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Taking Command

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“Taking Command” by Dawn
Rated NC-17 (light)

Set in late Season 6 during the month that the Doctor has gone to Jupiter Station to treat Dr. Zimmerman.

*****

Kathryn stood in front of her mirror and ran her fingers through her sleep-tousled hair. When she heard her commbadge chirp in the next room, she sighed heavily, not quite ready to face the constant pull of another long day commanding Voyager. With a tired groan, she retrieved her jacket off the bedroom chair and touched the badge. “Janeway here.”

Chakotay responded, “Good morning, Kathryn. Are you feeling better?”

“I could sleep another twelve hours, but the headache is mostly gone.” She pulled the badge off the jacket and walked back into the lavatory with it.

“Well, should you want the day off, I do have an in with the Captain and could plead your case.”

With a slight chuckle, she said, “Thank you, Commander. I’ll take that under advisement.”

“Would you like to join me for breakfast?”

“Mmmm… not sure.” She rolled her shoulders to try to relax the sore muscles.

“Neck sore?”

With a twitch of her lips, she asked, “How did you know?”

“I know your sounds.”

“I guess you do.” She smiled into the mirror as if he were standing in front of her. “I'd love to join you, but I doubt I’d be very good company. My mood is still leaning towards being a bit of a bear.”

“You don’t sound like it, but you could give me another chance to cheer you up. I couldn’t do any worse than last night.”

“Chakotay, I'm sorry about that. Even though I was grumpy, I really did appreciate your attempts to make me laugh.”

“I know you did – there was a twinkle in your eye that gave it away.”

Staring at her reflection, she blew a puff of air that made her hair fly up. “All right, I’ll join you, but I’ll be another twenty minutes. Think you could talk the captain in letting us be late for our shift?”

“You get ready and I’ll see what I can do. Meet you in the corridor?”

“It’s a date, Commander.”

He laughed. “I wish. See you soon, Kathryn.”

When the comm channel closed, she rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and studied her face. She was looking older every day, and she wondered when Chakotay would stop looking at her through rosy-colored lenses. It was no secret to either of them how he felt about her and that he was attracted to her. Truth be told, she was just as enamored with him, but it was an attraction that she couldn’t act upon. Or at least, it was something that she couldn’t openly acknowledge if her plan to keep their relationship platonic was going to work.

If they were to make it back to Earth in the next ten or fifteen years, she needed to be able to provide a defense for him, and she knew she’d compromise her credibility if she became romantically involved. He’d warned her not to sacrifice the present for a future that may never happen, but she didn’t want to sacrifice a lifetime together by indulging in the present, either. Growing old with him was a dream that she kept locked inside and it made getting through each day just a little bit easier.

She wasn’t going to solve her dilemma today, so she shrugged it off and got into the sonic shower. She smiled as she recalled how he’d tried to cheer her up. It meant so much to her that he was willing to tolerate her moods.

As she stepped out of the shower, she thought about their special connection. Whether or not they permitted a romance to blossom, they nurtured and supported each other with a unique and abiding friendship. While she dressed in her uniform, she decided that she’d try to muster up a better attitude.

She was zipping her boots when she heard the door chime. “Come,” she said as she picked her jacket up off the bed and walked into the main room.

Chakotay greeted her with a warm smile. “I felt like I was lurking outside your door.”

“Come on in, I'm just about ready.” She looked around, putting her hands on her hips. “I can’t remember where I left my pips.”

He spotted them by her computer. “Here. May I help?”

“Sure.” She hoisted one hip onto the desk and lifted her chin to give him access. “It usually takes me a couple of tries to get them lined up right.”

As he put his fingers under her collar, he asked, “After all this time? I would think you’d be a pro.”

“They should make these shirts with magnets inside the collar, so they just slide into place.”

“Not a bad idea. You should put that request in the next data stream.”

She hummed an affirmative response.

With a quick glance at her eyes, he asked, “Something wrong?”

“Not really. It’s just something I’ve been putting off for two weeks. At least the Doctor’s trip to see Zimmerman saved me from having to deal with it immediately.”

“Something unpleasant?”

“Yes and no. Mostly, I'm just uncertain about the best approach.” As his fingers brushed the delicate skin on her neck, a surge of warmth spread through her body and she trembled in response.

“Cold?”

“Not exactly,” she said quietly, her eyes darting nervously to his.

A smug grin spread across his face. “This gives you goose bumps?”

“Apparently so.” She tried not to look at him, but it was hard to resist his dimples.

“There you go.” As he finished, he drew a fingertip along the underside of her chin, provoking another shiver. With a satisfied wink, he stood back and studied the alignment. “Looks like they’re straight.”

“Thank you.” She put on her jacket and rolled her shoulders to release a little tension.

“Would you like me to rub your neck a little?”

“You need to ask?” She smiled and turned around to give him access to the back of her shoulders. Shrugging the jacket back down to her elbows, she said, “I’ll take this any time I can get it.”

He began to knead the knotted muscles. “You’re as tense as you were last night, Kathryn.”

“I know. I’ve got a lot on my mind and didn’t sleep well.”

“Want to talk about it?”

Sorrowfully, she replied, “Yes, but I can’t.”

“The same issue that you’ve been putting off?”

“Yes, a report for Starfleet.”

“Can I help?” He dug his thumbs hard into the resistant muscles.

With a slight moan of pleasure, she replied, “I wish you could.”

He continued rubbing her shoulders and neck for a long minute before suggesting, “No one would know if it you used me for a sounding board or to gather data, whatever it is that you need.”

She turned to look at him sadly and pulled her jacket back up onto her shoulders. “If only it were just statistics. But I’ll tell you what, let me give this issue some serious thought today, and if I still can’t figure out what approach to take, I’d love your advice, confidentially.”

“I’d be happy to help.” She trembled again as he pulled her jacket closed and zipped it up. His hands moved down her arms and grasped her hands. “Whatever it is, just remember that we’re still forty thousand light years away from them, and, in order to survive out here, the decisions we make aren’t as black and white as they may seem to Starfleet Command.”

She grimaced to cover her physical reaction to the intimacy of his actions. “Thanks for the reminder. I might’ve forgotten.”

“I'm sorry, Kathryn. I didn’t mean to make you feel worse.”

“I know, and don’t worry too much. It’s not as bad as I'm making it sound.”

Chakotay tilted his head and studied her for a moment. “May I give you a hug? You look like you need one.”

“A Starfleet captain shouldn’t ‘need’ a hug from her first officer.”

He wrapped his arms around her, gently coaxing her head to rest on his shoulder. “I'm not hugging my captain. I'm hugging my best friend. It’s really very simple.”

“Nothing simple about it,” she mumbled into his shirt. The feel of his strong, solid body was wonderful, and exactly what she needed. “’S okay. I feel like indulging.”

“An indulgence? Is that what I am?” he asked playfully.

“Like this you are.” Closing her eyes, she savored the feel and scent of him for one more moment of comfort. “Sometimes, I wish…” She caught herself before she finished the sentence and stepped away.

“I know.” He let one hand linger on the side of her neck, his thumb stealing a caress along her cheek.

She cleared her throat and smiled to cover the guilt she felt for allowing the intimacy. “Shall we head out?”

“Commbadge?” he asked as he tapped the vacant spot on her jacket.

Surprised by the unexpected touch above her breast, she gasped. “What?”

“I'm sorry,” he said regretfully. “Your badge, it’s missing.”

She looked down, her cheeks warm and flushed from embarrassment. “Oh. I left it by the sink. I’ll be right back.”

“Kathryn? I…”

Her hand patted his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. You just surprised me.”

“Okay.”

She gave him a sincere smile and left to retrieve her badge. When she walked back into the main room, she said, “Your maneuvers were just a little off course, Commander. No harm done.”

“Well, B’Elanna does keep reminding me that I need piloting lessons.”

Kathryn picked up a couple of PADDs. “Remind her that she and Harry crashed the last shuttle, would you?”

“Certainly, but at least she had a great story to tell when she got home. I suggested that she try her hand at playwriting for the next talent night.”

“Good idea. I’d love to see what she’d come up with, what with all the trashy romance novels she reads.”

“I can’t imagine.”

“Could be interesting.”

He tugged on his ear and changed the subject. “Shall we go see what Neelix has concocted this morning?”

“An adventure in itself.” She linked her arm through his as they walked down the corridor to the mess hall.

*****

That afternoon, Kathryn looked up as Chakotay walked into the ready room. She was on edge about what she was about to do, but his reassuring smile reminded her that she trusted him without any reservations, despite the subject matter at hand.

“Problem?” he asked.

“Yes, it’s this report that I told you about this morning. I’ve been mulling over it all day, and I'm stuck. I decide on one course of action and when I consider the possible ramifications, I change my mind.”

“All right, what does it in entail?” He took a seat as she turned the computer to face him.

“I’d like you to listen to this communiqué from Admiral Hayes.”

“Hayes? The Fleet Admiral? Nice to have friends in high places.”

She gave him a withering look and then directed his attention towards the monitor.

Hayes’ recording started, “Hello, Captain. I hope this message finds you well. From what I understand, it has not been easy, but I want you to know that a lot of people here are very proud of what you’ve accomplished. I also want to assure you that we have not given up finding a way to get you home. We’ve redirected two deep space vessels towards your position. If all goes well, they could rendezvous with you in the next five to six years.”

Growing impatient for Chakotay to hear the request that worried her, Kathryn came around the desk and sat in the chair next to him. “Computer, advance to time index 121.4.”

Hayes continued mid-sentence. “…as we get closer and our conversations become more frequent. When you respond to this message, please let us know of any casualties. I'm sure you’ve had more than your share.”

Kathryn looked up to see that Chakotay was giving her a comforting smile. She paused the recording and said, “That’s not what concerns me. Keep listening.”

He squeezed her hand and said, “All right.”

The recording continued, “I'm anxious to know the status of your crew, the Maquis, first contacts that you’ve made, interactions with the Borg, but there’ll be time for everything. Our thoughts are with you. Talk to you soon.”

When the communiqué ended, Kathryn raised an eyebrow to encourage Chakotay to comment.

“What?” he asked with a nonchalant tone.

She pointed out bluntly, “Status of the Maquis.”

“Do you find that surprising?”

“I don’t think of you or B’Elanna or the others as Maquis. I think of you as part of my crew.”

“You may have forgotten, but we haven’t.” He sighed and rubbed his jaw. “You heard the Admiral – It’ll be years before we have to deal with those issues. Let’s worry about it then.”

She felt disappointed that he wasn’t concerned, but she would not be deterred by his laissez-faire attitude. If they could get this issue resolved, perhaps she could indulge in the present a little. “Do you have dinner plans?”

“Is that an invitation?”

“I was hoping you’d help me compose a response.”

“You’re on.” He stood. “Do you want to go now or meet later?”

“Let’s meet in my quarters in about an hour, if that works for you?”

“Sure.” He started to say something and then stopped.

“Is there something else?”

“I’ll tell you later.” He put his arm around her shoulders as they walked towards the door. “There’s something I’d like to discuss with you that might affect your response.”

“Should I be worried?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

Kathryn was puzzled, but let it go for the time being. Chakotay dropped his arm to his side before the ready room doors opened.

*****

After they finished dinner, Kathryn asked, “Would you prefer cheesecake or ice cream for dessert?”

“Sure.” He glanced up at her with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes.

“That wasn’t a yes/no question.”

“Hmm?” His eyes studied hers for a minute and then asked, “Sorry, what did you say?”

With a sigh, she said, “Let’s call it a night. Your thoughts have been elsewhere this evening, and we can do this another time.”

“No, no.” He rubbed his face. “I apologize for being distracted. I'm going over scenarios in my mind, trying to imagine how they’ll play out, how you’ll respond.”

“Sounds familiar,” she said over the rim of her wine glass. “I assume that you’ve changed your mind about the report being worrisome?”

“Not in the way you think. It’s…” He put his napkin down. “Could we retire to the sofa to talk?”

“Of course.” They cleared away the dishes and moved to the more comfortable sitting area.

He sat on the edge of the sofa, resting his elbows on his knees. “I want you to know that serving as your first officer has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”

“Has been?” She furrowed her eyebrows.

“Yes, even when we disagree.” He hesitated. “The stress that you and I are under can be near-intolerable at times, but I believe that our strong friendship enables us to support each other through it all.”

“I do, too. If nothing else, our camaraderie makes every day more enjoyable.”

“Yes, it does. And, when we argue, we can do so without fearing that the command structure will break down or that it will permanently affect our relationship.”

“Agreed,” she said uncertainly. “Why do I feel like we’re about to have an argument?”

“I hope that doesn’t happen, but it’s possible.”

Watching his face for any clue, she stated anxiously, “If we weren’t stuck out here, I’d think you were about to resign your commission.”

Slowly, he said, “Not exactly, but what I'm about to tell you might change some things in an official capacity.”

“Chakotay?” Her stomach clenched with anxiety. “I really hope this isn’t heading where I think it is. Please, don’t…”

He took her hand and looked directly into her eyes. “I'm not resigning, Kathryn.”

With a shuddering exhalation, she said, “Well, that’s a relief.”

“I gave you my word that I’d support you and stay by your side, and that’s exactly what I intend to keep doing for the rest of our lives.”

Her breath caught with the intensity in his declaration. She stuttered, “Th… thank you. If I haven’t told you how grateful I am that you’re with me, please know that you’re not only my most trusted confidant, you’re my closet friend.”

He closed his eyes and looked down, muttering, “You may change your mind about that.”

Squeezing his shoulder, she said, “I can’t imagine what would undermine my faith in you at this point.”

“I can.” Chakotay rubbed his mouth as he formulated his next statement. “Kathryn, there is something that I should have told you long before now, but I’ve been hesitant to mention it considering how long we’ve known each other. However, our communications with Starfleet and the post-war politics might bring this to light, and I want you to hear this from me first.”

Closing her eyes, she released the breath she’d been holding. “Then this is about something you did as a Maquis. Chakotay, I fully realize that…”

He put up his hand to stop her. “I’m pretty sure it’s not what you think.”

“All right.” Nodding, she said, “Go ahead.”

“When the Cardassians destroyed Trebus, I was extremely angry. That part, you know.”

“Right.”

“I went to Admiral Jenkins demanding that Starfleet do something. I felt that I had a certain amount of clout, being a Commander and on the teaching faculty.”

She shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not.”

“There were a lot of factors at play, and I quickly realized that my influence didn’t extend much further than the dean’s office. However, I fought tooth and nail to try to get Starfleet to do something to protect the colonies or force the people to relocate.”

“How long did you work at it?”

“About a month. I was called in for a dressing down because I’d been a little too vocal about my displeasure with Starfleet.”

“As would be expected.”

“Yes, but that dressing down turned into something quite different. I had every intention of resigning my commission and telling Starfleet to go to hell, but I didn’t.”

“You didn’t?” Kathryn tried to remember the timeline of his past dealings with Starfleet but was still in the dark.

“No, I was furious in that meeting and told them, in no uncertain terms, how I felt. Jenkins acknowledged my anger, and then the four officers present began to talk. They confided in me how they also wanted to take certain actions in regard to the demilitarized zone, but their hands were tied. The Commander-in-Chief was trying to avoid a war.”

“Which wasn’t possible.”

“No, but Starfleet had to follow his policies, regardless of the personal opinions of its officers.”

“Right. So, when did you resign?”

He hesitated, taking both of her hands. A long moment passed before he admitted, “I didn’t.”

Doing a double take. “What?”

“I’m still a commissioned Starfleet officer. Actually, I'm a Captain.”

Kathryn stared at him in disbelief. “You must be pulling my leg.”

“No.” He shook his head. “As I said, I should’ve told you about this years ago, but I’ve been putting it off because I was sure that you’d be angry that I didn’t tell you from the beginning.”

“You’re not joking?”

“No.”

“You’re a commissioned Starfleet captain?”

“Yes.”

She leaned forward to rub her temples. “Okay, help me figure this out. How did you end up in the Maquis then? A leave of absence?”

“Jenkins gave me a choice to either step in line with official Starfleet policies, or to infiltrate the Maquis so that Starfleet could gain some control over their strategies. The Maquis were in a position to take actions that Starfleet couldn’t, and he believed that sending in a tactical specialist would make them more successful in reducing the Cardassian threat.”

Her fingers froze and she closed her eyes. Anger rose up in her like a teapot ready to scream, but her outward appearance remained deathly calm. “You were undercover.”

“Yes, and still am for what it’s worth.” He rubbed his palms together. “I’ve always believed in Starfleet, even if I didn’t agree with their politics. I didn’t want to abandon ‘fleet because, at the time, I believed that only they had the power to make things right. Going undercover gave me the opportunity to take action without rejecting the Federation, so we staged my resignation to Admiral Namimby, who was head of tactics at the Academy.”

Kathryn felt as if the deck plating had just gone out from under her. Her hands shook as she clasped them together and held them against her lips, barely containing the rage that was about to boil out of her. “You have got to be joking. Please, Chakotay… please tell me that you…”

“Kathryn,” he said gently as he placed his hand on her arm.

She jerked away. “I can’t believe…”

“I know.”

“You have no idea, Chakotay. No idea, whatsoever, how this…”

“No idea about what?”

“What were you…?” She was so angry she couldn’t continue.

“Kathryn, you’re not finishing your sentences.”

