|The Dark Tunnel
Author: Layla-V PM
C/P: What if things had happened differently on the Ocampa staircase during the attempt to rescue Chakotay? AU set in the Caretaker/Voyager's early season 1. Originally published in Dec 2001Rated: Fiction M - English - Hurt/Comfort/Angst - Chakotay & T. Paris - Chapters: 3 - Words: 53,028 - Favs: 9 - Published: 12-12-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6550014
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Dark Tunnel 3 - Culmination
It's the beep beep beep of the alarm that wakes me up. I am tucked in comfortably in the warm bed, the duvet snug around me. A sweet ache throbs in my body, my toes curling in contentment, as memories of what we did last night rivulet back into the crevices of my mind. Sighing happily, I breathe in deeply the salty, masculine scent permeating the sheets and suddenly a sensation of something being out of place hits me.
Something's wrong, very wrong.
My eyes snap open in panic. The room is dark around me, the air suddenly feeling excessively chilled, as a shiver runs down my length in cold realization.
I am alone. Chakotay's not here. He should've been here, should've been spooned up behind me the way he was when I went to sleep, the way he led me to believe he'd be.
My heart clenches, as suddenly the sweet throbbing along my limbs and muscles isn't the only pain inside me. I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to calm my breathing but a swirl of pain fills my tightening chest.
I can feel my eyes filling behind my tightly shut lids, as the reality behind my ridiculous expectations dawns on me.
Of course he left. So what if his arms had been tight around me, his smooth chest firm on my back, his voice softly murmuring reassuring words in my ears before I'd drifted off into oblivion? I am Tom Paris, the traitor. What could last night have meant to him, if not just a way to relieve his rage and the burning fire in his veins? It's not really his fault, not his failing; I can't possibly blame him. So what if I'd never felt safer than I did last night when he'd taken care of me and wrapped me up in his arms? He isn't here now and his absence means he finally realized the error of his ways and left discreetly to avoid any further discomfiture between us.
I open my eyes, blinking the unsought tears away, and sit up on the bed, my gaze falling on the chronometer. It's 0630 hours, my day off - the first of two, in fact. I want to do nothing more than fall back on the pillow and pull the covers over my head, drowning myself in my choking misery. But my body is so used to following the same old schedule of getting up at this time every morning for duty, that I know sleep would elude me no matter how much I want to stay in bed.
I pull the covers off and swing my legs to the side, setting my feet on the carpet and then halt.
My uniform from last night is lying on the chair, the jacket, pants and the turtleneck neatly folded on the seat.
For a moment, I feel mystified.
Did I leave them like this last night?
A streak of confused hope stirs in my heart and I find myself leaping to my feet, dashing to the bathroom door and swinging it open.
It's empty of course.
Sighing with defeat, depressed beyond anything mere words can explain, I step inside the bathroom, going about my morning rituals almost on autopilot. After I am finished, I come out and grab the shorts lying on the chair, pulling them on. I am tugging the buttons closed as I walk through the door out into the living room and I freeze at the sight before me.
Chakotay, clad in nothing more than his shorts, his shirt pulled over his broad shoulders but left open at the front, is sitting on my couch. His hair mussed, the handsome face pensive with thought, his long legs are spread out in front of him as he leans forward with his elbows resting on his thighs and his chin propped up on his palm, staring out the viewport. The swish of the door closing behind me jerks him out of his thoughts and he looks at me with startled, brown eyes.
I can hear the thudding of my heart inside my chest, guilt and trepidation warring with my senses.
Guilt because I thought he'd left. Just because he wasn't in bed with me, I figured that he'd simply walked away after fucking my brains out. He came here to sit and ponder over the situation because God knows I have given him loads to think about over the past few hours and, yet, I thought the worst of him.
Still, there's this fear. This sense of terrible foreboding that he could never feel anything good about me. No matter what happens, no matter what I do, I'll always be the man who he believed double-crossed him, who until yesterday he called a traitor and a liar.
What direction has his early morning pondering decided my fate in?
"Hey," I say, swallowing hard at the painful lump in my throat.
His answer is instantaneous. I watch, transfixed, as the most beautiful smile I'd ever imagined on his face, breaks on his features.
"Hi," he replies, opening his arms and inviting me inside.
Dazed, my heart beating wildly, I find myself walking to him and sinking into his warm embrace. His soft lips kiss the side of my neck, as he pulls me against his chest and I settle into his lap between his strong thighs, nuzzling into his neck, inhaling his sweet scent.
"You okay?" he breathes into my ear, his warm hands rubbing my back and lingering.
"Yeah," I sigh, wrapping my arms around his waist.
"Sure?" He sounds curious.
"Yes." I look up at him. "Why do you ask?"
"I was afraid… we may have gone a little…out of control last night," he murmurs. "You're not hurting, are you?" His voice is easy but I can feel him holding his breath in anticipation. He's concerned.
"Just a little," I say, and feel his muscles tense, so I kiss the smooth skin above his heart in reassurance. "But it feels good, really, really good," A kiss on his warm mouth. "Don't worry."
He breathes a little easier, his dark eyes shining. "Good," he smiles.
Still there's something in his eyes that makes my heart lurch inside my chest.
"What are you doing here?" I ask weakly.
"Nothing," A sigh against my cheek. "Just thinking."
I sink my face into his neck, afraid to look into his eyes.
"About what?" I murmur into his skin.
"You…" a pause, "us," a beat, "other things…"
My heart is beating erratically again, no words forthcoming, as trepidation settles in my veins.
I scrunch my eyes shut, realizing the other shoe is about to be dropped, my face still pressed into the crook of his neck as I try to control my breathing.
"I'll have to report last night's incident to Tuvok."
I jerk upright in his embrace and stare at him incredulously. Of all the things I expected to hear, this was the last thing on my mind.
He looks at what surely must be astonishment on my face and continues. "It's a security matter and I should've let Voyager's security team handle it."
"You can't report to Tuvok," I protest. "I never made a complaint."
"The matter was brought to my attention by one of my own people," he replies calmly.
So this was what he had been thinking about since he woke up.
"I should've reported it."
"You took care of it yourself last night. Let it remain that way."
"Funny," he chuckles, almost sarcastically. "You didn't seem to agree with my course of action last night."
I disentangle myself from his arms in one swift motion and lean back on the seat beside him, staring at him with wary eyes.
"Don't push this, Chak."
"I was made aware of a security breach in Voyager's ranks last night. It isn't right of me to keep this information to myself." He leans forward in the seat, his brow wrinkled. "It goes against all the rules and regulations that the chain of command on this ship follows."
"Funny," I snort, "You didn't seem to care about Starfleet regulations last NIGHT."
"This NEEDS to be reported, Tom."
"No, it fucking doesn't." I jump up from the couch, furious, irritated. "I couldn't care less if you'd caught them in the act yourself. I wasn't gonna report it last night before you showed up here all mad and furious, and I am not gonna report it NOW."
"Why, Tom?" There's that subdued, flickering hint of anger again, as he pushes himself up from the couch too and faces me. "You were physically assaulted last night by a bunch of drunkards and yet you want to stay quiet and not bring those bastards to justice." He grits his teeth, "What I want to know is WHY?"
"It seems you're not quite up-to-date with all the pertinent facts, Commander." I can't help the coldness seeping in my tone. "I was the one who struck the first punch. And Yosa was the ONLY one who touched me. The rest of them never participated in the so-called attack. And YET, you punished ALL of them."
"I know exactly what happened, Tom," Chakotay continues, as though he hasn't noticed my deliberate indifference. "You were PROVOKED into attacking Yosa. And the rest of them may not have participated in the assault but they also didn't STOP Yosa from attacking you. That, in my eyes, is as bad as participating in the assault."
"And so, you went right along and instituted your tried and true Maquis code of discipline by beating the shit out of Yosa, and confining him and the rest of them to their quarters for the next two days WITHOUT food or any medical supplies. And NOW you want to report this entire incident to Tuvok."
"It's the right thing to DO."
"They'll throw you in the brig for taking matters into your own hands."
God, why is he making it so hard to talk sense into him?
"They'll throw ME in the brig for starting the whole thing in the first place."
How can I tell him that he's the key to all this? That he has to remain stable for me? That I need him just the way he is, for his unflinching, strong presence is the reason for all that went right in this lifetime - and its absence, for what went wrong in the one I left behind.
"We will explain it to them," he goes on, not yet seeing the chaos in my mind, not yet aware of my impending panic. "We'll tell them how it started. Yosa's cronies will testify. We HAVE to stop this once and for all, Tom."
How can I tell him that I can't fucking let anything bad happen to him?
"I don't WANT to explain anything to them," I yell at him, "I don't want Yosa's cronies to testify in front of anyone!"
But I am not hearing anything more. A sudden wave of hysteria descends and I feel darkness clouding my vision, filling my veins.
"I have no intentions of making a mountain out of mole by reporting anything to Tuvok and practically ANNOUNCING to the rest of the crew that there are people onboard this ship who are after my ass as if I am fucking WHORE."
He looks as if he's been struck, his eyes widening with shock, but I am too far-gone into my own anguish to notice it.
"This isn't PRISON, Chak." My eyes are suddenly filled with tears and I blink them furiously to keep them from falling, but fail. "I will not be subjected to the same bullshit here." My throat is clenching, my heart hammering inside my tightening chest. "I don't belong to anyone here, I will not, I will never accept this…"
"You can't make me report." I brush the errant tears away, hating myself for being so weak. "I don't want to talk to anyone."
I cower back into a corner, my palms flat against the wall, trying to keep myself from splintering into a thousand pieces, wanting nothing more than to fold in and close out everything around me and slipping away into a mental nothingness. I hate him for bringing me to this state, hate myself for being so weak, so powerless, so fucking inadequate.
