A story idea by GillyH & Lorrie Miller,
Written by GillyH
Time-scale: Late season 3 (the flirty ponytail year of course, my favourite!).
Rating: This part, PG
Gilly notes: Plotted at a time when J/C's story was still one endless possibility ; where the mystery of their feelings for one another frequently played out in a style of gentle sparring and flirtation that was a joy to watch and wonder about ::Sigh:: Not canon, just a bit of a romp splicing together a J/C episode from some scenes we found on the cutting-room floor. Huge thanks to Lorrie for her encouragement and her input when I needed it. Thanks too, to Mizvoy for her help on one small paragraph/punctuation problem I was having :)
Disclaimer: Paramount and the Viaborg own all the characters taking part, but the story idea is ours.
The luau program was in full swing when Neelix arrived at Holodeck two. He entered to steel-guitar music and bright sunlight, and was immediately surrounded by a fragrant bouquet of laughing hula-girls. While one exotic lovely draped a lei around his neck, another offered him a tall, frosted Mai Tai from her tray, and yet another offered him a delicious-looking snack. He accepted the flower-garland, the drink, and the food with a warm smile and a small bow to each girl before moving off towards the bar and sun-patio. As he walked he looked around, checking the bar-stools and sun-loungers for familiar faces, but there were none. There were plenty of holograms, of course - computer-generated characters programed to interact with Voyager's crew - but no crewmembers. Rumours of possible shore-leave on the tropical planet below had spread through the ship like wild-fire today, so maybe the luau program had temorarily lost a little of its charm.
Munching his snack and sipping at his drink, he wandered down onto the sand thinking it might be nice to have a quiet paddle in the ocean before anyone else arrived and he got caught-up in being everybody's favourite barman. Just as he drew level with a large frangipani bush, something at the water's edge caught his eye. Off to his left and quite far from the sunny patio, a strikingly handsome couple was playing 'catch me if you can' in and out of the rolling surf near two closely placed sun-loungers. The man, tall and tanned with powerfully built shoulders and dark, cropped hair, was dressed in a white T-shirt and shorts ; the woman, petite with pale skin and long auburn hair tied back in a pony-tail, was dressed in a multi-coloured sarong. Both were barefoot.
As Neelix watched, the man caught the woman at the waters edge and she shrieked with laughter while trying to hold something out of the man's reach. Neelix could see it was only a matter of time before she lost whatever it was. Grinning knowingly from ear to ear, but beginning to feel a little intrusive, he turned away and headed back to the bar. Privacy was sometimes a rare commodity on Voyager, but for Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay it was very, very rare indeed. He could paddle and get his feet wet some other time.
Oblivious to being observed, Voyager's Command team played on. With the waves lapping at their toes, Chakotay stood behind Kathryn frantically trying to pin her arms to her sides and grab her hands at the same time. He was a little winded after chasing her all over the beach, and she was making things as difficult as she could, squirming against him and trying to wriggle out of the hold he had on her.
Realising that Chakotay was eventually going to win the contest, Kathryn went for some good old-fashioned cheating. Hooking one foot behind his heel she pushed him off balance, using his own body weight and her lower centre of gravity to topple him over onto a sun-lounger.
"No," she panted with laughter as he went down, "I said no, and I mean no! And don't think you can get round me like that either. I'm suddenly immune to that smile and those dimples."
Chakotay may have been down, but he wasn't out. As she passed by on the way to her own lounger he made a grab for her sarong wrap. Anticipating the tactic, Kathryn easily evaded his finger-tips and flopped down onto the sun-warmed cushions, still laughing.
"Ha! Nice try, but not quite fast enough. Here it goes, the last piece... watch." Popping a piece of gooey, half-melted chocolate into her mouth she slowly closed her eyes, moaning in ecstasy before licking her chocolatey finger-tips. "Oh, its delicious. I could eat this stuff all day."
His breath catching at the sight, Chakotay groaned inwardly.
"In the words of Mr. Paris," Kathryn went on " 'To the victor go the spoils'."
"Okay, if that's the way you want to play it...." Chakotay fished around in the cooler-unit beside his chair for a moment before pulling out a foil-wrapped package. "Look what I found... another bar. Now, how do you suppose that got there?"
"Not fair! Give me some, Chakotay. That's an order."
"Not fair? You polished-off every chocolate in the gift-basket the Ambassador gave you
without offering me so much as a crumb, and today, you work your way through half my stash. I fail to see how that makes me unfair. Besides, whatever happened to, 'To the victor go the spoils'? Don't think you can get round me like that, either. I'm suddenly immune to pleading blue eyes and lop-sided grins." Leaning towards her, he slowly unwrapped the foil package knowing that he had her undivided attention. "Still, I'm sure we could come to some arrangement?"
"Tuvok to Captain Janeway."
"Damn that Vulcan," Chakotay muttered, dropping the chocolate back into the cooler. "Him, and his impeccable timing."
Kathryn sobered immediately, but her eyes twinkled as she shot him a warning glance and tapped her commbadge. "Janeway here."
"My apologies for interrupting your allotted holodeck time, Captain. The Dantraal delegates have requested permission to meet with you now, ahead of tomorrow's scheduled trade meeting. They would like to informally discuss the possibility of shore-leave for the crew, and they have questions regarding our requirements and customs."
