Chapter Five - Into the Long Night (continued)
Tom was still standing in the middle of his quarters, he'd not moved a millimetre since B'Elanna had stalked out. He stood rigid for several moments, not knowing quite what to do with himself.
I want to mean more to you than second best.
The words he had wanted to say to B'Elanna resonated in his mind, as the music still played and the holographic heavens continued their journey across the ceiling. Something had taken him over, and instead he had said a hurtful, hateful thing. Why? He licked at his dry lips, felt his shoulders crack as he flexed them, heard the rasping of his own breathing, and his pulse thudding against his temples.
I don't want to think.
He eventually instructed the computer to end the musical selection and disengage the holographic projection. Quickly he turned to pick up the discarded quilt, throwing it haphazardly back onto his bed. The bed that wouldn't be hosting a Paris-Torres "love fest" tonight. He looked at it longingly.
It's too small anyway, and I always end up with a dead leg in the morning.
He turned away from the bed and crossed his cabin to the dining table, placed the dishes in the replicator for recycling, then set about returning his cushions and pillows to their rightful positions. Picking a PADD off his nightstand, he sat on his bed and activated it; helm control logs from the previous shift. Inhaling deeply, he attempted to read the first report....
Shit! I can smell her everywhere.
Tom threw the PADD back against the stand and reached for the rumpled comforter. He brought it to his face and rubbed it against his cheek, drinking in her lingering scent .
He let it go and stood up, marched back into his living area. "Computer, what's the status of the holodecks tonight?"
:::Holodeck one is open for public use, holodeck two is booked by Crewman Henley and Ensign Baytart until 2300 hours and then by--:::
"What program is currently running on holodeck one?"
Right. Harry. Half the ship. No thanks.
Tom turned again in his living space, it felt cramped and oppressive.
I can't stay here.
The woman he didn't want to think about but could smell everywhere was equally restless.
B'Elanna had stormed back to her cabin in a rage, where she had proceeded to kick the legs out from under her dining chairs, break a vase, and hurl a data PADD against a wall, smashing it completely. She continued to stalk about her quarters in circles, lashing out at empty air and cursing into the darkness. In her anger and haste to remove all traces of that evening, B'Elanna ripped the hem of her dress as she yanked it furiously off her body. The tearing of the cloth briefly halted her frenetic burst of energy as she held the dress up to inspect the damage.
Damn it! Tom loves this dress.
B'Elanna caught herself in the thought and curled her lip.
Let him replicate me another one then!
She was scurrying again, flinging the dress aside and changing back into a fresh uniform, feeling feisty enough to club at anyone who got in her way. Seconds later she sped out of her cabin in search of bodies.
Tom was sick of showing his ingratiating smile to every passing crewmember as he meandered around the decks and corridors of Voyager. He did not know where he was going; he only knew he wanted to be alone, where the sound of the ship's incessant humming wouldn't match the already dull ache of his head. As a door off to his right activated at his agitated steps, he glanced briefly inside--the Hydroponics bay. Tom kept walking, then turned and doubled back, entering quickly before the doors had a chance to close.
Sandrine's was the last place she expected to end up, but it was the only place tonight that seemed to be teeming with people. Going to the mess hall had held no appeal for her and the other holodeck was booked for privacy.
B'Elanna wasn't in the mood for idle chatter but that was outweighed by her need to hear the sound of other voices, smell those who were much less familiar to her--be somewhere where words and images wouldn't matter for a while--and she wouldn't have to think.
Tom sighed and a small smile curved his lips as he took in the seemingly endless bays of flowering plants, herbs and vegetables. What had started out as Kes' responsibility all those years ago--two rows of seedlings that she tended on her own--was now a flourishing commissariat of garden-stuff. Fluorescent blue light, incorporating a spectrum as close to sunlight as was possible, suffused the entire enclosure, nourishing the life that propagated even in this otherwise sterile environment of Voyager.
Tom strode down a bay, his gait leisurely but sure footed. Tomatoes hung on vines in various stages of ripening, from creamy shades of white to green then to juicy red; glossy looking peppers of all descriptions and hues trailed elsewhere; there were runner beans and pumpkin vines; cabbages and lettuces; cucumbers, potatoes--both sweet and plain--all in evidence, flourishing from somebody's recent work.
I wonder if Tuvok will still cook for us if the Doctor's treatments work?
His smile became broader as he turned into another bay, this time filled with flowering plants, here some were grown for their beauty and others for medicinal purposes. Tom had always loved the outdoors and growing things, and he let the colours and sprays soothe him with their simplicity and naturalness. They were all so beautiful to him. He stopped at some roses and sunk his hands into the holding tank, enjoying the feeling of the thick nutrient solution sloshing against his fingers and palms. As he flexed his strong lean digits against the resistant emulsion, he was reminded of the rainy days of his youth, spent playing in the mud with his older sisters.
He used to drive Moira and Kathleen crazy when he chased them over sodden fields and decorated their faces and brightly coloured jackets with muddy handprints. Kathleen would normally try and throw a handful of mud back at him, which only increased his amusement, while his oldest sister, Moira, would chastise them both and worry about what their mother would do when they returned home.
Tom breathed a laugh in remembrance and withdrew his hands from the mulch, shaking off the excess that clung to his fingers over the tank.
"Can I help you with something?"
The deep, velvet rich voice was both surprising and unfamiliar. Still holding his dirty and dripping hands over the tank, Tom turned his head to identify the inquisitor. Noah Lessing stood a metre away from him, hands held casually at his sides, his expression oddly sad behind his dark expressive eyes. He gave Tom an encouraging half smile, ignoring the pilot's surprised look and his demeanour. Then he bent down to a panel under the tank, withdrew a cloth and held it out to him.
"Thanks," Tom said, stepping forward to accept the rag. "I didn't know anyone else was in here."
"Normally it's just me. I like the quiet," Lessing responded. He was a tall man, a few centimetres taller than Tom Paris with a similar, if more athletic, build. His dark brown skin was almost grey under the fluorescent lamps and Tom couldn't help noticing that with his head shaved as it was, Lessing's was almost a perfect sphere.
"Do you work here?" Tom couldn't help the surprise in his voice at his own question. He knew full well that Lessing had been part of the surviving Equinox crew, but to be forced to spend all his time tending plants? Wasn't he a science officer?
"Sometimes." Lessing smiled again at Tom's non-expression. "I work here mostly when I get off shift. Normally I work Beta or Gamma shifts in Stellar Cartography," he added, taking in the minute rising of Tom's brow.
Tom shook his head, remembering Megan and Jenny had mentioned something about "fresh meat" in their department several weeks ago. He guessed now it must have been Lessing they were referring to.
"I thought Neelix was responsible for all this."
"He is," Lessing confirmed in his rich baritone. "But he lets me help out when I can."
Tom inspected his now dry hands and fiddled with the rag he was still holding as an uncomfortable silence grew between them.
"Did you want me to cut a rose for you?" Lessing asked, trying to put the pilot at ease.
"Ahh." Tom stepped back from the tank and looked at the roses, momentarily forgetting they were there.
"Your lady would probably appreciate it more than you would," Lessing interjected with a small smile.
Tom laughed. "Yeah, maybe...." He balled the rag in his hand and squeezed tight. "I haven't seen you around too much," he said, changing the subject.
Lessing shrugged his shoulders and turned his gaze to the pumpkin vines in the opposite bay.
"I guess it's been hard for all of you--adjusting I mean."
"We manage," Lessing intoned distractedly, as he tapped at a control monitor and started checking the macronutrient concentrates in the tanks.
The stiff set of Lessing's shoulders and his refusal to talk about what was still a painful subject to most crewmembers was oddly reminiscent to Tom. He wondered if this pleasant but reserved man had found any friends outside of his old crewmates. It didn't seem likely.
Tom took a step toward the science officer and held out his hand. "I'm Tom Paris, by the way," he said with smile.
Lessing turned towards him, staring first at the outstretched hand before his eyes darted back to meet Tom's. "I know," he said with a chuckle. "Noah Lessing."
"Yeah, I'd heard that." They both laughed this time and their hands met and gripped solidly under the blue light. In that brief handshake, where they tested each others characters through the ancient but instinctive method of whose grip was firmer, and who would maintain eye contact, they knew that they could trust each other and that they would become fast friends. And all it took was an out stretched hand.
"Who are you hiding from?" Lessing asked as they withdrew hands, his lips curved in a knowing smile.
Tom's blush under the glow, thankfully, went unnoticed but he could feel his cheeks heating up and instinctively tried to hide it under a sheepish grin. "Who are you hiding from?" Tom countered.
Lessing withdrew his gaze from Tom's and cast his gaze briefly down to his feet before just as quickly snapping his eyes, expressive even under the fluorescent glare, back at the pilot. He wore a slight frown now and seemed to be giving Tom's question serious consideration. "The past," he said at last. "From people who can't trust me, who maybe never will...." He'd said it with the conviction of a man who was resigned to his fate, although his eyes seemed to send a message of hope, that somewhere along the line things could get better.
"I'm sorry,--" Tom began. It wasn't his intention to drag the poor man down that particular road
"Don't," Lessing said firmly. "Don't apologise for stating the obvious. I have to live with what I did, we all do. I don't expect you to understand what it was like on the Equinox--how desperate and... hopeless we were. And after...." He shook his head. "After... it goes beyond... description," he finished tightly, spitting the words out through gritted teeth.
"You're right," Tom agreed. "I can't know what it was like for you, but I can tell you this: you can make a life for yourself here, on Voyager." Noah speared him with a surprised and disbelieving grimace. "Look around at us here," Tom urged. "When the Caretaker pulled us into this quadrant, Janeway was chasing a bunch of criminals, and I was..." Tom paused, bent his head slightly and smiled ruefully to himself. "I was an 'observer,' paroled from a penal colony to help track them down. Look at us, Noah, half the ship's crew were Maquis--our first officer, our chief engineer... me."
Lessing was digesting it all, he'd known of course about the Maquis, but this was the first time it was being related to him by someone with actual experience of those events. It seemed to be making an impact on him.
"At first it was a nightmare," Tom said, answering Lessing's thoughts. "At least the Maquis had each other, but at the time, when most people looked at me, talked to me," he gave another short laugh. "When they talked to me at all," he amended, "it was all they could do to avoid throwing up in my face."
"At least you had your lady," Noah said in sympathy.
"What?" Tom turned his head up sharply, at first not understanding the science officer's words. "Oh, no," Tom corrected. "We weren't together back then. She wouldn't even talk to me...." he trailed off.
A thoughtful silence embraced them this time, as their experiences--similar and diverse--seemed to pass between them. Noah started to chuckle as he leaned back against the tank.
"What?" Tom asked, genuinely puzzled, but finding the man's laughter infectious.
"You're dating the chief engineer, right?" Noah asked.
Tom shrugged. "Yeah."
"That's why you came here tonight. She's still not talking to you," he stated, laughing at the irony of it, knowing he was right.
Tom scowled back as he rubbed at his neck, hating that he'd been found out so easily and feeling a little mortified that everyone on this ship seemed to know his business. But that laugh, it was so rich and totally without guile or sarcasm. He found himself smiling back, the grin spreading down to his chest until at last he was laughing at himself too.
