Disclaimer: They aren't mine.

Rating: M, language

Notes: Shayenne bid for fanfiction flood relief a while ago, and I owe her a C/P story. This is not that story. It's really a C/P warm-up while trying to figure out how I feel about the pairing. The first completed thing of three to come out of the request. My first dip of toe into water, so to speak.

I do need to stop playing with it so that I can finish the others. Thanks Cheshire for looking over this months ago now and pointing out that it still needed sand paper treatment. Also thanks to Froot, whose altar line I shamelessly stole because it was steal-worthy.

Anyway, enter, interwebs. Take it away, with humble gratitude from me, to a place where I need not think upon it again.

Flail


The trouble with relationships was always how much work they can be to sustain. The sad fact is, he was never a big fan of things that required work to attain – too much of a chance that he'd fail.

Thomas, you're never going to succeed in this world if you don't apply yourself.

Good old dad turns out to be right, again. Great.

Stop feeling sorry for yourself and get back out there.

Out there, up there, on there. It's always been the same general theme. Failing people is different, and this particular failure is too fresh to think about repairing, no matter what his father's going to say about it when he hears.

Without looking up, he slides his tiny shot glass across the not-so-clean bar for a refill. As he can still feel his fingertips and hear his father's reproving voice, he decides he hasn't had nearly enough yet.

They're making progress with the father/son thing. B'Elanna and Miral have helped, but damned if he's in the mood to give his father the satisfaction of acknowledging how right he is, even silently, in his own head.

Speaking of his own head, it's not a place he wants to spend too much time in. There's nothing good going on in there right now. There's nothing all that savory going on outside of it, either, but that was his motive for choosing Drake's Synth And Non-synth. He came to drown his troubles in the deepest, darkest hole no one he knows will find him in – some backwater shack short on amenities and long on non-synth. With its bare-bones metal walls and barstools, inconsistent lighting, and broody, roughened clientele, he'd say Drake's qualifies. At least it's qualified until the cheap swing-hinge door bangs open and some hulking lunk of brooding idiot stands in it long enough to let in swirling snow and howling winds from outside. Damn, it's cold out there.

The stranger in the doorway draws more attention than Tom would like, most notably from himself. Some unseen magnetism sucks his notice toward the door behind him, and he starts stealing a quick look by way of the low mirror set into the far wall of the bar across the counter. He distracts himself at the last second with the sound of the faulty decompresser that's supposed to combat the influx of moisture; it's missing a hydraulic sealant. Under the roaring wind, Tom can hear the assembly casing blowing sideways instead of through the coil. Its power cell is draining out, is close to dead. He could fix it for them. He's seen B'Elanna work with similar circuit panel designs enough times. He rubs the back of his itchy neck under the replicated sweater his mother gave him two Christmases ago, shaking out the impulse. It would be the nice thing to do, the upstanding 'Fleet thing to do, but he's not in the mood to out his affiliation to the sundry characters in this bar. As a certain alien inspector would've noted, not too many years and a hell of a lot of parsecs ago, it wouldn't exactly be protocol.

"Hey!" Drake – or his manager, Tom hasn't gathered up the courage or the caring to ask – yells across the bar to the indecisive newcomer, who is still holding open the door. "You! In or out, unless you wanna credit the fuel for my environmental control system."

My system. Drake, then. Or maybe just Drake's manager with an ownership complex. Tom's met more than his fair share of those over the years.

It's no longer against dive bar etiquette for the scattered patrons huddled around the single-room bar to glance over and get an open look at this social genius. Even Tom peers again at what he can see in the cloudy-mirror reflection. A bulky grey parka hood covers Newcomer's forehead and darkens his face, but the strong jaw poking out from under the shadows is jutting and square, letting everyone know he isn't intimidated. He takes his time reaching back for the door, stomping out his boots on the muddy carpet underfoot as the door slams behind him.

