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Disclaimer: Paramount's creation - I'm just picking up where they left off.
Note: This is another addition in the "Glory Days" universe and takes place between "Fire and Rain" and "Glory Days", both stories written by Rocky.
Information regarding Tom's pre-Maquis and pre-Voyager days is taken from "Pathways" by Jeri Taylor.
Thanks to Rocky for the excellent beta and for putting up with my nagging <g>.
me and you
You're a straight line of distance
A cold stretch of black across blue
- Elton John & Bernie Taupin
Tom Paris' fingers fanned out against the cool glass. He stared down at the docking ring directly below, watching a Bolian freighter lurch uncertainly towards the airlock. Ungainly and inelegant as those vessels were, Tom knew that in less than five seconds the freighter would glide smoothly into the embrace of the station's docking clamps.
As a child, Tom had been endlessly fascinated by docking procedures as well as anything remotely connected to flight. He had once spent an entire afternoon here in this very observation room watching ships come and go; his father eventually had to drag him away kicking and screaming. Today, the observation room on Utopia Planetia was a welcome distraction as he waited for his connecting shuttle to Starbase 4, where he planned to attend a series of conferences on the latest advances in flight technology.
The Bolian freighter docked, its massive weight causing the station to shudder slightly - a movement that probably went unnoticed by the majority of the people thronging the decks of the station; the inertial dampeners, responsible for the rotation of the station, compensated. But Tom, his senses finely attuned to all things flight-related, noticed.
He turned his head slightly as a sleek little vessel swooped down gracefully from the upper pylons of Utopia Planetia's docking station. For a tense moment, Tom felt light-headed.
He had once flown a ship like that. How proud he had been when he first slipped into the pilot's seat and grasped the controls. He remembered that the ship had felt like a natural extension of his body and it had thrilled him to no end to be flying one of Starfleet's most nimble spacecraft, not to mention one of the most technologically advanced.
That had been nearly fifteen years ago.
It had been years since he had thought about that watershed event in his life. Oh yes, the first year on Voyager, everyone knew him for Caldik Prime. He had borne their disdain with an outward shielding of good humor and charm; inside, he had felt crippled and broken. Was this what it would be like for the next seventy years? he had wondered. Knowing how much both the Starfleet and Maquis factions aboard distrusted him, Tom feared that he would be a pariah on this ship.
Not that he blamed either side for their feelings towards him; if their positions had been reversed, Tom might have felt the same. He was aware that the Starfleet members held those who falsified reports - as he had, after Caldik Prime - in low regard, especially when said incident had resulted in the deaths of three cadets. In addition, his time with the Maquis had rendered him a traitor to the Federation. And the Maquis, well, they didn't have much use for a pilot who had bailed on them in his first crucial mission, not to mention the fact that now he was here on Voyager, looking to turn them in.
But things had slowly changed for him on Voyager. Under Janeway's tutelage, Tom had managed to regain his confidence. Thanks to the fact he had saved Chakotay's life on the Ocampan world, a cool truce had sprung up between the two men, a relief to Tom who had seriously thought that Chakotay would kill him when they first locked eyes on Voyager's bridge. Then there was Harry, who had offered his friendship unconditionally, and B'Elanna, who slowly came around and reciprocated his feelings for her. During the seven years Voyager spent in the Delta Quadrant, tensions between the Starfleet and Maquis crewmembers had eased into almost nothing. They became one crew with one mission and one captain.
Tom eyed the little ship again. Its form had been slightly updated in the last fifteen years. The nacelles were narrower, he noticed, and placed further up. The body of the ship was more rounded than before, the boxy backside having finally been redesigned. It had been an attractive ship before, but the redesign made it look more sleek and stylish. But at this very moment, Tom had no desire to fly it.
Too many memories, he thought. Ever since the official case on Caldik Prime had been closed, Tom had not spoken about Caldik Prime to anyone. Not even B'Elanna. She had not asked and he had not offered. In a way, he was grateful for her silence on the subject; he hadn't realized how much the incident still bothered him.
