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Pitch black.

The captain of Voyager moved slowly along the corridor toward engineering, keeping one hand on the access panel on the bulkhead. Although she couldn't see it, Kathryn Janeway knew that the computer still worked; she resisted the urge to ask for the third time in minutes how much farther she had to go until the next junction, where she would have to struggle across the emppty space where the halls met until she encountered the far diagonal wall.

Every other system seemed to be functioning perfectly, but not a single light was working anywhere on the ship. There wasn't a glimmer aboard that did not come from a viewport.

Except for the fire which B'Elanna had built in engineering, Janeway reminded herself with some trepidation. They had tried to use phosphorescent plants to view the panels, but couldn't get enough light to risk working by. Desperate for a way to see the controls, Torres and Carey had gotten some slow-burning, edible stalks from Neelix and then had them flash-dried. Now they had a good old- fashioned bonfire burning...less than fifteen meters from the warp core.

Janeway would much rather have been in her ready room, where at least some light crept in through the big windows, rather than out here groping blindly in the corridors, which were deserted for the most part; everyone who was not at work directly on the problem had been ordered to remain on the living decks. Nonetheless, the captain had almost gotten knocked over by one crewmember and had had her foot stomped on by another. She considered that perhaps they should all wear personal security alarms until the engineers had this latest crisis figured out. Tricorders weren't much help in identifying what was coming at them; they couldn't see to read them.

She reached the end of the wall her fingers had been tracing, and struggled to envision the space ahead. "Computer, how far from where I'm standing to the access panel on the bulkhead backing to auxiliary control?"

Four meters, came the acrid report, oddly comforting in the stillness. Janeway had an urge to ask the computer to talk her across the distance, then laughed at herself for being afraid of the dark. Without the ship's chatter, she could have imagined herself anywhere: in a cave, on an enemy vessel, even in some torture chamber where things only seemed to be familiar. Four meters, she could do that in twelve even steps. She released the panel under her hand, turned a little more sharply than she needed to in order to avoid missing the far wall, and stepped forward.

"Ooomph!" Three steps out, she smacked hard into something solid and warm coming from the adjacent corridor, spinning her around and knocking her down. "Shit!" Janeway exclaimed before catching herself; now she had no idea which direction to turn towards in order to reach engineering.

A hand had caught one of her shoulders and was groping for the other one, fumbling across her neck and over her breasts before reaching its destination. Fighting a flash of anger, Janeway told herself that whoever it was only wanted to get her back onto her feet. She grabbed at the arms helping her and pulled herself upright, using her crash victim for leverage.

"Are you all right, Captain?" an amused voice inquired out of the dark, as the broad chest she bumped into vibrated against her torso. That soft, musical baritone was unmistakable, as was the scent of his body, overwhelmingly familiar. She was lost momentarily in the memory of another accidental encounter in the dark--stumbling back from the toilet in the middle of the night and crashing into a half-dressed man who'd gotten up to find something to eat. That shelter they had shared on New Earth was pitch black inside when the lights were out. She had been wearing satin, and his hands had slid over it hungrily, the replicator forgotten, steering her through the darkness to the safety of his bed, the warmth of the blanket where he lowered her, sighing her name...

Concentrate on the present, Janeway told herself. "Just winded," she gasped more dramatically than she intended, feeling belatedly her soreness from hitting the floor. "Were you going to engineering also?"

"Trying to," Chakotay replied with a hum of sarcasm in his voice. "Although I'm wondering whether we're not just going to be in the way down there. B'Elanna seemed pretty confident that she, Carey, and Harry Kim could get the problem straightened out if they could track down the radiation which she thinks is causing all this. And she also thought it might be a good idea not to expose any more of the crew."

Janeway hit at her comm badge, striking herself hard in the chest before finally touching metal and hearing the familiar chirp. "Janeway to Torres. How's it going down there?"

