AUTHOR'S NOTE: When I pressed "submit" on my first story just over a year ago, with shaking fingers, little did I know that in addition to finally allowing my creative spirit to emerge, I would be making some wonderful new friends. One of these friends – B-Dub33 - is an amazing artist; do check out her work on deviantart! A year after being among the first to encourage me on my way as a writer, Bonnie is giving me another gift: a little dragon, all fierceness and rustling wings. This story is my return gift to her.
Bonnie loves "Basics" but, like me, believes that it ended too soon. Here's what she said in an e-mail: "I always wondered what the aftermath would entail. Would Tom's built up emotion come crashing through all of his built-in masks after his adrenaline wore off? Would some of the crew that are still icy towards him give him an inch, or would they resent him more for being the hero?" Whaddya know, Bonnie, there's a story in there…
Paramount owns pretty much everything – the characters, the Kazon and their hideous hair, the ship – but not this story. I write for fun, not profit.
PS: Before you ask, a new update of "After the Ashes" is mere days away.
WHEN THE HURY-BURLY'S DONE
By Alpha Flyer
When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning or in rain?
When the hurly-burly's done, when the battle's lost and won...
He awoke in a cold sweat, his throat dry, feet tangled in the blanket, the sheets clammy.
He tried to recall what it had been about this time. His father, disapproving of the mere A he got in Grade 8 quantum physics? That one usually just made him wake up angry, though, not … scared out of his wits.
Auckland? No – he'd still be hearing the echo of the laughter, the taunts of the other prisoners…
Too many to choose from.
Tom shook his head to clear out whatever had him panting as if he'd just run a 10k, and padded toward the sink to splash some cold water in his face. His foot hit on something, and he spat out a curse as pain shot through his big toe.
He bent down and inspected the offending object – one of the legs of his upturned coffee table. Lucky he didn't kneecap himself on the one sticking up into the air. The glass had been shattered, and by rights he should have cut the soles of his feet to shreds already. Better look where he was going for the next little while …
When he'd stumbled into his quarters, on less than four hours' sleep in the last 96 or so, he hadn't bothered to do anything more than remove the filthy remains of his uniform, rip off the disgusting bedding and throw a clean sheet and blanket on top - well, as clean as something would get after three token minutes in the refresher. The mess could wait. With the adrenaline finally wearing off, leaving only an incipient migraine and utter exhaustion, there had been no time to wait for the maid to come in and vacuum.
He almost giggled at his own lame joke, then sobered. Gods, you had to be pretty hard up to find that funny.
One of those Kazon thugs had obviously taken up residence in his place, no doubt keen on the observation windows that only the senior officers' quarters possessed. And then he had torn through all of Tom's belongings and thrown whatever he didn't understand on the floor.
Well, the good news is, the asshole's probably dead. Serves him right.
For someone who normally found it extremely difficult to contemplate the taking of life, Tom was deeply unsympathetic towards the dead Kazon they had found on the bridge and in main engineering, victims of the overload he, the Doc and Suder had set up – or of Suder's own brand of efficiency. Or the ones he'd blown to kingdom come during his escape, when he'd gone for the Talaxian convoy. How many Kazon ships had he nailed – two? Three? Not enough. They had it coming.
And suddenly he was back in that shuttle - flying and firing at the same time – hanging on to his seat - fingers tapping themselves bloody on the console - I don't have time for this - crazy twists and turns pulling at his body - smoke burning his eyes - cursing a blue streak but not hearing a thing – I told you I don't have time for this - looping the ship, firing again …
Tom could feel the ack-ack of the Kazon weapons starting to hammer away at the inside of his ears, and he was momentarily afraid to close his eyes, or breathe in too deeply. The fire, the frying lining of the console, watching blooms of black sprouting on Voyager's hull …
He clamped his hands over his ears to still the racket inside his head and shook himself awake, violently.
Time to switch the channel, Tommy boy.
Maybe a shower would help. It sure couldn't hurt.
