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All That Steel and Stone

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Encountering the Borg like this has been upsetting for everyone, but Chakotay knows that the Captain is taking it the hardest, despite the brave face she is putting on. It doesn’t matter that is was no way she could have know that the Borg would be there or anything that she could have done to change it; Kathryn Janeway has an iron will and an absolute conviction that they are going to make it home, sooner rather than later. She has taken the setback very personally, and Chakotay can only hope that she will be comforted by the news he has so far on the Northwest Passage, and maybe even by him.

Pressing the buzzer to her ready room, he hates to hear the exhaustion in her voice as she calls, “Yes, come in.”

“We’ve completed the latest sensor sweep. So far, so good. The Northwest Passage is still clear of Borg activity.” He tells her, disappointed when she shows little noticeable relaxation at the news, not even looking up from her screen. He wants to reach for her, to provide the kind of physical comfort she allows from him all too rarely. He understands why, admires it even, but it pains him to hold back this way.

“I’d like to see a tactical update.” She responds, and he wishes that just this once she would let her officers do their jobs without wanting to pitch in. Kathryn is brilliant at pretty much everything, but she can’t do everything all the time. She is drained and needs to recharge, if something goes wrong they will need her at her best. Truthfully though, it just pains him to see her unhappy.

“According to my calculations” He replies, using the neutral language of science she loves so much, “Neither of us has eaten since last night. Join me for dinner?”

He wants to fix it for her. He knew he can’t do that but maybe she will let him care for her, even in a small way. Kathryn is determined to be self reliant, even as she counsels others to rely on her and each other, so he couches it as a mutual need. It isn’t a lie either. He does need to eat and they both need some reassurance.

Unfortunately, she is not to be distracted.

“No thanks.” She answers, “I’m not hungry. And I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

“I see.” He responds as neutrally as he can. It is a not so subtle dismissal, but he longs to point out to her how unreasonable she is being or to persuade her to let him shoulder some part of her burden. He turns to leave. She doesn’t seem interested in having him here to support her as her first officer, friend, or anything else.

“I’ve been looking through the personal log entries of all the Starfleet Captains who encountered the Borg.” She calls when he is almost at the door, exposing her insecurity and inviting him to stay and wrestle with it. “I’ve gone over every engagement, from the moment Q flung the Enterprise into the path of that first Cube to the massacre at Wolf Three Five Nine. Every battle, every skirmish, anything that might give me an insight into the mind of the Collective.”

He watches her with rapt attention, seeing as well as hearing the frustration overtaking her.

“And?” He asks sitting down, letting her vent without censure or admiration. It is safe to talk to me. He replies mentally.

“In the words of Jean-Luc Picard. ‘In their Collective state, the Borg are utterly without mercy, driven by one will alone: the will to conquer. They are beyond redemption, beyond reason.’.” As she reads, Kathryn gets caught up in the narrative, reflecting Picard’s emphasis without thinking about it. What a capable actress his captain could be? How often did she put on a role without him realizing it? Chakotay has to admit that he often feels he’s learned her subtleties, the little tells to how she’s really feeling, but he knows it isn’t necessarily true. Watching her, listening to her, he is utterly enchanted by her performance. “And then there’ Captain Amasov of the Endeavor. “It is my opinion that the Borg are as close to pure evil as any race we’re ever encountered.’.”

Chakotay doesn’t realize his amusement is showing through until she reacts to it.

“What’s so funny?” She demands.

“Nothing.” He tells her. Truly, the situation is far from comedic and it is only his complete and utter ridiculous admiration for everything about this complicated woman who is his captain that is making him react this way.

She’s not buying it, not that he blames her. “You’re smiling.” She insists, “I’ve said something amusing.”

“You sounded just like Amasov.” He tells her, hoping she will understand that it is a compliment.

“What?” She asks again.

“Just not, while you were reading his log. You were using his inflections.” He hopes his besotted heart isn’t showing through too obviously, then hopes again perhaps that it is.

“I did not.” She argues instead, paying more attention to his words than to him.

“Yes you were.” He insists. If there is anything that makes her angrier than being ignored or contradicted, it is when he doesn’t speak his mind or push his opinion, “And before that, you were doing a pretty good Picard.”

She’s not Picard or Amasov, but Chakotay thinks to himself that he’d rather be in this mess with Kathryn Janeway than either of those famous captains. She is going to be more famous than either of them, when we get home. He thinks. Or at least she should be. The chances of them getting home before either of them is old and grey are scarce, but she makes him believe that they will anyway.