Standing abruptly, she yelled, “Damn right, I'm not!”

“I know this is a shock.”

Breathing through her teeth, she growled, “Do you have any idea how this will affect Voyager? Any idea at all?”

“I'm trusting that you won’t tell anyone else.”

“Does Tuvok know?”

“Yes, but I didn’t know that he was also an undercover agent until we boarded Voyager.”

She glared at him. “And why haven’t either of you filled me in before now?”

“The fault is mine, because I ordered him not to. In hindsight, that was a mistake.” He stood up and went to look through the viewport. “When we were first thrown out here, I thought it best not to blow my cover, for two reasons. One, in case we found a way back, and two, because the Maquis crew would have been livid.”

“To put it mildly.” She put her hands on her hips. “Why was I sent to bring you in?”

“Because you were receiving orders from someone who didn’t know about my assignment.”

“Harris. Do you think he knows now?”

“I doubt it.”

Unable to look at him, she walked over to the table and braced her hands on the surface to gather her thoughts. She wondered if Harris did, in fact, know about Chakotay, and if the admirals at Starfleet were all having a good laugh over her ignorance. However, as soon as the thought crossed her mind, she dismissed it as nonsensical. No one in their right mind would find her situation humorous by any stretch of the imagination. Still, she had to ascertain how protocol might need to be adjusted when there were officers of the same rank. “When were you promoted?”

“When I resigned in 2368. I needed the rank of Captain in order to have clearance to view certain intelligence files.”

She let that sit for a moment before articulating, “You have seniority here.”

“Yes, but you’re in command of Voyager.”

She spun around to glare at him. “Don’t you even think about usurping my command!”

He held up his hands to placate her. “That thought has never crossed my mind. While I’ve held the rank for three years longer than you, there is no question whatsoever that this ship is yours.”

“And don’t think I wouldn’t fight to keep it.”

With absolute conviction, he insisted, “Kathryn, I have absolutely no desire to take command of Voyager, ever, because the only situation in which that would take place is unthinkable.” He took a step towards her. “I will continue to do everything in my power to make sure that never happens. It would be devastating, not only for me personally, but for this entire crew.”

She could clearly see his devotion in the way he looked at her, but it didn’t change the fact that she was still furious with him. Her stomach twisted with the tumultuous emotions of love, anger, compassion, and resentment – all fighting each other for dominance. She closed her eyes again to force back the burning tears that threatened to undermine her thready control.

“Kathryn, I wasn’t the only undercover agent, but I'm the only one who is still alive, save Tuvok.”

“Because they were found out?”

“No, they were killed along with the rest of the Maquis.”

Rage surfacing, she shook her head. “I find it hard to believe that the Maquis were a Starfleet-authorized private militia.”

“That’s not an accurate interpretation. We received no financial backing or support from Starfleet, other than key personnel. I fully believed in the Maquis cause, and I'm sure that I would’ve joined it eventually.”

She remained quiet, trying to digest all that he was telling her.

“Kathryn, the last thing I’d ever want to do is deceive you or cause you pain.”

Raising her voice, she demanded, “Then why didn’t you tell me this before now? Six years, Chakotay!”

“I'm sure you can imagine how this would have undermined our efforts to meld the two crews.”

“That’s a load of crap, Chakotay. You could’ve told me without going public.”

“Maybe, but I was very cautious. Tuvok assured me that you could be trusted, but I didn’t want to take the chance until I came to that decision myself.”

She rounded on him. “Are you really saying that, all this time, you haven’t trusted me?”

“Of course not,” he said with a soothing tone. “I trust you implicitly, Kathryn. You are the closest and dearest friend that I’ve ever had. There just never seemed to be a good time to tell you that I’ve been lying to you.”

Jaw clenched, she commanded him to explain. “Why now?”

“Two reasons.” He took another step closer, although he remained half a room away. “The first is that our friendship, our relationship, is deeper than it ever has been before, and I sense that it’s growing stronger every day. I don’t want to have any secrets.”

Furious, she ran her fingers through her hair, stopping at the base of her neck to squeeze the tense muscles. She was unsure of how to respond without telling him to go to hell for making her suffer through years of lonely nights because of his little secret. “And the second?”

“I received the same request you did. One asking about the status of the Maquis, but from Jenkins. I think our responses should match, without appearing to.”

“Fine.” She threw her hands up in surrender and asked tersely, “What do you want me to put in my report, sir?”

“Kathryn, don’t.” He stepped forward, offering his hand in friendship. “We’re beyond that, you and I.”

She stared at his hand, outraged. “You need to go, Captain. You can’t lie to me and expect me to fall into your arms. This captain definitely does not, and never will, ‘need’ a hug from you.”

“I'm still the same man that I was this morning.”

“Of course you are. I just didn’t know you before.”

“Yes, you did. It can’t possibly be this difficult for you to accept that my loyalty is to the same organization as yours.”

“Yes, it is! You’re the one who convinced me that the Maquis was something worth believing in, something worth fighting for. I have spent an enormous amount of time over the last six years trying to figure out how to make sure that none of you go to prison when we get home.”

She clenched her fists in anger as she continued to berate him. “Damn it, Chakotay! I was prepared to go up against Starfleet Command and walk out on the fleet because you had me believing that your cause was just and right, and that Starfleet’s poor judgment was devastating enough for you to abandon it!”

He was momentarily stunned. “Kathryn, I appreciate your efforts, and if it comes to that, I’ll be right beside you defending my crew. Nothing that I’ve told you about the Maquis is a lie. I do believe in their cause, and as I’ve already told you, I would have joined them eventually. Frankly, I’d hoped this would be a relief for you, knowing that I’m not the terrorist you were sent to arrest.”

“A relief? You really think that I’m relieved to find out that I’ve spent the last six years stressing about the fact that I’ll be delivering a third of this crew to a life in prison as soon as we arrive home?” Staring hard into his eyes, she said, “I don’t have the authority to dismiss you, so I'm going to ask you. Please leave my quarters, Captain.”

“Kathryn, I don’t want this to come between us.”

“Please. Leave. Now.”

“All right, but if you want to talk or yell at me some more, you know where to find me.” He silently walked out the door.

*****

Kathryn barreled into the senior staff briefing the next morning and took her seat, not making eye contact with anyone. “Report, Ensign,” she barked.

Harry stammered, “Uh… um… yes, ma’am.”

“Ensign, do you have something to report? That is why we called this meeting, is it not?” She looked around the table and saw that everyone was staring at her in shock. The table was littered with dozens of PADDs, and she knew that none of them could relate to the topic of the meeting. “I would appreciate it if all of you would stop bringing non-essential information to these briefings and give me your full attention.”

“Yes, ma’am,” everyone said as they sat up a little straighter and set down whatever PADD they were holding.

Her eyes met Chakotay’s, and she saw that his face was awash with undisguised concern. “Do you have something to add?”

He held her stare while he spoke coolly to everyone else. “Let’s all give our captain our undivided attention this morning.”

“Yes, sir,” they all said quietly.

“Thank you.” She forced herself not to roll her eyes before addressing Harry again. “Your report, Ensign.”

“Yes, ma’am. Long range sensors picked up an L-class planetoid that appears to be rich in deuterium and some of the elements needed for polycarbonate compounds.

“And?” she asked acerbically.

He hesitated, “And I suggest that we alter course to take a closer look.”

“How far away is it, Ensign?”

Harry checked his PADD and stated, “Less than a light year off course, ma’am.”

“I expect a precise report when I ask for one, Ensign.”

“Of course.” Jaw tense, Harry read, “The L-class planetoid is in grid 521 of sector delta-omicron-six. It is currently 8.4753 light years from our current position. In order to arrive at the planetoid, Voyager would be diverted off our primary course towards grid 519 of sector delta-omicron-five by 0.8921 light years.”

“Thank you.” Kathryn looked at Tom who was scratching his neck with a pained expression on his face. “Lieutenant Paris, do you have something to add?”

“No, ma’am. I trust that Ensign Kim’s calculations are accurate.”

“I was referring to your current position of Chief Medical Officer, Lieutenant. Do you have any concerns about surveying this planetoid?”

“Um,” he paused to clear his throat. “Not at this time, ma’am. When we have more definitive short-range scans, I’ll analyze the data for potential medical concerns.”

“Does it not occur to you that any away mission could pose a potential problem for the Voyager crew without a skilled surgeon on board?”

“Yes, ma’am, that is a concern. However, the Doctor and I came up with a plan if a medical situation were to come up that I can’t handle. I'm to put the patient in stasis until he returns to the ship or until I have time to do research and give the treatment a test run on the holodeck.”

“Very well.” She directed her attention to the two women in the room. “Lieutenant Torres, Seven, please begin analyzing the data as soon as possible to determine whether the planetoid has what we need, and whether it can be safely extracted.”

“Aye, Captain,” Seven replied with a raised eyebrow.

With an air of sarcasm, B’Elanna asked, “Captain, what level of risk do you qualify as safe? No away mission is completely safe.”

Kathryn glared at B’Elanna and shouldn’t have been surprised when the Klingon didn’t bat an eye. “I consider any situation to be safe when it does not conclude with a funeral, Lieutenant.”

As Kathryn turned her attention on Tuvok, she heard B’Elanna mumble, “This briefing excluded.”

“What was that, Lieutenant?”

Chakotay snapped at B’Elanna. “Lieutenant, please refrain from any extraneous comments.”

“Yes. Sir,” B’Elanna replied, but kept her eyes focused on Kathryn.

Tuvok deflected Kathryn’s ire away from B’Elanna by asking, “Captain, may I suggest that we alter course and reconvene when we have more data?”

“We will NOT be altering course,” she snapped.

His eyebrows rose high, but he deferred to her judgment with a nod. “As you wish, Captain.”

Glaring at her entire staff, she said, “What you all don’t seem to understand is that we can’t operate with business as usual without a surgeon on board. Every situation poses a new and unacceptable risk.”

Neelix stuttered, “Ca… Ca… Captain Janeway, perhaps we’ll have a clearer…”

“That’ll be all, Mr. Neelix.”

He clamped his mouth shut and nodded sharply but said no more.

She was about to dismiss them when she remembered that she wasn’t the only captain in the room. She gave Chakotay an icy stare, asking, “Do you have anything to add?”

Raising his chin to match her stern body language, he openly scrutinized her before saying, “Not at this time, Captain.”

“Meeting adjourned.” She angrily held his gaze for longer than necessary before pushing away from the table and exiting to the bridge. Tuvok returned with her, but the others remained in the briefing room. She tried to ignore the feeling that she was about to be discussed, but she couldn’t help but wonder what Chakotay would say about her mood.

*****

“Torres, your attitude did not help that situation,” Chakotay reprimanded.

“What situation? What the hell was that about?”

Tom suggested, “I think I should call the captain down to sickbay for an exam. Something’s not right.”

“NO,” Chakotay said forcefully. “That would not help matters.”

“What is going on?” Harry asked. “Is she okay?”

With a sigh, Chakotay rubbed his neck. “We all have bad days and lash out at people now and then. Let’s all be patient and remember that she is a compassionate and remarkable leader whom we would all follow blindly.”

“Not when she’s in this mood,” Tom scoffed.

“Yes, Paris, in this mood, too. We can use this opportunity to show her how much we respect and trust her by not letting it get to us. Just keep your heads down and try to do everything by the book.”

B’Elanna puffed angrily. “Until she throws the book at us.”

“She’s not going to throw the book at you. She needs you.”

“While we may respect her, that doesn’t mean we’re willing to tolerate this for long.”

Tom asked, “Is her anger directed at you, Chakotay?”

He tugged at his ear before answering, “Yes, and I apologize for that since she has chosen to take it out on everyone else.”

“Well, if you want my advice…” B’Elanna started to say.

“I don’t.”

“Fine,” she shrugged and walked out of the room, muttering about Janeway needing to get some.

Chakotay sighed. “Tom, you’d better get to your post in sickbay. Harry, we’re due on the bridge. I’ll try to absorb as much of her anger as I can, but just remember that she thinks very highly of you.”

“Thanks, I think.”

He patted Harry on the back as they returned to the bridge.

*****

Kathryn waited until Chakotay sat down beside her before quietly asking, “Have a nice conversation?”

“Yes, Captain, I did. You can expect your senior staff to step up their game from this point forward.”

“Thank you, Ca… Commander.”

He glared at her and then typed into their shared console, “I'm trusting you not to blow my cover.”

She typed back, “Aye, sir.”

He leaned against the arm rest and rubbed his eyes.

*****

After an hour of doing nothing but fuming, Kathryn stood up. “I’ll be in my ready room. Mr. Chakotay, you have the bridge.”

“Aye, Captain.”

She sat at her desk and opened the computer terminal, deciding that working on reports would occupy her mind for a while. She began typing a draft of the one she’d been putting off:

The thirty-one surviving Voyager crewmembers who were previously assigned to the Maquis ship Liberty have been fully integrated into the ranks of the ship’s surviving Starfleet crew. Because of the heavy casualties caused by the displacement wave that brought us to the Delta Quadrant, it was imperative to combine the two crews in order to operate the ship at full capacity with the critical operations, engineering, and security stations covered.

Captain Chakotay was granted the field commission of Commander and agreed to serve as Voyager’s Executive Officer. (Note to self: Add strengths and accomplishments when not ready to bust his field commission down to crewman.)

Commanders Chakotay and Tuvok coached all former Maquis in Starfleet policies and procedures so that all members of the crew follow the same set of regulations. Everyone works toward exacting standards and strives to contribute all that they can toward the safe and efficient operation of U.S.S. Voyager.

Six additional former Maquis were also granted field commissions, two of whom are now deceased. The four surviving officers are Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres, Lieutenant Michael Ayala, Ensign Justin Jarvin, and Ensign Jad Tabor. These four have been exemplary in their service to Voyager. Refer to their personnel files for detailed accounts of their accomplishments.

Overall, the combination of the Maquis, civilian, former Borg, Equinox, and Starfleet crews has created an eclectic environment that is as diverse as it is unique. The Voyager community is a tight-knit family that supports and encourages

Her door chimed, interrupting her train of thought. Irritated, she snapped, “Come.”

Chakotay stayed in the open door as he asked, “Permission to enter, Captain?”

With a roll of her eyes, she muttered, “Granted.” After he sat down, she grumbled under her breath as she continued typing, “I suppose you think I deserve that kind of formality.”

“You do seem adamant regarding protocol today.”

“I now have a senior officer to impress,” she said gruffly without looking up.

“Kathryn…”

“I ask that you address me as captain.”

He simply looked at her.

Determined to make him offer the first olive branch, she continued working furiously. Eventually, his stare was too much for her and she asked though clenched teeth, “What are you doing?”

“Watching you work.” He nodded towards her computer terminal. “What are you typing?”

She snapped, “The report for Hayes. I thought I’d tell him exactly what I think of the Maquis, and since you’re not one of them, I don’t need your input.”

Not rising to her bait, he asked, “Aren’t you going to show it to me before you send it?”

She abruptly flipped the terminal around and sat back in her chair, folding her arms across her chest. “Read it. I'm not finished, yet, but you’re welcome to edit it, Captain.”

He flicked a glance towards her before focusing on her report. Not far into the report, his lips twitched in an effort not to smile. After he finished, he raised his eyebrows and asked, “Crewman?”

“Your field commission, Captain, not your actual rank.”

Shrugging, he replied, “Well, I’d be under a lot less strain and the lower decks ops personnel could use a little more attention.”

“As if you’d actually let me do that,” she said sarcastically.

“It’s your ship, Kathryn.” He turned the monitor back toward her. “It’s a good start, but I suspect he’ll want your personal assessment more than he’ll want to reread the facts. With the exception of the words exemplary and eclectic, all of that can be read in the crew manifest and ship’s logs.”

“Thank you for the suggestions, Captain. I’ll take them under advisement.” She went back to work, trying her best to ignore the way he was watching her. When she couldn’t take it anymore, she asked, “Did you need something or are you just here to supervise me?”

“I’m just waiting.”

“For what?”

“For you to rake me over the coals so we can get this over with. I know that I made a mistake and I’m not leaving until we have had this out.”

She replied, “It isn’t appropriate for me to reprimand a peer, Captain.”

“Is it right to take it out on the senior staff?”

“That’s uncalled for,” she seethed.

He raised his voice as he said, “The hell it’s not. Your behavior this morning was out of line, Kathryn. You took a private conflict and made it public. Now they’re asking questions and want to know why you’re pissed off.”

“Get the hell out my ready room, Captain.”

He leaned forward in his chair and glared at her. “No.”

“No?” She blinked slowly.

“Since you seem to think you can’t give me orders anymore, I’m not going to accept them until you recognize that I am still your first officer.”

“That can easily be changed.”

“Then change it, Kathryn.”

“I told you not to use my name.”

“And I will not accept that when we’re alone, Kathryn. It wasn’t twenty-four hours ago that you were indulging yourself in physical contact with me.”

“You’re mocking me?” she shouted incredulously.

“Of course not! I am merely pointing out the level of intimacy in our friendship, an intimacy that makes it quite acceptable for me to use your given name.”

Infuriated, she looked away and rubbed her forehead. “Damn it, Chakotay. I can’t do this.”

“Do what? Fight with me? I’d say that you’re doing a bang-up job, but if you want my advice, you might release more anger if you try throwing things at me.”

