New Beginnings, part II
By Pari106

Disclaimer: Paramount owns them, yadda, yadda, yadda (you get the idea).

Rated: PG-13 (I guess) for a little naughty language.


New Beginnings, part II

For a moment, Tom was lost in the memories he'd just shared with his cellmates. After that moment had passed, reality hit, and he reeled with disbelief. Did he just do that? Did he actually say the things he thought he did?

Apparently he did - the silence in the room was thick and uneasy. Tom groaned. It wasn't hard to shrug off the emotions remembering stirred up, but Tom tried. It hadn't been his intention to burden Chakotay or B'Elanna with the demons of his past. He wasn't even sure if he'd have been tempted to, had they not been here with those filthy Kazon. This cell, the beatings - it was all just too reminiscent for him of another time, another place. If he were still on Voyager he might not be as disturbed.

'But you're not on Voyager, buddy boy, so suck it up,' he ordered.

He opened his mouth to say something, anything to break the tension that had filled the air.

And then all hell broke loose.

Tom was slightly more forewarned than the others. They knew something was wrong when the lights came on - a full eight hours ahead of time - and then flickered, going dead again. Then the whole world seemed to tumble as the ship was obviously hit; the sounds of battle faintly distinguishable in the background. Tom hadn't needed all this to alert him to the fact that their hosts had changed coarse, however. He was a pilot - he could *feel* any move a ship made the second it was getting ready to do it.

Therefore, he was able to yell, "Hold on!", before the ship actually started to shake, giving his cellmates time - just barely - to grab onto the bench bolted nearby.

And then everything was silent once again... until the sound of phaser-fire was suddenly replaced with another.

The three listened carefully. "What the hell is that?" asked B'Elanna. The answer came to all of them simultaneously.

"A Transporter."

Tom walked over to the cell door, concentrating on the humming sound in the distance. It was growing nearer.

"It sounds like someone's performing a mass beam-out. I can hear it getting closer, cell by cell."

His companions joined him. Hope began to dawn, irresistibly. "Do you think that maybe Voyager..." She didn't even dare speak it aloud, but Chakotay nodded anyhow.

"I just hope it's them and not the Caretaker again."

Tom shook his head, B'Elanna's anxious optimism catching. "No, that's not the Caretaker's beam. It sounds more like Voyager's." He hoped. He hoped his pain-dazed mind wasn't simply imagining things.

They listened to the sound of mass transport growing nearer and nearer their cell, which was at the last row of cells in the brig, they knew. It grew nearer and nearer...

"Maybe we might not be seeing those Kazon mining camps, after all," Chakotay said.

...and then the beam-outs stopped.

Chakotay, B'Elanna, and Tom waited and waited...and nothing. And then the sounds of battle resumed. The three cellmates barely breathed, and amongst it all the sound of hope dwindling eclipsed the sound of phaser-fire that echoed all around them.

"Or maybe not," Chakotay whispered.




On board the U.S.S. Voyager, Captain Kathryn Janeway clung to the railing around the command center of the bridge. Commander Tuvok had replaced the lieutenant at Tactical who had been knocked unconscious by the last hit. Ensign Harry Kim stuck to his post at Opps, and Lieutenant Hamilton was at the conn, desperately trying to keep the ship out of the Kazon's line of fire.

"Report!" Janeway called over the din of battle.

"Shields holding at sixty percent, Captain. Damage on decks ten and eleven; minor casualties. The Kazon have managed to reestablish their shields and weapons systems."

Janeway's voice held a bit of wry amusement. "I've noticed, Mr. Kim," she drawled as yet another blast rocked the ship.

"Mr. Tuvok, how many did we get?"

The Commander looked up from his console. "Almost all missing members of the crews have been recovered, Captain, with the exception of three persons located in the ship's last cell block. Readings there show three humanoid life signs - two human and one human with Klingon DNA."

Janeway smiled. That would be them, then - Captain Chakotay and his engineer, B'Elanna Torres. And Tom Paris?

"Can we get those Kazon shields down again?"

Tuvok cocked his head to the side. Calculating odds, no doubt.

"Perhaps. They will no doubt be prepared for our previous tactics. We may be able to disable their shields, but for how long I cannot say. We may only have time for a single beam-out."