“Was I?” She replies, placing her hand on her cheek and he wishes it could be his hand. He’s not going to jeopardize the moment by betting on this being one of those days where that is allowed though. She’s only just started meeting his eyes again, seeming as close to amused as she has since they first spotted the Borg.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed about, echoing the Greats.” He finds himself thinking more and more about what she would do when he has to make a decision without her. Then he adds, “Ensign Hickman in Astrophysics does a passable Janeway.”

He wants her to know that she is every bit the captain those men were, but he knows she’s not big on flattery.

“If we manage to survive the next few days, I am going to have a little chat with Ensign Hickman. Imitating the Captain, huh? Surely that violates some time of Starfleet protocol.”

She’s pleased though and for the moment it is almost like he has managed to lift her spirits. He watches her lean back in her chair, relaxing even as he knows her head is pounding by the way she places her hand on her forehead. It feels so good to laugh together.

Then she stands up, body language and tone changing as the weight of the situation descends once more.

“This day was inevitable.” She reflects, and at first he isn’t sure what she means: Facing the Borg? Being imitated by Ensigns? Then she continues in a direction which shocks him, coming from her, “We all knew it, and we’ve tried to prepare ourselves for the challenge ahead. But at what point is the risk too great? At what point do we come about and retreat to friendly territory? Could the crew accept living out the rest of their lives in the Delta Quadrant?”

She stares out at the stars and then back at him and he longs to close their distance and wrap his arms around her in comfort. He compromises and walks over to face her, unsure of whether she is talking to the man or the first officer.

It is strange to hear her consider giving up the mission from home, even though sometimes he wants her to desperately. As long as they are a Starfleet crew, headed on a mission back to Earth, she will always bear a terrible burden. As long as they are on this mission, she can’t bring herself to cross some boundaries. Part of him wants to go home, but he is afraid of what he will come home to, and the truth is that here on Voyager, he has more of a home than he’s ever had before. They could have a good life, here in the Delta Quadrant, better than a lifetime of running into hostility and disasters and never ever reaching home, better than being assimilated by the Borg.

For a moment he thinks she is thinking that too, that she might rest in his arms and not have to get up this time, but then she adds, “ I keep looking to all these Captains, my comrades in arms. But the truth is. I’m alone.”

She can’t give up her burden. He knows this, even when he dreams of it being otherwise. He wants so much for her to chose this life, with him, rather than driven towards home . However, if she were to give up at the first sign of trouble she would cease to be Kathryn Janeway. Still, it stings to hear her say she is alone. He has come to believe she knows better than that. He wants her to understand, that she does have him to rely on, to confide in. He needs her to know it.

“If that moment comes.” He promises, “We’ll face it together. And we’ll make the right decision. You’re not alone, Kathryn.”

She doesn’t have to be solely responsible. Even if he didn’t care for her the way he does as a woman, he would follow her into the abyss as her first officer, but only if he didn’t see any better option. They will find a better option.

“Three years ago I didn’t even know your name.” She smiles, looking at him with a tenderness that is mixed with something else as her gaze drags across his mouth and then back to his eyes, a vulnerability present she rarely allows to surface, “Today I can’t imagine a day without you.”

It is as close to a declaration as he has ever gotten from her, even on those rare occasions where she lets their bodies do the talking. Her eyes glisten with emotion and he understands that it is a declaration, even if it is not the traditional phrasing. For a moment he is convinced that she will lean into him, that they might lose themselves in one another for a tiny space of time.

Then the page comes from Tuvok, interrupting the moment and she places her hand briefly on his chest instead of her lips on his, before turning away from him to her responsibilities.

By the time they have a chance to speak again, all hell has broken lose. There is no safe passage, only the choice between two species who completely outmatch them.

This time, she gets straight to the point from that start, “That moment we spoke about? It’s here. Any thoughts?”

He wants to embrace her. He wants to tell her that it will be alright. He knows that he can do neither at this moment. She needs her first officer.

“Just one.” He replies, “Flying into that corridor would mean certain death.”

This is one thing that she does rely on him to do: speak his mind. He won’t feed her false hope.

“Agreed. The Northwest Passage is no longer an option.” She concedes, “So now the choice is between facing the Borg in their space or finding ourselves a nice planet here in the Delta Quadrant and giving up on ever finding home.”

He wants to tell her yes, that they should do just that. He wants to tell her they will make a new home, to offer to make good on his former assurances that it wasn’t too late for children if she wanted them. He wants to hold her in his arms and let her mourn. He would make the sacrifice of his own life for hers or the crew’s willingly, but he doesn’t want to throw either away. He can hear that isn’t what she believes, though. He can hear the determination in her voice to make it back to the Alpha Quadrant or die trying.

So instead he provides a different perspective: the one she needs.

