Author's note: This story was written between third and forth season's of "Star Trek:
Voyager" and is now, for all intents and purposes, an alternate-universe where people
get promoted, and long ago Tom dated Meg Delaney and Harry dated Jenny.
Trust No Glass
by Tara O'Shea
"Trust no glass to see through, lest you find yourself
Janeway leaned back in her chair in her ready room, a cup of hot tea cradled in her hands, the steam warming her cheeks as she raised it to her mouth to sip. The blend Neelix and Kes had cooked up in the hydroponics bay left a lot to be desired in terms of smoothness, and while the computer promised that the caffeine intake was comparable, there was really no comparison for one who had started one's day with a hot, bitter cup of fresh brewed coffee for the last twenty-odd years.
But she made do. That's what one did in the Delta Quadrant you made do, and assumed that someday, somehow, you would find a way to replenish the matter banks on a permanent basis. In the meantime, Janeway limited herself to one cup of coffee every four daysand recently she had taken it with synthetic Irish whiskey and cream in Holodeck Two, in a concoction reverently referred to as "God's Blessing" or "Gods' Blessing" depending on who was doing the serving and who was doing the drinking.
"The Place" as it was known far and wide, not to mention among the hundred and forty-odd Voyager crew members, was getting a lot of visitors ever since it had been programmed into the computer. Still, it was hard to think of the patrons of the Place as fictional. They felt all too realmore so, at times even, than Mr. Paris' recreations of real Marseilles barflies. But then, the source materialwhich Kathryn'd had the pleasure of discovering and devouring herself back in her Academy dayswas particularly rich.
But it was interesting to note how her own imaginings of the patrons differed from the specs Jenny and Meghan Delaney had chosen to enter into their programme. Perhaps someday she would discuss it with the girls. For the time being, she didn't want to intrude on their refuge. After all, in their minds, the Place was theirs and they didn't need some stodgy old Captain trooping into their private pastimes.
So young... she sometimes she wondered how she had ended up, for lack of a better word, den mother to a ship of children. Oh, they would balk at that, she was sure. But the fact of the matter was, Tuvok and Chakotay notwithstanding, there was hardly a soul aboard over thirty. Or the human equivalent of thirty, she reminded herself. At times it made her feel positively ancient.
Then she rememberedthis was a Starfleet crew, even though two dozen or so of them were lately drafted into Starfleet due to circumstances beyond any of their control. And she, too, had once been a wet-behind-the-ears ensign with stars in her eyes, and a head full of twenty-something notions that insisted she was as old as those very same stars. She had been proven wrong, of course. Most of the time by Admiralthen, CaptainParis. And she supposed that she was pulling something of a repeat performance with Tom. Funny, how life twists around like a vine on a trellis some times, and you find yourself back where you started, only on the other side of the fence.
The door to her ready room chimed, and Kathryn shook her head, as if to clear away the cobwebs of fancy before she answered "Come."
The doors slid open, revealing her first officer.
"I've been thinking," Chakotay began as he settled into the chair opposite her desk.
"About anything in particular?"
"I was getting to that." Chakotay smiled, and then held up a padd. "I've been going over the latest crew evaluations, and I think it's time we looked at promotions."
"I wondered how long that would take," Kathryn sighed. "These people have worked hard for over two years. I couldn't ask for a more dedicated crew, and they do deserve some tangible recognition of that fact."
"I thought you might see it that way."
"Who did you have in mind?"
"Harry, for one."
"Ah, Mr. Kim. You know, it is a little embarrassing having an ensign on my senior staff, I will admit, though he's one of the most capable Ops officer I've ever worked with. 'Lieutenant' Kim will take some getting used to, but I don't think I'll mind." She smiled wryly, and sipped her tea.
"I'd also like to see B'Elanna go to full Lieutenant. She is, after all, our Chief Engineer."
"I can't fault your logic. And she has made incredible strides in the past two years."
"As have many of the crew. I've made up a list of a dozen or so other ensigns and junior grade lieutenants who I think have shown the most potential and growth."
"Careful. At the rate you're going, we'll pull into port a ship full of admirals."
"It would be a sight to see."
"What about Tom Paris?"
Chakotay rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "He's your pet project; what do you think?"
"I think making him a full lieutenant would be in line with the other promotions we've been talking about. Don't you?"
"I almost like the idea of B'Elanna out-ranking him, though."
"Chakotay!" Janeway's eyes danced with amusement, and her first officer chuckled. She glanced down at the padd, and took another sip of her tea. "I see you've put down the Delaneys."
"Stellar Cartography has been working overtime ever since we arrived in the Delta Quadrant. The sensor data we accumulated on supernova alone kept them busy for weeks. And I've read their filesApparently the XO of their last post would have bumped them up to full lieutenants within the year if Enterprise D hadn't been destroyed."
"So far, I agree. However, you have left one person off this list, who I think should be added."
"You." Janeway smiled crookedly at his dumbfounded expression. "There's no reason for you not to be a full Commander, Commander. And I think it's high time my first officer was promoted."
"I don't know what to say."
"Good. Then don't say anything, just put your name down."
Tom couldn't help grinning as he walked down the corridor to the lift. In fact, a permanent smile seemed to be plastered across his face the past few weeks.
It appeared whenever he thought about B'Elanna.
That was pretty much all the time, these days. No one had asked him about ityet. But Chakotay had been giving him some pretty inquiring looks, and the Captain seemed amused as well. Harry hadn't seemed to notice, but Tom figured that was only because the ensign had his hands full with the exuberant Jenny Delaney of late, and Jenny didn't really leave anyone much time for anything else... He chuckled. Neither, for that matter, did Meghan. He had barely seen her and Gerron since the two of them had started going outand when he did, they seemed pretty much oblivious to everyone around them, as if they were lost in their own little world, which, he supposed, they were. He knew that feeling.
He realised he was standing in front of the lift, and had been for some time. Shaking his head at his own behaviour, he couldn't help feeling a bit like an idiot.. but he hadn't felt this way. since.. since Susie Crabtree, he supposed. He wondered what Meg would have to say about that...
The turbolift doors slid open, revealing Samantha Wildman and B'Elanna. Sam smiled as Tom stepped inside, and he grinned. B'Elanna seemed to look everywhere but at him, and he managed to keep from laughing out loud. "Lieutenant," Tom said cordially, and B'Elanna nodded curtly. "Deck Two."
