This little vignette was written for TB, for the VAMB Spring Secret Drabble/Ficlet challenge. It takes place in the midst of the second-season story arc leading up to "Investigations," during a time of still-uncertain loyalties. While the story is meant to be canon-consistent, a couple of lines will acquire additional texture if read in conjunction with my M-rated one-shot "Questions". (If you are so inclined; it's not necessary.)

Paramount owns pretty much everything except the story, but credit for the opening line goes to TB (thanks!). I write for fun, not profit.

Far From Home

By Alpha Flyer

This had Tom Paris written all over it.

Chakotay fumed as he looked at the PADD in his hand.

He was still taken aback at times by the extent to which being appointed Voyager's XO and putting on that uniform seemed to have revived his enthusiasm for protocol – and how quickly he'd been able to subdue those Maquis reflexes … Almost as if he could change personalities with his clothes.

How many times had it been now?

The last time he'd allowed himself to revert to his leather-clad alter ego had been when he'd decked Dalby in the mess hall, almost six months ago now. And even then, he had acted with the Captain's express permission.

But Paris… The man consistently played to the Commander's basest, most pugilistic instincts – particularly in the last couple of weeks. This latest infraction went so far beyond the pale that Chakotay felt his grip on his self-control slipping, wishing he'd never put on the red-and-black. His knuckles were itching for contact.

Where was that arrogant bastard?

Chakotay slapped the PADD against the palm of his hand, refusing to wince at the pain, and headed for the mess hall.

There he was, blonde hair unkempt again – what point was the guy trying to make? – holding court at his usual corner table.

How had the pilot managed to go so quickly from spat-upon outcast to object of desire, with virtually all the females onboard - including most of the Maquis? Was it that whole Bad Boy thing? At least the Captain and Torres were immune to Paris' putative charm … The thought gave Chakotay a certain vindictive pleasure.

Unheeding, the First Officer brushed past the pilot's female coterie and fixed him with a smoldering stare.

"Betting again, Paris?"

He slammed the PADD down on the table, watching with detached interest as it bounced and almost buried itself in Neelix' latest multi-hued concoction.

"I thought I'd made it clear to you that this activity was to stop, Lieutenant."

Chakotay's raw snarl left no mistake as to his mood, and Paris' groupies melted away in its heat. The sudden silence was absolute; the proverbial pin would have echoed off the bulkheads.

The pilot seemed oblivious to the disappearance of his fan club, though, and to any ostensible danger emanating from his commanding officer. Or was he? His tone, if anything, was taunting.

"Who, me? Yes, you made it clear that my involvement in this activity was to stop, Commander."

The way Paris drew out that last word, Chakotay could have sworn it was pregnant with at least a dozen adjectives, none flattering.

"And so I stopped…"

Paris' face broke into one of those sardonic smirks that Chakotay just wanted to peel off and hand to the nearest Vidiian.

"… like the good Starfleet officer I am."

Paris' lips stayed curled, but there was something behind his eyes, ever so briefly, that Chakotay couldn't quite identify. Whatever it was, the XO's momentary interest was wiped out by the helmsman's next words.

"If, however, the betting pool has become a self-sustaining enterprise without my participation, well, I can hardly be held responsible for that, can I? Sir?"

Paris' voice had taken on that husky drawl that would have made Chakotay slam him into a wall on the Valjean, if he hadn't needed his services more than the satisfaction. If he'd known then just what a fuck-up the guy would turn out to be, he wouldn't have resisted so much … Was it too late to give in to that instinct now?

Chakotay looked down at the sleeves of his uniform – his Starfleet uniform - and ground his teeth. He was the First Officer of a Federation Starship; as such, he had Captain Janeway's complete trust and confidence. She relied on his ability to reign in his temper.

"So are you telling me that you had nothing to do with this, Paris?"

He turned the PADD so that it was right under the helmsman's nose. Keenly aware of the dozens of pairs of ears that were intently focused on him and Paris, he merely stabbed the reading pane with his finger.

