Bait and Switch, Part Six


By Britta

They neared the holodeck, but before Tom could usher him into the bar for the promised drink, Chakotay stopped and said, "Give me a minute before I have to face her."
*
Flinging a puzzled glance at him, Tom asked, "Her who? We've already seen almost every woman we both know!"
*
Smoothing his shirt, face now pale instead of rosy, Chakotay replied evenly, "Sandrine."
*
Tom's jaw fell open then snapped shut, and he punched the buttons that would allow them inside.
*
Chakotay looked around and noticed there were very few crew members present. Most likely it was due to so many being on shore leave. He moved swiftly to a corner table half-hidden in the shadows while Tom tried to keep up with him. Longer legs were good for some things after all.
*
Once he was seated, Tom loomed over him and asked, "Why the big Cardassian cockroach rush?"
*
"What?" Chakotay looked up at his body and realized that he really could loom over people.
*
"You scuttled over here as fast as a nasty bug hiding from the light. I want to know why."
*
Chakotay looked at the bar and said, "You're buying me a beer, right?"
*
Tom nodded, "Yeah."
*
"Then go and get it. After that we'll talk." He really hoped Sandrine would not come over to greet him. He wasn't Tom, and pretending to be, in front of one of his creations, made him very nervous. She might speak French to him and he wouldn't be able to answer.
*
This was the first time the two of them had been in public, together--could he handle it? What if someone asked him to play pool, for rations? How could he get out of it without hurting Tom's reputation? These thoughts flew through his mind so fast he could hardly keep up with them.
*
As Tom moved away, Chakotay let out a deep breath. All the laughter he had suppressed over the Delaney sisters' situation soon followed. Gods, Tom had handled it well. He'd nearly busted a gut when he found out what was going on. He really couldn't have let loose though without hurting the ladies' feelings. Still smiling slightly, he watched as Tom approached the bar and encountered Sandrine.
*
It was decidedly odd to see how the hologram treated him. Formality was the name of the game, and it seemed that Tom didn't like it. Well, he thought, as his smile disappeared, that was another thing they could talk about.
*
Chakotay wondered if Tom might be having a tougher time than he was letting on while pretending to be someone else. He put aside his personal desires and slipped into counselor mode.
*
Tom brought two icy mugs of beer to the table and set them down, then shoved his chair into the shadows to sit beside Chakotay. When he was settled, he quaffed a third of his mug's contents, belched silently, and stated, "I'm sorry for pissing you off earlier."
*
"You didn't piss me off." Chakotay downed a good portion of his own beer and continued, "I was glad to help; especially now that I know the whole story."
*
Tom frowned and said, "Then why did I get the silent treatment after everyone left?"
*
A small smile accompanied the faintest of blushes, and Chakotay lowered his voice. "I was trying not to laugh out loud."
*
"Laugh?"
*
"Yes. Laugh. I've never seen Tuvok carry a bunch of wadded up T-shirts, an egg, and a green chicken before. He looked like an overgrown court page about to present a gift to a queen." Chakotay smiled widely and took another sip of his beer.
*
Tom returned his smile, and said, "He ought to make a wonderful impression on the Minister of Manners."
*
"Yes, he should. It was a good idea to send him down there. You did a great job with this, Tom."
*
"Thanks."
*
Chakotay turned his mug around, feeling the condensation on the outside wet his fingers, then said, "I want to know why you made the situation sound so dire when you commed me. You and Tuvok had it all worked out. Why did you need me?"
*
Tom stared into his beer while Chakotay drank some more. "I didn't need 'you', but I wanted my body to be there to reassure Megan. I didn't know if you'd come just because I asked, so I brought up Janeway's being gone as an excuse."
*
"I see." Chakotay realized then that Tom believed he couldn't be counted on to help. That knowledge hurt, and he wondered if Tom had always felt this way. Keeping his expression neutral, Chakotay continued in a more subdued tone. "So is there anything else I can do for you?"
*
"No. Right now I'm up to my neck in shore leave reports, and man, are they dull! I don't think we're missing anything by being stuck up here."
*
Chakotay finished his beer and stood up. "In that case, I think I'll turn in. Thank you for this." He tapped his mug with a finger then strode over to the door, giving Sandrine a quick wave as he left.

