Tuvok covered the gamma shift, and again left Tom in command for the alpha shift. Everyone who could find an excuse to be on the bridge was there, anxiously awaiting word from the Talvath. This time, they didn't have nearly as long to wait.
An anomaly opened up off the port side. Tarleya R'Mor appeared on the viewscreen as Harry established a connection.
"Your request was forwarded to your Admiral Paris yesterday. My Empress sent it personally." The young woman paused, clearly enjoying the reaction this announcement caused. "And it seems to have been effective. They've sent the Enterprise."
There was a brief, celebratory reaction as the bridge crew absorbed the news.
The Doctor smirked at Tom. "Congratulations, Mister Paris. It seems that you have made a big enough mess of things that it now requires the direct involvement of both the Romulan Empress and the Federation flagship to set things right."
Janeway sat at her ready room desk, staring at her monitor. For what must have been the hundredth time, she read through the regulations pertaining to interpersonal relationships on board Starfleet vessels.
In order to proceed, the parties involved had to work in different departments. It was unacceptable for the senior officer to make the initial overture. Certain discretion was expected. Turbolifts and jefferies tubes were not considered appropriate locations for romantic encounters.
All of that was reasonable enough. But the captain was forbidden from becoming romantically involved with a subordinate, which in her case simply wasn't fair. There was no loophole, and no room for interpretation. That just didn't seem possible. Even the Prime Directive could be bent.
"Computer, find every reference to personal relationships in all available Starfleet texts," she ordered.
"There are one thousand, six hundred and forty entries on that subject."
Janeway sighed. This might take awhile. Then again, what else did she have to do?
Chakotay decided that a vision quest was in order. Perhaps his spirit guide could help him gain the control he sought. He carried his medicine bundle out into the living room, and froze at the sight of Kathryn's novel, which still sat on the couch where she had left it almost a week before, on the night of the kiss at Sandrine's.
So much had changed since that night. Now, she might never again sit on his couch. The thought brought forth fresh pain as he picked up the book. Just what had she been reading that night? "Qo'noS ta'puq, Hamlet lotlut. LutvaD Ghotvam LuDalu'. Tlhaw'DIyuS, Qo'noS ta'ghaH..." It was Hamlet. In Klingon. She hadn't been reading; not any more than he had been.
Should they have talked about it, that night? Would that have made a difference? Perhaps he could have convinced her to redefine parameters?
He knew that wouldn't have worked. The whole situation had been off balance since the dance on the holodeck. On second thought, it had all started with the first movie. He should never have put his arm around her in the first place.
Miserable, he slumped to the floor. He didn't have an answer. "taH pagh taHbe'!"
The captain wasn't the only one sifting through the Federation database. Now that they knew the Enterprise was on the way, a number of crew members were assembled in the briefing room, discussing the case they intended to present to Counselor Deanna Troi.
A few Borg algorithms made short work of the encryption codes on the counselor's personnel file.
"Seven, that really wasn't necessary," the Doctor pointed out. "I have sufficient clearance to open that file, and so does Mister Paris."
Seven ignored him. "Counselor Troi holds the rank of Commander. She was born on Betazed in 2336, studied psychology at the University of Betazed, graduated from Starfleet Academy in 2359, and has been the ship's counselor on the Enterprise since 2363."
"And knowing this is useful how?" Harry Kim asked.
"It isn't," Seven agreed. "But this is relevant to our situation. Troi has had romantic relationships with Commander William Riker and Lieutenant Commander Worf, both of whom have served on board the Enterprise."
B'Elanna sighed. "So she's either completely unopposed to shipboard romances, or she has two strong examples of why it doesn't work out."
"I wish we knew which." Tom shifted uneasily. "This could still backfire on us." If Troi told the captain to continue following protocol...Tom shuddered at the thought.
"There are over one hundred and fifty people on this ship," the Doctor said. "Perhaps someone on board has met her."
"I'll ask around," Neelix volunteered. "Someone must have."
"While I was at the Academy I heard talk of there being something between Captain Picard and his medical officer," Harry said. "Does anyone know anything about that?"
"There is a grain of truth in that rumor," Seven said. "As for Troi's opinion on the matter, I do not know."
"How do you know that?" B'Elanna asked.
