Day Twelve

Chakotay headed for sickbay the moment he was dressed. One dream he could ignore, it happened, but four in a row? This was getting serious. He couldn't risk a continuation of the pattern; not right now.

"Doctor, I was hoping you could help me out with a problem I've been having. The last couple of nights I've had some...unwelcome dreams." Chakotay looked distinctly uncomfortable. "Is there something you could do to stop them?"

Interesting, thought the Doctor. First the captain, and now the first officer; definitely a pattern. He saw the opportunity to dispense some advice, and took it. "If you're having erotic dreams about one another then my recommendation is to act on them. Physical attraction is not a disease. You can't spend the next forty years taking hormone suppressants, or dream suppressants, or whatever it is you're trying to get me to prescribe."

Chakotay stared at him. "What do you mean, one another?"

Damn. Had he really said that? He'd have to run a diagnostic on his ethical subroutines; that was pretty close to a breach of confidentiality.

The Doctor scrambled to cover. "A slip of the tongue, Commander. Although I would not be surprised if it was true. Why don't you just tell the captain of your feelings for her?"

"I never said it was Kathryn."

"Oh, who the hell else would it be?" The Doctor didn't bother to mask his annoyance. "Really, Commander. I'm not blind."

The first officer eyed the Doctor nervously as he tried to choose between anger and candor. "What gave me away?" he asked at last.

The Doctor almost snorted. "What didn't give you away, Commander? For me, the first clue was the fact that every time she's in the same room, you display the symptoms of the Tanzian flu."

"I guess a man can't hide anything from his doctor," Chakotay said. "I do expect you to keep this to yourself. Please don't say anything to the captain."

"I wouldn't dream of it." The whole ship knows, Commander, he thought. Why not tell the captain? But he held his holographic tongue.

"Where's the Doc?" Tom Paris asked. "We really need to get started."

At Harry's request, the senior staff was meeting privately before the now regular morning meeting. Lyssa Campbell, Joe Carey, and Samantha Wildman had also been included.

"I just had a visit from Chakotay that I wish I could share," the Doctor announced as he arrived. "Unfortunately, my ethical subroutines won't permit me to breach confidentiality."

"What can you say?"

"That we have made progress, but have not achieved success."

"Lyssa, why don't you share what you overheard last night," Harry suggested.

Ensign Campbell repeated what had transpired between the captain and commander on the dance floor. Everyone was silent when she finished. Tom wiped his sleeve across damp eyes, and even B'Elanna didn't offer a comment.

Neelix finally broke the silence. "Is this protocol really that important to Starfleet? I've studied the Prime Directive, and I understand its purpose thoroughly. Yet even that, the Federation's most sacred law, has room for interpretation. Surely Starfleet would make an exception in the case of a lesser rule if there was good reason."

"I believe that it would," Harry answered. "But Captain Janeway is afraid to take a chance."

The truth behind the whole situation struck B'Elanna full force. "Because of the Maquis. She hasn't been afraid to bend the Prime Directive, but then it's only her neck on the line. She's worried about us."

The half-Klingon engineer slumped back in her seat, emanating misery. "She's denying herself happiness because she's worried about her ability to protect us from prosecution when we get home. Well, you know what? I can't accept that. I'd gladly risk time in a rehabilitation colony, but I won't be the reason they can't be together."

No one else spoke. It wasn't their place to agree or disagree. There were no other former Maquis present. Tom had already served time for his very brief stint on Chakotay's ship, and had been aboard Voyager as a Starfleet advisor, and therefore been more or less a part of the Starfleet crew.

Rarely did anyone on Voyager even think about the Maquis situation anymore. They were one crew, and it had been years since they had felt otherwise. Officially commissioned or not, they all thought of themselves as Starfleet now. That a quarter of the crew could be arrested upon returning to Federation space was a fact that B'Elanna had almost forgotten.

It hadn't crossed her mind before that the Maquis situation still had any significant effect on life in the Delta Quadrant.

"Let's go start the meeting," Tom said at last. "We'll find a way to deal with this."

Janeway awoke to find Chakotay already gone. She showered, dressed and headed for the bridge. She found the first officer reading a stack of reports on the command deck.

"Good morning, Captain," he greeted cheerfully. "I hope you slept well."

"Very well, thank you. And you?"

"Well enough," he lied.

The captain turned to her operations officer. "And how about you, Mister Kim? Did you manage to outlast the Doctor and Seven last night?"

"No, Captain. Ensign Campbell and I decided that was a lost cause."

Tom Paris turned from the helm. "Has anyone seen the Doctor or Seven yet this morning? Or are they still on the holodeck?"

Chakotay shifted uncomfortably, wondering if Tom had seen him leave sickbay. No, he decided, the pilot's joke was at the Doctor's expense. He glanced at the captain, and caught her smiling at him. He returned the smile, then looked down at his console.

For the first time in days, Janeway wasn't even bothering to feel guilty about where she had slept. She hadn't had a nightmare since the night of the bonfire, and she rather enjoyed the feeling of being well rested. Besides, with the way Chakotay had taken to making the bed with two sets of sheets, there was little danger of accidental contact. She smiled again. Was it her he did not trust, or himself?

If only I weren't the captain, she thought, not for the first time. If I were still a science officer... She shot an envious glance at Ensign Wildman. Irrational, she realized instantly. Samantha was more then thirty thousand light years from the man she loved. She didn't get to sit beside him on the bridge every day. She couldn't share a laugh with him, or turn to him for support.

A wave of guilt washed over her. Guilt for failing to be grateful for what she had; guilt for daring to want more despite Starfleet protocol; and guilt for her part in stranding Samantha Wildman so far from her husband. She owed this crew a way home, and that meant she had to be the captain, without distractions. She rose from her chair and marched into the ready room, leaving Chakotay with the bridge.

He watched her go, for once baffled. He had seen something resembling anger in her eyes, and something else as well. Pain, perhaps? He considered following her, but was unsure as to the cause of her sudden change of mood. He decided to give her some time alone; she'd call if she needed him, he hoped, and if she didn't, he'd question her over lunch.

B'Elanna was in her office. She used it so rarely that it almost felt like unfamiliar territory to her. As chief engineer, she preferred the hands on approach to sitting behind a desk.

Lieutenant Chell entered hesitantly. "You wanted to see me, Chief?"

"Relax. Have a seat. I have a question for you."


"Have you given any thought to the fate of the Maquis crew once we reach Federation space?"

He eyed her suspiciously. "Not really."

"What if I told you that the captain is holding back from a relationship with Chakotay because she fears it will hurt her ability to keep us out of prison when we get home?"

Understanding dawned on his blue face. "I wouldn't want her to make that sacrifice for us; she's already done so much for this crew. I'm not afraid to face the consequences of my own actions."

"That's what I thought," B'Elanna said. "Everyone I've talked to has said the same thing. Now how do we tell the captain?"

Janeway slumped at her desk and stared at the engineering report with unfocused eyes. Five minutes ago she had been in a good mood. What had changed?

The fact that she couldn't make love to her first officer was hardly new, nor was her desire to do so. Was she just angry at herself for thinking about it on the bridge? That must be it. She needed a distraction.

Engineering, she decided. She'd go lend a hand on one of B'Elanna's many projects. She strode purposefully out of the ready room and headed for the turbolift.

Chakotay stared after her with concern, completely missing the panicked glance exchanged by Harry and Tom. He thought again about following her, and again decided to wait until lunch.

"Good morning, Captain!"

B'Elanna heard Joe's louder then necessary greeting and abruptly broke off her discussion with Garan. Really could have used a warning, Tom, really would have been quite helpful. Had she been overheard? She turned to face the captain.

"I thought you might need an extra set of hands," Janeway explained. "I must admit things are a little dull on the bridge."

The engineer tried not to show visible signs of relief as she responded. "Certainly, Captain. Did you have anything specific in mind?"

When lunchtime came and went with no sign of the captain, Chakotay turned the bridge over to Tom and set off to look for her. He could have just asked the computer for her location, of course, but he wasn't quite willing to admit his purpose.

In sickbay, he found Tuvok drilling the Doctor on Federation law. Tal Celes was alone in astrometrics. Neelix was unaccompanied in the mess hall. Naomi Wildman was using holodeck one; the other was unoccupied. Ensign Campbell sat alone in the transporter room, deeply engrossed in a medical text.

Chakotay avoided stellar cartography; the captain wouldn't be there and he certainly didn't want to encourage Megan Delaney by passing through her territory without a valid reason.

Eventually, the only places left that he could check without being obvious were engineering and deck fifteen. Since the captain had probably visited the latter less then three times in the last six years, he decided on the former.

B'Elanna saw Chakotay stroll into engineering. She tried to pretend that she didn't realize he was looking for the captain, but he wasn't making it easy. And he looked worried.

"She's in Jefferies tube eleven."

"What?" His puzzled look was unconvincing.

"The captain. She's in Jefferies tube eleven."

It crossed his mind that perhaps he should make an excuse. He didn't bother. "Thanks."

Spending the morning in engineering had been a pleasant change of pace. She had now been enjoying the solitude of this particular Jefferies tube for about half an hour, and its charm had started to wear thin. Hunger was just beginning to intrude on her thoughts.


She jumped at the sound of his voice, and extracted herself from an access panel to discover Chakotay crawling towards her.

"I thought you might like some lunch," he offered by way of explanation.

If she was really trying to avoid him, then why was she so darn glad to see him? She put down the hyperspanner she had been using and smiled at him. "I certainly would."

Relief flitted across his face. Had he been expecting her to turn down his offer? She felt a wave of remorse for having worried him.

He handed her a cup of coffee and watched her close her eyes to taste it. One of these days, that would be his undoing. There was nothing quite like the sight of Kathryn Janeway taking a sip of coffee.

She put down her mug and looked up to find him studying her face intently. Concerned that he might have spent an uncomfortable morning rethinking his every action of the previous night, she moved to reassure him.

He felt an electric charge as she placed her hand on his arm. So much of his mental energy was devoted to hiding his response that he almost missed what she said.

"I've heard some interesting gossip about what goes on in these Jefferies tubes."

Was she flirting with him? His pulse raced as he stared at her in amazement. He had to respond. What did she expect him to say? Where was the line, now, exactly?

She'd managed to shock him, she realized as she watched him fish for a response. Should she put him out of his misery, or would that just make it worse?

"You'd have to ask Tom Paris about that," he managed. "I wouldn't know."

The temptation to provide a demonstration almost overwhelmed her. Could she not trust herself to be alone with him anymore? At that chilling thought she managed to pull herself together. "So what's for lunch?"

They sat and ate. Chakotay repeated a story that Tom had shared on the bridge. It interested them not at all, but it did fill the silence as they worked to overcome the unfamiliar tension between them.

If the source of their discomfort had been anything but what it was, they could have discussed it. They weren't usually shy about sharing their opinions. Even a serious disagreement could be ironed out with words.

Yet this could not be acknowledged, not with the only solution thirty thousand light years away. Their eyes met and they shared a melancholy smile at the absurdity of it all.

"Are we okay?" Chakotay asked at last, his voice so low she could barely hear him.

She didn't know the answer, not really. She reached for his hand, lacing her fingers through his. "We have to be," she told him softly.

He met her gaze steadily. "Yes, we do."

Tom Paris almost never sat in the command chair, and it was not a duty he particularly missed. Although he was technically fourth in the chain of command, he rarely found himself left with the bridge when it was quiet. Unlike Harry, he wasn't self-sacrificing enough to volunteer for gamma shift.

I the midst of crisis, Tom rarely left the helm even when he was in command. Unless, of course, it was to pilot the Delta Flyer on some foolhardy mission to rescue whichever one of the other senior officers was missing in the first place.

Now he sat and wondered how the captain did it. Day after day spent sitting on the command deck was not his idea of a fulfilling life; the ship felt so much more vital and alive from the helm. At least the captain had something to do while she was in command; B'Elanna, Harry, Tuvok, and Seven provided her with a generous supply of boring reports to read.

"Did anyone happen to hear Chakotay mention whether or not he was planning to return today?" Tom shifted restlessly and glared, rather unfairly, at Jenkins. He really wanted his seat back.

"He didn't say," Harry answered. "But I wouldn't count on seeing him for the rest of the shift."

Tom turned to look at Harry. "Did I miss something?"

"Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm guessing that he went looking for the captain." Harry looked around at the rest of the bridge crew. "Anyone else have an opinion?"

"He was definitely looking for her," Samantha confirmed. "I was surprised that he held out as long as he did."

There was a moment of charged silence as everyone waited for Tom to break his own rule.

"Computer, locate Captain Janeway."

"Captain Janeway is in Jefferies tube eleven."

Tom took a deep breath. "Computer, locate Chakotay."

"Commander Chakotay is in Jefferies tube eleven."

"Dare we hope?" Sam whispered.

"We'll have to wait and see."

"It seems we have two options for the evening," Chakotay announced over dinner.


"Neelix has scheduled a kal-toh tournament and Tom has invited us to watch television in B'Elanna's quarters."

"Kal-toh? There are what, three, maybe four, crew members who can even play that game. And it certainly isn't a spectator sport. I think he'd have better luck with a kadis-kot tournament. Or even a derada tournament, for that matter."

Chakotay nodded. "So I guess we'll go to B'Elanna's. Unless you'd rather spend five or six hours watching Tuvok beat Harry and Vorik at kal-toh."

"As tempting as that is, I think I'd rather watch Tom's television."

"Why do I have to do it?" Harry was glaring at Tom. He didn't actually mind, but he wasn't letting his friend off the hook that easily.

"Because you and Vorik are the only ones who know how to play that stupid Vulcan game. It will distract Tuvok, and couldn't possibly interest the captain."

"I'm not convinced that Tuvok needs distracting."

"If he doesn't have plans, the captain will drag him along and we won't get anything accomplished. We need you to keep him busy."

"And you get to lounge around watching television? I just don't see how that's fair at all." He turned to B'Elanna as she entered. "And what do you think of this plan, Maquis?"

"Suck it up, Starfleet. Maybe you can actually beat Tuvok this time."

The mess hall was packed. Tuvok was puzzled. Never before had a kal-toh tournament been so well attended. He would have suspected gambling, but Tom Paris was nowhere in sight. Besides, he doubted anyone was illogical enough to bet against an undefeated player.

Two hours later, Vorik was soundly defeated. Ensign Kim moved to take his place. The audience had not decreased in size, despite the fact that only Seven seemed to be following the play.

The Vulcan security officer suspected he was being deliberately distracted. He mentally noted which crew members were not in attendance. Captain Janeway, Commander Chakotay, Lieutenants Paris and Torres, the gamma shift bridge crew, of course...

Tom and B'Elanna were busily rearranging the furniture in her quarters. They wanted to subtly force their guests to share the couch, but were unclear as to exactly what they were trying to accomplish. After the story Lyssa Campbell had repeated that morning, it seemed they were using the wrong strategy.

