Chapter 6

Torres awoke to a splitting headache and the slow realization that she was back in the room above Borat's bar, lying in the bed. As her vision slowly cleared, she saw that Tom sitting on one of the nearby chairs, half-resting against the wall, apparently asleep. A tangled web of thoughts led her both to wonder how he could possibly sleep in such a position and whether he had slept at all the previous two nights – and how much of that night he had spent watching her. All of which only made her head hurt more, and she groaned aloud, inadvertently waking the pilot.

Paris blinked a couple of times at her before smiling in obvious relief and getting up to run a tricorder over her.

"Did I win?" she asked in something far more like a croak than she would have preferred.

Tom nodded, still smiling. "How's it feel to be a javen champion?"

B'Elanna made the mistake of trying to shift position and hissed in pain. "Pretty awful actually."

"I'm not surprised," the pilot replied, giving her a sympathetic look. "You had a couple of broken ribs, one of which looks to have come dangerously close to puncturing a lung, a dislocated shoulder, a nasty concussion and more major contusions than I could count."

She frowned and tried to piece together what she remembered from the end of the bout. "Did I pass out?"

He nodded again. "But not until after the match was called."

It occurred to her to wonder how she had made it from the arena back to Borat's tavern. She found that she didn't quite have the courage to ask, and Tom didn't offer further explanation which was probably just as well. Tom continued, "I fixed up what I could and reset your shoulder while you were unconscious," she gave him a grateful look for that, "but it will take a couple of days for your body to finish healing."

Gritting her teeth, she sat up slowly and then paused for a moment waiting for her head to clear. "Did Borat come through with the tritanium?"

"He sent it over this morning. He also offered us a ride back to the shuttle." Tom raised an eyebrow in question. "It would definitely beat hauling fifty kilograms of tritanium all the way there." B'Elanna mentally supplied what Tom wisely did not state: and you're not really in condition to walk that far anyway.

She shrugged. "We've trusted him this far, which is quite a bit. Might as well hitch a ride."

The pilot seemed to be in agreement. "As long as Yorgin isn't flying," he grinned. Then he added, "I suspect that Borat is playing one last bet, hoping that if we do make it back to Voyager, we'll convince the Captain to resupply with him." B'Elanna tended to agree.

Ride or no ride, she wanted to get back on her feet. Pushing down the blankets, she swung her feet to the side of the bed. Paris watched her carefully, but didn't protest, earning him some points in her estimation over Voyager's EMH. Slowly B'Elanna pushed to her feet and was pleased when she only felt mildly nauseated once upright. Still, she found herself suddenly very grateful that she would not need to make the three hour hike back to the shuttle, whatever Borat's ulterior motives might be.

Gingerly stretching her arms, she caught sight of the bruises, only half-healed by the dermal regenerator they had brought along from the shuttle, and the streaks of dirt and blood along her arms. Instantly, she felt absurdly self-conscious and all too aware that Tom's assessing gaze. "I'm going to clean up," B'Elanna announced curtly, already heading for the small attached lavatory. She thought she heard Paris start to say something in reply just before she disappeared.

A few minutes later, she re-entered the main room, still bruised and sore, but at least relatively clean and collected. In addition to washing up, she had pulled back on her uniform jacket which covered the worst of the beating her clothing had taken over the last two days. Tom was sitting at the small table, a mug in one hand and a biscuit-like object in the other. He had the grace not to comment on her improved appearance and instead indicated the second mug and plate of food. "I thought you might prefer to avoid the dining room so I convinced Quin to indulge us with some room service."

B'Elanna looked first at the breakfast and then at the pilot and chuckled appreciatively before taking the plate and mug and sitting down with them cross-legged on the bed. "You do have your moments, Paris."

He grinned. "I thought you'd never notice." Then he added, "Quin's also letting Borat know that we'll take him up on the transportation. As soon as we're done eating, we should be able to get back to the shuttle and start repairs."

