The Paris Journals: Breaking Down and Breaking Even, vol. II

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From: crime@bu.edu (mary self)
Newsgroups: alt.startrek.creative
Subject: RE-REPOST: VOY – Breaking Down…
Date: 15 Jul 1996 19:40:17 GMT
Organization: Boston University
Message-ID: <4se6r1$pup@news.bu.edu>
NNTP-Posting-Host: acs.bu.edu
X-Newsreader: TIN [version 1.2 PL2]

Greetings all,

I first posted this story under the name of `Redemption’, but it
never made it to the archives, and since then, someone else has
posted a story by the same name. Soooo, I decided to go back, reread,
retitle, and while I was at it, clean it up a bit, too. Enjoy.

Carly

DISCLAIMERS: The original characters belong to Paramount, but the story and
the character of Caitlin Matthews are mine.

THE PARIS JOURNALS, vol. II

Breaking Down and Breaking Even
Part 1

by Carly Hunter
copyright 1996

This all started with me embarrassing the hell out of myself in front
of Cait the other night. Luckily, I was too drunk to care at the time. I had
taken Ensign Tarel to a private session at Sandrine’s for the purpose of
playing a little pool, having a few drinks, and well, you know. She’s a pretty
little thing from engineering, and after a couple of hours, we left the
holodeck. As usual, I had had a little too much scotch, the real stuff, not
the holo-crap, and I tried to steer her back to my quarters, making a few
suggestive remarks that she apparently found none to enticing. Next thing I
knew, her hand slapped me across the face. Hard.
I don’t remember what I said. The irony was that I didn’t really
want `her’ per se; I just wanted some woman in my bed. It’s an ego thing, what
can I say? I thought Cait had found someone; so I had to find someone, at
least bed someone. Stupid, huh? But that’s how it goes.
Anyway, the blow caught me off-balance and hurt like hell. I sagged
against the wall and brought my hand up to my stinging cheek. Tarel
stalked past me down the corridor. Her loss, I shrugged, watching her leave.
Yeah right, some loss. I turned around to continue my journey, and there stood
Cait with a cocky smile on her face. Great, the one person on the entire ship
I didn’t want to see.
“Bad first date?”
“Shuddup.”
She retreated a step. “Phew! No wonder. You’re plastered.”
“Nah, nah. I just had a few drinks to loosen up, that’s all.”
“A few? I hardly think so. Come on; let’s get you back to your
quarters.” She pulled the hand off my cheek and placed it around her
shoulders.
I tried to jerk away. “Nah, lemme go. I can make it on my own.
Whadda *you* care anyway?”
“Actually, I don’t care, Lieutenant.” She maintained her grip on me
and threw her other arm around my waist. “But I’m taking you back to your
quarters and that’s final. I’m security; it’s part of my job to pick-up
corridor derelicts.”
“Very well. You may take me back to my quarters.” I gave her a sloppy
smile. “But I’m warning you, this doesn’t mean I’m easy.”
Grimacing at my weak attempt at humor, she began leading me down the
hall. We proceeded slowly with her dragging me most of the way. The last
couple of shots were beginning to hit me pretty hard. A few meters from my
door, I poked her shoulder. “Know somin’?”
“What?” She gasped. “That you’re heavy?”
I sniggered. “Nope. You used to be softer, more squeezable.” My
finger poked her arm again. “You’re hard as duranium now.”
“That’s because I’ve been working out more.”
“Ahhh, that’s right. With Lt. Baxter, I hear.”
Cait nodded, and my nose wrinkled in jealous distaste. I’ve never
liked Baxter. He always looks down his nose at me, even though I’m taller.
I guess he’s one of the few, who still feels I don’t deserve to wear
the uniform. At that particular point in time, I couldn’t say I disagreed.
“Here you go, Lieutenant. Your quarters.”
The door slid open, and she drug me across the room, dumping me on the
sofa. Spinning on the replicator, she called out, “Dardan root infusion, hot.”
The steaming brew materialized almost immediately, and she held it out to me.
“Drink.”
It smelled awful, and I figured it probably tasted worse. “No.”
“Drink it, or I’ll force it down you. And believe me, in your
condition, it wouldn’t be difficult, only unpleasant.”
“Okay, okay.” I took the mug from her, screwed up my rather sodden
courage, and swallowed. “Ugh. I’m drinking. Now, are you satisfied?”
She leaned back against the wall and crossed her arms over her chest.
An eerily evil grin settled on her mouth. “We’ll see.”
I glared at her in distrust. I couldn’t figure out why she had- And
then it hit me, as I gradually began to feel warm and queasy. I tried to hold
it back, but it became rapidly evident I couldn’t. “Excuse me.” I clamped
a hand over my mouth and bolted for the bathroom, barely reaching the sink
in time.
Between heaves, I heard her amble in. “Here.”
I looked up at our reflections. I was pale as a ghost; she looked
vaguely amused. I splashed some water on my face and reached back blindly for
the towel she proffered. Patting dry, I stared angrily at her smirking
reflection. “Why the hell did you have me do that?”
“I wanted you to get as much out of your system as possible before you
went to bed.”
The puckish twinkle in those green eyes was not lost on me. “Unh-hunh,
and I’ll bet you’re enjoying this, too.”
“There is that.” She conceded. “But I also heard from a very reliable
source that if you show up for duty hungover another time, the Captain may
relieve you from conn, permanently. And I didn’t think you would enjoy having
that done.”
“Where did you hear this tidbit?”
“I’m not at liberty to say. Now get yourself some water before we put
you to bed.”
After downing a few handfuls of water and brushing my teeth, I
followed her into the other room. Collapsing on the bed, I bent down to remove
my boots. To my surprise, she knelt down and began helping me. I grinned,
ruefully. “I bet you don’t have to this for Lt. Baxter.”
“Actually, no,” she replied, tugging on a boot. “I’ve never even, oof,
seen him drunk. He takes care of himself.”
“Meaning I don’t?”
“To be honest? No, not lately. In fact, I’ll bet I could beat you by
a full length in the Pacifica race.”
It was a swimming program we had created when we first started seeing
each other, and up until we parted company, I had always beaten her easily.
I cocked my head to one side. “You think so?”
She grinned maliciously. “Care to try your luck? I’ll even give you
a head start.”
“Now?”
“No time like the present.”
I groaned and reached for my boots. “It would hardly be a fair race,
but if you want to. . . ”
Firm hands pushed me back on the bed. “I’m joking. Lie down and I’ll
tuck you in.”
I smiled up at her as she pulled the covers over me. “You know you
lied to me earlier. You do care.”
She ruffled my hair. “Okay, maybe a little, but don’t let it go to
your head. Now get some sleep.”
“Yes, mother,” I teased, obdiently shutting my eyes.
“Sleep mode,” Cait called softly. “See you at breakfast, Lieutenant.”
“Mmm-hmmm, not if I see you first,” I muttered, rolling over onto
my side.
A brief chuckle came from both of us, and for an instant, the
familiar, teasing warmth resurfaced. Then, she turned on her heels and left
my quarters.