Tom turned automatically even though he knew very well his children were back in San Francisco with B'Elanna. Still, he couldn't help himself. A little boy, who looked to be about five years old, ran directly to the window, nearly knocking into Tom. The boy didn't even seem to notice Tom's presence as he clambered on top of the bench the station personnel had placed there especially for the convenience of small children. An apologetic-looking young man dressed in a Starfleet uniform followed. Tom noted the yellow turtleneck and the two pips on the man's collar.
"Look at all the ships, Daddy!" The little boy's voice pitched high with excitement. He pressed his fingers and face against the glass, his warm breath causing the windows to fog. "Look!
Tom moved to the side so the father could step in to stand next to his son.
"I'm sorry," the young man said to Tom. "Keep your voice down, Robbie. You don't want to bother the other people here."
"He's not bothering me," Tom said easily. He smiled. "On the contrary."
The lieutenant gave Tom the once over and then smiled in understanding. "You have children?"
"Two," Tom said. "A daughter who is five and thinks she's ten and a son who just turned one."
"Ah. This is Robbie's first visit to the observation dock. I'm afraid he's getting a little carried away."
"I remember the first time my father brought me here," Tom said. "I must have been about the same age as your son. The afternoon we spent here changed my life. I was determined to fly just like the hotshot Starfleet pilots." Tom smiled at the memory. He had been absolutely enthralled by the graceful little fighter jets that patrolled the outer perimeter of the station.
"You're in Starfleet?" The young man eyed Tom's civilian garb with curiosity.
"Not on active duty any more," Tom said. "I'm a flight instructor at the Academy. San Francisco campus. With a family, it's hard to find a posting that keeps you all together and I'm not necessarily sure that I want to raise my children on a starship. At one point, we didn't think we'd have a choice, but now that we do, I think it's better to keep them on terra firma as long as possible." He didn't mention that he could have had a position here on Planetia Utopia, but had decided to stay closer to home. The view in San Francisco wasn't as good as this one, but the other rewards more than made up for what he had given up.
"I can understand that. I got lucky. I'm stationed in San Francisco as well. Not the most exciting of assignments, but it allows me to get home in time for dinner with the family." The lieutenant stuck out his hand. "Stewart Dawson," he said. His eyes narrowed. "You look familiar. Have we met before?"
Tom shook his head. "I doubt it." He hesitated slightly; he had grown wary of strangers since Voyager had returned, since he was always suspicious of their motives. "Tom Paris."
Dawson's eyes lit up with recognition. "Paris. Tom Paris. I've heard that name somewhere."
Here it comes, Tom thought with slight irritation. Here is where they talk about Voyager, ask questions about the Borg and what it was like to serve under Captain Janeway. He braced himself for what he knew would be an onslaught of questions.
"You were on the Coppernicus, weren't you?" Dawson asked.
Tom blinked. Now this was unexpected. "The Coppernicus?"
"Under Captain Shipley."
Ah yes, the Coppernicus. His one tour of duty before he had turned himself in over the events of Caldik Prime. The ship had been orbiting Betazed when Tom's guilt over Caldik Prime had caused him to break down, leaving him incapable of functioning, let alone carrying out his duties.
Yet *another* thing Tom hadn't thought about in years.
"Yes," Tom said. He was surprised at how strong his voice sounded.
"I was an ensign. Lower decks." Dawson made a face. "You arranged parties on the holodeck, didn't you?"
"That sounds about right," Tom said cautiously. The Coppernicus, an Oberth-class ship, had carried a crew complement of about 80; it was possible his paths had crossed with Dawson's at least a couple times. "I hosted a couple parties, once or twice, I think." He kept his voice deliberately cool.
Robbie was tugging on his father's hand and Dawson turned back to his son, pointing out a detail on the ship Tom had been eyeing earlier. "See how the nacelles are close to the body of the ship? See how slim it is? That makes it fly better and go faster than the other ships."
