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."
"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?"
"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.
"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?"
"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.
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.*" 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."
"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."
"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."
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.
"Paris to Chakotay."
"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," the pilot replied. "Sorry. I tried to be quiet."
"S'okay." The commander rolled over. "How's Harry?"
"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."
"Well, you *are* old enough...."
"Stop right there, Paris."
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...."
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.
"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."
"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."
"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?"
"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."
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.
"I'm groovin'," said the bass player, a tall, thin African.
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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"And if it does go well, we'll keep going."
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.
"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 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?"
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."
"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?"
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.
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."
"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."
"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....
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