The heat hit my face in a pain-relieving torrent, and I groaned in
pleasure as water from the shower flowed over my body. Yeah, I was hung
over, but not as badly as I thought I’d be. I guessed Cait’s foul potion had
done its job. Grabbing the soap, I began vigorously scrubbing my body. I had
to be bright-eyed today; if Cait was right, I sure as hell didn’t want Janeway
tossing me off the duty roster.
After rinsing off, I changed the water to cold for a final wake-up call
to my sluggish body. “Yeow! Okay, that’s enough.” I shut off the water and
wrapped a towel around my shivering body. I dried off energetically before
peering into the mirror. The ol’ blue eyes were a tad pinker and puffier than
normal, the skin perhaps a little too pale, but overall I looked okay. Besides
a little food and some coffee can do wonders.
Ten or so minutes later, I sauntered into the mess, not too much the
worse for wear considering my condition last night. Harry and B’Elanna sat
at their usual table and waved their greetings. Smiling back, I wandered over
to the server, filling my tray with fresh fruit, toast, some yogurt-like
substance and two cups of coffee.
Harry noticed the coffee and grinned. “A late night with
Ensign Tarel?”
Sh*t. I cleared my throat. “Um, no. Actually, I don’t think we hit
it off all that well.” Luckily, my pun was lost on them.
Concern crossed my friend’s face. “I see,” he replied, exchanging
worried glances with B’Elanna.
Torres set down her coffee mug. “Listen, Tom, maybe you should
talk to someone; maybe even have Chakotay introduce you to your spirit guide.
It’s helped me in the past; although, I’ll deny it if you tell him.”
I glared at her over the top of my cup. “Exactly what are you trying
to say, B’Elanna? That I’m a drunk? That I can’t handle my own problems?”
“No, no, that’s not what we’re saying at all,” Harry hastily
interceded. “But ever since you and Caitlin split up, you have been drinking
more, and as your friends, we don’t want to see you get in trouble, that’s all.
I mean, the Captain was pretty angry with your performance last week.”
I winced. I had shown up for duty really hungover one morning and had
to leave the bridge to be sick. It had only been that once, but boy, did I get
dressed down for it. “Tell me about it. My ears are still ringing. Look, I
know you two are trying to help, but I can handle this myself. If I can’t, I
don’t belong at conn in the first place.”
The doors to the mess slid open and Cait entered in conversation
with Lt. Baxter. As they passed by, she caught my eye, raising one eyebrow in
that familiar expression of I-told-you-so superiority. I flashed her a tiny
grin and shrugged my shoulders as they joined the cue at the server.
My companions eyed me curiously. “What was that all about?” B’Elanna
finally demanded.
“Oh, nothing.” I wasn’t exactly anxious to reveal my actions of the
previous evening in light of what had just been said.
“It didn’t look like nothing. I thought you were with Tarel last
night.” (Sometimes B’Elanna just can’t let things go, which irritates the hell
out of me.)
“Okay, okay. I had a little too much to drink and Cait helped me home.
That’s all. Satisfied?” I glanced over at Cait and wiped my mouth with the
napkin. It was as good a time as any to thank her. “Excuse me a minute.”
I crossed the room and came up behind her, reaching over her shoulder
on the pretense of getting another piece of toast. “I want to thank you for
what you did last night,” I whispered. “You probably saved my position.”
She nodded, selecting some fruit. “How do you feel?”
A penitent grin formed on my lips. “A little sluggish, but nothing
compared to what I would’ve felt like, thanks to you.”
“You’re welcome,” she acknowledged moving down the line. “But I don’t
intend to make a habit of it, Lieutenant; you’d better clean up your act.”
“I know, I know. Harry and B’Elanna were just saying the same thing,
and you’re right. But about that little challenge you made last night.”
“What little challenge?” She looked up at me for the first time since
I came over.
“The Pacifica race. You know, you by a full length.” Swimming almost
ranked up there with piloting for me; it was one of the few things I was really
good in at the Academy.
Cait gave a small chuckle. “Oh, that. What about it?”
“Well, I’ll bet you a dinner of your choice that you can’t win by the
amount you said.”
Her green eyes glittered. Rarely would she pass up so direct a
challenge. “All right, you’re on. How’s 1700 hours on holodeck 1 suit you?”
Taken aback by her sudden acceptance, my jaw fell open. “1700?
Today?” I had hoped for next week so I could practice, but she nodded forcing
me to acquiesce. “Okay. You’re on. Replicated dinner of winner’s choice.”
She grinned. “See you then. Oh, and by the way, Lieutenant, I like-”
“I know what you like,” I replied suggestively. “A good sem’hal stew
with yamok sauce.”
Cait wrinkled her nose. “Very funny. I wonder if you’ll be laughing
so hard by 1715 hours.” Baxter came up beside her and placed a mug of coffee
on her tray. Yep, there was blatant resentment in his eyes. “Oh, thanks,
Walt. So, 1700 hours, Lieutenant. See you then.” She moved off with the
little twerp, and I returned to my seat.
Thoughtfully munching down on the toast, I slowly became aware of both
sets of eyes upon me. “What?”
Harry sat forward. “That’s what we want to know. What was all
that about?”
“Just a little bet that I can’t allow myself to lose. Hey, we’d better
get a move on.”
He checked the chronometer. “Damn! You’re right.” Gulping down the
last of his juice, he stood up. “Later?” He grinned at B’Elanna as he stooped
down to kiss her.
“Later,” she replied with a wink.
His smile broadened. “C’mon Tom.”
Cait was right. They do make a good couple.

