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“The crew’s distraction has reached an untenable level. Over the last 48 hours they’ve spent most of their time and focus staring at one another hoping to get a glimpse of the names which have appeared on each of our wrists, rather than their duties. I’ve been forced to institute a change to uniform standards aboard Voyager for the time being to include gloves obscuring the affected area...”

As the sound of her ready room door chiming interrupted Kathryn, she quickly paused recording of her log.

“Come in,” she called, trying to keep the harried tone out of her voice.

Making no attempt to hide her relief when it was Chakotay who entered, she smiled tiredly and let out a deep sigh.

“I don’t suppose the Doctor has made any progress on figuring out and correcting whatever this business is.”

“I’m sorry to have to report that your suspicions are correct. Additionally, no fewer than three crew members burst into tears in the middle of their shifts in the last hour. I also had to discipline another set of ensigns I caught making out in the turbolift on the way back over here.”

“I’d ask who, but honestly I don’t want to know.”

Kathryn stood and walked over to stare out the window. Without looking, she could sense Chakotay’s movement to follow her, though he stopped about half a meter behind her. His presence was a comforting warmth.

“We’ll get through this, Kathryn. I’m sure the Doc will come of with something soon… probably involving Seven’s nanoprobes.”

She couldn’t help smiling when he added that last bit. It really did seem as though lately all of the Doctor’s solutions involved nanoprobes. Of course, that was why Chakotay had said it; as always, he was trying to lift her spirits.

“I’m surprised he hasn’t started forcing us all to get inoculated with them regularly.” she chuckled softly, turning back around to face him and finding his exactly where she’d known he would be.

She watched him awkwardly tug at the glove of his left hand, just the way he usually tugged at his ear when he was hesitating, and looked down, only to find she was doing the same. Laughter bubbled up from inside of her: this whole situation was absurd.

This situation was absurd and yet… she hadn’t had to look down at her wrist to know what would be written there and she was fairly certain Chakotay didn’t need to take off those gloves for her to know what was inscribed on his. The crew was a wreck, and dealing with them was giving her a headache, but she was finding that, for her personally, the mark on her wrist was turning out to feel strangely comforting.

“Kathryn?” he asked, apparently not sure what to make of her outburst.

“It’s just such a bizarre problem, names randomly appearing on people’s wrists. Still, the distraction to the crew is very real.”

“I did draw up the schedules you asked for, putting shifts down to a skeleton crew to minimize distraction.”

“And?”

“I’m not sure it is a good idea. Won’t more time off just give people more time to think and obsess about the situation?”

“You may be right, but what else can we do, Chakotay? I can’t just do nothing.”

“Do you want me to have the senior staff brainstorm ideas? I know this whole thing must make you uncomfortable.”

“Why?” she asked, catching the hint of bitterness in his voice.

“Maybe because you hate unexplainable phenomena…” he hesitated.

“Or?”

“Perhaps the explanation we got initially makes you uneasy.”

“Soulmates.” she mused, “It sounds an awful lot like fate doesn’t it?”

“I suppose that’s a matter of perspective. Does one consider the force of gravity or the rules of genetics fate, merely because they are incontrovertible?”

He smiled but she knew it was for her benefit not out of enjoyment. He seemed tense, uneasy.

“How do you feel about this whole thing, Chakotay?” she enquired, trying to decipher his mood.

“Are you sure you really want my opinion?”

His eyes darted back to hers, seeking something. Of course. Suddenly she realized what he must be thinking. It should have occurred to her earlier that he would assume she’d resent this. She needed to put him at ease; they had enough to deal with without that.

“Yes.” she told him, decisively pulling first one and then the other glove off, before taking his hand in hers, her palms up and the ink-like marking on her skin clearly visible to him, “I always want your opinion, Chakotay.”

She watched his eyes glue themselves to her wrists, saw them follow the curve of the letters from the gentle bend of the letter c to the flourish of the y. Finally, he pulled his hands back to pull off his own gloves, before entwining his fingers with hers, their names pressing together as their wrists kissed.

