|Lost and Found
"So, Commander, where should we start?" Tom asked quietly. He looked around the breakfast room, noting that all the other occupants were seated in pairs at small round tables, just as he and Chakotay were.
"We have to find Telsesh. Find out what happened to him last night," Chakotay replied, pondering their course of action. "Let's try to locate that club he mentioned; the one he said he worked in occasionally."
"We'll have to be discreet, or Kenthah might get to hear about us. If he hasn't already."
"There's a good chance that he has, Tom. He's an intelligent man, he'll know that someone from our ship will have been sent to recover the stolen parts. But one advantage we have is that you and I weren't involved with Kenthah when he was onboard Voyager; he knows nothing about us. Admittedly, he would still recognise a human if he saw one, but hopefully, the temporary facial changes the Doctor made to us will keep anyone from discovering our true species."
"Well, we've blended in okay so far," Tom commented, placing his fingers on the prominent ridges that ran across his forehead. The implants curved around his eye sockets before continuing down, framing his face and joining at his chin. "We look just like any other Nahldarian," he added.
"Yes, we do," Chakotay agreed. "Especially with the new hair length and colour. Long, auburn locks really suit you, Paris."
Tom snorted and smiled. "You too, Commander," he said, looking appraisingly at the grinning man next to him.
Chakotay pushed his empty plate to one side and laughed. "Come on, Tom, that's enough mutual admiration. Let's go. We have work to do."
"Yes, Sir," Tom replied, rising. He followed Chakotay across the breakfast room to a door that opened directly onto the street, and they stepped outside.
It was bright and warm with hardly a cloud in sight as the two men gazed up at the sky, both looking for the same thing; some indication that the Nahldarian barrier was now in place. There was nothing to be seen though, the planet-wide shield invisible to the naked eye, so they returned their attention to the area around them.
The street was still teeming with life. Exuberant couples, some looking as though they'd been up all night, were filling the pavement and the outdoor restaurants. Others were standing in long queues, waiting patiently for transport to the tiny shuttles that would take them on pleasure flights and sight-seeing tours of Velator. Music and laughter came from all directions. Chakotay tapped Tom on the arm and gestured towards one of the ever-open clubs nearby. "Let's start in there," he said, then started walking towards it.
Tom followed and they entered through a low doorway to find two Nahldarians sitting at a desk, a large, white room visible behind them. Quiet music was playing, and pairs of Nahldarians sat on fragile-looking white chairs, staring only at their own partner and seemingly unaware of the others around them; a stark contrast to most of the other establishments that Chakotay and Tom had passed the night before. Chakotay frowned, looking from the silent couples in the room beyond, then back to Tom. "I don't think we'll get any leads here," he whispered.
"I think you're right," Tom agreed as they turned, smiled at the men at the desk, then made their way back outside. "I wonder what they were doing?" Tom mused as they found themselves back in the noisy street.
"I have no idea," Chakotay stated with a shake of his head. "But it didn't look like the sort of place that Telsesh said he worked in."
"No, it didn't. From the comments he made, I got the impression he was employed somewhere a little livelier than that," Tom remarked as they wandered further down the busy road. "And what was that word he used in connection with the place? You know, the one the translator couldn't decipher?"
"It was 'Vlenkla'," Chakotay answered, stopping to let two women pass. They turned and gave him a strange look, glancing at each other before moving away quickly. Chakotay watched them go, puzzled by their actions. "I wonder what that word means?" he said, suddenly realising that the women had overheard him.
"I don't know," Tom replied, turning to face Chakotay. "Perhaps it's some sort of swear word."
"Maybe," Chakotay said, nodding. "But whatever it is, I don't think I ought to repeat it. If those women are anything to go by, it could draw more unnecessary attention to us."
"Yeah, it could," Tom agreed. He looked over Chakotay's shoulder, watching a group of people enter the premises behind him. "So, Commander, another club?" he asked.
"Yes, Lieutenant. Another club," Chakotay replied, turning to follow Tom's gaze.
They walked over to join the group of Nahldarians who were queuing up to pay the admission charge before they could enter the building. When they reached the cashier, Chakotay handed over another disk. This one contained no personal details, only the number of the account to be debited, and he and Tom were then allowed to proceed to the club's main hall.
"This looks a bit more promising," Tom said loudly, almost shouting to be heard over the blaring music, and the Nahldarian voices that tried to accompany it. Chakotay nodded, unwilling to shout back, then pointed to the bar situated at the rear of the hall. Tom got the message, and they crossed the dark, crowded room to order a couple of the local drinks.
