Delta Suite series by Kiff
Summary: A 'symphony' for Chakotay and Tom as they discover their love for each other.

Overtures: Summary: A grand reopening at Sandrine's leads to a new beginning for Chakotay and Tom.
Categories: Chakotay/Paris Fanfiction Characters: None
Genres: A/U
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 6 Completed: No Word count: 6219 Read: 8456 Published: 15/09/03 Updated: 15/09/03

1. Overtures by Kiff

2. Crescendo by Kiff

3. Accelerando by Kiff

4. Joyous Sound by Kiff

5. New Vibrations by Kiff

6. Rest by Kiff

Overtures by Kiff
Overtures by Kiff
(VOY, C & P, PG-13)

Disclaimer: They belong to Paramount. I let them out for some fresh air.

Feedback: Constructive comments accepted at: KiffScott@aol.com

Archiving: Permission granted to Sileya to archive at my site at TSU. All others, please ask first.

Dedication: For Bernie: November, 1978.

Summary: A grand reopening at Sandrine's leads to a new beginning for Chakotay and Tom. First in my "Delta Suite" series, this story follows up on the end of "Time Enough to Love."

Spoilers: I do include a slight variation on the end of the episode "Year of Hell." I also borrow some of the background material from Jeri Taylor's "Pathways."

Special thanks to Britta for her excellent suggestions.

*******************

Commander Chakotay fidgeted in his chair on Voyager's bridge. He had felt restless all day, and he could not explain why. There was nothing in particular to concern himself with. The ship was functioning normally, and the crew was in good spirits. The astrometrics lab would be up and running shortly, and that would be a tremendous benefit to their navigational capability. A good thing. So why was he in such a lousy mood?

Captain Janeway was asking someone a question. "So when can you bring it on line?"

"We just did," replied Seven of Nine.

"In fact, we're in the process of charting a new course home," added Ensign Harry Kim.

"I'd say this is cause for celebration," said the captain. She looked in Chakotay's direction and gave him a smile. He returned it without much enthusiasm. He knew he should be excited about the possibilities that the new lab presented, but right now he just couldn't muster up the effort.

He stared at the viewscreen. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Lieutenant Tom Paris run one hand through his blond hair, while the other drummed absently on his console.

Interesting. //I'm not the only antsy one here, it seems.//

A beep came from behind Chakotay and to his right. "A vessel is approaching off the port bow," said Tuvok.

The commander sat up a little straighter in his seat. Anticipation sent its teasing fingers into his mind. There was something *important* about the ship they were about to meet. He just knew it.

"On screen," ordered Janeway.

The alien ship appeared. Chakotay's skin crawled. A strange sense of deja vu struck him. His eyes went once more to Paris, and he saw that the young lieutenant was also riveted to the viewscreen.

"They're hailing us," said Harry.

"Open a channel," said the captain.

The alien's face appeared. It took all of Chakotay's self-control to contain the emotions that suddenly came over him -- fear and anger being the primary ones. Why the hell would he feel this way about a race he had never met?

//Get a grip.// As if in answer, his hands clutched at the arms of his command chair.

"You've entered Krenim territory. State your purpose."

"Captain Janeway of the starship Voyager. We're just passing through, trying to get home."

She was friendly, yet firm and completely in control. As he had so many other times before, Chakotay took comfort in Kathryn Janeway's quiet courage. He felt himself relax just a little.

"This region is in dispute," said the Krenim pilot. "I suggest you avoid our territory."

Chakotay saw Paris jerk his head sharply, as if he were trying to wake up from a bad dream. He felt an unexpected rush of sympathy for the young lieutenant.

"Thanks for the warning," said the captain casually.

"Good journey," said the Krenim, and the communication ended.

Chakotay leaned forward in his chair. "Tom," he said, surprising himself with the use of the pilot's first name, "Plot us a course around Krenim space."

There was a slight hesitation, and then Paris seemed to visibly pull himself together. "Aye, sir," he said with unmistakable clarity. Chakotay was gratified to see the young man's fingers fly over his console with their usual grace and confidence.

He settled back into his seat with relief. The crisis appeared to have passed. He grinned at the captain. "So what do you think? How about a groundbreaking ceremony for our new lab?"

"Sounds great," chimed in Harry. The captain smiled her approval, then leaned toward Chakotay conspiratorially. "I think I'll replicate a bottle of Saint Emillion for the occasion. A 2370 -- I hear that was a good year."

He was about to open his mouth to reply when Paris spoke from below, hesitantly at first, then with more strength as he went along.

"And *I* would like to invite all of you to join me afterwards for the grand reopening of Sandrine's. I've missed beating you all at pool, and I could use the extra replicator rations."

Chakotay realized, then and there, that there was only *one* answer to this invitation. Weeks later, he would look back on this moment with great fondness.

"I'll take you on, Mr. Paris."

Tom turned in surprise. Chakotay locked eyes with him for a few seconds and felt a smile cross his lips. The pilot held his gaze, then nodded respectfully at him and turned back to his controls. Chakotay could almost hear the younger man's grin in his words. "I intend to give you all the time of your lives."

In looking back, the commander found it impossible to determine whether the conversion had been gradual or whether it had burst upon him in this single instant. It seemed as if the rough past between him and Paris had been completely smoothed away. He no longer felt the bitter animosity toward the pilot that he once had. Chakotay had not forgotten the bad times, but he had a strong new desire to move past them, especially where Tom Paris was concerned.

Right now he felt good, and it was a feeling he wanted to keep for awhile.

***********************

"Mr. Kim, would you do the honors?"

"Yes, ma'am." Harry pulled a scissors from his tool kit, reached for the red ribbon that stretched across the door to the new lab, and made a clean slice. The captain led the ensuing applause as the young ensign entered the room and turned on the equipment. The rest of the senior staff followed, gathering in front of the screen.

Seven of Nine stood stiffly to one side, frowning. "I fail to see the relevance of this activity. The laboratory has been ready for use since this morning. The act of cutting a piece of cloth had nothing to do with getting it started."

Chakotay sighed. "It's a simple human tradition, Seven. When something important like this happens, we like to celebrate it with symbolic ceremonies, like ribbon cutting."

"Or breaking a bottle of wine," added Tom from nearby.

Chakotay turned and gave him a quick smile before returning his attention to Seven. "You'll find that we have all kinds of rituals and celebrations on board Voyager. We're quite a diverse group of people."

The ex-Borg was unimpressed. "Diversity is inefficient."

The commander threw his hands into the air. "Captain, I give up. *You* try." He was getting very tired of trying to explain individuality to someone who was still bound and determined to defend the collective mind.

Janeway put a gentle hand on Seven's shoulder, but her voice was firm. "I think we would all appreciate a demonstration of this lab's capabilities, *if* you wouldn't mind giving us one."

Seven nodded. "I will comply." She moved to the control center and proceeded to call up a spectacular three-dimensional map of Voyager's position and projected course. Chakotay could not help but be impressed. Seven had a long way to go in her people skills, but it was clear that she had knowledge that would help them all immensely. He just wished he could trust her a little more.

He watched with the others as Seven, now joined by Harry, continued the demonstration. After it was over, there was more applause, and then the captain spoke.

"Excellent work, everyone. And now, I believe it is time to adjourn to Sandrine's -- correct, Mr. Paris?"

"Just give me about twenty minutes to reinitialize the program, Captain, and then you're all welcome to come in."

"Very well. Dismissed."

********************

Chakotay went quickly to his quarters and changed into an open-necked burgundy shirt and black pants. That sense of anticipation was upon him again. He couldn't shake the feeling that something important was about to happen. Something *good.*

He smiled at his reflection in the mirror as he combed his hair. All he was planning to do was play a game of pool with Tom Paris. One little game. After that, let the gods steer him where they may. He was in no mood to argue.

********************

The holodeck doors opened on Chez Sandrine for the first time in over a year. Chakotay stepped inside, noting that Tom had made some enhancements to the program. The layout of the tavern hadn't actually changed much, but the images seemed sharper, the music fresher, the atmosphere less grungy than he had remembered it -- either in its original form on Earth or in Tom's first holo-version.

Tom stood at the bar, talking to Sandrine. His posture was relaxed, and he was dressed casually in blue denims and a gray sweatshirt. Automatically, Chakotay looked around for the flirtatious "Rikki," but she was nowhere to be seen. Another programming change.

He returned his gaze to Tom, and his thoughts went back to their first meeting so many years ago, in this very establishment, back on Earth. Back then Tom had been a self-pitying, alcoholic mess. If Chakotay had not been so desperate for pilots at the time, he would not have given the young man the time of day. But he did approach him in the end, and for reasons that the commander still didn't completely understand, Tom had accepted his offer.

Tom's life was so much better now. He was taking care of himself, had gotten his drinking under control, proved his loyalty to the ship several times over, and was even beginning to show signs of becoming a competent medical assistant to the Doctor.

He was also involved in a relationship with B'Elanna Torres. Chakotay had neither approved nor disapproved of this, leaving any questions of propriety to the captain. B'Elanna seemed content with the arrangement, and the commander had decided to leave well enough alone.

Happiness was at a premium in the Delta Quadrant. Tom was certainly entitled to his share.

Chakotay walked cautiously to the bar. Sandrine saw him first and smiled. Tom turned. "Hey, you're early," he said in a gently chiding manner.

Chakotay cocked his head, again flashing back to their initial encounter on Earth. "You alone?"

Tom's eyebrows went up. Apparently, Chakotay thought, the alcohol hadn't completely robbed him of his memory of that meeting. The young man recovered quickly, however. "Yeah, as a matter of fact. But *not* by choice."

"I have a proposition for you."

"I'm interested." Tom was clearly enjoying this.

"My name's Chakotay. I understand you play pool."

"Tom Paris." The pilot extended his hand.

Chakotay grasped it in a firm grip. "I'm always looking for good pool players, particularly those I think I can beat."

Tom returned the handshake, fixing Chakotay with a clear blue stare. "What kind of stakes are we talking about here?"

"Ten replicator rations."

"Done." Tom released his hand and glanced over his shoulder. "Did you get that, Sandrine?"

"*Oui, mon cher*," said the bar's proprietor. "Ten rations. Play fair, Thomas, *si'l vous plait*?"

"I *always* play fair," said Tom, pretending to be miffed, motioning Chakotay over to the table. "I may have to adjust her program again," he added in a loud stage whisper. "Imagine *Sandrine* not trusting me."

Chakotay obliged him with a laugh. "Actually, Tom, I like the changes you've made." He picked out a pool cue and began chalking it up.

"I didn't really do that much." But Tom seemed pleased with the praise. "I just cleaned the place up a little, got rid of a few annoyances. You won't see Rikki around anymore, or the gigolo. I figured I didn't need the hassles, especially when B'Elanna's here."

The commander felt the slightest of pangs in his gut at the mention of the engineer's name. Now, why should *that* bother him?

Tom had selected his own cue and was preparing it. "Since you issued the challenge, you can break. I'll rack up the balls."

Chakotay walked to the far end of the table and waited while Tom collected the balls together. In the meantime, Harry and Neelix made their way into the bar. "The place looks great, Tom," Harry called out.

"I'd forgotten how enjoyable this simulation is," added the Talaxian, approaching Sandrine at the bar. "I'll have a -- a -- 'Muddy Barry'?"

"That's a 'Bloody Mary,' Neelix," corrected Tom, rolling the ball rack carefully into place.

"Indeed it is," said the morale officer, not at all offended. "And you *do* remember the special spices I prefer in the drink?" he asked Sandrine.

"*Oui,*" the woman said with little enthusiasm. "As you wish, *monsieur.*"

"I'm not even going to ask," said Tom, shaking his head in Neelix's direction. Harry shrugged and ordered himself a rum-and-coke. "Commander, I'm counting on you to win tonight. Tom's been insufferable ever since he told me he was going to open this place up again."

Chakotay raised an eyebrow. "How *much* are you counting on me?"

Harry looked guiltily at Tom. "Uh, we have a five-credit wager on the side."

Great. More pressure. Chakotay shook his head and sighed. The balls were ready. He took careful aim and hit the cue ball squarely. Two stripes and a solid went into the pockets. Harry applauded. "Well done, sir!"

"Stripes," said the commander automatically. He moved around the table to line up his next shot. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw B'Elanna make her way into the bar. She walked to Tom's side and shook her head. "Hustling again, Paris?"

Tom put an arm around her and kissed her forehead. "Just an honest game of pool," he said in all innocence. B'Elanna snorted and went off to get herself a drink.

Chakotay could not help but be distracted by this interaction, and it threw off his aim just enough that he missed a relatively easy shot. Harry groaned. The commander only shrugged in apology, but inwardly he was upset with himself.

Tom proceeded to knock three balls into three different pockets before missing a difficult angle shot. By this time, a sizable crowd had gathered around the table. Among the spectators were Tuvok, Seven, and the Captain.

"Need any suggestions, Commander?" asked Janeway.

"No, thank you, Captain. I'm doing fine."

"I recommend that you go after the eleven-ball," said Seven.

Chakotay frowned at her. "The thirteen is a better shot."

"Incorrect, Commander. You stand a considerable chance of unintentionally pushing the lieutenant's ball into the side pocket. The eleven is a safer shot."

"I believe that Seven is correct," confirmed Tuvok.

Chakotay scowled and looked at the table again. He could see their point, but if he missed the eleven, Tom would have several easy angles.

Dammit, he was going to do this *his* way. As he walked around to line up for a shot at the thirteen, he glanced at Tom and saw that the pilot was watching him intently. Was that a slight nod?

He relaxed his upper body, bent over the table, and carefully positioned his cue. The room came to a hush. Several heartbeats later, he drew back the stick and struck the white ball. The shot was true. The cue ball missed Tom's by a fraction of an inch, collided perfectly with the thirteen, and pushed it neatly into the corner pocket.

There was a burst of applause. Chakotay stood up and smiled with satisfaction. As he walked past Tom to set up his next shot, the pilot stepped forward, put a hand on his arm, and spoke so that only the commander could hear him. "I guess you showed *them*. Instinct beats logic every time in this game." Tom then stepped back and continued at his normal volume. "Nice job, Commander. Can you keep it up?"

Momentarily at a loss for words, Chakotay could only nod. Was Tom genuinely pleased or was this just another Paris scam?

He re-chalked his cue, ignoring the advice being called out by several people. He knew what he wanted to do. He and Tom each had four balls remaining, plus the eight ball. If he played this *just* right, he could run the table from here. It had been a long time since he had beaten Tom at pool, and even then he hadn't been sure that Tom had brought along his best game.

Tonight was different. He felt confident and sharp. That last shot had been a doozy. Now he put the fourteen-ball in his sights and quickly deposited it in the opposite corner pocket.

"Look here," Tom said lazily to no one in particular. "He's not even going to give me a chance to play."

Chakotay actually smirked at him. "Just keep watching. You might learn a few things."

"Oh, I am already."

Tom's smooth, almost suggestive tone again brought Chakotay up short. What in the name of Minnesota Fats was going on here? There was some other kind of game being played besides pool, and not only was Chakotay a willing participant, he was enjoying the hell out of the experience.

The nine-ball fell, followed by the twelve. Now Chakotay had only the fifteen remaining. He would have to strike the cue ball at just the right angle, knock it into the fifteen, and again squeeze his ball past one of Tom's. This was even more difficult than the shot he had made to get the thirteen.

"You're on a roll, Commander!" encouraged Harry. "You can make this one, too!"

Chakotay deliberately avoided looking at Tom. He did not want to be distracted by those piercing blue eyes again.

He leaned over the table, forced his mind and body to relax, and brought his cue forward. The white ball rolled ahead and struck the fifteen at the right angle, but not with enough speed. The fifteen stopped about two inches from the pocket. Sighs and moans went up from the spectators.

"Your play, Tom," said the commander, disappointed but not devastated. The cue ball was not in a good place for any shot Tom might attempt. He still had a reasonable chance to win.

Tom peeled himself from the pillar he had been leaning against. "I thought I had the rest of the night off. Guess I still have some work to do after all." He picked up his cue stick and took a hard look at the table.

"There appear to be no good options for you, Lieutenant," observed Tuvok, "Although perhaps you could attempt to place the two-ball into the corner pocket with a properly angled shot."

"I'm not just going to *attempt* it, Tuvok. I'm going to *make* it." And Tom's marvelous eye-hand coordination came through for him once more. The two rattled into the corner pocket to more applause from the crew. Furthermore, Tom had set himself up beautifully for his next two shots. Chakotay could only watch as the five and the seven settled into the table.

Now there were only three balls remaining on the table -- the four, the fifteen, and the eight. Tom re-chalked his cue stick and focused on the four. This would be another tricky shot, but the pilot had made many such shots in previous games. Chakotay began bracing himself for yet another loss.

Tom leaned over the table, struck the cue ball -- and scratched, to amazed gasps from the crowd. No one could remember the last time Thomas Eugene Paris had scratched.

Tom pulled himself upright and looked at Chakotay. He appeared to be just as shocked as everyone else.

"You missed that on purpose, Tom," snickered B'Elanna, who was already on her second drink.

"I didn't," Tom protested. "I thought it would go in. I just blew the shot." He was still looking at Chakotay with an appealing look on his face. "I wouldn't do that to you, Commander. I'm playing an honest game here. I messed it up."

"It's all right, Tom. I believe you." And Chakotay did. Sometimes these things happened. And even if he *had* been on the receiving end of more than one Paris scheme in the past, right now he wanted more than anything else to give the young man the benefit of the doubt.

He retrieved the cue ball and spotted it. From here he had a perfect shot at getting that fifteen down. He took his time, struck the ball squarely, and watched as the fifteen rolled into the pocket. Harry Kim led the cheers.

Now the eight-ball. It was not a difficult shot, but it would require some touch.

"Side pocket," Chakotay called, tapping his intended target. There was absolute silence in the room. Even Neelix had stopped prattling with Sandrine.

The commander took a deep breath and stretched his shoulders. Slowly he leaned over the table and drew back his cue. He struck the cue ball. It made its way across the table and kissed the eight softly, so softly. The eight rolled over and over until it reached the side pocket, where it seemed to hover for a split second before giving in to gravity with a satisfying thud. Chakotay had won.

Harry was the first to shake his hand. "Congratulations, sir, and thank you!"

"Thank *you*, Ensign, and you're welcome." Chakotay smiled and accepted more accolades from the Captain, herself an accomplished player.

"Excellent job, Commander. One of the finest games I've ever seen played by anyone."

Tom pushed forward through the well-wishers and extended his hand. "Great game, Chakotay. Really fine. I enjoyed watching you."

Chakotay took the young man's hand and held it firmly. His other went to Tom's shoulder and squeezed. "You gave me all I could handle, Tom. This was a lot of fun."

"We'll have to do it again." Tom grasped Chakotay's other arm. The two men stared at each other.

"Maybe later tonight?"

"You're on." Tom was still holding on to him, and damn if it didn't feel *good* for some reason. "No wagers, no side bets. Just a straight-forward game."

"All right. But you still owe me those other ten credits."

"I'm a man of my word." Tom finally let go of Chakotay. "In fact, before I do anything else tonight, I am going to make those transfers to you and Harry. Give me a few minutes, and I'll be right back."

Tom went off to make good on his promise, leaving Chakotay to look after him with a smile.

"I still wonder if he scratched on purpose," said B'Elanna from the table. She had picked up Tom's remaining ball and was rolling it around by hand.

"Do you really believe that?" asked Chakotay.

"Well, with Paris, you never know."

"Tom hasn't cheated in pool for a long time!" said Harry indignantly. "And besides, he *lost.*"

"It happens to the best players," said the captain, stepping in. "Just a simple mistake. I was watching him carefully, and I don't think he deliberately missed anything."

"I don't either," said Chakotay.

B'Elanna shrugged and continued to roll the ball around the table. The conversation was over. Chakotay went to the bar and ordered a glass of white wine from Sandrine. Sipping it, he watched as Harry approached B'Elanna with an offer to play the next game. The engineer accepted, though with little enthusiasm, it appeared. The commander wondered if something was wrong between her and Tom. Not that it was really any of his business.

Tom returned to the bar. "Paid in full." He moved closer to Chakotay. "What's that you're drinking?"

"White wine."

"I'll have one, too, Sandrine, if you don't mind."

The proprietor smiled at him and gave him his drink. Tom took a small sip and turned to observe Harry and B'Elanna's game. Chakotay remained at the younger man's side, comfortable in his presence, feeling almost as if he belonged nowhere else but in this room, relaxing with his colleagues and friends.

Friends. He had too few of these. As first officer, he tried to cultivate good working relationships with everyone on his crew, but there were few on board that he could actually call friends, and that even included the Maquis. They were loyal to him and the cause, but that's as far as it went with most of them, except for B'Elanna and a few others.

Over time, he had developed a good friendship with the captain. They were two very distinctive personalities, but they worked well together and Chakotay was happy with the relationship. Their months on New Earth had solidified the bond. He suspected that had they remained there much longer, they would have become sexually involved. Now he was relieved that they had not. It would have been extremely difficult to untangle themselves and return to the business of running a starship.

He respected and liked Kathryn. He could have loved her, but that was a road he had not taken.

What about the men? He worked fairly well with Tuvok, but of course one rarely made friends out of Vulcans. He liked Harry, but the young ensign still seemed intimidated by the difference in their ranks and treated Chakotay with respectful distance. Neelix was everybody's friend. Or tried to be.

Tom Paris: Brash. Impulsive. Spoiled. Traitor twice over.

Tom Paris: Courageous. Misunderstood. Loyal. The best damn pilot Chakotay had ever seen, and a pretty good medic as well.

Tom Paris: Friend?

Chakotay looked at the lieutenant out of the corner of his eye, trying not to appear too obvious. In the dim tavern light, Tom's expression was thoughtful as he watched his lover and his best friend play pool. In this unguarded moment, Chakotay could see and sense some of the inner strength and goodness that Tom had covered up for so long with jokes and snide comments. He wanted to know the young man better. He was embarrassed to realize that he knew little about Tom's family besides what a controlling bastard his father could be.

Well, that would change. Right here and right now. He opened his mouth to speak.

"No, no, B'Elanna." Tom set his wine glass down on the bar and went to her side. "Don't try that one. Look, he's got you set up just fine for the six-ball over here."

B'Elanna glared. "Where? I don't see it."

Tom shook his head. "You'd see it if you quit drinking those insane Klingon concoctions. What's that, your third one tonight?"

"Second."

"Well, I'm cutting you off right now. You're going to have a hell of a headache tomorrow, you realize. Look at what you're doing here."

The engineer continued to stare at the table. "Okay, Tom. I guess you're right." She shuffled unsteadily around the table and bent down to line up the shot. Tom circled behind her. "You might want to recheck that angle."

She grunted. "I know what I'm doing."

Tom stepped back and gave Chakotay an apologetic look. //I did what I could.//

B'Elanna missed the shot badly and muttered something in Klingon. Harry looked at her with some concern. "Are you feeling all right?"

"No, as a matter of fact, I'm not," she growled. "Bending over this damn table is making me dizzy. I think I need to go to my quarters."

"I'll walk you," Tom offered gallantly, but B'Elanna shook her head and waved him off. "This is *your* party, Tom. You should stay right here. I'll be okay. I just need to lie down and get a good night's sleep."

Before Tom could protest further, she had turned and headed for the door.

"I'll follow her," offered Harry, setting down his pool cue.

"Thanks." Tom smiled gratefully at him and went back to the bar, where he took up his original position next to Chakotay.

"Everything all right?" The commander felt silly after asking the question, fearing he had sounded patronizing.

But Tom didn't seem offended. "She has a poor tolerance for *k'tak* -- that's one of the more exotic Klingon drinks. For some reason, she loves the taste of the stuff, but it always makes her sick. At least she only had two of them tonight."

"I thought Klingons drank blood wine."

"We're talking about *B'Elanna* here. She hates blood wine. She found *k'tak* in the replicator's data base one day. It's a very old Klingon recipe."

"Have you tried it?"

Tom snorted. "Hell, no. Stuff smells like formaldehyde. I don't even want to *think* about the taste." He took a sip of his wine as if to chase away the idea. "Well, since the table's abandoned, how about another game?"

"A fine idea, Tom." The captain appeared unexpectedly. "Doubles. You and the commander against Mr. Tuvok and me."

Tom and Chakotay looked at each other. The older man found himself nodding in response to the lieutenant's upraised, questioning eyebrows. "You're on, Captain," he said, locking his eyes into Tom's for a few more seconds. Tom returned his gaze steadily.

//What a good-looking guy he is.//

Chakotay felt himself beginning to flush and broke the contact. He took a hasty sip of his wine, grateful for the dim light in the tavern. Tom walked over to the table and began to rack up the balls. Janeway and Tuvok each selected a pool cue.

"Who's breaking?" asked Tom.

The captain nodded to the Vulcan. "You can do the honors."

Chakotay set his wine glass down and moved over to get a better look. Tuvok leaned over the table and struck the cue ball. Chakotay winced as he saw three balls go into the pockets -- all stripes.

The game was over very quickly. Tuvok sank two more balls before missing. Tom made a gallant attempt to run the table but missed after his fifth ball. The captain cleaned up the rest.

"Lucky shot, Captain," drawled Tom as she sank the eight-ball. "You didn't even give my partner here a chance to play." He gave Chakotay's shoulder a friendly pat. "We'll get 'em next time, Commander."

//Next time.// Chakotay flushed again, trying to figure out why Tom was being so nice to him, and why it felt so good. Was this the same man who had baited him and manipulated him over the Kazon spy incident a few years ago?

He congratulated the captain and Tuvok on their victory, then went back to the bar. Sandrine looked at him thoughtfully. "You and my Thomas play well together, *non*?"

Chakotay frowned. "We lost."

"The pool game, yes. But there are more important things than pool. To be with friends. To have fun. Are you having fun tonight?"

He considered this. "Yes." He gave Sandrine a smile. "Yes, I am."

"Let me tell you something." She leaned toward him. "My Thomas needs friends. More friends. Not just Monsieur Kim and B'Elanna. You will be a good friend to him, *non*?"

Chakotay looked across the room at Tom, who was watching as Dalby and Larson set up another pool game. "If that's what he wants."

"You are a good man, Chakotay. You will be good for him." Sandrine freshened his drink, gave him a smile, and went to wait on another customer. Chakotay stared after her, wondering if her attitude toward him was another one of Tom's programming modifications. If so, what did it mean? Oh, hell, maybe he was just reading too much into this whole thing anyway. Sandrine had always been nice to him in the past, so why should that change?

As he looked around the bar, he noticed that Harry had not yet returned from "escorting" B'Elanna back to her quarters. *That* was interesting. But it appeared that Tom had not missed his friend yet. The pilot was too busy kibitzing as Dalby and Larson progressed through their game.

The captain came up to the bar. "Mind if we talk a little business, Commander?"

"Fine by me." He followed her to a table and spent the next half hour discussing some changes to the duty shifts and how they would make the best use of their new astrometrics lab. By the time she had finally dismissed him, the room had started to empty out. Harry was still nowhere to be seen.

Tom still seemed to be going strong, though. He was just finishing up a casual pool game with Neelix as the captain and commander completed their conversation. He caught Chakotay's eye and grinned. "I can't find any other good competition right now. Tuvok went back to his quarters and it looks like the Captain's on her way out, too. How about that rematch?"

"All right. Just a minute." Chakotay got another glass of wine from Sandrine and joined Tom at the table. The pilot waved him toward the far end. "You rack, I break. Fair enough?"

"Fair enough." He could feel the alcohol going to his head; everything around him seemed to be slowing down, and every move he made was relaxed and deliberate. He gathered the balls together and methodically arranged them inside the rack. Their colors pleased his eyes. He looked across the table to Tom. "All set."

Tom lowered himself to the table. He struck the cue ball smartly and sent one solid ball into a corner pocket.

The game proceeded at a leisurely pace. Each man played well, hitting their share of tricky shots. In the end, Tom prevailed. Chakotay congratulated him with a handshake. He soon realized that, except for the holographic characters, he and Tom were the only people remaining in the bar.

"Good game." Tom yawned. "Harry never came back, did he?"

"I didn't really notice."

"He was pretty tired after putting in all those hours on getting the astrometric lab finished."

Chakotay put his pool cue away. "Well, I suppose I'd better be getting some sleep myself."

"Not a bad idea. Hey, thanks for coming and staying as long as you did."

"I enjoyed myself."

"Good. That's what this place is all about. Right, Sandrine?"

The woman smiled. "*Oui*, Thomas. But you must go now. Closing time."

"I can take a hint." Tom laughed and led Chakotay to the door. "Computer, end program."

Chez Sandrine vanished behind them. The two men walked silently to the turbolift. Chakotay ordered it to take them to the level where their quarters were.

"Thanks again, Chakotay. I really mean it."

The commander glanced at Tom and saw intense blue eyes looking back at him. Sandrine was right. Tom was trying hard to reach out. A rush of some feeling he could not quite identify went through the older man. His hand seemed to move of its own accord; it grasped Tom's shoulder. He heard words spill from his mouth. "Tom, I want you to know that I think you've been doing a great job lately. Not just in planning tonight's party but in every other way. I'm proud to work with you."

The younger man flushed and averted his eyes. "I...well, thanks, Commander."

The lift opened. "You're welcome, Lieutenant." He let go of Tom and they walked through the corridors. Chakotay's room appeared first.

"Good night, Tom."

"Good night." Tom continued down the corridor. Out of curiosity, Chakotay watched his progress. Would he turn left or right at the junction? Left would take him toward B'Elanna's quarters, right to his own.

Tom turned right.

Chakotay let out the breath he'd been holding, then mentally kicked himself for acting like such a fool. So Tom didn't sleep with B'Elanna every night of the week. Big deal. He went into his quarters, stripped off his uniform and got into his sleeping clothes. He got into bed, dimmed the lights and lay down to contemplate tonight's main discovery.

He liked Tom Paris. Very much.

The End

(To be continued in part two, "Crescendo")
Crescendo by Kiff
Crescendo by Kiff
(VOY, C & P, R)

Disclaimer: They belong to Paramount. I'm letting them out for a little fresh air.

Feedback: Constructive comments accepted at: KiffScott@aol.com.

Archiving: Permission granted to Sileya to archive at TSU. May also be archived at ASCEM. All others, please ask first.

Dedication: For Glenn: November, 1979.

Summary: B'Elanna puts Tom back into circulation. Chakotay's feelings intensify. This is the sequel to "Overtures" and part two of the "Delta Suite" series.

Thanks to Britta for beta-reading.

******************

Chakotay entered the mess hall at 0705. He had only slept about five hours the previous night, yet he felt perfectly fine. He accepted the morning's offering from Neelix and indulged himself with a hot cup of tea from the replicator, courtesy of Tom Paris.

The commander took his usual table near the window and began eating. He liked taking his breakfast early as it gave him time to gather his thoughts for the day and also get a feel for the mood of the crew.

Today he had plenty to think about, on both a professional and personal level. He had spoken at some length with Captain Janeway last night about the astrometrics lab. They had agreed that Seven of Nine should be given the primary responsibility for its operation. Or rather, he had let the captain talk him into it. He still didn't completely trust Seven, and he had made this very clear to the captain. She had listened carefully to him, noted his concerns, and made her decision. Seven would stay where she was, but Tuvok would monitor her closely.

