Log Rhythms - Season Two
Fraser picked up her filled mug of tea and pretended to look casually around the mess hall. In truth she knew who she was looking for and where that person was seated. As luck would have it, the individual in question was alone with her back to the door. Fraser took a deep breath, hoping what her bunkmate had told her was true—that Stephanie wasn't the type to hold a grudge. The helmsman steeled herself and crossed the room.
"Hey," she said with strained lightness.
Cormack started, surprised by the unexpected greeting. "Hey," she replied warily. After their last conversation, she wasn't sure what to expect. She hadn't spoken to Bonnie since that awful morning and Stephanie had no idea how the red-head felt about it.
"Anyone sitting here?" Fraser continued, gesturing to the empty chair across from the armory ensign.
Stephanie shook her head. "No."
"Mind if I ?"
"Go ahead." She didn't have a clue where this chat was going to go, so she was disinclined to help it along. Bonnie had made the overture; she'd have to follow it up herself.
Fraser sat, placing her mug on the table before her and wrapping both hands around it. She found Stephanie's clipped replies discouraging but unsurprising. There was an uncomfortable pause as she tried to figure out how to continue. Stephanie unhelpfully sipped at her latté, waiting.
"So," Bonnie said eventually, "how are you?"
"Fine. Fine." Another pause. "I heard about your sister."
"Right. Well I'm glad she's okay." It's like pulling teeth, Fraser's mind groused. She silently told it to shut up.
"Thanks," answered Cormack noncommittally. She was still uncertain, and chose to remain guarded in her replies.
Fraser blew on her hot tea and took a tentative sip. A small reflexive smile crossed her lips at the taste.
Stephanie almost spoke up. The expression on Bonnie's face was, she was sure, the same one Cormack got when she took her first swallow of coffee each morning. Only I bet it's not nearly so endearing on me, she thought wistfully. Then she mentally shook her head. Let it go, Stephanie ordered herself. She was almost annoyed that even after their fight she still found the auburn-haired woman incredibly attractive and desirable. Shoving her feelings under a psychological rock, she inquired neutrally, "Good?"
"Yeah." Bonnie gave a somewhat embarrassed chuckle. "Earl Grey," she added in explanation.
"Thought so. I could smell the bergamot."
"Oh." Damn it, Bonnie cursed herself. Idiot. What a great conversation you've started.
Another awkward silence fell over the pair. Around them life went on in the mess hall—people chatted, cutlery clinked on plates and bowls, a morning person burst into laughter over a joke.
Stephanie sipped very slowly at her drink. There were only a few swallows left. When she finished it she'd have no excuse to stay, and she wanted to stay. Whatever Bonnie had come to say, she doubted it was what the helmsman had said already, and Stephanie wanted to give her all the time she needed to get to her point. It was also nice just to sit there with her. Stephanie had missed Bonnie's company over the past several days, but hadn't felt she could approach her.
"Listen," Fraser began suddenly, startling Cormack from her thoughts. "I'm sorry. I was bitch, and it was the last thing you needed right then." Once she'd begun, the words came out in a rush. "I never should've yelled at you. I never should've told you to get out. You needed a friend, and I wasn't one. I'm sorry."
Cormack remained silent, taking in the helmsman's apology. Fraser waited in nervous anticipation for her response.
"It's okay," Stephanie said at last, surprised to find that it truly was.
"It can't be okay," protested Bonnie. "I—"
Cormack cut her off. "It is. I'm not saying it didn't suck rocks when you said what you said " Bonnie's face fell and Stephanie continued. " but I am saying it's okay now. I'm not upset about it anymore."
"But you were."
"Of course I was."
"It's okay," repeated Stephanie deliberately.
"Yeah." The armory ensign nodded. "Friends?" she asked with a hopeful smile. Or more? her rebellious mind added.
Slowly, a mirroring smile spread across Bonnie's face. "Yeah. Friends." It wasn't as much as she wanted, but it was more than she'd felt she could expect in the circumstances.
"Good," Stephanie said with finality. "Now you can help me plan for Mae's birthday."
Trip entered Malcolm's cabin to find the armory officer standing in the middle of the room looking lost. "What're you doing?" he asked.
"I don't know where to begin," Reed answered.
"How about here?" Tucker held up the square plastic bin he'd brought along. "Borrowed it from the quartermaster. We'll put what you want to move in here, and take it to my place to unload."
"Good idea. But I still have to figure out what I want."
Trip chuckled and set the bin on the bunk. "You did fine when you moved my stuff over here," he pointed out.
"It was easier when it was your stuff." Malcolm sighed. "All right." He moved to the closet and pulled out a pair of boots and a clean uniform.
