Dusk at Sandrine's
Dedication: For Sorcha, who wanted me to expand. Sara for the beta-read and being incredibly wise. Why again do I listen to them?
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters, Paramount does, but the story is mine.
Tom Paris' suggestion that the potluck be moved to Sandrine's had been a good idea. Captain Kathryn Janeway still thought so even as she nursed her fourth synthale of the night in the darkest corner of the room, far away from the dim lights of a twenty-fourth century bar. Even farther from the people who came to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the program. Here, she knew, they could forget, at least for a little while.
From the beginning of time, that had been the point of bars, when the first man watched his grain rot and had the bright idea of drinking the liquid residue in the old shed out back with a few fellow farmers and bewail the weather. To forget, even if for a moment, a second, the conflict in their lives, the struggles they'd endured.
The crew hadn't come here just to forget the Equinox. They came to forget the rumors of their Captain's actions. Forget that the First Officer had been removed from duty.
She took another drink, wincing at the taste but swallowing anyway.
She suspected Tom knew this. God knew he'd used alcohol, synthehol, take your pick, to forget.
She could see him, in the faint light from the small dance floor, standing with Harry and the Doctor near the bar. Talking. Laughing, maybe, it was just a little too loud to tell. The music he'd added in drowned out all voices to indistinct murmurs.
The swirl of the different dancing couples blocked her vision occassionally, when she glanced at the doors. She was waiting for someone. Her gaze went back to Tom and company, a group that had grown to include Sue Nicoletti and a member of Harry Kim's ops department.
She could see he was drinking tonight. He'd had several since her arrival. His energy had been far too high all evening--almost relentlessly social. Perhaps only to her, it also drew attention to the fact he was alone here, too.
She wondered where B'Elanna was.
Oddly enough, in a room full of people--her crewmembers, her friends, all her subordinates--she felt alone.
She'd felt that way for a long time. She took another drink, shaking her head at her own weakness. Why the hell was she here, anyway? Ah, that's right, crew morale. Let them see their Captain hadn't become a monster willing to play judge, jury, and executioner in the name of revenge.
Instead, they could see their Captain get quietly drunk in a corner. Much more appropriate.
Her croutons were sitting on the edge of the buffet table, removed from the other dishes by some space.
Waiting for a salad.
Chakotay hadn't arrived.
She told herself she didn't regret it, that everything she had done, that she had ordered, had been right. Not for the sake of crew unity, not even for the sake of the First Officer she'd learned to trust and respect, could she admit she might have been wrong. Maybe, just maybe, if she kept telling herself that, she'd believe it, too.
Respect was still there. Trust was a different issue altogether. For both of them.
She blinked, realizing she had been staring at the croutons for far too long. Her eyes met the concerned blue of her chief pilot, and she squelched her disappointment. She suspected he saw it anyway, though his face was thankfully blank of anything except concern.
He smiled a little and she nodded for him to pull up a chair. Funny, her relationships with her senior staff had changed so much in the last six months. Why was it only now, only this moment, that she realized it? Tom, Harry, B'Elanna...Chakotay.
No. Not now. It hurt too much.
He had a glass in his hand; the color of the liquid within was indistinguishable in the faint light of this corner. He played with it idly before taking a drink. She sipped hers as well, wondering how to start a conversation that wouldn't shatter this fantasy world.
Not the holodeck. She meant the bar.
The place you went to forget pain.
"Do you want to dance, Captain?"
Her eyes met his, catching the expression on his face a moment before it disappeared. A year ago, it never would have been there at all, but that much had changed. That much openness had been achieved.
All it had cost him was his rank.
That expression. So he was drinking to forget something too.
Max Burke? Or B'Elanna? Suddenly, she didn't feel quite so alone.
"Yes." And she stood up, putting the glass down unsteadily on the table, feeling light-headed. That much synthale? She didn't know for certain.
He took her gently by the elbow, leading her over to the floor, before turning, still giving her the option of changing her mind. Wondering, perhaps, if she would pull away, decide against the impulse, but she drew close, letting his arms go around her waist. She remembered, all unwitting, a young cadet at Starfleet Academy at that first nightmarish freshman mixer, more years ago than she cared to remember. He'd stepped on her foot and tried to blow in her ear, in the process getting it wet.
She smiled a little at the memory. That had been the first and last time she'd attended a freshman mixer without a date of her own, one who respected the boundaries she placed at the moment of contact.
Tom was a good dancer, and she wasn't surprised. A captain even now, she fought the impulse to lead, relaxing a little into the close but not too close embrace. He was a pilot, after all. If he could fly the temperamental Delta Flyer, he could certainly maneuver on a dance floor.
