Title:  A Lesson in Flying
Author:  Julie Evans
Contact: Juli17@aol.com
Series:  Voyager
Codes:  P, K, T, P/T, Borg kids
Rating:  PG13
Date posted:  4/24/00
Summary:  One day on Voyager, a day when, among other things, Tom gives the Borg kids a lesson in flying.  Set shortly after the episode "Good Shepherd."

Archive:  Okay to archive to the ASC, PT Collective Archive, PTF Archive, and BLTS.  All others please ask author for permission.

Disclaimer:  Star Trek and its characters are the property of
Paramount/Viacom.  I am borrowing them for fun only not profit.

Notes:  This story contains spoilers for various sixth season episodes, including "Child's Play" and "Good Shepherd."  And the Borg kids are in it.  I figured they're part of the community of Voyager now, and probably there to stay, so I might as well play with them too.  I even kept the baby around, despite recent convention reports that TPTB assume she was "dropped off" at some planet along the way and won't be seen again.  She could still be on Voyager ;-)

"A Lesson in Flying"
by Julie Evans

It was the breakfast hour, and on this particular morning the mess hall population numbered about forty-five first-shifters, including those who hadn't started their shift early--like a certain chief of engineering was wont to do--and those who hadn't elected to splurge and replicate breakfast in their own quarters (those numbers were subject to great variation, mostly depending on what Neelix prepared for breakfast on any given day).  The current morning's menu was a fairly simple one of grain cereal, a selection of fruit, and muffins.  In the opinion of Voyager's chief pilot, it was not a bad way to start another day on Voyager.

That was if he didn't count the fact that his breakfast had just been interrupted.  Across the table Harry Kim was finishing his cereal as Tom addressed the person who had done the interrupting.  "You want me to what?"

Seven gave Tom an unrelenting stare, tinged with just a bit of
impatience.  "I want you to give the children a lesson in piloting.  They have expressed an...interest in the subject."

Seven said it as if she couldn't imagine why they would be interested in something as inconsequential as piloting, and Tom smirked a little.  "So you want me to teach them to fly."

"I want you to teach them the rudimentary concepts of helm, navigation and flight control," Seven corrected.  "Since you are the head of the helm department, and the best pilot on the ship, you are the obvious choice."

"Right."  He grinned.  "But considering that my department got ninety- four out of a hundred on your efficiency scale, any pilot on Voyager would be more than capable."

Seven's eyebrow rose.  "Do not be so self-congratulatory, Ensign Paris.  Your department is small and its responsibilities are limited in scope, which partly accounts for the high rating."

"Limited?"  Tom leaned back in his chair, his own eyes narrowing.  "Flying the ship is fairly critical, Seven, if you'd like to actually *get* anywhere that is."  He cocked his head.  "And doesn't astrometrics have an even smaller crew complement than the helm department?  What was the efficiency rating of your department again?"

"That is irrelevant to the matter I wish to discuss," Seven said curtly.  "However, your assertion that several other pilots will adequately qualify for my purposes is correct.  I will approach Ensign Culhane with my request."

Tom sat up straighter and shook his head.  "No, I'll do it.  How about later this afternoon?"

Seven paused for several moments, and then inclined her head slightly.  "Sixteen hundred hours would be acceptable."

"Fine," Tom agreed easily.  "I'll rev up the engines on the Delta Flyer, and we'll see how the kids can handle her."  He glanced at Harry.  "Want to come?"

Harry shook his head.  "No, thanks.  I don't want to be standing in the captain's ready room explaining how the doors of the shuttlebay got a Delta Flyer size hole in them."

Tom grinned.  "Don't be such a wimp, Harry."

"It would be precipitous to allow the children to fly the real Delta Flyer when they have no flight experience," Seven said sharply.  "If that is your intent, then I *will* choose someone else."

"I think Tom is kidding, Seven," Harry said.  He glanced at Tom.  "Aren't you?"

"I'm kidding, Seven," Tom told her.  "That was just my idea of humor.  I'll recreate the Delta Flyer on the holodeck.  It will be perfectly safe."

"Very well," Seven said. "I have reserved holodeck one at sixteen hundred hours for two hours.  The children will arrive precisely at that time.  Please see that you are punctual."

"Yes, maam," Tom replied smartly, as Seven turned and strode toward the mess hall door.  He had just turned back to Harry when she spoke again.

"Ensign Paris."

Tom turned to see Seven standing at the mess hall door, looking at him with a rather disdainful expression.  "Yes?"

"I do understand your concept of humor.  I simply do not find it funny."

Tom just gave her a nonchalant smile as she turned on her heel and strode out the door.  Then he looked at Harry, who was stifling a laugh.  "Is Seven getting even more stuffy lately, or is it just me?"

"You mean could it be that *your* particular brand of humor doesn't appeal to everyone?" Harry asked, his tone disbelieving.  "Gee, Tom, that couldn't be possible."

"I didn't think so either," Tom agreed promptly, completely straightfaced.

Harry chuckled.  Then he glanced toward the door where Seven had departed.  "She does seem a little less rigid around the kids."  He shrugged.  "I have a feeling that she's never really going to change much.  But if that's what makes her happy..."

Tom couldn't quite equate Seven and happy, but she was obviously content to stay within in her comfort zone, and showed no intention of leaving it.  Harry seemed to accept that fact now.  Tom supposed Harry had long ago given up any illusions that Seven was ever going to develop an interest in him.  At least Harry saw it as Seven's failing, not his own.  Too bad he hadn't forgiven himself as easily over Lindsay.  "So how about it, Harry?"

"How about what?" Harry asked.

"What are you doing at sixteen hundred hours?"

Harry pushed his empty cereal bowl away.  "Don't think you can handle those kids by yourself, Tom?"

Tom returned Harry's smirk.  "Of course I can.  Kids love me.  But since you've developed such a rapport with them yourself, especially

Harry's eyes narrowed as Tom left that sentence hanging.  Tom knew that Harry and Mezoti had been behind the Vulcan monks belting out Ferengi drinking songs in Tuvok's Temple of T'Panit program several weeks ago, even though Harry refused to admit it.  Tom was pretty sure Tuvok had figured it out too, especially since Tuvok had been able to erase Tom as a suspect because he'd been working a second shift in sickbay the evening of the sabotage.

"As usual, I have no idea what you're talking about, Tom," Harry said.

Tom suppressed a grin, and sighed in mock resignation.  "Oh, okay.  I just wish I knew who to congratulate for such an inspired prank.  So, wanna help me out this afternoon anyway?"

Harry stood and picked up his breakfast tray.  "Sure, why not?  They actually are pretty good kids."

"Apparently they're all pretty smart, too," Tom said, standing also, and following Harry toward the kitchen.  "Icheb has been visiting engineering regularly.  B'Elanna is helping him install his wormhole detector.  I get the feeling she's actually enjoying it."

"B'Elanna?" Harry asked, sounding surprised as he set his tray on the counter.

"Yep," Tom said, adding his tray to Harry's.  B'Elanna had always maintained that she was not very good with children.  It seemed to escape her notice that she'd become pretty good with Naomi over the years.  Add Icheb's affinity for engineering, and that seemed irresistible to her.  "According to B'Elanna, the kid's a born engineer."  He grinned at Harry.  "I think she wants to adopt him."

B'Elanna checked the figures on the datapadd, and looked at the newly installed and operational wormhole detector with satisfaction.  She had made a few design changes to enhance its range, but for the most part it was Icheb's work.  "I think we have a working wormhole detector."

Icheb took the datapadd she offered to him.  "Seven said you might allow me to monitor the data." His tone was cautiously hopeful.

"She did?" B'Elanna asked.  Somehow it was hard to countenance Seven using words like "might allow" instead of just making it a demand, or actually conceding that B'Elanna had the authority to make that decision.  B'Elanna might consider it a forward step for Seven, if she wasn't still irritated about the annoying efficiency reports her majesty of Borg had inflicted on the senior staff two weeks earlier.  She didn't say any of that to Icheb however.  "Since I've already given you an access code to the database, I'll expect you to monitor the data yourself," she told him.

"I will," Icheb said enthusiastically, and his face creased into a smile.  "Thank you, Lieutenant Torres."

B'Elanna couldn't help smiling in response.  "You're welcome, Icheb.  Just make sure you inform me if we detect any prize wormholes."

"I will," Icheb assured her quickly.