The lift resumed its course, and he turned to Wildman. "Hey, Sam, how's Tabitha?"
"Mobile. The doctor says it's only a matter of weeks until she's walking, he thinks. I never knew there was so much in standard issue quarters that needed to be baby-proofed."
"Well, good luck." Tom laughed.
"We missed you at the party," Sam smiled brightly, and Tom shook his head.
"What can I say? A senior bridge officer's work is never done."
B'Elanna snorted, but said nothing. They travelled in silence for three decks, when Samantha got off. The doors slid shut once again and as it started to rise again, B'Elanna spoke to the ceiling. "Computer, halt turbolift," and then launched herself at Paris, pining him to the wall of the turbolift.
"Is there that wocket in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" B'Elanna breathed against his mouth, and then swallowed any protest he could have made with a passionate kiss.
"I see you've been reading," Tom remarked as they surfaced for air.
"It's no fun alone, though," B'Elanna said with a wicked grin. "Meet you in Holodeck Two for dinner after shift tonight?"
"Sounds like a date to me."
"Computer, resume lift," B'Elanna instructed, and they stepped apart, facing front as the doors slid open on deck two. Tom wandered down to the mess hall in a daze, picking up a tray loaded with Neelix' famedand dreadedleola casserole, and spotting Harry at a table near the bank of windows. He headed over, balancing the tray carefully.
"Tom," Harry leaned forward, catching the helmsman's attention, and then rubbed his chin with his thumb. Tom gave him a quizzical glance before he finally repeated the action and then looked down at his lipstick stained fingers. I bet she did that on purpose... he shook his head, smiling.
Harry grinned, and raised his eyebrows. "So...."
"Must have been an interesting morning."
"What makes you say that?"
"C'mon, you have to tell me." Harry pleaded, but Tom held up his hand.
"Harry, Harry, Harry... it's not polite to kiss and tell."
"Speaking of kissing and telling, what's this I hear about you and Jenny in the Jefferies Tube?"
"Who told you about that?" Harry hissed, his ears turning pink.
"Relax, Harry. I can keep your secrets if you can keep mine."
Tom made a show of looking around them, scanning faces, and his eyebrows drew together in a frown. He grabbed Harry's arm and led the younger man out of the mess hall to the Holodeck, casserole forgotten.
"Computer, run Paris Zero-One, privacy lock enforced."
Sandrine's swirled to life around them, the silence filled with pool balls clicking against one another and popular twentieth century French jazz from the music system. They sat in a table in the far corner, and Tom ignored Sandrine's raised eyebrow as he waved her off.
"What secrets?" Harry repeated, feeling silly and excited at the same time at the clandestine nature of the whole thing.
"B'Elanna and I are kinda sorta"
"B'Elanna and you" Harry yelled, and Tom slapped his hand over his friend's mouth. In the background, he could hear Sandrine's throaty laugh.
"Now I think you can see why I didn't want to do this in the mess hall."
"B'Elanna and you?" Harry repeated in a whisper, eyes wide. "I can't believedoes this have anything to do with, you know..."
"Sakari IV? Yes. No. Kinda." Tom ran his hand through his hair. "Remember the party for Sam Wildman's baby?"
"Yeahhey, I was waiting for you guys. B'Elanna told me she had a last minute thing in Engineering."
"That was just a little white lie..." Tom admitted, and Harry's eyes widened as he gave me him the much abbreviated version of how he and B'Elanna had spent the afternoon.
"My mom used to read me 'Green Eggs and Ham'" Harry shook his head. "Oh, man." Then he looked up at Tom, a grin spreading across his face. "Well it's about time," Harry laughed, clapping Tom on the back.
"We're taking it pretty slowwe both want this to work. And I figured, if anyone should be told first, it's you. We're trying to keep it pretty quiet, until we're more comfortable with it."
"Hey, you're my best friends, and I'm happy for you. Both of you."
"Thanks, Harry. So, what exactly did happen in that Jefferies tube?"
"It's not polite to kiss and tell."
Tom made a face. "Well, I'd better get back before someone steals my lunch."
"Small chance of that."
"Yeah, tell me about it."
Meghan reached for the teal and black jumpsuit, thrown over a chair, checking the turtleneck for her rank pips.
"One of these days, I'm going to pick up yours," she laughed as she tugged her turtleneck over her head. Gerron made a face.
"Wouldn't that surprise Lt. Tuvokme showing up for duty shift with his precious Fleet pips," he laughed. "I'd be court- martialled on the spot."
"Oh, you wouldn't; don't say such things!" She chuckled, and crawled across the coverlet to curl at his side, leaving the uniform draped across the end of the bed.
"Sometimes I wonder. A lot of the Fleet people aren't too happy with criminals like us wearing the uniform."
"But the Captain"
"She only did what she thought was right. But people talk they always will, and the uniform means so much to some of them."
"You've earned it."
"So you say. Some don't see it that way."
"That's sopeople need to realise that just because you're not Starfleet doesn't mean you're not worthy."
"Are you always so passionate about things that aren't your fight?" He said into her hair, and she pulled back, a frown creasing her features.
"I have no illusions about Starfleet. Gerron, if Septima Prime had been ceded to the Cardassians, I probably would have become Maquis. There are a lot of Fleet who felt the same way. Hell, look at the number of officers who resigned and did join."
"That's not a point of view I expected to hear from a Starfleet Officer."
"Not every Starfleet Officer is a hardliner career military type like Tuvok."
"Tuvok saved my life."
"That doesn't mean that he's any better or worse than you. He just walks a different path."
"That sounds more like something Chakotay would say."
"Yeah, well, he doesn't have the market on philosophy. My mother was Starfleet through and through, but she was medical. They're a whole 'nother kettle of fish. Jenny and I are here because we're scientists. For that matter, so's the Captain."
"It's hard for me to picture her anything but command."
"Used to be, Starfleet was about exploration. Enterprise was supposed to be the premiere exploratory shiplong range exploration, long term assignment, that's why it had families aboard. But then everything changedabout six years ago, I guess. First the Borg, then the Border wars. Starfleet became about defense first, exploration second. Jenny and I had just graduated the Academy."
"Six years ago, I was on Dreon VII, beginning my studies with Prylar Sende. I wasn't even eighteen years old, and my entire world was Kelso Province. I'd never even seen a Cardassian face to face."
