"Is there anything else, Commander?" Janeway asked as she signed off on the report and handed the PADD back to her first officer.
"The Zephyreans say the transport of materials--for Voyager's restocking--will be complete in another two days," Chakotay said. "In the meantime, they have graciously offered to make one of their resorts available to our crew for shore leave."
"That should be nice," said Janeway, not taking her eyes off her computer monitor. "I'm sure the crew will appreciate the break. Two days, hmm?"
"Two days and one night, to be exact. All expenses paid, compliments of the Zephyrean government."
"Sounds good," she said absently. "Set up a rotation so everyone can have a chance to spend at least a few hours planetside."
He leaned forward with his hands flat against her desk top. "Does this mean I can put your name down as well, Captain?"
Startled, she looked up. "I don't think I need to take shore leave at this time, Commander."
"The Doctor would beg to differ," Chakotay pointed out. "He seems to feel you've been under a great deal of stress lately."
"The Doctor worries too much."
"Come on, Kathryn, everyone needs a break, captains included."
Janeway sighed. "If everyone else is off having a good time, that's enough for me. I'd be just as happy spending the time in bed--that is, staying in my cabin and sleeping for 24 straight hours."
"Nobody can sleep for 24 straight hours." Chakotay shook his head. "And I know for a fact that you never go for more than five hours at a stretch without getting up and wandering around."
It was on the tip of her tongue to say, "And just how do you know so much about my sleeping habits?" but she thought better of it. "Fine," she said, with an air of resignation. "Put me down for a shore leave party."
He flashed her a triumphant smile. "You won't regret it, Captain. From what we've heard, this planet has the reputation of being the Delta Quadrant's answer to Risa!" He winked and was out the door before she could say another word.
Janeway sighed and wondered if it was too late to change her mind.
In the transporter room, Janeway met the other members of her assigned shore leave party: Tom, B'Elanna, Chakotay and the Delaneys.
Chakotay eyed her attire. "That's what you're planning on wearing down to the planet?"
Janeway looked down at her simple pale pink sundress. From the information in the Zephyreans database, she knew the climate was semi-tropical, so the dress had seemed to be a perfectly appropriate choice. Even Seven of Nine, who she'd shown it to earlier, had complimented the dress's 'efficient design.' "What's wrong with what I'm wearing?"
"Nothing," Chakotay hedged. "It just looks a bit....uh, 'tame' if you will."
Janeway noticed then with a slight shock that the Delaneys were wearing rather daringly draped identical wrap dresses that hung off one shoulder. Both Megan's shiny gold fabric and Jenny's bright scarlet appeared to defy gravity in other ways as well. Even B'Elanna had on a deep green sarong that left her midriff bare, whereas Tom and Chakotay were wearing what could only be described as loincloths. Janeway hastily dragged her eyes back above waist level.
"Not that it's not a nice outfit you've got on, Captain," Tom said quickly, perhaps mistaking the expression on her face. "It's very...tropical."
"Yes, it is," B'Elanna said a little too heartily, then turned to Tom. "'Tropical?'" she hissed.
"I'm sure you'll be perfectly comfortable, Captain," added Megan Delaney from the transporter pad. Her sister murmured in agreement.
In other words, her outfit was boring. The captain directed a glare at all of them, then stepped on to the transporter pad herself. "Energize."
On the bridge, Harry Kim looked around and swallowed a yawn. He and Tuvok were the only ones present. Additional personnel were deemed unnecessary while Voyager orbited the Zephyrean planet, and besides, most of the regular bridge officers were currently enjoying shore leave.
"They say there are so many different things to do down there," Harry said, his mind only half on the diagnostic he was running. "Beautiful beaches, water sports, mountain climbing--I can't wait." Tuvok merely grunted in reply. "Which of those are you planning on doing, Commander?"
"None of those activities is quite to my taste," Tuvok said stiffly.
"There are museums, too," Harry added. "I heard that's where the Doctor and Seven are spending their time off today."
Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "I would find it sufficiently restful to sit and meditate undisturbed," he said. A sudden beep drew his attention. "Ensign, may I remind you that you are still currently on duty and it would behoove you to keep your mind on your work until your actual leave tomorrow."
Chastised, Harry bent his head over his console once more and began the second stage of the diagnostic. A short time later he heard a low rumbling sound. Looking up, he saw that Tuvok was 'meditating' in the center seat with his eyes closed. As Harry watched, the Vulcan let out another soft snore. Harry bit back a chuckle and went back to envisioning himself on a tropical beach.
The Zephyrean resort was tucked into a lush and verdant area. Janeway looked at the swaying palms, the soaring bamboo and rubber plants; the flora reminded her of the islands in Earth's South Pacific. The main building was built of a sparkling white stone--looking very pristine indeed against the deep azure sky--and the floor was inlaid with colored marble. In the distance they could hear the roar of the surf as turquoise waves tumbled and broke against golden sands. Truly paradise.
And as befitted their Eden-like existence, all of the native Zephyreans were wandering around wearing next to nothing; loin cloths appeared to be the norm for both sexes. Everyone they saw was young and had a perfectly sculpted body, with long fair hair flowing down their bronzed backs.
"I'm Zara," said the attractive and well-endowed female behind the reception desk. "Can I help you choose an activity? Is there anything in particular you're interested in doing?"
At the sight of so much unfettered femininity, Janeway automatically glanced down at her sundress, feeling even more drab--boring--than before, then glanced up in time to see B'Elanna elbow Tom sharply in the ribs. Tom closed his mouth with an audible popping sound.
Chakotay smiled, displaying his dimples quite prominently. "Yes, as a matter of fact. These young ladies--" he indicated the Delaneys "--are interested in going to the beach."
Zara clapped her hands and two men appeared. "I'm Zon," said the first one, taking Megan's arm.
"And I'm Zorn," said the other, taking Jenny's.
"Pleased to meet you," Megan said, while Jenny nodded emphatically.
"We'll be your guides for the day," said Zon.
"To make sure all of your wishes are fulfilled," added Zorn.
The four of them went off, the Delaneys looking like they'd died and gone to Heaven.
"What's your pleasure?" Zara asked Tom next.
"We," said B'Elanna pointedly as she stepped in front of Tom, "were thinking of trying water skiing."
"Or maybe diving in the undersea clefts, I mean cliffs," said Tom.
"Both of those are wonderful activities," Zara said, leaning ever so slightly closer. "Especially diving."
"I know," breathed Tom. With a visible effort, he turned to B'Elanna. "You decide. I could go either way."
"Water skiing," B'Elanna said. "And without an escort," she added firmly as Zara lifted a hand to summon another 'guide.'
"As you wish," said Zara, with a slight shrug. "You can go right through that doorway on the far left to pick up your equipment." She then smiled at Chakotay. "What would you like to do?"
"I was considering rock climbing," Chakotay said, lounging against the counter to such an extreme that he was practically draped across it. "But I'd like to hear what else is available." He gave Zara another smile.
"We also have wind-surfing," said a very tall, very muscular male as he approached.
"This is Zak," said Zara, with a slight nod in the newcomer's direction. "He's our resident expert in the sport."
Tom and B'Elanna were nearly out the door but turned around at this announcement. "Wind-surfing?" Tom asked, a note of excitement in his voice.
"Yes," Zak said, his voice deep and seductive. "You take a light skimmer up, ride the air currents as far as they can take you." He grinned. "It feels like flying."
"Sounds wonderful," Tom began. He stopped when he noticed the way B'Elanna was eyeing Zak. "Or not."
"Maybe we can try it instead of water-skiing?" B'Elanna said, continuing to stare deeply into Zak's eyes.
"Maybe later," said Tom in a tone that said 'definitely not.' He grasped B'Elanna's arm and tried to hustle her away.
Janeway, who had been leaning toward spending her time quietly on the beach, suddenly said, "I'd like to go wind-surfing!"
