Star Trek, Voyager and all related characters and concepts are the property of Paramount. No infringement is intended.
Please archive and distribute freely, keeping the disclaimer and my name intact.
As is probably painfully obvious, this was one of my earliest stories. It was written in four distict parts and each was a bit of an experiment: Part 1, the classic hurt/comfort. Part 2, a slice-of-life. Part 3, a PWP. Part 4 -- well, you'll just have to see what Part 4 is. :)
Second Impression (NC-17)
by Vyola (email@example.com)
"Oh, god. Oh, god." Tom Paris chanted over and over as he frantically dug through the rubble. He felt sharp edges cut into his hands. Muscles burned across his back and stomach as he fought with the heavy stones. The deep rumble and crash of the earthquake had finally died away, leaving the cave silent save for his rapid breathing and rough voice. The beam of the field lantern threw hard shadows on the walls, illuminating the chaos.
"Where is he? Oh, god. Oh, god." His hands hit something soft, fabric-covered. He redoubled his efforts, ignoring the pain, and soon unearthed the head and chest of Commander Chakotay.
The First Officer was not breathing.
Paris bent over him, searching for a pulse. Nothing. He began artificial respiration, then cardiac massage. "No, god damn it! You are not doing this to me. You are not dying! I'm not taking you back to the Captain dead."
He kept alternating his actions, first forcing air past Chakotay's still lips, then working on his unmoving chest.
Words fell from his lips between breaths.
"You are not dying on me! Your life is mine, remember? Breathe, damn it!"
Dimly, Tom could hear his rough voice echoing in the stillness of the cave. He barely felt the hot tears running down his dusty face. All his attention focused on the man lying before him.
"You belong to *me*, Chakotay. Do you hear me? I *own* you. Don't die! You belong to me. You're mine, you're mine, you're mine...."
Suddenly, a shudder ran through the body beneath his hands. With a little cough, Chakotay began to breath. Tom's gaze was caught by dark eyes fluttering open, an unfathomable expression in their depths. A single word, almost a sigh, floated up to him.
Chakotay lapsed into unconsciousness. Tom reassured himself that he was still breathing before clearing the rest of the dirt and rubble from his body. He found the medkit alongside one long leg. It had fallen open and its contents lay scattered, most crushed by rocks.
His hand closed over a familiar shape. The tricorder, miraculously still functioning despite a huge dent. He scanned the First Officer.
Two broken legs, right arm fractured in three places, concussion, bruised ribs -- 'though that might have been from the massage,' Tom thought -- bruises, cuts. No evidence of internal bleeding. Nothing immediately dangerous. Even the concussion was fairly mild. 'I always knew he had a hard head.' He inventoried what was left of the medkit, checking the hypo sprays. Most were completely destroyed. Dermal regenerator, bone regenerator, all the tools -- crushed. A few hypo sprays remained intact; the only ones of use were a handful of painkillers.
The tricorder in his hands went "pop", then the screens flared and went black. Nothing he did brought it back to life. Paris cursed. Rescue better come soon. Chakotay might be stable now but he needed real medical attention. For the time being, all he could do for him was make him as comfortable as possible. He administered the mildest of the painkillers and saw some of the tension leave the unconscious body. When Chakotay came to he could give him something stronger.
He shrugged off the top of his jumpsuit and pulled off the turtleneck underneath. Using one sleeve, he wiped off Chakotay's face, hair and hands as much as possible, then his own. He fumbled at his hip for his canteen, somehow still attached. Dampening the other sleeve, he washed their faces and hands.
He folded the turtleneck into a pad and slipped it under Chakotay's head, then pulled the dusty jumpsuit back up against the cave's chill. He ran a hand along his chest. No communicator. Chakotay's, too, was gone, somewhere under a pile of rock.
Paris crawled to where the lantern lay tipped over. He straightened it and concentrated on picturing the cave before the quake. Carefully, he began searching. After long moments, he was rewarded. A Federation beacon, part of the kit they had brought down with them. Activating it, he returned to Chakotay's side and waited.
Chakotay regained consciousness slowly. Cold, hard rock under him. The taste of dust in his mouth. A distant ache in his body that signaled injury and a painkiller about to wear off. He opened his eyes to see only rocks and rubble. 'A cave. Not another cave. Please, no.'
"We've got to stop meeting in dark caves, Commander. People are starting to talk."
He knew that voice. Knew it and despised it. Traitor, troublemaker. For a moment, Chakotay could only remember the Ocampan underground and certain death. Then that hated figure appearing to drag him to safety.
"What happened?" His voice was hoarse. He saw Tom Paris sitting beside him, bright blue eyes staring intently.
"Don't try to move, you're injured. Take a sip," Paris instructed, holding a canteen to his lips with one hand and supporting his head with the other. Chakotay drank greedily.
"There was an earthquake. Apparently this region is less stable than we thought. You're in pretty good shape considering that half this mountain came down. You've got a concussion and you were out for a few minutes. Both legs and an arm are broken, bruised ribs, cuts and scrapes. We've lost our comm badges but I've activated the beacon. There's probably some signal interference from the seismic activity but Voyager knew our general location. Two hours to rescue, max. Air's not a problem; we're getting currents from somewhere."
It came back to him then. "And we didn't even find any useful elements, did we? I can remember reaching for my communicator to tell Voyager that we were out of luck at this site. Then, nothing." An involuntary grimace crossed his features.
"Ready for another painkiller, Commander? It's about the only thing in the medkit to survive." He pressed the hypo against Chakotay's neck. "You need to stay awake with that concussion but there's no need for the pain. That should last until we get back and you're in the Doctor's clutches."
"He'll want to know why I don't have more sense than to stand under collapsing mountains," Chakotay said dryly.
"Don't worry. He'll find some way to blame it on me."
That elicited a quiet chuckle.. "It's getting hard to remember he's a hologram. If his programmers could see him now!"
"I think, when we get back to Alpha Quadrant and they consider all the new races we've met, all the phenomena we've observed, the most significant event will be the evolution of the Doctor."
"Really?" He hoped Paris would continue. If he concentrated on his voice, the walls of the cave stayed put and he didn't find himself back in that other cave. Besides, he had to admit, Paris's opinion on holographic programming was worth listening to.
"Yeah. He was never meant to function continuously as long as he has. That's why the program degraded. Then, when we reactivated him, it should have taken just as long for him to readapt to his expanded duties as it did the first time. But it didn't. He started to regain his memories and personality almost immediately. There's something unique about the program and how it interacts with Voyager's computer."
He broke off abruptly. "Sorry, Commander. I can talk this stuff for hours and I forget not everyone's as interested as I am."
"We *have* a couple of hours, Lieutenant. And I *am* interested. Go on. Please."
"Hang on a sec. Where is -- ah, here we go." Paris pulled a battered little pouch from the rocks. Reaching inside, he held up a candy bar. "A little worse for wear, but definitely edible. Chocolate with nuts and raisins, right?"
"How'd you know? It's been months since I've had chocolate. I keep thinking about using some of my replicator rations on it but there's always something I need more."
Paris unwrapped the treat and broke off a piece. "Here. Don't try to move your arm. That one may not be broken but there's no point in straining yourself." He held the chocolate to Chakotay's lips.
Self-consciously, the older man took the candy in his mouth, careful not to make contact with Paris's fingers. The flavor exploded on his tongue. He closed his eyes and concentrated on enjoying the unexpected pleasure. Too soon, it was gone.
"Just one more bite, Commander. Don't want to put too much in your stomach with that concussion." He fed him another piece then offered the canteen.
After drinking, Chakotay asked the question again. "How did you know I liked chocolate -- and what kind?"
"Oh, something B'Elanna said once. How you'd always scour every supply shipment for candy but always felt so guilty about wanting it for yourself that you wouldn't take it. You know, you've got to do something about that martyr complex. Just because you enjoy something doesn't mean you have to deny yourself."
"I'm not preaching unbridled hedonism, Commander. Voyager's not the place for that. But you *do* need to relax a little more. It's going to be a long seventy years otherwise. If a little chocolate now and then helps you over the rough patches, well, what's so wrong with that?"
"And what gets you over the rough patches?" Chakotay searched Paris's face, but only got a bland smile in reply.
"Oh, I do fine when the going's tough. I always know exactly what to do to make it worse. It's the smooth patches that throw me." He busied himself with their few supplies, downcast eyes hidden from Chakotay's dark gaze.
"As I was saying about the Doctor...."
Chakotay sighed and let it go. It wasn't the time or the place for that kind of discussion. He didn't even know why he was suddenly so interested in Tom Paris. He let himself become immersed in the technical details of holo programs.
The first noises from the rescue team reached them less than two hours later. First the sound of rock against rock, then voices. B'Elanna's voice carried over the muted hum of the others as she directed the effort.
"Get those supports into place! I don't want what's left of this blasted mountain coming down when we shift those rocks."
"Hey, B'Elanna! What took you so long?" Paris called out.
"Tom! Are you okay? Where's Chakotay?"
"I'm here, B'Elanna."
"But he really needs medical attention. Can you beam him directly to Sickbay now?"
"As soon as we get you out of the cave. We're having difficulties locking onto your patterns -- interference from something in the rocks. Almost there! Hang on another minute."
Sounds of digging filled the cave. Paris gathered up the remains of their supplies and offered Chakotay a last sip of water. "This is an historic away mission, Commander. We survived an earthquake *and* we managed not to argue for three whole hours. Think the Captain'll be impressed?"
"Forget the Captain. *I'm* impressed. Tom," he stressed the name, "I mean that seriously. Being hurt, alone, trapped in a cave -- well, that's been featured in a couple of my least favorite nightmares. I never thanked you properly for coming back to me that other time. I'm saying it now. Thank you for saving my life then, and thank you for keeping me going this time."
Paris looked at him, his expression unreadable. Then he grinned. "Careful, Commander. One of these days I just might collect."
Chakotay started to say something but the first member of the rescue team emerged from an opening in the rubble. A large clearing was made and several crew members carefully carried the First Officer out. Paris stumbled after, blinking in the sunlight.
"Torres to Voyager. They're out of the cave. Beam them directly to Sickbay."
