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Stand By Me

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| "There is just something about them/her/him." | "Stay with me." | biting | ornament |

"What are you wearing?" B'Elanna opens her door for Seska. Seska shrugs as she sweeps inside, almost infuriatingly graceful. She's not jealous. (Okay maybe a little, Seska's got Chakotay...) No, mostly she's jealous that Seska has the energy to care about such things as grace. What had she done herself today?

Tore apart Val Jean's engines while they drifted in orbit, reassembled the pieces, found three more parts that needed to be replaced this week or else they'd go down in flames rather than fighting, and there was something else...right on the tip of her tongue.... B'Elanna nods to Seska to take a mug of chocolate. That's what she was here for wasn't it? She takes a seat on the oversized cushion at her low coffee table. Seska joins her, sitting across from her on a second cushion while dangling her abundant bangles: purely religious to be sure. She'd worn more than usual today. This was the first time B'Elanna had a chance to notice. The engines had kept her busy. They each take a few tentative sips of their hot drinks. B'Elanna had only just replicated them. Finally, Seska answers her question.

"It's Prophet's Day on Bajor. These are my bijou." B'Elanna doesn't say anything for a moment. She'd never known Seska to celebrate holidays with so many...she wants to say ornaments but maybe that's offensive?

"What are bijou for? I mean, didn't the Prophets first appear thousands of years ago?" Seska takes another sip. Her wrist bangles click together brightly.

"At least 10 thousand."

"Then why the jewelry? Metal-work isn't that old a profession."

"No. But belief in something bigger than yourself is." Seska smirks appreciatively. That's what they're doing here on Val Jean with the Maquis in orbit around a recently warp-capable civilization that hasn't had the time (or the resources to be forced) to choose a side. B'Elanna scoffs.

"The wise and insightful," she layers the praise like a chin-high stack of pancakes, "Seska has spoken. No sounder words; none more honest, have ever been uttered before this day!" She dramatically professes before returning her tone to nearly normal if only slightly tinged with inauthentic admiration. "I think she might make kai next," she teases, fully knowing what Seska's response will be. For a Bajoran, she doesn't like them that much. Distrust, B'Elanna thinks. She couldn't blame her. Not after how the Cardassians treat Bajorans. What do her race's acclaimed kai have to say to that? She'd never asked, but she'd always wondered if Seska spent any time in a refugee camp. She has the kind of dark, hopeful humor that would sit well in a place like that. Seska groans.

"Never in another thousand years would you see me strutting along in those big orange robes!"

"Right, that's because you'd rather strut naked." She sounds a little bitter, but less than how she feels.

"Ha! You still sour over Chakotay, B'Elanna? Trust me: you dodged a phaser volley." B'Elanna shrugs and braves another sip of the scalding chocolate. It was only supposed to be warm. She'll have to add replicators to her to-do list. Between the manifold refit and the helm maintenance.

"Ghay'cha', I forgot about helm today." B'Elanna stands up abruptly. Engineers work more than anyone, even captains she muses bitterly as she gathers her boots and socks to put on. "I got to give the helm a once over before we can leave." She was a little surprised Paris hadn't come to bother her, but maybe he just couldn't be bothered to find her. It was probably for the best that he was in someone else's bed this evening. The way he looks at her makes her skin absolutely crawl. It isn't ever pleasant, more like bone-chilling, like he needs something out of her. Well, he's not getting anything from her. "You can keep the chocolate. Drink mine too if you want. I need to figure out if there are any more parts that need replacing."

"Did you really forget about it or are you hoping to see that Starfleet officer again?" She said the organization with disgust. Holiday or not, Seska's never liked Starfleet. It took a long time before she was comfortable with B'Elanna for even wanting to go to the Academy. She wondered how it was different with Chakotay. He'd gone to the Academy. Finished even. But he did leave on his own terms whereas she dropped out. She wouldn't call that a heroic change of heart.

"No. I'm hoping I don't actually. There is just something about him." She grimaces, trying to come up with the exact words for how he rubs her the wrong way. She sighs as she zips her second boot to her knee. She doesn't have the words. "He's a pig. And he's even pleased about the fact."

"Seems like your type." B'Elanna blanches.

"What? Does Prophet's Day include letting yourself get knocked on the head too hard? Because you sound crazy."

