The duty shift had been long and uneventful. Tom couldn't keep his mind off the events of the night before and Chakotay's steamroller technique of romance. Finally the shift ended and Tom nearly ran to his cabin.
Tom had been in his cabin less than a minute when his door chime rang.
[If that's Chakotay we're going to have to have a discussion about 'smothering' too.] Tom thought and called, "Come in."
Alan walked into the room and gave Tom a big smile. "Hi Tom, I think I'm finally figuring out how to get around the ship. You mind if I come in and talk with you for a minute?"
"Actually, I was just on my way to the mess hall, care to join me?" Tom asked as he walked out of the living area and into the bedroom.
"That's why I wanted to catch you right after your duty shift. I wanted to invite you to a dinner party in our cabin tonight." Alan asked loudly so Tom could hear him in the next room.
A few moments later Tom walked out of the bedroom, dressed in more comfortable clothes and said, "Sure, when do you want me there?"
"Eighteen hundred hours, dress is casual to semi-formal. I wish I could stay and talk but I still have to invite the other guests." Alan said and turned to leave.
"Why don't you just use the comm?" Tom asked carefully. He didn't want to make Alan feel bad if he didn't know how to use it.
"Because I want the guests to show up. It's too easy to make excuses when you don't have to look someone in the eye and explain why you can't come." Alan said seriously.
Tom laughed and said, "I can see your point. Who are you going to invite next?"
"Chakotay. Then the Doctor and Seven of Nine." Alan said quickly.
"I'll invite Chakotay, if you don't mind... as my date." Tom said with a smile.
"Perfect. That will help me out a lot. Then I'm off to sickbay to talk with the Doctor. I just spent half the day with him, you'd think I would have had enough by now." Alan said cheerfully.
"Tell me about it. Sickbay shifts can be some of the longest days ever... depending on the patients of course." Tom said with a smile.
"Of course." Alan said with a slight incline of his head to indicate thanks for the implied compliment. "Well, I've got to go if I'm going to get everyone invited in time."
"Good luck." Tom said to Alan's retreating form.
* * * * *
Andrew was watching in fond amusement as Alan was hurrying around the cabin putting the finishing touches on their dinner party.
"Can I help with anything?" Andrew asked carefully.
"No, it's under control. Just answer the door when our guests arrive." Alan said and pulled another dish from the replicator.
"You're making enough food to feed an army, how many people did you invite?" Andrew asked in amazement at the number of dishes lined up on the desk.
"It's not the number of people that's the challenge, it's the people themselves. I've invited an omnivore, a vegetarian, a hologram and an organic/mechanical woman who doesn't eat food." Alan said with frustration.
"Wouldn't that make for less food, since two of our guests don't eat?" Andrew asked in confusion.
"You would think so..." Alan answered.
The door chime rang and Andrew performed his duty as host and ushered the Doctor and Seven of Nine into the room. Seven was dressed in an elegant gown and the Doctor was dressed in a gray suit that was appropriate for a dinner party.
"Seven, you look great." Andrew said with surprise.
"Mr. Summers said this would be an appropriate costume for this occasion." Seven said and walked into the room.
"He was right. And Doctor, it's good to see you in something besides the Starfleet uniform for a change. You look... comfortable." Andrew said, trying to find the right word.
"When Mr. Summers approached me with the idea of attending a dinner party, I researched the historical archive to find the appropriate attire. I chose this because it was formal enough to be appropriate for the occasion and informal enough to give the appearance of comfort." The Doctor explained.
"Good, I was worried that you were going to show up in a tuxedo with tails." Alan said from the dining area.
"That was my second choice." the Doctor said, not giving a hint if he was joking or not.
Alan walked to the Doctor and Seven and offered each a drink.
"What? This drink is holographic? How?" The Doctor said as he picked it up.
"Seven of Nine helped me to accommodate the special needs of our holographic guest." Alan said to the room as he went back to the dining area.
"Thank you Seven, that was very considerate." The Doctor said with gratitude.
"Mr. Summers explained that we would be conspicuous if we did not drink at this function and enlisted my aid to facilitate an acceptable substitute." Seven said and made a cheers motion with her glass.
The door chimed and Andrew turned his attention away from Seven and the Doctor.
"Tom, Chakotay, come in." Andrew said with a welcoming smile.
"Sorry we're late. Apparently Chakotay never had to dress for a dinner party before." Tom said and abruptly shut up as he realized he might embarrass Chakotay.
