Disclaimer: These characters bear a vague resemblance to those owned by Paramount, though I suspect they’d never ever let their two-dimensional Kathryn Janeway enjoy herself this much.
Summary: Some types of persuasion are more effective than others, as the Voyager crew discovers when Cupid pays them a visit. With love in the air, schemes are hatched to capture it. But who’s scamming whom?
This is a Valentine’s Day story for JinnyR. May it distract her from teeth pain, if only for a little while!
B’Elanna Torres was day-dreaming away a tedious night shift in engineering – a curious juxtaposition of words, but a pleasant way to pass the time - when it happened.
A squat man, with a rounded stomach and balding pate suddenly appeared a metre to the left of the warp core. It had been a long night, and if he’d arrived a few minutes later he may have caught her drifting into sleep. Instead, the slight popping sound his appearance made roused her immediately. She stared at the rumpled intruder with bleary eyes for a moment, before rousing herself to call security.
"I wouldn’t do that," the man said, with a crooked smile. "You can’t anyway, I’ve cut the communication line."
B’Elanna pushed herself up from her station, the steamy romance novel she’d been reading on her break clattering from her lap to the floor. "Computer," she ordered, "intruder alert."
The man only grinned at her impudently. In the reflected glow of the core she could see he had several missing teeth. "No use doing that either, lass. You’re trapped in this room with me for now."
She stared at him for a moment, measuring his stocky frame, shabby clothes and distinctively tart odour. Despite his dingy exterior, she didn’t sense any malice from this stranger. He merely stood by the core, gazing curiously around the engine room as though he’d never seen one before. Her own quick survey of the room reminded her that she was, for the moment, alone. The other unlucky members of the Gamma shift, a little unnerved by the presence of their immediate boss, had retreated to another room to review the week’s maintenance schedule. Or, as B’Elanna had suspected, to covertly enjoy a midnight snack and some ship’s gossip away from the intimidating gaze of their chief engineer. She let them get away with it, once or twice, just to make them feel like they could. For some reason, it seemed good for morale.
"Who are you?"
B’Elanna began stalking towards him. He held up a wart-encrusted hand, as if to ward her away.
"I’m not here to hurt you, little miss." Again there was little malice in the voice, only weary irritation.
"Who are you?" she repeated. "How did you get here?"
The man sighed, and scratched along his weather-beaten face. "I might have known it. Humans. They’re so pushy."
B’Elanna snorted derisively. "I’m half Klingon, actually. Or are your eyes so bad you didn’t notice these?" She gestured towards her cranial ridges.
The man shrugged. "Human. Klingon. Whatever. Inferior species all look alike to me."
"But you look human." B’Elanna’s eyes began to narrow dangerously. "Are you Q? Or a different Q? One we haven’t met before?"
If the man was confused by her strange grammar he didn’t show it. Instead he pulled himself up to his full height, which was, in truth, not very high at all, and much to her surprise, spat on the floor beside him.
"Pah," he said. "Q. When I get my hands on that rogue, he’ll be sorry he ever met me."
Her eyebrows shot up in surprise, both at the spitting and the vitriolic reaction. "You know him, then?"
"I know of him," the man said in disgust. "Everywhere I go it’s the same damned story. Everyone thinks I’m Q. ‘Q’, they snarl, and hurl insults at me. No wonder they don’t trust us. He gives omnipotent beings such a terrible name."
Normally B’Elanna would have felt inclined to snigger at such a strange declaration, but the look of distaste on his face suggested he was actually telling the truth.
"Who are you then?" she demanded. "And who is ‘us’."
The man stared at her as if insulted. "Don’t you recognise me, girly?"
B’Elanna ran her gaze over him once again while he glared at her from beneath his ample yet wiry eyebrows.
"No," she said eventually. "Should I?"
"Humph," the man snorted. "Mortals. You disappear for a few years, and they completely forget about you. Fickle." He shook his head depreciatingly. "Very fickle."
B’Elanna could feel the sluggish effects of the night’s work wearing off. She badly needed a raktajino. And her impatience with this intruder – and the terms he was using for her - was definitely growing by the second.
"Alright. I’m mortal. You’re omnipotent. I’m fickle. You’re important. Care to enlighten me further?"
Crewmen and officers alike had shivered at the icy tone of voice she was now using. The man merely grunted and clicked his fingers. Another hollow popping sound echoed through the room, and a gleaming bow and quiver clustered with arrows materialised on the floor between them.
"Knew I’d forgotten something," he muttered. "Always forget something when I pack."
B’Elanna placed her hands squarely on her hips.
"You’re not a Q," she said. "So what is it? A time-traveler? A ghost? An alien from the sixth dimension?"
The man stopped scooping up his belongings and screwed up his grubby face. "The what?"
"Name! Kahless! Do you have a name?"
The intruder bent again to reach his bow, then slung the quiver over his shoulder in one smoothly practiced movement.
"I’m called Eric," he said. "Actually," he rubbed his whiskers thoughtfully, "that’s a relatively new addition. You probably know me as Eros. I incite passion in mortals. That’s my job. I’m a love god," he finished, with a small, yet poorly hidden touch of pride. He stepped towards B’Elanna as if to shake her hand, but only succeeded in dropping his bow and then tripping over it.
"Oops," he said, pushing himself upright again, and gathering together his spilt arrows.
Under other circumstances Voyager’s chief engineer might have laughed. Instead, B’Elanna sighed and rubbed her tired eyes. Great. Just what she needed. To have to wake up the Captain with a story about a mad alien being who thought they were a Greek god. The god of love, no less.
Eric - if that really was his name – sighted her fallen padd and hefted it in his spare hand. "Ooh," he said, " ‘Khelen’drar and the haunted castle’. I like this one. Very steamy."
B’Elanna gaped at him. "You read Klingon romances?"
"Of course I do. I’m the god of love, aren’t I? Now lead me to your Captain."
He swept out of the room, still clutching her novel in one dirty paw. After a moments hesitation B’Elanna hurried after him, her mind churning. Fabulous, she thought. An insane alien who reads Klingon literature. This was going to be one very long night.
"How did he manage to jam our communications?"
"I don’t know. He only lowered the field for me to call you and the others to the briefing room."
Kathryn paused outside of the door. "And he’s in there now?"
B’Elanna nodded. "I couldn’t keep him out. Whoever he is, he has some strange powers."
The Captain ran a hand absently through her hair. Much to B’Elanna’s relief, she’d actually sounded awake when their visitor had insisted on hailing her. What the Captain was doing up at 2 a.m. in the morning, she didn’t know. Come to think of it, Chakotay had sounded pretty alert, too.
"Have we been able to contact the away team?"
"No. Whatever he’s doing has also blocked off communications with the planet."
"Pity. I could use Tuvok about now. And Neelix, for that matter."
Kathryn grimaced, then squared her shoulders, ready to confront the intruder.
"Captain," B’Elanna said. "You don’t think he really *is* Eros, do you?"
Kathryn turned to look at her, a single eyebrow raised.
B’Elanna shrugged at the silent rebuke. "I didn’t think so. I was just checking. He’d read the novel I’m reading. I thought that was odd."
Kathryn’s eyebrow twitched. "Would that be ‘Khelen’drar and the haunted castle’, by any chance?"
"How did you know that?"
"It was a guess. You lent that one to me last month." Her mouth curved up in a semi-smile. "Does that make me a god of love?"
B’Elanna grinned ruefully. "I’m too smart to answer that one, Captain."
Kathryn moved towards the doors, then stopped again.
"Lieutenant. Are you humming?"
B’Elanna blushed, but shook her head. "Humming? No Captain, not me."
Janeway frowned, but didn’t reply. When she entered the briefing room Chakotay, Harry, Seven and the Doctor all glanced up at her. Harry seemed bleary-eyed, but the others merely bobbed their heads to her. They turned their gazes back to their visitor, who had settled himself in Kathryn’s chair at the head of the table. He looked up at her approach but didn’t remove his dark boots from the table top. As B’Elanna slid into her chair, Kathryn moved towards him.
"I’d welcome you to Voyager, but it appears you’ve already made yourself at home."