The next thing Chakotay saw was the Doctor leaning over him, scanner in hand. "Commander Chakotay is suffering from multiple fractures in both legs and his right arm, Captain. He also has a serious concussion. However, there is nothing of major concern."
"That's good to hear, Doctor," came Janeway's voice from the Bridge. "How is Lieutenant Paris?"
Chakotay twisted his neck to see Kes as she ran a tricorder over Paris. "Doctor!" She shouted as he suddenly went white and swayed on his feet. She got a shoulder under his arm and lowered him to a biobed just as he passed out.
Chakotay's exclamation blended with Janeway's "Doctor! What's going on?"
For a minute,, the Doctor didn't answer as he examined his patient. "Captain, the Lieutenant is bleeding internally. His blood pressure has dropped drastically, rendering him unconscious. I believe that his seated position must have inhibited the bleeding to some extent. However, when he stood up, it began in earnest. He's going to need immediate surgery."
"Please keep me informed of his condition, Doctor. What is Commander Chakotay's status?"
The holographic Doctor efficiently moved Paris into the surgical area and began prepping him. "Kes will attend to him as I prepare Mr. Paris. The Commander should have several days off to recover. I'd prefer bed rest for him but I've noticed that the senior staff tends to ignore that prescription. I'll allow light activity as soon as his bones are regenerated and he's had a good night's sleep in Sickbay."
"All right. Mr. Chakotay, you are off duty for today and the next three days."
"Aye, Captain," he answered. "Truth be told, bed rest sounds good right now." Kes had recalibrated the regenerator and began knitting his fractures back together. He ignored the tingling sensations in his legs, arm and skull and tried to keep an eye on the Doctor and Paris.
'That must have been quite a rock that hit my head. I can't believe I never thought he might be hurt. Spent that whole time keeping me going and all the while *he* was the one with serious injuries. I wonder if he knew? It'd be just like him to have realized it but keep it from me. For all his cockiness, I've never met anyone more prone to self-sacrifice.'
His musings were interrupted by Kes's soft voice "I've finished the regeneration, Commander. However, the Doctor would like you to stay in Sickbay tonight for further observation."
"All right. I think I'm too tired to get back to my quarters anyway." And for some reason he felt compelled to keep watch over Paris, just as Paris had watched over him.
"I'll let the crew know you're here. Do you feel up to visitors? B'Elanna and Harry have been waiting to see you."
"Ask them to come in, please."
By the time they arrived, Kes had installed him in one of the beds near the Doctor's office. He couldn't see or hear anything of the surgical area from that location.
"Chakotay, are you okay?"
"Commander, how are you feeling?"
The questions overlapped, making him chuckle. "I'm fine. I just have to take it easy for a couple of days."
"And Tom?" Harry looked at Kes anxiously.
"The Doctor is operating on him now," she explained in her soothing voice. "He was bleeding internally. But it doesn't look like there will be any complications. You'll be able to see him in a day or so."
Harry's natural optimism blossomed under her reassuring manner. "I knew even a mountain couldn't stop Tom. He's got more lives than a cat."
Chakotay saw Kes's puzzled look. "Old Earth expression."
"I thought it was something about curiosity killing the cat."
"Different saying. This one is about cats supposedly having nine lives, mainly because when they fall, they tend to land on their feet," he elaborated.
B'Elanna smiled. "Well, that's as good a comparison to Tom as I've ever heard. He tends to land on his feet, too."
They shared a quiet chuckle. Then Kes, who had kept a sharp eye on Chakotay, said, "I think visiting hours are over for today. The Commander needs his rest."
Kim and Torres said their good-byes. The doors had barely closed behind them when they opened again to reveal Captain Janeway.
"Commander, it's good to see that even a mountain can't keep you down. How are you feeling?"
He grinned wryly. "Like a mountain got me down. But Kes has me almost as good as new."
She squeezed his shoulder with her characteristic warmth. "I'm glad you're all right. Kes, how is Tom?"
"He's been in surgery about half an hour. I was just about to see if the Doctor required any assistance."
The Captain gestured the Ocampan toward surgery and Kes hurried away.
"He never said a word, Captain. For three hours he kept me from going crazy in that cave and never said a word about his own injuries."
"What do you mean?" "When I regained consciousness, I thought I was back in that other cave, when we first arrived in Delta Quadrant. I was sure I was going to die there, trapped and alone. Then he started talking to me and I remembered where we really were but those feeling didn't go away. If he hadn't been there, I would have panicked and I don't know what would have happened then."
"It's unlikely you would have had a chance to panic, Commander." The Doctor emerged from surgery, studying a scanner. "These readings indicate that you received artificial respiration and cardiac massage approximately five hours ago. The bruises on your ribs and the dust in your lungs are unmistakable signs of these actions. Since only Lieutenant Paris could have administered these procedures, I must conclude that he saved your life before he saved your composure. It's gratifying that he has retained adequate knowledge of these techniques."
"You seem to have gotten yourself a guardian angel, Chakotay." She laughed at the expression on his face. "I bet you that's how *he'd* react to the idea, too. Doctor," she continued, "what's Paris's prognosis now?"
"The surgery proceeded without any complications and he is responding well. I'll keep him sedated for tonight. I don't want him tossing and turning. Then a week of bed rest. I must insist upon it in this case. The internal damage was extensive and the Lieutenant's body needs time to recover fully. No bending, no lifting, no strenuous activity. In fact, preferably, no standing or sitting up, either, for at least two days."
"So he'll have to stay in Sickbay."
"Yes, little as that prospect appeals to me. Or he could move back into his quarters in a day if someone stayed with him during his convalescence."
"Captain," Chakotay said slowly, "if you don't object, I'd like to volunteer for nursing duty. I'm already free for the next few days and it's the least I can to in return."
"Kes can stop by to monitor them a few times a day. And as long as the Commander uses a little common sense and refrains from challenging the Lieutenant to hand-to-hand combat, they should both be fine."
"I'll try to restrain myself."
"If you're sure, Chakotay. I'm sure Harry or B'Elanna would be happy to lend a hand as needed."
"I'm sure, Captain. I *need* to do this. I let Tom Paris become a convenient focus for a lot of anger and resentment ever since we got here. I've clung to my original opinion of him because it was easier than trying to see behind all the labels hung on him. But he's been an exemplary officer and an asset to this crew from the beginning. It's time I acknowledge that and make sure he knows it."
She flashed him an approving smile. "Very good, Commander. You've got your assignment for the week." She headed for the doors, paused, then looked over her shoulder.
"Oh, and Chakotay?"
"Go slow. An overly solicitous First Officer might have Lieutenant Paris doubting your sanity -- or his."
The doors closed behind her before he could do more than say, "Aye, Captain."
Pain. Pressure. No air. Darkness. Cold. A deafening roar in his ears.
He was dying.
Air. Light. Warmth. A voice calling him back, demanding his return. A summons he could not, would not, ignore.
"Don't die! You belong to me. You're mine, you're mine, you're mine...."
A white, strained face just above his. Angry tears making tracks down dust-covered cheeks. Blond hair muted by dirt. Wild blue eyes staring down at him.
He felt his dry lips move, a single word escaping....
Chakotay sat bolt upright on the biobed, aching muscles protesting the quick movement. The Doctor stood at his side.
"Commander, you were having a nightmare. Would you care for a sedative?"
He took a few deep breaths. "No, thank you. I'll be fine. I think I'll do some meditation exercises then try to sleep again."
"Very well. However, if your sleep continues to be disturbed, I recommend that you seek medical assistance. You must get adequate rest for a successful recovery."
"I will, Doctor. I promise."
Alone again, Chakotay sat cross-legged on the bed. 'Nothing deep or elaborate,' he thought. Just some relaxation techniques to get him centered again.
He pictured the forest clearing that represented the heart of his spiritual world. He concentrated on the rich smell of the earth, the feel of the breeze on his face, the musical murmuring of the stream.
As he sank deeper into the trance, he caught sight of his spirit guide amidst the trees. The wolf met his eyes and wagged her tail in greeting but came no nearer. Tonight he was simply drawing strength from the clearing, not seeking guidance.
He walked through the trees, pausing to run a hand along the bark, admiring the play of sunlight between the leaves. The stand represented his home planet, his family, all that he came from. All that he had fought for. Winding around and through the grove was a clear, fast-running stream.
He bent and trailed his fingers in the cold water. Once the stream had been wide and flowed in a straight line, cutting the trees off from the rest of the forest. His Starfleet career.
Then he had turned his back on Starfleet as the Federation had abandoned his homeworld to the Cardassians. As he led the Maquis on raid after raid, the stream grew ever smaller, choked by weeds and rocks.
The Delta Quadrant revitalized the stream. As he committed himself to Voyager and the two crews blended, the stream became more vibrant than ever. And now it was not confined to its old, restrictive course. Now it played among the trees, nourishing their roots, no longer divisive.
Chakotay closed his eyes and let the serenity of the place fill him. All was right in this private world.
Bzzzzzz! His eyes sprang open in time to see a small black shape hover for a split second before him, then dart off. Bzzzz! Back again, demanding his attention.
He laughed. The hummingbird had manifested itself about the time of the stream's reappearance He had to admit, it represented Voyager perfectly.
Both so small, so fragile. Incredibly tough. Ridiculously beautiful. Always in motion, seeking, searching.
He plucked a spray of honeysuckle from a tangle of vines nearby and gravely offered it to the tiny creature. It circled him warily, then abruptly dove in. He watched its wings, a blur of motion as the bird darted from blossom to blossom. It made a hundred minute adjustments every second to control its flight.
The play of light over its feathers was magnificent. The dark body was revealed as a brilliant blue jewel as it rose and fell in the air. Deep ruby patches danced along its throat and the edges of its wings, while the very top of its head flashed gold.
Without warning, the hummingbird left the flowers and flew past Chakotay's face, so close he could feel the air displaced by the rapidly beating wings against his cheek. Then it disappeared as suddenly as it had come. A familiar pattern with the bird; an unexpected appearance, a demand for attention, a sudden departure. Every time it happened, he marveled at the creature's improbable existence.
