Continued from Expiation 1/4
For warnings, codes and disclaimer, see part 1/4
I freeze at the sound of his soft, low voice speaking to us, pitched
to convey his displeasure at the situation. I turn to look at him as
his dark eyes first penetrate Seska's, and then shift to settle on my
face, the brown depths clearly flashing with anger.
Though I am not sure, at the moment, which of us it's directed at.
"No, sir," I hear myself replying to his query. "There's no problem,
uh, no problem at all."
"I just asked him to play pool with me," Seska drawls sarcastically.
"But it appears Admiral Paris' son doesn't see us poor Maquis fit
enough to even play a game of pool with."
What the fuck is her problem? I find myself floundering as I try to
come up with a response to her statement. But Chakotay again beats me
"It's HIS choice who he wants to play with, and who he doesn't."
Chakotay sounds irritated.
"Chakotay." She's bristling now. "He's a fucking traitor. He betrayed
us not once, but twice and prophets know how many other tricks he has
up his sleeves..."
"Lieutenant Paris is a senior officer," Chakotay's voice rings out in
the bar. "And you will treat him with the same respect that you are
expected to show any other officer superior to you on this ship."
"But Chakotay," she says, looking at her former captain incredulously.
"You can't forget that..."
"If I see you giving him any more problems from now on," he cuts her
off in the middle of her sentence. "I'll deal with you personally,
Ensign," he growls at her. "Is that clear?"
She stares at the Indian open-mouthed for a few seconds, her eyes
burning with scorn, and then snaps her mouth shut. "What's the matter,
Captain?" she huffs. "You switching sides already?"
I find I can't breathe, as I watch the color on his face rise and the
set of his jaw tighten with renewed anger. His hands curl into fists
and I am almost certain that he is going to hit her, and hit her hard.
But instead he takes a deep breath and turns to his right.
"Mr. Ayala," his voice booms into the silence of the poolroom. "Take
Ensign Seska to her quarters and make sure there's a security code
installed on her door for the night." Then he looks at her and states
in a remarkably calm voice. "You are confined to your quarters until
your next duty shift." He stares at her until Ayala moves to grab her
arm, but she pulls it out of his grip and with a scowl in my
direction, turns around and walks out of the holodeck, the Maquis
security officer on her tail.
I keep my eyes riveted to the doors but I can sense all eyes on us, as
my heart beats erratically inside my chest. What is he going to do
now? Give me a lecture in front of everyone? Tell me that I should
make more of an effort to keep things under control because I am a
senior officer? Or turn around and walk out of the bar as well?
I force myself not to flinch at his voice.
"Is this your table?"
I look at him in confusion. "Um, yes sir," I reply, wondering where
this is leading.
Obsidian eyes look deeply into mine for a moment and then he asks;
"How about a game of pool?"
I need a moment to recover from my shock and then I watch him leaning
over the table and racking the balls without waiting for my reply.
"Yes, sir," I say anyway.
He stops in mid-movement and looks back up at me, an unreadable
expression passing over his face for a split-second before it's gone.
"We're off-duty, y'know," he says softly. "You can call me Chakotay."
He looks at me another beat. "Stripes." And then lowers his gaze,
returning to his task of racking the balls.
I take a deep breath, willing myself to calm down. "Alright,
He aims with a cue ball and breaks, sending two object balls into the
pockets. I try to focus on the game, on the placements of the balls,
on his playing style, but it's hard to pay attention to anything. He's
like an automaton, working on autopilot, leaning, aiming, shooting,
pocketing - but just not looking up at me. The set of his jaw has
tightened again, his eyes flashing with something dark as he bends and
shoots, as if a struggle still goes on within his mind.
After three impressive shots, for some strange reason he scratches,
and I get my first chance. I step forward to take the table and hear
the crowd stir back to life behind me. The silence in the bar breaks
and people start talking again, moving on with whatever they were
doing before Seska approached me.
And suddenly I realize what's happening.
This is no friendly game of pool we are playing. This is something
entirely different at work, something below the surface, something
hidden and obscure, and yet very clear and simple at the same time.
By playing with me, Chakotay is sending a message to the crew. He's
telling them that he has no problems with me even if I joined Voyager
as a Starfleet observer with the sole purpose of leading them to his
ship. He's telling them the Maquis have no problems with me either.
