A story idea by GillyH & Lorrie Miller,
Written by GillyH
Time-scale: Late season 3 (the flirty ponytail year of course, my favourite!).
Rating: This part, PG-13
See Part One for summary and author's notes.
Kathryn's eyes glittered with amusement as she watched Tom Paris over the rim of her wine glass.
He circled the pool table, chalking his cue before and after every shot - always a sign that she had him rattled. After potting one more ball, he missed an easy shot with a muttered curse, dropping his head onto the polished wooden surround with a thump.
"I'm sorry, Tom," Kathryn said, airily. "Did you say something?"
"No, Captain. That was the sound of my ego hitting the deck."
"I see. Is that the same ego that promised me a pool lesson?"
Tom glanced up in time to catch her look of glee. "Permission to speak freely, Captain?"
"Granted. We're both off-duty."
He walked around the table, ostensibly to pick up the chalk again, but just as he reached for the little cube, Kathryn quickly set down her wine glass and got there before him ; making a great show of carefully preparing her own cue with it before handing it to him.
His eyes narrowed and fixed hers, mostly in jest, but with more than a hint of real exasperation. "Okay then, here goes. Stop setting me up, Captain! You do this to me every single time. You let me win the first two or three games, then hey presto you find your form and pass me at warp nine. I'm big enough to fight my own battles, so will you stop molly-coddling me? It really puts me off my game. If you're going to beat me, at least beat me from the first game all the way through to the last."
"Yes, molly-coddle! If someone patronised you like that, you'd be insulted. Look, I know we go back a long way, I know you still think of me as some little kid who got his head stuck in the balusters the night his father threw a party for Starfleet's brightest and best, but I can take care of myself. I can certainly win a game of pool on my own, without you making transparently stupid mistakes."
Transported in her minds-eye back to that very party, Kathryn savoured the memories for a moment before leaning on her cue and smiling up at him, "A bossy, snot-nosed little kid."
Tom blinked in confusion. "Say what?"
"I remember a bossy, snot-nosed little kid in Space Ace PJ's demanding - no, ordering - a young science officer to smuggle him a piece of fudge-cake. And when she took pity on him and took him his cake, she suddenly found herself caught up in a stealth rescue."
"It was the rarified hot air rising up from all you Starfleet fast-trackers. It made my head expand."
They eyed each other for a moment before laughing outloud.
Tom folded his arms and leant back against the pool table with a wistful sigh. "You make it sound like I was a lot younger than you, but there aren't that many years between us, Katy'did. I must have been what... ten... nearly eleven? You could only have been about seventeen or eighteen, though. Man, those were the days. I gave you a direct order that night and you followed it - sweet as a nut."
"What was I supposed to do, watch an Admiral's brat starve?" She eyed him for a long moment. Maybe she did go easy on him for the first few games. "Alright then, no more headstarts. From now on we play for credits... nothing big, and strictly between you and I. It wouldn't do for the crew to hear that their Captain's extra replicator-credits came from hustling pool. Shall we say one credit per rack?"
Tom thought that she was more relaxed than he'd ever seen her ; allowing him in as a friend, laughing, joking and having a wager with him - even treating him as a co-conspirator. Could he push his luck a bit further? Of course he could. "You're on, Captain. But, how about making things really interesting?"
"You can't resist can you, Paris? You have to take the inch and the mile." Laughing, Kathryn
considered for a long moment. "Okay, if that's the way you want it. We'll see how you like eating in the Mess Hall for a month or two. How does ten credits a rack sound? Too rich for you?"
"It's too rich for me, Captain..."
They both turned at the sound of Chakotay's voice and watched him stroll around to their side of the table.
"... Because I'm the one who'll end-up feeding you when he miraculously finds his form."
Kathryn's smile widened into full beam. "Hello, Chakotay."
"Hi, Commander," Tom grinned. "Can I get you a drink?"
"Thanks, Tom. Red wine."
"I'll have the same, Tom."
"Sure, Captain." Leaning his cue against a nearby chair, Tom turned and crossed to the bar.
Chakotay took Tom's place, casually leaning against the pool table. "You're looking radiant this evening, Kathryn. Having fun?"
