Kathryn glanced across at Chakotay's face in the dim light of the Bridge. They had only endured five minutes of battle, and a splitting headache and shields at 40% were the result. Kathryn opened her mouth, about to speak, when she was interrupted by another photon hitting Voyager.
The ship bucked beneath them. Kathryn lost her footing and she began to fall to the deck. She readied herself for the fall, but suddenly, two strong hands grabbed her upper arms and steadied her. Her footing regained, she looked at Chakotay and smiled her thanks.
Chakotay returned the smile, while checking her for injuries. Satisfied that she wasn't hurt, he returned his gaze to the viewscreen.
Before Kathryn could say what she had intended to, her vision blackened.
Chakotay rushed to Kathryn's side, to catch her as she crumpled to the deck. Suddenly, Chakotay's vision began to blur and his world became dark before he slipped into oblivion with Kathryn.
Hours later, Chakotay heard something breaking though the barrier of unconsciousness. As his mind cleared a bit, he heard a foreign language being spoken. He tried to move, but something was binding his arms and legs. Opening his eyes, he was greeted with a bright flash of light. He immediately closed his eyes, and tried to open them again, slowly this time.
He squinted against the light as his eyes adjusted; he couldn't see past the light to it's source. All he could remember was Kathryn stumbling, but he caught her, and then Kathryn losing consciousness and grabbing for her... Kathryn! He began searching desperately, until he found her, lying a few metres away from him, bound up and unconscious.
Not being able to feel for a pulse, Chakotay leaned over and put his ear close to her face. He sighed in relief as he heard her shallow breath. He then focused on what exactly was binding his hands. It felt like rope. 'I hope they don't expect us to stay restrained with this.' He thought to himself. But it was an advantage.
Next to him Kathryn stirred. Chakotay felt a wave of relief wash over him. "Kathryn," he whispered in her ear. "Kathryn."
"Chakotay," Kathryn's voice was hoarse, "Where are we?"
"I haven't any idea, but I'm suspecting they either underestimate us or are primitive," he replied as he moved into a sitting position against one of the stone walls.
"If I can reach your hands, I'll probably be able to untie you."
Kathryn pushed herself up so that they were sitting back to back, and Chakotay struggled with the knot.
His hands pulled at the rope and manipulated it until finally the first knot came free; the other four were easier then.
Kathryn sighed as the rope fell from her hands and she rubbed her wrists. "Thank you. That feels better."
Chakotay moved his hands towards her. "Care to return the favour?" he asked.
Kathryn grinned. "Sorry," she said, as she tried to turn around, ankles still tightly bound, so she could actually see Chakotay's wrists, and the knots in the rope that tied them.
After a few moments, Kathryn was able to work the rope off of his wrists, and Chakotay immediately started on his ankles. Within moments, the two were free of the bindings. Chakotay stood slowly; still groggy from whatever had happened to them. He reached down to clasp Kathryn's hand, then helped her to her feet.
She smiled up at him. "Thanks."
Suddenly they were interrupted when they heard the sound of a door opening, but the light surrounding them stopped them from seeing exactly where.
"You have passed the first test," a voice intoned. The lights suddenly turned off. "Come with me."
Kathryn squinted in the sudden darkness, trying to see what was in front of them.
She started to step towards the voice, but Chakotay's hand was on her arm. He then stepped up, so that they were side by side. His hand moved down her arm.
"Take my hand, it wouldn't be good for us to get separated, now would it?"
"No. I guess not," Kathryn's voice was soft.
Her hold on Chakotay's hand tightened slightly as they left the room.
Chakotay squeezed her hand, letting her know he was there with her.
As Chakotay's eyes adjusted to the dark, he found there was a narrow hallway leading away from their cell in three directions.
"Your next test is to locate the guard. The guard will assist you." Then that was all they heard from the ominous voice.
"It's as if whoever that was, was speaking through an intercom."
"Now we just have to figure out which way."
"Hello," Kathryn called out into the darkness.
Silence was her only answer.
"Figures. I thought they said the guard would help us. Least he could do would be to say hello."
Chakotay could tell she was uneasy, and he didn't blame her, he was too, because she was being sarcastic. She covered her uneasiness with sarcasm. He had learnt that a while back.
