A Thin Red Line  PG

Author: Annie M
Series: Voyager
Rating: PG
Codes: P, Crew, P/T

Archiving:  PTFArchive (I'll send the web link when I put it up on site) and ASC. Anyone else please ask for permission first.

Summary:  My response to the PTF's Tom Paris chest challenge.  Why does Tom keep his shirt on, when all around him are loosing theirs?

Disclaimer: Viacom/Paramount owns the ship and all characters.  I'm just kidnapping them for fun and not profit.

Thanks to PJinNH and pjs for beta reading.

July 99.

Feedback:  Yes, please.
2nd place at the 1999 ASC Awards for Best General Challenge Story
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A Thin Red Line by Annie M

The Resort program had lain dormant in Voyager's databanks for months.  The events of the past year had taken its toll on the ship and crew, and surprisingly, on some of the recreational activities also.  The fun and sunshine of the resort had been replaced with Captain Proton's monochrome scenarios, Velocity--according to the holodeck logs, both the Captain and Seven spent a hell of a lot of time playing it--and the smoky atmosphere of Sandrines.
One could argue that all of these programs were equally entertaining.  Neelix however would not have agreed.  He fervently believed that there was nothing better to encourage his crewmates than the sparkling and reflective heat one found on a sumptuous, tropical beach.

Suggesting a Delta Quadrant style Bar-B-Q on the beach to the Captain, at a staff meeting, to boost morale (yet again), had been met with a disdainful glare from the Captain. Seven had thought it frivolous but Commander Chakotay, intuitive man that he was, had immediately supported the idea.

"Sounds great, Neelix," he had said.  "It's just what this crew needs, what with all the uphill battles we've faced this year from the Borg and Malon among others and not to mention, that Void we passed through.  What do you think, Captain?"

Kathryn Janeway gave her first officer a thoughtful look.  She knew he had mentioned the Void for her benefit more than anyone else's.  Chakotay knew she was still harbouring feelings of guilt about their 5-year-old journey.  In fact, she was sure that if they asked the doctor, he would probably tell her most of the crew were still feeling the after effects of the Void on their equilibrium, some more so than others.

"You're more in touch with the crew's feelings than I am, Commander," her comments raised a few eyebrows around the table.  "I'll leave this Bar-B-Q to you and Mr. Neelix.  I'll be on the bridge.  If there's nothing else, this meeting's adjourned."

Not exactly the most enthusiastic permission he had ever received from his captain, Neelix recalled but he was sure that Captain Janeway would enjoy herself later this evening when she was due to make an appearance.

As Neelix turned over juicy cuts of meat and vegetables over the fire he looked about him.  Tahiti.  A small tropical island found in the South Pacific on Earth, according to ship's computer.
When he had tried to elicit suggestions for the cookout from the senior staff, it was to his and Tom Paris' surprise that B'Elanna Torres had suggested Tahiti as the locale for their social function.

Neelix had noticed a look pass between Paris and Torres.  B'Elanna had shrugged her shoulders and murmured to Tom, "If we're going to do this on a beach it might as well be at one I like."  Tom and Neelix had both chuckled.

He noticed them now, a few feet away from Harry Kim, who was having his backed oiled by Jenny Delaney.  B'Elanna lay face down on a towel, clad only in a skimpy black bikini.  Tom Paris sat next to her wearing baggy black swimming shorts and a white tee shirt, plainly ogling B'Elanna's pert backside.

Naomi and Sam Wildman were splashing each other at the water's edge, in matching red swim wear.  Chakotay and Ayala were wading into the water as Megan Delaney surfaced from the ocean after a short swim.

"Ah, Mr. Vulcan!" Neelix exclaimed, "I'm delighted you could come and join us."  Neelix beamed triumphantly at the Vulcan security chief.  Tuvok was dressed in a pair of white cotton pants that cut-off just above his calves, which he wore with a garishly designed green and yellow Hawaiian shirt.

"Nice shirt, Tuvok!"  Harry Kim called out.

B'Elanna turned over to take a peak at her superior officer and immediately started laughing.  "Tom, did you lend Tuvok one of your beach shirts?" She asked between giggles.

"Hey!  I have great taste in clothing."  Tom responded, feigning offence at such a charge.

Tuvok ignored the comments, arching his eyebrows at the group as a holographic busboy appeared carrying a tray full of tall, exotic looking, beverages.

"I was sure you would turn up in your uniform," Neelix joked to Tuvok.

"Commander Chakotay advised me to wear attire that would 'blend in'." Tuvok responded.  Neelix could only imagine Tuvok following such orders under pain of death, but he appreciated the effort the Vulcan was making.

Naomi bounded up to Tom and B'Elanna, throwing herself into Tom's lap.

"Come on, Tom.  Let's go for a swim!"  She said, pulling at Tom's hands.  "You too, B'Elanna," she cajoled as she lent over Tom's lap to give B'Elanna's backside a playful slap.

B'Elanna twisted around and sat up.  "Why you little..." Who invited this kid anyway? B'Elanna thought as she picked up a handful of sand and tossed it at Naomi.  The child laughed as sand landed in her hair and she took immediate refuge under Tom's tee shirt, pulling it up and over her head and spooning sand blindly in the general direction of B'Elanna.