Chakotay and Tom exchanged amused looks. "Captain?" said Tom.
"Maybe that's not such a good idea," Chakotay said, turning to face her. "It could be dangerous." He forced a smile. "I think the beach or the pool would be more to your liking."
"I think it's a wonderful idea," Janeway said, stung that they thought she was so stodgy and boring that she couldn't possibly consider something like this. She took Zak's arm. "Let's go," she said firmly.
"Just be careful, Captain!" called Chakotay.
"Don't do anything I wouldn't do!" Tom added helpfully.
Janeway didn't deign to respond as Zak led her away.
"Controlling the skimmer is very easy," Zak said, pointing out a small, sleek silver model. "This is the rudder, those are the wings, and here's where the harness goes." He helped her slip it on, then stood behind her and demonstrated the basics. "When a puff of air catches you like this, you dip your wings just so and then you're in the current and all you need is to hold steady, let yourself glide nice and easy, like this."
Janeway was very conscious of Zak's physical presence as he leaned over her shoulder to tighten one of the straps. Not that she minded; it was a rather pleasant sensation to feel his arms around her and his chest pressing against her back. His breath was warm on her neck. After all, even if she was the captain, she was still a relatively young woman, still in the prime of life. And she was on shore leave after all--so why not enjoy herself a little?
"And then I'm flying?" she asked, a bit breathlessly.
"And then you're flying," he confirmed and emphasized his words with a little squeeze of her waist.
A short time later she was up in the air and the sensation of flight was truly breathtaking. She felt like a bird as she swooped and soared, skimming through the air almost effortlessly. The skimmer was very lightweight, and responsive. All she had to do was angle her head or body slightly, and the skimmer turned in the desired direction. Hesitantly, and then with greater assurance, she spun out, executing dips and turns, even a couple of barrel rolls and loop-the-loops. The skimmer mostly glided on air currents, though Zak had pointed out the solar powered engine which could be used for thrusts and changing speeds as necessary, and she found that she could easily expand her repertoire of mid-air acrobatics.
She paused after a series of intricate rolls and simply allowed herself to float on the wind. She leaned back, feeling the warmth of the sun on her face. She enjoyed the vista up there, the clear blue sky, the lush green foliage below, the great gold 'snake' of the river stretching out below her, dotted here and there with crystalline water falls. Birds bright as jewels glided near her, singly or in dazzling and intricate formations. She was having a wonderful time, experiencing a sense of freedom she had never known before, feeling like she had truly slipped the bounds of gravity.
Suddenly, she noticed that she must have inadvertently climbed much higher than she'd been earlier, as evidenced by the cooler air and the shrinking of the river below into a narrow ribbon. The birds had dropped away at some earlier point and she was all alone in the sky. She realized, too, that the air currents were more powerful up here. The skimmer was buffeted by the winds, and getting harder to control. She tried to decrease her altitude but the airstream seemed to be taking her even higher.
She kicked in the engine and after a tense moment or two, the skimmer started to descend. But it was not as easy as it had been to soar upwards; the skimmer met with considerable resistance. All of a sudden there was an unpleasant grinding of gears. The skimmer started to drop rapidly. Janeway fought to control the descent, catch the air currents and glide down. But she was dropping too fast, and wasn't familiar enough with what she needed to do. She saw the jungle canopy, and the tops of trees, rapidly growing closer, and had the sensation of the ground rushing up at her. Don't panic, she thought, her command instincts taking over. I can do this. It's just like the multiple-g flight training sims. She couldn't help but remember, though, that she hadn't done anything like this since her days at the Academy.
Whether it was skill or luck--or some fortuitous combination of the two--she managed to come in for a bumpy landing. The skimmer hit the ground, bounced back up, and then skidded to a stop on a grassy knoll, coming to rest at the base of a thick clump of bushes.
She pulled herself out of the tangled harness and did a quick inventory. She was all right, she decided, other than some bumps and bruises. However, the skimmer was definitely worse for wear, as evidenced by the cracked rudder and bent wings. It didn't take her too long to realize it wasn't going anywhere any time soon.
