The Bid

"Captain, we have a problem."

"Yes, Commander, what is it?"

"The energy situation is now a full blown crisis. The restrictions over the last 2 months have helped, but it's a losing battle. B'Elanna gives us a week before we're dead in the water. Neelix doesn't know of any planets, nebula or other sources of power and there's nothing on long range scanners."

"Commander, you're not telling me anything I don't know. Other than tightening replicator rations again, I'm running out of options."

"I don't know how much more we can ask the crew to give up."

"Well, Commander, it looks like we're going to have to get creative. Any ideas?"

"None. But I've heard rumors that Tom Paris has something up his sleeve."

"That's not surprising."

The captain's dry remark caused her first officer to grin at the well known antics of the prankster pilot. Paris' efforts usually backfired and he had an uncommon knack for getting into trouble. But his intentions were good and it was certainly never boring with Tom at the helm. The captain and commander finished discussing ships business and Chakotay returned to the bridge. He smirked slightly at Paris' panicked expression when the captain called him to her ready room.

"You wanted to see me, Captain?"

"Yes. Tom, you are aware of our energy situation."

"Yes, Captain."

"I hear you can help us out with that."

"I do have an idea, Captain, and I'd like your permission to proceed."

"Back up, Tom. I need to hear this idea first."

Trying to choose his words carefully, Tom Paris explained that he wanted it to be a surprise for most of the crew. Only a couple of people needed to know in order to help him organize the event. He could tell she wasn't buying it and was seconds away from demanding a full explanation. A change of tactics was in order.

"Captain, I know you don't want to put any more restrictions on replicator rations or holodeck time, but what if I tell you I can get the crew to give them up voluntarily? I promise it isn't illegal, immoral, or dangerous. It will be fun, which the crew desperately needs AND I guarantee we will have all the energy we need. Please, Captain."

If a reasonable request didn't work, Tom was not above good old fashioned whining, groveling, and pleading. He knew the magic his baby blues could work females. Janeway was usually immune, but it was worth a shot. A little guilt trip might go a ways to winning his case too.

"Don't you trust me, Captain?"

"With my life and my ship? Yes. Otherwise? Not so much."

A smile took the sting out of the words. She looked at him steadily, considering his proposal. What the hell? she thought, we really could use some fun. With all the energy restrictions the crew was restless and irritable.

"Permission granted."

*Attn: All Crew*

You are invited to the mess hall

Saturday, 1900 hours

Formal attire is required

Absolutely NO uniforms

Attendance is not optional

Bring plenty of rations!!

Janeway looked in confusion at the message blinking on her console. Formal attire? What in the world is Tom up to? But she had authorized this - this - this whatever it was and they only had a few more days of power left without completely revoking the crews replicator and holodeck privileges. Tom, this had better work... her thoughts trailed off into dark threats as she tried to find something to wear.

The party was in full swing when the captain made her entrance. She had taken Tom at his word and was dressed to kill. The full length, body hugging dress was a deep sapphire blue. Spaghetti straps and a somewhat low cut square neckline showed off her pale Irish skin to its best advantage. Slit to mid thigh on the right side and paired with 3 inch spike heels the illusion was of slender legs that went on forever. With just a pair of earrings and a simple necklace as her only ornamentation, Kathryn Janeway looked classy and stunning. Even her hair had decided to cooperate. The volume level in the mess hall decreased dramatically as her crew caught sight of their commanding officer. Tom quickly made his way to her side and everyone returned to their conversations.

"Captain, you look fabulous."

"Thank you, Mr. Paris. You don't look so bad, yourself. The formal scheme seems to agree with everyone."

"Thank you, Captain. With your permission, we'll go ahead and get started now."

"Of course, Tom. That's why we're here."