"The Borg assimilated Captain Picard before the battle of Wolf 359," she explained. "They possess all of his memories prior to that date."
Tom was impressed. "I always assumed that was merely hearsay. Hey! Wait a minute. Picard isn't really Wesley Crusher's father, is he?"
"No," Seven answered. "He is not."
"I never knew the Borg liked to gossip," the Doctor said.
"The Borg had plans to use Picard's feelings for Crusher against him," Seven explained. "Still, it is not information that I would be likely to possess had Captain Janeway not mentioned Picard to me before I was severed from the Collective."
Tom's curiosity got the better of him. "Why?"
"Let's just say that her knowledge of historical events saved this ship from assimilation." Seven smirked at the helmsman. "Some people use such information for productive reasons, rather than to torment their crewmates in the holodeck."
"Hey!" Tom protested. "What did I do to deserve that?"
"I don't think you want her to answer you, Flyboy." B'Elanna stood up. "I'll be in engineering."
The Doctor returned to sickbay. "Computer, bring up the files for all Voyager crew members to have been treated by Counselor Deanna Troi."
One name appeared on his screen.
News always traveled at warp speed aboard Voyager, so it wasn't long before everyone on the ship was aware that the Enterprise was on its way.
Megan Delaney heard the news from Tal Celes. "The Enterprise? I think I'd better go find Tom."
Tuvok was roused out of the first sleep he'd attempted in several days when the Doctor paged. He pulled on a uniform and headed for sickbay.
Tom Paris drummed his fingers on the armrest of the command chair and stared at the blank viewscreen. What had his father thought of B'Elanna's request? Should he have asked the favor himself? At the time, they had all agreed that it was more appropriate for B'Elanna to write the letter. The favor was for Captain Janeway, the Admiral's star pupil, not for his estranged son. But now Tom wondered if it should have been signed by Tuvok or Harry.
What if The Powers That Be at Starfleet felt that the captain should hold back from a personal relationship? Troi could ruin everything. In fact, Troi could ruin everything and Starfleet could still take the captain to task just for daring to have feelings, even though she hadn't acted upon them.
Just when Tom thought he couldn't possibly worry more, the turbolift opened and Megan Delaney walked onto the bridge. She seemed nervous. "May I speak to you, Lieutenant?"
"Why so formal?"
She nodded at the chair, and he laughed a little. "Sorry, I'm not used to this. Have a seat."
Megan perched uneasily on the first officer's seat. "I heard that they're sending the Enterprise."
"When I was at the Academy, I met Lieutenant Commander Neela Daren." She sighed. "She ran the Stellar Cartography Department on the Enterprise until 2369."
"Megan, you look worried." Tom's own nerves were really beginning to fray. "You never look worried. Why do you look worried?"
"Because of what happened in 2369."
"What happened in 2369?"
"Lieutenant Commander Neela Daren had a romantic involvement with Captain Picard."
Tom leaned back in the captain's chair and studied the ceiling intently. "And?"
"She gave me one piece of advise."
"Let me guess," Tom groaned.
Megan nodded. "Never fall for your captain."
"Well," the Doctor announced to those gathered in the briefing room. "I did a search for Troi's name in Starfleet's personnel files, thinking that it might come up in someone's medical records."
"What did you find?"
He responded with a humorless laugh. "I think the universe is toying with us. I only found one match: Lon Suder."
"Any more good news?" In B'Elanna's opinion, Suder would hardly have been a reliable source of information even if he had still been alive.
"I didn't think that would be much help to us. But you know me; ever the optimist. I remembered that Tuvok shared a mind meld with Mister Suder."
All eyes turned expectantly to the tactical officer.
"Counselor Troi left no significant impression with Mister Suder. His knowledge will not help me to alleviate your concerns about our current situation." Tuvok looked directly at Tom. "However, I trust that Admiral Paris would not have sent the Enterprise if Troi wasn't apt to be sympathetic to our position."
Tom met Tuvok's gaze. "What do you know, Tuvok?"
"I know many things, Mister Paris," he replied, to the mild amusement of everyone but Tom. "But I suspect you are referring to my confidence in your father. Suffice it to say that he has played the role of matchmaker before. If you want more information, I suggest you speak with the captain."
"Come on, Tuvok." Tom stared at the Vulcan for a moment, then threw his hands up in despair. "Fine. Don't tell us."