Chakotay sipped his tea and allowed himself a smile, remembering last night's exploits around the pool table. He could not recall the last time he had had so much fun. It had felt good to let down his guard just a little and relax. Tom really had gone out of his way to make him feel welcome at the party. The hours had flown by so quickly that Chakotay was shocked to realize that it was 0130 by the time he went to bed.

But it had been time well spent. There was no doubt about that.

The mess hall door opened, and members of the Alpha shift began coming in for their breakfast. Chakotay looked for Tom in this first group, but the young man did not appear. This was not surprising, as Tom was usually one of the last in for breakfast. Harry Kim came in and went straight to the replicator. After a few moments, the ensign passed by Chakotay and flashed him a smile. He was carrying a tray heaped with scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon, and a huge mug of hot chocolate. The commander now knew exactly how Harry had spent his winnings from last night.

The captain came in, poured herself a large cup of coffee and sat down across from Chakotay. "Good morning. I assume we didn't find any wormholes to the Alpha Quadrant last night?"

"I'm afraid not."

"Damn," she said lightly. "I understand Tom's party went a little long. Any casualties to report?"

"Only a few replicator rations exchanged in the heat of battle."

"Acceptable losses." The captain took a swallow of her coffee. "Anything else I need to know?"

He frowned at her. "You're missing a pip."

"I *am*?" She put a hand to her collar and felt for the tiny insignia. "I could have sworn I..." She scowled. "I count *four* pips, Commander."

He laughed. "April Fool."

"Why, you...." She managed a chuckle. "Got me." She stood up, smoothed her uniform, and picked up her coffee. "I'm going to the bridge, before I fall victim to any more of your pranks."

Chakotay just smiled. The captain backhanded him playfully on the shoulder. "I should have known better. You always have to watch out for the quiet ones. Please tell me there are no booby traps set for me on the bridge."

"There are no booby traps set for you on the bridge," he deadpanned.

Janeway groaned. "I *hate* April Fools' Day. I'm going to have to carry a tricorder with me everywhere I go." She left, shaking her head.

Chakotay laughed again. He loved kidding around with Kathryn. He had actually made up the entire joke on the spur of the moment. He had no traps set for her on the bridge or anywhere else. But now he had her thinking that he did, which in some ways was even more fun.

Yes, you did have to watch out for the quiet ones.

He was still chuckling when the door opened again and B'Elanna Torres came in, holding her hand to her temple. Chakotay watched as she took a plate from Neelix, sniffed at it, and made a face. The Talaxian, who was very used to this kind of thing, offered her the fruit bowl instead. She took one piece and walked stiffly over to Harry's table. The Ops officer looked at her with a concerned expression. B'Elanna took a bite of the fruit, set it down and put her head in her hands.

So where was Tom? It was getting late, and if the pilot didn't get here soon, he would miss the meal altogether. Not that it mattered, as long as he was on time for his shift.

Just as Chakotay was beginning to give up on seeing him, Tom burst through the door, grabbed a plate of food, and sat down with his best friend and his lover. Harry smiled at Paris while B'Elanna was only able to turn her head and nod at him. Tom ate quickly, poured a cup of coffee down his throat, and excused himself. As he headed for the recycler, he passed Chakotay's table.

The commander looked up at the young blond and caught his eye. Tom smiled. "How are you holding up?"

"Just fine. How about yourself?"

"I feel *great* today." Tom walked the few feet to the recycler and put his tray inside. "I should have brought Sandrine's back a long time ago. It's a fun place, isn't it?"

"Sure is."

Tom seemed to hesitate. "Would you...I mean, well...how about another game tonight?"

Chakotay felt warm all over. "I'd like that."

"Great! Meet me around 2100."

"I'll be there."

Tom gave him another smile before going back to his table. Chakotay felt something leap up inside his gut. It seemed as if his heart had suddenly been jump-started. His palms began to sweat.

//I have a date tonight.//

Spirits, this was getting out of hand. He needed to stop thinking like this. Tom was *B'Elanna's* lover. Tom was *straight.* Well, straight as far as Chakotay knew, which wasn't much to go on. Tom could have been with other men in the Academy, and who knows what could have happened to him in prison.

The thought of the handsome young pilot being abused by some Starfleet renegade made Chakotay sad. And angry. No one deserved that kind of treatment, not even traitors.

A pang of regret went through the commander as he thought about how *he* had treated Tom in the beginning, once the Maquis had been brought aboard Voyager. He had believed for so long that Tom had betrayed their cause. Eventually, he had gotten the truth out of Kathryn and Tuvok. Tom had been captured by the Federation and had gone out of his way *not* to reveal anything.

Until Kathryn had approached him in Auckland.

//What was your price this time, Paris?//

Freedom. The one thing Tom's father had never given him. Freedom to fly, and to grow into his own man.

Fate had thrown Chakotay together with Tom Paris again. The young man had saved his life on the Ocampan homeworld. No matter what had happened since, not even the secret plot to flush out Michael Jonas, Chakotay could never escape the fact that Tom Paris had risked everything to save *him*.

//Your life is still mine.//

To Tom's credit, he had never thrown the rescue in Chakotay's face since their escape from the Kazon. Chakotay, still shaken by the loss of his ship and going through his own adjustment to becoming Kathryn Janeway's first officer, had taken little time to reflect on what Tom had done.

His heart still beat because of Tom Paris. His lungs took in air because of Tom Paris. He lived because of Tom Paris.

"Janeway to Chakotay. Please report to the bridge."

He jumped out of his reverie. Only then did he realize that, except for Neelix, he was the only person in the mess hall.

"Acknowledged, Captain. I apologize." He hastily threw his tray and dishes into the recycler and raced to his post.

*************************

The shift passed by without incident. The ship continued its course around Krenim space as instructed. Seven had calculated that the detour would add another month or so to their journey, which was insignificant when one considered that the ship still had over fifty-five thousand light-years to go.

Chakotay went off duty at 1600 hours and went to his quarters for a nap. His late night at Sandrine's was beginning to catch up with him. He stripped off his uniform and climbed into bed wearing only his underwear.

Sleep took him quickly, and his mind wandered through the day's events, cataloging images, rearranging his brain chemistry, bringing renewal to his body. He dreamed of Tom Paris playing pool, sinking ball after ball into the table, laughing and drinking beer.

The commander woke two hours later to the sound of his door chime. He swung himself out of bed and pulled on his robe. "Come."

His visitor entered. Chakotay's eyes widened. "Hello, B'Elanna."

"Chakotay." She looked uncertain. "Sorry. I woke you up."

"No, no, it's okay." He pointed to the couch. "Sit down. I was just getting up anyway."

She gave him a tentative smile and did as he requested.

He settled into a chair. "What's up?"

"I need some advice."

"Personal or professional?"

"Personal." She picked absently at the fabric of the sofa. Chakotay waited while she gathered her thoughts. "I...It's about Tom."

"What about Tom?" Some of the old mistrust seeped back into Chakotay's mind, and he felt a frown creasing his face. "Did he do something?"

"No." B'Elanna shook her head emphatically. "No, Chakotay, it's not what you think. Tom has been really good to me. *Too* good to me." She stood up and began to pace. "I thought about going to the Captain about this instead, but then I realized that you are really my best friend on this ship. I can trust you." Another weak smile. "You and I have been through a lot together."

He leaned forward. "B'Elanna, you can tell me anything. I hope you know that."

"I do." She sighed and sat down again. "There's no nice way to put this. I'm thinking about breaking up with Tom."

Chakotay inhaled sharply, then tried to cover it with a slight cough. His mind tumbled with possibilities for a free and unattached Tom Paris. He forced himself to pay attention to B'Elanna -- his *friend* -- who had come to him for help.

"Why?" was all he could manage to get out.

"It's not him, Chakotay. It's *me*. I do love him, but it's not enough." She shook her head. "We've been fighting a lot these days. Over silly stuff. It isn't working out, us being lovers. I just want to go back to being friends with him."

He tried to focus on her. "What can *I* do to help?"

"I...I just wanted to talk this over with you. Tell me I'm not totally crazy, that it's okay to step back from this relationship."

The commander swallowed, trying very hard to keep his objectivity in place. "B'Elanna, you and Tom worked very hard to get where you are now. I know it was painful for both of you. Are you sure you want to give it all up?"

"Not *all* of it. I...I just don't want to tie him down. And, to be perfectly honest, I don't want to be tied down either."

A sudden thought occurred to the commander. "B'Elanna, is there someone else?"

"For *me*? Hell, no!" she snorted. "I think I've managed to scare away every other man on the ship."

//I wouldn't be too sure of that,// thought Chakotay, remembering the concerned expressions that he had seen Harry Kim sending in the engineer's direction last night and this morning. Was Harry just worried about his best friend's lover or did he have feelings of his own for her?

"You don't scare *me*," he said, trying to inject a little levity into the conversation.

"Oh, Chakotay," she sighed. "I'm glad you're here." She reached for his hand and gave it a sisterly squeeze.

He returned the pressure. "Am I helping you at all?"

"Yes," she said. "Actually you are." She let go of his hand. "I feel better about this already."

"How do you think Tom will react when you tell him?"

"I don't know. That's the really scary part of all this." B'Elanna drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. "He cares -- I know he cares about me. But, you know, he's never -- he's never actually told me he loves me." She paused, allowing Chakotay a few moments to absorb this. "I don't know if he's going to be angry or depressed or indifferent. He's been distracted about something lately, and he won't say what it is. You know Tom, always ready with that quick comeback line." She shook her head again. "But I don't want to put this off any longer. Who knows -- maybe we'll get back together eventually. But right now I need some space."

"When are you going to tell him?"

"Tomorrow, probably. I need to figure out what I'm going to say." The engineer stood up. The commander did as well. "Chakotay, thanks for listening. And do me a favor. *Please* don't be mad at Tom. I know the two of you haven't gotten along so well..."

"I'm not mad at him." //Far from it.//

B'Elanna smiled. "That makes this whole thing a lot easier. By the way, I never really congratulated you about beating him in the pool game last night. I was being a jerk at the time."

Chakotay patted her on the shoulder. "It's all right, B'Elanna. I'm -- I'm glad you stopped by. You know, things have a way of working themselves out."

She looked at him thoughtfully. "I suppose they do. Well, thanks again."

"You're welcome." He watched her leave, and as the door slid shut behind her, he let out the breath he had been holding. Damn, he hoped he had been honest with B'Elanna and that he hadn't injected his own feelings into the conversation.

Tom Paris would be free and available within the next twenty-four hours.

Chakotay threw himself onto the couch and squeezed his eyes shut against the surge of emotion that went through his body. His mind was still grappling with the idea that he could have such intense feelings for the young man. It had been a long time since he had felt so strongly for anyone -- certainly about another man.

Michael Eddington. He hadn't thought about Michael in a long time. He had fallen hard for the young Canadian fifteen years ago, while they were both officers on the Vico. They had carried on a passionate affair for nearly a year. It ended when Michael was reassigned to Starfleet Security. The two men corresponded for a brief time, and then, as usually happens to long-distance relationships, the communications faded and eventually ceased.

Six months before being kidnapped by the Caretaker, Chakotay had been instructed to go to a backwater planet in the Demilitarized Zone to obtain some vital information from a highly placed Maquis mole within Starfleet. Sitting in a seedy bar, he had been shocked to see Michael Eddington approach him. Michael was equally as surprised, and after the intelligence had been passed, the two men had found a hotel room and spent a wild night of lovemaking. Michael had gotten up the next morning and gone back to Deep Space Nine. Chakotay never saw him again.

Since then, Chakotay had been with no other man. His only lovers had been women -- Seska and Riley Frazier, the ex-Borg. The results had been distinctly unsatisfying, to say the least. He had begun to accept the possibility of many long and celibate years ahead of him.

Until yesterday.

He was falling in love with Tom Paris. Damned if he wasn't. Those blue eyes could pin him to the floor.

"Shit," he said out loud. "You are one fucked-up bastard, Chakotay."

//I *wish*//, replied a mocking voice inside his head.

The commander groaned and forced himself to his feet. He got dressed and tried to put his mind on other things. Dinner, for one. After that, he had a few reports to do before meeting Tom in Sandrine's at 2100.

Was that such a good idea, knowing what he did about B'Elanna? But, hell, he *wanted* to play pool and he *wanted* to see Tom. He wasn't doing anything wrong.

He left his quarters and went to the mess hall. Neelix greeted him cheerfully and served him some kind of vegetable soup and a large slice of brown bread. Neither Tom nor B'Elanna were in the room. Chakotay spotted the captain and went to sit with her. They discussed some routine ship's business. Kathryn left after about fifteen minutes to check on Seven's progress in astrometrics.

The commander lingered a bit longer, munching on some fruit and staring at the mess hall door for a good thirty minutes, hoping for Tom to appear. At 1915 he gave up. By that time everyone else had left, and Neelix was smiling weakly across the room at him, waiting for him to leave so that he could shut down for a while. Chakotay took the hint and went to his office.

Distracted, he struggled through his reports and tried not to check the clock every ten minutes. Spirits, was it getting time for the semi-annual personnel reviews again? Damn. Those were so time-consuming. He had tried to talk Kathryn out of doing them, but the daughter of Starfleet insisted on it. Maybe he could at least convince her to postpone them for a few weeks.

Engineering, operations, tactical, security, life sciences -- he ticked them off one by one. All routine, all boring as hell. Finally he had reviewed and signed off on every single one. It was 2030. Time enough for a quick shower and change of clothes.

In his quarters, he washed quickly and dressed in denims and a navy blue sweatshirt. Good pool-playing clothes. He made his way to the holodeck, his heart pounding a little faster in anticipation of seeing a certain blond pilot.

The door to Sandrine's opened, and Chakotay entered to the sight of Tom, playing pool with Harry. The commander tried not to let the slight disappointment he was feeling show on his face.

Tom saw him and chuckled. "Early again, Commander?"

Chakotay flushed and was glad he was at least twenty feet away from the other two men. "Sorry to interrupt."

"No problem. Wait just a minute and I'll finish cleaning up the table."

Harry looked sheepish at this. Chakotay stepped a little closer and could see that there were only two striped balls on the table. Tom was lining up a shot at the ten-ball. He struck the cue ball cleanly and knocked his target straight into the corner pocket.

Next to Chakotay, Harry sighed. "Sir, *please* beat him again tonight. His head's getting so big that I'm afraid it's going to explode."

"I'll do my best, Ensign."

Tom finished off the twelve-ball and sank the eight into a side pocket. "Five rations, Harry."

Kim sighed again. "No more cholesterol specials for awhile." He put his cue stick away. "You'll have them by the time you go to bed tonight. I have to lend a hand down in Engineering for a few minutes."

"Say, if you see B'Elanna, could you ask her to stop by my quarters around 2300?" Tom's easy tone clearly indicated that she hadn't dropped the bomb on him yet.

Chakotay's eyes flashed from Tom to Harry. The ensign seemed to hesitate a little. "Uh...sure, Tom."

"Thanks, pal." Tom clapped him on the shoulder. Harry moved slowly out of the bar. Chakotay looked after him, his suspicions about Kim and B'Elanna growing by the moment.

The pilot was already racking up the balls. "You break."

Chakotay picked up his favorite cue stick and chalked it. He had a strong break, sinking two balls. The rest of the game continued in much the same way, and within fifteen minutes he had beaten Tom rather convincingly. Remembering Torres's words from last night, he watched Tom for any signs that he was sandbagging, but the younger man appeared to be giving it his best effort. It was an honest victory.

Tom shook his head after it was over. "When did you start playing so well?"

"I played some in the Academy. Then....well, I guess I absorbed quite a bit watching you and the Captain and Tuvok."

"Well, I tell you, it's great to have some real competition. Harry's my friend, and I've tried every way I know how to get him to improve his game, but he doesn't have the touch that you do." Tom was making his way to the bar. "How about if I buy you a drink?"

//The oldest pick-up line in the universe. Steady, Chakotay.// "Sounds good. I'll have a beer." He followed in the young man's wake.

"Two beers, Sandrine."

She served them up with a smile. Tom took a long drink of his. "Not bad stuff."

Chakotay followed suit, and had to agree. The beer tasted good, just as the wine had last night. It must be the company he was keeping. He leaned against the bar and took a good look at his companion. Tom was all in black tonight, a tee-shirt stretched over his well-toned torso, dark jeans hugging his hips. He was stunning and beautiful. Tearing his eyes away, Chakotay took another swallow of his beer, struggling against his growing feelings for the young man, tempered by the knowledge that B'Elanna had passed on to him just hours before.

Tom turned to him. "Can I ask you something? In all seriousness."

"Of course."

"Do you think we'll ever get home?"

Chakotay hadn't expected this. He sipped at his beer and stared straight ahead at nothing in particular. "Yes."

"What makes you so sure?"

"Because Kathryn wants it." He almost never said her first name aloud, and certainly not to other members of the crew. What about to potential lovers? Or maybe the alcohol was going to his head again. *In vino veritas.*

The lieutenant laughed. "You may be right about that. She's a stubborn and determined woman." Chakotay detected a note of admiration in Tom's voice.

"If it's possible for any ship to make it home, Voyager's the one."

"What's waiting for you back there, though, Chakotay? Prison?"

He winced. "Kath -- The Captain and I have talked about this. She'll push for complete amnesty."

"And if that doesn't work, you and I could end up as roommates in Auckland."

Chakotay felt his breath catch in his throat. He knew that Tom was half-joking, but it was still a startling idea. "I haven't thought about my homecoming much lately. I'm too busy helping the Captain run this ship."

"True enough. Someday though...." Tom trailed off and took another drink. "I'd have to face my father again."

"You're not the same man you were three years ago. He should be proud of what you've done on Voyager."

"I hope he is." Tom stared down at the bar, spinning his beer glass.

"You saved my life. That counts for something."

Tom blinked, then raised his eyes to Chakotay's. The commander saw in them gratitude and an aching need to please. How could *any* father resist this? Owen Paris must be a real prick.

He closed his hand over Tom's. "I believe in you, Tom. And I trust you."

Tom let out a quick breath, as if he were expelling some small inner demon. His voice was barely above a whisper. "Thanks."

Chakotay wanted to put his arms around the pilot, stroke his hair, feel the skin at the back of his neck. With great effort he restrained himself. He let go of Tom's hand and reached for his beer. At that moment, the door to Sandrine's opened and several of the crew came in. Chakotay stepped away from Tom, not wanting to embarrass the young man. He thought he saw Paris wipe a quick hand across his eyes before he stepped toward the new arrivals. "Geron, you here to get beat again?"

The young Bajoran grinned. "I'm playing Larson instead. I'm tired of losing."

"Aw, come on." Tom was back in his hustling mode. Chakotay watched as he set up the game for Geron and Larson, giving out advice, some helpful, some not.

"Monsieur Chakotay." Sandrine interrupted his reverie.

"Yes?" He faced the holographic woman, debating whether or not he should order another beer.

"*Merci.* For Thomas. He needed to hear what you told him."

"You eavesdropped."

"Women's ears hear all," she grinned. "You are very kind. And Thomas will not forget."

Chakotay could only nod in return. He ordered a club soda. He wanted to keep a clear head for the rest of the evening.

************************

At 2245, Tom called it quits. He had beaten Dalby, Jenny Delaney, and Chell in succession. Chakotay watched with interest, while at the same time wishing that everyone would just go away so he could have Tom to himself.

"See you all in the morning," Paris called to the group. Instead of leaving right away, though, he came back to the bar. "Sandrine, do you have that special wine ready?"

The proprietor handed him a bottle. "Dom Perignon, circa 2260. As close as I can get it, *mon cher.*"

"Thanks." He kissed Sandrine on the cheek. "Let's hope it gets me close to B'Elanna tonight." Tom noticed Chakotay standing nearby and gave him a smile. The commander returned it, though his heart still ached for what was to come. "Thanks, Chakotay. For the great game, and for listening to me. You're good company."

He held out his hand and Chakotay took it. "See you tomorrow, Tom."

"Good night." And the young man was gone. Chakotay finished the last of his soda and went back to his quarters. Mercifully, sleep came quicker than expected that night.

**********************

Next day.....

Chakotay wasn't sure whether to bless or curse Ken Dalby.

The crewman had gone out for solo shuttle pilot training and made a real mess of his little ship by flying it into a meteor storm. The captain had drafted Chakotay to lead the repair team. "Cross-training, Commander. Your idea, as I recall. How long has it been since you fixed a shuttle?"

He had no ready answer to that, and now it was 1600 hours and he had spent the better part of his shift tinkering with the shuttle's engines. He hated the work. In the Maquis he had left all of the mechanical details to B'Elanna. But the captain had a point. The crew needed to be flexible, and as first officer, he should set an example.

There was another bonus. This project was keeping him away from Tom and B'Elanna and whatever fireworks might be happening between the two of them. He could think about the aftermath later.

Chakotay put the last panel back into place and called to the remaining three members of his team. "I think that's done it. I'm going to try her out." They all nodded to him and moved out of the shuttle bay. Chakotay wiped the sweat out of his eyes and swung himself into the pilot's seat.

"Chakotay to the Captain. Permission to initiate a test run."

"Granted, Commander." Within a few minutes, the shuttle bay door opened. Chakotay eased the small craft into space.

He spent the next half hour checking out all the essential systems. It appeared the repairs had been successful. He requested and received permission to return to Voyager. After an uneventful landing, he dismissed the repair team and went off duty.

Entering his quarters, he stripped off his uniform and took a shower, glumly noting several small cuts to his hands. They were not serious enough for the Doctor's attention, so he healed them as best he could with his dermal regenerator. By the time he was finished, it was nearly 1800, and he realized he was famished. He had worked all the way through lunch to get this job done.

He dressed and went to the mess hall. Neelix had prepared a vegetable stew, and Chakotay took a huge portion. He briefed the captain on the shuttle repair and suffered a few teasing remarks about his lack of prowess with tools. He didn't have the energy to come up with any witty comebacks, and Kathryn, seeing how tired he really was, took pity on him and ordered him to take tomorrow off. She left soon after, allowing Chakotay to take a good look around the room.

He wondered if B'Elanna had talked to Tom yet. He did not see either one of them in the room, which could either be a good or bad sign. He had not heard a call to security to break up any fights. That was *definitely* a good sign.

As he headed back from the kitchen with a second helping of stew, Chakotay almost ran into Harry Kim, who stopped himself just in time and looked up at the commander with a distraught expression.

"Something wrong, Ensign?"

Harry looked just a little relieved. "Sir, uh....can I talk to you?"

"Of course." Chakotay gestured to the young man to sit down.

Harry swallowed a few times before finally speaking. "Did...did you hear about Tom and B'Elanna?"

A pang went through Chakotay's body. "No, I've been working all day," he managed to say.

"They broke up. Actually, *she* broke up with *him.*"

So it was done. He tried to look properly surprised. "You're kidding."

Harry swallowed again. "No, sir, I'm not. Tom just told me."

"How's he handling it?" An appropriate question.

"He seemed stunned more than anything else. I'm not sure it's hit him yet."

"How about B'Elanna?"

"I haven't seen her." The ensign averted his eyes from Chakotay. "I think she's locked herself in her quarters."

"Maybe I should try to talk to her." //As her commander, as her friend, as her successor....don't go there, Chakotay.//

"I -- I would appreciate that, sir."

//Damn, the boy's got it bad.// "Just leave it to me, Harry. You're off duty now, right?"

"Yes, sir."

"Go relax somewhere. Go do something fun with Tom. I'm sure he'd appreciate the company."

"You're right, sir. Thank you." Looking relieved, the young ensign left.

***********************

Chakotay finished his meal and headed for B'Elanna's quarters. He signaled for entrance. No answer.

"Computer, location of Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres."

"*Lieutenant Torres is in her quarters.*"

He hit his commbadge impatiently. "Chakotay to Torres!"

A long pause. "I'm here, Chakotay."

"Are you all right, B'Elanna? Harry's worried about you, and so am I."

Another pause. "I'm fine."

The commander sighed. "Would you open the door, please? Just for a minute. Then I promise I'll leave you alone."

The door slid open. Chakotay stepped inside. The room was very dark. B'Elanna was curled up on her couch, staring at the ceiling.

"You told him."

"I told him." She sat up a little. "It was hard. But I'm more convinced than ever that I did the right thing."

Chakotay sat down on the opposite end of the couch. "How did he take it?"

"He thought it was a joke at first. Then, when he realized I was serious, he stopped laughing. But he didn't get mad. You know Tom. He's good at covering up his real feelings. He's hurt, but he won't admit it."

"And you're feeling guilty because you hurt him."

"A little," she said. "Okay, more than a little. Look, Chakotay, I really want to be alone right now." He could hear tears in her voice.

"All right," he said, getting to his feet. "Just remember..."

"I know," she interrupted. "I know where to find you."

He left without another word.

***************************

His reports were all done. Chakotay had nothing to do. He lay down on his bed and tried to sleep. It didn't work. After an hour he called for the lights and got to his feet.

"Computer, location of...." He stopped himself. He should leave Tom alone. If Tom wanted to talk to him, he would find him.

A novel lay on his reading table. The commander picked it up and tried to lose himself in the adventures of Horatio Hornblower, but it was no use. He put it down after only half a chapter.

Maybe a little boxing on the holodeck? No, his muscles were still aching from crawling around the shuttle today.

"Computer, what is the time?"

"*The time is 2345.*"

He paced around the room like a caged animal. //All right, I'll just find out where he is right now. That doesn't mean I have to see him.// "Computer, location of Lieutenant Tom Paris."

"*Lieutenant Paris is in Holodeck One.*"

"What simulation is he running?"

"*Chez Sandrine's.*"

Naturally. "Are there any other crew members from Voyager in Holodeck One?"

"*Negative.*"

The perfect chance. Too perfect. It was clear the man wanted to be left alone. Chakotay was crazy to think otherwise.

So why was he putting his clothes back on? And why were his feet leading him out of his quarters and straight for the holodeck?

**************************

He signaled at the entrance, half expecting the computer to inform him that privacy locks had been engaged by the occupant. But the door opened at his command, and he went inside.

Tom was playing pool with one of the holographic characters, his back to Chakotay. The commander stopped a few steps into the room. Not wanting to disrupt the game, he held back in the shadows.

Tom was lining up a shot, his concentration fully on the task at hand. He struck the cue ball cleanly but missed the pocket. Anger flashed briefly across his face before he withdrew to a nearby table and took a long swallow from a glass that sat there.

The hologram made the next shot. Tom stared at the table and took another long drink. "You've got my number tonight, Willie."

His electronic companion shrugged. "Just playin' my normal game, Tommy. You're the one who's off tonight."

Tom snorted and drained his glass. "'Off' doesn't even begin to cover it."

Willie got into position for his next shot. "Well, Tommy, you know what I always say about the ladies...."

"Shut up and play the damn game," the lieutenant interrupted. "I don't give a rat's ass about your opinion."

"Suit yourself, bud." Willie proceeded to sink the eight ball and win the game.

"Computer, delete *all* holographic characters," ordered Tom irritably. Willie disappeared.

Chakotay thought that now might be a good time to leave. This had been a bad idea after all. He started to turn for the door but missed a chair in the dark and knocked it into a table. Tom spun around at the sound.

"Computer, I said delete...." Tom's voice trailed off as he saw the older man. An ironic grin creased his face. "This time you're a little late, Chakotay."

The commander shifted nervously. "Tom, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt. I just thought I'd come by..."

"And play a little pool?" Tom tossed his cue stick down. "I'm a little sick of it right now, to be perfectly honest."

Chakotay couldn't tell if Tom was drunk or just angry. "Sorry," he said again, backing toward the door. "I'll get out of your way." He knew his face was beet red, and he wanted to get out before he made a complete fool of himself.

"Wait."

There was a pleading undertone in Tom's voice. Chakotay stopped himself, then turned to face the younger man.

Tom scrutinized him for a few moments, then seemed to make an internal decision. "I'd like to get your opinion on something."

"All right."

The commander began to brace himself for some awkward questions about B'Elanna, but instead, Tom pointed to a far corner of the bar. "In there."

Chakotay walked over and saw that there was a door hidden in the shadows. He could hear Tom come up behind him as he turned the old-fashioned knob and pushed gently on the door. It opened on a small room with a rectangular green table directly in the center. The table was criss-crossed with white stripes, and a small net stretched across its middle. Several chairs were lined up against the far wall, and above these was a rack which held about a dozen paddles and a dispenser filled with white plastic balls.

"I recognize this," murmured Chakotay. "From back at the Academy. It's a table tennis court."

"Known as 'Ping-Pong' by the unenlightened masses," quipped Tom. "I think I've got the dimensions down right, and the right chemical composition of the balls. Wanna try her out?"

He no longer appeared to be angry, and Chakotay, standing only a few feet away, could not detect any alcohol on his breath. The pilot wandered over to the paddles, picked one up, and started bouncing one of the white plastic balls on it, with an incredibly steady hand.

"Well?"

Chakotay realized he had not answered the young man. "All right. Sure. I should warn you, I've hardly ever played."

Tom waved this off. "Anyone can play Ping-Pong. It just takes some practice." He kept paddling the little white ball the entire time he spoke. "You do understand the basics?"

Chakotay selected a paddle for himself. "One bounce only. One person serves for the first five points, then the serve switches. Score goes to twenty-one and you have to win by two."

"Good enough to start with." Tom walked to the far end of the table. "Let's do it."

They proceeded to play. Chakotay felt very awkward at first and missed a fair number of shots. Tom took a substantial early lead before the commander found his touch and made a bit of a comeback. Still, Tom prevailed 21-12.

"Another one? Best two out of three?"

Chakotay was starting to feel tired again, and he knew his muscles would torture him tomorrow, but he did not want to leave Tom. He was having fun, and he sensed that banging the little white ball around was helping the lieutenant blow off some of his anger.

He nodded, and the second game began. It was much tighter, but Tom won this one as well, 21-18.

"Good game," Tom gasped, sinking into one of the chairs. Chakotay fell in beside him, feeling physically exhausted but somehow exhilarated at the same time. The two men recovered for a few moments.

The commander soon became aware that Tom was looking at him with an appraising expression.

"You know about B'Elanna, don't you, Chakotay?"

"Harry told me. I'm sorry, Tom."

"You are?" Tom seemed surprised. "I -- I never thought you liked the idea of her and me together."

Chakotay swallowed. "It wasn't my business. As long as the two of you were doing your jobs, it was not an issue."

Tom paused for a moment. "She's a good woman, Chakotay. I blew it somehow. I just don't know how it happened. I thought everything was fine."

"Maybe it wasn't anything you did." Oh, it was hard being in the middle like this.

"Maybe it was something I *didn't* do."

"Don't beat yourself up like that," the commander said with sudden intensity. "Sometimes relationships just end, and it's nobody's fault that they do."

Tom stared at him. "Are you speaking from experience?"

Chakotay thought about Michael, the last person he had really loved. He had been depressed for weeks after they had been separated. He supposed that if it had not been for the Cardassian menace, he and Michael might have eventually married. It was not meant to be. An echo of that old pain rang in his soul.

"Yes, I've been there," he said quietly, his eyes on the floor. A long silence followed. Chakotay was very aware of Tom sitting next to him and could almost feel the heat radiating from his body.

"Sorry," Tom whispered at last, leaning back in his chair and staring at the ceiling.

