Silver and Sand

PG13

Summary: Written for the Vamb Secret Santa Exchange 2014. My request came from Mizvoy. “I want to see a scene where Chakotay and Janeway discuss her drastic actions at the end of Scientific Method to get rid of the aliens by flying “through” a binary star.”

I loved the request and this is where it led me. Post Endgame.

Thanks to my betas, Audabee and CF for their efforts but it’s been fiddled with since – as usual – so any mistakes are mine. 🙂

And a big shout-out to the MOTW, Sira and Ria, without whom there would be no Secret exchanges of anything. Thank you both for your tireless efforts. Hugs.

 

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

 

*******************

Kathryn stood for a long moment and stared out over San Francisco Bay.

Taking a deep breath, she exhaled wearily before settling herself in her usual spot on the timber bench.

She frowned and raked her fingers through her hair. She really had to stop doing that; a new bad habit and bald patches were the last thing she needed, but her fingers seemed to have a mind of their own.

The lookout, perched on the headland not far from Starfleet headquarters, had been her ‘thinking spot’ during her student days and now, years later, it had become a place of solace and contemplation.

She heaved another sigh and once again, her fingers scraped across her scalp until she gripped a healthy handful of hair at the nape of her neck. She gave it a gentle tug to relieve the pressure at the base of her skull. The muscles there had been tightening like a vice since the start of the day’s proceedings. The relief was slight, but better than nothing, and she decided that a bald patch or two was an acceptable sacrifice for the moment’s respite.

It had been a hell of a day. The worst so far.

She’d known from the outset that her debriefings would be difficult, although nothing could have prepared her for the board of enquiry’s unrelenting interrogations. Her brain ached after hours of trying to recollect every miniscule detail of each perceived ‘wrong-doing’ she’d perpetrated over the last seven years. Not to mention having to field a constant barrage of questions, repeated ad nauseam, until she was literally – hello – tearing her hair out.

The two weeks of mandatory R&R she’d been ‘encouraged’ to take upon Voyager’s arrival, hadn’t been nearly long enough for her to recharge her depleted energies. A bitter huff followed that thought. No amount of ‘rest and recuperation’ would be adequate to fortify her for the ravages being meted out by her tribunal of pedantic, nitpicking, old farts who seemed hell-bent on undermining Voyager’s every achievement and making her life a misery in the process.

They were overwhelming her with minutiae, but at the same time, and with surprising accuracy, they were able to hone in on a veritable minefield of missteps and suspect decisions she’d made and all but forgotten.

The sessions were unrelenting, stressful and well beyond anything she’d anticipated. And slowly but surely, they were wearing her down.

It wasn’t that she’d expected to be hailed a hero or lauded as a paragon of Starfleet virtue – she’d long ago abandoned those deluded daydreams. She was ready to answer to her superiors for her innumerable breaches of protocol and her own brand of ‘elasticising’ the rules during her time in the captain’s chair, but this had become a witch-hunt on a scale that even she had not foreseen.

Accepting the consequences of her actions was the meat on the bones of her position as captain, but any qualms she might have had about her conduct had been summarily negated by the close-minded attitudes of her inquisitors.  Their highhandedness was unnecessary and, in her opinion, unprofessional. As Voyager’s captain, she’d done the very best she could under the circumstances – circumstances that were well beyond the realm of understanding of those crusty old paper-pushers. She had a feeling that most of them hadn’t seen action since the signing of the Khitomer Accord (and they were probably past their prime then.)

But beggars couldn’t be choosers, it seemed. The Dominion war had indiscriminately decimated Starfleet forces, and many frontline officers – Admirals included – had been lost in battles against the Gamma quadrant invaders. With their ranks depleted and their younger and more adroit counterparts busy elsewhere with more important matters, it was left to those too old and – she suspected – too senile, to deal with the less pressing issue of Voyager’s Captain and her actions in the Delta quadrant.

As unfair as it seemed, there was little she could do about it. So, in line with her oath as a Starfleet officer, she girded her loins and bore her lot with as much dignity as she could muster.

It sucked though. Sucked, big time.

With that sentiment, her mental ears rang with the sound of Tom Paris’ voice and her lips twitched with a reluctant smile. The thought of him, and B’Elanna and their new baby, Miral, made her heart lighten. The time she’d been spending with them had left its mark, she was now thinking in 20th century colloquialisms, but it was a relief to know that there was something she could feel happy about. For much of the day, she’d been unable to think of anything.

Her joy was short lived, however, and her head ached anew at the thought of the cold, unsympathetic stares of the Admirals in whose hands her future lay.

God, bring on the Borg! At least she stood a chance against them.

Shaking her head sharply, she banished that thought. Knowing her luck, they’d turn up; all hell would break loose and the blame would be laid squarely on her doorstep.

She gave herself a mental slap – she was starting to sound hysterical. Being tired and hungry didn’t help, although the sour burn in her stomach had dulled her appetite, and it had been that way since all this began.

