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Star Trek - Voyager: Remember Us (MF)
by Janet E. Coleman

Janeway rested her chin in her hand and regarded Torres with scarcely concealed fondness. The engineer was pacing around the ready room, gesturing and talking with great animation, her boundless energy an almost visible corona. *She's come a long way*, thought Janeway, and glanced down as the irony of the double entendre needle-pricked her conscience. They had *all* "come a long way"...

She cleared her throat and interrupted the stream of technical improvisation. "B'Elanna...others have tried to use Dr. Kosinski's theoretical work before. I'm not denying the benefits of higher engine efficiency -- let's face it, we need all the help we can get -- but surely you're aware of the problems that have surfaced over and over again in application --

"Yes, I know about that," B'Elanna overrode her, her voice as urgent as always when she had her teeth at the throat of a problem. She quit pacing abruptly and leaned toward Janeway, palms planted flat on the circular desk. "We covered all the material just before I left the Academy -- and I've been pondering the problems, off and on, ever since...Captain, I think we could pull it off. I think the problems encountered on the Enterprise came up in the first place because of the limitations of the old computer systems. May I-?" She gestured at Janeway's desktop terminal.

Silently, the captain swivelled the screen around to face B'Elanna, who quite unselfconsciously half-perched on Janeway's desk as she called up schematics of Voyager's and Enterprise's computer cores, and displayed them side by side.

As B'Elanna's fingers flew over the keypad -- she had made her dislike of the computer's synthetic "voice" more than clear on several occasions -- Janeway mused, "It must have been terrifying for that doctor."

"What?" said B'Elanna, not looking up. "What doctor?"

"I thought you had covered all the material...? The Enterprise's CMO was trapped in a static warp bubble, after an experiment went wrong..."

B'Elanna grunted. "Yeah, I remember something like that. I was more interested in the tech aspects, though....Here we are." She swivelled the screen so that both of them could see.

B'Elanna launched into an excruciatingly in-depth compare-and-contrast-fest about how Voyager's bio-components made it more fluid and adaptable to physics games than Enterprise's old FTL core elements and optical subprocessors. Janeway pointed out that Kosinski's work had been useless without the Traveler turning up to save everyone's bacon, and B'Elanna pointed out that Wesley Crusher had published several startling new papers on how the Traveler did what he did -- apparently Crusher was doing some Traveling himself these days. She called up some of this information for Janeway, who hadn't seen it before though she had heard of it, and they both got very excited and talked simultaneously for several minutes. At last, Janeway gave B'Elanna the green light to set it up -- and B'Elanna sprinted out of the room like a bat'telh out of hell.

Janeway shook her head at the younger woman's boundless energy, and returned to the bureaucratic tasks that she couldn't seem to stop doing, despite their complete irrelevance so far from home. *It's an annoying little lifeline, perhaps,* she mused as she set down one padd and took up another. *As long as I can keep acting as though I think we'll get home...*

And she shook herself all over, like Bear after a bath. Such doom and gloom! "Computer, what is the time?"

"The time is eighteen-forty-three hours," replied Voyager immediately, in her prim Starfleet-standard voice, and Janeway rolled her eyes in understanding. She was hungry! -- Starving, actually, and her shift had ended almost two hours ago without her noticing. She left the padds lying where they were, scattered over her half-moon desk.

As she entered her former private dining room, Janeway's eye found Chakotay at once. He was turned away from the door, but his broad back and close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair could belong to noone else. As she started toward him, the realization flickered across her mind: whenever he was in a room, she oriented toward him immediately. Did it mean anything? Did anyone notice? Gossip was unusually prolific and outlandish aboard her ship, thanks to both the isolation and the hybrid crew. Had anyone whispered that she and Chakotay might be...?

But she had reached him now, with a blush beginning to stain her cheeks: this would never do. She'd start gossip herself at this rate.

"Commander," she smiled up at him as he turned to face her, an answering smile forming, wavering a bit in puzzlement at the flush on the captain's face. As if on cue, a thick billow of steam roiled from Neelix's kitchen, obscuring them both completely for a moment. As they coughed and waved at the fog, someone behind Janeway bumped into her with a shout of surprise, propelling her forward -- against Chakotay. He caught her immediately, his big hands grasping her upper arms, steadying her as she regained her balance.

