A/N: Although "Nemesis" aired after "Day of Honour", production number and stardates imply it must have been set before "Day of Honour" and I have assumed thus in this story.
Two shuttles lost in a four week period. January had been a bad month even by Voyager's standards. B'Elanna didn't want to see specs or unassembled parts for the class-9's again for a very long time. At least building this second replacement had been a smoother process than the last, what with the engineering teams having had such recent practise. And, there was the benefit that Vorik had been out of main engineering for another few weeks. B'Elanna had got quite used to not seeing his smug little face every day. It was going to be quite a chore to suffer through his incessant suggestions again. Maybe the Captain would approve his permanent reallocation to head up a shuttle production line …
Chakotay had been a mess after his experiences with the Kradin and the Vori. He'd done his best to carry on as normal, but he hadn't been at all himself for his first couple of weeks back. B'Elanna had declined two invitations to the holodeck (and one to Neelix's Valentine's Day themed potluck) from Tom with the excuse that she had plans to play hoverball with the first officer. Chakotay needed some moral support and who else was he going to get it from? Janeway seemed more interested in housetraining her rescued Borg. Ayala was busy deputising for Tuvok. Neelix was still mourning the loss of Kes. It just couldn't be helped that work on the Day of Honour program had stalled. Not that it was on complete hiatus; Tom had continued to add to it, though to what degree B'Elanna didn't exactly know.
But, she was about to find out. As Tom had dutifully reminded her yesterday morning, the holy month of nay'Poq was upon them. It was a not so subtle hint, though delivered without pressure, that, with two days to go until the Day of Honour, the program was unfinished. She owed it to herself – to Tom, at least – to get a grip and at least ensure that undertaking the ceremony would be an option if she so wished it on the day. Still, that was easier to think than do.
When her shift had ended - or, more precisely, an hour later, when she'd finished briefing Carey on the preparations for the fuel cell overhaul - the first thing she'd done was check the holodeck schedule. The second was to contact Yosa and trade some replicator rations in exchange for him ending his weekly swimming session early. That was the easy part; now came the real challenge.
Six times she moved her hand to her comm badge. Four times she changed her mind, her fingers not even making contact with the badge. On the fifth attempt, she pressed it and opened a channel. Before closing it again without speaking. Only on the sixth attempt did she overcome her cowardice and direct the comm. "Torres to Paris."
"Go ahead," came his near instantaneous reply, the clatter of utensils and background chatter accompanying his voice.
She hesitated, and even then would have offered a lame, contrived reason for the comm, if she could have thought of something.
She couldn't think of an excuse. There was only the truth. "Do you have a minute?"
"Sure." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "For the program?"
"Could you meet me in holodeck two? Right away?"
"I'll be there shortly."
They only had fifteen minutes. Tuvok had both holodecks booked for the rest of the night and into the early hours for a new training exercise – Assimilation Alpha: Upgraded Countermeasures Against Borg Assault. And there'd be no trading rations with him.
B'Elanna waited for Tom before loading the program. He strode in not a minute later, a half-eaten Cornish pasty in one hand.
"I'm sorry," she stuttered. "I didn't mean to interrupt your dinner. Only …"
"Holodeck time's at a premium," he finished for her. "Luckily, Neelix does take out." His easy smile remained as he said, "I was beginning to think we'd run out of time."
B'Elanna shrugged her shoulders. "We still might have. But … I thought we could see where we're at."
Tom nodded, took a bite of food, and gave muffled directions to the computer to load the finished version of the program's "welcome" level. It was even more polished than the last version he'd shown her, several weeks ago now. Not necessarily any more 'welcoming', but, it definitely felt real. The cave was more refined. Shallow basins filled with burning coals sat atop metal stands, replacing the flaming torches. The metalwork was decidedly Klingon in style. The malodorous tallow was still in attendance, but the stench much attenuated.