Chakotay didn't move, didn't want to break the mood. He wanted to open up more to the man beside him, yet at the same time he felt relaxed and comfortable with the way things were right now.

Tom finally sighed and stood up. "It must be nearly 0130 by now. We'd better call it a night."

"Agreed." Chakotay pulled himself to his feet and put his paddle away. "This was fun, Tom. You should teach some more people how to play and organize a tournament."

"Maybe," the younger man said, yawning. "Right now, let's just make it our place and our game. Deal?" He held out his hand.

Amazed and pleased, Chakotay shook it. "Deal."

Tom nodded, then led the way out of the table tennis room. "Computer, end program."

Sandrine's vanished. "See you in the morning, Commander."

"Good night, Tom." He watched as the young man walked away from him, then turned for a final look around the room.

//Our place. Our game.//

**********************

Two hours after falling asleep, Chakotay woke up to an unexpected visitor -- a hard-on like he hadn't felt in ages.

He groaned and rolled over. He had been dreaming of Tom. Tom swimming in a river, standing up, his beautiful long body glistening in the sun.

Damn. Chakotay grasped himself, aching for release, wishing that he were not alone in this hard bed, wishing that blue eyes were looking into his right now, that another's strong hand were stroking him, that soft lips were kissing his own. Damn, damn. Chakotay came quickly, soaking one corner of the sheets with his hot seed, grunting and slamming his unoccupied fist into the mattress.

Masturbating had always been unsatisfying for him on an emotional level. He always felt guilty afterwards, as if he were cheating himself, or some potential partner.

On the other hand, his body had never lied to him. It was giving him an important message, one that he could no longer deny.

He loved Tom Paris. He wanted Tom Paris.

Turning over, Chakotay settled back into his dreams.

The End

(To be continued in part three, "Accelerando")
Accelerando by Kiff
Accelerando
by Kiff
(VOY, C/P, NC-17)

Disclaimer: They belong to Paramount. I'm letting them out for some fresh air.

Archiving: Permission granted to Sileya to archive on my TSU page. May also be archived at ASCEM, BLTS, CPSG. All others, please ask first.

Spoilers included for "Message in a Bottle," "Hunters" (including some word-for-word dialogue), "The Killing Game," and the DS9 episodes "For the Uniform" and "Blaze of Glory." I also used some material from "The Fight." Any speculation about Chakotay's past relationship with Michael Eddington is my own. As far as Chakotay's spirit guide is concerned, I've written her as a wolf (in contrast to what Jeri Taylor did in "Pathways").

Feedback: Constructive comments accepted at: Kiff47@yahoo.com

Summary: Chakotay takes an emotional rollercoaster ride. Will he end up on the top or bottom? Third in the "Delta Suite" series and sequel to "Overtures" and "Crescendo."

Warning: This is a slash story rated NC-17. It contains explicit sexual scenes between two adult men. If you are underage or if this kind of content squicks you, look elsewhere.

Dedication: For Paul: July, 1995. And for the CPSG.

Special thanks to Britta for helping me whip this into shape.

*****************************

It was nearly 1000 hours. He hadn't slept so late since he was in the Maquis. Underground operations were always conducted best on the graveyard shift.

Chakotay rolled lazily out of bed and stretched. His lower back protested. Oh, what he would do for a hot bath right now. He supposed he could seek treatment from the Doctor, but at the moment he was feeling like he wanted to spend the entire day by himself, without distractions.

The commander put his robe on, then started to smooth his bedclothes back into place. A sticky wetness in one corner met his fingers. He winced, remembering his indulgence in the middle of the night. Sometimes being a man was just plain messy.

Chakotay tossed the sheets into the refresher. He'd get new ones later.

He relieved himself in the lavatory, then walked to the replicator. He still had some of the rations left from his pool game with Tom a few days ago. "Coffee, two sugars, with a touch of cinnamon. Two large cornbread muffins, with butter. Hash-browned potatoes. Applesauce."

The machine hummed, and his breakfast materialized. He carried it over to his table and dug in eagerly, savoring each bite. "Voyager, you're a good cook when you want to be."

The ship ignored him, continuing on its journey home.

Chakotay ordered his monitor on and took a cursory glance at the overnight reports while he finished his meal. Nothing to concern himself with. Kathryn would call him if any emergency arose.

He wondered how Tom was doing, and how B'Elanna was doing. He was actually quite proud of them both, from a strictly professional point of view. Considering the fact that they were two of the most volatile personalities on board, they were handling their break-up very well. So far, anyway.

He swallowed the remainder of his coffee, recycled the dishes, and took a look around the room. His eyes fell on his medicine bundle, stashed neatly beside his bed. It had been several weeks since he had last sought the guidance of his spiritual advisor, and now seemed like the perfect time to renew acquaintances. He wondered what she might have to say about Tom.

The commander dressed in some comfortable clothes, picked up the medicine bundle, then sat on the floor to meditate, attempting to calm his body and spirit. When he felt that he had reached a reasonable state of equilibrium, he unfolded the bundle and arranged the items in his usual slow and deliberate manner. It was a familiar and comforting ritual. He crossed his legs and bent over the Akoonah.

"Akoochi-moya," Chakotay whispered, feeling his consciousness begin to alter itself. His pulse slowed, and his breathing became deep and steady. His brain waves shifted to a new frequency. Within seconds, his quarters slipped away completely...

************************

He was standing just outside a forest of tall pines and oaks. He recognized the place. She often brought him here to rest his head against a tree, run his fingers through green grass, or listen to the gentle splash of the river. It did him more good than any holodeck program ever could.

//Sister?//

She was nowhere in sight, but her thoughts directed him. //Go forward. Over the hill, to the flowered glade.//

He started off, a puzzled smile coming to his face. Usually she would come to meet him. Something was different this time. He wasn't sure if it was good or bad.

He reached his destination without incident. She was there, a mass of shiny gray fur. He squatted as she ran up to him and rubbed against his shoulder in her familiar greeting. His arms went around her neck, and he felt comfort and strength in her touch.

//You have been gone a long time,// she sent. It was not an accusation.

//My world has asked much of me.//

//And you have asked much of yourself.// She nuzzled him. //You are a strong soul. You need another who is strong.//

//Tom...//

//You are uncertain.//

//I...I do not know if this is right. He may love another.//

//Love is not bound by numbers.//

Chakotay sat back, pondering this. //*I* loved another...//

//The past does not diminish the present.//

The commander's mind was silent. He let his gaze wander over the wild garden, bathing his eyes in the blues, reds, yellows, and greens.

//Beginnings come from endings.// She nuzzled him again. //Follow me and see what I have to show you.//

He got to his feet and walked after her. She led him across the field and into another thicket. It was still familiar territory to him. There was a large oak tree in these woods. He loved to sit under its branches or, if he was feeling especially energetic, he would climb up among them.

As he walked along, he could see and sense that these woods had changed. Some kind of force had come through. Dead branches blocked his way, and he had to step around several small trees that had been flattened. Leaves had been kicked up and blown around.

//A storm?//

The wolf did not answer, but continued to lead him straight in the direction of the old oak.

He climbed over one more hill, and then stopped, his mouth open in dismay and horror.

The oak was dead. It had been knocked over, snapped cleaned at its base. Its leaves were brown and gray dust, its bark chewed and peeled by stray animals.

//No!// he cried out in his mind. But the wolf kept going until she reached the dead trunk, then turned to face him.

//What happened?// He staggered forward, tears beginning in his eyes.

//A windstorm.//

//I can't believe...// His mind was confused, afraid, angry. //How long have I been gone? This must have happened a long time ago.//

//There was nothing you could have done. The force was too strong. The tree was too old.//

Chakotay reached the tree, put a shaking hand out and touched the trunk. //I'm sorry.//

//Come here.// She stood at the remaining stump, which was only a meter or so tall. Chakotay obeyed, hardly able to think.

//Look inside.//

He did so. There were flowers growing inside the stump. Life was renewing itself, even in the face of such devastation.

//A beginning from an ending.//

He could only stare at the flowers. They were strong and beautiful, but he could not stop thinking of how magnificent this oak tree had been. And now it was dead and gone.

The wolf eyed him patiently. //Remember what was. Love what is.//

He stroked the gray fur, letting the words sink in, trying to accept the changes, wondering what all this meant for his life. He was not sure he liked the answer.

Slowly, the world began to fade. The vision quest was ending. He gave the wolf one last pat before giving in to the transformation.

//Love is not bound by numbers. Remember.//

********************

Chakotay awoke with a start, and with a vague sense of uneasiness. The loss of the great oak tree disturbed him a great deal. Was it a symbol of some loss that he had already endured, or one that he would suffer in the future? It was impossible to tell. Vision quests did not predict the future as a rule.

He put his medicine bundle away, then checked the time. He was surprised to find out that it was after 1200 hours. Time always seemed to run differently in the spirit realm.

If he went to the mess hall right now, he would probably run into Tom. On the other hand, he wasn't hungry, and he was still feeling ill at ease about what he had seen in his vision.

He paced around his quarters for a minute or so. Then an idea came into his head.

"Computer, is Holodeck One being used by any of the crew?"

"*Negative.*"

"Reserve one standard hour, beginning in ten minutes. Authorization Chakotay-delta-seven. Program beta-fifteen."

"*Acknowledged.*"

The commander went to his wardrobe and changed his clothes.

********************

In boxing trunks and black shoes, Chakotay approached the holodeck. It opened at his command, and he walked into the training gym. The smell of sweat and old socks assailed his nostrils.

Boothby welcomed him. "Back again so soon, son? Thought that broken nose would keep you out awhile."

"The Doc fixed me up. I want a rematch with that Tyrellian."

The old groundskeeper shook his head. "He's too much for you. I have another opponent who might suit you better." He snapped his fingers, and a large redheaded human stepped forward. "Meet Seamus McKinnon, middleweight contender from the mid-twenty-second century."

Chakotay nodded and stepped into the ring, shadowboxing, dancing on his toes to warm up. Boothby pulled him into a corner and began his instructions. "Now remember, son, you have to stay fresh. Let him do all the work. Save yourself until he's all punched out..."

********************

Forty-five minutes later, Chakotay emerged triumphant, having outpointed McKinnon over ten rounds. There was a small cut under his left eye, and both his arms felt like lead weights, but the exertion had taken away his anxiety, and soothing endorphins had kicked into his bloodstream. He felt great.

He went back to his quarters, showered, dressed, and regenerated the cut under his eye. By the time he was done, it was 1405 hours, and he was ravenous. He checked the status of his replicator rations. The last of his winnings from Tom would be just enough. He ordered meatless chili, a salad, two dinner rolls, and a large glass of ice water. It all tasted terrific.

He wolfed down his meal and recycled the dishes, then sat back on the couch and looked around his quarters. His eyes fell on a sand painting hanging on the far wall. It was one of several that he had completed and brought back from New Earth so many months ago. New Earth, where he had been stranded for so long with Kathryn...

Wait a minute. There was one painting he hadn't finished; one that he had intended to present to Kathryn as a gift. It was a desert landscape. Gods, he hoped he hadn't misplaced it somewhere. He dug into one of his cabinets and found it, along with a good supply of paints and tools that still looked usable.

Chakotay studied the painting. He wanted to finish it. It symbolized his past; it was business that needed completion. He gathered his materials together and went to work, not thinking too much, just contemplating, slipping into the process of creating. He called up some old Indian flute music on the computer without being fully conscious of what he was doing. Time passed, but he was unaware of it.

The painting slowly took shape, and after about two hours, he was finally satisfied with the results. He set it aside to dry while he put away his materials, washed his hands, and cleaned up his work space. Then he took another critical look. It was a fine effort, one of the best paintings he'd ever done. He smiled, pleased with himself.

"Computer, location of Captain Janeway."

"*Captain Janeway is in her Ready Room.*"

//And hopefully alone.// He picked up the painting delicately and headed for the turbolift.

***********

"Come in," was the captain's answer to his signal at the door. He stepped through.

She looked up from a stack of reports and gave him a wry smile. "I can't keep you out of here, can I?"

"Ah," he said with a grin, "but I'm not here on ship's business."

"What's that you've got there?" She sat up, staring at the painting with raw curiosity.

"A gift." He held the picture up to give her the full effect. "For you."

She looked at it for a long time. He watched her expression grow wistful. "Oh, Chakotay, it's beautiful." She stood up and walked around her desk, her hands outstretched. He put the picture in them and stepped back, respecting her space.

After a few moments, she looked up at him. "Did...did you just do this today?"

"I started it a couple of years ago, back when I had a lot of free time." They exchanged a little smile at the memories. "I had some more free time today, so I thought I'd finish it."

"You've never done anything like *this* before. It puts all of *my* efforts to shame."

"Ah, Kathryn, you're a fine artist in your own right..."

"But I have to work so hard at it," she sighed. "This is lovely. I haven't had such a nice gift in quite some time." She put a hand on his arm. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." He paused, trying to find the right words. "Kathryn, I...well, I've grown to consider you my friend as well as my commanding officer. I hope I'm not out of line here."

"No, not at all."

"I guess...I just want you to know that I'm always here for you and for the ship."

"I never had any doubts about that, Chakotay." She took one more look at the painting before setting it down on the desk. "I have the perfect spot for this in my quarters."

"I'm glad you like it." He changed the subject. "Everything go all right today?"

"Just fine. I thought you weren't going to talk shop, though."

"Sorry," he said, smiling. "I'll let you get back to work."

"Enjoy your freedom while you can, Commander. Tomorrow I'll need you to start the personnel reviews."

He put his hands up in a mock defensive posture and backed out of the room, laughing as he did so.

*****************

"Chakotay to Torres."

"Torres here."

"What are you doing down there? Your shift ended over an hour ago."

He could hear a growl through the comlink. "I'm trying to fix the mess that Seven created. You *have* to keep her out of Engineering, Chakotay. The EPS conduits are a *disaster.* That woman...that *Borg*..."

"All right, all right," he replied, trying to suppress a chuckle. "You okay otherwise?"

Her tone changed. "I've been better. But keeping busy helps."

"Take care of yourself, B'Elanna."

"I will."

*******************

"Good to see you joining us, Commander," said Neelix with a smile. "We missed you at breakfast and lunch."

Chakotay accepted a rice-type dish from the Talaxian. "Just catching up on some personal business."

"Nothing serious, I hope?"

"Everything's fine."

"Glad to hear it." Neelix leaned closer. "I assume you know about Lieutenants Paris and Torres."

"Yes, I..."

"Such a shame," said the cook, shaking his head. "What a nice couple they were, at least most of the time..."

"Mr. Neelix, speaking as the First Officer now, I would suggest that you refrain from gossip on this particular matter."

The Talaxian blanched. "Sorry, Commander. You're right, of course."

"Good. Now, how about some coffee?"

"Coming right up, sir."

Neelix was back within seconds with a steaming cup, and Chakotay moved to his usual table to eat. Within five minutes, Tom and Harry came into the mess hall together. Harry looked animated about something; Tom just looked tired.

The commander's heart jumped upon seeing the blond helmsman. He wondered how long he would keep having reactions like that. It could become rather exhausting after awhile.

He watched as the two younger men got their food. Tom was turning...and looking in his direction.

Chakotay tried to look as inviting as he could, considering he had a mouthful of food at the moment. He used his fork to point to the empty chairs at his table. Tom said something to Harry. The Ops officer nodded, smiled deferentially at Chakotay, and they came over.

Tom took the seat to Chakotay's left; Harry sat on the other side. The commander finished chewing his food and swallowed.

"Is it edible?" Tom asked. He had a small helping of the rice dish on his plate and was looking dubious.

"As a matter of fact, it's not bad."

Tom tried a bite, shrugged his shoulders, and took another. Harry dug in as well.

"I see you had the day off," said Tom, addressing Chakotay.

"Even First Officers get a break once in awhile."

"Not from me. Sandrine's, 2100 hours. All right with you?"

"Fine." More than fine.

"How about you, Harry?"

The ensign flushed. "Uh, well, I sort of have something else to do..."

"Aw, Har, you can practice your music any time."

"That's...not what I meant." Harry looked extremely uncomfortable. "I...I told B'Elanna I'd help her out in Engineering right after dinner."

Tom stopped chewing and lowered his eyes for a moment. "Well. And I know how she hates to be kept waiting."

"Sorry, Tom..."

"Hey, no problem. If she didn't need your help, she wouldn't have asked." Tom was trying to keep things light, but Chakotay could sense the tension underneath.

Harry's eyes remained on his plate. "If...if I get done early, I'll try to stop by for one game."

"O-kay," drawled Tom, and then he took another bite. An awkward silence fell. Chakotay tried to think of some way to change the subject, but Harry did it for him.

"Commander, I...uh, I heard that you're starting the personnel reviews tomorrow."

"That's correct, Harry."

"Sir, if it won't upset your schedule too much, could you make mine one of the first that you do?"

"Any special reason?"

"I just want to get it over with."

"I don't think you have anything to worry about, Ensign. Or is there something you need to tell me?"

Kim was beet red. "No, sir. At least, I don't think so."

"Relax, Harry. This time around I'm simplifying the review process. It should be relatively painless."

"Come on, Harry. What have *you* got to worry about?" Tom chimed in. "You're the Gold Star poster boy. *I'm* the one who should be shaking in my boots."

Chakotay, who had been trying hard not to look at Tom too much, now turned to him in surprise. "Really?"

"Really. My quarters are a mess. I've sassed the Doc about thirty times in the last two weeks. My phaser accuracy is shit these days. My reaction time is five hundredths of a second slower than it was six months ago. Basically, I'm screwed."

Chakotay absorbed all this and what was truly underneath it. He decided to play along. "I'll be the judge of that."

"Huh?"

"I'm going to investigate all of these violations personally." The commander stood up. "Starting with the Doctor."

"Wha...wait!" Tom put a hand on his arm.

Chakotay tried not to look affected by the touch. "Attempting to restrain a superior officer...I'll have to add that to your list of crimes."

Tom let go of him quickly. "Chakotay! *Commander*! I was just joking."

Chakotay stood quietly and let the moment play itself out, then he looked down at the pilot and smiled. "Got you, Paris."

Tom's expression changed from panic to relief to something else. Something softer, almost intimate. Chakotay broke the eye contact, laughed nervously, and resumed his seat. Harry, his own embarrassment forgotten, was also chuckling.

"His quarters are actually cleaner than mine, Commander."

"Are they, then? Well, you'd better get them in order. I think I'll ask Mr. Tuvok to assist me on that part of the review."

Kim's eyes widened. Both Tom and Chakotay laughed. "He's on a roll, Harry," said the pilot. "No one is safe."

Chakotay clapped the ensign on the shoulder. "As I said before, relax."

Harry managed a weak smile, and the three men turned to other topics for a few moments. Finally the Ops officer excused himself.

"Don't let B'Elanna make you do all the work," called Tom after him. The pilot then turned back to his meal. Chakotay fixed his eyes on his plate, uncomfortable without having Harry nearby to serve as a buffer between him and Tom.

"So," Tom said after a mouthful, "How did you spend your day off?"

"Doing relaxing things. Meditating, painting."

"And boxing, I hear."

"A little." He gave Tom a brief smile. "It helps me unwind."

"Unwind," repeated the younger man. "You never seem to be the type that needs to do that."

"Meaning?" //Shit, we're *flirting.*//

"You're Mr. Calm, Cool, and Collected."

"Let's just say I'm even-tempered."

"That, too."

The commander was enjoying this banter. "What else do you know about me?"

"More than I used to. The boxing, for instance. *That* surprised me. I never took you for the pugilistic type."

Chakotay shrugged. "I enjoy testing myself. It clears my mind."

"So when you laid out Dalby that time, you knew exactly what you were doing."

The commander leaned back in his chair. "People still talk about that?"

"Sure. It's been brought up a few times."

"No kidding." Chakotay took a drink. "Yes, I knew what I was doing. Trying to get him in line."

"The 'Maquis Way.'"

He winced. "Things have changed, Tom."

"I suppose you're right." Tom dropped the subject and took one last bite of food. "We've all changed." His eyes met Chakotay's, and the two men locked on each other for a few seconds.

Chakotay felt his heart speed up under that blue gaze. He cleared his throat and stood up abruptly. "I'll see you at 2100."

"It's a date," Tom said lightly.

The commander nodded and hurried to put his tray in the recycler before Tom or anyone else could see the blush starting on his cheeks.

********************

Dressed in blue jeans and a red T-shirt, Chakotay appeared on the holodeck at precisely 2100 hours. Sandrine's was busy tonight, but Tom had reserved his favorite table and was waiting patiently, leaning on his pool cue.

"Stakes?" asked the commander.

Tom cocked his head thoughtfully. "I'd like to do something different this time. The winner gets to ask the loser a question, and the loser has to answer truthfully."

//Oh, *hell.*// "No dares instead?"

"Naw," Tom said lazily. "Truth. No dare."

"Well...all right." What the fuck? This could be fun.

Tom let him break, and the game progressed quickly. Chakotay made a fair share of good shots, but Tom was on a roll, sinking ball after ball. Finally he lined up the eight-ball for one final shot.

He slapped the table. "Corner pocket. Get ready," he warned Chakotay, then sank the ball neatly into the target.

The commander grinned weakly at him. "Okay. What do you want to know?"

"Drinks first." Tom indicated that Chakotay should follow him to the bar. Each man ordered a beer and sat down. Chakotay twisted the bottle around in his hands as Tom took a long swig and exhaled with gusto.

"Well?"

"Truth, now."

"Truth."

Tom stared directly at him. "How many people on this ship have you slept with?"

Chakotay flushed and again was grateful for the low lighting. "That's a pretty personal question."

"That was the deal. I won't tell anyone, if you're wondering."

Chakotay sighed. "I know you won't believe this, Tom, but the answer is zero. Honestly."

"None of the Maquis, even?"

"No."

"Okay." Tom looked at him thoughtfully. "Okay, I believe you."

"That's a relief."

"Can I ask you something else?"

"Sure, why not?"

"Is it because you have someone back home, like the Captain does?"

Chakotay lowered his eyes. Michael Eddington's face flashed into his mind, and a memory of their last night together.

//Cha-Cha, do your dance on me again, big man, because this is probably the last time.//

And he'd loved Michael with everything he had, and Michael had loved him back with more, as if he knew that Chakotay would be torn away, would be lost to him. He could feel Michael's tears on his pillow after the Maquis leader had left him; left him to do his duty for their people.

How could he answer Tom's question? And why the hell did he want to know anyway? Unless...

"Tom!" came a voice from across the room. It was Jenny Delaney, playing pool with Geron. "I need some help."

Tom glanced in her direction, then looked apologetically at Chakotay. "Sorry. My services are required."

Chakotay only nodded, greatly relieved at the interruption. While Tom was away, he took two long gulps of his beer. Sandrine smiled at him from behind the bar and toasted him with a glass of wine. He saluted her in turn, then spun around on his bar stool to see how Tom was faring.

Jenny stood aside while Tom pointed out the various shots she had open to her. She listened attentively and let the pilot guide her into the proper shooting position. Tom then stepped back, and Jenny struck the ball neatly into its target, which landed solidly in the intended pocket. She raised her hands in triumph, then gave Tom a quick hug.

Chakotay felt a sudden rush of jealousy. How *he* would love to get his arms around Tom's body. He covered by taking a large swallow of his beer. Tom released Jenny and started heading back in his direction.

The commander felt trapped. He was sure Tom would demand an answer to his question, and even though Chakotay had fulfilled the bet, he felt obligated to give him one. What *was* the truth? Was Michael waiting for him at home? What could he say to Tom that wouldn't scare the young man off, if by some chance he was interested in a relationship?

Again, Chakotay spun the beer bottle around in his hands as Tom resumed his seat. "Nicely done," he said quietly.

Tom took a swig of beer. "Jenny's getting better all the time," he said.

Chakotay held still, hoping that Tom had forgotten the earlier conversation.

No such luck. "So?" asked his companion. "Anyone waiting for you at home?"

The commander took a deep breath. The truth seemed the best option. "There *was* someone, a long time ago. We were in love. We...got separated. I doubt..." He paused. "...I doubt he's waiting for me. It's been years since we've seen each other."

Tom was quiet for a long time. "*He*?"

Chakotay went for broke. "I'm bisexual, Tom. I've known it for years. I'm comfortable with it." Damn, he was being reckless here. He'd never even told Kathryn about his attraction to men. B'Elanna was the only person on board that knew.

Seconds passed, and Chakotay's fears rose. But Tom stayed right where he was.

"Well..." the young man began. "That makes two of us." He leaned toward the commander. "I won't tell if you won't."

Relieved, Chakotay raised his head and managed a smile for the pilot. "That's a deal."

Tom held out his hand, and the older man shook it. For just a brief moment, Tom placed his other hand over Chakotay's, then let go. "Harry's here."

The commander turned and saw Ensign Kim enter the bar. "So he is."

"He owes me a few games. That okay?"

"No problem. I think I'm going to turn in."

Tom had started to get out of his chair, then stopped. "How about Ping-Pong tomorrow night, same time? I'll close off the bar."

"Comm me. I might be busy with the personnel reviews."

"Will do. Good night, Chakotay."

"Good night, Tom." He watched the pilot go to meet his friend, then drained the last of his beer.

It struck him then. Which question had Tom been answering? "That makes two of us." Did that mean Tom was bisexual or did it mean that Tom was comfortable with Chakotay's being so? Or both?

Either way, he hadn't managed to scare Paris off, and that *was* a relief.

He said good night to Sandrine and went back to his quarters.

********************

Chakotay spent most of the next day on personnel reviews. He was extremely glad that he had persuaded Kathryn to streamline the process. After four years, the crew had pretty much ironed out its differences and learned to work with each other, Starfleet as well as Maquis.

He took his lunch and dinner in his office so that he could keep working. He figured that if he put four or five hard days in on this, he'd have it done.

He picked up Tom's file and looked at it. Could he be objective here? Tom had had a good six months by any measure. But the commander wasn't quite sure he could trust his own judgment.

He commed Tuvok, and the Vulcan answered immediately.

"I need a favor."

"I am prepared to assist you in any way I can, Commander."

"I would like you to perform the personnel reviews for all of the senior staff, excluding yours and mine, of course. I think a different perspective would be useful this time around."

"Very well, Commander. You may bring the files to me this evening. I should have the reports to you by 1800 hours tomorrow."

"I appreciate it, Tuvok."

"You are most welcome."

Chakotay commed off. He sorted through the files and pulled out the ones to give to Tuvok. Just as he finished, his commbadge chirped.

"Paris to Chakotay."

"Chakotay here."

"It's 2030. Are we playing Ping-Pong tonight or should I leave Sandrine's open to all comers?"

He only needed a moment to decide. "We're playing."

"Good. See you in thirty."

Chakotay gathered the files together and walked the short distance to Tuvok's office. The Vulcan accepted them with a cool nod. Chakotay raced to his quarters and changed into shorts and a T-shirt.

He signaled at the holodeck, and Tom, dressed in similar attire, led him into the back room.

"Stakes?" asked the pilot.

"I'd rather just play tonight."

"Hey -- sorry if I put you on the spot yesterday."

"It's all right."

"I was just curious, you know."

"And now?" Chakotay had moved to the far end of the table, where he was a little more comfortable with looking Tom straight in the eye.

"Now? Now I just want to whip your butt."

The commander laughed. "Talk is cheap."

Tom took one of the white balls and bounced it several times off his paddle. "Best two of three."

"You're on."

They played, and Tom prevailed, 21-15 and 21-16.

"You're getting better, old man," the pilot gasped, collapsing into his chair.

"Think so?"

"Must be all that boxing you did yesterday. Hand-eye coordination and all that."

Chakotay made his way around the table and sat down next to Tom. "I hadn't thought of that, but you're probably right."

Tom was red from exertion, his pale skin shiny with sweat. Chakotay thought he was absolutely beautiful. God, he wanted to touch him.

"Want something to drink?"

"Just water would be good." The commander stared at Tom's rear as the pilot walked to the replicator on the opposite wall. The man had a *fine* ass.

Tom handed him a glass and positioned that ass just inches away. "Tomorrow night?"

Chakotay sighed. "I really need to get these reports done. I can't do it for probably the next three nights or so."

"Okay."

"I'm having a great time, believe me. But I've got a job to do, too."

"We all do. It's all right. It'll still be here for us."

"Thanks, Tom."

"Hey, I should be thanking *you.* Harry's been locked up in Engineering with Seven and B'Elanna. And he hates Ping-Pong. You've been doing me a big favor agreeing to play with me."

"How's that?"

"It's an outlet for me. Kind of like your boxing program, I guess. I get some satisfaction out of knocking the little ball around. No one gets hurt, and I feel better after it's all over."

"Well, I'm glad to help out."

The two men were silent for a few moments. Again, Chakotay felt that odd but comforting sense of just *being* with Tom without having to say anything. He decided he liked it.

Tom sighed and drank the last of his water. "Time to turn in, I guess."

"That's probably a good idea." Chakotay stood with him.

"Computer, end program." The table tennis court vanished, and the two men made their way to the holodeck entrance.

"Good night, Commander. Don't work too hard."

"I'll be fine, Tom. Good night." He watched Tom walk away from him, his desire for the young man matched only by the growing affection in his heart.

********************

Chakotay was deep into his second day of reviews when someone signaled at his office door.

"Come."

He was surprised to see Tom enter, carrying a mug and a covered plate. "Do you know what time it is?"

"Around sixteen hundred?"

"Make that *nineteen.*" No one has seen hide nor hair of you since you got off bridge duty. When was the last time you ate?"

"I *did* have breakfast this morning." Chakotay leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest.

Tom set the mug and plate down in front of him. "You missed it all. Neelix has somehow hit on the perfect recipe for hot apple cider and ginger cookies. Get 'em while you can."

Chakotay felt his mouth water. He uncovered the plate, took one of the cookies, and bit into it. "Wow. You're right." He sipped the hot cider. "This is great."

Tom smiled at him like an indulgent parent. "You can't be skipping meals, now. Not at such a critical time."

Chakotay smiled back. "I hear you."

The pilot nodded. "How's it going?"

"Well enough. No one's losing their job."

Tom laughed at the joke. "Should *I* be worried about anything?"

"Not at all. Tuvok gave you a very positive report. Positive even for a Vulcan."

"Seriously?"

"Seriously."

"That's great," Tom said thoughtfully. "Thanks."

"You're welcome. And thank you for this treat."

"No problem." Tom turned to leave. "Oh, by the way, if you're so inclined, ask the computer to play the program 'Paris gamma-six.' Good music to work by."

"I'll keep it in mind."

"See you." And Tom was gone. The commander drank more of the cider, feeling warm inside in more ways than one.

What the hell. "Computer, play selection 'Paris gamma-six.'"

Light jazz music flowed out of the speakers. Chakotay ate another cookie and went back to work.

****************************

"That's about it, Captain. A total of seven recommendations for promotion. Tuvok concurs with me on each one."

"Excellent." Janeway smiled. "Set up a ceremony in the mess hall. Have Mr. Neelix provide the refreshments."

"Consider it done."

"Good work, Commander." The captain poured herself another cup of coffee. "You're relieved of duty as of this moment."

He raised an eyebrow.

She smiled. "Get out of here and go amuse yourself. I don't want to see you anywhere near this deck for the next twenty-four hours at least."

"Yes, ma'am."

*****************************

"Chakotay to Paris."

