Mind Games
by
The P/T Collective

 
 
B'Elanna stopped cold in her tracks. Tom and Harry couldn't see her from where they sat in the mess hall, not here under the multi-phasic rehydrator. She hadn't even known the two men were there until the noisy group from stellar cartography had cleared out.

"Ooh, tell me more," said Harry. "Tell me everything -- and Tom, I want details."

Details? About what? she asked herself.

"Oh, she was something else, Harry. The best looking thing I saw the whole time I was in LA."

Oh, her.

"Trim, untried, and rarin' to go."

B'Elanna felt her blood pressure double. She knew she had no right to listen; it was none of her business. But somehow she couldn't help it. Why should I even care? she fumed.

"Just the feel of her under my hands," sighed Tom. "I never dreamed anything from that era could be so . . ."

"So . . .?" prompted Harry.

"So  . . . seductive."

Okay, fine. Whatever. But I'm not going to listen to this. B'Elanna shoved herself out from underneath the rehydrator and slammed around in the galley for a few moments. Enough so they'd hear her and shut up. Soon, though, her curiosity got the better of her and she grew still again.

"Responsive?"

They're still at it!

"Responsive? Are you kidding? It was like . . . gosh, I never dreamed . . . I mean, I never imagined I could find myself being so, so satisfied by something so . . . primitive."

Arg! Enough is enough! Whatever happened to that 'officer and a gentleman' stuff? Obviously Tom Paris has never heard of it!

B'Elanna stormed out of the galley and pulled up short by their table, surprised to see Lieutenant Tuvok present there as well.

"Geez, 'Lanna. What are you doing in there? Taking the place apart?" asked Tom.

"Pull up a chair and join us," added Harry.

"I'm on duty," she retorted frostily and marched out.

Tom and Harry waited until the doors had slid shut behind her before bursting out laughing.

"I have never understood the mind games humans like to play with each other," offered Tuvok dourly.

"She's half-Klingon," Harry reminded him.

"In my opinion, that would only serve to make the game twice as dangerous," said Tuvok sagely.

"Ah, come on, Tuvok. She needs to lighten up almost as bad as you do," replied Tom. "Eavesdroppers get what they deserve."

"Well, back to reality. I'm off duty and I've got dibs on some holodeck time. Quick, give me the real details," said Harry, draining his cup.

"A 1997 full-size pickup truck, 5 speeds, 4.0 liter engine, with independent suspension. Nice music system, too, considering. I almost cried when that guy destroyed her. I can tell you, I appreciated her even more after we took off in Rain's van," added Tom as he stood.

"Van?"

"Another primitive petroleum fuel-based transportational device," said Tuvok. "It provided us adequate, if not comfortable, accommodations for the night."

"Couldn't you have convinced the astronomer to take you in?" asked Harry.

"Yeah, probably. But . . . well." Tom actually blushed a little and hoped Harry wouldn't notice.

Harry noticed. "But what?"

"I didn't want her to get too attached to, um," he hesitated, "us."

"Bristow to Kim."

"Kim here."

"Harry, Lieutenant Torres just ordered a level 3 diagnostic on all major engineering systems and ordered double duty shifts. We're going to need some help down here."

"I'm on my way. Kim out."

Harry gave Tom a dangerous, disgruntled look. "Thanks, oh, SO much. That is the last time I ever listen to you about anything."

"Ah, it was worth it to see the look on her face."

Harry snorted. "Not to me, it wasn't."

"Janeway to Paris."

"Go ahead, Captain."

"Tom, B'Elanna thinks there may be something wrong with the navigational array. She wants you to access the bioneural ports from inside the system circuitry and reconfigure all the duotronic guidance uplinks."

"ALL of them? There's over--"

"300. Yes, I know, Lieutenant. I realize at your height that's going to be rather uncomfortable for you, but I know she wouldn't recommend it if she didn't think it was absolutely necessary. Janeway out."

"What? Wait -- ah, nuts."

Tuvok poured himself another cup of tea and settled back comfortably. "Score at the end of the first round:  Torres 1, Paris 1."
 


B'Elanna Torres seldom doubted her decisions as far as engineering matters, but she knew she had a long way to go as far as her "people" skills went. So she casually moved among her staff, conferred with her colleagues, tried her best not to give away her hand. Who knows? she thought to herself. Maybe we really will find a problem. Then I'll be the woman of the hour. She smiled at the thought just as she caught sight of what had to be Harry Kim's boots sticking out from beneath the control board by the anti-matter containment field generator. Her smile widened into a very unKlingon-like grin. Impulsively she leaned over and asked loudly, "How's it going, Starfleet?" She was enormously satisfied by the immediate crash of Harry's head with the underside of the board.

Harry pulled himself out from under rubbing his head and mumbling some rather unStarfleet-like comments under his breath. "You did that on purpose!"

"Maybe," she said, dropping into the chair by the panel. "Maybe not."

"It wasn't my idea, you know," said Harry lowering his voice.

"What?"

"Oh, come off it, B'Elanna. That little scene in the mess hall. It was all his idea."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Of course you do. And Tuvok was right. Playing mind games with a woman is a really stupid thing to do. I don't know why he bothers."

"Tuvok?"

"Tu--? Tom!!"

"Oh," she paused, "him."

"Yes, him," replied Harry standing up. "And now, if you don't mind, I concede. If you two want to keep this going, you'll have to do it on a strictly one-to-one basis."

B'Elanna smiled again and studied the floor. "No, you're right, it is stupid. I just got ticked off when I realized what you two were doing."

"Well," admitted Harry, "you sure figured it out pretty fast."

"Figuring things out fast is my job. I--" She was interrupted by the chirp of her comm badge.

"Janeway to Torres."

"Yes, Captain?"

"Good work, Lieutenant. It turns out your hunch was correct. Lieutenant Paris reports there does appear to be something wrong with the navigational array."

"There is? Uh, yes," she faltered, "I thought there was."

"Tom's not quite sure what the problem is, however. He suggests you access the bioneural pathway and disengage the connections one by one until he can figure out what's going on. That way we'll maintain full power should an emergency arise, yet it will be safe to recalibrate the nav system power grid."

"Captain, if I do that, I'm going to get covered with the system's bioneural gel."

"I realize that, Lieutenant. You have your orders. Keep me informed. Janeway out."
 


From his Ship's Systems/Tactical control board on the bridge, Tuvok raised an eyebrow. He watched the blinking lights that indicated connection after connection being downloaded, severed, reset, and restarted. Routine maintenance, true, but sticky and tedious. Never a favorite task of any engineer and nearly always assigned to some poor ensign out of favor with the chief. He glanced toward the doors to the captain's ready room and moved to tap his comm badge, but hesitated at the last moment. Someone would have had to do it in a week or so anyway.

Score at the end of the second round:  Torres 1, Paris 2.
 


It had been a long, tedious job, and of course B'Elanna had found nothing wrong with the bioneural pathway except the minor detail that she was coated in a sticky, messy, disgusting layer of it. Finally restarting the last connection, she leaned back  against the wall and sighed. There were very few people on duty in this section of the ship at this time of night, and she was glad. All she wanted was an uninterrupted, uneventful walk to her quarters, a nice long shower, and a steaming cup of hot chocolate. With marshmallows.

"Marshmallows," she mumbled to herself out loud, letting her mind wander. She remembered a time on the holodeck, she and Tom had toasted marshmallows for her birthday. Her birthday had actually been several days earlier, but he had wanted to celebrate it anyway. It was fun. He was so . . . She smiled, then glanced down, and upon seeing the bioneural gel residue beginning to cake-up and dry on her hands and arms, she stopped smiling and remembered how much she wanted revenge on that charming, wonderful man.

