Neelix looked about with distaste. The area was poor, there were crumbling walls and everything was dirty, a rancid smell also permeated the air. A far cry from the modern centre of the city, where large white houses with beautifully manicured gardens and the planets equivalent of a picket fence dominated the area. There weren't even any animals here, it was too low even for them.
Neelix wrinkled up his nose and hurried along to where he was to meet his contact. His contact had promised him that he could procure engineering supplies for him. However, Neelix was doubtful, and reluctant, at the moment, considering the unpleasant surroundings.
He arrived at the address he had been given and he entered into a little pub. There were no clientele in the poky establishment, only a rough looking alien behind the bar, staring at Neelix with small, beady eyes. The beady eyes were a trait of this particular species, Neelix knew, but it was still unnerving.
"I'm here to see Tolban," he told the alien, shifting uneasily under the scrutiny of the man's gaze.
"This way," the alien ordered, turning and heading for a back room. He swerved and swayed as he walked, the result, Neelix swiftly concluded, of a little too much of the ale that he had access to working behind the bar. Neelix scurried after the drunkard.
When he came through the doorway he saw an ugly looking alien, with the same beady eyes as the other one, and once again he was subjected to intense scrutiny.
"Do you have the supplies?" Tolban asked him.
"Uh... yes, um, were you, um, able to get us the parts we needed?" Neelix stuttered nervously.
"You doubt Tolban?" Tolban's assistant demanded.
"I was, uh, merely enquiring. I assure you..." Neelix started before he was cut off.
"Hand them over!" Tolban shouted, and Neelix hurried to comply.
He pulled some medical supplies out of his back. "Where are the parts?" he asked Tolban.
Tolban indicated to a table by the far wall. "Take your things and leave the supplies there."
Neelix did as he requested. When he had finished the exchange Neelix turned to the two aliens. "It was a pleasure doing business with you Mr. Tolban."
"This meeting never took place," Tolban said abruptly, and Neelix left.
He hurried back to the beam out site, quickly, eager to get back to the ship where it was clean and the air smelled nice.
Kathryn sighed with relief as she stepped into her quarters. She headed into the bathroom, removed her uniform and stepped into the shower, a proper shower, with real water. She simply stood under the torrent for a few minutes, enjoying the feel of the water washing over her. It was relaxing after a hard day.
The only good point to the day had been lunch with Chakotay - which she had desperately needed after de-briefing Neelix. He had smelled somewhat because of the area he had been in and had gone into excruciating detail, most of which had not been necessary.
Then she grabbed the shower gel and started to wash. However, she got slightly sidetracked as she began to scratch her right arm. She had been feeling itchy all day, hence the reason she had jumped straight into the shower when she got off duty.
She finished her shower, dried herself and changed into a pair of trousers of loose, comfortable trousers.
Just then the door chime sounded. "Come in," she called.
"Kathryn?" a voice drifted from the living area, and reached her ears.
"I'll be out in a minute," she replied, her voice half muffled by the t-shirt she pulled on over her head.
"Are you alright, Kathryn?"
"I'm fine, Chakotay, I'm just getting dressed," Kathryn told her visitor.
Chakotay's head filled with images of Kathryn getting dressed which, he decided, had to stopped as soon as possible. Easier said, or rather thought in this case, than done, once he got Kathryn into his head, she stayed there for hours, in fact she never really left.
Kathryn emerged from her sleeping area, fully clothed, and Chakotay was unsure if he was pleased or disappointed. She was pulling a brush through her hair, wincing when it caught on a tangle.
Kathryn sat down on the sofa as she finished brushing her hair. Already distracted, Kathryn's hair only served to contribute to his wandering mind.
Still no response.
"What?" was the somewhat vague and puzzled reply.
"I called your name three times Chakotay. You were light-years away. I was just wondering why you stopped by," she told him, absently scratching her arm.
"I came to see if you had dinner plans this evening."
"And if I don't?"
"The holodeck's booked and a picnic is waiting."
"Sounds like I have a date with a picnic!"
"What is it about me that reminds you of a picnic, Kathryn?" Chakotay couldn't help but ask as he felt an itch on his leg.
Kathryn almost said 'Both are absolutely delicious' but stopped herself in time and instead settled for "You don't want to know."
