Author: Briar Rose
Synopsis: This story takes place about a week after 'Threshold.' Tom and Harry go on a little 'away mission' to repay a kindness and surprise a friend.
Thanks: As always go out to my beta buddies, Liz, LA and Barb. Without helpful suggestions from all of them, this story would still only be half finished.
Disclaimer: Voyager and everyone on it belong to Paramount/Viacom. Some parts of the story belong to LA, including the title and the ending. In fact, not much of this is mine, really. No wonder I'm not making any money on it.
Notes: This is a coda of sorts to a story by my buddy LA Koehler,"3 Days and a Pizza." I think my story can stand alone, but you'll want to read hers first just because it's so good.
Harry Kim could never understand how he got talked into 'missions' like this. He was on his hands and knees behind his best friend, crawling through Jefferies tube 37-Alpha as they made their way through the bowels of Voyager. Tom Paris was the brains behind the operation, of course, and Harry was reluctantly following him already questioning his own judgment for listening to Tom in the first place. The fact that Tom had recently undergone a life-transforming experience probably explained Harry's compliance—he wanted to keep an eye on Tom—and he was certain it explained Tom's 'plan.'
Tom was dragging his old 'Fleet issued duffel behind him, and Harry had to watch that the bag didn't knock him in the chin as it was jostled by Tom's feet. Its contents rustled and clinked as it bounced along in front of Harry.
"Someone's going to catch us," he cautioned, worry tingeing his voice.
"Shhhhhh!" Tom replied. "We're right over shickbay, do you wan da doc to hear you?"
"How could he over all the noise that junk in your bag is making? How are you going to explain this if we get caught? What if Neelix misses some of that stuff?"
"We wone get caught," Tom replied. "No one's even looked at thish stuff shinsh Neelix turned da captain's dining room into da kitchen. Trusht me Harry, I'm good at thish type of thing."
They had reached a junction in the Jefferies tubes, and Tom swung his long legs onto a vertical ladder and started his descent. The duffel sailed over the edge under Harry's nose, narrowly missing an access hatch in the wall of the tunnel. "I shupposhe you've never done anything like dis before," Tom lisped. "Good, obedient Harry Kim. Never going againsht the rulesh, never getting into twouble…"
Harry 'harrumphed' in reply, and followed Tom onto the ladder.
"Or maybe you got talked into doing sompthing once and got caught," Tom mused. "What was it Harry, raiding cookieth from anoder kid'sh lunch box? Shneaking into the girl'sh shower room? Shnowball fight in the school-yard? Confessh, Harry." Tom was enjoying the gentle ribbing. It was 'normal' for them, and made the events of the past week seem like nothing more than a particularly strange dream.
Harry sighed, knowing Tom wouldn't let go until he had all the details. "I punched Willie Corbett in the nose because he said something about a girl I had a crush on." He grinned at the memory despite himself. It had felt so good at the time. "I was nine, all right?"
"Tom laughed, "Aw, Harry," he said. "Even when you get into twouble it'sh for a noble reashon. Did you break his noshe?"
"Look." Harry began the old argument again in an effort to change the subject. "Are you sure you're up to crawling halfway through the ship? You just got out of sickbay a couple of days ago. Why don't you try breaking into her quarters, instead? Or better yet, just ask her to dinner."
"Nonono, Harry. Trusht me, women like tserprith—" Tom paused on the ladder, and took the flower out from between his teeth. He wiped the drool from his chin. "Women like surprises." He reached up and patted Harry's right calf congenially. "Besides, I already tried to override her codes. She has her quarters locked up tight!"
"You broke into mine easily enough if I remember correctly," Harry commented.
Tom just laughed. "She's the chief engineer, Harry. I would hope she'd know how to lock her quarters against any invasion." He replaced the flower—it looked a bit like a purple daisy with thicker, rounder petals—and resumed his descent.
Harry's eyes narrowed as he squinted down at his best friend. "Is that what you're planning? An invasion?"
"Don't be tsilly." Tom gave up and tucked the flower into his uniform front. "To tell you the truth, Har, I'm not planning anything. I haven't thought that far ahead."
"This must be a first," Harry answered with a smile.
"Whadya mean by that?" Tom said, frowning.
"I thought you always had a plan, an angle. I thought you were a troublemaker from way back." Harry took great delight in ribbing his friend. Tom did it to him often enough.
Tom paused on the ladder and adjusted the flower, not wanting to crush it against the rungs. He looked at Harry's feet—he wasn't particularly interested in letting his gaze travel any further up Harry's body.