Chakotay returned to himself, still sitting on the biobed. He felt calmer, clearer. Ready to consider his dream.
Obviously, the cavern. The pain had matched his injuries exactly and the glimpse he had gotten of the dream-cave was enough to identify the real cave.
But where had he gotten an image of a desperate Tom Paris, ordering him not to die, declaring his ownership of Chakotay? He thought of opening his eyes in the cave and seeing Paris watching him, face calm. No tears, no despair, hair bright and eyes clear. No dirt-smeared cheeks.
'No, he had to have been as filthy as me. He must have wiped his face.' The thought triggered an almost-memory of a damp cloth gently running over his forehead, down his jaw. 'So he could have looked like that before I woke up. But how did I see him like that? I must have woken up twice. The first time....'
He gave himself a shake. 'The first time must have been just after he revived me. When he saved my life. He wouldn't let me die still owing him."
The word echoed in his mind. 'And I said -- no!'
Chakotay did *not* want to consider the possible reasons for that response. 'For heaven's sake, I've only just decided that I don't actually *hate* him.'
'All right, so I admire his skill as a pilot and respect him as a fellow officer. And I can't stand the idea of dying without repaying a life debt. That's all it was.'
His rationalizations did not convince him. He could almost see the silver she-wolf laughing at him.
He stood and made his way to the biobed nearest surgery. Tom Paris lay there, deep in an artificial sleep. The dim lights drained the color from his face, reminding Chakotay of how white Paris had looked when he collapsed. Even the bright hair seemed subdued.
He was struck with the idea that Paris was gone, replaced by a waxwork figure. He placed his hand on Paris's chest, relieved to feel the heart beating strongly, the lungs rising and falling slowly and steadily. He let the warmth of the sleeping man creep up his hand, suffuse his body.
Content for the moment to leave the questions in his mind unanswered, he returned to his own bed and slept, untroubled by dreams.
"Thou shalt not kill a fellow officer. Thou shalt not kill a fellow officer." If he thought it long enough, maybe he'd remember it.
Chakotay had been nursing Tom Paris for three days, and it was as bad as he'd feared.
The first two days had been fine, primarily due to the fact that the Doctor had kept the injured Lieutenant under mild sedation. He had slept most of the time, content to sit quietly listening to music when awake. He accepted Chakotay's ministrations in the same matter-of-fact manner they were offered. The second evening, they engaged in a pleasant 'can you top this?' exchange concerning boring, stuffy official functions they had been forced to attend. Chakotay felt that sitting through a musical evening hosted by the C'Reht embassy, a race renowned for their tunelessness, entitled him to top honors, but Paris insisted that being the only eleven year-old human at a five-hour Vulcan naming ceremony put him in the lead. Chakotay had a vision of the young Tom Paris making faces at a high priestess and was forced to concede.
The third day...
Paris woke at mid-day, obviously feeling much better. He revealed this by expressing his dissatisfaction with his personal appearance, the condition of his quarters, the competence of the musicians he was listening to, the taste, texture, and color of Neelix's latest culinary treat, and the Doctor's orders to remain quiet.
Chakotay was keeping his composure. Barely. He knew Paris was chafing at staying in bed. The enforced inactivity was driving him up the wall. Paris was the least still person Chakotay had ever known. The man was always busy, fairly radiating energy, whether at the con, making the constant adjustments required to keep Voyager on course through uncharted space, or 'relaxing' in Sandrine's, a pool cue in one hand, juggling three flirtations in the other.
Maybe a distraction was in order.
"Mr. Paris," he interrupted the latest rant about Voyager's color scheme, "what's the status of your replicator rations?"
"Grey walls, grey floors, grey ceilings -- it was cheerier in prison. Oh, hmm? My rations? I'm pretty flush right now. Won a bunch off of Hansen and Geller a couple days ago and I haven't had time to use them or my regular allotment since we got back. I haven't really been much interested in eating the last couple days."
"I was thinking. The Doctor says you can sit up for a few hours this evening. You've had enough sleep for a while. Why don't we rescue B'Elanna and Harry from the Mess Hall tonight and pool some rations for a real meal?"
"You figure you can keep from wringing my neck if there are witnesses?"
Chakotay tried to deny the all-too-true accusation, but Paris held a hand up.
"It's okay, Commander. I know I'm a real pain in the ass for you under ideal circumstances, and these are hardly ideal. I'm surprised you've lasted this long. Visitors sound like a good idea to me, too." He laughed. "I'd love to know what the odds are on us not killing each other before we go back on duty. That's one piece of action you and Tuvok can't blame on me."
"I wouldn't put it past you to somehow get a percentage of the pot."
"If I could get out of this cabin I would!"
"Sorry, Lieutenant. A quiet dinner sitting up is all the Doctor will allow. It's still too early in your recovery for anything more."
Paris gave him a sly smile. "Then I'll just have to be very good tonight, so you'll be able to give him a favorable report."
Chakotay looked at him sharply, but Paris had assumed his most angelic expression, the one he adopted whenever the Captain questioned him about one of Tuvok's security reports.
The prospect of company brought out a side of Paris Chakotay had never seen. The man began arranging the evening with the flair of a professional host and the determination of a field general. After receiving detailed instructions concerning the menu and table settings, Chakotay voiced the comparison.
"Admiral, not field general. You don't grow up in Admiral Gene Paris's household and not learn to entertain properly. I think I was seven or eight before I figured out you could have a meal without at least three courses.
"The right food, the right wine, the proper seating of ambassadors and Starfleet commanders, how to make polite and non-controversial small talk with political adversaries -- I could do it all before I was a teenager. And, of course, I played a starring role in these little productions. Gene Paris's living lecture aid." His voice deepened. "'Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the future of the Federation. The next generation of Starfleet officer. We must preserve these magnificent institutions at all costs for him and for all of our children.'"
Paris's face hardened as the memories came back. "'Tell the ambassador how much you want to go to the Academy, Tom. Tell the Commander how Parises always go to 'Fleet, Tom. Show 'em you're a real chip off the old block, Tom.'"
"Poor little rich boy," Chakotay jeered softly.
Anger flashed in those blue eyes. "I'll admit I coasted into the Academy on my father's influence, but that's because it really didn't matter. He would have gotten me in even if I'd had the brains of a Denebian Slime Devil. And even if I'd gotten in on merit alone, no one would have believed it with *him* all over me, picking my classes, arranging my career path.
"But the one thing he couldn't do was make me a pilot. *I* did that. *I* was the one behind the controls. *I* made the maneuvers. *I* practiced the sims over and over. *I* set the records. *I* learned the limits and how to push them until they bent. That was me. *Tom Paris*. It had nothing to do with being Gene Paris's little clone."
Paris's face was flushed, and he was practically spitting the words out from between clenched teeth. His hands were closed in fists over the bedclothes. Chakotay grew alarmed when he began sucking in deep breaths of air, his chest heaving.
"Tom! Tom, breath slowly!" His hands rested on Paris's shoulders, shaking him slightly. "You're going to hyperventilate. Slowly. In, out. In, out."
Paris visibly brought himself under control. A few shudders racked his body as he lay there, eyes closed. He opened them again to find the Commander still leaning over him, concern evident in his face.
"I'm sorry I brought up bad memories, Tom. I didn't realize. The Doctor will have my head for upsetting you like this."
"'S okay, Commander. I shouldn't let it get to me after so many years. I guess the quake rattled me more than I thought. I've had that reputation all my life, and most of the time I've lived up to it. But sometimes..." He trailed off wistfully.
"Sometimes you wish people would see beyond the image," Chakotay completed the thought.
"Yeah. It'll be good to see Harry tonight. He saw behind it. You know, he's the first friend I ever had that my father didn't pick out for me or that I didn't choose just to tick him off."
"You two seemed to be firm friends before I came on board. How'd you meet?"
Paris smiled the sweet smile that came so seldom to his face, the one without any calculation behind it. Chakotay belatedly realized his hands were still shaping Paris's shoulders. He let go and sank into the chair by the bed.
"Voyager stopped at Deep Space 9 before heading out to the Badlands, and there's a bar there called Quark's. Harry was in there, innocently insulting a Ferengi. I mean, he was so obviously straight from the Academy he was practically *shining*. God, I don't remember ever being that young.
"He got all my protective instincts going." Paris shook his head. "I didn't know I had any till then. So we started talking and pretty soon we're back on Voyager, and I figure once it really dawns on him who I am, he'll drop me like a rock. But he doesn't. He trusts the Captain, and for some reason she trusts me, and that's good enough for him to give me a chance.
"So, that's how I got my first real friend. I can still see him standing over me in the Chute saying, 'This man is my friend. No one touches him.' He was ready to kill to protect me... or die trying. My own father doesn't come to my trial, and Harry Kim defends me with his life."
"Your father wasn't at your trial?" Chakotay tried unsuccessfully to hide his shock.
"What, you think Admiral Paris would have anything to do with an accused traitor?"
"But you're his son -- "
"Not since Caldik Prime. He disowned me after the court-martial. If he'd had his way, he would've taken away my name, too. But there are a few things even *he* can't do. I'm sure the day he heard Voyager was missing, presumed lost, he gave a sigh of relief that I'd never bother him again."
He stopped short at the incredulous expression on the First Officer's face.
"Oh, lighten up, Commander. He told me my whole life what a poor reflection of a true Paris I was and how he knew I'd come to a bad end without his guidance. It's not like I expected him to play dutiful dad when I got in trouble."
A yawn took Paris by surprise. "Really, Commander. What were you thinking of, tiring your patient out with big emotional scenes? No, don't bother to apologize. We'll let it go this time." He waved a hand graciously, but another yawn ruined the effect.
"Mighty big of you, Lieutenant," Chakotay grumbled under his breath.
"Quite all right. What time are you inviting them to come over?"
"I thought 1830 hours would be about right."
"Perfect. I'll have time for another nap while *you* get everything set. Computer, wake me up at 1745 hours. That should be enough time to get me ready, don't you think?"
Chakotay mimed a salaam at him but Paris's eyes were already drifting closed.