"Are you sure I can't cut you a rose?"
They both cut loose in uncontrollable giggles.
It was the most fitting way to describe the atmosphere in the holographic French bar. Laughter bubbled up from almost every corner of Sandrine's as crewmen jostled for position at the pool table, or congregated around tables only big enough for four, while others elected to sway to the period accordion music being pumped out through the speakers.
B'Elanna sat on a stool at one corner of the bar, doing her best to not to attract attention to herself, although she'd been elbowed several times already by swiftly repentant colleagues. She really didn't feel like kicking them when they grovelled so well.
She sipped at the gin and lime that Sandrine herself had insisted she have on the house. It wasn't everyday, Sandrine had explained in her classically bad Standard--dropping her 'H's with more generosity than the French themselves had ever been credited with--that she was able to share a drink with Thomas' woman.
"I always knew, cheri, that Thomas preferred his women with a little bite," she'd gone on. "And I bet you 'ave marked him well, non?"
B'Elanna ignored the comment but her eyes sent Sandrine a message of cold warning. Sandrine took the hint but not before returning to her customers with a parting shot of her own. "Thomas is sensitive, cheri, even he will not enjoy being bitten in the same spot over and over. You must learn to caress him with your teeth also."
That stung. B'Elanna tightened her grip around her drink, lowered her head to blush at this hologram's much too familiar advice, before downing the liquid in two quick gulps. Sandrine watched her from her new position, at the other end of the bar, and laughed throatily, tilting her blonde head back as she did so.
Holographic bitch! B'Elanna hoped desperately at that moment that she'd never have to face meeting the real Sandrine, if she was anything like this representation.
Draining her glass, she swivelled in her seat to get a better look at the patrons. She'd already spotted Harry Kim, who was involved in a discussion with Carl Ashmore and the blonde engineer
from the Equinox, although from the looks of it, the newest member of engineering was saying little, nodding her head occasionally and staring into her tall glass of purple liquid. Nicoletti and Michael Ayala were in another corner and they seemed to be getting very cosy, talking in whispers, Ayala leaning in every now and then while Susan would take that as a cue to lean forward briefly and touch his hand or play with her hair.
Jeez, Sue, learn some subtlety would ya'.
B'Elanna turned back to the bar and tried to get the attention of the holographic barkeep, a tall angular looking man, with a thin face and high cheek bones that stood out in relief, especially in profile.
"B'Elanna, come join us!" Harry was at her elbow, grinning inanely at her in that Harry Kim way that could be both engaging and annoying, depending on her mood. Right now, B'Elanna couldn't decide which one it was.
"Where's Tom?" he asked, as he waved the barkeep over and ordered more drinks for his table. "And whatever this lady's having," he finished, pointing to B'Elanna's empty glass.
"Don't ask," she replied to his question flatly.
Harry raised an eyebrow. "Okay," he drawled.
Their drinks were delivered quickly and Harry reached over to intercept B'Elanna's double gin and lime before she could pick it up. "Come join us," he said again, manoeuvring all four glasses between his hands and picking them up.
"I don't know, Harry, I'm not in the mood for small talk," she said, trying to reach for her drink.
"B'Elanna," Harry admonished, moving his hands away from her grasp. "You're never in the mood for small talk. Come on, it'll be fun."
"B'Elanna.... Just follow the drinks. This way, Maquis," he teased as he moved away and back across the floor to his table companions, weaving his way around swaying crewman and pool cues with athletic grace. Reluctantly, she followed.
"Look what I found," Harry announced as he lowered the drinks to the table then stepped back to reveal B'Elanna to Ashmore and Gilmore.
"Hey, Chief," Ashmore greeted, selecting his drink and raising it in salute. Gilmore's mouth twitched but she didn't say anything.
"If you're sure I'm not interrupting....," B'Elanna muttered, half in apology to Gilmore, who she'd only exchanged a couple of words with since her permanent arrival on board.
"Sit down already, would you!" Harry begged, as he pulled out a chair for her.
B'Elanna sat as graciously as she could and immediately reached for her drink, taking slow sips in an effort not to make eye contact or worse; talk. Fortunately, Harry recognised her discomfort and quickly resumed the conversation he was having with Ashmore. Harry joked and laughed, beaming his sunniest smile at the two women who remained quiet and reflective.
As Harry and Carl chatted and joked B'Elanna was desperately trying to remember Gilmore's first name. Having only referred to the woman from reports over the last few months it wasn't something that B'Elanna had had to think about to any degree.
It begins with an M? N?
B'Elanna caught Gilmore eyeing her warily over her glass as Ashmore gave out a booming roar of laughter. She offered her subordinate a hesitant smile and Gilmore's lips twitched again but that was all.
After several minutes of light-hearted banter the conversation eventually turned to engineering, and the various projects and proposals they were working on. B'Elanna, at last in her element, became animated as the conversation turned to theoretical propulsion and backup emergency procedures.
"Didn't you have a theory about that?" Harry asked, turning to Gilmore to bring her into the conversation. "You were saying earlier that you'd worked out some procedures on enhancing diagnostics during a Red Alert."
The others turned expectantly to her, waiting.
Gilmore's eyes darted about the table and she nervously clutched at her glass. "I umm... I don't think it would be... appropriate to... to hot-wire Voyager's systems... the same way we did on the Equinox," she managed to stammer.
"I'd like to hear it," Harry encouraged.
Gilmore exhaled a nervous breath and looked first at Harry then at the Chief Engineer. "Maybe another time," she said, uncomfortable in B'Elanna's presence. "It's late," she went on, standing up, her confidence returning to her voice. "And I think I should turn in."
Harry pursed his lips but didn't make a move to stop her and Ashmore raised his glass to her in a gesture of "good night."
B'Elanna surprised them all by saying, "You don't have to leave."
Gilmore hesitated for a second. "I think I should, Lieutenant." She stepped back and turned to fight her way through the throng of crew and holodeck characters. B'Elanna stood, looked after her for a moment, then called out:
The holodeck seemed to freeze as silence quickly descended. All heads turned to B'Elanna, then as one those same heads swished back to find Marla Gilmore, rooted to the spot in the middle of the tavern. To Harry Kim it was almost like one of those obscure "Westerns" he had watched with Tom, where the witnesses seemed to mark out an unspoken path between adversaries. The expectation for a fight or at least the exchange of heated words hung heavily in the air.
Gilmore turned slowly and faced B'Elanna, apprehension and a little fear of the Chief's reputation for a short fuse, very evident in her expression. B'Elanna gazed back warily. The unexpected attention was enough to make anyone feel self-conscious, and if B'Elanna hated it, it was probably worse by a factor of ten for Gilmore.
"Please stay," B'Elanna said for all to hear. "I'd like to get to know you."
Gilmore's stare at first was blank. Her head moved imperceptibly left and right, as she attempted not to look at her crewmates, but failed miserably. After a short pause she at last gave a genuine smile, more in relief than anything else.
Harry watched her nod in acceptance and take the three long strides to be with them once more.
Maquis, you're the best! he beamed inwardly with pride.
Murmurs of disappointment rose up among the crowd, and as suddenly as they'd been distracted, the majority of the crew returned to their own pursuits for the evening; drinking, talking, playing pool, dancing, and of course, more drinking.
Harry, B'Elanna, Marla and Carl remained chatting for well over an hour, mostly discussing engineering principles. It was the subject easiest for the two women to bond over. As the night wore on they were able to relax more in each other's company, and occasional laughter could be heard over the din of the saloon. When somehow the conversation turned to men, it was Harry and Carl who found themselves sharing uncomfortable silences and expressions of agonised torture.
Chapter Six - "Vaadwaur... 'foolish,' in the old tongue... "
He was having that dream again--the one where B'Elanna left the Maquis high and dry on the Liberty. Or it might have been the Proton dream where she threw off his offer of help for instant gratification with Chaotica. Correction, instant gratification with that Tuvok/Chakotay hybrid. Only this time there was no bed to roll over in and no shower available to chase the dreams away. Tom had been daydreaming on the Bridge as Voyager cruised at warp 6, letting his mind wonder as it sometimes did when all he had to do was enter a course vector that rounded a few populated and possibly hostile systems. Seven's astrometric data practically did the job for him
and that afforded him plenty of time to think, or in this case let his imagination and concentration drift.
Surreptitiously, he checked his console, but everything looked fine and the diagnostic board was clear. He turned slightly to see if the captain and commander had noticed him drifting off. Janeway wasn't on the Bridge any longer and that made him frown--he hadn't noticed she'd left. Chakotay was reading a PADD, probably some salacious novel, Tom thought unkindly. Tuvok, however, did raise his eyebrows slightly and the line of his mouth tightened in that I-know-you-were-derelict-in-your-duties scowl he sometimes offered the junior officers.
Tom ignored the look and turned back to the helm controls. Welcome back, Tuvok.
At least he and B'Elanna were speaking again, sort of. He'd managed to catch up with her in the mess hall for breakfast, and she'd allowed him to sit with her while she'd finished her coffee.
"Want to meet me for lunch?" he tentatively asked after a long period of silence. B'Elanna had drained her mug and gathered up her usual piles of data PADDs before getting up to leave.
"I don't know," she responded quietly before walking away.
That was two days ago. She hadn't met him for lunch and had only returned his hails to her since then to say that she was busy in Engineering.
Same old goddamn story!
Okay, she probably has a right to be angry with me still, but she's not entirely blameless!
Chakotay appeared at his shoulder just then and Tom realised his mind had gone off on a tangent once again. He straightened his posture and blinked at the view screen before glancing back at his board.
"Anything on sensors, Tom?" Chakotay asked.
"No, sir," he replied quickly. Too quickly, Tom thought.
Chakotay remained at his shoulder. He'd brought the data PADD he'd been reading with him and was now tapping it against the top of the helm console to Tom's right.
The tapping reminded Tom of Noah Lessing. He'd spent this morning getting to know the science officer a little better, this time in the gym. They discovered that they both liked to workout with weights and had agreed to schedule a session together with Harry, Tom's regular workout partner. They had lifted weights, bench-pressed, and squat-thrusted themselves to exhaustion before collapsing on mats when Harry suggested they compare body fat percentages. Noah rolled his eyes and crawled over to a bench to sit and catch his breath while Harry went in search of a tricorder. Tom lay sprawled on his back; still gasping to catch his breath, when he finally registered the sound of knocking.
He turned his head to see Noah, tapping out a steady rhythm with his left foot, which Harry had later described as four-four-two time. Tom didn't know if it was a nervous habit or if it had anything to do with Seven of Nine's arrival.
She strutted into the gymnasium wearing a skimpy electric blue bodice that showed off her long legs--though they were bare for a change--and it dipped low to reveal the "V" of her cleavage. No doubt the Doctor's design, Tom assumed. Paying her male colleagues scant attention Seven began her own routine, which consisted of a series of lengthy stretching exercises.
"Isn't exercise irrelevant, Seven?" Tom called out, unable to resist the barb.
"You are misinformed, Ensign Paris. My regeneration unit no longer affords me the physical regimen acceptable for my re-emergent human physiology. The Doctor has advised that I take regular exercise such as this, and I find that I am in agreement with his assessment." Seven didn't break her concentration or her supple leg stretches as she replied coldly to the pilot.
