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Risk and Return

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"we are two reflections that cross swords with each other"

-Octavio Paz, Is There No Way Out?

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"How can I ever fully trust you again?” Janeway asked her first officer, frustration evident in her voice. “Teero could still be in that head of yours, waiting for another opportunity to strike."

"Is it really Teero you don't trust? Or me?" Chakotay challenged.

Janeway met his gaze firmly. "I'm not the one who referred to our crew as if they were different factions."

"You're still upset about that? It was just a slip up," he insisted.

"It was a painful reminder of what I have always feared.” Janeway placed her hands on either side of her desk and leaned forward. “Chakotay, it wasn't as if you had forgotten the past six years when you were under Teero's control. You didn't revert back to your old Maquis self. Instead, everything we've been through, everything you and I had done for each other and for this crew- it wasn't enough. It didn't matter to you. You brushed it aside in favor of continuing a rebellion that had ended years before. You were going to leave the rest of us stranded in the Delta Quadrant and never look back!" she cried, smacking the top of the desk with one hand.

Chakotay scowled. "Don't talk to me about loyalty as if you never stopped regretting taking us aboard. You said so yourself: you've always held this suspicion against us, despite the fact that we've proven ourselves countless times. We've shown our loyalty and our trust. So save your self righteous speeches for the Admiral.”

That cold look that he had seen so rarely before slid over her face. She straightened up and squared her shoulders, the commanding figure of a starship Captain. "I can't ignore the facts of what has occurred the past few days. You were able to take the ship once before. I won't let it happen again."

Chakotay shook his head in disbelief. "So, what? You're going to demote me? Demote B'Elanna? And what of the rest of my crew?" he added sarcastically. "Are you going to throw us all in the brig for the next 40 years?"

"Oh, no," she said, circling the desk and stopping to stand in front of him. "If we're going to get back to Earth we need to work together. You will be expected to maintain your assignments."

Chakotay turned and faced her. "Then why tell me all this?" he asked, bewildered.

"Because I’m changing the nature of our relationship, and I think it’s only fair to inform you of my reasoning. From now on, we will be the professional command team of Voyager, nothing more.”

She looked away and her icy mask broke for a second. "I confess I will miss your friendship. But I have made my decision." She crossed her arms and the mask was back in place. "I am also putting an end to taking detours to explore anomalies as well as extended shore leave. We are speeding up our return home. Dismissed," she said with finality.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After that day, Janeway clung to the Chief Security Officer more than ever before.

'She values his loyalty,' Chakotay thought bitterly. After all, Tuvok had never left Starfleet. On the Maquis ship, he had only been pretending, ready to go back to the Federation at the drop of a hat. He had even fought Teero's influence the entire time the Bajoran had attempted to use him, helping to retake the ship and end the ordeal.

Chakotay wished he could say with certainty that part of himself had resisted, had wrestled for control after seeing the betrayed look on Kathryn's face when he ordered she be put in the brig; but his memories of that day were hazy, and he couldn't.

The Captain didn’t go as far as to rearrange shifts so that they were never on the bridge at the same time, but she might as well have. Whenever they reported to their shared duty shift she would find some new excuse to retreat to her ready room. Chakotay used to look forward to having sole command of the bridge, finding it novel to feel that the entire Starfleet ship was his responsibility. Now, he just felt lonely, often choosing to remain in the first officer’s chair and study the seat next to him, lost in his own thoughts.

The one time he wasn’t on the bridge, something happened that only worsened the mood he had found himself in the past few weeks. According to rumor, while the Captain was on a call with the lover of the two-timing merchant that had kidnapped the Doctor, she had taken Tuvok’s hand in hers and announced that she “had a man already.” Chakotay was usually loath to believe such rumors but Neelix insisted that it came from a trusted source.

He had promptly left the mess hall upon hearing the story, dinner forgotten, and returned to his quarters to agonize over whether Kathryn had been putting on a ruse or if there could be some kernel of truth behind her words. He knew Tuvok had been faithful to his wife back on Vulcan for the majority of their journey, but any moment could be a breaking point and these were certainly abnormal circumstances. Chakotay had once thought of that particular argument himself when he entertained the idea of marching into the ready room and re-proclaiming his feelings for the Captain, protocol be damned.