I'll never to able to defend him, never be good enough for him – hell, I'd never be good enough for myself - my wailing mind laments, but his arms are suddenly around me and he's pulling me upright into an embrace. I struggle, trying to push him away, my vision blurring with shameful tears, but he holds me tight against him, shushing me, rubbing my back.
I hate myself, hate being so weak, so insecure, so damn pathetic.
"You can't make me do this, Chak," I cry, my voice muffled against the side of his neck, as he leads me back to the couch. I feel his warm fingers gently coaxing my hair off my forehead, his palms cradling my face, his thumb brushing the tears off my face.
"I won't, Tom," he says, his voice strained with emotion, yet somehow reassuring, as I keep my eyes closed and listen to the soft, husky, soothing tones. "No one will make you do anything you don't want to do. I am sorry. You don't have to report to anyone, you have my word."
I sag against him, suddenly drained of all energy. He cradles me in his arms, his hands rubbing my back, kneading my shoulders, coaxing my tense muscles into relaxing. He says nothing, giving me time, letting me get my bearings again. For some reason I feel content in the silence, listening to the steady sound of him taking in air inside his lungs, feeling the warm puff against my right ear as he softly exhales.
In and out, calm and steady, his warm breath fans my face. I start to feel almost drowsy, relishing the feel of his arms holding me close, holding me secure.
I stiffen as he finally breaks the stillness.
"You still need to return your combadge to Tuvok. It's broken."
I feel him tense at my silence so I tighten my arms around his waist.
"I will, I'll return it to him and get a new one, don't worry."
"What will you say to him?" His tone shifts again, "He will ask how it got smashed and ended up with a Starfleet issue footprint on its surface that doesn't match YOUR shoes."
I take a shuddering breath, feeling tightness invading my chest again.
"I'll come up with some excuse, Chak, leave it to me, I can handle it."
"Oh, I am sure you can."
There's something in his tone that is too bitter, too accusatory, to be ignored. My eyes fly open and I pull my arms from around his body, trying to push myself off him but he grips my shoulders hard, not letting me move.
"Let me go," I snap at him, my fingers curling, trying to claw his arms off mine but he only squeezes my shoulders in response, pulling me closer to him. "Let me off!"
"NO!" he snarls. "You will NOT run away this time. TALK to me, dammit."
"Talk about WHAT?" I grit my teeth. "I am tired of this, Chak. Tired of making you mad at me all the time."
"I am not angry at YOU, Tom." He suddenly seems tired, his face anguished, "Not you at all…" He swallows a lump in his throat.
I shift to the next seat again, a strange flutter in my stomach and peer at him curiously.
"Then who, Chak?"
He lowers his eyes to his lap, his hands falling to his thighs, and takes a shaky breath before looking up at me. "I am so pissed, Tom, so upset that this happened right under my nose and I didn't know anything about it." His brown eyes are suddenly moist, clouded with conflict. "I can't believe I let this happen - they were Maquis, all my people - and I couldn't stop them from touching you."
I feel something turn inside my chest.
All these waves of anger, of pain and scorn and hostility, that I feel drifting off him, are all directed inwards - at himself - not me. The pensiveness I saw on his face when I walked into this room this morning, catching him brooding all by himself. Last night's rage aimed at Yosa and his men, the frenzy and strife within himself when he interrogated me about what happened. The despair, the struggle - in his eyes, on his face, in his heart. All of it boils down to one lonely helpless emotion.
He wouldn't stop looking for you, Torres suddenly speaks up in my head, he barricaded himself in his room, he blamed himself for not being alert enough, she says, losing you devastated him and you're just like him, Paris, she concludes, you're just like Chakotay.
Just like Chakotay.
Am I? Am I just like Chakotay?
But that isn't true. Couldn't be true. He is an honorable, principled man who was fighting a war for his homeland. He lost half his family to the Cardassians and resigned his commission to join a freedom struggle against a foreign military occupation of his home world. And me? I was but a mercenary, someone looking simply to pay off his bar-tab, someone looking for a fight against the wretched Starfleet. The Starfleet that had taken all my dreams and aspirations of becoming one of the greatest pilots ever, and torn them into shattered, sorry little shards.
Like broken glass.
Leaving a bloody mess in its wake.
How can anyone compare me to him? How can I be like him in any way?
He's an honest man, who fought for a noble cause. I am a liar, a loser, who got thrown into prison on his first fucking flight for the Maquis. There's simply no possible comparison between the two of us, is there?
Yet here he is, blaming himself for what happened even though he had no way of knowing, no way of stopping it from occurring. Drowning himself in swells of needless guilt and self-recrimination for no reason whatsoever.
And here I am. Rolling over the same burning, aching coals of self-pity and hatred. Beating around the same bush. Marching to the same damned tune. Hating myself. Hurting myself. Floating in the same stifling waters of self-disgust and aversion. Blaming myself for all the wrongs that occurred in my life for there was never anyone else to blame.
Guilty as charged.
Just like Chakotay.
But it was always my fault, wasn't it? Who else could I blame? I did lie to Starfleet. I did join the Maquis to pay them back. I was a mercenary. A drunkard. And I did lose out on my first flight. But, God, I never meant to lose Chakotay on the stairs at Ocampa that cursed day. I still blame myself, don't I? I've blamed myself for twelve long months, crying myself to sleep, living in that hellhole.
The fact that I am sitting here right now, looking at Chakotay - an alive Chakotay - means I've been given a second chance. A chance to break this vicious circle. To end all the guilt. Once and for all. Chakotay was never to blame for my getting caught by Starfleet. Chakotay wasn't to blame for last night's attack on me. I have to end this. Now.
And if I can convince Chakotay of that, then perhaps I can convince myself of having a little faith in my own innocence too.
I cover his right hand with mine and as he looks up at me with pained eyes, I weave my fingers through his and touch his face with my right hand.
"It wasn't your fault, Chak." I dip my fingers into his thick hair and revel in its soft silkiness. "Stop blaming yourself."
"But, Tom, I was responsible for your safety."
"And you have fulfilled your promise the best way you could," I cut him off quickly. "What happened last night could've been prevented if I'd turned around and walked away from the scene. I am partly to blame for getting involved too."
He frowns defiantly. "Yosa instigated the whole thing. I know what he did, how he riled you up. They told me what happened, all the bullshit he said to you. Everything that goes wrong in your life isn't your fault, Tom, and I will not listen to you putting the blame on yourself for things that you had no control over."
I don't know whether to laugh or cry at his words. I look into his dark eyes, bright with emotion, his face portraying the struggle within him. Isn't it unbelievable how two people can come up with the same conclusions at the same time, while sitting at opposite ends of the spectrum, without being aware of it?
Just like Chakotay. Am I?
I trace the line of his jaw with my index finger, "And I will not listen to you putting the blame on yourself for things YOU had no control over, Chak."
"No buts." I cradle his face in both hands, his skin warm and fragrant, "I will stop blaming myself if you stop blaming YOURSELF, Chak," my thumbs strokes his strong jaw, his soft skin lightly covered with early morning stubble, "It's as simple as that."
His brown eyes shine with slow realization. "Tom…"
Instead of answering him with words, I tip his face up as I lean over to cover his lips with mine. With a sigh, he parts his lips and my tongue slides inside his mouth, meeting its mate with quiet reverence. His mouth is sizzling hot, his lips like velvet, as our tongues slide and curl around the other, taking time to reacquaint ourselves to each other's taste and feel. The kiss grows languorously, our lips and tongues dancing the seductive dance of spit and heat and breathless gasps, as the sharpest of teeth nip gently at quivering flesh. I slide my fingers into his hair, tilting his face sideways to deepen the kiss, and moan as I feel him stroking the roof of my mouth with his relentless tongue, his own moan rumbling back into my mouth.
A delightful humming starts in my temple, my nerves buzzing, my heart racing, as I taste his sweet mouth and revel in the muskiness of his scent. He kisses me sweetly and deeply, his lips moving over mine with quiet determination, before his fingers slide into the curls at the base of my head, rubbing lingeringly, and he gently, reluctantly, disengages his mouth from mine.
I groan in disappointment but he strokes my hair, his fingers soothing and tender, and tucks my face into the crook of his neck. I breathe in his tang, kissing his flushed skin – sweaty with desire – and try to control my breathing. I hear him doing the same, breathing raggedly, as I tighten my hold on him, my hands slipping around his waist, my fingers tracing his spine and caressing his strong, muscular back.
"Tom." He shivers at my ministrations and kisses the top of my head. "I need to talk to you, babe."
I rub my earning morning beard over his chest, making him shiver again.
"About what, Chak?"
There's a pause, an ever so slight one, before he slips his fingers around my biceps, stilling my hands, and I feel a kiss land softly on my forehead.
"About the shell."
I barely stifle a groan as my heart once again fills with dismay. The shell. Oh God, will my torment never end?
I look up at him, my heart in my throat. "I didn't steal it from you, Chak."
He looks deeply into my eyes, as if assessing me, his face thoughtful and serious. His eyes are deep and dark and beautiful, but my heart beats ever so frantically, my insides tight with turmoil.
How will I explain it to him? How the hell will I explain the shell to him? I am back at square one, back where I was last night, back where I was two damn months ago. This man may have fucked me through the bed only a few hours ago but nothing has really changed, has it? He's still suspicious. I still haven't come clean about everything to him.
How CAN I ever come clean? He'll think I am crazy.
"I know, Tom."
I look at him with a start, confusion shrouding my senses as I notice an expression of enigmatic understanding settle on his face.
"You know? How?"
"It's different," he breathes evenly. "The shell, Tom, it's changed."
"It's your shell, Chak," I say to him, perplexed at his words. "YOUR SHELL. What are you saying?"
"It's packed with sand."
