MOONLIGHT, STAR-BRIGHT

Tom Paris stood outside of Holodeck 2, holding a bottle of replicated wine and trying to decide if he really was as nervous as he thought he was. After being rebuffed in his romantic overtures for so long by Voyager's chief engineer, he worried that he could not possibly enjoy this evening, considering the fantasies with which he had indulged himself over the last several months. Reality could not possibly live up to those fantasies. Ah, but - if they even came close - what a wild ride it could be! Even better than a shuttlecraft that didn't want to fly at less than Warp Four.

At exactly 1930 hours, as instructed, Tom stepped through the arch and into the beach house. He could tell from the light slanting back along the hallway that she had the simulation programmed for late afternoon. Dinner at sunset, a very nice touch.

When he first arrived on the verandah, Tom did not see B'Elanna. As he walked out past the overhang, however, he saw her bending over the table on the outdoor deck, setting out dishes on the table from a large tray that he recognized as coming from Neelix's mess hall. Her back was towards him, almost completely bared by the scarlet halter top she wore with blue jeans and sandals. Her beautifully molded backbone was visible beneath her bronze skin, warmed by the red-gold light of the setting sun. His fingers immediately longed to brush down her spine from the top to the bottom. 'Control yourself, buddy,' he thought, as he walked closer to her.

Hearing his steps on the wooden deck, she turned to him and smiled hesitantly as he presented her with the bottle of wine. "Oh, hello, Tom. Thanks. I'm afraid dinner is all from Neelix. Once I replicated these clothes I didn't have enough credits for the full dinner. There's coffee and raktajino, though."

"If you want, I have some credits saved up to get something else."

"Last I'd heard you were out of replicator credits. Do I want to know how you happen to have some now?"

"Probably not," he laughed. "But don't worry, B'Elanna, a feast for the eyes can be as important as one for the stomach. Or stomachs, as it were," remembering that fact of her personal physiology from his brief studies with the EMH. "You look, I don't know, great, fantastic ... I don't know a big enough word for how you look."

"Is it okay? I put in what you'd be wearing and programmed the replicator to come up with something that would coordinate with it. But I didn't expect to be wearing the same pants."

"They look better on you than they do on me."

She did not agree but decided not to make an issue of it. "Well, sit down and let's see what this food tastes like. At least it doesn't smell too bad."

Like most of Neelix's meals, the look of the food did not appeal to either human or Klingon tastes. The wild color schemes Neelix chose for his wardrobe were echoed by the colors of his special dishes. A blob of greenish blue paste clashed with slimy looking, orange and purple spotted ropes that looked more like dead gagh than anything else. Discs of neon green sat next to pulsing pink strings of some sort of vegetable. Neither of them recognized even one of the foods from any of Neelix's past culinary extravaganzas. "At least, no leola root tonight," Tom said. "Let's be thankful for small favors. The wine may help, too."

Gamely taking a small serving from each dish on their plates, they began their meal with a mutual smile when Tom raised his wine glass, sarcastically saying, "Bon appetit." After a few mouthfuls of food, however, he said in some surprise, "You know, I can hardly believe it, but this dinner isn't too bad."

"You're right, Tom. This imitation gagh is actually good."

Taking a taste, he replied, "Yeah, a little like chicken." As they ate he added, "You know, if you couldn't see this stuff on the plate it would be even better. Sure you don't want to do a moonlight dinner kind of thing, with candlelight?"

She looked at him to see if he was being fresh with her but could detect only sincerity. "I was kind of looking forward to the sunset that I programmed. Why don't we look at that, and at the food as little as possible?" He nodded agreement. They spent their meal in contemplation of the swollen ball of Sol as it drifted into the sea. B'Elanna had programmed just enough wispy cloud in the sky to scatter the light into glorious shades of gold, orange, pink, and purple as the sky grew a deeper blue. When the meal had been eaten and, for once, enjoyed, the sun's show was almost over. Tom caught up B'Elanna's left hand in his right hand as they looked out over the waves.

"Beautiful," he said, looking at her. From his enigmatic smile, she could not tell if he was talking about the sky show or the face that he was gazing at. She was glad that it was getting dark so that the flush on her face wouldn't show too much.