"Come on," he said, pulling at her hand gently. "Let's investigate this corridor."
"Why this one?"
Kathryn rolled her eyes, even though she knew he couldn't see it. Her right hand felt along the wall as they walked. The stone that made the corridor was cold to the touch.
"I wonder if we're underground." Chakotay said. Kathryn looked towards him.
"You read my mind." she replied.
"But of course." Kathryn could tell he was smiling.
Kathryn felt weak at the thought of Chakotay's gorgeous, heart-stopping dimples; then chastised herself for being so stupid in such a situation.
Chakotay was thinking back to what the guard had said. 'You have passed the first test... Your next test is to locate the guard.' He wondered what they meant.
He was about to ask Kathryn as much when she spoke up.
"I wonder what they mean by we have passed a test?"
"You read my mind," Chakotay repeated her words.
Kathryn did likewise. "But of course."
After a few moments, Kathryn stopped. Chakotay turned to her.
"What?" he asked, barely able to see her face.
"I thought I heard something." she whispered, "Up ahead."
"It might be the guard we're supposed to find."
Kathryn nodded and they continued walking, hand in hand. As they neared a turn in the corridor, Chakotay moved ahead of Kathryn, and ventured a look around the corner.
Their eyes were now adjusting to the almost-darkness. Ahead he saw a figure. He turned back to Kathryn.
"There's someone there."
Kathryn checked. "Well, let's go," she said, tugging at his hand.
They turned the corner and began to move towards the figure. Walking straight into a forcefield, giving them both a nasty shock.
"Great!" Kathryn hissed.
The figure standing just a few meters away, didn't even acknowledge their presence.
Kathryn stooped to pick up a small stone, then hurled it at where they had been. The forcefield sizzled as the stone hit it.
"Maybe one of the other corridors leads around so that we can reach him." Chakotay said. Kathryn sighed.
"Alright, let's go," she said as she took Chakotay's hand again.
They retraced their steps to the open area, faster this time as their eyes were more accustomed to the lighting levels and they knew where they were going.
They struck off down the middle corridor, working through methodically - Kathryn's idea, ever the practical, logical scientist.
Chakotay smiled as he realised that she was still holding tight to his hand.
As they approached another turn, Kathryn didn't wait for Chakotay to look first, she rounded the corner herself. She could hardly make out the dark shadow of something in the distance. Kathryn started down the corridor farther, but Chakotay pulled her back before she could get very far.
"That might not be the guard," he warned her, "and even if it is, we don't know if these people are friendly.
"Point taken," Kathryn agreed. Chakotay seemed pleased that she did nor try and argue with him.
Chakotay sighed. There was always a but. "But what?"
"They haven't actually harmed us so far. What if it is the guard? How do we find out if we don't go any closer?"
"Most likely it is. I just didn't want you to be caught by surprise since we aren't sure. Wait for me, okay?"
This time she could make out the smile on his face.
"Thanks," she replied, looking up at his shadowy face.
They then continued warily, until they were within 20 feet of the figure.
The figure was male and wearing a uniform.
"Looks like a guard," Kathryn whispered.
"I agree," Chakotay whispered back, as they continued to walk on down the corridor, Chakotay slightly ahead.
He walked straight into a forcefield again, and Kathryn jumped back to avoid being shocked as well.
Chakotay rubbed his head. "Those things pack a punch."
"Are you OK?" Kathryn raised her hand to where his had been, stroking his forehead gently.
"I'll live," he said, surprised but pleased at her behaviour. "Come on, let's try the other corridor."
"Wait a second. Maybe there's a way to deactivate the forcefield somewhere here."
Kathryn said, she then turned to the wall and started to inspect it.
Chakotay looked over the opposite wall, starting near the ceiling. He felt with his hands all the way down to the floor.
"Chakotay, I think I found something."
As he crouched down next to her, he saw a small panel close to where the forcefield was.
Kathryn grasped the edge of the panel and tried to pull it off, without much success.
Seeing her struggle, Chakotay offered to try, but in vain. It wouldn't budge.