"Shore-leave? Good! I was hoping they'd take the hint. I'm on my way, Tuvok. I'll be about 15 minutes. Show them to Conference-room two when they arrive, will you? Oh, and Tuvok... do you know if they're bringing more chocolate with them?"
"The transport request is for Ambassador Drexen, four delegates, and a large carton.
The contents of the carton are listed as Dantraal chocolate."
"Thank you. Janeway out."
Feeling lighter than air, Kathryn glided over to where Chakotay lounged sipping at his drink. Perching just on the edge of his chair she leaned in close to say, "What a shame. Just when I was about to make an interesting offer for a share in that last bar. Never mind. Plenty more where that came from, now."
Once again her tone was playful, her eyes mischievous, and Chakotay couldn't help but respond in kind. Putting down his drink, he sat forward so that their faces were only inches apart, his eyes flicking over her freckled shoulders, her hair, and her face before lingering on her mouth. "I'm always open to interesting offers. What did you have in mind?"
"It's moot now, isn't it?" she replied, just as affected by his nearness and by his mischevious tone. "You heard what Tuvok said... a large carton of chocolate is on its way, and I have to go make nice with the Dantraal and take delivery of it. Too bad. I guess you'll never know what I was willing to offer in exchange."
Chakotay knew that reality had intruded and that their time on the holodeck was drawing to a close, but he wasn't willing to let her or this wonderful time together go just yet. "I'll take a rain-check. By the time that carton is divided amongst the crew it won't seem like such a lot. You'll be back."
"Of course I will."
After a brief pause they began their farewells, both of them thinking things they wanted to say, but couldn't.
"Thanks for this afternoon," Kathryn smiled, thinking, I do love you, you know. "A beach-picnic was a wonderful idea, and I haven't felt so rested or laughed like that since... well, since I can't remember when." I'd give anything to be able to tell you how I feel, how you make me feel. "You were right, I needed to get away from my desk and the uniform for a while and just have some fun in the sun." Oh, protocol be damned. Would you stop staring at my mouth and just kiss me, already?!
"You should use your holodeck privilages more often," Chakotay said, even as he was thinking I'd give anything to see and hear you laugh like that every day. "A couple of hours isn't nearly long enough, but we had a good time didn't we?" Do you have any idea how beautiful you are with the sun on your hair and your skin all aglow from running around and laughing so hard? You don't do you, but I do, Kathryn. I do. "Maybe if shore-leave on Dantraal pans out, we could do this again - for real?"
"I'd like that."
There was another pause as they both imagined a day spent on a real tropical beach, beside a real ocean, with fresh sea air, salty spray, and sunshine, but all too soon their innate sense of duty and of time passing since Tuvok's message about the Dantraal pushed those thoughts aside. It really was time to go.
"Well, I'd better hustle. By the time I grab a quick sonic shower, dress, and brush the tangles out of my hair, the Dantraal will be here."
"And it wouldn't do to keep our chocolate... uh, I mean our guests waiting," Chakotay grinned as he took her hand and stood up, pulling her up with him. "I could get there ahead of you if you like? I can be showered and in my uniform before you've even managed to get a comb through your hair." To emphasise his point, he rubbed a hand over his salt and pepper buzz-cut. "See...? No snarls, no knots, no tangles."
"No way," she laughed. "Thanks for the offer, but Ambassador Drexen is bound to have a small gift-basket with him, and I intend to be there to receive it." Turning away, she started walking towards the exit, calling back over her shoulder, "Nice try, though."
"Just a suggestion," he called after her, adding "Just trying to make your burden lighter, love," under his breath. With a last lingering look at her retreating form he turned to pick up the cooler. "Computer, save this setting. Save under 'Luau', sub-directory 'beachcomber' and encrypt... authorisation, Chakotay 1001D3 Alpha."
At 07:30 hours the next morning, Chakotay stood outside Kathryn's quarters. After ringing the door-chime a few times but getting no response, he tapped his commbadge.
"Chakotay to Janeway?"
There was the sound of a commbadge activating, a muffled groan and then a heavy sigh.
"Kathryn, please respond?"
"Go away, Chakotay. I'm dying... just let me die in peace."
"I'm going to over-ride your door-lock. Are you decent?"
"Who cares. I'm dying, remember? You can come in, but bring coffee and a hypo-spray. I've got a headache that would floor a Nausican."
Reassured, Chakotay smiled to himself in relief. Her head might hurt, but things couldn't be too serious if she was demanding coffee. Entering his Command code he stepped into her darkened quarters, calling for lights as he crossed to the replicator.
Going into Kathryn's bedroom, he found her sprawled in bed, one arm raised to cover her eyes. At any other time he'd only have had eyes for the pretty nightgown she was wearing, or for the way her hair seemed a deeper shade of red unbound and fanned-out over her pillow, but he was shocked by how ill she looked. Setting the coffee and hypo down, he sat on the edge of the bed and rested the back of his hand against her cheek. She felt very warm to the touch.
"Kathryn, you're burning up, and you look awful."
"You always were quite the flatterer, Chakotay," she groaned. "Just give me the damned hypo. I can't take this headache a moment longer."
"Alright, here goes...." Gently pressing the device to her neck, he actived it. "Better?"
She squinted up at him for a moment then sat up, still partially shielding her eyes from the lights. "Yes, thank you... it's clearing. Is that real coffee I can smell?"
Passing her the cup, he made sure that she had a firm grip on it before he let it go. "Extra-strong, extra hot - just the way you like it."
