“Ghuy’cha!” B’Elanna snarled as the flicker of life she’d been coaxing from the plasma coolant systems with an engineer’s equivalent of open-heart surgery sputtered and died. Her hand balled into a fist at the end of her heavy arm, thrusting out.

“Try a kick next time.” Tom advised from behind her as she brought her throbbing knuckles to her mouth with a pained grimace. “Our Starfleet issue boots are reinforced for a reason, you know.”

“I’ll take…” B’Elanna huffed with frustration and exertion as she started to yank out the auxiliary power cell she’d weaved into the carcass of the console so painstakingly. “…that…” The last thing they needed was for that to die before it could restart anything. “…under advisement!” She underlined that with a perfect kick at the base of the console. Wouldn’t want to deny her boot its purpose, she thought sarcastically.

“Good.” Tom replied, his voice dry but quiet. He appeared in the corner of her eye, moving closer. “How’s it going?”

“It’s not going!” B’Elanna spat out, her face reddening with embarrassment as well as anger as she heard the fretful catch in her voice. It was certain Tom had heard it too, he was good, or irritating, like that. Nothing got past the flyboy. “As if you don’t know that, since we’re stuck at quarter impulse. If you’re here to hurry up repairs, on the Captain’s behalf or your own, you can just…”

“That’s the night shift’s problem right now.” Tom broke in with his best attempt, given his bedraggled appearance, at a nonchalant shrug to frame his weary smile.

“Night shift?” B’Elanna echoed weakly, her prickly defensiveness forgotten as she spun around to fully face him, but stumbled instead. Warm hands clamped immediately over her quivering bare arms to keep her upright.

“Yeah.” Tom confirmed distractedly as he steadied her, blue eyes intent on her face, dark with concern. “I think you might have worked straight through the last night shift too.” He murmured, his hands starting to move up towards her face, tilting it up towards his. He ran a thumb over the speck of grease at her jaw, which would’ve looked adorable under any other circumstances. Okay…maybe it still did. A little. But he wouldn’t be telling her that right now. Instead he quirked a quizzical brow, “Wanna take a break? I think you’ve earned it…”

“Maybe.” B’Elanna conceded with a sigh that tickled his skin. But then she turned away from him. “But I can’t.” She lifted a finger to silence him as his mouth opened in protest. “Blame the Hirogen!”

Tom snorted humourlessly, glancing around the darkened shell that was Engineering. Engineers as worn down as their Chief scuttled around frantically with no visible results. The warp core was at its dimmest. It was hot as hell down here too, like the rest of Voyager. Environmental systems had been largely drained to power the Hirogens’ holographic playground. “I think we’ll be blaming the Hirogen for everything for a while yet.” He muttered.

“You’ve got that right!” Now it was B’Elanna turn to look around Engineering, despairingly. “Those ‘hunters’…” She snarled the word the Hirogen wore as a badge of honour like a curse, “…have cannibalised every one of my systems to keep their sick game going!” She glanced back at Tom to see him nodding and ran a hand over her aching brow. “Did you hear about Crag?”

“Yeah, and Ewing.” Tom confirmed thickly, “I’m sorry, ‘Lanna.”

“Me too.” Her voice cracked, “The Crusades programme apparently. At least it wasn’t the Klingons, since they saved us from the firing squad…”

“B’Elanna…” Tom’s hand splayed over her back. One of them or both of them was shaking, B’Elanna realised. “Don’t do that to yourself, please.”

“Then let me get back to work then.” She whispered back tiredly, “It stops me thinking about it and it needs done. A different hoard of Hirogen, or the same ones if they change leadership again, could come back. Hell, scavengers like the Caatati could give us a run for our money right now. We’d be sitting ducks!”

Tom sighed, as much as he’d admit agreement. “Then at least take in some fuel.” He said, thrusting an open pack of emergency rations into her hands. “Even the brightest of Chief Engineers can’t do her best work on an empty stomach.”

B’Elanna arched a brow at him. “The brightest? That makes me sound like some puffed up cadet!” she huffed with a smirk as she took the disposable fork he offered and plunged into the pack. She gagged on the sizeable mouth as soon as it hit her taste buds, spitting it back out into the pack. “Yuck! That’s even worse than usual! What the hell happened? Did they start to spoil or something?”

“The famous, meticulously prepared Starfleet stamped rations?!” Tom exclaimed, eyes wide with sarcasm, but then laughed. “Nah… Neelix just decided to spice them up.” At B’Elanna’s betrayed look, he took a big bite of his own rations and slid down to the floor, crossing his legs at the ankle. “You start to get used to the…tang, after the fourth or fifth box.”