=/\=

Over coffee and raktajino, they spoke briefly of the recent breakup of Kes and Neelix before turning to the subjects of the test flight and the prospective shuttle construction area. Or rather, B'Elanna talked and Tom listened, nodding agreement to virtually every fact, statement, or opinion. Finally, B'Elanna said, "Are you going to 'yes' me all night, Tom Paris?"

"Only if you let me," he laughed. At that moment, he glanced to the inland side of the simulation and saw the full moon, bloated by the magnification of the atmosphere, rising in golden splendor over the rocks behind the beach house. Her eyes followed his to admire the view but then turned back to Tom. The full moon's light sculpted the bones of his face into sharp relief. B'Elanna was surprised to see that the melancholy look she had seen the last time they had sat on the deck was back.

She leaned over the table to gently touch his hand and said softly, "I probably won't want to hear the answer to this question, but is something bothering you, Tom? You have the same expression now that you had the other night we were here, before we played tennis. If it's something I could help you with, I certainly owe it to you, even if it's just to listen. You were there for me when I really needed you."

He caught his breath a moment before speaking. "I guess you didn't believe me. It's like I told you - my pathetic love life.

"I guess compared to mine, your love life doesn't seem that pathetic."

"I'd have to agree that just about everyone's love life on this starship is pretty pathetic," he admitted, with grudging good humor.

"You always seem to have such a good time on shore leave."

"Do I," he laughed, but with a bitter edge. "Good times, yes, let me count the ways. How many times have I been sent to prison or stabbed when visiting some planet? And that's without getting involved with anyone. The one time I do get involved, I ended up being convicted for a murder I didn't commit. Fun times, that's for sure."

He averted his eyes and hesitated a moment before looking back at her. "And then there was Rain."

B'Elanna had to think a minute. "Oh, you mean that astronomer in Los Angeles?"

"Uh-huh. She was a really nice girl. Young, but pretty, smart, brave." He paused, looking as if there was something more he wanted to say, then added only, "The kind of person I think I could have had something good with - but I couldn't touch her without risking the pollution of the time line - not to mention the fact that she's been dead now for over 300 years."

She was beginning to see where the sad look was coming from. "On board ship, then. The Delaney sisters have always seemed so - attentive."

Tom shook his head. "I've had some really good times with Jenny and Megan. They are nice girls, my buddies, I guess you'd say. But we're not really - I don't know - I guess I'm saying that we'll never be more than just friends. When you consider how long we're likely to be on this ship, I think I'd like someone, sometime, to be more than just a friend." He smiled, but it seemed forced to B'Elanna.

"There are plenty of women on board that would love to have a chance with you . . . ," she protested.

Tom gently touched B'Elanna's lips to stop her, searching deeply into her dark eyes as if that were not what he was hoping to hear her say. Then he said quietly, but intently, "Thanks, B'Elanna, I hope you're right. But believe it or not, the idea of having affairs with every woman on this ship and starting over again when I run out of new blood is pretty repulsive - even to me. Despite what you may have heard." Tom leaned back in his chair with a wisp of crooked grin on his face, as if he were deciding the wisdom of continuing, before meeting her rapt gaze. "I'm over 30 years old now, B'Elanna. Back home, when I made my life into such a mess, frankly, I couldn't even think about loving anyone that was worth loving. Chasing women was just another way to run away from myself. Now, out here I'm realizing that maybe I'm not such a bad guy after all, and . . . well, maybe I might deserve someone worth being with." He clasped her right hand in both of his. "Here we all are on Voyager, out in the Delta Quadrant, where I'm happier and better off than I ever was before. And where the Borg eat species like ours up for lunch." He laughed ruefully before adding, "Wonder how the Borg manage their romantic relationships."

"Tom, don't be ridiculous. They don't have relationships. That's why they assimilate people. How else would they keep their species going?"

"I'm not so sure. You know, when our friend Q transported the Enterprise to the Delta Quadrant several years ago and introduced Picard and company to the Borg, an away team found babies on board the Borg ship that were already being fitted with prosthetics. I was still in Starfleet then, and Picard's report was pretty common knowledge, at least among the officers."

