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"We're going to die here."

Kathryn's voice was quiet and matter-of fact, but for the first time since the Haraihi had thrown them into this chamber and sealed them in, many hours earlier, she let herself experience the knife-flutter of panic she had been keeping at bay. She could sense no movement from Chakotay, no jolt of surprise, which confirmed her suspicion that he had already reached the same conclusion but hadn't wanted to upset her by vocalizing it. As if on cue, she heard him clear his throat. "No we're not," he said.

The captain of Voyager could not see her first officer's face; the room where they'd been imprisoned, like a giant coffin, admitted no light. They had realized much earlier that there must be a source of oxygen since they had not suffocated, meaning that somewhere in the chamber, there had to be a connection with the outside. But hours of searching the floor on hands and knees while Chakotay explored the ceiling--the room space was barely large enough for him to stand in--had revealed nothing, and her fingernails were torn and bleeding from trying to tear at the walls.

She felt relatively calm. Stress was suppressing her hunger, and while her mouth felt dry and her bowels tense, neither discomfort was as unmanageable as the knowledge that they were going to get much worse. The closeness made her sweat--she and Chakotay had both smelled better than they did now--but since they had no clothing on, at least they didn't have to contend with sticky, damp uniforms. Mortified as she had been when the aliens stripped them naked and flung them together into the darkness, she wasn't sorry now to be unencumbered by the material.

Except, of course, that it meant they had no comm badges.

She felt Chakotay touch her foot hesitantly. In this darkness, touch was an integral part of communication, but they were both a little shy given their nudity; the first time he'd reached around to help her pick at a bump in the wall which she'd hoped was a pipe, his hand had accidentally made contact with her torso, and he'd been so embarrassed that she could feel the heat radiating from his face. Since then, they'd mostly slid their extremities along the floor to touch one another's hands and feet when they needed to make contact.

"They've kept us alive for some reason," he pointed out quietly. "We've got air, and tolerable temperatures. It's only been a few hours. There's no reason to believe they won't come back for us."

"There's no reason to believe they will."

The behavior of the Haraihi was a mystery to Kathryn Janeway. Their initial contact and offer to trade had been very friendly, and the first landing party returned from a dinner feast with an invitation for herself and her first officer to meet with the leader of one of the subcontinents. They had been greeted, given a brief tour, offered food, then abruptly siezed, transported in a closed vehicle of some sort over an indeterminate amount of distance, stripped, and thrown into this cell.

"I don't know why we're here, Chakotay, but I can't come up with a single reason they would take us hostage in this manner if they want to use our lives as bargaining chips with our crew. And if it's information they want, putting us in together is a poor tactic for demoralizing us. This only makes sense if they intend to leave us here and forget about us, even if we don't know why."

"Well, since we haven't been able to come up with a strategy for getting out of here, and panicking isn't going to improve our situation, I choose to believe that this is just an odd form of hospitality." Kathryn rolled her eyes as she felt the corners of her mouth responding to the grin in his voice. "I don't know about you, but I'm tired, I'm sore, and I can't think of a single practical thing we could be doing right now. So I'm going to take a nap."

"Chakotay..." she began to admonish in a warning tone, then discovered that she didn't have a single rebuttal to offer; being exhausted was unlikely to help them in any event, and she had no further suggestions to offer as to possible escape strategies. They'd come close to having a quarrel earlier when neither had been able to come up with any new suggestions. "All right. You sleep. I'll sit here and ponder our lonely fate."

She felt him shift on the floor, positioning himself so that his head rested near her hip on his folded arm, which prodded her gently. His other hand brushed her thigh. "Wake me up if I miss anything," he quipped, and curled up a little.

Kathryn couldn't decide whether she found his current behavior endearing or juvenile. She sat with her back to one of the impenetrable walls, trying to meditate on possible methods of escape, then trying to concentrate on sending a telepathic message to Tuvok telling him her whereabouts...except that she didn't really know her whereabouts, and didn't really believe Tuvok could hear her thoughts, Vulcan mental disciplines or no. Nor did she expect prayer, astral projection, or screaming to help, though she did briefly consider the latter--she and Chakotay had tried shouting for several minutes at some point during their captivity, but no one had responded, not even when she feigned illness and he cried that she was dying.