"You changed the program," she said softly, near his ear. Conversation wasn't necessary, but now, when it wasn't forced, she felt the contrary urge to talk.
"It needed more space, so for tonight I moved the pool table out," he said, equally soft. "And the dance floor was expanded, after some enterprising crewmembers started a ballroom dancing class."
She grinned and glanced up at him.
"It's smokier. I can't smell it, but I can see it," she answered.
"Ah, that." She could hear the embarrassment in his voice, and the slight hint of pride. "Yeah, well, authenticity."
"Not that anyone smokes anymore, Tom."
"No, but Sandrine's had an old-fashioned fireplace--you know, the kind that burns wood. During winter break, when I went there, it was always smoky, and you could see the soot collect on the stone. Sometimes, she wouldn't even activate the heater, just let the fire do its work."
"You added a fireplace?" She was surprised; she hadn't seen it.
"A few weeks ago. It's where the piano used to be." He turned them in a slow circle, and her eyes found what he indicated without her having to move her head at all.
Large and stone, with a fire inside. She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen one of those. A fire. A real fire, that is, not a holographic one.
Maybe those long days on that planet after Seska's takeover? Maybe on New Earth, had Chakotay built a fireplace for them, or a fire? It blended together in her mind, memories bittersweet.
Their turn brought the buffet table into view again. Her croutons were still there, alone at the side of the table.
The space beside them for the salad was still empty. She gritted her teeth.
"Where's B'Elanna?" she asked abruptly, forcing away the image.
The slightest stiffening of the shoulders beneath her hands. So slight, so quickly gone, she might have imagined it.
That was all, and that one word told her everything. There had been some damage after the battle with the Equinox, and of course B'Elanna would want to oversee the repairs personally.
Of course she would.
"She'll be here when she's done." It was more of an expression of hope than a statement of fact.
"You want to talk about it, Tom?"
He didn't respond for a moment, and she wondered, with embarrassed regret, if she'd presumed too much.
"There's nothing to talk about," he answered finally. His voice sounded a little too offhand. "She's still a little upset by what happened with Burke." And that was all.
Janeway didn't need explanations. She knew, just as Tom did, how the engineer's mind worked. Fair or not. His hand tightened on her waist for a moment.
"Chakotay went to help her re-align the plasma manifolds," Tom continued neutrally, and Janeway sighed to herself. Maybe Tom felt it, maybe he didn't. She turned her head away, hiding her expression. She could interpret Tom' statement easily enough.
B'Elanna had wanted to talk. Just not with Tom.
Chakotay had wanted to talk. Just not with her.
Tom's expression now made perfect sense.
"He'll be here when he's done," she said softly, her voice low. She took in his ensemble for the first time. She'd often noted his choices of off-duty clothes ended up being in the red/brown spectrum, and wondered if there was a reason for such an preference. Not that anyone needed a reason for a favorite color, of course.
She decided her scientific mind needed to rest. Another song had begun. Tom didn't let her go. She didn't move away.
She took a deep breath, inhaling the smell of aftershave, clean cotton, soap. An unfamiliar smell. Pleasant in the warmth of the bar. Comforting.
Like his arms around her.
If only all her relationships were this easy. Tom, while probably the highest-maintenance member of her senior staff professionally, was a remarkably low-maintenance friend. At least for her. One of the few people who didn't demand any more of her than she wanted to give. And despite his actions on the Monean homeworld, one of the few, other than Tuvok, she trusted unconditionally.
Chakotay had been the other.
God, she hated the past tense. It was never pleasant.
Her hands tightened at the thought, and he let her draw him a little closer. She could feel his heartbeat now, a little faster. An involuntary response.
She closed her eyes to block the sight of the crewmembers watching them. She wondered what they thought at the sight of their Captain and the Chief Helmsman dancing together.
She wondered if it mattered.
It probably did. She didn't care. Apparently, neither did he. Of course he didn't. He'd lived his life on Voyager surrounded by rumors. One more wouldn't mean a damn thing.
Maybe she'd drank too much tonight. Maybe he had too. In fact, she knew they both had.
Maybe she should care.
A slow turn, and he let her go, swinging her carefully by one long-fingered hand into a gentle spin, drawing her close again without missing a beat. Their eyes met for a moment. Natural rhythm. Characteristic in pilots, if Justin had been any indication.
She'd only danced with Justin a few times, none of those times in public. None should have been in public, for that matter. They always ended differently from where they began.
Justin. Her first fiancee, dead now almost fifteen years. She blinked abruptly. She'd never been very good at keeping her men.
At the end of the song, they returned to the table to finish their drinks and ordered more. They watched each other, a little uncertain, a little wary, but when he silently took her hand from the table, she led the way. She slid an arm around his neck this time, let his hands travel up her back. Felt his chin rest in her hair.
