Social Lubricant

Summary: Never come between a captain and her coffee.

 

Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, EMH, Paris, Kim, Seven of Nine, Tuvok

Codes: Janeway/Chakotay

 

Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.

Notes: My prompt from Helen8462 was the picture at left (or above, if you're on a phone). The sabotages are:

Sabotage 1: story must contain a diplomacy scene where J and C are not on the same page

Sabotage 2: one of them gets hurt

Bonus: somehow, coffee causes drama

Rated T

Part One

The third day, 1200 hours

“I can’t let you do it, Kathryn.”

He’s standing there blocking the Sickbay exit, all balled-up fists and soulful dark eyes, and I take a moment just to gaze at him. It’s a small pleasure; one of the few I allow myself, and then only rarely.

Nonetheless, this is not his call to make, so I level him with my dourest stare. “I appreciate your concern, Chakotay, but I’ve made my decision.”

“Kathryn, please. Think about this.” He strides over, takes my hands in his. Those dark-chocolate eyes lock onto mine, beseeching. It’s like he knows precisely how to wear me down, to batter at the defences I’ve shored up over the years.

But then, of course he knows. He’s breached them on more than one occasion, after all.

Not this time, though.

“I have thought about it, Chakotay. The price is too high.”

He lets go of my hands to pace, fingers raking through his hair so that it ruffles over his forehead.

Oh no, don’t do that. He knows I can’t resist the Sex Hair. No, no …

Too late. He’s in front of me again, and my hands are on his chest. Bad hands. How did they get there?

“Kathryn…”

“It’s going to be fine,” I soothe, my voice low and husky, just the way he likes it. I see it in the slight shiver that ripples through him, the way his breathing goes shallow. “Don’t worry so much, Chakotay.”

He glances at the floor, back up at my face. “What if you get hurt?”

“Then she’ll have the best doctor in the quadrant to patch her up,” interrupts the EMH, swinging out of his office.

We move apart guiltily.

“Although, Captain,” he continues, pretending to be blithely unaware of the subtext pulsing between us, “I must reiterate that my sympathies are with the Commander. I’ve seen the replays Mr Paris was watching on his padd – when he was supposed to be cataloguing cell samples, mind you – and while the player-to-player contact in Sopho does appear to be minimal, there is a risk of physical injury. Though not as high as if you practiced, say, boxing.”

The scorn in his voice could wither plants. Chakotay opens his mouth to object, and I forestall him with a raised hand.

“The elixir, Doctor?” I ask pointedly.

“Ah, yes. The elixir.” The EMH rolls his eyes. “Remind me why injecting yourself with an alien stimulant is a necessary prerequisite to competing in Sopho?”

“Because it’s part of the rules,” I snap, “and you are treading on my last nerve, Doctor. The hypospray. Now.”

I tilt my head to the side and the Doctor presses the hypo to my neck, grumbling under his simulated breath. As the alien substance is released into my system I feel my heart pick up speed, my skin prickle with goosebumps, my breath coming faster. Energy races through my nerves and it’s all I can do not to bounce on my toes.

I blink rapidly, shake my head to clear it, and turn back to Chakotay. He’s running his hand through his hair again, his adorable face worried. It’s all I can do not to reach out and smooth back his hair, kiss the worry away.

“Captain,” he murmurs, “I wish you’d reconsider.”

But it’s clear he’s given up the fight, so I contain myself to patting him solicitously on the shoulder and breeze past him. “Take care of my ship, Commander,” I call over my shoulder as I quickstep my way out of Sickbay.

I’m ready.

 

~*~


The first day, 1500 hours

Chakotay stands in his customary position at my left shoulder, close enough that I can feel the shifting warmth of his chest against my back, and sometimes, the soft brush of his breath on my hair. As always, it’s both a comfort and a provocation. But as always, I give no sign of it.

