Tom looked appreciatively at the assembled crowd. His betting pool had gained some popularity in the few days since its inception. Even Harry was present and still contributing to the growing pot. "I've got too much invested to back out now," he explained.
"All right, people, your attention please." He held up his hands and waited for the noise to settle. "Thank you. Now I'm sure everyone here is anxious to hear the results of today's pool." The room responded with a loud murmur of consent. "But first," Tom smiled broadly as the cheers turned into groans, "let me say that, thanks to another carryover, some lucky person could be walking off with 64 replicator rations. Wow, someone could have a really good time with that many rations."
The crowd wholeheartedly agreed.
"Okay, this is the moment you've been waiting for." The noise dropped off to total silence. Tom cleared his throat and began his preset routine with the computer. "Computer, can you tell me what the radiogenic particle count was at 1200 hours?"
Particle density at the measured coordinates was 1-4-1-5 per cubic meter.
"And the winner is?" He waited the customary couple of seconds, knowing that the computer was programmed not to respond immediately to that question. "Computer?"
The computer still didn't respond, though. Concern creased his brow. "Computer?"
The silence finally broke, but not by the artificial voice of the ship. "There won't be any more winners."
Tom was a little surprised to see Chakotay. How had he found out so quickly? He turned to Harry, who only gave him a 'don't look at me, this is your funeral' look before sneaking off into a dark corner. The once eager participants of the Paris Radiogenic Sweepstakes quickly and quietly found other things to do.
"Oh, come on, Chakotay," he whinged. "We're just having a little fun, the recreational facilities of the Delta Quadrant being what they are."
The first officer showed no appreciation for his effort. "I've heard you're responsible for this, Lieutenant."
Tom added a measure of defiance to his attitude. "I didn't think Starfleet would have a problem with it."
"With a senior officer running a gambling operation and skimming profits from each day's proceeds. Now why would Starfleet have a problem with that?" The first officer looked around the room, his disapproving stare cowing the other crewmen. "Since you all seem to have extra replicator rations, you won't be needing these. Today's pot is hereby confiscated." Sounds of disappointment wafted through the room as he appropriated Tom's PADD.
"The captain's put a lot of faith in you, Mr. Paris," he said, soft spoken. "She'll be disappointed. You're on report." Chakotay walked back to the main entrance.
"Now there's a tough job, filling out reports." Tom took some satisfaction that his sarcasm stopped Chakotay in his tracks, midway through the door. He picked up a pool stick and turned back to the table. "But somebody's gotta do it."
He counted three full seconds before he heard the door click shut. Tom smiled to himself. The release felt good.
"Thanks a lot."
Harry's terse remark took the grin off his face. He'd heard that hurt before, just days ago when the ensign had figured out the scam. Tom let him leave. He already knew that Harry would forgive him before too long.
Tom couldn't wait to collapse on the sofa in his quarters. The day had not improved since the debacle in the holodeck occurred. He felt Chakotay's disapproving stare bore into the back of his head until it seemed like the first officer could get a clear look at his console. It made Tom a little self-conscious while filling in his conn report for the next shift. He'd managed to write it in one sentence - one, extremely long, detailed sentence. The command officer on duty would probably have a fit reading it. With Tuvok sustaining treatments in Sickbay for the consequences of his mind meld with Suder, Tom was ready for a more colourful confrontation with his replacement, Lt. Rollins.
The door quietly parted and for a brief moment Tom thought he had walked into someone else's cabin. His eyes anchored on a familiar keepsake, a model aircraft he had built, which verified that he was in the right place. It was the person sitting in his lounge chair who didn't belong. "What are you doing here?"
"Waiting for you," Leena answered. She stretched out her legs and re-crossed them. "I let myself in. I hope you don't mind." Her tone of voice suggested that she didn't care how he felt about her presence.
Tom slowly walked into the den. "I'd offer to make yourself comfortable but you're already way ahead of me." He settled into the sofa. "I haven't seen much of you the last couple of days. How's Tuvok doing?"
She examined her trousers, brushing away imaginary lint. "Recovering. I've never seen him show any sign of uncertainty before. I never want to again." She looked up, and Tom felt a chill. "I didn't come here to make small talk, Tom. I came here to get answers."
Tom's mouth went dry. He'd thought Leena had listened to him and had backed off, but it had only been a temporary reprieve. By all appearances his 'little push' had made her even more determined to interfere. He had taken a risk and it was about to blow up in his face. Why did she have to be so damn stubborn all the time?
"I heard about what happened this afternoon. Care to tell me why you thought stealing other people's replicator rations was a good idea?"
Tom choked on a laugh. "Stealing! It was a betting pool!"
"And you took a percentage of the daily wagers for your own gain. Not that I approve of illegal gambling activities in the first place, but you were taking advantage of them."