Janeway swore. That wouldn't do. She was almost compelled to ask 'Are you sure?', but remembered who she was talking to. Tuvok is Vulcan, after all - they're always sure. The Commander raised an eyebrow, as if sensing - and simultaneously confirming - her thoughts.

The Captain sighed. "Very well, then. Assemble a team, Commander. We'll send you over, you get our people out of there. Swipe a Kazon shuttle if you need to. We'll be waiting."

Tuvok nodded, comming a couple of security officers to join him in Transporter Room One. As he strode to the turbolift, Harry stepped out from behind his console, as well.

"Captain?"

Janeway met the nervous Ensign with a raised brow.

"Yes, Mr. Kim?"

"Permission to join the away team, Captain."

Janeway just looked at him a moment, curious. Then she recalled that Harry had been the one to bring attention to Paris' absence in the first place. Come to think of it, she'd seen the two together several times since they'd boarded the ship. 'Tom Paris making friends with a green, young ensign - imagine that.'

The Captain nodded.

"Very well, Mr. Kim. Join Tuvok in Transporter Room One. And take a medkit - they might need it."

Kim grinned, a huge, infectious type grin, and Janeway grinned back.

"Yes, ma'am," he said, striding off.

Janeway shook her head, still smiling. She had a good crew, and -hopefully- by the time the away team got back, it would be a bigger crew. Bigger by at least three.

Janeway sat down in the Captain's seat, and waited.





After several moments of waiting, it became apparent that whatever fate had befallen their comrades on the ship had overlooked Chakotay, B'Elanna, and Tom.

Finally, Tom walked over and slouched onto one of the benches.

B'Elanna was enraged. She flung herself at the door, teeth bared.

"You Kazon bastards! What the hell did you do with the others?"

Chakotay tried to calm her down, to keep her from attacking the door and hurting herself.

"Shhh. B'Elanna, stop! We don't know that it wasn't Voyager rescuing people off the ship."

"Yeah, like Voyager would go to battle for a bunch of Maquis. They didn't before! And if it was Voyager, then why are we still here?"

"Maybe they left us behind."

That came from Starfleet, and both Chakotay and B'Elanna whirled to look at him.

"Why would you say that? They're your crew."

"What is the deal with you, anyway, Starfleet?"

Tom didn't say anything - and a moment later he didn't think he'd have to. Suddenly, the door to the cell blew outwards. There was a din of phaser-fire and screams, then the three watched through the smoke and fire as four people entered.

Chakotay's first impulse was to rush the group. If the Kazon had come for them, than they'd get a fight before they got them. But B'Elanna stopped him.

"Wait! Chakotay, it's Tuvok!"

"Tuvok!"

By now their visitors had joined them on the other side of the cell and Chakotay could see them clearly - three humans...and their Vulcan science officer. B'Elanna scrambled to her feet, helping Chakotay to rise, as well.

"Tuvok, how did you..."

But then, Chakotay noticed something else. The three men and woman that stood before him were all dressed in Starfleet uniform - even Tuvok. B'Elanna made the same realization at the same time. She barely noticed as one of the officers hurried over to Starfleet, medkit in hand. At first, she thought, 'Tuvok must have joined Voyager's crew.' But then she saw the pips on his collar - three of them, signifying the rank of Commander. Why would a Starfleet captain make a Maquis science officer her first officer?

"You were one of them," Chakotay said, quietly, anger burning but contained. "All this time, you were spying for Starfleet. What were you going to do, Tuvok? Deliver us into their waiting hands?"

Two of Tuvok's officers backed out of the cell at his order, securing the corridor outside.

"I hardly think that now is the appropriate time for such a discussion," Tuvok said, but Chakotay stilled him with a hand on his arm. The message was clear: he wasn't going anywhere until he got an answer.

Tuvok raised an eyebrow in traditional Vulcan form. "Very well. I must regretfully inform you that, yes, I was working undercover for Starfleet. I was Captain Janeway's Tactical officer. My mission was to infiltrate your ship, collect information on your activities, and then to, as you said, "deliver you into their waiting hands", yes."

Chakotay shook his head, his mouth a thin, angry line, but he let the Vulcan go. Then a gasp from B'Elanna drew his attention elsewhere.




As soon as he'd gotten the chance, Harry went to Tom's side. Tom didn't know whether he was happy, or embarrassed.