The little boy clapped his hands. "How fast, Daddy?"
"This fast." Dawson grabbed Robbie and spun him around in the air. The little boy's feet flew out and Tom stepped quickly out of the way. Dawson put his giggling son back down before turning to face Tom. "If I recall correctly, you're a pilot, right?"
"Not anymore," Tom said curtly. His voice sounded foreign to him, faraway almost as if an echo.
"Weren't you...?" Dawson stopped suddenly, as if he had finally connected the dots, realizing that Tom was someone more than an ensign who hosted parties on the holodeck. "I remember now, you were the helmsman for beta shift..." Dawson stopped suddenly, as if he had finally connected the dots, realizing the circumstances that led to Tom's change in status. "Caldik Prime."
"Yes," Tom said warily.
"I remember now how shocked we all were when the news came out. I couldn't believe-" Dawson stopped suddenly, his expression changing slightly. "Is that why you're no longer in Starfleet?"
"No," Tom said. "As I mentioned before, my reasons for leaving active duty are purely personal."
"Sorry," Dawson said. He shook his head. "I shouldn't have made that assumption."
"It's all right," Tom said, even though it really wasn't. He felt uneasy, light-headed, and more than anything, he wanted to escape. "It was a long time ago."
"It was an accident," Dawson said sympathetically. His tone of voice implied that he wanted to be Tom's new best friend. "And weren't you on-"
"Look, if you don't mind," Tom cut him off, "I'd rather not talk about it. And if you'll excuse me, I've got a shuttle to catch and my gate is on the other side of the station." It was a white lie, but Tom had to get away.
"Yes, of course, my apologies."
Tom left the observation deck and made his way down to the waiting area of the station. A quick check of the chronometer displayed prominently on the sleek metal walls showed that he had another three hours before his shuttle would leave for Starbase 4. A long time, Tom thought grimly as he slipped onto an empty stool at the counter in the LeMontet Grill and Bar, and once he arrived at the starbase, all he had to look forward to was a conference on the latest advances in helm and navigational technologies.
It occurred to him that he was missing Miral's first dance recital for a conference he didn't even want to go to.
"What's your pleasure?" The bartender was a sullen arachnid with dusky purple skin and black eyes. All of her eight bony wrists were occupied in preparing various beverages. A light purple fuzz covered all of her appendages; hair of the same hue cascaded from her narrow head.
"A beer," Tom said. "The real stuff, please, no synthahol." It was a rare request for him, but he felt jittery and needed something to calm his nerves.
"Sure, coming right up."
A long time.
The phrase rang in Tom's ears as his gaze focused on the rows of bottles lining the shelves directly behind the bartender. A long time since he had had something other than synthahol, a long time since he'd had this much time to himself, a long time away from B'Elanna and the kids, a long time since he'd been the man Dawson had thought he recognized.
The bartender put the beer down in front of him, slamming it hard enough that some of the foam bubbled over the side. Tom lifted it carefully, inhaling the yeasty aroma for a moment before taking his first sip.
"Is this seat taken?"
Tom turned at the sound of the familiar voice. The last person he had expected to see -
"Chakotay," Tom said slowly. He put the beer down, almost embarrassed; after all, Chakotay *was* the one who had recruited a drunken Tom Paris into the Maquis. "No, of course not. Have a seat."
Chakotay dropped his bag on the floor and snagged a stool. The bartender glanced at him with irritation.
"What will it be?" she asked.
"Coffee," Chakotay said. "Black, two sugars."
Tom arched an eyebrow and said nothing as he tried to remember when he had last seen Chakotay. He had a dim memory of a jam-packed nightclub about four years back. He, B'Elanna, Harry, Seven and Libby, all crowded around a table. They had come for a mini-Voyager reunion, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of their return and after the stiff formality of a Starfleet event, they had gone out to relax; after barely a year of distance, they had all curiously run out of things to say and B'Elanna had been eager to go home to relieve Miral's babysitter.
