The neon pink and yellow sign cast a soft rainbow of colors over Neelix's already splashy outfit. "Here you go, sir." He smiled as he poured Romulan ale into a glass for a patron of his restaurant.
"Thanks." Veth grunted picking up his fork and digging into the leola root casserole.
"Now, if you need anything, anything at all, just call for me." Veth grunted again and Neelix moved back to his bar counter.
Once Voyager, had finally reached its home, Neelix had been at odds over what to do with himself. He had been cooking for a crew of nearly one hundred and fifty for over eight years and it seemed natural for him to continue doing just that. With his lack of actual Starfleet training, only one merchant ship had been willing to hire him. Yet, they had given him a generous salary and within the first month of his being in the Alpha Quadrant, he had enough money to begin his own restaurant-- Rinax. It was named after the moon of Talax. Rinax had been his homeworld until the war came, and then he had escaped to Talax-- and lost his entire family in the process. Five sisters, two parents, and dozens of friends-- the most precious who was Vaxi.
Looking over the menu board, Neelix had to smile. Since he'd begun cooking, he'd invented all sorts of new dishes-- and many of them boasted the names of his family members. It was the highest honor he could bestow on them at his lowly position as a restaurant owner, but whenever someone ordered the Alixia casserole or the Vaxi ale, he felt a smile break across his face.
On this particular night, Neelix pulled his stool from under the counter and sat down to polish glasses. It had been a slow night and he was looking forward to closing up shop so he could go home to his apartment.
"This place is distasteful!"
Glancing up sharply, Neelix saw a cluster of Klingons entering the small establishment.
"Welcome, warriors!" He called out placing the glass on the counter. "What can I get for you this evening?"
A large, rather burly faced, Klingon led the pack over to the counter. "Do you have blood pie?" He growled.
"No." Neelix picked up a data padd. "I do have a splendid rt'shak that just finished boiling though. And, if you like, I can add blood pie to the menu for tomorrow."
A gloved fist came down on the glass that had just been polished and smashed it. "Blood pie. Now."
Neelix took a step back and then lifted his chin in defiance. "Now, look here. You can't come in here busting up my place and demanding food which hasn't been prepared. I make blood pie at least once a year- on the Day of Honor- and usually one or two other times as well. I'll make it for tomorrow if you like, but not tonight."
The Klingon started to lean over the counter. Neelix stumbled back wondering if he was going to lose his life in an argument over what he didn't have cooked.
"Is there a problem here?"
Both parties looked up at the bar's newest guest. A large Klingon officer in a Starfleet uniform, arms were crossed over his chest, but a phaser was clenched in his hand.
"Not at all." The antagonist moved back and then led his friends out with a last glare at the officer.
"Thank you. Thank you so much." Neelix took a deep breath of air. "I thought they were going to kill me!"
"I'm Neelix. The owner of Rinax."
"I gathered that." The security officer returned his phaser to his hip. "I'm Worf."
"Well, thank you Mr. Worf." Neelix swept the shards of glass into the waste disposal system with one swift movement.
"It is my...duty..as an officer." Worf simply replied taking a seat on the bar stool. "You are from the Delta Quadrant, correct?"
"Yes, yes. Now, what can I get you? First drink is on the house." Neelix grinned at the large Klingon . "It's the least I can do after you saved my life!"
Worf grunted but nodded to the Klingon t'rsak. "Just half a glass."
Neelix poured the thick purplish colored liquid and set it before Worf. "Anything you want to know about my home quadrant?"
Worf took a long gulp of the liquid. "Yes. What are the Borg like now? It has been a few years since the Alpha Quadrant has had any dealings with them."
"Well, they're....I mean....they're planning...." Neelix furrowed his brow. "They're Borg. They're planning on taking over and assimilating everything in their path. What else is there to know?"
"Do they have any new weapons?"
Neelix paused for a moment. "Well, yes." He rubbed his nose while trying to remember the exact circumstances surrounding the peace treaty with the Borg. "While we were in Borg space, Captain Janeway formed an alliance with them in order to ensure our safe passage through what we coined the 'Northwest Passage.' They gave us safe passage, and we gave them a weapon which would defeat species 8472."
"8472?" Word frowned. "I have read about them. They're from fluidic space, correct?"
"Yep. And a hostile enemy to just about every species out there. Including the Borg."
"You encountered many hostile races while you were there. Is that the normality? Or did Starfleet just tell of the hostile encounters?"
"Well, there were a good many friendly aliens that we met. But," Neelix shrugged as he wiped the counter down. "There were quite a few mean ones with no good intent." He leaned forward on his elbows to get in the other man's face. "Just between you and me, Mr. Worf, I've seen quite a few customers who remind me of those hostile aliens." He grimaced. "Probably because I'm different, but they think I'm here for walking over. You, yourself, saw a bit of it tonight. And frankly, I'm getting tired of it."