"Thank you. And yes, I'm having a very good time." Settling beside him, Kathryn glanced over her shoulder towards the bar where Tom was flirting with Sandrine, the holographic proprietess. "He's changed his cue three times, used up almost a whole cube of chalk, and thumped his head against the table at least once. Tell me, have you ever noticed that I let him win games?"
"Sure. I don't know what happens to you when you play him. All that killer instinct flows right out the door for a few games. It doesn't happen when you play me, Tuvok, or any of the others. Why? Has he finally called you on it?"
"Yes, just now. I didn't realise, but now that I am aware of it, his fancy foods allowance is mine. There's coffee in young Mister Paris."
They shared a knowing smile and Kathryn asked, "Duty-shift just ended?"
"Yes, but there's nothing exceptional to report. I've finished updating the supply lists and the crew rotations for R and R, so we're all set for the meeting on Dantraal. How are you feeling, now? Did you manage to rest?"
"I feel fine... more than fine. I feel great. I didn't move from my bed until I'd read a novel from cover to cover, and then I took a long, deep bubble-bath. I think my hips are going to pay for one of my indulgences sooner rather than later, though."
"When I started reading there was a basket of chocolates beside me. And then there wasn't."
Chakotay winced. He could actually take or leave chocolate, but he knew how easy it was to get engrossed in a good book with a synth-ale and a bowl of salted cashew or pistacio nuts at his elbow. But then, his treat sessions were normally held in check by his replicator allowance. He and the rest of the crew had received a handsome share of chocolate bars - easily slipped into a drawer out of sight - but as Captain, Kathryn had received several large gift-baskets of exotic flowers and delicious-looking handmade chocolates from the Dantraal Ambassador. Still, if anyone deserved to splurge it was her, and it wasn't everyday that they met a people as generous and friendly as the Dantraal.
"Come for a run with me in the morning if you're up to it," he offered. "Or, maybe we could try Tom's old cycling program and go for some long bicycle rides in the country. What about the outskirts of Marseilles."
"That a great idea, " she nodded, enthusiastically. "I love long bicycle rides. I'll look forward to it."
Just then, Tom returned with a tray of drinks. "Looks like you arrived just in time, Chakotay," he said, as he handed them each a glass. "The Captain's about to make me replicator rich."
"We'll see, Mister Paris. We'll see."
"What will we see, Captain?" Tom challenged.
Kathryn didn't miss a beat. "We'll see who's going to be dining on eggs-Benedict and strawberries and cream next week, and who's going to be staring at plate after plate of cleverly disguised leeola-root. It's time for your pool lesson and this time, I'm taking no prisoners." Picking up the triangle-shaped form she playfully shoved it at him. "Rack'em, Space-Ace."
Tom pulled a face, rolling his eyes for Chakotay's benefit as Kathryn turned away, but he did as he was told.
Smiling to himself, Chakotay left them to it and took a seat at the bar. He could see that Kathryn's time off had done wonders ; she was obviously more relaxed and enjoying herself enormously.
More than ready to be completely off-duty himself, he took several sips of his fruity, full-bodied wine and decided to contact the Doctor while Kathryn's attention was on her game. He waited until she was engrossed in a difficult shot before tapping his commbadge.
"Chakotay to Sickbay."
"Sickbay here, Commander. This is the Doctor, you may speak freely."
"Doctor, I'm at Sandrine's. The Captain seems to be fine. You were right, she's playing pool with Paris and having a marvellous time. I think it's fair to say she's had a few glasses of wine, so she's in a very good mood... maybe even a little synth-tipsy."
"Yes," the Doctor responded, "I'm registering the increased synthahol levels now... she should definitely be experiencing a light buzz. Her adreneline level is quite high, but that could be due to the effect of the synthehol. The other levels seem to be stabilising, but her blood sugar is very high and still increasing. It's very strange."
"Hang-on a minute, Doctor. She mentioned that she'd eaten a lot of Dantraal chocolate this afternoon... she had quite a few pieces yesterday, too. Wouldn't that push her blood-sugar level up?"
"How much is 'a lot'?"
A quick check over his shoulder confirmed that Kathryn's attention was still on her game. "One of those gift-baskets the Dantraal presented to her."