"Thanks. I feel better already." After several sips she laid back against her pillows, suddenly caught up in strong feelings of deja vu. "This is like old times, isn't it?" she smiled. "Do you remember... you used to wake me up at some ungodly hour to go watch the sunrise with you?"
Chakotay nodded. "I remember. Getting you out of bed was half the battle, and half the fun. You wouldn't even come out from under the covers unless I had a pot of coffee waiting for you."
Their eyes met and she saw her own wistful memories and regrets mirrored in his gaze before he glanced away. She could have kicked herself. How many times was she going to thoughtlessly reopen old wounds and pull them both back into that dream-like universe where it was just the two of them and nothing else had really mattered. They'd been so close to succumbing to the inevitable... a few hours, a day... who knew? If Tuvok's hail about the Vidiian medicine and the ship's imminent return hadn't come when it did.... Scrubbing a hand through her hair she spoke quickly in bright, clipped tones to dispel the memories and the heartache. "So, What are you doing here so early?"
Sensing her discomfort and her withdrawl, Chakotay stood up, putting some distance between them by going to look at some tiny, crystal ornaments on a shelf. "It isn't early. When you didn't arrive for our breakfast-meeting with the Dantraal I quietly checked your whereabouts with the computer. It informed me that you were still asleep, so I covered for you... a sudden emergency in Engineering, deepest apologies and so forth. They understood completely. Besides, after Neelix had plied them with a stack of pancakes and a jug of syrup they seemed more interested in exhanging recipes."
"I missed breakfast? Really? I must have slept through my alarm. I've never done that before."
"Then you obviously needed the sleep. I promised them I'd try to arrange a tour of the ship later, with you as their guide. I'm sorry, but Minister Drexen specifically asked for you, and I said I'd see what I could do. I'd like you to see the EMH first, though." He saw that she was about to protest and held up his hand. "Don't even think about arguing. It's just a precaution."
She poked her tongue out at him.
"Now, don't be childish," he admonished with a wide grin. "You said it yourself, you've never slept through your alarm before. Besides, you weren't the only one with problems this morning ; Stellar, the Labs, Deflector Control, Security and Engineering were all under-staffed for a while. The Doctor's been doing a roaring trade in analgesic hypos. He's got things under control though and everyone except you has reported for duty. B'Elanna was very late and very cranky." He paused, not wanting to tell her the rest, but knowing he had to. "I'm afraid Joe Carey's applied for a transfer."
Kathryn's face fell. "He has?"
"'Fraid so. He doesn't care where. His only request is that it's a Torres-free zone."
Kathryn thumped her free hand down onto the mattress. "Dammit! They've been getting along so well, too. If I have a word with Carey, can you talk to B'Elanna?"
"I already have. She nearly took my head off with a spinning PADD. Her aim is improving, you know."
They exchanged a look and Chakotay went on, "I'll give her time to calm down and let a little guilt set in before I try again. If that doesn't work 'The Commander' will chew her up and spit her out. Sometimes that's all the Klingon half of her is willing to understand."
Seeing Kathryn finish the last of her coffee he realised that she was ready to get up and that she'd want some privacy. "Well, I'd better get back to the Bridge. I'll see you later, after you've reported to sickbay." He turned to leave, calling over his shoulder, "I'll contact the Doctor to let him know that you're on your way. Be there."
Kathryn muttered something under her breath, but he chose to ignore it. He'd been through her delaying tactics often enough to know when he was being diverted or distracted. If he rose to the bait, Kathryn would argue with him and distract him until some emergency meant she couldn't possibly report to Sickbay. The bedroom door slid shut behind him and he paused knowingly, waiting for the tell-tale 'thud!' of a book or her pillow hitting the wall near the door. Kathryn hated being forced to do anything, but she especially hated being forced into seeing the EMH.
"That's my girl."
"Captain, will you please stop fidgetting. I need you to sit still for this scan."
"But my headache has gone, Doctor. The hypo-spray Commander Chakotay gave me is working just fine. I have reports piling up on my desk every moment you insist in keeping me here, and I really don't see why I need these tests."
The Doctor pulled in his chin and fixed her with a 'nobody appreciates what I do around here' stare. "Well, let's see... why don't I appeal to your well-developed sense of responsibility? That usually works when you're being cranky and difficult. Thirty-nine members of your crew have reported severe headaches in the last eight hours. 'You' make it a nice round, interesting forty. Just think of yourself as a statistic in my reseach, Captain. You'll be effortlessly extending my study group and increasing my chances of an accurate diagnosis. All you have to do is bite your tongue and keep still for five minutes. Now, do you think you can manage that?"
Kathryn spluttered indignantly. "Bite my tongue?!"
"That's right," The Doctor nodded, quickly losing patience. "As in, cease and desist, be silent, be quiet, shut-up!"
"Shut-up?! How dare you?!" Her temper wasn't helped any when her eyes inexplicably filled with unshed tears and her bottom lip chose that exact moment to wobble. "And there's no need to shout. There's absolutely nothing
wrong with my hearing!"
"Ah-ha? What's that supposed to mean?"
"Another symptom display to add to your test data, Captain. Computer, new symptom heading for Captain Janeway's data - 'Sensitivity'. The patient is sensitive and tears up very easily. Note, this sensitivity may be purely co-incidental and due to the patients upcoming monthly cycle. Take dates from medical records and cross reference to prove theory. Would you like a tissue, Captain?"
