“What do you mean?” Tom asked.
Neelix shrugged his head towards the other side of the mess hall. “The Captain – I made her a special terra nut souffle with chocolate ganache. She was so distracted by the chocolate that she agreed to let me expand the galley.”
“What!” B’Elanna practically yelled, but when heads turned, she lowered her voice and repeated, “What? Where? There’s no room around the galley to expand it.”
“Sure there is,” Neelix said proudly. “All we have to do is move the power coupling station for this deck.”
“We?” B’Elanna was appalled. “And you say that like it’s no big deal. Those power couplings affect half of three decks! Where do ‘we’ plan on putting them?”
He shrugged. “Well, I don’t know, B’Elanna. That’s what she said, and that I’d have to work it out with you.”
She folded her arms across her chest. “Not gonna happen.”
“Come on, B’Elanna,” Tom said. “He gets a bigger galley, you get to rebuild those problematic couplings, and in the end, the entire crew gets more choices at mealtimes.”
Harry added, “Just think about what Neelix could make if he had more space to cook.” He looked up at the Talaxian. “Right, Neelix? With more ovens, you could bake more fresh breads. With more stove tops, you could offer traditional North American cuisine.”
“Well, I, uh, I,” Neelix stuttered and then caught on to what Harry was doing. “That’s right, Ensign. I would have the space to prepare more food items besides stews and gelatinous custards.”
“Pudding, Neelix,” Tom corrected. “Pudding is a lot more appetizing than anything containing the word gelatinous.”
Harry said, “Wouldn’t that be great, B’Elanna?”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine, we’ll take a look. But you,” she pointed to Harry, “are going to help.”
“Fine by me. I could use a challenge.”
Tom asked, “Getting a little bored on the bridge, Harry?”
“A little. When it’s quiet, at least.”
Neelix said, “Terrific! Let’s talk first thing in the morning! Oh, and she said that we had to find a more efficient power source, too.”
“Fine,” B’Elanna huffed as Neelix hopped away, and then her eyes narrowed at Tom and Harry. “You two are not helping.”
“Are you kidding?” Tom asked. “Scratch his back, and he’ll scratch ours.”
“Eww,” Harry cringed.
Tom looked over at Kathryn. “Look at her. She’s practically in ecstasy over that dessert.”
“I can’t believe she agreed to that idea,” B’Elanna said. “It’s a ton of work!”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Tom shrugged. “She’s really left it up to Neelix to convince you. No skin off her back.”
Harry asked, “Must you? What’s with all these back metaphors?”
B’Elanna studied the table on the other side of the room. “Is it the chocolate or is it the way Chakotay is smiling at her?”
“I think he’s smiling at her because she’s enraptured with that dessert. I bet she looks that way during…”
“Stop right there!” Harry warned and the other two covered their mouths to avoid snorting. “Come on, you two! They’re like our parents.” He shuddered.
“How do you think you were made, Harry?” Tom teased.
“Not by them!” he replied with wide eyes. “Ewww. Now you’ve got me thinking about my parents.”
“I wonder,” B’Elanna said as she studied the command team’s table.
“Wonder what?” Tom asked.
“If she’s that amenable to saying yes while eating chocolate, maybe we could get Tuvok to whip up one of his famous confections and ask about that shuttle design.”
Harry asked, “Do you think Tuvok would?”
“He’s as interested in it as we are.”
Tom said, “Maybe not as interested, but it would give us a tactical advantage and he knows it.”
“Hmmm,” B’Elanna said as she leaned in to whisper. “We need a plan.”
“Are you sure you don’t want a bite?” Kathryn pushed the dessert closer to Chakotay. “It’s delicious, and I know you want some. You can’t take your eyes off it.”
“I'm not watching the dessert, Kathryn. I'm watching your reaction to it.”
Licking her spoon innocently, she asked, “What reaction?”
“Your cheeks are flushed and you’re practically humming in pleasure. The expression on your face is enough to fuel my fantasies for a good, long time.”
“What expression is that, Commander?”
He leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table, and underneath, his leg rubbed up against hers. “The one that makes me wish we were alone right now. I'm really looking forward to my dreams tonight.”
She scooped up the last bit of chocolate-covered custard and held out the spoon for him. “And what would you do if we were alone right now?”
His gaze was intense as he declined the bite. “I’d much rather see you enjoy it.”
“As you wish.” She redirected the chocolate’s trajectory towards her own mouth, her eyes not leaving his as she discreetly licked the custard, knowing that only he could see what she was doing. A warm flush infused her as his eyes widened and his lips parted, making her display feel wonderfully naughty. She slowly closed her lips over the spoon and made a show of savoring the confection, letting her eyes drift closed as she turned the spoon over and drew it out of her mouth.
“Captain!” Neelix interrupted. “I see you’re finished! How did you like it?”
It took her a moment to register that she and Chakotay were no longer alone, and her eyes hesitated before drifting away from his smoldering gaze. “Hmmmm?”
“The dessert, Captain. Did you enjoy it?”
She leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs, letting her foot rest against the side of Chakotay’s knee. “It was very pleasurable, Neelix. Thank you.”
“What about you, Commander? Did she share?”
Holding her ankle under the table, Chakotay’s fingers crept up inside her pant leg until they found bare skin. Caressing that spot, he replied, “It was captivating.”
“Oh, I'm so pleased that you liked it. I've been imagining all the desserts I could make if I had a larger galley. Thank you so much, Captain, for approving the expansion!”
She had a hard time concentrating as the heat of Chakotay’s touch surged up her leg, but somehow, she managed. “That’s not a blanket approval, Mr. Neelix. I expect to see a proposal with B’Elanna’s stamp of approval before any work begins.”
“Absolutely, Captain. We’re starting work on it first thing tomorrow!” He started to turn away and then held up a finger. “Just one more question, Captain, Commander. You liked the combination of the terra nut with the terran chocolate? I wasn’t sure.”
“It was exquisite.” She looked directly at Chakotay as she stated, “I always enjoy Terran nuts covered in chocolate.” A little surge of triumph rolled through her as she watched a blush rise into his cheeks.
“Oh, no, Captain. These weren’t Terran nuts, they were terra nuts.”
Her fingers graced her cheek as she looked back at Neelix. “My mistake. Still, delectable. I’ll be savoring the taste all night long.”
“Thank you so much, Captain. Have a good evening, both of you.” He bounced away.
Chakotay smirked as his fingers moved further up her pant leg to caress her well-defined calf muscle.
She had to raise her leg slightly grant him access, but it was all part of the game. “I get the distinct impression that you’re taking advantage of Neelix’s attempt to bribe me.”
“Is it working?”
She took her time sucking a dollop of chocolate off her middle finger. “You don’t really think I'm going to be thinking about chocolate all night long, do you?”
He tugged on his ear as he pulled his hand back and patted down her trouser leg. “I'm impressed, Kathryn. You’ve taken this little game to a whole new level.”
Licking her lips mischievously, she asked, “Would you join me for a nightcap at twenty-one hundred?”
“You’re going to give me two full hours to come up with a counter move?”
Her eyes widened appreciatively. “I'm looking forward to seeing what cards you’ll play when we don’t have an audience. Meanwhile, I have that appointment with sciences, and then I need to have a discussion with the Doctor.”
“His indiscretion regarding Ashmore?”
“Among other things, but it shouldn’t take long. I’d like to relax in the tub for a bit before you come by.”
He swallowed hard at her last comment. “All right, but I’ve already addressed the situation with the Doctor. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to give him one of your glares. You know how much he hates to disappoint you.”
Smirking, she said, “Meanwhile, would you find out what the troublesome trio is conspiring about over there? Their heads are bowed and they keep glancing at us.”
Chakotay slid into the seat next to Harry. “What’s up?”
Tom asked, “Up?”
“You three are up to something. What is it?”
B’Elanna asked, “Did the Captain really give Neelix permission to expand the galley?”
