"Nine and a half inches"
With just the raising of his left eyebrow, Tuvok managed to pretend his eagerness to solve the ridiculous case that Commander Chakotay had just laid at his door.
"Most intriguing, Commander," he said generously, lacing his fingers and pressing his thumbs together, in a gesture of deep concentration.
"He just disappeared, and I have absolutely no idea who he was," Chakotay repeated, his usually stoic features etched with bewilderment.
"Yet, you said that you were dancing ‘intimately’ with this person, Commander. While human emotions are often beyond my understanding, it is illogical that you allowed yourself to be so ‘familiar’ with a complete stranger."
"He wasn’t a stranger, he was a member of the crew," Chakotay protested firmly. "I knew him, he knew me. I just don’t know exactly who it was."
"In view of your state of inebriation, I would suggest that your memory of the events is possibly flawed," Tuvok replied dismissively.
Chakotay flushed deeply. It was true that his body’s intolerance to alcohol had caused him to act out of character. That and the fact that he had been lulled by the comparative safety of the masked ball, of course.
Neelix had suggested the idea in one of his continual efforts to improve crew morale. The idea had caught flame throughout the whole of Voyager, with people using several weeks’ worth of their rations to devise elaborate costumes of disguise and allurement.
The holodec had been transformed into a fairytale ballroom, with a floating artificial mist helping to warp the costumed revellers into a masquerade of fantastical creatures.
A huge punch bowl, filled with a fruity concoction, had been Chakotay’s undoing. Hovering uncomfortably at the edges of the dancers, wishing desperately that Kathryn had allowed him to forego the dubious ‘pleasure’ of the wild party, Chakotay had sipped endlessly at the innocuous tasting drink.
How was he to know that an as yet undiscovered culprit had upended an entire bootleg still into the bowl?
It had only been when Chakotay had finally stood up, and then almost fallen down, that he had realised the potency of the punch, and by that time, it was too late.
He had been reeling, his brain swimming helplessly from the change in altitude from sitting to standing, when the dancers had parted slightly and revealed the figure that was slowly descending the wide marble steps into the room.
And it was at that precise moment, like a bolt of lightning hitting him, that Chakotay’s long years of self-imposed chastity rose up and bit him firmly on the butt.
As though a neon arrow was flashing above the stranger’s masked head, all of Chakotay’s long suppressed needs and wants, solidified and clarified into one long-legged stranger, whose masked face perched teasingly over a body to die for.
From head to toe, the stranger was encased in skin-hugging white Lycra, so that every inch of his body was both concealed and shamelessly displayed. An obscene, tight sheath of ironically virginal white, hugged every curve of his lean muscle.
The stranger had paused on the staircase, his whole body poised in a relaxed, almost contemptuous, awareness of the effect his costume was having on the entire audience, and then he had turned his head slightly to stare directly at Chakotay from behind the white feathers of his full-head mask.
Chakotay had found his feet moving of their own accord, following the silent siren song of the stranger, obeying the imperious command of his gaze. He had reached the foot of the stairs and had stopped in drunken confusion, only for the stranger to offer one long-fingered hand out towards him in invitation.
As though in a dream, Chakotay had lost awareness of the spectators, taking the proffered hand in his own. The stranger had bowed low over their joined fingers, his body softening into the gesture.
"Dance with me?" Chakotay had found himself asking, and the willowy stranger had stepped lightly into his arms, folding his body into Chakotay’s strong embrace, and gliding with elegance onto the dance floor.
The ball-room had swirled around them, the other occupants blurring into a faceless throng, as Chakotay was aware of nothing but the man in his arms, as they floated on the music, lost in a timeless dream.
"He had blue eyes," he told Tuvok abruptly, snapping back to the present.
"47 crew members have blue eyes," Tuvok replied. "23 of them are male. What colour was his hair?"
"I’m not sure, he was wearing a full head mask, but I think he was blond. Most people with blue eyes are blond, aren’t they?" Chakotay asked hopefully.
Tuvok raised his eyebrow again, this time the gesture minutely altered to portray exasperation.
"Do you want me to conduct a scientific investigation or find someone who will match your preconceived fantasies, Commander?" he sniffed.
Chakotay flushed. Tuvok was right. Chakotay already knew who he *wanted* the stranger to be, but, on the other hand, the way his mysterious dance partner had disappeared so suddenly, made him wonder whether it was better not to know for sure, after all.
In the mess hall this morning, he had casually approached the person who he hoped, even prayed, had been the one, only to have found blank coldness, rather than recognition, in the beautiful blue eyes.
"Perhaps he doesn’t want me to know," he muttered sadly.
"It is probable," Tuvok replied. "The elaborate nature of his disguise suggests that he did not want you to know his true identity. The fact that he did not speak to you for the entire evening, also suggests that he wished to maintain his anonymity."
"Then why was he so blatantly obvious about his intention to impress only me?" Chakotay challenged, remembering clearly the stranger’s deliberate stare of invitation and the way the man had moulded his body into his own as they danced.
Tuvok contemplated Chakotay’s assertion, rubbing his fingers in deep thought.
"It is *possible* that he intends his approach and disappearance as a mating ritual. He has perhaps thrown down the gauntlet and now is waiting to see whether you pick it up," Tuvok finally offered.
Chakotay had to grin at Tuvok’s analogy. The stranger had indeed thrown a "gauntlet" of sorts. As the saying went, size DID matter.
"So we have 23 possible candidates, all we have to do is find one that fits," he said.
This time, both of Tuvok’s eyebrows rose.
"I cannot envisage a scenario in which it would be seen as reasonable to take the relevant measurement," he replied with admirable restraint.
