STEALTH OPERATION

By Autopilot and Shayenne

Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything. Rated PG-13

Feedback? Please. Autopilot and Shayenne

 

The lights in the mess hall were low; a dim glow from the ship's lighting augmented by the streak of the stars at warp. It was the middle of the night, and the crewmen on gamma shift were going about their duties while others slept. B'Elanna entered the messhall, immersed in a PADD. Once again a minor engineering crisis had pulled her out of her bed and now the baby was disturbed, turning slow somersaults in her mother's womb. B'Elanna put a comforting hand on her mid section, but knew that sleep would not come easily. She crossed to the replicator.

"Computer, one short stack of banana pancakes with maple syrup."

She took the steaming plate and crossed to sit by the window, intending to review the specifications on the PADD. If sleep eluded her then she could at least do something useful. And pleasurable. Her mouth watered in anticipation of the pancakes.

A rustle caught her attention on the far side of the messhall, by the galley. B'Elanna cocked her head trying to see who was rummaging around in the middle of the night like herself. A soft murmur of voices reached her and the sound of the slow slide of hands over fabric. An unmistakable smack of wet lips on skin. She smiled slightly to herself; she would leave Voyager's unknown lovers to their business. After all, it wasn't so long since she and Tom had been sneaking in and out of Jefferies tubes and stealing quick - but not so quiet - moments of passion against the messhall tables in the nighttime hours. She hunched down to make herself scarce, but as the lovers appeared from the galley, she couldn't suppress a gasp.

Although only silhouetted by the starlight, the outlines of both parties were unmistakable. She pressed shaking fingers to her mouth -- the urge to giggle was immense -- and watched as the two shadowy figures merged into one, their hands running urgently over each other.

"I'll see you later, my sweeting."

Any lingering doubts were erased; B'Elanna knew that voice well. After all she heard it every day and in some of her nightmares as well.

"Until 0800 hours then". His companion nodded, and left the messhall swiftly. A few minutes later, B'Elanna left too, any thoughts of gel pack specifications forgotten, as she hurried through the quiet corridors. Tom was just not going to believe this!

* * * 

Chakotay entered their quarters to find Kathryn sprawled across the couch, with one foot propped up on the coffee table. He grinned as he felt his heart race. The sight of her still had the power to do that to him, even after being her lover for the last year. He sat down next to her and lifted her to lie against him. "Rough day?" He kissed her hair, breathing in the scent of her.

Kathryn groaned but tipped her head back to smile up at him. "It just got better." He leaned down to kiss her gently as she twined her fingers together with his. "B'Elanna was up in the night dealing with another problem in Engineering and I'm worried she's pushing herself too hard. But strangely enough she didn't seem irritated about it at all." Kathryn paused, "In fact, if I didn't know better...I'd say she was positively gleeful about it."

Chakotay raised an eyebrow in surprise. "And both Tom and Harry couldn't look at each other today without starting to laugh." He focused on her beautiful smile again and couldn't resist kissing her again. Longer. Deeper.

When she was able to catch her breath, Kathryn said, "I was going to say that maybe a trip to the messhall is in order. You know between the two of us we should be able to find out what those three are up to." Kathryn laughed when he rolled his eyes. "You know we can't let them get away with too much, Chakotay. Tom would become insufferable, and I can't imagine what Harry would turn into." She put her feet on the floor and stretched her back, her arms extended above her head.

"I think you mean Tom would become more insufferable." But he rose briskly, and turned to pull her to her feet.

Kathryn allowed the momentum of his tug to pull her up and against him. She smiled enticingly at him. "Save room for dessert, Commander."

Chakotay grinned and pinched her bottom as she turned and sauntered towards the door.

She jumped, laughing over her shoulder at him before grabbing his hand as they exited into the corridor.

* * * 

The mess hall was packed, with most of the action concentrated around a table in the middle. Tom, well primed by B'Elanna, was center stage, and the identity of Voyager's latest lovers was no longer a secret.

"Yeah, when Seven runs her hands through Neelix's hair, she doesn't have to stop until she reaches the soles of his feet." Ensign Lopez was chuckling at the visual picture this elicited.

Tom shook his head at that one. "I'm just surprised that the old fairy tale, 'Beauty and the Beast', is true after all."

B'Elanna rolled her eyes. "Which one is which?"

Harry shook his head. "It makes you wonder. What is their favorite game? Before this revelation, I would have said Kadiskot...but now I'm going to have to vote for 'Connect the Dots'!"

Tom grinned and said "Nah Harry, I'd say it would have to be something more tame...like 'Name That Implant'!"

B'Elanna was the first one to notice that the captain and Commander Chakotay had joined their little audience in the mess hall. She elbowed Tom in the stomach and tilted her head towards the pair. "Hello Captain. Chakotay. If you're here to dine, I can only suggest the Bolian custard. Everything else is a health risk."

Kathryn smiled amiably. "I'll inform the Doctor to expect casualties." She looked at each crewmember clustered around the table. As she met each of their eyes they looked embarrassed and mumbling excuses wandered away.