One place where there were no expectations. One pair of eyes that didn't look on her with judgement, or dart away with embarassment. Just Tom, who'd trusted her enough to believe that whatever she chose to do was right.
The one person who didn't have disappointment in his eyes. Or betrayal.
Like Chakotay did.
She squeezed her eyes shut. Bars were places to forget. Alcohol was the means of forgetting. So far, it wasn't working.
"How much will it take?" she whispered, uncertain whether the words had actually been spoken or thought. What was she saying? This couldn't be good etiquette between officer and subordinate. Yet, she couldn't bring herself to stop. Maybe he couldn't either.
"Depends on how much you need to forget." One of his hands slid down her spine to her waist.
She wondered if the crew was still watching.
She wondered what B'Elanna would say if she could see this.
"A lot," she answered.
Chakotay's face in the cargo bay. His face in the briefing room. His face when she'd freed him of restriction to quarters.
The last one. Definitely the last one.
She wondered what it was Tom wanted to forget. What had been said; what had been seen. His thigh brushed hers. The warmth cut through her trousers, heating her own skin.
What would keep B'Elanna talking to Chakotay and not to Tom. She slid her hand under his arm, around his back. Felt his hand on the back of her neck, under her hair.
God, she felt warm.
What did it mean in a relationship, when your partner couldn't talk to you?
Which one of them did she mean? Tom or herself?
"How much do you need to forget, Tom?" Her fingers touched the short, silky hair at the nape of his neck, almost unconsciously.
That answered a lot of questions.
His leg brushed hers gently in another turn. His back was strong beneath her fingers. She could feel his breath stir her hair. The hand on her back flattened between her shoulder blades. Her heartbeat increased suddenly, pounding in her ears.
This was dangerous.
Maybe, just maybe, she didn't care.
Her eyes opened to see her croutons.
Beside the salad.
Tom saw it at the same moment she did. The song was ending as they broke apart, turned to the tables, went to silently get their drinks. Her face felt flushed.
They didn't look at each other.
Chakotay was waiting for them. So was B'Elanna. Both were drinking. Two pairs of dark eyes following their every movement, no expression clouding their faces.
Janeway wondered how long they'd been there, watching.
Funny, she didn't feel particularly guilty. Even when B'Elanna's dark eyes rested on her with something in them that wasn't friendly. If there had been any infidelity, it hadn't been on their part.
B'Elanna had already stood up, empty glass dropped forgotten onto the table, not letting Tom get more than a few feet toward them before stopping him with one hand against his chest. Her head was turned up to his, and she said something; Janeway couldn't hear the words. He nodded. B'Elanna lifted one hand to his shoulder, turning it and him, her face now turned away to look elsewhere.
Janeway saw a familiar look on his face, a look he didn't bother to hide anymore. Nothing else existed, not Sandrine's, not the ship, not space. Only B'Elanna. A look that left Tom oddly vulnerable. She turned away, before she witnessed more than she meant to, and took the seat across from Chakotay. He didn't look up. He was staring down at his drink, a peculiar expression turning his face.
She wondered why they had come here. Chakotay and B'Elanna. Her skin felt too warm. She shifted in her seat. Chakotay's gaze was fixed over her shoulder, focused on something behind her.
Her curiosity got the better of her; she looked casually over her shoulder.
They were on the dance floor. B'Elanna, one arm wrapped close around Tom's waist, her other hand laced through his at their sides, eyes closed, so close together they were barely moving. Dark head braced against his chest, fingers digging into his back. One of Tom's arms around her neck, cradling her head, fingers idly threaded through her hair.
B'Elanna's head tilted back, looking up at him, catching that expression. Janeway wondered if any man had ever looked at her the way Tom looked at B'Elanna.
She wished one had. Just one.
B'Elanna had moved even closer. They were almost out of sight on the darkest part of the floor, completely unaware of the fascinated stares of the crewmembers around them. She lifted herself on her toes, meeting the blue eyes for a moment, as he lowered his head in response to the pressure of her hand.
Janeway looked quickly away.
Whatever Chakotay had said must have worked.
She remembered when it had worked for her, too. Another memory that didn't have a time or place to call its own. A random image.
A hand covered hers and she turned away from her observation, slightly ashamed, a little alarmed.
"Do you trust me?" he said simply.
God, those words told her so much.
"I don't know," she admitted, but didn't pull her hand away, let it rest beneath his large warm one. Comforting.
"Do you want to dance?"
How did he look at her when she wasn't watching?
She never hesitated. Turned her hand over under his, lacing their fingers together.
It had to begin somewhere.