"Not so crazy." Seska wiggles her eyebrows as if that supports her theory. She can't take her seriously with those dancing caterpillars above her eyes. Seska holds her hand in the air palm up. "Here we have Paris. Proud and self-proclaimed gink." She lifts her other hand. "And here—what do we have?—we have B'Elanna. Proud and self-proclaimed workaholic. Polar opposites: I'd say. But—" she leans forward a little, "—and this is what's gonna put me among the kai—" The caterpillars dance again. "I think the two of you would actually fit together. ...In kind of a ketchup and mustard way: you'll mellow the other out."

"What are you even saying?" B'Elanna doesn't have any more words than that. But was it strange that she actually understood what Seska was saying? Even the part about condiments makes sense in a visceral way. Seska straightens on the cushion.

"Only sound, honest words." B'Elanna guffaws. At least she'll be in a good mood before she has to deal with the helm. She leaves the room, still laughing and swinging her engineering kit at her side slightly.

The Val Jean isn't a large ship. It's not dinky either. But it really doesn't take long to get from her room in the middle of the ship to the helm at the front. She almost wished she'd walked slower when she sees Tom fiddling with the panels under the console.

"I'm fucking sick of this! Every five fucking minutes, this piece of crap stalls or ignores me." He's talking to himself, and aside from the first exclamation, he's speaking at a reasonable volume. Not that it matters. They're the only ones on the small bridge right now. He slams against the panel with a fist. Granted, she's been known to do that herself a time or two, but that's because she's an engineer. She knows what she's doing. Tom'll just break it further. They'll be stalled another week. They'll need another part in that time. Another week's delay to find one that works half a damn.... It's a vicious cycle that she needs to end before it can start.

"Sorry our hand-me-down Maquis," she stresses it because he needs the reminder, "ships don't live up to your pristine Starfleet standards," she glowers at him when he turns around, the hair at his forehead sweaty from whatever he'd been doing. He attempts to brush it back with a hand, but the uneven locks spring back. It's tradition that the first haircut Chell dishes is just shy of bad. Seems he'd gone the extra mile with Paris's. It pleases her. He isn't phased by her reprimand. Maybe she needs taller boots: three inch heels that can pierce a man's heart or his groin if he gets too close.

Paris gets too close when he stands. He lingers, only a few inches from her. She can smell his sweat and his frustration. She can see the ruddy color of his cheeks and is amused to realize that he does resemble ketchup a bit. She can feel the heat radiating from his body. It's a full-body sensation since he's so much taller than her. If she could close her eyes, it might be pleasurable to imagine Chakotay where he stood, but B'Elanna can't look away. She can't give him the satisfaction.

"Are you going to let me fix it or do you want me to kick you first," she growls.

"I wouldn't mind if you bit me first," he says like it's a fact. For all she knows, it is. She does her best to school her reaction and realizes too late that her eyebrows have risen slightly. Paris chuckles before letting her pass. He continues talking as she busies herself with inspecting first the panels he'd been meddling with. "Admit it, you like playing hard to get."

"I'm not hard to get. I'm impossible to get so stop trying." She grunts as she pries away the main panel. It's heavy and curved awkwardly but she manages to set it beside her, opposite Paris. She wonders if that show of strength is enough to dissuade him. She could break his spine with just her pinky.

"You think this is trying?" She thinks darkly that it must not be.

"No, I just don't care." He tsks at her and again it strikes her how much more work an engineer puts in to keep her ship afloat.

"I think maybe you should," he drawls behind her, too close for comfort. She busies herself testing the voltage across the main circuits, looking for lower or higher than expected readings.

"Paris, I don't care what you think. Drop it." He's insufferable. He doesn't drop it.

"Why not give it a try?" His fingers start to walk up her spine. Will the ridges deter him? No, he keeps walking his fingers up into the hair at her neck. She suppresses a shiver by tensing. "I promise I can make it worth your while." His voice is honey smooth. He must be one of those types. The types that like exotic women for exotic sex. She's met her fair share. They never hold up to their pre-coital promises of "unending pleasure" or "complete bliss". She tenses her body, ready to turn on him but before she does, his hand leaves her back. A quiet protest rises and she extinguishes it for believing him.

"Ah B'Elanna," Chakotay's rumbling baritone rolling the syllables in her name like her mother does catches her off-guard. "Just the person I wanted to see." B'Elanna feels her cheeks warm and is glad she's not as pale as Paris to have it show. B'Elanna crawls backwards from being half under the helm and rises to stand when she's clear of its curving ledge.

"Yes, Captain?" He stops in front of her, giving her enough room to almost lay down in. She fights the urge to glare at Paris. She's sure he's watching her anyway.

"You submitted a request for another three replacement parts?" He produces a PADD and flips it toward her while he speaks. She looks down at it to see her name and her request.