“We’d be turning around, but we wouldn’t be giving up.” He assures her, “We may find another way home.”

She doesn’t like his answer and he is pretty sure she sees through his reassurances that it wouldn’t be giving up She knows as well as he does that they are at a cross roads. She turns away from him.

“I’m not ready to walk onto the Bridge and tell the crew we’re quitting. I can’t do that. Not yet. There must be an alternative.”

She feels cornered but she won’t relent, not until she’s turned over every stone.

“Kathryn…” He reminds her, walking up next to her and placing his hand next to hers instead of around her from behind, “You haven’t slept in two days. Try getting some rest and clearing your head. We’re safe, for the moment. We can tell the crew tomorrow, if we have to.”

It is the truth. Even though tomorrow she might decide to plunge ahead, it would only mean that she wasn’t ready to give up on this course anyway, that she was going to regret the choice to stay here. He doesn’t want that. Still, they are both tired more than physically; he hopes that she will want him to stay. They can mourn together and find solace in each other. For a moment he thinks she might ask him to stay, as her head halfway turns to face him. He doesn’t doubt she understands what he is not asking.

“I will see you in the morning.” She tells him instead, looking the other way. He is dismissed. He doesn’t fight it even though his emotions do.

He is disappointed when she doesn’t consult with him before calling the senior officers together, but that disappointment turns to dismay when he hears what she is planning. He usually trusts her instincts but this seems insane.

Would it be that bad, Kathryn? He can’t help thinking bitterly, Would it be so bad to settle for me, for our crew? He knows that isn’t fair but this course of action seems so drastic and the fact that she didn’t clue him in to her plans before announcing it to all the others means she knows he will disagree and she isn’t willing to let him try and talk her out of it before she commits them to this course. That stings.

He doesn’t say any of this outloud. Whatever happens, he wants it understood that he has her back, even when he disagrees with her decisions. He isn’t going to do her the insult of undermining her in front of the others. So he waits until they are all gone, hoping she will be willing to talk to him. He has to try, even if she fights him on it.

As the last of them depart at last, she cocks her head at him. She knows.

“You were awfully quiet.” She comments, giving him his opening.

“I didn’t want the others to hear this, but I think what you are proposing is too great a risk.”

She is the one who brought it up yesterday. Sometimes the risks outweigh the benefits. Kathryn Janeway is capable of a lot of things; She’s tamed him, but even she cannot hope to tame the Borg. He crosses to her, keeping his tone as light as possible.

“How so?” She asks. It gives him hope, that she doesn’t shut him down outright. She is giving him the opportunity to convince her. She is trusting him to speak his mind. He just has to figure out how to do it. As always these days, it seems that he is relying on tribal tales, on the life he didn’t have patience for until it was too late.

“There's a story I heard as a child, a parable, and I never forgot it. A scorpion was walking along the bank of a river, wondering how to get to the other side.” He paces around her, turning away to convey to her that he is speaking as her first officer, not the man enthralled, “Suddenly he saw a fox. He asked the fox to take him on his back across the river. The fox said no, if I do that you'll sting me, and I'll drown. The scorpion assured him, if I did that, we'd both drown. So the fox thought about it and finally agreed. So the scorpion climbed up on his back, and the fox began to swim. But halfway across the river, the scorpion stung him. As the poison filled his veins, the fox turned to the scorpion and said why did you do that? Now you'll drown too. I couldn't help it, said the scorpion. It's my nature.”

He doesn’t need to break it down. It is a common story, not unique to his people and, even if it wasn’t, she’s capable of putting together an allegory.

“ I understand the risk and I'm not proposing that we try to change the nature of the beast, but this is a unique situation.” She counters, not sure whether to turn away of face him as she defends her plan passionately, “To our knowledge, the Borg have never been so threatened they're vulnerable. I think we can take advantage of that.”

“ Even if we do somehow negotiate an exchange, how long will they keep up their end of the bargain?” He argues back, forcing the line of thought to its natural conclusion, “It could take months to cross Borg territory. We'd be facing thousands of systems, millions of vessels.”

Underneath all the stress and desperation there is a glint of excitement, Captain Kathryn Janeway wants to be the Starfleet Captain to have gotten the Borg on the ropes. He sees it suddenly, the other thing that is driving her.

“ But only one Collective, and we've got them over a barrel. We don't need to give them a single bit of information, not until we're safe. We just need the courage to see this through to the end.”

Ordinarily her optimism and refusal to be cowed are things he admires in her, but today her tunnel vision is blinding her. He knows that it is his job to try and pull her out of it, as her first officer, even if he loses whatever it is they have, as a man. He hopes it doesn’t come down to that, but he knows it is what is necessary if push comes to shove. She would tell him the same thing, if she could get free of this moment.