“I’ve been worried about your reaction, Kathryn.” he admitted, “I’m surprised that you’d show me.”

“Why?” she asked, “I feel certain you knew what mine said as surely as I knew what yours did.”

She saw a smile flit across his face at the admission and he squeezed her hands lightly.

“I didn’t expect you to be okay with it. You’ve seemed so annoyed about this whole thing, and you’ve always…”

“Avoided the topic,” she filled in, “Look, Chakotay. We don’t really have time to talk about what this does or does not mean right now, but I need you to know that I’m okay with it. I don’t want you worrying about me being upset. Can you do that for me?”

“If you really are,” he paused, “Don’t tell me that just to put my mind at ease.”

“I really am,” she assured him, “And I promise we will talk about it, once we’ve gotten the rest of the crew under control.”

He nodded, releasing her hands and replacing his gloves.

“Well then… What would you like me to do in the meantime, Captain?”

“I like your idea about having the senior officers make suggestions. Have them send them in, though. I don’t want to risk having an in person meeting right now.”

“Any particular reason?”

Chakotay raised his eyebrows in inquiry.

“I guess that means you haven’t seen what Tom Paris’ wrist says yet,” she smirked playfully.

“Are you going to tell me?”

“Not now,” she decided, “But why don’t you come by my quarters for dinner later and we can trade stories.”

“Alright,” he nodded, “At dinner then.”

“I’ll see you then. In the meantime I’m going to go see if I can’t get the Doctor to accomplish something.”

“Don’t be surprised if he spends half the time bemoaning how left out he feels; because, whatever this is isn’t affecting him.” Chakotay warned.

She rolled her eyes at that, “Thanks for the warning.”

“Of course,” he winked, heading towards the door, “I’ll see you tonight.”

Kathryn ran into half a dozen crying or fighting crew members on the way to sickbay and wondered how long this was going to be going on and how long it might take them to adjust if that turned out to be an extended period.

It turned out that Chakotay was right and the Doctor was in a spiral of self pity and she halfheartedly considered whether it would be possible to disable that subroutine without unbalancing the rest of his personality programming.

The rest of the senior staff were not in much better shape. She found B’Elanna running a kickboxing program angrily. Harry had locked himself in his quarters. Tom was nowhere to be found. Even Tuvok seemed subdued.

Kathryn decided to go to astrometrics in hopes of finding Seven in a more rational and scientific state of mind. Unfortunately, instead she found her staring at her own wrist intently.

“It keeps changing.”

“Pardon?” Kathryn asked, walking towards the younger woman.

“The name on my wrist, it keeps changing,” Seven repeated, seemingly perplexed, “Everyone else’s seems to remain fixed.”

“Interesting,” Kathryn mused, “Perhaps if we can figure out what the difference is that might help us identify exactly what’s going on here.”

She reached her hand out and Seven placed her arm across it, allowing Kathryn to examine it more closely. Sure enough, as she watched, the letters written there blurred and shifted.

“Presumably it has something to do with my having been Borg.” Seven pointed out.

“Indeed,” she had to agree, “The question is: what? I think perhaps we should look at the bio scans the Doctor has of you in comparison to some other members of the crew and look at the physiological differences. “

“Your theory is sound,” Seven acknowledged, “I will report to sickbay.”

“Please ask the Doctor to inform me if the two of you discover anything.”

“Yes, Captain.” Seven confirmed.

Kathryn finally located Tom hiding under the Delta Flyer with a bottle of synthohol.

“Thomas Eugene Paris, you get your self pitying behind out from under there or I will call security and have them haul you out,” she threatened, not completely insincerely. Honestly, of all the times for Tom to go into one of his spirals, this was not the best.

“What are you going to do? Put me in the brig?”

Tom sounded like a petulant child and she responded to him accordingly.

“Worse. I’ll have the Doctor give you a hypo that will sober you right up.”

“Captaaain…” Tom whined in the exact tone one might whine ‘mo-om’.

“Now, Tom. I don’t have all day.”

She tapped her foot for emphasis. Finally, Tom emerged, red faced and disheveled.

