Redemption : a Star Trek Voyager story, by Brenda S. Antrim. Copyright (1995) on the Star Trek universe by Paramount, Inc, on the original story by Brenda Antrim and Wendi Arant. No infringement intended. Enjoy!
No time to think, only react. Tom Paris, Star Fleet lieutenant junior grade (by the grace of Captain Janeway and entirely unforeseen circumstances) and pilot extraordinaire (by grace of inborn ability and a consuming passion for flight) proved his worth under fire once again. Fingers dancing over the console, disdaining programmed evasive patterns and flying with his heart in his throat, he made the Voyager swoop to his command. Over, under, around the pursuing Kazon warship, in gutwrenching turns that landed her in the enemy's six, lining up the perfect shot for Mr. Tuvok. The Vulcan was in perfect sync with the maneuvers, dealing the final crippling blow to finish the contest. Another day in the Delta quadrant. Another dogfight with their lives on the line. Another inspired performance by her pilot. And another fine line walked, finer than anyone on the Bridge that day would know, or so Tom Paris fervently hoped.
The memories were too close on this one. The smell of burnt circuitry almost masking the smell of burnt flesh, or perhaps that was only in his mind. Sparks flying from consoles, adrenaline pumping voices higher, tighter than normal, shining eyes glazed with fear and held barely in bounds by professionalism and determination. He looked down at his long, surprisingly elegant hands now lying quiescent along the control panel, and dispassionately noted the fine tremor running through his fingers. Shadowed blue eyes glared at them, as if the sheer force of his gaze would cause the shaking to stop. Before he completely controlled himself, a hand fell lightly on his shoulder. He whirled instinctively on the upright figure of the Captain, standing at his shoulder with a slight smile of congratulation on her face. Her expression straightened immediately when she saw the tension in his features, and her hand tightened a fraction.
He swallowed dryly and shook off the memories. Wrong time, wrong place. Definitely the wrong person.
"Yes, Captain." His voice sounded a little rusty, but she made no comment. Perhaps she'd noticed that he was practically holding his breath through most of the fight.
"Excellent flying, Mr. Paris."
He managed a smile, but the shadows in his eyes didn't lighten. She released her clasp on his shoulder, giving him a reassuring pat as she did so.
"Heck of a way to end the shift, wouldn't you say, Captain?"
"Yes," she grimaced, "And the repair work is just beginning." He nodded in response, and watched for a moment as she dispatched crews to take care of the damage caused by the territorial Kazon. Turning toward the conn again, he caught himself with a sudden jerk.
"Youch! Damnit!" Janeway's voice faded as he grabbed the side of his knee. A jagged strut, torn away in the battle, had opened a slice along his lower leg, and blood was running freely down the side of his calf, soaking into the uniform leg. He looked up and smiled grimly at his Captain.
"I don't believe this. Make it all the way through without a scratch and-"
"And hurt yourself afterward." Commander Chakotay's wry voice finished his thought, and he looked up to see the first officer holding one hand painfully with the other. "Me, too." Paris noticed the raw metal near the weapons console that Chakotay must have touched. It steamed slightly. He rose painfully and joined Chakotay in the lift. Janeway exchanged a look with her injured officers, and waved them on to sickbay. Minor injuries, but better treated sooner than later. Paris watched her face as the doors closed on the bridge. She never seemed to lose her composure. How he wished he knew how she did it.
"Good job out there today, Paris."
Chakotay's voice cut into his musings, and he pressed his lips tightly together. He had a grudging respect for the big Native American, but he didn't like him. The feeling was mutual. He just wasn't in the mood to deal with him right now. The edges of his memories were too raw.
"Thanks. Commander." He really hadn't meant it to sound disrespectful. He just had a hard time calling Chakotay 'sir.' And the other man knew it. As the lift doors opened and they stepped into the corridor, Chakotay stepped past Paris.
"It's too bad you couldn't fly that well for the Maquis. Maybe you wouldn't have ended up in Auckland."