All too quickly for Tom's peace of mind, there were only B'Elanna, Harry, and him left to face the terror. The Captain slid into the empty seat. She looked at Chakotay. "Could you get me some coffee?" She grinned and winked at him. He nodded and turned away to hide his smile.

"Well?" She looked at the faces around the table. "Are you going to share the joke?"

The uneasy silence stretched. "Harry?" She prompted him, knowing from past experience that Harry would in all likelihood be the first to crack.

"Uh, it's nothing, Captain. If you'll excuse me, I have… uh, I'm playing pool with… er, with…"

"Ayala," Tom supplied, with a dirty look that said, 'you're not getting out of this so easily, Buster.' "But that's tomorrow night." He jerked at the seat of Harry's pants and the flustered ensign subsided back on the bench.

Kathryn smiled to herself. There was a secret here, but one didn't get four pips without being skilled in the art of negotiation, blackmail, and plain and simple trickery. It could be anything - Tom's latest betting pool scenario, a practical joke in the making, or even a secret romance just come to light. She would play it by ear.

"So, Harry…" She didn't get any further as Seven of Nine entered the mess hall. The sudden silence, crewmen poised as if in transporter suspension, forks frozen half way to their mouths, alerted her to the subject of the latest gossip as surely as if Tom had made a ship-wide announcement. With an inward wince, she remembered the last time Tom had made such an announcement - spilling the beans about her and Chakotay over the comm to the amusement of the bridge crew. She hoped the rations he collected from taking the bet were enough to offset his loss of holodeck privileges.

All eyes in the messhall were on Seven as she strutted across the room, heading for the kitchen. Kathryn was puzzled, she was obviously just going to see Neelix for her nutritional supplements -- nothing about that should engender such an air of anticipation. She glanced over at Chakotay as he slid into the seat next to her, setting her coffee down on the table.

"Thanks, Cha…" Her thanks were cut off, as Chakotay squeezed her thigh under the table and jerked his head subtly in Seven's direction.

Seemingly obvious to the staring crew, Seven continued her march to the kitchen.

"Sweeting!" Neelix's voice rang out clearly in the hushed room. "I'm glad you're here. I've saved the last of the Bolian custard for you. I know how much you enjoy it."

"Thank you." Seven's voice seemed a little less matter-of-fact than normal.

Neelix climbed unselfconsciously onto a small stool and put his arms around her, kissing her firmly on the lips.

The cup of coffee tipped unceremoniously over the table as Tom leaped to his feet. "Yay!" His fist pumped the air. "I win!"

"You must have been tipped off." Harry's grumbling was good-natured as he reached for the PADD and started calculating the pay out. "But it was worth five rations to see that."

"Wait a moment." Kathryn held up a hand. "You were betting that Neelix and Seven were the next Voyager couple to go public?"

Tom had the grace to look slightly sheepish. "Well, seeing as how the most famous of secret couples is now well and truly out in the open, what more logical thing to bet on than the next pair?"

Chakotay squeezed her leg under the table. "My money was on Harry and Tal Celes," he whispered.

Kathryn's eyes swiveled around to the now not-so-secret romantic couple in question. Seemingly oblivious to the commotion around them, Seven and Neelix were conversing in low voices. Seven's hand came up to stroke the furry cheek before she leaned in for his kiss.

She shook her head slightly in bemusement. Seven and Neelix. What an unlikely match.

* * * 

Later that evening, Kathryn and Chakotay sprawled on their bed. One of his hands lazily stroked through her hair, the other drummed an idle pattern on her hip. She relaxed, half on top of him, letting his stroking hands soothe her down from the plateau of their lovemaking.

Idly she wondered if Neelix and Seven did this. The unlikely thought jerked her out of her post-coital daze. "Chakotay, Neelix and Seven… Did you see it coming? Be honest."

"No," he admitted, running a hand up her thigh. "But when you think about it, it's not so unlikely."

"How do you mean?" She turned her head to press a kiss to his warm, salty chest.

"On the face of their personalities, I would never have paired them. Seven's so keen on efficiency and Neelix… well he manages to thrive on chaos and creativity. But think about it, Kathryn, Seven for all her outward self-assurance is insecure and emotionally vulnerable. She is drawn to the people on this ship that treat her gently, with respect and warmth. The Doctor, Harry, you… Neelix is one of the kindest and most genuine people on board. He's always had a moment for the lonely and those who find it hard to find their place. It's no wonder that they should gravitate to each other."

"But a romance…" mused Kathryn. "It seems… odd."

"Ah, only if you see barriers where there are none. Just because Seven is physically attractive…"

She pounded his chest with a small fist. "You've been looking again!"

He captured her fist and held it, pressed to his chest. "Kathryn," his warm tone conveyed laughter, but the underlying seriousness was there. "She's kind of hard to miss. And you know there's only one woman for me." He kissed her, the meaning obvious in his words. "But just because Neelix doesn't look like us, and is different, well, that is no reason for them not to fall in love. In other times it was perceived barriers of race, religion or gender that kept people apart." He smiled slightly. "It seems that even with all of the advances our society has made that we haven't really progressed much past that narrow-mindedness if we still can look at a couple and think they look wrong together."