“There are other kinds of courage.” He finds himself close to her once more, his insistence rising to meet hers, “Like the courage to accept that there are some situations beyond your control. Not every problem has an immediate solution.”

He realizes this seems hypocritical coming from him. When his home had been threatened, Chakotay hadn’t accepted it as casualty of forces bigger and stronger than he was. He hadn’t waited to find some diplomatic or peaceful solution. He’d disavowed Starfleet and joined the Maquis to fight tooth and nail for something that was supposedly a lost cause already. On the other hand, if there was anything that fighting the Cardassians with the Maquis had taught him, it was that sometimes you had to pick your battles. Sometimes you have to live to fight another day. Besides, he isn’t the same man anymore as the Maquis Captain who first boarded this ship; he’s changed. She’s changed him.

“ You're suggesting we turn around.” She states in her understatedly blunt way. She is not discussing philosophy; she is talking logistics.

“ Yes. We should get out of harm's way. Let them fight it out. In the meantime, there's still plenty of Delta Quadrant left to explore. We may find another way home.”

It is the tactical decision. They are outgunned. He hopes she can see that. Sometimes you have to let your enemies destroy each other. Sometimes, you have to wait for the right moment to strike. It occurs to him that the scorpion metaphor could be seen as applying to him as well as the Borg. When Kathryn had taken the Maquis into her crew, when she’d made him first officer over Tuvok… she’d chosen to trust them despite all the reasons she had not to. She’d chosen to trust that their survival instinct would be stronger than their treachery. She’d chosen to trust him as her right hand instead of her prisoner. The Borg are not the Maquis. He wanted to tell her. Whatever the Federation likes to claim, we were just people, fighting for our homes. The Borg can’t be compromised with. There is no limit to their hunger. There is no compassion for others. What they admire they simply want to assimilate.

Do you not understand the difference? He wonders. Doesn’t she understand that the last thing he wants is to overcome her, to change her nature, to control. We were freedom fighters! He protests silently.

“Or we may find something else.” She snaps, throwing his logic back in his face, “Six months, a year down the road, after Species 8472 gets through with the Borg, we could find ourselves back in the line of fire, and we'll have missed the window of opportunity that exists right here, right now.”

If she is going to bring up the possible merits of interference versus non-interference in this war between two superpowers, he can do that too. The more he thinks about this plan the angrier he feels. It isn’t just suicide. Her stubbornness could doom countless more species to assimilation.

“How much is our safety worth?” He hopes an appeal to her ethics will succeed where an attempt to get her to be pragmatic has failed.

“What do you mean?” She flares, sensing the shift in his direction.

“We'd be giving an advantage to a race guilty of murdering billions.” He points out, once again trying to get her to see the implications of her decision, past the slim hope of getting home, “We'd be helping the Borg assimilate yet another species just to get ourselves back home. It's wrong!”

“Tell that to Harry Kim. He's barely alive thanks to that species.” She shoots back, tension rising as she moves away from him once more, “Maybe helping to assimilate them isn't such a bad idea. We could be doing the Delta Quadrant a favour.”

She doesn’t sound like herself. She sounds... not even like him. He knows she is better than that. It is that pride talking again, the need to believe that she can accomplish the impossible. She is so fixated on completing her mission that she is willing to throw everything away. It mirrors her refusal to compromise an inch when it comes to what she thinks would get them home, like command structure, like professional boundaries. In moments like this she can be so frustrating, so infuriating. She won’t consider that maybe allowing him a little closer, allowing herself a little more, might be alright. She’ll throw caution to the wind and make deals with the Borg though. If he didn’t know better he’d think she trusted them more than him, her words yesterday hollow as all the lies Seska had told him. He knows it isn’t fair but the frustration is just as real none the same, and now she isn’t even letting him do his actual job. He is going to try anyway, though.

“ I don't think you really believe that. I think you're struggling to justify your plan, because your desire to get this crew home is blinding you to other options.” He can’t help crossing to her, his feelings written all over his face as the mask of professional distance slips, “I know you, Kathryn. Sometimes you don't know when to step back.”

He doesn’t want to attack her. He doesn’t want her to feel stabbed in the back. He just wants her to face the truth.

“ Do you trust me, Chakotay?” She asks so earnestly, and he wants to promise her that he does. He wants to hold her. He wants to show her.

That isn’t what this was though. The question is a trap, a deflection to cheat for agreement.

“That's not the issue.”

“Oh, but it is.” She demands angrily, “Only yesterday you were saying that we'd face this together, that you'd be at my side.”