There was no sarcasm in Chakotay's tone, but the words alone were enough to dissolve Tom's fragile hold on his temper. With an inarticulate growl, he swung Chakotay against the wall with one hand and raised the other to punch him, right across his sanctimonious face. Chakotay instinctively reacted to the threat by throwing out a hand ... the injured one. His quickly cut off cry of pain slowed Paris down, caused him to pause midswing, and another set of hands joined the fray. Strong fingers pried him off of Chakotay and threw him against the wall in turn. The jolt as he landed on his wounded leg caused him to falter and swear, clutching at his would-be attacker for support. She batted his hands away, and Tom fell gracelessly to the deck. B'Elanna Torres stood over him for a moment, then turned and faced Chakotay.
"Are you all right?"
The commander concentrated fiercely on not passing out from the pain in his burnt hand, and B'Elanna reached out to guide him into sickbay. Stepping over Tom, she leaned over him and muttered angrily, "This isn't over, Paris. Whatever the hell you were doing, it is *not* over!"
He looked up at her, expression completely blank, and watched them go into sickbay. After the doors had closed behind them, he began to pull himself painfully up the wall.
"Tom!" Harry Kim's horrified voice announced his arrival a second before he threw an arm around his friend's waist and helped him to his feet. "What happened? I thought I saw ... did B'Elanna have anything to do with this?" Disbelief colored his voice.
"No, Harry," Paris replied tiredly. "It was nothing. My own fault. Just ... forget it." Harry looked at him for a long moment, then followed the route Chakotay and B'Elanna had just taken into sickbay.
"Sure, Tom," he responded quietly. "Whatever you say." But he knew what he had seen.
Tuvok watched silently from the end of the corridor. He had rounded the corner in time to see Lieutenant Torres physically throw Mr. Paris against the bulkhead, then make what appeared to be threatening remarks to him. Commander Chakotay was either in too much pain or too clearly showing favoritism to his former Maquis crewmate to adequately defend Mr. Paris, and there was a history of bad relations between the two men. Had Mr. Kim not rendered assistance he would have done so himself. Mr. Paris would not report this incident to Captain Janeway. But he would.
Chakotay flexed his fingers, feeling the newly regenerated skin pull a little. He had a strong idea why the Captain had called him into her ready room, and the idea solidified into sure knowledge when the doors parted to admit B'Elanna Torres, looking somewhat apprehensive but trying her best to hide it. He gave her a reassuring look, one Janeway didn't miss. She sighed inaudibly.
"Lieutenant Torres." Her tone was coolly formal, and the engineer responded by standing at attention in front of the wide desk. Janeway eyed her for a long moment, letting the silence in the room gradually settle, ensuring that she had their full attention. B'Elanna was getting better at this. Her squirm was almost undetectable.
"There was a report that you assaulted Lieutenant Paris in the corridor outside of Sickbay yesterday evening at 2048 hours. What do you have to say for yourself?" Janeway's tone was even, but her word choice was deliberately confrontational. Months of dealing with the Klingon / Human hybrid had shown her that Torres was most honest when she was angry. If Paris had done something to provoke her attack, she would spill details in her anger that she might neglect to mention if she were calmer.
"Assault?" The incredulous look in her deep brown eyes was reflected in her outraged voice. "*I* assaulted *him*? What about what he was doing to Chakotay? Fighting with a man who was badly burned-"
"We weren't exactly fighting, B'Elanna." Chakotay's quiet interjection did exactly what Janeway didn't want it to do. Torres calmed down immediately and looked to her superior officer for guidance. Janeway stared sternly at her first officer.
"Perhaps you would have a better explanation, then, Commander?" He knew by her expression that she was not happy with him, and he took a breath. Janeway might think that he showed some sort of favor to his ex-Maquis crewmates, but in his opinion she was not above a little favoritism herself. Especially when it came to Thomas Paris.
"It was a combination of factors, Captain." His reasonable voice didn't betray any of his mixed emotions. With Chakotay, it never did. "We were both on edge, after the battle, and neither of us was thinking straight. I complimented Paris on his flying, and he took it wrong."
She raised a brow. "He misinterpreted a compliment and attacked you for it?" she responded dryly.
"No, Captain." He wouldn't let her draw him away from the story. Sometimes this connection they shared, and the underlying understanding and humor, made it difficult to bring the proper gravity to bear in a given situation. But this time Paris had stepped over the line, and with very little provocation. "I made an observation that flying that well would have kept him out of Auckland."
