In Shadows of light

Summary:Equinox episode addition.

Rated PG13

Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything. No infringement intended.

Thank you to Kat Lady for the wonderful beta.

It had been two weeks since the destruction of the Equinox, and life was slowly returning to what was considered normal on Voyager. It had been a long, hard week, especially for the command team. Kathryn had closed herself off completely, spending most of her duty shifts locked away in her ready room, only coming out for scheduled briefings and change of shift. She’d barely spoken a word to Chakotay or any of the bridge crew since the death of Captain Ransom.

She’d put in a brief appearance at the party Neelix had organised. Arriving with the promised bowl of croutons, she’d placed them on the food table, and then moved towards the back of the room, standing quietly, watching the crew. No-one went near her. Neelix had approached at one point, offering her some mysterious delicacy, but she’d curtly refused and he’d wandered off into the crowd to find victims more appreciative of his culinary skills. She’d left a mere half an hour after arriving.

Chakotay had watched her from the other side of the room. He’d been deeply disturbed by her behaviour during the crisis with the Equinox. In truth, he was still angry with her for her treatment of Noah Lessing and her reaction to his interference. She had been wrong. Very wrong. But she was human, and he was willing to forgive her misjudgement, as was the rest of the crew, but, in typical Janeway style, she was refusing to admit her mistake and had closed herself off from everyone. He’d interpreted this ‘silent treatment’ as her means of trying to bully him and the crew into accepting her decisions and demands, but this time it wasn’t going to work. She had some apologies to make. Noah Lessing topped the list, but Chakotay felt he came in a close second. She had misused her command prerogative in an uncharacteristically callous and cold blooded way and in his opinion, had caused serious damage to the command structure, not to mention their friendship.

He had tried to understand how she’d felt. Ransom was a Starfleet captain, trained and governed by the exact same traditions and beliefs as she, but he’d compromised those traditions and betrayed those beliefs. It had been a grave mistake on his part, and ultimately it had led to his downfall. What Chakotay had done was to stop Kathryn from making the same mistake. He knew her well enough to know that if she’d gone through with her threat, and allowed Noah Lessing to die, she would never have forgiven herself.

Some actions were not redeemable. Killing a man in cold blood, no matter what the reason, was unforgivable. Lessing had done no more than any of her own crew would have done in similar circumstances. Couldn’t she see that the young man was only doing what any good ‘fleeter’ would do – remain steadfastly loyal to his commanding officer? Although he knew what the Equinox crew had done was morally and ethically wrong, Chakotay couldn’t fault Lessing and his crewmates for their devotion and loyalty. Lessing was willing to die rather than betray his captain and that took a lot of courage. Kathryn’s perspective was completely skewed in regard to this incident. He probably should make the effort to talk to her about it, but he wasn’t feeling very charitable at the moment, and maybe if she had to think on it a while, she might actually learn something from this whole horrible mess.

He watched her leave, making no eye contact with anyone as she walked through the crowd, her shoulders stiff and her face set in an impassive mask. Chakotay saw Lessing also watching her rigid departure with a worried frown on his face. The new crewman looked down at the ground for a moment, his face becoming sad, then someone tapped him on the arm. He looked up and his attention was diverted. Chakotay turned away to watch the rest of the crew, a little disturbed by Lessing’s reaction. Something was niggling at his subconscious. Neelix’s face popped up in his field of vision and he momentarily forgot about the captain and Lessing.

Kathryn left the party, having forced herself to make an appearance. It was the last place she’d wanted to be. She was dying of shame and practically crippled with remorse.

Making it to the turbo lift, she stepped inside. As the doors swished shut, she fell back against the back wall of the lift, her fists digging into her middle as she fought the urge to throw up.

Taking great gulping breaths, she averted the disaster, and on arriving at deck three, she walked briskly to her quarters. She hurriedly tapped in her door code and strode into her quarters, breathing heavily. As the doors closed, she lifted her hand to her collar and ripped off her pips, throwing them across the room. She stood for a moment, her chest heaving, then the nausea returned and she ran for the bathroom. Kneeling in front of the toilet, she retched and retched. She’d eaten nothing since yesterday. So filled with self loathing as she was, there was no room for anything else.

