AUTHOR: Bridget Cochran
TITLE: Even Now
RATING: NC- 17
SUMMARY: Chakotay stirs some memories that Tom can‘t resist.
Even Now (in 5 parts)
By Bridget Cochran
(Voyager, C/P, PG—no sex and one or two bad words, until part 4 which is NC-17)
Disclaimer: Paramount owns the characters, licensing, TV show and movies. I own the ideas. Archive at will.
Everybody does songs, so how about Barry Manilow? I‘m not going to quote the lyrics: either you know them or you don‘t, and they‘re not really that important to the story. But it does make a good title, even now!
In this AU, C & P have to resolve issues together and apart before they can come together together. Oh, and in this universe, the Voyager crew had to repair the damage inflicted by the overloaded holodeck and the Hirogen, it was not magically returned to its beautiful pre-Hirogen pristinity.
Part 1: No sex, one or two bad words.
Chakotay sat in Sandrines with a drink. It was the only holodeck program they were running lately. It didn‘t take as much energy as the activity diverse resort—right now, since the Hirogen had decimated the holo-matrices, all personal program use was suspended. Flight sims, combat sims and Sandrines. That was it.
Chakotay sat at the bar, back to the crowd, nursing a martini. Tom introduced him to synthehol martinis a little while ago. Even though he wasn‘t a liquor drinker, faux or otherwise, he‘d let the lieutenant wear him down.
"You can shake it off any time you want to, Chakotay. That‘s why they call it synthehol."
What the hell, he‘d thought. Martini. Curious name. Made with gin and vermouth. Vermouth. Another curious name. Honestly, it had tasted bad, but Tom thought he was treating his exec to something special. And Chakotay was just polite enough to humor him. Now here he was, over a year later, at the bar, alone, nursing a martini.
Tom was at the pool table explaining the geometry of it to Seven. Harry was looking on, beaming at the X-Borg as if he had fathered her himself, although the looks Harry gave the Amazon were not very paternal, really. Lustful and licentious more described it.
But Chakotay didn‘t watch. Not tonight when he was tired. Not when he was lonely. He heard the bar doors open, but had no curiosity about who entered. Unspoken etiquette made people stay away when his back was to the room. Only the Captain violated that closed door. But it wasn‘t the Captain: she was keeping her distance.
It was B‘Elanna. Tom and Harry greeted her volubly. Then Tom was silent, greeting her with a kiss. Chakotay sighed when they began to laugh and talk at once. Just go to bed, he told himself. He took another sip of the martini.
"What took you so long?" he heard Tom ask.
"The corrosion in the plasma conduits. Something is venting into them, gunking them up. Carey and I can‘t isolate it. He threw me out, said any personnel in engineering 18 hours in a row was barred from "the hole" for 8 hours. I don‘t think that‘s even in the manual." It was. Chakotay knew staffing SOP by heart. But it wasn‘t his conversation.
"Perhaps the dummium we acquired in the Bestlan system was an inferior grade," Seven offered.
"It was, but that affected the sensor array. We caught it before it could interfere with the long range sensors." "How about the material making up the conduits themselves?" Harry offered.
"What do you mean?" B‘Elanna was intrigued. Engineers could talk about engineering in their sleep. They could talk about it while they pissed. Chakotay imagined that Harry and Seven discussed it when they were fucking. Oooh, careful That was uncharitable. At least they were happy.
He picked up his martini glass—an odd-shaped, graceful thing—and turned slowly toward the pool table.
The three engineers were speaking, animation plain in their flashing eyes and overlapping speech, their verbal shorthand sounding nothing like Standard. Tom stood watching, leaning on his pool cue, an amused smile faint on his face.
Chakotay watched and waited. First Tom looked over the nearby tables assessing who was there with whom. Then he looked at the piano player. As if needing reassurance, the younger man looked behind the bar for Sandrine. She was unaware of his scrutiny, but he smiled fondly anyway. Chakotay raised the drink to his lips and waited for Tom. He didn‘t wait long. The pilot‘s gaze glanced off the dark face sipping a drink before actually focusing on the Commander. The blue eyes widened before blinking, unable to withdraw from the dark gaze over the glass rim.
He remembered. Of course, he did. The martini was a trigger. A trigger to the memory of a brief sharing, a rift bridged, a rend mended. Tom remembered.
