Everything was fine. The away team had made it back right before the Borg cube exploded. Unimatrix Zero was gone but from its ashes a resistance had been born. All in a day’s work for the crew of the starship Voyager.
Commander Chakotay had run a tight ship while Captain Janeway recovered and had only just relinquished command back to her after a two week mandatory leave. The Doctor had actually recommended that she, Tuvok and B'Elanna take an entire month to rest. Afterall, he had argued, they had gone from being nearly fully assimilated to having their cybernetic enhancements removed, all within the span of a day. Their bodies needed to adjust.
Janeway had simply called out “noted” as she left sickbay to return to her own quarters for leave. Two weeks later she went up to Deck 1 and relieved a confused Lt. Paris from the bridge, sank into her Captain’s chair with a sigh of content, and asked for an update on their travels to the Alpha quadrant. Tuvok had returned to duty soon after with Torres on his heels. The Doctor supposed that he was fortunate in getting the three workaholics to come in at all for weekly check-ups, given their natures.
Yes, everything was back to normal. Or so Janeway would like to believe, but Chakotay knew better. Despite the Captain’s regular appearances around the ship, no doubt to reassure her crew, he could see the cracks in her facade when it was just the two of them in her ready room.
Janeway’s shoulders would droop as soon as the doors to the bridge closed. She was fidgety. She lapsed into long silences. It was during one of the latter instances that Chakotay decided to finally address the issue. He had been waiting for her to continue her thought but after a good 30 seconds it became clear that she had begun to zone out again.
Chakotay leaned forward in his chair and set down his PADD on her desk. "Captain, are you alright?" he asked.
"Yes, fine," she replied distantly.
"Permission to speak freely?"
It was more of a statement rather than a question and Janeway raised her eyes to meet his.
"Granted," she replied, a question rather than a statement.
“You seem...distracted lately-” he began.
Janeway interrupted him, perhaps anticipating the need to defend herself.
“I assure you, Commander, I am perfectly capable of running this ship. I took my mandatory leave and now I’m ready to get back to work in getting this crew home.”
“I know you can run the ship,” he said patiently. “You’ve done it before in worse situations. I was only going to say that perhaps unexpected...side effects developed after the run-in with the Borg. I’m asking you, not as your first officer but as your friend: are you alright, Kathryn?”
Chakotay watched as she stood up and walked over to the viewing window behind her desk. She looked for a moment out at the endless expanse of the Delta quadrant and then down to her arm. Janeway rolled up the sleeve of her uniform and ran her fingers over the skin there.
“You’re right, as usual,” she said.
Chakotay waited for her to continue. After a moment, she did.
“It’s those Borg implants. I know they’re not there anymore. I asked the Doctor and Seven to identify every last piece they took out of me. The problem is that I still feel them, sitting just under my skin. They itch. I can’t sleep, I can’t sit still. Look at me,” she said, turning from the window and spreading her arms. “The big, strong Captain. Laid low by a few nanobots.”
Janeway let her arms drop and laughed bitterly.
Not for the first time did Chakotay silently curse their luck for being without a ship’s counselor. He searched for the right words to reassure his closest friend but found none. This was an experience that she was going through alone. If B’Elanna suffered the same then Tom would help her through it. Tuvok had the ability to pack his feelings neatly away. What of the Captain then, lonely at the top?
Chakotay suggested the only thing he could think of: a trip back to sick bay. “Maybe the Doctor has some insights to share. It’s worth pursuing,” he said, expecting some resistance.
To his surprise, Janeway merely nodded and rejoined him at her desk. She promised that she would visit the EMH after their briefing had concluded.
The Doctor gave her a look as he helped Janeway down from the exam table. She still had some trouble with leg articulation, even now.
“I’m a doctor, not a comedian,” he said. “And this is the best possible treatment I can think of, given the circumstances. Good old fashioned physical contact. You humans live for the stuff, so my database tells me. Since there’s nothing medically wrong with you, this is the method of healing that makes the most sense.”
Janeway sighed. If he could give her some kind of hypospray instead to numb her dermal layers, she’d seriously consider it. Her skepticism regarded the treatment as a waste of time. In her opinion, focusing all her attention on work was the way to get over this inconvenient discomfort. If she could occupy her mind at all hours and then fall into bed, too exhausted to think, that would be perfect.
Janeway attempted to ask after a sleep aid but was promptly shooed out into the hall. The Doctor had been one step ahead of her thinking and shut down any notion of adopting what he called a “21st century lifestyle.” Resigned, she made her way to the nearest turbolift to meet her first officer once more and report the findings of her check-up.