Exhausted, she finally fell back against the bathroom wall, pale, sweating and shaking. She had no idea how long she sat there on the cold floor, eventually dragging herself up and sitting on the toilet with her head in her hands.

They all hated her. She could see the resentment and animosity in their eyes, Chakotay’s most of all, and this knowledge broke her heart. She gripped her head tighter. She hated Ransom. He had achieved what the Kazon, Vidiians, Hirogen, Borg and any number of other vicious Delta Quadrant aggressors had failed to do. He had broken her spirit. He had made her into the very creature she had fought against becoming since her arrival in this God awful hell. She was lost and all the things that had anchored her in her safe harbour were gone. Her crew, her principles, her confidence, and most of all, Chakotay’s friendship and trust, the one thing she relied upon above all else. She’d lost the one person that kept her sane in all this madness. She was drowning, lost in a vast sea of anguish and being dragged down by remorse and shame with nothing to buoy her up.

She had treated him appallingly and he was disgusted with her, and rightly so. What she’d intended to do to Noah Lessing was unforgivable, and she had been determined to let it to happen. She’d been overwhelmed with anger, and had no qualms at the time about letting him die. She’d been possessed by a misplaced righteousness, and the absolute certainty of what she was doing. Her anger at Chakotay’s interference had been a living thing and she could have easily killed him in that moment. That thought turned her gut again and she slid to the floor, gripping the rim of the toilet and began retching again. She had no idea she was capable of such blind malevolence. It repulsed her.

She finally climbed off the floor and leant on the sink. She looked at her wretched face in the mirror. She didn’t look all that different. She was pale and drawn, but it was still her face. It was almost disappointing. If she’d looked different she might have been able to blame something or someone else, but the guilt and responsibility lay entirely at her door. Just as they always had.

She realised then that this was the only way she was going to deal with this. It would become just another responsibility to add to the load she already carried. Her face crumpled slightly at the thought of how she had once shared that load, until she broke the trust. But Kathryn carried burdens that were hers alone, and she would just have to add this to her own personal baggage. She would cope. Although she was now alone, she would deal with it. She had to. She had promises to keep and after this, those promises became almost sacred in their keeping. She made a vow that she would never allow herself to make a mistake like this again. She had let her feelings rule her. No more. Of course, it would be made easier by the simple fact that she was now dead inside. Her ability to feel had been completely numbed, anaesthetised by guilt and shame. This was probably a good thing. They were only five years into their journey and although they’d had some lucky breaks, it could very well take another 40 odd years to get home. She had no doubt that she would be confronted by similar situations in the future. Feelings just clouded issues. The Vulcan’s were right. If you have no emotions, you don’t feel pain, guilt, hurt, loss or betrayal. You also don’t feel joy or love either, but that would be a small price to pay for her peace of mind, and that of her crew. She was sure that their confidence and trust in her had been destroyed and this was one way of retrieving some of that. Stripping off her uniform, she got ready for bed.

She lay awake most of the night, looking at the ceiling. To reach this unemotional mindset she would have to purge herself of all her hopes and dreams. She ran each happy thought and desire through her mind one last time, and then discarded them one by one.

Her belief that they would stumble on a quick way home – gone. Her hopes for a life with Chakotay – gone. Her desire for a child – gone. Her dream of seeing her family again – gone. The devotion of her crew – gone. Joy, love, happiness – gone. After scouring her heart and soul of all that made her life worth living, she rolled over and slept. A few hours later, after a few fitful hours sleep, she awoke to a new day and a new hardened and dispassionate Kathryn. Survival became the imperative, and rightly or wrongly, she saw this as the only way to achieve that. Her face steely, she donned her uniform, drank a quick cup of coffee and went to work.

That had been two weeks ago now. She was pleased with the outcome of her emotional extirpation. It allowed her to remain completely aloof from the crew. Her interactions became perfunctory, but that was all that was required for the smooth running of the ship. She delegated all non essential tasks to her various officers. Her job became a purely administrative position. If she could keep her eye on the ball and not be distracted by extraneous things like life, her ability to make informed and intelligent decisions had to be improved.

