BLINDED BY THE HEART


St. Valentine's Day. Tonight, Voyager's crew celebrated that particular holiday for the first time, since their arrival in the Delta Quadrant, nearly a year ago. Despite its Terran origins, Valentine's Day had become popular throughout the Alpha Quadrant and not only did the Human crewmembers gather inside Sandrine's to celebrate, so did many of the ship's small percentage of non-Terran occupants. In celebration of the holiday, red streamers and pictures of hearts and Cupid decorated the tavern. A buffet table set against the far wall, groaned under the weight of delectable dishes and drinks.

Since many of the celebrants had arrived as couples, it came as a surprise to many when three members of the Senior Staff arrived at the same time. Dubbed the 'Three Musketeers because of their close friendship, Tom Paris, Harry Kim and B'Elanna Torres were usually seen together during their off-duty hours. Voyager's journey through the Delta Quadrant had begun with a friendship between Paris and Kim, and another friendship between Kim and Torres. Ever since Paris and Torres' incarceration by the Vidiians four months ago, Kim had finally succeeded in forging his friendships with the pair into one shared by all three. They did everything together - eat their meals inside the Mess Hall, relax inside the holodecks or simply enjoy each other's company inside private quarters. However, tonight was Valentine's Day, a holiday for romance. It seemed incongruous for a get together between three friends.

"Gods, we must really look out of place, tonight," Tom Paris commented. After B'Elanna eased into one of the booths, he sat in the seat opposite her. By sitting near the edge, he forced Harry to occupy the seat next to the half-Klingon engineer. "I bet we must be the only ones without a date." He glanced at the pair opposite him. "I stand corrected. I must be the only one."

Tom's last words drew a glare from B'Elanna. Harry's face turned red with embarrassment. "B'Elanna and I aren't . . ." the latter began. His flush deepened. "I meant . . ."

"What Harry is trying to say, Hotshot, is that we're not on a date," B'Elanna retorted. "We're only here . . . as friends."

"Right." Tom nodded.

B'Elanna continued, "Besides, weren't you suppose to have a date, tonight?"

Tom shrugged his shoulders. "Megan couldn't make it. She learned that she had duty during Beta shift, and I couldn't find anyone else to replace her." He referred to Ensign Megan Delaney, one half of a pair of twin sisters assigned to Stellar Cartography. Tom and Megan had been dating on and off for over six months. Neither really considered the other as a serious love interest. Merely convenient companionship for a lonely night.

"Too bad," B'Elanna replied with an insincere expression stamped on her face. "I was really looking forward to her company."

Tom bit back a sigh. For some unexplainable reason, B'Elanna seemed to regard Megan and Jenny Delaney as a pair of nymphomaniacs, cutting a wide swath throughout the ship's male occupants. "B'Elanna, Megan is not the type of person you seem to think she is. She's a very nice person." B'Elanna snorted. "And rather quiet, I may add. Right Harry?"

The Operations Chief nodded. "Tom's right, B'Elanna. You've got Megan all wrong. She is nice. And sweet." A soft expression crept into his face. Tom stared.

"And the other sister?" B'Elanna added sarcastically. "Is she also . . . nice?"

Tom quickly came to Jenny Delaney's defense. "Hey! Jenny's all right. Maybe a bit too outgoing for your tastes, Torres. But she's certainly is no slut, if that's what you think."

"I never said she was a . . ." B'Elanna paused under Tom's hard stare. "Okay, maybe I had misjudged Jenny. And Megan."

Harry smiled and nodded at Tom. "It wouldn't be the first time." B'Elanna scowled, much to Tom's delight.

An attractive, middle-aged blond woman appeared before the trio. It was Sandrine, the holographic proprietress of the tavern. She jovially greeted the friends. "Ah! Mes amies! Bonsoir and welcome to our St. Valentine's celebration!" Her blue eyes swept over the three friends and her smile transformed into a frown. "What's this? Only three of you? Today is Valentine's Day! A day of romance and passion! You're supposed to be with a loved one. A mate. Not with friends!"

B'Elanna rolled her eyes. Tom explained about his aborted date with Megan Delaney. Sandrine's eyes focused on the two engineers. "And you two? Are you here as a couple?"