I blink at him. Sand? So-
"I know you did a good job trying to clean it up, Tom," he continues, uninterrupted, "But there were still some granules that you couldn't quite reach even with the sonic-brush. You used the wrong size." His gaze penetrates mine. "I suggest you use size 3-c the next time you try to clean a seashell from the inside out."
Sonic brush? Size 3-c? He isn't mad? Instead he's giving me lessons on shell cleaning? What is going on here?
He looks at my duped expression and frowns. "Tom?" He shakes my arm.
"Aren't all seashells packed with sand?" I offer, baffled.
The corners of his mouth twitch as if a smile is fighting to emerge, a notion that baffles me even more, but he instantly schools his expression into one of sobriety.
"Not this shell, Tom," he says. "It was always squeaky clean, had no sand, nothing inside it, from the time it was given to me three years ago. It also seems a little... faded now, some of its shine's missing, as if it's been BURIED under sand for a long time." He looks into my eyes, "I find that very strange."
My mouth opens, trying to form words, but nothing comes out. What can possibly come out anyway? I have no idea what to say to him.
He studies me for a few seconds, his gaze appraising yet surprisingly without any hint of previous accusation, and takes a deep breath.
"I did a multifarious, sub-molecular analysis of the sand granules I collected from inside the shell, Tom, and found something interesting," Chakotay informs me like a geology professor giving a lecture. "The decomposed organic matter found in the soil sample is not indigenous to the original habitat of this seashell. This shell originates from the North American continent on Earth, the sandy beaches of San Diego to be exact; but the microorganisms I found in the soil do not originate from the area this class of Nautilus lives in. The sand is not from North America. It isn't even from Earth."
His eyes are shining, as if he's close to solving a big mystery, which I suppose he is. I am too flabbergasted to interrupt him now, too amazed at his deducing abilities.
"It DOES however match the soil sample I collected from one of the planets here in the delta quadrant in the Sinkari sector last month." He pauses to take a breath and tilts his head to his right, his eyes boring into mine. "You have any idea how could that be?"
"You're collecting and analyzing delta quadrant dirt?" I blurt out.
He sighs. "Yes, Tom. Remember that planet we visited where we found signs of an ancient civilization? Signs of buildings, graves, bones, we even found traces of an ancient irrigation system. I spent a lot of time down there, collecting samples, studying the ruins, trying to analyze their history."
"But why? We're in the delta quadrant," I say, still not quite understanding his passion. "These ruins have nothing to do with OUR history."
He looks at me with surprise, his eyes widening, and then a slow smile breaks on his face. "I am a paleontologist, Tom. Study of past geologic periods based on fossil remains is part of my job as a scientist." His eyes are twinkling, his face animated. "A scientist's job is not confined only to his roots. It was an AMAZING opportunity for me. Just imagine - I was the first human ever to set my eyes on those ruins. Could there be anything more blessed than that?"
I take a ragged breath, absorbing everything he's told me - my eyes pinned by his, unable to break free.
A new side of him. One I never saw before. One I never even heard of before.
I have known Chakotay the warrior; the Maquis renegade; the Starfleet Commander and the impeccable First Officer onboard Voyager.
I even met Chakotay the beautiful, passionate, ravishing lover last night. The one who got under my skin in a way no one else ever did before.
But a scientist? He keeps unfolding like a flower. How many other things are there that I don't know? I suddenly realize I know very little about him. I never got a chance to know him before.
"I didn't know you were a paleontologist, Chak."
He smiles a sad smile. "That part of me didn't get out too much during the war. When you're fighting for your life, fighting for the lives of those you care for; when you're fighting to honor those who lost their lives for the land and in the name of the cause, your own hopes and dreams, all of a sudden, seem so… inconsequential."
His eyes are suddenly moist, the glittering, dark depths filling with years of pain and loss and anguish. Feeling a jolt of pain knife through my gut at his hurt, I reach out with my hand to touch his neck and feel his pulse throbbing, hot and furious.
Honor. He fought in the name of honor. Fought for the lives of those he cared for.
I trace the line of his throat with my questing fingers, reaching his chin, sliding up to rest on his cheek.
My thumb lightly strokes his lips, as I try to convey my feelings, my silent support, through the simple touch.
He sighs and looks at me, his hand reaching up to cover mine. My heart speeds up as he threads his fingers through mine, gently squeezing, and then lowers both hands to his lap, keeping the fingers entwined. An inscrutable expression passes his face, one of melancholy and pain and inner disquiet, one that makes my heart skip a beat in alarm, and then once again he schools his face into composure.
"So, Tom." He looks straight into my eyes. "A seashell, that originates from Earth, is found with you, packed with sand that when analyzed is found to be filled with organic matter originating from a system of planets in the delta quadrant. Any idea how that came to be?"
Whereas I was a mercenary. Looking to pay off my bar-tab. Nothing more.
I quell the surge of apprehension and look into his eyes.
"Maybe," I say, "maybe, its because the shell WAS buried under sand on one of these planets in the delta quadrant."
"Did you bury it?"
He maintains eye contact. "Who gave you the shell, Tom?"
He'll never buy it. He'll think I am out of my mind. Or worse that I am still lying. But I have to come clean about this. I have to come clean about this at some point. Even though there's a possibility that he will probably never consider any word that comes out of my mouth as reliable, will never consider it as something he can trust.
Even at the risk of rejection, I have to give it a chance - once and for all.
"Torres," I say.
"B'Elanna?" His brow wrinkles, his eyes probing, then smoothes in acknowledgement. "That would explain her fingerprints."
Fingerprints? That must have been one hell of a multifarious scan, Chak.
"No, not B'Elanna." Now that I have jumped into the fire, I can't have him confusing the issue, can I? "TORRES."
His eyes narrow in uncertainty. "There's a difference?"
"Oh yeah," I snort. "B'Elanna hates my guts. Torres on the other hand was my friend. Though I don't understand why? I fucked up her life down there too."
"Fucked up whose life and down where?" he asks, confused. "What are you talking about?"
I swallow at the tightness in my throat. "When I…" I struggle with the words, wetting my dry lips with a flick of my tongue. "When I… failed you at Ocampa."
"Failed me?" His bafflement is profound. "How?"
"At the stairs, Chak."
"You… you saved my life at the stairs, Tom. How did you fail?"
"Oh I saved you this time." I look down at our linked hands, my fingers suddenly clammy and find them shaking slightly. "But I… I lost you the last time."
There is a slight pause and I steal a look at his face and feel my heart squeezing in consternation. He looks undeniably disturbed, his expression one of extreme bewilderment, his eyes filled with conflict and confusion.
And why wouldn't he be? I am testing the limits of his patience and understanding. I try to imagine how I'd feel if I were in his position. Would I be as accommodating, as eager to learn all the dark details of my delirium, as he is?
I am not so sure.
"I don't understand, Tom," he says.
"I know, Chak," I sigh.
"Why don't you tell me what's going on?"
"You'll think I am crazy."
"If you don't already, that is."
"I don't think you're crazy but you're surely driving ME nuts."
My heart speeds at his desperation. He needs to know. I am aware of that. But how do I assure my panicky heart which is hell bent on believing that this is the last straw, the last chance, the last conversation, that he will certainly, absolutely, surely, haul me to the sickbay on charges of lunacy the minute I am done relating my tale?
"Why don't you start from the beginning, Tom?" He squeezes my hand, his grip unrelenting, his eyes remarkably warm and reassuring. "Try me."
So, focusing on his steady, searching gaze - the warmth in the glittering, dark depths somehow calming my staggering heartbeat - I relent.
I tell him everything, right from the beginning. The stairs and my failure. Kazon and Voyager's fate. Lovaugim and the whole horror of our existence down there. The failure of the Maquis/Starfleet amalgam. The nightmares and my sighting of the shell around his neck in them.
It's as if I can't keep anything from him. I have lost any control I held over my words, my reflexes, and my thoughts. Everything that ever bruised me, that ever pierced my heart like a thorn, making me hurt, making me bleed, is out in the open now.
Well, almost everything. I leave out the bit about the various scattered incidents with the Yosa-types down there. I also leave out the names of those who were not exactly on my side on Lovaugim. I don't want any repeats of last night occurring. I'll just have to manage things with the Maquis on my own, without letting Chakotay get involved in any way.
The rest, however, I relate to him without any qualms.
I speak until my voice is hoarse and until my vision is clouded and until it hurts my chest and my head to speak because the memories are too damn painful.
I watch the expression on his face go through gradual changes. As each piece of information is digested, his face changes masks from incredulity to clarity to skepticism to bewilderment.
And then, slowly, gradually, a strange thing happens.
As the words flow out of me, the tension dissipates. The weight from my chest, my shoulders, my mind, lifts.
I see the pain, the perplexity in his eyes and know that I am taking down my burden by laying it on him. Though, before I can do or say anything to ease his discomfort, he gets up from the couch and goes to the replicator to retrieve something. He turns around with two glasses of water and a stack of paper napkins and as he sits down next to me, he pulls me closer to clean my face with the napkins.
This is when I realize that I have been crying. I don't know when and how I started. I certainly didn't do it intentionally and it's happened without my being aware of it.
"Shh, its okay," he murmurs, running his fingers through my hair. "I am here with you."
He lets me cry just as he let me speak. And after I have gulped down the water from the glass he holds up to me, he lets me lean on him too - rubbing my back, stroking my hair, holding me close.
We stay like this for a while, arms locked, chins resting on shoulders, hearts beating in tandem.
I want to talk to him. I want to ask him what he thinks of all that I said. I want to know if he thinks I am crazy yet. Does he think I am delusional or deranged? Does he still think I am lying? I need to ask him.
Yes, I am afraid to know what he thinks. I am afraid that this will be the end, the closure of all points of happiness in this brief respite I've got with him.
