"I don't think there's any doubt that the captain recognized Harry's piece," Tom told the assemblage. "I saw her shoulders tense when he started playing. And Doc, Seven; the two of you took my breath away."
"There was a time when I would have asked you to clarify your statement, Lieutenant." Seven, to the shock of everyone present, smiled flirtatiously at the Doctor. "But I believe that I now understand."
The Doctor managed to look pleased and embarrassed at the same time.
"I think that Seven and the Doctor might have been a little too..." Samantha Wildman searched for a word. "...convincing last night."
"How do you mean?" Harry Kim asked.
"Well, I don't know if we were really going to implement the 'secret admirer' plan, but I think the Doctor's performance last night blew up our failsafe."
"Shoot. You're right." Tom frowned. "And just when we had an opening, courtesy of Megan Delaney."
Megan looked startled. "What did I do?"
"It seems that Vorik overheard some flirting inspired by your number," B'Elanna explained.
"That's certainly progress," the Doctor said. "I'm sure we can find a different backup plan." He didn't look a bit disappointed to be off the hook.
"If it didn't work out, Neelix could take the blame instead," Ensign Campbell suggested. She laughed as the Talaxian shot her a look of surprise.
"Neelix doesn't have to take the blame," Noah Lessing said. "I'll do it. The captain's already uncomfortable around me. What's one more reason?" He exchanged a look with Marla Gilmore. "Besides, I owe her. I owe them both. We'd have died on board the Equinox if it weren't for Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay."
The morale officer gave Lessing a grateful smile. He agreed heartily with the statement. "A lot of us would be dead if not for the captain."
There were nods and murmurs of agreement.
"Tonight's the pool tournament, and tomorrow we've got another movie scheduled." Tom looked around the room. "We could start Operation Secret Admirer after that. In the meantime, do you think we could manage a little computer malfunction in the commander's quarters?"
"What are you thinking?" Harry asked.
"I'm thinking that the commander might enjoy listening to Big Spender a few dozen times." Tom smirked. "Think you can arrange it?"
"I suppose. Am I to assume that you'll be needing me in engineering again, B'Elanna?"
"I certainly will, Ensign. I believe that I'll need your assistance for the entire shift." She dropped the artificial formality from her voice. "But Flyboy here had better not get chased off the bridge two days in a row."
"Commander Chakotay will probably blame me, you realize," Megan said.
"Does that concern you?" Seven asked.
She smiled gamely. "Not particularly."
Captain Janeway crossed the bridge briskly and swung into her chair. How was she ever going to fake her way through the day? She felt as if she hadn't slept in a week. That wasn't far from the truth, actually.
Dull PADDs full of routine reports, a blank viewscreen, and an absolute lack of interesting sensor readings meant that the shift passed with excruciating slowness. When she noticed her eyelids growing increasingly heavy, she stood and headed for the turbolift, leaving Tuvok with the bridge.
Sickbay was once again deserted. Wasn't the Doctor supposed to be conducting medical training? Her hand lingered over her combadge, but she didn't want to summon the Doctor if he wasn't alone.
She briefly eyed a hypospray, but she knew better than to use stimulants two days in a row. They were supposed to be for emergency use only. The shift was almost over. She headed back to her quarters. Coffee would have to do.
Chakotay walked into his quarters and froze, puzzled. What was that music? He listened for a moment. Recognition dawned.
Kathryn wouldn't have done it, would she? Of course not. He pushed aside a vision of his captain emerging from the bedroom in a skimpy costume and scolded himself for even entertaining the thought.
Megan Delaney must have run out of fresh meat. She wasn't hiding in the bedroom, was she? He checked. She wasn't.
"Computer, end music."
"Unable to comply."
He hit his combadge. "Chakotay to Engineering."
"B'Elanna, your shift's over."
"I know. What's wrong?"
"The computer in my quarters is playing 'Big Spender'"
"Oh? Is that a problem?"
"It will be if I have to listen to it all night. Could you get someone to take care of it, please?"
"Certainly, Commander. Torres out."
Chakotay watched Kathryn over dinner in her quarters. Her hands were shaking. He was concerned. She poured herself another cup of coffee. How many did that make, he wondered. He knew better than to ask.
Neither of them bothered with small talk. Kathryn didn't have the energy, and Chakotay could tell. He doubted that she had any desire to go play pool. He expected her to make an excuse. When she didn't, he feared that she felt obligated to appear, and he tried to think of an excuse for her. Nothing came to mind.
She stood up. "Let's go. It's time."
"Time for what?"
"I've got to go beat Tom Paris at pool. Are you coming?"
"Wouldn't miss it."
Janeway showed no sign of her fatigue once they reached Sandrine's. She smiled. She laughed. She played pool like a professional.
She beat Joe Carey. She beat Harry Kim. She beat Mariah Henley and Lyssa Campbell.
Chakotay was once again amazed at his captain's determination and her acting ability. Tired or not, at the end of the tournament, she was still undisputedly the best pool player on Voyager, having put Tom Paris firmly in his place.
"Double or nothing, Captain?" Tom asked.
Unbearably weary, Janeway could think of nothing she wanted to do less than play another game of pool, but she could hardly refuse.
Chakotay stepped in before she could answer. "She'll just beat you again, Tom. I think you'd better call it a night."
Tom appeared about to argue, but something made him think again. Perhaps it was the look Chakotay gave him.
"Shall we?" Chakotay offered Kathryn his arm. She took it gratefully, and they left the holographic bar together.
Janeway woke with a scream, her heart pounding. She put a hand to her face. It was wet with sweat. Or tears. Probably both. Why was this nightmare back? Why five nights in a row?
It was a dream, she told herself. It had been more than fifteen years. But the images of Justin and her father slowly dying in an icy alien ocean plagued her as if the accident had happened yesterday.
This had to stop.
She climbed out of bed and went to wash her face. Her intention was to get dressed and go for a walk. She studied herself in the mirror and decided that she couldn't be seen in the corridors. She reached for her combadge. "Janeway to Chakotay."
Even half asleep, he noticed the quake in her voice. "Kathryn?"
She tried to sound more casual. "Could you spare a minute? I'm in my quarters."
"On my way." He wasn't fooled.
Chakotay found Kathryn standing at the viewport, staring out at nothing. She turned to face him, and his heart wrenched in pain as he realized she'd been crying. He crossed the room swiftly. It took every ounce of restraint he possessed to keep from pulling her into his arms. He took her hands in his instead.
"Kathryn, what's wrong?" He studied her face with worried eyes.
Now that he was here, she felt better. She also felt foolish, and terribly guilty for waking him. "It's nothing. I shouldn't have disturbed you. I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry. I will always be here for you when you need a friend, and you certainly aren't disturbing me. Don't ever think that."
At his caring words, new tears threatened to spill down her cheeks. Scolding herself harshly, she pulled away from him and sat on the couch, her back turned towards him.
He knew she was struggling not to cry, and he knew that she didn't want him to know. He ached to comfort her, but he feared she'd push him away and was a little surprised that she had even called him. She was always so stubbornly strong and independent, and as much as he admired her strength, there were times when it frustrated him.
He sat behind her. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to, Kathryn, but I'm happy to listen if it will help."
She remained quiet for several minutes, taking comfort in his presence. When she thought she could speak without crying, she began.
"I had that dream, with the ice..." Her voice broke.
Chakotay laid a hand on her shoulder. "Your father and Justin?"
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak again.
"Come here," he whispered. He sat back and gently pulled her towards him.
She readjusted her position to sit beside him, and when he wrapped his arm around her shoulder she moved closer still and rested her head on his chest.
"You've had this dream several times this week, haven't you?" he asked softly.
She couldn't keep the surprise from her voice. "How - "
"How did I know? I can tell when you don't sleep well, Kathryn." He paused for a moment, concerned that he had revealed too much. "Don't worry. I'm sure no one else has noticed. You hide it well."
"I can't afford this right now, Chakotay. I can't hide in here and let this crew down. But I can't face them with no sleep, either. And every time I sleep, I see my father and Justin, dying because I didn't move quickly enough...And it's not just them. I keep hearing Ensign Harper's voice, telling me I killed her child. And there are others..."
He let her talk. She blamed herself for so much, and so unfairly. He pictured her, seriously wounded and struggling with a damaged transporter, trying desperately to save her father and her fiance. Unable to save both, unable to reach a decision quickly enough to save either. He lived it again with her.
He listened as she described the ugly scene aboard the USS Billings. The story wasn't new to him. Kathryn had done everything right, but the injured ensign had lost her unborn child and had blamed her commanding officer.
"Kathryn, you know there is nothing you could have done differently."
"I know. When I'm awake, I know that."
"But when you're asleep..." There were tears in his own eyes, now. He hated so very much to see Kathryn upset. He suddenly realized he had been stroking her hair.
"There's one voice that should haunt me..." She faltered. "One that I could never have escaped from, even in the daylight. Noah Lessing. I almost killed him, Chakotay. I would have, if it hadn't been for you."
"Kathryn - "
"It would have been murder. You saved my soul that day."
"Not quite murder, Kathryn. You thought he'd break. We needed to know what he knew - "
"Don't justify it, Chakotay. You know I was wrong. But I can live with it. I can live with it because of you. I never thanked you for that. I never apologized to you and I never thanked you." She found his hand and squeezed it gently. "Thank you, Chakotay. Thank you for saving me that day."
"Any time," he whispered, "Just returning the favor." He brushed her hair with his lips. They sat in silence for a while. "Why don't you try to get some sleep. I'll stay with you."
The thought of getting up and walking into the bedroom was too much for her. She didn't know which worried her more: the thought that he'd follow her, or the thought that he wouldn't. Protocol or not, she didn't want to be alone. Too tired and emotionally drained to do otherwise, she shifted and laid her head on his lap. In the safety of his company, she fell asleep in minutes.
Touched by the intimacy of the moment, he watched her sleep and listened to her steady breathing. Oh, Kathryn, he thought, someday. Someday they'd find a wormhole to the Alpha Quadrant. He longed for that day. He wasn't particularly homesick. Not that it wouldn't be nice to see Earth again, but he didn't have family waiting to welcome him.
He'd probably have a drink with his cousin in Ohio, but that was hardly a lifelong goal. His longing for Earth had a much different cause.
Once Kathryn had led them home, and was free of this awesome responsibility, he could finally take her in his arms and kiss her like he'd wanted to from the moment he first saw her on the viewscreen of the Liberty.
He pushed the thought from his mind. Again.
Tuvok walked into the deserted mess hall and looked around in the Vulcan equivalent of surprise. "Mister Neelix?"
For Neelix to be missing during the breakfast hour was unusual enough, but for the entire room to be empty was illogical. He hit his combadge. "Tuvok to Neelix."
"Computer, locate Mister Neelix."
"Neelix is not on board the ship."
That was hardly likely. After learning that Neelix had last been in holodeck one, Tuvok quickly discovered that Lieutenant Paris had engaged the privacy locks and disabled internal sensors. Therefore, it seemed that nearly a third of the crew registered with the computer as missing.
Concerned, Tuvok hit his combadge. "Tuvok to Chakotay."
"Computer, locate Commander Chakotay."
"Commander Chakotay is in his quarters."
Puzzled, the Vulcan set off to speak with the first officer.
Captain Janeway sat in her ready room, enjoying a cup of coffee over a stack of less than inspiring PADDs. Her door chimed.
"Come." She raised her head from the dull work, expecting Chakotay.
It was Tuvok. "Captain, there is a matter I would like to discuss with you."
"For nearly one hour this morning there were over sixty crew members for which the computer could not account. Further investigation revealed that the privacy locks on holodeck one had been engaged for that precise period of time. Internal sensors to that room had been deactivated."
"Well, that's interesting. What program was running?"
"That is what concerns me, Captain. There was no program running. Also, I have checked the computer logs and it appears that this is the fifth consecutive day that this has occurred. The number of crewmembers involved has increased each day."
"What are you suggesting, Tuvok? Mutiny?"
"I hardly see the humor in this situation. You, Commander Chakotay, and myself were the only members of the senior staff not in the holodeck this morning."
"I see. Where was Mr. Neelix while this was happening?"
"He was in holodeck one. As were Lieutenant Torres, Lieutenant Paris, Ensign Kim, Lieutenant Carey, the Doctor, Seven of Nine, Ensign Wildman, Ensign Vorik, Ensign Campbell, Ensign Jenkins, Ensign Henley, Ensign - "
The captain held up her hand before the chief of security recited the entire crew compliment to her. "I'm sure we'll learn what they've been up to in good time. Don't spoil their fun, Tuvok."
"I trust them, Tuvok. Leave them alone."
"Aye, Captain." He made no move to leave.
"Is there more?"
"Additionally, Captain, Commander Chakotay was not in his quarters this morning, although his comm badge was. I am only concerned because that behavior is not characteristic of the commander."
She answered wearily. "Commander Chakotay was in my quarters this morning."
"Indeed." The Vulcan raised a single eyebrow.
The captain sighed and rested her chin in her hands. She regarded her old friend solemnly. "He slept on my couch last night. I'd rather not bore you with the explanation."
Tuvok sensed he was missing something, but he decided not to push the captain. He returned to his station on the bridge.
Tom felt Tuvok's eyes on his back. The Vulcan security officer had given him a suspicious look earlier, and Tom was sure he had been staring at him since emerging from the ready room. Was he just imagining it, or was Tuvok on to them? He had never wanted to escape from the bridge so badly in his life.
"Sickbay to bridge. Could you possibly spare Mister Paris and Mister Kim for a few minutes?"
Doc, I don't think I've ever been so happy to hear your voice, Tom thought as he and Harry headed for the turbolift.
When Captain Janeway emerged from her ready room a moment later she was surprised to see Chakotay at the helm. Both the command deck and the ops station were unoccupied. She knew that Lieutenant Torres had absconded with most of the bridge crew, but this was pushing it. She moved to take Harry's station herself.
"Commander? Where are Paris and Kim?"
"Did something happen?" She was baffled as to why she'd be the last to know.