As the steam began to clear, Harry Kim got a look at who he'd just collided with, and began to babble. "Captain-! Sorry, Captain, beg your pardon, that was clumsy of me -"

"At ease, Mr. Kim," said Janeway as tartly as she could manage. "It's not your fault you didn't think to bring a foghorn to dinner." She realized that Chakotay's hands were still on her, and she glanced up at him, going absolutely still for an instant at the expression on his face. He was gazing at her with his usual calm intensity, but with an enigmatic blankness in his eyes...and he wasn't smiling. She suppressed a shiver, but did not step back.

"Thank you, Commander," she said, and he nodded and released her arms, the half-smile returning to his mouth, and he was familiar again.

After a few sharp words to Neelix about atmospheric conditions in the room, Janeway had procured a plate of...something...and joined Chakotay at a table. She eyed her dinner for a moment and sighed noisily. Chakotay, who had already begun eating, looked up, raising an eyebrow questioningly, as his mouth was full.

"It's nowhere near as bad as it was, since Kes started helping him," sighed Janeway, "but I still can't help missing real food..."

"And real coffee," said Chakotay, then laughed as Janeway made a comical face of longing.

Slightly later, when Chakotay had cleared his plate, he leaned back in his chair and regarded the captain before speaking. "Captain. Has B'Elanna been to see you about her new idea?"

She nodded. "Yes, a few hours ago. She was very excited."

"She's been fascinated with the Kosinski equations for years...are you going to approve the experiments?"

"I've given her the go-ahead. I think she just might be able to give us another ten percent, possibly as much as twenty or so, but it's a little early to be sure if we can even make it work at all. Still, Voyager has a number of advantages over Enterprise, at least in computer power and flexibility." She sounded just faintly smug: pride in her ship colored her tone. Then she glanced away, toward the viewport. When she glanced back, his eyes were still on her face, dark and calm as ever. She lowered her voice. "I was always a little frightened by the story of what happened to
Dr. Crusher. Do you know it?"

Slowly, he nodded. "She was trapped in a static warp bubble when something went wrong with an experiment...and the bubble started to collapse. The Traveler came to help get her out."

"But it was what she experienced *in* the bubble that sticks in my mind," Janeway murmured, her eyes drifting back to the starfield beyond the viewport. "She didn't realize what had happened at first. She'd been thinking about losing loved ones when she was trapped, and it defined the reality she experienced there...one by one, everyone disappeared, until she was alone on what she thought was the ship..." Unconsciously, she shivered. Unbidden, the thought rose: *it would be unbearable to lose any more, after losing so many...unbearable to lose y- *

"Well," she said a shade too brightly, standing up a little too quickly, "I think it's about time I got a little exercise, if you'll excuse me, Commander." She nodded blindly at the people she passed on her way to the door and made good her escape...feeling Chakotay's eyes on her back right up until the door hissed shut behind her.

When Janeway reached the holodeck, she found Tom Paris just exiting it, looking sleek and satisfied -- *he should be covered with canary feathers,* she thought wryly as he gave her a jaunty little salute and strolled off toward the turbolift, whistling what sounded suspiciously like the "Jet
Song" from West Side Story.

She paused at the control panel, wondering vaguely if she ought to have the room disinfected first.

She'd had a notion during the day of a holonovel she'd like to unwind with, but now she felt too jangled to interact with other characters - she needed something physical and demanding. "Computer," she said to the panel, "run program Janeway Steeplechase Two."

Twitter. "Program complete. Enter when ready."

The door chugged open, and she strode forward with a glad smile. An Arabian mare long dead in the real world snorted and swivelled her ears forward. Janeway felt the cares of command roll off her shoulders as the velvet muzzle of the horse whuffed against her hand. "We've both been cooped up,"
she crooned to the mare. "I don't know about you, but I'm ready to *race*."

* * *

Janeway strode into Engineering with fresh new energy, every muscle flexing, seemingly, just for the pleasure of it. Torres was standing next to a secondary instrument panel near the warp core, talking to...a broad back with salt-and-pepper hair.

B'Elanna hadn't yet noticed Janeway's entrance, but Chakotay turned before the captain had taken three steps into the room, and he beckoned to her to join them.

"Well, B'Elanna. Commander," she nodded at him, and he inclined his head with a smile. His tattoo seemed especially distinct in the flickering light from the warp core -- the sweeping arcs over his left brow forming a broken line pointing to his right eye. She turned to Torres. "How's it coming
along?"

The engineer drew a deep breath, then smiled and spread her hands. "All we need to do is take the warp engines off-line and hold our position, and I'll be ready to start."