She laid her head back down on his chest again and sighed slightly. "You're right of course. It's what's inside a person that counts. But I can't imagine them… well… making love."

Chakotay grinned. "That's more because no-one, except the Doctor presumably, knows what Neelix looks like naked."

"Maybe I should ask the Delaney twins. There were those rumors about the three of them having an encounter after Jenny and Megan celebrated a bit too hard at Prixin." Kathryn gave a wicked chuckle. "or maybe I can hack into Neelix's medical files next quiet shift." She bit his nipple lightly. "Those command codes have got to be good for something."

"My Maquis codes might work better." Chakotay let his hands wander up her back, stroking lightly around her ribs. "After all, they got me into your quarters a year ago."

"I still don't know how you did that." She remembered the day vividly; coming off shift, tired, irritable, not knowing what she wanted or needed, unable to separate Kathryn from the uniform. Grouchy at the thought of a working dinner with Chakotay, she had entered her quarters to find him lighting candles and setting the table. He'd read her mood, and his gentle caring had finally broken down the barriers of protocol. A touch of hands over the table had led to their first night of loving. But not the last.

"I'm not telling you." He kissed the top of her head. "I might need those tricks in case you ever throw me out."

"I'd never do that." Suddenly serious, she rolled over to look him in the eyes. Her hand crept up to his cheek. "You're here to stay. We wasted enough time as it is."

He kissed her palm and whispered. "Speaking of wasting time…" He pulled her down to kiss her, letting the warm fusion of mouths tell her that he loved her.

* * * 

Neelix fussed around in his quarters. Tonight was a very special night, one deserving of extra-special attention. Seven was coming to dinner. He rubbed his hands together and moved over to the portable burner at the back of his quarters. The Ferilian eggnut soup was simmering nicely. His hand hovered over the spice pots -- but Seven didn't like her food too spicy, so he left them alone. He could always add more to his bowl later. Kes had loved his spicy cooking…

Ah Kes. The ever-present knot of her absence settled in his stomach again. Kes, his sweet young love. He still missed her, but these days it was fading… He remembered vividly the captain's words to him on the day that Kes, his sweeting, had left Voyager. She had called him into her ready room to talk to him. Little of what she had said remained with him -- the keening misery was so fresh at the time that its clamor drowned her words, but Neelix thought that he would always remember the sympathetic expression on her face, the comforting hand on her shoulder, and the strange platitude she said. "Time is a great healer, Neelix." Meaningless words at the time, although he appreciated her caring, but now, he knew them to be true.

For the first time, since Kes left, Neelix felt the stirrings of love for someone. Seven of Nine. Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero. He wandered over to the viewport, and stood, lost in thought, staring out at the ribbons of starlight outside.

"Kes, my sweeting, wherever you are…" His voice was low but strong. "You know I loved you, you know I miss you, but I hope you see that I have a second chance at happiness here. Wish me luck, my sweet. She's too clever for me… too good, too glorious… but for some reason she wants me."

The door chime startled him out of his reverie, and he crossed to answer it.

Seven stood in the doorway, her hair falling softly around her face. She held a bouquet of spring flowers tightly against the bodice of her iridescent black dress. "I believe it is customary to bring a gift when you have dinner with someone you are personally involved with."

Neelix smiled widely and gently pulled her into the room, while taking the flowers from her hands. "That's a lovely custom. And these flowers will add just the right touch to make this a truly special evening. Come in dearest. I was just putting the finishing touches on our dinner."

The doors to his quarters whooshed shut behind Seven.

* * * 

Tom stuck his head around the corner surreptitiously before coming out and pulling a clearly reluctant Harry after him.

"We shouldn't be doing this, Tom. You saw that the Captain had her sensors on full alert and she would definitely bust us for this, if she catches us." Harry peered around them anxiously, obviously expecting Captain Janeway to come out with a phaser drawn.

Tom gave Harry an exasperated look even as he entered data into a PADD he was holding. "Just shut up and follow my lead, Harry. We stand to earn a tidy profit on the betting pool with this, not to mention getting to have a little fun with Neelix and Seven."

Harry just groaned, but looked resigned. "Listen! I can live without the credits. I don't mind eating in the messhall. It's a lot better than eating in the brig for the next thirty days. Or have you forgotten that lesson so soon. Besides, other than being a strange match, what's the big deal? Why not just give Neelix and Seven some privacy."

Tom shot him a look. "You've got to be kidding me! I owe Seven for this. Or have you forgotten how she studied B'Elanna and I over all those weeks. Even going so far as to monitor and log our sexual encounters." He grinned devilishly. "It's all in fun. I don't begrudge Neelix some companionship . I know he's been without a partner since Kes left." Tom gave a mocking shudder, "Talk about your dry spells, but I've got an anniversary coming up with B'Elanna and I need those rations!"

Harry held up his hand to interrupt, "First off, I happen to know that Neelix got lucky with one of the Klingon females. If being tossed around the room before sex can be considered lucky." Harry rolled his eyes, "but if I get busted for this, jailbird, I promise you're going down with me."

Tom laughed, "Harry, you surprise me. Perhaps you should share your perspective on Klingon mating practices with B'Elanna. I'm sure she'd find them very interesting right now."