I am very afraid.
But I need to know. I HAVE to know.
I feel him stir, his breathing evening out, as a kiss lands on my neck, and hold my breath as he pulls away from me. I look into his eyes, searching for any sign of rejection or acknowledgement or reconciliation, but he gives nothing away. He holds my gaze, his eyes warm, yet his face remains absolutely calm and neutral.
"I am hungry," he declares. "Aren't you hungry too?" He looks up to check the chronometer. "See? It's almost eight twenty. It's breakfast time. Let's eat."
I am quite sure my bewilderment is apparent on my face but he either doesn't notice it or chooses to ignore it. Instead, he leads me to my own dining table and, pulling out a chair, settles me down. He, then, proceeds to replicate a huge breakfast of waffles, orange juice, assorted fruits and coffee, rounding it off with a serving of scrambled eggs for me.
I want to ask him if he thinks I am crazy. I need to know if he thinks I am lying.
He sits down across from me.
He looks into my eyes, his gaze steady yet noncommittal. "Eat, Tom," he says, patting my hand, and digs into his waffles.
I look at him for a second and then down at my breakfast and, with a sigh, I pick up the fork.
Taste buds are funny things. When they agree with the food prepared and consumed, the tiny nerve filaments conveying the electric impulses to the brain can be cause for boundless savory delights for your oral and tactile sensory perceptions.
Yet when they don't, they - helped by your unfailing olfactory senses - can turn your stomach.
Insert Neelix in the equation. Talaxian male, of obvious humanoid origins; he apparently has a constant, unending urge to please everyone around him. At any damn cost.
It's something else that the said cost is usually paid by the unfortunate 'others' around him, but of course that is the least of his worries.
The other day he tried to make fudge cream cake with burnt sugar topping for Harry. We didn't know what we were walking into when he cheerily sat us down at the table and scurried into the galley to bring out the cake. Suddenly, the whole messhall filled with choking smoke and as he set the masterpiece down on the table in front of us, we came to an astounding realization.
He had actually used a mini flame-torch to burn the topping crisp. It was scorched black. Fuming with acrid smoke.
Yet Neelix, being the way he is, still urged us to go on and try it.
Harry, the eternally nice guy and unwilling to hurt the Talaxian's feelings, tried to pry the topping away to get to the inner layers of the cake. Only to have his fork sink into slices of candied leola root.
I am convinced that Talaxians, more so than the other assorted species of the delta quadrant, have an entirely different set of taste buds and sensory organs. There's simply no other way to make sense of all the culinary monstrosities he has served us in the short time we've been in the delta quadrant.
"Here comes, Megan," Harry whispers. "Shit, Jenny isn't with her today."
I quit stabbing the yellow glob in my plate and look up to see the friskier of the Delaney twins walk into the messhall.
"What difference does that make?" I grin at him. "They're identical twins and I bet that little inflection Jenny has in her voice would become insignificant once the lights are off."
"Very funny, Tom." Harry rolls his eyes. "I haven't thought that far yet."
"That's the problem, Harry," I say, putting my fork down. "You think too much."
"And you don't think at all, do you?" he grimaces, as he swallows a mouthful of his lunch. "By the way, where the heck were you yesterday? Both the Delaneys were at Sandrine's and I tried looking for you but you were holed up in your quarters the whole day. You forgot the promise you made that we will double date the twins, didn't you?" He looks at me enquiringly. "And you weren't answering the comm. OR the chime. What WERE you doing?"
Double Date? Shit. Sorry, Har, but no can do.
I push the plate away. "Cleaning my quarters."
He raises an eyebrow in disbelief. "It took you the whole DAY to clean your quarters?"
"Yep, they were really dirty."
"I don't believe you."
I take a deep breath and look at him, watching his eyes narrowing in scrutiny. What to tell him? That I wasn't really cleaning my room after all? That I was busy acquainting myself with the finer things in life by spending the day in bed with Voyager's First Officer?
Or that I have NO idea where I really stand with the said First Officer right now because he chose to clam up after I poured my heart out to him?
Before I can say anything, though, the swishing slide of the messhall doors opening diverts our attention. We watch B'Elanna walk inside and halt for a moment, scanning the room for whomever she came here looking for. And then her eyes rest on the two of us and it occurs to me that it was us she was looking for, as she makes a beeline for our table.
She flicks a quick glance at me before resting her eyes on Harry.
"Hey Starfleet," she greets him, with the nickname she has reserved for him. "Remember the computer core modifications I was telling you about? I really want to get started on those as soon as possible. Do you mind if we discussed this now?"
"Not at all, Maquis," Harry replies, pulling up a chair for her. "Have a seat."
She sits down but not before I am treated to the same half-peek directed at me before she focuses her attention onto Harry.
What's with the covert glances? I feel suddenly uncomfortable.
I sit between them, listening to them discuss the technical details of things that make neither head nor tail to me and, for some ungraspable reason, it leaves me a little restless.
I feel my brow wrinkle as I look at her with averted eyes and try to place the feeling.
Its nothing apparent, nothing too open I guess, just this below the surface feeling that something is out of place. Outwardly she is engrossed in her discussion, but her body language is a little off. She seems on edge, as if her mind is on something other than the reason she said she wanted to talk to Harry. He doesn't notice it though. But then again, Harry doesn't know her the way I do.
I pick up the glass of water and take a sip from it, trying to tune out their technobabble. Today is my second off day, as is theirs, as is most other people's. Though it's not unusual to find Harry and B'Elanna holed away in a corner of the messhall, discussing work problems in their off-times. I personally like to relax on my days off and find it hard to listen to them going on and on about plasma discharge or warp core diagnostics at the best of times. And today-well, today is a whole different matter.
Today, I have way too much on my mind.
I look up as the doors slide open to admit someone and my shoulders slump in disappointment when its not who I want it to be. I don't know why I am disappointed though. Chakotay very clearly told me he'd be busy the whole day in meetings with the captain. Something about repair teams and energy conservation issues or the like. He and the captain are apparently another two people who like to take their work home, or rather who go to work on off-days.
He's another enigma I can't make either head or tail of at the moment.
Beautiful. Thoughtful. Gentle.
A considerate man. A skilled lover. The best I've ever had.
I've been ruined for the rest of my life. He made love to me, listened to me, took care of me and, then, made love to me all over again.
I am still sore. And it feels great.
Yet, there's something still not quite right. I can feel it like a thorn in my heart, stabbing at my soul, twisting my gut, confusing me. A thorn of uncertainty. Of doubt and needless pain and perplexity.
He won't talk to me about Lovaugim.
I don't know why. I told him everything that I could and what I didn't tell him, I know he figured out from my reaction afterwards. I saw the look on his face, when the mask was not yet back in place, and know he felt my pain and grief. If for nothing else but the fact that talking about it wounded me and filled me with anguish.
And then something changed. His body language, his whole demeanor, somehow shifted. His attitude wasn't negative in any way. He was kind, warm and patient, spending the whole day with me, talking to me, loving me. He talked about everything else to me, from the crew's reaction to Sandrine's to the last M-Class planet we visited in the Sirkani sector to Neelix' cooking.
It's just that - it's just that he won't talk about Lovaugim. He didn't acknowledge anything I said about that planet. Not once. It's as if he didn't hear anything I told him about my other life, as if I poured my heart out to a brick wall. It's as if what I said didn't matter. As if I didn't matter
That hurt. A lot.
I don't know what to make of it. Even after spending a whole day with him, in the most intimate of situations, Chakotay's still a mystery to me. What is he thinking? Did he feel sorry for me? Was yesterday just a case of charity, a pity fuck? Why didn't he talk to me about what I said? Did he think I was making it up? If yes, why the hell didn't he bring it out in the open with me?
What is he going to tell me tonight? That it's over? Over before it even gets a chance to properly get off the ground, whatever the heck it is that we've found together.
Is it over? I feel terrible despair enveloping my whole being at the bleak thought. Is it? Can I survive it if it is?
I don't think I can.
I don't think I want to.
I gulp more water, trying to ease off my tightening throat and realize the conversation on my table has died down. I look at Harry and B'Elanna and find them staring at me with identical expressions on their faces. Concern.
"Tom, are you alright?" Harry speaks first, his eyes troubled. "You look really upset about something. What were you thinking there?"
"Yeah, Paris, you look like you lost your best friend," B'Elanna says, addressing me for the first time since sitting down.
There's an edge to her voice that irritates me and I whip my head around to look at her, a sharp retort ready on my tongue, only to halt at the expression on her face. Her eyes are surprisingly warm and compassionate, shining with a concerned glimmer. I blink at the unexpected softness on her face.
What does she know?
I take a deep breath to ease my thudding heart.
"Nothing's wrong, Har. I'm fine." I look at Harry, smiling, and then turn my eyes to B'Elanna. "You must be mistaken, B'Elanna, since my best friend is sitting right here with me."
She maintains the eye contact, her dark eyes probing mine, unwilling to back down. I stare at her for a few still seconds, letting her stare back at me and then pull back the chair.
"Are we through?" I ask Harry as I stand up, and he nods, looking a bit baffled at the interaction he just observed across the table. I choose to ignore his puzzlement for now.
We grab our empty trays and take them to the counter for recycling.
It's as we're listening to Neelix' spirited exchange about some new fruit he is growing in the hydroponics bay and trying not to cringe at his promise to bake a tart with it, that I catch sight of someone in the corridor through the closing doors of the messhall. I mutter a quick excuse to my companions and hurry out of the messhall without looking back at either of them.
"KEN!" I call out, as the doors close behind me.
Dalby freezes at the junction of the corridor he was about to turn in and I watch his shoulders tense slightly. He slowly turns around to face me, as I catch up with him, regarding me a bit warily.
