"So, do you want the official version, or the truth?"
Jake Sisko studied Thomas E. Paris, Cmdr., UFPSF, Retired. The man was famous for his attitude even at the age of 95, and for the first time Jake understood why. Before this, in the few times they had encountered one another, Jake had found Paris to be dignified and courteous, leaving Jake to wonder why his career had stalled. Paris’s skill as a pilot and a teacher of pilots was also famous; despite a rocky start he should have retired as at least a captain, if not an admiral. Now, looking at the cocky smile and cynical blue eyes, it began to make more sense.
Thomas E. Paris, Cmdr., UFPSF, Retired, didn’t bother to hide his disdain for people or situations he did not respect. And that, Jake reflected, probably included more than half the Admiralty.
It was disconcerting to think that Paris regarded Jake in the same light. After a lifetime of dealing with Starfleet, though, he knew how to respond. "I want what you are willing to tell me. Will it be the official version, or the truth?"
For just a second, he thought he had made a mistake. Paris’s eyes narrowed slightly, and the false smile drooped. Then he laughed, genuine laughter that transformed him so that he looked almost young again. "What are you hoping to find out?"
"The truth," Jake said automatically, but immediately saw that answer was not sufficient. It forced him to think for a moment. What exactly was driving him to pursue this line of questioning? "I met Captain Janeway, you know. Once, at Deep Space 9 just before Voyager disappeared. A few times over the years after you were back. I liked her. And I don’t think Green’s version of her is accurate."
"Accurate?" Paris snorted. "He paints her as a sex-starved paranoid martinet, which is about as accurate as his depiction of the rest of us. That book is a travesty."
"Most of his books are," Jake said quietly. "But most of them stand unrefuted. I don’t want him to have the last word on Voyager, or Captain Janeway. But I don’t want to do a whitewash, either. I want to tell the truth."
Paris was silent for a moment. When he spoke, it was with deliberation. "Julian Bashir says I can trust you, and I trust Julian Bashir. So. You’re writing a biography of the Captain." Paris did not, Jake noted, use her name. Either he assumed it was understood, or else for Paris, there was only one Captain. Jake suspected the latter.
"Yes. And as I explained, I’ve reviewed all the records pertaining to Voyager’s time in the Delta quadrant, and somehow they just don’t ring true." He paused, then added, "I’m no fan of Starfleet’s public image department. I want to know the *real* Kathryn Janeway. She must have been a remarkable person."
"She was." Paris leaned back in his chair, picked up his glass of scotch. From the fumes, it wasn’t synthehol. "And you want to know about the relationship between the Captain and the first officer. Well, the official version is that they were friends, good friends, for the whole damn time we were in the Delta quadrant."
"I’ve seen the records." Jake thought about how much work was summarized in those few words. He had devoted months to studying trial transcripts, reports, mission logs and personal logs. "Somehow they don’t ring true, especially in light of what happened later."
Paris sipped his drink, not taking his eyes from Jake. "I’ll tell you the truth. There’s damned few of us left who know the truth, now." His face clouded for a moment. "B’Elanna knew. She’d probably turn cartwheels in Sto-Vo-Kor if she knew I was going to talk about this with anyone."
B’Elanna. Paris’s wife, Jake recalled, who died four months ago.
"And Tuvok. I should warn you now, Tuvok will probably dispute everything I’m going to tell you. And he’ll be lying through his teeth, because in his mind it is more logical to protect the Captain’s reputation than to tell the truth. He's still devoted to her, even now."
Jake pulled out his notepadd and began jotting. "Then the official version isn’t accurate?"
"Let’s just say the official version is…incomplete. All right then, the truth it is. Pour yourself a drink, Jake. This is likely to take a while."
Jake pulled out his notepadd and poured a glass of scotch, liberally diluted with water. "Just begin at the beginning."
A smile spread over Paris’s face. "That’s exactly when it began. At the beginning."
Paris stood to one side as Janeway and members of the bridge crew drew weapons. The transporter hummed, and three men, weapons raised, materialized in defensive position, each facing a different direction. His stomach tensed as he recognized three former shipmates. Ayala was aiming directly at him; Tuvok faced Kim, and Chakotay was almost nose to nose with Janeway.
No one moved. No one spoke.
Even for an apparent standoff, this seemed to take a long time. He looked at the Captain. She was staring at Chakotay, her face unreadable. He was staring at her and looking stunned. It could be that he was surprised to find himself in a trap, but surely, Paris thought, he had expected something, or he wouldn’t have come aboard armed.