'Oh, the hell with it,' he thought, and grinned. So he was happy to see the kid - that didn't mean he was going soft.

"Harry," he greeted. "Am I ever glad to see you."

Ensign Kim smiled, but then the smile disappeared, as he grew closer and saw Tom's condition. "Jesus..."

The older man's clothes were dirty and bloodstained, just like the Maquis', and his face and hands were bandaged with strips of cloth. The only way he'd seen Harry approach was through a small slit in the bandages around his eyes.

"Damn, Paris..." Harry didn't notice Tom's quick, nervous glance towards Chakotay and B'Elanna when he used his name. "...what the hell did they do to you?"

Tom attempted something resembling a laugh. He was aiming at nonchalant, but didn't quite make it. "Oh, you know me, Har. I make friends so easily...' Then he winced as the ensign began removing the bandages from his hands.

"Sorry. I've got a medkit. You'll have to get to Sickbay right away, but I can at least take care of the worst now..." Harry paled as the wrappings fell away and he saw Tom's broken fingers. But Tom was getting a little annoyed. He didn't like being fussed over - he'd had so little experience with the situation.

"I know, I know. I'm not gonna win any beauty pageants. Just get on with it, already, or do I have to take that dermal regenerator away from you?"

Harry laughed, shaking his head. He'd forgotten Tom's odd, caustic brand of humor. It was good to get the chance to remember.

"Alright, already. Hold still."

Harry was able to heal the abrasions that covered Tom's face and hands. He reduced all the swelling, and gave Tom something for the pain. He had to work quickly, however - they only had a few moments and then the group needed to head to a cargo bay and get out of there before the Kazon caught on to what they were doing and sent reinforcements for the guards they'd battled outside. Harry told Paris that the rest would have to be taken care of on the ship - he couldn't reset the bones in Tom's hands or perform any of the other more complicated procedures with a medkit.

Meanwhile, Tom was just waiting to see Chakotay and B'Elanna's reactions. Halfway through Harry's administrations he became unnaturally quiet. Still, when he heard B'Elanna gasp, knew that she was looking in his direction, it startled him all the same, and he winced, anticipating the upcoming confrontation.

The others were oblivious that anything was about to happen...until Chakotay saw what B'Elanna saw.

"Paris!"

Chakotay had time for one outraged, disbelieving exclamation...then he was leaping at the other man, furious. He didn't reach Tom, however - Tuvok immediately restrained him. Harry jumped back, eyes wide. B'Elanna just stood there, anger growing within her, as well, but mostly she just looked shocked.

"It was you, Paris? You were on board Voyager?" The last either of them had heard, Tom Paris had been in prison where many said he belonged.

"Mr. Paris was assigned as an observer for Voyager's current mission. He was to help the ship maneuver through the Badlands."

"You mean to help you outmaneuver us! You were going to help them catch us, weren't you Paris?"

Tom managed to muster a little of his usual cocky arrogance. "Yeah, and we all know how well that turned out, don't we, Chakotay?"

"Pa'Taq!" Now B'Elanna was lunging towards him, and Paris tried not to wince at the pain her anger caused him. Only three weeks he'd really known her, and damn but he didn't want to see that look in her eyes. That look she was giving him. Tuvok caught the half-Klingon before she could reach her prey, and Tom knew it was for the best. He didn't think he'd have the heart to fend her off if she'd been allowed to attack him.

"Captain Chakotay, Ms. Torres, I have to ask that you refrain from making any further violent outbursts towards Mr. Paris. Our priority at this time is to get off the Kazon ship and back aboard Voyager."

But even though they stopped struggling in Tuvok's grip, Chakotay was still staring at Paris and B'Elanna was glaring angrily at the floor.

'That bastard!' Chakotay thought. All this time he'd been pouring his heart out - about Starfleet, his ex-wife, the Cardassians, his father - and he'd been doing it in front of *Tom Paris*! Spirits! He'd always detested the man - and now here he was, admitting that he'd sold them out to Starfleet.

"At least the Vulcan was doing his job," he told Paris. "What did you get out of it? Freedom from prison? Latinum? What was your price this time?"

Tom didn't move, didn't respond. Kim looked nervously from one man to the other. As Chakotay spoke, his anger grew once again and his voice began to rise. Once again, Tuvok interceded.

