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Scene III: Claudio woos Hero

 

The next day, everyone on the ship was anxious to find out who got what roles in the play. Three roles were shoo-ins: the captain as Beatrice, Commander Chakotay as Benedick, and Lieutenant Tuvok as Don Pedro. The rest of the major roles, though, were completely up for grabs, and several betting pools had sprung up where the crew tried to make bets on which of the other crew members -they- thought would be on stage when the curtain rose. One of the closest contests was between Lieutenant Paris and Ensign Vorick for the role of Claudio. Many on the ship had known of Vorick's rather obvious play to win over B'Elanna Torres, the running favorite to get the role of Hero, although few knew all the details. And there had been rumors about a relationship between Torres and Lieutenant Paris for months. In fact, many that were placing best on Tom Paris getting Claudio were doing so in order to get a feel for the other betting pool - if the sparks flew between them on stage, they thought, they might stand a better chance of winning.

 

So as the crew came to the mess hall for breakfast then, they weren't disappointed to find a replicated version of an ancient announcement poster hanging on the wall near the kitchen. Neelix smiled as he watched Tom Paris walk in, almost an hour earlier than he usually showed up for breakfast, and the first of the auditioning actors to make it to the mess hall after the poster had gone up. Cheerfully, he greeted the young pilot, "Good Morning, Mr. Paris! Hungry today?"

 

"Depends on what you have written on that wall, Neelix. Either I'll be hungry enough to eat a horse or you won't be hearing from me for a week."

 

Neelix simply smiled enigmatically, and started dishing up a big tray for Tom while the young pilot read over the poster:

 

Dear crew of Voyager,

 

Thank you to all those who came out yesterday for the auditions. I just wanted you to know that you all were fantastic, and making these decisions were some of the toughest things I've had to do since coming on board this ship. I filled as many of the minor parts as possible with those that had auditioned for the major characters but did not get the lead. I myself will be taking a small role, and the rest of the small parts at this point will be cast by holocharacters, as will understudies, should they be necessary. If anyone would like to take a role currently being filled by a holocharacter, please see me as soon as possible. Rehearsals will start tomorrow, and Commander Chakotay has generously agreed to adjust the duty schedules of those involved in the play so that all of the actors can attend.

 

Thanks again to all that came to the auditions, and to the lucky ones listed below, break a leg!

 

Neelix

 

 

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

 

DON PEDRO prince of Arragon. - Lieutenant Tuvok

DON JOHN his bastard brother. -- Ensign Vorick

CLAUDIO a young lord of Florence. - Lieutenant Paris

BENEDICK a young lord of Padua. - Commander Chakotay

LEONATO governor of Messina. -- Ensign Hickman

ANTONIO his brother. -- Ensign Carey

BALTHASAR attendant on Don Pedro. -- Ensign Kim

 

CONRADE | Holocharacter

| followers of Don John.

BORACHIO | Holocharacter

 

FRIAR FRANCIS: The Doctor

DOGBERRY a constable. Neelix

VERGES a headborough. -- holocharacter

A Sexton. -- holocharacter

A Boy. -- holocharacter

 

HERO daughter to Leonato. - Lieutenant Torres

BEATRICE niece to Leonato. - Captain Janeway

 

MARGARET | Ensign Wildman

| gentlewomen attending on Hero.

URSULA | Ensign Nicoletti

 

Tom almost couldn't believe it. He got the part! And B'Elanna got Hero. That would mean hours of rehearsals, flirting with each other, holding hands, and kissing scenes... Tom found it impossible to wipe the smile off his face as he told the morale officer, "I think I'll take that horse, Neelix."

 

Neelix simply grinned back in response, handing him a tray already loaded with food. "I thought you might, Lieutenant. I thought you might."

 

*****

 

Ensign Vorick was a rational, adult male Vulcan, who should have had no problem completely controlling his emotional states. It was, however, taking every ounce of that emotional control not to be furious every time he thought of the results of the auditions. His -mate- was going to be involved in a romantic leading part opposite Tom Paris, the playboy of Voyager! His mind kept trying to remind him that Lieutenant Torres was -not- his mate anymore, that he had begun the joining without her consent and so disqualified himself from ever becoming mated to her. However, his heart was impossible to convince. Every fiber of his being was determined to make sure that if B'Elanna Torres would not consent to becoming -his- mate, then she would not be mated to anyone else either. And certainly not to the likes of Tom Paris.

 

*****

 

Sandrine's was hopping later that night, with many a crew member celebrating either landing the role they wanted, a friend landing the role they wanted, or collecting on a huge bet placed on a crew member landing a role. For a select few, this would be their last 'night off' for several weeks: Neelix's rehearsal schedule seemed to all to be pretty exhausting, with rehearsals set for every night all the actors were available, right up until opening night. While there were a few groans of complaint from some, most of them took a look at the crew members around them who wanted roles and didn't get them and decided to be grateful for their shot at the spotlight.