Kathryn sighed as she stood to stretch, her legs protesting the crouched position in which she hunkered. She glared at the panel and it was a wonder it did not move, then she kicked it, thoroughly fed up with the entire situation. The panel suddenly sprang off the wall and landed with a clatter at Kathryn's feet.
"Open sesame," Chakotay commented. Kathryn groaned and made as if to kick him, but she was smiling again.
Chakotay chuckled, then lowered his head to see inside the panel. He expected to find wires and conduits, but instead found what looked like an alien datapadd. After he pulled the padd out of it's hiding spot, he could just make out what was displayed on it. He stood up.
"It looks like a map," he said as Kathryn leaned closer to him to get a better look.
"And these look like the forcefields," she replied, pointing to the two spots on the map.
There was another spot, moving, slightly bigger and red, not blue like the other two. Kathryn surmised that this spot represented the guard.
Suddenly one of the blue spots moved, to a position in another corridor when the guard walked closer to where there had been a gap previously.
Chakotay could see Kathryn's mind working. "What is it?"
"When the guard got close to an gap in the forcefields, a forcefield was erected in front of him. But there are only two forcefields. Maybe we could move so that one of us in front of a forcefield and the other is in front of another so that when the guard walks to the open one, one of the ones in front of us opens and one of us can get through and then help the other one through. They said the guard would help us, maybe that's how."
"I think I follow," Chakotay said. "But are you sure that splitting up is such a good idea?"
"It's all we've got."
Chakotay sighed. "Alright. I'll take the map, so I'll know when the forcefield is moved."
"I'll wait five minutes, then call to him. Hopefully he'll respond."
He placed a hand on her upper arm, giving her a reassuring squeeze.
Kathryn watched as Chakotay walked away, until he neared the corner. He glanced back at her, then was gone.
After waiting for what she felt was five minutes, Kathryn spoke up.
"Are you the guard I'm supposed to find?" she called. No response.
"I've found something you might be interested in." she tried. This time she did hear movement.
She looked at the guard but he did not move closer to her, he just turned on his heel and walked in a different direction. Kathryn was about to yell again when she noticed that he was moving mechanically, and as she watched him, she came to the conclusion that the guard was not human. She surmised that he had a set route that he walked in patrolling, and that it would only be a matter of time before he walked in front of the open entrance.
And then he did just that. The forcefield in front of him went up, and the one in front of Kathryn dropped and she darted through.
She ran a short distance before hearing a sizzle behind her.
That was a little too close for my liking, she thought as she looked back to see the forcefield blink into existence merely inches from her.
She made her way slowly along the corridor, staying close to the wall. A few moments later she heard the guard coming back towards her. Kathryn froze, not breathing, until the guard passed her. As soon as it passed, she continued her pace towards the other forcefield.
Chakotay looked relieved to see her there, unhurt, he smiled.
"Maybe there's another panel on your side," Chakotay said.
Kathryn crouched again to check near the floor on either side of the corridor. She flashed a smile up at him when she found it. But this one was different than the first; she pushed a few of the buttons experimentally.
Chakotay put his hand out, but the forcefield was still there.
"Try it again."
"Yes, Sir," she remarked sarcastically as she tapped some more buttons. It didn't work.
Kathryn looked at the buttons, then at the padd in which they were set. She saw a small screw in each of the corners. She put a fingernail into one of them and tried to twist it.
Chakotay laughed at the look of concentration on her face.
"What!" Kathryn exclaimed.
"You look sweet when you're concentrating," Chakotay told her, dimples deepening.
"Shut up!" Kathryn told him, the corners of her mouth curving up as she set back to work.
Finally, she got the screw to move and so she moved onto the next one.
When they were all unscrewed she lifted the panel off and examined the wires inside. They were a mess.
"What?" she asked, turning her head to look up at him, he was smiling again. "The back of that might be some help." He pointed to the panel lying on the floor.
Kathryn picked it up, and examined what was written on it.
"Okay, I hope this works." Kathryn frowned as she connected one of the wires with a small plug. Then she pushed the pads where the buttons had been.
She looked up to see the forcefield sizzle away.
They both grinned.
"Come on, let's get out of here," Chakotay said as he stepped cautiously across the area where the forcefield had been.
They walked up to the area the guard was patrolling, oblivious to the deactivation of the forcefield.