Now it was Harry's turn to shudder, but it was sincere. "No, thanks. She's hard enough to reason with when she's not pregnant!"

Laughing harder, Tom turned his eyes back to the PADD. "I guess I'll save that bit of information about you until I need a favor. And man, as far as Klingon mating practices go. Don't knock it till you've tried it." Seeing the worry in Harry's face, Tom patted him on the shoulder. "Trust me, Harry." he ignored his friend's snort of derision. "I told you that they had a hot date tonight. Neelix was too cheerful today, even for Neelix. And B'Elanna said that Seven was distracted."

"Distracted? Seven? Even Species 8472 didn't distract Seven." Harry perked up, obviously interested in the gossip.

Grinning, Tom said, "Yeah, I figure sex might just be enough to distract her. Especially if it would be the first time between the two of them."

"But how would you know, Tom? Even if you could get a betting pool to make book on that." Harry smirked unrepentantly. "I know, Neelix's spots will change colors and his hair will curl… or maybe Seven will start singing love songs in the cargo bay. You don't think she'll be so confused at Neelix's performance that she'll try to access data so she can rate his efficiency, do you?"

Tom laughed and took Harry's arm leading him off to the turbolift. "I've already got it figured out. We'll just use the network we set up on the Captain and Chakotay when they returned to the ship from New Earth." When Harry groaned, Tom's voice gained new fervor. "I swear it'll work this time. Especially if the pot is big enough. Now this is what we'll do…" Tom swung a companionable arm around Harry's shoulder leading him onto the turbolift, leaning in to whisper his plan as the door closed.

The 'lift deposited them on deck three -- officer's quarters. Neelix occupied some of the smaller quarters at the end of the corridor. Tom led Harry to the Jefferies tube access hatch and after a quick check for nosy crew, pulled it open and pushed Harry in ahead of him. Making himself comfortable against the wall, he winked at Harry. "My codes should still be in place. Let's find out. Computer. Give me the location, status and vital bodily signs of Subject One."

*Commander Chakotay is in the captain's quarters. He is awake. Pulse and respirations and hormonal levels are increased, consistent with sexual activity.*

"Tom!" Harry was bright red and his voice was a squeal. "We're not supposed to be spying on the commander.

"Yeah," Tom looked regretful. "That piece of information would have won me a lot of rations a year ago. Computer, redesignate Seven of Nine as Subject One."

*Redesignation complete.*

"Now," Tom grinned evilly at Harry. "What is the location of Subject One?"

*Seven of Nine is in Neelix's quarters*

"Status?"

"Seven of Nine is awake, with elevated hormonal levels and excessive production of digestive acid."

"So Neelix cooked for her." Harry grimaced. "Neelix's cooking has that effect on most people. Now what?"

"Elevated hormonal levels, Harry." Tom nudged his companion. "You don't get those from plomeek soup. So now, we get proof. Proof of the dirty deed," he elaborated, as Harry looked a bit pale. "Harry.... you're not still carrying a torch for Seven are you?"

"No." Harry didn't sound very convincing. "I have my eye on someone. But I'm not telling you who," he added hastily. "I don't want Cel.. er... her... to be subjected to this sort of covert stealth operation."

"Tal Celes." Tom looked knowledgeable. "She's after you too. Or so she said to Billy Telfer, who told Sue Nicoletti, who told B'Elanna."

Harry didn't know whether to look pleased at that news, or horrified that his private affairs were spread all over deck nine.

"Now." Tom unslung his small backpack and extracted a square box. "I er... 'borrowed', the Doctor's holo-imager. The idea is that you take the holo-imager, and crawl down to the access panel that comes out in Neelix's quarters. You creep in, snap an image -- a tasteful one now, Harry -- and then leave the way you came."

"Hang on a minute!" Harry was agitated. "You never said anything about ME doing the dirty work in your plan. You know what happened when you tried the same trick on the captain and commander."

Tom squirmed a bit, remembering. "I tripped over her boots," he muttered. "If I hadn't, they would never have noticed me, and I would have had the image that paid a thousand rations. Although..." He brightened a bit, recalling the indelible image of the captain and commander lying on her bunk, kissing, Chakotay's hand on her...

"You got five days in the brig," Harry reminded him unnecessarily. "And a warning that if you did it again, it would be thirty."

"Exactly!" Tom saw the opening he'd been waiting for. "Exactly why I can't be the one to take the picture. They never said anything about you getting thirty days."

"It's an invasion of privacy," muttered Harry. "What will you do of a holo-image of Seven and Neelix making love?"

"Trust me. I'll put it to good use. And if you get any of Seven's ... assets in the photo, we can edit them out later." Tom was falsely reassuring.

"That's what I'm afraid of. I still think you're the better stealth operative than I am." Harry was not convinced.

"Thirty days, remember? Sorry, Harry, it has to be you. Think of the rations we'll split if we get the holo-image. Fifty-fifty, right?"

"Sixty-forty. Not a ration less."

"You can't bail on me now! Fifty-fifty was the deal."

"Seventy-thirty." There was an unaccustomed firmness to Harry's jaw and a light in his eye that Tom had rarely seen before.