"Marshmallows." She was so tired. She headed for her quarters and took her shower, leaving the hot chocolate idea for another time.
 


B'Elanna lay in bed the next morning, clean and refreshed, with a very clear picture in her mind, left over from a dream. It was Tom Paris covered in bioneural gel. Absolutely dripping. She started laughing and this jolted her awake. "Hmmm. Computer, what time is it?"

"0630 hours," responded the sterile-sounding voice.

"Computer, when does Tom Paris' shift begin today?"

"1100 hours."

"1100?! Lucky boy. This must be his easy day. Computer, location of Mr. Neelix?"

"Mr. Neelix is in the mess hall."

"Perfect." She smiled wickedly, the wheels turning. B'Elanna found her comm badge beside her bed as she got into uniform. "Torres to Neelix."

"Neelix here. What can I do for you, B'Elanna?"

"Neelix, do you think you'll need any extra help in the kitchen this morning?"

"As a matter of fact, I will! I am going to make this special dish for lunch; it's a Tarkelian variety of vegetable soup that requires finely chopped Terran onions, and lots of them. My chopping device isn't working, and I haven't been able to find anyone willing to fix it on such short notice. Kes said she could help me, but the doctor needed her and I was going to have to do it all myself. It would take all morning with just two people working on it. But if you could lend me a hand I would be incredibly grateful!"

"Actually, my shift is starting shortly, but I was speaking to Tom Paris yesterday and he mentioned that he'd be glad to help you out in your culinary endeavors. He said he's always liked to cook, but he never gets the chance." This is too easy! "If you ask him, I'm sure he'd be glad to come and help. You'll just have to wake him up." B'Elanna smirked, trying not to giggle.

"I'll do that! Thank you for telling me he's interested, I wish I had known sooner!" Neelix chatted.

"Well, he would have told you himself, but he's probably a little insecure about his abilities as a chef." He is really gonna get it this time! He asked for it! "Well, I'm on duty in a few minutes."

"Will you be stopping in for breakfast this morning?"

"Maybe I will."

"Great. I'll wake up Tom. Neelix out."

This is perfect. She brushed her hair one more time and strolled out the door.
 


Tuvok entered the mess hall, picked up a glass of juice and some toast, and headed toward his normal chair. On the way there, he glanced into the kitchen and saw Lieutenant Tom Paris standing in front of a counter, looking like he had woken up way too early. He had a knife in one hand, an onion in the other, an entire bowl of onions already chopped into small pieces, and an even bigger bowl of onions yet to be chopped. He had tears running down his face.

"Lieutenant, are you all right?" Tuvok asked, concerned.

"Yeah, other than being dragged from my bed waaaaay too early this morning to come in here and chop onions for the rest of my life."

"Why are you crying?"

"Cutting onions usually makes humans cry. I think it's a reaction to the smell or something."

"Why did you get up this early if you didn't want to be here?"

"Guess who volunteered me."

At this, Tuvok raised his eyebrow in the Vulcan fashion, shook his head, and went to sit down.

Score at the end of round 3:  Paris 2, Torres 2.
 


Unfortunately for B'Elanna, something had come up in Engineering and she had never made it to the mess hall. However, when 1100 arrived, she made sure she was at her bridge station so she could witness Paris' arrival on the bridge for his shift.

Tom stepped onto the bridge. As he approached the helm to take over, the captain, sitting in her chair, gave him her customary greeting.

"Good morning, Tom."

"Captain."

Surprised at his short greeting, Kathryn Janeway looked up, startled by Paris' appearance. Technically, his uniform was in order but something was amiss. As her gaze roved over him, she realized his hair was rather mussed and his eyes were very red, as if he had been . . . crying?

"Lieutenant, is everything all right?"

"Fine, Captain," replied Paris as he took over the helm.

Kathryn traded a look with Chakotay, whose expression indicated that he had noticed Paris seemed out of sorts. Getting to her feet, she approached the helm. As she neared Tom, her nose wrinkled at a strong smell. Stopping an arm's length from him, she asked, "What's that smell?"

Heaving a beleaguered sounding sigh, Tom half turned to face her. "Neelix heard a rumor I liked to cook and drafted my help in the kitchen this morning. I just finished spending several hours chopping onions for tonight's dinner."

B'Elanna could keep quiet no longer. With an innocent expression that would have done Tom Paris, under other circumstances, proud, she said, "You don't like to cook?"

Paris shot her an unreadable look, before returning his attention to the helm.

Chakotay, sitting back in his chair, could have sworn he heard Tuvok murmur:  "Torres 2, Paris 2."

Janeway, not sure what was going on, only said, "Well, I look forward to dinner, Mr. Paris," and returned to her seat. Chakotay shrugged at her as they shared an amused look.

Harry just shook his head, glad to be left out of the game these two were intent on.

B'Elanna, a huge smile on her face, turned back to her console, her mind moving ahead at warp speed, already planning her next move. No need to let Paris get too sure of himself. She planned to beat him to the punch for the next round.
 


Tom arose late the next morning, after spending the night tossing and turning, his mind refusing to sleep as it plotted his next move against B'Elanna. He had to admit she had gotten him good yesterday. Dressed in a fresh uniform this morning, Tom was relieved to be rid of the onion smell of yesterday. After a quick breakfast, he headed for the scheduled senior staff meeting.

Taking a seat next to Harry, Tom heard what sounded like a rip and looked downward. Beneath the table, out of sight of the others, his uniform had ripped along the inside of his right thigh. Frowning, Tom shifted round to get a better look and was appalled when the rip lengthened, beginning to crawl dangerously close to his crotch. Still frowning, Tom looked up as Janeway began the meeting; however, it was B'Elanna's intent gaze from across the table that caught his attention. She smiled sweetly when she saw him looking at her. With sudden foreboding, he recalled that this uniform was fresh out of the replicator.

B'Elanna watched the dawning comprehension light Paris' eyes. Her smile widened. His eyes jabbed at her from across the table, but they were in the midst of a staff meeting and he dared not say anything.

As the meeting continued, Tom tried to stay as still as possible, which suddenly seemed impossible. At one point, Captain Janeway asked that a report Kes had on her tricorder be passed up the table to her. Tom was forced to lean forward to hand the tricorder to Tuvok, who sat on his right. As his arm stretched out toward Tuvok, Tom heard another ominous rip and knew there was now a gaping hole at his right shoulder blade.

Harry's eyes widened as he watched Tom's sleeve separate from the rest of his uniform. He continued watching as Tom sat back and tried to act as if nothing unusual had just occurred; however, that endeavor was rather difficult as his right sleeve sagged down his arm.

"Mr. Paris," remarked Captain Janeway, "you seem to be experiencing some difficulties."

Tom's eyes closed briefly and everyone present could practically hear the mental sigh he heaved. "It's nothing, Captain."

"Perhaps it might be a good idea if you were to change into a fresh uniform before reporting to the bridge this morning. Your relief can cover your station until then."

"Yes, ma'am," replied Paris, then winced as he realized he had just addressed her as ma'am; however, from his point of view, this did qualify as crunch time. He only hoped he still had a whole uniform left by the time the meeting was over. Not only had his sleeve separated, but he now had a tear starting on the outside of his left thigh in addition to the one already progressing up his inner right thigh. Looking across the table at B'Elanna, he smiled sweetly.

Paris' smile caught B'Elanna offguard. She winked at him and watched his smile falter a bit.