Janeway took a deep breath, then looked around to get her bearings. She could see the river glistening in the distance, which meant it wasn't too far away, but she was obviously standing in a dip or valley; she could not get a sense of direction, due to the swell of hills all around. She headed toward the river and spotted a small pile of rocks, a few meters high, near the water's edge. She climbed up to get a better vantage point.
Suddenly, a loose rock at the bottom of the pile gave way, and she lost her balance. Janeway grabbed at a tree limb jutting out over the water and managed to catch herself in time. But another branch growing nearby smacked her in the shoulder, dislodging her comm badge from the front of her sundress. With a cry of dismay, she watched badge fall to the bottom of the stream and get swiftly carried out of sight by the current.
Great, she thought. There went her only way of contacting the ship or the resort.
She took stock of her situation. She couldn't have traveled too far; she estimated that her present position was only about 20-30 km from the resort. She could hike back, following the river so as not to get lost. It wasn't too much, though she glanced at her sandals and thought she would have picked out more practical footwear if she knew she'd be engaging in this kind of physical activity. At least the air was warm, and there were no predators anywhere.
With a last look at the broken skimmer, she turned and began walking on the banks of the river, away from the direction of the current.
It was a tired but happy group that assembled at the beam out point on the resort grounds shortly before sunset.
"And then he did what?" asked Megan incredulously.
"Did a belly flop into the water after he lost his left ski," said B'Elanna again. "I'm sorry, Tom, but you looked so funny!"
"Why don't you just make a ship-wide announcement?" Tom grumbled in a put-upon tone. The Delaneys giggled.
Chakotay laughed with the rest and then looked around. "Has anybody seen the Captain?"
"She wasn't at the beach," Megan said.
"As if you noticed anything besides Zon," said Jenny under her breath.
"Wasn't she supposed to have gone wind-surfing?" Tom asked.
"Yes," Chakotay said. "But she knows her way back." Privately, he wondered if Janeway had simply gotten fed up and returned to the ship early. Some people just don't know how to have a good time, he thought. Aloud, he said, "Well, regardless, it's time for us to beam up."
Zon, Zorn and Zara approached just as he was about to contact the ship. "We hope you enjoyed yourselves," Zara said, with a special smile for Chakotay.
"Yes, Chakotay, did you have fun with your chosen activity, the 'conquest' of the cliffs?" asked B'Elanna pointedly.
Chakotay didn't answer, not wanting to admit he hadn't exactly gotten around to climbing, but had spent most of his time hanging out at the pool and attempting to flirt with passers-by. He slapped his comm badge. "Voyager, five to beam up."
Back on the ship, Chakotay showered and changed before he contacted the bridge. He was startled to discover that the Captain had not yet returned or even checked in.
"Are you sure you didn't hear from her, Tuvok?" he asked again as soon as he exited from the turbolift.
"I assure you, Commander, I did not."
"Could she have called when you were, I don't know, otherwise occupied?" Chakotay asked worriedly.
Tuvok gave him a look worthy of Captain Janeway herself. "I was on duty for the entire shift, and I am not prone to having my attention wander or being otherwise occupied under those circumstances," he said frostily.
"Oh, no, not at all," muttered Harry.
"What was that, Ensign?" Chakotay and Tuvok said in unison.
"Nothing, sir. I mean, I didn't hear anything from the Captain, either."
Chakotay contacted the Zephyrean resort. The person on duty, who said her name was Zena, confirmed what they already knew, that Captain Janeway had taken out a skimmer that morning and hadn't yet returned.
"But it's after nightfall!" Chakotay said. "Aren't you concerned?"
"Your captain couldn't have gone far," Zena said soothingly. "And there is nothing dangerous in the area. She'll be fine."
Zena's casual attitude irked Chakotay. He abruptly broke the contact and turned to Tuvok. "Start scanning the surface for the Captain's comm signal."
"I am not picking it up," Tuvok reported a few moments later.
