Shadow Boxing

 

Rated NC17

Summary: Written for the 2016 Vamb Secret Summer Exchange for my recipient, TrekkingThru.

This is an episode addition for ‘The Fight’. There are ramifications aplenty and much soul searching for both the Captain and Chakotay following their exploits during the crisis in Chaotic Space.

Request : I have not participated in a while, so I’m going with an old favorite. I love the episode ‘The Fight’. I would like a J/C romance based on that episode. It can take place at anytime during or immediately following the ep. I prefer light reading; some angst is okay but must be resolved and have an HEA.Rated R to NC17 is preferred.

This was a great request and I had a lot of fun dealing with the minefield of emotions explored (and unexplored) within the episode. Thank you for the excellent request, TT. 😀

Huge thanks and many hugs to CF for her eagle-eyed beta and to Audabee for her read through. xx   I have, of course, fiddled with it since then, so any mistakes are mine. 🙂

Kudos to Sira and Ria, the marvellous MOTW, for another amazing exchange. {{{Hugs}}}

Disclaimer: CBS/Paramount owns everything. No infringement intended.

 

Chapter One

Kathryn straightened her uniform jacket and patted her hair into place. Half an hour ago, Tuvok had all but escorted her from the Bridge, and although she was exhausted and needed sleep, she couldn’t shut off the hamster wheel turning in her brain. A shower and fresh uniform was the best she could do for now.

It was time to confront the issues at hand.

“Computer, locate Commander Chakotay.”

“Commander Chakotay is on Deck Six.” To Kathryn’s paranoid ears, the computer’s disembodied voice sounded churlish and accusing.

On principle she chose to ignore that uncomfortably paranoid thought, and strode towards the turbolift.

Principles – phhtttt! She could add self-righteous and sanctimonious to her list of failings. Her recent behavior had proven that her ‘principles’ were decidedly thin on the ground.

Right now, though, her focus had to be Chakotay – everything else could wait.

It wasn’t that she was looking for him, per se.

Well, she was, but only in the official guise of a concerned captain wanting to commend and reassure a subordinate following a harrowing (but successful) first contact.

She almost tripped over her own feet as the incredulous voice inside her head gave a loud scoff of derision, and her mocking inner-self rolled its eyes.

Who the hell was she kidding?

She was hunting him like prey – her gut wound tight with tension, and her heartbeat hammering a staccato tattoo against her ribs.

And her so-called ‘concern’?

Again, that had nothing at all to do with her duty as captain, or those wretched protocols that ruled her life. Her need to see him was borne of another emotion entirely, one she was reluctant to name, even to herself.

It was vitally important that she speak to him; firstly, to make sure that he was all right, and secondly, to apologize for the less-than-stellar role she’d played in this latest near-disaster. Guilt and shame swelled in her chest, and she swallowed against the mounting pressure.

The last few days had been horrendous – for Chakotay, for her, and for the crew.

The ship had escaped total destruction by a whisker – yet again. B’Elanna and the engineering team would be hard at work for days repairing the hundreds of microfractures caused by the graviton shears within the Chaotic space phenomenon. She huffed to herself, and shook her head. Same old, same old.

As ridiculous as it sounded, in some ways it was easier to shrug off the threat of total destruction than it was to contemplate the tragedy of losing Chakotay to what was no less than mind-rape by alien entities, the likes of which they’d never encountered before.

Threats to the ship had become practically de rigueur in the Delta Quadrant. It happened so often, and with such mind-numbing frequency, that neither she nor the crew batted an eyelash when it occurred.

But to lose one of their own – someone so intrinsically central to their survival – tore at the very fabric of their existence. Those internal eyeballs of hers rolled skyward again – so much for the famous edict of ‘the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the one.’ She’d thrown that baby out with the bathwater long ago.

How had her priorities become so skewed? And what the hell was she supposed to do about it?

She had no idea.

Heaving a weary sigh, she leant against the wall of the turbolift, and lowered her gaze to contemplate her boots. Yes, just another run-of-the-mill, potentially disastrous misadventure to record in her logs. It had become an almost humdrum part of her life, but the uneasy churn in her belly belied her usual air of bravado and control. How did one inure oneself to the potential loss of the people one loved? Yes, loved – it was past time to admit that to herself, if only here in the quiet of the turbolift.

She didn’t know the answer to that question either. It was becoming apparent that she didn’t know a lot about anything anymore. In the five years that they’d been stranded in the Delta Quadrant, she’d never been able to accept with any equanimity the ever-growing list of crewmembers lost to this unforgiving space. But maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. The day she could shrug off those deaths without feeling the sharp pang of loss would be the day she’d hang up her captain’s pips.

Chakotay had survived, and that helped, in a small way, to shore up her reserves – they’d been lucky this time. But there were no guarantees – there was always a next time, and that thought unnerved her more than she could say. She’d told him once that she couldn’t imagine a day without him, and it was as true today as it had ever been. Perhaps it was time to tell him so again.

As Voyager’s command team, they’d pitted their combined intellects against innumerable perils, survived more hair-raising moments of near-catastrophe than was healthy for any normal person, and, in doing so, become irrevocably enmeshed in each other’s lives. She relied upon his support as her second in command and, even more so, on their deep and unwavering friendship. In short, he was her rock, her mainstay – plus so much more – and to have seen him crumble before her eyes, as he had done under the onslaught of the Chaos Space aliens’ mind-control, had knocked the proverbial stuffing right out of her.

In all their years out here, she’d never seen him so desperate or afraid, and she wasn’t too proud to admit that it had shocked and frightened her. Her first instinct had been to protect him, but she couldn’t. He’d been the sole conduit through which they could communicate with the entities, and thus, their only hope of finding a way out of the anomaly that was systematically tearing the ship apart.

They’d escaped with mere moments to spare, and were now back on course to the Alpha Quadrant – all credit to Chakotay – but there was a cargo load of issues that she needed to resolve and all of them stemmed from her actions during the crisis. The unscrupulous methods she’d used to gain his co-operation sat at the core of her disquiet. She had sullied and undermined the foundation of their friendship, and the memory of her manipulative and underhanded conduct filled her with shame. How could she have so callously exploited their relationship the way she had?

Chakotay’s mind had been hijacked and a genetic familial disorder deliberately ‘switched on’ by the invading entities. The combination had rendered him susceptible to a nightmarish assortment of hallucinations and delusions. Crazed and terrorized, he’d been in no state to make any sort of informed decision about anything. Yet, that hadn’t stopped her from using any and all means available to her, to persuade him to do something that literally scared the hell out of him.

His suffering had been awful to watch; to have experienced it must have been a torment.

Instead of fighting tooth and nail to free him from the aliens’ influence and finding another method of dealing with the crisis, she’d cajoled and implored him to keep trying to reach them and decipher their garbled message.

She’d used touches that bordered on caresses, urging him to take the risk for her‘You’re our only hope of getting out of this place. I need you to keep trying.’ She’d held his hands, stroked his chest, and cupped his cheek, knowing full well how those touches would affect him. Machiavelli was an amateur compared to resolute Kathryn Janeway. Her insides withered with self-loathing.

He’d done as she’d asked – what choice did he have? He was an honorable man, whereas her actions were the polar opposite. She’d abandoned every ounce of her moral fiber, used every scheming weapon in her arsenal, to get him to agree to her plan. It was truly an appalling abuse of power, and she feared that she had done irreparable damage to a relationship that she purported to cherish so dearly.

She was deeply ashamed, but had no idea how to go about apologizing to him without crossing barriers that had taken years to construct. They would be forced to acknowledge those unspoken feelings that existed between them, and that was something that she simply couldn’t do.

Oh, they knew they existed – as did most of the crew, if the rumors were true – but by ignoring them, they were easier to deny, and for her, easier to control. That she’d used them so blatantly and in such a mercenary fashion made her question her morals, not to mention her competency to command Voyager.

She hated herself for forcing his hand, but in her own defense, her options had – as always – been limited. The sad truth being that if similar circumstances arose, she would have no choice but to ask the same thing of him again. Such were the ‘privileges’ of her rank and position. A rock and a hard place didn’t even begin to describe her life here in the Delta Quadrant.

Her role as captain of a lost ship – alone and a lifetime away from home – had changed her, and she had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t for the better. But Voyager’s circumstances, as always, dictated her decisions, and the ‘buck’, as Tom would say, stopped with her. The weight of such responsibility had a way of stifling those gentler qualities that she’d once prized so highly. But when one was solely accountable for the survival of one hundred and fifty beings, it was a matter of hardening one’s heart or perish.

Her sincere wish as leader of this rag-tag group of individuals was to make the best choices possible within the constraints of their reality, her command experience, and Starfleet regulations. That was her excuse anyway; however, it didn’t make her feel any better about what she’d done to Chakotay, or the way she’d gone about it. Lines had been crossed, and she had a sinking feeling that there was no going back.

This thought saddened her more than she could say, and although she knew it was selfish of her, she had to make amends and try to get her relationship with Chakotay back on an even footing.

She needed his support in so many ways that she couldn’t even begin to articulate them.

