Kathryn continued to work to keep her mouth shut as Chakotay detailed the plan of action he and his 'crew' had laid out. She resented not being consulted, but she had no viable option save follow the lead of the man who knew this world better than she ever would.
"I am open to suggestions, but if you don't have a better one, we'll follow my plan." Chakotay turned as he stepped out, catching her daggered gaze before the well-schooled look of diplomacy quickly replaced it. "Oh, and I've removed the guard. You're free to wander - within reason."
"His or ours?" Radik muttered irritably as the door shut and found himself on the receiving end of a similar glare.
"His, Mr. Radik. We are ‘guests' here."
"Prisoners would be more like it . . ." Catching another sharp look, the ensign retreated into command protocol. " . . . Ma'am."
"Today Chakotay is our ally, Ensign. I suggest you remember that and act accordingly. Our mission is still the same."
Like hell it is Kathryn. Like hell. But the ensign took her at her word and slouched on the couch, where he remained wordlessly sulking, staring at the still closed door. She was about to let him test Chakotay's newfound largesse, just to remove his hostile presence from the sitting area when the door he was busy mentally warping with a non-existent phaser slid back.
"Seven?" she mouthed, not sure whether she was more amazed to find the former Borg walking freely through Chakotay's compound like she belonged there, or, to find her old protégé looking so, well, human.
"It is good to see you, Captain."
The formality of her speech and the utterly composed look on her face seemed to be all that remained of the sleekly proper Voyager crewman. Pale blonde hair tied back in a skin cord framed her face. Her catsuit was replaced by a loose poet's shirt under a leather vest and dark, sturdy trousers and boots. Not hard to see whose style she was emulating - her new captain's.
Kathryn found herself fighting to push down an irrational surge of jealousy.
A totally different look replaced the insolence on Radik's face.
Chakotay had called it a 'watering hole.' It wasn't even that, merely a couple of tables and dilapidated chairs in a dark, forgotten corner. Surprisingly, Chakotay seemed to look as much at home at this moment as he had in uniform occupying the center section of her bridge. His gaze swept the barroom and settled, narrow-eyed, on a shivering bundle of rags with matted loops of hair that would have made a Kazon envious. He started toward the disheveled being, leaving her to tag in his wake.
"A little short this month, p'oocha?"
The edge in his voice traveled right through her, harsh and cold. She caught his gaze and thought she saw something flicker behind the unaccustomed hardness, a kind of mental shrug in her direction. He was a Maquis captain, probably more like an admiral by now, and this is what Maquis captains did. What they had to do. Maybe that was who he'd been all the time, a person who did what they had to -- be it take direction from a newly adrift Starfleet captain or act the part in a darkened hole of a bar.
The dusty heap stirred, two azure eyes staring back at him with the dimness that withdrawal brings. :I ain't seen no Fleeters, ‘Kotay. You know you'd get it out of me in the end. I ain't gonna lie no more."
Chakotay straddled one of the chairs smoothly. "Not looking for Fleeters, Zerb. I'm looking for him."
He unpocketed a holo of Tom Paris. "You'd notice him, Zerb. You like the easy prey and this one's blind."
"I didn't rake him," protested the humanoid, raising six-fingered hands in filthy gloves.
"But someone else did, didn't they?" prodded Chakotay.
Zerb twisted his head and caught sight of the Maquis' companion. Dressed like a rebel, but with a hard, clear stare that would have looked more appropriate on one of those Fleeters Chakotay was also on the lookout for. The thought that what he knew might fill his vial flitted across Zerb's hazed mind.
Chakotay turned and followed his gaze watching a slow, greedy smile twist the cracked lips. Zerb began to hum tunelessly to himself.
What he wanted was plain enough. Ten bars of latinum and a dance with the lovely lady. Only he didn't call her a lady and what he did call her turned Chakotay's bronze face a dull red. He lifted the wheezing pile off the chair with one large hand and slammed him into the nearest wall.
Zerb grinned his missing teeth as Chakotay turned to go and Kathryn caught his arm. "What about Tom?"
"Give him some time." Zerb staggered back to his seat looking neither disappointed or expectant. "In a couple of hours the hallucinations start."
"What if Tom and Harry don't have a couple of hours?"
"Are you planning on ‘dancing' with him then?"
