A World Away
by Jordan Trevor
Disclaimer: The crew of Voyager doesn't belong to me.
The fruits of his labor were three bruised bananas and two scarred apples. Tom Paris stared at them in his hands and sighed. Beggars can't be choosers. Nor can thieves.
He stuck the bananas and one of the apples into the cloth bag that hung over his shoulder. And then, after shining it up a bit on the front of his t-shirt, he took a hungry bite out of the remaining piece of fruit. Despite its outward appearance, the apple was crisp and sweet, so sweet it made his teeth ache. It was the first thing he'd eaten in almost two days.
He took another bite, forcing himself to chew slowly, appreciating the taste and texture of the pulp on his tongue. He thought fleetingly of how good a peanut butter and jelly sandwich would be with his meager lunch. But food cost money, and money was something he didn't have; something he'd never thought he'd need.
Paris leaned heavily against the alley wall, shifting uncomfortably. Expect the unexpected. A first year lesson every Academy cadet learned. And he'd learned it well. Expect the unbelievable. He'd learned that one too well. Images of Caldik Prime still haunted his dreams. But this... He looked around at the deserted alley: the overflowing crates of garbage, the rotting cardboard boxes, the shallow puddles of stagnate water. And again, the helpless feeling rose inside of him, the shaking, uncontrollable fear - the unbelievable realization that he was a twenty-fourth century starship pilot stranded on a twentieth century world.
But he wasn't alone. And he remembered that as he took another bite of the apple. He had to get back to Chakotay. He'd left him by himself for far too long.
Paris shoved the half-eaten apple into the bag with the other fruit, pushed himself to his feet, and started down the alley. He didn't like having to leave the first officer by himself, but when Paris was looking for food, or stealing food, as was often the case, he couldn't bring Chakotay with him. The commander was too noticeable, too awkward and clumsy; he didn't understand what was going on, and he invariably drew unwanted attention.
But he can't help it, Paris reminded himself as he picked his way around a trash dumpster and then scaled a chain-link fence. The head injury Chakotay had sustained when their shuttle went down had been fairly severe; there was still swelling along the back of his skull. With his limited medical knowledge, Paris had treated him as best he could, and although the tricorder reassured him that the first officer wasn't in any immediate danger, the damage had been done. His memory and mental abilities had been affected, and he was very much like a child. An innocent, awkward kid, Paris sighed as he dropped to the ground on the other side of the fence. He still wished he could take him to a hospital, but he was reluctant to take the risk. On this world, they were vagrants, with no form of identification. And from what Paris had been able to piece together from observation and experience, vagrants were barely tolerated. He wasn't even sure if a medical facility would admit them.
The shuttle had gone down in a densely wooded area ten miles from town. Paris had barely had time to pull Chakotay from the wreckage and retrieve the emergency medical kit, phasers, and some survival gear before the circuitry caught fire. He'd tried to put it out, but the fire ran along the interior of the hull and, in the end, all he could do was watch as the craft went up in flames. Watch, and pray that the thick black smoke didn't alert anyone to their presence on the planet. They'd stayed in the woods a couple of days, away from the crash site, but eventually they'd made their way into the town, and they'd been there for over a week.
The planet was called Vaiden, and it was remarkably similar to twentieth century Earth. The town, Dormond, wasn't large. Paris estimated a population of about thirty thousand. It was just big enough to get lost in, and that was good. Paris had no intention of them being found by the local authorities. He just wished that Voyager would find them. But as the days went by, he was beginning to worry. Thoughts of Harry Kim's experience with the time rift concerned Paris. If they'd encountered something similar, they might never be found.
But he couldn't dwell on that now. He cut down another alley, and across a street, and then back behind a row of buildings until he reached a residential neighborhood, small houses that bordered along a park. On the opposite edge of the park was a wooded area. Several homeless people had devised shelters there, makeshift housing the size of cardboard boxes. And Paris had felt that they might be safe there as well. Despite the proximity to the park, no one had demanded that they leave. He'd found an old plastic tarp and had used it to make a small tent, barely big enough for the two of them. But it was home.