B'Elanna had never really considered herself a "kid" person, especially when it involved an interruption in her work.  Even though she
genuinely liked Naomi, she'd always had to school herself to be patient on the few occasions when Naomi visited engineering and started into one of her fifty questions sessions.  It was almost a revelation how much she'd enjoyed Icheb's company the several times they'd worked together now on the wormhole detector.  But he was an apt pupil, and attentive to everything she said.  "Now that you are one of the crew, you'll be expected to do your part," she said

It was the right thing to say.  "I will do my part," Icheb assured her, puffing up just a little.  "I am a part of this crew now, aren't I?"

Though it was a semi-rhetorical question, B'Elanna answered him anyway.  "Of course you are."

Icheb looked inordinately pleased at her affirmation.  She'd heard he was upset about his parents, but he seemed to have rebounded well.  She'd been appalled herself to hear what his parents had done.  Part of her had understood their desperation against the Borg.  She certainly hated the Borg as much as anyone.  Still, to use their own child that way was unconscionable.  But she knew too well from her own experience that there were parents who cared little or nothing about the welfare of their own child.

"There are probably some other jobs in engineering I could help you with," Icheb said, interrupting her thoughts.  "I don't know all the systems yet, but you could show me."

"I'd be happy to show you, Icheb," B'Elanna said.  "But you have plenty of time for that.  You should be concentrating on your education first."

Icheb looked so disappointed that B'Elanna added, "I'm sure I can arrange a few extra duties for you in engineering once your lessons are done.  We can always use the help."

"Recruiting yourself a new engineer, Lieutenant?"

B'Elanna turned and met Janeway's amused expression.  She hadn't heard the captain enter, but she rarely heard anyone's approach in main engineering above the hum of the engines, or as Tom has once told her, beyond her own often intense preoccupation with her work.  "Icheb does have a lot of potential, captain."

Icheb flashed B'Elanna a happy look, and Janeway smiled.  Naomi, who had walked in with the captain, beamed at Icheb as if she knew all his hidden ambitions.  Maybe she did, since she spent a great deal of time with the former Borg kids now, in class and out.  Naomi didn't wander from department to department asking endless questions as she had before.  She seemed perfectly content instead with lessons and activities arranged for the children as a group.  B'Elanna realized that Naomi must have been pretty lonely with only adults for company.

"I agree with Lieutenant Torres," Janeway said, looking at Icheb.  "You have the makings of a fine engineer.  But I understand that you are due in holodeck one in less than ten minutes."

Icheb nodded.  "For a flying lesson."

"Ah, Tom mentioned that at lunch," B'Elanna said.  She gave Icheb a stern look.  "I hope you're not going to fall under Tom's influence and desert a promising engineering career to become some hotshot pilot."

Janeway clearly heard the teasing in B'Elanna's tone and chuckled lightly, but Icheb took her completely seriously and shook his head.  "I want to be an engineer.  I don't have to take piloting lessons if you don't want me to--"

"Icheb, I was just kidding," B'Elanna told him quickly.

"Tom is B'Elanna's boyfriend," Naomi informed Icheb, as if he hadn't been on the ship for nearly two months, and couldn't possibly be unaware of that fact.  "She really likes him."

"I suppose he does have his moments," B'Elanna admitted.

Naomi grinned.  "Besides if Tom is teaching us, it will be *fun*."

"There's no doubt about that," B'Elanna agreed, exchanging an amused look with Janeway.  "Tom does know how to have fun."

"On Voyager, my senior officers have a working knowledge of all of Voyager's departments," Janeway said to Icheb.  "Mister Paris can help out in engineering in a crisis, or Lieutenant Torres can take the helm, Commander Tuvok can run astrometrics, Commander Chakotay can lead a security team, and so on.  A good Starfleet officer needs to know a lot about his chosen field, but he, or she also needs to know a little about every other field, especially on a starship.  Versatility is a major asset in a Starfleet officer."

Icheb nodded, accepting the captain's reasoning.

"Besides, you should keep your options open," Janeway added.  "When I was your age I think I changed my mind about what I wanted to be several times."

"I always wanted to be an engineer," B'Elanna said immediately.  She'd never even considered anything else.

Icheb gave B'Elanna an admiring look.  "Me, too."  Then he looked quickly back at the captain.  "But I do want learn everything I need to become a good officer on Voyager."

Janeway nodded with satisfaction.  "Good.  You'd better proceed to holodeck one then.  You've got about five minutes."  Her lips quirked.  "Tom probably won't give you a demerit for being late, but if Seven hears about it..."

Naomi shrugged, not particularly intimidated, and nodded at Icheb.  "Come on."

Janeway watched Icheb and Naomi leave, then turned back to B'Elanna.  B'Elanna couldn't help noticing the thoughtful, amused gleam in Janeway's eyes.  "I have some warp core irregularities to reconcile--"

"It appears you've gained a protege, B'Elanna," Janeway interrupted her, clearly not ready to leave.

"He seems to have an affinity for engineering," B'Elanna said.  "And unlike some people on this ship, he asks permission before he touches something."  Her meaning wasn't lost on Janeway, who smiled wryly.  "So I don't mind if Icheb wants to spend a little time here helping out."

Janeway shook her head.  "It's more than that, B'Elanna.  I'd say Icheb sees you as a mentor."

B'Elanna's eyebrows rose.  "I think he's just interested in engineering."

"I think he wants to be like you," Janeway returned.  She smiled at B'Elanna's frown. "There's nothing wrong with being a role model, or someone's mentor.  It isn't painful, you know.  It's a pretty good feeling actually."

B'Elanna smiled back a little weakly.  "I guess I just never thought of myself as a much of role model for a child," she said honestly.  When Janeway gave her a curious look, she added, "That's usually a parent's job."

"Usually," Janeway agreed.  "But we now have several children aboard who don't have parents."  Her lips thinned briefly.  "Or whose parents have proven to be less than worthy of the title."

"Seven seems to see herself as their surrogate mother and role model," B'Elanna noted.  She had to give Seven a few points for that one.  Apparently Seven was determined to stick it out.

"Yes, she does.  I think being a parental figure can only enlarge Seven's horizons.  But that is true for all of us isn't it?"

B'Elanna wondered what Janeway meant by *that,* but the captain didn't wait for an answer.  "The doctor has spoken to me several times over the years about the need for a nursery looming in our future," Janeway continued.  "But so far it hasn't been necessary.  I know there are some on Voyager who might have chosen to have children already, but have decided against it because of our circumstances."  She smiled a little ruefully.  "Truthfully I've been relieved with that decision.  With all the dangers and uncertainties we constantly face out here, this is hardly an ideal situation in which to raise a child."

B'Elanna nodded in complete agreement.  She was glad Janeway was focusing on the practical impediments.  She preferred to do the same, rather than considering how her own insecurities might play into her automatic dismissal of the idea of having a child anytime soon.  It wasn't like Tom and she were ready to even think about that subject anyway, or might ever be.

"But maybe I've been wrong."

B'Elanna stared at Janeway, momentarily nonplussed by her turnaround.

"After all, Naomi has adjusted very well to life on Voyager," Janeway pointed out.  "Prospered in fact.  And I think these children we've rescued from the Borg will prosper too."

"I'm sure they'll be fine," B'Elanna agreed.  "But it's still dangerous out here, and we didn't deliberately bring them into this situation.  We didn't have a choice in the matter, and now neither do they."

Janeway nodded.  "True.  Of course, this is still an improvement over their last situation," she noted dryly.  She gave B'Elanna a meaningful look. "And isn't it interesting that often it's when you have no choice at all that you find out who you really are, and what you're capable of doing?  I think we've all discovered that over the past few years, haven't we?"

B'Elanna couldn't disagree with that assessment.  "I suppose we have," she admitted.

Janeway frowned.  "Lately I've begun to wonder if it's been an unfair hardship for this crew to have put so many aspects of their lives on hold indefinitely, including having children, just because the conditions aren't completely perfect.  And I can't help also wondering if my unspoken expectations have had an influence on those kinds of personal

"What makes you think everyone isn't making the decisions *they* want to make, despite what you might want?" B'Elanna asked bluntly.  Then she realized how that sounded.  "Meaning no disrespect, captain--"

"None taken, B'Elanna," Janeway said, looking unperturbed.  She smiled wryly.  "Touché, by the way.  You're right.  It probably is a little presumptuous of me to think that I have *that* much influence over the personal lives of my crew.  In fact, I'm curious now if this unexpected arrival of more children aboard Voyager will start a trend."