Noah's foot tapping continued unabated, and Harry took an awfully long time walking the length of the gym with the tricorder. Tom wondered if was the only male on this ship that preferred his women short and dark--and with a temper?
"Your Helm reports are late again." Commander Chakotay's voice crushed the smirk that was about to form on Tom's lips and he swivelled his chair around to face the other man.
"They are?" Tom questioned.
"They were due this morning at 0800."
"Oh." Damn it! Those reports were ready and sitting in his quarters. He didn't usually forget them, especially when he had them ready on time. "Sorry, Commander. I'll get them to you as soon as I finish my shift on the Bridge."
"You do that," Chakotay declared before returning to his command chair.
The admonishment from the commander was enough to focus Tom's attention on his duties for the remainder of his shift.
Bridge duty over, Tom approached Commander Chakotay's office, carrying with him his Helm reports and not a little trepidation.
This could be an opportunity, something in the back of his mind told him.
This could also be a mistake.
When he entered the office, at Chakotay's brief "come in," Tom found the commander sitting behind his desk. His head bent in concentration, as his busy fingers worked over his console.
Tom approached the desk hesitantly. "Commander...?"
"I'll be with you in a minute, Tom. Take a seat," Chakotay acknowledged, not bothering to look up.
Tom tried to make himself comfortable as he lowered himself into the waiting chair. He pursed his lips and looked around the small office, checking for new wall hangings and Native American symbols. Tom had to admit to himself he'd always liked this office, it was comfortable and cosy--a warmer atmosphere than the captain's pristine Ready Room; where only Janeway's ability to put her crew at ease was its saving grace.
A yucca plant stood two metres tall next to the door and in another corner Tom recognised the carving in dark wood of an eagle. Something B'Elanna had replicated as a gift for Chakotay's birthday some months past. It stood proudly on a short stand, its wings unfurling, as if for flight. At the base of the stand another figure stood. It appeared to be a human taking shelter or warding off an attack. Its body was bent over and an arm was raised over its head. The figure was less imposing than the bird, and looked like it had been carved or replicated in a volcanic mineral; green feldspar. The work seemed old, the angles and planes of the figure chafed and pitted. Tom knew he'd never seen it before though, and it also struck him as odd that Chakotay would place this cowering figure under the opening wings of such a large, graceful bird.
Knowing Chakotay as badly as he did, maybe it wasn't so odd at all.
Tom turned his attention back to the commander only to find two brown eyes staring firmly at him. Chakotay had been watching him the entire time. The commander didn't break the stare, but blinked to refocus before giving Tom a wry smile.
"You have something for me, I hope?" Chakotay asked, his tone not the least apologetic for his blatant observation of the younger man.
Tom hesitated for a moment before handing over his Helm PADD, and waited. Chakotay accepted the report and put it to one side, easing himself back into his chair he continued his observation of the ensign.
"If there's nothing else, sir," Tom said, shifting uncomfortably in his seat as he leaned forward to rise.
"Sit, Tom. I won't bite."
Tom settled himself once more and wondered if Chakotay toyed with other crewmembers this way, or was it just his imagination.
"I've been meaning to talk with you since your return to full duty," Chakotay admitted.
"Sir?" It had been several weeks since the "Alice" incident, and like so many unpleasant experiences Tom had tried his best to put it behind him.
"I can see you've been working hard; extra shifts in sickbay, double duty on the Bridge, and flight simulations with the other helm crew." Chakotay looked up from his console. "And the captain tells me you've been working on another holodeck simulation for public access."
Tom and Harry Kim had delivered the proposal for the "Fair Haven" program to the captain several days ago, and she had given immediate consent. The program was far from complete; in fact they were still designing parameters and researching Irish culture and folklore during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
"Harry and I have only just got started on that, sir." Tom eyed the commander suspiciously. Praise from Chakotay was rare indeed and he couldn't help the feeling that this conversation was a ruse for something else. Something less palatable.
"Well, it sounds like a good idea," Chakotay encouraged.
"Thanks," Tom said, trying to hide the sarcasm in his voice. If Chakotay had heard it he didn't let on. He got up and walked around his desk to the replicator, and ordered a glass of water.
"Can I get you anything?" he asked.
Chakotay turned to face the younger man, glass in hand. "Have you been having any problems you'd like to discuss with me, Tom?" he questioned, raising the glass to sip at the cool liquid, his tone friendly and sincere.
Tom lowered his head from Chakotay's watchful gaze, and his lips instinctively curled into a repugnant snarl. "No," he answered flatly.
Chakotay took another deep drink of water, watching how Tom flexed his open hands against his thighs, and how his posture stiffened; his back arching forward slightly.
"You've come through quite a few traumas, Tom. I'm just concerned that some of them might have had a lingering effect on you."
Tom breathed out audibly and shook his head; his eyes searched the spaces between the desk and his hands; seeing nothing--this was all too unexpected. "I'm fine," he shrugged stiffly, barely getting his shoulders to move.
"Do you talk to anyone? Harry, B'Elanna?"
Tom twisted to glance at the commander, his expression puzzled.
Chakotay stepped away from the replicator and slowly made his way back to his chair. "I don't think I could have handled some of the things you have, without talking to people that care about me," he said taking his seat. "I've been acting as ship's counselor for some time now, and you've never responded to any of my invitations to sessions," Chakotay continued, still using his patient and soft spoken tone.
A half smile made its way to Tom's lips. "No offence, Chakotay, but I guess I'm just a well adjusted guy."
Tom's eyes cut back to Chakotay, giving him a pointed stare of his own. "What do you think?" he challenged.
Chakotay leaned forward and rested his elbows on the desk, bridging his hands under his chin. "Do you really want my opinion?" he dared the younger man.
Whatever was coming had hidden a long time in wait, and Tom wasn't sure he'd be able to handle it. He prayed that he could at least hold himself together for a little longer. It's just words, he reminded himself. He could always handle the words.
Chakotay took Tom's silence as consent, although he could see the flush that was creeping up the pilot's cheeks and the tight line that had transformed his mouth to a thin slit.
Chakotay wasn't trying to torture the man, only understand him and that made him hesitate over his choice of words. After this, there was a good chance that they would either become enemies or something else. Friendship would be much too lofty a goal.
"I think you're the type of man who likes to take dangerous assignments, because it's the only way for you to feel needed; worthy, respected." Chakotay paused for a moment and let the words sink in. "I think you'd like to define yourself by how well you're perceived by others; confident, charming, cocky, self-assured. But that's all an act and you know it. The real question here is, how do you perceive yourself?"
Chakotay watched Tom squirm over the question, head bowed. The commander took a last draw of water then placed the empty glass next to his stack of PADDs. "What makes you feel whole, Tom? Flying? Sex? A pat on the back from the captain?"
"Don't...." Tom whispered behind gritted teeth, his face was tense and an angry pulse beat against his temples.
"Don't what? You wanted to know," Chakotay threw back at him. His voice had risen slightly but it still held that controlled reticence; that air of serenity, that should be impossible to maintain under the circumstances, and yet he always did. "I think you're the type of man who likes to think you can handle it all. Well, you can't, Tom. Not alone."
"Is this the part where you remind me that I was a traitor too?" Tom shot back, knocking his chair over as he sprung up in anger.
Chakotay pushed himself back against his seat defensively. "In order for you to betray something, you have to believe in it first," he argued. "You never believed in the Maquis, not then. And, as I recall, you barely cared about yourself. And you know, it took me until this moment to realise all that," he paused again and took a deep breath. He looked up at the helmsman. "Tom, this isn't about that past, this is about who you are--here, now."
Tom's eyes blazed brightly with lethal intent. "A failure, a fraud?" he asked bitterly, his voice demanding confirmation.
"No, Tom," Chakotay said quietly, shaking his head. "Now, I think you're a man who's searching to find himself...."
"You don't know anything about me, Chakotay," Tom said harshly, turning away from the commander and heading for the door.
"What are you going to do, Tom?" Chakotay called after him. "Run and hide in a holodeck simulation? Hope that another alien wants to take a vacation in your head? Your body?"
That stopped Tom cold.
"I think B'Elanna has enough problems with your personality as it is. Do you really think she could handle another of your multiple personality disorders?"
Tom was on the commander so fast he barely had time to get out of his chair. The momentum of Tom's rush sent Chakotay into the wall console behind the desk with a viscous thud, his fists digging into the material around Chakotay's chest and shoulders. They stood nose-to-nose, Chakotay gasping with the impact and Tom panting in fury. Tom's grip was vice-like and he proceeded to pummel Chakotay's back against the console; silently trying to thrust him through it--into an oblivion of a thousand pieces if he could.
At first, Chakotay was too stunned to react, although he had been expecting something like this. Now he offered no resistance because somewhere behind this instinctively male display he sensed a glimmer of comprehension in the pilot. He was slammed back again and winced in silent pain.
Tom Paris had no words. He was fuelled by emotions he could neither name nor describe. They overwhelmed him and he no longer saw who he was holding; it could have been anybody and for a moment he didn't care. But in that moment, when he knew he could go further, really inflict pain and damage--lose his reason entirely--Chakotay's face came back into focus. Tom saw a man fighting desperately to control the pain he was feeling; his eyes closed tight and his mouth an open grimace as his head snapped back repeatedly. Stunned, Tom ceased the attack. He let his grip on the commander loosen fractionally, although he still had him pinned to the wall unit.
Tom heard his own laboured breathing and lowered his head against Chakotay's chest for a moment before finally releasing him, stepping back slowly, his hands still curled as if maintaining their grip on Chakotay's uniform. He watched as the commander silently slid down and dropped to his knees, a hand reaching around to his lower back. Tom gulped in air as Chakotay's head dropped to the floor, resting there for a second before rolling onto his back and wincing with the effort.
They both remained that way for more minutes than either would ever know had passed.
When Chakotay was finally able to open his eyes without seeing stars, and his breathing had returned to a more natural rhythm he realised that Tom Paris was still standing over him. "That's one of the most unorthodox counselling sessions I've ever been involved in," he offered from his supine position.
Tom looked down at him and tried to find a smile but couldn't. "Funny, I thought you got that
reaction all the time."
Chakotay sat up slowly and Tom moved towards him and offered his hand to help the commander up. Chakotay accepted it easily, if with a little discomfort.
Tom started to say something but Chakotay cut him off with a wave of his hand. "Don't apologise. I had a feeling this might be coming."
They were silent again and Tom looked around the office, spotted the chair he'd overturned and went to pick it up. He glanced back and saw Chakotay trying to stretch the kinks out of his back. "You should probably go to sickbay," he said.
"I'll be fine."
Tom rubbed his fingers over the material of the chair back, as if he'd never noticed the course fibres before. "Do you..." he began then paused.
Chakotay rubbed at the back of his neck but said nothing.
"Do you... really think that I hide from things, feelings and stuff?" he asked tentatively, his eyes still cast down to the chair his hands rested against.
Chakotay almost smiled, despite the smarting pain in his back, but resisted as the pilot finally turned to face him again. "What do you think, Tom?" he asked, keeping his voice patient and calm.
"Sometimes, I guess...." he trailed off. "I..." he began again, "it's hard to talk about... things."
