Delta Suite series by Kiff

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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")