"A whole basket?!" the Doctor gasped. "Such a large amount of chocolate would certainly raise her blood-sugar level sky-high before it came down with a thump you could hear in the Alpha quadrant. The old sugar-shock crash and burn would explain her headaches and maybe the trembling... although I'm surprised at the severity. My other patients have experienced mild headaches, but that doesn't explain why the Captain suffers so acutely, nor does it explain these other high readings. I checked the composition of the chocolate samples thoroughly, but I didn't find anything unusual or harmful." There was a pause before the Doctor continued, "Let me look into this, Commander. Don't worry, the Captain's fine for now. I'll get back to you. Doctor out."
Chakotay thumped the heel of his hand against the bar in exasperation. Of course! Why hadn't he thought of the chocolate sooner?! They'd spent almost three hours on the holodeck yesterday, sunbathing, swimming and messing about on the sand and Kathryn had eaten quite a bit of chocolate while they were there. And now, after devouring a whole basket.... Well, something in the chocolate obviously didn't agree with her, and she was probably going to have one hell of a head-ache in the morning, but thankfully that was easily cured. Too much chocolate. Of all the obvious causes!
"Yes? Oh, sorry, Tom, I was miles away. What can I do for you?"
"You're up. I got my butt kicked in record time. She's flying too high for me."
No kidding, Chakotay thought dryly as Paris wandered away in disgust, headed for the other end of the bar. Picking up the helmsman's discarded cue, he moved to the table to rack-up just as Kathryn said,
"So, the handsome Commander fancies his chances, does he?"
Chakotay glanced at her, a bemused smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Her remark was innocent enough, but something in the way that she'd said it, and the way her eyes shone with mischief told him that she'd fully intended for the quip to be sassy and open to interpretation. It certainly had more of an undertone than their usual banter. So, that was how it was going to be. Kathryn was in the mood to flirt. Well, two could play at that game. "I suppose I do," he replied, deliberately keeping the mischievous undertone going, "But, as usual, I'm at a disadvantage... you hold all the breaks. I'll have to rely on safety-play until you throw caution to the wind on a long shot and give me a clear opening... a chance to make my move."
Kathryn threw him a knowing smile - an unmistakable 'touché' gesture - as she reached past him to gather up several of the balls left by Tom. "True, but when two players are as evenly matched as we are, it's sometimes best to forego safety-play and seize the moment."
Once again, her remark was innocent enough on its own, but added to her tone of voice and the apprasing look she was currently giving him, it was anything but innocent. Increasingly aware of her nearness and her mood Chakotay suddenly needed to put some distance between them. An affectionate 'feel better soon' kiss on the forehead was one thing. Grabbing your Commanding Officer by the shoulders and hungrily claiming her mouth with hard, probing kisses - in front of Tom Paris - was something else entirely.
Moving to the other end of the table, he picked up the nearest cube of chalk. He kept his eyes downcast as he chalked his cue, still very aware of Kathryn as she brushed past him and on, out of sight ; the slight disturbance of air and the faint, but familiar scent of spring flowers and vanilla causing his heart to pound a little in his chest and his body to respond in a completely natural, but embarrasing way. Groaning softly, he thanked the spirits that she was now somewhere behind him, hoping that she'd stay where she was until he could get his mind settled and back on the game. He was just too damn close to embarrassing himself, and her, and that would never do. His face darkened at the thought.
Thinking that he'd been forgotten, Paris lounged on a stool at the far end of the bar and watched the show. He hadn't missed a single nuance of his Commanding Officer's expressions or body language. The more he watched, the more he began to understand Chakotay's on-going, seemingly hopeless yen for the Captain. It wasn't hopeless at all because she was clearly flirting with him. Playful, confident flirting unaffected by shyness or coyness ; her face and gestures revealing so much. This was no light, teasing interest on her part, Tom realised. This was a woman throwing practiced signals at a familiar target. And, Chakotay? The Big Guy seemed bemused one minute and annoyed the next. He'd obviously been caught a little off-guard. Too public a place to be teased, perhaps? Too public a place to make a move and be knocked back? Tom had seen them flirt before on dull Bridge shifts, or during long shuttle-flights, or at Neelix's little festive occasions and even planet-side in food gathering Away Teams, but never in such a blindingly obvious way. "What I'd give to be a fly on the wall when they're alone."
