This story is AU and explores the possibility of Voyager returning to the Alpha Quadrant in 2374, in the middle of the Dominion War. All the characters belong to someone else but I'm glad I get to play with them.
Thanks to BR, B'Arb, Starburst, Ann and Dasia for the beta and to LA and Kat for the moral support.
Dedicated to Harmonic Convergence.
Certain people might notice a similarity to the story line of Casablanca, a movie from the 1940's and one of the best movies ever made. Yes, I did blatantly steal the plot but I added a few Star Trek twists. No apologies, I had a great time doing it!
Posted: August, 2003
The planet Beloti was an arid world on the edge of Cardassian space. It was a stopping place for the refugees from the Dominion War. Thousands of men, women and children, fleeing planets that had been overrun, some utterly destroyed. Most of the refugees stayed on the edge of the planet's main continent since it was near the main source of water. Small oases in the heart of the planet attracted the very adventurous but those were few and far between. The Cardassians seemingly saw no value in this particular planet since it had little water, few mineral resources, and a population of misfits, drunks and outcasts.
The main town was called "Grethor," Klingon hell; an apt name for a place where the inhabitants cursed their luck and sold their souls to get out. A visitor to this town would see nothing but grim gray buildings wedged together along hot, narrow streets and back alleyways. The streets were teeming with life but this town had little to offer the weary traveler - a few merchants, dingy, crowded hotels and dozens of seedy bars where the fugitives could gather to commiserate or bargain for passage to another world, and a more hopeful future.
Starfleet also saw little value to this far off planet but it kept a small base there as a reminder to the Cardassians that they had agreed to leave this world alone. Lieutenant Harry Kim had been assigned to maintain that base. It wasn't exactly a plum assignment but Kim had more experience with first contact situations than most at his rank. He'd also seen his share of deep space and combat. Those were the official reasons he was offered the command. The real reason was that Ensign Kim had been part of the Voyager fiasco and it's consequent political debacle.
The return of Voyager after nearly four years lost in the Delta quadrant saw the Maquis members of the crew arrested and detained aboard Deep Space 9, only narrowly escaping deportation to trial on Earth. The Starfleet crew had been hailed as heroes but their protests over the treatment of their crewmates had brought embarrassment to the admirals at headquarters, and the returning "heroes" were soon sent on to other posts, separate and distant from each other. Only Captain Kathryn Janeway had maintained the facade of returning hero. She was feted and paraded, promoted to Admiral, and given a desk job at Starfleet Headquarters.
Lt. Kim couldn't spare much time to worry about his Starfleet career though. His first command offered enough challenges to keep him frantically busy on this godforsaken pile of sand, so close but so far from the real action of the war. Tonight however, things were going smoothly and he left his office in the care of an ensign while he made his way to "Nik's Place," the hottest spot in the town of Grethor.
Nik's Place was primarily a bar, but it featured entertainment and gambling, pretty Dabo girls and alcohol - lots of alcohol. In fact, with water so short on this planet, alcohol was a mainstay in most everyone's diet. But Harry didn't go for the drinks although he did occasionally indulge. And he didn't go for the girls -- well, maybe the girls were a high point. He went because he had friends there. Old friends who'd been through hell with him and had escaped to a bar on the planet of Beloti.
The wide double doors of the large white-washed building welcomed Harry as he pushed through them into the smoke filled room. The Federation may have been able to eliminate the use of tobacco and drugs on the home planets but the outlying worlds still held on to the old vices. The rise and fall of hundreds of voices from every backwater planet in the galaxy greeted him. Harry thought it was a miracle that his universal translator didn't short circuit every time he came to this place. The multi-species band was playing softly. It was always a source of amazement to him how such a conglomerate of instruments and musical styles could produce any kind of tolerable sound, but they did. They weren't exactly a joy to listen to, but they were an adequate diversion in a war torn world. He took the opportunity to acknowledge the piano player with a smile and was rewarded with the royal wave.
The rattling of dice, crackling of cards and shouts from the gambling tables in the back room could be clearly heard. Harry knew that behind the door Dabo girls were flirting with customers at their tables, and the cries of "Acquire" and "Confront" came from the Tongo wheel. There was even a quiet corner where a very intense game of poker was being played. Gambling was the only form of recreation on this planet, and "Nik's" provided a large variety.
A familiar face with a shock of orange hair greeted him as he made his way to the bar. "Harry," Neelix called, "how are you? I haven't seen you around in a couple of days. Starfleet is working you way too hard," added the congenial bartender.
Seated now at the long, polished ebony bar, Kim watched his friend pull a tall glass of ale from one of the large vats that lined the wall behind the bar, "I'm fine Neelix, just been busy preparing for a state visit by some Starfleet brass."
"Ooh, anyone I know?" Neelix asked as he sat the glass in front of Harry.
"I don't even know who's coming. I just got word that there would be a visit soon and I'd better be ready for it. Files in order, office ship-shape and no internal conflicts in the settlement. Everyone needs to be behaving." Kim gave the exuberant Talaxian a searching look.
"Why would you think that I was involved in any conflict, Lieutenant?"
"Call it instinct, Neelix. Just keep it quiet while the brass is here, okay?"
"Anything you say, sir." Neelix grinned at his companion.
A Bolian who entered the bar at that moment diverted their attention. His name was Chiff and he was a schemer, always looking for a get-rich-quick idea and swearing that he would some day have enough money to return to Bolius IX a wealthy man. He glanced furtively around and immediately made his way to the back room. The well-dressed Ferengi guard at the door was arguing with a Cardassian about his entry into the room when the Bolian came into view and was given the nod to enter. The Cardassian began to shout, "How dare you try to keep me out of here? I know there is gambling in there, I have gambled my way across two quadrants and you are not going to keep me out of this place."
The tall, blond man sitting at the booth in the furthest corner of the room glanced up at the commotion and surveyed the situation. With a sardonic smile he shook his head, a gesture which infuriated the Cardassian even more. He began to push his way past the Ferengi causing the blond man to leave his comfortable seat and move towards the door. Dressed in a loose fitting black jacket over a simple black shirt and brown, baggy pants, he moved with the ease of an athlete. Looking squarely at the Cardassian and speaking softly he said, "No one gets in here without my okay, and you are not going to get my okay. The bar is open to you and nothing else. Understand?" His question was congenial, his blue eyes hard.
"Who are you to tell me whether or not I can come in? I want to talk to the owner. Where's Nik?" the angry man shouted.
"I own this place. Nik is dealing at the Tongo table and has no say whatsoever in who I allow into my bar or my casino." The Cardassian looked over at the back wall and saw the Ferengi, Nik, working the wheel just as this stranger had said. With a few choice words he grabbed the sticks of latinum required for entrance out of the guard's hand and returned to the bar to take his anger out on those who were serving drinks there.
Tom Paris watched him go, then slowly turned back around to survey his gambling empire. The tables were full, the customers seemed to be enjoying themselves, and from the look on Nik's face, the profits were well within acceptable parameters tonight. Without a smile he began to silently make his way back to his quiet booth.
The Bolian, Chiff, boldly seated himself across from Tom and signaled the waiter to bring him a drink. Tom raised his eyes from the padd he was studying when Chiff asked, "may I buy you a drink?"
"No thanks, I'm fine." Tom answered and resumed his study.
"I'd like to have what my friend Tom is having," Chiff said when the waiter asked. He was preoccupied with preening himself and missed the small smile that crossed the human's face. When the steaming drink was set before him Chiff puckered his nose at the pungent smell but bravely took a large drink. Tom was openly watching now, curious as to his reaction. The Bolian's blue skin took a decidedly purplish hue as he struggled not to spit out the hot, bitter brew. When he regained some use of his voice he choked out, "What is this black substance that burns your throat and makes the eyes water?"
"It's called coffee, an Earth delicacy." Tom murmured as he returned his attention to his padd. His face still held a faint smile.
"No wonder your race has been so successful in its aggression. I thought the cigarettes and drugs that you shared with other worlds was your most dangerous weapon, I believe that this coffee could be far worse," he said as he gingerly took another sip. His companion's only answer was a nod.
"Tom," the Bolian continued in a soft voice, "I need your help." He anxiously leaned closer to the bar owner causing him to recoil. The smell of a Bolian was sometimes a little hard to get used to.
"I'm not going to tell Nik to let you win at the Tongo table, Chiff. You have to take your chances like everyone else." The data padd still seemed to have a fascinating hold on him.
Chiff reached out his hand and covered the face of the padd knowing that would get Tom's attention. The blue eyes raised and looked at him in irritation, silently demanding a reason for this interruption.
"I need you to hold something for me, just for a little while. I have a buyer coming tonight but I need somewhere to hide this information until he comes. I know you dislike me and for some reason that makes me trust you. Will you keep this for me? Just for a while." The Bolian opened his hand just a little so that Tom could see he held a data chip.
"What's on the chip?" Tom asked cautiously.
Chiff leaned in closer, "Cardassian security codes. These codes will allow anyone access through the Cardassian lines. These aren't the random codes that get changed daily. These are the central codes, the ones supplied by the Vorta. They don't even know they've been stolen. The courier is still sending his signal but he's been caught in a plasma storm, and won't be able to deliver them on time, if you know what I mean." The Bolian winked at Tom, or as close to winking as a humanoid with nictitating membranes can accomplish.
Tom thought for a few moments before silently laying his hand on the table next to his coffee cup. Chiff surreptitiously slid the chip over while reaching out to retrieve his own cup. The chip made its way from Tom's palm to his cuff while he took another sip of his now cold coffee. "I need to get this warmed up. See you later," Tom said as he rose from the table.
A blue hand grabbed his arm and colorless eyes looked at him, "I hope this means we're friends, Tom."
Tom carefully pulled his arm away, "I don't want this here overnight, understand?"
"Yes, yes, of course. Thank you," said the Bolian hoarsely. He headed for the gaming tables.
Walking deliberately to the piano in the large main room of the bar, Tom stopped and asked, "How's it going tonight, Doc?" while he slipped the chip into the top of the piano letting it slide between the strings to the bottom with a soft ping. Voyager's doctor, tuxedo clad and still nameless, raised an eyebrow but knew enough not to ask any questions. "When does the show start?" Tom asked.
"As soon as our diva puts in an appearance," the Doctor grumbled.
Tom smiled at the obviously irate hologram, "Now, Doc, we know that with all her faults, Seven is always punctual."