He felt a stab of jealousy in his gut and stopped the pacing back and forth he was doing, utterly surprised. He had never felt so strongly before, seeing missed opportunities as just that, knowing another would come along. This time, however, it was different. The loss of his best friend compounded the pain of losing the chance to be with her romantically, to have any connection to her beyond just being coworkers. He felt remorse for the harsh words he had thrown back at Janeway. If he hadn’t said them, would he be sharing a meal with her right now?

Chakotay trudged over to his bed and flopped onto it, facedown. He was in for another restless night of tossing and turning.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If Janeway wanted everything to be “business as usual,” she would be disappointed to know that the bridge officers had quickly noticed the new dynamic between her and Chakotay. Or, rather, the lack of one. Harry and Tom, always the most observant of the crew, knew something had fundamentally changed after the attempted Maquis takeover.

If it wasn’t made obvious by the curt way that Janeway spoke to Chakotay, the command team’s new habit of avoiding each other whenever possible certainly made things clear. They had somehow even figured out an unspoken schedule for eating in the mess hall so that they wouldn’t overlap their time spent there. The one instance they slipped up, the two had sat at different tables on opposite sides of the room. The tension had been palpable amongst the rest of the crew that had settled down for lunch. Conversation dwindled and everyone ate quickly, preferring to return to duty early that day.

Seeing the Captain and first officer silently at odds plus the new ban on altering course for anything other than gathering resources had left everyone feeling miserable. It was time to fix things. Tom called a meeting for himself, B’Elanna, Harry and Seven of Nine in the quarters he shared with his wife, committed to secrecy in lieu of a more spacious setting.

“We can’t spend the next however-many-years it’ll take to get home like this,” he proclaimed to his audience on the couch. “Exploring the Delta Quadrant was the one thing that made it bearable in the first place. Not to mention, whatever is going on with Janeway and Chakotay has affected the rest of the crew as well. Neelix tells me that everyone is on edge. There’s been more arguments and unproductive duty shifts than ever.”

“The Captain is probably trying to minimize the time available for another Maquis coup,” B’Elanna commented dryly. “As if the Doctor hadn’t assured everyone that mind control isn’t spontaneous like that. And you two are closely monitoring our monthly data streams now,” she said to Harry and Seven seated next to her. “She must think that we’ll take over the ship now that the idea is fresh in our minds. That would make our marriage a tad awkward, don’t you think Tom?”

Seven spoke up: “The Commander is usually in charge of solving problems between crewmates. Who does that role go to if it’s an issue between him and the Captain?”

“Maybe he can still resolve it,” Harry said. “We don’t know who started whatever disagreement they had, but I don’t think it would be a good idea for anyone to meddle in their personal business.”

The group discussed their options for a while, finally settling on Harry’s idea to stay out of it, for the most part. It was agreed that someone should give Chakotay a push in the right direction and since B’Elanna knew him the longest, it fell on her to talk to him.

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Chakotay arrived at Holodeck 2 ready to spar with B’Elanna and get his mind off of, well, everything else. The Chief Engineer had invited him somewhat out of the blue but he readily accepted, eager to let his thoughts be occupied with dodging a blow rather than wandering off into the land of “what-ifs” for smoothing things over with Kathryn.

When he entered the room, however, he found himself in the French pub that Tom had programmed early on in their travels back to the Alpha Quadrant. It was a good place for thinking and thus he wasn’t happy. He spotted B’Elanna seated in a far corner and made his way over to her, eyeing the Starfleet uniform she was wearing.

“This isn’t the gym and you’re not dressed for a fight,” he said, sliding into the seat across from her. He watched as she signaled for a waiter.

“That was just an excuse to get you here.” She ordered drinks for them. “I wouldn’t have had to use the holodeck to talk to you if I could find you lately. As soon as you get off duty you immediately go back to your quarters to hide,” she accused.

Chakotay sighed and looked down at the wooden table between them. “I’m sorry,” he said. “The past few weeks have been...difficult, and I wasn’t feeling very sociable.”

“Difficult because you’re barely on speaking terms with Janeway?” B’Elanna asked, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms.

Chakotay looked up at her, startled. “Who told you that?”

“Please, it’s the most obvious thing in the world. When you two get along it’s all rainbows and sunshine on this ship and when you don’t? Well, the crew has never looked worse. It’s not just that we’re stuck on Voyager all the time now. We also look to you for support. These days, you can’t even muster a smile as you pass someone in the hall.” She shook her head. “Everyone thinks you and Janeway have finally given up on getting home and are secretly looking for the nearest habitable planet to set down on. You might do it too, just to get away from each other.”

