All characters belong to Paramount. No copyright infringement is intended. This is for Gale, my patron. Without her, this would have remained incomplete until the 24th Century.

CINC is an acronym for Commander In Chief. In the military it is used for the commander of a combatant command. For example, CINCPAC is Commander in Chief, Pacific Forces. CINCEUR is Commander in Chief, European Forces. It means "the big cheese, the grand poohbah, the head honcho, where the buck stops". "CINC House called" means "your wife called".

CINC Delta Quadrant

 

Kathryn was looking forward to the game. Things had been tense lately between her and Chakotay, among the crew, between the crew and Seven, even between herself and Seven. She wasn't coming into her humanity quite the way Kathryn would like, but that's what made her human. Personalities can't be dictated. That knowledge didn't make Kathryn any happier about some of Seven's actions.

Today they could all work out some of that tension in the healthy outlet of sport. With the safety's on, even the most adversarial game of crunch wouldn't leave anyone with permanent wounds, excepting those of ego.

A smile spread on her lips. Conquest was what she craved today. With Seven at her side, she was sure she would have the satisfaction of vanquishing Chakotay and Harry on the field. An absurd mental picture of her boot planted on a fallen Chakotay's chest turned her smile into a grin.

Her door chimed.

"Enter."

Seven stood in the doorway. "Captain."

"Come in, Seven. Are you ready to play some serious crunch?"

"Yes, Captain. I have studied all of the rule guides and strategy tutorials. I am confident that we will win."

"I'm glad you're up on the rules and strategies, but it will take more than that to win, Seven."

"As you know, Captain, I am a physically superior specimen to all other players in today's match."

Janeway laughed. "Yes, Seven. You're physical 'superiority' is difficult to overlook. I'm banking on you to get a couple of good bodychecks in for our team. Even that, however, isn't the deciding factor in crunch." Seven cocked her head and raised an eyebrow in question. "Desire to win is often the deciding factor."

"I have sufficient determination, Captain."

"No, Seven. Determination is not enough. You must desire the win beyond reason, beyond everything."

"Desire, Captain, is still a somewhat nebulous term for me."

Janeway rubbed her chin. She enjoyed teaching this daughter she would never have. As frustrating as it often was, Kathryn always rose to the challenge. Rewards were becoming almost as common as disappointment in the rearing odyssey. Sometimes Seven's rejection of Janeway's mores stung, but as Seven became more human, sometimes Janeway thought she would burst with pride and joy over her charge.

"Determination, Seven, is only a matter of intent. Desire is a matter of need. While determination can waiver based on newly presented facts or obstacles, desire burns in spite of reason, facts or obstacles. In fact, those things can even strengthen the desire."

Seven considered the concept. "I understand, Captain, but I don't...I can't..."

Janeway knitted her brow trying to grasp Seven's difficulty.

Seven ducked her head a little in what Janeway would have sworn was a reaction of embarrassment. She had never seen Seven display embarrassment.

"I have no desires, Captain. I haven't a frame of reference for the concept."

Kathryn bit her lower lip. This was a problem. How does one depart emotions to a fully grown woman with the emotional experience of only a seven-year-old?

"Seven, can you remember anything of your childhood before the Borg arrived?"

"I am recovering sporadic memories as more of my human makeup regenerates."

"Do you remember any particular foods? Was there something you liked to eat more than anything else?"

Seven thought for a moment, nudging tentatively at the disorienting memories of her human childhood. "There was a fruit. Red. I don't know what it was."

"Apples?"

"I don't think so."

"Describe it's texture and taste to me."

"It was moderately sweet, watery..."

"Can you draw it?"

"Yes."

Janeway leapt off the divan and clipped a fresh sheet of paper to the easel she used for sketching when she couldn't sleep. She handed a soft pencil to Seven.

Seven didn't hesitate. She started meticulously reproducing the fruit.

Her door chime broke her fascination with Seven's skill.

"Enter."

Chakotay strode in wearing his crunch gear.

"Hello, Captain." He stopped in his tracks when he took in the picture of Kathryn mentoring over Seven at the easel. Kathryn's openness toward Seven, her sharing of everything, unsettled him. A nagging distrust of all things Borg made him fear Seven would ultimately turn on Kathryn. Even if the rejection was only philosophical, it could be the last straw for Kathryn in this voyage of disappointments. It could rip her heart out.

"Commander. Prepared for defeat? Coming to concede before we even start?"

He laughed at her bravado. "Hardly. I was just coming to give you the opportunity to surrender before Harry and I thrash you soundly."

Seven finished and swiveled her head toward the Commander. She was aware of his distrust of her by his physical reaction to her presence. His pupils always shrank when he looked on her, especially her browpiece. His mouth always became taught. He always maintained the maximum physical distance from her and avoided eye contact.

"Hah! Seven and I will have you and Harry begging for mercy after three rounds."

Chakotay smiled, unleashing the dimples. It was good to be joking with her. The last few months had been trying on their friendship. Pointing toward the easel he quipped, "You know, Captain, you can't turn Seven into a miniature of yourself. She's taller than you are."

"I'm not 'turning' Seven into anything," she returned indignantly. "She obviously has talent."

Kathryn swept an arm toward the easel. Seven felt something strange at hearing Janeway's praise. She felt a twinge of...something she couldn't identify, but it made her feel good and eager to please the captain again.

"Well! You are good, Seven." Janeway brightened a little at hearing Chakotay give Seven a compliment. "Why a strawberry?" he queried after drawing close enough to appraise the drawing.

Not wishing to give away Janeway's wisdom before the game, she enigmatically responded, "It has to do with desire, Commander."

Kathryn grinned at Chakotay's apparent discomfort as he ran a hand over his forehead. Here was a subject he was not willing to pursue in the present company. "Uh huh. Well, I just wanted to let you know that we only have the holodeck for one hour, so please be prompt for your beating. I'll see you on the crunch field ladies." Kathryn backhanded his shoulder, he reacted with an "I love me" grin then turned to leave.

Seven studied their interaction with interest. She noted that the commander's reactions to the captain were the exact opposite of his reactions to herself. When he looked at the captain, he actually initiated and held eye contact with her, his pupils dilated somewhat. He constantly invaded the captain's "personal space" as Tuvok had instructed Seven not to do in the case of humans. His mouth was not only relaxed when he looked at the captain, his lips were often parted, revealing some of his teeth.

Janeway had moved to the replicator and was crossing back to seven with a bowl. "Have some of these, Seven." Chakotay turned before exiting to see what the captain was doing. Seven looked at the contents of the bowl the captain was proffering. She felt nothing but curiosity.

"How?"

Janeway suppressed a grin explaining as if anyone wouldn't know how to eat strawberries without instruction, "Strawberries can be eaten without utensils, Seven. I'll demonstrate." She balanced the bowl in one hand and plucked out a berry. Making sure Seven saw that she held it by the stem, she bit half of it away. "Mmmmm. I love strawberries too."

Seven was fairly new to solid foods and Janeway sensed some apprehension. Stopping it before it had a chance to build, the captain downed the rest of her berry and picked up another. She held it up before Seven and instructed, "Just bite it."

Reacting easily to something which sounded like an order, Seven chomped on the strawberry while Janeway was still holding it. Surprised and bemused, for she had meant for Seven to take the berry in her own hand first, Kathryn grinned. She studied Seven's reaction.

Chewing the berry slowly to analyze it, Seven's face at first registered nothing. Janeway was afraid her effort to impart desire had been in vain. Kathryn sighed and remembered the commander. When she caught him, mouth agape, staring at the interchange between herself and Seven, she marveled at how easily a man's desire is aroused. "Strawberry, Chakotay?"

Licking his lips as a stalling mechanism until he found his voice, "Uh, no thanks, Captain. I'm in training." He turned and nearly ran into the wall instead of the hallway in his hasty retreat. "Coward," giggled Janeway to herself.

"May I have another, Captain?" Seven requested. Janeway looked at Seven with hope. "Certainly. You may have them all if you like, Seven."

Just as Kathryn had hoped, the more strawberries Seven ate, the faster she ate them. Kathryn sat on the divan and busied herself with a PADD so that Seven wouldn't feel inhibited while she ate. When she sensed the bowl was empty, she asked nonchalantly, "So, you like them?"

"Like?," Seven was unsure of the new sensation, "Yes...thank you, Captain. They are different from most of the solid foods I have encountered on Voyager."

Janeway laughed. "Well, the regular rations can't be helped but every once in a while you have to splurge. Sometime when you are hungry, Seven, you will think first of strawberries. You'll want them...enough to blow extra replicator rations on them. That's desire. Not the strongest of desires, but a desire."

The lesson was not lost on Seven. She had a frame of reference for desire now. As yet, she was unsure how it would apply to winning at crunch, but she felt accomplished for having acquired more information about being human. Janeway was valuable to her in this pursuit.