"No. The Doctor asked to borrow them. I think we can spare them."
Janeway looked at the uninspiring blank viewscreen and saw no reason to argue.
"What's up, Doc?" Tom asked as he hurried into sickbay.
"Lieutenant Torres informed me that Tuvok was checking the sensor logs in holodeck one, and Ensign Wildman saw Tuvok enter the Captain's ready room ten minutes later."
Samantha Wildman was sitting on a biobed. "I told the commander I felt queasy and came down here as soon as I saw the look Tuvok gave you, Tom."
"I was afraid he was on to us." Tom buried his face in his hands. "I just hope he didn't say anything to the captain."
"We'd better find out what he knows," Harry said.
Tom nodded, tapping his combadge. "Paris to Neelix. Report to sickbay."
"Ah, send Mister Neelix to do your dirty work. There's a certain logic there, I suppose." The Doctor shook his head.
Tom thought frantically. "Here's the plan. First, we find out what he knows. Then, if necessary, we convince him that there is only one logical course of action."
"Not much of a plan, Tom," Harry replied. He tapped his own combadge. "Kim to Vorik."
"Neelix to Tuvok."
"Please report to astrometrics."
The security chief left the bridge.
Janeway stared after him for a moment. "Now that was odd."
Chakotay turned from the helm to exchange a look with the captain. He agreed.
When Tuvok arrived in astrometrics, he was met by Seven of Nine, Vorik, and an enthusiastic Neelix. "Ah, Tuvok. Just the man we needed to see."
"May I ask what this is regarding, Mister Neelix?"
"Why, crew morale of course. This is a matter of vital importance to the morale of the crew." The Talaxian grinned at Tuvok as if that explained everything.
"I have an idea for a bit of shipboard entertainment, well, actually, it was Lieutenant Paris' idea first, but anyhow, I think everyone would have a great deal of fun. It would be well worth the trouble."
"Mister Neelix," Tuvok observed. "I get the impression that you are deliberately attempting to confuse me."
"I suggest you bear with him," Seven interjected. "I believe that his idea has merit."
"Very well. Please continue, Mister Neelix."
"Are you familiar with entertainment from twentieth century Earth?"
"I cannot say that I am particularly well versed in that subject."
"Well, Tom was telling me about a literary work from that culture, and it gave me a little idea. It will require certain feats of engineering, but Lieutenant Torres has graciously agreed to loan me Vorik, here, so..."
"What, precisely, are you asking of me?"
"Well, Seven has brought it to my attention that there is a chance that ship security could...misinterpret our intentions. So I thought I should speak with you..."
Tuvok interrupted. "I have already received orders from Captain Janeway to ignore whatever it is that you people have been doing on the holodeck. I will follow her orders. However, if your activities endanger this ship or this crew in any way, they will not be tolerated. Is that understood?"
"Of course. Yes, sir. Thank you, Tuvok."
At that, the eavesdropping crowd gathered in sickbay let out its collective breath.
"Well," Tom said. "He knows that we're up to something, but as long as he's decided to ignore it, we're safe."
"I still think more caution might be in order," the Doctor said.
Another movie. This time, Chakotay put his arm around her the minute the lights dimmed. She didn't object. In fact, she moved closer, rested her head against him, and reached for his other hand.
When he put his arm around her, she decided to let herself enjoy the evening, even if it meant pushing the boundaries just a bit. After all, she justified, they'd ended up in this position at the end of the last film and nothing had changed. It seemed pointless to wait this time.
Chakotay was almost overwhelmed by the powerful swell of affection he felt when she took his hand. The screen could have shown anything at that point, and neither of them would have noticed. They were both aware of nothing but each other as they allowed themselves a brief moment of guilty indulgence.
Kathryn savored the rare luxury as she stared at the screen. She had become close to a number of people on this journey, but it was this man beside her that had protected her from loneliness. She couldn't imagine life on Voyager without him. She couldn't imagine life without him.
Her thoughts wandered to topics she usually kept locked away. She knew he loved her. She saw it in his eyes whenever she took the time to look. She was also fairly certain that he knew that she loved him. It was unbearable to think otherwise, under the circumstances. They were both in life threatening situations too often. It was all too possible that they could lose each other without ever speaking the truth.
But if he knew that she knew that he loved her, which he did, then they both had to deny it. And he couldn't learn that she knew that he knew that she loved him. That would unravel their complex game.
This film had fewer characters then the last one. Chakotay was grateful, because he had missed much of the beginning. Not that he really cared. What actually mattered to him was the fact that he had his arm around Kathryn. He closed his eyes, basking in her nearness and enjoying the sensation of her thumb lightly stroking his hand.
Before he had met Kathryn, Chakotay had never imagined the possibility of falling this deeply in love. Not that he hadn't cared about women in the past; it wasn't in his nature to have had a romantic relationship without feeling something he thought of as love. But never before had anyone inspired the intensity of emotion that he felt for Kathryn.
There had been Sveta, at the Academy, but he had been a different person then. He had still been the angry contrary, without a real purpose in life. He had purpose now. Kathryn had given him purpose, and had brought peace to his life.
He had thought that he loved Seska in his Maquis days. He had broken off their relationship because it was a distraction. But the very fact that he could break things off with Seska illustrated the difference. He had gotten over Seska, long before she betrayed him. He knew, from experience, that he could never push aside his feelings for Kathryn; they were a part of his very soul.
He wished he could express those feelings, but he accepted the hand that fate had dealt him. As long as she was his captain, he would have to wait. There was just too much at stake for them to share more than friendship in this quadrant.
Yet in this moment, they had both decided that they could afford to hold each other, and for this moment, they were both content.
After waking up almost blissfully rested just that morning, Janeway was even more frustrated at not being able to fall asleep. She tossed restlessly. Maybe if she went out and laid on the couch she would have better luck. She had slept wonderfully on it the night before.
It wasn't the couch, she told herself. But she couldn't very well call her first officer to her quarters again. It was inappropriate, and rather ridiculous. Besides, he needed his sleep as well. Instead, she moved out to the living room and tried to remember exactly how she had felt the previous evening.
Protected. Safe. Comfortable. She felt none of those things now. Which was absurd. She was perfectly safe and she certainly didn't need protection. She forced herself to lie still. Sleep would come, and it would be as peaceful and restful as the previous night. She was a Starfleet officer; she could accomplish sleep.
Three hours later she was desperate. She'd dozed off once, only to have Ensign Harper berate her into tears. She loathed the lack of self control she had in her dreams. Tired and shaky, she got up and paced her quarters.
"Computer, are there any crewmembers in the corridor?"
She slipped out the door and headed for Chakotay's quarters. Using her command codes, she let herself in and laid down on his couch. She could hear the faint sounds of his breathing in the next room. No longer completely alone, she drifted off to sleep.
Chakotay heard someone enter his quarters. He quickly realized it was Kathryn. She must have had another nightmare, and now she was here to sleep on his couch. He forced himself to stay in bed. As much as he wanted to go comfort her, he knew that she'd be more likely to stay if he left her alone. So many times she had pushed him away; he didn't want to scare her off when she needed him.
It wasn't long before her scream pierced the darkness. He bolted from the bedroom, unable to ignore her pain. She was sitting on the couch trembling, hastily brushing a stray tear from her face. This time, he didn't hesitate to pull her into his arms. He sat on the couch, holding her and stroking her back, until her quaking subsided and she pulled away.
"What's wrong with me, Chakotay?" Her voice was still unsteady. "Why can't I control this?"
"This isn't your fault, Kathryn. You can't control everything. You are human, after all."
"I'm sorry for crying. I don't let people see me cry."
It was true, he knew. He had certainly never seen her cry before. A well-hidden tear here and there, perhaps. But actual crying? Never. "I'm not people, Kathryn."
"No. No, you aren't." She smiled sadly for a moment, then sighed. "I'm no stranger to nightmares. And I've had bouts of insomnia all my life. Why am I letting it get to me this time?"
"It's probably this region of space. Your subconscious is certainly no fan of boredom."
"We'll be in this region for six months!" A touch of fear seeped into her voice.
"I know." He thought for a moment. "You got some sleep last night, didn't you?"
"Yes, but - "
He put a finger to her lips. "No buts." He rose and took her hand. She started to object when she realized his intention. He interrupted. "And I don't want to hear about protocol, Kathryn. You need to sleep. It's this or sickbay."
Meekly, and most uncaptainlike, she let him lead her to the bedroom. His bedroom. She knew the sleep deprivation was clouding her judgment. This was a bad idea. If Tuvok, or anyone else, were to look for her...unlikely, she had to admit, but still...And yet it wasn't as if they had never slept side by side on an away mission...
Chakotay pulled the covers back. "Get in." She hesitated briefly, then complied as the desire for sleep won out. He got onto the bed himself, staying above the covers and carefully respecting her space. "I'll be right here. You won't have any more nightmares tonight."
He said it with such assurance, she almost believed him. She closed her eyes and let herself sink back into the feeling of security he provided, even as she scolded herself for needing it.
Knowing he was unlikely to fall back to sleep promptly with Kathryn in his bed, Chakotay lay watching her. He saw some of the tension leave her face, and her breathing grew more regular. He hoped she'd sleep peacefully, but he wasn't about to leave it to chance. He studied her face, and when her expression grew tense once again, he spoke.
"Kathryn, you're dreaming," he said softly. She stirred, but didn't wake. He kept watching her face. "Kathryn..."
She muttered unintelligibly. Her expression remained troubled.
"Kathryn, wake up."
She opened her eyes and looked at him. Her momentary confusion cleared. "Thank you."
"Do you want to try that again?"
"I think I'd better." She studied his face in the semidarkness. "Tell me a story. Maybe you can distract me."
He smiled at her. "Did I ever tell you about..."
"So what do you think the captain thinks we've been doing?" Harry asked as Neelix passed out breakfast sandwiches to the gathering of conspirators.
"That's a very good question." Tom studied his sandwich closely. "One I don't think we'll be able to answer. And speaking of questions we can't answer, what exactly is in this, Neelix?"
"I think we're very lucky that the captain trusts us," Sam said, ignoring Tom. "Although it makes me feel a little guilty."
"Yeah, I know what you mean." B'Elanna examined her own meal and shrugged. She took a bite.
"Hey," Tom interjected. "This is for her own good, or have you all forgotten that?"
"And what exactly are we doing?" the Doctor asked. "Forcing them to spend evenings together isn't going to be enough. What comes next?"
"They are extraordinarily stubborn," Seven pointed out. "Perhaps we should just throw them in the brig and inform them that they will not be released until they have copulated."
B'Elanna choked. "What?"
"A joke," Seven clarified. "Although I do not believe that my estimation of their stubbornness is in error."
Tom laughed. "Probably not. Who would have thought that they'd outlast B'Elanna and I."
Ensign Jenkins spoke up. "So what worked for you two?"
"Almost running out of oxygen while floating in empty space," B'Elanna answered.
The Doctor nodded his head knowingly. "Ah, the deathbed confession. A classic. It's really too bad that won't work this time."
"Do you have any idea how many times one or the other of them has almost died in my sickbay? And it's always the same." He gave an exaggerated sigh. "Whichever one of them is conscious nags me unnecessarily, hovers around getting in the way, and then bolts off to the bridge to mask their concern.
"Unless the dying one is awake, of course. Then it's a lot of 'the ship' this and 'the crew' that before I have to chase the healthy one away. And despite a lot of hand holding, never has either one of them admitted a damn thing, although I can't think of a single instance in which the captain woke up in sickbay without the commander doing his mother hen impersonation."
Everyone was silent for a few moments. Neelix made a tentative suggestion. "Maybe Seven had the right idea. Perhaps we could lock them on the holodeck. Make them think that they're stranded someplace."
B'Elanna shook her head. "We could, but they've been stranded together plenty. I mean, how long did we leave them on that planet with the insects? And it wouldn't take them any time at all to figure out that they were on the holodeck."
"I wonder what did go on then," Jenny Delaney mused. "They thought they'd never see Voyager again."
"I'll tell you what happened," Tom said. "The captain probably spent sixteen hours a day researching that virus they contracted. I bet she didn't notice poor Chakotay was even on the same planet."
"There's a bathtub in cargo bay one," Ensign Campbell announced suddenly.
"I was the one who beamed up their personal effects from the surface that time," Lyssa Campbell explained. "Most of it was exactly what you'd expect, but there's a rather large bathtub that the captain had beamed to cargo bay one. I'm sure it's still there."
"It wasn't among the stuff we originally beamed down."
"Interesting. So they somehow obtained a bathtub while stranded on an uninhabited planet. Who wants to volunteer to ask Chakotay about that one?"
Chakotay woke and glanced at the chronometer. He had overslept, as he had feared, but fortunately he still had enough time to make it to the bridge. Not wanting to disturb Kathryn, he had deactivated the alarm before drifting off. He looked at her now, sleeping peacefully, and was glad that he had. She could use the extra rest.
He tried not to be captivated by the image of his beautiful Kathryn, asleep in his bed. He tried not to be charmed by the sight of her sleep mussed hair. He tried not to fantasize about waking up beside her every day for the rest of his life. He tried, and failed.
He got up and headed for the sonic shower. He'd have to go retrieve Kathryn's combadge from her quarters before anyone thought to look for her this morning. It would probably be a good idea to fetch her a uniform, too. She certainly wouldn't want to be seen in the corridor dressed in her nightgown, nor would she appreciate being stranded in his quarters.
Janeway woke up disoriented. This wasn't her bed. Adrenaline shot through her before the previous night's memories sorted themselves out. Okay, she thought, trying to still her racing heart, so she hadn't made that mistake. Nonetheless, her behavior had hardly been appropriate. Did she actually remember crying in Chakotay's arms, and over a dream, no less? What the hell had gotten into her?
Chakotay emerged from the bathroom, already in uniform. He smiled at her. "Good morning, Kathryn. Coffee?"
"That would be nice." She failed to meet his gaze. "Thank you."
