DISCLAIMER: Paramount, you are the ice capped mountain.
I am the small cyber feline at your feet.
The brown liquid was whorled through with softer patterns, half-Euclidean curves, lazy ellipses, and swirls like the patina on dark wood. It had the look of an uneasy oil slick. The gold burned almost warmly when Tom held his glass up to the light.
Romulan ale. It tasted like chocolate and methylated spirits. Just awful.
He downed it anyway, in a quick little motion, wincing ever so slightly as the alcohol hit his throat. Drinking in a bar again hadn't exactly been Tom's plan. Drinking alone in a bar again certainly hadn't. In Sandrine's, of all places. Surrounded by berets, striped shirts, the patter of Franglais from the hostess, and there was always one pseudo-French, Bolian-style, irritating as all hell musician off in a corner somewhere playing the piano accordion--
Yeah, well. They pick pockets for the tourists in Marseilles. They have 'seedy French taverns' by the 'waterfront' for them, too.
Sandrine's. Tom Paris' home away from home. Where even the aliens have thin moustaches.
Tom made a small sound in the back of his throat.
And the worst thing, the absolute worst thing about it is, it's not even... this isn't the even the real Sandrine's.
Although, the drinks are so bad, it might be the real Sandrine's.
The drinks are so bad it might be--
"Lieutenant," said an all too familiar voice.
"Tuvok," said Tom, his gaze trailing from the glass to the Vulcan a moment later. "Hey. How's it going?"
"Thrilled to hear it."
Tuvok's gaze caught on the glass. "Curious," he said, evidencing small disdain. "Humans typically do not enjoy Romulan beverages."
"Yeah, well. I think 'enjoy' is a bit strong a word there, Tuvok. But I'm drinking it, definitely." Tom tilted the glass as he spoke, and muted his tenor over the words. "...I am definitely drinking it..."
"There are many alternatives to ale programed into the replicators, Mr. Paris. If you dislike what you are imbibing, the logical course of action would be to choose an item you prefer, and drink it rather than--"
"Tuvok." Tom whet his lips. "Does it look like I'm in a logical mood?"
"No," Tuvok answered him evenly, ignoring the husky tone. "It does not."
"It does not," Tom echoed. "So buy me a drink, Tuvok. Relax. Tell me your story." He paused for a second, then frowned, minutely. "You do have one, right?"
Tuvok shifted again, his features at once expressive and unyielding. "Mr. Paris, I did not seek you out this evening with the intention of miring myself hopelessly in the tangential intricacies of a human conversation--"
Vulcan one, Paris zero, Tom thought, lifting his ale glass in a small salute. He really should have known better. Try to engage with Tuvok and very soon you found yourself feeling like one of those dark winged moths battering their heads against the glass of a window pane, bang, bang, bang, trying to get into the well lit room on the other side...
Ah, the seven year itch will get you yet, Tuvok.
"-I'm here to discuss a matter of ship security. Commander Chakotay approached me today with a question that, given Seska's recent defection and the current mood of the Maquis, I found curious. You had an association with the Commander before you came aboard the Voyager. I was hoping you could enlighten me as to his motivation."
Tom's gaze fixed on one of the 'French' oddments on display; an ornate, anachronistic and most likely fake Louis XIV time piece shelved behind the bar. Association. The mist of ale in his eyes grew thicker, coalesced into something unpleasant. His knuckles whitened over the glass.
"Really," he said softly.
"Yes," Tuvok replied, unfazed. And then, dubiously testing out the human expression, " 'Really.' "
"Yeah, well, sorry Tuvok. I don't do Chakotay-readings. You've--"
Tuvok interrupted, "Commander Chakotay asked me this morning whether I had suspected that Seska was a Cardassian spy."
"Oh?" Tom's response was soft, distracted. In his mind, he was stepping out of a small shuttlecraft, and the ground beneath his feet was dry, hard baked, covered over with a layer of crumbling dust that--
"I told him the truth," Tuvok continued. "That I'd never suspected her. He seemed relieved. Then, when I asked him to explain why my failing should ease his own, negative feelings of culpability--"
--casting his eyes round a cavern, feeling the hard earth beneath his feet and--
"-he said... 'Misery loves company'."
--and memory really sucks when you come to think of it, doesn't it, Tommy boy?
"Well, he was wrong, Tuvok." The words grated out of him. "Misery likes to be left alone."
"So," Tuvok cleared his throat delicately. "The Commander was employing human sarcasm?"
Tom let out a breath. "No." He found his fingers pressed to his own temple, mind hazy, trying not to think. "No, Tuvok, it's a human thing. You lessen guilt when you share it. It's like... if she fooled you, then maybe he wasn't so much of a fuck up for not realizing the truth himself, for not doing the right thing, for thinking that he might..."
Thoughts became harder to wind back from the edge.
"Uh, Tuvok, listen, it's late, and I've been drinking pretty much all night. Best to ask someone else. Really, a hell of a lot of the Maquis on Voyager were closer to Chakotay than I was..."
Closer to him.
Don't do this to yourself--
"Thank you, Mr. Paris." Tuvok's voice was soft. "I don't believe that will be necessary."
There was a small quiet.
"You know..." Tom said the words with a dreamy lack of attention to the gold and black uniformed Lieutenant he faced. It was an unusually unguarded moment of which he was only half-aware, and probably the result of the ale; alcohol sliding slowly into his blood stream, blurring the edges of consciousness enough for him to lose focus. "...You and I didn't make a bad team, Tuvok..."
"Mr. Paris," Tuvok replied. "Your deductions were flawed, your methods undisciplined, and your motives, at all times, questionable. I do not believe--"
"Alright," Tom interrupted firmly, holding up a hand. "Thank you, Tuvok. You don't have to labour the point."
"However," Tuvok said after a moment. "If it makes you 'feel' any better, I reported your actions to Captain Janeway on stardate 40369.4 as part of my final briefing. They did paint a favourable picture. Had they not, the Captain would never have offered you the mission on Voyager."
Paris just looked away, lowering his head in a nod and half closing his eyes. A small crease appeared between his brows. He didn't see Tuvok return the nod, or move off towards the arch... didn't see him pause, twist his head, glance back. He only head the words, Tuvok's precise phrasing half-puncturing his reverie.
"Mr. Paris... did you ever suspect that Seska might be a Cardassian?"
Tom dropped his gaze back to his drink. Patterns slid over patterns slid over... his vision, smudged by the alcohol in his blood, refused to clear. Had he hated her? Yes. Had he wanted her? His mind shied away from the answer.
Had he suspected?
"No, Tuvok," he said in a quiet, toneless voice. "No, I didn't. I never did."
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