"Here." Trip held out his hands and took the items from his lover. While Malcolm collected a black uniform shirt, socks, and a couple of sets of blues, Tucker placed the boots in the bottom of the bin and began neatly folding the coveralls. "Don't forget some PJs," he said. At Reed's bemused look, he added, "I know you probably won't use them to sleep in, but they're more comfortable to sit around in than this." He held up the folded uniform and grinned before putting it in the bin.
Malcolm smiled back at him and added his items to the collection. Next he pulled a pair of pajamas from a drawer and put them in as well.
"I already got a toothbrush for you," said Trip.
"You're welcome." He looked at the contents of the container. "That everything?"
Malcolm glanced around the cabin. "I think so," he said. "If I want anything more, I know where to come to find it." He moved the plastic bin out of the way so he could sit on the bunk beside Trip. He took one of the engineer's hands in his own. "Thank you," he said again sincerely.
"You did the same for me," replied Trip with a slightly embarrassed shrug. It wasn't such a huge deal to him to move some of Malcolm's belongings into his quarters; to Tucker's mind it was simply good sense. But he knew it meant a lot to his lover. Tucker wanted him to know he was as welcome in Trip's space as he'd made Trip feel in his own. "Come on." The engineer gave Malcolm a quick kiss before rising. "Let's get this stuff moved. Then maybe we can get some dinner. I'm starved!"
"All right." Malcolm stood too, a small, knowing smile on his face. For a man who usually wore his heart on his sleeve like Trip, Malcolm found his sudden awkwardness at moments like this mildly humorous. It was endearing, if oddly contradictory in his view. Reed bent to pick up the bin, but Tucker beat him to it.
"I got it," the blond man said, lifting it up. "Ready?"
It wasn't far to Trip's quarters and Malcolm wanted to get there as swiftly as possible. He set a quick pace along Enterprise's corridors. He knew he was being silly, but he didn't want to run into anyone on the way. The fact that everyone knew about his relationship with the Chief Engineer was irrelevant; he didn't feel the need for witnesses as he moved some of his belongings to the younger man's cabin.
They were nearly in the clear when Reed's hopes were thwarted. The men rounded the last corner just in time to see Cormack ringing the chime at Tucker's door.
"Evening, Ensign," said Trip as they reached her. He looked over his shoulder at Reed. "Can you get the door? My hands're kind of full," he added lightly.
"Hi, Commander. Lieutenant," said Cormack cheerfully.
"Ensign," said Reed. Trying not to meet her eye, he keyed in the unlock code.
"Did you need something?" Tucker asked Cormack, stepping into the cabin.
Reed let the ensign precede him inside. He sat on the bunk, hoping she would forget he was there. It was absurd to be so embarrassed at the situation. She was his friend, and knowing Cormack, she'd probably be surprised to learn he and Trip hadn't made this little move long ago. Still, he couldn't help cursing her uncannily inopportune timing.
"I wanted to confirm a crew assignment with you," Stephanie said, completely unaware of Malcolm's discomfort.
Trip set the bin on the desk. "That's kind of unusual." He leaned against the desk and looked at her inquisitively.
"Yes, sir," Cormack agreed readily. "I saw on the duty roster that Ensign Lawless is scheduled for Alpha shift next Thursday. Is that right?"
"If that's what is says, that's right. Why?"
"You don't expect that to change, do you?" asked Cormack instead of answering his question.
"Good! Will you two be free that evening, too?" She glanced hopefully from the engineer to the armory officer.
"I think so." Trip looked over at his partner. "You know of anything we've got planned for next Thursday night?"
Reed shook his head. "No."
"So what's going on?" Tucker persisted, returning his attention to Cormack.
"It's Mae's birthday. I've cleared use of the Rec. Center for a movie that night, and Hoshi's working on getting Chef to agree to make a cake," she explained.
Trip smiled. "Yeah? Great!"
"So you'll come?"
"How 'bout it, Malcolm?"
"Of course," Reed said. He was finally at ease. It appeared Cormack was so caught up in her own plans she hadn't even noticed the bin of clothing Trip had been carrying. Or if she did, he thought, perhaps she thinks it's just his laundry he's picked up from the quartermaster.
Cormack grinned. "Cool! The movie starts at 1930 hours. Then we'll dive into the cake."
"Not literally, I trust," quipped Malcolm.
"No. Besides, isn't the chick usually supposed to jump out of the cake rather than into it?" Stephanie joked back.
"That's the way it worked at my brother-in-law's bachelor party," put in Trip.
They all laughed at that. "I hope your sister didn't find out!" chuckled Malcolm.
"Actually," the engineer admitted, blushing, "it was my sister."
Stephanie raised an eyebrow in surprise. "That must have been traumatic for you."
"Only a little. I knew she was gonna do it. And she was wearing a swimsuit. Now if she'd been naked " Tucker shuddered. "I couldn't've handled it."
Malcolm shook his head in sympathy. "I don't even want to think about my sister leaping from a cake—clothed or otherwise," he said with finality.