"Well, this time I'm playing it by ear. I get the feeling she'd see through anything I could come up with anyway. She's not exactly like the Delaney sisters."
"What's that supposed to mean? Jenny and Megan are—"
"Easy, Har." Tom threw up a hand to protect his face from Harry's booted feet. "I like my nose the way it is, thanks. I just meant that B'Elanna's more suspicious. It's not easy to get her to accept a compliment, let alone something this elaborate." He hooked an arm under the duffel, and jumped the last few feet down to the floor.
"Deck nine," Tom said proudly. "I told you I could get us here. Besides, it's more fun this way. Think of it as an adventure!"
"I would have thought you'd have had enough adventure for a while," Harry shot back, dropping down beside him on the deck. "Which way now?"
Tom paused for a moment and looked around to get his bearings. Finally, he decided on a direction and started crawling off down the conduit.
"Gee, don't these things ever open up so you can stand up? I think I'm getting a cramp," Tom grumbled. "And if you have to crawl through them, you'd think they'd have made them a little easier on the knees."
"This was your idea," Harry reminded him. He remembered what the doctor had had to say about Tom's brain activity after the holodeck simulation of Tom's flight a week ago. Maybe that slight enzymatic imbalance the doctor had found had caused some problem after all. He really didn't seem to be acting rationally. Or maybe it was the whole 'lizard thing' that made Tom suddenly want to go spelunking through the belly of Voyager. "Just why are we doing this, again?"
"For the adventure, Harry. For the adventure," Tom replied with a grunt.
The Jefferies tube was a standard size, and Tom had been in enough of them in his tarnished career—in Starfleet and elsewhere—to know that the further away they got from the main shaft, the narrower the tube would begin to feel. He decided to concentrate on the look B'Elanna would have on her face when she saw her surprise, instead of the feeling that the walls were beginning to close in on him. It wouldn't do to try to run—crawl?—screaming from the narrow tunnel. No, indeed, this was no place for a claustrophobic episode.
"Are you sure you know where you're going?" Harry interrupted his musings. "We're not going to end up in the captain's ready room, are we?"
"Have faith, Harry," Tom replied. He sucked in a breath as a thought occurred to him. He wanted to know, but he was almost afraid to ask. "So, how did she react when I died?"
"The captain?" Harry asked, a little confused by the sudden change in topic.
"She was upset. How do you think she would react? We both were." Harry had gone to B'Elanna's quarters, seeking solace from his remaining 'best friend' and found her huddled on her sofa, wrapped in the blanket she kept draped along its back. She was sobbing softly, repeating the words, "My fault," over and over. Harry had just held her as they cried together, mourning their lost friend.
"She blamed herself," he added quietly.
Tom was taken by surprise by that. "What? Why?"
"For pushing so hard for the warp ten project. Then keeping you up late that night going over the sensor data."
"That's ridiculous. If I was going to blame anyone," Tom quipped, "it would be Neelix and his 'coffee.' That stuff's poison." He wouldn't mention to Harry how it warmed him to know that B'Elanna had been upset by his 'death.' He wondered if she had cried for him after all, but Harry seemed to be finished talking about the subject.
Tom stopped. In front of them, the area opened out into a hub where several corridors intersected. The two men stretched, grateful for the opportunity to stand erect once more. Tom reached toward an access hatch and tapped a readout on the wall. It displayed the words, Deck 9, Section 12. "Harry, you worry too much," he said. "I know this ship like the back of my hand." He sent Harry a huge grin and turned right, pushing the duffel in front of him as he swung up to the horizontal shaft that intersected the junction at an odd angle several feet off the deck.
"It's a tight squeeze, Harry, suck in those cheeks."
"Haw haw," Harry replied, climbing up to follow Tom down the narrow passageway. He shoved Tom's feet out of his face.
"Now, if I'm right, it's only a few more meters aft," Tom mused.
"I still think this is a bad idea," Harry said worriedly. "What if she finds us in there? What are we going to say?"
"That's where you come in, Harry," Tom replied. "I'm relying on you to come up with a plausible excuse. You always look sincere—she'll have to buy it, coming from you."
"Oh right, why do I get the feeling I'd be the one to 'buy it'?"
"Ah hah! This is it …I think."
"Well, you'd better be sure before you drop down onto someone's head," Harry whispered fiercely.
"Hey, it's not my fault if she doesn’t have anything that says 'B'Elanna's House' hanging on the wall."