When he reached the tent, he dropped down to his knees. "Chakotay, I found us some lunch," he said, drawing back the corner of the tarp and peering inside. The tent was empty. "Damn," he muttered, releasing the tent flap with a frustrated jerk of his hand. He sat back on his heels. He'd halfway been expecting this. So far, Chakotay had been too frightened to venture out on his own, and the few times that Paris had left him here alone, he'd stayed put. But he was gone now.
Paris sighed and pushed himself to his feet. At least he knew where to look first. Chakotay was intrigued by the park; he liked to watch the people, the ballgames in the field, the children on the play equipment. And he usually observed quietly enough, but although the people on Vaiden were humanoid, they were smaller than the big Native American and none of them had tattoos over their left eyes.
Paris went back to the edge of the park and stared across the field. He didn't see him, but there were several benches on the opposite side, and he hoped that Chakotay was sitting on one of them. He jogged across the playing field. There were no games this morning. Most of the people in Dormond were at work at this time of day, and the older children would be at school. He did notice some mothers with babies and toddlers and there was the man who sold ice cream and hot dogs. Paris' mouth had watered on several occasions as he'd passed his food cart. But there was still no sign of Chakotay.
"Damn, damn, damn," Paris muttered to himself, shaking his head, his hands on his hips.
"Hey, there," the food vendor called over to him, "have you lost someone?"
Paris walked closer to the man. He'd passed him several times in the past week, but they'd never spoken to each other.
"Just looking for a friend of mine," Paris said easily.
"Big guy, dark hair, funny lines over his eye?" the vendor asked.
Paris shrugged. "It's a...birthmark. But, yeah, that's him. Have you...seen him?"
The man nodded. "He was here earlier. Doesn't talk much, does he?"
"He's shy," Paris replied, hoping that Chakotay hadn't done anything unusual. "He, um...didn't cause any trouble...did he?"
"Oh, no." The man shook his head. "He just... He looked hungry. I gave him a hot dog. I hope that's all right?"
Paris smiled. "That's more than all right. Thank you. We... Well, we've fallen on hard times, so to speak."
"Think nothing of it." The man waved his hand toward the center of town. "He headed off that way," he offered. "I haven't seen him since. That was about half an hour ago."
Paris looked toward the business district and sighed. This was all he needed. He glanced back at the man. "Thank you," he nodded and then trotted off toward town.
His stomach growled, and he wished he hadn't eaten the hot dog so fast. But he couldn't help it. He was hungry, and the food was good. Now, he was still hungry, and the hot dog was gone. His stomach growled again. It hurt. It always hurt. A dull, constant ache. But not like the pain in his head. That only came every now and then, and it was so bad it made him cry.
He stopped in front of a window and pressed his fingers to the glass. Tom liked to look in windows. They looked in windows together, and Tom would always see something he wanted. But they couldn't get it because Tom said they didn't have any money. But the man had given him the hot dog, and Chakotay didn't have any money. He would have to tell Tom that he was wrong. You could get things without money. But maybe not things in windows.
He wished Tom were with him now. He'd tried to look for him, but he couldn't find him. The streets all looked the same. Once he'd thought he'd seen him, standing on a corner, but when Chakotay had reached him, and the man turned around, he saw that it wasn't Tom. He just looked like him.
Chakotay trailed his fingers along the window, and then walked further down the sidewalk. He wanted to go home. He was tired. Soon Tom would find him.
On the corner was a store that sold food. Tom called it fruit, Chakotay remembered. There were some things that he could remember, and other things that he couldn't. He remembered what Tom told him. But Tom had told him not to leave the tent, and he had anyway.
Chakotay stopped and looked at the fruit in front of the store. It was piled in crates and boxes, all different kinds and colors: yellow, green, red, orange. The red ones were his favorite. He reached out and picked up one of the round pieces of fruit. It was an apple; he knew that. He rubbed it against his shirt. Tom did that. It made the apple shiny. And then Chakotay bit into it.
"Hey, you! What do you think you're doing?" The voice was loud and it came from a short man who was walking out the door of the store.
Chakotay didn't say anything. He didn't like to talk to anyone except Tom.
"I asked you a question? That's my apple. You buy before you eat." The man held out his hand.
Money...he wanted money.
Chakotay held the apple out to the man, trying to give it back. The man pushed his hand away.
"You can't return it!" he bellowed, staring at him. "Just...get out of here. I'm tired of your kind hanging around."
Chakotay didn't move. He was scared. The man was yelling, and he didn't like it when people yelled.
