Written for the 2013 VAMB Secret Drabble Challenge for Hester who supplied the wonderful first line, "If you had told me that earlier, it could have saved us a lot of trouble," and asked for a look at the friendship between Paris and Janeway.

(Originally titled "Lost and Found, or Because sometimes you just have to punch your way through..." but FFN didn't like that for a couple of reasons...)

Straight Road Lost and Trouble Found, or
Because "sometimes you just have to punch your way through"...

"If you had told me that earlier, it could have saved us a lot of trouble."

"I wasn't aware that you were in the habit of avoiding trouble, Mr. Paris."

"Well, I might have made an exception in this case."

"Command decision. There are some things that it's better for a captain to keep to herself."

Not willing to directly challenge his commanding officer, even under the present circumstances, the pilot settled for ever so slightly raising one questioning eyebrow.

"It's possible that this was not one of those things," Janeway conceded.

At that, Tom's face became a picture of diffidence, and the Captain chuckled. "At ease, Lieutenant. Now where the hell are we?"

A good question. Upon leaving the Tauren council chambers, they had set out on foot in the direction of the Drake. Or, at least, Tom had assumed they were heading for the shuttle. The streets of the Tauren capital city were, as far as he could tell, designed to be as labyrinthine as conceivably possible, and he had quickly admitted to himself that he had lost his bearings. Captain Janeway, however, had been striding along with confidence, and, loyal officer that he was, he had followed without question. Only when their nearly hour-long trek had not returned them to the shuttle had he hesitantly asked if the Captain was taking the long way around for a reason. And she had admitted, albeit with extreme reluctance, that she was lost.

So where the hell were they? Looking around, Paris was fairly certain that they had circled their way into what most likely bloomed into a bustling entertainment district, possibly with a particularly red-lit flavor, once the planet's twin suns set. Other than that, he had no idea.

"We could call for a beam out," Tom suggested tentatively. Janeway only threw him a withering look. Right. The Captain's less than stellar sense of direction should not and would not be broadcast to the rest of the crew. "An emergency beam out?" he modified hopefully, guessing that the alternative would be to "retrace their steps", i.e. stumble around the city blindly for a few more hours.

The Captain looked skeptical, but didn't rule out the idea. "I don't suppose you have experience in manufacturing emergencies, Mr. Paris?" she asked archly.

Tom grinned, examining their surroundings with more purpose now. "Not exactly. But, as you mentioned, I am pretty good at getting into trouble," he reminded her, turning the full force of both his grin and his blue eyes alight with mischief on his Captain, inviting her (he hoped) irresistibly into the conspiracy.

"I'm regretting this already," she sighed, even as she motioned for him to lead the way.

Granted he was working under a certain amount of pressure, but Tom thought the plan that he hastily put together was simple, classic and stood a good chance of working. His Captain's assessment seemed less positive. "Lieutenant, please tell me that you are not intending to get us into a bar fight," Janeway muttered, exasperation evident as the pilot ushered her into a carefully chosen drinking establishment.

Paris bristled slightly since, of course, that was exactly what he intended, though less us than him. "It will be easy," Tom coaxed as he led her to the bar. "I'll find someone to get into a confrontation with, get him to throw a punch at me, and you'll call for an emergency beam out." No muss, no fuss. The Captain's reputation would be intact; he would be spared hours of pointless wandering.

Janeway raised her eyebrows. "Not that I am agreeing to it, but how exactly were you thinking about initiating all this?"

He was actually still working on that one. But, "The easiest way would probably be for me to remove myself to the other side of the bar for about two minutes..."

Her brows climbed higher. "You want to use me as a lure, Mr. Paris?" And there it was. A weak link in an otherwise nicely conceived plan. Not that it wouldn't work – he had chosen the bar with a practiced eye, and it was occupied by a heavily male clientele, many of whom were already well into what appeared to be the local happy hour. Plenty of eyes had already trailed after them – or rather her – as they had entered the bar. It would work. If the Captain agreed to it.

And, to be fair, he would be the one taking the punch.

Janeway sighed again. Heavily. "If a word of this should get back to that ravenous beast of a rumor mill..." and her eyes promised several fates far worse than death.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Two minutes, Mr. Paris."

"Yes, ma'am."

It took one.

Almost as soon as Tom had stepped away, a largish (damn) Taurenite had moved in on the Captain.

The Taurenite leaned in, spoke a suggestion.

She demurred.

He spoke more insistently.

Paris was already moving – there wasn't a chance in hell that he was going to let the bastard actually touch her – and, with a few long strides, he had a hand on the Taurenite's shoulder. "The lady asked you to leave her alone." The pilot would have had a lot more fun with the classic line were he not again impressed by the sheer size of the man as the Tauren rounded on him. The best laid plans...

The Taurenite growled, "Get your hands off of me, you grawlt."

Funny how the universal translator failed on the one word that Tom had no trouble interpreting on his own.

Paris glared up - a dozen centimeters up - at his opponent, snarled, "What did you call me?" and, for good measure, shoved the man toward the bar. As the Taurenite flailed for a moment, Tom caught sight of the Captain rolling her eyes heavenward and reaching for her comm badge.

Sure enough, the Taurenite came back roaring, slamming Paris into a table full of customers and their drinks.

"Janeway to Voyager: two for emergency beam out," Paris heard, right on cue.

Nothing. No acknowledgment. No tingly beam.

The pilot caught his Captain's eyes. Oh hell.

Chairs scraped back. The four gentlemen whose drinks now covered Paris's uniform rose to their feet...

...and collectively decided that the pilot's attacker was to blame for their lost libations.

The aggrieved parties flung themselves at the huge Taurenite. From the other side of the room, three equally large compatriots rushed to his aid.

And glorious chaos erupted.

Finding himself momentarily forgotten, Paris darted back to the Captain, who had wisely taken refuge crouching near the bar. She eyed him ruefully. "I may actually have underestimated your talent for finding trouble, Lieutenant."

"Any word from Voyager?" The Captain shook her head. "Well, we could always stun them all," Tom suggested, not entirely joking.

"That doesn't seem particularly sporting considering we started the fight," Janeway returned with a peculiar gleam in her eye. A very peculiar gleam.

She was enjoying herself.

A grin split across Paris's face even as the giant Taurenite grabbed him and pulled him back into the fray.

They materialized back on Voyager to a look of utter shock from the young ensign at the transporter controls contrasting with impassivity, marred only by a single raised eyebrow, from the chief of security standing before the platform. The Captain's jacket was torn and strands of long hair had escaped their usual regulation coiffure and hung loosely down her back; Paris suspected he looked even worse for wear.

"Captain, I regret the delay in responding to your hail," Tuvok greeted his commanding officer. "We encountered some unexpected ionic interference, and both communications and the transporters were temporarily offline."

"No harm done, Tuvok," the Captain replied, repinning her hair even as she descended from the platform. "Mr. Paris and I had the situation under control."

"Indeed," deadpanned the Vulcan, glancing from the Captain to the pilot and back.

"Lieutenant, I assume that you would like to clean up before returning to the surface for the shuttle?"

"Yes, ma'am," Tom agreed.

"Very good." The Captain walked toward the doors, turning back as they swished open. "And, Mr Paris?" she added, with a look of wicked innocence. "Try to stay out of trouble."