He drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair, staring blankly at the PADD he held in the other hand. The list was short. Too short. What other ways could he disrupt the lives of his crewmates? He'd briefly considered publicly insulting Neelix and starting a food war in the mess hall, but that had already happened a couple of months ago during the mission to Planet Hell. Since then he and Neelix had made amends, even became friends. No, that would definitely raise suspicion. Maybe start an altercation with Bendera? He'd already planted the seed of dissent this morning. It probably wouldn't take much more to push Bendera across the line.
The chirrup of the door jarred Tom's attention away from the list. He checked the time. If his hunch was right, Leena had finally come to give him the third degree. He saved the list and loaded a random file to take its place. "Come in."
Leena walked in. She frowned when she saw the PADD in his hand. "Oh, I'm sorry. If I'm interrupting I can come back later."
"No, not at all. Make yourself at home. I'm just looking for some ideas to create a new holodeck program." He glanced at the display and was surprised by the information there. He'd have to remember that file number. "I wasn't expecting to see you tonight, though. What's with the surprise visit?"
Leena had opted to sit at the far end of the sofa, keeping a fair distance between them. She looked over at the wall, suddenly finding it interesting. "I just got off my shift and I was in the neighbourhood, so I thought I'd stop by."
Tom smirked. "Well, I guess it's my lucky day, then." He set the PADD aside and stood up. "Can I get you anything, a drink?"
She shook her head. "No, thank you."
He shrugged. He stepped over to the sofa and sat down next to her. Her gaze settled into her lap, not even wavering when he draped his arm around behind her. There was no doubt that she knew. Time to put on an act. "Hey, what's wrong?"
She breathed deep and looked up at the wall again. Her unwillingness to look him in the eye intrigued Tom. "Okay, so I wasn't exactly in the neighbourhood. I don't know if you've heard, but there's another new rumour about you circulating."
Tom growled irritably. "Don't the people on this ship have anything better to do?"
"They're saying that you had an argument with Commander Chakotay in front of the entire bridge staff, and insulted his friends and the rest of the Maquis." Still unable to meet his stare, she watched her hands work the folds out of her pant legs. "That didn't really happen, did it?"
Tom felt uneasy. Maybe Leena was just acting insecure in order to trap him? It seemed uncharacteristic, though. He had expected her to be a lot more aggressive. "Of course not," he said, laughing. "My replicator broke down this morning and I ended up running late for my shift. Chakotay wanted a reason for my tardiness and I explained that the technician who came had some trouble repairing it. It was probably a coincidence that the guy was one of Chakotay's former crew. That's the problem with scuttlebutt, it doesn't take much to get blown out of proportion." He steeled himself for her attack as he had anticipated.
Her reaction, however, took him completely by surprise.
She finally looked up at him, her eyes hopeful. "Really? You're not just saying something to make me feel better?"
Tom was awestruck. She believed him. No, more than that. She put her trust in him. She had come to him to validate the rumours rather than perform her own personal investigation. "No, no, of course not," he stammered, his mind working furiously to form a new angle of attack. He wasn't having much luck, however. She had left him no openings. "Hey, we both agreed to not keep anything from each other, remember?"
The tension in her shoulders melted away. For the first time since she had arrived, she looked comfortable. "That's a relief to hear. I never believed you'd behave disrespectfully to anyone. You may not always show it, Tom, but you have a good heart."
It hurt to lie, but Leena's exaltation hurt him worse. He'd never expected her to completely trust him even though he'd spent these months persuading her. But she had crossed him up. The moment he had always hoped for had come, at the worst possible time. She had made the leap of faith, not realizing that he was cutting down the safety net below her. Tom hated the thought but he had to sever ties with Leena, and soon, before he caused her too much pain.
Leena moved in closer, now content to show some affection. She ran her fingers through his neatly trimmed hair. "So, now that that's out of the way, let's move on to a more pleasant discussion. Would you have dinner with me tonight? I could probably be convinced to hang around here for the evening...or a while longer."
Tom was getting aroused. He extricated himself from her ministrations before he did something he'd regret later. "You know I would, I really would, but I can't. I'm giving Kes another flying lesson in about an hour. I already had something to eat when my shift ended."
Leena appeared disappointed by the rejection, then cheered up. "I should have expected you'd be up to something, you're not the type of person who sits in his cabin all evening. I guess we'll have to pick another night when neither of us are busy."