"I saw you coming into the bar. I was in the waiting area, but I don't think you heard me calling me, with all the noise out there," Chakotay said, interrupting Tom's thoughts. "How are you, Tom?"
"Good," Tom said easily. He had always been a terrific liar, one of his better talents. Or so he had once believed. "You?"
This Tom could believe; the Chakotay sitting in front of him looked hale and hearty, his skin turned copper from hours in the sun. His hair had slightly more gray in it than Tom recalled, but it was apparent that life after Voyager was treating Chakotay well.
Tom nodded. "She's doing well. Puts in long hours. I think she thinks if she ever stops working, the entire Starfleet Corps of Engineers will come to a grinding halt. How is Seven doing?"
"She's fine," Chakotay said. He looked a little ill at ease.
Not surprising, Tom thought, given how awkward it was to make conversation for two men who had never really been friends. Oh, they had put on a good front for Janeway's sake and then later, for B'Elanna, but for the most part, they had tolerated each other; there had been no illusions between them that they would keep in touch once Voyager had come home.
"What brings you to this part of the galaxy?" Tom asked finally. "Weren't you involved in some archaeology project out in the Lille sector? I think B'Elanna mentioned something along those lines not too long ago."
"We were there about two years ago. Right now, I'm on my way to Boston because of Seven," Chakotay said as the bartender brought his coffee. "She's accepted a position at MIT and I'm bringing the rest of her things."
"Seven? At MIT?"
"Yes, she's a professor there in the Astrometrics department. It's the perfect position for her," Chakotay said. "It gives her a chance to finally make use of her skills. She won't admit it, but I think she's gotten bored over the last five years, following me from archeological site to site. She's been more than patient with me since I know artifacts of the past don't necessarily interest her."
"No, I wouldn't think so," Tom said. "So you're moving to Boston?"
"Thinking about it," Chakotay said. He sipped his coffee. "Seven loves it. Even the weather, which I hear is gray and gloomy nine months out of twelve. And she's getting used to the construction; apparently it's been going on for four hundred years now. The 'Big Dig' is about as close as I'll probably get to an archeological assignment there." This last bit was said with long-suppressed Chakotay humor.
"I spent some time in Boston when I was at the Academy and we went there last year before the baby was born for some sightseeing," Tom said. "It is a great city. A lot of history. I think you would enjoy it."
"Perhaps," Chakotay said. "But there is something to be said about excavating your own site on a previously forgotten world and making your own deductions about what may or may not have happened there."
"In other words, you want to write history."
Chakotay's lips turned slightly upward. "You could put it that way."
"I'd think you'd already done that. On Voyager."
"Voyager was an unusual experience," Chakotay said. He put his coffee mug down, his gaze drifting away from Tom and towards the glass doors. Outside, they could see that lines were forming at a shuttle gate.
Tom stared incredulously at Voyager's former first officer. "'Unusual' is one way of putting it."
Chakotay shrugged lightly. "I can't find the words to describe Voyager. It was the opportunity of a lifetime to serve with talented and dedicated men and women all united in one common goal."
"You sound like the admirals who welcomed us home," Tom said. Chakotay looked at him in surprise.
"And you sound bitter," Chakotay said.
Suddenly the mug of beer was very interesting. Tom contemplated the golden-hued brew for a moment and then looked at Chakotay.
"No, I'm not," Tom said quietly. "I've got a great life."
"I've heard that before," Chakotay said. He turned slightly, pushing his coffee mug aside. "Remember Steth?"
Oh yes, Tom remembered Steth, the alien lifeform who had temporarily taken over his body and his life. He had done his best to forget that incident; afterward, he and B'Elanna never talked about it. Like so many other things, Steth was a long time ago.
