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Written in the Blood

Chapter Text

Rain battered the cockpit of the runabout, lashing the hull and running in rivulets down the portholes. Val Jean sat steady in the face of the storm, even as the wind howled around her and lightning struck trees in the nearby forest. But the sturdy ship had been through a dozen firefights in the past month alone that the storm outside couldn’t even begin to compare to. This could almost be called a pleasant day for them.

The door behind Chakotay slid open, and B’Elanna Torres stuck her head into the cockpit.

“Anything?” she asked.

“You’d be the first to know,” Chakotay said. “The storm’s causing too much interference. Even if they did follow us all the way out to this planet, there’s no way they’d be able to find us in this.”

B’Elanna sat next to him in the co-pilot’s seat and mimicked his slouch, propping her feet on the console in front of them next to his. She didn’t look entirely convinced, but she said nothing to contradict his assessment. Skeptical though she might be, at least she did trust him.

“Reading?” she asked, sounding amused as she looked over at the PADD he had propped on his knee. “Haven’t you committed your entire library to memory at this point?”

Chakotay snorted. Though this was a Federation ship, they’d had to cut off all ties to Starfleet when they commandeered it, including severing the link to Starfleet databases that all ships possessed. It was the link that allowed every ship to access the databases whenever someone on board so desired, and it also sent automated news reports out to every ship. The databases on board Val Jean hadn’t been updated in years, because they simply couldn’t risk it.

B’Elanna snatched the PADD off his knee before he had time to consider that she might do this, and he sighed inwardly as she scanned its contents. He watched her expression change from teasing to concerned to irritated.

“Thought you’d have given this up by now,” she said finally, pushing the PADD back into his hands. “Doesn’t seem to be getting you anywhere.”

“I’m just curious, is all,” Chakotay said. “That’s it.”

B’Elanna snorted. “Right. You meet one man for all of a couple of hours two months ago, and since then you’ve done nothing but devour everything the databases have on him. Repeatedly. That goes far beyond curiosity, Chakotay.”

Chakotay looked down at the PADD, at the words he’d read so many times that they might as well be imprinted on the insides of his eyelids. Lore was only one of two sentient androids in the galaxy, and yet his file in the Federation databases was as sparse as any Chakotay had ever come across. For all his crimes and notoriety, there was still so little that was known about him.

“You’d better hope and pray to whatever gods you believe in that he never comes across us again,” B’Elanna said, pushing herself to her feet and making to leave for her engine room once again. “Next time, he might not leave any of us alive.”

Chakotay sighed, because it wasn't as though he had no sense of self-preservation. He knew well enough what the odds of their survival were should Lore come across them again. But somehow, he didn’t think that was likely. The rogue android, from what Chakotay could tell, never did anything that didn’t somehow end up benefiting him. Massacring twenty-five humans? That would only raise more questions and put authorities hot on his trail, even if his victims were Maquis.

Besides, it didn’t seem to be Lore’s style at all. Massacres were something he left to others, like the Crystalline Entity. He preferred to engineer everything from behind the scenes. A number of single killings throughout the Federation had been attributed to the elusive android in the years since his reactivation, and those all had a distinctive flavor to them as well - Lore always killed from a distance, like with a sniper shot, or his victims died after he was long gone, if he used something slow-acting like a poison. It had been speculated that he was a mercenary; a killer for hire; an agent who worked in secret for a number of different governments - imaginations ran wild when it came to him. But there were very few concrete facts.

And there was nothing at all to explain why he had so thoroughly and completely gotten under Chakotay’s skin.

Chakotay had dug up all the information he could find on the android in hopes of figuring this out. But the Starfleet reports were dry and clinical, for the most part. Lore had an activation date of 2335, and a year after that he was deactivated and disassembled, left to rot on the now-barren planet of Omicron Theta. The Enterprise crew came across him there twenty-eight years later, and he had committed enough crimes on that ship alone in the span of two days to land him a long stint in a Federation prison. That list of crimes had been growing ever since.

Data’s reports on Lore were the only ones worth reading, Chakotay felt - the only reports that gave any kind of hint that Lore was a sentient being and not a piece of machinery that had gone haywire. The two androids had only ever met twice in person, but even Chakotay could sense that the meetings had left a lasting impression on the Enterprise’s second officer. For someone who reportedly had no emotions, Data’s reports were nonetheless filled with no small amount of confusion, pain, and even a little bit of betrayal. Chakotay could only imagine what it was like, to find the only other being like you in the galaxy and have him turn out to be - well, Lore. Their last meeting had been a particularly brutal one. Lore had not only stolen the emotion chip that their creator had intended for Data’s use, but he had also then killed the terminally-ill Dr. Soong before fleeing.

Something in Data’s report on that particular incident gave Chakotay pause. It didn’t jive with anything else he had come to know about Lore. The older android had apparently been visibly shaken upon learning that Dr. Soong was so ill, and he had also expressed anger and resentment at the fact that Soong had abandoned him. The entire conflicted conversation was recorded in Data’s report, courtesy of his perfect memory.

You did what you had to do? What kind of answer is that?

Why didn't you just fix me? It was within your power to fix me.

Certain phrases kept jumping out at Chakotay as he read over the conversation once again. The words were full of anger and longing and resentment, all of those emotions twisting inside of Lore until they made him cruel. That, coupled with his ambition and his failure to prove himself to a father who eventually chose to disassemble him rather than try to help…

Soong was right about one thing, Chakotay mused as he set aside the PADD and resolved not to think about it for the rest of the night. Lore did have good reason to be bitter.

----

Life in exile wasn’t exactly what Chakotay expected.

In truth, he wasn’t entirely sure what he had been expecting, as he had never offered it any thought prior to the day he resigned his Starfleet commission. But he had never considered that it would look quite like this.

There were times, usually in the middle of the night, when the world around Chakotay was so still and serene that for a moment he could forget where he was. Sometimes he liked to pretend that the steady breathing of his people as they slept on the floor around him was a steady, salt-laden breeze, and that the star-studded sky that stretched out over their heads--on the good nights, the ones not spent in caves--was the same sky he saw from San Francisco.

What a difference a year made. This time last year winter was fading from the western coast of North America, far sooner than it would from her middle and north. Chakotay had been in the middle of the semester, and the biggest concern on his mind was the trip he was taking his Advanced Tactical Training class on in early March to Mars, in order to try out some of the skills they had been learning. Mars and Luna were the best places to start the advanced cadets, with their low gravity and nearly non-existent atmospheres. Those cadets who passed the rigorous course would be taken to Venus later in the summer, and they would train with a program Chakotay had personally designed himself.

Chakotay never went on that trip, as he resigned from Starfleet just three days before he was supposed to depart with his students. He wondered--for the first time, actually--whether the Academy had managed to find someone to fill his place. Probably, he surmised. He hoped, at least. His students had deserved that much.

He fell in with the Maquis not long after his resignation, intending to concentrate his fight on Dorvan V--for the people he left behind, and for the father he had never had a chance to bid farewell to. But there were other worlds that needed their help, and other people, and Chakotay couldn’t say no to them all. He inherited his current cell after their last leader was killed in a shuttle explosion, and in six months they had managed to become one of the most successful Maquis cells. Dorvan V’s fate was still uncertain, but Chakotay wasn’t about to give up yet.

A year ago, he would have laughed at the absurdity of this. Him, a Starfleet officer who had sworn a solemn oath to the Federation, chucking it all to become an outlaw at best, a terrorist at worst? It was ludicrous.

But then, the thought of a universe where his father didn’t exist was ludicrous, and yet it still happened. It was still fact.

Chakotay was used to the absurdity by now. He was used to the raids and the firefights and the deaths. He was used to sleeping out in the open or in caves, catching his food instead of replicating it, living with twenty-five other fighters and absolutely no privacy between them.

He couldn’t, however, seem to wrap his head around the fact that he had survived an encounter with the Federation’s most notorious mass murderer. They had sparred, and then Lore had blackmailed Chakotay’s cell into helping him repair his ship, knowing that they couldn’t go to the authorities without then blowing their own covers.

And then Lore had gone, as silently as he first appeared, and Chakotay had felt nothing but disconcerted ever since.

----

Chakotay’s Maquis cell tended to spend more time on planets than in space. The borderlands were teeming with vessels, Federation and Cardassian alike, and both were on the lookout for Maquis fighters. Chakotay had quickly learned that they fared better when on the ground. Planets offered them innumerable places to hide, galamite-lined caves being the most optimal, as they could easily hide biological signatures from sensor sweeps.

Val Jean was a bit more difficult to mask, but not impossible. The ship had seen better days, and usually they could pass her off as a rusted shell of a vessel that someone had left rotting in a field. That was not an unusual sight on the outer Federation colonies, after all.

Most of their missions took place planetside as well. They went where the fights were, and had to largely live by their wits. There was very little planning that could be done ahead of time--if they saw an opportunity to undermine the Cardassians, they jumped on it.

Chakotay tried to keep the Federation largely out of the firing range, but the fact of the matter was that Starfleet wasn’t holding back when it came to attacking the Maquis, and therefore he couldn’t really afford to be gentle with them in return. Just this last week his cell had targeted a Starfleet shipyard on one of the border worlds, disabling their sensor nets so that they wouldn’t be able to receive incoming ships, or launch any of their own. That left the Maquis in that region of space free to engage the Cardassians without the fear of Starfleet interfering - at least, for a time.

This time, however, they were locked in a firefight with a troop of Cardassian foot soldiers. The Maquis had the advantage of knowing the terrain; the Cardassians had the advantage of better weapons and more people. Chakotay’s cell kept up a steady barrage from the hills, where they could shelter behind boulders, but they were having to give up ground inch by inch.

And it was too late before Chakotay realized that the Cardassians were doing it on purpose, driving them up higher and higher into the hills. Val Jean was over a kilometer away, hidden, and there was no way they could make a break for her across the open and expansive desert that separated them. They would be picked off like ants by the Cardassians.

“Ideas?” he hissed to B’Elanna as they both ducked behind the same boulder, weapons fire bursting over their heads. B’Elanna shook her head, fighting for breath.

“Not unless you’ve got a daring rescue up your sleeve,” she hissed.

“I thought I left you in charge of those,” Chakotay muttered dryly.

There was a sudden roar from behind them, as though the entire hill formation had decided to shift, and for a moment both sides stopped trading weapons fire. With an airburst that sent gravel sliding down the hill and threatened to rip their weapons from their hands, a ship appeared over the back of the hills and hovered over them.

It was Val Jean.