The man shot her a surly stare.
"Captain. This visit is not my choice, I’m afraid."
"Sit down." He waved a warty hand at the empty chair beside Chakotay. At Kathryn’s glare he slid his feet off the table, and added more quietly, "Please, sit. I will explain."
"Alright." After a pause, she slipped into the vacant chair, and folded her hands in front of her. Perhaps directness would be the best strategy. "So. B’Elanna tells me that you are Eros, the Greek god."
The others turned to look at her then, but she ignored their bemused expressions, instead keeping her eyes firmly fixed on the grubby man before her.
"I’ve changed my name, actually. It’s Eric now."
"For some reason, people seem to take me less seriously when I say I’m called Eros."
"Is that so?"
"Yes. I don’t know why that is." He grunted. "Mortals. Pah."
Kathryn glanced quickly around at her senior staff, but they all met her gaze blankly. She thought she might have seen a twinkle of amusement in Chakotay’s eyes, but he quickly turned his face back towards their visitor.
"And they take you more seriously as Eric?" Kathryn asked, trying to keep her voice mild.
Eric shot a dirty look at B’Elanna, who had been smirking at him since her arrival, before responding. "Mostly," he said. "Mostly, they do. Eric was a Norse hero, you know. Wonderful stories written about him."
In the silence that followed that odd remark, Kathryn wondered for an insane moment whether B’Elanna’s earlier question had been reasonable after all. Then she mentally shook herself. What was she thinking? A Greek god? To her surprise, Seven of Nine broke the stillness.
"Excuse me, Mister… Eric," she said in her clipped tones, "May I ask what your designation represents?"
The man appeared puzzled. "Designation?"
"If you are indeed Eros, the god of love, what is your function?"
Eric stared at her as if she too were insane, then shook his head. "Don’t know what your parents teach you mortals these days," he muttered. "Honestly."
"It seems a fair question," the Doctor added. When Eric glared at him, too, he held his hands up. "I’m just a hologram. No parents to blame."
"Humph. A shadow man. Alright." Eric gestured towards the quiver on his back, then continued in his gruff voice. "It’s fairly simple, even for your kind. I shoot these into people. They fall in love. It’s a kind of magic, I suppose. Don’t know how it works, just that it does."
Kathryn had the distinct impression she heard Chakotay muffle a laugh. As she turned to look at him, Harry spoke up.
"Isn’t that Cupid?"
"Isn’t what Cupid?" Eric growled.
"The guy who shoots arrows into people, and makes them fall in love. I always thought that was Cupid."
Eric snorted. "Commercial pap. Now I remember why I stayed away from you people." He eyed Harry disdainfully. "You don’t know much about Greek mythology, do you boy?"
"No," Harry said, "not really."
"I do the shooting, and the magic, and cause the falling in love. Me! Not that cutesy little cherub you people always liked painting. Not to mention putting on your Valentine’s Day cards and singing stupid songs about. Hah! The little usurper. Cupid, indeed."
Kathryn could feel her head begin to hurt from the effort of trying to keep up with this man. She attempted to steer the conversation onto more solid ground.
"But what are you doing here?" she asked. "You said it wasn’t your idea. Did someone send you?" Perhaps if she could find out if he had any conspirators, it would help them establish who he really was.
Eric scowled. "My mother."
"Yes. Known to you," he pointed a stubby finger, then shook his head, "or probably, given your ignorance, *not* known to you, as Aphrodite. She claims I meddled too much in mortal’s affairs. Or at least, I meddled incorrectly. Me! With all my experience."
"Sounds more and more like Q," B’Elanna mumbled.
"So," Eric continued, ignoring her interruption, "she’s having me punished. I was sent to Voyager to serve penance."
Six pairs of eyes blinked in surprise at that declaration.
"Welcome to the ship of the damned," the Doctor said quietly.
Kathryn glared at him.
"I thought your mother was called Iris."
Now all eyes turned towards Chakotay, who had spoken for the first time that evening. Amid the strangeness of the meeting, Kathryn had forgotten about his interest in archaeology and history.
"I thought she was the goddess Ilithyia."
This time it was Seven who had spoken. As all heads swiveled towards her, Kathryn had the disorienting feeling she was a child again, bring forced by her parents to watch an old-fashioned tennis match.
Seven cocked her neatly-coifed head towards their visitor. "But then, according to Homer…"
Eros sniffed and interrupted her. "I wouldn’t expect you people to understand. My mother…"
In fear he was going to launch into a genealogical litany, Kathryn broke in. "That’s all very interesting, but hardly our first concern. Eric," she tried to say his name sternly, again with the sensation Chakotay was suppressing a chuckle beside her, "if you’re being punished for meddling with mortals, why is your punishment to spend time with us? And why on Voyager?"
Eric grimaced. "You don’t know that? May the heavens help you. Anyway, I said I meddled incorrectly. I’m being sent here to see if I can behave myself. As to why Voyager? Pah. If you don’t know, humph."
Kathryn tried not to grind her teeth at his inarticulate response.
Chakotay shifted in his chair. "Our stories say that when you were punished, your mother stripped you of your wings and your quiver. Looks to me like you still have the quiver. And you still have the power to interfere with our systems."
Kathryn glanced at Chakotay, who, now he was more fully awake, seemed to be coolly appraising the strange little man. "How did you know that?" she whispered.
"I read," he hissed back.
Eric seemed nonplussed. "I hid them," he said. Something about his tone hinted to Kathryn that he was lying. Given his earlier declarations, though, she wasn’t sure he’d spoken a word of truth all evening.
"Alright, Eric," she said. "It appears we mere mortals don’t have the ability to counter your powers. If you give me your word that no harm will come to my ship or crew, and that you’ll allow us to retrieve our crewmembers from the planet below, you will be a welcome guest on Voyager. But I want to confiscate your weapons."
"I’d rather be in the brig with them," Eric grouched.
"That could be arranged. But I’m sure you’ll find my crew hospitable enough, despite our mortal limitations."
She glanced around at her staff again, but they all seemed lost in thought.
"What’s a Valentine’s Day card?" Harry asked.
Kathryn tried not to roll her eyes. Eric growled again and opened his mouth to respond.
"Never mind," Kathryn said quickly. "You two can discuss this later. Harry, I’m putting you in charge of looking after Mister… after Eric while he’s with us."
Harry looked at her balefully. "Me?"
"Mr Neelix, our resident ambassador, is away at the moment," Kathryn explained to Eric. "But I’m sure Harry will take good care of you."
Harry glanced dubiously at the little man. "Won’t Neelix be back soon?"
Kathryn merely smiled sweetly at him. "Dismissed."
As her officers filed out, Eric among them, she grabbed Chakotay’s elbow.
"You," she said softly, "stay here a moment. I want a word with you."
"I don’t know much about Valentine’s cards, either, Captain," he said innocently.
Her eyes narrowed. "Don’t you start."
"You know very well, what."
The Captain’s voice dropped to a murmur then, but Harry thought he heard her say something like, "how… agreement… keep avoiding me…"
As Eric stepped out of the room beside him, Harry had the strangest feeling that the little man’s smile seemed to be twice its normal size.
Two days later, B’Elanna was on her way to work, when she almost collided with Chakotay as he hurried along the corridor past the crew quarters.
"Where are you going in such a rush?"
She thought he looked around him furtively, as if searching for somebody, or for something. Before she could see what he was looking at, he’d began talking again.
"How’s the night shift going?"
"Maybe I could find you something else to do."
"The Captain thinks that Eric must have an independent power source somewhere that’s enabling him to project the impression of special abilities."
B’Elanna snorted. "Do you mean like that disgusting concoction he cooked up last night? That was pretty special."
"Chell told me it tasted quite good."
"Chell’s a Bolian. And an idiot. You know what their tongues are like."
"No, can’t say I do."
B’Elanna gave him a withering look. He grinned back, scuffing his foot idly against the carpet.
"I never thought I’d be so pleased to see Neelix regain control of his kitchen," she admitted. "I think some of the crew actually put together a petition begging him never to let a visitor play chef again, no matter how immortally talented they may claim to be."
