Log Rhythms - Season Two
Author's Note: Ensign Ari Cohn belongs to Squeaky Lightfoot and is used with her kind permission.
Trip sat on Malcolm's bunk with a pillow behind his back against the bulkhead, and his legs stretched out in front of him. The datapad in his hands held the Engineering duty roster for the next few weeks. He gave it one last look before deciding it was ready to be handed in tomorrow morning. Before announcing that he was done, however, he took a moment to steal a glance at his partner, hard at work on his own duty roster. Malcolm sat at his desk, back straight, expression studious as he worked, completely unaware of Trip's observation.
It was nearly a full two days since Enterprise had left Klingon space, and Trip was thrilled to have the whole unpleasant experience behind him. The days they'd spent waiting for word on their kidnapped captain had been some of the longest of his life. Of course, the Klingons insisted they had rightfully arrested Jon for crimes against the Empire. Trip didn't give a damn what they said. In his opinion it was all garbage. Jon had done the Klingons more good than harm in all Starfleet's dealings with them. And more favors than they deserve, he thought acidly.
When diplomacy had failed to retrieve the captain, the crew had turned to less formal channels. Those channels in turn eventually lead Malcolm on a rescue mission to the dilithium mines of Rura Penthe. The few hours when he was out of contact had set Trip's already tense stomach turning. But his relief upon the safe return of both his lover and his captain set his world to rights again. Trip smiled, remembering that feeling.
"Have I told you lately that you're my hero?" he announced suddenly, breaking the long silence.
Malcolm raised an eyebrow and pinned him with a look from across the room. "Are you drunk?"
"No," Trip assured him, laughing. He sat up and set his datapad to one side. "I'm just feeling " He sought the word that would best describe the mix of warmth, joy, relief, and love that bubbled inside him. " happy."
"Happy?" echoed Malcolm, at a loss. "Well good."
Trip shook his head, knowing he wasn't expressing himself well. "I'm thinking about how you got the Captain out of that frozen hellhole," he tried to clarify. "I'm thinking about that and about how damn lucky Enterprise is to have you." He rose and crossed the room to stand behind Malcolm. He rested his hands on Malcolm's shoulders. "How lucky I am to have you," Trip concluded more softly, then leaned down and kissed his lover's cheek.
Malcolm turned his chair around and Trip moved back to give him room. "I'm the lucky one, you know," Malcolm said quietly.
"You can think that if you want. I know what's really what." Trip stepped closer, grasped Malcolm's hands, and gently pulled him to his feet. There was a sparkle in his eyes as he wrapped his arms around the shorter man's waist, then leaned in and kissed him tenderly.
Malcolm returned the kiss eagerly, wrapping his arms around Trip's back and pulling him closer. He was still a bit bemused by Trip's sudden outpouring of emotion, but he certainly didn't object to it.
They continued to hold one another after they broke the kiss, each man enjoying the quiet warmth of the other. Several moments passed before Malcolm took a reluctant step back. "You should get going," he said. His voice was less encouraging than his words. "You don't want to be late for dinner with the Captain and T'Pol."
"Yes, I do," contradicted Trip, pulling him in and kissing him once more.
Malcolm wanted to let himself melt into his lover's embrace. It should be so easy. Simply relax and let go. Forget all about responsibilities. Forget about everything.
He pushed away again. His heart gave a little lurch at the look of disappointment on Trip's face. "No, you really don't. At least, you don't want to be as late as I'd make you if you stayed here any longer," Malcolm amended, trying to sound firm yet lighthearted at the same time.
Trip sighed resignedly. "I suppose you're right," he unwillingly agreed. "But I'm really not hungry for dinner right now."
"It's the price you pay for being chief engineer on Starfleet's flagship." Malcolm put his hands on Trip's shoulders and Trip allowed himself to be turned around so he was facing the door of the cabin. Malcolm guided him out past the desk. He leaned in and murmured seductively in Trip's ear. "I'll see you later for dessert. Now off you go." He gave him a little push.
"I'll save plenty of room," Trip replied, equally enticingly. He left with renewed determination and the knowledge that he had something very sweet to look forward to after dinner.
Once Trip had gone, Malcolm sat heavily on his bunk. He took a deep breath and sighed it out, but his tension failed to drain with it. He wasn't looking forward to dessert, despite his own offer. Ever since his return from the crossing with the non-corporeal alien, he'd been reluctant to get too close to Trip. No matter how often or vehemently he reminded himself that he loved Trip and Trip loved him, his visit to his old London flat had left him with open wounds he'd thought had scarred over years ago.
Certainly he and Trip had made love since the incident, but Malcolm's heart hadn't been in it. It was a betrayal of Trip, and Malcolm hated himself for it. The greatest betrayal came from the fact that he knew how to fix the problem—he was simply too cowardly to do it.
How did this evening go from pleasant to perturbed so bloody quickly? he wondered unhappily.
Malcolm sighed again, the sound becoming a frustrated growl before it was done. I've got to tell him, he thought. I should have told him when he asked. Too many years of being guarded and stealthy, I suppose. He shook his head at himself. He's bound to notice something's wrong soon. He's not stupid. I've got to tell him—I will tell him—before I screw things up. I don't think I could handle it if I did that.
He sat in silence for several minutes, thinking, debating. Now that he'd made the decision to tell Trip about where he'd gone and what he'd almost relived, he felt a small weight had lifted. Unfortunately, the relief wasn't quite enough to spur him to immediate action.
After the New Year. I'll tell him after that. There's no reason to spoil the holiday with unpleasant news, he rationalized. It was a copout, but it was as far as he could go at that moment. Reeds had always been men of their word. Malcolm would tell Trip the whole story after New Year's Eve.
Stephanie took a sip of her water and set the glass back on the table. She speared a bite of chicken vindaloo with her fork and put it in her mouth. Chewing thoughtfully, she eyed her dinner companions. "So," she said when her mouth was again empty, "is everyone ready for New Year's Eve?"
Mae laughed. "Are you kidding?"
"It's only two weeks away."
"It's a whole two weeks away," the engineer countered.
"What's there to be ready for?" Travis asked Stephanie. "Are you part of the evening's entertainment or something?"
"No," she replied emphatically. "That's Bonnie's department and, trust me, it's better that way."
Liz finished a bite of salad before speaking. "Oh, I don't know. I bet you play a pretty mean guitar." She smirked knowingly.
"Less 'mean', more 'generally unkind'," Stephanie contradicted.
"Where is Bonnie anyway?" wondered Travis. "I know she's not on bridge duty tonight."
"She's rehearsing." Stephanie looked pointedly at Mae. "Like I said, it's only two weeks away."
"What?" demanded Mae. "Am I supposed to do something about that? You're the one who keeps reminding me that time is still linear as we humans perceive it, so we're kind of stuck with the whole two week thing."
"That's not what I'm getting at."
"Well then maybe you better spell it out for me. Apparently I'm especially thick tonight."
Liz chuckled. "Just tonight?" she quipped.
"Very funny," replied Mae dryly, knowing Liz was only teasing her.
Stephanie persisted. "I just wondered if you were coming to the big party in the Rec. Center or the smaller one the engineering team is planning," she inquired in an overly casual manner.
"I haven't decided. I'll probably be at the big party since Bonnie's singing. Moral support, solidarity, you know."
"That's cool." Stephanie shot a glance at Liz who smiled back. She and Travis both knew what Stephanie was driving at, even if Mae hadn't caught on yet. "You going to dress up?"
"I don't know."
"Me, too," agreed Liz. She looked at Travis inquisitively, encouragingly.
"Sure," he said with a shrug. "It's nice to get out of uniform once in a while."
Stephanie almost made a suggestive wisecrack, but stopped herself. No. Must stay on task. She turned back to Mae. "I figure we have precious few opportunities to dress up and get fluffy, so we might as well take advantage of them."
"I think I'll pass on the 'fluffy' part," joked Travis.
"Oh I don't know." Liz eyed him critically. "I have an idea or two. How do you feel about Georgian fashions?"
He looked at her, totally lost. "Huh?"
"King George the Third of England," she clarified. She tried hard to keep her expression neutral as she continued. "Not quite as frilly as the Louis the Fourteenth era in France, but notable for long coats, lace cuffs, and cravats. Oh and wigs."
He saw the grin she couldn't quite hide and quickly realized she was teasing. "Maybe some other time," he said, his brown eyes alight with mirth.
