Delta Suite series by Kiff

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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")