 

B'Elanna Torres, in particular, was taking a much deserved night off from her duties in Engineering to celebrate landing the role of Hero. As she sat with Samantha Wildman and Julie Nicoletti, who were also celebrating landing smaller roles in the play, B'Elanna spoke her thoughts out loud, "It's been a long time since I've done any acting. I think this is going to be a lot of fun."

 

Giggling, Samantha Wildman commented, "Yeah, and I bet those kissing scenes with Lieutenant Paris have absolutely -nothing- to do with why you're looking forward to this so much."

 

While Julie Nicoletti broke out into a fit of giggles, B'Elanna did her best to act insulted by that comment. "I beg your pardon?"

 

"Oh come on," replied Samantha, rolling her eyes, "It's not like it isn't obvious to -everyone- how much you like him. And besides, I think you two make a cute couple anyway."

 

"Here here," chimed in Julie.

 

B'Elanna blushed. To be honest, she was looking forward to the long hours of rehearsal with Tom as well. With any luck, all that time together would help her sort out her feelings for him, as well as give her some indication what his feelings for her were as well. When she was suffering with the pseudo-Pon Farr, she came within seconds of being another one of Tom Paris' 'conquests', and the feelings that she felt in those few moments had excited and confused her. As much as she knew of his reputation on the ship, his relationship with her to that point had been very strictly platonic. But the passion she felt in that moment didn't just feel powerful, it felt...right. Like she had been feeling this for him all along but didn't want to let herself believe in it.

 

And his actions, even in the heat of the moment (or moments, if B'Elanna was honest with herself about what happened in those caves), were nothing if not pure and honorable - words that very few people on the ship ever tied in with Tom Paris. So was it just that he wasn't attracted to her in that way? Or was there something so strong between them that he was just as scared as she was that they were going to mess it up? Raising her drink in a toast, she called to the women at the table, "Well then, let's drink to the possibilities."

 

Samantha and Julie chimed in, their glasses clinking with B'Elanna's, "To possibilities."

 

It was at that moment that Tom Paris conveniently snuck up behind the three women and commented, "Possibilities for what, my dear Hero?"

 

The sound of Paris' voice nearly caused the three women to send their drinks flying across the room. Startled and somewhat flabbergasted, B'Elanna looked up into the face of Tom Paris, who was grinning wickedly and trying very hard not to laugh. Smacking the Lieutenant playfully, B'Elanna exclaimed, "Shame on you, Tom Paris, for sneaking up on somebody like that! How long have you been standing there anyway?"

 

"Just got here, actually, and I was wondering if you'd care to dance."

 

One look at that megawatt smile and she caved right in. Taking his offered hand, she got up and let him escort her to the dance floor, where many other couples were swaying to the slow jazz music. As Tom swept her into his arms, B'Elanna looked away long enough to see Samantha and Julie giving her enthusiastic 'thumbs up' signals, then she sighed, relaxing into Tom's embrace. To her surprise, it almost felt like she belonged there. It felt like...home. And in all her life, -nothing- in the world felt quite like that. Resting her head on his shoulder, B'Elanna discovered that she was beginning to enjoy that feeling. Swaying to the beat of the holographic band, she let herself hum along with the music, enjoying, for once, letting someone else take the lead.

 

When Tom had asked B'Elanna to dance, he was hoping that she would relax a little, maybe talk to him about the play and what she was looking forward to about playing Hero. But this...this was better than his wildest dreams. She was in his arms, leaning her head against his shoulder just close enough that with every breath he took, he smelled the delicate perfume of her hair. She was humming in time with the music, the vibrations from her throat gently fluttering against his shoulder. God, part of him didn't know how much longer he could stand this, but part of him wanted this to go on for the rest of the night. Heck, try the rest of his life...

 

As the music faded out and a new song started, B'Elanna lifted her head from Tom's shoulder, and they both started to speak at the same time. Flustered, Tom told her, "You go first, B'Ela."

 

Drawing in a fluttering breath, she told him, "I'm glad we're going to be in the play together, Tom."

 

Tom smiled warmly in response. "So am I, B'Elanna. So am I."

 

Looking deeply into each other's eyes, both started to try and speak at the same time again, then stopped, blushing. Again, Tom allowed B'Elanna to speak first. "Tom, about that whole thing that happened on the planet..."