Kathryn swung her legs over the side of the bio-bed. Taking a tissue, she dabbed at her eyes. "Why would you assume that my sudden sensitivity is due to my hormone levels? I've never had any problems before."
"Call it an inspired hunch, Captain. A certain amount of my time is spent dealing with cyclic sensitivity among the female crew and I know the signs. Nine times out of ten, all the lady requires is a shoulder to cry on or a pair of ears to talk off. Believe me, my ears would be tattered stumps and my shoulders permanently soggy if I weren't a hologram. I find a prescription for a long bubble-bath and a hot-fudge sundae works miracles, though. I sometimes wonder at the wisdom of allowing human females to hurtle off into the vastness of space, smother their hormonal urges and repeatedly deny themselves romantic and sexual involvement. It's just not healthy. But, mine is not to reason why. I wasn't available to advise Starfleet when the books were being written."
He was so wrapped-up in his own pet theories and the sound of his own voice, he didn't hear Kathryn's disbelieving gasps, or notice how furious she looked. He couldn't help but notice when she angrily jabbed him in the chest with her index finger though.
"Now you listen to me you... you... pompous little man! This has nothing to do with my hormones. This has everything to do with you. This cranky, sensitive guinea pig has just hit her boredom threshold! This female who joined Starfleet and hurtled off into the vastness of space HAS-HAD-YOU-UPTO-HERE! Do I make my self clear?!"
With a murderous glare, she slid off the bio-bed, pushed him aside and marched out of Sickbay.
Fussily straightening his completely unscathed holographic uniform, The Doctor watched her leave - his matrix of data-bases already busily analysing her uncharacteristic behaviour. "Interesting... the patient displays another new symptom ; extreme, escalating irritability presented in verbal and physical abuse of an innocent byestander. Computer, new symptom heading for Captain Janeway's data. On second thought, belay that. Sickbay to Commander Chakotay...."
Kathryn exited the turbo-lift and strode onto the Bridge. Nodding curtly to Tuvok and Chakotay, she swept into her Ready-room at an obvious 'I want to be alone' warp nine.
When the doors swished shut behind her, Chakotay let out the breath he'd been holding. He knew he should go and talk to her, but a little voice was telling him to leave well alone. Looking up, he caught Tom Paris watching him - a ferral grin lighting the young helmsman's face.
"Something I can help you with, Mister Paris?"
"No, but I was just thinking that I could help you. Don't do it, Chakotay. Take my advice... eyes forward, sit tight, and mind the shop."
"Zip it, Paris. Besides, you heard what The Doctor said."
There were times when Chakotay would give a years replicator rations for five minutes alone with whoever wrote the rule book. This was definitely one of those times. Sitting forward in his chair, he stared at the Ready-room doors. Might as well get it over with, he mused. The sooner I begin, the sooner it'll be over. Behind him at Ops, Harry coughed nervously and the sound pushed Chakotay to his feet. It didn't do to let worry or nervous tension build like this. The Bridge crew were just too finely tuned to the Captain's moods. Winking at Paris with a bravado he didn't feel, he crossed to the Tactical Station.
"You have the Bridge, Tuvok."
"I will accompany you if you require it, Commander," the Vulcan replied. "The Captain's behaviour in Sickbay would seem to indicate a serious problem. However, I must point out that in all the years I have known her, she has never reacted well to what she terms, 'unfair bullying'. I suggest that a united front from us will only make her more intransigent."
Chakotay barely managed to conceal his smile. Vulcans had a real talent for understatement.
"I know, Tuvok. That's why I'm keeping you in reserve. If she won't listen to me, you're the ace up my sleeve."
He turned and paused before the Ready-room doors. He and Kathryn had been getting on so well lately, too. Oh, well. Once more unto the breach... once more.
He found Kathryn right where he expected her to be - at her desk, surrounded by report PADDs, her favourite Klingon coffee-mug cradled in both hands. Moving forward he pulled up a chair, sat down and waited for her to acknowledge his presence. He didn't have to wait long.
"Don't start with me, Chakotay," she ground out, not meeting his eyes. "I went to sickbay, I went through his stupid tests and all I got for my trouble was another pain - in the neck."
"The Doctor said you were verbally and physically abusive to him. That's not like you, Kathryn."
She slammed her cup down so hard that the base dented and coffee
splashed out onto the desk. "He asked for it! You should have heard the way he spoke to me. And as for assuming that I'm completely at the mercy of erratic hormones.... Do you know, he actually told me to shut-up? Me, his Captain!"
Chakotay realised that there was only one way to do this : cleanly and quickly.
"The Doctor has suggested that you be relieved of duty, just as a precaution. He___"
"He suggested what?"
"___He says that in your current unpredictable and volatile state, you're a possible danger to the ship and maybe, the trade-negotiations with the Dantraal. He also needs to run some more tests."
As he spoke he watched her eyes widen, her face and neck flush to a deep red, and her mouth tighten into a pinched line.
Rising to her feet, she drew herself upto her full height. "Does the First Officer concur?"
Standing to meet her glare, Chakotay squared himself and stepped closer to her desk. "He does." His eyes searched her face as he went on, his voice firm, but quiet. "Captain... Kathryn, for whatever reason, you're not yourself. I'm not a medic and I have to take his advice. I won't relieve you of duty if you report to Sickbay voluntarily and let him run the tests. He says it should only take about half an hour. After that I think you should return to your quarters and get some rest."
