TITLE: Paris at the Bat
AUTHOR: Brenda Shaffer-Shiring
CODES: C, P (not C/P), crew
RATING: G
PART: 1/1
SUMMARY: It's batter Paris versus pitcher Chakotay in the last at-bat of a hotly-contested baseball game on Voyager. First appeared in "RanDoM Zine 2," edited by Kimberann Claar and produced by Robbie McNeill fan club RanDoM Flight.



Paris at the Bat
by Brenda Shaffer-Shiring


//Beautiful day for a game,// Tom thought, looking out over the field from his spot in the on-deck circle. The sky was blue, the sun warm, the light breeze caressing his near-naked arms as it carried the fresh scent of green grass to his nostrils. Of course, he reflected, one advantage of playing a baseball game on the holodeck was that you could pretty much count on a fair day; there would never be a rain delay unless you programmed it. And of course, he'd never had any intention of doing that. The weather was perfect, quite comfortable for white shorts, a blue t-shirt, and a matching baseball cap -- which happened, by some coincidence, to be what the pilot was wearing.

"Popcorn! Get your popcorn here!" Neelix called out, from somewhere up in the stands where most of Voyager's crew sat, watching the athletic contest. "Peanuts! Fresh roasted peanuts here!" Tom smiled as he spotted the Talaxian, clad in a garish print shirt with fluorescent green shorts and cap, and toting a big tray of snack foods through the rows of seats as if he were an old-time vendor. Neelix had little interest in the game of baseball itself, but it looked to Tom as if he was certainly getting into the spirit of things anyway.

Still smiling, Tom took another experimental swing with his bat, concentrating on keeping the heavy wooden club level as he brought it around. Meanwhile, at the plate, Captain Janeway went back into her batter's stance, bending her knees and bringing up her own shiny bat.

When he'd first proposed a shipwide baseball game, Tom had wondered if the captain would want to take part at all; as it turned out, not only had she decided to play, but she was actually pretty good. She'd managed to get on base twice now, once on a single, once on a walk -- she did have a smaller strike zone than many of the other players, but Tom suspected that wasn't the only advantage she had with the opposite team's pitcher -- she'd shown some speed on the base paths, and she was agile and sure-handed at first base.

Most surprising of all, she'd even dressed for the game, in denim shorts and an outsized sweatshirt that sported the legend: "Starfleet Command School: My Way or the Skyway." Had to have been a gift, Tom figured; no *way* could he picture Janeway buying something like that. But who would've had the nerve to give it to her?

If the captain didn't get on base this time, the game would be over. It was the bottom of the ninth, the score was 5-4 in the other team's favor, and Harry had just popped up for the second (ouch!) out. If she did get on base, then things were all up to Tom. He found he liked the idea of having his team's fate -- his own fate -- in his hands. "Come on, Captain!" he cheered.

The pitcher wound up, followed through, let go all in one smooth blur of motion, and Janeway swung -- to no avail. The ball made contact with B'Elanna's catcher's mitt with a solid *thunk*.

"Strike two!" proclaimed the umpire, clearly and confidently. Seven of Nine certainly filled out the umpire's traditional blue suit in ways its designers hadn't anticipated, Tom mused (especially considering that, in the game's 20th-century heyday, its officials had almost all been male), but her directness, as well as her enhanced sensory perceptions, made her a natural for the job. He was glad he'd asked her to do it, even if that had meant fielding an endless series of questions about the purpose of the game.

The ball arced back toward the pitcher's mound, and Chakotay caught it with neat, practiced ease. From talking to the first officer back when this game had only been an idea, Tom knew that Chakotay was one of the few players on the field who'd grown up playing baseball, or something like it. On his traditional colony world, a variant (possibly a precursor) of the game had been popular. His skills showed the practice, too: he was a capable pitcher who'd already demonstrated that he wasn't averse to helping out his cause with a timely hit or two of his own. In his black warm-up pants and tank top, he looked even bigger and more fearsomely competent than he was.