At 1650 hours, I arrived at holodeck 1, planning to do a few warm-up
laps before Cait arrived. I didn’t think I could be that out of shape. Sure,
I hadn’t been working out as much as I used to, but I could still run 1600m in
five minutes, which wasn’t too shabby. “Computer, run program Matthews four.”
“Program is already running.”
“Damn!” As the doors opened, I spotted Cait slowly pulling herself
through the lagoon’s blue waters. I sat down on a rock and removed my shoes
and sweats. The sand was warm between my toes bringing back memories of our
previous trips when swimming wasn’t all we did.
Her slender body glided through the water. She has a smooth, strong
stroke, and would’ve easily made the team at the Academy. Even from where I
stood, though, she looked like she had lost weight, and for a brief instant,
I could remember how soft her curves used to feel pressed against me.
Brushing aside the past, I marched defiantly into the water and swam
up beside her, matching her stroke for stroke. When we reached the starting
platform, she pulled herself out.
“I take it you’ll want to warm up a little.”
“Yeah, but only for a lap or two. I’ll be right back.”
After my second lap, I stopped and pulled myself out. “Ready?”
“Absolutely,” she responded. “Computer, initiate starter character.
By the way, nice gut you’re developing.”
I looked down. She was right. I used to have more pride in my
condition, but I couldn’t let her know that. “Shut up and get ready to lose,
Matthews.”
We took our positions and waited for the starter’s signal. On the
hologram’s command, we dove in, with my height giving me the early lead. But
Cait’s pace was strong and even, matching mine by the start of the third lap
and pulling ahead by its end.
On the fourth lap, she began a sprint for the finish. I couldn’t
believe it. I was exhausted, but I couldn’t let her win. I sped up my own
pace, but she had too much of a lead, her hand touching the platform half a
length ahead of mine. My chest threatened to explode as I gulped down burning
lungfuls of oxygen. I had lost! Me! I never lost this race.
“Well, I owe you dinner.” I heard her say, her palm smacking the water
in frustration. “I really thought I could win. Damn!”
“If it’s any consolation,” I panted. “I think I may have hastened my
own demise preventing your victory,”
She paddled over to me. “Tom, are you okay?” Green eyes peered
anxiously into my face.
With one more large intake of air, I flashed her a tiny grin. “Yeah,
I’ll be fine. You were right. I’m not in as good a shape as I thought I was.
And you don’t owe me dinner.”
She nodded vigorously. “Yes, I do. I only beat you by a half a length
not a full one, as we agreed on.”
“A full length, a half length, it doesn’t matter. You beat me soundly.
If there had been one more lap to go, I wouldn’t have made it. I owe you
dinner.”
She shook her head in protest, but I persisted. “Cait, you beat me;
you never used to beat me. You were right; I owe you dinner; and that’s
final.”
“All right, if you insist. I want-”
I held up my hand. “Let me guess. You want a steamed lobster with
melted butter, priacate, steamed vegetables, and warm French bread drizzled
with roasted garlic olive oil. Accompanied, of course, by a chilled white
wine. And for dessert a Saurian brandy cake with whipped cream.” I laughed at
her shocked expression. “Am I right?”
“I can’t believe you remembered all that.”
“I should remember it. I’ve owed it to you often enough. Now, when
do you want to partake in this feast? Tonight?”
She shook her head. “I can’t tonight. How about tomorrow night at
1900 hours?”
“Okay, 1900 hours, my quarters.”
Cait gulped. (I think she was afraid I might have ulterior motives.
All right, so I did. I’ll admit it.) “Um, your quarters? I kinda figured it
would be in the mess.”
“And torture all those poor crewmen forced to eat Neelix’s latest
creation? You’d be lucky to get out alive, much less have a bite of lobster.”
We both giggled at the thought of crazed crewmen descending en masse
upon a poor, tiny lobster. She grinned. “I guess you’re right; 1900 hours,
your quarters. I’d better be going now. Walt’s picking me up for dinner.
Shall I leave the program running for you?”
My back stiffened at the mention of `his’ name. To be swimming here,
alone, knowing she was with him was a painful thought. “No, I’ll leave with
you.”
As we waded up on shore, I took my first really good look at her.
“You have lost weight.”
“Maybe a little, but I’m not eating any less. Why?”
“No reason,” I replied, stooping to pick up both our towels. “I could
just tell, that’s all.” I tossed her towel to her.
She glanced down at her body. “I thought I looked pretty good.”
“Oh no, you do. I didn’t mean that you didn’t.” My face grew hot.
“I just thought . . .well . . .never mind. It doesn’t matter anymore.”
“You just thought what? C’mon, Paris, level with me.”
“I, ah, I just thought you looked better when you were a little more
curvy.” Embarrassed, I stared intently at the sand under my feet before
glancing back up.
“Oh.” Cait’s cheeks also began to flush. Self-conscious, we quickly
pulled on our clothes and headed for the door. “You ready to leave?” She spun
around and crashed into me, unaware of how close I was behind her.
My hands shot out, catching her by the elbows, and for an all-too-brief
moment, I held her as she regained her balance. “You all right?”
She gazed up into my baby blues and nervously stepped back. “Yeah, I’m
fine. Sorry. Computer, end program.”
The doors opened as the scene blinked out of existence, and we stepped
into the corridor. “1900 hours, tomorrow.” I reminded her before heading
in the direction of my own quarters with battered ego in tow. Yep, I was
definitely going to have to make some changes, starting that evening. No more
drinking, no more wallowing in self-pity. I had to take charge if I didn’t
want to end up like the Tom Paris I used to be.

THE PARIS JOURNALS, vol. II

Breaking Down and Breaking Even
Part 2

By Carly Hunter
copyright 1996

At dinner, I chose only a salad, steamed vegetables and some bread,
with no dessert. Both Kes and Valaxis were helping Neelix in the kitchen, and
I shot all three a hopeful smile before moving on to a table.
“Is that all you’re eating?” Harry asked as I sat down.
“Yeah, so?”
He shrugged. “No reason. You just normally get more. By the way, are
you going to Sandrine’s tonight?”
“I hadn’t thought about it. Probably.” I took up a forkful of
veggies. “Why?”
Harry shot B’Elanna a nervous glance. “Well, it’s just that the
Captain’s going to be there tonight-”
“So? She’s entitled to come.”
“That’s not all. Caitlin may be there, too, with Baxter, and we don’t
want you to get in any trouble. Remember what happened the last time the three
of us met there.”
Actually, the only thing I remembered was waking up with a pounding
headache in the brig, where Tuvok informed me that I had trashed the bar pretty
well with little or no provocation. I shook my head. “Harry, Harry, Harry.
That was the old Tom Paris; what you see before you now is the new and improved
version. I had my wake-up call this afternoon, and I shall respond in kind.
In fact, I won’t have a drop of anything non-holographic tonight. I’ll be the
perfect gentleman, you’ll see.”
“Considering how you’ve been spending your replicator points recently,
I’d be surprised if you could afford a shot of Dalanian gin, much less a bottle
of the stuff,” B’Elanna observed drily.
The hand which held my next mouthful of food froze midway between my
lips and the plate. “Damn!” I exclaimed, although stronger language did
come to mind. “I forgot all about that. Excuse me.” I dashed over to the
replicator. “Computer, display on-screen the replicator account of Paris,
Thomas Eugene. Damn!” My palm smacked the wall. The amount wasn’t even
enough for a dinner for one. As I stood there fuming at my own idiocy, a hand
placed itself on my shoulder. I spun around. “What?”
“Is there a problem, Lieutenant?” Chakotay asked cooly. “Or do you
plan to start taking out your aggressions on all the replicators?”
The Commander’s condescending quiet has always bothered me to some
degree, but never more so than right then. I wanted to punch that damned
serenity off his face so badly, I could hardly see straight. Instead, though,
I squared my shoulders, drawing myself up to my full height, which is slightly
above his.
“No sir. I just thought I had more points than I did. Excuse me.” I
pushed past him and returned to my seat, my earlier jubliance rapidly
vanishing. “B’Elanna, how long until the next ration alotment?”
“Two weeks. Don’t tell me you’ve used yours up.”
“No, but I don’t have enough to keep a promise I made.”
“Can’t whatever it is be put off?” she inquired. “Or is it really
important, like a date?”
“It’s not a date. I just owe Cait dinner.”
Harry’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh? When did this occur? Tom, you’re
not trying to get her back, are you?”
“Hell, no. I’m not that crazy.” I lied pointedly, trying to convince
myself as much as my companions. “This is only the outcome of that bet I told
you about this morning. I lost, and I owe her dinner. We agreed to tomorrow
night, but how am I going to come up with the rations?”
Torres regarded me unsympathetically; she has never been too patient
with my `faults’. “You can’t. Tell her the truth and postpone payment for
two weeks.”
“In other words, confess what a miserable, weak person I am and ask for
her patience in regards to settling a debt.”
“Yes.” She regarded me steadily. “Caitlin will understand.”
“I’m sure she would.” I sneered. So much for my relatively good mood.