He went for the coffee. How could he ease her discomfort? He didn't want her to regret opening up to him. He returned with the mug. "Kathryn - "
"I'm sorry - "
"No, listen. You have no reason to apologize, especially to me. You shouldn't have to be the invincible captain every minute. Maybe that's what your subconscious is trying to tell you; that you need to acknowledge your emotions every once in a while." Inspiration struck. "Maybe you should talk to your spirit guide. That might stop the dreams, if you could find the cause."
She treated him to a half smile and nodded. "I think I will. But right now, I'd better get to..." She stared down at herself and realized how inappropriately she was dressed.
He gave her a reassuring smile. "I'll go get your uniform. You relax and eat some breakfast."
No one commented when Captain Janeway arrived on the bridge a little late. Her duties extended beyond her command chair, after all, and it wasn't unusual for her to be elsewhere during the course of the day.
Harry Kim hadn't been on the bridge in several days. Now, as he stood at the ops station, he noticed a slight change in his captain. She wasn't looking at Chakotay.
Usually, they both spent a fair amount of time subtly watching each other. It was a part of their game, and Harry, who had stood behind them for thousands of hours, was familiar with it. Yet today, Captain Janeway wasn't playing. Chakotay was still watching her, but whenever she glanced up from her reports, the captain watched the blank viewscreen as if it displayed something interesting.
Tom Paris, seated at the helm, wasn't in a position to notice the difference. He started humming.
Harry spoke quickly. "Tom, don't."
The helmsman turned around and gave his friend a questioning look.
"Do you know how long it took me to get that song out of my head after playing it the other night?" Harry asked with false indignation. "I thought I made that clear in the mess hall this morning."
Tom hadn't been anywhere near the mess hall that morning, and he knew that Harry hadn't, either. Something was up. It was a struggle not to glance at the captain. "Sorry," he mumbled, feigning irritation.
Samantha Wildman turned from the science station and studied the captain's face. She could read nothing beneath the careful mask that Janeway maintained. She wondered what Harry had noticed.
Sam couldn't go to sickbay; she was fairly certain that Tuvok was down there fulfilling his promise to help the Doctor with command training. What excuse could she use to leave the bridge long enough to contact Neelix or B'Elanna? If Harry knew something, then the rest of them needed to know what it was before someone made a mistake.
Everyone else on the bridge, except for Janeway and Chakotay, shared the same line of thought. Neither Harry nor Tom dared draw further attention to themselves. Sam exchanged a look with Ensign Jenkins at the tactical station; they needed a lucky break.
Janeway was oblivious to the restlessness of her bridge crew. Although slightly bothered by Harry's outburst, she was far too busy trying to keep her own distracting thoughts from interfering with her work to give anyone else much notice.
Her first thought of the morning still bothered her. Was it a mistake she expected to make, eventually? Obviously, some part of her believed that to be the case. Yet she'd kept this temptation in check for years. What was different now?
She'd been careful all morning to avoid looking at her first officer; even though she knew that it was unlikely that any of the crew knew where she had spent the night, she still worried about fueling rumors on the small ship. She feared that if she looked at him, her guilt would show on her face.
Chakotay found himself watching Kathryn. She wore a look of concentration as she read an engineering report. It was probably more of a mask to cover her boredom then a sign of sincere focus. Even so, she was beautiful. And try as he might, he couldn't keep images of her sleeping form from intruding on his thoughts. He tried to pull his mind back to the ship.
He wondered what was going on between Harry and Tom. He'd have to ask B'Elanna if she'd noticed any tension between the two. It wasn't like Harry to snap at anyone, especially on the bridge.
Tuvok appeared, and the ensign covering his post bolted for the turbolift. Tom coughed. Kathryn shifted in her command chair and recrossed her legs. Chakotay watched her out of the corner of his eye.
"Torres to the Bridge."
All eyes turned expectantly to Janeway.
"Go ahead, Lieutenant."
"Captain, would you mind if I borrowed Ensign Kim for a few minutes?"
The captain gave a resigned shrug and Harry hurried onto the turbolift. Lieutenant Paris and Ensign Wildman stared after him enviously.
"Sickbay to the Bridge."
"Captain, if you could spare Mister Paris..."
Tom wasn't even to the turbolift when Janeway's combadge chirped.
"Neelix to Captain Janeway."
"And who would you like to borrow, Mister Neelix?"
He seemed flustered for a moment. "Well, actually, I was hoping you could get by without Ensign Wildman for a little while."
"Why not? Tuvok, you have the bridge. See if you can't find a crew to run it. Commander, my ready room?"
"Did that seem unusual to you?
"What, the sudden exodus from the bridge?" Chakotay chuckled. "Do you think we're missing something?"
"Maybe. I didn't mention it yesterday, but Tuvok came to me with a security concern."
"It seems that Tom Paris has been holding some sort of secret meetings in the holodeck each morning. Any chance you know what that's about?"
Chakotay frowned. "No, Captain. I haven't heard a thing. Who else is involved?"
"Everyone. Tom, Harry, B'Elanna, Neelix, Seven, the Doctor, Ensign Wildman, Lieutenant Carey..." She let her voice trail off.
"Well, I'm inclined to trust them," he said with a shrug. "But I'll keep an ear to the ground."
"I trust them, too, and I told Tuvok not to spoil their fun, but my curiosity is getting the better of me."
He studied her face. "Is that the only reason you called me in here?"
"No." She moved over to the replicator. "What I really wanted was coffee. Care to join me?"
Engineering had suddenly become a very crowded place. Everyone looked pointedly at Ensign Kim.
"Well?" Lieutenant Torres prompted. "What's the emergency?"
Harry shifted uncomfortably. "Maybe it's nothing, but the captain is acting a little different."
"She isn't looking at Chakotay." He shrugged. "Usually they watch each other. They have a whole routine, at least when things are quiet. Today, she hasn't looked at him once."
"Conclusions?" Seven looked unconvinced.
"Well, none yet. But it made me nervous. What if they had a disagreement of some kind?"
"We could accidentally make it worse," Neelix said. "That certainly would be the last thing we would want. But how can we tell?"
The Doctor raised an index finger. "I have an idea."
When Janeway and Chakotay emerged from the ready room, they found the Doctor at the ops station. Furthermore, Tom Paris had returned to the helm, and had Naomi Wildman in his lap. Janeway looked at Tuvok, who only shrugged at her in a most unvulcanlike manner.
They sat down. Harry and the Doctor were deeply engrossed in discussing the duties of an operations officer. Tom was explaining the helm controls to Naomi, who was asking surprisingly insightful questions about the differences between piloting Voyager and the Delta Flyer.
Janeway leaned towards Chakotay. "How long were we in the ready room?"
He chuckled. "Think if we go back in there again Naomi will be flying the ship and the Doctor will be sitting in your chair?"
Later, the crew anxiously crowded around the Doctor in the mess hall.
"They seemed normal to me," he said. "At least for them. The commander's vital signs fluctuate in conjunction with the captain's proximity to him. Nothing unusual there. The captain wasn't showing any physical symptoms of stress when I scanned her. And, Mister Kim's observations aside, she was definitely not avoiding eye contact."
Harry sighed. "Either they worked out some issue while in the ready room, or B'Elanna's engineering report was a lot more interesting than I would have guessed. The captain couldn't take her eyes off of it this morning."
"Or you imagined the whole thing," Tom said.
"I don't think so. I really don't. I still think we'd better tread carefully."
Ensign Wildman nodded. "We should at least wait another day or so before sending any mysterious notes or doing anything drastic. Just in case."
Tom Paris allowed his frustration to show on his face, but didn't disagree.
"I'm worried about the crew, Chakotay," Janeway admitted over dinner. "It isn't like Harry to snap at people, and he nearly took Tom's head off over a little humming."
"His reaction did seem a bit strong. But I'm sure he and Tom are more than capable of working it out."
"I'm afraid that the extended boredom is going to start getting to people. We'd better keep an eye out for signs of tension."
"I'll talk to Neelix. If something happened in the mess hall this morning, he'll know about it." He studied her face. Something was definitely bothering her, and it was more than just Harry and Tom. "What is it, Kathryn?"
She was startled. How did he always know? She considered lying to him, but knew he'd somehow see right through her. "This boredom is getting to me, too, Chakotay. Without any distractions, I can't help but think about this crew, stranded nearly forty thousand light years from home, all because of me."
He stared at her for a moment. How could she still blame herself for this? "If you want the blame for the fact that this crew is in the Delta Quadrant, then get in line. I'm the reason Voyager was in the Badlands in the first place. So why don't you blame me? Admiral Paris is the one who ordered Voyager to look for us. Why don't you blame him? Tom's the one who gave you the coordinates - "
"Stop it. None of that is relevant and you know it."
"Yes, I do. Because it was the Caretaker that brought us here deliberately. The blame lies with him. Not with you, Kathryn."
"Perhaps, but I'm the one who destroyed our way home. I ordered Tuvok to fire on the array."
"You did what was necessary. What was right."
"I stranded us here."
"You saved the Ocampa. Blame them for their helplessness. Blame the Kazon for their aggressiveness."
"How can I - "
"Blame them for being them? I don't see how that's any different from blaming Kathryn Janeway for being Kathryn Janeway, and making the right decision; the moral decision."
"My decision wasn't fair to this crew, Chakotay."
"There's where you're wrong, Kathryn. How many members of this crew are better off here, in the Delta Quadrant, then they would have been at home? The former Maquis would all be dead or imprisoned by now, B'Elanna and I included. Tom Paris would be drinking and gambling his life away - "
"You don't know that. And what about Harry Kim? He'd be married to Libby, starting a family - "
"And you don't know that. I don't think Harry is unhappy. Do you honestly think he'd trade away his time on Voyager, given the chance?"
"What about Naomi Wildman. She wouldn't have to grow up on a starship - "
"No, she'd be growing up on a space station. Or did you forget that her father is at Deep Space Nine?"
"Her father, exactly. Sam wouldn't be alone, and Naomi would be with both of her parents."
"And she wouldn't have Neelix or Seven. Neelix would be doing salvage work and ferrying water back and forth between Kazon sects, if he hadn't gotten himself killed trying to rescue Kes alone. Seven would still be a Borg drone. That is, unless species 8472 had wiped out half this quadrant by now."
"I hardly chose the side of angels in that conflict, Chakotay. The Borg started that war. Because of me, they won it."
"The galaxy will be purged. Remember those words? Species 8472 was planning to annihilate all life in our galaxy."
"Yes. Because the Borg made this galaxy a threat to them."
"And how the hell is that your fault?"
"I should have tried to establish communication with them - ."
"Kes did. They told her the galaxy would be purged. Remember?"
"Yes, I remember. I just can't help but think how I might have done things differently. They turned out to be reasonable enough later." She poked at her food. "Perhaps if we had made a greater effort diplomatically we could have used fluidic space to get home. They obviously managed to visit Earth."
"You can hardly be expected to see into the future," Chakotay argued. "You had to work with the information you had at the time."
"Maybe," she admitted. "Still - "
"Kathryn, I'm your first officer. It's part of my job to let you know if I think you've made a mistake. I take my responsibilities very seriously." He forced her to meet his gaze. "I'll tell you when something's your fault. In the meantime, please stop doing this to yourself."
She gave him a weak smile. "I'm sorry for dumping all of this on you. And you're right; sometimes I am a little hard on myself. If I'm honest with myself, I know I couldn't have made any of those decisions differently. I could defend any one of them to anyone, including Starfleet Command. But maybe I need to be hard on myself every once in a while, just to be sure."
"Hey, we all question our choices now and again. Good leaders feel guilty, even when they know they've done the right thing. It's part of the game. You know that I'm always happy to listen."
"I know. And thank you. Now shall we go see what Neelix has planned for tonight?"
When they arrived on the holodeck they found a crowded casino. Neelix greeted them with stacks of holographic chips and an abundance of enthusiasm.
"Let me guess: Tom Paris?" Janeway looked around at the garish setting.
"Well, it sure isn't Tuvok's program." Chakotay noticed the lack of a dance floor. He wasn't sure if he was disappointed or relieved.
They mingled, chatted with the crew, and eventually found themselves at the roulette table. Chakotay laid a large number of his chips on red, smiling at Kathryn. He brushed a lock of her auburn hair with his fingertips. "I have a certain weakness for red," he whispered.
"That could be your undoing, Commander," she replied softly, trying to ignore the tremor his touch had produced. She turned her attention instead to the spinning wheel. Thirty six red.
Chakotay chuckled and smiled at her as he collected his chips. "Think you could arrange to bring me the same luck next time I play poker with Tom, Harry, and Neelix?"
"Every time the four of you play poker we nearly lose the Delta Flyer," she teased. "I shouldn't let you take playing cards on away missions. They seem to attract Borg cubes and ion storms."
"That's not fair," he argued playfully. "Although sometimes it does seem that every away mission ends in disaster."
"Seems like we should do something about that."
"Perhaps. But not tonight."
"No, not tonight," she agreed. "I'd like to see what kind of luck you'll bring me. Let's find the craps table."
Seven and the Doctor both quickly lost interest in gambling. They both found the entertainment value of the activity to be dubious, at best, and once the stakes were removed it became completely pointless. The accumulation of holographic chips was hardly worth their effort. The couple left the holodeck in favor of the cargo bay she had claimed as her own.
As soon as the door slid closed, they were in each other's arms. As the kiss grew in passion, the former Borg drone began backing the holographic doctor towards a couch he had never noticed before.
"Doctor," Seven whispered. "I think I'm ready to fully explore my humanity."
Janeway lay in bed, hoping for sleep. At 0300 hours she rose, dressed, and headed out to tour her ship. She eventually found her way to the mess hall.
"Caffeine isn't going to help, Kathryn." He was sitting in the dark at the far end of the room. Waiting for her, she guessed. How did he do that?
She slid into the seat across from him, and he reached to take her hand. He studied her face. "Have you slept at all tonight?"
"No," she admitted.
"Maybe we should go talk to the Doctor. You need to do something about this." He added a teasing note to his voice. "Not that I, personally, would be opposed to a repetition of last night's arrangement, of course."