Neelix carefully set the glass down on the counter. He was literally shaking from the last customer he'd served. Two Bolian men, probably merchants judging by their clothing, had stopped in and had a disagreement. Luckily, there had been a few now peaceful Cardassians nearby to help Neelix solve the little problem. But, that didn't stop them from flipping one table and leaving a knife protruding from the wall.
"Whatever happened here?"
Neelix spun around, wondering if his mind was playing tricks on him or if one of his old crewmantes really stood behind him.
"Lieutenant!" He rushed forward and wrapped a surprised B'Elanna Torres in his arms. "How are you doing?"
"Fine." She grunted as she untangled herself from the over excited Talaxian. "My ship is docked for a few hours so I figured I'd better check in and see how you're doing."
"Oh, everything's wonderful here." He waved a hand around the small establishment. "Except for the few minor entanglements, its' great."
She nodded and slid onto the stool. "Could I get a cup of coffee?"
"Just coffee?" Neelix pulled a dish towards himself. "I've got blood pie here in case a few Klingons from last week happen to stop in. Would you care to try a slice?"
"No thanks." She wrinkled her nose.
"Oh. Forgot." He smiled and poured the mug full of steaming fluid. "You never cared too much for blood pie."
"That's right." She took a grateful gulp and smiled at Neelix. "Miss Voyager?"
"Incredibly." He sighed a weary sigh and laid the damp cloth back on the counter. "The Alpha Quadrant hasn't become home yet. And, these alien brawls aren't helping much."
"I know what you mean." She glared down at her hands. Should she tell him? It was over a year ago that she'd stormed out of Admiral Paris' office, yet it still bothered her.
"Speaking of Voyager, why weren't you at the wedding?"
She would tell him. "Because of Tom." B'Elanna played with the handle of the mug, traced her long fingers over the smooth marbled blue surface. It was smooth, yet bumpy to rise and fall as if it had actually been marbles glued together. "He recorded a message to me that his father gave me. It basically said I wasn't good enough for him because I'm Klingon." Tears threatened to well up in her brown eyes, but she held them at bay. "He hurt me so bad that day. Everything I had ever sacrificed for him, most of all putting my own stubborn pride aside, was now meaningless." Watering eyes looked up at the bar tender. "I miss him Neelix. So much. But, there's nothing I can do."
"Have you seen him again?"
"I can't face him. Not after that."
Neelix was silent for a long while. "You know what," he began, "I think that the crew needs to get back together for something. A reunion if nothing else. Everyone." He added at the slight shake of B'Elanna's head.
"I couldn't, Neelix. It's...it's too soon."
"What if it was a few years from now?" Neelix was already smiling. "Yes, that's it. We'll have it on the three year anniversary of our being in the Alpha Quadrant. That's nearly two years from now, surely you can be ready by then."
B'Elanna nodded slowly. "If you plan it for two years from now, I'll come."
"Done." He grinned. "Clear your calendar. I'll speak to Captain Janeway about getting it set up as soon as I can."
"Admiral Janeway-Tighe." He corrected. "I keep forgetting her new title and name."
"I am here to see the admiral, please."
The secretary on duty looked up at the strange, round man before her dressed in clothing which sported bright, clashing splashes of color.
"Do you have an appointment?"
"Of course not." Neelix puffed up his chest. "You go and tell her Neelix is here. She'll see me right away."
"Sir, I highly doubt that. The Admiral has me carefully screen each person she does meet with." She glanced over his clothing once again. "I hardly doubt you will meet her. Why don't you go home and write her a letter like the other couple hundred visitors do? Then, she'll still get the message."
Neelix planted his feet apart in the floor. "I'm staying here until you at least tell her that Neelix is here."
The woman frowned. She pressed the intercom on the desk. "Admiral, there is a man by the name of 'Neelix' who wishes to see you. Shall I send him away?"
"How's he dressed?"
A smug smile appeared on the woman's face as she described Neelix's outlandish choice of clothing for the meeting.
The door burst open and Kathryn came out quickly, a grin on her face as she wrapped Neelix in a hug-- much to the shock of the secretary.
"How are you, Neelix?" She asked as she pulled him into her office.
"Doing pretty well, actually." He smiled. "I can see you are too."
Kathryn grimaced at the data padds littering her desk with half finished cups of coffee. "It's worse than while we were out there." She looked over to the full window that overlooked the park. "At least I had a good view out there."
"But Admiral," Neelix protested. "An office job must seem so much easier compared to being the captain."
"Not really." She frowned as she collected the mugs to replace in the replicator. "They're two very different jobs. A captain is responsible for their ship and those that they meet. An admiral spends more time trying to get two races to quit fighting, or to assign crews. It's rather boring."
"You miss Voyager?"
"More than I care to admit." She sighed and picked up a picture. "But, if we hadn't come back, I wouldn't have my father or husband."
"How is marriage working for you?"
"Oh, good." She didn't offer any more and Neelix didn't press her.
Instead, he launched into the reunion idea.