Good god, he thought. It’s not the weapons. It’s her.
"Wait a moment," Jake interrupted. "Are you saying they were … smitten… at first sight?"
"There’s an old expression, the 'coup d’foudre,' the thunderbolt." Paris seemed lost in the recollection. "That’s exactly what happened to them. Instant, powerful attraction. It was palpable."
"But I’ve seen Tuvok’s account of that first encounter, as well as the mission log. Nothing remotely close to that is reported."
"Of course not. One thing you need to understand is the extent to which Tuvok is devoted to the Captain, even now. He would never allow anything to tarnish her image unfairly. It didn’t affect the events that followed in any way. I suspect that he decided that the sexual tension that manifested on the bridge just then was an irrelevant detail that might confuse weak minds. It would have been logical to omit it."
"But later – I assume you’re going to tell me that something did come of it eventually – Tuvok continued to cover it up?"
Paris nodded. "Yes. At least, I assume so. He and I have never discussed this. In fact, the only person I ever discussed this with was B’Elanna. She suspected that the Captain confided in Tuvok." He took another sip. "Even if she didn’t, Tuvok knew everything that happened on that ship. One way or the other, he knew."
"Well." That was interesting. "Please, go on."
"I’m pretty certain that the attraction did not play a part in the Captain’s decision to offer Chakotay the position as first officer. That really was a matter of necessity. I think, though, that it may have been a factor in his decision to accept – I mean, really accept and not use the position as a ruse to take the ship. You have to remember, things were pretty dicey at first. A lot of the Maquis didn’t like being conscripted into Starfleet and thought they could take over. If Chakotay had wanted to, he could have mounted a pretty effective insurrection."
"But he didn’t, because he was in love with Janeway?"
He considered. "When you say it like that, it doesn’t do him justice. Chakotay was an honorable man, and once he gave his word, he kept it. I do think that his feelings for the Captain helped tip his decision to accept the offer."
Jake nodded. "Janeway was engaged to be married, wasn’t she?"
"That’s right. And I think that’s the biggest reason why at first she wouldn’t let anything happen between her and Chakotay. The Captain was extremely loyal."
"Maybe she wasn’t as attracted as you think."
Paris laughed lightly. "Don’t you believe it. When she let her guard down, it was almost painfully obvious that she was drawn to him." He set his glass down and looked thoughtful. "At first, it was just little things, like the way she would touch him. She was a touchy person by nature, so it took a while to notice that she touched him more often than anyone else. Not much, just a hand on his arm or his shoulder while they talked. But when she touched him… her face would change. So would his. It was almost as if, for that moment, they were completely alone with each other. The rest of us just dropped out of the universe."
Jake smiled. "I felt that way about a girl once. I was sixteen, and she was a dabo girl at the bar."
"Good analogy. I think they were both as infatuated as a couple of teenagers, then. But they were completely professional on duty, and at that point I’d be surprised if they even acknowledged it off duty. The whole situation was too new. We were all learning to trust one another, and to find our balance in the Delta quadrant. And too, Chakotay did a couple of things early on that didn’t help him with her."
Paris poured himself another drink, but this time added water. "Chakotay had … a knight-in-shining-armor streak. A couple of times he decided he would try to handle things by himself to spare the ship and the Captain."
"I can’t quite picture Kathryn Janeway as a damsel in distress."
"Neither could she." Paris smiled. "And, then, Chakotay was really angry when he found out that he’d been kept out of the loop about the spy on board. In fact, that was the catalyst, the thing that finally forced their feelings. "
Voices. Angry voices. Paris stirred, realized he was lying on a hard wooden bench. He sat up and discovered that he was still in Sandrine’s; he had fallen asleep after Harry left. The room was dimmed, the way Sandrine left it when she retired for the evening, and he looked around. The voices belonged to the Captain and the Commander, who were the only two people in the place.
"…that’s the point." The Commander was standing very close to her, his voice raised and angry. Then he seemed to deflate. His voice was softer and filled with hurt when he spoke again. "You still don’t trust me."
The Captain sucked in her breath audibly. Paris couldn’t see her face in the dim light, but from the way the tension left her shoulders, he guessed that her anger had evaporated too. Her hand reached up to his shoulder. "But I do trust you. I always have."
For a moment, neither moved. Then Chakotay took her face in his hands and said softly, "Kathryn," and kissed her.
