New Beginnings
By Pari106

Rated: PG-13 for language unbecoming

Disclaimer: Paramount owns it all - lock, stock, and Bolian. No offense or infringement intended.

Summary: AU. What if the Caretaker had done things a little differently? Chakotay, B'Elanna Torres, and Tom Paris meet aboard a Kazon ship.

Author's Note: This assumes B'Elanna didn't have what the Caretaker was looking for after all.

New Beginnings

She didn't know which was worse - the stench of death that clung to the cells into which they were thrown, or the stench of filth that clung to their captors.

B'Elanna Torres covered her face with the palms of her hand, trying to block the rancid smells before they could make her nauseous. She'd always hated the Klingon within her, but for once she didn't mind her dual heritage - this was definitely a time when that redundant stomach was coming in handy.

Beside her, B'Elanna's companion wasn't doing so well - he'd already been sick several times now, vomiting into a hole in the dirt floor beside him.

Then she changed her tune. 'Make that, neither one of us is doing so well,' she thought, placing a tender hand to her swollen jaw. They were both covered from chin to shin in bruises, she was certain. Chakotay, her companion and former captain of their Maquis ship, the Liberty, sported a nasty black eye and a face full of bruises so dark you could barely see the tribal tattoo on his left temple. B'Elanna had gotten lucky - she'd only received a split lip, but there was a moment there when things might have changed. She felt a chill race down her spine. The way those...what were they? Kazon. Yes, the way those filthy Kazon bastards had leered at her when they'd first materialized in this hellhole had made their intentions quite clear. Then B'Elanna smiled, remembering the way Chakotay had immediately stepped forward, offering to defend her honor from anyone who questioned it. Poor thing - that was how he'd gotten most of those ugly bruises. Either way, once the Kazon had learned that their half-Klingon prey could defend herself just as well they'd lost interest, throwing her in here with the rest of the men.

And now they waited.

For what, B'Elanna had no idea, but they waited all the same, sitting there in their cramped, dirty cages, sweating and bleeding and cursing whatever perverted deity had flung them in this direction. Around them, members of countless species she'd never even heard of stared at B'Elanna with interest. And B'Elanna, having been gawked at and ostracized for being different her entire life, glared back, making it clear that she would accept no shit from anyone. Even if that guy in the corner did look awful big and nasty.

Chakotay laughed, the sound turning into a little moan as his tortured face protested to the movement. "Down, B'Elanna," he teased, wiping a trickle of blood from his nose. "We've made enough friends here already."

B'Elanna smiled - a gesture that fell somewhere between a grin and a snarl.

"Don't worry, Chakotay. Just try introducing those Kazon guys to their spirit guides. Perhaps they'll find themselves and realize the errors of their ways." Chakotay grinned at the gentle ribbing...but not for long, because then their guards had returned - and the last thing either of them saw before darkness were the butts of the Kazon's large rifles.

It took exactly three slaps to wake Chakotay up. By the fourth, he was raging against the ropes that tied him to his chair and opening tired, aching eyes to glare at the Kazon standing over him.

Across from him, he could see B'Elanna, still unconscious, slumped over in her chair as another Kazon guard repeatedly struck her. She had a deep gash just above her right temple and was bleeding heavily.

"Hey! Keep your fucking hands off of her!" he yelled, but the guard beside him suddenly silenced him with a shocking blow.

"Silence!" he snarled, turning to his partner. "What did that...Bolian say these pitiful creatures were called?"

The Kazon leered over at Chakotay, watching the fire in the man's dark eyes as he struck B'Elanna again. She stirred, slightly.

"Humans," the Kazon replied, slurring the word as though it were an insult.

Jaugh laughed. 'Humans'. Even the name of their species sounded weak and inferior.

"Listen, *Human*," he commanded Chakotay. "I am Jaugh of the Kazon Ogla, Commander of this vessel. You and your...companion, here, have been given to us by the Caretaker. Apparently he finds you as worthless as I do. If you behave, you will survive and make a good slave for one of our camps on Ocampa. If not..."

Jaugh backhanded Chakotay, then sent a punishing blow to his midsection, leaving the large man breathless and leaning heavily into his restraints.

Then the Kazon turned to his companion.

"Untie them, then help Kavin bring in the other one when they're done with him." The man complied, and Chakotay and B'Elanna were left lying in the center of their new, solitary cell, alone.

