The Way Ahead. Rated R

Rated R.

Summary: Written for Mizvoy for the Vamb 2008 Secret Santa Exchange and her request was as follows.

I like stories, of course, but also appreciate good artwork–avatars, fiddle pics, videos. J/C is my first love, but I’ll accept anything–J and C friendship, general Voyager stories, etc. No permanent C/7, babyfic, slash, or death of primary characters, please (unless it’s in bed at age 150 after a happy life).

This begins as an In the Flesh episode addition but moves through several other episodes in Season Five.

 

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

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Chakotay jogged to the beam-out site. He nodded to Tuvok and Neelix, and gave Kathryn a quick smile as he took his place beside her. He missed her double take as he turned to acknowledge the group assembled in front of them. Boothby and Admiral Bullock, along with several aides stood a few paces away.

Kathryn addressed their hosts. “Mr Boothby, thank you again. I think we’ve proved that there is a middle ground for both our species. I’ll look forward to meeting you again one day.”

The curmudgeonly old gardener gave her a nod. “I can’t guarantee anything Janeway, but we’ve made a start.”

At that point, Archer arrived and stood beside Boothby. She only had eyes for Chakotay and Kathryn gave her first officer a sideways glance. He was looking everywhere but at the lieutenant and, when he tugged on his ear lobe, Kathryn was hard pressed not to laugh.

With a brisk nod to the farewell party, she tapped her combadge. “Voyager, four to beam up. Energise.”

In a heartbeat, they were in Voyager’s transporter room. Neelix and Tuvok stepped down from the platform and made their way out the doors. Kathryn could hear Neelix prattling on to the ever-patient Vulcan, their voices eventually fading into the distance. The transporter tech nodded to the Captain and exited as well.

Now that they were alone, Kathryn turned to Chakotay. “What am I going to do with you, Commander?” Reaching up she swiped her thumb across his lips, then showed it to him. “Hmmm, coral pink. You might want to remember that, it goes well with your eyes. Have you left another broken heart in your wake?”

He had the good grace to blush. “I doubt it, but if I did, it’s a great big grasshopper heart. I don’t think we were terribly compatible.”

Kathryn rolled her eyes and, shaking her head, turned to leave the room, but Chakotay jogged down the stairs to catch up to her.

“Are you doing anything for dinner tonight, Kathryn?”

“I hadn’t planned anything.”

“Good. Then my quarters at 1900, and bring some white wine.”

“Filled with confidence after last night’s date, are we?”

“I would hardly call last night a raging success. I was taken hostage.”

Kathryn opened her mouth to say something, but then shut it again, her lips pursing as she tried with great difficulty to suppress a smile.

Chakotay looked sideways at her. “Go on, say it.”

“Say what?”

“For me, being taken hostage is usually how my dates go – Seska and then Riley, now Archer and her grasshopper friends. It’s all right, I can take it.”

Kathryn stopped and gave him a sympathetic smile. “I’m sorry, Chakotay but you have to admit you have almost as much bad luck with women as I have with men.”

He stared at her for a moment and then shrugged. “You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”

“Oh no, I’m not. Remember Gath? Now there was a charmer and a slimy customer and, speaking of slime, I don’t even want to think about the tongueless, lizard version of Tom Paris.”

“True, at least I can say that I haven’t procreated.”

“Not quite.”

His lips curled when he thought of Seska and her malevolent attempt to impregnate herself with his DNA. “Yes, well, it was a close thing, but you still win.”

Kathryn chuckled and flicked his arm with the back of her hand before she started walking again. “Did you sleep with her?”

“Who, Seska… well, ye…”

“No!” Kathryn interrupted him. “Archer.”

“Grasshopper Archer? Hell no! What if she morphed back into herself during… Oh god, it doesn’t bear thinking about. She has three legs… where would everything be?”

Kathryn stared at him again. “You’ve given this way too much thought, Commander. You need to get out more.”

“I’d love to, but the neighbourhood is hardly conducive to dating on a regular basis.”

“You have a ship full of likely contenders. I don’t see the problem.”

“I’m only in love with one of them and they’re not interested.”

Kathryn laughed. “Commander Casanova? I find that hard to believe.”

He was quiet and Kathryn turned to him, she’d been expecting a swift and biting comeback, but his face was deadly serious. “You can believe it, Kathryn.”

The blood drained from her face and she came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the corridor. Chakotay took two more steps before he also stopped and turned towards her.

Kathryn shook her head. “Oh, Chakotay, I had no idea that you still…”

He gave her a sad smile and then shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. You’re right, it’s been years and I should be over it by now. Can’t convince my heart though.” His eyes met hers for a breathtaking moment, then without another word, he turned and walked down the corridor, around the corner and out of sight.

Kathryn couldn’t move. It had all been in jest. She hadn’t meant to hurt his feelings or bring up that particular ‘elephant in the room’ that they’d so carefully avoided all these years. Now she’d managed to not only hurt him but humiliate him as well. She had a slow and thoughtful walk back to the Bridge.

Once there, she ensconced herself in the Ready Room and spent the afternoon writing reports and cataloguing as much information about Species 8472 as she could. If they were able to contact Starfleet again, it might prove invaluable. Kathryn hoped that their negotiations had been at least successful enough to avert an all out war.

Placing her thumbprint on the final PADD she dropped it on the pile, then sat back and contemplated the wall.

“Damn!”

She’d been saying that a lot today. Even as she’d concentrated on her reports, every few minutes her thoughts would betray her and wander to Chakotay and his admission. Each time she relived her reaction, she’d cringe inwardly and mutter an irritated and self-recriminating, “Damn!” She hated hurting him and there had to be something she could do to alleviate the tension between them.

Kathryn checked the chronometer. 1830. Time to go. She wanted to shower and be on time for dinner. It would take her a few minutes to scour the database for a special bottle of wine and maybe some chocolates. Not that either of those items would make up for this morning’s gaffe, but it would be a token peace offering and maybe they could talk about things.

To her horror, she could feel a blush edging its way up her throat to her cheeks. ‘Things’. What the hell was she thinking? They couldn’t talk about ‘things’. That was forbidden territory and might lead to god knows what. Her mind instantly filled with images and she shut them down as quickly as she could. “Damn!”

