Once again, I found myself in the bar on Rigel III where I had met Chakotay. Apparently, it was a common meeting place for Maquis hopefuls. I made a mental note to include that little fact in my next data transmission. This time, however, I avoided the bar. I found a stool back in a dark corner with a perfect view of the door, and I leaned back, lazily crossing my legs, letting the skirt I had borrowed from Seska (something I would have never worn of my own free will) ride high up on my thigh.
I was waiting for the last person in the universe I ever expected or wanted to be waiting for: Tom Paris.
Chakotay had received word that Tom was looking for somewhere to fly again, and the Maquis is one of the best places to do such a thing besides Starfleet. Unless you’re looking to pilot a freighter or a cargo ship, and I knew that was the last thing Tom ever wanted to do. Therefore, since he’d never fly for Starfleet again, it seemed only right that he go looking for the Maquis and a fast-paced fight.
I hadn’t realized I’d been holding my breath until I felt it catch and release suddenly when he walked into the room. He hadn’t changed one bit since he’d walked out on me some eight months prior. He still looked as cocky as ever as he scanned the room looking, I knew, for me. Though I’m sure he didn’t know it was me he was looking for.
Just as he was about to settle down at the bar, I gathered up the courage I needed and stood up. "Paris!" My face was still in the shadow, and he had to cross the room in order to see me. I held my head high as he approached me, and as he moved forward to share my light, I could see the surprise form on his face.
"Tom." I nodded curtly at him. Then, I lowered my gaze and slid back onto the barstool, crossing my legs purposefully in front of him. I’d already resigned myself to the possibility of needing to use myself to bargain with him. But, I was scared of the consequences of those possible actions. I knew Tom; I knew what he liked, what he didn’t like, and I knew what kind of persuading he fell for. I could do all of those things, though I hoped I wouldn’t have to resort to extreme measures. I’d already had my heart broken by him once, I wasn’t in the mood for it to happen again.
"What are you doing here?"
He nodded, suddenly distracted by glancing over his shoulder toward the bar and then the other way toward the door. "What I coincidence," he said dryly. "So am I." He finally turned back to look at me.
It took him a second to respond. Maybe he hadn’t thought he’d heard me correctly in the loud shuffle of the bar, or maybe he hadn’t been paying attention at all, but either way, my words finally settled in. "You what? How did you know that?" He was still distracted with looking over his shoulder, obviously paranoid about something. Maybe being alone with me. Or maybe he just hadn’t realized that he’d found the person he was looking for already.
"Because you’re meeting me."
That caught Tom’s attention. He was in the middle of running a hand through his hair when he looked at me. I leaned back and let him take in the view. And he did. He faltered slightly as his eyes traveled up my bare legs and past my chest, where the material of the dress stretched tightly across. I licked my lips slowly, fighting the urge to move my gaze away from him, especially when our eyes finally met. "You?" His voice sounded strange, almost as if something had caught in his throat and he couldn’t swallow it away.
I nodded. "I’m looking for a pilot," I said, shifting in my seat. I noticed that the skirt found its way even higher up on my thigh. I began to feel uncomfortable with how much of my skin was exposed. "And you and I both know you’re the best pilot in the quadrant."
He couldn’t argue with that. "What is this? Some strange Starfleet con, trying to get me to do something wrong again so they can lock me up?"
My face grew hot suddenly, and I lowered my gaze. Didn’t he know? Everyone else knew I had betrayed Starfleet to help the Maquis. Why didn’t he? Finally, I found the words. "Starfleet, Tom?" I asked, keeping my voice calm and low. "Starfleet has nothing to do with this. My ship needs a pilot for a mission we’re going on, and it’s a very dangerous mission that may very well result in our destruction if we don’t have a good enough pilot. I heard a rumor you were looking for someone to fly for, and so I came here to offer you a gig."
"I was under the impression it was the Maquis who were looking for pilots."
I nodded, just barely, but when I saw his eyes grow wide, I knew it had been enough. "That’s right. Take it or leave it." I hopped off the stool and smoothed down the skirt of my dress over my thighs, squaring my shoulders and nodding at him loftily before brushing past him to leave.
I didn’t get very far; a hand shot out and grabbed my elbow, pulling me back into the darkness of the corner and face to face with Tom, who hooked an arm around my waist. Because of the heels I had on, I didn’t have to strain my neck as much as I usually had to when looking at him. I tried to move out of his hold, but his arm only pulled me tighter against him. I found my breath catching in my throat as I looked at him. His blue eyes were dark, penetrating, and his face was extremely close to mine. My knees felt weak, and I wanted to be anywhere but in his arms at that moment. I had never fallen out of love with him.
"Why are you wearing that dress?" he asked, his breath hot against my face. It took every molecule of strength I had to keep myself from trembling. "I can practically see your underwear."
I shoved away from him and tugged at the hem of my skirt, straightening it out. "What I choose to wear is my own business, not yours. Now, should I give you the information you need to join my crew? Or should I just leave you to your own devices? I’m sure you can find something quite ... useful to do while on this planet. Pick up an exotic alien woman and get a room perhaps? Waste all your money betting on pool?" I motioned to the pool tables behind me and then to a group of rather striking women eyeing the two of us from the opposite corner.
He narrowed his eyes at me. "Who are you?"
I balked and almost stumbled away from him. "Excuse me?"
"You’re not the Laura Jenkins I was in love with."
"And you’re not the Tom Paris I fell in love with, so I suppose we’re even."
We just looked at each other for a while, neither of us speaking. We were still pretty close to each other, and I when I closed my eyes to shut out the dull ache of the beginning of one of my chronic migraines, I could still feel him near me. I took a deep breath and passed a hand over my eyes.
"Are you okay?" he asked, sounding genuinely concerned. He always had worried when I got the headaches. I could remember one weekend, in particular, when he waited on me hand and foot while I was laid up with a constant pressure behind my temples.
When I opened my eyes to nod, he was even closer than he was before, and I felt his hand on my arm. I shrugged away from him. "I’m fine," I said sharply. What I needed was to get away from him. "If you’re interested, you need to make sure you’re outside this bar no later than 0800 tomorrow."
Without giving him a chance to respond, whether it be to my offer or to the fact that he could tell I wasn’t fine at all, I turned around and quickly left the bar.