"We're working as fast as we can, Captain." B'Elanna sounded annoyed at being summoned. "We still think there must have been some kind of radiation in that nebula we passed through, we're trying to determine what might be needed to compensate. Captain, could you please make a general annoucement to the crew asking them not to keep calling engineering to ask if we need help? Answering everyone is just slowing us down."

"Of course. Carry on, Lieutenant." Janeway hit her comm badge again and made the announcement, then shifted away from her first officer, whose hands were still on her upper arms. "Maybe you're right, Commander. I guess we should stay up here."

She felt him reach behind himself, keeping his remaining hand against her elbow. "I can feel the wall behind me. I think that's the direction I came from. We're not very far from my quarters."

She nodded, then realized that in the dark the gesture would be lost on him. "We can always check with the computer to see whether we're getting closer." He turned her with his hands and they shuffled down the invisible corridor, each keeping a hand pressed to the wall. After a time the solid panel dipped into a doorway and she knew that they had found living quarters.

"Mine should be about six more." Janeway reached in front of herself to touch his back in the blackness and he jumped slightly.

"Just me." Her fingers encountered Chakotay's as they fell from his shoulder and he caught her hand in his own. A surprised blush crossed her face but she didn't pull away; it wasn't as though anyone was going to spot them together, and he couldn't see her expression anyway. Plus she felt better knowing exactly where he was. He stopped in front of the wrong room first, then drew her forward when the doors wouldn't open for him. His own quarters spilled a faint glow into the corridor when they finally reached them, and he swung her in front of him to let her enter first.

"It's so good to be able to see a little." Moving to the window with her hands out in order to avoid furniture, the dim light nonetheless stung her eyes, the way sunlight always did when she beamed down from the dull light of the transporter room to daytime on an M-class planet. She tripped against a chair and Chakotay's arm steadied her.

"Come sit," he said, directing her toward the couch by the window. Since they were his own quarters, he could navigate more easily than she; deja vu again. She pushed it out of her mind. "Want anything to eat? I have replicator rations..."

"Thank you, I'm fine, Commander, uh, Chakotay." His title seemed temporarily inappropriate to her. "I, um, do you have work you needed to do? I don't want to intrude..."

"I don't think I can get crew evaluations done in a room this dark." She could hear his smile. "If you don't mind, they'll be a little late. What's your pleasure? Shall we discuss scheduling, or are you going to regale me with stories of your last command?" Chuckling, he sat beside her, making the couch shake.

"I'd rather hear about your brilliant Maquis victories over hapless Starfleet captains." She batted at his arm in the dimness, but he caught her fingers before she could swat him.

"I don't think so. You'll just rush back to your quarters to make a report so that seventy years from now, you can get credit for busting Maquis strategy." He stopped for a moment, sighing. "It's still hard to think about. By the time we get back, there may be no more Demilitarized Zone. My home might be gone. Or the Federation and Cardassians may have formed an alliance against some threat we can't even imagine." His tone concerned Janeway and she left her hand resting in his, wishing she could see his expression. "I guess we didn't bother to talk about any of this when we thought there was no chance of going back to it. If you want, I'll tell you about my checkered past, as long as you promise me that everything we say is off the record."

"Of course," she agreed. She waited, but he remained silent; she could feel his eyes on her in the darkened room. "I didn't mean to pry..."

"It's not that." His fingers tightened on hers, then let go just as abruptly, unsure of the boundaries. He's been lonely, she thought. We haven't even managed to go back to being friends, because we've both been afraid of where it might lead, but this isolation isn't good for us or for the ship...

"Let's drop rank for the night and just talk, Chakotay."

"All right." Chakotay hesitated. "Kathryn. Or is it not safe to drop rank that far?"

"Just as long as you never say it on the bridge." She shifted self-consciously. "Your name is a lot more interesting than mine, anyway. Is it traditional?"