Besides, what could she possibly say? ‘Oh, Chakotay, about you being in love with me and me not acknowledging the fact, well, I’m sure you’ll get over it. Stiff upper lip, shoulders back, big deep breath and all that.’ God, she wasn’t thinking straight at all.

Then a terrifying notion wormed its way into her mind. What would she do if he did get over her?

The mere thought made her feel sick. What the hell would she do? Thinking for a moment, she realised that she had no idea. It had never occurred to her that they wouldn’t always love one another. The love she felt for him was the stable foundation on which their relationship was built, and although unacknowledged, it was there, steadfast and real.

His love for her was something that she’d taken for granted for so long now that it had become part of the background noise of her life, much like quiet thrum of Voyager’s engines. It was always there, strong and steady, lending her strength when she needed it, assurance when she wavered; silent but tangible evidence of his loyalty and allegiance. It dismayed her that she could be so selfish to assume that he would keep loving her without any recognition of his feelings or acknowledged reciprocation on her part. When had she become so callous and insensitive? The very thought that he might seriously think about moving on and not love her was like having a vital organ ripped from her body – and she knew exactly which one.

Her heart thudded wildly and she swallowed against the swell of dread. This was ridiculous situation and something that had to be dealt with. At dinner tonight, she would apologise for her thoughtlessness; tell him that she did indeed love him and always had, but that they couldn’t indulge in a relationship while they were out here. However, if he could wait, she would gladly be with him once they were back in the Alpha Quadrant.

There. Simple.

With her thoughts in order and her mind made up, Kathryn marched out of her Ready Room, nodded to the Beta shift and headed to her quarters. Determined now to set things right, she showered quickly, dressed and was out of the door with minutes to spare.

Bottle of wine tucked under her arm, she rang his door chime and waited. She heard his voice and the door slid open. Chakotay was sitting on the couch reading, looking relaxed, but not as if he was expecting anyone for dinner.

He pivoted to his feet. “Kathryn?”

“I thought we had plans for dinner. Did I have the wrong night?”

“I didn’t think you’d be coming. I haven’t prepared anything.” He took a few paces towards her.

“May I come in, or would you rather…?”

“No, come in, come in.”

“I brought this.” She brandished the bottle of white wine. “I’m sorry about this afternoon.”

“Me too. I shouldn’t have brought it up. I should know better. It doesn’t matter.”

“Oh, it matters and I’d like to speak to you about it, but let’s have some wine first, shall we?”

Chakotay nodded and fetched some glasses from the cabinet while Kathryn opened the wine. There was an uncomfortable tension in the room and even the cork sounded an unnatural dull pop in the quiet of the room as she pulled it from the bottle.

Without looking at him, Kathryn poured their drinks and handed him his glass. She raised her eyes to look at him then lifted her glass, tilting it towards his in a toast. “To possibilities.”

Wearing a slight frown, Chakotay tapped his glass against Kathryn’s and echoed her words. “To possibilities.” Obviously unsure to what she was referring, he ventured. “You’re not talking about Archer are you?”

“Not unless you want to.”

“No thanks. I’ve had enough of Species 8472 to last a lifetime, but before I have too much of this I should organise some dinner as promised. What would you like?”

Kathryn shrugged. “I’m not all that hungry. Whatever you were thinking of having will be fine.”

Chakotay nodded and moved to the replicator. “One plate of vegetarian antipasto and Turkish bread.” He turned to Kathryn, “We can share.” Then he gestured towards the couch. “Let’s just relax, shall we?” He smiled, but Kathryn could still see that he was uncomfortable. Placing the food on the coffee table, he took the seat next to her but the silence was deafening.

Kathryn was also feeling awkward and to hide her discomfort, she ate some of the dips and olives on the plate, realising too late that she was hungrier than she thought. Chakotay wasn’t eating but sipping his wine thoughtfully. Kathryn turned towards him as he turned towards her, and they both spoke at the same time.

“Kathryn.”

“Chakotay.”

Kathryn smiled and indicated that he should go first. Chakotay hesitated but took the initiative. “Kathryn, I don’t want you to feel beholden in any way about what I said today. I realised this evening, after a lot of thought, that it’s time for me to put this behind me. You’re right. It doesn’t do either of us any good and nothing can ever come of it, so, as of tonight, I’m going to move on and look towards making a life for myself out here.”

Icy fingers of dread wrapped themselves around Kathryn’s heart and she shivered. This was so typical of her life. Looking back over the years, it had been almost a comedic series of poorly timed mistakes and missteps. Here she was, at last ready to tell Chakotay of her feelings only to find that he’d decided to expunge his.

She smiled serenely but her voice sounded tight and strained to her ears; she prayed he wouldn’t notice. “Good for you, Chakotay. I’m sure it’s for the best.”

He nodded, his eyes sad but his smile hopeful. “Life’s too short and it’s time I got on with mine.”

Patting his arm in a comradely fashion, Kathryn stood. “I’m pleased for you but I’m on early shift in the morning. Thank you for dinner. I’ll see you on the bridge.”

Chakotay frowned in confusion at her abrupt departure. “You’ve hardly eaten anything, Kathryn, and your wine…”

She shook her head, barely able to talk. Her grief and sorrow jammed so tightly in her throat, she thought she might choke. “I’ve had plenty, thank you. Good night.” It was as much as she could say and after one last look at him, she strode out the door before she made a complete fool of herself.

Taking off up the corridor at a run, she only just made it through her door before a harsh sob tore from her aching throat and she fell against the wall, her hand over her mouth as she tried to stifle those that followed. Turning, she pressed her forehead against the cold duranium and screwed her eyes shut against the hot burn of tears. She refused to succumb but it took every ounce of willpower to gain some sort of emotional control. One shaky breath after the other, the pain in her chest finally began to ease and she swiped angrily at the few stubborn tears that had escaped. She had no one else to blame but herself. Her indifference had led her to this and she’d forfeited the love of the one man in the universe that she knew matched her heart for heart, soul for soul. She would regret this day for the rest of her life.

