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Liz and Travis sat at a small table in the far corner of the mess hall. It wasn't quite the romantic dinner for two they might have wished for, but life on Enterprise allowed little opportunity for such luxuries. Instead they took pleasure in having managed to bag a relatively solitary spot in the bustling room.
They chatted comfortably about their days until finally Liz could no longer keep her curiosity at bay. "So, that guys' night out the other night " she began.
Travis chuckled. "I wondered when you were going to ask about that," he replied.
Liz shrugged, trying to be coy but failing. "I just wondered what you talked about. There seemed to be some pretty heated discussions going on at times."
"You could say that." The helmsman shook his head, remembering the moment when Rostov and Young had nearly come to blows over a few misplaced comments. "I half expected Stephanie to follow up on her threat to come over."
"I'm not big on violence, but it might have been entertaining," said Liz with a smirk. "So what was it all about, anyway?" she persisted.
Travis thought hard before responding. He didn't want to betray his friends' confidences, but he figured letting her in on their bet wouldn't hurt anything. "They're having sort of a contest."
"A contest?" the exobiologist echoed. "What kind of contest?"
"Ian, Michael, and Ari all have until midnight Thursday to ask out the people they have crushes on."
Liz's dark eyes widened and she laughed, almost choking on a swallow of iced tea. She caught her breath and asked with glee, "Who do they have crushes on?"
Travis shook his head. "I can't say."
"Because I don't want them finding out."
"Who them? The guys or the crushes?"
"Either. Both." He struggled for a moment, looking for the right word, then figured it didn't matter.
"Come on," cajoled Liz, batting her eyelashes playfully. "I won't tell."
"Sure you won't." He didn't believe for a split second she was serious.
Now Liz pouted, her full bottom lip poking out sulkily. She wasn't truly upset, but she was enjoying the game. "Please?"
Travis almost gave in. He knew she was only playing, but the look on her face was pretty irresistible. He wanted to lean over the table and capture that pouty mouth with his own and only just managed to stop himself from doing it. This isn't the place for that, he reminded himself firmly and felt a twinge of disappointment. He decided to try distracting himself as well as her. "What were you all talking about that night?"
Immediately sucking back her lip, Liz smiled too innocently. "Nothing."
"You were talking about us, weren't you?" he asked, remembering Young's take on it at the time.
"You were!" Travis flashed his broad grin. "I knew it."
"I didn't say a thing!" insisted Liz. She took a bite of asparagus, hoping to end the conversation.
"You didn't have to. Besides," he continued, hoping to gain a little insight without tipping his own hand, "I saw that look Hoshi gave Ian."
"The look she gave him? I think that was the other way around," declared Liz.
Travis shrugged casually. "Whatever you say."
"What do you mean?" Now she was curious. "You really think Hoshi would ? Forget it." She shook her head.
"You don't think she's got it for Ian?"
"I don't." She took a deliberate sip of her iced tea.
There was a sinking feeling in Travis's stomach. What if she's right? Maybe I should tell Ian A gleam in Liz's eyes caught his attention. He shook his head, knowing he'd been taken in. "Okay, you win. Ian's crushing on Hoshi. But I'm not telling you who the others are!"
"I'm not asking." She flashed him a mischievous smile.
Suddenly, Thursday midnight couldn't come soon enough for the helmsman.
Michael Rostov was having a rotten day. He'd screwed up the job he'd been doing in engineering three times. It wasn't anything major, and he'd fixed it each time, but that didn't make it any less tedious and frustrating. He knew exactly what was wrong, too. He was totally distracted by The Bet. The wager he'd so easily entered into with the guys had taken on a life of its own in the crewman's mind. He couldn't help but think of it in capital letters.
His dilemma was two-fold. First, he had to find an opportunity to talk to Ethan--not an easy prospect when the two never worked together. Second, he had to ask him out--scary enough in its own right, but what if Ethan wasn't interested in guys? And worse, what if he was interested in guys, but not interested in him?
You never know until you ask, he told himself.
But when can I ask? Thursday was rapidly approaching, and there was no guarantee the others hadn't already asked out their crushes. His confidence insisted Travis would have mentioned it if they had, but his paranoia helpfully reminded him that wasn't necessarily the case.
He sighed. Didn't Travis say he occasionally games with Ethan? he remembered suddenly. Maybe I can catch him after a session. Casually wander into the mess hall late some evening, just when the game is breaking up for the night
You're assuming there'll be a session between now and midnight Thursday, his paranoia interrupted.