"That's right." She shifts her weight to one side and presses her right hand to that hip. "The injectors will last a week if we're lucky. The timing belt is on its last legs too. If we don't replace that soon, we'll have another month's worth of repairs. I have no idea where we'll get a working converter. Ours can probably go for a bit longer thankfully. From what I heard, they," she means the civilization sprawled out in the comfort of their own peaceful planet, "aren't using any lithium material for their ships. Then there's the helm." She hears Tom perk up by the whisper of his clothes to her left. "I think there's something wrong with the underlying circuitry that it's so sluggish. And that could take weeks to do right on my own." She can't very well trust anyone else to the job. She wonders again why Chakotay agreed to take this ship on when he had. It's not like he's the one who has to repair it when things go wrong. She has no clue how he survived before she joined his bloc.

"Cap," Paris's shorthand for Captain cuts her off. "I ran a few scans before the helm shorted." He shoots a glare at her briefly. Well, she doesn't like him either. She crosses her arms at the thought. "There were mining operations on them. It looks like there's a warp-capable civilization that's been mining there for awhile. Readings made it look like they might live in the larger, hollow asteroids. They could have what B'Elanna needs." Chakotay nods, taking it in.

"Alright, you and B'Elanna can take Mongo out to find them. His sensors are working I think."

"They are," B'Elanna comments sharply. She doesn't like anyone second-guessing her engineering abilities. They're lucky she's around at all. She'd lost count how many times she'd saved them from near disaster. Paris groans.

"Really, Cap? Mongo? He handles like a man on stilts. And no offense but I don't want to be cooped up," Mongo was ironically named by Ayala who henceforth has flat-out refused anything to do with the shuttle, "in that tiny box with Sunshine over here." Seriously? B'Elanna can hardly believe what she's hearing. Never mind the passive aggressive nickname. Wasn't he still trying to have exotic sex with her? Maybe he hadn't liked the ridges after all. If he wants to be passive aggressive, she can be aggressive back at him.

"Mongo is the only one with working sensors, Paris." Chakotay says it like a blessing, but B'Elanna hears the underlying reprimand for her. Maybe this trip is his way of punishing her for it. It's not her fault there are so few qualified engineers among the Maquis. Paris groans again.

"Aye, Cap." He spins on his heel reluctantly judging by the slow speed. "I'll get him ready."

"I'll meet you there in twenty," B'Elanna replies to the back of his head. Chakotay turns to follow Paris. She needs to put the helm back in order first. Whatever maintenance it needs will have to wait until she gets back. It strikes her that she'd never asked Tom how far the belt was.

The helm's lights sputter and fade for several minutes while she fiddles with wire placement. Sometimes they just got too close together and needed a little space. Electromagnets. By the time she has the lights in order she realizes the belt can't be that far with the helm in such disarray. That eases her some when she rises to her feet to leave.

Tom's waiting for her in the cargo hold turned shuttle bay. He's pulling some things out of the cabin. She spots the spare medical supplies, an emergency blanket, unisex clothing, and some knickknacks left there by the last away team. He kicks them aside and spots B'Elanna when he does.

"You're early." He sounds surprised but pleased.

"No offence," she quotes him, wondering as to what his reaction will be, "but I'd like to get this over with quickly."

"Sure, sure," he accents his statements by wiping his hands to each other in front of his chest. She sees a little dust flit off of them when he claps them together each time.

"Ready?" She asks. He gives a nearly pained sigh. And she'd just begun to think the reluctance on the bridge was a show. Apparently, it wasn't, or else he liked to play the long game. That doesn't sound like Paris at all.

"Yeah. You?" She holds her engineering kit to answer him. She'll need the tools to assess anything they stumble upon. Plus, she could probably use a few as trade goods. That thought reminds her they need something of value if they find anything worth trading for.

"Ready." She steps into the cockpit and slides to the co-pilot's seat next. "Grab the spare medkit you tossed. It might be worth something in trade."

"'Kay," she hears him say. He enters the cockpit a moment later. He's larger than her—mostly lanky limbs—but he's definitely taller than her so he has a little more trouble with navigating the cramped cockpit. It strikes her how Mongo is smaller even than the Hurl Whirl she'd had a few scenarios on at the Academy before leaving. Hurl Whirl wasn't the actual name. That was just what the cadets called it. She hadn't actually been on an away mission in Mongo yet. She hopes it isn't going to be like the Hurl Whirl which almost certainly earned its name.

A soft grunt alerts her to Paris being ready. He's wedged under the console in a way that must be uncomfortable. His knees don't fit under it so he has his legs splayed wide like a butterfly. His right knee is almost grazing her chair. One good bump is all it would take for him to nudge her accidently.