Cormack considered for a moment. "My sister wouldn't do it," she decided. "Not even on a bet. Well, I better go," she continued. "I'm meeting the gals for dinner to discuss party plans." She smiled at them and turned to go. Suddenly remembering one more thing, she paused in the open doorway to add, "Oh, and it's casual dress for the party, please. No uniforms! Now I'll let you gents get back to your unpacking. See you later." She shot Malcolm a quick grin before disappearing out the door.
"Dinner and unpacking," echoed Tucker. He pushed away from the desk and crossed to Malcolm. "Sounds like a good plan. Let's eat first, then we can finish getting your stuff put away, okay? I already cleared a drawer for you this morning. Second one down. Just like you did for me." He stood next to his partner, waiting. "Come on. Aren't you hungry?"
"I am, yes." Malcolm shook himself from his momentary daze. Despite past experience, Cormack's parting words and knowing glance had caught him off guard. I should know by now that Stephanie is far too observant at all the wrong times, he thought wryly. He mustered up a smile for his lover and stood up. "Let's eat."
"So what movie do you want to watch on your birthday?" Stephanie stabbed a bite of steak with her fork and popped it into her mouth as she waited for her friend's reply.
"I don't know," Mae said. She thoughtfully munched a mouthful of chicken vindaloo. "Maybe something classic like Plan 9 from Outer Space, or anything by Ed Wood. But then I wonder, would I rather see something that's intentionally funny, you know?"
"That's what I'm asking you."
Bonnie spoke up at that moment. "Cheerleaders are always good."
As one, the other women at the table looked at her. "What?" said Liz—the only one who hadn't just taken a bite of her dinner.
"Cheerleaders," repeated the helmsman eagerly. "Cheerleader movies are always entertaining on one level or another."
Suddenly Mae's eyes lit up. "There's an outside possibility we could get something with Ed Wood in a cheerleading outfit."
"Why do I think you mean the kind with the short skirt and tight sweater, and not a guy's uniform?" inquired Stephanie.
"Because I made you watch Glen or Glenda that one time."
"Ah yes. That gem of twentieth century filmmaking," Stephanie said dryly.
"Do I sense irony in your tone?" Mae was friendly but challenging.
Stephanie inhaled deeply and with relish. "Mm! Rich in irony. Good for the blood."
Mae, Bonnie, and Liz all laughed. "I'll check the database," suggested Mae. "See what I can find."
"I'll look," offered Stephanie. "We'll plan so you can party."
"Okay, but if you can't find anything with Ed Wood in a cheerleading outfit, look for Bring It On," recommended Bonnie.
"Bring It On?" echoed Stephanie. "That's a cheerleader flick?" Bonnie nodded. "Okay."
"And if we don't have that in the database, look for Sugar & Spice."
"I should be taking notes. I take it that's another cheerleader flick."
Again Bonnie nodded. "It's about cheerleaders who rob banks."
Again her companions stared at her. "You're making this up," declared Stephanie.
"They sound good to me," put in Mae.
Bonnie's eyes lit up. "We could even have a double-feature!" Her expression grew dreamy. "Mmm. Many hours of nubile young cheerleaders "
"Down, girl!" said Mae, laughing. She was pleased. This evening alone was evidence that Bonnie and Stephanie had worked out their recent problems. The helmsman's added joviality was even more proof that things were getting back to normal.
Bonnie pouted playfully. "You never let me have any fun."
At that moment, Hoshi arrived with her dinner in hand. "Sorry I'm late," she said.
"That's okay. Have a seat!" offered Mae. "We saved one for you."
"Thanks." Hoshi took the only empty chair at the table. "How's the planning coming?"
"I'll let you know once I've cross-referenced Ed Wood and cheerleaders in the ship's movie database," answered Stephanie.
Hoshi eyed her suspiciously. "I think I don't want to know what you're talking about."
"You're right." Stephanie promptly moved on to other plans. "Did you have any trouble getting Chef to agree to make the cake?"
The comm officer smiled proudly. "None at all."
"What kind of cake is it going to be?" asked Liz.
"Yellow with chocolate frosting." Hoshi looked at Mae. "Right?"
"Yep," agreed the engineer. "Just like my mom always used to make when I was a kid."
"Good, because that's what I told Chef you wanted."
Stephanie was surprised. "Really? I'd've thought you'd go for some killer chocolate deal."
"For some other occasion, sure. But not for my birthday," said Mae.
"Huh. Learn something new every day, I suppose."
"I'm glad there's still some mystery in our relationship," quipped the engineer.
"Hey, you had key lime pie," Liz reminded Stephanie. "So I'd think twice before criticizing someone else's choice of birthday dessert."