She had held out her hand for him to take and he hadn’t hesitated. She had smiled at him, that easy smile that he adored. It troubled him greatly that he hadn’t seen it since. Even following her self imposed isolation during their travels through the starless region of space, Janeway hadn’t taken long to regain her spirits. This mission had been different. Its impact was far greater than anything they had encountered before in their six years together.
Chakotay again played back that day on the bridge in his mind’s eye and realized with a sinking feeling that Janeway had probably been memorizing the feel of her Captain’s chair in case the mission failed and she never got to sit in it again.
He wondered if she had also been trying to memorize how it felt to hold his hand.
He pushed away such unpleasant thoughts. Janeway would make a full recovery and he would be by her side to ensure that it happened, no matter what it took.
Chakotay accepted the tea and thanked her before taking a sip. For a moment they simply sat in each other’s company and indulged in the quiet moment.
Janeway felt his eyes on her and turned her head to find him looking at her expectantly. She huffed and set her coffee down on the low table in front of them.
“That bad?” he teased.
She shook her head and swept her eyes over the sparse decor of her ready room. When Voyager first left Earth she hadn’t yet finished setting up, anticipating that the Maquis retrieval would last only a few weeks. In the years since, the walls and furniture remained bare of any personal touches, reflecting her own long standing anticipation of returning home. Settling in felt too much like giving up and so her ready room had kept its minimalist look.
Janeway turned her attention back to her friend and informed him of the Doctor’s idea. Had the EMH still been in the room she might’ve scoffed for added effect but now she just felt tired. She watched as Chakotay turned over the news in his mind. He seemed to come to some conclusion and met her gaze.
“I’ll do it,” he said.
“Excuse me?” she sputtered, having taken a sip of coffee and almost inhaling it in her surprise.
“The treatment seems straightforward enough. You need prolonged, skin to skin contact with someone you trust. I volunteer.”
Janeway didn’t know how to respond. She had been thinking that a certain holographic Irishman could fill the role as much as any flesh and blood person. Part of her had briefly considered her first officer but after the events of New Earth and his metaphorical confession, she felt it best to keep him at arm’s length, for the sake of her own suppressed feelings as much as for protocol.
“You’ve known Tuvok longer and you trust him just as much, if not more, but as a Vulcan, I don’t think he would be comfortable with that much physical contact,” Chakotay continued, assuming that she had been preparing to refuse in favor of asking the Chief of Security instead.
Janeway mulled it over more. This was simply a case of one friend helping out the other, nothing more. She could handle it and besides, if photonic energy was sufficient for this kind of treatment then the Doctor would have done it himself, giving her a long overdue massage right then and there. Still a little reluctant, she agreed to Chakotay’s offer for what basically amounted to an hour of cuddling up together.
“Just be sure to take me out for dinner first,” she quipped, then instantly regretted it. Her attempt to lighten the mood had veered them back towards the elephant in the room and in their relationship. Where he had maintained a professional detachment, she had all but trampled them with it.
Chakotay opened his mouth to say something then closed it and gave her a tight smile before excusing himself to the bridge. She slumped back onto the couch cushion. So much for keeping her distance.
The command team didn’t find the time to carry out the Doctor’s orders until a week after their last meeting. Janeway was somewhat grateful for the delay, still embarrassed by the implications that came with her poorly timed joke. She would have waited another month for the interaction to be completely forgotten but the Commander wasn’t going to let her put off what he felt was necessary for her health. He had informed her during lunch that he would report to her quarters at 2100 hours as neither of them had anything scheduled that evening. She had simply nodded and choked the rest of her food down before escaping to Engineering for a “surprise inspection.”
Chakotay entered and immediately stopped short. His eyes snagged on the Starfleet issued shorts Janeway had donned for the occasion. Although still a few inches longer than was considered fashionable back home, they provided a comprehensive view of her legs, starting from the lower thigh and down. Similarly, she wore a tank top that exposed her shoulders and collarbone, all of which he had rarely seen before. Chakotay’s eyes snapped up to meet hers and he cleared his throat.
“So, how do you want to do this?” he asked, pressing on.
Janeway looked grateful for his no-nonsense attitude before beckoning him to join her by her couch.
“I figured you could play doctor and ‘check’ for implants. I think the reassurance would help solidify that there’s nothing left in here to cause trouble,” she said, tapping a finger on one of her arms before sitting down on the couch and using her hands to swing her legs up onto the cushion. She watched as Chakotay moved to sit by her feet.