The next morning, after too little sleep but with fragile shields intact, she greeted Chakotay warmly and then retreated to the ready room, where she stayed all day and then everyday for the next week and a half. She noticed Chakotay’s puzzled looks but made sure that she kept busy and was never alone with him long enough for him to inquire about her change in behaviour.

A crisis involving a lost shuttle, with Tom, Tuvok and Sam Wildman brought her out of her self-imposed exile and things were relatively normal for a few days. The relief of having their crewmembers back unharmed overshadowed any other personal matters for a while, but it didn’t take long for her to slide back into her isolation again. It was just too difficult to be near him, constantly reminded of what she’d let slip through her fingers. The bitter lesson and the guilt of her past indifference ate away at her.

The weeks turned into months and she tried in vain to harden her heart towards the inevitable, waiting to hear word of her first officer’s involvement with a member of the crew but there was nothing. He was either incredibly discreet or had decided to wait until they made planet fall to meet and woo some alien woman. On duty, he remained her attentive and helpful first officer; however, their regular working dinners became a thing of the past and the off-duty hours that they usually spent together ceased as well. Kathryn figured that his time would be better spent looking for someone with whom to share his life. Being the third wheel certainly wasn’t her forte.

Over this time, the Delta Quadrant continued to throw the inevitable challenges in Voyager’s path. They’d almost lost B’Elanna to a cytoplasmic lifeform that had latched onto the young woman, invading her vital organs and literally sucking the life out of her. B’Elanna had survived but now Kathryn was on the receiving end of the Engineer’s wrath for acting against her wishes and using the expertise of the Cardassian doctor, Crell Moset, to save her life. Dealing with the twisted and thorny tangle of moral and ethical issues had been exhausting. There was no right or wrong answer and Kathryn had been left to make the best decision she could under the circumstances.

Tying herself in knots over the dilemma, she’d run question after question through her mind. Was using the hologram of the Cardassian doctor ethically wrong? He was in essence only photons, not the real thing. Moreover, was utilising the knowledge gleaned through Moset’s mistreatment of Bajoran prisoners morally suspect or was it, as Kathryn tried to justify to herself, a way of honouring the sacrifice of all those innocent souls? By saving B’Elanna’s life, their suffering had not been in vain.

No matter how she tried to rationalise her reasons, all Kathryn knew was that she couldn’t afford to let B’Elanna die. Not only was the young engineer integral to the success of Voyager’s mission, but more importantly, she was dear to Kathryn’s heart and they’d lost far too many of their family over the years. If there was even the remotest chance of saving her life, Kathryn was going to take it. If B’Elanna never talked to her again, then so be it. As far as Kathryn was concerned, that was a fair price to pay for having her Engineer alive and well.

B’Elanna had been successfully keeping Kathryn at arm’s length when, only a matter of days later, their small world had been complicated further by Tom’s blatant violation of the prime directive and deliberate disregarding of her orders whilst dealing with the Moneans. She’d been forced to demote him and confine him to the Brig for thirty days. As she took those pips from his collar it was the closest she’d ever come to crying on duty. Chakotay had been sympathetic but hadn’t been able to buffer her from the disapproval of those closest to Tom. B’Elanna, who was already angry with her, became even more brusque and hostile.

Kathryn fought hard to avoid the black embrace of depression but in her isolation and without Chakotay’s quiet reassurance, she could feel herself sliding into its dark clutches.

Then they came upon the Devore.

If nothing else, having to deal with this militant and paranoid species snapped her out of her melancholy. She couldn’t afford to be preoccupied with self-indulgent thoughts when her crew and the ship were in peril. As always her duty took precedence over all else.

They also had onboard a small group of Brenari refugees whom they’d rescued from a damaged freighter just inside the Devore’s borders. The Brenari were telepaths hunted by the aggressive and telepath-phobic Imperium forces. Rescuing the Brenari had been a risk, but Kathryn had felt duty-bound to help them although it had further complicated their situation having to conceal them as well as Voyager’s telepaths – Tuvok, Vorik and Jurot. They had to be on constant guard. The Devore had an irritating habit of appearing out of nowhere for spot inspections, and although Harry and Seven had devised a way of hiding the Brenari and the three Voyager telepaths in transporter suspension, it had been an extremely stressful several weeks.

Kathryn also found herself in the unenviable position of having to deal single-handedly with the Devore officer in charge of Voyager’s inspections. Kashyk was tall, dark and menacingly handsome and he’d taken a worrying and intense interest in her, which she’d been able to use to her advantage in a plan to protect Voyager and those under her charge. It had become a complex game of cat and mouse, plagued by pitfalls and potential disaster but she had played the game masterfully. Kashyk, as dangerous as he might be, was also arrogant, conceited and proud and therein laid his weakness. In his fog of egotistical and narcissistic superiority, he’d been unable to see the game within the game and in the end Kathryn had won, but not without laying herself on the line and taking a number of grievous risks. She’d expertly manipulated the man but it had left a sour taste in her mouth. He deserved no less, but she felt diminished and dirty because of the part she’d played, in a sense almost prostituting herself for the ship.

Kashyk had seen her merely as quarry and in his arrogance had underestimated her, unaware that the entire time she’d been skilfully out-manoeuvring him. It had been a risk and a narrow escape, relying on her wits and Kashyk’s prideful nature to ensure their safety.

She’d won, but at what cost?

This was where Chakotay had found her, sitting alone on the dimly lit bridge after Kashyk’s departure. She knew it was him the instant he stepped off the turbo lift; the sound of his footsteps she knew as well as her own. From the corner of her eye, she saw him glance at her as he crossed the Bridge to the conn where he quickly brought the engines online and set a course for the border of Devore space. Then he turned and regarded her silently.

Kathryn could feel his eyes on her but she couldn’t bring herself to meet his gaze. She was so cold, her hands and feet were like ice and the rest of her was numb. Not trusting her voice, she whispered, “Thank you, Commander.” Then after a couple of deep breaths, she tapped her combadge. “Duty shift to the Bridge.”

The crew must have been on their way, because no sooner had she spoken than the turbo lift doors opened and they spilled onto the upper level of the Bridge and began making their way to their stations.