"We didn't have this type of occasion on my home world." Chakotay said shyly.
"Really? Did you have some type of occasion where friends gathered informally to just share each other's company?" Andrew asked with interest as he guided the men into the room.
"Sure, we would make a special meal and invite friends over to share in it." Chakotay said fondly.
"Same thing here, you just get to dress funny too." Andrew said and led the men to Seven and the Doctor.
Andrew looked up to see Alan approaching with a tray of glasses.
"Here you go. I hope you like the drinks I've selected for you." Alan said and handed each man his drink.
Tom looked curiously at his brown, sludgy looking drink before taking a tentative sip. A big smile came over his face and he took a bigger drink.
Chakotay watched Tom's reaction before tasting his own drink. His eyes got wide as he experienced the interesting flavor.
"Okay Alan, what did you give them? I can't even guess from their reactions." Andrew asked in amusement.
"I noticed last night that Tom has a fondness for chocolate. I checked the replicator file and found it had the ancient Earth drink 'Yoo-hoo'." Alan said happily.
"Yoo-hoo?" Tom asked incredulously.
"Yeah, a silly name but a good drink." Alan said with a shrug.
"So what did you give Chakotay?" Andrew asked, noticing that Chakotay was sniffing the mixture.
"Sassafras tea. It's an infusion made from tree bark and served with honey over ice. I noticed that Chakotay liked tea and sassafras is one of the few teas that I like." Alan said in triumph.
"It's... I don't even know how to describe the flavor." Chakotay said hesitantly.
"Do you like it?" Alan asked quietly.
"Yes, I think so, it's so different from anything I'm used to. My tea is usually a blend of several herbs, this is just one flavor and something else, just a hint of another flavor." Chakotay said and took another sip.
"That second flavor would be the honey, I found a variety of honeys in the replicator file and chose blackberry honey to go with the sassafras." Alan explained.
"It's interesting." Chakotay said and took another drink.
Alan walked over to the dining area and looked around before saying, "If you'll take your seats, dinner is ready."
Everyone took a chair. Seven of Nine was confused by Andrew pulling out her chair.
"An old Earth custom, I believe it relates to the elaborate way that women were expected to dress. The gentleman holds the chair for the lady to facilitate her sitting at the table. As the style of women's clothing became less elaborate, it became less of a necessity and more of a custom." The Doctor informed the table.
"I never thought about it. It was always just the polite thing to do." Andrew said as he took his own seat.
Alan began by placing a bowl of soup before Seven of Nine.
"I do not ingest nourishment in this way." Seven said seriously.
"I know, you aren't the only one I asked for help today. Doctor?" Alan said as he prepared the next bowl.
"This soup was specifically chosen to be tolerated by your digestive system. This is miso and tofu soup. The seasoning is nearly nonexistent. It was chosen to be inoffensive in both flavor and texture." The Doctor said instructionally.
"Well said Doctor." Alan said as he placed a bowl of holographic soup before the doctor.
"What is this?" the Doctor asked.
"Seven?" Alan asked with a smile.
"This soup was specifically chosen to provide the maximum stimulation to your holographic senses. This is a holographic representation of traditional Italian minestrone. It has a variety of textures for you to experience since you don't have an actual sense of taste." Seven said with a hint of triumph in her voice.
Chakotay looked at his soup then cast a questioning look at Alan.
"Vegetarian Gumbo." Alan said quietly and turned automatically to Tom and said, "Non-vegetarian Gumbo."
"So how do you like your soup Doctor?" Alan asked after a few moments.
"It is very good. I never considered enjoying food by using the texture as a substitute for taste." the Doctor answered before taking another spoon of his soup and savoring the feel of the varying textures.
"How about you Seven?" Alan asked carefully.
"The sensation is unusual... but not unpleasant." Seven said and took another spoon of soup.
Finally the soup course was finished. Andrew cleared the soup bowls, afraid for a moment that he would have to wrestle the Doctor to get his away.
Alan followed behind and replaced each bowl with a plate of food.
"What is it?" The Doctor asked looking at his holographic plate of food.
"Macaroni and cheese, pork chops, applesauce and steamed peas and carrots." Alan said and placed Seven's plate before her.
Before he could be asked he said, "Tofu, boiled vegetables, and rice cakes."
"How did you get the replicator to boil vegetables like that? I mean they're really overcooked." Tom asked as he looked at Seven's food.