A quick look at the chronometer told him he'd slept almost twelve hours. Twelve hours? Shit. Wasn't he due on shift? He could have sworn he'd programmed a wake-up call.
Oh well. If he was going to be in the doghouse with Chakotay, he might as well go all out. Besides, people might just be grateful if he didn't show up on the bridge smelling like a billy goat.
But why hadn't his alarm gone off? Someone must have overridden the alarm and taken him off the duty roster. Chakotay? Yeah, right. Not bloody likely. The XO was still sore over his last solo adventure with the Kazon. Giving Tom Paris a day off wouldn't be high on his list, not when there was so much work to be done on the ship.
Who, then? The Captain? She had seemed rather glad to see him alive, Tom thought, as he tried to get his shower to work. And she'd made it clear she thought he needed a break. Tom had headed back to the helm immediately, to get the ship the hell away from a location the Kazon were only too familiar with. Baytart was good, but not ready to take her from her parking spot among the rocks back into the skies. So that had been good for another eight hours, until the Captain had ordered him to relinquish the helm. Practically pried the console out of his hands. But she'd also been pre-occupied with other matters. Like removing the Kazon bodies from the bridge and main Engineering, and Seska's corpse out of her ready room.
Anyway, where was he …? Sheesh. Anything remotely resembling a coherent train of thought seemed to derail after mere seconds. Need to slow down here, Thomas.
Ah, yes. Time. Twelve hours. He'd slept for twelve hours straight. Shit.
Tom came to the reluctant conclusion that he had just overslept, right through the alarm, and cursed again. Still, he needed that shower.
The shower made a sputtering sound, followed by the computer politely suggesting that as it was temporarily out of order, Lieutenant Paris might wish to consider switching to sonic mode. Screw that. He wanted water. H2O. With narrow eyes, he glared at the showerhead.
Fucking Kazon. They probably didn't have a clue how to operate anything in a civilized bathroom; must have figured the shower was some kind of secret weapon, the way they had hammered away at it. Luckily, duranium steel was even denser than your average Kazon warrior, and the plumbing showed only a few nicks.
With B'Elanna Torres unlikely to show up while he was naked and alone in his quarters – a man could dream though – it was time for the tried and true method of plumbing repair. Tom whacked the showerhead a few times with his tricorder, on the opposite side to where his uninvited former tenant had been active, on the theory that the thing was just dislodged.
Bingo. The water started gushing, and Tom allowed himself a full five minutes of luxurious hot water running down his body – rations be damned - before reaching for the soap.
Still dripping, but content that he smelled better than before, Tom made the trek across his debris-strewn room towards his closet, wondering how anyone could live like that, even for only a few days.
He opened the closet door, afraid of what he might find.
Oh, great. Now he'd have to spend more rations, to replicate a new uniform. He started to limp back to the replicator, stepped on something. Right – his houseguest had thrown all his belongings on the floor. Should have thought of that, Thomas.
He bent down, and successfully fished around in the heap of discarded clothing for something black and red. He held it up and turned it around, looking for holes. Smelled it, for obvious Kazon fingerprints. Seemed okay.
He started to pull on the pants when he realized that not only had he forgotten to locate and put on underwear, but he was also still dripping wet. Towel. Need a towel.
Just when did he get so scatterbrained? Clearly, he needed a vacation. Maybe, just maybe the last few days had been a bit harder on his brain that he'd thought.
The chore of getting cleaned up and dressed finally completed, Tom figured it was time to fess up about being late. Better do so over comm line rather than face to face with the Commander … Thinking about which, funny no one had called him yet. Normally Tuvok or Chakotay would have invited him to "take your station, if quite convenient, Mr. Paris?" after three minutes of grace time. Alpha shift was two hours in …
Maybe the comm system was out? Hmm. The computer, after some prompting, managed to locate his own comm badge under the filthy uniform he'd discarded the night before; Tom attached it to his tunic and tapped it.
"Paris to Chakotay. Err …. Commander …emm… I'm awfully sorry, sir, but I guess I slept in this morning. Haven't had much sleep in the last four days and I guess it caught up with me. I'll be at my station in five minutes."