It was why she’d been avoiding her family. They meant well – her mother, her sister and the rest of those dear but irritating relatives, who had no concept of what she was going through, or what she had endured. Their remedy for all things mangled, maudlin or woebegone was to either smother it with well-meaning attention or ply it with food. She’d had more ‘home-cooked’ casseroles shoved in her direction over the last few weeks than she’d had hot dinners in the last seven years. It was very sweet of them but ultimately, very annoying.

She didn’t want sympathy and loathed the idea of being the focus of anyone’s pity. What she wanted was someone to rail at; a friend who understood her predicament and who wouldn’t flinch when she let loose a stinging stream of invective. There were only a few people in the world who would tolerate such behaviour, however, they were in the midst of their own debriefing ordeals and she didn’t feel it was right to inflict her problems upon them.

She would cope. She always did – even though at times, it was a near thing. But it was her nature to persevere.

However, it had been a while since she’d been called upon to do so entirely on her own. As much as she’d grudgingly accepted the isolation of command on Voyager, it turned out that she was not the solitary being she’d imagined herself to be. Her crew had always had her back, their quiet support buoying her even when she was at her lowest ebb. And then there was Tuvok with his own brand of stoic reassurance and, of course, Chakotay and his uncanny ability to read her moods and gauge her frame of mind; always supportive, ready with a simple word of encouragement or, on rare occasions, a stern word of caution. It was something she’d unconsciously taken for granted but as the adage so aptly foretold, you never knew what you had until it was gone.

She ran her hand through her hair once more, her shoulders sagging, but before she let herself slump any lower, she took a deep breath, hauled herself upright and mentally gave herself a brusque word of warning. Self pity was a weakness she could ill afford and it certainly didn’t help her situation. Taking a deep breath and blasting it out through pursed lips, she forced her shoulders back as she settled into the timber seat and looked out over the Bay in the hope of gaining some perspective.

The sun had set but there was still a smudge of purple across the horizon and, looking higher into the sky, she could see the first pinpricks of light heralding the night’s stars. She closed her eyes for a brief moment and imagined the familiar constellations of Earth, before exhaling a small sigh of satisfaction. There was a good deal to be grateful for.

They were home. She was in one piece, as were most of the crew, and so far, no one had been incarcerated.

In the grand scheme of things, that wasn’t too bad.

Considering.

It would have been nice to share this time with someone and she instantly thought of Chakotay, but then quickly quashed the idea. It wasn’t her place to intrude upon his off duty hours – she wasn’t his captain anymore – and as encouraging as that might sound on the face of it, it also meant that she could no longer impinge upon his goodwill on a whim. Their obligation to one another had ended the instant Voyager’s struts hit terra firma.

The realisation stung a little, but everything was different now. Their small community had disbanded and it was going to take time and some soul-searching to find their places in this familiar but changed world. She’d achieved her goal and brought Voyager home, but the cloud to this silver lining was the loss of her crew, the camaraderie of shared experiences, and the life they’d built for themselves in that faraway quadrant.

She huffed quietly to herself. Trust her to romanticise what had been, for the most part, a fear-filled, dangerous and at times, death-defying dash across light years of unexplored space. But even with the 20/20 vision of life’s retrospectoscope, she wouldn’t change a thing. They’d lived lifetimes out there, and what they’d experienced would forever cleave them to one another. They knew each other better than they knew their own families and few crews could say that about themselves. It was something to be immensely proud of, and a strength that would stand them in good stead for the rest of their days.

Another deep breath, and she let her shoulders relax. The quiet solitude and the cool breeze that lifted her hair away from her collar were having a soporific effect. She’d not been sleeping well, and as she inhaled the briny tang of the sea breeze, edged with the more subtle scent of eucalyptus from the nearby stand of trees, she let her mind drift over the day’s events.

Today’s inquisition had focussed on her actions during the crisis with the Srivani ‘scientists’ – an epithet she begrudgingly attached to the morally corrupt and ethically malignant aliens that had invaded her ship and performed medical experiments on her crew in the name of ‘scientific research’.

The mere thought of them made her head throb. She could almost feel the searing twist of the metal probes that they’d drilled into her skull to test her mental and physical resilience. She freely admitted to being almost demented at the time. But who wouldn’t have been? Her dopamine levels had been cranked up to brain boiling levels and her aggressive tendencies tweaked and enhanced. Deprived of sleep and in a constant state of excruciating pain, it was a wonder she hadn’t simply initiated Voyager’s self destruct and been done with it.

Perhaps her behaviour had been a little erratic, and she’d acted recklessly, but as much as she’d felt compelled to listen to Admiral Wainscott as he droned on and on about her misguided and inappropriate reaction to the alien invasion of her ship, she had no regrets about what she’d done.