“Hey, Tommy boy, ya gonna bust up the joint again?” Gaunt Gary bent
down to make a shot as I entered Sandrine’s.
“No, I hadn’t planned on it,” I looked around the room nervously.
The Captain wasn’t there yet, and neither were Cait and Baxter. Nodding to
B’Elanna and Harry who were already at a table, I crossed over to the bar.
“Sandrine, a glass of burgundy, s’il vous plait.”
“Oui, Thomas, but if you so much as break a glass, you will be out!”
The petite blond pointed at the doors.
I leaned over the bar, gazing at her with blue-eyed innocence. “Would
you really throw me out, Sandrine? I’ve always been your best customer.”
“With customers like you, I will not have a bar for much longer,” she
replied, her manner softening slightly. “But I would miss you, mon coeur.”
Her fingers slid down the length of my jaw and off my chin.
“I knew you would, and I would miss you, too.” I grasped her hand,
planting a light kiss on the knuckles.
She sighed. “But not as much as you miss Caitlenne? Oui?”
My smile faded as I took a sip of wine. “Oui.” Sometimes she’s too
observant, just like the real Sandrine.
“Ahh, a woman can always tell. The price of love is tres cher, is it
not?”
“Much too dear at times, Sandrine.” I lifted my glass. “To love,” I
toasted sarcastically.
A cue stick tapped me on the shoulder. “Hey, are we going to play or
not?”
“Yeah.” I spun around and managed a smile when Harry’s gaze fell on
the glass. “Holo-wine, I swear. I promised to stay sober, remember?”
He nodded as we moved to the table. “I believe you. Shall I rack them
up?”
“Be my guest,” I replied, chalking my stick.
CRACK!
My break sank the 11, and I followed it up quickly, easily pocketing
the 13 and 15. The shot on the 14 was a little more difficult, but I managed
it.
“Are you going to clear the table?” Harry winced, as I walked to the
other end, thoughtfully chalking the end of the cue.
I smiled. “Maybe.” Bending down, I took careful aim at the 10.
Clunk! My gaze turned next to the 9 sitting three-quarters of the way down
the table. Miss! “And maybe not,” I sighed, straightening up. “Your shot.”
He got off two successful shots before the doors opened, and
Captain Janeway and Chakotay entered. Smiles and greetings were exchanged,
although close scrutiny was reserved for yours truly. Harry bent down again,
sinking the 5, 7, and 2 in rapid succession, leaving himself a beautiful set-up
on the 1.
“You’ve been practicing, haven’t you?” I tried to hide my depression
over my impending defeat. I had a feeling it was going to be one of those
evenings.
He grinned. “Yep.”
The doors to Sandrine’s opened again, and Kes wandered in, deep in
conversation with Cait. The two didn’t normally speak together like that, even
though they were on good terms. I strained my ears, but only caught fragments
of what was being said.
“And you think-?” Cait inquired.
“I’m not sure, but that’s what it looked like. You could always
check-”
“No, you’re probably right. So I should probably-”
“I think it would be for the best,” Kes replied. “We’ll talk later.”
“All right. Give Valaxis a hug for me.”
“I will.” Kes turned and waived to the rest of us before exiting.
Ever since she had my godson, she doesn’t hang out with the rest of us as much
as she used to, and I miss that.
“Hey, Tom.” Harry called my attention back to the table. “It’s your
turn to rack them up.”
“Huh? Oh yeah.” Keeping one eye on Cait and the other on what I was
doing, I set up the balls in the familiar stripe-solid-stripe formation.
“There you go,” I said, pushing them into position on the table and removing
the rack. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
There was no escaping it. B’Elanna was right; I had to tell her.
There was no way I could augment my rations before tomorrow night. Of course,
I didn’t actually have to tell her why, just postpone the date for two weeks;
how hard could that be?
All the eyes in the place followed me as I sidled up to the bar beside
Cait. “Buy you a drink?”
“Okay, but just because I let you, doesn’t mean I’m easy,” she retorted
borrowing my line from the previous evening.
“Thief,” I teased. “Two burgundies, Sandrine.” Cait glanced dubiously
at my empty wine glass. “Don’t worry; it’s holo-wine. This afternoon taught
me a lesson.”
She smiled smugly. “Good. It was supposed to.”
My jaw dropped about twenty meters. The little bi*ch had planned it.
“You-you scheming little- You arranged all that?”
“Everything except your defeat. If you had won, well, so much for my
brainstorm, but Kes and I figured actions, not words, were what was needed to
draw your attention to the situation.”
I sank down onto a bar stool. I should’ve been mad, but I wasn’t.
They had gotten me and gotten me good. “You crafty little beasts; you know me
too well.”
Cait threw back her head in laughter. “Someone had to step in and save
you from yourself.” She took a sip of wine and sobered slightly. “Listen,
about tomorrow night, I’m really sorry, but I can’t make it. I was thinking
we could reschedule it for later, perhaps in a week or two, depending on what
my shift schedule is like.” She cocked her head to one side. “I hope you’re
not too disappointed. I’m not backing out; you still owe me that lobster.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was almost like she had read
my mind; either that or B’Elanna or Harry had talked to her. I frowned and
jerked a thumb over my shoulder. “Have you been talking to the `happy
couple’?”
Looking genuinely surprised, she shook her head. “Nope, this is the
first time I’ve had an opportunity to speak to them all day. Why?”
“Never mind. It doesn’t matter. This week, two weeks from now,
it’s not like either of us are getting transferred off Voyager. Cheers.” I
grinned at her over our clinking glasses.
“Cheers.” She smiled back, her eyes dancing in the firelight. Gods, I
missed flirting with her. It just seemed so natural, so much a part of us.
The doors opened behind her and Baxter entered. I slid off my seat.
“Uh-oh, your boyfriend’s here. I’ll leave now.”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” she retorted hastily.
“Oh?” That comment took me by surprise, but his arrival at her elbow
prevented me from exploring it any further. Nodding my silent greetings, I
headed back to the pool table. Harry had given up on me as an opponent and
was now playing a game with Chakotay, so I sat down with B’Elanna. “I thought
you said Walt and Cait were seeing each other,” I whispered.
She stared at me. “They are.”
I reclined back in the chair and got comfy. “Not according to Cait.”
I smirked.
“What?”
I leaned over and in a hushed tone related the recent conversation.
“Well, I thought they were. I mean, they spend a lot of time
together,” she whispered back. “And I just assumed-”
I raised one eyebrow. “Did she ever tell you they were?”
“No, she didn’t. I guess I made a mistake.” She blushed slightly.
“No wonder Chakotay looked at me funny when I said it.”
Chakotay! Baxter, I could handle, sort of, but Chakotay? Against him,
I didn’t stand a chance with Cait. *No! Now get a hold of yourself, Thomas.
You’re doing exactly what B’Elanna did.* I took a deep breath and tried to
push out the heavy blackness slowly seeping into my chest. *I need a drink.
No! No, I don’t. I’ve got to deal with this. I’m going to deal with it.* I
watched the Commander execute a flawless bank shot and felt the familiar ache
worsen.

