The Perfect Gift
By Janice Liedl-Myatt
Synopsis: What present would make the heart of Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres, Voyager's Chief Engineer, beat faster? (Besides Tom Paris, that is!) A coda to "Random Thoughts" fulfilling the "Archivist's Challenge."

Disclaimer: The characters, setting and series belong to Paramount et Cie. The inspiration belongs to the P/T Collective Archivist's Challenge. The rest is history!

Tom Paris absently dressed for duty. His service-gray turtleneck all but disappeared beneath Starfleet's command series red and black pullover. One final tug brought the uniform smoothly into place, but all the while his eyes vaguely focused on an unwieldy, dull metallic box, sitting to one side of the counter. Such a small thing to inspire so much distress and doubt-emotions that Tom did his best to avoid!

Ever since he'd heard of B'Elanna's arrest on the Mari homeworld, Tom was unable to recapture the initial glee he'd felt in finding the "perfect" present for Voyager's bewitching and fascinating engineer. Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres: the woman he loved.

The present had lain in his quarters, forgotten during the feverish hours of B'Elanna's imprisonment, while Tom created and presented a series of rescue plan, hoping to convince Commander Chakotay to authorize a mission to win B'Elanna's release. But they both knew that Captain Janeway's sense of fair play precluded any open attack on the Mari justice system. Relief couldn't come close to describing Tom's feelings when Tuvok's dogged, undercover investigation had revealed the seamy underside of "perfect" Mari pacifism. The planetary authorities released their prisoner and Voyager cleared the system almost before the last official apologies were made. B'Elanna was back. Wonder of wonders, no lasting mental trauma was detected during her medical scans. Unable to find further excuses to detain his impatient patient, the holodoc finally excused Voyager's engineer with a dark look. Clearly he knew that his prescription for rest would be ignored.

Experience had taught him well. With Tom at her side, Lieutenant Torres made a beeline for the engine room, not her quarters.

"B'Elanna," Tom said warningly as her intentions became clear. "You're supposed to be resting for the next twelve hours, not on duty!"

The half-Klingon shot him a speaking glance. "I know, Tom," she replied with exaggerated patience, "I was there when the doctor gave me his `advice'." Her steps gradually increased in speed and length until even the long-limbed helmsman found himself rushing to match her stride.

Elanna continued as they passed through Main Engineering's outer doors. "I'll just rest better after checking out my engines. I'm still a little . . . keyed up, that's all. This will help me relax."

Tom understood her unspoken message. B'Elanna was dealing with the trauma of her confinement and aborted mental "cleansing" by clinging to the normal and relatively safe routines of Voyager. A small part of him felt disappointment that she didn't turn to him for this comfort, but their relationship was so new and untested that such an alternative obviously hadn't entered her mind. He suppressed a sigh and leaned his shoulder against a bulkhead, unobtrusively waiting while B'Elanna finished her ritual check-up.

Brown eyes quickly scanned the main monitoring screens. Practiced taps pulled up detailed records of the last two shifts' repair logs and warpcore performance benchmarks. Breathlessly, a junior ensign stood respectfully at a distance. Gamma shift usually saw the Chief Engineer only rarely. Breakdowns, crises, alien takeovers or "surprise inspections" were never cause for celebration. But whatever Lieutenant Torres saw on the monitors seemed acceptable. With a nod, a quick smile to Lieutenant Carey, who hovered near a secondary set of screens, B'Elanna turned and abruptly exited the engine room.

She made it two meters beyond the door where she suddenly leaned limply against the corridor bulkhead. Tom, who'd been silent since her discharge from sickbay, gently seized her upper arms.

"Are you satisfied now, B'Elanna?" he demanded softly. "Harry and Joe Carey took good care of your engines while you were gone. NOW"-irritation and concern edged his voice-"will you get some rest?"

She turned her head to one side, avoiding his eyes. Tom softly repeated his question as he ducked his face in an effort to meet her gaze.

She looked up resentfully. "I'll try, it's just . . . oh, you wouldn't understand!" B'Elanna wrenched away from Tom and strode purposefully towards the turbolift.