"I said leave!" The man pushed at Chakotay's arm.
The apple fell from his hand, hit the sidewalk, and rolled into the street.
"Go on. Get outta here!"
The man pushed him again, and Chakotay stumbled back, almost losing his footing.
"Leave, damn it, before I call the constables!"
He started to push him again, but suddenly a man stepped between them, holding up his hands.
"Hey, hey...just hold on."
Chakotay blinked. It was Tom.
The man stood close to Paris, staring up into his face. "Look, if he's a friend of yours, just get him outta here."
"All right, all right, there's no need to push him." Paris stepped back and wrapped a hand around Chakotay's arm. "He just doesn't understand."
"Yeah, well, maybe you do. Fifty credits for the apple."
Paris dug into the bag hanging over his shoulder. He pulled out one of the apples he'd gotten earlier and extended it toward the man. "A fair trade," he offered.
The man looked at the scarred apple in Paris' hand. "Look...just forget it. Just...leave, all right?"
"All right." Paris took a step back, one hand still securely wrapped around Chakotay.
"And if I see either of you again, I'm callin' the constables," the man threatened, then pointed his finger toward Chakotay. "That one should be put away." He stepped forward, suddenly shouting louder. "Did you hear me? Put away!"
Terrified, Chakotay pulled away from Paris' grasp and started to run, blindly, tears blurring his vision. He had to get away, had to get home, had to... He rounded a corner, into an alley, and fell to his knees beside the wall, his chest heaving.
Paris ran after him and skidded to a halt at the entrance to the alley. "Chakotay, I told you to stay put," he said loudly, advancing toward the man. He knew he was frightened, but damn it, so was he. So frightened, he didn't realize how harsh his voice sounded.
Chakotay pressed himself against the wall and started to cry, and Paris realized what he'd just done. He'd yelled at him. He'd never yelled at him. He'd never even raised his voice. In the past week, he'd used nothing but calm, soothing tones. And now, Chakotay was huddled against the alley wall, one arm over his head, protecting himself from a blow that would never come, at least not from Paris. But Chakotay didn't know that. He was still so afraid of everything and everyone.
"Chakotay, I'm sorry." Paris knelt beside him, his voice almost a whisper now. He reached out, touched Chakotay's arm, drew it away from his face. Tears streaked the man's cheeks and frightened eyes looked out at him. "I won't hurt you. I'm sorry I yelled. But I was so scared when I couldn't find you."
"Hurt," Chakotay whimpered as he raised his hands and covered his ears.
"It's all right," Paris assured, the hand on Chakotay's arm moving up and massaging the back of his neck. He felt the tight, tense muscles relax under the gentle pressure of his fingers. The smooth skin was warm and clammy with gathered sweat and mingled tears. He pulled Chakotay into his arms, an easy, familiar reflex, one he'd perfected nightmare after nightmare. The dark head burrowed against his chest, and Chakotay's hand closed tightly around the collar of Paris' shirt. "Shh," Paris murmured as he gently rocked him. "You're all right, big guy. I'm here."
Long moments passed. The sobs that shook the broad shoulders gradually subsided, his breathing lapsing into shallow, wheezing gasps. Paris' own rapid heartbeat had returned to normal.
"I told you stay in the tent," he whispered, his arms gripping Chakotay tightly. "You have to do what I tell you, right?"
"Right," Chakotay answered, twisting in his grasp, suddenly feeling confined.
Paris felt the tension in his body and relaxed his hold. "Then why did you leave?"
"Looking...for you," Chakotay tried to explain, drawing in a long, unsteady breath.
"Yeah, well…next time do what I say." He glanced over his shoulder, half expecting to find the shop owner bearing down on them. But except for them, the alley was empty. "I was worried about you." He released his grasp on the man and sat back on his heels. He was still holding the apple in his hand, and he held it out toward him. "Here. Eat this."
Chakotay sighed, wiping the back of one hand over his eyes, and taking the apple with his other hand. He leaned back against the wall. Slowly, he rubbed the piece of fruit against his shirt and then took a bite.
Paris smiled tiredly at Chakotay's actions and collapsed against the wall beside him. Reaching into the cloth bag, he took out his own half-eaten apple. It wasn't much of a lunch, but it would have to do.