Part VII, by !Super Cat
"No." - Janeway
"This is sort of my . . . anti-Sandrine's."
Chakotay looked around. Sky, greenery, sea. Pastoral design. Pleasant scenery. But something felt wrong about the program. And the longer he stood here the worse the feeling became, an itchy discomfort growing at the base of his skull.
"It's not easy to look at," Chakotay said after a moment. He was unsure exactly what he was supposed to make of the place.
Paris nodded. "I guess that's true." He paused for a second, then continued, quite earnestly, "I think a lot of what I was feeling came out in the programming."
The comment was so utterly uncharacteristic that Chakotay just turned and stared at him.
"Well..." Paris looked down and grinned. "No. Not really. I mean, I was impatient. I took shortcuts. That's why a lot of the background just looks--wrong, here. And of course, if you suck at fractal geometry, which I do, and you still insist on writing base equations yourself, you end up messing up the--"
Paris continued to chatter on about programming. It was a surprise to Chakotay to hear him talking tech at all. On the bridge, he tended to play down his science skills. During briefings he was set in contrast to B'Elanna and the Captain, who, when they took the scientific bit between their teeth, sometimes even left Harry Kim behind them. In that context, it was very easy to think of Paris as just the pilot.
Of course, when Chakotay thought about it, he realized that Paris must be at least competent scientifically. There was a base level of academic talent required for entry into Starfleet Academy. You had to sit the entrance exams even if you were an Admiral's son.
"--so basically, your subconscious is screaming at you that I messed up my math--"
He really is . . . pretty, Chakotay thought. Without realizing it, he had begun studying Paris's features as he spoke. No wonder he got himself spoiled as a child.
"--Chakotay," said Paris, without missing a beat, "don't look at me like that unless you plan on doing something about it."
Chakotay shifted his gaze.
"Okay, I asked for that, I guess."
"Why are we here, Tom?" Chakotay asked. "Why the holodeck, and why this program? We could have done all of this in my quarters."
Paris's brows lifted slightly. "No we couldn't. You were kicking me out."
"Was I?" Chakotay could hear the weary sound in his own voice.
"Well, at least one of us knew what I was doing."
"No," Chakotay answered simply. He looked again at the painful green scape, the blurry almost-hills, the horizon, vaguely repellent.
"Not exactly the trademark Paris fantasy fuck program," Paris agreed amiably, adding as though he couldn't help himself, "Though now that I think about it, fucking here would certainly have it's own kind of perverted charm--"
"That isn't what I meant."
Paris grinned. "Sure it is. I saw your face when we got to the holodeck. You have no idea how tempted I was to confirm your fears and run the Mars '57 Chevy program."
Chakotay said, definitely, "Even you are not capable of inviting me out on a parking date."
"No," Chakotay answered quickly. "Not that the idea of being locked up in a confined area with you doesn't hold it's own kind of horrifying fascination."
Paris just blinked at him for a second, then he started laughing. "Oh, fuck you. Slur my dating tactics in my own holoprogram, will you?"
"To think," said Chakotay (who had thought it more than once already), "that I gave up an evening of crew reports for this."
"No chance of getting lucky with crew reports," Paris pointed out.
"I wouldn't call my relationship with you lucky at all."
"That's because you're a tight-ass who refuses to take me up on any of my offers."
"I thought you were angry."
"Oh . . . yeah," said Paris. His tone was half-remembered-anger, but also half-rueful, as if to say, Oops, forgot that one.
Chakotay was having some difficulty with this ability of Paris's to completely forget grudges within the space of a few seconds. Paris seemed to be able to patch over any problem with a grin and some select mouthing off.
He himself hadn't even begun to think through the implications of that earlier conversation. Tacit approval. Paris's mind worked so differently to his own. The young pilot accepted as completely normal things that Chakotay found . . . shocking. Morally repellent. Tacit approval, when Chakotay hadn't even thought--
Of course he hadn't thought. Who the hell would think of a tactic like--that one?