 

ON THE HOLODECK

Getting into crunch gear was cumbersome but once outfitted and operational on the holodeck, it was liberating. Adjustable microgravity boots were worn so that the players could advance up the vertical field. Players on the offensive had to physically maneuver a defensive player across the vertical level markers. If the defensive player was in possession of a zero gravity cylinder, the offensive player's boots would automatically decrease his or her gravity, allowing the offensive player to advance up the field.

If an offensive player reached the ceiling with the cylinder, a point was scored. If a defensive player was able to reach the ceiling first, the offense became defense and the previous defense team had a chance to score. The walls were padded as each player was able to exert more force as the gravity decreased.

Janeway smiled, awash in a sort of bloodlust as the doors swished open to reveal the playing field. Behind her, Seven took in the field and was methodically noting anything which might be of tactical importance. Harry was looking at his opponents a little nervously. Seven always looked formidable but even the diminutive Janeway seemed threatening in rubberized armor and mg boots, her crunch stick sheathed across her back. Chakotay, on the other hand, was not struggling to control his fear.

Were he not clasped in rubberized armor and other athletic protective equipment, he would be struggling to control a different kind of reaction. He couldn't look away from Kathryn either or she would interpret it as lack of confidence. He intended to beat her and especially Seven at crunch. Having to defiantly hold Janeway's stare while she was in the form-fitting gear, however, could give new meaning to the term "burn rubber".

"Hello, Boys," Janeway growled, using the term purposely.

"Hello, Suckers, I mean Ladies," Chakotay returned, unable to suppress a grin.

Even Harry was able to detect the pheromones flooding the atmosphere with energy but was too nervous to analyze anything except how to win this rough sport without hurting either of the women. It was an archaic attitude, but he was an artist, not a jock. He'd rather be having dinner with Seven than crossing crunch sticks with her. As for his captain, he'd be much more content sitting at her feet while she imparted some morsel of hard-earned wisdom or a Starfleet adventure.

Strategies were running through Seven's head as she crossed over to Harry, knowing that the captain wanted to personally thwart the commander. "Are we playing Federation Rules or no holds barred?"

"Federation Rules, of course," replied Harry.

At once Chakotay and Kathryn, still trying to stare each other down, countered, "No holds barred."

Harry sighed. He tried to prepare himself for an episode of "cadre unchained".

Janeway broke the stare match by turning to the control panel. "Ready everyone?"

"Hit it," replied Chakotay.

"Proceed, Captain," affirmed Seven.

"Ummm, yes, Captain."

Janeway hit the start button. The lights went out. A neon green lighted cylinder shot out from the panel and Seven took immediate possession without even the aid of her stick. Janeway whooped in pleasure and bounded to block the commander with such speed that the red lights of her crunch gear left tracers in his vision.

Harry noticed that the blue lights outlining his shoulders were about 10 centimeters lower than Seven's red shoulder lights. He withdrew his stick to attempt a turnover. Seven grabbed Harry's stick and hauled him up with her to the first level. That was worth some gravity shed to her since she advanced with an enemy in the zone.

Chakotay winced at Seven's advance. "Harry, steamroll!" he yelled as he darted toward the pair to jump into the fray.

Harry reacted to the coaching automatically. Ducking his head, he charged under Seven's upstretched arm which grasped the cylinder, extended his right arm across her waist and pushed down with all his might. She bobbed down a little but maintained a hold on the cylinder.

Just as Chakotay was going to make his leap, Kathryn slid in front of him and jumped. He slammed into her back, propelling her toward Harry. Mid-air, she unsheathed her stick from her back and lodged it in the wall padding, using it as a pole vault.

"Oh no you don't!" Chakotay leapt up to tug at where he thought her boots might be. He guessed well based on the red lights outlining her shoulders. He didn't realize until after he was pulling her down by the knees, that he was also pulling Harry down. Kathryn had the same hold on Harry that Chakotay had on her.

Seven broke free of the lot of them and hovered just below the next level. She needed an adversary to reduce her gravity in the next level. Kathryn saw her teammate's position and released Harry's knees since Seven had positive control of the cylinder.

Harry still had his stick grasped in his left hand. Seven hadn't detected it until it was too late. The stick knocked the cylinder out of her hand. Chakotay and Kathryn struggled to get to it first. As Chakotay bent his legs to jump, Kathryn grabbed his shoulder, planted her feet on his thighs and used him as a springboard.

"Damn it!" How did she come up with these moves?! He didn't waste any time going after her. She already had the cylinder in hand by the time he grabbed onto her waist from behind. She had possession and an enemy so her gravity decreased, elevating them both to just below the next level, about 15 meters away from Harry and Seven. Seeing how close Janeway was, Seven lowered a shoulder into Harry's chest, splayed her hands on his stomach and shoved him upwards to the next zone.

Knowing that Harry would only float in the zone for 3 seconds since he hadn't achieved decreased gravity, Kathryn needed to move up. She jabbed her stick backwards into the wall and somersaulted. Chakotay's hold was too strong. Momentarily, he lost his grip during the somersault but regained it before she sprang out of it. Now she was upside down, her face at Chakotay's navel, her legs slung over his left shoulder. Possession was still hers, though Harry had dropped back down to their level.

Seven was holding him from behind underneath his arms, waiting to toss him upward again when the captain was ready. He didn't even try to struggle since he knew his strength was no match for her own. His only hope was strategy and right now, he couldn't even make out what was going on with his teammate on the other side of the field. As near as he could tell from the shoulder lights, the captain was inverted and he didn't know who had possession.

Chakotay was strong but not graceful. He held Kathryn with one arm around her back and was trying in vain to wrest the cylinder from her with the other. After stashing the cylinder in her shirt, she reached up and back to crook her right arm around his neck. Janeway pulled herself up until she teetered at her waist on his shoulder, he kept a hold of her waist by raising his arm. Maintaining her hold on his neck, she swung down so that she was facing him. He couldn't figure out her strategy as he was able to maintain hold on her the whole time.

It dawned on him with lightening speed. She pushed down on his shoulders to propel herself up enough to break his hold. Coming down, she wrapped her legs around his upper arms, pinning his best offense. Victory was imminent. She removed the cylinder from her shirt and reached up just across the line of the next level. It turned out she didn't need Seven to shove Harry across since she had Chakotay in a vice.

When the cylinder crossed the line, her gravity decreased and she ascended to just below reach of the ceiling, the final goal. Keeping Chakotay in the vice cost her in terms of gravitational pull but it was worth it to negate the defense. Kathryn inched up his body a little and stretched the cylinder toward the ceiling, unwittingly exposing her Achilles heel. When she stretched, her rubberized top separated just 4 centimeters from the waist of the matching bottom. Even the minimal blue shoulder light he gave off reflected off such white skin as Kathryn had on her stomach. Learning from her all's fair approach, he leaned his head forward and licked her there.

Her muscles retracted at the unexpected wet touch, causing her to double a bit. "Chakotay!"

Tapping down the wall pads was the released cylinder. Seven unceremoniously threw Harry aside and retrieved the cylinder just before it hit the floor. Before Chakotay could ...or would...get away from Kathryn, Seven was at the ceiling with the cylinder.

The lights came up. "Three points, red," reported the computer. Harry noticed that Janeway's cheeks matched her team color as everyone floated to the ground. Just as the lights came up Kathryn withdrew her legs from Chakotay's upper arms and shoved him away. Both Harry and Seven, however, witnessed the tail end of the extraction and wondered silently just what had made her lose her grip.

Janeway glared at Chakotay. "Good save, Seven." In a tone just for his ears she growled, "I can't BELIEVE you did that."

Through a boyish grin he retorted, "No holds barred, Kathryn."

Pursing her lips, she brushed by him to follow Harry and Seven out for a five minute break.

Janeway took some water and huddled with Seven.

"Do you agree with me now, Captain?"

They had discussed it earlier and Janeway felt that she would be better at counter acting the stronger member of the opposing team since she knew him so well and would be able to anticipate his actions. Seven disagreed, noting that she was physically superior to the captain.

"OK, Seven. I think you're right. You take the commander this time and I'll cover Harry."

Seven nodded. She was pleased that although her captain was renown for her stubbornness, she was equally fair and flexible.

Their strategy backfired. Blue won the second round. Chakotay channeled his mistrust of Seven into controlled aggression. Janeway, on the other hand, couldn't bring herself to use the same audacious holds on the easily embarrassed ensign as she used on the commander.

During the second break, the women decided to return to the original plan.

Chakotay and Harry were a little cocky after their recent win. "Last play. Care to make this a little more interesting, Ladies?" dared Chakotay. Harry looked confused, obviously not read in to the commander's idea.

Seven raised an eyebrow. "Are we boring you, Commander?"

Janeway laughed, mostly at Chakotay's dismay.

"Yes," he lied.