And it was time to tell him so.

The turbolift eased to a halt and the doors opened.

Taking a deep breath, Kathryn stepped out onto Deck Six.

Swamped with relief, she found him walking towards her.

=<>=

 

Chapter Two

Chakotay made his way along the Deck Six corridor towards the Holodeck, his mind churning over recent events. He’d spent the last hour in his quarters, staring at his disobliging medicine bundle, frustrated and annoyed at his inability to deal with his conflicted feelings.

It wasn’t that he was not grateful to be alive – there were times during the last few days when he’d doubted that he’d survive. But he was still in one piece, and that wasn’t something to be taken for granted. However, he still had a mountain to climb before he could move beyond the aftereffects of the aliens’ mind-control.

The Doctor assured him that he was fine – his faulty gene once again suppressed, the alien voices silent, and his disturbing hallucinations no longer an issue. But Chakotay wasn’t as certain as the Doctor was that he was back to his ‘old self’. The visions he’d experienced had seemed startlingly real, and he was deeply troubled by the fact that his mind had been so susceptible to invasion and manipulation. It had left him feeling shaky and unsure, the unnerving sense of violation sitting like a lead weight in his middle, curdling his stomach, and stealing his ability to breathe.

He knew he had to get past these pathetic feelings of being defiled and abused. It wasn’t the first time he’d been victim to a mental assault, and he’d bounced back from those experiences without any problems. Irritation flared again, and he rolled his shoulders to loosen the tightness pulling across the muscles of his upper back. Rather than sitting in his quarters wallowing in self-pity, he’d thought a vision quest would solve the problem, but his spirit guides were not co-operating and, after several fruitless attempts, he’d given up.

What he dearly wanted to do was speak to Kathryn about what had happened, but he wasn’t sure how he felt about the part she’d played in the fiasco. His hallucinations had played havoc with his perceptions of reality, and he found it virtually impossible to separate delusion from memory.

Kathryn’s presence was woven through much of what he remembered – no surprise there – but he wasn’t entirely sure whether his recollections were real or not. Flashes of feeling, rather than recall, dominated his thoughts, and he had an overwhelming sense of her presence while he was out of his head in Sickbay.

The comfort of having her there, holding his hand or simply watching him, had anchored him to the here and now, but when he awoke and she wasn’t there, panic laced with disappointment had wound around his heart.  The problem was he couldn’t be sure, what, if any of it, was real. Asking her would be awkward and necessitate delving into emotions and needs that they rarely, if ever, acknowledged. This uncertainty added to his frustration, and nurtured the persistent seed of anger that gnawed at his insides.

During his brief moments of lucidity, she’d been there, pushing him to keep trying to communicate with the aliens when every atom of his being told him to run a million lightyears in the other direction. But she’d been desperate – he’d known that. Her touches and ‘hands-on’ approach were clear evidence that the situation was dire, and although her gamble had paid off, he couldn’t help feeling used and, in a strange way, abandoned.

How pathetic did that sound?

His emotions had been stripped bare, and he still felt exposed and vulnerable. It was essential that he regain his equilibrium before dealing with Kathryn and the significance of her constant presence in his hallucinations.

He had time up his sleeve. Knowing Kathryn, he’d be willing to bet that she was busy berating herself for putting him at risk. It was her usual modus operandi after an experience such as this, and she’d need room to work through her initial guilt before being in any state to talk.

Having some time to himself would also give him a chance to heal some of his own mental wounds before having to deal with Kathryn’s.

A shudder trickled down his spine. He’d never experienced such fear – not since he was a child – and it had left him feeling confused, and, if he were honest with himself, a little unhinged.

There was nothing he hated more than feeling helpless, and the Chaos Space aliens had ripped away every ounce of his control. He’d been at their mercy, with no means of regulating his behaviour or his actions. As hard as he’d tried to fight the entities – figuratively and literally – they’d been too numerous and far too strong to overcome. In the end, he’d been forced to surrender and, in doing so, had come close to sacrificing his sanity – a terror almost primal in its intensity.

Kathryn understood that, but it hadn’t stopped her from asking him to take the risk. The seed of his resentment stemmed from there. She’d placed him in an untenable position, but it wasn’t for the first time, and it probably wouldn’t be the last.

Would he have refused to do his duty if the Doctor had found a way to block the aliens’ influence? With Voyager’s survival in the balance, had there really been an option to renege on his promise to Kathryn? He wasn’t sure of the answers to either of these questions, and the germ of his self-directed anger began here. He might have resented Kathryn for putting him that position, but he was furious with himself for showing such weakness and lack of courage. And knowing that she’d been witness to his fear-filled ravings and pathetic pleadings made him close to rabid with embarrassment. How could she possibly respect him after seeing such clear evidence of his cowardice? Every scrap of respect she had for him must have been obliterated and – proud man that he was – he found that hard to come to terms with.

He knew she was worried about him and that she cared – he never doubted that. Her reaction to his collapse on the Bridge was clear evidence of her concern, but he loathed how flawed and feeble it made him appear.

The comfort that her support and closeness brought wasn’t enough to banish his feelings of inadequacy and, at the time, he’d been tempted to shrug off her help, if only to maintain some measure of dignity. Everything he’d done and said during his ordeal had successfully stripped him of what little of it he’d had to start with.

There were other aspects of this experience that had rattled his composure. The appearance of his crewmates and friends within his delusions had unsettled him more than he cared to admit. Harry’s disappointment, the Doctor’s unrestrained haranguing, and to hear that Kathryn thought of him as merely a replacement captain and nothing more struck a mortal blow to the connection he thought they shared. It shook the foundations of their friendship, and he felt as if the rug had been pulled out from under him. Deep down he knew that what he’d seen and heard were simply reflections of his own deficiencies and fear; however, the accusations and taunts were difficult to ignore. Was there a grain of truth in any of them? It was hard to know, but the hurt was definitely real.

He desperately needed to find his footing again.

Deep in his soul, he knew they weren’t true and it prompted him to wonder how Kathryn would have coped if he hadn’t survived. His brow furrowed in thought. An uneasy feeling surfaced that it might well have been the last straw in regard to her sanity as well.

As Voyager’s Captain, she exuded an aura of stern assurance and steely bravado, but he knew better. She felt every loss, deep in her bones and, with each life-or-death decision she was forced to make, a little more of her soul was chipped away. He’d seen how it scoured her heart raw when her crew suffered and he worried for her – he always had. It was no secret that if things continued as they had done, eventually there would be nothing left of her to give. It was why he remained her staunchest supporter, and leant his strength to her without question.

Neither of their jobs was to be envied, but together they made an exceptional team, and he worried that his behaviour under the influence of the alien entities, and the onerous decisions Kathryn had been forced to make because of it, had irreparably damaged the most important relationship of his life.

He needed time to get all his conflicting emotions and thoughts in order, and to find himself again.

Abandoning his unco-operative spirit guides, he decided that the boxing scenario might hold the key to answering some of these lingering questions.

With some trepidation, he shrugged out of his uniform and pulled on his boxing gear before taking comfort in the routine of winding the wraps about each of his hands.

Determined to fix what he considered broken, he headed to Deck Six and the holodeck program that had started this whole debacle. If he could face down that damned duranium-jawed Terrellian, he might be able to put some of his paranoia behind him. It smacked of junk psychology, but with no counsellor on board and not knowing what else to do, it made perfect sense to him. Kathryn would probably laugh, and the Doctor would be livid after all the patching up he’d had to do, but in his gut, Chakotay knew it was the only avenue open to him.

Well, it was a start, anyway.

As he strolled down the corridor towards the Holodeck, the turbolift opened in front of him, and Kathryn stepped out. He wasn’t quite sure if he wanted to see her yet, but, as always, her presence sent a jolt of awareness through him. It had always been that way, but he didn’t need that sort of distraction now. He had a Terrellian to knock to kingdom-come, and a scrambled brain to sort out. From the look on her face, he could tell she wanted to talk, but he forced himself to ignore her needs for now.

=<>=

 

Chapter Three

‘Chakotay.’ She wasn’t sure if she whispered his name aloud, or if it was simply a silent thought made real by his presence. He didn’t respond, so it was likely the latter. Upon seeing him, some of the tightness in her chest unwound and a tingling awareness shivered over her skin, but she baulked at analyzing that feeling too closely.

Her smile, however, was genuine and heartfelt, and he nodded a greeting as she fell into step beside him. A quick sideways glance reassured her that he was looking better than when she’d last seen him, although the strain of the last few days was still evident in the tightness around his eyes and the set of his mouth. But apart from that, he looked calm and collected.

He was wearing his boxing gear, and it didn’t take a genius to figure out where he was going and why. He had his own demons to conquer, and he hadn’t wasted any time in confronting them.

She should take a leaf from his book, but her courage deserted her once again and she reverted to form. Playing the role of genial commander and friend, she lightly chided, “When I said you should take the next day or two off, I thought you’d want to stay in your quarters with a good book.”

He chose to ignore the gentle reprimand and shrugged, “Boxing helps me unwind.”