The crew seemed none the worse for her absence and things seemed to be sailing along nicely. On the rare occasions that she saw Chakotay, he would look at her worriedly as if he had a question hovering just beyond reach, but he remained distant and silent. All was well.

All was not well. Chakotay was very worried. Something had happened to Kathryn, but he was unable to put his finger on exactly what it was. He’d barely seen her since the Equinox disaster. She’d been hiding in her ready room and had spoken only a handful of words to him all week. He’d put it down to her arrogant belief that what she’d done with Ransom and Noah Lessing was within her rights, and she was still angry with him. But now he wasn’t so sure. There was a fragility and a vulnerability about her that gnawed at his conscience. Something was very wrong, but she was so distant, and retreating even further, that he was unsure of how to go about speaking to her. She was a task master at putting up walls and shielding herself, and no amount of battering or pushing would help to bring those walls down. He decided to keep a close eye on her, but he was worried and didn’t know quite what to do.

He was not the only one keeping an eye on the captain. Noah Lessing was also aware of the captain’s tenuous hold on the situation. He recognised some of the similar traits that he had seen in his own captain when he had ‘sold his soul’. It had been the beginning of the end for all of them when Ransom had allowed his principles to be compromised. One little step and then another and then another, and before they knew it Ransom had strayed so far from ‘the path’ that they had all become lost. He didn’t want that to happen to Captain Janeway. In his own way he’d understood her reasons for doing what she did. She was trying to protect her crew and he’d learned from the Voyager crew that she was tenacious in her devotion to them. They, in turn, were equally devoted to her. It was her humanity that inspired that devotion, but that humanity also allowed her to make mistakes. That was where Ransom had gone so wrong. He had lost his humanity, and Noah could see the same thing happening to his new captain.

The rest of the crew were a little perplexed by her strange behaviour, but easily forgave her unusual ways. Noah in a strange way felt responsible for all that had happened. The night of the party he’d seen the devastation in her eyes as she walked past him. It was the same hollowness he’d seen in Ransom’s eyes at the beginning. He wanted to say something to her, maybe to apologise for putting her in that situation, but he wasn’t sure if he should. As it would happen the decision was taken out of his hands by fate, and it became a water shed moment for Voyager, the command team and the crew. A few well timed words can sometimes make a world of difference.

Noah was finished his shift. His last duty for the day had been to deliver an engineering report to Commander Chakotay. Having done so he made his way to the turbo lift. The doors opened and he stepped inside. Just as they were closing, a hand shot into the gap making them open again, and Captain Janeway slid through the opening. The doors shut and she turned to see who her travelling companion was. On recognising Noah, her eyes went wide and the colour drained from her face. Noah took note of her discomfort, and gave her a small smile to try and put her at ease. “Good evening, Captain.”

She nodded and squeezed out a strangled greeting. “Good evening, Mr. Lessing.” She could hardly breathe and her heart was pounding in her chest. Noah was very uncomfortable with the fact that his presence was having this affect on her. He tried again to diffuse the situation.

“Did you have a good day, Captain? It’s nice to have a bit of peace and quiet for a change.”

“Yes, it is, crewman.” She managed to grate out those few words before her throat closed over. He decided to bite the bullet and say something. If they had talked to Ransom at the beginning, things may have been different. He was unwilling to stand by again.

“Captain, I’ve been meaning to speak to you. I wanted to thank you for allowing us to stay on Voyager. You had every right to drop us off at the nearest planet or keep us in the brig, and well… I just wanted to thank you.”

She was still staring at him wide eyed. Her breathing was rapid and she was looking very pale. “Crewman Lessing, I …” The lift stopped on deck 2. He was on his way to the mess hall. He nodded his head at the captain as the doors opened. Before he could exit, she placed her hand on his arm. Her voice was a whisper. “Noah, I’m sorry.”

He smiled at her gently and laid his hand over hers. “Thank you, Captain. I’m sorry too.” He turned and was gone.

The lift doors closed and she stood staring. She was shaking from head to toe. She’d intended to go to her quarters but changed her mind. “Deck 8.” It was time to face her demons.

