Hanging From A Basketball Hoop

by Suz suzvoy@tesco.net

Disclaimer - "Oh not again!" Picard yelled as he was assimilated by the Para-Borg.

Part 15 in the DQ90210 series. Earlier parts can be found at: http://members.tripod.com/~SuzVoy/deltaq.html

*

It was Seven who told him to go and see Paris. Although she had begun to master the art of subtlety, apparently she thought that this situation didn't warrant it. Her bold statement of "You must talk to Lieutenant Paris" wasn't quite what he was expecting to hear from her when she was supposed to be handing in her Astrometrics report.

It had been four days since the accident in the shuttlecraft and the crew were starting to return to their 'relaxed' state. Kathryn was still in sickbay although she was starting to recover nicely and everyone returned to their jobs with vigour, deciding the ship should be in top condition when she came round.

Chakotay - of course - did his job, performed the Captainly duties, kept morale up. Paid a visit to sickbay once a day to see how she was doing from a command point of view.

As for Tom...Chakotay couldn't help noticing that he'd been acting a little strange since the accident. Well - in Chakotay's opinion - anyone who used to regularly consort with people who insisted on being called Malicia and Demonica had to be a little strange...but this was something else. The Lieutenant had pulled favours with The Doctor and reorganised his shifts so the last four days had been spent away from sickbay, entirely on the bridge, and when he did turn up for his shift he would look at no one, talk to no one.

Chakotay had already considered talking to Tom himself or getting someone else to do it - B'Elanna certainly had a knack for Bat'lething through bullshit - but at Seven's prompting his final decision was to do it himself.

Why she should be the one to prompt him, he had no idea.

He found Paris on holodeck two, running an exercise programme. No privacy lock was activated so he walked in, expecting to see him in the middle of some kind of energetic and particularly exhausting exercise.

The programme was simple; wooden floor and walls with benches along the side and a basketball hoop at one end of the room. Tom was standing beneath looking up at it, dressed in a shirt and shorts and holding a towel in his hand.

He apparently knew that he wasn't alone because he spoke. "Do you think it's possible to hang yourself from a basketball hoop using only a towel?"

Chakotay sat on a bench heavily. This whole encounter wasn't going the way he expected it to. "Possible? Yes. Difficult? Yes. Plus the fact that you'd have to deactivate the safeties."

"Computer: disengage safety protocols."

"Warning: disengaging safety protocols presents extreme risk of injury."

"Override."

"Tom..."

He simply continued, still looking up at the hoop. "Have you ever considered suicide?"

Chakotay considered lying, but didn't. "Yes. Once or twice. I suppose it's something that most people think about on occasion. What would it feel like? Would it hurt?"

"Which would be the easiest and quickest way to go?" Tom added. "I've been thinking. I could poison myself but as the replicators won't provide it I'd have to get something from sickbay without Doc noticing. I could phaser myself but knowing my luck I'd do it wrong and end up with a hole in my gut and it'd take me hours to die. So then I considered hanging myself. Not particularly pleasant but I suppose there's no real pleasant way to go."

Standing from the bench, Chakotay approached the younger man slowly. "Maybe I should just take you out in a shuttle. That would solve the problem."

Finally lowering his gaze from the hoop, Tom shook his head. "Nah - that might put you in danger as well. No point in both of us dying."

At least he was attempting to smile. "Why are you doing this?"

"I haven't had the best of luck, Chakotay. I'm in prison in New Zealand when this woman with strict but smiling eyes offers me an opportunity. I take it, and in return I get stuck seventy thousand light years from home. Not much of a problem, really. Home was never really anything special. And even if my career can't really get me anywhere out here at least I have a job that I *love*.

Then - of course - I fall for B'Elanna. We have a few mostly happy years but then she decides it's not working and it feels like she's physically stomping on my chest. It takes me a long time to get over it, but I do, and we're good friends now." Licking his lips, he wrapped the towel around one of his hands. "Then...there's the Captain. Some night later when we're both confused, lonely and drunk on whisky we end up sleeping together. Even though it's a one night thing I find myself wanting more but I understand. I comprehend her situation - apparently having an Admiral for a father wasn't all bad. Life continues."

"Life always continues."

Tom turned his head to look at him, before returning his gaze to his hands. "Then a man who has had feelings for her for *years* decides that she deserves a little happiness and pushes us together and...it seems to work. I mean it actually seems to *work*." Frowning, he swallowed. "She gets injured, seriously. As I'm in sickbay trying to help her and trying to focus on doing my job, I listen to what she says just before she loses consciousness. And I can't believe it - cannot believe that she could do this to me. Again, someone rips out my heart and chews on it for a good couple of hours before spitting it out." He looked up at the hoop once more. "I just figured I'd save anyone else the bother."

Shocked, Chakotay opened his mouth but didn't know what to say. "I-"

Tom swivelled around and threw the towel at the First Officer which he caught easily. "You know I should hate you?" His voice was intense, his eyes furious. "I should *hate* you. I watch the two of you for years waiting to see if you're actually going to get it on and then - somehow - you agree that you're not! What the *hell* is that about?" His body was tense, muscles coiled. "So you get all self-righteous and shove us together. You gave me some hope Chakotay; do you realise that? Do you know what that means to someone like me?"

"Perfectly," He answered, features neutral. "You think you're the only person in the Universe to suffer through bad experiences?"

Tom wasn't listening, couldn't listen, instead continuing his rant in an awed voice. "And she says something. In her most vulnerable moment she makes an admission that's impossible to take back. She whispers a name." Closing his eyes he turned away. "It. Wasn't. Mine."

And suddenly everything made sense. Chakotay had already managed to connect most of the dots but that piece of information drew the last line. Gods...shit! This was just so typical. Could never have an easy life, could they? He should have been overjoyed. "I had no idea," was all he could manage before he suddenly needed to sit. Knowing that he couldn't make it to a bench he thumped down onto the floor painfully with a complete lack of grace.

Sitting with his legs in front of him and his knees bent he lowered his head into his hands and leaned forward. "I don't believe this..."

"You didn't know?" A shocked voice asked. "Seven didn't tell you? Well...no, I guess she wouldn't."

"No," Chakotay muttered, pushing his hands back so they rested in his hair as he stared at the floor and fought the compulsion to run to sickbay, shake her awake, and ask her what the hell she was playing at.

But this whole situation was his fault.

"I'm sorry Tom, really." He almost laughed. "I had *no* idea..." Shaking his head in amazement, he finally removed his hands and looked up.

Tom was studying him intently. "I've just had an epiphany," he declared, refusing to admit to anyone that his eyes were a little moist.

"What's that?"

"You're not the only one who can be self-righteous," was all he would say before he rushed out of the room.

Gawking as he left, Chakotay turned back and looked at the towel resting on the floor that he hadn't even noticed he'd dropped. Tom may not have needed any exhausting exercise, but he certainly did.

Picking up the towel he struggled to his feet. "Computer: run Chakotay-beta-five."

"Affirmitive."

The familiar setting appeared and Chakotay walked to his locker and pulled out his gloves.

~FINIS

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