He can tell he’d upset her, hurt her even. He wants to reassure her, but he knows that if he does that he will be validating all her fears about their personal feelings getting in the way of their functions as officers. She knows it too.

“I still have to tell you what I believe. I'm no good to you if I don't do that.” It is a plea for her to understand, to step back and reconsider.

She isn’t being fair. What she is asking him to do is not to be by her side but to stand behind her.

“I appreciate your insights but the time for debate is over.” her tone shifts, from intimate to official, “I've made my decision. Now, do I have your support?”

She still wants him to agree with her. He can’t no matter how much he wished it.

“ You're the Captain. I'm the First Officer. I'll follow your orders.” He replies coldly, retreating back into that same official distance, “That doesn't change my belief that we're making a fatal mistake.

She needs to understand that he has her back, that he isn’t betraying her. She also needs to know that he isn’t convinced.

“Then I guess I'm alone, after all.” Her response stabs him through the heart. She knows it would. She knows he wants to be with her. She knows he wants her to rely on him. She won’t though, so he can’t. He fights the urge to say hurtful things. He fights the urge to capitulate so that she will let him back in. If he repents now, will she cling to him? If he submits to her willingly, will she open herself in relief. He is saved from the choice by her brisk, “Dismissed.”

That’s not a suggestion. It is an order, and the one thing they have agreed upon is that he will follow those. Besides, a moment more and this argument is about to turn to tears and the last thing he wants to do is to shame either of them with that. She’d never forgive him for it.

It doesn’t make him feel any better. It doesn’t make it any easier when the Borg beam her off the bridge. It doesn’t make it any better when they can’t get a lock on her signal. He isn’t sure if he feels worse that they’ve argued and it might have been his last chance to be honest with her about everything she means to him or that he has failed to dissuade her from this suicide mission and now might lose her because of it.

Come on, Kathryn! Prove me wrong! He begs silently.

He can’t bring himself to hope it is her when they receive the hail. He has never been more relieved to see anyone than her unassimilated face on the viewscreen. Hope spreads through him, mixing with the adrenaline. B’Elanna had better have gotten that transporter working.

“Commander. Cut the transporter beam.”

Another dangerous seeming order rather than an explanation. Chakotay would be angry if he weren’t both overwhelmingly relieved and impossibly confused at the moment.

“Captain?” He asks, not defying but unbelieving.

“Do it.” She confirms, “ I've reached an agreement with the Collective. We're going to help them design a weapon against Species 8472. In exchange, they've granted us safe passage through their space.”

On the one hand, he’s impressed. She’s done something unprecedented. On the other hand… well this is playing out exactly like the parable they discussed earlier and he wants her off that Cube and back home on the ship, where she at least has some chance of survival when they inevitably betray her.

He gets a little more explanation as she explains the Cube’s sudden shift in direction towards the Alpha Quadrant.

“That's part of the plan. We'll work on the weapon en route. Once we're across their territory, we'll give them the nanoprobes. They appear to be holding up their end of the bargain. I suggest we do the same.”

It isn’t the worst plan he’s heard of, but he doesn’t trust the Borg and he doesn’t understand why she isn’t beaming back to Voyager.

He wants to mend fences though, so he just asks the obvious question, “How do you propose we begin this collaboration?”

“I'm going to work here, on the Cube. They have technology that'll make the job go faster. I want to take advantage of it.”

Logical, he supposes, the kind of thing a Vulcan would decide. He’s not a Vulcan though, neither is she, and he’s come to realize that sometimes their reliance on logic can become a huge blind spot. He knows she loves science and exploring new technology, but again the risks seem to outweigh everything.

Damnit! You know hurrying is probably going to decrease our chances of surviving. Once we have finished they will lose their need for us! Come back!

He won’t say that though. They need to seem united, to the crew, and maybe most importantly to the Borg. Still, she needs to know he thinks she should come back.

“ It's not necessary for you to stay there. We can set up a comlink with the Borg and-”

She cuts him off, “It's part of the deal. I work here.”

So she’s a hostage, he realizes. That realization spurs him to think about all of the possible things he might do to turn the tables, to get her back.

“ All right. As long as we're co-operating, maybe the Borg would be willing to disengage their tractor beam. We can match their course without a leash.”

He doesn’t want to make it too obvious that he is pretending to accept the conditions. A little resistance makes the lie more believeable. He will get her back, but it will require the kind of strategy one uses against superior forces. They are not a brute force match for the Borg but maybe he can find a way to work around that. He has to.

“I'll propose it.” She agrees, a peace offering to match his, “Mister Tuvok, transport to my co-ordinates.”