Harry was truly baffled. How could any man with a pulse be bored in a game of crunch with Seven and the captain decked out in full crunch regalia?

"Perhaps a wager would inspire you and your teammate to put up a better fight in the final play."

Janeway knew he was trying to bait her. Though he was addressing Seven, he was staring at Kathryn. It worked.

"No need to be droll, Chakotay. We'll beat you AND we'll take a bet."

Now Harry was alarmed as well as baffled. Officers weren't supposed to bet! More importantly, he didn't know what Chakotay was about to wager on his behalf. Harry didn't have nearly the bravado his teammate seemed to have. What if they lost?

"Well....let's see...what would make it interesting....."mused Chakotay in a mocking tone. Everyone knew he already had something in mind. "Replicator rations won't work, since Seven isn't consuming nearly the amount of solids we are."

Janeway crossed her arms. How long was this clown going to take? What a ham!

"Hmmm....I know! The losers have to produce holodeck programs for the winners. Each winner gets to chose 10 elements which must be part of the program. Whichever losing defender, otherwise known as a LOSER, is blocking the winning offender is responsible to that WINNER for a program."

He was planning some trick but she couldn't back down now. She would just have to win. "Agreed," proclaimed the captain. "Are you done stalling?"

Harry thought he noted a twitch of Seven's mouth as she observed her captain and first officer. Her humanity must be coming along.

Seven took the offensive stance in front of Harry and Janeway moved behind Chakotay for the cylinder release. Kathryn wasn't about to let Chakotay be in a position to lick her stomach again.

With his stick, Harry contacted the cylinder first but he lost control when Seven slammed her own stick across his in a backward thrust. It hurtled beyond both of them and Chakotay leapt up to take possession. Kathryn was right on his back, literally. For a second it occurred to her this game was played in the dark because no one would attempt these ridiculous positions in the light. She was climbing up his back as he advanced toward the first level, cylinder secured to his chest with one arm.

Seven moved to advance on the commander. Even with Janeway on his back, he was too quick for Seven. Just before she grabbed his ankle, he was across the line and shed some gravity. Janeway was mad. Her determination was redoubled. His forearm was too strong to wrest the cylinder away. She had to keep him from advancing upward.

Chakotay reached behind his shoulders with his free hand to draw his stick. He needed it as a lever to advance up the wall. Kathryn caught the move, wrapped her arms around his ribcage and pressed herself against his back and sheath to prevent his drawing the stick.

"You wench!"

Kathryn muffled a pleased laugh into his back. She was stymied for a moment on how to regain possession. She couldn't hold him like this foreinno Then it hit her. Revenge and possible victory could be hers if she lowered herself to Chakotay's methods. In the light, she wouldn't have even considered it. Now, she didn't hesitate.

She splayed her hands where they were on his chest and over his arm clutching the cylinder to him. In an incomprehensible move, she very slowly began a descent down his body, hand over hand, sliding the length of herself along his back.

When her hands lay flat across the front of his waist, her face pressed just above the small of his back and her chest pushed into his backside, she ruthlessly stopped.

Both Harry and Seven, trapped in the lowest level until there was an advance or a fumble, wondered why there was no movement.

Kathryn was listening and wondered how long Chakotay had been holding his breath. Mercilessly, she continued her descent. When her hands were on his pelvic bones she made her move. Letting go of his right side, she slid around swiftly so that she was facing him then hoisted herself up with a hand on his shoulder.

Before Chakotay could recover, she had wrapped her legs around his waist. Reaching down to her own boots, she switched off the degravitors. Instantly, Chakotay was hit with the weight of her but dug the heels of his own boots into the wall in time to prevent descent.

Janeway taunted, "Tell me if I get too heavy."

"Yeah, and you be sure to tell me if I get to hard," he growled in whispered retort.

Unrattled, Janeway leaned into him until her lips reached his ear. "Chakotay...are you telling me that I can make you hard?" she whispered in mock surprise.

Chakotay was losing focus. "Can...have...are..." he whispered in a rapturous tone.

Bingo! Janeway slapped the bottom of the cylinder. It spurt out of his grasp.

"Seven! It's yours!" she shouted.

Easily keeping Harry at bay with one arm, Seven intercepted the cylinder and bolted up one level. Since the captain still held the commander on the next level, Seven was able to soar right through it. One additional body rebound off the wall ricocheted her up to the final level. Janeway released her clench on Chakotay to go guard Seven. Just as she was pushing off, Chakotay pulled her back to himself.

Janeway was stunned. He couldn't win this way. His only hope was to get to Seven before she hit the ceiling. What was he doing?

Chakotay secured Kathryn with one arm and reached the other back to the wall. He spun them both around so that Kathryn's back was to it. He surged forward, pinning her. In the dark, she smelled his skin then felt his kiss on her mouth. Angry, surprised and ...something else...she groaned into him.

Harry knew he couldn't advance from his position. Hearing scuffling and a groan from the captain, he assumed Chakotay was struggling to get free of her. Glowing red and blue shoulder beacons were so close they seemed to flicker between colors. In a completely inept effort, Harry cheered his teammate, "C'mon, Commander! You can take her!"

Chakotay had to come up for air to laugh at the unintended joke. Kathryn was struggling to push him away to no avail. Feeling dangerous, he whispered in her ear, "Can I, Kathryn?"

As her mouth opened to bite out a retort, the computer intoned, "Game and match to Red Team. Congratulations Red Team."

She pulled back as the lights came up. In the light, he let her go.

Seven wasn't exactly smiling as she floated to the ground, but her expression could definitely be interpreted as a smirk.

Janeway turned away from Chakotay as they descended. She knew her cheeks were flushed again, more from anger than embarrassment. She hoped the other two would chalk it up to exertion.

"Well done, Seven."

Seven noted Janeway's less than enthusiastic tone. She wondered if the captain was displeased with her method of play. Perhaps Janeway wanted to score the winning goal herself.

"Thank you, Captain."

Harry looked sheepishly at the commander. Harry expected a glower or at least disappointment but Chakotay's face registered only a faraway thoughtfulness. Relieved, Harry extended his hand to Seven for a shake.

"Good game." He repeated the gesture with the captain. Chakotay snapped out of his reverie and followed suit. Both Harry and Seven noticed when he shook the captain's hand, he covered it with his other hand and seemed to engage her in a staring contest.

'Boy,' thought Harry, 'does the rivalry never end?'

"Well, I guess I better brush up on my programming skills. Let me know your ten requirements for the program, Seven."

"Yes," Chakotay added, still gripping the captain's hand and vision, "let me know what you want, Kathryn." His tone was low and his words were slow enough to swim languidly through her head, kept afloat on double meaning.

'Bastard!' she raged silently. "I'll make up a list," she snapped curtly as she drew her hand back from him.

A baffled Harry and a distracted Chakotay stared after her as she stomped out of the holodeck with Seven on her heels. "Sore winner," mused Chakotay as he slapped Harry on the back.

"Captain, you do not seem as pleased with our victory as you indicated you would be," Seven observed on their way through the halls.

"I am pleased, Seven. I'm just a little steamed at Commander Chakotay...and myself. I should have been there to guard your final play but he got me in...an illegal clench. We're just lucky you didn't need me. You did great!" Janeway threw a congratulatory arm around Seven. Seven flinched a bit at the contact but then relaxed into it.

A yeoman coming in the opposite direction knitted his brow. Only Captain Janeway could bring herself to be chummy with a Borg!

Seven detected the yeoman's fear and amazement. Suddenly, the Captain's gesture was much more welcome. Seven looked across at her captain, grateful for the inexplicable risks she took with Seven.

RED ALERT

Red lights and a klaxon diverted Seven's thoughts. She was right behind Janeway as she flew toward the bridge.

Without losing steam, she slapped her badge. "Report!"

"Atmospherics is predicting a solar particle event, Captain," came the collected Vulcan response.

Janeway and Seven strode out of the lift onto the bridge. "How long do we have, Tuvok?"

"Approximately 90 minutes, Captain."

Harry bounded through the doors just behind the commander. He made it over to Ensign Pearson at Ops just as Janeway asked the question, "What's the damage assessment at this distance?"

Pearson looked ashen, "According to the data from atmospherics, Captain, this is one time our location in the Delta quadrant will do us some good. Voyager should be able to withstand the flare if it isn't any stronger than atmospherics predicts...and if it comes from the direction they say it should."

Janeway pulled the Holodoc up on her console. "Doctor, have you accessed the report from atmospherics?"

"Yes, Captain. If we don't get out of the way, or find some shielding, there will be considerable damage to the crew. Within two weeks of the event, I would expect to see devastating, even fatal, radiation sickness. Those who survive will suffer effects for the rest of their lives."

Janeway spun to her first officer. "We've got 90 minutes to find, get to and land on the dark side of a planet as far away from this thing as we can make it."

Chakotay turned to Seven. "Get down to astrometrics and see what you can help them find. Feed the 10 best options directly into the navigation drive."