"What now?" Kathryn asked.
Chakotay opened his mouth to answer but he was interrupted.
"You have passed the second test," the voice intoned, as it had before.
In front of them a door opened up and they saw foliage and daylight. Guessing that they were to go outside, they walked through the door and it closed behind them with a bang.
"You must reach the centre of the maze," the voice said, and then it was silent.
"Nice to be out in the open," Chakotay commented. "The fresh air is nice."
"Hmm," Kathryn agreed. "Shall we," she gestured up the gravel path, lined with tall trees and flowers.
They set off and Chakotay suddenly realised that Kathryn had taken his hand again. He smiled.
As they entered the maze, Chakotay looked at the walls. Underneath the slim trees and vines was a stone wall. He took a risk, and pulled one of the blue flowers from its place on the wall. Kathryn glanced up at him just as he held it up for her.
"Chakotay..." she said as she grasped the stem of the flower. "Thank you." She then placed it over her left ear and smiled at him.
As they reached the first bend, they found their next choice: right or left? Each looked down the way they were facing.
"How about this way?" they both said at the same time.
Kathryn laughed. "Alright, your way then."
They turned right and continued walking, relaxing slightly in the pleasant surroundings.
After a while the path widened as it went around a large, sturdy tree and then narrowed again.
Kathryn walked straight towards the tree and looked up.
"If we climb this, might be able to see where we're going," she explained, when she looked back at Chakotay and saw the confused look on his face.
"You're suggesting we climb a tree," Chakotay's voice bordered on incredulity.
"Yep," Kathryn grinned. "Didn't you climb trees as a little boy?"
Kathryn ignored him and began to climb.
As she reached the leaves of the tree, Kathryn looked down to see where Chakotay was. But she didn't see him anywhere. Something brushed her arm. Kathryn adjusted her hold on the branches, and craned her neck to look around the thick trunk. Suddenly Chakotay's face was just a few inches in front of hers.
"And I assume you climbed trees when you were a little girl?" he asked.
"Of course." she grinned, a little surprised.
Chakotay looked out over the walls of the maze. He could make out the other passageways, all shaped in a circle, closer to the centre was another large tree, about a quarter of a kilometre away.
"Why don't we try to make our way to that one over there?" he suggested.
"Good idea," Kathryn agreed, following the route they would need to take and committing to memory. "Right, left, left, straight on, left, right, straight on, straight on, left," she mumbled over and over again.
"Kathryn," Chakotay said, amusement evident. "Talking to yourself is a sure sign of insanity," he teased as they climbed back down again.
"I know I'm insane," she said and went back to her chanting. "Right, left, left, straight on, left, right, straight on, straight on, left."
"Kathryn, what are you doing?"
"It's the route we have to take. I think I'll remember it now. Come on," she grinned, "I'll race you." She sped off and Chakotay ran after her.
Kathryn took the first turn right, then seeing another turn immediately after that, she thought she'd have a little fun. She hid around the turn, then waited for Chakotay to pass.
After taking the first turn, Chakotay glanced around for her. He didn't see her anywhere, so he took the left that she had said.
Kathryn crept out of her hiding spot and followed him.
Chakotay reached another turning and was desperately trying to remember what she had said.
Right, left, what?
He couldn't remember. He opted for right and ran along it, looking for any sign of Kathryn.
Kathryn grinned as she ran along behind him. Not once had he turned back, and now he'd gone the wrong way.
She followed him part way and then called out to him. "Chakotay?"
"Kathryn, where are you?" the reply came back.
"Behind you," she said, her voice almost laughing at him.
"I'm behind you," she called out.
A few moments later Chakotay appeared in front of her.
"How did you get there?"
"I hid and then followed you. You went the wrong way," she laughed.
Chakotay tried to look angry and hurt but couldn't. Kathryn was standing, hands on hips, flower behind her ear laughing and he had never seen her look more beautiful.
He took her hand again. "I'm going to keep a hold on you this time so you can't run off," he said as they set off, this time down the correct path.
It was such a peaceful area, Kathryn almost forgot that they were trying to get out of there. "What makes you think I'm going to run off?" she looked up at him innocently.
You already did once, maybe I'm not that great of company?" he smiled.