He shook his head. "My mother fled Bajor during the Occupation. She was, oh, thirteen or so I think. She stowed away on an Antares class freighter bound for Prophet's Landing. From there, she got to Dreon VII by bribing a transport to take her through the Rolla Nebula. It was a pretty tiny colony, self-sufficienthad to be, nobody wanted to cross the nebula unless they had to, even the Cardies."
"I haven't heard 'Cardies' since my Enterprise days. Makes them sound... not nearly dangerous enough, I always thought."
"I never thought of it that way before."
"It's one of the weird qualities of Terran Standard. Words that end in 'ie' or 'y' sound like diminutives."
"There was nothing diminutive about them. When the council pronounced Dreon VII on the Fed side of the border, I figured that meant we were safe. I mean, sure Bajor wasn't a member world, but Dreon VII had been a Bajoran colony, the Occupation had ended. Everything was supposed to be... It could never be back to normal. I'd never known normal. But safe."
Meghan reached out and brushed the dark hair from his forehead, lips pursed. "If you don't want to talk about it..."
"No, I do. I've never really talked about it. Dalby always wanted me to. I guess he thought he could help somehow. But it isn't just about hating Cardassians. You'd think it would be, but it isn't. It's about never feeling safe. Never feeling like you have a right to survive. Never feeling like anything more than a pawn in someone's political game.
"My mother died the day the armistice was signed. She was out in the field, bringing in catterpod beans for supper. My father must have found the bastard who... I found them both in the field when I came home, my house burned to the ground, their eyes open staring at the sky. Three years later I heard they'd ratified the treaty, and what had happened would have been a 'treaty violation'. Except no one wanted to hear about a handful of rogue Cardassians, angry at losing to the Federation, raping one woman, killing her husband and burning everything they owned. No, there was Peace now, what was Past was Past. First, I became an acolyte. I wanted to try and heal the anger in myself, understand how the Prophets could let this happen to us.
"Then, when I heard about the Maquis, I left my studies and joined them. The first Cardassian I ever met face to face, I carved him another smile. I told myself it was because I could never find the murderer of my parents, and so I would just work my way through the lot of them. But that was a lie, and lies don't stop you from destroying yourself. They blind you, making it all that much easier to look up and tastes the ashes of who you used to be."
She stroked his cheek. "I hate that you had to live through such things."
"We can't chose our lives, and everyone has their own pain."
"Not like yours."
"Maybe." He shrugged, and wrapped his arms around her from behind, tucking her head beneath his chin. "You'd better get dressed, you'll be late for your duty shift."
"I've some time yet," she said softly, twisting around to brush his jaw with her lips. Pillowing her cheek on his chest, she could feel his heart beating next to her ear. "I'm sorry."
"What? For asking?"
"No. For making you remember."
"I never forgot."
B'Elanna took one last look in the mirror, and frowned. It wasn't the outfitthe dark brown tunic fell to her knees, and was slit on either side the length of her thighs, and matching leggings encased her legs. It wasn't newbut Tom hadn't seen her in it yet, and she knew it flattered her. But somehow, she didn't feel it was... enough somehow.
She and Tom hadn't had an exactly normal courtship. Lunch dates aside, they hadn't found much time to actually date in the few weeks since they had decided to actually pursue a real relationship.
She had ended up replicating an innocuous teddy bear for Tabitha Wildmanthe first one the computer had called up, in fact. The soft pink pig sat on the shelf in her closetshe found herself simply unable to give it away. Especially considering what it had touched off, she couldn't imagine seeing the baby with it. She felt a blush creep up her neck as she remembered the evening she and Tom had spent in one another's arms.
She found herself more nervous now, just getting dressed for dinner, than she had when she'd made the decision to sleep with Tom. That moment had held a kind of clarity and simplicity that had fled in the cold light of day, leaving her with the faint stirrings of panic at the thought of something as mundane as a dinner date. It was almost as if they were moving backwardsthey had made the jump from friends to lovers so quickly, and were now backtracking to the first stages of a real romantic relationship.
But it was what she had wanted, she told herself, stepping back from the mirror to survey her reflection one last time before there was no time left. Tom was expecting her in less than ten minutes, and she with a monumental effortresisted the urge to rip off the ensemble and start again.
It was, she thought about that afternoon in the turbolift with a smile, exactly what she wanted. She stepped purposefully out into the corridor, a silly grin plastered on her face and for once she didn't care who noticed.
No one would ever know it from looking at himhe'd learned along ago that survival depended on what face you showed the worldbut Tom Paris was a nervous wreck. B'Elanna could kid him about using humour as a defense. Truth was, he'd gotten so used to using his easy going manner to mask how he was really feeling, even he had a hard time telling when it was a lie and when it was the truth. But his stomach was in knots, and he was keeping from pacing the length of the holodeck by sheer force of will.
"Tom, relax," he told himself for the thirtieth time. He could only imagine what Harry would say, or Meghan for that matter. But he couldn't help itthis was too important to him. He wanted everything to be perfect. So let them laugh at him, call him a hopeless throwback romantic idiot...
He wished his outfit had pockets. He suddenly didn't know what to do with his hands.
"Relax. Relax, relax, relax," he muttered, and then looked up as the holodeck doors slid open.
Tom whistled as B'Elanna stepped inside, and he could see a blush rising in her cheeks.
"You look great."
"So do you," she took in the dark blue slacks and vest over the grey silk shirt, his comm badge pinned to his lapel, appreciatively. "Much better than the classic 1962 Big Kahuna, or whatever it was, shirt."
"Yeah, well, you dress for the occasion, right?" Tom decided not to mention that he'd kept that shirt rather than recycle it, and it now hung in a place of honour in the back of his closet. It seemed... safer. "Computer, run programme Paris Gamma-2, and engage privacy lock." Tom spoke to the ceiling, and the grid vanished, replaced by a restaurant patio at twilight, two moons suspended in the pearly grey sky above the horizon.
Purple snow-covered mountains could been seen off in the distance, a few stars winking in the evening sky. A lone table for two was set in the centre of the clay tiled patio. Hanging plants with small white flowers that gave off a heady fragrance swung in the breeze, suspended from the roof above the low wall that ran the length of the patio. Two long tapers cast flickering light that bounced off a cut crystal bowl that held two leeta blossoms, their creamy petals flecked with rose and soft cool purple.
"I figuredfirst date, a nice dinner, maybe some dancing" Tom shrugged and on cue, an unseen band began to play a slow melody reminiscent of guitars and beli clavians.