"Captain..."

Chakotay shrugged Tuvok's hand away, and the Commander released B'Elanna as well. Then he turned to Tom.

"Are you alright, Mr. Paris?"

Tom rose and walked over to the others and Harry followed.

"Just fine, Tuvok." Good, good. His tone was part belligerence, part playfulness. If Tom stretched his imagination, he could almost imagine that he really didn't give a shit that he'd managed to make Chakotay and B'Elanna hate him once again.

If the Commander were bothered by his tone he didn't show it.

"Will you be able to fly one of the shuttles out of here?" But then Tom grew closer, and Tuvok noticed his hands. He hesitated the briefest of moments and Tom would have rolled his eyes if he'd had the spirit. The last thing he needed now was sympathy from a Vulcan.

"I suppose not," Tuvok said.

"I'm a fair enough pilot," Chakotay told him, still stinging from the betrayal he now perceived was all around him. He realized, however, that lingering on that now wasn't going to help anyone.

Tuvok nodded, but a voice behind him kept any of them from moving.

"Too bad your skills won't be needed."

As one, the four turned and saw Tuvok's security officers...and a Kazon holding a blaster rifle to the back of each of their heads.




The Kazon guards shoved the officers forward to stand with the others, pointing their guns into the group.

"Who is the leader of this group?" said the Kazon on the right, a man named Tanor, Tom recalled. "Come forward and show yourself."

Noone moved, noone spoke. Then the Kazon on the left waved his rifle at them.

"If you'd rather, we can just start shooting you one by one. If not, get the hell out here!"

The seven Alpha Quadrant natives stood too far in the shadows for the guards to see clearly. Tuvok hesitated a moment longer...than prepared to step forward. A hand on his shoulder, however, stopped him.

From the second he saw the Kazon standing there in the door of the cell, Tom felt something cold form in the pit of his stomach. Despite all his posturing, he really wasn't a bad guy. It wasn't that he didn't care - he'd just been left on his own to survive too much for too long to let down his defenses and act on his emotions. Now all Tom wanted was to do just that. He didn't have anything against Tuvok - from what he knew about the Commander he thought he was an admirable person, and he didn't know the other two officers, but he doubted they deserved to die in some Kazon hellhole. And Harry Kim...he was the only person Tom could truly call a friend in as long as he could remember - maybe his entire life. And Chakotay and B'Elanna meant something to Tom, too. The point was, he didn't want anyone to die - especially not in some damned rescue attempt that included saving his worthless ass. And so, the idea came to him and he'd acted upon it without even really thinking about it.

In a few quick movements, Tom stopped Tuvok, grabbing his communicator and pinning it to his chest, and taking his phaser out of its holster.

"Mr. Paris, what are you..."

"I'm saving your ass, that's what I'm doing," Tom whispered. His tone didn't broach an argument. "Just be ready to rush those guys when you get a chance. If we let them get us out of the cell and into the light where they can keep an eye on us we're doomed."

"Tom..." that was Harry, but Tom kept his eyes locked with Tuvok's. He held up one mangled hand.

"It's not like I'm much good to the effort, anyhow. I can't pilot a shuttle. Hell, I can't even use this phaser." Tuvok didn't say anything. He had apparently weighed the pros and cons of Tom's suggestion and found it appropriate, though the look on his face said he didn't like it.

The Kazon were getting antsy.

"Well? Are you gonna come out of there or do we have to start shooting?"

Tom began to step forward, but a hand stopped him. He was surprised to turn and see that it was B'Elanna's.

"Why the hell are you doing this, Paris?" Her eyes were still dark with anger and distrust, but they were now confused, as well.

Tom sighed. "Because I don't want anyone getting shot here because of me." It was hardly the time or place, but Tom just had to do it - he took B'Elanna's chin in his hand, thankful, at least, that she didn't flinch away.

"I never lied to you, Maquis, except for not telling you my name. Everything you thought you knew about 'Starfleet' is true, even if his name is Tom Paris. I just didn't think you'd believe me if I told you the only reason I really agreed to help Janeway was to keep her from getting herself blown up in some damned plasma storm."

There was a momentary flash of surprise in B'Elanna's eyes, but little trust followed in its wake. A muscle in Tom's jaw flinched. "I see I was right."