"Don't you talk to B'Elanna or Harry about them at all?"
Tom shook his head in remorse and said, "I try... but...." He turned away again, combing his fingers through his hair. "I don't think B'Elanna trusts me," he blurted.
That surprised Chakotay but he hid the revelation with another question. "Why would you think that?"
It took Tom another few minutes to answer that question and his fingers returned to clenching at the chair. "She thinks you have the answers to everything, you know," Tom admitted glumly.
That wasn't really an answer but Chakotay contemplated the statement carefully. "I don't."
"Oh, I know that," Tom said, at last displaying some confidence in his voice. Chakotay smiled. "It's just that she...." Tom stopped talking and started to pace.
"You think she has a higher opinion of me than of you?" Chakotay speculated.
"Does she?" Tom asked, halting in mid stride, truly expecting the commander to have the answer.
"Tom, B'Elanna and I have known each other a long time," Chakotay stated, "and if she thinks highly of me I take it as a compliment, but I don't think she would be in a relationship with you if she didn't have a lot of faith in you or trust you. That's just not her style." Tom didn't look convinced.
"Let me put it to you like this," Chakotay tried, "who does she have breakfast with nearly every morning?" The pilot gave the commander a blank stare.
"Who does she take shore-leave with whenever she gets the opportunity?" Tom shifted his gaze and looked away.
"How often does B'Elanna require our chief pilot to assist her with the Navigational array on deck 11?" Chakotay could see that Tom had started to blush a little at that remark.
"Now I can't say I've never had breakfast with B'Elanna or helped her out in Engineering from time to time, but I'm pretty sure when she does it with you it's a little more... intimate--although I hope for both your sakes that the PDA's didn't get too out of hand," he joked. Tom pulled a face at Chakotay's attempted humour.
"She loves you, Tom, and for B'Elanna, I'm reasonably sure that means she rates you pretty highly. But if you really want an answer to your question you need to ask her," he finished.
Tom nodded in silent agreement. He needed to talk to her, if she'd let him.
Chakotay watched as Tom shifted from foot to foot, deep in thought. "Is there somewhere you need to be?" he asked kindly.
"I... I have a shift in sickbay this afternoon," Tom answered.
"I'll talk to the Doctor. You have the afternoon off, Tom. I don't think you'd be able to concentrate on your duties fully, if I allowed you to resume another shift today."
Tom smiled in genuine gratitude. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it," Chakotay responded as Tom made his way to the door. "But Tom," he called. The pilot turned back quickly. "I expect to see you at private counselling sessions from now on. Once a month okay? I'll send out a reminder to your database."
Tom looked crest-fallen. "Do I have to?" he moaned.
"I can make it an order if you want," the commander said easily. Tom heaved a dramatic sigh then nodded.
"Don't expect me to say much," he grumbled heading out of the door.
Chakotay eased himself back into his chair and groaned audibly as pain spiked through him. He could feel bruises forming across his back and shoulders, but he'd experienced much worse. The pain would pass shortly, especially after he'd taken a herbal bath, he hoped.
His first, unofficial, session counselling Tom Paris had gone pretty well, all things considered. They hadn't ended up brawling and having to report to the captain, and neither of them were sporting any obvious injury, unless he was forced to jump out of his command chair later.
Chakotay belatedly turned in his chair to check for damage to his wall console. The lights all flickered brightly and the controls were still functioning--he would have hated explaining that to anybody, especially Tuvok; and he knew the Vulcan would have asked.
Not bad at all, he congratulated himself before opening a channel to the Doctor.
Chapter Seven - The B'Elanna Project
For the last three nights B'Elanna's only sleeping partner had been Toby the targ.
She'd dragged her squeaky, little stuffed playmate out from hiding under her bed, and promoted him, once more, to bed-warmer. Not that Toby was any good at it.
Toby was a small stuffed animal Tom had replicated for her as a birthday gag gift years before, simply to irritate her. Back then, in that time when Harry was the only reason they could stand to exchange a few words, they had considered each other nothing more than a royal pain in the butt.
Tom and Toby had managed to grow on her though, and after accidentally packing Toby on an away mission one time, she'd found she liked having this little companion around. Later, much later in her relationship with the pilot, he'd found it among her possessions, and commented on it, surprised she had kept it. Sometime after that, she jokingly remarked to Tom that Toby (she still didn't know how she had come up with the name) would have to keep her company on lonely nights ahead. Tom had smiled, picked up the brown speckled, spiky animal, squeezed it and given it a kiss. Explaining, very seriously, that it would be her good luck charm and bring her safely back to him.
Since then, she'd managed to take it with her on most away missions scheduled for more than twenty-four hours away from Voyager.
B'Elanna shifted in bed and reached out to bring her squeaky bedmate closer. She was unable to sleep, giving all her thought to the circles she and Tom seemed to be forever, clumsily, navigating through in their relationship. One move forward always seemed to end up in two moves back.
That can't be healthy.
Clutching Toby to her chest, she considered what ways, if any, could bridge the yawning gap
To his credit Tom had tried to talk to her over breakfast the other morning, but she'd still been angry and hurt by his outburst. She hadn't been ready to forgive and forget just then.
And for whatever reason, Chakotay seemed to be a stumbling block for Tom. She didn't understand his jealousy of him when she was just as close to Harry. Sure, she used to have a crush on the first officer while she was in the Maquis, and that had carried over for a while when they'd first boarded Voyager.
B'Elanna had admired Chakotay's wisdom and strength of mind, as well as purpose back then. He was one of the first men in her life who seemed to accept her as a person and not as a sex-starved Klingon woman in need of physical release. Maybe that's what the attraction was, as well as his good looks enhanced by that sexy tattoo, plus his powerful self-assurance. But Chakotay had always treated her like his kid sister; looking out for her, being protective of her, getting on her case when he thought she was out of line or too impulsive or reactionary--and that happened a lot, still did.
He'd gone to Seska on those occasions when he needed physical comfort and at first B'Elanna had been envious of the other woman's position. Later, after the unveiling of Seska's true identity, she'd been disappointed in Chakotay, wondering how he could have been deceived for so long by someone he'd been intimate with. B'Elanna had realised then that he was only human, and not the deity she'd tried to put on a pedestal since she'd known him. If they had become lovers back then it would never have worked; she would have spent most of her time worrying about how to please him, too afraid of rejection to express herself naturally--never feeling like an equal in the relationship.
Tom, for all his faults, never appeared fazed by or tried to curb her short temper. In fact he seemed to like it, for the most part.
B'Elanna gave Toby a playful squeeze and smiled at his comforting, if artificial, bray. She'd never told Tom of her crush on Chakotay, it wasn't necessary and she was well over it, long before she'd started to find herself attracted to Voyager's chief pilot.
Fooling around with Vision Quests was obviously not the way to Tom's soul.
What was? B'Elanna knew she should try and take the next step between them, but she had to find a way that was both sincere and didn't make Tom feel like he wasn't a part of her life. He was. Is.
Something he'd like, she mused, something they could share. B'Elanna's mind spun this way and that, rejecting one idea over another; Klingon martial arts, the 69 Camaro program, rock climbing, a hoverball tournament, until....
She shot up in bed, pushed Toby aside and called for lights. Swiftly she moved from her bed to gather an assortment of PADDs from around her cabin. Then she set to work, an evil little grin lighting her face.
Engineering was a hive of activity; engineers of all rank and file ran left and right, checking read-outs, running diagnostics and calling out warning levels. The warp core was pulsing bright blue at a treble time, and its usual calm thrumming had taken on a more menacing and audible vibration.
"Lieutenant!" Marla Gilmore called out over the tumult as she hurried towards Chief Torres. B'Elanna was moving from her position at the warp diagnostic array to crouch under the circular rail that ran around the core. Pausing mid-crouch, B'Elanna looked up at the blonde.
"Tell me," she ordered impatiently, swiftly turning back to the core housing.
"All I can tell from the sensors is that we're in some type of subspace corridor," Marla explained to the chief's back. "I don't see how we can pull free of it unless..." she hesitated.
"We may not have time for twenty-questions. Unless what?" the chief engineer demanded distractedly as she checked the core temperature.
"We could try and send out a resonance burst, through the deflector array. That might disrupt the harmonics of subspace and push us back into normal space."
"Sounds like a plan to me," B'Elanna agreed, climbing back under the rail to join Marla. "Let's get on it!" As they raced to the deflector grid B'Elanna turned back sharply. "You hear that?" she asked, raising her tricorder to confirm her suspicions.
Marla looked back to the warp core, the pulsing chamber of dilithium was slowing considerably and the deafening whine was slowly returning to its more familiar hum.
"How?" They set off again, B'Elanna quickly tapping in commands at a nearby console.
"Looks like your theory would have worked," she said, as she scanned the read-outs being transferred from ops control. "An alien vessel pushed us clear."
"Look at that," Gilmore exclaimed, pointing to another reading. "We've travelled over 200 light years from our last position!"
"Should have known...." B'Elanna grumbled in return. Nothing about travelling in the Delta Quadrant surprised her anymore.
Moments after taking in this new information Voyager was rocked by a series of blasts.
"Now what?" the chief engineer complained, turning to survey the area for damage.
"Warp engines are down," Vorik called calmly from another panel.
Torres shook her head and turned to Gilmore. "Welcome to Alpha shift."
When Tom arrived in Engineering, a quarter of an hour later, B'Elanna was still bellowing out orders to her crew. With warp engines down and Voyager taking refuge from the pursuing alien vessels, on an apparently deserted but radioactively charged planet, the chief engineer had more than enough to worry about than the arrival of her lover.
"How can I help, Chief?" he said, stepping up behind her.
B'Elanna turned towards him, her expression showing both surprise and relief at seeing him. She flicked her eyes quickly over his, then peered past his shoulder. "Carl! I need you to double-check the magnetic seals on the core. With all this radiation around, I don't want to take any chances," she ordered.
"Aye, Chief," was the crisp response.
Tom shifted his stance to take in the ensign's retreating back. "The warp coils have become fused in the port nacelle, think you can handle that?" B'Elanna asked, giving Tom her full attention.
"That's a two person job, B'Elanna," he frowned.
"I know. I want you to assist Carey. Can you do it?" B'Elanna knew full well he could or she wouldn't have suggested it.
B'Elanna thought he sounded a little disappointed. "It shouldn't take too long," she tried to console him, fighting the undercurrent of tension she saw in his eyes. "And we may need your help up here, once you're finished."
"All right," Tom agreed, stepping back from her slowly. He moved to leave then turned back. "B'Elanna...," He hesitated, then whispered thickly, "We need to talk."
She quickly closed the distance between them, and keeping her voice low she said, "I know. Later okay?" her eyes bored into his, pleading for understanding.
He stared back at her for a long moment. "Later," he repeated. "I'll come back later."
B'Elanna nodded and watched him leave. She could have easily found an assignment for him in Main Engineering. However, she didn't want the distraction of him around, afraid that she'd start flirting with him out of instinct. They had too much to settle before they dove into such easy and intimate banter again. Too much had been left unsaid and undone between them.
B'Elanna closed her eyes briefly and concentrated her thoughts on the task at hand, before launching herself once more into "chief mode."