"What do you expect me to do, apologize?"
"It wouldn't surprise me if you did. All I seem to hear from you lately are promises and apologies."
His stare intensified. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means I'm beginning to wonder what you really want out of this relationship. Over the last few weeks it's felt like you've been humouring me, saying anything to make me more agreeable and less cognizant of the fact that we haven't spent a single evening together since the night we were intimate." Despite the rising heat of her emotions, Leena's voice remained quiet and steady. "Tell me, Tom, how many more days were you going to wait before dumping me?"
"Dump-" Tom began to laugh. "Just because we haven't had a night out for a few days? Now I know you've lost it."
"It's been weeks, Tom, not days. Even you have to admit that that's not a sign of a stable relationship."
"Okay, so it's a little longer than a normal hiatus, but I'm not completely at fault here. With Tuvok in Sickbay I thought you'd be too busy covering his shifts with the rest of Security." He jabbed a finger at her, cutting her off. "And don't argue that I could have made the effort to ask. The last time we discussed dinner I told you that I'd be available any time you wanted."
Her jaw slackened for a moment before she composed herself. "Okay, I'll give you that much. That still doesn't excuse the way you've been pushing me away, though. You've got an issue about something or else you wouldn't be causing so much trouble." Her face finally softened. "You don't have to struggle with it on your own, if you just tell me what it is."
With closed eyes Tom tilted his head back and sighed hard. She just couldn't let it go. "I can't tell you."
"Why not?" The desperation in Leena's plea tore at his heart. "Don't you trust me?"
He shook his head. "It's not about trust or lack of it. I just can't. I have to work this out on my own." He looked up and forced a stare into her jewelled eyes. "Please, let me do this on my own."
The room drifted into stark silence, their eyes locked unblinking upon each other. Tom's heart pounded against his chest, threatening to burst. It was the only tactic he had left to try, the mission seriously jeopardized if unsuccessful.
Just as he considered prompting her for a reply, Leena broke. "Okay," she said quietly. "If that's what you really want, okay. I just hope you conquer your demons before you do something you'll regret."
I'm already regretting it. He stood up and followed Leena to the door. "Listen, I thought about spending a couple of hours at Sandrine's tonight. Maybe you could stop by for a game of pool or something." He shrugged. "It's not exactly dinner, but we'd be spending some time together."
She appeared a bit hesitant. "I'll think about it," she said, noncommittal. She stood in the open doorway for an awkward moment. "Good night, Tom."
And she was gone. For the final time, Tom feared, as the door closed in front of him. He turned around and leaned against it. In frustration he pounded his fist against the wall. Congratulations, Tom, your mission is proceeding perfectly.
Tom carefully poured himself another glass, unwilling to waste a single drop of the precious liquor. The bottle had started out full. Less than half the contents remained.
He'd decided to visit the cargo bay in the hopes of finding some real alcohol to drown his troubles. He lucked out, finding a carafe he recognized from their brief visit with the Sikkarians. Voyager was lucky to have gotten any kind of supplies from them after Seska's attempt to steal their 'space folding' technology. Sandrine had gotten upset with him for bringing his own alcohol into her establishment, but left him alone after some cajoling.
Seska wasn't on the ship anymore, but still causing trouble. He chuckled to himself as he picked up the glass. "You sure know how to pick a crew, Chakotay. An agent of the Obsidian Order, a Starfleet security officer, a Betazoid sociopath," he said to no one. "Me - you can't argue a track record like that."
He tilted the glass back and let the liquid wash down his throat. It was sweet, potent and burned on the way down. It reminded him a lot of his relationship with Leena Calloway. A couple of hours must have passed already and no sign of her. He hadn't really expected her to show but was disappointed nonetheless.
He looked to his right, saw a younger man sitting a couple of stools away. "Ever met the one person you knew would complete your life, and let her get away?"
The crewman paid him no attention, still facing away. A little upset, Tom raised his voice. "Hey, I asked you a question."
He turned around, a look of confusion on his face. "Sorry, what?"
Standing, Tom picked up the bottle and glass and teetered his way to the seat next to the younger man. "I knew the moment I saw her that she was special," he said with a thick tongue, already forgetting his question from a minute ago. He took a pull straight from the bottle and draped an arm around his neighbour's back. "Of course, when we actually met for the first time she was kind of a bitch, but that wasn't completely her fault, she just had issues to work out. I helped her with that."
Tom didn't notice the crewman's forlorn look to anyone within sight. "That was, err, very good of you, sir."
