"I've been there you know."
Tom stops, holding up his PADD and smiling his best defensive grin. "Mexico?"
Chakotay follows him into the turbolift, patient on the surface but burying his frustration. If Tom can kindle that, the conversation will be over and whatever 'save the lost helmsman' project Janeway has her XO on now will be done for the day.
"Well, yes, actually." Chakotay smiles and the dimple that appears for a moment in his cheek fascinates Tom. It's so human. So unlike the Chakotay he knew back in the Maquis. That man didn't smile unless a Cardassian was dead at his feet.
"Driving a nineteen-seventy-two Firebird?"
"Riding a twenty-three-fifty-something donkey."
Tom doesn't want to laugh. He doesn't want anything about Chakotay to be anything but frustrating. He wants to crawl under the man's skin and cultivate that old hatred. It's a challenge.
"Less loud than a twelve cylinder."
"You haven't met many donkeys, have you, Mr. Paris?"
The turbolift hums, carrying them up to the mess hall.
Tom sidesteps the bait though it dangles in front of him like the promise of popcorn and double feature. "A few, but none that I rode."
"That's too bad."
"It is, isn't it?"
The corridor to the mess hall was unfortunately empty, putting them in each other's company all the way down.
"What's your program like? A drive down the western coast at sunset?"
"Full moon. Sunsets are to--"
Chakotay lifts a hand, stopping him as he reaches for the coffee. It's late, but that's never stopped him. "Full moon is better. Dark one, if you take out all the potential things in the road."
"Hit a rock once and spent all of my hour fixing my bent tire."
Chakotay passes him a cup, grinning. His eyes are bright and deep. "Didn't just reset?"
"I needed to bend something back into shape."
"And here I thought you'd identify with the rock."
Tom leaned against the counter, smiling lazily. "Only when the tire won't cut me any slack."
"The tire's rubber. It's pretty flexible."
"Are you saying I'm harder than most?"
Chakotay grabs a piece of spice cake and heads for the table. "Yes, I do think so."
"But you don't know." Tom meant it to be a whisper, but it's absolutely not.
"I suppose I don't." Chakotay contemplates this while Tom sits down across from him, chair turned the wrong way round. He passes Tom the plate. "It's good cake."
"I haven't tried it." Tom looks up, meeting Chakotay's eyes. He loves the challenge he usually finds there but this…this is exceptional. This is the mojave speedway on a moonlight night.
"You should." Chakotay leaves him with the cake, brushing his shoulder with his hip as he walks away, coffee in hand.
Tom turns, watching him go over his shoulder. Chakotay doesn't look back and Tom watches the flat, muscular lines of his back until he's gone. Then he picks up the fork and attacks the cake.