She looked at him sharply, but her expression softened at the love and concern she read so plainly in his eyes. Last night hadn't been his fault, the blame lay with her. His comment had been meant to reassure, not embarrass, and it certainly wasn't his fault that she needed such reassurance.
When she didn't respond, but simply sat and studied his face with a look of indecision on her own, he stood. He tugged on her hand. "Come on. Sickbay awaits."
When they arrived in sickbay they found it deserted.
"Doctor?" Janeway called, somewhat tentatively. If he had for some inexplicable reason deactivated himself, their entrance into sickbay should have reactivated him immediately. Where was he at nearly 0400 hours if not here?
"Computer, locate the Doctor."
"The EMH is in cargo bay two."
Chakotay looked at Kathryn, his expression somewhere between exasperation and amusement. "Now what?"
She returned his gaze, clearly torn. It worried him. Kathryn was rarely indecisive. The lack of sleep was plainly taking its toll. He made the decision himself, and tried to turn it into a joke. "I guess our options are limited. My place or yours?"
This was absurd. She should just suffer until she had a chance to talk to the Doctor. What would the crew think if they found out? But the promise of sleep was a strong inducement. Her voice was barely a whisper. "Yours."
They didn't speak on the way back to his quarters. When he pulled back the covers she climbed in wordlessly. As he had the night before, Chakotay used the blankets as a barrier between them. She was asleep within minutes. He lay awake watching her and tried to ignore how very much he wanted to hold her.
"We've been meeting for a week now," Neelix said. "Are we really accomplishing anything?"
Tom shrugged. "Well, they've spent six straight evenings together."
"So what?" B'Elanna argued. "They've spent six straight years together."
"Granted." Tom made a hopeful face. "But they've been overheard flirting on several occasions over the last few nights."
Harry rolled his eyes. "They've done that for years. They've flirted on the bridge with the whole senior staff within earshot. It means nothing."
Samantha Wildman laughed. "I remember when she declared him an expert on mating behavior in the middle of a yellow alert. She was standing right behind me at the science station." She smiled at the memory. "I had just learned that I was pregnant with Naomi; I wouldn't have thought that anything else could have shocked me that day."
"See what I mean," Harry said. "It's been going on that long. And they behave like that almost every day."
"He touched her hair on the holodeck last night," Joe Carey reported. "I couldn't hear what they were saying, but I think it was a good sign."
Samantha nodded. "That's not exactly a new development, but at least it proves they aren't in the middle of some disagreement."
"So do we dare try our secret admirer ploy?" Harry asked.
"I do not believe that would be prudent," Seven said. "We are at this time unsure as to several key facts."
The Doctor agreed with her. "The captain knows Chakotay extremely well. She would recognize his wording in such a letter, and I suspect that she would detect a fraud as well."
"Maybe we should give that a little more thought," Tom said. "But come on, people, we've really got to think of something."
"Let's add music to the turbolift," B'Elanna said. "The songs from the dance...and Big Spender, perhaps? That bugged the heck out of Chakotay the other night in his quarters."
"Ah, I like it." Tom grinned evilly. "We'll all have to tolerate it, though. Else Tuvok might figure out that we've singled out the commander."
Chakotay was tired. When the ship was in crisis, senior officers might go several days with little or no sleep, but then they had the advantage of adrenaline to help them along. It hadn't been that long since mutated dark matter had plagued the entire crew with nightmares, among other things, but then they had all been too busy to feel tired. Now, he had a little taste of what Kathryn experienced when she suffered a bout of insomnia. Purposeless fatigue. It was unpleasant.
He got up as quietly as he could and headed for the sonic shower. He did not want to wake her up. She wasn't scheduled for bridge duty, and although she often chose to ignore such things, he strongly suspected that today she wouldn't mind sleeping in. He sure wouldn't have.
She was still asleep when he left. He entered the turbolift and was somewhat annoyed to hear music. Why was the computer playing music in the turbolift? He decided to ignore it, walked onto the bridge, and relieved Lieutenant Ayala of Kathryn's chair.
"Report," he requested woodenly. And so another dull shift began.
Janeway stretched lazily as she returned slowly to consciousness. She finally felt rested. It crossed her mind that as wonderful as that was, it probably meant that Chakotay had let her oversleep. Yes, Chakotay. The reason that she had accomplished sleep in the first place. Just what the hell was wrong with her, anyway?
She got out of bed and looked down at herself. She was still wearing the casual clothing she had donned to tour the ship at 0300 hours. Her uniform was in her quarters. At least she had her combadge.
After a brief hesitation, she headed for the sonic shower, allowing herself a wicked little laugh. Here she was, naked in Chakotay's quarters, and he wasn't even home to enjoy it.
Tom Paris sat at the helm, trying to stir up the courage to ask Chakotay about the alleged bathtub in cargo bay one. He wished Harry was on the bridge. Perhaps together the two of them could have steered a conversation towards the topic of bathtubs; or at least in the direction of strange crates in the cargo bay.
A thought wandered across his mind. He acted upon it, and began to sing. "Rubber ducky, you're the one; you make bath time lots of fun..."
Chakotay looked at Tom. Had he lost his mind? "Rubber ducky, Mister Paris?"
"Just reminiscing about my childhood," Tom sighed with exaggeration. "Sometimes I miss the simple pleasures of youth."
No one commented. Chakotay wasn't really that interested, and everyone else had nervously realized what Tom was really gearing up to talk about.
After a moment of silence Tom turned around to look at the first officer. "What about you, Chakotay? Did you ever have a rubber ducky?" Tom waited a beat. "Perhaps you still have your rubber ducky. Do you enjoy a good soak in the tub?"
The tension on the bridge could have been cut with a laser scalpel. Ever patient, Chakotay tolerated Tom's needling even as he wished Tuvok were present to be the target.
Tom decided to push his luck further. "How about the captain? Is she the rubber ducky type, Commander?"
"I wouldn't know, Lieutenant," Chakotay replied. "Why don't you ask her sometime?"
This time, Janeway checked the Doctor's whereabouts before making the walk to sickbay. She was relieved to discover that he was both at his post and alone. When she arrived, she found him singing as he went about his duties.
"Why, Captain, what a pleasant surprise. What can I do for you today?"
Janeway smiled. He was certainly in a good mood. "To be honest, Doctor, I've been having some trouble sleeping."
"Oh?" He picked up a medical tricorder. "When did it start this time?"
"About a week ago."
"No other symptoms? Nothing new?"
"No, just the usual. Insomnia, nightmares."
The Doctor frowned at his tricorder. "Captain, pardon me, but your readings show you as being fairly well rested right now."
She sighed. "I slept in this morning. But I can't afford to do that very often. Can you do something about the dreams?"
"Captain, you know as well as I do that I can give you something for a day or two, but it's usually better to just let it run its course."
The Doctor watched the captain closely. She had never lied to him before, but he sensed that she was hiding something this time. "You're not suffering physically right now, and we aren't in the midst of a crisis, so why don't you give yourself a couple of days and then check back?"
For a moment, she considered threatening to call him in the middle of the night the next time she couldn't sleep. But she also knew he was right. And she hadn't had any nightmares the night before, so maybe she had broken the pattern anyhow.
"I think I know why you kicked Tom Paris off the bridge the other day," Chakotay said as he prepared dinner.
"Oh?" Janeway asked cautiously from her position on his couch.
"He's annoying when he's bored," Chakotay answered. "He was singing about bath toys. I think he was hoping I'd chase him off to engineering again."
She laughed. "Maybe we should temporarily reassign him. Let him pester B'Elanna for a while."
"I suspect she'd get more accomplished without his...help." Chakotay looked at Kathryn, stretched out on his couch, and felt a pang of regret for what they could never have. He was jealous of Tom and B'Elanna. "Hey, here's some news. I think Megan Delaney is stalking me."
"What makes you think that?"
"The other night in my quarters the computer was playing the song from her talent night performance. It wouldn't stop. I had to call engineering."
"I don't know. I'm not convinced that Megan could pull that off on her own."
"Oh, I'm sure she could convince Paris to give her a hand. He always needs extra replicator rations. Then again, he loves to torment me; he'd probably do it for free."
"Tom loves to torment everyone. And speaking of Tom, I assume he's responsible for the music in the turbolift?"
"That was my guess." He stood watching her. She looked so comfortable that he hated to disturb her. "Dinner's ready. Shall I bring you a plate?"
She laughed. "I think I can get up."
They sat and ate in companionable silence for a while. She noticed that Chakotay seemed a little tired. That would be her fault, she realized. For the past three nights he'd been awake at 0300 hours on her behalf.
"So what does Neelix have on the agenda for this evening?" he asked.
She shrugged. "Do we have to make an appearance every night?"
"I suppose not." He studied her face. "Do you have something else in mind?"
She thought quickly. "I'd rather stay in for the evening. Maybe you could help me contact my spirit guide."
"Of course. We probably should have done that last night."
"I was too tired to think last night. I feel much better now."
Chakotay went and retrieved his medicine bundle. They sat on the floor together, and he began the ritual.
"A-koo-chee-moya...we are far from the sacred places of our grandfathers. We are far from the bones of our people. But perhaps there is one powerful being who will embrace this woman and give her the answers she seeks."
Janeway found herself on an M-class planet, facing a large rock in a grassy meadow. The familiar salamander regarded her quietly.
"Do you know why I've been having these dreams?" she asked the little animal, anxious to get right to the point.
When it said nothing more she tried again. "Will you tell me?"
"I do not need to tell you what you already know."
"But I don't know."
"But if you do not, then how can I?"
That was a good point, Janeway realized. This was her hallucination; it could help unlock the mysteries of her own subconscious, but it could hardly have information that she did not possess at some level. "So what is it that I already know?"
It answered her question with one of its own. "What bothers you about the dreams?"
"I don't like remembering my mistakes. I don't like reliving all of the pain and guilt in those memories."
"But you know those accidents weren't your fault," the salamander answered reasonably. "You have made your peace with each of those events."
"Then I shouldn't be having the dreams."
"There is no should or shouldn't in dreaming."
"So are you telling me to go on dreaming about those things?"
"I did not say that."
"Then are you telling me that I can stop dreaming them?"
"I did not say that, either. I do not have that answer. Only you have it."
"But if I've made peace with the events in the dreams, then I don't know what else to do to stop them."
"Perhaps there is another issue you must work out, and the dreams are merely a clue. A dream is not always about its subject."
"What other issue?"
"Give it some thought." With that, the little amphibian vanished, leaving Janeway to stroll through the pleasant environment in which she found herself. She felt a sense of peace, here, despite the frustration she felt at not obtaining an answer.
"So, did that help?" Chakotay asked.
"I'm not sure. It was very peaceful. Perhaps that's a sign that I'll be able to sleep restfully tonight."
"Well, I think I'm off to test that theory." She rose, and headed for the door. He followed her.
"Good night, Kathryn." He hesitated a moment, then decided to speak. "Please call me if you need me."
She didn't argue. Instead, she gave his hand a squeeze. "Thank you, Chakotay. Good night."
Tom was none too subtly watching the door to Sandrine's, as he had been doing all evening. B'Elanna finally lost patience with him. "They aren't coming, Tom. Why don't you forget about them for five minutes before I start to get jealous of your latest hobby?"
"Jealous? Oh come on, B'Elanna, you know that nothing interests me more than you do."
"Really? Then why don't you come back to my quarters and prove it."
"Are you propositioning me, Torres?"
"What do you think, Paris?"
The shuttle was full of acrid smoke. It stung her eyes and burned her throat. Janeway struggled to drag Chakotay's unconscious body from the wreckage. She heard the computer voicing its calm warnings of impending doom. She was running out of time.
She fought to reach the door with her precious burden, but it seemed to move further away. She couldn't breathe, but she wouldn't leave him. She reached the door, but the shuttle was sinking. Sinking beneath the surface of an icy alien ocean; she couldn't pull him out in time...
Janeway bolted upright in bed, gasping for breath. She tried to shake off the horror of the dream. She was on Voyager. She was safe. Chakotay was safe. Her ship and crew were safe. Even the damn shuttles were safe. She wiped the unwelcome tears from her eyes and got out of bed.
She gathered her combadge and uniform, verified with the computer that the corridor was abandoned, and walked trembling to Chakotay's quarters. She keyed in the override code, crossed to the bedroom, and stood staring at Chakotay's sleeping form. What the hell was she doing? But comfortable sleep called to her like a siren song, and she climbed into the bed. Once again, she was asleep within minutes.
Chakotay was crawling through a Jefferies tube. Kathryn was beside him. Something was wrong, but he wasn't clear on what. He didn't feel especially bothered by it. He was intoxicated by her nearness.
She touched him, sending electric fire up his arm, and he turned to meet her gaze. Her eyes revealed a desire that surprised him. He expected her to retreat. She did not.
He raised his hand to lightly touch her face. Still, she did not move away. His pulse raced. He felt lightheaded. He stroked her hair, mesmerized by the fact that still she remained.
"Kathryn?" he breathed. And she crawled closer to kiss him. It was a soft kiss, almost tentative. He returned it, his mind spinning dizzily. Every nerve ending in his body felt her tongue brush against his lower lip. She had her hands on his chest, pushing him over.
Before he knew how it had happened, he was laying on his back, with Kathryn on top of him. She was kissing him deeply, exploring his mouth with her tongue. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her back, matching her passion. She was unzipping his uniform jacket, pulling his turtleneck out of his pants, thrusting her hands underneath it to explore his bare chest.
He gasped as her questing fingers found a nipple. "Take it off," she growled, pulling again at his turtleneck. He moved to comply, no easy task with her straddling him, now kissing his neck. As soon as the offending fabric was pushed aside, she lowered her hungry mouth to his chest.
His hands found her hair as he groaned in response to her actions. She moved lower, fumbling with the clasp to his trousers, then tugging at the waistband until he lifted his hips to aid her efforts.
He woke up. Kathryn was indeed beside him, sleeping. Her hand was lightly touching his arm. He couldn't move without waking her. He worked to slow his breathing as he tried to will away the physical symptoms of his arousal. Sleep, he feared, would not be returning quite yet.