Tom stares straight ahead again, snatching his wandering gaze away from the strip of the newcomer's feet in the reflection. He doesn't want to know where a jerk like this one got 'issued boots. Not tonight, he doesn't. The irked bartender goes back to neglecting his few regular patrons, and Tom's focused on nursing his drink and minding his own non-existent business. The man at the door is exuding pent-up steam; it's coloring the atmosphere already, and Tom's not looking for that kind of release. When he was a younger man, not much younger, either, it would have been a different story but right now–

"Paris?" the newcomer blurts out, and Tom's bone marrow freezes over with disbelief.

Oh, he knows that voice. Damn. Now that he thinks about it, he knows that stubborn jaw, large boot size and crap attitude, too. Of all the dives in all the world.

The divorce was three years ago. Last Tom heard, Chakotay's gainfully employed, teaching bright-eyed young cadets the intricacies of ground evasion tactics and never lacking for a new underage date these days. What he could need a bar like this to be brooding in now, of all days, is beyond-

Thunk. No it isn't. Tom's glass hits the table at an angle, skidding dangerously on its side before he catches it. That's right. In the midst of all his domestic tranquility, he'd forgotten. The first honeymoon shots were released today. It's the only thing that could have him looking like that.

The photos depicting former Admiral Janeway and her new husband, Commander Luwellak, a Romulan native, and a political marriage if Tom ever saw one. According to his dad, Luwellak had staunchly opposed the newly signed Romulan/Federation cooperation legislature for the better half of a decade, until her. Then again, a lot of people have opposed a lot of things, until her. Tom should know.

When he first heard the news, part of him thought Starfleet asked her to do it; they've got it in them. The other half, the half that knows Kathryn Janeway inside and out, knew they never would have had to ask. Maybe it's the brandy shuffling things up, he's never had much head for brandy, but some new mixture of his parts starts to wonder if Chakotay knows it. He doesn't look like a man who knows what's good for him right about now.

Something tells Tom this isn't the big guy's first stop. Tom wonders what happened that made him leave the first bar. Or the second.

"It would have to be you, wouldn't it?" Chakotay snaps into his half-drunk musings, looking all around them as if he can't believe his luck. As if there's anyone else in this room, hell, make that in this galaxy, that's going to let him within ten meters in this mood.

Then again, Tom never claimed to be the most integrated circuitry in the flight panel.

"I could say the same." He almost does. All he'd wanted was to drown a few faces of his own. B'Elanna needs time, again, who the hell only knows why. As usual, she was too angry to get much more than flying objects of varying levels of sharpness out of. Too much time with the camaro, if he had to guess, at work, and too little time at home. In fairness to him, this new project they've got him working on at Headquarters is a damned little gem of a ship. He used to hate his father for doing that, but at least his daughter knows he loves her, even if his wife isn't so sure half the time.

Failing people is different. It's not always possible to get right back out there and try again. Sometimes people needed to regroup, lick their wounds, and appreciate what they had first. That's all he's trying to do here. He didn't think it was asking too damned much to do it in silence, either.

"You know this guy?" Drake, Fake Drake, someone associated with Drake, demands.

"Yeah," Tom hardly hesitates to vouch, "I know 'im." Used to, anyway. There was a very short time when he knew Chakotay better than anyone else in an entire quadrant did. Tom used to wonder if that was why Chakotay hated him so much...after. Probably.

"All I want is a drink, Tom."

A pure, unsynthesized, unregulated, illegally potent drink. He's come to the only joint in town not on 'Fleet radar – yet – to get that drink. He gets kicked out of here, and the next open port is a few parsecs past Earth patrol zones. Ios, actually. Fun place, as Tom recalls. So long as one wasn't overly fond of keeping his organs inside of him, unpierced, unseparated, or unpoisoned, that is.

Chakotay sounds tired as he explains, "I'm not looking for conversation or catching up on old times."

