The Mercenary, originally completed in 1997, was written to answer two questions: how did Tom land in the Maquis, and why did Chakotay and Tom have a history in the Maquis while Tom and B'Elanna didn't seem to know one another? Since the character of Ro Laren in TNG was a favorite, and in "Preemptive Strike" she defected to the Maquis, her participation in this story became a given. Ro and Paris seemed to be close in age, too, and my imagination went into overdrive.
Although Paramount owns Tom Paris, Ro Laren, Chakotay, B'Elanna Torres, Lon Suder, Michael Jonas, Seska, and the Star Trek universe in general, Delistor II and its inhabitants, as well as this plot, came out of my brain. I must also credit the author of a story called "The Resignation," in which Ro encounters Chakotay. Once I read that story, I could never shake the idea Ro had been abused when she was a youngster by the Cardassians. I thank L.R. Bowen for her wonderful story, the inspiration for Ro's backstory in this, and several other of my tales. -jamelia - 8/5/2013
He was lucky the fist to his gut was not holding a knife. In the grimy port of Hakkarond , the lack of a well-equipped physician, not to mention the general aura of filth, could have consigned the tall young man to an early grave if his abdomen had been pierced.
His female companion, who was in league with the man with the fist, quickly searched the fallen man's garments, removing anything of value she found. As she examined her booty, Garinta sneered in disgust. There was little money and even less of anything else to be found on his person, beyond a pleasant face, firm, if somewhat undernourished muscles, and golden body hair. Rolling him had not even been worth the time she'd spent humoring him in the bar - the expense of the raw hooch with which she'd plied him cost more than what they were able to steal from him. The entire enterprise had been a complete waste of time and money.
Angry at herself for being taken in by sparkling blue eyes, which the young man now turned beseechingly towards her, Garinta kicked him unmercifully in the stomach. The liquor he had consumed was quickly regurgitated out of his skinny stomach, spilling all over his clothes and into the muddy ditch in which he lay. Garinta felt perversely better. Why should he have the benefit of being drunk if she couldn't get enough back to cover the drink?
The young man was spared any further tender mercies from the pair by the approach of another figure. A female dressed in the voluminous robes of a Bajoran vedek was picking her way down the dirty street, avoiding malodorous puddles of unknown, undoubtedly unwholesome liquids and the scattered debris, barely visible in the dark, that lurked to trip the unwary. Garinta and her accomplice slid rapidly into the shadows, but not before attracting the Bajoran's attention. Hearing the quickened pace of the footsteps coming from the vedek's direction, the two cutpurses disappeared down a nearby alley, heading to another bar that might have a better-heeled outworlder prime for the plucking.
Groans of pain coming from the ditch made it easy for the Bajoran cleric to find the victim. When she turned him face up to check on his injuries, she was glad to see there was no blood, at any rate. From a distance, she had thought she had seen the metallic flash of a knife in one of the attackers' hands.
The light of the three small but full moons illuminated the young man's face. He opened eyes which pleaded with her to stop the pain.
No one could have been more surprised than the woman wearing the robes of a vedek. The face of this victim belonged to someone she had known for almost ten years, in a place very unlike Delistor II.
"Thomas Eugene Paris, what in the names of all the Prophets are you doing here?"
In between moans, Tom squinted up at his benefactor.
"Laren, Ro Laren, is that you?"
/. . . oh my God, my head, my pounding head, aching stomach, sour mouth, light too bright, much too bright, God in Heaven, am I going to be sick again, oh my God, no, please don't let me be sick again, help me, God, help me. . . /
Tom Paris tried to pry open one eye. The double sun shone through the open window, glowing brightly scarlet through his eyelids. It was far too powerful for him to chance it. His 171 centimeter frame was sprawled over a sagging mattress that was too short for him by at least a head. Both feet hung outside of the blanket. From the stale smell of vomit, he could tell his covering could probably stand a good washing. As he lay there, eyes fastened shut, Tom found himself hoping that he was not responsible for the smell of the blanket; but the more he gathered his thoughts together in his throbbing head, the more he was sure he was to blame. Vomiting his guts out seemed to be the last thing he could remember doing. No wonder his stomach hurt.