The rest of the evening passed uneventfully, and by 2300 hours, I was
back in my darkened room, alone, but sober. Sinking down on the bed,
I held my aching head in my hands. Somehow, I had managed to smile, chuckle,
and even laugh my way through the night; all the while keeping one eye
on Chakotay and one on Cait. An hysterical giggle slipped out of my mouth.
I was getting as bad as Neelix used to be, jealous of every male that comes
into contact with her. If I wasn’t careful, Tuvok would be making the list.
I lay back and stared up at the ceiling. Months had passed since
I had moved into these new quarters, and at first, I had handled it okay.
Sure, I had talked Harry’s ear off and drunk a little here and there, but that
was normal for me. It wasn’t until I noticed Cait hanging out with Baxter, and
B’Elanna referred to him as Cait’s boyfriend that I had really started hitting
the stuff.
But I couldn’t do that anymore. I had to clean up my act. I couldn’t
throw away everything I’d achieved. My fingers caressed my rank insignia.
Whatever I had lost, those two pips meant there was still hope, even for me.
The door chimed. Raising my head slightly, I called out, “Come in.”
“Tom?” Cait took two steps into my room, pausing to let her eyes
adjust to the darkness.
“Cait?” I rolled off the bed, bringing myself up directly in front
of her, perhaps a little too close. “What can I do for you?”
She took an uneasy step backward. “I, uh, it’s silly, really. I just
thought I owed you an explanation about Walt and myself.”
“What kind of explanation? Is he your boyfriend or not?” A moment of
panic seized me; maybe I had misheard her earlier.
“No, he’s not. I think maybe he’d like to be, but right now, he’s just
a friend, you know, a buddy, someone to joke around with.” Her hands twisted
nervously, which was odd. Usually, she was the calm, collected one. “And,
well, I thought you might like to know. It wasn’t until you mentioned it this
evening that I realized the mistaken impression we must have been giving the
rest of the ship.”
“So officially, you’re not seeing anyone right now?” I inquired, and
she nodded. I was so happy I could’ve done cartwheels. “Cait, why are you
telling me this?” I whispered, drawing closer than I knew I should.
“I-I just didn’t want you or anyone else to have the wrong idea about
Walt and myself.” She started to back away. “That’s all.”
One of my hands shot out and grabbed her arm, while the other firmly
grasped her chin, tilting it upward. I stared deeply into her eyes. “Is that
the only reason?”
Her eyes closed, and I could tell she was fighting a battle inside.
Selfishly, I wanted her to lose. “No!” She pushed hard against my chest,
breaking my hold. “Tom, please don’t do this.” She backed away into the
corridor as the door slid open behind her.
“Cait, wait. I didn’t mean to-” I followed her, but she fled down the
empty passageway. “Damn!” I cursed, ramming my fist forcefully into the wall.
“Damn! How stupid can I be?” I shook my now-throbbing hand.
“I believe the answer to that question is as yet undetermined,
Lieutenant.”
I spun around to find Tuvok eyeing me with only mild curiosity.
“I believe, Mr. Paris, that you will find the construction of these
bulkheads to be quite impervious to your blows. Should you still require
an object upon which to satisfy your pugilistic desire, might I suggest
you try the gym or the holodeck. You should find them more suitable and less
potentially damaging.” His gaze dropped to my hand. “In the meantime, may I
recommend a trip to sickbay, as your hand appears to require medical
attention?”
I glanced down at the the red, bleeding knuckles. “No sir. I don’t
think that will be necessary.”
I stepped back into my room, ducking into the bathroom. Rinsing my
hand off under cold water revealed the scrapes to be minor, hardly worth
mentioning to the Doctor. I slumped against the basin. “What have I done?”
I asked my reflection. “I’ve got to apologize to her.” I walked to the door.
As it slid open, I collided with Lt. Baxter.
“You bastard!” Snarling, he grabbed my uniform and spun me hard into
corridor wall. “What the hell did you do to her?”
Before I could answer, a fist slammed into my gut, and I doubled over.
Two hands lifted me back up and shoved me once more against the wall. The same
fist smashed across my face, making the stars dance. Warm blood oozed out the
side of my mouth.
“Answer me!” he demanded knocking me into the wall for a third time
before releasing me and stepping back.
I crumpled to the ground, struggling to regain my lost breath.
“Nothing happened. . . I swear. . . She just came by to tell me something.”
“Liar!” The two hands lifted me off the floor and I closed my eyes,
waiting for the newest punch. It struck me hard on the nose, and I felt the
initial gush of blood flow down my upper lip.
“Go ahead.” I dared. “Hit me again, if you think I deserve it. Oof!”
My breath was stolen by another blow to my stomach.
“Lieutenant!” The Commander’s voice was sharp.
Baxter whipped around, letting me go, and I collapsed, gasping, onto
the floor. Chakotay knelt beside me.
“Tom, are you okay? Let me look at you.” He gently lifted my bloodied
face until it was level with his own. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Three,” I grunted.
“Okay. You’ll survive. Now, which one of you wants to tell me what
this is about?”
“I’m not completely sure, sir,” Baxter replied.
“Come again?” The Commander rose from his crouch. “Do you mean to
tell me that you’ve been hitting a fellow officer and you don’t know why?”
“Not exactly, sir. You see, well- it’s private.”
“Private?” Chakotay looked from Baxter to me, as I struggled to my
feet. “Paris, is there something you would like to add to clarify this
situation?”
I weakly shook my pounding head. “No sir.”
“Very well. Baxter, take him to sickbay immediately, and if I hear of
anything else, you’ll both be on report and confined to quarters. Understand?”
“Yes sir,” we both responded. In spite of the underlying friction that
still exists between us, I have to admit sometimes Chakotay can be all right.
If this got back to the Captain, it would be good-bye conn position for me.
Baxter made a move to assist me, but I shrugged him off. Yeah, I had
overstepped my place with Cait, but I couldn’t believe that she had run
boo-hooing to him. It just wasn’t her style. In which case, he was meddling
where he didn’t belong, and I resented that big time. “It’s okay. I can
walk,” I snarled.
“Fine,” he shot back. “But I’m escorting you to sickbay whether you
like it or not, Commander’s orders.”
“Fine!” Glaring at each other, we headed to the nearby turbolift.