“Well, in that case, report for duty first thing in the morning.”

Their conversation was stilted, not at all like their usual relaxed banter, and Kathryn was silently berating herself for not thinking this through more thoroughly before approaching him. While preoccupied with these thoughts, an evil sprite took over and, without thinking of the consequences, she performed a lame ‘one-two’ with her fists and gave him a playful tap in the stomach.

He muttered a distracted, “See you then.” And turned to the holodeck controls.

Mortified, Kathryn’s instant reaction was to try to retrieve the situation, but it was too late – he’d turned away. Oh, God!

Rather than say or do anything else as foolhardy, and risk further damage to their already fragile friendship, she stepped into the turbolift on wobbly knees, and prayed that the doors would shut before she had to witness his reaction.

=<>=

 

Chapter Four

“Computer, run Chakotay Training Program Fifteen Beta.” The holodeck doors opened, and he entered Boothby’s gym.

Chakotay stood just inside the doors and surveyed his favored domain, then shook his head.

He was an idiot.

‘Boxing helps me unwind.’!?  Well, he could add that clumsy cock-and-bull story to the hundreds of others he’d bandied about over the years. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t be totally honest with her, but they’d lived around a lie for so long now that it had become a habit to prevaricate.

In the early days of their friendship, they’d had no trouble being forthright with one another, but somewhere along the line – probably around the time of their first encounter with the Borg – they’d started backing away from each other, and it wasn’t doing either of them any good.

The same old sadness pressed around his heart, but there was nothing he could do about any of that now. So, putting thoughts of Kathryn’s strange behavior aside for the moment, he strode towards the lockers on the far side of the gym.

He threw a punch or two in the air, shadow boxing, to test his shoulders; at the same time, he glanced towards the ring where the Terrellian was stretching against the ropes. Clearing his mind of all the conflicting feelings his brief encounter with Kathryn had brought to the fore, he opened his locker, grabbed his gloves, and looked up to find Boothby approaching.

“Ah, come for a little more punishment?” The comment was posed as a question, while at the same time he reached to secure Chakotay’s glove.

Chakotay frowned. Was that why he was here? He wasn’t sure – truth was, he wasn’t sure of much at the moment. Subtexts abounded, most of which he couldn’t quite grasp. He answered with a non-committal, “I thought I’d spar for a few rounds.”

“After that last bout?” Another statement framed as a question, but before Chakotay could respond, Boothby queried, “Did you talk to the Doctor?”

That he could answer. “Got a clean bill of health.”

“That’s good enough for me.” Together they moved ringside, but Boothby had some more words of wisdom to impart. “Okay. I’ve been watching him fight. He falls in too much when he clinches, and he moves more to his right than he does to his left.”

Chakotay hadn’t noticed any of that last time he sparred with the Terrellian, but then again, he’d been a little preoccupied with having his mind invaded by aliens to be taking notes. He took Boothby’s advice on board, and suggested, “I’ll double up on the left jabs, and see what happens.”

Boothby gave him a penetrating look. “Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

Chakotay turned towards the ring and sized up his opponent. Was he ready? The demons crowding his mind needed to be put to bed once and for all, and he wouldn’t know if he could do it unless he tried. Taking a deep breath, he hunted inside himself for that elusive kernel of calm and latched onto it with all the determination he could muster. The knot of anxiety in his belly loosened a little as the beginnings of inner peace took root.

Yes, he was ready for this.

He turned back to the old trainer with a half smile. “I’m ready.”

Boothby pushed the mouth-guard past Chakotay’s lips and gave him an encouraging slap on the shoulder as he climbed through the ropes.

The bell sounded for round one.

Chakotay felt no hesitation as he stepped forward. He dodged a couple of quick lefts from the Terrellian before landing two left jabs and a bruising right cross to his opponent’s head.

Chakotay knocked him out cold with that single punch.

It had happened so quickly that he took a moment to take it all in. Staring down at the prostrate figure of his nemesis, he glanced over at Boothby, and, after removing his mouth guard, shrugged. “He certainly moves to the right.”

“Good job, but next time let him get a bit closer. You have to allow him to land a few punches before you take him out. Make a sport of it rather than just demolishing your opponent. There’s nothing to be gained if it comes too easily. Remember, you have to overcome your own natural human desire not to get hurt.”

He remembered that gem of wisdom from his earlier bout, and wondered if there was a deeper meaning lurking somewhere in that litany of homilies. Perhaps there was, or maybe he was simply trying to rationalize what had happened to him.

Chakotay climbed through the ropes and jumped to the floor. Decking the Terrellian hadn’t given him the closure that he’d hoped it would bring, but he was feeling more centered than he had been when he’d left his quarters. Looking past Boothby, the punching bag called to him. Maybe, he just needed to blow off some steam.

He took up his stance in front of the bag, rolled his shoulders to loosen them, and then feinted to his left before hitting the bag dead centre with a blistering uppercut.

Boothby approached, and Chakotay could tell he was about to offer more unsolicited pearls of wisdom, but he was brimful of the old gardener’s moralisms. He needed to clear his head for a moment before tackling the thorny issue of this latest exploit. “Computer, remove characters from scenario.”

Boothby and the others faded to nothing, leaving Chakotay alone in the echoing gym.

Blasting a harsh breath from between his lips, he stretched his neck from side to side, took a deep breath, and began punching the hefty bag in earnest. With each smacking thump of leather on leather, his mind jagged from one memory to the next, reliving them, and then putting them aside; Kathryn’s gentle touches, the confusion of voices that only he could hear, the disturbing visions of his crewmates, Kathryn’s worried face as she hovered over him in Sickbay, the sudden dawning of understanding of what the aliens were trying to tell him, the pressure of Kathryn’s arms around him, and her anguished look when he’d collapsed on the Bridge. He considered them from every angle, rationalized them, and then tucked them away where they couldn’t hurt him anymore.

Muscles burning, sweat dampening his face and torso and his shirt sticking uncomfortably to his skin, he pounded away at the punching bag, imagining that all his worries were contained within the sawdust filled black leather.

Pleased with himself, he smiled through gritted teeth, and continued to pummel it into submission.

=<>=

 

 Chapter Five

The doors of the empty – thank God – turbolift, hissed shut behind Kathryn, but she kept moving until she was close enough to the rear wall to thump her forehead against the duranium paneling.

Well, that went swimmingly, she thought sarcastically, as she thumped her head once more before turning and staring at the closed doors. What the hell had she been thinking? A playful punch in the stomach after all she’d done to him recently? God, she was a fool. An all-encompassing cringe of embarrassment began to creep outward from her middle until all she wanted to do was curl into a ball on the floor and never get up.

That, however, was out of the question.

She could just imagine the call to Sickbay from some hapless crewman who’d stumbled upon the inspiring sight of his or her captain curled in foetal position on the floor of the turbolift, babbling and crooning to herself like some demented madwoman.

Chakotay undoubtedly thought she’d lost her mind – and she with no excuse, certainly nothing as handy as recently having one’s brain invaded by alien beings. No such luck for Kathryn. She shuddered. So far she’d made a complete hash of broaching the subject of her actions with Chakotay. Where was the forthright and courageous captain when she needed her? AWOL, it seemed.

Before she could beat herself up any more than she already had, she ordered the lift to Deck Five. It was time to don the captain’s pips again and put the last few minutes behind her. She huffed a bitter laugh – if only it were that easy.

She was relieved to see that Chakotay looked physically well, but that didn’t mean anything – her own aberrant behavior was proof enough that one could look perfectly normal and be as crazy as a loon. Taking a deep breath, she employed a few Vulcan meditation techniques to quickly center herself before striding from the lift and through the Sickbay doors. It was time to get the official report of Chakotay’s condition.

The Doctor was sitting at his desk, scowling over a PADD propped in front of him. She hoped it wasn’t Chakotay’s report and the cause of the Doctor’s frown. The mere thought quickly turned her embarrassment to worry, and she wasn’t sure which was worse.

At the sound of the doors, the Doctor looked up, tossed the PADD aside, and got to his feet. “Ah, Captain. I was expecting you.”

“You were?”

He gestured towards a chair but Kathryn remained standing.

“I assume you’re here for a report on the Commander’s condition.” His frown was gone, replaced by a placidly inquiring mien. It didn’t fool her for a minute. The man was far too perceptive for his own good – or hers.

She gave a brusque nod rather than answer, and then raised her brows and waited.

He gave an impatient huff and, after tapping a few buttons to bring up charts and scans on the panel behind his desk, launched into his report. “You will be pleased to hear that Commander Chakotay has suffered no permanent damage as a result of his infestation.”

The description made her skin crawl, but she remained detached, a picture of cool, calm, captainly impassivity.

“All his scans have returned to normal. The genetic marker for his familial sensory-tremens disorder is once again inert, and his hallucinations have ceased. His most pressing problem was exhaustion, but after a solid sleep and a top up of some essential vitamins and minerals, he’s back to his usual robust self.” He tapped his console again, and the readouts disappeared. “I have informed the Commander of the good news.” His scowl returned. “And have no doubt that he is now on his way to the Holodeck to undo all my good work.”