B'Elanna set two bowls of replicated popcorn on the coffee table and sighed. There had to be a way that these two people, who were both so very dear to her, could be happy. She just had to find it. And if everything went perfectly tonight, perhaps she'd get the chance to do a little fact finding.

When they arrived at B'Elanna's quarters, Janeway and Chakotay were cheerfully greeted and shown to the couch. Tom made a great ceremony out of handing the captain a small device.

"The remote control," he announced gravely. "In the late twentieth century it symbolized power within the household. The one who held the remote was the boss."

"Then just what were you doing with it, Tom?" Janeway grinned at B'Elanna. They all shared a laugh at the helmsman's expense.

Tom wasn't entirely satisfied with the seating arrangements. By his way of thinking, the captain and commander had far too much empty couch between them. Yet there wasn't much he could do to correct the situation. The pilot seated himself on the floor and pulled B'Elanna down to join him.

"So, Captain, what shall we watch? A mystery, a comedy, an old sci-fi perhaps?" He smirked. "Maybe we can find a hockey game."

B'Elanna rolled her eyes and glared at him. "No sports."

"Athletics should be played, not watched," Chakotay pronounced. He winked at B'Elanna. "How about a comedy."

They found suitable entertainment material. Both Tom and Janeway were soon absorbed in the program. Chakotay was much more interested in watching the captain, and B'Elanna sat studying Chakotay.

In between programs, Tom got up to replicate some fresh drinks. Chakotay went with him, treating Kathryn to a warm smile as he left.

"You're lucky," B'Elanna commented wistfully. "Yours doesn't get so absorbed in television that he forgets you're even in the same room. Sometimes I regret building that thing."

Both women froze as B'Elanna realized just what she had implied. Neither could think of a safe response. To their relief, Tom and Chakotay chose that moment to appear with the beverages.

Chakotay noticed Kathryn's momentary tension as he sat back down. B'Elanna looked a little too eager to take her drink from Tom as well. But whatever the cause, the moment passed and the four officers shared a pleasant evening.

Later, the captain and first officer reached her quarters and stood looking at each other. Kathryn's mind wandered back to the earlier comment. No, you're the lucky one, B'Elanna, she thought. You don't have to wait thirty years to tell yours how very much you love him.

She couldn't trust herself to sleep beside him tonight, but she couldn't tell him that in so many words. Acknowledging the temptation would be almost as damaging as acting upon it.

"I haven't had a nightmare in several days," she told him. "I've probably broken the cycle."

"Call me if you need me. And I mean it."

"I will," she said.

The room was brightly lit. Three Starfleet admirals, including Owen Paris, sat facing her. She was alone. She had always known it was her fate to face this alone.

"Captain Kathryn Janeway, nine years ago you were ordered into the Cardassian demilitarized zone to apprehend the Maquis vessel known as the Liberty. Your orders were to arrest those on board and return to Deep Space Nine. You failed.

"Instead of returning these fugitives to justice, you fled the region. You took the rebel leader as your lover, and made him your first officer. You named another criminal, B'Elanna Torres, as your chief engineer.

"It is our belief that Lieutenant Tuvok was not working as a Federation agent on board the Maquis ship. If his true loyalty was to Starfleet, then surely he would not have allowed your actions to stand.

"Furthermore, it is our belief that Tom Paris did not sever his ties to the Maquis following his arrest as he claims. He had been assigned by Commander Chakotay to secure a Starfleet vessel, your vessel, and bring it to the Badlands. He succeeded, probably with your aid.

"All of the Maquis will stand trial for their crimes, as will you, Captain Janeway. You will all most likely spend the rest of your lives as prisoners. Chakotay and Torres will face charges on Cardassia as well.

"Ensign Harry Kim, as the highest ranking surviving senior officer, should have taken command of Voyager as soon as your questionable loyalties became clear. He will face charges. So will Lieutenant Carey, Lieutenant Ayala, Ensign Wildman, and Ensign Campbell. There may be others at the close of this investigation.

"As for the Borg drone you captured, it will be detained until a hearing can be scheduled to determine its fate. We believe that it may be possible to use it as a weapon against the Collective.

"Mister Neelix is not a Federation citizen, and in fact we have only your highly questionable word to go by with regards as to whether or not his civilization had obtained warp technology prior to your contact with him. The matter will be investigated thoroughly before his fate is decided.

"Your EMH will join its colleagues, which have proven very useful performing menial labor aboard waste management vessels."

Janeway tried to speak; tried to argue as each injustice was announced. Was everyone she loved going to be punished for her failures?

Tuvok, her oldest friend, had always been loyal to her and to Starfleet. Now, he was named a traitor and it was her fault.

Tom had matured into the finest of officers. How could his own father send him back to prison? B'Elanna was the best engineer in Starfleet; they were going to waste her talents in a rehabilitation colony? No, they were going to turn her over to the Cardassians.

Janeway had witnessed first hand how the Cardassians treated prisoners. The thought of what would happen to B'Elanna and Chakotay was unbearable. She began to shake violently. She had failed to protect them, and now they would die, slowly and painfully.

Then there was Harry. Was his bright future gone because he had followed her orders? And hard working Joe Carey, sent to prison instead of reuniting with his wife and two children? Again, her fault. Wildman, Campbell, Ayala, Chell, Garan, Henley, and so many others from both crews, suffering for following her orders...

The Doctor. He was a sentient being; one who had proven a valuable member of her crew and a good friend; they were going to turn him into a slave? She was powerless to prevent it. He had saved her life more times then she cared to count, but now she could do nothing for him. And Seven. What were they going to do to Seven?

Unable to speak, unable to utter a single syllable in defense of those she loved, Kathryn Janeway put her face in her hands and cried.

Chakotay lay in bed and stared at the empty spot beside him. He missed her, but more importantly he hoped she was sleeping. As much as he wanted to sleep beside her every night, he knew it was better for everyone if her bout of insomnia was over.

The mystery finally got to be too much. He stole into her quarters and crept to her bedside. She was talking in her sleep. He couldn't quite make out what she was saying, although he recognized Tuvok's name, then B'Elanna's, and finally his own. It was not a peaceful sleep.

"Kathryn, wake up," he ordered. He placed a hand on her shoulder. "Kathryn."

She sat up with a start, tried to shake off the disorientation of sleep, and found Chakotay looking at her. A dream, she realized, only a dream. For a moment, she fought to control her emotions. But the overwhelming sense of failure from her dream joined forces with her vivid memories of Cardassian torture, and she lost the battle.

Kathryn Janeway was the strongest person he had ever known, and she always kept a tight rein on her emotions, even in the worst of times. So Chakotay was completely unprepared when she flung herself sobbing against his chest. She clung to his neck with such vigor that it hurt.

Was this the same woman who had stood chin to chin with the Borg Queen and gave no quarter? At a loss for words, he held her tightly and waited for her to regain control. He wondered just how long it had been since she'd let go emotionally. Too long, he knew. He had often worried about how Kathryn's habit of bottling up her emotions might affect her in the long run.

Still, despite the fact that he recognized her need for release, it hurt to see her in such obvious distress. He wished he knew the root of the problem. Even her other nightmares hadn't had this effect. What could be causing her such misery?

What had come over her, she thought in horror. She couldn't be crying like this. It was ridiculously undignified and completely unnecessary. Starfleet captains did not fall apart in the arms of their first officers. She struggled for composure.

"Kathryn, it's okay," he whispered.

"I know it is," she replied hoarsely. "I'm being silly. It was just a dream." She loosened her grip on his neck.

"That's not what I meant." He made no move to release her. "It's okay to let go sometimes. I do. Tears are very healthy, Kathryn. Go ahead and cry. I won't tell a soul."

While some part of her felt obligated to argue, she didn't make the effort. She concentrated instead on regulating her breathing.

They were both silent for a while.

"Tell me about it," he suggested cautiously.

She drew back to look at him, and for once allowed herself to see only her friend, and not her second in command. To her own great surprise, the need to talk overpowered her perceived duty to maintain protocol.

"We were home. And it was terrible. We were all court martialled. I couldn't protect anyone. It seemed so real, so vivid, even though it seems really far fetched now.

"Starfleet wanted to turn you and B'Elanna over to the Cardassians. They called Tuvok, Harry, and Tom traitors. The Doctor was being treated like a slave. And they had horrible plans for Seven."

He listened carefully. As chilling as those pronouncements sounded, he knew that the unrealistic dream was not the true source of her distress. The nightmare had to be symbolic of something much more real. Something was troubling her deeply; something her subconscious wouldn't show her clearly.

"What was the worst part?"

She thought for a moment. "The helplessness. I couldn't protect my crew."

"Why not?"

"I couldn't talk. Admiral Paris just kept handing down these horrible injustices and I couldn't argue."

"Why Admiral Paris, I wonder?" He wanted to ask why she couldn't argue, but he suddenly feared that the answer was something she couldn't say out loud. Certainly not right now. Not with him sitting on her bed in the dark, still holding her. And he had no interest in leaving her to face her demons alone.

"You're right," she said. "I bet that means something. I know Owen Paris well enough to know he'd never be so unreasonable. And he certainly wouldn't subject anyone to Cardassian treatment."

He made an effort to sound matter of fact. "So, are we staying here or in my quarters?"

His question echoed her thoughts. Since her experiment had failed, proving that she couldn't sleep restfully alone, she was guiltily willing to continue their arrangement. His quarters, with the two sets of sheets, were safer. But they were here already, and she didn't want to brave the corridors with her tear-stained face.

"Do you have your combadge?"


She made her decision. "Then stay."

Day Thirteen

"So," Tom asked without enthusiasm. "How was the kal-toh tournament?"

"Tuvok won," Harry replied, equally unenthusiastic.

"Tell us something we didn't already know," B'Elanna mumbled. She put her head down on the table.

The Doctor looked at her in concern. "Did you sleep last night, Lieutenant?"

"No." Her voice was muffled. She didn't bother to raise her head.

Seven entered the holographic briefing room. "I'd suggest running a program of a more recreational nature. Tuvok is headed this way."

"Computer, end program." Tom suddenly found himself seated on the floor. Harry, B'Elanna, and the Doctor, similarly displaced, glared at him.

"Some warning, next time?" Harry grumbled, climbing to his feet. He offered the clearly exhausted B'Elanna a hand up.

Tom activated Sandrine's. Tuvok entered a moment later. "Is it not a little early in the morning for a pool tournament, Mister Paris?"

"Aw, come on, Tuvok. It's never too early for a pool tournament. Why don't you challenge Harry to a game? Give him a chance to regain his dignity after last night."

"I fail to see what that would accomplish. Mister Kim is well acquainted with defeat when it comes to kal-toh. Regardless of the outcome, a game of pool will hardly alter that fact."

"Maybe not," Lyssa admitted as she joined them. "But what harm could it do to humor him, Commander?"

Megan Delaney appeared. "Spare my sister the humiliation of playing and I'll consider it a personal favor, Tuvok." She winked at him.

The Vulcan shifted uncomfortably. He conceded. "Very well. One game."

Janeway was actually momentarily disoriented by the novelty of waking up in her own bed. Chakotay was still asleep. She pushed the if only from her mind and headed for the sonic shower.

Her eyes were puffy from crying, and she squirmed with embarrassment at the previous night's memories. Not since her father's death had her emotions been so out of control. How was it that a dream could provoke such a strong reaction from her? Maybe that was the explanation; she hadn't yet been awake enough to be in control.

The thought of Chakotay and B'Elanna in the hands of the Cardassians made her shudder, but it was hardly a realistic concern. Starfleet would never turn any Federation citizen over to another government. It just wasn't done.

And as far as the Cardassians were concerned, the Maquis were all dead. After all, they had murdered over four thousand Maquis on Tevlik; surely they couldn't think there were any left.

The most that the Maquis on Voyager might face was prison time, and as long as she kept from being court martialled herself, she could probably prevent that.

The rest of the dream had been so far fetched that it was laughable in the morning light. So why had it troubled her so deeply?

Chakotay was relieved when Kathryn headed for the shower. He had been lying awake all night, trying to find a way to reconcile Starfleet protocol with life as it was on Voyager. The circumstances were just too cruel as things stood.

How could Kathryn be expected to put her personal life on hold and maintain the distance of command for so many years? Yet she felt guilty for even having feelings; that was what her dream was about. She was punishing herself for caring about her crew.

Return to Federation space, be it tomorrow or in thirty years, could be a mixed blessing for members of the Voyager crew. For most of the original crew, homecoming would be a joyous occasion. Tuvok had a wife and five children waiting on Vulcan. Samantha Wildman had a husband on Deep Space Nine. Carey had a wife and two children on Earth. Ayala mentioned his sons almost daily.

But for others, himself included, there could be complications. The former Maquis could very well face charges, and he'd be fooling himself if he thought that his relationship with the captain wouldn't come under scrutiny if that were the case.

Yet Kathryn's loneliness and unjust guilt were painful to watch, and his own desire was no small factor either. He didn't want to wait thirty years or more for the woman he loved. He wanted the freedom to tell her that he loved her, to offer her comfort in the hard times, to just be honest with her and himself. He was tired of living a lie of omission; tired of guarding every emotion he felt; tired of carefully editing every word he spoke.

If only they could see into the future just enough to know how long they'd be in this quadrant, and to learn the fate of the former Maquis. Of course, any view of the future was merely a glimpse at a possible future, so - .

She emerged from the bathroom, interrupting his thoughts. She smiled at him, but the expression failed to reach her eyes. "I'd suggest getting dressed if you're planning on taking me to breakfast."

He didn't have any answers yet, so he merely provided the light response that he knew she expected of him. "Aye, Captain."

Tuvok patiently tolerated Tom's teasing and Megan's flirting as he played pool with Ensign Kim. Everyone was behaving as if Sandrine's was the most natural place to be an hour before going on duty. The holodeck was slowly filling up with additional crew members. Neelix even seemed to be serving some sort of breakfast pastry.

During his first tenure with Starfleet, Tuvok had often been puzzled by human behavior. Yet he'd learned a great deal since then, and he knew when things didn't add up.

Tom Paris was not an early riser. B'Elanna Torres was rarely sociable first thing in the morning. Neelix did not leave the mess hall during the breakfast hour. Yet they were all here. Boylan and White were notorious for chronic lateness. If they routinely failed to rouse themselves from slumber in order to make their duty shifts on time, how was it that they were awake early just to watch a supposedly impromptu pool tournament?

Harry Kim won the game, and Tuvok left with no answers, only more questions.

B'Elanna had admitted her slip of the tongue to Tom, and he hadn't even teased her about it. Somehow that fact bothered her. She tried not to dwell on it as they all waited for Tuvok to leave. Once he did, the meeting quickly came to order around the pool table.

