A/N: Not necessarily what I meant to put up next, but this one wanted to be written while its more substantial companions are being stubborn. Much gratitude to Photogirl1890 for her encouragement, suggestions, proof-reading and general support. All remaining mistakes are as much my own as Voyager and her crew are not.
"All those invitations to dinner, ..."
...early Season 3, sometime after "The Swarm"
Tom liked to consider himself a man of several, perhaps even many, talents. Multifaceted, as it were. Piloting, holoprogramming, a bit of design here and there. He had even come to enjoy the odd chance to use his training as a field medic, though he was beyond grateful that Kes had long ago taken over his shifts with the Doc in sickbay.
That said, a hunter and gatherer he was not. Were he to find himself stranded alone on a barren planet, the results were likely to be dire.
Unfortunately, the crew of Voyager was regularly in need of food supplies. Finding those meant going into orbit around one promising planet or another. And, once in orbit, Voyager had little immediate need of her helmsman. Who was then, almost without fail, drafted onto Neelix's food gathering detail.
The Talaxian, after having once sent Tom on a memorable but less than fruitful hunt for a herd of wild Alfarians, had wisely taken to assigning the pilot the same quarry at every stop: the omnipresent, unmistakable leola root.
And so Tom found himself on yet another nameless planet, dusty and featureless save for the sprawling patches of large boulders scattered across the hard-packed, hilly terrain, attempting to force the true scourge of the Delta Quadrant (neither the Kazon, the Trabe, nor even the Borg, wherever they might be lurking, had anything on this piece of vegetation) from the stubborn ground.
The distinctive shimmer of a transporter beam a few dozen meters away was a welcome distraction. The figure who materialized was even more so.
Standing and brushing dirt from his hands, he called B'Elanna's name and clambered across the rocks to her. Out of a long-ingrained habit, he reached out and pulled the strap of the awkwardly proportioned Starfleet standard issue container E529X4 – "for the collection and transportation of edible goods" – off her shoulder and slung it onto his own. Clearly, serious foraging had not been on the mind of the Alpha Quadrant tech who had developed the thing. His move was so casual that B'Elanna didn't even seem to register it.
"To what do we owe the pleasure of your company on this fine food gathering detail, Lieutenant?" Tom queried, truly curious, as they moved back in the direction from which he had come. A helmsman might not be needed while the ship was in orbit; the chief engineer, as a rule, was always in demand. Usually in three places at once.
She muttered something under her breath and then, at his questioning glance, sighed and admitted, "I lost a bet with Harry."
"You lost a bet with Harry?" Tom respected and admired many things about his best friend, but the fact remained that Harry was one of the easiest marks in the quadrant.
B'Elanna scowled. "We were recalibrating the plasma manifolds, and..." She broke off and waved a hand impatiently. "Never mind. The point is I'm taking his shift dirt-side." Holding up a hand to shade her eyes, she gazed out into the distance, picking out a crew member here and there amidst the boulders, and frowned. "So what are we gathering?"
They had reached the sprawling patch of scrubby green fronds where Tom had been harvesting. In response to B'Elanna's question, he reached down and roughly pulled one of the plants from the ground, tossing it to the engineer. She looked down at the unfortunate root in her hands, misshapen even by the standards of its own kind, and groaned. "Of course."
On a ship with fewer than two hundred crew members alone in uncharted territory, gossip was always a valuable commodity. In the right hands, it could be turned into hard currency.
So, when the crewman caught sight of the two officers ahead and heard the laughter, he stopped in his tracks, ducking behind one of the larger nearby boulders.
The laughter came again. Laughter from Voyager's chief engineer.
Lieutenant Torres could laugh?
That revelation alone was likely worth something, but, when he confirmed the identity of the other officer, the crewman could not hold back the satisfied grin which spread across his face: not only was the chief engineer laughing, but she was doing so in the company of one Lieutenant Tom Paris.
He had struck proverbial gold.
Inching along the boulders, he strained in an attempt to hear the content of the two officers' conversation. As he edged closer, he saw that the lieutenants were in the process of stripping leola root of its long green fronds – a process with which the crewman was all too familiar – and loading the tubers into the cargo container for transport.
"So, you're saying that the Alfarian hair pasta was your fault?" he heard Torres question in a tone that must be described as teasing, sacrilegious though the thought might be.