"Paris here."

"You up for a game of Ping-Pong tonight?"

"Sure thing. Usual time okay?"

"Sounds good."

"Great. See you then."

****************************

"UMMPH!"

Chakotay grunted as he strained to reach the ball with his paddle. He made solid contact and sent the shot past a startled Tom Paris.

"Yes! Twenty-six to twenty-four!" He threw the paddle into the air in triumph and caught it on its way down. He felt like a little kid.

"Good game," said Tom from the other end of the table.

The commander grinned at him. The pilot gazed back at him intently for a moment, and then an answering smile appeared. "So when does the Indian victory dance start for real?"

"Wrong tribe," Chakotay said automatically, and they both roared with laughter.

******************************

Three weeks later...

Chakotay sat in the captain's seat, pondering the events that had taken place on Voyager over the last few days.

Seven of Nine had led the ship to a communications array which had allowed the Doctor to travel thousands of light-years to the Alpha Quadrant and back. The EMH had participated in an adventure of his own involving the Romulans, but had found the opportunity to let Starfleet know of their status.

The commander had begun a letter to his cousin Juan in Ohio. His emotions were too jumbled for him to think about writing anyone else. Juan had good connections with the rest of his family and was a closet Maquis sympathizer; Chakotay could count on him to keep a level head and answer his questions honestly.

In the meantime, Starfleet had apparently attempted to send them a message, along with some personal letters. They were garbled and confused, but Voyager's best minds had been working on the problem for the better part of a day.

So here he was in command, at least nominally, on the bridge while the Captain consulted with Seven in Astrometrics. In fact, he had very few orders to give at the moment. The crew milled about, eagerly awaiting any possible word from the Alpha Quadrant.

The door slid open, and Neelix literally bounced onto the bridge, a stack of padds in his hands. He cleared his throat. "I am happy to announce that I have the first letters from home."

"Who are they for, Neelix?" asked Harry, unable to contain his excitement.

"Ah..." said the Talaxian, consulting the padds. "This one is addressed to Commander Chakotay."

Chakotay accepted the padd and sat down, scanning the little screen for the name of the sender. What he saw brought him up short.

Neelix hovered nearby. "Who's it from, Commander?"

Chakotay paused, trying to gather his thoughts and speak past a sudden dryness in his mouth. "An old friend...the person who recruited me into the Maquis."

He couldn't stay here. He couldn't look at this with everyone else around.

"Maybe I'll read this in private. Tom, you have the bridge."

His eyes went to the lieutenant's as he said this. Tom said nothing, only gave a short nod of acknowledgment and rose from the helm.

Chakotay let a brief flash of gratitude pierce through the shock he had felt upon viewing his letter. Without another word, he left the bridge and made his way to his office.

Inside, he sat down on the sofa and looked at the name of his correspondent once again: Svetlana Korepanova -- his Maquis recruiter, as he had told Neelix, but also an old lover and friend.

He had a strange feeling about this already. With a deep breath, he began to read. The first few sentences brought first a smile, then a scowl to his face.

As he continued, the hand holding the padd began to shake. His breath became ragged and uneven. Tears formed in his eyes.

By the end, he was sobbing uncontrollably, dropping the padd into his lap.

**

"Dear Chakotay,

"You are alive. That is the best news I have heard in many, many months. We had given you and the _Liberty_ up for lost long ago. I hope that you are well and that you will be back in the Alpha Quadrant soon.

"I wish I had good news for you in return. You see, I'm in prison. A Federation prison, to be exact. I've been here the better part of a year. It's boring as hell and the food sucks. Even so, I would do it all over again -- join the Maquis and do what's right for our people.

"I suppose I'm one of the lucky ones, all things considered. For all intents and purposes, the Maquis are dead.

"You may or may not know that the Federation's been at war with the Cardassians and their new allies from the Gamma Quadrant -- they call themselves the 'Dominion.' Remember Odo, the shapeshifter on Deep Space Nine? They're like him. And they've enslaved a race called the Jem 'Hadar to do their dirty work for them and their Vorta flunkies. The Jem 'Hadar are tough bastards, and the Dominion breeds them like rabbits. To be honest, I don't know how long Starfleet can hold out.

"We all knew the Cardies were bad business. No one listened, did they, Chakotay? But I guess it's too late now for second-guessing.

"I know if you were here with me, you'd be asking about Michael Eddington. He told me about your former relationship with him. It surprised the hell out of me. I had no idea you were bisexual. You were always such a mysterious and contrary person, Chakotay. That must have been why I fell for you all those years ago.

"Anyway, Michael always spoke of you with great affection, and he was devastated when you disappeared from the Badlands. He held out hope for awhile (we all did) but as the months went by, we were pretty convinced you were dead. If anything, it made Michael fight on even harder. Eventually, he went on to become our overall commander in the Maquis. And he got married to another one of our agents, Rebecca Sullivan.

"Michael kept his cover on Deep Space Nine for well over a year before Captain Sisko finally figured things out. But Michael escaped from him and led us faithfully for another eight months. Sisko eventually hunted him down, and Michael had to surrender. Damn, I knew he hated to do that, but Ben Sisko can play hardball with the best of them.

"Michael stayed in prison for a long time. The rest of us carried on as best we could, but things turned against us. The Cardies formed their alliance with the Dominion, and it was basically all over after that.

"Then the Feds let Michael go after all. Remember Athos Four, our final fallback position? Rebecca put out a signal about some doomsday missiles that were targeting Cardassia Prime. Sisko took Michael out of prison himself and brought him to Athos Four to call the 'missiles' back. Of course, there were no such missiles. It was just another of Michael's brilliant plans, but it turned into an ambush. Damn Jem 'Hadar bastards.

"You would have been proud of Michael, Chakotay. He went down fighting. He must have slaughtered dozens of those fuckers before they finally got him. He's dead, my friend. I'm so damn sorry. I don't know what else to say.

"I was lucky. I happened to be hidden in an area furthest from the fighting, and the Feds from Deep Space Nine took me out on one of their ships after it was all over.

"I'd never seen so much carnage in all my life. Bodies everywhere. Humans, Vulcans, Bajorans, Bolians, Jem 'Hadar. I hope I never see anything like it again. I still have nightmares about that day. I can't believe that all we've fought for, and for all this time, is lost.

"At least you missed all of this, though I can't imagine what you're going through out there in the Delta Quadrant. It's a miracle that we've found some way to communicate across all this distance.

"I have a lot of time to think these days, especially about when we were younger. I miss our long talks, and I miss holding you. We had some good times, didn't we?

"I don't know if you still pray and do all those Indian things, but if you do, say a prayer for all of us, and for Michael. He loved you, Chakotay. As I do. No, *more* than I do. I may never be able to love a person as much as I loved our cause. Take comfort that Michael died fighting the good fight.

"Well, I'm being called to mess now, so I must end this. Watch out for yourself, and remember your old friends back home.

"Always,

Sveta."

**

Michael was dead. Michael, who had loved him, body and soul. Chakotay wept as he had not done since he was a small child.

//Cha-Cha, do your dance on me, big man.//

"God! Michael...I should have been there. I could have done something..."

//There was nothing you could have done. The force was too strong.// The voice of his spirit guide echoed in Chakotay's mind, and now he understood her message. All too well.

He cried for a good ten minutes. Finally he gained control of himself and read Sveta's letter again. Then a third, and a fourth time.

His tears had ended, but the agitation remained. Now he had to tell everyone. There was only one logical place to start.

He put the padd gently into a drawer, took a deep breath, got to his feet and headed for Engineering.

***********************

B'Elanna was there, faithful as always. What a good and loyal friend she had turned out to be. He hated to break her heart like this, but best she hear it from him.

He walked over to her. She did not look up, engrossed in her calculations.

"Have you gotten a letter yet?"

Still no eye contact. She shook her head. "Don't expect one."

He swallowed. "Do you remember Sveta?"

That got her attention. "Of course."

"I got one from her."

"Why would she be writing you?" B'Elanna asked. Of course, she would not know about the old affair. It had been years ago, even before Michael...oh, sweet spirits...

Several seconds passed. He had to turn away from the engineer. He couldn't speak.

"Chakotay, what is it?"

"Something terrible has happened." He said it quickly. "I read that letter for an hour before I could accept it. Now I have to tell everyone else, and I'm not sure how to do it." He turned and looked directly at her. "It's over, B'Elanna. There are no more Maquis."

She stared back at him. "What are you saying? There are *thousands* of us."

"All wiped out," he said. "It seems the Cardassians have an ally, a species from the Gamma Quadrant who supplied them with arms and weapons."

B'Elanna stared blankly at him. "Hitara?"

He nodded.

"Roberto?" She was naming off their former comrades.

Another nod.

"Everyone except us is *dead*?"

"Just about. Sveta and a few lucky ones are in prison."

"No," B'Elanna growled, pushing past him.

"B'Elanna..." He tried to stop her but she would have none of it.

"Don't! Don't try to console me! I don't want to be comforted! Those were our *friends.* Good people, willing to put their lives on the line for something they believed in. And now you're telling me that they are gone, that they were *slaughtered.*"

"Those are the risks we all took. We knew where it could lead." He had pushed aside his own pain now, seeing how hurt she was.

"It's not right and you know it!" She was breathing heavily now, barely maintaining control. "I will make someone pay, I swear I will! If we ever get back."

Chakotay had no answer to this. He laid a gentle hand on B'Elanna's shoulder for one moment, then left her to think. He had more bad news to spread, and he wanted to get it done before he lost his nerve.

**********************************

Ninety minutes later, he went to see the captain. "Request permission to go off duty." He tried to keep his voice even but knew he wasn't doing a very good job of it.

"What's wrong, Commander?"

Chakotay hesitated, then told her. "Quite honestly, Captain, I don't think I'm up to performing my duties right now. I need some time to absorb all of this."

"I understand completely. Is there anything else I can do for you?" She looked at him with compassionate blue eyes.

"Some of my people -- my former Maquis crewmates -- may need some downtime also, to deal with the news. This is a harsh blow to them, Kathryn. They're in shock, and some of them are very angry about what has happened."

"Are you anticipating some new troubles between the Maquis and Starfleet crews?"

"Not necessarily. But I'm worried about a few individuals -- B'Elanna in particular. The grieving process is just beginning. I'll help where I can, but I'm not a very objective party in all of this. You may want to ask the Doctor to refresh his counseling skills."

"I'll do that. And my door is always open to them as well."

"Thank you, Kathryn." He started to go, then thought of something. "Have you gotten a letter yet?"

"No, but Seven is working on them as we speak."

"For what it's worth, I hope your news is better than mine."

She gave him a sad smile and a nod. "Dismissed."

*********************

"Computer, run program 'Chakotay beta-fifteen.'"

"*Acknowledged.*"

He stepped into the gym. "Boothby!"

"Right here, son. Just folding up the last of the towels."

"I want to spar with a Cardassian."

The old man shook his head. "You're asking for big trouble."

"You don't know the half of it."

"Think about it first."

"I *have* thought about it." Chakotay jumped into the ring and started shadow boxing. "Give me Gul Bakar."

Boothby sighed and muttered to himself. "Young folks always have to learn the hard way."

********************

"Paris to Sickbay! Medical emergency! Two to beam out!"

Chakotay opened his eyes, or tried to. The right one refused to obey his command.

Something was wrong with his left arm, and there was a sharp pain in his ribcage. Then he felt another sensation -- the tingle of dematerialization.

"Shit." That was Tom again. "Doc! Help me!"

Chakotay felt strong arms lift him up and lay him down. Someone was pulling boxing gloves off of his hands. His mind was a blur. What had happened to him?

"Good heavens, Mr. Paris, is this *your* doing? I'll bring you up on charges."

"Cut it out, Doctor. He was running that boxing program again. Whoever he was fighting did this. I found him unconscious, just outside the holodeck. I think his arm is broken, along with a couple of ribs. He also took a solid punch to the eye."

"Who was his opponent? The Great Kahless Himself? And what happened to the safety protocols?"

Chakotay coughed, spitting blood from his mouth. "Car-Cardassian bastard."

Tom bent over him, a tan blur. "You were fighting a Cardassian?"

"Yesss..."

"Are you out of your *mind*?"

"Enough of that, Lieutenant," said the Doctor irritably. "I'll take care of the arm. You repair the damaged ribs. Can I count on you to do it?"

"You can." Tom gave Chakotay's good hand a quick squeeze and leaned over him, speaking in a low voice. "I know all about what's going on back home. We need to talk."

The commander tried to speak but only managed another cough. At a glare from the Doctor, Tom let go of his hand and went to work.

********************

Chakotay woke a few hours later to find Tom standing over him. "Hi. How are you feeling?"

"Not too bad."

"You're going to be all right. We fixed you up. But no more boxing for awhile. Doctor's orders."

"Tom, I..."

"You scared the hell out of me." Tom's voice shook. "I went looking for you after Dalby told me about the Maquis. Damn it, Chakotay, I know I wasn't *much* of a Maquis, but I knew a lot of those people, too. I wish you had come to me instead of letting me hear about it from someone else."

He had forgotten. How could he have done that? A pang of guilt swept through his soul. "You're right, Tom. I was wrong. I apologize."

But Tom wasn't finished. "Then, when I saw you lying there outside the holodeck, all beat up and bloody, I had a horrible moment when I thought you were dead, too. What the hell were you thinking?"

"I was angry. I *wasn't* thinking."

"Obviously. *Did* you take off the safeties?"

"No. It's a boxing program, Tom. I'm supposed to get hit every once in awhile."

Paris whistled. "Gul Bakar packs a *hell* of a punch. Did you know that bastard was his sector's middleweight champion for five years? How many rounds did you go with him?"

"Twelve...I think. Quite honestly, I don't remember getting out of the ring. Boothby must have helped me somehow. And how I got out of the holodeck, I have no idea."

"Shit." Tom began to pace. "Short-term memory loss on top of everything else. With all due respect, *Commander*, this is a lousy way to get out your aggressions. You should have called me and we could have hit the little white ball around. Or played hoverball or something. That was our deal. We're supposed to help each other out."

Tom's intensity was unexpected and a little frightening. Chakotay was not used to having someone else be so protective towards him. He hadn't thought it possible, but he found himself loving the man that much more.

Paris stepped to his side. "Okay. End of lecture. I'll get out of here and let you get some rest. Doc says it'll be another day and then you'll be released."

"All right. I'll be good. I promise."

Tom patted him on the shoulder. Chakotay caught his hand and held it fast. Blue eyes met brown, and the room seemed to shrink around the commander and the lieutenant. Chakotay felt a sudden dryness in his mouth.

"Cha..." Tom began softly.

"Ah, Commander!" came a cheerful voice from across the room. "Back from oblivion, are we?"

Tom jumped back, releasing Chakotay's hand. A deep blush spread across his face, and he turned away to look at the medical readouts.

The Doctor stepped to the commander's bedside. "I suppose I can't prevail upon you to delete that barbaric excuse for recreation known as 'boxing' from the holographic database."

Chakotay licked his lips nervously, wondering what the hologram had seen. "I'll take it under advisement."

The EMH sighed. "No one ever listens to their doctor. Think of all the sorrows that would be prevented if just a few people did. We could change the universe! Mr. Paris, your report?"

"His vitals are normal, Doc." //Liar, my pulse must be over 100. God, Tom, what happened there?// "The arm is healing nicely."

"And the ribs?"

Tom looked at another reading. "See for yourself."

The Doctor joined him. "Hmmm. Well. You did a competent job, Mr. Paris. Not bad for an amateur."

"I guess I'll take that as a compliment."

"Now, if you could only prevail upon the commander to refrain from boxing, I'd call you a miracle worker."

"Tell you what, Doctor," interjected Chakotay. "I'll quit fighting Cardassians and stick to species that don't punch quite so hard."

The hologram shook his head. "I guess I'll have to take what I can get." He pressed a hypospray of painkiller to Chakotay's neck. The commander relaxed as the medication began to work. Tom had moved to the foot of the bed, his eyes avoiding direct contact with his patient's at the moment.

"Go back to sleep, Commander," said the Doctor, more gently. "That also goes for you, Mr. Paris. You're relieved. It's nearly 0100."

"You sure, Doc?"

"He'll be fine. Move along, now."

"Okay. I'll see you tomorrow, Chakotay."

"Good night, Tom." He watched the young man leave, wishing silently that he would stay and hold his hand some more. It had felt good. Very good.

With that comforting thought, Chakotay fell asleep.

**************************

Next day...

"How do you feel?"

Tom's arm was around his shoulders. Chakotay leaned against him, harder than he needed to, perhaps. "Not bad."

"Do you think you can walk back to your quarters?"

"Sure. Just give me a minute." He took a tentative step. "Yeah. I can make it."

"I'll go with you."

"All right." He allowed Tom to lead him through the corridors and to his door. "Thanks. I'll see you on the bridge tomorrow."

Tom hesitated before speaking. "No, you probably won't."

"How's that?"

"Tuvok, as Acting First Officer, has taken it upon himself to assign me to Gamma shift for the next two weeks, starting tomorrow."

"You're not serious."

"Completely." Tom sighed. "On the other hand, it does mean no Sickbay duty during that time."

"I'll rescind the orders."

"It's okay." Tom flushed. "I'd...I'd rather you didn't."

Chakotay had a sudden flash of insight. Tom didn't want the commander to do any special favors for him. Considering the direction their relationship seemed to be going, this was probably a good idea.

"All right," he said quietly.

Tom nodded, obviously relieved. "Well, I'd better get back to Sickbay."

The two men looked at each other. Chakotay had the odd feeling that he should invite Tom in to his room later on for a drink, and maybe more. Some parts of his body thought that might be a fun idea.

The other parts won out.

"Okay. Thanks, Tom."

"You're welcome. Take it easy, now."

"I will."

********************

Chakotay's body recovered relatively quickly from his injuries, though the emotional pain lingered. In two days, he was back on duty.

With Captain Janeway's permission, he held a memorial service in the mess hall in honor of the Maquis who had fallen in the Alpha Quadrant. B'Elanna attended, pale and tight-lipped. Henley, Dalby, Ayala, Geron, Chell -- all the other Maquis were present as well. War stories were told, tears were shed, hugs were exchanged, and glasses were raised in tribute to their lost friends.

After it was over, Chakotay felt somewhat better. He sensed that the healing process had begun for him and most of his comrades. He was still worried about B'Elanna; she had refused to talk to him any more about the subject after he had first confronted her in Engineering.

The commander was walking through the corridors, heading back to his quarters for the night, when Tom appeared directly in front of him. Chakotay had purposely not invited him to the service, believing that some old resentments might be stirred up. It had not been an easy decision, and he wondered if Tom had gotten wind of the events and was now upset with him.

But Tom didn't seem angry at all. "Hey, I've been looking for you. I have a couple of free hours before I go on duty. How about a drink at Sandrine's?"

Chakotay smiled in spite of himself. He hadn't seen Tom for a few days, and he had almost forgotten how good-looking the young man was. Even though the commander had just spent the better part of two hours laughing, crying, and drinking with his Maquis comrades, Tom's offer was very tempting.

"Just a drink?" he asked lightly, cocking an eyebrow.

"The pool tables are filled up tonight," answered Tom, stepping toward him and taking his arm to steer him back toward the turbolift. It was a surprisingly familiar gesture on the pilot's part, but Chakotay found himself following along, caught up in his wake. "And, of course," Tom went on, "no one else knows about the secret room, so we can't exactly use it tonight."

"The secret room of Ping-Pong." Chakotay was definitely feeling just a *little* punchy after all the toasts he had made at the memorial service.

"Known only to those who should know." Tom got the commander into the turbolift and released his arm. "Deck six."

The lift began to move. "Tom," said Chakotay, still not sure if the lieutenant knew what he'd been doing, "I don't think I'm up to alcoholic beverages tonight. And you're going to be on duty very soon."

"So we'll have a soda. Come on," coaxed Tom, "My social life has been the pits since I've been on Gamma shift. There's nobody interesting to talk to. I can't even get Harry out of Engineering."

//And I think I know why,// thought the commander, who was now pretty much convinced that Harry's long simmering crush on B'Elanna was about to boil over. It amazed him that Tom didn't seem to see this.

"Okay, Tom. I'll stay awhile."

"Good." The lieutenant was plainly relieved. "Thanks."

The lift opened, and the two men walked into Sandrine's. As Tom had said, all of the pool tables were in use. Chakotay followed the young man to the bar.

"Two club sodas, Sandrine," ordered Tom.

The proprietor was back swiftly with two full glasses. Tom found a small unoccupied table near the back of the room. The two men sat down.

Chakotay took a sip of his drink. "What's on your mind?"

"You."

The commander blinked. "Me?"

"How are you doing? Is your arm okay?"

"It's fine. Feels perfectly normal."

"Ribs?"

Chakotay stretched. "Still a bit of a twinge, but the Doctor says that will be gone within a week."

"Your vision okay?"

"As good as it's ever been. Tom, the Doctor's checked me every day. I don't think he would have let me back on duty if he didn't think I could handle it."

Tom nodded and took a drink. "Okay. I've just been, you know, worried about you."

"Give me two more days, and I'll whip you in Ping-Pong again."

The pilot's eyes gleamed. "That's a date."

"Okay."

They were quiet for a few moments, both listening to the soft ragtime music in the bar, glancing over at the pool games.

"Cha...Chakotay?"

"Hmmm?"

"Can I ask you something about that letter you got from home?"

He was having a hard time following Tom's train of thought. "Um, sure, okay."

"Did...did it say anything about Starfleet?"

Chakotay frowned. "Not much. Why do you ask?"

Tom swallowed. "I...My letter didn't get retrieved in time before we lost the transmission. It was from my father."

"You didn't get any of it?"

"No." Tom's voice was very low.

"I'm sorry." Chakotay couldn't say any more; he felt his throat tightening up with emotion. The memorial service had left him tired and vulnerable, and he felt the young man's pain acutely.

Tom traced a finger along his glass. "I guess I'll never know what he had to say."

"You'll find out when we get home. He'll tell you then."

"I suppose you're right." Tom smiled sadly. "Assuming he's still alive by then."

Chakotay blinked but said nothing; images of his murdered father, Kolopak, flashed through his mind.

"Shit," Tom said. "Oh, damn. Cha...I'm sorry. I forgot. What a stupid thing for me to say."

Chakotay wiped his hand across his eyes. "It's okay..."

Tom pounded his fist into the table. "I *hate* this. I hate that your father is dead and that I can't talk to mine. I hate that the Maquis back home are dead and that Starfleet is fighting this damn war with the Dominion and we can't do a *fucking* thing about it. I almost wish we'd never found that communications array."

Chakotay took a deep breath in an effort to control himself.

The lieutenant went on, "It's brought us nothing but trouble. Bad news. Or *no* news. And those Hirogen are plenty pissed at us for messing with their technology."

"On the other hand," interjected Chakotay in a shaky voice, "at least our families know we're alive."

Tom looked at him for a moment. "Yeah. You're right."

Silence fell once more. Chakotay took a long drink of his soda. Tom traced a pattern on the table with his finger.

"So," asked the pilot at last, "How did the service go?"

The commander looked up sharply, but saw no sign of anger or disappointment on Tom's face, only concern and curiosity. "I -- I thought it went well. I'm glad I did it. People needed to talk about what happened."

"Is B'Elanna okay?"

He couldn't lie. "I don't know, Tom. She won't say much, at least not to me."

"She never was good at talking about her feelings with me, either. Too often, it was 'hit first and ask questions later.'"

Chakotay stared. "She *hit* you?"

"No, no. Usually the victim was the nearest wall or table. And by the time she got *that* mad, I would move into the next room. Even after she calmed down, she didn't want to talk."

Chakotay had seen enough of the famed Torres temper to believe everything Tom had just told him. "So how did the two of you manage to stay together so long?"

"Well, the sex was great, for one." The lieutenant flushed a little. "And we did find other things that we had in common. We both came from screwed-up families, we both washed out of Starfleet, and we both ended up in the Maquis."

Was there just a bit of irony in Tom's voice? Chakotay shifted in his seat, trying to figure out if this was bitterness or regret talking.

"I thought we had something good going," continued the pilot. "Obviously, she didn't agree."

"Tom..." The commander hesitated, not wanting to break a confidence. "I think she cared a lot about you. And I believe part of her still does."

"The *invisible* part." No mistaking the sarcasm here. But Tom stopped himself, spreading his hands out in front of him as if warding off some evil. "Sorry. I guess I'm still mad at her."

"It's okay."

"I know she's your friend, Chakotay."

"*You're* my friend, too, Tom."

The words hung between the two men. Chakotay stared at his soda glass, feeling his pulse pound in his fingertips. It was the truth. Not all of it, but a big part. Long seconds passed as he waited for Tom to respond. Damn, he was tired.

"Yeah..." The pilot's voice trailed off for a moment. "Yeah, I knew there was a reason I went looking for you tonight. I needed a friend."

Chakotay managed a smile. He raised his drink. "To Voyager, and to friendship."

"Cheers." Tom returned the gesture. Their glasses clinked gently, and both men drained them.

Chakotay wiped his mouth and stood up. "I have to call it a night, Tom. Sorry."

"No problem." Tom got to his feet as well. "Thanks for listening. Get some sleep." He offered his hand, and Chakotay took it. "Comm me in a couple of days, and I'll get us the Ping-Pong room."

"Will do, Tom. Good night."

***********************

The commander did sleep well that night and woke up the next morning in better spirits.

Captain Janeway met him for breakfast. "We may have a problem."

"What kind of problem?"

"The Hirogen. We've picked up several of their ships on long-range sensors. As I recall from our last encounter with them, they don't like us very much."

"Unless we're hanging from their walls as trophies."

Janeway raised her eyebrows at him. "I don't intend to become part of someone's collection. I want full-scale battle drills conducted on all shifts."

"Yes, ma'am."

"And have Seven work with B'Elanna on reinforcing the shields."

"Captain..."

She held her hand up. "I know what you're going to say. They're not getting along. Find a way to make them cooperate. They're the best technical minds we have." She paused to take a swallow of coffee.

"I'll do it, Captain. Count on it."

"Good."

*****************

B'Elanna rolled her eyes when Chakotay gave her the order, but offered no other resistance. "Just as long as she understands who's really in charge here."

He smiled, patted her on the shoulder, and went back to the bridge.

*****************

Two nights later, the commander was just getting ready to meet Tom for their Ping-Pong game when Kathryn Janeway's voice boomed in his ears.

"Red alert! All hands to battlestations! Repeat...all hands to battlestations! We are under attack. This is *not* a drill."

Chakotay dashed into the hallway and made his way to the turbolift. Tom was already there. "I guess I'll have to take a raincheck on that game," the pilot said lightly, but Chakotay could tell he was on edge.

The ship shook violently as they reached the bridge level; Chakotay fell into Tom, who caught him before he collided with the wall.

"You okay?" the younger man asked, still clutching the commander around the shoulders.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Let's go." Reluctantly, he pulled away from Tom, and the two men raced to their stations.

***************

The battle was not going well. The Hirogen were scoring direct hits to Voyager's shielding. Tom tried every evasive maneuver in the book, and then some, but to no avail.

"Captain!" Harry yelled from the Ops station. "We have a breach on deck eight! The Hirogen are attempting to board us!"

"Security teams to deck eight," said Janeway coldly. "Tuvok, I want you down there with them. Give them one hell of a fight. I am *not* surrendering this ship."

The Vulcan nodded and left the bridge.

"More breaches on decks nine and ten," said Chakotay grimly. Tom turned to look at him. The commander could only shake his head.

"Arm yourselves," said the captain.

Chakotay opened the arm of his command seat and pulled out his phaser, checking to see that it was fully charged.

"Computer, erect a level-ten forcefield around the bridge," ordered Janeway.

"*Unable to comply. Security systems have been compromised.*"

The captain swore. "Get ready, people."

Seconds passed. Tom left his seat, phaser in his hand, and went to Chakotay's side. "Get down," he whispered. "I'll cover you."

"Negative. Go back to your station."

"Cha -- Commander..."

But Tom got no further. The turbolift opened, and a mass of Hirogen came out, weapons blazing. Chakotay fired at the first one he could, but the beam deflected off the alien's armor. The Hirogen turned on the commander and raised his gun.

"No!" cried Tom, firing his own phaser. It had no effect. The Hirogen aimed directly at Chakotay.

Tom screamed again. It was the last thing Chakotay would hear for a month.

************************

He woke up in a Jefferies tube, feeling a sharp pain at the side of his neck. As he raised his hand to touch the area, he noticed something odd about his clothes. He was dressed in a drab green uniform and wearing a heavy helmet on his head.

What the hell...

His head rung with the echoes of an explosion. The Hirogen! They must still be under attack! How long had he been out?

He scrambled through the Jefferies tube. He could hear gunfire coming from the other end. Not phaser fire. Gunfire. Ancient Earth guns. He recognized the sound from old vids he had seen many years ago.

The commander crawled to the opening and looked out upon a battle scene unlike any he had ever seen before. It appeared to be an old Earth village, probably from the twentieth century. Soldiers were firing rifles, scurrying around to find better shooting positions. Among the combatants were Tom Paris (wearing the same uniform Chakotay was), Tuvok, B'Elanna, and Seven of Nine.

Tom saw him. "Chakotay! Down here!"

He scrambled to the young man's side, ducking fire, racing between overturned vehicles and rubble. "Tom, what the hell..."

"We're on the holodeck. And the safeties are off."

"The Hirogen?"

"Some of them are here, too. As Germans."

"Where's the Captain?"

"No idea."

A grenade exploded close by. Chakotay and Tom ducked behind a truck that was lying on its side.

Someone else was there as well. "Commander. Lieutenant." It was Seven of Nine. "I believe that Captain Janeway has accomplished her objective. The neural transmitters are off line."

"Neural transmitters?"

Seven explained what had been going on, including the fact that Harry Kim was not in the simulations but had been forced by the Hirogen to make significant modifications to the holodecks.

"We've been running holodeck simulations with the Hirogen for a *month*?" Chakotay was incredulous.

"Nearly." Seven was tinkering with a weapon. "It appears that they have been studying us, that we are more than just 'prey' to them. Their methods are very inefficient."

"Of course, the Borg would have just assimilated us, no questions asked," said Tom ironically.

Seven gave him a cool stare, then returned to her work. "I am attempting to modify this grenade in order to disrupt the holographic activity in this area. The Germans and their Hirogen allies outnumber us by a factor of two to one. I suggest that you both get back into battle."

Tom looked as if he wanted to say something more; Chakotay pulled him aside. "Later." The commander was feeling like his old self again. "We have to keep holding out until the Captain or Harry can do something with the holoemitters."

Tom grasped his rifle and grinned at him. "Okay, sir."

********************

The fight was long and difficult. Chakotay did not like the feel of the ancient rifle he was using; it lacked the precision and smooth handling of a phaser. Beside him, Tom was holding his own; Chakotay suspected he might have run previous simulations from this century and was more familiar with the technology.

Seven's grenade was finally ready. She stood up to throw it, but a bullet struck her in the shoulder, and she fell.

The Germans converged on their position. "Surrender," said their leader.

Tom, Chakotay, and Tuvok did so. They had no choice. The leader pulled B'Elanna up and shoved her into the arms of another soldier.

The Germans forced them against a wall. "Your deaths will bring glory to the Reich," sneered the leader.