"You told me the same thing then when I asked you what the problem was," Chakotay went on. "You were depressed, moody, bored, not quite the Tom Paris we'd all come to know and love." The last was a bit satirical, Tom knew, but he let it pass. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you're bored."
"Now you sound like B'Elanna."
"And I bet you never talk to her either about what's going on."
"You don't know what the hell you're talking about." Suddenly Tom was angry. He had heard that note in Chakotay's voice one too many times; it wasn't quite a lecturing tone, but it did sound condescending. "Not that it's any of your business, but we have no problems with communicating. We're just under a little bit of stress right now. A new baby, new careers, readjusting to Earth-"
"Sorry," Chakotay said quickly, holding up his hand as if to stem the flow of Tom's words. "I didn't mean to insinuate that you and B'Elanna had problems."
Tom shrugged, his anger vanishing as quickly as it had come. "It's all right. I'm sorry for snapping at you. But for the record, we're fine." He didn't bother to mention that their schedules had been so crazy lately that they had barely spent much time together. He regarded Chakotay almost suspiciously. "Why am I doing all of the talking?"
Chakotay shrugged as he drained the last of his coffee. "You never talk enough. You just think you do."
"There you go again," Tom said irritably. "Making pronouncements from on high. I don't know why you think you know me so well."
"We served together for seven years."
"We weren't exactly friends, Chakotay.
The sentence hung between them and Tom immediately regretted his words.
"I'm sorry," he said awkwardly. Chakotay shook his head.
"It's all right," Chakotay said. He sighed. "I deserved that."
"No, you didn't. I'm -" Tom hesitated because he still felt a straight line of distance between himself and Chakotay - "I have a lot on my mind."
Chakotay appeared hesitant as he said, "Look, I don't mean to pry, but can I ask why?"
"Just old memories." Tom pushed away his empty beer glass and signaled for another one; he had had a full breakfast with B'Elanna before departing this morning and he could certainly handle it. "Things I hadn't thought about in a long time, things I thought I'd forgiven myself for."
"Caldik Prime?" Chakotay asked gently. Tom stared at Chakotay in surprise. There were many things in Tom's checkered past that could be considered unforgivable, Caldik Prime just being one of them.
"Yeah." Tom smiled wryly. "Good guess."
Chakotay shrugged. "You never talked about it, but I could see when the Caretaker first hurled us into the Delta Quadrant that what happened on Caldik Prime still bothered you. Almost as much as your stint with my Maquis cell. Of course-" Chakotay pressed his lips into a thin smile - "you didn't have much to be guilty about when it came to the Maquis, did you?"
"No," Tom said quietly. "*You* weren't the one I betrayed."
"It was a long time ago. You're a different person now."
"You never thought so. Not in seven years." Tom tried to stop the accusation before it came out, but there it was. Chakotay hadn't cared for his drinking, his womanizing, his often irreverent and sarcastic comments - the list went on and one; getting captured by the Feds and then helping Janeway track down Chakotay's Maquis cell only put the icing on the cake. Perhaps, Tom thought wryly, he *couldn't* handle a second beer. "Sorry."
"No, that was fair, and to an extent, you're right." Chakotay looked pensive. "You impressed me, Tom, with the way you stepped up to the task when Voyager needed you and Kath- Janeway had faith in you. If she could trust you, I could as well."
"Associative property," Tom said grimly. He pushed his beer away. His tongue had already been loosened too much for one day.
"You could say that," Chakotay said. "But you came a long way, Tom. The man you were then and the man you are now, it's not easy to compare the two. You've really made the most of out your second chance."
"And your second chance?" Tom asked hesitantly. To him, Chakotay was exactly the same he had been when Voyager had first started her quest to come home; there was very little difference in Chakotay, except that he had oddly enough fallen in love with Seven - the only other person on board other than Tuvok - who could match Chakotay in displaying absolutely no emotion. Tom had given up trying to explain the dynamic between Chakotay and Seven; he chalked up their mutual attraction to a pent-up passion that was released only behind closed doors. "How is that treating you?"