"I have to go to the bathroom," she called plaintively now, but her only response was Chakotay grunting and shifting a little as he dozed. Despite their proximity, the small chamber seemed to have grown colder, and she shifted closer to the inviting warmth from his body.

She was unaware of falling asleep--only of awakening an indeterminate amount of time later having slid to the floor. The chill in the cell had gone, replaced by a sticky, sweet heat which concentrated on her back and lower extremities. The floor was hard, her arm had fallen asleep, and something was poking her in the back of her thigh. For a moment she thought it was Chakotay's hand trying to prod her awake, then she realized it wasn't a finger she was feeling, and jerked away speedily as a burning flush overtook her face, neck, and chest. When Kathryn moved, she became aware of the moist, slick heat between her legs which spread embarrassingly across her thighs. She rolled as far from him as possible in the small cell, pressing against the chilly far wall.

"Kathryn?" Chakotay mumbled sleepily, sounding disoriented. A long pause ensued. "I forgot where we were for a minute," he said in a clearer voice. "What's going on?"

"Not much. I'm writing my will." She heard him chuckle. Chakotay rarely laughed aloud, but winks and grins didn't work in the darkness; the sound filled the room with warmth again. Forcing herself to relax slightly, Kathryn moved toward his voice, encountering his leg with her hand as she crawled. "I'd leave you my ship, but since you're in this boat with me, I thought I'd give it to Neelix instead. I'm sure he has plans for decorating it which are more interesting than mine ever were."

"You think we're in a boat?" Chakotay quipped, laughing aloud again. "Maybe you should give Voyager to B'Elanna. Think of the little improvements she'd probably come up with if she didn't have to stick with Starfleet specs."

"We could give it to both of them. Picture the warp core going Warp Eleven in a tasteful shade of seafoam-green, draped with flowers from airponics..."

"Forget it. I'm getting too scared of the image of what B'Elanna would do to Neelix." Chakotay's hand slid down her arm to clasp her palm briefly.

"Aren't you going to make a will?"

"I don't have anything worth passing on."

"Surely that's not true."

"The things that matter to me are not things I could give to anyone else. They're dying with me." Some of the room's warmth seemed to fade with the dying humor; Kathryn moved closer to him again, just as he added, "Besides, my life is complete. I'm going to die naked in a room with the only woman I ever...would want to die naked in a room with."

The captain couldn't stifle the explosive laugh which burst out of her, partly from embarrassment and partly because she was secretly pleased. "So that's why you think this is a form of alien hospitality," she managed to volley. "You know, Chakotay, wanting to die naked with someone is a little weird."

"I'd be happy to not-die naked with you, if you've come up with a better idea!" She pressed her palms to her red-hot cheeks, glad he couldn't see her face. "All right, seriously, I have a few regrets, but not many. We've had a good run. I'd like to see the ship get home."

"So would I. I would like some assurances that the crew will listen to Tuvok better than the last time we left him in command. I want to tell Seven--oh, there's so much I want to tell Seven, and Harry. And Tom. Damn. Why did it have to be both of us?"

"It could have been worse. They could have taken the first away team, too. That's most of the senior staff. And I don't want to be naked in the dark with Tom Paris at all."

Kathryn let out a guffaw. "Yes, well, I'll agree with you there. You know, Chakotay, if I had to be naked in the dark, there's no one I would rather...oh, never mind."

"I understand completely. I wish you weren't with me, but I'm also not sorry you're here now. Does that make sense?"

He had started out laughing, but there was an undertone to the inquiry that bothered her; the conversation was turning too serious. "No. And stop making me laugh, it makes me hungry."

"All right. What would you like to spend our last hours talking about?" Chakotay's breathing changed, the silence lasting a little too long. "Can we talk about us?" he asked her finally.