Michael snarled at it, but it persisted.
You should just get it over with. Ask him out, he'll turn you down, and you can get back to being your sorry self.
Oddly enough, he found the thought heartening. I'll ask him tonight, he decided abruptly. He knew Ethan's duty schedule as well as his own; Novakovich would be free this evening and Rostov could catch him after dinner. Once Ethan had turned him down, at least he would know where he stood with the sciences crewman. Then he could get on with his life. Cheered by this bleak realization, Michael was finally able to focus on his work for the first time in two days.
Ensign Young had his plan of attack prepared. He knew where his prey was and he knew how he intended to approach her. He entered the gym dressed for sparring--perfectly reasonable whether he intended to spar with the punching bag or a live opponent. He planned on the latter.
"Hey, Cormack," he called, waving a hello to the fellow armory ensign. She nodded back from where she jogged on a treadmill. "How's it going?"
"Good," was her terse reply. She'd been on the machine a while and had limited breath to spare for conversation. "You?"
Young sat casually on a bench and began wrapping cloth tape around his hands. "Good. Thought I'd get in some time with the bag." He nodded his head toward the heavy punching bag.
He rose and took a few warm-up jabs, then stretched a bit to lengthen and loosen tight muscles. "How was the armory today?" he asked. He'd spent his shift on the bridge.
Cormack shrugged, not slowing her pace. Both ensigns fell silent, each apparently intent on his or her own workout.
Several minutes passed without either saying a word. Eventually Cormack reached her programmed goal time and gradually brought the treadmill to a halt. Breathing deeply, she took the towel that hung on the rail and mopped her face.
Young kept half an eye on her, waiting to make his move. Not wanting to appear too eager, he delayed just a little longer, giving her time to catch her breath. He watched covertly as she stepped off the machine. When he felt the moment was right, he stopped battering the punching bag and stilled it with his hands. Casually, he asked, "You want a go-round?"
Cormack eyed him. "What? You figured I'm knackered enough you might actually have a chance at taking me down?" she quipped.
He fought his immediate instinct to rise to the bait. She's just yanking your chain, he told himself firmly. Play it cool. "Think you can't handle it?" he countered easily, a challenging grin on his face.
"You wish. Okay, you're on. I could do with pounding a person for a change. But I should warn you, I'm carrying a butt-load of pent up frustrations and I'm PMSing."
Young actually hesitated. "I think I can manage," he said boldly.
She shrugged indifferently. "Your life."
Ten minutes later, as Young leaned on Cormack all the way to sickbay, he thought, Damn. Ari owes me big-time! But the sprained ankle was worth it for the information he'd gathered on his bunkmate's behalf.
Cormack stopped walking and waited for Lawless to catch up. "Hey, yourself. Going to the mess hall?"
"Absolutely," the engineer affirmed.
"Cool. I hate eating alone." The two continued toward their destination. "Unless you're already meeting someone?" Stephanie asked suddenly, thinking perhaps Mae was meeting up with her bunkmate. Or Ian.
"Nope," Lawless answered. She was pretty sure she knew why Cormack had asked, and she sighed internally. If those two don't work things out soon, I'm going to have to lock them in a room for twenty-four hours and wait to see who's left standing when the time's up. Not wanting to follow that line of thought aloud, she asked instead, "Did you have a good workout?" She guessed rightly from Cormack's casual attire that she'd been to the gym and had a shower before heading to dinner.
Stephanie shrugged. "Yeah. Weights, treadmill, usual shit." Cormack looked energized suddenly. "Beat up on Ian for a while," she said, almost smiling.
The pair reached the mess hall and entered. It was fairly quiet; only a few people were scattered around at the tables. They continued to chat as they collected their dinners. "That must have been fun," commented Mae. Balancing a plate of linguine in one hand, she placed a glass under the drinks dispenser. "Water, cold." Immediately it began to fill.
"Actually, it was kind of weird," Stephanie replied. "He kept talking while we sparred. Wouldn't shut up. That's probably why he landed wrong when I took him down that last time," she concluded with a smirk. "I told him to shut up, but he didn't listen," she added with a playful air.
Mae chuckled, claiming her filled glass. "I wish I'd seen it." She was pleased to see Stephanie so apparently lighthearted, but deep down she knew it was a front. They'd known one another too long for her to be fooled by Cormack's easygoing façade. Still it was better than the alternative, and this wasn't the place for that sort of emotional scene anyway.