“No,” Chakotay said simply. “She gave him permission to pursue the idea with you.”
“Still, she didn’t say no.”
Tom interrupted, “We’ve got a plan.”
“For the galley?” Chakotay asked.
“No, for getting her to approve the new shuttle schematics.”
Harry said, “If all it takes is a good dessert to put her in a generous mood…”
“It wasn’t the dessert.”
Tom said, “It was the company then. She won’t say no to you.”
As much as he wished that were true, he wasn’t about to admit that to these three. “I’ve already told you that she’ll never go for it.”
“Have you asked her?”
“No, but your design requires a considerable amount of power, and it could leave the shuttle exposed because we have no idea what type of scanning abilities we’ll come up against. And the legality of it goes without saying.”
“It’s only illegal inside Federation and Romulan space. Clearly, we’re not in either.”
Chaktoay sighed. “No amount of chocolate is going to distract her when you say the word cloak. She’ll be in red alert mode so fast you won’t know what hit you.”
“Okay then,” Harry said. “You know her best. What would distract her enough?”
B’Elanna added, “Yeah, Chakotay. What do you use to distract her when you want something?”
Not wanting to answer, he gave her a look that she couldn’t misinterpret.
Tom jumped in to save his wife. “Surely you give her something to eat or drink when you have to deliver bad news.”
B’Elanna rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right, Chakotay. She drinks it all the time. It makes her sharp, not distracted.”
“Coffee comes in many forms, B’Elanna. And it always puts her at ease.”
“No offense, Chakotay, but I think a decadent dessert is more likely to put her in a good mood. I assume you didn’t miss the look on her face earlier?”
“I don’t miss anything, and neither does she.”
“Don’t you even want to hear our plan?” Harry asked.
“Fine. I've got a few minutes.”
Chakotay walked into Kathryn’s quarters and stopped short when he saw her. “You were expecting me, right?”
She quirked a smile. “I let you in, didn’t I?”
“Yes, but you’re not dressed.” He set the wine down on her table.
Putting her hands on her hips, she said, “These are Starfleet-issue shorts, and you’ve seen me in my tank before.”
“Yes, but…” He gestured to her lower extremities. “You’re barefoot, and…”
Laughing, she said, “You’ve seen my feet, you’ve even massaged them on occasion. However, if you have an aversion to seeing my legs, I could change.”
“No, no, no!” He blocked her path to stop her from going back into her bedroom. Putting his hands on her almost-bare shoulders, he said, “You look beautiful, and I love that you’re so relaxed.”
She unzipped his jacket. “Good, now we need to get you relaxed.”
Letting her take the jacket off, he said, “Just being with you relaxes me. Shall I open the wine?”
“Please do.” She tossed his jacket on a chair and walked across the room to get two wine glasses. “Did you learn anything interesting from the troublesome trio?”
“Yes,” he said with a playful smile when she stood a little too close after setting the glasses down. “They’re scheming.”
Her hand was on his back as he poured the wine. “Against whom?”
“Not against anyone,” he turned his body to face her as he handed her the glass, and was surprised that she merely moved her hand from his back to his arm. Her proximity was entrancing, and he was going to need to keep his head if he expected to ‘win’ at their flirtatious game. “They have an idea to run by you, but I haven’t given them approval, yet.”
After taking a sip, she held the rim of the glass against her cheek. “I don’t think they need your approval to approach me, or are you being territorial again?”
He chuckled. “I'm only territorial when it comes to aliens who have designs on seducing you.”
“You need not be concerned about competition, although that last one sure was a piece of work.”
“Do I need to remind you about what would have happened if I hadn’t been there?”
She gave him a calculating smile and left his side to pad over to the couch. “Ten more minutes of his lechery and I would have damned the trade agreement by knocking his lights out.”
“That’s my captain.” Picking up the wine bottle, he followed her over and sat down a little closer than usual. She was feeling playful and he wasn’t about to stop the game.
“Would you rather I said ‘That’s my Kathryn?’”
“I'm many people’s captain, and you do seem rather possessive.”
