A/N: Long ago, a tumblr friend wrote a list of headcanons about how Tuvok would interact with a J/C kid, which inspired this fic. (Laurie, this one's for you!) Includes Caesar's Palace prompts "frenzied" (Emotions Challenge), "yellow" (Panem Challenge), and "bang" (Nova Challenge). Set roughly three months after "Shifting Parameters" (available at AO3).
Thanks to: Caladenia for the early on pushing and muse-butt-kicking, my sis Katesfire for some little tweaks, and especially sara_sedai for helping me turn a hopeless mess into a decent read!
Tuvok's gaze completed another circuit of the mess hall's occupants as he considered the fact that, while there were always some minor differences in these gatherings, a familiar uniformity had developed over the past six years. Groups of crewmembers might arrive separately, and even mingle for a time, but they would congregate together within the first hour in the clustered formations he had come to expect. Depending on the required dress code, certain female crewmembers would experiment with either new clothing or new hairstyles—and sometimes both. Mr. Neelix would attempt a new recipe to impress their guests. At present, the culinary successes strangely outnumbered the failures. Tuvok attributed this to the decorum that individuals of high rank or status had to convey while attending a diplomatic affair.
Currently, the Talaxian was scowling because Tuvok had blocked him from access to his kitchen. He ignored the glare; Neelix could wait. Their guests were not due to arrive for another three-quarters of an hour and there was sufficient food and drink already available. In fact, he was certain that all attendees would be glad if Neelix did not have a chance to serve the leola-glazed matit-berry tarts.
"Thanks for keeping an eye out, Tuvok."
At the sound of Captain Janeway's voice behind his shoulder, he acknowledged her thanks with a nod as she stepped up next to him, her infant daughter cradled against her chest. Her eyes quickly scanned the room, while her hand moved in a steady circular motion on the infant's back. He, in turn, took a moment to observe her. The subtle changes might have been invisible to the untrained eye, but not to him. She was the same skilled officer she'd always been; her decision to pursue a relationship with Commander Chakotay several months ago had proven to be beneficial. In fact, in his opinion, it had made her stronger. She and the Commander were well-matched as spouses, and the child was a symbol of Voyager's future.
"You are not taking her to the nursery this evening?" he inquired.
Janeway shook her head. "Not right now. The Cin'turik have expressed an interest in seeing her, and this is easier than allowing them all to traipse down to deck five. The Doctor's already okayed it, and she needs to start getting used to large groups."
"And strange faces she'll never see again," Lieutenant Paris put in, stepping up to the nearby counter to refill the two cups in his hands. "Hey, Captain, Tuvok. Hi, sweetie," he added in the baby's direction.
The baby's response was a large yawn, dark lashes fluttering impatiently as she attempted to fight off the drowsiness produced by the contentment of a full belly and the rhythm of her mother's heartbeat in her ear.
"We can call it her first diplomatic experience," Janeway joined in the fun.
Tuvok knew that pointing out the irrationality of applying adult-level characterization to a three-month-old infant would be an exercise in futility. Instead, he attempted to humor the current line of conversation. "I am certain she will fascinate our guests, just as she has already captivated every member of this crew."
"Well, obviously, she has all of us wrapped around those little pinkies of hers," Paris winked, reaching out to caress the baby's fingers and grinning when a little hand grabbed at his thumb.
"That's because she knows an easy mark when she sees one." Torres poked her husband in the ribs and picked up her abandoned glass off the counter in one move, rolling her eyes at Paris' exaggerated wince.
Kim was the next to join the group. "Captain, looks like the Cin'turik delegation has arrived." He gestured to the opposite side of the mess hall where six aliens stood with Neelix and their security escort.
A slight frown crossed the Captain's face at the young lieutenant's words. "Oh, damn. They're early," she muttered. "Tuvok, would you mind holding Kearstin for a few minutes? Just until Chakotay gets here."
Registering the apprehension on her face as she transferred the drowsy infant into his grasp, he sought to put her mind at ease. "It has been some time since my children were infants, but I believe I remember how to provide proper support when holding them."
Her lips formed a half smile. "I shouldn't have doubted you."
"No need for apologies, Captain." Seeing Mr. Neelix's frenzied gesturing behind the heads of the Cin'turik officials, he nodded in the direction of the waiting aliens. "Our guests are waiting."