Cormack placed her own glass on the pad. "Lemonade, cold," she ordered. Then she glanced over her shoulder at Mae. "I don't think his ego could have handled witnesses. You know guys--especially 'tough guys' like Young. He's a good guy, but he's not too hot on losing a fight--even when it's just practice."
"Of course. That's part of the fun of watching," joked Mae.
It was the sort of thing that usually made Stephanie chuckle, but this time the armory ensign just gave a half-hearted shrug. She picked up her drink and the two of them found an empty table, nodding hello to their gaming buddy, Novakovich, as they passed his table. "He asked about you, actually."
It was lucky they had just sat down when she spoke, or Mae would have dropped her plate in shock. "Me? Why?" she asked, using a napkin to mop up the water she'd sloshed on the table.
"I don't know. He was pretty curious, though. Asked a lot of questions." She kept an eye on her friend to see how she took this bit of news.
"Like, are you seeing anyone? Like, do you like boys?"
"God damn!" Mae was so surprised she wasn't sure whether to be flattered at his inquiry or pissed that he'd gone behind her back to someone else for the information.
"He wondered if you were Canadian."
"Are Giants fans allowed to live in Canada?" Lawless joked, trying to shake off the weirdness of the situation.
Finally Cormack flashed her a grin. "No," she said firmly. "I told him you were from San Francisco."
"Thanks," said Mae, not knowing what else to say. "Weird."
They ate in silence for a little while until Stephanie spoke up again. "I think he's hot for you."
Mae choked on a bite of pasta.
"Sorry!" But Cormack was laughing. "I didn't mean to make you choke."
"Sure you didn't," replied Lawless, catching her breath. She took a sip of water and cleared her throat. "I just I mean What the hell?!"
"Don't go knocking Ian. I told you he's a good guy. I wouldn't date him, but he's still a good guy." She smirked and took a bite of salad.
"That's not the issue. He is not my type."
"I know." It was an old conversation they'd had many times over the years they'd been friends. "You want someone understated, quiet, maybe even a little bit shy, but who can still let their hair down when the occasion calls for it."
"Exactly! And good guy or not, that's definitely not 'Casanova' Young."
Across the mess hall, the door slipped open. Crewman Rostov and Ensign Cohn entered together, talking quietly.
"There he is," Michael said, noticing Ethan alone at a table reading a datapad.
Ari swallowed hard. "And there's Mae," he said, spotting her with Ensign Cormack.
The two men kept a surreptitious eye on their objectives as they collected mugs and filled them at the drinks dispenser.
"You gonna ask her now?" Rostov spared a moment from watching Ethan to glance at Ari.
"I don't know," the ensign said. "She's eating. With a friend. I don't want to interrupt. It'd be rude."
Now Michael gave his companion his full attention--and a scolding look. "There's no such thing as the perfect moment, so I wouldn't recommend waiting for it to ask her."
"I didn't say that," protested Ari. He sipped at the drink he'd ordered and made a face. He'd been so distracted by Mae's presence that he'd forgotten to ask for the coffee sweetened.
Michael once more had his eyes trained on his target. "Well I'm doing this now. Better to get it over with than keep suffering, wondering what he'll say." He glanced at Ari once more. "You staying here?" he asked.
"No. I'm going back to my cabin." Ari set his still nearly full mug of coffee in a bin of dirty dishes. "Nee puhka nee pirah."
Rostov grinned. "K'chyertu," he replied easily. Then steeling himself for the disappointment he was certain was about to befall him, he approached Ethan's table.
Ari left the mess hall. However Michael's endeavor turned out, he didn't care to be there to see it. He'd really only come along to kill some time and because Rostov had suggested Mae might be there. Well she was, he thought. But I didn't do anything about it. I should've asked her right then. But he knew it was pointless. His claim that he didn't want to interrupt had been an excuse. The truth was he didn't want witnesses when she turned him down.
I hope Rostov's bunkmate isn't as sloppy as he is, he thought, hailing a turbolift. Cleaning their cabin will be bad enough without that.
Young set his plate of eggs and hashbrowns on the table and asked, "Mind if I join you?" He sat before Ensign Sato could respond. "Thanks."
Hoshi looked at him, taken aback. "Make yourself at home," she replied a bit dryly. She sipped her cup of tea, peering surreptitiously up at Ian through her long, dark eyelashes. I wonder what this is about?