Harry, aware that Tom's hands seemed to be rather occupied under the table, looked downward. It was hard to miss the rip along the outside of his left hip. As Harry's eyes drifted further, he caught sight of a bigger hole gapping in Paris' uniform along the inside of his right thigh.

"Don't say a word," warned Tom under his breath.

Harry grinned but said nothing. He looked across the table at B'Elanna, whose eyes were lit up with a mischievous glint. So, she was plowing ahead, not giving Paris a chance to get one up on her. Given the current set of circumstances, Harry was doubly glad he had bowed out of this.

After the staff meeting concluded, everyone stood to file from the room and report to their stations. Everyone, that is, except Tom. He knew he couldn't sit here forever. If he didn't start moving soon, the captain would begin questioning  him. Ever so carefully, he stood, but not carefully enough as he heard another ominous sounding rip. Oh no, he thought sorrowfully, not back there. He leaned forward, resting his hands on the table, head bowed, completely unaware that B'Elanna stood at the door behind him.

"Nice black briefs, Paris," she said brightly.

Tom straightened abruptly, whirling around to hide the newest gap in his uniform, only to give Janeway, still at the head of the table, a rather nice view of his derriere clad in nothing more than the black briefs B'Elanna had admired.

Janeway heard a snort of laughter, quickly covered, come from her first officer. "Mr. Paris."

Face flaming as he realized the view he was presenting the captain with, Tom whirled back around, abruptly sitting down, and everyone in the room heard the loud rip. They couldn't see another gap in the uniform but all saw Paris looking down at his lap and had a pretty good idea what had happened.

Standing nearby, and with a clear view of the problem area in Lieutenant Paris' lap, Tuvok blandly observed, "Lieutenant Torres appears to have changed the rules and moved ahead. I believe the score now stands at Torres 3, Paris 2."

Tuvok's observance caused startled laughter to erupt from Paris. His face still red, he said, "Captain, if you don't mind, I'll just wait here until someone brings me a fresh uniform."

"I'll be happy to bring you one, Tom," offered B'Elanna sweetly.

"You, Torres? No way. I don't even want to touch a uniform from the replicator." Turning to Kes, he said, "I have a uniform in my closet. Would you mind retrieving it?"

"Not at all, Tom."

As everyone filed out of the room, Janeway, last to leave, clasped a hand briefly on his shoulder, beginning to suspect what was happening. She would have to quiz Chakotay and see what he knew. Humorously, she offered, "Perhaps you should quit while the going's good, Mr. Paris."

"No way, Captain," Tom said enthusiastically. "I'm just getting started."

Shaking her head, Janeway left him to his thoughts and whatever scheme he was dreaming up, but she couldn't help remembering Tuvok's once cryptic remark, which was now beginning to make sense:  "Torres 3, Paris 2."
 


Luckily it was a quiet day on Voyager, so Tom spent it plotting. Unfortunately, he was having no luck thinking of an appropriate comeuppance for B'Elanna. Onion-flavored marshmallows? Nah, that's too disgusting even for me!

As the day progressed, Tom's schemes became increasingly fanciful, but completely unfeasible. Oh, you'll think of something, Thomas! After their duty shift was over, Tom and Harry walked to the mess hall to get some dinner. Although Tom was quiet, Harry noticed that he wore a smile that could only be described as mischievous.

"I take it that that smile means that you're up to something?" Harry asked as soon as the turbolift doors opened.

"Harry, Harry, Harry. When am I NOT up to something?"

Harry laughed, "Just let me know a little in advance so I can keep out of the crossfire!"

"I just need a little inspiration!" Tom declared.

"Tom, I truly find that hard to believe. Still, leave me out of your machinations. I have absolutely no desire to get on B'Elanna's bad side!" Harry announced as the doors to the mess hall opened.

It had followed Tom all day. That low level chuckle that rolled across a room whenever Tom entered. Sure enough, as soon as he set foot in the mess hall, heads turned and a quiet laugh rippled through the hum of conversation.

After Tom and Harry sat down, Ensign Aynsley stopped by the pair's table before she left the mess hall.

"I guess we have the answer to that age old question, boxers or briefs?"

"Bridget, I'm so glad you care."

"Funny, Tom, I would have thought you to be a boxer man."

"Only if they're silk, sweetheart!"

"I'm anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop!" she said over her shoulder as she headed for the door.

Tom smiled and shook his head. Then, he noticed that Harry's eyes were still following Aynsley's retreating form. Hmm, but that's another plot. Suddenly, he remembered a conversation he had with Bridget about an April Fool's Day joke she had once pulled. Tom Paris had just been inspired!
 


Tom arrived at B'Elanna's door a few moments before they were both due at the morning briefing. He took a deep breath as he rang the chime.

"Come."

"Hi, B'Elanna."

B'Elanna had been putting on her boots, but stopped at the sound of Tom's voice, "Oh. Hi, Tom. What brings you here? I promise I haven't tampered with anything!" she added with a sweet smile. That's it Torres! Keep it light!

"I'd like to apologize for that conversation you overheard the other day. I knew you weren't intentionally listening, and I distorted the conversation into something it wasn't. The opportunity presented itself, and I couldn't resist," Tom said sheepishly.

B'Elanna's other shoe dropped. He sounded sincere, but she wasn't quite convinced. She picked up her boot and quickly put it on. May as well play along for the time being. After all, it isn't everyday that you get an apology from Tom Paris!

"Truce, B'Elanna?"

Boy, are you adorable when you're apologetic! she thought as she stood up. "Apology accepted," she replied with a smile. "Are you ready to go to the briefing?"

"In a minute," Tom responded taking B'Elanna's hand. "First, I want to kiss and make up." Tom then pulled B'Elanna into his arms and kissed her. Thoroughly and leisurely. He felt B'Elanna's initial gasp of surprise and then her acquiescence.

B'Elanna reluctantly broke off the kiss, struggling not to smile. "Pig."

"Whatever you say, Lieutenant," Tom stole a brief kiss before walking to the door, " Come on. We don't want to be late!"

Neither Tom nor B'Elanna said anything as they walked. Tom was concentrating on preventing his knees from buckling under him. He cast a sidelong glance at B'Elanna and hoped that she wouldn't be TOO angry with him. As he saw realization come across her features, he allowed himself a self-satisfied smile. Despite the pang of guilt, Tom was very pleased with himself that morning. Payback for the uniform and a soul-shattering kiss. Not bad for one morning, he thought.

B'Elanna was savoring the tingling she felt on her lips. It was not long, however, that she realized that the tingling was lasting just a little bit too long. In fact, her lips were no longer tingling. They were numb, and the numbness was spreading to her tongue and along her cheeks. I'm going to RIP HIS HEART OUT!

"Whup hap you dwone twoo me?" she slurred as the duo walked into the meeting room. All heads turned.

Tom smiled, but did not respond. He took his seat next to Harry.

"Aynsley warned me you were up to something!" Harry whispered. "What DID you do to her?"

Before Tom could answer, Captain Janeway called the meeting to order.

"Well?" Harry whispered a few minutes into Tuvok's oh-so-scintillating department report.

"Mr. Kim, did you say something?"

"Uh, no, Captain," Harry replied, sinking back into his seat, duly chastened.

When Tuvok completed his report, the captain rose. Now, we'll see what all this fuss is about, she thought to herself. She usually did not like to put any of her crew on the spot, but after what had transpired yesterday, Janeway wanted to see how the hand played out.

"Lieutenant Torres, do you have a report on the navigational array that you and Lieutenant Paris were working on?" Janeway said with a smile.

"Yeth, Capwun," Torres replied. By this point, B'Elanna had absolutely no feeling in the lower half of her face.