Part 2. No sex, some bad words.
Chakotay retrieved a message from the Captain. A question about a report. He answered her in message form and keyed it to deliver in the morning. The days were gone when he would answer her personally, immediately. He had used duty as an excuse to be near her. But she didn‘t want him or need him. As a rule vegens didn‘t beat dead horses. And this horse was dead.
Chakotay stopped at the fresher to remove and deposit his uniform. Everybody was on austerity rationing, but he could only wear a uniform two days before he had to clean it. If Harry or Tuvok thought that was excessive, so be it. He moved into the bathroom to wash up and brush his teeth.
What was that noise? Someone was in his dayroom. Where was his robe? He didn‘t remember the last time he used it, he had nothing to hide from himself.
No answer. Damn it. He left the bathroom to grab a pair of sleep shorts from his bottom drawer. He didn‘t remember the last time he had these on either. He almost fell flat on his face as he tried to hop into them.
All to find Tom Paris sitting in his desk chair, swiveled toward the viewport. Chakotay walked past the pilot to throw his weary self onto the sofa, his head lolling on the back. "What are you doing here?" Say your piece and go home, he thought.
"Why did you give me that look?"
"Yah," Tom growled, "The one that said you‘d rather have your lips on me than on that martini glass."
Chakotay closed his eyes. "Is that what it said?"
"Cut the shit, Chakotay, you know what you were doing." The Commander brought the back of his hand to his forehead and slowly opened his eyes to study the ceiling. "Yah, I guess I did. I‘m sorry, Tom." He was. "I shouldn‘t have done it. I was tired, and grouchy, and lonesome. I‘m sorry." Tom didn‘t turn, kept his eyes to the stars. "Shouldn‘t you be with B‘Elanna?"
He heard Tom snort. "I could be, but plasma conduits and ventilation systems aren‘t my cup of tea."
Chakotay frowned. "They‘re still talking about that?" He stood before he heard Tom‘s affirmative. He picked up his communicator. "Chakotay to Torres."
Sandrines. "Are you still discussing business?"
"Um—not so much."
Not a bald lie. "Well, retire to your quarters. To rest. Understood?"
"Do I need security to escort you?" he was adamant.
"No, Chakotay. Good night."
"Good night, B‘Elanna. Chakotay out." He tossed the delta back onto the shelf. "If you hurry, you can beat her to her quarters." Tom had turned to him during his interaction with B‘Elanna, observing the older man who raised a brow into his tattoo. Tom was remembering. Even now.
Part 3. No sex, some bad words.
Chakotay arrived at the mess hall shortly before shift. He was dressed in civvies for his day off, but he wasn‘t sure why he bothered, he‘d probably be at the repair site. So much had been done to put the ship that Chakotay marveled at it.
But, he‘d eat a good breakfast first. Well, not **good**. That wasn‘t the right word. He‘d fill himself up first. He nodded to Harry and Seven. They sat by the door, Harry listening, Seven talking. Chakotay shook his head wondering what the ensign had said or done to trigger such animation in the woman. Still reticent around others, Harry Kim seemed to arouse her need to communicate. Picking up a tray, he accepted the porridge laced with fruit puree.
Stupid, but the stuff almost reminded him of home. Almost.
"What looks good?‘ the Captain purred from behind him. He almost said, "Nothing." But he did say, "Good is relative. Try the porridge." He waited for Kathryn to make her selection, then sat with her by the viewport.
They discussed the status of the repairs. Kathryn‘s choice. They never discussed anything personal now. Not what the other was reading, or philosophy, idle crew gossip. No compliments on Kathryn‘s hair now that she‘d gotten used to it shorter and had settled on a style and color. It was really none of his business and if she had shaved her hair to a ½ inch the whole way around her head, he would accept it without comment. Oh, sure, a brow would go up, but that would be it. None of his business.
He noticed when Tom came in. The mess hall wasn‘t that big, and the conversation about deck repairs wasn‘t holding his attention. It was his day off. The first in 8 days.
The lieutenant looked like hell. In uniform, but somehow unkempt. Hair straight up—he‘d combed it, but it still looked like residual bed head. Deep color was splotched below his eyes. He said something to Harry and Seven, Seven stood and left the mess with Tom quickly seating himself, pushing the tray aside.
