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3rd place

"Does He?"
by GillyH
February 1999

Rating: PG-13
Timescale:Just after Night
Originally written for The 1001 Challenge: 'Just One Kiss'.

The challenge was to write a story in which Janeway and Chakotay kiss just once, with bonus points for using song lyrics, bonus points for having it *not* take place in an alternate universe and still more bonus points for staying anywhere in the vicinity of canon. Okay, I think I misunderstood the challenge, and it's sappy, contrived and silly, the Big Guy & KJ wouldn't shut up and it'll never happen, but oh, if it could - just once! This is also another tiny outing for my H2O proclivities. *grin* Hey, what can I say - I was Tarka the otter in a previous life, okay. Lyrics by R. Clarke for the Cher version.
Disclaimer: Paramount & The Viaborg own all of the characters taking part. I'm not making any money out of this, just having some fun. If you'd like to reproduce this story anywhere else, contact me first. Thanks :)


Does he love me
I wanna know
How can I tell if he loves me so
(Is it in his face) Oh, no
That's just his charm
(In his warm embrace) Oh, no
That's just his arms
If you wanna know
If he loves you so
It's in his kiss


Chez Sandrine

If it were anyone else, she'd probably be laughing her head off with the rest of the crew, but it wasn't just any Tom, Neelix or Harry. It was Chakotay, nervously backing away from a piece of holographic mistletoe and a crowd of laughing, teasing women who'd had a little too much to drink.

At her favourite table, hidden in the shadows at the back of the room, Kathryn took a sip of wine and told herself that the crew didn't mean any harm. It was all in good fun, but she just couldn't seem to still a tickling anxiety or her own over-active imagination. Beautiful 'just passing through' aliens were one thing, but this was very different. These were members of the crew. What would it finally take, she wondered? The oh-so-suggestive eye-contact, the feel of a soft, warm body in his arms, perfume clouding his senses, or a kiss that just went on and on... all the way home?

"A dangerous combination, oui?"

Startled, Kathryn turned to find Sandrine beside her table, easing the cork from a bottle of wine.

"What is?"

"Lonely women, too much wine, and a handsome man."

Trying to shake the feeling that the hologram had somehow read her mind, Kathryn held out her glass for a refill. "They're all handsome after too much wine."

Sandrine chuckled throatily and leaned over the table to whisper, "Do you have your ticket, cherie? Be sure to keep it safe. To win such a prize and not be able to claim it would be terrible."

"I don't have a ticket to lose, so I'll never know."

Sandrine's mouth dropped open in disbelief. "But he is adorable... are you mad?!"

"I'm in perfect health, but I'm the Captain, remember? It wouldn't be appropriate."

"Ah, but of course. Always I forget! For you to go to Thomas and ask for a ticket is impossible, even in fun, n'est-ce pas?"

Kathryn sipped at her wine, swallowed and shuddered - more from a sudden vision of herself asking a smirking Paris for a ticket than from the pungent sharpness of the wine. "Yes, totally impossible."

"Oh, what a shame. I have watched him you know, seen the way his eyes follow you around the room, the way he holds you when you dance. He believes he hides it well, but not from me and certainly not from you, I think. So, is it true love?"

Once again, Kathryn concentrated on safely swallowing the wine she had in her mouth. What could she say? Sandrine was... well, Sandrine. She never took, 'No' for an answer if she thought she was onto something - or someone. After all, Paris had based her on a real person who had been happiest interfering in the romantic lives of others and playing matchmaker. Almost one of the crew but unrestrained by the same protocols, Sandrine was also frank, funny and totally unfazed by a visit from 'The Captain'. It had always been refreshing to just sit and chat with her over a glass of wine after a long day, but what could she say to her - 'Chakotay and I are just good friends'? Hardly. Tuvok was a very good friend and Sandrine had seen her and Tuvok together lots of times. Sandrine would know the difference, and outright denial would only make things worse. She decided on a broad grin and a surprised sounding, "I really wouldn't know, Sandrine. You'd have to ask him that."

"I already did and he would not tell me."

"You've asked him?!"

"Of course."


"Oh, quite a while ago. He often comes here in the middle of the night when he cannot sleep. We have long talks over good wine, just as you and I sometimes do."

