Summary: Tom Paris finds a certain holodeck program and decides to try it out with some friends. Follow-up to "Special Edition."

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators.

Rating: PG-13, for themes and language.

Time Frame: Somewhere in the middle of season seven of Star Trek: Voyager.

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@aol.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.

Acknowledgment: To Dave, who suggested something similar to this in his feedback post for "Special Edition." Being the contrary SOB that I am, I tinkered with a few of the details. . . : - )



CASTING ISSUES


Tom Paris closed the panel and straightened up, nodding in satisfaction. He looked around: Holodeck 3 looked as it always did when no program was running, with parallel and perpendicular lines criss-crossing everywhere one looked, blank and yet promising a world of possibilities. Tom smiled and waited for his guests to arrive. . .this evening promised to be something special.

The entry door slid open, and Tom turned with a smile and caught his breath. As long as they had been together, he had never grown tired of seeing B'Elanna enter a room, and the lovely black dress she was wearing only enhanced the glorious sight more. The only flaw was the frown on her face as she walked up to him and commented, "All right, I'm here. . .what were you being so mysterious about, anyway?" She gestured at her dress and added, "It's a nice dress, but where did you get it? I don't recall seeing anyone wear one like it, even in other holoprograms."

Tom grinned and replied, "Late twentieth century Earth, the United States, specifically the state of California. That little outfit you have on would have set some teenage girl's rich daddy back a good five or six hundred bucks when it was new."

B'Elanna nodded in semi-comprehension, then looked pointedly at Tom's clothing and commented sardonically, "Somehow, I suspect the same couldn't be said for your outfit."

Tom glanced down at his rather rumpled outfit, then grinned again and replied, "Hey, some people just aren't hung up on clothes." The door slid open again, and Tom turned and commented, "Now, there's a guy with some fashion sense."

B'Elanna turned and blinked. Harry was standing there, his usually neat hair a spiky mess, and his uniform replaced with jeans and a T-shirt with a caption on it. She squinted at it to read the words and her eyes widened as she asked, "Dingoes Ate My Baby?"

Harry walked into the holodeck and shook his head, grumbling, "Don't ask me. . .the wardrobe and the hairstyle were your husband's idea." He glared at his best friend and asked, "What does that mean, anyway?"

Tom grinned and replied, "It's the name of a band, a fictional one. There were probably fifty garage bands from that time who were kicking themselves that someone else thought of the name before they did."

Harry and B'Elanna turned to each other with an ease born of long practice, sighed in unison, and turned back to Tom as B'Elanna replied, "Right. . .I can see where they'd just be heartbroken over that." She frowned and asked, "Is anyone else coming?"

The door opened again, and all three occupants of the holodeck turned at the sound. Tom grinned yet again, and Harry and B'Elanna stared at the new arrival in silence as he entered the room. B'Elanna swallowed, then began, "Chakotay, you look so--" She struggled for the right word, then remembered a trip that she had made during her time at Starfleet Academy, allowing her to conclude, "-English."

The first officer nodded slowly as he came over to the others, his dark eyes looking amused behind the steel-rimmed spectacles. He wore a well-tailored tweed suit that looked as if it had seen some serious use over the years. He raised an eyebrow as he turned to Tom and commented, "At first I wondered if you were a closet Sherlock Holmes reader, then I realized that this was from a later period, and I remembered seeing this particular outfit somewhere." He smiled and concluded, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Tom?"

B'Elanna and Harry blinked, confused, as Tom's eyes widened in surprised pleasure and he nodded in affirmation as he called out, "Computer. . .activate program Hellmouth-0306A."

The bare holodeck vanished, and the four Voyager officers found themselves in a graveyard. It was early evening, and there was no one else in sight. Tom blinked, glanced around as if expecting to see someone else, then shrugged and turned back to Chakotay, replying, "I found this program in the holodeck main menu; apparently, it's been here since Voyager left the spaceyards, and no one's used it before. I thought it would be fun as a change of pace."