I’ve already sized up Prefect Dipi and classified him as a member of Delta Quadrant Diplomatic Category Epsilon: a snake-oil salesman with a silver tongue and an ulterior motive I haven’t yet pinpointed. He’s not as unctuous as Gathorel Labin of Sikaris, the first member of his category – he’s a little ditzier, a lot prettier, and his hands don’t wander quite as much – but he’s obvious enough that Chakotay assessed him as quickly as I did, and consequently hasn’t left my side since we transported down to Mandra II.

As the Prefect drones on about productive trading partnerships and new friends who’ve travelled the stars, my mind starts to wander. I’ve heard this speech dozens of times in various forms across hundreds of light years. By the time he starts extolling the virtues of Mandra, I can feel my shoulders drooping. I’m preoccupied with mentally cataloguing the meagre supplies Voyager has to trade, and I’m impatient to get down to it.

Besides, I used Chakotay’s last replicator ration on yesterday morning’s coffee, and no matter how much I adore Neelix, his better-than-coffee substitute is … well, no substitute.

I shift on my feet, my smile growing forced, and Chakotay – ever-sensitive to my moods and well aware I’m running caffeine-free – clears his throat. The Prefect, thankfully, winds down only a few minutes later, and bids us follow him into the conference chamber. An impeccably dressed, extremely handsome young man holds my chair and pours me a glass of something cold, refreshing, and … oh my God. It’s caffeinated.

I start to appreciate the Mandrin a little more.

However, therein follows a negotiation that’s every bit as lengthy, stately and irritatingly indecisive as I expected it to be, and culminates in Chakotay leaning towards me and murmuring a suggestion that we call it a night and continue our talks with the Mandrin tomorrow. Brilliantly, I decide to invite them to Voyager for the day, making a mental note to palm them off on Tuvok and Neelix as soon as humanly possible.

The Prefect accepts with alacrity, and I wonder if I might beg a sample of that caffeinated drink to take back with me, or if that would be pushing my luck… but it’s too late; Mr Well-Dressed and Handsome is already ushering us back to the transport site.

Sigh. I guess I’ll be going coffee-free tomorrow morning. Again.

By the time we get back to Voyager, I’m simultaneously exhausted and wired. I could go to my ready room and knock over a few reports, or I could see if there’s a holodeck free so I can beat up a few Klingons, or I could –

“Dinner, Captain?” Chakotay gives me his most irresistible smile as he extends a hand to help me down from the transporter pad.

Ooh. Now that’s tempting. A home-cooked meal, a nice bottle of wine and Chakotay’s company. Knowing him, he’ll have noticed the tension I’m carrying in my shoulders, and he’ll offer to work it away with those magic hands…

The problem is, I know where that’s likely to lead, especially in my current – read, extremely frustrated – frame of mind. And I promised myself I wouldn’t do that again, especially after last time.

No. I’ll be strong.

“Thank you, Commander,” I lay my hand on his arm to soften the sting, “but I think I’m just going to check in with the bridge and turn in early tonight.”

He doesn’t miss a beat, I’ll give him that. “Of course, Captain. Enjoy your evening.”

We walk to the turbolift together and he bids me good night as he steps off on his deck. I count myself lucky that there’s nobody there to notice me staring longingly at his retreating back.

 

~*~


A quick stop on the bridge turns into a lengthy conversation with Tuvok over security arrangements while our guests are on board, and then a trip to the mess hall to advise Neelix he’ll be wearing his ambassador’s hat tomorrow, after which he sweet-talks me into eating a meal. Then B’Elanna comms me wanting to talk about how desperately we need dilithium and gallicite and noranium and – I cut her off and head down to Engineering, resigning myself to a good hour’s worth of tirade.

By the time I finally reach my quarters, all I want is a long soak in a scented bath, a nice satisfying orgasm and a solid eight hours of sleep, but I’ll settle for two out of three. Lucky for me, my favourite toy is waterproof, so I can multi-task.