"This is what we're up against," Tom said. "The captain has all but admitted her feelings for Chakotay, but they think they need to wait until we reach the Alpha Quadrant."

There were murmurs of sympathy. A majority of those present knew that already; B'Elanna had spent most of the previous day talking to the former Maquis and word had spread with its usual efficiency.

"How do we convince her not to put her life on hold for us?" B'Elanna asked the room at large.

"I thought you two were supposed to talk to them last night," Harry said. "Wasn't that why I had to play kal-toh with Tuvok for nearly three hours?"

"Don't complain, Ensign," the Doctor said. "Don't forget that some of us had to watch you play kal-toh with Tuvok for nearly three hours. And don't forget that he played Vorik first."

"We were hoping for the chance to say something last night," Tom said. "But Torres here slipped up."

Everyone tensed, expecting the usually hot headed half-Klingon to defend herself.

She didn't. "I wasn't thinking. I just hope I didn't do too much damage." Then she provided a demonstration of her frustration.

Janeway and Chakotay breakfasted in an empty mess hall, then hurried to the bridge. They were barely on time, and were shocked to find that they'd beaten Harry, Tom, Sam, and even Tuvok. They exchanged a look.

"Computer, locate Tuvok."

"Lieutenant Commander Tuvok is in holodeck one."

"Computer, locate Harry Kim."

"Ensign Kim is in holodeck one."

"Computer, how many crew members are in holodeck one?"

"Eighty eight."

Captain and first officer stood looking at each other.

"I think I'm going to go investigate our little mystery myself," Janeway decided. "Commander, you have the bridge."

The gamma shift bridge crew sucked in its collective breath. They were all well aware of Tom Paris' recent exploits.

Lieutenant Ayala shifted uncomfortably in the captain's chair, wishing that the first officer would either officially claim the bridge or leave it.

He was powerless to warn those on the holodeck of the captain's approach with Chakotay on the bridge. Yet if Tuvok was already down there it was probably too late anyhow.

Janeway hurried back onto the turbolift. "Deck fourteen." Did the lift seem slower then usual? Too bad a site to site transport would give her away. The turbolift stopped, and she raced towards the holodeck.

She checked to see what program was running. Paris three. Sandrine's. Had it been left on since the previous night, perhaps? No, in fact, another program had been running very recently. She entered the holodeck, arriving just in time to see B'Elanna snap a holographic pool cue in half.


All heads snapped in her direction.

"Shouldn't you all be on duty?" the captain asked casually. "Commander Chakotay seems to be short one bridge crew." She studied the crowd. "And where's Tuvok?"

"You just missed him, Captain," the Doctor replied. "After last evening's crushing defeat, Mister Kim felt the need to win back his dignity with a friendly game of pool."

"I see," Janeway answered patiently. They were definitely up to something. "Now, could you all please report for duty? I don't wish to spend my morning recording your late arrivals in your personnel files."

With a flurry of salutes and apologies, the crew scurried out of the room. Was it her imagination, or were several crew members making a deliberate effort to stay between her and Lieutenant Torres?

"Computer, end program. Resume previous program."

The captain watched the scene shift around her, baffled. What could they possibly be doing? She returned to the bridge.

Chakotay sat on the command deck and watched the belated shift change without comment. When the captain returned, he stood and followed her into the ready room.

"So what were they doing?"

"They appeared to be playing pool."

He met her gaze. "What do you mean?"

"I checked with the computer. It seems Seven arrived on the holodeck just two minutes ahead of Tuvok. During those two minutes, Tom ended one program and began another: Sandrine's." The captain paced around the ready room. "Then, as I understand it, Harry challenged Tuvok to a game of pool. I don't know what transpired between that and my arrival, but B'Elanna was noticeably upset. Vorik and Chell both nearly sprained something trying to shield her from me."

"What was the first program?"

"That's what makes the least sense. It was the briefing room. Every morning for over a week, they've gathered in there, and the only program they've run is a simulation of Voyager's briefing room. They weren't even running a program when Tuvok first brought the matter to my attention."

"So they are holding some sort of meeting. I'll look into it."

"Why do we even have a holographic simulation of the briefing room?" Janeway wondered aloud.

"I don't think you really want the answer to that," Chakotay replied.

She looked at him in surprise. "You've got to be kidding."

The alpha shift began painfully slowly. Janeway spent the morning sitting in her command chair, watching Tom's efforts to not squirm under her scrutiny. Both Chakotay and Tuvok roamed around the ship, conducting their own informal investigations and making the junior officers tremendously nervous.

The chief engineer only managed to avoid the tactical officer by climbing into a Jefferies tube. Distracted as she was, her first attempt to do something useful while in hiding resulted in personal injury. Swearing in Klingon, Torres grabbed her hand to stop the bleeding and called for a site to site transport.

B'Elanna was immediately sorry when she materialized in sickbay, coming face to face with Chakotay. The Doctor, on the other hand, had never been so delighted to see an injured crew member. Barely concealing his enthusiasm, he reached for a dermal regenerator and set about repairing the damage.

Chakotay stood and waited patiently. He had managed to get precious little information from the Doctor, who had attempted to chase him off with questions about his recent dreams. But from the look on B'Elanna's face, he anticipated more success with her.

The Doctor appeared to be finished. Ordinarily, Lieutenant Torres wouldn't have been able to get out of sickbay fast enough. Yet she sensed that Chakotay would follow her, and so she let the ordinarily efficient doctor linger over his task, lecturing about safety and questioning her about her health in general.

The first officer finally began to lose patience with the charade. "B'Elanna, why don't we get lunch. We haven't sat down and talked lately."

She was trapped and knew it. They left for the mess hall together.

"Sickbay to Neelix." The morale officer jumped at the sound. He had been nervously watching Commander Tuvok attempt to make small talk with Megan Delaney. The novelty would have amused him, under different circumstances.

Neelix tapped his combadge. "Doctor, could this wait? I'm right in the middle of the lunch rush."

"I am well aware of that, Mister Neelix, but there is a matter which requires your attention."

"I'm sorry, Doctor, but today's lunch very much requires my attention. I will contact you shortly."

Tuvok continued his discussion with Crewman Delaney, carefully concealing the fact that his concentration was now elsewhere.

His eyebrow nearly rose of its own accord when Commander Chakotay arrived, escorting a rather uncomfortable Lieutenant Torres. Had the Doctor been attempting to warn Neelix of the first officer's approach? Tuvok looked at the Talaxian, who was now, despite the cheerful greeting he gave the new arrivals, showing visible signs of stress.

When the first officer and chief engineer arrived in the mess hall, Neelix realized why the Doctor had contacted him. If not for Tuvok's presence, he would have gone to B'Elanna's aid. Unfortunately, he was helpless to do so as long as the Vulcan remained.

His failure to warn Neelix of Chakotay's approach worried the Doctor. It occurred to him that either Tuvok or the captain must already be in the mess hall, and despite the great resourcefulness for which B'Elanna was known, this time she needed a rescue.

The Doctor tried another approach. "Sickbay to engineering."

"Lieutenant Carey here, Doctor."

"B'Elanna's in the mess hall with Chakotay and Tuvok."

Nothing more needed to be said. Joe, Vorik, and Garan stood staring at each other. They needed an engineering crisis, and quickly.

"We could eject the core," Vorik suggested neutrally.

Janeway was just starting to wonder what had become of Chakotay when she felt the ship drop out of warp. She was out of her chair and standing behind Tom almost instantaneously.

The helmsman barely had time to look for an explanation when Lieutenant Carey's voice was heard. "Engineering to Bridge."

"What happened, Lieutenant?" Janeway asked, her hand on Tom's shoulder.

He answered her unspoken question first. "No casualties, Captain. It might be a problem with some EPS relays. We're on it."

"Very well, Mister Carey." The guarded relief in the captain's voice was audible to those who knew her well.

Tom made no attempt to conceal his feelings. He wasn't good at it and no one expected him to try. For once, they weren't in the midst of crisis and he could afford to feel relief.

Harry had felt the same momentary fear as the rest of the bridge crew, but was immediately distracted as he realized that engineering had suffered no accident. Someone had deliberately taken the warp core offline, and was now attempting to conceal it.

His duty was to bring this information to the captain's attention immediately; if there was an intruder on board any delay could cost lives. He pushed his other suspicions aside and was about to speak when Ensign Campbell rocketed out of the turbolift.

She said nothing, but the look in her eye spoke volumes. Harry didn't report his findings to the captain, and instead turned his attention to hiding them.

The captain and first officer sat down for dinner. They hadn't had a chance to speak privately all day, and were relieved to finally be alone together.

"I'm not happy about what happened in engineering today," Janeway said. "Vorik doesn't make mistakes, even under pressure. I can't imagine how it happened."

"I have to be honest," Chakotay admitted. "I'm starting to worry. Everyone's been acting just a little off lately."

She nodded her agreement. "Ensign Campbell bolted onto the bridge earlier as if the hounds of hell were after her, then disappeared again with scarcely a word."

"Tuvok was having lunch with Megan Delaney."

She met his gaze. This might indeed be serious. "If you tell me she was playing kal-toh I'll sound the intruder alert now."

The corners of his lips twitched but he knew she wasn't entirely kidding. "B'Elanna cut her hand opening an access panel in the Jefferies tubes. The wound was severe enough that she had herself beamed to sickbay."

She gasped. That was a task that even Naomi Wildman should have been able to handle blindfolded, and B'Elanna usually had to be half dead before she'd go have an injury treated while on duty.

Chakotay cringed at what he was about to say. But the ship came first, and they couldn't ignore a potential clue in the face of danger. "Even you and I have been a bit impulsive the last couple of days."

She blushed at his mention of their near accident on the dance floor, but understood why he had mentioned it. Perhaps even her recent dreams meant something, if the crew was under some alien influence.

They glanced at each other in mutual discomfort, briefly afraid that the acknowledgement of the near kiss might come between them. She reached across the table and touched his arm. He returned her wordless reassurance with a soft smile.

"If something is going on, when did it start?" She answered her own question. "When we entered this...void. Which is why I chalked it up to boredom, but what if it's more?"

He agreed with her concern. "So far, no harm done. But this might warrant investigation."

Janeway stood to fetch a padd. "Let's make a list. What was the first oddity you noticed?"

Chakotay thought hard. "Neelix seemed a little nervous when he approached me about the first movie night. At the time, I thought he was just concerned that you wouldn't make an appearance, and yet was reluctant to push. I'm still not convinced that wasn't the case."

"He had reason to worry. He remembers our last pass through quiet space. Besides, I hadn't slept the night before. I might not have gone."

"I'm glad you did," he said, then scolded himself and changed his tone promptly. "So Neelix's nervousness was probably just that."

"Possibly. Although he has been jumpy ever since. I'd hardly put it in my logs, but since this is just between us, I don't want to discount it yet."

"The sensors malfunctioned the next day, however briefly. That was just after you left the bridge for astrometrics."

She nodded. "I saw that in B'Elanna's report. They were running a simulation using the new secondary sensors, and accidentally sent their findings to the ops station on the bridge."

"How often do we have a rash of careless errors in engineering?"

"Not often. I still haven't figured out how the doors to astrometrics were mistakenly sealed. And Seven's combadge apparently malfunctioned at the same time."

"Nothing really serious, until today. Do you think it's escalating?"

"I certainly hope not. Although it isn't outside the realm of possibility. Or it could be the fact that we're traveling at warp nine while attempting a partial refit."

"I'll talk to B'Elanna. Maybe she's been pushing a bit too hard."

"That wouldn't be surprising. She's been known to do that. Then again, I haven't heard any complaints lately."

Chakotay looked thoughtful. "I haven't heard any complaints at all from anyone lately, which is odd in itself. As for B'Elanna, I tried to talk to her this afternoon. We had just sat down in the mess hall when the ship dropped out of warp. She dashed off to engineering and I haven't seen her since."

"This was after she cut her hand?"

Chakotay nodded. "I met up with her in sickbay, and she wasn't thrilled to see me. She looked trapped when I asked her to lunch and I think she was relieved to escape."

"She was certainly anxious to stay out of my way this morning."

"Last night, she invited us to her quarters, and we all shared a pleasant evening. Today, she's avoiding us both? That doesn't make sense."

"I'd think this was about her slip of the tongue last night," Janeway said, half to herself. "But then why were Vorik and Chell so eager to protect her? She wouldn't have told them. And it wouldn't explain why she was avoiding you."

"Slip of the tongue?"

She shifted uncomfortably. "She was making a joke at Tom's expense, but the way she phrased it implied that you and I..."

He nodded his understanding as she let her words trail off. After his discussion with the Doctor, there was little doubt in his mind that B'Elanna, who happened to be his oldest friend, knew exactly how he felt about Kathryn. Tom probably knew of his feelings as well. But they couldn't think that something was going on, could they?

"Well, we have been spending a lot of time together lately," he said. "In fact, I believe I promised Neelix that we'd attend tonight's event. I think we can continue this investigation in the morning."

She made no comment about the fact that Neelix assumed that Chakotay spoke for her in such matters. After all, it would seem that he was right. "Agreed."

"Welcome to the Mos Eisley cantina, Captain." Tom gestured to the scene around them. "You will not find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy."

"Another twentieth century film?" Janeway asked.

"Star Wars," Harry said. "It's about a group of rebels fighting for freedom from an oppressive and evil galactic empire."

"Well, it will be when I'm finished," Tom said. "For now, it's just a bar."

"An interesting bar." Chakotay looked around. A wide variety of creatures were engaged in various arguments around the room. An exceptionally unusual band was playing some oddly cheerful music.

The humanoid bartender leered at the captain, causing Chakotay to move closer to her without even realizing it.

Janeway didn't notice either, but Lyssa Campbell, just entering the holodeck, couldn't help but smile at the first officer's instinctive protectiveness.

Harry returned her grin. "What's so funny?"

She gestured to the scene around her. "What isn't?"

"Curious. I am unfamiliar with a number of these species," Seven said as she arrived. "Am I to assume that they are fictitious?"

Tom nodded. "Twentieth century science fiction was often criticized for portraying so many alien species as humanoid. The film responsible for these species was intended to avoid those criticisms."

"They have failed to account for the interference of the Preservers."

"These creatures were imagined four hundred years before the discovery of the Preservers. In fact, the movie was made almost a hundred years before first contact with the Vulcans. Besides, it's supposed to be another galaxy altogether."

When Tom and Seven started debating the likely evolutionary conditions necessary to create the various fictitious species, the others left them and found a table.

Harry and Lyssa exchanged a nervous glance as they found themselves alone with the captain and commander. Janeway noticed the look, and was puzzled by it. She didn't spend much time with Ensign Campbell, but Harry certainly had no reason to be nervous.

"Harry, you should have brought your clarinet." Chakotay nodded in the direction of the band.

"I'm sure you would have fit right in." Lyssa's teasing earned a groan from her companion.