He leaned toward Harry intent on whatever he was saying. Harry started out nodding, then sat transfixed. After a moment he began to speak. Tom shook his head, them began to speak.
"I wonder what that‘s all about."
Chakotay started. He had forgotten that he was talking to the Captain, mesmerized with the drama a few tables away. "Maybe we‘ll find out." Kathryn turned back to see Harry‘s back pass through the mess doors as Tom made his way to the Captain‘s table.
"Do you mind if I speak with the Commander, Captain?" The Captain looked from one man to the other. "I‘m sure I can find something else to do." She managed two more bites of her breakfast before giving her seat to Tom, who watched her leave before slouching into it.
"I broke up with B‘Elanna last night."
Oh? "I see."
"I did beat her back to her quarters."
Chakotay said nothing.
"She arrived with Harry and Seven. All three were surprised to see me there. For the next forty-five minutes they proceeded to discuss and rediscuss plasma shit.
"I got up to go, they didn‘t even know I was going. I got to the door and I couldn‘t do it. Fade away without a word. Guess I just have to be the center of attention. I almost tripped the door open when I thought, bullshit, not twice in one night. I asked Harry and Seven to leave. B‘Elanna objected, but Harry saw that I was serious. "I asked her where we stood. She said she didn‘t have time for this conversation. I said she didn‘t have time for me. She said the ship needed her right now, she had to give all she had. I asked how now was different from any other time. She said I sounded like a petulant child. I told her that she was being condescending, that engineers were the only ones in the galaxy with brains. She said she wasn‘t so sure about that." He caught Chakotay‘s brow quirking. "Okay. I walked into that, but I told her that if we were going to have a relationship, we were going to have to relate to one another. My casual sex days are pretty well over."
"I see." Was Paris trying to tell him something on another level? "Do I owe you an apology?"
"For last night? Maybe, I don‘t know." Tom looked passed him and out at the stars, looking for answers. "Catalyst, maybe. There just has to be more. Maybe she should be with Vorick. He loves her and would keep her immersed in engineering twenty-four hours a day." "And bore her to death."
"I‘m not so sure," Tom shook his head. "He‘d have more stamina in the bedroom."
"How did she take it? The break up?"
"Not as bad as I would have liked, but I‘m still standing, no broken bones."
"How are you taking it?"
"Not as bad as I thought I would. Didn‘t sleep too well last night. I mean, I love her, but there has to be a little more, a common ground. I don‘t know."
Tom was staring off into space, remembering.
Part 4. Sex and plenty of bad words. (This is the dirty part.)
Chakotay put Tom on the welding gang. The pilot needed to concentrate on something today. If he flew, he‘d be on automatic pilot, mind definitely not on the helm. He hadn‘t held a plasma welder since prison, so he‘d have to pay attention.
The Captain thought he should take the day off. Chakotay argued for the position change. Tom needed something to occupy his mind, his day. Chakotay ended up in Engineering, looking for B‘Elanna.
"Day off, Chakotay?" she asked. "I can‘t remember what that was like."
She looked into his face when he made no response. "What‘s wrong?"
"Can we go to your office?"
She looked up toward the balcony office, then back to her console, reluctant to leave the work.
"It‘s not a suggestion, lieutenant."
Her lips tightened at his tone. "Vorick, I‘ll be in my office," she called as she strode off toward the lift.
"Okay, what is it?" she said as she punched at the office console, continuing to work.
"I‘d appreciate your attention, B‘Elanna."
She opened her mouth, but shut it, dark eyes on him. They said, well?
"Tom told me you broke up last night."
"That‘s what this is about? My personal relationship? I‘m trying to do a job here."
"I understand that, B‘Elanna. Tom was upset. I had some reason to believe that you would be upset, as well."
"I‘m only upset when I‘m distracted from my job. I take it very seriously."
Uh-oh. Now she was mad. "Too seriously?! I‘m trying to keep this bucket of gel-pacs spaceworthy. My job, my **responsibility** is to make sure we‘re breathing, warm—even fed—all while maintaining cruising speeds of Warp 4 to Warp 7. How could I take that job TOO seriously?"
"B‘Elanna, no one would begrudge you a life outside of engineering."