Chakotay relinquished his place at the helm as Tom approached. Tuvok stood at the Tactical station and watched her with knowing eyes. Harry was back at Ops and after checking their co-ordinates, announced so all could hear. “We have just crossed the border out of the Devore Imperium. We’re in open space and home free.”

Coming to stand in front of Kathryn, Chakotay cleared his throat quietly. She looked up at him, her face still grimly set, and wondered what he was doing. He smiled and whispered. “You’re in my chair.”

Kathryn blinked, taking a moment to comprehend his meaning and when she realised where she was, she stood slowly, moving to her right and sitting in her chair.

Chakotay took his seat and muttered quietly. “That’s better.”

Turning towards him sharply, Kathryn stared at his profile. He appeared to ignore her for a moment and then turned towards her slowly, his smile warm and reassuring. He laid his hand briefly on her forearm and squeezed before sliding it away and opening the central console to log in their course and co-ordinates.

Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion as Kathryn stared at her arm where he’d touched her. She was still so cold, except for that one hand-sized patch on her forearm that seemed to burn with an unnatural heat. Touching it with her other hand to make sure she wasn’t imagining things, she again lifted her eyes to his profile. The extremes in temperature were making her disorientated and, as he began to turn towards her, she snapped her head to the front and stared at the viewscreen in an attempt to find focus but it was no use.

Standing abruptly and without a word, she strode across the Bridge to her Ready room. She could feel the eyes of everyone follow her as she left the Bridge but she didn’t care. At that point, she didn’t care much about anything.

Standing for a moment just inside the doors of her Ready Room, the ghost of Kashyk’s presence still evident in the quiet, she shook off the unpleasant memories and took a seat at her desk. Not sure what else to do, she fell back on well rehearsed routines and, picking up a stray PADD, perused it and frowned. It was an Engineering report. B’Elanna noted that there were some relays on deck fourteen that required replacing. Perfect. That was exactly what she needed. Some physical exercise crawling through the Jeffries tubes and some menial labour as antidotes to her churning thoughts. It would warm the chill and keep her mind off all that had happened. She strode out of the Ready Room and, not looking at anyone, headed straight to the turbo lifts. Right before she stepped inside the lift, she barked, “I’ll be on deck fourteen,” then disappeared, the doors hissing shut with a snap behind her.

She replicated the necessary parts, grabbed a repair kit and then crawled through the access panel on deck fourteen section twelve and made her way up the Jeffrey’s tube. Finding the offending relays, she reefed the panel off the wall and set about removing the damaged parts. It was really a two-person job and she found it tricky getting a grip on them in amongst the spaghetti-tangle of circuitry and cabling, but within half an hour, through sheer grim determination, she had the old relays out. She was about to insert the replacements when there was a scuffling noise behind her and turned to find her Chief Engineer rounding the corner.

“Captain! I wasn’t expecting to find you here.”

Kathryn glanced at B’Elanna then turned back to the open panel. “It’s all right, Lieutenant. I just thought I’d catch up on a few of the repairs. I’ll be out of your way in a moment.”

“It’s fine, Captain. I can finish if you’d like.”

“No, I’d prefer to do this, thank you, Lieutenant. I’m almost done.”

“Sure. I just…”

“I’m quite capable of replacing a relay, Lieutenant but if you feel so inclined you can check my work once I’m done.”

B’Elanna stammered. “I would never… I didn’t mean… I…”

She was quiet for a time and Kathryn could feel her eyes on her, but she was past caring if she’d offended or bruised anyone’s ego. If B’Elanna felt Kathryn was invading her territory, well too bad. It was her ship and she would go where she pleased. She’d had enough of all of them and their fragile sensibilities. They seemed to have little understanding of the load she had to bear or the complex problems she had to contend with. It was high time that they realised that she only had their best interests at heart, which meant she couldn’t be their friend as well as their captain. It was just too hard.

“I’m sorry, Captain. I want to apologise.” B’Elanna’s voice was soft, her tone contrite.

Kathryn’s hand stilled. “As I said Lieutenant, I won’t be long and I’ll be out of your way.”

“I don’t mean about this. I’m sorry I was so angry with you after Crell Moset and Tom’s demotion. I had no right.”

“One can’t help what one feels, Lieutenant. It’s only Human.”

“Yes, but a lot of it wasn’t the Human part of me, or at least I’d like to think it wasn’t. I didn’t really want to die. I was confused and angry. You made the right decision.”

Kathryn turned slowly towards the young woman, her eyes still hard but her voice steady and strong. “I know I did. I have never doubted that for a second.” Her gaze held B’Elanna’s for a long moment and then she turned back to the open access panel.

B’Elanna’s voice was almost meek. “Thank you.”

Kathryn stilled for a split second but then continued wrestling with one of the relays, trying to get it to click into place. “You’re….welcome.” She pushed hard, almost finding its housing but slipped. Her hand rammed against the outer casing, taking the skin off her knuckles and cutting her palm. “Damn it!!!”

B’Elanna leapt forward. “Are you all right? Here, let me do that.”

Snatching her hand away, Kathryn glared at B’Elanna. “I’m fine. I’m sure there are other things that require your attention in Engineering. You’re dismissed, Lieutenant.”

Moving away, B’Elanna nodded slowly. Her brow furrowed with concern. “Aye, Captain. Again, I’m sorry.” She turned in the narrow space and began making her way back through the tube.

Kathryn’s hand was throbbing and, to make matters worse, blood was dripping into the workings, which couldn’t possibly be doing anything any good. Heaving a frustrated sigh, she pulled her hand out, blotted the blood on her pants and checked the damage. The knuckles were raw but the bleeding had already stopped, the wound on her palm was a different matter though. It was quite deep and oozing blood.

“Shit!” She would have to go to sickbay and the Doctor was the last person she wanted to see. With that thought, she again heard scuffling a little way up the tube and knew that B’Elanna had contacted either Chakotay or the Doctor and one or the other would be appearing around the corner any second. To be honest, she was surprised that she hadn’t been beamed directly to sickbay. Wiping the blood on her pants again, she grabbed the relay and began working once more, hoping that if they saw that she was fine and busy, they’d leave.