Before Tom could answer, B'Elanna sharply replied, "No!" And in a softer tone, continued, "No, Harry and I are here simply as friends. I don't have a . . . loved one here on the ship."

"Neither do I," Harry said.

Tom gave Sandrine one of those, "see what I'm up against?" looks. Then he ordered the drinks. "Saurian brandy for all three of us." B'Elanna opened her mouth to protest and he added, "It's Valentine's Day. I don't think Scotch whiskey neat is an appropriate drink for this holiday."

"Ah Thomas! Good taste as usual," the Frenchwoman said with a smile. "Pardon. I'll be back." And she walked away to fetch their drinks.

B'Elanna leaned forward, a slight scowl fixed on her face. "I happen to like Scotch whiskey neat, Paris. A lot. And I don't like others selecting my drinks without my permission."

Tom dismissed her protests with a wave of his hand. "C'mon B'Elanna! It's Valentine's Day. There's just something unromantic about drinking Scotch whiskey on an evening like this."

"Romantic?" B'Elanna turned to Harry. "Can you believe this guy, Starfleet?"

Harry shook his head. "Don't look at me, Maquis. After nearly a year, I still don't understand how the man's mind works."

Sandrine returned with their drinks. After she served them, she spotted a couple entering the tavern and excused herself. Tom glanced at the newcomers. "I can't believe it!" he exclaimed. "Isn't that Jenkins and Hamilton together?"

Both Harry and B'Elanna looked, while the couple was being escorted by Sandrine to an empty booth. "What about them?" the latter asked.

"Look at them! They're together! On Valentine's Day! I can't believe they've been seeing each other all this time and I never even noticed. After all, they're both in my division. And I can usually tell when two people are interested in one another."

Again, B'Elanna rolled her eyes. "Tom, has it ever occurred to you that Jenkins and Hamilton are together for one date? And since when did you develop empathic powers when it came to romance?"

Slowly, Tom returned his gaze to the engineer. A cynical expression masked her exotic looks. "And since when did you become such a cynic, Torres? What's the matter? Don't you believe in romance?"

The doors to the tavern swung open, heralding the arrival of Voyager's command team. All eyes fell upon the ship's auburn-haired captain and her swarthy First Officer. Tom noticed how B'Elanna's eyes lit up at the sight of Chakotay. And how her olive skin flushed with a tinge of pink.

Good God! Tom thought with a slight shake of his head. Is that infatuation still going on? He had never known B'Elanna during his brief stint with the Maquis. Either she had joined Chakotay's cell sometime after his capture by Starfleet. Or Chakotay simply kept the pair apart. Yet, the moment he saw the former Maquis captain and the Klingon/Human hybrid together, Tom quickly became aware of the latter's feelings toward the former. Surprisingly, Tom had disapproved. He never considered unrequited love and hero-worship a healthy mix. Something he now knew from personally experience. Tom believed that B'Elanna could do a lot better for herself. Someone who would suit her - like a certain Operations chief.

"Not the romantic type, huh Torres?" The knowing tone in Tom's voice drew a glare from B'Elanna. He turned to his other friend. "What about you, Harry? Is there a true love in your life?" The moment the question left his lips, Tom knew the younger man's answer. "Wait! Let me guess. Libby."

A deep flush colored Harry's cheeks. "What's wrong with Libby?" he demanded.

"Nothing," Tom answered, his blue eyes wide with innocence. "Except that she is 70,000 light years away."

Harry protested. "There's still a chance we might return home in less than 70 years! Right B'Elanna?"

"Huh?" The half-Klingon tore her eyes away from Janeway and Chakotay. Tom rolled his eyes in exasperation. "What did you say, Harry?"

Tom spoke up. "He thinks we might get back to the Alpha Quadrant in less than seven decades. Tell me Harry, how long are you willing to count on that?" A retort seemed to hover on the Ops chief's lips, but not a sound came out. "Thought so."

Her attention no longer focused on the First Officer, B'Elanna returned her gaze to Tom. "What about you, Paris? Do you have a true love?"