"Good, then," Tom decides resolutely, sucking up the invasion of his solace. "Because neither am I." Chief, he's so close to adding. Gods, he can taste the insult, overripe and juicy, climbing up his gullet and creeping into his throat. It's a good thing his drink didn't spill. Tom uses it to wash back the word before it can form on his lips.

"Good," Chakotay grunts. His drying parka hits the counter a ways down, and then Chakotay's swinging the bar stool around and straddling the musty, synth-leather padded chair beside him. "Then we should be able to handle sitting next to each other."

Should, yes.

Tom shrugs. "Fine by me."

Should is a good word, a great word, and fine is a fine word, in principle. They get about four drinks into it. The news feed starts to go even more blurry than the bad projector sets it up to be, and Tom forgets the rules.

Rules, regulations, hard work, relationships. He's never been any good at 'em.

"You know no one had any idea you even knew how to spell anthropology until about three years into our journey."

Grind, flex, blink…almost, and then nothing. It's like starting the new ignition system on the camaro, hearing the warm-up, and then nothing. It's frustrating, to say the least, but Chakotay isn't biting. He's staring balefully at that blurry, flickering holographic Janeway, dancing at a formal reception that was VIP invite only, and she's the only thing that he sees. Chakotay should stop staring at that projection. It's not doing him any good.

Shut the fuck up, Paris was what he was hoping to hear, what he used to live to hear. He should probably leave well enough alone, then. Let him stew if he wants, let him wallow in the failed romance of it all. Tom actually has a good head on his shoulders and a guiding conscience he should listen to more often. Unfortunately, usually, it's his mouth that gets the final say.

"It's your own fault, you know. It's not like she knew you were in love with her."

Love him or hate him, Tom likes to think he's the kind of guy who ruffles feathers with a purpose. Nowadays, anyway. Back in old times, there was history of another kind between them, and Chakotay's irritation was the only gold Tom sought at the end of an outlawed rainbow.

He snorts into his drink, almost spilling it. All right, who is he kidding? They could be on their deathbeds, rattling their last, old man breaths in their failing chests side by side, and irritating Chakotay would still be a priority. That will never get old.

"She didn't know," Tom repeats, stubbornly sticking to that one redeeming truth which makes it all okay.

Chakotay's really not obliging. Instead of rising to the bait, the older man grunts out a flat, tired, "Yes. She did."

"What?" Tom's chin smacks into his chest because he can't have heard that correctly. "You told her?" It's difficult to close his mouth instead of gaping at the very stupid man beside him. Of all the moronic, downright idiotic things Chief-No-Words could have said-

"Shut up, Tom," Chakotay warns, and finally, there's the old commanding flare, that sputtering danger in his growl.

Wafts of concentrated history snake between them with those three little words, raising goose-bumps across Tom's oddly numb skin. It's been a while. A glance over Chakotay's thicker frame reveals no hint of shared appreciation; Chakotay stares balefully at the news feed through his spotted glass, and Tom wonders if he should be less resentful about the whole thing. For years, after all, it was "shut up, Paris". At some point in their journey, it became "shut up, Tom".

How far they've come.

"You're an idiot," Tom declares, taking stock of it all, and gods, but it's true. Maybe not for the two of them. He knew he never had a real shot at that, any more than he'd had one with Janeway, but his mistakes don't factor into Chakotay's. Or do they? Maybe they are interrelated. Either way, the fact of the matter is that they're both idiots, maybe all three of them are, but Chakotay is one in particular.

For the Maquis, for starters. Mostly for Janeway, for giving her the emotional ammunition. For not understanding the compulsion she would have to use it, when she felt it necessary. For sticking to her like thermal repellent when anyone could see all she needed was space and especially for walking away from her at the exact wrong time. For not admitting his mistakes the moment he'd realized them. For taking it all lying down, for fighting the wrong battles, and for not fighting to fix everything, all at once. Maybe some of those were the reasons Seven finally wised up and cut him loose.