"Well, she has changed the order of the performance tonight at least a dozen times. She can't seem to decide whether she's on Broadway or at a country fair. I wouldn't be surprised if her next venture was Klingon opera." The doctor was so pre-occupied with his fit of pique that he didn't notice the brief look of pain that crossed Tom's face at his words.
Seven of Nine's appearance saved Tom from having to reply. She moved swiftly and efficiently to stand next to Tom at the piano. Still a beautiful woman, Seven had developed a style of her own now. Her hair fell free and looked like spun gold as it swung softly to her shoulders. She'd foresworn the revealing cat-suits, much to the doctor's disappointment. Tonight she was wearing a long diaphanous gown that held just a hint of blue and lit up her eyes, which, Tom noticed, held a good deal of mischief.
He bent slightly to kiss her cheek and said, "Knock 'em dead, Seven."
"Dead patrons would not be economically feasible, Tom," she replied with a straight face.
He answered with a grin and a reminder, "Don't irritate the doc too much. I'm the one that has to listen to him."
"If he would follow instructions regarding his accompaniment to my singing, there would be no source of irritation." Tom shook his head, Seven was consistent, he had to give her credit for that.
The piano began an old familiar tune and Seven began to sing,
"On a clear day
Rise and look around you
And you'll see who you are--"
Tom moved away to watch with a slight smile. His friends had their musical differences. Seven was in a Broadway mode this week and the doctor really felt it was time to enrich her repertoire. He had in mind a little Puccini, a little Verdi, maybe even a some T'Berl, but Seven wasn't ready to move on. Tom grinned as he remembered the agony of listening to country music every night while she studied that particular style. They'd been here a year, long enough for Seven to study several styles of music. Long enough for all of them to feel safe and at home with each other.
The four of them had fled Deep Space Nine shortly after Voyager docked there. Harry had heard from an old friend about Starfleet's plans to debrief and decompile the holographic doctor. His friend also had news of the fate of the Borg, Seven of Nine. She would be taken back to Starfleet Medical and held for research purposes. Apparently the admiralty had already decided "once a Borg, always a Borg" and had no intention of allowing Seven to continue on the road to full humanity. They considered it - her- too great a risk. Harry's frantic plea had forced Tom to ask the help of the Ferengi bartender, Quark, and the underground network that flourished on every space station.
Unsure of his own welcome by the Federation, Neelix had asked to be included in the escape attempt and Quark had been able, for a hefty price, to get the four "voyagers" on a transport away from DS 9 and Starfleet. After a month of working their way across the quadrant using many disguises and means of transportation, they had wound up here in Grethor, a desolate place, appropriately named, Tom had observed wryly. The owner of a bar, Nik, gave them menial jobs at minimal pay but at least it had been an out of the way place to hide for a while. Neelix made an excellent bartender, and Tom an excellent dealer at the card table. It seems "Poker" had become a pastime in many corners of the quadrant.
Nik was a Ferengi, though, and an honest game was not the most profitable game. And so he cheated, most of the time. A late night game with unusually high stakes was his downfall. Tom knew he was cheating and Tom used that knowledge to his advantage, egging Nik on until the stakes were so high that Nik had no choice but to pledge his bar as collateral. And then Tom used his knowledge of Nik's methods to win the hand and the bar. "Never cheat a cheater," he told the Ferengi as Nik signed ownership over to him. Always a gracious winner, Tom offered to let Nik stay and handle the Tongo wheel as long as he kept it relatively honest. Now he had a safe place on a neutral planet where he and Neelix, Doc and Seven could make a life of sorts.
As Seven's song ended, Tom shook his head to clear it of the memories. He had a business to run, and musing over a past life would not keep it running efficiently. Making his way to the bar, he greeted his old friend warmly though he frowned at the uniform. "Harry, I thought we agreed to leave politics outside my bar."
"I just got off duty and I decided to drop by before going home." Harry grinned at his friend. They were a contrast in styles. In spite of his long day, Harry's uniform was crisp, every pip in place. His hair was regulation length, his boots polished, and he looked the epitome of a Starfleet officer.
Tom's hair reached his collar and lay carelessly on his brow. He wore a shaggy moustache and goatee, more because he didn't care for shaving than for any fashion statement. He enjoyed the freedom of baggy clothes and rarely wore anything else. He could look the part of the owner or take his jacket off and make a passable bartender.
"Well, it's good to see you. How do you think Seven's doing tonight?" Tom asked as he gratefully picked up the cup of coffee that Neelix put beside him.
Harry still had a major crush on Seven but she had, as yet, shown no interest in pursuing a relationship, so he just admired her from afar. Tom's question made him blush and he hoped it wasn't visible in the dim light. "Not bad. I take it she's moved to Broadway musicals now?" he asked as the doctor began the introduction to "State Fair." There was a note of regret in Harry's voice. He had actually enjoyed the "country" phase and had hoped it would continue for a while.
"Yeah, she decided yesterday that she was moving on, and has had Doc rehearsing all day. Lucky for me they both have eidetic memories or tonight's performance would probably be a disaster," Tom answered with a smile. Even as they argued, Tom knew he could always count on Seven and the doctor putting on a fine performance.
Harry turned back to the bar and abruptly changed the subject. He needed to tell his friend the real reason for tonight's formal attire. "Tom," he began, "we've got some Starfleet brass coming in to inspect the base in the next couple of days." His tone was hesitant and he knew his friend would not be happy with the news.
Tom hid his irritation well though. "Anyone we know?" he asked as he took another drink of coffee.
"I don't know, I just got word that a small team would be stopping by for an inspection so I'd better have everything ship-shape. They asked me to have quarters ready for three or four people," Harry replied. "I'm sure they just want to make sure no one is collaborating with the Cardassians."
"Harry, I make a profit by keeping this war out of my bar. I don't want anyone telling me how to run my business or hassling my customers." Tom's voice rose a notch.
"I know, Tom. I know. I'm sure it's just a routine inspection. Just a little junket so Starfleet can say they're keeping an eye on the situation. Starfleet has no real authority here. I'm just a peacekeeper, nothing more." Harry's words of assurance were tumbling all over each other.
"Okay, Harry, just remember that when the brass gets here." Tom grumbled.
"I will, Tom, I will." Harry stood and with a nod to Tom said, "I think I'll go play a little Dabo for a while." Tom absently returned the nod as he surveyed the crowd. A little light but certainly adequate for a profit. Many of the patrons seemed a little more tense than usual and the Cardassian who'd been refused admittance to the gambling tables was deep in conversation with another Cardassian at a dark table in a far corner. A Ferengi waiter was hovering nearby.
A commotion at the door of the establishment redirected Tom's attention. Three Starfleet officers had just entered and were obviously looking for someone. One was an officious looking Andorian, middle-aged and a mid-level officer who, from the looks of things, would never rise any higher. The second was a female ensign, human, obviously on her first mission away from home and possibly in her first bar. She looked scared to death. The final officer caused Tom to catch his breath and steel himself with all the self-discipline he could muster. The officer was Admiral Kathryn Janeway. She looked around without noticing him and directed her junior officers to sit at a vacant table. He watched her with his heart in his throat. 'Not now, Tommy boy, do not lose your command mask now.'
Neelix grasped the situation fairly quickly and, with a reassuring pat on Tom's arm, he moved purposefully to the admiral's table.
"Admiral Janeway," he spoke excitedly, while carefully blocking her view of the bar, "what a nice surprise! What are you doing in our little corner of the galaxy? What can I get you to drink? If I do say so myself, my coffee is the best in the Beloti system." His exuberance caught Admiral Janeway off guard as he grabbed her hand and began to shake it.
"Neelix, how nice to see you. I knew you were in the system somewhere but I had no idea you would be in this-- establishment. I'm looking for Lt. Kim and I was told he might be here," she responded guardedly to the Talaxian.
"Why I believe he is here somewhere. I'll just have a look and see if I can find him. Can I get you a cup of coffee?"
The admiral had little choice but to agree. Ignoring the other two officers in his excitement, Neelix bustled off leaving the admiral with a faint smile on her face. The smile faded a little when she looked past Neelix to the bar and saw Tom Paris. His expression was unreadable. Neelix had given him the time he needed.
With a word to her companions, Janeway made her way over to the bar slowly, unsure of her welcome. "Tom Paris. It's been a while. How are you?" She held her hand out in a gesture of friendship.
"Admiral Janeway, this is quite a surprise. What brings you to the armpit of the galaxy?" Tom asked guardedly as he accepted her gesture.
"Just a brief inspection tour. As this was Harry's first command I thought I'd come myself and relive a little of the old times."
She hadn't changed, at least as far as Tom could tell. Her eyes were still the color of cold steel and her hair still the burnished umber of old with just an occasional hint of silver. A smile crossed his face as he realized that Arachnia's costume would probably still fit her slender figure to perfection.
A bit disconcerted at his silence, and his small smile, Admiral Janeway continued, "I saw your father before I left Earth. He misses you and asked me to tell you to write your mother more often."
A genuine smile crossed Tom's face. "How was he? And I sent a message to Mom last week on a Ferengi freighter."
"He'd like you to come home, Tom. They both miss you terribly. You could have a good life, away from this place." The admiral added.
"I have a life here, Admiral, and I'm helping a cause."
"What cause is that?" she asked skeptically.
Tom's answered with a smile but his words had a hard edge to them. "My own. I own this bar, and my goal is to provide a place where people can go and forget about their lives, their losses. In my bar there is no war. Everyone can come in and just relax. You might want to try it yourself sometime."
Before the admiral could answer, Harry Kim came rushing over. Neelix had just made him aware of who his state visitor was. "Admiral," he stammered, "I'm sorry, I wasn't expecting you so soon. Your quarters are all ready, ma'am, I mean sir, I mean Admiral. And I have the man that security asked about under surveillance."
With a gentle hand on his arm the admiral calmed the younger man, "It's alright, Harry. I arrived early. You can show me to the quarters later, after we've had a drink. Now tell me about this man you've been watching."
Oblivious to Tom's presence Harry began to describe the Bolian, Chiff."-- and as far as I can tell he hasn't contacted a buyer yet. He must still have the codes on him."
Admiral Janeway glanced at Tom and slowly pulled Harry toward an empty booth. "Let's talk some more about this, Lieutenant. And then I would like to meet this, uh-- this courier."