"Where are we?"
"Paris. Well, New Paris, on New France colony. I found it in the database, and just couldn't resist." Tom pulled out her chair, and then pushed it in for her like a gentleman. B'Elanna unfolded the cloth napkin and laid it in her lap and looked up as a silent waiter appeared and set a shallow bowl in front of her that contained a white liquid garnished with small green leaves like tiny pine needles. She lifted up a spoonful, and tasted it carefully.
"It's cold," she frowned.
"It's vichyssoiseit's supposed to be cold."
"It's just a fancy name for potato soup," Tom sipped his own, smiling. "My mom used to make it in summer when I was a kid and we'd go up to Lake Comothat and gazpacho. My sister Claire went through a vegan period, and we all got used to vegetable soups and stews until she decided she missed fried chicken."
"What's she like?"
"Claire, or my mom?"
"Your family... I mean, you've told me about your father, a little anyway. But you hardly ever talk about the rest of them."
"Claire was the artistic one in the familyshe started painting when she was almost too little to reach the easel. She went off to a conservatory in Paris right before I joined the Academy, and I hardly ever heard from her. She was living with some ne'er-do-well French sculptor when we left. Ann on the other hand was the sensible one. She was really big on listswhen she was eight, she made a list of everything she intended to accomplish by the time she was thirtyand I'll be damned if she didn't stick to it. She teaches on Mars colony, and has published a few papers on Vulcan poetry."
"So where did you fit in?"
"I was the rowdy one. Always climbing trees, staying out till all hours and coming back with cuts and scrapes and adventures to tell. Then when I got older, I stayed in my room a lot. I was actually something of a bookworm. I got addicted to 20th century fiction in secondary schoolI amassed quite the collection of B- movies and pulp novels. I loved my room," he smiled wistfully. "After Claire moved out, I moved into her old room and turned her studio into a library. Well, of sorts. Half the place was taken up with models. I wasn't the best model-maker, but I loved to see what I could make fly. I had a huge box-kite in there until Susie Crabtree accidentally flattened it." He suddenly realised where this story was heading, and quickly changed the subject. "So, how about you? I mean, I know things weren't great, after your dad left. But your childhood must have had some bright spots?"
The waiter reappeared, and cleared away the soup bowls. Tom held up the wine bottle, and B'Elanna noticed for the first time that, as he had been talking, she had managed to drain her glass. He refilled it, and she took a long sip while she considered his question.
"I guess I did only tell you the bad stuff." She looked down at her plate, which now held broiled salmon steak and asparagus. She hadn't even noticed the waiter bring the next course. "Well, we stayed on Kessik IV until I went to the Academy. I actually did have one friendher name was Dlarian. She was El-Aurien, and the only person on the colony who didn't seem to have any preconceived notions about Klingonsgood, or bad. Her father taught at the school I attended, and her mother was a horticulturalist. I remember I used to think that meant she studied hortas, so I was really confused when I first saw their greenhouse," B'Elanna laughed. "Dlarian was a bit older than meactually a lot older, but that was because her lifespan is longer.
"Anyway, the two of us were thick as thieves. We knew every inch of the colony and surrounding area, and even hiked out to the perimeter a few times. She hated camping, tho. She wanted to bring her bed, said the ground was no fit place to sleep. Which was weird, considering she was the one who was so big on hiking and swimming and experiencing nature and all that. Her homeworld was destroyed before she was born; I guess she wanted to make sure she lived life to the fullest on Kessik, feel like it was a part of her. I never really understood itbut she was my best friend. I could tell her anything."
"Where is she now?"
"Apprenticing with her aunt on some station. Her family had a thing about thatevery third El-Aurien goes into the service industry. Hotels, restaurants, bars, that kind of thing. She said it was all about listening, and getting to know as many people as possible. She wasn't a social butterfly type either, but when you talked to her, it was eerie. It was like you were the only person in the galaxy for hershe focused all her attention on you, and it made you feel special, and important." B'Elanna turned her attention back to her plate, pushing a piece of fish around with her fork. "She was the one who convinced me to apply to the Academy when we were getting ready to graduate. I wish I could hold it against her, but I can't. It wasn't her fault I washed outit was mine. I just couldn't see myself one of those bright, shiny cadets who live and breathe Fleet rules and regs. I never thought I'd end up on a starship one day, let alone the Chief Engineer." B'Elanna laughed. "What about you?"
"I was just another in a long line of Paris offspring expected to go into the academy." Tom shrugged. "So I went. My dad always hoped I'd be more excited by the prospect of command than flying, but the fact of the matter was, I'd have done anything just so I could stay a pilot. I was not on anyone's fast track, and that suited me just fine. Not that promotion became much of an issue, after the accident."
"You never talk about it."
"No. I don't," Tom said simply, and sipped his wine.
B'Elanna decided not to push. "So, what happened next?"
"After my brief and hardly illustrious career in Starfleet, I took the first job I was offered where they'd let me fly. Running cargo out to the colonies wasn't so bad, and after a while I started to really enjoy it. Then the Federation signed the treaty, and a fourth of my route ended up on the Cardassian side of the border. I was... approached is too simple a word. I was basically drafted into the Maquis by my employer, to run medical supplies to the Badlands. Except no one bothered to tell me they considered phaser rifles medical supplies. I was picked up by the Feds on my first trip out, and you know the rest."
"Yeah," she set her fork down, and cupped her chin in her hand. "Do you ever wish things had gone differently?"
"Sometimes. But if they had, I never would have met you." Tom gave her one of his dazzling smiles. "Enough of my sad, sad history. Are you up for dessert?"
"That depends on what you have in mind," she purred, and he actually almost blushed.
"Well, I had planned on a flourless chocolate torte."
"Oooh," B'Elanna's eyes went wide. She couldn't remember the last time she indulged in anything that sounded half so good. Tom grinned.
"I thought you might like that." He waved to the waiter, who came over and removed their plates, and another waiter appeared bearing two slices of what looked to be the richest, most sinful dessert in the universe, a fact which was confirmed as B'Elanna lifted the first forkful to her mouth and closed her eyes, savouring the texture and flavour.
Tom almost dropped his fork as he watched her rapt expression of sheer joy. He took a hasty sip of wine. "So, what's the latest gossip from Engineering?"
B'Elanna opened her eyes, and smiled. "Well... Chell has a torrid affair going with Ensign Golwat."