Well, there it was. "I thought we were talking about us."

"You know what I mean, Kathryn." His hand fumbled for hers, catching and holding on. "Can we talk about the things we're not allowed to talk about." She suddenly found it more difficult to breathe.

"I thought we were past all that."

"Past all that?"

"You know. Comrades, best friends, some silly flirting. There is no 'us' the way I think you mean."

Chakotay's voice was deadly flat. "That's because you never asked me."

"What about the assorted women who've come and gone for you in the past year and a half..."

"Come and gone is the operative phrase." There was bitter humor in his voice for a moment. "Kathryn, you can't pretend anyone else is really an issue."

"Then why were they there? I mean, the obvious..."

"Not just the obvious. I can go without sex for a long time, but I can't go without someone to tease, and laugh with, and cry to. You're my best friend, but made it clear that you didn't need any of that from me, or at least, you weren't interested as long as you were the captain and I was the first officer. I respect that. But I want to know...what might have been."

She was so grateful for the darkness because it allowed her to feel--to screw her face up against the tears which threatened, to bite her lip and take a deep breath before responding, because she didn't have to worry about his eyes on her. Even so, she was sure he could hear her labored breaths and the click in her throat as she swallowed. They were questions she didn't even let herself ask herself, because the answers were too dangerous. "What if we don't die here, Chakotay?" she replied when she trusted herself to speak, ignoring his faint laugh. "We're still the captain and first officer. And you're my best friend too, and you're asking me to spend what's probably the last few hours of my life risking all of that, or if we get out of here, facing the consequences. Can we just let it be?"

There was a long silence before he let out a faint breath, which could have been a laugh or a sigh. "Sure, Kathryn," he agreed quietly. Then, "I guess I am going to die alone after all."

They sat in the icy darkness, she still fighting her feelings, though she was more angry than sad as the seconds passed. Kathryn wrapped her arms around herself, shivering. "Don't put that on me, Chakotay. We've both made choices. I'll accept the responsibility for stranding you in the Delta Quadrant, but it's your choice to believe that you're alone. Isn't that what you've always told me, that I choose to be alone?"

She heard him inhale and exhale slowly, probably calming himself, possibly just giving himself some time to think. "I keep telling myself that I have chosen," he murmured. "What I just told you, that you're my best friend and that's all you can be, I choose to accept that. I think, maybe I could even meet someone else. Sometimes I'll even think I have met someone else. But something always happens." She felt him staring at her through the dark, his focus boring into her as she had tried to project her thoughts earlier to Tuvok. "Something always happens to make me realize that my feelings have not changed. It's not the way it was--it's not as idealistic, I guess, and we're never going to be the people were were on New Earth. But every few months I realize again that you're the one I really want. And I wait for it to start to hurt, and it always does because I know it can't ever be, but before it hurts, I'm happy. No matter how much it hurts, I don't want to stop feeling that way about you."

Kathryn sat hunched over, fingers like icicles on her damp cheeks. Don't let me cry, she thought: he can't see me, as long as I'm quiet he won't know. She took short, shallow breaths so the quiver in her chest wouldn't escape, wishing she could find the anger she had felt for years now when he tried to ask for something which could not be--or the anger she felt when she thought he had accepted her answer, and moved on. It hadn't gotten any easier. His fingers touched and then closed around her ankle, not pinning her, just letting her know he was still there. "Oh, god, Chakotay." She couldn't keep the shake from her voice. When he heard it, he scooted closer to her across the floor, their legs getting tangled as their hands met, then he reached over to hug her.

It would have been all right if they hadn't been naked, she reflected as her body responded strongly and uncontrollably to the feel of Chakotay's skin--so much of his skin, and so soft even on his arms and back, she hadn't expected that. Really it was rather incredible that she'd never hugged him before--inexcusable perhaps, given their isolation--she'd hugged other crewmembers when they were upset, or even when she was upset. With Chakotay, she supposed she had known that it would turn into an embrace, as it was now--his nose had buried itself in her hair, her face pressed to his neck. The desire to part her thighs around him ached like an itch at her center. Chakotay was being careful not to press her against his groin, but she was acutely aware of it, just as she was certain he was reveling in her breasts brushing his belly. She could feel his pulse speeding beneath her cheek.