"No, not at all!" The pilot protested, and he waved a root at his companion. "I didn't actually catch any, remember?" Carefully and silently setting down his own cargo container, the crewman leveraged up to a slightly higher perch on the boulders and a better view. Paris continued, "And besides, you can't blame the poor bastards who collected the stuff. Otherwise, we would both have a lot to answer for," and, with a raised eyebrow, the helmsman indicated the substantial pile of leola root which they had amassed.
There was a snort, and Torres replied, "I guess we'll have to leave the blame resting squarely on the shoulders of poor Neelix."
"I'll remind you that it is your 'poor Neelix' who has had us out here digging up these god-forsaken roots for the last couple of hours."
Torres rolled her eyes as she tossed the last of the leola into the container. As the crewman watched, Paris paused and gave the engineer a long look before busying himself with the container's locks and adding, "You know, if you ever need a break from Neelix's creations, I'm not half bad with a replicator. I could whip you up something truly mouth-watering."
Holy shit – was that a dinner invitation?! He hadn't only struck gold – he had hit the mother lode!
"Not just pizza?" the engineer was querying with a smile. And, for a moment, the crewman found himself more than a little distracted by that rare expression.
Clearly, he wasn't the only one.
"Not just pizza," Paris assured. "So what do you say? Have dinner with me?"
A Kazon armada could have dropped from the sky and the crewman would have taken no notice.
Torres blushed (Blushed!?) and bit at her lower lip. "Tom, I don't know. I'm...busy..."
"Every night from now until we get back to the Alpha Quadrant?" Paris quipped, though, to all appearances, taking no offense. Shouldering the container now full of leola root, he turned to head in the direction of the transporter site. "Just let me know when you change your mind."
'When'? The guy was pretty confident.
Apparently, Torres agreed. "Rather sure of your charms there, Lieutenant?" Nonetheless, the crewman noted how she still fell easily into step beside the helmsman.
"Charms? No. Persistence? Yes," the pilot drawled. "We Parises have a stubborn streak," and he gave her a wink before tapping his combadge and calling for transport.
The crewman waited until the transporter beam had faded away before clambering back down from the boulders, re-shouldering his own container and whistling tunelessly to himself.
The ship's betting pool had been far too slow for his tastes of late; it was about to get a lot more interesting.
"...and on the holodeck, the way you would stare at me when you thought I wasn't looking,..."
...following "Macrocosm", Season 3
She was being watched.
The skin on the back of her neck prickled.
It was, perhaps for the first time, not an unpleasant sensation.
Which was particularly noticeable at the moment as most of the other sensations assaulting her were decidedly objectionable. Every extremity of her body protested that the Ktarian glaciers were an exceptionally poor choice of setting for holodeck recreation. She was fairly certain that her blood was minutes away from freezing.
Except for the blood at the back of her neck. There, her blood was nicely warm. And the nerves still prickled.
Frankly, she wasn't sure how she had let herself get talked into coming on this little outing. She knew very well that her half-Klingon metabolism did not respond well to cold and that any adventure which involved the word "skiing" not proceeded by the word "water" was unlikely to be something that she would enjoy. But first Harry had started working on her, and then Chakotay had joined in, and, by the time Tom was about to put in his say, she was ready to admit defeat and capitulate. She supposed she could blame it on the after-effects of that damnable virus.
She sighed. She was cold. She was miserable. She should, simply, leave.
And then the prickling at her neck began to race up and down her spine, and she knew he was heading towards her. He had already learned that she was almost impossible to approach unnoticed, and coyness was not exactly in her nature, so she turned to watch as he skied over. Effortlessly. Of course.
How was it that Tom Paris made just about everything look effortless?
He was grinning and obviously having a great time. He also looked, impossibly, warm.
She barely restrained herself from growling at him and settled for openly glaring instead.
Which the pilot apparently chose to ignore. "Welcome to the Ktarian glaciers, Lieutenant," Tom began brightly. And then, after giving her a quick appraisal, he frowned. "You look cold."
"Just a bit," she retorted. "It must be well below freezing in here."
"All part of the ambiance," he returned. "You'd be warmer if you were moving," he added, looking pointedly at the skis that she still held in one hand.
She only intensified her glare.
Slow comprehension dawned in his eyes.
"I guess there weren't many opportunities for skiing on the colony where you grew up?" he offered diplomatically.
A small shrug was her silent, but telling, response.
He paused for a moment as if to consider his options. He knew her well enough to resist offering to teach her, particularly while half of Voyager's crew was enjoying the slopes. But, he didn't seem to want to take the easy route of wishing her well and skiing away, allowing her to escape this foolhardy adventure. At last he tried, "Do you like cocoa?"
