and she wondered faintly how much it had cost him to admit it. "I'm sure the storm will end soon."

"Right."

His breathing was thready and uneven, already too rapid and growing faster. Boldly, baldly, she placed her hand upon his chest and felt his heart pounding beneath her fingers, thudding in restless counterpoint to the more sedate rhythm of her own. "Is there anything I can do?"

"Not unless you can make the rain stop or the cave bigger."

He made no move to dislodge her hand, so she left it there, waiting in irrational expectation for his heartbeat to slow down. It didn't; if anything, it sped up further. The rest of his body followed suit, tremors taking a savage hold. She could just make out his hands, clenched tightly around his leg as if they could hold the shaking in ... or the screaming.

She felt utterly helpless. "We're all right, Tom," she whispered, finally. "We've got plenty of air. "

He choked out a laugh that was nearly a sob, and she wondered fearfully how close he was to breaking. "I know that."

"We're going to be fine."

"I know that." He was shaking fiercely now and wrapped his arms around himself a little tighter. "We're not in any danger. There's plenty of air, we can leave as soon as the storm ends, we're not really trapped. I know all of that. We're okay; I keep telling myself we're okay but I can't ... I just ..." He swallowed with difficulty, and the tremors gripping his body grew stronger. He moaned softly under his breath. "Shit."

She reached without thinking to pull him into her arms, and he flinched violently away. "Don't!"

Kathryn reeled backwards instantly. "I'm sorry."

"Don't ... it's not ... I just need space, Captain. Please ..." He gulped for air and bent his head back to his knee, still shaking. He was cursing under his breath, a steady litany of "fucks" that might have been amusing if she hadn't been so worried.

He was going to start screaming; she could hear the latent hysteria building in his voice with every strangled exhale. That they both knew the fear to be irrational was irrelevant. The urge to hold and comfort him was very strong now, and it took all her self-control not to reach out to him. It was only the sure knowledge that her touch would not be welcome — any touch, most likely, but certainly hers — that held her arms at her side.

She was desperate. "There must be something I can do."

"No." He was shaking furiously now, curled up into as tight a ball as he could manage, his voice muffled against his legs. "Shit. Shit, I'm sorry, Captain."

"For god's sake, don't apologize." She would have offered to switch places with him, but for the sure knowledge that given the chance, he'd go out into the storm, toxicity be damned. So, she waited, frozen, until he'd brought his breathing back under some semblance of control.

He took a shallow breath, then another, and lifted his head from still trembling knees to find her watching him, eyes fully adjusted to the dark. His voice was as cold as she'd ever heard it. "Did you watch then, too?"

She flinched back involuntarily at the rage in his eyes. "What?"

"There are security cameras in the brig. Did you watch me then, too?"

She wondered if it was a guess or not. It was barely possible that someone else knew, and had seen fit to tell him just to spite her. She had not been high on anyone's Favorite Captain list during that month. In any event, there was nothing to be gained by lying. It didn't seem possible to her that he could get any angrier. "Yes. A few times, that's all."

"Hope I put on a good show."

"No." She hadn't seen him show any emotion at all, had mostly seen him lying on the uncomfortable cot staring into nothingness, fixedly not looking at the walls. "It was a mistake, Tom. I was being vindictive. I almost let you out ..."

He tensed. "When?"

"After the first week. I came very close." Very, very close. She'd completed the authorization to give to Tuvok, but deleted it instead.

"What happened?"

She sighed. "The crew was not supportive of my handling of the situation. They even submitted a petition for your release."

He nodded. "B'Elanna told me."

"It's not a democracy, Tom. It can't be. If I'd released you early, it would have set an impossible precedent. And I checked with the Doctor. He said you were handling the confinement as well as could be expected, and that there was no real risk of permanent psychological damage."

Tom snorted bitterly. "Guess an irrational fear of the dark doesn't count as damage."

"What?" It was the first she'd heard of it. She hadn't suspected that there were other complications; had only noticed his increased tendency to fidget in the turbolift and his real reluctance to enter the Jefferies Tubes.

He shifted restlessly. "I can't sleep with the lights off anymore. I wake up, I don't know where I am, and I panic. You can imagine how well that goes over with B'Elanna. She had to replicate a sleep-mask."

His voice was quiet and defeated and she couldn't stand it. "Tom, I'm so, so sorry ..."

"Don't." Harsh and biting, the comment threw her back as if she'd been slapped. "Don't apologize again, Captain. I don't want to hear it. You wanted to make me suffer and you did. You don't get absolution, too."

She flinched and looked away, not bothering to deny the obvious.

He was silent for a few moments, simmering with anger. She could practically hear the rage churning inside him, and was unsurprised when he erupted into hostile speech. "How did you write it in your logs, Captain? How did you explain it?"

She was curiously affronted. "You disobeyed a direct order."

He snorted. "I know what I did. I'm not even denying your right to punish me. God knows I deserved it. But why only me?"

She looked at him blankly. "What are you talking about? I couldn't very well punish Riga. He was Monean."

He shook his head abruptly. "No. Why didn't you ever punish anyone else? Tuvok? Harry? Seven? For god's sake, you didn't discipline the Doctor after he helped those holograms, and he offered. They all disobeyed direct orders, Captain; the Doc nearly got us all killed. So why was I the only one who had to spend any time in the brig?" His voice was cold and cruel, and she was suddenly filled with the knowledge that if he'd been a lesser man, his anger could have easily slipped towards violence. And yet, when he spoke again, the anger was directed inwards more than out. "Do you really hate me that much?"

She was shocked. "No! No, for god's sake, I don't hate you!"