As they sat and sipped at the spicy and intoxicating dark blue liquor they'd been served with, they found that it was very easy to strike up conversations with the friendly bar staff. A few of the club's patrons joined them as well, keen to chat about their own experiences in Velator and to give the two officers tips about the best places to visit. But, despite the wealth of information they imparted, no-one had any knowledge of Telsesh. So, after an hour of nursing the same drink, and coming to the conclusion that they weren't going to learn anything more than they had already, Chakotay and Tom said their goodbyes and left.
The scene was repeated in each subsequent club they visited; everyone was friendly, but no-one could tell them anything about Telsesh. They ploughed on though, despite their growing frustration, and, in the early evening, having consumed more alcohol than was really prudent, their luck finally changed.
They had entered one of the large clubs on the main street and were standing apart from each other at the edge of the dance floor, when Tom noticed that someone was watching them. A tall, slim Nahldarian dressed in varying shades of red stood nearby, his gaze firmly fixed on Chakotay. Tom moved closer to the Commander and spoke quietly, keeping one eye on his observer. "You seem to have an admirer," he whispered, gesturing with his eyes to where the man stood watching. Chakotay turned slightly, hoping to catch a covert glimpse of whoever Tom was indicating, but as he moved, the Nahldarian walked towards them.
"Friend," the man said, holding out his hand to Chakotay. "I believe you are looking for someone."
Chakotay took the man's proffered hand and the Nahldarian smiled. "What exactly have you heard?" Chakotay asked as the man stepped closer, still holding Chakotay's hand in his.
"Not here," the Nahldarian said quietly. He let go of Chakotay's hand, then inclined his head towards a door near the bar. "Come with me."
Chakotay glanced at Tom as the man walked off, then they followed him, stepping through the door into a dimly lit passageway. It sloped downwards, taking them beneath the building, and eventually brought them to another room filled with people and music.
"Let me get you a drink," the Nahldarian said, moving across to the bar. He moved behind it and brought out three glasses, filling them with familiar blue liquid and handing one each to Chakotay and Tom. He raised his own glass to his lips and swallowed the contents in one gulp, encouraging the others to do the same.
"Now," he said, addressing Chakotay. "We dance."
Before Chakotay had a chance to even think of protesting, the man was at his side. He slipped his arm around Chakotay's waist and led him out onto the dance floor.
Tom leaned back against the bar, amusement showing on his face at first as he watched Chakotay attempt to imitate the dance style that, up until now, the older man had only observed. Tom's amusement began to falter though, as the music changed from very lively and loud to extremely slow and seductive.
Out on the dance floor, Chakotay found himself in a tight embrace. The Nahldarian, who had revealed to Chakotay that his name was Amshev, pressed against him, his hands gently caressing Chakotay's back as both men swayed to the music. At the stranger's advances, Chakotay closed his eyes and rested his head on the man's shoulder, the liquor he'd consumed, and the frustrations of the day, suddenly catching up with him.
Considering the area they were in was a 'couples only' zone, Chakotay had found it unsurprising that everywhere he and Tom had visited they had been treated as though they were a couple. However, he had found the situation almost impossible to handle. For most of the morning he'd enjoyed Tom's company immensely, as he always did, but, as the day had wore on, his attraction to the younger man had become more difficult for him to control, and he'd wished again and again that their 'relationship' was real, that it wasn't just a necessary pretence to aid them in their mission.
All day, he'd fought the arousal that Tom's close proximity had caused, somehow managing to resist the urge to copy the happy couples around them. He had desperately wanted to take the younger man into his arms again, the way they had been in bed that morning. He'd seen other couples kissing and would have loved to emulate them, but Tom's reactions had convinced Chakotay that it would be best to limit their physical contact. He'd arrived at that decision early on, because, on the odd occasion when Chakotay had deemed it necessary that they hold hands, in an attempt to blend in more, Tom had tensed and looked uncomfortable.
Chakotay knew, realistically, that he shouldn't have taken Tom's reaction personally, believing as he did that Tom was just unused to sharing even the slightest hint of intimacy with a man, but it had hurt, and Chakotay had found himself getting more upset and frustrated as the day had progressed. Now, as he felt Amshev's hands sliding slowly down his back to grasp his cheeks, and the Nahldarian's erection rubbing tantalisingly against his own, Chakotay decided to give in to the desire to vent some of his pent-up emotions.
