Continued from Culmination 2/4
For warnings, codes and disclaimer, see part 1/4
Culmination 3/4
"KEN!" I call out, as the doors close behind me.
Dalby freezes at the junction of the corridor he was about to turn in
and I watch his shoulders tense slightly. He slowly turns around to
face me, as I catch up with him, regarding me a bit warily.
"Hello," I greet him, as I reach his side. "How are you doing?"
He looks surprised, as if he wasn't expecting any pleasantries. His
demeanor is a bit guarded, as if he doesn't quite know what to expect
from me.
"I am fine," he replies, looking a bit uneasy.
I take a deep breath. "Ken, I just wanted to thank you, for the other
He stares at me for a second; his face a careful mask of indifference,
and then shrugs as if it's no big deal. "Don't mention it."
A feeling of déjà vu sinks on me at this eerily familiar gesture, at
his apparent unawareness of its familiarity. I swallow at the
unintentional lump that forms in my throat.
How similar is he to the Dalby I knew on the planet?
I look into his dark eyes. "I just want you to know that what you did
that night, it meant a lot to me. Thank you very much."
He stares at me, his eyes assessing me, testing me, and then he
apparently comes to a favorable conclusion because, finally, a slight
smile appears at the corners of his lips.
"You're welcome," he says, and then his brow furrows a little. "Are
YOU alright?" he asks.
I smile back at him, strangely pleased at his concern. "Yeah, I'm
fine. Thanks."
He seems content with that. "Good," he nods. "I have to go now. I'll
see you later."
At my acknowledgement, he turns around and walks away. I watch him
until he disappears around a bend and then turn back around to see
Harry coming out of the messhall, walking towards me. B'Elanna is a
few paces behind him.
"Was that Dalby?" Harry asks, an incredulous statement on his face.
"Yes, it was."
"I didn't know you talked to him."
I look at him carefully, aware of the reputation Dalby has.
"Why not?"
"Well," he shrugs, "Everyone says he's a jerk."
I snort as we make our way towards the turbolift. "Well, everyone is
obviously full of it. Dalby is a nice guy underneath all that
antagonism, Harry." I look into my friend's eyes. "You know better
than to listen to other people's opinion about someone, right?"
Harry looks at me, awareness unfolding on his features.
"I guess you're right," he looks sheepish. "I am sorry, that's not how
I meant it."
I smile at him, sensing B'Elanna's eyes on me again. She heard the
exchange between the two of us and now that same knowing gaze is
directed at me. I try to focus on Harry, though.
"It's alright, Har." We step into the lift and the door closes behind
us. "I knew that."
Harry gives his deck as the destination. His quarters were the place
we had planned to converge at, previously. Apparently B'Elanna concurs
with that.
I take a deep breath as the lift starts to move and almost jump when
my combadge chirps.
"Chakotay to Paris."
I gulp as I look at my two friends from the corners of my eyes and
punch my badge. "Paris here."
"Lieutenant," Chakotay's voice is soft, his tone almost playful. "I
hope you haven't forgotten our pool date in Sandrine's tonight."
I feel my face getting hot but I can't stop the smile from emerging on
my face.
"No sir, I haven't."
I can hear the smile in his voice.
"I am busy for the next three hours but I'll see you in holodeck two
at 1800 hours precisely. Tonight the dinner's on you, Tom, you
exhausted my account the last time."
I keep my eyes firmly locked on the closed door in front of me, my
face burning, my heart thudding, as I try not to look at my two
companions whose eyes I can feel boring into my frame.
"You got it, Commander."
"See you. Chakotay out."
The comm. ends and I take a deep breath before looking at Harry, who
is looking even more flabbergasted than before, and B'Elanna, whose
annoyingly knowing stare has upped several degrees in intensity.
"What?" I say.
"Exhausted his account the LAST time?" Harry squeaks.
"Yeah, so?"
"What last time?" he demands. "Since when have you started going on
pool dates with Commander Chakotay?"
"Since night before last, Harry."
I keep my face composed, my voice calm, even though my heart is
beating way too fast. I really don't want to talk about this to anyone
right now.
"I thought he HATED you, Tom." Harry is adamant.
I chuckle at him. "I told you, you think too much, Harry."
"Why, Paris, you're glowing," B'Elanna drawls, interrupting the two of
us. "What's your secret?"
I look at her then and find her eyes dancing with amusement. They're
warm. Understanding. And that makes me feel lighter somehow. I don't
know what she knows about Chakotay and I, but she knows Chakotay, and
that's enough.
