Romancing the Stone: Stage IV


Darrel W. Beach

Looking for story notes?  You'll find them in Chapter 1.


     Tom blinked the sleep from his eyes.  He breathed deeply to reenergize his sluggish limbs.  A scent of feminine perfume awakened him instantly.  He turned his head slightly and saw a tangled mass of dark hair laying inches from his face.  "Oh, no," he groaned as he remembered the events from last night.  What the hell had he been thinking?
     He'd never intended for it to happen, but Leena knew exactly how to undermine his self-control.  Queasiness now settled into his stomach and a cold sweat pasted his forehead.  It would have been hard enough alienating Leena before last night.  Now it would be excruciatingly painful.  He knew how she felt about hit-and-run romances.
     Leena stirred beside him but remained asleep.  Tom mentally kicked himself for his stupidity.  He shouldn't have come to her quarters last night, knowing that this would happen.  Not when he knew that he would have to shatter her confidence in him.  She would feel betrayed beyond measure.
     He slid out of bed and dressed as quietly as possible, stealing glances to make sure Leena wouldn't wake up.  She looked so content and serene it was hard to imagine a more beautiful sight.  It made Tom feel that much worse.  He wanted to hold her close and apologize for everything he had yet to do, but he knew he couldn't without compromising his mission.
     Tom picked up his boots and walked barefoot to the door.  He had to force himself not to look at the still sleeping form on his way out.  The guilt was already too much.

     For the first time since she was a kid, Leena didn't want to wake up yet.  She didn't care if she was late for her shift.  She just wanted to lie in bed all morning with the man she had grown to love.  Who would have thought Tom Paris would be that man?  It only proved to her that love could spring from even the most unlikely places.
     Finally the faint but distinct aroma of bacon lulled her from lethargy.  Leena opened her eyes and looked at the empty half of the bed.  Oh, how sweet.  He's making breakfast.  She smiled.  Tom could still find ways to surprise her.  Leena crawled out of bed.  She yawned and stretched, the pop-pop of ligaments a satisfying reminder of how extensive last night's workout had been.  She donned her robe and padded out to the den.  "Hmm, you were amazing last night...." she trailed off when she found the room empty.  "Tom?"
     Puzzled, Leena checked the bathroom, although she didn't hear any indications of use.  Tom wasn't there, either.  Now she started feeling concerned, frustrated and angry.  "This isn't funny, Tom."  She went back to the den, this time noticing that the dining table hadn't been set, yet the scent of bacon pervaded the room.  She looked to the replicator.  There, in the slot, was a covered plate, a large glass of milk and a small glass of orange juice.
     "You'd better have a good explanation for this, Tom Paris," she muttered to herself as she walked over to the replicator.  "I told you already, I don't put up with one night stands."
     Leena uncovered the plate and a gust of steam billowed forth, heavy with the smell of bacon, cinnamon and maple.  Her mouth watered involuntarily at the sight of French toast and scrambled eggs.  Tom might have had a lot to make up for, but this was a good start.  She picked up the plate and the milk to take to the table.  A white paper card underneath the plate caught her attention.  Curious, she set down the glass, stuck the card in her mouth, picked up the glass again and sat down at the table.
     "Ick," she said through clenched teeth, her fingers now sticky with maple syrup.  Leena removed the card from her mouth and licked her fingers clean while she read it.


I am really very sorry for not being here when you wake up
this morning.  Something came up and I didn't want to disturb
you.  Please believe me when I say that I never intended to
have things turn out like this.  What we shared last night...
well, it's indescribable.  I know how much it took for you to
decide to do it and I don't want my absence to make you think
that I have no respect for you.  Last night was very special
for me as well.

I programmed the computer to replicate this breakfast using
my rations as a way to apologize.  I don't know if this will
completely make up for what I've done, but I'm hoping this
will be enough for you to keep speaking to me.  Love, always.


     Leena folded the card and sighed sadly.  The card was nice, but she would have preferred hearing the apology in person.  She picked up her fork and started eating, and contemplated the awkward situation Tom had just created.