"Not at all." She laid her palm flat against Chakotay's chest and pressed him out of the way.
Zerb licked his dry lips at the sight of her, red hair and sturdy clothes that did little to hide the feminine form underneath. Then he nearly bit his tongue in two as a small booted foot collapsed the chair's legs.
"So that's how the Maquis do it," she hissed. "Very effective."
Zerb staggered from the alley, the single bar of latinum he'd wrangled on its fast way to becoming a bubbling in the blue vial.
Chakotay's gaze tightened on her. "You seemed to take to it well," he observed, taking the split knuckles into his hand. "But then there were always those times."
The look on her face dared him to take the observation any farther. If she'd played Maquis on the other side of the galaxy then it had been a necessity, not a choice. If she played it here, it was driven by the same goal. Get her people home.
She withdrew her hand from his. "I think we have a date with the Polie."
Harry woke to a soft caress on his jaw. He cracked open his swollen eyes and jerked back, his broken ribs raising a lancing protest.
"Ah, the pretty Starfleet boys. You shouldn't have fought, you know, you didn't leave me any redecorating."
The other hand, not occupied with cupping his cheek, reached to where Tom curled asleep or unconscious, his blond head dropped back awkwardly. With a surge of energy Harry couldn't have imagined he could muster, he aimed a kick at the well-muscled thigh. It was a pitiful jab but it was enough to turn their captor's attention away from Tom's bruised and swollen face. The answering blow was swift and powerful. A second blow snapped his head into the damp cold stone of the cell's wall.
"Harry?" muttered Tom, awakened by the commotion, trying to rise.
"Well, maybe just a little additional decoration, just for me . . ." mused the man as another blow rocked him backward.
"Harry?" Tom sounded frightened and it was the thought of what would happen if the man's attention turned to the broken arm, the swollen leg, that managed to drag Harry to his knees. He planned . . . . hell, he didn't have a plan. There was only the thought of launching himself between Tom and their tormentor.
But what Tom would call 'the gods that protect good Starfleet designers' must have finally come to aid him. There was a sharp query from outside the cell. The man rose with a grunt and answered, his playtime apparently over. Harry groaned softly in relief.
"Harry?" Tom repeated his name. His head cocked toward the retreating guard. He stayed still, trying to make up for his lack of vision. Listening to his friend's labored breathing. "Harry, did he hurt you?"
He must have passed out for a moment because the next thing he knew Tom was wiping blood from his mouth, his fingers gingerly examining the split in his lip.
"It looks worse than it is," he cracked as Tom's touch moved over the blood-slickened cheekbone.
"It better feel worse than it is," replied Tom, trying for the same tone and not finding it.
Harry caught his good wrist. "It's alright. I'll be okay."
"I believe you have something we might want."
Kathryn stood back once more and played her part, letting Chakotay do the talking. Better for them to think the Maquis were merely interested in gaining a couple prisoners than to let them know they held a starship design expert and an admiral's son.
"I've heard of you, Chakotay. You have some admirable skills. Pity you waste them on a hopeless cause. We could offer you more ‘gainful' employment. A man only has so much time left."
The leader of the ‘negotiation delegation' frowned suddenly. "But we said come alone." He nodded in Kathryn's direction. "Who is she?"
Chakotay smiled, drawing her closer to him. "As you said, a man only has so much time. I prefer to spend mine in the company of beauty."
He knew it was work for his former captain to keep the reaction to that statement off her face and he didn't know quite why he said it. Useless to endanger the mission over something so trivial as explaining why he'd brought along a female colleague.
"It's been said you had a weakness. I believe before it was a Bajoran."
Kathryn could feel the slight tightening of his muscles as she willed herself still in his embrace. Nothing else gave his anger away. "I admire your intelligence gathering."
"And I admire your taste in companions. Speaking of which, we seem to be able to offer you a bargain. I believe they call it ‘two for the price of one.' I don't know if the other one is Starfleet, but he knows the lieutenant. Surely he might be good for something."
"I would like to see the . . . merchandise."
"I'm sure you would, but at the moment it's a bit inconvenient. Unfortunately our guests could do with some tidying up."
Chakotay frowned and managed to cover his distress with a comment about "damaged goods."
"I'm sure they'll be prepared for your inspection. Shall we say, tonight? There'll be a transport at Najah Dock at the hour of tide." He grinned and mocked a salute toward the duo. "Captain . . . and Beauty."