Pounding her finger down on the desk between them, she mandated, “This has to be resolved. I can’t have a first officer that I don’t trust.”

“So, make Tuvok your XO.”

“I don’t trust him, either. You both deceived me.”

He shrugged and sat back in his chair. “I remember a time when you and he teamed up to deceive me as well, using Tom Paris as bait.”

“And you know why, too.”

“Because you didn’t know how I’d react to the news that there was a spy amongst my crew. Just think if you’d known then that I was one, too.”

“If I’d known you were loyal to Starfleet, I would’ve trusted you from the beginning.”

“I know you better than that, Kathryn. You don’t trust anyone until they’ve earned it and you know as well as I do that a diploma from the Academy doesn’t mean someone is trustworthy. Hell, I have two diplomas, and you didn’t give me your unconditional and immediate trust.”

“I made you my first officer, didn’t I? And if I’m not mistaken, I also gave you the command codes to this ship. But that doesn’t mean I was confident with your acting skills. I needed you to be livid with Paris, and I had to make sure that you wouldn’t try to round up the support of your crew to flush the traitor out yourself.”

He opened his arms. “I’m the same man, Starfleet or Maquis. Either way, those people were my responsibility because I was their captain. If the traitor had been from the fleet crew, you would’ve done the same.”

“Chakotay, you have no idea how angry I am about this.”

“On the contrary, I see it quite clearly, and your reaction is exactly why I didn’t tell you.”

Widening her eyes contemptuously, she yelled, “For all the complaining you do about me adhering to regulations, Captain, you’ve certainly kept that right for yourself. Congratulations, Starfleet will be so proud.”

“Stow it, Kathryn. You’re being irrational, and you’re taking this as a personal affront. I confided in you because I didn’t want any secrets between us, and you’ve turned me into public enemy number one just because I didn’t share top-secret information that could’ve destroyed the hard-won peace aboard this ship.”

Standing up, she accused, “You didn’t trust me, Chakotay. For all your talk about the crew following me to the ends of the galaxy and believing in me, you didn’t.”

“You are wrong,” he said with restrained condemnation. “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to have misgivings about your authority. Your success and wellbeing are of utmost importance to me. I hope that you realize how poorly you’re reacting to this before you drive a permanent wedge between us. That would tear both of us apart, Kathryn, and don’t you dare say otherwise.”

His harsh glare was more than she could take. She looked down at her desk as she said, “You were my dearest friend, Chakotay, and you’ve literally pulled the rug out from under me. What am I supposed to think?”

His anger spent, he reached across the desk and curled his fingers around the side of her hand. “Think about how much I value your friendship to have risked it by telling you my secret. I have never been dishonest about my feelings towards you, and while you believe that I’ve deceived you, the fact is that I care about you so much that I would do anything to give you the strength to survive out here. That’s all this is, Kathryn, and nothing else has changed. I still trust you with my life, I’m still your best friend, and I will continue to follow you because I do believe in you.”

She closed her eyes and whispered, “Please go.”

“I’ll give you some space, but know this, Kathryn – I will fight to keep your friendship, and I will not let you go before we discover what we could be to each other.” He released her fingers and walked out the door.

She pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes and ordered, “You will not cry, Kathryn. This is not your fault.”

As two tears escaped on their own volition, she felt like throwing something, but chose to slam the computer terminal shut instead. She felt like her command, her friendships, and her happiness were all in jeopardy over one, devastating fact. Chakotay hadn’t believed that she’d been strong enough to command Voyager in the Delta Quadrant unless he took a backseat from day one.

Not only was it not befitting of her rank and position to fall apart because the man she loved lied to her, but it was uncalled for that her XO believed that he was behind her success.

She moved over to her sitting area to get away from the reports and other reminders of her burdens. Picking up her treasured china teapot, she headed to the replicator to fill it with coffee because she was certain that she was going to need several cups to make it through the day. She hadn’t slept well the night before and the morning had been emotionally exhausting.

“All hands! Brace for impact!” Chakotay’s voice urgently warned.

The warning came too late as the ship rocked and she was thrown against the replicator, her chin clipping the edge of the countertop as she went down. Unable to get her footing, she fell on top of the antique teapot, breaking the glass and impaling the soft flesh of her abdomen with the rough shards and fragments.

“Captain to the bridge!”

His call required her to put aside the intense pain and take command of her ship. She pushed herself off the floor and looked down at the jagged pieces of glass protruding from her belly. Ignoring the pain, she pulled the two largest pieces out, and then unzipped her jacket to get what she could of the remaining shards. She held her hand against the open wounds and rushed onto the bridge. “Report!”

Harry shouted, “We were hit by the leading edge of an antimatter shockwave.”

“Source?”

“It appears that a battle is being fought in sector 520, and one of the ships just experienced a warp core breach.”

Chakotay took one look at her blood-soaked shirt and his eyes widened in alarm. As Tuvok reported on casualties and shield strength, Chakotay grabbed a first-aid kit. Before she had time to react, he slipped a large gauze pack underneath her shirt and pressed it against her abdomen.

Holding her tightly around the waist to maintain pressure on the open wounds, Chakotay requested, “What’s the status of the four remaining ships?”

Harry replied, “Their weapons are powered, and their shields appear to have held. The battle has resumed.”

“Damn it,” Kathryn said as she pulled away from Chakotay and held the gauze herself. She turned towards the viewscreen to assess the visuals of the situation. “How the hell does trouble always find us?”

“Morris,” Chakotay yelled to the helmsman. “Set a course back to the planet we just passed, warp factor 3.”

“Aye, Commander, but at that speed, we’re likely to miss it.”

Kathryn faced Chakotay and asked, “What’s your plan?”

He moved to the helm to help navigate. “To put that planet between us and any more shockwaves. We can’t jump to high warp because of the density of the systems behind us, and we certainly don’t want to head into that battle.”

“Agreed. Distance to the planet?”

“Three million kilometers,” Morris replied anxiously.

“Commander?” Kathryn asked. “Can you get us there safely at that speed?”

“Yes, Captain,” he said as he instructed Morris how to calculate the precise time to come out of warp.

Kathryn wished that Tom was on the bridge, but the high number of casualties required him to be in sickbay. However, she knew Chakotay would get the ship pulled out of warp in time. She started to sit down, but as her abdomen curled, razor-sharp pain knifed through her, making her gasp loudly as she tried not to pass out from the pain.

“Captain!” Harry yelled, alerting Chakotay to the problem.

He swung around and rushed back towards her. “Captain?” Chakotay supported her with an around her back and a hand on her hip.

Once she got back onto her feet and was able to stabilize herself by holding onto the command console, the pain receded. “I’ll be fine as long as I don’t sit,” she said as she tried to pull away. “Concentrate on the helm, Commander.”

“Aye, Captain.” With worry in his eyes, he let her go, but paused to add a second gauze pad to the one she’d already soaked. “Keep pressure on it.”

She nodded and turned the command console around so she could read the data from the shockwave while standing. “Kim, am I reading this right? The anti-matter from that shockwave contained traces of veridium?”

“Yes, Captain. It appears to be the detonator in their torpedos, but it didn’t leak into our plasma.”

Tuvok asked, “That’s unlikely. It’s a highly volatile and unstable element.”

“That it is,” she replied, “But it’s also highly magnetic. Tuvok, charge the shields with radiogenic isotopes. That will deflect at least part of an impact.”

“Captain!” Harry shouted. “Another explosion, shockwave in ten seconds.”

Tuvok reported, “Shields charged,” and then announced, “All hands, brace for impact. Eight seconds.”

Kathryn asked, “Commander, how close are we?”

“I'm altering course,” he shouted. “At this distance, that wave would push us into the planet’s gravity sphere.”

Kim said, “Impact in five… four…”

Kathryn forced herself into her seat, trying not to bend her abdomen. The pain radiated through her body, but she ignored it when she realized that Chakotay wasn’t taking a seat. “Commander!”

At the last second, he dropped to the floor and grabbed hold of the helm base to keep from being thrown. When the impact came, Kathryn realized that she should’ve done the same because she flew out of her seat, rolled across the command deck, and hit the base of the railing. The impact reverberated jarred her teeth and reverberated throughout her entire body as the ship bucked against the onslaught of the anti-matter explosion. Sparks and debris fell around her, a large beam missing her head by only a few centimeters.

Dizzy from blood loss and winded from the impact of her fall, Kathryn struggled to her feet. “Report!”

“Shields down to forty percent!”

Harry yelled, “Next impact in twelve…”

Tuvok warned the ship, “All hands, third impact in ten…nine…”

Kathryn struggled to get back to her seat, but the deck was littered with an obstacle course of fallen debris, and her eyes weren’t focusing clearly. The deck seemed to be coming at her when she felt Chakotay grab her from behind and roll them underneath the fallen beam. Angrily, she pushed against him. “How dare you! I have to protect my ship!”

“Kathryn! Stop fighting me! You’re going to bleed to death if you get hurt again!”

“Not if my ship explodes first!”

Under the force of another push from her and the third shockwave, he rolled out from under the beam and was immediately pierced in the chest by a long piece of shrapnel.

Everything flew by in slow motion as she screamed his name and scrambled out to help him. She heard Morris yell, “We made it to the planet! Entering standard orbit!”

She pressed her hands over the blood that was seeping out of Chakotay’s wound as Tuvok said, “Auxiliary power back online. Shield strength up to sixty-eight percent.”

Harry called out, “Next shockwave in five… four… three…”

Kathryn leaned over Chakotay to protect him as much as possible.

“Two… one!”

When nothing happened, she collapsed on top of Chakotay’s body, gulping deep breaths of relief as she fought to maintain consciousness against the unbearably sharp pain.

Samantha Wildman came to them with a med-kit in hand. “Captain, can you sit up?”

“Help him, please.” She pushed herself up with Sam’s help, but swayed with the sudden movement until Sam supported her.

With one arm around Kathryn, Sam scanned Chakotay and then tapped her commbadge, “Wildman to sickbay.”

Tom sounded stressed as he replied, “Kind of busy here, Sam.”

“I’m sending Chakotay. He’s critical. Shrapnel has pierced a primary artery and his heart.”

“Understood. If the captain can spare you, I need you with secondary triage unit in the mess.”

Sam directed the tri-corder at Kathryn and reported, “I’ll take her with me. She’s in serious condition with abdominal bleeding.”

“Keep me informed. Paris out.”

She closed the commline and said, “Computer, emergency transport Commander Chakotay to sickbay.”

He disappeared in a shimmering, blue light while Sam guided Kathryn to lie down in his place on the command deck. “Captain, you’re losing a lot of blood. Try not to exert yourself.”

“The ship… What’s happening to my ship?” Kathryn’s confusion was mounting as Sam did a more detailed scan of the wounds.

“Ayala, we need a stretcher,” Sam called out and then with a softer voice told Kathryn, “Voyager is protected for now. Let your crew handle the repairs, Captain.”

“Chakotay? Where is he?”

“Tom’s taking care of him. He’ll know what to do,” Sam assured her as she pressed a hypo against Kathryn’s neck.

The pain instantly began to recede as she saw Ayala’s concerned face come into view above her. He spoke, but she couldn’t hear his voice as unconsciousness took her blissfully away from the grief and agony of what had just happened.

*****

Kathryn blinked rapidly against the bright lights blinding her from above. She turned her head to the side so she could open her eyes and ascertain her surroundings. She was in the messhall, wearing a medical gown, and lying on a cot amidst dozens of crewmembers resting peacefully around her.

Noah Lessing kneeled next to her. “Captain, how are you feeling?”

It took her a moment to inventory her body before she could answer. “Groggy, sore.”

“That’s to be expected. I repaired the damage to your abdomen as much as I could, but you’re going to have to take it easy until Paris can take a closer look at you.”

“All right,” she laid her hand on her aching stomach and looked around again, trying to remember what had happened. “Crewman?”

“Yes, Captain?”

“Fill me in, would you? What happened?”

“Of course, Captain. Voyager was hit with three anti-matter shockwaves that were the result of weapons testing and combat training in this sector. We’re no longer at risk and the inhabitants have offered their apologies and assistance. What Wildman and I haven’t figured out, yet, is how you got fragments of broken glass imbedded in your abdomen.”

“Glass?” She squinted, trying to catch the memory that seemed to be just out of her reach. Looking around again, she asked, “You said the danger has passed?”

“Yes, ma’am, I believe so, but I don’t have all the details.”

“How many casualties? Did we lose anyone?”

“No deaths, but I’m not sure about the total number of injuries. We have thirty-three wounded in here, and Paris has seven critical patients in sickbay.”

She took a moment to process the information and then asked, “Is it safe for me to sit up?”

“Take it slow and let me support your weight. I wasn’t able to completely repair the sheath around your rectus abdominal muscles, and it could rupture easily.” As if giving her a hug, Noah put his arms behind her back and lifted slowly until she was in a sitting position.

“Whoa.” Dizziness washed over her and she would’ve fallen back if Noah hadn’t been holding her up.

“Want to go back down?”

“Give me a moment.” She kept her eyes closed and held onto his arms through the initial rush of vertigo.

“Okay, I’m going to swing your legs around, but tell me if it’s too much.” As he started, he instructed, “Let me do the work, Captain.”

Once she was sitting on the edge of the cot, she forced her eyes open and took slow breaths until her vision cleared and the room righted itself.

“All right?” he asked hesitantly.

Letting go of his arms, she nodded. “I think so.”

He withdrew and kneeled in front of her. “Any sharp pain?”

“Sharp?” She touched her belly and a memory rushed back to her. “Teapot.”

“Teapot?”

“I fell on my glass teapot.” Looking into his eyes, she added, “There was an impact. I think I remember a little now.”

“Good.” He started to say something and then bit his lips.

“Crewman?”

“Yes, Captain?”

“You have something to say?”

He looked away and rubbed the smile off his face before he admitted, “I was about to tell you that real glass is not permitted in crew quarters.”

She clicked her tongue. “So right, but the pot wasn’t in my quarters. It was in the ready room.”

“Ah,” he smothered a smile. “Well then, that clears it up, Captain.”

Winking at him, she asked, “Would you excuse me for a moment while I contact the bridge?”

“Of course, Captain, although don’t expect much privacy in here.”

“I’m not.” She tapped her commbadge as she smiled at Ensign Brooks who was lying on the cot next to her. “Janeway to the bridge.”

Harry replied, “Captain! It’s a… relief to hear from you.”

The hesitation in his response gave her pause. “Everything okay up there, Ensign?”

His tone immediately transformed into a more professional clip. “Yes, Ma’am. Would you like a status report?”

“Please,” she asked with a frown, thinking something wasn’t right with him.

“Aye, Captain. Shields are operating at 83% capacity, weapons at full capacity. Navigational sensors are on-line. Communication system is functioning normally. Warp-power is online. Impulse engines are offline. Thrusters are online.”

As Harry went through his long list, Kathryn exchanged a confused look with Ensign Brooks. “Ensign Kim… stop.”

“Aye, Captain.” He remained completely silent, waiting for further instructions.

Brooks, also a bridge officer, sat up slowly and listened with concern at Harry’s unusual behavior and reporting style.

Kathryn asked, “Ensign, is there a problem? Do you need me up there?”

“No, ma’am. Shall I continue with the report?”

Blinking to clear the fog from her head, she replied, “Just a quick briefing on the condition of the ship and bridge officers, please.”

“Aye, Captain. Three anti-matter shockwaves impacted the ship over an eleven-minute period. They caused significant damage to the forward section outer hull, taking the auxiliary deflector and lateral sensor arrays offline. Structural damage occurred only on deck one.”

“What kind of structural damage?”

“The dorsal hull supports buckled resulting in the collapse of ceiling plating joists on the bridge, in the briefing room, and in Commander Chakotay’s office, ma’am. Currently, structural repair has been completed on the bridge only.”

“Thank you. What is the current status of Commanders Chakotay and Tuvok?”

A moment of silence passed before Harry replied, “Commander Tuvok is meeting with the Borzelian Envoy in the science lab briefing room.”

“The who? Borzelians?”

Hesitantly, Harry replied, “Yes, ma’am. The inhabitants of this sector. They are providing assistance with resources and repairs.”

When no further information was forthcoming, Kathryn raised an eyebrow at Brooks and asked, “Harry, what about Commander Chakotay?”

“Captain, I apologize. I thought you knew. He’s in stasis.”

“What!?!” she yelled and jumped to her feet. With a loud groan, she immediately bowled over with intense abdominal pain.

Brooks lunged for her as Harry cried out with worry, “Captain?”

Noah rushed back to lift her onto the cot. “Try to breathe through the pain, Captain.” He called out, “I need six cc’s of terakine. Kim, she’ll be fine. Close channel.”

Sam ran over and handed him the analgesic. “Here, Noah! Give her this while I get a scan.”

He pressed the hypo into Kathryn’s neck and asked, “Did she rupture?”

Reading the results, Sam replied, “Yes, the sheath and the lateral obliques have herniated where the sutures separated.”

As the pain receded, Kathryn asked, “Chakotay? What’s his condition?”

Noah began repairing the muscle tissue before replying, “I'm not sure, Captain. I just know he’s one of the critical patients in sickbay.”

“Wildman? Brooks? Were either of you on the bridge? What happened?”

Sam replied, “I was there, Captain, and so were you. Your memory loss is likely due to the fact that you were suffering from extreme confusion at the time he was injured.”