Except that it’s just not happening for me tonight. The water’s gone lukewarm by the time I finally give up and towel off. Sinking onto the bed, the best I can hope for is a reprieve from my usual insomnia, because waking at 0300 hours is barely acceptable even when I’m flush with coffee rations.

Of course, just as I’m sliding into a lovely dream in which a certain handsome, tattooed first officer is kissing his way along my collarbone, I’m woken by the chirrup of my communicator. It’s Prefect Dipi, wanting to chat – at great length – about my list of supply needs.

Glancing at the chrono and seeing that it’s 0245, all I can think about is coffee.

 

~*~


The fourth day, 0700 hours

If I was forced to explain it, I’d lay the blame for my string of bad decisions firmly on my desperate lack of sleep and caffeine. Although Chakotay should take some of the flak as well, because he really ought to have saved me a few more replicator rations. And Tom Paris – heaven forbid I neglect to credit his part in this disaster. He is, after all, the one who discovered Sopho in the first place.

Then, of course, I can blame Harry Kim for remarking that Sopho bears a slight resemblance to Parrises Squares, and Seven of Nine for arguing that it’s more aligned with Velocity, and the pair of them for descending into an argument about which sport requires greater skill, strength and hand-eye coordination, and in the senior staff meeting, no less. As my migraine ratcheted up an extra few notches, I demanded they both shut up about it because Sopho was nothing like either game and their discussion was both irrelevant and unbecoming of a senior officer, which sent both of them into a sulk, and made me even more determined to play the damn game to win.

Come to think of it, I have to lay plenty of fault at the Doctor’s feet. If he hadn’t been so preoccupied with perfecting his latest aria, he might have twigged to the secondary effects of the Mandrin elixir. Especially when combined with that caffeinated nectar of the gods I enjoyed in such quantities last night.

Wincing at my headache, which is worse than the last time I attended a Klingon opera, I finally force my eyelids to open a crack or two. My mouth feels like a parrot’s cage and my voice, when I allow a pained groan to cross my lips, is croakier than a Denebian bullfrog’s. I’m lying on my side, one arm and one leg hanging halfway over the edge of the bed, my cheek pressed to the pillow. I’m almost certain that when I finally drag up the energy to roll over, I’ll have an attractive trail of drool drying across my creased cheek.

Worse than all of the above, though, are the snippets of recall that begin to insinuate themselves into my bleary brain. At one particularly vivid memory, I stifle a gasp of horror.

God. Oh God. Surely I didn’t…?

“Actually,” a sleep-husky male voice offers from the other side of the bed, “whatever you’ve just remembered, chances are you probably did.”

My eyes spring open.

Oh, God.

 

~*~


The second day, 1000 hours

I’ve assigned Tom Paris to show the junior dignitaries around the ship while Chakotay and I take Prefect Dipi to start his tour on the bridge. As Tom leads a bevy of attractive men and women toward the mess hall, I hear him ask, “So, what do you guys do for fun down on Mandra?”

Oh, how I wish I was chatting about art and books and entertainment, instead of preparing to barter for essentials on less than half an hour’s sleep.

Prefect Dipi looks particularly psychedelic today. He’s decked out in what looks like a scuba suit, except that it’s iridescent purple and boasts enormous silver shoulder plates that wouldn’t look out of place on Klingon battle armour. He’s accompanied by yet another handsome, snappily-dressed young man. I can’t help noting that all the Mandrin I’ve met have been outrageously good-looking. Must be something in the water.

Which reminds me …

“Prefect Dipi,” I begin in my most persuasive tone as we finish touring Deck One and head down to the mess hall, “I very much enjoyed that cold drink you served yesterday. What was it called?”

“You mean kaffa? Yes, it’s quite a popular beverage among children on our world. We usually serve it to alien visitors so as not to offend your palates. It’s not quite as robust as our usual fare.”

“Really? It reminds me of a drink from my home world. We call it iced coffee.” I give him a winning smile. “Coffee is more usually served hot, though.”