Chakotay struggled not to laugh. Tuvok cocked an eyebrow. Tom merely kept an impassive smile on his features.

Janeway interrupted, "Actually, B'Elanna, your report can wait until tomorrow. Dismissed."

B'Elanna quickly left the room, presumably for sickbay. She growled at Tom as she passed his chair. Tom sat at the table with a smug look on his face.

Harry leaned over, "Well?!"

"Novocain."

"How did you administer it?"

"As an officer and a gentleman, I'll never tell!" Tom replied as he stood up.

"I think B'Elanna would find the title of 'gentleman' questionable at best!" Harry retorted.

Tom just smiled and shrugged. He nodded to his superior officers and left the room, with Harry at his heels.

Janeway, Chakotay and Tuvok only remained in the briefing room. "Mr. Tuvok, what's the score now?"

"Captain, I believe the score is Torres 3, Paris 3."

"Well, Captain," Chakotay grinned, "at least those two make 0700 briefings something to look forward to!"
 


Tom walked into his quarters that evening exhausted, but exhilarated from the day's events. His only worry was that B'Elanna would be angry with him.

"Computer, do I have any messages?"

"You have one message. Text only."

"Display it on my desk terminal." Tom smiled when he saw that it was from B'Elanna.

"Six hours later and I'm still slurring my words! I have to admit that you got me good! You may have won this round, but I will retaliate! ;-P"

Tom typed a one sentence reply. "I live in hope!"
 


Tom hadn't felt too comfortable changing in the briefing room, but he had gotten her back. His little medical adventure with B'Elanna the day before had somehow produced a fountain of ideas. One of those ideas he was ready to set into motion. It was risky, he knew that. But she had changed the rules, she had gotten ahead, and now it was his turn.

His plan of attack was a dangerous one. If it didn't cause the Chief Engineer to come after him with a serrated knife to saw his head off or any other appendage that might be missed, he knew it would force her to surrender in defeat, realizing that no one could better Tom Paris. No one. He just hoped that she didn't try something before tomorrow afternoon.

With happy thoughts of continuous reprisal swimming through his head, he reported for duty smiling cheerfully. He nodded to the captain, who, upon seeing his contentment, got a sick feeling that the pranks between Tom and B'Elanna were far from over. She hoped dearly that she wouldn't be forced to intervene.

B'Elanna also noticed his smile and became angry. Quiet down, B'Elanna. He's just reveling in his false glory. You'll get him back. It's just a matter of time, a tiny voice in her head told her. But glancing back at the enemy, a  slight chill ran through her body. He's too happy. He must be planning something else. Think, B'Elanna, think. Her mind began to wander off task and she didn't notice the captain walking over to her station. She wanted an update on the navigational array.

Glancing at the computer display to her right, B'Elanna answered awkwardly, "I'm finishing up the report now."

"Good," Janeway said and turned to head back to the center of the bridge. Stopping, she turned around. "B'Elanna, try to keep your mind on the ship."

"Aye, Captain," she answered, embarrassed. A movement at the front of the bridge gained her attention. Tom was turned slightly in his chair, looking at her with a huge, happy smile. I wonder if he knows how stupid he looks.

Her attention once again clouded by her war with Tom, she couldn't concentrate on her work. She had been so sure that her stunt with his uniform would have brought about a cease fire on his part. Seeing the satisfied look still plastered on his face, she decided that Tom was ready to take this all the way.

Well, B'Elanna, if you're gonna dish it out, you'd better learn how to take it.

Tom knew he was going to find it hard to sleep that night, he was certain of it. This was due to the anticipation he had for tomorrow. He had finally decided on the best way to carry out his plan. But it would only work if he got a little help from a certain ensign in astrophysics. If not . . .

B'Elanna knew she was going to find it hard to sleep that night, she was certain of it. It wasn't that she was scared of what Tom had planned for her, a far cry from it actually. What got to her was that soon he would be ahead of her. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't think up an adequate response to the Novocain attack the day before. What was worse, she couldn't even imagine what Tom had in store for her. She would just have to wait until he made his move. Then, hopefully, she could somehow avoid it. Deep down, though, she doubted this.
 


OhmyGod, ohmyGod, Oh. My. God. Freddie Bristow sat down at the end of his bed, PADD in hand. I'm dreaming, that's it, dreaming. This can't be real. He stood up and began to pace around the room. His pacing soon became jumping. Looking down at the small object in his hands, he read it again. "Yes!" he yelled to an empty room.

He had noticed the device sitting innocently on his bed when he had gone to turn in for the night, unaware of the God-given gift it held. It had been a long, hard day in the astrophysics department, a rare thing. It wasn't often that his knowledge was needed, but when it was, it was imperative.

A week ago, Voyager had run into a particularly dense particle cloud, stretching across the galaxy for over thirteen light-years. It would have taken twice as long to go around it as it would to go through it. Suspecting that the cloud had once been a planet that had been destroyed by the Jridna, a very hostile race occupying that part of space, Janeway had been worried about getting caught in the middle of the cloud and being attacked. Freddie, along with his fellow astrophysicists, had discovered that the planet had been 
destroyed by a large cluster of asteroids that had plowed into it. Judging that it was safe to enter the cloud, they shaved off two days of traveling time.

Now his department was left with the tedious task of studying the data the sensors had collected and logging it. It wasn't so bad, not a first. But after a while he got sick of looking at computer screens filled with numbers.

Now, though, it didn't matter. Nothing mattered. Just that in less than twenty-four hours, his prayers would be answered. He'd be with his own little piece of heaven.
 


"Good morning, Lieutenant," Bristow greeted her as he handed her a report.

"Morning," she returned half-heartedly, due to lack of sleep. Realizing who had just handed her the PADD, she asked, "Bristow, what are you doing here?"

A large smile formed on his lips, "Giving you the department reports on energy consumption."

"I see that, but that's not your job."

"I know," he answered slyly, coming around the panel she was working at to stand close beside her.

Taken offguard by his proximity, she slid the chair back. "If you know, then why are you here?"

"I just wanted to see you before tonight."

A lieutenant and ensign standing behind them turned around at the suggestive comment. Most in Engineering had noticed Ensign Bristow's obvious attraction to the half-Klingon woman. And most thought he was crazy. But then, Bristow was young and stupid, at least when it came to love. He just didn't know when to quit.

B'Elanna's temper rose as she stood up from her chair, "What do you mean, tonight?"

Giving her a puzzled look, Freddie handed her another PADD. "Didn't you send me this?"

She glanced over it quickly. "Why would I give this to you? It's a request from Lieutenant Langlee from astrophysics that Neelix not put so much sugar in his cookie dough," she practically threw the PADD back at him.

"What!?" he said, grabbing it and looking it over. "Oh, umm," he set the PADD down and looked through the others he had in his hand. The one he was looking for wasn't there. Good one, Freddie, now she's going to kill you, he thought. And we haven't even done anything yet.

Scanning Engineering, he spotted a crewman he had given a PADD to before seeking the object of his love. He was standing near a group of officers, pointing to something on the device. The members of the group suddenly began to giggle. The PADD was passed to another officer sitting at a station. Soon all of Engineering was filled with poorly-suppressed laughter.

B'Elanna didn't wait for her turn. She marched over to the person in possession of the PADD, appropriated it, and read it. It said:  "Freddie Bristow, don't think I haven't noticed you. Your attempts to gain my attention have not been in vain. I'd like to meet you privately, away from all the anarchy that usually surrounds me in Engineering. Meet me in my quarters, 2330 tonight. Don't be late. --Your B'Eloved."