"No you don't," Kathryn countered, moving through to the bathroom.
She came back a minute later rubbing a cream onto her arm.
At Chakotay's questioning gaze she explained. "I've been really itchy all day, I just put on some anti-itch cream."
"You too, huh?"
"I've been itchy all day too. Well, since lunchtime actually," Chakotay elaborated.
"We should go via Sickbay and have the Doc take a look. It's possible that we were bitten by an insect on the planet..." she trailed off, and knew that Chakotay was thinking the same thing as her. New Earth - the last time they had been bitten by an insect.
"Agreed," was all Chakotay said.
When they reached Sickbay they discovered that they were not the only people who thought that a precautionary visit to the doctor would be a good idea.
Sickbay was full and the doctor looked less than happy. Upon seeing Kathryn and Chakotay he left his patient and cam over to talk with them.
"I was just about to call you, Captain," he told her. "Everyone is complaining of being itchy."
"Us too I'm afraid, Doctor. What have you found out so far?"
"The itchy feeling is not localised, it appears to occur all over the body, and I have found small red lumps that appear to be very similar to flea bites, Captain."
"It is possible that there is an animal similar to a flea on the planet that has bitten members of the crew when they were on the planet," Chakotay input.
"But some people here have not been down to the planet yet, which would mean that they would have been bitten while on the ship," Kathryn pointed out.
"I was under the impression, Captain, that the bio filters should have filtered out any insects," the doctor said.
"They should have, Doctor. We'll have to look into it. Is there anything you can give to stop the itching?" Kathryn inquired
"I believe not. I was going to start work on a treatment soon, but for now there is nothing I can do," the doctor informed them.
"Very well, Doctor," Kathryn said. Then she turned and left, Chakotay behind her.
Once in the turbolift Kathryn sighed. "Looks like that picnic will have to wait," she said, trying to hide from Chakotay how disappointed she was.
Chakotay noticed though, despite Kathryn's best efforts. "Why? There's nothing we can do about it."
Kathryn smiled. "I guess so." The turbolift stopped at the correct deck. "Shall we?"
Chakotay had programmed a forest setting. There were trees of every kind, from all over the galaxy, on either side. They are smelt crisp and fresh and there were woodland flowers carpeting the forest floor. The sunlight filtered through the trees overhead casting patterns of contrasting light and dark on the flowers and grass.
"It's a lovely program, Chakotay," Kathryn breathed, staring around her.
"I'm glad you like it," Chakotay told her.
They walked into the forest before they came to a small clearing. In the middle of the grassy space was a blanket and a picnic basket.
Kathryn smiled. "And to think, I was going to go to the Mess Hall this evening."
Kathryn's smile brought a smile to Chakotay's own face. "To think!"
Kathryn dropped gracefully to the ground. "What have we got?" she asked as she began to unpack the basket.
Chakotay grabbed her hands. "Pasta and salad, but dessert's a surprise." Kathryn reached for the basket again. "That means no peeking, Kathryn."
"I wasn't peeking!" Kathryn replied very quickly and more than a shade too innocently.
"Why do I not believe you?"
They ate their picnic chatting about inconsequential subjects and exchanging gossip that they had picked up from various places around the ship. Itching and scratching all the while.
Kathryn popped her last tomato into her mouth and put her plate down beside her, leaning back on her hands. "Are you sure it doesn't say somewhere that the First Officer must make dinner for the Captain every night?"
"Probably the same where it says that Captain's must kiss their First Officer's good night every night."
"You make that sound like a bad thing."
"Are you saying it's a good thing?" Chakotay asked hopefully.
"In other words nowhere," Kathryn said, changing the subject.
Chakotay let it go. "'Fraid so."
"Not even once a week?"
Chakotay shook his head.
Kathryn's leg started to itch again. She lent forward and scratched it, unconsciously drawing Chakotay's attention to her legs.
Chakotay swallowed hard. "Dessert?" he asked, eager to occupy himself with something, anything.
"Do I get to find out what dessert is now?" Kathryn asked.
Chakotay grinned as an idea came to him.
"Chakotay, I don't like that grin." He reached in to the basket. "Chakotay, what are you going to do?"
"Close your eyes."
"What are you going to do?"
"Just close your eyes."
"Okay..." Kathryn said slowly, closing her eyes.