"Oh, and Chakotay? Tell them no uniforms. If I can't be up on the Bridge, I don't want to be reminded of it all through dinner."
"Yes, Master. Yes, Master. Any other orders, O Sleeping One?" The sarcasm was thick, but Paris just shrugged it off.
"No, carry on. I'm sure you can manage on your own."
Chakotay thought of a few responses but held his tongue as he took a good look at Paris. The other man was still very pale, and lines of fatigue were apparent around his mouth. That explosion had really drained him. Chakotay began to straighten the cabin and make arrangements for the dinner.
As he worked, he thought back to when Paris had joined the Maquis. Always pushing at Chakotay. Always questioning. Always sailing just this side of insubordination. At the time, Chakotay had considered it an expression of Paris's contempt for their cause. He'd thought that Paris was just slumming until Daddy patched up his career. If they hadn't needed pilots so badly, Chakotay would have turned him away without a second's hesitation. When word reached him of the arrest, he'd wondered if Paris had been a Federation plant and braced for a Starfleet raid that never came.
He smiled grimly. Seska and Tuvok had taught him that spies were considerably more subtle than Tom Paris could ever be.
He had finally dismissed Paris as an undependable thrill-seeker who'd gotten his just desserts. The man had never crossed his mind again until they'd found themselves seventy years from home, aboard the same ship, serving the same captain. Both back in Starfleet uniforms again. The irony was excruciatingly obvious.
When he considered those first encounters, he was relieved on one level. Obviously, Paris would have had trouble getting along with anyone leading the Maquis. His problems with authority were too ingrained for smooth sailing. But, on another level, he feared that there were things about himself that reminded the Lieutenant of his father.
'The more I hear about him, the more he's the last person I want to resemble,' Chakotay thought. Even more disturbing for some reason was the implication that Paris might regard him as some sort of father figure. 'It's bad enough that B'Elanna does. At least she's young enough to actually be my daughter, and I've known her for years. But Tom Paris?'
He pushed that question to the back of his mind. It joined a number of items concerning the Lieutenant. It troubled Chakotay that his first impression of Paris had been so superficial and wrong. He prided himself on being a perceptive man, on looking deep inside people and seeing their true selves.
'The Delta Quadrant has certainly shown me how fallible I can be.' Tuvok and Seska crossed his mind again. 'But at least they were professionals. They *wanted* to deceive me. Paris's mask was simply a paper-thin defense, waiting to be ripped away. He *wanted* someone to see past it for once. Why couldn't I see that then? Why did it take me so long this time?'
He thought of Harry Kim and the awe in Paris's voice when he recounted Kim's words in the Chute. He suspected Paris would gladly breathe vacuum if Harry expressed a wish to see him try it.
He remembered Harry's encounter with an alternate reality where neither he nor Paris had ever boarded Voyager. After only one meeting, something about Harry Kim had driven that bitter version of Paris to steal a shuttle and sacrifice his own life so Harry could return to this reality.
What would it be like to inspire such devotion and loyalty in Paris? What would it feel like to be the focus of an emotional commitment so strong it could transcend time and space?
'You'd always have a protector keeping you safe from harm. An anchor to keep you from being cast adrift, lost and alone.'
Lost and alone.
He'd been lost and alone in the Ocampan underground.
Tom Paris had come back for him.
He'd been marooned with the rest of Voyager's crew on a desolate world by vengeful Kazon.
Tom Paris had brought Voyager back to them.
He'd been injured, dying, trapped beneath a mountain.
Tom Paris had saved his life and comforted him.
'Once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is the hand of the spirits,' Chakotay heard again his father's favorite saying. 'The spirits are always talking to us but we don't always pay attention.'
'Half a mountain on top of me -- I think they've got my attention. But why is it so important that I change my thinking about Paris now? It's not like he's going anywhere for the next seventy years. I've got plenty of time to make it up to him.' It occurred to him that Paris had had almost as many brushes with death in the Delta Quadrant as Harry Kim. 'Perhaps that's the real message. I shouldn't take the time we have here for granted. I knew that on New Earth. That's why I told Kathryn how I feel. But since we returned, I've let her push me away again, put me firmly in my place as First Officer. Maybe this is a sign to start resolving *all* my relationships.'
Happier with this analysis than with certain vague ideas that had been drifting through his mind, Chakotay continued his preparations.
"Come on, B'Elanna. At least try it," Tom coaxed.
"It's yellow. And it's *quivering*." The half-Klingon, half-human woman eyed her dessert with deep suspicion and a trace of hostility.
"Oh, please. You eat live gah'k without batting an eyelash and a little custard throws you?" Harry's amused tone brought an aggrieved look to B'Elanna's face, and he wisely hid his smile.
"Klingon food is supposed to move, Starfleet. Terran food isn't."
"I'll have to take you to a few of the more... uh... *picturesque*, establishments I've found on Earth when we get back," Tom said.
Chakotay watched the younger officers' play indulgently. The menu Paris had given the replicator had been superb, from the spicy tomato and corn soup, a variation of Paris's beloved favorite, to the delicate caramel-drenched flan that so worried B'Elanna. Entirely vegetarian, with an American southwest flair that recalled a little restaurant in Arizona he'd discovered in his Academy days, the meal had satisfied more than Chakotay's physical appetite. It had soothed an emotional ache he hadn't even known he'd had.
'Comfort food. Guess Paris was right.' He wondered if the meal had been part of the Lieutenant's campaign to get him to relax. 'It worked. So did the chocolate. How many more of my likes and dislikes has he got on file?'
B'Elanna gave up on the flan. Harry instantly appropriated it.
Chakotay got to his feet and caught B'Elanna's eye. She rose and, following his lead, began gathering dishes from the table.
"Mr. Kim, why don't you entertain the Lieutenant while B'Elanna and I clean up. I'm sure you can catch him up on all the gossip that the First Officer isn't supposed to be aware of."
Harry chuckled tentatively, a little unsure how to react to his superior's joke. Tom had no such hesitation.
"Aw, come on, Harry. The Commander's gone three whole days without hearing about the matter/anti-matter ratios in the warp coils and he's dying to get all the sordid details out of B'Elanna. That's just his idea of being subtle about it."
Tom slowly got up from the table and made his way to the couch, leaning on the shoulder Harry sprang up to offer him. They sat down and watched the two former Maquis efficiently dispose of the dinner's remains. Snatches of conversation, phrases like 'particle inversion field', 'tachyon pulse', and 'level 1 diagnostic' drifted towards them.
"Surprised he hasn't bounced me back to Sickbay yet?" Tom asked Harry.
"No, my money's on you two surviving the week."
"Thanks for the confidence. Of course, I expect you to split the pot with me."
"Done." Harry turned serious. "Tom, are you okay about this? Is it going to be all right?"
Tom cocked an eyebrow in his best Tuvok impression. "Ensign Kim, whatever are you talking about?"
"Tom, this is *me*. I know you better than anybody on Voyager. And I see a lot from my duty station, remember? I can see your face when Chakotay talks to you. I can see your back stiffen when he and the Captain talk to each other. I was the one you got drunk with when we left them on New Earth."
Tom smiled ruefully. "Harry Kim. Sees all, knows all. How'd you get so perceptive?"
"Necessity. My best friend likes to hide his real feelings behind a joke. So, tell me, are you sure about what you're doing?"
"I'm sure. I waited a long time for him to stop seeing Tom Paris, screw-up, every time he looked at me. Now I don't want to wait seventy years for more. And if by some miracle or wormhole or subspace anomaly we were to get home tomorrow, I don't want to spend seventy years regretting what might have been."
"If you think he'll make you happy..."
"He will. I know it. And I'll make him happy."
"Then you have all my good wishes."
"I'll need them. Thanks, Harry."
Chakotay was honestly interested in the details of Engineering for the last few days, but his attention kept drifting to the two young men sitting on the couch, intent on their conversation. Their voices were pitched too low for any words to reach him. Whatever they were talking about seemed to be intense.
"... and the conduit was completely blocked. I had to have Hansen reroute the system for five hours until we could replace it. And, Neelix is actually poisoning the crew so he and Kes can take over Voyager and turn it into a vacation resort in space."
"That's fine, B'Elanna. Keep up the good work," he replied absently.
"Chakotay, you haven't been listening to me for the last five minutes. Am I boring you?"
He flushed, sheepish. "I'm sorry. Let's go over those mix ratios again."
This time he tried harder to concentrate on the intricacies of warp engineering but his gaze strayed again. He was caught short when B'Elanna growled deep in her throat and began tapping her foot pointedly.
"Okay, Chakotay. No more engineering tonight. Your mind is obviously elsewhere. You want to tell me what's so fascinating about Tom Paris? Last I knew, you still couldn't stand him."
"Live and learn, B'Elanna. It's been an enlightening few days with the Lieutenant. You know those pictures where you see one image, but if you blink you get a totally different view? It's like I'm seeing a whole different Paris ever since the earthquake. He's not the person I thought he was and I guess I just keep wondering why I was so blind."
"Don't be too hard on yourself, Chakotay. I had to adjust my opinion of him, too. So did a lot of people on Voyager. Tom is very good at hiding himself behind that flyboy persona."
"But I've held onto my first impression of him for much longer than anyone else. I finally forgave Seska for everything she did to me and Voyager, but I still held a grudge against him."
"It's hard to stay mad at a Cardassian for being a Cardassian. It's like hating space for being vacuum. Besides, Tom doesn't make it easy to know him. It took being experimented on by Vi'dians before I could understand why Harry liked him."
"Hey, Commander! B'Elanna! Come and join us. Harry's finished giving me all the latest dirt." Tom gestured to the chairs set across from the couch. He grinned at the engineer as she came toward him. "Harry tells me he's teaching you to count to one hundred in Korean."
"He says if I'd just learn to count to one hundred before reacting I wouldn't break so many jaws down in Engineering. In return I'm teaching him how to curse in Klingon. He'll be able to insult anybody in the quadrant without them understanding."
They chatted for a while until Tom's yawns were too obvious for him to hide.
"Sorry, folks. I guess the party's over. I wouldn't want the Commander here to tell the Doctor that I stayed up late and indulged myself riotously."