The Srivani had mutilated and maimed her crew, treated them as lab rats, and then threatened to kill them if she didn’t acquiesce to their outrageous demands. As though their promise of ‘minimal fatalities and negligible deformities’ would tempt her consider their proposal. At the time, and pushed to those extremes, aiming Voyager at a binary pulsar didn’t seem like such a disproportionate response. Trying to convince the tribunal of this fact had been nigh impossible.

So many senseless deaths, the last of which was Johanna O’Halloran – the young Bridge officer the aliens killed to prove their point. For Kathryn, it had been the final straw.

Johanna had died a brutal death, writhing in agonal seizures, despite Kathryn and the Doctor’s frantic efforts to save her.

The memory was still so vivid in Kathryn’s mind that a wave of savage fury washed over her, making her skin crawl and her heart thump wildly in her chest. Her reaction took her by surprise but the feeling of helplessness still had the power to enrage her.

At the time, her whole body had been vibrating with anger, and in a moment of blinding clarity, gilt-edged with seething rage, she’d known exactly what she had to do.

Rid Voyager of the Srivani.

Or die trying.

Her focus had narrowed to that one bright point and, with teeth gritted, and holding Voyager together by sheer strength of will, she’d pushed her ship, herself and her crew to their limits, risking everything in a manoeuvre that by rights should have destroyed them all.

Guilt speared through her – it had been reckless and she still didn’t know why or how they’d survived – but they had. But then, wasn’t that the point. The review board didn’t seem to understand that so often out there, alone, thousands of light years from home and with options limited by their unique situation, survival was their sole imperative.

She took a deep breath to stave off her growing frustration, and centred her thoughts as Chakotay had taught her.

Chakotay.

She smiled sadly to herself. He’d suffered terribly at the hands of the Srivani. He was one of the first to be affected by their brutal experimentation and with his DNA hyperstimulated by subatomic technology, he’d aged decades in a matter of hours. By the time she’d liberated the ship, he’d been placed in stasis and was barely alive. She’d come so close to losing him that day that the memory still haunted her.

It had been a rude awakening and the catalyst that prompted her to loosen the ties that bound them so closely to one another. The response had been a cruel but necessary one. She couldn’t afford to be so attached to someone under her command that the mere thought of their loss could shatter her emotional control. In times of extreme stress, that control was the only thing that kept her focussed and clear headed.

As much as she needed Chakotay and his support, it was essential that she create a barrier between them; some breathing room and an emotional buffer zone.

Their relationship had suffered its first fracture a few months before with the arrival of Seven of Nine and their initial encounter with the Borg. Over the intervening weeks, they’d been slowly finding their way back to one another, but this narrow escape had been a tipping point and whatever might have been, Kathryn put on the back burner. As much as she regretted it, it was for the good of the ship and crew, and, from that moment onward, she’d taken small but decisive steps back, edging away from what she knew would have been the love of her life. In its place, a deep and abiding friendship was born.

Even after all this time, she wasn’t sure if Chakotay was aware of what she’d done. If he was, he’d said nothing, and as much as she might have regretted her choice, at the time, it was the only thing she could think to do.

It had taken several weeks for the injured crewmen to recover from their ordeals, and for life to find its way back to what passed for normal on Voyager, before she’d had a chance to discuss the Srivani incident with Chakotay. At a loss to explain her actions, she’d simply given him her logs – official and personal – fully aware that he would have already heard via the grapevine about her antics that day.

She’d expected him to voice an opinion, or at the very least, pose a question or two about her irresponsible actions. In a way, she would have felt better if he had. But no. When he returned the logs, he’d merely raised an eyebrow, shaken his head and smiled before pressing his thumb print to the official log and placed it on her desk.

Chakotay’s unquestioning acceptance of the facts, and of her actions, went a long way to ameliorating her feelings of self blame, but as much as she appreciated his support, the distance between them had already made itself felt.

A fist-sized lump of sadness and regret wedged itself under Kathryn’s sternum, and she shifted on the seat in a vain attempt to dislodge it. It didn’t work, and a raft of ‘what ifs’ surged to the surface. What if she hadn’t created that distance? What if she’d allowed her relationship with Chakotay to progress to its natural conclusion? There was no doubt in her mind where they’d been headed.

The truth was, if she had her time over again, she wouldn’t do anything differently. It was simply another regret she’d learned to live with over the years.

The brief but rather awkward relationship Chakotay had begun with Seven in the days before their return had ended inauspiciously upon their arrival. Both he and Seven had thankfully seen the futility in continuing the liaison. Inquisitiveness, on Seven’s part, and loneliness, on Chakotay’s, were not stable foundations on which to build a life together. They’d parted as friends and no harm done.

Kathryn frowned and her heart squeezed tight in her chest as she amended that thought with a grim smile – no major harm.

She hadn’t thought she’d be so jealous, and she had tried very hard to be objective. But knowing on an intellectual level that it was none of her business was one thing; emotional detachment was something else all together.

Another explosive exhale followed the acknowledgement of that little nugget of truth. Yes, some deep soul-searching was definitely on the agenda.