"Try me," Tom suggested as he followed. "You might be surprised."

"I just can't get it out of my mind," B'Elanna began hesitantly. "Sitting there in the Mari's `medical center' waiting for them to `cleanse' me! The injustice of it all, I mean, wiping out your MIND because somebody might pick up a bad thought! And nobody there understood what I was going through. They all thought I was some sort of monster for thinking the way I did. And I couldn't do a damned thing about it!"

"I know," Tom offered, "at least a little bit of what you're going through. Remember," he qualified as she tilted her head in surprise, "the Captain picked me up after I'd been jail for over a year. A year of hell, where everybody either hated me for my family, my screw-up at Caldik Prime or my turn with the Maquis."

As the turbolift doors opened, he indicated she should precede him to her quarters. "I'm sorry, Tom," B'Elanna offered. "It's hard to think of you that way."

"I'm glad," Tom responded dryly. "You sure hate for the woman you love to dwell on your unsavory past." She smiled at this weak joke. Tom's spirits began to rise as they entered her quarters. If B'Elanna was able to see that she wasn't alone in her experience, she was on the way to getting through the trauma.

"Look, I'll say good night now, B'Elanna," Tom said as they stood uncertainly in the dimly lit room. He ducked his head to steal a sweet kiss. "You need your rest and I've got to report two hours early this morning for" he grimaced feelingly "biannual helm efficiency tests." Her arms stole around him in a fierce hug and B'Elanna gazed up at him with tear-bright eyes.

"Thanks Tom, for understanding. You're too good for me sometimes."

"Yeah, I know," he cheerfully replied, then quickly ducked out of the doors of her quarters as B'Elanna raised her hands and began an indignant reply.

The helm efficiency tests, mercilessly administered by Lieutenant Commander Tuvok, had taken almost the entire day as each of Voyager's regular pilots took the ship through a series of drills and maneuvers designed to sharpen their skills. Even the Captain had taken a turn at the combined simulator and conn exercises, although hers had been briefer than that allotted to the regular pilots. Commander Chakotay joked at the wilted expression of the men and women finally released from Tuvok's exhaustive regime, staggering out of the briefing room.

"Who's up for a rappelling expedition at 2200 hours? Neelix has programmed some famous Talaxian cliffs and is inviting all comers." The second-in-command's dark eyes glittered at the universal groan from the piloting ranks. "What about you, Tom? Isn't climbing one of your favorite sports?"

"Not tonight, Commander," Tom replied, raising his hand warningly, "I think I'll just find a quiet soft corner and curl up."

His admission of weakness inspired a round of ribbing from the other pilots, then a ridiculous series of elevating complaints as they entered the turbolift. Tom lagged behind as he caught Chakotay's eye.

"What is the problem, Commander?" he challenged. Rapidly, Tom searched his memory for any recent actions of his Chakotay might have caught wind of. The prank that he and Harry had pulled on the holodoc, replacing his "patient-friendly" vocabulary with ancient slang equivalents from old Earth movies? It had been worth it to hear of Ensign Vorik's stiff outrage at being diagnosed with "jock itch!

"Have you given it to her, yet?" Chakotay asked.

Tom's eyes widened with surprise, and then he relaxed as he realized that Chakotay had made an unintended double entendre. "Oh, you mean B'Elanna's present," Tom replied. "Umm, well, no, I haven't, actually, yet." His voice trailed off defensively, then he regarded the Commander with renewed suspicion. "Anyway, how did you know?"

"Kath-, I mean, the Captain told me about it. After all, you did get clearance from her and Tuvok to bring the package aboard. Something so, unusual, was sure to arouse some comment." Chakotay failed to conceal his grin as Tom shifted his weight from one foot to another under the older man's scrutiny.

"Yeah, well, like I said, I haven't given it to her yet. It didn't seem right last night, not after she just got released from sickbay, and then today, with Lieutenant Tuvok's tests. . . ." Tom's voice trailed off in resignation.

"I understand, Lieutenant. And I imagine I'm not helping matters, keeping you here on the bridge. See you tomorrow, that is, unless you've reconsidered the climbing expedition?" Chakotay's voice ended on a rising note.