"I'm not criticizing!" protested the blonde woman. "Did I criticize?" She looked around the table at her friends. They were all grinning or laughing at her, and she grinned back. It felt good. It had been a heavy couple of weeks and this joking around the dinner table was refreshing. "All right," she said when no one contradicted her query. "That's that settled. Decorations?"
"Under control," said Bonnie. "Liz and I are totally on top of it."
"Yeah, I heard you prefer to be on top," remarked Stephanie slyly. To her joy, the helmsman actually blushed. "Oh my gods! I can't believe I got you!"
"You caught me off guard!" protested Bonnie. "It won't happen again."
"Oh no," put in Mae, seeing the mischievous light in Stephanie's hazel eyes. "You've challenged her."
"You've challenged her."
"So?" The auburn-haired woman looked at the faces of those around here. All wore expressions of mixed mirth and pity. "What?"
"Last time someone challenged her—" began Hoshi, but she cut herself off. She'd nearly forgotten she was still sworn to secrecy.
"Last time what?" Bonnie wanted to know.
Now Mae and Liz were intrigued, too. "Yeah. Last time what?" echoed the engineer curiously.
Hoshi gave Stephanie an apologetic look. "Sorry."
"It's okay," the blonde assured her. She met the inquiring gazes of her friends. "Last time someone challenged me, they got a rather personal surprise." The looks on the women's faces were widely varied and, in Stephanie's opinion, hilarious. She burst out laughing. "Yeah, you just keep thinking what you like," she said suggestively.
Bonnie grinned lasciviously. "Oh, I will."
Across the mess hall, Malcolm and Trip both looked up at the sound of raucous laughter. Malcolm smiled as he determined the source.
"Sounds like the women are having fun," he commented.
"Yeah," Trip agreed. "The plans for Mae's birthday party must be going well."
"Mm-hmm." Malcolm nodded thoughtfully. He took a bite of his dinner, contemplating. Eventually he said, "I never told you what Stephanie gave me for my birthday."
"Huh? No, I guess you didn't. I didn't even know she gave you anything."
"Well she did."
Malcolm's tone of voice and the tiny smile at the corner of his lips had Trip intrigued. "What was it?" he asked uncertainly. He didn't know if he should be worried or excited. He had the sinking feeling he should be both, but decided to stick with excited based on his lover's smile.
"I've just thought of one more thing I want to get from my cabin." Malcolm looked at the engineer coyly. "Assuming I’m invited to spend the night tonight?"
"Sure!" replied Trip so readily that Malcolm couldn't help but chuckle.
Light shone in Malcolm's eyes. "Then save room for dessert," he advised with a grin.
Now Trip's interest was well and truly piqued. "We can go now " he began.
"We're not done eating."
"You said save room."
Malcolm laughed at his lover's enthusiasm. "You don't even know what it is," he said. "How do you know you'll like it?"
"If it involves you and dessert, I'll like it," answered Trip with certainty.
Malcolm just shook his head in amusement. He considered telling the younger man about the edible body paints right then, but decided against it. He was enjoying his dinner, and wasn't ready for dessert yet. The paints had waited nearly a month already; they, and he, could wait another hour or so.
Thursday came quickly. After her shift that day, Liz quickly changed from her uniform to civilian gear before meeting up with Bonnie. The helmsman was already in the Rec. Center when Liz arrived. She was up on a stepladder affixing the end of a long streamer to a corner of the ceiling. She hadn't noticed the exobiologist's arrival, and Liz took a moment to study her.
Liz was slightly surprised at Bonnie's choice of "casual wear." While she herself had gone with black slacks and a lightweight eggshell top; Bonnie was more formally attired in a short, tight, dark green dress. She was currently barefoot, but Liz spotted the helmsman's discarded shoes nearby. The heels were high enough that Bonnie had wisely removed them before climbing onto the stool. It took a moment for Liz to realize what was up. When she did, she grinned. From what she and Mae had discussed clandestinely over the past couple of months, Liz was pretty sure the outfit Bonnie wore was for Stephanie's benefit. She wondered if the auburn-haired woman just happened to have the dress, or if it had been a special commission from the quartermaster. She would have to ask Mae.
"Hey!" Liz called, finally deciding to reveal her presence.
Bonnie looked over her shoulder at the new arrival. "Hey!" She climbed down off the stool and carried it to the opposite corner of the room. "Hand me the end of the streamer?" she asked, pointing.
"Sure." Liz picked up the trailing ribbon and carried it to Bonnie's new perch. She handed it up to her.
"Thanks." Bonnie began twisting the streamer while she talked. "Could you start setting up the table? There's a bag of confetti there, and some other decorations in that box."
Liz fished in the box that sat on a bench in front of the movie screen. There she found a small bag of brightly colored confetti, crepe-paper pompons, and a number of toy ray-guns. She picked up a gun and eyed it dubiously. "What are these?"
"D'you like them? They're replicas of the guns used by the aliens in Plan 9 from Outer Space," answered Bonnie eagerly.