Tom himself had picked up baseball at the Academy, eventually winning the position of shortstop on the Starfleet exhibition team. Actually, he could date his interest in the game far more precisely than that: to the evening when his father had said, over the dinner table, that he couldn't imagine anything more useless than learning an outmoded sport few people off Earth had ever even heard of.

Going into her stance, Janeway wiggled her hips in a manner a bit too exaggerated to look natural. //Oh, no fair, no fair....//Tom thought, smirking, but the move worked as it had obviously been intended to do: Chakotay faltered slightly as he went into his windup, and his subsequent pitch almost seemed as if it had been aimed at Janeway's bat. The captain swung, and this time connected, a long grounder loping out past Geron at shortstop. Dalby, in short left field, scooped the ball up and hurled it to first -- but by the time it reached Ayala, Janeway was already standing on the bag. Applause sprinkled down from the stands, and the captain grinned.

Tom grinned too, trying to keep control of his rising excitement as he headed toward the batter's box. Oh, this was it, this was baseball at its finest -- ninth inning, two outs, one on, two runs down, and his Starfleet team's chances for glorious victory or ignominious defeat (and the allocation of bragging rights based on same) against their upstart rivals resting squarely on the slim shoulders of one Thomas Eugene Paris. Just perfect. Remembering the words of an ancient baseball poet, he cheerfully paraphrased, //They thought, if mighty Paris could but get a whack at that/They'd put up even money now, with Paris at the bat.// From first base, a smiling Captain Janeway offered him a nod and a quick thumbs-up, as if hearing his words and agreeing with them.

Taking up his stance, Tom showed Chakotay some teeth, partly because he was in a good mood, and partly because he figured it would get on the big guy's nerves. But Chakotay grinned back at him easily enough, pose relaxed, the look in his brown eyes utterly assured.

In the face of that casual confidence, Tom felt his own smile fading, his bright intentions dimmed somewhat by the reality of the situation: he hadn't been able to dent the first officer all game. Chakotay had struck Tom out swinging once, and the two times the pilot had managed to get his bat on the ball, he'd sent the round white sphere straight into the gloves of the waiting outfielders. //Yeah, well, your luck's about to run out, Chakotay,// he vowed, settling in.

For a moment it even looked as if Tom's prediction might come true, as the first pitch went wide of the plate, and Seven announced, "Ball one!" Chakotay shook himself, as if trying to shake something off, and Tom wondered hopefully if he were still a little rattled from the last batter. (//Thank you, Captain, I'll take all the help I can get.//) Then B'Elanna tossed the ball back to the pitcher's mound, and Chakotay set himself again, his solid body a little tenser, his swarthy face a little more serious.

He wound up and threw -- and Tom felt his heart surge as, to his vast astonishment, Chakotay's second pitch also missed its mark, going high and inside to the sound of Seven's "Ball two!" Hmm, maybe Chakotay really *was* slipping, what a wonderful thought. The pilot didn't want to get walked nearly as much as he wanted to get a hit, but a walk would get him on base. Better yet, it would give him an excuse to tease the big guy later on about being afraid to pitch to him. He smiled as the first officer visibly cursed himself. "Can't take the heat, huh?" he murmured.

"You wish," B'Elanna rejoined, and Tom's gaze flicked backward to the engineer. Clad in dark brown shorts and a tight little orange t-shirt, her slim figure only partly obscured by the traditional paraphernalia of a catcher, the woman was looking back at him in a way he hadn't seen from her since before they'd become an item: a look of bright, casual mockery. Even though he knew she was only ragging him because they were on different sides for this little matchup, the expression was still just a little unnerving. "He's still gonna smoke you, flyboy," she assured him, throwing the ball back to Chakotay.

//Only part of the game....//Tom told himself. "Hey, sweetheart, don't tell me." Shaking off his split-second's unease, Tom cranked up the wattage of the smile he was aiming at Chakotay, as he settled back into his stance. "Tell him."

The big man pulled the ball back for a third time and sent it flying, to end with another resounding thwack! in B'Elanna's mitt. "Strike!" ruled Seven, and an astonished Tom wheeled indignantly.

"What do you mean, `strike'?" he demanded. "That wasn't anywhere near the strike zone! It was a ball!"