Years of emotional turmoil had taught the pilot to keep his feelings and secrets to himself. The Paris mask usually came to the fore whenever asked a too personal question. Or got too close. But this was Harry and B'Elanna. The first two people Tom could truly call his friends. And they did not deserve the Paris mask. "Susie Crabtree."

Both B'Elanna and Harry cried, "Huh?"

Tom continued, "You asked about my true love. Her name was Susie Crabtree."

Confusion appeared on Harry's face. "That's funny. I thought you were in love with . . ." A swift kick in the shin by Tom closed his mouth. The pilot knew exactly whom Harry was about to mention. He did not want anyone else to know about his current feelings for the ship's assistant nurse.

The half-Klingon's brows formed a frown. "Whom are you two talking about? Certainly not this Susie Crabtree. Sounds like a name for a Starfleet admiral's daughter. Or one of those social butterflies in the diplomatic circles. Which one was she?"

"Neither," Tom replied, annoyed by B'Elanna's condescension. "Susie was . . ." Memories of a beautiful young woman from his youth popped into his head. "Well, actually, she was a fellow cadet I had dated during my first year at the Academy." He sighed from sheer pleasure, producing a smile from Harry and a grimace from B'Elanna.

Harry asked, "What happened?"

"Huh? Oh, uh we broke up." Tom paused. The not-so-happy memories replaced the happy ones. "Actually, she dumped me."

"Why?"

A smirk appeared on B'Elanna's lips. "She got to know the real you, huh Paris?"

Tom did not bother to acknowledge the engineer's smirk. Or the slightly insulting tone in her voice. "Nope. Just the opposite," he said quietly. "Susie claimed I wouldn't let her."

Silence fell between the trio. Harry took a swallow of brandy. B'Elanna's gaze slowly shifted back to Chakotay. And Tom quietly observed his two friends. Starfleet and Maquis.

"Gods, what a pathetic bunch we make when it comes to romance!" he said with a slight laugh. "Here I am reminiscing over a failed romance. Harry is still pining for a girl he probably won't see in a long time. And you, B'Elanna . . . apparently you don't have a romantic bone in your body."

B'Elanna shrugged her slight shoulders. "So sue me. What can I say? It's the Klingon in me."

"Don't shit me, Torres. I may not know much about Klingons, but I do know they happen to be among the most passionate species in the Alpha Quadrant. Maybe they're not the types to express themselves in poems or romance novels," Tom failed to notice the slight quirk of B'Elanna's lips, "but I do know they are very romantic. So give me another excuse."

B'Elanna heaved an exasperated sigh. "How about this one? I haven't found the right man and I probably . . . never . . . will."

Tom detected the longing in her words, but decided not to comment upon it. Instead, he gave the engineer an understanding smile. "You never know, Torres. The right man may be closer than you think."

Someone at the piano began to play, "La Vie En Rose". Several couples headed for the dance floor, including Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay. Aware of the intense scrutiny toward the pair, Tom commented, "I must say. Those two really look good together. Don't you agree?"

B'Elanna's sharp gaze fell upon the pilot. Harry's eyes remained glued to the dance floor. "I don't know," he said in a wary tone. "I guess. I mean they do make a pretty good command team."

Tom chuckled. "I wasn't talking about work, Harry." His words produced a startled glance from the young ensign. B'Elanna looked away. Tom decided it was time to make a suggestion. "That sounds like a nice tune," he continued. "Say Harry, why don't you give B'Elanna a spin on the dance floor?"

Two pairs of dark eyes stared at the pilot as if he had made a far out suggestion. Then they stared at each other. A red flush crept up Harry's cheeks. To Tom's satisfaction, he proved to be a brave soul and stood up. "Uh, would you . . . um, would you like to dance, B'Elanna?"

The engineer hesitated momentarily. After sparing another glance at Janeway and Chakotay, she nodded. "Sure Harry. Why not?" She stood up and allowed Harry to lead her to the dance floor. Soon, they were in each other's arms, gliding around the room. Tom sat back into his chair and smiled.

"What are you smiling about, cherie?" Sandrine slid into the booth, opposite Tom.