"If I told you," I deadpan. "It wouldn't be a secret anymore now,
would it?"
I see the corners of her mouth twitch and chuckle to myself.
"Tom?" Harry asks sharply, clearly noticing he has missed something
Just then, the lift halts and the doors open. "C'mon, Harry," I smile,
as I step out of the car. "Lets go. You promised you'd show me your
"But, TOM," his voice is shrilly and impatient, but I am not bothered
My mind is on more important things.
My mind is on tonight.
The pool date.
With Chakotay.
Bronze and gold.
Russet hues of glittering sunshine. Slowly cascading into my line of
vision. Floating down from the golden-black skies above.
I never saw him in this light before.
Yes, he inhabited my thoughts, my senses, and my sensibilities for way
too long. He's been my pain and desire, my love and loathing, my hope
and despair.
My beacon of hope at the end of the dark tunnel that was my life.
Tan colored t-shirt snugly hugging muscular chest and torso. Blue
jeans that cling to a strong ass and long athletic legs. Eyes
twinkling, smiles ready, laughter abound.
I am sure none of the crew have ever seen him in this light either.
To say that Sandrine's denizens were astounded, when Chakotay showed
up at the bar all dressed to kill and joined me at my table, would be
an understatement.
Pissed off Maquis floundering in confusion. Dumbfounded Fleet guys
unsure about the goings on. A half-curious Vulcan Chief of Security
watching from afar - I bet the Captain will get the full report on
everything that happened in Sandrine's tonight - calmly noting,
calculating, and analyzing. Harry as shocked this evening as he was in
the turbolift this afternoon.
All watching from a distance, wondering what the heck changed in the
last two days. Only a handful actually having a clue.
B'Elanna quietly observing the whole drama unfolding from her table. I
wonder how much she knew.
Of course, Chakotay seemed oblivious to everyone's scrutiny. He
apparently walked into Sandrine's tonight after shedding his First
Officer shroud and was determined to enjoy shooting pool with me,
regardless of who seemed flabbergasted at his choice of company. Not
to say he wasn't aware of his professional standing among the crew. He
was. Very much so. He kept a friendly, respectful distance from me in
front of everyone but, despite my constant fears, there was no change
in his under-the-surface affection for me.
He kept his hands off me but the heat in his gaze still filled me with
endless warmth.
I wondered how to broach the subject I'd been dying to talk to him
about all day. I needed to know. Despite his avoidance, despite his
apparent inability to accept the validity of my words, to embrace the
truth behind them, I still needed to ask him.
I needed to know whether he believed me or not.
He put up a good fight but I still beat him at pool. Five times out of
Apparently, he wasn't as oblivious to the distraction around him, and
to the commotion within him, as I'd thought at first.
He asked me to his quarters after the game. We discreetly left our
astounded audience behind.
That was almost two hours ago.
"There's one called 'Oh Shit'."
I set the pack down in front of Chakotay, smiling as his left eyebrow
"Although it's normally played with four people, but we can adapt it
for two."
"Oh Shit? That's the name of the game? You're kidding."
"No, seriously," I grin, as I sift the cards. "The object is for each
player to bid the number of tricks he thinks he can take from each
hand, then to take exactly that many; no more and no fewer," I drawl.
"Besides bidding more than you can handle would probably get you in a
little bit of trouble."
He snorts, mockingly hitting me on the leg with his left foot, as he
picks up the tall glass from the carpet and takes a sip of the fruit
punch he's served us both. He is sitting down on the carpet of his
living room across from me, his back resting against the chair that
lies facing the viewport, and his legs sprawled out casually in front
of him.
I lean against the foot of the couch opposite and continue quoting the
rules from the open data terminal at my side, smiling at his
amusement. "Also, points are awarded only for making the bid exactly
and are deducted for missing the bid, either over or under."
"If you think you can invent some funny little card game with a
convoluted set of fake rules and then thrash me at it the way you did
at pool today," he chuckles, "then you, Lieutenant, are woefully
"If you think you can't handle such complex rules, Commander, then we
can play something easier, you know," I tease him.
"EASIER?"  He shakes his head, smiling. "After beating you at poker
three out of five, I think I can handle a little more heat, Tom. But
show me anyhow."
"Hey, two out of five wasn't bad for ME. You just have a damn good
poker-face," I grin. "Here, there's this one called 'Drunkard', which
seems like a lotta fun to play." I smile at him conspiratorially.