Seven of Nine looked back at him, unmoved. "Lieutenant," she said quite clearly, "thanks to the Borg implants in my left eye, my visual acuity exceeds your own by a factor of several thousand." Meeting his gaze levelly, she concluded, "It was a strike."

Tom opened his mouth to protest again, then closed it with a snap. Arguing with Seven's decisions as umpire was like trying to get Tuvok to understand the point of a joke he'd already decided not to understand; you could go at it all day if you wanted to, but you weren't likely to get much for your efforts. Snorting, he turned back toward the pitcher's mound.

"Desperation doesn't suit you, hotshot," B'Elanna murmured from about the vicinity of his backside. The baseball arced gracefully through the air as she threw it back to Chakotay.

"It was a ball," Tom grumped, setting his feet and lifting the bat.

"Sure it was," B'Elanna agreed tranquilly. "And Jenny Delaney wasn't hitting on you in the mess hall last night."

"*What*?" Tom said, disconcerted. Chakotay picked that precise instant to let fly again, and the ball blew past Tom as if he were standing still. Which, in point of fact, he was.

"Strike two!" confirmed Seven.

"B'Elanna!" Tom sputtered, not sure if he was objecting to her statement or to what it had just made him do -- which he was beginning to suspect had been her purpose in saying it, since she couldn't possibly be worried about the nonexistent "threat" posed by the pretty stellar cartographer.

"Yes, Tom?" Behind her catcher's mask, B'Elanna was smirking. Suspicion confirmed.

Grumbling, the pilot stepped back from the plate, taking a few mock swings and shuffling his feet as he tried to compose himself. His advantage over Chakotay sure hadn't lasted very long, and being in the pressure spot didn't seem like nearly as much fun now. Dalby, Henley, and Chell smiled at him from the outfield, all three of them all the way back on the warning track, no doubt waiting for his next long blast. Dalby tapped his glove with a grin, as if (*as if?*) to remind Tom of the fate of the pilot's last fly ball. From the pitcher's mound, Chakotay watched him with the look of a cat who'd had a taste of bird and was eager to finish his meal. Tom looked toward first base again; Janeway still smiled encouragingly, but now there was a touch of uncertainty in her look. //Easy for you,// Tom thought petulantly. //I can't get him to lob *me* easy ones just by wiggling my hips.// He thought bizarrely, just for a second, of trying it. //It'd throw the big guy off his stride anyway. Suppose he can pitch when he's falling over laughing?//

"Come on, Tom!" Harry called from the bench. "You can do it!"

Well, at least somebody still had confidence in him. Of course, this would be less of a pressure situation if Harry himself had actually managed to *get on base*...

"Today, flyboy," B'Elanna suggested mildly. She was still smirking, and he scowled in response.

He took up his stance again, raising his bat, aiming a glare at Chakotay which the other man as avidly returned. Taking his stance, Chakotay went into the windup, then the pitch --

Low and away. Even to Tom's merely human eyes, it was obviously ball three. Seven echoed that call.

Three balls, two strikes. A full count, with maybe one pitch between Tom, Chakotay, and the end of the game. Somebody must have cranked up the temperature in the simulation, because what had been a pleasant day earlier now felt way too hot. Tom wiped his wrist across his forehead, watching the sweat run down his forearm with something like surprise. On the mound, Chakotay pulled the towel from his waistband and rubbed it between his hands before mopping his own forehead.

Around Tom, the air was still and quiet. Nobody was calling anything now, nobody making any little gibes. Even the murmur from the stands seemed muted as Chakotay plucked B'Elanna's throw out of the air and settled into position, his dark face serious. Tom tensed slightly -- he couldn't help it -- as the big man brought his arm back.

Suddenly, Chakotay whipped around to the side, unfurling a peg to first base that sent Janeway diving back for the bag like an aquatic athlete in the Interstellar Olympics. His chest heaving as he sucked in and expelled a breath, Tom shook his head. He hadn't even noticed she was taking a lead.

Ayala followed his return throw with a smile and a thumbs-up to Chakotay. The first officer managed the sketchiest of answering smiles, just a lifting of his lips, before he turned to face Tom again.