Her eyes widened in alarm as she began to comprehend her predicament. Examining every person in Engineering, she soon found whom she had been looking for. A man, tall and fair-haired, was sitting at the console linked to helm control. His head was bent over as if he didn't want to be noticed.

About to walk over and grab the pilot by the neck, she was halted by Bristow as he hurried over to her.

"I'm sorry, B'Elanna," he said with puppy-dog eyes. "I must have given him the wrong PADD. I hope this doesn't mean our date is--"

The rest of his words never got a chance to leave his mouth. B'Elanna swung her hand and hit Freddie Bristow in the jaw. Marching past her smiling and slack-jawed subordinates, she left, fuming.
 


Tuvok, sitting at his tactical station, looked down as a report came in. Ensign Bristow was taken to sickbay with a dislocated jaw after Lieutenant Torres had hit him. It would appear that Lieutenant Paris is in the process of bombarding Lieutenant Torres. Score at the end of round six:  Paris 4, Torres 3.
 


Torres could kick herself! How many times had she let her Klingon anger get the upper hand and take control? Now, some poor kid was in sickbay with a very bruised face. If anything, it should be Paris getting his jaw re-set. He's really playing dirty! That was a cheap shot for him to involve Ensign Bristow -- but maybe Freddie is still useful -- hmmm. A smile formed on B'Elanna's face. Fine, Mr. Paris, it's my turn.
 


"So you see, Ensign Bristow, it wasn't more than an awful practical joke, perpetrated by a very warped and twisted mind. I feel terrible that you had to bear the brunt of my anger. I'm very sorry," explained Torres.

"Oh," replied the ensign a bit dejectedly. What an idiot I am, he thought to himself. To believe that B'Elanna Torres would really invite me to her quarters!

"Hey! Not many humans can take a Klingon punch," added Torres half-admiringly. "Hmmph! Some Klingons -- like my mother -- might have even thought I was initiating the mating rituals with you."

Bristow perked up.

"Can we still be friends?" she finished.

He shrugged.

"Freddie, I'm going to be honest. I'm just not looking for a relationship right now. Maybe in a--"

"Spare me, Lieutenant!" he said a bit painfully -- his jaw still slightly swollen. "I may not be a hotshot pilot or the first person chosen to bravely lead an away team, but I'm not entirely green. You're just not looking for THAT kind of a relationship with ME."

Torres sighed in exasperation. Giving the "Let's Be Friends" spiel to human males could be so difficult! They got so heartsick! Why couldn't they just toss some furniture and storm out of the room like Klingons? It was time to move the conversation onto her next objective.

Torres began pacing the floor. "Like I said, it was a terribly mean joke with me as the intended victim -- unfortunately you were the one who really got hurt. Now -- there's a way for us to return the favor and 'give back as good as we got,' and I have a simple plan."

"Wait, what are you talking about? So you know who sent me the false invitation?" said a bewildered Bristow.

"Of course I know, Ensign!" snapped B'Elanna. "It was Lieutenant Paris!"

"Oh . . . him," said an even more dejected Freddie. Lieutenant Paris, great. Just great. He remembered how annoying it was to hear Megan Delaney talk incessantly about how cute Tommy was, or how Tommy had 'eyes like the sea after a storm'. . . . sheesh! It seemed that at any given point, some female crew member (and some males) had a thing or two to say about Paris' stormy weather-colored eyes. There was some small satisfaction in knowing that Torres had flatly declined Paris' offer to join him sailing on the holodeck. The crew gossip mill had been surprised, and many a replicator ration had exchanged hands. It had given Freddie hope that B'Elanna Torres hadn't easily succumbed to Tom Paris' charms. But this was different. Somehow he didn't think it was a good sign either that B'Elanna was this irritated and preoccupied in plotting revenge on Tom.

"Stop being so glum, Freddie! Lieutenant Paris must feel threatened by you, and pulled a very juvenile prank here. He obviously knows that you have a crush on me--" she paused to let the words sink in and take effect. "He used that knowledge, amazingly programmed that PADD correctly, and set you up. And I think we both should work together to get even," finished B'Elanna with a devilish smile.

"So you're asking me to go along with whatever charade you've schemed?" inquired Bristow. Bristow realized that his part in this next battle between Paris and Torres would be minor and short-lived, that the real war would continue without him. Oh, well, he thought, at least for a brief time I'll be closer to Torres.

"Freddie," said B'Elanna leaning towards him, "It's payback time."
 


"So . . . what have you heard from Torres, Harry?" asked Paris as they walked to the mess hall. It had been a couple of days since the scene in Engineering. Tom knew he had gotten B'Elanna good. Anytime, B'Elanna, he thought. I'm ready for you.

"Uh-uh! I am not getting involved. I saw what happened to Ensign Bristow. . . ." replied Kim.

"Nothing the Doc couldn't fix," said Tom casually.

"Tom! Don't you feel the least bit sorry for Bristow? Not only does Torres wallop him -- separating his jaw from his skull -- he finds out that she never ever thought of inviting him to her quarters!"

"All right, Harry! I didn't think she'd hit him that hard. But I'm not terribly sorry," said Tom rather sulkily. That kid needs to know just what he's getting into if he sets his sights on a Klingon female, thought Tom.

"You know what I think? I think you're jealous," ventured Harry.

"Jeal-- what are you talking about?!" exclaimed Paris indignantly.

Harry didn't have time to explain as they both entered the mess hall. Paris was surprised to see Ensign Bristow dining with three other females -- including B'Elanna. Harry walked over to greet Ensign Nehruhl while Tom went to the counter to inspect Neelix's Daily Special.

"Man, I hope there isn't leola root in this," he mumbled scooping some brown organic material onto his tray. Also getting their meals were Lts. Nicoletti and Dreybak.

"--then she apologized to him in front of the entire Engineering staff," explained Dreybak. Paris suddenly became more attentive.

"Really? I wish I was on duty," commented Nicoletti as she sniffed some purplish canapés.

"Not only that," continued Dreybak, "she moved his work order request to priority -- that minor one from a week ago -- and then offered to personally adjust his quarter's environmental control unit."

"Hmmm . . . could be p'armach," joked Nicoletti. "After all -- she is half-Klingon and smacked him pretty good."

Tom was surprised to hear about Torres' unexpected acts of kindness towards Bristow, but even more astonished to hear No-Nonsense Nicoletti gossiping about it. Susan usually kept herself above these things. Must be some pretty interesting stuff circulating in the gossip mill if Nicoletti is making comments. Guess I haven't been keeping up-to-date, concluded Tom. He turned to see Bristow and Torres leaving together, laughing at some private joke. Before she exited, B'Elanna looked saucily at Tom and then smiled.

So what if she fixes his e-con unit, he thought, or she's having lunch with him. Big deal.

"What's to eat?" asked Harry, joining Tom at Neelix's buffet.

"Brown stuff, purple stuff and . . . spongy stuff," replied Tom absently poking his finger into a yellow mass. What's she thinking? Paris thought. She's plotting something good against me. I know it.
 


"It must have been those purple things," grumbled Paris as he walked into sickbay rubbing his tummy.

"Tom," greeted Kes from her medical console, "what brings you here?"

"Today's lunch special," he replied. Seeing her perturbed look he quickly amended, "I couldn't help myself, I just ate one too many of those Ngnarian hors d'oeuvres. You've been busy?" he inquired as Kes began scanning his midsection with her med-corder.

Funny, recalled Paris to himself, how I used to get stomach flutters when Kes was around. That had been some time ago, now her presence was always more soothing and comforting to Tom.