Hands wrapped around the warmth of her mug, Torres cocked her head to one side. "I can't believe it."

"Believe what?" Tom asked between bites of food.

She felt an almost giddy smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. "We might actually pull this off," she said in utter amazement. Taking in her tone and expression, Tom's face broke into a matching grin, and then they quickly finished their breakfast and prepared to head back to the shuttle.

Six hours later, the chief engineer was ready to pronounce the Cochrane space worthy, though barely. The patches she had applied with Tom's help would have given any Alpha Quadrant inspector, even one with standards far lower than Starfleet's, an apoplexy. Nonetheless, she was reasonably confident that they would hold, and Paris trusted her assessment without question.

At any rate, they were out of time. By their estimation, Voyager might already be entering the Ferrin system. Giving the hull a last scan, they re-entered the shuttle, and, while the pilot began the pre-flight sequence, Torres quickly set up the E-M pulse to offset the effect of the planet's core on their systems.

Making one last adjustment, she turned to Tom. "The counter-resonance pulse is ready. I'll have to fine tune it as we climb through the atmosphere, but it should keep the systems up."

"All set with the pre-flight," the pilot responded. "Any final words for Ferrin III before we lift off?"

She snorted softly and growled, "Just get us out of here." But the corner of her mouth was lifted in a half-grin, and Tom chuckled as he announced, "In that case, prepare for lift-off."

"Captain?" Ensign Harry Kim called from his station at Ops. "I think I've found them."

The Captain, who had been leaning over Ensign Wildman at the science station below him, was at his side in a couple of efficient strides. "What have you got, Harry?"

He pointed to one of the scans of Ferrin III on the console in front of him. "This is the E-M signature from a small ship that launched from the southern continent of the third planet a few minutes ago. It has some odd sort of variance, but I'm almost certain it's the Cochrane." Harry glanced over at his captain. "It's badly damaged, Captain."

"Can you hail them?"

"I think so," Kim responded with some hesitation. "There's a good bit of interference, but I should be able to compensate enough to get at an audio channel open."

Janeway nodded and patted him on the shoulder. "Do it. Let's let them know we're on our way, shall we, Mr. Kim?"

"Yes, ma'am," the ensign agreed with a smile, quickly working to open the line. The Captain moved back down to the center of the bridge, looking forward at the tiny orb that was Ferrin III on the view screen. "Voyager to Cochrane: Lieutenants Torres and Paris, do you read us?"

Static and then shrill feedback whistled through the bridge as Kim worked through the interference. Then, "Voyager, this is the shuttle Cochrane. Good to hear from you."

Harry released a none too professional but highly understandable sigh of relief, and the Captain shot a smile in his direction before answering, "It's good to hear your voice as well, Tom. We're reading heavy damage to your shuttle. If you return to the surface, we should arrive at your location in less than an hour."

Static erupted again for a moment and then Paris's voice returned mid-sentence "...keep Voyager away from the planet's atmosphere...electromagnetic interference...should be able to make it out to you..." and the line cut out.

Janeway turned quickly back to Ops. "Mr. Kim, can you get them back?"

The ensign's fingers flew over his console, but he shook his head in the negative. "No, ma'am. Their comm system seems to have gone down completely."

"Can we transport them out from this range?"

"Not with the levels of interference that we're getting."

Janeway stepped forward to stand behind the conn station. "Ensign Baytart, move us in as close as you can to the planet without entering into its ionosphere. Mr. Kim, let's get maximum magnification of the planet, extrapolating for where the shuttle should clear the atmosphere."

Ferrin III instantly filled the viewscreen, enlarged until the green forests and snow-capped mountains of the southern continent were clearly visible and the clouds took shape above them. Silence hung thick on the bridge as every officer, the Captain included, stared unblinking at the screen, straining for any glimpse of the Cochrane.