The answer wasn't immediately forthcoming. The tall, ginger-haired man tucked into his breakfast heartily. He seemed perfectly content to eat in silence, so Hoshi said nothing and continued to keep half an eye on him, still puzzling over what he was up to. He'd something of a reputation as a ladies' man back in San Francisco, although she'd only heard of it through the ship's grapevine. He'd already been assigned elsewhere when Sato had gone through Starfleet training. She could understand why women might be attracted to the handsome Canadian, though. He had a rugged, confident air about him, and she couldn't deny his smile was quite stunning.
Hoshi shook herself slightly, realizing she was getting a bit too absorbed in her scrutiny of him. Ian noticed it and smiled.
"Cold?" he asked pleasantly, knowing that wasn't why she'd shivered.
"A little," Hoshi lied evenly. There was no reason to let him know otherwise.
"Maybe some more tea would warm you up."
"Maybe. But I should really get going. I'm due on the bridge this morning." She started to stand.
Damn! thought Ian. He knew he'd been running late but he hadn't realized he was that short on time. "You sure I can't get you another cup?" he asked, rising quickly. "I need more orange juice anyway."
An amused smile turned up one corner of Hoshi's lovely lips, and Ian felt his heart race. "Since you offered so graciously " she said, handing him her cup. "Green tea, hot."
"You got it." He grabbed his own empty juice glass and hurried to the drinks dispenser.
Sato watched him go. He looks quite nice from this angle, too, she thought. Then her smile faded. Forget it, she told herself firmly. He's not the sort of guy I want to get involved with. She paused, surprised at her own thoughts. Where did that come from? He hasn't given any indication that he wants to ask me out, and I have no interest in dating someone with his reputation. But as he returned with their drinks, she suddenly wasn't so sure.
Ian grinned at her winningly as he set her fresh cup of tea on the table before her. "Here you go." He sat.
"So," he continued, leaning back casually in his chair. "Are you doing anything Friday night?"
She looked at him, hiding surprise that his thoughts had apparently paralleled her own. She pretended not to understand where his inquiry was leading. "I have some letters to write," she answered. "And I thought it might be nice to have a quiet evening to myself. It's been awfully busy lately."
"Oh." It wasn't the answer he'd been expecting. Can't she see where I'm going here? he thought in a moment of panic. I thought we understood each other! She was playing along before.
Sato smiled inside. That got him, she thought with wicked pleasure. His approach was a bit too cocky for her taste, so she'd decided to make him stew.
Ian forged ahead. "Well that's not gonna take all night, right?" Realizing it hadn't come out quite as he'd intended, he added, "I thought maybe you'd like to have dinner with me, is all." So much for the cool approach, he berated himself. Shut up, his mind answered itself. Do you want to win the bet or not? He got no further argument.
"What makes you think that?" asked Hoshi pleasantly. She sipped at her tea once again.
"I mean " Suddenly he heard his mother's voice in his mind. Where are your manners? I didn't raise my boys in a barn! "Would you do me the honor of joining me for dinner Friday night?" he asked formally.
Hoshi smiled. "I'm sorry, but I can't. Maybe another time. Excuse me." She rose and departed the mess hall, leaving Ian staring after her, his mouth agape.
He felt a tap on his shoulder and he spun around to see a smiling Michael Rostov. "I like my bunk made in a very specific way," he said with a smirk. "I'll make sure to give you a primer before you start cleaning."
"You wish, Rostov," snarled Young. "I have plenty of time to win this."
"You must enjoy rejection." He patted Ian on the shoulder in mock encouragement. "See you around."
"Ow!" yelped Mae Lawless. She pulled her hand back from the power relay and cradled it against her chest. "God damn it!"
"Mae! You all right?" called Commander Tucker, rushing to her aid.
"Just burned myself on this damn relay," she swore.
"Let me see." He took her injured hand gently, assessing the damage. "It doesn't look too bad, but " He looked around. He spotted someone and called out, "Billy, walk Mae to sickbay, would you?"
The crewman nodded and set down the laser micrometer he'd been using. "Sure thing," he replied.
Tucker helped Lawless to her feet as Billy approached. "I can make it on my own," the ensign protested half-heartedly. Her hand was killing her and it took all her concentration not to continue swearing a blue streak at the pain.