"Keep them closed. Open your mouth and keep your eyes closed."
"I heard you the first time, Chakotay."
"Just checking. Open your mouth."
Kathryn did as she was told. Chakotay put a small, roughly round object into her mouth.
Kathryn chewed slowly.
"Strawberries!" she exclaimed, opening her eyes.
"Uh, uh, uh. There's more. Close your eyes again and open your mouth."
Kathryn swallowed and obeyed. She felt a spoon being put into her mouth.
She swallowed the substance on the spoon, grinning as it slipped down her throat. Her eyes opened again. "Coffee ice cream," she said, happily.
Chakotay matched her grin with one of his own as he handed her the bowl of ice cream decorated with strawberries. Their hands grazed as he did so, making his skin feel like fire all over.
Kathryn too noticed the brief touch of their hands, and her reaction to it unsettled her somewhat, she felt a jolt of fire rush through her entire body from her head to her hands to her feet.
She accepted the ice cream with a smile. She began eating, unaware of the fact that Chakotay was watching her. She ate it slowly, to make it last as long as possible. Chakotay half-expected her purr with contentment after each spoonful.
When she had finished she set the bowl down with the plate and lay down looking at the darkening sky, she could just pick out a few stars. No constellations yet, but enough to know that it was Earth's sky, reminding her just how far away home really was. Yet she found it relaxing and comforting at the same time.
"Is this forest a real place, Chakotay?" she asked, sitting up to scratch her back, only it was at that one spot on her back that she couldn't quite reach.
Chakotay noticed this. "Kathryn," he licked his lips and swallowed, his mouth suddenly felt dry, like when he was a teen asking a girl out on a date. "Do you want some help?"
Kathryn smiled softly at him.
He moved to sit behind her. He started to scratch her back.
"Higher... a little bit more... now down a little bit more... that's so nice."
Chakotay tried to concentrate on the task at hand, banishing thoughts of how easy it would be to run his hands over her as well.
Kathryn shivered involuntarily as his hands moved over her back, feeling like fire and leaving her tingling all over. "The forest, Chakotay. Tell me about it."
Chakotay was grateful to have something to occupy his mind. "There is a forest like this, not far from where I grew up, but the trees are rather more limited in range. I widen the variety but the basic idea is still the same." He removed his hands from her back now.
Chakotay was looking straight at her as he replied, "It is." Kathryn couldn't see his face as he was behind her, but she could feel his gaze.
Kathryn blushed, grateful that he could not see her face either. She looked down at her hands and began to itch at one of the bites there.
Chakotay stood, scratching his leg. He extended his other hand. "Join me."
"Why? Did you fall apart?"
Chakotay rolled his eyes and laughed. "For a walk," he elaborated.
"You fell apart for a walk?"
"Now you're just being facetious, Kathryn."
She grinned and took his hand, allowing him to help her up. "I know."
Chakotay was amazed, but pleased, that Kathryn did not drop his hand, even when they started walking. He walked along side her with a smile on his face a mile wide.
Kathryn noticed the grin out of the corner of her eye, his dimples in full force. She left her hand where it was, it wouldn't hurt, she told herself, and it was making him happy, she reasoned. Truth be told she liked the feeling of warmth she got from simply holding his hand and she didn't want to let go. But she wouldn't admit that to herself, not fully at any rate.
They walked, hand in hand, for about ten minutes in a companionable silence. Suddenly Kathryn noticed a beautiful slender tree, leaves billowing in the soft night's breeze. It was a tall, with a thin silvery trunk and small, delicate pale yellow/green leaves.
She dropped Chakotay's hand then, walking over to the tree.
Chakotay followed her. "What is it?"
"It's a Liaba tree."
"That's right, native to Sagitta IV. What about it?"
"I grew up around farmers," she explained. "All of them lovely," - and very charming, she added silently - "willing to teach you everything they knew about farming the land. One gentleman, Farmer Tobias Atwood, ran a Liaba tree orchard. It was a beautiful place, there must have been close on 3,000 trees there, and he told my sister and me that we were welcome to come and wander anytime we chose. My sister never really took him up on the offer but I did. One afternoon I was sitting under a tree when he came by. He stopped and sat next to me. We started talking and I asked him about his orchard, why the trees were so special. To me they were just pretty trees.