"Wanna play rough huh?" B'Elanna teased as she stood up and grabbed the small child's ankles.  Pulling her out of the protective confines of Tom's torso and up over her shoulder.  "You are so going to get it, missy."  B'Elanna was saying as she marched down to the water's edge, Naomi laughing and pleading all the way.

"I didn't mean it!" She wailed.

"Then I guess, I don't mean this," B'Elanna said as she dunked Naomi into an oncoming wave.  She grabbed up the child up and repeated the process, being careful not to let the water cover Naomi completely.

Tom watched them both, grinning and a little amazed at the easy intimacy B'Elanna had with the child.  He was never too sure if she actually liked children; it was something they had never thought to discuss.

"Hey, Tom?"  Jenny Delaney called out to him, "Why don't you take off your shirt?  I could rub some lotion on your back like I did for Harry."

Harry Kim rolled his eyes to the holographic heavens.  Was Jenny insane?  Did she think B'Elanna was deaf because she was 15 metres away, and playing with Naomi?

"Ah, that's okay, Meg.  B'Elanna already did me."  Tom replied looking for some kind of response from B'Elanna.  Maybe she hadn't heard.  Yeah, right.

"It's Jenny.  So why don't you take off the shirt?"  Jenny Delaney persisted, barely noticing Tom's goof with her name.

"Give it a rest, Jen." Megan advised from her position at the Bar-B-Q, where Neelix was serving her a kebab.

Tom pulled lightly at the hem of his shirt, raised it about a quarter of an inch hesitated, then let it fall.  He could already hear the questions his friends would ask following his disrobing, see their curious glances.

Not too many years ago there was a part of him that would have welcomed that curiosity. ...


The sun was a blazing white-hot sphere, in a cloudless sky.  His skin burned and itched, as he felt the sun sucking every last millimetre of moisture from his body.  Tom Paris was stripped to the waist, removing the top half of his prisons issue coverall in an effort not to stifle to death.  Now, he was just burning to death instead.

He gritted his teeth against his tightening flesh and bent to retrieve the empty power-cell.  Throwing it into a recycling unit near by.  As he moved he could feel rivulets of perspiration flow down his back, chest and arms, stinging him viciously.  The ankle bracelet he wore--a convict location device--chaffed his left ankle, tormenting the already raw flesh.

Muted laughter caught his ear and Tom turned to find several inmates crowded around a water pipe.  They appeared to be all male, stripped as he was, abdomens exposed.  The armholes on their jump-suits either hanging about the prisoners legs or tied off loosely around their waists.  They stood around the pipe catching water in their hands, drinking and taking turns at dunking the backs of their necks under the spray of the free standing pipe.

<Why didn't I think of that?>

Tepid though the water would be in this heat, the thought of quenching his thirst and giving his body a little release, from the unforgiving orb of sol, was enough to make Tom's tongue thicken in anticipation.

He headed for the small group.

"You're a little fair ain't you, newbie?" One of the group observed rather loudly as Tom approached.

"Fair and pretty," muttered another.

"What you in for, newbie?" A tall, thin, alien asked.  The alien stood about seven feet and had the longest arms Tom had ever seen.  The alien's arms hung limply at his sides, dangling way past his knees.  Its features were humanoid and plane against pale green skin, and at first glance you could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled across an oversized, genetically engineered, lettuce leaf.

Tom stood silently, not sure what to say or how to handle them.

"Did the warden cut out your tongue, newbie?" The lettuce leaf asked again. His comment generating a series of snorting and guffaws from the congregated group.

"Murder." The word tripped off Tom's tongue before he gave himself a chance to even think about it.

<Why the hell did I say, murder?!>

Caldik Prime.

Tom's momentary surprise at his own words was not allowed to linger.  'Lettuce' clapped Tom's shoulder and chuckled.

"Murder huh?  So what, newbie?  You think you're serving time in a maximum-security pen?"

Tom closed his eyes.

Another round of raucous laughter erupted from the group.

"What are you really in for?" Asked another.

"Treason." Tom replied simply.  "I was in the Maquis."

A serious hush descended briefly among them and all eyes were now fixed on Tom Paris.  The silence seemed to be filled with questions, unspoken accusations, fears and regrets, though no one spoke a word, until at last.

"Is that how you got that scar?"

Instinctively Tom's right hand raised up and caressed the skin, just under and to the left of his sternum.  He fingered the pale red line, which ran around to a point somewhere under his arm, absently.

"No," Tom admitted quietly, "I was in an accident."

Caldik Prime.

The seven-foot tall, green alien stood aside and motioned for Tom to take a drink.
Tom stepped forward and cupped his hands, catching the sun-warmed water. He splashed it against his face, drank blindly for a few seconds and then leaned his head under the pipe, letting the water sluice down the back of his neck and shoulders.  Letting the water drive away the grime as his own mind tried to drive away unwelcome memories.

Caldik Prime, his brief but miserable time in the Maquis, months spent in a drunken stupor, his father, the faces of his dead friends, his Starfleet career.