"What did he say?"

"About his feelings for you? He would not say, he just smiled that gorgeous smile of his, asked for another drink and changed the subject. Surely you must know if he has feelings that go beyond friendship, cherie... a woman knows these things?"

A sudden outburst of laughter from the bar reminded Kathryn that although her table was tucked away at the back of the room, they weren't alone. She quickly glanced around, but thankfully no one was close enough to hear their conversation. Distracted, she half-turned back to Sandrine and murmured, "No, really, I don't know."

It was true, she didn't 'know' anymore, not as she once had. After their recent journey through the Void he seemed to be keeping his distance behind a wary politeness and by-the-book professionalism. He turned up on the dot for his Bridge-shift, made small-talk for a little while, then spent as much time as he could in his office before leaving again - bang on time. He'd also stopped dropping by her quarters to nag her to take time off, join him for picnics, walks, dinner or sailing lessons, but then she couldn't really blame him for that. It had to be hard to be rejected time after time, day after day in favour of a pile of reports. But how could she explain? Work was the only way she had of redeeming herself after her fifty three day desertion of this crew. It didn't mean that she had no need of his company or him. In fact she missed him, terribly.

Was this it, she wondered - the beginning of the end for him? What if her absence, her further self-imposed exile, had finally helped to break comfortable habits... convenient illusions? She'd always half-expected him to lose patience with her, but she'd also half-hoped....

"If you would rather be alone...?"

"What...? Oh. Forgive me, Sandrine. I'm poor company this evening."

"It is alright. Besides, I should get back to the bar. Shall I leave the bottle, Captain?"

"Yes, please."

"Maybe I should leave you something else, too."

Sandrine reached into the bodice of her blouse and pulled out a tiny, pink paper slip. With a wicked grin, she tucked it under the wine bottle. "B'Elanna bought me a ticket when I told her I had no credits, but I think you should have it. Be lucky... and if you are wise, you will use it, cherie. One tiny little kiss will tell you what you want to know. A man always finds it harder to lie if his lips are kept busy."

With a saucy wink, she turned and headed for the bar.

Kathryn couldn't help smiling as she watched her go. For a trick of light, Sandrine had an endearing, earthy quality and a knack for getting right to the point.

Turning her attention back to the table, she eyed the edges of the ticket that peeked out from under the bottle. Finally, her curiosity got the better of her and she slid the ticket towards her. Surrepticiously unfolding it so no one would see that she had a ticket, she laughed. It wasn't exactly her lucky number. Murphy's Law was alive and well and living in the Delta Quadrant.

Slipping the ticket into the pocket of her dress, she picked up her glass, sipped her wine and played a little game to pass the time and prove to herself that she wasn't jealous and that she could ignore the boisterous, giggling group of women around Chakotay. She bet herself that she wouldn't even look in that direction again until she'd drunk her glass of wine and refilled it.

She lost.

Two sips away from the bottom of the glass, there was a drumroll sound-effect and Paris loudly called for quiet. Kathryn half turned in her chair to watch Paris clamber up onto the bar with a small wooden box clasped under one arm, but she couldn't resist the impulse to quickly glance over at Chakotay.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Paris called out, quieting the people still talking. "Thank you for being here this evening. As you know, over the years, all members of the senior staff have performed above and beyond the call of duty in numerous talent nights."

Loud cheers, cat-calls and applause drown him out and he had to hold up his hands for quiet.

"With the notable exception of Commander Chakotay, of course."

Louder cat-calls and a few good-natured, 'boos' followed as everyone turned to look at Chakotay, slowly edging his way towards the exit and laughing at the absurdity of his situation, but scanning the room for something or someone as he went.

His eyes seemed to find hers as he silently mouthed the word, 'Help!'

Kathryn got up and moved forward into the light, folded her arms and slowly shook her head in mock-regret.

The crew didn't miss a thing, of course. As soon as they saw her reaction, they cheered loudly until Paris called for quiet and they all turned their attention back to him, leaving her and Chakotay to smile awkwardly at each other from opposite ends of the room as Paris continued,

"We've tried, people! We've really tried to get him up on stage, but nothing's worked. So, the senior staff gave him an ultimatum - either he contributed to 'Talent Night' or he paid a forfeit. Well, as you know, little Naomi Wildman is growing like a weed in a Leeola patch and Sam here is constantly having to replicate new clothes for her. So, we're organising lots of little fund-raisers to help, and tonight, that's where our rather kissable Commander comes in. For a donation of just three credits, the brave ladies of Voyager have a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience severe oxygen deprivation, with full medical back-up."