"That's not all that surprisingshe is the only other Bolian on board, and their physiologies being what they are, they don't date outside their species much. Poor Golwat."
"Yeah, Chell's...Chell. Anyway, they seem happy." B'Elanna shrugged. "And I hear Meghan Delaney's got her claws into Gerron."
Tom frowned. "I wouldn't say claws, exactly. Besides, I don't see Gerron minding all that much," Tom chuckled. "I think the two of them are good for each other."
B'Elanna laughed. "Oh, come on, you can't be serious?"
"I'm very serious. From what Meghan's told me, Gerron really needed a friend."
"And she was just too happy to step in."
"Exactly. And in case you haven't noticed, they've been going out for almost four months now. That's practically a record for Meg."
B'Elanna frowned. "I know she's your friend. I just wish she wasn't so... friendly."
Tom laughed, earning a scowl from her. "I don't believe it. You're jealous."
"I am not jealous."
"You can just wipe that smirk off your face this instant, Tom Paris."
"Yes, ma'am." Tom tried to school his features, but his blue eyes danced with merriment. As the waiters removed the last of the dinner plates, the band struck up a new tune, and he held out his hand. "Would you care to dance?"
"I warn you, I have two right feet."
"Just so long as you let me lead," he grinned, and led her out to the floor.
He'd programmed in a slow danceit was about all he could handle, as dancing wasn't exactly his strong suit either. She looked up into his eyes, an unreadable expression on her face as they swayed in time to the music. Then she came up on her tiptoes, and he bent his head accordingly. Their lips met as if in a dream, and then they danced, B'Elanna's head tucked beneath Tom's chin, their eyes closed as the music spiralled out into the night. B'Elanna smiled, her cheek pressed against Tom's chest.
"This is nice," she murmured.
"It is, isn't it? We'll have to do this more often. I don't know if my replicator budget can stand it..."
"Next time, dinner will be on me." She tipped her head back and grinned at him.
"That sounds fair," he nodded, and then she pillowed her cheek on his chest and the band segued into another tune and Tom Paris decided he was the happiest man in the universe, and B'Elanna Torresfor oncewasn't disagreeing with him.
B'Elanna went through her entire shift in Engineering feeling as if she were floating centimetres above the deck. It was all she could do to keep from laughing out loud-and she had been worried? She couldn't imagine why, now. The night before had been.... perfect. Utterly, utterly perfect, and the only thing that could have possibly made it better would have been if Tom had followed her to her quarters... But he had been assigned to Gamma shift, and kissed her good night and then dashed off to change back into his uniform. But maybe tonight...
As she rounded the corner on deck two, she paused in the doorway of the mess... Sitting in front of the windows at the far end were Meghan Delaney and Emil Wright, their heads bent low over a padd. B'Elanna frowned, and turned around to leave, and slammed straight into Gerron Tem.
B'Elanna caught him before he could fall. "I'm sorry, are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Gerron assured her. He turned back towards the mess hall, and she suddenly reached out and grabbed his arm. "Where are you going?"
"I thought I might eat something?" Gerron looked puzzled, and B'Elanna glanced back over Gerron's shoulder to see Meghan Delaney still deep in conversation with Ensign Wright.
Back on the Zola, she hadn't known the young Bajoran all that wellhe had been Dalby's shadow then, or pet project, she had never been sure which. But since they had been absorbed into the Voyager crew, she had gotten to know him a bit better. Enough that she didn't want to see him hurt.
"Don't you have any replicator rations left?"
"I'm sort of saving them for a special occasion," Gerron replied, puzzled. "Why, is it Leola casserole again?"
"Yes," B'Elanna turned him away from the mess with an arm around his shoulders. "Bad. Really, really bad. I heard Ensign Golwat even got sickand you know what a cast iron stomach she has."
Gerron paled. "Maybe... maybe I'll just have some soup in my quarters."
"Good idea." She smiled brightly at him, and he glanced back at her, still looking vaguely puzzled, but headed back towards crew quarters. B'Elanna's smile faded, and she glanced back into the mess to see Wright taking his tray and Meghan waving to him as he went over to recycle the leftovers.
On impulse, B'Elanna stalked across the mess and stopped directly in front of Meghan Delaney's table. The lieutenant looked up at her over the rim of her mug.
"You know, it's not fair, what you're doing to him." B'Elanna began, and was met with a blank look.
"Gerron almost saw you with Wright," B'Elanna pointed out, steel beneath each word.
There was a pause, and a strange look passed over Meghan's face. She sipped her drink, and then purposefully looked away from B'Elanna to the stars outside as they streaked past in brilliant rainbowed strands as the ship travelled through warp. "Did he, now?" Meghan said conversationally.
"You know, I don't understand you." B'Elanna couldn't manage to keep the disgust from her voice.
Meghan dragged her gaze away from the view and met B'Elanna's eyes. "Really?"
"Gerron's a great kid, and he doesn't deserve to be treated like"
"Like what? Did it ever occur to you that Ensign Wright and I were just talking? Crew members occasionally do that, you know talk."
"Yes. They do."
"Ah. Condemned by scuttlebutt yet again, am I?"
"Well, if you don't like what people are saying about you, maybe you should stop giving them something to talk about," B'Elanna said with a raised brow, and was met with an icy glare as Meghan picked up her lunch tray and padd, and pushed away from the table, feeling the stares of other crewmen in the mess hall like prickles down her spine.
"How I live my life, and what people say about me are, unfortunately, rarely in accordance," she said in a low voice that didn't carry beyond the two of them."So I'm sure you can understand why I don't change my actions to suit small minded individuals." Meghan's voice was like a chill wind, but B'Elanna's anger was already burning too hot to be extinguished by words.
"Oh, you poor dear. A victim, are you?" Her voice dripped acid.
"You want to think of me as the slut of the ship? Fine. You can think whatever you wantthat's your prerogative. But do me a favour and leave Gerron out of it. He's a grown man, and more than capable of making up his own mind. Unless, of course, this isn't about Gerron?" Meghan suggested with a tight smile, and stalked out of the mess hall. B'Elanna watched her go, wanting very much to rip Meghan Delaney's heart out and feed it to her at that particular moment.
"I think I just did something mind-numbingly stupid."
"Like...?" Jenny asked, trying to keep from smiling at Meghan's doom and gloom face, and not really succeeding. Ten minutes back Meghan had stormed into the quarters she and her sister shared, colour high and breathing fire, and it had taken Jenny that long to get her calmed down enough to actually manage speaking without seething.