Chakotay grinned again. B’Elanna wondered why. The doctor certainly didn’t find the incident – or the sudden rush of patients to sickbay – particularly amusing.
"I’ve talked to the away team. Neither Tom, Neelix or Tuvok found any evidence of his presence on the planet," he said.
"Maybe he has a cloaked ship."
"He has to have come from somewhere."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Find it." Chakotay reached down casually to brush something from his boot.
"That simple, huh?"
"Spend some time with him as well. See if you can find out how he’s transferring the power here. That might help."
B’Elanna sighed. "Well, I suppose he has been hanging around our quarters a lot."
"Your quarters? I thought Harry was supposed to be looking after him."
"Oh, he is. Apparently, his instructions didn’t include keeping this little trouble maker away from my husband."
Chakotay made a face that seemed to be merely mimicking a grimace. B’Elanna wondered then whether he already knew Eric had been spending time with Tom. Wasn’t he reviewing Harry’s reports? She shook off the suspicious thought as he sighed.
"What have they been up to?"
"I don’t think you want to know."
"I’m sure it’s nothing illegal. At least I hope not."
"Tell Tom to watch himself. The Captain’s been in a very bad mood this last week."
"Oh?" Something in his expression then piqued her interest. "You know, Chakotay, come to think of it, you’ve been in a bit of a mood this week too."
His eyes darkened but he didn’t respond.
"Nothing catching, I hope," she said innocently.
Chakotay leaned towards her slightly. "I hear that gamma shift has really been enjoying having their chief engineer working with them."
"Are you threatening me, Chakotay?"
"Are you being nosy?"
"Of course I am."
Chakotay merely shot her another grin, then headed off in the direction he’d been hurrying. It was only as she stepped into the turbolift that B’Elanna realised he had managed to clandestinely pick something up from the carpet while they’d been talking. She sighed. Life on a Starfleet ship must be making her soft. So, she wondered, what the hell was going on?
As Harry returned to the counter to replace his dinner tray, Neelix hurried past him to reenter the galley. With a large covered tray balanced against his chest, he reminded Harry of a Fernian water-carrying animal he’d seen once in an exotic reservation park. His curiosity getting the better of him, he leaned casually on the counter and watched the Talaxian’s bustling activity.
"Busy night, Neelix?"
Voyager’s chef barely looked up from his work, as he slid the container safely into one corner. He turned towards Harry, but appeared not to have heard the question.
"Aren’t you supposed to be looking after our visitor?"
Harry winced at the reminder. "I have a moment’s reprieve."
"Don’t you feel privileged, getting such a special duty?"
"Special duty? Neelix, are you insane? You did meet this man, didn’t you?"
"There’s nothing special about it. He smells. He’s grouchy all the time. He curses like you wouldn’t believe. And I’ve had to watch him like a hawk for the past four days. He keeps trying to sneak off by himself, probably to get his bow and arrow out of the security locker."
"I’d probably want my bow and arrow too, if they were special to me, and had been taken away."
"Neelix, you don’t have a bow and arrow."
"I was talking about the principle."
"We couldn’t very well leave him armed, even though his intentions seem peaceful. Anyway, he’s busy playing cards with Tom again, so I get to eat, blissfully, peacefully by myself."
Neelix looked slightly shocked at that. "Tom is playing cards with a god?"
"Neelix," Harry said patiently. "He isn’t a god. He just thinks he is."
"I don’t know," Neelix said, "he does seem to have some strange abilities. And it seems a little dangerous to be… well, gambling with a god."
Harry gave up correcting him. "What’s even stranger is that Tom is actually winning."
"Cleaning him out, last time I heard."
"No wonder he looked so pleased at breakfast this morning. I thought it might be my new omelette recipe."
"I don’t know why," Harry said, "it isn’t as though Eric has any replicator rations he can squeeze."
"I don’t know, Mr Kim," Neelix stared off into the distance thoughtfully, "it never does hurt to have the favour of the gods."
Harry pursed his lips, but decided not to pursue the topic. "What were you carrying before Neelix? In that large tray?" He gestured to the back of the galley.
Neelix’s eyes took on an oddly furtive look. "Nothing."
"Just a special meal I’d concocted for the Captain."
"I didn’t see her in here tonight."
"She wasn’t. I delivered it to her quarters."
Harry leaned over to pat the Talaxian man on the shoulder. "It’s nice to get special duties, isn’t it?"
A chirp sounded from his communicator, followed by Tom Paris’ voice. "Mr Kim, can you please report to my quarters?"
Harry repressed a sigh. "Guard duty?"
"Something like that."
"I’ll be right there. Duty calls," he said to Neelix. As he strode out of the mess hall, he could swear that Neelix was whistling a very familiar, yet curiously alien tune. When he tried to recall it, it quickly slipped from his mind.
"I’m sorry, Captain. I’ve tried everything I can think of. I haven’t been able to find any evidence of a cloaked ship. Or a long-range transporter beam. Or anything that could explain where this man came from."
Janeway sighed, but managed to draw her lips into a small smile. "Thankyou, B’Elanna. I’m sure you’ve done your best."
"Perhaps he is a Q."
"He insists that he isn’t."
"Isn’t that the sort of twisted game that Q might play? Pretending he’s someone else? Even someone who hates himself? I mean-"
Kathryn waved her to silence. "I follow you. I don’t know. Why would Q do such a thing?"
"Why does Q do anything? For his own amusement."
B’Elanna noticed that the Captain was turning something very small over and over in her palm, and for some reason was reminded of Chakotay’s odd behaviour the day before.
"But if that’s so," Kathryn continued, "he really doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself, does he?"
B’Elanna had to agree with that. The small man had spent the past days stumping from place to place on Voyager, keeping up a litany of cursing and complaining as he went.
"Captain," she said, "if he really is the god of love-"
Janeway’s eyes narrowed, but she didn’t respond. B’Elanna pushed on.
"If he is the god of love, why would he be so grotty? And so… well, so miserable? Shouldn’t he be radiant? Full of joy?"
Kathryn stared at her for a moment, a hint of amusement in her eyes. "Does love make you feel radiant?"
B’Elanna started at the odd question. "I-" Unbidden, an image came to her of Tom’s feet and shins, sticking out from underneath an antique vehicle on the holodeck. "Not all the time," she admitted.
B’Elanna looked at her Captain for a moment. Chakotay had been right. Kathryn was in a curious mood. For a mad moment she considered asking the Captain what she was cradling in her palm.
Instead she said, "Are you alright, Captain? Is something wrong?"
For an instant something flickered in the older woman’s eyes, and B’Elanna sensed she might have been about to say something important. Then the feeling was gone, and Kathryn was shaking her head.
Something sparked inside of B’Elanna then. She didn’t know what it was that suddenly enraged her, but her stomach felt as if it was filling with fire. The frustration of watching the way these two had danced around each other for years began to mutate into a sort of personal insult. Did they think that life here in the Delta Quadrant was temporary? That their lives were a foolish game? Only it wasn’t a game, she thought, watching the Captain’s sad eyes, and what was worse, they both seemed to know it. They must know they were only hurting themselves. It was so stupid! Why couldn’t they both admit what they wanted, instead of persisting in this absurd charade of noble loneliness? Only vaguely conscious of a curious song that was echoing through her brain, B’Elanna forced herself to stay calm. Almost without realising it, she decided to take the risk of saying something she’d often considered.
"May I say something to you, off the record? And rank aside?"
If Kathryn was surprised she didn’t show it. "Alright."
"Is it Chakotay?"
The Captain’s eyes tightened slightly.
"I can tell, it is," B’Elanna said. "Perhaps this isn’t my place-"
"I’d say not."
Now that B’Elanna had made up her mind to speak, she wouldn’t be deterred.
"No one else is going to tell you, so I might as well."
Kathryn was quiet for a moment, as if she was a hiker considering whether to cross some dangerous patch of ground, or retreat to a safer resting place.
"Go on, then," she said quietly.
"We know you care about protocol," B’Elanna blurted, before she lost the nerve. "But we don’t. The crew, I mean. And whatever you might think, it isn’t against Starfleet rules. I know that much. I did go to the Academy, briefly. I don’t understand why you won’t admit what you really feel. Both of you."