     Tom swore that the mess hall got quieter as soon as he walked in.  It was starting to wear thin, the mix of curious stares and knowing smiles aimed at him.  He'd had to endure it all morning on the bridge already as the rumours and hearsay had quickly swept through the ship.  He wouldn't mind being ignored for 15 or 20 minutes so he could eat lunch in peace.
     "So I heard that Ensign Kayla saw you sneaking out of Lieutenant Calloway's quarters this morning," Harry said, finally voicing what everyone else was thinking.
     Tom glanced up from his lunch briefly as the ensign sat down in front of him and repressed the urge to groan.  "Is that a fact?"
     "Well, is it true?"
     "I never had you pegged as a gossip monger, Harry."
     "It's not necessarily gossip when I know that you two had a date last night."  Harry hunched over the table and lowered his voice slightly.  "So, I take it everything went well?"
     Tom sighed.  "I really don't feel like talking about this right now."
     The ensign's coy smile remained.  "C'mon, you can tell me.  I'm your best friend."
     Annoyed, Tom glanced at the other diners.  So many faces he remembered looking at him with disdain when he first set foot on Voyager, now the faces of friends.  How many people would he hurt in the coming days, and how many would understand why he did it afterward?
     As if given a cue, the main doors opened and Leena walked in.  Tom turned his head away, hoping she would not see him.  Unfortunately, Harry noticed his cowering and looked over his shoulder.  Tom's stomach twisted the moment she spotted them.
     "Um, I'm guessing things didn't go as well as I thought," Harry said, turning back to face him.  "What's going on, Tom?"
     From the corner of his eye Tom saw her hesitancy.  No doubt she was thinking about the note and whether or not to come over to talk to him about it.  He still felt guilty about leaving and did not feel ready to face her yet.  He hadn't yet figured out a plausible alibi; if he wasn't careful she'd blow his cover.
     She took a step forward, and Tom feared the worst.  He needed a quick escape.
     "Okay, that's it," he said indignantly.  He stood up from the table and raised his voice enough to capture the attention of everyone in the mess hall.  "I can't stand this anymore.  For the last five and a half hours I've had to put up with the whispering and sniggering and staring.  Haven't you people got anything better to do than gossip about other people's personal lives?"
     The mess hall was dead quiet and Leena was frozen in mid-step, all stunned by the sudden outburst.  Tom put on a look of disgust as he surveyed the room, although he felt relief at the plan he had just hatched.
     "You're all so interested about what I was doing in Leena Calloway's quarters this morning?  Fine, I'll tell you what happened.  Leena and I had sex last night, all right?  Are you happy now?"
     He heard a strangled noise and knew exactly who it was.  He swung his gaze at Leena.
     Her face was scarlet with embarrassment.  "Tom!" she sputtered.
     "What?" he demanded more than asked.  "Everybody's been talking about it all morning anyway.  We might as well have it out now so people can talk about something else."
     Leena seemed completely beside herself, which satisfied Tom.  She'd most likely have forgotten about the note now.  He looked down at Harry and felt some sympathy for the hapless ensign, who by now probably felt guilty for setting Tom off.  Tom wanted to give him a hearty slap on the back for his unwitting assistance.
     Therefore, it was quite a surprise when he found himself on the receiving end of a wicked forehand across the face.  Tom staggered from the hit and went crashing to the floor, his legs tangled up in the chair he'd been sitting in.  He just managed to catch sight of her long slender legs stride hurriedly through the exit.  An excited murmur swept through the crowd.
     Harry was quickly at his side to help him up.  "You okay, Tom?"
     Tom touched the stinging welt on his cheek and looked at the shocked ensign.  "Yeah, I'm fine.  She just caught me off guard, that's all."  He gingerly stood up and brushed the lint off his uniform.  "She took that awfully well, wouldn't you say?"
     The main doors opened again and a pair of security officers jogged in, apparently called in to settle the dispute.  Ensigns Fowler and Renehan, Tom noted with irony.
     "Looks like we just missed the party," Renehan observed as they converged on Tom and Harry.  She noticed his reddened cheek and grinned.  "You're developing a bad habit of causing trouble in the mess hall, you know."
     Tom chuckled. "Just lucky, I guess."
     "So what happened?" Fowler asked.
     "Well, if you've heard any of the rumours going around, I decided it was time to put them to rest."  Tom rubbed his cheek for emphasis.  "Apparently Lieutenant Calloway took exception to my openness."
     "It's my fault, really," Harry added.  "He didn't want to discuss it all but I kept pressing until he just blew up."
     Tom shook his head.  "No, Harry, don't blame yourself.  It was going to happen sooner or later anyway."  He looked to the security officers.  "There's really no need to report this, is there?"
     "The call to security has already been logged, but I think we can put it in as a personal dispute," Renehan said.
     Tom nodded.  "I appreciate it, Jackie."
     "I guess congratulations are in order," Fowler said, and winked.  "My faith in you is upheld."
     "What did he mean by that?" Harry asked after the pair left.
     Tom shook his head and chuckled.  "Inside joke, Harry.  It's nothing."

