by Suz firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer - characters are Paramounts, blah, blah...
A month or two after the events in 'Comprehension'.
Tom Paris had never been one to believe that his future was written, that his life was planned out and that there was absolutely nothing he could do to change it. He preferred to believe that he could always choose his own path, his own fate.
There were, however, a few Universal Truths that he knew he would never be able to change; he would never reconcile with Admiral Owen, the fact he would always screw up, his complete inability to get the eight ball into the side pocket, and the obvious truth that the Captain and Commander belonged together.
For the first eight years of their journey home he had believed in all of them, particularly the last one. The rumours had been flying since the start of course, but it wasn't until they were trapped on that planet together that he really began to take them seriously. After they returned, they were...different somehow. Closer, but still not involved.
As time wore on they seemed to grow apart, but Tom - ever the romantic, as B'Elanna had insisted on teasing him - was convinced that they would get together. He even had several years worth of replicator rations invested in just that fact.
And then Tom - inevitably - screwed up. After breaking up with B'Elanna he began noticing the changes that had taken place aboard Voyager. Harry was dating Samantha. Chakotay was at the very least developing a close friendship with Seven. Neelix seemed to be getting disturbingly familiar with Megan. Perhaps most worrying of all, the Captain had no one to talk to.
It used to be that Chakotay and Seven were the only people that Janeway would talk to, confide in. As their relationship developed she withdrew from them both, withdrew from almost everyone. Even Tuvok couldn't get through to her.
That was when he'd screwed up. That was when he'd slept with her.
He still wasn't entirely sure why it had happened. He'd believed for nearly a decade that Janeway and Chakotay were right for each other and if he slept with Janeway it would probably ruin any chance of that happening.
But still he had.
A one-night stand, of course. Purely for physical release. And if he happened to get a little more emotionally involved than he should have, well that was entirely his own problem. It was nothing the Captain needed to know or concern herself with.
There were no urgent words to take it back or beggings for forgiveness after it had happened; they both knew what they were getting into. For that night Tom had realised any number of things and one of them was that Janeway refused to allow herself to develop romantic feelings for anyone under her command.
Sex was fine.
Hell, wasn't that how he'd lived most of his life? At least before Voyager, anyway. B'Elanna had changed him - probably for the better, he conceded - and although they were no longer together, he had fond memories of her.
He didn't see Janeway as a rebound after the break-up, more a joint decision to have a little fun. Was it possible that she was a retreat? Was he returning to the way he used to be?
He would never be that way again.
Janeway was a nice interlude, but it wasn't something he would make a habit of and it wasn't something he would repeat.
So why did it bother him to see Janeway and Chakotay eating together in the mess hall?
Perhaps because it was odd to see them anywhere together other than the bridge these days; perhaps because the only time he'd seen her laugh so freely was the night they'd made love. It seemed that - maybe - his commanding officers had worked out some of what had driven them apart.
Well, that was good. It would be terrific for morale if they became best friends again. General morale on the ship that is. One individual didn't seem to be taking it too well.
When she approached his table in the mess hall he had to blink several times to make sure it was her. He hadn't seen her looking hesitant about anything for a very long time. She sat without invitation, a custom she seemed to have regained over the past few days. Ever since the Captain and Commander had been spending time together, actually.
He prodded his cutlery into his food without energy. "Seven." He squished a pea to death with the prongs of his fork. "Lonely?"
Her response was immediate. "No. However I am confused."
"Why are you mutilating your food?"
Tom laughed, his first real laugh for quite a while. "Let's just say it's a pretty good indicator of how I'm feeling right now."
"You are using food to express your emotions?" Her voice was highly doubtful.
He wondered how she could still be so skeptical after everything they'd been through. Food mutilation wasn't exactly the strangest thing they'd encountered. "I guess so. Haven't you ever played with your food?"
"No. There is little point as the food I consume will end up the same no matter how much I...'play' with it."
Scrunching his nose up, he pushed his tray away from him. "Thanks for the mental imagery there, Seven." But he wasn't done yet. Holding out the fork towards her he tried to get her to take it. "Go on. Give it a try. You might enjoy it."
She regarded him with raised eyebrows. "That is highly-"
"-doubtful, I know. Just do it for *me* then. As a favour."
Seven nearly sighed, but took the fork from him. "Very well." Slowly lowering the fork downwards, she targeted a small collection of peas and carrots for destruction. Applying the necessary force she began to crush the food, squeezing the mushy parts outwards or up between the gaps of the fork's prongs. Her work done, she carefully placed the fork down. "Are you satisifed?"
He just rolled his eyes. "At least you didn't assimilate it."
She considered his words. "If you wanted me to assimilate it all that would be required-"
"Seven, I was joking."
And then he caught it. Just around the corners of her mouth. *She* had been joking with him. No wonder Chakotay liked spending so much time with her.
Picking up his fork again he continued playing with his food. "Yeah?"
"Why do you use food to represent your feelings instead of stating your feelings directly?"
It was all he could do to stop himself from looking towards the Captain. "Because it's nothing that anyone wants to hear, Seven."
She studied him for a few moments. "That is regretful."
Yeah, he wanted to laugh. Yeah it was.
A new voice turned their attention away from each other.
"Commander," she said, sounding almost shocked. Tom blinked at her reaction.
Chakotay smiled. "Sorry to interrupt, but it's 1900. I believe we have some time booked on the holodeck."
She nodded. "We do Commander. You are quite correct." She turned back to face Tom and he might have seen regret in her eyes. "It has been pleasant talking to you Lieutenant. Good evening."
"Bye," he mumbled as she quickly got out of her seat and he watched them both leave the room.
Well, what to do now? He could sulk some more, or he could do something constructive...the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Scanning the mess hall his eyes stopped moving when he saw Janeway. She was still sitting at the table where she'd been talking with Chakotay but now she was staring at him. He knew the instant when she realised he was looking back as her eyes widened before she quickly stood and left the mess hall.
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