He capitulated quickly. "Sixty-forty. Deal."

"Okay." Harry took the camera and started crawling off down the Jefferies tube. Tom watched him turn the corner, then pulled a second black box out of his backpack. The listening device allowed him to pick up whispers and small noises throughout the ship and was invaluable in aiding his covert information network. Only B'Elanna knew of its existence and she was sworn to secrecy.

"Tom..." His comm badge chirped.

"What is it, Harry?"

"I'm there. But I'm not sure which panel is which. Can you use your tap to find out which is Neelix's quarters?"

"Sure." He lowered his voice. "Computer, what is Ensign Kim's position in relation to Subject 2's quarters?"

*Ensign Kim is at the Jefferies tube hatch leading into Subject 2's bathroom.*

"You're there, Harry. The hatch leads directly into Neelix's bathroom. Go for it."

"Okay." Harry sounded less confident now that he actually had to break into Neelix's quarters. "But if he catches me, he'll never make apple pie for me ever again."

"That's not much of a loss." Tom cut the comm link and started to fiddle with his listening device. He wavered. The temptation to eavesdrop in the captain's quarters was strong -- and the computer had said exactly what they were doing. He tuned his device and pointed it in the general direction of the captain's quarters.

First of all he heard nothing. Then he heard the distinctive sound of running water. Oh-ho, they must be in the shower. He refined the tuning so that it zeroed in on the sound. A deep baritone was singing, slightly off-key, audible over the sound of the shower. It sounded like he was too late; he doubted that Chakotay would sing like that if the captain was sharing the shower with him. He listened to the big man croon happily to himself for a few moments -- a pity this device wasn't a recorder too -- this caterwauling could give Chakotay a few embarrassing moments if it was produced at an opportune time.

Then, he caught the slight sound of metal rubbing on metal. He frowned, puzzled, and amplified the device to see if it was repeated. Sure enough, the shifting of ... a grating. His brain fired quickly, with the swift thought characteristic of panic. Harry was in the wrong quarters. He slapped his head -- of course, he had redesignated Subject 1 from Chakotay to Seven, but he hadn't redesignated Subject 2 from the captain to Neelix. And the computer had reported that Harry was outside Subject 2's quarters.

He tapped his comm badge. "Harry," he whispered urgently, trusting that the sound of the shower would prevent Chakotay from hearing him. "You're in the wrong place."

"Not now, Tom." Harry's voice came back softly. "I'm nearly in Neelix's bathroom, and I think they are showering together."

"No. Listen to me. You're in the captain's quarters."

"Whose?" Harry's voice rose on a strangled shriek. "Tom, you idiot. What am I doing here?"

Through the open comm link, and amplified through his listening device Tom heard the double echo of Harry's panic. And then, he wished he could sink through the floor of the Jefferies tube as he heard the unmistakable tones of Commander Chakotay.

"Harry?" The commander sounded puzzled as well he might. "What are you doing in the captain's bathroom?"

Tom groaned. Harry, the worst liar on the ship had been caught. Harry's ass -- and by extension his own --would be hamburger in approximately a minute. He listened to Harry's stuttering. No, make that thirty seconds.

"I'm ... er.... repairing the captain's replicator."

"It's not in her bathroom. And why did you come through the Jefferies tube hatch?"

"I.... didn't want to disturb you." Harry sounded frantic. "Commander, you're dripping on my tool kit."

"Tool kit? That looks like the Doctor's holo-imager to me." Chakotay sounded very suspicious.

"What's going on here?" The husky tones were unmistakable, and Tom seriously considered saving everyone the trouble of kicking his ass by finding Tuvok and then reporting directly to the brig.

"Chakotay, put a towel on or something. You're scaring Harry. And Harry..." The captain's tones were suspiciously saccharine. "What's this about fixing my replicator? With only a holo-imager as a repair kit?"

"Captain. I can explain. That is, I think I can explain."

"Wait." Tom could imagine the captain's uplifted hand and waited for the bomb to drop.

"Computer. What is the present location of Lieutenant Paris?"

*Lieutenant Paris is in Jefferies tube fifteen, at the junction of Jefferies tube two."

"And would Lieutenant Paris' s location in the tube you've just crawled out of be a random coincidence, Ensign?"

"Yes! Er... no... he's helping me with the repairs."

"What is he repairing?" asked Chakotay caustically. "The captain's shower controls?"

"No." squeaked Harry.

Tom could hear the wheels turning in Harry's beleaguered brain. 'Just don't mention Neelix, Harry,' he implored to himself. If he did, the command team would surely put two and two together.

"Neelix's back burner."

Tom closed his eyes and groaned. They were well and truly busted now.

There was a silence, broken only by the sound of cascading water from Chakotay's forgotten shower. Then the captain spoke. " Neelix. I see. Have you taken any holo-images inside this room?"

"No, Ma'am."

"Good. I would hate for pictures of the naked commander to fall into the Delaney sister's hands. Or some other crewmembers I could name, both male and female. Ensign, you are dismissed. Please replace the grating as you depart."

"Yes, Ma'am." Harry sounded a lot more cheerful.