'It's not as though Tom will care, anyway,' Chakotay thought, running his hands over Amshev's hips and down the Nahldarian's thighs. 'Because Tom isn't interested in me, and I know now that he's never likely to be. He's made that pretty clear all day. All the hopes and dreams I've ever had have gone. He's quashed them all.' And with that thought, Chakotay's mind shut down. Moving his hands to Amshev's back, he let his feelings take over.
From the bar, Tom watched as Chakotay moved his head from Amshev's shoulder, brushing his lips over the Nahldarian's neck and tracing a path to his mouth. Tom saw Amshev's lips curve up in a satisfied smile just before Chakotay's mouth touched his, and then, slowly and deeply, the two men began to kiss.
In a state of shocked disbelief, Tom swallowed hard and watched them, a feeling of intense jealousy rising up inside him and making him dizzy. He grabbed a nearby chair and slumped into it, unable to tear his gaze away from the men on the dance floor as they continued to kiss, their hands roaming fervently over each other's bodies. Tom shook his head as he tried hard to comprehend what he was seeing, and that's when it dawned on him; this wasn't Chakotay's first encounter with a man. The realisation hit Tom like a sledgehammer.
Ever since the day Tom had joined the Maquis, he'd been attracted to the strong, quiet man who had become Voyager's First Officer. He'd never let Chakotay know how he felt though, convinced that the older man was only interested in women. He thought he would never stand a chance with the handsome, dark-haired man, because he believed a relationship with another male would be out of the question for Chakotay. Not once had Tom seen Chakotay show even the remotest interest in any of the men on Voyager, and that had served to further convince Tom that his assessment of the man had been correct.
With heartbreaking clarity, Tom realised now that all his assumptions had been false. Chakotay clearly *was* interested in men. But, as he thought back over the day, it became clear in Tom's mind that Chakotay had no interest in *him* at all; that Chakotay had been reluctant to even touch him. In his present state of confusion and all-consuming jealousy, Tom convinced himself that Chakotay had purposefully gone out of his way to avoid physical contact with him because of a lack of attraction.
'He only touched me because he had to,' Tom thought, as he saw Amshev's hand slip almost unnoticed inside the front of Chakotay's pants. 'And it was because of the mission, not because he wanted to,' Tom continued to himself, completely unaware of the inaccuracy of his thoughts, and, therefore, the real reason for Chakotay's perceived lack of interest. 'He's not being so restrained now, though. Not now he's found someone who really turns him on.'
Although Tom had longed for physical contact, on those occasions when Chakotay *had* touched him, Tom had steeled himself against the electrifying effect of Chakotay's warm skin on his. He'd distanced himself from his feelings, trying to keep his true passion for Chakotay hidden, as he'd resolved to do that morning. It never occurred to him that Chakotay's reactions to him might have been different if he'd given the older man any reason to believe that he was interested in him.
'I'm obviously not his type,' Tom thought, watching Chakotay pull Amshev even closer. 'And I bet if I *had* got the chance to kiss him, Chakotay would never have kissed me the way he's kissing that Nahldarian. I'll never experience that.'
Tom watched the Nahldarian's hand gently moving inside Chakotay's pants, caressing and stroking him intimately, and he came to the depressing conclusion that Chakotay would always be out of his reach, that Chakotay would never be anything more to him than his superior officer. Tom sighed heavily, turning away from the dance floor and resting his head on the bar. Seeing Chakotay in the arms of another man hurt him more than he'd thought possible, and tears stung his eyes. He closed them, unwilling to view any more of Amshev's actions.
In the almost oppressive atmosphere of the dark room, Chakotay swayed in time to the irresistible beat of the alien music, a feeling of warmth and contentment flowing through him. Amshev's hands gently worked their way up Chakotay's body, stroking his chest firmly before moving to his face. The Nahldarian lightly brushed his fingers across the Commander's cheeks, and Chakotay opened his eyes and smiled. Amshev grinned back happily, then pulled Chakotay in for another long, deep kiss, before whispering in his ear. "It is time," he said, dropping his hands to Chakotay's waist and nodding towards a dark alcove to one side of the bar. "Over there. Come."
Chakotay looked where Amshev had indicated, and, as he did, he caught a quick glimpse of Tom. He frowned slightly, wondering briefly why Tom was sitting with his head resting on the counter, but before he could contemplate the situation further, Amshev's arm slipped around his shoulders and the Nahldarian led Chakotay to the alcove.
"Now, Chayelah," Amshev said, addressing Chakotay by his assumed Nahldarian name. "Permit me to give you what you want and need."
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