I woke up the next morning feeling like death warmed over. Not that I
expected anything different after having the sh*t kicked out of me. And you
know, I hadn’t even bothered to fight back. Why should I? I figured I had it
coming to me, considering the way I’ve been acting lately and how much I had
upset Cait.
Somehow, I managed to pull my battered body into the shower. I don’t
care how well today’s medicine can fix you up, erase the bruises and seal the
cuts; you still feel like hell for the next several hours. But I didn’t have a
choice; I had to be on time. If I wasn’t and the Captain found out about the
fight, well, I really didn’t want to think about the outcome.
By 0730, I was in the mess eating my breakfast when Cait walked in and
made straight for Baxter’s table. Noting her expression, for a *very* brief
moment, I actually felt sorry for the other man because she looked madder than
a wet hen.
“May I sit down?” she asked quietly, as I strained my ears to listen.
“By all means.” My “fellow” officer smiled at her. “How are you this
morning?”
“Rather angry. You see, I’ve just heard some disturbing news, and I
want to know if it’s true.”
Baxter took up a forkful of food. “If what’s true?”
“That you had a fight with Tom last night.”
He shrugged. “It wasn’t much of a fight. He never even threw one
punch. Almost acted like he wanted to be beaten up, the little coward.”
I bristled at his explanation. He was right, only not for the reason
he thought, and I wasn’t too thrilled about Cait being told in either case.
Her eyes snapped angrily. “Why did you do it?”
“I thought he had hurt you. When you came tearing down the passage
like that what else was I to think?”
“When I came tearing down the passage? How do you know about that?
I didn’t see you.” The green eyes narrowed. “Were you watching me?”
“No, I had gone to see Porter about transferring shifts next week. I
was just approaching the corner when you ran past. A few more steps, and you
would’ve plowed me over.”
“And you immediately assumed that it had something to do with Paris.”
She sneered. “There are over 140 people on this ship; it could have been for
any number of reasons.”
Baxter wagged his head. “On that floor? I don’t think so. Besides,
he admitted you had been there.”
Cait took a deep breath to reinforce her self-control. “Baxter, let me
make one thing perfectly clear. When I need help, I’ll ask for it. Until
then, I prefer to fight my battles on my own. Do I make myself clear?” The
glittering eyes leveled a deadly gaze at the little twerp.
He studied her face for a moment before wisely deciding to agree.
“Understood.”
“Good.” Cait rose and headed for the server. As she waited in cue,
the Captain’s voice floated over the comm system.
“Janeway to Lt. Paris.”
“Go ahead.”
“Please report to my ready room immediately. I’d like to discuss a
matter with you before the start of your shift.”
I closed my eyes. “On my way.” That was it. If Cait knew, the
Captain probably knew, and conn, for me, was history. But who the hell had
squealed? I knew Chakotay hadn’t; he was as good as his word. Baxter?
Hardly, not without getting himself in trouble. The Doctor? Maybe, but why?
I headed for the doors, dumping the uneaten portions of my meal in the
reclamator as I left.
I had only proceeded a few meters down the corridor, when a familiar
voice called out. Slowing my pace, I allowed Cait to catch up. “What can I
do for you, Matthews?” I wasn’t in the mood to speak with anyone at that
particular moment. “Listen, if it’s about last night, I’m sorry. I intended
to apologize before shift, but now the Captain wants to see me.”
“No, it’s not about that. Look, if the Captain wants to see you about
your run-in with Walt, tell her it was his fault. I’ll back you up. He had no
business sticking his fist in without knowing the whole story. If you want,
I’ll talk to her personally. I’ll even- what?”
I shook my head. “Cait, I heard what you told Baxter back there;
now, follow your own advice. Let me fight my own battles. I got myself
into this mess. The fact that Baxter pushed me over the edge is
inconsequential.” I placed a hand on her shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze.
“I’ll be all right. Trust me.” That was a lie; deep down we both knew
otherwise. Removing my hand, I stepped into the nearby lift. “Bridge.”