"Chakotay! Chakotay, are you alright?" B'Elanna crawled over to where her friend lay, face-down, on the ground, but he was already trying to sit up as she approached.

"Yeah, I think so." He held a hand to his head. Suddenly, everything seemed to be spinning...

Then they lost their chance to say anything else as their guards were returning once again.

Chakotay took B'Elanna's hand, pulling her close to him and preparing for whatever new assault their captors planned to attempt. His posturing seemed to be for nothing, however, as the two Kazon who entered their cell came not to fight...but to deliver a new prisoner. They drug the man in by his arms, his whole body hanging limp, his legs scraping against the floor as they went. As Chakotay and B'Elanna watched, they dropped the man in the corner of the cell, causing B'Elanna to gasp on their way out when she saw their clothes and the man's blood that covered them.

The two of them hurried over to the unmoving form, not knowing what to expect. All they could see was matted blonde hair and a Starfleet uniform.

'Starfleet!' Chakotay felt a spurt of surprise as they knelt at the man's side. There were Starfleet officers *here* in this place? Humans besides themselves? The man's uniform was badly torn and dirty and spotted with blood, but Chakotay could still see the chest rising and falling as the man breathed. He was still alive.

Without a word, he and B'Elanna turned the man over, and B'Elanna gasped as she saw the condition of the man's face, which was worse than Chakotay's. Apparently, whoever this man was, he'd given their Kazon captors more trouble than they'd liked. It looked as though they'd stopped just short of beating the man to death.

"Here, help me get him onto that cot over there," Chakotay ordered, and with a little effort the two of them managed to move the prone figure to a slightly less-filthy surface than the cell's dirt floor.

Quickly, Chakotay began running his hands over the man's body, feeling for broken bones and internal bleeding. He wasn't a doctor - and without equipment he doubted he'd be much help even if he was, but he'd had some first aid training and he figured it couldn't hurt to know how bad off their new companion really was.

In a moment, Chakotay breathed a sigh of relief. "I feel a couple of broken ribs; looks like they pulled his shoulder out of socket, too. There isn't any internal bleeding, though...I think."

"What's wrong with his hands?"

Chakotay looked down and the man's hands, which B'Elanna were holding in her own. He cursed under his breath and examined one closer.

"It looks like they broke all his fingers."

B'Elanna was immediately enraged, and she bared her teeth in her fury. "PaTaqs!"

Chakotay nodded, silently agreeing with her colorful Klingon adjective for the Kazon. It didn't matter that this man was Starfleet, and that, if he was here with them in the Delta Quadrant, then he must have been sent to capture them. What mattered was, they'd been brought here against their will - all of them, presumably. This man was human; one of them, and neither Chakotay nor B'Elanna took lightly to seeing those disgusting Kazon use one of their own as a punching bag.

Soon they set to work, removing the man's jacket and turtleneck to tear into strips for bandages. Chakotay bandaged the man's side, then he and B'Elanna moved him into a sitting position, replacing the short-sleeved gray top he'd had on under his turtleneck. Luckily, the Kazon had atleast had the small bit of humanity to bring them some water and they were able to clean the man's wounds and their own.

When they'd done everything they could, B'Elanna and Chakotay sat back, sharing what was left of the water to drink. They did so sparingly, saving some for their companion when he awaked.

"Who do you think he is?" B'Elanna suddenly asked. Her eyes were on their mysterious cellmate.

Chakotay shrugged. "I don't know. He didn't have any pips on his collar. But then again, he didn't have a communicator, either."

B'Elanna snorted. "That says a lot. They stripped us of everything except the clothes on our backs. They probably did the same to him."

Chakotay nodded, frowning in concentration. "I can't help but get the feeling I've seen him somewhere before."

B'Elanna raised an eyebrow. "With that face? I was hoping the Kazon had done that to him."

Chakotay sent her a chastising look. "You know what I mean." Then he shrugged again. "I don't know - maybe I'm imagining things."

B'Elanna didn't comment. She looked at the man again, disturbed to find she was getting the same feeling. She shook her head.

"Maybe we've been hit upside the head by one too many Kazon."

Chakotay chuckled.

"Maybe so."

