Title: Too Much To Take (7/?)
Author: CatHeights
Pairing: C/P (P/T implied), J
Rating: PG-13 for this part. This is a slash story. If reading about a relationship between two men disturbs you, read no further.
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Feedback: I would love to hear your thoughts, e-mail me at CatHeights@yahoo.com
Archive: Protective!Chakotay Archive. If someone wants to archive the story somewhere else, thatís fine by me as long as you drop me an e-mail letting me know where it will be archived.
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Spoiler Warning: Barge of the Dead; Extreme Risk; Nothing Human.
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Disclaimer: Paramount owns all rights to Star Trek Voyager, its characters, and the Voyager episodes referred to in this story. The story idea is mine, but I am doing this just for fun, no money to be made.
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Chakotay entered the mess hall and looked around for Tom. Not seeing him, he headed over to Neelixís galley to see what mysterious concoctions the Talaxian was serving tonight. Neelix wasnít at the serving area, something for which Chakotay was grateful. He didnít feel like idle conversation. He had to admit that he was a bit anxious. It bothered him greatly that for the past few hours he hadnít been able to get his mind off of Tom. The last thing he needed was to become completely obsessed with the man. Even if Tom did break up with BíElanna, it would be a while before he would even contemplate a new relationship. Usually, Chakotay had a lot of patience, but it seemed to have deserted him where Tom was concerned. A brief grin crossed his face. Tom always did have a way of getting under his skin. The grin faded. He was still worried about Tom. He hoped Tom had actually gone back to sleep and had not been tormented again by the dream.

He tried to focus his mind on something he could control, choosing dinner. Neelix always marked any item that was not vegetarian clearly, so that no one would accidentally consume something that was against his or her beliefs. Chakotay noticed that neither entrée had a mark, so both were safe, relatively speaking. The first one was leola root stew. A definite item to pass. The next item was something that Neelix was calling Voyager Medley. It looked to be a variety of different vegetables they had obtained after trading with the Trianians. Considering it the lesser of two evils, Chakotay chose the Voyager Medley.

Noticing an empty table in the corner of the mess hall, Chakotay took his tray and headed in that direction. He acknowledged the greetings of several crewmen who said hello to him as he passed, but he didnít stop to talk to anyone. He placed his tray on the table, sat down, and immediately glanced at the door. Still, no Tom. He thought about contacting him, but then told himself that he was being ridiculous. Tom wasnít even late yet.

At exactly 18:00, Tom Paris walked into the mess hall. He saw Chakotay sitting in the corner. The two men made eye contact, and Tom grinned before heading over to get some food. Chakotay tried not to stare as he waited for Tom to join him, but it was hard as it seemed to take Tom forever. Unlike when Chakotay had grabbed his food, Neelix was now in the galley. The two talked for what seemed like an eternity to Chakotay. Finally, Tom laughed, picked up his tray and made his way through the mess hall. At last, Chakotay thought, only to discover he wasnít finished exercising his patience for the day. It seemed as Tom passed each table that someone stopped him. He noticed that a lot of the crew were showing Tom a small square object.
Samantha Wildman asked Tom a question that he obviously refused to answer because she and the others at her table groaned in disappointment. Tom finally disengaged himself from the conversation, saying, "Donít worry, youíll figure it out. No cheating."

"Fine, you can explain to Naomi why her mother no longer goes to bed," Samantha said with a grin. Tom just laughed and finally made his way over to Chakotay.
Chakotay was leaning back in his chair a resigned grin on his face. "Anyone else you need to talk to? I think you missed a few people?"
Tom put his tray on the table and sat down. "Sorry," he said and laughed.
"Itís just that everyone keeps trying to get me to tell them how to solve the Rubikís Cube. Iím not telling though."