The scuffling stopped. “Umm, Captain?” It was B’Elanna.

Kathryn peered over her shoulder and then back to where she was working. “I thought you were dismissed, Lieutenant.”

“I brought you this.” Kathryn turned again. B’Elanna was holding a dermal regenerator in her hand and shrugged. “I figured you wouldn’t want to go to sick bay. I avoid it too.” Kathryn raised her brow and B’Elanna gave her a guilty smile. “It’s sometimes handy to know the security codes and what the doctor doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

Pulling her hand from the hole in the wall, Kathryn sat back. “Good thinking.” Again, she glanced at B’Elanna. “And I appreciate it.” Kathryn took the instrument and tried to use it. It was awkward. The wound was on her right hand and, fumbling a couple of times with the regenerator, she huffed in irritation.

B’Elanna tentatively extended her hand. “May I, Captain?”

Kathryn handed the instrument to her and, holding out her hand, watched while B’Elanna waved it over the wounds. They weren’t severe but they stung and she was relieved to have them gone.

Turning off the regenerator, B’Elanna smiled. “All done.”

Stretching her fingers to alleviate the tightness of the new skin, Kathryn met B’Elanna’s eyes. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure, Captain. I’m glad I could help.”

Scooting up the tube a little, Kathryn handed B’Elanna the hyperspanner. “While you’re in a helpful mood, I could do with a hand. If I hold these out of the way, you might have better luck getting this in its housing.” Kathryn grabbed a handful of the bioneural circuitry and pulled it away from the relay housing. B’Elanna clicked the new relay into place without any problem and they moved onto the next one. Working quietly and efficiently, they replaced the others in minutes.

Kathryn packed their tools back into the kit. “Thank you, B’Elanna.”

“I’m happy to help and I meant what I said earlier. I’m sorry about my behaviour. It was unwarranted and unfair.”

Taking a deep breath, Kathryn nodded slowly. “I want you to know that I wasn’t insensitive to your feelings and I admired you for sticking to your principles. It reminded me a little of myself; stubborn as a mule, but I couldn’t afford to lose you. You’re too important to the crew, to the ship and … to me.” She met B’Elanna’s astonished gaze. “I need you here and I’m not overstating my case when I say that we wouldn’t make it without you. Do you understand?”

B’Elanna nodded but Kathryn could see that the raw emotion of her words had disturbed the younger woman. Instead of withdrawing as Kathryn thought she would, however, she saw the younger woman’s eyes soften and a small frown of concern knit her brow. Then she reached for Kathryn’s arm. “Are you all right, Captain? Can I help?”

Kathryn stilled. It was only the second time in months that anyone had touched her. The first had been Chakotay’s hand on her arm earlier today and now this. B’Elanna’s earnest offer to help, and the genuine kindness in which it was tendered, was too much for Kathryn.

The swell of emotion was almost painful and Kathryn knew she had to get away. Snatching her arm away from B’Elanna, she snapped at the astonished woman, “I’m fine and I don’t require any help, thank you, Lieutenant.” and without looking back, she began to crawl along the Jeffries Tube. She was heading further into the bowels of the ship, but she couldn’t go the other way and risk B’Elanna witnessing her lack of control. That was out of the question, so with her head down, and not really paying attention to where she was going, she made her escape.

Arriving at the next main junction, she jumped down then dove into the opposite tube and kept going, her only objective to get as far away as possible from everything and everyone. If she could find an isolated spot to sit undisturbed, she might be able to quell this ever growing sense of disquiet and then figure out a way of dealing with the tumultuous feelings she harboured in regard to her first officer or at least find a some measure of closure. If Chakotay could do it, so could she and it wasn’t as if she hadn’t done it before. She’d managed to harden her heart to the sorrow and regret of losing two men she’d loved, Justin and Mark, and she would survive this as well. All she needed to do was to turn her disappointment around and use the emotion as a means of shoring up the dam of regret. Simple. She huffed derisively as she turned one last corner and headed down the crawl-way above deflector control. Here would do nicely.

Exhausted after clambering through the Jeffrey’s tubes for a good fifteen minutes, she slumped against the wall.

Drawing her knees up and folding her arms across them, she let her head drop forward to rest on her forearms. She was so tired but she knew her solitude would be short-lived. B’Elanna would have contacted the Doctor or Chakotay to report her captain’s strange behaviour. No doubt, someone would be checking on her soon. Besides, she couldn’t just disappear. As captain, she didn’t have the luxury of escaping; of casually tossing off the mantle of responsibility just because she felt like it. She had to keep going, battling against fatigue; apathy; the crew’s expectations and disappointments; darkly handsome, evil aliens who wanted to kill her and her crew; and even more handsome beloved first officers whose affections were now directed elsewhere and whose love she’d forfeited through her own selfish indifference.

Kathryn was heartsore and weary, so very weary. Closing her eyes, she tried to think of nothing, emptying her mind to find some sort of respite from the oppressiveness of her thoughts. One steady breath after another, her mind cleared and she finally surrendered to the aching fatigue. Before she realised what was happening, she’d fallen into a deep slumber.

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

The shroud of sleep began to lift and Kathryn took a deep breath, snuggling into the warm body beside her. The scent was comfortingly familiar and she felt safe and loved, something she hadn’t felt in a long time. Sliding back into the dreamless depths again something tickled at the edges of her sleep-sodden mind and she dragged her consciousness towards the surface again. Her brow furrowed and her eyes reluctantly flickered open. She took a moment to recall where she was and why, then feeling the unfamiliar weight of an arm draped around her shoulder and the slow rise and fall of a chest under her cheek, she wrenched herself away and stared at her first officer.

“What are you doing here?!” Kathryn’s eyes darted to the left and right. She was still in the Jeffrey’s tube but she had no idea how long she’d been there. “What time is it?”

“It’s almost 2100.”

“What?! I’ve been here for hours. Why didn’t you wake me?”

He didn’t answer, merely looked at her with a slightly exasperated expression.

“What the hell will the crew think? I can’t believe you did this.”

“I didn’t do anything, Kathryn.”

“That’s what I mean. You should have woken me.”