He's also telling them that regardless of all that's happened and been
said about me in the past, he trusts me and therefore, so should they.
I feel my gut twist in opposite directions.
I feel exhilarated that he's making an effort to create a feeling of
accord among the crews, that he's publicly showing faith in me, that
he's telling the crew that none of what Seska accused me of only a
short while ago is true. She was only spiteful, angry, pissed off for
reasons beyond imagination. She wasn't being rational, his message
Yet at the same time my heart clenches inside my chest at the feeling
of being used, for there is a sense of duplicity in this gesture that
makes me feel slightly sick. His gesture says he's only doing it for
the ship, only making this effort for the well being of the crew. His
sole intention is to kill any potential problem between Maquis and
Starfleet crewmembers before it flares up into something bigger and
Still as I lean across the table to make my shot, I feel the heat of
his gaze on me, burning me, boring into the back of my head. However,
when I straighten up and send a cursory glance in his direction, his
dark eyes are carefully averted, his brow furrowed in concentration,
as if he's studying no more than the placement of my balls. His jaw is
tight, his eyes narrow, as if all he cares about is the calculation of
his next move on the table.
I feel something pinching at the back of my throat. His apparent
disinterest is like a stinging thorn in my heart. It's as if I am
nothing more than what Seska accused me of - someone who betrayed
him - a traitor, someone not really worthy of his trust. He may be
telling the rest of the crew to trust me, but his own body language
speaks of the betrayal he still feels at my hands. He still thinks I
led Starfleet to him, still thinks I wanted them to catch him, even
though that's something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy - let alone
I bend forward to make my second shot, and all of a sudden the need,
this urge, to return the shell to him presses down on me. I want to
tell him that I didn't rat on him and that I would rather die then
deceive him. My concentration off, I don't even care when I screw up
the shot and instead straighten up, determined to open my mouth and
get it over with. My eyes lock with his and there's something in his
eyes - something unreadable and pensive - and I blink, suddenly
confused, suddenly forgetting what I was supposed to say.
Conflict shrouds my mind. All of a sudden I am not sure what's going
on here, not sure what he is thinking, not sure if his gesture is
really that artificial, that fake. I try to gauge his emotions, try to
search his deep, thoughtful eyes for a clue, but he doesn't give me a
chance. He only holds my gaze for a mere moment longer and then looks
down to the table.
He directs his attention fully to the game on the table, while my mind
is awhirl with mystification at the other game I am sure is being
played. I feel out of my depth, not able to focus on the score, on the
number of balls he pockets, on anything except him. My eyes follow the
way he holds the cue-stick, his long, strong fingers casually folding
around the holographic wood, while my own fingers itch to reach out
and trace the powerful lines of his muscular frame as he leans over
the table to aim at a ball.
My gut tightens as I bite the insides of my cheeks and scrunch my eyes
shut in a desperate attempt to restrain myself. What's wrong with me?
I feel like I am going crazy.
I open my eyes and watch him sinking one ball after another, and
another, belatedly realizing that he's beating me at pool and that I
am not able to do a thing except watch him do it. I hear Ricki
mumbling somewhere close by that I am losing my touch and hear myself
tell her that it's quite alright. But he's beating you, she insists.
Yeah, that's what he's supposed to think, I say to her.
He hears the exchange without offering a word, and continues on until
he has sunk his last ball. The game won, he raises his head in victory
and just as our eyes meet again, a commotion erupts into the bar.
Startled, we look around and watch the wooden doors swing open to
admit Sandrine's newest visitors.
I watch Captain Janeway striding inside my seedy replica of a
backwater Parisian poolroom accompanied by Harry Kim and blink in
stupefaction as, for a second or two, all coherent thought flees me.
What the hell is Harry doing? He brought the captain to Sandrine?
I turn to look at Chakotay to see his reaction, only to realize that
he has already walked away from our pool table.
Walked away to mingle with the ones he has no qualms about having a
decent conversation with.
Walked away without a single glance in my direction.
"He's a pig, Paris, and so are you."