B'Elanna winced. She hadn't heard that part. Janeway echoed the reaction internally. "Taking a potshot, Commander? That's unlike you."
"Not really, Captain," he replied honestly. "Actually, it was only an observation, with no judgment attached. But Paris responded immediately, and violently. I don't believe that the comment warranted such an extreme reaction. He had me pinned against the wall and I raised my hand to counter his swing. Unfortunately, I used my burned hand. That's when B'Elanna came down the corridor."
"I didn't see the beginning of the fight, Captain. All I saw was Tom Paris beating on Chakotay, and him with a wounded arm. I reacted instinctively."
Janeway was silent for a long moment. She stared at Chakotay, searching his eyes, then swung her gaze to B'Elanna. Neither backed down. Pursing her lips, she looked down at the desktop, then straightened her shoulders.
"So did Mr. Paris." B'Elanna started to speak, and Janeway silenced her with one raised hand. "Are either of you aware of the significance of yesterday's date?" They both thought for a moment, but neither could think of anything particularly important. "It was three years ago yesterday that Tom Paris was involved in a piloting accident that killed three people. One of them was his fiancee."
B'Elanna's eyes grew wide, and Chakotay leaned forward slightly. He knew some of the details of the tragedy on Caldik Prime, but she knew very little. Somehow it had led to Paris being cashiered, but he never talked about it. Janeway settled deeper in her chair and concentrated on her rapt audience.
"It was pilot error, or at least that's what the final report came to say. Originally, as you know, Mr. Paris lied about the accident. Eventually, he was not able to continue living with that lie, and he came forward with the truth. No criminal charges were filed in the deaths of the crewmen, because it *had* been an accident. Mr. Paris was stripped of his commission because of falsifying the reports, *not* because of the crash. But the accident itself was the cause of Mr. Paris coming forth with the truth." She paused for a moment, weighing the confidentiality of Tom's records with the need to explain exactly why such a reminder of failure, on that particular anniversary, would provoke such a violent response from the pilot. Eventually, she compromised.
"Mr. Paris has admitted that he feels at fault for the accident, that he should have been better able to control the craft, if he was as good a pilot as he has always thought himself to be. In fact, were he less adept, the shuttle would have gone completely out of control, and there would have been casualties on the ground as well as onboard. The accident cost him the lives of his friends and the woman he loved, but he saved the lives of nearly two dozen ground crew members." She paused again to gather her thoughts, giving Chakotay and B'Elanna time to digest her words. "The excellence of his piloting under those circumstances was completely overshadowed by the subsequent events. When he joined the Maquis, he offered the one thing he had left. His piloting skill. To be captured on his first Maquis mission must have been ... difficult at best. To aggravate his situation, his fellow prisoners at the penal colony were neither accepting nor forgiving. As neither Star Fleet nor Maquis, his position was volatile. I don't know what he went through at Auckland. I do know that there are things that happened to him there that he will not share with anyone." She raised her eyes and skewered Chakotay with her stare. He met her glare stoically, knowing what was coming.
"Your timing was not the best, Commander." She pinned B'Elanna next, and somehow the lieutenant's straight back straightened even further. "You were protecting your commander, and I commend you for that. But we are all one crew here." Her glance returned to Chakotay. "We have to be. We *will* be. And Mr. Paris is a member of that crew, deserving of the same consideration as any other. I have spoken with him about the incident yesterday, and he is aware of the ramifications of his actions." B'Elanna had a brief mental image of Tom cleaning vegetables for Neelix for the next two weeks, and Chakotay entertained visions of Tom degaussing the Jeffries tubes by hand. They shared smiles, swiftly regaining their composure at Janeway's next words. "Whatever your personal opinions of Lieutenant Paris may be, you will treat him with the same measure of respect you would give to any other member of this crew, and he will do the same to you." She nodded sharply to B'Elanna. "Dismissed."
Torres nodded sharply and pivoted on her heel, nearly marching from the room. Chakotay cocked his head to one side, silently asking his Captain if she had any further words for him. He'd noticed he hadn't been included in the dismissal.