"Common name, unusual spelling," he replied, and began to tell her about his planet, the ritual when he received the first marks of his tattoo, the slow merger of Native American tribes from both north and south when the resettlement occurred and what it had done to their discrete traditions. Chakotay's voice grew warm and animated as he spoke. He brought stone carvings from across the room to let her handle, which she realized that he must have created when they had been stranded together--she had kept herself so busy at first with research, and later they hadn't discussed their pasts all that much, not wanting to dwell on things they were never going to see again. Though she had known he worked on carvings and sand paintings, she had never stopped to ask him about them.

Now his fingers lingered over hers on the objects she couldn't see as he explained what the lines and grooves represented. They touched more than necessary, but in the invisible room, the contact was a form of communication, replacing the glances they would normally have exchanged. Janeway was reminded not of being comfortably close to him all those weeks on New Earth, but of the unsettling intimacy when he had first taken her hand in her ready room to put her in touch with her animal guide. Neither of them had known what to do about the electricity between them at that time, and the spark was back, giving off warning jolts when they made contact. When she began to withdraw, her responses reduced to monosyllables, he grew quiet.

"Enough about me already. Let's talk about you. Your parents were both scientists?"

"One officer. Mostly my mother stayed home, though she taught occasionally. I miss her," she added automatically, and then was siezed by a pain in her chest which traveled slowly to her throat. "There are so many things I wish I could ask her about. I used to talk to her all the time, more than once a week. She kept me focused on science, and why I got into all this, when I got distracted by Starfleet politics. I'm sure she thinks I'm dead."

Chakotay's fingers found hers once again and closed over them protectively. An acute desire to hold on to him washed over Janeway. She therefore knew at once that she should leave. Her hand stiffened under his and he relaxed his grip somewhat. "I thought you said no rank?" His voice held another question.

"No rank, not no rules." She tried to sound lighthearted, but could not force the humor into her voice. "As soon as the lights go back on, we have to snap back into command mode."

"Haven't I always served under you adequately, Captain?" The easy grin in his tone was all too identifiable, and she took her hand back, clenching it tightly in her lap with the other one. "I'm sorry. Bad joke. Laugh, would you?"

"I really should go." It occurred to Janeway that it had been over an hour since either of them had checked with engineering, B'Elanna might be wondering what had happened to them. "Thank you..." She froze in the blackness, wavering between his name and title, again wishing she could see his face. If she left now, shutting him out like a dismissal, he might never talk to her this way again--they would be completely isolated, even from one another. On the other hand, if she said his name, and he touched her again--

"Stop." Chakotay spoke lightly, in the tone of a mock command, but there was a hint of a plea underneath. "Stop being the captain for a few minutes. You know you can trust me." She was unprepared when he leaned close to her, his mouth almost grazing her ear. "I'd let you go if I thought you were doing it because you want to leave," he murmured. "But I think you're doing it because you want to stay. Am I wrong?"

Janeway lifted her chin to reply, but before she could say a word--before she had formulated words to say--he caught her face gently in his hands and moved his lips over hers. The kiss was soft, assured, delicious; her body responded instantly, pressing against him before she could stop herself. By the time she pulled back, she could feel the appreciative smile turning up the corners of his mouth. "Protocol, Commander," she reminded them both, and felt him shake his head.

"No, you said not tonight. It's not fair to change the rules in the middle." His hands moved to her collar, then his mouth followed, brushing the underside of her jawbone while he pulled off the round buttons marking her grade. "Besides, it's too dark for me to see how many pips you're wearing." She felt his hands drop to her shoulders and slide very deliberately down her torso, stopping to strip the comm badge from her chest, continuing without hesitation over her breasts, around her waist, across her belly and past her thighs before starting back up again. His nose nuzzled her cheek. "It's also too dark for me to see your face, but I can feel you blushing, Kathryn."

She started to say, "I'm turning crimson with rage..." and then moaned abruptly as he silenced her with another kiss, his tongue darting into her open mouth. Her lips molded themselves to his as her instincts once again outpaced her rational mind. Again she stopped herself. "Please, don't."

"We're off duty."

"We're never off duty on this ship. We are the senior officers and we have to be able to work together."

