Part 2

Chakotay took in Tom's ship with an appraising eye. Even
after 10 years, he still knew ships, and from the outside, Tom's
wasn't much to look at. A light freighter like too many others he
had seen in the DMZ, converted for use by the Maquis in lieu of
anything else suitable. But he also knew that under such
nondescript exteriors there were often surprises, and he
suspected that Tom Paris' ship had a lot of surprises.

Tom had said nothing since he had started to lead Chakotay
to the port. In truth, for the first time in years he found himself
feeling unsure. Too many of the Maquis had blamed him for
what had happened, as if he had had any control over what
had happened when Voyager had come home. He had been
the lucky one, he reflected to himself. He hadn't been sent
back to prison; he had been released due to his "cooperation"
in the capture of the Maquis. Nevertheless, Starfleet hadn't
wanted him.

Chakotay and the other Maquis were hit hard, though. Lingering
resentment in the Federation over the war that was still thought,
in part, to have been forced on the Federation by the Maquis
caused Chakotay and others to become scapegoats. So, they
were sent to prison for treason, Chakotay being given the longest
sentence of all.

Tom internally shook himself, as he opened the hatch on his ship.
Chakotay was free now, and Tom would see to it that he had a
chance to lead the rest of his life in peace. He would not dwell
on the past, nor allow Chakotay to do so.

"Well, it's not much, but it will get us out of here," Tom said,
grinning, as he hopped through the hatch and motioned
Chakotay to enter.

"Trust me, Paris, that is all I care about right now," Chakotay
responded in a harsh voice, and entered Tom's sanctuary.

Tom stood in the corridor by the hatch and motioned aft. "There
are a couple of cabins back there -- pick one, and get cleaned up,
why don't you. I'm going to boost off and set course, and then I'll
meet you in the galley. It's not much, but I've got some fresh
vegetables, and I've turned into a pretty fair cook."

"Sounds good," Chakotay responded in the same worn tone he
had used on the planet, and proceeded aft.

Tom mused the current situation over as he headed for the
small bridge of the Nevermore and set course. Just the sound
of Chakotay's voice told him how much had changed -- it was
lower, gravely, and certainly not as strong and confident as it
had sounded in the past. Tom just hoped that some time away
from prison would help. Because he didn't know how else to help
his former Commander regain the ground he had lost over ten
years in prison.

Off planet, course set, Tom kicked in the autopilot and headed
for the galley. He had made sure he had laid in some fresh fruits
and vegetables. He knew Chakotay had been, at least, a
vegetarian. Even if he had bowed to the inevitable in prison,
accepting the needed protein calories, Tom knew fresh food
would be welcome.

He found himself lost in thought, chopping and dicing, when
Chakotay came into kitchen. He looked up, and smiled. Just
the shower and change of clothes seemed to peel away a few
years, and Chakotay looked taller, more confident. Tom began
to hope things would work out well after all.

"What are you making?" Chakotay asked, moving to watch Tom.

"Just a salad, some cut up stuff on the side. Anything in
particular you want? I've got a good replicator," Tom responded,
starting to put dishes on the small table.

"As long as it isn't prison food, I don't care," Chakotay said,
sitting down and starting to help himself.

Tom got juice for them and joined Chakotay at the table.

"You were the last person I expected to see there," Chakotay
suddenly said into the silence the meal had been proceeding in.

"As I said, Chakotay, I didn't forget," Tom said neutrally, taking
another bite of salad.

"You said you met the others?" Chakotay said, glancing up at Tom.

"Yup. But a lot of them didn't want a thing to do with me.
B'Elanna slapped me, knocked me down, and stomped over me.
Dalby spit in my face," Tom said, keeping the matter-of-fact tone
despite the pain of the memories. He wanted to keep an even keel
until he could figure out just how affected Chakotay was by the
past ten years.

"They blamed you . . . " Chakotay said, not finishing the thought.