He topped off their glasses. “With good reason. Someone has to keep an eye on you and I'm more than willing to bear that responsibility.”
“How chivalrous.” She stretched her legs out and crossed her ankles to rest her feet on the coffee table, having no qualms about showing off her legs. She rather hoped that he liked them. “So, why are you keeping the trio from talking to me?”
“I never told them they couldn’t talk to you. However, I did give feedback on their proposal indicating that you’d never approve, with the hopes that they’d put some more thought into it.”
“Are you going to tell me what they’re proposing?”
“And why not?” She turned her head to look at him.
“Because tonight, they were scheming about how to distract you long enough that you’d give them your blanket approval. I'm eager to see if they’re successful.”
She stared at him in disbelief, and started to respond twice before she finally managed to say, “They do know me, don’t they?”
“So it seems, but they decided that Neelix must’ve been on the right track because you approved his plan.”
Kathryn rolled her eyes. “That’s the most ridiculous…”
“I know, but it’s going to be entertaining to watch them try.”
“Aren’t you even going to give me a hint?”
He shook his head. “Not a one.”
“Is this potentially embarrassing?”
“For them, yes. For you, no. Even without forewarning, you’ll see their subterfuge coming a kilometer away.”
“Hmmm,” she said as she rested her hand on his knee. “What could they possibly think would distract me?”
“Other than me?”
She playfully pursed her lips and moved her hand higher. “Don’t tell me that you’re part of the plan.”
“No,” he laid his hand over hers. “They tried, but I'm going to have too much fun watching them.”
Lacing their fingers together, she asked, “They really thought a little chocolate would do the trick?”
“Neelix seems to think he was successful, and I’d like to point out that you were distracted when he came to ask how you liked it.”
She pulled her hand out from under his and leaned forward to get the wine bottle. After topping off both glasses, she reclined again, this time, letting her head rest against his arm. “It wasn’t the chocolate that distracted me.”
Feeling bold, he rested his hand on her bare leg and used his fingertip to trace small circles her inner thigh. “So you’re admitting that I can distract you?”
It took her a moment to respond, and when she did, the timbre of her voice was husky. “I don’t easily admit to anything.”
Not letting go of her leg, he leaned forward to set his glass on the coffee table, and then took her glass and did the same. When he sat back again, he switched hands so he could still touch her thigh while putting one arm around her. “What would it take, then?”
“Hmmm?” Her eyes were closed and her breathing shallow.
Threading his fingers through her freshly washed hair, he whispered against her temple. “What would it take to distract you?”
She slowly turned her face towards his and mumbled, “Distract me?”
He had her right where he wanted her and the game was his. His hand moved higher, so that the tiny patterns he was tracing were right along the edge of her shorts. It only took the smallest of nudges on the back of her head to get her to tilt her face up to his. With a mere breath of a whisper, he told her, “Kathryn, I'm going to kiss you.”
Inadvertently, she opened her legs mere centimeters wider, but it was enough of an invitation for him. He lowered his lips to brush them against hers as his fingers continued tantalizing her delicate skin. It only took a couple of soft brushes before she parted her lips and began responding to his kisses.
When his tongue swept between her lips, she moaned deep from within her throat and seemed to come out of her distracted stupor. Her hands came up to hold his head so she could kiss him deeper. His touch moved from her leg up to her side, his thumb grazing the side of her breast.
The touch made her gasp and she pulled back to look at him. She was breathless as she said, “Oh, my.”
“Too much?” he asked as he dropped his hand back to her waist.
Taking a deep breath, she said, “I think you just proved your point.”
He winked. “That only I can distract you?”
“Mmmhmm.” She laid her palms against her cheeks, giving him the clear signal to withdraw his hands. “I feel flushed.”
“You are.” He smiled lovingly at her. “You’re beautiful.”
Looking warily at him, she said, “As much as I enjoy this sexual tension, it has got to stop.”
He closed his eyes in regret. “Kathryn, I apologize if I took it too far. I hope you know that I would never intentionally make you feel uncomfortable.”
