isclaimer:  Not mine! So what?


 

Fourth place in With this Ring
 

Rated PG13
 

The Captain watched as the blue light shimmered and faded and shimmered again over the two transporter pads.  The last communication with the away team had been disrupted suddenly; all she knew was that not all of them were coming back.

“Captain, I can’t stabilize their patterns.”  As the Ensign neared panic, the two forms disappeared.

“Where are they?”  The Captain demanded as she slid behind the console.

“In the pattern buffer.”  Ensign Walters tried again and then a third time before they finally materialized.

“Well done, Ensign.” The Captain nodded and advanced on her two officers.  “Report.”

“Captain, the Trade Minister has made one slight alteration to the agreement we transmitted earlier.”  Tuvok calmly reported.

“And this is somehow connected to the disappearance of Commander Chakotay?”

“Yes, Captain.  Minister Zanntar has decided to keep the Commander."

“Keep him?!”  The Captain paced the room.  “Just how long does she intend to keep him?”

“I believe it is her intention to make this a permanent arrangement.”

“And is that your assessment also, Mr. Paris?”

“Yes, Captain. She was pretty adamant about it.”

“We’ll see about that!”

The Captain whirled around and stormed out of the transporter room followed silently by Commander Tuvok and Lieutenant Paris.  She stomped into the lift barking for it to take them to the bridge.

Harry contacted the planet but couldn’t get past a very stubborn communications officer, at which point the Captain took over.  The Captain bullied the communications officer, then intimidated her supervisor as she systematically worked her way up the chain of command in search of information about her missing officer.  Finally, the Captain was put in contact with Carjane, the assistant to the sovereign.  She suggested that the Captain take her supplies and quietly continue her journey home.   At the point where the Captain’s threats were only thinly veiled, Carjane agreed to consult with the Sovereign, Queen Noorda.

The screen went dark and the bridge was bathed in a heavy silence while they waited.  For long minutes no one moved.  Then the Captain started to pace.  She stopped at each station but said nothing to any of the crew.  It was her sixth trip around the bridge before Harry announced an incoming transmission.

“On screen, Ensign.”  The Captain stood directly behind Paris, her hands gripping on the back of his chair.

 “Captain, my assistant informs me you are displeased with our trade agreement. Perhaps I can assist in rectifying the situation.”  The smile on the Sovereign’s face did not hide her annoyance.

“Your Highness, I am more than satisfied with the trade itself.  You have been very generous.  What concerns me is when your minister plans to allow my First Officer to return to the ship.” The Captain’s normally diplomatic manner was showing signs of wear.

“If he has possessions aboard, I’m sure we can arrange for delivery, It won’t be necessary for him to return.”

“With all due respect, Your Highness, it is most necessary for him to return to the ship.  Commander Chakotay is my first officer.   I won’t leave without him.”

“But as I understand your definition of first officer, he is merely an unattached male in your service.”

“That is a somewhat inaccurate assessment.  Commander Chakotay is a very important part of the running of this ship.  He is a very valuable officer and his position here is essential.”

“He is unattached---that is, he is not claimed or mated by anyone.  Is that not correct?”

“Yes, technically that is correct…”

 “Then I don’t understand the problem.  Minister Zanntar has claimed him for her own and it is my understanding she even intends him to be her mate.”

 “The Commander has not communicated a wish to remain on your planet.”

“Possibly because no one asked his opinion.”  The Sovereign looked exasperatedly at the Captain. “Captain, I am sorry, but it is all explained in the protocol data that was forwarded to your security officer.”

“I was not aware of any such provisions in the codes you sent us.”  The Captain fought the urge to look at her chief of security.

“I section 54698.75B it clearly states that  the minister of trade may secure any unclaimed chattel as fair trade.”

“Commander Chakotay is not chattel; he’s my first officer.”

“Captain, all unclaimed males are by definition 'chattel'.”

“I have seen men on your planet being treated as equals.”

“It is only by association with the proper female that they obtain status and even then their position is decided by the female bestowing it.”

“Why wasn’t this explained to us?”