Chakotay could hear Tom's ragged breathing and felt the young man's fear. He was in shock himself. How could this be? After all they had gone through, to be gunned down by ancient weapons in a holodeck.

He closed his eyes.

"*Q'A'PLA!!!*"

The Germans turned.

Klingons?

Klingons to the rescue.

******************

At last it was over. The holograms had been eliminated. The Hirogen had been sent away with the technology needed to create their own holoprograms. Chakotay, back in his Starfleet uniform, walked slowly through the corridors, sobered by the damage he was seeing throughout the ship.

He wandered back to the deserted streets of Saint E'Claire. A lone figure sat against a wall, his hands resting on his knees.

Chakotay approached him. "They're gone, Tom."

The young man, still dressed in his World War II uniform, looked up at him but said nothing. Chakotay sat down next to him. "The Hirogen accepted our terms. They'll leave us alone."

Tom sighed. "Fuckheads. They stole a month out of my life."

The commander had no easy reply to this, so he tried to change the subject. "Why don't you go get a shower and change out of that thing?"

Tom ignored this. "I can't believe I've spent the last four weeks getting shot at, beat up, and stabbed for their amusement. At least I don't remember any of it. Not like the poor bastards who *really* had to fight this war."

Chakotay was quiet now. Tom needed to talk.

"When I came to -- when the transmitter was disengaged -- I saw B'Elanna and Tuvok and Seven right away. But I didn't see you. I -- I panicked. Then Seven told me you were off helping the Captain blow up the console in Sickbay. And then you showed up back here. I -- I can't tell you how relieved I was to see you still alive. And then -- and then, after all that, those fucking Nazis were going to shoot us, Cha..."

Tom swallowed hard. Chakotay could tell tears were close, but the young man fought them back.

"All I could think was -- that if I had to go down, at least you'd be right there with me."

Moved, Chakotay reached an arm around Tom's shoulders and pulled the lieutenant toward him. Tom leaned into the embrace. They sat like that for a long time.

********************

It took six long weeks to repair the ship. Everyone worked double shifts. There was just time enough to eat, sleep, and work until Voyager was back to normal.

At long last, they were on their way again, back to the Alpha Quadrant.

*******************

Three days after their journey had resumed, Chakotay sat in his office, finishing up his reports.

His door chime rang.

"Come in."

It was B'Elanna. "Hi."

"Hi." He was pleased to see her; she had been extremely busy lately and he hadn't gotten much of a chance to find out how she was doing.

She sat down in one of the chairs, looking somewhat ill at ease.

"What can I do for you?"

"Umm...I need to talk. There are some things I need to get off my chest. Tom said I should come and see you."

"Tom?"

"Oh, we're speaking again. It's kind of hard to avoid each other when everyone's all over the ship trying to fix things. I told him I was having some problems, and he said you should hear them. He said you'd helped him out a lot when he was down."

"He did?" Chakotay was trying hard not to blush.

"Yeah, imagine that -- you and Tom getting along." She leaned back in her chair. "He talks about you like you're his big brother."

"We've spent a lot of time together."

"Well, you're doing something right. He really likes you, and he respects you. If I didn't know better..."

Chakotay had to cut this off. "I thought you were here to talk about *your* problems."

B'Elanna sighed. "Yeah. I hope you can help. I've been having some terrible dreams about the Maquis...the Maquis that are dead..."

************************

He talked with B'Elanna for well over an hour. She cried, swore, and pounded her fists into his couch a few times. Then she hugged him afterwards. "Tom was right. You *are* a good listener."

He hugged her in return. "My door is always open to you, B'Elanna."

"Thank you." She stepped back, looking tired but less tense than he had seen her in weeks. "Maybe I'll stop by again tomorrow."

"Feel free." He smiled after her as she left, then went back to his work.

*************************

That night, as he was undressing for bed, he thought hard about what B'Elanna had said regarding Tom. "He likes you. He respects you. He talks about you like you're his big brother."

//I don't want to be his big brother. I want to be his lover.// He wanted Tom in his bed with him, wanted to smell, taste, touch, hear, see him with all his senses.

His cock rose with desire, and Chakotay, who had not had an orgasm for almost three months, jerked himself off with a frenzy before falling asleep.

************************

Two evenings later....

"Chakotay to Paris."

"Paris here."

"I'm standing in Sandrine's, ready to take you on in a friendly game of pool."

There was a slight pause. "Sure. Give me about fifteen minutes."

"I'll be here. Chakotay out." The commander turned back to the bar, where Sandrine stood, ready to take his order. "White wine, please."

"*Oui.*" The bartender poured him a glass. "Thomas is coming?"

"He said he would."

She smiled. "It will be very good to see him back here."

Chakotay frowned. "He hasn't played lately?"

"*Non.* I have missed him. Monsieur Kim and Mademoiselle Torres have played a few nights, but not Thomas."

"He's been assigned to a different duty shift for awhile. And the ship was under attack. We were all out of commission for weeks."

Sandrine shook her head. "A different shift -- that has happened before, and he would still come. *Non,* he has stayed away for something else."

Another crew member came up for a bar order, and Sandrine went to fill it, leaving a puzzled Chakotay to mull over Tom's behavior.

He didn't have long to think about it. The door opened and the pilot came in, dressed in black pants and a white T-shirt. A different part of Chakotay's brain kicked into gear at this point, and the rest of it decided to work on the problem another time.

Tom ordered a beer, picked up his cue stick, and motioned for the commander to join him at the table. They played a quiet but intense game, which Chakotay won.

Tom saluted him with his drink afterwards. "Well done."

The commander could only nod. Tom was looking at him with such intensity that words would not reach his mouth. He felt completely spellbound by the young man.

The door opened, and Harry and B'Elanna came in together. Kim saw Tom first and stopped dead in his tracks. B'Elanna kept moving forward a few more steps until she realized that Harry was no longer beside her. She turned to follow Kim's gaze, saw Tom, and halted as well.

Tom stepped away from the table that he and Chakotay had just been playing on. "We're finished here. Go ahead if you want."

Kim and Torres hesitated at first but then moved over to the rack and selected cue sticks for themselves. Tom walked to Chakotay's side. "Let's go sit down for awhile. But I can't stay much longer. I need to get some sleep. I'm back on Alpha shift tomorrow."

Chakotay nodded, still not feeling up to speech at the moment. He followed Tom over to the bar, and the two men sat on a couple of empty stools.

The pilot swallowed the last of his beer and ordered a soda from a smiling Sandrine. "I didn't get a chance to ask you this before. How has Ensign Culhane been doing in my place on Alpha shift?"

"Culhane? Uh, just fine."

"Glad to hear it. I've been tutoring him in the fine art of flying Voyager. He's a good kid."

Now it began to make sense. "Is that what you've been doing with your free time lately?"

"Partly, yeah." Tom looked at the commander curiously. "Any problem with that?"

"No, not at all. Sandrine...Sandrine had just mentioned to me that you hadn't been here in awhile."

Spirits, it was all Chakotay could do to keep from jumping the man right here in front of all the gods and everyone else. He couldn't believe he was able to put two sentences together.

"I guess not," Tom said thoughtfully. "Hadn't really felt like it until now."

"How would you feel about dinner?" //Shit!!//

"Dinner? I already ate tonight, if you could call it that." Tom looked at him. "Oh...you mean..."

"Yes," said Chakotay, hurrying his words and trying not to think about them. "Would you like to have dinner in my quarters tomorrow night?" //God, I don't know what I'll do if he says no.//

Tom was quiet for several agonizing seconds. "Yeah," he said finally. "Yeah, I'd like that. What time?"

"What time? Uh..." The commander hadn't thought that far ahead. "Well, how about 1800 hours?"

"That works for me. Should I bring anything?"

"No. My treat," Chakotay almost gasped out in relief.

"All right," said Tom, finishing his drink and getting to his feet. "I'll see you then. Good night."

"Good night," Chakotay whispered after him.

***************************

Now what? He had to plan a dinner, that's what. Chakotay strode back to his quarters, racking his brain for ideas on what Tom liked to eat. How could he find out this valuable information without calling attention to himself?

Safely alone at last, he went to his replicator and called up a list of vegetarian recipes from Earth. Let's see. Tom had been born and raised in San Francisco, which was famous for seafood and...ah, yes, Chinese cuisine. Plenty of good choices there. He scrolled through the recipes until the name "Kim" caught his eye. As he read it through, he smiled. Perfect.

Now, to just get through the next nineteen hours...

Chakotay undressed and got into bed. He lowered the lights and stared at the ceiling for a few moments, then turned over and pulled the second pillow on his bed closer to him. He wished it were Tom's warm body instead. The thought made him hard within seconds, but he resisted the temptation to release himself. If things did develop with Tom, the added edge would make a climax all the more sweet.

His erection subsided, his eyes closed, and he fell asleep.

****************************

Chakotay arrived for breakfast even earlier than usual, wanting to leave the mess hall before Tom got there. Of course, he would still have to work with him on the bridge today, but at least there would be the formality of the command situation to hide behind. He was getting increasingly uncomfortable with seeing Tom in public places. This thing needed to be resolved, one way or another.

He finished his meal quickly, but the Captain intercepted him on his way to the recycler. She motioned him to a table, wanting to talk about some personnel issues in Engineering. He answered her questions as best he could and tried not to look at the door too much.

Fortunately, Tom seemed to have picked this morning to sleep late. Chakotay did manage to slip out before the young man appeared.

He spent the first couple of hours of his bridge shift trying to catch up on reports and obsessing on what kind of beverage he should offer Tom when he showed up. Beer seemed too ordinary. Wine was too suggestive. Soda didn't fit his mood. He finally decided to just come out and ask Tom what he wanted, and then replicate it right then and there.

He stared idly at the back of the pilot's head. Tom seemed to be in his usual good humor, and it didn't look like he was fidgeting in his seat at all. Could that mean that he wasn't excited or nervous about this evening, or was he just better about controlling himself?

At lunch, Chakotay deliberately planted himself in a far corner of the mess hall, with a stack of padds in front of him, and pretended to be absorbed in his work.

Tom's laughter brought the commander's gaze up. The pilot was standing with Neelix, who also had a broad grin on his face. They looked to be sharing some joke or another. Neelix clapped Tom on the back and returned to his kitchen duties. Tom picked up his tray and found a seat with Harry and B'Elanna, both of whom looked a little self-conscious. Chakotay watched with interest as the pilot attempted to engage his best friend and his ex-lover in conversation. It was encouraging to see B'Elanna smile at one point, and Harry seemed to become more at ease than he had been in some time.

Tom appeared to scan the room at one point, and Chakotay hastily looked down at his padds, not wanting to meet the young man's eyes. When he brought his gaze back up again, Tom was back to his conversation with Kim and Torres.

The commander found that he had little appetite after all and set aside his tray. He walked out of the mess hall, not looking to either side of him, trying to maintain his focus.

*************************

The last three hours of the shift dragged interminably. Now Chakotay began to wonder what he should wear at dinner. He wanted to be appealing but not overwhelming. Finally he decided on a red button-down shirt and black jeans.

And he would have to clean up his quarters. Shit. On the other hand, doing all that work could take his mind off Tom.

"Commander."

Kathryn Janeway was looking at him curiously. "Are you feeling all right?"

"Yes. Yes, I'm fine," he said, shifting in his seat.

"Glad to hear it. You were a million light-years away."

"I apologize, Captain."

"No problem. We do seem to be going through a rather dull section of space at the moment."

"That's no lie," added Tom from his seat. "Could we conjure up some Kazon ships to beat on or something?"

"Ah, Mr. Paris," said Janeway, standing and stretching. "Looking for a little excitement, are you?"

"I might be," said Tom easily, and then he turned and looked straight at Chakotay. The commander drew a sharp breath. What could be going through Paris's mind right now? He tore his eyes away and stared at the floor. After a few seconds, Tom turned back around.

The ship flew on.

********************

1630 hours. Chakotay staggered into his quarters and began attacking the mess within. His sitting area was littered with padds and stray items of clothing. He threw things into drawers at random, checking under his sofa and even digging into its cushions. He wiped off his tables and swept his carpet. Twenty minutes later, he was covered with sweat and dust.

He went into the bathroom and was met with more disorder. Shedding his uniform, he spent another frantic fifteen minutes cleaning his mirror and his sink. He took a quick shower, recycled the uniform, and put some shorts on.

Now to set the table. He'd decided on a simple centerpiece -- a colorful plant that Neelix had picked up some time back and given to him as a birthday present. He placed it on the table and then brought out some earthenware plates that he had traded for several months ago. He replicated some eating utensils and cloth napkins, then programmed the machine with the recipe he had selected from the database, setting it to produce the food at exactly 1810.

The commander stepped back and looked critically at his work. It looked like it was supposed to -- a welcoming but unassuming dinner setting.

1735. He put his clothes on and took one more look in the mirror. He saw a handsome if somewhat nervous man in his early forties. "You'll be all right," he said to his reflection. If only he could completely believe that.

He went back into his living area and sat down, trying to compose himself. Shit, what if Tom didn't come? What if B'Elanna had had a sudden change of heart and was trying to win Paris back? What if Harry had waylaid him in a corridor and invited him to a game of pool or hoverball?

Hell. Chakotay stood up and began to pace, then sat down again on the couch. //I'm making a damn fool of myself.//

The silent room closed up around him. It was too quiet. "Computer, play..." he began, then hesitated before finally hitting on it, "...Play program 'Paris gamma-six.'"

Tom's jazz music filtered into the room. Chakotay closed his eyes and listened. The rhythm sunk into his brain, and he felt himself relax just a little.

*BREEP*

He jumped, but only slightly. "Come in," he said, getting to his feet.

The door slid open, and Tom took a few tentative steps inside. "Am I in the right place?"

Chakotay couldn't answer. Tom was stunning, dressed in a sea-green shirt and tight black pants. The commander held on to the back of the couch to steady himself.

Tom cocked his head, then smiled as he recognized the music. "Guess I am."

"Hi," said Chakotay at last. "Come on in. Have a seat."

Tom sat down on the couch. "Nice," he commented. "I've decided I want to be a First Officer when I grow up."

Chakotay chuckled. Here he was, trying to be the perfect host, and Tom was setting *him* at ease. Damn, he liked the guy. "Would you like a drink?"

"Sure. What are you having?"

Oh, hell, he *would* have to ask that. "Uh, I was thinking about a nonalcoholic punch." //Living dangerously, are we?//

"Bring it on," said the pilot.

Chakotay replicated the drinks and handed one to Tom, then sat down across from him.

"So what else are we having?"

Two could play this game. "It's a surprise."

"Ah," said Tom. "Cheers." He saluted Chakotay with his drink. The commander returned the gesture, and they both took a long swallow. The pilot looked appreciatively at his glass. "Good stuff."

"Family recipe," said Chakotay.

Tom nodded and looked around the room some more. "Did you do that?" he asked, pointing to a sand painting on the far wall.

"Yes."

The lieutenant got to his feet and went over to study the picture more closely. "Nice work."

"Thanks."

"You do anything else I should know about?"

//I give good head.// "I might."

"*Program is complete.*" Saved by the computer. Chakotay got to his feet. "That's dinner."

"Great." Tom walked over to the table and took a seat. Chakotay set his glass down next to the other setting and retrieved two steaming plates.

Tom's eyes widened. "Vegetarian stir-fry. Wow. I haven't had that in years."

Chakotay set the plate down in front of him, hoping his hand wasn't shaking too obviously. "I hope it tastes as good as it looks."

"Or smells." Tom took a deep breath. "Mmmm. I feel like I'm in Robert Yee's Mandarin Dragon back home."

"A restaurant?" Chakotay smiled and opened his napkin.

"Only the best Chinese place in San Francisco." Tom took a bite. "Oh, yes. Not quite the same as Bob's sauce, but great in its own way. Mmmmm," he said again, stuffing his face once more.

Chakotay tried his own food and found it excellent. He owed Harry Kim a favor. His appetite soon overcame his nerves, and within moments he was eating with vigor, laughing at Tom's anecdotes about Earth, feeling warm inside and out.

God, Tom had a beautiful smile. He tried not to stare at the young man too much. As the minutes went by and food disappeared from the table, he caught Tom looking at him a great deal as well. The jokes stopped, and an ominous silence took over.

//I have to say something. I can't let this go by.//

Tom finished his last bite, put his fork down, and leaned back in his chair. "That was excellent, Chakotay. You do know how to program a replicator."

The commander smiled. "Harry gets the credit. I got the stir-fry idea from him. I guess it was an old Kim family recipe."

Tom was quiet for a long moment. "You can't beat great food, can you?" he said in a low voice. "Things always taste best when you're in love."

Chakotay, who had been reaching for his drink, started at this. Had he heard Tom correctly? "In love?"

The lieutenant was up in an instant, his plate in his hands, his feet taking him the few steps to the recycler. Chakotay couldn't see Tom's face, but the tension in his shoulders was obvious.

"Tom?"

"Oh...oh, *hell.*" Tom set the plate down, ran his fingers through his hair. "I...I'm in love with you, Chakotay. I know, I'm an idiot to be saying this, to be even *thinking* it..."

But Chakotay didn't even hear the rest. Tom loved him. *Tom* loved him. Tom *loved* him. Tom loved *him.* He felt a tremendous wave of joy surge within himself.

Without being conscious of doing it, he had gotten to his feet, followed the pilot, and was now standing behind him. He wanted to touch the young man, but there was something he needed to say first, as difficult as it was.

"Tom."

"I'm sorry, Chakotay, I..."

"*Tom.* I...I love you, too."

He put one hand on each of Tom's shoulders. He felt the muscles move as the younger man raised his head and took a shuddering breath.

"Cha...say it again."

"I love you, Tom." Much easier this time. Tom spun around, and suddenly the commander found himself in the fierce clutches of a beautiful blond pilot. He welcomed Tom with an equally fervent hug, and the two men held each other, both overcome with relief and happiness.

"God," whispered Tom after a moment. "I can't believe it. I mean, I hoped you might feel the same way, but I couldn't tell for sure..."

Chakotay didn't move. He pressed Tom even closer to himself. "I can't believe it either," was all he could say. Tom's hands were rubbing his back, stroking his hair, reaching underneath to caress his skin. The commander's body, untouched in this way for so long, shivered with pleasure.

"Cha...you feel good."

"Thanks...so do you." He drew back a few inches, cupped Tom's face in his hands, and looked into his eyes. Blue radiance stared back at him, and he felt Tom's hands slide around to return the caress.

"Beautiful," the young man whispered, and kissed him tenderly on the mouth. Chakotay returned the kiss, keeping it light for the moment, letting his affection rule his desire. Tom's lips were soft, gentle, and experienced, also sensing that sweetness rather than passion was called for at this time.

Chakotay broke it and buried his face in Tom's neck, still trying to convince himself that this was all real, figuring that if he held Tom long enough, it would all freeze into place. He felt the younger man chuckle. "Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere."

This made Chakotay smile. He released Tom's body, but held on to his hands. "That's good. Because if you tried, I'd have to stop you."

They both laughed, relief having replaced anxiety.

"Let's sit down," said Tom. "I want to talk."

Chakotay nodded and led his friend over to the sofa. They lowered themselves, Chakotay reaching to pull Tom into an embrace, cuddling the young man to his chest as Tom stretched his long legs onto the cushions.

He nuzzled and kissed the blond head. "Go ahead. You start."

"Cha...say, you don't mind if I call you that, do I?"

Another kiss. "I like it." //Cha-Cha.//

"Good. Sometimes it's easier for my lazy mouth. Anyway, I need to know...how long have you been feeling like this?"

The commander thought for a moment. "A long time. Weeks. I didn't say anything, you know, because of B'Elanna. I didn't want to take advantage of the situation."

"But you were tempted."

"You're damn irresistible when you want to be."

"I try." Tom kissed Chakotay's hand lightly.

"Your turn."

"I..." Tom hesitated. "Remember when we ran into the Krenim ship?"

"You felt it, too..."

"I felt weird. Spooked, like I'd seen those guys in a bad dream. The only thing that broke me out of the funk was hearing your voice telling me to change course. It was like you were throwing a lifeline to me. And all of a sudden, you were like a new person. Not this guy who used to think I was a worthless jerk."

"Tom, I didn't think..."

"Oh, be honest, you didn't always feel the way you do about me now." Tom squeezed Chakotay's hands. "No offense, Cha. I'm exaggerating. Anyway, I started feeling like I wanted to get to know you better. Then B'Elanna dumped me, but you stayed. You were there for me when Harry couldn't be."

"I wanted to be there."

"That's what made it so great." The lieutenant sighed. "That night, when you snuck in on my pool game with Willie, that's when things really started to happen. I saw you across the room, looking so totally lost, so completely unlike 'Chakotay, the First Officer,' or 'Chakotay, the Big Dangerous Maquis Warrior.'"

"I was embarrassed."

"I know. It looks good on you. You're beautiful when you're vulnerable."

As if on cue, Chakotay blushed. Luckily, Tom couldn't see him.

"Anyway," the pilot continued, "I decided right then and there that I liked you, and that it wouldn't take too much more to get me to go farther than that."

Chakotay couldn't resist. "*How* much more?"

"A couple weeks of Ping-Pong games. After the first time you won, you had this delicious look on your face. I could have jumped your bones right then and there."

"So what held you back?"

"Some crazy idea that I shouldn't be getting involved again so soon after B'Elanna." Tom stopped and turned out of Chakotay's arms so that he could face the commander. "Cha...I don't want you to get the wrong idea about me. I loved B'Elanna. I hope someday she and I will be good friends again. I don't want you to think that I'm a fly-by-night kind of guy and that I can't be serious in a relationship."

Chakotay started to shake his head, tried to speak, but Tom laid a finger over his lips. "Let me finish. This is the honest truth. I'm crazy about you, Chakotay. I've never felt this way about *anyone,* B'Elanna included. A while ago, you asked me what I'd been doing with my free time. I've been up late nights thinking about you, wondering what you were doing, what you were thinking, whether you were thinking about me, whether there was any chance in hell that you could *like* me, much less *love* me..."

Chakotay leaned in. "Does *this* answer your question?" He kissed Tom firmly and convincingly. Tom sighed and opened his mouth. Chakotay slid his tongue inside and let himself taste the younger man. Tom clutched at his arms, moaning slightly.

Finally the commander pulled back. Tom stared back at him, a blurry smile forming on his flushed face.

"Yep, I guess it does."

Chakotay shook his head fondly. "There's a lot more where that came from."

"I'm interested, *very* interested as a matter of fact, but first you have to confess your own sins."

"How much do you want to know?"

"I don't need your entire sexual history at the moment. Just the parts with me in them."

"You are *still* a smart-ass, you know that?"

"I prefer to think that I have an excellent sense of humor."

Chakotay smiled.

Tom touched his cheek. "Dimples. My new goal in life. To put dimples on the First Officer. You have a beautiful smile. Your whole face changes."

"You're the cause, Tom. *You* make me laugh."

"My plan is working."

"I can't help myself. I feel so -- alive around you. I know it sounds corny, but it's true."

"Go on," said Tom, settling back into his arms.

"Maybe it's because you're younger than I am -- oh, hell, what difference does that make? It's more like -- you look at life differently than I do. You're a physical kind of person. The pool games, the Ping-Pong, even the fact that you're such a great pilot -- those are your gifts. And you...you help wake them up inside of me, too. I'm more one to sit around and contemplate things. You give me a kick in the pants, make me see things in a new way -- and I like it. I like it a *lot*."

"That's why you love me?"

"That's a big part of it, yes." Chakotay stroked Tom's hair. "I also happen to think you are gorgeous. And you're kind. I see things. I see how you've tried to keep a good working relationship with B'Elanna, even after what's happened. I see how good a friend you are to Harry. I see how well you do your job in Sickbay, even if it's not your favorite thing to do. That's maturity, and it's dedication."

Tom was silent a long time. "I'm...I'm glad you think so."

"I've known you for quite a while, Tom. You've come so far from that lost kid that I picked up in Sandrine's so many years ago. I don't choose friends lightly, and I sure as hell don't choose lovers lightly. I want to be with *you.* With Tom Paris."

He kissed the back of Tom's head again.

The lieutenant sighed. "That's all I needed to hear."

Chakotay took Tom's hands in his. He raised Tom's right hand to his lips and kissed each fingertip, then did the same to the left. Tom had beautiful hands, with slim, powerful fingers. These hands danced across a starship's controls every day. These hands had saved the ship and their lives many times over the years. These hands had hauled him out of the pit on the Ocampan world. He kissed them again with gratitude and with love, then folded them gently onto the younger man's chest.

Tom sat up and turned to face Chakotay. The older man kissed his mouth, running his hands over the broad shoulders, tugging his shirt upwards to feel soft skin. Tom raised his arms, and Chakotay pulled the shirt over his head.

They stared at each other.

"I want you," whispered the commander.

"You've got me, big man," said Tom, reaching up to unbutton the red shirt. As Chakotay's chest was revealed, the pilot leaned in and planted a series of kisses on the tan skin. The commander moaned softly as Tom licked his right nipple, then pushed the shirt completely off his shoulders and gave his attention to the left one.

Chakotay's cock jumped to attention at once, but its owner wanted to draw this out a little more. Okay, make that *much* more.

He pulled Tom's face up for another deep kiss, bringing a groan from the younger man. "I want to suck you," he said into his lover's mouth.

"Please," Tom gasped. Chakotay stood, pulled him to his feet, and led him the few steps into the bedroom, where he gave the pilot another searing tonsil massage.

When they came up for air, Tom collapsed against Chakotay's shoulder. "Computer...change musical selection to 'Paris alpha sixteen.'"

The jazz music ended and a lush piano melody filled the room. "Music for lovers," added Tom, still somewhat out of breath. "You were saying, Cha?"

"I want to suck you." Chakotay spun Tom around and pressed his erection against the younger man's ass. His hands reached down to the fasteners on Tom's pants and undid them with ease. It always went faster when he could pretend he was undressing himself. Pushing the clothing down, his right hand grasped Tom's straining cock.

Tom moaned deep in his throat. Chakotay was positive that he could simply jerk the man off right here and now, but that wasn't his goal. He reversed himself again, pushing Tom into a sitting position on the bed and kneeling between his legs. Tom's pants and underwear were still draped around his ankles. The commander pulled them off and tossed them aside.

He looked up at Tom. "Now I'm going to show you just how much I've wanted you."

"I'm ready, Cha," said Tom, grasping him by the shoulders.

Chakotay leaned forward and took Tom's cock into his mouth, running his tongue along its length, using his lips for added suction.

Tom's hands tightened on him. "God, Cha...oh, God...that feels so good..."

Chakotay teased him a little, releasing his cock, playing with his balls, stroking his inner thighs with gentle fingers. Tom seemed to enjoy it all, groaning and whimpering with pleasure.

Finally Chakotay opened his mouth again and took Tom in as deeply as he could. The pilot cried out and began to writhe helplessly. "I'm coming! God! I'm coming, Cha..."

Tom surged forward and shot his seed deep into Chakotay's throat. The commander held on, grasping Tom's thighs for support as the young man bucked under him. He could feel Tom squeeze his shoulders tightly, almost hard enough to bruise. He didn't mind the pain. Tom's pleasure outweighed it.

The lieutenant was soon spent, releasing Chakotay and falling backwards onto the bed. The commander still held on, sucking up the last of Tom's semen before letting go. He felt tremendously pleased with himself.

"You okay?" he asked, climbing onto the bed beside his lover.

"Yeah," was all Tom could say for a moment. Then he added, "You blew me away. Pun intended."

The commander laughed softly and stroked the now-damp blond hair. "Not bad for a test run."

"Yeah, I'd say that was a successful demonstration."

They lay there for a few moments. Finally Tom stirred. "I'd like to return the favor."

"Oh, you will." Chakotay had his own ideas about this.

Tom laughed. "Why do I get the feeling you're running this whole show?"

"Because I am." Chakotay raised himself up and stared into Tom's eyes. Now that all of the uncertainty was gone, he could take the time to really look. Tom looked steadily back at him, unabashed and unashamed.

God, it *wasn't* just lust. It was love, pure and simple.

Tom traced a finger along his tattoo. "Did it hurt to get this?"

"A little."

"It's beautiful, you know. I've always thought so."

This touched Chakotay deep down, and he couldn't find the words to respond. Instead, he kissed the stroking hand, then wrapped his arms around the lieutenant's body. Tom hugged him back, tucking his head under Chakotay's chin. They stayed like that for a few minutes.

The commander's pants were still on, but now he thought it would be a fine time to do something about that. "Act two," he whispered, kissing Tom and slipping out from his embrace. Tom adjusted himself on the bed and watched with darkened eyes as Chakotay stripped and walked over to the bedside table, from which he took out a small tube.

Tom spread his legs, but Chakotay shook his head. "Uh-uh. I want you to fuck me."

"But I just..."

"I know." Chakotay bent over him. "I'll get you ready again. Relax." He kissed his lover on each cheek, then went to work on his neck. Tom sighed with pleasure.

Chakotay laved the younger man with kisses all over his torso, taking each nipple into his mouth and caressing it with his tongue, leaving them swollen and hard. He did such a thorough job that both he and Tom were hard again within moments.

Satisfied, the commander rolled over onto his back. "Your turn."

Tom raised himself up into a sitting position and appraised his partner. "Damn, I've really wanted to know what was under those pants," he teased, giving the commander's cock one delicious stroke with his hand.

"And?"

"I like it," said Tom, planting a single kiss on said member. "But I'll be good and I'll do what you want, Cha." He began to stroke Chakotay's chest with gentle fingers, pinching the nipples, sucking them, bringing soft moans from the first officer.

Tom kissed his way down Chakotay's abdomen, then stopped at one point, staring down at the smooth skin with an enigmatic expression. Then he looked up at his lover and smiled. Chakotay realized that this was the spot where Tom had healed him only weeks before after the incident in the holodeck.

Tom caressed the area, then kissed it softly and reverently. Chakotay felt his eyes begin to fill up. It had been too long since his body had been cared for and worshipped in this way.

Now Tom picked up the lubricant and squeezed a small amount into his hand. "Ready?"

Chakotay nodded and relaxed his lower body as Tom reached between his legs with one moist finger. He concentrated on his ass muscles, willing them to open and accept the penetration. Tom's digit entered him slowly; the younger man's eyes watched him anxiously for any negative reaction. But Chakotay only smiled; any pain he felt was overwhelmed by the joy of having Tom inside him.

The lieutenant bent down and kissed his cock again. The commander pushed his hips toward Tom's hand, forcing the finger a little deeper. Tom spread more lubricant on his hand and pushed another finger into Chakotay, then a third. Chakotay groaned as Tom successfully found his prostate.

Tom pulled his fingers out, then coated his cock with more lubricant. "God, Cha, you are so beautiful. I don't want to hurt you."

"I want you, Tom. *All* of you."

Tom spooned up behind the commander, rolling him gently to his side, and guided his cock to Chakotay's entrance. He slowly pushed himself in.

Chakotay gasped, digging his fingers into the sheets. It had been a long time since he had felt so filled by another. He arched his head back, and Tom bit gently at his shoulder. They began to move together, Chakotay pushing back against Tom's thrusts, digging deep within himself, feeling the joy building up at his very core. Tom reached for his cock, and now he was being stroked both inside and out. It was the secret advantage of being on the bottom.