"Not today," she said, "I'm just updating the Medical Logs with the latest entries -- which will include yours." She pointed at the PADDs she had set down just prior to beginning her examination. Paris caught the name FREDERICK BRISTOW on one of them.

"So how is Ensign Bristow doing?" Paris asked picking up the PADD as an excuse to introduce the topic.

"The ensign is just fine; he's coming along wonderfully, especially since he's acquired a personal nurse," said Kes adjusting some settings.

"Nurse?"

"Yes, nurse. It appears that Lieutenant Torres has taken it upon herself to help the ensign recover; yesterday she accompanied him to his follow-up exam," explained Kes as she looked up at him. "She really feels terrible about the whole incident. Said she 'overreacted' when -- with some afterthought -- she should have been flattered," Kes concluded her examination.

"Well, Tom, you definitely ingested material that does not agree with you. Parts of your lower G.I. tract are slightly inflamed at the cellular level. I'll give you something to eliminate the discomfort," she said placing the hypospray to his neck, "however at your next meal--"

"Freddie's not a kid anymore, he doesn't need a nursemaid!" interrupted Paris.

"Tom, B'Elanna volunteered to help Ensign Bristow," Kes said, eyeing him curiously. "I think it's rather sweet. After all, he's had a crush on her for sometime now, who knows -- maybe this will give him the chance to express his feelings to her."

Tom felt his stomach churn again. "Hmmph! Thanks, Kes. I feel better already," said Tom unconvincingly as he got up to leave.

"You're welcome, Tom," replied Kes with one of her angelic smiles. "And Tom -- be sure to return if your next meal bothers you."
 


"Commander, have you spoken to Ensign Bristow?" inquired Janeway.

A slight smile appeared on Chakotay's face as he answered, "Yes, I have, Captain. He isn't going to file charges. He explained that he had 'provoked' Lieutenant Torres -- that she was justified in her action."

"Really?" said Janeway, "It must have been a pretty good to warrant a dislocated jaw. Nonetheless, I can't have my crew punching each other's lights out -- whatever the provocation."

"Well, I believe Torres and Bristow have worked it out between themselves," said Chakotay. "I think there was no permanent damage done. If I may say -- off the record -- the real culprit hasn't paid his dues."

Janeway sighed, "I trust you have a handle on the situation, Commander. Sometimes a crew will get a little 'stir-crazy' on these long-distance space travels. We can't always be fending off the Vidiians or avoiding the advances of Q."
 


Tom Paris was concerned. He knew he had gotten Torres good with Bristow, and he was prepared to counter-attack her retaliation. It had been almost a week, and each morning he half expected his replicator to spew mud, his sonic shower head to explode, or some other malfunction to occur and cause him bodily harm. But nothing happened. No Klingon war cry -- nada.

I just don't get it, he thought. Maybe she's biding her time, waiting for me to let down my guard. Maybe I should just get her again. But as he turned into the next corridor he realized something else. She's been awfully aloof -- really distant -- like she isn't interested in the game anymore. Then I've won! Paris thought smiling to himself. But the feeling of victory was brief. Wait a second! She hasn't capitulated, thrown up the white flag! No, no, no, Torres -- you are not getting out of this without a formal surrender. You don't just brush-off Tom Paris!

He passed Ensigns Lamont and Simms in the corridor. "Simms! Lamont! Aren't you guys supposed to be in Holodeck 2? I'm scheduled right after you, but if you're not using it, I could use the extra time."

"Oh," began Janine, "we switched our time with Torres and Bristow."

"Maybe you can talk them into finishing early," suggested Ethan.

"Bristow and Torres?" said Tom.

"Yeah, Freddie created a new holo-program, and he invited Torres to check it out. I guess you could call it a 'date'," giggled Janine.

"What kind of program?!" Paris asked a little too anxiously.

Ensign Simms looked at Tom, surprised at the Lieutenant's slightly fazed state. Tom Paris is always so COOL. "I think it's based on an old form of human entertainment," he answered. "Freddie mentioned it had animal performers -- you know, some extinct Earth species doing tricks or dances, and humans performing acrobatics and stuff. He called it 'Ringing Brothers, Farmer and Bayleaf -- or something."

"Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey--" corrected Janine.

"He programmed a circus show?" deduced Tom. "What's romantic about pachyderms in tutus? That's no date!"

"Anyway, Lieutenant Torres seemed really excited about it," added Janine.

"I'll bet," sniffed Paris as he walked away.

"What's wrong with him?" asked Janine as Paris disappeared around the corner.

"Beats me," replied Ensign Simms. "Maybe Hudson knows."
 


The time on the holodeck didn't relax Tom like he thought it would. Torres was leaving with a large stuffed animal in her arm as he approached. Freddie had saved up some replicator credits to produce the memento, explained Torres. But before Tom could bait and 'remind' her about wanting to 'even up the score,' Bristow stepped out and whisked her away. Tom was left in the empty corridor with some very negative thoughts about teddy-bears.

That night as he tossed and turned in his bed, he thought about Torres. You know, if that stupid Bristow wasn't following her around like some lovesick puppy, she could get back to our business. For goodness sakes! That dumb jaw of his should be completely healed by now!

He got up. I can't sleep, so maybe I'll see if there's some leftovers to snack on.

Lieutenant Tuvok was drinking a hot beverage when Tom walked into the mess hall. He observed that Lieutenant Paris appeared to be agitated.

"Mr. Paris, it is late. May I remind you that you are scheduled for the early shift," stated Tuvok as Tom joined him at the table.

No kidding, thought Paris. "Yes, Tuvok, unfortunately I can't sleep -- so it doesn't matter. I could be wide awake here or in my quarters," he said.

"Ah, Mr. Paris," greeted Neelix. "It's a surprise to see you here at this hour."

"I could say the same for you," replied Paris.

"Well, I've been very busy with some special requests from the night shift staff. Since you're here, would you like to taste test a new refreshment I'm working on? Lieutenant Torres submitted the recipe. Apparently Ensign Bristow's mouth is still quite tender and this food item she calls a 'Smoothie' should help him. Texture and consistency is important and--"

"Could people PLEASE stop bringing up Ensign Bristow and Lieutenant Torres into the conversation!" exclaimed Tom. Both Tuvok and Neelix gave him a curious look. "I am tired of hearing about Freddie and B'Elanna! I don't care if they join the circus or drink liquefied exotic fruits! In fact, Mr. Neelix, I would be more than happy to try your latest culinary attempt -- as long as I know Torres didn't help you prepare it! I'll just take it to my quarters--" said Tom grabbing the glass from Neelix, "--and suck it down in peace and quiet! Good night, gentlemen!"

"Ooo," began Neelix as he watched Paris storm out. "Mr. Paris is very troubled about something. Mr. Tuvok, may I ask you something -- off the record?"

"Go right ahead, Mr. Neelix."

"Well, I sort of heard through the proverbial grapevine that Lieutenant Paris and Lieutenant Torres had some sort of 'game' going on between them. That they are playing practical jokes on one another. Do you suppose Lieutenant Torres just pulled a joke on Tom and he doesn't find it funny?"

"You are correct, Neelix. The Lieutenants have been involved in disrupting each other's routines with various ruses and deceptions. Ensign Bristow was brought unwittingly into the affair by Lieutenant Paris' latest attempt to dupe Lieutenant Torres. But contrary to your question, as far as I have ascertained Lieutenant Torres has not 'pulled a joke' on Lieutenant Paris -- not in the traditional sense; rather, she has shrewdly manipulated him."

"I don't quite follow you, Mr. Tuvok," said a perplexed Neelix.