"Where do you come up with these games?" He looks incredulous. "You're
making these up, aren't you?"
"Nope, its there."
I turn the screen towards him as I pick up my glass to sip at the
fruity, tangy drink.
"Look for yourself."
He leans forward to read and after a few seconds I watch a mischievous
smile break on his face, as he flicks an eye at me.
"Yes, Tom, keep drinking that, it fits the mood of the game."
I pause in the middle of a mouthful and then reluctantly swallow the
beverage, looking at him suspiciously.
"It's fruit punch, Chakotay."
"Yes, fruit punch." His eyebrows waggle. "With a kick."
"You spiked it."
"Uh huh."
"With synthehol."
"You wound me, Tom." He feigns astonishment.  "Don't you know I don't
believe in fake-anything."
"Where did you get..?" I start to ask and then stop at the look on his
face. "Never mind." He chuckles at me. "So you spiked both our
"I didn't say anything about spiking MY drink," he grins. "Here's
another lesson for you, Tom Paris: I am not really very fond of
"So why did you spike mine?"
"To relax you."
He gulps down the last of his punch and begins to rise.
"Relax me?" I ask him, a little puzzled, as I hand him my empty glass.
"Yep." He leans forward to ruffle my hair as he stands up. "Relax you,
help you drop your inhibitions, free you up a little bit."
"I think my inhibitions are lowered as they are." My eyes follow him
to the recycler where he gets rid of the glasses. "Don't you think?"
"To tell you the truth," he replies, putting the dishes from our
dinner into the recycler, his back to me. "I think you're a little
My heart kicks start a drumming beat. "Tense?"
"Something's on your mind."
His eyes are still averted but there's a slight shift in his tone.
"You think so?" I swallow heavily.
"Uh huh."
I take a deep breath. "And how do you plan on helping me with that?"
He looks at me then, just for a second, his dark eyes looking straight
at me, questing, asking, probing, and then he turns back to the
recycler to punch the console.
"Well, alcohol has time and again proven to be a good means of
clearing up the way towards a more unhindered course of conversation.
Loosening one's tongue, so to speak."
Loosening one's tongue? I feel ice settle at the back of my spine. My
throat is suddenly too tight but it's time to confront him. He's
practically telling me what's bothering him - albeit indirectly - and
I have to take the proverbial bull by the horns. He still thinks I am
lying to him. I have to settle the fucking score once and for all. No
matter what the outcome.
I stand up and walk up to him. "You think I am lying, don't you?"
He spins around on his heels to face me, his eyes wide. "Tom."
"You think I made it all up, don't you? That. that was some forged up
tale that I came up with on the spur of the moment." Suddenly the pain
is too much to bear. I didn't want to break down in front of him but I
can't stop the sudden tears from pooling in my eyes. "Or perhaps you
think I spent too much time thinking it up, making it up, you think
that's why it took so long for me to come to you, do you Chak?"
His eyes are burning, his face suddenly horrified. "Tom, NO!"
I angrily blink the tears away, my teeth gritting. "You think I'd lie
to you, Chakotay?"
He takes a step forward and grabs my shoulders in his hands.
"NO, I DON'T. I KNOW you didn't lie to me. I know you were telling the
He squeezes my shoulders as if to convey his point, his eyes
"I believe you. I do, Tom."
"But. you didn't say a word."
I look at him in confusion, suddenly unsure of what's going on in his
head, unsure what's going on in mine. "It's as if you weren't gonna
say anything at all. As if what I told you didn't matter."
He sighs. "Oh, Tom. It MATTERS to me. And I do believe you. Hundred
percent," His brown eyes stare into mine. "How CAN you lie to me? How
can you, when I can look into your eyes? When I can look into these
beautiful blue eyes and look straight down to your soul?"
I stare at him in disbelief, my heart fluttering like a caged bird
suddenly finding freedom.
"Has anyone ever told you. how gorgeous, how absolutely perfect your
eyes are?" His voice is suddenly hoarse and I feel my throat
constricting as his fingers slide up to rest below my chin, tilting my
face up into perfect alignment so that he can really, really look into
my soul. "They're like the perfect summer sky, or the. breathtaking
magnificence of the most beautiful untainted waters, they can drown me
into their depths, take me into them, into you. Has anyone ever told
you how these eyes, these beautiful eyes, could never possibly hide
anything from anyone? How they could never possibly hide anything from
I once again feel tears brimming into my eyes as I stare into his
shining eyes with a wonderment I have never felt before in my life.