“Too far is not the problem, and yes, you are making me feel extremely uncomfortable. It’s damn distracting.”
“I'm sorry. I got caught up in this game that we’ve been playing.”
“After dinner, I couldn't concentrate on a thing that the science team was talking about because I was thinking about your fingers on my leg.” She glared at him. “And you know how much I love science.”
“What does this mean for us, Kathryn?” He was worried, but since she wasn’t backing away, he wasn’t about to move away either.
“What the hell do you think it means? It means that I love you more than I do science.”
“You do?” Chakotay stopped and stared at her, trying to comprehend the turn in the conversation. A smile graced his lips as it finally sunk in that she was going an entirely different direction than he expected. “You love me more than science? That’s saying something.”
“Yes, it is. So you see why I can’t allow this unresolved tension between us to continue. It’s beyond distracting and I still have a ship to command. So, what I want to know is what are we going to do about it?” She crossed her legs and arms, ready to confront the issue in true Janeway form.
Amused, he said, “I have an idea if you’d like to hear it.”
“I'm all ears.”
He glanced down and said, “Oh, I wouldn’t say that. All legs maybe.”
With impatience, she scowled at him. “I'm trying to be serious. What’s your idea?”
“It’s very simple, really.” He placed his index finger on her knee and slowly drew it up her thigh to the edge of her shorts. When she unconsciously shifted to give him better access, he chuckled. “I suggest a lifestyle change.”
“For example,” he said as he edged the tip of his finger up under the hem of her shorts and ran it side to side across her thigh. “If we were to share quarters, we would be readily available to release each other’s tension – sexual or otherwise.”
Staring at his finger’s movement, she asked, “Don’t you think living together would also increase that tension?”
Using his other hand, he placed a finger under her chin to get her to look at him. When her dark blue eyes were fixed on him, he said, “Finding new ways to bring you release at the end of every day will make this flirtatious game we’ve been playing seem like child’s play.”
With command authority, she nodded succinctly. “All right then. Let’s do it.”
All of his fingertips slid underneath the hem of her shorts to stroke the top of her leg as he leaned forward to brush his lips against hers again. He whispered, “Are you sure you don’t want some time to think about it?”
She uncrossed her arms and legs. “I’ve been thinking about it for weeks – ever since you kissed me in front of that alien to stake your claim to me.”
He placed a soft kiss on her lips. “That was when all this started, wasn’t it?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I think it started the day you showed up on my bridge.”
“Come here.” He maneuvered her around until she was sitting on his lap. “That was six years ago, Kathryn.”
“Six very long years ago.” She cupped his face to draw his lips up to hers and gave him a lingering kiss.
He studied her expression. “How long have you been planning to take this all the way tonight?”
With a raised eyebrow, she asked, “What makes you think I am?”
“Do I need to point out that you’re sitting on my lap?”
“All right, I decided this morning when I woke up. But teasing you with that damn chocolate was just the icing on the cake, no pun intended.”
Laughing, he said, “I love you, Kathryn.”
“I love you, too.” She gave him a long, deep kiss.
“Shall we take this into the next room?”
“Another excellent idea.” She scooted off of him, picked up her wineglass and drained it, and then walked into the bedroom.
After he ordered the lights down, he corked the wine and followed her in. “Kathryn?”
She’d just finished brushing her teeth and handed him his toothbrush. “I picked up some of your things.”
He asked, “You were in my quarters?”
“Mmhmm. A clean uniform is in the closet and your shaving kit is in here. I also went to see the Doctor about updating my boosters. He advised against it because of my headaches.” She picked up a hypo off the dresser and handed it to him. “The best alternative he could offer was to update yours.”
He laughed heartily, and pulled her into his arms. “You’re something else, my love. What if I’d put the brakes on?”
“That wasn’t in the cards.” She quirked a smile. “You may think you won tonight, but you played right into my hand.”
Shaking his head with amusement, he said, “And that’s exactly where I plan to stay.”