"It's not what I expected,
but interesting all the same," Chakotay said. He launched into a recital
of his latest archeological projects, including the discovery of ruins on Vega
Five that were nearly twenty thousand years old. Chakotay planned to write up
the findings in the following year for publication in the premier archeology
magazine. "We spent a year on that site," he said. "But the desert
finally got to Seven. The climate bothered her and we agreed that she shouldn't
keep sublimating her own career path to mine, but should seek out other
opportunities. When the offer from MIT came, I told her to go ahead and take it and she's a new person now." Chakotay glanced down at his fingers. "I won't lie. Adjusting to being apart hasn't been easy, but sometimes, you have to make difficult decisions."
"I agree," Tom said without irony. He waved his hand at the bartender as she took away his half-empty beer mug; he didn't need another one.
"And so, now it's my turn to go to Boston. I finished my last assignment, so until something new comes up, I'll be spending my time there. It'll be nice getting to know the city a little bit better," Chakotay said as he accepted another coffee refill. "I'm looking forward to walking the Freedom Trail and visiting the USS Constitution."
Tom nodded at the mention of the old naval ship harbored in Boston. "Don't forget the aquarium," Tom said. He smiled. "Miral loved it when we took her there."
"And how is Miral?"
"Good," Tom said. "Growing fast. A protective big sister some days and other days, she wants to return Joey to where he came from."
"Joey..." Chakotay bit his lip. "B'Elanna told me in her last letter that you named him after Carey."
Tom nodded. "It seemed appropriate."
Tom changed the subject as quickly as he could, relieved that he didn't have to explain to Chakotay; his guilt over Joe Carey's death and his inability to prevent it still plagued him after all these years. "So what about you and Seven? Planning to tie the knot anytime soon?"
"Haven't talked about it."
"The two of you have been together for five years. That's a long time."
"We're taking our time," Chakotay said cautiously. "We have to figure out where we want to be, what we want to do before we can make any long term decisions."
"Don't wait too long," Tom said quietly. "Time flies so quickly. It seems just like yesterday when Janeway offered me a field commission on Voyager."
Chakotay's expression changed suddenly and Tom wondered what he had said. Was it the mention of Janeway? Not for the first time, Tom pondered exactly what the relationship was between the two individuals.
"Have you heard from the Admiral?" Chakotay asked finally, not meeting Tom's eye.
"Not recently. I did see her in Miramar a year back before I decided to leave and come back to San Francisco," Tom said. He reached for the bowl of honey peanuts the bartender had just slammed down in front of them. "According to my father, she's giving the admiralty a run for the money."
Chakotay smiled. "That sounds about right. I could never imagine Janeway behind a desk."
"Then you'll be happy to know she doesn't spend too much time in the office. Deep space diplomatic missions are her forte." Tom pushed the peanut bowl towards Chakotay.
"So I take it she doesn't spend much time on Earth?" Chakotay asked.
"I heard she bought a new house in Monterey not too long ago, but B'Elanna and I have yet to make a visit down there. Sounds like she's putting down roots." He paused and gave Chakotay a sidelong look. "I'm surprised you haven't talked to her."
"You know how it is. We get busy in our own lives and the distance between us doesn't help. Out of sight, out of mind, so to speak." Chakotay sighed. He sipped his coffee and put the mug down before continuing. "That's what I miss about Voyager. The people. Specifically, the senior staff."
It was the most sentimental statement Tom had ever heard Chakotay make. "Even me?"
Chakotay smiled. "Even you."
"But especially the Captain." It was a flat statement and Tom cursed himself once again for his disrespect. Even though they were both out of uniform and Voyager was in the past, the delineating lines between first officer and helm officer still existed. So many boundaries had fallen over time, Tom thought, except for this one. And for the first time since his path had crossed with Chakotay's over a decade ago, Tom wanted the man's friendship and more importantly, respect.