“You were made aware that ours is a strict matriarchal society. I’m sorry, Captain, if we did not make the extent of female control clear to you.  Your position on Voyager and that of other females led us to believe your society was similar.”

“Obviously, they are not.  Would you be so kind as to explain this situation to me?”  The Captain was at the very end of her patience.

“When a woman takes a liking to an unattached male, she may choose to acquire him.  He may be acquired as a slave or if he is pleasant she may make him a servant.  Some males are awarded companion status. Those have some rights and freedom and the very few lucky one are chosen as mates which affords them almost equal status.”

“Your Highness, this is all very interesting and I do apologize for not studying your protocols more carefully, but what I really must know is how to get my first officer back.”

“Since he has been acquired and claimed by a high ranking member of our society, he can only be reacquired by some one of equal or greater rank.”

“I’m captain of this ship the highest-ranking officer we have, certainly I should be allowed to reclaim my first officer.”

“Yes, Captain, I believe you to be of sufficient rank in this case but it is not that simple.  “Minister Zanntar has chosen to mate with your former first officer and you must understand on Pavilion when we form such a bond it must never be broken.  As Chakotay has remained unclaimed these years on your ship, we naturally assumed no one was willing to stake such a claim and therefore there would be no challenge.  If you are telling me you are willing to claim him then we must discuss this further.”

The Captain took a walk across the bridge stopping in front of the tactical station.

“Let me see if I am clear on this.”  The captain glared at her Chief of Security, then returned to her chair and refocused her attention to the view screen.  “If we are to reacquire Commander Chakotay, some one of sufficient rank-which we have established would have to be me-has to- marry him?”

“Yes, I believe that is the correct analysis.”

“Your Highness, in our culture, we do not simply claim others and expect them to marry us.”

“How do you select your mates?”

“Mating is by mutual consent.”

“How odd.” Queen Noorda looked to her left and nodded to some one off screen.   “Captain, if you are prepared to reclaim Chakotay, I suggest you come to the surface to negotiate his release with the Minister.”

“Perhaps that would be best.  I will join you in half an hour.”

“I look forward to your visit.”

The second the screen darkened, the Captain was out of her chair once again pacing the upper bridge.