"Rubikís Cube?" Chakotay asked puzzled. He took a bite of his dinner not sure he really wanted to know what a Rubikís Cube was.
Tom looked amazed. "You havenít seen one yet? Oh, Iíll have to replicate you one."
"Before you do that, how about telling me what it is?"
"Itís a brainteaser that they played at the end of theÖ." Chakotay interrupted
Tom saying dryly, "Let me guess, at the end of twentieth century. And of course youíre the one who started this craze."
"You guessed right on both accounts," Tom said his eyes glinting with humor
"Itís got six sides, and you have to reorganize it so that each side is a solid color."
Chakotay didnít look impressed. "So you just keep turning this cube until each side is a different solid color?"
"Itís not as easy as it sounds," Tom said. "I actually replicated a few cubes weeks ago and passed them around. Right now it seems to really have caught on. Iíve heard the Captain even has one in her ready room and that she was so frustrated the other night, she almost took off the stickers on the cube and pasted them into the right spot."
Chakotay laughed. "I canít picture the Captain with one of these things on her desk. For now, I think Iíll pass."

"Your loss. If you change your mind," Tom left the sentence open and shrugged still grinning.

Chakotay drank in the sight of the man. Tom practically glowed with good humor. He was wearing a dark blue chambray shirt that Chakotay thought made his clear blue eyes look even more brilliant. Those eyes glowed with life. At the moment, Tom seemed to be sparking energy. Thatís how Chakotay was used to seeing Tom, energy in motion, but that wasnít how he was last night. Looking closely, Chakotay could see faint circles still under Tomís eyes, but they were barely noticeable. Youíd have to look hard to find them. Chakotay had trouble reconciling the haunted man from last night with the man sitting in front of him.
"You look better," Chakotay said.

"Thanks. I feel a lot better. I slept until about an hour ago," Tom said.
Chakotay watched as Tom pushed the food around on his plate. He realized he hadnít seen Tom take a single bite. "Not hungry?" Chakotay asked.

"Not anymore," Tom said with a grimace as he speared a bluish gray vegetable with his fork. He turned it sideways so Chakotay could see that one side was spotted with gray fuzz. "You know I always thought you threw out food when it looked like this. Eating this would be guaranteed to disturb oneís sleep. I try not to eat food that is still mutating." He let the vegetable drop back on his plate, setting down his fork.
"Itís not that bad. The vegetables are supposed to look like that. It tastes a bit like squash," Chakotay said. Tom looked unconvinced. "Besides you know the rules. You donít study anything Neelix serves too closely. You just eat it."

Tom chuckled. "Youíre right. I forgot about not looking too closely." He picked his fork back up and began pushing all the bluish gray vegetables to one side of his plate. Chakotay smiled, reminded of a child who had to make sure that the food he didnít like didnít touch the food that he did.

Tom noticed Chakotayís grin. "What are you smiling at?"
Indicating the blue vegetables, Chakotay said, "Are you afraid theyíll contaminate the rest of your food?"

Meeting Chakotayís teasing glance, Tom leaned in closer and pretended to look cautiously around before saying in a mock whisper, "Actually, Iím on a high priority assignment, protecting edible food from mutating fungus. Donít worry, Commander, I wonít let the ship down. Iíll keep the edible food safe." Tom leaned back as he finished, grinning.

Chakotay knew he was laughing at Tomís joke, but it sounded like the laughter was coming from someone else. The arousal that shot through him when Tom leaned in was so intense and shocking that his thoughts had gone spinning. If Chakotay had leaned in slightly closer, his lips could have easily grazed Tomís. He wanted that so badly. He wanted to see those laughing blue eyes turn dark with desire for him.

His thoughts coalesced into some semblance of order as he realized Tom was trying to get his attention. "Chakotay, you there?" Tom said waving a hand in front of Chakotayís face.

"Yeah, I was just trying to remember exactly what edible food is like," Chakotay said trying to concentrate on the conversation.
"I told you not to eat the blue fuzzy things. Anyway, as I was asking, how was the boxing match?"

"I didnít run the boxing program. I changed my mind when I got there and ran a hiking simulation instead." It had been a good program to run for his current state of mind as it allowed for mild exertion and plenty of time for his mind to wander. Boxing required a certain level of concentration which he found he lacked whenever Tom crossed his mind.
"Did you have fun?"
"It was relaxing. I enjoyed it," Chakotay said. He noticed that Tom still hadnít eaten anything on his plate. He was now mashing the blue-gray vegetables with his fork. Silence fell between the two men as Chakotay finished eating. He noticed with a small grin that he had left most of the fuzzy blue vegetables on his plate. Tomís influence.