"If that's true," I whisper, raggedly. "Then that night, when I came
to return you the shell, in the observation lounge, why didn't you
believe me?"
"You caught me by surprise," he sighs again. "What was I supposed to
do? I was pissed off for reasons beyond my comprehension and it wasn't
your fault but I was too mad to think rationally."
"And you believe me now?"
"Yes, I do."
"But you didn't say a word. You didn't even acknowledge what I was
He takes a deep breath. "Tom, it took me THIS long to. process all the
information that you'd given me."
"Chak?" I feel puzzled.
He gives my hand a squeeze. "You do agree that everything you told me
about. has a slightly. insane ring to it, don't you?"
Well. "Um, yeah."
His eyes stare into mine. "That it's all kind of incredible,
incomprehensible, a very, very puzzling scenario?"
"To say the least."
"So I needed some time to think it through."
"But if it was all so incomprehensible, why do you believe me now?"
His gaze falls down to our joined hands for a second, and then he
looks up at me again.
"Well, I checked up with B'Elanna."
"What do you mean?" I ask, my brow furrowing.
"Tom, come here." He pulls me to the couch. "Sit down." His hand goes
into his pocket and pulls out the shell." Look at this," He places it
into his open palm in front of me. "What do you remember me telling
you about it?"
I look at him feeling unsure about where this is going. But he just
nods at me, encouraging me to venture forward, so I take a deep
breath. "You did a scan on this."
"Yes, and?" he prompts.
"It was filled with sand. Sand that was indigenous to some planets in
the delta quadrant."
"What else?"
I look at the shell, my heart thudding, and then up at him again.
"You. you found fingerprints on it."
His brow smoothes out at this as if all he'd wanted was to know
whether I had been paying attention to him earlier, and he nods in
acknowledgement. "Yes. Only three sets, since I had been keeping this
clean since the time it was given to me. Three sets of fingerprints:
Mine, which is acceptable since it is my shell. Yours, again
justifiable since you had it with you for some time. And finally,
B'Elanna's. That was the mystery, Tom. I couldn't remember ever giving
this shell to B'Elanna. She had seen it but I didn't think she had
ever held it in her hands. So, I asked her this morning. I asked her
if she had ever taken this shell for any reason when we were on the
Crazy Horse?"
I search his eyes. "What did she say?"
"Well," he says with a small smile. "First she gave me hell for making
her ransack her entire quarters in order to hunt for the shell two
days ago when it had been with me all along. And then she confirmed
that she had never felt the need to take it for any reason
"You didn't tell her I had it with me?"
"Of course not," he frowns. "That stays between us."
"You really believe me?"
His eyes are gentle. "Tom, it's hard to make sense of all that you've
told me, it's such a strange, astounding tale." His thumb slowly
strokes the top of my hand. "But despite all that, yes, I believe
I take a deep breath, trying to calm my rapidly beating heart. "You
don't think I am crazy?"
He pulls me into his arms. "Baby, no, you're not crazy, I know that."
"I thought." I choke, as finally the tears I'd been trying to keep
away spill over. "I was so scared, Chak, I thought you wouldn't."
He doesn't let me finish. Instead he pulls me in the warm safety of
his arms, shushing me, running his hands over my back comfortingly. He
murmurs soothing words into my ear, pulling me closer to him, as I
tightly wind my arms around his shoulders, never wanting to let him
go. And I finally let the tears flow.
He lets me cry, somehow yet again aware of my needs before I've had a
chance to tell him, letting me take out all my frustrations. I find
myself pulled on top of him as he settles against the back of the
couch, holding me secure, holding me tight, his lips brushing my hair.
I silently thank the gods for all the miracles of the universe as I
inhale his sweet, familiar, reassuring scent. Slowly my tears dry and
my heartbeat returns to a somewhat normal speed and rhythm, and I look
up into his eyes to find nothing but concern there. I bite my lower
lip as one of my hands slides down his arm to settle on his clenched
fist, opening his fingers one by one until his hand lies palm up on my
With one finger I trace the wavy edge of the seashell, protectively
cradled in his palm, and look up into his brown eyes again.
"This means a lot to you, doesn't it?" I ask him.
"Yes, it does."
I hold his gaze steadily, the countless questions in my eyes
undoubtedly apparent to him. There's so much I don't know. There's so
much I need to know. How to ask? Where to start?
He recognizes my need yet again and nods at me.
With a deep sigh, he settles me into his arms more comfortably, and
begins his tale.
Concluded in Culmination 4/4