Rule 15: Know When to Fold 'Em
There are few ironclad rules of diplomacy, but to one there is no exception. When an official reports that talks were useful, it can safely be concluded that nothing was accomplished." John Kenneth Galbraith
Whoever had ransacked Tom's and the Captain's rooms after Riker's arrest had dutifully returned their belongings, arranged slightly differently, but still all there. Tom's dress uniform had, moreover, been impeccably pressed by unseen hands. Was someone trying to send him a message? He weighed the tunic in his hands as he stared at his face in the mirror.
His lips curled upwards a little as he thought of the deliciously scandalized little gasp the blue marks on his jugular were likely to elicit from the Terran Ambassador when she saw them in the flesh, peeking out from under the gold-lined collar.
On second thought…
"Oh, fuck 'em," he muttered darkly and threw the uniform back on the bed. Nacheyev wanted a Starfleet presence, but she hadn't said anything about uniforms, had she? And wasn't it Riker who had mentioned that diplomats could say a thousand words with the way they dressed?
Time to put his new-found, Nacheyev-approved 'instincts' to the test.
Tom headed to the refresher and pulled out his leathers and the white T-shirt, all nicely cleaned. If B'Elanna was coming, he was sure she'd appreciate the pants. He sniffed the pocket of the jacket. Good, the singed smell from the phaser burn had come out in the 'fresher. Even if he was bent on making a diplomatic fashion statement, doing so with Eau de Nausicaan up his nose all evening would probably have worn thin after a while.
Tom put his three Commander's pips neatly on one side of the collar of the leather jacket, then slipped it on and carefully placed the little winged titanium cross of the DFC – which protocol expected him to wear on an occasion as formal as this - precisely under the spot where the "0766" ended. After all, he'd gotten the latter for flying too, albeit not for one of his more successful runs. Variations on a theme, really, when you thought about it.
There was still room for whatever medal the Andorians would insist on pinning on him tonight, provided they could get the pin through the leather. Hopefully the much-vaunted Order of the Ice would be something shiny and not so small that it could be swallowed, so he could give it to Miral for that eclectic collection of what his enterprising child considered to be suitable toys. It might even go with the singing puzzle.
A final appraising look - good. He headed out to door to meet his Captain.
The evening of the Introduction was, by all official reports, a 'successful exercise of imperial outreach' to Andoria's closest allies.
The acting Chancellor, still flush and flustered with the excitement of his sudden elevation, began the evening by requesting a minute of silence to acknowledge the untimely death, in a shuttle accident just outside of Andor's orbit, of Chancellor Erdilev and the Imperial Chief of Staff. An investigation was underway and making good progress; preliminary results had disclosed a malfunction in one of the warp coils. He then made a number of routine announcements, of which few of the attending diplomatic corps took note. These included certain staffing changes in the Imperial Office, and something about an obscure Imperial Guard – now sadly deceased - having committed a (vaguely defined) act of heroism that had brought her family closer to the Imperial dynasty.
The awarding of the Imperial Order of the Ice to one Commander Thomas Eugene Paris, for (also vaguely defined) services to the Andorian Imperium did draw a few interested murmurs, and a bit of media attention. It was unusual for a mere Commander to receive such an honour; however the Paris name was a familiar one, and as such no further explanation was required. The fact that the recipient had turned up in something other than regulation Starfleet dress was noted by some of the more astute observers, including the Vulcan ambassador, although the leather look was widely ascribed to the personal eccentricities of a man who on his home planet was known for writing successful holovids about a Heroic Person sporting similar garb. One of the journalists shooting holovids for Society Tonight even opined – erroneously, as it turned out - that the daringly rakish tattoo sported by Starfleet's handsome former Bad Boy might just catch on as a fashion accessory.
None of the assembled dignitaries was alive to the fact that the honoree seemed far more intent on scanning the crowd for someone than he was on showing appreciation for the uncommonly rare and high honour that was being bestowed upon him. Only Captain Riker noticed that his Number One had taken the crystal star off within minutes and stuck it into his pocket with a look of annoyance, after running his finger nail over the hole the pin had made in the leather. And so it was Riker, too, who wandered over to whisper discreetly into Tom's ear that he might wish to move the bauble to the pocket that didn't have a hole in it.
Finally, just as some of the guests were starting to eye the bar rather longingly, the Emperor appeared on the dais. His Imperial Majesty Narov Shran took great official delight in introducing to the world his beloved daughter and future heir. But clearly, he announced with a studiedly fond paternal smile, it was too soon to devolve any real responsibilities to her given her tender age. And so, he was delighted to announce that both in demonstration of Andoria's undying commitment to the Federation and as part of Lissan's own preparation to become The Future Of Andoria, the princess would complete her education at that most venerable and valuable of places of learning, Starfleet Academy.
Her personal interest in the Academy was most timely, since his people's deep and unfailing commitment to the Federation was, at the same time, finding its expression in a much closer future relationship between Starfleet and his own defense force. Andoria and the Federation were inextricably joined, and he was proud to reassert that unity through a new defence cooperation agreement that was taking effect that very day.