"What?" she stuttered, momentarily confused.
"Hot chocolate?" he restated. "There's a lodge around the little copse over there." He indicated a small group of pine-like trees over her shoulder. "It's Ktarian, of course, but I took some liberties with the menu. They have chocolate puffs and Ktarian pudding as well, but the cocoa would be warm."
She just stared at him for a long moment, honestly at a loss for words. Then, "You 'took liberties' with the lodge menu but left the temperature at just above absolute zero?"
At that, he had the grace to look almost sheepish. "Let me make it up to you. I promise the cocoa is really good."
He was already snapping off his own skis, and, against her better judgment, she let him lead her through the trees to the promised warmth of the lodge.
"I do not have control issues." Even in the general hubbub of the lodge, populated as it was by a dozen or so crew members, the raised voice triggered a response in one of the EMH's auditory sub-processors. Without missing a beat in his conversation with the rather attractive barista on ways to supplement the nutritional value of the famed Ktarian chocolate puff, the Doctor gave a portion of his attention to the exchange between the two lieutenants sitting at the lodge's corner table.
"Really? Then why won't you let me teach you to ski?"
"In case you hadn't noticed, it's freezing out there, Paris."
"Not if you're skiing," the pilot pointed out, and then, as the engineer searched for a reply to that, he pressed his advantage. "And, why, then, are you still letting Freddy Bristow hang around..."
"I am not..."
"...but refuse to even have dinner with me?"
The sudden shift in conversation now fully caught the Doctor's attention. He excused himself from the hostess and moved to get a better view of the table where the two officers sat, casually pulling out his medical tricorder. A quick, visual assessment confirmed that Lieutenant Paris's skin was flushed and his pupils dilated; a stolen glance down at the tricorder added that the pilot's body temperature was several points above its baseline and that his respiration rate had increased. The Doctor edged around in order to evaluate the table's other occupant. His caution was likely unnecessary: neither the pilot nor the engineer appeared particularly aware of anyone else in the room.
"Has it occurred to you that I'm simply not interested, Lieutenant?" B'Elanna's unique physiology made diagnosis slightly more difficult, but the tricorder verified that her respiration was definitely elevated, as were several hormone levels. Of course, those hormones had multiple functions in Klingons...
"Not interested in me, or not interested in any relationship you can't control?"
The Doctor noted the sharp intake of breath, as well as the engineer's suddenly flushed face. He observed her vise-like grip on the edge of the lodge table, and, deducing that his medical skills might soon become needed, he inched still closer to the oblivious lieutenants. If he was careful enough, he might just be able to determine a pulse rate from the vein pulsing under Mr. Paris's jaw...
"Where do you get off...?"
:Engineering to Lieutenant Torres:
"Torres, here," the engineer responded tightly, still glaring murderously across the table. "What do you need, Vorik?"
:I apologize for the interruption, sir, but we are showing some irregularities in the EPS flow. It is possible that a macrovirus may have damaged one of the regulators:
"I'll be right there. Torres out."
For a long moment, neither Torres nor Paris moved nor even, so far as the Doctor could determine, twitched. Then, the engineer deliberately released her grip on the table and turned a sardonic smirk on the pilot. "Thanks for the drink, Paris." She rose and walked out without looking back, letting the lodge door slam shut behind her.
The pilot stared after her until she disappeared, then shook his head and looked around the room. The Doctor had the presence of mind to tuck the tricorder behind his back but didn't manage to avoid Paris's sweeping eyes. "Something I can do for you, Doc?" Tom didn't bother to cover the edge in his voice.
"Not at all, Mr. Paris," the EMH replied, smiling generously and gesturing with his free hand towards an empty table. "I was just looking for...a place to sit down and...evaluate some of the macrovirus data." The Doctor then brought the tricorder back into view and waved it demonstratively, pleased with his ability to construct a story that explained its presence. Those creative sub-routines he had been adding to his program did come in handy at times.
Paris gave him a puzzled look but seemed too distracted to pursue the matter. The pilot turned his attention to the beverage in his hand. With a nod to the room in general, smile unfaltering, the EMH sat down at the table he had indicated and eagerly began to review the readings the tricorder had taken over the last few minutes. His diagnostic algorithms processed the information quickly, and, by the time the lodge doors opened again, he had his answers. Looking up, he noticed the young crew member who had just entered and stood up excitedly. "Crewman! How fortuitous! I was just going to comm you to discuss the confidential matter that you brought up in sickbay the other day..."
