The Joke War

by Michelle Paquette

Part Eight

Seven quickly gave a fake smile to hide her dismay and clapped along with the others in the mess hall. The Doctor and Claire Jenkins stepped on stage, holding hands, and took a bow. The room quieted and the music began to play. It was an old love ballad from the mid-twentieth century. Jenkins sang first, her voice drifting beautifully through the room.

Harry was so involved in listening to the music that he almost didn't notice Tal Celes enter the mess hall and look around the room, wide-eyed. She seemed embarrassed to be late, and her face colored as several people turned to stare. Tal quickly moved from table to table, frantically searching for the seat with her name on it. Harry tried to catch her attention by giving her a small wave. She caught a glimpse of him from the corner of her eye and squinted towards him. "Your seat is here!" he mouthed, but this only seemed to confuse her more.

Tom had become distracted by Harry's antics, and tried to help out. He put his fingers to his lips and let out a loud, shrill whistle. This made quite a number of people jump in their seats. On stage, The Doctor was in the middle of a verse. The noise almost caused him to forget a few words, but he caught himself and continued with the song.

Tom made a large pointing gesture, showing Tal Celes that she was to sit beside Harry. She nodded, and walked over to their table. Kim smiled at her as she sat down next to him, and she smiled back gratefully.

Seven was annoyed by the confusion, and even more annoyed by the fact that Ensign John Phillips had taken it upon himself to clasp her hand in his. She grimaced at the feel of his cold, clammy skin on hers. Then she glanced back at the stage, just in time to see a look of adoration pass between The Doctor and Jenkins as the final syllables of their song rang out. Seven felt sick.

As the final notes died away, there was loud applause. Neelix rushed up onto the stage. "Bravo! Bravo!" he cried out. "Thank you, Doctor! Thank you, Miss Jenkins!" He grinned widely and waited for the room to quiet down. "Now, I'm pleased to present to you the comedy stylings of Mr. Tom Paris!"

Loud applause started up again, and Tom rose slowly from his chair. The Doctor and Claire stepped off the stage and began to walk back towards where they were seated. Claire noticed a friend waving to her from another table, so she motioned to The Doctor that she was going to speak with her.

The Doctor nodded absently and watched her walk away.

* * * * *

Seven took a deep breath and turned again to look at The Doctor and Jenkins. The hologram was standing alone, looking off to the side, and she followed his gaze to where Claire was standing, speaking with a group of young officers at a nearby table. She shifted her eyes back to The Doctor. As she watched him from across the room, she felt a lump rise in her throat. She wanted him so much. Wanted to hold him, to speak with him; just to be near him. Without The Doctor, she was lost. Seven realized that now. And now it was too late to come forward with her feelings. The Doctor could not feel the same for her. It was obvious from the way he was staring at his date.

As she looked on, The Doctor's gaze moved from the young blonde ensign. He turned his head slowly to the right, to look directly at Seven. She froze, unable to look away from him. In that instant, she felt as if he could see right through her. She felt so transparent, like The Doctor could tell exactly how she was feeling inside.

Seven closed her eyes tightly, and when she reopened them, she had changed her expression to one of indifference. She just couldn't let The Doctor see just how much she cared. Exposing her feelings would only cause her pain and rejection. Seven raised her chin higher, and broke eye contact with the hologram, to show she didn't care whatsoever.

But she did care. She cared ever so much. And that is why she looked back at him. The Doctor had such a look of disappointment on his face that Seven immediately felt guilty. Despite her romantic feelings for him, The Doctor was still her friend and trusted mentor. It wasn't his fault that he had no idea what was going on inside her heart and mind.

Seven watched with despair as the hologram looked at her sadly and turned to leave the room. He walked out the mess hall doors without a glance backward.

'What have I done?' Seven thought to herself. 'I must find The Doctor and speak with him.' She threw a quick apologetic glance at John Phillips and pried her hand from his viselike grip. Then she stood up and left the room as quickly and inconspicuously as she could. Once she stepped outside the doors, Seven paused and looked down each side of the corridor. She caught a fleeting glimpse of The Doctor turning a corner to the left, apparently heading toward the turbolift.

* * * * *

Tom hopped up onto the talent show stage and took a deep bow. The applause grew louder and intermingled with the clapping came the sound of several catcall whistles from a few female crewmembers. Tom grinned widely, but back at his table B'Elanna shot threatening glances around the room.

Neelix brought over a standing microphone from the side of the room and handed it to Tom. Paris grabbed it and immediately switched it on. He had insisted that the microphone be replicated to make his stand up act more reminiscent of the late twentieth century.

"So, who here's from out of town...?" Tom began.