"Like I just kinda sorta engaged in a verbal battle with a Klingon."
"Wow." Her twin's eyes went wide. "That definitely constitutes mind-numbingly stupid. What happened?"
"It's a long storysufficed to say, I'm right and livid now. I feel like I need to burn off some excess energy."
"I have holodeck time; wanna run the dojo programme?"
"That's too... structured." Meghan began to pace, her hands unconsciously balling into fists. She whirled around, and made an inarticulate sound of frustration. "I feel like I wanna bust heads."
"Got your Irish up, did she?" Jenny laughed. "Then I think I have the perfect solution." She reached behind the sofa and pulled out an object which she flipped at Meghan's head.
Meghan plucked it out of the air, and then a slow grin spread over her face as she recognised the small leather-covered ball.
"You said what?" Tom looked at B'Elanna, aghast, as B'Elanna paced the length of his cabin angrily.
"I can see you're going to be a lot of help here."
"That was incredibly... I can't believe you saidWhy?"
B'Elanna whirled on him. "I can't believe you're defending Meghan Delaney-"
"Yeah, my friend Meghan Delaney. I wouldn't let anyone malign you, or Harry. Why shouldn't I defend Meg? Look, Meghan's no saint, but she's hardly the Devil incarnate. And can't believe she'd actually do anything to hurt Gerron. Not intentionally."
"Oh, I'm sure it's not intentional. She can't help being the way she is."
"And how is she?"
"She was practically all over Wright in the middle of the mess! Right in front of Gerron!"
"Really. Was she whispering sweet nothings in his ear?"
B'Elanna folded her arms across her chest, and glared at him. "What was I supposed to think?"
"Well, did it occur to you that, since Sanderson is out with a broken ankle for the next two days, that Stellar Cartography is short staffed, and Chakotay assigned Wright to cover Sanderson's shifts?"
"How do you"
"Jenny told Harry, who told me."
"Well, how was I supposed to know that?"
"It doesn't matter. What matters is, you assumed the worst immediately. How do you think that made Meg feel? You know, you could have given her the benefit of the doubt."
"Save me the lecture, Tom."
"No. I'm serious. I've been the one on the receiving end of this kind of thing long enough to know that after a while, it makes you feel like maybe you really are the scum of the universe. And that's a really lousy feeling. No one deserves to feel that way. Not even a soul-eating succubus like Meghan."
"I never said... that, exactly." B'Elanna's scowl deepened. "Fine. I'll talk to her."
"And you'll apologise?"
"Don't push it."
"I wouldn't dream of it." Tom grinned. "Notice anything different about me?"
B'Elanna looked up at him, brows drawn together in concentration. "Is this a trick question?"
"Maybe." He had one of those 'cat that ate the canary' grins, but other than that, she couldn't think of anything off the top of her head. He let her flail for a bit, and then pointed to his collar. Two full pips shone against the grey turtleneck. Her eyes widened.
"Tom!" She grinned.
"I'm not the only one. Have you checked your comm?"
"Not since last night," her eyes were round and she practically pounced on the comm unit. There, in her list of unread messages, was a flagged note from Captain Janeway. As she read it, Tom wrapped his arms around her from behind, kissing her neck.
"Congratulations yourself, Lieutenant." She turned around and gave him quick kiss on the mouth. He turned it into a lengthy, throughly satisfying one, pushing all thoughts of Meghan Delaney from her mind. For the moment.
A full scale game of hurling was taking place on Holodeck One, which was now home to an eighty by one hundred and forty yard field of almost florescent green turf, five metre goal posts at either end, bisected by crossbars almost three metres off the ground. Jenny led one team of fourteen holographic players, and Meghan the other. Their auburn hair was plastered to their cheeks and necks by sweat as they chased the cork-centred ball with metre long, broad bladed hurleys among the shouts of the other players.
Meghan got hold of the ball on the end of her hurley, and was racing towards the goal when the arch appeared, smack dab between Jenny's goal. Meghan whipped the ball ferociously towards the posts just as the doors slid open.
"Lieutenant!" Jenny shouted the alarm, and B'Elanna ducked, the hurley ball passing through the air where her head had been to smack harmlessly against the corridor wall outside the holodeck, and roll across the deck. Startled crew members peered inside the holodeck, eyebrows raised, and one of them tossed the ball back inside before the holodeck doors slid shut.
Jenny jogged over to the engineer, alarm shining in her dark eyes as B'Elanna picked herself up off the turf with a growl.
"What the hell"
"You could have been killed!" Meghan snapped angrily, and B'Elanna was taken aback, and reacted defensively.
"Why the hell aren't the safeties on?"
Jenny and Meghan just looked at each other, and then turned back to B'Elanna.
"Hurley with the safeties on is no fun," Jenny explained, wiping her forehead with the back of her forearm, her eyes darting for furious sister to furious Klingon nervously. She snatched up the ball from the ground, and balanced it on the end of her stick, whistling. B'Elanna snatched the ball up, eyebrows raised.
"This could not have hurt me."
"This" Meghan took it from her and shook it in her face, "could have pulped your bleedin' skull."
"Meg," Jenny took the ball back, and placed a hand on her seething twin's shoulder. "Nobody kills with a hurley ball except in stories. Let's get some perspective here." Jenny turned back to B'Elanna, who looked about ready to commit bloody murder, with a sunny smile. "Just trying to work off some excess energy, Lieutenant. Can we help you?"
I came to apologise B'Elanna found herself completely incapable of saying. She seethed quietly instead. "Never mind," she muttered and turned on her heel and stalked out of the holodeck.
"You did what?" Gerron looked at Meghan aghast, and she flopped down on his couch, scowling.
"I can see you're going to be a lot of help, thanks."
Meghan looked up at him, the anger draining away to be replaced by a curiously empty expression. "Gerron, why are you with me?" she asked softly.
The Bajoran blinked at the apparent change of subject. "Because I like you."
"No, I mean" she sighed, and took a deep breath. "Are you with me because I'm easy?"
"Is that some Terran expression" he began with a grin, and she heaved herself off the sofa, shaking her head.
"Don't joke with me now, Tem. I need to know. I need to know that you're with me because... because I'm someone that you want to spend time withnot just in bed."
"This has really got you shaken."