“What the hell?” B’Elanna hissed. The loading bay door opened.

“Don’t question it, just go,” Chakotay said briskly, as stupefied as she. “I’ll cover you; get everyone back to the ship, now.”

In the end, though, he didn’t even have to do that. Whoever was piloting Val Jean had turned her weapons on the Cardassian soldiers and fired precisely one shot at them. It was powerful enough to rip a hole into the ground, a massive gash that took out ten of the Cardassians in one blow, and the rest of the ground troops hesitated before opening fire again. It was long enough for most of the Maquis to scramble aboard their ship.

He really shouldn’t have been surprised when he burst through the hatch into the ship and found Lore sitting in the cockpit. And he most certainly shouldn’t have felt relieved.

“Hell, am I glad to see you,” Chakotay told him anyway, dropping into his usual chair and taking the controls just as more weapons fire rocked the ship.

“There’s a sentence you’ll never be uttering again,” Lore said. He twisted around in his seat and bellowed, “Close that hatch, now.”

“But Thompson -”

“Leave him!” Chakotay and Lore barked in unison, and B’Elanna hauled Turner away from the open doorway. She managed to close it with Tuvok’s help, and then bolted for the engine room just as a weapons blast caused the ship to jerk once again.

“Get us out of here,” Lore growled to Chakotay, transferring the helm to Chakotay’s station and switching over to engine control.

“With pleasure. Just give me all the engine power we’ve got,” Chakotay said. He dodged another battery of weapons fire from the enemy ship and sped for the upper atmosphere, breaking free of the planet’s gravitational pull and heading for open space in less than ten minutes.

“Cardassian scout ships are not in pursuit,” Lore said, and then he lifted his eyes from his readouts. They glowed topaz in the light from the computer console. “Not bad.”

“I have my moments.” Chakotay turned to look behind him. “Everyone all right back there?”

“The only casualty appears to have been Mr. Thompson,” Tuvok reported from his station.

Chakotay muttered, “Damn,” at the exact same moment that Lore said, Good,” and they stared at one another.

“He was one of our people, for better or worse,” Chakotay reprimanded, frowning at Lore.

“He would have gotten you all killed with his carelessness,” Lore said.

Chakotay decided not to pursue the subject. “Damage?”

“Structural integrity has been weakened by eighteen percent,” Lore reported briskly. “The engines took most of the brunt. You won’t be able to make more than warp eight for days.”

Chakotay bit back a curse.

“Right, give me warp five for as long as you can manage it,” he said, tapping his own controls. “I want to make it the Marinas system within forty-eight hours. They may not be following us now, but they will be after us eventually. Where’s your ship?”

“She’ll find us,” Lore said cryptically. Chakotay suppressed an irritated sigh.

“Fine. How’d you get hold of mine, then?”

“I put a monitoring device on board last time I was here. It allowed me to track your whereabouts. No, don’t bother trying to scan for it, you won’t find it. Neither will anyone else, so stop looking at me like that.”

Chakotay shook his head and tried to concentrate on the readouts in front of him. “What are you even doing here? I thought we’d seen the last of you after we helped repair your ship.”

“Not quite,” was all that Lore would say.

They made it to the Marinas system without further incident, and they set down on the third planet. They ended up in a vast clearing in the middle of a dense forest. When Chakotay popped the hatch and exited the ship, he discovered why Lore had been so willing to accompany them here.

“Nice trick,” he said dryly, sweeping his eyes over Miranda, which was settled on the other side of the clearing. Lore’s ship was Romulan in design - sleek and razor-sharp, much like her owner. Though Chakotay couldn’t say for sure that Lore was her owner, precisely. Most likely, he had appropriated the ship from some poor, unsuspecting soul. “So are you going to tell me how -?”

“No,” Lore said as he brushed past Chakotay. The rest of the crew followed him out of the ship. Most of them fanned out across the clearing, exploring their new surroundings. It was habit, now, whenever they arrived on a new planet. The crew automatically began seeking food, water, and adequate shelter. It was second nature.

A storm blew up within the hour, and it quickly washed away any plans Lore might have had about leaving their group that night.

They took refuge in a series of underground caves that had been discovered not far from the clearing where they had left the ships. Chakotay didn’t like sheltering in the ship when they were on a planet. It felt too much like putting all of his eggs in one basket. Should, Spirits forbid, the ship ever be discovered during the night by the Cardassians or the Federation, at least they wouldn’t be able to capture the crew as well.

The caves served a dual purpose on this night. Not only were they protecting Chakotay’s crew from the possibility of being discovered by the enemy, but they also provided refuge from the violent storm that had kicked up outside.

“Could this damage the ship?” Chakotay asked B’Elanna as they warmed their hands around a fire. B’Elanna looked uneasy.

“Normally, I’d say no. She can handle almost anything, that ship. But I’ve never experienced a storm like this, Chakotay.”

“None of you have,” Lore broke in sharply. He was standing over them, his hands braced on his hips. Even from their spot deep in the cave, they could hear the gale raging outside. “You can thank the weather nets on Earth for that one. There’s not a generation of humanity alive today that’s actually experienced a hurricane, and you no longer build ships or buildings that are capable of withstanding the elements.”

“Well, let’s look at it this way,” Chakotay said. “If we can’t leave the surface of the planet, there’s no way the Cardassians are coming after us until the storm clears. That is, if they’ve managed to figure out where we are in the first place. So, everyone needs to calm down for a bit. Let’s try to get some sleep tonight.”

It was hard to let go of old habits, even when on what they could only gather was an uninhabited planet in the middle of what amounted to a hurricane on Earth. The majority of the cell turned in for the night, making their beds on the cave floor, huddled as close to one another as possible in order to conserve warmth.

Chakotay, however, stayed up in order to take the first patrol shift. It wasn’t necessary, but he couldn’t sleep until he had completed the routine he had become accustomed to. Lore didn’t exactly join him, but he didn’t require sleep and Chakotay noticed that the android had difficulties keeping still for long. He paced, almost as a nervous habit, and eventually Chakotay found himself walking down the same narrow corridor that Lore was traversing as well.

“Rock,” the android said over his shoulder, and Chakotay narrowly missed tripping over a boulder in the middle of the pathway. The passage was too narrow for them to walk side-by-side, and so Lore was a few steps ahead of him.

“Thanks,” he said, wondering if he should feel strange about thanking a mass murderer. Probably, he decided. But that didn’t help.

“Storm’s turned to the southeast,” Lore commented as they moved toward the front of the cave, following a stream of water that would inevitably lead outside.

“You heard that?”

“Of course.”

Chakotay ducked a branch that had been shoved aside by Lore as it swung towards his face. The cave walls were full of branches and trees growing out of them, great gnarly things that had wrapped warped roots around boulders and appeared to thrive on little to no sunlight.

Within twenty minutes, they had reached one of the cave’s myriad entrances. Rain was falling in sheets, and it was so thick that it appeared to be impenetrable. Chakotay couldn’t see more than a foot beyond the mouth of the cave. There was nothing but white spray, and the frequent crash of thunder.

“That’s better than any perimeter,” Lore stated flatly, and Chakotay nodded absently.

“How long do you think it’ll last?”

“Days,” Lore said matter-of-factly. “Five or six, at the least.”

“Five or six -” Chakotay said faintly, trailing off.

“I did a survey of the planet prior to landing Miranda,” Lore said as he started back the way they came. Chakotay followed. “Storms here last an average of ten days. This is a weak one – ”

Spirits.”

“ – and as such, it should last five days at the minimum, eight at the outset.”

The thought of what the hell they were going to do while cooped up in here for five days was the only one on Chakotay’s mind as they made their way back to a small cavern just off the larger one where the rest of Chakotay’s cell was sleeping. It occurred to him that he needed rest, too, as he couldn’t exactly recall the last time he had purposely slept. But then he realized that he would probably be doing very little else besides sleeping and resting for the next five days, and it didn’t seem so pressing.

Lore had fetched a bag of supplies from his ship once they realized that the storm was rolling in too quickly for them to escape. It appeared to be full of weapons, tools, and equipment – probably the most vital parts of Lore’s life, and ones he didn’t want to see damaged or destroyed.

Chakotay perched on a nearby rock while Lore lit a few lanterns and placed them strategically around the small room. He then fished a piece of equipment out of his bag – part of a console, if Chakotay could read the alien markings well enough—and set to work repairing it.

“What language is that?”

“Tamarian.”

Chakotay shrugged. “I don’t know it.”

“You’re fluent in Standard, French, and Arabic. You know a smattering of Klingon and Vulcan. Of course you don’t know this language; you went through Starfleet Academy and came out with the same five languages that everyone who goes through the education track emerges with.”

“I – did you read my service file?”

“It’s in my database.” Lore grabbed a tool out of his bag and opened a small access hatch on the side of the panel.

“Yes, but you actually bothered to commit to memory?”

Lore spared him an exasperated look. “I don’t think you understand how the android brain works.”

He returned to his work, and Chakotay lapsed into silence for a bit.

“Bet you’re regretting rescuing us right about now,” he said after a few moments. Lore didn’t visibly react.

“I wouldn’t have rescued you if it didn’t serve my purposes. You’re more useful to me alive than dead at the moment.”

“Is that your way of saying you’d be sorry if we were all dead?”

Lore didn’t spare him a glance.

“Bring that light over here,” he ordered instead, nodding to the lantern nearest Chakotay. He didn’t move.

“I thought you had superior abilities to us humans.”

Lore shot him a withering glance before turning back to his work.

“Some of my systems have been compromised. I need to conserve power until I get back to my ship. There’s no use in taxing my eyesight when there is artificial light available. Now bring it over here.”

“Why were they compromised?”

Lore fixed him with a grave look.

“Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answers to. Now bring that lantern over here, and save me the trouble of breaking your neck.”

It was an empty threat, Chakotay was sure, but he brought the lantern over anyway.

“Where’ve you been?” he asked finally, quietly. And then: “I wondered what had happened to you.”

Lore considered him for some moments, his face unreadable.

“Why?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Chakotay admitted. And then he rallied slightly. “Thought you might be useful to us.”

“I have no interest in helping you.”

“You did today.”

“Only because it served my purposes.”

“And those are?” Chakotay pressed.

Lore was quiet for several long moments.

“More light,” he said finally, going back to his work, and Chakotay complied.

----

Lore was killed three months later.