Kathryn stared at her for what seemed like minutes before responding.
"If you’re saying what I think you’re saying, you should know you’re wrong."
"It isn’t me."
When B’Elanna stared at her blankly, she held out her palm. Nestled in the centre was a plain silver ring, with a fine pattern engraved on its outer surface. As B’Elanna gazed at it she thought she could see the random swirls begin to take the shape of entwined flowers.
"Did he give you this?" she asked.
Kathryn shook her head. "No," she said. "I gave it to him. He gave it back."
"He didn’t want it. He didn’t want-"
The Captain stopped herself then, as if she was suddenly conscious of what she was saying, and to who, but B’Elanna was certain she had been about to say "me."
She felt herself growing angry again. "Right," she snapped. "May I be excused?"
"That depends. You’re not going to interfere, are you?"
"You mean tell Chakotay what a dimwit he is?"
"Something like that."
"Of course not," B’Elanna said, trying to keep her voice calm. "It isn’t really any of my business."
Kathryn regarded her steadily for a moment. "No. It isn’t."
"Then you’re dismissed."
B’Elanna managed not to run all the way out of the ready room, but was still moving quickly enough not to hear Kathryn’s sigh. B’Elanna was a wonderful engineer, she thought, squeezing the ring over between her fingers, but sometimes she was an extremely lousy liar. She grinned as she pocketed the ring. It was nice when people were pleasantly predictable.
"You want me to what!"
"Lower your voice, Harry."
"Are you insane?"
"There isn’t a but. There can’t be any buts. There might be my butt on the line if I get caught doing that. Most likely my butt with Janeway’s boot in it."
"Harry," Tom said smoothly, "she wouldn’t kick you."
"I didn’t mean literally. Why can’t you do this?"
"Because you’re better at this type of thing than me."
"Breaking into security lockers? Thanks." His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Why do you want this, anyway?"
"I don’t want it. Eric wants it." Tom gestured vaguely towards his bathroom, where a gravelly voice was singing loudly, and quite badly, while a sonic shower hummed.
Harry was momentarily distracted. There was something about that tune…
"Is he having a shower in there?"
"Yeah. It was part of the price of me winning. Don’t change the subject."
"You bet him a shower?"
"I put it in the pot. I didn’t think he’d ever have one, otherwise. That smell was driving me slightly mad. Besides, B’e says he wasn’t allowed back in our quarters unless he had one. She says it lingers on the cushions."
"You bet a measly shower, gambling with a god?"
"He isn’t a god, Harry. You keep saying so yourself."
"Whatever." Harry’s glared at his friend. "What else did you bet on? Is it something to do with wanting the bow and arrows?"
"Can’t you just trust me?"
"Oh come on, Harry, old buddy."
Tom sighed. "I’m so misunderstood. Alright. The shower was just on the side. If I won, he had to do me a favour."
"What if he won?"
Tom seemed to squirm a bit. "You don’t really want to know that."
"Then what’s the favour? Something that he needs the bow for? He’s going to shoot somebody?"
"Shh! Don’t get so excited, Harry. Not shoot them, as in shoot them. They won’t get hurt. It isn’t that type of weapon."
"Now you really are insane."
"He swears that it doesn’t hurt anybody."
"Then why do it?"
Tom groaned in frustration. "Haven’t you been listening to him at all? It makes somebody wild with passion. That’s his job, Harry. It’s what he does."
"You believe him?"
"I don’t know." Tom paused, thinking of a way to explain. "Let’s just say he seems to believe it. And I don’t think he’s crazy. A little loopy, maybe, but not crazy. Perhaps I believe in the possibility that he might be right."
Harry shook hid head slowly. "You’ve been spending way too much time with this guy, Tom."
"Not true. Besides, I thought of this plan the moment I heard about him."
"Even if you’re right, which I seriously doubt, who do you want to shoot? I mean, to inflame with passion? You already have B’Elanna."
An extremely guilty look crept over Tom’s face.
"You wouldn’t!" Harry stuttered. "You wouldn’t cheat on her?"
"Of course not! It isn’t for me, you dolt. I’m performing a public service here. It’s on behalf of someone else. I’m just using my winnings for the general good."
"You see, that’s when you get me really worried, Tom, when you start throwing around phrases like ‘the general good’."
Tom sniffed. "You’re such a skeptic."
"Gee, I wonder why."
"Will you do it?"
"Are you going to tell me who he’s going to shoot?"
"I’m not sure that I should."
"It would only implicate you further."
"That’s very thoughtful of you."
"I thought so."
"You’re not going to tell me, are you?"
"No. But I promise you, Harry, it isn’t you. And it isn’t some ensign I’m sending after you, either."
Harry considered this for a minute.
"Or a crewperson? Or a lieutenant?" he added. "I don’t want a repeat of the days you were trying to set me up every second week."
"Poor you," Tom said. "But none of the above, either."
"And you’ll do you best to keep me out of this, if I help you this once?"
"You have my word."
Harry should have known better. Especially now he had a sneaking suspicion just who Tom wanted Eric to play cupid for. His higher brain tried to tell him so. Experience was trying to tell him so. Still, at the time, the whole thing didn’t seem all that serious…
He really should have known better.
Later, when the crew talked about it, it was generally decided that the first people to notice anything strange were Ensigns Cook and Murphy. They had the dubious pleasure of first encountering Chakotay on that mad and amusing day.
The way Ensign Cook tells it, they were stepping out of the holodeck after sharing a cup of coffee at a small coffee shop in San Francisco. They stood outside the doors for a moment, saying their farewells before they headed off to their various morning shifts. She noticed someone moving out of the corner of her eye, and looked up to see Chakotay skipping down the corridor, grinning broadly while singing a love song. She didn’t recognise the tune, but said it did seem oddly familiar.
The way Ensign Murphy tells it, he’d just finished a hot breakfast date with Cook, and was standing in the corridor kissing her goodbye when the first officer dashed by, clipping him on the shoulder. As he looked up, he heard Chakotay yelling out, "I love you!" as he ran. The recipient of this message was nowhere in sight.
Listeners generally agreed that Murphy had a reputation as the more notorious liar. Either way, it was a good story.
The second incident took place some ten minutes later. Crewman Jor from engineering happened to notice an odd energy spike coming from the crew quarters of the ship. When he tracked it down, he found a burnt out ODN conduit in the Commander’s quarters. The Commander, it seems, was rerouting a rather large amount of energy to his own rooms. On reporting this to a sleepy-sounding Chief Torres, who still wasn’t back on day shifts yet, he was told most firmly to mind his own business.
"Do you want the night shift, too, Jor? If not, stay away from Chakotay right now. Trust me. You don’t go and wrestle with an angry targ, unless you’re a complete idiot."
Jor couldn’t argue with that logic.
The third incident occurred around five minutes later. Sam Wildman, who was generally thought by most of the crew to be level headed, and not in the least likely to exaggerate a story for gossiping purposes, almost tripped over Chakotay in the corridor as he rounded a corner carrying a lidless crate. The crate, she related to Neelix a little later, was overflowing with pink roses.
"I know they don’t grow them in the hydroponics bay," she’d said. "At least not in that quantity. How many replicator rations must he have spent on them?"
In a related occurrence, Ensign Jenkins swore she saw Chakotay, still carrying the roses, pounding on the door to B’Elanna Torres and Tom Paris’ quarters. A muffled, yet highly incensed voice from within was cursing at him in Klingon.
The fourth incident was observed by the Doctor. He later related to Seven of Nine that he’d seen Commander Chakotay attempting to sneak into sickbay to steal a dermal regenerator and a very small hypo-spanner. On further questioning, he insisted there was nothing really wrong, and refused the Doctor’s offers that he be examined further.
"Despite," the Doctor added with a touch of pique, "the fact that his heart rate was obviously over-stimulated at that time."