"Based on my recent observations and the information I've heard from the proverbial gossip mill--"

"Mr. Tuvok! I'm shocked that you would take information from that kind of a source!" exclaimed Neelix.

"Mr. Neelix, may I remind you that as Head of Security and as a highly trained tactical officer, I am required to use all resources to ensure the harmony and safety of this ship."

"It was very clever of Lieutenant Torres," continued Tuvok with his analysis. "Lieutenant Paris expected her to quickly retaliate with some overt, sophomoric measure. Her choice not to do so -- to instead make the appearance that she had disregarded their 'game' -- led Lieutenant Paris to over-contemplate about her forthcoming retaliation."

"So you're saying that in doing nothing, Lieutenant Torres kept Lieutenant Paris wondering about what, where and when she would 'get him back' and that's why he's become so vexed? It sounds so simple," said Neelix.

"It does indeed," said Tuvok.

"And it also helped that Lieutenant Paris seemed quite jealous of her attentions to Ensign Bristow -- so goes the rumor," added Neelix.

"That too. Very sophisticated retribution," remarked Tuvok. "I think it's appropriate to say that at the end of this round:  Torres 4, Paris 4."
 


It had been a long day. After spending a sleepless night worrying over what was up between B'Elanna and Freddie Bristow, a day spent behind the helm doing diagnostics had just about done him in. Harry had invited Tom to Sandrine's that night but Tom had begged off, determined to get some sleep. However, that endeavor had proved fruitless. Every time he had started to drift off he awoke from a dream in which Freddie and B'Elanna were together.

Pacing his quarters as he tried to make sense of it, Tom automatically tapped his comm badge when it chirped. "Paris."

"I thought you were tired and going to bed," accused Harry Kim.

Tom sighed. "I couldn't sleep. Where are you?"

"Outside your door."

Tom walked over and palmed the door open, gesturing Harry inside.

As he sat on the couch, Harry said, "She got you good this time, didn't she?"

"What are you talking about?" said Paris. "She hasn't done anything yet. She's too DISTRACTED with Bristow."

Harry laughed. "You don't get it, do you?"

Frowning, Tom looked over at his friend. "What? Are you telling me I missed something?"

"I'll say." Harry was grinning from ear to ear. He patted the couch beside him. "Come sit down and let Uncle Harry tell you all about it."

Eyeing him suspiciously, Tom did as he was bade.

"Think about it," Harry told him. "You sic Freddie Bristow on B'Elanna. Then you lay in wait, expecting retribution from her. Only the expected retribution never arrives."

"Harry, I'm tired and nothing much is making sense at this point. Are you headed somewhere with this little story?"

"Tom, B'Elanna's pulled a fast one right under your nose. The whole ship knows it. You're the only one who hasn't caught on yet."

"Caught on to what?" asked an exasperated Paris.

"That this whole scene between her and Freddie Bristow has been one big setup to get back at you. She's not really interested in Bristow, but she's got you walking around the ship muttering under your breath about her social activities. You're sounding very jealous, Paris."

"I'm not--" Paris started to protest, but thinking back to his recent behavior he realized that was a rather futile protestation. "You're sure she's not interested in Bristow?"

"I'm sure," confirmed Harry. "It was all just a game to get back at you." Harry didn't like the crafty smile that was coming over Tom's face. "Tom?"

Paris left the couch and began pacing energetically back and forth. "What's the last thing she would expect at this point, Harry?"

Harry looked confused. "Don't ask me. I've completely lost track at this point. Maybe you should ask Tuvok. At least he knows the current score."

"I'm about to get one up on her, Harry," confided Tom, his smile growing larger. "She'll never know what hit her."
 


The next two days passed rather quickly. Tom Paris watched B'Elanna from afar, delighting as her expression continually grew more and more puzzled. The plan was working. He was sure of it.

Janeway leaned in close to Chakotay's chair. "Have the games finally ended?" she asked humorously. "Mr. Paris is looking much more relaxed these days."

"Actually, Captain," replied Chakotay softly, "Lieutenant Paris was a little slow to catch on to the last round. I believe he's implemented the next phase."

"Should I be worried?" smiled Janeway.

Chakotay shrugged. "My spirit guide tells me we should stay out of this one, Captain. Besides, I think it might be safer than possibly getting caught in the crossfire."

Paris heard the captain laugh softly behind him. He was tempted to turn around to see what was up, but he was distracted by thoughts of putting the final plans into motion that night.

B'Elanna frowned over her Engineering console. Strange things had begun happening two days ago. First, she had arrived on duty to find a lone rose resting on her console. At first she had thought it was probably Freddie. While it was a sweet thought, she knew she was really going to have to talk to him and make it clear she was not interested. Then later in the day, a note had appeared on her datapadd. A note that could be called nothing else but a love note. Someone expressing their undying devotion to her. When she had approached Freddie in the mess hall, he had expressed astonishment that she had thought it was him. His surprise had been so complete that she had known right away that he was not the culprit. Who then?

Her gaze at that moment had fallen on Tom Paris and Harry Kim, who were sitting at a table together. Tom had caught her eye and given her a very sweet smile, no sarcasm or smirking evident. She had watched as he had excused himself from Harry and slowly approached her.

Pausing in front of her, Tom pulled out a single rose and gently took her hand, placing the rose in it. "For you, B'Elanna," he said softly. Then he had left the mess hall without a backward glance, leaving B'Elanna standing there, mouth agape.

Was this his way of saying "end of game"? She'd never seen him act like this before. What in the world had gotten into him? About that time, Neelix, who missed nothing, approached her. He smelled the rose she held. "Ah, so that's what Tom wanted the roses from Kes for," he beamed. "Do I detect love in the air?"

B'Elanna's mouth snapped shut. She thrust the rose at Neelix before turning and leaving the room.

She retreated to her quarters, immediately on guard when the door to her quarters slid open and she heard soft romantic music wafting out. Peering with leeriness into her quarters, her eyes widened. The lights in her quarters were dimmed and the room was lit by candlelight and there were roses everywhere. Following a trail of rose petals, she ended up in her bathroom where a bath had been run and was awaiting her. Highly suspicious, she glared around the room. "Paris."

No answer.

"Computer, location of Lieutenant Paris."

"Lieutenant Paris is in his quarters. Deck--"

"Never mind," snapped B'Elanna. She looked longingly at the bath. He would never know, would he? She could tell him she had drained the tub and he could stop with these sophomoric attempts. Privately, she had to admit they were anything but sophomoric as she stepped into the bath.
 


The love notes, flowers and other surprises continued throughout the next day. B'Elanna was growing increasingly confused. At no time had Tom made a direct approach to her, but she had to admit that the attention he was indirectly lavishing on her was nice. Very nice indeed. If this was his way of saying "Game's over," she had to admit he was a very gracious loser. Although, if memory served her right, the current score had them at a draw.
 


Tom felt himself lose his resolve as the door to B'Elanna's quarters slide open and she appeared in the doorway in a silk robe that did nothing but accentuate her feminine curves. Swallowing a sudden nervousness, he asked, "May I come in?"

B'Elanna couldn't resist goading him just a little. Things had been too quiet between them lately. She missed their witty repartee. "Come to apologize, Lieutenant?"

"Apologize?" Tom looked scandalized. "What makes you think I want to apologize?" He feigned a hurt look. "Didn't you get my notes? The flowers? All the other things?"

"Sure," she nodded. "I figured it was your way of conceding the game."

Tom's brows raised. In a small voice, he said, "I was serious, B'Elanna. All those things weren't an apology, I was trying to express--" Oh, shoot, thought Paris to himself. I can't do this. Look at her standing there in that robe. All I want to do is . . .