Seven nodded and exited.

Chakotay ran a worried hand over his pursed mouth and turned his attention to his captain.

"We really need planet shadow. I hope there's something other than gas giants in this area," she intimated.

"Captain?" Ensign Paris inquired on her monitor. He was off duty. Like everyone else, he went to his quarters and read the incoming warning when the klaxon went off.

"Yes, Tom?"

"You need me?"

"Not yet. Maybe in little while. How would you feel about adding another emergency landing to your log?"

"Great! I'm your man, Captain!"

Chakotay's ears pricked irrationally at the phrase.

Right now, Ensign Morales had the stick. "Captain, options are loading into navigation for me."

Seven appeared on her terminal from astrometrics, "Our assessment is complete, Captain."

"I'm looking at it now," she replied as she scrolled through the entries. "We'll go with number 3. The first two are supporting life and we don't have time to deal with possibly inhospitable hosts."

"That was not part of the criteria I was given."

"I know, Seven. You did fine. Good work."

"Ensign Morales, get us to #3 as fast as you can."

"Aye, Captain."

Once the course was laid in, Chakotay checked the ETA. 68 minutes to orbit, 77 to entry. "We've got a pretty good pucker factor here," he remarked to Kathryn as he turned his monitor in her direction.

She nodded solemnly as she assessed the data. No matter how many aliens they encountered, no one presented as formidable an enemy as nature. There was no fighting it. Protection was the only means of survival.

Looking up from the stark facts, she realized Chakotay was still watching her. Janeway was always strong in crisis. Chakotay's stare into her own eyes, however, shored her up. He was the fuel to her charge in times like these. Unified, they were a formidable command team.

HIDING IN THE DARK

Tom was sweating but relishing the challenge. Landing was fraught with possible fatal errors. Only a really good pilot could master flawless landings. On Voyager, the chances to test himself in this arena were few. Equally important as his life, Tom's ego was riding on this.

Everyone was strapped in and braced. Voyager's artificial gravity allowed the crew to remain upright and take the landing with relatively little physical stress. Mental stress, however, was rampant. Janeway didn't hide anything from her crew. They knew they were hiding on the dark side of a barren planet in hopes of surviving a radioactive swath of inconceivably destructive energy. Exact trajectories couldn't be predicted for solar particle events, so they were working on an assessment. Error could be deadly. Though the crew of Voyager was battle hardened, cheating death never became common place.

No trace of any life showed on the view screen as they orbited the light side of "3". When they came around to the dark side, Tom began descent on an insertion path which would put them down in a designated crater, possibly a long dead volcano.

Much of the crew released tell tale exhales as Voyager began the post landing procedures. Janeway flashed a relieved grin at Chakotay who reciprocated with dimples to boot. Vaulting out of her seat, she began giving the bed down orders. They should only have to be here overnight, so not much was needed.

"Ma'am, we've got a problem."

Janeway stopped and nodded at Harry to continue.

"Something...dust or debris or something...is clogging the nozzles on the #4 engine. Wait, #3 too. It's spreading...all of the engines are being blocked! I don't know what it is!"

Captain Janeway slapped her comm badge. "Chief Petty Officer Bevino, are you running a diagnostic on this stuff clogging the engines?"

"Yes, Ma'am. Nothing conclusive yet except that it's accumulating rapidly. We should have more on it in...8 minutes. I'll get a maintenance team out there as soon as shut down is complete."

"Transfer the diagnostic report to me ASAP. Don't send your team out until you get the go from me."

"Aye, Captain."

"Tuvok?"

"I'll have a complete threat assessment for you as soon as the doctor completes his input, Captain.&quntil/P>

"Thank you."

Voyager's diagnostic showed the "stuff" to be biomatter. 'Just what I was trying to avoid.' Apparently their original scans didn't pick up the existent life because it lived in the planet, not on it. Initial indications showed some type of very simple extremophile. The Doc recommended it be treated as a hazardous material situation. He requested a small sample for analysis, live if possible.

"CPO Bevino"

"Aye, Ma'am?"

"Go ahead, but use the HAZMAT precautions, including the extra suit gear."

"Aye, Ma'am. What about that sample the Doc requested."

"Get it if you can, but that's second priority."

"Roger that, Ma'am. We'll be suited up and out there in 20 minutes. I'll give you an initial estimated time in commission in 25."

"Make it a good one."

Bevino chuckled. "Will do, Ma'am."

Chakotay had been listening as he punched in commands to engineering to set up the required temporary force field generator near the doors to cargo bay 1. Bevino's team would be going out and coming back through there. HAZMAT procedures required a force field in case any living biomatter escaped them or came back with them unnoticed.

"They've stopped massing, Captain," reported Harry.

"Maybe they just wanted to see what all the noise was about," offered Chakotay hopefully.

"More likely they wanted to see what all the heat was about," replied Janeway. "If they live inside this rock, they are probably trying to get as close as possible to whatever heat the core is still giving off. When this planet was volcanically active, they were probably all over the surface. As our engines cool, they are losing interest."

"You scientists are so cynical," he cracked. "I'm pretty sure they're just friendly."

She grinned at him. Sometimes he was her own personal morale officer.

"Actually, they're on the move, Captain. They are heading for the hull under engineering...and the bridge...and the mess hall...and the holodeck...and hydroponics."

"They are going to the places radiating the most heat. They must be incredibly sensitive to it if they can detect it through the hull. It must have been a necessary genetic development." Janeway found her fascination rivaling her concern. At least they weren't in conflict on this occasion as they often were on the missions she had in her command track.

"Captain, Bevino here."

"Go ahead."

"Well, the ETIC is going to be a little hard to estimate. At first we thought there would be nothing to it. By the time we got out here, they were moving off the engine by themselves. But as the first ones moved, new ones came in. Every time we clean some of these worm things off, new ones swarm in right behind. When we do get some of them off the engines, they just move to some other part of the ship. We might need the Doc to come up with a sort of wormicide. And Captain, they have teeth. One of them almost bit Fuentes."

"All right. Try to get a live one into the sample tube but don't risk injury. Come back in for now and stand by."

"I'll go down with Tuvok to make sure nothing gets in with the crew," Chakotay said as he rose. He was glad to be able to do something, anything.

Janeway nodded, understanding his need. "Be careful." She looked back at him, parted her lips and ran her tongue over her top row of teeth. "Teeth." Kathryn turned back away from him and kept her smile in check.

In the turbolift, Chakotay wondered to himself, 'What was that? Was she flirting?' Actually, it didn't matter whether she was or not, the affect was the same. He wanted her. She distracted him more and more these days. Why didn't his interest wane? It had been years. Titillation and frustration over other women usually ran it's course with him in a matter of weeks, requited or not. Even during his years of wanting her, other women had come briefly into his life and gone. None of them were able to purge his longing for her. Why did this one woman, whom he could not have, maintain such a tenacious hold on him?

Some ancient wisdom whispered in the back of his mind. He couldn't dredge it up right now. He had to go protect Voyager from worms with teeth. Damn it! Her image came to the fore of his mind again.

"Commander, the force field is active," warned Tuvok just before Chakotay walked into it.

Chakotay hadn't even noticed Tuvok as he approached the doors. "Oh, right. Thanks, I forgot about it," he covered.

"Is something wrong, Commander. You are usually only this distracted when the captain is present," observed Tuvok.

Chakotay smarted at his remark. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"You are an exceptionally intelligent, observant individual for a former renegade, Commander. Some would even consider you somewhat enlightened. When Captain Janeway is near you, however, you seem to lose your ability to focus elsewhere," Tuvok informed him.

Inwardly, Chakotay was seething. At first he thought it was the way Tuvok accused him without a single accusatory note in his voice that irritated him. Then he realized it was the truth of what he said that really bugged him. How many times had he been slow to answer a remark or notice another crew member when he'd been near her.

Tuvok continued, "However, the captain is not present now, so your distraction seemed unusual."

"I was thinking about our worm problem," he answered in a half-truth.

"We corralled one of the worms into the tube and we're ready to come back in, Sir."

"Stand by," replied Tuvok.

Cargo bay one opened a hatch in its outer doors to the crew. Air rushing out into the vacuum created a natural wind to brush them clean of any possible uninvited guests. Inside the bay, they passed through the contaminant detector Tuvok had activated. Everyone checked clean. They came through the inner doors and squashed together between them and the force field. When the inner doors closed behind them, Tuvok deactivated the precautionary force field.

CPO Bevino handed the capture tube to Tuvok who held it up for inspection. "Good work, Yeoman. Captain Janeway wants all off duty personnel to stay in their quarters right now. Keep your suits ready. You may have to go out again soon."

"Aye, Sir," replied Bevino as his team moved wearily away.