The fifth incident occurred half an hour later. Almost every console display suddenly dissolved, then began presenting a pre-recorded series of graphics. A holo-image of Tom Paris’ face materialised in the centre of the screen, while small red hearts orbited in a series of counter-clockwise trajectories, as if chasing each other around the screen. After a few moments a saccharine-sweet tune began to pipe from each speaker. Next, a string of pre-recorded text had just begun wending its way across the screen, when the ships computers were all suddenly disconnected, and then rebooted. Afterwards, the mysterious graphics were gone.
The sixth incident took place shortly afterwards. This time, everyone on the ship heard about it. It was pretty hard not to, given that the message was broadcast across all channels of the ship’s comm system.
"There’s a kind of hush all over the wooooo-rld toniiight…"
Eyes widened in surprise as the male voice began singing. Hands stopped typing on consoles, and conversations ceased all over the ship.
"All over the woooo-rld you can hear the sounds of looooo-vers in love. You know what I meeeeeean…"
Snickers were heard, as one or two crewmen recognised the singer.
"Bloody well is."
"Just the two of us and nobody else in siiiiii-ght. There’s nobody else and I’m feeling goooo-d…"
The giggles became outright laughter.
"He won’t be feeling good for long."
"Absolutely smashed. He must be."
"It’s only eleven hundred hours!"
"… just holding you tiiiiii-ght. So listen very carefulleeeeeeee. Closer now and you will… Eeekkk!!!"
Groans of disappointment echoed across working areas as the voice broke off. Later, there were those who swore they heard the echo of a Vulcan neck pinch. Others insisted they heard the crackle of energy as an EM pulse was sent back through the computer system.
On the bridge, Harry Kim’s eyes narrowed as the transmission ended. He glanced over from the Ops console to the con, but Tom steadfastly refused to turn around. Harry couldn’t tell from this distance, but it looked suspiciously like Tom’s neck had turned an odd shade of crimson.
"Public service, my ass," he muttered. "What have you done?"
In her command chair, the Captain’s back was very straight indeed, but Harry was certain he saw her shoot several very dangerous looks in Tom’s direction. He surreptitiously crossed his fingers, hoping fervently that she wouldn’t find out he had anything to do with… well, with whatever the hell was going on.
A sudden inspiration struck Harry as if it had fallen from the bridge ceiling. He began typing a message, which he then transmitted to Tom’s station. It read:
Call me stupid for asking, but when a certain somebody does you know what, can you predict who the victim will pursue?
A few moments later a reply appeared on his console. Harry quickly glanced around, then pushed a button to retrieve it. It read:
Okay. You’re stupid. But I’m stupider. And no, it doesn’t appear that you can. Happy now?
Harry chortled under his breath. He was happy, for now. After all, Commander Chakotay wasn’t chasing him. As long as the Captain didn’t find out what he’d done, that is…
Tuvok had Eric confined to quarters, of course, although Kathryn suspected he could have easily found a way out again if he’d truly wanted to. Her security chief also re-confiscated Eric’s gleaming bow and arrow, but by that time that damage was well and truly done. He reported that thirty four members of Voyager’s crew, besides the XO, were behaving extremely oddly. By now, Kathryn had also read the Doctor’s report, which was appended at the end of Tuvok’s, detailing that Commander Chakotay was sporting a very strange type of wound on his left buttock.
"Thankyou, Tuvok. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see if the Doctor can do anything. Or we can hope that this… whatever it is… will wear off of its own accord."
Tuvok nodded. "Given that it has lasted all of today, I shall rewrite the ship’s rosters, so we can temporarily cover all of the shifts for tomorrow. Until they are recovered, the affected crewmembers will be locked in their quarters."
"Yes. Of course."
Tuvok turned at the ready room door, a puzzled expression on his face.
"Captain," he said, "if I may ask. What is that tune?"
Kathryn looked at him blankly. "What tune?"
"The tune you are humming."
"Me? Humming? I’m not humming?"
"Ah. Perhaps it was my imagination."
A sudden thought struck her. "Tuvok, what’s the date?"
"The date? It’s Stardate…"
"No, on the Earth calendar."
Tuvok thought for just a moment. "It’s February the thirteenth, Captain."
For some reason this seemed to reverberate in Kathryn’s memory, but she couldn’t recall its significance.
"Thankyou, Tuvok. See you in the morning."
As her second officer stepped through the doors, she started humming again under her breath.
Chakotay stared at her for a moment, watching the way her hair brushed against her shoulders as she stood silently, silhouetted against the light of the corridor.
"Are you going to come in?"
Kathryn grinned wryly at him, then strode over to the couch, and unceremoniously sank down into the cushions.
"Urgh," she moaned.
"I really don’t think you should be complaining, considering…"
Kathryn sat up a little straighter, and pressed her hand against his shoulder. "You’re right, of course. You’ve been quite the busy boy today."
Chakotay grinned at her. "Actually, I’ve been enjoying myself."
"I thought you might."
She eyed him speculatively.
"What?" he said.
"What did you want to ask me?"
"Oh. I was just wondering…"
"It’s about the wound isn’t it."
"Want to look at it?"
Kathryn started a little, then noticed the cheeky gleam in his eye.
"Of course I’m kidding."
Kathryn wasn’t entirely sure, but decided to move on. "So how did you do it? Fool the doctor, I mean?"
"Nope." He grinned again.
"Then how… I mean, I read the report."
Kathryn cursed the pale skin which did little to hide the faint flush on her face. Thinking about her first officer’s butt was probably not the best course of action right now.
"That was easy. I just asked the doc if he wanted to help us set Mr Paris up. I thought of all the people on the ship, he’d be the most likely to be up for it. And I was right. You should have seen the look on his face. Like a kid getting a present, actually."
Kathryn chuckled. "I should have guessed. Do you think we were right not to tell Tuvok?"
"I’m not sure how appropriate Tuvok would have found our plan."
"True," Kathryn conceded. "I’m surprised he didn’t notice the coincidence though."
"Thirty four crewmembers down. Voyager’s drama society also happening to have thirty four members."
"Maybe he thinks Eric shot them all during a rehearsal."
Kathryn guffawed at that. "Still, it’s a shame he’s missing out on the fun."
"Watching Tom Paris squirm in his seat. It’s the most delightful feeling."
Chakotay’s eyes flickered over her face. He had to admit that the last few days – and this charade he was acting out with Kathryn - had been the most fun he’d had in months. But it was more than that. He suspected he was actually enjoying the childishness of it. Not to mention enjoying watching Kathryn enjoying the childishness of it. It wasn’t often that he got to see his friend let her hair down like this. She was showing a mischievous side to her nature he hadn’t known existed. To be frank, he liked what he was seeing. He liked it very much.
"You’re a truly wicked woman."
"I didn’t think B’Elanna would be so easy to fool, though."
He shrugged. "She’s always been a closet romantic."
Kathryn remembered something then, and stuck her hand into her pocket.
"Here," she said, "do you want your ring back?"
Chakotay took the gleaming silver ring, then tossed it thoughtfully in his palm.
"Maybe I should give this to Paris tomorrow."
"What tortures are you going to do inflict on him next? Any plans?"
"A few ideas. Hey," he said, as inspiration struck. "Maybe we could change tack slightly. Rather than me embarrassing Paris by pretending to pursue him-"
"As fun as that has been to watch."
"Quite. Maybe you could do something to hint at how wildly upset you are about the situation."
Her eyes narrowed at his enthusiastic tone. "What do you mean?"
"To show him how jealous you are."
"Of Tom Paris?"
"Of me. Of my affections. You don’t want them being bandied about all over the ship, do you?"
Kathryn stared at him for a moment. He felt curiously like a small insect being watched patiently by a larger one, who wasn’t quite hungry enough to bite. Yet.
"I think you might want to rethink that particular idea," she said mildly.
"Oh come on! I bet you could put on a terrific jealous lover act."
"I’m sure I could. I’m prepared to give you a little… alright, quite a lot, of leeway for this prank. But me playing the hysterical woman? Forget it. It isn’t going to happen."
"Pity," he said.
She rolled her eyes, but he could see she was smiling.
"Well, I need some sleep, so I should leave you to it."
Chakotay rose with her as she moved to leave.
"Kathryn," he said, "who do you think he really is?"
"You know who. Eros. Eric."