"Are you sure? I bet the quartermaster could whip up something."
Stephanie cut in then. While she found the chatter amusing, she had an agenda and she intended to stick to it. "So, Mae, you gonna dress up?"
Mae's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Why?"
The engineer knew her friend was up to something, but she couldn't quite pinpoint what it was. She grew cagey. "I don't know. Maybe I'll just stay in that night. Turn in early. Read a book. Just have a quiet night on my own."
"You can't!" exclaimed Liz abruptly. She was in on Stephanie's plot; she'd helped gather information to fuel it.
Mae looked at her. "I can't?"
Stephanie saw the panicked look in her bunkmate's eyes and realized Liz had no cover for her sudden outburst. "Of course you can't!" she said, redirecting Mae's attention. "It's the big winter holiday! I remember you telling me how much fun your family always had on New Year's Eve when you were growing up. I know you went home for it when we were in Starfleet training together. You'll just be bored and homesick if you spend it alone."
"Okay. What the hell are you guys up to?"
"Up to?" echoed Liz too innocently. "Nothing."
"Just say you're coming to the big New Year's party and that you're going to dress up," Travis advised sagely. "They won't leave you alone until you do."
"Too bad," Mae said. "I want to know what you're plotting before I agree to anything."
She had a determined glint in her eyes that Stephanie recognized all too well. Still, she gave it one more try. "You just need to come. Moral support for Bonnie," she added. "Like you said."
"I don't have to dress up to show moral support."
"It'll be fun," insisted Liz.
"It'll be fun when you tell me what the hell's going on," argued Mae.
Stephanie and Liz exchanged a look. Liz shrugged; Stephanie nodded and turned back to Mae. "Ari's going to be there."
There was a moment of silence. "Ah," said Mae finally. "Thanks, but I don't need you guys planning my love life."
"We're not!" protested Stephanie. Then she backed down a bit. "Or...just a little."
"Yeah, sure. Like you weren't planning anything when you tried to set me up with that guy from stores back in San Francisco? Or that test pilot candidate? Or Ruby from the 602 Club? Or—"
"Okay! Okay." Stephanie finally admitted defeat. "I give up."
"Good. Ari and I are fine on our own. We don't need your 'help'." Mae included Liz and Travis in her statement. "Neither of us has any specific plans or agenda. I think it's safe to say we're both just fine playing things slow and casual right now." She looked around at her friends and a moment of weakness claimed her. "Unless you've heard something different?"
Liz was quick to put her at ease. "No. None of us has heard anything."
"We just think you two would be so great together," Stephanie added. "And since you're heading that direction already "
Travis picked that moment to toss in his two cents. "They decided to stick their noses in where they didn't belong."
Mae smiled, pleased with the looks of consternation his words elicited from Liz and Stephanie. "Thank you, but no thank you. If I need help, I'll let you know."
The door chimed and Doctor Douglas looked up from his computer in surprise. He didn't have any appointments scheduled until after 1200 hours and it was only 0930. "Come in," he called.
The door slid open, revealing Ensign Young.
"Ian," Douglas said in surprise. "I didn't expect to see you today. Come in. Sit down."
Young entered the office a little reluctantly. "I can come back later if this is a bad time."
"Not at all. Please, have a seat."
"Actually, I'll just go. It can wait until my usual session."
"No, no. Please. Sit."
"Thanks." Young sat on the couch and tried to look nonchalant. It was a wasted effort. His tension was evident in everything from his facial expression to his very presence in Douglas's office.
"Is there something I can do for you?" the psychiatrist asked kindly. He knew there had to be something, otherwise Young would have waited until his scheduled session on Friday.
"I I wanted to talk about what happened in the armory."
Douglas waited for him to continue. Several seconds passed in silence.
"After the explosion, I mean," Young finally went on.
Another lengthy pause ensued as Young fought the urge to get up and leave. Don't be such a chickenshit, he ordered himself. "I saw something. Well, someone while I was gone." He cursed internally at the hesitation and doubt in his voice.
"Did you recognize this person you saw?" inquired Douglas calmly.
"Yeah. It was my dad." He paused, once again disinclined to go on. He wondered for the umpteenth time if he'd made a mistake coming here. "He died when I was a kid."
"I see." Douglas sat back and laced his fingers together across his stomach. "How did you feel when you saw him?"
"I I don't know."
"That's all right. Why do you think you saw him? Do you have an idea as to the reason he was there?"
"Because he's dead," stated Young bluntly, his defenses suddenly up. "I was dead. Who else would I see?"
Douglas shrugged. "You might have seen any number of people. There's documentation available on all sorts of near-death experiences and they comprise a wide variety of sightings and other phenomena."
"Oh." Young relaxed marginally. "He—my dad—he said something."
"Yes?" Douglas continued to wait. His patience was almost as renowned as Doctor Phlox's, and he exercised it now. Experience told him that Young would only side step any leading suggestions, so Douglas allowed the ensign to choose the direction in which he wished to go.
Another long silence filled the room. Young stared at the shelf of books on one bulkhead, reading the titles but not retaining anything he read. Eventually, he said, "He told me I wasn't done yet." It was a heavy admission for him; it wasn't what he'd wanted to hear from his father. "He said I had to go back and finish what I was doing."
"And how did you feel about that?"
"How did I feel? Like " He sought the exact phrase that would most accurately describe how he'd felt. "I felt like a loser. I felt like he'd just sucker-punched me right in the gut, eh? I mean, what the hell was I supposed to say to that? Finish what? Done with what? I guess he couldn't be bothered to tell me that part," he concluded bitterly.
"Have you considered that maybe he didn't know? Or perhaps it's that you know in your heart what he meant, but your conscious mind hasn't yet made that connection."
Young had considered both possibilities, but neither had provided him with any answers so he'd conveniently ignored them. "Yeah," he grumbled reluctantly. What he really wanted was for someone to hand him the answers; he'd never been big on introspection. "At least he could have given me a hint."
"You're an intelligent person," Douglas said. "I suspect you'll figure it out without any hints."
"Thanks, but I wouldn't bet on it." Young slumped back on the small couch and crossed his arms over his chest. "He could have meant pretty much anything. There's a shitload of stuff I haven't done."
"We all have unfinished business in our lives. I can't imagine anyone has ever completed everything he or she wanted to do before passing on."
"Then why come back?" asked Young disconsolately. "If I can't finish everything anyway, why bother?"
"Why do you think?" countered Douglas.
Young let out a noise somewhere between a snarl and a sigh. "You can't ever just give a straight answer, can you? You have to answer every question with another question."
"It comes with the job, I'm afraid." The ship's counselor smiled apologetically.
"Nice job." Young's voice was flat with sarcasm.
Douglas leaned forward and rested his elbows on his desk, his fingers still laced loosely together. "If someone could hand you all the answers to every question, where would be the challenge? We'd all get bored pretty quickly, don't you think?"
Young grunted noncommittally. "I suppose, but it sure would make things easier if once in a while someone would just throw you a bone," he said pointedly.
"I'm fresh out of bones. I gave my last one to Porthos."
This made Young chuckle. "Yeah, all right." He sat up straighter, his hands in his lap. He stared at them for several moments, thinking. "Maybe " he began, then paused. "Maybe I can't do everything I want to do with my life, but there's got to be something I can do. Otherwise why tell me I wasn't done? There's got to be something that needs finishing or—" He stopped abruptly.
"Or?" prompted Douglas.
"Or something." Young had been about to say "fixing", but he wasn't ready to go down that road yet, not even with Douglas, who was sworn to keep everything his patients told him in the strictest confidence. No matter how many oaths the psychiatrist had taken, Young doubted he could ethically keep silent if he learned an officer was screwing a crewman.
But is it really my relationship with Michael that needs fixing? he thought. I know it's totally fucked up, but is that what Dad meant? Or is this about me and Hoshi? His heart and mind were in a muddle about it all. He was sure he'd completely destroyed any chance of being with Hoshi ever again. She'd never mentioned what she'd seen between him and Rostov that day in sickbay, but she'd been too calm and understanding when he'd broken up with her shortly thereafter. Despite all that, a part of him refused to give up hope that there could still be something between them.
Hoshi? he wondered again. Or Michael ? His thoughts turned to the muscular, good-looking engineering crewman. Crewman.