With a final touch to her daughter's cheek, Janeway crossed the mess hall at a swift but measured pace, a welcoming smile already present. Tuvok shifted the baby when she uttered a small whine, applying a light stroking motion to the pulse point behind her ear. She fell quiet again, her eyes fluttering closed.
"Awww." The exclamation came from waist level and Tuvok looked down at Naomi Wildman. Voyager's only other child, dressed in a sunflower-yellow tunic and white slacks, beamed a smile up at him. "Are you babysitting tonight, Commander Tuvok?"
"I am not, Miss Wildman. I am simply tending to the Captain's child while she is with our guests."
Naomi digested that information with a nod of understanding. "Can I hold her?"
"That is not within my purview. You will require the Captain or Commander's permission for such a request." He raised an eyebrow at the girl's crestfallen expression and decided upon an alternative approach. "The Captain should return shortly once she has greeted our guests. You may ask her then." Naomi nodded again, her smile returning, then skipped away when her mother called to her.
"If she can get away," Torres interjected.
Tuvok's brow rose a fraction. "Are you implying she cannot extract herself from a social situation if she deems it necessary, Lieutenant?"
"Oh c'mon, Tuvok, you know how these diplomatic gatherings go when the aliens are actually friendly for a change. Just when you think the introductions are done, bam!" Paris clapped his hands for emphasis. "You find yourself trapped into a conversation you can't escape."
"Tom!" His wife growled. "Can't you see the baby has fallen asleep?"
Tuvok glanced down at his small charge. Sure enough, Kearstin's eyes had closed completely.
Chakotay entered the mess hall, nodded a greeting to Ensign Larson, and then glanced around the room. His eyes met Tuvok's and he began to head in their direction, but, two strides later, he was intercepted by the Captain and her Cin'turik escorts. He cast a forlorn look their way before turning to their guests with a diplomatic smile.
"Told you so," Paris smirked.
Tuvok ignored the comment, unconsciously shifting Kearstin a centimeter higher to secure a firmer hold on her. Her breathing indicated she had entered a deeper stage of sleep, and he was determined to keep her content.
From the other side of the room, a thump and a bang, muffled but still audible, captured the group's attention. One of the Ensigns Delaney was helping Crewman Tal stand up after an apparent stumble. Crewman Harren was gathering up three scattered PADDs, his face set in a furious glower.
From what Tuvok could hear and see, there was no injury to Harren. Despite this, Harren gestured angrily with one PADD in Tal's direction. Her apologies were going unheeded as Harren continued to belittle her with word and gesture.
"Why is he even here?" Torres muttered under her breath.
"I believe Crewman Henley invited him." Seven of Nine's comment announced her appearance and she nodded in greeting to each of them, reserving a small smile for Kim. She declined his offer of bringing her a drink and continued, "If rumor is to be believed, she has taken a romantic interest in Mister Harren."
As one, Kim, Torres and Paris turned toward Seven with disbelief written on their faces. Tuvok watched them struggle for a suitable response; Kim gave up first with a shake of his head.
Tuvok glanced across the room as the voices grew a bit louder and decided it would be best to defuse the situation before it became more volatile. "If you will excuse me, Lieutenants, Seven."
"I can hold the baby while you deal with them," Paris offered.
"I am quite capable of doing two things at once, Lieutenant."
"But if she wakes up..." The pilot's face was the picture of innocence, and it did not sway Tuvok for a moment. However, given the escalation of the argument that he could hear, he decided it was more prudent to permit Paris to take charge of the infant for a few minutes. Ignoring the grin of triumph on the younger man's face, Tuvok shifted Kearstin away from his shoulder, transferring her gently into Paris' arms. Immediately, she made a whining sound and started to fuss. Paris' attempts to soothe her proved in vain, the expression on his face quickly becoming crestfallen.
"Let me try," Torres insisted. Paris relinquished the baby to his wife, but the baby proved to be no more satisfied in the chief engineer's arms than she had been in the pilot's. Her fussing rose in volume, catching the attention of several individuals.
"Lieutenant." Tuvok already had his hands out and Torres transferred custody of the baby back to him; Kearstin calmed almost immediately, her crying trailing off into a hiccup. Small fingers grasped at the fabric of his uniform jacket and her next hiccup faded into a sigh.
