Romancing the Stone: Stage II

"Diamond in the Rough"

Darrel W. Beach

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


     The instant she turned the corner Leena began to think about Ensign McCormick's cutting, yet startlingly plausible explanation of her dysfunctional behaviour.  She blamed herself for letting it happen.  What's the expression? 'The best way to remember something is to tell yourself not to think about it'?  She was getting really tired of all this self discovery.  This was all Paris' fault; this never would have happened if he had done his job right.  She would still have the semblance of a normal life, blissfully unaware of how messed up she really was.
     Could Julie be right?  Was she being so defensive around people because she never really had a permanent home?  She hadn't considered that the inconvenience of repeatedly making and losing friends as a kid could develop into a psychosis.  No, that was ludicrous.  If it was that traumatic she wouldn't be able to make friends with anyone, and that certainly wasn't the case.  She'd made friends with people before Julie.  McCormick didn't know what she was talking about.  Leena walked into her cabin, confident that she had figured out the flaw in Julie's argument.  All she needed now was a quick shower and a hot meal and she'd be ready to deal with her misconduct on the bridge.
     "Hah!  So much for your pathetic armchair analysis, Miss Freud!  'I'm so honoured you chose me.'  You act like you're my only friend on the whole ship.  Well, I've got news for you.  I know plenty of people on Voyager.  There's Walter Baxter...well, I guess he's more of an acquaintance than a, I thought Lise and Greta were kind of never really knew Molina, he just used to join us for volleyball on occasion...."
     Slowly, the impact of what she was saying hit her.  Of course she knew these people, but they weren't her friends.  They were their friends.  Wilton's.  June's.  Raon's.
     Leena turned off the sonic shower and carefully leaned against the stall.  Baxter, Molina, the others...they were but a few people she knew only by association with her real friends.  She hadn't put much effort into getting to know them much more than in passing.  She only tolerated their presence because either Wilton, June or Raon would invite them to join their various outings.  It wasn't like she hated them, she just...well, one thing or another would stand out that put her on guard.
     "Oh, my god."  Leena buried her head in her hands.  She assumed her wariness was a result of her defensive training.  Now it looked like Julie's theory was a more likely explanation.  It certainly made more sense, especially considering her behaviour following the Badlands incident.  With her three closest friends gone, the agony of losing those relationships yet again forced her into retreat.  Everything was falling into place, and it made her ill.  "Just...just calm down, Leena.  Take a deep breath.  You're strong.  You can work through this."  She shivered against the cold reality that was setting in.
     She stepped out of the shower and slipped into her robe and slippers.  The sick feeling still remained.  Memories of the Badlands and the Caretaker forced her to relive the moments of helplessness, the uncertainty of her survival, then the discovery that she was suddenly on her own again.  And all she did in response was to run away and hide and hope that everything would solve itself without her intervention.  She never even tried talking about their deaths with any of their friends.  Maybe it would have been better if she had died instead.  At least she would have died relatively happy, and hardly anyone would have regretted the loss.
     It was pointless to think that way, though.  Whether they deserved to die or not, whether she deserved to die or not, this was how it turned out.  She couldn't change the past, no matter how much she wished it.  All she could do was deal with the present.  There was just one problem with that, however.  Could she deal with the present?
     'If you're lucky you run into people who care enough to help you....'  McCormick's words echoed in her mind.  She didn't have to do this alone.  Juile was already offering her support.  Then there was him.  Leena would probably welcome the ensign's assistance, but Paris was a different story.  His notion of help carried a price she wasn't sure she wanted to pay, even though both he and Julie encouraged her to do it.  It didn't help that her wariness of the lieutenant could be due to a psychological defense mechanism.  If Julie was right, she actually wanted a relationship with him.  Sure, he had some redeeming qualities, but he was almost as messed up as she was.  On the other hand, he sort of knew what she was going through.  He'd know how to guide her through the process of recovery.  They had more in common than she first thought.  Of course, that didn't mean they were meant to be together, but perhaps there was enough there to forge a respectful friendship.  That was if she could keep a level of objectivity.  Sometimes the greatest accomplishments are achieved by a leap of faith.
     Leena suddenly remembered her plans to eat in the mess hall.  She was actually grateful for the distraction.  She needed some time to build up her courage.  Making a leap of faith might have been the right thing to do, but it didn't make it any easier.