“What’s all this?” Kathryn asked as she surveyed the pastries lined up in front of the mess hall viewports.
Tom said, “In planning for the larger galley, we decided to drum up a little support from the rest of the crew.”
Harry added, “Because they’ll have to put in the extra work. We wanted to demonstrate that with more kitchen space, we could anticipate being able to do some of our own baking without getting in Neelix’s way.”
“That’s right, Captain,” Neelix said with excitement.
Kathryn glanced at Chakotay, but gave nothing away. “I see. When did all of this baking happen?”
Neelix answered, “All day long, Captain. We wanted to surprise you.”
“This is definitely a surprise. Do we get to taste these?” She made a show of near-salivating over every ounce of chocolate.
“Of course, right after dinner,” Harry said.
She bent down to study the detailed filigree decoration on one of the cakes. “Who needs dinner when there’s all this chocolate?”
B’Elanna finally joined in on the conversation. “That’s what I said.”
The corner of Kathryn’s lips quirked appreciatively. “A woman who understands chocolate cravings. Did you participate in the baking, B’Elanna?”
“Oh, no… I left that in the capable hands of the men. I’ve been busy working on Neelix’s project.”
Samantha Wildman asked, “Why is it that the men on this ship can cook so much better than the women?”
Susan Nicoletti replied, “Because we’re usually up to our elbows in engine grease while the men spend their time trying to find ways to impress us.”
Kathryn bit back a laugh and glanced up at Chakotay. They both knew what a rotten cook she was and how he continually went out of his way to cook for her. He discretely winked at her in return.
“Care to do the honors, Captain?” Neelix handed her a knife.
“I’d love to,” she beamed. “Which one should we try first?”
Harry said, “This is a contest, Captain. Would you like to be one of the judges?”
She licked her lips, making it overly-obvious that she loved the idea. “What does the winner receive?”
“Notoriety and fame,” Tom replied.
“I'm all for that.” She studied all of the confections and made one decision. “That one definitely takes the prize on presentation. It’s gorgeous!”
“Thank you, Captain,” Tuvok nodded.
“You had time to bake, too?” She asked, surprised that he was in on the ruse.
“As it stands, I am the current holder of all notoriety and fame as Voyager’s best pastry chef.”
Chakotay asked, “A title you wish to keep?”
Kathryn smiled at her old friend. “Then I'm going to save tasting that one for last.”
“Showing favoritism?” Chakotay asked.
She replied innocently, “Why? Did you bake one?”
Pointing to the plate hidden in the middle of all the cakes, he said, “Those.”
Her eyes widened. “My mother’s recipe for chocolate caramel brownies?!”
“Hey now!” Harry laughed. “He knows her favorite recipe. That’s not fair.”
Kathryn broke off a chunk of brownie, catching the string of soft caramel on her fingertip. “All’s fair in love and chocolate.” As she ate the bite, she hummed appreciatively, all for Chakotay’s benefit.
Tom crossed his arms suspiciously and asked, “LOVE and chocolate? Is there something you’d like to share with us Captain?”
She stood very close to Chakotay as she licked the caramel off her fingertip, making sure he got to enjoy watching her enjoy it. Still looking at her lover, she said, “You’re smart, Tom. I'm sure you can figure it out.” Leaving those within earshot mildly stunned, she winked at Chakotay and then cut a small bite out of the first dessert in the lineup and tasted it. “Mmmmm… who made this one?”
Harry replied, “That’s mine, Captain. What do you think?”
“Very dark,” she said appreciatively. “Would be terrific with coffee.”
“I thought so, too.” Harry beamed happily.
She tasted the next two, making a show of enjoying each one immensely. “I'm going to have to pace myself if I'm going to make it to yours, Tuvok.”
“Perhaps you should spread the contest out all evening.”
Shaking her head, she said, “Oh, no. You all know how much I adore chocolate – I'm in heaven!”
Neelix handed her the next bite. “This is mine, Captain.”
She took a bite and her eyes widened with delight. “Mmmm! Even better than the terra nut soufflé!”