"They're overcooked for your taste. But Seven isn't accustomed to food, so anything with too much flavor would be offensive to her. The vegetables were boiled by Neelix so they would have as little flavor as possible." Alan said and sat Tom's plate before him.
"You mean he does that on purpose?" Tom asked the table.
Alan gave an aggravated look at Tom and said, "Yes Tom, he purposely overcooks the vegetables he serves in the mess hall because he thinks that's the way people like them. He's not human and doesn't know what flavors and textures the human palette finds pleasing."
"Oh." Tom said, knowing that he had been chastised.
"I volunteered to help him in the kitchen for a while after our commitment ceremony. I don't know the first thing about cooking, but I have a lifetime of experience at eating. I'm going to taste his recipes and let him know how he might adjust them to make them more pleasing." Alan said and placed a plate of food before Chakotay.
"You mean we've suffered for four years and all we would have had to do is tell him that the vegetables are overcooked and the breads are undercooked?" Chakotay said in wonder.
"I guess so. I just talked to him honestly and he was happy to help." Alan said and took his seat.
"Um, what?" Chakotay asked as he looked at the food before him..
"Red beans and rice with wild onion and tortilla chips." Alan said gently.
"Thank you." Chakotay said and took a bite.
Alan then looked at Tom and said "Beanie Weenies."
Tom nodded, remembering Alan having this same thing as his first meal with the new stomach.
Everyone enjoyed their meals and when they were finished, Andrew announced, "Let's move to the living room. We'll have coffee and desert in a little while."
Alan took a moment to clear the dishes then joined the rest of the group.
"We had another reason for asking you all here." Andrew said to the group and picked up a box from beneath the coffee table.
"We've discussed it and decided that we would like for all of you to attend our commitment ceremony as our witnesses." Alan said with a smile.
"It is traditional to give each of the witnesses a gift of appreciation for what they have contributed to the relationship. Seven, will you attend?" Andrew asked seriously.
"I do not understand my function in the ceremony should I agree." Seven said plainly.
"You will witness the vows that we exchange. If there should ever be a time that we seem to forget them, you will remind us." Alan said carefully.
"I will attend." Seven said and was handed a gift.
She opened the gift carefully and looked up in question.
"It's a turtle." Alan said with a smile.
"I do not understand the purpose of this ceramic representation of an earth reptile." Seven said flatly.
"When we were on our own world, there was a time when we were both recovering from injuries." Andrew said with a distant look.
"We seem to spend a lot of time doing that." Alan threw in.
"Two very special women decided that we needed to know that people cared about us and threw a party for us." Andrew continued.
"A little boy named Artie gave me a ceramic turtle as a gift. It was the only thing he had ever created from clay that survived the firing process... that made it very special to him. He gave it to me as a gift in hopes that it would make me feel better." Alan said fondly.
"Since then, it has become a symbol to us of someone who gives of themselves to help another. We want you to have this turtle as a representation of that sentiment. Seven, you used your nano-probes and knowledge to help Andrew and I. There isn't anything we could give you that could adequately repay you for what you've done, so we're giving you this as a token of our esteem." Alan said with a smile toward Seven.
Seven didn't know how to respond to that, so she gave a nod and looked back into the box.
The door chimed and Andrew ran to the door.
"Great, you have perfect timing... is it ready?" Andrew asked in the hallway.
"Yes, I don't understand why you want it but... here it is." a female voice said.
"Come in and I'll explain to everyone at once." Andrew said and led B'Elana into the room.
"Doctor, will you attend our commitment ceremony?" Andrew asked seriously.
"It would be my pleasure to attend." the Doctor said with a smile.
"This gift is for you." Andrew said happily and handed the piece of hardware to the Doctor.
"It is a miniature holo-imaging projector... I don't understand." the Doctor said and looked up at Andrew.
"You have to turn it on." Andrew said with exasperation.
The doctor turned on the device. It flickered and resolved into the form of a puppy.
"A hologram of a puppy?" the Doctor asked in confusion.
Andrew clapped his hands and said, "Come here boy."
The puppy jumped off the Doctor's lap and scampered to Andrew's feet.
"How? It's too complex to... how did you?..." the Doctor asked in wonder.
"The behavioral subroutines aren't that complicated when you don't have to deal with higher brain functions. It took some work, but I was able to integrate the basic patterns into the holo-unit. I used your mobile emitter as a guide. It's not much different from your mobile emitter, just on a smaller scale." B'Elana said, underplaying her achievement.
"It's wonderful, but why?" the Doctor asked.
