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"Who Knew...?"
by GillyH

Rating: PG

Setting: Two weeks before the events of "Caretaker". An introduction for Kes & Neelix and my part of the "Voyager 1001 Nights" story project . Kathryn is depressed and Chakotay is telling her stories about their crew to try and cheer her up. It's best if you read August's J/C Prologue first, but the stories themselves are stand alone and about lots of different characters, so you could dip in and out of them. :)

Disclaimer: Paramount and Viacom own everything except me, and Neelix's lucky engine-room fly. *g* Dedicated with love and appreciation to Ethan Phillips and Jennifer Lien.


"Not all stories are without an end, Chakotay."

"No, not all."

"Will you tell me one that does? Before I sleep?"

"About Neelix ... and Kes?" I ask, wondering if it would be too much.

She turns to look at me quickly. "I can't think of anything I'd rather hear more."

* * *

Neelix eyed Jaybin, warily.

He trusted the Kazon about as far as he could throw him, but he badly needed the iron ore he was offering. Without Jaybin's ore he wouldn't be able to trade with the Frenaar for scrap engine parts, and without their engine parts he wouldn't be able to trade with the Brelk for fuel. Without fuel, his little ship would grind to a halt and he wouldn't be able to reach the fabulous waste zone Temmlix had told him about. His fingers itched as he thought of all the things just waiting to be investigated, claimed and traded away for bigger and better things, so he sat back and considered for a moment. Maybe he'd pushed this over-inflated Kazon oaf as far as he could... and it wouldn't do to make him angry. He might call off the deal altogether or just take what he wanted by force.

"Alright, Jaybin... you win," he sighed. "I can see you're a man who drives a hard bargain and I have places to go, people to see. So, I'll trade you eight hex-weights of Draal Wheat for ten hex-weights of Iron-ore and not a hex-weight less!"

He spat on his hand, extended it to the Kazon and they shook on the deal.


An hour later, Neelix was still hanging around in Jaybin's tent, kicking his heels and waiting for word that the ore had been delivered to his ship. By Twixit, it's hot in here! he grouched to himself. Reaching inside his jacket he pulled out a silver flask, unstoppered it, lifted it to his lips and drained the last tiny mouthful of water it contained.

"Are you still thirsty?" A low, sing-song voice cooed

Neelix spun around and found himself gazing into the most delicate, beautiful face he'd ever seen. Creamy, translucent skin, a rosebud mouth and huge, luminous blue eyes ringed with thick lashes - all topped-off by hair the colour of freshly churned Vrashka butter. In that instant, everything else ceased to exist and Neelix fell head over hairy feet in love.

With his tongue suddenly thick, clumsy and cleaving to the roof of his mouth, he managed to stutter, "Ah... uh... hello there...ah...thirsty? Yes.. I am. Very."

His eye's delight smiled and said, "Then I'll get you a drink. You won't tell Jaybin, will you?"

" Never!" His voice was stronger, but it still quavered a little.

The vision of loveliness politely pretended not to notice, smiling warmly at him until he thought his racing heart would pound itself right through his chest and fall to the floor at her dainty feet. He watched spell-bound as she turned away, crossed to the other side of the tent and disappeared behind a tall screen. A moment later she reappeared holding a large flask.

Praying that his voice and tongue would co-operate, the intrepid trader tried again. "I'm.... I'm Neelix, and I'm very pleased to meet you."

"Yes, I've seen you here once before, Neelix. My name is Kes, and I'm very pleased to meet you, too." She smiled shyly as she took his flask and filled it to the brim from the larger one. "Hurry, Jaybin won't be long... he normally has a nap at this time."

Neelix took the flask back and nodded gravely, understanding the risk she was taking for him. "Thank you, Kes. You're very kind and ... and brave." He took a long pull at the flask, his eyes never leaving hers.

When he'd had enough to quench his immediate thirst, he lowered the flask and Kes took it from him once more, filled it up again and murmured, "Try to ration this because I won't be able to give you anymore. Water is too precious here and Jaybin's eyes are sharp."

"I will, Kes... and thank you, again." He tilted his head to one side and eyed her curiously. "Forgive me asking, but you're Ocampa... what are you doing here with the Kazon?"

She sighed and nodded sadly. "I came to the surface about a month ago. Jaybin's men captured me almost immediately. They tried to force me to show them the way down to our city... they starved me and beat me, but when that didn't work they decided to keep me as a jashleeq__"

Neelix was horrified. "__A jashleeq? A slave?! Those beasts... those barbaric beasts!"

Kes shushed him in alarm. "Please! Keep your voice down. There are Kazon everywhere and I try to stay out of sight... out of mind."

If the thought of such a delicate, defenceless flower being beaten and abused by Kazon thugs made Neelix's blood boil, then the thought of her - of anyone - being a slave caused a roiling, red mist to cloud his vision. With tremendous effort and for Kes' sake, he managed to keep a tight rein on his temper. If not for her, if not for her safety, he would have stormed out of the tent, found Jaybin and knocked him clear into the following week!

Gently placing a hand on each of Kes' shoulders, he spoke firmly, but quietly through tightly gritted teeth. "I give you my word, little one... no matter how long it takes, I'll find a way to get you away from here and back to your home... back to your people."

Kes looked away and shook her head. "No, please... it's much too dangerous. There are too many of them and they patrol constantly. I wouldn't want you or anyone else to be hurt or die, trying to rescue me."