"To be honest with you, Chakotay, I have no idea who he is, or what he wants." She shook her head slowly. "Even after he agreed to play along with our scam for Paris. I still have no idea at all." She shrugged. "Goodnight."
To her surprise, her first officer leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. She was struck by his familiar scent – an odd mixture of sandalwood and some kind of soap – but tried not to look too astonished at the gesture. As she left his quarters, she could hear him humming as he headed back to the couch. She shook her head in bemusement, and attributed the kiss to his delight at pulling such a trick on Voyager’s best known prankster.
Harry was finding it hard to control his irritation. After all the time he’d spent trailing around the ship after Eric, now the Captain had finally decided to lock him up. Even though she said she suspected he could escape if he wanted to, Eric appeared content just to sit in his guest quarters and read. Harry fumed silently. If only he’d known that earlier! He could have simply delivered the man a stack of romance novels and let him be.
"Would you like another drink?" he asked, more to break the bleak mood of the evening than anything else.
"No thankyou, lad."
Harry supposed that was a yes. He sighed. He could always leave Eric here - he seemed happy enough - and head off to the holodeck. It had been some time since he’d had a chance to run one of his programs. But now that he was here with Eric, he couldn’t stop thinking about his theft of the man’s possessions. Did Eric know he was involved? Would he tell the Captain? Harry decided to ask.
"I was wondering… did Tom tell you where he got the bow and arrows?"
Eric grunted, peering at Harry over the padd. "What?"
"When Tom gave you back your bow, after Captain Janeway took it away the first time. Did he say where he got it?"
"I assumed he’d pilfered it from the security locker, lad. Where your captain said she was going to hide it away." He sniffed. "Doesn’t matter anyway."
"What do you mean?"
"Bow and arrows. They don’t matter."
Faced with his sudden attack of conscience, it seemed to Harry that they did matter, very much. He couldn’t understand this man.
"Besides," Eric continued as though he hadn’t spoken, "I didn’t get a chance to shoot anyone, anyway, before that pointy-eared fellow came and took it all away again."
"You didn’t shoot anyone?"
"That’s what I said, boy."
"What about Commander Chakotay?"
"What about him?"
"You shot him."
"I did not."
"Did not. D’you think I don’t know my own actions? Pah." He waved his dirty paw at Harry dismissively.
"What about the others?"
"The others who had to go to sickbay, the ones who are locked in their quarters now. There were more than thirty of them."
"Didn’t shoot them, neither."
Harry’s head was beginning to hurt. "Then why are they all behaving so strangely if you didn’t shoot them?"
"Because that isn’t how it works. Shooting people does nothing, nothing at all."
Harry could feel his jaw dropping, and made a conscious effort to close it again.
"But you said…" he paused for a moment, to make sure he was remembered that first night correctly. He had been tired, but he was positive that in the briefing room Eric had explained that he shot mortals to inflame their passions. "You said you shot people with your arrows, and they fell in love."
"Pah!" Eric said. "Did I?"
"Yes, you definitely did." Harry was quite sure now.
"Well," Eric grunted. "Well, yes, of course I *tell* people that. They wouldn’t believe me otherwise."
"Wouldn’t believe what?"
"That I have the power to spread passion." He stared at Harry as though he was very thick. "You mortals have always needed to see some sort of action on my part, see some sort of wound on themselves. Then you can attach cause and effect, you see. Believe that I’m responsible. Skeptics, all of you. Even those who claim to be romantics. Humph."
Harry paused, trying to take this in. "So… you didn’t shoot anyone."
"That’s what I said."
"Then you don’t even need your bow and arrow."
"Well," Eric said slowly, as though he’d never considered this, "technically no. I do like to carry it around though. It looks impressive. And makes a nice picture, when people paint me, shooting an arrow into some wee mortal. Makes it more personal, see?"
Harry scratched his head. "Then why are Commander Chakotay and the others behaving strangely? If you didn’t shoot them?"
Eric waggled his eyebrows in irritation. "Are you listening to me, boy? I know your mythology is a little rusty, but really. I said I don’t need the bow. I work my magic without."
Eric snorted. "I’m hardly going to tell you that, am I? Trade secret, that is."
"But you did work some kind of magic on them?"
"S’my job, isn’t it? I’ve just been doing my job." He chewed his lip for a moment. "I don’t know about those others you were talking of. But as for your Commander, I think he’s a bit batty, that one. I’m not to blame for his shenanigans."
Harry stared at the grubby little man, struck by an odd sensation that he was telling the truth.
Eric picked up his book again, and while reading, began to hum happily under his breath.
"I think we’ve been bamboozled," Harry whispered.
Tom glanced around at the crowded mess hall, then back at Harry.
"Why are you whispering?"
"Idiot! Do you want everyone to know what you did?"
"We, Harry, we."
"You said you were going to keep me out of it."
"I did. I am! So what’s the problem?"
Harry peered around the room, but it didn’t look like anyone was paying them much attention. Still, he leaned closer to Tom and spoke quietly.
"Eric doesn’t need his bow."
"To work magic. He told me it works without the bow and arrow. They’re just for show.
Tom was frowning now.
"But Chakotay is…"
Harry shook his head.
"Eric said he thinks the Commander is batty. He said he had nothing to do with that. Don’t you see Tom? We’ve been tricked?"
"How? By whom?"
"Chakotay, that’s who! He must have known somehow about the bow. He did seem to know about the mythology of Eros in that meeting you missed."
Tom’s face began to turn a sickly shade of green.
"No, it gets worse." He paled even further. "Something B’Elanna was telling me earlier. It makes sense now."
Harry felt his heart sink.
Tom gulped. "The Captain. They had a little chat about… well, about her love life. Hers and Chakotay’s, actually."
"Uh oh," Harry said.
"Yeah. We’ve been set up. Royally."
They both sat in silence for a while. Eventually Harry spoke.
"So, what are we going to do?"
"Do? You mean like pray? Or take a shuttle and make a run for it? I’m sure no one will miss the Delta Flyer."
"Is there a third option?"
Tom scowled. "I’m thinking, Harry, I’m thinking."
First B’Elanna shattered a chair. Then she used the chair leg to smash a mirror. Tom waited patiently until she had dented the dresser before he spoke.
"So, you’re a little annoyed, then?"
B’Elanna snarled and waggled the bent chair leg at him.
"No, Chakotay. How could he do this to me? Tricking you, I can understand."
"You were planning to get Eric to shoot him in the backside," she pointed out.
"All I did was to be concerned about the two of them, and to tell both so. I wasn’t a part of your infantile scheme."
"What is wrong with wanting two people you like and respect to be happy?"
"Nothing," Tom said. "But I guess that’s why my face graced the terminals this morning and not yours. They weren’t mad at you."
"No," she growled. "They just used me to help their little scenario along. Fed me information they knew I would tell you and Harry."
"We are quite predictable, aren’t we?" Tom sighed. "The thing that I don’t understand is how either of them knew what we were planning. What I was planning," he amended, at B’Elanna’s glare.
"Who else knew?"
"Harry. I needed him to steal the bow and arrows from security for me. For some reason he’s very good at picking locks."
"Harry wouldn’t tell."
"And Eric. He was the one I needed to do the favour for me."
"By favour, I presume you mean shooting our first officer in the butt."
"It was the price of me winning at cards."
They were both silent for a while. B’Elanna dropped the chair leg onto the ground, and poked at the mirror shards with her boot.
"When did you come up with this brilliant scheme, anyway?"
"Pretty much as soon as I found out about this Eros guy. I didn’t know if he could really do anything supernatural, but I thought I’d take a punt anyway. Just in case."
B’Elanna tried to ignore the apparent inanity of that remark. "Which would have been right after you came back on board. The same morning Eric arrived, only later in the day."
"Right. He was jamming the signals that night, but we weren’t trying to contact the ship then anyway. In the morning, the Captain had us make a few inquires about Eric while we were down on the planet, then we came back. I started playing cards with him later that day. Harry seemed bored already with having to follow him all over the ship." He pursed his lips, thinking. "So I guess I put my bet in the pot either that evening, or the next morning."