Chakotay stared at him. "How can that be?"
"It may be damaged or simply deactivated."
"Get me the resort again," Chakotay said. He paced back and forth, too tense to sit down. But his second conversation with Zena was even less satisfying than the previous one had been.
"Commander Chakotay, we can do nothing until morning."
"You expect me to wait that long when our captain is missing?" he said, his voice raised angrily.
"Please, try to relax," Zena urged him. "There really is no cause for concern. Perhaps your Captain is simply having a good time--a private time--and may not wish to be disturbed."
Chakotay looked at her in disbelief. "Are you suggesting--"
"Zak, the young man who was instructing her as in the use of the skimmer isn't anywhere to be found either," Zena said with a sly grin. "No doubt all will be made clear in the morning."
Chakotay slumped down in the command seat. He was beyond annoyed now--and worried as hell--but there didn't seem to be anything he could do about it.
Birdsong filled the warm scented air. Janeway opened her eyes and saw it was a beautiful morning. The sun was up, making everything in the glade look fresh and bright. She stretched and sighed blissfully. She had slept most comfortably on a bed of moss and springy plants, surrounded by flowers. Truth be told, she hadn't had such a good night's rest in more years than she could count.
She leaned over a pool to take a drink of cold crisp water and then impulsively slipped off her clothes and went for a swim. She went all the way to the base of one of the myriad waterfalls in the area, and then turned and swam back to the bank. She sat down on a sun-warmed rock to dry, and ran her fingers through her hair to work out any tangles.
Feeling greatly refreshed, she dressed and then became aware of some interested attention nearby. A graceful creature which reminded her of an antelope regarded her with large dewy eyes. The local fauna, while utterly harmless, appeared to have no fear; as she watched, a small rabbit-like creature hopped up quite close to her. Smiling, she held out her hand, and was enchanted when it came up to her. She held her breath as it crept nearer, and then tentatively reached out and stroked its soft magenta fur. A sudden trill overhead caused it to scamper off quickly.
Janeway looked up and saw two brilliantly colored birds nesting on a branch above her head. One was eating a fruit that looked somewhat like a Terran mango. Janeway had seen them growing on nearby trees the day before, and set about collecting some more, as well as other types of fruits for her breakfast. Replete, she leaned back, enjoying the cool breeze and the play of sunlight upon the water.
A small blue and silver bird hopped nearby. "Hello," Janeway said to it with a smile, and was slightly startled when it answered.
"Would you like some breakfast?" she asked, holding up a piece of fruit. It hopped nearer, then darted forward and snatched the piece in its mouth and flew away.
Janeway rinsed her sticky hands in the water and then reluctantly decided she needed to continue on her way. She figured she'd covered about half the distance back to the resort the previous day before nightfall and should therefore be back in another few hours.
On board Voyager, Chakotay was increasingly tense over the captain's continued absence. He hadn't slept all night. He had wanted to cancel the remaining day of shore leave for the rest of the crew, but Tuvok had told him it wouldn't be necessary as long as the crew stayed close to the resort itself and didn't venture off into the city or jungle.
In a surprising and disturbing development, the ship's sensors were unable to distinguish the captain's biosigns. Tuvok and B'Elanna concurred that the presence of the mineral opidiazide in the planet's crust was interfering with their readings.
"So what are our options?" Chakotay asked Tuvok grimly.
The Vulcan thought for a moment. "We can try shuttle flyovers, see if we can locate the Captain--or her skimmer--that way."
Chakotay nodded. It was as good idea as any. The only encouraging development in the whole affair so far was that the Zephyrean resort manager had finally located Zak. He hadn't been with Captain Janeway on her flight, he'd told them, but he'd been able to describe to them the general direction in which she had set out.
Chakotay insisted on being present on the search (and he hoped) recovery mission. It was all he could do to keep from breathing down Tom's neck on the shuttle as the younger man's hands flew over his controls.
"We're not accomplishing anything," Tom reported, frustrated, after their initial pass. "The foliage is too thick to reveal much."