"The holograms are fully integrated now," Tom said. "It's just … we still haven't scripted the ceremony so the program doesn't have any files linked to load in. We could run a virtual simulation from a terminal in engineering, but the actual hologrid will be tied up overnight with the security drill and I'm back on duty at 0600."
Sighing, B'Elanna ran a hand over the rock of the cave wall, a phaneritic igneous variety at this location, grains clearly visible. Granite? It looked pretty, but, "We should have spent more time on the important details, instead of fussing over the décor."
"You said you wanted it to be atmospheric," Tom countered.
B'Elanna whirled to face him, hand snapping to her hip. "I said no such thing!"
Tom dusted the crumbs from his hands and crossed his arms. "You said I did a great job with Sandrine's because it was so atmospheric. I remember clearly."
"I'm only going to run this program on one day. It doesn't need to be holonovel quality," she said, starting to pace.
"What about next year? The next sixty years? I designed it to last. And, correct me if I'm wrong," he challenged, "but the décor was my responsibility, decisions about the important details as you call them, were yours."
Tom was right. It wasn't his fault at all that the program wasn't ready. If she hadn't spent so much time evading the important decisions it could have been fully ready, despite all the obstacles Voyager's recent adventures had put in the way. Her input on what she did and didn't want to include was essential to the completion of the project.
"It's not going to work," she declared, standing still.
"It can work. Look, we'll just have to rely on the computer to interpolate some of the specifics from all the variations in the database. Making some of the details a surprise could be a good thing. It would be boring if you knew exactly what to expect."
B'Elanna raised her eyebrows sharply. "That's pretty much the definition of a ritual," she contended. "It's a series of actions carried out in a prescribed order!" Neat and tidy like an engineering protocol, not haphazard and unpredictable like one of Neelix's 'recipes'.
"OK," Tom conceded, "but we know from the research we did that where this ceremony is concerned, there's a lot of leeway."
"So … what? The targ heart and mot'loch and then whatever the program throws at me?"
Tom nodded. "But we already eliminated the unpleasant subjects like cold endurance. So, how bad could it be?"
Bad. But, he made a fair suggestion.
"And if the challenge part of the program requires a setting outside of the cave? How do we factor that in?"
"The computer will use information in the geographical files to approximate the scenery. It won't be as realistic as what I designed myself, but it'll function."
She paced again. Not agreeing to anything, but not ruling it out.
"Here, let me show you the holograms, and maybe when you see –"
"No," she interjected. "That's OK. Let's leave that as a surprise." A growling, posturing Klingon hologram might be all it took for her to write off the idea completely.
Tom let the silence hang for a long moment, the look in his eyes suggesting he wanted to raise something, but was unsure how best to proceed. That look set her further on edge.
"So, tomorrow," he said casually. "I was wondering –"
"I'll decide in the morning, Tom." In his defence, he hadn't pressured her about the program at all, only encouraged over the three months it had been in the offing. So, her response was a little abrupt.
"Actually, I was going to ask if you were free for dinner."
And, apparently, a misjudgement. Again. "Oh. Right." Dinner.
"So, how about it? My quarters, 1930 tomorrow."
"If I decide to go through with the ceremony during the day, I won't be in the mood for more Klingon food in the evening," she warned him, stalling for time.
"No gagh, I promise. Just regular, replicated Alpha Quadrant fare. Whatever you want. On my rations."
A free replicated meal was a hard thing to refuse. And after running a fuel cell overhaul and going through the Day of Honour ceremony – if she went through with it - she'd deserve a reward. Tomorrow could be a very long day. But, dinner? Not a shared meal whilst planning a holoprogram, or lunch in the mess hall with company. Dinner. In Tom Paris' quarters. An offer she'd previously declined on several occasions. This time, however, she found she really didn't want to turn him down, regardless of whose rations were involved.
"Anything I want?" she asked, not wanting to appear overtly eager.
"Sure," he said, embellishing his offer with a mischievous wink. "I could even provide entertainment."