He nodded, relieved that she had bought yet another lie. Kes had completed her lessons over a week ago, a pace that impressed even Tom. "How about the night after tomorrow? I don't have anything major planned."
"I'll have to check, but I should be free." She smiled and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "Well, I suppose I should visit the mess hall while the food's still hot."
He walked her to the door, reluctant to see her go. He knew that there would be no turning back once she left. Just as the door opened he stopped her, pulling her back in for a soft passionate kiss. "I'm looking forward to that dinner already. Let me know."
Leena was slightly flushed. "Have fun with your lesson."
Tom lingered in the doorway, watching her go. He wished he didn't have to break her heart, but his mission wouldn't allow otherwise. He sighed and turned back to his quarters and his still unfinished list. With luck, Leena and Kes would not run into each other tonight.
The Sandrine's program was already running due to the captain's instituted 'open door' policy. It was actually nice to see: Tom interpreted the frequent use of his program as a sign that people appreciated his attempt at creating a feeling of home amid the unfamiliarity of the Delta Quadrant.
"Looks like someone's in a good mood tonight." Tom looked to his right as a woman with brunette hair approached him. She glanced around. "Is the ball and chain here with you again?"
That spoiled the good mood he'd just achieved. It had been less than an hour ago that Leena had left his quarters, blissfully unaware that she was once again about to be romantically uninvolved. "Ricki, be nice. I happen to like Leena."
"Well, I don't," she complained, crossing her arms. "She totally monopolizes you when you're here. And she's too tall."
Tom couldn't help chuckling at Ricki's petty jealousy. "Calm down, Ricki, this time I'm here on my own."
Ricki curled her arms around his waist, purring satisfaction. "Flying solo. Good. That means I have you all to myself tonight."
Which was convenient for Tom, since she was the reason he'd come to the holodeck in the first place. He'd come up with a brilliant idea shortly after Leena's visit and he knew that tomorrow night's game with Harry was the perfect opportunity to implement it. "Listen, I need to talk to you for a couple of minutes. Why don't we find a quiet corner somewhere?"
She smiled seductively. "I'm all yours."
Taking her by the hand, Tom led Ricki to a secluded table near the back of the bistro. Along the way he stopped a waiter and ordered a glass of Kerelian ale to be brought to the table. Then he escorted her into her chair and sat down opposite her, keeping the view of the entire room in front of him. He didn't want anyone sneaking up on him from behind.
Ricki leaned suggestively over the table. "So, what did you want to talk about?"
He quickly looked over her shoulder. "I've been thinking. This place could use a little more excitement. Do you remember the two weeks we spent in Coridan City?"
The hologram sat back and folded her arms across her chest. A sly smile gradually appeared. "I'm listening."
Tom scratched the stubble and grinned at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. This would be a perfect follow up from the previous morning. If being a couple of minutes late got Chakotay's goat, Tom couldn't wait to see his reaction when he showed up on time but in a dishevelled state.
The door announcer sounded, temporarily distracting him. He wasn't expecting company, especially not this early in the morning. Irritated by the realization that this unknown visitor had probably just ruined his latest prank, Tom picked up his electric shaver and poked his head through the doorway. "Who is it?"
He was surprised and dismayed to see Chakotay standing there. His prank was definitely ruined. He switched on the shaver. "Oh, it's you."
"Good morning to you, too," the commander replied. He crossed the threshold, allowing the door to close. He smirked as he took in Tom's wild hair. "Forget to set your alarm this morning?"
"Something like that." Tom disappeared into the bathroom again and reappeared a minute later with a comb in hand. "So why are you here, anyway? Come to personally escort me to the bridge to make sure I report on time?"
Chakotay frowned, his annoyance tangible. "No, Lieutenant, I didn't. However, after what happened yesterday I thought it would be best to talk privately." He held up a PADD as if it explained everything. "I just read your weekly shift report."
Tom resisted the urge to smile. In keeping with the mission, he had submitted a terse, poorly written report. It should have been sufficient to earn him a reprimand. Chakotay nearly obsessed with detail and articulation. Maybe it had something to do with his command training in Starfleet, but Chakotay always seemed dependent on being well informed about everything that required his attention. "Is there a problem, sir?"