Harry and B'Elanna said their good-byes and stood up to leave. Impulsively, B'Elanna leaned down and gave Tom a fast hug.
"Hey, what's that for?" he asked.
"For saving Chakotay and for coming back alive yourself. Don't do that to us again, okay? Harry and I'll have to kill you if you do it again."
Tom looked ridiculously pleased. "You say such pretty things. Marry me, and we can raise little scourges of the spaceways."
"In your dreams, hot shot."
Chakotay escorted them to the door where they once again expressed their pleasure in the evening.
"Tom, maybe we can get together in another day or two. Do you think the Doctor would let you sit around Sandrine's for a couple of hours?" Harry asked.
"I'll bring it up with him, Ensign," Chakotay answered.
"I bet he will, Harry. The Commander and I will probably need another break from each other by then. The Doctor will find that a little outing is medically advisable." The blue eyes danced as he glanced from Harry to Chakotay.
Tom waved to Harry and B'Elanna as they left. "Good party, people. We must do it again sometime."
"Captain's personal log.
"I had thought matters between Commander Chakotay and Lieutenant Paris could only improve. After the earthquake which trapped them together, my First Officer expressed his intention to overcome the resentment he harbored against our pilot. I consider Chakotay to be a man of great integrity and was pleased that he had found the courage to question his long-held animus toward Tom.
"At first, it seemed a great success, Chakotay using their convalescence to get to know Tom. I received glowing reports of their peaceful co-existence from Kes, who checked on the invalids several times a day, and from Chief Engineer Torres and Ensign Kim, the two crew members who know them best.
"Commander Chakotay himself was in the highest spirits as he sat in my ready room and discussed the upcoming visit to Sandrine's, their first real outing since being injured.
"Sandrine's... Something happened that night. It happened practically in front of me, and yet, I am not sure what it was.
"*Whatever* it was, it has set two of my senior staff at odds. It has been almost two weeks since their away mission, nearly a week since the Doctor allowed them to return to full duty. A week of exquisite and scrupulous attention to regulations between the two men.
"Tom's flying is, if anything, even more brilliant than ever. He seems to sense problems almost before the sensors register them and charts elegantly plotted courses around them. His responses to the First Officer's orders could be used as textbook examples in protocol at the Academy. He is polite, courteous, efficient, and deferential. The perfect junior officer, but he is not Tom Paris.
"Chakotay seems to have moved beyond serenity into complete impassivity. Only his lips move as he gives orders to the conn. It is as if were he to betray even a flicker of expression he would collapse, like a building without any supports.
"Tuvok says bridge response efficiency has increased 7% this week. He could not give me a precise figure for the increase in the tension level. It is not just those two. Ensign Kim is visibly upset by their estrangement. Though his performance has yet to suffer, I can see that his focus darts between Chakotay and Tom every free moment. B'Elanna sits in the Mess hall and glowers at the both of them. If something does not change soon, I believe she will start breaking heads.
"I am at a loss on how to proceed. Who counsels the ship's unofficial counselor and the man he is in conflict with? I may have to approach them myself, but I am hesitant to do that unless there is no alternative. The Captain by necessity should refrain from interfering in her crew's personal affairs as much as possible.
"There is a personal reluctance as well. A part of me fears that some of Chakotay's troubles spring from the conversation we had at Sandrine's that night... "
Kathryn Janeway entered Sandrine's to find the party in full swing. The atmosphere of the bar could range from introspective to rowdy depending on the mood of the crew, and tonight, they were leaning toward the latter. Tom Paris had long been a popular member of Voyager's crew, a happy result of his personal charm, his talent at holoprogramming, and his daring rescues of more than one crew member on various missions. His presence had been missed while he recovered from his injuries.
She headed straight to the fireplace table where he was seated. "Mr. Paris. Are you sure you're an invalid? I don't think I've ever seen you look better." That was an understatement. Tom wore a burgandy shirt that intensified his fair good looks. A faint flush from the fire lent color to his usually pale face and burnished his blond hair. His eyes were bright with good humor.
Tom grinned impudently at her. "It's all that TLC I've been getting from the Commander. Maybe he should transfer to Medical and pursue his true calling."
"And who would you suggest as First Officer? Yourself?" she asked dryly.
"No, thanks, Captain. I *like* the Conn. How about Harry?"
"Do I hear my fate being decided?" Chakotay appeared at the table. "What's this about a new First Officer?"
"Tom was just commenting on what a good nurse you've proved to be. I have no intention of breaking in a new First Officer, and I won't need to if you avoid standing under mountains. Speaking of which, we're about to enter a new system that looks promising from a supply point of view, but neither one of you is going down. I think you've pushed your luck on away missions for a while."
"Aye, aye, Captain," they chorused.
Chakotay caught her eye and motioned to the far corner of the bar. "Captain, may I speak with you?"
She nodded her assent, and they took their leave of Tom. He was soon surrounded by a crowd of crew members.
The table they headed for was dimly lit and as private as could be found in Sandrine's. As they seated themselves, she found herself comparing her clothes to Chakotay's. He wore a simple outfit that reminded her of his wardrobe on New Earth -- pants, shirt, vest. In contrast, her crisp grey jumpsuit would not have been out of place on the Bridge. She sighed mentally. There was no way she would be comfortable dressing that casually when out among the crew, even off duty.
She looked expectantly at the Commander. Her spirits plummeted when she heard him say "Kathryn, I think it's time we talked."
Chakotay was in a foul mood. He couldn't believe he had misread the situation so completely. All the signs had been so positive -- the sense that the spirits were trying to tell him something, the realization that life was uncertain, Tom Paris's little lectures on living instead of just existing.
Paris. He leapt on the thought. *There* was someone he could blame this whole debacle on.
"'If it feels good, why deny yourself?'" he mimicked under his breath. "'Seventy years is a long time.'" He flushed furiously when he thought how quickly he'd let the younger man influence him.
His eyes found the Lieutenant still holding court at the table by the fireplace. He couldn't help noticing how good Paris looked tonight; his casual clothes had a party feel. 'No mistaking *that* outfit for a uniform.' The days of rest had restored his usual vitality, and he exuded energy. Something, perhaps the synthahol, had increased the voltage of his smile and the brilliance of his eyes.
'Or maybe he's just eating up being the center of attention. Look at him -- king of all he surveys.' Chakotay brooded as the crowd around Tom Paris ebbed and flowed.
'Hanging on his every word. Don't they know he's just telling them what they want to hear? He'll say anything to keep your attention. Or maybe he just wants to see you jump through hoops. It's all a game to him. He probably learned it at his father's knee.
'Who's been caught by him tonight? There's Hansen and Geller -- what, they *want* to lose more replicator rations? Tellosh -- I thought he only liked brunettes. Lieutenant deHaas -- she has her hands all over him. I thought she was practically engaged to that kid in Stellar Cartography.
'I bet Tom knows. I bet he knows and doesn't care. He's just stringing her along, seeing how far she'll go. Then it'll be 'Sorry, Commander. I really don't think this is appropriate. Kindly don't bother me with your messy emotions.''
Feeding his anger with every step, Chakotay made his way to his target. The aura of fury crackling around him cleared his path.
"Enjoying yourself, *Lieutenant*?"
The crew members around the table hastily excused themselves. No one lingered within earshot. Gossip might be mother's milk aboard ship, but no one cared to become the focus of the anger evident in the First Officer's eyes tonight. 'Let Tom handle it' was the unspoken consensus.
Warned by Chakotay's sharp tone, Tom replied coolly, "It's a nice change from the Doctor's internal exile. It's been good to see everybody again."
"The company of just one person not good enough for you, Lieutenant? Have to have everyone fussing over you? Got to be the most important person in the room -- is that a little trick you picked up from Daddy?"
Tom's face turned unreadable. "Is that how it's going to be, Commander? I tell you a little about myself, and you throw it back at me? Try your cheap analysis somewhere else. I've been worked over by some of the Federation's best."
"Oh, that's right, isn't it? Mustn't forget how you've suffered, how you've been so misjudged." Chakotay's low voice was a sandpaper and velvet lash. "Is that how you justify playing with other people's feelings? Is that your reason for trying to ruin their lives and relationships? Does leading people on give you a thrill, Tom? Is it a rush to make them think you're interested and then push them away?"
"What? What are you talking about? Ruining relationships? Are you talking about deHaas? I kissed her because she just told me about her engagement to Lieutenant Lynch. I wasn't ruining anybody's life or playing with their feelings... " His voice trailed off and realization dawned in his eyes.
"Wait a minute. This isn't about me at all. It's the Captain. You think *she* led *you* on. What'd she do, Chakotay? Say 'thanks but no thanks?'"
"No, this *is* about you. You've got to stop meddling in other people's lives," Chakotay hissed.
"Oh, I intend to, Commander. I think I'll start by getting out of your life. Right now."
Tom got up and unsteadily left the bar. Chakotay dropped into a chair at the vacant table and felt his rage slowly fading away. A deeply private man, he couldn't understand why he'd staged such a public, albeit quiet, scene. What was it about Tom Paris that could make him forget himself so?
He picked up Tom's abandoned glass. After an investigative sniff, he downed the brandy with one swallow, welcoming the warming bite.
"Will Tom be able to get to his quarters by himself?"
He looked up at the soft question to find Kes standing in front of him. Everyone else in the bar was conspicuously *not* paying any attention to him.
"What was that, Kes?"
"I was just wondering if Tom was going to be all right. I know he still has trouble walking unassisted for any length of time, and it's a long way to his quarters."
"Hell," Chakotay said, getting to his feet, visions of an unconscious Tom Paris laying in a corridor somewhere filling his brain. He tapped his comm badge. "Computer, locate Lieutenant Paris."
"Lieutenant Paris is in Observation Lounge C."
The man hadn't even made it off the deck. Lounge C was just before the turbolift at the end of the corridor. He could picture Tom stumbling in, unable to go any farther.
"Don't worry. I'll see that he gets to his cabin," Chakotay promised. He left Sandrine's, unaware of the worried gazes of Harry Kim and B'Elanna Torres, who had watched the argument and both precipitous departures from a safe distance.
