Pleasure is very seldom found where it is sought. Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.
"Isnt that a rather morbid choice?" Uhura questioned dubiously, eyeing the helmsman as he postured before her.
"And dressing up like a skeleton Isnt morbid?" Sulu chuckled in response. "Thats what Rileys going as, you know. It is a Halloween party after all."
"I know, but this" She gestured at the costume. "This nearly got you killed down on Beta Three."
Sulu shrugged fatalistically. "Its a shame to waste it, though. The computer might have gotten the wrong period as far as style goes, but youve got to admit the fit is perfect. Besides, that was nearly a year ago."
Uhura smiled, admiring his slender, well-proportioned frame as he twisted to see his back in the mirror. "At the risk of giving you a swelled head, I must admit you look marvelous," she laughed. "You cute little Archon, you!"
Sulu bowed with the exaggerated grace of a dancer. "Thank you, fair maiden!"
"Sorry," she slipped off his bunk. "Neither, as you well know."
Sulu grinned at the long-standing joke, his grin widening as Uhura gave him an affectionate hug and a peck on the cheek. "You behave yourself tonight, DArtagnon," she murmured as she released him.
"So, what are you going as?" Sulu slipped off the jacket to his suit and folding it.
"A belly dancer." Uhuras dark eyes sparkled mischievously. "Straight from the Arabian Nights, but I have to get started on it, the masquerade is tonight. Ive been so busy kibitzing with Chris on her outfit"
"Whats her costume going to be?"
"Hopefully a big surprise." Uhuras lips curved into a mysterious grin. "Youll see tonight; Ive got to get moving, or Ill end up going as a denizen of Belian."
"Now, that would be interesting," Sulu teased. The people of Belian were nudists. "Either way, promise to save me a dance; I have a feeling youre going to be fighting the men off with a stick."
"Thats always my plan!" Uhura laughed as she headed for the door.
"Hey! What color mask goes with this outfit?"
"Black, of course," she called over her shoulder. "Its mysterious and sexy."
Sulu shook his head as he sank into the spot which Uhura had Just vacated. He seriously doubted that a black mask could transform him from Sulu the helmsman to Sulu the man of mystery, but he was willing to give it a try. He grinned, recalling a conversation he had overheard a few days ago between Lieutenants Kevin Riley and Carrie Drew.
"Theres not much fun in a masquerade when you know everyone," Drew said wistfully. "Thats the biggest problem with serving aboard a starship. After a few months, you know all there is to know about nearly everyone." She sighed. "No romance, no surprises."
"Id consider an enemy attack a surprise," Riley responded. "And the last landing party I was assigned to was"
"Im not talking about those kinds of surprises, Kevin." Drew tossed her copper tresses over her shoulder impatiently. "Its sad; I thought being in Starfleet would be kind of romantic, but there Isnt really anything romantic about working a transporter, or overhauling warp engines."
"Dont ye let Scotty hear ye talk like that, Carrie, lass," Riley warned in an outrageous Imitation of the chief engineer. "Hell transfer ye to life sciences!"
Drew threw her hands up in front of her, as if pleading for her very life. "Oh please! Not life sciences! Dont make me work for the walking chronometer! Please, Ill do anything..." Her voice trailed into a throaty chuckle. "Seriously though, thats not the kind of surprise I was talking about."
"I know," he said, his grin fading. "I guess youre right. A life in the stars does sound romantic, but in reality its just another job. I guess thats why we have masquerades.""For dreamers like me to indulge in a little romance?" she laughed self-consciously. "It sounds kind silly when you put it that way. Its not that I dont like what I do for a living, because I do, but sometimes I wish..." Her voice trailed off again, and she shrugged. "I cant explain."