"You led us on, Starfleet," Chakotay said, not even catching the fact that he'd continued to use the nickname they'd given Tom since they'd been placed in the cell. "You could have told us who you really were."

Tom laughed cynically. "I'd just had the shit kicked out of me by five big Kazon with really big guns. Excuse me, if I didn't need any more enemies at the time."

Noone said anything to that, and B'Elanna let Tom's words sink in, but Tom didn't notice. He turned away before he could see anymore animosity on her lovely face. Then he stepped forward before anyone could stop him.

"Get out here now!" the guard, Tanor, was shouting just as Tom stepped forward. He moved only slightly out of the shadows and away from the others. This way, the Kazon couldn't quite make out his appearance and see that he was, in fact, one of their prisoners. They could, however, see the glint of light off of Tuvok's commbadge and phaser. They took this as the only evidence they needed that Tom was in charge.

"Drop your weapon," the other Kazon, Kavin, commanded.

Tom began easing away from the group, trying to get the guards to turn so that one of the others would have a better chance of advancing. Tanor had taken the phasers away from the security crewmen, but Harry still had his. All he had to do was distract the Kazon for a minute and give the kid a chance to use it.

Tom clucked. "Uh-uh-uh," he said. "You don't really expect me to make it that easy for you, do you? You want my phaser?" He waved the weapon around a little. "You're going to have to come and get it." His voice became hard. Gods, he wished he could operate the damned buttons on this thing. What he'd give for a shot - just one shot - at those filthy creatures.

'Real brave when a man's tied up and unconscious, aren't you?' Tom thought. 'Let's see how brave you are now.'

Apparently, not very. Neither Kazon fired, they just continued to point their weapons at him, turning just slightly to keep up with his slow progress across the cell.

"Stand still," Tanor ordered.

"What?" Tom kept moving. 'Just a little more...'

"I said stand still!"

Tanor took a step towards Tom...and then Kavin turned in his direction to see what his companion was doing. Before he knew what had hit him, Tuvok came crashing into him. A few seconds and a Vulcan neck-pinch later, the man was unconscious.

"What the..." Tanor whirled around, finger tightening on his rifle's trigger, but he never got the chance to fire. B'Elanna grabbed the phaser off of Harry's belt and fired, hitting the Kazon straight in the chest. He went down in a heap.

For a moment, nobody said anything. Tuvok's officers went to Tanor and Kavin's sides, retrieving their phasers, and Chakotay hobbled over and grabbed a rifle. Harry, embarrassed that he hadn't acted quickly enough to use his own phaser, took the weapon away from B'Elanna, pretending not to be intimidated by the attractive Klingon woman's amused stare. Chakotay tossed her the other Kazon's rifle, and Tom threw the phaser back to Tuvok.

"Well..." he said. "Now that that's taken care of...let's get to the shuttles and let Chakotay prove what a terrible pilot he is." Tom grinned.

Chakotay snorted, but didn't comment, and the group filed out. Tuvok raised an eyebrow and shook his head, pretending not to notice as, one by one, Chakotay, B'Elanna, and Tom each paused to kick the Kazon on their way out of the cell.

'Humans,' he lamented to himself.




For the most part, their escape route was unimpeded. But then, at the juncture of the corridors leading to the Kazon's two shuttle bays, they were attacked. The hallway they had been heading down branched in two opposite directions, each leading to a shuttle bay; the hallway before them was suddenly filled with Kazon.

One of the security officers was hit, and Harry and B'Elanna dragged him into the corridor to the left, where Tuvok and the other lieutenant also took cover. Chakotay and Tom, who had been at the rear of the group - Chakotay because of his injured leg, and Tom to cover them from behind, dove into the corridor on the right. Together, they were able to hold their own, but the Kazon were advancing and seemed to be multiplying every moment. Eventually, Tuvok sent Harry and B'Elanna with the injured crewmen towards the shuttle bay, then he turned to Tom.

"Mr. Paris," he called across the corridor. "I am going to get the others to a shuttle. You and Captain Chakotay should proceed to the other shuttle bay. Get off the ship as soon as possible."

Both Chakotay and Paris nodded.

"Don't have to tell us twice, Tuvok."