Janeway nodded and smiled, then tapped her communicator badge. "Janeway to Bridge. All stop. We're going to be taking the warp engines off-line for a few minutes."

"Aye, Captain," drawled Paris through the link, even as the sound and feel of the engine room changed subtly, and the warp core's flaring glow calmed to a luminous ripple.

"All right, B'Elanna. It's your show."

Torres nearly leapt to her panel, fingers flying and stabbing seemingly at random, her dark eyes roving the flat surface. Such was her absorption in her work that Janeway traded an amused, almost parental glance with Chakotay.

She turned to look at Torres again, who was still pummeling the keypads with ferocious speed. "Take it easy, B'Elanna," chided the captain, gently. "We're not going anywhere."

"I'm almost done," Torres muttered. Janeway turned her head to glance at Chakotay -- his face wore that *look* again, but it no longer seemed blank, as it had in the galley. His face was perfectly still...but his *eyes* -- they were glittering, sensually deep and dark...at her.

*what would it be like?...to do just what I want for a change, to have him alone?...[to taste his skin -?]*

B'Elanna gasped, and Janeway's head whipped around before her brain had a chance to process the sound -- and then there was a flare of white light, and a whole lot of nothing.

* * *

[captain...]

[Captain.]

[KATHRYN!!]

Her eyes banged open, and she was climbing to her feet before she was fully conscious. "B'Elanna, report!"

She realized Chakotay was there before he began to speak. "She's gone. I can't raise anyone..."

Slap/chirp. "Janeway to Bridge." Nothing. Slap/chirp. "Janeway to Tuvok!" Nothing.

"Computer, where the *hell* is my crew!"

Twitter. "That is not a valid question."

"This is starting to sound familiar," muttered Janeway. "Computer: read me the crew roster for USS Voyager."

"Captain Kathryn Janeway, commanding. First Officer Commander Chakotay."

"*Shit*," she whispered, fiercely, and stalked toward the turbolift.

"We're in a bubble," said Chakotay flatly, following her. It was not a question.

"No, Commander," she shot at him, grimly, as they entered the lift. "*I* am in a bubble. *You* are a figment of my imagination. -- Bridge!"

The door hissed shut.

* * *

"What makes you think *I'm* a figment of *your* imagination?" said Chakotay, incredulously.

The door hissed open again, and she stalked out onto her Bridge, feeling as if she wanted to start a fight with it, dimly aware of him following her up the ramp to Ops. "Captain."

She began mauling panels at the science station with a ferocity much like B'Elanna's, her jaw set in a rigid line. It looked like her ship, sounded and smelled and felt like her ship, but it *wasn't*...it was an impostor.

"Captain, *talk* to me!"

She had whirled away from the panel to try the terminals at the Security station when the hiss of the turbolift doors opening snatched at her attention, jerking her head up from what she was doing. Chakotay was about to step in.

"*Don't*!" Her raw voice speared across the Bridge.

He froze.

"Don't leave. I'm sorry, Commander...it's not *your* fault you're not real. It's mine."

He turned slowly. The turbolift doors decided they'd waited long enough and slithered shut again.

"Do you have any idea how absurd that sounds?" he said, quietly, with a trace of his normal humor returning to color his voice.

Janeway nodded. She realized she was gripping the edge of the instrument panel and forced herself to let go, to take a deep breath, to look calm. She must have looked insane just now...but the idea of Chakotay leaving the Bridge, of his getting out of her sight, [*of her never seeing him again*] had punched a deep spike of panic into her belly. Now he simply stood where he was, near the turbolift, and regarded her calmly, as if he had all his life to do so.

At length he said, "Why do you think I'm not real?"

Slowly and clearly, she said, "I think you're not real because my reality inside this warp bubble is defined by my thoughts just as I was caught in it. And just before I heard B'Elanna gasp, I was thinking about you." She felt a curious hyperreality around and between them as she spoke. His face
was the only thing that seemed vivid to her eyes, the only thing she could keep in focus. His eyes were inscrutable shadows. "I was wondering what it would be like to be alone with you. To do whatever I wanted..."

His sensuous lips tugged upward into a wry smile, and he crossed his arms, his posture changing subtly.

"Captain...it's *you* who isn't real. That's what *I* was thinking."

She just stared at him.