"Can you move your hand over? I need to be able to see that readout." But where to? Her engineering kit—even though it's not her largest—is large enough to fill most of her personal space. She can't put it on the floor for fear that she'll need something and won't be able to bend to reach it in the cramped space. The only place she can put her hand is on Paris's knee, parallel to his thigh. He quirks his eyebrows at her. His aren't like caterpillars. Their smooth shape reminds her more of a sun's upper rim during a sunrise.

"Don't think this means I'm not hard to get." He's warm under her forearm. She glares to prove her previous point, not wishing to be sidetracked even by her own thoughts. "You make a wrong move and I'll break something." He nods curtly and surprisingly doesn't make any comment. She wonders if she's misjudged him.

Paris was right: Mongo handles like a man on stilts. B'Elanna's actually never seen a man on stilts but she imagines it's not unlike the jerky and wobbly to and froe of the shuttle even as it's under Tom's well-practiced hands. She'd read his file when Chakotay brought him on board so she knows he'd been top of his class. She thinks that despite the fact he'd killed three people and lied about it, Starfleet was sorry to see him go. If he hadn't jumped aboard the first Maquis ship that asked, he'd might be flying a small science vessel right now. B'Elanna has always been a fan of the sleek science vessels. They usually have the most interesting experimental engines since so many of the crew can actually understand how they work. Not their pilots, of course; the universe would stand still if that were to happen.

When they request access to the first large asteroid colony, they are greeted with happy smiles. B'Elanna's glad to see another face and overjoyed to be getting off the ship finally. She requests an audience with their chief constructor and is happy to find that they are well-equipped to help and even interested in her wares. They trade the spare medkit for what she can convert to a timing belt for Val Jean. They barter on the pair of injectors and she manages to get them for two of her spare tools: a hand wielder and a microscanner. During these trades, she'd sensed they had more to give her but seemed unsure or untrusting of her abilities to repay them. She wore her best diplomatic mask and Tom made her look good by being a well-used source of laughter, whether it be by joke or insightful comment, when they needed it. By the end of it, she was worn and equally delighted that they wouldn't have to spend the night on Mongo. Their chief constructor offered to house them at his place. He admitted he only had the one guest room, but she and Tom convinced him that anything was better than spending the night on the miniscule Mongo.

"Ah," B'Elanna sighs as she lays out on the bed. It's probably large enough to share but she isn't about to let Tom say she'd slept with him on a technicality. "Dibs. You can have the couch." Either he's too tired or doesn't care.

"Sure." She sits up to eye the couch. It's pretty small. And he'd just spent three hours bent in two on the Mongo. For once, she's grateful for her short stature. She laughs like it'd been a joke all along.

"I'm kidding, Tom." He looks up at her with mild shock. What had she said? "What?"

"You called me Tom."

"Oh." She had. She doesn't actually recall when he'd stopped being Paris to her, but he had. Maybe it was something to do with the friendly laughter they'd shared at the trade negotiations. She smiles fondly at the memory.

"What?" He asks, breaking her line of thought.

"Nothing. Just been an odd day is all." B'Elanna stands and walks over to investigate the couch. It's softer than it looks. She'll be comfortable. She wanders over to the bathroom next, passing Tom along the way as he crosses to the bed. It all feels very domestic. She shakes her head of the thought and closes the bathroom door behind her to get ready for bed. She's stripped to her tank and removed her bra but is contemplating what she can use for pajama bottoms. Too bad Tom tossed the unisex clothes outside the shuttle. They were the baggy kind. What she's wearing is much too tight to sleep in. And while it doesn't leave much to the imagination, it isn't showing skin.

What is she doing? She berates herself for thinking about this too much and sheds her pants, tosses her clothes over her arm, taking care to hide the bra under the shirt, and walks across the room to the couch with head held high. She isn't immediately sure where Tom is when she rounds on the couch and is a bit surprised to see him there reading. He looks up when she blocks his light.

"Oh." His eyes walk over her body. He swallows while his eyelids slip down. She feels butterflies. When he opens his eyes again, he's looking into hers. "you were serious." She nods. She looks over at his legs which are sticking out over the edge of the couch by a good foot at least. She doesn't fail to notice that he's down to just his boxers. His furry chest reminds her of furry caterpillars a little. But he's the wrong color. She'd only ever seen brown or black furry caterpillars. He's all fair and blond. She shifts on her feet.

"You really want to sleep here?" She questions.