Janeway's expression was bland, but B'Elanna wasn't fooled.  "Not everyone wants to be a parent," B'Elanna said shortly.  "Or should be."

Janeway looked at B'Elanna for several silent moments, and then nodded in apparent agreement.  "You're right.  Not everyone does want to be a parent, though I'd hate to see anyone on Voyager deny themselves the opportunity because they think they need to wait for the every condition to be exactly right.  The truth is, it may still be many years before we get back home."

"I plan on it being sooner," B'Elanna said resolutely.  She meant that sincerely.  Once she wouldn't have cared much one way or the other if they ever got back, but things had changed.  She had changed.  And she knew that Tom, who had cared even less if they ever got home, now approached the idea with cautious anticipation.

"I plan to do everything in my power to make that happen too," Janeway said.  "But there's no guarantee.  There never is in life.  The same can be said for raising a child.  It's an unpredictable venture.  And even under the best of circumstances, no one is ever *really* prepared for parenthood, B'Elanna.  Lack of experience doesn't mean someone
shouldn't be a parent."

B'Elanna shrugged.  "Some are more suited than others.  Like Sam Wildman."

"Maybe," Janeway said.  "But Seven would hardly be most people's choice of obvious parent material, yet she has adjusted very well."  She glanced at the newly installed wormhole detector.  "And even with Seven's willingness to act as the children's surrogate mother, I have a feeling we are all going to get a little parenting experience."  She looked at B'Elanna again.  "I wouldn't be surprised if some of my crew discover that they are more suited to parenthood than they think they are."

B'Elanna ignored Janeway's obvious meaning, and reached over to adjust one of the settings on the detector's control module, though it needed no adjusting.

"I know *I've* enjoyed how these kids have breathed new life into Voyager," Janeway said.  When B'Elanna finally looked at her, the captain had a genuine smile on her face.  "And it's hard to resist a baby, isn't it?"

B'Elanna couldn't recall Naomi attracting all that much attention when she was a baby.  But Naomi had had a mother, and this baby was an orphan.  That fact did seem to bring out some sort of sympathetic instincts in most of the crew.  Janeway was right that few had been able to resist the baby, even though it was easy enough to forget she was even on board since she remained out of sight most of the time, in the quarters of whoever was taking care of her at the moment.  "Does she have a name yet?"

Janeway shook her head.  "There have been several suggestions, but so far no one has come up with a name that seems to stick."

"Well, let's hope it's a quicker process than the doctor coming up with his name," B'Elanna said sardonically.

Janeway chuckled.  "It's been almost two months, hasn't it?"  She shrugged.  "Eventually one will feel right.  In the meantime she seems to respond fine to 'angel' and 'pumpkin.'"

B'Elanna recalled Tom calling the baby "angel" several times in sickbay.  She'd gone to meet him there soon after the children had come to Voyager, and had found him playing with the baby, making goo-goo noises or whatever they were called at her while the doctor was performing some procedure.  Despite the tears in her eyes, the baby had seemed totally mesmerized by Tom's antics, hardly noticing the doctor's poking and prodding.  Of course, the baby was female.

"In any case, she is definitely getting plenty of attention," Janeway said.  She shook her head.  "I don't know how good it is to shuffle her and her crib from quarters to quarters, but it doesn't seem to be doing her any harm."

"It's got to be better than sickbay," B'Elanna replied.  She'd wondered herself if at some point one of the crew would want to adopt the baby.  She'd heard a rumor that one or two had already offered to do so.  Maybe the problem was that the baby was too popular.  A surprising number of the crew wanted a chance to take care of her.

"Yes, it is better than sickbay," Janeway agreed.  "I have a feeling we'll have to settle her permanently pretty soon.  In the meantime she seems to be thriving.  I wish I had time to take her for a few days myself."

B'Elanna was surprised at the slightly wistful tone in the captain's voice.  "Why don't you?" she asked.  "Chakotay is more than capable of taking over for a few days."

Janeway looked at B'Elanna.  "Yes he is," she said slowly.  Her expression was thoughtful, as if she was seriously considering the idea.  "I may think about that.  In the meantime, I try and visit her when I can.  There's nothing quite like a baby snuggled up against you, is there?"

B'Elanna had never really thought of Janeway as a baby person, but at the moment the captain's expression was full of tenderness.  B'Elanna had held the baby briefly herself the time she'd met Tom in sickbay, because he'd shoved the baby into her arms without warning.  She'd given him a truly aggravated look, a promise that she would make him pay later.  Unfortunately it was a look he never had any difficulty ignoring.  Surprisingly, holding the baby had felt...nice, though she certainly hadn't volunteered that information to Tom.  She realized now that she also hadn't ever gotten around to making him pay for that later either.

"Let me know if *you* want the opportunity, B'Elanna."

B'Elanna came out of her reverie and looked at Janeway, unsure for a moment what opportunity the captain was referring to.  Then it hit her.  "Oh.  NO.  Uh, no."  She shook her head.  Tutoring Icheb was one thing.  Even watching Naomi for an evening with Tom, who'd sweet-talked her into it more than once, she could handle.  But taking care of a baby...  "My schedule is too hectic."

"Schedules can be rearranged, B'Elanna," Janeway said softly.  Then she gave B'Elanna a conspiratorial smile.  "Or you can always make Tom get up for the two am feedings."

B'Elanna didn't know what to say for a minute.  She wanted to say that Tom would never do that, but he probably would.  Unlike her, Tom was comfortable with kids, even babies.  He'd grown up with that experience, and she hadn't.

"It's just a thought to keep in mind if the idea appeals to you," Janeway said, patting B'Elanna's shoulder, and letting her off the hook.  "But enough about all this for now.  You know, I actually did come down here for a reason."

B'Elanna felt immensely relieved that the conversation was about to become job-related, and she immediately relaxed.  Janeway's eyebrows rose, as if she noticed that reaction, but B'Elanna just asked, "What can I help you with, captain?"

"Chakotay had a meeting with Mortimer Herron this morning about crew responsibilities.  It seems Mister Herron would be willing to put in a shift in engineering on a weekly basis."

"Oh, really?"  B'Elanna barely kept the snort out of her voice.  "How generous of him."

"I think he really wants to contribute a little more to the day to day needs aboard Voyager," Janeway said.

"I suppose agreeing working one shift a week in main engineering is his idea of a *little* contribution," B'Elanna replied sarcastically.  "I'm surprised he can pull himself away from his theoretical musings for that long."

"Would you really want him here more often than that, given his personality?" Janeway asked pointedly.  "At least it's a beginning, and he is a gifted theoretician.  If he applies those gifts to the more practical needs of engineering, that can only be of value to the ship and to your department."

B'Elanna nodded slowly.  "I suppose," she agreed reluctantly.  She'd never denied Herron's ability.  It was his unrelenting bad attitude she'd been unable to deal with, short of beating it out of him, which she'd seriously considered in her early confrontations with him, Starfleet protocols or not.  But she'd valued her position and hadn't wanted to jeopardize it, so letting Herron relocate to deck fifteen had been the easiest solution.

"Come on," Janeway said, moving in the direction of B'Elanna's office, leaving her to follow.  "I could use a cup of coffee to revive me for the rest of the afternoon, and we can discuss how you want to implement Mister Herron's change of heart about his duties into your staffing schedule."

"Great," B'Elanna said under her breath.  The idea of dealing with Herron was far less appealing than having an eager Icheb in engineering hanging on to her every word.  Maybe even less appealing than taking care of a baby.  She could only hope the man's attitude had *seriously* improved.

B'Elanna sighed and reluctantly followed the captain.


"And that is the forward thrust injection indicator," Mezoti said, pointing her finger at the corresponding panel light.  "It indicates that forward thrust has been activated on takeoff."

"That's right," Tom said.  He was sitting in the co-pilot's seat of the Delta Flyer, next to Mezoti, who was in the pilot's seat.  Behind them, Harry, Icheb, Naomi, and the ever-silent twins all stood watchfully as Mezoti had answered Tom's simple query of whether she could identify any of the of the helm controls by identifying the name and function of every single indicator and control pad on the helm and navigation console.  "You've obviously studied the specs of the Delta Flyer."