"Here, move over and let me see." Tom moved forward along the ventilation shaft, and Harry took his position at the grille, peering into the quarters on the other side. "Yep," he said, "this is it."
Tom sent him a sharp look. "How do you know? Have you been here before? Inside?"
Harry had taken a mag-spanner and was busily removing the fastenings from the grille. "Of course," he answered.
Tom felt suddenly, unreasonably jealous. "When?"
"Oh, lots of times," Harry answered. "We don't do our work only at the consoles in engineering, you know. Sometimes we work in the mess hall, or in our quarters. It's more comfortable." He was loath to mention the scene that had played out just a few days before on B'Elanna's sofa. "Got it," he announced, lifting the grille from the floor and leaning it against the wall of the shaft.
Harry moved away from the opening and looked expectantly at Tom, who managed to wiggle his long body around so he could back into B'Elanna's cabin. He slowly lowered himself through the opening and hung from the frame, stretching, before dropping silently to the carpet.
"Hand me the duffel, Harry." Tom caught it and carried it over to B'Elanna's small dining table, setting it on the floor by his feet.
"Computer, what is the location of Lt. Torres?" Harry said a moment later.
"Lt. Torres is in main engineering."
"Good, we have five minutes at least," Harry said. He looked around nervously, then crossed to the sofa and picked up a robe B'Elanna had discarded there, probably in her haste to get to work that morning. As he started for her sleep area, Tom caught his arm, "What are you doing?"
"I just thought I could tidy up a bit—" he began, but Tom cut him off.
"And let her know we were here?"
Harry glanced at the table where Tom had already started unpacking his 'surprise.' "I think she's going to figure it out," he deadpanned.
Tom frowned and took the robe from Harry. He'd intended to put it back on the sofa, but he held it for a moment, appreciating the silky feel of the fabric against his fingers. An image of B'Elanna clad only in the long, dark red gown hovered in the front of his mind. Harry raised an eyebrow and looked pointedly at Tom, who scowled and tossed it back to where it had been when they first entered B'Elanna's quarters.
"Look, Harry. Having a couple of friends break into your quarters to leave you a surprise dinner is nice. Having someone break into your quarters to clean up is just…weird. Here, put some water in this." Tom handed Harry a crystal bud vase, then took a white, linen-like tablecloth from the bag at his feet and spread it over the glass tabletop. Next, he reached into the bag and produced a silver food warmer and two silver candlesticks, which he placed on the table. Gold-trimmed fine china plates followed, along with silver flat wear, both in the official Starfleet design. "I wish these weren't so 'Starfleet'. The plates especially. The 'Fleet logo sort of spoils the mood, don't you think, Harry?"
"I guess that depends on what mood you're going for," Harry answered, depositing the bud vase between the candlesticks. He was trying to figure out why Tom was going to so much trouble, especially since he wasn't planning to join B'Elanna for the meal. Tom had only laid out one place setting.
Tom chose to ignore his remark. Instead, he quickly 'fan-folded' a napkin and tucked it into a short stemmed water glass, then turned to the replicator as he hit his combadge, "Computer, locate Lt. Torres."
"Lt. Torres is in turbolift three," the computer replied. Tom felt his heart jump.
"Deck nine, section twelve."
"Shit!" Tom exclaimed. Of all the nights for her to get off-shift on time. "Harry, light the candles." He quickly keyed his code into the replicator and requested a meal. A tossed salad appeared along with the main course, which he stowed inside the warmer. Finally, Tom plucked the flower from inside his uniform and popped it into the vase with a flourish.
Harry was already standing under the ventilation shaft, and Tom crouched to give him a 'hands-up' boost. As Harry scrambled to pull himself into the narrow space, Tom bent and picked up the now empty duffel. He handed it to Harry, then jumped to hook his hands on the outer rim of the grille support. Harry helped to pull Tom into the narrow passageway and replaced the grille just as the door opened and B'Elanna stepped inside. Tom and Harry froze.
As she came through the door, B'Elanna stripped off her uniform jacket and tossed it to the sofa on her way to her sleep area. Her turtleneck quickly followed and landed in a heap on the floor beside her bed. She unfastened her uniform pants, reached toward the bed, and stopped. Her forehead creased in confusion. Tom could see her face, and he sucked in a slow breath, but couldn't look away. He realized immediately what she was looking for and he hoped he'd put it where she left it.
B'Elanna seemed to remember, and toed off her boots on her way to the sofa. As she bent to pick up her robe, something caught her eye and she turned to stare, open-mouthed at the table.