"Alan and I talked about all you've done for us, healing us, seeing not only to our physical well-being but our comfort while we were in Sickbay. But the one thing he told me that stood out above all the rest was when he told me how you offered to sit and talk to him to keep him company while I was being healed. That meant a lot to him at the time and it means a lot to me to know that you cared enough to do that for him. It occurred to me that you could probably use some company in Sickbay when there aren't any exploded or brain-hemorrhaged patients around for you to take care of. So I thought you might like a puppy to keep you company, and since you have a mobile emitter, your puppy should have one too. Just as Seven's gift represents self-sacrifice, yours represents companionship." Andrew finished with a shrug.
"While you're in an area of the ship with holo-emitters you can download the puppy's program and he can run around in that area, outside those areas, he can be downloaded into his mobile emitter to go with you." B'Elana said with triumph.
Andrew walked over and handed the puppy back to the Doctor.
"What's his name?" the Doctor asked while looking at the puppy.
"That's up to you. Right now he responds to the name Puppy, but when you decide on a new name for him, start calling him by his name and he will eventually recognize it as his own." B'Elana said, smiling at the scene of the Doctor holding the puppy.
"Please sit down and join us B'Elana. You are going to be invited to the commitment ceremony too." Andrew said and indicated an empty spot on the couch beside the Doctor.
B'Elana had a surprised expression but said nothing as she took a seat.
Alan stood and said, "Chakotay? Will you attend?"
"Of course." Chakotay said with a smile, still focused on the Doctor and puppy.
Andrew handed a box to Chakotay. He took it and opened it carefully.
Chakotay's eyes got wide as he saw what was inside.
"A blue bear?" Chakotay asked and looked up in question.
"Yeah. We picked it especially for you." Andrew said quietly.
"A blue bear?" Chakotay asked again, then cast a look at Tom trying to hide his laughter.
"There aren't too many things I remember about my childhood. I guess there was a lot of bad stuff I didn't want to remember. But one of my happy memories is of a blue teddy bear like this one. When I was scared, it helped me to feel safe. It brought me comfort when not much else in my life did." Andrew admitted shyly.
"That's why we wanted you to have this. It represents what you brought to us. By caring and spending time with us when we were hurting, you brought comfort." Alan said with a serene smile.
Chakotay looked at the bear with this new information in mind and reverently picked it up and held it close. "Thanks." he said with appreciation.
"Tom, will you attend?" Andrew asked with a smile.
"Yeah, try and stop me." Tom said with his old flyboy grin.
Alan presented a box to Tom and sat back.
Tom opened the box with excitement and stared in wonder at the contents.
After a long moment of silence B'Elana finally said, "Well, what is it flyboy?"
"It's a bird." Tom said in wonder and carefully lifted the delicate glass figure out of the box.
"It's beautiful." B'Elana said with a gasp.
Alan then said, "It's a dove. We thought long and hard about what to give you to represent friendship. The dove represents peace, and since you once told me you'd rather talk than fight... it seemed right."
"And since you are a pilot, a bird seemed appropriate." Andrew added.
"And besides all that... we just thought you'd like it." Alan finished.
"Guys... it's beautiful. Thanks." Tom said quietly and continued to examine the crystal dove with it's wings extended.
"Now we need to complete our guest list. B'Elana, will you attend our commitment ceremony?" Andrew asked sincerely.
"I don't understand why you're asking me. I just met you two in Sandrine's last night, I haven't even been introduced to Alan yet." B'Elana said to Andrew seriously.
"B'Elana, this is my intended, Alan. Alan, this is Chief Engineer B'Elana Torres." Andrew said with the appropriate gestures.
"Nice to meet you." Alan said shyly.
"As to why you? You and Harry are as much a part of this group as if you'd been in Sickbay along side us. The two of you will be invited because any celebration with this group wouldn't be complete without you. As to why you're being invited now... you're here. The rest are going to serve as witnesses, you and Harry are going to be guests." Andrew said gently.
"So it will just be the six of us attending your ceremony?" B'Elana asked in confirmation.
"Yes, unless anyone wants to bring a guest. The ceremony is going to be a private affair but the reception afterward will be open to anyone who wants to attend. Neelix will be seeing to that." Alan replied.
After a quiet moment of thought B'Elana said, "I'll attend, thank you for inviting me."
Andrew nodded, then glanced at Alan.
"I'm going to get the dessert now. Would anyone like coffee?" Alan said and went to the replicator.
"Yeah, thanks." Tom said.