I should let go now, she thought, but her body was making its own plans, communicating them to a part of her brain that her intellect seemingly couldn't reach. Kathryn gave in and let herself indulge in the fantasy which had popped into her head when she awoke earlier--of turning in his arms and sliding onto his erection. She imagined his surprise, and his pleasure--she thought of what it would have been like to do that pretending to be asleep, imagining him holding very still, terrified she would awaken and come to her senses but utterly unable to disengage...the surge of power like an aphrodisiac. She didn't think she had ever hugged anyone naked except when she intended to make love with him. Involuntarily her pelvis angled, pressing her abdomen against his cock--it was just as hard as she'd expected--making Chakotay groan aloud.

"Don't do that," he whispered.

"I thought you wanted to."

"I wanted to talk. Ohhh. I want this too, but this is about being naked in a cell, not about your feelings..."

"Do you think I don't have feelings, is that it? Do you think I would touch someone naked if I didn't have feelings, Chakotay?"

"I don't know. Tell me."

"It's not easy for me to talk about."

"I know that." He pulled away from her a bit, with difficultly. "But I have to know the rest. Is this just not wanting to die alone, or just because we're trapped and it's not our fault, or is this just something your body wants because it's been a long time and there aren't any clothes in the way...I need to know that it means something to you."

Kathryn drew her limbs back, so that they were barely touching. "Chakotay, I've made love with three people in my life. One was my first love, one was my fiance, and one was a man I expected to marry when this mission was over. I'd known all of them for months before I went to bed with them, and they were all good friends, even if my feelings for them are different now that I'm older and wiser." She snorted briefly. "I don't fall in love as fast as you, and I don't fool around for the sake of fooling around. I wouldn't be touching you at all if it didn't mean something."

Once she fell silent she wondered whether she had meant all of it--whether she should not discount the purely physical, raw desire that was surging through her. Chakotay no longer seemed concerned. "Kathryn," he murmured, pulling her back into his arms, more firmly this time, so that she was aware of every centimeter of his aroused body as his lips sought hers in the darkness. He found her cheek first, then her ear, before she tilted her head up to kiss him.

It should have been a letdown; they were clumsy, fumbling, too slow and then too fast, too dry and then too damp, too much teeth, too much tongue. But the reality was always surprising no matter how many times one had dreamed the event. Through a rush of tenderness which made her eyes water, Kathryn found herself pondering the epic cliche of the moment - captain and first officer, Starfleet and Maquis, star-crossed lovers, literally. It appealed to her sense of the dramatic, balancing out the humiliation of being left to die naked and unclean in a dungeon chamber on a world for which her own people didn't even have a name. Chakotay's hands moved hesitantly to caress her shoulders and neck; she shifted back so that her breasts were exposed, invisible though they might be. He understood the invitation, sliding his fingertips lower, slowly, so that goosebumps had broken out across her chest and her nipples were hardened to rigid points when he touched them.

"God," she gasped again at the contact, which she could feel rippling throughout her body, centering in a hard contraction in her pelvis. "Oh, it's been a long time, Chakotay..."

She wanted to tell him that she was afraid, and ashamed of her fear, and angry at herself that her own long chastity might ruin this for her, making it painful and awkward. "I won't hurt you, Kathryn," he whispered before she could find the words, his fingertips trailing over her belly and across her thighs. "Tell me what you want." When he moved his hands back up her body, she spread her legs for him without volition; she could sense his surprise, but he slipped his hands between her thighs, caressing the muscles with his thumbs for several moments before brushing a finger very lightly over the damp tendrils of pubic hair and exposed flesh at the center.

