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27 Kisses

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Before and After: It Started with a Kiss

She was so lost in thought watching the blips and dashes rising and falling in a syncopated cadence, that she nearly missed the chirp of her comm badge. It was the voice – his voice – that finally distracted her attention from the warp core variance that had been occupying her time for the entire shift.

“Hey,” he said, a single syllable infused with warmth, any annoyance he might feel mitigated by affection. B’Elanna let out a small gasp as she remembered exactly what his hail was about. Tom had reminded her at least a dozen times over the last three days about Jenny Delaney’s birthday party tonight.

“I’m on my way,” she said guiltily.

“Uh huh,” Tom said.

Really.” B’Elanna moved her hand to power down the console, but then another variance caught her eye. The blip was still there, but just barely there but it had been joined by another seemingly inconsequential glitch. All systems seemed to be working well within parameters. Resolving the issue could wait, couldn’t it?

She pressed her lips into a straight line as she contemplated the question. A few months ago, she would have stayed up all night until she discovered the source of the variation, but now she was thinking twice about whether to go or stay. Perhaps one way to split the difference would be to join Tom on the holodeck for a drink or two, wish Jenny a happy birthday and then come back to Engineering to take another look at the issue. But she also knew that a couple of cocktails – which were decidedly not synthehol – would certainly not make it easier for to spot what ailed the warp core. B’Elanna was still considering her options when Joe Carey placed his hand on her shoulder.

“I’ve got this,” he said, indicating the data in front of her. “You went off duty about two hours ago.”

“When did you start keeping track of my schedule?” she said, staring at him. It was rare for Joe to be so pointed in his remarks. Then her eyes widened in realization. “Tom called you, didn’t he?”

Joe’s expression was sphinxlike, and instead he jerked his thumb towards the doors to Engineering. “It’s a quiet evening, not a lot going on. Take the opportunity to relax while you can. And I’ll keep you informed on status.” And then he repeated, more firmly, “Go, I’ve got this.”

B’Elanna hesitated but then nodded. She and Joe were not friends, per se, but they had grown together over the past three years into an easy enough camaraderie and she did respect his skills as an engineer. Plus, now that she had other demands on her time, maybe she could learn to delegate more. She flashed him a quick smile. “Thanks.”

She made her way quickly through Voyager’s serpentine corridors. When she first came aboard Voyager, she had constantly consulted various schematics to figure out how to get from one point to another. Now, she knew every inch of the ship by heart; she was sure there wasn’t a centimeter of it that she hadn’t gone over at one time or another.

It was hard to believe that in just over two short years, she considered this ship – a Starfleet ship! – to be home. It wasn’t just that she had a bed to call her own, but that she also had someone to share it with – something she hadn’t ever considered in years. She wished she could pinpoint that moment when she started to look at Tom Paris differently, to consider him more than an annoyance, more than a friend, but rather the first person in just about forever that she wanted to share everything with. Even after four months of dating, it was a strange sensation, knowing someone wanted her as much as she wanted him.

She sped up as she saw the doors to Holodeck Two in front of her. The doors slid open and she burst into the resort program. The sunlight cast a warm light across the adobe walls, and she saw Tom standing with Kes and Ensign Kozlowski on the patio. Tom beamed at her, the curve of his smile reaching the edges of his eyes.

“Tom, I’m sorry I’m late,” she said breathlessly, turning her face up to his, reveling in the feel of his lips against hers. He snaked his left arm around her, his hand resting on the small of her back while his right arm found a home on her right hip. She curled her fingers around his forearm, loving the strength she found there.  He pulled her closer, his arm resting possessively across her shoulders, as if unwilling to break off physical contact.

“You must be B’Elanna,” Kes said.

B’Elanna exchanged a look with Tom at Kes’ odd greeting. There was no drink in Kes’ hand.

“Well, the last time I checked…” B’Elanna said light-heartedly.

Tom, however, took the more direct route. “Is something wrong?”

“Actually, there is something wrong,” Kes said.

And then there was a flash of light. B’Elanna blinked in bewilderment. Kes was gone. Before she could ask Tom what happened, the klaxons blared, a sure sign – even without Janeway’s “Red alert, all hands to battle stations!” – that the gathering on the holodeck was over.