"Later," was starting to seem like a long way away to Tom Paris. After he had finished helping Carey with the repairs to the port nacelle he was called back to the Bridge. The Turei, the aliens that had pushed them clear of the subspace corridors, were pursuing them still, and had started to fire plasma charges at Voyager from orbit.
He supposed it could be seen as a lucky break that Seven had revived one of the Vaadwaur from their stasis pods, when she, the captain and Tuvok had beamed into their underground chambers to investigate faint life-sign readings. Gedrin, the Vaadwaur male first revived, had insisted that the "corridors" belonged to his people, and he had proceeded to give a brief history of the destruction of his world by the Turei and others. He'd been insistent that their demise was based on the Turei's jealousy of the Vaadwaur's unique knowledge of the subspace corridors.
Gedrin may have been in stasis for almost 900 years but it could have been a five-minute nap, with all of the tactical data he was able to recall. His knowledge allowing Voyager to target the Turei ships, still attacking from orbit, and send them packing--for now.
As with everyone else on board Tom was grateful for that help, but he couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't right about the Vaadwaur. Why would a civilisation, under the threat of complete annihilation, only place a battalion of soldiers and their families in stasis?
The more Tom thought about it, the less likely it seemed that the captain's decision, to assist Gedrin in the revival of the remaining active bio-pods, was a smart idea.
The day dragged on, with Tom alternating his duties between the Bridge and Engineering. B'Elanna continued to assist in the supervision of reanimating the remaining Vaadwaur stasis-pods; repairing their damaged power core; and the reactivation of their assault fighters.
Double and triple shifts loomed as day turned to night and Neelix, of all people, was the one who had finally gone to the captain, with Seven in tow, to expose the violent and duplicitous nature of the very aliens they were courting as allies.
Out of the frying pan..., Tom mused several hours later, as he answered Janeway's command to make a run for it. He deftly brought engines back on line as he prepared Voyager for a rapid ascent. Not rapid enough he soon realised, as his monitor displayed 17 Vaadwaur fighters heading for their position. At their rate of speed and manoeuvrability he'd never get Voyager above the thermosphere in time to make the jump to warp.
Evasive manoeuvres were useless against the smaller vessels, which seemed to increase in number with each wave of attack. Voyager's shields were failing, the port thrusters had taken a direct hit and the ship was loosing altitude, plus they now had over 50 Vaadwaur fighters closing in on every side.
Tom hoped that Captain Janeway had one of her small miracles up her sleeve, or their journey in the Delta Quadrant was going to be coming to a sticky and ignoble end.
"Harry, can you open a secure channel to the Turei ships in orbit?" Janeway demanded.
"Yes, ma'am, but that would give away our position," Harry warned.
Gedrin was against the idea in an instant. "They could lock on with plasma charges!"
Captain Kathryn Janeway was undeterred. When she sensed an opportunity for survival she invariably grabbed at it with both hands, and feet. "It's time we reacquaint a couple of old friends.
Within minutes she'd persuaded the Turei to assist them, using their greater hatred and fear of the Vaadwaur to outweigh the minor infraction Voyager had committed when it was pulled into their "under-space." Shortly after that Voyager was engaging warp speed, leaving the field of battle to the two bitter enemies.
So much for alliances.
B'Elanna listlessly wandered into the mess hall, yawning as she filled her tray with a small plate of fruit and a steaming mug of Neelix's coffee substitute. She gave the Talaxian a half-hearted smile, grateful that he was too busy serving others breakfast to question her eating habits. Turning from the counter she looked around for a deserted table, and spotting instead a familiar short, blonde haircut, she made her way forward. As she drew near she realised that Tom wasn't sitting alone or with Harry.
"Now, this is a surprise." B'Elanna couldn't resist the cynical greeting, although she instantly realised that she'd be raising the hackles on Tom's neck with a comment like that.
"Joining us for breakfast, B'Elanna?" Chakotay asked as he turned to face her.
"How could I resist," she said, giving him a sly grin, and sliding in next to him. She sat across from Tom and didn't hesitate to meet his eyes, offering him a look she hoped conveyed both a greeting and an apology. He eyed her plate sceptically and offered her a small knowing smile along with a slight raising of his eyebrows. B'Elanna frowned back, then reached over and pinched a sausage from his plate. Tom's smile broadened slightly when she took a bite.
"How are things in engineering?" Chakotay asked, trying to ignore the surreptitious looks Tom and B'Elanna were giving each other.
B'Elanna turned to face him, waving her half eaten sausage around like a baton as she spoke. "As of last night, warp and impulse engines are running at peak efficiency. The structural integrity fields on decks 9 and 15 are down for routine maintenance, and I've got a team checking the hull this morning, for any stray levels of radiogenic particles."
"Good." Chakotay punched up some data on a PADD. "Anything else?" he queried.
"Nothing that isn't already in my report," she said mischievously. Chakotay grinned back and put aside his PADD. "So," B'Elanna wanted to know, "since when do you two share breakfast?"
Chakotay and Tom quickly exchanged glances.
"I'd have to say that it's Tom who shares his breakfast with you, B'Elanna. I like to keep mine for myself."
"Ha, ha, Chakotay. C'mon you two, what's going on?"
"Not that it's any of your business, Lieutenant, but it's a personnel matter, and therefore private," Chakotay said, closing the subject.
B'Elanna gave them both a hard stare, obviously not buying it. "Right."
"I'd love to stay for further interrogation but I'm due on the Bridge," Chakotay added, gathering his PADDs and excusing himself. He and Tom shared another significant look before he strode away.
B'Elanna took a sip of her coffee, watching Tom for any reaction. "You're not going to tell me, are you?" she said, still eager to know what had changed between the two men.
Tom leaned forward on his elbows and shook his head. He was quiet for a few minutes, contenting himself it seemed with watching her eat her breakfast. She had missed the way he chastised her for picking at her food.
"B'Elanna," he spoke softly, "I wanted to say sorry, for the things I said the other night --"
"Ssshh," she said, stopping his words by pressing two fingers to his lips.
The feel of his mouth against her fingers made her tremble. "Meet me on holodeck one tonight, 1930. Tell me everything then."
Tom swallowed then nodded. "Should I bring anything?" he whispered.
"No," she whispered in return. "Just dress casually, and bring yourself."
B'Elanna's smoky invitation had been burning layers off his scalp all day. His body and mind went through periods of arousal, apprehension, nervousness, leading up to an agitated state of excitement he hadn't experienced since they'd first been intimate.
Tom towelled his naked body down for the second time tonight. After taking a shower he couldn't seem to get dry at all. His chest was flushed and his under arms were damp with perspiration. Every time he tried to dry off another layer of sweat would appear. He gave it up soon after and slipped into a fresh pair of blue boxers.
"... dress casual," B'Elanna had said.
She'd given no indication of the kind of program she'd chosen for tonight, but Tom was filled with the strangest urge to bring his bat'leth. He went to his closet and pulled out a pair of faded jeans.
No, too casual.
His white chinos should do, he thought, pulling them out and giving it a shake; they were a comfortable fit and easy to manoeuvre in. Next he found a fresh pair of socks, ones without holes in the toe end. B'Elanna was forever getting on his case about recycling his old socks, she didn't seem to understand that they were comfortable that way sometimes.
Tom checked the time: 1910.
God, I'm nervous.
"Just tell her the truth," Chakotay had advised over breakfast that morning. He'd showed mild concern when Tom had admitted he still hadn't found the opportunity to speak with B'Elanna yet.
He took a calming breath as he pulled a white tee shirt over his head and tucked it into his trousers. Tom entered his bathroom and brushed his hair, double checking his face for blemishes in the mirror. He ran the back of his hand against his cheeks.
"Computer, time?" he called, returning to his closet for a shirt.
:::The time is now 1915 hours.:::
The blue denim shirt settled over his broad shoulders, and he worked quickly to tuck it into his pants and button his fly, leaving his belt unbuckled he sat on his bed and pulled on a pair of tan lace-up boots. As he bent forward he could feel traces of perspiration trickle down his arms. He sat back and held them out wide at his shoulders in a futile attempt to cool down.
Standing to adjust his belt, he ran through what he would say to her.
I'm sorry, B'Elanna. I'm so sorry, B'Elanna. I am really sorry, B'Elanna.
"This is good," he muttered out loud.
Oh, and by the way, I took a swing at Chakotay. Don't panic! He didn't seem to mind too much. We're cool.
Tom felt his brow, sweat beaded his hairline.
"Computer, time?" he called again, too nervous to check his own chronometer.
:::The time is now 1925 hours.:::
Tom wiped his sweaty palms against his trouser legs. "Wish me luck," he instructed his silent cabin.
B'Elanna watched him enter from the top of an ornate and winding stairwell. He was holding his bat'leth. She smiled at the sentiment his bringing it here invoked. Taking a quiet step forward she continued to watch his reaction to the holodeck scenario. It had taken up almost every spare minute of her time in recent days; working alone after and before shifts, trying to get the details just right.
She knew that the last thing Tom would expect was to walk into a simulation of one of his Captain Proton adventures. He was studying the scenario carefully, gaping open-mouthed in wonder as he moved through the black and white setting.
B'Elanna had chosen from an adventure she'd discovered Tom had yet to run: "Captain Proton in the Halls of Evil." The story centred on Proton's investigations into a series of grisly and unexplained murders among a number of Earth's finest scholars and professors; featuring Chaotica's fiercely independent daughter, Tempestua, as one of the prime suspects.
In keeping with the scenario, B'Elanna had recreated the setting for the Great Library; it was a cathedral like sanctum with walls of leather-bound books and periodicals that seemed to stretch for kilometres into the distance, and was as high up as it was broad. Several deep, leather sofas were dotted along an occasional expanse of wall, and above them paintings from various periods of Earth's history hung like portals to another world. Period maple wood desks with matching winged-back chairs adorned the capacious room, intricate lamps made of ivory and onyx stood proudly at each end of the large desks. At spaced intervals across the floor, grand replicas of those same lamps pooled light from above and onto various glass fronted exhibits; a woolly mammoth from the ice age, an Egyptian sarcophagus the size of a baby's cradle, and the stuffed replica of a dodo among others. A pair of narrow and winding staircases stood at either end of the expansive hall, spiralling upwards towards a suite of private lecture rooms and beyond to the domed roof of the university's fictitious observatory.
Tom's booted steps echoed across the marble flooring as he took it all in. His free hand brushed against the surface of tables, chairs and lamps. Here and there his fingers stopped to leaf through the open pages of a book, encyclopaedia or atlas.
Satisfied that he was suitably impressed, B'Elanna made her way slowly and cautiously down the winding marble steps.
Tom was entranced and amazed by the work that had gone into the program, doubting he could have done better himself. He almost wished that it were in colour, to better show-off B'Elanna's incredible programming skills. Every detail was perfect.
His head came up sharply at the unmistakable sound of high heels clinking and scraping in their descent down the white marbled staircase. His breath caught in his throat at the sight of her and he almost lost his grip on the bat'leth he was still holding in one hand.