"And Harry..." Chakotay's voice again. "I hope you'll remember this when you and Tal Celes finally do get together. The betting pool is quite indiscriminate in its victims."

There was the sound of footsteps, as Harry retreated, then the sound of the grating being pulled back into place.

Tom wiped his clammy hands on his uniform pants. He wasn't sure exactly what caused the captain's change of heart, but he wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth. His comm badge chirped.

"Tom." Harry's voice was urgent and pissed. "You sent me to the wrong quarters. I ended up in the captain's bathroom. Chakotay was in the shower -- they caught me."

"I know." Tom didn't bother to dissemble. He would have to let Harry in on the secret of the listening device later. "I heard. Pity you didn't get a picture of Chakotay naked. Jenny Delaney has offered me fifty rations if I can ever provide her with one. But it sounded to me like the captain knew what you were going to do, and is pretending to ignore it. Go to Neelix's quarters, Harry." Swiftly he gave him directions and closed the link on Harry's protests. He wanted to go back to the listening device and see if he could learn anything from the captain.

He tuned the device further. ".... Tom's behind this, of course." Chakotay's even tones came through clearly.

"Yes. No doubt proof for his betting pool. Like when he tried to get a picture of us that time, remember?" Tom thought that the captain sounded more amused than annoyed.

"Yes. And he'll never know that if he had come through the hatch a minute or two later, he would have caught more than just you with your hand on my..."

The captain's chuckle was clearly heard. "It was your hand, Chakotay. And doing very wonderful things if I remember rightly. Luckily he fell over my boots or he would have had quite an eyeful."

Tom groaned again, this time at his bad luck. Five days he had got for that and she had destroyed the holo-images. Well, it seemed she wasn't averse to letting Seven and Neelix get caught.

"So why do you want to inflict the boys on Seven and Neelix?" Chakotay sounded puzzled.

"Well... Seven does need to learn the value of privacy," said the captain. "And what better way to teach it then for her to suffer an embarrassing lack of it? Besides. I just hacked into Tom's betting pool and added a very large bet, that means if 'conclusive proof of their intimacy' is provided within seven days, then we stand to clean up."

"Kathryn!" Chakotay was laughing. "Tom will smell a rat. You've never participated in his pools before."

"Ah, but love, I put it in your name. And while I was there I upped your bet on Harry and Celes. We might have to give those two a little push while we're at it."

"Kathryn." This time Chakotay's voice was warm and tender. "You are such a romantic."

"I just want everyone to have the chance of happiness. Like I have with you. Now, maybe I should help you finish your interrupted shower. And hope we don't have any more unexpected visitors."

There was the unmistakable sound of kissing.

"Really, Commander." The captain's voice sounded deeper and huskier than Tom had ever heard it before. But then he'd never heard her making love before. "Poor Harry looked quite envious at seeing all your... assets. Quite 'impressive', as Tuvok would say."

"Let me show you just how impressive I can be." Chakotay's voice, deep and sensual. "I think you're overdressed for a shower, Kathryn..."

Tom closed down his box, unwilling to listen to more lovemaking. And a little jealous. Impressive, eh? He'd have to check with Harry. Maybe he could start another pool on just how 'impressive' the commander was. Although that could be very hard to get conclusive proof on. The captain was the only one who could answer with any certainty, and he didn't think she would play along.

* * * 

Harry still couldn't believe his luck. He had escaped relatively unscathed from the captain's quarters, and it seemed almost as though the command team had given him tacit permission to continue with his mission. Although he didn't think he could look at Chakotay again and not feel envious. Who would have thought what the man hid underneath his loose uniform. Then again, he should have guessed it. The man did have extremely big hands and feet.

He stopped outside what he thought was the correct hatch.

"Tom. Check my position and make sure I'm in the right place this time. I would hate to barge in on Tuvok in the shower. He would not be as forgiving."

There was a pause, then Tom's voice. "Yeah, you're outside of Neelix's quarters now. Good luck."

Harry grunted in reply and slowly began to remove the grating. Hearing no sound from inside, he stuck his head cautiously into the room. Neelix's bathroom was blessedly empty. He hated to think about what Neelix could be hiding under his lurid clothes. Dropping soundlessly to the floor, Harry crept over to the door to the main quarters. Luckily it was slightly ajar. He peeped through.

Inside the room, Seven and Neelix sat close together on the couch. Neelix's arm was around Seven's shoulders, her hand was on his thigh, lightly stroking the inner surface.

"Sweeting, are you sure?" Neelix was speaking in low tones. "This isn't something to be undertaken lightly. I'm sure there are many men on this ship who would be only too envious of me, and happy to fill my shoes. Younger, more handsome, more talented men, like young Ensign Kim, for example."

"No. I am sure." Seven spoke in a soft breathy voice, most unlike her normal strident tones. "Ensign Kim is a good friend, but I wish for a more experienced partner. You are a man of the world. When the Klingons were on board, one of their females selected you over Mr. Kim to be her mate. Klingons are highly selective in their choice of partner -- Lieutenant Torres excepted of course." The smooth brow furrowed. "I fail to see what she sees in the immature Lieutenant Paris." Her hand came up to stroked Neelix's furred cheek, and the subdued lighting flashed off the web of Borg implants. "No.... my love. I wish to copulate with you."