Douglas regarded Young curiously for several moments. It was obvious that the ensign was thinking hard about something troubling. What it was, though, was unclear. Douglas suspected it was more than Young had told him.
"Huh?" Young started. He'd been so absorbed in his thoughts he'd forgotten he wasn't alone. "Oh. Thanks, Doc." He rose and headed to the door.
"Come back anytime if you need to talk more," Douglas said before he could escape.
"Right. Thanks again."
Douglas watched him slip out into the corridor, then continued to stare at the closed door for several seconds. "What is it with armory personnel on this ship?" he wondered aloud. "They have this habit of leaving in a hurry." He shook his head. There was only so much he could do for someone when that someone wasn't entirely honest with him. He only hoped Young would confide in him before anything untoward happened.
Jon reclined on his bunk, comfortable in a pair of sweat pants and a loose, gray t-shirt. His brief stay on Rura Penthe had left its mark on him, but all physical signs had faded. The only indication that his time in the Klingon penal colony still bothered him was the temperature in his cabin. He'd set it a few degrees warmer than standard. He knew it was only psychological, but he felt the incredible cold of the frozen planet continuing to ache in his bones. I must be getting old, he thought a little wistfully.
Porthos barked once and looked up at him expectantly.
"No," Jon said, "I don't have any cheese."
The beagle whined a little.
"Come up here and see for yourself."
Giving another bark, Porthos leaped up onto the bunk. He walked all around his master, waddling awkwardly on the soft mattress and sniffing suspiciously. Finally convinced there were indeed no cheesy treats to be found, he flopped down at Jon's side with a mournful moan and rested his head on Jon's leg.
"Don't try to fool me. I know you're spoiled rotten."
Porthos cocked his head and eyed him accusingly.
Jon could feel his resolve weakening. "No," he repeated, wondering if it was for himself or the dog.
Another baleful look from the beagle was all it took.
"All right." Jon rose from the bunk and went to the small refrigeration unit—one of the few luxuries he was awarded as ship's captain. Before he could open it, however, the door chimed. He glanced at Porthos. "Sorry, boy. Snack time has to wait."
If anything, the dog looked even more desolate as he rested his chin on his front paws.
Jon shook his head and chuckled. "Come in," he called to the person waiting outside his door.
T'Pol entered, looking prim and official as always.
"Sub-commander," said Jon, assuming from the datapad in her hand that this wasn't a social call. "What is it?"
"I've reviewed the departmental duty rosters for the first half of January," she replied evenly, handing over the pad. "They all appear to be in order."
"Thanks." When she neither continued speaking nor departed, he asked, "Was there something else?" In Jon's admittedly human-centric opinion she looked mildly annoyed.
"Are you aware of the festivities that are being planned for the thirty-first of this month?"
"The New Year's Eve parties? Sure." Jon smiled and T'Pol's expression grew even more disapproving.
"I presume by your reaction that you are in favor of them."
"Of course. Why wouldn't I be?" He knew it couldn't just be the idea of a party. There had been several small gatherings over the months since Enterprise had left space-dock; there'd even been a New Year's Eve party last year. He was curious why T'Pol suddenly had an issue with the idea.
T'Pol regarded him. After spending nearly two years with Jonathan Archer, she knew better than to be surprised by his nonchalance over this matter. That didn't preclude her being concerned, however. "Under normal circumstances I wouldn't consider it a problem, but taking into account your newly acquired status as a fugitive from the Klingon Empire, I think it would be more appropriate to save the celebrations for a time when we're in a more secure location."
"We have plenty of time to reach a 'more secure location'," Jon pointed out. "And we can't exactly postpone New Year's Eve."
T'Pol pursed her lips. Enterprise's current course would leave them in open space without even an uninhabited solar system nearby at the time of Earth's New Year. She and the captain both knew it. They would be out of reach of any help should they encounter revenge-hungry Klingons.
He could see the objection in her eyes and spoke up before she could voice it. "How long has it been since the crew had shore leave?" he asked.
"The last opportunity for the crew to take shore leave was during our stay at Dekendi Three."
"Not too long ago," admitted Jon, "but what are the prospects of another shore leave within the next three months, let's say?"
"Then I think we can afford to spend one night just relaxing and having fun, don't you?"
His expression and tone of voice were enough to cause T'Pol to cease her debate. It was a look she knew too well. Were it a graver situation she might still have considered arguing, but she had learned to pick her battles with Enterprise's human captain. She would let this one go.
T'Pol inclined her head. "Very well. Good night, Captain."
The moment she was gone, Porthos sat up on the bunk and barked. Jon looked at him, knowing exactly what the beagle wanted.
"Who says dogs don't have much short-term memory?" he muttered in amusement, pulling a small plate of cheese from the fridge. "Just don't tell Phlox."
Porthos simply wagged his tail happily.
Less than a week after her dinner with Stephanie, Liz, and Travis, Mae sincerely regretted her hasty dismissal of their offer of assistance. She'd decided on a plan for New Year's Eve. That had been the easy part. She just hadn't decided if she was going to ask Ari to join in those plans.
Should I invite him to the party in Engineering? she wondered for the twentieth time that evening. His presence would be especially noticeable there and she didn't really feel comfortable with the idea of her entire department ogling the two of them. Somehow that was even worse than facing the rest of the crew at the main party in the Rec. Center. At least there neither one's presence would be unusual.
I wonder how the Commander and Lieutenant Reed are handling it? she wondered suddenly. Reed wasn't part of the Engineering team, but Tucker would naturally have invited him. Right? She wasn't sure.
On a whim she hailed Stephanie.
"I'm kind of busy, Mae," Stephanie replied hurriedly through the comm. "What's up?"
"What party are Lieutenant Reed and Commander Tucker going to for New Year's?" Mae blurted without preamble.
Silence fell before her friend answered. "What? I have no clue. Why would I know that?"
Mae couldn't be sure, but she thought Stephanie sounded a bit odd. Her tone was sharp, almost defensive. "Sorry," Mae apologized quickly. "I just thought the lieutenant might have said something " She shook her head even though the connection was audio-only. "Never mind. Dumb question for a dumb problem."
"I'll take your word for it. Was that it?"
"Yeah. Sorry I bugged you. See you later."
Mae closed the comm and stood there for several more indecisive seconds.
Should I...? Maybe ? She made up her mind.
Mae took a moment to steel herself before opening another comm line. "Lawless to Cohn."
There was a moment of pause before he replied. When he did, he sounded slightly out of breath. "Cohn. Go ahead."
Mae hesitated. "Did I catch you at a bad time?"
"No. I was just on the treadmill."
"Oh," said Mae quickly. "I'm sorry. I'll call you back later."
"No. It's okay," Ari hastily assured her.
"No, no. It can wait. I'll just call you later."
"Uh...okay." He checked the time. "I should be done at about 1800 hours."
"Right on. Bye."
"Wait!" he said before she could close the connection. "Are you coming to the big party on New Year's Eve?"
Mae was stymied. It was almost as if he'd read her mind. "Yeah, but later. Like 2300. I figured I'd stop by Engineering first. You know. Make my cameo appearance."
"Oh. Sure. I'll " He paused, his heart racing from more than his run. "I'll see you in the Rec. Center at 2300, then."
"It's a date," confirmed Mae, surprising herself and Ari with her choice of words. "Bye."
She immediately closed the comm and sat heavily on her bunk. She looked at her hands. They were shaking. She tucked them under her legs in annoyance. "God damn," she declared to the empty room. Then she grinned. "God damn!" she repeated more cheerfully. "I have a date for New Year's Eve."
In the ship's gym Ari closed his end of the comm and returned to his treadmill.
"What was that about?" asked Ian from the next treadmill over.
"Nothing," Ari answered. If his bunkmate hadn't overheard enough to figure it out on his own, he certainly wasn't going to share it. Although it does remind me of something wanted to ask Ian, he thought. He started up the treadmill and waited until he was at a comfortable jog before speaking again. "So what are you doing for New Year's Eve?"
"Huh? I don't know. Why?"
"I just wondered. Are you going to the Engineering party?"
"No," answered Ian emphatically. "Are you nuts?"
"What?" said Ari defensively.
"I'm not in Engineering," his bunkmate replied as if he were speaking to a rather dim-witted child.
"You work with them sometimes."
"Yeah, when they're in the armory."
"I just thought you might want to spend the evening with Mi–"
Ian cut him off sharply. "Shut up!"
"Ian, there's no one else here. No one's going to hear us."