“Captain Janeway is quite the coffee aficionado,” Chakotay interjects.

Yes, and would I ever kill for a cup right now.

“Is that so?” Dipi smiles at me indulgently. “I’d be interested to try this coffee of yours.”

“Then you’re in luck,” I answer as the mess hall doors sweep open and Neelix toddles over to us. I make the introductions and send him into the galley to brew up a pot from my carefully-concealed, emergency-only stash of beans.

“Intriguing,” Dipi murmurs, cupping his hands around the steaming mug and taking an experimental sniff. He sips and his eyes widen. “Captain Janeway, you’ve been holding out on me! This is … this is magnificent!”

I can’t help smirking proudly. “It is, isn’t it? Sadly, my supply won’t last the length of our trip. Our replicators make a good facsimile, but there’s nothing that compares to an honest cup of coffee, freshly made from beans grown on my very own arabica bush.”

“You – you have the means to produce this substance?”

“Yes, as I mentioned, we have replicator technology –”

“No, no!” he interrupts excitedly. “We have energy-to-matter transference technology also, but like your replicators, the kaffa drinks they produce cannot compare to the real thing. Sadly, kaffa plants will no longer grow on Mandra or any of our colony worlds. Years of genetically modifying the species in an attempt to produce better fruit resulted in an incurable blight. Only small amounts of the fruit have been preserved, and any Mandrin lucky enough to own some would become instantly wealthy if he decided to sell it.” He pauses to savour another sip. “Your coffee, however, would seem to be of a similar quality. It’s wondrous. How did you say it was cultivated?”

Just as I’m opening my mouth to steer the Prefect back in the direction of giving me a lifetime’s supply of kaffa, which is a far more palatable coffee substitute than anything Neelix has come up with, Tom Paris slides into the seat beside me.

“Captain, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I’ve been speaking with Underprefect Shal” – he indicates a beautiful dark-haired woman heading in our direction – “and she’s invited a few of us to head down to the planet tonight. There’s a tournament of the most popular Mandrin sport. I was wondering if Harry, B’Elanna and I could attend?”

“Ah, the Sopho tournament!” Dipi interjects. “Wonderful idea, Shal. In fact, Captain, why don’t you transport down as well? I’m sure you’d enjoy it greatly.”

“Oh, thank you, Prefect, but I’m afraid I have too many commitments.”

“The tournament continues into tomorrow night, with the skill level increasing as players are disqualified. You must come for the final round, then. No, no, I insist,” he interrupts as I start to demur.

“Captain, staying an extra day or two won’t delay our journey by too much,” Chakotay suggests. “And a couple of days’ shore leave, if it can be arranged, would be beneficial for the crew.”

Traitor. I glare at him. “Very well then, Commander. Thank you, Prefect. We’d be honoured.”

“Excellent.” Dipi swallows the last of his arabica blend. “Now, about that coffee plant you mentioned…?”

 

~*~


I’m beginning to feel a certain kinship with Prefect Dipi. As I usher him and his attendant into the airponics bay and proudly show him the (admittedly small and spindly) coffea arabica plant I’ve been carefully cultivating, Dipi falls to his knees, an enthralled expression on his face.

“This? This produces that marvellous beverage?” he asks in tones of hushed reverence.

“It does indeed.” I launch into a brief explanation of the harvesting process, how to husk the fruit and dry the beans, the various types of roasting and their effects. Dipi listens raptly, interjecting with the occasional question, mostly about soil nutrients and optimal growing conditions.

“And the brew I enjoyed in your mess hall,” he finishes, “that was made from the produce of this very bush?”

“Yes, from the last harvest. Unfortunately I’m almost out of beans, and the next crop of fruit won’t be ready for several weeks.” I pause, then add, “Which is why I was hoping to acquire some of your kaffa in addition to our other requirements, but since kaffa fruit no longer grows on your world, I guess I’m out of luck.”

