Heroes on Ordinary Days
At the start of his afternoon break Tom handed over the conn to his relief and headed down to the mess hall to find Neelix.
This was a relatively quiet time in Neelix's day. There were still a few hours before he had to set up for the cross shift evening meal. He'd already put out flasks of coffee and ingredients for light snacks and the crew helped themselves. When Tom came in Neelix waved him over to one of the tables. He poured a coffee for Tom and one for himself and then sat down to join him.
Tom checked to make sure that no one was close enough to overhear their conversation and leaned forward to speak to Neelix. "Captain Janeway checked the records on Shannon O'Donnell and still looks pretty down about the whole business," he told him in a subdued tone. "I think it's time to give your idea a try."
Neelix was way ahead of Tom on this one. "Leave it to me. I'll have a party up and running in no time. I can get some refreshments together and then spread the word through your 'grape vine' to get the crew to the mess hall at 21:00. I've already downloaded an image of the Captain's ancestor. I'll frame that and we can present it to her at the party. We'll say that it's in honor of Ancestors' Day. That should cheer her up."
"Ancestors' Day?" Tom questioned, not clear what Neelix was talking about. "I've never heard of it."
"Neither have I," Neelix admitted, not at all put out by this admission. "But this can be our first annual Ancestors' Day, or maybe Ancestors' Eve since it will be at night. You can never have too many celebrations!" he finished cheerfully.
Tom laughed. "You have something there, Neelix. But I don't think it's a good idea to present the Captain with a picture of Shannon O'Donnell in front of the whole crew."
"Do you want me to forget about the picture?" Neelix asked, slightly dejected. He had so little left of his own family - a single picture of his favorite sister, Alixia. Most of his memories were buried under haunting images of burnt bodies and charred flesh. Only Alixia was forever accessible to him as she once was, beautiful and alive. She lived for him in the picture that he would always carry with him. It was hard for him to imagine depriving anyone of a family memento.
Tom thought quickly. He could tell that this was really important to Neelix. "Hold on. Why don't we have a smaller gathering with the senior staff before the party? You can give it to her then."
Neelix brightened, then frowned. "I have so much to do here. I don't think I can get a private message to all the senior staff in time, not without alerting the Captain to the fact that something is up. It's not the kind of message that I can send through your 'grape vine' or over an open comm link either."
"Leave that part to me, Neelix," Tom told him.
"What are you going to do, Tom? You don't have much free time before tonight either."
"I'm going to do something that Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay would both appreciate. I'm going to 'multitask' and 'delegate'. That should leave me with enough time to give you a hand with final preparations." Tom winked at Neelix and left to finish his shift on the bridge.
Well, it had seemed to Tom like a good plan when he had explained it to Neelix, but well into his meeting with Commander Chakotay, Tom had to wonder if he'd have any free time left before the party. His meeting with the commander had already gone on even longer than he could have imagined.
Tom had realized a while ago that the number of follow-up questions the Captain assigned was directly related to the amount of humor he injected into his reports. This time he had been inspired, so it was little surprise that today's list was long and Chakotay was now adding even more questions.
Tom waited and listened while Chakotay patiently explained his rationale for each of the new points on his list. "So, Tom, this covers many of the typical questions that a First Officer should ask himself when dealing with the crew. You can shadow me a few times to get more practical experience with how well ship's protocols work, or sometimes don't work, in effective crew management. You'll begin to get a fuller picture of the range of tasks that a good First Officer should perform regularly in order to do the job really well."
"Begin?" Tom had to ask himself. "There's going to be more?" Tom took a gulp of his cooling herbal tea. The tea was not Tom's first choice of beverage. But the offer of the tea and Chakotay's invitation to sit were tacit signals that they would be on informal terms during their meeting. Tom's acceptance of the tea was his way of showing that he was willing to do his part in the ongoing process of renegotiating a relationship that had once verged on corrosive.
Tom carefully placed his cup on Chakotay's desk. He decided that this was his best, maybe his only chance to change the subject and fulfill his promise to Neelix. "I can see how important all of this is, Commander," Tom began in all seriousness. "There is certainly a lot involved in looking after the crew's well being, which is, no doubt, one of a First Officer's top priorities."
Chakotay sensed a con job coming. He leaned back in his chair. He wasn't sure what Tom had in mind. For now, he was willing to hear him out. There was no doubt that this would be interesting.
Not receiving a definite stop signal, Tom kept going. "Speaking of the crew's well being, you'll have heard about the party that Neelix is arranging for later tonight."
"I've heard," Chakotay said, conceding that much.
"It's important for crew morale to have these opportunities to get together, to remember where we came from and to celebrate family here on Voyager. We want to make sure that everyone has some time during the evening to come and participate." Tom said, finishing his speech on a rather grandiose note.
"Already looked after," Chakotay assured him, still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"Good, good," Tom approved. "We're also planning to have a small gathering before the party, just the Captain and senior staff. We hoped that you could arrange to get the senior staff there without Captain Janeway catching on."
