"A beautiful woman should never have to eat – or drink – alone."

B'Elanna groans in response but accepts the newly replicated coffee that Tom hands her eagerly enough as he sits down across from her at the mess hall table. "I should have known to pitch you out the airlock the first time you used that line on me."

Tom just winks at her and drawls, "But think of all the fun you would have missed!" Then he asks, "Did they finally kick you out of engineering?"

She shrugs, sipping at the coffee. "We've reattached all of the systems that we pulled to conserve power, and there isn't much else to do until we get out of the Olian Passage and can reinitialize the warp core – and that shouldn't be for a few hours yet. Vorik came in on the Flyer so he's babysitting down there."

"Have you considered getting some sleep?" It's less a suggestion than an honest query and is met with another shrug and a glance at the PADD she was reading when he walked in.

"I'll try in a bit. I was still feeling too edgy."

He looks over at the PADD as well. "Engineering reports?"

"Not quite." Self-consciously, B'Elanna picks back up the PADD, further piquing his interest.

"Romance novel?"

"No," she sighs and then hands the device over. "Here. See for yourself."

"Comparative Studies on the Feasibility of Interspecies Conception." Tom looks back up at his wife, unable to hold back his delighted grin.

Flustered, she directs most of her attention at her coffee. "I just wanted to check the odds. You know, just in case we decided...or that it mattered...at some point or other..."

"So what do they look like?" he interrupts. "The odds?"

"Long," she admits, surprising both of them with the regret in her voice.

Tom only grins more broadly. "I can think of a few good ways to start evening them up..."

They are interrupted by the hiss of the mess hall doors as Seven enters.

"Lieutenants Torres and Paris," Seven greets them. "May I join you?"

Tom and B'Elanna exchange a glance before Tom responds gamely, "Of course." He gestures to an open chair but Seven remains standing.

"I wanted to speak with you about the nature of your collective."

Tom blinks. "Our what?"

"Your collective. Your marriage."

Across the table, B'Elanna begins to bristle and Tom holds up a warning hand. "Seven, if this a continuation of your earlier 'research'..."

"It is not." It's less reassurance than simple statement. "My previous interest was limited to the nature of your sexual relationship. My current inquiry concerns the nature of the link that you have formed with one another."

This time, they both blink.

Unconcerned, Seven continues on: "When you first chose to formalize your relationship in a 'marriage', I considered the process to be redundant and pointless given the already monogamous nature of your sexual activity."

Tom clears his throat, but B'Elanna's foot against his leg stops him from interrupting. He looks over at her and is surprised to see real curiosity about where Seven is going with all this.

"However," the former drone presses on, "the last two days have made me reconsider that opinion." She tilts her head toward one and then the other in the manner of a professor seeking a not-entirely-deficient pupil. "Your marriage: you consider it to be a permanent arrangement?"

With one more glance in B'Elanna's direction, Tom offers, "Well, yes."

Seven nods, part of her theory clearly confirmed. "From my observations, I believe that permanency has contributed to the overall efficiency of your relationship." She pauses and raises an (could that be approving?) eyebrow at them. "It is an intriguing result and worth further observation and study. " Then, she gives each a slight nod before heading back out the way she came.

B'Elanna's amazed expression as she stares after Seven, Tom is fairly sure, mirrors his own. "Did we just get Seven's blessing on our marriage?" he asks.

His wife turns back to catch his eyes, raising her brows. "Speaking of long odds..." and she shakes her head in disbelief as she sips at the coffee and looks back out at the passing stars.

Tom follows her gaze and a new thought occurs to him. "So, are you planning on heading out in the other direction to finish those warp tests after we drop the Captain and Tuvok off back up on Yosia?"

B'Elanna turns back and stares at him. "You can't be serious."

Tom shrugs. "I heard that their symposium was continuing for another week. And now the Captain has her findings on the Olian Rifts to present to The Powers That Be on Yosia." Then he throws just a hint of mischief into his tone. "And I was looking forward to manning the bridge again."

Her brows climb. "Getting power hungry on me already, Lieutenant?" She takes a sip of her coffee and then adds with a lopsided grin. "If you are, you'll have Harry to contend with for those popular late night bridge shifts."

"Not so much that, exactly." He leans in across the table towards her. "There's a program I was working on while I was up on the bridge..."

She snorts derisively. "Further adventures of Captain Proton?"

"No!" he voices offended, then amends, "Well, yes, that too. But this one was a special program for the bridge. For time alone on the bridge."

"Alone?" she questions, starting to catch on.

"Well, not entirely alone." The mischief in his tone has morphed into something else entirely.

"Would you need some...select company to fully enjoy this program?" Her voice is velvet, somewhere between a purr and a growl as she leans in toward him as well.

"Are you offering?" he gamely tries to counter, but there is a catch in his voice and he knows – they both know – that she has the upper hand in this round.

She pulls back, fully recovered left arm now on the back of her chair, deliberately teasing. Finding the coffee mug with her right hand, she takes a long drink before answering matter-of-factly, "I'll see what I can do about rescheduling those test flights."

There are absolutely no words for how much he loves this woman. "Your pilot will be ready and willing to serve," he promises.

And the prospect of another few days stuck on the bridge with (almost) nothing to do has never sounded so utterly, irresistibly appealing to Tom Paris.