"Can you make that sassafras tea hot?" Chakotay asked.
"Sure can." Alan said and replicated the drinks for the two men.
Alan pressed two buttons on the base of the Doctor's glass and it changed into a cup of coffee.
"Andrew, can you take the drinks in while I get the dessert?" Alan said as he removed the cover from a dish.
"Sure, who gets what?" Andrew asked a moment later.
Alan told him and followed him into the living room carrying a plate.
"Seven." he said and handed her a plate.
An actual emotional expression crossed her face as she looked at the transparent green gelatinous mass sitting on her plate.
"It's called Jell-O and I had it diluted so the flavor wouldn't bother you." Alan said and returned to the dining area.
Seven poked the Jell-O with her spoon and after a few attempts, was able to get a small piece. She slowly took it to her mouth and braced herself to taste it.
After a moment of staring, she finally said, "I find this substance to be pleasing. May I have the ingredient listing that I may replicate it at a later date?"
"Sure Seven, I'll send you the recipe tomorrow." Alan said happily as he presented B'Elana with a plate.
"What in the name of K'Haless is this?" B'Elana asked in confusion at the pastry filled with black slime.
"Taste it and tell me what you think." Alan said and retreated to get another dish.
B'Elana didn't realize it but she did almost move for move what Seven had done with her first taste of Jell-O.
When B'Elana finally tasted the dessert she was amazed by the flavor.
"What is this? It's delicious." B'Elana said in wonder.
"Raisin Pie." Alan said as he presented the doctor with his dessert.
"I usually find human food to be too bland for my taste but this... and it's in the replicator log?" B'Elana asked before taking another bite.
"Yeah. Most people are put off by the name and the appearance but it really is good." Alan said and took Tom his dessert.
"Mmmm." the Doctor said as he took a bite.
"I thought you would like the sensations of hot cherry cobbler and ice cream." Alan said happily. "Hot, cold, smooth, rough."
"It's hard to believe I never considered enjoying holographic food before. The sensation is quite satisfying." The Doctor said before taking another bite.
"How did you make holographic food?" B'Elana asked before taking another bite of pie.
"Seven made three miniature holo-imagers, like what you would use for a family album." Alan said and looked to Seven.
"I adapted the holo-imagers to interact with the Doctor's holo-matrix so when he comes in contact with them, his mobile emitter maintains the projection seamlessly. And he can experience the textures of those projections. The most difficult part was to give the holo-imagers the appearance of a plate, bowl and glass while providing access to the controls." Seven said before taking another bite of her Jell-O.
"Alan?" Tom asked.
"Flan." Alan said and handed Andrew his dessert, then sat down with his own.
"What?" Tom asked with confusion at Alan's response.
"That dessert, it's called flan, give it a try." Alan said and took a bite of his chocolate cake.
Tom tried it and shrugged. "Can I have some of yours?" he asked Chakotay.
"Sure." Chakotay happily responded and shifted his plate to share.
Alan was about to get up and get Tom his own plate when he felt a hand on his knee. He turned to see Andrew shaking his head.
"Delicious." Tom said as he took a bite of Chakotay's mixed berries and ice cream.
Alan looked around the room and saw everyone happily enjoying their desserts. He relaxed a little and took another bite of his cake.
Andrew finished his dessert before Alan so he stood to get the attention of the others in the room.
"On to the next part of the evening. As soon as the ceremony is finished Alan is going to become pregnant with our child. We decided that since you are all here, we would ask you to collectively be our baby's godparents." Andrew said to the group.
"I do not understand." Seven said.
"In the event that Andrew and Alan are unable to attend to their child whether by death, infirmity or whatever reason, it is the responsibility of the godparents to step in and provide material and emotional support for the child until the parents are able to take over again or until the child is an adult." The Doctor said to the group.
"Thank you Doctor. I couldn't have explained it better. Our child will be raised to know you all as part of his family. You'll be referred to as his aunts and uncles... what do you say?" Andrew asked the group with a hint of worry.
Tom looked to Chakotay and saw his nod of agreement. "Chakotay and I will do it." He said with a fond look toward Alan.
"I would be honored." the Doctor said.
"As would I." said Seven.
Everyone turned to look at B'Elana. "Yeah, of course." she said and rolled her eyes.
"Good, that concludes the planned portion of the evening, from here on out, we're open to suggestions. Anyone need anything?" Alan said to the group.
"I could use another piece of that pie." B'Elana said.
"And some more tea." Chakotay said quickly as Alan got up.