“What do you want?” he slurred.

“You to stop acting like an overgrown child having a temper tantrum and to do your job. Or is that too much to ask?”

Tom, to his credit, at least had the decency to look embarrassed.

“I’m sorry, this whole soulmate thing… And then… Harry?”

Kathryn sighed, her fondness for Tom overcoming her annoyance.

“Did it ever occur to you that even if this whole thing has some greater significance, it isn’t necessarily sexual or romantic in nature? After all, you and Harry are very close.”

Tom seemed to perk up at her words, like a puppy being reassured after chastisement.

“Go take a shower and sober up, Tom. I wasn’t kidding about needing you on task. I also need you to get the beta shift into working order, half of them are distracted or distraught. If we get into trouble like this, we will be sitting ducks.”

“Yes, Captain.” Tom saluted sloppily and she shook her head before walking away to pull Harry out of his quarters.

It took far longer than she would have liked, but eventually Kathryn managed to get the majority of her officers back to work and was able to head back to her quarters with half an hour left to spare before she was supposed to have dinner with Chakotay.

He arrived, just as she was lighting the candles, and she saw him survey the room and her for signs of her state of mind, saw him note the fact that she wasn’t wearing the gloves, that she’d put on one of his favorite audio recordings.

“So, is this a work dinner or…”

“A little of both perhaps. I need you to fill me in on your last couple of hours, but that’s not why I invited you.”

“I recall you promised me a story about Tom,” he grinned, following her over to the table.

“I did”, she confirmed, “But first tell me you managed to get B’Elanna out of the holodeck.”

“I did,” he flashed her a dimpled smile, as he sat down and removed his own gloves, “And I even did it without bloodshed.”

“Some people might call that a miracle,” she chuckled.

“But surely not the rational scientist, Captain Kathryn Janeway,” he teased.

“No. I’m going to attribute it to your superior tactical approach.”

“So...Tom?”

“He’s got Harry’s name on his wrist,” she couldn’t help stifling a giggle with her hand.

She watched Chakotay struggle with the laughter that was threatening to overtake him.

“Well… that certainly is elucidating. How did you talk him out of the bottle?”

“I pointed out to him that there wasn’t any reason soulmates couldn’t be platonic.”

“Clever…” his smirk twisted sideways, as he slowly pulled back from where he’d been leaning across the table, expression falling, “Is that why you aren’t freaking out then? Are you…”

He trailed off sadly, tugging at her heart with his crestfallen face, despite his effort to be casual about it.

“Oh, Chakotay…” she murmured, reaching out to trace the lines of her name on his wrist lying across the table.

“I’m sorry, Kathryn. I shouldn’t have-” Chakotay moved to pull back but she captured his hand with her own.

“That’s not what I think is happening here, Chakotay,” she attempted to reassure him, “I think you know better than to believe that.”

“I… I try never to assume I know what’s going on in that mind of yours,” Kathryn watched his face soften, dimples appearing, as his thumb rubbed circles against her palm.

“Fair enough,” she bit her lip, eyes searching his, “Would you like me to tell you then, what I believe?”

“If you don’t mind telling me,” he replied, as always worried more about her feelings than his own.

“I wouldn’t have offered if I did,” she smiled, reaching her free hand out to caress the side of his face, “Chakotay, I don’t know what is causing this phenomena and I don’t know if it has any meaning, but I do know that the part of me that entertained the notion that it might be true… that our bodies could reveal such a thing as… soulmates... I know that the part of me which believed such a thing believed it would be your name I would see when I looked down at my wrist.”

She watched his eyes light up at her words, the tension fade from him.

“I felt the same way. Maybe that's how it works… our deepest beliefs made tangible.”

“That’s a good theory, maybe we can figure out some way to test it. Right now, though, I hope I’ve made myself clear.”

“Only if you are…” he paused to swallow nervously, “Only if you are telling me that you love me.”

She struggled to find the words, “That’s... That’s not what I’m staying- I mean I do, of course,” she added hastily as she watched the joy vanish from his face, “But I was trying to say something beyond that.”