Lost in the surrealistic world of nightmares and dreams, Tom Paris struggled with an army of attackers - Starfleet, Maquis, Andorian, Cardassian, Kazon. He relived the first few moments before unconsciousness claimed him again and again - and when that no longer served to adequately torment him, he found himself back in New Zealand or amidst a nasty bar brawl on some back alley in Marseilles. For a while he lay bleeding on some Cardassian starship and then he was aboard a Federation shuttlecraft barreling towards a moon called Caldik Prime. And all the way throughout, he thrashed in his sleep, cussing in at least twelve different languages that B'Elanna could recognize - the others were unfamiliar to her.

The half-Klingon raised an eyebrow at one particularly colorful term the man had used in her native tongue. 'I lived on Quo'Nos a full year as a child and even *I've* never heard that one.' B'Elanna had volunteered to watch over their self-appointed charge while Chakotay slept, since he had - after all - obtained the worst of the injuries out of the two and needed rest more desperately. But their patient had obviously undergone an ordeal worse than even they had imagined - he thrashed about as though he were fighting hell itself, and soon B'Elanna had to wake her companion and have him help her hold the man down before he ended up hurting himself worse than he already was.

"What should we do?"

"I don't know, but we've got to do something fast. He's starting to draw attention from the guards."

"I've tried everything short of slugging him one. Quite frankly, I don't think he could take anymore blows to the head without suffering brain damage."

"Well, he doesn't have a concussion. Just keep calling out to him. Maybe we can get him to wake up slowly..."

Meanwhile, Tom was back with the Kazon once again, watching as they broke his fingers one by one. Only now, the Kazon looked more like those damned Cardies. Gul Tulcadt leered over him as his officers cut the fingers from Tom's hands one after the other as the young pilot begged and pleaded. 'God, Oh God, no, not my fingers...they can't take my fingers!'

Tom struck out at his attacker, swinging his fist with all his might...and coming sharply into contact with Chakotay's face.

Tom frowned when he heard a voice yell "Chakotay!" There weren't any women on this ship...and when did Gul Tulcadt change his name?

"Or maybe not," Chakotay drawled. Damn. He hadn't thought there was a place left on his face that wasn't aching...and now there really wasn't. 'Starfleet has one hell of a right hook,' he thought.

B'Elanna took a look at Chakotay, then rushed back over to the man lying on the cot. He was slowly, but surely, trying to open his swollen eyes. And as consciousness returned, B'Elanna could almost feel the panic welling in him when he was unsuccessful in doing so.

"Shhh, shhh, it's okay." She felt him tense, but she didn't remove her hand from his shoulder. "It's okay - you're with friends now."

"Why...what happened to my eyes?"

For the first time, B'Elanna heard the man speak...and was surprised to feel a resulting spark of sexual recognition. B'Elanna shook her head, frowning. The man was beaten and bloodied, his face hidden behind bandages, his voice low and hoarse, but something about him...something in his tone when he spoke, in his presence, even when he was unconscious, somehow seemed to tug at her...

B'Elanna shrugged the strange, surprising feelings away. 'You really *have* been hit on the head one too many times, Torres.'

Finally, she turned back to her Starfleet cellmate. "They're bandaged," she explained. "You took a pretty bad beating. We're being held by some people called the Kazon. They said the Caretaker sent us here. Do you remember?"

The man didn't answer. He brought one hand to his masked face, wincing at the movement. B'Elanna winced, too, at the sight of his bandaged, broken fingers.

"I'm Chakotay. This is B'Elanna Torres. We're from a Maquis ship the Caretaker brought here to the Delta Quadrant."

B'Elanna was dismayed to realize she'd forgotten all about Chakotay being there with them in the cell. She felt the man before her tense, as well, and tried to soothe him.

"It's okay. We know you're Starfleet. The Kazon took your communicator and your pips, though. It doesn't matter if you came here to find us. I think the Kazon made that issue pretty well mute, don't you."

Then Chakotay smiled, his tone teasing. "Unless, of course, you still plan on bringing us in?"

Their cellmate obviously caught the joke - the sound that came from him was something like a laugh.

"Yeah...consider yourselves captured." Both Chakotay and Torres smiled.

"Do you think you can sit up?" she asked.