As Tom went to the makeshift stage at one end of the mess hall, the captain meandered through the crowd, mingling with the crew. She briefly wondered where Chakotay was, they usually came to social functions together and if they didn't, he always made his way to her in short order. Oh well, I'm sure I'll see him in a bit. Everyone seems relaxed and the morale already seems higher. Maybe Tom didn't do anything too crazy this time.

"Please let me have everyones attention. First let me say thank you for coming; you all look wonderful. I know you're all wondering what's going on, so without further ado I give you the eligible bachelors and bachelorettes of Voyager!"

Confused applause filled the room as several people started to make their way up to the stage. About 30 people were lined up, men and women.

"Tonight we will be holding an auction in which you will have the opportunity to bid for the company of one of our lovely and handsome volunteers for the rest of the night. The rules of the evening:1. The bids are replicator rations and holodeck time which will go toward the energy crisis. 2. Your highest bid will be taken out of your account even if you didn't win. 3. You can bid as often as you want until you get your prize. It's that simple. Every one of our generous volunteers will be matching their winning bid. All right! Ladies and gentlemen: get ready to empty your pockets! First up - Ensign Harry Kim!"

As Tom extolled the shy ops officer's talents and virtues, the bidding began and continued fast and furious. One of the Delaney sisters was going all out to win him, countering every bid from her competition. Harry was, of course, bright red, but he was grinning from ear to ear.

"Sold! To the Delaney sister on the right - uh, Jenny? Megan. I knew that. Mr. Kim is sold to Megan Delaney for 2 weeks of replicator rations and 1 hr. of holodeck time."

Enthusiastic clapping filled the room and more than a few catcalls erupted when Megan laid claim to her prize with a kiss. The auction continued and the crew was really getting into it. Kathryn still hadn't seen her first officer. Having been at the party for almost 30 min. now without him by her side was unprecedented, but it was crowded with almost the entire crew packed into the mess hall. Her attention was caught by Tom announcing his next victim - volunteer.

"Now! On to our first woman up for grabs - Susan Nicoletti! Do I hear 5 rations? 5? I have 5, how about 6? Come on, men, look at her. I have 6 rations, can I get a full weeks worth?"

As the bidding continued Chakotay finally made his way into the party. He didn't seek out the captain as he usually did; in fact he was planning on avoiding her for most of the night, which explained his tardiness. Tom is really good at this auctioneer thing, but the captain's still going to kill him.

"We've come to the end of our auction, my friends. Our last um, volunteer," Paris stumbled a little on the word, " is known and loved by us all, so I expect the bidding to reflect that. She is beautiful, brave, and kind. Her unwavering faith in us all is what drives this crew. I personally would not be who I am today if not for her. I would do anything for her, as I know all of you would. She leads by example, never asking us to do that which she would not be willing to do herself. Give it up for our beloved Captain Janeway!"

The whistles and cheers were the loudest they'd been all night. And she knew they were sincere because nobody knew she hadn't actually volunteered. Of course, after that speech there was no way she could back out. After a few seconds of shock, she managed a smile and made her way through her crew. When she was in front of Tom, she dropped the smile and gave him the death glare that promised retribution. He turned slightly pale, but remained composed.

"Let's start the bidding!"

"1 week!"

"2 weeks!"

"2 weeks and 4 hrs on the holodeck!"

Not so composed was Voyager's first officer. When Kathryn had stepped up on the stage he had taken a step in her direction without thinking, hands clenching to keep from reaching out, forgetting to breathe until he grew light headed. Finally sucking in air, he let it out slowly. Oh, help. Chakotay had not planned on bidding in the auction when he'd first learned about Tom's scheme. And certainly not for the captain; he didn't want her formidable and legendary temper turned in his direction. But then he'd gotten his first look at her. Not only was she stunning, sending his heart and jealousy into overdrive, but he knew her better than anyone. Under her composed and smiling captain's mask, she was uncomfortable and more than a little embarrassed. Tuning back into the bidding he realized it had quickly escalated and had now surpassed the previous highest bid of the auction. Earlier, the Doctor had gotten on the stage and a surprisingly competitive bid for his company had broken out. Eventually Seven had won with 2 months of rations and 10 hours on the holodeck. The Doctor hadn't stopped grinning since.