Take your bearings, Chakotay. Look around. Remember, this is Tom Paris. Not B'Elanna. Not the Captain. This is Tom Paris.
"On the planet," he began, "when you said to me that you--"
"No," said Paris. The humour was gone from his voice. "Let's not talk about this now."
There was a small, tense pause. Chakotay was carefully searching Paris's face. "This is the first time that you've been shy about it, Tom--"
Paris's cheeks flushed a shade or two darker than usual. He was angry again, maybe. But all he said was, "Sorry, which part of 'no' exactly was it that you didn't understand?"
Chakotay opened his mouth to respond, then frowned, cut himself off, releasing the breath in a sigh. "I give up. It's impossible to get anywhere talking with you."
"You're pretty cute, Commander. I think you could definitely get somewhere if you went about it the right way."
He's asking for it, Chakotay thought. The problem was, Paris had been asking for it since the day they'd met, everything he had ever done geared towards provocation, like he wanted Chakotay to just snap--to break out of the role that had always been assigned to him by Starfleet, or his position as Maquis captain, and just settle things between them the old fashioned way. Fighting. Fucking. And their history was a dangerous enough roil of emotions to make Chakotay think, hell, if that's the way he wants it--
Tom Paris, he reminded himself.
Paris said, "You really think I'm shy, Chakotay?"
"I wouldn't mark it as your defining characteristic, no."
"Because you know what they say about the shy, quiet ones--"
"That they don't evade questions very well?"
Reconciled to the rhythms of their banter, Chakotay was surprised when Paris answered him quietly, "Look, maybe I just don't need to hear over and over again that you think--"
The words trailed off.
Paris shook his head, looking up and fixing his gaze on a distant section of the coast. "If you didn't want me flying the shuttle, you should have said something before we left."
"As I recall, I did."
"No, I mean--" Paris closed his eyes a second. "You know what I mean."
"I didn't realize the full implications before we left," Chakotay told him honestly.
"Oh, yeah, right--and you what? Just happened to pull my records after we got back?"
But Paris wasn't listening. "You know what? You and Tuvok and this entire investigation can go to hell, because you and I both know what this has been about from the beginning."
For the millionth time since they had embarked on their mission, Chakotay found himself starting to say, "Paris--"
"Here we go."
"Doing what?" Blue eyes challenged him to say it.
He didn't. Instead, he took hold of Paris's waist, and tugged him forward sharply. "This," he said.
He realized it was a mistake when Paris's hip bumped his own, and Paris's hand reflexively gripped at his shoulder. He could feel the heat from Paris's body, and the tension and slight awkwardness that came with them being--finally--this close. The temptation to drag him closer, just pull his mouth down and claim it in a kiss, was incredible.
Tom's eyes were all pupil. "Oh fuck--Chakotay. Why do you think."
Why did he think? Internally, Chakotay sifted through all that
he knew of Paris, including what he had done on the planet during their
mission, and even including what he had been doing with Harry Kim when
Chakotay had surprised him in the corridor. He found a serious answer
to Paris's possibly flippant question. His grip tightened possessively
on the young pilot even as he said to him, "Have you ever heard the
expression, 'Any port in a storm'?"
Paris said bitterly, after a moment, "Commander, thank you. You just showed me that there's more than one way to get screwed over in a holoprogram."
Chakotay blinked. That wasn't the response I was expecting, he realized.
"Computer, arch," Paris said. "I'm out of here. I don't need this."
Chakotay raised his brows. If there was any ultimatum in Tom's words, precedent countered its impact. Strange night. Strange program. Tom was gone. "I'm getting used to this," he murmured to himself, rubbing at his temple.
His thoughts were interrupted by a sudden flare of static-like light discharge across the sky. He would have assumed it a programming malfunction, but for the fact that he'd seen a sky like this before. Recently. Three days ago, in fact. On the Dalian planet.
A polaron field.
That could only mean this was a simulation of. . .
"Computer, are there habitations anywhere in this program?"
"Affirmative. Starfleet outpost Lambda One lies approximately 3.7 kilometres from your current location."