“Every time that man gets within a light year of a blonde we have trouble!”  The low snickers told the Captain she had spoken her thoughts aloud.  “Wipe that grin off your face, Mr. Paris, and be thankful it wasn’t you the minister claimed. At this moment I am seriously considering breaking orbit and leaving the chattel behind!”  Kathryn glared around the bridge and the snickers died.  “Tuvok you have the bridge. B’Elanna, Samantha, you’re with me.  Let’s see if we can fix the mess these boys got us into this time.”

~~~^^^~~~

The away team was met by yet another low ranking officer who ushered them into a meeting room, and left them to wait. As the time stretched on, the silence began to make everyone edgy. Finally B’Elanna couldn’t stand it any longer.

“Captain, may I ask you a question?”

“Certainly, B’Elanna. What’s on your mind?”

“Will you do it?”

“Do it?” The Captain looked up confused then smiled when she realized what B’Elanna wanted to know. “Marry him?”

“Yeah, are you going to do it?”

“Well, you and I are the highest ranking woman on the ship.  I guess I have to unless you would like to.”

“Ahh, Captain, I don’t think Tom would like that.”

“Right.” Kathryn smiled and turned to the other woman in the room.  “Samantha, how would you like a promotion?”

“I would love one, Captain.  And I sure can’t tell you that marrying Chakotay isn’t a pleasant idea, but I already have a husband.”

“Yes, so you do. I guess that leaves me.”  The Captain let herself fall into the chair with a sigh.

“I don’t see any other way, Captain.”

“I’m afraid you're right, B’Elanna.” The Captain looked up and smiled.  “Don’t misunderstand ladies, it's not that the idea doesn’t appeal to me…”

The door suddenly opened to reveal Assistant Carjane, abruptly ending their conversation.  Carjane explained that the Sovereign was at this time meeting with the Trade Minister to decide whether a challenge would be honored. Should the Minister accept the challenge, the captain would be informed of the necessary steps.  As a matter of good faith, the Minister had agreed to allow the captain to inspect the chattel and assure herself that it was undamaged.

The Captain had no intentions of leaving her first officer behind---challenge or not! She was beyond angry by the time she was shown into the room where Chakotay was being kept, but the sight of him sprawled out leisurely on the lounge struck her funny.

“Commander.”   Kathryn couldn’t control her laughter as she stepped into the room.

“Captain, have you come to give the bride away?”  He chuckled.

“I’m glad you find this amusing, Chakotay.” Kathryn tried to sound stern but she wasn’t really angry with him and she never could resist that smile.

“I’m sorry, Kathryn, but I don’t know quite how to react.  I have never been claimed before.”  He shrugged helplessly and smiled.

“Well, what can you expect when you go around flashing those dimples at unsuspecting females?” Kathryn gave up her remaining anger at the sight of the dimples.

“It wasn’t my fault.” Chakotay said innocently.

“Really?  I didn’t see Tuvok get acquired.”

“Tuvok has the personality of a …

“Vulcan?”  Kathryn raised her eyebrow.

“Well, yes, and he is already mated.  Tiaweka isn’t into the stoic type anyway.”

Oh, Tiaweka is it?  And just what do you know about what she is ‘into’? Kathryn stood with her hands on her hips.

“Only what she told me, Kathryn.” His smile widened. “She’s saving me for marriage.”

“Oh, spirits. Aren’t you the lucky one!”

“Not yet.”

“Well, since you seem happy with your new life, perhaps I should just give the bride away and continue on my journey.”  Kathryn turned away.

“Kathryn!”

“It’s been nice knowing you, Chakotay.”

“Kathryn!”

“OK. Maybe I’ll reconsider.  First, I have to go negotiate with your girlfriend, the Amazon.  I’ll let you know how I make out.”  Kathryn turned back to face him.

“Negotiate?”

“Yes, it seems that I am of sufficient rank to reclaim you but not without meeting some sort of challenge.”

“What type of challenge?”

“I have no idea and frankly I haven’t decided if you are worth fighting for.”

“Nice, Kathryn.” Chakotay looked her over and smiled.  “Although, I think I’d like to see you fight for me.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah, a little hand to hand combat, the sweat glistening off your body….”

“I don’t think so.  But, you will just love the rest of the story.  It just keeps getting better.”

“So enlighten me.”

“It seems that to reacquire this lowly chattel,” Kathryn ran her hand across his chest. “I not only have to face a challenge but I have to be willing to bestow upon you at least the status the Minister offered.”

“Oh, I see.  Very interesting.”

“I’m not sure I’m that interested in getting you back!”

“Ouch.”  Chakotay frowned.  “That really hurts, Kathryn.”

“Maybe Tiaweka will kiss it and make it all better!”