Chakotay thought it was obvious Tom had no intention of eating, which concerned him. Tom seemed so much better on the surface, but Chakotay knew Tom was good at keeping up a strong front. Tom needed to take control of his life again. Chakotay took a deep breath. "Tom," he said his tone calm and serious. "You need to talk to BíElanna." He waited for Tomís reaction.
"Oh," Tom said finally putting his fork down. He met Chakotayís eyes his face devoid of expression. "Any reason why?"
Damn. Tom wasnít going to make this easy. "Because the situation isnít going to just disappear. You have to talk to her if you want to confront the nightmares." He paused, waiting for some response from Tom. He didnít get

any. Continuing, he tried to find the right words, "Tom, you canít shut BíElanna out. Itís not fair to her and itís not helping you."
He finally got a response from Tom, but it was the last one he expected.
Tom was laughing. Had he lost his mind?

"Relax, Chakotay. You donít have to convince me. I actually spoke with BíElanna earlier. Iím meeting her a little after 19:00," Tom said smiling.

It seemed there were still times when he wished he could throttle Tom Paris. "Any reason you didnít tell me that right away?" Chakotay asked coldly.

Wearing his best "who me, Iím innocent" look, Tom replied, "I wanted to hear why you thought I should talk to her." Chakotay glared at him.
Realizing he may have gone too far, Tom said, "Chakotay, Iím sorry. I guess Iím more than a bit nervous about talking to BíElanna and the temptation to turn it all into a joke was too great." He sighed looking as his food. "My stomach is too knotted to try eating normal food let alone this." He looked up and met Chakotayís eyes a slight grin twisting his lips. "Donít worry Commander, I followed your orders earlier and ate a well balanced meal before going back to sleep."
Chakotayís anger vanished at Tomís admission. "It wasnít an order and you
know it," he said shaking his head. "As Iíve already shared my reasons for why you need to talk to BíElanna, why donít you tell me what brought you to the same conclusion."
"Touché," Tom said. The brief grin that graced his face faded quickly. He pushed his tray away and leaned back in his chair. "After I finished eating earlier,

I took some time to think things through. I kept remembering all the things BíElanna and I have been through. Weíve shared so much together. Sheís such an important part of my life."
Chakotayís breath caught. Oh no, Tom was going to try to get back together with BíElanna. He couldnít let that happen, could he? Carefully controlling his expression, Chakotay asked, "So youíre going to see if you can repair your relationship."

Tom looked surprised, "No, Iím not. I donít think thatís possible. I think we are beyond that." Was that what Chakotay had expected him to do? Fix things with BíElanna? A wary look crossed his face.
Mentally, Chakotay breathed a sigh of relief. Noticing the cautious look that had appeared on Tomís face, he said, "Tom, relax. It just sounded to me like thatís where you were going, which frankly surprised me. Iím not judging you, I just wanted to make sure I was getting things straight."

Tom relaxed, "Oh, okay. BíElanna and I have been over for a long time. Iím not exactly sure when things started to go wrong, but they did. Still, sheís one of my best friends, and I donít want to lose that. Thatís why I let things go on like this for so long. I canít imagine losing BíElannaís friendship. Sheís too good a friend." Tom bit lightly on his lower lip and sighed.
"She is a good friend," Chakotay said. "I donít think youíll lose her friendship. There may be a period of awkwardness, but when that fades, I think your friendship will actually deepen."
"Thatís what Iím hoping," Tom said quietly. "She deserves for me to be honest with her. I havenít been doing either of us any favors. Actually, I probably should start heading over to her quarters."

"If you need to talk to someone afterwards, you know where to find me," Chakotay said.

Tom stood and picked up his tray. "Thanks, Chakotay. For everything."

Chakotay watched Tom walk out of the mess hall wondering why he felt both glad and disappointed that Tom seemed to have regained control of his life. He remembered last night and how it felt to have Tom in his arms. Tom had needed him and it had felt good to be needed. With just a little help, Tom had pulled himself back together. It shouldnít have surprised him. Tom was resilient. It was one of the reasons Chakotay had fallen for him. Still, he wished Tom had needed just a bit more of his help. He had gotten a chance to slip behind Tomís walls and he wanted to stay there.
His turbulent thoughts were interrupted when the Captain stopped by the table and stuck a square object in front of his face. "I donít suppose Tom gave you any hints on how to solve this cube?"