A muttered, "You're a dead man, Paris" from Chakotay caused more explosive laughter.

"Last chance, Big Guy. Sing us a song and you're off the hook?"

"Go to hell."

"Yes, sir! Right away, sir! As soon as you've drawn the winning ticket, sir!"

He held out the box, his eyes daring Chakotay to make the call.

With a last resigned shake of his head, Chakotay gave in and made his way to the bar, laughing and calling Paris all the names under the Sun as he went. His hand disappeared into the box and reappeared a second later - a folded slip of paper between his fingers.

Paris took the ticket from him and opened it up. "Okay, ladies. Before I tell you the winning number, I'd just like to remind you that you have a maximum of twenty four hours in which to claim your prize. If you'd rather remain anonymous to the rest of us, that's entirely up to you," he lowered his voice and winked at them, "Just make sure that after you've put Chakotay into the recovery position you leave your copy of the ticket somewhere where he can find it. I'll need it as proof that he completed his forfeit." He waited for the jeers and laughter to die down and loudly called for another drumroll. "And the winning number is... number forty seven!"

Moans, groans and finely ripped tickets filled the air as the women of Voyager cursed their luck, the Fates, and - in one corner - a twin sister's dismal failure to choose the winning ticket.

Now it was Chakotay's turn to call for quiet. He gave a short, shrill whistle through his fingers and when he had their attention, grinned broadly and said, "Thank you, everyone - and thank you ladies for being so generous during this fund-raiser. Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to leave with as much dignity as I can muster."

With a polite nod to Kathryn and a final mock-glare at Paris, he left - leaving the crew's applause, cat-calls and laughter behind him.


(Is it in his eyes?) Oh no,
You'll be deceived
(Is it in his eyes?) Oh no,
He'll make believe
If you wanna know
If he loves you so
It's in his kiss


Fifteen minutes or so after Chakotay left, Kathryn decided to call it a night too. It was still early, but she knew the crew wouldn't really let their hair down while she was there, and they desperately needed to after the Void.

She made her way around the edge of the room to the door, smiling and saying "Goodnight" to those crew who noticed her leaving. Just as she reached out to open the old-fashioned glass door, she heard a low, sultry voice say,

"Remember what I said, cherie."

Glancing back over her shoulder, she found Sandrine - a tray of empty glasses balanced against one hip, a hand on the other hip - watching her intently and smiling a knowing smile. Damn! Turning around completely, Kathryn beckoned her to the door.

Placing a hand on the hologram's shoulder and drawing her closer, she whispered, "Sandrine, you mustn't say a word about this to anyone. If they knew, they'd leap to all the wrong conclusions."

But Sandrine was already shaking her head and dismissing her fears with a gallic shrug. "I know that," she whispered back "and I will never tell a soul. I have already forgotten the number on the ticket. Now, go!" With a grin and a naughty chuckle, she opened the door and gave Kathryn a firm push. "Go sympathise with him. Kiss him, hold his hand, hold whatever you can while you can, cherie. It's the only way you're going to know!"

The door banged shut and Kathryn found herself standing outside on the pavement in a shower of rain. Glancing up at the night sky, she started to ask the computer for dry, warm weather, but the droplets of water were wonderfully refreshing after the stuffy warmth of the bar, and it had been years since she'd just stood in the rain... years and years. Closing her eyes and tipping back her head, she took a deep breath and welcomed the rain.

All too soon, raucous laughter from the bar intruded on the moment, breaking the spell. She opened her eyes, sighed and looked around. Maybe a long walk in the fresh, sea air of Marseille would... that made her stop and think for a moment. When had she last taken a 'real' walk - somewhere other than on the holodeck or around the ship? The answer surprised her. It had been months ago on the Mari homeworld during her shopping trip with B'Elanna - just before all the trouble over B'Elanna's stolen thoughts had errupted. Unbelievable. She was definitely going to put her foot down and claim leadership of the next landing party. Chakotay and his 'safety protocols' could go take a running jump!