He raised his head, and looked at her. She wound her arms around him and pulled him close. They moved together and began another kiss, and even in the dim light, Tom could tell it was hungry and urgent.
Stifling a groan of frustration, Tom lay back on the bench and closed his eyes. What was he going to do? Pop up and clear his throat? Keep his eyes closed and pretend he was still asleep? Neither would do his career much good. Life was a hell of a lot simpler back in New Zealand.
After a moment he heard the Captain murmur, "No," and then "We can’t do this, Chakotay."
The Commander’s breathing was ragged. "All right."
"Oh, god, don’t look like that."
"Kathryn, I understand. But that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it."
"I’m engaged. I made a promise to Mark."
It was a long moment before Chakotay replied. "I know. And I won’t ask you to dishonor it."
"But," he added quickly, "will you tell me something? If Mark weren’t an issue, what would you do?"
This time she took a long moment to reply. "I don’t know."
"It wouldn’t be against regulations, you know. It’s only a recommendation, not rule."
"But it’s a good one. Chakotay, look at the situation we are in. We owe the crew better than to gamble our professional relationship for the sake of our personal happiness."
"I don’t think it would be much of a gamble. We understand each other, Kathryn."
"Perhaps. But what happens if we try and fail? Neither of us can leave the ship, can we? Can we?"
"No. But why are you assuming our relationship would fail?"
Her voice became pointed. "What happened to your relationship with Seska?"
Bull's-eye, Tom thought as he scrunched in the booth.
"You’re not Seska," Chakotay replied quietly.
"No, but I am the captain of this ship, and I can't take the risk."
Tom almost winced at the pain in her voice. For months, he had been watching them, waiting almost gleefully for this day. Now, for the first time he realized the full implications of a relationship between a captain and a first officer in circumstances in which there were no transfers, but an imperative need for unity in the command team. Suddenly their feelings for one another seemed tragic.
"Then we won’t." Chakotay sounded resigned. "Come on, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee in the mess hall. Let the crew see that we’ve patched up our differences."
She must have nodded, because they started to leave. Tom was about to ease back up when he heard her say, "Chakotay."
"Nothing. Just… Chakotay."
"It was something of a revelation for me," Paris admitted. "Until then, I had assumed that they were as free to pursue their feelings as the rest of us. After that, I felt sorry for them. In fact, I felt so bad about the whole thing that when we had to leave them on New Earth a few weeks later, I almost was glad for them."
"New Earth," Jake said. "That was the planet where they were quarantined for about eight weeks, right?"
"Right, except that when we left them there, we didn’t know we would be coming back for them. All of us, including them, thought that we were leaving them there forever."
Jake’s mind rummaged through the myriad details it had absorbed about Voyager in the past several months. "As I recall, the decision to go back for them turned out to be the event that unified the crew once and for all. After that, there doesn’t seem to be any friction between the Starfleet and Maquis factions."
"Exactly. We were all so upset by Tuvok’s refusal to ask the Vidiians for help that all our differences were resolved." Paris rose and walked to a replicator but continued to talk. "In the meantime – 6 grams mixed nuts, in a bowl - the Captain and Chakotay were working out their differences, too." He grinned as he picked an almond from the mix as he returned to the table.
Jake helped himself to a handful. "Here's the problem, Commander. I’ve been over their logs a couple of times. There is no indication that they became romantically involved during that quarantine."
"And I have no proof that they did," Paris admitted. "Nothing but instinct. I remember when they first returned to the bridge. They were all business, brisk and efficient – but they wouldn’t look at each other. I mean, they were sitting next to each other, talking to each other, but staring at the viewscreen. It was almost as if they were afraid what they would reveal if they made eye contact.
"And I’ll tell you this – they were lovers for about a year after that. That, I am absolutely certain of."
Tom hadn’t slept well since the rescue from the Akitirian prison ship. The Doctor certainly would have given him something if he asked, but he didn’t want to ask. There had been a dark time in his life when he had relied on alcohol and drugs for almost everything, to sleep, to wake, to feel, to not feel… even though his life had turned around, he didn’t want to risk slipping into that cycle again.
So he walked. During the deep hours of gamma shift, there was little traffic in the corridors and he could walk deck after deck without encountering more than one or two people. Most of them were on duty, but a few were trying to slip unnoticed back to their own quarters after a date or more serious engagement with another crew member.