B'Elanna was stunning. She was wearing a very low cut, sleeveless pale gown, embroidered with swirling waves in a darker thread. The pattern of needlework enhanced every curve and line of her body; from the top of her barely contained bosom to where it dipped under her arms, skimming the contours of her waist and hips to where the hem ended just below her ankles. The dark threads then made their way up from the sexy slit in the middle of the gown, which showed off her bare legs as she walked, until the dress met again somewhere past her upper thighs. Her hair was piled high on her head, accentuating her lovely ridges, held up with combs the same colour as her dress.
Tom watched her descend carefully, she had one hand on the rail to steady herself as she made her way to him, caused no doubt by those... Wow!
He couldn't believe B'Elanna had made her way here dressed like this. And in a pair of high, sling-back heels!
His mouth had gone dry, still hung agape in awe, he needed to blink but had forgotten how. Tom stood transfixed and totally lost to the vision B'Elanna made before him.
"It was sweet of you to bring your bat'leth, Tom," she said, taking a final step to join in him at the foot of the stairs. "But I told you, you wouldn't need it," she purred.
"Bat'leth?" he questioned, taking a peek at her back as she circled him slowly. The dress cut low there too and he could just make out the shadow of her posterior, barely concealed under the
"This," she reminded him, covering his hand over the curved hilt with her own. Her breasts brushed against his back with her movements and Tom closed his eyes to the sensations that were assaulting his more natural instincts.
"You smell wonderful," he said dreamily, as B'Elanna came to stand before him again. "And you look... you look amazing!"
B'Elanna smiled. "I like your shirt," was all she said. Tom knew she was never one to accept a compliment too readily. She reached up and caressed the brass buttons of his denim shirt.
"If I'd know you'd be dressed like this, I'd have worn a tux," he said, using his free hand to stroke from the outside of her right breast down to her hips. "I thought you hated Captain Proton?" he whispered, pulling her closer.
"No," she admitted, "I don't. I just hated that you always wanted me to play some screaming female who can't take care of herself."
"It's not real, B'Elanna," he assured her, pulling her against him and circling her waist with both hands, bat'leth and all. "I know how strong you are. I know you can take care of yourself."
She lifted her head off his chest and traced a finger along his open mouth. "So, you never really expected me to scream?" she teased.
"Only in the way I like you to scream," he offered suggestively, licking her finger for good measure. He watched B'Elanna's eyes become smoky pools of molten, brown liquid at his gesture, and was grateful that he had chosen boxers over briefs. She could obviously feel him against her with the look she was giving him now. Her mouth was parted slightly, and he could see her tongue flicking in and out, mimicking his own.
Tom bent his head to hers, slowly, licking at his lips, anticipating the taste of her, smelling her breath as he drew ever closer, his nostrils filling with her perfume. He dropped the bat'leth and it clattered noisily against the marble flooring, but he didn't hear it. With both hands free Tom pulled B'Elanna against his hips more forcefully with one hand as the other snaked its way up to the back of her head. His mouth touched hers with a low groan and then they were kissing; mouths fusing with wild abandon, as their tongues duelled and mated, then duelled again. B'Elanna's hands were curved over Tom's shoulders, her nails digging for purchase against the worn denim of his shirt. They kissed with a passion that could have burned metal off the hull of the ship; briefly breaking contact to come up for air before moaning in unison, as their mouths came together in one bruising contact after another.
B'Elanna was losing herself in the heated way Tom was devouring her mouth, and in his possessive hold on her body. She could feel his demanding arousal against her stomach, his hand kneading against her hip; the feel and smell of him all around her heightening her own excitement.
This was all happening too soon, too quickly.... She hadn't meant for this to happen--not yet. But
seeing him with the bat'leth... and he looked so cute in those white pants... the way he was staring at her, like a man without water for days and she was his oasis....
Arousal was warring with her better judgement.
"Tom!" she gasped, breaking the kiss at last. "Stop... please," she begged, pushing him away from her, panting for breath and reason.
Tom let out a frustrated growl, his own mouth open, sucking in air raggedly as his chest rose and sank with the effort. B'Elanna could see his lips were swollen from their kisses and the sight of it,
puckered and unsatisfied, made her turn away.
"What's wrong?" he pleaded.
"We can't!" she tried to explain, unable to say more through her own frustrated arousal.
"Why not?" Tom exploded, following to stand behind her.
She turned to face him, looking away again, when she saw the hurt and confused look in his eyes. "Tom, if we make love now, we'll be back to square one in a month," she tried, though her voice was a hoarse whisper. "We haven't really settled anything," she went on. "I know you've been angry with me...."
B'Elanna dared another look at his face, it was still clouded in lust but the heaving of his chest had settled somewhat.
Tom shook his head, unable to speak for a moment.
"We don't do enough together," she confessed.
"That's why you chose this program?" Tom asked, finding his voice. B'Elanna nodded. "B'Elanna, you know I'd do anything with you. You didn't have to go to all this trouble," he said
"I know," she said, looking directly into his eyes. "But that's my point. I won't do anything with you."
Tom dropped his gaze from hers, unable to defend her statement. He looked instead around the vast library.
"Come here," he said, extending his hand to hers.
Tom drew B'Elanna with him into a spacious leather couch he had spotted situated against a wall. On either side of the divan stood sturdy, maple shelves, lined with almanacs and charts with atmospheric conditions of years past. Above it was a picture of an ancient battle; dead and dying warriors littering a churned field, swords and arrows piercing flesh in a bloody patchwork of carnage.
Tom sat with his back leaning against the arm of the sofa, his right arm resting against its back. He had a leg tucked up under him, so that he could face B'Elanna. She sat next to him, her legs crossed at the knees, the slit in her dress gaping open to reveal her shapely legs.
B'Elanna sensed where Tom's eyes had wondered to and shifted her position, gathering the silken material of her dress up and placing it across her knees as best she could.
"What's been going on with you, Tom?" she asked quietly.
He sighed heavily and ran a hand through his hair.
"Has this got something to do with Chakotay?"
His eyes bored into hers for a moment, then he looked away. He was silent, and only the sound of their breathing echoed throughout the great hall of learning. Tom pushed himself up and out of the couch's comfortable confines, he paced to a nearby table and ran a hand along its edge. "You really did do a wonderful job programming all this."
B'Elanna ignored the compliment; waited for him to gather together whatever composure he needed.
"Do you remember those programs you created? The ones you used after we found out about the Maquis, from those letters from home?" he questioned, still running his fingers against the dark wood.
B'Elanna eased herself forward and moved to sit with her elbows on her thighs, hands under her chin. "Yes."
"I knew all along you were running those programs," he said simply. "I denied it to the captain and Chakotay, but I knew."
B'Elanna was silent.
Tom turned around to face her. "Chakotay was the one who made you open up about what you were doing to yourself, he made you admit it." His voice travelled the small distance to her on a wave of mixed emotion. "I'm the one who had to watch."
He cocked his head to the side and gave a bitter little smile. "After you were injured in that shuttle accident, and you thought you were in Gre'thor, the first time. It was Chakotay you turned to wasn't it?"
She couldn't deny it but she gave him no answer.
"I had to watch that too. That's what's been going on with me, B'Elanna. You and Chakotay."
She didn't have any words; she didn't know what to say.
Tom leaned his back into the table and brought a hand up to his chest. "Do you know where you live in me?" he asked in a hush. Not waiting for a response, he went on. "You live right here," he said, tapping his chest. "There is nothing you can hide from me, B'Elanna. There is nothing you can say to change how I feel or how I think. It just is. But if you don't trust me... if you can't say that your heart isn't truly mine...." he broke off, shaking his head.
"I'm not in love with Chakotay!" B'Elanna denied fiercely.
Tom chortled another bitter laugh. "I know," he said. "I know, I know." He was quiet for another moment. When he spoke this time his voice was rough and ragged. "Are you in love with me? Do you trust me at all?"
B'Elanna got up and walked towards him, her heeled feet echoing softly across the marble. She
stood before him, planting her feet in between his thighs, as he instinctively made room for her.
"I'm sorry," she said, her eyes watery from unshed tears. "I didn't know I was hurting you so much."
"It's just a little ache," he forced out in a breath against her upturned cheek.
"I do trust you, Tom." Her eyes searched his but he wouldn't look at her. She watched his teeth bite into his lower lip. "Those programs... I didn't want you to have to see that side of me."
He looked at her, blinked and licked his lips.
"I never wanted anyone to see me like that--ever," she said, still searching his face. "I'm selfish, Tom, and a coward," she whispered. "If I have any honour at all it's because of you."
Tom shook his head, denying it.
"I'm the worst kind of person, Tom," she said, grabbing his face in her hands, forcing him to look at her. "I'll break your heart and I won't even know it. I'll let you give everything you have to me, and I'll show you nothing in return. I'm soulless, Tom. That's why I wouldn't take the mark of the dishonoured dead in Gre'thor. I'm not human, I'm not Klingon, I'm nothing," she hissed.
"Don't say that!" he roared, gripping her shoulders tightly. "How can you say that!"
"Look at me! Look at what I've done to you. Even when I thought I was trying, all I did was push you away."
"That doesn't matter."
"Of course it matters!" B'Elanna implored, her tears running free. "You should walk away," she said, her voice catching.
"Find someone who has a heart--"
"Stop it! Just stop it, B'Elanna!" Tom shouted furiously, shaking her roughly until she collapsed against him, her breaths wrenching with each tiny sob. "Stop it," he said again, rocking her gently in his arms.
He pulled her down with him to the cold, hard floor and sat with his back against one of the chairs under the table. "What are we doing?" Tom whispered into her hair as he continued to hold her. "What are we doing?"
He felt her stir in his arms, and he bent his head to look at her. B'Elanna's tear stained cheeks emerged from his chest and she pushed several stray hairs, which had fallen out of place, back behind her ear. Tom frowned a small smile as she moved to sit beside him.
He took one of her small hands between his and rubbed at it. She didn't resist his touch and sat staring mutely at their joined fingers.
"What a pair we are," he said softly. "Me and my insecurities and you.... Please don't hate yourself, B'Elanna."
B'Elanna responded by rubbing her thumb across Tom's knuckles.
"So, you think you can't love me?" he challenged. B'Elanna's hand went slack between his own. Tom turned her hand over, palm up, and began tracing circles in it with a finger. "Let me tell you something about the B'Elanna I know," he said, turning to look at her.
Her eyes widened as she caught his stare.
"She's very private; hates people gossiping about her. Hates to be seen as weak or vulnerable, but you know, that's what makes her so independent. She's been described as cold; only interested in her engines. I know better."
B'Elanna's head bent to rest against Tom's shoulder.
"I've seen her fight for the truth, when an entire society said she was wrong; and her own shipmates thought she'd gone insane. She didn't care; just fought harder, and in the end she was
"I saw how she was ready to sacrifice herself for this crew, willing to sit inside a Cardassian missile and deactivate it, to rectify a mistake she'd made long ago. Does she sound cold to you? I don't think so.
"B'Elanna is the kind of woman who takes a compliment with a joke. She really doesn't understand that she's beautiful or desirable, does she?" he said, kissing her open palm.
"And this is the same woman, by the way, who told me with what she thought was her dying breath, that she loved me. Confirmed it again three days later, when I thought she didn't mean it. She's the same woman who forgives me time and time again, when I'm moody and irritable--" Tom gave B'Elanna a sly grin. "Yeah, it's been known to happen," he joked.