The lift stopped and she stepped out into the deserted corridors. She wandered down the hall until she found herself outside the cargo bay.

She stood outside the doors for a few moments gathering her courage. Hitting the panel by the door, they swooshed open and she stepped through. This was where it had all gone to hell. This was where she’d lost Kathryn. She walked to the spot where she’d had Lessing handcuffed in the chair. She looked up into the corner of the room and could almost hear the sound the aliens made when they opened the fissures into this reality. The fear started to rise but she tamped it down. She stood on the spot where she had lost the better part of herself and the tears started to fall. Her brief meeting with Noah Lessing in the lift had shattered the barrier that she’d been hiding behind. She hadn’t expected his reaction. She honestly expected him to be cold and angry, but he wasn’t. He was sorry. For what she wasn’t sure, but his kindness had touched her deeply. Her shriveled heart started to beat again. Noah Lessing didn’t hate her. She knelt down on the ground and wrapped her arms around herself. He didn’t hate her. She couldn’t believe it. She was sure he must have for what she’d done. She slowly slid down on her side on the cold floor and cried silently.

Noah walked into the mess hall. He too was a bit shaken by his chance meeting with Captain Janeway, but he was glad he’d had the opportunity to apologise. He was also pleased that she had apologised to him, not that he’d expected her to, but he hoped it made her feel better for having done so.

Angelo Tessoni walked up behind him and slapped him on the back. “How are you going, Noah? Was that Janeway in the lift with you? Why was she holding on to you? Hasn’t she caused you enough grief? You’d think she’d leave you alone?” Chakotay was sitting not far from where the two men were standing. His ears pricked up at the mention of Kathryn’s name.

“It was nothing, Angelo. We were just talking. She’s very nice. She just wanted to know if I was settling in, you know, that sort of thing.” Wanting to change the subject, he looked at what was on offer to eat. “What do you think that orange stuff is, Ange? Dare you to try some?”

Tessoni grabbed a tray and loaded it with orange paste. “What will you bet me? How about rations, say one for each spoonful?”

“OK, Angelo, you’re on.” Taking their trays, they moved to the back of the hall. As they passed Chakotay’s table, Noah noticed the First Officer’s stare. Noah met his gaze and gave him a sad smile.

That was it. There was something very wrong, Chakotay had to find her and sort this out. He got up and headed to her quarters. He rang the chime twice before he asked the computer for her whereabouts.

“The captain is in Cargo Bay 1.” What the hell was she doing in there? He took off for the lifts. “Computer, status of Captain Janeway.” The tinny voice returned. “Captain Janeway is conscious and stationary.”

He jogged up the corridor of deck eight. He was angry with himself for not dealing with this sooner. He stood outside the doors to the cargo bay with fear churning in his gut at what he would find. Hitting the panel, the doors opened. His heart lurched. She was lying in the floor in the middle of the room, curled up on her side.

“Kathryn? Oh God, Kathryn.” He ran to her side, quickly feeling the side of her neck. Her pulse was strong and steady.

She jolted at his touch, and started pushing herself up from the floor. She looked up at him with haunted, tear stained eyes. “Chakotay?” She looked around her. She seemed disorientated. “What…?” Then it all came rushing back to her. She shuffled away from him. “What are you doing here, Chakotay?”

“Don’t, Kathryn.” He frowned at her. She was going to pull away again, but he wasn’t going to allow it. This had gone on long enough. “Here.” He offered her a hand and helped her up from the floor. Without letting go of her hand, even as she tried to pull away, he led her over to some cargo containers. “Come and sit over here.” He sat her down in front of him.

“I have to get back to the bridge, Commander.” She was looking behind him at the cargo bay doors. She desperately wanted to escape.

He was standing in front of her with his hands on his hips. “No you don’t. Your shift ended an hour ago. We’re going to deal with this, Kathryn. Tonight we lay all our cards on the table.”

“How dare you use that tone with me, Commander.” She tried to get up, but he pushed her back down gently.

“Sit still, for pity’s sake. Kathryn, we have to fix this. You can’t go on like this for much longer. It’s not right and it’s not healthy. What were you doing here and why were you lying on the floor? You scared the hell out of me.”