The rumor took two weeks to reach the frontier, and it turned Chakotay’s insides to ice. He had to wait to access the official report until they were on a vessel where they could risk getting in contact with the Starfleet databases. He finally got his chance from the computer terminal of a Cardassian freighter they were raiding, and he sent the report to Val Jean. Later that night, when the rest of the cell had either turned in or were up inventorying the spoils from the raid, he pulled out his PADD and read it in the solitude of his tiny cabin.

He knew the story was true only because it was too absurd to invent. Lore’s ambition had driven him to new highs this time, and he had come across a faction of rogue Borg that had been cut off from the Collective. Fashioning himself as their leader, he gave them names and put them to work in his compound. He managed to coerce Data into joining him, and members of the Enterprise crew that went after him soon found themselves victims of a series of strange - and, all right, gruesome - experiments.

The reign of biological lifeforms is coming to an end. Lore’s words, according to Data. An odd thing for him to say. Lore hated humans, but at least he had a twisted sort of reasoning behind that. The first humans he’d ever dared to trust deactivated and disassembled him. But intending to wipe out all biological life forms? What purpose would that serve? And the experiments were a whole new level of strange. Lore wasn’t one who liked getting his hands dirty.

Chakotay was so distracted by the absurdity of the whole thing, he was almost able to completely ignore the hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach that had appeared the moment he realized Lore would never drop in on them again. How strange, to become so attached to a being he had only really ever met twice. At least Chakotay had the self-awareness to admit that most of his fascination with Lore stemmed from what he had read and what he had conjured in his mind. But it was still fascination nonetheless.

And then, three weeks after news of Lore’s death reached the frontier, his ship rendezvoused with Val Jean.

“What do you think?” B’Elanna asked as they observed Miranda from the cockpit of Val Jean. She was undamaged and unmoving. “Some kind of parting gift?”

Chakotay shook his head.

“That’s not his style,” he said. “He helped us once because it served his purpose for whatever reason. He has no reason to be altruistic after his death. Are there any life signs?”

B’Elanna shook her head, but she knew as well as Chakotay did that Lore wouldn’t register on their sensors. But Chakotay was willing to bet that he was the only one of them who felt a warm rush of hope in his chest at the sight of the ship.

“I’m going over there,” he said finally. “Get me an engineering kit. I want to find out what brought her here--and then I’m going to see if I can salvage anything of use.”

B’Elanna, to his great surprise, didn’t protest. She probably felt that if Chakotay died on that ship, then it was his own damn fault and he deserved it.

He couldn’t exactly deny that she had a point.

Miranda was dark, lit only by emergency lights. Chakotay had never been inside the sleek ship before, but if her design made any kind of logical sense, then he was going to find the cockpit at the very front.

And if he had learned anything about Lore, he knew that’s where he would find the android.

Sure enough, Lore was sitting in the pilot’s chair, unmoving, and all Chakotay could see of him when he entered the small room was the back of his dark head.

“Computer, raise lights fifty percent,” Chakotay said, and the cockpit brightened as he stepped up to the helm.

He placed a hand on Lore’s chair and turned it around, his other hand on his phaser in case Lore didn’t react well to the movement. But Lore’s eyes were closed, and Chakotay began to wonder if he had been turned off somehow.

“Lore?” he asked. He pressed a hand to Lore’s shoulder. That finally got Lore’s attention, and his eyelids flew open. Chakotay took a step back in astonishment, but Lore made no further movement. “What the hell happened to you?”

“Phaser,” Lore said slowly, and his words were sluggish. He sounded inebriated, which Chakotay knew was impossible. He pulled out a tricorder and began scanning the android. “Data shot me.”

“Yes, so I read,” Chakotay said. “You were dead, too, I thought.”

“Not quite.” Lore paused for a moment, as though gathering energy to continue. “Escaped.”

Chakotay frowned at the readouts he was getting from his tricorder.

“Your energy reserves are dangerously low,” he said. “And you suffered some brain trauma. It’s affecting your motor skills. Look, we need to get you back to my ship. B’Elanna might be able to help -”

“No,” Lore said sharply. “Only you.”

His voice modulator had suffered some damage, too, Chakotay was noticing. His tone was about half an octave lower than was normal for him, and his words had taken on a tinny quality.

“I can’t.”

“I’ll talk you through it.”

“I can’t. I’m not an engineer, Lore! I’m not about to perform brain surgery on you because you’re too damn stubborn to allow anyone else to see you like this,” Chakotay snapped. “Now, I’m going to call Val Jean, whether you like it or not. B’Elanna’s going to come over here, fix your brain, and then you’re going to tell me just what the hell you were doing with the Borg.”

Lore gazed at him, unblinking, and Chakotay wouldn’t allow himself to look away from the unnerving eyes.

“I could kill you,” he said quietly. “Right now. Or later. I could shoot you. Snap your neck. Blow up your ship.”

“Yes,” Chakotay said, “you could. Do you expect me to cower? You aren’t nearly as frightening as you think you are, android.”

He was, though, Chakotay reflected as he hoisted Lore out of his chair and maneuvered him into one of the back rooms on the ship. He was precisely that frightening, perhaps even more so. Chakotay knew very well that he should be afraid.

But Chakotay had long ago concluded that there was something wrong with himself, because try as he might, he couldn’t bring himself to be truly terrified. He was either a fool or mad or both, and he didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on it because he had twenty-five lives riding on his back and entire colonies to save.

Besides, he reflected later, one probably had to be a little mad and a little foolish to join the Maquis.

B’Elanna spent six hours working on Lore. Chakotay spent most of that time at her side, handing her equipment as she requested it or holding back a piece of Lore’s skin so that she could access the circuitry underneath. Eventually, though, B’Elanna grew tired of his nervous hovering and decided that the extra pair of hands wasn’t worth it. She banned him from the lab until she finished her work, and he waited in the cockpit until she finally emerged, sweaty and irritable.

“Don’t ever ask me to do anything like that again,” she snapped at Chakotay.

“What the hell is your problem?” he lashed out, more out of surprise than anger.

“He’s a murderer, Chakotay!”

Chakotay stared at her for a long moment. “So are we, B’Elanna.”

“Not like he is. We have a cause. He has – a twisted and disgusting sense of fun. And you want to know what I think?”

“What?”

“I think you have a thing for lost causes,” B’Elanna said sharply. “I think you can’t help but let them into our cell and into your bed. First Seska, now this.”

“I’m not sleeping with Seska,” Chakotay protested. “And anyway, we’re terrorists, B’Elanna. We’re not in a position where we can afford to be choosy about who joins us. Everyone here has a use.”

“Really? What skills does Seska have, then?” B’Elanna demanded. “Aside from potentially being a good fuck, that is. So don’t even get me started on this android of yours, who is nothing but a drain on our resources. And now he might have led the Borg to us, on top of everything else!”

“Is he alright?” Chakotay asked finally, when she had finished.

“He’ll survive,” B’Elanna said grudgingly. “He’s awake again.”

“Can he talk?”

B’Elanna glowered.

“Unfortunately,” she said. She then pressed something into his palm. “You can talk to him. Maybe you’ll want to ask him about that while you’re at it.”

Chakotay turned the small chip over in his hand. “What is it?”

“The emotion chip he stole from Commander Data,” B’Elanna said. And then, at his surprised look, she added, “You’re not the only one who read those reports. I don’t know why he thought it would be a good idea to install it, but I can tell you that it probably made him a bit mad. Well, more insane than he is on a regular basis. Good thing it got irreparably damaged when he was shot, because otherwise he might have moved on from rogue Borg to actual Borg. Anyway, he’s all yours. And if he needs anything else, don’t bother asking me. I’ve got real problems to fix.”

She disappeared down the corridor, heading back towards the cockpit and the transporter. Chakotay stepped into the tiny lab.

Lore was lying on a metal slab that was propped up at an angle. He was held in place by a thick strap around his waist and another around his ankles, but his arms were free, and he had his hands folded on his stomach. His eyes were closed, and for one nonsensical moment, Chakotay thought he might be asleep.

But then Lore cracked open his eyes and peered at him.

“Stop gawking,” he said waspishly.

“You look a mess,” Chakotay said bluntly, and it was true. B’Elanna had removed Lore’s shirt in order to complete the repairs and had not bothered to put it back on him. The lines of incision she had needed to make in his skin in order to peel it back and get at the machinery underneath were still visible, and had not been sealed. The left side of his skull was also exposed, and cables ran from it to a nearby computer console. “Prognosis?”

“I’ll live.” Lore closed his eyes again. “Try not to look so disappointed.”

“Disappointed? Hardly. You’ve proved that you can be useful to us. I intend to keep you around for a while yet.” Chakotay finally approached the table. He crossed his arms and stared hard at the prostrate android. “Lore. The Borg.”

Lore looked at him again, his expression exasperated.

“What about them?” he growled.

“I’ve read Starfleet’s report. I know what happened.”

“You know what Starfleet knows happened,” Lore corrected. Chakotay shrugged.

“I don’t much care for the details. The Borg were involved, yes? That’s all I need to know.” He leaned close in what he hoped was at least a slightly-menacing manner. “Now you tell me this: would they have followed you here?”

Lore actually gave a weak, disbelieving laugh.

“What?”

Chakotay refused to have his fears dismissed so quickly.

“Did you lead them here?” he repeated. “Would they have followed you?”

“For fuck’s sake. No. You obviously need to check your reading comprehension skills. They were rogue Bog. They had been cut off from the Collective.”

“Are you sure?” Chakotay pressed angrily. “Are you absolutely sure? Spirits, Lore, what if you’ve led them here?”

“I haven’t.” Lore’s eyelids fell closed again, and Chakotay could see from the monitors hooked up to his brain that his energy reserves had taken a hit in the past few minutes.

“Lore –”

Lore’s eyes snapped open, and he leveled a weak glare at Chakotay. “Do you really think that I would be idiotic enough to lead the Borg to my –”

He cut himself off and shook his head, closing his eyes again. “The Borg I encountered were dysfunctional and ill. They’re Starfleet’s problem now. They won’t be coming here.”

Chakotay touched Lore’s hand. He turned it over so that he could place the emotion chip in his palm.

“B’Elanna dug that out of your head,” Chakotay said flatly. “You already have emotions, so I don’t see why you would feel the need to install that in your head. What does it do for you? Were you trying to get a high?”

Lore curled his fist around the chip, but didn’t look at it.

“That’s no concern of yours,” he said.

“Well, it’s been damaged, so you won’t be using it any longer,” Chakotay told him. “Now, we’re going to be heading to the Centor system. We’ll tow your ship along with us until you’re well enough to fly on your own.”

Lore, to his surprise, didn’t object. “I have another job in three weeks. I’ll be staying with you until then.”

