CAKE

May 27, 1997

Christina's challenge: write a scene that establishes intimacy in which everyone remains fully clothed, there's no reference to lovemaking, the "L" word isn't uttered (not to each other, anyway), and there's no overt affection. Here's my attempt.

"Hi there."

"Hello, you." She looked up with a guarded smile, waved a forkful of cheesecake at him. "I didn't see you come in."

"I'm being sneaky. Taken?"

"Only by you."

He pulled out the chair opposite her and sat down. "Got a minute?"

"Maybe. Maybe two or three. What's on your mind?"

"B'Elanna. Tom. B'Elanna and Tom."

She chuckled, looking past his shoulder to where the two junior officers sat at a table in a dark corner of the bar, their two heads, fair and dark, bent close together. "I know what you mean. What do you make of it?"

"It's a natural reaction to being so far from home."

"True. But?" She prompted. "I hear a 'but' in there somewhere."

"But..." He leaned across the table conspiratorially. "B'Elanna's a little... confused by all of this."

"How so?"

"She's young. She's spent most of her life fighting against people, not falling in love with them. I think she doesn't know how to take it when someone is kind to her."

"You've been talking to her?"

He nodded. "She's come to me a couple of times for advice, but I'm not sure I'm doing any good. With me she dances all the way around the issue without ever saying anything specific. But I know that's what she's getting at."

She thoughtfully mulled over a mouthful of cheesecake. "Why do you think she's reluctant to broach the subject with you?"

He smiled suddenly. "Kathryn, how often did you talk to your father about your love life?"

"Good point." She chuckled. "So you've done about all the father/confessor stuff you think you can do?"

"I think so. I was wondering..."

"Wait, I know where this is leading. You want me to talk to her."

His relief showed plainly on his face. "Only if you want to. Maybe if she talked to a woman who's older and wiser, a lot more experienced at this sort of thing -- "

"Hmph. You make me sound like a wrinkled old crone." She stabbed savagely at her cheesecake.

"You know I'd never say that." He grinned. "But I happen to know you've been around the block a time or two."

"So has B'Elanna, I bet."

He cocked his head to one side, considering. "Probably so. But I still think she would benefit from your wisdom."

"Wisdom?"

He nodded. "You're wise, Kathryn. You've realized how important personal connections are out here, and you've taken steps to make sure you're not isolated from the human touch we all need to survive."

"In spite of the risks?"

"Because of the risks." He leaned closer to her. "Out here, we need each other on a very basic level. You tried to suppress that need for a long time, but you eventually came to recognize it, and to embrace it. Very wise."

"Thank you."

"You'll talk to her?"

She nodded, slicing off a portion of cheesecake and pushing it across to his side of her plate. "As soon as I have a chance. And as soon as you promise me something."

"Anything." He snatched the cheesecake in his fingers, popped it quickly into his mouth.

"Talk to Tom."

"You're kidding, right?"

She shook her head, amusement in her eyes. "He's been trying to talk to me, but I can tell he's uncomfortable with it."

"But he seems to admire you so much."

"Chakotay, how many times did you talk to your mother about your love life?"

He leaned back and laughed. "You're right, of course. But what in all the worlds should I say to him?"

She shrugged, toying with her fork. "Just listen at first. And then... He could learn a lot from you about courage."

"Courage?"

"Yes..." She lowered her eyes and pushed another forkful of cheesecake across to him. "For a long time you were afraid of making a mistake, of risking everything and then coming up empty. You were content to sit back and let your chance pass you by."

"Not content. Never content."

"Maybe not." She looked up at him, her eyes bright and appreciative. "But you eventually realized you might be missing the one thing that could make life bearable out here. You realized that it was better to try and fail than to never know at all, because out here, regret can last a very long time. So you took that horrible risk. Very brave."

"Thank you." He popped the second bite of cheesecake into his mouth, wiping his fingers on his civvies.

"You'll talk to him?"

"As soon as I can." He reached out suddenly and nabbed a bite of cheesecake from her fork before she could raise it to her lips.

"Hey! That's my dessert you're eating!"

"I'll buy you another dessert. Later."

She smirked back at him and glanced across the room where they sat, still bent close together, exchanging furtive whispers. Fair and dark, easy-going and hot-tempered, both of them nervous and a little awkward. So young, so very young.

He followed her gaze across the room. "What is it, Kathryn?"

"Look at them. They're too young to know how fortunate they are."

"They'll learn."

"How do you know?"

He snatched the last bite of cheesecake from her plate and smiled. "Because we did."

*/*

"What do you think they're talking about over there?"

"I don't know. Probably not what they should be talking about, anyway."

"This isn't working, is it?"

"No. Every time I try to talk to him about it, he lectures me about needing human contact and not turning away from valuable connections."

"Man, he's got it worse than I thought."

"How about her?"

"Huh. She only wants to talk about being brave and taking the chances without worrying about the risks."

"They must be pretty miserable."

"Yeah. Maybe we should do something different."

"Like what?"

"Maybe you should talk to her, and I'll talk to him."

"I don't know about that."

"It couldn't hurt. And maybe if -- "

"Tom! Look! He just ate cheesecake right off her plate!"

"That's a good sign... Isn't it?"