She tugged her collar tighter around her neck and wrapped her arms around her middle. Along with the last vestiges of daylight, the lingering warmth of the sun had well and truly departed. The temperature had dropped another few degrees and the breeze had freshened, bringing with it a tinge of evening damp. She’d have to head back to her quarters soon, but wished she’d thought to bring a coat so she could sit here with her recollections for a little longer.

The glittering view out over the Bay couldn’t have been more different to the view from her Ready room window, but they both served the purpose of being a blank canvas on which to paint her thoughts and feelings, and organise them into some sort of order. Tomorrow she faced another day of debriefings, and they would no doubt unearth some other defining moment of failure on her part, dismember it and demonise her until she didn’t know which way was up. Damn them!

The sound of approaching footsteps broke through her reverie and she frowned, irritated by the interruption. But the recognisable rhythm of the tread made her smile as she turned towards the interloper.

Speak of the devil.

He stepped into the small clearing, a coat draped over his arm and he smiled as he offered it to her. “I thought you might need this.”

She gave him a quizzical look. “Errr, thank you. What are you doing here?”

He shrugged and gave her a lopsided smile. “Well, you were supposed to be at Tom and B’Elanna’s for dinner tonight and…”

She jumped to her feet. “Oh, damn!” Then looked at him. “What’s the time? I completely lost track.”

Chakotay stepped towards her. “It’s all right. Here put this on.” He held up the coat and she shrugged into it before wrapping it around herself. There was still some residual warmth from his body down one side, and she hugged it close.

He took a small step away. “Don’t panic. Dinner is postponed. Miral was being extra fussy tonight, so we’re getting together tomorrow instead – if you’re free?”

She nodded. “Yes, well, so far I am. But you never know. The way things are going, I might find myself with a berth booked on a shuttle to New Zealand by tomorrow evening.”

He frowned and took a seat. She sat beside him and glared at the water.

His eyes were panning across the Bay as he spoke. “Debriefings not going well?”

“That’s putting it mildly.” She lifted her hand to run her fingers through her hair but stopped herself and let her hand drop into her lap. “I knew it wouldn’t be easy reliving those awful moments and explaining all my shortcomings. I shouldn’t be surprised, but it’s a trial – if that’s the right word to use.”

“By fire, according to Owen Paris. He’s seen some of the transcripts.” He glanced towards her and gave her a grim smile. “I’m sorry, Kathryn. I wish there was something I could do.”

His support and empathy had the desired effect and she felt the knot in her stomach loosen a little. “Thank you. Knowing that you understand is a help. You’re a good friend.”

From the corner of her eye, she saw his head jerk towards her, but stopped herself from reading too much into it. They were friends, and if they were to be something more, well… there was plenty of time. She hoped.

Feeling a little more like her old self, she gave him a nod. “It’s just something I have to get through, and once it’s done, I can move on.” She turned and gave him what she hoped was an encouraging smile. “To what, I have no idea, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.” In an unconscious move, she hugged her coat tighter around herself.

Chakotay stood and offered his hand. “Shall we head back? It’s getting cold, and the fog is coming in.”

Kathryn nodded and, taking his hand, pivoted to her feet. “You’d think that the weather control net would take care of that.”

He laughed. “Always the technophile. I don’t think fog rates as extreme weather.

She sent a frown his way and harrumphed, but her heart lightened with the familiar banter. Tugging her coat closer around her, she took his proffered arm, and together they headed to the path that led to the Starfleet grounds.

As they wandered through the deserted gardens, once so carefully tended by Boothby, something occurred to her and she looked at him. “How did you find me?”

He tilted his head conspiratorially in her direction. “Well, it wasn’t that difficult. When you didn’t turn up at Tom and B’Elanna’s, they contacted Reg Barclay and he scanned San Francisco for your biosignature.” He spread his hands in apology at her glare. “I’m sorry. We were worried.”

“What?! That I would do something to myself!?” Irritation gave way to anger.

“God, no! We were more concerned that you might do something to Admiral Wainscott or one of his cronies.”

Kathryn snorted, anger evaporating, but she couldn’t help a satisfied smile from inching its way across her face as an array of grisly mental images flickered past her mind’s eye. Her imagination ran riot at the prospect of exacting revenge on one or more of those crusty old goats. “Please don’t tempt me. They questioned me about the Srivani today, and that opens the floodgates to a deluge of evil options. Mind you, a dose of that medicine might make them see things a little differently.”

Chakotay gave her a sidelong glance. “I think the Doctor still has some of the Srivani ‘instruments’ hidden away in Sickbay. If you want to go and get them, I’m happy to ride shotgun. Bypassing Jupiter station security should be a breeze.”

Her eyes gleamed with relish. “Yes. It’s not like we’re trying to infiltrate the Borg or outwit the Devore. It would be a veritable cake-walk by comparison, and I think a little hike in Wainscott’s dopamine levels might be just what he needs to get that stick out of his ….”

