"So I hear you geniuses did it again."
Harry looked up as Tom settled into the chair across from him, his friend's tray filled with Neelix's semi-digestible special for the evening.
"Hmm?" was the best he could manage through a mouth full of food.
"I heard that you, Seven and B'Elanna solved the Arbiteri's piezoelectric effect problem."
"Oh, yeah," Harry acknowledged. "It was pretty simple really. Basically just selective dilithium extraction. B'Elanna and Seven calculated where we would need to remove crystal mass in order to disrupt the lattice that had formed. The Arbiteri were overjoyed to have an end to the instability, not to mention relieved to hear that their colony would not, in fact, self-destruct within a few years. And, as an added bonus, we get to warp away from here with our cargo bays full of as much dilithium as we can safely transport."
"Very nice. No muss, no fuss." Tom nodded appreciatively. "If only they could all be that simple, Harry."
Harry gave the pilot a sharp look, but Tom's expression remained relaxed and his only discomfort seemed to be the result of the food that he was ingesting. Evidently, there had been more than one bonus to this particular mission.
The doors of the messhall slid open, and Captain Janeway entered, reading a PADD as she walked. Looking up, she spotted Tom and Harry and, without hesitation, moved toward their table. Both men began to stand on reflex, but she waved them back to sitting. "As you were, gentlemen. What has Mr. Neelix concocted for us today?"
"An old favorite: pleeka rind casserole," Tom returned easily, and Harry noticed that the Captain's hand had come to rest in its customary position on the back of the pilot's chair. "I would rate it as only mildly offensive."
Her attempt at a remonstrating look was spoiled by a chuckle, and then Harry nearly choked when Tom added, "Would you care to join us, Captain?"
With seeming regret, she began, "Unfortunately, I..."
A clearly flustered Neelix rushed up, cutting her off: "Captain! Harry, Tom – I'm sorry to interrupt. But, Captain, if I could have a word for just a moment..." And, with a gesture of apology to her officers, the Captain put an arm around the Talaxian's shoulders, leading him away.
Harry stared at the pilot with mixture of amusement and disbelief. "Find a new rulebook, Paris? I thought junior officers didn't invite captains to sit down."
Tom shrugged, taking another bite of his dinner. "I hear it's what all the ensigns are doing these days – cheeky bastards that we are. Something about ideas of commanding officers wanting respect over courtesy being out of date?"
"Not that I would ever say 'I told you so'..."
"Have I mentioned that the casserole is particularly piquant tonight?"
The Captain returned, having traded her PADD for a steaming cup of coffee. "Well, I was supposed to discuss the rearrangement of the cargo space with Mr. Neelix, but he seems to have been called away for emergency godfather duties." With that, she unceremoniously set her coffee down on their table and drew up an extra chair. "So I guess I'm all yours, gentlemen."
At that, Tom's eyes sparked with a particular species of intrigue with which Harry was all too familiar. Pleeka rind pushed aside, Harry watched as his friend leaned forward, turning the full force of his blue-eyed charm on his commanding officer. "Well, in that case, Captain, I've been wanting to get the benefit of your particular expertise for a new holoprogram idea I have. This one will have a Gaelic theme..."