Chakotay nodded, and B'Elanna frowned and asked, "Tom. . .I know you love these little surprises, but I-and, from his expression, Harry-would really like to know what's going on here. Who is Buffy the Vampire Slayer and what does she have to do with us being out here in these outfits?"

Tom smiled at his wife, then replied, "'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' was an old Earth television series that had its seven year run at the turn of the twenty-first century. It was never one of the most popular shows around, but it had a positively rabid fan base, and the rise of the Internet at the same time gave the show a lot of word of mouth that helped spread love of the show worldwide. Ever since, the old episodes have been passed down among fans from generation to generation, and even from race to race. . .the last I heard, there were Buffy Appreciation Societies on both Vulcan and the Klingon homeworld."

That little piece of news made B'Elanna blink hard, and Chakotay nodded and commented, "I can believe it. It was Tuvok who introduced me to the show, not long before Captain Janeway caught up with us in the Badlands." He frowned: even after all of the time and layers of friendship that had intervened, Tuvok's deception of him still stung him a bit. The others watched him in concern, and he shook his head self-deprecatingly and continued, "I was trying to understand him better, wondering how it was that a Vulcan could rationalize rebelling against the lawful authority of the Federation. He pondered the question and gave me a chip containing the entire run of the series that had been compiled by Captain Picard years back. I watched the shows in my spare time, both before and after our arrival in the Delta Quadrant, and I understood what he had meant, even if the application to himself had proved disingenuous."

B'Elanna nodded thoughtfully, then asked, "OK, I can see the show was deeply meaningful to a lot of people over the years, but what was it about? Who was Buffy, and what in the name of Kahless is a Vampire Slayer?"

Tom, pleased that he had managed to pique B'Elanna's interest, replied, "Buffy was a relatively normal high school student when she found out that she had been fated to become the Slayer, whose job it was to protect the world from vampires, demons, and other supernatural threats. Only one Slayer existed at one time-or at least, that was the theory-which meant that Buffy was stuck with the job. She moved to Sunnydale, which turned out to be the center of evil of the entire world, and she met her Watcher, whose job it was to advise her and train her, and a small circle of friends who stood beside her as she faced horrible threats on a nightly basis. Time and time again, they saved the world, often at a horrible personal cost."

Harry looked at Tom's expression as he told the backstory, and he smiled, commenting, "You sound like you know it by heart, Tom. . .how long have you been watching the show, anyway?"

Tom's expression turned somber, and he looked uncomfortable as he replied, "Since I was a teenager. . .it was one of the few things that my dad and I both enjoyed doing together. He always told me that I could learn important things from the characters on the show." He blinked and looked down, muttering, "Guess that didn't work out too well at first."

Tom felt a squeeze on his shoulder, and he looked up to see his wife's compassionate expression, and brightened as she asked, "All right, enough of that. . .who are we supposed to be?"

Tom grinned again, then replied, "I'm Xander Harris, one of the first two friends Buffy made in Sunnydale. Xander's kind of an Everyman: the guy who doesn't have any flashy powers or talents, but who will walk into hell if that's what it takes to save a friend." He looked into his wife's eyes and assumed a seductive expression as he continued, "You are Cordelia Chase. . .she started out as the snobby rich girl who makes fun of Buffy and her friends, but turns out to have hidden depths that come out over time as she becomes aware of the dangers in Sunnydale. At this point in the series, she's involved with Xander."

B'Elanna nodded thoughtfully, and Chakotay interjected, "No need to tell me who I am, Tom." The first officer bowed at the waist, adding in a cultured tone, "Rupert Giles, Watcher and reformed terror of England, at your service."


Tom nodded, then added for the benefit of the others, "Giles is the strongest father figure that Buffy has, since her own father divorced her mother and was not to be seen after the first season of the series. Giles is a brilliant researcher and a very good fighter. . .though he does have a tendency to be knocked unconscious quite a bit."

Harry perked up and asked, "What about me, Tom?"

"You're Oz," replied Tom, walking over to his best friend and examining his handiwork before continuing, "You're the guitar player for the best known band in Sunnydale, and for three days a month, you have to be locked in a cage at night to deal with your unfortunate lycanthropy problem." Harry looked baffled, and Tom elucidated, "Oz is a werewolf."