He wants to be the one there with her, the one to watch her back, but he knows it isn’t even worth suggesting. They can’t give the Borg both their captain and their first officer and even if they could, Tuvok is the one with the correct expertise anyway. He has to remind himself that Tuvok will watch Kathryn’s back, he’s loyal to her in his own way.

“We're going to make this work, Commander.” She says, directly to him, telling him she knows all of his fears. It is a small statement, but it gives him hope that she will forgive him for disagreeing, if they survive this, “Janeway out.”

It is hard to watch her image wink out. He wants to tell her to stay with him. He can’t though. All he can do is his job, and hope it is good enough to get them all out of this alive.

“You heard the Captain.” He announces, as much to himself as to the rest of the bridge crew.

At least the EMH has some good news. The nanoprobes work on Harry. You should be here. He can’t help thinking, You should be here for this.

He can’t dwell on that, so instead he says, “Good work. Let me know when he's back on his feet.”

The EMH surprises him though, voicing his own concerns, “Commander. I must tell you, I have my doubts about this alliance. You may have convinced the Borg the nanoprobes can defeat their enemy, but a medical treatment is a long way from a weapon of war.”

Having someone else questions her orders somehow makes Chakotay more insistent that she will succeed, despite the fact that they are concerns he shares. It is one thing for him to worry that she is making the wrong choice. It is another for someone else to do so.

“ Leave that to the Captain.” He reassures the EMH. It is his job to be the leader with her gone. He has to make everyone believe it will work, even if he isn’t so sure himself, “This situation is unpredictable so we're going to stay at full Red Alert. Keep all information about the nanoprobes stored in your holo-matrix.”

He hopes it doesn’t come to that, but if the Borg are going to destroy them he isn’t letting them get anything out of it. He still thinks that giving them this weapon is a mistake.

It turns out that Ensign Kim’s recovery is that last good news he is going to get for a while. Torres is struggling with maintaining a lock on Tuvok and the Captain. The bio-ships attack again and it is devastating.

For a horrible moment he is sure that she’s been destroyed along with the Borg Cube. He’s never been happier to hear Tuvok’s voice than when he reports in, that they are both back on board. It doesn’t last though, when he sees the condition she’s in. He wants to depressurize the Borg. He wants to engage in a crusade against them all, despite the fact that it wasn’t them who attacked the Captain. Instead he remembers that what she wanted was for this alliance to work, and that even if that wasn’t true it is too late to turn back now. All any of them can do is hope for the best. It is something he counseled Kathryn to do just yesterday, but today it is unbearable.

But she wants to speak with him. She’s lying there, so vulnerable, and he’s never wanted more to be able to do more.

“The Doctor explained my condition. You're in command.”

What she means is: Don’t disappoint me. Don’t screw this up.

“ I understand.” He tries to be reassuring without crossing the line over into anything personal. This is a conversation between the Captain and her first officer. He tries to tell himself that the EMH will fix her, and it will be alright. He needs to believe that they will have time for different conversations in the future.

“They'll push you, they'll threaten you, but they need you.” She tells him, and he thinks that maybe is trying to tell him about something beyond the Borg. He wants to believe she needs him, even when they argue. He reaches out for him, gribbing his uniform even though the movement must be painful for her, “They need this alliance. You have to make this work. I want you to make this work. Get this crew home.”

He wants to tell her than it isn’t going to come to that, that she will be back on her feet in no time, that she will be the one to get them home. Instead he resolves to do what she wants instead of what he feels. It is the least he can do. They can’t have gone through all this for nothing.

He tries. He really does. He’s not her though. It doesn’t do any good to pretend otherwise. Kathryn Janeway is a force of nature. He likes to believe he’s a good officer, but he doesn’t know how she does it, how she bends the universe to her will when it seems impossible.

He’s pretty sure the Borg know it too.

So he can’t be her. Time to command in truth. He knows what feels right, just as she does, even if that thing looks different to each of them. He’s gotten so used to deferring to her that he’s forgotten, he’s forgotten that once upon a time he was in command. It is harder than it should be, to shake it off: her yoke.

He goes to sickbay looking for absolution or an alternative. Maybe he just wants to see her. He’s gotten so used to having her to define the parameters. He finds himself talking to her, though he knows logically that she can’t hear him.

“Well, I've made my decision.” He tells her, wishing she could rise up and contradict him.

It is hard for him to remember that there was a time when he would have wanted this command. Now it seems impossible that there was ever such a time. He remembers her words before they began this argument, how she’d told him she couldn’t imagine a day without him. The truth is he knows what she means. She is a part of him now; without her he doesn’t feel whole.