"Remember one thing, Chakotay. He is the best pilot we have on this ship, and we need his skills if we're going to get home. Go a little easier on him." Her voice softened. "Let bygones be bygones, Commander."
He gave her a half smile, belied by the solemnity in his eyes. "As we have, Captain?"
She returned his smile with one of her own, acknowledging his point. With a dip of his head, he returned to the bridge. As the doors closed behind him, leaving Janeway in the silence of her ready room, she sighed. For all their surface calm, the integration of the Star Fleet and the Maquis crews still had quite a way to go.
It had been a long, tiring, nasty week. Tom shrugged out of his filthy uniform with disgust, tossing it into the bin and replicating a new one before heading out to the holodeck. Perhaps a round of pool at Sandrine's would take his mind off of the manual realignments he'd been making to the hydroponics storage units in punishment for losing his cool with Chakotay. In a way, he wouldn't have minded, if he'd just managed to get one solid swing at the smug bast-- the thought died when the doors opened. B'Elanna Torres stood at the pool table, watching intently while Harry Kim lined up a shot. Damn. He'd managed to avoid her all week, and the one night when he wanted to get a little R & R ... and why was she playing pool? He thought she thought that it was a game of pigs, for pigs, by pigs, whatever... His rambling thoughts were halted again when she looked up at him. His mouth suddenly went dry. The sensation surprised him. He hadn't had that strong a reaction to her before, and he didn't think it was just because she said they hadn't finished whatever the hell they'd started in the corridor outside sickbay-
"Paris." She had come to a stop in front of him, the pool stick held almost like a club in front of her body. For a moment, he didn't know if she meant to hand it to him or hit him with it. "I wanted to talk to you about the other day."
Her abrupt voice and aggressive stance didn't reassure him. The very last thing he wanted to do tonight was get into a bar fight with B'Elanna Torres.
"It's been a long week, B'Elanna-"
"And I wanted to say-"
"And I'm really not interested." Turning before she could say any more, he slammed past a startled ensign and left the way he had come in. She watched the doors swing shut behind him, and whispered the rest of her sentence.
"-that I'm sorry." Looking at the cue stick in her hand, she didn't notice Chakotay winding through the crowd in the bar until he was directly in front of her.
"Hey, B'Elanna. You okay?"
She looked up with confusion rapidly changing to anger in her expression. "He wouldn't even give me a chance to apologize! And it's not like that's the easiest thing for me to do, either!"
He put his hand out to rest it lightly on her shoulder, calming her temper before it could flare completely. "Why don't you go back to Harry. Pretend Paris is the eight ball." She grinned reflexively at that, and he grinned back at her. "I'll go talk to Paris. It's about time we cleared this up, before it's blown completely out of proportion."
She nodded, and he watched her stride back to the table. Kim was looking at her with vague alarm on his open face. Chakotay wished for a second that he could join them, then took a deep breath. Time to eat some crow, he thought with an ironic chuckle.
Paris was blinded by anger, or frustration, or despair, or a confusing mixture all three, and didn't notice the solid form follow him into the far holosuite. Once he attained what he thought was privacy, he called out a lock on the door and stood for a silent moment, seemingly mesmerized by the energy lines on the wall of the small room. Chakotay realized that the young pilot had locked them both in, and hadn't noticed his presence yet, but before he could find a way to announce himself, Tom spoke. The level of anguish and resolve in his voice stopped his own words in his throat.
"Computer. Run Paris program zero one C P C. Start chronology of events ... now."