Kathryn grimaced in pain as Noah worked. “That doesn’t answer my question, Sam.”

“Ma’am,” she said hesitantly. “The Commander was struck in the chest, and Paris had too many casualties at once. He had four put into stasis.”

“How long ago was that? How long have I been out?”

“About six hours, Captain. We kept you sedated until we were able to repair your injuries.”

As he finished, Noah commented, “The pro-longed anesthesia could be affecting her memory, too.”

“I need to speak with Paris.” Kathryn locked eyes with Noah. “If I don’t bend, can I walk to sickbay?”

He looked back and forth between her eyes and the tri-corder readings, considering her request. “Captain,” he said finally. “I don’t recommend it.”

Sam tapped her commbadge. “Wildman to sickbay.”

“Problem, Sam?” Tom replied.

“The Captain’s awake, and…”

“She wants to know about Chakotay, right?” His tone was sharp and a little caustic.

Kathryn blinked slowly, in complete disbelief over Tom’s tone of voice. “Mr. Paris?” she asked with undisguised reproach.

“Yes, ma’am? I didn’t realize you were on the comm line.”

“So I gathered. If you could dispense with the sarcasm, I’d appreciate some information about the Commander’s condition.”

“My apologies, Captain. It’s been a difficult day.” Tom took a deep breath. “Regarding the Commander – he’s in stasis until things calm down enough that I can concentrate on the surgery.”

“What type of surgery?”

“Repair of his cardiac muscle, Captain. I assumed that you would know due to the nature of his injury.”

Noah interrupted, “Paris, she’s suffering from short-term memory loss.”

“I see,” Tom said. “How severe? What’s the last thing you remember, Captain?”

Kathryn was still reeling from the diagnosis. “His heart? What happened?”

“Captain,” Tom said with a softer voice. “I’ll come speak with you in private.”

“All right,” Kathryn said with worry.

Noah said, “Paris, since you’re coming this way, would you bring a cellular micro-suture implement? The auto-sutures aren’t holding the muscle sheath or the laterals in the Captain’s abdomen.”

“Sure, I’ll be there as soon as I can get away, but it’ll probably be thirty minutes. Paris out.”

After Noah and Sam left, Kathryn closed her eyes and tried to recall what had happened on the bridge. She clearly remembered falling on the teapot, but events before and after seemed just out of her mind’s reach.

Kathryn looked over at Sue Brooks who was lying next to her. “Ensign?”

“Yes, Captain?”

“How are you feeling? What were your injuries?”

Sue turned on her side to face her captain. “Just a concussion, but Wildman insists that I remain here for observation. They aren’t letting any of us go until Paris has a chance to clear us.”

“Were you on the bridge when the Commander was injured?”

“The last thing I remember, he was helping Morris at the helm, but I only recall two of the three shockwaves.”

“And I was on the bridge?”

“By then, yes, but you were injured in the ready room. The Commander was trying to stop your bleeding, but things were tense up there.”

Kathryn shook her head in dismay. “I just don’t remember. Last thing I recall clearly, he and I were in the ready room listening to a communiqué from Starfleet Command.”

“Well,” Sue said with a shrug. “He was in your ready room for a while this morning.”

“Morning?” Kathryn frowned. “No, I asked him to join me for dinner after we were done, although I don’t recall eating it.”

“Don’t worry, Captain. It’ll come back, I’m sure.”

*****

The sound of muffled voices drew Kathryn out of a deep sleep into hazy semi-consciousness where her body felt unusually heavy. She had absolutely no interest in opening her eyes.

After a while, curiosity finally won out and she forced her heavy eyelids to move. The cots around her were now empty, and the triage personnel were helping most of the remaining patients leave the messhall. Tom was going from cot to cot doing final checks and releasing those who no longer needed observation. Kathryn figured that it was probably time to transform the room back into the mess hall to feed the hungry repair crews.

Kathryn pushed herself up onto her elbows, relying on the strength of her arms to lift her rather than risking further injury to her very sore belly.

Neelix’s unusually somber voice came from behind her saying, “Glad to see that you’re awake, Captain.”

She turned her head and greeted him with a smile. “Did you survive the incident without injury, Mr. Neelix?”

“Just a few scrapes,” he said quietly, not making eye contact with her for long. “I hope my movements over here didn’t wake you?”

“No, I didn’t even know you were there.” She saw that he was folding up cots and setting up tables and chairs. “I’d offer to help, but last time I tried to get up, I ended up on the floor needing a few more sutures.”

Subdued, he said, “That’s all right, Captain. You keep resting. I'm sure it’s doing you some good.”

She tilted her head in concern. “Everything all right, Neelix? You don’t seem yourself.”

“Nothing to worry about,” he said with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “It’s been a very long day that didn’t start out on the best note.”

“Oh? Bad morning?”

He shrugged. “I’ve had better.”

Tom stepped up and asked, “How are you feeling, Captain?”

“I feel ready to get off this cot, but my stomach seems to think otherwise.”

Neelix told Tom, “She seems to be doing better.”

“Yes, but she’s lost about a day’s worth of memories.”

“Oh!” Neelix’s attitude instantly transformed into his usual chipper self. “Well, then, I think that’s cause for celebration because this is a day that I’m sure most of us would like to forget.”

Tom glanced warily at the Talaxian. “That doesn’t mean she won’t get them back, though.”

“What am I not remembering, gentlemen?”

Neelix practically sang, “Oh, nothing, nothing at all. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to check on the stew. I hope you feel better soon, Captain.”

After he left, Kathryn said, “He was thrilled when he realized I didn’t remember something. What was it?”

Tom took a scan of her abdomen and said, “You don’t want to know.”

“And you think that telling me that will make me drop the subject?”

“No, but it was worth a try. Let’s get you back down.” He leaned over and wrapped his arms behind her back. “Don’t use your abs.”

“Thanks,” she said when she was flat on her back again. “Can you check my brain to see if there’s any sign of swelling that would cause amnesia?”

“Sure.” He ran the tri-corder around her head. “Some slight swelling, but nothing significant. I hear that you flew out of your chair and struck the railing. I swear we need to install safety harnesses for you and the Commander.”

“Tom?”

“Would you lift up your shirt, please? I need access directly to the skin for this.”

She did as instructed, holding the medical tunic tightly across her chest. “Are you going to answer me?”

Focusing on the sub-dermal surgery, he asked, “Permission to speak freely?”

“Please do.”

He took a moment to formulate his response. “You were in a pretty bad mood this morning, and because of that, we had a rather unpleasant briefing. But you seemed to come down on everyone equally. Well, except for Harry. I think he got the brunt of it.”

“Really? I wonder why.” Again, she tried to force the memories, but they just weren’t coming to her. “Well, I'm sorry about that, but I guess we all have bad days.”

“Mmm hmm.” He took another tri-corder reading and then redirected the micro-suture. “You really did a number on yourself, Captain. Lessing says it was broken glass?”

“And he already pointed out that my tea set is against regulations.”

“Did he?” Tom asked with a slight smile, not tearing his focus away from her belly. “I’ll have to give him more credit.”

Kathryn watched him work. “I shouldn’t have pulled the bigger pieces out.”

“Sounds like a little recollection is coming back. I must say that I’m glad they found the glass in you because otherwise, we would’ve thought you’d been stabbed repeatedly with a dagger.”

With a tilt of her head, she joked, “If I was that much of a bear this morning, perhaps I deserved it.”

He smiled again. “You weren’t quite that bad, but I’ll bet that we wouldn’t mind pummeling you in a few rounds of parrises squares.”

“If I get the memories back, I’ll take you up on that. Seven to one?”

“Nah, only need four players, and we’d give you a better chance than that. Three to one, maybe. I doubt Chakotay would participate.”

“He’d probably prefer to take me one-on-one in velocity.” Kathryn drew a shaky breath. “Are you avoiding a report on his condition?”

“No, just thinking we should talk in private. There’s a tear in his aorta that I need to repair, but I couldn’t do it with the distractions of the other traumas.”

“I understand, and I appreciate all the work you’ve done today.”

“Thank you, and I apologize again for my inappropriate sarcasm over the comm line earlier.”

She waved it away, not in the mood to come down on him. “You were probably at your wit’s end and it sounds like I earned it.”

“At the risk of having to scrub the exhaust manifolds, I’m going to agree.” He took another scan and then asked, “I think that does it. May I touch your abdomen directly?”

Pulling her shirt tight across her chest again, she nodded. “Go ahead.”

“Tell me if anything hurts.” He pressed his fingers into the healed tissues.

“Sore, but nothing sharp.”

“The analgesic hasn’t worn off, yet, so if it gets bad later, take the meds Doc gave you for your headaches.”

“Thanks, Tom.”

“You’re welcome. Let’s get back to sickbay.”

*****

Tom had to rush back quickly, but since Kathryn was moving slowly, Sam walked with her. The two women didn’t discuss what’d happened on the bridge because Kathryn was focused on finding the memories in her own mind.

Sam stopped before the sickbay doors opened. “Okay on your own from here?”

“Yes, thank you, Ensign.”

“My pleasure, Captain.” She hesitantly said, “I’m sure the Commander will be fine.”

“He has to be.” Kathryn clicked her tongue. “I’ll put him on report, otherwise.”

“Goodnight, Captain.”

“Night.” She took a deep breath before walking through the doors. What she saw gave her pause, and she had to forcibly will herself to keep going. The three side biobeds were full in addition to two portable biobeds that had been added to handle all the critical patients. None, however, was occupied by Chakotay.

Tom finished checking on one of the patients and then asked, “Captain, if you’ll follow me?”

She nodded and let him lead her through the Doctor’s office and into the medical lab behind sickbay. It was in there that she saw the four stasis pods, two of which were already empty.

“Ensign Nozawa will have to remain in stasis until the Doc gets back. One of the joists struck his skull and there’s a lot of neural damage that I’m afraid to tamper with.”

“Was he on the bridge at the time?”

“Yes, ma’am. At the engineering station, but Sam transported him to me immediately, and we got his lifesigns stabilized before putting him under.”

Following Tom to the last pod near the far wall, she suddenly felt nauseous, as if what she was about to see would devastate her. Pushing past her discomfort, she walked up to the unit and looked down at Chakotay through the transparent aluminum. “His coloring is good. I expected him to be pale.”

Tom said nothing in response as he checked the readings on the display panel.

She laid her hands on the case, wishing that she could touch him. Memories surfaced of being in his arms that morning, or at least what felt like that morning to her. She recalled with distinct pleasure the way he had touched her neck and the solid warmth of his embrace. Now, looking at his motionless body, she was tempted to say to hell with growing old together because it was likely that one or both would never make it to old age.

Snapping out of the distracting thoughts, she asked, “How long will it be until you’re ready to do the surgery?”

“I’m preparing to pull him out of stasis now. Then I’ll transport him to the surgical bed to administer the anesthesia.” Tom took a deep breath and then blew it out. “Captain, before I start, we need to talk.”

“About his condition?”

“Not exactly. He’ll be fine if it goes as planned. However, if the slightest thing goes wrong, my backup plan is to stop and bring him back here.” Tom set his PADD down. “What I’m unsure about is how to address the situation regarding his injury.”

“Meaning?”

“Although I’m acting CMO, I’m not well-versed in the protocol for reporting a situation that I’ve been made aware of. Nor am I sure that I should report it.”

“What kind of situation?”

“An injury that probably could’ve been prevented if the two officers hadn’t been arguing at the time.”

“He was arguing with someone when he got hurt?”

“Yes, Captain.”

“With whom?”

“That’s where I’m stuck, because he was arguing with you, Captain.”

“Me?” Her eyes bugged out and she gasped. “In the middle of a crisis?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Her heart lurched as she looked down at the man who meant so much to her. “And I don’t remember it. What could we have been arguing about?”

“It’s possible that you weren’t in control of your faculties. According to Sam’s report, you were down two liters of blood and suffering from confusion, disorientation, and already showing signs of short-term memory loss.”

Hoping there was a clue there, she asked, “Could Wildman hear what we were saying?”

“No, ma’am. I learned about the conflict from the Commander before I put him in stasis. He implied that he would’ve been okay if you hadn’t been arguing.”

She was taken aback and raised her voice in disbelief. “Chakotay reported that it was my fault that he was injured?”

“Not in those exact words, ma’am. Another reason that I’m uncertain how to handle this is because when he told me, he was also suffering from the effects of significant blood loss. I can’t be sure that he understood the situation correctly.”

One hand on her mouth, the other on her hip, she asked, “Exactly what did he say, Mr. Paris?”

“He was worried about your condition and upset because you hadn’t let him protect you. Since you weren’t here in sickbay, he feared that you were bleeding to death because he had failed.”

She pursed her lips and nodded. “That sounds like something I’d do, not let him protect me. Is that all there is to it?”

“No, ma’am, I’m sorry.”

“Go on,” she encouraged.

“What I’ve pieced together is that he pulled both of you under an already-fallen beam to protect you from the third shockwave. You fought against him, and as a result, he rolled out and was struck by shrapnel that pierced his heart.”

Her mouth dropped open and she lifted her chin. Astonished, she demanded, “His words, exactly. Please.”

Tom looked at his notes. “I tried to protect her, but she wouldn’t let me. I lost my grip when she pushed me, but then everything went black. Please, I have to know if she’s okay.”

“I see.” She looked down at Chakotay again and touched the transparent lid. The nausea that she was feeling earlier was back with a vengeance. “If you’ll excuse me for a moment, Mr. Paris.”

“Of course, Captain.”

She walked back towards the Doctor’s office and into the sickbay lavatory. After shutting the door, she braced herself on the countertop and took slow, deep breaths to try to calm her stomach. Bile rose to her mouth twice, but with a concentrated effort, she got it back down.

When she was sure the danger had passed, she took a disposable cup off the shelf and filled it with water from the sink. The cool liquid seemed to work at dousing the burning sensation that was edging up towards her eyes. She might allow herself to break down later, but she refused to do it here. The best thing to do was to not think about what might have happened until she had more information.

She took a look at herself in the mirror and grimaced. “You look like hell.” Picking up a damp cloth, she wiped off the smudged makeup and then took a moment to run her fingers through her hair. “It’ll have to do.” Before heading back out, she smoothed down her medical tunic and took a deep breath.

Tom looked up when she came back into the lab. “I’m sorry, Captain.”

Holding up a hand, she said, “No apology necessary. It was information that I needed to know. However, let’s hold off on an official report until we have all the information and he can decide what he wants done about this, shall we?”

He nodded. “I can try stimulating your neural pathways…”

“Not just yet. From what I’ve heard so far, I think it would be preferable to regain the memories gradually.”

“I understand.” He opened the lid of the stasis unit. “I’m going to wake him now, although I don’t know if he’ll regain consciousness.”

“Was he awake when you put him under?”

“No, but there are signs of some improvement, most likely due to increased blood volume.”

Tom adjusted the settings and Chakotay’s vitals began to improve as he gradually returned to normal. The wait was interminable for Kathryn as she stared at the medical status panel, tracking his heart rate and oxygen saturation levels. The aortic malfunction was obvious from the erratic sinus rhythm, indicating that his heart was operating far below peak efficiency. She wanted to touch him but was suddenly afraid that she’d find his body too cold and lifeless.

“Captain, he’s coming around.”

She watched Chakotay’s facial muscles twitch and his breathing become more noticeable and surprisingly shallow. When his eyes fluttered opened, she had to fight against a show of emotion by shifting her jaw from side to side and twitching her nose.

“Kathryn?” he croaked and held out a hand to her.

When she touched his fingers, her eyes filled against her will. “I’m so sorry, Chakotay.”

His breathing was labored and his body weak, but his eyes were bright and full of love. “You have every right to be upset with me, Kathryn, but if you’ll forgive me, we’ll get through this.”

Tom spoke quietly, as if unwilling to intrude, “Commander, she’s lost about a day’s worth of memories.”

Chakotay’s forehead furrowed with concern as he studied her. “A day?” Struggling for every breath, he looked around and asked, “I was in stasis? How long?”

She wiped away the single tear that had fallen because of his heartfelt plea for absolution. “Only for about eight hours.”

“Commander, we had too many traumas to deal with at once, but now I have the surgical bay prepped to repair the damage to your heart. As soon as you’re ready, I’ll initiate transport.”

“Heart surgery?” Chakotay asked warily.

Tom explained, “To fix a tear in your aorta.”

He nodded and then looked back up at Kathryn. “Are you okay?” He coughed to loosen the congestion that was forming in his lungs.

“I should be asking you that.” She sniffed and took a shaky breath. “How do you feel?”

“Weak, but worried about you. Last thing I remember you were in pretty bad shape.”

She shrugged with a forced, watery smile. “So, I’ve heard.”

Tom explained, “She had multiple puncture wounds to her abdomen and some pretty heavy bruising.”

“Punctured with what?” he asked with alarm.

She rubbed her nose and grimaced. “I fell on my china teapot and broke it.”

“Oh, no! Not the one your mother gave you?”

Tom interrupted, “I’m going to prep the surgical bay so we can get started, Commander. Your blood pressure is dangerously low.”

“All right,” he said after he cleared his chest.

“I’ll be back in a moment.”

Once Tom was gone, Chakotay asked, “Kathryn, I’m worried about your memory loss. Will you be okay until I recover? Tuvok is in command?”

