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Kathryn’s eyes narrowed, focusing on something just beside him. This gave Chakotay a chance to stare blatantly at her flushed face and neck for a moment unobserved. There was just something about that streak of pink that appeared across her cheek and the bridge of her nose after they’d gotten through the second bottle of cider.

“Your ear is crooked,” she proclaimed suddenly, learning over the arm of the couch towards where he was seated in the chair.

“Is it?” Chakotay could feel the blood rushing to his face under her close scrutiny.

“Yes. I can’t believe I’ve never noticed before,” Kathryn said with that same trancelike rapt sound in her voice she always got when she was discovering a new phenomenon.

“I’m pretty sure my ears haven’t changed, Kathryn,” he teased, looking down and away to the side, slightly embarrassed by her scrutiny… which is why he didn’t notice her reaching her hand out towards the side of his head.

“This one is definitely crooked,” she told him, as her fingertips ran along the top of his ear, her touch so soft it almost didn’t exist, but still heating the room up at least ten degrees.

“I feel a bit like a show animal being examined for flaws,” he bit his lip, looking back towards her and finding their faces were closer than he’d realized.

He could feel her breathing they were so close. He knew he ought to pull back, that without the cider she wouldn’t have leaned in this close, that even with it it was probably a miscalculation due to impaired motor control. He didn’t

“I think it’s charming,” she smiled, caressing the ridge of his ear in what he assumed must be an absentminded gesture, an absentminded gesture that was supremely distracting, “Now I just wonder what else I might have missed about you.”

“I don’t know,” he couldn’t help teasing, “Did you notice the extra arm?”

“I’m tipsy not clueless!”

She batted his shoulder with her free hand, laughing. It was very difficult not to capture it with his own and raise it to his lips.

“Honestly, Kathryn, no one has ever made a comment about my ear before, so I have no idea what else you might find if you kept searching,” he said instead.

“Is that a challenge?” she raised her eyebrows.

“Do you want it to be?” he replied, trying not to shudder as she continued running her fingers along his ear, brushing them against that sensitive spot behind it in the process, “I mean who knows what else about me might be crooked?”



“I mean really, what other secrets have you been hiding from me?” she laughed, pressing her hand against Chakotay’s chest for balance as she nearly lost hers.

“I’m not hiding anything. It’s not my fault you never bothered to make a close inspection.”

It occurred to Kathryn, rather suddenly, just how close to Chakotay she had leaned and how rather intimate the way she was tracing the contour of his ear really was. Through film of the cider’s intoxication, she thought to herself that she really ought to draw back.

Or you could let yourself fall, an imprudent voice in the back of her head suggested instead. She almost had lost her balance and it would be easy enough to tumble into Chakotay. Her lips would brush his or maybe head straight for the little bend in that ear that she knew she’d never be able to stop staring at now that she’d noticed it. Hell, he’d just given her an excuse to run her hands all over anywhere and everywhere she might want to. (She did want to.)

Captain. Parameters. Boundaries. Responsibility.

The louder voice pointed out that she could run her hands over his shoulders and his chest, down his thighs. “Nope. Nothing crooked here”, she could declare with each movement. She could closely examine those big, warm, surprisingly gentle hands of his. She could feel the comforting firmness of those broad shoulders.

“Let’s see”, she’d grin teasingly at him, as she slipped her hand down his pants at last and enjoyed the way he’d undoubtedly moan, if the little jolts in his breathing every time she traced his skin with her finger were any indication, as she wrapped her hand around him and determined unequivocally whether there was anything else crooked about him.

She forced herself to take a deep breath, which only provided a healthy dose of his scent and therefore wasn’t incredibly helpful. She couldn’t do this, shouldn’t be. Oh how she wanted to, though.

“I guess it’s a good thing I rearranged the furniture,” she commented instead of saying or doing anything she wanted to, as she pushed off his chest and collapsed back against the sofa with more than a twinge of regret, “You are always sitting on my left so I never see that side of you.”

“Thinking about rearranging the bridge?” he put on that forced smile he always made for her benefit when she disappointed his hopes.

“I’m thinking about rearranging a lot of things,” she confessed, hoping he’d understanding, “But it’s not a luxury we have, I suppose.”

“I don’t know,” he was still smiling but she could recognize the plea buried underneath, “We always seem to find a workaround when we need one on this ship.”