He grinned, startled. "No, he didnít, but Iím sure youíll figure it out."
"Mind if I join you?"
"No, not at all," Chakotay said gesturing for her to take the seat Tom had just vacated. "When he tried to convince me to try that toy, Tom said that even the Captain was obsessed with it. I told him the gossip must be wrong for once." He laughed as the Captain scowled at him.
"If you havenít tried it, donít criticize," she said. She put the cube down on
the table, turning serious. "Speaking of Tom, how is he?"
"Excuse me?" Chakotay queried.
"Come on Chakotay. This is a small ship. The gossip even makes it to the Captain. Iíve heard that Tom and BíElanna have either broken up or are very close to it. BíElannaís been harsher on her staff, and for the past few days, Tom has looked like hell. Heís looked bad enough that Iíve been contemplating whether or not to temporarily remove him from duty. Then, today I see that you have rearranged the duty schedule so that Tom has the day off. Now, the two of you are in the mess hall, eating dinner, and heís joking and laughing with you.

So, except for BíElanna and Tom, I bet you know more than anyone about what is going on."
"Kathryn, Iím not going to spill any of Tomís confidences," Chakotay said.
The Captainís mouth curved in a small grin. "I didnít expect you to. I know you better than that. I just wanted to know if Tom is okay. Do I need to be concerned?"
"Heís got things under control," Chakotay said honestly. "Heíll be fine. I
donít think you should worry."
"Good," Kathryn said leaning forward slightly to catch his eye. "And, what about you? Are you okay?"
"Me?" Chakotay looked surprised. "Why wouldnít I be okay?"
"Oh, I donít know. I just have the feeling that whatís going on in Tomís life might be having some effect on you. You know Tuvok and I were eating dinner two tables over the whole time you and Tom were talking. I tried to catch your eye, but I donít think you noticed. Your attention never wavered from Tom. I would hazard to say that you are somewhat emotionally involved in what is going on." Her glance was both sympathetic and teasing.

Chakotay could feel himself starting to blush. Did the whole crew know that he was interested in Tom? Had he been that obvious?
Noticing the color rising in Chakotayís face, Kathryn said, "Relax. Captains are supposed to be perceptive, remember? Itís our job to see what others have yet to see. Your secret is safe with me Chakotay."

"Thereís no secret to keep, Kathryn. Tom and I are friends, nothing more," Chakotay said trying to remain calm.

Kathryn nodded. She wasnít going to force him into admitting to her that he was in love with Tom. "Understood. Still, if someone were interested in Tom at this time. I think that person would need to remember to give him some time to recover before pursuing that interest. Not too much time, though. Tomís not the type to put his life permanently on hold. Yes, that would be the challenge facing someone interested in Tom, how long to wait before making their move." She picked up the Rubickís cube and turned it a few times so that one side was a solid blue.

"I supposed that would be the challenge," Chakotay said coldly. There was no way he was having this conversation now.

She smiled knowing that further discussion was useless. She had made it clear that she knew how he felt about Tom. If he wanted to talk, he could come find her. Besides she couldnít resist the opportunity to have a little fun at his expense. She had also wanted to plant the seed in his mind not to wait too long before going after Tom. She knew Chakotay would never move too fast, but she feared he might move too slowly. She really liked both men and thought they would be good for each other. Although she felt badly for BíElanna, she didnít believe BíElanna was truly in love with Tom. Chakotay on the other hand was. She resisted the urge to chuckle knowing it would just infuriate Chakotay.

She stood up. "Well, I have some reports to read, so I should get going." She looked at the Rubikís cube in her hand and smiled slyly. She placed it in front of Chakotay. "A gift. I really think you should try it. If you find yourself awake thinking about someone, I mean something, it really makes a good distraction. Good night, Commander. If you figure out how to solve the cube, let me know." She walked off with a small chuckle as Chakotay glared at her. For the second time that night he wanted to throttle someone.

TBC