The topic had moved along to more mundane matters, but Sulu had been unable to forget the longing in the pretty lieutenants green eyes as she spoke of her desire for romance. Sulu understood what she had been trying to say to his uncomprehending friend, because he had a romantic streak of his own, whiling away many a boring watch in fantasies of himself in an exotic setting. Recently, however, he had found the setting, almost unimportant in comparison to the emerald-eyed, auburn-tressed heroine he always found himself rescuing from some threat.
"Its mysterious and sexy," Uhuras words rang in his thoughts as he looked at the archaic suit jacket he held in his hand. He rose from his bunk, going to his priviewer to access engineerings duty roster. He smiled. Drew was working the transporter room today, and Kyle owed him a favor. As he finished changing out of his costume, he began to whistle a cheery little tune. The time had come to kindle some unexpected sparks.
"Ive always been a sucker for a uniform," Carrie Drew confided with a laugh.
"My dear," Leonard McCoy assured, as he accompanied the attractive lieutenant down the corridor. "Were not talkin about a borin old Starfleet uniform. Theres a charm about a Confederate uniform that defies casual description."
"In other words, Ill have to see it to believe it?"
"Right. Its a symbol of simpler times, a time when men were men and ladies..." McCoy paused as they reached the door to the transporter room, taking her right hand and bowing slightly as he pressed it to his lips. "...were ladies," he finished emphatically, blue eyes sparkling with mischief.
"Why, Doctor McCoy," Drew teased. "You almost make me believe in miracles!"
"Ah, Lieutenant," McCoy responded with a smile. "You almost make me believe in magnolia blossoms on a starship!"
Drew entered the transporter room still smiling at the good doctors play-acting. She caught herself wishing that she could find someone who saw romance as something more than an outdated custom of the past. Get real, Carrie, she scolded herself silently as she greeted Chief Kyle.
"No change here. Nothing happening until we arrive at Beta Reticuli in a day or two," Kyle reported as he backed away from the console. "Whatd you have for lunch?"
"Magnolia blossoms," she said with a smile as she took his place. In response to his puzzled expression, she laughed and shook her head. "Sorry, inside joke."
She looked down at the settings on the console and blinked. Lying across the top of the board was a single peach-colored rose. She picked it up, careful to avoid the thorns, and raised it to Inhale the heady fragrance. "Where did this come from?" she asked, looking up at where Kyle had been standing just as the door to the transporter room closed behind him.
Frowning, she looked back at the console. A plain white card stared up at her, and she read a brief message in a bold, flowing script:Until tonight.
She grinned. Someone was teasing her. Probably Kevin, she decided, recalling their conversation of a few days ago. Serves me right for being so silly.
In spite of the logical explanation she had found for the gesture, she caught herself daydreaming as the shift wore on, admiring the rose and scrutinizing the handwriting on the card. Of course it was Kevin. He had quite a sense of humor. She shook her head and sniffed at the offering, unable to keep from wishing that it had come from someone else, a dark, mysterious stranger. If only...
Sulu stood just inside the rec room doors, an untasted drink in one hand, swallowing his disappointment. All around him his costumed crewmates danced, flirting, laughing, enjoying the masquerade. He himself had begun the evening with high spirits, anticipating the arrival of a certain auburn-haired, green-eyed lieutenant. All evening long he had been looking In vain at the exotically costumed females. He had eliminated each candidate with a practiced eye: too short, too tall, wrong color hair. It was now almost midnight, and he knew with certainty that when the unmasking came, Carrie Drews pretty face would not appear from beneath any of the masks here in this room.
Riley appeared at his side, macabre in his costume. "Youre not enjoying yourself."
Sulu made no response, watching as Christine Chapel came toward them from the dance floor. In spite of his disappointment, he could not resist a smile. Uhura was right. Chapels costume had certainly been a surprise. He had never considered Chapel to be either particularly sexy or exotic,, but tonight those were the only words that suited her. She was wearing a body stocking that fit like a second skin and over it was draped a sparkling jeweled dress that enhanced the curves of her body. Uhura had called it Chapels love-slave costume, and she certainly looked the part. The ensemble was completed by a scarlet cloak which billowed out behind her as she approached.