<><><><>

Tom watched, surprised and disturbed by Chakotay's abrupt departure. Shit. B'Elanna's 'news' must have really upset the older man.
*
He drank more of his beer. If only she had kept her mouth shut. It was enough that he had a tough time dealing with Chakotay over professional issues, but now it seemed that the personal ones had screwed up what little rapport they'd built over the years.
*
Tom finished off his beer and decided not to have another one. No sense in setting tongues wagging by getting Chakotay's body drunk in public.
*
As he made his way back to the commander's quarters, depression threatened to settle its weight on his shoulders one more time. God, he hated this feeling. It was a good thing he knew what Chakotay's alcohol limits were, for that prevented him from diving into a liquid morass of self-pity.
*
Taking off his clothes, he looked around the commander's bedroom and saw what a mess he'd made in the last few days. Guilt began to set in and he plopped down on the edge of the bed. If only he could talk to Harry. His best friend always helped him sort out his thoughts and put things into perspective.
*
He kicked a used towel further away from the bed, vowed to do something about the mess in the morning, and called for lights off. Just as he was getting drowsy, having become used to Chakotay's aroma which permeated the bedclothes, the door chime rang.
*
"Who is it?" he inquired as officiously as he could.
*
"It's me, Tom. Let me in," Harry's voice replied softly.
*
Tom opened the door and Harry slipped inside. He watched nervously as Harry surveyed the room then settled on the sofa. "What are you doing here?" he asked anxiously.
*
Harry stared at him, long enough to make him uncomfortable. He tightened the belt on his robe and moved toward the replicator. "Can I get you a drink or something?"
*
Coming out of his daze, Harry replied, "No. Nothing, thanks. You could dim the lights a little, though. It's hard seeing you like this."
*
Tom did as he was requested then demanded, "How did you find out?"
*
A dark and intense gaze focused on him briefly, then aimed itself at the floor. "B'Elanna told me." Harry's voice was tentative, as if he could sense Tom's anger.
*
He told himself that this wasn't Harry's fault; B'Elanna just had a big mouth lately. Trying to lighten the mood, Tom sank into a chair opposite his best friend, and inquired, "So what do you think of the new me?" He pasted a smile on his face and forced down his fatigue.
*
Harry Kim glanced at him, frowned, then looked away again. "I don't know what to think. This is too weird. How did it happen anyway?"
*
Sighing with resignation, Tom explained, "It was my fault, as usual. I was haggling, or trying to haggle, over an intricately carved miniature shuttle of some kind. Chakotay happened to be in the same shop and came over to me. He told me to lay off; that haggling wasn't an accepted practice in this society. I thought he was full of it, and said so. I must have missed that piece of information during the briefing...."
*
Cautiously, Harry looked at Tom, a very interested expression on his face. He made a 'please continue' gesture, and Tom resumed his tale wondering what it would take to get Harry to say something.
*
"The next thing I knew, we were on trial before the Minister of Manners. To make a long story short, we were punished the same way their 'young ones' are. We're supposed to learn about each other so we won't ever argue in public again." Tom saw various emotions flit across Harry's face and waited with some amusement to see what he would do.
*
A moment or two passed, then Harry responded with awe leaching through his voice. "Wow. You mean they do this sort of thing to their own kids?"
*
Tom nodded complacently. "All the time. It's very common. And from the lecture we got, it's effective as all hell."
*
"So, is it working?" Harry seemed to have forgotten his earlier unease as he leaned forward, eager for an answer.
*
Smiling grimly, Tom replied, "If you mean, do I understand the commander better, then yeah, I guess so." He looked thoughtful for a few moments, then continued, "I don't think Chakotay has very much fun in his life. No one ever jokes around with him, or just talks to him to see how he's doing." He paused again, realizing it wasn't a one-way street. "I have to wonder what he thinks about how people treat me."
*
Harry shifted suddenly in his seat and blurted out, "B'Elanna told me she broke up with you."
*
"She did. But, it's kind of complicated. It's also part of why I think I've gotten myself into another mess where Chakotay is concerned." Tom rubbed his face and sat back in the chair. "If you want details, let me get us some beer."
*
Intense curiosity and an equal amount of compassion were evident in Harry's voice as he smiled and said, "Okay. I don't have to be anywhere for quite a while."
*
Grateful for the company, and the opportunity he'd been given to unburden himself just when he needed it, Tom procured beers for the both of them. They drank, hung out together, and talked long into the night.