Kathryn didn’t comment on this accurate but petty accusation, and simply said, “I’m gratified to hear he is fully recovered. Well done, Doctor.”

“I’m right, though, aren’t I?”

“About what?”

“That, at this very minute, Commander Chakotay is in the Holodeck having his recently unscrambled brain rearranged – again?”

Irked by the Doctor’s patronizing tone, Kathryn snapped, “That is something you’ll have to take up with the Commander. I’m his captain, not his keeper.”

The Doctor immediately took note of her irritability, and Kathryn cursed herself for not reining in her temper.

In a flash, a medical tricorder was in his hand and aimed it at her.

Biting off each word as though she intended to chew it, Kathryn glowered at the EMH. “What – do – you – think – you – are – doing?”

“My duty.”

“I did not request a medical examination.”

“No, but as your Chief Medical Officer, I am well within my rights to perform an examination on any member of the crew I feel is in need.” Walking around her, he waved the scanner over her shoulders, her head and her chest, talking as he went. “And after the stress of the last few days, added to the load you usually carry, I deem it necessary.”

Kathryn tried to duck away from the menace of the roaming scanner, but the Doctor persisted and hummed annoyingly as he studied the readout.

Her eyes narrowed, and she turned to leave the bay. “I’ll be on the Bridge.”

“Err, excuse me, Captain.” He looked at her and shook his head. “No, you won’t. I am putting you on a mandatory twenty-four hours medical leave. Your pulse and blood pressure are elevated, your corticosteroid levels are through the roof, and your T-cell count is precariously low.”

“Any worse than usual?”

He gave her a jaundiced look, snapping the tricorder shut with a decisive flourish before aiming a raised eyebrow at her in challenge. “Suffice it to say, you are exhausted, over-stressed, and in dire need of some rest and relaxation.”

“I’m fine, Doctor.”

“No, you are not!” His voice took on an unusually strident note as he brandished the tricorder.

She glared at him, her eyes glinting with ire. If it were anyone else, they would have been shaking in their boots, but the Doctor had a somewhat thicker skin – holographic though it may be – than most members of her crew.

Kathryn’s lips thinned, and she ground out through gritted teeth, “I have reports and duties that cannot wait.”

“They’ll have to.”

“On whose authority? I don’t remember getting the memo about your promotion to Admiral.”

“No? Obviously an oversight.”

She didn’t deign to comment.

He didn’t back down. “Admiral or not, I have the authority to relieve you of your command if I warrant that you are a danger to yourself or the crew, and I will do so if you don’t take my advice seriously and get some rest. You cannot function effectively if you’re all but dead on your feet.”

Kathryn had to hand it to the Doctor, his sarcasm was deftly executed, and he appeared immune to intimidation.

If she were honest with herself, a few hours of peace and quiet would allow her to put the experiences of last few days into some sort of perspective, but she hated being bullied. Her immediate response was to call his bluff. “Do what you must, Doctor, but I’m heading to the Bridge.”

She’d almost made to the door when the Doctor’s voice cut through the anger buzzing in her ears.

“This situation has affected you more profoundly than you realize, Captain. I know what I saw.”

She jagged to a stop. Her bluff had been called, and panic began to edge out irritation. She turned back to the Doctor and tilted her chin a little higher. “Saw what? When?”

The Doctor took a step forward, and his voice was soft and unusually consolatory. “I saw the look on your face when the Commander collapsed on the Bridge. Your anguish was palpable.”

His gentle voice and look of understanding came close to disarming her, but she was made of tougher stuff. “I don’t know what you think you saw, Doctor but…”

His brow snapped into a frown and, interrupting her, he gestured his annoyance with a wave of his hand. “Captain, please don’t assume that because I’m not made of flesh and blood that I’m immune to the emotional distress of those around me. Far be it from me to make a judgment call on your affection for the Commander. What you feel for him was clearly expressed for all to see.” He shook his head like a disappointed parent, and spoke as if to someone else in the room. “For two people who spend most of their lives thinking of everyone else but themselves, you are astonishingly blind to each other’s needs.”

Kathryn was stunned, and began to protest. “Doctor, I…” But he growled, shocking her into silence.

“Captain, as your physician and friend, I’m simply telling you that if you continue along this course, disregarding each other’s emotional needs and ignoring what is right in front of you, it will eventually lead to disaster. I suggest – no – I am going to insist that you find a way to resolve the issues between yourself and Commander Chakotay, and find some peace of mind.”

Kathryn stared, gob-smacked, and inhaled a deep breath, ready to tear strips off him for his insubordination. But what could she say? He was right – both she and Chakotay focused all their efforts on the crew and precious little time caring for each other – although, granted, Chakotay looked after her well enough.  She, however, was hopelessly inadequate in reciprocating.

This latest near-disaster had brought home to her just how much she needed Chakotay – not only in his capacity as her First Officer, but as her friend and, dare she even think it, as her life partner.

Air whooshed from her lungs, and she deflated like a burst balloon, all her bluster and bravado vanishing like so much hot air.

The Doctor waited, and watched, as realization dawned.

Kathryn turned to him and found a gentle smile had replaced his usual supercilious sneer. His uncanny understanding of the situation brought an unwanted ache to her throat. She was exhausted – no argument there. A full night’s sleep was a rare commodity in her experience, and Kathryn had become used to sleeping in fits and starts. But over the last few days, she’d barely shut her eyes at all. Any spare time had been spent in Sickbay keeping vigil – unbeknownst to the Doctor or Chakotay. Guilt prodded her again. She’d used her command codes to override the Doctor’s autonomy protocols, and Chakotay had been barely conscious or aware throughout her visits. She wasn’t sure why she felt she had to hide this from them; the whole situation had been screwed up from start to finish.

Conceding defeat, weariness enveloped her like a suffocating cloud, and she wondered if she’d make it back to her quarters before she collapsed in a snoring heap.

The Doctor nodded as though he knew precisely what she was thinking, but practicalities had to prevail. Before she could escape to her quarters, she had duties to perform that couldn’t be ignored. As always, they took precedence.

Taking a deep breath and straightening her spine, she nodded. “All right, Doctor. You win. I’ll take the day off, but I have a few things I need to tidy up first before I can transfer command to Tuvok.”

He nodded, and she appreciated the fact that he resisted the urge to gloat or belabour the point. “Very well, Captain. I trust you to keep your word. I would also like you to check on Chakotay before you return to your quarters.”

“Why? You said he was fine.”

“He is, but I think it would do you both good to compare notes on this latest little adventure.”

She almost laughed. ‘Little adventure’? Kudos to the Doctor and his mastery of the understatement. She also gave him full marks for his quick study on manipulation, but she didn’t argue, just nodded in agreement. “When can I go back on duty?”

“Tomorrow’s gamma shift should be time enough. I won’t make any mention of this in your medical file as long as you promise to do what I’ve asked.”

Asked? It seemed more like an ultimatum to me.”

“Po-ta-to, po-tah-to.”

She shook her head and moved towards the exit, but relented and turned back to give him a small smile before she left the bay. “Thank you, Doctor.”

“My pleasure, Captain. Enjoy your evening.”

It was difficult to ignore the smug lilt in his voice, or the sound of his hands clapping together with glee.

=<>=

 

Chapter Six

Kathryn sighed and smiled grimly to herself as she walked towards the turbolift after leaving Sickbay. When had her life become such a soap opera? Here she was receiving relationship advice from a hologram and, what’s more, taking it. Could things get anymore pathetic than that? Twenty-four hours’ leave wasn’t nearly enough time to get her emotions sorted or her life in any semblance of order. But it was all she had, and so she’d better put the time to good use.

She strode onto the Bridge in her usual efficient fashion, looking for all the world like a woman in possession of all her faculties and brimming with self-confidence. God, not only was she in a soap opera, she had the leading role.

Harry greeted her with a smile, and Tuvok acknowledged her with a slight nod as she passed his station.

She made it to her Ready Room without tripping or breaking character, and although tempted to congratulate herself, she resisted. It seemed somewhat premature under the circumstances.

Without slowing her pace, Kathryn made a beeline for the replicator, and ordered the largest, strongest coffee on the menu, before slumping onto the couch with a weary sigh.

There was no time to wallow, however, and after a restorative sip or three of the bitter brew, she tapped her combadge. “Tuvok, could you please report to the Ready Room.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Less than five seconds later, the doors swooshed open to reveal her friend and no-nonsense Tactical officer. He approached but stood at parade rest at the foot of the stairs as he addressed her. “Captain?”

“Come and join me, Tuvok. Can I get you something?” She stood and moved to the replicator.

He stepped up to join her. “A Vulcan spiced tea. Thank you, Captain.”

Kathryn ordered his drink and handed him the mug, indicating that he should sit. She took her place beside him.

After another sip of her coffee, this time to reinforce rather than restore her nerve, she turned to Tuvok. “The Doctor insists that I take twenty-four hours leave.”