"You cant be leaving already?" Riley questioned, eyeing her unique costume with frank approval.
Chapels cheeks flushed pink at his bold perusal. "Its getting late, and I have duty tomorrow...oh, that reminds me, Lieutenant Drew ended up pulling a double tonight to cover for Mariani, whos down with the flu. Poor kid, she was really looking forward to this party. Anyway, Drew told me if I saw you, Kevin, to tell you thanks for the rose."
"Rose?" Riley frowned. "I dont understand."
Chapel shrugged. "Maybe I misunderstood. Listen, Im beat. See you guys later."
Riley turned to ask Sulu what he made of the cryptic message, but his friend had disappeared. Echoing Chapels shrug, Riley drained his glass of punch and headed for the refreshment table for a refill.
Drew tapped her foot in time to the beat of the music that wafted through the intercom from the rec hall. The night-darkened transporter room was a cold and sterile place, and her dreams of romance were as unfulfilled as the costume which waited In her cabin. By the time her night-watch counterpart arrived, the masquerade would be over. Tears brimmed on her lashes as she thought of the emerald gown and matching mask which she had planned to wear tonight.
Closing her eyes, she put her arms out to encircle an imaginary partner, swaying back and forth for a moment and then moving around the console to break into a sweeping waltz. She heard the rustle of a taffeta petticoat as it swirled against her ankles, envisioned the partner in her arms, a raven-haired mystery man dressed in the romantic trappings of a time when men were men...The lieutenant was so involved in her fantasy that she didnt hear the doors to the transporter room open and close.
Sulu stood just inside the door, transfixed by the sight of the solitary dancer, mesmerized by her graceful movements and the bittersweet expression on her face. His eyes widened behind his mask as he saw the rose which was tucked into the intricate braids of her auburn hair. The waltz ended, and she glided to a stop, expelling a deep sigh as her eyelids fluttered open.
Her startled gasp broke Sulus trance, and he moved forward to take her in his arms as the next dance began.
"It was you, wasnt it?" she whispered as he guided her around the console. "Youre the one who sent the rose."
He nodded, knowing that if he spoke, he would give away his identity. She had wanted a surprise, and thats what he wanted to give her. Midnight was only moments away now.
Sulu pulled her closer, feeling her heart beat against his chest. They continued around the room, and he smiled, not at all amazed to find that she was so easy to dance with. Somehow he had known she would be.
"Its lovely," she murmured against his ear when It became apparent that he was not going to respond. "Thank you."
The countdown to midnight began, the ships chimes barely audible over the strains of orchestra music.
"Five, four, three, two, one."
Sulu pulled back enough to catch the expression on Drews face, aware that his own heart seemed to skip a beat. For an instant, green eyes met dark ones, and then all pretense of dancing faded as he gathered her closer, his mouth covering hers. Her lips were warm and pliant, moving eagerly against his, inviting a deepening of the gesture. As his tongue boldly explored the recesses of her mouth, she molded herself against him, arms encircling his neck. She returned his projected passion, and the kiss continued until they were both breathless and flushed with desire.
He pulled back in surprise. "You knew it was me?" His voice betrayed his disappointment.
"Of course I did. Do you think I would let just anyone kiss me like that?" She reached out to remove his mask, dropping it to the deck before she traced his half-frown with her index finger. Smiling, she met his gaze. "I know its been nearly a year, and I guess youve forgotten that I was on duty that morning you and ONeil transported down to Beta Three."
Sulu flushed. He had forgotten! "I wanted to surprise you."
Drews emerald eyes sparkled In the dim light as she shook her head and laughed. "But you did!" Her expression changed, sobering. "Oh, Hikaru, you gave me the best surprise of all! Just what I wanted."
The transporter room fell silent except for the lilting strains of orchestra music. It was twenty-four hundred hours aboard the starship Enterprise, and all was quite well indeed.
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