by Suz suzvoy@tesco.net

Disclaimer - names belong to Paramount.


I sigh, a little bored. I start drumming my fingers on the briefing room table but immediately stop at the look Commander Tuvok sends me. I don't care what anyone says. Vulcans are as emotional as anyone else.

Pulling away from the table, I settle further back into my chair and splay my hands across my stomach. I take in the view of everyone around me and briefly try to start up a conversation, but it's clear that no one's in the mood to discuss the finer points of finger painting - a wonderful hobby that Naomi's introduced me to now that she's grown out of it.

What's put them all in this mood completely eludes me, but I'm certainly not going to let it spoil my day. No matter how much it may have spoiled theirs.

By my guess, they're now about five minutes late.

B'Elanna looks like she wants nothing more than to get back to tinkering with her precious warp core, and will promptly kill anyone who gets in the way.

Tom is leaning forward heavily, resting his weight through his elbows which are propped on the table. He is simultaneously ignoring the disapproving looks from Tuvok, and trying half-hearted smiles on B'Elanna without looking like he fears for his life.

The Doctor has his head tipped to one side, his expression far away. No doubt he's indulging in a few fantasies now that his programme's been fixed. Why not? That's what I say.

Harry is still trying to look curious, but his interest is waning considerably. He seems far more interested in studying someone else's anatomy.

That someone else, of course, continues to maintain her intense scrutiny of the situation.

And Tuvok...while no expression is currently on his face, I've seen him raise his hand to his com badge, only to apparently reconsider his decision and lower the hand.

Eight minutes.

Someone clears their throat.

"Shouldn't one of us try hailing them?"

Tuvok responds to Harry's question. "They will report to the briefing room when they are ready."

Rolling his eyes, Harry nonetheless remains quiet.

It's not that unusual for one of them to be late. It's not that unusual for both of them to be late. Just prior to a staff meeting they're almost always in her ready room, going over details that need to be discussed, subjects that need to be covered.

"I don't know about you," B'Elanna tells him "but I'd like to get back to engineering. I have a level two diagnostic that needs to be completed by 1500 hours. If someone doesn't hail them soon I'll go into the ready room myself and haul them out here!"

"We will wait for the Captain and Commander," Tuvok insists almost too much.

Regaining interest, Tom speaks. "Tuvok, what's going on? Are you hiding something from us? Something you'd like to share?"

"Of course not," He responds, too quickly.

By now he has gained everyone's interest. They're all leaning forward in their chairs, studying him. Even the Doctor shakes his head, comes out of his fantasy, and looks at the Vulcan.

I find myself doing the same.

It's really none of my business, nothing I should know about. It's just...well I *adore* a good bit of gossip.

"Come on, Tuvok," Harry wheedles "Who are we gonna tell? It's not like the rest of the Federation is out here with us."

"That is hardly the point, Ensign." Tuvok stresses. "If I did indeed 'know anything' as you and Mr Paris seem to suspect - which is not to say that I do - I would be honour-bound not to discuss it."

B'Elanna snorts. "You're just afraid the Captain's going to kick your-"

She stops talking as the doors to the room open and the Captain and Commander finally walk in. We stare in shocked silence for a few moments as they take their seats. The Commander doesn't look particularly different than usual...perhaps a little redder. But the Captain...her hair is mussed, her lips are swollen, and there's a red mark just above the collar of her uniform.

She clearly has no idea that we've noticed. Either that, or she doesn't care.

I find myself grinning.

"Hello everyone!" The Captain declares loudly. "Sorry we're late. We lost a PADD and we just couldn't find it," She continues, absently patting her hair into a semblance of control as if she does it at every briefing.

B'Elanna snorts, again, then covers it up by coughing. As the Captain studies her strangely, she apologises. "I'm sorry. Something in my throat."

"I bet you weren't the only one who had that problem earlier," Tom mutters, and B'Elanna snorts once more.

Harry chuckles.

Apparently not hearing, the Captain frowns then smiles. "Well, I'm glad to see you're all in such a good mood. Let's get started, shall we?"

It's the shortest briefing I've ever attended. I'm sure if I asked Seven or Tuvok they could tell me exactly how long it lasted, but I'd estimate about two minutes.

When it's over and she dismisses us we sit for a few seconds, blink, then start to filter out of the room.

The grin still won't leave my face. This is such wonderful news!

As I'm about to leave the room, she calls me and I turn back to face her and the Commander, who are both still seated.

"Neelix, what's for dessert in the mess hall tonight?"

I open my mouth to tell her the truth - pecan pie - when another answer emerges. "Apple turnover. Sorry, Captain. We'll have pecan pie another time, I promise. Besides, I'm sure you can always replicate something."

She nods, acknowledging. "Thank you, Neelix. And you're right of course. There is something else I'd much rather eat."

I cannot believe she said that. I cannot believe it.

Even as I mumble an excuse, leave, and turn bright orange, I'm still grinning.



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