After requesting a holographic raincoat she slipped it on, cinched the belt tightly around her waist and set off for the distant lights of the waterfront - deliberately splashing through any puddles she saw along the way, and just as deliberately trying not to think about what Chakotay might be doing.


Kiss him and squeeze him tight
find out what you wanna know
If it's love, if it really is
It's there in his kiss
(How about the way he acts?) Oh, no
That's not the way
And you're not listening to all I say
If you wanna know
If he loves you so
It's in his kiss


By the time she reached the first streetlamp on the waterfront, her feet were soaked, but she felt better than she had in ages ; she felt exhilirated, her head was clear and her face tingled from the exertion of a brisk walk in crisp evening air.

Standing in the warm glow of light provided by the lamp, she ordered the computer to stop the rain, looked around and wondered which way to go next.

Just as she decided to explore the maze of alley-ways leading up into the old town, the moon's reflection rippled on the surface of a nearby puddle, disturbed by a light breeze. From where she stood, the man in the moon seemed to be smiling at her and she was suddenly reminded of, 'puddle games' she'd played as a child ; racing the moon's reflection along the pot-holed road to her parent's house with Bramble hurtling along beside her, snapping at the laces of her gym shoes....

Moving forward, she suddenly hopped, skipped and jumped right into the middle of the huge puddle, slamming both feet down with a delighted whoop of, "Gotcha!" sending a wave of grimy puddlewater up and out in all directions.

"Having fun?"

She whirled around to find Chakotay - splashed from head to toe.

"Chakotay?! Where the hell...?!" She glanced around, wondering where the hell he'd come from and realised that he must have stepped out of a shadowed alley-way just as she'd jumped into the puddle.

He slowly wiped a hand down over his eyes and face, glanced at the front of the raincoat he was wearing and sighed heavily. "I think you missed a spot. Would you like to try for full coverage?"

Whether it was a need to provoke any reaction but wary politeness from him, or just sheer devilment she didn't know, but Kathryn found herself drawing back her right foot and taking aim.

"Kathryn, I was kidding... don't you dare!"

But the devil in Miss. Janeway wasn't listening. Pointing her toes, she kicked hard forwards and upwards, producing a wall of water so big it couldn't possibly miss him - even if he turned and ran. There was a loud, satisfying 'splatt!' as water met man, a few musical 'plinking' sounds as drips fell and formed a puddle at his feet, then a long moment of total silence.

"Great. Just great."

His, 'I can't believe you did that' tone, coupled with the stunned look on his face were too much for her and she started to laugh - quietly at first, but louder and harder as he continued to just stand there, dripping.

Finally, weak with laughter and hugging herself around the waist, she doubled over and begged, "Chakotay, say something! Yell at me or___ Urrgh!"

She hadn't noticed him moving forward. All she knew was the shock of cold, dirty water splashed up into her face and open mouth. Coughing, she straightened up, wiped a hand over her face and stared at him ; her turn to look stunned and drip, his turn to laugh.

"Still seeking redemption, Kathryn? Why yell at you when I can give as good as I get?"

"But I swallowed half of it!" Even as she coughed out the words, she knew what his reply would be.

"I suppose holographic puddles taste as bad as the real thing, but you'll be fine." He closed the distance between them as he spoke, reaching out to brush a small piece of gravel from her cheek. "Besides, if you can't take the payback, you really shouldn't start the war."

Quiet mirth filled his eyes and tugged at the corners of his mouth making him look more like the Chakotay she knew. And missed. As she smiled back, something passed between them ; an acknowledgement that something was definitely wrong, but that whatever it was, they could and should try to work it out. They'd shared too much, meant too much to each other to just let things slide any longer.

Whether he pulled her forward or she went on her own she didn't know, but suddenly, her arms were around his neck, his arms were around her waist and they were holding each other very tight.

At least a minute passed before they relaxed their hold on one another and Kathryn quietly asked,

"Where have you been?"

Chakotay understood what she meant. Letting her go, he stepped back - shoving his hands into his coat pockets and slowly circling her. When he spoke, his voice was low and his tone embarrassed. "Sulking. I was sulking, okay."