Everything about his life lay in ruins, and now all he had left was time to reflect on it.  Too much time and a scar he refused to have removed.  A scar he wore as a symbol of his selfishness and arrogance.  A reminder of what he was, what he had become.

He had spoken the truth; he was a murderer.

It was torture for Tom to be reminded of his recent past, but in his mind he knew he needed to be punished for it.  Starfleet had only booted him out because he told the truth.  His father had disowned him because he had refused to lie.

So, while he lay recovering from his injuries at Caldik, Tom had begged the surgeons to let that one spot on his abdomen heal on its own.  It was not a life threatening injury he had pleaded, and doctors being doctors they succumbed to his wishes eventually.  The scar, they concluded, would do him no harm.

The irony of Tom's present predicament was not lost on him either.  Here he was in a New Zealand prison, finally being punished by the authorities, but he was not here for the greater crime of murder but for attempting to save the lives of Chakotay's Maquis cell.

He knew he was no great loss to the Maquis--they had all treated him with contempt--knowing of his "golden boy" Starfleet background and his humiliating fall from grace.  He had not helped their image of him either, drinking copious amounts of booze in a pathetic attempt to hide his own guilt and depression.  Pretending that he did not care; could not be hurt, and playing the mercenary so well that there were times when even he would fall for the hollow charade.

It did not matter now, anyway.  He was finished; maybe Chakotay's cell was too.  He ran a finger against the scar again.  He did not deserve any better.


"Jeez, I mean," Jenny was still saying, "every other guy here, apart from Tom and Tuvok, are showing us a little chest action."

Harry could not deny the truth of Jenny's words.  Chakotay and Ayala were still out swimming, bare chests exposed, here he was enjoying the feel of the sun on his bare back, and even Neelix was wearing a super-short tee shirt that showed off a lot more of his abdomen than was necessary, in Harry's opinion.  He could also understand Tuvok's reluctance to bare himself in such a public place, but Tom?

Harry didn't know what to think; maybe it was nothing and no big deal.  If Tom decided to wear his tee shirt all day, so what?  It didn't mean anything.

"Hey, Delaney!"  Everyone but Jenny had been expecting this call.

Jenny turned to stare at the approaching form of Voyager's chief engineer.  B'Elanna strutted towards Jenny with a catlike grace, and although devoid of uniform the sight of her was no less intimidating for the stellar cartographer.

"He takes it off for me, and only me!  Got it?"  B'Elanna Torres stated in an even yet deadly tone.

"Yes, Lieutenant."  Jenny squeaked.

"The food's ready, everyone."  Neelix called in timely fashion.  Hopefully averting any further disasters.


"You know, you could use a regenerator on it, Tom."  B'Elanna suggested several hours later, laying snugly and sated against Tom's chest.  They had returned from the holodeck, without further incident, two hours before and now they were resting in the aftermath of a languorous session of lovemaking.

"You don't have to keep it."  B'Elanna whispered against his neck as her fingers gently wove along Tom's sternum and ribs, tracing the old scar that still resembled a thin red line under his heart.

"I need it," Tom whispered.  "I need to know it's there."

B'Elanna raised herself up slowly against Tom's longer frame and asked, "Why?  Why keep it?"

Tom shook his head and stared at B'Elanna. "Three people died at Caldik Prime, B'Elanna.  By my hand.  I need to remember that, and this is how."

"You're not a killer, Tom.  Caldik was a terrible accident--"

"You weren't there, B'Elanna," he said interrupting her, his voice filling with emotion.  "You don't know what happened.  It was my fault."

"Are you telling me it wasn't an accident, now?"

"Of course it was," Tom answered instinctively, then thought at his words.  He sighed heavily and remained silent for a long time.

Tom fixed his gaze on the dark ceiling of his quarters and tried to remember the past with a little more clarity.  This was always difficult, as there were long stretches of his past that were permanently lost to him through his four-year addiction to alcohol.

Yet, through it all, he'd worn this scar as a cautionary reminder of his excessive self-indulgence.  His own scarlet letter.

Taking off his shirt in public was, initially, a way to warn others of his past transgressions.  In his mind it did not matter if anyone knew what the scar meant or not, it only had to be seen.


Why now, did he cover it up?

B'Elanna answered the question for him.

"You're not the same man you were then, Tom.  You've changed.  You changed a long time-ago.  You're not the arrogant pig who first stepped onto Voyager five years ago."  B'Elanna leaned over him and kissing his forehead stared deeply into his eyes.  Tom blushed as he tried to avoid her unwavering attention.

"You deserve better, Tom.  Stop beating yourself up over something you can do nothing about.  What happened was terrible but it's done.  The fact that you're here, now and still thinking about them is good."  A puzzled expression crossed Tom's eyes and he frowned up at B'Elanna, not quite understanding what she was getting at.

"Because you remember them," she continued, "you'll never repeat it, Tom.  Never.  But you don't need a scar to remember them by."

B'Elanna bent to him again, kissing the scar and tracing it with her tongue.

Maybe, after all this time, he did deserve a little better.  Regardless, he would never forget.


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