"That must be it," she replied, grinning.
"Which way now, Kathryn?"
She had been sneaking a glance up at him and hadn't noticed that they had reached another crossing. She looked around quickly. "Left," she said blushing.
Chakotay tried to stifle a laugh.
As they turned the corner, both noticed a set of stone steps leading down into the ground.
"Should we check it out?" Kathryn asked.
"Why not, it might help," was the reply as Chakotay started down the steps, his arm behind him, still grasping her hand.
They went down cautiously. At the bottom the ground was level for a few metres and then began to slope down gently. Intrigued, they followed the passageway until there was barely any light for them to see by, they had strayed so far from the entrance.
Chakotay was about to suggest that they turn back, they did not what could be hiding in the darkness, but he caught a glimmer of light up ahead. He continued walking until suddenly, they turned a corner and entered a beautiful room, flooded with light.
"Oh! It's beautiful," Kathryn breathed in amazement.
The walls were white, but with brightly coloured stencils painted onto them, beautiful and intricate. And set into the walls at regular intervals were little alcoves, in which there stood dainty figurines that resembled nymphs and fairies from children's stories. They were simplistic in their design, which made them all the more attractive to the beholder.
Kathryn wandered around the room, letting go of Chakotay's hand. She picked up one of the delicate figurines and traced a finger along its face before setting it back down gently. She almost felt like a child again in here.
Chakotay watched her as she inspected the room. It was like magic. She looked as if she belonged there, despite her Starfleet uniform. He followed her as she walked around the room. For a moment they forgot completely about why they were here.
Chakotay put his hand on Kathryn's shoulder, and she turned to look up at him. The colours in the room faded as he looked into her eyes and his head moved towards hers. He felt her hand moving to touch his face. For some reason, Chakotay's eyes glanced down, and caught on her commbadge. Suddenly Chakotay felt unsettled and the room became ominous and threatening.
"We have to get out of here," he said straightening up. He took her hand again.
Kathryn blinked her eyes, and took a deep breath before following him out of the room, she did not know why he felt they had to leave, but she trusted him and so she followed.
Chakotay was moving fast and Kathryn almost had to jog to keep up with his large, fast strides.
"Chakotay," she said. "Why are you in such a hurry to get out of here?"
They reached the steps and ran up them until they were back into the openness and daylight of the garden-maze.
However, Kathryn still did not have her answer.
"Chakotay," she stopped and pulled at his hand, causing him to stop also and turn to her. "What's wrong? Why were you so eager to get out of there?" Her free hand took his free hand.
Chakotay looked down at their clasped hands and then back up and into her eyes.
"I don't know. I suddenly had a bad feeling and I had to get out of there. I can't explain it. I've learnt to trust my gut feelings."
"So have I," Kathryn told him. "That's why I followed you."
Chakotay looked stunned but pleased at her admission. She trusted him.
Kathryn squeezed his hands. "Better safe than sorry." She smiled up at him. "Let's get going."
After moving a few meters away, Kathryn glanced back. There was no trace of the stairwell. She pulled at his hand again.
Chakotay turned around to see what she was looking at.
"You were right, Chakotay," she patted his stomach. "I like your gut feelings."
"I'm starting to like this less and less. Let's find the centre," he said, and they continued walking in silence for a while. As they finally neared the tree, they heard the ominous voice again.
"You have completed the third challenge-"
"What about the underground room?" Kathryn interrupted, but it just continued its speech.
"-now you must capture the canine."
"Whoever is doing this must have looked through Voyager's database. It's the only way they would know about any dogs."
"And we have to catch one," Chakotay said.
"Woof!" The sound echoed throughout the maze.
"That'll be our canine," Chakotay said unnecessarily.
"It came from that direction," Kathryn said, pointing to their right and slightly behind where they were standing.
They followed the noise as the dog kept on barking. Then suddenly there was silence.
"Why am I not surprised at that?" Kathryn asked rhetorically.
Chakotay grinned. "We're probably getting close."
Suddenly they spotted the dog, a medium-sized Irish Setter. When it saw them it stopped and stared, curiosity on its face.
"Come," Kathryn called, hoping that it would heed her command, but it didn't.