B’Elanna sat up and put a hand on his arm. “Whatever is going on- you need to figure it out and get us back on track.”

Chakotay used the waiter’s return to think of some sort of official reply that would put an end to his friend’s line of questioning. Instead, he found that he didn’t want to keep everything to himself anymore. He needed someone to talk to about this. He gulped down some synthehol and told B’Elanna the abridged version of the events that had led to this point. She listened attentively until the end and then gave him a look.

“Chakotay, this is ridiculous. Friendships can’t just be thrown away like that, especially when we need a sense of community here to keep us sane enough to keep going.”

“Tell that to Kathryn,” he said.

“Well for one, you’re more approachable.”

He smiled at that- a small smile, but B’Elanna considered it a victory.

“I think you should try to talk to her again. She’s had some time to be angry about things and now she’s cooled down and started to see reason. Like I told the others, there’s plenty of safeguards in place so you and I don’t go all renegade again. She’ll see that,” B’Elanna said. “Who knows, maybe she’s been waiting for the chance to make up. You could go to Deck 1 right now and find out…?”

“Wait, you spoke to other crew members about this?” he asked, alarmed.

B’Elanna put her hands up to assuage him. “Don’t worry, they’re sworn to secrecy. Janeway won’t hear about any of this from us.”

Chakotay felt a rush of relief. He wasn’t ready to go anywhere near the Captain at this point and if she caught wind of this, she would call him in and demand an explanation for how the crew knew about their confidential meeting. B’Elanna had given him something to think about though, and he told her he would consider it.

“Now, how about we play some pool,” he suggested. “We agreed to some friendly competition on the holodeck and I’m going to hold you to that.”

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Janeway and Tuvok were meditating together in his quarters when the former let loose a long sigh. Tuvok cracked one eye open and looked at the woman seated across from him.

“Captain,” he said. “That is the fifth time in an hour that you’ve exhaled in such a manner. Are you finding it difficult to meditate?”

Janeway opened her eyes and let her hands drop into her lap. “I’m sorry, Tuvok, I can’t seem to concentrate today. I’ll stop distracting you,” she said, moving to stand.

“Stay,” Tuvok said, lowering his own clasped hands. “There is something that I wish to discuss with you.”

She settled back down onto her cushion, looking at him curiously.

“It has come to my attention that you and the Commander have been...distant lately. As Chief Security Officer I make it a point to pay attention to crew relationships and yours seems to be virtually nonexistent now. Has something caused a rift between the two of you?” he asked.

Janeway tried to dismiss his concerns but Tuvok held up a hand to stop her. “I am also asking this as your friend,” he said.

She pursed her lips and looked away to the lit candles on the coffee table. The overhead lights were dim and the candlelight flickered over her face as she became momentarily lost in thought. She seemed to come to some conclusion and turned her head back to look at Tuvok.

“I made a serious mistake, seven years ago,” she said. “I thought that we could all set aside our differences and become one crew, unified in our desire to find a way home. The Delta Quadrant even started to seem like a blessing in disguise. We were so far from everything we ever knew but in some ways it was a fresh start for everyone. The Maquis weren’t relevant anymore in a part of the galaxy where no one even knew what a Cardassian was. I thought that we could leave all that behind us.” Janeway looked down at her lap. “I should have never let myself get close to them,” she said quietly.

Tuvok knew that recent events were fresh in her mind and spoke with his usual objectivity. “I do not think it was a mistake to incorporate the former Maquis into our ranks. It would have been illogical to not take advantage of their expertise. Lt. Torres, for example, has proven to be a highly skilled Chief Engineer. Likewise, you have always held Commander Chakotay in the highest regard for his leadership abilities.”

“But had I known that the rebellion would follow us all this way, I would have appointed you as my first officer instead,” Janeway said, meeting his gaze. “Your leadership skills are just as impressive.”

“Yet you did not know, and you acted based on the amount of information available at the time. Seven years ago, it ‘made sense’ to place Commander Chakotay in that position,” he said, making use of human phrasing.

“And now?” she asked.

Tuvok shook his head. “That is a question you must answer for yourself, Captain.”

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During Janeway’s next allotted Holodeck time, she booted up an old program that she hadn’t used in a while. Silver metal gave way to light colored stone as she rounded the corner to find herself in the workshop of the holo character version of Leonardo da Vinci. The man in question was at home, sitting by the window and sketching some new contraption to build. At her approach, he looked up and broke out into a grin.