She swore. "That was before I saw Chakotay with the ring! Before Harry heard about the special meal Neelix had cooked. Before Janeway told me what the ring meant. Don’t you see? They’ve been playing us all along. Pretending to be having some kind of lover’s tiff. None of it is real! It’s all been an act."
Tom blinked at her. "And Harry said Eric definitely didn’t shoot Chakotay. So he’s been lying to me, too."
She rolled her eyes. "Tom. Didn’t you think it was strange that you did beat him at cards? No offence to your gaming skills, but Eric has, well, odd abilities. I saw in Engineering that night what he can do to computers."
"He let me win? Damn. The cheat!"
Tom seemed more dismayed by that fact than anything else.
"What about the others?" B’Elanna said. "Are they all pretending too?"
"I don’t know. Harry said that Eric said he could bewitch people without the bow. He could be doing it anyway, left right and centre."
"But how would we know if he really had those powers, if he didn’t have to shoot anyone to make it work? He could be affecting us all. Or he could be a complete charlatan, doing nothing, but claiming that he is."
Tom frowned at that thought, then grinned suddenly. "Feeling romantic?"
"Get lost, Paris."
"Just a thought."
"Hang on. At the meeting, the Captain asked why he should do his penance here, in particular. He made some vague reply." She closed her eyes tightly, thinking. "Hah! He said, ‘If you don’t know that, heaven help you’."
"What’s that supposed to mean?"
"That maybe it’s all part of his plan. Listen. If the Captain and Commander are thinking that they have this guy in their pocket, playing along with their little scam, do you think they’ll be worrying about what he’s really doing here? He’ll be able to go ahead and do it while they’re distracted."
Tom looked mystified. "Do what?"
"What he thinks needs doing on Voyager. I bet he was so scornful because he thinks it’s obvious. This place need romance, Tom. And if he does have any sort of powers, that’s what he’s going to give us. With or without that bloody bow and arrow."
"Maybe," Tom said dubiously. "But what are we going to do about all of this?"
"I don’t know about you, dear," B’Elanna sighed, "but some of us have to go to work."
B’Elanna’s lip curled up derisively when she stepped inside Eric’s quarters and saw that he was still lying stretched on the sofa, a stack of padds beside him. Working the night shift had done nothing to improve her mood, but she had calmed down a little. Now she only felt like punching someone, rather than breaking heads open at random. For some reason the sight of the little man, clad in the same grimy clothes, made her grit her teeth in annoyance. Who was he to be lounging around enjoying himself after all the trouble he’d helped to cause?
"I see you haven’t had another shower yet, since the one you had in our quarters. How many days ago was that?"
Much to her surprise, Eric broke into a toothy grin.
"I like you girly," he said with a chuckle. "You remind me of me. When I was much younger, of course."
B’Elanna stared at him. "I suppose that’s meant to be a compliment."
Eric pushed himself up into a sitting position and looked at her thoughtfully.
"You know," he said, waving the padd at her, "some mortals think that caring about love and romance somehow makes you a weaker person. In some cultures they deride pursuits like reading romantic novels." He tossed the padd gently onto the table. "But they don’t understand. A good story is a good story."
"Klingons like romance."
"Oh, yes. Well, Klingons understand about the power of the heart beating."
B’Elanna wasn’t really in the mood for a discussion about the romantic habits of Klingons. She glared at the little man, suddenly filled with curiosity, despite her annoyance.
"What were you reading just now?"
"A human novel," he said, "called ‘Persuasion’."
"What’s it about?"
He laughed, a low throaty grumble. "Ah. You’d like this one. It’s about a pair of lovers, separated first by a choice, and then by wounded pride."
She was tempted to ask more, but instead she put her hands on her hips and asked the question she’d been pondering most of the night.
"If you are who you say you are, why are you helping them?"
"Helping who?" If he was startled at her directness, he didn’t show it. "Oh… you mean your Commander and Captain. Their little joke on Tom." He shook his head. "Lass, you read enough stories. You should know that all is never as it seems."
"What does that mean?" she demanded.
"Sit down." Eric gestured to the empty chair opposite him, and B’Elanna sank into it. "Let me tell you a wee tale."
"Will it explain what you’re doing here?"
Eric glared at her from under his wiry eyebrows. "Patience, lass, patience." He thought for a moment, then went on. "Many years ago, I once visited a camp when there were two soldiers who’d been good friends for years. Somewhere along the way, they’d both realised that they cared for each other much more than simply as friends. But do you think either of them would admit it? Pah! Both as stubborn as pack mules, they were. It was driving all of their friends crazy, too."
"Did you work any magic on them?"
He waggled his hand to tell her to be quiet. "Yes, yes. But not the sort that you’re thinking of. They were both due for re-posting. When it came time to request assignments, they realised they both wanted to be posted to the same place. Now, this country’s army liked to have its soldiers well traveled, and the chances were that these friends would be sent to the opposite ends of the continent."
"That would make romance a little difficult."
"Indeed it would. So I turned up in their camp to help them out."
"Did you shoot one of them?"
Eric snorted at her. "Shoot one? Pah! Girly, have you listened to nothing?" He sighed. "No, I disguised myself as a soldier. I loitered around the camp for a while, then told them that I’d heard of someone who’d finagled the same posting as a friend."
"No, lass. By pretending to be a married couple. Army was quite happy to send married couples off to the same location. So they did."
B’Elanna frowned. "They got married? Just like that? That all seems rather easy."
Eric rolled his eyes. "No. They pretended to be a couple, don’t you see? They only had to do it for the length of time the postings were being decided. The spot they wanted to go… well, it was such a big camp no-one would remember that this or that soldier was supposed to be married to another. The thing is," he shifted in his chair, a curiously happy gleam in his eye, "they enjoyed themselves so much imitating lovers that they almost forgot why they were doing it." He slapped his hands together in delight. "Oh, it was a pretty thing. One night, he was pretending to love her, and she was pretending to love him, then the pretence just slipped away."
B’Elanna was quiet for a moment. "And that was your magic at work?"
"What people don’t understand is that love is a subtle business. I don’t just turn up and shoot any old fellow, and let him fall in love with the next lady he sees. Or the next fellow, for that matter. True love can’t work like that. You can persuade, but you can’t befuddle. Think about it. How long would it last? Would my spell have to bind them together for the next month? Or year? Or ten years? What if it wore off? Would the passion just disappear?"
"I hadn’t thought about that."
"No. I doubt your Tom had either."
She grinned at that. "Tom doesn’t always put huge amounts of thought into his schemes."
Eric chuckled. "No, that was clear from the start. But you see, this scheme with the soldiers, ah, it was magical. It was a game inside a game. Who’s acting? Who’s really in love? And how can you tell?" He laughed again. "And the best sort of persuasion, lass, was when they persuaded themselves."
B’Elanna’s mind churned those thoughts over for a while. She peered at Eric out of the corner of her eye. All of a sudden, she seemed to see past the grubby clothes and his warty, calloused exterior. Whoever he really was, she realised, he had one enormous heart. She wondered whether the rest of it – the cursing and the bad personal hygiene – was not just an effort to hide that fact.
"Now let me ask you something," he said, settling back against the couch. "How much time do you think your Captain and Commander have been spending together, working on this little prank of theirs?"
"I hadn’t thought… I suppose they must have planned what they were going to do. A while, I guess."
"Mmm. And do you think they’re enjoying themselves?"
In a flash B’Elanna remembered the odd grin that Chakotay kept giving her in the corridor that day.
"Yes," she said slowly, "Yes I think they are."
"There you are then."
And with that statement, Eric scooped up his novel again, and stretched himself out on the couch. B’Elanna watched him read for another few minutes, then stood to leave. As she stepped out of the doors, Eric started to whistle.
"What is that song?" she asked, holding the door open with one hand.
Eric merely winked at her, and continued reading.
"I thought so."
Chakotay stepped further inside Kathryn’s quarters, one hand still held behind his back. He peered over at Kathryn, who was sitting on her couch reading a padd.
"What is it?"
"This," she said, pulling a sour face, "is Neelix’s request to hold a Valentine’s Day party tonight." She scowled again. "I knew the date sounded familiar for some reason."