B'Elanna looked at him, a chill running down her back at the implications. They sat for a bit in a silence that was considerably less comfortable than the one they had enjoyed while eating dinner. Finally Tom shook his head and said, "Look, I'm sorry, B'Elanna. We're going to waste a perfectly good evening talking like this. Let's do something else. Anything else. Even hoverball."

"In this outfit?" she queried, with a Tuvokian rise of the eyebrow.

"You're right. Dressed like this, no hoverball. Dancing, maybe?"

"Oh Tom, I've never been much for dancing. I tolerate it, that's all."

"C'mon Torres. Where's your spirit of adventure? Romance?" At her quizzical expression, he squeezed her hand. "Weren't you going to help me get over my 'terror' tonight? This is the way! Slow dancing, twentieth century style to fit the clothes, doesn't take any skill. It's just an excuse to hold someone in your arms. Even someone who is just a friend. Even a . . . very good friend." He stood up, still holding her hand, and pulled her towards him. "Computer, list twentieth century songs with the word 'moon' or 'moonlight' as part of the title, suitable for slow dancing." The computer began to list song after song. Three dozen or so later, he laughingly said, "Stop, computer." He looked down at her. "You pick. I have no idea what they all sound like."

B'Elanna said, "Computer, last title, please?"

"Moonlight Serenade."

At her shrug, Tom said, "Okay, computer, play Moonlight Serenade." At the beginning strains of the song, he recognized it. "This one's a lot older than some of the others on that list, but it's pretty good. It'll do just fine. Just sway with the music, that's it." He held B'Elanna's right hand to his chest and tucked her head under his chin as the music, as mellow as the moonlight, played softly. As they moved together, he tried but failed to keep himself from stroking his right hand down her back, finally leaving it gently touching the small of her back when he felt her tense up. The one thing he was determined not to do tonight was make her angry.

When that song stopped, he had the computer play the next song on the list, a slightly faster one called Moondance. The next was another vintage song: Moonlight Becomes You. The swaying of their bodies lulled them both into a languorous mood. When B'Elanna felt what seemed to be a soft kiss brush gently against her forehead ridges, she looked up into his eyes. "So, Lieutenant. Are you still being careful what you wish for?"

His eyes seemed to soften to a lovely blue mist as he replied, "Absolutely. Whenever I do the star-light, star-bright bit, I know exactly what to wish for." At her blank look, he asked her, "You do know about wishing on a star, don't you, B'Elanna?"

"No, I never heard of it."

"B'Elanna! I thought you told me that you were raised on a human colony, at least when you were little!"

"My mother wasn't too big on human customs. If I ever did learn it, I guess I must have forgotten it. How do you wish upon a star?"

"There's a rhyme that kids recite when they see the first star of the night and want to wish for something. It goes:

"Star-light, Star-bright,
First star I see tonight.
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish I wish tonight.

"And then you wish for something. Actually, you should probably be saying, planet-light, planet bright, since most of the time the first 'star' is Venus, but no one seems to feel it's important to be that precise."

"What do you wish for, Tom?"

"Oh, can't tell you. Bad luck to tell. But why don't you try it. Look over the sea, towards Venus, the Evening Star. It's hanging over the water now, just waiting for someone to wish on it."

B'Elanna looked up at him. Despite his gently mocking tone, she could tell he really wanted her to do this. Tom repeated the simple words of the rhyme so that she could recite it with him as she gazed at the jewel-like planet, just before it sank below the horizon. She closed her eyes as their bodies shared the rhythm of the music, thinking of a wish that she realized she wanted to come true, if she could ever bring herself to let go long enough for it to happen.

Just when she began to wonder whether either one of them would find the words to speak again, Tom asked her, "Torres, if by some chance you ever want to bite me on the face again, do you think you could just give me a little warning? Yelping in pain is kind of undignified."

"Sorry, Paris. It would take too much of the excitement out of it."

"Oh," he said, but she was sure she could feel him smile.

* * * * * * * * * END * * * * * * * * * * *

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