She threw her hands up in disbelief. "So, I have one bad day and I'm a dangerous liability? In all my time in Command I've never, ever been relieved of duty - even technically. It's humiliating!"
"Only The Doctor and the current Bridge Crew will know. Everyone else will assume___"
"The Bridge crew already know? I realise Paris doesn't miss a trick of course, but Kim, Lewis, Hall, Ayala and Wildman... they know too? You might as well tell Tuvok to make a ship-wide announcement! How do they know? Wait, don't tell me... that holographic busybody came through on the Bridge Comm system didn't he? Didn't he?!"
"Kathryn, calm down. I'm sorry, but he didn't give me any warning. He just came straight out and said that it would be best if you were relieved of duty. All I could do was come in here and quote him the relevant protocols. Don't worry about the Bridge crew, even Tom will keep quiet after the warning I gave them, and ___"
He stopped suddenly as he realised she wasn't hearing him. She was trembling and he could actually see the colour bleaching from her face as she leaned on the desk for support, her face contorted in pain. Without thinking, he hand-vaulted the desk to catch her as she pitched sideways. Gathering her up in his arms, he managed to activate his commbadge and call for emergency transport to Sickbay.
The next thing Kathryn knew was a loud, rhythmical noise. Something was bleeping... an annoying, shrill sound. Why on Earth doesn't somebody turn it off?
Slowly surfacing into full consciousness, she realised that she was hearing the bleeps of a bio-bed scanner, so that meant she was in Sickbay. Struggling to open her eyes, she tried to see which bay she was in and whether the privacy screen was active, but the overhead lights made her eyes sting and she had to give up. Feeling disoriented, vulnerable and shakey, she tried to ask for the lights to be turned down, but her mouth and throat were too dry, and her lips just wouldn't co-operate.
Where is he? He should be here... please let him be here. A painful tightness gathered in her chest and throat as the rational part of her ordered her to get a grip ; if she was here, then it made sense that he'd be on the Bridge where he belonged. It didn't help. She needed him to be here, just for a few moments - protocol be damned. If she could just get enough moisture into her mouth and say his name, maybe someone would hear and call him to Sickbay.
"I'm here, Kathryn."
Low and reassuring, his voice came from a few feet away and relief coursed through her. She sensed movement ; air being displaced, the light, familiar scent of his cologne, and then his comforting presence. Instinctively, she reached out her hand, knowing that he'd take it and that when he did, she'd feel less vulnerable. She did indeed feel less vulnerable when his hand closed around hers, but she was totally unprepared for the flood of emotion she felt as his other hand slowly stroked the side of her face. Fighting hard to keep from turning her cheek into his palm, she allowed the caress, drawing strength from it and focusing on the warmth of his fingers rather than on how ill she was feeling. She knew she shouldn't, knew that for Captain and First Officer they relied on each other too heavily, spent far too much free time together laughing and teasing and finding ways to touch like this ; letting touch say all the things they couldn't say with words. It wasn't nearly enough for her, or for him, she suspected, but it would have to be. Because to go further - to actually acknowledge it - would mean endangering the delicate balance they'd worked so long and so hard to find. Such words once spoken could never be retrieved. She knew all these things, but right now she badly needed what little of him she could have.
When she felt strong enough, she reached up and regretfully stilled the caress. "A drink... some water?"
"I was just going to offer you some."
The warmth of his hands left her, and almost immediately there was the quiet 'ting' of glass against glass, then the sound of liquid being poured.
"Can you sit up, Kathryn? Here, let me help you. Careful now, just little sips to start."
With his help she struggled up onto one elbow. After a couple of near-misses she gave up trying to open her eyes and see the glass, and allowed him to guide it to her lips. The water tasted cool and delicious and the urge to gulp was strong, but she heeded his advice and took enough small sips to moisten her parched mouth and throat before carefully laying back on the bio-bed again.
"What happened? The last thing I remember... we were in the Ready-room, arguing, and I was winning too, until the room on my side of the desk started to spin."
Chakotay decided to let her skewed version of events pass. "You fainted. You've been out for almost an hour because The Doctor decided it would be easier to finish his tests if he let you come around in your own good time."
Her only comment was a low moan.
"We're still in high orbit around Dantraal," he continued, "Everything is status quo, so Tuvok suggested I stay here. How are you feeling?"
"Awful. The lights burn my eyes... it's so bad I can't see a thing. I have stomach cramps, and I can't stop shaking. I also have one hell of a headache. Everything's much, much worse this time. What's happening to me, Chakotay?"
He couldn't miss the edge of fear in her voice. Taking her hand again, fingers entwined, he tamped down his own feelings of helplessness and frustration and spoke quietly, hoping to soothe her fears. "We're not sure. The Doctor seems more intrigued than worried by your symptoms, though. He's just collating your results with the others, so it won't be long before we know something. Computer, lower lights in this bay to ten percent normal. Is that any better?"
"A little," she lied. "I'm glad you're here, but shouldn't you be on the Bridge? And what about the Dantraal's tour? They specifically asked for me and I can't put them off a second time."
"Tuvok has everything under control on the Bridge. As for the Dantraal, they're back on the planet. They understood completely when I explained that you were unwell and they're very happy to re-schedule everything. They send you their best wishes, by the way. I think you were quite a hit with them yesterday, you know. They brought flowers and gift-baskets for you, and Minister Drexen was so worried he asked permission to stop by sickbay and say a Dantraal blessing over you. I hope you don't mind, but I let him. He was very concerned."