"When we studied the specifications of Voyager's systems, we also spent a few minutes studying the Delta Flyer's specifications," Icheb informed Tom.

"A few minutes..." Tom echoed.  Apparently there was something about being a former Borg that conferred an eidetic memory.  He glanced back at Harry with a mock-distressed look on his face.  "Why do I get the feeling that we are going to be completely obsolete on our own ship soon?"

"No one can fly as good as you can, Tom," Naomi said loyally.

"Thanks, Naomi," Tom said, winking at her.

"I'm sure Tom was just kidding," Harry told Naomi.

Tom hoped he was kidding anyway.  "Since you're familiar with the helm and all its functions, I guess we can move along to the hands on part of the lesson."

"You mean we can fly it now?" Mezoti asked.

"I've already flown the Delta Flyer," Naomi said.  There was a bit of smugness in her tone, and Tom suppressed a smile.  "Tom let me try it once."

"You mean in a simulation like this," Mezoti said, with more assumption than inquiry in her voice.

"No, the *real* Delta Flyer," Naomi corrected.  "Tom lets me play in it sometimes too."

"As long as you don't engage any of the systems," Tom reminded her quickly.  He caught Harry's curious gaze and gave a brief negative shake of his head.  He'd never actually gotten around to mentioning that particular arrangement to the captain.

"Why would you wish to play in the Delta Flyer?" Mezoti asked, only curiosity in her voice.

"Because it's fun," Naomi replied.  "I pretend I'm the captain of a ship exploring the galaxy.  My crew are all my family."

"Your family?" Mezoti repeated.

"My pretend family," Naomi clarified.  It didn't surprise Tom that Naomi had made her crew also her family, since it was only a minor variation of her real situation.  "My sister is the engineer, and my husband is the operations officer."

"Why isn't the pilot your husband?" Tom asked, flashing Harry an arch look.  "Pilots are so much more dashing than ops officers." "Because the pilot's married to the engineer," Naomi replied, giving Tom an "isn't that obvious" look.

"Oh," Tom murmured as Harry chuckled behind them.

"You do not have a sister," Icheb pointed out belatedly.

"So?"  Naomi asked, shrugging.  "I don't have a husband either.  It's all just pretend."

"I used to pretend I had a brother when I was a kid," Harry said, giving Naomi a sympathetic smile.  "I had a small family, and I always wanted brothers or sisters."

Tom had always had more than enough family around to have any
interest in creating any more of them in his mind, though he knew when she was a child B'Elanna had once imagined having a sister.  But B'Elanna had had to make up most of her friends when she was little too.

"Why don't you use the holodeck?" Mezoti asked.  "Then you could create the people on your ship."

Naomi shrugged.  "I like playing in the real Delta Flyer.  And the people are in my mind, so I can change them if I want.  Sometimes I don't bother with a husband."

"Don't bother?"  Tom asked, sounding aghast.  "Do you just kick the poor guy out an airlock when he gets annoying?"

"He's not a *real* person, Tom," Naomi said, her tone infinitely patient.  "If I don't want him, he's just not there."

"Ah," Tom said, pressing his lips together to keep from laughing out loud.  Harry cleared his throat deeply behind them.  "Very convenient."

"Aren't we supposed to be having a flying lesson?" Icheb asked.  "Who cares about pretend husbands and sisters."

The still silent twins nodded in agreement, and Mezoti looked at Icheb.  "I bet you pretend Seven is your wife."

Icheb stared coolly at her.  "I do not."

"Do too," Naomi taunted.

Icheb caught the look that passed between Naomi and Mezoti.  "You are both immature," he said, giving them a long-suffering look only a fifteen-year-old boy could manage.  Mezoti stuck out her tongue at him in return.

Tom grinned at Harry.  Maybe they were just kids after all.  And he decided if Icheb did have a crush on Seven, it was better than him having one on B'Elanna.  "All right, I think it's time to give the flying a try," he said.  "Everyone take a seat and Mezoti, you can start the pre- flight sequence."

"What about restraints?" Icheb asked, as he moved to one of the available seats.

"That's the purpose of the inertial dampeners," Tom said, watching Mezoti begin the pre-flight check, not surprised that she was moving easily through it in the right order.

"What if they fail?"

Tom glanced at Icheb. "Fail?" he asked incredulously, as if the concept was inconceivable.  He glanced over at the Flyer's ops station, and gave Harry a guileless look.  "Gee, Harry, do the inertial dampeners ever fail?"

"Not as long as the pilot keeps the ship flying straight," Harry said, giving Tom a sly smile in return.

Tom snorted.  "Of course.  Through ion storms, magnetic surges, gravitational anomalies, asteroid fields, during evasive maneuvers against hostile alien attacks.  No problem there.  Why wouldn't the pilot be able to keep the ship flying straight?"

"I should think the 'best pilot in the whole damned quadrant' could do it," Harry returned.

Tom rolled his eyes.

"This shuttle is smaller than a starship," Icheb said.  "Wouldn't it be wise to have back up restraints?"

"It would be wise to have them on a starship too," Tom said.  "It's an endless source of amazement how Starfleet Design always manages to overlook that fact.  But we'll take it easy the first time out anyway and avoid any turbulence.  When we move to advanced lessons, Harry can demonstrate how to fall out of your chair the right way when the inertial dampeners that aren't supposed to fail do."

"Funny as ever, Tom," Harry said.

Tom smiled at Mezoti, who had finished the pre-flight sequence and was looking at him expectantly.  "Ready to give it a try?"

Mezoti looked out the front viewscreen toward the simulated shuttlebay doors, and nodded.  "Ready."

"Take her out."


Twenty-five minutes later the Delta Flyer was on a return approach to the shuttlebay.  Naomi was aiming for the open hanger doors with the computer's vocal assistance.

*Adjust approach six degrees starboard.*

"And drop forward angle two degrees," Tom amended the computer's suggestion, as Naomi brought the Delta Flyer back into the holographic shuttlebay.  She missed scraping the paint off the top of the Flyer by mere millimeters, but set the shuttle down on the flight deck with just a small bump.  Tom smiled encouragingly at her.  "You did great for the first time.  All of you," he added, including Mezoti and the twins, who'd each taken the helm for a few minutes as they'd flown through silent black space, punctuated by only a few distant stars and an even more distant gas nebula.  It was an exact replica of the space the real Voyager was moving through at the moment.

"That was fun," Naomi said as she removed her hands from the helm and swiveled in her chair.  She smiled widely at Tom.

Tom grinned.  "Of course it was.  Even if it's your job it should be fun.  What's the point of doing it otherwise?"

"Can you say that about sickbay, Tom?" Harry asked.

"Well..." He actually could say that he didn't really mind sickbay duty at all anymore, but he did have a reputation to protect.  "Flying is my real love," he said instead.  "Almost anything else seems boring by comparison."

"Engineering is fun," Icheb said.

Tom looked at Icheb, and his lips twitched.  "Did B'Elanna tell you that?"

"It's true," Icheb said stubbornly.  "Engineering isn't boring, and neither is B'Elanna."

Tom and Harry exchanged brief looks, and Tom barely kept from
laughing.  "Nope, B'Elanna isn't boring at all," Tom agreed dryly, the double-entendre in his drawled words obvious only to Harry.  "And to her, engineering isn't boring.  She thinks it's a lot of fun."  Not that B'Elanna would put it exactly like that, but he knew her.  To her, all those warp calculations were sheer frivolity.  "In fact, you could say engineering *is* flying to B'Elanna."

"That's very deep, Tom," Harry said admiringly.  "Flying is a state of mind."

Tom grinned at Harry's mocking comment.  "I guess I'm just a philosophical kind of guy, Harry."

"So, flying is whatever *you* think is fun and are good at doing?" Naomi asked, catching on quickly.  "Like Neelix and cooking."

"In that case, flying may just be whatever you think is fun," Tom amended.

"Piloting the Delta Flyer was fun," Mezoti said.  "But I still like bugs."

"Bugs?" Tom asked.

"And programming.  Especially holoprogramming."

Tom couldn't say that he had any great fondness for bugs, but
holoprogramming was another matter.  He glanced at Harry, and then gave Mezoti a speculative look.  "I've heard that you can manipulate a holoprogram pretty well, Mezoti."

Mezoti apparently understood Tom's reference perfectly.  "We were trying to make Tuvok laugh, but it didn't work."