Voyager was small enough that privacy was highly prized but hard to maintain. Many of the crew, including Tom, had adopted an unwritten code that certain things just never happened, such as bumping into someone leaving someone else’s quarters in odd hours. On the whole, it saved everyone a lot of embarrassment. So, when Kaplan nearly knocked Tom over as she left O’Connell’s cabin, he didn’t make eye contact with her at all, just kept walking.
But when Chakotay walked out of the captain’s cabin, he froze.
It was 0330, for pete’s sake. There was nothing going on that required the captain and the first officer to be working late. Tom was so nonplussed that he ducked down a darkened side corridor before Chakotay spotted him.
As the Commander walked by, he was smiling the smile of a satisfied man.
"That’s all?" Jake asked, somehow disappointed.
"It was enough for me," Paris said. Completely relaxed, he leaned back in his chair and picked his way through the dish of nuts. He had a preference for almonds and cashews. "For almost that whole year, they were happy. Until we encountered the Borg – I mean, really encountered them, and species 8472. Something happened between them then. We never knew what it was, but things were different between them for a long time."
"You know Green's explanation – Riley Frazer."
"Bullshit. I don't know the details of it, but I know enough to tell you, unequivocally, that the Riley Frazer incident had nothing to do with it. The problem was that they had their first professional disagreement, and they didn't handle it well."
"How do you know?"
Paris looked sad. "I shouldn't know. It was not something they intended anyone to overhear. It was few months after that, when we were trying to recover from the aliens who used us for 'medical' experiments. I think they forgot that I was there, in the Doctor's office. I was his assistant, you know – after Kes left us. Chakotay had come to be cleared for duty, and the Captain came in for a status report…as soon as they saw each other, I think they forgot about everything else."
She walked straight to the bed where he was waiting. "How are you?"
"Ready to report to duty, if I can just get the Doctor's attention."
Her expression softened as she looked at him; the command mask melted into something softer, something almost tender. She touched his hair, already darker and longer than it had been before. "You're looking better."
Every muscle tensed, froze, at her touch. "I'm feeling better, thank you, Captain."
Her hand jerked back, as if he had slapped her, but her face did not change. "I'm glad."
He stared at her, obviously trying to be angry with her. Then his face almost crumpled. "Gods, Kathryn, I miss you."
"And I miss you." Her face was stoic, devoid of emotion, but her voice almost throbbed.
"But that doesn't change anything."
"It could. We disagreed, Kathryn, that's all. It's going to happen sometimes. It's not a betrayal." There was such longing on his face. "Can't we try again?"
Before she could answer, the Doctor came out of the surgical area then. "Captain, Commander, I apologize for keeping you waiting."
She straightened, and the command mask slipped back into place effortlessly. "Under the circumstances, Doctor, no apology is necessary. I came for a status report, but I can see that you are busy. Please call me when you are free."
A command smile: polite, forced. "Good. Commander, I'm glad you're feeling better." Then she left, and Chakotay watched her until the doors closed behind her. She had answered his question.
"They broke it off?" Jake asked.
Paris nodded. "Yeah. B- … some people thought the whole thing with the Borg made them feel that they couldn't manage a personal relationship without messing up the command relationship. They both felt so damn responsible for all of us…" he took a healthy swig from his glass. "Personally, I think they were scared stiff."
"What do you mean?"
"I think they discovered that they loved each other more completely and more deeply than either of them believed possible. I think they were afraid that it was some kind of weakness to feel that way."
Jake considered this for a moment. "They were both pretty self-contained people, weren't they?"
"You bet. It must have been a terrifying thing to realize that someone else could be that important to them."
Flipping through his mental file of facts and dates, Jake tried to place the event in context. "Okay, they broke up. That was right before you encountered the Hirogen, wasn’t it?"
"A few months."
"According to Green, that’s the period when she became clinically depressed. He claims she worked so hard to repress normal emotions that she became irrational."
To his surprise, Paris looked away. His gaze seemed to be fixed on something in the distant mountain range to the east. Finally he said, "He’s not altogether wrong about that. She was depressed for a while. Hell, we all were. But it wasn’t because she was jilted by her fiancé. She was feeling guilty as hell about just about everything – about the destruction of the communications array, about letting the Hirogen board the ship, about getting involved with Chakotay. When we hit the Void, it all came crashing down on her and she wouldn’t let the one person who might have been able to help her come near."
"Right the first time." He swirled the scotch around in the glass but did not drink it. "They had a hard time figuring out how to be just friends. I know exactly when it happened, though. Exactly."