Chakotay closed his eyes. "This is a Federation planet."
"Affirmative. Current program features a section of coast located on the southern-most continent of Caldik Three. The third planet of the Caldik solar system--"
Oh no, Chakotay thought, as the computer confirmed it. It is.
The automated female voice was continuing, "--it was however, the first
planet in the system to host sentient life, and as such is often colloquially
referred to as Caldik Prime--"
Dinner was bad, the holoprogram was bad, my date blew me off. I think this qualifies as the worst night of my life. Tom lay on his bed, trying not to think too much about what had happened, and failing--miserably. But he was honest by nature (a fact which tended to surprise those who didn't know him well) and that honesty forced him to admit a moment later, No, I've had worse.
Then he remembered Tuvok's investigation, and kissing Harry, and being caught out doing so by Chakotay. Internally, he groaned. But this one was still pretty fucking bad.
He wondered how often you had the kind of night where you ended up unable to look three quarters of the bridge crew in the eye when you woke up in the morning. That kind of fuck up was rare, surely. Even for him.
It was a miracle that Janeway had trusted him with the shuttle mission in the first place. A miracle that she hadn't hauled his ass into her ready room over any of this yet. But being trusted by the Captain wasn't something that he really deserved, was it.
He'd handed in the mission logs, but there was something that he still had to do. And even though he thought about blowing it off, that would have meant ignoring the truth and his duty. He had never been able to do that, to his detriment.
He could recognize the irony of his situation.
On the upside, this would make him four for four with the bridge crew in the morning, which was likely an all new record.
He winced a little. Bad joke, Paris.
Another minute or so of realizing that he couldn't sleep, and he steeled himself and keyed his comm badge.
"Paris to the Captain."
"This had better be good, Lieutenant. It's three o'clock in the morning." Her voice was gravely with sleep.
"Captain . . . I need to speak to you."
The comm line was silent for a moment. Anyone else would have asked him if it could wait until morning. Captain Janeway didn't. Tom knew it was because she trusted that if it was something that could wait until morning, he wouldn't have woken her up with it in the middle of the night. She was that kind of Captain.
She said, "My quarters. Fifteen minutes."
Janeway had just enough time to dress, order a coffee from the replicator,
and then reorder it when she took her first sip and realized it was
only a shade off cold. When Paris chimed a request for entry, she said,
"Come on in," and held up her second cup. "No matter
how many times I program the replicator, the coffee never comes out
"Take a seat Mr. Paris." She sat herself on the couch near the door, and indicated for him to join her. "Can I offer you a drink?" She offered even though she could tell from his body language that he wanted her to stick to the point.
"I--no thank you." He turned down the coffee (she didn't blame him, it tasted awful), but he did sit, though the nervous energy that was coming off him could have powered a warp core. After a tense moment of silence, he said, "It's about the away mission."
"Go on," she prompted him, placing her coffee on the small table. She leaned forward slightly.
"Captain . . . " Paris trailed off, obviously having difficulty with words.
In all the time she had known him, this had only happened once before, when she had offered him his commission on Voyager. Then he had been stunned with happiness and surprise, trying to find words to cover it and failing, the light shining out of his blue eyes. Now he seemed to be struggling with some previously unseen, inner part of himself. Janeway suspected that words failed her pilot only during moments of extreme honesty, when he stopped playing the myriad of roles that he had adopted aboard the ship, and instead showed a glimpse of the truth of himself.
She had a sense of how rarely this happened. She was aware that she was the only person in a position of authority over Paris that he really trusted. She had been aware of it from the moment that she had congratulated him on his commission, and he had answered her with a growing, genuine smile. "Captain . . . for the first time in my life, I don't know what to say."
"I don't know how to put this, exactly, but I--have you reviewed the away logs?"
"Briefly, yes, I have," she told him. "And I know that Commander Chakotay had some concerns about your performance, but I think it's fair to tell you that I don't share them, at this point."
Paris flinched a little.