"Don't bother, Lieutenant – check the duty roster. You're not on until tomorrow Alpha shift. See you then. Have a good rest. Chakotay out."
Well. That was odd. The XO had sounded gruff, but not in a pissed off kind of way. Kind of friendly, actually. And did he say something about 'rest'? Not unwelcome, that thought, even if it didn't sound much like something Chakotay would say. At least, not to him. Strange.
But the tone of the Commander's voice – not uptight at all - suggested that he'd gotten over Seska's death, which Tom supposed was a Good Thing. Maybe the Big Guy was just in a good mood. Ding, dong, the bitch is dead …
Tom's mind digressed briefly to the last time he'd seen Seska, pregnant, Cardassian, and insufferably smug. He searched his mind in vain for sympathy for his erstwhile shipmate; the best he could come up with was regret that he hadn't managed to kill her himself while on her ship. Would've saved everyone a shitload of trouble if he had.
Having replayed the Commander's statement in his mind a couple of times, it occurred to Tom – somewhat belatedly – to check his terminal. It wasn't smashed; small victory there. Sure enough, there was a message flashing about changed duty rosters and the words "take the day off, Lieutenant." Signed by the XO himself. Well, whaddya know. Another miracle, on top of the one that had him still standing here, alive and breathing.
Rest, the man had said. Not bloody likely, with his brain buzzing like a beehive, and his thoughts speeding at a parsec a minute. Too bad he didn't have the rations for a scotch; the holodecks were probably still down, too, so healthier alternatives like a run were out too …
Tom shrugged, and studied the mess in his room. Might as well clean up. He'd generally been failure as a Paris, that much was clear, but the one thing all that blue Starfleet blood had imprinted in his DNA was a certain imperative for neatness. He wasn't a total freak about it, but he did like to see the horizontal surfaces in his quarters. B'Elanna's clutter would drive him nuts, he suspected, if he'd ever have to spend any time in it. Clothes everywhere - on the floor, draped over the couch …
Tom spent the next couple of hours straightening out furniture, picking up broken glass, running the vacuum over his couch and rugs, cycling clothes and bedding through the fresher, and folding up and sticking those that didn't yell "clean me" back into closets and drawers.
The surviving PADDs and hard-cover books – many had been smashed and ripped, respectively - were neatly stacked in their places, and pictures replaced on the wall. The smashed frames of two of his holovids – including the one of the Paris rooftops that Harry liked to look at - would probably have to wait until next month's replicator rations had gone into his account. Especially after the shower he'd just had.
He paused briefly when a sudden noise filled his cabin, and he became conscious of a strange feeling in his gut. What … Right – he hadn't eaten anything since … since … Well, didn't matter. A long time.
May as well head for the mess hall. With any luck, Neelix would have things under control a bit there, and there'd be food. Right now, he was so hungry even leola root sounded enticing, and maybe Harry or B'Elanna would be there.
The sudden realization struck him that he hadn't really seen or talked to either of his close friends since his return. He, Harry and B'Elanna had become a threesome over the last few months - ever since the Warp 10 flight of painful and inconvenient memory - spending much of their off-duty time together. He realized that what he'd missed most over the last four days was the ability to toss a remark over his shoulder and have it caught and bounced back by Harry, or having B'Elanna yell at 'whoever is flying this ship' to stop stressing her beloved engines.
Harry was the best friend he'd ever had as an adult, and B'Elanna … He suppressed the thoughts he'd choked down earlier in the shower, and sighed. Alpha shift would be on lunch period now, and suddenly nothing else would do but establish visual contact with both of them. In fact, his scurrying brain was starting to slow down noticeably, as it pictured them at a table making snarky remarks at his expense.
What the Doc ordered … Tom felt almost giddy as he tapped his comm badge.
"Computer, location of Ensign Kim and Lieutenant Torres."
"Ensign Kim and Lieutenant Torres are in the mess hall," the computer intoned in its pleasantly uninterested fashion.