"He told me," she said, searching the tree and pulling of a small green object, "that the berries" - she held hers out to him - "were highly rejuvenating with medicinal properties. He sold the berries to a local drug synthesising company."
She pulled off a leaf and began rubbing the surface of the berry. "He also told me how to extract the pulp naturally," she told him. "If you rub the berry with a leaf from the same tree then the skin dissolves, leaving the pulp."
In her hand she now had an oozy green mess, which she proceeded to rub on the back of her hand. The pulp was absorbed into her skin, and within seconds the bite was reduced in size. She added a little more and the bite disappeared completely.
Chakotay had just stared at her with amazement. She, the natural born scientist, knew about the healing properties of the berries of some obscure tree. That, and the fact that the reaction had been so fast.
She smeared the rest of the pulp onto her arm and rubbed it in gently, feeling immense relief as the itching feeling faded.
"Kathryn, these trees are only holographic. The pulp will disappear from your arm as soon as we leave the holodeck. And what about the safeties on the holodeck," Chakotay pointed out.
"I know, but the pulp, holographic though it is, will already will have healed the bites, the bites will be gone, and taking away the pulp will not make them come back. And the safeties may be on, but the pulp isn't actually killing anything and it's not harming us. Its working, Chakotay."
Now convinced, Chakotay found a berry and a leaf and started to dissolve the berry skin.
Bites healed, the walked back to the clearing and tidied away the remains of the picnic.
"Aren't you glad you came now?" Chakotay asked.
Kathryn nodded. "I was never not glad."
As Chakotay put the plates into the basket he spied a lone, large, strawberry which had been missed. He took it and held it up. "Look what I found."
"Poor strawberry, all by itself. I'd be happy to give it a home," Kathryn said sweetly as she patted her stomach.
"To have a strawberry?"
"But we're off-duty." Chakotay grinned wickedly. "How about we share?"
Kathryn looked at him, shocked at what he had said.
Her mind screamed at her to say no. "Alright then." Stupid! her mind chanted.
Chakotay gave her the strawberry. "You first, and don't eat it all."
"Would I do that?"
"Ok, so the thought did cross my mind..." Kathryn admitted with an evil grin.
She gripped the strawberry in her teeth. "Go on then," she said to Chakotay, slowly so that the words were understandable despite the fruit she had between her teeth.
"Take your half of the strawberry," she said. Oh My God! What are you doing, Kathryn! her brain asked her, as if it had been cut off from the rest of her body. Kathryn ignored it.
Chakotay simply stared at her, eyes wide. "Now?"
Kathryn nodded. "Or I'll eat it all."
Chakotay wondered why they were doing this, all it was was one strawberry and he was about to tell her that she could have it all to herself. But he didn't want to do that.
He moved closer to her and their lips touched so slightly as he bit off half of the strawberry.
They both swallowed and their lips moved back together as if drawn by some invisible force. Kathryn snaked her arms around Chakotay's neck and he moved his arms to encircle her, pulling her ever closer.
*"Doctor to Captain Janeway."* came a voice over the comm line.
Kathryn and Chakotay flew apart.
Kathryn tapped her comm badge. "Can I help you, Doctor?"
"Are you alright, Captain? You seem out of breath," the doctor inquired.
Chakotay started to laugh quietly. "I'm running an exercise program on the holodeck," she lied, causing Chakotay to laugh even more.
"How are you coming with the treatment, Doctor?" she asked, steering him back onto the right track of conversation.
"I have been unsuccessful. There does not seem to be a treatment, Captain."
"Alright, Doctor. Thank you for the update. Janeway out," she said, not wanting to divulge yet that they had a cure, as she did not want to continue the conversation over the comm channel.
"Well," Chakotay remarked. "At least it wasn't Tuvok!"
Kathryn grinned. "We're jinxed!" she exclaimed, letting Chakotay know that she wasn't going to back away.
Chakotay realised the implications of what she had said. "Are you sure?" he asked her.
"That we're jinxed. Oh, yes..."
"Yes, Chakotay, I'm sure. I'm willing to give a relationship a go. If you still want to," she added, already knowing the answer.
Chakotay pulled her to him, kissing her again, reaffirming her prediction.
"Where do we go from here?" Chakotay asked, breathless.