The doors to the ready room shushed open. “Mr. Paris, come in and take
a seat.” As I did so, a grave-looking Janeway got up and walked around toward
me. Leaning on the edge of her desk, she studied me closely for a brief
eternity. “Tom, how long have we known each other?”
“Since 2371, Captain.” A lump rose in my throat. Somewhere in the
background, I could hear my father. *You’ve failed again, haven’t you, Thomas?
How I could raise such a weak, indiscretionary-*
“And during that time, I’ve watched you become a dependable and
exemplary officer. But lately,” The Captain paused, her eyes reflecting a
mixture of concern, disappointment and frustration. “Lately, you’ve been
almost out of control and the incident last night was just one in a long series
that have occurred over the past few weeks. I know how devoted you were to
Caitlin and how hard this separation has been on both of you. However,
by your conduct lately, you have set a bad example for the crew and ultimately
may put the ship at risk. I cannot allow that to occur. Therefore, Commander
Chakotay and I feel that is best to temporarily relieve you of your assignment
until your personal problems are resolved. Effective immediately, you are
off-duty.”
I sat there frozen, even though I had known it was coming. Everything.
I had lost everything now. “Captain, please don’t do this. Keep me on for one
more week and see if I don’t improve.” My eyes filled with tears as I pleaded
with her.
She placed both hands on my shoulders. “I’m sorry, Tom. I wish I
could, but I’ve got a ship full of people who’s safety I must put before
anything else.”
I closed my eyes, forcing one tear down each cheek. She was right; at
least this time, I didn’t kill anybody. “I understand.” I whispered. “I
should be the one apologizing. You trusted me and I let you down. I’m sorry,
Captain.” I gazed down at her boots; I couldn’t face her.
She removed her hands. “The real tragedy is that you let yourself
down, Tom. You deserve that position; you’re one of the finest pilots I’ve
ever seen. However, as I said, this removal is not permanent. With no more
altercations, you may return to duty in a week. You are the best pilot
we have; it would be foolish of me not to make use of your talent. But if
there is one more incident between now and then, you will lose your position
at conn permanently. Understand?”
I smirked to myself. “Well, I guess I haven’t lost everything just
yet.” I stood up and squared my shoulders defiantly. “I will be back,
Captain. I swear it. I’m not going to let this slip out of my grasp, too.”
She smiled supportively. “I sincerely hope so, Tom. You’re a fine
officer, and I would hate to lose you. Dismissed.”
Dismissed. To walk by the entire bridge crew; to face the entire
crew period as a failure once again. I hadn’t felt this labled since I first
came on board. Spinning around, I briskly strode out of the room to the
turbolift, carefully avoiding eye contact with everyone, including Harry.
With each step I could feel my face growing hotter, tears of shame rising
closer to the surface. “Deck 6,” I called, waiting for the lift doors to shut
before turning. My old callousness was really out of practice.