* * * * *

Seven made up the strides separating her from The Doctor in just a few seconds. She trotted up behind him, breathless, just as he was entering the turbolift. The Doctor spun around and sighed when he saw who it was. "What do you want, Seven?" he asked resignedly, as he continued to step into the lift.

Seven caught her breath and followed him inside. The door slid shut behind them and she said abruptly, "I need to speak with you."

"Computer, pause turbolift," The Doctor announced aloud. "What about?" he asked, turning towards her. He felt very passive, not at all like his usual self, almost as if he were fatigued.

Seven looked down for a moment, and then summoned her courage and looked directly at her friend. "When I saw you with Ensign Jenkins this evening… I felt... disturbed."

The Doctor furrowed his brows. "What do you mean?"

"I found myself wishing you were… with me, instead." There; she'd said it. Seven braced herself for his response.

The Doctor couldn't believe his ears. Here he had been thinking Seven couldn't care less about him, let alone who he spent time with. The whole reason he had asked Claire Jenkins to the talent show was to make Seven jealous, and it had worked! It was unbelievable. "You... me..." he stuttered.

"I felt empty," Seven continued on in a rush, "I felt as if I should be at your side, rather than her. Please-- I need you... and I don't believe I can go on if you do not feel the same." She got choked up as tears welled up in her eyes. She had finally revealed her feelings. Now she could only try to cope with The Doctor's rejection.

* * * * *

Tom replaced the microphone back into its holder and took a deep bow. There was a second's delay and then applause could be heard scattered throughout the room. Tom looked puzzled as he walked back to his table.

"Was I that bad?" Paris whispered to B'Elanna and Harry as he took his seat.

"Well..." Harry started.

"Don't you think your material is a little outdated?" B'Elanna blurted out.

"Outdated?" Tom repeated incredulously. ""Seinfeld"'s a classic! It will never be outdated!"

B'Elanna shrugged.

Paris shook his head and laughed. "Everyone's a critic."

Suddenly B'Elanna noticed something. "Hey, where did you get that cake?" she asked Tom. "I didn't get any." He had a plate with a delicious-looking dessert in his hand.

"Let's just say I 'borrowed' it from Neelix's kitchen," Tom replied, digging into his prize. "I think it's supposed to make an appearance later."

Harry and B'Elanna laughed.

* * * * *

Claire Jenkins finished speaking with her friend and began to walk back toward her table. She saw Tom, B'Elanna, Harry, Tal Celes, and John Phillips seated there, but no Doctor. Seven of Nine' s seat was also unoccupied. "Where did my date go?" Jenkins asked out loud as she got closer.

Tom shifted his attention from his fudge cake and answered, "I saw him leave right after you two finished singing. Seven followed him out..." He raised his eyebrow and in his tone was the unspoken intimation that they were to be left alone.

"Hmm…" Claire pondered. She shrugged her shoulders and sat down 'You win some, you lose some,' she thought to herself. 'Too bad, though; that hologram was pretty hot...'

Harry turned to Jenkins. "You did a great job up there."

"You mean the song?" she asked.

"Yeah. You have the most beautiful voice I've ever heard."

Claire blushed slightly and giggled at Harry. "Really? Thanks."

"Yeah, you do. And you look wonderful tonight, by the way..."

Claire giggled again and batted her eyelashes. "Thanks, Harry."

* * * * *

The Doctor simply stared at Seven for a few moments, stunned. She stood beside him, eyes to the ground, breathing rapidly. He could tell she was nervous, as was he. "Seven," he began slowly, "What does this mean?" With his hand he tilted her chin upward gently so he could look into her eyes. "Are you... Are you in love with me?"

Seven was unable to speak. She had a lump in her throat and she felt as if she were about to cry. She nodded.

The Doctor was speechless.

"How do you feel about me? Do you love me as well?" Seven whispered.

The Doctor slowly brought his face closer to hers and kissed her softly on the mouth. "Yes. I care about you more than anything."

Seven returned the kiss.

* * * * *

"Let's hear it for our last act! Thank you, Lieutenant Taylor! You did beautifully!" Neelix shouted over the applause as Taylor exited the stage. "Now, everyone, please stay and enjoy the lovely dessert I've prepared: quadruple-fudge six layer dream cake!"

Captain Janeway stood up and made her way to the center of the room. She carried with her a half-filled champagne glass. "Could I have your attention, please?" she announced. The din quieted and she raised her glass high in the air. "I would like to propose a toast to Neelix, who has succeeded in producing what I believe to be Voyager's best talent show yet. Thank you, Neelix." She paused as everyone in the room raised their glasses in the Talaxian's direction to praise him. Then she smiled widely and strode back to her seat.