Oh and for Seven – God, for misguided, confused, surprisingly-naïve Seven. Poor Seven. Tom stills, thinking that last one over. No. Not so poor Seven, come to think of it. Seven has risen from the ashes of that failed first relationship. Lately, she all but soars on the cloud of success that her Borg and human components have allowed her to make, both professionally and personally. Hell, she's one of his better friends now, a whole person, in some regards more whole than he is. More whole than a lot of them are, including, especially including Chakotay.

Poor, idiot Chakotay. So much of this is his own doing, but Tom could never leave well enough alone when it came to him, and he could never bear it when Chakotay was this miserable. It was always his first instinct to provoke, but the immediate second, was to soothe.

"You're an idiot," he repeats, stupidly, but gently. His hand slowly inches across the distance between them. Out of ingrained habit, his sympathetic blue eyes are searching out the faintest hint of encouragement from the man sitting so close to him, and yet remains so far.

The look blasting back at him from those dark eyes speaks volumes by way of retort. Fine. I'm an idiot. And you're a convicted felon who can't keep his marriage together any more than I could. Chakotay doesn't actually have to say those words to make them true, to make it the steady judgment his sedentary posture and dark gaze craft.

Tom's hand draws back as sharply as if it had struck plasma streams because it stings, that perpetual, silent judgment. No, screw stings, it burns. It's salt stomped deep into an old wound, grinding through layers of scar tissue Tom keeps telling himself is numb to future attack.

"That marriage is political," Chakotay finally spits out, sunken black eyes burning into the tiny holographic people smiling for the holo-cameras and dancing on the blinking projectors on the far wall. "Every centimeter of it."

Well. Tom tilts his glass at the screen, indicating a particularly strong shot of Janeway's fake smile. "Can't argue that one," he finds he has to admit. But they're her choices, and he doesn't find himself in any position to judge them right about now.

Chakotay seems to feel differently about that. "She earned the right to settle her personal life for herself, once and for all, and what does she do with it? She gives it all away again the second they ask her to, and for what? On Starfleet's whim. Nothing more."

It's the level of contempt in the statements that strike him sideways, more than anything.

"You don't know that," Tom decides, signaling Drake, or fake Drake, for another drink. By the time his fingers curl around the "fresh" brandy Drake has reluctantly filled, Chakotay has found his bitter words again.

"She's sleeping with some alien she barely knows for the cause," he snarls. "I can't support that. She shouldn't ask me to!"

Tom wasn't aware that she ever had. And so what then, if she did? "What was she supposed to do, not tell us at all? Just run off and do it and let us find out in the news?"

"No. She could have exercised a modicum of that famous bravery of hers and stood up for herself, for once. Instead, she gave no second thought about rushing and throwing herself down on the altar, like always." The acrid quality of his escaping chuckle rasps at the air in front of him as he adds, "Literally, this time."

Gods, is that what he really thinks? It can't be. The harder he stares at the fuzzy lines of Chakotay, the more Tom realizes that it both is and isn't. It sure sounds ugly, the way he phrases it, and it's damn sure only half the story, and very little of Chakotay's motivation for getting shit-faced this fateful evening.

Chakotay's defensive judgment, against both of them, stings. If Janeway were here right now, hearing this… Tom's fingers are flexed tight and hot around his tiny glass. He bites his tongue to the faint taste of blood and slowly unclenches his fingers, ordering himself not to punch Chakotay right in his bent-out-of-shape nose, because that isn't going to solve anything. Most things. It's not going to solve the most important things.

"I guess that's the difference between us, Chief," Tom thrusts through the baser urge with his leaden tongue, playing the game, using his words to land his blows. Until someone else throws the first punch, that's what he generally does, and he's usually pretty damned good at it. 'Course he's half drunk, so he's a little slow tonight, but he's managing. "Me? I pursue the things I want. I don't always get them for long, but at least I try before I'll sit around, moping about not having them."

Once more for the evening, Chakotay's head snaps over to make burning eye contact. "You don't know what you're talking about," he warns, but Tom is hardly cowed.