"You don't know that," argued the armory ensign in a tense, hushed tone.
Ari shook his head. "You're paranoid, you know."
"Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get me."
Ari stopped his treadmill abruptly. He rested his hands on the sidebars and looked at his best friend. "I really hope you're joking."
Ian glanced over and smirked. "You're so fucking gullible, man," he said snidely.
"And you're so funny," Ari replied flatly. He returned to his workout in silence.
Ian was perfectly happy for the quiet. He wasn't in a talkative mood and the last thing he cared to discuss in an open place where anyone could walk in at any moment was whether or not he would be spending New Year's Eve with Michael. Of course I can't spend the night with him, he thought angrily. Wouldn't that be just perfect? Midnight rolls around, everyone's kissing everyone else, and we can't. Yeah, that sounds fun.
He frowned as he jogged. He wasn't looking forward to the holiday celebration. Michael would be at the party in Engineering, and Ian would be in the Rec. Center. He knew Ari wouldn't let him spend the evening alone in their cabin no matter how much he argued. His bunkmate had a serious stubborn streak at times. Ian would go just to appease him, and then slip away while Ari wasn't looking. He figured he could probably survive an hour or so of merriment and conviviality.
As long as I've got beer, I'll manage. Oh yeah, he thought caustically. It's gonna be such a great evening.
The door to Stephanie's cabin chimed and then opened. Bonnie peered into the dimly lit interior, noting the several candles ranged around the room.
"Can I come in?" she asked uncertainly.
Stephanie rose from where she knelt on the floor and approached her. "Of course. I asked you to come over."
Bonnie still hesitated. "It's just that you look like you're in the middle of something."
"Nope." The blonde woman shook her head, causing random curls to bounce. "I'm almost done." She reached out a hand and gently pulled Bonnie far enough into the room to make the door shut automatically.
"Are you supposed to have candles burning?"
"Don't worry. Neither of us will get in trouble."
"If you say so." Bonnie was dubious. She'd always been a sucker for candlelight, so she couldn't deny she liked the atmosphere. Her only concern was that open flames were prohibited as a rule.
Stephanie smiled. "It's the Winter Solstice," she said, hoping to allay her lover's concerns. "Hence the candles."
"Is it really? I'd completely lost track of the date!" Bonnie exclaimed. She took Stephanie's hand, leaned in, and kissed her cheek. "Happy Solstice, in that case."
"Happy Solstice. Have a seat."
"I can't believe I forgot Solstice," Bonnie went on as Stephanie led her carefully around the candles on the floor. When she was safely at Stephanie's bunk, she sat down, pulling off her shoes so she could put up her feet.
Stephanie noticed the small courtesy and smirked. "So considerate," she teased.
"My mother taught me never to put my shoes on the bed," replied Bonnie. "I think it had something to do with all the mud and crap I tended to carry into the house on them."
Stephanie chuckled. "Smart woman, your mother."
"She is. She'd give me a hell of a lecture for forgetting Solstice. I mean, it wasn't a huge deal when I was growing up, but it was definitely a night we recognized. You can't really ignore it when you live as far north as Inuvik." Bonnie realized Stephanie was staring at her with an inscrutable smile on her face. "Sorry. I'm babbling," the helmsman concluded, feeling cheerful but a little embarrassed. "So, you said you were almost finished with whatever you're doing?"
"Mm-hmm. Almost." Stephanie went to her locker and opened it. She removed a small cylindrical package, and sat down next to Bonnie. "This is for you."
"You didn't have to—"
"I know. I did it because I wanted to. Here." She pressed the gift into Bonnie's hands.
"It's nothing huge or Earth-shaking," Stephanie said a little shyly. She shrugged self-consciously. "I just wanted to do something to include you in my celebration."
"Thank you," Bonnie repeated sincerely. She stared at the package for a moment, almost as if she were hesitant to discover what it contained.
"Well open it!" laughed Stephanie.
"Right." Bonnie tore it open to find a layer of plain white tissue paper underneath the bright green wrapping. This she took by one end and allowed its contents to unroll into her open hand. When the gift was finally revealed, Bonnie inhaled sharply. In her hand was a short pillar candle in swirls of red, orange, yellow, and white. "It's beautiful!"
"It's you. A representation of you," explained Stephanie. She had been worried about how Bonnie might react, but so far she seemed to like her gift. Now will she like the rest of it? Stephanie wondered. She braced herself for possible rejection before going on. "The white is for truth and purity," she began. "The yellow is charm, confidence, that sort of thing." Bonnie nodded her understanding and Stephanie continued. "The orange is for attraction—stimulation." She gave her lover a sly look, which she was pleased to see returned in Bonnie's green eyes. "The red is for you, since you're a Taurus. And " One last hesitation and Stephanie took the plunge. " and it's for love. I love you."
The silence that followed was probably only a few seconds, but as far as Stephanie was concerned hours passed while her heart raced and her hands trembled. She had begun to think the two of them would sit there, still and silent, until the candles burned out, when finally Bonnie spoke.
"I don't know what to say," she said softly.
Stephanie's heart felt as though it had fallen through her stomach, past her toes, and down into the deckplating. Say you love me too! her mind shouted. But she didn't voice her thoughts. She'd done her part, taken her risk. Now she had to wait and see what happened.
Bonnie continued to stare at the candle, turning it over in her hands, examining every facet of its color. "I can't burn it," she said simply, almost sadly.
"You can if you're with me—and the time is right," offered Stephanie uncertainly. "I'm not trying to convert you or anything," she added hastily. "Just, you know, if you ever felt like joining me in a ritual, you'd be welcome." Stephanie finished almost breathlessly. It took all her will power to keep her voice from quavering; she still didn't know how Bonnie felt about her declaration of love.
At last, Bonnie looked up and met Stephanie's gaze. "I'd like that. Can we light it now?"
Stephanie nodded. She took the candle and rose to her feet, holding out one hand for Bonnie to join her. Together they knelt where Stephanie had been when Bonnie arrived. Stephanie set the new candle in the center of a circle of smaller ones.
"Here." She handed Bonnie a white taper from a single holder. "Go ahead. Light it."
Wordlessly, Bonnie reached the taper out and held it to the wick of her candle until it burned on its own.
Stephanie paused a moment, collecting and calming her thoughts as best she could before going on. She began her invocation. "Goddess, before you comes one new to your ways, but ever known by you. Bless her with your love and wisdom. Keep her safe in dangerous places. Be manifest in her no matter how far we, your children, wander from our ancient home." She nodded to Bonnie so the other woman would know she was done.
"Should I say something?" Bonnie asked in quiet uncertainty.
"Only if you want to."
"I want to." Bonnie turned so she was looking directly at Stephanie. She reached up one hand and cupped Stephanie's cheek gently. "Thank you. No one's ever done anything like this for me before. I don't think anyone's ever wanted to, to be honest. It means a lot to me."
She paused and Stephanie waited for the axe to fall. She couldn't help herself saying, "But?"
Bonnie's expression grew puzzled. "What? No." She shook her head slightly. "No 'buts'." She smiled. "I love you, too, Stephanie Nicola Cormack. And there're absolutely no buts about it—except maybe that fine one you're sitting on right now." Then a look a horror suddenly crossed Bonnie's face. "Shit! I probably shouldn't have said that in front of your goddess, should I?"
Stephanie laughed abruptly, relief and mirth making her giddy. All the build up, all the fear and worry had been for nothing. She was positively thrilled. "It's fine," Stephanie assured Bonnie through her giggles. "The cycle of the year is pretty much all about sex, when it comes right down to it. Birth, life, death, rebirth—and a lot of sex in the meantime."
Bonnie laughed too, although a little nervously. "Really? In that case I think I've found a religion I can actually get on board with," she joked, making Stephanie laugh harder.
Donnelly stepped onto the bridge and paused in surprise before approaching the comm station. "You're working late," he said to Sato. He'd not expected to see her tonight.
"It happens sometimes."
"Even when you're the department head?"
She looked up from the communications console for the first time. "Especially when you're the department head," she replied wearily.
"As long as you're not working this late on Sunday," he said as they swapped positions.
"New Year's Eve."
"Oh," said Sato. "I'd almost forgotten about it."
"Forgotten?" Donnelly looked appalled. "How can you forget the best holiday of all?"
She shrugged and leaned against the rail next to the comm station. "It was never a big deal in my family, and it's not like anyone's going to notice if I don't come to the party."