The Vulcan nodded, and he and the security lieutenant began to back away, with Tom and Chakotay following their lead. When they'd turned a corner, Tom and Chakotay turned and ran. Or tried to. When Paris noticed the difficulty Chakotay was having keeping up, he held back, throwing Chakotay's arm over his shoulder and hurrying him along.

Chakotay objected, trying to shrug the younger man off. He didn't stop, however, when Paris resisted, and, finally, he gave up.

"What's wrong, Chakotay? You'd rather hobble around here and die than let me be the one to help you?"

"I don't need help, Paris," Chakotay ground out, and Tom rolled his eyes.

"Yeah, sure. That's why you're gritting your teeth in pain and look ready to pass out."

"Who says I'm not just sick of being next to you?"

Tom didn't say anything, but the corridor before them stretched out seemingly forever. It was slow going with a man of Chakotay's side leaning more and more heavily upon him with each passing moment. He tried to lighten the mood.

"Don't you have any ancient tribal healing powers you can use right now? They'd certainly come in handy - what do you weigh? A ton?"

Chakotay grunted. It was almost a laugh. "Sorry to disappoint you, Paris, but no. And noone said you had to play the hero here, just let me loose."

Tom laughed and rolled his eyes again. "You'd fall flat on your face. Besides, isn't there some ancient custom that says if I save you your life belongs to me?"

"Wrong tribe."

"Liar."

They reached the entrance to the shuttle bay, and Tom stepped back, allowing Chakotay to key the doors open. He glanced at his hands once more, in remorse, then brushed those thoughts away.

The doors parted, and Tom was at Chakotay's side again. Now it was the Maquis' turn to roll his eyes.

"You're just playing a crutch, Paris. It's not like you've donated a lung to me, or something. Hardly worthy of a life debt."

Tom shrugged. And then a bad situation turned worse.

There were Kazon all over the shuttle bay.

As soon as they were through the doors, the Kazon opened fire on Tom and Chakotay, who ducked behind a large stack of crates of some kind for cover. Unfortunately, it seemed that a Kazon had decided to hide there, as well. The man raised his rifle, pointed it at Chakotay. Chakotay tensed, saw the Kazon's finger tighten on the rifle's trigger, had one second's thought that this was it, he was going to die, and then the Kazon fired...and Tom jumped in front of the blast.






Chakotay blinked. Everything happened too fast, but one moment the Kazon was firing and the next Chakotay was realizing that he wasn't dead. Just in time, he pulled himself out of it, leveling his own rifle and blasting a hole through the center of the Kazon's chest. The man was dead.

Then Chakotay turned to Tom.

"Spirits!...Shit! What the hell..."

Chakotay turned Paris over from where he had rolled onto his chest, seeing that he was still alive, but that a good-sized hole was gaping in his side, bleeding profusely. Around them, Kazon rifle-fire echoed, but Chakotay put down his weapon to tug off his shirt and press it over Tom's wound, applying pressure to try and stop the bleeding.

"Damn it, Starfleet! What the hell were you thinking? Spirits, you're going to bleed to death!"

The younger man was already starting to shake - whether from the loss of blood or shock, or maybe both, Chakotay didn't know. He swore softly, and Tom laughed.

"As always, Chakotay, you are an unending source of encouragement and cheer."

Chakotay cussed again. "How the hell can you make jokes at a time like this?"

Tom didn't respond, but then a particularly well-aimed shot hit one of the crates above them, and splinters of the container's exterior showered over them. Tom hissed as the shower caused him to flinch, the movement sending a lance of pain racing through his injured side.

"You won't get the chance to hear anymore," he said, "If you don't start shooting back."

Chakotay silently agreed. He grabbed the rifle and took the defensive. There weren't as many Kazon as he'd at first feared, but still, there were enough, and they were at considerably better angles for carrying on a conflict than Chakotay was. He managed to pick a couple of the Kazon off, but soon it was apparent that he wouldn't be gaining much ground. He turned back to Paris.

"Do you think you can move?"

"Oh, sure, no problem. I could race the hundred-yard-dash. Never been better, thank you very much..."

"Paris! Can you move or not?"

Chakotay took an irritated tone at Tom's whining, but he truly didn't know if the man would be able to move or not. He looked pretty bad.