Her words only caused it to start running in the opposite direction. For a moment, Kathryn admired the dog's beautiful copper fur, then the two broke into a run as they followed it.
Turning a corner, they saw the dog disappear around another. As they caught up to that corner, the dog wasn't anywhere to be seen, and there were three possible ways it could have gone.
"If you were a dog, where would you go?" Kathryn looked up and asked him.
"Either to food, or after a cat."
Kathryn sighed and leaned against the nearest wall. "I'm starting to get tired of this."
"I don't think there's much of a choice. If we're to get out of here, I think we have to cooperate," Chakotay replied as he stood in front of her.
The dog chose that moment to cross their path, it slowed down to a trot as it passed them, giving them a questioning look. Kathryn stood up, and slowly moved towards the animal. Seeing that it didn't run away, and hoping that it might start to trust them, they followed it.
Now that they were sufficiently close to the dog, Kathryn saw that it wasn't quite a puppy; not fully grown either. †She guessed that the graceful animal was just about†a year old, at least on earth. As they followed it, gaining on it slightly, she tried, unsuccessfully, not to think the times she had chased her own dog, Molly, through parks and gardens.
Chakotay noticed that Kathryn had a reminiscent look on her face and he remember seeing a dog, much like the one they were following, in a picture of Kathryn and Mark that she used to have on her desk.
They were very close now. Kathryn reached out to touch the dog and it flinched, but didn't run off. She reached out again and stroked the animal's soft, red fur and it stopped, turned, and came towards her.
"Hello," Kathryn said, bending down and tickling the top of the little dog's head. †The dog nuzzled†her in return, then gave her hand a small lick.
"Well, now we've found you what are we meant to do. The man didn't say anything else, did he?" she said, as the dog sat down, basking in the attention.
Chakotay smiled as he watched Kathryn, then realised that she had a point. They had done all that the voice had asked, but they were not told that the task was complete. What else were they to do?
"What if we bring it back to the tree?" he said.
"Maybe... it's worth a shot," Kathryn said as she started to pick up the dog. But before she could get a good grip, it squirmed away, and ran towards the next turn. Just like a normal puppy, Kathryn thought, no interest in being controlled.
Kathryn closed her eyes in frustration. But the pup sat down and stared at them again with those questioning, innocent, brown eyes. It seemed as if the little dog was trying to figure out what they were doing here.
"Wait. I have an idea." † Chakotay moved towards one of the walls, and pulled at a vine until one part snapped. Then he pulled off a three-foot length of the vine.
At the same time, Kathryn saw what he was doing, and moved to the dog slowly. She bent down and stroked the dog's head again. The dog gazed up at her and whimpered when she found the spot behind his ears.
"You need a name, pup," Kathryn said as the dog rolled over so that Kathryn could stroke its furry belly.
After tying a loop in one end of the vine, Chakotay moved around so that he was behind the dog. He then slipped the new leash around its neck. "Hmm, how about Rusty?"
As soon as Chakotay had the makeshift leash around the dog's neck, it looked up at him with a soulful, pleading look in its eyes. "How does Comet sound?"
"I think it fits perfectly."
"There you go, Comet. Come on."
The puppy didn't move at first, but Kathryn gave him some soothing words, and he followed reluctantly.
"Good boy," Kathryn praised the pup and his tail wagged back and forth happily and he picked up the pace a bit.
"I've just realised," Chakotay said, "that there are no other animals here. Doesn't that strike you as slightly odd?"
"Hmm, it is strange, but I'm glad. It means there are no squirrels or rabbits for Comet here," she lifted the leash slightly, "to chase."
Kathryn couldn't help but be reminded of the lazy afternoon's she and Mark had spent in the park near her home, walking Molly and talking and laughing. Then Mark became Chakotay in her mind and she imagined herself and Chakotay walking, arms around each other, through the park, their dog scampering about around them. And it seemed, right.
She shook her head to clear the memory.
"What is it?" Chakotay asked.
"Nothing. Just memories."
Chakotay let it lie and they walked in silence up to the tree.
When they arrived the voice spoke once again. "Congratulations. You have passed this test. You may now commence to the fifth, and final test."
Suddenly they felt the familiar tingle of a transporter beam and Kathryn closed her eyes instinctively, she always did.