"Damn right I'm shaken. This shipit's like a small town. Everyone knows every else's business, and how people perceive you becomes stronger than the truth of who you are. And I know that Torres doesn't know who I am. She knows who she thinks I am, and until she can learn to tell the difference, it's not my problem..."
"But it is a problem."
"I don't want to be branded the town whore, Tem. It hu-hurts," she swallowed a great gulp of air and pushed onward, "hurts me so much to think that deep down, I'm some joke in the back of Sandrine's on graveyard shift, a punchline that everyone joins in laughing at."
"You know that's not true."
"Do I? Not four months ago you didn't want anything to do with me." Tears shone in her dark eyes. "I'm just so frustrated."
He pulled her into his arms, stroking her back with one hand. "I know."
Her communicator chittered, and she wiped the tears impatiently from her eyes with the back of her hand before answering.
"Hey, Meg." Jenny's voice came over the comm system.
"What's up, Jen?"
"Guess who's been promoted?"
"I have no idea."
"What are you talking about?"
"Chakotay left a message on our comm. And not just youTom, B'Elanna, me, and Harry, not to mention Billy Sanderson, J.B., Sherry Mitchell"
"Did he just promote the entire department?" Meghan asked, incredulous.
"Pretty much. There's a party going on in the resort, how soon can you join us?"
"I don't feel much like partying."
"Oh come on, you're going to have to face the big, bad Klingon soon enough anyway"
"Jen, I just don't feel like it right now, okay?"
"Okay, suit yourself. But I wouldn't wait up, if I were you."
"Have a good time," Meghan murmured before cutting off the transmission, and then looked guiltily at Gerron. "I'm sorry, did you want to"
He shook his head. "I'm not much in the mood for a celebration eithernot a noisy one, anyway. But that doesn't mean we can't celebrate quietly." He flashed her a smile, and she couldn't help returning it.
"The thing is, though, we all rely on first impressions," Meghan said some time later, as she lay in the circle of Gerron's arms. "My first impression of you was that you were awfully lonely, and awfully cute. That was about it. Not much depth involved. Tom was actually the one who convinced me that I was going about it all wrong."
"Have you ever thought about the fact that B'Elanna is just angry with you because she's jealous?"
Meg frowned. "But why would she be? Tom and I broke upit's been over a year. We're just friends."
"I never said she was jealous of your being lovers. Maybe she's jealous of your friendship?"
"That's ludicrous. She and Tom have been friends as long as Tom and I have. She and Tom and Harrythey're the Three bloody Musketeers."
"Think about it, Meg. I've known B'Elanna a long time, and it's really hard for her to let people in. Even in the Maquis, she was all businessshe didn't make friends easy. But you knew, once she was your friend, that you could count on her. That she'd stand by you and stand up for you, and anyone who tried to hurt you would get a dagger in their throat for their trouble.
"But even then, she never really opened up to anybody. She sure as hell never let her guard down, showed you she was hurting. We all were guilty of locking pain away inside us, and you learned just not to ask. But it was there. And like I said before, all it can do is eat away at you, destroying you from the inside out."
"And I'm supposed to feel sorry for her now?" Meghan's dark eyes flashed, and Gerron shook his head.
"No. You're supposed to realise that there's more to this than just... petty jealousy. You should try and look at it from B'Elanna's view."
"Gerron, she was evil to me. Really hateful."
"Did you ever wonder why she came to the holodeck in the first place?"
"Maybe you should. Maybe you should at least wonder."
She sighed. "I never thought the Bajorans were so big on compassion for your enemy."
"She's not really your enemy; you know that. You're only looking at who you think she is. You really don't know her any better than she knows you. And you're robbing yourself of finding out who she really is if you're content to sit here and stew about what's past."
"Maybe. I don't know; I need to think about this."
As official morale officer, Neelix had taken it upon himself to organise a congratulatory party for the new promotees. He hadn't done too shabby a job, Janeway mused as she entered the holodeck. The resort programme was running, with a few additions and modifications. The setting had switched from Polynesian to Jamaican, if the Rastafarian steel drum band was any indication, with festive coloured lanterns replacing the flaming torches. Crew, in colourful off-duty garb as well as the familiar black and gold, wine and teal uniforms milled around the pool and under the lanterns, sipping fruit drinks festooned with flowers and paper umbrellas.
She spotted Chakotay off to the side, and waved. He raised his drink high, and indicated a seat beside him, and she struck off for his table, bestowing congratulations as she went to the various knots of people. Stellar Cartographyin the form of Sherry Mitchell and J.B. Trutner (who was wearing a kilt. Janeway was definitely not going to ask.) and a half dozen othershad taken over a corner of the patio and were dancing and laughing. Billy Sanderson was thereon crutches and beneath the watchful eye of the Doctor, who had taken the mobile emitter out for a spin and was seated next to Kes near the bar. She spotted Tom and B'Elanna over by Harry, who was beaming, Jenny Delaney on his arm. Even Vorik seemed to be having a good time, in as much as a Vulcan could be said to display such a characteristic.
"Not a bad turn out," her first officer noted as she sat.
Janeway chuckled. "Too bad we can't do this every week."
"Then we really would end up a ship full of admirals," Chakotay pointed out.
"One Admiral Paris is more than enough," Janeway confided, with a wink.
"I would like to propose a toast," Tom held his glass high. "To Lt. Kim!"
"To Lt. Kim!" the surrounding crew chimed in, and Harry flushed. Even though he was only one of about a dozen promotions, there was something special about an ensign making lieutenant.
"Having a good time, Lieutenant?" Tom whispered in B'Elanna's ear.
"Yes, I am. Lieutenant." She grinned. "I have to find Chakotay so we can call him 'Commander'."
"We already call him 'Commander'."
"Yes, but now it means 'Commander.'"
"I see. Tell me, are you always like this when someone gets promoted?"
"I don't know. In the Maquis, we barely had ranks, let alone promotions. And on a Klingon vessel, you get promoted after you kill your superior officer, or so I'm told."
Tom winced. "Ouch. So, how did it go?"
"How did what go?"
"Meg. How'd she take it?"
"Oh, she took it just fine," B'Elanna lied through her teeth.
"Oh good. Because there she is," Tom said brightly, and jerked his head in the direction of the door. Meghan and Gerron had just entered, and the Bajoran was nudging, ever so gently, Meghan in their direction.
"I'll be right back," B'Elanna said quickly, missing entirely the smile that passed over Tom's face.
