TITLE: Substitutes
AUTHOR: Matt aka Sally M
SUMMARY: Chakotay's slacking in his role as official coffee-taster for his captain. But why? This was inspired by the alphabetasoup challenge on Live Journal. The prompt word is 'Amused.'
DISCLAIMER: Characters are property of Paramount, et al. There has been no financial gain from this writing.
NOTE: Thanks to SaRa, who stepped back into her beta role for me. It's been a long time for both of us!

He'd tried to tell her. Really, he had. Since the incident with the Colaskans, Chakotay had taken it upon himself to become her unofficial 'well-it-looks-like-coffee-but-is-it?' taster. Thanks to his diligence, a similar diplomatic mishap had been avoided on Almat Three and she'd avoided being poisoned on Potinger. He'd spent the following twenty-four hours wrestling with a terrifying stomach bug that the Doctor assured him could have been much worse if he'd swallowed more than a mouthful of the strange substance offered to them both.

This morning, however, he hadn't quite been quick enough. He'd ended up on the third shift since Kathryn had Harry involved on a special project. Therefore, he was more than a little tired at breakfast. And, yes, maybe he was a little mad at Kathryn for moving Harry onto her project. And, yes, maybe a part of him did want to inflict some sort of punishment on her for that.

But, truthfully? There was no way he could have planned this. No matter how many death stares she might want to level at him.

The Voyager crew was all well aware of Neelix's 'better than coffee' substitute. Mostly, they avoided it, only daring to touch it if there was nothing else available and they needed an immediate jolt of something resembling caffeine. It was also strongly suspected that the Engineering and Maintenance departments used it in place of the grease-oil compound they sometimes replicated.

Whatever the Voyager crew used it for, Neelix was determined it should be for drinking purposes only. Therefore, ever since the Captain had first dismissed the first batch of coffee substitute, the Talaxian had been working hard on 'improving' the recipe.

This morning, he'd boldly announced he'd "got it." The mug he held out to the captain, he proclaimed, was "as good as any coffee" he'd tasted from the replicator.

Kathryn had raised an eyebrow – definitely a trait she'd picked up from Tuvok, Chakotay thought – and suspiciously accepted the mug of hot liquid.

She had looked suspiciously down at it, and then pointedly at Chakotay.

Chakotay had looked blankly back at her.

Between them, Neelix waited expectantly.

Later, Chakotay would swear that he felt that taking the mug from Kathryn's hands would be an insult to Neelix. It would have been tantamount to implying that neither of them trusted their cook and morale officer.

It was a relief when one of the Engineering staff had finally called Neelix to the other side of the room.

The mug was almost at Kathryn's lips when Chakotay was prompted to speak. Seeing the Engineer had reminded him.

"Kathryn, no. The replicators on this deck…" He trailed off, seeing the woman in front of him go through a number of facial expressions.

Kathryn had frozen at the sound of his voice, her mouth containing the liquid, wanting desperately not to swallow. Her cheeks bulged, reminding him strangely of a prairie dog of Earth. Then, her eyes opened wide in horror and her face paled. Finally, she moved, hastily twisting her head both ways to see if anyone was around.

Then she spat the contents of her mouth back into the mug, and fixed him with a stony glare.

"You were saying, Commander?"

He realized he was in danger of laughing. The sight of his captain expelling the liquid was a comical one. Especially since she'd evidently been checking to ensure Neelix was nowhere in sight. This was definitely one of those occasions where the dignified captain hadn't quite been so… dignified.

"Hmm?" he asked, attempting to remove the grin from his face.

"The replicators?" she prompted, in a voice like cold steel.

"Oh, yes." She turned to leave the Mess, and he had to take a few long strides to catch up with her. "B'Elanna informed me last night that there was an issue with the ones on this level. It seems they aren't getting the recipes quite right. Either a faulty gel pack is to blame, or there's a computer programming problem."

"And you didn't notify me?"

They stepped into the turbolift side by side and she called for the Bridge.

"It would have been in my morning report, Captain." And it would have been. After all, he hadn't been expecting Neelix to have experimented again, had he?

"Of course, Chakotay," she responded. Her eyes, however, narrowed and he could tell she didn't completely believe him.

Then the doors of the turbolift slid apart and they stepped onto the Bridge. It was a hive of activity as always, despite the early hour of the morning. And yes, there was Harry at the communications console. There was no chance of him returning to the third shift any time soon.

Still, it was almost worth it just to see Kathryn's face as she sampled Neelix' coffee.