Oh, spirits, he just couldn't hold back. Chakotay howled as his orgasm hit with an explosion of ecstasy. He came copiously, shooting his seed into Tom's waiting hand. He felt Tom grip him tightly, the young man's breath coming in quick gasps, and then Tom went over the edge as well, low moans punctuating his thrusts as he emptied himself once more into his lover.

Chakotay felt several aftershocks run through his body. He was amazed that he hadn't passed out, but he was also happy. He didn't want to miss a nanosecond of this.

Tom was breathing hard against his neck. "God...God, Cha..."

"I know..."

Tom stopped trying to talk and just held Chakotay to him. Chakotay remained still, spent as usual after a climax. Damn, he was glad he'd resisted temptation last night.

"Ummm..." Tom shifted his position, pulling himself out of Chakotay. The older man's ass tingled, and he knew he'd be a little sore tomorrow, but it had been worth it. God, yes.

"I love you, Tom."

"I love you, too, Cha. God, that was great."

They were quiet again. Chakotay listened as Tom's piano music continued to play. Its soft melodic line was perfect for his mood.

Tom shifted again. "I'll get a towel, okay?"

"Sure." Chakotay turned over as Tom got out of bed. The younger man hesitated, looking at his wet hand, the one that had held Chakotay's cock. He looked at the commander and smiled, then brought his hand to his mouth to taste Chakotay's semen.

Chakotay watched in wonder as Tom licked himself off and smiled again. "Mmmm. Strong. Like you." Then he disappeared around the corner.

Hot damn. The man knew all the right things to say. If Chakotay hadn't been in love with him already, he would be right now. Tom Paris was a closet sweet-talker and had the soul of a true romantic.

Tom came back with a towel and cleaned Chakotay up as best he could, then tossed it aside and got back into bed. Chakotay, stronger now, took the young man into his arms, stroking his hair and skin, feeling him settle into the embrace.

"Computer, lower lights to ten percent."

The room dimmed. Tom sighed, but didn't say anything. Chakotay thought he might be falling asleep. He remembered that Tom had just gotten back on Alpha shift today, so he was probably feeling tired. Come to think of it, he was pretty sleepy himself.

An idea occurred to him then. Sometimes it did pay to be First Officer. He kissed Tom. "I'll be right back."

"Don't be gone long," the lieutenant called after him.

Chakotay padded into the bathroom and relieved himself (sex had *that* effect on him too sometimes), then went back out to the living area and leaned over his computer monitor. He gave a few quick commands, ordered the machine to execute them, and stood back up, grinning with satisfaction.

"Whaddya do?" asked Tom, his words slurry with sleepiness.

"Important First Officer business," said Chakotay, sliding back in next to him. "Nothing to worry about."

"Mmmph," said the pilot. Chakotay took him into his arms again and listened to his soft breathing. He could get very used to this, *very* fast.

"Cha?" very quietly, after a few minutes.

"Yes?"

"Can I...I mean...is it okay if..."

"Stay, Tom," Chakotay said as firmly as he could. He felt himself sinking into a peaceful oblivion. Tom relaxed contentedly into his embrace.

"...Please...stay..."

The End
Joyous Sound by Kiff
Joyous Sounds by Kiff
(VOY, C/P, NC-17)

Disclaimer: Paramount is God. I am a lowly acolyte. Have mercy.

Archiving: Permission granted to Sileya to archive at my TSU webpage. May also be archived at ASCEM, BLTS, CPSG. All others, please ask first.

Feedback: Constructive comments accepted at: Kiff47@yahoo.com

Warning: This story includes intimate and sexual scenes between two adult males. If this disturbs you, run along.

Dedication: For Michael: February, 1984.

Summary: Chakotay brings something out of the closet. Fourth in the "Delta Suite" series. Sequel to "Overtures," "Crescendo," and "Accelerando."

****************************

Chakotay surfaced from a deep sleep and opened his eyes. He stared blankly at the ceiling for a moment, trying to orient himself. It took a few seconds, but finally his mind kicked into gear. Yes, he was still on Voyager, in his quarters. But something had changed. Something very good had happened to him.

He grinned. Tom Paris had happened to him. Tom Paris, flyboy of the Delta Quadrant, had fucked the living daylights out of him for the first time last night and was now sleeping it off in Chakotay's own bed.

The commander turned his head. Tom lay next to him, bundled under the blankets, a shock of blond hair falling onto the pillow. The pilot's eyes were closed, and his breathing was soft. His expression was relaxed and peaceful.

Chakotay's heart swelled with love and gratitude. After so many years, he was waking up next to another warm body, a body that he adored almost as much as the heart and spirit within.

"I am a lucky man," he whispered.

Tom stirred and rolled onto his back. Chakotay curled up against him and threw an arm across his chest. Tom settled into the embrace as naturally as if he had been doing it for years. Chakotay rested against his lover, absorbing his body heat, listening to Tom's steady and strong heartbeat. He felt he could stay there for the rest of his life, or at least for a couple of days.

"I love you, Tom." The words still felt strange coming out of his mouth. Strangely *good.* He had never meant anything more sincerely. Too bad Tom was asleep. Well, there was a way to rectify *that* situation.

Slowly, he stretched his arm down the other man's body until he found what he was looking for -- Tom's morning erection. With a sly grin, he grasped it gently.

Tom's eyes flew open. "Wha...?" Chakotay kissed him, preventing Tom from finishing his sentence. Tom relaxed into the kiss, giving the commander as good as he got. Chakotay loved this about Tom; he was an incredibly perceptive and generous lover.

The commander broke the kiss, pulled himself downward, and in one swift motion took Tom's cock into his mouth.

"Ooohhhh..." Tom moaned faintly. "Oh, yes..."

Chakotay sucked him gently, glancing upwards to see Tom's beautiful face contort with pleasure. It didn't take long. Tom thrust into his mouth, clutching at the sheets. "*God*, Chakotay!! I'm...I'm coming!" And he did, in sharp, savory bursts. Chakotay held on to him faithfully until Tom was spent, alternately grunting and whimpering.

"Not fair, big man. Not...fair at all."

Chakotay raised his head and winked at the pilot. "Who said anything about being fair?"

Tom beamed at him and held out his arms. Chakotay crawled into them and was rewarded with a kiss on his ear.

"Damn, you do that well."

"I claim no credit for that performance. The instrument I was playing was of the finest quality."

Tom snorted. "So I'm an 'instrument'?"

"Absolutely." Chakotay squeezed his lover. "You make beautiful music when you come."

Tom snorted again, more gently this time, and nipped the commander playfully on the shoulder. "Thanks. I can't think of a better way to wake up. Now, can I do something for you?"

"Maybe later." Chakotay broke Tom's embrace and bounced out of bed. "We do have all day, you know. I rearranged the duty shifts."

"I wondered what you were up to last night. Rank has its privileges."

"Speaking of rank...we had better recycle those sheets."

"Unless you want to come to my place tonight."

"I might consider that, but I'm still trying to overcome my slovenly habits of the past."

Tom grinned. "I love it when you're slovenly."

The commander chuckled. "I'll keep that in mind, lieutenant."

He stepped into the shower room and let the machine do its work. Refreshed, he pulled his robe around him, ran a comb through his bristly hair, and returned to the bedroom. Tom lounged in the bed, staring contentedly into space. Chakotay leaned over for a kiss.

"So what do you want to do today?"

Tom leered.

"Besides *that.*"

Tom shoved back the covers. "Lemme think about it while I clean up."

"Okay." Chakotay released him with a smile. Tom yawned, ran a hand through his blond hair, and disappeared.

Chakotay went to his closet and opened the door. He considered his choices, running his hands over the clothes, finally settling on a navy blue sweatshirt and beige drawstring pants. As he pulled the sweatshirt from its hanger, his fingers lost their grip. The shirt slithered to the floor. "Shit." He bent down to pick it up.

From behind the clothes, a dark case caught the commander's eye. He recognized the object immediately and winced.

How long had it been this time? Nine months? A year? He had promised himself that he would practice faithfully, and he had failed to do it. Again. Damn.

He dressed quickly, looked back inside the closet, and sighed. Tom was notoriously slow in the shower. Sure. He had time to take a quick peek.

The commander bent down, seized the case by the handle, and pulled it gently out of the darkness. He stared at it regretfully. Months of dust had accumulated on its sleek leather surface. Even the best of atmospheric recyclers did not quite get all the particles out of Voyager's air. He brushed futilely at the dirt and vowed to do a better job with a cloth later on.

Apprehensive, he slowly unlatched the case and raised the lid. The guitar lay inside, nestled in its velvety womb, as beautiful as it had been the first day Chakotay saw it. He picked it up delicately and rested it across his lap. It was his now, but it had not always been...

**********

Captain Kathryn Janeway had finished her speech to the newly integrated Starfleet and Maquis crews, putting Voyager's first steps home into Tom Paris's capable hands. After checking through all of the ship's systems, she had handed the bridge command over to Tuvok and requested that her new first officer accompany her on a tour. Chakotay was glad to get away from so many frowning Starfleet faces. He had a feeling it would take a while before they accepted his authority, no matter what the captain had told them.

He could not help but be impressed with Voyager as he walked through the corridors. She was small but tough -- not much different in temperament from the woman who strode by his side. If he had to travel seventy-five thousand light-years to get home, this ship had as good a chance of making it as any.

Janeway showed him the holodeck, the mess hall (where Neelix, their Talaxian guide, had already begun the first of many questionable culinary experiments), and then led him to the officers' quarters. She pointed out the entrance to her rooms, then continued, more slowly, down the corridor. She finally stopped in front of another door, turning to Chakotay with a smile that touched her lips but did not hide the sadness in her eyes.

"These...were Lieutenant Commander Cavit's quarters." She keyed in her manual override code. The door slid open, and Chakotay followed her inside.

"Spacious, if a bit sparse," the captain said quietly. "Bruce was not much for interior decoration."

Chakotay looked around. Janeway had not exaggerated. The walls were almost entirely bare except for a few photographs. The bed was covered with a plain brown spread and was scrupulously neat. Cavit appeared to have accumulated very few personal possessions in his brief service on Voyager.

"Will it suit you?"

Chakotay looked at the captain. Her eyes were tired, and it was clear that her losses were starting to sink in. "It's just fine," he said softly.

Janeway gave him another sad smile, then walked over to Cavit's closet. "Feel free to recycle whatever you won't use," she instructed, opening the door.

He stepped to her side, feeling suddenly protective. "Captain...I'm sorry. This must be very difficult for you."

"I'm all right, Mr. Chakotay." He could sense her distancing herself from him, not quite willing to trust him fully yet. Understandable.

"Did Commander Cavit leave a family?"

"Only his younger brother, Scott." Janeway indicated the photographs. "Bruce's parents were both killed in a transporter accident several years ago." She started to pull the pictures from the wall. "I'll take these. When we get home, I'll find Scott and give them to him. Last I knew he was teaching somewhere on Earth."

Chakotay looked away from the captain again, sensing that she needed a few more moments to compose herself. In one corner of the room he saw something he hadn't noticed before -- a metal stand holding a black instrument case. Curious, he walked over to examine it more closely.

"That's Bruce's guitar." She had come up behind him. "He was very proud of it. He played it almost constantly when he had any free time."

"May I?"

"Be my guest." She had gone back to looking at the photographs.

He took the case from its stand, laid it down on the bed, and opened it. Inside was a lovely six-stringed instrument. "It's beautiful."

"Yes. It's from the twenty-first century. A 'Gibson,' I believe."

"I'm keeping it." The words came out of his mouth almost involuntarily. What was he saying? He had never had any musical inclination in his life. But there was no way he could destroy this work of art, break it down into its material components, have it reconstituted into something else. It would be sacrilege.

A dry chuckle from the captain, but little humor behind it. "Do you play?"

"No. But I could learn."

"Well, I'm sure someone on Voyager would be able to teach you, or you could find some information in the database. I would imagine it would take quite a bit of practice to learn it properly."

"I'll make the time." He held the instrument up so she could see it. "I can't recycle this. It deserves a better fate. And I think it would be a good way to honor Commander Cavit's memory."

Janeway blinked, and Chakotay could tell that tears were very near now. "I quite agree."

He replaced the instrument carefully in its case. "Captain...if you don't need me on the bridge right now, I'd like to get settled in."

She nodded. "Report back to me in two hours, and we'll start discussing duty shifts."

"Aye, Captain." He watched her leave the room, clutching the photographs to her chest. The door slid shut. He re-fastened the guitar case and set it in its stand. Sighing, he turned to the difficult task of sorting through the remainder of Bruce Cavit's belongings...

*******

Chakotay found a couple of instructional vids and was able to teach himself some basic chords and strumming techniques. He downloaded numerous old Earth classical, folk, and rock guitar selections from Voyager's music library and tried to mimic what he heard, with some success. Sometimes he would attempt to sing along with his playing, and he found it surprisingly cathartic.

As the months passed, his practicing became erratic. It grew increasingly difficult to find time for music as Voyager's journey home became more and more dangerous. When he did pick up the instrument, he felt almost guilty about giving himself the pleasure of playing and singing again.

He never told anyone about his secret hobby, and the captain never asked about Cavit's guitar after the first day. She had her own creative outlets.

******

Now the commander held the instrument in his lap and ran his fingers gently over the strings. It was so *right* that he had stumbled upon it today. He was running out of ways to express his love for Tom.

He tucked the guitar under his arm and began to play a song from old Earth. He had no idea why this particular piece came to his mind, but it seemed to reflect his feelings quite well. His quiet baritone ran through the lyrics:

Finally I figured out But it took a long, long time But now there's a turnabout Maybe 'cause I'm trying

There's been times, I'm so confused All my roads, they lead to you I just can't turn and walk away.

It's hard to say what it is I see in you Wonder if I'll always be with you But words can't say, and I can't do Enough to prove it's all for you.

He was rusty. There was no question about that. But as he reached the second verse, the technique seemed to come back to him. Heartened, his voice grew stronger, and he let himself fall into the music:

I thought I'd seen it all 'Cause it's been a long, long time But then we'll trip and fall Wondering if I'm blind.

By the time he reached the bridge section, he had closed his eyes and forgotten where he was:

Rain comes pouring down Falling from blue skies Words without a sound Coming from your eyes.

He finished the song with a flourish, smiling to himself.

"You've been holding out on me, big man."

Chakotay's eyes flew open. Tom stood in front of him, freshly washed, dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans. There was an odd smile on the pilot's face.

Chakotay flushed. "Tom, I...."

"Sister Hazel. Late twentieth century, correct?"

"That's right." He was constantly amazed at Tom's knowledge of old Earth trivia.

"The band named themselves in honor of a woman who ran a shelter for homeless people in Gainesville, Florida, I believe."

"If you say so."

"Why don't you take it from the top?"

"What?"

"Start over. Do the song again."

"Tom..."

The pilot sat down next to him. "Just do it. Don't think about it. You weren't thinking before, and you made something special happen. Do it again."

Chakotay stared at the younger man for a few seconds. Tom held his gaze steadily and honestly.

His music had been so solitary, so personal. He never expected to share it with anyone. Yet here was Tom Paris, his friend and lover, looking at him so expectantly. Did he trust Tom enough to ignore his mistakes, to refrain from criticizing his technique, to hold back from comparing him to other musicians he had heard, like Harry Kim?

Harry. *There* was a talented person. He, Chakotay, was struggling at best.

Tom suddenly reached over and kissed Chakotay on the forehead. "I love you," he said. "Please, play for me."

How could he resist? "All right. But you'll see that..."

"Just play, Chakotay." Tom settled back onto the bed.

The commander nodded. He strummed a few chords, then began the song again, self-consciously at first. He found it distracting to look at Tom, so he closed his eyes momentarily, only to open them again in astonishment as a clear strong tenor began to sing the counterpoint. Chakotay was so surprised that he came close to missing a chord change. Tom fit his voice around Chakotay's, harmonizing, supporting, even challenging at times. Overwhelmed, the commander almost stopped singing altogether, but Tom quickly drew his attention back with a gentle hand on his knee. Chakotay looked up into intense blue eyes. Tom continued the song, and Chakotay rejoined him, gradually increasing his volume until he matched the pilot's.

//Just do it. Don't think about it.//

It was hard -- hard to let go control like this. In some ways it was harder than letting himself go during lovemaking.

Trust. That was the key. Trusting in himself and his talent. He shut his eyes again and allowed the music and emotion to flow through him and to Tom. He felt it returned with gusto.

And suddenly it just seemed like the most natural thing in the world to him -- to sing with his lover, a beautiful man full of his own mysteries and secrets. Well, Chakotay had just found out one of those secrets.

He strummed the last chord. The sound faded away gradually. Neither man spoke for a few moments as they savored the moment.

Chakotay put the guitar down gently and faced his partner. "What just happened there?"

"I don't know, but it was great."

"You sing beautifully, Tom."

"I'm a man of several hidden talents. And you're not so bad yourself, when you're not all hung up on the little details."

"Well...Thanks. No one else knows that I play, so I guess I'm kind of glad that the first person to find out is you."

Tom grinned. "It's fate, you know. Can I take a look at that beauty?"

Chakotay handed over the guitar. Tom examined it with care and whistled softly. "This is a Gibson, Cha. A real antique. You didn't replicate this, did you?"

"No. It belonged to Commander Cavit."

Tom raised his eyebrows. "No kidding. I never would have guessed. That guy hated me from the moment we met. Who would have known he was a musician?"

"People surprise you all the time, don't they." It was a statement, not a question.

Tom handed the instrument back to the commander. "Let's do another one."

"If you insist." Chakotay grinned. "Any suggestions?"

"Just pick something. I'll probably know it."

Chakotay pondered this while he strummed some random chords. "Okay. Here's something obscure -- Billy Pilgrim."

Tom frowned. "Billy Pilgrim...Cha, Billy Pilgrim's a character in a *novel.* Vonnegut, twentieth century..."

Chakotay's grin widened. "Got you this time, Paris. That all may be true, but 'Billy Pilgrim' was also a musical duo. A short-lived duo, but they did release two albums."

"Let's hear it." Tom sat back, with that odd smile of expectation and challenge on his face.

"All right." This was one of Chakotay's favorite songs, and for the life of him he could not figure out why this group had not done more with their talent:

Like a light, I feel electric Feel the power running through Diving fast into the motion Driving hard to get to you.

Let's get to know some of the locals Set 'em up a whiskey round. Line our pockets with some pesos Spend the night painting the town.

Hold me tight, don't let me down. Let's go spread the word around It's our time to make a joyous sound... Beatin' the drums in Tinseltown. We'll be beatin' the drums in Tinseltown.

Chakotay went on to the second verse. At the second chorus, Tom joined in on the harmony, not missing a beat or a word. Chakotay figured that Tom must have been blessed with some kind of special talent -- to hear a piece of music once and be able to play it back perfectly.

Tom nodded slowly as the commander finished the song. "That was great, Chakotay, really fine. I can't believe you've been hiding this from me. You've given me an idea. Or, rather, inspired me to go back to an old idea."

"What are you talking about?"

"All in good time, Cha. You'll find out soon enough."

"Should I be worried here?"

"Nah. Only worry about whether I'm going to jump your bones in the next few minutes."

"*That* sounds promising." The commander gently put his guitar back in its case.

"I seem to remember someone a little while ago comparing me to a musical instrument. Little did I...know...what I was in for...uh..." Tom's voice trailed off as Chakotay began to nuzzle his neck. "Dammit, you're doing it to me again..."

Chakotay pushed Tom down on the bed and began to ravish his mouth.

"I'm...supposed...to be...getting *you* off...right now." Tom groaned under the commander's assault.

"Who's keeping track?" Chakotay chuckled and pulled off his shirt. "I sure as hell am not. Shut up, Lieutenant, and let me make love to you."

Tom relaxed. Chakotay quickly reached down and undid the younger man's pants. Tom gasped as Chakotay gripped his cock firmly and began to stroke up and down its length. At the same time, the commander untied his own pants and grasped his own swelling erection.

"Cha..." Tom whispered frantically. "Fuck me, please. I need you inside me. Right now."

"Not yet." Chakotay bent down and took Tom's cock into his mouth. Tom hissed. "Oh, yes..."

Damn, he loved doing this. He loved having control, giving Tom pleasure, but doing it at his own pace. Tom writhed under him, moaning faintly. Chakotay opened his throat and took Tom in even deeper. Tom uttered a sharp cry and began thrusting. Within seconds, warm spicy semen filled Chakotay's mouth. "Oh, yes, oh, God, yes..."

Chakotay held on for a few more moments until Tom had settled down, then lifted his head and smiled. "That was just the warm-up."

Tom gave a weak laugh. "You play me as well as you do that guitar."

Chakotay lifted himself off Tom and reached into his bedside table for the tube of lubricant. He gave the lieutenant a long lingering kiss. "Better, I hope."

"I have no complaints." Tom raised his legs into the air, giving Chakotay a marvelous view of his ass. Chakotay coated his fingers with lubricant and slowly inserted one inside his lover. Tom closed his eyes, adjusting himself to the feeling. Chakotay stretched the muscle gently and added another finger, then finally a third. God, he loved and wanted this man so much. He never wanted to hurt him.

"Ready?" he whispered.

"Yes. Love me." Tom's voice was so low he could hardly hear it.

Chakotay raised up and pushed himself slowly inside Tom. "I do, Tom, so much." He reached for Tom's legs and caressed the smooth skin of his inner thighs. Tom tensed at the commander's entry. Chakotay paused, stroking the pilot with a feather touch, whispering assurances. Tom relaxed. Chakotay slowly inched his way further inside Tom's hot tightness, clenching his jaw, fighting to keep control.

"Yes, Cha. Beautiful, big man...."

Damn, how did he *ever* think that he could control this feeling? Oh, hell. He began to pump into his lover, feeling the blood rush to his face as well as to his cock.

"Tom...oh, spirits..."

Chakotay was lost in a wave of pleasure. He came ferociously, ecstatically, throwing his head back in a roar. When it was over, he pulled out of Tom and collapsed on top of him. Tom put his arms around the older man and held him tightly.

"That sounded like a good one."

"It was."

"You were saving yourself, weren't you?"

Chakotay chuckled weakly, feeling a little embarrassed. "Sometimes if I hold back my own pleasure for a while, the climax is that much better."

"Now I understand the 'two-for-one' deal."

Chakotay laughed at Tom's matter-of-fact tone. "So you've got me all figured out, have you?"

"I'm getting there." Tom ran his fingers through Chakotay's hair. "I noticed something else, too."

"What?"

"The look on your face, just now, before you started to come. It's the same look you had while you were playing the guitar and you didn't know I was watching."

Chakotay flushed, uncertain of what to say.

"You've got something great going there, Cha. It's a gift. I felt it earlier. Sometimes playing music is like making love."

"I'm not sure I know what you're talking about." Chakotay rolled off of Tom, feeling increasingly uncomfortable with this conversation.

Tom pressed on. "It's...a kind of joy, a kind of connection with others, with Creation. Like the feeling at orgasm, when you're one with the universe for just a second or two."

"You feel that way when you're singing?"

"Yeah, when I lose myself in it. I once knew a woman back on Earth who swore to me that she had orgasms by just listening to good music. Never touched herself, but still came."

Chakotay raised his eyebrows questioningly. Tom laughed. "No, it's never happened to me. Must be a female kind of phenomenon. But the emotions have come close at times. Certain pieces of music will turn me into a puddle if I'm in the right mood."

The commander shook his head in wonder. "Tom Paris, you are a man *full* of surprises."

"But not full of food," the lieutenant replied, rolling into a sitting position. "In fact, I'm starved. Do you want to eat in or brave the mess hall?"

Chakotay considered this. He wasn't sure yet if he wanted their relationship to be public knowledge. Not that he was ashamed of it at all. He just wanted to keep Tom to himself for awhile. Yes, that was it.

Tom gave him a searching look. "Anything wrong?"

"No, not at all. I was thinking that I should check in briefly with the Captain, even if it is my day off..."

"No problem. I'll go in first. You can follow me in about five minutes. I need to talk to Harry about something anyway." Tom grabbed his towel from the head of the bed and began to clean himself up.

Chakotay smiled, gratified at Tom's perceptiveness. "Sounds like a plan."

Tom pulled his pants up and kissed the top of Chakotay's head. "And later on, I want to hear some more of your music."

"I'm all yours."

"Good." Tom's voice was uncharacteristically serious. "Don't hold back with me, Chakotay. We've come so far in such a short time. You *can* trust me." He took Chakotay's head in his hand and stared hard into his eyes.

"I do, Tom."

Tom kissed his lips gently. "Love you."

"Love you."

Tom left the room without looking back. Chakotay sighed, picked up the guitar, and returned it to the closet.

**********

"Good morning, Commander. Sleep well?"

Chakotay started, wondering what Kathryn knew. But her cool blue eyes betrayed nothing as she sat down across from him with her tray.

"Er...yes, I did." At least *that* wasn't a lie.

//Don't look at Tom. Don't look at him. Don't give yourself away.// His brain hammered with an internal mantra as he tried to focus on the captain. Tom and Harry were seated only two tables away, seemingly deep in conversation.

"What's our status?" Good, Chakotay. Safe question.

"Both Beta and Gamma shifts reported nothing unusual. B'Elanna's planning to do some routine maintenance on the impulse engines today. Tuvok is conducting some hand-to-hand combat drills on the holodeck at 1300. And Naomi Wildman is going to teach Seven of Nine how to play something called 'canasta.'" The captain chuckled at this last item and took a long gulp of her coffee. "I gather it's some kind of card game. Tom would probably know more about it."

"Yes, he probably would." Did he say that too quickly?

Kathryn raised one eyebrow briefly. "Something wrong, Chakotay?"

"No, not at all." Get a grip, man. "Guess I'm just...looking forward to my day off." Lame. Very lame.

"Well, enjoy it while you can. I noticed you gave Tom the day off, too."

Could the woman read his mind? He flushed and tried to cover it up by bending over his tray to sniff at Neelix's latest offering. At least it didn't *smell* poisonous. Okay, now, what should he say in reply? Say *something*, you idiot. "Well...I figured that Mr. Chell would benefit from having more time at the helm. He did ask me last week if he could take a couple of extra shifts." The truth. The truth would set him free. Please.

"Good thinking, Commander." The captain mercifully let the subject drop and moved on to another anecdote about Seven, Naomi, and something called a "hula hoop." Chakotay risked a glance at Tom, who was still talking very intently to Harry Kim. Harry's eyes looked downward and his posture indicated unease with whatever Tom was telling him. Chakotay wondered what could possibly be disturbing the young ensign. He would ask Tom about it later. Right now, much as he liked the captain, he wanted her to go away so he could finish eating and meet Tom back in his quarters.

Now Harry looked up at Tom and a slight smile crossed his face. Tom swallowed the last of his drink and stood up, clapping his friend affectionately on the shoulder. His eyes met Chakotay's, and the lieutenant gave his lover the smallest of winks and nods. Everything was fine. Tom left the mess hall.

Chakotay relaxed, finished his breakfast, and followed him eight minutes later.

*********

"What were you saying to Harry?" He thought he might as well cut to the chase.

Tom threw himself into Chakotay's favorite chair. "You really want to know?"

"Yes."

"I told him that I know he's in love with B'Elanna and that he shouldn't let me get in the way. I reminded him that she and I have been over for a long time. They need each other, Cha. It's so obvious."

"Does she feel the same way about him?"

"Yeah. She just doesn't know it yet."

Chakotay laughed. "Tom Paris, matchmaker of the Delta Quadrant."

Tom grinned. "You'll see. I'm right about this, big man. Now why don't you get that guitar out and teach me some more songs?"

**********

Chakotay played and sang old Earth folk and rock music with Tom for the next two hours, until his voice and fingers gave out. Afterwards, he put the guitar away while Tom called up various musical selections from the computer. Chakotay replicated a bottle of wine, and the two men curled up together on Chakotay's sofa and listened as music from Earth's past filled their senses. Tom had a definite taste for the classics as well as popular music from the twentieth century. Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart mixed well with Springsteen, Dylan, and the Beatles.

Chakotay held Tom in his arms and stroked his hair. It seemed to him that he had never felt so content in all his life. He closed his eyes and said a silent thank-you to the spirits for this blessing.

As the last notes of "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" faded away, Tom stirred. "Computer, what's the time?"

"The time is 1357."

"Care for a game of hoverball, old man?"

Chakotay swatted him playfully. "Old, eh? Watch me whip your butt."

"Why, Cha, I didn't know you were into that kinky kind of thing."

"Get out of here and get suited up, Lieutenant, or I won't be responsible for the consequences."

"Yes, *sir.*" Tom gave the commander a mock salute and left his quarters.

**********

"Kim to Paris."

Tom, sweating, up two games to one, cursed under his breath. "Go ahead, Harry."

"I'm off duty. How about a game of pool at Sandrine's?"

Tom looked at Chakotay, eyebrows upraised. "Uh...Harry, give me a few minutes here. I'll get back to you."

"Okay. I'll be waiting in my quarters."

Tom groaned. "Cha, how am I going to get out of this one?"

"You don't have to. Go be with Harry for awhile. It's OK."

"You sure?"

"No problem. I don't want to monopolize you. How about dinner back in my quarters tonight?"

Tom grasped the commander's shoulders and kissed him. "Sounds great. And...thanks."

"You're welcome."

**********

Tom was as good as his word, arriving at 1830 for tomato soup and Spanish rice. He devoured everything in front of him. Chakotay smiled indulgently. "Can I get you anything else, sir?"

"Just a big dark-haired man with a tattoo to rub my feet."

"Consider it done." Chakotay took Tom by the hand and led him over to the bed. Tom lay back as the commander took off his shoes and socks and began the massage.

"This has been a *great* day, Cha. Probably one of the best ones I've had in months. I've managed to cram in all of my favorite things -- hoverball, music, pool, food, sex, and you."

"You don't count piloting in that mix?"

"That's my *job*. Sure, I enjoy it, but flying isn't all that I am. If we ever get home, I'll probably want to just stay on Earth for awhile and feel real ground beneath my feet. Does that make any sense?"

"Sure it does." Chakotay put down Tom's right foot and picked up the left one.

"Damn, Cha, you've got great hands."

"So I'm told."

"Not to mention you're a great kisser."

"Naturally."

Tom laughed. "And you have that sly sense of humor."

"Go on."

"You give great head. And you can play guitar and sing. No wonder I fell in love with you."

Chakotay dropped Tom's foot, leaned over his lover, and kissed him deeply. "Dessert?"

"Later..."

*************

"Chocolate cake. Cha, did you use up all your replicator rations for this?"

"It was either that or ask Neelix for his dessert of the day. I figured this was safer."

Tom shoved a huge bite into his mouth. "Good decision."

"Glad you like it. Watch those crumbs, Lieutenant, or I'll make you lick them off the floor."

"More kinky talk. I love it. Your reputation is ruined forever. Wait until the crew gets a load of the newer, looser First Officer."

Chakotay frowned slightly.

Tom patted his arm. "I'm *kidding,* Chakotay. Don't worry. I won't spill anything. And I promise to be a good boy on the bridge tomorrow."

The commander leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. "I hope so. I really want us to continue working together if we can. If we can't keep our professional and personal lives separate, I may have to assign you permanently to another shift. And how I'd explain that to the Captain, I have no idea."