"If you want to deliver that to the Doc, I'll do the follow up sweep of the bay," offered Chakotay. He definitely wasn't in the mood to be around the Doc. A sweep of the bay for residual contaminants might be boring but at least it would be solitary. It would give him a chance to think.

Tuvok nodded and stepped off. Chakotay opened the door and entered the huge bay. After the door closed behind him, he moved to a control panel and fired up the scan program.

True to form, Kathryn Janeway couldn't wait for the Doc to finish his analysis. She was wired into his station and was reading the information as he entered it. Flukewormlike, not lethal to humans but they could present a health hazard. As expected, they seemed exceptionally sensitive to heat, reacting positively to any source. It exuded an acidic substance which would definitely damage the hull if applied in large amounts.

"We have to get these things off of Voyager, and we have to do it on the ground," she announced to the whole bridge crew. "We're going to have to reduce our heat signature to nil. It will be uncomfortable, but it's only for one night, hopefully. Maybe the Doc can come up with a repellent before the night is even out."

"Harry, bring down the ambient temperature to 9 degrees Celsius in hydroponics. Living quarters and every nonessential work area will go down lower, to the min requirement for the computers. Get Andrews to report to her post in supply and prepare to hand out extra blankets and cold weather gear. All nonessential systems are to be shut down, including replicators, the holodeck, all of it. Neelix will have to hand out Meals Ready to Eat to anyone who hasn't eaten yet."

"Ma'am, the computers are ruggedized. Their min temp is below 0," Harry reminded her. "Even with extra blankets, people will freeze."

"No they won't. The one type of heat we can't turn off is body heat. Since we can't turn it off, we'll use it. Everyone will be assigned a bunkmate tonight as soon as the commander gets back."

"Captain?" ventured Tom. "Do you think he'll be amenable to special requests?"

A nervous titter went through the crew on hand.

"I'm sure he would consider it since it would make his job easier, provided the request is mutual," she answered in a bemused tone. Chakotay as bunkmate started raising pictures in her mind. She knew she would have to pick someone less tempting and more appropriate, but a little fantasy never hurt anyone. Where was he anyway?

"Janeway to Chakotay."

"Yes, Captain."

"What are you up to? I need you to come up here and tell people with whom they should sleep."

Paris yelped in delight at her choice of words.

"What?" Just then, movement caught Chakotay's peripheral vision. He spun left to get a better view. Nothing. He thought he might be falling prey to Kathryn's distraction again.

"Well, we're going to have to turn down..."

A surprised yell of agony interrupted her.

"Chakotay?!"

"One of those things slipped into the bay," he forced out through clenched teeth as he gripped his bloody arm. "It nailed me on the bicep. I killed it once I pulled it off."

"Sit tight, I'll be right there. I've already checked the doctor's analysis of them," she said as the lift doors closed on her. Her nod to Tuvok told him he had the bridge.

"Kathryn, you can't come in here. There might be more of them. Umph. And their bite hurts like a big dog!"

His groan of pain said more to her than any of his words. "You're not going to be functional for too much longer according to the Doc. You and the bay will have to be quarantined for 6 hours. He estimates their life span is only 4 to 5 hours. In the meantime, you'll drop like a sack of potatoes in about 20 minutes. The other good news is: we're in the middle of a system shut down to get rid of them. It's about to get pretty frosty in there. You and the bay will just have to put up with a third party for the duration of your quarantine." She had arrived at sickbay and was rounding up supplies from the Doc.

"If the toxin acts the way I think it will, he will pass out and possibly be delirious. These sprays should take care of the pain. This one will repair the dermal damage. This one will counteract the toxin but it will have to run it's course through the blood stream. It's important to keep him warm during your deep freeze to make sure this works. Cold blood doesn't move fast."

"Understood. Meanwhile, you'll get a rest tonight, Doc. Enjoy the shut down."

He rolled his eyes and was about to launch a protest but she was already out the door. Instead of one of the regular supply crew she expected to meet at the bay entrance, Tuvok was standing there. He had the blankets she had ordered from supply.

"Who has the bridge?"

"Lt Kinau. I wanted to point out that it is not prudent for the captain to endanger herself when any other crew member could care for Commander Chakotay and secure the bay. It's your duty to stay out of harms way whenever possible. The crew needs you."

"This is not negotiable Tuvok. I appreciate your concern but I'm going in there. I know the crew needs me and they are my duty. That's part of my job. Right now, Chakotay needs me more. As a friend, he's integral to my life. I hate to break this to you, Tuvok, but sometimes my life takes precedent over my job. I'd do the same for you."

Tuvok was gazing through the viewer at Chakotay who was in a heap on the floor. As he listened to Janeway's impassioned words he realized he may still be her oldest friend, but had been replaced as her dearest. Nodding defeat to her irrational sense of loyalty, he handhinger the supplies. Once she was between the force field generator and the door, he activated both. She stepped through without looking back.

IN THE CHILL OF THE NIGHT

Kathryn steeled her panic when she saw him crumpled on the floor, then moved to him calmly and set the supplies down. When she applied the first hypospray to his neck, she felt ice beneath her fingers.

"Chakotay!"

He lolled his head back but didn't open his eyes. "Captain?"

She slid her arms under him and started to hoist him up against the wall. "C'mon, Chakotay, help me here. You're in shock. Can you lean against the wall?"

His eyes opened but weren't focused. He nodded.

She slowly released him and made her way to the controls for a retractable work bench. Getting him warm was a priority. Getting him off the floor was the first step. As she punched in the command for the bench to telescope out she kept one eye on him. In a snap she was pushing him back up when he started to slide back down the wall. Supporting him in a sort of smothered embrace, she got him over to the bench and helped him lay down.

Working quickly, she wrapped two blankets around him. After administering the second hypospray, she noticed he looked less pained. Leaning over to check if he was conscious, she noticed the gruesome gash on his arm.

"Chakotay?" she tested as she activated the dermal generator.

"Mmm?"

"Chakotay, do you know where it came from?"

He pressed the hand of his good arm to his forehead in an effort to clear his mind. "I think it must have made it in the door just after the crew and waited there, because initial scans didn't pick up anything."

As she worked on his arm, his senses were coming back to him. For the first time since she came in, he was able to really look at her.

"Captain, it's too dangerous for you to be in here. There might be one or two more. I didn't finish the hand held checks before I fell."

She spared him a warm smile from her work. "You can't get rid of me now. We're quarantined, Buddy. Besides that, you're going to be a little more appreciative of my presence pretty soon. We're shutting down all unnecessary systems, including comfort heat, until we get off this planet."

Chakotay breathed in heavily, ascertaining her meaning. "We're going to freeze them out."

"Yes. In the meantime, I'm you're thermal generator." Kathryn's careful matter of fact delivery was betrayed by the mischievous sparkle in her eye.

"I suppose you just expect me to accept that like some shameless hussy," he deadpanned.

Giving up pretense, she laughed and pushed him lightly on his good shoulder. Actually, both were pretty good now with the dermal work done.

Putting down the generator, she picked up the last spray. "This might make you a little drowsy." She didn't want to use the word 'delirious', knowing he might resist.

Having administered the spray, she took up a specialized tricorder and started a meticulous scan of the rapidly chilling bay. Not three minutes into her search, one of the creatures shot out from the inner seal of the door toward her body heat. Drawing her phaser just in time, she nailed it directly through it's open mouth as it charged. It smoked a little and the stench wasn't pleasant.

Kathryn realized she and Chakotay were now the greatest heat target in the bay. If there were any more strays, they would show themselves by trying to latch on to the humans. Keeping her phaser drawn, she went back to Chakotay to make protection and targeting easier.

Apparently, the spray was fast acting. Despite the echoing clink of her boots on the metal bay floor, he was already dozing. He looked like a child with the happy unawareness of sleep on his features. Protective concern washed over her. She always felt that for crew to varying degrees, but this had extra layers to it. She felt protective of him because somehow, her own happiness seemed to be tied up with his.

Shivering, she pushed the strange thought away. Gently pulling back the covers, she climbed in with her snoozing thermal generator. Unlike Chakotay, who was laying down, she sat up to maintain her watch. Curling one arm around the top of his head on the pillow, she drew her knees up and rested the phaser in her lap. "Kathryn Janeway," she mumbled softly, "scientist, Starfleet captain, phaser toting worm wrangler."

Two minutes later, another alien struck out at alarming speed from a crevice near the door toward the work bench. From her place, she turned slightly and nailed it mid-slither. Luckily, she couldn't smell it as much from a distance and in the cold. For another hour and a half, she kept her watch without incident. If the creatures were as simple as the doctor's first analysis indicated, they would have already attacked in search of heat by now if there were any left.

Giving in to fatigue, she holstered the phaser, slipped further under the covers and reclined fully next to Chakotay. Only now did she recognize how cold she was. Able to write it off to survival, she wrapped herself lightly around her first officer. Chakotay shifted slightly into her but didn't open his eyes. In a self-indulgent move, she slowly raked her fingers through his thick hair.