“Kathryn!” Chuckling, Chakotay nudged her gently. “I think you’re enjoying this a little too much.”

She tried to look guilty, but failed. Sweeping her hair back, she bit her bottom lip, looking unrepentantly gleeful. “I think I am. Maybe I should be worried.”

He pretended to consider that for a moment, then shook his head. “Nah. It’s no more than they deserve.”

“So, instead of doing what Tom suggested and imagine them naked – which, to be honest, I find disturbing on so many levels – I should picture them sprouting probes and needles.”

He glanced at her and they both sobered.

She sighed. “It’s not really funny is it?”

He shrugged. “No. Not really. That was one of my least favourite encounters with Delta quadrant species.”

“They didn’t have a single redeeming quality.”

“None that I can think of.”

They were both quiet for a time, each alone with their thoughts. Their pace slowed as they approached the building where they’d been allocated interim housing.

Chakotay broke the tense silence. “Are you hungry?”

Kathryn gauged how her stomach was feeling. A little better – probably thanks to Chakotay’s presence. “I am, actually. My replicator is working, if you’re game?”

He rubbed his chin as though giving the idea careful consideration.

Kathryn jabbed him with her elbow. “Gee, thanks. Well, I can take a hint. You can cook, I’ll choose the wine.”

“An equitable division of labour. No wonder you’re the captain.”

She made to jab him again, but he scooted sideways and she missed. He was grinning at her and she at him. Her smile faded a little and she tilted her head, studying his face. “I’m not your captain anymore.”

Something sparked in his eyes, and his smile broadened. “No, you’re not.” He said nothing more, but offered her his arm again and she took hold of it with both her hands, and tucked herself close to his side.

He took a deep breath, and clamped Kathryn’s hands tight against his body as they stepped towards the entrance of the building.

Moments later, they entered her spartan quarters, shrugged out of their coats and tossed them onto one of the chairs. It wasn’t the first time Chakotay had visited her, but tonight, Kathryn could feel a heady tension between them – something she hadn’t felt for a long time – and although the pall of debriefings still hung over her, this was a most welcome reprieve.

Before long and despite her worries, she found herself laughing and enjoying her time with Chakotay as they cooked together – her input was minimal – and swapped stories about the crew and their families.

After a delicious meal and the better part of a bottle of excellent Bordeaux, they moved to the living area. Kathryn tucked herself into the corner of the couch, contentedly replete and a little lightheaded. It felt good.

Chakotay was seated at the other end of the couch, contemplating the last few mouthfuls of wine in his glass. He seemed preoccupied, but it gave Kathryn an opportunity to study him unnoticed. He was still a handsome man, even more so, in her opinion, than when she’d first met him. The lines of anger and bitterness were gone, and he gave the impression of being a man comfortable in his skin. Starfleet’s offer of reinstatement had come as a surprise to both of them, and, as much as she would miss him as her first officer, she understood why he’d turned them down.

She shook her head. Here she was assuming that she would get Voyager back and retain her captaincy. There was no guarantee that she’d even be employed at the end of her debriefings. The way things were going, she might be looking for a job alongside Chakotay.

That thought wasn’t as worrying as she thought it might be.

A clean slate, a new beginning. She wondered what he was thinking.

As though he’d heard the question, he looked up. “I’ve been thinking about the Srivani.”

That wasn’t quite what she’d been hoping for, but she leaned forward, poured herself some more wine, and waited for him to elaborate.

He shrugged. “They caused a hell of a lot of suffering.”

There was no arguing with that observation. “Yes, they did. Tom and B’Elanna were never certain if their relationship had been manipulated, and even after all the Doctor’s investigations, we still don’t know what half of the implants were for. God knows what they did to us.”

“Do you think…?” He shook his head.

“Think what?”

“Nothing.”

She frowned. “It’s not nothing.” She leaned forward, something was clearly troubling him. “Tell me, Chakotay.”

He drank the last of his wine, and rested his glass on his knee. Still holding the stem, he looked up at her. “Do you think that they influenced your decision?”

She frowned. “Which one? Most of my decisions at the time were a tad erratic.”

“The decision you made to distance yourself from me and the crew.”

“I…” Kathryn was about to deny the accusation but then thought better of it. “I don’t know. I thought it was the right thing to do at the time.”

But now he’d put that seed of doubt in her mind. Maybe…

Was it the Srivani’s revenge? Had she wasted years in solitary isolation, alone, when she could have been with Chakotay? It was best not to think about it.

He was probably thinking the same thing as he gave her a grim smile and nodded.

They sat in silence, each alone with their thoughts.

Kathryn was the first to speak. “I’m sorry.”

He turned towards her, his brow rumpled in a frown. “Sorry? What for?”

“Where do I start?” A rueful laugh was followed by her quiet admission. “I was afraid.”