Harry blinked and replied, "Oh," before looking up and seeing that the moon was in a crescent phase. He looked back at Tom and asked, "So what's my connection to the group?"

"You're the boyfriend of Buffy's best friend, Willow." Tom looked around, puzzled, then added, "There should be a hologram of Willow here. . .I don't know why the computer hasn't activated her." He shrugged and commented, "Maybe she'll show up after Buffy does-"

As if summoned by Tom's words, there was a sudden commotion nearby, and the group moved quietly over, only to see an intense fight between four humanoids with distorted features, and a tiny blonde woman who was moving faster than any of them could remember seeing a human do. Harry moved forward, appalled at the odds against the woman, but Tom barred his path, shaking his head and ordering quietly, "Just watch."

Harry, feeling misgivings, held back, and they all watched as the woman darted about the clearing, throwing punches and kicks with devastating force and causing bones to audibly snap on her opponents. They were clearly very resistant to punishment, but they were still being gradually slowed by the damage the young woman was inflicting. Abruptly, a wooden stake appeared in her hand, and she made lightning fast thrusts to the chests of two of the creatures: they screamed and burst into dust. The other two looked at each other, then fled: one was too slow and met the fate of his companions, while the other managed to dart off into the trees, vanishing from sight. The young woman snarled in disgust, then turned back to the watching group nearby, brightening as she recognized them. She ran over to them and called out, "Hey, guys. . .glad you made it." She turned to Chakotay and looked a bit embarrassed as she addressed him, commenting, "I let one get away. . .not my best night."

Chakotay, feeling an affectionate impulse toward the hologram, straightened up and replied, "Well, Buffy, there's always room for improvement, but three vampires is a rather good night's work, and we still have the rest of your evening patrol to thin the population further. . .and I have the utmost confidence in you, as always."

B'Elanna smiled as she saw Buffy flush slightly in embarrassment, then look at Chakotay and reply quietly, "Thanks." She frowned, looked around and asked, "Where's Willow? It's dark. . .she shouldn't be out alone."

Harry noticed that all eyes were on him, and he was silent for a moment before commenting, "I saw her earlier, and she said she'd be here. I'm not sure why she's late."

Buffy nodded, then caught movement out of the corner of her eye as someone stepped out of the nearby group of trees. She tensed, then relaxed and exclaimed, "There she is! Hey, Will. . .get over here!"

Everyone turned to see the new arrival, and four jaws dropped simultaneously. Captain Kathryn Janeway was walking toward them, wearing a simple sweater and blouse combination that looked like it belonged on a seventeen year old, and her expression contained none of her usual aura of command: it was a simple smile of a young woman glad to see her friends. Ignoring the open stares of her officers, she walked over next to Harry and took his arm casually as she called out, "Hey, Buffy. . .hi, everyone."

Buffy walked over and glared at Janeway for a long moment, but everyone could tell that the Slayer's heart wasn't really in it. She blinked, then scolded, "Will. . .you know we worry about you. It's not safe for you to be out alone at night, and you know it."

Janeway nodded and looked apologetic before replying, "I'm sorry, Buffy: I got caught up in some research and lost track of time." Buffy's expression softened, and she seemed to be about to say something else when Janeway blinked and pointed, calling out, "Buffy! I just saw someone in those bushes over there. . .a dark-skinned guy in a red suit."

Buffy turned and uttered a mild curse, then added, "Mr. Trick is really starting to piss me off." She turned to the others and ordered bluntly, "Stay here and watch your backs. . .I'll get that bastard this time."

She turned away and dashed off into the bushes with startling speed, and the five remaining persons in the clearing stood in silence for several seconds before Janeway raised an eyebrow and asked playfully, "Is something wrong? Buffy running off for a little solo Slaying is just par for the course in Sunnydale."

Tom got his voice back first, and asked the obvious question, "Captain. . .how did you know--?"