Tuvok’s response was one loaded, raised eyebrow. They were the most animated eyebrows in Starfleet. Who needed emotions when one could effectively maneuver one’s eyebrows to express any number of sentiments?

She pre-empted his question. “I’m fine, but over-stressed, as usual.”

“It has been a difficult few days for you, Captain.”

“Me?” She stifled a snort. “I think the Commander has been under a great deal more stress that I have.”

“Undoubtedly, but I have noted that when either you or the Commander is injured or in peril, the other feels the strain equally, if not more.”

She wasn’t sure what he was getting at, but after listening to the Doctor’s relationship advice, the last thing she needed was a Vulcan ‘Agony Aunt’s’ opinion.

Her inspired answer was a stuttered, “Errmm, yes, well, as the command team, we work closely together and if, ummm, one or the other of us is in jeopardy, it’s ummm… not easy to keep, errr… things in perspective.”

Kathryn wanted to scream. She sounded like that yammering madwoman again. Idiot!

That expressive eyebrow shot halfway up his forehead, and Kathryn quickly took a sip of coffee to avoid his eloquent gaze. It was impossible to hide anything from ‘Tuvok the All-Knowing’ – not that she’d win any prizes for her efforts.

Sitting forward and placing her almost empty mug on the table, she addressed the current situation in a manner befitting her station – well, she hoped that’s how she sounded. “I’ll be transferring command to you for the next twenty-four hours. I am, of course, available, if needed. But as long as we don’t run into any belligerent aliens, anomalies or hazardous unknowns, I’ll leave the rest up to you.”

Tuvok gave a nod of understanding. “I will do my utmost to avoid all the aforementioned situations.”

“Thank you, Tuvok.”

She made a move to stand, but Tuvok remained seated. He appeared to have something on his mind, and Kathryn had an awful feeling that she knew what it was. Damn it!

“Captain, may I speak frankly.”

“Of course, old friend.”

Something like a glimmer of a smile softened his features, but it was gone before she could be certain she’d seen it.

“This latest misadventure involving the aliens from Chaotic space, and the part both you and the Commander played in our escape, has highlighted several flaws in the command structure.”

Kathryn blinked. Ouch! She hadn’t been expecting that. “Are you questioning my command capabilities, Tuvok?”

“Not as such, Captain, but I think you will grant that the Commander’s indisposition highlighted areas within the command structure that warrant review.”

She wasn’t quite sure where he was going with this, but she had no other option than to hear him out. “Yes, and…” she prompted.

“As Voyager’s Chief Security Officer, I am, at any given time, cognizant of the whereabouts of every member of the crew, and I am also alerted to any unauthorized changes to security protocols.”

Kathryn frowned. Uh-oh, she was getting a very bad feeling about this. “Go on.”

“I am aware that you spent many of your off duty hours in Sickbay when you were purportedly in your quarters resting.”

Yep. Caught red-handed. She tried not to look too guilty. “As Captain, it is my prerogative to spend my off-duty time wherever I feel I am most needed.”

He nodded his agreement, but continued, “That is not in question; however, you used your command codes to disable the Doctor’s program on many of those occasions.”

“I was simply checking on the Commander and didn’t require the Doctor’s presence. I made certain that he would be automatically activated if the Commander’s condition warranted it.”

“I am convinced that you would not have put the Commander’s life at risk.”

“That was the furthest thing from my mind.” She was scrabbling to catch up now, and knew she sounded as though she was making excuses for behaviour that was, essentially, inexcusable.

Tuvok looked a little schoolmarm-ish – he wasn’t happy. “If the opportunity arises, I would advise you to explain this to the Commander. I have read the Doctor’s report, and surmise from certain aspects of the account that the Commander is still having issues discriminating between reality and delusion. If he was to know that your presence in Sickbay was not a hallucination, it might further assist him in separating the two.”

“I have every intention of doing so.”

“I am pleased.”

“Pleased?” She couldn’t hide her surprise.

“Yes. This is an opportunity for you and the Commander to smooth over some of the more pressing issues you’ve been experiencing, and to move beyond the barriers of command that have characterized your relationship thus far.”

“Barriers?!” She had a feeling she squeaked that time, but she sounded ridiculous anyway, echoing his words as questions.

Guilty and ridiculous.

“Captain… Kathryn…  you have given of yourself more than was ever necessary to the wellbeing of this crew, and as your oldest friend, I wish to see you content, both in your capacity as captain as well as in your personal life. The responsibility you bear and the solitary nature of command are not conducive to longevity or stable mental health.”

‘Agony Aunt’ extraordinaire! He certainly didn’t mince his words. Kathryn sputtered, “Tuvok, are you trying to tell me that you think I’m mentally unfit for command?”

“No, Captain.” Now he looked a little flustered – if that was the right word. He wasn’t quite as confident as he would have had her believe. Talking about ‘emotions’ and ‘relationships’ was something of a stretch for any Vulcan worth his salt.

And he wasn’t the only one having issues with this particular topic, Kathryn thought wryly.

Tuvok took a deep breath and steepled his fingers before continuing. “It has been my intention to discuss this matter with you for several months now – ever since Ensign Paris and Lieutenant Torres formalized their relationship. At the outset, I held grave concerns in regard to allowing intimate relationships to evolve amongst the crew.”

Kathryn had to jump in here. He could be such a stickler for the rules, and this was her ship, not his. “You know Starfleet is reluctant to interfere with personal relationships amongst its personnel, and I would never presume to dictate to the crew on this matter.”

“Yes, but you will grant that Voyager’s situation is somewhat unique.”

Kathryn was tempted to roll her eyes and respond with a sassy, ‘Ya don’t say!’, but she held her tongue and simply nodded.

“However, contrary to my predictions, I have noted a distinct improvement in both the Ensign’s and Lieutenant’s demeanors since their relationship began. They have matured and, more importantly, productivity has increased. I have subsequently amended my opinion regarding onboard relationships, which brings me to the subject of you and the Commander.”

“It does?”

Tuvok’s discomfort was palpable but Kathryn refused to make this any easier for her meddling Tactical Officer. If he was determined to stick his Vulcan nose in where it wasn’t wanted or needed, she deserved to see him squirm. It was only fair.

He unsteepled his fingers, took a delicate sip of his tea, glanced quickly in her direction, and ploughed on. “My opinion is that it would behoove you and the Commander to find some means of formalizing your relationship, in a similar manner to that of Ensign Paris and Lieutenant Torres. It would be of benefit to the ongoing harmony of the command structure, and subsequently, the continued wellbeing of the crew.”

That was a leap, but Kathryn was quietly charmed by Tuvok’s rather clunky admission that he thought she and Chakotay should be together. He was the oddest matchmaker she’d even encountered. The day was just getting stranger and stranger. She still didn’t want to make it easy for him, however, and laid her cards on the table without preamble. “So, you think that Chakotay and I should become lovers?”

Those eyebrows did a strange dance on his forehead before he turned to her and nodded. “In colloquial parlance, yes.”

Kathryn could feel her lips starting to quiver with suppressed laughter. It really wasn’t the least bit funny, but she couldn’t help it – maybe it was hysteria brought on by exhaustion – but if someone had told her an hour ago that she would be receiving a parental pep talk about ‘boyfriends’ from her dour Vulcan Tactical Officer, she would have laughed in their face. But here she was, being told in so many words – lots of big words, in fact – that she should waste no time in hopping on the Chakotay train and riding it to the end of the line. In colloquial parlance, of course.

Holding her amusement at bay, she nodded gravely, and laid her hand on Tuvok’s forearm. “Thank you, Tuvok. I appreciate your candor, and will take your suggestion under consideration.”

He bolted to his feet – his tolerance for uncomfortable ‘deep and meaningfuls’ at an obvious end.

“Thank you, for the tea, Captain, and have a restful day off.”

Without another word, he left her sitting alone on her couch, with an empty coffee mug and a head full of ‘what might be’s’.

Tamping down the nervous hum in her middle, she recycled their mugs, checked the chronometer, and left through the corridor exit to find Chakotay. There was no time like the present.

As she entered the turbolift, she sighed to herself and then smiled.

=<>=

 

Chapter Seven

Chakotay pounded the punching bag for all he was worth, and after half an hour, his arms felt like lead and his legs like jelly. Gasping for breath and pouring with sweat, he clung to the bag for a moment until he could trust his legs to carry him to his locker without buckling at the knees. He’d successfully worn himself out, and with any luck he’d sleep tonight without the nightmares. After tossing his gloves into the locker, he began unwinding the protective tape from his hands.

A quick shower, a quiet meal in his quarters, and early to bed; it sounded like a plan – a boring one, but a plan nonetheless.

His conscience pricked him – he really should speak to Kathryn – but he still wasn’t sure if he was ready to face her. Yes, he was feeling a bit better about things, but talking to her meant exposing those raw parts of himself that were still tender and vulnerable, and he wasn’t sure if she was ready to accept his apologies or hear his misgivings.

He’d think about it while he showered, and then make a decision.

Quickly replicating a uniform and toiletries, he hit the shower block.