“A bit jealous, are you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Kathryn turned and stomped toward the door. “She’s just another blonde.”

“You do so hate my blondes.”

“Chakotay, you don’t have any blondes.  Well maybe this one if I don’t make a deal, but even then you don’t have her---she has you!”

“No difference, you’re still jealous.”

“Don’t push your luck, Mister!  I may just beam back to the ship, without you.”

“I love you too, Kathryn.”  He yelled as the door closed between them.

The Captain had only just returned to the waiting area when a young woman came and escorted them to the meeting room.  The challenge was explained to them and the Captain led away to prepare.  B’Elanna and Sam asked and received permission to visit Chakotay and to say their good byes in the event the Captain lost the challenge.

Chakotay was surprised when the door opened admitting B’Elanna and Sam.

“You look comfortable.” B’Elanna looked him over carefully as she strolled across the room. “The Captain said you wouldn’t really mind staying here.”

“Oh, did she?!”  Chakotay sat up and offered them a seat. “And is she planning on leaving me here?”

“Well, she considered it.”  B’Elanna picked what looked like a cookie off the plate next to the lounge and sniffed it.

“She considered promoting me so I could reclaim you.”  Sam laughed at his surprised expression.  “Too bad I’m already married, I might have done it.”

“Nice! Now she is offering me to blondes. And she feels the need to bribe them too!”

“She does know your weaknesses, Old Man.”  B’Elanna laughed as she examined the strange shape of the cookie thing.

“But there could be a problem, Chakotay.” Sam sat on the other side of him.  “This challenge..”  She wrinkled up her nose.

“What about it? Won’t she do it?” Chakotay was a little frightened when he saw the looks on their faces.

“Well, she’s going to try.”  Sam shrugged.

“But?” Chakotay watched as B’Elanna continued to laugh and Sam’s face got more contorted. “What?”

“She has to cook!”  Sam rested her hand on his shoulder.

“B’Elanna stopped laughing and popped the cookie into her mouth.

“Oh, Sprits!  I could be married to the Amazon blonde before morning.”

“Pfffttt!”  B’Elanna spit the cookie across the room.  “Not if this is the kind of food they like!”  She took a large gulp of the water he handed her.

“Are you OK?” He watched her carefully as she nodded.  “Those things are god awful aren’t they?”

“P’ahtk, why didn’t you tell me?” B’Elanna punched his arm.

“Maybe you’ll think twice before you steal food off my plate next time.”

“Maybe there won’t be a next time.”

“I thought it was some kind of challenge. What is this cooking thing?” Chakotay looked from one to the other.

“That’s the challenge.”  B’Elanna shrugged and shook her head.  “Its almost like they knew, like they picked the one thing she isn’t good at.”

“Shit! Maybe they did.”  Chakotay dropped his head to his hands. “Tiaweka asked a lot of questions about the captain---I didn’t think anything of it.”

“You told them she couldn’t cook?!”  Sam and B’Elanna spoke in unison.

“I don’t know, I might have.  She was going on about how perfect the captain was and how she could do everything well and … ahhh shit!  I told her.”

“Well, it’s been nice knowing you.  I hope you’re happy with your new wife, Chattel.”  B’Elanna patted his back.

“B’Elanna knock it off!  Kathryn is not going to leave me here!”

“I don’t know about Kathryn but the Captain goes by the book.  If she loses, you stay.”

Chakotay didn’t like the sounds of that, especially since it was true; Kathryn played fair.  It was also true that she had never deserted a crewman, even when it meant facing the Borg.  What was he thinking?  She loved him---didn’t she? Well, she never said but…damn wasn’t that the reason?   Hadn’t she always said it would interfere with her command, influence her decisions, and compromise her judgment?  Shit, he could be in real trouble.

“OK, tell me how this works.”

“The Captain and the Minister are given the same ingredients and a set time to prepare them.  Then they are served on different colored dishes to a panel of judges---three of them and three of us.  The decision of the judges is final.”

“What it there is a tie?”

“The Sovereign gets to choose between the dishes.”

“Spirits, Sam, you can cook.  Can’t you help---coach her or something?”

“I wish I could.”  Sam shook her head.  “Should have taken that promotion.”

“When is this challenge?”

“Right now.  They didn’t give her any time to prepare.”

“Great.”

“B’Elanna, you forgot one part.” Sam cringed at the evil look B’Elanna gave her.

“What part?”  Chakotay looked from one to the other.  “Sam, forget the look she just gave you.  I out rank her.  Tell me.”

“Maybe not for long.” B’Elanna rolled her eyes.  “She has to cook this over an open fire.”

“Fire!?  Cooking camp style? Spirits, I’m doomed.”