Paris, of course, had no such compunctions. His eyes narrowed for a second, and he schooled his handsome features into a serious frown as he read. His light tenor carried clear across the mess hall.

"Number of times Chakotay follows Janeway into her ready room during Alpha shift. Number of times Chakotay gazes adoringly at Janeway from his chair. Number of days before Chakotay makes a play for Janeway." He whistled appreciatively. "Well, well. Someone onboard sure knows how to pick … interesting subjects for a bet."

A gasp emanated from one corner of the mess hall, a giggle from another; both were quickly suppressed. Paris looked up at Chakotay, his expression all blithe, insolent innocence.

"Seriously, Commander, why would I initiate a bet on something I couldn't possibly verify? I sit in front of you, remember? And since I don't have eyes in the back of my head, any flirtation between Voyager's command team necessarily happens without my knowledge."

Somebody suppressed a snort, and Chakotay felt his vision going red. Coming here had been a huge mistake. He had no evidence to back up his suspicions, and the Starfleet uniform stopped him from planting a fist into that mocking grin. Trapped, he snatched back the PADD and cast a fiery glance around the mess hall, bent on salvaging what dignity he could from the moment.

"Any further betting activity onboard this ship, regardless of the topic, will be investigated and all guilty parties severely disciplined. Is that clear?"

There was mumbling assent around the room and a few nods; at least some of the people present still acknowledged the XO's authority. Paris leaned back in his chair, arms lightly crossed in front of his chest.

"Crystal," he said, his tone oddly devoid of sarcasm, even as he claimed the last word.

Chakotay pierced the pilot with a dagger-like stare before turning on his heel. Avoiding Michael Jonas' calculating gaze, he stormed out of the mess hall, his Starfleet-issue boots coming down hard enough to cause vibrations in the floor.


Tom Paris' tongue flicked briefly across his lips as he looked around the room, gauging his audience's reaction. Jenny Delaney played with her food, head low, the picture of a guilty conscience. No one seemed willing to look at him or made a move to return to his table, and the glances he did encounter seemed several degrees cooler than before.

He shrugged demonstratively, picked up his plate and deposited it in the recycler before following Chakotay out of the room.

Although Tom definitely had a reckless streak, he was not an idiot. He hung well back, making sure the Commander had entered the turbolift before heading that way himself.

"Bridge," he said, his voice subdued. Glad of the momentary solitude, the pilot allowed his shoulders to slump, let out a deep sigh and closed his eyes tightly as he replayed the last few minutes in his mind.

Like the good Starfleet officer I am. Great line in the context, but …

Dammit. Just where exactly had that come from? Was he trying to convince himself? Or else, whom was he trying to kid? Even the Captain thought he was perfect for the role of the arrogant shit-disturber.

And she's not wrong.

As for Chakotay … Hell, baiting the guy was like shooting fish in a barrel, given what the man thought of him; the thought gave him no satisfaction. I almost had his respect once, after the Pralor incident …

The turbolift door whooshed open, and Tom stepped out onto the bridge. He was still a pilot, sure of his place once he sat down at the console. Relief washed over him in anticipation; it lasted but a second.

Chakotay was whispering something to the Captain, his back to the turbolift door. At the door's sound he turned around, glaring in Tom's direction before resuming his report. Tom heard a few words: Insubordination, disrespect, unacceptable conduct.

He briefly sought out and caught Janeway's eyes, but got nothing back – just an empty stare. Of course.

What did you expect, Tommy boy? Applause? Warm fuzzies? Reassurance?

What should feel like at least a minor triumph instead tasted like ashes in his mouth.

As he headed down the couple of steps to the helm he realized what he had not seen, however: the First Officer, handing the Captain the incriminating PADD. It was sticking out Chakotay's back pocket, where it would without any doubt cause considerable physical discomfort before the end of the shift.

Secrets and lies - the bridge was thick with them these days...

Tom sat down, grateful to feel the sleek, solid console spring to life under his fingers. They were still so very far from home.