Upon re-materialisation Kathryn opened her eyes, hoping to be back aboard Voyager, but they were not.
She sighed and looked at Chakotay.
They were back where they had started.
Chakotay was looking around the familiar cell, but this time, it was filled with dark shadows.
"There has to be some mistake!" She irrationally hoped that Chakotay would have some insight, but of course he didn't. He was as confused as she was.
"Well," she started, sounding almost defeated. "At least we're not tied up this time."
"We could have done something wrong, and have to start over."
"But didn't the voice say we had completed it? This one is supposed to be 'the fifth, and final test'."
"Then... maybe we're meant to learn something from all of this?" Chakotay guessed as he paced around the room, he hadn't had much of a chance to inspect it the first time they were there.
"Maybe," Kathryn responded quietly.
The room was unremarkable. Square, about 5 metres by 5 metres, and concrete, with only one way out - the door they had gone out of before. Kathryn walked over to the door and inspected it. It was solid and tightly fastened, with no obvious handle. She checked around it for a panel of some kind, but unlike there had been in the corridors, there was nothing.
She sighed and slumped down against the wall drawing her knees up to her chest.
Chakotay walked over to her and sat down next to her, but not close, being careful not to invade her personal space. "Smile."
"Why? We're in a cold, dark, dingy cell where we're meant to complete a test. Only, unlike all the other tests we've done we weren't told what to do! Which brings me to the next thing that is really annoying me right now. We're being tested by a race of aliens we don't know! They haven't talked to us and won't tell us what this is about, why we're here, where the rest of our crew are or if we're the only one's here and what we get at the end of this!"
"My father once told me a story. He said I asked to many questions. Questioning things, he told me, was good but sometimes you just had to accept things.
"Once, there was an eagle. The eagle was very curious and he liked to fly higher than the others of his kind. One day he flew so high that there was very little spirit's breath, and he was close to death. He was transported to the spirit realm and he met with his spirit guide. His spirit guide told him he should not fly so high because it was dangerous, as he had told him many times before. The eagle replied that he liked flying high and that he wanted to know what was up above. He had heard that it was beautiful and he wanted to see for himself what it was that made it so wonderful.
"And so his spirit guide said to him, 'It is very beautiful up there, and one day you shall see it, but for now just accept that it is beautiful, but out of your reach. For acceptance shall bring understanding.'
"The eagle left the spirit world and returned to his nest. He never ventured so high again and accepted that he could not go there, for he learned that it was ignorance of the place that gave it beauty.
"Just accept this Kathryn. Maybe then we'll figure out what it is we have to do."
Kathryn smiled softly at him. "Thank you."
Chakotay grinned back. "You smiled," he pointed out.
Kathryn shuffled slightly closer to him and leaned her head on his shoulder.
Chakotay looked down at her in disbelief, but remained silent.
He shifted position slowly, and put his arm around her shoulders. Holding his breath, he waited for her to pull away, or say something. But she didn't. She just settled against him. Chakotay allowed himself a small smile.
Kathryn had to admit; it felt good to be held by him. She started to think about what had happened in that underground room. They had been close to forgetting about everything else, and just giving in to the ever-present temptation. She wasn't sure if she should be afraid of that, or excited.
Before she could give it any more thought, she realized she was facing him.
He looked surprised, but that didn't stop her.
Her face moved closer to his until they were scant millimetres apart.
Then their lips brushed softly in a feather-light kiss. Eyes closed as the kiss deepened. It was electric - fire coursing through veins. Kathryn's hands sought Chakotay's face and held his head to hers while his hands made their way up and it to her hair.
Suddenly Chakotay pulled away, head reeling at the sensations a simple kiss produced in his body. "Kathryn?"
Before Kathryn could answer the door opened and two aliens entered the room. They were tall and graceful with skin the colour of soot and silvery eyes, which matched the colour of their short, sleek hair.
Kathryn and Chakotay sprung to their feet.
One alien stepped further forward than the other and she spoke to them in a rich, melodious voice. "You have passed the fifth test," she told them. "We apologise for taking you from your ship but it was necessary to learn about your people. Your crew is safe and well, and on board your ship, you we're the only two people we brought down to the planet. You will be returned to your ship in a minute."