"They're through!" Kim's announcement came a split second before the Cochrane burst onto the screen, scared, battered, but whole. "And I have a transporter lock on Tom and B'Elanna, Captain," the Ensign added.

"Beam them directly to sickbay," Janeway ordered as she allowed herself a small smile of relief. Moving up to the tactical station, the Captain added, "And, Tuvok, let's get a tractor beam on the Cochrane and tow it in. You have the bridge, Lieutenant. I'll be in sickbay."

"Aye, Captain," Tuvok's reply came as she stepped into the Turbolift and called for Deck 5.

"It's open," Tom called from where he was sitting when the door chimed. He looked up and then started to his feet when the chief engineer walked in. "B'Elanna! I thought you were-"

"-Harry," she finished for him, smiling. Her eyes traveled around the room, taking in the monochromatic prints and etchings on the walls with interest. "You redecorated."

"You haven't been in here for a while," Tom countered.

She nodded, acknowledging that. "Did I interrupt your reading?" she asked, indicating the PADD in his hand.

The pilot chuckled. "I was just going over the conn report from Voyager's trip through the gravimetric ring – trying to decide if I envied Culhane and Baytart the ride or not. Guess I'll find out soon enough when we head back through."

"Well, apparently we won't be heading out for a few days. Now that Voyager is here, the Captain wants to take full advantage of the supplies available on Ferrin III." B'Elanna half-grinned, half-grimaced. "Looks like Borat's wager is going to pay off even more than he thought."

"You don't mind, do you?" Paris asked, giving her a probing look. "Without him, we would never have gotten back to Voyager in time to warn them off."

Torres shook her head. "No, I don't really mind at all." She seemed to consider for a moment, gazing at one of the nearer prints on the wall. "I think I even trust him to keep the details of our...transaction to himself." She glanced over at Tom, and their eyes met with the shared knowledge that, although she had not asked him to keep the specifics of their time on the planet quiet, how much Voyager's crew heard of their adventures would be entirely up to her.

"Can you stay for a while?" he asked, still holding her gaze. "I could replicate some coffee. Or some dinner."

B'Elanna smiled but dropped her eyes. "Thanks, but I need to get down to Engineering. I actually have something for you," she said holding out a cupped hand. He instinctively put out his own hand palm up, and she dropped two shiny gold pips, one solid and one hollow, into it.

Tom looked at the pips and then at the engineer with no small amazement. "Where did you...?"

"I had a few extra replicator rations," she shrugged. And then she grinned archly. "I suspected that you would need to requisition new ones through Chakotay and that, while you might actually enjoy telling him that you pawned the old ones to pay your bar bill, you more likely would prefer avoiding the whole conversation."

He chuckled appreciatively at that. "So anyone can just go and replicate these things?"

B'Elanna's grin grew positively wicked. "Well, not anyone exactly. It would take either someone with a command code or a good bit of engineering knowledge."

Tom's eyebrows climbed. "So you are telling me that I am in possession of two genuine, contraband Starfleet pips?"

"Enjoy, Paris," the engineer quipped, heading back toward the door.

"Tom," the pilot called, stopping her.

"What?" B'Elanna turned, confused.

"Tom. My name," he repeated insistently.

"I..." she hesitated, looking trapped.

"You've used it a couple of times in the last few days, you know," Tom continued, mostly because he strongly suspected that she didn't, in fact, know. And indeed, she reacted with surprise. "You have. And the universe didn't end, and Voyager didn't fall from the sky," he added, letting his pointed teasing stand as a challenge.

She glared at him. Then snorted. "Fine. Enjoy them, Tom." And then she spun on her heel and headed back for the door, calling, "But don't get used to it."

"I wouldn't dream of it, Lieutenant," he shot back before she quite made it through to the corridor. As he watched the door slide closed behind her, Tom weighed the pips in his hand, the corner of his mouth twisting into a grin. He reached up to fasten the insignia to his collar, his thoughtful gaze still lingering on the door through which the engineer had just exited.