"I know, but Billy needs to stretch his legs," countered Trip jokingly. "Get going. I'll let Phlox know you're on your way."
"Yes, sir," Mae replied. She and the crewman left engineering and headed to sickbay where not Phlox, but Ensign Cohn met them at the door.
"I'll handle it from here, crewman," he said, guiding Mae to a diagnostic bed. Billy nodded and left to return to engineering. Ari sat Mae down and drew a medical scanner from his pocket.
"Where's Doctor Phlox?" asked Lawless, less because she cared and more because she was trying to distract herself from the searing pain in her hand.
"Exobiology," Cohn replied. He didn't look up from his scans. I will remain professional. I will remain professional, he repeated to himself over and over again. It was difficult, considering the butterflies currently battling one another in his belly. "I can take care of this for you."
"Fine by me, as long as you do it soon, please."
"It's not serious," he announced, completing his scans. Medicine was familiar ground, and he took confidence from his skill at it. He looked up at her for the first time since she'd sat on the biobed. His breath caught momentarily before he said, "I'll get some dermoline gel. Just a moment." He nearly dropped his scanner as he set it down next to her. Get a grip on yourself! he ordered frantically.
Fortunately the cabinet where the gel was kept was out of sight of Lawless's position. He took a moment to compose himself, running his hands nervously through his short, dark curls in a pointless and unnecessary attempt to tidy them. Momentarily calmed, he returned to her with the salve. "Here." He opened it and used the accompanying sterile application stick to apply the gel to Mae's burns.
She sighed as the medicine took effect, cooling her skin. "Thanks," she said gratefully. "That's so much better."
"You're welcome," he replied, recapping the small tub. "Take this with you. You'll need to apply it every hour or so, or just after anytime you wash your hands in the next twelve hours."
Mae smiled as she took the container from him and pocketed it. "Thanks again."
It was a chance. There was no one else there. They were already talking. It was the perfect opportunity for Ari to ask Mae out.
"So," he began, "I understand you're from San Francisco."
"Yeah," replied Mae, surprised at the non-sequitur.
Ari frantically searched his memory of the time he'd spent there while in Starfleet training. "There are lots of hills there."
Mae looked at him curiously. "Yeah," she agreed, nodding as if he were a bit simple. "There are."
"I like San Francisco," he tried again, mind frozen.
"Me, too. Great nightlife, great baseball."
"Yeah. I like baseball, too."
"Cool. Blue Jays?"
They looked at each other and the silence dragged on for what felt like an eternity to Cohn. In reality it was only about five seconds.
"Well, I'll see you around," said Mae eventually. "I need to get back to engineering." She smiled again, bemused by his inexplicable behavior, and left. The sickbay door slid smoothly shut behind her.
Ari stood there for several seconds, staring at the door through bleak brown eyes. Then his shoulders slumped. Fate had provided the opportunity, and he'd snubbed it royally. Well, he thought as he cleaned up the small mess and put away the scanner, at least if Ian wins the bet nothing will be any different. He never cleans the cabin anyway.
Ari flinched when Ian slapped him unexpectedly on the back. "Sorry, man," the armory ensign apologized lightly. He sat down on his bunk and looked over at his roommate, sitting at the computer. "So, I heard Ensign Lawless ended up in sickbay today." He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Cohn had a moment of horrible suspicion and fixed Young with an accusing glare. "You didn't arrange that, did you?"
"Of course not! It was just a stroke of good luck. So how did it go?"
"Good luck?! She burned herself on a power relay!" Ari exclaimed, appalled.
"Oo! Good cover!" Young nodded knowingly.
Ari frowned and shook his head. "You're nuts."
"You still haven't told me how it went," his bunkmate persisted. "I hope you used that information I got for you. I'd hate to think I let Cormack beat me up for nothing."
Now Ari stared at the computer screen. He shrugged, refusing to turn and meet Young's gaze.
Ian misinterpreted his reticence. "Oh, I'm sorry, buddy. She turned you down, eh?"
"No," mumbled Cohn. He didn't want to admit he'd chickened out, but he had the sinking feeling the truth would come out before Ian was done.
"That's great! What are you gonna do on your date, then?" Young smiled enthusiastically. He rose and began to change for bed. His own temporary set-back that morning was secondary to the success of his bunkmate. Ian had complete faith in his ability to win over Hoshi; he wasn't quite so confident of Ari's skills. In the end, as long as Rostov ended up cleaning their cabin for a month, he didn't really care which of them won the bet.