Chakotay moved toward her as he spoke. "I was thinking of what it might be like if we weren't surrounded by other people...how I'd like to tell you how much I admire your courage, your strength..." He was very close to her now. She held her ground. "...how I've always wanted to do this..." He reached around her and deftly plucked out the combs that held her hair so severely in place, and the thick coils relaxed down her back.

Chakotay took one step closer. They were almost touching; she could feel the heat radiating from his big frame, warmth soaking into her like sunlight. Her back felt cold in comparison.

Her hand rose, as if of its own volition, toward his face. She had some disjointed idea of touching his temple, where the tattoo arched like a graceful spider, but he intercepted her. His fingers closed over her wrist, so lightly that were it not for the heat of his skin she could hardly have
felt it. The contact was electric, and she inhaled sharply, staring at her wrist and at his fingers -- not trusting herself to look up into his eyes now that they were touching...but her eyes followed as he lifted her hand to his mouth.

"And I was wondering...about what it would be like to taste your skin," he breathed against her palm, and as his lips and tongue began to tease and taste at the delicate flesh where her wrist and palm met, she closed her eyes and gasped, smiling in a rush of sudden joy. There was her proof! He
really *was* imaginary -- he had mirrored her thoughts to the letter, and that was impossible. So...Alice was dreaming the Red King after all... and she could give in, just this once, to her desires.

She pulled her hand away and had a moment to enjoy his look of surprise as she snatched a handful of his shirt front and jerked him to her, stretching up on the balls of her feet to reach his mouth.

He froze for only an instant as her mouth slammed against his, less a kiss than an attack. Then his arms were around her, abruptly, pinning her against him.

He was already hard. She could feel it. She was almost more aware of his erection than of his tongue in her mouth, and a rush of lust so intense as to be violent filled her. Her hands were spread side by side on his back, and she endeavored to pull him even closer, as if she could pull him
through her.

*I should slow down -- * she thought, vaguely, but couldn't comply with herself. The greed radiating from her aching [heart]

Sex was making her wild, spinning out of control. No. She'd lost control the moment the turbolift doors had opened, the moment she had cried out for him not to leave her.

He pulled his head back, breaking the kiss, and she gasped in protest at the loss, her eyes snapping open -- when had she closed them? -- to meet his, just inches away.

He said nothing. He only stared at her. That look again...how could she have interpreted it as blank, or frightening? It was a perfect mirror of the way she looked at him. Respect. Hunger. Need and greed...

His breathing was ragged: she felt it intimately, the rhythm from his bigger body overwhelming and replacing her own.

But she couldn't wait anymore, and didn't want to examine her feelings anymore, not even in fantasy. She stopped letting him stare at her, and stared at *him*, allowing heat to glimmer in her eyes, allowing one side of her mouth to quirk in a seductive smile...and she began rocking her hips,
slowly.

He inhaled, sharply, through his nose. Closing his eyes, he tipped his head back, mouth open, letting her rub against him for a moment...smirking, enjoying the power of it, she grasped his hips and increased the tempo, squeezing and kneading his cock through both their uniforms with her belly. *My God, he's so hard, he wants me as much as I want--*

There was a blurring moment as he exploded into motion. She felt a wrenching and a sudden draft across her breasts, and realized that he had just gripped the front of her uniform and torn it, turtleneck and all, baring her to the waist.

Janeway straightened her spine as the cool air of the Bridge plucked her nipples to taut points, exquisitely sensitive. Chakotay gazed at her, his eyes even darker, and then he dropped to his knees.

He lay his hand on the arch of Janeway's foot and glanced up at her expectantly. She lifted her foot slightly, enough for him to divest it of her boot and sock, then lifted the other for him liberate as well. When her feet were bare, he lightly ran his fingers over and around her ankles and toes, and the heat of his fingers seemed to soak into her flesh, racing up her legs to stoke the fire. Soon she was humming with need, her hips rocking without her volition. She didn't know what to do with her hands, and brushed her palm along the top of his head. His hair was thick and wiry, hinting at softness if only it were not so short. She wondered how it would look and feel if he were to grow it long...wondered how it would look cascading across a pillow, entwined with hers. How it would feel spilling across her thighs...

Another blur, and he had hooked his hands in the remains of her uniform and yanked down. Nearly losing her balance, she shifted her weight off her leading foot, and he deftly freed it of her ragged garments before she quite knew what he was doing. Rocking back onto her leading foot, she allowed him to free the other leg. He tossed aside the unwanted heap of red and black and grey, and she was naked.