Once Kearstin was silent again, Tuvok headed in the direction of the problem crewmen, but Seven's comment still reached his ears.
"It is obvious the infant prefers Commander Tuvok, no doubt because he is more capable..."
Tuvok kept his eye fixed on Harren as he grew closer to the dispute, which had attracted the attention of additional crewmembers. Ayala had approached from the opposite direction and appeared ready to intervene until he spotted his superior. He stood aside at Tuvok's shake of the head, but remained alert in case his assistance was needed.
"I told you I don't want to hear your pathetic apologies!" Harren snapped at Tal, waving the PADD in her face. "That's not going to replace six weeks' worth of lost data!"
"Look Harren, no one cares about your stupid theories," Megan Delaney hissed, wrapping a supportive arm around the shaking Bajoran. "So why don't you just take yourself back where you be—"
"Crewman Harren, Ensign Delaney. Is there a problem here?" Tuvok made sure his voice remained at a reasonable level so as to not disturb Kearstin, while still being loud enough to silence the argument. It had the desired effect as their attention turned towards him. He noted the various facial expressions as each individual took note of the baby sleeping against his chest.
"The only problem, Commander, is this—"
"The problem is you, Harren—"
"Enough." Tuvok stared at each crewmember for a full minute of silence. Neither met his gaze and he knew neither would attempt to voice any kind of challenge to his authority.
After another minute of uncomfortable silence, Harren shot one last dark look at Tal, then cast a withering glance at Tuvok, before snatching up the remaining PADDs and heading for the doors. Henley threw a look of irritation in Megan Delaney's direction before hurrying to catch up with him.
"It was an accident, sir," Tal murmured, her eyes downcast. "I tried to apologize, but..." Her voice trailed off into silence again.
Tuvok decided to let the incident pass, now that Harren had departed. "I trust that Mr. Harren's lack of decorum will not detract from the rest of your evening."
Tal shook her head. "It won't, sir."
"You're pretty good at that, you know, Commander?"
Tuvok turned to look at Ensign Delaney. "Good at what, Miss Delaney?"
"Good at soothing savage beasts, no matter their age, sir." Megan's face was the picture of innocence, but several nearby crewmembers snickered. When Tuvok's eyes turned on them, they quickly worked to hide their amusement.
With Harren's absence, the tension dissipated within minutes and those gathered drifted off in various directions. Tuvok himself returned to his original location, to find that his former companions had also departed. Scanning the room, he located the command team in serious conversation with three of the Cin'turik. His visual analysis of the group's body language and dynamics indicated that their discussion was beginning to wind down; no doubt, either the Captain or Commander Chakotay would be along in a short time to retrieve the baby from him.
Unfortunately for Tuvok, his assessment proved to be off base. Another two hours and forty-seven minutes would pass before the couple made their way to his side with their diplomatic guests in tow. The aliens took several moments to make the appropriate and typical exclamations about the infant: how human offspring and Cin'turik offspring differed in size and appearance, how much she resembled her parents (which prompted two of the ambassadors to engage in a friendly argument over which resemblance lent more strength to her features), and good wishes for her future health and growth. That nicety concluded, they finally said their farewells, promising to be present for the next morning's engagement planetside, and then they departed accompanied by security.
"Thank you for taking care of the baby, Tuvok. I know it was more than the few minutes I intended."
"It was no trouble at all, Captain." Tuvok passed the still-sleeping Kearstin into the first officer's arms. The baby started awake with a cry of protest, but Chakotay quickly soothed her with whispered murmurs of reassurance. "She behaved admirably. More so than others present this evening."
Janeway quirked an eyebrow at him. "Oh?"
"The situation was handled." He did not feel the need to say more.
"I see." She was trying and failing to hide a smile. "Well, it's past someone's bedtime, so I will see you on the bridge tomorrow."
Tuvok nodded. "Of course. Good night, Captain, Commander."
They both bade him a good night and he watched their departure. Once again, he reflected on how well-matched they were as spouses as well as officers—much as he and T'Pel were. His thoughts briefly turned to his beloved mate, and then to his own children. Holding Kearstin had reminded him of those long-ago days when they had been infants and, while he was uncertain if he would have the opportunity to see T'Meni or any future grandchildren grow, he intended to provide Kearstin with the same wisdom and guidance he had bestowed upon his own children.