"Orange, Chakotay." Tom Paris looked imploringly at his sometimes best friend and frequent lover.
"All right," Chakotay caved. "You're right. It's orange."
"I knew it." Tom's tone was forlorn.
"At least it doesn't look fake," Chakotay consoled.
"Fake? Chakotay, I look like one of those flaming oreganos from Cyphis IV."
"Oritanas." Chakotay had difficulty containing his grin.
Tom's hand waved weakly in the air. "Whatever."
"How am I supposed to go back aboard Voyager with orange hair? Bright orange hair?"
"I told you not to drink the tea."
"What the hell was I supposed to do? If I hadn't drunk the tea, I would have offended them and the Captain would have had my head for screwing up the trade agreement."
"Your orange head."
"It's not funny, Chakotay."
No." Chakotay's lips quivered. "Of course not."
Tom, orange hair clashing with his red uniform, stomped onto the shuttlecraft to prep it for launch.
Chakotay, lips still twitching with suppressed laughter, followed him.
Kathryn Janeway had learned long ago to expect the unexpected when it came to her crew. Some of that unexpectedness was cropping up now with the men seated on the other side of her desk. She found herself staring at Tom's orange -- very orange -- hair.
"Gentlemen, I'm pleased trade with the Olysians went so well. But tell me, Mr. Paris--" she waved a hand in the general direction of his hair, "--was your hair part of the deal? Not that orange isn't your color, but . . ."
"I wouldn't do this on purpose, Captain," Paris protested.
Tom's eyes flashed.
"Of course you wouldn't," she agreed. "It does bring out the blue in your eyes though."
Tom's mouth dropped open and his shoulders sagged when he realized he was in for some ragging, even from his captain.
"It was a test of character, Captain," offered Chakotay. "Tom had to participate in a tea ceremony."
"Oh?" Janeway leaned forward. Her interest in the Olysian culture shot up a notch.
"They used tea made from seaweed."
"Don't forget the sea horses," muttered a resigned Paris.
"Sea horses?" Janeway repeated.
"A very important part of the ceremony, Captain." Chakotay was clearly enjoying himself. "The seaweed used for the tea had to be the seaweed that's the natural habitat of the sea horses."
"And Tom had to drink this tea?"
"Tom had to drink the tea because his commanding officer on the mission was a poltroon," Tom stated flatly.
Kathryn leaned forward, intending to chastise Tom's insubordinate behavior toward her First Officer until she caught the grin on Chakotay's face. She sat back and waited.
"That's not quite right, Lieutenant." Chakotay's amused gaze moved from Tom to Kathryn. "The Olysians won't allow the visiting leader--"
"Poltroon," Tom muttered under his breath.
"--to prove his own courage. His minion has to perform that duty."
"Minion?" Kathryn's head was swirling trying to keep up.
"An Olysian title of honor, Captain," said Chakotay.
Kathryn didn't miss Tom's eye roll.
"They consider it an honorary position," Chakotay added.
Tom looked anything but grateful for the honorary title.
"And as your . . . minion . . . Tom had to drink the tea in your stead?"
"Correct. If he failed, then I would be considered a poltroon."
"Too late for that. Already there." Tom. Still muttering under his breath. Janeway didn't have the heart to chastise him at this point.
"Apparently they've already ferreted out several, um, blackguards using the tea ceremony," explained Chakotay.
Chakotay shrugged. "They're a colorful people with a language to match."
Janeway's gaze returned to Tom's vibrant orange hair. "Yes, I can see they're a colorful people."
Tom met her gaze defiantly, silently daring his Captain to go further. She relented.
"So, the tea turned Tom's hair orange. Was it supposed to do that?"
"Not exactly," replied Chakotay with attempted solemnity. "The Olysians found it quite remarkable. They'd never encountered that outcome before. They considered it a good omen though. Apparently, orange is the color of, um . . ."
"Go on," Tom said wearily, "say it."
Kathryn's gaze bobbed back and forth between the two. "Yes?"
"The Olysians consider the color orange to be a sign of fertility. They were quite thrilled and assured me that Tom will bless me with several strong sons and beautiful daughters."
"I . . . see." Janeway's lips quirked. She attempted to turn a bland expression in Tom's direction but knew she was failing miserably. "Tom, what does the Doctor say about your . . . hair."
"It should grow out to my natural color. He thinks. Or I could dye it. But no permanent damage, if you don't count my ego."
"Lieutenant," Janeway's voice was firm, "I suspect your ego will survive just fine. According to Chakotay's written report, your actions are what made trade with the Olysians possible. You're to be commended for that."
"Thank you, Captain."
"If that's all, gentlemen? Dismissed."
As they exited her Ready Room, Janeway eyed Chakotay and wondered what he would look like with orange hair and had a suspicion she might find out. She had neglected to tell Chakotay that she had approved Tom's request to bring something called Seaweed Tea back onboard as a personal possession.
Kathryn swiveled round in her chair to gaze out at the starscape and tried to imagine it. No, she decided. Chakotay definitely didn't have the right coloring to pull off orange hair. She grinned. What a shame.