“Certainly,” he said and looked to her for permission.
She settled back against the couch and indicated that he could begin.
Chakotay took hold of her feet and laid them in his lap, gently probing the skin around her ankle with his fingers. His touch lightly tickled and Janeway made herself sit still, her shoulders tense.
After examining the other ankle, he reached for her calves. He lifted each of her legs slowly, his touch following the contours of her muscles. His hands were cool on her skin, counteracting how her body was heating up in embarrassment, despite her internal protest. It was all perfectly innocent and yet, that made everything feel strangely intimate.
Chakotay, for his part, had so far been business-like about the task. It was only when he reached her thighs that he faltered, ghosting his fingers over her skin quickly before moving on.
He carefully moved her legs from his lap and set them back down on the couch, moving up to sit by her hips so that he could reach her upper body. Janeway tilted her head up to stare at the ceiling, both so that he wouldn’t hit his head on her chin and so that she could avoid looking at him as he worked quickly and efficiently over her shoulders and neck.
His hands slowed as they trailed over her upper arms and he spoke softly as he told her that he didn’t feel anything unusual or out of place. Her arms had exhibited the worst of the “phantom pains” as the Doctor had called them, and Chakotay was paying special attention as he checked around her wrists for any assimilation tubules. As he took hold of her hands, he slowed even further, rubbing light circles over her palms. The sensation made her think of their clasped hands as he told her of a legend of two warriors and unending devotion.
Janeway worked to keep her breathing steady. She feared if his hand brushed over her heart he would feel how fast it was beating. She hadn’t been touched like this in, well, six years. Not since Mark, and even then it hadn’t felt the same; like a thrumming energy was crackling just under the surface, heating her from the inside out, and for goodness’ sake, if Chakotay went any slower she might spontaneously combust. She was grateful for the dim lighting she had set before his arrival, obscuring any expression she had in reaction to this, to him.
If Chakotay noticed anything, he didn’t comment. In fact, he was a bit lost in the experience himself. Janeway constantly went through phases of being more reserved to being purposefully casual. He supposed it came with the territory of trying to keep everything together as a Captain, balanced with the desire to be more familiar with her crew so that she might boost their morale during difficult times.
When she was feeling more carefree she would laugh and pat his shoulder or chest, lingering there for a beat too long at times. Still, those friendly touches were few and far between. If he was honest with himself he was drawing this out longer than necessary, committing it to memory in anticipation of never getting another chance to be this close to her. He knew that she clung to protocol and that the days on New Earth were long behind them. Still, in the moments before falling asleep most nights, he imagined a different kind of relationship between them.
Chakotay set aside his thoughts as he moved one of his hands to lightly grasp her chin. Avoiding looking into her eyes, he ran the fingers of his other hand over her jaw and up across her cheeks and temples, then repeated his search on the other side, tilting her head gently the other way. When he was done his hands smoothed out to hold her face, his left thumb catching on her lower lip, drawing his attention to her mouth.
He forced his eyes up to meet hers. “No sign of any cybernetic implants,” he said.
“That’s a relief,” she breathed, realizing just how much he was leaning over her, his face mere inches from hers.
They stayed like this for a moment, neither one sure of how to proceed.
Janeway decided to set aside her protocol for a while and brought up one of her hands to caress his cheek in kind, moving her hand to the back of his neck and settling in his hair. The rest of her followed suit and she tilted her face to meet his.
Just as their lips were about to touch, the entire ship shook with routine turbulence and they were startled into awareness. Chakotay pulled back, dropping his hands from where they had been cradling her face. Janeway in turn released her fingers from his hair and straightened up into a sitting position. The discussion that had been percolating in her brain for some time now suddenly came to a close.
Six years hadn’t exactly gone by in a flash, and however much more time it would take to get home would be difficult if she tried to ignore how much she cared for Chakotay. The oft repeated sentiment of her crew came up; that there was room out here for negotiation with Starfleet rules. She had bent them herself more than once in her dealings with hostile aliens.
Now, as she looked at her first officer, being with him didn’t seem nearly as serious of an infraction. Plus, there were certain benefits to take into account and tonight had shown her merely a glimpse of them.
Chakotay seemed to read her thoughts as he studied her face. He held back a full on grin but inside he felt like a heavy weight had finally been lifted.
“Maybe we can do this again sometime,” she said, offering him a genuine smile.
Chakotay agreed, thrilled to finally see the expression on her face that he had missed so much.
“Sleep well, Kathryn.”