“That I’m your soulmate?” he grinned, almost daring her to contradict him.

“I’m not certain such a thing exists, to be honest,” she confessed, “But I believe that what we have between us… This must be what it would be like, the whole soulmate thing... if it was real.”

“I think, perhaps, with things like this belief might be the only thing that matters.”

She couldn’t help smiling, at that, standing and walking around the table to him. Chakotay stood, facing her.

“That’s very existential of you,” she pointed out.

“I hesitate to ask but…”

“You want to know if this changes anything, if now that I’ve told you how I feel I’m willing to take it a step further.”

“I know there were reasons-”

“There’s always reasons,” she sighed, placing her hand on his shoulder and feeling its reassuring solidity beneath her fingertips.

“If you want to pretend this conversation never happened…” he offered.

“No,” she said definitively, “Right now there is too much chaos going on to figure out exactly how to proceed, but pretending seems counterproductive.”

“Alright. I’ll follow your lead.”

He gazed at her with a soft intensity, one hand reaching up to brush her cheek gently with his knuckles as he swept a stray strand of hair from her face.

Kathryn pushed herself up onto her toes, leaning in slowly, thinking that perhaps words were the incorrect medium to communicate in this moment.

“Seven of Nine to Captain Janeway,” her communicator reverberated, stopping her progress short mere millimeters from Chakotay’s lips.

Regretfully, she stepped back.

“This is Janeway.”

“Captain, there’s something I think you should see. I’m in the Wildmans’ quarters.”

“I’ll be right there,” she sighed, squeezing Chakotay’s shoulder.

“Should I come with you?” he asked.

“At least until we hear of some other fire that needs to be put out. Who knows, maybe this won’t take long and we will even get to finish our dinner.”

“That really would be a first,” he chuckled.

The found Seven with Naomi Wildman as promised, mid kadis-kot game.

“Naomi Wildman, show the captain your wrist,” Seven instructed, and Kathryn immediately saw what had drawn Seven’s interest: just like Seven, Naomi’s wrists were in a constant state of flux.

“Perhaps it isn’t a Borg thing after all,” she commented.

An idea occurred to Kathryn and she tapped on her comm badge.

“Janeway to Tuvok.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“I’ve thought of a question I want to ask the locals about this names on wrist business after all. See if you can get them on the line before we get out of communications range and patch it through to sickbay.”

“Right away,” Tuvok acknowledged.

“You two, I want you in sickbay so that the Doctor can see if he can find any commonalities between you that the rest of us don’t share. Chakotay, I want you to start checking the rest of the crew; let’s see if there are any other variances.”

“So much for dinner,” he shook his head, “I’ll let you know as soon as I find anything.”

As she walked by him, she patted his shoulder, wanting him to know she was thinking the same thing.

A few hours later, she’d learned that, according to the Ne’ri, children’s soulmates were not set until they reached adulthood and so the shifting names was standard. Still she didn’t know why and the Doctor didn’t seem any closer to finding an answer.

Chakotay found her going over reports in her ready room at three hundred hours. Her first instinct was to tell him that one of them should be getting some rest, but then he replicated her some coffee without trying to convince her of the same, and she found she was glad he had ignored her instructions.

“No one else seems to have the shifting names,” he reported, clearly having spent the entirety of the night completing the task she’d set him to, “Other than Naomi and Seven, and of course the Doctor, everyone else has a fixed lettering.”

Kathryn gestured for him to sit down across from her and he did.

“The Ne’ri say that children have fluid lettering; because, they have not yet come into themselves and so it is impossible to know who will match a soul that hasn’t finished forming yet. I’m just trying to figure out why Seven would be considered a child by the standards of whatever this is.”

“Think about your own explanation. Children are still figuring out who they are… as individuals. Isn’t the same true for Seven? Her body might have grown while she was in the collective, but her identity, what might be called a soul, isn’t that what you’ve been trying to help her develop here on Voyager?”

“I suppose you are right,” she realized, standing and pacing around her desk, “It can be confusing trying to figure out how to regard Seven, physically and intellectually she is fully formed, but you are right that when it comes to her psychological state she is less developed than many children.”