“You needed the sleep.”

“That’s not the point.”

“What is the point, Kathryn?”

“The point is, Commander that I am the captain and I have a reputation to maintain. I can’t allow myself to do something like this. What if one of the crew had seen us… me? Damn it, you should have woken me.”

He sighed, which only made her angrier. It seemed he was determined not to see how damaging this could be.

She tried again. “It looks weak and pathetic and I can’t fall prey to my frailties like that, I’m supposed to rise above them.”

“So you admit you have some frailties. That’s a start.”

She bit back icily, “We all have them, Commander. Some more than others. Surely, you don’t think I’m so arrogant to be unaware of my own shortcomings. Let me assure you, I am only too aware and battle them constantly.”

“And what are they, Kathryn – these supposed shortcomings of yours? What are these terrible weaknesses?”

“They’re none of your business, Commander. Now I have to get back to the Bridge. I’ve overdue reports to log. Excuse me.” Kathryn got onto her hands and knees and, turning her back on Chakotay, began the long crawl back to the access hatch.

However, before she could move too far, Chakotay put his hand on her ankle, holding her in place. “They’re done. Tuvok did them this afternoon.”

Resisting the temptation to kick his hand away, she twisted around and glared at him. “How could he have done them, he has no idea what happened with the Devore.”

“He knew enough to extrapolate and you’ll be pleased to know, he thought your logic was impeccable. You manipulated Kashyk like a master.”

“I’ve had plenty of practice, it seems.” Her voice had lost its stringent tone and she looked away, his hand feeling heavy on her lower leg. The swell of self-reproach threatened to overwhelm her again but she didn’t want his sympathy or his platitudes.

“I wish you’d let me help, Kathryn. You played a dangerous game with that bastard; you put yourself at great risk and we can’t afford to lose you.”

She huffed at that and spoke before thinking. “Well, you’d better get used to the idea because at the rate I’m going I won’t last the distance. I’ll wear out long before we reach home.”

Chakotay let go of her ankle, but darted forward and grabbed her arm, pulling her around so she was facing him. “Don’t speak like that. Don’t you ever speak like that!”

“Why not? It’s true. I’m not indestructible, no matter what you think.” She angrily shrugged off his hand. “You wanted to know what my frailties are; well they’re the same as everyone else’s. Believe it or not, I’m only Human; although foolishly even I had forgotten that fact.” Her eyes glinted bright with anger. “I’m tired, I’m homesick and I’m lonely; I’m weary of the battles and the losses and I’m scared.” She stared at his rather astonished face and, sitting back on her haunches, she faced him, crossing her arms defensively. “Are you satisfied now? Have I dispelled all the misconceptions and myths? Am I toppled from that impossibly pristine pedestal? I’m weak and flawed; probably more so than anyone else on this vessel. What the hell I’m doing as captain is anyone’s guess. But since I am, if you’ll excuse me Commander, I have to get back to my duties.” With that, she pushed past him and began crawling back through the tubes.

“I don’t think you’re indestructible, far from it but it’s because of those flaws and frailties that you’re the best captain we could ever hope for. You know that don’t you?” His voice carried up the narrow crawl way and Kathryn stopped as he elaborated. “Those and the other strengths that you consider faults – your compassion, your determination and your spirit; your fierce loyalty and love for your crew. We wouldn’t have come this far without you and we can’t lose you. I won’t let that happen.”

“No matter what you may think, that is out of your hands, Commander. We have no idea what lies ahead.”

“Exactly.”

She turned around and looked back towards him. “What do you mean, ‘exactly’?”

“I mean that because we have no idea what the future holds, there’s no time to waste. We’ve squandered enough over the years and it’s time for the truth between us. At the moment things have deteriorated far beyond what is healthy for either of us, not to mention the crew.”

Kathryn frowned and looked wary. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Of course you do.” He crawled up the passage towards her. “This is something we should have discussed years ago but we’ve only ever skirted the edges of it.”

“We did discuss it, several months ago. Right after the encounter with Species 8472 and the Starfleet simulation. You decided to move-on, remember?”

He frowned. “I had every intention of moving-on but couldn’t. I tried but my heart wasn’t in it. Then I thought if I left you to your own devices you’d realise how much we need each other and not only as captain and first officer. But you’re so damned stubborn.”

Her hackles rose. “I’m stubborn? You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m not the one who, after years by my side, disappeared into the land of ‘moving-on’. You assumed, Chakotay, you didn’t ask.”

He snapped back at her. “And if I had asked, would you’ve told me how you felt? You had ample opportunity, but you baulked, Kathryn, just like you’ve done every time we’ve come to this juncture in our relationship. You can’t blame me for giving up.”

Kathryn’s head shot up, her heart breaking anew at his confirmation. Her voice was steady but emotionless; the fight going out of her with his last words. “No, I can’t blame you. You’re right. It’s my fault and I apologise. If you’ll excuse me, Commander.”

“Now where are you going? We haven’t finished this, Kathryn.”

Sitting ramrod straight, she kept her back to him, not able to look at his face. “I think we have, Commander. You gave up and I understand why. Please allow me some small measure of dignity and let me leave.”

He reached for her but she turned, eluding his grasp; her pain and regret etched so clearly on her face that Chakotay reeled back, his outstretched hand dropping to his side.

Her voice was resigned. “Please, Chakotay. Just let me go.” Without another word, she turned and began to crawl away.

So immersed in her internal battle to suppress her tears and the sobs that were clawing their way up her throat, she almost didn’t hear him.

“No.” One word, so quietly said but filled with a power of promise.

There was movement behind her and then he was holding her. His arm around her waist, their bodies spooned against one another in the close confines of the Jeffrey’s tube. The hot waft of his breath burned her neck as he spoke. “I’m not letting you go, Kathryn. I let you leave once and it is one of my deepest regrets, so this time you stay.”

“Whether I want to or not.”

“Yes. This time I’m doing what I know is right for us.”

Kathryn shivered as his free hand swept the hair from the nape of her neck and he kissed the spot just below her ear, sending a quiver trickling down her spine.

He whispered in her ear, “I love you and I’m never letting you go.”