"Hello," I greet him, as I reach his side. "How are you doing?"
He looks surprised, as if he wasn't expecting any pleasantries. His demeanor is a bit guarded, as if he doesn't quite know what to expect from me.
"I am fine," he replies, looking a bit uneasy.
I take a deep breath. "Ken, I just wanted to thank you, for the other night."
He stares at me for a second; his face a careful mask of indifference, and then shrugs as if it's no big deal. "Don't mention it."
A feeling of déjà vu sinks on me at this eerily familiar gesture, at his apparent unawareness of its familiarity. I swallow at the unintentional lump that forms in my throat.
How similar is he to the Dalby I knew on the planet?
I look into his dark eyes. "I just want you to know that what you did that night, it meant a lot to me. Thank you very much."
He stares at me, his eyes assessing me, testing me, and then he apparently comes to a favorable conclusion because, finally, a slight smile appears at the corners of his lips.
"You're welcome," he says, and then his brow furrows a little. "Are YOU alright?" he asks.
I smile back at him, strangely pleased at his concern. "Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks."
He seems content with that. "Good," he nods. "I have to go now. I'll see you later."
At my acknowledgement, he turns around and walks away. I watch him until he disappears around a bend and then turn back around to see Harry coming out of the messhall, walking towards me. B'Elanna is a few paces behind him.
"Was that Dalby?" Harry asks, an incredulous expression on his face.
"Yes, it was."
"I didn't know you talked to him."
I look at him carefully, aware of the reputation Dalby has.
"Well," he shrugs, "Everyone says he's a jerk."
I snort as we make our way towards the turbolift. "Well, everyone is obviously full of it. Dalby is a nice guy underneath all that antagonism, Harry." I look into my friend's eyes. "You know better than to listen to other people's opinion about someone, right?"
Harry looks at me, awareness unfolding on his features.
"I guess you're right," he looks sheepish. "I am sorry, that's not how I meant it."
I smile at him, sensing B'Elanna's eyes on me again. She heard the exchange between the two of us and now that same knowing gaze is directed at me. I try to focus on Harry, though.
"It's alright, Har." We step into the lift and the door closes behind us. "I knew that."
Harry gives his deck as the destination. His quarters were the place we had planned to converge at, previously. Apparently B'Elanna concurs with that.
I take a deep breath as the lift starts to move and almost jump when my combadge chirps.
"Chakotay to Paris."
I gulp as I look at my two friends from the corners of my eyes and punch my badge. "Paris here."
"Lieutenant," Chakotay's voice is soft, his tone almost playful. "I hope you haven't forgotten our pool date in Sandrine's tonight."
I feel my face getting hot but I can't stop the smile from emerging on my face.
"No sir, I haven't."
I can hear the smile in his voice.
"I am busy for the next three hours but I'll see you in holodeck two at 1800 hours precisely. Tonight the dinner's on you, Tom, you exhausted my account the last time."
I keep my eyes firmly locked on the closed door in front of me, my face burning, my heart thudding, as I try not to look at my two companions whose eyes I can feel boring into my frame.
"You got it, Commander."
"See you. Chakotay out."
The comm. ends and I take a deep breath before looking at Harry, who is looking even more flabbergasted than before, and B'Elanna, whose annoyingly knowing stare has upped several degrees in intensity.
"What?" I say.
"Exhausted his account the LAST time?" Harry squeaks.
"What last time?" he demands. "Since when have you started going on pool dates with Commander Chakotay?"
"Since night before last, Harry."
I keep my face composed, my voice calm, even though my heart is beating way too fast. I really don't want to talk about this to anyone right now.
"I thought he HATED you, Tom." Harry is adamant.
I chuckle at him. "I told you, you think too much, Harry."
"Why, Paris, you're glowing," B'Elanna drawls, interrupting the two of us. "What's your secret?"
I look at her then and find her eyes dancing with amusement. They're warm. Understanding. And that makes me feel lighter somehow. I don't know what she knows about Chakotay and I, but she knows Chakotay, and that's enough.
"If I told you," I deadpan. "It wouldn't be a secret anymore now, would it?"
I see the corners of her mouth twitch and chuckle to myself.
"Tom?" Harry asks sharply, clearly noticing he has missed something important.
Just then, the lift halts and the doors open. "C'mon, Harry," I smile, as I step out of the car. "Lets go. You promised you'd show me your clarinet."
"But, TOM," his voice is shrilly and impatient, but I am not bothered anymore.
My mind is on more important things.
My mind is on tonight.
The pool date.
Bronze and gold.
Russet hues of glittering sunshine. Slowly cascading into my line of vision. Floating down from the golden-black skies above.
I never saw him in this light before.
Yes, he inhabited my thoughts, my senses, and my sensibilities for way too long. He's been my pain and desire, my love and loathing, my hope and despair.
My beacon of hope at the end of the dark tunnel that was my life.
Tan colored t-shirt snugly hugging muscular chest and torso. Blue jeans that cling to a strong ass and long athletic legs. Eyes twinkling, smiles ready, laughter abound.
I am sure none of the crew have ever seen him in this light either.
To say that Sandrine's denizens were astounded, when Chakotay showed up at the bar all dressed to kill and joined me at my table, would be an understatement.
Pissed off Maquis floundering in confusion. Dumbfounded Fleet guys unsure about the goings on. A half-curious Vulcan Chief of Security watching from afar - I bet the Captain will get the full report on everything that happened in Sandrine's tonight - calmly noting, calculating, and analyzing. Harry as shocked this evening as he was in the turbolift this afternoon.
All watching from a distance, wondering what the heck changed in the last two days. Only a handful actually having a clue.
B'Elanna quietly observing the whole drama unfolding from her table. I wonder how much she knew.
Of course, Chakotay seemed oblivious to everyone's scrutiny. He apparently walked into Sandrine's tonight after shedding his First Officer shroud and was determined to enjoy shooting pool with me, regardless of who seemed flabbergasted at his choice of company. Not to say he wasn't aware of his professional standing among the crew. He was. Very much so. He kept a friendly, respectful distance from me in front of everyone but, despite my constant fears, there was no change in his under-the-surface affection for me.
He kept his hands off me but the heat in his gaze still filled me with endless warmth.
I wondered how to broach the subject I'd been dying to talk to him about all day. I needed to know. Despite his avoidance, despite his apparent inability to accept the validity of my words, to embrace the truth behind them, I still needed to ask him.
I needed to know whether he believed me or not.
He put up a good fight but I still beat him at pool. Five times out of five.
Apparently, he wasn't as oblivious to the distraction around him, and to the commotion within him, as I'd thought at first.
He asked me to his quarters after the game. We discreetly left our astounded audience behind.
That was almost two hours ago.
"There's one called 'Oh Shit'."
I set the pack down in front of Chakotay, smiling as his left eyebrow arches.
"Although it's normally played with four people, but we can adapt it for two."
"Oh Shit? That's the name of the game? You're kidding."
"No, seriously," I grin, as I sift the cards. "The object is for each player to bid the number of tricks he thinks he can take from each hand, then to take exactly that many; no more and no fewer," I drawl. "Besides bidding more than you can handle would probably get you in a little bit of trouble…"
He snorts, mockingly hitting me on the leg with his left foot, as he picks up the tall glass from the carpet and takes a sip of the fruit punch he's served us both. He is sitting down on the carpet of his living room across from me, his back resting against the chair that lies facing the viewport, and his legs sprawled out casually in front of him.
I lean against the foot of the couch opposite and continue quoting the rules from the open data terminal at my side, smiling at his amusement. "Also, points are awarded only for making the bid exactly and are deducted for missing the bid, either over or under."
"If you think you can invent some funny little card game with a convoluted set of fake rules and then thrash me at it the way you did at pool today," he chuckles, "then you, Lieutenant, are woefully mistaken."
"If you think you can't handle such complex rules, Commander, then we can play something easier, you know," I tease him.
"EASIER?" He shakes his head, smiling. "After beating you at poker three out of five, I think I can handle a little more heat, Tom. But show me anyhow."
"Hey, two out of five wasn't bad for ME. You just have a damn good poker-face," I grin. "Here, there's this one called 'Drunkard', which seems like a lotta fun to play." I smile at him conspiratorially.
"Where do you come up with these games?" He looks incredulous. "You're making these up, aren't you?"
"Nope, its there."
I turn the screen towards him as I pick up my glass to sip at the fruity, tangy drink.
"Look for yourself."
He leans forward to read and after a few seconds I watch a mischievous smile break on his face, as he flicks an eye at me.
"Yes, Tom, keep drinking that, it fits the mood of the game."
I pause in the middle of a mouthful and then reluctantly swallow the beverage, looking at him suspiciously.
"It's fruit punch, Chakotay."
"Yes, fruit punch." His eyebrows waggle. "With a kick."
"You spiked it."
"You wound me, Tom." He feigns astonishment. "Don't you know I don't believe in fake-anything."
"Where did you get….?" I start to ask and then stop at the look on his face. "Never mind." He chuckles at me. "So you spiked both our drinks?"
"I didn't say anything about spiking MY drink," he grins. "Here's another lesson for you, Tom Paris: I am not really very fond of alcohol."
"So why did you spike mine?"
"To relax you."
He gulps down the last of his punch and begins to rise.
"Relax me?" I ask him, a little puzzled, as I hand him my empty glass.
"Yep." He leans forward to ruffle my hair as he stands up. "Relax you, help you drop your inhibitions, free you up a little bit."
"I think my inhibitions are lowered as they are." My eyes follow him to the recycler where he gets rid of the glasses. "Don't you think?"
"To tell you the truth," he replies, putting the dishes from our dinner into the recycler, his back to me. "I think you're a little tense."
My heart kicks start a drumming beat. "Tense?"
"Something's on your mind."