"Where were they last night?" Tom asked. He didn't really expect an answer. He was almost regretting his vow not to use internal sensors to track the whereabouts of the captain.
"I know they had dinner together," Neelix said. "Commander Chakotay came down to the mess hall and borrowed some ingredients."
"That sounds promising," B'Elanna said. "Did anyone see either of them after that?"
No one had.
Janeway woke up pleasantly refreshed. She stretched luxuriously and encountered a warm body beside her own. She was surprised, not by the fact that she was in his bed, but instead by the fact that she wasn't alone. She opened her eyes and studied his sleeping face.
She pushed away the urge to touch him, and climbed out of bed. This habit of hers could not continue. She couldn't even imagine what Starfleet would think. Here she was, the captain of a vessel that had survived nearly six years alone in the Delta Quadrant, and now she was suddenly afraid to sleep alone? It didn't make sense.
In a way, it would almost be easier to deal with if she gave in to the temptation for an intimate relationship. At least that would be understandable, she thought wryly. She rebuked herself for even daring to think such thoughts and headed for the sonic shower.
When Chakotay woke up, Kathryn was gone. He scolded himself for the disappointment he felt at not waking up beside her. Memories of the previous night's dream came flooding back, and he scolded himself again. In a Jefferies tube? Who did he think he was, Tom Paris?
He got up and pulled off his tee shirt, intending to head for the shower. He noticed Kathryn's combadge and pips on his dresser, beside his rank bar. Her things on his dresser; like they belonged. To his annoyance, the sight actually served to excite him as he realized that she hadn't left. She appeared a moment later, in uniform, and he was suddenly very glad that he hadn't yet shed his sweatpants.
Kathryn's heart skipped a beat at the sight of Chakotay's bare chest. While a rare sight, it was not one completely unknown to her. Yet she had to fight to keep from devouring him with her eyes.
Chakotay smiled at her. "Good morning, Kathryn."
"Good morning," she managed in reply. Between his dimples and his smooth, muscular chest she felt like a teenager. She wrestled her emotions back under control. He was her first officer and she had no right to be standing in his bedroom ogling him.
He recognized the discomfort in her expression and sought to relieve it. "Give me a minute to get dressed, then come to breakfast with me."
She nodded, putting on her combadge. He disappeared into the sonic shower.
When they arrived in the mess hall, they were somewhat startled to find it abandoned. "Neelix?"
Tuvok entered behind them. "You will not find him. He is in the holodeck, as is half of the crew."
"Still?" Janeway asked. "What could they possibly be doing?"
"Since you ordered me to leave them alone, I find myself unable to answer you," Tuvok replied. "However, Mister Neelix has assured me that the entertainment value of their activities will be worth the trouble."
"Then I guess we'll just have to wait a little longer," Janeway said. "In the meantime, would you care to join us for breakfast?"
They all helped themselves to the food Neelix had left out, and moved to sit down. The three of them were still eating when Neelix returned, with Harry, Tom, B'Elanna and a number of others in tow. They all briefly froze at the sight of the three most senior officers.
"Good morning," Janeway called to them. "I hope whatever you've got cooking on the holodeck is going well." Was it her imagination, or did Tom look nervous? Harry most certainly did.
"It's going very well, Captain," B'Elanna replied without meeting her gaze. She suddenly found the breakfast selection to be extremely interesting.
"Is it just me, or was B'Elanna acting guilty back there?" Chakotay asked as he followed Janeway into the turbolift.
"I was just about to ask if Tom looked nervous to you. I really am starting to wonder what's going on around here."
Harry Kim stood at the ops station, again watching his commanding officers. The captain seemed normal; her eyes followed Chakotay as they usually did. The first officer, however, seemed distracted. When he glanced at her, he looked away quickly, as if he was trying not to watch her, but couldn't help himself.
Not for the first time, Harry wondered how he would feel in Chakotay's boots. He couldn't imagine being in love, yet remaining silent. Especially for nearly six years. What if it were Libby sitting in that chair, using protocol to keep him at arm's length?
Could he stand to sit beside her every day, hiding his feelings? Or would it be enough to at least see her, talk to her, and share experiences with her? Might that not be better than being separated by more than thirty thousand light years? He missed her, but would he trade proximity for honesty, and for the privilege of having held her, kissed her, and exchanged words of love with her?
Could he mask his feelings if necessary? Probably not very well, he decided. Even Captain Janeway herself hadn't been completely successful at that, and Chakotay most certainly had failed miserably. Even young Naomi Wildman knew of the Commander's feelings.
Harry grasped an important notion regarding his own feelings: Libby. It was still Libby, wasn't it? Even despite all of the years, and all of the distance, it was still her name that rose to the surface when he thought about romance. Not that his feelings for Khala, his most recent dalliance, hadn't been real, but they were different. She wasn't Libby.
Chakotay shifted restlessly again, and Janeway glanced at him with a touch of concern. She stood. "Commander, my ready room?"
He nodded and followed her. She went straight for the replicator, handing him a drink before moving behind her desk to sip her own.
A smile spread across Chakotay's face as he watched Kathryn taste her coffee. There was something unguarded about her expression in the moment that she took that first sip. He found it charming.
He jumped at the sound of her voice. She had caught him watching her. He was definitely tired; he was usually more discreet.
"Sorry, Captain. My mind wandered for a moment."
"Don't apologize, Chakotay." She was the one responsible for repeatedly disturbing his sleep. "It's not your fault if you're tired, after all. You've been cheated out of some sleep lately."
He considered claiming that he wasn't tired, but he knew that would be futile. Instead, he gave her his most winning smile. "It's true. This beautiful woman keeps crawling into my bed in the middle of the night."
Janeway smiled in spite of herself. The man certainly was good for her ego. "About that - "
"Listen, why don't you just make up your mind to spend the whole night." He was treading on dangerous ground and he knew it. "Then I wouldn't be awake wondering if you were sleeping or not, and you wouldn't have to relocate at 0300 hours."
She didn't answer him. What could she possibly say? He was right, or at least as close to right as he could be, considering the position into which she had forced him. But she couldn't continue this new habit. She sighed.
"It's okay, Kathryn, just think about it."
He was so tolerant. She felt a rush of gratitude for his patience, and changed the subject. "Why don't you go wander around and see if you can find out what our little shipboard mystery is all about. I'd hate to sick Tuvok on them, but my curiosity is getting the better of me."
Chakotay chuckled. "Gladly. I'll see what I can do."
Janeway was cooking. Ordinarily, she avoided that particular chore. There was usually little need for her to bother. She had a replicator for when she didn't eat in the mess hall, and Chakotay was a talented cook. She, on the other hand, had even been known to have trouble with replicator recipes, which should have been impossible. Neelix had been more than a little surprised when she'd appeared in the mess hall with a grocery list.
But poor Chakotay was exhausted, and was in fact now asleep on her couch. She felt she owed him something for his suffering. Not that poisoning him really seemed like a fair payment.
When the meal was prepared, she was almost reluctant to disturb him. She fantasized, for a moment, about waking him with a kiss. Then she mentally slapped herself; what had gotten into her lately?
When she laid a hand on his shoulder, he mumbled something indistinct. "Chakotay," she called softly, "Dinner."
He opened his eyes and grinned at her. "Shall I notify sick bay?"
Dinner was, thankfully, edible. Chakotay told her so promptly.
"So, solve any mysteries today?" she asked.
"No. No, I didn't." He looked pensive. "I'm not even convinced that Tom Paris is the ringleader, although he is the senior officer involved."
"I thought that was the one thing we knew."
"I thought so, too. But I overheard Lieutenant Carey complain to B'Elanna about Neelix's project. It seems he borrowed Ensign Vorik for something."
"Neelix borrowed Vorik? Whatever for?"
"I talked to Tuvok, and he told me that Neelix, Vorik, and Seven were working on something in astrometrics the other day. And Neelix has been jumpy all week."
"I noticed that he didn't greet us this morning." She took a sip of coffee. "Well, I'm sure we'll find out soon enough. No one can keep a secret for long on this ship."
"And what is the point of this, again?" B'Elanna rubbed her arms briskly. "I'm cold."
"I've got to agree with B'Elanna, Tom," Harry said. "I don't see why it has to be freezing in here."
"You can't huddle together for warmth if it isn't cold," Tom explained reasonably.
B'Elanna snorted. "Well, I don't know who you're planning to cuddle up with, Paris, because I'm not hanging around unless you raise the temperature."
Neelix hurried onto the holodeck. He looked around in puzzlement. "Why is it so cold in here?"
"Mister Paris seems to find hypothermia to be romantic," the Doctor explained.
"It does have a certain appeal." Seven appeared behind the Doctor and slipped her arms around his waist.
B'Elanna gave Seven a look of incredulity. "Are you going to tell me you approve of this inefficient use of environmental controls?"
Seven only smiled in a most uncharacteristic way. B'Elanna found it unsettling.
"Why don't you pull Chakotay aside and tell him your secret, Doc?" Tom suggested. "You're obviously doing something right."
Seven grinned again. "The Doctor does a great many things right, Lieutenant."
"They're on their way," Samantha Wildman announced as she entered the holodeck. She made a face. "It's downright frigid in here."
"Tell me again why we're dressed like this?" Janeway asked as she and Chakotay entered the turbolift. They were both wearing flannel shirts and jeans.
"Deck Fourteen. I honestly don't know. Tom said to wear flannel."
"And we're listening to him why?"
"Is there a hull breach in here? It's freezing!" Janeway exclaimed as they entered the holodeck.
"Blame Tom," B'Elanna muttered.
"Authenticity, Captain," Tom replied brightly. "We couldn't properly enjoy a bonfire without a little chill in the air."
Janeway settled down in front of the holographic fire, with Chakotay beside her. There were about two dozen other crewmembers present. She noticed that Seven and the Doctor appeared to be in their own little world.
"So are we going to tell ghost stories?" Chakotay asked cheerfully.
"If we are then I have a story that should frighten everyone sufficiently," Neelix said.
"I don't know about that, Neelix." Janeway gestured vaguely at the small crowd. "We're Starfleet officers. We don't scare easy."
Neelix laughed. "This one would chill the blood of Kahless himself."
"Ah, but will it rattle the nerves of Kathryn Janeway? I think that is a truer test." Chakotay grinned and ducked in mock terror when she swatted him.
When the laughter died down, Neelix began his tale.
The two biggest villages on the northern continent of the planet Zoflu were Asduff and Adleaf. To reach one from the other, back in the old times, was a long and dangerous journey through the Great Forest. Travelers could shave time off their travels by crossing the Great Plain, but few dared to try.
The Great Forest was full of dangers, but they were dangers which were known and understood. Dangers which could be seen, and faced, and overcome. But the dangers of the Great Plain were mysterious and therefore all the more deadly. Many of those who tried to cross it were never heard from again. Those who survived the journey told fantastic and terrifying tales. No one ever crossed it twice.
Jhan had heard all of the tales, each one more chilling than the last. Once, he had even met an old man who claimed to have crossed the Great Plain many years before. His goal, from that day forward, was to cross it himself.
He had always been average, all of his life. Crossing the Great Plain would make him a hero, admired by all. He would cross it, and face its dangers bravely. He would succeed where others had failed. He would have the courage to repeat the journey, and all would know of Jhan, the Master of the Great Plain. And so he planned, and daydreamed, and counted the days until he would be old enough to be sent on a journey to Adleaf.
The day came in his eighteenth summer. The village elders sent out a call for a young man or woman willing to make the journey so that a trade meeting could be arranged between Adleaf and Asduff. Jhan was the first to volunteer.
"Go through the forest, Jhan," they warned. "That will be adventure enough for your first journey."
But Jhan was a stubborn young man. He had been into the forest many times, to hunt and to forage. The forest offered no mystery to him. He wanted to explore the Great Plain. He wanted to be the first to cross it twice.
And so Jhan set off across the plain, against the advice of all. If he failed to return on time, his village would be forced to send out a second messenger. But he knew it wouldn't be necessary. He would conquer the Great Plain.
In the daylight, the terrain didn't seem threatening at all. In fact, it seemed far safer than the forest. The ground was flat and smooth. There were no tree roots or rocks to trip over. No large carnivorous beasts had left evidence of their passing. There were no trees for unknown dangers to lurk behind, and the view was clear as far as the eye could see.
And then night fell.
It was dark. Darker than night in the village ever could be. Darker even than night had seemed in the Great Forest. And it was silent. No birds or night creatures broke the stillness with their cries. There were no trees to shake their leaves in the wind. Just darkness and silence.
Jhan tried to light his torch, but the fire wouldn't catch in the wind. Not since he was a small boy had Jhan struggled to make fire, but tonight the elements were stubborn. Even his best attempts at shielding his torch from the wind failed. Jhan started to think it wasn't the wind, but he didn't want to imagine what else it could be.
He sat down in the dark, and shivered.
Time passed with infinite slowness. Jhan experienced each minute fully, aware of the silence and the cold. Hours seemed to pass, and yet dawn did not come. Finally, unable to sit and wait another moment, Jhan stood and began to walk, blind, across the dark and silent plain.
Each step into the black void had the potential to spell disaster for the young man, but he couldn't seem to stop. He could not sit still and wait for dawn. His fear knew no patience.
Then it happened.
Neelix looked around at his tense audience. Everyone leaned towards him expectantly as he paused, allowing the suspense to build.
Suddenly, an eerie green light illuminated the barren plain. Jhan's heart froze in his chest. Blinded by the unanticipated intensity of the glow, he could hardly make out the ghostly apparition that emerged from the column of light.
"Why have you come here?" A harsh, menacing voice with a strange, alien quality. "You do not belong here," the voice accused. "This is our place."
"Who are you?" Jhan managed to ask.
But the voice did not answer.
"Who are you?" Jhan asked again, louder.
The voice still did not answer.
Jhan gathered his courage and tried again. "Who are you?"
"Silence!" the voice rasped.