Kathryn closed her eyes and with his loving words and touch, the tension began to ebb and she sank back towards him. “You haven’t moved on or given up?”

“No.”

“You had every right to.”

“Perhaps, but I don’t want to. I told you that night that my heart doesn’t know any better. I tried Kathryn but it was no use. I love you and that’s all there is to it. You’re stuck with me, I’m afraid.”

She took a deep breath and rasped. “Good.” Then swinging around, she stared into his eyes, reading the truth there and before she could think too carefully about what she was doing, Kathryn lunged forward and slammed her lips to his. After countless heartbeats they pulled away from one another, breathless and flushed.

He chuckled. “Well, you were never one to beat around the bush.”

She gave him a lopsided grin. “Not as a rule but I obviously do with some things. I’m sorry.”

Chakotay looked confused. “You have nothing to apologise for Kathryn. I shouldn’t have let things go on as long as they did either and I was a damned fool for letting you walk out that door in the first place.”

“I hate to tell you but you’d have had a hard time stopping me once I’d decided to go. But I should have told you years ago how I felt about you. If I’d just looked beyond my complacency to where it might lead, we wouldn’t have finished up in such a mess. I took so much for granted, assuming that you would always be there for me without any sort of commitment or encouragement on my part. It was arrogant and short-sighted of me and we both paid the price; for that I am deeply sorry, more than you’ll ever know.”

“Kathryn,” He shrugged, “we all make mistakes and I’m not blameless in this. I could have pushed the point, made you see if I’d wanted to. I can be quite persuasive when I put my mind to it.” He reached for her face and ran his fingers down her cheek. “Perhaps we had to get to this point before we could move forward. Maybe this is our moment and if we were together before now who knows what may have happened. There is a time and a place for everything and I know deep in my heart that our time is now.”

Kathryn smiled wryly. “That’s a very convenient philosophy and sounds vaguely like it came from a fortune cookie.”

Chuckling, he shrugged and reached for her hand. “Whatever works, besides there is enough guilt going around, neither of us needs anymore.”

Kathryn looked down at their entwined hands. “Good point.” She took a deep breath and raised her eyes to his. “I love you too.”

“I know that and I always thought you did. I was also aware that you were torn. Are you still?”

Frowning, Kathryn looked within herself, searching for the honest answer to that question. After several heartbeats, she looked up and smiled. “No, not anymore. I love you and I need you. For someone who usually looks for the complexity in situations, it’s pretty simple really.”

“We’ll take this slowly. There’s no need to rush anything.”

“You’re right.” Kathryn nodded, knowing that this was the sensible thing to do. To allow their relationship to evolve at its own pace; to nurture the feelings and let them find their place in their hearts. But as hard as she tried to ignore it, there was a gnawing knot of disappointment that wound itself around her middle.

Nothing eluded Chakotay though. “What’s wrong?”

Kathryn shook her head. “Nothing. That is a perfectly reasonable approach. Sensible, mature…”

“But…?”

Her eyes flashed and she began to look away but then her gaze settled on his gently and she smiled. “I need to be near you.”

“How near?”

“As near as I can get without actually becoming part of you.”

His eyes widened. “Oh, that near.”

Kathryn huffed a breath. “It’s too fast isn’t it? I’ll wait…”

“No, no. It’s not too fast; I just didn’t want to rush you.”

“There’s nothing wrong with rushing. I’ve been at a standstill for years, not to mention going backwards over the last few months, I could do with some forward momentum. We can think of it as catching up. If you’re interested?”

Chakotay laughed quietly and shuffled forward until his knees were touching hers. “Oh, I’m definitely interested. Forward momentum is something I’m very happy to accommodate.”

Relieved, Kathryn sat back and leaned against the wall. She reached for Chakotay’s hand and pulled him down to sit beside her. “I’d like to sit here for a minute though before we go back to the real world.”

He squeezed her hand and they both stared at the opposite wall of the tube.

“You know, this section of Jeffrey’s tube – deck fourteen 31alpha, now holds great historical significance.”

Draping his arm around her shoulder he tugged her close. “It certainly does. We should hang a plaque.”

Chuckling, Kathryn rested her head on his shoulder and nodded. “I’ll speak to B’Elanna and see what we can do. Is she okay, by the way? I was a little harsh with her.”

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen her.”

Kathryn raised her eyebrows. “Oh, I thought she’d sent you to find me.”

Chakotay shook his head. “No. I was keeping track of you via your combadge. I was concerned when you left the Bridge so abruptly and then when you didn’t move for more than ten minutes, I came to find you.”

“Always looking out for me. Thank you. And I’m pleased that B’Elanna didn’t say anything.”

“She wouldn’t, but I know she’s sorry for being so angry about Mosset and what happened with Tom. She asked me what she should do.”

“She did apologise but I was less than forgiving. I’ll have to find her and talk to her about it. These haven’t been my finest hours.” She gave him a lopsided smile and a shrug.

“I’m not particularly proud of myself either.”

Kathryn held out her hand. “Let’s shake on it and make a pact that we never do this sort of thing again. Miscommunication is a bitch.”

He laughed and took her hand firmly in his. “Pact.”

Tugging on his hand, she pulled him a little closer and kissed him. “Mmmm, now about this getting nearer business.”

“In the Jeffrey’s tube?! I hope not.”

She looked around the confined space. “I reluctantly agree and, although this particular spot is virtually a sacred site now, the ambience does leave a lot to be desired, not to mention the deck is murder on the knees.” She looked up into Chakotay’s wide-eyed face. “Well it is. Don’t tell me in all your years on Starships, you never…”

He laughed loudly and leaned forward, brushing his lips across hers. “Now this is a Kathryn Janeway I’ve never heard about and here I was thinking that I knew everything about you.”

“What? Surprised? As hard as it is to believe, I was once an excitable ensign and lustful lieutenant. I have no doubt that you were too.”

“I had my moments.”

Kathryn grinned broadly and laid her hand on his cheek. “I just bet you did and although the thought is very tempting,” Her eyes lit with delight, “I have to be a cautious captain these days so I suggest we take this back to my quarters.”