"I like them, I just want to know how you got them."
"What's to know?" Bonnie stuck the last trailing end of streamer to the ceiling and stepped down to the deck. "They're just disilicon polymer. They'll get resequenced back into something useful after the party."
"But how did you get the quartermaster to agree to make them?"
Bonnie grinned. "I'll never tell." The door opened at that moment and Hoshi entered, carrying a large box. Bonnie's eyes widened in anticipation. "Is that the cake?"
"Yeah," answered Hoshi. "Can I get a hand?"
Liz deposited the toy ray-gun back where she'd found it, and she and Bonnie took the container from the comm officer. They set it on the end of the table and opened it. Both women immediately burst out laughing.
"She's gonna kill us!" exclaimed Bonnie gleefully. The large sheet cake was covered in chocolate frosting as promised. It was also topped with many little candles. "Are there enough?" She began counting.
Hoshi nodded, smiling. "I put them on myself." Her brown eyes gleamed with delight.
"You know," pointed out Liz, "she'll have plenty of opportunities to get her revenge."
"I can live with that."
Liz shook her head at Hoshi's mischievous merriment. "Yeah, but I'm next!" she exclaimed. They laughed.
Bonnie finished counting. "Yep. Thirty candles." She grinned wickedly. "Perfect."
"Come on. Let's get it set up. People should be here any second."
Working quickly, they scattered confetti over the table, allowing some to fall to the floor. "To add to the festive atmosphere," Bonnie claimed. They carefully removed the cake from the box and set it on a stand in the center of the table. Next, Bonnie arranged the toy ray-guns and pompons artfully around the centerpiece while Hoshi stowed the empty box under the table out of the way. The trio stood gazing appreciatively at their creation.
"What are you guys staring at?"
They turned as one to see Stephanie looking at them inquisitively from the doorway. Liz noticed she was wearing her favorite low-slung jeans and tight brown sweater that showed off her hour-glass shape to best advantage. The exobiologist smirked knowingly, then hid the smile, hoping her bunkmate hadn't noticed. She needn't have worried. The blonde woman's eyes were trained on the birthday cake and its numerous candles. "Oh my gods!" Stephanie exclaimed, laughing. "She's gonna kill us!"
"I know!" Bonnie crowed brightly. "Isn't it great?"
Stephanie nodded vehemently. "Oh yeah!"
"Wait!" exclaimed Liz, suddenly apprehensive. "What about the no open flames rule?"
"Is that restricted to candles or does it include people?" quipped Bonnie, sending Stephanie into new peals of laughter.
"I'm serious!" Liz insisted.
Still chuckling, Bonnie retrieved her shoes and slipped them on, then rejoined the group in the middle of the room. At that moment, the door slid open again and Trip and Malcolm strolled in, casually dressed as Cormack had instructed them. Even Bonnie paused to eye the pair appreciatively. Reed sported chinos and a black shirt that made his eyes look stormy blue-grey and incredibly sultry. Tucker was in blue jeans and a sapphire blue shirt that also accentuated his eyes.
Stephanie whistled in appreciation. "Yeah, baby!" she exclaimed. "You gents sure clean up nice."
Trip actually blushed but took her comment in stride. "We'll take that as a compliment," he said.
"As it was intended," grinned Stephanie in return.
Only Hoshi noticed the slight deflation in Bonnie's shoulders at Stephanie's words. She reached out and took the helmsman's hand, surprising her. Hoshi smiled encouragingly and squeezed her hand. Bonnie's eyes lit in understanding and she gave the comm officer a smile of thanks.
"So where's the birthday girl?" asked Tucker looking around the room.
Liz descended on the pair like a vulture. "Commander! We have problem."
The engineer's face grew serious at her dire tone. "What's wrong?"
"We can't light the candles on Mae's cake!"
"And you think I have a lighter?" Trip was puzzled.
"No, no! I have that." She reached into the pocket of her slacks and pulled out the item.
"Hey, that's mine!" exclaimed Stephanie in surprise.
Her bunkmate ignored her. "I just don't have permission from Captain Archer."
Now Trip understood. "Hang on." He gave Malcolm a teasing look, saying, "And don't give me that disapproving look of yours. Yeah, I'm gonna use my friendship with the Captain to get a little favor. In the grand scheme of things, I don't think it'll do any harm."
"I didn't say a word," protested Malcolm, but he was smiling. He knew his lover was just teasing, and for once he didn't even mind that it was in front of others.
Tucker opened a comm line to the Captain. It took him only moments to get the clearance he wanted. "Thanks, Captain," said the engineer. "There's a bunch of people here who really appreciate it."
"But will Ensign Lawless?" Archer joked.
Tucker laughed. "I'll let you know—and I'll try to save you a piece of cake. Tucker out." He closed the connection and turned to see several grinning and appreciative faces.