Harry looked at Janeway and then at Tom in some alarm. He instinctively trusted Tom with any information and old habits are hard to break. Tom just gave his friend a half smile and a nod of reassurance as he removed himself from hearing distance. The Admiral watched Tom walk away with a quizzical expression on her face. Shaking her head slightly she returned her attention to Harry. After a short conversation the two of them went looking for Chiff at the gambling tables.
The Bolian appeared to come willingly as he followed Harry through the bar but the sight of Tom seemed to dispel his sense of calm. "Tom," he called, "you must help me. Tell them I'm simply a customer, just like all the others."
Before Tom could answer, Chiff had pulled a disruptor out of his pocket and was aiming it at the admiral. The ensign who had accompanied her into the bar was quicker though and soon the Bolian was stunned and lying in a blue heap on the floor. The other customers were standing and moving away in alarm while Harry and the young woman pulled Chiff to his feet and began to drag him out of the bar.
Tom hurried to reassure his patrons, "It's okay, folks, all the excitement is over. Just a little misunderstanding. Go on back to your tables. Doc, how about a little music?"
Anger filled Tom's face as he faced the admiral, "What the hell was that for? I told you to leave your war outside."
Janeway could barely drag her eyes away from the doctor calmly sitting at the piano, playing as if nothing had happened. Her breath caught as she looked up to see Seven of Nine staring at her with cold blue eyes from her position next to the doctor. Tom's voice broke through though, and she shook her head to clear it. Fixing her eyes on his she answered icily, "If you want to keep the war outside, Mr. Paris, then I suggest that you don't harbor criminals in your bar."
With deliberate irony Tom replied, "If everyone who had ever been accused of a crime was asked to leave, my bar would be empty right now."
The atmosphere and the noise level in the bar had returned to normal, the ugly scene with the Bolian forgotten by most. The Doctor and Seven had resumed their performance, and Tom had returned to the back room where the gambling tables remained untouched by the unpleasantness. Neelix was listening sympathetically to a new group of refugees and barely noticed the opening and closing of the front doors of the establishment. However, something caught his attention. Maybe it was the audible gasp from Seven of Nine in the middle of her rendition of "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina". Or maybe it was just instinct that caused him to look up and see the two new guests seating themselves at a table in the far corner. Commander, now Captain Chakotay of the Maquis, and B'Elanna Torres. "Oh my, oh my," the little Talaxian murmured, "it never rains but it pours."
B'Elanna Torres hated bars. She hated the cloak and dagger work that required her to accompany Chakotay into bars. He was always looking for leads on new ways of getting to the heart of Cardassia, new weapons for his freedom fighters or codes to intercept. His mission in life was to defeat the Cardassians, single-handedly if necessary. She recognized the importance of that mission but she was tired of fighting and rebuilding ships that the Cardassians had tried to destroy. She was tired of running and hiding and eating in seedy, out-of-the-way places.
Looking around though, she was willing to concede that this place was different. It was still filled with refugees but they didn't have the hopeless look of so many. There was music and laughter in spite of the dark shadows.
A woman was singing in a clear voice and the song was familiar. She'd heard it before and it was clearly from Earth, 20th century Earth if she wasn't mistaken. A curious choice on a planet 200 light years away. The singer was hidden behind the support beams but B'Elanna could almost see the piano player if she stretched her neck just a--
"I'm going to go get our drinks since the waiters seem busy. Maybe I can see our contact. I'll be right back." Chakotay's words interrupted her quest and she returned her attention to him. He didn't ask her what she would like, he assumed he knew since he 'knew' her so well. With a smile he left her alone, not noticing that the smile was not returned.
The music continued and B'Elanna finally stood up to get a closer look just as the song ended. To her surprise she found herself looking straight at Voyager's Doctor and Seven of Nine. Neither one seemed happy to see her but that didn't deter her from closing the distance between them. "Doctor, Seven," she began, "I had no idea you were even in this part of the galaxy. How are you?"
"Well, Lt. Torres. This is quite a surprise. We had no idea you were in the area either. It seems you've been keeping some familiar company." The doctor's reply was almost haughty.
"We're still with the Maquis, if that's what you mean. We're still trying to make a difference. At least the Federation has finally recognized that the Cardassians are enemies of all of us." B'Elanna rejoined defensively. "What are you doing here?"
"We are employed by -- this establishment, as the entertainment." B'Elanna had thought no one could equal the doctor in arrogance, but now she recalled that Seven had been gifted in that area also.
"Oh-- well-- I'm glad to see you. I didn't know you'd left DS 9. Were you there long?" B'Elanna asked. She surreptitiously looked around to see anyone else that she knew.
Seven began to answer, "We were able to escape before Starfleet began to use us for experimental purposes. To-- umph! Why did you strike me, doctor?"
"I would never strike you, Seven. We just don't want to keep the crowd waiting while we visit. Our break isn't for half an hour yet. Will you be around a while, Lieutenant?" The doctor's words were frantically fast, fast enough to raise B'Elanna's suspicions.
"I'm not a lieutenant any more, Doctor. I'm just an engineer and I don't know how long we'll be here. That depends on Chakotay." She felt herself blushing at the mention of Chakotay's name.
"I see," mumbled the doctor. "Well, Seven, we'd best get on with the show," he admonished cheerfully. "Is there anything in particular you'd like to hear, Lieu-- I mean, B'Elanna?"
Despite knowing they were hiding something, B'Elanna was glad to see her old shipmates. She gave the doctor's offer some thought and smiled faintly, "Yes, there is. It's an old one, from the 21st century, 'One More Day' is the name of it, I think."
If holograms could sputter, this one was sputtering. "I-- ah-- I don't believe we know that one, do we, Seven?"
"On the contrary, Doctor, you sang it just last week. It is quite a nice song but it doesn't fit in with the Broadway theme we have this week," Seven reminded him.
"Well, then I guess we just can't do it-- "
"I see no harm in changing the program to accommodate an old shipmate. I will sit with B'Elanna Torres while you perform this number." Ignoring the doctor's obvious discomfort, Seven moved to a table close by. If looks could kill the galaxy would have one less musical Borg right about then.
B'Elanna was confused as she turned to join her former nemesis but a vise-like grip on her wrist detained her. "Leave him alone, B'Elanna," the doctor said softly. "Don't do this to him again."
"I don't know what you mean," she parried defensively.
The doctor gave her a long look and released her. Sighing deeply, he began to sing in a clear baritone,
"Last night I had a crazy dream--
A wish was granted just for me
It could be for anything
I didn't ask for money
Or a mansion in Malibu
I simply wished for one more day with you!
One more day, one more time-- "
The irate proprietor interrupted the doctor's song. "Doc, I thought I told you I didn't want to hear that particular song again." Tom's voice was sharp as he strode smoothly over to the piano. Doc answered him with a glance over his shoulder causing Tom to stop and turn. He was looking at B'Elanna again. She was in his bar. She was alive, and she was here, and he was speechless.
In that long moment the only one capable of speech seemed to be Chakotay. He walked over to the group and quickly put his arm around B'Elanna's shoulders, staking his claim. "Well, isn't this a surprise. It's been a while since we've run into any old shipmates, hasn't it, B'Elanna? What are you doing in this hellhole?"
No one could think of a reply. Tom and B'Elanna were staring at each other, Doc and Seven were glaring at Chakotay and Neelix felt like a diversion was needed, quickly. "Sit down, Commander, and Lt. Torres. This is a surprise. Let me get you something to drink. What would you like?"
Chakotay answered without taking his eyes off Tom, "I've already given our order to the bartender."
"Well, I'll just go get it. And Tom, I'll bring you another cup of coffee. Anything for you, Seven-- no, I guess not." Neelix had started to bustle off when Tom caught his arm.
"Forget the coffee, Neelix, just bring me a Romulan ale. I'll share a table with the old gang." Tom's tone was sarcastic as he seated himself next to Seven. Chakotay and B'Elanna had no choice but to sit also. Chakotay carefully placed himself between Tom and B'Elanna.
Neelix looked shocked and worried at Tom's request. It had been months since Tom had had anything stronger than coffee and he didn't think now would be a good time to start drinking again. He opened his mouth to speak but a glare from Tom reminded the diminutive Talaxian where his paycheck came from. Silently he returned to the bar.
Chakotay wasn't there for the drinks or the atmosphere. He was there for one purpose only and he came to the point quickly. "Maybe you can help me, Tom. I'm looking for a Bolian. He has some information that I need and said he'd meet me here."
"Was his name Chiff?" Tom asked.
"Yes, yes, I believe that's his name." Chakotay hedged.
"Well, he can't even help himself right now. Starfleet arrested him half an hour ago." Tom's answer was curt.
Neelix had heard the question and answer while he was delivering the drinks to the table. "What did you need to see Chiff for, Commander?" he asked.
"Nothing, really, he was just going to get some information for me."
"Still fighting your war, Chakotay?" Tom asked bitterly.
"I'm fighting for justice, Paris. It's not my war, it's all of ours, and I intend to do everything I can to defeat the Cardassians."
"Well, I'll tell you what I told the Starfleet people, Chakotay. Keep your war out of my bar. I'm in the business of selling drinks and dreams to the drinkers. I don't deal in illegal goods." His eyes were angry, and the blue had turned to cobalt.
Chakotay was not to be deterred though, "Do you know where he's being held? I need to talk to him."
"Like I said, I'm an honest merchant. You'll have to talk to Starfleet about seeing Chiff, if he's still alive." Tom answered briefly, and with practiced indifference changed the subject with his eyes back on B'Elanna. "What have you been up to for the last year?"
Again it was Chakotay who answered, as B'Elanna sat beside him watching Tom cautiously and saying nothing. "We've been fighting for the rights of the people the Cardassians had oppressed. And now we're trying to find ways to fight the Dominion too."
Tom drug his eyes away from B'Elanna to look at his former commander again. His answer was cold, "Like I said, it's not my fight. We try to stay neutral here. The Federation and the Cardassians leave us alone."
"And the Dominion?"
"They haven't bothered us so far."
"Sold out again, haven't you, Paris?"
Tom could feel his anger rising as he answered, "I've just found my niche and plan on living a long, happy life in my own bar on a neutral planet. Sorry, I can't help you. Seven, why don't you give these people another song while I go check on my profits." He stood to leave with a final glance at B'Elanna, furtively searching her face for some sign of recognition.