Kathryn raised an eyebrow. "Sulking?"

"A man can sulk in his free time, can't he?"

"Of course he can," she swallowed a quirky grin, "I've just never thought of you as someone who... um, sulked. I take it this has something to do with me?"

"Of course it does," he came to a standstill in front of her and thought about it for a moment. "Being your friend has to be the hardest, most dissatisfying thing I've ever done."

"In what way?!"

He shrugged. "You don't need me. You don't need anyone - ever. Even when you're drowning in a deep depression. You won't let me in, you won't let me even try to help you. Do you know how frustrating that is? How useless it makes me feel? All I wanted to do in the Void was hold you, reassure you... tell you how much I missed you and that we'd work it out somehow, but every time I got anywhere near you, you backed off. Every suggestion I made hit the deck in flames, so I stopped trying, but that was even worse." He paused for a moment to take her face in both hands. "I care about you, Kathryn... perhaps too much. I'd do a lot more than just be your friend if only you'd let me, but you won't and if that's they way it has to be, then so be it. I understood your reasons when we left New Earth and I understand them now, but I have no clear mandate for reaching you as a friend when you insist on cutting yourself off from the ship, from everyone. You leave me no way to do, or be, anything except your First Officer. You constantly use the protocol of one aspect of our relationship to control the other, and keep me at arms length."

Swallowing hard, unable to meet his gaze, Kathryn gently pulled her face free of his hands and looked away - down at the puddle they were still standing in. Their reflection's wavered on the surface, distorted and warped by the slight shifting of her feet. He was right. He'd been in limbo for so many years now ; so much more than just her First Officer, so much more than her best friend ; someone who loved her, but not quite a lover ... at least not in the physical sense. Asking him to be her best friend but keep his distance was grossly unfair. Still looking down at the puddle, she nodded. "You're right. Inside the Void I deliberately kept you at arms length, but it wasn't you I was worried about, it was me. I hate sympathy. Always have." She looked up at him, then. "Even when I really need it or deserve it, I feel guilty about the need and I get angry with myself. I've just never learned how to accept it gracefully... especially from someone I care about, but feel responsible for."

"So, you're not perfect. You think that's a big surprise to me?" He smiled to take the sting out of his words. "None of us are, Kathryn. But, if you constantly expect perfection from other people, they come to expect it back from you... and nobody can live that way. You just have to learn to forgive yourself and let your friends help you, or this journey really will seem to take a life-time."

Seeing her shiver he briefly held her close and rubbed at her arms. "Cold?"

She nodded and he stepped back - pulling her with him away from the puddle and into the warm, orange glow cast by the streetlamp. Wrapping his arms around her again before she could protest or wriggle free, he instructed the computer to raise the air temperature.

"This isn't sympathy. This is just one friend keeping another friend warm. People do it all the time."

"I know," she smiled up at him. "Maybe it's time you stopped sulking and started shouting more often."

His face broke into a relieved grin. "Count on it. Listen, before you stomped on the moon and drenched us both, I was on my way to the old town. B'Elanna says there's a quiet little restaurant hidden away up there. She and Tom use it sometimes, but nobody else knows about it. Join me for some pasta and red wine...?"

"I'd love to, but shouldn't you be heading for your quarters?" Her tone was teasing. "The lucky lady could be there right now... tapping her foot, impatiently waiting for those delectable lips."

He rolled his eyes and groaned, "Thanks for reminding me. For your information, I've already been back to my quarters, but I couldn't relax, I just kept waiting for the door-chime to ring. When I couldn't stand it anymore I decided to come here for a long walk in the rain, instead. I find it soothing."

Kathryn tilted her head to one side and grinned, knowingly. "Liar. You came here to hide."

He winked and held out his arm for her to take. "Of course I did. Well, shall we go?"

"Yes, in a minute. I have something for you." she undid the belt on her coat, reached into the pocket of her dress and produced the tiny ticket that Sandrine had given her. "Here... you can stop worrying."

He took the scrap of paper, opened it out and stared at it. "You won? But, Paris said you wouldn't take a ticket... you donated your credits, but you didn't want one."