Najah Dock lay on the small strip of water between a finger of land and the fast lanes of Derer Port, brackish and abandoned. No lifesigns, not on the tricorder, but the transport was there as promised. Chakotay entered, palming the small sweeper device, then waved Kathryn in. The hatch slammed immediately behind her and the little craft sprung from the water. A wave dancer, repelling a meter or so above the dark swells.
They were silent for a long moment, then Chakotay shrugged. "Nothing on the scanner."
"Nothing on the panel either," noted Kathryn.
"The Polie are a bit secretive. They'll get you out here, fly you in circles a few hours. When you're throughly dizzy they'll land."
Twenty minutes passed. Forty. An hour. The passengers in the little dancer fidgeted. Tried to make discreet conversation, make plans.
“You've gotten gray."
Chakotay's looked up, startled in the sudden personal turn of their small talk. "I blame it on Starfleet. I wasn't gray when you captured me."
"You were eight years younger, too."
The slightest bit of grin turned up the corners of his mouth. "There is something I've been wondering," he began.
"All right," she conceded. "I think I can afford to answer a question or two."
"Are you really living with Patrick Steubins? The most boring tactical professor that ever lived?"
"That's the kind of secret information the Maquis plumb these days?"
The dark eyes challenged her to answer and she was grateful the dark interior would hide the blush she felt creeping up. "Yes, Patrick and I are living together."
"Mind if I ask why him?"
"Mind, yes. Will that stop you?"
Chakotay settled back against the seat. "If you don't want to tell me . . ."
Kathryn leaned back, too. "He's . . . understanding. Significant other wants to go on a three solar month cruise to the backwater, he doesn't raise an eyebrow. Feeds the pets. Waters the plants. When I come home I get a nice dinner and the obligatory roll in the hay. It's …reassuring."
"Sounds . . . boring."
"Maybe compared to your pirate existence. Sometimes boring is good. My turn," she inquired.
"Are you sleeping with Seven?"
"With . . . Seven?" An odd grin formed on his face. "If I was Kathryn, why would you care? Because I'd be brainwashing your favorite protege - the way I brainwashed Tom and B'elanna?"
"I'm not worried about Seven. She's got the memories of millions on her shoulders. It's just you fell for a Borg before . . ." Across from her Chakotay stiffened. "Let's just say I was surprised to see her here. Last time I heard she was going for a tour of the Alpha Quadrant."
"Couldn't blame her for not wanting to stay in Starfleet."
"No I couldn't. I just never imagined that would mean she'd end up here."
"You know, those enhancements go right down to . . ."
Chakotay was instantly sorry he'd said it. Kathryn snapped to command posture, the humor leaving her voice. "They do?"
"It was a joke, Kathryn."
"Even if it wasn't. It's none of my business. Besides, you started it."
Chakotay huffed out a breath. It was growing stuffier in the cabin each passing moment.
Tom was grateful enough for the sudden gentle ministrations of his captors. He was now clean, fed and relatively free of the deep aches that their prior beating had inflicted. He was also worried. They'd been happy enough to take our their more violent impulses on their captives. This sudden concern for their well-being meant only one thing - the buyer was here. And of all the beings who might be privy to the Polie's private auction, he only knew of one he'd care to be sold to . . .
Harry glared distrustfully at the back of the guard who had taken them from the makeshift medical suite they'd just visited to this new room. Might as well be another stone cell from the double shift of guards at the force field of a door.
"Where are we?" asked Tom feeling anxious in the quiet.
"Their luxury accommodations. No sweating rocks. No guards with spiked gloves."
"That's an improvement . . ." observed Tom grimly. "What do you see?"
"Two phaser-wielding evolutionary dead ends guarding a class four forcefield?"
Tom hugged his wounded arm lightly against him. The sharp pang of the broken bone had dulled but not diminished entirely. Harry saw him cradling his injured limb and reached to examine the break once more. Tom winced as he pressed on the still swollen flesh. "They didn't exactly pass the ortho boards. I'll fix it when we get out."
"If we get out," echoed Harry morosely.
Tom clapped him on the back with his good hand. "Have faith Harry, when have I ever gotten in more trouble than I could get out of?"
"You want me to make a list?" grumbled his cell mate.
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