A groan escaped his lips. Clenching the blanket between his balled fists, he tried to make sense of what had happened to him, without much success. And how the hell did he get in this bed, anyway?
At the sound of rustling in another part of the room, Tom turned his head away from the light and cautiously opened his eyes. After managing to convince the room to stop spinning around in circles, Tom focused his eyes on a long, lanky figure, seated next to a small metal table on the other side of the room. The crook of her left arm held her leg tightly against her body, with her foot perched upon the seat of her rickety chair. Her dark hair was cropped short all the way around. As her head turned, silvery Bajoran jewelry attached to one shapely ear reflected a flash of the light flooding through the window. Her dark brown eyes were watching him intently, but through her crooked grin, she said breezily, "I was beginning to wonder if you were going to sleep the rest of your life away, Paris. It's about time you got up."
Despite his physical discomfort, Tom Paris' face broke out in the most genuine smile to play across it in over three years. "I thought I must have been dreaming last night, Laren. Unless I'm hallucinating."
"You keep drinking that stuff you threw down your throat last night, you'll be getting delirium tremens and hallucinations in no time. But you're not dreaming. It's good to see you, Hotshot. Although I'm not sure I want to ask you how you've been doing."
The tone of her voice was light, mocking him to take what she said as more than a joke. Even though it had been six years since he'd heard that voice, Tom was not fooled. She was worried about him.
"As well as can be expected under the circumstances. I don't suppose you've heard about Caldik Prime? It seems that everyone else in the Alpha Quadrant has, to gather from the looks I get whenever I introduce myself to anyone. I guess I'll have to wing out to the Beta Quadrant soon to get away from myself. Assuming they haven't already heard about it there, too."
She got off her chair before saying anything more to him. Sitting carefully on the edge of the bed, in consideration of the wince he made when she first made contact with the mattress, Ro took both of his hands in hers. The headline of the first newsnet report she'd seen screamed back into her memory. "Admiral's Son Disgraces Family Name." It had made her ill. She only said to Tom, however, "It was hard not to hear about it. I even heard about it in prison."
He squeezed her fingers back. "I'm sure glad Picard got you out of there, Laren. You didn't deserve that."
"Quite a pair we are, Tom. The cream of the Class of '64: The 'Most Likely to Do Something Wonderful,' and the 'Most Likely to Piss Everybody Off.' Never could figure out which one of us was going to do which while we were in the Academy. Now it seems we both managed to specialize in 'Pissing Everybody Off' instead of doing 'Something Wonderful.' "
He tried to laugh, then winced again as his stomach muscles protested. He managed to grunt out, "There's still time," before moving his hands, still grasped by hers, to his abdomen. She released his hands then, moving hers down to barely touch his sore flesh.
"Take it easy with the laughing, Tom. You've got some nasty bruises from those drinking buddies of yours. I'm not sure how many times that guy hit you, but I saw the woman kick you in the stomach when you were already down. If I had a med kit with a tricorder here, I would have scanned you to make sure there were no internal injuries. Can you get up to go to the bathroom? That's a name much too good for it, in my opinion, but we need to check for blood in your urine."
"If you help me, I think I can. Wait a minute, I'm naked. How'd I get naked?"
"Just noticed? You must be more hung-over than I thought. How do you think you got naked, Hotshot!" she laughed openly now. "Do you think I have a maid or a valet in this dump?"
He stared into her eyes, looking for signs of any uneasiness. "So, you undressed me?" he asked hesitantly.
"I thought I just said that. Who else? Don't tell me that Tom Paris, Mr. Smooth, is shy? You don't have anything that I haven't seen before, trust me."
"You never saw MINE before."
"That is not strictly true, as you well know."