“This isn’t about you, Chakotay.”

“Don’t I know it. Well, you tell me what it’s about, Kathryn. Tell me what’s been happening to you. It’s been two weeks since the Equinox and you’ve hardly spoken a word to me or anyone. You need to get over this anger. You have to live with the fact that you can be wrong sometimes and it’s not the end of the world. Trying to intimidate us into letting you get away with what you did is not going to work this time.” She looked at him with wide, unbelieving eyes.

“Is that what you think?” She shook her head in dismay. What was the point of trying to explain when even Chakotay had no idea what she had been going through? He had assumed she was so cold hearted that all she wanted to do was win – have the last word.

She hung her head and the tears slid silently down her cheeks. Chakotay was confused. She wasn’t behaving at all like the captain he had come to know over the years. He watched as tears slid down her face. She turned her face away from him and gripped the edge of the cargo container until her knuckles turned white.

All of a sudden it dawned on him. This had nothing to do with the captain, well, not really. This was Kathryn. This was Kathryn in distress, real distress. He reached over and placed his hand over her straining knuckles.

“Kathryn it’s alright. We survived. We got through it. Everything will be fine.”

“Will it, Chakotay? Will it really? I don’t think so. I stepped over the line. I promised myself I would never do it, but I did. I stepped way over it and I destroyed everything that we’d built while we’ve been out here. I let my emotions rule my actions. How many times were we taught not to let that happen? Tell me Chakotay. You were at Command school. You tell me.”

“Kathryn, it didn’t happen. You were under a great deal of stress. I’m sorry I disobeyed you, but I couldn’t let you leave Lessing there to die. You weren’t yourself.”

“That’s right, Chakotay. I wasn’t myself.” Her voice lost all its anger. “That’s the problem. I don’t know who ‘myself’ is anymore. The person that I was five years ago would never have done what I did. I would have let him die. There is no doubt about it. I would have killed Noah Lessing without a backward glance and when you stopped me…” Her voice was barely a whisper. “I was so angry with you, I could have killed you as well.” Her voice was hitching and she was becoming upset with the thought of what she could have done.

“Kathryn, it never would have happened. You could no sooner hurt me than I could hurt you.”

She shook her head at him. “Chakotay, I was consumed, out of control and it frightened the hell out of me.” She stood up and moved away from him, looking up at the spot where a fissure would have formed. “You say I wouldn’t hurt you? Well, you’re wrong. I hurt you all the time. I manipulate, cajole and manoeuvre to get my own way. I use your feelings all the time to get what I want. The fact that you thought that I was shutting everyone out because I was angry with you and unable to see how wrong I’d been speaks volumes about my behaviour. I’ve become the creature that I most feared I would become from the outset.” She turned her tearstained face away from him. “I don’t know where the other Kathryn has gone. I’m lost.” She wrapped her arms about herself again. Lowering her head, she cried silent tears.

“Kathryn, she’s here. She always has been. You just need to let her breathe.” He walked up behind her and gathered her in his arms. She started shuddering and taking deep gulping breaths. “That’s it, Kathryn, breathe.” She suddenly swung around in his arms and held on tight.

“Chakotay, please help me.”

“Always, Kathryn, always.” He held her to him as she let go of years of grief and anguish. She cried for all the lost crew, friends and lovers, time and opportunities. His heart ached for her. He and the crew so often took for granted her strength and fortitude, forgetting the woman behind the uniform. He had taken excellent care of the captain over the years, but as time had gone on, he’d forgotten about Kathryn. It seemed that mistakes had been made all around.

He whispered soothing words into her hair and surrounded her with his warmth and love. When she’d settled a little, he ordered a site to site transport to her quarters. They materialised in her living area and he carried her over and sat cradling her on the couch.

Her crying stopped, only the occasional shudder running through her body, and eventually she drifted off to sleep. He stayed with her as she slept, unwilling to leave her, and enjoying the closeness that she rarely allowed. Eventually he dozed too. Many hours later he awoke to find her looking at him with warm eyes and a half smile on her face.