“Yes.” She leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek, staying close enough to whisper in his ear. “I don’t remember what we were fighting about when this happened, but whatever it was, I’m really sorry.”

He stopped her from straightening back up with a hand on her cheek, and whispered, “I'm not sure how much time you’ve lost, but since you’re talking to me, I can guess. Kathryn, when you do remember, you’re going to be angry with me again.”

“Then at least the anger will go both ways because right now, I’m horrified that I caused this.” She put her hand over his heart.

“No, I don’t blame you in the slightest. You were really ticked off at me, the situation with the shockwaves was a little out of control, and you were losing a lot of blood.”

“Still…”

“Kathryn, let this go.” He put his hand over hers. “But when you remember, think about what I told you when we were arguing, all of what I told you. Don’t miss the part when I told you that it’s only concern for your well-being that governed my decisions.”

Not sure what to think, she said, “We’ll talk about it later. It’s time to fix your broken heart.”

He moved his hand up to her chest. “I hope you’ll give me a chance to fix yours, too.”

Choked up with emotion, she could only nod in response. She straightened back up, wincing with the painful tenderness of her newly repaired muscles. “Mr. Paris,” she called out, and then looked down with a smile because Chakotay was gently laying his hand on her sore abdomen.

“Ready?” Tom asked. When they nodded, he ordered, “Computer, site to site transport Commander Chakotay to surgical bay.”

As she watched Chakotay shimmer away, she gasped with a sudden sense of déjà vu.

Tom asked, “What is it, Captain?”

“An unknown memory.”

“You sure you don’t want me to help with those? It’s now or wait a few hours.”

Kathryn looked into the eyes of the younger man and asked, “Do I really want to know?”

Shrugging, he said, “I’ve always thought the known was better than the unknown. At least you’d know what to be upset about and can deal with it on your own before he wakes up.”

She gave it a moment’s thought, and then said, “Do it. I’ve got to know.”

“You’re sure?” Tom asked.

She nodded, her features set in determination. “Do it.”

Tom picked up a neural stimulator and passed it slowly over her frontal lobe. “This will probably be enough, but I need to take a scan.” He studied the readings from the tri-corder, and then nodded. “I see a change so I’ll stop. Sit in here for a few minutes. If everything comes rushing back at once, it might be too much for you.”

“I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

He gave her a look. “CMO, remember?”

“How could I forget?” she asked with a raised eyebrow, and then promptly sat down, wincing slightly with pain.

“I’ll send someone to check on you in a few minutes, Captain.”

Left on her own, Kathryn let her head rest against the wall behind her. She lightly massaged her sore abdomen as she tried to clear her mind. Concentrating on relaxing, she breathed deeply while letting her shoulders drop to stretch the tense muscles in her neck.

Her thoughts went back to her last clear memory – watching the communiqué from Admiral Harris. In the next moment, she came to the sudden realization that everything had simply clicked into place. Her eyes widened and she slowly rose to her feet as she digested all the new information in light of what she had learned since waking up in the messhall.

She lifted her palm to the wall and leaned against it, the physical tenderness of her belly dissipating in comparison to the emotional ache that was taking its place, deep in her gut. With a heavy heart, she whispered, “Oh, Chakotay. What happens now?”

Kathryn gathered up her courage and walked out to the main room where she stood silently at the diagnostic console to observe Tom’s actions in the surgical bay.

He noticed her immediately. “He’s anesthetized, but I haven’t begun, yet, Captain.”

“I won’t distract you.” She turned to walk out but stopped when Tom called her back.

“Captain?”

“Yes, Mr. Paris?” she asked as she turned back around.

“Did you learn anything?”

Chin up, she replied, “Yes, I’ve got it all. Thank you for your help.”

“And?”

She had started to leave again, but Tom’s question made her pause because she was unsure how to respond. Deciding on a course of action, she walked over to the surgical bay and held Chakotay’s ankle. “Suffice it to say, Mr. Paris, my reaction at this morning’s briefing might have been a bit illogical and certainly out of line, but sometimes our emotions control us instead of the other way around. As for the other incident, I don’t have a clear recollection.”

Tom nodded with understanding. “Give it some time, and about the briefing – we’ll live, although Harry could use a boost in the morale department.”

“Thanks for the heads up.”

“You’re welcome. Get some rest, Captain.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant.” She looked down at her hand and rubbed Chakotay’s shin. “Take good care of him, would you?”

“Aye, Captain.”

*****

Kathryn stopped off in her quarters for a shower and a change of clothes. While standing in front of the sink, she examined her reflection in the mirror much like she did every morning, although this time, instead of focusing on wrinkles and age spots, she was studying the dark pink lines of newly regenerated skin on her abdomen. She thought it ironic how facing death at a relatively young age makes one value the joy of being able to grow old.

She had no doubt that Chakotay’s actions had saved her life on the bridge, and by doing so, had given them one more chance to grow old together. Her anger with him was just as he’d predicted, but her grief over the entire situation was mounting. She thought about how he’d lied in an attempt to support her, how he’d hurt her because he cared for her, and how he’d taken away her control on the bridge to save her. And for all that, she’d almost caused his death.

The truth, she thought, was that they were both Starfleet officers doing their jobs in the only way they knew how. They relied upon their knowledge, training, experience, and intuition. He’d thought he was doing what was best for her and for their situation. Could she hold that against him? As much as it pained her to admit, she trusted him and she knew that his heart was always in the right place. On top of that, there was one thing that over-shadowed everything else. She loved him and she wanted to put this behind them.

She headed back to the bridge to survey the damage and get a less ambiguous status report. Upon exiting the turbo-lift, she saw that engineering crews were still working to repair the viewscreen and touch up the bulkheads. Leaning on the railing, she surveyed the command deck below her, including the top of Harry’s head. She had to smile when she realized that he was struggling to stay awake and had completely missed the fact that she’d arrived.

It wasn’t until she’d walked down the stairs and came around that he noticed and jumped to his feet.

“Captain!”

With a casual wave to sit back down, she said, “As you were, Ensign.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She stopped next to him and looked down at the blood-stained carpet. “I really made a mess.”

“I apologize for not having cleaned that, yet, Captain. To be honest, I didn’t notice it.”

Crossing over to take a seat into Chakotay’s chair, she said, “I wasn’t necessarily talking about the carpet.”

“Oh?” he asked, tentatively sitting back down.

“This morning,” she paused to check the time and saw that it was just past midnight. “Correction, yesterday morning, I was…. shall we say… a terror?”

His dour expression transformed into a sheepish smile. “Terror might be too strong of a description, Captain.”

“And you’re being kind.” She gave him a reassuring smile. “This afternoon when I called to get a status report, I had no memory of the briefing, but it’s all back now.”

“I apologize for the delivery of my report, Captain. That’s not what you needed at the time, and I’ve been worried about it, since.”

“That was over six hours ago. You’ve been on the bridge since eight this morning, haven’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am, but that’s to be expected.”

“Unfortunately, you’re right.” She pursed her lips. “Where is Commander Tuvok, if I may ask? I hope still not in the science lab?”

“No, but he is still talking with the Benzorians, and I believe they’re down in engineering now. They’ve taken an unusual interest in us.”

“How so?”

“Well, to be honest, I think we’re a charity case for them. You know about the shockwaves being part of a munitions test?”

“Mr. Lessing filled me in.”

“After the Benzorians discovered that we were here and learned what happened, they’ve really taken to us. They want to learn everything they can about our adventures and give us all the resources we need to help us rebuild and get on our way.”

Kathryn nodded appreciatively. “It’s a nice change to have the welcome mat laid out for us, don’t you think?”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Is the L-class planetoid we discussed at the briefing one of their worlds?”

“Yes, but it’s a protected wildlife refuge. We definitely do not have permission to mine there.”

She opened her hands and closed them again as she said, “Oh well. Perhaps they’ll be hospitable enough to let us look elsewhere.”

“They’re mining for us, actually.”

“Even better.” She was silent for a moment before she said, “Harry, I want to offer my apologies for my attitude this morning. I was out of line, and unfortunately, you took the brunt of my bad mood.”

“It’s all right, Captain.”

“No,” she reached across the console and touched his wrist. “It’s definitely not all right.”

He looked up at her and nodded in thanks. “Apology accepted, although I was more concerned that something was wrong than I was upset that you were being…”

“An ass?” she finished for him. With a shrug, she said, “I can call myself that, even though you can’t.”

Chuckling, he said, “Noted.”

“I appreciate your concern, but don’t give it another moment’s thought. It’s nothing that I can’t handle.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

She tilted her head in gratitude. “Yes, you can continue to do an exceptional job as my ops officer. I don’t tell you enough how much I value your interpretation of the data, and the way you convey it. Thank you, Harry.”

“It’s my pleasure, Captain.”

She clapped her hands on the arm rest and said, “Well, I’ve been lounging around all day, so if you’ll turn command over to me, you can go get some rest.”

“I'm fine. Don’t you need the rest to recover from your injuries?”

“Probably, but I’m not sleepy, and I probably won’t be able to rest until the Commander is out of surgery.”

“That’s happening now?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll think good thoughts, then.” He stood up. “The bridge is yours, Captain.”

“Sleep well, Harry.”

After he left, she did a quick system’s check and then went to the storage locker behind the ops station to retrieve the sonic large-area cleaner.

Ensign Lang stopped her and said, “Captain, you don’t have to do that.”

“I know, but I made the mess.”

“Spilled coffee?” Lang asked with a sincere smile.

“Might as well be, as much as I drink.”

“Okaaaay,” she replied, giving her captain an odd look.

The task took her about fifteen minutes, and when she was nearly done, Tuvok returned to the bridge. He noted what she was doing and said, “Captain, you are not following correct safety procedures for removing bodily fluids from textiles.”

“Oh?” she asked, turning the machine off.

“You’re risking contaminating yourself.”

Kathryn frowned at him and asked, “How can I be contaminated when it’s my own blood?”

Lang gasped and then quickly went back to what she was doing.

Tuvok said more quietly, “It’s possible that some of the blood came from the Commander, as well.”

She whispered, “That doesn’t really concern me, either.” After turning it back on to finish the job, she asked, “How are the discussions with the Benzorians?”

“They are an altruistic people, and we will benefit greatly from their assistance. I’ll give a more detailed report in the morning. For now, however, you should get some rest.”

“Do you need to sleep, Tuvok?”

“Lieutenant Ayala will be here to relieve me within the hour. I shall be fine until then.”

“All right, I’ll give you the bridge,” she said as she finished cleaning. “But I’m going to take this into the ready room.”

He looked at the device she was holding and said, “May I remind you that we do have a maintenance crew?”

“Sure,” she said with a smile, “But I already know that. You have the bridge, Commander.”

Once she was alone in the ready room, she relaxed the forced cheerfulness that she’d worn since arriving on the bridge. Although her disposition had improved as a result, she was now looking at the bloody and shattered remains of her teapot with a sad heart. Her mother had given it to her when she’d moved into her first apartment. She’d been working on her doctorate at the time, and although her mom had intended it for tea, she filled it with coffee to keep herself going most nights.

She collected the pieces and placed them in a container, hoping that she could at least glue it back together so she could savor the memories. It certainly wasn’t going to hold water anymore. As she placed the container on the corner of her desk, an absurd thought came to her mind – she wondered if Noah had saved the pieces he’d removed from her abdomen. She dismissed the sickening thought as quickly as it had come to her.

After replicating a cup of coffee and a sandwich, she sat down at her desk and attacked the pile of work that she’d been ignoring while she tried to figure out what do about Harris’ report. It would keep her mind busy until she received notice about the success of Chakotay’s surgery. If he had to spend the next two weeks in stasis, she was really worried about the guilt that would accompany her until the Doctor’s return. Not just for their argument and the accident on the bridge, but also because she let the Doctor go in the first place.

She’d been working for over an hour when her chime rang. “Come,” she called out distractedly.

Tuvok stepped in and asked, “Captain, if you’re not planning on getting some rest, would this be a good time to speak with you?”

Not looking up from her work, she asked, “What can I do for you, Commander?”

“Nothing for me, Captain, but there is a situation that needs to be addressed regarding crew morale.”

“Morale? At this hour?”

“Yes, Captain.”

“I would think that falls more under Neelix’s area of expertise. What’s the situation?”

“I was hoping that you’d be able to enlighten me. Your behavior today indicates that all is not well.”

She let that statement sit for a moment before she closed the computer terminal and focused on her visitor. With a sigh, she said, “You’re right, Tuvok. Have a seat.”

He did as suggested and noted the box of broken glass as he was doing so. “The source of your injuries?”

“Yes, my implements of torture. Do you want them as evidence that I wasn’t attacked by an alien intruder?”

“No, that won’t be necessary.” He focused his attention back on her. “Based on your anger this morning, I am concerned about your well-being, Captain.”

“It’s complicated.” She took a sip of her luke-warm coffee. “I’ve been on an emotional roller-coaster over the last two days.”

“Do you wish to talk about it?”

“Not really, but I might as well.” She leaned back in her chair and prepared to lay it on the table. “You see, I’ve just discovered that you and ‘Captain’ Chakotay have been lying to me for six years. I was a little ticked off.”

Realization dawned. “I see. I was under the impression that he had no intentions of divulging that information. Did you learn about it from a source other than the Commander?”

“The Captain, Tuvok,” she corrected. “No, he told me late last night.”

“That surprises me.”

“What I want to know is why you didn’t tell me. I trusted you.”

“I regret that this situation has undermined that trust, Captain. The ‘Commander,’” he emphasized, “told me, five years ago, that in his mind, he’d officially left Starfleet and had permanently joined the Maquis. He indicated that until he’d joined forces with you, he’d had no intentions of ever rejoining Starfleet.”

“Five years ago?”

“Yes, after Seska’s identity was uncovered and we had a conversation about the duplicity that seemed to pervade his associations.”

“That still doesn’t explain why you didn’t tell me before then.”

“Because he ordered me not to, Captain.”

“How did you find out?”

“In my original briefing from Admiral Jenkins. My primary mission was to deliver intelligence to Captain Chakotay and provide tactical assistance with the destruction of two specific Cardassian targets. Once those were complete, I was to tell the Maquis crew that I wished to return to Vulcan because I wanted to be reunited with my family.”

Kathryn raised an eyebrow. “That doesn’t sound very Vulcan.”

“No, it does not,” he said matter-of-factly. “But those were my orders. When the time came, I intended to come up with a more plausible explanation.”

“So, Jenkins sent you, but Harris sent me to retrieve you. Why do you think that is?”

“Admiral Harris knew that I was working undercover, but he believed me to be spying on Chakotay, not assisting him. I suspect that when I failed to report in, Harris used that as an excuse to pull me from the mission early.”

“If he didn’t realize the scope, he wouldn’t have thought it early. His orders were to retrieve you, and then use your knowledge to round up a long list of Maquis, Chakotay being one of them.”

“Yes, I saw that list. If we’d been in the position to follow through, your orders would have directly contradicted mine. I disclosed it to Commander Chakotay, and he confirmed my suspicion that the names were an accurate representation of all ex-Starfleet officers serving in the Maquis, a portion of whom were undercover.”

“That would have been a significant problem for us.” She straightened a stack of PADDs on her desk. “Did you ever speak directly with Harris?”

“No, Captain, I did not.” He studied her for just a moment. “Curious, why do you ask?”

“I’ve been thinking about my conversations with Harris, wondering if I was deceived by him, and if I’m still being deceived. Or was this all some kind of loyalty test and Starfleet Command is having a good laugh that I haven’t been aware of the truth?”

“Having never met him, I can’t answer that, Captain. However, I do know Chakotay, and I know without hesitation that he cares for you a great deal. Since he has decided to ‘come clean,’ as it were, then I think it’s safe to assume that his intentions are honorable.”

“Honorable?” Her voice suddenly increased in volume. “He’s been lying to me for six years, Tuvok. How is that honorable?”

“He never intended to deceive you, Captain. In the beginning, he was well practiced in concealing his identity and kept doing so, perhaps out of instinct.”

“I can understand that, but he had any number of opportunities to tell me years ago.”

“Yes, but he said that he wished to avoid opening this ‘can of worms.’ He did not want to disrupt the command relationship by making you feel obligated to consult with him on all decisions, or by causing you to feel that your trust in him was misplaced.”

“He said the same thing, and you know what?” she asked with clear accusation in her tone.

“What is that, Captain?”

She pounded her finger on the desk. “That tells me that neither of you believed that I had the strength to command this vessel unless he took a backseat to give me a false sense of authority.”

“Conjecture, Captain. You are jumping to conclusions based on false assumptions.”

“Conjecture based on the admission of lies, Commander,” she argued.

“Curious – If he had told you after two months in the Delta Quadrant, how would that have changed your dealings with him?”

Locking her fingers together on the desk in front of her, she replied, “I would have treated him as an equal.”

“Was he not already an equal having captained a ship for three years?”

“Not exactly. He hadn’t gone through the captain training course at Starfleet Command School.”

“That is still true.”

“Oh, you’re right.” She hadn’t thought about that. “However,” she said as she pointed at Tuvok, “commanding a rogue band of mercenaries is a lot different than commanding a Federation starship.”

“Agreed. He had significantly fewer resources, little or no back-up, an older ship constantly in need of maintenance, hardly any replacement crew, and never knew who to trust or what to expect around the next corner.”