"Don't I already take enough abuse from Tom?"

"Not to mention me, Starfleet." B'Elanna slid into a seat. The engineer was far more nervous than Harry or Lyssa, but she wasn't letting it show. "Good evening, Captain. What do you think of Tom's handiwork?"

"I'm starting to wonder how he ever has time to report for duty. This must have taken hours."

"He had plenty of help this time. He's managed to get dozens of people involved. They're creating a full length holonovel from one of the old films he found in the database."

Janeway and Chakotay exchanged a look. Did that explain, or partially explain, the morning meetings in the holodeck, or was it a cover story? Or did it have nothing to do with anything whatsoever?

Harry saw the look and cringed. The command team was suspicious of something, that much was clear. He wished Tom would stop arguing with Seven and come sit down. They needed to get on with the evening's plan before the opportunity was lost.

"Let's fetch these lovely ladies some drinks, shall we?" Chakotay stood, looking from Harry to the captain. "What would you like, Kathryn?"

"Surprise me." She flashed him a grin.

Chakotay turned to B'Elanna, who only shrugged. The two men disappeared, leaving Lyssa alone with the captain and chief engineer. The poor transporter chief hadn't felt so abandoned since she had found herself alone in sickbay with a pair of wounded and time displaced Romulans.

"So, Captain, are you planning on playing in the tennis tournament?" Lyssa asked. "I was hoping to talk Harry into playing doubles with me."

"I might. Although I'll warn you now, I was pretty good in my Academy days."

"Chakotay played tennis at the Academy as well," B'Elanna said, although there was no doubt in her mind that the captain already possessed that information. "Perhaps you could convince him to partner with you, Captain."

"I might just do that. Then we could get Harry and Lyssa back for beating us the other night."

"I still think that Seven and the Doctor had an unfair advantage," Lyssa said. "She barely needs sleep and he doesn't need any."

The word 'someday' was suddenly flitting about in her head, trying to find a way to escape and cause embarrassment. The ensign recalled an incident from her childhood. When introduced to a friend of her father's, she had been so intent upon pretending to not notice his baldness that she had called him Mister Hairless rather than Mister Harris.

Mercifully, Harry and Chakotay chose that moment to return, carrying what appeared to be Romulan ale. At Kathryn's raised eyebrow, Chakotay explained, "It's only synthehol." He chuckled. "The bartender assures me that it's a favorite on Coruscant."

B'Elanna took a cautious sip as she threw Harry a worried glance. Tom wouldn't dare try to slip real alcohol to the captain, would he? "Tastes like Ferengi rum." She shot Lyssa a look that she hoped would be read as 'get me a tricorder, now.'

Before the ensign could move, Janeway asked her a question about tennis. B'Elanna tried to remain calm as she turned around and looked for Tom.

He, Seven, and now the Doctor were still embroiled in their ridiculous debate. She spotted Naomi Wildman, and beckoned to her.

The little girl saw the serious look on B'Elanna's face and nodded imperceptibly. She then plastered on a grin and cheerfully greeted those at the captain's table.

"Neelix hasn't made any more grub puffs, has he?" Chakotay looked around the room in mock terror.

Those at the table shared a laugh.

"I think we talked him out of making those again." Naomi rolled her eyes. "At least I hope we have."

There was more laughter. Lyssa then steered the conversation back to tennis, and B'Elanna took the opportunity to whisper to Naomi. "I need you to go get a tricorder and bring it to me without anyone noticing."

Naomi nodded and headed off without a word. A child was a useful thing on a starship, B'Elanna decided. She could name a dozen ensigns who would have questioned her request, or asked for clarification, before setting off on the errand.

"This isn't half bad." The captain peered into her glass. She took another sip. "Not bad at all."

"A little sweet for my tastes," Chakotay said.

Janeway snorted. "This from the man who puts two sugars in his coffee." She shook her head sadly. "Two sugars. Imagine doing that to a perfectly good cup of coffee. I'll tell you a secret, though. I usually only give him one."

"That's not a secret, Kathryn," he informed her affectionately. "I only ask for two out of the fear that otherwise you'd give it to me black. I don't dare ask for just one sugar."

"Clever of you," she proclaimed. "Very wise indeed." She discovered that her glass was already empty, and relieved him of his.

B'Elanna watched this exchange nervously as she sipped her own glass of blue liquor. She was fairly certain that it wasn't synthehol. It crossed her mind that her mother would be horrified to see her gingerly nursing a drink like this. The thought did nothing to accelerate her consumption of the beverage.

Chakotay was working very hard to ignore the presence of Kathryn's hand on his thigh. The task became increasingly more difficult as it crept higher.

Naomi returned and pulled up a chair beside B'Elanna. Chakotay used the child's arrival as an excuse to manually remove Kathryn's hand from his leg before she discovered the effect it was having on him.

At that point, the captain realized that her second glass was now empty, and reached across the table to purloin Harry's untouched drink. The ensign made an attempt to defend it, but he wasn't quick enough.

B'Elanna glanced down at the tricorder in Naomi's lap. The girl had scanned the glass, and the readings seemed to indicate that the beverage was indeed synthehol. They also showed that there wasn't much else in it. It was an extremely strong drink.

In theory, synthehol was just as capable of producing intoxication as real alcohol. The real difference was the rate and method of metabolization. Alcohol had to be processed by the liver while synthehol could be flushed out of the system by a rush of adrenaline.

B'Elanna's anger was doing an excellent job of neutralizing the synthehol she had already consumed. She downed the rest of her glass and stood up. "I need to speak with Tom for a moment."

Everyone but Janeway noticed the flash of anger in her eyes. Lyssa reached under the table and took the tricorder from Naomi. With a glance, she realized exactly what was going on with the drinks. She passed it to Harry, then bravely drained her own glass before the captain got hold of it.

Chakotay probably would have been very interested in the tricorder, had he noticed it, but he was extremely distracted by Kathryn. Her hand had meandered back into his lap and his entire attention was focused on ignoring her. He wasn't having a great deal of success.

"What the hell did your little bartender give the captain to drink, Paris?"

"It's synthehol," he yelped in self defense.

"Yeah, it's synthehol, all right. Synthehol, sugar, and blue dye."

"What, you got a tricorder over there?"

"Yes," B'Elanna hissed. "As a matter of fact I do. What are you trying to accomplish?"

"She's an adult. She knows what synthehol does. Besides, one strong drink won't hurt her any."

"Maybe not, if she only had one. She's had three."

"Three? Who the hell gave her three?"

"She drank Chakotay's. And Harry's."

"So Chakotay hasn't had any?"

"Will you focus here? That isn't the problem."

"What is the problem? You can't get a hangover from synthehol, and one good rush of adrenaline would sober her up if she were called to the bridge. Which, I have to say, is highly unlikely."

"Well, I'd suggest you trot on up to the bridge and find a way to make it very likely before she embarrasses herself any further."

"Do you honestly expect me to fake a red alert? I'll end up locked in either sickbay or the brig, and I'm not sure which is worse."

"You should have thought of that before you spiked the captain's drink." B'Elanna stole a glance at the table. "Now move, before she does something you'll regret."

"Oh come on, B'Elanna. This is the captain. What could she possibly do?"

"For starters, she's had her hand in Chakotay's lap for the last ten minutes." B'Elanna watched as Tom turned pale. At least he recognized the potential problem. "How happy do you think she's going to be when she remembers that in the morning? If she decides to start avoiding him then all of our hard work will be in vain."

Chakotay couldn't hear what B'Elanna was saying to Tom, but he could guess. The blue stuff obviously had an alcohol content. Angry didn't begin to describe his feelings towards the helmsman at the moment, but he'd have to wait and deal with Paris in the morning. First, he had to get his intoxicated captain out of the holodeck.

After once again removing her hand from his thigh, he stood and pulled her to her feet. With a supportive arm firmly around Kathryn's waist, he turned to make his excuses to Harry and Lyssa, only to discover it unnecessary.

Relieved, Chakotay only hoped that Campbell's behavior hadn't been influenced solely by her beverage.

"You promised to warn me before you bit my neck," Harry protested quietly once the commanding officers were out of earshot.

Lyssa smiled wickedly. "Did you want them to think we noticed her condition?"

"Looks like your lucky night, Paris," B'Elanna said. "Chakotay has seen fit to take her home. You'd just better thank Kahless he's a gentleman. Oh, and I'd stay out of his way tomorrow if I were you."

"Yeah, I think you're right."

"Deck Five," Chakotay ordered as the two senior officers entered the turbolift.

She looked at him questioningly. "Deck Five? Your quarters aren't on Deck Five."

"We're not going to my quarters," he said softly.

"My quarters aren't on Deck Five either."

"I know that, Kathryn. We're stopping by sickbay."

"Sickbay?" She leaned against him. "That doesn't sound like any fun. Your quarters would be better." To prove her point she ran her hand over his posterior.

He stepped away and she nearly toppled over. "I'm going to kill Tom," he muttered as he reached to steady her once again.

"My balance is a little off tonight," Janeway observed. "I think we should both go lie down." She maneuvered around in front of him and ran her hands up his chest.

"We will." He pried her arms from around his neck. "After we've been to sickbay."

"Why sickbay?"

"We need to do something about your...condition."

She looked puzzled. "What condition?"

He couldn't very well lie to her. "Kathryn, you're drunk."

"Impossible." She employed the skewed logic of one who had been drinking. "I haven't been drunk since I was sixteen."

"Yeah, well, you are now."

She tried to clear her head. "We were only drinking synthehol."

"Yeah, that's what I thought. But, unless I miss my guess, Tom Paris somehow managed to put one over on us."

Anger seeped into her consciousness. What if she had been called to the bridge? The ship could have been put at risk; she certainly had been feeling reckless.

They were both surprised and grateful that the Doctor was in sickbay when they arrived.

"Well, I can clearly see the nature of the medical emergency." The Doctor ran a tricorder over the captain. "And just how many did you have, Captain?"

She looked at Chakotay.

"Three," he supplied.

"I can honestly say that I've never seen anyone get this inebriated drinking synthehol. Commander, are you sure she only had three?"

"Yes. Her own, mine, and Harry's. Only I'm not so sure it was synthehol."

"Oh, it was synthehol all right. But from these readings I'd guess she had somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty. There must not have been any water in those drinks at all."

Chakotay gasped. "I'm really going to kill him."


The first officer was fuming. "Paris." He touched the captain's shoulder and his voice softened. "Is she going to be all right?"

"She'll be fine. Although I wouldn't leave her alone quite yet. Synthehol is usually metabolized fairly rapidly, but it usually isn't consumed in such quantity. You might have to wait until morning to murder Mister Paris."

Chakotay returned his arm to its position around Kathryn's waist. "Don't worry, I won't actually kill him. I want him to suffer."

The Doctor nodded. "I have a suggestion involving the floor of sickbay and a toothbrush. In the meantime, who else had one of these drinks?"

"B'Elanna had one, and so did Ensign Campbell. You might want to go back down to the holodeck and find out if anyone else did."

"On my way. You'd better get the captain to bed. And Commander, it wouldn't be a bad idea if you stayed with her. Don't let her sleep on her back, and make sure she drinks plenty of water. Once again, synthehol shouldn't cause the side effects that alcohol does, but with the quantity she has had, I think we'd better err on the side of caution."

"Are you both aware that I'm standing right here?" Janeway asked. It occurred to her that she probably should have pointed that out earlier. Frustrated by her lack of clarity, she struggled to think. "Doctor, how about a stimulant; something to produce adrenaline?"

"Captain, I don't really think that would be wise. Go get some sleep. You'll be fine in the morning."

Her protest died on her lips as Chakotay thanked the Doctor and led her out of sickbay.

Day Fourteen

Tom canceled the morning meeting. After receiving visits from both Tuvok and the captain the previous morning, it would have been foolhardy to continue. Instead, the principle figures gathered on Deck Fifteen.

"So nice of you to join us, Mister Paris," the Doctor drawled as the conn officer arrived. "We were just discussing your method of execution. We came to the conclusion that leaving you to Chakotay would certainly mean a most painful demise."

"Hey, this isn't all my fault!"

"Oh, and whose fault would it be?" Harry asked. "I didn't see anyone else tampering with the replicators."

"I figured she'd only have one," Tom said. "She always only has one. So I tripled the synthehol. I thought it might loosen her tongue when I lured her onto the dance floor."

The Doctor shook his head in disagreement. "You more than tripled the synthehol. You depleted the water content. Each drink had the strength of seven or eight."

Tom's eyes widened. "I didn't mean to do that. My God, someone could have gotten really sick. Is the captain okay?"

"She should be fine, physically," the Doctor said. "I would have heard from Chakotay if she wasn't."

"I'm sure she's mad as hell, though," B'Elanna muttered. "She was all over Chakotay last night." She changed the topic. "What replicator did you use, Tom? I'll have Vorik run a diagnostic."

"The one in the holodeck. I'll go apologize to the captain when we're done here."

"Are you sure that's wise?" the Doctor asked.

"Probably not." Tom sighed. "But I've got it coming and I'd rather face the captain than Chakotay right now."

"Catching her alone might be tricky," the Doctor warned. "I sent her home with the commander last night. She had the first ever case of synthehol poisoning and I didn't want to take any chances."

Resigned to his fate, Tom nodded his understanding.

"In the meantime, does anyone have any ideas concerning the captain and Chakotay?" B'Elanna asked.

"We'd better do something before I start to fall for him myself," Lyssa said, laughing. "He's so darn...attentive."

Tom grinned. "Are you saying that Harry isn't?"

Lyssa rolled her eyes. "Harry and I are just friends. He is my immediate superior officer, after all."

"Hey, that's right, I am!" Harry practically shouted.

"What, you didn't know that?" Lyssa asked.

"No, I mean yes, but I didn't think about it." Harry's entire mood had changed. "Technically, since the transporter chief reports directly to the operations officer, we're prohibited from having a relationship under the same set of protocols that's holding the captain back."

She nodded. "So if we went to the captain and asked for permission to break the rule..."

"It might lead to an opening." The Doctor was nodding. "She can't very well grant you two an exception without rethinking her own situation."

B'Elanna was enthusiastic as well. "Then all that we'd have to do was get her to know how the former Maquis feel, and we're home free!"

"I guess it's official, Harry. I'm madly in love with you."

"What about the next beautiful alien girl we meet?" Tom protested. "Who will sweep her off her feet? Vorik?"

"Vorik can be very charming," B'Elanna said. "He's even developed a sense of humor."

"Since when?"

"Just yesterday he volunteered to eject the warp core in order to rescue me from lunch with Chakotay." B'Elanna was grinning. "Joe thought he was serious for a moment."

"Okay. I'll admit it. That is funny, at least in an engineering kind of way."