     Tom watched with satisfaction as the black ball glided smoothly across the table's felt surface and dropped into the pocket, making it his fourth straight win since he had picked up a stick this evening.  Good fortune was smiling on him.  Hell, he'd been on an amazing run of luck recently: first bad, then good, and down and up again like an amusement park ride.  Daydreaming on the bridge led him to encounter a very attractive, very resentful woman.  The challenge to correct her behaviour was daunting, but worth the risk: sharing a skeleton from his closet had earned him a grudging respect and a tentative friendship.  Now the recent crisis with the away team had been allayed in a most satisfying manner.  He dared not pinch himself in case this was all a dream.
     He cued in on the sound of creaking metal hinges.  Turning, Tom spotted a figure standing in the doorway, silhouetted by a dusty shaft of light breaking in from outside.  The door swathed the beam of light as it swivelled close, allowing Tom to place the new patron.  The sight of Leena Calloway both surprised and stirred him.  For the first time since they'd met she wasn't wearing her uniform.  He ran a double take to make sure he wasn't mistaking her for someone else, but there was no denying it.  He followed her with his eyes as she walked to the bar and ordered a drink, recognizing the same movements of her tall, shapely form.  Had the temperature in the room suddenly risen?
     Tom felt his heart thud against his chest in spite of himself.  He hadn't experienced a case of nerves like this since he developed a crush on his seventh-grade teacher.  Leena just looked so completely different, like undergoing some miraculous transformation into the most alluring, feminine creature in the universe.  Her hair certainly did look better down, casually brushing over her shoulders.  Her form fitting, forest-green top looked like it was made of crushed velvet, so it showed off her body as much as it concealed.  He ducked away as her head turned in his direction, embarrassed that he might be caught staring.  God, he felt like that schoolboy again.  He tried focusing on the table set-up instead, but he had a difficult time concentrating on the game.
     Leena knew Tom had been watching her the moment she entered the tavern.  She wondered how she ever convinced herself to wear this outfit in the first place.  This inevitable conversation with him still disquieted her, so she'd take any advantage she could get.  If only the outfit she selected didn't make her feel so sleazy.  She took a drink from her Singapore sling, lamenting that the illusory beverage couldn't help bolster her confidence.  She glanced over her shoulder just in time to catch Tom looking away.  Apparently her choice of apparel was effective.  Reassured, Leena drained half of her glass and made her way to the pool table, where Tom was lining up a shot.  Well, here goes nothing.  "Good evening, Mr. Paris."
     Tom nearly scratched his shot, so caught up in trying not to pay attention to her that he hadn't noticed her come up behind him.  He shut his eyes and stifled a frustrated sigh.  He looked ready to fly apart at the seams, but in the next moment his composure fell back into place.  She found that quite remarkable, though she had to remind herself that he'd probably had plenty of experience socializing with beautiful women.  "Hello, Calloway," he replied insouciantly.  He turned away from the table.  "That's a new look for you.  Not bad."
     The remark made Leena conscious of her appearance again, making her blush.  "Um, thanks.  How's the pool going?  Are you winning?"
     Tom looked back at the table just in time to see Gaunt Gary put the finishing touches on the game he had just scrubbed.  He grimaced.  "At one time I was.  Say, care for a game?  I'll even spot you three balls to start."
     The thought of giving Tom the pleasure of watching her bend over the table did not pass well.  She would lose her advantage too easily that way.  "No, thank you.  I know a hustle when I hear one.  Perhaps you'd like to join me for a drink, though?"
     "Now how could I pass up an offer like that?"  Tom flashed a beguiling smile at her as he rested his cue stick on the table and shoved his hands into the rear pockets of his slacks.
     Damn, why did he have to do that?  Leena could only manage a timid smile in return.  Tom obviously had a lot more practice at awkward situations like these and knew how to handle himself.  She tried to plot another course of action as she found a place to sit.  A few moments later Tom joined her at a semi-secluded table, a mug of draught ale in hand.
     "So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company tonight, Lieutenant?"
     "Coincidence mostly.  I didn't even know you'd be here.  I just came for a drink, something to do.  I've got a bit of spare time these days, you know.  Lieutenant Tuvok did not exactly appreciate my sense of tact regarding the commander."
     "Ah."  He began to laugh, despite his best efforts to stay neutral.
     "What's so funny?" she asked, both curious and a little annoyed.
     "Sorry, but there was a point when I thought you'd literally explode.  Chakotay even looked afraid for his life for a moment there.  What was that old saying?  'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned'?  He'll be thinking twice about any decision he makes when you're within eyeshot."
     Leena pictured Commander Chakotay scurrying for cover like a field mouse at her appearance, and the image made her laugh as well.  "I guess there are some advantages to being taller than your commanding officer."  She felt a little better with the release of tension.  Perhaps she could make it through this evening after all.  She just had to believe in herself.  "I can still hardly believe this."
     "That I'm sitting here with you, having a conversation about nothing in particular.  A few weeks ago I wouldn't have been caught dead in the same room with you.  Ironic, isn't it?"
     "Well, you won't hear me complaining."
     "I feel like a complete idiot, though.  I believed you were the one with the reprehensible personality, not me."
     "Not being too hard on yourself, are you?  Hey, we all make mistakes.  How else are we expected to learn right from wrong if we don't screw up once in a while?"
     "I'll remember you said that."  Tom had just given her a fantastic opening.  She hesitated a moment, though.  Was this what she really wanted to do?  Well, he had just given her all the justification she needed.  She wouldn't know if she were making a terrible mistake otherwise.  "I'd like to know if you'd like to have dinner some time."
     Tom had been about to get up to order another drink when she finally spoke.  He froze half-crouched over the table.  "Come again?"
     "If I'm going screw up I might as well do it in grand fashion.  Is tomorrow night all right?"
     Tom fell back into his chair.  He shook his head vigorously.  "I must be hallucinating.  Did I hear that right?  You're asking me out on a date?"
     "That's what you wanted, wasn't it: an opportunity to prove yourself worthy?  Well, here's your chance."  She stood up.  "One date.  I choose where and when we meet.  If you pass muster I'll consider dating you again, otherwise you never bother me again.  Is that acceptable?"
     Tom was still shell-shocked from this unexpected role reversal.  "Uh...yeah, sure."
     Leena grinned.  "Great.  I'll let you know as soon as I've scheduled some time for one of the holodecks.  Enjoy the rest of your evening, Tom."

     Tom watched her leave the tavern, and continued to stare at the doors for minutes afterward.  Not one muscle moved the entire time, not until Harry finally approached him.  "Tom, are you all right?  You haven't moved an inch since I've come in."
     A stupid grin appeared on the lieutenant's face.  "She called me Tom."


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