She simply stared at him, dumbfounded. ‘All right,’ she thought to herself, ‘you have definitely been an ass.’ Sitting up straighter, she rested her elbows on the desk. “You have made your point, but in that light, he should’ve taken command of Voyager from the get-go.”

“Yet, he did not.”

“Could he have?” she asked openly.

“Not if he wished to maintain long-term cooperation and establish good working relationships. To get support from the Starfleet crew, he would have had to reveal the true nature of his association with the Maquis.”

“Which would have caused all hell to break lose among his crew.”

“A valid assumption.”

“So, he didn’t take command because it wouldn’t have worked in the long run, but that doesn’t tell me why he kept the secret from me.”

“May I be candid with you, Captain?”

“By all means,” she said with a sigh.

“He and I were aware that you were working hard to convey that you were more than capable of successfully getting this ship home. It gave the crew the hope they needed to face each obstacle.”

“Am I capable?”

“Captain, you are more than capable. But may I remind you, he was a faculty member for command school where it is taught that when under duress, a crew responds with their best when they have extraordinary faith in their leader. By taking a backseat, as you call it, the Commander was leaving room for you to become what this crew needed you to be.”

She rubbed the corners of her eyes, feeling emotionally drained. “You’re right, if I had known, I would’ve consulted him more often. However, since he wouldn’t have disclosed his secret to the crew, our conferences would have taken place behind closed doors. The crew would have never known.”

“Perhaps, but perhaps not. I don’t believe you would have taken the same risks, and I believe that you would have appeared less confident. And he would have appeared to be controlling you. However, I would suppose that he now believes your command authority is well enough established and your command relationship strong enough to withstand this obstacle.”

She wanted to bite his head off, but she restrained herself. “As much as I respect your opinions, Commander, in this case, your supposition is wrong.” Leaning towards him, she clearly articulated, “If it was just a matter of me establishing command authority on this ship, Chakotay wouldn’t have waited this long. And if he really agrees with you that I would have appeared weak by consulting him on decisions, then you have both made a huge error in judgment.”

“As you have pointed out before, you aren’t always in agreement with my logic.”

“No kidding.” She ran her fingers through her hair and sighed. “What a mess, Tuvok.”

“Undoubtedly.”

Tom’s voice interrupted, “Sickbay to Captain Janeway.”

She tapped her commbadge, “Go ahead Mr. Paris.”

“Chakotay came through the procedure without any complications and will be fine once the anesthesia wears off. Our back-up plan will not be necessary.”

Relief washed over her. “Thank you, Tom.”

“You’re welcome, Captain. I'm sure he’d love to see you when he wakes up. Would you like me to contact you when that’s about to happen?”

She hesitated for just a moment and then made her decision. “I’ll be down in a few minutes.”

“Aye, Captain. Sickbay out.”

Tuvok said, “Might I suggest that you get some rest before speaking to him about this again?”

“A fresh start?”

“Yes, Captain.”

“I don’t believe that’s necessary.” She stood up to leave. “This incident with the Benzorians provided me with some perspective. Losing a day’s memories for a few hours was a gift that I would never have asked for.”

He raised an eyebrow in appreciation. “A most insightful statement, Captain.”

“Anything I need to know about the Benzorians? Should I meet with them tomorrow?”

“They believe that you are still incapacitated but would enjoy meeting you at your earliest convenience.”

Picking up the box of glass, she asked, “Is the bridge covered for alpha shift tomorrow?”

“Yes, Ensign Kim will be returning at 08:00 and I will be meeting with the Benzorians at 10:00.”

Nodding her acceptance, she said, “Good. I’ll plan to meet with them sometime in the afternoon. You may call me before that if needed, but let the senior staff know that I’d like to take the morning off.”

“I suspect that the staff will do everything in their power to avoid you, Captain.”

She stopped before triggering the door to open. “I’ve already apologized to Paris and Kim, but was I really that horrible?”

“Yes, Captain, you were.”

*****

She dropped her box of broken glass off in her quarters and then swung by the messhall. As was normal following a crisis, the center of Voyager’s community was well-lit and busy despite the late hour. Not seeing Neelix anywhere, she stepped up to the window of the kitchen. “Good evening, Mr. Neelix.”

“Captain! I thought you’d be asleep.”

“Should be, but I have a couple things to take care of first.”

“Are you hungry?”

“No, but there’s something you can do for me.”

“What’s that?” he asked with eagerness.

She tapped the side of her head. “I’ve got all my memories back.”

“Oh.”

“So…” She paused while she came around to step into the kitchen. “What you can do for me is to accept my apology for my terrible mood at the briefing.”

“We all have bad mornings,” he offered as an excuse.

“That’s true, and I had a doozy.” She eyed the platter of cookies behind him and asked, “Chocolate?”

“Would you like one?” He excitedly picked the plate up and presented it to her.

“May I?” Not waiting for a response, she delicately snatched one. The overly dry, crumbly cookie made her wish for a cup of coffee to dip it in, but she said, “Mmmmm… delicious. Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome, Captain.”

She walked out with him, her hand on his back. “And thank you for understanding, as well.”

“Glad I could help.”

*****

When Kathryn arrived in sickbay, the lighting was muted and there were no signs of movement besides B’Elanna and Tom coming out of the Doctor’s office.

“Captain,” Tom whispered. “He did great.”

She took his hand for a handshake and kept holding it as she said, “Thank you, Tom, for everything you did today. I am truly impressed with the way you handled the traumas and the large number of casualties. You were remarkable.”

“Thank you, Captain.” He smiled tiredly.

“And B’Elanna…”

Holding up her hand, she said, “You don’t have to say it, Captain. I know I should’ve checked my attitude at the door, as you’ve told me on numerous occasions.”

Kathryn bit back a smile and cleared her throat. “You and me, both. My terrible mood was uncalled-for.”

In response, B’Elanna’s eyes widened with surprise.

“Well, what can I say?” She shrugged. “The good news is that we made it through three anti-matter explosions and one staff briefing without even one funeral. The bad news is that your captain had to eat crow.”

“An interesting day,” Tom said, fighting a yawn.

Kathryn looked around and asked, “Is there anyone working in here besides you, Tom?”

“No, ma’am. Everyone was exhausted so I sent them to quarters.”

“I see.” She touched her commbadge. “Janeway to the bridge.”

Ayala replied, “Bridge here, Captain.”

“Could you tell me if Crewman Telfer is currently on duty?”

“I’ll check, just a moment.”

Tom looked puzzled but remained quiet.

Ayala replied, “Yes, ma’am. He’s on gamma shift in the science lab and his duty assignment indicates that he’s monitoring on-going testing.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant. Could you ask him to report to sickbay for the rest of his shift?”

“Aye, Captain.”

After the connection closed, Tom whined, “Telfer? I don’t have the patience for him right now.”

“See if you can muster some up long enough to give him instructions on all of your patients. Write them down if you have to, because you’re going to bed.”

“Maybe I should examine your head again, Captain. You want to leave him in charge here?”

“Officially, yes, but I plan on staying, too.” She pointed to the surgical bay. “I’ll be right there if an emergency happens, and Crewman Telfer can do all the monitoring he wants with everyone else. It’s not like he doesn’t know his way around the medical equipment.”

“But you need to rest, too, Captain,” Tom pointed out.

“I’ll be fine.” She waved his concerns off and then walked over to Chakotay’s bed. “Catch me up to speed in here.”

Twenty minutes later, all was quiet again and Billy was moving from bed to bed, taking constant readings. Kathryn sighed tiredly and requested, “Computer, erect privacy screen around the surgical bay.”

When it was in place, she pulled up a tall chair next to Chakotay’s side and rested her elbows on the edge of the bed. Picking up his hand, she held it between both of hers, resting his fingers against her cheek. She closed her eyes and listened to the sound of his deep, even breathing. Too emotionally spent to think about fighting, lies, authority, or protocol, she simply let herself exist in the moment and drew strength from the physical connection.

*****

She woke a short time later with a sore neck. “Computer, time?”

“The time is now 03:47.”

“Mmmmm,” she groaned and then stood up to stretch. “Ah!” Her breath caught as she stretched the newly healed muscles in her abdomen.

“Okay,” she whispered. “Better not do that.”

While working the kinks out of her neck and shoulders she studied the readings on Chakotay’s monitor. Everything looked fine – blood pressure, heart rate, blood gas level – it all checked out. She said, “Computer, remove privacy screen.”

“Captain!” Billy whispered with surprise. “I thought you’d fallen asleep.”

“I did, but I’ve come to check on things out here. How do they look?”

“Okay, I think.”

She poured herself a cup of water and said, “Show me what you’ve got.”

“The only one I’m unsure about is Henley. Her oxygen saturation is lower than when I arrived, but it’s still in the safe range.”

“What were her injuries?” Kathryn looked at the chart with Billy.

“Fourth degree plasma burns.”

“Ouch.” She cringed and picked up a tri-corder. “Let’s take a look.”

“Captain, where did you learn so much about medicine?”

She gave a slight shrug. “I was a science officer. As you know, we have to study humanoid biology and physiology along with the fields that we actually wanted to learn. The rest I’ve just picked up over the years from experience and emergency training.”

“What field was your favorite? Mine was biology.”

“A toss-up between mathematics, cosmology, and quantum physics.”

“Wow!” He was about to say something else but beeping from the tri-corder distracted him. He whispered, “What does it say?”

Holding it out, she said, “You tell me.”

“Oh! Her bronchial tubes are inflamed.”

Kathryn nodded. “Can that be caused by a plasma burn?”

Billy chewed on his lower lip and then answered, “I suppose so, if she breathed any fumes in.”

“Correct, but just to be sure, check her medical file.”

“Okay.” He went to the diagnostic console and looked it up. “Oh! She has chronic asthma.”

“Which could definitely be aggravated by plasma fumes. My suggestion is to keep your eye on her, and if she starts wheezing or the levels drop too low, administer the suggested dose of the medication the Doctor has listed here.”

He looked at the tri-corder scan results again. “How’d you know to look at her file?”

“It wasn’t because of the readings. I already knew that she has asthma.”

“Oh, okay.” Billy smiled brightly. “How is the Commander?”

They walked over to the surgical bay. “He’s doing pretty well. I think the anesthesia has worn off and he’s just sleeping now.”

Billy took a cursory glance at his vitals. “Looks good to me.”

“What does this graph tell you?” She pointed to the screen.

“Ummm… that’s his neural activity, isn’t it?”

“Yes, and to my un-trained eye, I’m going to guess that he’s in REM sleep.”

“How do you know?”

“Because the amplitude of the waveform is constant, but erratic, as if he’s got a lot going on up here.” She pointed to her own head. “But by looking at him, I can tell that he’s asleep. That’s nothing I learned, just a probable deduction.”

Billy said, “It could also mean that an alien is communicating telepathically with him, or that he’s doing his lucid dreaming.”

With a smirk, Kathryn said, “Yes, I suppose you’re right. We’d have to do a comparison with the database to get a better idea.”

“Or ask the Doctor.”

“Right,” she clicked her tongue. “What about these numbers? Do you know what they’re for without relying on the tri-corder to tell you?”

“Of course! His blood pressure and heart rate.”

“Correct. That’s what I’m monitoring.”

“It looks a little high, doesn’t it?” He chewed on his fingernail.

“The heart rate is normal, but you’re right about blood pressure. However, considering it was critically low five hours ago, I’d say that he’s showing marked improvement.”

“Why is it so high, then?”

Kathryn’s lips twitched. “Because he likes cookies, but don’t tell him I said that.” She winked at him before adding, “This blood pressure is normal for him.”

“Ummm… Captain?”

“Yes?”

He pointed towards the neural activity monitor. “The amplitude has evened out. Do you suppose that means he’s not dreaming anymore?”

“Let’s see.” The wave was definitely moving at a steady pace, so she looked at Chakotay for a clue as to why that might be. Kathryn stifled her amusement as she turned back to Billy and whispered, “Look at his face.”

He craned his neck to see and then his mouth dropped open. Billy whispered, “He’s pretending to sleep!”

Kathryn nodded, barely containing her smile. “Would you excuse us for a few minutes, please?”

“Of course!” he whispered with an air of conspiracy, and then tiptoed away.

She waited until he was on the other side of the room before reactivating the privacy screen and leaning her hip against the side of the bed. She was next to his waist, far enough that she wasn’t being too friendly, but near enough that they could talk without being overheard through the screen. “You can open your eyes, now.”

He released the amused smile that he’d been holding back. “I didn’t want to interrupt the lesson. You were doing great with him. That’s something I could never do.”

“Teach? You do it all the time.”

“Yes, but I would fail miserably if I tried to explain all that scientific stuff to anyone that hyper. It’s a boring subject that requires way too much concentration.”

“Scientific stuff?” she asked with a smirk. “Is that a technical term used by all of you fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants tacticians?”

“Absolutely, because we realize that we could never use science as a strategy. It takes too much time. You, however, can think of that stuff instantaneously. It’s what makes us such a great team.”

“I see.” She shook her head with amusement.

“Oh, and by the way, Dr. Janeway…”

“Yes?”

“My blood pressure is no worse than yours, thank you very much.”

“Yes, but mine is caused by all the stress you put me under. Yours, on the other hand, is a direct result of your sweet tooth.” She poked him gently in the stomach.

“The stress that ‘I’ put you under?”

She gave him a look that she hoped conveyed what she wasn’t saying with words.

It didn’t take him long. “You have your memories back.”

“Yup.”

“All of them?”

“Mmmhmm – although things get a little fuzzy after I flew out of my seat on the bridge.”

“But you’re here, and you’re not yelling at me, so that’s a good sign.”

With a shrug, she said, “It’s a sign. Remains to be seen whether it’s good or bad.”

“How so?” He pushed up to his elbows so he could see her better.

“Because it depends on your perspective.” She reached into the storage compartment under the biobed to pull out two spare pillows. “Can you raise up a little more so I can get these under your shoulders?”

“Sure.” He pushed up but grimaced with discomfort.

As quickly as she could, she arranged them for him. “Okay, come back down. I can’t help support you because of my surgery.”

“That’s all right. I’ve got it.” With a groan, he relaxed his arms and got more comfortable. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” She squeezed his shoulder and straightened his blanket on her way to the far end of the bed where she poured him some water.

“So… Perspective?” he asked.

“Yes.” After handing him the cup, she continued, “My calm, cool, and collected presence here might be a good sign for you if it meant that I’ve completely forgiven you and accepted that you were right all along, graciously thanking you for not making me appear weak alongside your cunning leadership skills and tactical ingenuity, gathered from your many years of command experience.”

His smile was unsuccessfully hidden behind his water cup. “Why do I doubt that?”

“Because you know me.” She paced within the confined space of the surgical bay. “On the other hand, I might have come to you, at peace with the information that you have so belatedly imparted.” Holding up a finger, she added, “At peace because I might have come to deliver the news that you might not be putting on any pips tomorrow and that the operations crew might be getting a highly-qualified and dutiful assistant to scrub the plasma manifolds.”

“I know which one I’d choose.”

“No doubt.” Their eyes locked for just a moment before she resumed her limited pacing.

“And what could possibly make your coming to visit me in sickbay a bad sign?”

“The exact opposite. My being here would be a bad sign if it meant you spending the rest of the trip scrubbing manifolds.” She stopped pacing and held her hands behind her back. “On the other hand, I think it would be a bad sign because it might indicate that I’ve accepted the fact that you’re a better captain than I could ever be.”

“Kathryn…” He set his cup down and made sure she was looking at him before he replied. “If those are my only two choices, my first stop after being released from here would be deck fifteen where I’d immediately report to Crewman Mitchell.”

Their eyes locked and it took her a moment to ask, “It would?”

“Yes, because accepting the other scenario would be detestable.”

Eyes not wavering, she stated, “That’s a pretty strong word.”

“It’s an accurate one.” His eyes were intense as he asked, “Do I get to choose, or are you going to tell me which scenario is correct?”

In several, slow, unhurried steps, she returned to the side of his bed and whispered, “Neither.”

Their eyes caught for a long, heated moment in the special connection that they never spoke of and rarely allowed themselves to linger in. She needed to know if he’d hold the intensity with her or if he’d be embarrassed and look away, because if he held it, she’d know the depth of his sincerity. It was a time-honored interrogation technique that she’d mastered by staring down more than her share of deceptive aliens.

His dark eyes were fixed on hers with open clarity that was laced with a gentle spirit. She thought about how indicative the phrase, “the eyes are the windows of the soul,” was in this particular moment. One thing she was quite certain of was that she’d never looked at any alien that held her gaze with such pure devotion as he was holding hers now.

When her only options to relieve the tension were to kiss him or retreat, she chose the latter. The moment was broken when she straightened up and asked, “How are you feeling? Any pain?”

It took him a moment to register the change in mood, but when he did, his face transformed into an expression of obvious joy. “I take it as a very good sign that you’re asking me that.”

“Why? Because I was considering tossing you out of an airlock not 36 hours ago?”

“Precisely.”

After a slight hesitation, she explained, “I’m asking about your comfort in an official capacity because I’m sort of on duty here. I thought it would behoove me to practice some good bedside manners.”

“On duty?”

“It was I who let the Doctor go away for a month, and I sent Tom to bed.”

He whispered, “And you didn’t want your student left here on his own?”

“You know me well.” She pushed off the bed and turned so that she was ready to start pacing again, but the tone in his voice gave her pause.