"You knew about this, didn’t you?"
"He may have mentioned it to me this morning, yes."
"Mmm. I don’t suppose this was Tom Paris’ idea?"
"Actually, I think Neelix was last seen deep in discussion with our visitor."
Kathryn rolled her eyes. "Eric. I might have known."
"We won’t have to worry about him much longer, though. He told Neelix he’d be leaving soon."
"His punishment here was over, d’you mean?"
He shrugged. "Must be. I guess we’ll never know who he really is, after all. But he doesn’t seem to have done any harm." He eyed her curiously. "You don’t think it’s a bad idea, do you? The party."
"No. Not really. But you know that Neelix’s celebrations have a reputation for getting out of hand."
"You don’t have to worry about that. I promised him I’d help him set things up. The evening will be extremely tasteful."
"I suppose I can’t say no, then."
Chakotay hesitated then, before speaking. "Kathryn. You don’t hate Valentine’s Day, do you?"
Chakotay drew his hand from behind his back and handed her a single long stemmed pink rose.
"Because I brought you this. Happy Valentine’s Day."
She raised an eyebrow. "Just the one? Not a whole crate?"
"I didn’t want to overdo it."
She took the flower, a slight flush raising on her cheeks as her fingers brushed against his. She narrowed her eyes in mock suspicion.
"You’re not going to sing to me, are you?"
He chuckled. "I wouldn’t put you through that."
"I suppose that means you won’t have much time to torture Tom today, then, if you’re helping Neelix."
"No. But I think he might have been punished enough, for now." His eyes twinkled. "There were reports of noises that sounded distinctly like splintering furniture coming from his quarters last night."
"Ah. Then they know that we know."
"And I don’t think B’e was too impressed."
Kathryn bit her lip ruefully. "It wasn’t really her fault, was it?"
"I’ll apologise to her later."
"Good. So… no more Paris tormenting." She made a distressed face. "What *am* I going to do today?"
"You could run the ship," he suggested.
"There’s a good thought."
He chuckled. "It has been fun though, hasn’t it."
Kathryn twirled the rose stem between her finger, her lips curving up into a warm smile.
"Yes. It has been."
"Maybe we should collaborate again in the future."
"We do make a pretty good team," she agreed.
"In that case, how about some breakfast?"
Kathryn smiled again. "Just let me pop this in a vase."
When she was finished, she slipped her elbow through his to lead him from the room. Chakotay seemed a little surprised by the gesture – one which reminded him of the earlier years of their voyage – but he was hardly going to complain. As they departed they both unwittingly started humming, their soft voices forming an alien, yet beautiful harmony.
Despite the short notice, Neelix had once again managed to design an exuberant new program for the night’s festivities. A large party room was festooned with red and white balloons, heart shaped decorations, and glowing candles. Chakotay had assisted him in selecting "romantic classics" from different cultures and periods of history. These songs were being piped through an old-fashioned sound system, giving the whole evening a nostalgic flavour.
B’Elanna sat glumly against one of the walls, cradling her half-full glass of Neelix’s bright red "love punch" between her palms, and trying to make herself as unobtrusive as possible. While she was sleeping in the afternoon, Eric had quietly left the ship. Despite all the irritation she’d felt towards him over the past week, she found herself missing the odd little man. She wasn’t even sure why he’d left today, of all days. It was Valentine’s Day. Surely he would have enjoyed staying for the party? Or perhaps, she thought, he’d already finished his work here.
At least Chakotay had spoken to her earlier, offering his apology, and the Captain’s.
"You know it was Tom we wanted to embarrass, not you."
"You didn’t embarrass me," she admitted grudgingly. "You did make me feel rather foolish, though."
"Then I’m sorry, anyway. But we needed someone to egg Tom on, even if unknowingly. If it helps, you weren’t the only person who didn’t know." He chuckled, glancing around the room, then leaned closer to her. "Thank the spirits Tuvok isn’t the furniture breaking type."
B’Elanna glanced across the room to appraise the Vulcan, who was standing stiffly by one of the drinks tables. If she didn’t know him so well, she would have missed the clear sign of irritation written across his nearly passive face.
"Was he very angry? In a Vulcan, ‘we-don’t-get-angry’ kind of way?"
Chakotay grinned again. "Let’s just say he gave the Captain a very stern lecture about misusing ship’s resources, and creating mistrust among the command structure."
She couldn’t help smiling at that. "Good old Tuvok."
"But I suspect there’s a part of him that secretly enjoys seeing someone get the better of Tom. Not that he’d ever admit it."
Remembering the conversation, her eyes sought out the Captain and Commander. At the moment they stood with Neelix who, by all appearances, was in the middle of telling a very long winded joke. Chakotay and Kathryn were listening to him patiently, but even from this distance she could see the sly looks the two were exchanging.
"Have you come up with any plans yet?"
B’Elanna started at the sound of Tom’s voice.
"Sneaking up on me?"
"Best thing to do to someone hiding in the corner, isn’t it?"
He slipped into a vacant chair beside her.
"So, do you have any plans?"
"Plans for what?"
"For revenge of course."
She snorted. "Tom. Wasn’t it one of your plans that got you into trouble in the first place?"
He waved his hand loftily. "Pranks are always cyclical. They chase each other like a dog and its tail. That’s the joking way."
B’Elanna peered at him, oddly suspicious he was about to start a detailed explanation of practical joking philosophy.
"I’m not going to do anything," she said.
"What?!" He seemed genuinely surprised. "You were so angry last night. I can’t believe you’re just going to let them get away with it."
"I had time to think it over. Like you said, they didn’t put my face on the terminals. Besides, Chakotay already apologised for not telling me."
Tom looked at her for a moment, chewing his lip thoughtfully. "Does that mean you won’t help me come up with a dastardly scheme, either?"
B’Elanna turned her gaze back to the Captain and Commander. Neelix must have finally finished his joke, because they were both laughing. Kathryn’s melodious laugh, an all too rare sound on Voyager lately, echoed around the holodeck. A few crewmembers turned towards her and smiled, then carried on with their conversations. B’Elanna looked again at Chakotay, who seemed to be hovering quite closely to the Captain’s elbow. She noted that the Captain glance up at him then, and they seemed to hold each other’s gaze for slightly longer than friendship dictated.
"I hate to break it to you, Tom. But I think you’ve been outwitted by another schemer."
Tom followed her line of sight. "B’e," he said firmly, "if you’re telling me Chakotay is better at scams then I am, I’ll be forced to defend my honour by pulling off something even more spectacular."
She sighed. "Look again, Tom. I wasn’t talking about Chakotay."
B’Elanna shook her head, then drew a piece of crumpled paper from her pocket.
"Read this," she said, pushing it towards her husband. "Eric left me a note before he left."
"He’s an old fashioned guy."
Tom pried open the folds and scanned the scribbly handwriting.
"Goodbye lass," he read, "Enjoy the games." He frowned at her. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"It’s something he was saying to me this morning about the gentle art of persuasion. It requires games inside games, and a subtle touch to untangle."
Tom eyed her curiously. "I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about."
She sighed again, but could feel her dark mood lifting. "Would you understand me if I said that an arrow in the butt could never be enough to create a happy couple?"
"I guess so. My intentions were good, though."
"I know." She smiled fondly at him. "That’s why I like you, even if you are an idiot. But it seems there are some things we should leave to the experts."
Kathryn and Chakotay both laughed again. Tom glanced over at them, and, after a moment’s pause, B’Elanna could see comprehension dawning on his face.
"My goodness. The clever bastard," he muttered.
"He was, rather, wasn’t he?"
Tom chuckled and took her by the arm. "Alright then, lass. Share a dance with an unsubtle fool?"
"I’d love to, Tom. But if you call me lass again, I will be forced to break your wrist."
He smirked. "That’s what I love about you, B’Elanna. You aren’t afraid to be romantic in public."
On the other side of the room, Chakotay grinned again at another of Neelix’s remarks, then slipped his hand unobtrusively around Kathryn’s. Had anyone been looking, they may have noticed that Kathryn squeezed it once, then curled her fingers around his, and left them there.
~ Jinny's stories ~ feed the author ~