"I think it's wonderful." Blue eyes took on a sparkle that had been missing for a few weeks. "Absolutely perfect. I want for you to be in charge of it. And, I want for it to be held on our ship." She set her mouth in a determined line. "Leave that part to me."
Neelix didn't think too much of the reunion for the next few weeks. He was too busy being concerned with what his customers were arguing about and watching out for his restaurant. So, the day that the doorway was filled with a large shadow, he felt a knot tighten in his stomach. Neelix's back was turned, but he could see the man's outline from where he was kneeling on the floor to select which decanters he wished to display that evening. He nearly groaned. Last night there had been another confrontation, this time between himself and a Cardassian when he refused to stay open after hours. He'd finally won the battle and the Cardassian had marched off. Neelix hoped this was not the same man returning or a friend of his.
Slowing, he gathered the green and blue vials and stood to turn around. A sigh of relief escaped Neelix as he caught the first glimpse of the man's peppering hair, hard jawline, tattoo, and four pips on his collar.
"Commander!" He set the glasses on his counter. "It's good to see you."
"Good to see you too, Neelix." Chakotay took a seat at the bar. "By the way, I've been promoted, captain." He smiled widely.
"Congratulations, Captain." Neelix put a slight emphasis on the rank. "Wh thean I get you?"
"Umm.." Chakotay looked over the drinks. Any of the synthehol would have been nice, but he felt guilty about having it-- even it if was nonalcoholic. "Coffee is fine."
"You and Torres both." Neelix grumbled reaching for a large mug.
"B'Elanna's been here?"
"About a month ago." Neelix filled the green bottle with a peppermint scented wine. "She's on a merchant ship, I've gathered. And very broken up about Tom still."
"Tom? What happened with them?"
Neelix looked up, surprised. "I thought you knew. You of all people. Well, of course, you weren't at the wedding either to see how Tom was acting. Why weren't you there anyways?"
"Ahh,..prior engagement." Chakotay bluffed. "Tell me about B'Elanna and Tom."
"It's nothing much really. According to B'Elanna, Tom broke it off with her via his father because she's Klingon. Classic case of prejudice if I may say so. Of course, after seeing him at the wedding-- he was pretty cold the minute her name was mentioned-- I'd believe it."
Chakotay's brow furrowed in thought. "That doesn't sound like Tom. If you had told me they'd had a heated fight and he'd said that, I'd believe it. But, Tom is not one to cower behind his father."
"Well, whatever happened, it's over with. They're done." Neelix grinned suddenly. "And, B'Elanna agreed to come to our reunion that we're planning for two years from now."
"Oh? I hadn't heard anything about it."
"We just started talking about it. Admiral Janeway-Tighe is going to make sure we've got the ship for it." Neelix stopped suddenly. "I'm sorry."
"The Admiral." Neelix looked down. "I know her marriage must have been hard for you."
Chakotay shrugged. "It's been almost a year. I've had time. Anyways, if you'll let me know about the reunion, I'll be there. And," He glanced at the chronometer on the wall. 2000. "I have to get back to my ship soon. We're only here for a very short leave."
"ry."e are you headed to next?"
Chakotay fought the urge to roll his eyes. "Mars. Taking a group of tourists over there and then heading off to some diplomatic function on Ceslian 3. Not very exciting, but it's good to be with the stars."
"I think Kathryn misses it."
Chakotay didn't' miss the use of her first name as opposed to her title or last name. He didn't comment on it though, because at that moment a dark haired man walked in with a curvy brunette on his arm.
"Yes, I believe it is." Neelix peered closer at them before grabbing a tray. "I suppose I have to serve him, though I do wonder if Kathryn knows her husband treats ladies out to dinner and drinks."
"I would seriously doubt it." Chakotay mumbled as his stomach knotted.
Neelix quickly served the two their ofelia, favorites from Betazed, and returned to the newly promoted captain to observe.
Chakotay stiffened as the woman laughed at something Justin said and he slipped an arm around her in the intimate booth. He leaned over and whispered something in response that made her blush.
"Oh, Justin!" She playfully slapped his cheek.
Blue eyes danced with mischief as he planted a kiss square on her mouth.
"You'd think they were a couple of cadets." Chakotay growled taking another gulp of the coffee which was growing cool.
Justin finally broke of the kiss as the woman ran her fingers through his tousled black curls.
"Didn't you say you had a ship to board?" Neelix asked nervously. He didn't appreciate Justin Tighe bringing a girlfriend to his restaurant, but he certainly didn't need Captain Chakotay to attack the man!
Chakotay pretended to not hear him as he studied the couple making a scene of themselves at the back of the restaurant. Justin still had his arm around her, and though they weren't' kissing, their faces were very close as she continued to wind his hair around long, slim fingers.
"Captain? Delta Quadrant to the captain."
Chakotay shook himself out of his daze. "I'm here, Neelix. Sorry." He stood up suddenly, his stool scraping loudly on the floor. "What do I owe you?"
"Nothing." Neelix frowned at him. "Don't even think about trying to pay. I never take money from the crew."