He deserved that. If anyone should defend Janeway's choices, it should be Chakotay. She, after all, had defended him unto death these past three years. She who, unlike the rest of them, hadn't bothered to find some poor unsuspecting sap to leech onto and drain comfort from, the way the two of them, and almost every other Voyager he's kept in contact with, has. She who, when all was said and done, bore her own emotional weight for the most part, crippled though her coping mechanisms might be. But his resentment, on top of Chakotay's delusion, isn't helping. He should be the bigger person, and let it go.

The problem is, the more Tom sits with this idea, the more it chafes. The brandy isn't helping – he's never had a head for brandy – but that isn't stopping him from sucking it down, because it's all that's keeping him quiet. But by now it's digging into his skin, burrowing into his brain. The whole aura of the big man offends. It rankles, the silence. The ever-present crackle of anger rolling off his shoulders as he hunches over his drink, hunched over probably in part from that massive chip he's been carrying for so long it's hard to remember a time when he hadn't been like this: brooding and surly and for what? He's been no more wronged than anyone else on that ship by anyone, least of all by her.

He's almost past it and then...

Tap, tap.

Chakotay raps his empty glass on the counter. Fire mites bite up and down Tom's sweating spine. They may be in a dive bar but it's impolite. He hates that, he really does. Chakotay spent years listening to everyone else's problems, okay, and counseling the whole ship. Tom gives him credit for that. He always will. But he can be so…fucking surly. Brooding. Brusque. Those are the words the crew always used to describe him whenever he was in one of these moods, those were the phrases that excused his poor judgment when he picked the wrong girl for the tenth time, belatedly realized it, and broke her heart. Even when it was Janeway's. Back then, it was almost excusable, even the last one. Even when, deep down, Tom's nursed the secret that he knew exactly how each one of those women felt when Chakotay did it.

But this is now, they're grownups all, and the way he taps the glass, expectantly, as if the bartender should have anticipated his rate of fluid consumption, that's just rude. It's thoughtless, is what it is.

Tap, tap.

Crack goes Tom's pretty, mature resolve. That single, brooding, rude, thoughtless gesture is the latest in a long string of them, and the end result is a compression of Tom's diaphragm. "You're no better than her," he blurts out loudly – so loudly that the bar rings with it. "I want you to know that."

Drake the owner/manager/bartender cagily tips the bottle over Chakotay's glass, refilling sloppily, shifting double-set eyes from one to the other of them. The excess rolling over the brim because of his diverted attention makes a ringed pool of maple, wasted-credit liquid around the glass. As Tom watches, drawn by the attention deficit of excessive alcohol consumption, the pool disappears on contact with the absorbent cleansing mechanism of the bar.

Hey. He starts, realizing. Who'd have guessed? Something that works in this place.

"'The hell are you talking about?" Chakotay growls aside, and it looks like Tom's finally got his attention.

Too bad he doesn't want it anymore.

"You know what I meant." Tom may not have realized where it came from when he said it, but once spoken, it rings of an ugly truth he won't take back.

And, drunk or not, Chakotay does know exactly what Tom meant. For years, he used that animal magnetism to charm his loyal little rats into following him over rockier cliffs than she ever did. At least she had a damned working ship with real, discharging weapons and operating shields half the time. Chakotay had had nothing, spit, rage and native prayer, and he'd called damaged, lost young men and women to his side offering only a smile and an impressive physique, and he had sent them off to die as often as to return. If Tom hadn't been caught by Starfleet – by her – he has no doubt that he'd have been one of them, following aimlessly into a fatal cause that was hopeless from the very start. Eventually, they all would have.

"I never said I was better than her," Chakotay returns dangerously, seemingly alit by the directness of the accusation.

That's true, though, that he hadn't said that he was. Not with words.

Still, "You didn't have to. It's written all over your face, every time we're all in a room together." He likes that less and less, too. "Get over it, Chakotay. Really. It was a long time ago, okay?"