Tom flashed Harry a quick, triumphant look.  "That's been tried many times before, without success," Tom told Mezoti.  "Though I do think Tuvok was impressed by your ingenuity...uh, with Harry's help of course."  He glanced at Harry again.  "It appears our ops officer is a bad influence."

"I thought you liked practical jokes," Mezoti said to Tom, looking confused.

"Who, me?" Tom asked.  "Obviously you've heard some viciously untrue rumors about me."

Harry snorted loudly.  "They're all true, kids."

"You said practical jokes were a great way to relieve tension, Tom," Naomi reminded him.

"Oh, yeah," Tom said, as if he suddenly recalled that fact.  "I guess I did point out the therapeutic effect of humor to the doctor.  I told him that practical jokes have an important medical application for stress reduction."

Harry laughed.  "I bet the doctor bought that theory."

The doctor had rolled his eyes just about into the back of his head as only the doctor could, but Tom still thought it was a pretty good theory.

Mezoti looked at Harry.  "Can we try again to make Tuvok laugh?"

"Maybe."  Harry said noncommittally, clearly ready to drop the subject.

Tom smiled at Mezoti.  "Good luck.  Icheb, are you ready?"

Icheb stood and moved toward the front console.

"Perhaps we could reprogram Commander Tuvok's replicators to serve root beer floats instead of Vulcan tea," Mezoti suggested as Naomi and Icheb switched places.  She obviously had just warmed to the subject.

Tom grinned at Harry.  "Wow, you really *are* a bad influence."

Harry gave Tom an exasperated look, and addressed Mezoti.  "We never enter anyone's quarters without permission on Voyager.  That's the one place that is off limits."

"We do live in kind of a fishbowl on this ship," Tom added, speaking seriously.  "The one place a person can be assured privacy is in his or her own quarters."

"You can go in B'Elanna's quarters without permission, can't you?" Naomi asked Tom.  "You're her boyfriend."

"I have B'Elanna's standing permission," Tom said.  Well, unless she was really mad at him.  "But everyone needs a little individual privacy.  I usually announce myself if I know B'Elanna's there instead of just walking in on her."  He smiled a little slyly.  "On the other hand, I have gone into her quarters when she wasn't there.  For instance if I have a surprise for her.  Or if I know she wants to kill me for something I've said or done, and I need to leave her a dozen roses to apologize and save my skin."

"And you have to do that about once a week, don't you, Tom," Harry said, smirking.

Tom grinned, unabashed.  "At least."

"Why doesn't Seven have her own quarters?" Mezoti asked.

"I guess she considers cargo bay two suitable for her needs," Harry replied.

Tom wondered if Harry mimicked Seven's manner of expression on
purpose.  He knew that Seven's regeneration chamber could be moved to private quarters if she wanted.  Or she could forgo it altogether and receive shorter regeneration treatments in sickbay and use sleep to meet most of her body's regenerative needs now.  "Seven is comfortable right now in cargo bay two.  But if she--or you--ever wanted individual quarters they could be assigned."

Mezoti looked unsure about that, and the twins shook their heads.  "We like being with Seven," she said simply.

Tom nodded.  "Then again, sometimes it is nice having another person around."  He gotten kind of used to that himself now.  He smiled reassuringly at Mezoti, and then looked at Icheb.  "Finished pre-flight?"

Icheb nodded.  "I'm ready.  Can I do something besides just fly in empty space?"

"It's usually best to start at the beginning," Tom pointed out.

"I closely observed Mezoti and the others," Icheb said.  "I can accurately repeat every procedure.  I would like to learn something new."

"Flying is not just a series of repeatable actions," Tom told Icheb.  "There is a lot of intuitive reaction involved."

"Then I need a situation that requires me to react," Icheb replied.  Then, as if he realized he'd sounded a little rude, he stammered, "I mean if that is all right--"

"No problem," Tom said, not offended by Icheb's overconfidence.  "That's how you learn.  By your mistakes."  And he could think of a few mistakes Icheb was going to make even if the kid didn't think so.  "We can try landing on a planet, one with a strong ion field."

"Okay," Icheb agreed readily.

"Does this mean we're all going to be killed?" Naomi asked.

Icheb gave her a patronizing look.  "This is a simulation.  We cannot be killed."

"We'll just play it out and see what happens," Tom said.  He sat back in his seat, looking thoughtfully out the viewscreen.  "Icheb, since you know all the opening moves, take us out of the shuttlebay."


Twenty minutes later Icheb was trying for the third time to find an approach that would safely land the Delta Flyer on the class O planet surrounded by a strong, randomly surging ion field.  Twice now he had been spectacularly unsuccessful.

"Establish the orbit, and then be patient until the sensors give you an opening," Tom told him.  Then start to *feel* your way down.  Piloting is instinct as much as anything.  You just know in your gut which move to make if you trust your instincts."

Icheb frowned at the cloudy greenish planet that covered almost the entire viewscreen.  "I do not believe I have instincts."

"Sure you do," Tom said.  "Everyone has instincts.  It doesn't matter if it's for piloting, or medicine, or diplomacy, or even engineering.  Believe me, no matter how much math and theory is involved, B'Elanna depends on her own instincts and intuition as much as she does on reason or logic."

*Geosynchronous orbit achieved.* the computer informed them.

"The ion field is more active this time," Harry said.

"No problem," Tom said, almost dismissively.  "We just wait the for field to dissipate and give us an open window."  He watched Icheb check the indicators, and then he leaned back in his seat, stretching a little.  "In the meantime, when a situation is tense and you want to keep relaxed so that your wits stay sharp, there's only one thing to do."  He grinned.  "Talk."

"Talk?" Icheb asked.

"Sure," Tom replied.  "A little superficial conversation, some light chit chat, a bit of humor, it all keeps the stress level down.  Right, Harry?"

"Right," Harry agreed.  "I suppose that's why when you're on the bridge everyone is so relaxed they practically fall asleep."

Tom chuckled.  "I know you meant that as a compliment, Harry."

"What do you talk about?" Mezoti asked.
"Oh, what Neelix is making for dinner, who was seen in the hydroponics bay with whom, the most popular holoprogram of late..."

"The place on Earth where the captain likes to go?" Naomi asked.

"Fair Haven?"  Tom asked.  That was certainly the captain's favorite program these days.

Naomi nodded.  "Where Neelix cooks stew."

"That is a pretty popular one with most of the crew," Tom agreed.  Especially since Neelix had actually gotten skilled at making authentic Irish stew.

"I think your hockey program has gotten even more popular lately," Harry said to Tom.  "It's becoming the ship's favorite sport."

"Can we play hockey?" Naomi asked.

"I don't know, Naomi," Tom said.  "It's a pretty physical sport.  Sometimes you can get roughed up."

"At least you can if you're on Tom's team," Harry added, giving Tom a sympathetic smile.

"Traitor," Tom muttered.

"Hey, don't blame me because I picked B'Elanna's team instead of yours," Harry said.  "She actually wins.  Last week the final score was, what...eight to nothing?"

"B'Elanna recruited half the security staff to her team," Tom grumbled.  He glared at Harry.  "Besides, it was eight to one."

"Right," Harry said.  "I forgot.  You got a goal."  He grinned at Tom.  "And it was a hard won goal."

Tom recalled that he'd literally limped back to his quarters after that game, with B'Elanna's assistance.  On the way she'd gloated a little about winning, but then she'd tended very carefully to his bruises and strains, and eventually he'd decided that losing did have its good points after all.

"I want to be on B'Elanna's team," Icheb said.

"Us too," the twins said in unison, in one of their rare speaking moments.

Tom gave them all a wounded look.  "Fine.  I'm used to being deserted."  He glared at Harry again for good measure.

"I'll be on your team, Tom."

Tom flashed Mezoti a brilliant smile.  "Thanks, sweetheart."

Mezoti smiled back, and Naomi, who was sitting right behind Tom, patted his arm, and pressed her cheek to his shoulder briefly.  "Me, too, Tom."

Tom mussed Naomi's hair, and gave her the same thousand-watt smile.  "With you two on my team, how can I lose?"

"Oh, brother."

Harry's voice was a low murmur, but Tom heard it.  "Problem, Harry?"

"Nope.  Just wondering if this is a flying lesson or the Tom Paris school of charm," Harry said dryly.

Tom chuckled.  "Harry, Harry..."