I find myself smiling at the memory of B'Elanna's words. Watching the
shark get the tongue-lashing he got from the fiery Klingon was pure
entertainment. Maybe I will add a warning sub-routine to his program
to not try teaching pool to hotheaded Maquis females who live and
breathe engine rooms, and who would gladly bite off your head at the
first sign of defiance.
Some things never change, I guess.
As crazy as it sounds, the captain proved far easier to charm than
B'Elanna. The gigolos who, to my dismay, accosted her on her arrival
got flirted right back with the cool confidence of someone who knew
her way around. I had expected a reprimand from the woman on creating
this atrocious holo-fantasy and programming these crazy holographic
patrons in this setting, but instead, she laughed and joined us in our
The crowd has thinned out significantly, the captain, Harry and
B'Elanna long gone. As I turn around, I find my eyes searching for
Chakotay and with a start; I realize he's nowhere to be seen. I can't
even remember when he left the bar and even though he obviously had no
intentions of socializing with me any further than he was forced to do
so, I still feel a little disappointed that I didn't notice him
leaving. I check the time and am surprised to find it's almost 2300
hours. I give my regards to the scant few crewmembers left in Sandrine
and walk out of holodeck two.
Sandrine's debut with the crew went a lot better than I had expected.
I know I made no big fans tonight, but watching the two senior-most
officers on the ship interact with me on a personal level seemed to
help them take a first step towards setting aside their prejudices.
Many of the same crewmembers that had been distant earlier in the
evening came forward to talk to me, asking me about Marseilles, and
inquiring about my holo-programming skills. They did go back to their
ignore-Tom-Paris-routine as soon as the captain left, but that was to
be expected I guess.
There's only one thing on my mind now that all the excitement is over.
The most important agenda at hand, before I let other trivial things
sway my judgment, was to talk to Chakotay. He's looking for the
shell. I have no right to keep it in my possession knowing that he's
looking for it.
Swallowing heavily, I ask the computer for his location. Deck 9,
section 13, comes as the answer. Is he alone? I ask. Affirmative, says
the computer. Not knowing what he's doing where he is, not knowing
what I'll find there, I board the turbolift and find myself on my way
down, my eyes riveted to the panel in front of me, glowing and dimming
with each level descended.
Deck 9 is so far mostly uninhabited. There are no occupied crew
quarters there, no working science labs, nothing except for long empty
lounges and big wide viewports overlooking the vastness of space. What
could he be doing there? I have no idea.
By the time I finally track down section 13 on deck 9 and am standing
in front of the closed doors, my heart has started its drumbeat inside
my chest again. I know there won't be any peace for my restless mind
unless I return the shell. Why then are my palms sweaty all of a
sudden, why this sense of dread engulfs my whole being?
But the time for speculation is now over. I dig the seashell out of
the pocket and, clenching it tightly into my palm, step through the
doors that slide open to allow me inside.
It's one of the larger observation lounges that are sometimes used for
stargazing, though I have never been to this part of this deck before.
My gaze glides over the endless view of stars streaking past the
portal at warp speed, sliding past the few chairs and lounges lined up
against the wall in no particular order, before falling over him.
He is standing on the far right side of the room with his back to me.
I notice he has changed out of his uniform, his one arm is resting on
the windowsill above his head while the other holds the frame at the
bottom as he leans against the pane, apparently deep in thought.
A new wave of trepidation suddenly rushes through my veins as I
quietly contemplate what to say to him. How will I explain to him that
the shell is with me? He will have questions. What will I say to him?
What if he doesn't understand? What IS there to understand? Do I tell
him about Lovaugim? Do I tell him about my nightmares that showed me
the shell even before I knew of its existence? He'll think I am crazy.
A weak, involuntary sound of protest probably comes from the back of
my suddenly dry throat because I watch him straighten up abruptly,
snapping out of his reverie. He spins around in alarm to look into my
equally shocked eyes and I realize that I've suddenly run out of time.
"Hello," I say, swallowing painfully at the lump inside my throat.
"Um, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."
He blinks a couple of times in confusion, before offering. "That's
I watch his dark eyes quickly run down my length once, and then up
once, as he slightly cocks his head to one side as if trying to figure
out what I am up to. "Is there anything I can do for you, Lieutenant?"