He stood under the steaming spray, forehead resting against the cool tiles of the communal showers.  The hot water pounded his back and shoulders, loosening the muscles and relaxing him. It felt good to sluice away the sweat and grime of the day, and he wished it were as easy to wash away his remaining troubles. But he wasn’t fool enough to think that it would be that simple.

While the hot water pummeled his shoulders, he made up his mind to go and see Kathryn on his way back to his quarters. It was important that he deal with this and, perhaps if he cleared the air, they could find a way back to that easy camaraderie that they both enjoyed. That was the idea, anyway.

=<>=

 

Chapter Eight

Kathryn stood for several minutes in the corridor outside the Holodeck, digging deep into her resolve before she tapped her combadge and hailed Chakotay.

She waited, but there was no answer.

Trepidation forgotten, her heart lodged in her throat and, with fumbling fingers, she tapped in the entry code overrides before rushing through the doors into the gym scenario. Visions of him collapsed or worse flooded her mind; she’d never forgive herself if he’d been lying here sick or injured while she’d been wasting time making sport of Tuvok’s discomfort.

“Chakotay!” Still no answer.

But then she heard the shower, and noticed his boxing kit lying on the floor near a bank of lockers, his combadge sitting on top of the discarded clothing. She breathed a sigh of relief, and at the same time a small kick of awareness caught her down low in her belly. She ignored it, or tried to, as she gave herself a stern talking to. For God’s sake, Kathryn, let the man shower in peace. But her good intentions were busily paving those familiar roads to hell, and a tantalizing visual of a wet, naked Chakotay refused to banish itself from her overwrought mind.

In an attempt to distract herself, she looked around the gym, and wrinkled her nose at the slightly unctuous aroma of sweat, overheated bodies, and liniment oil. Chakotay certainly went for realism in his holoprograms, although apart from the two of them, the place appeared deserted.

Resisting the temptation to poke her head around the doorway into the shower block – a purely precautionary measure, to ensure his wellbeing – she instead exhibited formidable restraint, and sat to wait for him on the bench in front of a bank of lockers.

A few moments later, the shower turned off with an authentic knocking of pipes, and she called to him again. “Chakotay! It’s Kathryn. Are you decent?”

“Kathryn?” His voice came from just beyond the doorway “Hang on. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Now her brain was playing a wicked game of ‘dress the First Officer’, and she shook her head to break up the mental pictures flashing past her mind’s eye. It seemed as though all it took were a few hints from the Doctor and Tuvok and she’d turned into a sex-obsessed madwoman – ‘madwoman’ being the operative word.

There were untold acres of ground to cover before there could be even a hint of sex. Although, she thought to herself, it was something to aim for, and, in her defense, she was renowned for being meticulously goal orientated.

Those internal eyeballs were rolling again, and in a fruitless effort to avoid further self-directed mental reprimands, she jagged to her feet and wandered in the direction of the large punching bag that hung from the ceiling.

One of these would probably come in handy in the Ready Room.

She gave it a gentle push – it was heavier than she thought it would be. Curling her hand into a fist, she gave it a solid punch. Ouch! She shook her stinging hand. It was also a lot harder too.

“Careful.”

She swung around to find Chakotay standing in the doorway of the shower block. He was fully dressed, except for his uniform jacket, and casually toweling his wet hair. He looked flushed but clear-eyed, and not unhappy to see her.

That was a relief.

Kathryn smiled, and rubbed her palm over her stinging knuckles. “Now you tell me.”

He grinned, and the tension that had been coiled so tightly inside Kathryn unfurled in one long exhalation, leaving her a little breathless and lightheaded. There was no getting away from the fact that he was a devastatingly handsome man, all broad shoulders, firm muscles, and tousled-hair. She was getting quite used to seeing his hair mussed and flopping rakishly over his forehead, and she quite liked it. It gave him a devil-may-care look that was miles away from his usual appearance of spick and span Starfleet Officer. It also took her back to the bad old days of the gruff Maquis leader and his merry band of freedom fighters.

She vividly remembered the brusque and suspicious man who had beamed onto her Bridge all those years ago. Little did she realise back then just how important he would become to her, and how pivotal to her happiness. They’d lived lifetimes since then, and been through too much together to let anything come between them now.

He was still smiling at her, and she moved a few paces towards him. “How are you feeling? I’m on a reconnaissance mission – the Doctor sent me.”

His eyebrows tilted questioningly, and he tossed his towel aside as he answered. “I’m fine. Much better, actually. I’ve been putting some dents in that punching bag and a Terrellian.”

“I’m sure they deserved it.”

“The Terrellian certainly did.”

He grabbed his uniform jacket from where it was hanging over the door of his locker, and began shrugging into it.

The silence started to feel a little awkward, so Kathryn girded her loins and did what she’d come here to do. “I also came here to apologize.”

Chakotay stilled, half in and half out of his jacket. She hoped he wouldn’t pretend to not know what she was talking about.

He didn’t.  “You don’t have to apologize. You did what you had to do, Kathryn. You’re the captain; the ship was at risk, and you had no choice. I understand. I really do.”

She nodded, but an avalanche of emotions swamped her, making it difficult to speak past the burning constriction in her throat. Taking a deep breath, she swallowed and forced herself to continue. “I’m still sorry. I’m not proud of how I kept pushing you to keep trying when you clearly were at risk. My behaviour was calculated and manipulative; it was beneath me, and unfair to you. I hope you can forgive me.”

“You’re forgiven.”

“Just like that?”

He frowned. “Don’t you want me to forgive you?”

“Of course, I do, I just thought you might want to ask me why… or something.”

“I know why. It was necessary to save the ship. If the circumstances had been reversed, and you were in my place, I probably would have done the same thing. We both know what it’s like out here. Sometimes the wrong thing is the right thing to do.”

She didn’t feel vindicated. In fact, his reasonableness was making her feel worse, and she snapped at him. “Don’t you feel the least bit used? I know I would.”

He shrugged fully into his jacket, and, picking his combadge from the pile of discarded clothes, pinned it to his breast. He tilted his head and looked into her eyes, and smiled as he quipped, “Maybe I’m a better person than you are.”

“No argument there.” It was hard to see the humor in this. Now she was feeling sorry for herself, and hated that she sounded that way.

He took a couple of steps towards her. “Kathryn…”

“Please don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t be kind. And don’t be so understanding. You went through hell, and I made it worse.” Now she could feel the sting of tears threatening and forced them back; that was the last thing she needed. “If there’d been any other option…” Words failed her for a heartbeat or two. “I would have given anything to make it stop. But I couldn’t.”

His voice was quiet and calm. “I know, and it was my choice in the end to allow the Doctor to fully activate the gene. I knew what I was doing.”

Oh Damn! Her voice was going to wobble. She was pathetic, but she persisted. “True, but you were backed into a corner. I’m not trying to make excuses. There is no excuse for how I behaved, but I want you to know that I cared… that I care.”

“I know. I never doubted that. And I do, too. I’m sorry as well.”

“What do you have to be sorry about?”

He pulled the zipper up on his jacket with a harsh tug. “I’m sorry for making it so difficult for you. My ranting and ravings – begging and pleading with you and the Doctor to make it stop. It didn’t make it any easier for you to make the call you had to make.” He took a deep breath and shrugged. “I was afraid, as simple as that.”

“For good reason.”

“Perhaps. But I’m not proud of how I behaved, and it’s no excuse for losing my nerve or for fighting against what I knew I had to do. My only excuse was that I was terrified of ending up like my grandfather, and that had nothing to do with you.”

“It had a lot to do with the situation we were in, and you were the only one living inside that nightmare. I was afraid for you, too.”

He smiled gently. “I know. I could tell.”

This time she shrugged, and gave him a lopsided smile. “I guess I’m not as good at hiding my feelings as I thought I was. The Doctor and Tuvok certainly had no trouble seeing through my ‘captainly’ control.”

He frowned, ready to jump to her defense. “What have they been saying to you?”

She huffed a laugh. “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you. But it was nothing that I didn’t already know.”

With his fingers, he began combing his hair back from his forehead, and before Kathryn knew what she was doing, she stepped forward and wrapped her fingers around his wrist. “Don’t.”

Now he looked puzzled, and she met his eyes briefly before letting go and lifting her fingers to brush his hair back over his forehead again. “I like it this way.”

He turned towards his locker, and glanced in the mirror on the inside of the door. “Really?”

She felt her face soften into a smile. “Yes. It reminds me of when we first met.”

Her fingers tingled from where she’d touched him. His hair was softer than she thought it would be, and she wanted to run her fingers through it again.

He was quiet for several heartbeats before he turned back towards her, and his solemn eyes met hers. “Are we going to be okay?”

Her heart ached – through a series of miscommunications and stupid mistakes, they’d come close to destroying this special bond they shared. But as she looked at him, his dear face and those dark eyes that held for her all her hopes for today and the future, she suddenly felt all the uncertainties disappear, and she knew, without a doubt, that they would be okay.

She smiled, and nodded with conviction. “We’re going to be fine.”

His shoulders relaxed, and she could feel a sense of peace surround them – the tension and unease evaporating into nothing.

