New Directions

by Penny A. Proctor

It wasn't so much that he was dirty. Harry had been dirty before. The problem was that he was so tired he couldn't actually sleep. Between working all night on Irina's ship, then discovering that she was a secret terrorist, being her captive, then taking her captive, then getting back to Voyager just in time for Tom and B'Elanna's wedding - his mind absolutely refused to shut down. He felt wired for action, but there was no action needed.

The post-race party was still in full swing on holodeck 2. Everyone from the four alien species was in a celebratory mood, probably because of the significance of the race. After all, this was the first non-violent competition in the sector in over a century. When Harry left, Ambassador O'Zaal was four sheets to the wind on synthehol, overwhelmed with relief that the peace had held and that no one had been injured.

The Voyager crew was also in a mood to party. Tom and B'Elanna's unexpected wedding seemed to break a dam of pent-up stress that had begun to build when Voyager attacked the Borg weeks earlier. Everyone seemed to be raucously enjoying themselves, Harry noted. The Captain even danced with the Commander, something that happened so rarely Harry could count the times on one hand. Yes, everyone seemed to be celebrating, except Harry.

He just felt ... outside.

It was odd; his best friends had just married, which was exactly what he had hoped for them for years. They had waited until he was back on the ship so he could be the best man. And yet, the whole thing left him feeling somehow isolated. Maybe it was because he had once again set his sites on a woman who was all wrong. Maybe it was because he had spent a good part of his day leveling a phaser at Irina, or having her level it at him. Maybe it was because Tom and B'Elanna's wedding reminded him of how much he wanted to connect with the right woman.

It was past 0300 when he left the holodeck and wandered into the mess hall. The wedding had taken place there hours earlier, but he was pretty sure it would be deserted now. He wanted a cup of tea, that was all. A cup of tea and a little bit of quiet to help him unwind. The dim, deserted mess hall should provide just the place for a little peaceful reflection on the events of the day, he thought.

That hope was shattered as soon as he entered. The room wasn't dim at all; the lights were at full illumination. He looked around, and spotted a single individual with a trash bag, bent over and trying to sweep the confetti from the wedding into the bag with her hands. The view of her trim derriere was so distracting that it took a moment to recognize the dark-haired crewman.

"Celes? What are you doing here?"

Tal Celes straightened, and seemed embarrassed that anyone had caught her actually being helpful. Then she shrugged. "I volunteered for the clean-up crew. It wasn't fair to expect Neelix to do everything."

"Where's the rest of the crew?"

"Oh, well, Im sure they'll get here eventually. Everyone was having such a good time, they're probably still at the party." She smiled shyly. "I'm surprised you aren't still there. You've had quite a day."

"Oh, yeah, helluva day." Harry rolled his eyes, then bent to pick up a strand of ribbon from the deck. As he straightened, he found that Celes was looking at him with genuine puzzlement.

"You sound like you aren't happy about the wedding."

"Oh. No, of course I'm happy for Tom and B'Elanna. They're my best friends, and they belong together. I just thought " He broke off, realizing he was about to share a very personal observation with a colleague he barely knew.

She smiled at him, and he noted that she really was quite pretty. "I bet you thought they'd have a more formal wedding, and you'd get to play the music." Then her eyes widened with horror and embarrassment. "I'm sorry that was rude, wasn't it?"

He laughed, as much at himself as at her expression. "Maybe, but it was also true. I had this image of playing the wedding march when B'Elanna came in, then dashing up the aisle behind her to be best man."

"But you were the best man."

"In a flight suit and in need of a shower." Harry shook his head. "I should have known that Tom and B'Elanna wouldn't want anything formal."

"I thought it was a lovely ceremony." Celes was almost defensive. "It's obvious that they love each other very much. Does anything else really matter?"

"Not really." He considered her, decided to take a chance because her eyes were so sincere. "I guess I'm a little bit jealous. I don't think I'm ever going to find my soulmate."

Her face lit up. "Do you believe that there is such a thing? As soulmates, I mean?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I guess I do." He stuffed the handful of ribbon into the bag she held and began picking up debris from the floor, depositing it as they walked slowly across the room. "My parents were meant for each other, and just look around here on the ship there's Tom and B'Elanna and the Ashmores and " He thought about the Captain and the Commander, and the way the Commander had not been more than two meters away from her since she returned to duty after assimilation, and the way they danced together, her head against his shoulder and his eyes closed. "Well, there are others."

"I thought I was the only hopeless romantic on board." She smiled warmly. "My problem is, I keep falling for the wrong guy."

"Tell me about it," Harry said with feeling. "You would not believe the number of wrong women I have fallen for."

"Oh?" Her eyes sparkled with sudden mischief. "Let's see, there's the alien hologram, and the wrong Delaney sister, and Seven of Nine, and "

"Hey! How do you know all that?"

Flushing scarlet, she lowered eyes suddenly. It was incredibly cute. "I, uh, I hear things, I guess."

"Well, you can add a blonde terrorist to the list. I thought things were really clicking with Irina, and then blam! She tried to kill me."

"What?" Celes stopped short, so that he almost bumped into her. "I didn't hear that."

"It's a long story." He cocked his head, almost challenging her. "What about you? I hear you're with Billy Telfer more than anyone else."

"Billy's my best friend," she said quickly. "But it's not like that not at all." Then she lowered her head. "He's in love with someone else."

"Ouch." Impulsively, Harry reached under her chin and tilted her head up to look at him. "You know what? He's a fool."

"No, he's just " she stopped, realized that he was complimenting her, and blushed again. "Thank you." Then, in a low voice, she added, "So's that terrorist."

He laughed, a deep cathartic laugh that managed to ease all the stress of the day. "I've got an idea. Let's finish up here and then go back to the party. I bet it's still going strong."

Her eyes widened. "But you're on the senior staff."

"So? Does that mean I'm undesirable?"

"No! No, I mean that " she bit her lip, then tried again. "Why would you bother with someone like me?"

"Well," Harry said slowly, "I like talking with you. I like looking at you. I like the idea that maybe someone can match my stories about the worst crushes ever. Is that good enough?"

Celes didn't answer immediately. She looked at him for a long moment, as if she were trying to decide whether he was putting her on. Then a slow smile began. "Yes. That is good enough. But if we're going to compare stories, I have to warn you. I have the worst crush ever story, bar none."

He grinned. "You think you can compete with DNA vampires and not one, but two, terrorists? You're on."

Suddenly he felt awake and ready to celebrate.

 

Note: The character of Tal Celes was introduced in Season 6, in "Good Shepherd" and "The Haunting of Deck Twelve," in which she and Harry had a nice scene together. I really liked her, and I like Harry... so why shouldn't they like each other?





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