Chakotay raised an eyebrow at him, though something loosened in his chest. Three weeks. That was the longest stretch Lore had stayed with them yet.

“Fine,” he said. “Just don’t get yourself killed on my watch, alright?”

Lore snorted and waved him away.

----

Despite his curiosity, Chakotay didn’t broach the subject of Data again until some time later.

Lore spent three weeks with them, as he said he would. For the most part, he kept to himself. Miranda flew alongside Val Jean, and the two ships would land next to each other whenever Chakotay decided to take his cell planetside, but Lore very rarely joined them in camp and only was seen when they all went on a mission together. The first couple of weeks, he was snappish and irritable whenever Chakotay saw him, and once he got so fed up with one of the younger members of Chakotay’s cell that he put his fist through a bulkhead. Chakotay didn’t need to consult B’Elanna to guess what was going on - Lore seemed to be going through withdrawal, or whatever counted as the android equivalent.

When the worst of the symptoms subsided, Lore became a quiet, brooding presence. He still had no care for biological life forms, but he wasn’t as quick to lash out anymore. He simply avoided them when he could help it.

Lore departed for his job after precisely three weeks. Chakotay had thought nothing of it back when Lore first told him about the job, but then when the android was actually gone, he found that Lore’s absence was palpable.

It was a jarring realization, too, when Lore returned to them as they set up camp on a remote desert planet two weeks later and Chakotay found that he was relieved.

“You managed not to get yourself killed, then,” he said as Lore disembarked his ship.

“Obviously,” Lore said dryly. He was carrying a small sack, which he tossed at Chakotay.

“Fruit?” Chakotay asked as he opened the sack and peered into it.

“I came across it,” Lore said.

There was enough in there to sustain his people for at least two meals. Chakotay frowned, wondering what it was Lore wanted. But then again, he didn’t need to bribe them with anything. They couldn’t afford to turn any of his requests down.

“Are you staying?” Chakotay asked as they strode back to camp.

“I’ll need to remain here for three days. Long enough to let the trail go cold.”

Chakotay nodded, unsure why that lifted his spirits slightly. He shouldn’t be looking forward to having a deranged android amongst his people. Then again, perhaps deranged wasn’t the correct word. Maybe removing the rogue emotion chip had resolved some of those issues.

“Who did you go after this time?” Chakotay asked. “Was it Enterprise again? Your brother?”

“It’s no concern of yours.”

“It is if you’ve led the flagship of the Federation to our front door.”

Lore’s face remained expressionless. “I have no use for them any longer. And he’s not my brother.”

They walked along in silence for a moment.

“Do you want B’Elanna to have a look at you?” Chakotay asked.

“Why would I have need for that?”

“To make sure that you’re still recovering from your, er, ordeal.”

“The emotion chip was the issue, she was correct. Since it’s been removed, I have suffered no further degradation of my systems. Or my mental state.” Lore fixed him with a cold look. “I assume that’s what you were so concerned about.”

Lore joined them for the evening meal - or, rather, he perched on a rock somewhat apart from the group and watched Chakotay’s cell as they went about their business. And then later, as Chakotay’s people were putting out the fires and cleaning up their food, careful to not leave a trace of habitation behind, Chakotay started to put up the perimeter and Lore joined him. Lore helped him activate each of the more than two dozen devices that had been embedded in the cave walls to protect them while they slept that night.

“You know, last time I checked,” Chakotay said finally, breaking what felt to him like an unpleasant silence, “you still had a brother.”

“You humans and your need to assign familial relations where there technically are none,” Lore muttered.

“That’s not an answer, that’s deflecting.”

“No,” Lore said finally. “Your information is faulty. I don’t have a living brother.”

“Data’s not your brother?”

Lore’s jaw clenched.

“He is a usurper,” he said finally. “I knew a fellow android by that name, yes. And at that time, I might have even permitted myself to think of him - to think of him as a brother, yes. We existed on Omicron Theta together for a time.”

“And?”

“And when the colony came under threat, his memory was wiped and replaced with the colonists’ logs. The Data I knew ceased to exist that day. He died. The one who took his place shares his name and body only. They are not the same.”

Lore delivered all this information flatly, without inflection, but his words were also quick, as though he didn’t want to dwell on them for too long. Chakotay swallowed.

“I’m sorry,” he said finally. “I didn’t know.”

Lore stared at him for a long moment, his face unreadable.

“The perimeter has been set,” he said finally. “The cave is secure, at least for the night. Get back to your people, Chakotay.”

“Where will you be staying?”

“My ship.”

“I lost my father, too, you know,” Chakotay said suddenly to Lore’s retreating back. Lore paused, but didn’t turn around.

“I killed my father,” Lore said finally.

“So did I.”

“Don’t bother trying to compare the two instances,” Lore snapped, turning to face him. “You did not personally cause your father mortal injuries. I did.”

“I know,” Chakotay said. “I’ve read the report.”

“The report,” Lore repeated flatly, narrowing his eyes at Chakotay.

“Yes. Commander Data filed it not long after his return to the Enterprise,” Chakotay said. “He mentioned that you were the one who caused Dr. Soong’s injuries. And that you had initially exhibited great surprise and sadness when he revealed his diagnosis to the two of you.”

Lore stared at him for a long moment.

“Data doesn’t leave anything out, does he?” he sneered. “Fine. What is your point?”

“Just - we’re not so different. I’m in this fight because of my father, and so are you.”

“What fight?” Lore was sounding more and more exasperated. “I have no stake in the Maquis fight.”

“No, but you are fighting. You against the rest of the universe sometimes, I feel like,” Chakotay said. “And it’s all because of him. Maybe you’re trying to prove him wrong. Or prove him right, I don’t know. But whatever it is, it stems from him.”

Lore stared at him impassively for several seconds.

“And why would you ever want to compare our two situations?” he asked finally. “Why would you ever want to say that we are the same?”

“Something I’ve noticed,” Chakotay said. “You never refer to yourself, to your parts, as artificial. Even in Dr. Soong’s notebooks, he never once referred to what he was doing as artificial intelligence. And you know something? I think he’s the only person who ever did that. And no matter how much you hated him and what he did to you, you can’t forget that. He didn’t see you as artificial, he saw you as real. And you know something? You are real.”

Chakotay was halfway down the corridor when Lore finally spoke.

“How did he die?”

Chakotay paused. He didn’t turn around. “A Cardassian. He shot my father in the chest; burned a hole right through him. Gul Merak. I check the casualty reports from Cardassia every chance we get, to see if he’s dead.”

He turned to look at Lore. “I don’t care if I die in this fight. But I hope I live long enough to see that name on the list of the dead. That’s all I want.”

“Even more than getting your planet back?” Lore asked.

“There’s no comparison,” Chakotay said. “Yes.”

He left Lore standing there at the mouth of the cave and returned to his people.

----

Something Chakotay would never have guessed from reading the reports about the android was that Lore was very careful to hold himself in check. He didn’t abhor violence, of course, but he also didn’t do anything that didn’t serve another purpose. He wasn’t a mindless killing machine who murdered biological life forms because he could - that would have been a waste of energy and resources. And he never attacked a member of Chakotay’s cell. In fact, he seemed to help them out as often as they did him, though it took Chakotay a while to realize that.

Lore still showed up when they least expected it, dropping out of the sky - sometimes quite literally - because he needed repairs or vital intel or both. But somehow he seemed to always repay the favor in some way, whether it was by bringing them fresh fruit or medical supplies or a couple of extra phasers. He never made a big show out of any of this, either. The items would just show up in Chakotay’s cabin, and he would distribute them as needed, and without any explanation - not even to B’Elanna, who he considered his closest friend and confidant in the cell.

The one time Lore did lash out, though, Chakotay couldn’t remember what he had been about to do. Maybe he had been sidling past Lore in the confined space; perhaps he had stumbled and had thrown out a hand for purchase. Whatever the case, the only thing he did know was that he had for some reason placed a hand on Lore’s back.

It was like touching fire.

The reaction was so swift and violent that Chakotay didn’t fully realize what had happened until pain exploded across the back of his head and the copper tang of blood filled his mouth. He threw up his hands to shield his face, the movement as reflexive as it was useless, for he knew that one blow from Lore could cave his face in whether his hands were in the way or not.

Suddenly, the grip on his throat disappeared, and Chakotay sagged, no longer being held pinned to the rock wall. He’d have fallen if not for the powerful hands that gripped his upper arms, and he was carefully lowered into a sitting position on the floor.

“Shit,” was all he heard Lore say, but his vision had blurred from the collision with the rock and he couldn’t make out much more than a shadowy figure in front of him. Lore withdrew for a moment--or an hour, Chakotay couldn’t tell--before materializing at his side again. The whir of an instrument told him that Lore had returned with a regen unit, and after several seconds of it being held to the back of his head, the agony subsided to a dull roar.

Chakotay turned his head to the side and spat a mouthful of blood onto the ground.

“What,” he managed finally, “the hell was that?”

“Look up,” Lore ordered instead, and Spirits only knew why Chakotay complied, but he did, turning his face to the ceiling of the cave and allowing Lore to run the repair unit over his bruised throat.

“Thanks,” Chakotay muttered, sarcastic and sincere all at once. Lore had never before raised an unprovoked hand to him - and yet, he had also never made a move to aid Chakotay with his injuries before, either.

“I don’t like it when people touch my back,” Lore said, and it took Chakotay’s addled brain a moment to figure out what question he was answering.

“I wasn’t going to do anything.”

“I know that now,” Lore said irritably. “Still, you must refrain from doing it again.”

He brushed his knuckles against Chakotay’s chin as he finished healing the bruises on his neck, almost tenderly, and for once Chakotay couldn’t think of a thing to say.

----

Chakotay marked two years with the Maquis in the only fitting way that he could imagine - while under fire from two Cardassian ships.

Val Jean was taking the whipping of her life right now. Small fires had broken out all over the ship, the hull was fractured in at least two dozen places, and Chakotay knew that the warp core was only minutes from overloading.

“B’Elanna, I need you to get on that!” he barked just as another volley of weapons fire rocked the ship. He was jerked around in his seat so violently that he hit his head on a nearby wall, and he cursed under his breath.

“I’m trying!” she snapped back at him. “But I’ve lost most of my people back here!”

“Take the controls,” Chakotay barked at Baytart. The younger man slid over as Chakotay left his seat and bolted from the cockpit.