“Katarina!” he exclaimed, rising from the wooden bench he was seated on.

Janeway smiled and held out her arms for a hug, one which he heartily reciprocated. “Maestro. It’s good to see you again.”

“You have taken the words right out of my mouth. Tell me, what brings you back to Florence? And do you have time for a meal at our favorite ristorante while you’re here?” he asked.

Janeway shook her head. “I’m afraid I can’t stay long. I only came to say hello before returning to the Americas.”

Leonardo stroked his beard. “Ah, I do not blame you. It was a wondrous place. I am still dreaming of the technological marvels I saw there.” He picked up the notebook he had been sketching in and held it out to her. “I have been inspired to design even more sophisticated machines.”

She took the notebook and studied the drawing. It looked like the rudimentary beginnings of a phaser. Grateful that the prime directive didn’t apply to holodeck programs, she handed it back to Leonardo. “You’ve outdone yourself,” she said.

He waved away her compliment then invited her to sit with him. Janeway obliged and took his hands in hers.

“Maestro, do you ever get...lonely, shut up in this workshop all day?” she asked. “Your friends must miss you.”

He laughed. “Oh Katarina, you were always so concerned with my well-being. That is what made you an excellent assistant.” She smiled at that. “You needn’t worry though. I have never felt lonely here amongst my inventions. In fact, I only felt loneliness after you and I had parted ways. Perhaps I should not have taken you on as an assistant in the first place,” he teased.

“Perhaps not,” she said thoughtfully.

“But, then,” he continued. “How could I have ever escaped my patron in the Americas or finished the flying machine had you not been there to help me? I would not have gotten this far without you, my dear.”

Janeway chuckled. “I’m sure you’d manage.”

Leonardo smiled and patted her cheek affectionately. “Maybe so. But where is the joy in accomplishing something if there is no one to share it with?”

She chose not to continue the debate, opting instead to enjoy a moment’s peace in the company of one of her most inspiring role models.

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A few days later, Engineering requested a re-supply of their deuterium reserves and the Captain volunteered to go collect some, alone. The senior officers that sat with her in the briefing room balked at the idea, citing the “buddy system” protocol for away missions. Even Chakotay, who had rarely disagreed with her lately, protested.

“We passed a planet a few light-years back,” she said calmly. “It was in completely uninhabited space. I’ll be fine, and back before you know it.”

Harry, seeing an opportunity, proposed that she and the first officer go together. “The rest of us can test our command skills without you being there to hold our hands,” he said. “We’ll have Tuvok here as back up, of course,” he added hastily as both Janeway and Chakotay opened their mouths to argue.

Everyone turned their heads to look at Tuvok, who had been quiet up to this point.

“I concur,” he said without hesitation and Tom gave Harry a discreet thumbs up.

The command team was still reluctant but ultimately caved, wanting to appear on good terms in front of the others. As the meeting ended, Chakotay tried to catch B’Elanna’s eye but the Chief Engineer left quickly, citing some excuse to check on the warp core.

‘So much for letting me handle things on my own,’ he thought, and went to his quarters to pack for the trip.

Once the briefing room had emptied, Janeway allowed herself to visibly freak out, groaning and rubbing her temples. Instead of getting some much needed time away, she was going to be stuck in a small space with Chakotay for two whole weeks.

It struck her suddenly that she could treat the mission as a test of her own: to keep things utterly professional. So far she had managed by generally avoiding Chakotay and, luckily, nothing had happened recently to necessitate their working together. Now she would have to suppress the urge to crack a joke or make small talk or discuss happenings on Voyager, the latter being her go-to excuse just to talk to him.

She missed her first officer terribly and now that she had pushed him away, everything reminded her of the time they used to spend together. It was only her pride that kept her from admitting that maybe she had jumped the gun a little in the wake of her anger and hurt. ‘Afterall,’ she reminded herself. ‘Captains aren’t supposed to make mistakes. And I've made far too many already.'

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The Delta Flier soon left Voyager to putter along on impulse engines and wait for its return. It was a quiet ride, the silence breaking occasionally when one of them announced a course change. They slept in shifts so that someone was piloting at all times and it almost became the solo trip that Janeway had wanted, except that when it was her turn to steer the Flier alone, she was acutely aware of her first officer’s presence in the room below. She fought the urge to go and sneak a peek at his face as he slept. His angry expression from nearly a month prior still flashed in her mind and, besides the carefully maintained neutral look he had on the rest of the time, she couldn’t remember what he looked like when relaxed, let alone happy.