They were in the mess hall, all the senior officers except Seven and the Doctor, celebrating the successful negotiation of a trade agreement with the Kati. It had been touch and go for a while, but in the end, the combined efforts of Neelix and the Captain pulled it off.
The Captain was describing her three days on the planet while she ate her third dessert. "It’s a remarkably barren planet," she said between bites of terra nut soufflé. "No wonder they embrace a Spartan lifestyle – there’s not much else to do there."
"It is conducive to thoughtful meditation, however," Tuvok noted. "I found the experience enlightening."
Chakotay looked across the table at her. "What about you, Captain? Did you find enlightenment?"
It might have been impertinent, except that Tom knew they had been joking about it earlier. The Captain had made no bones about the fact that she could tolerate meditation only in small doses. But she looked at him thoughtfully. "There was one thing about being there. When you can’t have what you want, you learn to appreciate what you have."
Their eye had locked, and an awkward silence fell. Every one of us had the feeling that she had just said something more than the meaning of the words. Then she smiled, that rare wonderful smile of hers that had been AWOL for months.
Chakotay smiled back at her. It was plain that at that moment, he didn't see anything but her.
Still holding his gaze, the Captain spooned out another bite of dessert. "Like…terra nut soufflé," she said, and without warning, flung the contents of her spoon at Chakotay.
The soufflé landed on the tip of his nose and dripped on to his chest, but he didn't stop looking at her. She, on the other hand, dropped her spoon and covered her mouth with both hands, looking like someone who gave into an impulse and immediately regretted it. "Oh, Chakotay, I'm sorry," she said, but her eyes weren't sorry. Her eyes were laughing.
His never left hers as he reached beside him and took the dish of Ktarian pudding away from B'Elanna. "I understand completely, Captain." He was so solemn that it almost didn't register that as he spoke, his hand scooped out all the pudding in the dish and hurled it at her. It struck her squarely on the chest. He smiled peacefully as he watched the sticky trail of pudding dripped down each of her breasts on her dress uniform.
Mischief danced in her eyes then, making them sparkle. She looked down, then back to him. "This is war, you know."
She grabbed the ice cream cone Harry was eating and turned it into a rocket, aimed at Chakotay. He ducked, and it hit Tuvok on the arm. She grabbed the banana split out of Tom's hands even as Chakotay reached for Neelix's fudge cake. This time they hit each other smack in the face.
Then they both began to laugh, freely and unrestrained, with no trace of self-consciousness. Belly-deep, genuine laughter. It was so good to hear, and so unexpected after all the tense months, that they began to laugh with them. Even Tuvok almost smiled.
Jake was scribbling frantically into the notepadd. "So. First lust, then love, then friendship. Did it change again before Voyager got home? Did they get back together?"
"Ahh. The big question." Paris smiled slowly, a lazy, sardonic smile. "Here's the truth, Jake, my friend: I don't know. I just don't know."
"Don't give me that. You might not be certain, but you've got an idea."
The smile became a grin. "I've got an idea, all right. But it's based on secondhand information. I've got nothing firsthand to back it up, so it's probably best if I keep it to myself."
There was finality in his tone, and Jake heard it. He downed the contents of his glass, and with a dramatic flair, closed the notepadd. "Off the record, then. What's your source and what do you think?"
Paris leaned back in his chair. "Off the record? All right, my source…remember, the Captain, Tuvok and B'Elanna were assimilated into the Collective late in our sixth year out. They were part of a single mind the whole time they were drones. So I consider my source to be pretty reliable.
"What do I think? The night before Tuvok, B'Elanna and the Captain went to get themselves assimilated, I think Chakotay spent the night doing exactly what I did."
"Making love to my woman as if it were the very last time." His face softened, and Jake suspected that Paris was no longer thinking about Captain Janeway. "As if…as if there would never be another time, and we needed to have everything settled between us."
Then he shook his head once, seemingly to clear out cobwebs. He reached for the bottle and poured one more glass for each of them. "To love," he said, raising his glass, and Jake followed suit.
"To love." He drained the burning liquor in one gulp, as did Paris, and when Paris tossed the glass against the wall, he did, too.
The interview was over; Jake knew that without any further signals. He picked up his equipment and stood. "Thank you, Commander."
Paris looked at him intently, his blue eyes keen and sharp. "Do right by her, Sisko. "
Jake Sisko nodded.
-To Be Continued -