"My love..." Neelix squirmed a little. "Seven, that is a delightful phrase. And one I did not expect to hear again after Kes left."

"I have heard the captain call the commander, 'my love', when she thinks herself to be out of earshot of the crew. The commander reacts much as you just did." She hesitated. "Besides, I find that I have... feelings... for you."

Neelix seemed overcome. "Seven, I love you," he declared. "And I am most unworthy of your affections."

"On the contrary... my love. You are a suitable and worthwhile mate. Shall we proceed with the copulation?"

Harry, hidden in the bathroom, gulped. Suddenly, the betting pool, teaching Seven a much-needed lesson on privacy, and even Tom's wrath didn't seem so important. He was spying on two friends at an important moment in their lives. But then again... rations were rations. And he would be eating leola root for the rest of the month if he didn't take the photo. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes, raised the holo-imager, pushed open the door, thrust the imager through the crack and released the shutter.

"What was that?" Neelix sounded puzzled.

As Harry climbed back into the Jefferies tube he heard Seven's reply. "Most likely nothing... my love."

"Seven," I never realized you had such glorious..." The hatch grated shut, mercifully drowning out the rest of Neelix's comment.

Tom crawled down to meet him. "Well, did you get the shot?"

"Yeah. Here." Harry thrust the imager at his friend.

* * * 

B'Elanna sat in the messhall, sipping the latest tea Neelix and the Doctor had concocted for her, trying to quell her queasiness. She closed her eyes and muttered a Klingon curse as the baby elbowed her again. "Look little one. I'll make you a deal. I'll promise not to yell and hit your father when you're teething if you'll just stop the gymnastics tonight."

"Can I get that in writing?" Tom grinned as he slid into the seat next to her. His warm hands slid over B'Elanna's stomach soothingly, and the baby quieted at his touch.

She sighed and leaned in to give him a gentle kiss. "Thanks, Flyboy. I knew those magic hands had to be good for more than piloting starships."

Tom gave a melodramatic sigh, "And I thought I had convinced you of that last month when we…"

B'Elanna elbowed him in the side, almost casually, as she turned back to her tea. "Another word about that, hotshot, and you'll be picking up your teeth from the floor."

He just grinned wider. "Well if you've forgotten so soon, then it's definitely time for a refresher. But that's not why I stopped by." He slid the holo-imager into her lap. "I wanted you to be the first to see the picture that earned us all the baby clothes we will run through for the next year."

"Is this what or should I say…who I think it is?"

Tom nodded. "I came to find you as soon as we pulled the operation off."

She looked around the quiet room. "Where's Starfleet? Did he go off to find Celes to celebrate?"

Looking confused, he just shrugged. "Well you know Harry. He's too softhearted to feel good about this. I think he went off to Sandrines for a drink. I'll put a call out on the grapevine to get Tal Celes to go and keep him company."

Torres sat fingering the deactivated holo-imager. "Well, Tom… I've been thinking. As much as I dislike Seven, I care about Neelix even more. I'm not sure it's fair to humiliate him this way."

Tom covered her hands resting on the device. "B'Elanna, trust me on this. We can do some creative editing to save Neelix any embarrassment but I want Seven to get a taste of her own medicine. She used us like a lab experiment. She needs to learn that emotions and relationships are more than that."

B'Elanna stared into Tom's sincere blue eyes and said, "Even if we have to humiliate her to do it? Remember, Tom, under those artificial breast implants there is a human heart."

He kissed her. "I haven't forgotten it. But from what I've observed of Seven. She learns best by making mistakes… even if she has trouble admitting she's made them. Now, stop analyzing this and activate the imager. I'm dying of curiosity."

Now B'Elanna looked surprised. "You haven't even activated it yet! Now I feel really honored, Tommy boy. I think I just might burst into tears this second." Her dry voice belied the statement.

Tom grinned. "Well to save us all the shock such an act would cause, I'll just activate it myself." He reached for the imager but she pulled it tight against her chest.

"Just try it Flyboy and you'll be flying one-handed for the rest of the trip." She growled for emphasis.

His grin grew wider. "Well you know I've always said that I could fly this ship with one hand tied behind my back. But to be magnanimous… I'll let you do the honors." He leaned forward to see the screen as B'Elanna put the imager down on the table.

She took a deep breath and activated the imager, calling up the last image taken. She began to laugh. "Well, Tom. I think Ayala might give you a few credits for this shot, but it won't win the pool for you."

Tom sat back cursing. "I knew I shouldn't have trusted Harry with this. He must've taken the shot without opening his eyes. I'm going to go to Sandrine's and wipe the…"

B'Elanna covered his mouth with her free hand, still studying the… interesting holo-imager, Harry had taken. It showed Seven standing naked in front of Neelix, her back to the holo-imager, and Neelix-fully clothed-holding her surprisingly small foot in his hand, apparently enraptured. In fact he was kissing her toes! "We can still fix this, hotshot, but you'll have to trust me. Now shut up and listen to what a real covert operative has to say.