B'Elanna was searching also, and only found a cold, hard edge. This bitter man was a far cry from the cocky pilot she'd once known-- and loved.
Chakotay and B'Elanna returned to their bleak hotel room. No words had passed between them since they'd left the bar. There was a message waiting for them on the ancient terminal: Neelix would like to visit some more with the Commander and talk about the old days on Voyager, particularly the time they'd spent together in the music conservatory practicing "Night bird." Chakotay recognized Tom Riker's Maquis cell code and responded accordingly, setting up the meeting.
B'Elanna stood facing the window, arms crossed, surveying the scene on the quiet street below. As he watched her reflection in the window Chakotay tried to read her expression. He'd expected to find Tom Paris here, but hadn't shared that information with her. B'Elanna had been reticent about her relationship with Tom, and Chakotay suspected that there was a great deal that she wasn't sharing with him. Moving behind her he put his hands on her shoulders and pulled her gently toward him. "Seeing so many people from Voyager was quite a surprise, wasn't it?"
Her only answer was a nod so he tried again. "I guess Paris has landed on his feet as usual. First Janeway pulls him out of prison, then Starfleet pardons him, and now he owns his own bar. He certainly knows how to take care of himself." He had pulled her against his chest in a warm gesture of caring but her shoulders remained tense and her spine rigid.
"He takes care of Neelix, Seven and the Doctor too, it seems." It was the first words she'd spoken since the encounter.
"B'Elanna," Chakotay began carefully as he gently massaged her shoulders, "is there anything you want to tell me about your relationship with Paris? Anything that might explain his attitude?"
"No, there's nothing. We were friends. I didn't have a lot of friends on Voyager, and Tom was willing to take the risk. That's all," she lied as she turned sharply away from his touch. .
"It's okay. I mean I'd understand if it was more but if you say you were just friends, that's good enough for me." He gave her a long look as he mumbled the words but her face was inscrutable. With a sigh he added, "I've got to go and meet the local Maquis. Will you be all right here alone?"
B'Elanna looked at him in mild surprise. Her welfare was seldom his concern, at least not outwardly. She knew he cared about her, but his mission came before all personal considerations. "I'm fine, Chakotay. Go to your secret meeting," she urged, "and be careful."
"I will," he smiled as he gave her cheek a swift kiss, and departed.
Watching as he crossed the street below her window, B'Elanna made a quick decision.
Tom Paris was sitting alone at a table in the darkened establishment. He had a bottle of Terran Scotch in front of him, the real thing, and it was half-empty. He stared at his glass and listened as the doctor closed the antiquated piano and placed the bench on top of it.
"Tom," the doctor began, "as your physician and friend, I would like to say that I think you need a vacation. Why don't you take Neelix and head for that little oasis inland? I hear there's some good fishing there."
"I don't fish," was the surly reply.
"Well, there's bound to be other recreational activities, probably not a golf course, but maybe some caves for exploring--" he regretted the words the minute they were out of his mouth.
"No, thanks, Doc. I've had enough caves to last me a lifetime."
"It's well past 0200. Why don't I finish the nightly receipts for you so you can go to bed," the doc offered helpfully.
"I'm not tired. Why don't you go to bed?"
"I'm a hologram. Holograms don't get tired."
"Then shut up and play," Tom murmured. "Play 'One More Day'. If she can take it, so can I," he added bitterly.
"I don't think that's a very good idea."
"Then don't play, just get the hell out."
"Getting angry with me is not going to solve your problem." The doctor had resumed his lecturing tone.
Tom slammed his fist into the table and his voice held pain as he said, "Of all the gin joints on all the planets in all the universe, she has to walk into mine."
The doctor answered unsympathetically, "Self pity is not a particularly helpful approach to the problem. I suggest that you get some sleep and see how the situation looks in the morning."
"No, she's coming back, I know she's coming back."
"I am quite sure Miss Torres is safely tucked in bed by now and has no intention of endangering herself by walking the streets of Grethor late at night."
As he said these words the door of the bar opened to reveal the object of their conversation. The doctor looked back and forth between the two and with a sigh made his way to Tom's office at the back of the establishment. Under his breath he was grumbling, "Well, someone better do the damn books and it won't be me. I'm a musician not a calculator."
After watching the hologram stalk out, B'Elanna took a seat across from Tom taking in the half-empty bottle and the red, blurred eyes. She struggled to find the words to reach him but, as usual, went straight to the point. "Tom," she began, "do you have the information that Chakotay needs?"
"B'Elanna, my beautiful B'Elanna," he slurred, "all you want is my information. You don't want me any more?"
She was irritated to find him drunk but she needed to know the answer so she calmly persisted, "Tom, listen to me. We-- Chakotay and I-- the Maquis-- are trying to turn this war with the Dominion to Starfleet's favor. We need those codes to get inside the Cardassian borders. We're not the mercenaries that Starfleet is making us out to be. We're fighting for a cause. It used to be your cause too. Can't you see that helping defeat the Cardassians is going to make the galaxy a better place for all of us?"
"You've become very idealistic, B'Elanna. Do you ever think of Voyager?"
Surprised at the abrupt change of subject, B'Elanna answered slowly, "Yes, almost every day. We tried to live up to the Federation's ideals while we were in the Delta quadrant. But the Federation isn't the same, Tom. They're not interested in protecting other people's rights anymore. They're just interested in protecting themselves. When people were losing their homeworlds to the Cardassians, the Federation didn't care, and once the Dominion is defeated they won't care again. Please help us get the codes. They're only going to be good for a short time, and we can make a difference if we can get to the heart of Cardassia."
"I didn't ask you about the Federation, B'Elanna. I asked you about Voyager."
"Look, Tom," she growled impatiently, "I don't have time to reminisce about out little jaunt through the Delta Quadrant. I have a war to win."
Even intoxicated, Tom's voice was cold, "Well leave me out of it."
B'Elanna was shocked and sat back to stare at him, "I don't know you at all anymore. You used to have ideals; you kept them hidden but I know you had them."
"I can't afford to have ideals. I have a bar to run and several employees who depend on me to keep it running."
Surprised, B'Elanna wondered again where the man she knew on Voyager had gone. This man was a bitter shadow of the cocky pilot who had captured her heart-- no, she wouldn't go there. Hearts had no place in this world of war.
"I guess I didn't know you after all. I thought I did but I was wrong. Good night, Tom." She left silently. And he allowed her to go.
The bottle of scotch still rested in front of Tom and he sat with his head in his hands. His thoughts went back to the place he swore he'd never visit again - Voyager.
"I've been a coward about everything, everything that really matters." He heard her voice and felt the sensation of floating in space, "I have to tell you the truth-- I love you--"
Tom remembered her words like it was yesterday. He remembered wondering how he could have been so lucky…
They lay together in his bed. B'Elanna was sleeping peacefully, and he was watching her sleep, never tiring of studying her face. She was the most beautiful woman he'd ever known and he wanted to memorize every detail. They'd been in the Delta quadrant a little over 3 years, and this woman had become first his colleague, then his friend, and now his life. He knew this relationship was a first for her. He was the first one she'd given herself to so completely and he was scared and honored all at once. As he watched her sleep the music played softly in the background,
One more day, one more time
One more sunset maybe I'd be satisfied
But then again I know what it would do
Leave me wishing still for one more day with you"
He couldn't think of a more appropriate song for their relationship. Some days they just prayed to survive one more day in this bizarre corner of the galaxy.
A soft voice startled him out of his reverie, "Hey, Flyboy, what are you thinking about?"
"You," he answered easily, "and why the most beautiful woman in the world would decide she was in love with me. And I was thinking about the song, I'd really like more than one more day with you."
"Well, we'll take it one step at a time," she answered, smiling.
"Even I know that Klingons mate for life," Tom rejoined, "and since we're going to be out here another 60 years or so, I'd say you're stuck with me." Grinning he leaned down to kiss her again.
"Come on, Tom, you don't really see a future here, do you?" Her words were harsh but Tom could feel the fear behind them. She'd been rejected before and she was afraid.
"I see us together from now until all eternity," he intoned solemnly, "or at least until the next Delta Quadrant race decides to take pot shots at us and ask questions later."
"Well, that probably gives us at least 24 hours or so," she smiled back at him. He was willing to give her the space she needed to come to terms with this new relationship. He had returned her love, she thought in amazement. Maybe there was a future here.
They never had time to explore that future. A wormhole had thrown them back into the reality of the Alpha quadrant almost immediately. The ship was greeted by armed security at Deep Space Nine. Starfleet members were separated from their crewmates and given a hero's welcome. The Maquis were confined to guarded quarters and Tom Paris was virtually ignored. His deal with Captain Janeway was well known, and it was assumed his pardon would come through at any time. He was also the son of an Admiral, and no one was willing to take the responsibility of confining an Admiral's son.
Concerned about the safety of his friends, Tom frantically tried to contact anyone who had a clue to their fate. His father was incommunicado, as was Captain Janeway. Finally he managed to corner Captain Sisko in his office. But Sisko had no more information than Tom. "I don't know what to tell you, son. My orders are to confine the Maquis to quarters until Starfleet can send a security force to take them back to Earth."
"What crime are they being charged with?" Tom asked.
"They are Maquis. The Federation has declared them criminals and they still have a price on their heads," Sisko answered him.
"But they aren't Maquis any longer, they've been Starfleet officers for three and a half years. Surely that counts for something." Tom pleaded.
"Mr. Paris, your captain has tried using that approach with Starfleet already and if she didn't succeed with them, what makes you think that you will succeed with me?" Sisko took some pity on the young man whose face showed far too much worry for his years, "Starfleet has a lot on it's hands right now, this war is taking it's toll on all of us. Give it some time, Tom."
A miserable Tom Paris wandered into Quark's bar. This was where he'd first met Harry Kim and found a friend. Starfleet was keeping all the Voyager crew sequestered while they were debriefed so Tom didn't even have his friend to lean on. Instead he ordered a drink, Scotch, the real stuff. He wanted to get drunk and he wanted to get drunk fast. Before he could take his first sip though, a woman sat next to him. She reached out to gently push his arm back down to the bar when he lifted the glass of dark amber liquid. She was Bajoran and gave him a long, thoughtful look as she held his arm. Finally she spoke, "Would you like to help your friends escape?"