Tom nodded at his two friends. "Them. Don't they look great together?"

"Hmm." The proprietress barely acknowledged the pair with a glance. "I suppose so."

"You suppose?" Tom almost felt outraged. "Of course they do! Look at them. Starfleet and Maquis. They've practically been joined at the hip since we first entered the Delta Quadrant. Now if Harry can only put whatshername behind him and B'Elanna end her crush over Chakotay, they can take their relationship to the next level." Tom smiled. "With a little help from me, of course."

Sandrine glanced at the two friends once more and responded with another lackluster, "Hmmm." She surreptiously studied the table's wooden surface.

"What?" Tom demanded.

"Nothing cherie, except . . ."

"Yeah?"

A sigh left Sandrine's mouth. "I'm sorry, Thomas, but I suspect you might be making a big mistake. I just don't . . . I really cannot see your two friends as lovers. Friends perhaps, or siblings. Definitately not lovers."

"Wha . . ." Tom glanced at Harry and B'Elanna. Despite the prudent amount of space between them and B'Elanna's occasional glances at the First Officer, he saw a couple with a great potential for romance. All they need to do is overcome a few roadblocks. Tom had always prided himself on being able to spot a potential romance. A trait that made him a matchmaker at heart. "Are you trying to say that you don't feel any chemistry between B'Elanna and Harry?"

The Frenchwoman shrugged. "Well . . . perhaps there is some chemistry between them."

"Aha!"

"But not of the romantic kind," Sandrine continued. Tom's face fell. "I'm sorry, cherie, but I think you're wasting your time. I cannot see your friends as lovers. Besides, I believe your B'Elanna may have just a little too much bite for young Harry."

Tom struggled to hide his disappointment. He was sure that Sandrine, a matchmaker herself, would agree with him about Harry and B'Elanna. Apparently not.

The music stopped. Harry, B'Elanna and other couples disengaged. B'Elanna headed back to the booth, while Harry surged toward the buffet table. "Cherie!" Sandrine greeted the half-Klingon. "Did you enjoy yourself?"

B'Elanna gave the holographic woman a polite smile. Although she had grown used to the tavern's odd characters, she still regarded them with little enthusiasm. The pianist began playing another song. "La Mer." It was one of Tom's favorite 20th century songs.

"Thomas, why don't you dance with B'Elanna?" Sandrine said to the pilot. "That sounds like a lovely song."

A doubtful B'Elanna opened her mouth to protest. "I don't know. I just finished dan . . ."

Realization hit Tom Paris like a wet glove. Sandrine did not know it, but she had just given him the opportunity for a private talk with B'Elanna. Without any interruptions from her or Harry. "That sounds like a great idea," he replied, gently grabbing the Chief Engineer's hand. "C'mon B'Elanna. A little dance won't hurt."

"But . . ." Before the half-Klingon could further protest, Tom steered her toward the dance floor. He glanced past B'Elanna's shoulder toward Sandrine and winked. The 'Great Kim/Torres Matchmaking Scheme' was about to commence.

* * * *

Sandrine caught Tom's wink and smiled. Ah Thomas, she thought to herself. Such a big heart behind that cynical mask. The dear boy possessed a heart so big that it blinded him from the obvious - that his matchmaking scheme for his friends will fail. Or end in some kind of disaster. Young Harry Kim and that B'Elanna were not made for each other - at least not romantically.

On the other hand, Sandrine already had a candidate in mind for Lieutenant Torres' heart. And she was dancing in his arms at the moment. Sandrine admired the way Thomas lead the engineer across the floor. Such a graceful dancer. And unlike young Harry, he held B'Elanna close in his arms with an intimate and easy manner that expressed his personality. Not only that, the half-Klingon had failed to spare Commander Chakotay one glance since joining Thomas on the dance floor.

Sandrine looked at the young couple once more. Then Thomas made a comment that produced a mixture of amusement, exasperation and fascination on Lieutenant Torres' face that the hologram found beguiling. Ah yes! Sandrine nodded. They certainly do look well together.

"Thomas likes his women with a little bite." - Sandrine to Ricki ("The Cloud")



THE END