The lights abruptly went out. Chakotay found himself in the far corner of a cramped shuttlecraft, then had to grab for a hand hold as the world tilted on its axis. The darkness was an illusion, now that his eyes had a moment to adjust. It was more a murky gray, shot through with smoke and brilliant emerald and crimson flashes, as panels shorted out and flames sparked from the controls. There were others in the shuttle. One older man, pinned beneath a buckled sheet of metal, wasn't moving. A young Melidian male, barely out of cubhood, his short amber fur standing straight out from his body in the few places where it wasn't singed down to his skin, pounded weakly on the access panel to the stabilizers, in an obvious last ditch attempt to regain some control for his pilot. In the copilot's seat, a stunning Human woman with short raven hair who looked somehow familiar wrestled almost maniacally at her controls, shouting numbers at her crewmates, trying unsuccessfully to find a way, any way, out of the mess they were currently in. And in the pilot's seat, every muscle in his body straining to pull the ship out of it's roll, as if he could somehow affect the trajectory of the craft by brute force ... Tom Paris was reliving his nightmare. Chakotay gasped, loudly, at the expression he saw on the younger man's face. His lips were pulled back in what could only be called a snarl, deep lines creasing his cheeks, normally cerulean eyes darkened to nearly navy by the intensity of his focus. The gasp was swallowed in the screech of rending metal that seemed to pull the holosimulation apart, as the aft stabilizers irretrievably failed, and the shuttle went into a final shuddering roll that no piloting skills could counter. As the small craft spun out of control, Paris literally threw his body against the controls, forcing the ship into a staggering curve away from the crewmen that Chakotay now saw through the starboard window, steering the inevitable fireball away from the innocents on the ground, and toward an empty maintenance dock. In the moments leading up to the end, Chakotay saw the cub sink into a small heap, unmoving, then finally saw the amount of violet blood soaking his fur. He would not have survived, even without the catastrophic ending to this flight. But the woman, the copilot, she might have, if not for the impact of the shuttle against the docking ring, a direct hit that imploded the hull, to the side of her, cutting her nearly in half with the force of the explosion. Tom was thrown back in his seat, his copilot splayed awkwardly against him. As her head rolled back and Tom stared into her sightless eyes, Chakotay realized why he thought he knew her. She was Rickie, the holographic partner Tom so often hooked up with at Sandrine's. As he braced for the final impact, the walls of the shuttle dissolved around him, and he had to shift quickly to regain his balance. Before he had a chance to react, the program reinitiated, and the nightmare began again.
They relived the scenario four times before Paris was too exhausted to try again. Each time, he made slightly different choices. None of them made the slightest bit of difference. They all died, every time, everyone except him and his silent observer. Finally, he dropped his trembling arms down to his sides and called for an end to the simulation. He stared at Chakotay glazedly for a moment, as if trying to remember who he was.
"Who let you in?" The words were raspy, slurred as if he'd been drinking. Paris sat cross-legged on the empty floor of the holosuite, the unnatural calm of his face belied by the white knuckled grasp of his fists in his lap. He stared at Chakotay with an expressionless face, but his eyes were blue flame, all of the hatred and self disgust he had been trying to cope with over the last three years cresting in his eyes.
"You did, Tom." He walked slowly toward the seated figure, dropping to take a seat himself, about three feet away. He wanted to talk with him, but he knew that Paris was angry and in pain. He didn't want to exacerbate those feelings and shut him down completely. "I wanted to apologize."
Paris looked at him with disbelief. "For what?" He was genuinely confused.
"That remark I made to you after the battle with the Kazon was out of line. Hell, I flew Maquis ships. And I've flown with you. If there was a problem, no doubt it was with the antiquated bucket of bolts you were trying to fly, not the way you flew it." He kept his tone even, conciliating. What he had witnessed had disturbed him greatly. While he had no great friendship with Paris, he hated to see him reliving this over and over again. Someone had to reach out and pull Tom Paris back in, and it looked as if it would end up being him.
"And just who the hell asked you?" The anger underlying the belligerent question was real, and deep. "Who gave you permission to come in here and watch me. make some sort of judgments about me? Who asked for you to interfere? What gives you the right to butt in on my private hell? It's none of your damned business!"
Chakotay waited for Tom to wind down, then answered quietly, "You're not the only one who has made mistakes, Paris. You're not even the only one who has lost someone he loved because of those mistakes. From what I saw, it was an accident. There wasn't anything that you could have done-"
"Don't you think I know that?" It was almost a scream. "Don't you think I haven't tried?" His voice broke on the last word, and his hands twined around one another, as if they were looking for something to hold on to, something to ground him, keep him anchored. All they found was each other, and it wasn't enough. "I'm a loser, Chakotay. Always have been. If there's a way to screw it up, make it wrong, make a mess of things, I can find it. And do it. Always." His face twisted with disgust, and he tossed his legs out in front of him, pounding one fist on his thigh. "I've never done one damned thing right in my life. But you know the worst thing?" The violence of his emotions propelled him to his feet, and he began to pace the confines of the little room. "It's always someone else who pays. Someone else who gets hurt. Someone else ... who dies."