His eyes are still averted but there's a slight shift in his tone.
"You think so?" I swallow heavily.
I take a deep breath. "And how do you plan on helping me with that?"
He looks at me then, just for a second, his dark eyes looking straight at me, questing, asking, probing, and then he turns back to the recycler to punch the console.
"Well, alcohol has time and again proven to be a good means of clearing up the way towards a more unhindered course of conversation. Loosening one's tongue, so to speak."
Loosening one's tongue? I feel ice settle at the back of my spine. My throat is suddenly too tight but it's time to confront him. He's practically telling me what's bothering him - albeit indirectly - and I have to take the proverbial bull by the horns. He still thinks I am lying to him. I have to settle the fucking score once and for all. No matter what the outcome.
I stand up and walk up to him. "You think I am lying, don't you?"
He spins around on his heels to face me, his eyes wide. "Tom…"
"You think I made it all up, don't you? That… that was some forged up tale that I came up with on the spur of the moment." Suddenly the pain is too much to bear. I didn't want to break down in front of him but I can't stop the sudden tears from pooling in my eyes. "Or perhaps you think I spent too much time thinking it up, making it up, you think that's why it took so long for me to come to you, do you Chak?"
His eyes are burning, his face suddenly horrified. "Tom, NO!"
I angrily blink the tears away, my teeth gritting. "You think I'd lie to you, Chakotay?"
He takes a step forward and grabs my shoulders in his hands.
"NO, I DON'T. I KNOW you didn't lie to me. I know you were telling the truth."
He squeezes my shoulders as if to convey his point, his eyes imploring.
"I believe you. I do, Tom."
"But… you didn't say a word."
I look at him in confusion, suddenly unsure of what's going on in his head, unsure what's going on in mine. "It's as if you weren't gonna say anything at all. As if what I told you didn't matter."
He sighs. "Oh, Tom. It MATTERS to me. And I do believe you. Hundred percent," His brown eyes stare into mine. "How CAN you lie to me? How can you, when I can look into your eyes? When I can look into these beautiful blue eyes and look straight down to your soul?"
I stare at him in disbelief, my heart fluttering like a caged bird suddenly finding freedom.
"Has anyone ever told you… how gorgeous, how absolutely perfect your eyes are?" His voice is suddenly hoarse and I feel my throat constricting as his fingers slide up to rest below my chin, tilting my face up into perfect alignment so that he can really, really look into my soul. "They're like the perfect summer sky, or the… breathtaking magnificence of the most beautiful untainted waters, they can drown me into their depths, take me into them, into you. Has anyone ever told you how these eyes, these beautiful eyes, could never possibly hide anything from anyone? How they could never possibly hide anything from me?"
I once again feel tears brimming into my eyes as I stare into his shining eyes with a wonderment I have never felt before in my life.
"If that's true," I whisper, raggedly. "Then that night, when I came to return you the shell, in the observation lounge, why didn't you believe me?"
"You caught me by surprise," he sighs again. "What was I supposed to do? I was pissed off for reasons beyond my comprehension and it wasn't your fault but I was too mad to think rationally."
"And you believe me now?"
"Yes, I do."
"But you didn't say a word. You didn't even acknowledge what I was saying."
He takes a deep breath. "Tom, it took me THIS long to… process all the information that you'd given me."
"Chak?" I feel puzzled.
He gives my hand a squeeze. "You do agree that everything you told me about… has a slightly… insane ring to it, don't you?"
Well… "Um, yeah."
His eyes stare into mine. "That it's all kind of incredible, incomprehensible, a very, very puzzling scenario?"
"To say the least."
"So I needed some time to think it through."
"But if it was all so incomprehensible, why do you believe me now?"
His gaze falls down to our joined hands for a second, and then he looks up at me again.
"Well, I checked up with B'Elanna."
"What do you mean?" I ask, my brow furrowing.
"Tom, come here." He pulls me to the couch. "Sit down." His hand goes into his pocket and pulls out the shell." Look at this," He places it into his open palm in front of me. "What do you remember me telling you about it?"
I look at him feeling unsure about where this is going. But he just nods at me, encouraging me to venture forward, so I take a deep breath. "You did a scan on this."
"Yes, and?" he prompts.
"It was filled with sand. Sand that was indigenous to some planets in the delta quadrant."
I look at the shell, my heart thudding, and then up at him again. "You… you found fingerprints on it."
His brow smoothes out at this as if all he'd wanted was to know whether I had been paying attention to him earlier, and he nods in acknowledgement. "Yes. Only three sets, since I had been keeping this clean since the time it was given to me. Three sets of fingerprints: Mine, which is acceptable since it is my shell. Yours, again justifiable since you had it with you for some time. And finally, B'Elanna's. That was the mystery, Tom. I couldn't remember ever giving this shell to B'Elanna. She had seen it but I didn't think she had ever held it in her hands. So, I asked her this morning. I asked her if she had ever taken this shell for any reason when we were on the Crazy Horse?"
I search his eyes. "What did she say?"
"Well," he says with a small smile. "First she gave me hell for making her ransack her entire quarters in order to hunt for the shell two days ago when it had been with me all along. And then she confirmed that she had never felt the need to take it for any reason whatsoever."
"You didn't tell her I had it with me?"
"Of course not," he frowns. "That stays between us."
"You really believe me?"
His eyes are gentle. "Tom, it's hard to make sense of all that you've told me, it's such a strange, astounding tale." His thumb slowly strokes the top of my hand. "But despite all that, yes, I believe you."
I take a deep breath, trying to calm my rapidly beating heart. "You don't think I am crazy?"
He pulls me into his arms. "Baby, no, you're not crazy, I know that."
"I thought…" I choke, as finally the tears I'd been trying to keep away spill over. "I was so scared, Chak, I thought you wouldn't…"
He doesn't let me finish. Instead he pulls me in the warm safety of his arms, shushing me, running his hands over my back comfortingly. He murmurs soothing words into my ear, pulling me closer to him, as I tightly wind my arms around his shoulders, never wanting to let him go. And I finally let the tears flow.
He lets me cry, somehow yet again aware of my needs before I've had a chance to tell him, letting me take out all my frustrations. I find myself pulled on top of him as he settles against the back of the couch, holding me secure, holding me tight, his lips brushing my hair.
I silently thank the gods for all the miracles of the universe as I inhale his sweet, familiar, reassuring scent. Slowly my tears dry and my heartbeat returns to a somewhat normal speed and rhythm, and I look up into his eyes to find nothing but concern there. I bite my lower lip as one of my hands slides down his arm to settle on his clenched fist, opening his fingers one by one until his hand lies palm up on my thigh.
With one finger I trace the wavy edge of the seashell, protectively cradled in his palm, and look up into his brown eyes again.
"This means a lot to you, doesn't it?" I ask him.
"Yes, it does."
I hold his gaze steadily, the countless questions in my eyes undoubtedly apparent to him. There's so much I don't know. There's so much I need to know. How to ask? Where to start?
He recognizes my need yet again and nods at me.
With a deep sigh, he settles me into his arms more comfortably, and begins his tale.
It happened three years ago.
He had just resigned his commission at the rank of Lieutenant Commander, ending what would have been a promising career in Starfleet Tactical as one of their most cherished officers.
He simply had had no choice.
His father had been killed fighting the Cardassians, fighting for his people and his home world, in a war that should never have happened had the Federation kept their promise to serve its citizens as per the oath it had taken many years ago.
Chakotay's surviving family was either in Cardassian prison camps or scattered all over the frontier rim. His home was in ruins, occupied by Cardassian military forces, leaving him no place to return to other than the battlefield.
With the fire of revenge and betrayal burning in his heart, he had embraced the Maquis resistance.
It was a difficult time for him. He was so filled with rage and pain that there were times, he says, that he couldn't even see straight. All he wanted was to make all those who'd been responsible for the destruction of his home, to pay - and pay dearly.
It was amidst this period of rage and anguish, during a series of some very unsuccessful raid attempts on a particular Cardassian weapons depot, that Chakotay met Taleero for the first time.
It had been a tricky mission to begin with and Chakotay had been the person with the tactical know-how to effectively coordinate the attack so that his team could take out the weapons systems on the depot. For a moment it had seemed as if things were finally going to work out on this mission. They were halfway through in their job, having isolated the security and weapons systems of the depot, when suddenly a dampening field was raised around the block they were working in, rendering all their weapons useless, and his five-man team was surrounded by Cardassian military forces.
As they frantically worked to disrupt the dampening field around the complex, rigging connections and tweaking wires, they could hear the Cardies closing in on them from all directions. With the last detonator in place and the shields finally down, Chakotay attempted to pull out of the complex only to be shot, injured, and cornered himself by a Cardy.
With the Cardassian disrupter turned on 'kill' and aimed at his head, when it appeared he had attained the Maquis objective only to fail in his individual survival, he saw the alien get hit from behind and fall to his less than honorable death. He watched the old Indian man, clad in Maquis leathers, appear out of a hideout that he had been unaware of, promptly help him to his feet and whisk him away to safety.
It was only after they had been beamed back to the Crazy Horse and were sweeping away from the planet at maximum warp, that Chakotay was finally formally introduced to Taleero, the shaman.
As it turned out, Taleero had been part of the last Maquis team that had attempted to sabotage the depot a week ago. He had lost his team members in the attack and had been trapped inside the complex when the Cardassians raised shields around it. Somehow with the help of a rigged tricorder, he had managed to stay hidden this last whole week, without getting detected. When Chakotay got down the dampening field around the complex to get his team out, the room Taleero was trapped in was freed too.
In a way, both Taleero and Chakotay had saved each other's lives.