"We're not going on a date," Ari said finally.
"What? But you said she didn't turn you d--" He interrupted himself as realization struck. "You didn't ask her out! Fate throws you a bone like that, and you didn't even ask her out." He sat down again heavily, a look of disappointment on his face. "That's sad."
"Thanks," said Cohn bitterly. He stood. "You and Hoshi have fun on your date." He hit the control to open the cabin door.
"Where are you going?" demanded Young.
"I'm going for a walk. Good night."
Rostov woke early Thursday morning. He knew Novakovich would be in the mess hall at 0715 for his morning coffee. Michael intended to meet him there. He dressed quickly, glad his bunkmate was on Gamma shift that week; he didn't have to worry about waking him if he wasn't there.
Despite all his claims and the attitude he'd giving Young the other evening, he hadn't actually asked Ethan out yet. Now it was getting down to the wire, and he either had to do it or admit defeat before the game was even played.
He reached the mess hall and nearly collided with Ari who was on his way out. "Sorry," Cohn mumbled, not even looking to see who he'd almost run into. He'd already disappeared around a corner before Rostov could say hi. Michael shrugged and refocused on his mission. He took a deep breath and entered the room. A quick visual scan found Ethan right where Rostov expected to find him--sitting to one side of the room, sipping coffee and studying a datapad.
Michael grabbed a mug and filled it with strong, black tea with just a splash of milk before going over to Novakovich's table. While he'd failed to invite the fellow crewman for a date last night, they'd still had a nice chat. It had turned out Novakovich spoke fluent Russian, not to mention Polish and Croatian, and the two had gotten to talking. It made what Michael had to do now that much easier.
"Morning," he said when he reached the table. "Mind if I join you?"
"Go ahead," replied Ethan, smiling over his cup of coffee. He set down his datapad and turned it off.
"I'm not interrupting you, am I?" asked Rostov as he took a seat. A mix of nerves and excitement made his heart beat faster. It wasn't just about The Bet for Michael. He didn't know how the others guys really felt about their crushes, but he knew he genuinely liked Ethan and wanted to get to know him a lot better.
"No. If you want to know, I was just going over some notes from the last RPG some of the others and I played." He looked a little chagrined, and Michael was quick to reassure him.
"That's cool." There was a brief lull as the two men drank their morning beverages. Rostov was sure his pounding heart could be heard a deck away. He broke the silence, half in the hope of drowning out the noise. "Maybe you could tell me more about it sometime?"
Ethan looked at him dubiously. "Really?
"Sure. I've often thought it might be fun to try gaming, but I've never really been in a position to do it."
"You do have to have a good GM," agreed Ethan.
"Sorry." Again he looked embarrassed. "Game Master. The person who runs the game."
"Oh. Right. That makes sense. So you'll teach me?"
"I don't know what I can teach you. It's really a learn-as-you-go sort of thing."
"Oh." Damn, thought Michael. Don't give up yet! "Still, it might be fun. We could get together tomorrow evening and you could take me through the game you were just reviewing."
"Yeah. Unless you have plans?" Ethan shook his head, and Michael continued. "So we could meet for dinner or something, then go back to my cabin--or yours," he added hastily, "and you could show me." I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours, Rostov's mind sing-songed. He ignored it and smiled, hoping he didn't look as nervous as he felt.
There was a long pause that made Michael's stomach twist into knots. It felt like ages as he waited for Ethan to respond.
"Okay. It's a date." The sciences crewman smiled, and all the knots in Rostov's belly released.
"It's a date," he echoed happily.
At another table, Ensign Young watched the two with growing unease. That doesn't look good, he thought, noting their smiles and the sudden relaxation of Rostov's shoulders. He returned his gaze to the door. He and Ari had been there since 0700 waiting. Ari had taken off several minutes ago, claiming he needed to get to sickbay early. Ian hadn't argued even though he knew it was a lie. He had his own part in the bet to take care of, and time was short.
Suddenly the door opened and his quarry entered. He was up and across the room in a flash. "Hi," he said, stopping directly in front of Hoshi Sato.
"Hello." She did her best not to act surprised by his abrupt appearance. They stared at each other for a moment, Hoshi's expression impassive. Her heart was racing and she wasn't entirely sure she was happy about it. "Excuse me," she said, stepping past him and into the room. She went to the buffet and selected toast with apricot jam. When she turned around, he was right there once again. "Is there something I can do for you?" she asked, trying to remain detached. It was difficult with such a tall, handsome man standing in her personal space. She met his gray-blue eyes evenly, willing herself to ignore the way they caught the light.