She could keep deflecting, secretly enjoying the chase, without committing to any risky emotional investment. But, surely he'd give up, eventually. Sixty years was a long time to be alone. And, there was no shortage of single women on Voyager who wouldn't mind being pursued by Tom Paris. In some cases, he probably wouldn't have to 'pursue' for very long. Even with tacky pick-up lines like that. Perhaps because of those. So, she rolled her eyes at him. "As long as you're not going to play me Klingon opera, dinner sounds nice. Thanks."
And he responded with a slightly disbelieving, but highly satisfied smile.
With their remaining few minutes they implemented Tom's suggestion, giving the computer far more control than B'Elanna would have envisaged when they'd first talked about the program three months ago. Tuvok arrived with half a dozen security officers in tow just as the cave setting had dematerialised and B'Elanna had opened the holodeck doors.
"What are you doing now?" Tom asked B'Elanna, as the two of them headed for the turbolift. "Harry's thinking of hosting a poker tournament in his quarters later if he can round up enough competent players."
She shook her head, too beat to consider it. "I'm planning an early night."
Tom smirked. "Curling up with a good book?"
Was he ever going to let that drop? She chose to play along. "I've decided to trade Women Warriors for something a little more believable," she said, deadpan. "I don't think I'm going to find romance quite that … adventurous here on Voyager. Reading those novels might give me unrealistic expectations."
"I'm always ready to challenge those expectations," Tom replied, not missing a beat.
The turbolift was on her side today, doors hissing open with excellent timing. "Then I'll see you tomorrow," she quipped, resorting to, "and don't forget to bring me that helm control evaluation," to end the conversation on a more sober footing.
"I wouldn't dare."
She exited the lift there at deck four, leaving him continue back up to the mess hall alone.
Back in her quarters, her tired mind temporarily re-energized by a rush of adrenaline, she replicated a light snack and changed out of her uniform. Reading a few pages of Women Warriors before bed did cross her mind, but she decided something more soporific would be wise and gave The Fall of Kang a glance. She soon concluded that the epic poem might actually put her in a coma, and tossed it aside, wondering what had compelled her to download it at all. Being part-Klingon had lost her a father and a mother in the end. Neither parent had been able to cope with the alien part of her - her father with the Klingon moods and her mother with the human 'weakness'. B'Elanna would forever be stuck between two worlds, never fully belonging to either. Another perspective was that her Klingon side was no more to blame than her human side for her failure to fit in. Her Klingon genes were not the root cause of all the bad things that had ever happened to her. But, acknowledging that would require far more time and consideration than she was willing to give the issue right now; consideration that could stir up a whole host of undesirable emotions and memories, just as the imminent Day of Honour might, also.
Damn it. She'd make her final decision on the ceremony in the morning. Right now she needed sleep. Lots of it. She recycled her dinner plate and utensils, paid a visit to the bathroom, and, back in the main living area of her quarters, pulled back the covers on the bed. The degree of comfort provided by the Starfleet-issue sheets was directly proportional to the level of fatigue currently besetting the occupant of the bed. Tonight, the scratchy xenylon would feel like authentic Tholian silk.
"Computer, set alarm for –"
"Carey to Torres."
For crying out loud. She slapped her comm badge. "What is it, Lieutenant?"
Carey launched into a list of questions about procedural irregularities and deviations on the FCO prep schedule. B'Elanna let him ramble for a while, tuning out all the irrelevancies before cutting him off with the reassurance he needed to leave her in peace. Taking off her comm badge, she climbed into bed.
"Computer, lights out."
What was that saying her mother had often quoted? Something about everything being impossible to those who were overly cautious? Attributed to Kahless himself, if memory served: an instruction to be brave. Carey could do with taking that under advisement. It was all very well not wanting to take risks in principle, but, in real life, it just wasn't practical. The greatest achievements came from calculated gambles. Not from reckless, ill-considered, consequences-be-damned ventures, maybe. But from taking chances where the potential payoff far outweighed any possible pitfalls.
Maybe Carey wasn't the only one who needed to learn that lesson.
Tomorrow might be a good day to try.