* * * 

The messhall was packed. Word always spread quickly on Voyager, and rumors of Tom's latest proof ensured that as many crew as possible took their dinner around 1900 hours.

Tom, B'Elanna, and Harry were sitting near the counter, the holo-imager prominently positioned on the table in front of them. Tom waited until he saw the captain and commander enter. He figured that their unexpected assistance deserved some reward. He banged his spoon on the table for silence, then climbed up onto the table.

"Friends," he began. "I have here an image, obtained at considerable danger to life and limb, by my secret stealth agent, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear he'll get his ass thrown in the brig." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the captain smile at Chakotay, and lean over to whisper something in his ear. He hoped it wasn't an order to escort him there just as soon as they had collected their rations. He waved a PADD dramatically. "The bets are placed. All that is needed now is to unveil the proof."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Seven of Nine strut into the messhall. He groaned inwardly. He had hoped that she would remain out of the way, at least until all the rations were safely transferred to his account. Neelix, he could see, was busy in the galley and was paying little attention to the proceedings. For the third time, he mentally added up his share of the rations. Yes, enough for a few romantic beer-and-pizza evenings with B'Elanna, not to mention enough to replicate a few cute little outfits for the baby.

Seven had collected her nutritional supplements from the counter, and appeared to be moving towards him. He gulped slightly, but continued before he could lose his nerve. "So, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you conclusive proof of the intimacy of Voyager's latest secret couple…"

"Lieutenant. One moment please."

Tom groaned as Seven's cool, incisive tones cut across the hubbub of the messhall.

"I have reason to believe that Mr. Neelix and myself may be implicated in this holo-image."

The messhall had fallen silent, as faces turned to watch the drama play out in front of them. Tom saw the captain frown slightly, and prayed she wouldn't interrupt. He looked at Seven's smooth face, she didn't appear to be uncomfortable with the situation, but then you just never knew what Seven was thinking.

"I recollect a flash in Mr. Neelix's quarters the other day, and I surmise that you have taken what could be considered a 'compromising holo-image' of the two of us." She arched an eyebrow, and seemingly oblivious to the watching eyes all around her continued, "while I consider embarrassment to be an irrelevant and unproductive emotion, I do not wish for Mr. Neelix to suffer. I wish to purchase the image. I will pay you 50% of the rations that you stand to collect by displaying it here, in a public forum."

Tom found he was at a loss. Only 50% was his first thought. Hell, she should be willing to pay 75% at least! He met Seven's eyes, with more than a trace of embarrassment of his own. "Uh, Seven, I don't think that Neelix will mind too much…" He hoped this was true.

"I… care for Mr. Neelix. I do not wish to take the chance that he will be upset. 50%, Lieutenant."

The messhall was silent. Tom closed his eyes, in an agony of embarrassment of his own. He knew what he should do; he should present the image to Seven, refusing all payment as a gesture of goodwill. That would be the right thing to do. His hand wavered over the holo-imager. She had learned her lesson, it seemed. Even if she had no idea of the concept of privacy for herself, she seemed genuinely to care about Neelix's. And hell, he was kinda fond of the fluffy little Talaxian. He looked at B'Elanna imploringly, wondering if she would let him off the hook and hand over the picture.

Seven stood in her customary pose, legs slightly apart, hands behind her back, waiting.

Then, Chakotay shouldered his way to the front of the knot of crewmen. "Here you go, Seven, Tom," he said. "Five rations each from the captain and myself - add them to Seven's payment for the image."

His words broke the uneasy tension around the messhall. Slowly, other crewmen came forward to add their rations to the pile. Harry's fingers flew over the PADD, recording the rations.

Tom met B'Elanna's eyes questioningly, and B'Elanna heaved herself to her feet. "Never let it be said that we didn't contribute," she said. "Twenty-five rations from me and Flyboy here."

Tom turned to Seven. "Here you are," he said, handing her the holo-imager. "Do what you want with the image."

"Thank you." Taking the imager, she walked over to the galley.

Neelix's head popped up from behind the counter. "Sweeting!" He gave her a long, unselfconscious kiss. "I saved you some rice pudding. It is soft and bland enough that you will enjoy it."

"Thank you." Seven returned his kiss. "I have something for you too." She presented him with the holo-imager.

Neelix's face split into a wide grin. "This is wonderful," he enthused. "What a really beautiful image. You must have gone to a lot of trouble to get someone to take this, and just for me! Captain, commander!" He hailed them over the other side of the room. "You must look at this wonderful image that Seven has obtained. It is truly delightful, and she did it just for me…." His face softened as he looked at his lover. "I truly am the luckiest Talaxian in the galaxy."

And he hurried over to show the captain the image, calling as he did to others to come and see. "Lieutenant Kim, you must see this. It is a work of art. I wonder who took this?"

B'Elanna looked at Tom, her hands cradling her belly protectively. "Well, Flyboy? Have you counted the rations yet?"

Tom looked at her in disbelief. "You KNEW this would happen?"

She smiled, and winked at Chakotay across the room. "Well…. lets just say I knew it was a strong possibility."

FIN

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