"Did you say something, Thomas?"
It was Sandrine. She'd gone to get some more wine from the celler, but now she was back, dropping the cellar door into place and brushing dust and cobwebs from her apron.
"Not really," Paris replied, throwing her an embarrassed grin. "Just thinking outloud."
"Oh?" She leaned her elbows on the bar and smiled, coquettishly. "Something on your mind, chérie? I am a very good listener."
Paris slowly swivelled around in his seat to face her properly. "It's not me who has the problem, Sandrine."
"Ah, then it is 'a friend' who has the problem, oui?"
"Yes. I mean, no... it's not like that. My two friends over there are the ones with the problem."
Sandrine looked past him, towards the pool table. "Ah, mais oui... the Captain and the Commander. Such a handsome couple with such a love, but so noble, so stubborn. Sometimes, my hands they itch to slap some sense into them."
Tom chuckled as that vision passed before his mind's eye. "I hear you. All this endless sacrifice and quiet nobility. So stupid stuck out here - a lifetime away from home and Starfleet. In about, oh... twenty years or so, Earth is still going to be a long, long way away, and they're both going to wake up one morning and wonder where their lives went. It just brings me down, Sandrine - some of the others too, I'll bet. I should just march over there and tell 'em to get a room. Tell 'em to get something! 'Course, he'd pound me into the deck-plating without even breaking a sweat and she'd have me in the Brig faster than you could say, 'reduced to the rank of crewman,' but some things just need saying, don't they?"
Sandrine nodded, sagely. "They do, chérie. They do. Look... there she goes. She really likes to stand back and watch him play, do you see...? Now is your chance, Thomas!"
Following Sandrine's line of sight, Tom grinned to himself as he saw that she was right ; the Captain was in exactly the right place to watch Chakotay bend over and cue-up on the white ball. His grin faded a little as it dawned on him that after what he'd just said, Sandrine expected him to do something ; to put his money where his mouth was. His bravado had been mostly synth-talk and he knew that Sandrine was just a hologram, but because she was based on a real person from his past he'd always vowed to roll with the punches and allow her program to evolve naturally - with no freezing, wiping or re-setting. The fact that Sandrine liked him in spite of his faults and rough edges had always been important to him, but he didn't want to go down in her estimation, either. So, he'd do it. Setting a broad grin on his face, he turned to face her. "I guess only the good die young, Sandrine. Wish me luck?"
"Luck, Thomas," she whispered, giving him a conspiratorial wink while crossing her fingers and holding them up for him to see.
Slipping off his bar-stool, Tom quietly sidled-up behind Kathryn. "That's a hell of a shot," he murmured.
Startled, Kathryn almost dropped her cue. After taking a moment to compose herself, she turned to face him, one quizzically raised eyebrow making her look almost Vulcan. "He's cueing up, Tom... he hasn't taken a shot yet?"
"I meant the view, Captain... camera angle. I couldn't help but notice your appreciation."
He was rewarded with a deep blush, quickly followed by a short blast of the death-glare.
"I can look, Tom," she replied, testily. "Anybody can just 'look', even starship Captains. I'm not made of stone, you know."
"Of course not, Captain. I doubt there's a woman aboard who could resist the sight of Chakotay playing pool... a few of the men, too - or so I've heard. And, for the record, I think the 'just looking' games you two play are, well, they're reassuring. They're probably even good for morale. We're a long, long way from home and a man and a woman who find each other attractive should be able to look and flirt to their hearts content. Even Starship Captains and Maquis Commanders. A little harmless looking and flirting is good for the soul, I always say."
Kathryn's eyes were stern now and they held his, daring him to look away. He steadily returned her gaze and raised her a knowing smile. "This is still off the record, right?" At her grudging nod he continued, keeping his voice low, "You two... you're like a couple of positively charged magnetic coils, inviting and repelling each other. Anyone can see the attraction, it's undeniable. It's obvious how you feel about one another, and it's also obvious that neither of you is doing anything to discourage the other one, just the opposite in fact. Like I said, a couple of positively charged magnetic____"
"Have you quite finished?!" Her voice was low, but her tone was distinctly icy.