"What's that gathering for?" Chakotay asked.
"You've heard about the Captain's ancestor?" Tom asked.
"I've heard," Chakotay acknowledged. He also knew that Kathryn refused to admit just how much the news about Shannon O'Donnell bothered her.
"Well, Neelix wanted to find a way to show the Captain that we care about how she's feeling. So he came up with the idea of giving her a picture of Shannon O'Donnell that he found in the database. I thought that maybe the Captain would prefer that part to be more private."
"You're probably right." Chakotay agreed. Actually Chakotay was being diplomatic. He was quite sure that Kathryn would prefer to keep the whole matter private. Still, it wouldn't hurt to help her resolve some of her feelings about Shannon O'Donnell before she had a chance to bottle everything up inside. She'd done way too much of that. "I'll make sure the senior staff gets there." He said, confirming his role in the arrangements.
"Thanks. Just remember that you have to be there too. So don't cover duties yourself." Tom instructed him.
"I'll keep that in mind." Chakotay promised.
"One more thing," Tom added, a little too casually.
"Yes?" Chakotay responded cautiously. The days might be long gone when he would suspect Tom of plotting something underhanded. Tom was still more than capable of planning something outrageous. Chakotay had visions of Tom asking him to serenade the Captain with an Irish tune.
What Tom had in mind was actually quite different. It was something that was important to B'Elanna, and therefore important to him too. Chakotay and B'Elanna shared a history. They had a close friendship that Tom knew would always be important to B'Elanna. Tom valued the time he and B'Elanna spent alone together and wouldn't trade one minute of it. But there was no way around it. With their busy schedules, once they became a couple there was less time available to spend with other friends.
Harry was B'Elanna's friend too, so they could all hang out together. Chakotay was a different case. He and Tom socialized and had a better relationship than they had in the past, but they just didn't make the same kind of easy threesome that B'Elanna and Tom made with Harry. So how was B'Elanna supposed to find time to be with her friend?
Tom took a deep breath and asked. "Would you talk to B'Elanna, personally I mean, to make sure that she comes?"
"Why not talk to her yourself?" Chakotay was puzzled by the request.
"I could do that," Tom acknowledged. "But B'Elanna has lost a lot of people in her life. The ones that she has left are all important to her. You and B'Elanna haven't had a lot of time together recently, outside of work that is. I think it's important that the two of you get to spend some time together and know it's okay with me."
Chakotay regarded Tom thoughtfully. After a moment he said, "I appreciate that."
Tom nodded. Then he asked, hopefully, "So, are we done here?"
"Actually there is one more thing that I'd like you to do." After all Chakotay was the First Officer. He knew how to multitask and delegate too.
"I thought I was getting off too easily," Tom thought. He only hoped that he could get out of this meeting before he had to commit all the rest of his free time for the week. "Oh?" is what he actually said out loud.
"Yes. I'm trying to get B'Elanna up on the bridge more often. Right now, about the only time she gets up there is when she's monitoring the engineering console. If she had other reasons to be there, she would be available more often to take charge when the more senior officers are called away. We can't let Harry have all the fun." Chakotay smiled at his own humor. "I thought you could arrange for her to spend some time filling in at conn."
"Commander, about the only way I could pry B'Elanna away from her engines to sit at the helm would be to tell her that her piloting skills are too rusty to handle the job," Tom said, trying to explain how impossible the whole idea was.
"I knew I could count on you to come up with a workable plan. I expect to see B'Elanna at the helm very soon. Good job!" Chakotay congratulated him.
"Thanks. I think," Tom managed before finally standing up and making his escape.
Chakotay stayed in his office for quite a while after Tom left. He had a lot of reports to finish reading before the evening. But what he really wanted was some time to himself. A feeling of heaviness that he didn't even realize he'd been carrying had lifted.
When B'Elanna first started dating Tom Paris, Chakotay had pulled back. He didn't want B'Elanna to detect any of the doubts that he had about the relationship. He knew that Tom was a better man than he had been in the past. He just didn't know whether he was the right man for B'Elanna. Truthfully, Chakotay would probably never think that anyone was good enough for her. But he was realistic enough to know that, with everything that B'Elanna had gone through in the past, it would take a strong man to be there for her in the way she needed him to be. She needed someone who would never cut loose and run the way her father had apparently done. In the beginning, Chakotay didn't know whether Tom Paris could be that man.
As the months passed, although his opinion gradually changed, Chakotay still held back. By then it was to give the two of them the space they needed to develop their relationship. He didn't want to be the big brother crowding in between them. His distance from B'Elanna became a habit. Aside from the support he was able to give her during Tom's time in the brig, about the only time he got to talk to B'Elanna was as her commanding officer. Today he realized just how much he missed feeling free to call B'Elanna, to spend time with her, just to be with her and talk. This gathering tonight would be good for him too.