Chakotay tried another tack. "Take a couple of days off. Lighten up." "Chakotay," she mimicked his placating tone, "I have too much to do to continue this conversation. I‘m sorry about Tom, I really am. He‘s a wonderful guy, but I‘m afraid we just don‘t have enough in common. His job doesn‘t challenge his mind enough. Mine over taxes mine. Our ideas of what to do with our free time are too divergent. When he‘s off duty, he‘s off duty. But like you," she looked at his civvies, "my job doesn‘t have a regular schedule."
The Commander couldn‘t argue with that. She had a good handle on the situation: Tom wasn‘t the man for her. Not in the long run anyway.
* * *
His conversation with B‘Elanna was playing over in his mind when he arrived at the repair site on Deck 6. He really had nothing to say to Tom. He just wanted to make sure he was all right. Tom was working shoulder to shoulder with Ayala , both welders arcing green and blue as wall panels melded together. It wasn‘t pretty, but this wasn‘t Eutopia Planetia either, just spit and optimism as B‘Elanna used to say. He stood and observed the two men as they created a new corridor. When the wall was sealed in place, the welders were switched off and visors removed.
"Hello, Chakotay," Ayala smiled at his Commander of many years. "Is this what you do on your day off?"
Chakotay smiled up into the eyes of his former Maquis compadre. "A first officer‘s job is never done."
Tom snorted, Ayala laughed, Chakotay sighed. "What do you expect to get done today?"
Ayala looked at Tom, who shrugged. He might be the ranking officer, but Ayala was the crew chief. "Lt. Paris is a pretty good welder." "Went to a good trade school."
Ayala ignored the reference. "We‘ll probably get another ten meters out of the crew today."
Chakotay did a mental calculation and his eyes widened. Ayala nodded, they were on the same wave length: if Tom worked with them, they might be finished a week sooner.
"If you want me welding, I‘ll weld," the pilot said before he was asked. "Always knew it would come in handy." He moved away from the two to eyeball the placement of the next panel. Chakotay helped them place it, held it steady as the plasma welder started its job on the duranium. He left without comment.
He worked out in the gym, now crowded around the clock as crew members coped with the rigors of space flight without a holodeck. He finished in his quarters with push-ups and crunches before seeking out the spirit world. A benefit of the lack of holodeck diversion, Chakotay had returned to his medit- ation in an effort to examine his loneliness. But the spirit world gave him few answers, often leaving him with more questions. And a name.
And the lack of resolution of their encounter all those months ago. Chakotay returned his medicine bundle to the shelf before landing on his back on his bed. The bed.
He closed his eyes to remember. He always forced this memory away, buried it because remembering had no place in his life. Not then. Probably not now either, but the whole thing seemed out of his control. Martinis and a synthehol buzz and they found themselves in Chakotay‘s quarters, laughing about nothing. Stupid stuff like mismatched socks and mispronounced names of the night‘s mess hall offerings. Stupid stuff that released tensions both men had felt as they got everything back together after Tom getting the ship back from the Kazon and leaving Kazon space forever.
Chakotay had no recollection of who started making out. He knew, though, that he was kissing and being kissed in earnest. God, it tasted good, salty and alchy. Then they were in bed, naked. No damn wonder he didn‘t drink. He had no control over his actions. He probably could have shook the synthahol‘s effect, but his testosterone was now engaged and raging, and Tom‘s mouth felt so good as it sucked his scrotum gently between his teeth, one ball, then the other. A firm hand wrapped his penis, a thumb split the slit, massaging the hypersensitive flesh with the help of a pre-cum lube.
The older man was aware that he was mewling like a pathetic wounded animal. Pathetic whimpers were replaced by a breathless "Christ" when Tom‘s lips descended on he raging hard-on. After a moment Tom pulled away causing Chakotay to open his eyes, where was he going? Tom was grinning. "You like this?"
"Please shut up and suck."
Without another word, Tom went down and took him deep into his throat causing Chakotay to buck off of the bed, gagging Tom as the glans bounced off his uvula. But Tom never missed a beat, avidly gobbling the length, relaxing his throat to swallow it deep. Chakotay‘s fingers wrapped in the crisp yellow hair to guide the skillful mouth and to help set the pace. But only for a few minutes.
Enforced abstinence combined with the unusual intake of synthehol sent Chakotay quickly climaxing in a great stream and shout, pulling Tom off him to pull him into a strong embrace and hungry kiss. He wanted to taste himself mixed up with Tom‘s taste. Great spirits, this was marvelous.