"Yah, they blamed me, Chakotay. Not all of them, but some of
them. Ayala was just glad for a familiar face, and a ride. Geron,
he just wanted Bajor again. He was the only one who said he
knew it wasn't my fault, that I had no control over what happened
when we came home," Tom said, pain beginning to seep into his
voice despite himself.

"Why would you?" Chakotay asked, clearly perplexed. "Kathryn
was the only one who could have had any effect on what happened,
and she chose not to." The bitterness of that betrayal was evident
in his voice.

"Because of who my Dad was, and because I didn't do any more
time. Doesn't make sense, I know, Dad and I barely spoke two
words when I got home, particularly when he discovered I had a
Maquis lover. And my lack of prison time had to do with the deal
I made when I boarded Voyager as an observer. About the only
promise Starfleet remembered to keep," Tom explained.

"But in their bitterness, all they remembered was that you were a
Starfleet brat, and that you didn't go to prison like the rest of the
Maquis," Chakotay responded, immediately grasping what had
gone through the minds of his former crew.

"Exactly." Tom made a bitter face and continued with the meal.

"Yet you came," Chakotay said, watching Tom's response closely.

"I wanted you all to know that someone remembered, that there
was someone from Voyager who still cared what had happened
to all of you," Tom said softly, looking up into warm brown eyes.
Tom knew that Chakotay understood, even if none of the others had.

"I appreciate that, Tom. I didn't think anyone would," Chakotay
said, and looked down to continue his meal.

"Well, the first few years I couldn't be here," Tom confessed,
"but most had longer sentences than that. After I got my own
ship, I made a point to be here."

"How did you get the ship?" Chakotay asked, wisely steering
the conversation to safer ground.

"Earned it," Tom said, grinning. "I worked whatever pilot jobs
I could get, the riskier the better. A lot of people starting up
shipping on the fringes, were worried about the risks, and were
glad to get a pilot of my experience. They didn't care about
Maquis, or Starfleet, just if I could get the ship through and
earn them money. And I got smart quick and started demanding
bonuses for safe passages, and quick ones. As soon as I could,
I bought a ship, and went into business for myself."

"How long have you had her?" Chakotay asked, curious as to
what Tom had done with the proceeding ten years.

"This one? The Nevermore? About three years. I got my first
about two years after we got home, not much of a ship, but after
a few smart shipments to colony worlds, I dumped the heap.
Had a small, fast courier ship for a while, but then started thinking
I needed something different. The Nevermore, she's not a lot to
look at, but I've souped her up where it counts. And I can do more
with her. She's still small enough for courier runs, but I can take
passengers, some cargo. I do a lot with medical supplies and
such. They don't take up much space but make a good profit,"
Tom explained.

"Quite the entrepreneur," Chakotay said, dead-pan.

Tom grinned. "No one is going to control me or my destiny,
Chakotay. I am never again going to be in a position where
someone can dictate my actions to me. That's the one thing
I've learned, always be a step ahead, and in control."

Chakotay simply nodded, and then said, "The Nevermore?"

"Do you get it?" Tom said, looking at him curiously.

"I'm not sure -- Poe?"

"Yes, Edgar Allen, always loved that stuff. ' The Raven.' They
are supposed to be symbolic birds, aren't they?" Tom asked.
"And besides, ' nevermore' is anyone going to order me around,"
Tom added, smiling again.

"Symbolic on several levels. I'm impressed," Chakotay said, looking
Tom in the eye.

Tom ducked his head, suddenly feeling shy. "Right now we are
headed for DS9," Tom said. "I can usually pick up work there.
And I have an old friend, a doctor, who will take a look at you.
Then we'll see where you want to go."

"I don't need the doctor, Tom," Chakotay said.

"Humor me," Tom said, suddenly serious, and looking straight at
Chakotay again. "I've been in prison, I know. And Julian won't
keep any official records. Trust me, o.k.? I just want to make
sure you are all right."

"Fine, Tom," Chakotay said, and looked back down at his meal.
Tom sighed to himself. Chakotay had started to come around,
but then had abruptly acquiesced to Tom's request. Tom hoped
that didn't signal anything significant.