"And as your Captain what else could I do? Paris would have had a field-day with me even wanting one - let alone collecting on it. I only got that one because B'Elanna gave it to Sandrine, and Sandrine gave it to me."

Chakotay's mouth dropped open. "Sandrine? But she's a hell of a kisser... or so I've been told."

Kathryn shrugged, "Sorry, but she wanted me to have it. She insisted that I use it, too."


"Maybe you're losing your charm," she quipped. Seeing his mock-hurt expression she rolled her eyes. "Oh, don't worry, she thinks you're gorgeous. She just did a very nice thing for me, that's all. Come-on. Let's go eat. Now that you mention it, I'm famished."

She slipped her arm through his and took a step before she realised that he wasn't moving with her. Pulled up short, she turned and asked, "What's the matter?"

"Would you like to?"

"What... eat? I just said so, didn't I?" Then the penny dropped. "Oh. You mean use the ticket... claim the kiss?" She paused, then answered her own question with a wry chuckle, "Be careful, Chakotay... it's been five very long years. I might say, 'yes'."

"And what would be so terrible if you did? No one would ever know - not even the threat of a slow-death by Vulcan poetry would get it out of me."

The thought of Tuvok interrogating him - torturing him with endless, droning passages of Vulcan verse while demanding every last detail of their indiscretion was absurd and she laughed outloud.

Chakotay watched her, seeing her properly in the light from the lamp this time. He saw the way her face lit up, the way her eyes glittered and crinkled at the edges, how even slightly damp, her hair glowed fox-red in the lamplight and most of all, her beautiful, beautiful smile. Struck broadside by the contrast between this joyful woman and the woman she'd been in the Void, he vowed to himself that he'd never let that happen again - ever. He didn't care what he had to do, or for how many years he had to do it. Clearing his throat, he murmured, "Seeing you laugh like that is wonderful. I wish ...." he stopped, suddenly unsure and nonplussed. How could he ever put it into words? Just how did you tell your best friend that you were still in love with her, even after she'd made it clear that she needed your friendship more than she needed anything else? How did you tell someone that their happiness was all that mattered to you ; that some days, the only reason you dragged yourself out of bed and went to work was because you knew that she'd be there?

"What do you wish?" Kathryn prompted when he didn't continue.


He leaned forward and his lips softly brushed her right cheek, lingering there for only a moment. As he pulled back, she lifted her hand to touch where he'd kissed her and smiled. It was one of the sweetest, kindest things he'd ever done, but it wasn't quite what she'd expected - or really wanted.

Their eyes met, her smile vanished and she tutted, "You call that a kiss?"

He looked shocked for a moment, but recovered well. "Under the circumstances, yes."

"Well, I certainly don't. Not when it's in settlement of a forfeit. Seemed pretty painless to me, Chakotay. I thought a forfeit was meant to be some sort of penalty?"

Chakotay caught on, but he still had to be sure. "I suppose you're right... it was a bit too easy, wasn't it? Alright then, what sort of kiss would you like to claim?"

Kathryn knew exactly the sort she wanted. Hadn't she fantasised about it, justified it, rejected it, then justified it again countless times in countless hours before elusive sleep? Blushing, but smiling warmly at him, she made her request ; "I suppose I'd like a lover's kiss. A kiss that makes my toes curl, my pulse race and my knees buckle. Just once, I'd like to be totally irresponsible, totally selfish and completely honest. No denial, no guilt, no soul-searching dilemmas. Just once, I'd like to damn protocol, put my arms around your neck and do what we should have done years ago. I'd like____

Whatever she'd been about to say next was cut off as his mouth covered hers. Moaning in pleasure and surprise, she slowly wound her arms tightly around his neck and pulled him closer, tilting her head to the right and arching into him as his hands lightly roamed the sensitive parts of her back. As he deepened the kiss, his tongue nudged her lips open further, circling and stroking her mouth with gentle, then firm pressure. It seemed like he was everywhere at once; teasing her mouth, filling her nostrils with his scent, touching every part of her and enveloping her with a heat she wouldn't have thought possible from just one kiss. It was intoxicating, passionate, and breathaking, and she finally had her answer. He did still love her. With her heart pounding in her ears, feeling light-headed and needing to breathe deeply, she tried to break the kiss and ease up a little.