"Would this be an appropriate time to begin descent?" Icheb asked, his attention focused on the helm controls.

Tom swiveled around and looked out the viewscreen, then spared a quick glance at the indicators.  "This would be the time.  Give it a shot, Icheb."

Icheb took his shot, and he managed quite well, until the Flyer entered its final landing approach.  Then an unexpected upsurge in the ion field played havoc with the instruments.  Tom could have handled it easily and landed the Flyer without incident, but it was Icheb's flight, and even if the kid had bitten off more than he could handle this early in his training, Tom knew better than to take over.

"Relax into it and feel your way," Tom said, as the Flyer was buffeted by the surges.  Easier said than done, he knew.  He offered a more practical suggestion.  "Reverse thrusters, twenty percent flow."  Then he added encouragingly, "You can do it, Icheb."

The computer had less confidence, even as the Flyer steadied for several moments.  *Impact imminent.  Brace for impact.*

The Flyer did a nose-dive, and the view of rocky terrain and scrubby vegetation spiraled quickly toward them, making even Tom a little dizzy before the viewscreen filled with the image of brown dirt, and then blinked to black.  Tom had set the safeties so there would be no physical sense of impact at all, but he heard several groans behind him along with the simulated screech of system alarms and the hiss of air escaping.  Someone, Naomi probably, said with more glee than despair, "Not again."

"Computer, what is the status of the Delta Flyer?"

Though the onboard computer would be as damaged as the Delta Flyer in a real impact, Tom had set the program so the computer could act as a separate entity, and it answered Harry's question.  *The Delta Flyer has sustained extensive hull damage.  Helm, engineering, environmental and life support are all nonfunctional.  The computer core has been destroyed.*

Tom thought the computer sounded vaguely miffed about that last part, but it was probably just his imagination.

Icheb asked the question Tom knew everyone was waiting to hear.  "Did anyone survive?"

*Negative,* the computer replied.  *Hull integrity is completely compromised.  There is no possibility of survivors.*

Tom glanced back and saw the grins appearing, and Harry sighing dramatically.  "Okay, go for it."

Naomi, Mezoti and the twins all immediately fell enthusiastically from their seats on to the deck, arranging themselves in various prone positions.  Harry, with a brief roll of his eyes, draped himself over his ops console.  Tom repositioned himself in his seat, letting his arms hang over the chair, and his head fall back.  He glanced at Icheb, who sighed as he looked at the black viewscreen.  "It was a good effort, Icheb.  With a little more experience you'll be able to land in even worse conditions."

Icheb looked at Tom.  "You can't talk when you're dead."

Tom gave him a crooked grin.  "Hey, you don't think that would stop me, do you?" he asked, and heard Harry's barely muffled laugh behind him.

Icheb almost smiled, though not quite.  Then he crossed his arms on the helm console and dropped his head to rest on them.

"What is the meaning of this?"

Tom sat up suddenly, the sharp tone of the voice behind him penetrating the continuing blare of system alarms and air escaping.  Seven stood at the doorway to the bridge of the Delta Flyer, flanked by Janeway and Tuvok, with the holodeck arch closing behind them.  Seven looked in equal parts perplexed and annoyed, Janeway looked amused, and
Tuvok's expression was impassive as usual.

"Why are the children prostrate on the deck?"  Seven asked sharply.

The children were only half-prostrate now, since they'd stirred to look at Seven.  "Icheb crashed the Delta Flyer," Naomi informed Seven before Tom could speak.  Then she added plaintively, "Again."

Seven surveyed the children.  "This is a simulation.  You are undamaged."  Her glance swept the Delta Flyer.  "As is this simulated shuttle."

"Tom programmed it that way," Harry informed Seven.  He'd resumed a more upright position at his console.  "Actually, the Delta Flyer is toast."

"And the computer informed us that there were no survivors," Mezoti added helpfully.

"That is very unfortunate," Janeway said, mirth evident in her voice.

Seven looked sharply at Tom.  "You consider this a suitable lesson plan, allowing Icheb to crash the Delta Flyer?"

Tom shrugged.  "The landing conditions were beyond his ability."  He glanced at Icheb.  "Though when he gets a little more experience he'll be able to handle it."

"Why did you not choose a scenario he could handle?" Seven demanded.  "That would have been an imminently more suitable learning experience than this..." she glanced again at the children sitting on the deck, "frivolous approach."

Tom was starting to feel a little irritated.  "Icheb chose this scenario, Seven.  It's only a simulation, as you said.  Just because it was beyond his abilities doesn't mean it wasn't a learning experience.  And just because they're having a little bit of fun doesn't mean they aren't learning something."

"Though it is irrelevant for Vulcan children, children of many other species often learn best when the learning has an element of fun," Tuvok said.

Tom stared at Tuvok in surprise, and Tuvok raised an eyebrow in return.

"We learned, Seven," Naomi added.  "Even if it was fun."

Seven looked narrowly at Naomi for a long moment.  "Perhaps."  She turned her gaze to Icheb.  "Though I was not aware that causing deaths in a shuttle accident contained any amusing aspects."

Tom stiffened.  Maybe Seven hadn't intended the double meaning in her words, since her attention was still on Icheb, but he suddenly felt everyone else's gaze on him.

"It's a simulation, Seven," Harry reminded her sharply.  "Children like to play act, and this *is* the holodeck."

"Humans and many other species often make light of death, Seven," Janeway added patiently.  "Especially in recreation.  Not because we don't understand and appreciate the real consequences, but because doing so lessens its power over us."  Her gaze locked with Tom's.  "I'm sure none of us are unaware of where the pretending ends and reality begins."

"If it was real, Tom would have never let us crash," Naomi said, matter- of-factly.

"Crash?"  B'Elanna glanced at the children still sitting on the deck as she strode between Tuvok and Seven, inadvertently clipping Seven as she passed.  Or perhaps it was not completely unintentional.  Tom hadn't heard B'Elanna come in, and the arch was closed again, so he had no idea if she'd heard any of the previous conversation.

"Rough flight?" B'Elanna asked, ignoring Seven's piercing look aimed at her back as she stopped in front of Tom.  Her tone was light, but her gaze on him was searching.

Tom smiled briefly.  "Bad landing."

"I was piloting," Icheb said.  "We crashed," he added, not sounding too bothered about it.

B'Elanna glanced at Icheb.  "Looks like you should stick with engineering."

"Actually he didn't do too bad for his first outing," Tom said, patting Icheb's shoulder briefly, and not missing Icheb's admiring look at B'Elanna.

"I will do better next time," Icheb said confidently.

"That is the right attitude, Icheb," Janeway said, smiling at him.

"Tom said being a great pilot is mostly about attitude."

B'Elanna snorted at Naomi's comment, and Janeway laughed.

"If Mister Paris is any indication, you are undoubtedly correct," Tuvok agreed in his driest tone.

"Children, assume a more...alive position," Seven said.  Her gaze met Tom's briefly.  "The lesson period is over, for now."

The children all stood immediately.  "Will you give us another flying lesson?" Mezoti asked Tom.

Tom winked at her.  "I'm willing if you are."

Seven met Mezoti's beseeching gaze and inclined her head slightly.  "If Mister Paris is willing, then we will discuss scheduling a second lesson later.  Right now it is time for dinner.  Tonight our dinner will also be a cultural experience."

"Are we going to have Irish stew in Fair Haven?" Naomi asked eagerly.

"We have already experienced the limited cultural value of Fair Haven once," Seven said.

"Hey!" Tom protested.

"I would hardly say the cultural value of Fair Haven is limited, Seven," Janeway said, just a bit sharply.  "In fact there is a great deal of history and culture to be experienced there."

B'Elanna met Tom's gaze and rolled her eyes slightly.  Tom knew how B'Elanna felt about Fair Haven.  Though he'd talked her into going there a grand total of twice, her reception had been lukewarm.  And ever since the "kidnapping" incident, she'd held a grudge against the place.

"In any case, something else has been planned for tonight," Seven told the children, clearly knowing better than to argue that particular point with the captain.  "We will be experiencing Vulcan cuisine.  Neelix has prepared several traditional dishes, including plomeek soup and tardek grain cakes."

"Do they taste good?" Mezoti asked.

"The taste is quite pleasing," Tuvok replied.

Tom had tried Vulcan food once or twice and had found it virtually tasteless, but he decided not to say anything in deference to Tuvok's support earlier.  B'Elanna, however, wrinkled her nose.  "If you're a Vulcan."