He slapped the man on the back. "Nah, you give me too much credit. If you wanna know the truth, I did it first 'cause I thought it would help me score. The real feelings came later, after I found out the kind of person she is." He emptied the glass and then set it on the counter. He held the glass in both hands and studied the distorted pattern of lights reflected within, polishing the surface with his thumb. "Maybe this is the universe's way of evening things out. Start a friendship for the wrong reason? Hey, no problem, we can live with that. Wanna get serious about it? Kiss it good-bye, Tommy. You didn't deserve it anyway. Maybe the universe is right: a screw-up like me isn't good enough for a woman like her. Am I right?"
The young man didn't look the least bit comfortable. He was already edging off of his stool. "I don't know, sir. I'm really sorry to hear about your trouble, but I'm afraid I can't stay. I promised to help Gerron review procedures for conducting biological contaminant tests on plant and soil samples. He recently transferred to our natural sciences division."
Tom cared less what excuse was being fed him. He simply didn't appreciate the fact that the young man was trying to ditch him. "What, I'm not good enough for you, either?" Tom swayed as he got to his feet. "Is that it? You can't be bothered talkin' to someone beneath you?"
The crewman tried to keep a safe distance with every step Tom took forward. "That's not it at all, sir. I already explained -"
"Yeah, I know wha'cher all about." Either Tom's voice got louder or the tavern grew less boisterous as the scene developed. "You're just like her: you think I'm a worthless piece of scum who hasn't finished paying for his mistakes. You'd be happier if I was still rotting away in a prison cell instead of standing here, wearing your uniform and making a mockery of Starfleet."
The young man held up his hands submissively and continued to back away. "Sir, you've obviously had too much to drink. You're not being rational. Perhaps you ought to return to your quarters and sleep it off before you do something you might regret later?"
"Oh, so now you think you can order me around?" Tom's right hand curled into a fist. "Look, junior, I outrank you. I don't appreciate you telling me what to do." He took another step forward, putting the motion and momentum into his swing. The crewman didn't attempt to move or block the throw, too stunned.
Someone else blocked it for him. "Whoa, whoa, easy there, tiger. I don't think you want to be doing that."
Tom lit up with joy and surprise, forgetting the altercation. "Leena! You made it!"
"Just in time, apparently." She apologized to the young man, who nodded and went on his way. She turned back to Tom, irritated. "If I'd known this is what you were up to I would have been here a lot sooner."
"Hey, I got an idea. C'mon over here and have a drink with me," he pulled on her arm toward the bar, almost sending them both to the floor. "I found this great bottle of Sikkarian wine in the cargo hold. Actually I hoping to wait until you showed up before opening it - a sort of peace offering, you know - but after a while," he held up the nearly empty bottle, "well, I kinda gave up on that. Sorry."
"I've got an even better idea, Tom. Why don't we get you out of here and find you some coffee?"
"Don't you start, too." He straightened up, wobbling as he did so. "I can handle a bit of alcohol."
She nodded, unconvinced. "Right, so you almost clobbered Mr. Bronowski a few minutes ago because you didn't have anything better to do."
Tom laughed, putting the bottle back on the counter top. "C'mon, lighten up. I really wasn't gonna hit him, I was just testin' him, that's all. He passed." He put on what he thought was his charming smile and leaned casually against the bar. "Let's put all of that behind us and get back to what's important."
Leena crossed her arms over her chest. "And what might that be?"
"Well, I'm here. You're here. I don't know about you, but I think that makes a great start to putting us back on the right track."
She shook her head and sighed. "Tom...."
"I know we didn't exactly leave things on the right note a few hours ago, but we'll work through it. After all, you took my invitation and came." He walked over and embraced her. "You want this as much as I do."
To his utter shock, she pushed him off. "No, Tom. I thought I did. Not anymore."
He stumbled backward but braced himself against the bar before he tripped and fell. His eyes were wide. "What? Y-you can't mean that."
"I wasn't sure I was going to come at all tonight." She started pacing. "However, a part of me still wasn't willing to give up on us yet. You were right about that." A laugh escaped her, a short bark laden with irony. "But I come here and I find you, piss drunk, picking fights with innocent bystanders."
She stopped in front of him. He wilted under her stare. "This is how you've chosen to work through your problems? I'm sorry, but if you think I'm going to stand by and accept that you'd rather destroy yourself rather than ask for my help then you're sorely mistaken."
Tom's voice was weak. "Leena, you don't understand."
"You're right, I don't understand. I don't understand why I thought I could ever take a chance on you. I knew it was a risk, but I don't feel any less stupid now that I know I was right all along."
Tom wanted to scream, to yell out every single detail he knew about Voyager's resident saboteur and his covert mission, to profess his undying love and plead for her forgiveness. The words would not come. They could not. He knew when he accepted the assignment that certain sacrifices had to be made. This was one of them.
No warmth remained in Leena's voice, no emotion reflected in her eyes. "Goodbye, Tom." She turned and strode with purpose out of the tavern, the holodeck, and his life.
Tom had never felt more sobered.
On to Chapter 6...
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