Tom hesitated a moment, then nodded, and the others helped him move into a sitting position. He shook his head. Imagine? He was here with the great, noble Chakotay...and for once the man wasn't treating him like scum. Hell, he might very well have saved Tom's life. And what was the woman he said was with him? B''lanna Torres --the engineer on his ship, if Tom remembered correctly from the reports Janeway gave him. Janeway...Tom swallowed, thinking about the one woman who'd ever given a damn about whether or not he rotted in that prison Starfleet had cast him into. And he thought about Harry - Harry Kim, the Voyager's Opps officer, green and naïve and fresh out of the Academy. Had all of them...

"Are the others...the other officers of my ship? Did they..."

B'Elanna interrupted him quickly. "We don't think so. Most of our crew is here, as well, but they've been put in different cells. From what we gathered from the other prisoners here, the Caretaker only sends his somewhat... less than desirable abductees to the Kazon."

"You mean the criminals?" Tom clarified, laughing when he sensed her stiffen at this.

"Hey, I didn't mean anything by it - I'm here, too, aren't I?"

"I think this Caretaker of theirs must slip up every now and then," Chakotay said. "You're here...and one of our officers isn't - a Vulcan named Tuvok."

Tom didn't comment.

"Besides, who is this Caretaker to judge who's right and who's wrong?" Torres asked, still angry at Tom's harmless, but irritating insinuation. "Just because we're not Starfleet, that makes us criminals?"


"No, Chakotay. Who the hell is this Caretaker? And what the hell gives him the right to turn us over to these PaTaqs?!"

"Maybe he thought he'd teach the Kazon a lesson. I'd certainly hate to have you angry at me."

Tom's comment was nonchalant, and despite herself, B'Elanna found her lips twitching. Chakotay laughed.

"So would I," he agreed, and B'Elanna hit him.


" you have a name, Starfleet?" she asked, reluctantly letting her anger slip away.

Tom hesitated. What the hell did he say now? These two had been good to him - they deserved the truth. But what would Chakotay do if he found out this was Tom Paris he'd just wasted him time and concern on? Tom Paris - the lying, womanizing, alcoholic mercenary that had led Starfleet right to him? Tom swallowed. What would B'Elanna do? Janeway's file said she was half-Klingon - Tom could certainly do without that sort of enemy right now. But what would he tell them? For some reason, the thought of lying to them was distasteful to Tom - and that made him laugh. Since when did lying bother Tom Paris? He'd been doing it all his life - why stop now? But, for some reason, he did. He just sat there and didn't respond.

Chakotay raised a brow. "What? Afraid to give yourself away? Hate to break it to you, but if Starfleet sent you here to spy on us..." He fingered the top of Tom's uniform. "..they kind of blew the deal by sending you in uniform."

"As if spying on us now would do you any good. It'd take you seventy-five years to get your reports back to headquarters," Torres mumbled.

Tom remained silent, and Chakotay shrugged.

"Whatever. Play it your way."


"What are we gonna do, beat it out of him?" Chakotay asked, and despite the tension that had suddenly entered the atmosphere, everyone smiled.

Then Tom winced. Even moving his lips hurt. He groaned.

"You might be successful," he admitted. "I don't think there's a part of my body that doesn't ache, and if you can find it...I'll tell you anything you want to know."

Chakotay smiled. "I'll have to keep that in mind."

During their time with the Kazon time passed - B'Elanna was certain it did. However, there was little to distinguish one day from the next. They never left their cell, and guards came only to deliver them food or to take one of them away. So far, they'd taken Chakotay twice and herself once. She'd been lucky yet again - they'd slapped her around a little, nothing more. But both Starfleet and Chakotay had railed against having her taken until both men had ended up in the 'interrogation' room once again. Tom came back spitting teeth, and they'd broken one of Chakotay's legs. Through it all, the Kazon claimed to be taking them to a mining camp to work, but Torres doubted they'd be much good in a mine between Chakotay's one good leg and Starfleet's mangled hands.

Apparently, the Kazon had decided that their captives were hardly worth the energy, so they'd taken to leaving the cells lighted for only an hour or two a day. And so, Chakotay, B'Elanna, and Starfleet were left, alone and in the dark, with nothing to do for days at a time. The steady sound of the engines told them that the ship hadn't stopped, but other than that, the outside world ceased to effect the three cellmates. Mostly, they used this time to heal...and to talk.