They would be better than fine. The ties that had bound them together at the beginning were still strong, and if they took care of each other, those bonds would only pull tighter. Their strength lay in their unity and in their love. It was time to be brave and throw caution to the wind.

Stepping close to him, she cupped his cheek and then stroked her fingers across the dark lines of his tattoo. “I’ve wanted to do that for such a long time.”

“Why didn’t you?”

She gave him a candid look. “It’s a timing thing.”

“Is that the only reason?”

“It’s the only one I can think of at the moment. I’m sure there are others, but they don’t seem very important right now.”

“What about later? Will they be important then?”

She shook her head. “I’m planning on forgetting them and turning over a new leaf.”

He grinned. “I like the sound of that.”

She matched his smile. “Good.” That flutter that had been licking at her insides turned into a quaking throb, and she could feel the hot spark of awareness flare between them. Glancing past his shoulder, she fought the urge to throw herself into his arms, and instead, nodded towards the punching bag. “Do you think I could have a go at that?”

He followed her line of sight and chuckled. “Planning on taking up boxing, Kathryn? The Doctor will have my hide.”

“What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

He laughed again – it was a wonderful sound. “Okay, just let me find you some gloves, and you can give it a try.”

=<>=

 

Chapter Nine

Something in Kathryn’s demeanor must have piqued his curiosity. He didn’t move away immediately but stood there studying her, his eyes narrowing a little as they swept over her face – from her brow to her eyes, then to her chin, before they rested on her mouth and stayed there.

Kathryn bit her bottom lip, and the atmosphere around them shifted again, a tantalizing tension filling the space between them. The pull was strong, and she could feel herself being drawn in, drifting closer, even though she hadn’t felt herself move.

Seconds, or minutes or hours, ticked by as Kathryn’s heart thudded in her chest, its pulse beating in concert with throbs and a sweet ache in other deeper places. An exquisite feeling of languor seeped into her bones, the warmth of it melting away the last vestiges of her restraint.

Chakotay lifted his hand and ran his knuckles along her cheek, and a tremor shuddered through her at his touch. Chakotay saw it, and his breath caught in a hitch. She resisted the impulse to pitch herself forward and into his arms, but it was a near thing.

He hesitated, then blinked, and reluctantly turned away to hunt through the equipment locker for a pair of gloves.

Kathryn sank slowly onto the bench, her legs, all of a sudden losing their starch. They’d passed a test of sorts and she knew, without even saying the words, that any questions or doubts they may have had were no longer of any consequence.

Her awareness of him – his physicality and presence – had always been something she’d battled to ignore, but there’d been a quantum shift in that awareness, a deepening and swelling need that had unfurled inside her. She wanted him in every carnal way she could think of, and from the look he’d just given her, he wanted her, too.

He returned moments later with tape and gloves, and Kathryn found herself holding her breath as he straddled the bench beside her and shimmied close. His eyes met hers as he took her left hand in his and slowly wound the tape around her fingers and wrist. His large hands, so very gentle on hers, worked methodically, each touch burning through the thin material of the wrapping.

She could hear him breathing, the slow and rhythmic in and out, hypnotic in the quiet. Mesmerized, she watched his tender but practiced fingers execute their task with meticulous care, first on her left hand and then on her right. The intimacy of it, the fleeting touches and caresses, created a hum in her body that shot along her nerves, awakening feelings too long dormant and grievously neglected.

As he bent forward, the clean scent of pine and spice rose in a draft around her. He was close enough that she could feel the heat of his body radiating outwards – sinuous tendrils of warmth snaking towards her, caressing and enveloping her, brushing feather-like over parts of her that had yearned for his touch for years.

Her breath caught as his fingers stroked the sensitive skin on the inside of her wrists, and she felt her pulse jump as he gripped them to secure the wrappings.

He looked up, his dark gaze burning with heat and want.

Kathryn swallowed and licked her lips; he inhaled a ragged breath in response, and then swallowed hard. Her gaze darted to his throat, and she fought the irresistible urge to press her lips to the spot where, beneath his skin, his pulse beat strong and fast. She wanted to breathe him in, scrape her teeth along that burnished skin, and bury her face in the sinewy flesh of his neck and shoulder.

Taking a shaky breath, she raised her eyes to his. Her wrists were still manacled in his hands, and she could feel him pulling her closer; his lips soft and so tempting, beckoned her own. But that impish sprite was still toying with her, and in a husky voice, she asked, “Are you ready to show me?”

His eyes sparked with passion – his thoughts on something else entirely – but he seemed more than willing to play the game. “Let’s get your gloves on.”

Kathryn had never been so aroused in her life. Her body thrummed with need, and her skin prickled and shivered, excruciatingly sensitive to the slightest touch, each nerve ending shooting arrows of fire straight to her womb.

He let go of her wrists and tugged the gloves on over her hands, securing them with the wide straps around her forearms – firm but not tight. Even if she wanted to, she couldn’t touch him now, and the sensory deprivation heightened her other senses. Her skin felt too tight, her entire body ached with yearning, and she suddenly questioned the logic of covering her hands when all she wanted to do was run her fingers through his hair and along his jaw, and delve into the warm places beneath his uniform.

He pulled her to her feet and led her towards the punching bag. She stood where he placed her, and watched his every move.

He nodded and pointed to a spot on the leather. “Try to hit it about here.”

Kathryn pulled her arm back and punched. There was a satisfying ‘thwack’ as she connected, and she smiled. Again and again, she hit it, taking pleasure in the freedom of the movement and in the gratifying and weighty jolt between glove and bag.

“The power is in your lead hand.” He indicated her right hand glove. “Put your left foot slightly forward, and throw your shoulder into the punch.”

She tried to do as he asked, but her stance was wrong; he came to stand behind her to demonstrate.

The breath whooshed from her lungs in a loud sigh as he pressed against her – his front to her back, his leg between hers, his arms wrapping around her to show her how to follow through.

God, did she ever want to follow through.

His body surrounded her, his arms stretched along the outside length of hers, and his breath burning hot against her neck as he whispered in her ear, “Like this.”

Bending her left elbow so her glove protected her chin, he pulled her right arm back and then jabbed it forward. As he did so, his lower body pressed against her, his arousal pushing into her from behind – his erection tucking tightly against the cleft of her bottom.

Kathryn stilled – she could barely think or breathe – and her arms slowly dropped to her sides. His arms crept around her middle, one wrapping around her ribs just below her breasts and the other a little lower. Her hips tilted backwards, searching for the hardness of him, and she held her breath as the arm around her middle slid down, his hand skimming over her lower belly until he cupped her, his fingers pressing, hot and insistent, into the throbbing heat of her.

She couldn’t take it anymore and spun around to face him, gloves in the air. “Get them off! Now!”

For a split second, she thought he might refuse and the sensuous torture would continue, but his need was as great as hers. Within seconds, he’d tugged off her gloves and unwrapped the tape from her hands.

She was hot and heavy with desire, swollen and molten in places that pulsed with need. With her hands free, she slid them up his chest, along his shoulders and up to his jaw, touching him; the fingers of one hand playing over the softness of his lips, the other weaving through his hair.

They were mere inches apart, but it may as well have been light years, and she had to do something to close the distance. Her hand slid around his neck as she pressed against him, and tugged his head down to hers.

=<>=

 

 Chapter Ten

Her breath struck his lips in hot surges, and she panted words into his mouth that sent a rush of joy to his heart – and a new surge of blood to his groin.

“I love you.”

She’d said the words in a whisper, each heavy-laden with desire, but he knew she wouldn’t have said them if she didn’t mean them.

The gravity of her declaration exploded inside him; a conflagration that blasted all his fear and hesitancy to smithereens. He pulled her tightly against him, his lips crashing onto hers, open mouthed and ravenous, the erection he’d had for her for years pressing hard against the heat of her.

The kiss was deep and hot, and his fingers spread over the contours of her face, as if he were a blind man who could only see her by touch.

Her fingers dug into his shoulders biting hard into the muscle, the pain a balm and a heady expression of her desperate need.

Wrenching his mouth away from hers, he held her face between the palms of his hands. He had to see her as he told her. “I love you, too.”

Her eyes softened, and she smiled. “I’m so glad you do.”

Chakotay couldn’t help himself and took her lips once more in a drugging kiss that rocked him to his soul. He wanted her badly, in the best and worst of ways. There were fantasies by the score that he’d played over in his mind during the years that he’d known her – they were now flashing in an erotic slideshow past his mind’s eye.

God, he was going to come and he’d barely touched her!

He gasped as he pulled away from her again. “We have to slow down or I’m going to make a complete ass of myself.”

Kathryn stared at him, her lungs hungry for air, her body hungrier for him. She could feel her inner muscles twitching and gripping in readiness. “You’re not the only one. It’s been a while.”

If they stopped rubbing up against one another, he might just make it to the clothes-off stage without a disaster.

Conversation helped. “How long?”

She gave him a telling look. “Five years.”

“You haven’t had sex in five years?”

She shrugged. “Not with another person.”