"No, I..." I find myself stammering, as my mind flounders to come up
with an appropriate response. "I just, I just wanted to say thank
you," I wet my lips with a quick stroke of my tongue. "Umm, for how
you handled the situation, with Seska, I mean."
For a split second something that looks like realization tints his
expressive eyes and then his face grows vague, as if he's trying to
cover his tracks, as if he can't allow me to read him. "No need to
thank me, Mr. Paris," he says. "I was only doing my job."
Yet again I am aware of much more than just his words and expressions.
I open my mouth to respond and then close it, not knowing what to say
in the face of his almost overwhelming presence. He exudes an aura of
such calm strength about him that I find myself restless in
My silence confuses him, I think, as he looks at me curiously and a
shade of perplexity colors his eyes. "You're, uh, welcome," he adds
"Yeah, I..." I scramble to provide an adequate answer. "I just wanted
you to know that it means a lot to me."
I feel my heart skip a beat as an unexpected softness touches his
face. "Thanks for letting me know," he says, almost gently.
There's that soft, dark pensiveness in his brown eyes again, something
I can't quite pinpoint, but find myself drowning into its depths
nonetheless. I am at a loss for words and I know it makes me look
stupid and try to snap out of my daze to say something but, instead,
my errant eyes fall over his body. Brown. He's wearing a brown shirt,
full-sleeved, buttoned-down at the front. His long, strong legs are
clad in simple black pants that are neither too tight, nor loose, just
perfect on him. I see his muscular chest rising and falling with every
breath he takes and realize the scent of him is taking over my senses
again. His power is alluring me, seducing me, working its magic inside
my veins, and I feel my mouth turn dry with the forbidden need to
"Was there anything else you wanted to say to me?"
I realize he has spoken because I see his lips move but it takes me a
moment before the meaning of the words makes sense to my jumbled
"Uhh, yes, there was." Yes, there was. The shell, dammit. I am
supposed to return it to him. I grip the shell between my fingers,
open my hand and raise it palm-side-up for him to inspect. "I believe
you're looking for this."
He looks down at my palm and I know the exact moment his brain makes
the connection because the blood seems to suddenly drain from his
face. My heart skips a beat in alarm as the same face that was an
epitome of calmness a mere moment ago, breaks into a look of utter
"WHAT THE HELL?" he chokes in shock, as a parade of endless
conflicting emotions enfolds on his face one after the other, each
replaced by the next in quick succession before I can decipher what
the last meant. "How did you get this?" his voice shakes.
"Where did you get this from, Paris?" he demands, cutting me off
before I can offer anything, his voice rising in volume, as his
expression dissolves into something that is a cross between suspicion
and revulsion and, all at once, it occurs to me that somewhere I have
made a fatal error.
"GIVE IT TO ME," he cuts me off again as he snatches the shell out of
my palm, making me flinch. "Do you have any idea how long I've been
looking for this?"
"Yes," I try to breathe. "For three days."
He growls, "What?" his distrust obvious.
"I..." A voice inside me insists that I should think through before I
offer anything else, that I should choose my words properly, that I
should make sure I am saying the right thing to him. He's confused and
upset and wouldn't take kindly to anything that sounds even remotely
suspicious. "I..." But isn't telling the truth the right thing?
Wouldn't it be better if I really came clear about how I found he was
looking for the shell? "I heard you and B'Elanna talking in
"You've been SPYING on us?" he spits, suddenly enraged, his eyes hot
and accusing on my tense frame.
"No," I gasp. I wasn't planning it. That's not how it came about. How
can I tell him that it was just through an accident? "That's not what
I meant, Chakotay."
"How the hell did you GET this shell, Paris?"
I feel a shudder run through me as I see his eyes turn cold with
"I... its..." I fumble, not knowing how to counter this. "Chak, it's a
little hard to explain..." Damn, why the hell didn't I think before I
acted on my impulse to come to him. I had two fucking months to come
up with a plan and yet I had to get trapped in this dilemma.
"Hard to explain?" he snaps, the color on his face continuously rising
at my inability to respond in a way that at the least resembles some
form of coherency. "Is that all you can come up with?"
"How did you do it, Paris?" he snarls, as the suspicion on his face
transforms into disgust. "You making use of your prison talents to
break into people's quarters now?"