Tom broke the kiss to breathe against the hard jaw. "I want to come inside you."
"Frontward or backward?"
"Backwards. On your knees."
Without another word, the Indian was over and on all fours.
"Lube?" Tom spoke with difficulty.
"No lube. Just do it."
"Uh-huh. Do it."
Tom hesitated only a minute before he brought his erection into contact with the portal, only a minute before he gave into the sweeping desire that pushed him forward into the warm, dark grasp. Chakotay made no sound but for the unholy intake and expelation of breath. It rasped from his chest like a moan, a rich, full sound. It was satisfaction. The hot cock was where it should be, easing in, rocking in, allowing the sensation of something very large filling something very small to come over him. It was a sensation he hadn‘t felt in years.
Tom was withdrawing now and the older man stilled bracing for what was coming, his teeth clenched. He didn‘t have another minute to think:
Tom surged forward, filling him, slamming him down onto his shoulders and nearly into the bulkhead. Still he made no sound beyond breathing. Tom, on the other hand, couldn‘t shut up, keeping up a litany—"so tight—so hot—so good—good—so good" went on like a mantra. Fingers pulsed as they grasped the dark flesh of Chakotay‘s hips. He looked down over the firm butt and narrow waist. The back sloped downward away from him, beautiful, brown—now glistening with sweat. "Beautiful—so beautiful. So hot." Tom kept repeating. Chakotay began to move to the chanting, bringing himself back to sheath Tom, withdrawing, setting the pace. It didn‘t take long to bring Tom to the edge. "Yes—yes—gods, yes. Oh, Chakotay. Gods, Chakotay, yes." Tom slammed into him, curled around him, both arms circling his lover as he twitched in release, his head resting on a slick shoulder blade. They didn‘t move for a minute a Tom shrunk back to normal, both taking great gulps of air. When Tom did roll off of Chakotay, the older man rolled to his back, a small smile on his face. "What?" Tom wanted to know.
"That was better than I remembered it to be."
Tom smiled to "Thanks."
They lay there sated, lethargic, until Tom spoke. "We can‘t do that again."
Chakotay understood. "Probably not."
"Not that it wasn‘t wonderful."
The smile deepened on Chakotay‘s mouth, he shut his eyes, "It **was** pretty good."
"Pretty good?" Tom was taking the insult with amusement. "I thought it was a little better than that."
Chakotay rolled toward Tom and propped his head up. "A lot better than that," he conceded, "but you‘re right, we can‘t do it again." Tom nodded, as he continued, "I‘m really working on B‘Elanna. She has more defenses than The Castle of the Virgin Queen, but she‘s so vulnerable. I want her to know that I won‘t hurt her. That can‘t happen if I‘m fucking you."
"Probably not," this time drier.
Tom lolled his head to look at Chakotay. "I didn‘t mean to sound so crass. This was pretty much a once and done. Sure went a long way to break the monotony."
"Thanks very much."
"Come on," Tom said, "you know what I mean." "Oh, I do," Chakotay answered, as he reached a hand out to Tom‘s chest, allowing it to skim lightly over the fine hair he found there. Tom looked down, chin on chest, question in his eyes as a thumb nail on his nipple brought a breathy response.
"Shh," Chakotay said and continued the repetitive, easy stroking of the chest watching it expand and contract in ever deepening grasps for air. "Chak--," Tom began again.
"I said, shh." His lips closed over Tom‘s to enforce the request. Their lips met, parted, and tongues entwined. Chakotay moved on top of the squirming body, chest to chest, hip to hip, cock to cock. Hard cock to hard cock. Chakotay pulled away. "Never again," he murmured into hot, pink skin, "after I get mine." Tom‘s smile was radiant. "That seems fair. Frontward or backward?"
"Just like this. I want to see your face when you scream my name."
Tom laughed even as he screamed, "Arrogant prick."
"If you say so. No lube."
"I know. I‘ve had bigger."
Chakotay placed the golden furred ankles on his shoulder. "That right?" "Mm-hmm," was all Tom could say as Chakotay parted his ass and applied thumbs to his asshole. Eyes closed as the younger man thrust toward searching digits.
After a few minutes of not-so-subtle prep, Chakotay pulled Tom into better position, calves on his shoulders, butt scooted forward, prick sliding into the crack.