 

Rolling his eyes, Tom cut her off. "I told you before not to worry about it, B'Ela. And I meant it. If you just want to be friends for now, that's fine with me. I don't want to lose whatever..." He waved a hand in the air to try and punctuate his point, "-this- is that we have just because I find you to be the most beautiful, desirable woman on the ship..."

 

B'Elanna drew in a quick, sharp breath. That was the most sincere compliment she had ever heard come out of Tom Paris' mouth. To -any- woman. And he was directing it to her... "Was this before or after I tried to jump you down there?"

 

She had been expecting Tom to smile, maybe chuckle a little and come back with some smart remark. Instead, he simply brushed a stray lock of hair away from her face and whispered softly, "I knew it from the moment I first laid eyes on you."

 

B'Elanna couldn't stand it any more. Leaning in close, she tilted her head and gently brushed her lips against his, then quickly pulling back to see his reaction.

 

[Someone pinch me,] thought Tom, [This -has- to be a dream. On second thought, -don't- pinch me. I don't want to wake up yet.] Bringing a hand back to run it through the back of her hair, he brought her in close, slowly letting their lips meet in a deep, passionate kiss.

 

When they finally came up for air, they realized that the music had stopped, and everyone on the dance floor was simply standing there, watching them. Turning their attention back to each other, they simply smiled, tilting their foreheads together to share a private moment. B'Elanna whispered, "Tom, I think we have an audience."

 

Tom would have laughed if it wasn't for the fact that she didn't want B'Elanna to regret kissing him just because they had shared their first kiss in a -very- public place. The concern evident in his eyes, he cupped her face in his hands and admitted, "I wasn't planning this, you know. I didn't bring you out here to seduce you."

 

Flirtatiously, B'Elanna let out a small, gentle sigh. "Really? But you were doing -such- a good job..."

 

Finally allowing himself to smile and enjoy the moment, Tom grabbed B'Elanna, wheeled her around in his arms and kissed her again, completely oblivious to the crowd around them. That is, until the crowd around them broke into spontaneous applause.

 

This time, though, when they broke their embrace they were bombarded with an onslaught of well-wishers. So many people came up to congratulate them and tell them how long they had been hoping the pair would get together that Tom almost lost B'Elanna in the crowd. Only his affectionate move to put his arm around her quickly kept his new girlfriend by his side.

 

Eventually, they were allowed to reach B'Elanna's table, where Samantha and Julie were waiting with champagne. The half-Klingon was floored. "Guys, you didn't have to do -this-. This much champagne takes up a -lot- of replicator credits..."

 

A voice behind them called out, "Well, who says they -replicated- this stuff? Maybe some enterprising young ensign just picked this up on a planet somewhere and saved it for a truly special occasion."

 

Tom turned around to find his best friend had finally made it through the crowd. Embracing the man quickly, he accepted the gift, "Harry, thank you. This is perfect. I know how valuable this stuff is."

 

"Are you kidding?" joked Harry. "Do you realize how much -money- you two just made me? If I play my cards right, I'll be able to buy a whole -case- of this stuff when we get back to Earth. Besides, this -is- a special occasion. Congratulations, you two."

 

"Thank you, Harry," returned B'Elanna.

 

Harry raised his champagne glass in response. "A toast." When everyone had picked up a glass, Harry declared, "To destiny."

 

Tom added, "To friendship."

 

Finally, B'Elanna gazed over at her new boyfriend and added, "To love."

 

At that, everyone at the table chorused, "Here, here," and sipped their drinks, savoring the taste of the -real- champagne. As the group pulled up seats to the table, Samantha sighed, "Now if only we could do something to help the -other- would-be romance among the senior officers."

 

Taking another sip of his champagne, Harry asked, "You mean the Captain and Commander Chakotay?" Samantha nodded.

 

Julie agreed, "Yeah. It’s pretty easy to see how much those two care for each other. They’re just so worried about doing ‘what’s best for the crew’ that they don’t realize that what the crew wants is to -see- -them- -happy-."

 

B’Elanna muttered, "Maybe we should just stick them in a turbolift alone for about twelve hours or so and see what happens..."

 

Thinking out loud, Tom chimed in, "Nah. Wouldn’t work. Even if something -did- happen, when they came out they’d still be so bound to their sense of ‘duty’ that it wouldn’t change anything between them. No, what –they- need is some way to realize that the crew -wants- them to get together..."

 

It was as if a lightbulb went off over Tom Paris’ head. B’Elanna, naturally, was the first one to get suspicious. "Tom? What’s going on in that sick, twisted little mind of yours?"

 

Leaning in conspiratorially, Tom suggested, "You know how, in the play, the people in the court used the local rumor mill to get Beatrice and Benedick together?" When all heads at the table nodded, Tom continued, "Well, I was thinking..."