The crowd applauded more than politely, albeit not so much to hail the defence cooperation announcement which appeared to be of interest only to a small handful of professionals, mostly outworlders. Truth was, Princess Lissan was rather pretty, and the Emperor's popularity had been waning over the last few years. Few things, it would appear, excited Andorian monarchists more than the prospect of regime change, even if it would be put off for a while. In the meantime, Lissan's dress would likely spark a new trend; too bad she would be seen mostly in uniform for the next few years. For those Andorians inclined to political matters, speculation moved on to the prospects of the Acting Chancellor securing his position.
But then Princess Lissan herself strode up to the podium, just as soon as her father had vacated it. She had not been expected to take the floor and her move had clearly not been foreseen by protocol; any number of uniformed Andorian officials were seen milling about, their antennae fluttering in the most agitated fashion. Her father looked mildly alarmed, if not entirely displeased at the attention his daughter commanded and the fact that she had found the nerve to speak. It was equally clear that he had no idea what she would say.
Lissan began to speak, hesitatingly at first, but then with increasing forcefulness, about how she had doubted herself and her ability to fulfill her destiny. But there were changes necessary in Andoria, and she was hoping that she would be the one to make them happen, eventually, once she had learned more about how other worlds mastered their fate. She dreamed of a time where Andorians would truly no longer need to fear their neighbour's wrath or dire consequences to petty slights. The princess looked a challenge at her father at this, one he did not appear to notice.
Lissan was warming up to her speech now, starting to recount with breathless excitement how, in the midst of danger and persecution a man with blue, blue eyes had reminded her of the need to find her own true path, a path that she hoped might eventually lead her into the hearts of the Andorian people. She blushed a very pretty navy as Tom's eyes, now widening with panic, caught hers across the room; oblivious to his pleading headshake, she gave a deep, tremulous sigh and barreled on. Her love for her people, she confessed, was greater than any personal desires could ever be, a realization that had struck her after listening to an ancient Andorian folk tune on a crystal instrument he had brought with him. Accordingly, she had been forced to part ways with the man whom she would always remember as her very first love, and a true Hero of Andoria. She would henceforth devote all her energies to learning as much as she could at Starfleet Academy, hopefully for the benefit of all of Andoria.
"Amen," Tom muttered when he heard the bit about 'parting ways'. While he felt mildly pleased that his little pep talk on board the Flyer seemed to have resonated fairly well, he could really have done without the fullness of Lissan's perspective on it.
In the meantime, where was B'Elanna? Had she heard That Speech? Maybe the Gods That Looked After Almost Fully Rehabilitated Ex-Cons would show mercy, and she had missed it … somehow?
Tom headed for the bar with lengthening strides, ignoring both the people who stared at him with calculation and renewed interest, and the numerous antennae waving in his direction from members of several of the four Andorian gender groups, especially the females. He considered, not for the first time since his arrival on Andor, whether he could programme the replicator to provide him with a pair of those dark, oval eye coverings apparently favoured by pilots in the 20th century. What were they called? Ray banners?
Kahless, he needed a drink. Or three. A Starfleet uniform bounced up to him. His heart leapt, then sank. O'Reilly.
"Man, that was some fancy flying you did there a couple of days ago, sir. I was watching and …" Tom held up his hand to still the pilot's enthusiasm, as gratifying as it was that the man seemed to have finally found the courage to actually talk to him. "Thanks, Marc, but have you seen my wife? I thought all the senior officers were coming here."
"She was on the second shuttle; I believe they got held up a bit, sir. Something about the plasma manifolds being misaligned. But, holy shit, sir, the way you got them to shoot their own ship in the … wait, is that the DFC? I heard you got it but I've never seen one up close …"
Tom rolled his eyes inwardly. O'Reilly's transition from petrified silence on the bridge to torrential adulation was as disconcerting as it was unexpected, not to mention embarrassing. "Sorry, Marc. If you want we can put together some training sims based on that little dogfight, assuming the Enterprise's sensors recorded it. But right now I need to find our Chief Engineer. Assuming she has arrived yet."
Tom turned on his heels, took his glass of not-half-bad Tallyrian riesling and, parting the chattering crowds with barely muttered and patently insincere apologies, continued his search for his wife, not certain now whether he should hope to find her, or not.
But assuming she was here, as one of the tallest people in the room he should be able to spot a dark-haired half-Klingon amid a sea of blue and white heads, no matter how short she was.
Of course, as one of the tallest and un-bluest people in the room, he was pretty easy to spot as well.
"So, Commander, I hear you had a lot of fun out there, on the wild frontier."
Tom almost let out a yelp of surprise at the voice coming from his left elbow. He turned, the instinctively happy smile freezing on his face. His wife was magnificent, a Klingon warrior on the prowl. Uh-oh.