"Now there you're wrong, missy," Donnelly contradicted easily. "If you're not there, who'll make fun of all the drunk people with me?"
"You can do that with Lieutenant Douglas, can't you?" she asked crossing her arms over her chest.
He looked at her coyly. "Not in Bengali."
Sato chuckled. "I suppose not," she agreed. "Maybe I'll stop by for a little while, just for you." She uncrossed her arms and tiredly pushed away from the rail.
"We'll see. Good night."
As Sato headed to the turbolift she glanced back at the helm. "Night, Hutch," she said in mild surprise. She hadn't even noticed when Ensign Hutchison had arrived and Tanner had departed.
"Good night," the Gamma shift helmsman replied pleasantly.
Sato hailed the turbolift, which opened immediately. She stepped in and rode silently to her deck. It had been a long, long day full of tiny fires that had needed to be put out. Nothing had been catastrophic; there had just been a series of little malfunctions and whatnot that had required her attention.
She reached her cabin and went inside. As the door slipped shut behind her, Hoshi turned the overhead light on to half power. She was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to be able simply to fall into bed and sleep for a week. But then I'd miss out on joking around with Liam at the New Year's party, she thought with a mix of humor and bitterness. She didn't relish the idea of attending the party. She had fond memories of the previous year's festivities, but even the promise of another vocal performance by Bonnie couldn't entice her to care.
She meandered into the lav and started the hot water running in the sink.
Face it, she thought as she stared at her reflection in the mirror. You don't want to go because you don't want to see Ian there having fun without you.
But would he be? another part of her asked. She had some doubts. She'd heard nothing about him finding someone else since he'd broken it off with her, so it was possible he'd be alone, too. But what about Rostov?
While she washed her face and cleaned her teeth, Hoshi considered what she knew and what she guessed. She wasn't entirely certain of what she had seen between Ian and crewman Rostov, but she'd had her suspicions at the time—particularly when Ian had dumped her less than a week later. But other than the brief moment of tenderness she had witnessed, there had been nothing to indicate a greater connection between the two men.
Anything more would be a serious breach of regulations, and Ian's not the kind to break regulations, she concluded firmly.
Isn't he? the pesky little voice in the back of her head asked.
No, he isn't, she insisted. Then doubt crept in. At least, he isn't usually.
Hoshi shut off the light in the lav, returned to her cabin, and began to change for bed. What if there is something going on between him and Michael? What would I do? I'd have to tell the Captain wouldn't I? But she was plagued with uncertainty. As a command officer, it was her duty to report such breaches of Starfleet regs, but as a rejected girlfriend, she didn't know if she could do it.
The fact is I still care about him. I want him back, and anything I do to sabotage his relationship with Michael—
Assuming it exists, the analytical part of her interjected.
—would destroy any possibility of Ian and me getting back together.
Reality struck abruptly and she almost laughed. She shook her head at herself in bemusement. I'm trying to fix a problem that probably doesn't even exist. What a waste of energy.
Hoshi shut off the light and crawled wearily into bed. And if it turns out there is something going on, she thought before sleep took her, I don't want to know about it.
Tucker stretched out on his bunk and folded his arms under his head atop the pillow. He crossed his ankles under the covers and stared dreamily at the ceiling. It was two days until New Year's Eve and he was looking forward to the night with great anticipation. "We're going to have such a good time," he said aloud.
"What?" asked Malcolm, emerging from the lav. He was dressed in pajama pants and nothing else, his hair still mussed from sleep.
"New Year's Eve," Trip clarified. "It's gonna be great. I've heard a little of what Turie and Firdosz have planned for the party in Engineering. It should be great!"
"Turie and Firdosz?" Despite the off-duty relationships he had with some of his own staff, he had a hard time keeping track of Trip's team by their first names. "Ensign Snider and ?"
"Crewman Nahai," clarified Trip. He rolled over onto one side and leaned on his elbow, resting his head on his hand.
"Ah. Thank you."
"I don't know everything they've got planned," Trip went on, "but Turie asked me to bring my harmonica."
Malcolm fought to keep his expression and tone neutral as he replied. "Did she?" He deliberately avoided his lover's gaze, choosing instead to open his drawer and pull out fresh blues.
"Yeah." The engineer's eyes narrowed as he watched Malcolm methodically collecting everything he needed to dress for duty. Trip sat up more fully and pinned him with a look. "What?" he demanded.
"You're acting strange suddenly."
"Strange?" Malcolm looked at him with what he hoped was an innocuous and innocent expression. "How so?"
Finally it clicked in Trip's head. "You don't like my harmonica, do you?"
"What makes you say that?"
"That look on your face, for one."
"There's no look on my face," protested Malcolm evenly.
"That's exactly what I mean. You're wearing that blank look you save for when you're trying not to be rude or insubordinate to the Captain. I've seen it a lot."
"I don't know what you're talking about." Malcolm turned away and put on his regulation bright blue undershirt.
Trip pushed back the bedclothes, and rose. Grabbing his boxers from the floor by the bunk, he pulled them on as he continued the argument. "Yes, you do." He crossed the room to where Malcolm stood.
Malcolm turned to face him. "Trip, can we not do this, please?"
"Argue about something as trivial as whether or not I like your harmonica."
"Oh, now my harmonica is trivial?" demanded Trip defensively.
"In the grand scheme of thing, yes, it is."
"Thanks a lot, Malcolm." There was hurt in his voice.
"Trip, calm down. You're making a mountain out of a molehill." Malcolm's tone became placating. "I never said I didn't like your harmonica." I just don't like having to listen to it, his mind added silently.
"So you do like it?" challenged Trip determinedly.
It was out before Malcolm could stop himself. "I wouldn't go that far."
Malcolm backpedaled rapidly. "It's not my favorite kind of music. That's all. That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with it."
"Damn right, it doesn't!" Trip's hackles were well and truly up.
"Why are you being so bloody defensive?" demanded Malcolm, more frustrated than angry, and genuinely puzzled. He'd tried to diffuse the situation before could come to this, but for whatever reason his partner wouldn't let it go.
"How come you never said anything before?"
"It never came up. Besides," he went on before Trip could say something else belligerent, "you don't play it that often. I didn't think it was that important to you. I'm sorry. I never intended to hurt your feelings or belittle something you enjoy."
"Well, you did," Trip replied flatly.
"I'm sorry," Malcolm said again. "If I'd realized " He trailed off, not entirely certain if honesty was truly the best policy at the moment.
"Yeah? If you'd realized then what?"
"I suppose I'd've kept my mouth shut about it."
There was a moment of tense silence as Trip glared daggers at Malcolm, then as abruptly as he'd angered, he calmed again. The ire seemed to deflate from him and he almost chuckled. "Perfect. I suppose that's what I get for asking."
"I didn't suppose you wanted me to lie to you."
"No. You're right." Trip paused and reconsidered. "Well, maybe you could've lied a little."
Malcolm shrugged. "I'll try to remember that in future," he said wryly. His words elicited a conciliatory smile from his lover, and he smiled back. "Get dressed and we can get breakfast before going on duty. I'll spend the entire meal apologizing if it'll help."
Trip's smile grew sly. "It couldn't hurt."
Lawless entered Main Engineering to the sound of bluegrass music being played on banjo, guitar, and harmonica. The old-fashioned acoustic music made her smile. Looking around, she quickly spotted two of her teammates and their C.O. at the far end of the long, narrow room. Commander Tucker looked like he was having so much fun that Lawless was willing to bet he'd be smiling non-stop for at least the next week. Snider and Hart were there with him, grinning as their fingers flew over their own instruments.
I had no idea Turie played the banjo, she thought, amazed and amused. How did I not know that? She shook her head at herself, chuckling.
"Hey, Lawless!" called out Ensign Cook. He waved her over to the makeshift bar that had been set up alongside the warp reactor.
"Is this really a good place to be serving booze?" she joked.
Cook shrugged. "Better than upstairs—where people would be lots more likely to fall from than down here," he countered, pointing at the open level above them.
Lawless nodded in agreement. His logic was solid, even if his grammar was doubtful. "What are you serving?"
"Four kinds of beer and two kinds of water." At her puzzled look, he elaborated. "Hefeweizen, bitter, amber, stout. Fizzy and plain," he concluded.
"I'm guessing the last two are the waters."