Meg took a deep breath as B'Elanna approached, and then met her halfway. "LookGerron wants me to apologise. So here we go: I'm sorry I almost caved your skull in with a hurley ball. It actually wasn't intentional." Meg blurted out before B'Elanna could say anything.
"Apology accepted," B'Elanna ground out between clenched teeth. She glanced back at Tom, who stood with Gerron, watching the two of them with silly grins on their faces. "Actually... Look, I jumped to conclusions, and assumed the worst, because... I don't know why."
"It really hurt me," Meghan said, lifting her chin a fraction. "I just want you to understand that."
"I do." B'Elanna said slowly.
"Good. Now maybe we can get back to our lives."
"You've got a great life to go back to," she indicated Tom with a jerk of her head. "And before you get all... anything about it, I really am happy for you guys. Hell, the entire time Tom and I were together, I knew how he felt about you."
"And I suppose you were above being jealous," B'Elanna blurted out, and Meghan laughed. Not a quick, nervous laugh, but a flat out expression of amusement at no one's expense but her own.
"Of course I was jealous. But I didn't hate you for it. And I didn't hate myself for not being able to give Tom what you can."
"And what, exactly, would that be?"
"They're getting along so well," Tom remarked to Gerron as they leaned against the bar. "Wouldn't you say so?"
"Oh, definitely," Gerron rolled his eyes, and Tom laughed. "You don't think they're going to kill each other, do you?"
"Not in public, anyway."
"Oh, that's good. By the way, in case I've never mentioned it, if you do anything to hurt B'Elanna, I'll kill you."
"That sounds fair," Tom nodded. "And if you hurt Megnot that I ever think you would, of course"
"Just so we understand one another."
They went back to watching their respective lady friends locked in polite verbal combat, with silly smiles on their faces.
"Love." Meg said seriously. "I gave him something different, and just as important for the both of us. But I could never love Tom the way you can. He's my friend, and I love him as a friend. But in the end, that's all we ever were. Two friends who occasionally slept together. That doesn't make it wrong. But what he has with you has to potential to be so much more. And that makes him happy. And it makes me happy to see him happy."
"Look, don't put words in my mouth. I don't hate you. Okay, maybe just a little."
"I have to work so damn hard, and you make it look so easy"
"Make what look easy?"
"You're so sure of yourself. With... other people."
"Male other people, you mean? You're no slouch in that department either. Just ask Freddie Bristow. I think he worshipped the deckplates you walked on."
"Don't bring up Freddie Bristow," B'Elanna groaned. "And please don't mention that Vulcan p'tahk"
"Alas, poor Vorik," Meg laughed.
"and it's not as if I batted my eyelashes and gave him come- hither glances."
"Oh, please! Anyone who knows me and Jenny knows that we're more likely to kick a guy's butt in the dojo than bat our collective eyelashes at him." Meg almost choked on the fruit juice one of the holographic waitresses handed her. "Okay, I take that back: Jenny would do both. But Jenny's Jenny. I feign self- assuredness, but she lives and breathes it, I have no idea how."
"Then maybe I should be talking to Jenny," B'Elanna said wryly.
"I think maybe you should wait until she's backed down from Mother Bear position. And she calls me overprotective. Anyway, it's simple. You just have to be comfortable in your own skin."
"Easy for you to say."
"You don't need Klingon blood running through your veins to feel like you're cut into halves and quarters and fourths and all parts at war with one another. I think everyone feels that way sometimes. And I'm no better at it than you are, probably. And I'll tell you another thing: Lousy tempers aren't limited to Klingons.
"Sometimes I get so angry I just want to break things. Rip something apart with my bare hands. Some of the stories my da told Jenny and me'd surprise you. The Irish could probably match the Klingons for glorious lays of battle."
"I had a professor at the Academy who kept trying to get me to read some story about a cow."
"You didn't, did you."
"You might have liked it. The Cattle Raid of Cuailgne is one hell of a ride. It's highly entertaining in an incredibly violent way."
"I'll take your word for it."
"It's nice to know my word means something to you after all."
"I meant what I said about Gerron."
"So did I. For all you Maquis think of him as a kid, needing looking after, he is a man. He has been sincehe has been for a long time."
"Stillyou hurt him, and you'll find my dagger in your throat."
"Fair enough." Meghan nodded. "But be forewarned, if you hurt Tom, they'll need to do a sensor sweep of the sector to find all the pieces," she said sweetly.
"You think you can take me?"
"Hopefully, it won't come to that. But hell yeah, I think I could take you."
"Hey, you're only half Klingon."
"And you're only half-Irish."
"That is a point in your favour. Look, I don't know if I want to be your friend. But can we at least agree that we're not enemies?"
"I'll think about it."
"That's all I ask. And it isn't all that much, really, is it?"
"I don't need the hard sellTom's already stuck up for you twice already, so you can't be all bad."
"Funny, I've thought the same about you."
She was tempted to say Deep subject. Turn it sideways, you've got a tunnel but instead just muttered "Yes. Well." and then breathed a sigh of releif as B'Elanna went back over to Tom's side, and Gerron wandered back, two orange and pink drinks in hand.
"See? Now that wasn't so bad," he handed her one and she downed half the thing in one swallow.
"Easy for you to sayyou're everyone's little brother, and can do no wrong."
"That's meperfect in every way," he agreed wholeheartedly, and she elbowed him in the ribs.
"Remind me not to let you hang out with Tom any moreyou're getting infected with his sense of humour."
"In case you haven't noticed, it's your sense of humour that I'm coming down with. Must be all the kissing."
"And here I thought you were going to mention bodily fuilds," she winked.
"Who, me? Sweet, little Gerron Tem?"
B'Elanna left feeling a good deal more confused than she'd arrived. She never had gotten around to an apology, and Meghan didn't seem to expect one. Which was fine by her, really. At the time, she had meant exactly what she'd said. But then, so had Meghan. And she'd managed to make B'Elanna feel small and petty, which was what irked her the most. She hated having admit to being in the wrong. She'd lived her life on the defensive once too, and she didn't imagine it was any easier for Meg to do so now than it had been for her.
Not enemies. Not friend eithernot yet, anyway. Allies, perhaps. And if that was all it ever was, well, B'Elanna could live with that. There were worse things than having someone like Meghan Delaney as your ally.
Like having her as your enemy, B'Elanna chuckled. Part of her ached to whup that girl's ass something fierce... but those were thoughts for another day.
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