"That...ohhhh..." Kathryn's voice rose sharply as she rose to her knees, pushing herself against his fingers, thinking that she had never gotten herself into this exact undignified position before, and probably never would have had it not been for the darkness hiding her face and body and the urgent need he had summoned in her. Her hands groped in front of her, wandering, finding variations in his skin which her eyes had never seen, little moles and freckles, the off-center bridge of his nose and the tiny hairs around his nipples. Kathryn was surprised less by the small new discoveries as by the inexplicable familiarity--the scar on his chin she had never consciously noticed, the hard muscle under the softness of the flesh over his abdomen. She thought, anywhere--in any darkness or silence--blind, deaf, mute, even without smell, with nothing but touch to go on, she would know this man.

She felt Chakotay rise to his own knees, leaning in to kiss her hungrily as she panted into his mouth, thrusting her lower body uncontrollably against his accomodating hand. She could feel how wet she was getting him and hear the sloppy moisture, but since she didn't have to see his face staring at her, she didn't care; in fact, the deliberateness of it excited her. Her fingers and toes began to flex as the implosion loomed. It was too fast, she wanted the experience of all of him first, before the delicious drowsiness of aftermath began to kick in. "Wait, I'll...not yet..."

When he didn't stop, Kathryn pushed his shoulders back with her hands, shoving him down so that he was squatting on his ankles. Her head bent so that she could lick the tip of his erection before he knew what she was planning; her mouth was going to be unpleasantly salty from swallowing the fluid dripping out of him with nothing to drink afterwards, but Chakotay's stunned groan made it worth it. She moved over him on her knees, tilting his head up to her with one hand while her other groped to position his cock right beneath her. She kissed him as she took him into her, stopping to gasp in discomfort as her body stretched to accomodate his size, but when she relaxed her buttocks and changed the angle, the ache faded. Chakotay kept his lower body still, wrapped an arm around her waist and nibbled her jawline with great concentration; Kathryn suspected it was as much to distract himself from a rapid climax as it was for her pleasure.

She let herself be greedy: she set the rhythm, holding him down with a hand on his shoulder. The black room had the effect of intensifying the intimacy, despite their blindness; she was uninhibited with her hands, unafraid to cry out as loudly as she wished, knowing he couldn't stare at her body or study her expression. Again she came close, the wave rising in her pelvis, but Chakotay suddenly made a choked sound and half-lifted her off him with his hands on her hips. "I can't stay in this position," he grated. "My knees are too sore."

"I'm sorry," Kathryn whispered, mortified at her selfishness, but her lover was already pulling her to him in order to maintain the connection as he turned onto his side, stretching her out across his body. The new position deepened the penetration and pressed his lower body against her pelvis in a powerfully sexy way. He wasn't as fully erect as he had been before she trapped him underneath her, so she wrapped one leg over his hip and an arm around his neck, drawing her face close to his. Chakotay held her with his hands while he gave her a long, searching, passionate kiss, twitching and thickening inside her until she was trembling with the need to move.

He did not let her; he kept her pressed to him, breathing so hard she thought he would hyperventilate, his chest pressing against hers rhythmically with his respiration, hands squeezing her buttocks to hold her still. The pressure forced her legs to open wider, pressing her most sensitive parts against his skin. She wriggled her upper body since it was the only part she could move, rubbing her nipples into his chest. Just at that moment, he started to thrust, rubbing a spot so deep inside her that she had nearly forgotten it was there.

"I'm--OH!" Kathryn spoke before the realization fully hit her; by the time it did, she was crying out at the top of her voice, quaking around his rigid cock with her legs spread so wide across his body that her thigh muscles strained. She didn't care, it barely registered, it was just one more sensation to go with what was happening to her nipples and her throat and her belly and the sweet hot places pressed against him inside and out. He let out a long groan which vibrated his chest but held still for her, disciplining his breathing, so that when the first wave of her orgasm had subsided, he had enough control to roll her a little and start thrusting in an even, determined rhythm, fingers wrapped more firmly around her rear end. Her cervix contracted every time he pressed all the way in, almost as if it were milking him. When he started to groan, he moved his hands to either side of her head and crushed her pelvis to the floor with his body, pinning her legs down with his own parted knees until she bent one knee to bring her calf into contact with his scrotum. I am about to make my first officer come, she realized, sending herself into new paroxyms of pleasure which overcame his determination. Chakotay roared, freed her legs from beneath him, and let go, seeming to fall into her as he came. She could feel the moisture dripping out of her onto the floor before he'd stopped convulsing.