"Right you are! So, what'll it be?"
"A half-pint of amber, please."
Cook grabbed a pint glass and began to fill it. Before Lawless could protest, he said, "It's low-alcohol beer. Have a whole pint. It's not my favorite, personally, but it's good enough." He set the glass on the bar before her.
"Good enough for what?"
He grinned at her. "Good enough for what ails you," he answered enigmatically.
Lawless decided that he'd already had more than his fair share so there wasn't much point in continuing the conversation. "Cheers." Smiling, she raised her glass in a toast and sipped it before walking away from the mildly intoxicated bartender.
She looked around and realized that nearly every member of Engineering was already there. She caught the eyes of several co-workers and exchanged greetings with them. Almack, Rostov, Nahai, Kumata, and Ferridec were clustered together, listening as Ferridec told one of his outrageous and overly involved jokes. Apparently he'd just reached the climax, because the others suddenly laughed boisterously. Lawless saw Rostov swig back a huge swallow of beer, then surreptitiously check the time before joining in his friends' merriment.
She noticed Kelly and Fletcher next. They were dancing a surprisingly coordinated two-step while Rossi clapped in time to the music.
It was then her roving eyes spotted Lieutenant Reed standing with Lieutenant Hess near the performers. Both held half-finished beers and their attention was on the musicians. Even from that distance, Lawless could see that Reed's smile was a little strained. He was obviously uncomfortable, but it was equally obvious to her that he was trying his damnedest to appear as though he were having a good time.
Poor guy, she thought sympathetically, sipping her drink. He really doesn't want to be here. She wondered if he would be able to escape to the other party going on in the Rec. Center. Maybe if the Commander gets drunk later, I can smuggle the Lieutenant out when I leave.
Surprised at her own thoughts, she glanced down at her beer. She shot a suspicious look over towards Cook at the bar. "You sure this is low-alcohol?" she called to him over the music and general chatter.
He simply grinned, rosy cheeks practically glowing in the light of the engine.
"Great," muttered Lawless to herself. She silently vowed not to have another before going to the other party. She wanted to be sober when she met up with Ari there later.
Of course, she'd have to do a quick change of clothes before that. The party in the Rec. Center was much more formal than this gathering. Mae glanced around and confirmed her suspicions. No one there was in anything dressier than a pair of slacks or a simple skirt. She herself had opted for her usual chinos and a purple blouse. It was her standard "party outfit." The night's duty personnel were easy to pick out in the crowd; they were the only ones in uniform, but they appeared to be enjoying the music and atmosphere all the same.
Mae had one formal dress hanging undisturbed in her locker. Stephanie had convinced her to bring it when they'd left San Francisco. They had had lengthy and repeated arguments about the need for formalwear in deep space before they'd shipped out on Enterprise. They'd been silly, lighthearted debates in which Mae had insisted that any aliens they met wouldn't know or care whether or not the humans were dressed up for First Contact. Stephanie had countered that the aliens were irrelevant and there would eventually come a time when she would regret not having something fancy to wear if she didn't bring at least one dress. In the end, Mae had given in simply to shut her up. Now she would have to admit that Stephanie had been right.
If it makes Ari's eyes do that cute awestruck thing, she thought with a grin, it'll be worth it.
The party in the Rec. Center was in full swing, although the live entertainment had yet to start. A bar manned by two stewards had been set up at one end of the room. Chef and his team had provided a huge array of hors d'oeuvres for people to nibble as the night progressed. Recorded music played softly under the white noise of many conversations. The main lights were dimmed just enough that tiny pinpoints of illumination could be seen on the walls and ceiling. They'd been painstakingly laid out to form the constellations of Earth's night skies.
Several small, round tables covered with plain white cloths dotted the room, some with chairs and others without. One area was left clear, however. A small stage had been set up in the far corner of the room where it was backed by large windows. The floor in front of it was open, providing plenty of room for those who might want to dance.
Above the stage hung a scale model of Earth's moon as it had looked before colonization. The only human addition to its surface—a digital screen set into the Mare Imbrium—faced the room. Green numbers glowed on it, counting down the time to the New Year.
Travis and Liz entered the room arm-in-arm. Liam spotted them and pointed them out to his companions. "Look at them," he said. "Don't they just make the most stunning couple, then?"
Travis looked sharp in a dark purple shirt and a pair of black slacks so well pressed they looked as though they could have sliced through bread. Liz was resplendent as well. Her royal blue silk dress skimmed her curves, outlining them perfectly.
Liam waved to catch their attention. Travis spotted him and waved back.
Hoshi regarded the pair as they wove their way through the crowd. "They're close, but I think you two have the 'Most Stunning Couple' award in the bag," she quipped.
"You're too kind, my dear," Kyrin chimed in. "Stay that way."
The three of them laughed just as Travis and Liz reached them. "What's so funny?" inquired Liz with a smile.
"Himself," Liam answered, pointing with his thumb to his partner. "Drink?"
"Yes, please, if you're going that way. Red wine?"
"And for the gent?" He turned an inquiring smile on Travis.
"Whatever amber beer they're serving, thanks," he replied.
Liam turned to Kyrin. "Another?"
"Thank you." Kyrin handed him his empty martini glass, and Liam turned to Hoshi.
"I'm fine, thanks," she said before he could ask.
He nodded and disappeared into the crowd.
Liz turned to Hoshi. "You look beautiful tonight," she said.
The comm officer glanced down at her floral skirt and crimson top. She shrugged. "Thanks," she said unenthusiastically. "It's what I had. You look gorgeous, though!" she added more cheerfully.
"Thanks. Travis said the same thing, but you can never trust a guy to tell you if you don't look good." Liz shot Travis a teasing look.
"It's less dangerous that way," he said in all seriousness.
Kyrin sniffed woundedly and brushed a non-existent bit of fluff from the lapel of his charcoal-gray blazer. "Is no one going to tell me how fabulous I look?" he asked in a mock-offended tone.
Travis grinned and replied in overstated earnestness, "You look simply stunning this evening."
"Thank you, my dear fellow."
Liam returned at that moment, carrying four drinks with expert ease.
"Where did you learn to do that?" Liz wanted to know as she took the wineglass precariously balanced atop the other glasses.
"Waiting tables in a Belfast pub," Liam said. He turned a hopeful eye on Kyrin. "Would you mind?"
His lover promptly claimed his martini, leaving Liam holding two pint glasses. The young man passed one over to Travis.
"Thanks," the helmsman said.
"You're just in time," Hoshi informed Liam. "It looks like the entertainment's going to start any moment." She had been watching the stage area for a while, and it looked like the performers were almost ready. Bonnie, however, seemed to be stalling a bit. She moved more slowly than the three musicians with her, repeatedly checked the time, and then glanced at the Rec. Center's door.
"Where's Stephanie?" asked Travis, unknowingly mirroring Bonnie's thoughts. He looked around the room, trying to spot the short blonde amidst the throng.
"She should have beaten us here," Liz informed the group as she added her gaze to the search. "She left the cabin the same time I did, and I stopped at Travis's before coming here."
At that moment, Hoshi saw Bonnie's face light up in a broad smile. "I think she just arrived." The small group looked toward the door where Stephanie had just entered—with Ian on one arm and Ari on the other.
Liz laughed. "Leave it to her to make a grand entrance."
They watched Stephanie shoot a grin at Bonnie, who grinned and nodded slightly in return. Then the blonde led her escorts to the bar where they ordered and were promptly served. Stephanie said something quietly to the two men before giving them a little wave good-bye and heading towards Liz and the others.
"Greetings, all," she said cheerfully. "Looks like I haven't missed anything."
Before anyone could reply, the drummer counted out a beat with his sticks and the music began. It was a quick swing rhythm that immediately set toes tapping amid the crowd. When Bonnie joined in on the vocals, even those not actively listening couldn't help but move a little with the beat.
"It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.
By the time the song was over, Bonnie had everyone's attention and they all applauded appreciatively.
"Thank you and good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the Starlight Ballroom," Bonnie quipped to the crowd. Many people chuckled and, encouraged, she went on. "You've probably figured out our theme for tonight's entertainment by now. Please feel free to dance if the music inspires you in that direction. We'll be singing and playing up to the New Year. We hope you enjoy it because you're stuck with us for the next hour and a half."
Without any further preamble, the trio struck up another tune.
"Fly me to the moon, and let me play among the stars.