The short walk cooled Chakotay down considerably. He knew his accusations were completely out of proportion to the situation, but there was just something about the man that set him off.
The doors to Observation Lounge C silently opened to admit him. He engaged the privacy lock. He was going to have to apologize. He hated admitting he'd been out of line. He was going to have to apologize to Tom Paris. That was even worse. At least he'd made sure he didn't have to do it in front of an audience.
Tom was curled up in one of the wide window-seats in front of the large viewing ports. Voyager was entering the small solar system the Captain had spoken of, and streams of light from the local star were beginning to fill the room.
Paris turned his head and saw Chakotay standing there. "Come to share a few more insights, Commander? Well, I'm not interested. I'm not even the person you want to dump on, am I? Do me a favor. The next time the Captain dumps you, take it out on *her*. I have nothing to do with it."
Tom uncurled and stood up facing Chakotay. The sunlight hit him from the side and lit up his form. Chakotay was struck again by the jewel-like brilliance of the blue eyes glaring at him. The deep ruby red of Tom's shirt shimmered where it flowed over his chest and along his shoulders. The bright blond hair flashed molten gold.
Recognition began to stir in Chakotay, but then...
... Voyager's course altered slightly, putting them in orbit around the fifth planet. The room was again in shadow, Tom a dark silhouette against the stars.
"God, how blind can you be, Chakotay? Anybody on the ship could have told you that the Captain's not ready to get involved with *anybody*. I don't care what she *says*, it's obvious that her goal is still to get us back to Alpha Quad as soon as possible. She thinks that no matter how accepting the crew are of their new lives, *she* can't become complacent. *She's* got to stay faithful to everything back home. And if she *did* decide to let go of Mark, she sure wouldn't end up with you."
Chakotay found his anger returning swiftly. "You're just a bundle of insight yourself tonight, Paris. Okay, tell me. Why not me?"
Tom shrugged. "You're her First Officer. She needs you in that capacity too much. It helps her remember she's the Captain. She may thrive on challenge and exploring the unknown, but she needs a rock-firm foundation for support. Discipline and protocol are all she's got to lean on out here. That means no crossing those lines.
"You could've figured all that out yourself if you'd given it half a thought. You really are blind," Tom said, shaking his head wonderingly.
"Maybe I am. I sure didn't see through *you*. You egged me on about the Captain, didn't you? All those little comments about relaxing and doing what feels good, about finding something to help over the rough patches....You set me up. You *wanted* me to fail."
"You're not blind, you're an idiot. I didn't want you to fail. I didn't want you to go after the *Captain*. I just wanted you to enjoy life a little more. I just wanted you to see there was more to life than duty. I just wanted *you* -- " He broke off suddenly and looked away.
"This is a pointless conversation," Tom muttered and pushed by Chakotay to leave. The doors didn't open as he reached them, and he stopped, surprised. A hard hand on his shoulder whirled him about, and he found himself caught between the door and Chakotay.
The bigger man leaned into him, radiating body heat. "Not so fast, Paris," he growled. "Finish that thought. I want to know what you really had in mind for me."
"There's nothing to finish," Tom shot back recklessly. "I wanted *you*. I *still* want you."
Stunned, Chakotay stepped back a step.
"Uh-uh, Chakotay." Tom grabbed his upper arms with surprising strength. "You've been pushing me all night. It's time for me to push back."
Before he could react, Tom pulled Chakotay to him and kissed him hard, full on the mouth.
No tentative, get-acquainted kiss, this. No time to consider or reflect. This was a deep, carnal expression of desire. Chakotay, emotions already in turmoil and poised on the ragged edge of frustration, responded without a second thought. His right hand tangled in Tom's hair, trying to control the kiss. His other arm shot around his waist, pulling their bodies in tighter.
Tom continued to plunder his mouth, sending his tongue thrusting inside, engaging Chakotay's in a dark, sweet duel.
Only the need for oxygen broke them apart. Pulling in deep gasps of air, Tom sought out the sensitive skin along Chakotay's jawline, nuzzling and nipping under his ear. Shudders racked the older man, and he fumbled with the hem of Tom's shirt, finding the hot, smooth skin of back and belly. He ran his hands up Tom's sides, bringing the shirt up with them. Tom let him pull it off and toss it aside before setting to work on the other shirt. Pants and shoes were hastily discarded in a flurry of hands and heated caresses.
All at once, they found themselves a breath apart, nude bodies gleaming from a thin film of sweat, chests heaving from labored breaths. Involuntarily, their gazes dropped to each other's groin, mentally evaluating the erect cocks that rose in proud display.
"Gonna chicken out now, Commander?" Tom taunted, panting.
"I can keep up with you, Lieutenant. Any day, any place."
"Prove it." Tom lunged at the big man and tumbled them both to the floor. Chakotay gave a winded 'chuff' as he lost his breath to the hard body atop his, then lost his ability to regain it as Tom began to explore with mouth and lips and tongue and fingers.
Their hips began to move in an unpracticed rhythm, rubbing hard cocks against equally hard stomachs and thighs.
As Tom's hands crept down to his thighs, Chakotay heaved his body over, rolling Tom completely under him.
Tom laughed low in his throat and redoubled his efforts to reach Chakotay's groin. Chakotay retaliated by forcing his tongue deep into Tom's hot mouth and driving his hips downward.
Tom wrapped his hand around Chakotay's cock and began a steady pumping action. His thumb feathered over the blunt head, spreading the sticky pre-cum over and around the shaft. Chakotay moaned and buried his head in Tom's neck, licking and biting the curve of his shoulder. Helplessly, his hips matched Tom's caresses, blindly seeking satisfaction.
Chakotay felt the climax began to overtake him as Tom snaked his free hand between Chakotay's tight buttocks and probed delicately at his ass. With a muffled shout, he came, spurts of semen covering Tom's hand and collecting on their stomachs.
A wave of lethargy overtook the older man as he struggled to collect himself. He dimly realized that he was being pushed onto his back as Tom pulled Chakotay's legs wide open and lay between them.
Tom used the thick cum to lubricate his hand and cock then began to slip a finger into Chakotay's ass, stretching the tight opening. A gentle thrust and retreat. Then, a deeper thrust. A second finger worked its way inside him. Chakotay's hips rocked up and down, responding to the new sensations.
Satisfied that Chakotay was ready, Tom withdrew his fingers and pulled the man's legs to him, draping them over his own thighs. He guided his hard erection into Chakotay, pushing just barely inside. He held himself there, letting both men grow used to the feeling.
It shocked Chakotay to feel himself grow hard again, his cock pulsing against Tom's stomach in time to the pulse of the cock buried inside him. Flames danced in Tom's eyes as he stared down at him, laughing. "I never wanted to fuck with your mind, Chakotay. I just want to fuck *you*."
Tom ducked his head and nuzzled Chakotay's flat nipples, licking and pulling at the tight buds. He started to pump in and out of Chakotay, deep measured thrusts which forced the breath from both of them. He hummed and moaned, the sounds vibrating against Chakotay's chest.
Chakotay tightened his legs around Tom's hips, drawing him in deeper. Tom's thrusts turned sharp and fast, driving toward his own climax. He set his teeth into Chakotay's bicept and came, hot cum jetting into the man beneath him.
As his climax died away, Tom's cock softened but stayed inside Chakotay. He continued to rock lazily, rubbing against Chakotay's still-hard cock. He kissed Chakotay again, licking at his mouth. A second orgasm took Chakotay, smaller this time, as he sucked on Tom's lips and tongue.
For a time, the room was silent save for their slow breathing. Then Tom pulled away from Chakotay, the sound of sticky skin parting loud and evocative. He lay on his side, watching the First Officer. "I bet you're trying to rationalize this already and deny how good it felt, but I want you to tell me something. If you're so dead set on Janeway, how come you never followed *her* into a dark room and jumped her? How come you waste months alone together on a planet and end up right where you started, but after a week in my cabin you wind up here?
"What, no answer?" Tom climbed to his feet and began pulling on his rumpled clothing. "I'll tell you what. You think about it for a while and get back to me. I'll let you play this however you want in the meantime. If you want to go back to Commander Chakotay and Lieutenant Paris, I'll go along. If you want pretend this never happened, you're welcome to try, but you're the one who takes such pride in self-honesty. If you figure out why this happened, I'll be happy to listen, but don't take too long. I find that *my* patience is wearing a little thin. You might not like the results if I decide I've waited too long."
Leaving a speechless Commander lying on the floor, Tom disengaged the privacy lock and left the room.
Deep in his own thoughts, Harry Kim almost didn't hear the doors to Observation Lounge C open. His reverie was broken by the gasping breaths Tom Paris took as he leaned heavily against the corridor wall, waiting for the turbolift.
"Need a shoulder to lean on?" Harry asked, coming to stand by him.
"Who -- Harry? What are you doing here?"
"I saw the Commander's face when he left Sandrine's. He looked ready to go a few rounds with you as the punching bag. I figured you might need some help afterwards. The computer told me where you were."
"Hey, I got in a few jabs, too. Call, ughh, call it a split decision." Tom's face contorted, and he ran a hand over his torso. "I think it was a little more strenuous workout than the Doctor recommended for now."
"Do you need to go to Sickbay?" The turbolift arrived, and Harry guided Tom inside.
"Nah, just get me to my quarters. There's nothing wrong that a little rest won't cure."
"My cabin. It's closer. Less chance of running into somebody. If they get a whiff of you, they'll know exactly what you've been doing, and if they were at Sandrine's, they'll know with who." Harry gave the order to the turbolift. "I know you didn't want to wait anymore, but isn't this moving a little fast, even for you?"
"What can I say? He's gorgeous when he's angry." Tom's careless shrug was cut short by another gasp of pain. "And he's a lot bigger and heavier than he looks. My god, it was like having another mountain fall on me."
The turbolift deposited them near Harry's quarters, and they reached them without discovery.
"Into the shower with you. I'll get you something to sleep in and put a blanket on the couch."
"Thanks, Harry. I'm going to replicate some tomato soup. You want anything? My treat."
"No, thanks. Neelix's dinner was almost acceptable tonight. I ate enough to actually feel full."