Tom grinned. Obviously the commander had been to slow to evade the cherubic Talaxian's invitation and was seeking fellow sufferers. "Nah, I think I'll give that a miss tonight. See you tomorrow, commander." He jauntily exited to the turbolift.

As the doors closed, bringing privacy, Tom queried the computer for B'Elanna's location. "Lieutenant Torres is on Deck Four." Tom's brow rose consideringly. "Paris to Torres," he paged.

B'Elanna replied edgily, "Torres here."

"Just wanted to know, are we still on for dinner tonight?" Tom winced as he prepared himself for disappointment. B'Elanna's first shift back should have ended almost an hour ago, and yet it seemed she was still at it.

"Dinner? What time is it, Rodriguez?" The pause lengthened as B'Elanna obviously consulted with some of the junior engineering staff. "Tom, I'm sorry, it looks like I'm going to have to give it a miss tonight. We're replacing some cracked paneling in the upper EPS conduits and it's gotten a bit tricky . . . ." Her voice trailed off as the engineering problem reclaimed her attention.

"I understand. I'll probably make an early night of it anyway. We just finished those helm efficiency tests, after all." Tom rubbed the nape of his neck and winced again, this time at the muscles' stiffness.

"Oh, how'd you do, helmboy? Keep your number one status?" A teasing note entered B'Elanna's husky voice, transmitted by the communicator.

"Not only did I get the highest scores in ALL categories, I bettered my last performance by 2.9%," Tom assured her. "Why, even Tuvok had something good to say." Tom waited for the inevitable question.

"What something good to say?" B'Elanna asked curiously, her attention fully restored by Tom's easygoing banter.

"He said, and I quote, `A noticeable improvement, Mr. Paris.'" The chuckle that followed over the communicator brought a smile to Tom's face. It was always a triumph to win B'Elanna's attention back from her work, even if only for a moment. -Best to stop while you're ahead, Paris,- he cautioned himself. "Paris out."

"Torres out." In a few moments, the turbolift doors opened and Tom was soon at the messhall. The unmistakable scent of Neelix's cooking filled the air. Cloying sweetness vied with a slightly scorched meat odor. -Good thing that Chakotay's still on duty,- thought Tom as he searched the offerings for something palatable, -the smell alone would violate all of his dietary sensibilities.-

"Tom, over here," came a hail in Harry Kim's unmistakably cheery voice. Loading his tray with the most innocuous of tonight's choices, Tom made his way over to the small table where Harry sat, nursing a cup of some steaming beverage. "Heard the scuttlebutt about the tests. How can you keep topping yourself?" Harry smiled across the table and raised the mug to his lips.

"Oh you know how it is, Harry, the best just keep getting better and better," Tom replied airily as he used a fork to spear some spindly blue fibers. He lifted the serving in the air and eyed it dubiously before finally tasting. Finding the results survivable, Tom chewed and swallowed before continuing, "the rest of you mere mortals can only hope that such genius will rub off in your presence."

"We bow at the altar, oh mighty one," joked Harry as he made a sketchy bow across the table, spilling his hot drink. "Ouch," he exclaimed as a few drops hit his hands. Tom's smile widened at his friend's discomfort.

"Maybe I shouldn't make you my chief disciple. You're a little clumsy for the job," he noted as Harry hurriedly wiped at the hot liquid with his left sleeve.

"Funny, funny, Tom," Harry answered. "So, I meant to ask, what did B'Elanna think of her present?"

"Christ, Harry, I haven't had a chance to give it to her yet!" Tom laid down his fork and explained, "Today's been hectic for BOTH of us, and now B'Elanna's gone and cancelled our dinner date because she's wrapped up in some EPS conduits on Deck Four. Anyway, I'm having second thoughts about the present."

"But why?" Harry asked incredulously. "We spent hours in the Mari market, combing it for `just the right thing' for B'Elanna. Then you spent half an hour fast talking Lieutenant Tuvok and the Captain to allow us to bring it aboard. You aren't telling me now that all the work was for nothing. Especially," Harry concluded darkly, "when I passed up the chance to have lunch with that Mari dancer to help you with your shopping."