Janeway looked over at Tom, and the expression that appeared on her face was very much her own: amused and ever so slightly smug. She turned slightly, so as to be able to see the expressions of her other officers, then replied, "Tom. . .who do you think put this program into the holodeck files in the first place?" She glanced over at Chakotay and added, "And who do you think introduced Tuvok to the show? There are Vulcan Buffy fans out there, but they aren't THAT common." She turned back to Tom and concluded, "I was passing on a gift that a certain officer had given to me back in my days in Command School."

Tom blinked, then put two and two together as he whispered, "My father?"

Janeway nodded, then replied, "Yes. He gave me a copy of Captain Picard's compilation of the series, and told me that he thought it would speak to me on some level." She smiled softly, then added, "I was surprised. . .up to then, I had always seen him as very conservative, not at all one to endorse any activities that weren't 'by the book.'" She chuckled, then concluded, "I was certainly wrong about that."

Tom smiled, then noted in amusement that Harry was becoming visibly nervous as Janeway held his arm in a manner of casual affection. He shook his head, then asked, "So you had the program set to flag anyone using it?"

Janeway nodded, and replied, "It had been so long that I had almost forgotten about it." She smiled apologetically and added, "I hope my little substitution didn't disrupt your plans overly, Tom."

Tom shook his head with some emphasis as he responded, "You're always welcome in our gatherings, Captain. . .and the surprise was a good one." As he looked over at her, a pang of curiosity overcame him, and he felt compelled to ask, "Captain. . .why Willow?"

Janeway raised an eyebrow, then replied, "Would you have preferred it if I had shown up here in black leather pants and a T-shirt, Tom?" B'Elanna raised her own eyebrow, and Tom blushed crimson as Janeway chuckled again and added, "Besides, who else would I be?" She assumed a determined expression that all of them had seen on her face before in moments of crisis and pointed to it, elaborating, "Look. . .resolve face."

Tom and Chakotay laughed, and Janeway was shaking her head in amusement when she saw that Harry's attention had been diverted by something. She looked to where he was looking, and saw flashes of moonlight glinting off of blonde silk in the distance. She grinned wickedly at Harry and commented in mock annoyance, "You know, Oz, a girl could get all jealous and pouty if she thought that her honey was longing after another girl. . .even if she is the Slayer."

Harry blinked, then looked over at Janeway apologetically as he responded, "Sorry, Ca-I mean, sorry Willow." He looked down, then looked back over to where Buffy was fruitlessly searching for Mr. Trick before commenting, "She's amazing, isn't she?"

Janeway smiled at Harry and replied, "She certainly is." She looked sadly over at the Slayer, then added, "She's under a lot of strain right now. . .she's keeping a terrible secret from her friends."

Tom nodded, and Chakotay commented, "Yes. . .Angel is back from Hell, and she is hiding him while he regains his strength. She's afraid of what they might do to him, and guilty about what she allowed him to do to them while his soul was gone."

Harry looked puzzled, and Tom saw an annoyed expression appear on his wife's face before she turned to him and asked, "Tom. . .is there an outline version of this show that I can read? It sounds like there are a lot of plot points to keep track of."

B'Elanna saw a playful look appear on Tom's face, and she waited for a moment until he replied, "I'll show you some of the high points. . .over popcorn in our quarters." She rewarded him with a smile, then commented, "If she's not doing well right now, we should go over and cheer her up. . .that's one of the things we're here for, right?"

The others nodded, and Chakotay led the way over to Buffy, with the two couples following behind him. As they walked, Janeway turned and grinned wickedly as she commented, "You should be glad I'm here for another reason, Mr. Paris. . .given the time frame of this scenario, at least you don't have to worry about a recurrence of 'The Fluke' with me here."

Tom nodded, then froze and paled before turning to see a suspicious expression on B'Elanna's face. He swallowed hard as his wife asked him in a deceptively casual tone, "Tom, what's 'The Fluke', and why do I have the feeling that it isn't something I'd want to hear about?"