“Of the Srivani?” He was genuinely surprised. “Well, you certainly didn’t show it, but considering what they were doing to you, it makes sense that your fear response was heightened.”

She shook her head. “No, I wasn’t afraid of them – although, I probably should have been. I was too angry to be afraid. But I was deathly afraid for you.” She hesitated for a split second, then reached across and laid her hand over his where it rested on the couch between them. “I came so close to losing you that day; it scared the hell out of me.”

Still holding his empty wine glass in his other hand, he tilted it, rolling the stem back and forth between his fingers, watching the last drops move around the inside of the glass. “I only have hazy recollections of what was happening, especially towards the end. I do know that I didn’t want to die.”

She nodded. “I knew that, and it’s why I’m sorry.”

He still looked confused.

She sat back, pulling her hand away from his in the process. “I nearly killed all of you. I wasn’t thinking straight…” She waved away his arguments. “Yes, I know, I was out of my head with raised hormone levels and had the equivalent of knitting needles in my brain, but even so, I was the captain and I should have taken heed of Tuvok’s warnings and found another way to deal with the Srivani.”

He was quiet, and she waited for him to start with his usual round of ‘you did the only thing you could under the circumstances’, ‘there were no other options’ or, ‘ I would have done the same thing if it had been me.’

But he remained silent.

Kathryn regarded him warily. “What? No words of wisdom, no excuses?”

He shrugged. “You know them all already and they make no difference. You and guilt are old friends, and, as hard as I’ve tried, I’ve never been able to come between the two of you.”

She wasn’t sure whether to be angry or hurt. “You make me sound both pigheaded and manipulative.”

He shrugged again and the loaded silence was more than telling. “It’s not a criticism, Kathryn. You did what you had to do, and I always supported your decisions.”

Her shoulders stiffened. She took umbrage at what he was implying. “So, you think you could have done something different? Found another way?”

“I didn’t say that.” His voice was strained but not with anger. “I wasn’t there – I was confined to my quarters, if you remember, and fast losing my faculties.”

She was quiet for a moment, anger abating as she remembered how horrified she’d been when she’d seen him in Sickbay – aged and frail – a shadow of the man he was. “It must have been terrifying for you.”

“It was frightening for everyone, and I’m not judging you, Kathryn. I know how you must have felt, even without the added stress of having your emotions manipulated and your brain invaded by those monsters.”

Now he sounded angry, and she could feel the tension in his body from where she was sitting, but she didn’t think his anger was directed at her. “What’s wrong, Chakotay?”

He turned fully towards her. His eyes held hers, his look solemn and sad. “You don’t have the sole dominion on guilt, Kathryn.”

Taken aback, she frowned. “What did you have to feel guilty about? I was the one who aimed Voyager at the pulsars and, ignoring everyone’s advice, drove her straight towards potential disaster.”

“But I wasn’t there with you.”

“How could you be? You were dying.” Her voice hitched as she said the words and she wondered if he’d heard.

He didn’t seem to notice; he was so caught up in his own mire of guilt. “I know that, and you know that, but it still doesn’t make me feel any better about it.” He looked directly into her eyes. “Would you?”

So much for gaining perspective. This was certainly a different standpoint to the spiralling eddy of self-blame she’d been wallowing in all day. He had a point though, and she reached out to him and gave his hand a quick squeeze of reassurance. “Neither of us was ourselves – literally. I don’t see how you could blame yourself.”

“You’re blaming yourself. If you expect me to absolve myself of guilt, you have to do the same. It’s only fair.”

“But I…”

He leaned closer to her, and this time, he laid his hand over hers. “I’ve never forgotten the look on your face the day I returned your logs. I could tell that you were waiting for me to question your actions. I think, you actually wanted me to pick a fight with you, and admonish you as some twisted form of remorse.” He stopped, and closed his eyes briefly, calming himself. “But, Kathryn, I couldn’t even speak. I’d read your logs – and Tuvok’s and Tom’s. I knew what had happened, and I could read between the lines. It broke my heart. I’d failed in my duty and my promise to you…”

Kathryn opened her mouth to say something, but this time, he held up his hand to stop her. “Yes, I know; I had no choice, but neither did you. I read the Doctor’s notes as well. Did you?

She shook her head.

“Perhaps you should. Dopamine acts on the prefrontal cortex where decision-making and motivation are centred. When your brain was flooded with the hormone, those areas were stimulated to such an extent that your decision making processes were essentially destroyed. You had no choice. The fact that you were able to function at all, is testament to your strength. And, in the end, you saved us all.”

She was stunned by his vehemence, but also immensely grateful. She’d used similar arguments to try to convince herself that she wasn’t entirely to blame for the near disaster, but guilt had always overshadowed her resolve. All of a sudden, the anger and tension left her.

She breathed deeply and smiled. “I’m hiring you as my representative if any of this ever goes to trial.”

Chakotay’s shoulders relaxed a little and he huffed a small laugh, but there was still a sombreness about him. His eyes met hers. “I’d fight to the death for you, Kathryn.”