Mesmerized by her dark eyes all Tom could do was nod. "Come with me," she ordered. "We'll take a little walk." Once they were on the promenade she revealed herself as a Maquis agent who had been sent to free the Voyager Maquis. They had a ship waiting, with a "borrowed" cloaking device; they had a plan and all they needed was a diversion. The Starfleet ship was scheduled to make the transfer of prisoners the next day and Tom would be there to cheer them on, and distract them from their duty. Another ship would wait for Tom, and carry him away from the Federation also.
The plan worked perfectly. Tom was able to provide the necessary diversion, greeting the officers as old friends and distracting them while the prisoners were transported off the prison ship, first to a troop carrier and then to the cloaked Maquis ship while Tom kept the Starfleet crew off balance. His last view of B'Elanna was when she was pushed through the access port onto the Starfleet ship. Chakotay's arm was around her as he urged her not to fight back. "Not now, B'Elanna, we'll get our chance, but now is not the time." Chakotay sent Tom a look of satisfaction and Tom realized that he knew the plan, and Tom's part in it. Would he tell B'Elanna?
The Maquis ship was ready to take Tom away the next day, but a frantic visit from Harry changed those plans. Harry had just heard from an old friend that Doc and Seven were being shipped to Starfleet headquarters the next day. The scientists there were anxious to get their hands on the Doc's 29th century mobile emitter and the "Borg," a dirty word as Harry's friend intoned it, would be taken apart to see what made her tick.
"We have to help them, Tom, but I don't know what to do." Harry's plea forced Tom to change his plans and turn to Quark for help.
A Ferengi has a long memory and this one was still angry with the young man who had ruined his sale three years earlier. Maybe Tom's sincerity touched him or maybe the fact that Tom had managed to win a lot of money at the Dabo tables made the barkeep inclined to help him. Seeing a way to minimize his losses Quark introduced Tom to a Ferengi trader who was willing to take on passengers - for a price.
The rescue was successful, and Tom found himself heading away from Deep Space 9, away from Starfleet, away from his family, and away from B'Elanna. They were headed to Beloti, the Ferengi had told him. Far enough away from Starfleet that Doc and Seven would be safe.
At the time it seemed like the best, the only solution. But now, having seen B'Elanna again, Tom had to ask himself was it worth it.
The market place was busy as B'Elanna searched for the supplies that were needed to keep their ship together. She grumbled to herself as she sorted through parts carelessly tossed in a large metal bin. Unfortunately most of the merchants didn't carry baling wire and duct tape.
A voice from the past interrupted her search, "Hey! Maquis!"
She turned to see Harry Kim making his way through the throng. When he finally stood in front of her, she extended her hand cautiously, not knowing whether to expect wrist restraints or a handshake. She received neither. Harry ignored her hand and pulled her into a warm hug.
"I heard you were here. Geez, it's great to see you, B'Elanna."
"It's good to see you too, Starfleet," she murmured as she returned his embrace.
"How long are you going to be here? Are you okay? The reports say that the Maquis have been taking a beating," he asked worriedly.
"We've had our share of battles, but mostly we do reconnaissance work. Chakotay is the leader of a cell--" she stopped quickly, realizing that she was talking to a Starfleet officer and not her friend.
For his part, Harry looked uncomfortable too. "Sorry, I shouldn't have asked. Just forget I said anything, okay?"
"Okay," she agreed. "How have you been, Starfleet? Not exactly a cushy assignment."
"It's not that bad, really. Tom's here and Seven and the Doc and Neelix. I could have done a lot worse," he answered. "And I'm in charge, really in charge; that's kind of a new experience for me." He smiled, "It beats the Gamma shift!"
"Well, then, congratulations are in order! Can I buy you a drink?"
"Sure, there's a place right around the corner. Come on," he said as grabbed her arm and guided her away from the busy stall.
The bar was dim and the drinks watered down but at least it wasn't Nik's Place, B'Elanna thought as she sat with Harry.
As if reading her mind, Harry asked, "Have you seen Tom yet?"
"Yeah, we were in there last night."
"He's got quite an establishment. This place here is his biggest rival but they just can't understand that they could win a little more customer loyalty with some honesty. Tom insists on a fair game, for the most part." B'Elanna seemed to be ignoring him so Harry tried another tactic. "Are you going to be around a while? I know Tom would like the chance to spend some time with you."
This time he got a reaction. "I don't think so, Harry, and I'm very sure that Tom will be just as happy to see me go as I will be to get off this rock."
"No he wouldn't, B'Elanna. He's missed you-- a lot." Harry protested.
"Well, I can't help that-- he'll get over it."
After a brief silence, Harry asked, "Is it Chakotay? Is something going on between you two?"
"That's not really any of your business, is it?" she retorted sharply.
"No, I guess not-- I mean-- I saw Tom waiting for you and I just assumed--"
B'Elanna stared at her hands for a long moment before she said, "Harry, have you ever worshipped someone from afar? Someone who was so good and kind that you knew they could never be interested in someone as flawed as you? And this someone pulled you out of scrape after scrape and never asked for anything in return, just your friendship? And then one day, he-- that someone needed more than your friendship. He needed something that you could give him-- and you supposed that it was love you were giving and being given -- " She stopped and looked up at him, asking him to understand. "Have you ever been there, Harry?" B'Elanna asked softly.
"No, I don't guess I have."
She looked down into her drink.
"Well, I have. He needs me, Harry. And his work is important. The Cardassians have to be defeated, and so does the Dominion. We have to do this and we can. Even if we're just the insect constantly poking at them, we're distracting them and making the Federation's job a little easier."
"But what about Tom?"
"That's over." She dismissed the idea with a wave of her hand. "It was just an infatuation anyway. It would never have worked. Particularly after he was welcomed back into the fold and I was sent to a Federation prison," she added bitterly.
"But Tom wouldn't have let that happen! He was--"
Harry's explanation was interrupted by Chakotay's arrival. B'Elanna looked uncomfortable, as if she thought she'd been caught in a compromising position.
"Well, Harry! It's good to see you! It's Lieutenant Kim now, I see! Congratulations!" Chakotay's enthusiastic greeting was tinged with concern over finding his chief engineer in a tête-à-tête with a Starfleet officer.
"It's good to see you too, Commander. How have you been?" Harry was careful not to ask where, just how.
"We've kept ourselves busy, haven't we, B'Elanna?" He gave her a cautious look before continuing, "How do you like your new command?"
"It's probably not what I would have chosen for my first real command, but it's okay. I have friends here and that makes it a lot easier."
"I understand you arrested a friend of mine last night. Chiff, a Bolian. Any chance I could talk to him for a few minutes?" Chakotay asked cautiously.
"Sorry, Co-- uh-- Chakotay, he's being transported to a Starfleet ship for questioning."
"Is he answering any questions?" The Maquis captain asked in a casual tone.
Harry stiffened noticeably. "I'm afraid I don't have that information, sir. If you'll excuse me, I need to get back to my office. It was good seeing you, B'Elanna, and you too, Chakotay." That said, he hurried off.
The next night Tom and Harry again sat side by side at the bar, misery and company. Harry was still wearing his uniform. Tom was still drinking scotch, albeit watered down a little, but he hadn't said a word. His countenance was sullen. The late night meeting with B'Elanna had dredged up feelings that had been buried pretty deep.
Harry sat there sympathetically, glancing at Tom from time to time, and letting his mind wander to the events earlier that day. He was puzzled, wondering just what it was that Chakotay wanted with his prisoner. Chiff had been unwilling to say anything about the information he had, and Admiral Janeway had just had him transported to a waiting starship.
A black cloud seemed to have settled over the place and even Neelix seemed to have lost some of his exuberance. Chakotay's entrance just served to make the atmosphere gloomier.
"Tom," Chakotay began, "I'd like to talk to you-- alone." The look he gave Harry bordered on insulting. Harry was Starfleet, and Chakotay had no use for Starfleet right now.
After a long look, Tom nodded and motioned towards his office in the snug, a small enclosed area behind the bar. Chakotay ordered synthehol for himself and followed Tom. The room held a desk, a tiny round table against the wall and two chairs. Setting his drink down on the table, Tom pulled out one of the chairs and motioned for Chakotay to take the other.
"I need your help, Tom. I think you have the information that I was supposed to get from Chiff. Those security codes would allow us to get to the heart of Cardassia and really do some damage." His voice held the conviction of his words and Tom recognized that he truly believed in his cause. It didn't matter.
"Chakotay, I have no intention of helping you. Like I said last night, this bar is neutral territory. Leave your war outside." Tom gave him a cold, determined stare.
"Paris, you and I both know that half the people in here are dealing in illegal goods or transport codes. You can't possibly believe that the war is -outside- your bar." Chakotay answered angrily.
"Most of my customers are willing to respect my neutrality and leave me out of their transactions."
Chakotay tried another tactic. "Is this because B'Elanna is with me now instead of you?"
Tom gave him a withering look. "B'Elanna is a grown woman; who she chooses to sleep with is her business, not mine."
Intrigued, Chakotay realized that he had hit a nerve. He decided to press on and see where this led. "I guess she got another look at the kind of man you are and decided that I had more to offer."
Tom calmly leaned back in his chair and replied insolently, "Well, then I guess you two deserve each other."
Irritated that Tom hadn't risen to the bait Chakotay answered, "Look, we're both wanted by the Federation. How long do you think it will take Janeway to trump up an excuse to arrest us, even in neutral territory? Those codes would get B'Elanna out of here too, before Starfleet drags us off. You don't want her to wind up in a Federation penal colony do you?"
"I don't have any control over where she winds up. I'm completely neutral, remember?" Tom's quiet answer belied the tension building in him.
A familiar, gravely, voice intruded on their conversation. "Gentlemen, may I be so bold as to interrupt?" Neelix had apparently been distracted long enough for the Admiral to slip behind the bar and into Tom's office.
Chakotay had heard she was on the planet, but forewarning did not prevent the surge of anger he felt at seeing Admiral Kathryn Janeway for the first time in over a year. Her betrayal was still a raw wound, and the pain of it almost cracked his falsely calm exterior; almost, but not quite.
"Of course, Admiral," Tom replied, keeping a tight control, "we were finished with our conversation anyway. What can I get you to drink?" Tom asked the question as he rose to his feet, relinquishing his seat to his former captain.
"A glass of wine would be nice, thank you," she answered never taking her eyes off Chakotay.