The first thing Janeway noticed as she regained consciousness was Chakotay's arm around her waist. Her eyes popped open and she did a quick personal inventory. She was lying on her side with Chakotay behind her. She was dressed. Not just dressed, in fact, but apparently in uniform. So was Chakotay's arm, and therefore, presumably, so was Chakotay.

Memories of the previous evening came flooding back. An alien bar on the holodeck, sweet blue synthehol...practically assaulting Chakotay in the turbolift. Sickbay.

Horrified at her own behavior and furious with Tom, she carefully extracted herself from Chakotay's hold. She almost laughed out loud when she noticed the sheer quantity of blankets he had managed to put between them, then cringed at how she must have been behaving to inspire such ingenuity. The word protocol must have temporarily disappeared from her vocabulary the night before.

Thirst pushed embarrassment from her mind momentarily, and she spotted a large pitcher of water on the nightstand. She drank three glasses before she started to feel better.


She jumped at the sound of her own name mumbled groggily and turned to find Chakotay struggling back to awareness. He sat up.

"How are you feeling?" His face was full of concern.

"I've felt better. What the hell was I drinking last night?"

"That's what I intend to find out." Anger seeped into his voice. He got out of bed and went to stand in front of the dresser.

"I'm sorry."

He turned and looked at her in surprise. "Sorry? For what?"

"For anything I might have done last night that made you uncomfortable. I obviously can't hold my synthehol and I'm sorry."

"Kathryn, you didn't do anything that requires an apology."

"Chakotay, I do remember most of the evening."

"So you were a little affectionate. No harm done, and it wasn't your fault anyhow." He flashed his dimples. "I assure you, I didn't mind one bit."

She let the subject drop. "You can have the shower. I've got to go back to my own quarters for a fresh uniform anyhow. I'll see you on the bridge."

Janeway stepped out into the corridor in her rumpled uniform and ran straight into Tom Paris. Damn. Here she was planning his decapitation and now he had her at a disadvantage.

"Mister Paris." She treated him to her death glare. He had the good grace to cringe and look at the floor.

"Captain, I owe you an apology." He glanced at the door to the first officer's quarters, and shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

Good. Let him squirm. Let him worry that Chakotay could emerge at any second to break his neck. Throwing him in the brig just didn't have the same appeal.

"I tampered with the replicator on the holodeck, but the results were a little more than I bargained for. I'm really sorry. When the Doctor came to me this morning...well, I really am sorry."

He looked sincere enough, she decided. "I want to know exactly what you did to that replicator, and why it had the effect that it did. I want that information yesterday."

"Yes, ma'am. Vorik's already on it. Permission to go assist him?"

"Permission granted. And Tom? You might want to avoid Chakotay today."

When she finally did arrive on the bridge, the captain was almost relieved to notice Harry's absence. Was he off duty today, or was B'Elanna borrowing the bridge crew again?

Either way, it meant she didn't have to face him. She shuddered as he recalled the shocked look on the ensign's face when she swiped his drink.

Chakotay greeted her with a puzzled observation. "You let Paris transfer to engineering for the day?"

"It would be unseemly if you murdered him on the bridge, Commander. Not to mention messy. Is Ensign Kim off duty or in engineering?"

"Off duty." He gave her a meaningful look. "And so is Ensign Campbell."

"They have been spending a fair amount of time together lately." She looked wistful. "It would be nice if Harry stopped having his heart trampled by every passing female alien."

The first officer was somewhat surprised to realize that the captain hadn't recognized the problematic nature of the new relationship. It was part of his job to point it out, but for the first time since signing on as Janeway's second in command he let duty fall by the wayside. If she hadn't noticed the protocol conflict, he certainly wasn't going to be the one to mention it. He'd talk to Harry himself, later, and see if there really was any reason for concern.

Ensign Vorik began his investigation by replicating a glass of the same beverage that had been served to the captain the night before. His tricorder indicated that synthehol, fructose, and a coloring agent were the only chemicals present. Any drink containing synthehol should have been more than eighty percent water; this one had none. That should have been chemically impossible.

He carefully studied the instructions that Tom Paris had given the replicator, and was unable to find the problem there. So the conn officer had been telling the truth. He had tampered with the recipe, but not to the point of purposefully serving the captain pure synthehol.

Next, Vorik replicated a glass of fruit juice. The result was similar. The sludgy liquid produced bore little resemblance to his order, and when scanned it proved to contain no water. The Vulcan had just begun running a diagnostic on the replicator itself when Lieutenant Paris joined him.

"What's the verdict?"

"It would seem that the malfunction was not your fault, Lieutenant." Vorik held up the glass of fruit paste. "This unit is not properly replicating water."

It was sometime after lunch when Harry and Lyssa were finally prepared to make their move. They had rehearsed their request from all angles, with first B'Elanna and then Tom playing the captain's role.

The couple marched onto the bridge, their expressions serious. Chakotay realized instantly that they were looking for the captain, and he thought he knew why. He stood and crossed to the ready room door.

"Harry, why don't you let me talk to her. I might have better luck."

"No, thank you Commander, but I think this is something we need to do ourselves."

"Not that we don't appreciate the offer. We do. Really."

"Then good luck."

The door chime sounded.

"Come," Janeway called, not yet looking up from her work. When she did, she was surprised to see not Chakotay or Tuvok, but rather the two ensigns. They seemed a bit edgy.

"Ensign Kim. Ensign Campbell. What may I do for you?"

"Well, Captain, Lyssa and I have decided to start seeing each other." Harry took a deep breath and waited for his captain's response.

Janeway smiled. "I did notice, Harry, we were at the same table last night." She leaned back in her seat and regarded the young couple seriously. "Pardon me, Ensigns, but why are you here?"

"We're here to ask permission to pursue a relationship, Captain," Harry answered, puzzled.

The captain was somewhat perplexed herself. "Unlike your usual dalliances, Mister Kim, Ensign Campbell is quite human. This time, you don't need my permission or clearance from the Doctor."

Harry was momentarily thrown. He had thought that they were prepared for anything the captain might say, but he hadn't expected her to tease him and it had certainly not occurred to him that he would need to explain the protocol to her.

"Captain, as transporter chief I serve directly under Harry," Lyssa explained. "According to Starfleet protocol we are not allowed to date. We're here to ask you to grant us an exception to that rule."

"Oh." The captain looked serious for a moment, and then smiled. She was damned if she was going to let protocol keep Harry from potential happiness. "Well, I see no reason not to grant your request. You're both mature adults and I'm sure you can keep your personal and professional lives separate."

Both ensigns were annoyed, but they hid it well. "Thank you, Captain."

"Good day, Tom!" Neelix called from the kitchen as the pilot entered the mess hall. "What can I get for you?"

"Nothing right now, Neelix. I just wanted to make sure your replicator isn't giving you any trouble."

"No, no trouble at all."

"You won't believe what the replicators on deck fourteen are doing. Instead of water, they're producing hydrogen and oxygen, which dissipate, leaving only the other components of any beverage you order. Hence, pure synthehol."

"Ouch. It's a good thing nobody replicated anything with real alcohol."

Tom shuddered. "You don't know how close I came to doing that last night."

Chakotay put the last dish onto the dinner table and sat down across from Kathryn. "So what did you tell them?"


"Harry and Lyssa. What did you tell them?"

"I granted their request. How could I not?"

"What about Starfleet protocols?"

"I think we can make an exception in this case. Harry deserves to be happy, and so does Lyssa. If there are consequences when Starfleet learns about it, well, I gave them permission so I guess that's my responsibility now."

Don't you deserve happiness, Kathryn? You'll go out on a limb for every member of this crew except yourself. He was somewhat surprised to realize that he was sorely tempted to actually say it, but he knew that if things were ever to change, the first move would have to be Kathryn's.

Tom and B'Elanna carried their trays across the mess hall and joined Harry and Lyssa.

"So, how did it go?" Tom asked.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Not well."

"She shot you down?" B'Elanna asked.

Tom looked stunned. "I would have bet a month's replicator rations that you'd win her over."

"And you would have won," Harry muttered. "She didn't shoot us down. Trouble is, she didn't argue one bit."

"We didn't get to use any of our best lines," Lyssa said. "We asked. She said yes. The end."

"Unbelievable. She's lived by that protocol for six years, and we know it hasn't been easy for her. We ask to break it and she hardly even blinks." Harry shook his head sadly.

"It's still the Maquis thing," B'Elanna said. "We've got to find a way to tell her that we want her to be happy."

"That's the key, isn't it. But how?" Lyssa poked at her food unenthusiastically. She shot a look at Harry and gave an exaggerated sigh. "This is just pathetic. Harry and I have trapped ourselves indefinitely in a sham relationship, and in the meantime the captain and Chakotay are hiding from true love for the next thirty years."

"Sounds like just another day aboard the voyage of the damned," the Doctor muttered. "Mind if we join you?"

"By all means, pull up some chairs." Tom threw his arms apart in a rather theatrical gesture of welcome. "That's just what this table needs. The Newlyweds."

Seven raised an eyebrow. "The Doctor and I have not participated in a marriage ceremony, Lieutenant."

"It's just an expression, Seven," B'Elanna explained wearily. "I think he's trying to accuse you of being too happy."

"So what does our great leader have planned for tonight?" the Doctor asked.

"Tennis," Tom said.

"And just what do you hope to accomplish with tennis?"

"Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I'm out of ideas, and until we think of a way to deal with the Maquis situation, it doesn't matter anyhow."

"I promised Lyssa that we'd play," Janeway explained.

"So you're making promises for the two of us now?" Chakotay teased.

"Do I complain when you tell Neelix that I'll attend one of his parties?" She laughed. "Now please, go change before I decide to make it an order."

He chuckled as well. "Aye, Captain."

They arrived on holodeck two in time to watch Harry and Lyssa thoroughly trounce Tom and B'Elanna. The helmsman approached the first officer as soon as he came off of the court.

"Chakotay, I just wanted to apologize for last night."

"No need, Tom. Vorik told me it wasn't your fault." The commander was nothing if not forgiving. "If it had been, you might not have lived long enough to apologize."

"Understood," Tom said solemnly. He lightened his tone. "Now do me a favor and beat Harry. I've never been so humiliated."

"I'll try, Tom," Chakotay promised. "I'll certainly try."

Janeway and Chakotay squared off against the two ensigns. It quickly became apparent that it was going to be a hard fought match. Both Janeway and Kim always seemed to excel at everything they did, and tennis was proving no exception.

The first point scored by the younger couple was undoubtedly Chakotay's fault. Temporarily distracted by the glorious sight of Kathryn's amazing legs, he didn't move swiftly enough to hit what should have been an easy shot.

That, he admitted to himself, was precisely why they couldn't be more than friends. He couldn't even imagine the level of distraction an intimate relationship could produce. Had that happened on the bridge, it could have been fatal. Of course, Kathryn certainly wouldn't have been wearing such a short skirt on the bridge. Not in this century.

"Are you going to play, Commander, or do I have to cover the whole court?" the captain chided as she hit back a ball which had quite clearly been on his side of the court.

In the end, the command team managed to finish with their honor intact, winning by a single point.

"Rematch?" Harry asked hopefully.

"Not tonight," both Chakotay and Lyssa chorused at once.

"I really thought that Chakotay was better at tennis," Tom said. "He isn't bad, but he missed at least two easy shots."

"He's usually very good." B'Elanna grinned and shook her head. "I think he was watching the captain's legs a little more closely than he was watching the ball."

"Can't blame him there." Tom said, earning himself a punch in the arm. "Hey, I only meant that I had trouble keeping my eyes off of your attributes when we were playing."

"I don't buy it, Tom, but I'll make you a deal." B'Elanna leaned over and whispered in his ear. "You can stare at the captain's legs all you want, but then I get to leer at Chakotay. After all, fair is fair."

Tom grumbled an indistinct response as they set off for her quarters.

"Will I have company tonight?" Chakotay asked cautiously once he and the captain were alone in the turbolift.

She sighed. "Yes, I think you will."

"You feel guilty about that. Kathryn, don't feel guilty." His voice lowered to a whisper. "This situation isn't your fault. You are as human as the rest of us, captain's pips or not. Everyone gets lonely. Didn't you wonder how I happened to be in your quarters two nights ago?"

Janeway listened to his speech of reassurance, and was almost prepared to argue with him, as if her guilt needed to be defended. She was stopped by his final question. "What were you doing in my quarters?"

"I couldn't sleep. I missed you."

He was trying to alleviate her guilt by claiming it for himself, she realized, but she suspected he was being sincere as well. Someday, she thought fiercely. Someday.

When she arrived in his quarters a few minutes later, she immediately disappeared into his bathroom to change. It was still too early in the evening to risk roaming the corridors in a nightgown. Chakotay looked up from his book as she returned.

She had changed into a high necked, long sleeved, shapeless gray flannel number that she probably assumed couldn't possibly be found alluring. She was mistaken. His heart lost its rhythm as his mind wandered back to the first time he had seen her in Starfleet issue sleepwear.

Rarely did Chakotay permit himself to remember that uninhabited planet in Vidiian space where he and Kathryn had been marooned together. Now, prompted by the gray nightgown, he recalled the night after the plasma storm and the neck rub that had almost become more.

Even after more than four years, he could still remember every glorious detail. The softness of her hair as he moved it aside. Her quiet sound of pleasure as the tension in her shoulders gave way to his ministrations...

He was staring at her as if she had emerged in red silk rather than gray flannel. She glanced down, as if to verify that she was indeed dressed. What could he possibly find so fascinating? He had certainly seen her in far less; even the outfit she had just shed revealed more.

Deciding it was safer not to acknowledge his attention, she crossed the room and joined him on the couch. "What are you reading?"

"Dickens," he answered, relieved at her question. For a brief moment he had feared that she'd inquire after his thoughts. That was a query he couldn't have answered.

One of their most important unspoken rules forbade the mention of that planet and all that it represented. Chakotay didn't even allow himself to think its name.

To Janeway's annoyance, her feet hurt. If he caught her rubbing them, he'd most likely take matters into his own hands. She tried to ignore the irritating pain, but her resolve was weak. It took about fifteen seconds for him to notice the situation.

"Sore feet?" He didn't even wait for an answer before taking possession of one tender extremity. His magical hands found the right spot immediately, applying the exact amount of pressure necessary to ease the pain. Her objection went unvoiced.

Chakotay watched Kathryn's face intently as he worked the knots out of her feet. He didn't linger about the task, despite the temptation it presented. Instead, he sought to prove his self control, to himself as well as to her.

"Better?" He released her second foot.

"Much. Do you have any parts that require attention?"

He swallowed hard and firmly reminded himself that she most certainly had not meant that the way it had sounded. In truth, his shoulder was a bit sore, but he had no intention of revealing that fact. That might test his self control a little bit too much.

When her inquiry received no answer, she got up and moved closer to him. "I saw you wince when you hit that backhand," she said softly. "Now let me pay you back."