She felt the unfamiliar burn of tears, and doggedly blinked them back. “I know.” She wanted to say more, but her throat had tightened, and she couldn’t speak past the lump.

He smiled, no doubt aware of her struggle. “We’re cut from the same cloth, you and I. Obligation and loyalty are stitched into the fibre of our beings, and a fierce sense of protectiveness runs through our veins. It’s why we made such an effective command team… and why we are so drawn to one another.”

“Drawn to one another?” She gave him an enquiring look.

He smiled wryly. “Very drawn to one another. You’re just better at hiding it than I am.”

“Oh, really. You could have fooled me.”

“Fool you? Not likely.”

They both stopped talking and stared at one another for a long moment. Chakotay raised one brow in question and Kathryn smiled.

“All right.” She looked at him blandly. “I’ll try to stow my old friend guilt where he belongs, if you’ll do the same. Deal?” Kathryn extended her hand.

Chakotay took it in his, and they shook in agreement. “Deal.”

He didn’t let go, though. Instead, he turned her hand over in his, and rubbed his thumb over the soft skin of her palm.

Without looking up, he spoke; his voice softly pensive. “Those years were hard, Kathryn. No one, other than those of us who were there, could ever understand what we went through, and you carried the greatest load.” He looked up, his thumb still stroking her palm. “We both have regrets. Some come with the territory of command, but some we can put to rest.”

He was right. Her earlier venture into ‘what if’ land had been eye opening, if nothing else, and regrets, well, she was burdened with more than her fair share. To absolve herself of a few would in some ways atone for the years of stress and worry. Not only for herself, but for Chakotay, as well. Whether she had been influenced by the Srivani or not was moot at this point. The decision to pull away from him had been hers, and it was up to her to make amends.

She laid her hand over his, stilling his fingers, and then dipped her head slightly to catch his eye. “I’ve had just enough wine to make me brutally honest, and I have something to ask you.”

His face softened into a broad smile, and he clasped her hand a little tighter. “Go ahead. I’ll answer.”

She huffed a laugh. “I know you will. You were never shy about the truth.” Her smile faded a little but her eyes were bright, and delight shone in their depths. “Do you think there is hope for us? I know it’s been a long time, but I feel this deep sense of rightness when we’re together. We, or rather, I, have left so many things undone and unsaid.” She took a shaky breath. “I’d like to try this.” She waved her hand between them. “Us, together. Are you willing?”

His initial answer was to raise her hand to his lips, and kiss the taut skin of her knuckles. He then nodded, and heaved a satisfied sigh. “Very willing. Can I make a suggestion?”

A weight lifted from her shoulders, and she grinned. “Please do.”

“After debriefings are over, and before you move on to your next great adventure, I’d like to take some time away from here.” He nodded towards the window.

She glanced in that direction, then raised an eyebrow. “But we only just got here.”

He ignored her teasing, and smiled. “I was thinking of somewhere away from all the hustle and bustle. A place where we can get acquainted with the new us.”

“I like the sound of that.” She shuffled a little closer. “And after that?”

“We have a lifetime to figure that out.”

“A lifetime. That could be a very long time.”

“I’d like to think so.”

“Well, the Admiral was well into her seventies, so I should at least make it that far.”

He looked at her slightly concerned. “Ahh, the Admiral.”

Her elder self had been something of an irascible old tyrant, and the dubious look on Chakotay’s face made her smile. “It wasn’t her fault – she didn’t have you.”

“I think you’re giving me way too much credit.”

“Not according to her.”

He looked mildly surprised. “She spoke to you about us?”

“Not exactly, but she said enough that I knew things had to change.” One day soon, she would tell him about her conversations with the Admiral, but not today. Instead, she leaned up and ran her fingers down his cheek. “What if I promise to mellow in my old age, and perhaps we can do something about you keeping your hair.” She lifted her hand and wove her fingers through the dark strands. “You know, I was only thinking of bald patches a little while ago.”

He gave her a questioning look. “Why?”

Her hand came to rest on his cheek. “It’s not important.”

He cupped her hand in his and, turning, kissed her palm. “What time do you have to be at headquarters tomorrow?”

Kathryn’s shoulders slumped. “0900.”

He checked the chronometer. “Eleven hours. That should be enough time.”

“Enough time for what?”

Chakotay stood, and offered his hand. Kathryn took it, and he pulled her to her feet; the momentum carried her into his arms.

“Smooth move, Commander.”

She was pressed tight against him, and could feel rather than hear, the rumble of his laugh. “I try.”

Her arms snaked over his shoulders and around his neck, and she leaned back a little so she could see his face. “I think I’ve got an inkling as to how you’d like to fill those eleven hours.”

He gave her what she assumed was an attempt at a lecherous grin, but it merely made her laugh.

He looked crestfallen – sort of. “You’re laughing already, and I haven’t even put my moves on you yet.”