“You’ve always had a much better idea of how to approach her than I have,” Chakotay shrugged, “I do find this revelation intriguing, however.”

“How so?” she asked, perching herself on the desk facing him.

“I’m thinking back to our conversation about whether there was an overtone of fate to this whole business.”

“And?”

“If one’s soulmate isn’t decided at birth, if it’s the choices we make, the people we decide to become, well then that seems less like destiny and more like self determination, doesn’t it?”

“There’s something you want to say. Isn’t there, Chakotay?”

She reached out and pressed her palm against his chest, feeling his heart beat against her hand.

“I’d choose you, if I got to decide. I didn’t just know that it would be your name… I wanted it to be.”

She leaned in, setting her coffee cup down to bring her lips towards his. He moved to meet her halfway but, as if on cue, the red alert siren sounded just as they were about to touch. Kathryn groaned in frustration, sliding off the desk and heading towards the door to the bridge, knowing Chakotay was right behind her.

“Report,” she might have snapped a little more shrewishly than she’d intended.

Then again, when she discovered just the kind of petty anomalous sensor reading that the gamma shift had panicked over, she considered that maybe she should have been more harsh.

However, it was less than ten minutes later when the Doctor summoned her to medical, saying he thought he’d figured it out. She supposed that the untimely interrupting had saved her from a potentially far more so one.

“I’ve isolated it at last. The source is a fungus... albeit a rather unusual one. It reacts to brainwaves… fascinating.”

Kathryn knew she should have praised him for the good work and been interested in the details. She wasn’t, though.

“Bottom line, can you cure it?”

“Why yes. I should be able to administer a treatment in about two hours, though it may take up to a week for the markings to fade completely.”

“Great. Have Tuvok give you a log of incidents since this started and start with those crew members who’ve been expressing emotional distress.”

Spinning away from the Doctor and towards the door, she smiled casually at Chakotay, raising one eyebrow.

“Commander, what do you say to an early breakfast in place of that dinner we never ended up having last night?”

“Lead the way,” he replied, unable to hide his grin.

They barely made it to the turbolift, before collapsing in laughter, her arm against his chest and his hand on her upper arm.

“Do you think he noticed anything?” she asked finally, regaining her breath.

“I doubt it. He was probably too busy being upset about you not rhapsodizing over his genius.”

“Someone is going to notice eventually, though.”

“Probably, but then again, what makes you think they haven’t already?”

“What are you suggesting?”

“That the connection between us has been evident for some time, but there is no reason for anyone to believe that how we are handling that has changed, unless you want it to.”

They paused, exiting the turbolift and moving towards her quarters, his hand lightly touching her lower back. It was something he’d done many times before, but right now it promised so much more. It took all her self control not to continue the conversation until the door slid safely closed behind them.

“And just how are we handling it now?”

Kathryn let her voice come out low and teasing.

“I thought I might start by officially declaring-”

Kathryn cut him off, not willing to risk delay and chance being interrupted a third time, as she pressed her lips firmly against his. She felt his hand run softly over her hair as he returned the kiss, a slow sensuous kiss that they finally pulled out of short of breath.

“...that I love you, Kathryn,” he remembered to finish.

“I love you… too.”

She found she was interrupted by a yawn which escaped her.

“You must be so tired. I’ll bet you haven’t slept since this whole thing began,” he correctly surmised.

“I’m so sorry, Chakotay. We finally have time and… Well, I think I might have gotten fifteen minutes passed out over a PADD,” she couldn’t help laughing.

“I should let you rest.”

As much as she wanted to argue, Kathryn knew they were both exhausted.

“Only on the condition that you stay,” she equivocated, taking his hand in hers, “That way we can finally have our… breakfast, after a nap.”

“How could I possibly say no to that request?” he grinned.

“And when I say breakfast,” she drawled, walking towards the bedroom with him trailing behind her, “I mean sex… just so we are clear.”

“Crystal,” he murmured against her ear, walking up behind her and wrapping his arms around her waist.