Her skin felt flushed, intensely alive, as if every separate nerve ending had increased sensitivity. Her mind told her it should feel absurd to stand naked on her own Bridge, in front of Chakotay -- in front of a *clothed* Chakotay, her body told her mind sharply, and she stepped back from him as
he got up from the floor.

She put her hands on her hips in her customary stance, eyeing him with a raised eyebrow. He smiled, and she felt herself mirrored for a displaced instant, standing in her commanding posture utterly nude, with her hair flowing down her back. He flipped her a little salute, and began to undress.

He seemed to enjoy feeling her eyes on him as he cast off his uniform, pausing first to fling aside his boots. His skin was mouthwateringly beautiful -- smooth and golden, except for where it was criscrossed with elegant tattooed lines. He had very little body hair. His penis was thick
and still quite fully erect, standing away from his body, and she ached to think of it plunging into her wet depths, filling her full.

He stood and allowed her to scrutinize him for a few moments more, and then he closed the gap between them, pulling her against him once more. The full contact of his skin with hers made her gasp into his mouth as he buried his hands in her hair, tangling it thoroughly.

Coherent thoughts broke and skittered away. She was moaning, hungry and fearless, her hands greedy to touch him everywhere she could reach. She cupped his buttocks and rocked him against her with increasing urgency, and just as she was getting ready to actually plead with him to fuck her -- and
she would have -- he began to sink to the floor, and she bent her knees and went down with him.

Janeway found herself sprawled backwards, Chakotay's hands hot against her inner thighs, pressing them apart. She spread wide to his gaze, arms over her head, eyes closed, able somehow to *feel* him looking at the moist folds of her sex as they strained open in supplication. She heard sobbing
sounds, realized distantly that she was making them -- and she writhed, arching against the floor as she felt the heat of his breath against her, tickling mercilessly along her straining clit and the deep grasping pit of need that her vagina had become. She felt a trickle of her own juices well
up and begin to slide down...intolerable, she couldn't stand it, couldn't wait any longer, she was going to die.

"Chakotay," she said, hoarsely.

And he was on her, he was in her, almost without transition she felt his cock sliding forward, spreading her wide, its passage made easy by her soaking wetness. She gasped, loud, as he buried himself fully in her, and opened her eyes.

The naked passion on his face was vastly more intimate than his bare flesh. She tightened her vaginal muscles around him and was rewarded by a quiet gasp of pleasure. His eyes popped open and fixed on hers, and they regarded one another again, for a long slow moment, she tumbled back across the floor, hair swirling around her, he on his knees before her, thighs flexed so far that he sat on his heels, hands still pressing her thighs wide. Interlocked, buried deep in one another.

Then she thrust at him and broke the spell. With a groan, he released her thighs and tipped forward to support himself on his hands, and she drew her knees up, her feet suspended to either side of him. He was in even deeper now. Slowly, slowly, he withdrew, slow inch by slow inch, making her tremble with renewed urgency.

Just as she opened her mouth to -- what? Ask him to stop teasing her, command him? she wasn't sure -- he surged forward again, and began pumping, slick and thick, into her and out of her at an even rhythm, and she began to scream at the awesome pleasure of it, he knew just how, he knew just
what she liked, she was screaming into his mouth now as he plunged and pulled, plunged and pulled, her clit hot and tight, rubbed by his belly as she wrapped her arms around his broad back.

She was making the ascent into coming. The scent of him filled her nostrils, filled her mind as she thrust in counterrhythm, and she was gasping and gasping as he plowed her there on the floor of her Bridge...she felt him quicken the pace now, felt him getting even harder and thicker, heard his
breathing change. He was near coming. Knowing this, feeling it, made her own orgasm inevitable now, and she held him tighter, thrust back harder.

"Yesss," she whispered in his ear, whether to her own impending orgasm or his she had no idea. "Yessss. Coming, comingcoming--!"

Her right leg began jerking, the sole of her foot slapping against his back, and she arched, trembling, against his now-frenzied motion, against the hard hot bar of flesh impaling her.

Yes. Now.

She shrieked, jerking uncontrollably against Chakotay, as the orgasm hit and shattered throughout her body, her muscles clamping around his cock. His whole body stiffened. She forced her eyes open, still in the grip of her own climax, in time to see his face twisting, the cords of his neck standing out as he threw his head back and howled. She felt him pulsing inside her, and she was still trembling with pleasure as he bent his elbows and rested, trembling and panting, atop her.