"Oh, yes," Tom sighed as his spincter was invaded. Slowly at first, in deference to the dry entry, but the strain was building. Chakotay was doing his best to work at it gently, but the younger man kept wiggling his butt. "I‘m not going to break, you know." A smile crept across the dark face. "I didn‘t know." The firm, blunt fingers glided down the downy legs to rest on the hard thighs. The smile deepened as he pulled back and slammed home. Tom arched off the bed, "Ahh."
"Harder. Tear me apart." He clenched muscles around his impaler and jerked into the hard cock. Chakotay lost it, rearing back and forward with all his strength, pistoning, pulsing, fucking Tom Paris, heat radiating and scorching both of them as they rocketed to release. His fingers bruised the pale flesh in an effort to stay seated despite the wildness of his partner‘s movement, the sounds voiced and unvoiced ignited Chakotay as he reached the excruciating edge of his passion. Only then did he become vocal himself.
* * *
Chakotay became aware that his hand and belly was covered with goo. He looked at it, vaguely studying it, aware that he should get in the shower.
But he couldn‘t help the memories.
This is the 5th and final part.
* * *
Chakotay asked the computer to locate Lt. Paris when the shift was over.
Still on Deck 6 with Ayala.
Chakotay wrestled with his conscious all day since his visit to the work site. Avoid Tom. Face Tom. Ignore it all. Hell, he couldn‘t ignore it, **he‘d** started it again. He was responsible for Tom breaking up with B‘Elanna. Well, maybe not responsible, but certainly the catalyst. He needed a drink.
It was early, dinner time. The holodeck was free so Chakotay brought up Sandrines. It was empty. Not even holocharacters, just Sandrine. "Martini," Chakotay said as he eased onto the bar stool.
Chakotay turned to see Tom easing onto a stool beside him. He was still wearing an orange jumpsuit, hair still wild: bed head after a long day. The young man smiled vaguely at Chakotay as they waited silently for Sandrine to prepare and serve the drinks. Chakotay was silent because Tom had sought him out. He didn‘t know why Tom was quiet, but he knew the younger man couldn‘t stay long in that state. When the odd conical glasses on stems were set in front of them, Tom summoned Sandrine to whisper in her ear. She nodded and glanced at Chakotay before retreating.
"Computer delete holographic characters." Tom watched Sandrine wink out of existence. He watched the vacant space for a few moments. "We have to talk about this. Define perameters." Tom sighed. Chakotay sighed, too. Why did he have to say ‚define perameters‘? "I‘m listening."
Tom swung his head to give Chakotay a curious look. "Bad mood?"
"No. Thinking about something else."
"Uh-huh," Tom took a sip of his drink, thoughtful eyes examining the profile beside him. "You‘ve started something here," he continued, "Do you want to pursue it?"
"Pardon me, but you sound a little less than enthused." Chakotay shrugged. "You just broke up with B‘Elanna, **we** have a rocky history, I‘m your XO. Any number of reasons." "The Captain."
Chakotay snorted. "That‘s **not** an obstacle. I‘ve finally taken no for an answer."
They sat quietly as Tom digested that last bit of information. "Then there‘s your honor." Tom was looking down at his drink, speaking so softly that Chakotay moved closer to hear. "Honor?"
"Honor. As in, you have so much and I have so little." Spirits, when was he ever going to let the past go? "You‘re less than honorable?"
"Much less than honorable."
"When was the last time you were dishonorable?" Chakotay really wanted to know.
Tom shrugged, "When I fraternized with my commanding officer."
Chakotay said nothing, his face bland.
"The times I thought about you when I was with B‘Elanna." That statement took all the fear and a lot of the doubt away from Chakotay. Tension seeped out of his neck and shoulders, now sure of his place in Tom‘s mind. "And who would you be thinking about when you‘re with me?"
Tom finished his martini, placing the glass in the water ring it had left. He turned pleading blue eyes to Chakotay. "Only you." "You‘re a one man man?"
"Only you," Tom repeated as he brought his lips to touch Chakotay in a bitter- sweet first kiss. It didn‘t matter that they‘d kissed before, they weren‘t aware then of the significance of their actions. Now they knew they were sealing an agreement, a pact to be with each other for now. Maybe forever.
***Sorry about the other song, "Only You." It just seemed to be the best response that Tom could make.