She curled her fingers around his and squeezed.
"Can't love? You fought for my soul, B'Elanna. That shuttle--Alice--I wouldn't even be here now if it weren't for your voice in my head; calling me home, telling me you needed me.
"Do you think that a soulless, loveless person would have done all this," he said, momentarily letting go of her hand to sweep it around the palatial surroundings. "Or scream my name when we make love? Offering more of yourself to me, even when I know you're too exhausted from your day? Do you? Because I can't see it, anywhere."
"I'm not perfect, Tom," B'Elanna whispered into his shoulder, her fingers still entwined with his.
"I'm no prize either, B'Elanna," he agreed. "But I'll love you, and I'll fight to keep you, even when that means I have to fight against you to do it."
B'Elanna shifted against him to look into his eyes. "Is that what we've been doing, fighting against each other?"
Tom pulled her into his lap, one arm around her waist as the other began to trace the lines of her brow ridges. "Sometimes, yes," he admitted. "I think we've both been afraid to really 'let go,' you know... expose what's inside of us to each other. It's crazy I guess," Tom sighed heavily, "we both get angry when we don't spend enough time together, and look how we fight when we both need space too."
B'Elanna nodded in agreement and leant into his touch. Moving her arm to circle his waist, she squeezed it in comfort. "And I've been insensitive to how you felt about Chakotay," she added.
Tom leaned forward to kiss her exposed ear and whispered; "I'm sorry I was jealous."
"You had a right to be.... Tom?" she questioned, shifting to face him again. "What were you two talking about at breakfast?"
His exploration of her ridges ceased; and he ran his fingers around his open mouth, letting out a sound that was a cross between a sigh and a laugh.
"Tom?" B'Elanna warned, using her more familiar you'd-better-tell-me tone.
"You," he said, rather jauntily.
She gave him a confused look. "You were talking to Chakotay about me?"
"What does that mean?"
He playfully peeked down the front of her cleavage.
"Tom," she cautioned again, lifting his chin away from the low cut view.
"I told him we'd had a fight. He said I should try and talk to you about it and work things out. And here we are," he concluded, attempting to nuzzle her neck; she let him.
"And since when do you go to Chakotay for advice?"
"As soon as he admitted he didn't know everything," Tom teased, raining small kisses from her
neck to her collarbone.
"Why do I get the feeling you're not telling me every--ahhh," she said, gasping in pleasure as his strong, warm fingers dipped inside her dress to capture a breast.
"Trust me," he breathed against her damp neck.
Tom continued to kiss and lick at her throat. B'Elanna moaned in protest when he pulled his hand away from her bosom, sighed in pleasure soon after as that same hand wondered lower; investigating exactly what kind of underwear she had on under the gown, the slit in her dress affording him easy and unhindered access.
"Oh, I trust you," she rasped heatedly, moving her legs further apart.
Chapter Eight - Ingress
"A-koo-chee-moya ... I am far from the bones of my people...."
Chakotay invoked the blessed spirits as he prepared his conscious mind for the journey that lay ahead in the OOBE, or out-of-body-experience. His medicine bundle lay before him; the akoonah, his flat stone and a feather from his father's tribe. The things that would "ground" him as he travelled within.
Chakotay wasn't seeking enlightenment or answers, merely taking a path he had taken many times before; ensuring his balance and connection to this world and the spirit world. Bringing spirit into matter and matter to spirit....
Noah Lessing waited patiently for some acknowledgement. He'd tried the pilot's door chime twice and still wasn't getting any answer. Noah realised he was a little early but Tom had confirmed, he previous day, that he would be joining Harry and Noah for a workout in the ship's gym this morning.
He'd already checked with the computer; Tom Paris was definitely in his quarters.
Noah rang again, this time leaning his body weight into the announcer, as if that would make a difference in its volume on the other side of the door. Maybe it had, as he now heard a series of muffled groans and curses moving ever closer.
The door slid open to reveal a sleepy looking Tom Paris. His cropped hair was sticking up at odd angles, and it appeared he had dressed hastily. He stood bare of chest and feet, clad only in a pair of white trousers, the fly partially undone.
"Noah," Tom said, trying to stifle a yawn as he scratched at his chest. "What's up?"
Lessing slowly took in Tom's appearance, and then shifted his gaze beyond the pilot and into his quarters. Nothing seemed out of place--then again he couldn't see that much.
"I know it's a little early, but I thought we were going to meet Harry and head to the gym."
Tom offered him a blank stare for a moment and frowned. "Gym?" he quizzed, moving back into his cabin a few steps.
"Yeah, you know, weights, pull ups, stomach crunches? Remember?" Noah asked, cautiously following the pilot across the cabin's threshold.
As the science officer stepped in, he no longer had to wonder why the pilot's mind seemed to be somewhere else. A haphazard trail of clothing and footwear littered the floor of Tom's quarters--some of it, obviously, feminine.
Noah immediately halted himself in his tracks. If Tom still had company he was sure she--and he had a good idea who she was--wouldn't appreciate his further encroachment. Tom, on the other hand, seemed oblivious to the mess.
Tom shook his head as he tried to answer through a muffled yawn. "I don't remember ..."
"Ahh, don't worry about it," he interrupted, thinking as quickly as he could. "We can do it some other time. I'll go check on Harry."
Tom had turned away from him and was heading to the replicator unit. "Want coffee?"
"No thanks." Paris was no morning person, Noah was sure of that. "I'll catch up with you later, okay?"
"Yeah," Tom answered, ordering himself a cup of morning stimulant.
"Hey, Tom?" Noah queried, as he stepped back into the corridor, remaining close enough to the door for it to stay open. "I don't think that hair comb is really you."
As the pilot turned to face him, coffee cup in hand and blowing on the hot liquid, Noah tapped at the back of his own, smooth skull with a forefinger and gave Tom a broad grin. The pilot reached up to his own head and felt around, and as he pulled the small cream coloured comb from his hair Noah stepped away from the door, delighting in the perplexed look of confusion then embarrassment which covered the pilot's face as the doors slid shut.
Lessing's shoulders shook with silent laughter as he continued on his way towards Harry Kim's quarters. This time, he decided, he would not only check that Harry was in his cabin, but that his new friend was alone.
His heartbeat had become almost undetectable as he focused within. The stars faded away; technology and the grey walls and corridors he frequented grew dimmer with each passing moment. In their place he could see the lush rain forests of his home planet, hear the sounds of bird calls, detect the agile steps of a lone buck through the bush. He felt the touch of the four winds against his cheeks, and somewhere, not too far away, he could hear the cascading roar of a waterfall, and could almost feel its spray against his face and hair.
It had begun....
The coffee had been discarded before Tom had taken more than a token sip, and slipping the comb onto his dining table he returned, still somewhat weary and a little stiff, to the warmth and comfort of his bed.
"Who ...?" B'Elanna murmured sleepily against him, as she rolled into his arms.
"Doesn't matter," he slurred against her hair, already drifting into unconsciousness. "Go back to sleep."
B'Elanna burrowed closer to him, his sleepy warmth still upon him. She let her senses revel briefly in the feel of his skin, his heartbeat and his scent.
" 'kay," she managed, before succumbing again to slumber.
He felt the cool touch of a hand against his smooth brow. His mother was whispering to him of how he would soon wear the mark of a man, and become a leader.
In this place where time is undetermined, he sensed an itch. An itch upon his left temple and behind his left ear, one he hadn't felt in so many years.
His mother touched him again, and his father stared at him warily.
"I will never wear that mark, father. There are many here already who will walk with you in the ways of the Great Spirit."
"One day you will understand that you must be a healer, Chakotay," his father had said, in warning.
Seared flesh of dead and injured bodies then swam before him like a thick mist he could almost brush away with his hands. He chose not to. Their lifeless eyes, bulging and open, sunken into their skulls or gouged out completely cried out to him. He could not hear their words, but he understood their message well enough.
He saw the blood of a dozen different species spill out and engulf him like a river. He held no fear of drowning--this was not the waking world.
"You must be a healer, and a leader," the parents pleaded.
No. First, I will have vengeance, he heard his own voice say.
B'Elanna awoke before Tom, stretching sensuously against his front. She wiggled her backside into his comforting warmth and flexed her toes against his big feet, then twisted her neck around to glance at the chronometer. Realising they still had plenty of time before their next shift, she settled back into the warmth of the blankets and pulled Tom's arm closer around her.
She felt oddly energised, even in her languorous position, from the night before. It was as if a large rock had been pushed from her shoulders, the added weight of which she'd never really noticed until now.
They had spent the night talking as much as making love, having transported out of the holodeck for the privacy of Tom's cabin soon after their first, heated, session of passion. That eager joining reminded her of the first time they had been together: swift, yet tender; a little hesitant and unsure; impatient, both of them too out of control to dampen their desires--not wanting to anyway. Raw need.
B'Elanna shifted slightly, bringing a small moan from Tom as he shifted with her. His somnambulant breaths against her shoulder assured her he was undisturbed. She brought his hand up to her face and studied his fingers, marvelling at their softness, though
the pads of his fingers were a slig tly rough--not that she minded that in the least. His fingers were long, and lean, just like the r st of him, but even in sleep she could sense the strength they possessed. They were warm too, not like her own; cold, small.
She gave a sigh, trying not to read anything into the comparison, but that little thought started to trip others into existence. B'Elanna tensed with the effort it took not to let her mind wander like that. It was dangerous and self-destructive.
He saw a man he would never forget. The first man he had ever killed with his bare hands. Not a Cardassian, as so many who knew him had assumed, but a human. A trader, a man who gave scant regard for the devastation of his home world, now rotting and forgotten somewhere in the Alpha Quadrant. The man had gloated, laughed at the "foolishness" of such primitive people--who chose to worship the ground under their feet, its trees, animals and the very sky over their heads. The trader had called them idiots and spat on the remains of his still smouldering family home.
He'd killed him. Beaten the life from his body and smashed at his skull with a rock until he fell shaking and weeping with exhaustion.
"You must be a healer, and a leader,"
"This is not the way to honour our spirits."
It's my way.
B'Elanna held his hand gently by the wrist, still inhaling the intoxicating smell of him. She kissed each finger and his palm, murmuring words to them as she did so. Words of love, words of need, words she didn't always have the courage to express when Tom was awake and staring at her with those electric blue eyes of his.
She'd rather just fall into them than confess, and he seemed to know that and accept it, most of the time.
He was just as bad, she knew, and smiled with her own acceptance of their odd habits. But they had talked, and at length last night, about what they could do to keep what they had, make it better--make it work.
They'd surprised each other in the ways that they were willing to compromise. Tom had offered to go with her on a Vision Quest, telling her smugly that he was looking forward to the possibility of seeing Chakotay chant and levitate off the floor.
B'Elanna had promised to join him on one of his Proton adventures, so long as she could play Tempestua the way she wanted to.
And like that, laughing with each other, between the simple and the mundane they continued to trade and exchange ideas, hobbies an interests.
"I do need you," she whispered into his palm, kissing it lightly.
His view from the Bridge of his small vessel lit up with a mighty explosion. An enemy had fallen, but their number seemed immeasurable. They attacked in tireless waves and pursued with a relentless determination. No planet, asteroid or nebulae offered respite for long.