Tom nodded and left while Kathryn Janeway sat and faced her former second-in-command and friend. The uncomfortable silence was finally broken by her soft words, "How have you been, Chakotay?"
"Living on the edge as always, Kathryn. What about you?"
"This war against the Dominion has everyone at Starfleet working around the clock. We could use a few lucky breaks about now," she answered grimly.
"This "war" began a long time ago, Kathryn, and could have been over long before the Dominion ever got involved if Starfleet had listened to the Maquis." His words held the bitterness he still felt.
"Chakotay, you can't look at this so narrowly. Starfleet was trying to prevent a war and keep casualties to a minimum. I'm sorry that your homeworld was destroyed but that's the way it had to be. According to the information we had at the time that was the least costly route to peace." Her color was rising but she kept her voice low.
"So now my family, my world, is just considered 'collateral damage', nothing more?"
"I consider it a tragedy, Chakotay, but I don't know how it could have been prevented."
"By destroying Cardassia when the Federation had a chance." He answered fiercely.
"Alright, maybe we should have, but we didn't and now we need to get to the heart of Cardassia and rectify that mistake." She stared at the table, her hands balled into angry fists. "Do you have those security codes?" Kathryn Janeway was no longer being subtle.
"No, I don't. Why don't you ask your protégé? I'm willing to bet that Paris has them. He has no intention of giving them to me. Maybe you can persuade him." His voice was caustic.
Kathryn looked at him warily, trying to assess the veracity of his words. She glanced up to see Tom Paris at her elbow with a glass of wine. He set it in front of her and left without a word. Her eyes followed him.
"Tom Paris," she said softly, "why would he have the codes?"
"I think Chiff gave them to Paris before your people grabbed him, since you obviously didn't find them on him."
"Alright, I'll talk to Tom." She took a sip of her wine before looking at Chakotay again. "I'm sorry things turned out this way. I was working to get all of you pardoned when you escaped from Deep Space Nine. I think I might have succeeded with a little more time."
"And during that time we would have rotted in prison waiting for the Cardassians to take over one planet after another - with the Dominion's help. And I'm sure the Cardassians would have offered us positions of great importance in their fleet since we were enemies of Starfleet." His voice dripped with sarcasm.
"We wouldn't have allowed that to happen," she protested.
"Oh yes, just like you didn't allow Deep Space Nine to be taken over by the Cardassians again."
"The Federation regained control of Deep Space Nine. It was a calculated move."
"Tell that to the Bajorans."
"Look, I'm not going to sit here and discuss war strategies with you. Starfleet would still be willing to discuss a pardon if you turned your resources over to us now. You would still have to spend some time in a Federation penal colony but I would be willing to testify on behalf of your crew."
He listened in disbelief. Her voice was smooth as silk as she suggested that he betray his ideals and turn himself and his crew in to Starfleet.
"I'm Maquis, Admiral. I'm surprised you're sullying yourself by having a drink with me in a neutral bar. But I am not a traitor and I will not turn my resources over to Starfleet. You fight this war however you see fit and I will continue my fight however I see fit. You see, I don't mind getting my hands dirty." When he was sure that his parting shot had hit home, Chakotay rose and walked away leaving Janeway sitting in stunned silence.
The older Starfleet officer who had accompanied Janeway was back in the bar that second night also. His name was unpronounceable but translated as "Fishlock". Tom kept an eye on him as he did all strangers but this Andorian seemed to fade into the shadows and was quickly dismissed as non-threatening.
The soft music of the piano quieted the crowd as the Doc began an introduction to a suite of songs from "Sweeney Todd," another 20th century Broadway musical. It seemed the trip down Broadway would last at least one more day.
Seven began to sing,
Nothing's gonna harm you.
Not while I'm around…
Nothing's gonna harm you, no sir.
Not while I'm around.
Demons are prowling ev'ry where.
Now a days….
Her clear voice soon had everyone in the room quietly reflecting on the days when safety had been taken for granted.
A strangled cry from the shadows was all the warning that the patrons received. Lt. Fishlock seemed to spring from his corner like an angry tiger and his prey was Seven of Nine. "Borg!" he screamed, "Borg! How can you sing about demons when you are the demon that has destroyed so many worlds." His hands were around her throat and the suddenness of the attack left her momentarily defenseless as he tightened his grip.
The crash of the piano and the screams of the patrons brought Tom quickly into the main area of the bar. Chakotay had already begun to try to free Seven from the man's powerful grip while others just stared in disbelief. He delivered a blow to the back of Fishlock's head. A second blow finally had the attacker reeling and he staggered back, turning to face Chakotay now. Shaking his head to clear it the Andorian aimed true and had delivered a powerful blow before Tom could grab his arms in an effort to control him.
"She deserves to die," the angry Andorian screamed. "She is Borg. They do nothing but destroy and assimilate. She deserves to die for what she did to my family!"
Chakotay answered him, still wheezing from the blow, "She's a human being who was victimized by the Borg. She deserves a chance to live just like all races."
"She's a Borg, her race should be destroyed, just like the Cardassians and the Dominion and the Breen and the Maquis. None of them has a right to live" the man screamed his condemnations. "You are murderers, all of you."
Tom raised his voice so he could be heard over the screams, "What the hell are you talking about, Fishlock? Get a hold of yourself."
"You are harboring criminals here, Paris. You have a Borg and the Maquis. All of them are wanted by the Federation. All of them are criminals and you are too … for protecting them." he accused Tom.
Chakotay answered him, "You've obviously lost a lot, Lieutenant, but that doesn't give you the right to condemn others to death. Revenge is never going to solve anything, it just leads to more killing and makes us all barbarians."
"You are the barbarian," Fishlock spat back at him while struggling to free his arms from Tom's grip.
Seven was on her feet again and began to speak, but Chakotay silenced her with a look. "We're not barbarians, in spite of the Starfleet propaganda. We are fighting for freedom from the oppression of the Cardassians. They're the barbarians, the ones who want to subject the rest of the galaxy to their rule. But even barbarians have a right to autonomy. Each world deserves the opportunity to rule itself, to make it's own laws and enjoy it's own resources. We're fighting to stop the Dominion from destroying all the worlds in this quadrant. And they will," his voice had a chill in it.
The noise had drawn Janeway and a young ensign out of Tom's office where they'd been conferring. Together they stared at the spectacle before them. Tom Paris was obviously holding a Starfleet officer against his will and Chakotay appeared to be the aggressor. Janeway had heard the end of Chakotay's impassioned plea and angrily asked, "What's going on here?" as the ensign pulled out her weapon and trained it on the Maquis captain.
It was Lt. Kim who answered. He'd followed Tom in from the casino area and had been observing the fracas while helping Seven to her feet. "Lt. Fishlock attacked Seven without provocation, Admiral. His behavior was totally out of line."
Harry was rewarded with a glare. That was not the information that the Admiral wanted to hear. It was obvious, however, that she was outnumbered. The murmurs of the crowd supported Kim's story. Her look silenced them. "Alright," she spoke with practiced authority, "Lieutenant Kim, get Fishlock back to the barracks and confine him until I can question him. Ensign Birca, go with him."
"Yes, Admiral," the two officers replied as they took control of the still enraged Andorian.
"Don't touch me," he said to Kim. "You're one of them. I can still smell the Borg on you."
"Lieutenant," Janeway warned, "right now I'm sending you to your quarters to be confined. I can easily change that to the brig."
Even in his righteous fury he was a Starfleet officer. Lt. Fishlock stopped himself from saying anything further and, nodding to his commanding officer, allowed the others to lead him off.
Admiral Janeway took Chakotay aside. "I think this demonstrates that tensions are running extremely high. You and your people would be safer in Federation hands. I can't guarantee that there won't be more incidents like this as the Alliance get closer to Cardassia."
"You can't control your own officers, Kathryn, what makes you think you can control this Alliance of yours? No, we are independent and we wish to remain independent. We will fight this war our own way and the Alliance," he said the word as if it were a curse, " had better stay out of our way!"
B'Elanna was waiting when Chakotay returned to the hotel room. Neelix had helped them secure the parts their battle weary ship needed, as well as supplies for the crew. She had wanted to stay and supervise the repairs herself, but she knew that Chakotay needed her here. His disheveled state startled her. "What happened?" she asked.
"I had a run-in with one of the Starfleet officers. He was attacking Seven because she'd been with the Borg." Chakotay washed the blood off his hands and put a cool cloth on his bruised cheek.
She was rewarded with a glimpse of his dimple. "I did," he answered with a trace of triumph, "with a little help from Tom," he admitted.
"How did the meeting with Tom go?" she asked cautiously.
"About as well as I expected. He has the codes, I'm sure, but has no intention of giving them to me. Before I could find out why, we were interrupted by Admiral Janeway."
"Janeway? What did she want?"
"She wanted the codes which we don't have. Then she asked me to surrender my ship and my crew to her so we could be shipped to a Federation Penal Colony. Under her protection, of course." Chakotay answered bitterly.
"She wanted you to just turn us over to the Federation?" B'Elanna was incredulous and angry.
"Cool as a cucumber as always, she simply asked for my surrender."
"What did you tell her?"
"I assured her that while I believed her intentions were honorable, I was finished jumping through Starfleet's hoops and I would continue fighting this war in the only way I knew how." Chakotay smiled grimly.
"How are we going to fight it without those security codes?" B'Elanna asked softly.
Cautiously Chakotay questioned, "B'Elanna, do you still have feelings for Tom?"
"No," the words were almost a whisper, "that part of my life is over."
He nodded and drew her to him in a fond embrace. "You know I love you, don't you? You're the best engineer I've ever known."
B'Elanna nodded, her head against his broad chest. She could feel the steady beat of his heart. Steady, that's what her relationship was with Chakotay, steady. "I know," she said softly.
"Well, I have to meet with the local Maquis cell again. Will you be alright until I return?" He kissed her cheek and left without waiting for an answer.
"I'll be fine, just fine," she whispered to his departing back.
Tom had balanced the night's receipts, closed the safe, turned the final lock on his empire and made his way to the quarters above the establishment. He felt drained, physically and emotionally. At least he wasn't drunk or hung over. Neelix had watched him closely all night, and Tom smiled at his friend's concern. He turned the lights on when he reached his front room and realized immediately that he wasn't alone.
"You were smiling when you came in, does that mean you had a profitable night?" B'Elanna asked from her place by the window.