Tuvok gave her a cool stare.  "The flavor of Vulcan cuisine is subtle and difficult for many to appreciate," he replied pointedly.  B'Elanna simply shrugged.

"Part of the fun of exploring other cultures is experimenting to discover what you like and don't like," Janeway said, addressing the children.  "I enjoy the simplicity of Vulcan cuisine at times, much as I enjoy the complex flavors of a hearty Irish stew at others."

"I wish I'd known about the dinner plans earlier," Tom said regretfully.  The wish was true, since he'd barely managed to make alternative plans after hearing about it from Neelix after lunch.  The regret was quite a bit less genuine.  "But B'Elanna and I will have to miss it, since we've reserved the holodeck for a... an anniversary dinner."

B'Elanna threw Tom an odd look, and then nodded quickly.

"*Another* anniversary to celebrate, Tom?" Harry asked sardonically, clearly not fooled at all.  "Very convenient.  So what's the occasion?  First date, first bat'leth contest, first kiss, first broken clavicle, first time
B'Elanna changed her door code without telling you?"

Janeway cleared her throat trying not to laugh, and B'Elanna glowered at Harry.  "I guess I just can't help my sentimental nature, Harry," Tom said with a smug grin.

Seven motioned the children.  "Dinner was scheduled to commence five minutes ago."

"Yes, your mother is probably waiting for us," Janeway told Naomi.

"We'll join you next time," Tom said, as everyone walked toward the arch.

Tuvok glanced back.  "Indeed," he replied, his skeptical tone indicating that he had little doubt Tom had deliberately found a way to avoid joining them *this* time.

"Tom, B'Elanna, enjoy your...anniversary celebration," Janeway said, giving Tom a half-reproving half-amused look before following the others.  As the rest stepped through the open arch, she paused and turned around.  "Oh.  B'Elanna, I gave Chakotay your updated duty schedule with Herron's added shift.  He'll follow up with you on Herron's progress."

B'Elanna nodded unenthusiastically, and as the arch closed behind Janeway, Tom looked at her curiously.  "Herron?"

"Herron has decided to work a shift a week in main engineering," B'Elanna said, the word "decided" uttered with definite sarcasm.  "Magnanimous of him, isn't it?"

"Couldn't you have said no?" Tom asked.  Technically B'Elanna was in charge of staffing in engineering, though the captain and first officer certainly could and did make their influence felt.

"With Janeway and Chakotay both on his side?" B'Elanna asked, confirming his thought.  She gave him an accusing look.  "Besides, aren't you the one who said I was being too hard on him?"

"That was before I talked to him in the mess hall," Tom said shortly.  He was still smarting a little from that encounter.  "Though Herron apparently has become a little more human lately.  I saw him sitting at a table with Billy and Celes the other day during lunch.  I think he was even talking to them."

"Great," B'Elanna said irritably.  "So he's decided to be social once a week too."

"Maybe that shuttle mission did change his attitude."  Tom looked at B'Elanna thoughtfully. "We might have to invite him to watch our television after all."

B'Elanna leaned against the helm console, crossed her arms, and gave him a dark look.  "That wasn't funny, then or now."

No, she hadn't been amused at all when Tom had admitted he hadn't really invited Herron to watch television.  In fact she'd stomped out of the mess hall.  "You got me back though," he pointed out.

"You deserved it," B'Elanna said.

Tom grinned.  "Probably."  He'd come back to his quarters that night expecting to relax and watch a little television with B'Elanna, if she'd forgiven him.  She'd been there waiting for him all right, with half a dozen female crewmembers from her engineering staff.  She'd calmly informed him that she'd invited a few guests to watch television, since his guest was a no show.  Sue Nicoletti had searched the 20th century database and put together a selection of romance-themed movies for their "girl's night," as Sue had referred to it.  The self-satisfied smirk on B'Elanna's face when she'd told him she *supposed* he could join them- -in his own quarters no less--had rivaled his best, and he'd had years of practice.

"I hope you weren't too bored, Tom," B'Elanna said now, with a not dissimilar smirk.

"No, not at all," Tom said.  After his initial pique, he'd actually enjoyed the first movie, "It Happened One Night."  The snappy dialogue and sexual tension between the two leads had had a definite ring of familiarity.  B'Elanna had refused to look his way--purposely, perhaps-- but Sue and the others had thrown several surreptitious glances at him and B'Elanna, clearly noticing the parallels.  He'd paid less attention to the plot of "The Philadelphia Story" because of the fact that the lead actress, also named Kathryn something or other, had borne a striking resemblance both physically and in attitude to Kathryn Janeway, which had generated quite a few remarks from everyone.  The third film, a sappy soap opera called "Endless Love," had almost put him to sleep.  But he had derived some small satisfaction from watching B'Elanna's eyes slowly glaze over too.


Tom looked up to find B'Elanna staring at him suspiciously.  "What's so funny?" she asked tartly.

"Uh, I was just thinking about whether we should invite Chakotay over to watch some of Kathryn what's-her-name's films," Tom said.  He grinned wickedly.  "Think he'd like them?"

"Her name was Hepburn," B'Elanna said.  Her lips twitched a little.  "And, yeah, I think he might like them.  Though I didn't know you really wanted any more television guests."

"Actually, I *was* thinking about inviting the kids over one night to watch the television," Tom said, more seriously.

"The kids?" B'Elanna asked blankly.

"Yeah.  Naomi likes the television, so I'm sure the rest of them would."  Naomi had come over to see the television not long after B'Elanna had given it to him, and Tom had watched something called "Saturday morning cartoons" with her.  They'd had a great time.  "Besides, it will be a cultural and historical experience for them.  We can even have TV dinners."

B'Elanna stared at him, appalled.  "Those things were *awful*, Tom!  Neelix's leola root casseroles taste better.  Even Vulcan food tastes better, and it doesn't taste like anything."

"I didn't think they were that bad," Tom said, and B'Elanna snorted.

"All right, they weren't very good," Tom admitted.  "But there must be more varieties than salisbury steak, and beans and franks.  Maybe some of the others are better.  Besides, kids like to try new things."

"And here I thought you just wanted to poison them," B'Elanna said dryly.

"Nope," Tom said.  "I actually like the kids, despite everything."  Despite the endless hours the away team had been held hostage on the Borg cube by the children, made even more unbearable because they hadn't known where Harry was or if he was all right, and they'd been virtually helpless to do anything about it.  Tom hated feeling helpless and not being able to take action, a sentiment he knew B'Elanna shared and then some.  He caught her intent gaze on him.  "It wasn't their fault they were assimilated, after all."

"No," B'Elanna agreed.  She slapped her hands on the console and her frown was fierce.  "I hate the Borg.  Who won't they assimilate?"  Her voice was almost a snarl.  "Children, babies..."

"Well, at least we rescued a few of them," Tom said softly.  "They're getting a second chance on Voyager.  And the doctor says the baby won't remember being Borg at all.  She'll grow up thinking she's just a normal child."  He smiled.  "Probably a very spoiled child."

"The captain couldn't quit talking about the baby when she was in engineering earlier today," B'Elanna said.  "I never knew she liked babies so much."

Tom couldn't say he was surprised.  "Come on, B'Elanna.  You don't think the captain has a bit of a maternal streak?" he asked.  "She acts like a mother hen sometimes.  And I mean that in a nice way of course."

B'Elanna's lips curved a little.  "I'm sure you do, Tom."

"Besides, the baby is a sweetheart."  He'd enjoyed helping the doctor take care of her those few days she'd been in sickbay.  He smiled at B'Elanna.  "But you know that, don't you?  After all, you held her in sickbay."

Though Tom's expression was guileless, but B'Elanna looked at him suspiciously for several moments.  Finally she shrugged with deliberate indifference.  "She's a baby.  Holding her was...like holding a baby.  What's the big deal?"