He laughed, but a split second later, Kathryn’s response triggered another erotic visual that assaulted his senses and threatened to bring him to his knees. “Oh, hell, Kathryn, you’re killing me.”

She chuckled, a throaty, sexy sound that did nothing to alleviate his problem.

He was frantic. “Clothes?”

She nodded. “Off.” There wasn’t time to waste with extraneous words or explanations.

They stripped as quickly as their fumbling fingers would allow, and then stood apart, chests heaving and eyes riveted on one another.

Kathryn’s hand snaked forward, and she ran her fingers over the smattering of dark hairs on his chest.

Chakotay sucked in a ragged breath and cupping her breast, dipped his head to lick her nipple before tugging it between his lips, nipping gently at the puckered tip and then soothing it again with his tongue.

Kathryn groaned and her head fell back, drowning in the sensations he was creating as he laved and suckled at her breasts. Her fingers dug into the ropey muscles of his shoulders, her fingernails leaving crescent shaped marks on his tawny skin. She gasped out a sob of want as he hoisted her onto the canvas edge of the boxing ring. She leaned back against the ropes as his hands ran up the length of her thighs, his fingertips teasing at the hollow of her hips and his thumbs delving into the crease at her groin.

His fingers roamed across her heated skin, stroking and caressing, stoking the fire that flamed its way along each nerve, and turned her blood to fire. He was touching her everywhere, but not in the places she wanted him to. She gave an impatient mewl, and he grinned and kissed her neck, and open mouthed, his teeth gently resting over the tendon that strained under her skin.

Her legs fell open as he stepped between them. He ran his lips along her collar bone, kissed the sensitive skin between her breasts, and, moving lower, pressed his mouth against her belly until he was on his knees, nuzzling the soft curls of her sex.

Chakotay lifted her right leg onto his shoulder, opening her to him as his thumb pressed to the hardened bud of her clitoris. His mouth closed over her, as his tongue trailed wetly over her opening and her body heaved, rising to meet his mouth and hands.

Her hands fisted, one in his hair and the other curled, white-knuckled, over the edge of the canvas. His breathing roughened with lust as she writhed and thrust against his seeking mouth and tongue.

Kathryn’s climax took her by surprise, and she cried out as she shuddered and jolted through a shattering orgasm. Chakotay’s mouth suckled at her pulsing flesh, his fingers pressing and stroking until she pushed him away, the sensations, at the same time, too exquisite, too much and not enough.

“Oh, God. Thank you.” Her chest heaved as she sucked much needed air into her lungs. She half laughed, half sobbed, completely undone, but so very happy. “I’m a mess. But, wow!” She slumped against the canvas covered ropes, a blissful smile lighting her face, her body flushed and bonelessly sated.

Chakotay kissed his way up her belly and chest until his lips met hers again, and they shared a salty kiss that reignited her lust. Her hands wandered down over the firm muscles of his stomach until she could wrap her fingers around the stiff length of his erection.

A sharp intake of breath and a groan accompanied her actions, and his hips thrust forward, an unsubtle but delicious hint for her to keep her hand where it was and to keep doing what she was doing. With painstaking slowness, she ran her palm up and down the rigid length of him, rubbing her thumb across the soft tip and back down again. He gulped deep slow breaths as he fought against the overwhelming urge to let go.

His hands drifted along her spine until he gripped her buttocks and molded her hips against his, pressing against her heat, her hand still moving between them. As he pushed against her more firmly, she gave up her torturous stroking and wrapped her legs around his hips and her arms around his shoulders. He lifted her forward, tilting her hips up to his and entered her in one long thrust.

Simultaneous guttural groans and breathy gasps echoed around the empty gym, and Chakotay’s mouth landed on Kathryn’s, swallowing her moans and sucking at her lips as if he could taste the sounds of her pleasure. He thrust hard and deep as she undulated against him, the tension heightening unbearably, a luscious friction stealing their breath and before long, sent them tumbling headlong into bliss.

Chakotay’s knees almost buckled as he groaned and came in hunching, heaving thrusts. Kathryn climaxed again, in great, gripping throbs that robbed her of breath and made her see stars.

It took long moments for them to get their breath back, and then, looking into each other’s eyes, they smiled, then began to chuckle. Before long, they were laughing in great whoops of delight, arms wrapped around each other, holding on tight.

Kathryn was the first to speak. “That was amazing.”

Chakotay kissed her soundly and rested his forehead against hers. “I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life.”

“Neither have I. Although, it might just be an aberration.” She paused for effect, and then added. “For scientific purposes, I suggest we do a controlled trial. It could take some time and a great deal of effort, though, to gather all the relevant data.”

“I’ve never been afraid of hard work, and how does fifty years sound?”

He smiled at her as she gave the suggestion thoughtful consideration. “By then, we should have accumulated enough information to present some definitive outcomes, but I wouldn’t want to preempt the findings.”

He kissed her again and whispered huskily. “Close your eyes then, and we’ll start with a double blind trial.”

Kathryn did as he asked and inhaled shakily as he skimmed his hands over her bare shoulders, down her sides, and over her hips. His desire for her was beyond anything he’d ever imagined, and he was already growing hard again inside her. He watched as she relaxed back against the ropes, and with a happy sigh, surrendered to the freedom and the joy of it all.

=<>=

 

Chapter Eleven

Kathryn rested her head on his shoulder; fatigue beginning to edge past satiation, but she didn’t want to move.

They’d made love again, and it had been as mind-blowingly extraordinary as the first time – if not better.

Chakotay stroked gentle hands down her spine before pulling back a little and smoothing her hair from her face. “You’re exhausted.”

She huffed in amusement. “It’s been a busy week. And a big night.”

He smiled, and her fingers drifted to his forehead again, smoothing over the slight frown of concern crinkling his brow.

His voice was gentle as he insisted, “You need some rest.”

“So do you.”

Before he slipped from her body, he kissed her once more and lifted her from the edge of the boxing ring. Kathryn stood for a moment, holding his arm for support, her legs a little shaky as she became aware of the hollowness he’d left in his wake. But instead of feeling bereft, she felt a sense of completion and joy, knowing that this was just the beginning of a new and exhilarating journey that they were about to embark upon.

Refusing to second guess herself, she gestured towards their rumpled uniforms strewn across the floor. “Grab your gear. We’re going home.”

Chakotay gathered up all their clothing in one giant armful and turned towards her, waiting for her next move.

Kathryn leaned towards the bundle, and plucked her combage from her crumpled jacket. “Computer, beam Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay to the captain’s quarters.”

A moment later, the hum and dazzle of the transporter beam engulfed them and deposited them in the middle of Kathryn’s living area. Chakotay looked at her and raised an eyebrow in question. “Tuvok’s console will be lighting up like a Christmas tree. He’ll know what we’ve been doing and where we are.”

Kathryn nestled into his arms again. “He’ll be thrilled.”

Chakotay didn’t look so sure. “Thrilled?”

“In his own Vulcan way. This,” she kissed his chest and rested her ear over the steady beat of his heart. “was partly his idea.”

That was what he talked to you about?”

“I told you you wouldn’t believe me.”

She took his hand and drew him towards her bedroom. “Let’s shower, and I’ll tell you all about it. My evening was an interesting one, even before I got to the holodeck.”

Chakotay placed their combadges on the bathroom counter before tossing the rest of their uniforms into the recycler. “This I’ve got to hear.”

And he did.

In between bouts of kissing and the scrupulous washing of one another’s bodies, Kathryn told him of her awkward but endearing encounters with both the Doctor and Tuvok. She also confessed to her less than scrupulous use of command codes and the vigil she’d kept in Sickbay.

It came as something of a relief to Chakotay to know that he hadn’t been entirely deluded during his time under the Chaos aliens’ control, and it had touched him more deeply than he could say to know that she’d spent those hours watching over him.

They made love again under the rushing warmth of the shower, bringing each other to completion with hands and mouths, before they collapsed onto Kathryn’s bed, exhausted and replete.

Chakotay tucked her against him and watched as she closed her eyes and her breathing deepened and slowed. He didn’t want to sleep and miss a moment of this precious time together. They’d finally pushed past those last barriers of constraint, the ones that had ruled their lives for more than five years, but it had been worth the wait, and knowing that they had the support of Tuvok and the Doctor reassured him more than he thought it should. For Kathryn’s sake, he was relieved and pleased. Only he understood how hard she’d fought against the pull of their attraction – he’d been doing the same for years.

His hope stemmed from the need to protect her from whatever was out there, and also from herself. She would be the first to admit she was her own worst enemy.

Tomorrow would be another day, and there was no knowing what the future would bring, but for now they had this – they had each other – and it was more than enough.

Kathryn moaned in her sleep and burrowed closer to him, and he tightened his arms around her. He wondered what nightmares were dogging her unconscious thoughts, but they were part and parcel of the life they led out here. She sighed and relaxed back against him, her hand curling loosely against his chest and her face softening in repose.

He took one last look at her and then closed his eyes, promising himself to never forget this moment, and to always remember the extraordinary gift she’d given him tonight.

Forever.

 

fin

 

 

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