He cupped her chin with his left hand and gently turned her face towards him. "I know you wouldn't, but I don't think it'll come to that. Listen.... I've just been tipped off about a waste zone not far from here and ___" Seeing confusion in her eyes, he let go of her chin, took her free hand in his and explained. "Way above your planet, there are trade lanes... routes that tradeships use to get from one place to another. Some of those ships just grind to a halt - either because they're old and beyond repair or out of fuel and they're abandoned. Anyway, as I said, I've been told exactly where to find just such a waste zone. I'm on my way there as soon as I finish this trade run and get the extra fuel I'll need. Maybe I'll find something of value out there, something that Jaybin would be willing to trade you... your freedom, for."

Kes couldn't speak. She wanted to, but it had been so long since anyone had been so kind and so patient. Blinking away tears and sniffing slightly, she leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on her champion's right cheek before stepping back to smile shyly at him.

Just as Neelix smiled a goofy smile and his fingers caressed the spot where he could still feel her kiss, there was a sudden commotion at the entrance to the tent. It was the unmistakable sound of Jaybin's voice - loudly issuing orders.

Kes immediately darted behind the screen to replace the large flask. In a trice, she reappeared, smiled goodbye and quickly slipped out the back way.

It all happened so fast.

She was gone, but there was so much more Neelix wanted to say to her.

Jaybin strode into the tent, glared at the little Talaxian and barked, "Why are you still here? Our deal is done! My men have offloaded the wheat and the ore was delivered to your ship over twenty minutes ago." He threw himself down onto a large pile of cushions and pulled off his boots. "Begone! Get out... before I decide to change terms and write new ones in the sand with your blood!"

Neelix didn't need telling twice. Gritting his teeth and picturing Jaybin's slow and excrutiatingly painful death, he nodded stiffly and ducked out of the tent. Outside, his eyes screwed up against the harsh, relentless sunlight as he scanned the horizon for the familiar outline of his ship. Spotting it, he moved out towards it as quickly as he could, eager to be on his way. The sooner he traded his way to that extra fuel, the sooner he could go and find something to offer Jaybin for Kes. Conjured by her name, her face appeared in his mind's eye and he sighed, happily. Sweet, kind, beautiful Kes. Someone to love. Someone to believe in. Someone to fight for. A face to daydream about on endless, star-filled nights while he endured his own company. For the first time since the terrible cascade weapon had reduced his family to ashes, Neelix had someone to care deeply about. He had a friend... a hope and a purpose beyond the next deal. He had Kes.

A loud shout broke into his reverie. Turning, he saw several armed Kazon running towards him, and in the distance just behind them, he saw Jaybin standing in front of his tent, yelling and waving his fist as words drifted lazily on the breeze.

"...Water....thief! Want his... head!"

For a split second Neelix squashed the impulse to run. He looked at his ship, then back at the nearest running Kazon to guage his chances.


But his mind screamed at him to move, to at least try! Before he knew it, he was running - running like the wind towards his ship. The sand and grit his hairy feet kicked up got into his eyes and mouth, half-blinding him and making him gag, but he pounded on - not even daring to look back. Two hundred yards... he'd never make it! A hundred and eighty yards... he was a dead man! A hundred and sixty yards... stealing water from a Kazon was worse than calling him 'Dog-breath' to his face.... He was going to die. Slowly! A hundred and forty yards... The last of his family, staked-out in the blazing sun... probably on top of an anthill! His mother, bless her memory, would be so ashamed. A hundred yards... His father would be disappointed by such a dull and ignoble end. And Kes, sweet Kes would lose her only friend, her only hope. What was he going to do?! Kes was depending on him. He just had to make it or she had no-one! His throat was on fire and his lungs felt as if they were about to implode, but he reached deep within himself and found one last spurt of energy. As he covered the last thirty yards, he looked up to see that the Kazon had left the cargo door open. He risked a glance behind him. Oh, Great Maker... they were right behind him! Fear and adrenelin gave wings to inspiration and he fumbled in his pocket for the cargo door remote. He had one chance. Offering a prayer to any deity that would listen, he punched the remote and surged forward across the last five yards - throwing himself through the closing door and into the hold. He lay there in relative darkness, gasping for breath and spitting sand, watching the door slowly, slowly close as the lead Kazon got nearer and nearer. After what seemed like an eternity, the door finally sealed itself - just as the hapless Kazon thunked into it, firing off crude curses and threats.

Neelix just wanted to lie there, gulp for air and recover, but he knew he had to get his ship up off the surface quickly. Staggering to his feet and blinking repeatedly in the gloom, he got his bearings, lurched his way through the litle ship and collapsed into the pilots seat.

Quickly flicking several switches, punching some buttons and tapping a few guages, he breathlessly sweet-talked his ship through her pre-launch sequence. "Come on, old girl... you can do it. You have to do it... we've outstayed our welcome."

His little ship creaked, juddered and shook, but she lifted off.

Looking out of the aft viewer, he cheekily waved goodbye to the Kazon who'd chased him and crowed, "Sorry, boys! Never try to outrun a Talaxian.... Better luck next time, eh?"

As soon as he made orbit, he laid in the co-ordinates for his first stop and gave his chair a celebratory spin.

"Whoooo! Frenaar, here I come!"

It wouldn't be long now... two weeks at most before he was on his way to explore the waste zone and find something to buy Kes' freedom. His fingers started to itch as he thought about all the things of value people might have left behind, all the curious things he'd discover.

Who knew what strange wonders he'd find out there? Who knew...?

* * *

"I miss her so much, Chakotay."

I ruffle her hair and kiss the top of her head. "I know, Kathryn. I know."