The comm system beeped, and Ensign Campbell's voice was heard. "Lieutenant Torres, the Talvath is hailing."
"The Enterprise should reach the rendezvous point in approximately thirty hours," Tarleya R'Mor told B'Elanna. "We plan to invite Counselor Troi on board at that time. Will you be able to convince your captain to speak with her then?"
"I certainly hope so. How long can you keep one of these anomalies open?"
"That's what I'd like to discuss, Lieutenant. While we are certainly pleased to help you, it would be in our best interest to limit the Federation's knowledge of our research."
"We understand." B'Elanna nodded.
The Romulan continued. "If the Enterprise attempts to scan our ship or the anomaly, we will be forced to close it. We will maintain communication for as long as is necessary to obtain your objective, but we are hoping that the process will not take an excessive length. We will allow the anomaly to collapse, then contact you again after the Enterprise has departed."
"Fair enough. Obviously, we will not be sending or receiving tactical data, but we do have crew members who would like to send messages to their loved ones at home."
"Agreed. Romulan intelligence may wish to look at those messages. Do you have any objection?"
"No. Not under the circumstances."
Seven sat on the edge of a biobed, patiently enduring the Doctor's weekly scan of her cortical implant. "Are you concerned that Counselor Troi will support the captain's adherence to protocol?"
"Somewhat. I think it far more likely that she will encourage the captain to see reason, but there is always that possibility. I agree with Tuvok, however, in his assessment of Admiral Paris."
"You have information that the others do not possess."
"Yes, I do. I took the liberty of poking around in the captain's personnel file. Many years ago, she served on the Al Batani with Admiral Paris. It seems that he introduced her to Justin Tighe. They were engaged to be married."
"That is the matchmaking to which Tuvok referred." Seven looked thoughtful. "Where is this man now?"
"I had the same question," the Doctor answered softly. "I pulled up his file. He and Admiral Edward Janeway were both killed in a shuttlecrash many years ago."
B'Elanna stood outside the first officer's quarters and rang the chime. Again. "Chakotay, I know you can hear me. Tom thinks there's something you need to see in cargo bay one."
Chakotay ignored her. He had no desire to see Tom Paris or the cargo bay. And if the helmsman was attempting to lure him out of hiding by indirectly threatening his hidden supply of Antarian cider, well he just didn't care. He wouldn't enjoy it anyhow if he couldn't share it with Kathryn.
"Chakotay, please. Just come look at this stupid thing before Tom starts ranting about the Golgafrincham B Ark again," B'Elanna pleaded. "He wanted to beam it onto the bridge, and I barely talked him out of it. You'd better go down there before he transports it into your quarters."
The threat was meaningless. Chakotay had no idea what B'Elanna was talking about, and he didn't much care what Tom transported to the bridge or anywhere else. He was relieved when B'Elanna gave up.
Eyes bleary from staring at her computer screen, Janeway got up and stretched. "Computer, what time is it?"
"Thirteen hundred hours."
She considered calling the bridge for a status report, but it crossed her mind that she might not want to talk to the officer on duty. "Computer, locate Tuvok."
"Lieutenant Commander Tuvok is in his quarters."
She sighed. He must have covered the gamma shift. Maybe Harry was in command. That wouldn't be so bad; he wouldn't try to bully her into speaking with Chakotay, would he?
"Computer, locate Harry Kim."
"Ensign Kim is in the shuttlebay."
Okay, so if Harry didn't have the bridge, who did?
"Computer, locate Commander Chakotay."
"Commander Chakotay is in his quarters."
"Computer, locate Lieutenant Paris."
"Lieutenant Paris is in cargo bay one."
"Computer, locate Lieutenant Ayala."
"Lieutenant Ayala is in holodeck two."
"Computer, locate Lieutenant Torres."
"Lieutenant Torres is in the shuttlebay."
"Computer, locate Ensign Culhane."
"Ensign Culhane is in the mess hall."
"Computer, locate Lieutenant Rollins."
"Lieutenant Rollins is in hydroponics."
Well, that pretty much eliminated anyone who had any business being in command. She gave it one more try. "Computer, locate the Doctor."
"The EMH is in sickbay."
Imagine that. Someone was actually at their post. "Computer, locate Seven of Nine."