By the time evening did arrive Kathryn was giving serious thought to a nice, hot, relaxing bath. As usual, her day had been a long one. Fortunately she'd noticed the stains on her sleeve in time to change into a spare jacket before returning to the bridge. Coffee sleeves had no place in the example she meant to set for her crew.
She was in the middle of contemplating the number of bubbles she should add to her bath when Neelix commed to ask to see her on a personal matter. "Why do I keep imagining that I'll get to have quiet time?" she asked herself. She hoped this wouldn't take too long. She could really use some time to herself, soon.
When Kathryn entered the mess hall for her meeting with Neelix, she didn't know what she expected to find. She certainly didn't expect to find her senior staff standing around chatting over a cold beverage. They were all there, everyone from Chakotay to the Doctor.
"What's this?" she asked.
"Happy Ancestors' Eve," Neelix announced enthusiastically.
"Oh dear," Kathryn thought. Then Neelix confirmed her worst suspicions by holding out a framed picture of Shannon O'Donnell, her less-than-illustrious ancestor. Kathryn resisted at first. Then she pushed aside her disillusionment with the idealized image that she had created of the subject in the picture. She accepted Neelix's gift with a diplomatic smile that softened into a warmer one when she saw how happy this made him.
The EMH insisted on taking a family photo of his own. He gathered everyone into a group and set his camera on time delay. Tom wrapped his arms around B'Elanna and the smile that the camera captured was even brighter than the smile he had quite unconsciously revealed to the Captain the previous evening.
They all managed to escape from the Doctor's camera after posing for that one portrait. Kathryn chatted with him to keep him from floating around taking candid shots. Seven came over to help. Neelix tried unsuccessfully to persuade Tuvok to 'party'. Tuvok took refuge by moving over to join Tom.
The room filled as more of the crew arrived. Their Captain circulated among them, making each new arrival feel welcome. When there was a lull in the arrival of crewmembers, Kathryn stopped to look around the room. She smiled. This gathering was doing more to restore her energy than any relaxing bath could have done. Her original home in the Alpha Quadrant was far away. But right now she had these dear people who'd joined together in this silly event to cheer her up.
She decided that Neelix had the right idea after all. Maybe they did need to invent more holidays of their very own. She'd just pack Aunt Martha's tales about Shannon O'Donnell away with the stories of Flotter and all the rest of her childhood favorites. Here on Voyager, she had the reality of a ship and crew who'd survived everything that the Delta Quadrant had thrown at them so far. Against all odds, Starfleet and Maquis had come together to make an exceptional crew. That was something much better for her to hold on to.
"Happy Ancestors' Eve," she wished each group in turn.
Neelix headed back to his kitchen to get more refreshments. Tom looked over to offer to help. But Neelix shook his head 'no'. Neelix was in his element. He bustled about making sure that everyone was supplied with food. He set out bowls of his favorite snacks mixed with other snacks that the crew, for some reason, preferred.
The picture of the Captain's ancestor was perched on the counter near one of the snack bowls. Neelix picked it up to examine the image of Shannon O'Donnell surrounded by her children and her grandchildren. He decided that his sister, Alixia, would have liked the people in this photo-image. It was certainly a handsome family, one that anyone could be proud of.
Neelix was sure that Alixia would have liked the people in this room too. He watched the Captain mingle with her crew to draw people together. She seemed to know just what to say to blend people into comfortable groups. She made sure that everyone was having a good time.
Over on one side of the room Commander Chakotay waved to Mr. Ayala to come and join him in reminiscing with B'Elanna about old times and old friends. Neelix saw Tom smile at B'Elanna, and then turn to engage a particularly shy ensign in conversation with Harry and Sue Nicoletti.
These were people who bounced back from setbacks, even heart breaking ones. They staved off tedium and loneliness. They endured the ordinary to perform the extraordinary. Of course, most of them were far too serious for Talaxian tastes and none of them knew how to appreciate really good cooking. But, weighing the good with the bad, they were Neelix's idea of true heroes.
1. I loved Tom's smile in the scene in the captain's quarters in the episode, 11:59. This story started off as an excuse to revisit that moment. It also provides a reason why Neelix gave Kathryn the photo she so clearly didn't want. The beginning of the story and the Ancestors' Eve celebration were adapted with some dialogue changes from the episode. The other parts of the story are pure invention.
2. In several of the episodes from the fourth and fifth seasons, Chakotay was noticeably abrupt in his dealings with B'Elanna. In the sixth season there were signs of a return to a more relaxed, easy friendship as seen in B'Elanna and Chakotay's outing to watch the Tsunkatze matches. I included the conversation between Tom and Chakotay in this story to provide a reason, and I think a rather nice one, for the transition.
3. I also included an excuse for B'Elanna to be on helm duty just because B'Elanna turned up at the helm in the episode, One Small Step.