"Kathryn."

Silently, she cursed herself for waking him, especially since she was caught admiring him. Closing her eyes, she braced for the jibe. None came. Kathryn pulled back a little.

Chakotay's eyes were still closed. Unconsciously, he reacted to her pulling away by enclosing her in a tighter embrace. He nuzzled into her neck and mumbled.

Janeway was frozen but melting on the inside. She felt as though she were guilty of listening to his personal log as revelations spilled forth from his subconscious in delirium.

"Kathryn," he mumbled again into her neck. "...after you. We'll name her after you," he said plainly.

Breathing was beyond her for a second. He couldn't possibly be dreaming what it sounded like. Maybe he was talking about a star ship or a pet. Before she could fully explore the possibilities, he alarmed her further. Amid more unintelligible mumbling she caught, "..slippers..." and a loud, "It's in the trees!" "Finally," punctuated his rambling.

Kathryn's brow knitted at the weird exposition. What was he dreaming now?

"Sheep," he said in an explanatory tone, confounding her further. Unfortunately, her location in his dream world must have matched reality exactly. With precision, he kissed her passionately on the neck. Exhaling her held breath, a small moan escaped with it.

Unseeing, he found her mouth with his own. Breaking the kiss, he said plainly, "always" . After a few seconds of watching something behind his eyelids, his head lolled forward.

His eyes snapped open. Chakotay started a little at the proximity of his captain. Wordlessly, he turned on his side to surmise where he was. As he did so, he reactively pulled the captain into a protective grasp until he could assess the danger. He relaxed his hold a little when he realized where they were and the events preceding his slumber came back to him.

Kathryn chortled in his protective hold. The idea of him protecting his protector in this state seemed absurd.

Realizing the preposterousness of his action, he smiled sheepishly. "All the toothy worms gone?"

"Probably. We'll know for sure in a few hours."

He nodded and laid back down. Kathryn wondered if he knew what just happened. There was no way to tell without asking. She hoped he was oblivious. This was awkward enough. Curiosity about his dream was over ruled by the need to forget the interlude.

Silently musing, she carefully lowered herself back down to his side. Risking rebuff, he reached for her. Using humor to preempt any protest, he said, "You know, if Starfleet had issued this kind of thermal generator to begin with, I never would have left."

Kathryn's relieved laugh eased the mood. Captain and commander snuggled down to sleep.

BETTING ON THE SUBCONSCIOUS

"Captain? The quarantine period is exhausted. You and the commander may return to your quarters now," Tuvok informed them via the captain's comm badge.

Kathryn roused herself enough to respond. "Thank you, Tuvok. I'll be in my quarters for the rest of the night if I'm needed." As she untangled herself from Chakotay and the blankets she added, "Are you keeping warm enough, Tuvok?"

"My core temperature is sufficient, Captain."

Janeway knew Vulcans were more susceptible than most to cold. She wanted to make sure he wasn't just martyring himself because he didn't like to be touched.

"Who are you helping to keep warm, Tuvok?"

There was a second of hesitation imperceptible to anyone but herself. Her grin spread to the commander as they made their way to the door, shivering all the way. "I am assisting Lt Stazeki."

As usual, Tuvok had put in the effort where it was most needed. Anne Stazeki was painfully shy. It's likely she would have frozen to death alone before asking someone to pair up with her. If anyone was regarded as "safe" on this ship, it was Tuvok. It might be a good arrangement for him too, since she wasn't likely to cling too closely nor talk too much. Perfect.

"That's good. Keep warm."

When they entered the lift, Chakotay held up a blanket for Kathryn. He wrapped it around her when she stepped into it.

Tuvok, though he would never admit it, must have been a little miffed at the captain's inquiry. "And if we need the commander, will he be with you tonight, Captain?"

Tit for tat. Chakotay's mouth opened at the affront. She couldn't berate Tuvok. It had been ambiguous and she started it. The best she could do was to not give the embarrassed response Tuvok was expecting. Audacity was the only way to go. "Yes, Tuvok. I'll be keeping Commander Chakotay warm in my bed tonight." At that, Chakotay's mouth shut in even greater surprise.

"Please don't disturb us unless it's absolutely necessary." Kathryn winked at Chakotay. "I'm afraid Chakotay is already exhausted from the first half of our evening."

"As you wish, Captain." Tuvok knew he had been beaten at his own game.

While Kathryn was distracted with her conversation, Chakotay succeeded in wrapping her up like a burrito. She couldn't move. "Chakotay! I can't move."

"Oh? Let me help you." He didn't even try to hide his wicked grin as he picked her up in his arms.

"Chakotay," she hissed as he strode down the corridor with her, "this is ridiculous! Unravel me, you oaf!"

"Nope. I've got to keep you warm," he replied with a self-satisfied smirk.

Kathryn struggled violently to get free but was ineffective. Cheeks reddened, she huffed at him, "You don't have to restrain me to keep me warm!"

They were at her chambers. He cradled her head and pressed her back up against the door. Mussed hair fell around her face, arousing him further. She was breathing hard from the useless struggle. "No," he agreed in a low voice, "but it's definitely more fun that way."

When the door opened, he carried her though and over to the bed. Only starlight illuminated the room. With one hand, he pushed back the covers. Very gently, he laid her down with her head on the pillow. He climbed onto the bed beside her and pulled another blanket over them both. Leaning over her, savoring the moment, he slid his open palm across her stomach then up her side to unfasten the blanket.

Kathryn was wearing a full set of clothes under the blanket but she couldn't escape the erotic notion he was undressing her as he undid the blanket. Except for the rise and fall of her chest, she was completely still, watching him relish touching her.

For a moment, Chakotay rested his hand on the tucked notch of the blanket. It was just at the side of her breast. Was she imagining it or could she feel the heat of his hand through the blanket. Just then, she began to shiver. Her tremors registered immediately with him and he hurriedly undid the blanket. He pulled her into his arms and began rubbing her back to generate heat.

Chakotay pulled back a second to look her in the face. "Are you OK?"

Kathryn made a fist, "Why I oughta...."

He laughed and pulled her into an embrace she didn't resist. "As soon as I thaw out, I'll get you for that, Chakotay," she said against his shoulder.

"You're going to wrap me in a blanket and carry me off ?"

"Possibly...to some sort of funeral pyre..."

Grinning, Chakotay set her back down, satisfied she was OK. Quickly, he gathered the blankets around them. Without leaving the bed, they both discarded their boots and jackets. Once again, the captain and commander snuggled down into a remarkably peaceful sleep.

For once, everything went as planned. Shortly after the beginning of Alpha shift, the Solar Particle Event was over, the worms had died without new ones returning and Voyager completed a cold launch without a hitch. Everyone was glad for the return of heat.

Apparently, Lt Stazeki developed a rather fast rapport with Tuvok. When Janeway went to talk with him, he was teaching Anne a Vulcan game of wit which he had refused to teach Janeway. He said she was too impetuous and irreverent to learn. Kathryn put aside her slight jealousy to be glad bonds of friendship were increasing among the crew.

That evening, despite exhaustion from the previous day, Kathryn tossed and turned in her bed. She hadn't even had coffee today. Unconsciousness should have come easily, especially in the relative warmth. Amidst her frustration, a thought came to her. She never discovered what Chakotay was dreaming about in his delirium. While her thoughts strayed off in that direction, the subconscious cause of her sleeplessness forced it's way into her consciousness. The reason she couldn't sleep was because she was alone. Her body and mind were holding out for the comfort they ss frienced the night before. Damn it! There was nothing she could do about it but toss and turn and latch onto a pillow.

Over an hour and a half past going to bed, she was still awake. When her door chime rang, she was almost glad for the distraction. Quickly she put on her robe and ordered the door open. Chakotay entered.

"I hope it's not too late. I couldn't sleep."

"Really?" she said as she feigned a yawn. "I was dead to the Universe."

"Oh, sorry. I can wait until tomorrow," he mumbled as he turned to leave.

It took effort not to leap at him to keep him here. "No, stay Chakotay. I'm up now."

He turned and went to the sofa to sit beside her. "Well, I realized as I was staring at my ceiling, I hadn't made good on our bet. What would you like on your custom made holodeck program?"

Janeway leaned back against the sofa as she considered the options. "I'm going to let you off easy, Commander."

"Is this a trap?"

Without so much as turning her head, she slapped his shoulder as an admonishment. "Quiet or I'll make you do something involving nuclear physics and opera." Compliant silence followed. "Do you remember what you were dreaming last night?"

"Not really, why?"

"It was something about trees and sandals and ...sheep."

Chakotay eyed her nervously. "Did I talk in my sleep? What did I say?" He knew what he dreamt now. It was a cursed, recurring dream. He definitely couldn't share it with Kathryn.