Jhan stood his ground, trembling, but remained silent. He remembered one tale he had heard about a mysterious creature which emerged from a column of fire to chase a brave adventurer across the plain. Was this the creature? He didn't remember hearing that it could talk.
"Please," Jhan whispered. "I am Jhan of Asduff, and I was just trying to reach Adleaf. Please let me continue on my journey."
"What is this Adleaf?" the voice asked.
And so, Jhan told the voice about his people, and the two villages. He told it about the trade meeting. He told it about the legends of the Great Plain.
The voice laughed a great raspy laugh when he told of the column of fire. At last, Jhan finished, and the voice was heard again. "You have amused me, so I will not trouble you further. But I cannot speak for the others. If you travel here again, it will be at your peril. Now turn back, and make your journey through the forest."
But Jhan had no desire to turn back. He would not go through the forest now. He had come this far. He would cross the Great Plain.
Dawn was breaking. Jhan's fear lessened, and he hurried to finish his crossing before night came again. All day he rushed. He did not stop to rest. He did not stop to eat. He barely slowed to sip water from his canteen.
But hurry as he might, Jhan could not outrun the night. Blackness descended upon the land once again. Jhan was once again faced with the total and complete darkness of the Great Plain.
He did not attempt to light his torch. He knew the ground was flat. He knew the way was clear. But most of all, he knew that fire would not protect him if something came to seek him in the darkness.
This time, there was no green light.
This time, there was no raspy voice.
This time was different.
Neelix again paused, teasing his audience. He smiled to himself. The suspense was building.
In the distance, Jhan could see two beings, glowing, but insubstantial. They were moving, circling each other, dancing to and fro in their own gray light, and Jhan had no choice but to continue in their direction.
"I am not afraid," Jhan told himself with each step. "They will not hurt me and I am not afraid."
He walked towards the ethereal beings.
He was not afraid.
He got closer.
He was not afraid.
He moved closer still.
The beings noticed him.
He was afraid.
They rose above him, angry to have been disturbed.
Jhan quaked in fear, sure that death was now upon him.
And then it was daylight.
Jhan, having missed two nights of sleep, was tired. But he continued on as the forest loomed into sight. He was glad. His thoughts were filled with how much spookier and forlorn the Great Plain seemed by the light of day, now that he had glimpsed its nighttime mysteries.
Sam broke the silence. "The Great Plains in that story reminded me of the moors in Wuthering Heights; now there was a book that could always make me cry."
"I have never understood the human need to cry over fictional events," Seven said. "If it isn't real, why mourn over it?"
"It can be enriching, therapeutic even, to empathize with a character and share something outside your own experiences," Janeway explained.
"Perhaps you should find a novel to read," the Doctor said. "I, personally, have enjoyed many pieces of literature. Dante, for example." He smiled at the captain, who had given him his copy of La Vita Nuova.
"I did read A Christmas Carol, at your suggestion. While an interesting study of human nature, it failed to induce an emotional response."
"Really?" Sam asked. "Dickens usually gets to me."
"How about A Tale of Two Cities? That would bring tears to anyone's eyes. Now there's a heartbreaking story of unrequited love." Tom struggled not to look directly at the captain. "When Sydney Carton takes the place of Charles Darnay in that prison cell...How can you help but cry?"
Harry shook his head. "I never liked that story. It's just too sad. He never even tells..." He shot his friend a questioning look.
"Lucy," Tom supplied.
"...that he loves her," Harry continued, "And he gives his life so that she can be with another man."
"Who would do that?" a voice asked in the darkness.
"I would," Chakotay said quietly. He sounded oddly distant. Janeway wondered if he was even aware that his hand had slid around her waist. "There is no greater pain than to lose someone you love; she loved another, not him, so he died to spare her that suffering. I can think of no sacrifice too great when it comes to the person that you love. Their needs come first. That's what it means to love."
Janeway was extremely grateful for the darkness, because she was unable to keep her eyes from filling with tears. This wonderful man deserved someone who could return his love freely. He always put her needs ahead of his own; she had no doubt that he would go so far as to sacrifice his life for her happiness.
What right did she have to expect him to wait, perhaps indefinitely, based on a promise that hadn't even been spoken aloud? And yet he would wait, and she loved him for it, even as she felt guilty for doing so.
They returned to his quarters, and he served her a cup of herbal tea. They sat on either end of the couch, silently enjoying each other's company for a while.
"Stay." His request hung in the air.
She knew his intentions were platonic. He was offering her sleep, as they had discussed earlier, and meant nothing more. And part of her was sorely tempted. But part of her wanted to flee, and part of her just wanted desperately to misinterpret his intention, crawl over to him, and kiss him with all of the passion he deserved. She found that the best she could manage was to not burst into tears at the sheer injustice of it all.
Chakotay had expected one of two responses from Kathryn; either a wordy argument or the wordless compliance of two nights previous. He certainly had not expected this look of pain upon her face. "Kathryn?"
Ironic, she thought miserably, usually she could talk to him about anything. She composed herself. "We'll compromise. I'm going back to my quarters, but if I end up here again, then we'll work something out."
"I'll agree," he replied carefully, knowing that in reality he had no choice in the matter. "But only under one condition."
"I want you to promise me that you won't just suffer alone. If you can't sleep again, or have another nightmare, I want to know." He moved closer to her and took her hand. "Look at me, and promise."
The Borg cube fired again. Voyager rocked under the impact. Shields were failing. Janeway whirled towards the ops station, barely keeping her feet. Harry was knocked backwards. Unconscious or dead, she didn't know.
A voice from Engineering. Lieutenant Carey. B'Elanna was dead. Tom barely had time to mourn; the conn erupted in a shower of sparks, and he was gone as well.
She had failed them all. Janeway lunged for the helm, desperate to finish what Tom had been trying to do despite the plasma shooting out of the console. But Chakotay was quicker, and so she was still alive when the ship jumped to warp. But Chakotay was not.
Janeway sat up in bed, the horrible image of her first officer's charred features still fresh in her mind. She got up and paced, reluctant to keep her promise to Chakotay.
"Computer, locate the Doctor."
"The EMH is in cargo bay two."
She paced some more. She replicated herself a glass of warm milk. She found a book and sat staring blankly at the first page. She'd had a fair amount of sleep the last few days. Tonight, she could do without.
Chakotay paced around his quarters. He knew she wasn't sleeping. Could he trust her to keep her word? Ordinarily, yes. But in this case, he seriously doubted it. He headed for her quarters.
She looked up at him in surprise. He'd let himself into her quarters. She hadn't expected that. He crossed the room and stood before her. "You shouldn't make promises you don't intend to keep, Kathryn. Now are you coming to bed or do I have to carry you there?"
She opened her mouth to object. He took another step towards her. Suddenly afraid he would actually pick her up, and unwilling to turn the incident into a confrontation, she put aside her book and stood. He let her lead the way back to his quarters.
Chakotay was on the turbolift, standing beside Kathryn. She turned to him, looking him in the eye. Her husky voice matched the unsuppressed passion in her gaze. "Computer, halt turbolift."
He stared at her in surprise. "Kathryn?"
She smiled up at him wickedly and slid her hands up his chest. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him towards her. "What are you waiting for, Chakotay?" she asked with false innocence. "Kiss me."
As if in a trance, he lowered his mouth to hers, and as their lips made contact any thought of holding back was shattered. His arms encircled her body without his conscious intervention. His tongue danced with hers and he felt her moan into his mouth.
Her hands were in his hair, trying to pull him even closer. She was pressing her body against his. Her hands traveled down his back, grasping at his buttocks and forcing him nearer still.
Her treacherous hands moved again, tugging urgently at his clothing. She managed to free him of his jacket. She yanked at his turtleneck and forced him back against the wall to kiss his chest.
She paused for a moment in her assault, unzipping her own uniform as he struggled to catch his breath. He watched in stunned disbelief as she pulled her turtleneck over her head, leaving her clad only in the gray cotton undergarment beneath. She launched herself back into his arms, kissing him fiercely.
He caressed the bare skin of her lower back as their tongues again tangled. Her busy hands found the front of his trousers.
He woke up, gasping for air. He looked at the woman laying beside him, and cursed himself for his thoughts. Her hand had escaped the confines of the blankets and was resting on his chest. He was surprised that the pounding of his heart hadn't disturbed her sleep. He lay there, trying to relax and direct his thoughts away from his reaction to her accidental touch.
"I'm having second thoughts about all of this," Tom admitted to B'Elanna and Harry. "Chakotay doesn't need any urging; he's just waiting for her."
"And I think he'd really wait another thirty years if necessary." B'Elanna shook her head and sighed. "Did you hear the emotion in his voice as he explained the meaning of love? I don't see how she can choose to ignore that."
"Don't think she wasn't affected." Tom defended his captain fiercely. "She was. I saw her fighting back tears last night."
"So maybe that means that this is all working," Harry said. "We're making it harder for her to keep it all bottled up."
"But is that really fair?" Tom asked. "We need to convince them to go forward, not just rub their noses in what they seem to think they can't ever have."
"Maybe we need to discuss their various excuses and see if we can't find a way to remove some of them," the Doctor suggested as he arrived.
Seven was right behind him. "Torturing them does lack efficiency."
The holodeck doors opened again, admitting Neelix, Sam, Joe, Lyssa, Megan, Garan, and several dozen other crew members.
"Did it occur to any of you that entering in a pack is probably a little obvious?" Tom asked.
"Don't worry, Tom," Neelix said. "Tuvok's on the bridge and Captain Janeway is in Chakotay's quarters."
Tom gave him a look. "I thought we agreed not to use the internal sensors for that, but what do you mean the captain is in Chakotay's quarters?"
"Oh, don't get excited," B'Elanna said. "He probably just made her breakfast again."
"She made him dinner last night," Neelix announced.
Harry waved his hand dismissively. "So? They always eat together."
"Ah, but she never cooks." Neelix wagged a finger at the group.
"There's a reason for that, you know," Tom said. "And if she cooked for him last night, then she's probably in his quarters now just to make sure that she didn't poison him."
Lyssa Campbell disagreed. "After that speech he gave at the bonfire last night, maybe she finally gave in. I know I would have."
"I'm afraid that's wishful thinking," B'Elanna said. "But I'll see if I can't catch Chakotay alone sometime today."
"Be discreet." Tom's unnecessary warning was rewarded with a dirty look from B'Elanna.
"Be discreet," Harry muttered. "This from the one who got kicked off the bridge for humming."
Janeway slipped out of bed, careful not to wake Chakotay. He needed to catch up on some sleep. There was an advantage to being the captain; she could take him off the duty roster for the day. Then again, if she weren't captain, she'd be able to reward his most recent helpfulness in much more interesting ways.
Again, for what must have been the thousandth time in the last week or so, Janeway had to chide herself for her inappropriate thoughts. What had happened to the day when she only fantasized about seducing Chakotay once or twice a week, rather than once or twice an hour? She headed off in search of breakfast, and, more importantly, coffee.
B'Elanna headed for the mess hall, half hoping to catch Chakotay. Instead, she was surprised to see the captain eating breakfast alone.
"Good morning, Captain. Where's Chakotay?"
"Asleep." The word slipped out before Janeway had a chance to think. She looked at B'Elanna. The chief engineer didn't seem to question how the captain had come by her knowledge of the first officer's sleeping habits. "Care to join me?"
The last thing B'Elanna wanted was for the captain to read any sign of shock on her face. It wasn't possible that Lyssa was right, was it? Neelix had said the captain was in Chakotay's quarters earlier. No, without more proof, B'Elanna wouldn't believe it. After all, there were thousands of possible innocent explanations, most of which were more likely.
Regardless, B'Elanna decided to keep the conversation on neutral topics. If she had managed to get Chakotay alone, she probably could have wheedled some information from him, but she doubted that she'd have the same ability with Janeway. She and the captain sat and discussed engineering issues over breakfast, and neither mentioned the commander again.
When the captain arrived on the bridge without the first officer, Tom decided to try to take advantage of the situation. Although he wasn't sure how, he wanted to work on the captain alone. He would have felt guilty inflicting further torture on poor Chakotay at this point, but he wanted some clue as to what was causing Janeway to hold back.
He was surprised when B'Elanna emerged from the turbolift and headed for the science station. She leaned over and whispered something to Samantha, who nodded. Both women glanced at Tom. Were they laughing at him? He watched as B'Elanna took the engineering station herself.
Tom tried to catch B'Elanna's eye, but failed. He turned to Harry, who only shrugged. It wasn't long before the usual idle chatter took over the bridge.
"...so therefore, since the tree falling produces sound waves, it is illogical to say that it makes no sound, regardless of whether anyone is present to hear it or not."
"That was fun. Anyone else have a pointless issue to debate?" Tom asked.
Samantha Wildman spoke up. "How about the question of the lady and the tiger?"
"I do not believe I am familiar with that question, Ensign." Tuvok replied. "Please elaborate."
"A princess falls in love with a commoner. Her father refuses to let them be together, and subjects him to a cruel punishment. He is sent into an arena, and must choose between two doors. Behind one door is a hungry tiger; behind the other is a potential bride.
"The princess knows what lies behind each door, and as her lover enters the arena, she secretly indicates which door she wishes him to choose. The question, therefore, is whether he opens the door to be greeted by the lady, or the tiger."
Janeway shrugged. "I've always failed to see the dilemma. It's the lady. Issues of basic morality aside, if she loves him at all, then how could she possibly choose otherwise?"
"But perhaps he'd prefer the tiger." Chakotay stepped out of the turbolift and headed for his seat.
Janeway looked at her first officer with surprise, both at his presence and at his words. "Wouldn't that be a little extreme, Commander? I can't possibly see how it could be the tiger; she'd have to be heartless."
"I didn't say that she would choose the tiger."
"You have overlooked part of the puzzle, Captain," Tuvok said. "The question is not merely which would she choose, but what is behind the door that he opens."
"He may not trust her," Samantha suggested. "Does he really open the door she indicates?"
Tom had a slightly different theory. "The real question is how well he knows her heart, and what does he choose himself."