"Go over the entire area again, and this time, try coming in lower," Chakotay said, his jaw set resolutely.
"Any lower and we risk crashing into the canopy!" Tom protested.
"Just do it, Paris--that's an order!" snapped Chakotay.
Just then, Harry called out, "I'm picking up a signal from the captain's comm badge!"
The shuttle descended and dropped lightly on the banks of the river. "Spread out," Chakotay ordered. "Tuvok, follow the river downstream. Harry, you take the west bank, Tom the east. I'm going to scout around in this general area."
Chakotay stared moodily at the river for a few seconds before giving himself a mental shake and heading for a particularly dense clump of bushes a few meters away. Swatting at the thick undergrowth, he found some release for his pent up frustration and anxiety. After about half an hour, he was sweating and ready to acknowledge that there were no clues to be found here as to the captain's whereabouts. Instead of going back the way he came, however, he continued pushing forward, where a spot of brightness indicated he was coming to a clearing.
Blinking rapidly, Chakotay stepped into a small grassy area. He could see the swell of hills off in the distance. Closer by, he saw another loop of the river. His attention was caught by something glittering in the sun. Turning, he saw a piece of metal. His breath caught in his throat when he realized what he was looking at.
It was the wreckage of Janeway's skimmer. He was sure of it.
Chakotay broke into a cold sweat, despite the pleasant temperature. He forced himself to go closer to investigate the skimmer. What he saw was not encouraging.
A thorough search yielded no sign of blood or human tissue, not even a scrap of cloth. It was almost as if something had removed any trace of Janeway--or perhaps she had been thrown clear of the crash site.
His comm badge beeped. "Tuvok to Commander Chakotay."
"Chakotay here. I've found the wreck of the skimmer. But no sign of the Captain."
"I may have an explanation," Tuvok said gravely.
Chakotay held his breath. "Yes?"
"I am approximately 15.2 kilometers downstream, Commander. I have found the Captain's comm badge."
"Do you mean--" Chakotay couldn't bring himself to finish the sentence.
"It appears likely, Commander, that the Captain fell in the river and was caught up in the current."
Chakotay did not answer, caught up in a sudden vision of Janeway drowning.
Tuvok's voice broke into his consciousness. "Commander?"
"Contact the other members of the search party," Chakotay said. "Tell them to converge on the river and start scanning every inch of it. We won't assume the worst--yet."
"Understood, Commander. Tuvok out."
Chakotay bowed his head, then passed his hand roughly over his eyes. His face set in determined lines, he headed off downstream.
He did not notice the footprints in the soft mud on the bank, going in the opposite direction.
Janeway glanced at the sun which was nearly overhead and decided it was time to break for lunch--and another swim. She'd been taking her time, going at a relatively leisurely pace all morning. Even though this 'nature walk' had been entirely unplanned, she was genuinely enjoying herself. She hadn't quite realized how much she missed standing on a planet surface, being close to nature; the full implications of being stuck on a star ship for so long breathing only recirculated air hadn't hit until she was able to fill her lungs with fresh air. She swung her arms and laughed for sheer joy of being alive. She couldn't remember ever feeling this good. She was very glad that Chakotay had persuaded her to take shore leave. Imagine missing this, and not even knowing what she was missing!
Though of course, Chakotay would just smile in that annoying superior way of his, probably thinking she was being 'boring' again, having such a good time just walking through the jungle. Well, she thought defensively, maybe it wasn't the most glamorous activity there was, but it was exactly what she needed.
She took another bite of fruit, then a last drink of water before getting to her feet once more. She felt a little guilty that she had ended up taking more than her fair share of leisure time away from the ship, but it couldn't be helped. And even if it could, she was the captain after all--wasn't she entitled to some perks every now and then, to go with all of the seemingly endless sacrifices? And anyway, despite the fact that she wasn't able to check in with the ship, they had sensors and probably knew exactly where she was. If Chakotay or Tuvok wanted her to hurry up and return to the ship, they'd doubtless be able to find her.