She closed her eyes and clutched him against her, just breathing, just feeling, just holding him. He felt so warm, so real...

And then all hell broke loose.

There was a sudden, deafening, tangible noise that went on and on, a howling shriek like hurricane winds, a terrible force like undertow yankingat them. They jerked apart, trying vainly to climb to their feet, tumbled over again like paper dolls. The front of the Bridge was gone; where Janeway would normally have looked for the main viewscreen was a twisting hell of light and gravity, sucking at them greedily. She clung to her chair; he worked his way over to her and shouted in her ear.

"Looks like B'Elanna found a way in!"

She only nodded, her hair whipping into a long, riotous banner toward the vortex. What was there to say? She had only to step through, and this would never have happened. The real Chakotay would be out there: she would be in command again, which only meant that she was the one with the most to lose...

She was losing her hold on the edge of her chair; the vortex was intensifying. There was no time for this. Time enough to consider what she'd done back in the real world...she looked to Chakotay.

He was holding out his hand to her. She grasped it. For a delusion, he still felt so warm and vital. They released the chair, and leaped into the eye of the storm.

* * *

"I've got them! I've got them both!"

"Are they all right?"

Janeway opened her eyes, and stared directly into Chakotay's.

"Captain! Commander! Oh, thank God."

They were lying on the floor. The muted thrumming told her they were in Engineering, the engines at rest.

Them. They.

*Oh, God.*

Hands were helping her up. She staggered to her feet, fighting off disorientation, fighting off the hands. She patted herself, finding her clothing intact, her hair neatly bound up to her head. Now how the hell --? "I'm all right. Report!"

Chakotay, also clothed, was assisted to his feet, and Kes was in their faces before anyone could begin to answer, scanning them with a medical tricorder.

"Neither of you seem any the worse for wear," the petite Ocampa reassured them, with a touch of humor in her low, warm voice.

"B'Elanna! What went wrong? I thought that wasn't supposed to happen!"

Torres' face twisted in distress. "It wasn't, Captain. Just as we began the sequence, we were attacked."

"Attacked?!" Incredulous, Janeway glanced around the room. No Alert lights were flashing anywhere. "By whom? -- Or what?"

Tuvok stepped out from the cluster of people crowding Engineering. "Lieutenant Torres is incorrect, Captain. The creature which collided with Voyager did not, apparently, have hostile intent. It seems--" his voice chilled slightly with invisible disapproval -- "that it wished to play with
us."

Torres nodded. "Harry thinks it was something like a cat, Captain -- rubbing up against the ship to say hi. It got distracted pretty quickly and left us alone, but it took us almost a day to get you out of the warp bubble."

Janeway nodded with understanding, grateful for a scientific topic to distract her from other matters. "So Voyager was knocked out of alignment with the static bubble as it was forming. Provided we can keep the cat away, B'ELanna, is it worth making another try?"

Torres shook her head. "No need, Captain. We've still got the bubble. We were able to create a gateway into it without collapsing its structure. You made it out on our first attempt."

Chakotay spoke for the first time, and the sound of his voice sent a frisson down Janeway's spine. "So the bubble is in the warp core...? Intact?"

Torres nodded, a thin ghost of her usual enthusiasm returning. She looked tired. She probably hadn't slept since before she'd come to the ready room with her idea. "Yes -- and it's even better than I'd projected. I've got another *thirty-two* percent out of the reactant injectors...there's a hell
of a lot of energy in that warp bubble, Captain. And as far as I can tell, it's stable."

People began to trickle out of Engineering now that the show was over. Tuvok returned to the Bridge, admonishing Janeway and Chaoktay to get some rest -- she couldn't be sure, but she thought she heard Chakotay stifle a laugh at that -- and Torres, after a few words of reassurance from Janeway, finally went off duty. As the engineering staff went about their business, only Kes remained behind as the Captain and Commander continued to carefully not look at one another.

Kes regarded the two of them for a long moment, then turned and glanced meaningfully at the warp core.

"It's amazing to me," she said, "the incredible energy harnessed in there... matter and antimatter. It's like a dance." She started toward the lift, then paused and added, "I think it's beautiful."

Without further comment, Kes boarded the lift and was whisked away.

And as Janeway struggled to think of something neutral to say, some way to back out of this impossible situation with a shred of pride, the thought jumped into her mind unbidden:

*I never did get a chance to taste his skin.*

THE END

    

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