     The rest of the afternoon passed without incident.  The bridge had been even quieter than the morning rotation, if such a thing was possible.  At least the other crewmen had avoided staring at him.
     Tom approached the exercise room with stealth.  He could hear the sounds of an intense workout.  He cautiously poked his head through the door.  Leena didn't seem to notice him, grunting as she laid a combination of blows into the chest and abdomen of a training dummy.  Tom was relieved that Leena had chosen to expend her aggression on the dummy instead of him.
     He rapped gently on the jamb to get her attention.  "Knock, knock."
     Maintaining a defensive stance, Leena looked at him over her shoulder for nearly a full second.  Then she returned her focus on the dummy.  "What do you want?"
     Tom winced slightly at the loud thwump as the decoy absorbed a vicious roundhouse kick.  He stepped inside and pulled a bouquet from behind his back.  Kes had graciously helped him select a variety of flowers that might appease Leena.  He cleared his throat.  "I come with an offering of peace."
     Leena turned her head slightly again.  She ended her workout upon sight of the colourful flowers.  Tom saw her expression soften for just a moment, then just as quick it disappeared.  "I, uh, got the impression you were a little upset this afternoon," he said.
     "A little?"  Leena put her hands on her hips.  "Tom, I've never been so embarrassed in all my life!  What possessed you to tell a room full of people that we had sex last night?"
     "Leena, they already knew.  Somebody saw me sneaking out of your quarters this morning.  All the talking and gossip wouldn't have stopped until we both came clean."  He looked at her archly.  "You can't tell me you weren't bothered by the looks and hushed conversations."
     She looked away, a telltale sign that she didn't want to admit he was right.  The light from the ceiling panels reflected hazily off her sweaty skin.  "Maybe a little."
     "Just a little?"
     She sighed impatiently.  "All right, it drove me up the wall.  I'm a security officer; people who whisper behind my back make me paranoid."
     Tom held up the bouquet of flowers again when she looked up.  She eyed the flowers carefully for a second before finally taking them and inhaling their scents.  "So, has the gossip actually stopped?"
     Tom scratched behind his head.  "Well, in a manner of speaking."
     Her brow creased in concern.  "What's that supposed to mean?"
     He coughed nervously.  "On the way here I overheard a couple of people talking about how a certain security officer sent yours truly to Sickbay to be treated for a concussion when she clocked him in the mess hall."
     Leena laughed and shook her head.  Tom smiled.  He had her back.

     He checked the chronometer one more time.  Seven minutes past.  Now it was time.  Tom left his quarters and headed for the turbolift.
     The ride up to the bridge was quiet, considering he was the sole occupant of the car.  He idly brushed the front of his tunic and picked out a piece of lint.  The lift doors opened and he strolled out, casually making his way to the navigation console.  He tried not to look at Chakotay as he walked by, but he had already seen the first officer's scowl when he'd set foot on the bridge.  He tried even harder not to smile.
     As he relieved Hamilton of duty Tom could feel the stares of every single person on the bridge, and unlike yesterday he welcomed them.  If present, Tom would give the saboteur a first hand account of his faux rebellion.
     "Nice of you to finally join us, Lieutenant," Chakotay finally remarked.  "Do you mind if I ask why you're ten minutes late for your shift?"
     Tom read the operations status of the navigation console.  "Not at all, Commander.  Ask away."  He heard a couple of people stifle laughs.
     "Mr. Paris," the captain said sternly.  Though she spoke only his name, the warning was clear and effective: he had stepped in it and no amount of tomfoolery would improve the situation.  Even though he knew she was in on the duplicity, the look on her face still sent a shiver up his spine.
     "My replicator malfunctioned this morning," Tom explained, swivelling his chair around to face the senior officers.  "I had to get someone from engineering to come repair it.  I didn't expect Bendera to take so long to make the repairs.  I just about decided to skip breakfast altogether." He really hadn't expected it, considering how little time he spent creating the malfunction in the first place.
     The explanation did not appease Chakotay, however.  "If you were that hungry, Lieutenant, you could have gone to the mess hall while Mr. Bendera did his work."
     Tom scowled.  "There's no way I'm leaving someone like Kurt Bendera alone to snoop around in my quarters."
     Anger flashed in the commander's eyes at the slight against Bendera.  Tom had never met Kurt until their tour on Voyager, but he remembered some of the stories Chakotay told, how the two of them became such close friends in their crusade against the Cardassians.  He actually had nothing against Bendera, but he thought it would play to his advantage to get underneath the first officer's skin.
     To his credit, though, Chakotay reigned in his emotions.  "If you're having problems working with Mr. Bendera, you should come talk to me about it.  Perhaps I can help you to reach a better understanding of your fellow crew."
     Tom conceded the victory to the first officer for maintaining his composure, but he still took consolation in the interested looks of the supernumeraries currently on duty.  Word of his recalcitrant behaviour would spread fast.  There was no need to get carried away by trying to deliberately infuriate Chakotay.  "I'll keep that in mind," he said guardedly, swinging back to face his console.
     "One more thing, Lieutenant."
     Tom looked over his shoulder at the first officer.
     "Try to be more punctual for your shifts.  I don't want to get in the habit of marking up your service record.  Understood?"
     Tom turned back to his console to keep his smirk from being seen.  "Yes, sir. I understand perfectly."

On to Chapter 3...

Return to the Stories page