THE PARIS JOURNALS, vol. II

Breaking Down and Breaking Even
Part 3

By Carly Hunter
copyright 1996

I lay alone in the dark. Sleep had come to me off and on throughout
the day, and now it was late afternoon. Thankfully, no one had disturbed me;
although by now, the news had most likely made the rounds of the ship.
Dinner would be served soon, but I wouldn’t go in spite of the fact
that my stomach was beginning to growl. I just couldn’t face the stares or the
whispers, not yet, at least. Rolling on my side, I drew my knees up to my
chest. “Gods, I’ve gone fetal,” I sniggered derisively. “Dad would love this.
But I’m not going to drink. I’m not going to lose conn.”
The door chimed. Sh*t! “Come in,” I drug my body up into a sitting
position. Each limb seemed to weigh 100 kgs.
“Tom? Computer, one-quarter lights,” Kes commanded. “Tom, I heard
what happened, and I brought you some dinner. I thought you might be hungry.”
I blinked under the low lights. Kes. My buddy, my pal, my confidant.
“Thanks, Kes. You don’t know how much I appreciate this.” I took the
tray form her outstretched hands and placed it on the small table beside the
bed. “I just couldn’t go to the mess; I couldn’t face everyone. It’s been
a long time since-”
She sat down next to me and placed her arm around my shoulders. She
was beginning to look almost forty now; it was almost like talking to the
Captain or my mother. “It’s okay, Tom. I understand, and so do the rest of
your friends. We’re all worried about you.”
“Oh yeah, they understand; they understand what a complete and utter
failure I am. Kes, this was my second chance to make something of myself, and
I’ve blown it. I lost Cait and now conn.” I buried my face in my hands,
unable to hold back the tears any longer.
She drew me into her arms. “You haven’t lost it, Tom. Your removal is
only temporary, and I happen to know that Caitlin still cares a great deal
about you. You haven’t lost her either; you can still get her back, too.”
I raised a tear-stained face. For a while, I had confided in Harry,
but Kes, alone, knew how desperately I wanted Cait back. “I used to think so,
Kes, but you weren’t here last night. You didn’t see her pull away and run
like hell.”
She gently wiped the tears from my cheeks. “No, I didn’t, but I did
see how angry she became when Harry told us during lunch what had happened.
Tom, she was ready to go give the Captain a piece of her mind; it was all we
could do to convince her otherwise. If the Commander hadn’t stepped in, she
probably would have landed herself in the brig.”
“The idiot!” I tried to be angry, although, truth be known, deep
down inside I was pleased. “I told her to stay out of this. I won’t drag her
down with me.”
“You aren’t dragging her down. She chooses to defend you. She loves
you. You would do the same for her, and we both know it.” She smiled
encouragingly. “Give them both time, and both will come back to you.”
“But what if they don’t?” My nagging little voice of pessimism
inquired.
“Then they were never yours to begin with; isn’t that how the Earth
saying goes?” She clasped my hands. “Tom, you will make it throught these
trials. You’ve got to believe in your own fortitude.”
I closed my eyes wearily. “There are time, Kes, when I don’t think I
have any strength left.”
“Oh yes, you do,” she replied, squeezing my fingers tightly. “You’ve
been a fighter all your life; you just haven’t always chosen your battles
wisely, sometimes fighting with yourself as much as others. Right now, you
need to channel all your strength into patience. The next few days will be
difficult, but we, that is, your friends will be here to help you through
them. Just don’t be afraid to ask. Now, eat your dinner before it gets cold;
it’s one of your favourites.”
I turned and lifted the lid on the bowl. It was a hearty beef stew,
created from a recipe of Cait’s, filled with huge chunks of replicated beef
and vegetables. “Neelix didn’t-?” It would have been a sacrilege to spoil
such a delicious formula with the inclusion of leola root, but that never
stopped him with other time-honored recipes. (To this day, I remain convinced
that if he could find a way, he’d sneak it into my PBJs.)
Kes shook her head. “Caitlin made it herself out of her replicator
rations. Now, don’t insult her by not eating it.”
I broke off a chunk of bread and dipped it into the steaming liquid
before popping it into my mouth. The broth was rich with the flavors of beef,
onions, garlic and other spices. “Damn, it’s delicious. She made it?”
“It was Chakotay’s idea. He thought it would be a creative way to
channel her anger. Do you want me to sit with you while you eat?”
“No, that’s okay. I’ll eat it all, I promise. Valaxis would probably
like to see his mother at dinner for a change.” It couldn’t be easy raising a
kid on this ship, even with Neelix around to help. I didn’t see how she and
Ensign Wildman did it.
She smiled. “All right. If you need to talk some more, you know where
I am.”
“Yeah. Thanks Kes, for everything.” I gave her a quick peck on the
cheek before she left.
A few minutes later, I wiped the bowl clean with the last piece of
bread. “Cait, you are one helluva cook.” I grinned to myself, dumping the
tray and bowl down the reclamator. “Computer, location of Lt. Matthews.”
“Lt. Matthews is on holodeck 2.”
“Is she alone?”
“Affirmative.”
I stepped into the bathroom and splashed some cold water on my face.
It didn’t help all that much. The ol’ blue eyes were still red and there were
dark circles beneath them. I smiled half-heartedly at the tired reflection.
“Get going, Thomas. She’s only down the hall. You can’t hide in here
forever.”
Ignoring the stares from some of the crew as best I could, I paused at
the control panel outside the holodeck. The program running was Klingon two,
one of the combat/workout sequences B’Elanna and Cait had co-written. “Level
four? By herself? Is she insane? Computer, open doors.”
From around a large boulder, I was greeted by grunts of exertion. Cait
was fighting a two-sided battle against a Nausicaan and a skull-headed demon;
it was one she was losing in spite of her best efforts.
“Computer, bat’telh,” I requested. I was still a novice with the
weapon, but I thought I knew enough to at least take some of the heat off her.
As the Nausicaan swung a battle axe down toward her unprotected back, I stepped
in between them and deflected the blow.
Surprised by my timely interference, she gasped out, “What are you
doing here?”
“Thanking you for the stew,” I quipped over my shoulder.
“You’re welcome. Computer, run option two of current program.” The
computer beeped in response and all weapons disappeared. “I thought you might
want to release some frustration, just pretend it’s Baxter,” she grunted,
delivering a blow to her adversary’s stomach before bringing an elbow down
hard against the base of its skull. The demon fell to the floor and
dematerialized.
“Thanks,” I panted, kicking my opponent in the chest and delivering
an upward palm thrust to its chin. The Nausicaan tried to counter-attack, but
I was ready, sending the image to the ground in two more blows. I spun around
breathing heavily, but energized. “Is that it?”
She adjusted her ponytail and grinned. “Only if you want it to be. I
think I can manage one or two more sequences. You want the weapons back?”
“Yeah, I need the practice. It’s been a while.”
“Okay. Computer, remove option two and reset program for two people.”
She tossed me a bat’telh. “Ready?”
“Ready,” I replied backing up against her.
“All right. Here we go. Computer, begin.”
“Not bad,” she observed, halfway through the sequence. “You aren’t as
out of shape as I thought.”
“Maybe I just realize that I have a lot to fight for,” I retorted.
“Good! I’m glad to hear it.”
Dispatching her image first, she climbed up on the boulder and waited
for me to finish. “Don’t think; let it be an extension of yourself,” she
coached from her rocky perch.
“Easier said than done,” I grunted, blocking a side swing. With a few
more blows, though, I, too, defeated my opponent and wearily moved over to
where she sat. I leaned against the rock and gazed up at her. “Cait, about
last night. I’m sorry. I just couldn’t figure out why you were telling me
all that, and I, well, I stepped over the line.”
“Forget about it. I should’ve handled it better than I did. You just
took me by surprise, that’s all.” She slid off the rock. “Ready to go?”
I nodded. “I guess so. I suppose I could run Sandrine’s, but in my
frame of mind that probably wouldn’t be such a good idea.”
The green eyes twinkled up at me. “I don’t think one glass of holo-
wine would hurt. Computer, end current program and run program Paris three.”
Instantly, the rocks were replaced by the familiar, well-worn bar furniture.
“Besides, I wouldn’t mind playing a game or two of pool; I didn’t play much
last night. Baxter, for all his competetive nature, hates pool.”
I grinned. “Fine by me. It’s not like I have somewhere to be tomorrow
morning.” I was trying to be funny, but a lump rose up in my throat, choking
off the rest of my words.
“Don’t worry. You will as soon as you get your position back. Why not
enjoy this `vacation’ while you have it?”
I took a deep breath. “I can’t, Cait. Because it’s not a vacation,
it’s a humiliation.” I sank down in a chair, suddenly drained. “I’m a
failure. Only I could blow my second chance at respectability.”
Motioning for two glasses of wine, she knelt before me. “Tom,” she
began, placing her hands on my knees. “You are not a failure. You make
mistakes; we all do.”
Chuckling sadly, I ran a finger lightly down her left cheek. “I just
make bigger ones than most, like losing you.”
She shook her head. “We lost each other, Tom. The blame is as much
mine as it is yours.”
Sandrine came up behind me and placed the two beverages on the table.
“Drink to love, mes chers, and maybe you will find it.” A mysterious laugh
followed as she moved away.
We exchanged uneasy glances before bursting into nervous giggles.
I handed her down one of the glasses. “Shall we?”
“Nothing to lose and everything to gain.” She smiled.
“To love,” we chorused, as our glassess clinked together. After we
had each taken a sip, I removed the glass from her hand and placed it alongside
mine on the table.
“Now, about that game of pool.” She jumped to her feet. “Are you
ready?”
I wasn’t. There was still something I had to get off my chest and now
seemed as good a time as any. As she headed for the row of cues, I reached out
and grabbed her arm. “Cait, what about us?” I rose to my feet. “Can’t we
be friends? I miss talking with you, working out with you, just being with
you.” I stood behind her, my hands on her shoulders. “I miss having you as
my friend. Please don’t turn me away, Cait. I need you, now more than ever.”
She let out a shuddered sigh. “Tom, I-I want to be your friend, but
I’m frightened of where this may lead. How are you, or for that matter, how
am I going to handle it when one of us starts seeing someone else? And what
about-”
I twisted her around and placed a finger across her mouth. “I didn’t
say it was going to be easy. In fact, it’s going to be damned hard, but you’re
one of my closest friends, and I don’t want to see that fact change.
Understand?”
She gazed silently at me, before taking a deep breath. “I suppose we
could try it for a while and see how things go. But I’m not making any
promises. To be honest, I’ve always found it better to just cut my losses
and run.”
“Me, too.” A small grin broke out across my face. “But I don’t think
either of us has that option anymore, do we?” She shook her head, and my
smile broadened. “Okay, friend,” I continued. “Now that that’s settled; do
you want to break or shall I?”

Two weeks later:

Cait left about fifteen minutes ago. Dinner went really well and at
the end, we were both a little tipsy from the wine and the brandy cake.
At first, it was awkward, almost like a first date, but the alcohol helped calm
us both down, and by the time dinner was through, we were giggling over some of
the most inane things, including Neelix’s calamari disaster. (Don’t ask; you
don’t want to know. Trust me.)
Did I want her to leave? No, of course not. But she had to, and I
accept that. I guess you could say that if life is full of winners and losers,
then right about now, I’m simply breaking even. I’ve still got conn, but just
not the woman I love. Well, not yet, at least.
It’s 2135 hours, and I suppose I should be getting to bed. I don’t
want to fall asleep at the helm tomorrow.
Good night, Cait. Thank you.

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