“Yes, I do.” The conviction in his reply was palpable. “To answer your question, my chest aches, but it’s tolerable if I don’t move around too much. I’m weaker than I’d like to be.”

“So am I.” She found herself staring at the medical display panel on the wall but wasn’t really thinking about anything that she saw. Instead, she was trying to figure out what to say next.

After a long moment of silence, he asked, “Are you okay?”

“Hmm?”

“I asked if you’re okay. You don’t seem yourself.”

“Did you expect me to be?” She didn’t let that sit for long before rushing ahead. “The problem is that I can’t leave sickbay until someone else comes on duty, and everything else I want to say to you, I’m not going to say here. So, I’m left without a plan for how to fill this awkward silence.”

“If only life were scripted for us.”

“Wouldn’t that be nice? I’d always know what to say.”

“Unless you forget your line.”

“A valid point.” She examined a cuticle that was in need of a trim. It was a delay tactic, but she needed time to figure how much to tell him now, and how much to save until later.

“Kathryn, if you don’t feel like talking, we don’t have to. How many times have we sat together in silence without need for small talk?”

She ambled back to his bed and chose to stop paying attention to her wayward fingernail. When she eventually got around to looking at him, she said, “I have no problem sitting in companionable silence if I have nothing to say.”

“It’s really okay if we don’t finish this now.”

Drawing in a shaky breath, she decided to agree. “All right, but I do owe you an apology.”

“For?”

She fought against a smile but lost. “I halfway expected you to ask, ‘Just one?’”

“No.” He picked up her hand and held her fingers delicately in his palm. “Tell me what’s on your mind.”

Although it was hazy, the gruesome image of his injury came to her mind, and she laid her hand on his chest where she’d tried in vain to stem the flow of blood. “I’m sorry that you got hurt on the bridge because I was acting like an ass.”

His tongue came out to lick his lips but left a calculating smile. “And I'm sorry that I ticked you off so much that I made you act like one.”

She looked away, trying not to laugh, but holding it back only made her eyes water. “Ohhhhhh, Chakotay. I’ll have to write that one down as the most convoluted apology that I have ever heard.”

A serious, but soft look came over him as he stroked his thumb across her knuckles. “Your memory isn’t clear about that, is it?”

“No, but I can fill in some details based on what Tom told me. You’ll need to talk to him about it tomorrow, but I’m going to leave it up to you whether to file a grievance for my actions.”

“I wouldn’t do that, even if you’d been completely lucid at the time.” He tugged on her fingers until she looked at him. “You were losing a lot of blood, Kathryn, and I knew that you weren’t yourself because you were reacting to the situation rather than commanding it.”

“If that was the case, then you should’ve relieved me of command.”

“No, even if we hadn’t just been fighting over that very issue, I wouldn’t have done that to you. I was tracking everything that you were doing and up until that point, you made no errors in judgment. But this was after you’d been thrown across the command deck. Kathryn, I could hear the impact of your body hitting the railing, even above all the other sounds on the bridge. After losing that much blood, and taking that hard of a blow, you weren’t walking straight, you motor skills were delayed, and you were falling down when I grabbed you.”

“I was?”

“I tried to get both of us under the beam, but you were very disoriented. My goal was to keep you alive. Even though I got hurt, I don’t regret my actions.”

“I didn’t realize that my injuries were that severe.” She sniffed and let out a slow, unsteady breath. “Although connecting what you’re describing with the amount of blood I saw on the carpet a little while ago, I think you might be right.”

“You’re okay, then? Don’t let this weigh on you.”

She nodded and forced a smile. “I will be.”

“I’m thankful that you’re okay.”

Her eyes caught his again, but she broke the connection to let her gaze wander up to his tousled hair. She threaded her fingers through the soft thickness and then caressed down over his sideburn to hold his chin. Looking into his dark eyes, she said, “I’m thankful that you’re okay, too. This adventure would be awfully dull without you.”

“I think I’ve just seen a very good sign.”

“Doesn’t mean that I’m not still angry.”

“Of course not, and you have every right to be.”

Biting back a smile, she said, “When I tell you my final reason why I'm ticked off, you’re going to be just as angry at yourself as I am.”

When no further explanation was forthcoming, he stuck his neck out. “You can’t leave me hanging with that.”

She patted his cheek. “Get some rest and we can talk over dinner. I should go check on the other patients and then I’ll try not to fall asleep again before shift change.”

“You fell asleep before?”

“Mmmhmm.” She pointed to the chair. “Right there with my head on your bed.”

“I wouldn’t mind if you did that again.”

“I’m sure, but my neck doesn’t care much for it. You’d have your work cut out for you.”

“A job I would gladly accept. Nothing would make me happier than spending my days scrubbing manifolds and my evenings helping you relax.”

She gave him an incredulous look before she checked his readings on the medical panel. “This all looks good, so try to get some sleep. I need you on the bridge in about 28 hours.”

“Aye, Captain.”

After giving him a wink, she said, “Computer, remove privacy screen.”

*****

“Come on in and have a seat.” Kathryn waved Chakotay to her dining table, but he stopped short when he saw her in uniform.

“I thought you weren’t on duty today.”

“Not officially. I slept all morning, but Tuvok wanted me to meet the Benzorians, and as I should have guessed,” she said as she carried the replicated food over to the table. “It took longer than expected.”

“I read Tuvok’s report from yesterday. They sound charitable.” He poured their wine as she dished up their plates. “This looks wonderful, Kathryn.”

“Thank you.” She gave him a warm smile before she sat down and unfolded her napkin. “They are charitable, benevolent, and profusely apologetic. If you can believe it, they were beside themselves with sorrow when they realized Voyager was out here, and grief-stricken that a large portion of our crew was injured.”

“That’s certainly uncommon out here.”

“Yes, and almost too good to be true.” She gave him an annoyed look before taking her first bite.

“Oh? What happened?”

Waiting until her mouth wasn’t full, she replied, “I caused immeasurable devastation for them by merely walking into the room.”

“Is that sarcasm?”

“A little.” She pursed her lips. “Once they found out that I was a woman, they called everything off.”

His mouth dropped open in surprise. “They did?”

“Yes.” She tapped her fork against the table. “Women are revered in their culture, so much that they were horrified when they learned that I was a woman.”

“Sorry, Kathryn, but that doesn’t equate.”

“I’m getting there.” She scooped up some rice before continuing. “To explain my absence, Tuvok told them that Voyager’s captain suffered severe injuries. What he did not think to infer was that I was also female. When they met me and realized that they had inadvertently hurt a woman, they were distraught.”

“So was I.”

She tilted her head in sympathy and thanks for his concern. “They made it clear this afternoon that they could not bring Voyager back to their homeworld and allow their people to bestow their generosity upon us because everyone would be equally distressed that they caused harm to a female leader.”

“So why not let Tuvok or me pose as Captain? You could use a few days off.”

“What a great idea!”

“More sarcasm, right?”

Pointing her fork at him, she said, “Got it in one. I knew there was a reason I hadn’t sent you to deck fifteen, yet.”

“You’d miss me.”

“You think so, do you?” she asked before taking a sip of wine. “Long story, short, Tom has a new name and some fake pips. The three Benzorians that met me today thought this an amicable solution since I told them that Commander Thomas Janeway is my brother.”

“Hence the same name?”

“Exactly. Are you jealous that someone else gets to pretend to be captain, Captain?”

“Not at all. I wouldn’t pass as your brother, nor do I want to. Too many limitations.”

Her eyes widened slightly in surprise. “Yes, well…” She had to take a drink of wine to cover her blush. “Before we address the statement I left you hanging with last night, I have some questions for you.”

“Okay. Shoot.”

“Don’t tempt me.” She gave him a mock glare.

“Noted,” he said with a chuckle. “What do you want to know?”

“Will you be completely honest with me from this point on? No lies, nothing hidden?”

He stopped eating and sat back in his chair. “I’m an open book. Ask me anything.”

“I did. I’m asking if you have any more bombshells?”

“No, but I can’t say that I’ve told you every detail about my life. I assume you know that I’ve had to kill people.”

“As have I.”

“Exactly.” He picked up his fork again as he explained, “The nature of our jobs requires us to keep certain information confidential, and because of that, we aren’t in the habit of disclosing information unless it’s ‘need-to-know.’ For example, you still haven’t told me why Kes came back, how you knew she was coming, and what had happened to her.”

“I see your point.” Kathryn tore apart her dinner roll. “Kes planned to use our warp core to travel back in time, and I knew about it because it had already happened in our past. I’ll save the details for another conversation.”

“Sounds like a good story.”

“With an interesting, albeit uncharacteristic, plot twist.”

He laughed before taking a drink of wine. “If we knew everything about each other, life wouldn’t be very interesting.”

“Next question. In this data stream, or in the one through the Hirogen network, did you receive orders that I don’t know about?”

“No, and I’ll be happy to show you the entire message. It’s a request for a follow-up report on how things are going. The code that Jenkins uses makes it sound like a personal letter, but that’s how we communicated while I was undercover.”

“Are you uncomfortable that I’m asking you all of this?”

“Not at all. Feels like you’re clearing the air. Next question?”

“Your service record. How accurate is it?”

“Rank of Captain, never held command on a fleet vessel. I attended and taught at command school, but did not go through the curriculum for captains, other than the tactics course I led. All the records you have on me are correct except for the fake resignation and missing promotion.”

She nodded but was focused on the table surface where she was absently tapping her fingers in an inconsistent pattern.

“You’re nervous.”

“What?” she asked and then realized what he said. “Oh… yes, a little. I want to know something that’s a little difficult to ask about.”

“It’s just me, Kathryn. You’re safe to ask me anything.”

Looking up at his eyes to gauge his sincerity, she found nothing but the kindhearted and gentle man that she knew well. Acknowledging that he wouldn’t intentionally belittle her concerns, she decided to lay it all out on the table. “There is one concern that has come to mind following each of our conversations regarding this, and it came up again last night when I spoke with Tuvok.”

“So, he knows that I’ve disclosed this?”

“Yes. He came to me saying that there was a problem with crew morale and that it was me.”

Chakotay scratched his chin. “Not that I’ve ever considered him a coward, but that was mighty brave.”

She narrowed her eyes and pretended to scowl at him. “I’m being serious, here.”

“Yes, I know, and I’m trying to help you relax. What is your concern?”

Her unusual lack of confidence made her hesitate. “Did you take a backseat when you agreed to become my first officer so that I would appear stronger?”

“Yes.”

Stunned, her breath caught, and she felt so exposed that she knew that he couldn’t have missed it. “I see.”

Worried, he asked, “Kathryn? That surprises you?”

“Yes and no.” She found that errant cuticle again. “I’d picked up on that, but I’d hoped that I was reading into it because of self-doubt. When Tuvok told me you felt that way, I couldn’t imagine that you would blatantly say that I wasn’t strong enough to captain this ship. But I’m a big girl. I can take it, even if I don’t agree with you.”

He reached across the table and wrapped his fingers around her hand. “You’re misinterpreting, cariño. I never said that you weren’t strong enough to be in command.”

Her eyes jumped up. “Cariño?”

“Ummm.” He tugged at his ear in embarrassment. “Sorry, that just slipped out. It’s what my father called my mother.”

She rested her chin in her palm as she looked at him with mixed emotions. “I’m honored that you would think to call me that. What does it mean?”

“It’s an endearment of Spanish origin. My mother’s tribe was from South America and most of their tribal language was lost hundreds of years ago because Spanish was prevalent in the region. It means sweet one or darling.”

“You’ll have to tell me more about your mother sometime. You rarely talk about her.”

“I’d love to. You’re a lot like her, strong, intelligent, and resourceful.” He held out his other hand with an unspoken invitation for her to accept it. When she did, he repeated, “Kathryn I never said you weren’t strong enough, nor did I intend to imply that. I apologize if it sounded that way, but nothing could be further from the truth.”

“But you just said that you backed away to make me appear stronger than I was,” she pointed out, puzzled.

Gently, he said, “No, I said that I wanted you to appear to be stronger than me, so I tried to make it clear that I was looking to you for leadership. The Maquis crew needed to believe that I was a little out of my element and that I was relying on your strength to get us through.”

“Oh.” She sat up a little straighter and relaxed her shoulders.

“This crew, all of them, needed to believe that their captain could accomplish the impossible. And to ‘sell’ you to the Maquis, I had to make you appear to be a much more capable C.O.”

“But they must have already known your abilities?”

“Yes, and that reinforced the message I was trying to convey. If they thought that I, with my background and experience, was willing to follow you without question, then it was because I knew you were a remarkable leader with talents and abilities far beyond mine.”

“Chakotay…” She was deeply moved with the level of his loyalty and support.

“And, to be honest, a lot of them didn’t know what I was capable of because I maintained a high level of confidentiality on the Liberty. My crew respected me, but I was not usually forthcoming, and I rarely made decisions by committee.”

“Did you suspect a mutiny from the outset?”

“Yes, because there was a lot of hatred for Starfleet among my crew. But I knew they’d never do it without me, one person aside.”

“Seska?” she asked.

“Right, and I clearly had reason to be concerned.”

She took her hands back and picked up her fork. Absently, she pushed her uneaten food around on her plate while she debated the next question.

“Kathryn, I also became your first officer because it never would’ve worked with me in command. The Starfleet crew wouldn’t have accepted me unless I’d divulged my secret. And if I’d done that, the Maquis would’ve come to my door bearing torches and a noose.”

“All right, but you could’ve taken command during the confrontation with Equinox. The Starfleet crew would’ve accepted you by then.”

He gave that statement a moment to sit before replying. “I thought about it, but I didn’t want to do that to you.”

“Because of our friendship?” She set down the fork and pushed the plate to the side.

“Partially, but also because of our situation out here. Stripping you of command would have sent a very loud message that something wasn’t right, and I preferred to keep that situation between you, me, and Lessing.”

“But I relieved you of command, a similar message.”

“Except that the crew knows you have bad days and chalked it up to that. For me to relieve you of command would have sent up red flags. I didn’t want you to have to deal with the fallout from that.”

She was silent for a minute before saying, “Thank you. I didn’t deserve it, but thank you.”

His head bobbed lightly in response, but he remained silent.

“Can I ask about my depression in that void? Did it seem a ridiculous question when I asked if you were ready to be a captain?”

“No,” he said slowly. “That wasn’t about me.”

“Still, it was a stupid question.”

“A valid question considering you didn’t have all the information. And if you did, I’d never commanded a Starfleet vessel nor one as large as Voyager.”

“Now you’re just being nice.”

His eyes met hers. “Maybe, but you snapped out of it as soon as your ship was as stake.”

“Then you went behind my back and got the senior staff to mutiny,” she accused in jest.

“And aren’t you glad?”

“Yes. As a matter of fact, I am.” She stood up and asked, “Help me clear this off?”

“Sure.” He rose with her and nodded to her uniform. “Actually, let me take care of it while you get out of those boots.”

“You don’t mind?”

“Not in the least.” He squeezed her shoulder and gave her a gentle push towards the bedroom.

Before closing her bedroom door, she looked back at him and caught his eyes. The smile he gave her filled her with a sense of peace and belonging that she’d never quite felt before. He’d answered all her questions with honesty and with a clear message that he was devoted to both her leadership and her welfare. It was getting increasingly more difficult to stay angry with him.

She returned to the main room a few minutes later, wearing a pair of soft pants and a simple short-sleeved shirt.

“You look comfortable,” he said as he handed her a full glass of wine.

“I am.” She pointed to her stomach and said, “The uniform was compressing me a little too much.”

“Still hurts?” His concern was evident as he moved to her side so he could put his hand over the injured area. “Where is it tender?”

The intimacy of his touch triggered a fluttering deep within her belly. She was careful not to show her reaction as she laid her hand over his and directed his fingers to the most noticeable spot near her waist. “This is where I split the sutures yesterday afternoon. Noah and Tom did a good job, but they’re not the Doctor. The muscles ache, and I can feel the pull of the sutures if I lift anything too heavy or bend over.”

“You’ll just have to take it easy until he gets back.” His hand rubbed her abdomen in soothing, side-to-side movements.

She closed her eyes and tried not to tremble under his touch. “You might have to remind me.” To slow them down, she wove her fingers through his and pulled his hand away.

Keeping his hand in hers, she led him over to sit on the couch. She cozied up in the middle, tucking her feet under herself to face him. He nestled in beside her, crossing his legs and stretching one arm out along the top of the cushions behind her. In a moment of quiet, without the need for words, explanations, or apologies, they sipped their wine and simply enjoyed having each other near.

He lightly squeezed her shoulder and kept it there to continue the physical connection that they’d been flirting with all evening. “Is this when you get to make me feel angry?”

“You say that as if you’re looking forward to it.”

“I look forward to any excuse to talk to you.”

She laughed and lightly punched him in the side.

“What, you don’t believe me?”

“I don’t know whether you’re flirting with me, or if you’re just trying to build up my ego because you squashed it.”

He laughed. “Both, actually.”

“Then remember that it’s your own fault the next time you want to take me down a notch.” After taking her last sip of wine, she studied the way the soft fabric of her pants stretched across her thigh.

“Kathryn, you’re nervous again.”

She nodded, still not looking away from the soft material.

“Are you worried that knowing my true rank will change things here or on the bridge?”

His question made her look up. “On the bridge?”