"Seven of Nine is in sickbay." Well, that explained that. But who was on the bridge? She changed tactics. "Computer, who is on the bridge?"
"Ensign Campbell, Ensign Henley, Ensign Jenkins, Ensign Vorik, and Ensign Wildman."
"Computer, who is in command?"
"Captain Kathryn Janeway is in command of this vessel."
"I meant right now."
"Please repeat request."
"Computer, who has command this shift?"
"Lieutenant Paris is in command."
"Then why isn't he on the bridge?" she muttered.
"Please repeat request."
She didn't bother. It was abundantly clear that she needed to shower, take a nap, and return to duty. Her eyes returned to her research project. Just another few hundred entries, and she'd work on getting that nap.
"I'm picking up a Romulan vessel on long range sensors."
A small science vessel, and not the expected Bird of Prey, appeared on the viewscreen.
"Initiate a tachyon scan. There may be cloaked vessels," Riker ordered, suspicious of the entire situation. He exchanged a look with Captain Picard.
"Nothing, sir," the ensign replied.
"Hail them." Picard stood, straightening his uniform as he did so. At his nod, a young Romulan woman appeared on the viewscreen.
He put on his best diplomatic face. "This is Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation starship Enterprise."
"Welcome, Captain. I am Dr. Tarleya R'Mor of the Romulan Astrophysical Academy, aboard the science vessel Talvath. We thank you for your assistance in this matter."
"I'm afraid that I am still somewhat in the dark as to the nature of this matter, Doctor. Care to fill me in?"
"I realize that you do not trust Romulans. I understand your concern. My government does not trust the Federation. But this case is worthy of an exception. The Romulan Empire owes a great debt to Captain Janeway. Our Empress has waited many years for the opportunity to express her gratitude."
Oh, now this was simply too much. Will Riker was hard pressed to hide his annoyance. What could that exasperating woman possibly have done to gain the favor of the Romulan Empress? And many years? What did that mean? How many years?
"I would have grown up without a father if not for Captain Janeway, and I am very pleased to have an opportunity to repay her kindness. I know this request to be sincere, as my father always spoke very highly of B'Elanna Torres."
At that revelation, the usually unflappable first officer of the Federation flagship simply gaped. Exactly how long had Janeway been associating with the Romulans?
In fact, were they somehow behind Voyager's disappearance in the first place? Had there been ties between the Maquis and the Romulans? Perhaps the Federation was wrong to soften its views on the Maquis, despite recent events.
Chakotay lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling and thinking of Kathryn, as he had been doing for days on end. He knew she was hiding, from him and from the crew. He hated the thought. It hurt to think of her, locked in her ready room, suffering alone.
It always hurt when protocol kept him from comforting her during hard times. He hated it when she hardened her voice and called him Commander, as she had after they had learned that Harry Kim was possibly dead, or when Kes had left the ship.
Yet as hard as those days had been, this was worse. This time he was to blame for her distress, and this time threatened a permanence in the distance between them.
He missed her.
Again he stared at the object which was blocking his bathroom door. What had Tom hoped to accomplish with that? He certainly didn't need a physical reminder of the time and place it represented. Every moment of those days existed in his memory with great clarity.
He couldn't say he was sorry that Voyager had returned with the antidote, but he was forced to admit, at least to himself, that he hadn't been particularly pleased by the timing.
Then again, those first days back on board the ship had been painful enough. Had things happened differently, the situation might have been very similar to current circumstances. What was he going to do to resolve this situation?
In a way, he wished for some crisis to call them both to the bridge. They desperately needed a distraction. This time, he wasn't even sure how to extend the olive branch. Pretending the incident had never occurred seemed impossible.
What they both needed was a red alert; some danger to the ship that was bigger than this. Where were the Borg when you needed them?
"There's nothing here," Kathryn Janeway muttered to herself. She slumped back in defeat and tried to remind herself that she had found exactly what she had expected to find.
Everything she had read served to prove that a relationship was a luxury that a starship captain simply could not afford.
She also couldn't afford to sit in her ready room and wallow in misery. It was time to pull herself together and get back to work. After she had a sonic shower and a cup of coffee.