The other stepped forward now. "I am Hikal," he introduced himself, "and this is Lys'Ka. You were brought her so that we might discover if your people was worthy of out planet. We only permit those that we deem worthy to enter our space. That may sound very high and mighty to you, but it is necessary. For once we were a kind people and shared out planet with everyone, but people took advantage of our generosity so now we must examine every race we encounter to determine if they are good. You have passed the test. Your ship may enter our space and we will be happy to trade with you and grant your crew leave."
Lys'Ka spoke again. "We will return you to your ship now. Once there you may contact us and we will provide you with more information. Safe life."
With that she turned and touched a panel on the wall outside.
And then, Kathryn and Chakotay found themselves back on the bridge.
"Welcome back Captain, Commander," came the voice of Tuvok from behind them.
Kathryn took a breath, and turned around.
"What happened to those ships?" Chakotay said, already nearing Tuvok's post.
"Approximately 15 minutes after you and the Captain disappeared, we were able to hail one of the leaders. We soon found that they had taken the two of you into their custody. Minister Hikal assured us that you were safe and making arrangements for visitation to their planet."
"Yes, you could say that." Kathryn told him. Her eyes glanced towards Chakotay. "I think we need to discuss the negotiations. Tuvok, you have the Bridge."
Chakotay stepped down to join her as she headed for the Ready Room.
Once the Ready Room doors had closed behind them Chakotay spoke. "Kathryn, I understand that what happened down there was a spur of the moment, not going to happen again thing and that you were tired and angry and..." he trailed off when Kathryn came to stand in front of him and touch a finger to his lips.
"Sssh, Chakotay," she whispered as she kissed his lips softly. "I was tired and I was angry and it was spur of the moment thing, but that doesn't mean I don't want it to happen again."
Chakotay merely stared at her, stunned.
"That is," Kathryn spoke again, "If you want it to happen again."
Chakotay nodded, then finally managed to speak. "Kathryn, are you sure?"
Kathryn smiled at him, eyes sparkling, and thought back to how held her hand and how the 'memory' of walking though a park with him seemed so right and how he had comforted her and made her smile. "Yes."
Chakotay suddenly realised just what Kathryn was saying and a brilliant, dimpled smile spread across his face. He pulled Kathryn to him and wrapped his arms around her, loving the feel of her arms around him when she returned the embrace.
He wanted to stand there forever, smelling the scent of her hair, and feeling the warmth of her body against his. Chakotay closed his eyes, savouring the moment. After a few moments, he heard her saw something into his chest. He crooked his finger under her chin, and brought her face up to look at him. He could see tears in her beautiful eyes.
"What is it?"
Kathryn took a breath, closed her eyes, and let it out. "I love you." As she looked back up, she saw him gazing at her, he was grinning wildly. All emotion was written on his face.
"You know something? I love you as well." He kissed her again, trying to make it last as long as possible. Just then Kathryn's commbadge beeped.
"Tuvok to the Captain."
Kathryn kissed him back lightly, and whispered, "Duty calls?" she grinned before answering.
"Captain, we are being hailed by Minister Hikal," Tuvok said, oblivious to what he had interrupted.
"I'm on my way," Kathryn told him, closing the commline.
Kathryn stepped onto the bridge, Chakotay right behind her, as he always was. She signalled to Harry to activate the viewscreen.
"Minister Hikal, it is good to see you again," she greeted the minister.
"And you, Captain. I just wanted to be certain that you and your first officer made it back to your ship safely. I see you are both well so I will leave you now and let you both freshen up."
"Thank you, Minister."
"Hikal, please, such formality is hardly necessary, Captain."
"Kathryn," Kathryn told him, "If such formality is not necessary."
Hikal smiled at her. "Safe life, Kathryn."
"And you," Kathryn replied.
The viewscreen deactivated as the commline closed.
She turned to Chakotay and smiled. "Commander, you're with me. Tuvok, you have the bridge."
Tuvok acknowledged her with a nod as she and Chakotay made their way to the turbolift.
"Dinner, my quarters, half an hour?" Chakotay asked with a smile once the doors had closed.
Kathryn smiled back. "I'll be there."