"To sickbay." At Chakotay's curious look she explained. "To tell the doctor what we found, to treat the bites..."
"You have five minutes remaining of booked holodeck time," the computer's emotionless voice rang out.
"Even the computer is telling us to go!" Kathryn giggled. "I know when I'm not wanted."
Chakotay laughed, flashing his dimples at her. They should definitely be added to the ship's database, she told herself, In the drugs section -- they're dangerous, and highly addictive.
Chakotay saved and ended the program, picked up the picnic basket and followed Kathryn out.
They walked to Sickbay together, laughing as they went.
"Doctor?" Kathryn called out as she entered Sickbay.
"Can I help you, Captain?"
"Well, about the bites..."
The doctor cut her off. "There is nothing I can give you, Captain. You will just have to let the bites heal themselves. It should take two or three days at most."
"I have no bites, Doctor. We found way to stop them itching, and to heal them." Kathryn extended her arm, "I had bites on my arm, and they're gone."
The doctor was dubious, with his expert programming he should be able to find the cure for anything, especially if a human with no medical training could. "I see. Just what is this cure?"
Kathryn tried not to show her amusement show on her face. The doctor's jealousy was manifesting itself as incredulity, and his ego was currently in need of immediate attention.
"Liaba tree berries have certain healing properties. We rubbed them on our skin. I'm sure that you would have found it if you worked a little longer, Doctor. It was just circumstantial that I happened to be in a holoprogram with Liaba trees in. Just fortunate for me," she added, trying to mend the Doctor's bruised ego.
The Doctor seemed to stand taller. "Of course, Captain. It was very fortunate for you." He looked around his domain proudly once more. As he did so, Kathryn turned to Chakotay and rolled her eyes. Chakotay smiled, unleashing his dimples.
"Thank you, Captain. I will begin to administer the treatment." He turned and left them.
Chakotay touched Kathryn's arm gently. "Shall we go?"
The next morning Kathryn was sitting in her ready room before the morning briefing. The door chimed beeped and Chakotay entered.
"Good morning, Kathryn," he greeted her cheerfully.
"Good morning," she replied, looking up at him as he sat opposite her. "You're the second visitor I've had this morning," she told him, watching to see his reaction.
"Oh, really. Who was your first visitor?"
"Neelix, actually. He thinks its his fault that we've all got fleas," she said, a hint of amusement in her voice. She paused. "The thing is I'm inclined to agree with him."
"No, I don't mean that he dirty, its just that what he said made sense. He told me that he had been itchy ever since he went planet-side. You've read his report, you know what his views were on the area: dirty, smelly, and unhygienic. Sounds flea-ridden, huh? He reckons that he got fleas while there and then passed them on. I had been itching ever since my meeting with him, before lunch. Then I had lunch with you, and you said last night that you'd been itchy ever since then."
"I've got agree with you. It does make sense. Almost everyone will have gone near Neelix for lunch as well, or at least in the Mess Hall." He paused. "We've got rid of the bites, how do we get rid of the fleas themselves?"
"Good, question, a question to which I do not have the answer at the moment."
The door chimed.
"Come in," Kathryn called out.
The doors opened to admit Neelix. "Hello, Captain. Hello Commander." He turned back to Kathryn. "Captain, I've been talking to a contact on the planet. He tells me that these fleas love Leola root, soaked in plika apple cider, but it kills them, because the alcohol level of the cider is too strong. We could set up pots of Leola root around the ship and it would kill the fleas. He says that's how he would clear a flea infestation."
"Good work, Neelix. You're in charge of that. Do we have plenty of Leola root in storage?"
"Yes, Captain, but this will seriously deplete our supplies."
"Use as much as you need, Neelix," Kathryn said. "Don't worry," she assured him, eager to get rid of the awful vegetable.
"Thank you, Captain," Neelix said, and he left, leaving Kathryn and Chakotay alone.
"I knew there was a good use for Leola root!" Kathryn exclaimed, causing Chakotay to laugh. His laughter was infectious and Kathryn began to chuckle too.
Kathryn calmed down and checked her chronometer. "I do believe we have a morning briefing in five minutes, Commander," using his rank to let him know that it was time for business.
"We need to talk, Kathryn. Tonight, 2000, my quarters?"
"I'll be there."
Chakotay smiled, as they headed for the briefing room.