Afterwards, Chakotay slid his hand up to cup Kathryn's head against him and rolled them again, clinging to her. He kissed the top of her head repeatedly, with enough force that for the first time Kathryn wished they could see one another's faces. "Was it everything you were expecting?" she asked throatily, wishing they had water, and towels, and a bathroom, though for the moment she was very happy to lie with him softening inside her while he cradled her to his chest like a treasure.

"No. That was nothing like I expected." She had thought he might be choked up, or tired, but his voice was strong and full of joy. "You like sex, Kathryn! Not just on some transcendent union-of-souls level, but actual fucking!" He burst into delighted laughter. "Here I think you're going to go for Tantric body worship with slow, sensual massage, and you want to get straight to the messy part. Where have you been hiding all these years?" She didn't know whether to laugh or be horrified. Before she could consider, he kissed her again, adding, "And I thought I finally knew you. You're something else. I love you."

"Is that you talking, or the head between your legs?" Her voice came out low and sultry, with a hint of a pout. "You're good at this, Chakotay. You read all my cues and improvise very nicely. You should do it more often."

"We should," he corrected with an agreeable nudge. Kathryn chuckled suggestively, and Chakotay joined her. "I am going to die happy," he announced in that same wondrous tone, as if it hadn't really sunk in yet that he was, in fact, going to die. "Life is great."

"Now I know you're thinking with the wrong head. It's just sex, Chakotay, not the fate of the universe."

"Mmm, I think you're wrong. I think everything just changed. Things just turned around, somewhere--did you mean it? Just sex?" he interrupted himself sharply, stiffening a little as if she'd alarmed him.

"Well, not just sex," She snuggled a little to make him relax. "But still, I don't think it affected the fate of the universe."

"No? You've got to be kidding me. Listen."

"What?"

"Absolutely nothing. Think about it. You, Kathryn Janeway, just had sex with your first officer, and it didn't cause a galactic cataclysm. Who would've thought?"

"You're terrible, Chakotay! Maybe we just can't hear it." She kissed his chest. "If we did this on the ship, I'm certain it would cause multiple gelpack failure at the very least. Maybe an uncontrolled warp reaction. Or it would overload that snooping EMH's sensory circuits when he took our bio-readings. Oh, don't tell him I said that!"

"I won't tell him if you test it." Chakotay was laughing as she hadn't heard him laugh in months; his voice was full of color she had never heard in the gray of the ship, and only occasionally on New Earth, and Old Earth, and the holodeck. "Come on. Promise me that if we're alive and back on the ship in two days, you'll test it. Let me see if I can get your voice high enough to shatter transparent aluminum."

"Transparent aluminum doesn't shatter no matter how high your voice gets." She squeezed his balls slightly for emphasis, and felt his cock twitch back to alertness. "How many hours do you think we have left?"

"Definitely enough for more..."

"Is that all you can think about! I'm lightheaded and very, very thirsty, and I'm starting to get desperate for a toilet. We should go back to making our wills."

"I'm done making my will. No regrets." He tickled her in revenge, making her squirm and shriek. "Come on! Promise me. When we get back..."

"All right, all right, Chakotay. If I'm still alive on the ship tomorrow, we'll say to hell with protocol and celebrate in my quarters."

"Promise."

"Sealed with a kiss."

A sudden, agonizing sound pierced her ears, then her eyes began to burn excruciatingly. For a moment she thought the aliens must be pumping nerve gas into their chamber; then she realized that it was light assaulting her eyes, and the sound came from whatever instrument was tearing away the walls that enclosed them. "Congratulations," a booming voice intoned. "You have proven yourselves worthy allies of the Haraihi. You may take what you wish from our world."