<><><><>

Chakotay sat in Tom's tiny living area trying to meditate. He was depressed, and it wasn't working. Unfolding his legs before they went numb, he felt the urge to do something decisive. Anything was better than nothing.
*
Taking a quick survey of Tom's belongings, which were strewn about the cabin, he decided to fall back on an ancient reaction and hide them. Out of sight, out of mind. He would have a much easier time living here if the place were tidy, and if everything he saw didn't shriek Tom's name.
*
Not knowing where most of the items belonged, if indeed they had a proper place, he called for lights up to full, then systematically stuffed every single thing that had lain on the cabin floor for the last three days either into the closet or under the bed. Chakotay made sure to rescue enough stuff to keep him clean and clothed for the duration of his 'sentence'. Everything else though was fair game.
*
Once he retrieved the necessary items from the refresher, he set them in a corner, neatly folded, then grabbed a quick shower and went to bed. As he tried to fall asleep, feeling good over his proactive housekeeping, the events of the earlier part of the day came back to haunt him. His mood quickly soured again.
*
It had begun right before breakfast, when not one senior officer had been present. As he was standing in line, tray in hand, waiting to see what Neelix had created for today's first offering, the corner of a tray had been shoved into the small of his back, hard enough to bruise. He turned around only to see two crewmen, one Starfleet and one ex-Maquis, staring at him with innocent expressions.
*
Suddenly, he was jostled by someone from behind. He turned back but couldn't tell who it was. At that point, Neelix hustled over and poured him a cup of coffee, even though he hadn't requested one. Maintaining his presence as a sort of buffer, the Talaxian inquired loudly, "How are you this morning, Tom?"
*
Belatedly understanding that Neelix was trying to deflect what Chakotay surmised was habitual, and by now, very old and tired harassment, he smiled slightly and replied, "I'm fine. How are you?"
*
Neelix answered with a monologue long enough for Tom's tormentors to be forced to move along. Chakotay noticed only a few glances of sympathy aimed in his direction from the rest of the crew who were present. He suspected that most people were used to Tom being treated with little respect.
*
It had bothered him that the culprits were made up of both former Maquis and regular Starfleet crew. If this is what Tom had to put up with on a daily basis, even though he'd proved his worth to the ship more than once over the years, then he could understand why Tom felt he couldn't count on him.
*
Still hurting for some reason he didn't want to examine too closely, and angry with himself and many others, Chakotay finally managed to fall into an uneasy sleep.