"Does that mean we're not allowed to have feelings? We have to suffer alone for the next seventy years?"

"You're projecting your needs onto me."

Chakotay left his hands on either side of her neck, tickling just below her hairline, where he could surely feel her pulse racing in the hollow of her throat. "Kathryn. If you don't want me now that I'm no longer the last man in the universe, I can understand that. But don't use hierarchy as an excuse. Be honest with me."

He waited, his breath warm against her face, while she let herself experience the explosion of feeling that shook her body at the possibility of assenting. There on her ship, in the darkness which hid everything, what would it mean to make love with her First Officer? Janeway felt light years removed from reality, as she had during those weeks alone with him--not just separated from home and Starfleet, but from Voyager, her command responsibilities, the physical reality of his body and her own. The galaxy contracted around them as if they were in a warp bubble, the only two people who existed, a dangerous and intoxicating state. She sensed his lips brushing her eyelids, lulling them closed, and pulled back one more time.

"If we do this, we're not going to be able to sit together in a conference room tomorrow and wipe it out of our minds."

"Of course we won't," Chakotay admitted, and although it was the wrong answer, his directness moved her; she couldn't see his features, but she could visualize perfectly his expression, open and intense and a little melancholy. "I could never forget being with you, ever. But it's not going to change how we work together. Whatever happens here in the dark is a world apart from what we do out there."

It was true: she felt as though she were dreaming, and if the lights came on she would find herself alone in her own quarters. Even if she left now--even if she had left before he kissed her--they had already taken a turn down an untrod corridor, stumbling outside their usual relationship. She had a feeling they were not the only couple on the ship huddled together against the loneliness of the night. The unexpected blindness had hidden the order of things.

Her arm reached to remove the command insignia from his collar as he had done to hers, but before she could touch him, Chakotay intercepted her hand and caught her pointer finger in his mouth, sucking gently on it while he nibbled the tip with his molars. She shivered and felt him brush her nipples, which had sprung erect at the odd sensation. His hands moved together, then hesitated at the zipper on her uniform. Janeway reached back to pull her hair loose, her chest arching forward against him as she unwound the twists, tugging the hair in front of her to fall across her bosom and onto his hand. His fingers tangled into it, distracted, and she siezed the moment to slide her own hands down his body, into his groin.

The darkness had hidden his arousal--she could feel him twitch and throb under his clothes, startled by the sudden contact. Quickly freeeing her upper body from her uniform, he helped her pull her arms out of the tight sleeves while she rose to her knees on the couch above him. The moment her breasts were accessible, his mouth was first on one and then the other, his purrs of pleasure tickling her as much as his tongue.

Janeway lifted his head with her hands and he quickly shed his own uniform, tossing it across the room while she wriggled her remaining clothes down her legs and into a heap on the floor. Straining to see him in the blackness, she gave up and let her fingers take him in slowly, starting at the neck just below his ears and moving down his body in much the manner he had stroked her earlier. She could feel the broad muscles of his chest and arms, the hairlessness of his belly and the sparse curls on his legs. His scalp smelled clean and his lower body exuded a scent almost like fresh bread, salt and yeast and something indefinable that made her mouth water. She was very aware of her limited senses in darkness this complete, with only his sounds and his skin moving under her hands to guide her.

Chakotay inspected her with his tongue as well as his hands, licking everywhere, humming as though she tasted good. An urge to fall back on the couch began to possess her, but she wanted to hold him there for awhile longer, where she could explore and remember without his eyes meeting her own. She pushed gently against his forehead and the thick dark hair above it until his face inclined upwards, letting her fingers trace lightly over where she knew the tattoo to be, down across the bridge of his nose and the sculpted curves of his slightly parted lips. He kissed her fingers as they slid by, then turned his face back to kiss her waist while her hands dropped across his ears and neck to rub his back. Her hips began to move slightly as he licked his way down her body until he stopped, face buried in her abdomen, and helped her lie down, supporting the arch of her back with his hands.