What could he say? He surrendered, and struggled to remain silent as those exquisite hands slid over his shoulders, sending waves of pleasure throughout his body. He wondered if she had any idea what effect her actions were having.

For her part, Janeway was fighting back a strong desire to pull his shirt off and explore his glorious shoulders more thoroughly. She imagined pressing her lips against hot, bare skin as her hands slid around his waist and up over his chest. With all of the willpower she could muster, she forced the unwelcome thoughts from her head and concentrated instead on finding the muscle knot.

Chakotay, always perceptive, had found hers immediately, of course. She had to draw upon her skills as a scientist to locate the source of his discomfort. Once she forced her mind to study the problem at hand, she gained control over her emotions as well. She kneaded the soreness out of the muscle and then moved her hands away.


"Better," he managed. He didn't dare turn around, lest his desire for her become apparent.

She reddened as she realized why he wasn't turning around. She moved to the far end of the couch and closed her eyes. "Why don't you read me some Dickens? Maybe it will make me drowsy enough to go to bed."

Chakotay was on the bridge alone. It had been decided that keeping the bridge fully staffed was a waste of time now that they were this far into the void. He was startled when the turbolift doors slid open, and turned to see Kathryn emerge.

She treated him to a radiant smile. "Computer, seal the doors."

Instantly alert, Chakotay studied his captain as she approached him.

"Relax, Chakotay," she murmured. "It's just me, and I'm not under any alien influence. But it's about time that I did this." And she kissed him.

Chakotay slipped out of bed, careful not to wake Kathryn. He needed to find the source of his dreams and put an end to them. If the Doctor couldn't help him, then a vision quest was his only option.

It bothered him that the words 'alien influence' had appeared in the dream. Was his subconscious using those words because of their current concerns, or was this proof that their concerns were justified? He sat down in front of the couch, placed his hand on the akoonah, and began the ritual.

To his surprise, Chakotay found himself face to face not with his reptilian spirit guide, or with the wolf who frequented his dreams, but rather with Kolopak.


"Accuse me of being an alien and I will be sorely disappointed, my son," the gray haired Native American said. "You look for complicated explanations and hidden meanings in such simple things these days."

"What do you mean?"

"How hard is it to recognize your desire for the woman you love? Yet here you are, asking the spirits to explain your dreams. Dreams that are quite simple and straightforward, I might add."

"But it isn't that simple. We have to wait - "

"Wait? You are here. She is here. Why wait? Tell her of your love for her."

"I can't. Not until the Alpha Quadrant. I vowed to follow Starfleet policy when I promised to serve her. I'll tell her when this mission ends."

"Thirty years from now? And what if you never reach the Alpha Quadrant? What if one of you fails to survive the journey? Will she never know how you felt?"

"She knows."

"Why? Because you said someday to her? What sort of a declaration of love is that? Someday. What does that even mean?"

"Kathryn knows what it means. She knows exactly what it means. She knows that I love her, and that I want a life with her, and that she has changed my life for the better, and that I cherish her friendship more than my next breath."

"Perhaps you are right. The spirits know she makes as little sense as you. Starfleet protocol; waiting until the Alpha Quadrant to start living; using the word someday in place of love." He shook his head sadly. "My contrary son has truly found his soul mate."

Chakotay angrily sought to defend her. "This isn't about the two of us. We have a crew to bring home, and if we break protocol it will hurt her reputation with Starfleet. If it was just her own career at stake, it would be far different. But it will be her job to protect this crew when we get home. She needs to secure pardons for my old Maquis crew, and she also has the former Equinox crew to worry about. She may have to defend each of her actions here in the Delta Quadrant, and therefore the actions of those following her orders as well."

"If she has done things which need defending then what's one more?" Kolopak asked. "What has she done that is so terrible?"

"Nothing. She has done nothing that wasn't the right thing to do." He was adamant. "But there is always the chance that Starfleet will disagree. And there are the Maquis to consider."

"So it is you and your Maquis who have done wrong?"

"No. The Maquis did nothing but defend their homes and families. Something I should have done the minute the Cardassians became a threat. The only thing I regret is staying with Starfleet as long as I did after they chose to trust the Cardassians."

"So if there is no one on this ship who deserves punishment, why do you both expect trouble from Starfleet?"

"I don't. Not really. I am fairly confident that Kathryn can secure pardons for the Maquis and justify all of her actions in this quadrant. But our relationship might come under scrutiny, and if some admiral decides that we have not behaved appropriately then Kathryn might lose her ability to protect us."

"Might." Kolopak shook his head. "You might get back to the Alpha Quadrant. And some admiral might be interested in your relationship. And that might have some effect on how the Maquis are treated. Has it not occurred to you that this sacrifice is too much? That you are punishing yourselves now far more than Starfleet ever could, and that it is quite possibly unnecessary?"

"If I were the only one who might suffer, I would agree with you. But what about B'Elanna? And Garan? And Chell? And Henley? And all of the other former Maquis?"

"Has it occurred to you that they might not want you to make that sacrifice? They knew the potential consequences when they signed on as Maquis. They were prepared to die fighting the Cardassians, or to serve time in rehabilitation colonies. If they weren't, they wouldn't have been on your ship."

"Maybe so," Chakotay replied warily. "But it is no longer their decision to make, nor is it mine. The responsibility is now Kathryn's, and as unfair as that may be, she will never see it differently. And I will support her. I cannot change her mind, and I will not try. She carries enough unjustified guilt and I refuse to add to it."

"So you will continue to live like this, in this state of inaction, for her?"

"If I must, and right now it seems that I must. I will give her whatever I can, on whatever terms she will accept. But I will not push her."

"And if she takes another lover? One that her protocols will allow? How will you feel then?"

"They aren't her protocols. They are Starfleet's. And if our journey drags on, and she finds another to love? Well, then I will continue to be her first officer and her friend. And I will hope that he is worthy of her, and that he makes her happy."

"Will that not hurt you, to see her with another?"

"Perhaps. But I want her to be happy. If it really does take us twenty or thirty years to get home, then I would be selfish to expect her to wait for me."

"Why should either of you expect the other to wait at all? You will not know the length of your journey until it is complete."

"She is not asking me to wait. But I will wait for her because I love her. I could never be happy with anyone else. If she and I can never be together, then so be it. But I could never be happy knowing that she was lonely. And I would gladly spend the rest of my lifetime beside her in friendship, but I never wish to spend even five minutes in the arms of another woman."

"What about Riley Frazier?"

"She manipulated me." Chakotay cringed at the memory. "I never would have had anything to do with her if it weren't for that Borg neural implant."

"And Kellin?"

This question confused him. "Who is Kellin?"

"Never mind. You will not remember. I see I will not convince you today, my son. I only hope that she is worthy of your devotion, and that you do not waste your lives in waiting and yearning."

"She is worthy," Chakotay assured the old man. "She is more than worthy. I feel very lucky just to have her as a friend. And the waiting will end, someday."

Janeway awoke and was surprised to find that Chakotay was not beside her. Without even bothering to scold herself for missing him, she climbed out of bed and crept out into the living room.

He was sitting on the floor, his medicine bundle open beside him. Feeling like an intruder, she turned back towards the bedroom.

"Kathryn?" His voice was soft. "Please don't go."

She reversed her course and sat down next to him. Slightly worried, she tried through the darkness to read the expression on his face. "What is it?"

He remained silent for a moment, as if gathering his thoughts. "I had a dream which troubled me. So I went on a vision quest."

She waited, then on impulse reached over and took his hand. "Want to tell me about it?" she prompted when he didn't continue.

"I don't think that I can," he answered slowly. "Not right now. But sometime in the future I will."

She accepted that, and they sat together in silence for a while.

"Are you happy?" he asked at last.

The seriousness in his tone left no room for a light answer. "I wouldn't trade the last six years for anything. Do I want to go home? Of course. But am I really sorry that we're here? No, I don't think that I am. I'm really very thankful for so many things. This ship. This crew. You." She watched his face. "I've never been as close to anyone as I am to you. I wouldn't trade our friendship for a wormhole all the way to San Francisco."

"Neither would I," he answered hoarsely. He bit back words of love and reined in his yearning to kiss her. Speaking softly, he said as much as he dared. "You do know how very special you are to me, don't you?"

"Of course I do," she whispered. She lifted his hand to her lips, pressing a kiss to his fingers and watching as his eyes drifted shut. Every cell in her body ached with the desire to taste his lips. Instead, she ducked forward, draped his arm around her shoulders, and snuggled up against him.

They sat like that, holding each other on the floor in front of his couch, each wishing they could offer the other more, and eventually they drifted off to sleep once again.

Day Fifteen

The conspirators were packed into Ensign Kim's quarters like tribbles in a bin of quadrotriticale. Neelix had an idea. So Tom, B'Elanna, Harry, Seven, the Doctor, Lyssa, Joe, Sam, and Vorik were joined by Brad Harrison, Noah Mannick, and Gabrielle Allyn, as well as Chell, Garan, Henley, and a number of other former Maquis not currently assigned to gamma shift.

"So what have you got, Neelix?" Tom asked.

"Do you remember our stay on Hellhole?"

B'Elanna snorted. "Kind of hard to forget, don't you think?"

"Does anyone remember exactly what Chakotay said when he finished sharing his life story?" Neelix asked.

"Something about the captain, as I recall," Tom answered. He looked around at the group.

Harry spoke up, grinning. "I don't remember his exact words, but it was something about being grateful to have met her, even if it meant spending the rest of his life on a ship with Tom Paris."

As the laughter died down, Gabrielle suddenly realized why she, Brad, and Noah had been included in the meeting. Neelix had included everyone who had been on Hellhole. "I remember. He made the crack about being stuck with Tom for the rest of his life, then said 'It was all made worthwhile by one thing: having met and worked beside the remarkable woman named Kathryn Janeway.'"

"That's very sweet," the Doctor said. "Now what good is it going to do us?"

"Everyone on board this ship has a story like that, and maybe the captain needs to hear some of them," Neelix explained. "We need to let her know how many of us are glad to be on Voyager."

"True, but how do you propose we accomplish that?"

"Today is the anniversary of our escape from the Subu," Neelix said.

Seven interrupted. "You are mistaken."

"Not really. Not by Earth's calendar," Neelix said hastily. "But it is by the Talaxian calendar. It's just an excuse, anyhow. If we could get everyone, especially the former Maquis, to share some of the reasons they are thankful to be a part of this crew, maybe we could work on convincing the captain that sacrificing her personal happiness isn't necessary."

"Good idea, Neelix," Tom said. "Everyone spread the word to those who aren't here. And start thinking about what you are planning to say."

Harry interrupted. "Remember, it needs to sound spontaneous."

"And please be subtle," B'Elanna added.

When Janeway awoke for the second time that morning she felt much more well rested. The tinge of guilt she felt for waking up in her first officer's arms dueled briefly with her enjoyment of the same fact. Both were overridden by her concern for him as she remembered their earlier discussion.

What sort of dream could have chased him out of bed in the middle of the night, and why couldn't he tell her about it? Was he worried about fueling her nightmares? What could be so disturbing? She shuddered at the possibilities.

Here she was finally able to escape her nightmares, and now Chakotay was being bothered by traumatic dreams. She decided that it might be wise to investigate. Perhaps others on board had been troubled in their sleep.

The memory of one encounter with a telepathic dream species made her wary; she refused to let seemingly quiet space lure her into a false sense of security.

She'd go talk to the Doctor. Later. But right now she was going to stay right where she was for just a few more minutes.

Eventually, a change in his breathing told her that he was awake. She smiled as she realized that he was trying to remain still, unwilling to disturb her. "It's okay," she whispered to him. "I'm awake."

He chuckled softly. "I was waiting for you and you were waiting for me. We could have kept that up all day."

"I wasn't complaining," she replied as she sat up. They both climbed to their feet. "Can I count on your company for breakfast?"

He flashed the smile she found so endearing. "Always."

Both Tom Paris and Lyssa Campbell were scheduled for shifts in sickbay. Harry Kim had work to do in engineering, and while she was technically off duty, B'Elanna Torres had little interest in being anywhere else at the moment.

She and Harry headed for deck eleven, engrossed in a conversation about the aft shield generator. Tom and Lyssa set off for deck five.

"If tonight doesn't work, I think we should take drastic measures," Tom said. He was grinning.

"Oh? Like what?"

The helmsman snickered. "Possibly a little transporter malfunction. Do you think you could manage to lock their clothes in the pattern buffer?"

She laughed, then stared at him. "You're not serious, are you? My God, Tom, she'd kill you and I'd help her!"

"Okay, bad idea. But I'm really starting to get desperate. I thought they just needed a little push, but this is turning into hard work."

"Like Seven said, they are stubborn."

"That's an understatement."

Lyssa looked serious for a moment. "Actually, I think it's the captain that's stubborn."

"No. It takes two for this level of pigheadedness. If he'd just tell her exactly how he felt - "

She interrupted. "You don't think he has?"

"What, that whole someday thing?" He rolled his eyes.

"You can't tell me you don't think that was romantic."

"No, I think it was romantic as hell. But that's not the point."

"Then what is the point?"

"If he'd just push, just a little bit, then she'd be forced to make a decision. And I know she loves him. She couldn't possibly reject him outright."

"She couldn't?"

"No, she couldn't. Not any more than I could have turned down B'Elanna. But as long as he stands back and waits for her, she can just continue along with their twisted little denialfest."

"I don't think denialfest is a word."

"Oh now that's certainly a point worth debating."

The Doctor found his routine duties to be a bit more challenging as he tried to ignore the argument Tom and Lyssa had carried into his sickbay. His tolerance finally expired.

"Lieutenant. Ensign. Would you two please take this discussion out of my sickbay? Or better yet, find something else to argue about before someone overhears you."

"Overhears what, Doctor?" Captain Janeway asked as she entered. She had no idea what she had missed, but she took some pleasure in watching Tom turn red anyhow. She felt more sympathy for Ensign Campbell.

"Good morning, Captain. What can I do for you today?" The Doctor shot a look at the two part-time medics, who promptly bolted, muttering about the transporters on the Delta Flyer.

The captain took a seat across from the Doctor's desk. "I wanted to know if any crew members have come to you about experiencing strange dreams recently."

He looked uneasy. "As a matter of fact, I have had one person make such a complaint."

Her face registered concern. "Nightmares?"

"No. That individual was being troubled by dreams of an erotic nature."

"Oh. I see."

"I cannot say more without - "

She cut him off. "Please don't. I understand. I'm probably just worrying for nothing, but I need to know if this is a pattern. Please let me know if anyone else complains about having unusual dreams in the next few days."

"Aye, Captain," the Doctor replied as he watched her retreat. "That's right, Captain," he muttered under his simulated breath, "It must be aliens. You and the commander couldn't possibly just be attracted to one another."

