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
"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
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
"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
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.
"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
"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
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
"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.
"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
"I thought he HATED you, Tom." Harry
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
"If I told you," I deadpan. "It
wouldn't be a secret anymore now,
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.
Bronze and gold.
Russet hues of glittering sunshine.
Slowly cascading into my line of
vision. Floating down from the golden-black
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
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
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
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
He kept his hands off me but the
heat in his gaze still filled me with
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
"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
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."
"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
"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.
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
"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
"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
"To say the least."
"So I needed some time to think
"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
"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."
I look at the shell, my heart thudding,
and then up at him again.
"You. you found fingerprints on
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
I search his eyes. "What did she
"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
"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
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.