“Perhaps.” Dipi stands and looks at me cannily, and I straighten. Gone is the effulgent diplomat of moments before, and in his place stands an astute trader. “However, I’d be willing to offer you everything you’ve asked for – minerals, supplies – in exchange for nothing more than this little plant.”

My jaw drops slightly. Behind me, I feel Chakotay shift nervously on his feet.

“Prefect, that’s a very generous offer, but –”

Dipi holds up a hand. “Before you respond, Captain, take some time to think about it. I understand your need for dilithium, in particular, is pressing. I’d be willing to provide you with double your stated requirement at no extra cost.”

“Captain,” Chakotay murmurs. I turn to meet his eyes, and read in them the same quandary I’m struggling with.

Everything the ship needs for the sake of one small coffee bush. It should be simple. A captain always puts her ship first, doesn’t she?

I shouldn’t even have to think about it. But out here, real, home-grown coffee is one of the few indulgences I allow myself. I’m embarrassed, actually, at how fiercely I guard that indulgence. In a way, it’s become my last link to the woman I was before I became nothing more than the captain.

And I’m not at all sure that I’m ready to let go of that woman completely.

I turn back to Prefect Dipi.

“I’ll consider your offer,” I answer him hesitantly, and he smiles as though he’s already won.

 

~*~


The third day, 0900 hours

Chakotay scowls at me from across the conference table as the senior staff file in, and the mood in the room is instantly dampened by the obvious tension between us. Tom and Harry exchange glances and warily sit at the opposite end of the table from Chakotay and me, B’Elanna stiffens her shoulders as through preparing for battle, and even Tuvok raises his eyebrow a millimetre.

“Good,” I snap, “now that we’re all here, we can get started. Mr Paris, you attended the Sopho tournament last night. Your report, please?”

“Ah,” he clears his throat, “yes, of course, Captain. Well, Sopho looks a little confusing at first but when it comes down to it, the rules are fairly clear. The players start out in teams, working together to score points, but as contestants are disqualified it becomes a game of strategy. Ultimately there’s only one winner.”

“Disqualified how?”

“Uh, well, the aim in Sopho is to score points by forcing opposing players to commit rules violations, but because it’s so fast-moving and there are only two referees, things do get missed. And the referees have their own scoring systems, so one umpire might overlook a transgression while the other umpire red-cards a player for it.”

“I thought you said the rules were clear, Mr Paris?” I fold my arms.

“Yes, ma’am. There’s obviously skill involved in the way the players wield their mallets, but when it comes down to it the goal is to screw over every other competitor until you’re the last man standing. Or, uh, woman.” Paris coughs. “So the best players are quick, sneaky and ruthless.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem.” I smirk at him. “Now, if you’d explain the purpose of the elixir?”

“It’s a prerequisite for any Sopho player, Captain. The Mandrin claim it provides energy and mental clarity and increases visual acuity, which makes for a more exciting game. Players are tested before the game to make sure there’s an acceptable level of elixir in their bloodstream.”

“First sport I’ve ever heard of where you’re tested to make sure you have taken performance-enhancing drugs,” Harry remarks.

Chakotay snorts, but subsides when I glare at him.

“Doctor,” I turn to the EMH, “what can you tell me about the elixir?”

“Apparently the elixir is made from a serum that’s been genetically engineered to mimic the effects of the kaffa plant, which was indigenous to Mandra before it died out a few decades ago.” The Doctor consults his padd. “There seems to be no lasting effect on humanoid physiology, but I guarantee you’ll be raring to go, Captain.”

“Well, I’ll need all the help I can get, Doctor. I intend to play for keeps.” I turn back to Tom. “I’ll study the rules in detail later, but give me a quick rundown.”

“Actually, Captain, if you don’t mind I’ll defer to Ensign Kim on this one. He’s the sports aficionado.”