"Thank you so much!" said Liz.
"No problem," he assured her.
More people began to arrive then—Donnelly, Douglas, Young, Hess, Novakovich, Mayweather.
Liz's eyes lit up when Travis walked in. She hurried over to him. "Hi, handsome!" she said, welcoming him with a kiss.
He returned the kiss warmly. "Hi, beautiful," he replied when their lips finally parted. "Where's Mae?" He looked around the room.
"Late for her own party!" quipped Stephanie loudly as Lawless entered the room.
"Hey, I had to change clothes!" declared Mae, holding out her arms and showing off her chinos and lavender shirt. "We agreed no uniforms." She greeted each of her friends, who all wished her happy birthday. It was as Stephanie gave her a hug that Mae spotted her birthday cake over the blonde woman's shoulder. "God damn!" She released Cormack and approached it, silently counting the candles. She turned around to face the party's planners and laughed. "I am so gonna kill you! Tell me you're not gonna light them."
Liz once more held up the lighter she'd borrowed from her bunkmate. "Sorry," she said, obviously not the least bit sorry.
Mae appealed to her C.O. "Commander, you can't let them! There are regulations involved."
Tucker shrugged and shook his head in mock regret. "Sorry, Mae. They got the okay directly from the Captain—but we have to save him a piece of cake."
"With all due respect, sir, you're no help at all." She sighed, resigned but not defeated. She pointed at Bonnie, Liz, Hoshi, and Stephanie. "You're all on my list. Now," she continued, raising her voice to encompass everyone in the room, "let's get this party started!"
The party was deemed a roaring success by everyone. It was nearly 2300 when the last guests finally filed out, leaving only the organizers and the guest of honor in the Rec. Center. Stephanie eyed the remnants of the evening's festivities. The confetti littering table and floor had been joined by a wealth of yellow cake crumbs. Most of the streamers had been pulled down and used to decorate Mae despite her half-hearted protests. A pile of dirty plates and forks sat jumbled in a bin next to a small stack of opened presents. Only two of the pompons had survived the viewing of the movie; the rest were in tattered shreds.
Stephanie did a quick count of the toy ray-guns and frowned. "Weren't there five of these?" she asked, holding up one and looking around the room.
"Yeah," answered Bonnie. "Why?"
"Because there are only four now." Stephanie chuckled. "I wonder who snagged the missing one." She raised an inquisitive eyebrow at Mae.
The engineer held up her hands in protest. "It wasn't me. I thought about it, but I figured they probably ought to go back to get turned into something with a more practical use."
Stephanie wasn't entirely sure she believed her friend, but she let it go. It wasn't as if the engineer had her uniform on with its copious pockets perfect for hiding a ray-gun. The toy definitely would have been visible in the pocket of the pants she currently wore. "Hmm If you say so." As she returned the ray-gun to the table, her eyes lit on the remains of the cake. "Oh my gods! I forgot we were supposed to save the Captain a piece!"
"There's enough," replied Cutler easily. "But we need something to put it in."
Hoshi spoke up. "I'll take care of it. Someone has to take the dishes back to the galley. I'll just get a container for the rest of the cake while I'm there." She picked up the bin, dishes and cutlery clanking together noisily.
"You got it?" asked Bonnie.
"Yeah. Thanks," the comm officer assured her. "But you could get the door for me."
"Sure." Bonnie opened the door and Hoshi smiled her thanks.
"I'll be right back." She swept out of the room, her long floral skirt flowing around her slim legs.
Mae rose from her seat on the end of bench. "What can I do to help?" she asked.
"Nothing," answered the others all at once and laughed.
"You wouldn't let me clean up after my birthday," continued Stephanie, "so you don't get to clean up now."
"You say that like it's a bad thing," joked Bonnie as she swept crumbs and confetti into a trash bag. She picked up a half-melted birthday candle. "Did you want to keep these?" she teased her bunkmate, tossing it to her.
Mae gave her a mock glare. "No thank you," she answered and dropped the candle in with the rest of the garbage.
"How about the cake?" offered Liz. "There's enough for Captain Archer and then some."
"Give him all of it. He can get fat off of it. It can be my thanks to him for letting you guys light all these lovely little candles," Mae said dryly. She scooped up the rest of the offending items and tossed them into the trash.
"That's enough cleaning up from you," declared Stephanie. She took the engineer by the shoulders and propelled her toward the door. "Go on. We'll finish this. You must have birthday mail from home to read before you go to bed."
"Yeah, I'm really looking forward to the usual jokes from my brother. He always loves pointing out how, even though we're both getting older, he'll always be younger than me. I'm sure he's saved some particularly choice words for this year."
"Oo! Must remember to use that next August when Ryn's birthday rolls around." Stephanie grinned impishly.