"Sounds like you're the one who needs to get over it, if you ask me," the bigger man snaps, signaling for another drink.

Tap, tap.

Fire mites. Tom misses the clear warning of Chakotay's dismissal. He's really never had much of a head for brandy. "Hey, I'm serious. All she ever asked was for us to follow her home," he finds himself spilling all down his shirtfront. "Hell. In the beginning, you," his half-filled glass sloshes demonstratively in the air towards the other man, "were the one telling the rest of us to follow her. You don't get to hold it against us, then or now, because we did. And you can keep punishing her for it, but it wasn't her fault that she turned out to be better at inspiring loyalty than you were."

Hot fingers clamp his cold wrist to the bar, pinning him, and Tom knows by the thrill that he's gotten the rise he's been chasing for the better part of fifteen minutes. White ripples spread around circular points of contact on his skin, his capillaries denied fresh blood-flow and he wants to cry because the contact feels so damned good. It's been so long. He only finds himself missing the sting of rounded feminine fingernails; Chakotay's nails are short and blunt, the pressure of thick, strong fingers delivering blunt pain. But he remembers this. His skin remembers this.

"Hey! You two wanna roughhouse, take it the fuck outside!" Drake barks from down the bar, noticing the commotion, but Tom barely hears.

How many times on that rickety bucket of bolts Chakotay had to have stolen did Tom slink into those busted quarters at night, burning with the need for contact? How many times had Chakotay rejected him, and how many times had he wanted to and been too weak to follow through? His wrist grabbed in just this way, the precursors of these same broken capillaries mutilated by unconcerned brute strength that only heightened his desire – and Chakotay's?

"See something you like, Chakotay?" he taunts, as ghosts rise between them, thick and magnetic.

Chakotay knows that he does. He can't hide it. Surprisingly, Tom's not entirely sure what he wants. The big guy hasn't aged as well as he could have. Once, his body was his most prized possession. He'd kept it toned, sculpted like some finely powered machine. He's still strong, but not nearly as strong as he was a decade ago. Tom wonders who or what has taken that from him. Then he wonders why he cares. Last, he realizes that he doesn't, not really, which might be the saddest revelation of all.

But he needs this. He always has. Big, gentle, peace-loving Chakotay, they both need the struggle for dominance. Tom gets off on the pursuit, and Chakotay on the being able to catch, and conquer. He needs the fire from a fit of anger and Tom, the equality of wit. For Chakotay, it was fire that Seven lacked, and it was self-confidence that Tom had lacked all those years ago. Back then, the sharpness of his tongue wasn't enough; he was too insecure, too easily caught to hold Chakotay's attention for very long. That's changed, too. Tom never would have realized this before, but part of it is him. He's reached some semblance of peace in his life. B'Elanna and he have their problems. Okay. He doesn't know if they can pick up the pieces this time. He does know that this man holding him over a dirty bar isn't the one he lusted after for those months in the Maquis. He's a shell of that man, or someone else entirely. In the cheap lighting of Drake's Synth and Nonsynth, it's evident how entirely possible it is that Chakotay never was the man that Tom thought he'd wanted all that time.

And he thought Janeway's fall from the pedestal was devastating. This one slices deep, almost back to his very roots. If Chakotay even knew the level of guilt Tom's carried across his back for ratting him out all these years…

Gods, it's still so tempting, though. No one's saying it doesn't feel damned good to have a still-strong body pressed up against him like this, especially one that feels and smells as feral and familiar as this.

Chakotay shifts, a crucial mistake and it's instinct and years of Delta Quadrant experience that let Tom flip the script. In seconds, it's the big native who finds himself pinned, cheek down, against the bar.

Tom blinks, surprised by what he's just done. He never should have been able to do that. And all it took was a little patience and about half a barrel of liquor. Huh.