“Because it doesn’t. I’ve been serving under you for six years. If I had a problem taking orders from you, it would have surfaced long before now.”

This wasn’t the direction she’d planned to take the conversation, but she followed it since it was on his mind. “I’ll make an effort to ask your advice often.”

“No, we’ll just keep doing things as we have been. You need to have the freedom to make quick decisions and you can’t command by committee.”

“Thank you.” She took his wine glass and set it beside hers on the coffee table. When she leaned back, he repositioned his hand so that it was resting more solidly on her shoulder and his other hand was lightly touching her knee. A slight shudder went through her as she asked, “Tell me something?”

“Anything.”

“What did you mean when you said that our friendship is deepening?”

“Ah,” he said carefully. Looking down at her lap and then back up at her eyes, he asked, “This is where I need to remember that you asked me to be completely honest with you, right?”

“You said that you’re ‘an open book,’ I believe.”

“Yes.” He laughed and tugged on his ear. “Well, I don’t think it’s really a secret. I mean, it’s either deepening or it isn’t, right?”

“True, but is it deepening into the ‘best friend’ zone where we’ll spend more time socializing and sharing each other’s secrets? Or is it something more than that? Perhaps a depth that is leading us towards a physical connection?”

His eyes were glued to hers until her last two words when then they jumped to where his fingers were caressing her shoulder. “Do I really need to answer that?”

“No.” She threaded her fingers through his hair, and then watched the path they took down behind his ear and forward along his jaw. “I’ve been craving it, too.”

His hand returned to her knee, more bold about his movements this time. “So, tell me… What could possibly make me angry right now? Because I can’t imagine a thing that would make me feel anything but euphoric.”

Her wandering hand left his face and moved over his shoulder, down his well-defined bicep, followed the curve of his elbow, and squeezed gently along his forearm until it found its expectant companion on her leg. She pressed their palms together and interwove their fingers, bringing the memory of a night long ago when they first connected with this simple touch. “You’re aware that I’ve been reticent about responding to the attraction between us?”

“Yes, but we’ve definitely made progress, don’t you think?”

“Mmmm hmmm, but why do you think I was holding back?”

“At first, you thought we’d make it home.”

She nodded slowly. “Yes, to Mark. But even when you started flirting with me, talking about pairing off, I was fighting my attraction to you.”

“Hey, now, who was flirting with whom? Wasn’t it you who asked me about mating behavior on the bridge?”

“I was just trying to get your goat.”

He brought their joined hands to his lips and kissed one of her fingers. “Then, we got this far on New Earth, but you just weren’t quite that comfortable with me.”

“I was trying to hold back. It was my one last thing to surrender before acknowledging that we were there forever, and I was so close to doing just that.”

“I can believe that,” he said with understanding. “Then, after we got back to the ship, it was a little hectic with readjusting to command and then dealing with the Kazon situation.”

“Yes,” she was encouraged as she watched what he was doing with their joined hands. He kept their fingers locked but opened their palms so he could circle his thumb against the tender skin above her wrist. The simple touch fueled her imagination as she anticipated a few other places that thumb could caress just as delicately.

“Then we went through cycles where it just never seemed to be the right time. That, and I could tell that you were trying to avoid it because you didn’t want the stress of a relationship. So much was happening all the time and it didn’t seem right to push you when you didn’t want to be pushed.”

“That’s what I thought you were thinking.” She raised an eyebrow and simply stated, “You were mistaken.”

“You wanted to be pushed?”

“No,” she said carefully as she pushed their palms together again. “It had nothing to do with being able to manage the stress of a relationship. In fact, I thought it might help us alleviate stress, but I was unwilling to take the chance.”

“In case it didn’t work out?”

She nodded toward their joined fingers. “I didn’t think that would be an issue once we committed ourselves to each other.”

“No issue whatsoever.” The promise in his voice was unmistakable. “So, tell me. Why were you holding back?”

“Three reasons. The first one is that it’s not appropriate for me to become involved with a junior officer and direct subordinate.”

“I'm still your subordinate.”

She shook her head. “Not in my eyes, and certainly not in Admiral Jenkins’ eyes, but you can do something for me.”

“What’s that?”

“When you write him back, see if you can convey the message that you’d like your name exonerated amongst the Admiralty. Obviously, it can’t be public if for no other reason than to protect you from B’Elanna’s wrath.”

He cringed at the thought of his friend’s Klingon temper. “I’ll mention it.”

“Thank you. The second reason is that I was afraid that, when we got home, I’d lose my command if we had become involved. Now that we’ve been out here for six years, I really don’t give a damn. There are more important things in life than a career.”

“You’ve given this a lot of thought, haven’t you?”

“Oh, yes,” she eyed him sharply. “I’ve had many, many nights all by myself to brood over this.”

He winced and then asked nervously, “And your third reason?”

Her voice was laced with accusation as she clearly stated, “I was operating under the false impression that, in order to have a life-long relationship and grow old with you, I needed to avoid this right now.”

“Why in the world would you need to do that?” he asked in disbelief.

Eyes narrowed, she let go of his hand to hold up her thumb and index finger, almost pinched together. “One, small, tiny, irrelevant factor.”

“Sarcasm again?”

She widened her eyes to let him know that he’d hit the nail on the head. Kicking her volume up a notch, she clarified the issue for him. “I wanted to be allowed to mount a defense and offer my testimony when it came time for your trial.”

He was silent, and she was willing to wait him out. His eyes closed and he moistened his lips. He looked at her again and opened his mouth, but then clamped it shut. Letting go of her shoulder, he rubbed his forehead in pensive silence. He took a breath to prepare to speak again, took one look at her, and then exhaled. Rubbing his forehead again, he shook his head in denial.

Taking mercy on him, she lifted his hand to her lips and pressed a kiss on his fingers.

The tenderness prompted him to speak, but he still had his eyes closed and his head resting on his hand. “You told me that you’d been working on a defense for the Maquis, and honestly, I thought that was a great idea because they might need it. It didn’t even occur to me that you were doing that for me, too, because in my mind, it wasn’t necessary.”

She lifted her free hand to brush her fingers through his dark hair, absorbed in the soft strands that curled delicately around her small fingers.

“Kathryn.” He lifted his head to look at her, causing her fingers to drift down to his cheek. “I am honored that you would go to those extremes for me, that you would fight this attraction so hard just so you could hang onto it forever. It’s astonishing.”

She put her hand under his jaw and made sure he was focused on her before she spoke. “Chakotay,” her voice cracked with emotion. “It’s because I love you.”

“You really do, don’t you?” His eyes were glistening with moisture.

“I have for a very long time. I just couldn’t tell you.”

He blinked back the tears as he slowly shook his head. “I'm so sorry, cariño.”

The endearment made her smile. “Cariño. That’s going to take some getting used to.”

“Is it something that you want to get used to?”

There was no hesitation before she nodded. “I want more of you, and if that’s the name that comes to mind when you’re feeling affectionate, I’m not going to balk at it.”

“It’s the name I use for you in my handwritten journal.”

With a warm smile, she said, “Then I’ve been your darling for a long time, haven’t I?”

“Yes, you have.” He looked at her sadly. “You’ll really forgive me for blundering this?”

“Chakotay, that was a done deal yesterday.”

“It was?”

“Mmmm hmmm. Soon after I got my memories back. It was enlightening to lose an entire day and then look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. I’m not saying that I understand your reasoning, but I’m going to trust that you didn’t intend to hurt me.”

“I would never want to hurt you.” He lifted his hand to caress her face. “Thank you, Kathryn.”

Leaning into his touch, she whispered, “Let’s consider it even since I almost killed you.”

His finger immediately covered her lips. “Shhhhhh… You did not, and even if you intended to shove me out of your way, you had no way of knowing that stuff was going to be flying through the air. Besides, there’s no way that little shove equals all the angst I’ve caused you over the years.”

She kissed his fingertip and smiled as he moved it across her lips. “I’d hedge a bet that we’re probably about even in that department.”

As focused as he was on her lips, it took him a moment to register what she’d said. When he did, he chuckled a little. “I suppose so.”

She moved her body next to his and unfolded her legs. “Hope you don’t mind if I make myself more comfortable?”

“Of course not, especially if it means you’re closer to me.” He held her thigh, urging her to press against him even move.

“Computer,” Kathryn called out. “Lower lights to ten percent.”

The room gradually darkened until there was nothing but a faint glow. “How will I see you?”

“You know what I look like.” She placed her hand on his chest to feel the steady beat of his heart.

“Checking to make sure it still works?”

“Yes. How does it feel?”

“Your hand feels great.”

She thumped him gently. “Your chest.”

“It’s fine as long as you don’t hit it.”

“I could kiss it and make it better?”

His hands cupped her face and he pressed a simple, warm kiss on her lips. “Maybe later. For now, I have other plans for your lips.”

“Hmmmm?” She moaned softly as his fingers moved back along her jaw, paused to caress the sensitive skin behind her ears, and then threaded into her hair. She mumbled, “That wasn’t much of a first kiss.”

One of his hands supported her shoulders and the other dropped to her waist. “Let’s see if I can do better, then. Relax against me, I’ve got you.”

Feeling heady from the assured, yet tender way he was holding her, she did as he asked, and her body instantly felt cradled in his embrace.

He placed soft kisses at her temple, “Do you have any doubts how I feel about you?”

“Not a single one.”

He continued to place kisses along her face, lingering beneath her earlobe. As a rush of warmth spread through her, he whispered against her neck, “Even so, let me be as clear as a bell… Kathryn, I’m in love with you.”

She turned her head so she could look into his eyes, now mere centimeters from her own. “I can tell.” Her fingertips slid along his cheek. “It’s apparent in the way you look at me. Everything else – your touches, the little things you do to make me smile, and the way you take care of me – they’re just icing on the cake.”

His eyes were bright in the reflection of the starlight as they drifted towards her. She closed her eyes and within the breath of a moment, she was rewarded with the soft, warm touch of his lips on her own. The intimacy of their first real kiss ignited the connection between them, making her body tingle all the way down to her toes.

His touch was gentle as he lightly pressed soft kisses on her lips, but when she wrapped her arms around him, urging him to take the kiss deeper, he responded with teasing restraint. His soft tongue touched her lips with the unmistakable invitation to open her mouth to him. Just as she gave him access, he drew away to make her beg for more. She moaned in response, arching her body into him as his tongue licked softly at her lips.
Desperately trying to increase the pressure, she lifted herself toward him, but his strong arms held her at the exact distance he wanted her – a distance that made her whimper for his luscious and pleasurable kisses.

Kathryn felt his hand move from her waist to her soft belly where he lightly stroked back and forth in slow, soothing movements. She thought she would faint from the eroticism of both his touch and the way his mouth was moving over hers.

Lightly pressing his hand against her stomach, he whispered, “You were turned on by this earlier, weren’t you?”

“Mmmmhmmm,” she moaned as she tried to pull his head closer, but he would not be coerced.

“Tell me,” he whispered against her lips. “Tell me where you’re craving my touch.”

He dropped his hand lower on her belly, his fingers drifting to caress the fold of her hip, pressing and stroking wherever they happened to land. She gasped into his mouth when the confident fingers came close to her heated center, only to have them withdraw again.

“Do you want my touch there, Kathryn?”

“Mmmm hmmm… please,” she begged. Her breasts were heaving as she tried desperately to get closer to him.

The heel of his hand dropped and pressed lightly against her mound, inflaming her with sudden and wild sparks. She jolted, almost jumping out of his arms if not for him holding her.

“Easy, cariño.” He kissed the corner of her mouth as his hand moved back up to caress her tummy. “Easy,” he crooned.

She pulled herself against him. “I need you, Chakotay.”

“You’ve got me.” His mouth covered hers completely at the same time that his hand slid up over her shirt to lightly skate over her distended nipples. She moaned into him as his tongue filled her mouth, stroking pleasure out of her like a bee drawing nectar from a flower. Kathryn was buzzing with arousal when his hand dropped down to her waist to connect with the soft, warm skin, making her quiver in anticipation.

When he discovered her soft, exposed breasts, he drew away from her mouth. “You’re not wearing a bra, Kathryn.”

Dizzy with arousal as he gently kneaded her, she husked, “No panties, either.”

He smiled against her lips and whispered, “You planned this all along, didn’t you?”

“Mmm hmm,” she said as she arched her chest into his hand. “It’s been so long.”

“Shhhhhhh,” he kissed along her lips. “I’ll get you there, I promise.”

“Oh, god,” she gasped as he feathered a touch across her nipple.

“You like that, don’t you?” He repeated the touch over and over, varying the amount of pressure until she was left panting and her head spinning.

He offered soft kisses along her lips again, gradually teasing his tongue into her eager mouth. She latched onto him and pushed her tongue against his to fight in a heated duel of supremacy, all in complete contradiction to the lightness of his finger circling around her breast.

Kathryn felt like she was floating on a sea of arousal and couldn’t remember ever feeling this amount of desire. Coherent thought was nearly impossible, but what she did know was that she needed this man inside her, and she needed it now.

She let go of his shoulder and pressed it against his chest, slowly pushing it down his front until she found what she wanted.

He gasped as her fingers moved up and down along the hard shaft. Once he recovered from the initial shock, he dropped his hand from her breast to cup her mound.

“Chakotay,” she whimpered.

“I know, Kathryn.” He found the waist of her pants and slid his hand inside.

“No,” she begged. “It’ll be over too quickly.”

“We won’t let that happen.” He slid the pants down low on her hips, his warm fingers caressing as much skin as they could. His hand cupped her bottom possessively as his mouth pulled kisses out of her with heated insistence.

When her pants edged down low enough that the cool air tickled her heated pubis, she gasped and instinctively opened her legs in invitation. He answered by squeezing her bottom tighter and dropping his hand down to the top of her thigh where his fingers lightly stroking the edge of her damp curls. Moaning into his mouth, she fervently rekindled her touch on his stiff penis, stroking it through the fabric of his slacks. His tongue filled her mouth, giving her the sudden urge to fill her lips with his hardened shaft.

It took an unbelievable amount of willpower, but she pulled away and pressed against his shoulders until he was reclining on the couch.

“Kathryn?”

Standing over him, she let her pants drop to the floor and pulled off her shirt so that her naked body was bathed in starlight.

He stared at her in awe. “You are more beautiful than I’ve imagined.”

“I'm certainly glad you think so.” She kneeled next to him, unfastened his slacks, and whispered, “Lift up,” as she tugged them down his legs. He took off his shirt while he watched her draw her hands up each leg until they found their destination, stiff and ready for her touch. She drew her fingertip slowly down the length of his penis until her hand circled the base, eliciting a deep moan from the man laid out before her.

She familiarized herself with his erection, lightly raking her fingers over his testicles and cataloguing his pleasure points. She was taken by the unexpected thickness of him and, while she was sure that she would enjoy it immensely at some point, she was a little skeptical about tonight. Her hand tightened over the tip and stroked down as she said, “Chakotay, it’s been awhile for me. When you go in…”

“I’ll be careful.” He reached for her arm and slid his fingers down until he held her hand. Drawing it to his mouth, he kissed each of her fingers individually. “I love you.”

“I love you, too, and I love being able to say it.” She hesitantly drew her fingers away from his sweet lips and looked over his body, suddenly wishing that she hadn’t turned the lights so low. She wanted to kiss every centimeter and watch him respond.

With a wicked smile, she crawled up on the couch and kneeled between his legs. “Is it okay if I kiss you down here?”

He groaned and his penis twitched, “More than okay, and you need not ask.”

As she bent down to taste him, a sharp pain tore through her. “Ahhh!” She froze, hunched over and unable to move without making it worse.

“Kathryn!” He jumped up and put his arm around her trembling shoulders. “Your abdomen?”

“Mmmmhmmm.” She clenched her eyes shut and breathed through the pain. “Give me a minute.”

He gently lifted her. “Let’s lay you on your back to see if that helps.”

“I’m sorry.”

With a soothing voice, he said, “It’s all right,” as he settled her down. He supported her legs until they were fully extended. “Just a minor setback is all.”

She took shallow breaths and held the painful spot near her waist. “Still, quite the mood killer.”

“Yes, but…” He took her free hand and placed it on his penis. “We are not distracted easily.”

Laughing carefully, she said, “The pain is starting to ease.”

“Can you tell what you did? Pulled a muscle or did something tear?”

“Not sure, but it’s better now.” Her touch became bolder.

He kissed her softly. “I'm glad, but I don’t think you should try that again.”

“Not tonight, but just like you,” she indicated his hard erection, “I will not be deterred. I want to taste you.”

“And I was just thinking about how you look like a sumptuous dessert, all laid out before me and ripe for the picking.”

Her fingers drifted up to his chest. “Let’s go to bed… our bed.”

As he helped her up, he asked playfully, “What are we going to do with my quarters, then?”

“Storage?” She shrugged and led him into their room. “I'm assuming you don’t mind sleeping with me every night?”

“It’s a dream come true.”

Stretching up onto her toes, she wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a leisurely kiss. “Speaking of dreams… I’ve had quite a lot of them in this room that involve you and your body.”

“Oh, really?” His hands smoothed up and down her back.

“Be warned, I expect you to make up for years of lonely dreams.”

He cupped her bottom and smirked. “My punishment?”

Pressing her body against his, she whispered, “Yes, and your retribution will give me great pleasure.”

The End…. and the beginning