"You can have dinner with me tomorrow night," suggested Young, smiling broadly.
Hoshi stepped around him once more. "I thought we settled this yesterday." She collected a cup and ordered hot green tea from the drinks dispenser.
"I just wanted to give you time to reconsider." Young followed her as she left the dispenser and made her way to a table already occupied by Ensigns Lawless and Cutler.
"I've considered. I'm busy tomorrow." She sat. All three women looked up at the armory ensign inquisitively, challengingly.
"I'll check back later," he said confidently, and departed.
"What was that about?" asked Mae once he was out of earshot.
Hoshi sighed. "He asked me out yesterday, and I said no. He just tried again."
"And you said no again?" inquired Liz innocently. This was news. She wondered if Travis was aware of it.
"Yes. And I plan to say no if he asks me again." It was said with a conviction the comm officer didn't actually feel.
"I think you made the right choice," announced Mae. "He grilled Stephanie about me just the other night."
"About you?" Liz and Hoshi asked at the same moment. They chuckled a little, and Liz added, "Jinx."
Mae went on. "They were working out a couple of nights ago, and Stephanie said Ian kept asking about me."
"I wonder what he's up to," puzzled Hoshi.
"It sounds like he's hoping to work his way through the 'available' female crewmembers."
Hoshi was forced to agree, her heart sinking inexplicably. She frowned. "Too bad. He's actually pretty cute."
"Cute but dumb," declared Mae. "This is a finite ship. It's not like San Francisco where he can screw around all he wants and then disappear. I know I wouldn't ever go out with him."
Hoshi was surprised to find herself pleased by this seemingly insignificant bit of news. She felt suddenly invigorated, and she was pretty sure it had nothing to do with the caffeine in her tea. "Maybe I'll have dinner with him after all," she said unexpectedly.
Mae looked at her in surprise. "Even knowing what you know? The guy wasn't tagged 'Casanova' for no reason."
Hoshi shrugged. "I know, but it might be fun." She smiled coyly. "I can handle him, and I don't think short-term would be so bad, necessarily."
"As long as it's on your terms."
"It will be," the comm officer said confidently.
While the two of them chatted, Liz had done some quick thinking. If Ian's asking out Hoshi, who was he snooping for? Who else was there for the bet? There was Ian, Michael and Ari. It can't be Michael; he's not an officer. It's got to be Ari! And that makes sense, since he and Ian are bunkmates. I wonder
"So, Mae," Cutler said, "I heard you made an unscheduled stop in sickbay yesterday."
Hoshi's eyes widened in concern at this new information. "You did? Are you okay?" she asked the engineer. "Why didn't you say something?"
"I'm fine," answered Lawless dismissively. "Caught a little heat from a power relay." She held up her healing hand. "Nothing major, but it sure hurt like a mother fucker."
Liz snorted in surprise at the epithet. "You're starting to sound like your roommate," she quipped.
"She's not acting like herself these days," rejoined Mae, "so someone else might as well. I swear, if she doesn't pull her head out of her ass pretty soon, it's going to take a serious feat of engineering to extract it."
"And that's what you're here for," joked Hoshi.
"I did score pretty high on head-from-ass extractions in college," the engineer answered wryly.
"I hope you didn't swear like that in front of Phlox."
"Phlox wouldn't care. And he wasn't there anyway. Cohn was on duty."
"Oh. So Ari took care of you?" asked Cutler pleasantly, breaking back into the conversation.
Mae's eyes narrowed at her overly casual tone. "I suppose it is."
Hoshi picked up on the unusual vibe and looked from one to the other curiously. "What's going on?" she asked.
"I just wondered if he said anything to Mae," replied Liz.
"About?" prompted Mae.
Cutler shrugged. "Nothing in particular."
"Then why did you ask?" Hoshi wanted to know.
But any answer was forestalled as Mae said, "Now you mention it, he did seem a little weird right at the end."
"Weird in what way?" asked Liz.
"I don't know. Just weird. Nice, but weird. He is a guy, after all."
The women nodded in agreement at this simple and to them obvious statement. Eventually the conversation moved on to other topics, and Cutler decided to keep her revelation regarding Ensign Cohn to herself at least until she could get Travis to confirm it.