Harry had the couch ready by the time Tom left the bathroom. Tom had a towel slung around his hips and was drying his hair with another.
"Jeez, Tom, you weren't kidding when you said it was like another mountain landing on you!"
Tom looked down at himself in surprise. New bruises mottled his sides and flanks while patches of red stood out on his chest, neck and arms.
"It's mostly pressure bruising, Harry. The curse of fair skin and a gift of a maternal great-grandmother, I think. It looks much worse than it feels. In a day or so, it'll fade." The humor in his eyes faded as he went over to the couch and pulled on the sleep pants Harry had laid out for him.
"I handled it all wrong, Harry. I told him things he didn't want to hear, and then I grabbed him. He was willing, but it sure wasn't what he had in mind for tonight. And afterwards? Oh, I was in top Paris form. I put on my most smart-aleck tone and told him to come see me when he figures out why he came after me. I told him to try and pretend it never happened if he wants to. Hell, I practically dared him to ignore me. Then I said not to take too long or I'd do something drastic."
"If grabbing the First Officer in the Observation Lounge isn't drastic, what is?" Harry wanted to know.
"Hell if I know. Like I said, top Paris form. Open mouth, dig grave. I just reach out for what I want, and it breaks in my hand. I'll be lucky if he doesn't put me on report."
"You think he really wants to tell Tuvok and the Captain what happened?"
"No, I guess not. He'll settle for making my life a living hell. Aw, shit, Harry, it's going to be miserable."
"If we could just get them talking to each other....Maybe lock them in a room together? Or the holodeck? Some kind of cozy setting?"
"We could just shove them out the nearest airlock."
"Uh, B'Elanna, we *are* trying to come up with constructive suggestions to solve this problem, aren't we?"
"That'd solve it for me, Harry. If I have to watch them *not* watching each other across the Mess Hall for much longer -- !"
"I know, I know. At least you don't have to be on the Bridge with them. There's hardly any talking anymore except for the orders. The Captain looks like she's ready to blow."
"Do you think she knows? I mean, about what really happened that night? *I* wouldn't have guessed if I hadn't run into Chakotay before he got back to his quarters that night. I swear I could smell Tom on him at ten meters. And, I've never seen him quite so blown away. Hmm....Seska never had that effect on him."
"Do you think she ever cared for him or was it all just an act?"
"I don't know, Harry. I thought she did, but maybe that's because I didn't want to think of him being with somebody just casually."
"A little jealous?"
"Are you trying to insinuate something, *Ensign*?"
"Hey, calm down. I just meant emotionally jealous. I know I am. Tom's my best friend, and I want him to be happy ... but if he ever works this out with Chakoktay, I know our relationship's going to change some. I won't be the first person he looks to when he's happy or sad or something happens and he just wants to share."
"I hadn't thought about that. I guess you're right. Tell you what, if the course of true love finally runs smooth, you and I can hang out together and commiserate."
"Maquis, you've got yourself a date. Now, how about I go talk to Tom, and you try to get Chakotay to talk to you?"
"Sweetest, we must do something about Lieutenant Paris. He's hardly eating anything these days. Look -- Tarjelian yarg stew with leola root fritters and extra pepper sauce...hardly touched. It's just not normal!"
"Perhaps he's replicating his meals."
"No, I checked. There's been almost no activity in his ration account. You know what I think? He's *brooding* over the Commander.They had a lovers' quarrel, and they've let it get out of hand."
"A....lovers' quarrel. Really. What makes you say that? They've never gotten along very well."
"Dearest, not every couple is as open and communicative as we are. And, there are many odd courtship patterns in the galaxy. Why, did you know that the Urdox of Mardox Ur insult each other in public as a declaration of their intent to wed? It's a very polite society, and one would only insult one's most intimate companion. Oh, I thought they would make a wonderful pair soon after we met them....The daring rebel leader, the dashing but troubled pilot. And when the Lieutenant went back and rescued the Commander even though they seemed to hate each other -- ! Why, they're almost as romantic as we are!"
"Even if they do have feelings for each other, surely it's a personal matter between the two of them. There's really nothing we can do."
"Nonsense! This little tiff is affecting crew morale, and that *is* my responsibility. And, don't be modest now. I know most of the command crew comes to you with their troubles -- you're such a sensitive person with wisdom beyond your years. It's our *duty* to help them through this difficult time."
"You do have a point.....The tension level among the senior staff is getting very high, and those two don't seem to be able to work this through on their own."
"I knew you'd agree with me! Now, why don't you talk to the Commander while I try to get Mr. Paris to eat something. Maybe he'd like a nice Talaxian hest with a piquant leola chutney....."
"So what's the mood of the crew?"
"I believe for the majority it can best be described as 'anticipatory'. There is a sense that this is yet another of their usual skirmishes. Popular opinion is on Mr. Paris's side. He is given credit for saving the Commander's life once again and for attempting to avoid open conflict. There is hope that he will soon retaliate in some creative and publicly amusing fashion. The whole situation is considered entertaining but hardly serious."
"And for the minority?"
"That is perhaps a better indication of the serious ramifications of the matter. I'm sure you are aware that when not actively engaged in their duties, both Ensign Kim and Lieutenant Torres are visibly preoccupied with Commander Chakotay and Lieutenant Paris. Overall response efficiency on the Bridge and in Engineering is now down 0.5 percent."
"Damn! I wish I knew what happened that night!"
"Captain....The day after the 'incident', Mr. Paris reported to Sickbay to be re-evaluated for return to duty. The Doctor was quite concerned that the Lieutenant had over-exerted himself physically and had come very close to aggravating his injuries. There were also indications of new bruising."
"How did you find that out? The Doctor would never release confidential records."
"I was in Sickbay at the time on an unrelated matter. May I point out that Vulcan hearing is more acute than Human hearing by a factor of --"
"I do not think that that is an appropriate term for the involuntary exercise of an evolutionary trait. I 'could not help but hear' would be a more accurate description."
"In any case, you're implying that Paris and Chakotay fought that night."
"I imply nothing. I merely state facts. There is another item which while highly subjective may shed some light on the subject. There have been several complaints that Mr. Neelix's cooking is less palatable than usual. It seems he has been preoccupied with, as he says, 'tempting the Lieutenant's palate with choice delicacies.' It is his considered opinion that Commander Chakotay and Lieutenant Paris will not resolve their differences on their own."
"It seems I'm going to have to take a hand in this whether I want to or not. They warn you about days like this in Command School. Computer, locate Lieutenant Paris."
"Lieutenant Paris is in the Aeroponics Bay."
"You know, Tuvok, it's times like this that I envy the captains of Vulcan ships."
"Tom, this is the third night in a row you've hidden out in Aeroponics. Aren't you ever coming to Sandrine's or the Mess Hall?"
"They always need an extra hand here, and I thought it was time for me to do my part."
"No, it's not. You're just avoiding Chakotay."
"So what if I am? Look, Harry, I told you, I promised him I wouldn't bother him, and it's obvious he's uncomfortable around me."
"But you can't go on like this. You're not eating right, you're not spending time with any of your friends, things on the Bridge are getting so tense.....You've got to talk with him. At least call a truce of some sort. For the ship, if not for yourself."
"An appeal to duty? 'I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honor more?' Oh, that's a great tack to take. Chakotay's real big on honor and duty, but I doubt he'd believe it'd work on me. Every time he looks at me I can see him thinking 'Is he going to jump me again? In front of everybody?' I ought to, just to end his suffering."
"Damn it, Tom, stop putting yourself down. If he doesn't know you'd sacrifice anything for the good of the ship by now, maybe he isn't the right one for you."
"Thanks, Harry, but he is the right one. I guess I'm just not the one for him."
"And you're just going to let it go like this? You're not even going to fight for him?"
"What am I supposed to do? Say, 'Gee, Chakotay, I know my reputation, and I certainly didn't give you any reason to doubt it when we fucked in the Observation Lounge, but I want you to know that I'm really in love with you and want to spend the rest of my life with you'? He'd run so far so fast....."
"Maybe you're both underestimating each other. How much worse can it be than it is now?"
"That's what I'm afraid of."
"Gentlemen. Am I disturbing you?"
"Captain! Uh, no, we were just, uh...."
"I was just showing Harry the root system in this Bentarkan orchid. What brings you to Aeroponics this evening?"
"I was looking for you, Lieutenant. Can we talk?"
"I was just leaving. Captain, Tom, good night."
"So ... What would you like to talk about, Captain?"
"You. And Commander Chakotay."
"Yes, really. Tom, you can't think that I haven't noticed that dealings between the two of you have been strained for a while. You're both good officers but this is getting in the way of your duties. I consider both of you my friends. If there's any way I can help you, I wish you'd let me know."
"Captain, I don't think that this is something that you can help with....."
"I know you two have an uneasy past, but you've always been able to work together for the good of this ship and crew. What could change that so suddenly?"
"I think that little experiment in togetherness while we were recuperating was a flaming failure. Neither one of us was at our best, and I guess we just got on each other's nerves."
"Isn't that a little simplistic? My First Officer can barely function around you these days. That's more than just irritation. Tom, did you and Chakotay fight that night you came to Sandrine's?"
"Captain, fighting between officers is strictly prohibited by Starfleet Regulation 15 -- "
"I am *not* talking regulations!"
"Sorry, Captain. Look, this....situation is all my fault, and I've got to be the one to resolve it. Don't blame the Commander. I'll talk with him and we'll get this straightened out. I promise."
"Thank you, Tom. I look forward to having my officers back to normal."
"All right, Captain. After all, it isn't like you're asking me to marry him or anyth--"
" ....I'd ....better clean up this mess. I hope the orchid isn't dead."
"Well. That's an unexpected development."
"Captain, I wouldn't jump to any conclusions if I were you."
"Give me a moment to realign my thinking here, Mr. Paris. It seems I've been on a different page in this little drama."
"Whatever you're thinking is absurd."
"Is it? Surprising, perhaps. Unanticipated, definitely. But not actually absurd.....Did you know that Chakotay approached me that night at Sandrine's?"
"I didn't mean to violate your privacy or his, but yes, I figured that's what he did."