The acrid scent of smoke and burned flesh caused his insides to roil, but Chakotay didn’t have time to dwell too closely on it. He ran through the small ship to the cramped engine room at the back. There were no evacuation pods on a runabout, even one that had been gutted and outfitted with their own equipment. There just wasn’t room for them. If the warp core was about to destabilize, then they were all going with it.

B’Elanna glanced up when he ran into the room, her face covered in soot and grime.

“I need you at computer terminal two,” she said breathlessly, not even bothering to question what he was doing here. Engineering wasn’t his specialty, but they all had to chip in and help each other out. It was the only way they were ever going to survive.

With B’Elanna’s coaching, they were able to get the warp core stabilized. Then they needed to shake the Cardassians on their tail. They were able to finally manage it, but not without losing two more people. With the deaths of most of B’Elanna’s engine room crew, that brought the total dead to eight. It was one of the worst losses Chakotay had suffered since taking over this cell.

He was in the engine room, coordinating the repairs and carefully helping with removing the bodies, when alarms started to go off. B’Elanna leaped over a console and ran to a computer terminal on the other side of the room to see what was going on. Chakotay made to follow her, but she threw out a hand to stop him.

“No, don’t -”

The rest of her words were drowned out in a roar, and a blinding flash of white stole consciousness from Chakotay.

 

He woke to searing pain and the smell of burning flesh. He tried to move and found he couldn’t; there was a heavy weight of some kind holding him down.

“Stay still, Chief,” B’Elanna’s voice said to him. He words wavered. Dimly, he thought that he couldn’t remember the last time she had ever sounded scared. Was she ever frightened? “There was an explosion. You hurt your leg. They’re trying to fix it now.”

He tried to lift his head to look, but someone laid a hand on his forehead and held him firmly down.

“Best not, sir,” Ayala said gravely.

“Breathe,” someone else told him - he was having difficulty distinguishing the voices, and his vision was too blurry to make out the faces leaning over him. But slowly, awareness was returning to him. They were working on his leg, and he could still feel the wound throbbing, which meant that they were doing field surgery - without anesthetic -

Chakotay let out a cry and convulsed as a sudden wave of pain shot through him. The hands scrambled to hold him still.

“More vikim extract, now,” someone said, and the brim of a cup was lifted to his lips. Chakotay drank deeply, trying not to choke on the thick liquid, and soon spiraled into unconsciousness once again.

When Chakotay came to again, it was in his own cabin on Val Jean. He could almost pretend to himself that it was all a vivid dream, except that he ached from head to toe and couldn’t feel his legs. He was lying on his right side, and he tentatively moved the toes of his right leg - the uninjured one. He could feel them brush the sheets. Then he carefully flexed his fingers. They also responded. He knew that his left leg had been the one injured in the blast, and so he didn’t try to move it. It was absurd, but he didn’t want it confirmed for him that he had lost the limb, and he couldn’t bring himself to look, either. There was no one else in the room with him and the comm button was on the opposite wall. If he wanted to know the true extent of the damage, he needed to sit up and survey it for himself.

Instead, Chakotay closed his eyes and fell into a restless sleep.

He didn’t know how long he was unconscious, for there was no way to tell time in the void and his internal chronometer had long ago proved unreliable. He could have slept for a few minutes, or perhaps a few hours. He still felt exhausted either way, and every one of his joints ached.

But Chakotay could sense this time that there was someone else in the room with him, and this was confirmed for him when there was a rustle of clothing behind him and Lore stepped around the bed.

“What -” Chakotay rasped. It was all he could managed.

“I heard about the incident,” Lore said.

“How?”

Lore shook his head.

“So why did you come?”

“I heard about the incident,” Lore repeated, fixing Chakotay with a look that told him he should understand the underlying meaning. But Chakotay was too foggy for that, and he simply shook his head slowly. “Can you move?”

“No,” Chakotay said, perhaps a bit too quickly, but Lore didn’t press him. He moved back to the other side of the bed, out of Chakotay’s line of sight.

“That Klingon woman has put me in charge of changing your dressing,” Lore said.

“B’Elanna ordering you around,” Chakotay muttered. “I’d have liked to see that.”

Lore said nothing to that. Chakotay glanced briefly over his shoulder. He saw that Lore had commandeered his desk, where he had bandages laid out on the smooth surface and a bowl filled with a mixture Chakotay couldn’t identify.

“Smells awful,” Chakotay croaked as he returned to his former position.

“Its purpose is to cleanse the wound, not to be appealing to your nose.”

Chakotay was starting to lose feeling in his arm, but he didn’t dare shift. He tried to remain as still as possible, even as his limbs protested his position.

“Lore.”

“What?” He sounded distracted.

Chakotay wet dry lips, and asked in a voice that cracked, “Did I lose the leg?”

He heard Lore’s movements still. Then, the chair behind him creaked as Lore leaned over and laid a hand on Chakotay’s left leg, just below his knee.

With that touch, all sensation came flooding back. Chakotay stifled a gasp as feeling returned to the leg in a rush. He could feel the searing burn of the wound. Lore’s touch was like a balm, and Chakotay brought his fist to his mouth to stifle his whimper. After a moment, Lore withdrew his hand and returned to his task.

The wound was soon bound and dressed again. Chakotay had managed without painkillers simply because they didn’t have any, and when it was over, Lore perched on the mattress and drew a small vial out of his black jacket.

“Aldebaran whiskey,” he said as he unscrewed the bottle and handed it to Chakotay.

Chakotay took a long swallow of the fiery liquid and then tried to hand the bottle back to him. Lore shook his head.

“I have no practical use for it,” he pointed out. “Finish it.”

And Chakotay did. It didn’t do much to numb the pain, but it did help him detach himself slightly from the situation. Now it felt as though he was experiencing someone else’s pain, and the fact that it wasn’t so present allowed him to relax slightly.

“I need you to know something,” Lore said. He shifted slightly on the mattress, so that he was mostly facing away from Chakotay. “Touch my back.”

“What?”

Lore gestured at the small of his back. “Go on.”

Chakotay reached out a tentative hand and pressed it against the small of Lore’s back, right along his spine.

Under the jacket. Place your hand just above the final lumbar vertebra,” Lore said in exasperation. Chakotay swallowed, and then he slipped his hand under Lore’s jacket so that it was pressed against the black shirt underneath. Just a thin piece of fabric separating his hand from the android’s warm skin.

He felt real.

“I am real,” Lore said quietly, and Chakotay started.

“Spirits,” he muttered, mostly in embarrassment. He hadn’t meant to voice that thought out loud, and blamed the whiskey. “Right, what am I looking for?”

“There’s a flap about a centimeter below your index finger. It’s little more than a slit in the skin. Feel it?”

It took Chakotay a moment to locate the flap.

“Yeah, I’ve got it,” he said, brushing his thumb over the interruption in the skin. “What of it?”

“If you hook your fingers underneath the flap--no, damn it, don’t do it now--you’ll feel an indentation. And if you press two fingers into that... you’ve found my off switch.”

Chakotay drew his hand back.

“I’m sorry, your what?”

Lore looked over his shoulder at him.

“You didn’t think Noonien Soong would design a machine that was superior to humans in every way without giving it an off switch, did you?” he asked blandly.

The sentence struck Chakotay cold--first because Lore referred to himself as a machine, and then because he said it. But the double protest died on his tongue, and instead he said, “Why show me this?”

“There’s a possibility that you might need to make use of the information at some point in the future.”

Chakotay narrowed his eyes.

“Are you planning on going on a massacre?” he asked carefully. Lore’s expression remained impassive.

“If I am, I wouldn’t tell you about it, and I would expect you not to interfere,” he said firmly. “You may only use this knowledge if there is another incident where I might… strike you.”

Chakotay recalled the incident in the cave a few weeks back - so vividly that he expected his throat to hurt when he swallowed. Now it made sense why Lore had reacted the way he did when Chakotay accidentally touched his back, and he felt instantly guilty.

“You didn’t have to show me…” he trailed off. And then he said quietly, “No one should have an off switch.”

Lore stared at him for a moment.

“You’re the only person I’ve met who has ever expressed such a sentiment,” he said, almost in wonder. “How strange.”

“Well, I appreciate the information,” Chakotay said awkwardly. “And I won’t tell anyone else. It’ll just be between us.”

“Yes, it will,” Lore said in a voice that was laced with danger. Chakotay shivered despite himself.

“So, where are you off to now?” Chakotay asked. He was quickly growing tired and knew that sleep wasn’t going to be long off, but he didn’t want the conversation to end. Not just yet.

“I can’t tell you that.”

“When will you be back?” Chakotay tried. And then, realizing that perhaps that was assuming too much: “Will you be back?”

“Perhaps,” Lore said. He fetched a pillow from the other end of the bed and carefully maneuvered it between Chakotay’s legs, to better support his injured one.

Things got a bit hazy after that, as both the alcohol and lingering pain made quick work of Chakotay. But even then he was almost certain that Lore stayed in his cabin, watching him carefully, until he fell asleep.

----

Chakotay knew he was going to regret bringing Tom Paris into his cell from nearly the moment he laid eyes on the kid in a tiny bar on the third moon of Lasin II. But Baytart insisted that Paris was the best pilot he’d seen in a long time, and Chakotay was inclined to agree.

He knew he was going to regret making an offer to Paris, mostly because the kid was a mercenary and sold out his skills to the highest bidder so that he could pay his bar tabs, which Chakotay didn’t like one bit. But there was also the small issue of the fact that he and Paris, when it was all said and done, couldn’t keep their hands off one another.

Chakotay had known Tom only six hours before he first struck the kid.

They had been acquainted for just twelve when Chakotay first took him to bed.

He told himself it had been so that he could wipe that smug smile off Tom’s face for a while, and this was mostly true. Tom did come apart beautifully and completely under Chakotay’s hands, and it was a relief to have him open his mouth and a moan escape instead of a biting remark.

It became apparent over the course of the following weeks that Tom needed it as much as Chakotay did. Tom had a mind that wouldn’t shut off, and it wasn’t uncommon for him to roll off of Chakotay in the middle of things and start rambling about engines or flight trajectories or atmospheric anomalies. He lived and breathed flight, and he treated the ship as though she was an extension of himself. He only truly came alive when he was at the helm, and every moment not spent flying was spent thinking about flight, or the ship’s design, or any number of other minute details.

Tom had a brain that wouldn’t stop running, and he wanted to lose himself in Chakotay the way he lost himself in the drink. He wanted to quiet his restless mind, if only for a while. Tom was only truly subdued when under the control of Chakotay’s deft fingers and tongue.