Janeway raised her head high and sat down gracefully. The endeavor was unsuccessful, however, because as she lowered herself onto the chair a loud farting sound emanated from it. She stood back up abruptly, her face coloring with embarrassment.

Laughter came from all tables in the mess hall. Almost everyone had seen the incident. Janeway slowly and methodically turned her head to look around the room. Finally her stone cold gaze came to rest upon Tom Paris. She heard her first officer beside her clearing his throat, preparing to speak. "Not now, Chakotay," she snapped.

"Mr. Paris," she said in a loud monotone, "I wish to speak with you outside, immediately." Without waiting for a reply, the captain turned on her heel and departed the mess hall. Tom followed sheepishly.

Once the doors closed behind them, Janeway spun around to face Tom. "What did you think you were doing?" she blurted out accusingly. "You embarrassed me in there in front of my entire crew!"

"Seven and The Doctor left, so they didn't see you," Paris retorted. Janeway glared at him, and he lost his composure. "It wasn't me, I swear," he whined.

"Who else would do such a thing? You're the only one I know who's capable."

"Um, Captain..." came a quiet voice from behind them. It was Chakotay. She turned to him.

"What is it, Commander?" Her voice sounded harsher than she intended for it to.

"I'm afraid I have something to confess." He looked down at the floor. "I was the one who put that whoopee cushion on your seat."

Janeway stared at him openmouthed. She looked at Tom, and then back at Chakotay. "Thank you for your honesty, Commander," she said quietly. "Could you leave us alone for a moment?"

"Certainly." He walked back into the mess hall.

Tom watched him leave and then turned back to his captain. "I told you I didn't--" he began.

"I realize that now," Janeway said with a sigh. "I'm sorry I was so quick to put the blame on you. But you do understand that you've performed more than your share of pranks. I had the right to be suspicious."

"I guess so," Tom admitted.

"Anyway, I think it's time for these high jinks to stop. Are we agreed?" She raised her eyebrow.

"Yeah..." Tom answered grudgingly.

"Good. I'm glad we concur," Janeway stated. "Now, I think I'm done for the night. If anyone needs me, I'll be in my ready room."

Tom nodded and watched her leave. After she was out of earshot, he shook his head. "It was fun while it lasted..." he said wistfully, and then reentered the mess hall.

* * * * *

Captain Janeway marched over to the turbolift. The doors did not slide open, and this aggravated her. "Computer, open turbolift doors; now," she demanded.

"Unable to comply. The turbolift is paused between decks."

This puzzled Janeway, but she didn't care. "Bring the lift back to Deck Two and open the doors," she ordered.

The computer complied, and the turbolift was returned to Deck Two. The doors slid open to reveal Seven and The Doctor entwined in an embrace, passionately kissing one another. They broke apart quickly, with guilty looks on their faces.

Captain Janeway stared at them, openmouthed. She couldn't believe what she had just seen.

"Uh, Captain, uh, hello," The Doctor stammered, wiping his hand across his mouth.

"Hello, Doctor. Seven." Janeway nodded at the pair. "Sorry for the interruption." A grin spread across her face. She looked over at Seven and gave her an obvious conspiratorial wink. Seven smiled back.

The captain figured just this once she could take the long way to her quarters. There was turbolift at the other end of the corridor. "Well, I'll leave you two alone. As you were..." she ordered playfully.

The turbolift doors closed and Captain Janeway walked down the hall, smiling to herself.

* * * * *

B'Elanna and Tom made their way out of the mess hall early, before the rest of the crowd decided to leave. They strolled down the empty corridor, chatting amicably.

"You know, I still have tons of leftovers from my "Seinfeld" marathon..." Tom said. "Wanna go on a picnic tomorrow?"

"Sounds good to me," B'Elanna answered. They approached the turbolift at the end of the hall and waited for it to arrive. When it seemed to be taking too long, B'Elanna asked the computer what was keeping it.

"The turbolift is paused at Deck Two."

"Is there anyone in it?" Torres asked.

"There are two occupants: Seven of Nine and The Emergency Medical Hologram."

Tom and B'Elanna exchanged a glance. "I guess things worked out," Tom said with a laugh.

"Either that, or they're killing each other in there," B'Elanna suggested.

The two laughed and took the long way to Tom's quarters.

* * * * *

The Doctor and Seven smiled at each other in the turbolift. They had found each other, at last, and both were glad they did not have to hide their love anymore. They could be together now, and that was wonderful.

The Doctor let down Seven's hair, and ran his fingers through the silky strands. "I love you so much, Seven," he told her.

Seven drew closer to the hologram and nuzzled against him. She didn't speak; she just laid her head on The Doctor's shoulder and kissed him tenderly on the neck.