"I know, I know, Harry, and I appreciate what you did, but really, after what B'Elanna went through at the hands of the Mari, do you think she really wants some sort of souvenir? I mean, maybe it's just going to bring up bad memories." Tom's shoulders slumped dejectedly as he speared another forkful of the blue stalks.

"I hadn't thought of it that way, Tom, but I'm sure B'Elanna would still love the gift. After all, it really is precisely the kind of gift she'd love!" Harry paused thoughtfully as Tom continued to eat his dinner. "If there's anyway I can help," Harry's voice trailed off as he rose from the table.

"What? Oh, thanks, Harry, but I don't think there's much you can do to help me out here," Tom replied abstractedly. He pushed the half-full tray away, then cleared that and Harry's mug off of the table. Nodding to a few other shipmates, Tom made his way back to his quarters.

The damned box sat mutely on the low table in his quarters. "Don't you start at me, too," Tom warned it. He tried to relax, reading a historical novel that Captain Janeway had recommended, but soon set aside the datapadd containing Cyrano de Bergerac. The hero's insecurities made it impossible for Tom to lose himself in the novel's lyrical flow. -Although, admit it, his Roxanne sounds just as exciting and terrifying a challenge as B'Elanna. No wonder the guy keeps waffling and ducking behind pretty boy, Christian. After all, how long did it take me to get up the courage to approach B'Elanna? And if Sakari IV hadn't ever happened, I might still be waiting and hoping.-

Finally Tom got ready for bed, although not before moving the gift box out of sight. Even stowed in the bathing alcove, its unseen presence haunted his restless sleep.

Now, as Tom readied for a new day, he still debated over the gift. -Should I give it to her, or just get rid of it. Harry's right, it is perfect. But Mari will always bring bad memories.- Tom continued his musings as he made his way to the bridge.

This day's shift proceeded fairly uneventfully. Harry's long range scans led the Captain to order a slight detour to search a particularly rich planetary asteroid belt for some useable rare elements. The successful asteroid capture left the bridge and engineering crews elated and relaxed, while Seven of Nine only raised an enquiring eyebrow at the resultant hubbub.

Tom also felt pleased, but as the shift wound down, he felt under increased scrutiny. Every new arrival on the bridge seemed to stop and stare at him, however briefly. The attention irritated him. -Probably one of Harry's jokes.- At the end of his shift, when he handed off the conn, Tom tried not to rush too obviously off the bridge. As the turbolift sped him down towards the crew quarters' decks, Tom closed his eyes briefly and made the decision.

"I'll just get rid of it. Give it to the Captain and let her have it. She'll probably enjoy it almost as much.- There, the decision made, Tom could look forward to his evening. Hopefully, B'Elanna would be free tonight. They could have dinner and just enjoy some time together. He mentally rehearsed what he would say to her as the doors to his quarters glided open.

"Finally," came a growl from the chair. Tom jumped and stopped dead in the middle of the doorway. B'Elanna sat quietly in the dimly lit anteroom of his quarters. Quiet, but watchful and waiting. -Uh-oh,- Tom thought. - I've seen that look before.-

"Computer, standard illumination," he swiftly directed as he stepped inside the room, letting the doors swoosh quietly closed behind him. "B'Elanna, how nice to see you. I thought you were scheduled to supervise the shuttle engine realignments till 1900 hours tonight." A finger nervously tugged at the suddenly too-tight collar of his uniform.

"I was, but I decided that Vorik and Sanderson can use the practice. Besides, I just had to see you." The emphasis on the last sentence settled ominously in Tom's ears. This was one angry woman.

"See me," he smiled ingratiatingly. "I'm flattered."

"Well, don't be," growled B'Elanna. "All yesterday and today, I've been feeling like a specimen under the scanner. Then Harry explained that it was all because EVERYONE wanted to know what I thought about my present."

"Why, that little sneak," expostulated Tom. B'Elanna uncurled herself from the chair and in two quick strides confronted Tom from a breath's distance.