“If it were only a matter of going against the orders of my superior officer.” He tries to explain, “You're more than just my Captain…”

He struggles to find the words to explain. He has to believe that some part of her is aware of him talking to her, even the science backs him up. He doesn’t know what to say though, or how to say it. He doesn’t call her his partner, soulmate, love, or world. In the end he finishes lamely, “You're my friend, and I hope you'll understand.”

He leans down and kisses her forehead, before tearing himself away.

In the end it doesn’t make it any better that the Borg prove him right about their untrustworthiness. The attempted ship takeover, their representative dragging them into fluidic space, the revelation that the Borg started the war… none of that is terribly comforting while still trapped outside their own dimension in hostile space.

When the EMH pages him to sickbay, he fears the worst.

“Captain?” A mixture of relief and trepidation floods his body at the sight of her. Happy as he is that she is back with them, he’s defied her orders and he has no idea how angry she is going to be. It would be one thing if he’d successfully pulled it off, but right now he has have only gotten them into a bigger mess.

The EMH’s pride in his work is understandable, but Chakotay can’t believe his programming isn’t picking up on the overt tension.

“Doctor. if you'll excuse us a moment.”

 

She wants to give him a piece of her mind, but she doesn’t want to do it in front of an audience, even if it is holographic. The parallel reassures Chakotay vaguely, remembering the briefing which now seems so long ago. It gives him hope that she is just angry and not done with him. It gives him hope that there is something left to salvage.

“The Doctor brought me up to speed” She begins once the EMH deactivates, walking towards him purposefully, leaving a control panel between them, “but he couldn't tell me what I really wanted to know. Why?”

Chakotay isn’t prepared for the gentleness of her rebuke. He expected her to tear him a new one. Instead she is asking him to explain. Instead she is showing her belief in the fact that he did have a good reason, that it might not just be a betrayal.

“ The Collective ordered me to reverse course.” His tone is an apology, an apology for failing her not because he thinks he made the wrong choice, “Travel forty light years back the way we came. What would you have done?”

He hopes that she will understand. This Captain of his does not do well with orders from others.

“I probably would've reversed course. Maintained the alliance as long as possible.” She replies. As long as possible. He notes that she is acknowledging that it would have ended sooner or later, even though she still thinks it could have been later.

“In my mind, the alliance was already over.” He clarifies. Being ordered around by the Borg wasn’t an alliance; it was collaborating with tyrants.

“You never trusted me.” And just like that there it is. She believes he’s betrayed her. She doesn’t think he respects her judgement, “You never believed this would work. You were just waiting for an opportunity to circumvent my orders.”

“Trust had nothing to with it.” He tries to get across, “I made a tactical decision.”

“And so did I.”

She couldn’t be clearer: You disobeyed me. Their last argument is rearing its ugly head again, tearing them apart just like the damned Borg had predicted. It is a tidal wabe though, one he cannot stop or change the course of, not matter how much he wants reconciliation.

“They have taking advantage of us from day one.” He demands.

“ We made concessions, so did they.” She insists.

“They lied.” He adds, finally getting to something new, getting technical this time like she had the prior one, “The Borg started the war with Species 8472. We've only got one Borg left to worry about. We should try to disable her and get back to the Delta Quadrant. We might be able to duplicate the deflector protocols they used to open a singularity.”

“ No.” She refuses, “ I won't be caught tinkering with the deflector when those aliens attack. There's no other way out of this, Chakotay. It's too late for opinions, it's too late for discussion. It's time to make the call, and I'm making it. We fight the aliens in full co-operation with the Borg.”

“ I was linked to a Collective once, remember?” Drawing at the last of his resources, Chakotay desperately tries to get her to believe him, “I had a neuro-transceiver embedded in my spine. I know who we're dealing with. We've got to get rid of that last Borg and take our chances alone.”

“ It won't work.” She concludes, shifting her focus suddenly, turning away, “This isn't working, either. There are two wars going on. The one out there, and the one in here, and we're losing both of them.”

Yes. There were. It made his heart lift that she thought this one was important and that she saw a we in them. He didn’t know how to fix it either. They seemed to fundamentally disagree this time. There was no getting around it. He was no help to her this time. She would have been better off with Tuvok at her side and he cared too much to deny her that.

“ It will be your undoing.” He remembers Seven of Nine’s words.

“ What?” She asked him.

“Our conflicted nature. Our individuality.” He’s been dreaming these past three years, thinking they could be a team, thinking he could be what she needed. How could they be on the same page as one another when he couldn’t even solve the conflict in his own spirit? “Seven of Nine said that we lack the cohesion of a Collective mind, that one day it would divide us and destroy us, and here we are, proving her point.”