"Chakotay's concerns are more justified than you think," he said, haltingly. "I . . . " He trailed off, then began again. "I broke . . . a couple . . . of Starfleet regulations . . . while we were on the away mission, and . . . without consulting the Commander . . . I mean . . . nothing like the Prime Directive, but . . ."
"You didn't include this in your report." Without intending it, her voice had grown hard. Nor did Chakotay, was her immediate next thought. She didn't say it aloud, she watched Paris instead.
She remembered Chakotay having difficulty with the away mission logs. He had told her that Paris had had an unusual level of involvement in the negotiating process. In fact, he had used the words, intimately involved.
"Was this an incident of a personal nature?"
Paris nodded. He was perched on the edge of the seat, and he wasn't looking her in the eye. "Captain, the Dalian representative initially refused Voyager's bid. But later, it became obvious that he . . . would be more amenable if, uh ..." He took a deep breath. "If I . . . "
Janeway stopped him before he said it. He lifted his gaze to meet hers. There was no misunderstanding.
She shook her head. "You're telling me that you slept with an alien delegate," she said. Her mind was reeling.
"Without informing your commanding officer."
"To gain a political advantage for Voyager."
He didn't nod this time. His eyes were dark. A thousand replies rose to Janeway's lips. The Starfleet protocols on interspecies relations were, if not clear, then at least extensive. Starfleet officers were expected to practice restraint. Especially in a first contact situation. But Paris was so uncharacteristically silent . . . this was evidently not something that he had done comfortably. And what had Chakotay's involvement been, she wondered? He may not have known prior to the act, but he had certainly known afterwards. Half of her wanted to reprimand Paris as seriously as the offense warranted, the other wanted to offer him the reassurance that he seemed to need, but wouldn't ask for.
In the end, she found that all she could say was the dryly honest, "Well, I can't blame you for not putting that in the logs."
It earned a shaky breath of laughter from Paris. But the laugh was humourless, an acknowledgment more than anything. It trailed off quickly into nothing.
"I can't condone what you did," she said. "As your captain, the real question that I have to ask you is--why? Clearly you were aware of the unprofessional nature of your actions. Why didn't you consult with your commanding officer?"
But she knew the answer almost before she asked the question. It was obvious. Glaringly so. His commanding officer had been Chakotay. And put Tom Paris, already as skittish as a young colt around male authority figures, alone on a planet with Chakotay as his only link in the chain of command . . . add in the history those two carried with them from the Maquis, and the recent fall out from the Kazon ruse . . .
It was the worst possible combination.
She should never have sent those two on an away mission together. She had underestimated the level of rancour between them. She had underestimated their ability to cope together under stress. She had underestimated the difficulty of the negotiations on the planet, and the result was a pilot left with nowhere to turn, forced to make an impossible choice and make it by himself.
"Captain, it . . . the circumstances were. . ." Paris began.
She cut him off again, this time with a gesture. She wasn't going to force him to explain what she already knew. Not on top of everything else. Dammit. "Nevermind," she said. "I think I have some idea of that, too. Let's make one thing clear, Mr. Paris. Regardless of your difficulties with Commander Chakotay, I expect you to behave at all times like a Starfleet officer. You have my trust and my respect. You've more than earned it. But if you ever pull a stunt like this again whilst serving under my command, I'll bust you back to Ensign."
She studied him. "You realize that handling this matter according to Starfleet protocols means turning it over to Commander Chakotay. He is in charge of crew discipline aboard this ship."
The look of stark horror on Paris's face spoke more eloquently than words. This wasn't something that he had considered, evidently.
"I'm not going to comm him now, but I will have to at least speak
to him tomorrow. Sleep on it Mr. Paris, and in the meantime, I'll keep
this out of the official logs and off the gossip vine of Voyager."
"Sleep," said Paris, the word just wry enough to worry her that the pilot that she needed awake and alert at the helm tomorrow did not envisage getting a great deal of rest tonight.
For the first time, she allowed her voice to soften. "Tom, if
you want to stay and talk a little . . . to friend, not to a Captain
. . . "
End part VII