Janeway got her chance when they finally reached their destination and she had to go wake him up to help her collect the deuterium. She climbed down the ladder into the belly of the Flier and looked to where he was laying on the emergency pull-out bed. In their collective haste to get the mission underway, they had forgotten to bring another cot and had ended up both sleeping on the same surface. Janeway hadn’t allowed herself to think too much about it and was grateful that they had at least remembered their own pillows. She didn’t think she would be able to fall asleep with his scent surrounding her.

Chakotay didn’t stir as she approached him, sleeping soundly with his mouth slightly parted. She used to kick herself for getting distracted mid conversation by that perfect Cupid’s bow. Her eyes drifted from his mouth to the familiar sight of his tattoo, then to his comm badge, rising and falling with his breathing. The sight of him made her chest tighten with a yet unnamed feeling.

Janeway took a measured step back, looking behind her to make sure she didn’t trip. She then cleared her throat loudly. She watched as Chakotay stirred and opened his eyes. He turned his head in her direction and sat up slowly.

“We’re here. Be up in 5 to coordinate transport?” she asked lightly. He nodded and she turned and climbed back up the ladder, heart pounding.

Once she was back on the upper level, she collapsed into the nearest seat. Being apart from him for so long back on Voyager had only increased her awareness of his presence now. She analyzed every movement he made on the Flier and every shift in his tone of voice when he spoke, proceeding to overthink about them during the long hours she spent alone at the helm.

After a few more minutes Chakotay emerged from below and they worked efficiently to collect as much deuterium as the Flier could hold.

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The return course they plotted was different after they set off from orbit on the other side of the planetoid. For a while it went much the same as the first leg of the trip. About mid-week, however, they passed a small nebula and Chakotay couldn’t help his sharp intake of air at the sight of it. The vibrant pink and purple clouds burst from its center like the petals of a tropical flower.

Upon hearing him gasp, Janeway turned automatically to where he sat at tactical and he met her eyes for a second before looking away.

“It’s almost worth all the dangers of the Delta Quadrant to see phenomena like this,” he said to cover his awe.

Janeway was quiet as she suddenly recalled her visit with Leonardo. Could she have managed to get Voyager home without Chakotay by her side? Probably. But who would she share her victories with along the way? Who would she confide in when she couldn’t find the solution to whatever new problem came up? Who would eat dinner in her quarters almost every night or discuss books with her for hours on end?

A deep sense of shame settled in her stomach. She wanted to tell Chakotay how sorry she was to think that she had any right to abandon their friendship for such trivial reasons as her own fear and doubt. They had endured worse in this hostile region of space and she hadn’t flinched but when it came to her belief in him, things were different. She relied on him to the point of not being able to bear the thought of him letting her down. In doing so, she had created unfair expectations in her mind that he could never hope to live up to. His failure had been inevitable, she realized, because she had placed him on such a high pedestal.

Janeway would work on finding the words to fully convey to him how she felt, but for now, she decided to simply meet him halfway.

“It is worth it,” she said, her eyes finding his again.

He hadn’t expected her to respond and the surprise was evident on his face, but he gave her a shy smile anyway before turning back to the screen in front of him. The newfound peace between them managed to last the rest of the way to Voyager.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As soon as they docked the Delta Flier in the shuttle bay and stepped out, their comm badges chirped in unison.

“Captain, Commander, please report to the mess hall. It’s an emergency,” the voice said.

The command team didn’t hesitate and arrived a few minutes later, slightly out of breath after running over from the turbolift. They entered the mess hall expecting the worst and instead found almost the entire crew gathered together under a giant banner. The banner read: “Nothing Went Wrong While You Were Away!”

Janeway and Chakotay both burst out laughing, somewhat hysterically in their collective relief, and were soon surrounded by crew members eager to fill them in on everything they had missed in the past couple of weeks.

Starfleet and former Maquis alike mingled together the entire party, practically inseparable after six long years. Janeway made a silent vow to follow their example and looked around the mess hall for her better half. He was seated in the opposite corner of the room, munching on one of the pastries that Neelix had prepared for the occasion. She made her way over and he offered a smile as she gestured to the empty spot next to him on the couch.

“Can I join you?” she asked.

“Always,” he promised.

Fin