His surrogate heritage--Starfleet and Federation--were no longer of any use to him; except in that they taught him to kill without using his hands, infiltrate the enemy undetected, honed his strategic knowledge.
He was a leader now and his objective was simple: Freedom or die.
The distant past swept him up and carried him. He was limp with the weight of it--the memory of it, and it never got any easier to bear.
Tom's fingers curled around B'Elanna's as he opened his eyes from the dream he was having. She'd been there, in the dream, dragging him bodily over a rocky surface that was baking in the sun. Telling him that he had to come with her, to find something for the Flyer. She'd said she needed him.
Those words had brought him out of the dream, and they'd sounded so close, like she was really saying them to him. Tom pulled his hand away from hers and sat up abruptly, moving to lean over her.
B'Elanna rolled over at his sudden movement. "Hey, what's wrong?" she asked, putting a soothing hand to his chest. He blinked back at her for a moment, trying to adjust from the wild-eyed intensity of the dream B'Elanna to the concerned brown eyes staring up at him.
"Nothing," Tom said, shaking his head. He leaned in and placed a soft kiss against the centre of her ridges. "I thought you said..." He shook his head lightly again, and rubbed his nose against her shoulder. "I was dreaming...." he whispered against her skin.
B'Elanna ran a finger over his unshaven cheek. "Dreaming about me again," she teased.
"Hey, I'm allowed," he complained happily.
They kissed warmly then, touching each other to full wakefulness, caressing each other in favourite and intimate ways. Playing together like the grown-up children that they were.
He could still hear the voice from that dream; her voice, the words so clear, so real. Had she...?
A hand on his upper arm encouraged him to stand again, fight a new battle. The presence of this hand also offered a way for him to fulfil an ambition for his parents, one he had never really expected to.
"You must be a healer, and a leader,"
Perhaps it is time.
Chakotay emerged from his OOBE, sitting, crossed-legged upon the floor of his quarters, surrounded by his medicine bundle. He contemplated, as he always did, the symbolism of his vision. He touched his tattoo reverently. The past and the present, the spirit and the physical world; like planets in orbit of a sun, each had their ascension, and declination. And one would invariably influence the other.
Kathryn Janeway's face appeared before him. An intelligent and brilliant woman, not given to deep spirituality but possessing a sense of duty and dedication like no other he had ever met.
For a long time he had thought he had some influence with her--over her.
He'd seen that influence waver considerably in recent times, and worried about her capacity to maintain objectivity--her capacity to lead. Yet, by the same token, he felt tied to her on some level; duty bound to follow her wishes, even when they went against his better judgement.
He did still believe in her, in spite of it all.
Was there anything that he could teach her? More importantly, would she ever let him?
He thought about the crew; new, old, and recently acquired. He'd tried to be a good counselor and friend to most of them. But had he given enough? A few simple words held no meaning for anyone unless it was followed up with a significant action--an example of intent.
He glanced up at his medicine wheel, the stones upon it making a ragged circle upon its fabric, each stone representing a different aspect of the physical world; this ship, its crew, their journey home.
Perhaps the task the Great Spirit had given him was to hop from stone to stone and help this crew understand one another. Was that a kind of healing? Was that a type of leadership?
Chakotay searched his heart for the answer, instead only heard his father's often used words--as he tried to instruct his then disinterested son in the ways of the Vision Quest.
"Remember this vision, Chakotay, and share it with those whom the Great Spirit sends to you."
For the rest of the day; during his shift on the Bridge, in the mess hall, and later, cloistered away in the captain's Ready-Room, reviewing ship's status, he studied the crew with new eyes. Seeing in them all a different kind of stone. He wondered where he'd ever find the time or the energy to teach whatever lessons the Great Spirit had devised for him.
Chakotay smiled ruefully as he thought about that, much later in his cabin. He sat sipping a mug of herbal tea with a large book open on his lap. In his effort to balance the book and hold onto his mug he found himself arching over the pages--flipping aimlessly from one to the next. The soft strains of jazz music and the low lighting added to the relaxing atmosphere he tried to maintain when alone.
His door chimed.
"Come in," he answered, not looking up. His door chimed again and then once more. There was no answer. Getting up to investigate, Chakotay found no one by his door. Glitches like this were not unheard of, but they were irritating, especially at nearly 0200. Chakotay hit his comm badge, reporting it now would at least get it fixed by morning.
"Chakotay to the Bridge."
:::This is transporter room two.:::
"I'm trying to reach the Bridge," he said again.
:::Your comm signal was routed here, sir.:::
Chakotay spent several more seconds in futile conversation with the transporter technician, and Neelix, as well as picking up stray comm traffic from all over the ship. It was time to visit the source: Engineering.
His attempt to get there was almost halted before he'd had a chance to leave. Now his cabin door was malfunctioning too.
B'Elanna was off duty, but Chakotay had the feeling that somebody down there was "tinkering" with the chief's systems. And once he was able to dodge, finally, through his door he intended to find out who and more importantly why.
But, as was usual with the starship Voyager, mundane tasks, such as restoring ship's systems, took a backseat when faced by the extraordinary....
Mars: The red planet of the Sol system, and Earth's first off world vacation spot. Initially settled in 2093, and now home to some of the finest wines in sector 0-0-1. Where else could you find such glorious sunsets, natural monuments--much more ancient than the great pyramids of Egypt--or air that smelled as sweet? That's what the tourist brochures used to say anyway, years after the pioneering work of scientists. After the countless sacrifices of early space satellites, astronauts, and then terraformers, sent in to chart the relatively unknown, and bring life back to the planet.
The Ares Four mission was part of that early Martian history, and in a lab over 300 years after Lieutenant John Kelly's fatal assignment, and over 30,000 light years from the planet itself two men pored over those events--united in an unexpected common interest.
Your transmission is breaking up.
It's generating an electromagnetic radiation interfering with primary systems. I can't get away from it...
Activating the transpectral imager. I'll record as much data as I can.
Paris and Chakotay watched and listened to the final communication of John Kelly to his team, helpless and soon to be stranded on the Martian surface. These were the sort of images that could fill you with awe or terror, and the two Starfleet officers felt a mixture of both.
It's right on top of me!
Tom tried to imagine what his own reaction might have been if he'd been the one about to be consumed by the Graviton Ellipse. Would he have been so noble in the face of something no human had ever seen before? He felt a twinge of envy at the legacy John Kelly had left behind--he'd died a hero, no question.
I'll transmit as much as I....
The transmission ended, the view screen went blank but both men couldn't take their eyes off it.
"That's all she wrote," Tom said, sadly.
"NASA received Kelly's last telemetry at 0922 hours, October 19, 2032," Chakotay stated with flat resignation.
"I thought I was the Mars buff. You seem to know more about the Ares Four than I do."
It had come as a surprise to Tom Paris that Commander Chakotay knew anything at all about those early explorations, considering himself the ship's official Mars buff, with the possible exception of the captain--although her interest in it had seemed, to him, to be of a more selective nature than of any real love of the planet's history.
"The Mars missions paved the way for the exploration of space. Kelly was one of my childhood heroes," Chakotay answered, in explanation.
"Yeah, mine too," Tom echoed. Shortly, he and Chakotay would be following in their hero's footsteps. Taking a journey into the "real" unknown.
Since the abrupt call to the Bridge, just a few hours previous, when the Ellipse had emerged from subspace, Voyager's crew had been in a race against time. Once the phenomenom had been identified and its core analysed, Captain Janeway, in her usual fashion, had wanted o investigate further; before the Ellipse submerged back into subspace.
Using Seven's Borg technology, B'Elanna Torres and Harry Kim had assisted in outfitting the Delta Flyer's shields with enhancements able to withstand the anomaly's gravimetric interference. And even with the enhancements in place B'Elanna had warned them that the ride would get "bumpy."
"That's dedication," Chakotay was saying. "The man's life's about to end but he won't stop taking readings."
"Makes you wonder if those old-timers were made of sterner stuff than we are."
"You think we have it easy?"
"Are you kidding?" Tom asked incredulously. The risks his dead heroes had taken, filled him with
awe, wonder and envy all over again. "Warp drive, shields, transporters--we're travelling in the
lap of luxury. Kelly and Kumagawa, Armstrong and Glenn--they were the real pioneers."
If he was lucky, real lucky, maybe he could be too.
"Am I interrupting?"
Seven's query and entry into the astrometric lab cut short Tom's romantic imaginings. His first
duty was to get the Flyer into the Ellipse. Anything after that, getting back out among them,
would be a bonus.
Damn, but he wished B'Elanna could be on this mission with him.
Chakotay circled the Flyer with a tricorder, triple-checking the shield enhancements and the ship's hull. A small group of engineers stood near by, performing checks of their own or attending to other duties in the shuttlebay.
Tom Paris was already inside the craft and running a series of final operational checks with the
The discoveries they might soon be making would be important, Chakotay knew. According to the scans of the anomaly's core there were billions of properties within it, some surely millions of years old, but none fascinated him more than the possibility of finding components from the Ares module.
Chakotay felt like the idealistic and enthusiastic man of his youth again; unconcerned by tribal
expectations and burdens. This was a chance to delve into history itself--touch it, know it, and be
a part of it.
He grinned ruefully to himself, he was starting to become a little too single minded about his role in this mission. Perhaps it was selfish, and a little narcissistic to think that he could achieve so much in the hours that lay ahead, but he wanted it, wanted it so much he could already feel it within his grasp.
It was like the adrenaline rush he felt at his first discovery on an anthropological dig, or the first time he had flown a training shuttle through the rings of Saturn--euphoria didn't even come close to describing what he'd felt on those occasions.
"Commander," Tom called, following B'Elanna out of the Flyer's hatch. "We're ready."
"Good," he said, turning to face them. B'Elanna appeared a little pensive as she stood close to Tom; her arms folded across her chest as she dismissed the other engineers from the shuttlebay.
"Don't do anything too heroic out there, flyboy," Chakotay heard her whisper in an aside to the pilot as the bay doors slid open.
"You know me...." Tom shrugged cockily, pulling at a tendril of B'Elanna's chestnut coloured hair. She touched his hand, curling her fingers around his.
Chakotay looked away and let them enjoy their private moment of farewell. Tom was a natural choice for this mission, and not just because of their shared fascination with Mars. He was the best pilot on the ship, and had proven himself in a "crunch" plenty of times over. For all his faults, Tom could always be counted on in a desperate situation; his banter might be annoying as hell, but the end result was normally a job well done.
The new ease in their own working and social relationship--still a fledgling thing--could also aid in the mission, Chakotay hoped. They were far from friends but that was another stone he'd probably have to hop on at some stage. Friendships, after all, came in various guises; some were easy; some hard earned, others likely didn't even make sense.
Well, they'd made a start, he concluded.
"Let's do it, Paris," he called out.
Tom and B'Elanna exchanged another significant look as their entwined fingers separated and they moved to stand apart.
"I'm ready," Tom said.
Chakotay nodded then activated his comm badge. "Chakotay to Seven of Nine. Report to shuttlebay two."
Another journey was about to begin.
Feedback would be greatly appreciated.Annie M