Everyone on the frontier rim knew who Taleero was. On Dorvan V, his was a respected presence and name. He was a very wise man, he had good medicine, it would do one good to listen to the advice he gave, or so Chakotay had heard Kolopak - his father - say about the revered shaman time and again. Despite his big name, this was the first time Chakotay was meeting him.
And meeting him brought back some very painful memories.
Taleero had known Kolopak well. He had fought along his side and had watched him die with his own eyes. He said he had bonded with his tribesman as one does with their family. And he told Chakotay, because of that, he considered him family too.
The shell was given to Chakotay by Taleero.
It was only symbolic, the old Indian had told him. It was a gesture of bonding, of calling a person one of their own. He told Chakotay that possessing that shell was charmed, that the simple act of possessing it had strong medicine of its own. But he also said that the power was not the shell's own. It was but a mere shell. An exoskeleton of a being that lived their entire lives in the deepest oceans, leaving behind nothing but a shiny, beautiful husk to remind one of their once-existence.
But sometimes you can find life within carnage, and hope within remnants of utter destruction.
The medicine belonged to the one who possessed the shell, Taleero said. The shell was just a symbol, it was the person's own determination that served as the conduit through which those inner powers were channeled and brought out to the surface.
Taleero said he saw medicine in Chakotay.
Chakotay would've laughed if only the shaman hadn't been so serious in his convictions.
The old Indian gave him the shell and said it would look after Chakotay as it had looked after him for so many years. He asked Chakotay to keep it as a reminder of their bond as fellow tribesmen and warriors. He asked him to keep the legacy of what Kolopak had left behind by continuing to fight for their freedom. Taleero believed Chakotay had it in himself to make his father proud.
Two weeks after he parted with the shell, Taleero was killed in a clash with Cardassian forces at a colony on Jemara IV.
Even though Chakotay wasn't superstitious, he started keeping the shell on his person from then on - wearing it around his neck, never going anywhere without it.
And whether it had anything to do with the shell or not, Chakotay isn't sure, but his luck changed. Astonishingly.
From that point on, every mission he went on, every raid he made, every fight he got involved in, his cell always came out on top. His extraordinarily relentless record caught the attention of Starfleet intelligence and they started coming after him with a vengeance. His name became associated with everything that was dangerous, intrepid and mysterious about the Maquis.
I very well remember my first impression when I joined the resistance and found out I was going to pilot for Chakotay. Sure, my reasons for joining were different from his, but I was still very much awed by his credentials and the name he had made for himself. I had actually thought to myself that if I was going to join a terrorist cell, which was my then interpretation of the freedom struggle, it was a good thing that I was at least joining one with a no-nonsense reputation.
So it always intrigued me when Starfleet caught me on my very first mission without much trouble at all.
Of course, at that time, I hadn't known Tuvok was a Starfleet spy.
I wonder who else sent their operatives to penetrate the tightly woven fabric of Chakotay's cell.
Chakotay says he has no idea why he left the shell in his cabin that night, before beaming over to Voyager for the first time.
He had thought it was with him.
He really had.
I hear his breathing gradually slow down as he finishes speaking, my back resting on his calmly rising and falling chest, my head on his shoulder. I cover the back of his right hand, threading my fingers through his, and turn my face up to brush my lips over his reassuringly. He meets my lips in a soft grateful kiss, his breath warm against my cheek.
He shifts backwards and helps me turn around so that I face him, and then slips his arms around me, pulling me over him, letting me cover his body. I feel the familiar flutter in my stomach start again as his hips gently rock against mine, his half-erect cock jutting against my groin from between our clothes, reminding me of his ultimate need for me. And mine for him. My heart beating fast, I tighten my arms around him and press him back, holding him captive against the backrest, kissing him hard, my tongue feverishly dipping into his sweet mouth and dueling with its mate.
We are both panting by the time we break, our breathing hitched, our faces flushed with desire. I want to grab him and go for it again but he just holds me in his arms, his hands rubbing over my back, trying to calm me down.
"Shh." He kisses me reverently. "Not now. Later, babe. I promise."
I reluctantly agree, sagging in his arms again, knowing there are things still left to be said. It takes me a few long moments to compose myself and then I look down at the shell in his other palm, casting rainbow hues in the soft light of his living room.
"It's beautiful, Chak," I whisper.
He sighs and kisses the side of my neck. "Yes, it is."
I hear the change in his breathing and know he's thinking troubling thoughts, though I can't imagine what could be more troubling than opening your private life history in front of someone as he did in front of me a moment ago.
"Tom," he says as he tugs at my hand. "I need to ask you something," He places his hands on my shoulders, as he stares into my eyes. "This thing, it has been on my mind for the past two months, and I need you to answer me honestly, without prejudging my reaction to your answer." His eyes are sincere. "I just need to know."
Swallowing heavily, I nod at him.
He holds my face in his hands. "Tom, why did you agree to help Starfleet track my ship down?"
My first instinct is to get up and flee, as a small part of my heart screams that it's the same old thing, that he's still mistrusting me, that he thinks I betrayed him. But his eyes tell a different story, as he grips my shoulders firmly as though aware of my inner struggle. There is a slight desperation in the dark brown depths that tells me he really does need to know the truth.
The whole simple truth.
I sigh and close my eyes for a second, and then I open them to look into his eyes.
"I needed to get out of Auckland, Chakotay, even if it was only for a couple of weeks. I had NO knowledge whatsoever of any of your bases or hideouts so I couldn't possibly have been any real help to Starfleet, you KNOW that. Sometimes I feel Captain Janeway knew that too. It was as if she herself wanted me to get out of Auckland even if it was just for a little while. I don't know why. All I know is that, it was hell down there for me."
His eyes are sad as he strokes my cheeks with his fingers and then he nods in assent as he leans forward to kiss me again. I close my eyes and feel his lips and tongue moving over mine with sweet tenderness, as a heart-rending lightness invades my insides.
He accepts my answers, my heart says. He understands. Suddenly weak with relief, I slip my arms around his waist and sink into his warmth.
"When you were caught." He strokes my hair, his arms holding me tight, his breath a tad shaky. "When they took you away, Tom, I nearly went crazy."
I feel a pang of sadness go through me as I look into his eyes and see them fill with pain and regret. I had never before really thought of how it must have felt to him. Yes, Torres did tell me how it had happened, how Chakotay had felt as if he'd failed me when I was caught. But to see it with my own eyes, to notice his sorrow at losing me on a mission like that, his guilt at not knowing from beforehand that his cell was infested with spies from Starfleet and heaven knew who else out there, is a revelation in itself.
I card my fingers through his short-cropped hair in a small token of comfort.
"And then the trial came." His brow furrows. "And it was all over the fucking news."
I sigh. "So, I heard."
I watch his throat convulsing as his eyes dip to his lap, his brow knitted in some complex thought, and then he raises them again. "When I heard about the admiral, your father, being on the tribunal…"
"You probably thought I'd get off easy, huh?" I interrupt him.
He maintains eye contact, his hands warm behind my neck, fingers messaging my shoulder blades, and stays quiet, letting me continue.
"You probably didn't expect me to be thrown into maximum security for fifteen years, did you Chak?"
"I'd admit I was shocked, Tom. Shocked beyond belief."
The corners of my mouth twitch, as suddenly the taste of my own saliva becomes bitter. I swallow with an effort.
"Don't tell me you missed the whole media-celebrated public disowning of Admiral Paris' only son."
There must be something in the tone of my voice and the grind of my teeth, because his eyes widen as he looks deeply into mine, searching them, somehow managing to read me like an open book. He takes a deep breath and takes my hands in his, rubbing the back of them.
"That was all over the news too, Tom."
Memories I haven't thought of in a long time, memories I haven't allowed myself to remember in what seems like forever but in truth is only a period of a mere two months, suddenly invade my mental landscape.
Happy dirt-covered hands digging into soft, slippery soil.
A small wooden bucket lying beside one bare thigh clad in baggy red bermuda shorts, grimy enough to keep any six-year old content.
The sound of a child's laughter in my ear, my cousins Richie and Tammy bantering in our backyard, piquing my interest enough to turn around and look.
My eyes instead locking with the clear blues of my dad's as he stands under the shade of the elm tree, tall and dignified as always, quietly observing me. The sudden smile on his face at my obvious devotion to my task.
The clear memory of my heart leaping in my chest at the surge of euphoria that fills my whole being at making him happy.
At making him proud.
"Tom, I am sorry for what happened," Chakotay says suddenly, bringing me out of my painful recollection, not aware of the track the train of my thoughts had taken a moment ago. "But you should remember," he continues softly. "Sometimes people say or do things at the spur of the moment, things they didn't really mean, things that haunt them for the rest of their lives."
I smile weakly at his noble effort to make me feel better, but there's too much bitterness, too much pain in my heart, as far as my relationship with my father is concerned. There's too much water under the bridge for it to be conceived so simply.
"Thanks, Chak." I shake my head. "But somehow I doubt the admiral ever wavers from a decision he's made."
He sighs. "I am just asking you to keep an open mind."
Though, I wish it were that easy.
"Because I know what it's like," he says with a pained edge to his husky voice. "To be at odds with one's father."
I look at him then. His eyes are lowered to our joined hands, but the strife on his face is enough to explain the immense conflict within his heart.
Leaving the tribe to join Starfleet. Disappointing his father. Rejecting his tribe's customs to embrace the New World's ways but not fitting there either. Always being a contrary. In every world. In every place. His father's death before either of them was able to reconcile their differences. Losing that chance forever.
To have the weight of that kind of guilt on one's shoulders, regrets that can no longer be rectified, is suddenly too hard to imagine, too difficult to comprehend. All of a sudden, my own pain seems too insignificant.
I touch his face. "Yes, you do." I feel as if a gift has been given to me, and probably it has. "You DO know it." On an impulse, I throw my arms around him and hug him fiercely, kissing his face. "You, you really understand, Chak." My voice shakes with relief.