Kathryn smiled weakly and squeezed his hand. "No, I don't mind. Who knows, without that blessing I might be feeling a lot worse. Could you call The Doctor for me, now?"
With a last light touch to her face he moved away. She heard footsteps, muffled voices, then more footsteps, and a few seconds later the bio-bed scanner was turned off. Any relief was short-lived though as the strident bleeps of the machine were replaced by the strident tones of The Doctor.
"Why is it so dark in here? I'm a physician, not a flashlight. Computer, lights to one hunded percent. Ah, that's better. Welcome back, Captain. How are you feeling?"
"I've been better, Doctor."
The Doctor and Chakotay exchanged a knowing look as Chakotay murmured something about stubborn females.
"I heard that, Commander," Kathryn tutted.
"Good. You were supposed to." Turning to The Doctor he reeled-off her symptoms. "Her hearing might be A-1, but she has the mother of all headaches, bright light burns her eyes so badly she can't even open them, she has stomach cramps, and she can't stop shaking."
"I heard that, Captain."
"Good. You were supposed to."
Ignoring their familiar banter, The Doctor reached for a hypo-spray from the equipment trolley. Placing it against Kathryn's neck, he activated it without warning.
It didn't really hurt, but it was unexpected and Kathryn jumped at the sudden, hissing pinch. She heard an exasperated tut from Chakotay and guessed that he'd seen, but was thankful when he didn't say anything. The last thing she needed was an argument going on over her aching head.
"That should take away the pain and help with the shaking," The Doctor said. "I'll have to give you some eye-drops for the light sensitivity, Captain. Try to hold still."
Replacing the hypo, he picked up a small bottle, withdrew its tiny pipette and skillfully dripped liquid into each of her eyes with practised speed.
Kathryn blinked a few times, then slowly opened her eyes. At first, all she could see was a jumble of blurred colours, but then Chakotay's concerned face gradually appeared above her. As the inked lines of his tattoo came into sharp focus she grinned up at him in relief. "Hey."
"Hey, yourself. Did the hypo help too?"
"Yes, I think so," she replied. "My headache's fading fast and I've stopped shaking." Tilting her head slightly, she spoke to the top end of the bio-bed. "Thank you, Doctor. I'm sorry I lost my temper earlier. I really don't know what came over me."
"That's quite alright, Captain." The Doctor's voice came from above and behind Kathryn's head, mixed with the familiar 'bleep' of data being entered into a PADD. "I realise that your behaviour was out of character. I only wish I knew what was causing it. You're the only crewmember to present with these extra symptoms. The others have only complained of headaches and tiredness. These new results are inconclusive, though. I'll have to put my thinking-cap on, but I will find the answer."
With help from Chakotay, Kathryn sat up and swung her legs over one side of the bed. "I have every confidence in you, Doctor. Can I get out of here now?"
"Yes, but I want you to honour my recommendations, just as you would those of your Chief Engineer. Stay off the Bridge and get some rest. I'd like the computer to monitor your bio-signs just to be on the safe side, and I may need to do some more tests, so don't be surprised - or play hard to find - if I recall you to Sickbay. Understood?"
Stepping in quickly to head-off another row, Chakotay changed the subject. "It's almost lunch-time, Kathryn. You probably haven't eaten anything substantial today, so why not join me for lunch? We could go over the list of things you want included in the Dantraal negotiations... that is, if you have no objections, Doctor?"
"Ideally, she should rest mind and body completely, but there's not much chance of that, is there? At least get her to sit down for a few hours. Her adrenaline levels are high but her blood-sugar level is surprisingly low. Give her a carbohydrate rich meal... pasta or rice based, a wholemeal sandwhich with some vegetable soup at the very least. If she wants dessert, try to make sure she has a portion of fruit salad instead of a pot of coffee. Do you think you can remember all that, Commander? Or, would you like me to put it on a PADD for you?"
Kathryn tried in vain to suppress a smirk, but Chakotay caught it, just managing to bite back a sarcastic reply to The Doctor's question.
"Make sure that she rests and eats a Carbohydrate-rich meal followed by a fruit salad, no coffee. Yes, I think I've got all that, Doctor."
"Good," The Doctor beamed. "Well, if you'll both excuse me... some of us have important work to do."
Turning on his heel he strode off towards his office, deep in thought and humming, tunelessly.
As soon as he was out of ear-shot, Chakotay glowered, "I take back everything I've ever said in his defence. He could rub whole civilisations up the wrong way - before breakfast! I'll ask B'Elanna to tweak a few connections in his personal responses program."
Kathryn chuckled and shot him a knowing look. "I told you so." Taking his arm for support, she slid down off the bio-bed. "Come-on, let's get out of here before he thinks of another test he'd like to try."
Twenty minutes later Kathryn sat on the couch in her quarters, struggling to finish a bowl of vegetable and bean broth. With a heavy sigh she dropped her spoon into the bowl and glanced up at her First Officer who, having finished his own lunch, was now circling the room examining some of her mementoes and trinkets.
"That's all I can manage, Chakotay. I'm not used to eating something so filling at this time of day."
Carefully replacing an Etruscan pottery fragment he'd been admiring, Chakotay turned to face her. "Try just a little of the fruit salad, it's delicious," he coaxed. "You heard what The Doctor said."