"I won't deny that Kathryn and I had a good working relationship," Chakotay said flatly, his gaze fixed on the chronometer directly in front of them. "That's not something you find everyday."
"That's it?" Tom asked incredulously. "That's all you have to say?"
Chakotay shrugged. "Like I said, we worked well together."
Tom stared down at a glowing neon sign on the wall in frustration. He had been so sure, so positive, that something *more* had existed between the captain and her first officer. He had revised that opinion shortly after Chakotay had made his relationship with Seven public, but neither Tom nor B'Elanna had believed that Chakotay and Seven were meant to be together. In fact, B'Elanna had made a comment that the relationship was an attraction of opposites, how relieved Chakotay was to be needed and how eager Seven was to find someone who could fulfill her needs. They're in love with images and ideals, B'Elanna had said, and the heart doesn't work like that.
But here they were, five years later, to all appearances, still together and evidently happy.
"You should drop in and see Janeway sometime," Tom suggested. "I know the Admiral would be happy to see you."
"Perhaps. Depends how long I'm in Boston," Chakotay said non-committedly.
"Have you thought about settling there for good?" Tom asked casually.
"We'll see. Like I said before, I'm really just waiting for a new assignment to show up and perhaps we'll get lucky and it'll come during one of Seven's breaks. There's a new dig on Betazed that I'm interested in. Artifacts have been recovered that show the beginnings of telepathy. It'll be the first documented example of such a complex evolutionary process. Or so we hope. I think it's too much to ask given how sparse the evolutionary records already are on this ability, but I'm still intrigued by the possibilities." Chakotay glanced at Tom. "It'll be hard to pass up this opportunity if I am selected for the team."
"I imagine you'll do what's best for the two of you," Tom said. He shifted slightly on the stool. "After all, that's what you excel at, looking out for other people's interests." The remark came out a little snidely, but Chakotay didn't seem to take offense.
"Sometimes, you need a disinterested party," Chakotay said. "People can't always see what the best thing is for them."
"I know you didn't think I was the best thing for B'Elanna."
Chakotay looked at Tom. "No, I didn't. But could you blame me?"
Tom shook his head. "No, I suppose not. I didn't make the best impression in the Maquis nor did I exactly have the best track record on Voyager." He didn't bother to mention his behavior when he had been assigned to uncover a spy aboard Voyager; he knew he had given Chakotay plenty of grief during those days. "You certainly let me know when I crossed the line. I cursed you many times for the loss of replicator rations or holodeck time." Though in truth, Chakotay had not been responsible for Tom's major punishment - thirty days in the brig and lost of rank. Janeway had taken that matter into hand and Tom had been surprised, as Janeway had always tended to give him the benefit of the doubt, show him leniency.
"I know I was hard on you on Voyager, but it was because I knew what you were capable of. You didn't disappoint me," Chakotay said quietly. As he spoke, he shifted on his stool so he was looking directly at Tom.
Tom was stunned by the revelation. "Why didn't you ever say anything?"
"Face it, Tom, we never had that kind of relationship. You always regarded me as a disciplinarian and I'm not quite sure that you always appreciated my friendship with B'Elanna."
Tom chuckled. "No, sometimes I was pretty jealous that B'Elanna would come to you with her problems and not to me." He sighed. "Sometimes, she was closer to you than she was to me. When she was trying out novel new ways to try and kill herself, *I* should have been the one to see what was going on, *I* should have been the one to pull her back."
"But that had nothing to do with you, Tom," Chakotay said gently. "It had everything to do with the Maquis, the bonds we formed, the losses we endured. I'm not sure that you were even the right person to help her."
"But I should have seen it," Tom insisted. He stared glumly into space, his vision temporarily blurring. "I was *right* there, but still far away." He looked at Chakotay. "I do a lot better these days, Chakotay, but you know B'Elanna." He smiled. "She can be stubborn about some things, but being close to home has helped. I don't regret leaving Miramar at all because it takes away the uncertainties that a long-distance relationship can bring."