Chakotay sighed and nodded his reluctant agreement.
"He was tall and thin," he offered.
"That reduces the suspects to 12," Tuvok replied with satisfaction.
"He was graceful. A wonderful dancer," Chakotay added.
Tuvok contemplated the list of suspects.
"I doubt that your perception of grace is quantifiable, given your own state of inebriation at the time," he finally replied. "However, I fail to comprehend anyone considering Crewmen Harris or Johannsen to be ‘graceful’ under any circumstances, so we can probably dismiss them also."
That still left ten, which was nine too many for Chakotay’s peace of mind.
"Can you think of any further identifiable characteristics?" Tuvok asked.
"He smelt wonderful," Chakotay replied dreamily. "Like cinnamon and coffee and something else, something unique."
"Perhaps you should visit all the suspects and smell them," Tuvok snapped sarcastically.
Chakotay stiffened dangerously, narrowing his eyes at the Vulcan.
"You obviously find the situation amusing, Tuvok. I don’t. Last night a member of this crew seduced me when I was drunk. Possibly the same member of the crew who put the alcohol in the punch, in the first place.
Tuvok’s posture changed as the Commander’s words sank in. Chakotay’s request for help had seemed somewhat frivolous to him, up until this statement. Now Chakotay’s urge to discover the identity of the mysterious stranger took on a completely new perspective.
"You wish me to find the identity of the person so that you can charge him with sexual assault?" he queried hesitantly.
"Yes," Chakotay lied.
As he had hoped, Tuvok’s entire demeanor changed at his agreement.
"Then I suggest that we arrange ‘routine’ medical examinations for the ten candidates. With the doctor’s assistance, we can narrow down the suspects. The probability of them being similarly endowed is very small," Tuvok suggested.
Chakotay hid his grin of satisfaction. Before the morning was over, he would have definite proof of the identity of his ‘assailant’.
One by one, the group of nervous crewmembers in Sickbay, were taken behind a privacy screen, probed, examined and measured.
Red-faced, they scurried wordlessly out of the room after their examination, leaving those remaining to shuffle uncomfortably and exchange nervous glances.
"What do you think this is about?" Carey stage whispered. "I had a medical exam last month."
"Perhaps there’s some kind of virus on board," Robson replied nervously, remembering a recent shoreleave liaison and wondering whether he should have mentioned his subsequent rash earlier.
"What do you think, Tom?" Crewman Petrov asked the oddly subdued pilot.
Tom just shrugged, his face fixed in a mask of calm innocence, even as his heart raced so loudly he was sure that it was audible.
His state of nervous agitation wasn’t helped by an angry voice screeching from behind the privacy screen.
"You want to measure my WHAT?"
"As you requested, Commander, I measured all of the other candidates first. None of them measure the required 9 and a half inches," the Doctor said quietly into his comm. unit.
Chakotay’s face relaxed into its first genuine grin of the day.
"I will come and perform the last measurement myself," he proclaimed firmly.
Tuvok looked at him in surprise.
"If Lieutenant Paris is indeed your assailant, I believe it would be more prudent for me to perform the measurement," he suggested. "Your interference at this juncture would be held as inadmissible in a Court Martial."
"What Court Martial?" Chakotay replied, with an evil grin.
Tuvok’s face was unreadable as he watched the surprisingly duplicitous Commander depart, still grinning.
Tom sat on the edge of the bio-bed, desperately clutching a sheet around his naked body.
"Can I get dressed yet?" he demanded peevishly.
The Doctor gave a wonderful holographic impersonation of a smirk.
"No," he said smugly.
"Why the hell not?" Tom demanded.
"Because there is one more necessary examination," a low voice drawled from behind him.
Tom spun around in shock, to find that the privacy screen had been breached by a disgustingly, smug-looking Chakotay.
For a moment, Tom’s cold blue eyes bored into the Commander’s, his face wearing the same mask of indifference that it had shown in the Mess Hall that morning, and then a slow, reluctant smile began to creep over his features.
"Took you long enough," he whispered.
"Your red herring this morning," Chakotay explained with a shrug. "I didn’t realise you were such a good actor."
Tom’s lips quirked.
"Oh yeah? Seems to me that you are a pretty good actor yourself. Surprising what a little alcohol did to your inhibitions. Scratch you, and you’re surprisingly passionate under the surface," he said smugly.
"Why did you do it?" Chakotay asked calmly.
"Because I wanted you to stop being the Commander and just be the man," Tom muttered.
"So why did you run off? Why did you pretend it wasn’t you this morning?" Chakotay demanded fiercely.
"Because I went to a lot of trouble last night. I thought it only fair to make you put some effort into this yourself," Tom replied, his blue eyes searching Chakotay’s face for understanding.
"So is the game over, Tom? Or do we do this properly?" Chakotay replied with a barely suppressed smile.
"Oh, I think you have to take it all the way, big guy," Tom replied with a satisfied smirk.
So, with a flamboyant gesture, Chakotay slipped down onto one knee and produced the shoe that Tom had ‘accidentally’ left on the stairs, as he raced out of the ballroom. He slipped it onto Tom’s bare foot, where it fitted like a second-skin.
He looked up at the pilot’s face, his eyes twinkling.
"Nine and a half inches exactly," he stated. "Did you know that some people say that a man’s shoe size indicates the length of another part of his anatomy?"
"Do they?" Tom replied, his face finally relaxing into a wide grin. "Shall we test the theory?"
Chakotay rose slowly and traced Tom’s jaw line with his fingers before leaning in to whisper in his ear,
"I think you are going to measure up just fine, Tom."