"3 months and 5 hrs!"

"3 and 5, 3 and 5, going once... going twice...sol-"

"6 months and 10 hours."

The deadly calm and quiet bid tamed the boisterous crowd faster than any shout would have. Kathryn's head snapped around as she recognized Chakotay's voice and mood. Blue eyes met chocolate brown in that silent communication they had.

Thank you, Chakotay

You're welcome, Kathryn

The commander's bid cause a murmur to ripple through the crew and not just because he had doubled the current bid. The rumors about Voyager's commanding duo had been strong from the very beginning. This was sure to start up the betting pools again.

"Ok, 6 and 10. Going once, going twice, sold to Commander Chakotay."

Tom knew when to quit; he too had heard the warning in the commander's voice and wrapped it up without giving anyone else a chance to outbid Chakotay. Not that any man on board, or woman for that matter, would be stupid enough to try and come between the commander and his captain. Chakotay walked up to the stage, handed Tom the rations, and just looked at Kathryn for a second. They turned together and were about to step down off the stage when practically the whole crew yelled out for them to stop. Startled by the outburst, they did so.

"You have to kiss her!"

"Yeah, it's tradition!"

"Kiss her, Commander!"

The random shouts coalesced into a chant of 'kiss her! kiss her!'. Chakotay's look at Tom demanded an explanation. Not that he would mind kissing Kathryn in any way, shape, or form. He just hadn't imagined this particular scenario for their first kiss. Tom waved for the crew to quiet down.

"Well, Commander, a tradition of sorts got started after the first bid. Megan claimed Harry, her prize, with a kiss and everyone else just kind of copied her. It's just a quick kiss. No harm done, right?"

Chakotay couldn't tell what Kathryn thought. She hadn't said anything and her mask was still in place. She looked at him, but gave no indication of what she wanted him to do. Hell, Chakotay, you may never have this chance again and even though the setting is far from perfect, any kiss with Kathryn is better than none. Plus, the crew just wants to have a little fun. Having talked himself into it, not that he required much convincing, he turned to Kathryn and stepped close. Close enough to touch. But he did nothing, just waited for her to look up at him.

Kathryn was torn. Of course, I want to kiss him. Who wouldn't? If he'd been up for bid instead of me, no doubt the bidding would have went even higher. It's that smile. She heard Tom's explanation but didn't agree with the 'no harm done' part. He had no idea how much harm a little kiss could do. She felt Chakotay move close and stand in front of her. He didn't touch her or try to kiss her. She knew he was waiting for her to make up her mind. Just like always. Suddenly she didn't want to be the one to make the decision, she knew what she had to do. Just look up.

Both had forgotten about Tom, the crew, and the fact that this would be their first kiss. They were lost in their own thoughts and desires. When she looked up at him, he leaned in, not touching or holding her in any way. His lips brushed the corner of her mouth and their eyes closed. He hovered there, barely touching while they breathed each other in, cheek to cheek. When she sighed he cruised over her barely parted lips. His own parted as he fit her top lip between his. Still, the kiss didn't deepen, instead the connection of souls and hearts seemed stronger than the connection of lips. Another sigh, his this time. A brush of lips over his cheek. And they parted. Stood looking into each others eyes for a long moment. It stretched out, all the hopes, wants, and regrets of their relationship unspoken between them, but shared nonetheless. A shared smile. Sweet and sad. Then they turned toward the crew, the captain and commander firmly back in place. The captain reached for Tom's microphone, giving him an amused look at his tendency towards old technology, and spoke to the now silent crew, stunned by the intimacy they had just witnessed.

"Thank you all for going along with Tom's latest crazy plan. Thank you for your generosity and sacrifice. Now, enjoy the rest of the evening! That's an order!"