"Mostly, you mumbled but I caught those words in between. Something about 'finally' and 'naming her' too." Kathrye cacked up his discomfort as she studied his face. He remembered. Now she really wanted to know. "I couldn't think of a scenario to put all of that together. You can deliver on the bet by recreating your dream on the holodeck."

Chakotay rubbed a hand over his face. "Well, Kathryn, you were one of the characters in my dream. You'd have to be willing to role play." He knew she hated relinquishing control. He hoped she wouldn't like playing a character his subconscious had conjured and would let it drop.

"All right. When can you have it done?"

Agitated, he complained, "You know, for such a virtuous person, you don't have a lot of that one called patience."

"Oh good. Now I'm being lectured on virtue by a scoundrel who cheats at crunch."

"I did not cheat!"

"I see you can't deny your scoundrelhood. Well, since you've got something to keep you occupied during your insomnia, I'm going back to the sound sleep I was enjoying before I was so rudely interrupted." Very satisfied with herself, she ostentatiously stretched and rose from the couch. "Don't get caught in the doors on your way out. Good night," she said unfeelingly as she walked into her bedroom.

Chakotay had to stifle the urge to follow and tackle her. Part of him (the childish part) wanted to get the upper hand over her and the other part (the manly part) just wanted to get his hands on her. Fine. If she was going to be such a brat, he would lay out the dream exactly as he had dreamt it. She asked for it. If she was mortified, it would be her own fault.

On entering his own quarters, other aspects of the program played on his mind. Kathryn had agreed to role play. He had to admit, she really was virtuous and would never go back on her word. At the risk of irreparable damage to their friendship, he would make a program to exactly match his recurring dream. Even if she turned away from him ever after, he would have held her once exactly as he would like. Energy infused him at the thought. Chakotay worked feverishly through the night.

Kathryn met Chakotay outside the holodeck a little early the next evening. Harry and Seven were just exiting. Harry looked ecstatic. Seven looked as though she were considering something.

"So, Seven. How was Harry's program?"

"Interesting, Captain. I delved deeper into your instruction on desire. Strawberries are more versatile than the agricultural and culinary information indicates. I'm just registering the accompanying physiological phenomena now."

Panicked, Harry grabbed her hand and started leading her away. "We don't want to cut into your time, Captain. Enjoy your winnings," he blurt out before quick stepping away with Seven in baffled tow.

Seven called over her shoulder, "I would like to discuss these phenomena with you later, Captain."

"I'll look forward to it, Seven," she replied, to her credit, without laughing.

Paris was passing by and heard the whole exchange. "Gee, Captain. Can't you control your daughter? She's corrupting my boy there," he joked.

"If he were your boy, Tom, I'm sure any corrupt tendencies would be genetic."

"Ouch! You better put the safeties on, Commander. She's dangerous!"

"You have a death grip on the obvious, Tom," he replied.

Whistling, Tom sauntered away reflecting on the attraction of all things dangerous.

Doors slid open to a darkened holodeck. Kathryn looked questioningly at Chakotal tho nodded for her to go in. He followed her. When the doors slid closed behind them, another set rose up in front of them. Dim light came up.

There were cubicles of rough hewn wood at either end of the antechamber. "We're not going to confession are we? I can't wait for you that long."

"Very funny. You agreed to role play. I went to great pains to exactly recreate the dream. The costumes have to be the same or you won't see my vision. These are our dressing rooms."

"Oh." She went to hers but found it empty. "Chakotay, you forgot the costume."

Her door opened and his arm protruded through the opening. "Here you go."

"A towel?! I'm wearing a towel?"

"Want to quit?"

She snapped the towel off his arm and nearly caught his hand as she slammed the door. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. When she decided to delve into Chakotay's subconscious, she neglected to consider how deep and dark it might be in there.

Exiting his own chamber in sleep pants, he tried to look nonchalant upon seeing her in the flesh as she appeared in his dream. Unwilling to show her discomfort, she was leaning defiantly against the door of the dressing room, arms crossed over her ribs.

"I forgot to give you these." A pair of sandals dangled from his fingers. She recognized them. They were an old pair she had brought on Voyager. He crossed to her and knelt on one knee. Holding the left sandal in his left hand, he lightly wrapped his right hand around the back of her left calf to guide her foot into the sandal. He repeated the gesture with the other foot. For a moment before he stood, he looked up into her eyes, hiding nothing.

With a verbal order the antechamber doors opened on the rest of the program. Kathryn could see it was a forest. When they stepped through the doors, they disappeared. Immediately, she recognized the place. She couldn't look at him. A knife of regret pierced her heart. New Earth. He'd been dreaming of New Earth. Their shelter was just yards away and appeared much the same. A few things were different, but that was often true of dreams.

Desperate to say something which wouldn't reveal her turmoil, she noted, "We didn't have any sheep on New Earth, Chakotay."

"Yes we did. You just didn't know it. Are you going to let this play out or not?"

"I already know... this scenario." Just in time, she stopped herself from saying 'how it ends'. It seemed so cold.

"You know what happened, not what I dream. I mean, not what I dreamt the night before last."

Finally, she looked at him. Apprehension gripped her. This was bad the first time. It could be worse now. He never walked around bare to the waist on New Earth either. Things may have been different if he had. Her anxiety was building.

"If you want, you can just tell me, Chakotay. We don't have to go through all this. I'll release you from the wager."

"Not after all the work I put into this, Kathryn. I may be a scoundrel but I keep my word. Your tub is where it always was," he said as he moved off toward the shelter without her.

Good God, she didn't want to do this but was in too deep now. Of all the painful memories they shared, the one of leaving this place, one unmarred by violence or defeat or even significant events, hurt most of all. She had buried the time deep in her own subconscious and never spoke of it. When the memory came to her unbidden, usually as she tried to sleep, she quickly distracted herself with some other thought.

Now here it was before her, virtually real. As she walked toward the tub, she was mesmerized by the sensation of familiarity. He remembered a good deal of the detail of the flora but his mind embellished some of it. She marveled at his painstaking reproduction.

When she got to the tub, she couldn't help smiling. She ran her hand lovingly over the edge. It was the best present anyone had ever given her. So much work went into it, like this program. Kathryn cringed at the realization Chakotay had once again given a tremendous gift of self to her she could not reciprocate.

Steam rising from the bath invited her in. Even on the holodeck, she couldn't refuse a hot bath. After removing her sandals and taking a quick look around to make sure Chakotay wasn't near, she draped her towel on a nearby tree branch and stepped in.

Relaxation seeped through her, dissipating the anxiety. New Earth's suns were setting. For a good 20 minutes she soaked with no sign of Chakotay. A squawk broke her peaceful trance. Nervously, she looked around until it came back to her. The monkey. Maybe everything would be OK. Maybe Chakotay was just taking a stroll down memory lane. He had really felt at home on New Earth.

Smiling at the creature, she rose from the cooling tub and wrapped the towel around herself. "Chakotay? The monkey is back. You want to come see?"

Chakotay came out of the shelter carrying whatever carving he'd been working on in one hand. When he was close behind her, she pointed up to the noisy monkey but it scampered down at the same time. Screeching, it swayed side to side in front of them for a few seconds. Something like an attack scream was it's only warning before it pounced on Kathryn's sandals and made off with them.

"Can you get him?!"

Chakotay ran after the thing as it headed into the wood. "It's in the trees!"

She heard more squawking, then silence. Chakotay trudged out of the wood. "Sorry, Kathryn. He was too fast for me."

Kathryn sighed. Her eye fell on the object in his hand again. "What are you carving?"

Tearing his eyes from her, he looked at his work. "Oh," he stepped closer to show her, "It's a model of our boat."

A little laugh of pleasure spilled from her as she took up the little boat from him. "I'd forgotten. Oh, Chakotay, it looks wonderful! I'd love to really try it out."

"I want to christen her Kathryn. We can name her after you."

So that was it! Well, that was a relief. Inexplicably, a twinge of disappointment ran through her but she shrugged it off.

"That would be great, Chakotay."

"I'll take you in, since he took your sandals." Before she could even look up from the boat in her hand, he had taken her up in his arms to carry her in.

Embarrassed and aroused, she felt the need to talk to cover, "I'm still wet."

"I could make a crude remark there, but notice my restraint. I wouldn't want you to think I'm a scoundrel or anything."

Laughing, she relaxed enough to actually rest her cheek against his bare shoulder. His scent was clean and outdoorsy.

Just outside the shelter, Chakotay stopped. When she looked up at him to see what was the matter, she realized he'd been staring at her for several seconds.

"What?"

"Finally. I finally get to carry you over the threshold." It could have been a joke but his tone and countenance left no room for doubt; he was intensely serious. This was his big dream, to carry her over the threshold. The idea made her feel intoxicated. She closed her eyes to still her mind.

Chakotay pressed his lips lightly to her forehead, respecting her 'parameters', and carried her inside. Without releasing her, he bent over one of his lockers and opened it. He pulled out two skins with one hand and let the lid slam shut. "It's going to get cold tonight. You've already got goosebumbs."