"I'm touched that you're so concerned about my profits," he parried.
She shifted uncomfortably and moved towards him as he stared unflinchingly at her.
"What do you want, B'Elanna?" Tom asked.
"I want those codes, Tom. They are crucial to getting our ships through the Cardassian blockade." Her eyes pleaded with him to understand.
"I've told you before, this is not my war. I don't care about your cause."
B'Elanna pulled a phaser from the pocket of her loose fitting jacket and aimed it at Tom. "I don't want to shoot you, Tom, but we need those codes. Now hand them over." Her voice had a hard edge to it.
Tom stared at her with a quizzical look on his face. After a long, thoughtful pause he said quietly, "Go ahead."
"Go ahead and what?" She felt like she had just missed something very important.
"Shoot me. I don't have any intention of giving you those codes so you might as well shoot me." His voice was cool and unconcerned.
Now it was her turn to stare at him incredulously. "Don't play with me, Paris. I'm perfectly capable of shooting you!"
"I'm not playing either. If you've got the guts to shoot me, go ahead. I won't stop you," he replied seeming totally at ease.
Her hand trembled slightly as she continued to point the phaser. Then she drew back and hurled the weapon at him as fast and hard as she could. Years of practice hadn't been wasted as Tom dodged the missile, allowing it to slam into the far wall with a thud.
She looked at him with a hint of tears in her eyes. "I can't, you miserable p'taq. I can't" she whispered.
Tom moved closer to her and gave in to the impulse he'd been fighting. He took her in his arms and pressed her to his heart.
Her trembling subsided and, as he held her close, he could hear her mumbling, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
They sat at opposite ends of the old, ragged sofa that graced the middle of Tom's living area and drank the Antarian cider that Tom kept chilled in his quarters. They talked of old times and skirted all the important issues. Warily they chose words that revealed nothing of their emotional turmoil.
Finally tiring of the stilted conversation, B'Elanna caught Tom off-guard when she asked, "Are you angry with me? Is that what's keeping you from letting Chakotay have the codes? I know you had feelings for me before-- before we left Voyager. Is that why you won't help us?" She watched his face closely as he studied the tall glass he held in his hand. His face was still guarded so she continued.
"Tom, Voyager was a long time ago and we were two different people. Chakotay-- Chakotay needs me. He has a fleet of ships that are falling apart. It takes all my time just to keep them flying. He's trying to keep our cell together and he's trying to do whatever he can to defeat the Cardassians. Those codes will make a difference, a big difference." She paused to see if her words were reaching him.
"What do you need, B'Elanna?" Tom asked quietly.
"Why does that matter?" she rejoined, cautiously.
"It matters to me. What do you want?"
"I want this damn war to be over!" Her answer held all the passion and frustration she'd felt for the last year. "I want a halfway normal life, a ship that isn't on the verge of disintegrating. Spare parts that I don't have to scrounge. What difference does it make what I want? This is where I am, where I'm needed."
"And what about us?"
"There is no 'us'. That was just a dream that two very foolish people shared-- in another life."
"Well, then why don't I feel foolish about it? Why do I just feel empty?"
His words made B'Elanna stop and think. A pain went through her heart but a plan began to form in her mind. Maybe she could get the codes for Chakotay and maybe ease the pain in her heart too. Tentatively, she looked at Tom and offered, "If I agree to stay here with you, would you let Chakotay have them?"
Anger replaced the spark of hope that had been in his eyes, "You're right, that part of our life is over. I don't want your pity, B'Elanna," he began. His voice held an edge of steel, "But I do want to know why you were willing to forget me so quickly. I thought we had something that would last."
"You betrayed us; you watched the soldiers leading us to the prison transports and you just stood there, laughing and joking with them. I saw you." She angrily told the story as she had seen it.
"And did you wind up on the prison ships?" he asked bluntly.
"No, the Maquis had a ship ready. They rescued us."
"And who do you think distracted the Starfleet people so the Maquis could change the transport coordinates? Who do you think knew enough about Starfleet protocols to thoroughly screw up the transfer? Who do you think the Maquis' inside man was on that operation?" He watched her face go from an angry red to pale, as the color drained away.
"I didn't know," she whispered.
"Chakotay knew," he answered.
"Why didn't you follow us if you were the inside man?" she challenged.
"Because Harry had just found out that Doc and Seven were about to be sent to Starfleet headquarters to be - studied. He needed my help; Doc and Seven needed my help. So I stayed and made a deal with Quark, and we wound up here. It's no paradise but at least I managed to keep a couple of friends safe."
"I'm sorry-- I should have known- "
"Yeah, I thought I'd earned your trust-- " His words held all the hurt that was still living inside him.
Now it was B'Elanna's turn to study the glass of cider in minute detail, seemingly lost in thought. After a painful inward struggle B'Elanna spoke again, "I will stay with you if you want me. Just please let Chakotay have the codes."
Tom tiredly rubbed his eyes and moved to look out the window at the barren terrain. "I don't want you to stay. Just tell Chakotay to meet me here at 0300 tomorrow and I'll give him the codes. Tell him he needs to be ready to leave." It was a full minute before he heard the door softly shut behind B'Elanna.
He turned around to look at the empty space that had become his life and with a sigh answered the blinking light on his console.
Neelix was surprised to see Tom up and about so early. He usually balanced the books and went to bed several hours later than the rest of the employees. As a result he rarely made an appearance downstairs before noon. But this morning was different. Tom looked a little worse for wear, so Neelix silently handed him a cup of hot coffee and waited patiently for the explanation.
"Neelix, how would you like to own a gambling casino?" Tom asked.
"Well, I hadn't really thought about it, Tom. I kind of like what I'm doing here. Bartending is a very noble profession," Neelix answered.
"I need to sell this place, and I'd like to sell it to you." Tom sounded tired and a little discouraged. "You'll be fairly safe here unless the Federation loses the war, and then no one will be safe."
Neelix looked at his friend closely and could see the stress in the lines etched around Tom's mouth, and the furrows in his forehead. "Why don't you tell me what's going on, Tom?"
"I need to get away for a while, and I don't want to take any chances with your safety or Seven and Doc's." The normalcy of the words contradicted the effort Tom was putting into saying them.
"You don't think that Starfleet can insure our safety?" Neelix asked.
"From an invasion, maybe, probably, but not from a Ferengi who decides he wants his bar back. They can be pretty ruthless." Tom smiled at his friend.
"I don't know anything about the bookkeeping." A small frown crossed Neelix's face as he pondered the information Tom was sharing.
"Doc can take care of that, and he also gets a small percentage of the profits."
Neelix smiled, "I know. And I also know it's larger than mine, but he deserves it. He certainly has a way of dealing with Seven."
"You know, I offered her a percentage too. She wasn't interested," Tom returned Neelix's smile.
"I know, she has no need for any more latinum. According to her, all of her basic needs are met with the salary that you pay her."
"Well, I've put her percentage away in a safe place. I'll give you the codes so you can take care of that. You also need to make sure that Harry wins occasionally at the Dabo tables. Nik can get real stingy in his pay-outs if he's not watched."
Neelix nodded sagely. "When will you be leaving?" he asked.
"It's been an honor to work with you, Tom. I—I hope we'll be able to work together again."
Tom smiled at his friend, "Thanks, Neelix. If there's anything left after this war is over, I'll come looking for you. Deal?"
"Deal!" Neelix answered with a grin.
Harry was surprised to see Tom in his office that afternoon. His old friend usually avoided anything to do with Starfleet. "Tom, what brings you to my little corner of the world?" he asked.
"How would you like to be a hero, Harry?" he asked jovially.
"A hero? Does this involve a holodeck?" Harry replied cautiously.
Tom's smile was genuine. "No, no holodecks-- We did have a good time though, didn't we?" 'Captain Proton' still held a special place in Tom's memories.
"Yeah, there were a lot of good things on Voyager. And B'Elanna was one of the best." Harry wasn't afraid to venture into forbidden territory. Tom had something on his mind and Harry hoped that with some none-too-subtle prodding he would share it.
Tom lost his smile for a minute but managed to answer, "Yes, I guess she was. And maybe that's what this is about." Harry didn't need to answer, he knew Tom would get around to the reason for his visit.
"Harry, I've got those codes Chakotay is looking for. Chiff gave them to me before you arrested him. I'm going to give them to Chakotay tonight and let you arrest him. If he's in a Federation prison, he can't lead B'Elanna into any more danger." Tom paused to assess how Harry was handling this information. Hard-won maturity allowed Harry to keep his face neutral as Tom spoke. "I told him to meet me at 0300 in the bar. We'll be closed by then. I'll give him the codes and follow him to the airfield. You can arrest him there. But we need to keep it to ourselves. I don't want Janeway brought in on this or any of the other fleeters. We can handle this ourselves."
Harry was starting to look a little less sure of himself. "Tom, I'm a 'fleeter'! I can't just go against orders," he answered sternly.
"What orders? You haven't been given any orders. I'm just asking you to help me with a little problem I'm having with a customer." Tom spoke in a patient tone of voice, like he was reasoning with a small child. Harry wasn't about to be fooled.
"If you've got the codes, good buddy, you need to just give them to me."
"Not a chance. Think of it this way, Harry, you'll have the codes when it's all over, and you'll have at least two Maquis prisoners too." Tom seemed to be gloating, something that should have made Harry very suspicious.
"Why do you want to see Chakotay and B'Elanna in prison, Tom?" he asked.
"I'd rather see her-- them in a Federation prison than in a Cardassian one."
Harry nodded sagely as he studied his friend's face. "The Maquis will come looking for you."
"I've already made arrangements to sell the bar to Neelix. I'm leaving Nik's, and Beloti and hopefully, this war. I just want it all behind me." Tom's answer held anger and frustration.
"If the Dominion wins there won't be any place to put it behind you." Harry reminded him.
"Then you damn well better make good use of those codes."
Harry rose and stretched out his hand to Tom. "I'm going to miss you."
"Me too," Tom said as they sealed the plan with a handshake.
The bar closed at 0200 as usual and Chakotay met Tom at the appointed time. B'Elanna was with him, but the look on her face told Tom she'd rather be anywhere else. Well, maybe he could take care of that for her. "Punctual as always, Chakotay."
"Do you have the codes?"