Janeway rolled her legs under her and dropped, taking him with her. He nuzzled the coarse hair between her legs with his nose while his tongue probed lower. Then he sat back unexpectedly, losing contact with her. She lay alone in the dark for what seemed like several minutes, unable to gauge the passage of time, tension building in her. Just when she was about to call out for him, she felt his palms pressing the bottoms of her feet, kneading her soles, working gradually up to her ankles and then her knees. Chakotay moved his hands very slowly up her body, caressing and massaging, although she had the distinct feeling that he was also trying to build a visual picture of her from the tactile sensations. She lay still for him, tracing idle patterns on his back with her fingernails.

Sliding his hands over her thighs, spreading her wide around him, Chakotay hunched down and paused for a long moment as though he were studying her. Janeway felt herself blushing at the sudden image of what they must look like: she on her back with her hair falling off the couch and her knees drawn up, he curled between her legs gazing at her invisible naked body. His fingers searched her delicately as if he were prospecting for treasure, until she felt a trickle of heat well up in her and bucked up against his mouth. He pressed down confidently, tongue moving over the places his hands had been a moment before.

She closed her eyes, then opened them again, suddenly uncertain whether she usually made love with her eyes mostly open or shut. In the black room she could have pretended Chakotay was anyone, which made her fiercely aware of her joy that it was he who was with her; if she had been with anyone else or even alone that night, she knew she would have imagined him there. Something in her psyche had shifted; no longer could she be aroused by reverie about Mark, or any of her past lovers, or holographic dream men. The truth was that she hadn't thought about anyone but Chakotay for months--she could admit that now--not just during those weeks alone with him, but for a long time before, ever since that alien monstrosity had made her realize that she'd already begun to let go of Mark, and that no programmed fantasy could replace the reality she wanted.

She needed to see Chakotay's face and pulled him level with her, letting his solid weight envelop her, while her fingers traced the outines of his eyes and his damp, smiling lips. Words threatened to spill out of her in the privacy of the blackness, but she did not want to risk awakening from the silence where no rationality disturbed their communion. Chakotay drew in a slow breath of anticipation. She could feel him hesitating, pressing and retreating, until a flood of want made her so slick that he surged into her. They both gasped. A long, slow withdrawal, then he slid forward again inside her as she moaned in pleasure, her legs wrapping around his back. The thrusts fell into a secure cadence, pulling back until she lifted herself to him, his fingers stroking down her torso to press her pelvis. He remembered, he knew just how she liked it.

Soft whimpers began to escape through her nose. He kissed her, rolling his tongue to the same tempo as her clenching and releasing, increasing speed and urgency as she did. Feeling the slow contracting of her lower back, the tightening beginning in her belly, she freed her legs from around him, suspending them in midair the way she herself was suspended on the edge of the peak. His groan vibrated through her, she was going to drop first, slamming her feet down to propel her body upward to him, she shrieked into his mouth, her hips almost throwing him off her and the couch with the force of the wave that crested through her body. Through the burst she felt him stiffen, arms crushing her sides as his weight came down on her, the careful rhythm disintegrating into frantic spurts forward, while he made a sound from the back of his throat like a howl.

She caught his parted lips with her own as his head lowered, energized as he murmured her name into her mouth. Panting, they slowed to rest, their limbs growing damply attached to one another while his heart pounded against her chest. Inhaling deeply, she locked her arms around him. His hands came up to caress her shoulders as they lay together, breathing in the darkness. She thought she could lie there, holding him in the vastness of space, until the lights came back on to break the spell.

"I've missed you so much, Kathryn," he whispered finally.

She opened her mouth to respond--to remind him that they saw each other for hours every day, that they were friends and partners, that the work didn't allow time to dwell on might-have-beens. "I've missed you, too," she heard herself saying instead. She was suddenly glad neither of them was in condition for all-night, adoring lovemaking, she did not want to remember just how good a lover he was, she was afraid of the conversation they might be about to have, in the middle of a shipwide crisis...