They talked a lot. About everything. Sometimes they argued - more for the purpose of having something to do than anything else. At first, they'd avoided the really controversial issues, but as they became familiar with one another, they began to actually seek out the touchy subjects; to try and break the monotony of captivity. At first, B'Elanna was certain the battle lines would be clearly drawn by their political affiliations. Starfleet vs. Maquis - the endless dispute. But, again, as time wore on, they began to realize that none of them were as easily categorized as they might have thought. There were times when it was every man - or woman - for themselves. And there were also times when B'Elanna found herself on the losing end of an argument with both her male companions, who seemed to enjoy baiting her into a lopsided debate. Sometimes --a lot of times, she admitted - B'Elanna found herself sitting there in the dark, listening to the man they only called 'Starfleet' speak, amazed. It was like he was reading her mind; they seemed to have so much in common. She would just sit there, listening to him, falling in love a little more every day and fighting it the whole time. And as she listened, she learned a lot about him...though, sometimes, she felt as though she weren't really learning anything at all. There was still something very reserved about Starfleet - something he was holding back. She didn't know what was going on in his head; what it was he wasn't saying. She only knew that she wasn't buying that whole I-don't-trust-Maquis bit anymore than Chakotay was. Perhaps he just didn't like opening up. Perhaps he'd had a rough time once and now kept himself at a distance as a general rule? That made sense. It also explained a lot. And B'Elanna was sure it had something to do with the Cardassians. He hadn't said as much, but there was something in his voice when he spoke of the war; something she'd never heard in a 'fleeter's voice before. There was something in his body language whenever she or Chakotay mentioned the Cardies. There was even something different about his silence during such discussions.

And then there were the nightmares.

The man had a nightmare practically every time he closed his eyes. She had no idea how he'd made it past Federation psych tests. And from the way he thrashed about in his sleep, the things he said, B'Elanna didn't think it was Kazon he was fighting in his dreams. Neither she nor Chakotay ever mentioned it. Perhaps because they wanted to respect their new friend's privacy, or perhaps because they simply didn't want to know what Starfleet would say if they did. Perhaps both.

And Starfleet wasn't the only one she was learning about - there was a lot she hadn't known about Chakotay either. Sure they'd been together a long time - but they'd been fighting a war, after all. There wasn't much time in the middle of the war to just sit down and talk. There wasn't time for anything.

'Well, there's certainly plenty of time to talk now,' B'Elanna thought.

Then one day she and Starfleet were having another of their infamous arguments. This one was about soup or something equally ridiculous. Chakotay was meditating. Torres had told Starfleet how she'd tried to kill her spirit guide and Chakotay had tried to get Starfleet in touch with his own. And so, she and Starfleet were arguing and suddenly Chakotay came out of his trance and interrupted the debate.

"I think I have the answer," he said.

Chakotay's companions quieted and B'Elanna tried not to laugh at the face the other man must have been making underneath his bandages. The Maquis captain had always gotten philosophical after a vision quest.

"The answer to what?" she asked since Starfleet wasn't responding.

"The answer to why we're here. The reason the Caretaker sent us to the Kazon and not the others."

"Pray tell." B'Elanna smiled.

But then B'Elanna felt Starfleet tense and sobered. If *he* was taking Chakotay seriously than something was definitely up.


"Like we did anything to anger him!"

"No. I don't mean the Caretaker's anger. Our anger. I think the Caretaker sensed anger in each of us - telepathically or empathically somehow. He separated us from the others because of that anger."

The three of them were silent a moment, and B'Elanna was thinking that he might have a point. It would certainly explain why the Vulcan, Tuvok, hadn't been sent with them. Chakotay's theory made sense; there was no way to prove it, but it did make sense.

Then Starfleet laughed. It wasn't a particularly pleasant laugh, B'Elanna noticed. It sounded cynical and just a bit...defensive?

"You're saying this Caretaker looked deep into our souls and saw what bad, angry people we were and decided to punish us for that?"

Chakotay shifted. Starfleet always seemed to be able to put him on the defensive; to push his buttons. But after spending weeks talking with the man, Chakotay had learned not to take the young officer's attitude personally.

"I'm saying that we each had a lot of anger in us. I was angry at Starfleet..."

"Was?" Starfleet interrupted, but Chakotay continued.

"Torres was angry at the world, in general. You're angry at your father..." Starfleet turned away, despite the fact that the others couldn't see his face anyhow.