"I see only one logical course of action," Chakotay decided. "He shouldn't open the door she indicates, but the other."
"That's what I would do," Tom agreed.
"How do you figure?" Harry asked.
"If she loves him unselfishly, she'll send him to the lady. In that case, she is worth dying for, and he should chose the tiger," Chakotay explained. "If she has chosen the tiger, then he is better off to go on with his life without her. He should chose the lady."
"Exactly." Tom was nodding in agreement.
Janeway shook her head. "I disagree. How could he knowingly chose the tiger? He'd be gone, leaving her to live the rest of her life thinking that he didn't trust her."
"I would hope that she'd realize his choice, and understand," Chakotay answered.
Before Janeway could open her mouth to argue, Tuvok spoke up again. "There is a flaw in your logic, Commander. Death is rarely the logical choice, yet in the scenario you have drawn, it is the more probable outcome."
"Don't you see, Tuvok?" Tom asked. "It isn't about logic, it's about love. He doesn't want her to picture him in the arms of another woman."
"So he chooses to die?" B'Elanna decided that she'd heard enough impractical sappiness from both Tom and Chakotay. "I think you two are both being foolish. And here's a question: What about this other woman? Why must she be a pawn in this sick game?"
Captain Janeway laughed. "I have to agree with you, B'Elanna. It's hardly fair to her at all."
"I guess if we think about the lady, things get a little more complex," Harry decided seriously. "No one ever gives her any thought."
"Do you think she'd be insulted that he chose a violent death over life with her?" Tom said. "And how does the tiger feel about all of this?"
Chakotay chuckled. "The tiger is probably content either way, Tom. It is unaware of the dilemma, but might possibly get a tasty treat."
That was better, B'Elanna decided. She exchanged a look with the captain, who seemed to agree. Perhaps she was reading too much into it, but B'Elanna fancied that Janeway was even a bit grateful for the lighter mood.
Personally, she was just glad that Tom hadn't had the chance to put his foot in his mouth. The look in his eye as they left the meeting had prompted her to head up to the bridge to babysit, and she wasn't sorry that she had.
When Tom had announced that he planned on staging yet another movie in the holodeck, Chakotay was thrilled. Of all the possible evening activities, a film definitely required the least effort from those in attendance, and Chakotay was sorely in need of rest. Sitting quietly in the dark was something he could handle.
He looked at Kathryn, seated beside him, and grinned. "So what do you think Tom will be showing us this evening? Another fascinating look at the twentieth century's view of the future?"
She returned his smile. "Does it matter?" Had she said that out loud? She might have been more annoyed with herself if not for the delighted amusement she read in his expression. She could stare at those dimples all night.
He chuckled softly. "No, it certainly doesn't."
He was surprised she had said that. Regulating the exact amount of flirting required for their unique relationship was complicated. It was a vital element. It was part of what kept their unspoken promise for the future alive. But too much was dangerous, and Kathryn was usually far more cautious.
The lights dimmed. Chakotay put an arm around Kathryn and gave her shoulder an affectionate squeeze. She slid an arm around him as well, and rested her head on his shoulder once again.
They both made an effort to watch the screen. At the very least, they should learn the title of the film. Ah, there it was. Good, because he had lost interest. Chakotay found Kathryn's hand and brushed her fingers with his lips. She shivered.
He was wondering how he was going to make it through the evening without kissing her. For some inscrutable reason they had both decided that all of the rules didn't quite apply while in this theater, but he knew that once he kissed her, there was no going back. That barrier could not be taken down; there were larger issues at stake.
She wanted to kiss him. She wanted very badly to kiss him. In fact, she wanted to do much more than kiss him. Her fingers still tingled from the contact with his lips. She was acutely aware that his thumb was tracing circles on the back of her hand.
Her eyes drifted shut and she wished that they were anywhere, absolutely anywhere, but on Voyager's holodeck in the Delta Quadrant. It didn't matter where, just somewhere where she wasn't the captain; somewhere where she was free to love this man.
The film, which involved a man somehow trapped in an ancient computer game, was uninspiring. Chakotay decided he probably couldn't have made himself pay attention to it even without the distracting presence of Kathryn. It felt so good to hold her. He thought of all the times he had longed to put his arm around her, but couldn't, and was grateful for the opportunity this holodeck program provided.
He shifted ever so slightly, resting his cheek against her hair, and closed his eyes. This was as it should be. He had never been more content in his life. He allowed himself to daydream about a future in the Alpha Quadrant, and he was soon asleep.
Janeway ignored the film, listening instead to the soothing sound of Chakotay's heartbeat. Someday, she promised him silently, someday we'll be home. She too eventually dozed off.
By the time the movie ended, the theater was almost empty. Even Tom had nodded off, and B'Elanna had apparently abandoned him. The absence of sound woke him, and he got up to leave. Then he noticed the two people seated behind him.
They were asleep in each other's arms. Her head rested on his shoulder, his face was buried in her hair. Tom decided that they looked far too happy to disturb.
"Computer, remove the armrest between seats..." Tom counted quickly. "...H5 and H6 and play music selection Paris beta one."
He regarded the sleeping couple thoughtfully. "Computer, add footrests and gradually recline seats forty five degrees." He watched tensely as the seats shifted, fearing the movement would wake them.
Chakotay stirred slightly and seemed to tighten his hold on the captain. Tom smiled. He made several other program modifications, until the pair was asleep on something resembling a bed.
"Computer, give me a medium weight quilt." Tom carefully covered his commanding officers with the holographic blanket, and with that, he turned to leave. "Lights off. Engage privacy locks. Sleep well, children."
The Delta Flyer was practically bursting with supplies from a successful trading mission. Chakotay was now piloting it back to the rendezvous point, where they would be rejoining Voyager.
Kathryn got up from her seat to his left, and to his utter shock climbed into his lap. She wrapped her arms around his neck and smiled mischievously. "Are you going to kiss me or do I have to make it an order?"
His eyes drifted shut and his lips met hers. He felt her tongue seeking entrance to his mouth, and he parted his lips as he enfolded her body in his arms. He savored the feeling of her body pressed against his as their kiss gained momentum.
For the third night in a row, Chakotay awoke with a pounding heart. There was a pleasant, warm weight on his chest. Kathryn. She was snuggled up to him, with her head on his chest. Her steady breathing told him that she was sound asleep. He had his arm around her. At least they both seemed to be dressed.
He was puzzled as to how this turn of events had come to pass, but he didn't dare wake her. If the situation embarrassed her, then she would certainly go back to sleeping alone; or more accurately, not sleeping at all. It would be far better if she were to think him unaware of her proximity. He would have to lay quietly and wait for her to wake up on her own, then feign sleep when she did.
Chakotay tried to remember the previous evening, but he could remember nothing after the dull movie. He couldn't even remember leaving the dull movie, and he had a sudden horrifying thought. With the arm that wasn't holding Kathryn, he reached out into the dark to explore his surroundings. They were not in his quarters. They were still on the holodeck, albeit with some modifications.
He thought frantically. Kathryn would not be amused if she knew that they had been caught napping in the theater. He wasn't happy about it himself. And someone had most certainly caught them; the program had been altered to provide them with a mattress and blanket. It had to be Paris' handiwork.
What were his options? If he called for a site to site transport, then he'd alert both engineering and security to their dilemma. Anything he did ran the risk of waking Kathryn. Yet they certainly couldn't stay here much longer. He took a moment to memorize the glorious feeling of holding her sleeping form, then gently tried to extract himself from beneath her. She mumbled, then woke.
"Chakotay?" Her voice was still heavy with sleep. She tried to get her bearings.
"It seems we've been the victims of a practical joke," he told her reluctantly. "Switch combadges with me, and I'll have you transported to my quarters. I'll be along after I've killed Tom Paris."
"No," she said softly. "I'll take care of Paris in the morning. We can walk back to your quarters together."
"Tom did what?" Harry stood and stared at B'Elanna with his mouth hanging open.
"He left Chakotay and the captain asleep on the holodeck," she said. "If they're still in there, we'll have to hold the meeting in the cargo bay."
"What about holodeck two?"
"Tuvok's in there."
"Oh." Harry noticed the look on B'Elanna's face. "What is it, Maquis?"
She grinned. "Wait until you hear what Tom's got planned for tonight, Starfleet."
Janeway looked none too happy when she arrived on the bridge. "Paris, my ready room. Now."
When they were alone, she gave him a stern look. "Explain yourself, Mister Paris."
"The movie was a little dull, Captain, as you obviously noticed. When it ended, I realized everyone had snuck out early. Except for you and Chakotay, of course. I didn't want to wake you, so I just modified the program a little." Tom managed to look reasonably serious. "No one else saw you, I swear. Not even B'Elanna. And I engaged the privacy locks."
"Well, as much as I appreciate that," Janeway drawled, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "I'd advise you not to pull a stunt like that again."
"With all due respect, Captain, what should I have done?" His eyes glinted with amusement. "If I had left you in theater seats, then you'd blame my dull movie for your sore necks. I couldn't have that."
She felt her anger eroding a bit. Tom Paris was one of the few who treated her like a person as well as a captain. He had treated her no differently than he would have treated any hapless crewman who fell asleep on the holodeck. Part of her didn't mind at all.
"No harm done, I suppose. But next time, wake us up."
Tom couldn't resist. "Next time, Captain?"
"I'd advise you leave before I change my mind and throw you in the brig."
Neither of them were entirely sure whether or not she was joking.
Another day of dull routine and casual banter drew to a close for Voyager's alpha shift. The captain and first officer returned to her quarters for dinner. Neither of them had mentioned the holodeck all day.
Chakotay approached the subject with care. "I noticed that Paris is still breathing."
"I'd hate to lose our best pilot. And I'm a little afraid of B'Elanna."
"Oh yeah? And here I thought Kathryn Janeway wasn't afraid of anything."
"I'm a little leery of what Neelix may have planned for tonight. Why won't he tell us?"
Before either of them could speculate further, they heard the whine of a transporter beam. Both were instantly alert as they watched a shape materialize above the couch. Empty blue fabric collapsed onto the furniture.
"What the - " she started to ask. Her combadge chirped.
"Paris to Janeway."
"Janeway," she responded crisply. "I assume this is your doing, Tom?"
"Just a little thank you gift for not throwing me in the brig this morning. I thought you might like to wear it tonight; maybe it will keep the commander awake."
She ignored the quip and held up the garment. Tom had good taste. What there was of it was breathtaking.
Spirits, seeing her in that will keep me awake for a week, Chakotay thought. He was torn between the desire to thank Tom and the desire to murder him.
With tremendous effort, he managed to speak. "Well, it looks like I'd better go change. I'm about to be severely underdressed."
She seriously considered not wearing the dress. Between the height of the hemline and the revealing cut of the bodice, it was hardly appropriate attire for the captain of a Starfleet vessel. But, truth be told, she was rather proud of the fact that she could pull it off.
Besides, she couldn't stand the thought of facing Tom if she didn't wear the thing; he was probably preparing to torment her mercilessly for not being brave enough to wear his gift. She decided to call his bluff. It would serve the helmsman right if B'Elanna happened to learn the origin of the dress.
Chakotay suffered a moment's confusion when Ensign Vorik intercepted him in the corridor. With typical Vulcan calm, he presented the first officer with some clothing. "Lieutenant Paris asked me to deliver these, sir."
"Is Lieutenant Paris dressing the entire crew this evening, Ensign?"
The Vulcan didn't miss a beat. "As illogical as that does seem, sir, I believe your conclusion to be correct. This has not been my only delivery."
A half hour later Chakotay returned to the captain's quarters, still wondering how Tom had scraped together enough replicator rations to outfit half the crew in formal wear. All ship related issues fled the instant he laid eyes on Kathryn. He suddenly developed a heart arrhythmia and breathing became a complicated task.
"Wow," he gasped. He couldn't have torn his eyes away from her to save his life. "Wow."
"I'm glad you approve, Chakotay," she said softly. She saw the naked hunger in his eyes and couldn't quite bring herself to mind. She gave him an appraising look and was not disappointed. "You clean up pretty darn well yourself."
Later, he wondered by what herculean effort he managed to not pick her up and carry her into the bedroom. Instead, he took both of her hands in his and leaned in to gently kiss her cheek.
Her skin quivered at his touch. She concentrated very hard on breathing. It would have been so easy to turn her head ever so slightly, brush his lips with her own, forget all about Starfleet and fall into his arms.
The air around them crackled with tension. It was Chakotay who managed to gather his senses first. "Well, we should get going."
"Yes, we should."
Neither of them moved.
"Could I have my hands back now?"
"Oh, right." Flustered, he tried to smile. "Sorry."
Guiltily, she realized that she was enjoying this; she wasn't exactly accustomed to having this effect on men. While she considered herself adequately attractive, only Chakotay looked at her and saw a striking beauty.
She wondered just how long they could afford to stand and stare at each other, then decided they were already in dangerous territory. She slid her arm through Chakotay's and they headed for the turbolift.
Tom Paris was grinning like a child on Christmas morning as he stood in the holodeck and surveyed the fruits of his labor. It hadn't been easy, but he had managed to get several dozen members of the crew into formal attire. Harry Kim was escorting Lyssa Campbell. They made an attractive couple, Tom decided, taking a moment to appreciate how the pretty blonde ensign looked in her emerald green dress.
Samantha Wildman sported a high necked sleeveless gown in rich burgundy. Megan Delaney wore daring red, and not much of it, while her sister Jenny was dressed more conservatively in soft pink. Tom had insisted that the captain be the only one in blue, and despite the fact that B'Elanna thought he was being exceptionally silly, everyone had played along.
Quite a few crew members seemed to be benefiting from Tom's plan. Billy Telfer didn't seem to be capable of prying his eyes off of Tal Celes, and she certainly didn't appear to mind. Mariah Henley and Marla Gilmore were attracting attention as well.
Keeping his own eyes off of B'Elanna was going to present something of a challenge for the evening. Dressed in a simple black gown with spaghetti straps, she was across the room, fiddling with the Doctor's mobile emitter. Seven stood beside her in a full length, curve hugging silver number.