“Moves?” She was shaking her head and still chuckling. She hadn’t felt this happy in years.

Her fingers wove through the soft hair on the nape of his neck, and she pressed her cheek against his, whispering in his ear. “Give it your best shot, Commander.”

He husked into her ear, sending a cascade of goosebumps down her back and arms. “Oh, I intend to.”

Cupping her face in his hands, his thumbs smoothed over her temples in gentle strokes. His lips feathered over her forehead, her eyelids, her cheeks and the corners of her mouth. He plucked at her top lip with his mouth, the tip of his tongue flicking out to taste and tease. His hands were moving too, drifting along her jaw and down her neck, his fingers tunnelling through her hair, before sliding down her arms to weave through hers.

His open mouth found hers, and she moaned. The heat, the heady taste of him, the feel of his body against hers, all combined to throw her a little off balance.

She hadn’t realised they were moving until she thudded gently into the wall next to her bedroom door. He lifted their clenched hands above her head, and trailed his lips down her neck, growling endearments and words she didn’t understand in hot breaths against her skin.

Coherent thought was becoming an effort, but she managed to mumble a breathy, “Well navigated, Commander.”

He glanced up, and grinned before hoisting her into his arms. “Piloting is one of my talents.”

For a split second, the thought of various damaged and destroyed shuttles came to mind, but as her legs wrapped around his hips and he carried her towards her bed, the idea of crashing and burning suddenly had merit.

They tumbled onto the bed and he looked down at her. “I love you, Kathryn.”

“That’s a relief.” She huffed a laugh at his lopsided grin. “Oh, and I love you too.”

“I figured.”

She snorted and then gave his shoulder a half-hearted punch. “You did, did you?”

His muffled, “Uh huh.” came from somewhere near her shoulder, where his mouth was doing amazing things to that spot at the base of her ear. She squirmed against him, and he groaned. “If you do too much of that, it will be over before we’ve begun.”

Her heart swelled, the sweetness of the unintentional compliment brought tears to her eyes. Her voice came as a throaty whisper. “I love you, so much.”

He stopped, propping himself up on his elbows and looking down at her. He caressed her cheek with the back of his fingers, his eyes dark with need, but brimming with love. “We will have a good life, Kathryn. As long as we’re together, we’re invincible.”

She gave him a watery smile. “We always have been.” She leaned up and kissed him. “Love me, Chakotay.”

“Aye, aye, Captain.”

He took a deep shuddering breath and complied.

**************************

Kathryn heaved a contented sigh, and with her eyes half closed, let her gaze drift out over the sparkling blue ocean. By rights, she shouldn’t feel so wonderful. Her career was in tatters, she had no job and, at present, no prospects of one, but all that paled into insignificance in light of where she was and who she was with.

As if to add weight to that realisation, a large tanned hand landed on her upper thigh, caressed it gently and then stilled. She smiled down at the man sleeping in the shade beside her, and her stomach did a delicious flip flop as it so often did these days. Contentment was like a drug, and she was a willing addict.

Debriefings were over; the outcome had been as expected, but she refused to be cowed by the result. In a way, it was the best she could have asked for. It certainly simplified her life – the demands on a Starfleet captain were hardly conducive to long-term relationships, and that was her focus at the moment. Her court-martial had been rubber-stamped and almost an anticlimax after the hullabaloo of debriefings. If nothing else, she was glad it was over.

As soon as they were able get away, they’d done as Chakotay suggested, and found a place miles from the crowds and pressures of city life, on a small island in the Sulu Archipelago. The name had caught his eye, and in a salute to serendipity, they’d packed their bags, and taken up residence in a stilt house on the small island of Patyan – an insignificant but idyllic speck in the Pacific Ocean. The pristine beaches, ubiquitous palm trees and long days of nothing but sunshine and sea had been the perfect antidote to the stresses of the last few months.

Spending endless hours curled up next to Chakotay, making love whenever the spirit moved them – which was often – feasting on freshly caught seafood and tropical fruit, endless cups of coffee and without a care in the world, Kathryn was happier than she could ever remember.

They would eventually have to return to the real world, but for now, in this time and place, they were exactly where they were meant to be. She smiled to herself. This wasn’t quite what she’d had in mind for her return, but as she’d learned, life rarely takes you where you think you are going.

The hand on her thigh began moving in persistent circles, wending its way higher. She smiled, and reached for him, her fingers tracing over his shoulder and down the sun-warmed skin of his bare back. She slid down, and snuggled into his arms.

He hummed happily and kissed her. “Hmmm. Is it time for lunch yet?”

Kathryn glanced at the sky and shrugged. “I have no idea.”

“Good, we have time then.”

“For what?”

“What do you think?”

“I love a man with stamina.”

“I’m just working up an appetite.”

“An appetite for what?”

His hand skimmed down her side, and cupping her bottom, he pulled her to him. “You, my love, always.”

 

fin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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