And Chakotay - well, he just wanted to sleep. He wanted to close his eyes and not see his people being blown to pieces. He wanted to stop dreaming about his own limbs - his leg - being severed from his body. He wanted an oblivion where he didn’t have to think about the home he had lost; about the father who had died before they could reconcile.

Quarters were tight on Val Jean and privacy was scarce. Most of the crew shared rooms, which had two or even three bunks built into them. A handful of the longest-serving cell members had rooms of their own, Chakotay included. But the walls between rooms were so thin anyway that he might as well have been living with the others for all the privacy he got. As a result, his turbulent affair with Tom was a well-known secret, though it was more due to the fact that Tom rarely spent a night in his own bunk than to the muffled sounds that came from Chakotay’s room.

Under different circumstances, Chakotay mused, he might have come to tolerate Tom. In another time, on another planet, their infatuation might have grown into a deep affection. Hell, they might have even been able to make it work. There certainly wasn’t a lack of attraction between them. But outside of the bedroom, away from the crush of night, Chakotay wanted nothing more than to smack the perpetual smug look from Tom’s features. He wanted to scream at Tom until his voice was raw.

He wanted to make Tom see that there were people out there who didn’t have the luxury of not having a stake in this fight.

----

In the end, all it took was a treaty, and Chakotay’s homeworld was signed away forever.

He’d never gone back to Dorvan V after leaving for the Academy, not even in the wake of his father’s death, but he’d joined this fight because of Kolopak. Because of the colony he had turned his back on as a teenager. He had never gotten the chance to fight for them, though, and now he never would.

As it seemed was so often the case now when it came to his life, the Enterprise was involved. Her crew had discovered and woken Lore, they had turned him on the path that led him to cross Chakotay’s, and now they had been involved in the last attempt to resettle the Dorvan V colonists before the Cardassians took over the planet. It had gone about as well as Chakotay expected - there was some bloodshed, and several generations’ worth of stubbornness that ran through the colonists’ veins. His people, in the end, had elected to stay on the planet and submit themselves to Cardassian rule rather than give up the land that carried the bones of their loved ones, and the sweat and blood of their efforts to cultivate it.

Absurdly, Chakotay kept waiting for something - anything - to happen. Maybe a coded plea from the colonists, telling him that they had come up with a plan and they needed his help. Or he waited for a brilliant idea to strike him in the middle of the night, something that would turn the tide in this fight and help him win back the planet for the Federation.

On his worst nights, he sat at the computer terminal in his cabin and scanned subspace, looking for any encrypted messages that might have come from a stolen Romulan ship with a Shakespearean name. But Miranda hadn’t been heard from in weeks, and even Lore hadn’t made the Federation news reports in some time. Chakotay thought this might be the longest he had gone without hearing from the android, and the thought filled him with dread.

It was difficult to hide these nighttime activities from Tom, who shared his bed more often than not. Sometimes, when Tom was in his cabin, Chakotay would take his restless mind and his PADD down to the makeshift Mess so that he could search in peace. But even that didn’t always go unnoticed.

“What kept you out so late last night?” Tom asked quietly one night as they were sitting in the cockpit. They were both on piloting duty tonight.

Chakotay kept his eyes fixed firmly on the viewscreen and the stars beyond--the same stars he had searched over and over last night, looking for the tell-tale silver streak across the sky that locals would take for a meteor, but which he knew to be a small ship. What could he possibly say to that question? That he was looking for someone who only came to them when he needed something? That he was looking for a man who wasn’t even a man at all, but a machine who had killed hundreds?

How could he admit to any of them that the only solace he had been able to find since the day his father died came at the hands of a madman?

It should have come from Tom. Hell, it should be Tom. Chakotay wished then, as he had never wished before, that they had met just a year earlier.

What a difference a year made.

“Nothing,” he said at last, aware that the silence had stretched on for far too long. “I was just... looking at the stars.”

“You’re always looking, seems like,” Tom said quietly. “What for, exactly?”

Chakotay finally met his gaze. For a moment, they stared at one another, barriers down, eyes clear, and he caught a glimpse of what might have been. He looked away.

“Hell if I know, Tom.”

----

Three weeks later, Chakotay sent Tom out on his first solo mission.

He was to use a Cardassian scout ship they had captured on their last mission off-planet and go behind enemy lines to see if he could chart a nebula on the Cardassian side of the border. Chakotay had a sneaking suspicion that the Cardassians had arms factories on planets hidden in the nebula, and he intended to find their locations--and then decimate them.

Tom was flying the mission because he was the only one of them, Chakotay included, who had experience navigating nebulae, which were difficult at best and tempestuous at worst. And he was flying solo because, if he was captured, they would only be losing one of their number.

“I have to admit, I’m feeling a bit like the sacrificial lamb, here,” Tom muttered good-naturedly to Chakotay on the night before the mission. Things between them had thawed slightly over the past few weeks. Chakotay had never gone so long without hearing from Lore. It had been excruciating at first, and he had--admittedly--largely taken out his frustrations on Tom.

But as the weeks passed and time distanced him from Lore’s intensity, he was beginning to see that Tom was, well, tolerable.

And downright gorgeous, too. Especially at times like this, when he was spread out on Chakotay’s bed, naked, the ends of his hair damp with sweat and his cock heavy in Chakotay’s hand.

“You’re not a sacrifice,” he said, barely restraining an eye roll, and ducked his head for a kiss. “Unless you’re having second thoughts? I can call the whole thing off -”

“Not on your life, old man,” Tom said, his words breathy as Chakotay started to stroke him steadily. “Now shut up and fuck me.”

Chakotay got Tom off twice that night, waiting until the second time around to fuck him properly. Tom had his face mashed against the pillow, the side visible to Chakotay glistening with sweat. His damp blond hair had turned brown with the moisture, and his mouth had fallen open, hitching moans driven past his lips with each of Chakotay’s thrusts. He fisted a hand into the sheets, seeking purchase as Chakotay drove into him, and downright keened when Chakotay twisted his hips and brushed against Tom’s prostate. He grabbed Tom’s wrists in order to steady himself, pinning them to the bed, and it was half a dozen more strokes before he went over the edge, cock pulsing while Tom’s ass tightened around him.

Tom was gasping now, legs quivering, and Chakotay flipped him over and sucked him down before he had truly had a chance to recover from his own climax. It was sloppy, greedy, but Tom had been so close to the edge that it didn’t matter. He came with a yelp that might have been half of Chakotay’s name, back arching off the bed, and Chakotay swallowed him dry.

“Come - get - get up here,” Tom gasped, grabbing for him, fingers finding Chakotay’s hair first before latching onto his arm and pulling him up. He sealed their mouths together, the kiss frantic and messy. They were covered in sweat, which made it difficult to keep hold of one another, and Chakotay slid off Tom and nearly tumbled out of the bed altogether. Tom grabbed him, holding on until Chakotay found his balance again, and they shared an easy laugh.

It was becoming easier to do a lot of things around Tom, now.

The bunk was narrow, not meant for two people, but they made it work anyway. Chakotay grabbed the discarded blanket and Tom shoved a thigh between his legs. They slept facing one another, legs entwined, Tom’s face in Chakotay’s chest and Chakotay’s arm draped over the younger man’s waist.

In the hour before dawn, Chakotay woke to find Tom gazing at him. He gave a quick smile when Chakotay blinked open his eyes, and his mouth was pliable when Chakotay leaned in to kiss him.

But then he drew away and made the mistake of meeting Tom’s eyes again. For a moment--a second so fleeting he might have imagined it--they were filled with such a deep and terrible hope that Chakotay’s insides turned to ice.

He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t be what Tom needed. He couldn’t play this part when all he wanted was another bed, and another person who could take him apart so thoroughly and so efficiently that Chakotay would hardly recognize himself after. He wanted someone who had never touched him, and likely never would.

Chakotay could only pretend for so long that he wasn’t falling apart at the seams--and that Tom wasn’t the one holding him together.

“Come on,” he said gruffly, giving Tom a chaste kiss and then rolling out of bed. “Let’s get you on your way.”

Twelve hours later, word reached them of Tom’s capture. They moved under cover of night and, with the dawn, launched Val Jean in search of friendlier skies.

B’Elanna spent three days ranting around the engine room about Tom’s carelessness. Tuvok suggested that perhaps they needed to have a stricter screening process for future cell members. Ayala and Baytart took out their frustrations in a makeshift boxing match in the Mess.

Chakotay breathed a silent sigh of relief, and went back to searching the stars.

----

B’Elanna berated him for what felt like ages.

“It’s a damn lucky thing that Paris got captured where he did, or he would have blown all our covers and gotten us all killed. Instead, we’re alive and he’s in prison. But it easily could have been much worse, and all because you have a hero complex,” she snarled at him one afternoon. They were on patrol together, which really had been an excuse for B’Elanna to get him away from the others so that she could properly reprimand him. “The next time you bring someone into this cell, think with your head instead of with your cock, and we might actually get out of this alive.”

He took Seska to bed a few days after Tom’s capture, and she filled the empty space in his bed adequately enough. For a while, she was different enough to hold his attention. It had been years since he’d last been with a woman, and Seska was quite unlike anyone he had ever met. She was a sufficient enough distraction, and she kept him from thinking about Tom - and from searching the skies for a ship that wouldn’t be coming.

But soon enough he grew restless, his thoughts keeping him up at night even after a satisfying fuck. One night after they had taken refuge on Falox Prime, Chakotay took the first watch and patrolled the corridors of their cave.

There really was no need for him to do it, as two people were already out and that was more than adequate to watch over what was left of their cell. But he found that he couldn’t sleep, even with Seska’s warm body curled around his own, and had gently extracted himself from her embrace to seek out fresh air - and maybe even some peace.

He didn’t start when a hand landed on his shoulder. He didn’t even reach for his weapon, though he was tempted. If he’d had it in his hand when he turned around, though, he knew he would have used it.

“Where were you?” he snarled instead at Lore, curling his hands into fists. He would have struck the android if he thought it would do him any good, but he had no desire to end up with another concussion.

Lore arched an eyebrow at him. He was dressed this time in an ocean-blue shirt and black trousers and boots, the style of his outfit similar to what civilians wore on Earth. Chakotay wondered what he had been up to in the months since they had last seen one another--and then promptly decided that he didn’t really want to know.

“Needless to say, the Federation hasn’t taken too kindly to my escaping right out from under the Enterprise’s nose,” Lore said dryly. “I’ve been keeping a low profile.”

“On Earth?” Chakotay snapped incredulously. Lore shrugged.

“I hid in the last place they would think to look for me. It was sensible.”