I nod at Harry, who blushes. “It’s not too dissimilar to Parrises Squares, actually, Captain. The players are organised into teams – at least during the first rounds – and use mallets to direct the disc into targets placed around the designated playing zone.”

“I disagree, Ensign Kim,” Seven of Nine butts in. “While there is a superficial resemblance to Parrises Squares, this is a game of precision and strategy. It bears a closer affinity to Velocity in that respect. Parrises Squares is less cerebral.”

“Parrises Squares players have to be both physically strong and quick-witted, and they work in teams,” Harry objects, two spots of colour beginning to burn on his cheekbones. “How can you say there’s no strategy in it?”

“Velocity requires a high degree of spatial awareness and an ability to predict complex geometric probabilities. By comparison, Parrises Squares is a game for blundering children.”

Harry opens his mouth to retort and I interrupt quickly before he and Seven can come to blows. “Enough. I think it would be better if I study the rules without distraction. Before I do, is there anything else I need to know?”

Tuvok offers, “Perhaps now would be an appropriate time to mention that Sopho is played in a zero-gravity environment, Captain.”

My shoulders droop. “Really? Zero-g?” There goes my idea of eating a calorific lunch beforehand; I’d be guaranteed to lose it.

“Also,” he continues, “as the knock-out rounds proceed, the target zones become gradually smaller, and contestants are fitted with bioplasmic target sensors which, when struck by an opponent, generate a small electrostatic charge that can disorient the unfortunate recipient for several seconds. I would advise you to avoid being shocked by your opponents, should you reach the final rounds of the game, Captain.”

I hear Chakotay growl softly from beside me.

“Thank you, Mr Tuvok,” I say quickly. “Now, if there’s nothing else? Dismissed.”

Chakotay is the last to leave, his brow set in a thunderous frown.

 

~*~


The second day, 1600 hours

“I have to take Dipi’s offer, don’t I?” I slump onto the couch in my ready room, gazing morosely at the planet outside my viewport. “It would be terribly selfish of me not to.”

“Kathryn.” Chakotay sits beside me and takes my hand in his, his eyes warm and gentle. “I’m sorry. I know how difficult this is for you.”

I’m terribly tired, and my head is aching from caffeine withdrawal, and I’m utterly miserable at giving up my last link to home. Before I can think twice I scoot forward into his welcoming arms, resting my forehead on his broad shoulder. Chakotay’s hands are stroking my back and I can feel the tension draining away.

I turn my face into the warmth of his neck, breathing him in, that spicy, soapy scent that’s all male and all him. I feel his pulse jump under my lips and I can’t resist leaning up to nip at his earlobe. He inhales sharply, his hands spreading over my back, drawing me closer. Our faces turn slowly, simultaneously, lips dragging over jawlines until our lips meet.

Oh, his kiss. The way he holds me so tenderly, the way his mouth moves on mine. It’s so good to be held like this, to feel safe and protected and loved –

~Tuvok to Captain Janeway.~

Damn it! I’ve done it again. Thank God for Tuvok and his cold shower timing.

Pulling out of Chakotay’s embrace and turning my flaming face away, I tap my combadge. “Janeway here.”

~Prefect Dipi is calling from the planet’s surface, Captain.~

“Put him through to my ready room.” Tugging my uniform straight, I head briskly down to my desk and switch on my console. “Good afternoon, Prefect. What can I do for you?”

~Captain.~ The Prefect looks extraordinarily pleased with himself. ~I’m calling to make you a new offer.~

“Go ahead,” I encourage him, studiously ignoring Chakotay as he approaches the desk.

~I understand your reluctance to give up your coffee plant, Captain, so I’m proposing an alternative arrangement. The finals of our Sopho tournament are slated for tomorrow night, and the viewer turnout will likely double if we have a special guest star player. My offer is this: if you win the Sopho championship, I’ll supply you with everything you’ve asked for, and you may keep your coffee plant.~

“And if I lose?”