B’Elanna rolled her eyes as she joined him, stabbing the mush with her fork rather than lift it to her mouth. “Good to know.”

“It is, isn’t it?”

She elbowed him as she curled into his side. “Do you think the Captain was right to make that deal?” she asked quietly.

“She didn’t have much choice.” Tom replied after a moment’s thought, serious again.

“That’s what she always says.”

“Maybe because it tends to be true.” Tom reminded her, “And come on, it wasn’t even the craziest deal she’s made this year.”

Now it was B’Elanna’s turn to snort. “Yeah, hopefully the one with the Collective is always going to take that cake.”

“Well, if Seven being part of the crew doesn’t work out in the long term…” He laughed at the triumphant look B’Elanna shot him, “…which I still think it will.” He argued, “She could always be our resident lounge singer. Sandrine always has trouble finding good ones…”

“Great.” B’Elanna muttered, “Another thing for the drone to claim to be perfect at…”

“I don’t know…” Tom hedged, “Apparently she choked on stage with ‘That Old Black Magic’, but to be fair to her, her interface with the holodeck had just been blocked, so…”

“She wasn’t in character anymore.” B’Elanna finished.

“Those interfaces were something else…” Tom began, but B’Elanna immediately pounced on the admiration in his voice.

“Don’t get any ideas, helm rat.”

“What?” Tom protested, smiling at her. “You wouldn’t like to revisit Brigitte and Bobby, just once?”

B’Elanna regarded him, “They were believable.” She conceded softly, “I liked them.”

“I liked you.” Tom told her, smirking in response to her amused, questioning look. “A radio operator for the Resistance had to be pretty bad ass, you know.”

“More so than a Chief Engineer?” B’Elanna teased, chuckling when he shook his head vigorously. She then turned thoughtful, “The real people, whoever those characters were based on…they had to be so brave, so…committed. To face what they were facing…” She sighed, “Is it even right to recreate that in the holodeck, to play act at it?”

“World War II and huge, life altering events like it have always been the well of creativity.” Tom said carefully, “Before holodecks, it was movies, before movies, it was books. It’s part of our culture, our past, painful though it is.”

“Right.” B’Elanna agreed, “That Hirogen…Karr, the one who started all this, he wanted the Hirogen to build a culture beyond hunters and prey, do you think they’ll be able to, with the help of holodeck technology?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. If it does, it’ll take time, and I don’t want to meet them again before then.”

“Hell no!” B’Elanna growled, starting to rise to her feet again. “But if we’re going to be fit to face them, or anyone else, I need to get back to work…”

Tom grasped her arm, gently tugging her back down. “Give me a minute.” He kissed her tenderly when she sighed and cuddled back into him. “Aren’t you the least bit interested to know what Bobby found so attractive about Brigitte?”

“Whatever he was programmed to, I presume…” B’Elanna answered dryly.

Tom’s mouth formed a scandalised ‘o’. “Where’s your sense of romance?” he demanded, laughing.

“Somewhere else.” She tossed back.

“Come on…” He pouted, then turned into her as she snickered. “He loved her face…” He kissed her cheek where that grease spot still clung, “Her lips…” He planted a slow kiss there, parting them with his tongue then pulled back just as a soft moan bubbled up her throat. The throat he moved down to suck.

“Where else?” B’Elanna asked breathlessly as her fingers dug into his hair.

“Oh, her legs of course…” Tom purred out, running a hand down her thigh, “Bobby loved a nice set of gams…”

B’Elanna gasped as he grazed a particularly sensitive spot, then stifled it, rolling her eyes. “Could he see them under that big belly?”

Tom’s eyes snapped up to hers. “You were beautiful pregnant.”

B’Elanna found herself flushing under his intense gaze. “Tom…it was a holographic pregnancy. With a holographic Nazi’s baby!”

“That didn’t make you any less beautiful.” Tom stated, unmoved.

She sighed, then kissed him. “I think that interface addled your brain.” She murmured fondly. “Maybe you should get the Doctor to check you out again…”

“Nope. A clean bill of health.”

“Didn’t anyone warn you about taking on more than you bargained for?”

“Yeah.” Tom confirmed with a grin, “But I love this bargain.”

“So far.” She murmured, pecking those smiling lips with another kiss. “But don’t get ahead of yourself flyboy, holographic was enough for now.”





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