The briefing room of the Enterprise was not meant for pacing. Will Riker was making a good effort nonetheless. He had vivid memories of the last time Deanna had been in the hands of the Romulans. While she had handled herself admirably, it was still an experience he wished to avoid repeating. "I don't want you beaming over there. I don't trust the Romulans - "
Deanna cut him off. "Will, I hardly think the Romulans would go through this much trouble to kidnap me. Besides, Voyager needs me."
"I don't trust Voyager any more than I trust the Romulans." That might have been an exaggeration, but the entire situation smelled of trouble.
"They're Starfleet officers. We have to trust them."
Riker was adamant. "No, they aren't and we don't."
"Will, this isn't like you. What happened between the two of you?" Deanna was puzzled. It wasn't at all like the first officer to let his personal feelings interfere with their duties. She was picking up on an unusual level of apprehension.
"Nothing," Will answered. "We only met once. We had coffee. She dumped me. End of story."
She pressed. "But?"
"Look, it's not the fact that she was inexplicably rude the only time I ever met her. That I could forgive. I'd forgotten all about it until I heard of her ship being lost." He threw up his hands. "But the rest? She's got an Admiral in her pocket, a crew full of Maquis rebels, and longtime friends in the Romulan government. She's made deals with the Borg and who knows who else! You've got to be crazy to trust any of them! If they had chosen allies other than the Romulans I wouldn't be worried."
Deanna was unconvinced. "I'm going, Will. It's a counseling session aboard a science vessel. I'll be fine."
"That's just the point. None of this makes any sense. Why are the Romulans so willing to let Starfleet personnel onto a science vessel? Why aren't we surrounded by birds of prey? They've had more time to prepare then we have - "
"I'm going, Will. Now."
B'Elanna tried to make eye contact with the captain. "Do you trust me?"
"I thought that I did."
The words stung. "Look, I need you to come to the astrometrics lab. If I can't convince you, then I'll have you beamed down there. Your choice."
Janeway glared at Torres. "You wouldn't dare."
B'Elanna tapped her comm badge. "Torres to Campbell, I need a site to site for the captain."
"Belay that order, Ensign."
"Sorry, Captain," the transporter officer replied.
The room shimmered. Janeway found herself alone in the astrometrics lab. Damn Torres. She was out of line. Damn Campbell. So was she. Damn Paris. It was all his fault. Damn herself, for letting this get so out of hand. She'd lost the respect of her crew. This, she thought furiously, was precisely why it would never work. Damn her lack of objectivity. Damn this whole quadrant.
She heard the Doctor's voice. "Captain, your crew has gone to a good deal of trouble to establish a comm link. Allow me to introduce Counselor Troi of the Enterprise."
Janeway tried to erase the shock from her face as the dark haired Betazoid woman appeared on the viewscreen. She tried to recall whether they had met before, but failed.
"Please, call me Deanna." The counselor smiled pleasantly.
Good, thought Janeway, we must not have met before. She scrambled to gather her thoughts. Was Starfleet aware of her recent transgressions? No, her crew wouldn't betray her like that. This must be some attempt on the crew's part to make reparations, she realized.
Frantically, she tried to recall the range of betazoid telepathy. She realized that she had no idea, and that it didn't matter, since she didn't know where the Enterprise was or how they were communicating. How the hell had B'Elanna established this link?
"Kathryn? I'm sorry to surprise you, but we don't know how long we'll be able to keep this comm line open. First of all, let me tell you, off the record, that I have it on good authority that the Maquis among your crew will all be pardoned when you get home. Other Maquis have already received pardons in exchange for service to Starfleet. Don't let concern for that situation interfere with any decisions you need to make."
That, anyhow, was good news. Wonderful, in fact. For years now, Janeway's greatest fear had been the thought of turning Chakotay and B'Elanna over to the authorities. But what did Troi mean by decisions? Did Starfleet know something? Troi certainly did. She had to find out. "Pardon me, but exactly - ?"
"We received a message from B'Elanna Torres. She indicated that you might benefit from speaking with a Starfleet counselor."
"Oh. Well, then, she probably mentioned that I haven't exactly been a shining example of mental health this last week. Fortunately, we're in a very quiet region of space." Janeway tried to decide whether or not to talk. It certainly wouldn't gain her any points if she didn't. She conceded. "Maybe it would help to talk about it. Where do I start?"