"I think that if the Caretaker could send us 70,000 light-years across space than I'm sure he could recognize anger when he saw it, and he judged his own conclusions based on that."

"His conclusions being that we deserved to rot in this hellhole just because we were angry?"

That was from B'Elanna. Chakotay sighed.

"I'm afraid so. I know it doesn't make much sense to us..."

"You're damned right it doesn't!" Tom was suddenly angry. What the hell was wrong with Chakotay? Why couldn't he just let things be? It didn't matter why they were here, or how. Chances were, they were going to die here. Why make that prospect any more gruesome by trying to seek out the warped purpose behind it? And he said as much to Chakotay and B'Elanna.

But Chakotay was angry, too. What the hell was wrong with Starfleet? He was so damned moody. Why did any little thing seem to set him off?

"Why?" he laughed. "You're Starfleet, Starfleet. You tell us. You people are always setting out to seek new worlds...all that bullshit. The 'why's have always been your biggest priority - even bigger than that of protecting lives or ending wars."

From her seat on one of the cell's benches, B'Elanna stiffened. Shit! They were going to get into it again.

But, to her surprise, Starfleet didn't say anything. She thought Chakotay would back off, too, but the older man was tired of retreating. She heard him rise.

"But you don't want to talk about that, do you Starfleet? For an officer of the Federation, you sure as hell don't like to be reminded, do you?"

Tom's fists clenched.

"Just shut up, Chakotay. You don't know what you're talking about."

"So tell me!"

Somehow this discussion had gone from one thing to something else entirely.

"You're a Starfleet officer, but you won't even say what department you're in. You wear that uniform, but you won't even tell us your rank. What the hell is the problem? Why is it you can talk about how you're daddy used to slap you and your mom around when you were a kid, but you can't mention the war with Carda..."

And that's as far as Chakotay got. Later, he admitted to himself that mentioning the man's family was out of line; a bad move. But at the moment, he never saw it coming. The next thing he knew, Starfleet's fist was connecting with his chin and he was down on the ground.

"I said to shut the fuck up!"

In a movement, Torres was at Chakotay's side, searching for him in the dark.

"Damn it, Starfleet, calm down!"

"Then back off! Both of you..." Tom sighed, running a hand over what would have been his face if it weren't still bandaged.

"Christ! It's always the same with you Maquis! Starfleet did this...Starfleet didn't do that. Get over it! You had some bad experiences with the Cardies? Well, too damned bad! Have you ever heard of a good experience with a Cardassian? You think that wearing this uniform means I'm happy about how the war is turning out? Hell no! But calling yourself Maquis and blowing things up doesn't make things any better... I should know!"

Chakotay and B'Elanna were stunned by the intensity of the man's outrage. It was probably the single longest, most passionate statement they'd ever heard him make. Chakotay frowned.

"What do you mean, you should know?"

But Starfleet was claming up again, and B'Elanna laughed. "Uh-uh. Don't just throw all that out there and then stop. What are you talking about, Starfleet? What do you know about Cardassians?" She meant to anger him into talking again, and she could hear the struggle to retain control in his voice.

"I don't want to talk about it," Tom said, slowly. And as moments passed, he didn't. The silence seemed to stretch out indefinitely.

Finally, B'Elanna frowned, reaching for the canteen lying near Chakotay's bench. She ripped a small piece of fabric off of her already tattered clothing, wet it, and helped Chakotay with his newly re-split lip.

'Fine, let the bastard stew in silence,' she thought.

And then he began to talk.

Tom mentally cussed himself backwards and front. Who the hell did he think he was fooling? Hiding behind anonymity all this time as if that were a long-term possibility? Eventually the swelling and the abrasions to his face would have to heal - eventually he would have to take the bandages off. What happened if Chakotay recognized him then? Hell, they were already growing suspicious. This was just stupid.

Still, Tom couldn't regret keeping his silence these last few weeks. No doubt it would only make him look even more like a bastard when the truth did finally come out, but it had been worth it. For the first time in his life, he could talk to someone - just talk, without having to cover his ass. Well, at least without having to cover too much. For the first time in his life, he wasn't being admired or despised for one reason alone: his name. For once, he felt accepted - even if he had to omit a few things about himself to do it.