Chakotay sensed the change in her, but he was so caught up in the moment, so drugged by the sweet taste and silky texture of her mouth, and by the feel of her body crushed against his, he was slow to react. Finally, the tiny noises she was making, coupled with the pressure of her hands on his shoulders got through to him and he slowly relaxed his hold on her. Still kissing her, but with lighter, less intense strokes he fought to catch his breath.

Eventually, Kathryn leaned her forehead against his chin and managed, "Much, much better, Commander. A vast improvement."

"Toes, pulse, knees?"

She chuckled, straightened up and pushed a hand through her hair, "Oh, yes."

They stood there just grinning at each other like a couple of idiots until finally Chakotay asked, "Now what?"

"Now, we go and eat... drink some wine and celebrate making it this far. You, me and the crew safe and sound for another year in the Delta Quadrant." She slipped her arm through his and guided him towards one of the alley-ways that led up into the old town, talking as they went. "Tomorrow, we'll report for work and carry out our duties. If it's a quiet day, we'll flirt and tease our way through it, just as we've always done, and just maybe... I'll find a long-stemmed rose and a dinner invitation on my desk when I get back from lunch. I've missed those things so much... missed wondering how you sneak them past Tuvok, too. How are you at romantic poetry?"

Chakotay glanced sideways, grimmaced and shook his head. "Not good. Will a romantic legend do?"

"Sorry, not this time. I want poetry - no poetry, no dinner date."

"Anything else?"

"Yes, I think you owe Sandrine a large bouquet of red... no wait, better make it pink holographic roses."

"Alright. Is that it?"

"For now. I can't think of anything at the moment, but we should take this slowly, Chakotay - one foot in front of the other, one step at a time. We'll talk properly tomorrow, alright?"

"We'd better! In one evening I've gone from sulky, rejected friend to best friend with minor fringe benefits, to 'lover's kiss'. I knew we'd get there eventually, but has anyone ever told you that you're the most annoying, contrary female in the Delta quadrant?"

"Yes, I believe you have... several times."


Chez Sandrine

The crew had deleted the pool table to make room for an intimate, softly lit dance floor. Old-fashioned 'mood music' filled the air, rising just above the general chatter, laughter and clinking of glasses while several couples slow-danced in the shadows. Off to one side of the room, Tom and B'Elanna sat at a small table sharing a bottle of wine.

"Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle." Tom's mouth dropped open, "Will you look at that... I thought he was romancing Hickman?"

B'Elanna turned around in her seat, following Tom's line of sight to the dance floor. "He was, but Hickman gave him the brush off... he doesn't look too heart-broken, does he?"

"His hands look ecstatic... keeping busy dulls the pain, I suppose."

Laughing, they moved a little closer to one another as Tom took her hand in his and asked, "Would you like to dance?"

"Yes, but in a little while," she pulled a face and sighed heavily. "This is the first chance I've had to sit down all day, so let's just sit and talk for a while, hmm? Catch up, enjoy some more wine... is there any more?"

Tom picked up the bottle and held it up to the light. "Only a drop."

After pouring what was left into B'Elanna's glass he looked around for Sandrine. Spotting her at the bar, he waved and pointed to the empty bottle in his other hand. Sandrine grinned and waved back, selected a fresh bottle and brought it straight over to their table.

As Sandrine removed the cork and poured, B'Elanna winked at Paris. "Congratulations on winning tonight, Sandrine. Do you have any plans, yet... if you do, I could take a message to Chakotay for you?

Sandrine almost dropped the bottle, spilling some wine on the table. "Non! I mean... it is alright, B'Elanna. He will be back soon, I am sure." Smiling nervously, she pulled a large, dry cloth from her belt to mop up the spilled wine.

Tom looked from one woman to the other in surprise. "Sandrine won? But how...?"

B'Elanna grinned at him, pleased that for once she'd known something he didn't. "Simple. I bought her a ticket - the winning ticket! Number forty-seven."

Just at that moment, Jenny Delaney, Harry Kim, Sam Wildman and Neelix were passing by on their way to the dance floor and couldn't help over-hearing what B'Elanna said.

Jenny laughed outloud, hugged Sandrine and offered her congratulations, adding gleefully, "Megan is going to be so jealous," she turned around, searching the room for her sister. "Hey, Megan," she yelled across the room, "Sandrine won Chakotay!"