~If you lose,~ he pauses dramatically, ~you get nothing. And all your coffee belongs to us.~

Slowly, I raise my eyes to Chakotay’s.

He’s leaning over the opposite side of my desk, hands planted, shaking his head and mouthing ‘No’.

I return my gaze to the monitor.

“Your offer is accepted, Prefect Dipi,” I declare.

 

~*~


After the predictable argument with Chakotay, after he’s muttered something about my never listening to anyone and stormed out of the ready room, I allow myself the indulgence of a replicated coffee. Returning to my windowside couch, I sip at it slowly.

I feel terribly guilty for letting Chakotay kiss me – no, let’s be honest, for initiating the kiss – and almost as guilty for blithely ignoring his objections to Dipi’s terms. But in a twisted sort of way, I’m doing this for us. Not that there is an us. And that’s my point.

There’s a clear correlation, you see, between my caffeine levels and my ability to resist Chakotay’s charms. The less coffee I have access to, the more stressed-out I get. And the more stress I’m under, the more Chakotay’s right there offering to shoulder my burdens for me. And then I start to think about how good he is to me, how much he means to me, how much I care about him. And my defences grow weaker. And sooner or later, I let them down altogether, and we end up in bed. And every single time I regret it, because I can’t give him what he deserves.

So, obviously, if I lose my coffee bush I’ll end up in bed with Chakotay. And that can’t happen. Not again.

Sighing, I finish my coffee and return to my desk, summoning Tuvok and the Doctor so I can brief them on the deal I’ve made.

 

~*~


The third day, 1800 hours

The Doctor’s mouth is tight as he runs the dermal regenerator over my arm.

“So much for Sopho being a non-contact sport,” he mutters. “I’d like to give those Mandrins a piece of my mind. Not to mention Mr Paris and his lackadaisical approach to estimating the medical impacts of this so-called game. And as for you, Captain – well, I suppose I should be used to your reckless endangerment of your person by now.”

“Stow it, Doctor,” I snap at him, just as the Sickbay doors open and Chakotay comes pelting in.

“Is she okay?” he asks, frantic. “Is she badly hurt?”

“She is right here,” I say waspishly. “And as you can see, Commander, she is just fine, and perfectly able to speak for herself.”

Chakotay’s gaze rakes over me feverishly until he’s satisfied I am, indeed, fine. A small smile produces one dimple. “Did any of those knocks to the head cause her to speak of herself in the third person?”

I can’t help grinning in response. He really is good at handling me. And unbearably good-looking. I should tell him that occasionally, I decide. He should know just how much I appreciate him –

The Doctor snaps his tricorder shut. “Well, Captain. You’ve suffered multiple contusions and lacerations, sprains to your ankle, knee and wrist, a fractured elbow, broken nose and mild concussion. However, thanks of course to my medical expertise, you’re as good as new.”

Chakotay’s expression darkens with each injury the Doctor lists, and by the end of the litany he’s standing barely inches from me, his hand on my shoulder, his dark eyes on mine.

“Captain,” he says softly. “How are you feeling?”

I open my mouth, but the Doctor cuts in.

“Frankly, Commander, she probably feels fantastic. One of the compounds in that Mandrin elixir floods the brain with endorphins and serotonin. I doubt the captain felt a single one of those injuries.”

Chakotay narrows his eyes at me, and I shrug, smiling helplessly. The Doctor’s right. I feel amazing.

“You may be excused from my sickbay, Captain,” the Doctor adds pointedly, bustling back toward his office.

Well, that’s a blessed relief. I hop down from the bio-bed and tuck my arm into Chakotay’s. “Come on, Commander. Now that I’ve been released on a good behaviour bond, what do you say you help me get dressed for this victory banquet?”

I feel his surprise in the way his step falters, but as always, he recovers smoothly.

“Aye Captain,” he replies, tucking me a little closer to his body as we leave Sickbay.