The candles glowed softly in the dim light, their flames reflected in the crystal and silver. The effect was beautiful. B'Elanna took a step toward the table and stopped, glancing around her quarters. "What in …?" She walked into the bathroom. "Chakotay?" she called.
Tom winced, more than a little annoyed that she should automatically think of her old friend. When B'Elanna came out of the bathroom, she was wearing the robe and Tom noted how well it skimmed her body, accentuating her curves. He thought for a moment that he had never seen her in anything other than her many-layered uniform, and the effect of the red silk was … disconcerting. He realized he was wrong as his mind immediately flew back to her Maquis leathers.
Though the leathers came in a close second, he decided the robe won.
Harry began a slow shuffle down the tunnel, and Tom reached out to grab his leg and hold him still. Now was definitely not the time to get caught. Harry sent him an impatient look and gestured through the grille to B'Elanna, clearly displeased by Tom watching her. Tom just shrugged and mouthed 'She'll hear you.'
B'Elanna crossed to the table and leaned toward the flower. She inhaled its light, spicy scent, then grinned as she sat and reached for the lid of the warmer. A familiar aroma wafted from the dish, and she bit her lip, beating back a grin. The burrito lay in the silver bowl on a bed of shredded lettuce, grated cheese melting along the top and dripping down the sides. A generous dollop of salsa followed the path of the cheese. It looked like an offering to the gods.
She threw back her head and laughed. "How did he get his hands on this stuff?" she wondered aloud. Then B'Elanna's stomach rumbled—it had been another day without a proper lunch break—and she lifted her dinner onto her plate with the silver tongs left for just that purpose. She spread her napkin on her lap and glanced around. "I'll have to tell him he forgot the wine," she murmured, then took a bite of the burrito.
Tom had set the table so B'Elanna's back was to the wall, and he watched her eyes close with enjoyment as she slowly chewed. Belatedly, he berated himself for not setting a second place. He could have just shown up at her door, forgotten bottle of wine in hand. She would have let him in, right? Right?
He heard B'Elanna call for some music, something soft and bluesy, and motioned for Harry to start down the Jefferies tube. The sound of B'Elanna's voice came clearly through the grille, stopping him cold.
"Computer—locate Lt. Paris."
"Lt. Paris is—"
"Wait! AND Ensign Kim."
"Lt. Paris and Ensign Kim are both in ventilation shaft 9-12, junction 47."
At the sound of B'Elanna's chair knocking against the wall Tom sent a panicked look at Harry. "What do we do?" he asked, his voice rising. "You wanted adventure," Harry accused. He set off down the shaft backing away from B'Elanna's quarters as fast as he could, but his legs became entangled in the duffel's shoulder strap, and he almost fell over backward when Tom bumped against him.
"Move Harry!" Tom whispered fiercely, giving him a shove.
Harry began to kick frantically at the canvas bag, flailing his legs in Tom's face. "I can't," he shot back. Tom grabbed the duffel and tore it away from Harry, then he threw it over his shoulder into the Jefferies tube behind him. The sound of the metal clasp hitting the wall echoed through the shaft, but they were beyond caring.
B'Elanna, meanwhile, got up from the table and crossed to her storage closet. She took a moment to rummage through the bottom drawer and finally came up with a large, wicked looking knife, a memento of her Maquis days that she'd won—ironically—in a poker game. She hooked a chair from the dining area and swung it around to place it under the grille in her ceiling. Climbing onto the chair, she thrust the blade at the grille which popped off hitting Tom in gut.
Tom and Harry froze.
"Out. Now," B'Elanna said quietly. The two men climbed out of the shaft and dropped to the floor. They stood stiffly in front of B'Elanna, like cadets on parade.
"Surprise?" Harry ventured.
B'Elanna folded her arms across her chest, the long, curved blade displayed perfectly against her arm. Its shining surface caught the light and both men found their eyes drawn to it. B'Elanna raised an eyebrow, then turned on her heel and walked back to the table. She raised the knife and brought it quickly down on the burrito, once, twice, slicing it into three neat portions.
Tom and Harry both flinched at the sound of metal hitting the plate, but the china held up under the assault. B'Elanna cocked her head and motioned to the storage cupboards near her replicator. "Get a plate and join me," she said, reclaiming her seat against the wall.