"...and get jealous when I'm with someone else. You can't tell me you're not interested in me."
-B'Elanna Torres, "Blood Fever"
…following "Fair Trade", Season 3
"What I don't understand is why you would want a holoprogram to be monochromatic. What would be the point?" Harry literally scratched his head at his friend's latest idiosyncrasy. Tom had just returned from his latest round of arrest and incarceration – an unfortunate habit of the pilot's which, having tried once, the ensign hoped to avoid forming himself. Upon meeting Harry for lunch shortly after being released from sickbay, Paris, not atypically, chose to avoid mentioning his misadventure. Instead, he immediately hit up his friend for an expert opinion on a nascent holoprogramming scheme.
"It's about the authenticity, Harry. Preserving the historical accuracy." Tom leaned across the mess hall table towards him, radiating enthusiasm.
"You're talking about a holoprogram of an early twentieth-century fictional representation of the future, Tom. I'm missing where authenticity comes into this."
"Just tell me if you think it could be done."
While Harry considered the answer, Tom's eyes snapped up to the entrance of the mess hall, outside Harry's own field of vision. Whatever he saw caused his friend's enthusiasm to evaporate, replaced for just a moment with a glint of something Harry couldn't quite name, before Tom's face fell into a casual nonchalance and he sat back in his chair. Already having his suspicions, Harry turned to see what had caused the sudden change of mood and spotted the chief engineer entering the mess hall, chatting with Ensign Freddy Bristow. Catching sight of Harry, with a quick word and a touch on the shoulder (Kim was pretty sure he heard a snort from the other side of the table at that), she parted with Freddy and made her way over to their table.
"Harry! I was hoping you might be down here. I wanted to talk to you about temporarily re-routing the plasma flow regulators through the secondary power couplings. They were still acting up this morning." Then, she turned to his companion. "It's good to have you back, Tom," she said with emphasized sincerity, as if offering a truce.
Tom, Harry could see, was in no mood to accept. "Did you miss me, Lieutenant?" His eyebrows were raised and his tone suggestive.
After betraying the barest hint of confusion, B'Elanna eyes flashed and her arms crossed, peace offer withdrawn. Harry resisted the self-preserving impulse to slide his chair just a bit further away from his two friends.
"I wouldn't go that far, Lieutenant, though engineering does always lack a certain excitement when you're not here to get creative at the helm."
Harry smothered a snort. To be fair, though often called upon to perform unorthodox maneuvers to get Voyager out of tight spots, Tom's touch on the engines was otherwise featherlight, as B'Elanna would usually be the first to admit. But, apparently, there were no rules to this particular sparring match. Some distant voice suggested that, as a friend, he should intervene, but he was mesmerized by the interaction before him. What was he going to do anyway? Suggesting that they get a room came to mind, but that would only result in his instant death (courtesy of the engineer) or slightly more delayed demise (courtesy of the pilot). And besides, he had some vested interest in seeing this through to its conclusion.
"Well, if it's excitement that you're looking for, I could arrange that." Tom was sitting forward now, forearms braced on the table, locking eyes with his opponent.
Palms on the table's edge, B'Elanna leaned down, matching him stare for stare. "What did you have in mind this time? Flying into a Borg cube?"
"Actually," and Harry saw the pilot's brow rise and caught the shift in tone, "I was thinking dinner." It was more challenge than invitation, thrown down like a gauntlet. Harry was vaguely aware that he was holding his breath.
"Hey, B'Elanna?" called Freddy Bristow, coming up from behind the engineer with trays of food. "Are you ready to eat?" The ensign was smiling brightly, somehow, impossibly, oblivious to the almost visible tension sparking between the two officers. Harry could have gladly strangled the man.
"Sure, Freddy. Let's join Nicoletti and Vorik over there," B'Elanna replied, slowly straightening up, and Harry nearly choked when she turned a saccharine smile on the young man who had unwittingly provided her escape. The smile turned positively wicked as she addressed Tom. "Another time perhaps, Lieutenant." And then with a genuine, warm look, "See you later, Harry."
As she walked away, Harry vaguely registered the muttered invective from across the table. His head was swimming with numbers and probabilities. Tom had slouched back into his chair once more and was clearly not in the mood for conversation. "Sorry, Tom," Harry excused himself, picking up his tray. "I'm due back on the bridge soon." Which was true, but he had a few minutes to spare. First, he needed to see a man about a bet.