I feel my stomach drop as the meaning of his words sinks down. "What?
No. I, I didn't break into your quarters..."
I realize that as defenseless as this makes me feel, he's actually
making a logical assumption according to the situation at hand. If he
went through the security logs for last night, he'd easily find out
that I in fact did access Harry's main door without authorization. He
wouldn't know I only did it so that I could wake up my friend and take
him to see Sandrine's before I opened it to the public the next
evening. All he'd see is that I indeed broke into Ensign Kim's
quarters without authorization, using my reluctantly acquired prison
"Have you really, finally come down to this now?" He's really working
himself up now, his teeth gritted, his eyes flashing dangerously. Yet,
in spite of all the distrust that is so obvious in his demeanor, I
also see an inscrutable hint of pain shimmering in his deep, brown
eyes. Pain. Hurt. Dejection.
I feel my heart lurching in sympathy despite of itself.
"Chakotay," I bite my lips nervously. "You've got it all wrong. I
didn't break into your quarters." It belatedly occurs to me that if he
were to go through the security logs with the quiet Maquis precision
of the tactical knowledge and experience he's known in the entire
Federation for, he'd also find out that I have NEVER broken into HIS
However he's not thinking about going through security logs right now.
"What other explanation is there for this?" He's just mad, upset and
doing the first thing most aggressive people do when they feel their
privacy invaded. Going into attack mode.
"I didn't steal this from you, Commander. It was..." I feel trapped
and not knowing what to do or how to explain, I blurt out. "Someone
gave this to me... two months ago."
He looks incredulous, almost sickened. "Why the HELL would anyone give
this to YOU?" His jaw tightens even more. "Why would anyone want to
TAINT this by giving it to someone like YOU?" A half-chuckle,
half-disgusted-snort comes out of his throat. "Oh, I forgot, lying is
one of your most striking character traits."
My throat suddenly clamps at the wave of anguish that cascades through
me. So, it didn't take it long for him to show me my place, did it?
His eyes blaze with something that is too agonizingly familiar, too
painful, something that has haunted me a thousand times in dreams I
don't want to remember, in a life I can't forget.
I find myself gasping in pain. It's the same thing all over again. He
thinks I am a traitor. He thinks I cheated on him, deceived him, and
fucked him over. He thinks that I accepted the position on Voyager
just to help them catch him. He probably thinks the Federation caught
me when I was in his Maquis cell according to some sinister preplanned
Torres was wrong. He hates me. He would never believe anything I'd
It's all in vain.
"What?" he grates, when I am not able to respond. "No clarifications?
I am disappointed in you, Paris. I expected a better performance from
"I didn't steal it, Chak," I choke, as tears brim in my eyes.
Spinning around on my heels before he can see them, I clamber out of
the observation lounge.
Right before the doors slide close, I hear him yell after me. "Where
the hell do you think you're going? You haven't answered me yet."
But I don't stop. I know the closest turbolift is down the corridor to
my left, still I turn right, blindly running down the corridors. The
walls around are closing in on me, squeezing my insides, strangling
me, as I push my way through the various turns and bends, my eyes
blurring with pain. I hear the loud thumping of my keening heart in my
ears, feel my breath choking in my clenching throat, as I try to brush
my unshed tears away. Shit, I am not going to cry, not out here, not
when there is a chance of Chakotay following me and catching up with
me. I have to get away from here. I can't let him see how much his
words have wounded me.
Oh God, but none of this is his fault. I am the one who fucked it all
up. I should never have gone to him after two months of staying away
like an idiot, to return the shell. I should have in fact done exactly
what he accused me of doing; that is broken into his quarters to leave
the shell there without him ever finding out. Dammit, he only realized
it was missing three fucking days ago. I had almost two months in
which to plan it and execute it properly. What in the hell possessed
me to go to him, babbling and jabbering, like I did tonight?
I feel the insistent tears prickling at the corners of my burning eyes
and impatiently wipe them away again. Dammit, I am not going to cry, I
am not going to break down like this.
In the midst of the haze that is choking and seizing my senses, I
still somehow manage to find a corridor that leads to the second
turbolift and scramble into it.
And come to a skidding stop.
Continued in Expiation 3/4