“But made with the same ingredients,” he said proudly.
“I’ll help with the remodeling myself if you’ll keep making desserts this good!” She moved closer to B’Elanna, and closed her eyes, acting as if it was the best thing she ever tasted. “You HAVE to try this.”
Most of the crew in the mess hall had started talking amongst themselves, and B’Elanna took the opportunity to ask, “Captain, I’ve been considering a new shuttle design that I’d like to run past you.”
Kathryn acted distracted by the most recent and probably worst tasting cake, yet. “Mmmmmm… this is… WOW! Who made this?”
Tom waved. “That’s mine, Captain. Do you really like it?”
“I’ve never had anything like it!” After taking a long drink of water to wash away the taste, Kathryn asked B’Elanna, “Shuttle design you say?”
“As we have time, the engineering team thought it might be fun to try our hands at something new.”
Harry added, “Something none of us have had any experience with.”
“Oh?” Kathryn asked. “You’re in on the design, too?”
“Several of us are,” Tom said. “We think you’ll be very interested, too.”
Kathryn picked up a small morsel of Chakotay’s brownie to make up for the bad taste in her mouth. As she ate it, she turned to catch his eye and winked at him, encouraging him to move closer to her. She then accepted another bite of dessert from Neelix, but paused before eating it because she suddenly felt very dizzy. “I, uh…” She held her hand against her face.
“Captain?” B’Elanna asked with concern.
“I think I may have overdone it.”
Chakotay put his arm around her. “Let’s sit down. You’re looking a little pale.”
Kathryn nodded and began to rub her arms. As Chakotay walked her over to an empty table by the door, she started pulling at her collar. Hoarsely, she whispered, “Need the Doctor.”
He couldn’t hear her over the noise in the room. “What did you say?”
Her tongue had begun to swell and her throat felt like it was closing. Grabbing his sleeve with alarm, she tapped her commbadge. “Doc…” She couldn’t get the words out and started wheezing.
Alarmed, Chakotay yelled, “Paris!”
The whole room quieted as Tom ran over. “What?”
“Help me get her to sickbay! She’s having a reaction to something.”
Tom took one look at her swollen, red face and tapped his commbadge. “Emergency Medical Transport – three to sickbay.”
As the beam took them, the rest of the room was silent. Harry said, “I’d suggest that none of us eat these desserts until we know what caused that.”
“Agreed,” said Tuvok. “The Doctor will want samples of what she’s eaten.”
“Right away!” Neelix went into overdrive cutting samples of all that she’d eaten and then rushed out the door to deliver them to sickbay.
Later that evening in Kathryn’s quarters, Chakotay covered her up with an extra blanket and sat beside her on their bed. Holding her hand, he asked, “Is that better?”
“Mmmhmm. Thank you.”
He laid his hand on her forehead and then pulled back when she looked at him questioningly. “Sorry, I just keep checking to see if your temperature has dropped.”
“I don’t think I’ll have a relapse unless I eat more of Neelix’s cake.”
Shaking his head, he said, “Poor Neelix. He was devastated when he found out you went into anaphylactic shock from those nuts.”
“I know,” she said sadly. “I’ve never been allergic to anything before.”
“Neelix threw the cake and the entire container of nuts out an airlock.”
That made Kathryn chuckle a little and then she groaned. “Don’t make me laugh. My chest hurts.”
“I could kiss it and make it better?” he offered.
She smiled and laid her hand on his cheek. “Thank you. I might take you up on that tomorrow, but you know what the Doctor said.”
“No strenuous activity. Yes, I know.” He kissed her fingertips. “How are you feeling, really?”
“Exhausted and sore, but okay.” She furrowed her eyebrows. “So, what about a shuttle design was worth all this?”
“Nothing was worth this, but the reason I haven’t approved it is because it has a cloak.”
Her eyes bugged out. “A cloak?”
“They want to take advantage of not being in Federation or Romulan space to try to develop one.”
“Wow, I wasn’t expecting that.”
“What were you expecting?”
“One built for speed.”