Taking the data chip out of his pocket, he handed it to his former commander. As soon as the transfer was complete, Harry came through one of the side doors, phaser drawn and ready. "I'll take that, Commander, and your weapon. You're under arrest for possession of classified information."
"Paris," Chakotay's angry growl caused B'Elanna to flinch even as she gaped at both Harry and Tom. This couldn't be happening, betrayed by both of her dearest friends-- or those she'd thought were her dearest friends.
"Surprised? Our friend Tom decided the Federation had a better chance in this war than the Maquis. I guess--" His words dropped off as he saw Tom point a phaser at him now, a phaser that was obviously set higher than stun. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Not so fast, Harry. I'm taking a stand. Now we're all going over to the airfield. Sorry, old buddy, but you are going to let them go, and you're going to make sure that no one stops them along the way." Tom gestured toward the heavy doors that led out into the deserted street.
It was a short walk to the flat plain where ships of all registrations were parked. The small Federation force kept the piracy down to a minimum but the base was open to traffic from many worlds. At the hangar Tom warned Harry again and told him to call the officer in the control tower. The message was clear, "A Maquis ship will be taking off in 15 minutes. No one is to stop it, and no one is to track it."
Harry delivered his message but his face wore a look of betrayal.
Tom looked at Chakotay, "You'd better tell your ship to get ready to go. They'll probably need an engineer to do a final systems check." Wordlessly B'Elanna looked at Tom, trying to find a motive; trying to find the man behind that mask of indifference. Neither the motive nor the man she'd known was evident and, with a glance at Chakotay who silently nodded, she moved off in the direction of their ship.
"Well, you've managed to surprise me, Paris. I thought you had designs on B'Elanna and would turn me in to get to her." Chakotay smirked.
"No, she has to make her own decisions and maybe, someday, she'll decide that what we had was special. I'd like her to know that - " his voice trailed off. "Just be damn sure she survives this war, Chakotay. She needs to be needed, but she takes risks and puts herself in harm's way just to prove she's tougher than everyone else. She's the best engineer you could ask for, just find some place where she can be the best engineer and not get her head blown off. Take care of her-- "
His plea was interrupted by the appearance of Admiral Janeway at the door of the hangar. Standing with hands on hips and displaying her infamous glare she asked, "What is going on here?"
Tom quickly turned to include her in the range of his phaser and she stopped in surprise. More cautiously she asked, "Why did you order the base to let a Maquis ship go, Lieutenant? And Tom, why do you seem to be holding these people against their will?"
"Why, Admiral, I'm glad you could join the party. Too bad, but Chakotay is just leaving. Get out of here Chakotay, and remember what I said." Tom nodded to the Maquis captain without taking his eyes off Janeway.
"Thanks, Tom. I know we've got a chance of winning this war, and you've just doubled those chances." His voice sounded sincere and held a hint of admiration that took Tom by surprise.
"I don't know whose side you're on, and I don't care. Your war isn't my war. Now get out," was his churlish answer as Chakotay hurried off, his silhouette fading into the darkness of the night.
Admiral Janeway folded her arms across her chest. "You'll be court-martialed, you know."
Tom watched Chakotay disappear, then returned his full attention to the admiral. "You can't court-martial me, I'm not a member of Starfleet."
"You won't shoot me, Tom. I'm going to call the guards and stop that ship," Janeway began as she moved further into the area.
To her surprise Harry caught her hand with one of his and removed her combadge with the other. "I guess you'll have to court-martial me since you can't have Tom, Admiral."
"Well, you've both just thrown your lives away here. What are you going to do now?" she asked angrily.
Tom was still looking at Harry in amazement, and took a minute to formulate an answer. "I guess I'll have to find another neutral planet and buy another bar."
Casually Janeway asked, "How long will it take you to set up your network again?"
Tom looked at quizzically, "How did you know?"
"Tuvok felt it was time I knew his source. Your information has certainly helped. What caused you to shut down?" Her question seemed almost friendly.
"The Bolian. Once the first doubt was raised about my neutrality I knew I had to get out." Tom answered.
Harry's look went back and forth from commanding officer to friend in this strange conversation, and he finally said, "Would someone please tell me what's going on?"
With a small laugh, Tom placed his hand on his friend's shoulder and squeezed, "I'm a spy, Harry. I've been feeding information about the Dominion activity in and around Cardassia to Tuvok, and sometimes to the Maquis."
"And Chakotay didn't know?" Harry was incredulous.
"He knew," Tom's voice was bitter again, "He just figured his mission was more important than my safety or that of the network."
Harry was starting to get a clearer picture, "Doesn't it bother you that you just sent two old friends to their death?" he asked angrily.
"Hopefully not to their deaths, Harry, just to reinforce the invasion fleet. They can use all the help they can get," Tom replied.
"How do you know that?" the admiral asked sharply. She thought that information had been carefully guarded.
"It came through the network last night. The Cardassian underground has control of over half the fleet and more are turning every hour," Tom answered her.
Janeway was incredulous, even she didn't have that much information. Her practicality took over though. "You'd better go, Tom. Starfleet ships will be arriving soon and you've just made an enemy of Starfleet. And-- it would look better for me if you locked me in a closet or something."
Tom grinned, the old familiar grin she'd known on Voyager. "Okay, this office opens at 0700 so you shouldn't be here too long. Do you need to-- um--?" Tom nodded toward the door at the end of the hallway.
He took her glare as a 'no'. "Should I hit you over the head to make it look more authentic?"
"I'd rather you didn't," she answered dryly.
Harry again had to ask, "What the hell is going on now?"
Tom patiently explained, "I'm escaping, Harry, and the admiral is going to be tied up in the closet until the staff comes in at 0700 so I can get a head start. I'll need to tie you up too unless you've decided to come with me."
Looking back and forth from one to the other, Harry finally decided stay to with what he knew and held his hands out for Tom's rope.
As he left the two Starfleet officers in the small closet Tom said, "I don't know who's going to win this war, the Dominion or the Federation. I just hope there's a little piece of the quadrant left undestroyed when it's all over."
"I hope so too, Tom. Good luck," Janeway offered sincerely as Tom shut the door. She glanced at Harry in the dim light of the closet. He looked like he'd just lost his best friend. "We're all in this together now, Harry. We each have a job to do, you and I and Tom, Chakotay and B'Elanna. There's a much larger picture here and what happens to any of us doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this war-- as long as we each do our job."
"And our job is to sit in this closet?" Harry asked with a smirk.
"Our job is to see that those codes get used by someone, anyone," the admiral answered.
"After? After this war? We can hope that there's a little piece of the quadrant left for us too."
"And if there's not?" Harry asked.
"There's always the Delta quadrant, Lieutenant," she whispered softly as she lay her head against the wall and shut her eyes.
Harry watched her for a long minute before following her lead. "This could be the start of a beautiful friendship," he thought as his eyes began to close, "I just hope we have time to enjoy it."
The war with the Dominion was over. They'd been defeated but not destroyed, and the Founders had retreated to the Gamma Quadrant with a new respect for the inhabitants of the Alpha Quadrant.
Another year had gone by, and Tom Paris had landed on his feet again with the blessing of the Federation. Reportedly Adm. Janeway and Lt. Kim had not recognized their attackers in the dark of the Beloti night.
Tom had purchased a small shuttle service on Gedi, in the Beta Quadrant. He'd even named it "Nik's" in a perverse tribute to his previous business.
Harry had resigned from Starfleet six months ago when he decided their ideals just weren't his anymore. He and Neelix had joined Tom in his current pursuit of profit; a little of the Ferengi had rubbed off it seemed. Harry was a shuttle pilot, and Neelix was "Sales" and "Customer Service". They were also the repair crew and cleaned the toilets whenever necessary. It was a small business but growing.
Starfleet regulations were a thing of the past for Harry. His black hair now touched his collar and was frequently tied back to keep it out of his eyes. The spit and polish ensign now embodied the persona of a rogue pilot complete with moustache and small beard. Women customers requested his services more often than not. The image change was a great source of amusement to Tom.
Tom's image had changed too. He was the owner and his blond hair was neatly trimmed his face clean shaven. The rebellious bar owner had morphed into a model citizen on a planet full of model citizens. Most days anyway.
An old, dilapidated ship that he had just purchased (having ascertained that it wasn't able to speak to him) was giving Tom a run for his money today. She was a tough old girl, but in need of some major repair work before carrying a payload. Harry was off on a run, and had taken Neelix with him, so Tom was dealing with the project alone, and the air in the repair bay was blue from his running spiel of invectives.
Harry wouldn't have been much good anyway, his head was in the clouds since Doc and Seven had just sent a message that they were on their way. Good old Harry, Tom thought, he's still holding out hope for a relationship with Seven. Tom chuckled to himself as he banged the hyperspanner against a reluctant fuel cell. The pleasant thoughts quickly passed however, and the curses resumed as the cell refused to budge.
An achingly familiar voice broke into his tirade, "Sounds like you could use a good engineer."
The words were greeted with silence while the listener gathered his thoughts. Slowly Tom slid out from beneath the craft, carefully placing himself on the opposite side of the large wheeled tool caddy. He looked at her for a long time without saying a word. Her nervousness was obvious and she appeared ready to flee.
"I might," was all he said.
B'Elanna let her breath out slowly, "I have references if you need them, but they're all from people I knew a long time ago."
"How long are you planning on being in the area?" His words were tentative, his breathing ragged.
"I don't know. I'd consider staying at least one more day, if-- if someone-- if I was asked." She looked him in the eye, unafraid to let him see the hope that was there.
"Where's Chakotay?" he asked.
"On Dorvan. He's helping to rebuild what's left of it."
Tom nodded and moved cautiously closer, "I thought Klingons mated for life." It was a simple statement but he knew his future hinged on the answer.
"They do but-- sometimes-- events force them to leave that mate and they spend the rest of their lives trying to get back to him-- if he'll have her." Her voice trailed off in uncertainty.
His answer was to take her small, competent hands in his large greasy ones, kissing each one. He touched her face, each ridge a precious memory. With a gentle brush of his thumb, he rubbed one of the greasy fingerprints he'd left on her cheek. And then he kissed her. Their hunger for each other made the kiss sweeter than anything they'd shared before. As he released her lips and held her close, he could hear Harry and Neelix cheering just outside the hangar. Tom buried his smile in the dark warmth of her hair, relishing the scent and feel of it, and he made his wish-- for one more day.