Tom was the first to react, crossing to the replicator and grabbing plates and utensils. He handed Harry a knife and fork, and offered the plates to B'Elanna. His eyes drifted again to the huge knife now resting beside her water glass. "Since you're up, Tom, how about some wine?" He nodded wordlessly and retraced his steps, returning a moment later with the requested bottle and three glasses. "Salad?" she asked, passing the bowl to Harry.
"So how did you know it was us?" Tom asked sheepishly as he offered B'Elanna a wineglass.
"The burrito was a clue," she said, motioning to her plate. "And once I realized it was you, I figured Harry couldn't be far behind."
Harry looked offended. "I don't let him talk me into every harebrained scheme he has, you know. I just thought I should keep an eye on him while he crawled halfway through the ship."
"Oh?" B'Elanna asked. "I thought you were his insurance." Tom's eyes leapt to hers and held for a moment. She read mischief in them. "Insurance?" Harry asked, confused.
"You know, Harry, my insurance marker." He saw Harry's blank stare. "Like in poker? In case B'Elanna came home early and found me in her quarters." His eyes slid back to her knife and B'Elanna couldn't hide her grin. Tom got the impression that if she had discovered him alone in her rooms the red sauce on the blade wouldn't be salsa.
B'Elanna looked at her now empty plate, then back to Tom whom she knew had a week's worth of replicator rations in his account. "That was delicious, but it didn't go very far, did it?" she asked pointedly.
Tom grinned and moved back to the replicator, punching in his code and ordering three more burritos. "Then I guess dinner's on me," he said as he placed the steaming treat on the table,
B'Elanna looked at him from over the rim of her glass. "So why did you crawl through the tubes, Tom? Some sort of 'lizard thing'?" she teased. Tom got the feeling it would take a long time to live that down. "You should have just overridden my security code."
"I'll keep that in mind for next time, B'Elanna, thanks."
"You know, a little more salad would be nice," Harry suggested.
Tom looked at him for a long moment before getting up again. He paused beside the table, "Anything else I can get you while I'm up?" he asked.
"A glass of water," Harry added. "That salsa's a little hot." Tom smiled patiently and looked at B'Elanna. She brought a hand to her mouth and replied with a muffled, "I'm fine, thanks."
"So where did you get that knife, B'Elanna?" Harry asked.
"Oh," her eyes slid from Tom's retreating figure to the huge blade at her elbow. "I won it a few years back at poker game. Off Ayala."
"Where do you think he got it?" Harry asked, hefting the knife, appreciating its weight.
"No idea," she answered.
"Why was he allowed to bet a knife?" Tom asked. "When I was with the Maquis we were only allowed to bet table stakes. Did he have it strapped to his leg or something?"
B'Elanna shrugged. "We were in his quarters, so technically he had it with him at the time. Besides, I wanted it. A girl needs to defend herself."
"But I thought this was a friendly table," Tom countered with a drawl.
"Oh it is," B'Elanna assured him, "but you never know when someone might be sandbagging you."
"Sandbagging?" Harry asked.
"A poker term, Harry. It's a strategic move. For when you're hiding your strength so you can increase your profit."
"Some people consider it underhanded," B'Elanna said. "It's almost cheating."
"Well, if the pot is rich enough, some people might do anything to win," Tom countered.
"This is hardly a shootout, Tom."
"Oh, I agree. What would be the point of leaving only one man standing?"
"Winner takes all." B'Elanna added. She rested her chin in her hand and gazed at Tom from across the table. He looked at her for a moment trying to decide if she was still joking.
"I prefer team sports," Tom said finally, giving her a lazy grin.
Harry looked from one of his friends to the other. "Are you guys still talking about poker?" he asked.
B'Elanna ignored him. "I though your game was Five Card Stud." She emphasized the last word slightly.
"That's a game for purists," he said. "I've always thought Follow The Queen was more fun."
This time B'Elanna looked confused, and Tom laughed. "It's a variation of Seven Card Stud. The card dealt up after a queen becomes wild. I like any rule that increases my odds of winning."
"Oh, but it would also increase MY odds of winning," she reminded him.
"You never know," Tom said, "we might just decide to share the pot. That way we both win."
B'Elanna grinned and gave in. "Speaking of pots, how about a little coffee?" she suggested. Tom laughed and started toward the replicator one more time.
"Just no 'Paris delight' this time, hmm?"
Additional notes: All the poker terms used at the end came from The Poker Dictionary, © 1995-1996 by Dan Kimberg. I'm sure he'd shudder if he knew how I used his information! Did you read LA's story first? If not, godo so now, it'll explain the poker fixation.