She surprises him once more, though, when she moves back towards him, “I'll tell you when we lost control of this situation, when we made our mistake. It was the moment we turned away from each other. We don't have to stop being individuals to get through this, we just have to stop fighting each other.”

His heart soars. She’s come back to him. Even after all the conflict they’ve had over the last few days, she believes that she needs him once more. He doesn’t care that they are in the middle of a war zone. He doesn’t care that their chances of survival are still almost non-existent. When they are a team he can believe they will survive anything.

“I never want to fight again.” He confesses, stroking her cheek with his hand.

“Oh, I’m sure we will disagree soon enough.” She smiles.

“Just because we disagree, doesn’t mean you have to be alone.”

“I don’t want to be. I know I can be difficult, Chakotay…”

He kisses her, his free hand clasping around her waist. She melts into him, one hand gripping the back of his head. It is the hardest thing in the vast universe to pry themselves apart and discuss strategy, but they do it because it must be done.

That’s the only way this works: the job has to come first. This isn’t the time.

Even though the plan they come up with is full of obstacles and the last thing he’s ever wanted was to be inside of the Borg consciousness, the rest of the incident doesn't feel nearly as impossible as it has up until this point. They are a team again. It isn’t perfect and they still are stacked up against impossible odds. Worse, neither of them can unlearn what they have seen about one another. He has seen her monomania and she has seen his stubbornness, and they will both have to live with that. It is a whole lot better than the alternative, though.

He finds her in the holodeck, in the Da Vinci program.

“Am I interrupting?” He enquires, understanding that she may have come here for privacy.

“Not at all. Just finishing up my Log.” She indicates.

“The old-fashioned way.” He notes, leaning over to her side and remembering how just the other day she was eager to explore new technology, but here she is in the most antiquated setting she has access to. He worries for her, but knows she is stronger than this. Soon enough she will be pushing the boundaries of scientific discovery once more.

“ I wanted to get as far away from bio-implants and fluidic space, and this feels more human somehow.” She says, as if she was the one who had been linked into the Borg consciousness. He supposes that they all almost were.

“ I hate to spoil the mood, but you might want to look at this Engineering report.” Work is the best cure for trauma. It helped him when he was a Maquis and newly shaken by what had happened to his people, after all, “It'll take at least two weeks to remove the Borg technology from our systems. B'Elanna did note that the power couplings on deck eight work better with the Borg improvements.”

“ Leave them.” She instructs, already sounding more like herself, “How is our passenger?”

“The Doctor says she's stabilising. Her human cells are starting to regenerate.”

“I wonder what's left under all that Borg technology. If she can ever become human again.”
There is a moment where he considers that she might be talking about something other than Seven of Nine. The stresses of command put an enormous amount of pressure on her, as she insists on being the Captain every hour of every day. He thinks he can detect a hint of longing in her voice, to be something else.

“You plan to keep her on board.”

He has his doubts, but he doesn’t state them. This isn’t one of those times where she needs to hear his dissent.

“ We pulled the plug. We're responsible for what happens to her now.”

And there it is, that indomitable spirit he recognizes as she moves away from him to the fire. No one is too lost for Kathryn Janeway. Not even the Borg, not even him.

“She was assimilated at a very young age. The Collective's all she knows.” He points out, “She might not want to stay.”

“I think she might. We have one thing the Borg could never offer. Friendship.”

He’s pretty sure that somehow she heard him through her coma. He’s not sure that she is aware of it, but he wants to make sure she knows… and that she knows he is aware she does. He needs her to know what she means to him, how much he values her trust. How much he wants to be what she needs.

“ I want you to know that disobeying your orders was one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do.”

“ I understand, and I respect the decision you made even though I disagree with it.” She tells him, arms crossed in front of her but facing him. This is the Captain speaking to her first officer, “What's important is that in the end, we got through this together. I don't ever want that to change.”

“ Agreed.” He understates.

Her arms fall to her sides, and just like that it is as if she’s taken back the cruel remarks she’s hurled at him. It is as if she’s drawn him back close to her body and her spirit. He hopes it is because she understands that is what matters to him. He is content to follow her lead, as long as she lets him stay with her wherever it is she goes.

“ Good. Well, I think it's time we get back to our bridge.”

 

“No argument there.” He agrees. Our bridge. Not the bridge. Ours. The last few days it has felt like they were warring over the ship, over one another. It is over now, at least in this moment. She is accepting his help in shouldering the burden. Their ship. Their crew. Their mission.

“Although, I suppose the bridge could wait.” She tilts her head, “I just remembered that I need to stop by my quarters... If you don’t mind escorting me, Commander.”

“After you, Captain.” He can feel the joy spreading across his face as she grins mischievously.