“Coward,” Chakotay spat. “You were hiding? That’s not like you. What’s the matter, you piece of shit? Were you too afraid to face me -”

Lore moved so fast, Chakotay didn’t have a chance to react before he was seized around the neck and slammed into the wall. He coughed and then wheezed, blinking stars from his eyes as pain exploded through his skull.

“You listen to me,” Lore snarled, his voice low and his mouth inches from Chakotay’s. “I am not at your beck and call. I am not yours to command. You serve my purposes for the moment, but that is all. Do I make myself clear?”

“It’s one thing to mistake me for a fool, but don’t try to pretend that I’m an idiot as well,” Chakotay hissed around the hand at his throat, every breath a struggle. “You could have slit our throats the moment your ship was repaired all those months ago. We helped you because we had no choice, but you’ve always had one. Why didn’t you kill us when you had the chance? And why - why do you keep coming back?

He shoved Lore in the chest. It wasn’t enough to move him, not by far, but Lore released him anyway and took a step back. Chakotay stumbled against the wall as the restriction on his airflow was lifted and took a gasping breath.

“Where were you when they handed my planet over to the Cardassians?” he wheezed. “Where were you when they blew up eight of my men? When I almost lost my leg? You’re always there. You always come back, whether we like it or not. So where were you when we actually needed you? Where were you?”

Lore’s eyes narrowed, and he said nothing for several long, painful seconds.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” he asked finally.

Chakotay gave a wild chuckle that skittered up the scale. “Do you ever feel like you’re going mad?”

Lore stared at him, and Chakotay snorted.

“He asks the mass murderer,” Chakotay muttered to himself. “Of course, my mistake. That must be a state of being for you, mustn’t it? That’s your normal. Madness, insanity. I may join you there very quickly. Feel like having company?”

“Chakotay –”

“Shut up!” Chakotay snapped, and Lore actually fell silent. Chakotay shuddered and curled his hand into a fist. Lore never used his first name, not if he could help it, and the sound of it now was disconcerting. “You have no idea what it’s like, no idea what we go through. You come and go as you please. You don’t live in fear of landmines and bombs; you’ve never watched your men be blown apart. You haven’t walked through a ship or back to camp covered in blood that wasn’t yours.”

Chakotay drew a shuddering breath.

“And you don’t know what it’s like to scour the skies every night – every night – looking for the ship you know isn’t coming. You have no idea how it feels to need someone more than they need you. You don’t know what it’s like to have everything you know about yourself turned upside down and inside out in the blink of an eye. I watch the skies every single night, Lore!” Chakotay lowered his voice. “And I know you aren’t coming. But I do it anyway. I live for the days that I see you, did you know that? Spirits only know why, but there you have it. The only thing holding me together is an android with a superiority complex. And I know – and I know that one of these days, perhaps very soon, you’re going to leave, just as you always do. But you won’t come back. And I’ll never know, will I? Each day you’re here could be the last I ever see you, and that kills me.”

And then he struck Lore, landing a blow across his face. Lore’s head snapped to the side, but there was no visible damage. Lore punched him in return, splitting Chakotay’s lip.

For a moment, only silence rang between them.

“Again,” Chakotay hissed, light-headed with adrenaline and pain, the words thick due to his swollen lip.

But Lore actually took a step back, shaking his head.

“No.”

Chakotay lunged for him, knowing that Lore would be too quick. The android side-stepped him and, as Chakotay stumbled past him, slammed a fist into the middle of his back, felling him with one blow. Chakotay’s knees hit the ground first, the resulting crack sending bolts of pain shooting up his legs and causing him to crumple the rest of the way to the ground. Lore was on him in an instant, shoving a knee between Chakotay’s shoulder blades and wrenching his arm around, immobilizing him. It was eerily reminiscent of their very first meeting. They had come to blows then, too, but it had been strangely magnetic. Now, Chakotay was only left with a bitter taste in his mouth and an ache that wouldn’t go away.

“I hit you again,” Lore hissed into Chakotay’s ear, “and I kill you, Chakotay. Do you understand that? One more blow and you’re dead.”

“Then why don’t you do it?” Chakotay snarled. “Get it over with, android. You’ve been threatening it since the beginning. What’s stopping you?”

Lore grabbed him by the wrist, spun him around, and slammed him against the wall. He kept hold of Chakotay’s wrist and twisted his arm halfway up his back. Chakotay reached around with his other arm, trying blindly to grab hold of Lore, as though it would make any difference. Lore closed vise-like fingers around Chakotay’s wrist and slammed his arm against the wall, pinning him there. Chakotay kicked out on instinct, wrapping one leg around Lore’s and wrenching with all his might.

He felt a sharp stab of pain in his knee that faded with a surge of adrenaline as Lore released him and stumbled back a step. Chakotay whirled on him.

“What’s the matter, not as infallible as you thought?” he snarled.

Lore bared his teeth, like an animal cornered. He spat, “I could tear you limb from limb.”

“Then why don’t you try it, android?” Chakotay snapped. He lashed out; Lore caught his fist in one hand and twisted his entire arm so hard Chakotay was amazed his shoulder didn’t pop out of its joint. At the last possible second, Lore released him, and Chakotay stumbled. But he kept his footing and raised his fists - muscle memory, as the familiar rhythms of the fight started to take over.

But it wasn’t a fight, not like the one they’d had the first time they ever met. This was a brawl - bloody and vicious and crude. Distantly, Chakotay knew that there must be something wrong with Lore if his blows could actually affect the android. Lore was quick and agile, but every once in a while Chakotay landed a blow that was true - usually across Lore’s face, sometimes to his neck or chest. It was enough to make him rock back a step, and once Chakotay even managed to break the skin. But Lore was far from infirm, and every time his fists connected with Chakotay’s flesh, he feared a broken bone or worse.

Chakotay tired first, and while that wasn’t surprising, it was frustrating. His irritation turned to anger, which then fueled him another round of blows, until he took a step towards Lore and his legs buckled under him.

He’d have hit his head on a jagged stone, his arms were so sore and useless. But he was stopped a few inches from the cave floor, grabbed by strong arms that then lowered him to the ground.

“I showed you where that off switch was for a reason,” Lore said. He sounded bitter. “You were supposed to use it.”

“Never,” Chakotay gasped as he struggled to get his breathing under control.

The look Lore gave him was unreadable.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” he said, almost to himself. “The emotion chip should have fixed this.”

“What?”

“I wasn’t trying to ‘get a high,’” Lore said, looking almost resentful that Chakotay would think such a thing of him. “I did some calculations. Having Data’s emotion chip installed should have counteracted the effects of my own emotional programming.”

That took Chakotay a moment to process. “You expected it to make you numb. Unaffected.”

“Emotionless,” Lore confirmed. “Instead, it amplified everything I was trying to suppress. I’ve been trying to figure out what went wrong ever since.”

“So you can fix yourself,” Chakotay realized. He was still holding Lore by the upper arms, and he dug his fingers into the android’s flesh. “No. Take that emotion chip and obliterate it. Throw it out an airlock. Just get rid of it.”

Lore’s brows furrowed in confusion.

“There’s nothing about you that needs to be fixed,” Chakotay said softly. “You’re as capable of change of any of us. You’re using it as a crutch, you know. Saying that you have faulty parts and malfunctioning programming. As though you aren’t responsible for anything that you do. Your choices are yours. No one else can choose your way for you, and only you can change it.”

He was sure that he had more to say, that there were so many other things that he could tell Lore, but instead a sharp pain stabbed him in the chest and he groaned.

“I have medical supplies on my ship,” Lore said. “Come with me.”

Chakotay gave a broken laugh that sounded to his ears like it might have been half a sob. “No.”

Lore was still crouched in front of him on the cave floor. “Don’t be stupid. Come.”

He curled a hand around Chakotay’s upper arm. Chakotay shook his head.

“No,” he repeated. He pulled out of Lore’s grasp. Lore let him go. “If I go with you now... I won’t come back.”

Lore was silent for a moment.

“I wouldn’t stop you,” he said quietly.

Chakotay swallowed back a thin sound that was not a whimper and said weakly, “That’s why I have to. Stop myself, I mean.”

Lore rose. He offered a hand down to Chakotay, who took it before being pulled to his feet.

“I can’t send you back to your cell looking like that. The Klingon woman will finish the job for me and murder you for getting yourself into this mess,” he said. He steered Chakotay over to a relatively flat rock and had him sit down. “Wait here. I’ll be back.”

Chakotay choked on a bitter laugh as Lore walked away. How he’d longed to hear those words, wished for them every time he knew Lore was about to leave his cell again. And now that they’d been given to him - given freely, in fact - it wasn’t at all what he’d been hoping for.

----

While raiding a Cardassian colony some weeks later, Chakotay suffered an injury to his left arm that, under normal circumstances, would have necessitated a visit to Starfleet Medical in order to properly mend it. But these circumstances were far from normal, far from ideal, and so he’d had to make do with liquor and a surgeon from another Maquis cell - a very young surgeon who’d spent only a small amount of time in the field prior to joining the Maquis. The job got done, though there wasn’t enough alcohol in the galaxy to completely numb the pain, and Chakotay screamed himself hoarse. He also woke the next morning with a massive hangover, and simply wished for death.

It was a wish that went ungranted. The first day after was the worst, and his waking and sleeping moments were equally full of pain. The second day was better - he could eat and drink, at least, without his stomach emptying itself afterwards. By the fourth day, he was up and moving around again, though gingerly, and his left arm remained in its makeshift sling. B’Elanna said that he should be able to take the sling off in another two days. He hoped she was right. He couldn’t afford to be out of commission for much longer. They had a mission to carry out, one that might finally turn the tides in their favor.

Even Chakotay could admit that this particular mission was equal parts stupid and clever. They were going to be taking on the flagship of the Cardassian fleet, one captained by a Gul Evek. Tuvok was certain that he had worked out weakness in the Cardassian vessels that no one else in the Federation knew to exploit, and Chakotay knew the value of taking out a prominent vessel and politician. It would strike a mortal blow to the heart of Cardassian society, which was almost as good as a military victory.

Though if any of them came out of it alive, it would be a fucking miracle.

Lore stopped by their temporary camp on Tiana Prime. He must have slipped by those keeping watch, for Chakotay didn’t have any warning that he was there until he looked up from his desk and saw the android lurking in the shadows on the other side of the room.

Spirits,” he cursed as his heart stumbled in his chest. He passed his free hand over his face and added, “What are you doing here?”