With Chakotay off duty, Janeway was finding her morning to be exceptionally dull. The most inspiring report she read all day was B'Elanna's, which included a far too detailed description of the replicator repairs on deck fourteen.

Even Tom's humming would have been a welcome distraction at this point, but Ensign Henley had taken his place at the conn while he worked in sickbay. The helm needed little attention, and the young woman was working busily on a padd.

Ensign Wildman left the science station to stroll over to the helm for what must have been the twentieth time in the last hour. Janeway watched as the two women whispered to each other and once again traded data padds. She was just starting to really wonder what they were doing when her boredom was relieved by the swish of the turbolift doors.

The first officer crossed the bridge and slid into his seat. "Ship still on course, Captain?"

"Seems to be."

"What is this holiday we're supposed to be celebrating tonight? I've never heard of it."

"Neither have I. It's probably just an excuse for a party. You know Neelix."

They shared a smile.

The first to speak was the Doctor. Janeway knew how much he adored being the center of attention, and she feared a long winded speech. She was surprised by the level of emotion in his voice as he began.

"If I weren't on Voyager, I might not have even achieved sentience. I would still be very similar to what I was on the day I was first activated. A computer program, capable of little else outside of my medical abilities.

"Yet thanks to Captain Janeway and this crew, I have come to know so many things, even love. Especially love. And being in love is the greatest experience life has to offer.

"So am I glad to be a part of this mission? Unquestionably. And tonight I appreciate the opportunity to remember just how lucky I really am."

Seven of Nine took his place. "I, too, have benefited beyond measure from being a part of this crew. Captain Janeway has helped me achieve individuality. I have learned what it means to live, and what it means to love. And I want to thank every member of this crew for making that possible."

She was quiet for a moment, perhaps struggling with her emotions. "Had it not been for Voyager, I would still be a member of the Collective, and that is not an appealing prospect. The Borg do not experience friendship, love, or even adventure. Here, I have experienced all of those things."

"Tough act to follow," Harry whispered in Lyssa's ear. She made a fairly public show of extracting herself from his arms and moved to take her turn.

"I signed on with Starfleet hoping for adventure, but fearing that there was little opportunity to be a part of the sort of discoveries that my childhood heroes made.

"For those who served in the days of Kirk, Spock, and Pike, the Alpha Quadrant still contained seemingly inexhaustible mystery. I wanted to seek out new life, and new civilization, but if Voyager had remained in the Alpha Quadrant, would that have really happened? I don't believe so.

"I am selfishly glad that we ended up so far from home. I do someday hope to return to Federation space, and I would like to see my crewmates reunited with their loved ones, but for me, I wouldn't trade this adventure of ours for anything.

"Now, I have found someone to share my life with, and I wouldn't trade that away either. I'd like to thank Captain Janeway for seeing the wisdom in bending the rules when necessary. Love should not be bound by regulations."

As Lyssa and Harry again treated the room to a public display of affection, B'Elanna stood to speak.

"I don't think anyone who knows me can question how grateful I am to be on board Voyager. Captain Janeway has given me opportunities that I never would have had otherwise.

"I am thankful for the engineering challenges, the friendships, the personal growth, and most of all for the happiness that I have found with Tom. Whatever the future holds, it will be worth it, to have been a part of this voyage and to have fallen in love."

With tears in her eyes, the engineer ceded the floor to young Naomi Wildman. The child was beaming.

"Voyager is my home, and I think it is the best place to live in the whole galaxy. And I should know. Thanks to Voyager I have seen a lot of the galaxy. I'm glad that this ship came to the Delta Quadrant, because if it hadn't I wouldn't have met Neelix or Seven or the Doctor or probably anyone else on Voyager. I am thankful for all of the people that I love. I hope that everyone is as happy as I am, especially Captain Janeway, because she makes Voyager a special place to live."

Tom Paris was crying before he even started speaking. Janeway wondered if it was Naomi's speech that had gotten to him. "How can I even find the words to express how much Voyager means to me? I should get down on my knees every day and kiss Captain Janeway's feet. She gave me a second chance, and because of that, I have become the person I am today. I can look at myself in the mirror and see a Starfleet officer, someone who makes a difference, someone with integrity and accomplishments.

"I have also gained love. Something I thought I would never have again, and something which is more precious than anything in this galaxy."

Unable to say more, he let Harry take his place. "Unlike everyone else on board, I was given a choice once. This life, on Voyager, or life in an alternate timeline, working at Starfleet Command. It was not a difficult decision. I would not give up even the hardest times on this ship for an easier life anywhere else.

"I am grateful to be sharing this incredible adventure with the best friends I could ever wish for, and I am glad to have a chance for happiness with Lyssa, thanks to Captain Janeway's wisdom and generosity."

Chell spoke next. The ordinarily cheerful Bolian spoke with great seriousness. "Like every former Maquis on board Voyager, I might someday be asked to face the consequences for my past. But not for one moment will I have any regrets.

"I am not sorry to have followed Commander Chakotay in the past. We were all only doing what we felt was right, and we were all prepared to die fighting the Cardassians.

"Fate had a different destiny in store for us, and for that I am tremendously grateful. I have grown and learned on Voyager, and I have gained friendships that have enriched my life. I hope that Captain Janeway realizes just how much we all owe her. There is nothing I wouldn't do to repay her kindness."

The quiet was broken as various people voiced their agreement with Chell's sentiment. Megan Delaney bounced into the spotlight.

"I don't think anyone has ever accused me of being unhappy. But that doesn't mean I'm going to miss the chance to say a few words tonight. I, too, am grateful to be on Voyager, and if we're out here another five years, or even another thirty, I won't mind at all.

"I've got something of a reputation as a party girl, and I don't mind that. I do enjoy my free time. But I am also a stellar cartographer, and in that respect, being on Voyager has been a dream come true. We've mapped more star systems than any Federation ship in the last century. And I never thought I'd be able to see a binary neutron star."

Ensign Henley was the next to take a turn. "My grandfather had a saying that has stuck with me. 'Be where you are.' That is how I live my life. I don't sacrifice the present mourning the events of the past, or wondering what might have been, or worrying about the future.

"I am glad to be on Voyager, and I will continue to enjoy both ordinary routine and each new adventure that presents itself. I am not serving on this ship because I'm hoping for a pardon once we get home. I am serving on this ship because that is the hand I was dealt, and I am happy here, regardless of what may yet be."

Vorik stood and nodded at Henley. "Live every day. A wise and logical recommendation. We are here, in the Delta Quadrant. It would be illogical to waste energy lamenting that fact, or to miss out on the many opportunities we are given here.

"Early in our journey, there were a few who thought we should avoid wasting time with exploration of any kind. I disagreed. This crew has had a unique opportunity to explore this quadrant. I, for one, have gained much from the experience. As for the future? I will be able to tell my grandchildren that I was on Voyager."

Janeway was next startled to see Mortimer Haren take the floor. He rarely left deck fifteen, and certainly didn't make social appearances.

"I don't think anyone on this ship was more dissatisfied with our situation than I was for the first few years. But thanks to Captain Janeway, my opinion has changed. I've actually seen a device capable of containing dark matter! How many theoretical physicists can say that? So whether we're out here for another month, or year, or thirty years, I'm not sorry to be here. I am grateful to have expanded my horizons, and I now understand why so many members of this crew would happily follow our captain into hell and back."

There were more shouts of agreement. Tal Celes overcame her usual shyness to speak her piece.

"I thought I was accepted into Starfleet Academy just because I happened to be Bajoran, and I was probably right. But not long ago, Captain Janeway showed me that I could be more to Starfleet than just a political statement.

"She pointed out that she chose to make me a part of her crew because I showed evidence of unconventional thinking. I have tried to develop that ability, and it has made me better at my job, and happier in my life. If my first mission had been on any other ship, I probably would have left Starfleet by now. But I am glad that I haven't. I am glad to be a part of Voyager."

Janeway sat and listened as each member of her unique crew came forward and spoke. Many brought tears to her eyes with their words. Those who had lost the most when Voyager was transported to the Delta Quadrant, such as Joe Carey, Samantha Wildman, and Lieutenant Ayala, reminded her that they had not given up hope, and that they did not regret their sacrifices.

Others, especially many of the former Maquis, stressed that being aboard Voyager was the greatest blessing of their lives. Even Noah Lessing and Marla Gilmore spoke, and thanked the captain for the second chances they had been given after their hellish experiences aboard the Equinox. The evening seemed to provide a contrast to her nightmare.

"Commander, do you have anything to say?" Neelix prodded.

Chakotay got to his feet and looked around at the crew. There were tears in his eyes. "I, too, am grateful that fate placed me here, on this ship, beside the most extraordinary captain in Starfleet. We may still have many challenges to face, but I know that we will persevere, because we are all lucky enough to be part of such a resourceful crew."

He exchanged a look with Kathryn. He could see that she was putting forth a heroic effort to remain composed. Neelix would no doubt expect her to speak next, so he stalled for a moment in order to give her the chance to collect herself and gather her thoughts.

"Everyone has remembered to mention the important things tonight. Adventure, accomplishment, friendship, love. But I haven't heard a single word about how lucky we are to have holodecks, replicators, sonic showers, and, of course, Neelix's leola root stew. So I'll mention them now, because I remember going without those luxuries on the Liberty, as do many of you."

Janeway shot him a smile of thanks and rose to add her thoughts to the evening. "Thank you, all of you, for sharing your feelings. This journey hasn't always been easy, but knowing that you haven't all been miserable means a great deal to me. No other captain ever had a finer crew."

She decided to no longer feel guilty about caring. How could she not? How could anyone blame her for loving all of these special people?

"Each one of you is very dear to me, and I am grateful to have every single one of you on board, contributing to Voyager's incredible pool of talent. When we get back to Federation space, and we will, I will make sure Starfleet knows exactly how hard you have all worked to make this mission a success.

"We may have been sent out on a three week long errand, but when we return, it will be with enough data to keep Federation scientists busy for decades. We have obtained more information about the Borg than any ship has ever gathered. We have proven the existence of the shadow universe. We have managed to divert the path of a runaway star, rendering it harmless. I could go on, but you were all there. Thank you all, for all of the hard work you do every day."

Back in Chakotay's quarters, Janeway curled up on the couch with a cup of coffee. She patted the seat beside her. He took the hint and joined her.

"I think they were trying to send me a message. I'm just not entirely sure what it was."

"I think they wanted to thank their captain for a few things. I told you about how we passed the time while we were prisoners that time. Everyone who spoke then was glad to be on this ship, even if it meant dying in that camp."

She nodded and smiled at the memory. Temporarily losing almost her entire senior staff to the Subu had been traumatic, but after everyone had returned safely to the ship, she and Chakotay had relaxed over dinner in her quarters.

They had ended up staying awake until dawn as Chakotay related every detail to her. She almost felt as if she had been there with him, sharing in the bonding and the story telling, he had described the experience so thoroughly.

Chakotay continued. "I also think that Neelix wanted everyone to be reminded of our good fortune. He did a good job. We were wise to make him the morale officer."

She laughed. "Best command decision we ever made."

Day Sixteen

Tom Paris had decided to risk another morning meeting, and as a result the shuttlebay was packed. "Now that we've done as much damage to their excuses as possible, let's move forward."

"Not one word about clothing in the pattern buffer," Lyssa warned.

"At this point I'm thinking Seven was right about locking them in the brig," Harry said. "B'Elanna, how would you feel about giving Chakotay a little lecture?"

"Not yet. Maybe if this keeps dragging on I'll try to talk to him. But right now I'm afraid that talking to Chakotay might give us away."

"Whatever happened to that secret admirer ploy?" Ensign Jenkins asked. "Couldn't we try that now?"

"It still has the same problem," Sam answered. "How do we make it sound like Chakotay?"

"We would need something that Chakotay has written," Tom said. "Then we could copy the style."

"Well, we can't access his personal logs," B'Elanna argued. "It just wouldn't be right."

"And the first officer's logs would be too formal," Harry said. "Not that they'd be any less off limits anyhow. I guess we'll have to think of something else."

Neelix bit his lip as he tried to decide whether to share what he knew. He glanced nervously at the Doctor. "Kes told me something about a letter Chakotay left for the captain, in the event of his passing. She said it was in sickbay."

The Doctor froze for a moment, and then nodded. "It won't do us any good, I'm afraid. It's on paper, and it's sealed. The letter's three or four years old, anyhow."

"Not to mention the fact that it would still be a violation of privacy to read it," B'Elanna reminded them.

"I've got an idea," Tal Celes interrupted. "Not all messages are written. Why don't we send her flowers?"

"That's not bad," Harry agreed. "Except how do we send them?"

Celes looked at Lyssa Campbell, who smiled. "Use the transporter."

Captain and Commander had fallen into a comfortable, if technically inappropriate, routine. They awoke together, had breakfast together, went on duty and ran the ship as they always had, met again for dinner, socialized with their crew together, and finally slept side by side, yet apart, once again. They didn't cross what they mutually perceived to be The Line, but the outside observer would have been baffled.

Today was little different from the days that had gone before, except that Janeway, still concerned that some external influence might be affecting her crew, had claimed Ensign Wildman's post as her own for the day. She now sat at the science station, running every scan that occurred to her and reminiscing about her days as a science officer aboard the Al-Batani.

It had been aboard that vessel, commanded by Owen Paris, that she had first met Lieutenant Justin Tighe. Working with him had been exasperating. She recalled her shock when Admiral Paris had called her into his ready room to patiently explain that Justin had feelings for her.

Looking back, it occurred to her just how difficult it must have been for Justin. In love, and prevented by protocol from uttering a word. That had a familiar ring to it, now. She had been directly under his command in the science department at the time.

She had also been completely oblivious to his feelings, partially because she had deliberately walled herself off from such things, and partially because he had treated her coldly most of the time.

That mission hadn't been a ceaseless trek across the Delta Quadrant, and Justin hadn't been the captain, but she felt a sudden jolt of sympathy for the man who had been her first love.

He had been so different from Chakotay, who could never hide his feelings from her, even though he tried. She attempted to imagine Chakotay disguising his love for her beneath a surly attitude, and naturally failed.

With a stab of guilt, she realized how many times she had hurt Chakotay, treating him to the cold shoulder. Her cruelty far exceeded Justin's sometimes thoughtless behavior. Yet Chakotay had never wavered in his loyalty, his caring, or his support. Almost without fail, he always gave her the very best part of himself.

She had seen him at his worst, once. She shuddered at the memory of Chakotay slamming Noah Lessing up against the wall in a corridor on deck ten. Never had she seen Chakotay angrier, and she cringed in shame, knowing that it hadn't been Lessing that had pushed him to that point. It had been her. And it hadn't been easily accomplished.