"I'd stop worrying about Harry and start worrying about yourself, helmboy," warned the engineer. "What's this about a present?"

"Well, you see, B'Elanna," Tom began awkwardly as her dark eyes drilled him mercilessly, "I bought you something when we made the stop on Mari. I was all ready to give it to you when word came about your arrest. Obviously, I had a lot more on my mind after that than some gift. And then, when you got released, I wasn't sure that it was such a good idea anymore."

His hands came up to gently grasp her shoulder, thumbs rubbing a gentle rhythm along the juncture between collarbone and neck. "I didn't want to be responsible for bringing up bad memories, after what they almost did to you. B'Elanna slowly relaxed as the massage continued. "It almost killed me, to hear what they were going to do to you, B'Elanna. I didn't think you'd want anything from Mari, so I was going to throw it away."

Her eyes flashed open. "Throw away MY present," she exclaimed. "You'd better not have done that, Tom Paris, or I'm going to make you have dinner with Neelix for the next month."

Tom winced at the threat. "Now relax, B'Elanna." He dropped one hand from her shoulders to gesture to the bathing alcove. "It's just sitting over there. Why don't you sit down and I'll bring you your present."

B'Elanna complied while Tom fetched the box. He sat down beside her and passed her the present with a flourish. "Sorry there's no fancy wrappings or decorations," Tom began as B'Elanna examined the plain container with an assessing eye.

"That's okay, as long as I like what's inside." She looked up at him suspiciously. "I WILL like what's inside, won't I, Tom? I mean, it's not some joke present that you and Harry concocted, is it?"

"What?" Tom shook his head dismissively. "No way, B'Elanna. Harry and I searched hard to find you just the perfect gift. . . ." His voice trailed off as she broke the seal.

Inside the box lay an assortment of alien objects: fragments of larger devices, some micro-molecular relays, miniaturized power couplings and projection enhancers. Each item was tagged with a Mari description, to which Tom had meticulously appended his own translation and notes.

B'Elanna stared speechlessly at the items nestled against the dark grey packing foam. She finally picked up one of the relays, lifting it high to eye it consideringly. Then she carefully returned it to its nest and lifted out another object.

"You bought me a bunch of broken tools and spare parts," she breathed as she examined a semi-transparent tube fitted with small toggles.

"Yeah," Tom muttered shamefacedly. "I guess it wasn't that romantic, but when I saw them on a seller's table, I thought of you. The Mari merchant told me that they came from the workshop of an eccentric inventor. He even had all the documentation and I took notes of everything he said. Harry agreed with me that you'd love it."

B'Elanna kept silent for an interminable time. Tom felt himself babbling. "You wouldn't believe what I had to go through in order to bring it on board. I had to get the Captain's permission and Tuvok's clearance, before bringing unknown alien technologies aboard Voyager." Blue eyes warily noted B'Elanna's lack of response.

"Oh well,- thought Tom, -Maybe she'll forgive me by the time we get back to the Alpha Quadrant.- He sat back glumly. -I knew I should have gotten rid of it- he told himself as he braced for B'Elanna's response.

Slowly her eyes refocused and B'Elanna carefully laid the tube back into the box. She placed it onto the table in front of her and launched herself into Tom's arms.

He fell back against the couch in surprise, arms folding around her in a tentative embrace. "Tom Paris, that is the most thoughtful, wonderful, PERFECT gift anyone has every given me," B'Elanna burbled. She levered himself up off of his chest to look him in the eye. "No one has ever given me something so fun! It isn't one of the typical girlfriend gifts that a guy gets when he wants to put her in the mood. These are just great for me, B'Elanna Torres, engineer and scientist."

"Do you have any idea what amazing things are in there? I can't wait to sit down in with them and start examining some of the power systems they're using. They're totally alien and" whatever B'Elanna had to say was cut off as Tom pulled her head down for a kiss. She returned it passionately. Tom tasted the sweetness of her mouth and ran his hands down her back in long strokes. -I guess it was the perfect gift,- came his last hazy thought before B'Elanna's enthusiastic response overwhelmed his mind and body.

The End