"Suddenly I'm really glad I'm an only child," said Bonnie. Liz nodded in earnest agreement.
Mae chuckled as she collected her presents. "Be very glad. Good night, you guys." She gave each a parting hug, including Hoshi who returned just as Mae was walking out the door. "Thanks for the party!"
Liz took the small storage box from Hoshi and packed up the cake. "Should one of us deliver this to him personally, or should we just leave it on the desk in his ready room?" the exobiologist asked, closing the box.
"I'll take it and leave in on his desk tonight," said Hoshi. "It'll be a surprise for him in the morning."
"Few things beat cake for breakfast," put in Bonnie. "You want to toss some confetti in with it? Just for the sake of festivity?" She held up a handful of the sparkling stuff.
"No," opined Stephanie. "If he's anything like me in the morning, he won't realize until it's too late that it's not edible."
"I've only had breakfast with him once," Hoshi said, "and I don't think he's that bad off in the mornings. But maybe we shouldn't chance it. I'll take it up there now, if you guys have everything covered here."
"Go on," Liz told her. "We've got it under control." She caught Hoshi's eye and gave the tiniest nod in the direction of the other two women, then tilted her head toward the door. Despite her expertise in communication, it took Hoshi a moment to understand. When she figured out what Liz was saying, she smiled slyly and nodded.
"Good night, you guys!" she called, heading to the door.
"Night, Hoshi," replied Stephanie with a smile. "Thanks for taking care of the cake and everything."
"I'm glad I could help."
"G'night. See you tomorrow," said Bonnie.
Before the door had finished closing behind the departed comm officer, Liz piped up. "I'll take the stepstool back to the quartermaster." She strode to the corner where it had been stowed for the evening and picked it up. "Do you two need any more help, or are we all set?"
Stephanie looked around. The room was almost back to its normal state. "I think we're good. Bonnie?"
"Yeah," agreed the helmsman. "We're almost done."
"Okay. Good night, then." Liz made a quick exit, leaving the two women alone together.
A silence fell as they continued cleaning. Finally, Bonnie broke it. "That was really subtle, eh?" she joked nervously.
"Yeah." Stephanie had been thinking the same thing. "Liz is sweet, but she's not always subtle."
"That's kind of ironic coming from you." The helmsman tried to keep her tone steady, but finding herself alone with the armory ensign made her feel awkward and a little edgy. She desperately hoped it didn't come through in her voice.
Stephanie laughed self-deprecatingly. "Subtle with a capital B," she quipped with strained lightness, pronouncing the usually silent consonant. "That's me."
Another silence fell. Both women sub-consciously slowed the pace of their cleaning, neither ready to leave the other's company quite yet.
"It really was a great party," said Stephanie after a while. She found the silence oppressive and increasingly awkward; she had to try to fill it.
"Yeah," agreed Bonnie. "I told you Bring It On would be a hit."
"You did." The blonde smiled. "And the cake was sure great."
"Uh-huh." Bonnie brushed the last of the crumbs and confetti into the trash bag she held. She looked around, saying reluctantly, "I guess that's it."
Stephanie swept the room with her eyes. "I guess so." Her gaze came to rest on the helmsman. She'd noticed Bonnie's outfit the moment she'd entered the Rec. Center earlier that evening. Indeed, she'd spent several seconds admiring the rear view before announcing her presence to the group admiring the cake. She'd been afraid to say anything all evening, unsure how the younger woman might respond. Now she couldn't help it—she had to say something. "You look really great."
Bonnie's heart suddenly beat so fast she was sure the other woman could hear it. "Thanks," she said, trying to sound casual and failing. "You, too."
Stephanie shrugged. "I always wear this when there's an event."
"I know." Bonnie suddenly realized she'd revealed more than she'd intended with those two words.
"You do?" asked Stephanie, curious and pleased. A thrill of excitement zinged through her and her heart picked up its pace.
"Yeah." It was out now, no point denying it. Now she just had to wait and see how Stephanie would react.
A smile slowly spread across Cormack's face, lighting her eyes. "Cool." She openly scrutinized Fraser, eyeing her from head to toe and back up again. Her pulse was racing, but she did her damnedest to appear calm. "I take it back," she said finally. "You don't look great. You look fabulous in that dress."
"Thanks," Bonnie said again, smiling. She took a step toward Stephanie, negligently dropping the trash bag she held to the floor. "I really like that sweater on you. It brings out the golden brown in your eyes." And the full curve of your tits, her mind added lustfully.
"Yeah?" Stephanie stepped tentatively forward, halving the short distance between them.
"Yeah." Another step and Bonnie was within centimeters of the blonde. She reached out a hand and tucked a loose curl of hair back from the shorter woman's face. "And I'm glad you wore your hair down tonight," she added softly.