"Yeah, yeah, I can move," Tom said, however. He was gritting his teeth against the pain of doing so, but he moved.

Chakotay gestured, then headed to the edge of the stack of crates; Tom followed.

"If we can move to the other side - behind those crates over there, we'll be closer to that shuttle, see it?"

Tom nodded.

"You run, I'll cover you." Tom laughed. He had a hole the size of a data chip in his side, and Chakotay had a broken leg and they were going to race across the shuttle bay while the Kazon took pot shots at them. He didn't object, though. What else were they going to do?

"I said go!" Chakotay yelled, and Tom did, running, then almost crawling, across the shuttle bay as fast as he could, not stopping or looking at anything but his destination. Chakotay followed, covering him as he said he would. Somehow, they made it to the other side okay, though a couple of shots had grazed Chakotay's arms and legs.

"Not real good with guns, are they?" Tom drolled, but his glib was somewhat ineffectual as he was now gasping for breath and shaking like a starship at Warp 9.999.

Chakotay wasn't listening. He was cussing again under his breath.

"Of all the ignorant, idiotic, damned foolish..."

He glanced back at his companion to see Paris' blue eyes burning into him, the humor having left them. He turned away, torn between loathing for the man he'd known as Tom Paris; for the man who would gladly have turned him over to Starfleet for a chance at his own freedom, and worry for the man he'd befriended in that Kazon cell.

It was as if Tom sensed his line of thought.

"Tell me, Chakotay, what bothers you more? The fact that Tom Paris might die to save your sanctimonious hide? Or the fact that back there - before you knew who I was - you thought that maybe, just maybe, I wasn't the bastard you like to think I am?"

Chakotay frowned, his eyes on the Kazon. He fired, taking down another two of their attackers.

"Shut up, Paris."

"No, really, tell me. What would be worse? Owing you life to a man you hate? Or realizing that maybe you don't hate me that badly after all? What would..." And then Tom stopped, as a fit of coughing seized his body. Chakotay went to his side, but Tom shrugged him off. Chakotay swore hotly.

"Don't fuck with me, Paris. For all I know, all that shit you said in the cell was just some twisted game you liked playing to pass the time - lull the poor, gullible Maquis into a false sense of security."

"Yeah, that's how I wanted to spend the last days of my life - pouring my heart out to a bunch of self-righteous vigilantes; making up bullshit stories about how fucked up my life is. Yeah, it was all just a game - my life's just rosy, really." Tom's voice dripped sarcasm.

He coughed again, and a spattering of shots hit the wall above their heads. Chakotay got back into position and fired back. He thought about what Paris was saying, and then shoved the thoughts aside. Damn it, but he had a point. Why couldn't they have this conversation when there weren't Kazon all over the place?

"We're going to have to make a run for the shuttle. Do you think you're up to it?"

"You're better off just going without me," Tom said.

Chakotay sighed. "Damn it, Starfleet. Stop being so melodramatic. I don't hate you, okay? So cut it..." But then something in the way Tom spoke stopped him, and Chakotay turned.

"Shit!"

Tom had gone utterly pale; so pale it scared him. He was looking down at the back of his hands...blood. He'd coughed up blood.

Chakotay felt a tinge of panic. "We've got to get you on the shuttle."

Tom was shaking his head.

"Do you hear me, Paris? We've got to get you on the shuttle. How..."

"No!" Tom was grabbing his phaser, trying to program it to a higher setting. "I told you, Chakotay, you're better off going without me. Get to the shuttle and get out. I'll hold 'em off as long as I can."

Chakotay was incredulous. "That's crazy. You said yourself - you can't fly a shuttle like this. You can barely work that phaser."

"I'm not going, Chakotay, so get the hell out of-"

"-won't you listen to common sense-"

"-argue with me-"

Tom suddenly sighed. "Listen, Chakotay. Tribal custom takes precedence hear. Your life is mine - I decide whether you get to waste it here or not."

The two men argued, then suddenly something caught Chakotay's eyes. Tom quieted, as well, when he followed Chakotay's line of vision.

Chakotay smiled.




Sometime later, they were aboard a Kazon shuttle, blasting out the shuttle bay's doors. Chakotay looked over at the man lying unconscious on the cargo-mover in the shuttle's hold, then he requested an emergency beam to Voyager's sickbay and flew the shuttle out of danger.