“Ah,” Chakotay nodded. “Just so you know, Tuvok is in on this, too. He thinks it would be a tactical advantage.”
“What are your concerns?”
“Besides it being illegal for a Federation ship to develop it, cloaks require a huge amount of power and can’t be used in conjunction with shields. Without knowing what kind of scanners we’ll encounter, we have no idea if other aliens will be able to detect the shuttle until it’s too late.”
“And without shields, we’d be a sitting duck.”
He nodded. “And we could jeopardize the trust of a first contact situation by using it.”
“Have you told our trio?”
Kathryn yawned. “I’ll talk to B’Elanna tomorrow.”
“Do you agree with me?”
“Certainly valid concerns, but I must say that I'm curious about what they’ve come up with. We might be able to try it with a probe, just to give them something challenging to work on. I'm not convinced it’s worth the resources, though.”
He leaned forward and gave her a soft kiss. “Think about it tomorrow. You need to rest.”
“Thank you for breaking me out of sickbay.”
“Our secret’s out now, you know.” He brushed her hair away from her face.
Smiling contently, she asked, “Wonderful, isn’t it?
“Yes, it is.”
Kathryn put her elbows on the briefing room table and massaged her temples. “We’re getting nowhere, people. Explain to me, again, how you plan to find the time, resources, and manpower to build this thing.”
B’Elanna reported, “The entire engineering crew is excited about it, and has agreed to work on it during off hours.”
Fighting the vice-like pain in her head, Kathryn asked, “Won’t that lead to exhaustion?”
Tuvok responded, “On the contrary, Captain, the crew has shown a remarkable inclination to ‘burn the midnight oil’ when they are enthusiastic about a project.”
Harry said, “The resources are a concern, but we plan to remain in the design phase until we come across the raw materials.”
Kathryn said, “Regardless, we can’t afford to test such new technology on a shuttle the size of the flyer. Have you changed anything since I studied the schematics two days ago?”
“Yes, Captain,” B’Elanna reported. “We’ve scaled it back to a two-man scout ship that will require much less power. While both the cloak and the shields are engaged, its top speed would be warp four.”
Kathryn stretched her neck to try to alleviate the headache pain. “I fail to see the point of having a scout ship that’s half as fast as Voyager.”
Chakotay noticed her discomfort and suggested, “Perhaps we should table this discussion for today?”
They all heard B’Elanna sigh loudly, and Kathryn gave her a disapproving look. “Lieutenant? Do you have something to say?”
The Doctor asked, “If I may interrupt? Captain, may I give you a quick scan?”
She waved her approval, but didn’t let him distract her from B’Elanna’s attitude. “Lieutenant, I realize that you’re eager to experiment with this technology, but losing patience is not going to help.”
“I apologize, Captain.”
After finishing his scan, the Doctor walked over to the replicator and returned with a large cup of coffee. “Drink this, please.”
Kathryn stared at the cup and then looked at the Doctor. “You’re asking me to drink coffee?”
“Yes, you’re going through withdrawal and if you don’t get some caffeine quickly, I fear that this meeting is going to come to blows.”
“You’re the one who told me not to drink any for two days.”
“Clearly, a mistake.” As he returned to his seat, he told B’Elanna, “Lieutenant, perhaps you should check my ethical subroutines.”
Kathryn glanced at Chakotay with a satisfied smile as she picked up the mug. She knew everyone was watching her as she let the warm, aromatic steam rise into her face. With a contented sigh, she took a long drink, letting the dark, bitter taste wash over her. The people in the room were silent as they gave her a moment of peace to enjoy the long-awaited vice.
While she was still enamored with the stimulating aroma, Chakotay asked, “Captain, might I suggest letting them pursue the design schematics and save the final decision on power and resource allocation until we come across the raw materials?”
The staff was tense as they waited for her answer.
Eyes still closed, she simply said, “Yes.”
Chakotay smirked as he looked at the troublesome trio. “You may have thought influencing the captain was all about the chocolate, but in the end, it’s all about the coffee.”