Stephanie inhaled sensuously at the gentle touch of Bonnie's fingers on her ear. The helmsman continued to trail her fingers down Stephanie's neck, then followed their path was a string of feather-soft kisses. Stephanie closed her eyes and tilted her head to the side, reveling in the sensation of Bonnie's warm lips on her skin. She sighed in delight.
Slowly, Bonnie released the sweet flesh and leaned back to look at Stephanie's face. The blonde woman opened her eyes and met the gaze steadily. Both women smiled.
"Nice," purred Stephanie. Before Bonnie could reply, she reached a hand up and twined her fingers in the soft auburn hair at the back of the helmsman's neck and pulled her into a searing, breath-stealing kiss. Not breaking the embrace, Bonnie kicked off her shoes, bringing herself closer to the same height as Stephanie. The shorter woman instantly adjusted to the change and deepened the kiss, her lips parting and her tongue seeking entrance to Bonnie's mouth. Bonnie happily obliged.
When the two finally parted, both were momentarily breathless. Stephanie's knees were weak, and she leaned against the nearby table while her mind and body frantically processed what had just transpired. For a moment Bonnie was worried Stephanie might already be regretting their actions, but then Stephanie smiled at her and she had to smile back.
"We could do more of that anytime," the blonde said fervently.
"That'd be cool," agreed Bonnie eagerly.
Stephanie's smile widened into a grin. "Cool."
Emboldened by her success, Bonnie took one more chance and leaned into Stephanie again, whispering, "Remember, I like surprises."
The armory officer immediately remembered the conversation she referred to. "Rather personal surprises?" she murmured back coyly, enjoying the tickle of the taller woman's breath on her ear.
Bonnie nuzzled the shorter woman's cheek tantalizingly. "Best kind."
Trip and Malcolm strolled leisurely toward Trip's cabin. Both were full of birthday cake and good humor. Malcolm slipped an arm around his lover's back, pulling him closer as they walked. Surprised but pleased, Trip returned the gesture, wrapping a long arm around the shorter man's shoulders.
They were unlikely to meet anyone in the corridors at that hour, but the uncharacteristically public display of affection still baffled the engineer. He wanted to ask what had brought it on, but he didn't want to ruin the moment by questioning it. Instead he asked lightly, "Did you have fun tonight?"
"Mm-hmm," replied Malcolm. "I did. I think I'm getting better at these large group functions."
Trip almost commented that twelve people wasn't that large a group, but he stopped himself in time. No need to scare him with stories about family birthday parties, Trip told himself firmly. Cross that bridge only when you have to. Aloud, he said, "I think you're right. You're gonna be an expert before long."
Malcolm chuckled wryly. "I appreciate the vote of confidence, but the complete insanity of your claim causes me to doubt its credence."
"I think that's about the most polite and grammatical razzing I've ever gotten."
"I'm happy to be able to provide the service."
Trip laughed and Malcolm joined him. They reached Tucker's cabin and went inside. The moment the door shut, the engineer took Malcolm in both arms and kissed him soundly. Malcolm's lips parted readily to Trip's probing tongue, and he savored the hint of chocolate lingering in his lover's mouth.
Both men were breathless by the time they parted. Trip turned his head slightly and murmured in Malcolm's ear, "I can think of other 'services' you could provide."
Malcolm closed his eyes, relishing the feeling of Trip's hot breath on his neck. "Is that so?" he whispered. He leaned into the feather-light touch of Tucker's lips as the engineer nibbled tenderly along his jaw.
Trip paused only long enough to breathe, "Yep."
Malcolm's body responded immediately to the thrill of the single word. He smiled and opened his eyes, tilting his head just out of his lover's reach. Their eyes met. Malcolm adopted a pleasantly inquisitive expression. "What 'services' are of interest to you tonight, sir?" he inquired suggestively.
"What 'services' are you offering?" answered Trip just as coyly.
"I have a wide variety from which Sir might wish to choose."
"Why don't you get out those paints you introduced me to the other night, and we'll just go from there?"
Malcolm placed a slow, hot kiss on his lover's lips. "Sir has most excellent taste." He collected the small bottles and the paint brushes as Trip crossed the room to the computer.
"Jazz?" the engineer inquired.
"Mm. I think so," agreed Malcolm. "I believe I paint best to jazz."
"I know it brings out my artistic side." Trip called up a track of sultry jazz music and turned to his lover.
Malcolm eyed him assiduously. "The canvas must be properly prepared." A salacious expression superceded the studious one and he spoke a single word. "Strip."
Trip complied, smiling. Once he was completely naked, he asked in a lascivious voice, "Where do you want me?"
"Right where you are." Malcolm contemplated his canvas thoughtfully, noting the cut of the muscles, the smoothness of the skin, the gentle covering of hair. "Ah! Of course," he declared as inspiration struck him. Malcolm selected the bottle of bittersweet chocolate and dipped a brush into it. He began to paint.