"I'm three fucking seconds away from calling Security!" Drake yells as the door opens behind them to howling winds, swiftly exiting patrons, and Chakotay's shot glass goes rolling across the bar, unheeded.

As one, the two shoot him a silent look. As far as Drake or Drake's representative is concerned, they are security. The nondescript complainer seems to get the message, melting back into the shadows, glowering, either to get reinforcements or to hide, and it's Chakotay who's back in the game first.

"Come on, Tom." The near sensual twist of his mouth is meant to sting as much as the verbal jab. "What are you going to do now? Huh?"

That used to be his line. Treading water amongst the ocean of bare need surrounding him, almost begging for something he could so easily have had some long years past, Chakotay is taunting him, and it's all so strange. So very odd. This used to be his role. He used to be the one treading need, cheek down against a flat surface, aching for the next move. This is what power feels like; this is what charisma feels like. The disjointed observation thrills him. It's having someone else's identity in his hands. It's intoxicating. Tom's never managed to pin Chakotay before, except on the few occasions that he let him. He still smells damned good, musk and spiced, mint clay. Even with the raven hair he alters grown longer and without its natural grey, Tom's body still craves Chakotay's against it. His arms tremble against Chakotay's pushing strength, traitorously threatening to let up and allow himself to be reversed and pinned the way he used to be on those hot, sweaty nights in Chakotay's cabin.

He can have it now. It's conceivable. If he pulls Chakotay out of this bar, they can find some room where no one knows them and Tom can experience the other side of need, and wanton voracity. God he wants it, so damned bad…

It's the undressed need on the older man's face that stops him. Even drunk, Tom sees it. Need, vulnerability, pain.

That's going to have to be the next difference between them. Tom can't live with the guilt of using Chakotay in this state. In any state. He doesn't think he can live with hurting B'Elanna by doing it. But resisting the invitation requires work, so much work, and Tom's never been any good at that, either.

Honeyed pity flows from the younger man's caress, melting warm across molten-hot skin. Once, he'd have given anything to have this man want him as nothing more than some fleeting, drunken diversion. Hell, he'd almost died to prove to him that he was trustworthy – or had that just been worthy? The distinctions are as blurred as Chakotay's face. He is sure that Chakotay is no better than her. What's the most striking is that he never was.

And that's the part he can't be forgiven for, he decides.

"Shut up, Chakotay," Tom says, and there's more than sadness seasoning those words and in releasing his grip.

Chakotay has righted himself, visibly, drunkenly, furious. He looks like he wants to take a swing; he's seriously thinking about it. Tom dances back, if ungracefully then effectively as Chakotay's arm swings halfheartedly in one last, desperate flail of a miserable man. He misses, lands on the bar, and he's officially drunk.

Before the night is over, he's going to take a better swing at someone. It's not going to be Tom. Not tonight – not ever again. Reaching into his pocket, Tom plunks a few almost steady credits down on the bar, enough to cover Chakotay's tab and his.

"Don't let me catch your face in my bar again," Drake levels from the shadows, and Tom nods solemn agreement. That's fair, considering the mess and the fleeing patrons and angry Chakotay he's leaving behind and all. It's more than fair.

He walks away. Maybe this is the wakeup call the big native needs. He hopes so. Either way, he's through with making it his problem. When Chakotay is ready to help himself, he knows where to find his friends. Tom will be there when that happens. Eventually.

Without a backward glance, Tom walks blithely into the howling snow, insensate to the cold that's not within his skin and no longer caring where it is that he's going. Maybe to Harry's or, gods forbid, to his parents. Maybe home, to B'Elanna and Miral, to confess his sins and promise to do better. Where he lands isn't so important, but he's thinking the first stop is to a hotel, to clear his head. Then, maybe…he'll see.

Maybe the trouble with relationships is that, deep down, he both wants them to work and is utterly terrified that they will. Either way, he doesn't know if it he has it in him to try at saving another one tonight.

Too much of a chance that he'll succeed.