"I told him I wasn't interested in pursuing a relationship."
"It was fairly obvious he wanted a whipping boy afterwards."
"But he didn't take it out on me. I expected our relationship to be strained for a while, but it wasn't. He didn't change at all toward me. I wondered why at the time. Now I know. He went straight to you."
"Like I said, a whipping boy. I was a convenient target."
"Oh, I think he went to the person who roused his emotions the most. I think *I* was a stand-in for you. If his feelings for me were as strong as he thought, surely he would have gotten mad at me and stayed mad, at least for awhile. But it's you he seems obsessed with."
"He accused me of encouraging him to go after you just to see him fail. I'm beginning to have sympathy for his paranoia. This is the last conversation I ever expected to have with *you*.
"I'm glad I can still surprise you, Lieutenant, but I'm serious. I'd be the worst kind of dog in the manger if I objected to Chakotay becoming involved elsewhere. It might take me a little while to get used to the idea, but that's my problem, not yours. I have no objections to relationships among my crew. However, those relationships cannot be allowed to threaten the smooth operations of this ship."
"Have you been talking to Harry? He just finished the same lecture. He thinks I should have a good long talk with Chakotay."
"That's an excellent idea."
"Are....are you *sure* you're okay with this, Captain? Because if I have any chance of success, I'm going to grab for it with both hands. And, after all, I did see him first."
"Tom Paris, you are incorrigible!"
"You're the one 'incorriging' me, Captain."
"Commander, may I speak with you?"
"Of course. Come in, Kes. What can I do for you?"
"I thought I might be able to do something for you. I know you've been very....unsettled since you were rescued. I thought you might like to talk about it."
"I appreciate your concern, but I'm really not having any problems about the earthquake."
"Then would you like to talk about Tom Paris?"
".... I -- "
"Please, Commander. I heard some of your argument with Tom that night at Sandrine's. You were accusing him of manipulating people for his own amusement, especially you. I think you're misjudging him terribly."
"What makes you say that?"
"Do you remember the escape from my planet?"
"How could I forget? I almost died when the Caretaker sealed those tunnels."
"But you didn't. Tom saved you. I didn't know then that you two were enemies. When we got back to Voyager and I found out, I was so impressed that he had rescued you. It was one of the reasons I wanted to come along with you. That kind of selflessness is virtually unknown among my people. Our only enemy is the Kazon, and no one would ever risk their life for an enemy."
"Even I wouldn't compare Tom to the Kazon."
"It's an extreme example, but I think it's a valid point. I saw his face as he decided to go back after you. The man I saw then isn't capable of the kind of callousness you accused him of."
"I think I know that. I was....very angry with him that night."
"Are you still angry with him?"
"I don't know. I've been putting off meditating and working through my feelings. I think it's time I finally stopped procrastinating."
"Meditation sounds like a wonderful idea."
"Yes. I should have done it days ago. Thank you, Kes. You've given me something to think about."
I don't want to do this. If I do this, I'm going to end up calm and understanding. I'll lose my anger at him and right now that's the only defense I've got. I'd just make a fool of myself around him again if I let go. If I can just concentrate on all his crimes, I can keep on hating him. I don't care what Kes said.
He's a spoiled brat who's never had to work for anything in his life.
/His father's an emotional iceberg who never gave him a shred of affection or approval./
He wasted a Starfleet career. He got in because of connections. His mistake killed three people. He lied to cover his guilt. They threw him out when they found out.
/He's the best pilot I've ever seen. No exceptions. He's personally saved his crewmates many times over. No one 'found out' his cover-up. He confessed even though no one doubted his story./
He joined the Maquis for kicks and was stupid enough to get caught.
/He was looking for some place to belong, and his incredible bad luck struck again./
He sold us out for a 'get out of jail free' card.
/He's proved his loyalty to this ship and crew over and over./
He made me want him.
/ .... /
What? No quick excuse this time?
/Love's not a crime./
It wasn't love! At best it was passion. At worst ...
/You know how stupid this sounds? If you want to argue with yourself, do it properly. You practically promised Kes that you would./
I don't want to.
/Very mature. Now concentrate. riverstonesmoothcoolhardheavy waterflowingwearingshapingchangingbirdwingsoftwarmlightenergy coursingoverunderliftingmovingflying...../
Earth and sky, water and fire
The four elements
The four winds surround me
Spirits of my ancestors,
I am Chakotay, your son,
I seek guidance,
I seek to walk the true way,
I am Chakotay....
It's cold. I don't ever remember being really cold here even when it was obviously winter. This chill goes straight to my bones.
Sound is swallowed up by the snow that blankets everything. The silence is heavy, pressing in, waiting. I can just hear the water running, sluggishly pushing along the chunks of ice that fill the stream.
A shaggy form emerges from the trees. Her fur blends with the steel grey sky and blue-tinged drifts.
"Spirit sister, it's good to walk with you again. I stayed away too long. I need your guidance."
I follow her through the woods. It's as still as I've ever seen it. I don't see any sign of life....no deer trails, no bird tracks under the trees. Everything has tucked itself away, hoping that spring will soon return.
She leads me to the clearing. I look at the grey-brown mass of vines tangled at one side. I remember when the bank of honeysuckle was in bloom, the yellow flowers as bright as the sun, the perfume shimmering in the air. Bees would industriously gather nectar as a larger shape darted in and out among the blossoms.
It's too cold for it. Has it gone away? There's nothing here to nourish it. I begin to worry. If it's still here somewhere, how can it survive?
"Where is the bird, sister?"
She pushes against my knees and forces me into the vines. The long, thin branches whip against me, scratching my skin, pulling at me. I push back at them, going deeper into the bank. My eyes scan, looking for a small shape.
I finally see the nest. It's small, easily fitting into my hand with room to spare. My breath catches as I peer inside.
A feathered form, still and lifeless. The wind ruffles the feathers, providing the illusion of breath.
No, wait. The tiny chest *is* moving. I carefully scoop the little body into my hand and bring my other up over it, securing it in a warm clasp. I can feel the heat of my hands begin to penetrate the chill that enfolds the hummingbird.
As the bird comes back to life in my hands, I think of the last time I saw it, bright and healthy and full of energy. The iridescent blue body darting about my head. The vivid ruby wings and throat as it beat the air. The flashing blond hair as the sunlight streamed into the darkened lounge.....
Oh, spirits of my fathers.
I am as big an idiot as he said. Did my heart know it even then? Is that why I went to him, my mind full of confusion and hurt? I almost saw it then but I let myself get distracted.
The wolf nudges again at my legs. I look down at her inscrutable eyes. "
Yes, I know. I'm a stupid child and you don't know why you put up with me. I don't know, either."
I hold the hummingbird up close to my face. I can feel the tiny body quiver as life returns to it. My ears can detect the beating of its heart.
It's reassuring to hear the steady bang bang bang.....
I hear the sound on two levels at once as the insistant drumming draws me back to my body ...
"Let me in! Come on, I know you're in there! I'll get Tuvok to let me in if I have to."
"B'Elanna. Why are you pounding on my door?"
"I want to talk about you and Tom."
"I'm rather busy at the moment."
"Let me in or I'll have this conversation with anybody who walks down the hall -- Hello, Chakotay. Nice of you to invite me in."
"All right. You're in now. Say your piece and be done with it."
"What the hell is your problem, Chakotay? You stare at the back of Paris's head when you're on duty, but you won't say two words to him unless they're orders. You stomp out of the Mess Hall the minute he comes in. You go out of your way to avoid being in the same room with him. Did I get it wrong when I ran into you the other night? I had the impression that you had enjoyed whatever happened between the two of you. But then you act like a frightened virgin around him all week. Are you afraid he'll attack you or something?"
"I am not afraid of Tom Paris."
"That's not what it looks like from here. Or maybe....maybe you're afraid *you'll* attack him. Is he that good, Chakotay?"
"Don't get so uptight. Are you saying you never wondered if he deserved his rep?"
"B'Elanna, I'm not having this conversation with you."
"Then have it with Paris! I'm sick and tired of watching you two dance around each other."
"I'm sure you'll be happy to know that I plan to speak with Lieutenant Paris very soon."
"Oh. Well, good then. Good. I'm glad we had this little talk." "
Yes, it's been a big help. Good bye, B'Elanna."
"Um, yeah. Ok. Well, good bye."
"It was easier than I thought. I just marched right in and told him to go straighten things out with Tom and he said he would."
"That's great! My talk with Tom wasn't so good. The Captain wandered in, and then *she* had a little talk with him. I haven't seen him since."
"Any success, dearest?"
"I think so. The Commander was planning to meditate. Once he gets himself centered he'll be able to think clearly. I think he plans to talk with Tom then."
"Splendid, splendid! Now all we have to do is get Lieuentant Paris into a receptive mood. A special meal might do the trick. Let's see. How about bra'al stuffed with leola root and nivi spores? Or maybe leola root crepes flambe? I've always found that to be a wonderfully romantic dish....."
"Captain, you seem preoccupied."
"Oh, Tuvok, it's you. I'm sorry. What did you say?"
"I said, 'Captain, you seem preoccupied.'"
"I am. I just received a kick in the ego and I'm trying to deal with it."
"A 'kick in the ego'?"
"A very human reaction, Mr. Tuvok. It seems that something I didn't want but was sure was mine isn't. Apparently it never was. Some little selfish part of me is kicking and screaming."
"I ... see. Captain, may I ask a personal question.?"
"Of course, Tuvok."
"Are you refering to your personal relationship with Commander Chakotay?"
"I can't keep secrets from you, can I? It turns out that I've been taken at my word. I told the Commander that I wanted to maintain some distance in our relationship. In turn, he has established a relationship with someone else.
"Yes, I guess that 'fight' was more of a lover's quarrel."
"Does Mr. Paris intends to pursue Commander Chakotay openly?"
"Most definitely. If the crew thinks the two of them fighting is entertaining, wait till they see them courting!"
Once upon a time, that said "To be continued" instead of "The End." But it's been a long time and I've grown too far away from this fandom. I'm afraid it's just going to be a case of "that's all she wrote."