"I've just eaten an enormous cheese sandwich and a bowl of soup! I have room for a small cup of coffee - and that's all. The Doctor won't know if you don't tell him," she wheedled.
The ancient long-case clock in the corner chimed the hour and Chakotay sighed. She just wasn't playing fair - and she knew it. The same expressive blue eyes that could drill holes in alien bullies on a view-screen were now gazing up at him imploringly and her smile was somehow both innocent and seductive at the same time. One day - one day soon - he was going to find away to resist those eyes and that smile. Just not today. "It's your call," he shrugged. "I can't force-feed you, or stand guard over you all day policing your choices."
She was up off the couch and standing before the replicator with her dishes before he'd even finished his last sentence. Waiting for the dishes to be recycled so that she could order coffee she glanced at him over her shoulder and smiled, warmly. "Will I see you later? How about dinner tonight - my treat? Nothing too heavy after that lunch, mind. Just some cheese, fruit and crusty bread... maybe some of that delicious apple drink you've got stashed away?"
"Usual time," she nodded.
"Alright," he agreed, closing the distance between them, "But, be sure to rest in the meantime. Watch a holo-vid, or lose yourself in one of those gothic romance novels you enjoy so much. What does Paris call them... 'Bodice Rippers'?"
She opened her mouth to make a suitably sarcastic reply, but the words slipped away as he smiled down at her ; dark eyes shining with laughter, dimples framing that familiar, disarming smile - the one that always brought her tongue to her lips. One day - one day soon - she was going to find a way to resist that smile. Just not today.
"I mean it, Kathryn," he went on, pointing to the large stack of PADDs on her desk. "All teasing aside, you're to rest. When I leave, I'm taking those with me."
"Be my guest," she shrugged. "I've been trying to think of a sneaky way to pass them onto you for days."
"You only have to ask."
"It's more fun being sneaky."
Distracted by her impish tone he lost the chance and the timing to make a smart come-back, so he settled for a stern look before turning away and crossing to her desk for the PADDs. "Just as long as you remember to relax. And, just so we're clear... that doesn't mean stripping your replicator down to its capacitors, either. Got it?"
"Spoilsport." Freshly replicated Klingon coffee in hand, she went to the door, ready to see him out.
Chakotay followed her, the report PADDs tucked under one arm. "You said it yourself, you were lucky last time, and it's still burning every second or third hot dish you request. 'The ignominy of asking Torres to repair it properly is just one blown capacitor away', remember...? Your words, not mine."
"Okay, okay!" She held up her coffee mug and free hand in mock-surrender, "Captain's honour. I promise to leave it alone."
"Of course you will," he said, sounding as if he didn't believe it for a second. "I have to go, but call me if you need anything."
He turned towards the door but had only taken two steps when Kathryn called after him.
He turned back again, curious and expectant. "Yes?"
She paused to put her coffee down on a side table then looked up and held his gaze, wanting to set what she was about to say apart from their previous light-hearted banter. "I'm glad you were there when I woke up in Sickbay. Waking to complete blindness like that was terrifying, and something I never want to go through again. I can face just about anything - and I have - you know that, but this was different. I've never felt so exposed... so completely vulnerable before, not even in the pitch-black of a Cardassian cell." Her voice trailed away, but she rallied, smiling a watery smile as he laid a sympathetic hand on her shoulder. "If it happens again... if you're not needed elsewhere, could you be there when I wake up?"
It was at times like this that Chakotay wanted nothing more than to take her in his arms and kiss away her fears. "Of course I will," he promised, holding her gaze for a moment before dropping a light, comforting kiss onto her forehead. "Try not to worry. I'm sure The Doctor will have answers for us soon."
Kathryn watched him leave, thinking how natural the kiss had felt and how right 'us' had sounded ; certainly more comforting and unassailable than 'you'. Together, there wasn't much that fazed them for long. Why should this strange illness be any different?
Going into her bedroom, she put her coffee down on her bedside cabinet and sat on the bed to pull off her boots and socks, wiggling her toes for a few moments before standing up to shuck her uniform. After dropping her socks into the laundry, she padded to the closet to hang up her uniform and collect some clean pyjamas, choosing a pale peach satin and lace pair ; an impulse-buy at the last inhabited planet they'd managed to arrange shore-leave on. They were perhaps a little frou-frou for the Captain of a Starship, but all the other pairs she seemed to own these days were regulation issue ; one hundred percent cotton and one hundred percent dull. She wasn't in the mood for dull. Besides, she'd been ordered by her C.M.O and her X.O. to relax and enjoy some downtime, and if she was going to spoil herself she might as well start as she meant to go on.
The satin felt wonderfully cool and luxurious against her skin and she turned to admire her reflection in the long wall-mirror. "Not bad, Kathryn," she grinned, "Not bad at all."
Pleased that her new pyjamas suited her she spent a few moments turning this way and that, smoothing her hands down over her torso and adjusting the wrap-around jacket just so. As she turned away from the mirror, she noticed one of the sumptuous gift-baskets of Dantraal chocolates she'd left on a side-table and her mouth began to water.
"Oh, what the hell. I think I deserve a treat after the day I've had."
Balancing the basket of chocolates on top of the old-fashioned romance novel she'd been reading, she padded back to her bed. Taking care not to spill anything she slipped under the covers, making herself comfortable before selecting a delicious looking chocolate and popping it into her mouth. Opening her book at her bookmark, she began to read.