"You've got a point, Cha. I'll behave. I promise. And I'll let you know if I think it's not working out."

"Fair enough." Chakotay smiled and stood up. "Help me clean this mess up, and let's listen to some more music."

"Sounds great."

They fell asleep in each other's arms as the strains of Pachelbel's "Canon" faded away.

The End


Song credits:

"All For You." Written by Ken Block and Sister Hazel. Performed by Sister Hazel, from their album "...Somewhere More Familiar," copyright 1997.

"Lost & Found in Tinseltown." Written by Andrew Hydra. Performed by Billy Pilgrim, from their album "Billy Pilgrim," copyright 1994.
New Vibrations by Kiff
New Vibrations by Kiff
(VOY, C/P, NC-17)

Disclaimer: They belong to Paramount. I'm letting them out for some fresh air.

Feedback: Gratefully accepted at: Kiff47@yahoo.com

Archiving: Permission granted to Sileya to archive at my TSU website. May also be archived at ASCEM, BLTS, CPSG, TP Dorm. Anything else, please ask first.

Dedication: For David: November, 1979.

Summary: Chakotay goes public. Tom goes retro. This is the fifth story in my "Delta Suite" series and follows "Overtures," "Crescendo," "Accelerando," and "Joyous Sounds." The previous stories can be found at my web page: http://members.tripod.com/~TSU_Campus/kiffscott.html

Special thanks to Britta for beta-reading.

*****************************************************************************

Tom Paris had a secret, and Chakotay was determined to find it out. Coaxing and bribes were getting him nowhere. Then he got a brilliant idea.

"Chakotay to Paris."

"Paris here."

"Sandrine's tonight. 2100 hours. I've got us the best pool table."

He could hear Tom chuckle. "Is that an order, Commander?"

"Yes, it is."

"Far be it from me to disobey Starfleet protocol. Okay, I'll be there."

"See you." Chakotay signed off with a smile, leaning back in his chair. His reports sat in front of him, waiting patiently, but the commander ignored them for the moment.

It had been two weeks since he and Tom had first slept together. He had learned a lot about the young man in that span of time. Tom preferred the left side of the bed, he liked to sing in the shower, and he loved to get fucked lying flat on his back.

But there was one thing Chakotay wasn't getting out of Tom yet. The lieutenant was up to something. Chakotay had caught him and Neelix in the mess hall eight days ago, deep in conversation, with a stack of padds between them. Upon seeing their superior officer, the two men swept their evidence under the kitchen counter with weak grins. Chakotay could have pulled rank and demanded to see what it was they were plotting, but he figured Tom would tell him later in the day.

However, Tom was not forthcoming. "Don't worry, Cha. I'm not planning a mutiny or anything. I just need a little more time."

Chakotay let it go at that point, but his curiosity only grew as the days went by.

Tom was staying with him every night, slipping quietly in and out of the commander's quarters without anyone else appearing to notice. There was an unspoken agreement between the two men to keep their arrangement to themselves for now. Chakotay knew that this would have to change soon, but he was uncomfortable with the prospect. He didn't think that the captain would have any serious objections; in the two weeks since he and Tom had consummated their relationship, they had continued to work together on the bridge in a professional manner.

He couldn't put his finger on exactly what was bothering him. Would the Maquis crew give Tom problems when they found out that he was sleeping with their former captain? A lot of time had passed since Tom had been recruited for the conspiracy to flush out Seska's spy. Chakotay ran name after name through his brain, trying to remember if any of them had been involved in any reportable conflicts with Tom. He couldn't think of any. Then he called up Tuvok's security records. Nothing in the last year.

What about B'Elanna's feelings? Chakotay had counseled her a few times in the last two weeks, and Tom's name had hardly come up. She had talked more about her home life and her anger at both of her parents. She was making good progress in dealing with her grief over the lost Maquis. And she was spending more and more time with Harry Kim in the mess hall and on the holodeck. The young ensign had a definite calming effect on her. And hadn't she herself hinted that Tom and Chakotay were growing closer?

Maybe it wasn't really because it was Tom he was involved with. Maybe Chakotay was just uncomfortable, period, with admitting that he was in love with someone. Years ago, on the _Vico_ with Michael Eddington, romances among the crew were not exactly prohibited, but people were encouraged to keep their affairs to themselves. Chakotay's natural reserve made this a relatively easy task. On Voyager, things were more open, but it was still hard to stray from old habits and tendencies.

Anyway, he had a plan to flush out Tom's big secret, and not even his anxiety about going public with his lover was going to get in the way of *that*.

He sat up in his chair and went back to work.

*****

As usual, Chakotay arrived early at Sandrine's. He ordered a beer and sat down at the bar. About a dozen of the crew were there with him; Dalby and Geron were engaged in a high-spirited pool game on the opposite side of the room.

Sandrine appeared with a frosty mug and a smile. "Waiting for Thomas, *non*?"

The commander grinned at her. "Not much gets past you, does it?"

"Nothing does." She leaned toward him. "I am so happy for you, *mon ami.*"

No point in denying it to a hologram. "Thank you. So am I, and so is Tom, but I'd appreciate it if you would be discreet about this for now."

Sandrine made a zipping motion across her lips. "You may trust me."

Chakotay nodded, and the woman turned away from him with a wink. He sipped his beer and tried to focus his thoughts. Around him, soft ragtime music played, punctuated by the sound of pool balls colliding and the voices of his crewmates in soft conversation.

At precisely 2100, Tom came into the tavern, dressed in blue jeans and a black turtleneck. He saw Chakotay at the bar, gave him a friendly grin, and indicated the pool table. Chakotay picked up his beer and walked over to his lover. "Aren't you having a drink tonight?"

"Not right now." Tom picked up a pool cue and began to chalk it.

The commander set his glass down and did the same. The two men worked quietly and carefully, almost as if they were preparing weapons for a duel.

"Okay," Tom said finally. "What are we playing for?"

"The truth."

"I can handle that one."

"If I win, you have to tell me what you and Neelix are up to."

"I figured as much," said the pilot. "Okay. And if I win, you have to answer a question for me, as honestly and completely as you can."

Chakotay hesitated, wondering what was on the young man's mind. He thought things were going well so far in their relationship. Maybe Tom had other ideas.

Still, it was a fair bet. "Deal. I'll rack. You break."

They shook hands solemnly; for a moment it seemed to Chakotay as if they had not spent the last two weeks as lovers. Tom was all seriousness as he walked to the other end of the table. Chakotay took his time arranging the balls in the familiar triangle. He felt that, one way or another, things with Tom were about to change again. And that change might be difficult.

Tom broke strongly, dropping two striped balls into each of the corner pockets. But he missed his next shot, and Chakotay was able to catch up to him. They exchanged shot for shot, neither one getting more than one ball ahead of the other. They spoke little except to compliment each other when a successful shot was made.

Dalby and Geron, their own game finished, watched from a respectful distance as the commander and lieutenant competed with an intensity that no other two players on Voyager could match.

Chakotay eyed a shot at his last ball. He banked the cue ball successfully off the side of the table, but it failed to strike the two ball as hard as he had wished. The two rolled to a stop several inches from the pocket.

Calmly, Tom sunk his last ball, the ten, into the far corner. He slapped the side pocket closest to him and took aim with the eight ball. It rolled inside.

Chakotay sighed. He had finished his beer long ago and felt he could really use another right now. For some reason, he was dreading Tom's question.

The lieutenant was looking intently at him. Chakotay found his voice. "Congratulations, Tom. Good game."

Paris only nodded; his expression was difficult to read in the dim light. "Now I think I'll have a drink."

The two men replaced their pool cues. Each got a beer. Tom led Chakotay to the same secluded table they had used so many weeks ago when they were talking about the letters from home.

"Cha," Tom began. "I love you. You know that, right?"

Spirits, what was wrong? People always began painful speeches like that. Chakotay braced himself, his mind searching wildly for any reason that Tom would have for feeling dissatisfied with things. Their lovemaking last night had been spectacular. Tom had come twice; the second time with such ferocity that Chakotay had feared the bed would break underneath them.

So what could it be? He swallowed. "I know it, Tom. And you know I love you."

Tom started to reach for his hand, then he seemed to remember that they were not alone. Instead, Tom's hand brushed across his own forehead. A few awkward seconds passed as the lieutenant appeared to gather his thoughts.

"Cha..."

"Just ask it, Tom."

"When can we go public?"

Chakotay closed his eyes in relief. Tom didn't want to break up; he just wanted to be able to tell his friends about his new relationship.

"It's been two weeks," the pilot went on. "I feel pretty good about things, don't you?"

"I do, too," said the commander.

"We haven't broken vases over each other's heads, and we haven't called each other names, or had hissy fits over who gets to sleep on which side of the bed...(this made Chakotay smile in spite of himself)...and the sex is great, and I love it when we get to sing together a little bit...Cha, this is too good for just the two of us alone."

Tom paused and looked at his lover. Whatever he saw didn't discourage him. "I can't hide it from Harry forever, you know. I think he might have figured it out already, if he wasn't spending so much time with B'Elanna. And I think Neelix suspects something. He's got his nose into every piece of gossip on this ship."

Chakotay nodded; he couldn't argue that last point.

"So, Cha, what do you say? Can we spill the beans?"

The commander took a long drink of his beer. "It's a fair question, Tom, and I've been thinking about it a little myself."

"We've got something good going here, right? I mean, it's not like we're going to break up tomorrow or anything..."

Chakotay leaned over and squeezed Tom's hand briefly; right now it didn't matter to him if anyone saw. "I'm here to stay, Tom."

The younger man smiled. "Just wanted to make sure you weren't starting to get bored with me."

"I don't think that's ever going to happen."

Under the table, Tom rubbed his foot up Chakotay's leg, making the older man shiver just a little. "I'll make sure it doesn't."

They laughed, breaking some of the tension. Chakotay tipped his beer glass in Tom's direction, and the pilot returned the gesture. They drank.

Tom set his glass down. "I know this is a little tougher for you, Cha. You're second in command, and you're worried about the captain and if she's going to have problems with this. And you're worried that the Maquis won't like it, either."

"Like I said, I've thought about it. You haven't had any problems with the Maquis in over a year. Voyager's had to work together for too long. We've been through hell and back, all of us. I honestly don't think anyone will give you trouble."

"And the Captain?"

Chakotay took a deep breath. "I'll start with her first. Give me a day or too, though. She's going through a bit of a rough time right now. But I don't think she'll be a problem. As long as you continue to follow my orders when we're on duty, she should be fine with it."

"Okay. Can I say something to Harry at least?"

"Can you trust him to keep it to himself for now?"

"Sure. This won't affect your ability to work with him, will it?"

Chakotay thought a moment. "It shouldn't." But it was so hard to predict exactly how people were going to react. Harry was a good officer as well as a loyal friend. The commander felt that the ensign could balance the two roles effectively. Yet there was still the issue of B'Elanna.

Tom was reading his mind. "You're thinking about him and B'Elanna, right?"

"Yeah."

"He won't say anything to her, Cha. Besides, she might figure it out on her own. She knows you, and she knows me. She won't need any help."

"Good point." Chakotay smiled.

"Okay," Tom relaxed. "You tell the Captain, and I'll tell Harry. Should we tell each other afterwards how it went?"

"Only if we're in bed, in some kind of horizontal position."

Tom chuckled lazily. "Am I being propositioned here?"

"I'll leave that to your imagination." Chakotay drained his beer and stood up. "Usual five-minute head start?"

"I'll give you ten tonight."

"I'll make it worth your while."

"I'm counting on it."

Chakotay stifled his laughter with some difficulty as he left the holodeck. Maybe things would get easier once their relationship was known throughout the ship.

On the other hand, this kind of tension made for *great* sex.

*****

Two mornings later, Chakotay saw his opportunity. The captain excused herself twenty minutes into the shift, going into the Ready Room to study some scientific reports.

He gave her some time to settle in, then quietly asked Tuvok to take over the command seat. The Vulcan complied, and Chakotay, with a glance in Tom's direction, headed for the door. Tom rewarded him with a smile that only the commander could see. He nodded back at his lover, then signaled at the captain's door.

"Come in."

He did so. Kathryn Janeway was sitting at her desk, hunched over in concentration. He knew she was trying to keep her mind occupied. Not long ago, she had found out that her lover had married someone else, and the news had made her withdraw from many of the crew. She had buried herself in her work and her responsibilities. It was not a good situation. Chakotay was worried about her.

She did have a smile for him this morning, however. "Well, Commander, what good news do you have for me today?"

"We're cruising at warp eight, with no obstacles in our path, and no known enemies on our tail." He returned her smile.

"Sounds like a normal day on Voyager." She stood up and stretched. "Join me for a second cup of coffee?"

"All right." He accepted a hot cup from her and an invitation to sit on the couch.

She scrutinized him. "I know that look. What else is going on?"

He set his cup down. "I need to discuss a personal matter with you."

She leaned forward. "A disciplinary matter?"

"No." He folded his hands together. "This concerns me...and one other person on board."

Janeway's eyebrows twitched. "I know Seven hasn't exactly been cooperating with you. I'll speak to her again..."

"No, it's not that." He sighed. "Kathryn, I have become involved, *romantically* involved, with another person on Voyager. And I think you have the right to know about it."

She drew back from him, her eyes widening. "With whom?"

"Tom Paris."

"*Tom.*" She stared at him. "You can't be serious."

"I *am* serious. I love him."

Kathryn kept her eyes on his as she took a large swallow of coffee. He did not flinch from her gaze.

Finally she spoke. "You've got to understand, this is a bit of a shock to me. I mean, I remember a time when I thought you wanted to kill him. And even lately, I've noticed that you two were getting along better, but I never thought it had gone this far."

"Kathryn, to be honest, a year ago I would have completely agreed with you. But things have happened. We've gotten to know each other. We became friends. And then we fell in love. Hard as it is for you to believe, it's true."

"How long has this been going on, Chakotay?"

"Seriously? About two weeks."

"Ah, that explains it."

"What?"

"I've wondered why Tom has been coming into the mess hall for breakfast almost exactly five minutes after you do."

Chakotay felt himself reddening a little, but the captain only grinned and went on. "Tom Paris has always been notoriously late for breakfast since he came on board. Until the last two weeks. I thought Neelix had suddenly come up with some new kind of food to get him in there. But now I understand." She chuckled. "Very clever, Commander."

"We, uh, decided to keep things quiet for awhile," he replied, "but I knew we couldn't do it forever."

Kathryn took another sip of coffee. "So," she said, more quietly, "you and Tom are lovers."

"We are."

"Well, I didn't get in the way of his relationship with B'Elanna, and I'm certainly not going to get in the way of this one either -- as long as the two of you understand your roles on this ship."

"We've talked about it, Kathryn. I think we'll be okay. But I hope you will keep an eye on us, to make sure."

"Oh, I will." But her voice was gentle. "I'm happy for you, Chakotay, and for Tom. I have hoped for a long time that the two of you would be friends. You are two of my best officers, and I would trust either of you with my life...or with my ship." Kathryn paused, and Chakotay fancied he could see tears starting in her eyes. "Life can be very lonely on a starship, even one that isn't forty thousand light-years from home. You and Tom are lucky to have found each other."

He looked at her, sensing her pain, wanting to help in some way. "Kathryn, I think I can speak for Tom when I say we are proud to serve with you, and we both consider you a friend as well as our Captain. You aren't alone."

She looked up and smiled. He reached for her hand and gave it a quick squeeze. She returned the pressure briefly, then released him. "Thank you, Chakotay. I'm glad you told me about this. And please tell Tom he can relax and get a few more minutes of sleep in the morning if he wants to."

He nodded, draining the remainder of his coffee. "I'll do that. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"Keep my ship going. That'll be all."

"Aye, Captain. Take care."

"I will."

Chakotay returned to the bridge. Tom turned at the sound of the door opening. The commander gave him a brief smile and took the center chair back from Tuvok. He felt pretty good about things right now.

The remainder of the shift passed quickly and quietly.

*****************

After dinner...

"Paris to Chakotay."

"Chakotay here."

"I'll be a little late tonight. Neelix and I are working on our project."

The commander sighed. "How much longer?"

"A week, I think. It'll be worth it, Cha. Trust me. And, by the way, I'm going to grab Harry for a pool game later on and tell him all about you and me. Assuming it's okay."

"No problem, Tom. I'll leave a light on for you."

"Going to bed early?"

"Maybe. Some guy kept me up late last night."

"Give me his name and I'll beat him up for you."

Chakotay laughed. "Have a good time."

"Sweet dreams, Cha."

********************

Chakotay woke around 0100. Tom was climbing into bed next to him.

"Hey."

"Hey," the pilot replied. "Sorry. I tried to be quiet."

"S'okay." The commander rolled over. "How's Harry?"

"Surprised."

"Is that good or bad?"

"He's fine with it, Cha. He likes you, you know. He sees you as kind of a father figure."

"*Great.*"

"Well, you *are* old enough...."

"Stop right there, Paris."

"Stopping, sir."

"Kiss me."

Tom complied, and Chakotay pulled the younger man into his arms, stroking the cool pale skin. His lover sighed with pleasure. Chakotay's hand strayed to the lieutenant's crotch.

"Cha, I know you're tired. You don't have to...."

"I *want* to."

Chakotay usually got what he wanted, and this time was no exception. Afterwards, Tom lay limp in his arms, relaxed and happy. Feeling warm and content, Chakotay watched as the young man fell asleep. It was not long before he followed Tom into dreamland.

*****************

At breakfast the next morning, Harry Kim stopped at Chakotay's table with his tray. "Sir?"

Chakotay looked up from the padd he had been studying. "Yes, Harry?"

"Can I sit with you for a moment?"

"Certainly." He set the padd down. "What's on your mind?" As if he didn't know....

Harry planted himself in a chair. "Tom. And you." The young ensign bit his lip. "He told me about what's been going on. Sir, Tom's a great guy...."

"I've noticed."

Harry flushed. "Well, yeah...I figured...Anyway, he's my best friend, and I'm just looking out for him. No offense, sir."

"None taken. Look at it this way. Now he has *two* people looking out for him, wouldn't you say?"

Kim stared at the commander and finally smiled. "You *do* care for him, don't you?"

"I love him. Is *that* good enough for you, Ensign?" But Chakotay had a twinkle in his eye as he said it.

"Yes, sir!"

"Good. Now I have to get back to my reports. You can still sit with me if you want, but I need to concentrate."

Harry acquiesced, and they finished their food in companionable silence.

******************

Shifts passed one by one, and finally the day came when Tom walked into Chakotay's quarters with an announcement.

"Holodeck One, 2100 hours."

"Hmmm?"

"Get your nose out of that novel, Commander. Neelix and I are done at last. We've invited a select number of individuals to our grand unveiling."

Chakotay set down his book and stretched. "A new holodeck program. So *that's* why it took so long."

"Not just *any* holodeck program. This one's a work of art."

"And Sandrine's isn't? The Ping-Pong room isn't?"

"I've gotten better with the small touches. And Neelix had some fantastic ideas. Don't worry, I'm not doing away with Sandrine's, or anything else. Not even Captain Proton."

Chakotay rolled his eyes at that last comment. The primitive space opera just wasn't to his taste. "Guess Harry will be glad to hear that."

"Sure he will. He's on the guest list tonight. Come on, Cha, it's dinner time. My treat." Tom held out his hand and pulled Chakotay to his feet. "How does pasta salad and Italian bread sound?"

"Sounds good." He allowed Tom to lead him into the dining area, where he sat and watched as Tom replicated and served their meal.

As they ate, he eyed his companion across the table. He was getting very used to doing just about everything with Tom now. The lieutenant hardly spent any time at all in his own quarters. Maybe Chakotay should ask him to move in. Soon.

************************

"Blue jeans and a T-shirt." That had been Tom's reply when the commander asked him about tonight's dress code. Chakotay pulled on the comfortable clothes, smoothed back his hair, and made his way to the holodeck.

The unmistakable smell of fresh coffee hit him as he approached the entrance. He spoke the password that Tom had given him, and the door swished open.

Chakotay took a few steps inside, inhaling the rich aroma. It wasn't just coffee, it was chocolate, mint, orange, and other exotic odors he couldn't identify.

The room was enormous. The walls were covered with posters and other artwork that Chakotay judged to be from the twentieth century. To his right were dozens of wooden tables and chairs, all decorated with blue tablecloths and lit with artificial candles. Opposite him was a tiled dance floor, and beyond that a stage, raised only slightly from the floor, with a blue curtain behind it. And to his left was the source of the marvelous smells -- a large coffee bar, staffed at this moment by a grinning Neelix. For once, the Talaxian's flashy clothing didn't seem out of place.

"Well, what do you think so far?"

Chakotay turned to see Tom Paris coming up behind him, in a multicolored T-shirt and flared jeans. Around his neck hung a leather peace symbol.

The commander stifled a laugh at Tom's outrageous get-up. "Well, this is different. You were right."

"Different, hell. It's positively groovy!" Tom clapped a hand on Chakotay's shoulder and began steering him toward the bar. "This is a coffeehouse, circa 1970. College campuses all over the United States had them. They served the best java and the best music to students and townspeople alike."

"Welcome to the Blue Persuasion, Commander!" called Neelix from the bar. "Can I interest you in a cappuccino or a latte? Or perhaps some Red Zinger?"

"That last one sounds illegal," said Chakotay to Tom.

"It's a tea," replied his companion, "and quite a good one as well. I'll take one of those, Neelix, and give me a plain java for the Commander. Let him get used to the place first."

"Coming right up," said the Talaxian.

The two humans leaned against the bar. "The Blue Persuasion?" asked Chakotay.

"There's a story behind it," said Tom. "Computer, play program modification Paris Epsilon-Five."

A song began to play over the loudspeakers. "Tommy James and the Shondells," the pilot explained. "Listen."

Chakotay took his coffee from Neelix and listened to the 1960's band sing about "crystal blue persuasion, it's a new vibration."

"Okay," said the commander after the music faded away. "You've spent the better part of a month re-creating a twentieth century coffeehouse."

"You're partially responsible, too, you know."

"How's that?"

"You and that hidden talent you have. Remember that day we first sang together? I told you then that you inspired me to go back to an old idea. This was it."

"So what did Neelix do?"

"He did the coffees and teas, of course. And the food -- pastries, sandwiches, light kinds of things. No alcohol allowed, by the way. He outdid himself, Cha."

"I like the smells, anyway."

Tom inhaled deeply. "These places had character. Young people were waking up, questioning authority, making great music, getting together, trying to change the world. I wish I could have been there."

Chakotay racked his brain. "Let me see -- you want to go back to the time of the Vietnam War, street riots, and drugs?"

"That wasn't the whole scene, Cha. There were some beautiful things happening. And the music was outstanding. You play some of those songs yourself. Didn't you ever consider the history behind them?"

"Well, sure...."

"Tommy! You made it!"

Chakotay spun around at the new voice. It belonged to a tall, willowy blond woman, perhaps twenty-five years of age, wearing a long flowing dress and sandals.

"I did make it, Crystal. And isn't it great!" Tom spread his arms out in an encompassing gesture.

Crystal took advantage of this and stepped in to give the pilot a quick hug. "It is, and you had better introduce me to this handsome guy right here before he thinks I've taken you away." She released Tom and gave Chakotay a dazzling smile.

"Cha, this is Crystal, holographic owner of the Blue Persuasion. Crystal, this is Commander Chakotay, my main squeeze and a hot guitar player to boot. Make sure he gets all the best coffee whenever he comes in."

"Will do." The hologram offered her hand, and Chakotay took it. "I've heard a lot about you, Commander, and I hope you'll take Tommy up on his offer to..."

"Not yet!" the pilot snapped.

Crystal backed off, her hand to her mouth. "Sorry, babe. Mum's the word. I'll go help Neil with the croissants."

"Neelix," corrected Tom.

The hologram frowned. "I thought his name was Neil. Like the astronaut. You know, the guy who just walked on the moon."

"I like the nickname!" called out the Talaxian, who was standing just a few feet away.

Tom looked at the woman and shrugged. "Don't mind me."

Crystal tousled the pilot's hair affectionately and went back into the kitchen with Neelix.

Chakotay chuckled. "What was *that* all about?"

Tom took a sip of his tea. "Crystal's programming is a little different from what I've done before. She's got some idiosyncrasies. She's unpredictable. That connection she just made between Neelix and Neil Armstrong, for instance. She did that on her own."

"She's a computer program, Tom."

"So's the Doc. Doesn't prevent him from learning and changing, does it?"

"Point taken. 'Crystal's Blue Persuasion' -- it does have a nice ring to it. So what's the offer she was talking about?"

Tom flushed. "I'm...not ready to get into it yet."

"Okay." Chakotay took a drink of his coffee and took another look around the room. "I thought you said others would be coming."

"At 2130. I wanted you to be the first."

"Ah."

Tom looked at him anxiously. "You don't like it."

"Actually, I *do* like it, so far. I assume you have more things to show me."

"Yeah, I do. Come on up front." Tom led the commander down the aisle and to the stage. "Computer, add modification Paris Epsilon-Six."

Five holographic humans materialized on the stage, along with an assortment of musical instruments. "This is the house band, Brewed Indigo," explained Tom. "They play mostly jazz, but I've programmed in a few old Broadway tunes and a fair number of folk pieces. Hey, how's it hanging, guys?"

"Loose, brother, loose," said one of the musicians, a curly-haired young man who was pulling the strap for his saxophone around his neck. "Yo, Dave, how's it going?"

"I'm ready to swing, Josh," said the piano player, a thin black-haired man with wire-rimmed glasses. "Claire, you tuned up?"

"Gimme a minute," said the flutist, a woman with flaming red hair.

"Ray?"

"I'm groovin'," said the bass player, a tall, thin African.

"Kenny?"

The bald-headed drummer replied with a loud riff on his instruments.

"Okay," Dave said. "Any preference, Tom?"

"Jazzy stuff to start, for about the first hour or so. Keep it light. Later on, I'll have Crystal step in."

"Okay, you got it." Dave and the other members of Brewed Indigo went back to their preparations.

Tom and Chakotay returned to the bar. The commander settled himself onto one of the stools and sipped his coffee. It had a strong, rich flavor that the replicator wasn't usually able to manage. "Mmmm. Tom, is this what you meant by the 'small touches?'"

"Give Neelix the credit. I was just the guinea pig. You can't imagine how long it took to program these drinks. *Someone* had to test them all."

"So that's why you've had to pee so much in the middle of the night."

Tom cuffed him playfully. "Didn't know you were paying attention."

Chakotay grinned. "You're not very quiet about it either, Sunny-head."

Tom snorted. "'Sunny-head?'"

The older man's eyes gleamed with amusement. "'Sunny' for short. I knew I'd find a nickname for you sooner or later."

His lover groaned. "Chaaa...oh, man..."

"Get used to it, *Sunny*."

Any reply Tom might have had was cut short by the noisy beginning of Brewed Indigo's first set. The pilot settled for mussing Chakotay's hair. The commander retaliated by tickling Tom in the sensitive place on the right side of his ribcage. One thing led to another, and the floor shook as two solid men hit it.

"*Ahem,*" said someone in a very loud voice.

Chakotay rolled off of Tom and looked up into the blue eyes of Kathryn Janeway. She was trying very hard not to laugh.

"Captain!" Tom scrambled to his feet, shouting to be heard over the music. "Uh...sorry about that....I was just having a little disagreement with my friend here. Nothing to worry about, ma'am."

"At ease, Lieutenant." The captain looked over at the band. "I might suggest lowering the volume in here, though. The place loses some of its atmosphere if we have to shout at our neighbors over our drinks."

"Point taken," said Tom. "Computer, reduce the volume of the house band by 20 decibels."

The sound of Brewed Indigo withdrew into the background. Tom turned back to Janeway. "Can I interest you in a cup of coffee, Captain?"

Chakotay snorted. The captain grinned. "You should know better than to ask me that question, Mr. Paris. You should also know that creating a coffeehouse to get on my better side will *not* keep you out of Sickbay duty."

Tom snapped his fingers in mock frustration.

"However," Kathryn went on, "I do appreciate the effort that was made. Captains enjoy flattery as much as anyone else. Now, yes, you may bring me a cup of coffee."

"Any particular blend, Captain?"

"Ah," she purred. "I'll leave that to your discretion."

Tom blinked. Chakotay could almost see the blue eyes struggling to read a mental menu. "Uh, Captain, we have about forty-seven different blends of coffee programmed...."

"Then I'm sure you'll find the right one. Oh, and please pick out a pastry for me as well while you're at it." Janeway pulled her peasant skirt around her as she settled into one of the bar chairs. Chakotay took the seat next to her, still laughing at Tom's bemused face.

Blushing slightly, the lieutenant retreated into the kitchen to consult with Neelix and Crystal. Kathryn chuckled. "Seriously, though, Commander, I like what he's done here. Very much. And I'm glad he's included Neelix."

Chakotay took a long drink from his mug. It really was the best coffee he had tasted in years. "I agree, Kathryn."

"How are the two of you doing?"

"I'm happy. I think he is, too. We're still struggling with how to tell people about our relationship. At least Harry took it well. I'm a little concerned about B'Elanna, but I think I can handle her."

"Or perhaps Mr. Kim can." There was a sly smile on Kathryn's face. "Though I don't suppose you've noticed that there might be other budding relationships on Voyager."

"Harry and B'Elanna?"

"Well, think about it for a moment."

Chakotay did, and he had to admit he liked the idea. Harry's steadiness could balance B'Elanna's volatility very nicely. They were both young, and they were both born to be engineers. "I see what you mean," the commander said.

"Not that I'm trying to play matchmaker or anything."

"I'd never accuse you of that, Kathryn."

"I think my crew does pretty well on their own."

Chakotay grinned. "I'll take that as a compliment."

Tom reappeared with a steaming mug and a pastry. "Captain, I think you'll like these. The coffee is Neelix's special hazelnut blend, and Crystal recommended the chocolate eclair."

He set both items in front of Janeway. She leaned over the mug and sniffed it. "Ah. Very promising."

"It's still quite hot, Captain. Wouldn't want you to burn your tongue."

"Thanks for the advice, Tom. I suppose I can delay that gratification a bit longer." Kathryn picked up the eclair and took a small bite. Both Tom and Chakotay watched her as she chewed.

They were not disappointed. "Mmmm...." It was the purr of a satisfied captain.

"I think you'd better bring me one of those, too, Tom," said the commander.

"Don't mind if I do," the pilot said, disappearing back into the kitchen.

Kathryn dunked her eclair into the coffee. "I just can't wait to taste it," she said sheepishly. Chakotay watched as she bit into the soggy pastry. "Ah! Oh, my! Oh, this is good!"

"Are you sure you won't reconsider Tom's Sickbay assignment?"

"Not..." she began, then took a moment to swallow, "not a fair question." She grinned at Chakotay's joke. "Besides," she went on, more seriously, "I think Tom secretly enjoys Sickbay duty at times."

"Really?" Chakotay was genuinely surprised.

"I watched him work on Larson's sprained ankle last week. He was very professional, very gentle, knew exactly what he was doing. The Doctor has also seen the improvement. Tom seems to have decided to apply himself to becoming the best field medic he can be. Or maybe he's just feeling better about himself in general. Something good has happened to him in the last month. Any idea what that could be?"

Chakotay smiled. "Thank you, Kathryn. But don't give me too much credit. Tom's doing it all on his own."