A verse from the ancient poem he'd quoted earlier danced crazily through Tom's head as Chakotay followed through on another pitch: //And now the pitcher holds the ball/And now he lets it go --

//And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow!// Tom swung hard, driving the heavy bat around with all his strength, and -- yes! -- catching a piece of the ball and sending it flying (the stands as silent as if the crowd were theater-goers watching a play) -- flying (his heart soaring upward with it) -- flying --

Over the left-field foul line, as a collective groan rustled through the stands. Smacking his fist off his leg, Tom swore with frustration. That didn't seem like enough of a gesture somehow, so he did it again. Then again.

"Something wrong, hotshot?" B'Elanna asked sweetly.

Steaming, Tom checked the first reply that came to his lips -- and, after a moment's thought, discarded the second one too. (It would be nice to still have a relationship after the game was over.) He settled for fixing her with a glare, snorting at her as he took up his stance in the batter's box one more time.

Seven threw Chakotay another ball, and the pitcher snagged it in, pacing a step in either direction before he brought his feet together, almost primly, in his own stance. Tom's heart pounded faster as the other man wound up, then threw --

oh god, *right down the middle* --

Tom brought his bat around --

With a solid *crack*, the bat made contact, and the ball shot toward left field in a rapid, ground-hugging skim that kept it well in fair territory. A hit, a solid hit -- a single, at least. Dropping the bat, Tom dashed for first base.

Instinctively, Chakotay grabbed for the ball barehanded, and missed completely (lucky for him; at the rate the ball was travelling, a catch probably would have broken bones in his hand); Geron's dive from shortstop wasn't even close. Dalby charged in from deep left, Henley from center, both yelling "I got it! I got it!" as they closed in on the little sphere --

Janeway's short legs churned as she rounded second base, heading for third --

Dalby plowed into Henley with an impressive thud, then magnified the offense by landing on top of her. Unimpressed, the ball rolled past them, out to the warning track. Chakotay roared, "*Get the ball!*", and Chell chugged toward it from all the way over in right field.

Tom rounded second, sprinting for third for all he was worth. Janeway, ahead of him, was already on her way home when Chell finally managed to obey his former captain and actually get the ball.

Seeing the Bolian wind up and aim in the direction of the plate, Chakotay got in position to take the relay, probably thinking he could at least cut Tom off at third. But he had both under- and over-estimated Chell's throwing ability. The powerful hurl sent the ball past him, to take a wild bounce off the ground -- and leap way over B'Elanna's outstretched glove. B'Elanna took off for the backstop, trying to retrieve the ball as Janeway crossed home plate.

Tom was running hard as he hit third, debating in a split second whether or not to hold up there, deciding against and charging onward as he saw B'Elanna scrambling. Meanwhile, Chakotay had moved in to cover the bag.

Tom was three-quarters of the way home, way too late to change his mind, when B'Elanna at last fielded the ball, pitching it quickly to Chakotay. Seeing the other man setting himself to make the tag, Tom went into a slide, hoping against hope to get past him.

He hadn't tried sliding since the Academy. Apparently his technique had lost a little something.

One foot collided solidly with Chakotay's shin, knocking the big man down -- and, unfortunately, right on top of Tom, smashing both wind and sense from the pilot. He was dimly aware of a foot touching the plate, of the ball, knocked loose from Chakotay's hand, dribbling past his head. As if from a very great distance, he heard Seven of Nine's adamant alto proclaiming, "Safe!"

Then Chakotay rolled off him with a grunt and a grimace. "Tom," he groaned, shaking his head as if he were a little dazed himself. "Are you all right?"

It took a moment for Tom to gather breath enough to answer. "Define `all right,'" he said vaguely.

"Um...breathing?"

"Oh. Yeah." With the last word, Tom subsided weakly back to the lovely green grass, closing his eyes against the brightness of the perfect blue sky.


END

Acknowledgements: Lillie Deans' TNG-crew-plays-softball comedy, "How You Play the Game" (published in "The Beverly File 2"), provided inspiration for this story, but it was the fact that Robbie McNeill's a huge baseball fan that really made it inevitable. g