The captain made her entrance, and Tom gulped. She looked every bit as amazing as he had imagined she would in that dress. He whistled as the command team approached him. "Not many Starfleet captains have legs like that."
"I only know of one." Chakotay turned and grinned at his companion.
She swatted his arm and laughed. "Gentlemen, please. Kissing up to the captain isn't necessary."
B'Elanna sidled up to Tom. "Close your mouth, my dear, you're drooling."
Tom slid his arm around B'Elanna's waist and tried feebly to defend himself. "You know I only have eyes for you."
"Yeah, right." She shot him a menacing look, then broke into a grin. "Why can I never stay mad at you?"
"Because I'm irresistible?" Tom batted his eyelashes ridiculously and earned a scornful snort from his beloved.
"I'm glad to see so many crew members in attendance tonight," Neelix was saying. "Since everyone is probably anxious to get started, I'll make this brief. The rules are simple. To remain in the game, you must not break contact with your partner at any time. The last couple left dancing is the winner."
Chakotay was torn between elation and sincere worry. On one hand, he wanted nothing more than to have Kathryn in his arms all night. On the other hand, he very much feared that he didn't possess the amount of self control that would be required under those circumstances.
Her thoughts ran along the same lines. If Chakotay crossed the line by so much as an inch, her resolve would crumble into dust, and she knew it. But she wasn't going to squander this opportunity; excuses to dance with her handsome first officer were usually few and far between.
Chakotay took her hand in his and they moved onto the dance floor together. The hand not holding hers came to rest on her slender waist. Their eyes met and they shared a smile. He chuckled. "Shall we try to win this thing?"
"Oh, absolutely." Her blue eyes glittered with mischief. "I think it's our sacred duty to defeat Tom Paris."
Instead of agreeing, as she had expected, he pulled her closer and whispered in her ear. "I don't know. I'm pretty happy with Tom right now." When she looked at him in surprise, he grinned and pushed his luck. "Do you have any idea how beautifully that dress matches your eyes?"
"I might have some idea," she answered quietly, her heart hammering madly. She tried desperately to find a safer topic. She spotted Harry and his date. "When did Harry start seeing Ensign Campbell?"
He recognized her attempt to change the subject, and reluctantly complied. "That must be a recent development. I hadn't heard anything."
"Maybe they aren't." She shrugged. For a moment, they both tried very hard to care about whether or not the ops officer was dating the transporter chief.
Their failing efforts were interrupted when the music increased in tempo. Relieved, they faced the challenge of an assortment of dance steps from around the Federation.
Not surprisingly, most of the selections seemed to have their origin on twentieth century Earth. Dancing the twist without losing body contact proved something of a challenge, but they managed, clinging firmly to each other's hands.
Something called the hustle tricked a few couples into accidentally breaking apart. The fast dances were promptly discontinued after a Spanish dance which involved clapping. Calling fowl, a number of couples chose to simply ignore the pace of the music.
Janeway and Chakotay felt obligated to be good sports. He wrapped his arms firmly around her waist and declared that she could clap for both of them. They didn't dance particularly well, but they didn't lose contact. They were laughing and panting by the time the music finally slowed again.
Chakotay was busy trying to ignore the enticement presented by Kathryn's bare shoulders when he caught her grinning at him.
"What?" He searched her face for a clue as to the source of her amusement.
She nodded in the direction of an enthusiastic Megan Delaney, who was draped over a rather shell shocked Lieutenant Chell.
He smiled as well. "I guess she's given up on me."
"Not even slightly. She's not my type."
Against her own better judgment, she asked the obvious question. "And just what is your type, Chakotay?"
You, every fiber of his being screamed silently, you and only you. The answer to her teasing question became immensely important as he tried to find a way to say what he felt without really saying it. His answer needed to fit with the rules of their relationship.
The intensity of his gaze unnerved her slightly as she awaited his reply. When it came, almost too late to pass off as easy banter, his light tone was at odds with the sincerity in his eyes.
"My type? She'd have to be perfect. Auburn hair, of course. Stunning blue eyes full of wisdom. Beauty. Brains. Incredible courage." He grinned. "And I have always been partial to amazing legs."
She melted. This was the moment she had feared for so long; the moment when her self control let her down. Her hands slid behind his neck of their own volition and their eyes met as she pulled him towards her.
Just kiss her, his heart screamed. If only he believed that a soul-searing kiss would permanently destroy the boundaries, leading to a new life together. But he knew the difference between reality and fantasy, and he thoroughly understood the potential consequences. He could neither kiss her nor let her kiss him.
Instead, he brought his hand to her face, lightly tracing her lips with the tip of his finger. She closed her eyes at his touch. Her defenses were down, and in this moment he was seeing a Kathryn he had glimpsed only fleetingly before. He drank in the sight. His hand slipped into her hair, and he gently pulled her closer, not to kiss her, but instead to hold her cheek to cheek as they danced.
Chakotay had saved her yet again, she realized gratefully as she struggled to regain control of her senses. She had almost ruined everything; thank goodness he had more self control than she did. Yet even with disaster only narrowly averted, she found herself able to think of little else but the pleasant sensations created by the warm skin of his cheek brushing against her face.
Actual dancing was at this point little more than a pretense, yet neither of them was willing to break contact. Later, they could pretend it was the silly contest, even if they both knew better. Now, they both needed this, and would not be denied.
Eventually, there were only four couples left. Tom and B'Elanna. Seven and the Doctor. Harry and Lyssa. And the command team. In an attempt to distract herself from temptation, Janeway analyzed the remaining competition.
Neither Seven nor the Doctor needed sleep, so they had a definite edge. Yet the newness of their relationship could eventually make the lure of her quarters a bit too strong to ignore.
Tom and B'Elanna didn't lack for stamina, and were both stubborn enough to dance until morning, but they too could possibly succumb to other temptations. Neither was well known for restraint.
Harry and Lyssa were the unknown factor. They were both good officers, and they had performed impressively in much more adverse conditions. If they wanted to win this contest, they were probably capable of doing so. If they were dating, then they hadn't been for long, and that could be either an advantage or a disadvantage.
As for herself and Chakotay, nothing short of a red alert was going to pry her out of his arms. And as tantalizing as the thought of his quarters might be at the moment, that was a temptation she had a great deal of practice ignoring.
She felt the need to break the silence; to ensure that their easy bantering had not been damaged by her earlier actions. She spoke softly. "I think the remaining competition could be a little long on endurance."
Chakotay started a bit at the sound of her voice. They had been silent for a while. For too long, he realized, and she had noticed. He pulled back slightly to look at her face. Did he dare admit that he hadn't heard what she said?
He hadn't heard her, she realized. She tried to clarify her statement without letting him know that she had noticed his lapse. "Seven and the Doctor might last a while at this game."
"It's fine with me if they hold out all night." His voice was thick with emotion. "I'm not really interested in letting you go."
As much as it pained her to do so, she forced herself to add a note of warning to her voice. "Chakotay..."
"I know." His expression was full of longing. He stroked her face tenderly. "But someday."
The word went straight to her heart. The vulnerability in his face made it impossible for her to hide from him in this moment. She let her own emotions show on her face and returned his promise for the future. "Someday."
No word had ever affected him so deeply. He glanced around to make sure they were unobserved, then pressed a kiss to her temple. They pulled each other close again, and danced.
Seven and the Doctor had forgotten all about the commanding officers. Their assignment for the evening had simply been to dance, keeping the contest alive for as long as the captain remained on the floor.
They were doing that, although they no longer consciously remembered why. She was doing things that would have made him forget his own name, if he'd had one.
Tom was depending on Harry to keep an eye on the captain. He could tell that Seven and the Doctor weren't paying attention to anything but each other, and with B'Elanna in his arms he was a bit distracted himself. At the moment, she was biting his neck, and it was driving him wild.
Harry felt like he had been dancing for a week; in truth it had been nearly four hours. He was glad that his partner was Lyssa. Her sense of humor had been tremendously helpful on many an away mission, and it was turning this evening into an enjoyable experience. He was therefore startled when she brushed a tear from her eye.
"Sorry," she whispered. She grinned at him. "I guess they're getting to me."
He turned slightly and glanced at the captain. She and Chakotay appeared to be holding on to each other for dear life. Seven and the Doctor were now locked in a passionate kiss, and Tom's neck appeared to be in serious jeopardy.
Harry looked back at his partner. "Not feeling left out, are you?"
She laughed cheerfully. "Don't worry, Harry. If I get the urge to bite your neck I'll warn you first."
B'Elanna was starting to get frustrated. She hadn't expected Tom to last this long on the dance floor and it usually took far less effort on her part to lure him back to her quarters. She pressed her body more firmly against his and ran her hands down his back to grasp his backside. "Let's go."
When he didn't respond, she slid a hand in between their bodies and grabbed him more convincingly. "Now, Flyboy." Her insistent hand definitely had his attention. "Back to my quarters, or I'll drop your pants right here."
Tom had little doubt that she'd make good on her threat. He glanced around. Seven and the Doctor wouldn't notice; neither would the captain and Chakotay, from the looks of things. Harry and Lyssa appeared to be busily whispering to each other, but they were far from oblivious to their surroundings.
"Okay, let's go," Tom agreed. He really had very little choice in the matter.
Chakotay could have wept with joy. She had said 'someday' to him. It was more than he ever dared to hope, here in the Delta Quadrant. Neither of them had spoken since; they had just danced. It felt so right to have her in his arms; to be able to hold her against his heart. He didn't want this magical night to end.
Someday. The word was the dominant presence in Kathryn's mind. It was a declaration of love, a promise for the future, and at the same time, a promise not to tamper with the present. She remembered how tactfully he had stopped her from kissing him earlier. He understood her so well.
Her savior. That's what he was in so many ways. He had saved her life, her sanity, her very soul. He kept her from being alone out here in the Delta Quadrant. His strong shoulders were always there for her, taking as much of the burden as she was willing to share.
Someday they would be together, really together. Someday, after she got this crew home. Someday, after she had convinced the Federation to pardon the Maquis. Someday, after they had crossed an uncharted thirty thousand light years full of hostile aliens and previously unknown spatial anomalies. But definitely someday.
She had looked into his eyes, so full of love and longing, and had given him the only promise she could. Someday. It wasn't enough. He deserved so much more. But he understood, agreed even, and they could live with it. At least, finally, something had been said out loud. And they had once again been given an excuse to hold each other. She was starting to enjoy this region of space.
Lyssa and Harry shared an awkward laugh as B'Elanna dragged Tom off the holodeck. "And then there were three," Harry said. "If only the captain and Chakotay would follow suit."
"They won't. Not tonight. We need a different strategy."
"What makes you so sure?"
"I heard what they said to each other earlier."
"If this isn't working, then why are we still here?"
"Look at them. That's as close to happy as they ever get. How can we take away their excuse? I'll stay here until my shift starts, if necessary."
Harry glanced at his commanding officers and nodded. "I will, too."
Chakotay didn't want to do what he was about to do. But he had no choice. The ship came first, and Voyager needed reasonably rested commanding officers. "Kathryn?"
"It's past 0200 hours. Tom and B'Elanna left."
She looked at him in shock.
"I guess it's true what they say about time."
"It flies when you're having fun."
"I guess it does."
They had to go. They both knew it. They stalled.
"Harry looks exhausted," she observed. "He can't last much longer."
He grinned at her. "Maybe we can win, after all. Tom and B'Elanna are out."
They both turned to look at Seven and the Doctor.
"Good thing he doesn't really need oxygen," she said, grinning.
He laughed. "Unfortunately, he doesn't need sleep, either. And as much as I hate to admit it, I do."
He felt a tremendous sense of loss when they separated. He made sure Harry and Lyssa weren't looking, then slid an arm around her waist as they walked out.
Relieved when he reestablished contact, she reciprocated, slipping her arm around him as well. They headed for the turbolift.
He gave her a questioning look when they approached his quarters.
"I'll be over in a few minutes," she answered softly.
He nodded, and stood in the entrance way to watch her walk down the corridor to her own door.
Harry and Lyssa weren't sure whether to be relieved or disappointed when Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay left the holodeck.
"I guess we can go now," Harry said.
"In a minute," Lyssa answered. "Let me tell you what I overheard earlier."
"Oh, right," he replied, tired but interested.
"The captain made some comment about the Doctor and Seven, and Chakotay replied by saying 'It's fine with me if they hold out all night. I'm not really interested in letting you go.' Captain Janeway started to say something, and he stopped her and said 'I know, but someday.'"
"Wow. What did she say to that?"
"Someday." Lyssa smiled sadly. "Then he kissed her on the forehead and they went back to dancing."
"That's..." He shook his head.
"I know. We have to find a way."
"Commander, my ready room, now."
Startled, Chakotay shot Kathryn a questioning look, then followed her off of the bridge. The ready room doors slid shut behind them.
"Computer, engage privacy locks," Kathryn ordered as she leaned back against her desk.
"What's this about, Captain?" Chakotay asked.
"It's almost time for crew evaluations," she replied in a voice far too sultry for such a mundane statement. "I thought you might like the opportunity to impress me before I start yours."
Too stunned by her behavior to respond, he merely stood and watched as she none too carefully cleared the surface of her desk. Her hand moved to the zipper of her uniform jacket.
"Are you going to give me a hand with this, Chakotay, or are you just going to stand there gaping?"
He stood there gaping.
Her jacket hit the floor.
A quick movement and her turtleneck followed her jacket.
His control broke. He closed the distance between them swiftly. Placing his hands on either side of her face, he looked deep into her eyes. "Kathryn?"
In answer to his question, she slid her hands around his waist, pulling his body against her own. Her hands moved to liberate him from his uniform. He bent his head and kissed her.
Star Trek™©, Star Trek: The Next Generation™©, Star Trek: Voyager™© and related properties are Registered Trademarks of Paramount Pictures. No copyright infringement intended. No profits made here. © Spiletta42, March 2002.