He hugs me back, his arms tight around me and his fingers tangling inside my hair. "Yes, I do, I know how you feel, Tom," he sighs reassuringly.
"Chak, I thought I had lost you." I bite my lip, struggling to keep my voice steady. God, if it hadn't been for the shell….
He pulls me back then, his eyes staring into mine. "I am right here, Tom." He kisses the tip of my nose. "You got me."
And then, his eyes locked with mine, I watch as a strange, alien expression passes over his face. His eyes sparkle as if rejuvenated with a new life, and I stare at him in confusion, as he opens my hand and settles it palm up over his thigh.
I gape at him in stupefaction as he slips the shell inside my open palm.
"I want you to keep this shell from now on."
What is going on? I drop the shell back into his hand as if I've been burnt.
"What are you saying, Chak?" I squeak. "It's your shell. It belongs to you."
"Yes." Chakotay picks it up and puts it in my palm again. "It belongs to me and I want to give it to you. I am giving it to you, Tom. Remember, it can be passed on to anyone I want like Taleero passed it on to me?"
"And you remember what happened to Taleero after he gave this to you?" I frown. "He got KILLED."
"Tom, you don't understand…"
I throw down my hands in frustration. "I understand perfectly, Chakotay. This shell looks AFTER you. It keeps you safe, that's why it was given to you. It's too important to you. I told you what happened when you went down to Ocampa without carrying it with you. You DIED. It's charmed, Chak. It watches over you."
"Don't you see, that's all changed now? You had the shell with you and you saved my life. You hold my life in your hands now."
"What has that got to do with anything?"
"It has everything to do with the shell and with you and me, don't you see? You saved my life, you hold my life in YOUR hands now. My keeping the shell is of no consequence whatsoever anymore."
I stare at him. Could this be what I think he's saying? But what about what happened to Taleero? And to Chakotay when he didn't have the shell with him?
"I don't understand," I prod.
He holds my shoulders in place as he struggles to put his words together. "The point is, I'd rather, I'd rather have the guy who saved MY life and who is now the keeper of… my soul." He halts cautiously and then continues. "I'd rather have him safe and sound, you know. I'd rather have YOU safe and sound, Tom."
It IS what I thought he was saying. But what about the fact that it was given to him by someone who was from his own tribe, his own people?
"Don't you see?" His eyes are shining. "This shell is passed on in the name of the bond. It's a symbol of making a person one of your own. Of taking someone in your tribe, in your family, in your heart. To bond with someone. We bonded on the Ocampa stairs when you saved my life and called me on the life-debt. I want to give this to you to reaffirm my faith in our bond, Tom."
I am speechless. I don't know how to respond. He stares at me, his eyes searching mine for any clue, waiting for my response, but I am so overwhelmed by his words and his sentiments that I mutely stare at him - stunned into silence.
He mistakes my silence for rejection. The light in his eyes suddenly dims with hurt and disappointment.
"Unless," he stammers, suddenly looking very unsure, upping my astonishment a few notches. "Unless you don't," His throat convulses with obvious pain. "You don't WANT to be one of my own, I mean, as a friend, and a bond-mate and -."
Dammit, does he really think that I would give up the chance to be his friend, his bond-mate?
"Chakotay." I grasp his shoulders and pull him unresisting to me. "I'd love to be your bond-mate. I'd be honored." I hug him tightly, feeling his heart thudding against my chest. "I just - I just don't think I am worthy of it."
He crushes me to him. "I deem you worthy. I want to make your mine, Tom." He pulls back a little to look at my face and the look of profound relief in his eyes, at whatever he sees there, is priceless. "You really DO mean it."
"Of course I do, Chakotay. I love you," I blurt out, and then freeze as I feel him stiffen in my arms. I wasn't supposed to say this. It's too soon. Things are moving very fast. This was supposed to be my secret. I have no idea how he'll take this.
He holds my face between his hands and I scrunch my eyes shut, not having the strength to see the ridicule in his eyes, as he shifts back to look at me.
I start as I feel his thumb stroking my cheek and feeling somewhat baffled, open my eyes to stare at him.
He groans, "I don't ever wanna let you go."
I blink in amazement at his chiseled features, notice the suspicious shine in his beautiful brown eyes, and feel my heart jump in my throat as he leans forward to kiss me first on my right cheek, then on my left, and then on my chin.
"Tell me, Tom, how much?" He mumbles before he covers my lips with his.
I moan into the sizzling hot kiss, his mouth moving against mine, his velvet lips working their magic on my frazzled nerves. I wrap my fingers in his hair and disengage our lips.
"How much what?" I pant, feeling my cock surging to life to thresh inside my pants.
He kisses my eyelids and zeroes in on my lips again, "Tell me how much you - love me," and then presses me back on the couch, sliding on top of me.
"I love you, Chak," I moan into his mouth, as he slides my tee shirt off my torso and I feel his hands sliding over my chest and his fingers tangling into my chest hair. "I love you so much that it hurts, I love you so much that it's impossible to keep it inside me anymore."
"Then show me, Tom." He looks into my eyes. "I want you to show me how much you love me."
"I… I am afraid," I gulp.
A frown appears on his brow. "What are you afraid of?"
"That… that it won't be enough." I wet my suddenly dry lips, my heart hammering inside my chest. "That I'll fail you again."
He laughs, delighted. "You can never fail me, Tom. You didn't before either. It wasn't your fault. What matters is the present, this lifetime. In this lifetime, you saved me. My life belongs to you now. Knowing that is enough for me." His voice takes on a husky edge. "Your love is enough for me, Tom, you're all I ever wanted."
I feel tears brimming in my eyes. "Chak…"
He leans forward and brushes his lips over my nose. "I said, show me, Tom. NOW."
I don't make him wait anymore. I push him back on the couch and pulling his tee shirt out of his jeans, I peel it off his chest and over his arms in one swift motion. I then cover his body with mine, his skin hot and slippery against my chest, and kiss him frenziedly, thrusting my tongue into his hot mouth. Groaning against my nipping teeth, he undulates his hips against mine, his hands clutching my ass as my fingers claw at the zipper of his jeans.
"Not enough space," I growl with frustration, trying to settle comfortably on the unyielding couch.
And with that I find myself airborne, as Chakotay picks me up off him and standing up from the couch, strides off towards his bedroom, clutching me in his arms like a prize won at a bounty fair.
"Um, Chak?" I manage, as the swishing doors admit us to his bedroom and I am unceremoniously dumped in the middle of his large bed.
"Lots of space here," he grins at me, then laughs at the incredulous look on my face, the sound of his voice beautiful in my ears. He leans over me, and sliding his fingers inside the belt-line of my pants, yanks them open and slides them and my underwear down my hips. I feel myself turning hot at his long appreciative look down my body, and as he stands back and tugs at his own jeans, a feeling of déjà vu passes through me.
I spring forward on my knees and grab his hands, halting him in his task. "Oh NO, you don't," I growl, and wrapping my arms around his waist, pull him roughly to me, sinking my face into his warm skin.
With a drawn-out moan he throws his head back, as my tongue dips into his navel to tease him for a second or two before spiraling its way up his abdomen and onto his chest, my teeth tugging at his dark nipples.
I can hear him gasping and before he can take another breath, I have spun him around and have laid him out on the bed under me like a five-course meal, ready to be devoured. And devour him I do, as my eyes first rake up and down his glistening, smooth skin, and then my head dips and my mouth captures his lips eagerly parted in anticipation. He chuckles against my mouth, his hands gripping my bare ass from behind and kisses me back, his hips thrusting upward to tease my hard, burning cock.
"What's so FUNNY?" I pout at him, as I shift up to unlatch our mouths, and yank his jeans open, finally sliding them off his rocking hips. The seashell slides out of the side pocket of his jeans and into my hand, and I hold it into my palm for a second, feeling its warmth transferring to me. I then squeeze it once, reverently, and place it on the side table, catching his reassured glance. I bend down to lick his nose tip to add to his reassurance and feel him shaking with much merriment beneath me.
"YOU are," he laughs, flashing his dimples, his hand sliding over my back, tracing fiery trails up my spine with his skilled fingers. "Spirits, if you could just see the look on your face, Tom."
"Hey, it's not MY fault that you look so damn scrumptious that…" I part his thighs with my knees to settle between them, and groan as our nova hot cocks come into perfect alignment with each other. "That… I could just eat you."
"Then eat me," he grunts, sliding his fingers inside my hair. "Take me, Tom."
I look into his eyes then, wanting to confirm his longing for me, and am startled by the play of emotion on his features. His eyes sparkle with warmth and tenderness, as he holds my face in his palms and looks deeply into my eyes.
"I love you, Tom," he tells me.
I forget everything then.
I forget Lovaugim. I forget the Maquis. I forget the Kazon and Seska and the bullies and the gangs and all the shit that I experienced in that other lifetime, all the non-reality which only I was cursed to remember and live out in its abominable entirety.
I forget all my failures and my loss and my pain.
I forget it all. For none of that matters anymore.
I just see the concern in his beautiful eyes as he kisses me over and over again, calling my name, trying to rouse me out of my daze. I just hear his affirmation looping into my mind like a delightfully stuck favorite record. I love you. I love you. I love you, Tom.
I fall over his lips and kiss him once, and kiss him again, and grabbing his wrists and pulling them over his head, I kiss him over and again and harder than ever.
Somewhere in the haze, I hear the sound of his delighted laughter trickling into my consciousness once again and I smile into his warm, wet mouth.
I love you, Tom, he said.
God, that's all I ever needed to know. I believe I can wrap my whole life around these four beautiful words and spend an eternity worshiping this wonderful, enigmatic man.
I love you.
I love you, Chakotay.