"He needed someone to believe in him."

"You believe in him."

"I do. But I have to keep that professional distance." She leaned back in her chair. "I've struggled with how to deal with Tom all along. I'm his captain, but I almost feel like his mother at times. That's not a good thing."

"His behavior needed some parental intervention at times."

"True. But he's grown up so much in the last year." Kathryn cut herself off as Tom came back once more from the kitchen with Chakotay's eclair.

The commander looked at his lover. It was enlightening to see Tom through Kathryn's eyes, to see how another person admired him. Chakotay thought he was a very lucky man indeed.

Tom smiled and raised his mug. "Your coffee should be cool enough now, Captain. I propose a toast. To the successful opening of the Blue Persuasion."

The toast was made, and Chakotay watched Tom's face glow with pleasure as the Captain pronounced the coffee blend "perfect."

******

By 2130, all of Tom's guests had arrived, including Harry, B'Elanna, and Tuvok. Harry and B'Elanna got refreshments and retired to a corner of the room. Tuvok accepted a cup of tea from Neelix and made the Talaxian grin from ear to ear by announcing it "very palatable."

After making sure that everyone was served, Tom stepped out from behind the bar and walked toward the stage. Dave, the piano player, looked up and nodded when he saw the pilot coming. Brewed Indigo wrapped up their set and left the stage to loud applause from the audience.

Tom climbed up to the microphone. "Good evening, everyone. Welcome to the grand opening of the Blue Persuasion. First off, I want to reassure you all that Sandrine's has not gone away. In fact, it will be running at least two nights per week, provided my holodeck credits can stand it." There were a few chuckles at this.

"I also want to thank Neelix for all of his help on this project. I couldn't have done it without him. And isn't the food *great*?" Applause and cheers followed. The Talaxian acknowledged them with a wave from the bar.

"Finally, I want to thank Brewed Indigo for getting the evening started with some terrific light jazz." More applause. "But now we're going to switch gears a little. As you all know, I'm somewhat of an aficionado of the twentieth century. The Blue Persuasion is based on a college coffeehouse from around 1970. Coffeehouses featured great jazz, but they also gave folk artists an opportunity to get started in the music world. Many of you have met Crystal, our proprietress. Well, not only does she run a great establishment, she also is one hell of a singer. I'm going to ask her to come up here and do some songs for you all. Crystal?"

Chakotay watched as the tall blonde, guitar slung over her shoulder, strode up to the stage. Tom pulled up a stool for her, and she settled in with a smile. Tom adjusted the microphone for her, and then stepped back down and walked back to Chakotay. "Come on, Cha, let's sit up front."

The commander followed Tom to a table and sat down.

"Hey everyone," Crystal began. "Thanks for coming." She strummed her guitar a few times. "Okay, I'm going to start off with a John Denver tune, made popular by the great Peter Paul, and Mary." Staring straight ahead, she sang:

Oh, my bags are packed, I'm ready to go I'm standing here outside your door. I hate to wake you up to say goodbye.

She had a strong, clear voice. Chakotay was captivated. By the time Crystal reached the last chorus of "Leavin' on a Jet Plane," he found that he was singing along. As her final note faded, he swallowed a sudden lump in his throat and joined in the applause.

Tom leaned toward him. "Wasn't that great?"

Chakotay could only nod.

**********

Crystal sang for the better part of an hour, accompanying herself alone on the guitar for most of the numbers, but for the last song, two members of Brewed Indigo joined her on "I'll Never Find Another You." Dave, the piano player, and Josh, the saxophonist, blended their voices with Crystal's, and the harmonies were so clear and so true that Chakotay had to blink back tears by the time they were finished. He brushed a hand across his eyes and glanced at Tom, who smiled gently at him before turning to applaud.

Crystal bowed. "Come back tomorrow, and I'll sing some more." Then she left the stage, and Brewed Indigo took over for their second set of the evening.

Composing himself, Chakotay finished his second cup of coffee. "Tom, I hate to say this, but I've got the early shift tomorrow...."

"Sure, I understand. But before you go to bed, I want to talk to you for just a minute."

"Okay."

"Away from the band. I don't feel like yelling."

"Lead on." Chakotay followed his lover to the back of the room, near the entrance. A few of the crew glanced up as they went by, but no one seemed to think it unusual that the first officer and the helmsman should be consulting together in a corner.

Tom leaned against the wall. "So what do you think?"

"You did a great job, Tom. As usual. I enjoyed myself."

"Good. I'm glad." Tom edged a little closer. "Neelix has been talking about reviving Talent Night and holding it here."

"It's a perfect environment for it."

"Yeah, I think the acoustics worked out well." Tom paused. "And, Cha, I have an idea for an act."

"What would that be?"

Tom just cocked his head and looked at Chakotay expectantly. Realization dawned on the commander.

"Ah, no, Tom. I can't play that well...."

"Yes, you can...."

"Not in front of all these people...."

"You *know* all these people, Cha."

"And that's exactly the problem."

Tom sighed with exasperation. "Come on. You *are* talented, whether you like it or not, and you've been hiding it all these years, from everyone except me."

"I'm the first officer. I can't humiliate myself in front of the crew."

Tom scowled. "With all due respect, that's bullshit. If the Captain can put on a fancy leotard and dance in front of all of us, you sure as hell can pick up a guitar and sing."

Chakotay swallowed. Tom had him there. "Okay, Tom. You're right. But I still don't want to do it. Quite honestly, I'm afraid I'll mess up."

"That's just stage fright. We can simulate an audience right here before we do the actual thing."

"What about you? I've never seen you get up for Talent Night before."

"Exactly. We're going to do this together. Our debut."

Chakotay shifted his feet. Tom seemed to have an answer for everything. "I...Tom, I'm still not comfortable with doing this in front of the crew."

"It's pretty intimate, isn't it? I know what you mean." Tom leaned in closer. "I don't think it will be possible for us to keep our relationship private after people have seen us sing together."

The commander couldn't deny it, but, in spite of himself, his resistance was weakening.

"Neelix is right, Cha. Voyager is a family. Oh, we're on a Starfleet vessel with all of its rules and regulations, but we're in a unique situation. We're all we have. I've decided that I want to share something of myself with the rest of the crew. I want you to join me. I think it'll be fun."

Chakotay couldn't help smiling. Tom was turning on the charm, and if he hadn't already fallen in love with the young fool, he'd be close to it now. "Okay, Tom. One song."

"Three."

"Two."

"We'll plan for three. If the first one sucks, we'll stop. If the second one sucks, we'll stop then. If they're okay, we'll do the third one."

"I want to do 'All For You.'"

"That's fine. I found a new song that I want us to do. It's Extreme."

"An extreme song?"

"The group's named Extreme."

Chakotay chuckled. "Ah, those twentieth century names."

"We'll decide on the third song later."

"I must be crazy, letting you talk me into this. I'll still have to give orders after it's all over."

"Everyone's seen you in worse situations."

"I know. You may need to give me a sedating hypo before we go on, but I'm keeping my word. I'll do it."

"Thanks, Cha."

"I need to get some sleep."

"I know. Love you."

"Love you. Good night."

********

The next day, as Tom had predicted, Neelix announced over the ship's communication system that Talent Night was returning to Voyager. "I know that some of you are, shall we say, 'rusty' and out of practice. So I will give you two weeks to prepare your acts. Don't be shy, now. Your shipmates are counting on you for some quality entertainment. And I want to see some individuals up on that stage who haven't been there before!"

Chakotay, in his customary position to Kathryn's left on the bridge, pursed his lips, trying to hold back an anxious smile.

The captain sighed. "I suppose I should set an example for the crew. Out comes the leotard again."

"I'm sure you will enchant us once more, Captain."

She grinned at him, leaning closer. "Why, Mr. Chakotay, if I didn't know certain facts, I'd say you were flirting with me."

"I'm only speaking the truth."

"Flattery again. Between you and Tom, I may begin to develop a swelled head. So, are we going to finally coax you up on that stage, Commander?"

Chakotay hesitated just a moment before answering. "I won't rule it out completely. However, you may have to settle for a live exhibition of my sand paintings."

The captain had a good laugh at that and did not push the subject further, to Chakotay's relief.

**********

He practiced with Tom that same evening. At the lieutenant's suggestion, they had the ship's computer record them. Listening to the playback, Chakotay cringed each time he heard himself miss a chord on the guitar.

Tom attempted to reassure him. "We're not competing for a prize. No one on Voyager is exactly concert hall material. Not even the Doc. Don't worry about it."

"I'm trying not to."

"Remember our deal. We'll do 'All For You,' and if it doesn't go well, we'll stop right there. I'll never ask you to do it again."

"Okay, Tom."

"And if it does go well, we'll keep going."

"Right."

Tom looked closely at him. "All right. Enough. Put the guitar away."

Chakotay did as he was told, wondering what Tom had in mind. He didn't have long to wait. As he closed the closet door, Tom put his hands on the commander's shoulders, spun him around, and kissed him solidly on the lips. Surprised, Chakotay hesitated a moment before responding in kind, putting his arms around the younger man, opening his mouth to let Tom explore with his tongue.

Tom pulled back after a few moments. "Let's release some of that tension you're experiencing." Before Chakotay could do much more than catch his breath, Tom had pulled down his pants and taken the commander's half-erect cock into his mouth. Chakotay grunted as Tom pulled on his shaft with his lips while his hand squeezed the older man's balls.

"Damn, Tom, you're too good at this," he managed to gasp out.

Tom didn't answer but continued to suck away. Chakotay's eyes closed as his pleasure built up higher and higher.

"Oh, Gods, Tom!" he moaned as he came, shooting deep into Tom's throat, grasping at the young man's shoulders in order to stay on his feet. Tom held on until Chakotay was finished, then released him, wiped his mouth, and got to his feet.

"Better now?"

"Ummm...." Chakotay pulled Tom into his arms. "Much."

*******************

Practices went smoother after that, and finally the big day arrived. Chakotay and Tom finished their duty shift at 1600 hours, ate a quick dinner in the Mess Hall, and hurried back to their quarters to change clothes. Tom insisted on wearing his hippie get-up again. Chakotay would only go so far as blue jeans and a dark button-down shirt; he drew the line at beads, flowers, tie-dyes, and fringe ("But it's so Native American," Tom protested. "Wrong tribe," was Chakotay's comeback.).

At 1720, they headed for the Blue Persuasion. Neelix was already there, preparing sandwiches and coffee. He greeted the two officers with his usual good cheer. "We have nineteen acts signed up for tonight. Lieutenant Carey finally agreed to do his magic show again. And the Captain will close the evening with a dance performance."

Tom glanced at Chakotay. "Slight chance of plans, Neelix."

"How's that?" asked the Talaxian.

"The Commander and I will close the evening. We've worked up a few folk songs together."

"Well!" Neelix was obviously delighted. "That's wonderful, Tom! I'll re-do the program padds right away...."

Tom shook his head. "Nope. This is a surprise performance. No one else is to know."

Neelix looked from the determined lieutenant to a clearly nervous commander and nodded slowly. "Ah, I understand, Tom. All right. Mum is the word."

"Thanks," Tom said. "Can Chakotay stash his guitar behind the bar with you?"

"Not a problem."

Chakotay handed the guitar over, biting his lip. Tom put a hand on his shoulder. "How about some chamomile tea? It might help calm your nerves."

"That would be good."

Tom ordered two cups and drew Chakotay into a far corner of the coffeehouse. "Hey. Stop worrying."

"I'm trying."

"I'm tempted to pull your pants down again and either spank you or blow you, I can't decide which."

The commander laughed in spite of himself. He sipped at the hot tea and looked at Tom.

The lieutenant smiled back at him. "I do love you, you big oaf."

"I love you, too, Sunny."

Tom kicked him under the table.

**********************

"Good evening, Voyager!" called Neelix from the stage. "It's my great pleasure to welcome all of you to our tenth Talent Night, and our first at the Blue Persuasion!"

The audience applauded politely. About a hundred of the crew were present, drawn by the promise of good food, good drink, and good entertainment. Neelix had arranged to make a holographic recording for the others who were unfortunate enough to draw duty shifts for the evening.

"Before we get started with the main event, our hostess has a song for you. Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for Crystal and Brewed Indigo!"

Chakotay was hovering at the bar, nibbling on a croissant and sipping at his second cup of chamomile tea. He looked up after Neelix had finished his introduction, and his eyes widened.

Crystal was coming onto the stage, but she wasn't in hippie garb. She was dressed in a white, skin-tight dress that barely covered her buttocks. She wore white shiny knee-high boots, and her long blond hair was twisted into an enormous bun. She carried a microphone in her hand.

The hologram grinned into the audience as Brewed Indigo began to play. "Hi, everyone. This is a Petula Clark number, but I've made it all mine." She began to sing, and once more Chakotay felt drawn into the energy and spirit of her performance. The chorus gave him a thrill:

I know a place Where the music is fine and the lights are always low I know a place where we can go

Crystal finished to a rousing ovation, and Neelix began introducing the Voyager acts one by one. Joe Carey did his hologram-free magic show, Tuvok did a (mercifully) short Vulcan poetry reading, and Naomi Wildman recited an entire Flotter and Treebus story completely from memory.

With three acts remaining before he was supposed to go on, Chakotay made a trip to the men's room, where he relieved himself of most of the tea he had drunk that evening. As he was washing his hands, Tom came in. "You okay?"

"Pretty good, actually."

"After watching Chell flail around with his Bolian lyre, I don't think we can do any worse, do you?"

"Tom...."

The lieutenant had gone into one of the stalls. "What?"

"That's how the Bolian lyre is *supposed* to sound. He's one of the best players I know."

The toilet flushed, and Tom came out. "You're kidding."

"I'm not."

"Well, then look at it this way." Tom looked at the commander in the mirror. "There hasn't been a bad performance yet. Who's left to go? Harry and the Captain, right? Nothing beats a good opening act. The audience is primed. We'll knock 'em out by the time we get up there."

"Or we'll leave them laughing; laughing at my pitiful guitar playing."

"Not a chance." Tom slapped him on the back. "Enough with the negative talk. Go get your guitar and get in the wings. It's just about time."

**************************

With the entire crowd mesmerized by Harry's clarinet playing, it was no trouble for the commander to crawl behind the bar and retrieve his guitar without being seen. He walked around the perimeter of the room, stepping from shadow to shadow. He stepped up behind the stage, opened the case, and drew out his instrument, along with his pitch pipe. Putting the pipe to his lips, he blew softly, plucking the guitar and tuning it little by little until he was satisfied. In front of him and to his right, Harry continued to play. Chakotay cradled his instrument and listened until the ensign had finished and received a thunderous ovation.

Flushed with pleasure, Harry came backstage, only to be brought up short. "Commander?"

Chakotay put a finger to his lips and smiled. "That was beautifully done, Harry. Your own composition, I assume?"

"Yes. Yes, it was." Harry still looked puzzled. "Sir, I didn't know you played guitar."

"The jury is still out on that one," said Chakotay. "But I've agreed to try. Find a seat. After the Captain's done, we'll know what the final verdict is."

Harry nodded and raced off. Chakotay could see Kathryn waiting on the opposite side of the stage. She was not looking in his direction. Her hair had been pulled back into a ponytail and fastened with a royal blue ribbon, and she wore a flowing dress in a matching color. She was absolutely stunning.

Neelix completed her introduction, and the captain walked onto the stage. Her music started, and Chakotay instantly recognized Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Suite." Kathryn moved with a grace and a softness that she rarely showed. It was good to see her like this -- to remember that she was more than a starship captain, that there was a human being under the persona of command.

A movement directly in front of him caught his eye, and Chakotay looked to see Tom waving at him from the opposite side of the stage. Tom made a motion as if tuning a guitar, and Chakotay nodded back at him. Tom answered with the thumbs up sign.

All too soon, the captain finished her dance, and the crew gave her a standing ovation, not solely due to her status as captain, but to honor a fine performance. She bowed deeply and exited to the right front of the stage, so that she completely missed seeing Tom, who was at the right rear entrance.

Chakotay could hear voices rising and chairs scraping as if several of the crew were getting ready to leave. Neelix rushed out quickly to the microphone. "Folks, if I may have your attention, please."

The rustling stopped. "We have a...a bonus attraction tonight, ladies and gentlemen...a last minute addition to our program. It gives me great pleasure to announce that our final act for the evening will be Lieutenant Tom Paris and Commander Chakotay, making their debut at Talent Night. Please give them a hand!"

Chakotay stepped forward, keeping his eyes on Tom. Tom held his gaze for a few seconds and winked. The audience murmured and clapped tentatively. Neelix hastily pushed two stools forward and pulled two microphones together. The commander perched on the stool to the left; Tom took the one to the right. Chakotay took a moment to adjust his microphone, and out of the corner of his eye he saw that Tom was doing the same.

Now he risked a glance into the audience. There were puzzled but expectant looks on many faces -- those that he could see. The light glaring down on him made it hard to discern what was going on out there. Harry Kim sat in the front row, his brown eyes wide. Kathryn Janeway, walking toward the bar, her face flushed with exertion after her performance, looked to the stage in surprise, then pulled up the nearest empty chair and sat down heavily.

Chakotay cleared his throat and wondered if he should say something. But Tom solved that problem for him. "Hey, everyone. Good evening. Sorry to surprise you all like this. Ch--Commander Chakotay and I have just recently discovered that we have a mutual interest: folk and rock music from Earth's twentieth century. We thought we might share some of it with you tonight." Tom looked at Chakotay and winked at him again. The commander swallowed and raised his instrument into a comfortable position.

"This song is called 'All For You,'" Tom went on, "and if you're real nice to us afterwards, we might play some more." This brought a few chuckles from the audience. "Okay," said Tom when they had settled down. "Commander?"

Chakotay took a deep breath and tried to forget that there were a hundred pairs of eyes watching him. Seconds passed before he finally lifted his hands and began to play. He was tentative at first, much as he had been the first time he had played for Tom. Then his confidence trickled back to him, and he grew stronger and steadier. Now his cue to sing was coming:

Finally I figured out But it took a long, long time...

To his right, Tom made a slight motion with his hands. Chakotay looked that way and fastened his eyes on Tom's face. Tom was looking directly at him, once again with that challenging expression he had used so many weeks before, pulling the song out of Chakotay, drawing him out of his shell, supporting him while pushing him along. Chakotay could hear Tom come in on the harmony -- sweet, clear, powerful -- and he knew they had something good going. Their voices joined, and Chakotay's spirit soared.

They finished the song, still looking intently at each other. Chakotay held his breath, waiting for any reaction from the audience. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of royal blue; the captain had risen from her chair and was applauding with great energy. Near the stage, Harry Kim was also getting to his feet, shaking his head in disbelief but also making a lot of noise with his hands. Other audience members followed. Chakotay flushed under all the approval, then a glance at his partner reminded him to stand and acknowledge the applause with a bow. He sat down, and Tom leaned toward him.

"I think we're committed to doing our whole program, aren't we?" the lieutenant shouted.

"I guess so," Chakotay responded. Part of him was shocked that the performance had gone so well, but another was feeding on the approval and appreciation. I really enjoyed that, he thought. Let's do another one.

"All right," Chakotay said into the microphone when the noise had died down a little. "Thank you. We're going to do something a little slower now. This next song is called 'More Than Words.'"

He looked at Tom, moving his body to an unheard rhythm in preparation for starting the number. When Tom had introduced this song to him, Chakotay had balked at performing it in public, feeling it exposed all of his relationship with Tom. But now he didn't care. He and Tom wove the melody between them, with first one leading, then the other. It was good. It was beautiful. He knew it.

More than words to show you feel That your love for me is real....

He reached for Tom, and was answered in kind. It was a marriage of two men's voices, pure and strong.

The applause was just as strong this time, and Chakotay swore he saw Kathryn brush a tear or two away. People were moving from the back tables to get closer to the stage. Even Crystal and Neelix had come out from behind the bar to get a better look.

"Okay," said Tom. "Let's send them home now. Let 'er rip, Cha."

Chakotay grinned, and, with no introduction, led his partner straight into "Lost and Found in Tinseltown." It was over all too soon, and before he knew it, the commander was bowing before a wall of applause. Someone yelled "Encore!"

Tom spoke into his microphone. "Hey, Larson, I'm glad you enjoyed the show. We'll come back and play more, sometime soon. Promise."

The two men bowed once more, then left the stage. Neelix rushed at them. "That was fantastic! Are you serious about playing again?"

Tom looked at Chakotay, who smiled and nodded. "You bet," said the lieutenant. "But we have to work on some more songs first."

The commander carefully put his guitar back in the case. As he stood up, he almost bumped into Kathryn, who was standing over him. "Whoa! Captain!"

She stared at the guitar. "That is what I think it is, right, Commander?"

"Yes." He knew exactly what she meant.

"I..." She hesitated. "I'm very glad you kept it. You play it beautifully. And Bruce...Commander Cavit would be pleased." She put a hand on his arm. "Thank you."

He put one hand over hers, smiling down at her. "You're welcome, Kathryn."

Tom approached them, and the captain stepped back. "Tom, you were wonderful tonight. Both of you. Congratulations." She patted Paris gently on the shoulder, smiled at both of them, and left the stage.

"We did good tonight, Cha."

"We did." The commander ran a hand through his hair. "But the show ran longer than I expected. I need to get to bed."

"Early shift again?"

"Yep."

Tom frowned and put his hands on his hips. "I seem to remember that you are in charge of the duty shifts. Isn't there any way you can change this so that you and I can be together more often when we're both awake?"

"After this week."

"Okay." Tom's frown turned to a smile. "Thanks, Cha. For tonight. It was special."

"It was, wasn't it?" Chakotay was about to say more, but several crew members, led by Harry Kim, had found their way backstage, and the commander was forced to turn away from Tom and acknowledge their compliments.

Twenty minutes later, he had managed to extricate himself from his well-wishers and made his way to the door. The coffeehouse was closing up for the evening. Crystal and Neelix waved to him as he left, and he raised his hand in return. He hadn't been trying to put Tom off; he was exhausted, and he wanted a warm shower and his bed.

He let himself into his quarters, sat down, and began to pull off his shoes. Then he realized that he had left his guitar back in the Blue Persuasion. Groaning, he forced his feet back into the shoes and walked back to the turbolift.

****************

He was surprised to see that the coffeehouse program was still running. Going backstage, he found his guitar and picked it up. He was about to shut down the program altogether when he heard someone climb up on the stage. The person walked over to the piano and sat down. As he did, Chakotay could see him clearly from his position behind the curtain. The commander's eyes widened. The man sitting at the instrument was not Dave, the hologram. The man was Tom Paris.

Chakotay held still, his weariness overcome by curiosity. Tom sat at the piano for a good minute, then lifted his hands and began to play. The commander didn't recognize the piece, but it was rich and romantic. Tom played with the same delicacy and emotion that Chakotay sensed whenever he heard the lieutenant sing. He supposed he shouldn't have been surprised, but he was. He had no idea Tom played piano, and certainly no idea that he was so good at it.

Tom finished the short piece. Chakotay resisted the impulse to clap, not wanting to interrupt the young man. Tom paused, then began another, similar romantic number. Chakotay closed his eyes until it was over, thinking of ocean waves, deep green forests, and mountain tops.

The last notes faded away. Chakotay opened his eyes and waited for Tom to play some more. But Tom only stood up and started to walk back across the stage. Then he stopped and turned in the first officer's direction.

"Chakotay?"

How did he know? The commander jumped forward, feeling a little guilty. "Uh, yeah, Tom?"

"Go to bed, Cha." Paris's voice was gentle.

Chakotay stepped out from his hiding place. "Tom, I...well, that was beautiful. I'm sorry I was spying on you."

"You weren't spying on me. I saw you come in. I played all that for you."

"Oh." The commander didn't know what else to say.

Tom stepped forward, took Chakotay's head between his hands, and kissed him on the mouth. Chakotay, hampered by the guitar in his right hand, could only grasp Tom's shoulder with his left. Tom released him quickly. "I love you, Chakotay. I just wanted to find another way of showing you."

"I love you, too, Tom." Chakotay sighed. "Come to bed with me?"

"I'll be there in awhile. Got some work to do first."

"More secrets?"

"No." Tom reached out and stroked Chakotay's hair. "I'm not tired. I want to shut this program down and tweak it a little. Then I promised Culhane I'd spell him for a couple of hours at the helm. I should be home by 0300."

"That's ridiculous."

"I know. I tried to talk to the guy in charge of the duty shifts, but he blew me off."

"Well, fuck him."

"I'd love to." Tom's eyes were dark.

"And as for blowing you..." Chakotay leaned in, "...he'd be happy to do that any time you want." He kissed Tom's cheek, then his lips.

"Mmmmm," the younger man replied. "Even at 0300?"

"Tonight, yes. But things will be changing around here." Chakotay nuzzled Tom's neck. "Starting at 1200 hours tomorrow, you are going to be on Alpha Shift for the foreseeable future."

Tom's arms were around him. "Okay, Cha."

"I do love you, Tom."

"I love you, big guy. Now go to bed."

"Right." He kissed Tom once more, and walked out of the holodeck.

*******************

Twenty minutes later, Chakotay lay in bed, staring at the empty pillow next to his. He reached out and pulled it to him. No, it wasn't Tom, but it would have to do until his partner returned to him.

His partner. His *partner.* The word twisted around in Chakotay's mind. Partner. Friend. Mate. Husband? Was he ready for that kind of commitment?

Maybe. He would think about it for awhile. In the meantime, when he gave Tom his new duty schedule tomorrow, he would also ask him to move in. It was time.

End - Series to be continued....
Rest by Kiff
Rest by Kiff
(VOY, C/P, R)

Disclaimer: They belong to Paramount. I'm letting them out for some fresh air.

Feedback: Gratefully accepted at: Kiff47@yahoo.com

Archiving: Okay for my webpage, ASCEM, BLTS, CPSG, TPDorm. Anyone else, please ask.

Dedication: For Jonathan: March, 1982

Summary: Rhapsody in blue eyes. This is the sixth story in my "Delta" Suite and follows "Overtures," "Crescendo," "Accelerando," "Joyous Sounds," and "New Vibrations." Previous stories can be found at http://members.tripod.com/~TSU_Campus/kiffscott.html

Rest is the quiet between the notes, the silence between the sounds.

*************************************************************************

0300 hours. It's late. Or early, if you want to look at it that way. I punch in the code to Chakotay's quarters, and the door opens.

It's dark inside. Chakotay's been asleep for hours. I've just finished a partial shift at the helm. Culhane had taken some hours for me while I was working on the coffeehouse program in the holodeck. Now I've finally paid off my debt to him. I sure as hell hope that Chakotay was telling the truth when he said he would be rearranging the duty shifts so that we could spend more time together.

Of course, after tonight, I just want to be with him more and more. What we did together was special. And it was fun, sharing some old tunes with the rest of the crew. I'll never forget the look on Chakotay's face after we finished the first song and did it so well. I fell in love with him all over again.

Now I raise the lights a little so I can see where I'm going. I'm not quite familiar enough with Chakotay's quarters to find my way in the dark without tripping over something. He's left things pretty well in order. Not that we've had much time lately to make a mess.

I make my way towards the bathroom, stripping off my uniform as I do so. I'm dirty and sweaty, and I need a shower. But first I peek in on Cha. He's sound asleep, hugging my pillow to his chest as if it were me. I bend down and kiss his forehead. He mumbles something but doesn't release the pillow.

God, he's so beautiful. Just being near him steadies and calms me. He's my anchor, my rock.

I kiss him again. Then I go take a quick shower. Strangely enough, I don't feel sleepy at the moment.

I go back into the bedroom, slip my pajama pants on, and slide into bed. Cha doesn't move. The man is a heavy sleeper. I think it's because of all the meditating he does. He's trained his brain well. Me, I'm usually awake two or three times during the night, sometimes to pee, but more often to sit up and worry about things.

I've thought about asking Cha if he'd teach me to meditate, or maybe even help me find my spirit guide. I haven't mentioned it yet. I get the feeling it's a very private kind of ritual, and maybe I'm not ready for something like that yet.

On the other hand, learning how to consciously adjust my brain waves might help me sleep better. And Cha has never come out and said I couldn't do it, or that I'm not allowed to try. I think B'Elanna tried it once. So maybe I should just ask him.

I lean my back up against the headboard, draw my knees up, and rest my arms on my thighs. This is actually quite comfortable. Cha still has my pillow, but I don't feel like I need to lie down right now.

I watch him sleep, and I think about how good it feels to be with him. He's not only my lover, he's my friend. We work together, we play together, and we sleep together. Yet I don't feel like he owns me, nor do I own him. When I'm with him, I'm completely myself. I don't just feel loved, I feel cherished.

Cherished. That's it. I'm loved, held, treasured, but let go when the time is right. Cha understands when I want to be with Harry. In fact, he encourages it. He knows what makes me happy. And he has his own friendships with the Captain and B'Elanna. I'd never get in the way of those, either. We do our best for the ship. We play whenever we can. And at the end of the day, when we rest and replenish ourselves, we do it together, in our bed.

Chakotay knows my body. He knows what turns me on, what sends me over the edge. He loves to go down on me, loves it when I shout, loves to swallow me, take my essence into himself. And he loves it when I fuck him. He holds back his release, and when he finally lets go, the man is painfully beautiful to watch. Just witnessing his ecstasy is enough to send me right after him, because I want to be where he is, right at that moment.

And then there's our music. I still don't think Cha completely understands the gift he has. In some people, I suppose, talent matures later in life. And he shouldn't hide it from the rest of the crew.

Every day I thank whatever gods there are that I was able to find the strength to rescue him from the Ocampan pit. In spite of all his sarcastic remarks to me at the time, I know he was scared, and he didn't want to die. Something rose up in me then -- I guess you could call it courage. I finally started to grow up and take some responsibility for things. It took awhile, but I think I'm a better person for what happened.

One thing's for sure. I'm a happier person. The security I feel with Chakotay is spilling over into my other relationships on Voyager. I don't go around acting like I have to prove myself to people. I'm just Tom Paris, who, I'm beginning to discover, is a pretty good guy, in spite of some of the mistakes I've made in the past.

There's nothing better than starting over. I'm still many light-years away from the Alpha Quadrant, but right now, at this moment, I am home. And I am not alone.

I reach over to Chakotay, brush my hand across his bristly hair. This time his eyes flutter open. "Hey."

"Sorry," I say.

He catches my hand before I can pull it away. "Don't stop."

So I stroke his head some more, kneading my fingers into his scalp, rubbing the tops of his ears. He sighs, pushing my pillow away from him. I fill the space, sliding down beside him, tucking the pillow under my neck. I look into his eyes as I continue to caress his head. His hand goes behind me and strokes the back of my neck.

"You should get some sleep," he says after a few minutes.

"I will." I bring my hand down to his face and trace his tattoo, his cheekbones, and his jawline. "I just want to tell you something first."

"What?"

"I love you, Cha." Before he can answer, I lean in and kiss him on the mouth. He stops stroking me to give his full attention to the kiss. When I finally am able to pull away, I feel dizzy and more than a little aroused.

"I love you, too," he says, taking me into his arms. "Sleep now, Sunny."

"Good night."

Chakotay falls back asleep right away. I listen to him breathe, feel his chest rise and fall, and let his quiet rhythm take me under.

End - Series to be continued...
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