Tom was rescued by the arrival of Buffy, who looked slightly out of breath and very angry. She shook her head and muttered, "Damn it, I thought I was going to get him this time." She shrugged and added, "Next time, then." She turned to Chakotay and favored him with a dazzling smile as she asked, "Ready to go, Gi-?"

Buffy shimmered and vanished in mid-sentence, and Harry turned to Tom and asked in a puzzled tone, "Is that one of her special powers, Tom?"

Tom shook his head and replied, "No. . .I don't know what made her vanish like that."

"I'm afraid that this little surprise is my doing too, Tom." Everyone turned to Janeway, none looking particularly surprised. Janeway coughed apologetically, then elaborated, "I saw the opportunity to let one other person participate, and Buffy seemed to me to be just the right role for her: I hope that's not a problem for any of you."

Tom spoke for all of them when he replied, "No problem at all, Captain. . .who is it? Naomi Wildman? She's a bit young to play Buffy, but I bet she'd do fine."

Janeway shook her head, then smiled as she responded, "Perhaps in a few years, but not today. No, I was just thinking about Buffy and the way her role in life affected how she viewed the world. Consider her situation: her powers set her apart from most of humanity, and she had to live with the fact that no matter what she did, people would die on her watch and she would be helpless to prevent it. Along with her heroism, it was the love she shared with her friends that helped keep her level, and that brought her back after the rare moments when she had endured more than she could bear. . .it reminded me of someone." There was a rustle in the bushes nearby, and a tall figure stepped out into view. Janeway smiled, then concluded, "Glad you could join us."

B'Elanna blinked, then turned to Tom, expecting to see a lascivious expression on his face that would have put him in the doghouse for quite some time; instead, she saw a gentle smile on his face that warmed her heart. She noticed that Harry's eyes had widened, though he was also smiling supportively rather than wolfishly. She heard Chakotay take a deep breath, and made a note to tease him about it later. She walked over to the newcomer and commented sincerely, "The outfit looks good on you, Seven."

The former Borg drone smiled slightly, then replied, "Thank you, Lieutenant." She was wearing the same skintight white top and black miniskirt that the Buffy hologram had been wearing, and she gave it a skeptical glance before turning to Janeway and commenting, "Captain, I reviewed the background materials regarding this fictional environment, and I believe I have an adequate grasp of the character's motivations. . .and an understanding of why you thought it would be beneficial for me to participate." Seven noticed the smiles that her comment evoked, and she echoed it with one of her own before sobering again and concluding, "However, I'm not certain of the practicality of this. . .'fashion ensemble.'"

The three men assumed poker faces, and B'Elanna raised an eyebrow as Janeway nodded and replied, "I wouldn't worry, Seven: it seemed to work all right for the actress who played Buffy and the persons who performed the stunts, and B'Elanna is right: it does look good on you."

Seven inclined her head to acknowledge the compliment, then turned to the group as a whole and announced, "Then we should begin." She blinked, and an intensity appeared on her eyes that reminded the others of the determined look they had seen in Buffy's eyes as Seven added, "I believe the appropriate phrase is, 'Let's kick some undead ass.'" She turned away and walked down the path leading into the next section of the graveyard, and the others followed, glad to set aside their daily concerns to walk in the shoes of people with even more complicated lives than theirs, at least for a while.


AUTHOR'S CLOSING COMMENTS (9/12/2001): I had intended to finish this story yesterday, but did not for reasons that will not be a mystery to anyone. This story is about two different fictional universes, both of which portray groups of people who live lives of great danger, and who by their efforts try to make their worlds better places for all who live there, often at great cost. I would like to dedicate this story to the real life versions of those heroes, who face danger for all of our sakes on a daily basis, and who receive far too little recognition for it. In a time when we are faced with tragedy and doubts, they are a much-needed inspiration for us all, and I would like to send a heartfelt "thank you" to all of them, living or dead.

I would also like to add my genuine thanks to all of the people who have been kind enough to read my stories and give me both compliments and helpful suggestions over the past two years. My life would be far less rich without you in it, and I want you to know that I know it. : - )


As before, comments are welcome and desired.