"You've done good," Chakotay said. Tom smiled at the slang. So Chakotay *could* loosen up every now and then. "I should have told you before. Not only in your professional life, but your personal life. B'Elanna may have come to me with her problems, but you were the one who made her happy. There's something to be said for that."
"And you," Tom said quietly, "you were exactly what Janeway needed."
Chakotay froze for a moment before answering. "I didn't always get that feeling."
"It must have been hard," Tom said. He was being purposely ambiguous, knowing there were so many things 'it' could mean - the working relationship between Janeway and Chakotay and the more personal, intimate relationship that had to be put aside in deference to protocol. "But those were desperate times and decisions needed to be made quickly and without enough information. She was the captain and she made the decisions that she thought were the best for all of us. Even if it meant ignoring your advice." At Chakotay's surprised look, Tom nodded. "Yes, we did know of the arguments between the two of you, especially over the alliance with the Borg against Species 8472. It *was* a small ship."
Chakotay ran his fingers through his hair. "I thought you were referring to something else," he said quietly. The tone of his voice convinced Tom that Chakotay indeed was thinking of his personal relationship - or lack thereof - with Janeway. Tom shrugged.
"Nope," Tom said. He quirked a smile. "Business, strictly business."
"And in that case, I wouldn't change any of it," Chakotay said without irony. "But I'll be honest, I did find it difficult sometimes to reason with her. Kathryn Janeway is a stubborn and determined woman. Sometimes, I felt incredibly close to her and other times - well, other times, she could have been in another galaxy, for all of the distance she put between us." Chakotay's fingers ran along the smooth porcelain of his empty coffee mug. "But she was still one of the best damned captains I ever served under and I learned a lot from her, even if I didn't always agree with her methods. And so no, I don't regret a single moment of it. Not now, and not then." The reflective note in Chakotay's voice caught Tom's attention.
"Are you happy?" Tom asked softly. Chakotay stared at him.
"Are you happy?"
"Yes, of course."
Tom wasn't convinced. "I mean, are you happy with the way things turned out, the way your life is now that we're back in the Alpha Quadrant?"
Chakotay looked contemplative, his gaze focusing on the glass doors separating the bar from the crowds outside, waiting for their connecting flights. "I'm not sure the life I have now is the one I imagined myself having years ago," Chakotay said finally. "But I have to make the best of it. Some things can't be changed."
"Don't be so sure," Tom said gently. "It depends on how badly we want them to. You may be pleasantly surprised."
Chakotay shrugged, his expression non-committal as he looked at the chronometer. He slipped off the barstool, signaling to the bartender for his bill. "I've got to catch my shuttle."
"Hey," Tom said, grabbing the PADD as the bartender slid it over to Chakotay. "This one is on me."
"Thanks." Chakotay clasped his hand on Tom's shoulder. "It was good seeing you again. I never did ask you. Are you coming or going? Travel-wise, I mean."
"Going. I'm heading for a conference on Starbase 4." Tom did his best to keep his disinterest for the conference out of his voice.
"When you get back, give my best to B'Elanna and the kids."
"I will. And if you get a chance, drop in. I know B'Elanna would love to see you and you haven't seen Joey yet either."
"I'd love to," Chakotay said quietly. "I've got a non-stop flight to Boston from here. Maybe on the way back, I'll make arrangements to visit."
"Yes, do that," Tom said. "Keep in touch."
Chakotay nodded as he heaved his bag onto his shoulder. "I will. Thanks for the company, Tom."
Chakotay left the bar, quickly blending in with the crowds of people outside. Tom checked the chronometer again. He had another hour or so to burn. He quickly paid his tab and Chakotay's and headed back to the observation deck.
When he glanced out the window, the sleek spacecraft - the one that brought back memories of a time long ago - was gone.
~ the end ~
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