<><><><>

Tom tossed a blanket over his friend and crawled into bed. He lay awake in the darkness and thought about all the things Harry had told him. He, himself, had explained everything, except for the part about having the hots for Chakotay. The 'Fuck Me' suit had been mentioned but not the bit where B'Elanna had told Chakotay about Tom's desires.
*
Harry had drunk more and more beer, gradually relaxing his hold on reality, until he'd made it clear that he wasn't sure just who he was talking to, Chakotay or Tom.
*
Inhaling deeply the scent of the man who lived in these quarters, Tom got comfortable in the big bed and wondered why Harry had such a good relationship with their stoic First Officer. He'd been surprised when Harry had come down on him like a ton of bricks when he mentioned his comment about not being sure if Chakotay would come and help him out.
*
All he'd said was, "I didn't know if he'd come just because I asked...." and Harry went ballistic, well, ballistic for Harry anyway.
*
Harry had rambled on about how you could always count on the commander, no matter what. After various mumbled phrases about when he'd been homesick or scared or whatever, Tom ordered him to sleep on the couch. Harry had actually saluted before he passed out.
*
Rolling onto his side, Tom tried to set aside his doubts and willed himself to sleep.

<><><><>

Chakotay woke up to being commed by Captain Janeway, "...and meet me for breakfast in fifteen minutes."
*
"Yes, ma'am," he replied. Stretching the kinks out of his neck, he wondered if he'd ever get used to Tom's pillow. Deciding that was a question to be tabled for the time being, he rose, showered, and dressed quickly.
*
On his way out, he noted the absence of Tom's clutter and felt much better. Now he could almost believe this cabin was an anonymous room somewhere, not someone's personal residence aboard this ship.
*
Breakfast with the captain turned out to be an ordeal. He'd had to talk about Tom, explaining how the two of them were getting along. Janeway noticed his reticence, but didn't pry, although her curiosity was obvious.
*
Grateful for her forbearance, Chakotay escaped with his secrets intact. He went directly to Sickbay where the Doctor was surprised to see him.
*
One holographic eyebrow mimicked the typical Vulcan response to something out of the ordinary. "Lieutenant, you are not scheduled to be here until after lunch."
*
"I know. I came to ask a favor," Chakotay stated in a low voice.
*
"And what might that be?" the Doctor inquired with thinly disguised curiosity.
*
"I'd like to work in here today, all day."
*
"Why? Are you ill?"
*
A hint of peevishness, or maybe sarcasm was present in the Doctor's voice, and Chakotay made up his mind to live with it if he got what he wanted. "No. I just need some time to think and this is a good place to do it. If you will take me off Bridge duty and assign someone else, I'll volunteer to wash all your test tubes."
*
The Doctor peered at him suspiciously, then appeared to remember who he really was. His voice lost the edge of a few minutes ago and he said, "Very well. I'll see to it."
*
Chakotay nodded his thanks and relaxed.
*
"You may begin over there." The Doctor pointed to a heap of glass and assorted plastics in the corner then went into his office and closed the door.

<><><><>

Tom made it to the Bridge on time, barely. He'd left a sleeping ensign snoring on Chakotay's couch, while he yawned continuously as he ran out the door toward the turbolift.
*
Moving to the First Officer's chair, Janeway shot him a sharp glance, then oversaw the shift change, sending Tuvok into her Ready Room. Tom watched her expression alter minutely when Jenkins showed up to take the helm.
*
He wondered where Chakotay was. Why wasn't he here? This was the second day in a row that he hadn't shown up for Bridge duty. What was going on? Was Chakotay avoiding him because of what B'Elanna had said?
*
Scarcely giving a thought to the status of the Delaney sisters, or their precious egg, Tom keyed up the duty roster for the day. Harry was off for several hours, which relieved him considerably. B'Elanna would be back on board around lunch time, and Chakotay was assigned to Sickbay.
*
His tired brain in turmoil, Tom wished he could trade places with Chakotay, even without being back in his own body. All he wanted right now was some time alone, to think and process all the things he'd learned. Add in the fact that he still wanted Chakotay in the worst way, and he was nearly ready to lose his mind.
*
Before he could get lost in 'what if' space, Janeway's voice came over the comm system, "Commander Chakotay, please report to my Ready Room."

END OF PART SIX

Comments? Suggestions?
E-mail me at Britta

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Bait and Switch, Part 7