At one end of the bar, Ari leaned towards Ian and said, "They're really good!"
Ian shrugged one shoulder and tossed back the last of his beer. He set down the empty glass and caught the steward's eye. "Gimme another."
"Don't you think?" Ari persisted, sipping his own drink more sedately. He wanted to be relaxed but still sober when Mae arrived. He absently adjusted a cuff that was already perfectly fine, causing his pint glass to tip and spill slightly, nearly splashing Ian.
"Whoops!" Ari immediately righted his glass and took another drink to lower the level. "Sorry."
Ian claimed his fresh beer from the bar steward. "No big deal," he said flatly. He stared out across the crowd, actively trying not to notice where Hoshi was, whom she was with, or how terrific she looked. He took another long swallow of beer.
"Slow down, buddy," Ari cautioned. "You're not going to make it to midnight at the rate you're going."
"Come on. You're all dressed up. You're at a party. You could at least try to have a good time while you're here."
Ian fixed his bunkmate with a thin-lipped stare. "I'm here because you wouldn't shut up about it." It was only half the truth. He didn't think Ari needed to know the other half—that although he was screwing Michael, he wanted to show up at the New Year's party looking so good that Hoshi would be impressed and just maybe want him back.
He held up his beer. "And I am trying to have a good time."
As the music continued, couples began to filter toward the empty area before the stage and begin dancing.
Liz turned to Travis. "May I have this dance?"
"Absolutely." They set their drinks on a nearby table. The two took hands and Liz led Travis out onto the dance floor. The current song ended shortly after their arrival, but the band immediately launched into another. This time it was a slow, romantic tune.
Kyrin smiled at Liam. "I think this one is just my speed," he said invitingly, offering his lover a hand.
Liam took it readily. He looked to Hoshi and Stephanie. "Excuse us, ladies." Setting aside their drinks as the others had done before them, the pair joined the dancing couples.
Left alone, Hoshi and Stephanie sipped their drinks in silence and enjoyed the music.
Bonnie sang and moved easily before the crowd, apparently completely comfortable and in her element. She had on the same green dress and high heels she'd worn at Stephanie's birthday party the past Spring and it had the same effect on the blonde now that it had had then. Her eyes remained riveted on Bonnie, her heart raced, and she grew increasingly aroused.
Stephanie deliberately looked away in order to break her train of thought. It was over an hour until midnight when she could escape with her lover and actually do something about her feelings. For now, she distracted herself by taking the lime wedge from the edge of her glass and squeezing it into her tonic. Then she delicately licked the sour juice from her fingers. "Tacky, I know," she said to her companion, "but why have the lime if you're not going to use it?"
"I can't argue with that," Hoshi replied with a small smile.
Her tone was light, but there was something in her manner that gave Stephanie pause. She followed the comm officer's gaze to where it rested on two figures at the bar. Ah. Ian, she thought. She had to admit her fellow armory ensign looked great tonight. His black shirt had a hint of shine to it and the slacks he wore were just tight enough in all the right places. His shoes were so highly polished that they reflected the lights of the simulated constellations.
Ari was certainly no slouch, either. He wore a warm pumpkin-colored oxford shirt and linen pants in a rich shade of brown that perfectly matched his eyes. Stephanie smirked, knowing just whom he was dressed up for. She looked forward to Mae's arrival to see how her friend reacted when she saw him.
Stephanie had run into Ian and Ari on her way to the Rec. Center. They'd been arguing about something, but stopped the moment they caught sight of her. She had taken the opportunity to link arms with both men and walk them to their obvious destination. The fact that it allowed her to make an entrance on the arms of two handsome men had been icing on the cake—a little bit of added fun in her evening.
"They look hot," she said, startling Hoshi and causing her to look suddenly in a different direction.
"Who?" Hoshi asked too nonchalantly.
"Ian and Ari. I saw you looking at them. Can't blame you. They both clean up surprisingly well, don't they?"
There was no point in denying it. Anyone with eyes would have had to agree. "They sure do," Hoshi admitted. "You look great tonight, too," she went on, hoping to sidetrack the conversation.
Stephanie looked down at her black pumps and silk skirt, then ran her free hand along the arm that held her drink. The burgundy velvet of her shirt felt luxurious against her fingers. She grinned. "Bonnie likes it," she said coyly, a gleam in her eyes.
Hoshi forced herself to smile back. She didn't begrudge her friends their fun; she just didn't appreciate having to watch all the happy couples around her when she was alone.
The music changed to another upbeat number and it made Stephanie want to move. "You want to dance?" she asked suddenly, interrupting Hoshi's glum musings.
Hoshi shrugged uncertainly. "I don't know. I'm not very familiar with swing dancing."
"Don't worry. I am, but I never get to lead when I dance with Bonnie." Before Hoshi could protest again, Stephanie took the comm officer's drink and set it on the table with her own. "C'mon." She grabbed her hand and pulled her onto the dance floor.
"Look at that," said Ari, surprised and impressed. Stephanie and Hoshi had just joined the rest of the dancers and they were immediately spinning and swinging their way through the crowd. "I had no idea either of them could dance like that."
Ian had seen the same thing his roommate saw, but he was less enthusiastic. "Me either," he practically grunted. His expression was dour as he tossed back his beer and demanded another from the steward. The young man complied after a brief hesitation.
"How many is that?" Ari asked his bunkmate quietly.
Ari shot a quick, inquisitive glance at the bar steward who shook his head and covertly held up four fingers. Ari nodded his thanks and refocused his attention on his friend. "Pace yourself," he recommended. "There's still an hour to go."
"You're assuming I intend to be here at midnight," Ian said dully.
"Where else—?" But his question was cut short as the door opened.
Mae stood there, outlined by the light from the corridor as she paused in the doorway and scanned the room with her eyes. Ari gaped at her, his train of thought completely derailed. She was dressed in a sleeveless, floor-length black gown with an asymmetrical neckline trimmed in pale gold. The skirt of the dress was slit up to her knee on one side, and her stance revealed one shapely leg all the way down to her high-heeled sandal.
Ian glanced from Ari to Mae and then back again before snorting in disgust. "Stop drooling. It makes you look desperate."
Ari shut his mouth with a snap and shot a glare at his bunkmate. "You just get funnier every damn day," he snarled. Then he turned a more pleasant look on the bar steward. "Another hefeweizen and a cosmopolitan, please."
The man quickly served him the drinks. Ari thanked him politely and then made his way across the room without a single backward glance at Ian.
"Hi," said Ari when he reached Mae. "Drink?"
She smiled and took the martini glass. "Thank you."
Mae's smile broadened. Ari's eyes were doing precisely what she'd hoped they would do; he looked awestruck. "Thank you," she said again. She sipped her cosmopolitan, then looked up at him enticingly over the rim of the glass. "Perfect."
It had taken some doing, but he'd finally managed it. Archer had convinced T'Pol to come to the New Year's Eve party. The pair walked together toward the Rec. Center.
"I swear you'll have a great time," Archer insisted.
"So you said," his second-in-command replied evenly.
"There's a jazz trio and Ensign Fraser is singing."
"I still fail to see why you feel it's so important for me to attend this gathering."
"It only happens once a year. I think you can stand to relax for half an hour with your fellow crewmembers."
"I don't find large gatherings of humans relaxing."
"All the more reason to go," insisted Archer. At T'Pol's highly dubious look, he explained. "The more often you mingle, the easier it becomes. There's an old Earth saying. 'Familiarity breeds contentment.'"
"Really?" She paused and turned to him, causing him to stop abruptly, mid-stride. "I understood the saying to be 'Familiarity breeds contempt.'"
Archer was momentarily stymied. He couldn't be sure, but he almost thought she was teasing him. He continued walking before replying, "It depends who you ask."
T'Pol inclined her head slightly in acknowledgment and followed him.
When they reached the door to the Rec. Center, Archer took his moment of revenge. He leaned over and spoke quietly in T'Pol's ear. "Don't worry. Nobody expects you to kiss anyone at midnight, despite tradition." He stole a quick glance at her and grinned smugly to himself at her wide-eyed consternation. He strolled casually into the room, hands in the pockets of his tan slacks, leaving her standing in the doorway. He almost felt like whistling.
The band was in the middle of a French torch song of the swing era. Archer didn't understand the words, but the tone suggested a love song. At the bar, he ran into Doctor Phlox.