Lost in the surrealistic world of dreams and nightmares, Tom struggled with an army of attackers, and struck out...hitting air.

Or not air, really. He would have hit the doctor...if he wasn't a hologram.

The Doctor let out a long-suffering sigh, and tossed his medical tricorder to the ensign at his side.

"He's perfectly fine," the Doctor announced, then threw a disdainful glance at his waking patient. "Physically," he added, then walked away, muttering about the woes of being an EMH.

Tom came to, blinking at the Sickbay lights overhead. He saw Harry at his bedside and sat up, smiling.

"Hey, Har. So it's Ensign Kim to the rescue yet again, is it?"

Then he saw the woman at Harry's side...and his smile disappeared.

"Torres."

B'Elanna raised a brow.

"Starfleet," she responded.

The air between them was uncomfortable, and Harry shifted nervously. Then B'Elanna smiled.

"Just wanted to make sure you made it. Make there with the Kazon, you seemed to be implying that I'd judged you unfairly."

Tom stared at her. Slowly, he began to smile.

"Maybe."

"I'd hate to loose the chance of having you prove yourself wrong."

She grinned and strode out of sickbay. Tom watched her go, and shook his head.

'Not on your life, Torres,' he thought.




Sometime later, Tom was standing in the Captain's readyroom, facing Janeway as she sat behind her desk.

"The nature of the ship's present location creates a unique situation for yourself. Just what am I going to do with you, Mr. Paris?"

Tom's emotional defenses were up again, his face a mask of calm lack of concern. But something about Janeway's posture was non-provocative, unthreatening, and so he allowed himself to relax, just slightly.

"Are you going to keep me in the brig for the next seventy-five years, Captain?" he asked, and Janeway smiled, rising.

"Hardly. Mr. Tuvok and his team informed me of your actions aboard the Kazon ship. I hardly think such a gesture merits confinement, do you?"

Tom shrugged, but he felt a suspicious warmth fill his cheeks. 'Damn it, Tom, don't blush!'

Janeway's smile widened, then she tamed her expression into neutrality. "However, it has come to my attention that you have several enemies among this crew. That could make things difficult for you, being an observer aboard this ship."

Tom shifted. Yeah, difficult was one way of putting it. He didn't suppose he'd last long out there, un-chaperoned, but he put another smile on his face, crossing his arms.

"Are you going to assign me a bodyguard, Captain?"

"It seems that you already have one." Tom raised an eyebrow, curious. "Mr. Chakotay said something about...his life belonging to you?" She shot him a look that just begged for answers to that one, but Tom didn't supply them.

"Really?" His smile could only be described as evil. Tom rubbed his hands together. "I think I'm going to enjoy this."

"Don't be so sure. He's also going to be your first officer. Mr. Tuvok has stepped down so that the Maquis will see that they have a representative in the command structure of this ship. Every officer aboard will answer to him..." Janeway straightened her shoulders, truly enjoying this. "...including the lieutenant assigned to conn," she finished.

Tom stood there a full minute before realization dawned, and Janeway grinned.

"Me?" he asked, obviously thrown off-guard.

Janeway walked over to him, patting him on the shoulder. "I've entered into the record that on this date I have granted the field commission of lieutenant to Thomas Eugene Paris." She smiled as she attached the pips to his collar, laughing when a simple handshake lengthened and Tom, shocked, was reluctant to let go of her hand.

"For once in my life...I don't know what to say."

Janeway laughed again. "Congratulations, Tom. You've earned it."

She headed towards the exit to the bridge, and Tom followed.

"I only wish your father could know."

Tom smiled.

"Oh, he'll know...when we get back."

Tom followed his captain onto the bridge. He was an officer again, part of a crew, and he was going to be able to fly their sleek, little ship. Tom sat down at the conn, the feel of the controls underneath his fully healed fingers sending a chill through him, it felt that right. He looked over his shoulders at the crew around him as Janeway made her speech. There were more friendly faces among them than he would have once believed.

Janeway talked about getting her crew back home, and Tom believed her, word for word. In the last month, he'd become a lieutenant again, he was flying again, and he had friends. If that were possible...getting back to the Alpha Quadrant would be a piece of cake.

"Mr. Paris," Janeway ordered. "Set a course...for home."