"What?" Chakotay croaked, muttering, "We fuck in a prison cell and they congratulate us...?"

Kathryn squinted into the brightness, tears rolling down her face from the painful change. "All we wish from your world is to leave. Please bring us our communicators. And our clothes," she said in the most commanding voice she could summon.

"Uh...Captain..."

Kathryn flinched and huddled miserably against Chakotay at the sound of the all-too-familiar voice of her morale officer, shaky with either embarrassment or amusement. Chakotay's repressed laughter wasn't making this any easier. "Shut up, Commander," she hissed.

"Tuvok sent me to find out why you weren't answering our hails," the Talaxian explained in a stiff voice. "I was told by these Haraihi that you and the commander were engaged in one of their rituals and could not be interrupted, I thought perhaps you were being restrained, we had no idea the two of you were..."

"I understand, Neelix."

Through her hazy vision she saw Chakotay look up and flinch at something other than the light itself; she turned slightly to see Tom, Harry, and Seven shuffling nervously behind the self-appointed cook. "We monitored you very closely," the bombastic speaker announced cheerfully. "If you threatened one another as a point of negotiation or one of you killed the other for food, we would know that you were barbarians, and unsuitable allies. But in a situation of dire consequence you worked together for your freedom, then in lieu of panic you offered one another the pleasures of copulation..."

"SHUT UP," the captain and first officer barked simultaneously, as Paris clapped a hand over his mouth and Harry closed his eyes in mortification. "Would you please get our clothes?" Chakotay demanded again plaintively, though Kathryn swore he winked at them. While an alien shape scurried off in the background, Tom and Harry nodded at each other and removed the tops of their uniforms, giving them to herself and Chakotay. Harry's jacket mostly covered her, though the bottom of her rear stuck out and her wet, aching thighs were completely exposed. But Chakotay dangled precipitously from beneath the hem of Tom's jacket. "Give me your undershirt to tie around my waist," the first officer growled in the tone of a command, and the helmsman complied at once.

"We have also broadcast your selfless behavior to your crew," the booming Haraihi informed them. "Now they know of the sacrifices you are willing to make for one another. You must be very proud people."

"No cataclysm, you said," she hissed to Chakotay as their crewmembers turned away, awaiting the arrival of the aliens with the captain's uniform.

"No cataclysm." Wrinkles crossed the tattoo as the high forehead of her first officer creased in laughter. "We're alive, the Haraihi just offered us the run of the planet. And Paris is taking my orders. So the crew saw us naked, big deal. Things are fine, Kathryn."

"This is a disaster."

"Maybe you can talk them into putting us back in that chamber."

"Shut up." She saw Neelix turn to regard them discreetly, giving them a smile of encouragement when he realized she had noticed. The Talaxian elbowed Paris, who gave him an odd look, then turned slowly and made a gesture indicating that his lips were sealed. Harry echoed the motion. After an awkward moment, Seven attempted to do so as well, in spite of her puzzled expression; Paris leaned over and began to whisper an explanation.

"See? It's all fine." Chakotay leaned over and kissed Kathryn unexpectedly; the others smirked knowingly, but not, apparently, with disgust or chagrin. "They're not even shocked," her first officer pointed out. "I told you. Everything's changed. It's settled. Sealed with a kiss, I mean."

Kathryn found that she could not resist his grin. "We'll see whether the ship's intact," she warned. "You can't seal a warp core breach so easily."

"Watch me try." The Haraihi were coming toward them at a fast clip, holding their uniforms; the leader offered a comm badge in the outstretched palm of his oversized hand.

The captain started to reach for her uniform, paused, and took the communicator instead. She put an arm around Chakotay.

"Voyager, two to beam up," she said. "Directly to my quarters, engage privacy lock. Mr Tuvok, we will be...debriefing." Kathryn ignored the delighted astonishment on the faces of her bridge officers as the tingle of transport pulled her up and away.