Great. Tom practically bounced out of his quarters, a man with a purpose, an objective and ... something else. Something to look forward to, instead of having to deal with?
His buoyant mood lasted all of two minutes. As soon as the turbolift doors closed behind him, Tom felt an unaccountable sense of dread creep into his spine. Everyone on the ship – including Harry and B'Elanna - had endured the most incredible hardships on that planet: thirst, hunger, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, the death of two crewmembers, hostile natives …
And all the while, Tom Paris had been basking in the relative luxury of a shuttle, with a functioning bathroom and no man-eating worms. Would they look at him like he was a deserter, for running off and leaving them to an uncertain fate? Some of the Maquis had taken the better part of two years to realize he hadn't just abandoned them when he got caught by the 'Fleet...
Well, there was nothing to it; he'd have to brave people's reaction sooner rather than later. Tom squared his shoulders and stepped off the lift.
Turning the corner into the mess hall, he saw to his relief that Harry and B'Elanna were still there, seemingly having arrived only a short while before; their meals looked still relatively untouched. He gave them a little wave and headed for the counter, ready to order, when he became aware of a sudden shift in the room's atmosphere. The usual susurrations of small talk and clanking of forks had ceased on his arrival.
Oh, shit. Tom turned around, scanning the room, his throat suddenly dry.
His eyes fell on Dalby, who was at the table closest to him. Crewman Ken Dalby, legendary for his short temper and sour disposition. And then ... Dalby stood up from his chair. Snappy-like, almost as if he was coming to attention. A first, as far as Tom knew.
What the …
"Lieutenant," the former Maquis said, just about doubling the number of words he had had ever spoken to the Chief Pilot, in the two years they'd been on the same ship. If Tom remembered correctly, the other one had been "traitor" or something even less … flattering, in the early weeks, before Tuvok taught him and three other attitude cases how to behave onboard a Starfleet vessel.
To Tom's utter amazement, Dalby bowed his head, slightly sideways, his eyes fixed on the pilot's - a short, sharp nod. A nod of … of acknowledgment? Approval? Respect?
Gerron, who'd been sitting with the older man, followed suit. As the young Bajoran stood up, the sound of his chair scraping the floor echoed through the mess hall.
"Thank you for coming back for us, Lieutenant," he said simply, his lilting, still-boyish voice carrying surprisingly far in the silent room.
Tom felt himself go beet red in the face, acute embarrassment constricting his throat as his eyes scanned the room and saw the nods, heard the murmurs of assent. He swallowed, unsure where to look - his shoes really could use a shine, he noted inconsequentially - or what to say. Until the inappropriateness of the accolade struck him, forcefully and definitively.
Suder had given his life.
"Thanks, guys, I guess," he said, through the sudden lump in his throat. "But … you know … the Doc and Suder did all the hard work, here on the ship. And the Talaxians … they were amazing. It's really them you should applaud."
"Way I understand it, sir, " Dalby said - sir? Dalby called him sir? - "if you hadn't fought your way through that battle we lost with Voyager, there wouldn't have been any work for them to do."
"And the way I understand it, Paris, you came up with the plan that got the job done, and organized the Talaxian armada."
The Commander's voice, soft but firm. Tom turned, as if pulled by a string. There stood Chakotay, who had arrived in the mess hall side-by-side with the Captain, a wide grin dimpling his face.
"The plan that got Suder killed," Tom replied, a little too vehemently.
"Just this once, Lieutenant, take the credit for what you've achieved – not the blame for the absence of perfection. That's an order. Besides, I've already entered a commendation on your record." The Captain's smile was incandescent as she clapped Tom on the shoulder for the second time since his return. This time her hand lingered longer, and her eyes sought his, grey on blue, transmitting the message she did not have time for the day before.
"Whether you're willing to accept it or not, you saved the ship, Tom. And her crew. For the second time. Once may be a fluke, but twice … you can't argue with that. So, thank you."
Her smile widened into a grin. "Don't make it into a habit, though. I don't think my nerves could stand having to wait for another rescue like this one."