"No?"

"No. How can you think that?"

He chuckled mirthlessly. "How could I not?"

She closed her eyes miserably, unnaturally aware of the tremors still running through his body. She desperately wanted not to be having this conversation, and began for the first time to feel as Tom must, for surely the cave was far too small for the two of them, and there was nowhere near enough air. She struggled to take a breath without gasping, and looked up to find him watching her, bitter humor deep in his eyes.

"It's easier if you don't fight it," he said matter-of-factly, warmth and compassion conspicuously absent from his tone, and it was astonishingly painful to hear those cold, flat tones directed towards her.

She wanted to be elsewhere, away from this hateful little space, away from the accusation in his eyes and voice, but there was nowhere to go, no way to escape; God, was this how it felt, this gnawing sense of panic, this unbearable urgency to be up and out, to get away, out of this space that was too small and was, against all rational thought, growing smaller even as she watched? Was this how he felt, how he had felt for that whole month? How had he stood it? How had he lasted? She'd never really understood; all those times she'd watched him lying rigidly on the small cot, she'd thought she knew what it must be like for him — God, she delighted in it, at least in the beginning, felt vindictively happy because she'd wanted him to hurt and he was clearly hurting, but Lord, she hadn't realized he'd felt like this.

A fierce gust of wind blew a few stinging droplets of water against her face, and the panic abruptly dissipated on the accompanying breath of fresh air. She swallowed hard, feeling relieved and yet painfully guilty, knowing that the breeze brought no similar relief for Tom, nor would until the storm ended — God, please let it end — and realized with a sudden stark clarity that her betrayal of him was far, far worse than his of her. His actions on Monea had had nothing to do with her, not really, no matter that she had taken them that way. It had not been personal. She could not in clear conscience say the same.

"If it helps," she said softly, "you should know that Chakotay filed an official protest against the sentence. He thought the rank reduction was sufficient, that I was endangering the ship by removing you from the helm for a month." She was silent, filled with a quiet but intense self-loathing. "I don't think I'll be able to defend it against a board of inquiry."

He studied her, blue eyes cold and steady in the dim light. "Of course, you will. If we'd been home, I'd have been court martialed. Again. And the sentence would have been a hell of a lot longer than a month." He fidgeted again, restive in his obvious discomfort. She'd almost forgotten about the broken ankle. "If anything, they'll say you were too lenient."

"But knowing what I knew ..."

"No one will ever prove it."

"You could."

"Why?" His voice was flat and unemotional. "What would be the point? It's over with. I've even got my rank back—" He stopped suddenly, breath catching in his throat, and she felt him trembling.

"No," she said, answering the question he didn't have the strength to ask. "It wasn't like that. You earned your rank back, Tom. Don't doubt it."

He stared at her blankly for a minute before nodding once and turning away. He seemed disinclined to continue the conversation further, and Kathryn couldn't really blame him. Tom moved again, still restless, and his breath caught roughly in his throat.

"Your ankle?"

"Hurts like hell," he said tersely, voice tight. "At least it keeps me from thinking about being stuck in here." He sat still for a while, breath harsh and forced by sheer will into regimented consistency.

Kathryn watched him for a while, watched him turn all his strength to the enormous task of controlling his rebellious body, then turned away to watch the storm instead. It seemed to her to be easing up; though the rain continued to pour steadily down, the violent wind had ceased roaring, and the sky had begun, ever so slightly, to lighten.

"We'll be out soon," she said. "It's ending."

He didn't answer immediately, but she felt him move slightly, thought she heard a break in the tortured pattern of his breathing. "I'd have gone out into it, you know," he said finally. "If you hadn't been here, I'd have gone out into it."

"You wouldn't have."

"I would." It was calm, matter-of-fact, and chilling. "It's an illness, Captain. Not rational." He stared out into the rain that was easing as he spoke. "Pain ... helps. It's a distraction, at least. Works for a little while." He turned his gaze to her, eyes cool but lucid. "Anger's better."

She laughed once, hysterically, and dropped her head into her hands. "God. God, Tom, please don't do this."

He pulled her chin up, forced her to face him. "I'm not saying it makes it all right, Captain. I'm not saying I forgive you."

She swallowed. Outside, the storm was breaking as quickly as it had descended. Very, very soon they'd be out of here. "Then what are you saying?"

He shrugged. "If you hadn't been here, if you hadn't told me, I'd probably be dead." The sun finally broke through the clouds and cast a bright ray of yellow into the cave. Tom was removed and impassive as he faced her. "Maybe it will help you sleep better."

She breathed shallowly and held his gaze for as long as she could, before the polite indifference in his eyes grew too much to bear, and she pushed herself up and out of the cave in one swift movement. Tom followed slowly, stiffly, and she stood a few paces away as he limped out to a large boulder and rested against it, trembling with fatigue and pain, but breathing easier than he had for hours.

"If it's all right with you," he said, his eyes fixed on the distant horizon, "I'll wait here."

As he hadn't really been asking permission, it wasn't really necessary to answer. She walked past him to head back towards the shuttle and safety. It would take little more than an hour's rapid walking to reach the shuttle, and then mere minutes to return for him. It was time enough for both of them to compose themselves; time to fall back into the roles of a trusted Lieutenant and his Captain. He would never show it to anyone else, she knew. To her face, behind her back, he'd be just as he always had been: loyal, reliable, compassionate.

Any pain he felt would be, as ever, his alone.

She stopped and turned. He was resting against the boulder, eyes neutral. "You didn't scream," she said finally.

"I did," he said. "You just didn't hear it."