And furthermore, she thought sardonically, as she finished pulling on her sundress, Chakotay himself was probably having such an exciting time he didn't even spare a thought for his boring old captain.
In the late afternoon, Chakotay and the rest of the search party returned to the resort, grim faced.
"Any luck?" Zara inquired sympathetically.
Chakotay shook his head. "I want to interview the skimmer instructor, Zak, one more time."
"The last I saw, he was out in the back by the pool," Zara offered.
"Thanks," Chakotay called over his shoulder as he strode off. He came around the corner of the building--
And stopped short as he saw none other than Captain Janeway sitting comfortably in a lounge chair, sipping a drink with a paper umbrella in it and looking perfectly fine.
"Kathryn! I mean, Captain! You're alive!" he exclaimed.
She raised an eyebrow in an uncanny imitation of Tuvok. "Is there any reason I wouldn't be, Commander?"
Tuvok said dryly, "It would appear that the reports of your demise have been greatly exaggerated, Captain."
"Yes, it would," Janeway said. She then proceeded to relate the details of her little 'adventure' (as she called it), but Chakotay closed his eyes and slumped forward, suddenly overcome by such an overpowering sense of relief that his muscles would no longer hold him up.
That evening Janeway sat on her couch in her quarters, reading a romance novel she'd borrowed from B'Elanna, and comfortably attired in her favorite pink silk robe. A perfect end to a wonderful day.
The door signal chimed.
"Come in," she called, and was not surprised when she saw who it was.
"I came by to tell you that we've left orbit around the Zephyrean planet," Chakotay said, standing a bit awkwardly in the doorway.
"Thank you, but I've already been informed by the bridge officer on duty," she said. "A few minutes ago I said goodbye and thank you to the Zephyrean officials, for the trade materials we obtained from them and also their hospitality."
She patted the couch next to her. "Come and sit down, Chakotay. How are you feeling?"
"Much better," he said, with a trace of embarrassment. "The Doctor says the fainting spell was brought on by fatigue and anxiety, but there wasn't any underlying condition I need to worry about."
"That's good," she said, eyeing him carefully. Other than a faint grayness about his eyes and mouth, he really did look all right. Better than all right, she corrected herself, noting the open necked cream colored shirt he wore, and loose tan trousers.
"I should be asking how you're doing," he said after an awkward pause.
"Me? I'm perfectly fine," she said. She gave him a puzzled glance. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"I meant, are you recovered from your ordeal?"
She laughed. "It wasn't exactly an ordeal, Chakotay. In fact, it was a pretty positive experience."
It was his turn to eye her dubiously. "What about sunburn? Don't tell me you didn't suffer any signs of exposure from being out in the sun for so many hours?"
She shook her head. "I'd gone to the Doctor for sunblock treatment before we beamed down." At his surprised look she added, "I do this routinely before every away mission to a planet surface. As a redhead, I've always had a tendency to burn, so I've learned better to be safe than sorry."
He nodded slowly. "I guess that's a good thing."
She reached out and squeezed his hand gently. "I'm sorry I worried you," she said softly.
"I wasn't worried," he protested. She gave him a look. "Well, OK, maybe I was a little bit." He smiled sheepishly. "I will admit you did give us a bit of excitement."
She smiled back. "That's an interesting word choice, 'excitement.'" At his blank look she said, "I'm glad that you don't think I'm completely boring."
Chakotay laughed. "Believe me, Kathryn, 'boring' is one of the last words I would ever associate with you."
"Yes." He moved closer to her, his leg pressing against hers. "Actually, I think you're very exciting."
She reached up and lightly traced the outline of his tattoo. "Tell me more."
"I'd love to." He caught her hand in his and brought it to his lips. With his other hand he caressed her neck by the opening of her robe. As his fingers brushed the silky fabric, he murmured, "By the way, this is a very nice color on you."
"I've always been partial to pink," she breathed.
"Me, too," he said and then there was no more talking.