Tom kept on smiling. "I did it again, didn't I... that inch-mile thing?"
Kathryn opened her mouth fully intending to tell him that he most certainly had, and that he'd gone too far this time, but just then Chakotay called her to the table ; it was her shot. With a heavy, exasperated sigh she glared at Tom. "We'll discuss your opinions at another time, Mister Paris - on the record. My Ready-Room tomorrow morning, 09-hundred sharp. Don't be late."
Tom did his best to try and look apologetic, but the corners of his mouth quirked. Now that he'd actually said his piece he wondered why he hadn't said something before. "Aye, Captain," he nodded, trying again to look at least a little shame-faced. "If you'll excuse me, I'll make a quick exit. I'm due to clean-up at a Poker game in about half an hour... possibly the last game of a condemned man." One look at the Captain's face told him that the his attempt at further humour had fallen flat. It was definitely time to leave. Looking past her to the pool table, he called out "'Night, Chakotay."
"'Night, Tom," Chakotay called back. "See you tomorrow."
"Yeah, maybe," Tom said, giving Kathryn a meaningful look and setting his voice low so that only she could hear what he said next. "09-hundred sharp, Captain. I won't be late."
Kathryn slowly shook her head as she watched him leave, her anger dissipating as quickly as it had flared. Caught, and by Tom Paris of all people. That boy obviously has far too much free time on his hands.
Moving back to the pool table she found that Chakotay had almost cleared up, and thanks to Paris distracting her, she'd missed most of the show.
"I see you've been practicing, Chakotay." Cueing up, she made a reckless attempt at a difficult ball and missed.
"No, not really," he replied cheerfully. Potting a difficult ball off the cush, then sinking two easy solids he moved around the table to stand just in front of her and line-up on the eight ball. "Tuvok gave me a few pointers the last time we played. He could write a book about angles, cush shots and ricochets." Leaning further over the table he slammed the black ball into the far left corner pocket. Nodding his head in satisfaction, he straightened up and turned around to meet her gaze. "I can't believe that went in."
Kathryn managed "Nice shot," before dipping her head, trying to hide her amusement at her own play on Tom's words. But, of course he noticed.
"Something I said?"
"No, no, it's me. I mean... it was just something Tom said, that's all. Why don't you get us some more wine while I rack-up for another game?"
For a moment she thought he might push her to tell him what it was that Tom had said, but giving her a bemused look, he laid his pool cue down on the table and went to the bar.
As she waited for him, she gathered the potted and unpotted balls into the triangle-form and thought about what Tom had said. Were she and Chakotay really that obvious? Did they broadcast their attraction and their feelings for one another so clearly? What if the rest of the crew were as sharp-eyed as Tom Paris? Her cheeks burned as she imagined any number of coffee-klatches in the Mess Hall with just one hot topic of conversation. It was all she and Chakotay had for themselves, dammit! Even if protocol decreed they could only ever circle each other in synchronous orbit, the intimacy of their friendship and her own private hopes and feelings were too often the only things that made her day-to-day life in this God-forsaken quadrant bearable. They'd both sacrificed so much in distancing themselves from the crew - and in Chakotay's case, from some of his oldest, closest friends - and it had been perfectly natural for the Command team to spend off-duty time together, even before New Earth. It wasn't as if either of them had taken a conscious decision to fall in love with the one person they shouldn't fall in love with, now was it? True, he'd fallen before she had, but she hadn't been far behind him.
Looking up from the table just as Chakotay turned away from the bar a glass of synth-wine in each hand, she saw that he was laughing at something Sandrine had said. What's not to love? she mused, smiling and making eye contact with him as he came towards her, unconsciously admiring the way his white shirt and dark blue sweater glowed against his tan skin. He was so handsome ; so tall, so dark, so broad-shouldered. So indelibly male. Kind, too. And funny. Always determined, but aggressive only in his defence of their crew and her, he could be complicated and moody at times, and overly-protective, and forthright to the point of bluntness, but God help her, she loved him. She was head-over-heels in love with her own First Officer. He pulled at her constantly like the moon pulled at the tide and lately, she was finding it more and more difficult to keep her footing and resist the undertow. The heart wants what the heart wants, she thought, suddenly remembering something Kes had once said.