"Not really." His eyes fall back to the PADD in his hand. She wonders what he's reading. "But I'm a chivalrous man. I wouldn't make you sleep on the couch." Chivalrous? And make? Pah!

"You do think a bit highly of yourself. Maybe a night on the couch would teach you a lesson." She teases.

"True." He doesn't look up from his PADD. It must be interesting. "But think, if I get the bed, I'll be better rested to fly us back. You wouldn't want to crash would you?" What is he playing at?

"And if I'm on the couch, I might be so grumpy you'll crash us anyway for relief." He chuffs, but still doesn't look up. It's a little infuriating. Especially after his reaction to her barely-clothed state. She walks around and sets her clothing on the back of the couch, hoping it will get his attention. He doesn't look up.

"You make a good point, but I'm not planning on crashing either way." He looks up at her then and it shocks her. She's trapped because she wasn't expecting the intensity of his gaze holding hers. He looks away just as suddenly and makes no move to take the bed. She sighs.

"Tom, just go to the bed."

"Make me." There's nothing in his voice that suggests she should actually try. That must be why he's so surprised when she rolls herself down the back of the couch onto the cushion in an attempt to wedge between him and the backrest to force him off. "Oof!" He doesn't move over at all so she lands smack on his chest facing the ceiling. Her face feels warm, too warm. Her fingertips are tingling too, a sensation she regards as telling as stomach butterflies. His arms wrap around her. The PADD is in his hand and she sees with a mixture of surprise and expectation that the PADD is blank now and probably had been the whole time. He'd planned this. She shifts to roll off of him but finds that she's glued to his chest.

"Tom, let me up."

"Why should I? You put yourself there." She can't argue that, but before she can think of one anyway, he releases her. She rolls to stand on her feet. Tom sits up to leave a seat for her. She takes it.

"I'm not letting you sleep on the couch," she remarks.

"I'm not letting you either," he responds.

"Then we're in agreement."

"A fight for the couch." She doesn't answer, doesn't move. This is ridiculous. He makes the first move: a tentative grab at her arm. She moves it up and away sharply. She reaches for his retreating arm before he moves out of reach. B'Elanna stands and pulls him with her. There's enough resistance in his body to force her to stop pulling after they round the couch. She pushes him down instead, catching him off-guard. They're on the floor next to the couch. He rolls them and tries grappling to pin her arms. She's fighting back with a smile and laughter. She hasn't sparred with anyone in a while. Seska isn't one for it and Chakotay had stopped after the two of them began dating. They played Parrises Squares instead. B'Elanna manages to latch her legs around his and pivot their bodies sideways. Having learned that she needs to switch tactics quickly with Tom, She rapidly finds her feet and drags him to his. They side-step the bed a little, each trying to make the other fall backwards when the fall is to their advantage. B'Elanna manages to sweep a foot at his legs with enough force to push him backwards to the bed. But their legs are tangled and their arms are still grasping each other so she falls with him. It's his back, however, that makes the bed bounce up and down like liquid when he hits it first.

They're still laughing when they land and for several moments after until both of them are out of breath. Tom breaths a loud, shuddering breath that she can feel and wraps his arms around B'Elanna's torso. She draws in a sharp breath when she suddenly realizes how little clothing they both have. She can feel his crisp leg hair against her thighs and calves since they'd managed to land a good deal up the bed and their bodies have enough space to sprawl mostly flat along it. The pillows are maybe a foot above Tom's head. Tom shimmies with his arms wrapped tight around her until his head can rest on one. It's a little impressive how easy it is for him to move her with his body. He tilts to his right toward where there's slightly more room and opens his arms so that she can roll off. She does. His arm is still under her. It's under her neck now like they'd just been cuddling. She moves to get up but he puts a hand on her hip to still her.

"Stay with me." It isn't a question. She's struck by the audacity of that first. Does he really think that a little wrestling is all it takes? Then when she looks at his face, she's struck by the question and promises lurking but not forced on her. She looks away, down at his chest.

"Okay. But I'm tired." He lets off a sigh that blows hairs away from her face. Then he's tucking her into his body and she can't bring herself to push away. He's warm, and very, very soft.

"That's fine. I'm tired too." He presses his head so it rests on the pillow above hers and touches down on her head with his chin and neck. She stays with him like this a moment before shifting. He lets her. She'd been about to go to the couch actually. His easy closeness is a little overwhelming. The fact that he's happy just to cuddle makes it more intimate than if they'd just fucked and gotten it over with. But, he's warm. So she rolls enough to become the little spoon and tucks backwards against him.