Chakotay rose to his feet and came to stand in Tom's path. Drawn from his introspection by the large form blocking his path, he forced himself to look across at the tranquil face he found unexpectedly close to his own.
"You saved my life. And, much as I seldom admit it, I have good instincts."
"Instincts?" One edge of Tom's mouth quirked up in confusion again. "About what?"
"Not what. Who. You." Paris grunted disgustedly and turned away, but Chakotay stopped him with a light touch to his shoulder. You can't live with lies. And you risk yourself for others. You did it for me in those Ocampan caves, and you did it for B'Elanna in the V'Dian prison. You tried to do it for your crewmates at Caldik Prime." Tom pulled away from Chakotay's grasp and headed for the door, unwilling to hear any more. Chakotay raised his voice to cover the distance. His words halted Paris in his tracks.
"You didn't kill her, Tom. It was an accident. If you hadn't been a damned good pilot, there would have been dead people on the ground all around that shuttle. And she still would have been dead. But either way, you did not kill her."
He walked around the pilot standing frozen by the doorway, coming to a stop, facing him. Waiting for a moment to see if Paris would acknowledge his words, he sighed softly when there was no response.
"So I apologize for letting the past interfere with the present. We all have pain, Tom, and we all have to deal with it the best way we know how. But we can not let it cripple us. We have to work together for the future, if we are ever going to have one." He extended his hand, and Tom stared blankly at it. "So. Truce?"
After a moment that felt like a millennium, Paris slowly reached out and grasped Chakotay's hand. Softly, glancing up and catching the other man's eye, he whispered, "Truce."
Chakotay nodded, shook his hand briskly, and turned on his heel. Tom watched him leave, not quite able to think about what had just happened. Maybe with a little time and distance, it would make more sense. At the moment, about the only thing that sounded good was ... the game of pool he hadn't played earlier.
She saw him pause on the way in to Sandrine's, an unaccustomed hesitation stopping him in the doorway, framing him in the light from the pool room. Harry was concentrating on his shot, and Tuvok was calculating the roll on the ball due to the slight tilt to the table that he now knew about (after an earlier apparent miscalculation had caused Neelix to beat him, a fact that still vaguely revolted his logical sensibilities). As he stepped into the room and made his way to the table, she caught up his personal cue stick and headed to meet him, carefully holding the stick in the least threatening manner she could manage.
"Hi." Well, that shouldn't scare him off, at least. "I wanted to apologize earlier but you didn't give me the chance." It came out abruptly, and she stared at him with a mix of defiance and cautious friendship that charmed him much more than she would have expected, or even recognized. He smiled slightly at her, that one-sided tilt to his mouth that she rather liked, and took the cue stick from her hand.
"Thank you, B'Elanna. But there's no need to apologize." He shook his head when she tried to interrupt, allowing the small smile to blossom into a full fledged grin. Her breath caught at the unexpected expression, and he finished his thought without any comment from her. "My fault. Next time I try to deck Chakotay I'll make sure we're both healthy, then you won't get dragged into the middle of it."
She started to protest, then saw the teasing light in his brilliant eyes. She snorted softly, then, and turned back to the table. Tossing a grin of her own over her shoulder at him, she teased back, "Pig."
Chakotay inclined his head at the scene, inviting his drinking partner to appreciate the picture of unlikely harmony gathered at the table. The captain followed his gaze and smiled at the sight of Maquis and Star Fleet officers relaxing together. The bright blonde head in the middle of the group caught her eye, and she looked meaningfully from her seemingly happy pilot to the silent man at her side. He smiled back at her, and raised his glass to click it lightly against the rim of hers.
"To the future, Captain."
She returned the salute, and drank with contented sigh. As her eyes swept over her -- their crew, she finally relaxed as well. It just might work out after all.
*************** The End *************