“Thank you, Chakotay. Thank you for always being here. I love you.” He was speechless, his face a mask of wide eyed amazement. “Don’t worry, Chakotay. I know you don’t love me, but I had to tell you. I’ve hidden so many things over the years and it’s time they were aired.” She moved away from him slightly. She didn’t want to make him feel awkward. He was so kind and caring and his quiet strength was what had held her together on so many occasions. He was a truly good man.

His face slowly relaxed into a grin. “Kathryn, I… I don’t know what to say but, thank you, thank you, thank you.” He laughed and grabbed her face in both his hands and kissed her hard on the lips. “Kathryn, you can be so wrong sometimes. God, I love you too. I’ve always loved you. Ha!… I can’t believe this. All this time.” He hauled her into an embrace and held her close.

“Do you really mean it, Chakotay? I honestly don’t know how you could. All the things I’ve done, and haven’t done. I’m surprised you want to have anything to do with me.” He was about to say something. “I know, I know, but I’ve dealt you some pretty low blows over the years. This last episode is a prime example. I’m so glad you do though.” She lifted her head and looked at him. Bringing her hand up, she caressed the side of his face and then lightly traced the outline of his tattoo. Her eyes locked with his. “I’m sorry, Chakotay. For everything. Can you forgive me and do you think the crew will ever forgive me? I let them down terribly. I’m still so ashamed.” She dropped her head to his shoulder, the feelings of self loathing and shame flaring again in her chest.

“Kathryn, of course they forgive you. They have already. We all make mistakes, but you have never let them down. In a strange way it’s reassuring for them. It makes you more human and that allows them to feel closer to you. They love and respect you, and have done right from the very beginning. This was just another bump in the road, and no doubt there’ll be many more, but from now on we’ll face them together.” He kissed the top of her head and stroked her hair.

“When you think about it, the only times we’ve ever come close to not surviving have been the times when we’ve pulled away from one another. We’re a team Kathryn. Indestructible.” She snuggled closer into his side. He was right, of course. She’d always thought that a relationship between them would complicate the command structure, but in the end all the walls and barriers that she’d had to erect to maintain her command distance had only served to blinker her from the basic truth. They were better together than apart. Better people and better leaders. They were two parts of the same whole. Ying and yang. Their greatest triumphs had been when they were united in purpose, and just the thought of having him beside her in her life as well as in command gave her a renewed strength and determination. She had no doubt that they would get back to earth and from now on there would be no more pretence between them. She felt secure enough in their commitment that she could be honest with him and trust him to understand her need to articulate her insecurities and vulnerabilities. They could be each others champion and support. Instead of feeling fear at handing over that part of herself, she felt a freedom and lightness in her soul that she hadn’t felt for years. It gave her strength and filled her with hope. She was truly happy for the first time in years. She looked up into his dear face and handed her heart and soul to his keeping.

“Would you stay with me tonight? Well, would you stay with me always? I can’t bear the thought of being alone anymore. I hate to appear weak or needy, but the last week almost destroyed me and I need you with me.”

“Kathryn, I think this week has shown us both that we need each other and I plan on never leaving your side as long as I have breath in this body.”

She smiled at him and caressed his face. “Thank you.”

He was overwhelmed by her trust in him. He knew her well and it took an enormous amount of courage for someone like Kathryn to give her inner self over to his care. He was touched and deeply honoured and he would guard that trust with his life.

He looked deeply into her eyes and gave her a gentle smile. Standing, he held out his hand. “Come.” She placed her hand in his and he led her to her bedroom. They spent the night in each others arms, making love and holding one another. They talked of their lives, past and present, and their hopes for the future.

They woke the next morning rejuvenated and with their purpose restored. They dressed and made their way to the mess hall.

Kathryn smiled all the way there, walking with her arm tucked under Chakotay’s. Passing crewmen nodded happy greetings, their smiles widening as they realised the reason for the captain’s joyful demeanour.

They arrived at the mess hall, gathered their food and took their usual seats. The crew visibly relaxed as they noticed a happy and smiling captain and commander.

Kathryn was just finishing her second cup of coffee, when Noah Lessing stepped through the doors. Kathryn took note of his entrance, and as he walked past their table, she stood up. “Excuse me, Mr. Lessing. Would you mind joining us, please?”