“An excellent idea, otherwise it’s highly likely we would finish up with a crippled commander. I’m not as young as I used to be.”

“I don’t believe you. We’ll never get old.”

As he unfurled his legs awkwardly and made exaggerated old-man noises getting onto his hands and knees, he turned to her. “Speak for yourself.” And in a plaintive voice added, “Promise you’ll be gentle with me.”

Shaking her head, she gave him a shove on the bottom to get him moving. “I’m not promising anything.”

“Now I’m worried.”

Kathryn laughed as they made their way to the nearest hatch. “You should be.”

It was good to be with him again. The simple truth was she’d missed him and their easy camaraderie. First and foremost they were best friends and even though they’d decided to take this giant and somewhat daunting step to becoming lovers, knowing that he would be by her side, her partner in all aspects of her life, was immensely gratifying to Kathryn. She had at last found a measure of peace within the ever-changing parameters of their topsy-turvy Delta Quadrant life.

In the end there was no need for worry. They tumbled into bed moments after they stepped through the door of her quarters and made love until the early hours of the morning. Chakotay was gentle and attentive, loving and passionate. He took his time exploring and learning the secrets of her body – which touches made her cry with delight and moan with desire. The exquisite feelings and intense build up shook Kathryn to her core and she broke down and cried after her first orgasm, the intensity of the experience almost too much to grasp. She clung to him for several minutes as all the suppressed emotions, despair and relief flooded to the surface with her juddering and clenching release.

Chakotay stroked her hair and kissed her softly until she quieted, then as if possessed; she took control and drove him to an equally powerful climax that left him gasping and barely able to move. Their releases were emotional as well as physical, a healthy and rejuvenating catharsis after the turmoil of the previous months. They talked between bouts of lovemaking. Surrounded by the silver washed night, they whispered secrets, wishes and quiet words of love and longing to one another. By morning, they’d slept for only a few hours but had assuaged their guilt over four years of missteps and misunderstandings.

Kathryn pinned Chakotay’s rank bar to the collar of his tee, taking her time to slide her fingers seductively under the material and toy with the sensitive skin beneath his jaw. As she lightly bit his earlobe and kissed his neck, he rolled his eyes. “You know I’m never going to be able to put that on again without thinking of you.”

She grinned. “That’s kind of the idea.”

He stuck his hand out, palm up, and quirked his brow. “What’s good for the gander…”

She dropped her pips in his hand one at a time. “Here you go, goose.”

Closing his fist around them and wearing a wicked grin, he stepped close to her and ran his lips and tongue along the edge of her tee. Kathryn’s head dropped back at the sensuous touch and sighed as he slipped his fingers inside the collar, attaching the each pip with the greatest of care. After each one he leaned forward and kissed her and Kathryn shivered, his lips lingering a little longer with every pip. After the fourth pip, Chakotay wrapped his arms around her and kissed her deeply, his tongue sweeping through her mouth and his hands stroking down her body.

He kissed his way from her lips to her neck again and mumbled into her hair as his hands travelled up and down her body. “Feeling you through your uniform is one of the sexiest things I’ve ever experienced.”

“My uniform is sexy? I think I remember telling you that you needed to get out more.”

“My plan from now on is to stay in as often as we can.”

“That plan has merit too but for now, we have to get to the Bridge. I don’t want to have to report myself to me for being late.”

“The paperwork would be hell and poor Tuvok would have a logic blow-out.”

Kathryn laughed. “You’re probably right. Come on, we’ve got time to grab a coffee from the mess hall on the way.”

They strolled out of her quarters arm in arm.

The corridors were busy as the Alpha shift made their way to their duty stations and the Gamma shift headed home to sleep. Kathryn and Chakotay met a number of crew as they walked towards the mess hall. There were initial looks of surprise at seeing their captain and commander walking arm in arm and obviously together, but they soon gave way to smiles and a few brave souls even risked a quiet ‘congratulations’ as they passed by. Although Kathryn had tried to convince herself that she didn’t care what anyone thought, to see that they had the support and well wishes of their crew was a huge relief.

In the short time between Kathryn and Chakotay picking up their cups of coffee in the mess hall and then exiting the turbo lift on the Bridge, the news had already made it to deck one. Kathryn was convinced that if they could harness the power of scuttlebutt, warp-drive would be obsolete.

Tuvok nodded to them both as they passed the tactical station; his own taciturn gesture of approval. Harry was beaming, looking from one to the other and when Kathryn caught his gaze, he blushed bright red but his smile didn’t waver. Tom spun around from the helm and grinned at both of them but a beep from his console made him swing back around before he could say anything.

Kathryn waited for him to report the communication but he was silent.

“Ensign?”

Tom turned back slowly and tried hide his discomfort. Kathryn leaned forward in her chair waiting.

Tom shrugged. “That was just B’Elanna.”

“And…?”

He seemed very reluctant but Kathryn was enjoying tormenting him.

She could see him cringe, as she raised her eyebrows in question and had to hide a smile as he ground out, “B’Elanna wanted to know if we could get first dibs on Chakotay’s quarters.”

Kathryn kept a straight face and her eyes glued to her helm officer until he began to squirm. When he looked like he about to make a run for it, she shrugged and replied casually. “Tell her we’ll think about it.” Then, without another word, she turned to her central work station and logged in to check the Gamma shift reports.

There was dead silence on the Bridge except for the occasional beep from the consoles but glancing at Chakotay, Kathryn’s face slowly broke into a smile. She could feel the tension around her ease and heard small chuckles and stifled laughter from several stations. Raising her eyes, she met the rather flummoxed face of her helm officer. Tom’s startled look slowly softened into a broad smile and he nodded. “I’ll let her know, Captain. Thank you and… congratulations.”

“Thank you, Tom and everyone.” She addressed the Bridge staff. “Chakotay and I are very happy but it’s another day at the office and there’s work to be done. Commander, report.”

With one last smile, Tom turned back to his console. Chakotay began the report and Kathryn settled back in her seat to listen to his mellow voice as he ran through the department logs. For this moment in time, all was right in their small world and, breathing a contented sigh, she looked towards the viewscreen, to the stars and the way ahead.

Fin

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