Three hours later, Kathryn had almost reached the end of the story. She was so thoroughly engrossed in the plight of the young heroine, she couldn't take her eyes off the page as her hand reached into the basket for another chocolate. As one part of her mind despised the cowardly Guards Officer for leaving the disgraced girl to her fate, another part registered what her hand was telling her. Tearing her eyes away from her book she stared at the empty basket in disbelief.
"Where did they all go?!" Stupid question, really.
Shaking her head, she went back to her book.
Finally she finished, closing the cover with a flourish and a satisfied sigh.
"Computer, what time is it?"
"The time is 16:30 hours."
Still early. Chakotay would be here for supper later, but that was hours away yet. Throwing off the covers she got out of bed, picked up the empty basket and her empty coffee cup and took both to the recycler. After returning her book to the bookshelf, she requested a fresh cup of coffee from the replicator and considered what to do next. She decided on a long soak in the bath followed by a visit to Sandrines. Tom Paris would probably be there soon pool-cue in hand, looking for somebody to hustle.
Rifling through her closet she chose a simple, dark-green dress and laid it out on her bed.
Going into the bathroom she filled, added some of her favourite flower-scented bubblebath and lit several candles. Settling back into the fragrant, hot and soapy bubbles she gave a deep, involuntary sigh. "Computer, turn-off lights and play Janeway music selection jazz-three-alpha."
"Hold that lift!"
Neelix quickly jammed a foot between the closing doors and they instantly parted again to reveal a flushed-looking Captain Janeway.
"Good evening, Captain! Another second and you would have missed the barge... uh, I mean the boat."
"Hello, Neelix. Thank you for waiting."
"You're very welcome, Captain. And, if you don't mind me saying, well worth the wait. My, don't you look radiantly beautiful today? You're positively glowing! I don't think I've seen that lovely dress before? You should wear that shade of green more often, Captain - it makes you look fifteen years younger. Not that you look fifteen years older in your uniform, you understand. Perish the thought."
Kathryn grinned as he babbled on, tempted to ask if he wanted a hand out of the hole he was digging himself into. Neelix could sometimes be a bit heavy-handed with his flattery, but she'd always loved the charming and funny way he had of mixing-up his Earth sayings, and his genuine friendliness and enthusiasm often helped to brighten the darkest days. Suddenly aware that he had stopped talking and was now looking at her expectantly, she realised that he'd asked her a question.
"I'm sorry, Neelix. I didn't quite catch that?"
"Your destination, Captain? The turbo-lift won't move until all passengers have given their destination."
"Yes, of course. Recreation Deck - Holodeck Two."
The turbo-lift resumed, its usual soft hum seeming louder in the lengthening silence. Eventually it approached Holodeck two, slowed and stopped. As the doors opened, Kathryn stepped forward then paused and turned to look back at Neelix.
"Promise me something, Neelix?"
"Promise me that you'll never change."
Lost for words, the little man blushed. When he found his voice, his tone was quiet and sincere. "I'll try, Captain. My aim is always to serve you and the Ship. If what I do pleases you, then you're looking at one very happy Talaxian."
"What you do pleases me, Neelix." Turning to face him again she leaned forward to place a light kiss on the side of his face. "It pleases me more than you'll ever know." Touching him once on the shoulder she turned and stepped off the lift with a cheery, backward wave.
As the doors swished shut, Neelix rocked on his heels several times, flushed with a wave of happiness and pride. He knew that the Captain was a very kind and generous, but private woman. To his knowledge, she had never, ever thanked a member of her crew with a kiss before. For her to have kissed him - to show him with more than words how pleased she was with him - was an honour above all others. He stood tall, straightened his shoulders and pushed out his chest as his heart filled with a new determination and enthusiasm to serve his Captain to the very, very best of his abilities.
"Sickbay to Commander Chakotay."
"Chakotay here, Doctor."
"Can I speak freely, Commander? This concerns the Captain."
"Go ahead, I'm alone in the Ready-room."
"The Captain's bio-readings are in a state of flux. I'm monitoring increased adrenaline levels ; increased seratonin levels ; increased blood sugar ; increased insulin ; fluctuating thyroxin levels, and a slight increase in heart-rate and blood pressure... nothing too serious at the moment, but if they continue to rise, that could change. The computer gives her location as the Sandrine's program, Holodeck Two, but I can't leave sickbay at the moment because Miss. Torres is 'tweaking' my program - again."
"Sandrine's? Sounds like she got bored and went to shoot some pool," Chakotay offered. "I was just about to call it a day myself, Doctor. I'll make your house-call for you. How worried are you? Would you prefer me to bring her straight to Sickbay for more tests?"
"No, I don't think that's necessary just yet. These raised levels could simply mean that she's really enjoying herself. I'd be happier if I had confirmation of that though."
"I'll let you know, Doctor. Chakotay out."
Pushing away from the desk, Chakotay stood up to stretch out the kinks in his neck and back. A relaxing drink at Sandrine's watching Kathryn Janeway hustle someone at the pool table was literally 'just what the Doctor ordered'.
Closing down the Ready-Room terminals he strode out onto the Bridge and formally handed over to Beta Shift, then took the turbo-lift to the Officers Deck and his quarters. After changing out of his uniform into a white shirt, navy-blue cable-knit sweater, and casual black slacks, he headed for Recreation Deck, Holodeck Two.
On to part 2