Wet and nearly naked, she knew the cold wasn't causing her dermal reaction. "What are those?"

"Sheep. They're sheepskins. Don't worry, I replicated with rations I saved from skipping a few meals here and there...for a month. They are one of the few comforts from my home world I really missed."

Internally, the shelter was considerably different than it had been. Far less work cluttered the main area. A comfortable looking home made chair, and a small table to match occupied the place where her tiny sleeping alcove had been. Crafts were strewn on the table along with some rough hewn paper journals. There was also a window where there hadn't been one before.

Chakotay carried her into an expanded version of what was his alcove. A huge featherbed replaced the narrow Starfleet one he had before. She recognized his handiwork in the quilt. Her eyes grew wide at the site of her own hairpins on one of the night stands. He dreamt they shared a bed, all the time. Speechless, she only watched as Chakotay unfurled the skins across the bed.

In slow motion, he laid her on the soft skins. "Mmmm, these are wonderful!" The sensation was exquisite and foreign enough to distract her momentarily. She knew she had to stop this but wanted to relish a little more of the sensation first.

"Roll over. Pull a pillow under your head," he instructed as he headed for the issue wardrobe. She eyed him but he seemed disinterested. Securing her towel, she rolled onto her stomach, spreading her arms across the soft white fur and kneading her fingers into it. Chakotay sat next to her on the bed. He had another towel in his hand as well as a bottle of something.

Feeling obligated to end this before he became aroused, she began to break the news, "Chakotay, I know you put a lot of work into this. It's exceptional but..."

"Shhhh. I'm going to give you a back massage. You have to be quiet or it won't relax you. No talking."

Aside from a hot bath, one thing she couldn't turn down was a soothing massage, unlike the torturous ones the Holodoc inflicted on her. 'Maybe just a little longer,' she thought to herself.

Radiantly warm hands, slippery with oil, parted her towel down to the base of her spine. When he smoothed them over her bare back, she felt as though she was melting into a blissful fluid warmth. Pleasure muted the warning klaxons in her mind.

This was the point, Chakotay remembered from his dream, when he decided to damn the parameters. Having released floods of tension from her back during 20 minutes of massage, he moved his hands up to her shoulders. Kathryn was near sleep. While gently manipulating her shoulders, Chakotay arched over her, slipped his hands forward then under her breasts and contacted her neck with his lips.

Kathryn moaned then reared up under him. Chakotay flipped her over in his arms. Unable to stop now, he impacted her with a kiss of full confession. No pretense about his feelings could exist after this passionate expression.

Just as she hadn't in the cargo bay, Kathryn couldn't refuse this kiss. She wanted it too badly. Only after several minutes of tasting him did the klaxons regain their volume. Her reaction time was slowing over the years of Voyager's me foon as her resistance grew weak. Pushing lightly at his chest, closing her eyes in agony, she spoke the necessary words, "Chakotay, I can't. We can't."

He would not release her. He expected this reaction but had held out one ember of hope for a different outcome; one allowing him happiness. When she doused the ember, he froze in denial. At his silence, she opened her eyes. Chakotay's pain hit her as a cold, crashing wave. Combined with her own, she might drown in pain if she didn't gain control. Shivering, she pulled the towel up around herself.

Breaking away from him almost hurt physically. "I'm sorry, Chakotay," was all she said as she left the shelter. As she changed into her uniform, she swore at herself for hurting him, hurting them both, by letting it go this far. Then she reminded herself not to feel too sorry for him. He could have other relationships on board. He may be limited to the officers, but she couldn't have anyone. It wasn't her fault if he blinded himself to the others with the torch he carried for her.

None of this rationalization dissipated the guilt she was experiencing. His expression of pain came back to her as she entered her own quarters. It lost none of it's power. A second cold wave hit her. Sighing, she vowed to never hurt him again. She'd have to make him get over her and get on to a relationship with someone else. It would hurt her, but she felt she owed him that. Above all else, he was a true friend. In the end, if he was happy, she would share in it a little. Anything was better than continuing the wound opening rituals they engaged in for the last five years.

CINC DELTA QUADRANT

Seeing Chakotay the next day was difficult. Janeway had to walk the line between professionalism and compassion. She asked him to her quarters for familiarity but wore her uniform to maintain some distance.

Though it must have been equally or even more difficult for Chakotay. Unlike Kathryn, he hid nothing. Pain was almost a visible shroud on him. He sat in one of her chairs wrenching her heart without word or movement.

"Chakotay, I'm sorry about yesterday. I shouldn't have let it get that far. We both know what's off limits. I guess I got a little too comfortable with the flirting to realize the danger. I'm not going to play with fire anymore...nor you either."

He looked into her eyes but remained silent. His wounded animal impression made her feel awkward. Knitting her brow, she got up to pace so she wouldn't have to look at him.

As she took in breath to launch her explanation of their new, more platonic relationship parameters, he broke the silence. "I wish I were more like you, Captain."

She turned to look at him in surprise. "Shorter?" she quipped, completely puzzled.

His smile was brief, tainted with sadness. "No. Independent."

"I think of you as very independent, Chakotay. You're strong, smart, resourceful. After all, not many people would leave their home and family and traditions, their whole world to join Starfleet. Then they certainly wouldn't chuck it all to go become an outlaw for a cause just because they felt strongly about it. I think you're just as independent as I."

"No, not that way. I know I can function on my own but I can't be happy alone. I need love and it's painful not to have it. If I were more like you and didn't need love, I wouldn't feel the pain. It's almost like you're becoming more Borg as Seven becomes more human."

Kathryn's jaw dropped. Snapping it shut, she spun away from him. Seething, she paced over to the view port. Only the most intimate of friends and soul mates could mount an emotional assault with such precision, inflicting so much damage so quickly.

"I am human, Chakotay," she bit out through clenched teeth with her back still to him, "despite what you may think. I have the same human needs as everyone else."

"It doesn't show. Does that include love?"

Though she heard his voice behind her now, she didn't turn. She imagined he was smirking and she might actually strike at him if she saw it. This wasn't funny or charming. It was vicious.

"Yes."

Chakotay came right up behind her and slapped his hands down on the view port sill on either side of her, effectively trapping her. "So, what's your plan?"

Kathryn turned to face him in his trap. "My plan?"

"To meet your basic human need. You have mind-bogglingly detailed plans for everything else. What's your plan to fulfill this basic need?"

"There is no plan, Chakotay. There is no option for me. Just because you have a need doesn't mean it gets fulfilled." Her voice was cold now. Whatever compassion she had felt for him died when he rubbed salt in her open wound.

"I'm disappointed in you, Kathryn. Normally, you explore every possible answer to every problem. When it comes to your own problems, you don't even consider the solutions spelled out for you in Starfleet regulations."

Her silent skepticism was obvious on her lowered chin and raised eyebrows.

"What is the first prerogative of a theater CINC?"

"To adjust Starfleet regulations to achieve optimal Starfleet operations in that theater."

"Are you not CINC Delta Quadrant?"

Relaxing a little at the amusing title, she smiled faintly as she replied, "I never really thought of it that way. If, for some bizarre reason, you had to name one, I guess I would be it."

"That's right," he nodded, angling toward his point. "Don't you think it would behoove Starfleet operations in the Delta Quadrant to have the needs of the CINC met? Why it's almost paramount!"

"So as CINC Delta Quadrant, you think I should give myself a waiver to have an intimate relationship with my first officer because the mission depends on the well being of the CINC?"

"Exactly!"

She laughed. "Well, that would conveniently take care of my desires, but it would never stand up to a test of reason back on Earth."

Chakotay lowered his face to an inch from hers and murmured, "An unusually wise Borg told me recently that desire burns beyond all reason." He thought he reached her but after a second of stillness, she pulled his right hand away from the sill, released it and walked into the darkness of her bedroom without so much as a good night.

Dejected, he ran his hand through his hair and leaned on the view port. He'd taken the gamble as his last chance. Now it was final. She would never allow him to love her nor herself to love him. He wasn't sure what distressed him more; his own loss or the utter waste of this scintillating woman going through life loveless. Anger and frustration propelled him into her room to tell her that. It would be his final thought on a subject he knew they would never again discuss.

Without illuminating the room, he was surprised to find her standing still near the bed instead of in it. She had changed into lingerie, not just sleeping gear.

In the most spellbinding of Janeway voices she dictated, "My first directive as CINC Delta Quadrant is that the First Officer of any Starfleet vessel in the Delta Quadrant will, under no circumstances, wear clothing while in the Captain's bedroom."

Joy at winning a five year battle for both their souls drenched him. Chakotay's heart rate skyrocketed as he walked over to her. "Well, help me, Kathryn. I'm out of regs."

R.H.I.P. It's good to be CINC.