The thought jolted her back to herself, the head of this starship, lying with her second in command in the repose of passion. That was exactly why this was wrong, why they could never reconcile their duty with their inclinations. Never mind that the ship was running smoothly even now, without either of them supervising, that their people knew their jobs, they all knew their responsibilities. She felt Chakotay shift to let her sit up, but he did not move away, keeping in physical contact with most of her body, his touch an unexpected thrill in the blackness. "Kathryn..."

Stopping whatever he had planned to say, he placed something in her hand, surprising her. "Here--your comm badge. We should contact engineering."

Janeway thought that she had never felt so able to read his thoughts as here where she could not read his expression. A sense of rightness rolled over her. She smiled in the shadows as she activated the communicator. "Janeway to Torres." Her throat felt clogged and she wondered whether her voiice would sound hoarse to the engineer. "You haven't checked in in awhile, Lieutenant. What's going on down there? Did you track down the radiation problem?"

"We did, Captain, and we just found out why it isn't affecting any other ship's systems. It's because the problem is with our eyes. All artificial lights work in the same part of the visual spectrum, and the radiation apparently caused our eyes to stop seeing within certain wavelengths; it's why we can see the natural light sources, they have a much broader range of output. We don't need to fix the ship, we just need to get away from the source. Once we get beyond the nebula, treat everyone, and decontaminate Voyager, there shouldn't be any problem."

"Did you ask the Doctor about this?" Janeway was surprised; she'd never heard of such a problem.

"I'm discussing the situation with Engineering right now," she heard the nasal voice of the hologram cut in, and smiled again before blushing pink at the knowledge that the Doctor was probably quite aware of the situation between Chakotay and herself: he could monitor people's pulse rates and hormonal surges, he could eavesdrop on any conversation in a room with a computer terminal. At the moment, however, he was busy reporting. "I believe your eyes must have reacted defensively to the radiation. Your retinas were overloaded, but the nerves failed to relay that information to your brains, so you thhought you weren't seeing enough light when in fact you were blinded by input from outside the visual spectrum. Look out the window, even the stars will seem dimmer than usual to your damaged eyes." Janeway took a good look out the port for the first time since entering Chakotay's quarters and reflected that Torres was right; they just hadn't been paying attention, they had been so certain the problem lay in the ship.

"We can control the ship's course from down here," B'Elanna was continuing. "So unless you have a different plan, I think it's probably safest for everyone to remain where they are for the next few hours, until we're completely out of the nebula's range. Then we can begin treatment and decontamination."

"Very well. Good work, Lieutenant. I'll inform the crew." Janeway broke the connection, reported on their status, then turned back to the man waiting beside her. "I guess we're stuck with each other for the next few hours."

He shifted his leg slightly and her own skin clung moistly to him. "And stuck to each other." Chakotay's voice filled with familiar humor. "Are you hungry? I'm starving. Let's use up all our replicator rations on something we shouldn't eat in the dark because it'll make a real mess."

"Chocolate fondue," Janeway said immediately. "With fruit and cheese. And whipped cream."

"Much better without any clothes on to stain." Surprised delight from him. She smiled as she followed his train of thought.

"And we can lick up the mess."

"It'll be my pleasure, Captain." The warm voice moved over her like a caress. "Anything else you want?"

She resisted the dozen suggestive answers which came immediately to mind. "Yes. Don't call me by that title for the rest of the night. Remember, whatever happens here is between you and me, not the Captain and First Officer of this ship."

His laughter shot across the room like a beacon as he moved toward the replicator on the far wall. She thought, one day soon we'll be in the kitchen, surrounded by people, and someone will say something about chocolate, and we'll try not to look at each other. Like when anyone mentions bathtubs, or monkeys, or bugs. Her eyes closed in anticipation of her future reaction, then opened again; silly to shut one's eyes in a black room, silly to be so moved by what was almost a dream. Almost.