"Hey, if you go poking around in bushes when a fellow is trying to take a pee, you shouldn't be surprised by what you see!" Looking into her still smiling face, his nervousness eased. It was good she could make a joke about it now; she had not been able to then. Tom had never been able to forget the sight of tough Ro Laren, obviously shaken, backing away when she had blundered into Tom while he was relieving himself - any more than he could forget the horrific explanation she had shared with him afterwards.
Ro was smiling. She had never smiled enough, as far as he was concerned. He offered her a crooked smirk back. "So, this time you want the full view?"
"I got the full view last night, Tom. Like I said, nothing special. And anyway, no scales, no problem." His smirk faded. He did not believe for a moment that she had really gotten over what the Cardassians had done to the young Bajoran orphan of the refugee camps, but at least sexual jokes didn't upset her any more. If she could keep it light she must still trust him. He wondered if she would still trust him, if she knew what he had become.
Ro prompted another smile from him by poking him playfully and gently on his fuzzy chest between the nipples, well away from his bruised abdomen. Getting to her feet, she held her arms out for him to pull himself up, carefully, to a seated position. He took a pain filled breath, then just as carefully placed his feet on the floor and stood, swaying a little, before leaning on her to walk the few steps to the curtained alcove that, from the sharp smell of urine, had not been cleaned for a while.
She continued to support him by holding her arm around his waist while he stood in front of the receptacle. After a few moments, however, Tom muttered, "Uh, Laren, maybe you should go. I might have some difficulty here with you standing so close."
"What's the matter? You don't want an old buddy like me to help you?"
"The problem is, you're an old, FEMALE buddy, and I'm not sure my - equipment - will work properly if you're too close to me."
"Why, Tom, I never knew you cared!" She backed off, however, laughing again, strangely pleased by what he'd said.
After a few long minutes of silence, the sound of a stream of liquid dropping into the receptacle, followed by silence, brought her back to his side. "Clear, no sign of blood. That's good; at least your kidneys weren't injured. Need help getting back to bed?"
He would have preferred to make it back on his own, but Tom allowed her to put her arm around him again as they moved back to the bed. Getting in was no easier than getting out had been. As he settled back against the pillow, Ro pulled the blanket over his chest and patted it smoothly around his body. Sitting down on the edge again, she asked, "Do you want anything to eat? I can get you something from downstairs if you want. The food is better than the room. That's why I stay here."
"You always did favor you stomach over other comforts, Ro," he smiled. Then he rocked his head back and forth against the pillow. "I don't think I'm ready to eat. Probably just throw it all up again, the way my stomach feels. You have anything for my headache?"
"You don't deserve anything for that hangover, Tom Paris," calling his headache by its true name. Her voice softened, however, as she went on, "I don't have anything here with me, like I said, Tom. I have to go out this afternoon. I'll bring a med kit back with me so I can really check you out. Then, maybe, since I think you'll have suffered enough to mend your drunken ways, I'll see if I can find something for all your aches and pains. I'll be gone a few hours."
He reached out to her, his right hand stroking her forearm. "I'll live."
After patting the back of the hand that rested on her arm, Ro stood erect. Moving to the wall where a peg held her vedek's robes, she grabbed them and pulled them over her tightly fitting jumpsuit. Watching her dress, an odd look appeared on Tom's face as a thought occurred to him. As Ro walked over to the door to leave, he suddenly said, "Laren, I'm not going to jeopardize your mission by being here, am I?"
Ro looked back at him, eyebrows raised and an indulgent expression on her face. "Mission? What mission?"
He looked at her in surprise, then whispered, "Starfleet. For Picard, right?"
The only part of her expression that changed was the eyes, which went from open to guarded in a second. "Oh, my, Tom, you have been out of touch, haven't you? I'll tell you all about it when I get back. There's a jug of water on the floor beneath the window sill. Try to drink some of it. And rest."
After she had gone, he lay for a long time, looking up at the ceiling, wondering why that wariness had entered her eyes. A pain that was not physical twisted his gut. /Please, God, don't tell me she messed up her second chance. Please, not that./