Tom shook his head.  "Nothing at all."  He'd seen B'Elanna's face after he'd put the baby in her arms, admittedly without really giving her any option to refuse.  She'd glared at him with enough heat to singe his eyebrows off and for a second her whole body had stiffened.  She'd held the small wriggling body away from her, as if she was about to shove the baby back at him.  He'd waylaid that action by turning away for several moments, ostensibly to locate a scanner.  When he'd turned back, the space between B'Elanna and the baby had disappeared.  As if she knew exactly what she was supposed to do, the baby was staring wide-eyed at B'Elanna, with a tiny smile on her cherubic face.  B'Elanna looked more stunned than delighted, but even as he watched, her arms relaxed and she cradled the baby closer against her breast, and her tense expression softened as her lips curved into a small smile.  Then B'Elanna had sensed his gaze on her.  Their eyes had met, and she'd looked briefly flustered.  She'd deposited the baby back in his arms--gently--and had walked out of sickbay without a word.  "I think you liked holding the baby, B'Elanna."

B'Elanna's mouth tightened and she pushed herself away from the console.  "Tom..."

He grabbed her hand.  "Okay, okay."  He knew better than to push the subject, and the truth was, as much as he liked kids, and babies, he wasn't any more ready than she was to consider having his own yet.  Or their own, if it worked out that way.  He'd just been thinking about it a little lately, probably a natural consequence of the children being on board.  "You do enjoy Icheb's company though."

His words were part statement, and part question, and B'Elanna shook her head in exasperation.  "He wants to be an engineer.  He just likes my job."

Tom smiled at her.  "He wants to be like you, B'Elanna.  That's kind of flattering, isn't it?"

"Yeah, I guess so," B'Elanna admitted.  She looked at him.  "What about you?  You seem to have sold Mezoti on piloting."

"Actually she like bugs and computer programming better than piloting," Tom said.  He grinned immodestly.  "I think she's just taken with me."

B'Elanna rolled her eyes, and then pursed her lips, probably to hide her smile.  "Tom, your ego is immeasurable, you know that?"  She pulled her hand away from him.  "Do you really think your obvious charms work on every woman you meet, no matter what age?"

Tom shrugged, and winked at her.  "They worked on you, didn't they?"

He expected her to snort, or laugh dismissively, but instead an oddly cryptic look crossed her face.  "I hate to break it to you, Tom, but they didn't."

Tom raised an eyebrow at her earnest tone.  "Well, maybe not at first..."

"Not ever."

He frowned.  "Not ever?"  He could think of more than a few times when she'd responded to his obvious efforts to charm her.

"Nope," she said.  "The obvious ones..." she reached out and tugged at his collar, running the tip of her fingers over his warm skin beneath.  The move was deliberately seductive and a sultry smile momentarily curved her lips upward.  "I can't deny that I enjoy them at times."  She let her hand slip away.  "But it's your far less obvious charms that worked on me."

He looked at her curiously for several moments.  "Less obvious charms?  I didn't know I had any of those."

B'Elanna's lips quirked.  "Not that most people would notice.  You hide them well."

"Exactly what--"

"Aren't we supposed to be having dinner, Tom?" B'Elanna asked abruptly.  "And by the way, exactly *which* anniversary are we celebrating?"

Tom managed to look hurt.  "Don't tell me you don't know, B'Elanna."

B'Elanna shook her head.  "Sorry, Tom, I'm not falling for that.  I know you just came up with this 'anniversary' to get out of having to eat Neelix's Vulcan cooking."

"Might I point out that I saved you from having to partake of Vulcan cuisine tonight also," Tom said.  "I was thinking of you too."

"I know," B'Elanna said.  She smiled.  "Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"So, what's your plan?" B'Elanna asked.  "And don't suggest the hot dog stand in the hockey program.  That's not my idea of a romantic dinner."

"Hey, I'm a little more romantic than that," Tom protested.

B'Elanna's lips pursed thoughtfully.  "You've had your moments."

"Had?"  Tom asked.

B'Elanna frowned.  "I'm sure I can remember one or two of them, if I can think back that far."

"It hasn't been that long..." Tom paused.  It had been a quite few weeks since they'd actually planned one of the romantic dinners or
holoprograms they used to do on a fairly regular basis.  Okay, maybe a couple of months.  It seemed like they were always busy with their work, or at least she was working late on some engineering project while he was hanging out in Fair Haven.  Occasionally they managed to stop into Sandrine's briefly to listen to the doc play his piano, and more recently they'd started taking part in the hockey games.  But more often than not when they were together they ended up just dining in the mess hall, and then lounging on her couch going over reports, or on his couch in front of the television.

"Hey, Tom."  B'Elanna cuffed his chin softly to get his attention.  "I was teasing."

"So you don't think we've fallen into a rut?" Tom asked lightly.

B'Elanna shrugged.  "Maybe."  She mussed his hair a little.  "But I'm not complaining.  I kind of like just cuddling up next to you and reading or watching the television.  It's relaxing after a long day.  And you're warm."

"I'm...warm?" Tom repeated incredulously.  "That's great to know.  Is that one of my 'less obvious' charms?"

B'Elanna patted his arm reassuringly.  "It doesn't have to be exciting every moment, Tom."  She gave him a sly smile.  "Besides, there's at least one area where we never lack for...passion."

Tom raised his eyebrows, and then he smirked at her.  "Really?  Are you talking about fighting, or sex?"

"Both," B'Elanna said.  "I don't think we'll ever get really *boring,* Tom, do you?"

Tom grinned.  "Probably not."

B'Elanna gave him a satisfied look.  "So, what *is* your plan for dinner?  I'm starving."

Tom stood and threaded his fingers through hers.  "To show you that I still am a romantic guy at heart..." He raised her hand to his lips and kissed her fingertips.  "Computer, end program."

The Delta Flyer interior disappeared and they were surrounded by the hologrid.

"Oh, this is *very* romantic, Tom," B'Elanna said teasingly.

"Just wait," Tom told her.  "Computer, add a small table and two chairs suitable for an intimate dinner for two.  On the table, put a white tablecloth, two white tapers--lit, one red rose in a crystal vase...and a bottle of 2292 Sterling Merlot with two wine glasses."

The computer complied, and a few moments later a small round table, two straight-backed chairs and the requested accouterments appeared in front of them.

Tom looked at B'Elanna.  "What would you like for dinner?  And don't worry, I have plenty of credits."

"You do?"  B'Elanna sounded mildly surprised, since she knew he tended to run through them rather quickly.  "Okay...beef burgundy."

"Done.  Computer, add two full table settings, and two plates of beef burgundy with garlic mashed potatoes and broccoli au gratin, covered, and a basket of warm french bread."

The computer complied again and two covered silver dishes appeared on the table, along with two place settings, and the basket of bread.

The appetizing smell of the beef burgundy wafted around them, and B'Elanna sniffed appreciatively.  "Very impressive, Tom.  Though the atmosphere is still a little sterile."

"That's because it's your turn.  You pick the setting."  Tom smiled challengingly at her.  "Let me see *your* romantic soul."

B'Elanna's eyebrows rose, and she smiled back slowly, provocatively.  "Okay.  Computer...load program Torres Beach Tour Twelve."

Tom's eyes widened.  "The beach tour?"  When was the last time they'd done that?  Probably months ago.  It had been a staple of theirs at one time, all those beach programs B'Elanna loved that he had jokingly combined under one heading as "B'Elanna's Beach Tour."  He'd even forgotten that she'd renamed the programs to reflect his title.  How did something that they used to enjoy so much fade out of their lives almost unnoticed?  He wondered if it was just some sort of natural progression.  He looked her a little ruefully.  "It's been a while, hasn't it?"

*Program loaded.*

"It's never too late for a revival," B'Elanna said, squeezing his hand.  "The programs haven't gone anywhere."

Tom nodded.  The database still had the programs safely filed even if they hadn't been used recently.  "You're right.  It's too bad I could only reserve the holodeck for an hour tonight."  And they'd probably used up fifteen minutes of that time already.  "We barely have time for dinner."

B'Elanna's eyes glittered at his insinuation.  She no doubt recalled how they'd usually taken full advantage of the warm sand and water in her beach programs.  "I guess we'll just have to make up for that later," she drawled softly.

He wasn't sure if she meant later tonight in their quarters, which they undoubtedly would, or later on the holodeck with a less limited revival of one of her beach programs.  He was all for both.  "So, which beach is number twelve?" he asked curiously.

B'Elanna arched a brow.  "Does it matter?"

He shook his head slowly.  No, he didn't guess it did.  She smiled contentedly,and he rubbed his thumb lightly over the pulse in her wrist as she spoke again.  "Computer, activate program."

Whichever beach she'd chosen, in the opinion of Voyager's chief pilot, it was certainly not a bad way to end another day on Voyager.