Tom couldn't help but grin back at her, at that, and the mess hall erupted in chuckles and laughter as Dalby and Gerron took their seats again.
"I'll try my best, Captain," he answered. "Next time I'll fly Voyager a little faster, and just run away. But now, if nobody minds, I'd like some food."
He turned around to Neelix, who was beaming at him over the counter.
"I have some very tasty pleeka grub casserole today, Tom. Nice and zesty. The Kazon didn't find it in the fridge, so it's had the chance to ripen properly, for once."
The Kazon probably hadn't recognized it as food. Tom swallowed, but found his smile was surprisingly unforced. He really was hungry.
"Sounds great Neelix – bring it on."
Tom watched the little Talaxian fondly as he ladled the brown glop onto a plate, and added a small handful of Kes' cherry tomatoes as a special treat for his friend.
"Did I ever tell you how much I like your people? Good bunch in a fight, Talaxians."
Neelix' eyes crinkled and shone with pleasure, and his whiskers quivered a little.
"Yes. Yes we are. Didn't I tell you? And now, go to your friends, Tom. They've been waiting for you very patiently."
He turned to his next customers, all business. "So what can I get you, Captain, Commander …?"
Tom took his tray and wove his way through the tables, smiling with considerable embarrassment at the nods, thank yous and occasional back slaps he received as he went. Kes, sitting with the Delaneys, got up and gave him a long hug that almost made him drop his tray.
"Hell, that was awkward," he breathed out as he folded his long legs behind the table where Harry and B'Elanna were sitting. "Like running a fucking gauntlet."
Harry snorted. "Beats being hustled off your ship by a bunch of beady-eyed thugs with seriously big, congealed hair. Now that's a gauntlet. So get over yourself, Paris, and allow people to be nice to you."
Tom rolled his eyes and turned to B'Elanna, for a change of topic if not sympathy for his plight.
"How are the engines, B'Elanna? Much damage? They seemed alright when I flew her to that … planet." He frowned for a second. Did the thing even have a name? Should he know it?
"Not bad," B'Elanna answered. "Actually, that's probably the one thing the Kazon didn't screw with."
Harry nodded. "We've managed to fix most of the rest, except for the consoles that got blown out by the overload in the backup phaser couplings that you, Doc and Suder created."
He watched at Tom opened his mouth, and waved him off. "For which we do not blame you, so don't start up with that self-flagellation routine again."
"Speak for yourself, Starfleet," B'Elanna growled. "I can, and I do, blame our flyboy here for those overloads. Did you know …" she leaned over towards Tom, waving her spoon menacingly, "that there's something in fried Kazon hair that causes a long-term short-circuit in the isopalavial interface of the macro-linear filament generator?"
Tom stared at her for a second, non-plussed. "The … what?"
Harry, catching on quickly, couldn't resist. "Oh, poor Tom. Having a blonde moment? Imagine that, Maquis. Four days away, and he forgets the basics?"
Unfortunately, being Harry Kim, he couldn't keep a straight face for long. His attempt to swallow a rising cackle resulted in resounding failure. Instead, he inhaled a residual snoot-full of Neelix' culinary creation and succumbed to an undignified choking fit.
As Tom watched Harry's predicament unfold before him, he could almost feel his mind sliding back into its normal groove, with an audible – to him, anyway – click.
So that's where the wind is blowing from.
He briefly considered allowing his best friend to choke to death, but decided that a manly slap on the back – rescue and revenge in one convenient, irresistible package – would be the better way to go. He executed the maneuver deftly and with maximum prejudice, his eyes fixed on B'Elanna as he spoke.
"There you go, Har. You can breathe easier, now that you've got that out of your system. As for you, Chief, I've found that the best way to get rid of Kazon hair is to irradiate the console with bipolarized turpentine isotopes. Surprised you haven't thought of that."
He took his spoon, a smile playing on his lips, and eyed his pleeka grub casserole with familiar revulsion.
"So, do you guys think Neelix will ever learn how to cook?"