“I came to deliver this.” Lore stepped out of the shadows. He pulled a coin purse out of his pocket and tossed it on Chakotay’s desk. “Spoils from a raid.”

Chakotay knew better than to ask what Lore had been raiding, or who, or why. He worked the bag open and dumped its contents on his desk. They were coins of gold and silver - Cardassian currency, he could tell from the markings, but valuable nonetheless. Those metals were universally coveted by the quadrant. And this much money would keep his people fed for weeks.

“How -” But when Chakotay lifted his head, he saw that Lore was gone, and the question died in his throat. He sighed and shook his head. What had he been expecting, anyway? Sympathy for his injury? A gentle word or two? Lore didn’t do words, and he certainly didn’t do kind gestures. This was about as close as he could get to affection.

Chakotay looked down at the small pile of coins again, and he realized that one of them wasn’t a coin at all. It was a medallion, and when he picked it up to examine it more closely, he noticed that something had dried between the grooves of the engraving on it. Something that, in the dim light of his cabin, looked an awful lot like blood. He flipped the medallion over, and the family name etched into the other side caused him to drop it in surprise. And horror.

There was hardly a day when he didn’t think about the Cardassian who had been responsible for his father’s death - not the higher-up who had ordered the attack on Dorvan V, no, but rather the one who had personally shot Kolopak with the discharge of a weapon that was so powerful, it burned a hole right through him. Gul Merak, he’d learned later from survivors of the attack on the colony. The name etched into the back of the family medallion he now held in his hand.

Chakotay was trembling, so hard that for a wild instant he thought he might well shake apart. He picked up the medallion and squeezed it in his hand so tightly it left an impression behind on his palm. He was out the door before he’d fully thought about it, brushing past four different members of his cell without even so much as glancing their way.

Lore’s ship was still there, parked next to theirs on the harsh landscape. The outer door wasn’t sealed, and Chakotay pulled it open before hauling himself inside.

“What the hell is this?” he demanded when he found Lore in the cockpit. Lore swiveled around in his chair, glanced at the medallion, and raised an eyebrow at Chakotay.

“I would have thought that would be obvious.”

“Don’t,” Chakotay said. He was still shaking, and his voice was unsteady. “Don’t - just don’t. I need to know. What were you thinking, getting that close to Cardassia Prime? You could’ve been killed.”

“Obviously, that isn’t what happened.”

“Why did you bring me this?” Chakotay asked.

“I’d have brought you his head, but it wouldn’t have kept and I’d rather not have rotting flesh on board my ship,” Lore said. Chakotay felt his knees turn to water and he sagged, leaning against a nearby wall for support.

“He’s dead,” he said faintly. “Merak is dead. He - you did that?”

Lore gave a brisk nod. “I’m afraid it was a swift death, but I really couldn’t afford to be leisurely about it. Time was of the essence.”

Chakotay stared at him uncomprehendingly, trying to force the pieces to fit together in his head. Obviously, Lore would know the significance of Merak, since Chakotay had mentioned it once in passing and androids didn’t forget. But to have actively sought him out - to have murdered him and presented his family medallion to the son of one of his victims -

It was an incredibly intimate thing, Chakotay thought, to avenge another man’s father for him. Especially for Lore, who preferred to kill from a distance or through a proxy. He’d used a knife on Merak, must have gotten close enough for hot blood to spill over his hands, and hadn’t bothered cleaning the blood off the medallion. Chakotay sucked in a shuddering breath as the implication hit him all at once. For Lore, this was the equivalent of shouting his adoration from the mountaintops. Chakotay felt dizzy with it all.

“Can I touch you?” he asked shakily.

Lore actually frowned in confusion. “What?”

“Please, I need - can I touch you?” Chakotay repeated, his voice wavering badly.

Lore looked wary, but after an endless, agonizing moment, he nodded.

Chakotay dropped the medallion, closed the distance between them, and seized a fistful of Lore’s shirt with his right hand. He pushed Lore deeper into his chair and kissed him hard.

He didn’t think it was possible to surprise Lore, truly he didn’t, but in that moment he thought he might have accomplished it. Lore froze, completely immobile under Chakotay’s mouth and hand, as though he had turned to stone. And then, just as Chakotay was about to pull away, he made an odd sound in the back of his throat - was that a growl? - and parted his lips. He kissed back with a ferocity Chakotay wasn’t expecting, clenching Chakotay’s shirt in his hands and dragging him closer, mapping the inside of his mouth with the brutal efficiency of someone who didn’t need to breathe. Chakotay sucked in clumsy breaths through his nose, unwilling to break the kiss. He had almost climbed on top of Lore, his knee jammed onto the seat between Lore’s legs while his injured arm was pressed between their bodies. He had cupped the back of Lore’s head with his right hand and was leaning over him, delving deeper into that sweet mouth. He hadn’t expected Lore’s lips to be so soft, so pliable. He hadn’t expected that mouth to be warm or inviting.

There were a lot of things he hadn’t expected.

He became acutely aware of the fact that Lore’s firm hands on his waist were supporting most of his weight. In fact, when Chakotay finally drew away, his breathing ragged and his limbs shaky, Lore was most of the reason why he stayed upright.

Lore swept a thumb over Chakotay’s saliva-slick lips, the movement jarringly tender, and said, “You asked once why I kept coming back.”

Chakotay curled his fingers into the soft hairs at the base of Lore’s neck. If he didn’t know any better, he’d have said that Lore’s eyelids fluttered in pleasure at the touch.

“I remember,” he said softly, but Lore said nothing more, and it was then that Chakotay realized that the medallion was an answer in and of itself.

I did it for you.

“He couldn’t have been allowed to live,” Lore said firmly. He leaned forward, lips brushing the cusp of Chakotay’s ear, and hissed, “Believe me when I say that I would tear apart the galaxy for you - and that I actually can.”

He caught the skin at the hollow of Chakotay’s throat between his teeth, sucked a mark into the soft flesh, and then stood abruptly. Chakotay toppled into the chair as Lore moved away, chest heaving and heart pounding, his cock straining inappropriately against his trousers. He shouldn’t have found any of that as arousing as he did, and it was several moments before he could get himself under control and force the blood to return to his brain.

When he sought out Lore again, he found that the android hadn’t gone far, merely to Miranda’s small observation deck.

“Your mission is suicide,” Lore said when he heard Chakotay enter the room behind him. His voice was smooth and cool once again. He appeared completely unruffled by their earlier exchange, damn him.

“Drastic measures....” Chakotay trailed off, waving a hand vaguely. “If things get rough, we’ll head into the Badlands. We can ride out the storm there--figuratively and literally, I suppose.”

“If you know what’s good for you, you will abort this mission.”

His voice was rough, and Chakotay couldn’t figure out why that was until the blood returned to his brain and he’d properly parsed the words.

Don’t go.

“We have to do it,” Chakotay said with a firm shake of his head. “If we can turn the tide against the Cardassians -”

“You won’t.”

Lore’s certainty was chilling, but Chakotay held firm.

“We’ll be able to take refuge in the Badlands if things go awry,” he said. “But they won’t.”

Lore’s jaw tightened.

“You have an imposter among your people,” he said in a low voice. “Damn it, Chakotay. I don’t know who, I don’t know how, but there is someone waiting to betray you to Starfleet.”

Ice flooded Chakotay’s veins.

“That’s paranoia talking,” he insisted firmly. “You’ve always had a healthy heaping of that.”

“And I’m still alive,” Lore pointed out. He held Chakotay’s gaze, his eyes unblinking as ever. “I hadn’t intended to mention it until I could track down the double agent and dispose of them, but your recklessness has forced my hand. I can tell you nothing other than the fact that your imposter is most likely reporting to one Captain Janeway, who in a few days will be at the helm of Voyager. They intend to hunt you down.”

“You’re wrong,” Chakotay said, but his mouth was dry and he couldn’t ignore the fact that Lore had never been wrong before.

“You can’t turn the tide in this war,” Lore said firmly. “Not like this. Don’t even try.”

“I have to.”

“For your father?” Chakotay would have needed to be deaf and blind to miss the bitterness behind Lore’s words.

“For myself,” he said quietly. “I need to do this.”

Lore stared at him for a long moment. 

“You fascinate me,” he said at last. “I don’t understand you. Chakotay of Dorvan V. You, the child of a marginalized people living on a tiny colony that the Federation doesn’t care about. You were told that your life was on that planet, but you knew differently, and you took to the stars instead. You were told that your people would have to give up their home, and you left behind all you had aspired to be in an instant so you could fight for them. You are told that this fight is a hopeless one, and you’re certain to die. And instead -” Lore shook his head. “You don’t do anything that you’re supposed to do. You should’ve stayed in Starfleet and let the Maquis have their hopeless fight. You should’ve helped relocate your people, not give them false hope. You should’ve seen me and run in the opposite direction, as fast as you could. You don’t make sense.”

Chakotay was quiet for a long moment.

“I spent the first forty years of my life running in the opposite direction,” he said finally. “I ran from my planet, from my people… from my father. It had to stop somewhere. No more. I’m not a coward.”

“Cowards live longer.”

Chakotay made to turn away. Lore seized him by the elbow on his good arm, turned him around, and sealed their mouths together.

It wasn’t unlike kissing a human, really, Chakotay thought dimly. There was a slight metallic taste to Lore’s mouth, but his lips were unexpectedly gentle, and he was skilled with his tongue. Chakotay wrapped an arm around Lore’s neck, more to keep his balance than anything else - or so he told himself - as Lore drove all sense from his brain. This was different from the kiss in the cockpit, which had been all desperation and no finesse. This one was slow and languid, and held a promise of so much more. Chakotay whimpered and pulled Lore closer, until they were pressed together, shoulders to hips to thighs and not a sliver of space between.

When Lore finally broke the kiss, he put his lips to Chakotay’s ear and said, “You return from this mission with so much as a scratch, and I'll kill you myself.”

He pulled away abruptly and started to walk back toward the cockpit.

“Lore,” Chakotay said when he could find his voice again.

Lore turned. The fading sunlight filtering through the observation deck portholes cast a gentle golden glow across his features, and for a moment his expression was serene – devoid of its usual hostility. Chakotay felt something in his chest tighten, and he almost said something incredibly foolish. Three words Lore might very well kill him over.

Instead, he cleared his throat and said, “Three weeks. We'll rendezvous with you in the Mutara Nebula.”

Lore considered this for a moment.

"Make it two," he said, smirking suddenly as he doubled back and pushed Chakotay against the wall, "and I'll finish what I started."

A final heated kiss, and he was gone.