"Evening, Doctor," he said, then turned to the nearest bar steward. "I'll take a schooner of amber."
"Yes, sir," the young man replied, filling his order and placing the glass on the bar.
"Good evening, Captain," replied Phlox jovially. He sipped something pink and frothy with a small umbrella in it. "Splendid party, isn't it?"
Archer nodded, took a swallow of beer, and looked around. "The Stellar Cartography department really outdid themselves with the decorations."
The two stood in companionable silence for several moments.
"They're very good," Phlox said eventually, nodding toward the group on stage. "Did you know that Emily—med-tech Northfield—has studied the bass since she was eight years old?"
"Really?" Archer regarded the woman playing the narrow, upright electric bass.
"Yes. It came up once in conversation—I don't recall how or why."
"What about the others? The men on drums and keyboard?"
Phlox smiled at him blithely. "I have no idea."
The song ended and they applauded with the rest of the crowd before the band transitioned into a new piece. This one was fast-paced and in English. Immediately the dance floor was swamped with couples ready to swing. As the night had progressed, more and more people had loosened up and begun to dance.
T'Pol approached the bar. "Ginger ale with ice," she told the steward. She waited until she had her drink before acknowledging Phlox and Archer. "Doctor. Captain."
"Good evening, Sub-commander!" Phlox chimed cheerily. He's eyes were bright and shining as he sipped at his drink.
"How many of those have you had?" asked Archer uncertainly but with mirth in his voice.
"Six," the doctor announced.
"What are you drinking?" T'Pol inquired curiously.
"Uhh..." He looked to the bar steward. "What did you call this again?"
"Shirley Temple," the young man replied.
"Shirley Temple!" echoed Phlox as if it were an epiphany.
Archer chuckled. "Shirley Temple?"
T'Pol looked at him inquisitively, puzzled by his mirth. "I don't understand."
"There's no alcohol in a Shirley Temple," Archer explained.
"No," agreed Phlox readily. "But there is a very high sugar content! Would you care to dance, Sub-commander?"
"No, thank you," T'Pol answered unequivocally.
Phlox turned bright eyes on Archer. "Captain?"
"I think I'll pass, thanks," the captain replied, still laughing.
"Your loss." Phlox tossed back the last of his fruity beverage and set the glass solidly on the bar. "Hmm... It looks as though Ensign Sato's dance partner has deserted her. Perhaps I can entice her onto the floor."
Archer and T'Pol watched him maneuver through the crowd to where Sato stood at the edge of the dance floor. They exchanged a few words, then joined the dancing couples.
Once out on the floor, Hoshi smiled at Phlox. "I had no idea you knew how to dance."
"I've been watching for the last hour or so," he replied, spinning her away and back in again. "I've managed to pick up one or two moves." He dipped her suddenly, then righted her and spun her out to arm's length again.
Hoshi grabbed both of his hands, laughing. "You certainly have!"
Liz and Travis danced by. "Great moves!" grinned Liz.
"Thank you!" Phlox replied, then tangoed Hoshi across the floor.
"Okay, where did he learn how to do that?" Travis wondered.
Ari overheard him as he and Mae passed by. "I think he's been watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies."
"That explains it."
Off to one side, Ian watched them all dancing and laughing. He took a long drink of his beer and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. He leaned against the bulkhead and checked the time. It took him a moment or two to focus on the numbers in the panel by the door, but he finally came up with 2359.
Good, he thought fuzzily. He knew he was a bit drunk, but he didn't care. He was still sober enough to know he didn't want to there anymore.
On stage, the music ended and someone handed Bonnie a wineglass and a spoon. She tapped the glass lightly to get everyone's attention.
Ian finished the dregs his beer and left the empty pint glass on a table. He took one bleary look around the room. When all eyes were focused on Bonnie, he slipped out the door. He could hear her speaking for a moment before the door closed and he was alone. He wove his way unsteadily along the corridor in the direction of his cabin.
Back in the Rec. Center, the countdown had begun. Nearly everyone shouted out the numbers as they clicked on toward midnight. T'Pol watched in silence from her position at the back of the room. Archer noticed her there, looked over, and winked mischievously. She looked pointedly away.
"Four three two one!"
Wild cheering and shouts of "Happy New Year!" rang through the room. Couples kissed to mark the turning of the year. Even people who weren't romantically involved traded kisses to honor the event.
Travis and Liz, already standing hand-in-hand, leaned into one another to share a quick kiss. Their eyes held a promise of more to come when they were alone.
Kyrin grabbed Liam and dipped him dramatically before righting his lover and kissing him soundly. Liam laughed in gleeful surprise. He whispered something in Kyrin's ear that made the older man grin and nod.
Without warning, Hoshi found herself pulled in by Liam and a kiss planted on her lips.
"Happy New Year, missy," he declared.
"You, too," she replied, too surprised to come up with anything more. She smiled pensively as Liam rejoined Kyrin.
Several steps away from their friends, Mae and Ari looked at each other a little nervously. Both were flushed with the combination of drinks and dancing. Their hearts beat rapidly.
Come on. Kiss me already! Mae thought, desperate to dispel the awkward moment.
"May I?" Ari asked in a mixture of gallantry and bashfulness.
"Yes!" Mae answered fervently enough to make Ari start in surprise. They both laughed, and then they kissed sweetly, softly, with a hint of shyness in their embrace. When they broke the kiss, the two smiled at one another.
Mae wrapped her arm around Ari's waist and murmured softly, "You can do that any time, by the way."
He grinned at her. "I'll remember that."
Bonnie stepped away from the stage and grabbed Stephanie's hand. She pulled her in, kissing her quickly. Then she whispered in the shorter woman's ear, "That's just a prologue." Before Stephanie could reply, Bonnie was back up on stage. She signaled the crewman at the keyboard, and he began to play an old, traditional tune. Immediately, people began to sing.
"Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
More cheering erupted when the verse was done, and more kissing followed soon after. Hoshi took the moment to sidle towards the door. She didn't need to hang around any longer and watch happy and drunk people snogging one another.
The band had just begun to play their final number as Hoshi slowly made her way to the edge of the crowd. She listened to the lullaby-like song and smiled, thinking back on the evening.
"Goodnight, my love, the tired old moon is descending," sang Bonnie sweetly.
All in all, she'd had a good time. She'd really enjoyed getting to relax and chat with her friends. Dancing with Stephanie and with Phlox had been unexpected and fun, and it had been sweet of Liam to give her a New Year's kiss.
"Goodnight my love, my moment with you now is ending."
Then her smile faded a bit as she thought of Ian. He'd spent the better part of the evening leaning nonchalantly on the bar and looking more handsome than he had any right to look. She might be projecting, but she wondered if he hadn't also looked a bit lonely.
She sighed and yawned. It was time for her to get some sleep.
"It was so heavenly, holding you close to me,
Hoshi slipped out into the corridor. She yawned again, covering her mouth with one delicate hand as she walked tiredly to the turbolift. She looked forward to washing the makeup from her face, changing into her nightgown, and falling into bed.
She reached the lift and hailed it. The door whooshed open and Hoshi froze—as did the lift's two occupants.
A split second later Michael and Ian leapt apart as if they'd been stung, but it was too late. There was no way to hide what they'd been doing when Hoshi had inadvertently stumbled upon their clandestine meeting. Ian scrambled to do up his shirt, getting the sides off from one another as he fumbled with the buttons. Michael stood there in shocked and stony silence, waiting to see what the others would do. He took the moment to tuck the tails of his shirt back into his tight-fitting black jeans.
Ian broke the terrible silence. "Hoshi I I can explain "
Hoshi desperately wished she could turn back time. It didn't have to be much; even one minute would have been more than plenty. She just needed enough time to change her mind, to decide to stay for Bonnie's last song, or to have one last drink before turning in. She didn't want to see what she saw, didn't want to know what she knew.
Music filtered along the corridor as the Rec. Center's door opened and people began to leave the party.
Hoshi's heart ached, but her voice was cold and steady as she gave Ian the only answer she could. "Save it for Captain Archer."
Quietly, Bonnie's voice reached them.
"Sleep tight, my love, goodnight, my love,
1It Don't Mean a Thing lyrics by Irving Mills, copyright 1932
2 Fly Me to the Moon lyrics by Bart Howard, copyright 1954
3 Auld Lang Syne lyrics by Robert Burns
4 Goodnight, My Love lyrics by Mack Gordon, copyright 1934