~~~^^^~~~

Although it was late evening when Chakotay was finally brought to the challenge area, the air was still heavy and oppressively hot. He was grateful for the light clothing that had replaced his uniform and could only imagine how miserable Kathryn would be, having to cook over an open fire in this heat.

He saw the judges at a long table seated alternately native and crewman.  They were busy making entries into individual padds, which were collected and downloaded into a larger one.  Taking the indicated seat at a small table, Chakotay scanned the area for Kathryn as they awaited the outcome of the challenge.

Kathryn was standing by the far side of the arena near the open fire pits.  She still wore her uniform pants but had discarded the jacket and turtleneck in favor of the cooler tank. To her left stood Tiaweka, looking much larger and only slightly less disheveled.

Queen Noorda entered the arena looking fresh and crisp by contrast.  She accepted the tally padd and signaled the Captain and Minister to join her at her table to the right of the table where Chakotay sat. Together they crossed the arena.  Kathryn brushed her damp hair from her face with the back of her hand, tugging on her sweat soaked tank as she neared him.

“It appears that this panel is at an impasse.  Each of the challengers has received three votes.”  A server placed two plates in front of the Queen. “According to the rules of the challenge, the decision now rests with me.  I have been intrigued, however, with the customs of our visitors and so I have decided to leave the final vote in Chakotay’s hands. It is not exactly informed consent but it will give him some control over his future.”  Noorda observed the shocked faces of her people but no one dared object.  “Captain, if you would do the honors?”

Kathryn stepped forward, taking a plate in each hand she carefully carried them toward Chakotay’s table.  Chakotay never took his eyes from hers, reaching out as she approached to tuck a wayward strand of hair behind her ear.  Kathryn placed the plates on the table, touching his hand briefly as it lingered on her cheek. He smiled and Kathryn returned it, as she carefully stepped back into place beside the Minister.

Chakotay studied the plates, hesitantly picking up his fork.

“Your Highness.”  The Minister interrupted.

“Yes, Minister?”

“With your permission, I wish to forfeit this challenge. Ownership of the chattel maybe transferred back to the Captain.”

There was a rumbling of disbelief behind the Minister.  The Queen looked questioningly at her, but nodded her acceptance.

“Captain, if you accept ownership of this chattel, we shall arrange a joining ceremony.”

The arena fell completely silent as they waited the Captain’s response.

“Your Highness, there is another ‘custom’ to be observed here.  If I may?”  The Queen nodded and Kathryn once again approached Chakotay.  “Chakotay, will you marry me?”

“Yes.”  It was an automatic response.  His heart never gave his mind a chance to react and neither had a chance to say anything more before they were escorted away to the ceremony.

There was little preparation; marriage was not an event to celebrate on Pavilion merely a passage. Dressed as they had been in the arena, Kathryn and Chakotay stood before the Queen in an almost empty throne room.

“I have taken the liberty to inquire of your security officer the proper symbolism of such a union in your society.  He has advised me that these bands placed on the third finger of your left hand will indicate your new status.”  The queen signaled and a servant brought forth two platinum rings. “As I understand it each is to assist the other in placing the ring.  Please do so.”

Kathryn picked up the ring and carefully placed it on Chakotay’s finger, watching as he did the same for her.