Tom cussed, rubbing the knuckles he'd used to punch Chakotay. He shouldn't have hit the man. Not just because he regretted getting violent with the man - he did. But also because it hurt like hell. Men with broken fingers shouldn't throw punches. Over time, the pain in his hands had dulled into a numbed ache - now it flared to life.

Tom cussed again. 'Be done with it already, Tommy. Just tell 'em your name and get it over with. What do you care?'

That was right - what did he care? This was Chakotay, after all. Was he actually worried about impressing a man like Chakotay? That sanctimonious asshole?

Tom sighed. Yes, he *was* actually worried about impressing Chakotay. When they'd met, years ago, in some bar in Marseilles, Tom had disliked the guy instantly. Not because he was a bad sort, really. But he was just so sure of himself; so certain in his convictions. So much like his father. The two of them had clashed throughout Tom's entire brief yet illustrious career with the Maquis. Then when Tom was caught, he'd blamed Chakotay for it. Blamed him a whole year into his incarceration. Prison was hell for a man with Tom's reputation - it had been a never-ending succession of challenges and conflicts. And Tom had blamed it all on the large Indian sitting with him in this cell.

But being here with the Kazon had changed Tom. It had taught him a lot about the other man; a lot about the man's nature, about why he did what he did and believed what he believed. Hell, Tom liked the guy. Crazy, unexpected as it way...he actually liked him. He was moral and compassionate and enlightened...and damned if he wasn't a thing like Owen Paris. And as for B'Elanna...

Tom winced as a pain hit somewhere other than his hand.

Well, he didn't even want to think about B'Elanna. Being here all this time with her, listening to her talk, hearing the odd, endearing mix of strength and vulnerability in her was too much for Tom. Too enticing. B'Elanna made him want to think about fate and second chances and all that other bullshit he hadn't thought about twice since Caldik Prime. She made him want to hope...and hope wasn't a luxury Tom could afford.

'That's right, Tommy. You don't stand a chance in hell with her - or with Chakotay. Once they find out who you are, they'll just as soon want to shoot you as look at you. They don't really like you. They're just like everybody else. So what do you care? Huh? What do you care?'

He didn't care. Tom clenched his jaw in determination. He didn't give a shit whether or not Chakotay or B'Elanna liked him or not. And he wasn't going to play the fool any longer - he was going to tell them his name, let them take their shots, and be done with it. He wasn't going to bare his soul any longer; wasn't going to tell them the kind of things he'd never told anybody, much less his self-declared enemies. Wasn't going to talk about the Cardassians...

And so, Tom was the most surprised out of all three of them when he did exactly that...

At first Chakotay wasn't sure he was hearing correctly. Starfleet was talking so low, almost as if he were talking to himself. He didn't announce his intentions, didn't stop to give the others a chance to realize what he was doing - he just started talking.

He talked...and they listened to every word.

Starfleet told him the whole story - about how he'd left Starfleet and, soon after, left Earth. About how the Cardassians had been waiting for him. He didn't know how long they'd kept him, only that he was the only one on the shuttle to survive. Then they'd left him to die on some moon. He would have, too, Starfleet said, if he hadn't been found by the moon's natives.

"I should have known they'd come for me," he was saying. "Hell, maybe I did. I wasn't exactly fond of my life at that point...but then...I'd seen what it did to my father when those bastards captured him. I imagined what he must have went through. But I never actually got to see it...until then..."

Beside him, Chakotay thought B'Elanna had started to cry. Maybe Starfleet was crying, too, he didn't know. Didn't want to know. He felt sick, himself. The inhumanity of the Cardassians was legendary - Chakotay had seen it up close in the people who'd survived such ordeals. He'd never actually undergone one himself, however. And at first, Starfleet allowed him to continue misunderstanding the difference between the two; he kept his story short and vague. But as he got caught up in the narrative, he began to let his guards down, and Chakotay began to learn much more about being held by the Cardassians than he had ever desired.

It took a few moments for Chakotay to realize that Starfleet had stopped talking. The three of them just sat there, silent, as Starfleet's words settled uneasily in their minds.

What did you say to something like that? What could you possibly say to someone who has revealed such things to you? Somehow, 'thanks for sharing' didn't quite seem to cut it. So Chakotay and B'Elanna said nothing.

Then there wasn't a chance to say anything more on the subject because all hell broke loose.