Megan groaned and flounced towards the crowd gathering around Sandrine. "You're kidding?! Really...? Sandrine, you lucky, lucky thing! Wanna swap? I've got a lovely French masseur programe.... He's adorable, you'd love him! He even___

"Oh, no you don't, Megan," Paris interrupted, cutting her off. "Sandrine won, so only Sandrine can claim the kiss."

"Says who?! If she wants to swap, then she should be able to."

Things went rapidly downhill from there as people loudly took sides.

Flustered, Sandrine tried to call for quiet, but she just couldn't make herself heard over the laughter, shouting and dance music. Hemmed-in by a leggy thicket of black uniforms, she pushed and shoved a path back to Tom & B'Elanna's table. Stepping up onto a chair, then onto the table itself she shouted, "Calme, calme.... Be quiet! All of you!"

It took a few seconds, but everyone fell quiet and turned to look at her.

Angrily huffing a lock of hair out of her eyes, she instructed the computer to delete the dance music. "That is better. This is a cafe, not a circus!"

Paris snickered and Sandrine whapped him across the ear with her cloth. "Be quiet, Thomas!" Hands on hips, she glared down at them all, blue eyes blazing. "Would anyone else like to interrupt me?" No one moved, no one spoke. "Good, I thought not. Now, listen very carefully.... I will say this only once. There will be no swap! I do not 'ave the ticket any longer, because I gave it to a friend," The crew all began talking at once, so she stamped her foot. "Be quiet, I 'ave not yet finished! As I said, this is a cafe. You will buy drinks, you will sit down and you will drink them. Anyone who does not 'ave a drink will be asked to leave, comprendre?!" Without waiting for a reply, she held out her hands to Neelix. He helped her down off the table and she stalked back to the bar.

Harry let out a low whistle and murmured, "Nice piece of programming, Tom."

They all laughed - mostly at themselves as they realised they'd just been scolded by a hologram. But then, Sandrine was Sandrine.

Just as everyone began to drift away from Tom and B'Elanna's table, Neelix turned to Sam Wildman and said, "I wonder who Sandrine gave the ticket to?"

Everyone paused and wondered until Jenny Delaney joked, "Well, she chatted with the Captain for quite a while earlier and ...." Her eyes went wide as her voice trailed away.

Tom was already one step ahead of her. "Computer...?"

B'Elanna shook her head and glared at him, "No, Tom. Don't!"

"Why not... if I don't, somebody else will?"

He was right and she knew it. "Alright, but use your commbadge not the holodeck comm system," she glanced over to the bar "We don't want to upset Sandrine, again."

Tom hit his commbadge as the crew gathered round. "Computer, location of Commander Chakotay and Captain Janeway?"

Commander Chakotay and Captain Janeway are currently on holodeck two.

As one, the crew stopped breathing and looked over their shoulder.

Tom swore under his breath. "Exact location within holodeck two?"

Grid ninety-five, cell ten.

B'Elanna laughed, "L'Escargot! They're in L'Escargot. I mentioned it to Chakotay the other day... he's taken her to the restaurant."

Harry voiced what everyone else was wondering. "What restaurant...? I didn't know there was a restaurant in this program?"

"It's new, Harry," Tom replied a little sheepishly. "I only finished it a couple of weeks ago. B'Elanna and I have used it twice. I was going to tell you about it."

Jenny piped-up again. "Okay, so they're together, but that doesn't prove anything. Unless.... Is there a way to scan for the ticket?"

Tom's face lit up at that. "You bet! I made the tickets myself to save on replicator rations. Computer, scan holodeck two, grid ninety-five, cell ten ... extrapolate and suggest location of a tiny rectangle of paper infused with India ink?"

Confirmed. Paper infused with India ink. Location, Commander Chakotay's pocket.

Neelix noticed that everyone was smiling broadly, but they seemed to be having trouble thinking of something to say, so he said it for them. "Well, it's about time!"


(Is it in his eyes?) Oh no,
You'll be deceived
(Is it in his eyes?) Oh no,
He'll make believe
If you wanna know
If he loves you so
It's in his kiss


The End.