“You are joined.”  The Queen announced.  “Take them to the room.”

~~~^^^~~

The door closed behind them, the old fashion lock clicking as it tumbled into place.  A large bed in the center dominated the room.  The lighting was subdued and soft music played in the background.  Kathryn wandered around.  There was wine in an ice bucket and silky nightclothes laid out across the bed.  Chakotay watched her disappear into an adjoining room and return with a smile.

“Let me guess.”  He chuckled.  “That’s the bathroom and it has an huge oversized tub.”

“How did you guess?”  Kathryn caught sight of herself in a mirror and made a face.

“There could be nothing else in that room to make you smile like that!”

“Well, by the looks of me, the sooner I make use of it the better.”

“You look fine to me.”  He placed his hands on her shoulders as he came to stand behind her.

“Yeah.”  She rolled her eyes.  “And I smell great too!”  Kathryn made a face and ducked past him.  “I’m going to take a bath.”

“Yell, if you need help.” He called to the closing door.

Chakotay lifted the nightgown off the bed.  It was feather light with thin straps and high slits on either side.  He envisioned Kathryn wearing this, as he allowed the silk to slip over his fingers.  He felt himself harden at the mere thought of Kathryn dressed in this.  Chakotay let the nightgown drop to the bed and took a deep breath. Kathryn was his captain and his best friend.  He knew she felt that was as far as their relationship could go now. She was at the moment his wife but he understood why she had done this.  Still he allowed himself to enjoy the fantasy for just a few minutes.

“Chakotay?”  Kathryn’s voice brought him back.

“I’m here.”

“Could you bring me a glass of wine?”

“Sure.”  Chakotay quickly poured the wine and tapped on the door, before reaching one arm inside to hand her the glass.

“Come in. I can’t reach it from here.”

Chakotay closed his eyes and slowly inched into the room until his knees hit the side of the tub.

“Better open your eyes before you end up in here with me.”

The thought of that nearly made Chakotay groan. He opened his eyes to find her smiling at him from under a cover of bubbles that reached up to her chin.  One arm, glistening as the bubbles dripped away, reached out to grasp the wine.  The platinum band on her finger shimmered in the light.

“Why don’t you have a seat and talk to me a while?” Kathryn shifted sliding higher to sip her wine.

Chakotay watched the milk white shoulders emerge from their blanket of bubbles and felt himself stir to life.  Kathryn smiled at his reaction and shifted again allowing the bubbles to slid down and expose the soft swell of her breasts.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Sit down, I’ll behave.” Kathryn slid lower letting the bubbles rise to her shoulders.

“OK, let me get a glass of wine.”

When Chakotay returned, Kathryn had her head back and her eyes closed.  She was cover in bubbles to her chin.  Other then her head, the only part of her body exposed was the hand that held the wineglass as it rested on the side of the tub. Chakotay watched as she absently tapped the band on her third finger against the glass.  Kathryn almost never wore jewelry of any kind. The ring was completely out of place and yet perfect.  It meant, if only for a short time, Kathryn was his wife.  A dream come true and yet a nightmare.  As much as he had prayed for this day, Chakotay hated it because it wasn’t real.

“You’re awfully quiet.”  Kathryn spoke without opening her eyes.  “What are you thinking about?”

“It’s just been a long day.  I’m tired.”

“You think it was long?  All you did was lie around that air-conditioned room.  I’m the one who had to sweat it out over an open fire.”

“Well, you won so I guess that’s all that counts.”

“I didn’t win---she gave up.”

“Nice, so even the Amazon didn’t want me in the end.”

“Well, not exactly.”  Kathryn smiled and sipped her wine. “But she was willing to give you up once she understood.”

“Understood what?”

“I explained that losing you would undermine my power on the ship.  She understands power.”

“Yes, I imagine she does.  So how would losing me undermine you?”

“I told her you refused to marry me even though I am carrying your child. She doesn’t agree with the concept of mutual consent but she understands it.   I told her such a situation was looked down upon in our society but as long as you continued to stand by me and support my captaincy, we could over come it.  However, if you left the ship, I would be alone and vulnerable and your followers would blame me.  It would only be a matter of time before a mutiny ensued.”

“And she bought this?”  Chakotay shook his head.

“I can be quite convincing and we did have hours this afternoon to exchange tidbits of information.”  Kathryn placed her empty wineglass on the floor but continued to fiddle with the ring.

“Kathryn, if it bothers you so much, take it off.”  Chakotay tried to squelch his sudden anger.  He got up and walked past her.  “I’ll be out here if you want more.”  Chakotay slipped out of the room partially closing the door behind him.

“More?”  She called after him, teasingly.

“Wine, Kathryn.”  He yelled back. “Knock it off. You’re playing a dangerous game.”