Ian checked the time and swore softly. If he was going to have any shot at winning the bet, he was going to have to get Hoshi to accept his invitation soon. Just my damned luck to get stuck with Beta-shift today, he snarled internally. He wouldn't be off-duty until midnight--the deadline to contact Travis regarding the bet. He did have a break coming up, but would he have time to get to Hoshi, convince her to go out with him, and get back? Maybe, but it would be tight.
What the hell is wrong with me? he thought suddenly. When have I ever had to convince a woman to go out with me? Usually it was easy. He was a nice enough guy, and he knew he was good looking. He'd never had problems getting a date back in San Francisco or back home in Wild Horse for that matter. It bugged him that he was having such a hard time now--the one time when there was more riding on the outcome than whether or not he'd have a date for Friday night.
He wondered if Martinez would mind if he took his break a little early. She was the only other one in the armory, so at least he wouldn't have to clear it with a superior first. As long as he didn't take too long, there shouldn't be a problem.
"Hey, Martinez," he called to her. She glanced up from the console where she was working and looked at him inquisitively. "I'm gonna take my break now, since it's quiet. I'll be back in a few."
"Okay," she agreed pleasantly and returned to her work.
That was easy. Now if only Hoshi was that agreeable, he thought as he ascended the stairs to the upper level and strode out of the armory. It surprised the hell out of him to see Hoshi walking towards him down the corridor. For a moment he thought he must be hallucinating.
"Hi," she said, smiling.
Ian's knees went weak. "Hi," he replied with as much of his usual confidence as he could muster. She really did have a gorgeous smile.
"I thought I'd let you know I changed my mind."
"You ?" He was too stunned to go on.
"I'd love to have dinner with you Sunday."
A broad smile split Ian's face. "Great!" he exclaimed.
"So I'll see you at 1900 in the mess hall Sunday." She smiled again, her brown eyes alight.
"Right. See you then."
Hoshi nodded and turned, heading back the way she'd come. She hailed the turbolift and waved a quick good-bye before stepping into it.
Over ten seconds passed before what she'd said sank into Ian's brain. "Sunday?! Damn!"
Saturday evening found Travis, Ian, Ari, and Michael gathered around a table in the mess hall drinking beer. Mayweather chuckled as he watched the three other men watching each other.
"So," Travis said, setting his half-empty bottle on the table before him and wrapping his long fingers around its cool, damp surface. "Who wants to go first?" He eyed them each individually. Young was tight-lipped and looked permanently pissed off. Cohn stared into his bottle morosely and picked distractedly at the label. Only Rostov met the helmsman's inquisitive gaze with a bright smile.
"I will," the crewman offered eagerly.
"Do we really need to go through this?" snarled Young. "I think we all know who won the bet." He glared at Michael who just grinned back at him.
"That's up to Michael," said Travis, suppressing a smile of his own.
"Well, while I would dearly love to sit here and lord my great success over you sad losers," began Rostov.
"Watch it, crewman," grumbled Young threateningly.
Rostov ignored him. "I have another date," he concluded. He raised his bottle in a salute. "It was a fair contest, and the real man won."
"Best man," corrected Ari, speaking up for the first time. "The best man won."
Michael smirked. "Just remember you said it." He tipped back his drink and downed it. He set the empty bottle on the table, and stood. "Gentlemen, enjoy your evening. I know I will." He looked pointedly at Young and added, "I look forward to your custodial services for the next four weeks." With one final, smug grin, he departed.
"Jerk," muttered Ian.
Ari glanced at him sidelong. "Bitter much?"
Travis laughed and was rewarded with a glare from the armory ensign. "He has a point," he said in his own defense.
"Forty-eight hours!" bemoaned Ian. "I'm screwed on the bet by a stinking forty-eight hours."
"At least you have a date," groused Ari.
"Now who's bitter?" He turned on his bunkmate. "You didn't even ask your crush. You chickened out."
"Which is why," interjected Travis before things could get ugly, "Michael and I agreed Ari was exempt from the bet."
"What?!" Now Ian rounded on the helmsman. "You're kidding!"
Mayweather shook his head, and Ari hid a half-hearted smile behind his beer. "Nope." Travis grinned mischievously. "Have fun cleaning Rostov's cabin."
Young looked from one man to the other and back again, hoping what he was hearing was just a joke. At their amused expressions, his broad shoulders slumped in defeat. "Shit."