"I'm not certain if this is a joke or if you're trying to tell me something. 'Flew the ship, didn't run into anything' is hardly what I'd consider an acceptable summary."
"I'm sorry, Commander. I thought you'd appreciate the brevity. I didn't realize you liked being a paper pusher."
Chakotay's face was a myriad of emotions: confusion, frustration, anger, curiosity. He probably couldn't figure out Tom's attitude. The question was there in his eyes, but left unvoiced. He handed the PADD to Tom. "I'm willing to drop this, so long as you rewrite your report the way I know you're capable of doing. I want this back by 1700 hours."
Tom glared at Chakotay. "Gee, you're all heart."
Chakotay frowned at the response. "You should be grateful. I could have shown this to the captain first."
"Yeah, fine, whatever." Tom tossed the PADD onto a nearby chair. "If you'll excuse me, Commander, my shift starts in five minutes. I wouldn't want to be late again, now would I?" Tom abruptly quit the conversation and left his cabin without showing Chakotay out.
Tom angrily chewed on a celery stick as he inserted action items into a brand new status report. He had intended to quickly stop by his quarters to retrieve the original copy, only to bitterly discover that the file's control block had been inexplicably corrupted. It would take the better part of 30 minutes to recreate the report from scratch. He hadn't planned on having a veggie dip plate for lunch, either, but the finger food would keep his hands free for work.
The electronic chime at the door was again unexpected, and unwanted. His work only half-finished, Tom was tempted to ignore the caller. However, after a moment's deliberation he decided to find out who was looking for him, find out what they wanted and quickly send them on their way. When he saw Leena his anxiety rose.
"So, you're still here. When Harry said you had to stop by your quarters I assumed that meant you'd eventually show up in the mess hall for lunch."
"Well, you know what they say about assumptions," Tom said, turning his attention back to the report.
She sniffed. "Cute." Tom heard her sit down in a nearby chair. "If I'm not prying, can I ask what's got you in such a good mood?"
Tom ignored her sarcasm. "Chakotay's making me rewrite my weekly shift report."
"Did he say why?"
"Just that it didn't meet standard Starfleet protocols, but that's a load of bull. He's been on my case since I showed up late for my shift the other day." Tom dipped the celery and took another bite. "As if it's my fault Bendera's a lousy technician."
"I can understand Chakotay's loyalty to his former crew, but I can't see him behaving vindictive like that. From my interactions with him I'd say he respects the contributions made by every person on the ship."
Tom looked at Leena, slightly annoyed with her even-handedness. "You don't know him like I do. Back in the Maquis we didn't exactly get along."
Leena crossed her arms, her head tilted into an angle of skepticism.
Tom continued before she could interrupt. "He covers himself well for the sake of the captain but his resentment's there, just under the surface. It will always be there, too. Forgiveness isn't exactly in his repertoire."
"Sounds like another interesting story. You'll have to tell me about it some time." Leena smiled coyly. "Maybe on our dinner date?"
The mentioning of the date jolted Tom's memory. His shoulders sagged. "So that's why you're here."
"I've taken a look at my schedule for the next week. I'm free for the night after tomorrow, or if that isn't good for you there's also Saturday or Sunday ni-"
"Leena, in case you haven't noticed I'm a bit busy right now," Tom said, waving his PADD in front of her. "I don't have time for this."
A flush crept into her cheeks, a tell tale sign that she was about to lose her temper. "Well, excuse me for having any interest in our relationship. I thought you really wanted to have dinner."
"I do." Tom decided to push her over the top. He started working on his report again as though she wasn't in the room. "Look, just a pick a day and time, I'm sure whatever you choose will be fine with me."
Her silence was ominous. Tom wondered if he should risk sneaking a look to see if she was about to blast him, but decided it would be better if he didn't see it coming.
"Okay. Fine." The room temperature suddenly felt cooler. He heard her move. "I'll let you know which night I've picked. Sorry to have interrupted." Leena's footsteps echoed mutely against the floor, then disappeared between the pneumatic whispers of his cabin door.
Tom sighed and looked up at the vacant chair. That could have gone better, he realized, but if he hadn't done something to discourage her it only would have made the inevitable task of breaking up even more difficult later on. She'd let his attitude slide again, though. He hadn't expected that. He'd been given a momentary reprieve, but certainly there weren't many more opportunities until she finally called him on it.
On to Chapter 4...
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