What would Justin have done in Chakotay's place that day? Would he have stopped her from committing murder? Would he have known her well enough to recognize her loss of control? It wasn't a fair question, she knew. Had Justin lived, he would have changed as much with the passing time as had she. And she had not known Justin long enough to know him as completely as she knew Chakotay. She could predict Chakotay's actions in almost any situation. Justin had been something of a mystery to her, even then.

There was one thing of which she was certain. If Justin had lived to see the Cardassian treaty signed, he most surely would have left Starfleet to join the Maquis, and she doubted that she would have followed him. While she had distrusted the Cardassians, disapproved of the treaty, and sympathized with the Federation citizens in the demilitarized zone, she hadn't supported the actions of the Maquis, and she hadn't left Starfleet. She honestly didn't think that her actions would have been different if she had married Justin.

Suddenly she imagined herself married to Chakotay, and faced with the same choice. Her decision was no longer as clear. It wasn't quite the same choice any more, and not just because Chakotay's decision had been prompted by the slaughter of his family.

Forced to choose between Chakotay and Starfleet, what would she do? She realized that in a way, she had already been faced with that decision. Against all protocol, she loved him. But she wouldn't act on that emotion until after they reached home and she was released from the burden of that protocol. Her loyalty to Starfleet was steadfast, despite her resentment of that particular regulation. And yet she broke the rule in spirit, if not in action. She loved him, and desperately looked forward to the day that she could show him exactly how much.

It seemed that for the last six years, she had been struggling to choose between Chakotay and Starfleet, and in a way, both had lost.

Chakotay watched Kathryn at the science station. He could see that she was mentally wrestling with something, and he wanted to go over and ask her about it. He forced himself to sit still. If it was ship related, she'd speak up. Anything else would have to wait until they were off duty, and alone. He just hoped she would tell him.

Sickbay was crowded. It was also, at the moment, a very loud place. The variety, color, and quantity of the planned botanical message were all hotly debated.

The Doctor admitted to having seen Chakotay with a peace rose following the crash of the Sacajawea. "I really thought he'd tell her how he felt after that. She nearly died and it really shook him up. When Tuvok and I arrived at the crash site, he was doing CPR and begging her not to die. I've never seen anyone so frightened."

"Maybe he did tell her, and she pushed him away," Harry said.

Tom had a different theory. "Or maybe he decided to wait until after she'd recovered from the ordeal, and then lost his nerve."

"I thought she'd tell him after our encounter with dark matter," B'Elanna said. "I've never seen her as rattled as she was after Chakotay and Tom disappeared."

"The aftermath of a crisis just never seems to work with those two," the Doctor said. "They're both just too good at hiding their emotions."

"Well, not this time." Tom clenched his fist. "We're not going to let them do that any more."

Janeway returned to her quarters to change for dinner. Chakotay had promised to make her a southwestern dish she had enjoyed previously, then they were joining the crew on the holodeck. As she crossed her bedroom, something caught her eye.

There was a rose on her pillow. She knew for a fact that Chakotay hadn't put it there. First of all, he wouldn't dare, especially under the current circumstances. And secondly, he knew she wasn't planning on sleeping here tonight. Yet who but Chakotay had given her a rose in the past six years? What was going on?

The name Q floated through her mind. No, too subtle, she decided. If Q were around it wouldn't be a single rose, and it certainly wouldn't be pink. If Q wanted to woo her with flowers there would be hundreds, if not thousands, of red roses in her quarters. No, probably not in her quarters, she realized. Q would deliver them to the bridge.

Then again, maybe Q knew what she expected of him by now. She tapped her combadge. "Janeway to Tuvok."

"I have a security issue to discuss. Can you come to my quarters?"

Everyone in the mess hall tensed upon hearing the captain's voice through Tuvok's combadge. They were busted. Frantic glances were exchanged.

"On my way, Captain." Tuvok stood to leave. He made brief eye contact with Tom, who had to struggle not to flinch. Then he was gone.

"I'm guessing she knows the flower isn't from Chakotay," Harry said.

"What did she do, question him?" Tom asked. "How could she possibly know?"

"She knows him too well," B'Elanna said. "We obviously got some detail wrong."

"Perhaps we are jumping to conclusions," Seven said. "It may not be the flower. There very well may be a real security issue."

"In the captain's quarters?" Tom asked. "That would be a pretty big coincidence."

"So whose security code is Tuvok going to find?" B'Elanna looked at Harry, who stared at the ceiling.

"Mine?" She didn't sound particularly angry, just surprised. "You used my code in the transporter log?"

"Not yours," Lyssa said. "I used Kirk's."



Lyssa grinned. "Kirk. As in Captain James T."

"How the targ..."

Harry was now grinning as well. "Tell them."

"After my Kobayashi Maru I was told that Kirk had been the only cadet in Academy history to defeat the scenario. Naturally, I was curious. In the course of my investigation, I just happened to stumble upon his security code. I never thought I'd get the chance to use it for anything, and, well, I just couldn't resist."

"This ought to be good," the Doctor muttered. "I can't imagine what Tuvok will make of that."

"Maybe he'll just think that James Kirk is sending the captain flowers," Tom said. "It's possible."

"Hardly likely," B'Elanna replied. "Now how are we going to deal with this?"

"Deal with what?" Chakotay asked. He had just entered the mess hall in order to talk Neelix out of some tomatoes. Upon noticing the gathering, he had wandered over to join the discussion. Now he was wondering about the startled way everyone was staring at him. "What, have I grown an extra head?"

"Sorry, Commander, we didn't see you come in," Harry said. "I guess we were kind of caught up in our discussion."

"I don't exactly require a salute," Chakotay answered, still confused. "Don't let me interrupt. I just came for some tomatoes."

While Neelix hustled to fetch the first officer's produce, Tom made a desperate attempt to discuss some difficulties he was having with his latest holoprogram. Everyone prayed that Chakotay hadn't overheard anything, and they all put forth great effort to feign interest in what Tom was now saying.

By the time Chakotay left, he had decided that far too many members of the crew were starting to suffer from holo addiction.

When the captain arrived at Chakotay's quarters he greeted her with a picnic basket.

"Half the crew is in the mess hall listening to Tom ramble on about that holoprogram he's building." Chakotay smiled wickedly. "I think if we hurry we could probably beat them to holodeck two and get in some time on Lake George."

She returned his smile. "You're on."

They hurried to the holodeck, enjoying the guilty euphoria of schoolchildren playing hooky.

"How long do we have?" She knew that Neelix had to have some sort of evening entertainment planned, probably in the holodeck.

"Almost an hour. Then it will no doubt be time to once again relive the twentieth century."

She laughed. "Then we'd better eat quickly."

"Do you think he heard anything?" Harry asked. "How long was he standing there?"

"If he'd heard anything incriminating, he wouldn't have announced himself. He would have listened longer." Tom hoped desperately that his reasoning was sound.

B'Elanna sighed. "I hope you're right. So what do we do now?"

"What can we do? We wait."

Tuvok was puzzled. His first inclination upon seeing the source of the captain's concern was to question the first officer. He was, after all, no more blind than the rest of the crew. However, he realized that the captain would have dismissed that possibility before calling him. Asking her to verify that would be acknowledging something best left alone.

Scans of the captain's quarters indicated that she and Chakotay were the only two people to have entered the bedroom for some time. Years, perhaps.

If the flower had been carried into the room, there were only two possible suspects among the crew. Chakotay, whose cellular residue was present, and the Doctor, who would have left none.

The security officer might have wondered what the first officer's cellular residue was doing in the captain's bed, but he decided that there was probably a logical explanation and pushed it out of his mind as irrelevant. It was at least several days old, after all, and the flower was not. He decided to check the transporter logs.

Janeway and Chakotay ate their picnic dinner while watching the sun set over Lake George. It was a custom they usually saved for unwinding after a particularly harrowing adventure.

"Too bad we don't have any champagne," Chakotay said.

"What would we be celebrating? It's been weeks since we last cheated death."

He chuckled. "You say that like it's a bad thing. We should be celebrating the fact that there isn't anyone trying to kill us right now."

"You're probably right." For a moment, she considered mentioning the flower in her quarters. She decided the mystery would keep until later.

He noticed her pensive look, and remembered her troubled expression at the science station earlier. "Want to tell me about it?"


"Whatever was bothering you on the bridge this afternoon," he replied softly. He laid his hand over hers and caught her eye.

She smiled at him. "Working at the science station reminded me of my time on the Al-Batani. Then my mind started to wander."

"And you started wondering what would have happened if you had married Justin," Chakotay said, making her look at him in surprise.

"How do you do that?" She studied his face, then decided to share at least some of her earlier thoughts. "He would have joined the Maquis the very moment that the Cardassian Demilitarized Zone was established. I was thinking about what I would have done."

"You would have stayed with Starfleet." Chakotay stated the fact as if it was etched in latinum. "But I can't imagine any man being foolish enough to leave you."

They sat staring at each other for a long minute, neither able to think of a safe response to his statement. To their mutual relief, the computer chose that moment to remind them that their holodeck time was about to expire.

"Time to once again explore the twentieth century's vision of the future," Chakotay said softly.

"The captain and Chakotay are in there," Tom announced in shock. He turned to B'Elanna and the others. "What should we do?"

No one had time to respond. The captain and first officer strolled out into the corridor to greet the small crowd.

"Just having dinner." Chakotay held up the picnic basket as if evidence was necessary. "Now what's on the agenda for this evening?"

"I thought another pool tournament might be in order," Tom said. "I'm hoping for another chance to beat our fearless captain."

"Why don't you challenge Tuvok to a game of kal-toh?" Chakotay quipped. "You'll have about the same luck."

Tom suddenly had a flash of inspiration. "Well, maybe I can't beat her, but I'm sure I can take you, Commander."

"Is that so? Why don't we see about that."

"Care to make it interesting? I'm a little short on replicator rations but I'm sure we can think of something."

"I know that look. What are you thinking?"

Tom grinned. "How about we play for a kiss?"

"What are you suggesting, Tom, because I'm certainly not interested in kissing you, and I somehow doubt that's what you had in mind."

Tom looked around the room. "Well, I'm sure one of these lovely ladies would be willing to lend a hand. I'm thinking that the captain might like to volunteer. Two handsome guys like us, she'd win either way." He threw the captain an exaggerated wink. "What do you say, Captain? Feeling lucky?"

"How could I refuse such a charming proposition, Lieutenant? It's so very...Neanderthal." She stepped towards him, invading his personal space. Her hand came to rest on his chest, making him gulp. She lowered her voice seductively and leaned even closer. "If you win, Mister Paris, rest assured that B'Elanna will have very good reason to skin you alive."

Having immensely enjoyed Tom's extreme discomfort, she turned to Chakotay and treated him to a smile that made his toes curl. "Good luck, Commander."

Chakotay's head was spinning. He didn't know what to make of the situation at all. On one hand, Kathryn was the only one on board who could beat Tom at pool. On the other hand, he had no idea what mischief Paris really had planned, and feared he would throw the game.

A kiss from Kathryn might be his fondest wish, but the potential consequences were too great. They were having enough trouble keeping their relationship in balance, especially recently.

But Kathryn no doubt planned to peck him on the cheek and retreat, if he managed to win. What she might have planned for Tom was another matter, however, and Chakotay wasn't sure he liked that at all.

He had seen the way the handsome blond pilot looked at the captain, and while he knew he had nothing to fear, especially now that Tom was seriously involved with B'Elanna, he still couldn't completely purge his jealous instincts. He had no desire to watch Kathryn kiss anyone, especially Tom Paris, under any circumstances.

As Tom racked up the balls, Janeway went to stand beside B'Elanna. "Permission to make Tom squirm?"

The chief engineer grinned. "Granted."

Tom moved to break as he pondered the issue of exactly how jealous to make the first officer. Janeway stepped into his line of sight, caught his eye, and slowly licked her lips. His hand slipped and not a single ball managed to find a pocket.

The captain stood back to watch Chakotay take his shot. While not as talented with a pool cue as herself or Tom, the first officer was good. Janeway had confidence in his ability to win, as long as she kept Tom distracted.

The first officer pocketed a few balls, then missed. Tom moved to line up a shot, then nearly jumped out of his skin as he felt the captain's hot breath on his neck. "I don't like to be disappointed, Tom. But that won't happen, will it?"

He missed.

Pleased with herself, Janeway again backed off as Chakotay played. To her relief, he managed to clear the table.

The captain sauntered up to Tom. "I'm sorry, Mister Paris. Did I make you nervous? Perhaps I owe you an apology." She smiled wickedly. "A consolation prize, perhaps?"

He was actually backing away from her. "Don't play with fire, Lieutenant," she whispered. "You'll get burned."

"Yes, ma'am," he replied, his face a deep crimson.

The captain turned away from Tom, satisfied. Perhaps he would think twice before pulling such a stunt again. She caught B'Elanna's eye and found her laughing. "Now I believe I have a prize to award."

Janeway and Chakotay stepped up to one another. They keenly felt the crew's eyes upon them as they stood staring at one another for a long moment. They were trapped. Backing down now would reveal too much.

She wanted very desperately to really kiss him, thoroughly and soundly. She longed to explore his mouth with her tongue, tangling it with his. She ached to run her fingers through his hair.

Her hands slid slowly up his chest and around his neck. His found her waist, pulling her snugly up against him. She stood on tiptoe and drew his head down to hers, her fingers in his hair. Their lips met.

The kiss was soft, chaste, affectionate yet undemanding, neither brief nor lingering, and a powerful experience for both parties. Her knees actually went weak. His heart froze in his chest. They hung on to one another for a moment as their lips separated, eyes closed, normal breathing a struggle. They moved apart.

Janeway was far from recovered, but she possessed the acting skills of a trained Starfleet captain. To her own later amazement, she managed to turn around and needle Tom some more.

"It seems that the best man won, Mister Paris. Better luck in the future." With that, she sauntered out of Sandrine's and headed for the turbolift.

Once Chakotay had managed to gather his senses enough to follow her, the rest of the crowd turned to a triumphant Tom Paris.

"Impressive," Harry exclaimed. "All you had to do was humiliate yourself." He snickered. "You didn't pocket a single ball."

"I think you're lucky Chakotay cleared the table when he did," B'Elanna said. "I can't imagine what she would have done next."

"I'm more interested in what she's doing now." Tom couldn't keep from grinning. "Do you think we accomplished anything lasting?"

"Too soon to tell," Lyssa said. "But I'm guessing that now would be a good time to redouble our efforts."

"Agreed," Tom said. "Tuvok will probably be on to us by morning. If he comes to any of you, send him my way. I think I can buy us another night or two. We'll have to make them count."

Chakotay was mildly surprised when Kathryn strolled into his quarters. He had rather expected that she'd hide from him for a while, under the circumstances.

She said nothing, but she joined him on the couch, book in hand. They sat in silence, each lost in their own thoughts as they pretended to read.

On to Day Seventeen

Illustrations from this section


V1 V2 V3 V4 V5 T V5 ST-17

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