Tom moved forward in one quick step, took her shoulders in his hands and thoroughly kissed her. Then he turned and left her quarters.

B'Elanna, stunned, stood there, trying to comprehend what had just happened. Had Tom really been serious about all the gifts? He had looked so hurt when she had asked for an apology, then he had kissed her. And what a kiss! Her hand moved to her lips, where his had been just moments ago.
 


Tom didn't quite make it safely into his quarters. Harry caught him just before the door closed. Inside, he looked at Tom. "What?" blurted Paris.

"I don't know," replied Harry. "You look kind of stunned."

"Harry, Harry, Harry." Paris slumped on his couch.

"That's it?" asked Kim. "Just 'Harry, Harry, Harry'?"

"I think my plan just backfired," he admitted.

"What happened?" asked Harry, taking a seat beside Paris.

"You know how I've been deluging B'Elanna with romantic gifts?"

"Uh huh. So? What happened?"

"Well, it was working. She let her guard down because she thought it was my way of conceding the game. I did the big feigned hurt look. She looked guilty--"

"--Just like you planned," said Harry. "You wanted her to think you were romantically interested in her and for her to feel guilty over misunderstanding your intentions, then she would concede the game. And then you would tell her it was all an act. So what went wrong?"

"Harry, she had this . . . silk robe on. It sort of clung in all the right places, if you know what I mean. I got halfway through the masquerade and realized I couldn't do it."

"So what'd you do? Confess all to her?" Harry peered closely at him. "Hmm. I don't see any bruises. She must have went easy on you."

"I didn't confess anything. I kissed her then I left."

"You -- you KISSED her?!" Harry's eyes widened. "Just exactly what did you mean when you said your plan had backfired?"

"I'm, uh, well . . ."

Harry's eyes widened even further at Tom's uncharacteristic stammering.

Taking a deep breath, Tom spit it all out. "I'm feeling an attraction here I wasn't expecting Harry. I mean, B'Elanna and I are just friends, right?"

Harry shook his head, grinning ruefully. Looked like this round had nabbed not one but two pigeons. He got to his feet and walked toward the door.

"Harry? Harry, you didn't answer my question."

"I think I'll leave you alone to ponder that one, Tom. Let me know when you find the answer. I'll be interested to hear what you come up with. Besides, I think Tuvok needs to be updated."

He walked out of Paris' quarters, leaving a confused Paris staring after him.


Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres found Engineering to be the next best thing to hell all the next day, and it was all entirely her own fault. First, she ordered a low level diagnostic, then halfway through it, she told her staff to implement the new modifications to the containment field generator. Browning had tried to tell her that they couldn't possibly do both, but she had cut him off with one of those "Results, not Excuses" lectures Chief Engineers are famous for. Truth was, she had forgotten the diagnostic entirely, and launched into the mods when she thought two ensigns were sniggering at her.

What is the matter with me? she demanded of herself. It was just a kiss. JUST ONE KISS. GET A GRIP. But the more she lectured herself the more distracted she got. What's the matter with you? You just stood there! No smart remark, no nothing! It's almost like you were hoping for it, B'Elanna. Almost like you were hoping for . . . more . . . ARG!

Before it was over, the warp engines were off-line and she had a half-dozen snafus on her hands.
 


Things were not much better on the bridge that day for Lieutenant Tom Paris. The expected meeting with the Daniri had gone terribly because of him. Tom had never, ever ONCE in his entire career as a Starfleet or Maquis pilot gotten so close to another ship that he had set off the automatic collision alert. It was just the weirdest thing. One minute he was calculating the docking codes, and then for a second, a millisecond, a nanosecond, he had let himself think about the feel of B'Elanna's body under his hands as they kissed. The physical response, just like last night, had been intense and immediate. And distracting. Before he knew it, he'd gotten too close to the Daniri ship and the screaming alarm had nearly deafened them all. Tom had shut it down in a blink, and corrected the maneuver in less than three seconds. Too embarrassed to turn and face the captain, he had only listened as a confused Harry said softly, "What the hell was that?" into the stunned silence that had followed.

The Daniri had politely requested that negotiations for the foodstuffs be held on Danar Prime, only three days out of Voyager's way. Janeway had not been pleased.
 

Tom came around the corner by Holodeck 2 and pulled up short. A note was stuck on the door. An old-fashioned paper note, stuck there with some sort of adhesive, which read "Enter, if you dare."

Aha. I knew it wasn't over. Tom activated the door but hesitated before he crossed the threshold, wary of buckets of cold water above. Not that I couldn't have used one this morning, he mused as he stepped through.

He was met by a rough, rocky landscape with a greenish sky. Dry, but not barren and not unpleasant. I've never been there, but this reminds me of images I have seen of--

The doors opened behind him and Tom turned to see B'Elanna Torres step through.

"Vulcan," she said immediately.

I had already identified your little scenario, O Ms. Engineer," said Tom.

"MY scenario? This isn't my program," replied B'Elanna.

"Didn't you leave a message on the computer terminal in my quarters that simply said 'Holodeck 2'?" asked Tom.

"I got the same message. I thought you sent it to me."

"Well, if you didn't send it--"

This time when the doors opened neither turned around. Neither needed to.

"Ah. I see you are both daredevils. I am not surprised. It was the logical assumption," said Tuvok, dropping the loaded packs he held.

"Tuvok, what the hell is this?" asked Tom testily. "It's been a long day."

"This is . . . Plexus."

"Plexus? And where is that?"

"Not exactly where. More what. Plexus is a training ground of sorts for the illogical. The exit is there," he said, indicating a ridge far on the horizon. "In between, you will find many challenges."

"Challenges?" asked B'Elanna suspiciously.

"Exercises for the mind. Problems to overcome. Enigmas to ponder, and other difficulties."

"Mind games, Vulcan style," announced Tom.

"Precisely, Lieutenant. Except you would do well to work together on these 'mind games' as I have only packed enough food for three days. You are relieved of your duties for that period of time."

"THREE DAYS? You're going to leave me out here alone with a Klingon for THREE DAYS?" asked Tom. "What if she gets testy?" But inside he felt a thrill of excitement. Three days off with Torres! Yes!

Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "I am as near as your comm badge, Lieutenant, should you need assistance of that nature. And you may always call for the exit, should the situation become more than you can handle."

Tom fell silent, miffed.

"You can't be serious, Tuvok," snapped B'Elanna. "We have responsibilities. You can't leave us out here for three hours, let alone three days." You cannot leave me out here alone with him at all, she thought. Not if you don't want him back with a few tooth marks.

"As Chief of Security, I have reason to know that your responsibilities, at this point, will be better off without you," said Tuvok, turning to go. He stopped by the doors. "Perhaps you do not feel up to the challenges of Plexus?" he asked. "The surprises of Vulcan are many and varied, especially here. It is not for the easily intimidated."

"Hey, I can handle anything Vulcan can throw at me," retorted Tom.

"Vulcan? Compared to Kronos?" added B'Elanna. "Piece of cake."

"Then I will see you in three days," replied Tuvok, raising his arm and giving them the formal Vulcan sign. "I wish you good journey, with tranquility, and understanding."

"See ya bye," said Tom, hoisting one of the packs. "Coming, Torres?"

Outside in the corridor, Tuvok paused. Now maybe we can get some PEACE and QUIET on this ship! Score at the end of the final round:  Paris 4, Torres 4, Tuvok 4 million! He turned to gaze at the closed doors and the blinking control panel that indicated a running program. Perhaps I should have warned them about the Swamp of Paradox.

Perhaps not.
 


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