B'Elanna's voice had a distinctly feline quality to it, but it was most definitely not the husky purr Tom was sometimes able to coax out of her when he got her to succumb to the urge of doing naughty things in the hidden corners of public places. No, this was a low, predatory growl, the rumbling that you might hear emanating from the belly of a tiger, about to pounce on its prey.
Not good. She'd been in the room … long enough.
Searching his mate's darkly flashing eyes for whatever message might best enable him to survive the next few minutes, but finding himself unable to get a purchase of any kind, Tom Paris decided to stall.
"Where'd you hear that? The details of my … mission with the Flyer were supposed to be kept secret."
B'Elanna Torres pushed her husband into an alcove at the back of the hall, slowly but inexorably. Tom offered no resistance, even as his beloved pinned him to the wall in the darkest corner, her breath hot in his face despite their difference in height.
"I have my sources, oh 'True Hero of Andoria'."
Riker. Bastard. Spilled everything to Deanna, Nacheyev's instructions be damned. He'd seen the two of them talking to each other, across the room, looking at him. No doubt the Captain was counting on Deanna back-briefing his wife in turn, and post haste. Probably Will's way of getting back at him for that little improv scene in the Emperor's study, but this was a little personal no matter how much he might deserve a rap on the knuckles …
B'Elanna was fingering the leather of Tom's jacket now, before allowing her hands to move down to his pants. She hooked two fingers inside his belt and pulled him roughly towards her.
"What's that torchy jazz song you like so much? 'Lady sings the Blues'? Well, in case you missed it, there was a blue lady out there, singing, just now. And not so quietly, I might add. About you."
Her hands were now sliding up his shirt, nails raking his nipples through the fabric as they went. "Nice outfit, by the way. I do see her point."
Stalling having failed miserably, Tom went for the next best thing. Diversion.
"You wouldn't believe what it was like out there, Bee. It was like a cheap holovid of Earth's Wild West, with a serious dose of action, melodrama and some cool flying thrown in. In fact, I'm thinking of calling my editor; I feel another low-brow holonovel coming on. They're about to come out with the last six Chapters of Captain Proton soon and Jenny … wants … me … to…"
His voice trailed off as B'Elanna's left hand wound itself through his short hair, slid down the back of his neck and clamped around it like a vise.
"A holovid, you say. Uh-huh."
B'Elanna's right hand trailed back down his chest, down and down, until it closed on her husband's leather-clad crotch. Tom exhaled sharply and swallowed hard, his eyes furtively glancing around the room where the clinking of glasses and the susurrations of small talk went on undisturbed.
He briefly caught Deanna Troi's eyes, sent her a pleading look; the empath smirked a little in his direction and very slowly, very deliberately, turned her back.
B'Elanna's voice was a soft hiss now, and her grip on both parts of his anatomy tightened further.
"You sure the safeties were on, flyboy?"
Finally, a question Thomas Eugene Paris could answer, unreservedly, without compromising Federation security or violating Starfleet orders, and without any hesitation whatsoever.
Making absolutely no attempt to escape his wife's iron hold on his most precious body parts, he instead leaned into her, widening his stance and moving his hips forward to surrender and give her better access. He opened his eyes to hers so that she could look deep into his soul, and find there nothing but the truth.
A little smile played on Tom's lips as he whispered huskily into B'Elanna's ear: "You ought to know by now, Mrs. Paris, that the only places where I like the colour blue are in my bath robe, your warp core and our daughter's eyes."
And then he bent his head down and pressed his open mouth to hers.
Now, there are several types of kisses: There are those sweet, reassuring pecks and feathery touches of closed lips on skin that are shared among friends, or offered as a prelude to romance. There are the initially shy explorations, becoming increasingly daring, where lips brush questioningly, then insistently - someone's tongue tracing the outline of the other's mouth, requesting entrance for first time. Then there are those deep, wet, lingering kisses shared by lovers in the hunger of pure passion; knowing, devouring, breathless, tumbling towards oblivion in a shared breath.
But none of these compare to the kiss of a Klingon female asserting her claim over her mate, nor do they compare to the raging fires that such a kiss ignites. A hard brush of the female's tongue across the male's cheek is followed by a sinking of teeth into tender flesh; lips are possessed, ravaged mercilessly; then her tongue will probe his mouth, insistent and deep, pronouncing ownership and desire in equal measure.
The outcome of such a kiss is always, always the same.
A dozen or so meters away, a certain half-Betazoid counselor raised her eyebrows, and her black eyes widened perceptibly. Her breath accelerated as she subtly but deftly maneuvered the conversation she had joined, away from the alcove towards the middle of the shining hall; her eyes searching, with increasing urgency, for her imzadi.
And in that dark alcove in the Great Hall of the Andorian Imperial palace, slowly running her tongue first up the blue mark on her mate's neck, then licking his blood off her lips as she found herself pulled roughly into the deep, all-concealing folds of a heavy velvet curtain, B'Elanna Torres started to purr.