He nodded, looking a little apprehensive. “Certainly, Captain. Commander.” He nodded his greeting to Chakotay as he sat down.

Kathryn took a breath. She too was nervous about this and desperate to do it right. “Noah, I wanted to thank you properly for what you did yesterday in the lift. It took courage and a good deal of humility, and I wanted you to know how much I appreciated it. What I did to you was wrong.” He opened his mouth to say something, but the captain held up her hand for him to stay quiet. “It was wrong on so many levels that I won’t even begin to elucidate, but I just wanted you to know that I have put a formal apology from the captain in your file. But on a personal note, I would like to apologise to you for my behaviour and I would also like to thank you for your kind words yesterday. They made all the difference.” She reached across the table and placed her hand over his.

“Captain, truly you have nothing to apologise for, but I’m glad I could make a difference. I had to say something. I felt in a way responsible. If I’d spoken to Captain Ransom in the beginning, things might have been different.” She looked at him with raised eyebrows. “It wasn’t just me that didn’t agree with his methods. There were more than half the crew that knew it was wrong, but we were too cowardly to speak up. I couldn’t let that happen again. So, Captain, I would like to return the thanks. It has helped to redeem some of my mistakes as well. Thank you.” He looked back and forwards between Kathryn and Chakotay. “And if it isn’t out of line, I’d like to be the first to congratulate you both. I’m sure you’ll be very happy and I know the crew will be pleased.”

“Thank you, Noah.” Kathryn glanced around the mess hall. Tom Paris caught her eye. He nodded and held up his coffee cup in a salute. B’Elanna was smiling, and so was Harry. She noticed that the atmosphere in the room had lightened since their arrival. She was pleased and relieved. She reasoned that it was true, that the mood of the crew filters down from the top. A happy command team makes for a contented crew and she was certainly happy.

Noah picked up his plate. “If you’ll excuse me, Captain? I have a few rations to win back from Crewman Tessoni before I start shift.”

“Certainly, Noah. Good luck.”

“Thank you, Captain. I think I might need it. You could store warp plasma in that man’s stomach. Commander.” Noah nodded to Chakotay and left the table heading towards a rowdy table at the back of the mess hall. Angelo Tessoni was eating today’s mystery meal with gusto, much to the dismay of his companions. There were bursts of raucous laughter and good hearted banter. Life aboard Voyager was good.

It was time to leave for the bridge. Kathryn and Chakotay cleared their table and placed their plates in the recycler on the way to the door. She tucked her arm under Chakotay’s again as they walked to the lift. Stepping inside they stood close together. Chakotay looked down at her. “Are you alright, Kathryn? That was a good thing that you just did.”

She tugged him closer. “It wasn’t just a good thing. It was a necessary thing, and I feel so much better for having done it.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” He kissed her forehead. “I love you, Kathryn Janeway.”

“Mmmm. I will never tire of hearing that. I love you too.”

The lift doors opened and they stepped on to the bridge arm in arm.

Harry piped up from the ops station. “Captain on the bridge.” The bridge crew all stood to attention. She looked around at the dear familiar faces and was reminded of how fortunate she was to be surrounded by these wonderful and caring people. It almost moved her to tears. Her eyes rested on Tom Paris for a moment. He gave her a wink and her face broke into a wide happy smile. “As you were. And thank you.”

Kathryn and Chakotay made their way to the command chairs and turning to each other, smiling, they took their places.

Kathryn took a deep satisfied breath and settled back into her seat. She crossed her legs and ran her hands along the arm rests of her chair, then looking up at the viewscreen at the passing stars, and asking no-one in particular uttered the word “Report.”

Tuvok started delivering the ship’s status in his usual monotone. Chakotay looked across at Kathryn. She was smiling gently. Sensing his eyes on her, she reached across with her left hand. He took it in his right hand as she turned slowly towards him. For a moment their eyes locked and the bridge and all around them faded as the connection was made. Then gradually the beeping consoles and Tuvok’s voice faded back in. Letting go of each others hands slowly, they looked to the way ahead.

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