Chakotay was angry but his anger didn’t have a clear direction.  Starfleet protocols forced them apart, planetary protocols forced them together.  He was married to his best friend and she was less than comfortable with the idea.  He wanted this but it was completely wrong and totally right.  The vision of soft bubbles gliding over her milk white shoulders distracted him from his anger.  Confusion reigned as he paced the outer room.

“More, please.”

Chakotay swirled around at the sound of her voice.  Kathryn stood in the doorway.  One hand held out the empty wineglass the other clutched a towel to her as the soapy water dripped from her body, leaving a puddle on the floor.

“It’s over there.”  Chakotay pointed to the ice bucket as he snatched up the pajamas from the bed and stepped around her.  “I need a shower.”  He closed and locked the door behind him.

Chakotay set the water to cold; he needed to shock his body back to reality, even if his mind couldn’t focus.  Their situation was a bit different tonight but the teasing and flirting was no worse than normal, especially after a stressful encounter with an alien race.  His mind understood but his body kept overreacting.

 Kathryn dried off, pulled on the nightgown and brushed out her hair.  She checked herself from all angles in the full-length mirror; not bad, but maybe she should do something with her hair.  She crossed the room and poured another glass of wine.

“Chakotay?”  She called out as she wandered back toward the mirror.

“What?”

She looked up and studied his reflection.  Chakotay stood in the doorway wearing the dark silk pajamas, his chest exposed by the open top. She swallowed hard.

“I was thinking of going blonde.”  Kathryn lifted her hair pinning it to the top of her head with her fingers.  “What do you think?”

“Why would you do that?”   His eyes drank in her reflection.  The gown was tight and smooth over her body, the bodice barely covered her nipples and her entire right leg was visible through the high slit.

Chakotay tore his eyes away and moved to the sleeping area.  He pulled the blanket off the foot of the bed and tossed a pillow on the floor. He quickly lay down and closed his eyes.

“Chakotay, you didn’t answer me.”

He knew she was standing over him and he fought to keep his eyes closed; he lost.  When he opened his eyes she was there.  The backlight from the bathroom making her gown almost transparent.  He sat up quickly and removed the pajama top.

“Put this on.”  The hurt flashed in her eyes and he instantly regretted his harsh tone.  “Please.”  He said more gently.

“All right, but will you answer me?”

“Answer?”  He pulled the blanket over himself, hopefully before she could see what she was doing to him.  “Oh, blonde—no, don’t do it.  Please, just put on the shirt.”

“But you have a fondness for blondes.”

“Believe me, Kathryn, that fondness is nothing compared to my weakness for a certain red head.  Now please, put on the shirt.”

“OK.” Kathryn slid the straps off her shoulders.

“What are you doing?” Chakotay felt his pulse race.

“Putting on the shirt.”  Kathryn smiled as she let the gown slip to the floor.

“Kathryn.” Chakotay slammed his eyes closed but they refused to remain that way long.

When they opened again, Kathryn was seated on the bed buttoning the shirt. She finished buttoning it and looked off somewhere over his head and continued to twist the ring.  There was something sad in her far away expression, a longing he knew all too well.

“So, you’re a real red head.”  Chakotay leaned back and smiled up at her trying to lighten the mood.

“Huh?”  She looked at him confused then laughed, the color rising in her cheeks when she realized what he had said.  “Yes, did you think I’d lie to you?”

“No.”  He watched the smile fade from her lips, her fingers still working the platinum band on her finger. “It will be all right.”

“Will it?”  She smiled sadly.

“Yes, tomorrow we will be back on the ship.  Things will go back to normal.”  He picked up her hand unable to resist kissing it where the platinum encircled her finger.  “We can dissolve this.”

“Can we? Is it just that easy?”

“Of course it is.  We were coerced into this marriage, we can dissolve it by…”

“Mutual consent?”

“Yes, that’s all it takes in a situation like this.” He knew she knew the regulations as well as anyone---better than anyone.

“We weren’t strictly forced into this.  I asked, and you did say 'yes'.”  Kathryn looked at him directly for the first time.  “Didn’t you mean it?”

“Of course I did, Kathryn, but I also knew you were only doing it so I could go back to the ship.”  Chakotay moved up to sit beside her.

“I never would have planned this.  Certainly it was never my dream to be married in a sweat soaked tank top on an alien planet practically at phaser point…” Kathryn looked away.

“Kathryn, are you telling me you don’t want to dissolve this?”  Chakotay turned her to face him, lifting her chin so he could see her face.

“If it's what you want, I will agree, but no.  We are married now.  There is no regulation that says we must dissolve it and no matter how we got that way, I would like to give this marriage a try.

Kathryn chewed on her lower lip while she waited out his silence.

“They are expecting us to consummate this marriage.  That is why they locked us in here.”

“I don’t suppose it would be polite to disappoint our hosts.”

The End

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