"Ordinarily I'd say take your time. But under the circumstances...."
It suddenly occurred to Janeway that Deanna Troi had the authority to relieve her of duty. That would certainly solve her problem. Then, as a passenger, she could spend the rest of the journey in Chakotay's bed. She pushed the thought from her head and decided she might as well admit the problem. Maybe the counselor would have a solution. "Cut to the chase? Fine. I'm in love with my first officer. I have been for almost six years and I can't seem to find a way to get over it."
"And do you think he feels the same?"
"I know that he does." Why the hell had she said that? She cringed, feeling as if she'd betrayed him.
"Then why do you have to get over it?"
"What do you mean, why? He's my first officer. I can't act on those feelings."
"Why can't you act on those feelings?"
Janeway failed to keep the annoyance from her voice. "Starfleet policy. It would be a breach of protocol. You know that as well as I do."
"Protocol, Kathryn? Are you sure that's the problem?"
Troi's silence spoke volumes. Janeway realized she was expected to spell it out. "Starfleet protocol exists for a reason. An affair between a captain and a crew member could disrupt the whole ship. In my case, neither of us could even transfer to another vessel, and I'm not sure whether the fact that he's my first officer makes it better or worse.
"If it didn't work out...well, out here, we only have each other. I need my first officer, and I can't afford to disrupt our working relationship, and that is precisely why Starfleet has the rules that it does. I understand all of that, and yet I'm still having trouble staying objective."
"Why wouldn't it work out?" Troi asked.
Janeway shrugged. "I don't know, specifically, but this isn't a fairy tale. I need to be realistic."
"Realistic or fatalistic?" Troi could tell that Janeway's feelings were sincere. And from what Torres had indicated, so were the first officer's. But she needed to be sure. "Tell me about your relationship as it is now."
"Chakotay is the best first officer I've ever had. We work well together, and there are times when it seems he can read my mind. He's supportive, but he's never been shy about telling me when he hasn't agreed with my decisions and he's stopped me from making more than one mistake. We've argued, but we've always come out of it stronger. I can't imagine commanding this ship without him."
Troi nodded. "What about your personal relationship?"
"I'll admit that we've probably spent far too much time together. We ate most of our meals together, we attended shipboard social functions together. I leaned on him for support. None of that was his fault."
"Recently, things went too far." Janeway blushed in shame. "I kissed him on the holodeck, and I realized that I couldn't afford such a close friendship. I..." Her voice faltered for a moment. "I told him we couldn't be friends. Not anymore. That from now on we'd keep it strictly professional. He agreed, but now I'm having trouble. I've been avoiding him; avoiding everyone. I'm certainly not the type of person who needs a relationship to feel complete. I really don't understand why I'm having so much difficulty putting my feelings aside. I need to get a handle on this or I can't run this ship."
"And why can't your friendship continue?"
"Spending time together just reminds us both of what we can't have. That isn't fair, and I love him too much to put him through that any longer. He deserves to be happy. I can't have a relationship in this quadrant, but there isn't any reason that he can't have one. So the friendship has to end, so that he can move on with his life."
Troi was silent.
"He agrees with me," Janeway said.
"Agrees with you, or supports your decision?"
Janeway saw the truth in that question immediately, and cringed. "I keep hurting him, and he always forgives me and supports me. He deserves so much better."
"Tell me again why you can't be more to each other?"
"Protocol," Janeway said reasonably. "And all of the reasons for that protocol."
"Like the fact that it might not work out? You still haven't explained that."
"Sometimes these things don't."
"And sometimes they do. Is there something specific that worries you?"
Again, she shrugged. "I love him, and yet I keep hurting him. As patient and forgiving as he is, how can I possibly expect that he doesn't have a breaking point? I know I'm not the easiest person to get along with."
"And how is it that you keep hurting him?"
"By pushing him away."
"If you were to change the nature of your relationship, that wouldn't be a problem any longer. Is there another issue which concerns you?"
"I haven't always been brave about relationships. But this is different. I love him. I know he loves me." She struggled to keep her voice clear of emotion. "I trust him completely. I'm not attracted to him merely because I can't have him, nor is this about my fear of being hurt. This is about maintaining an efficient working relationship for the sake of this ship and this crew."
"I think that holding back is probably disrupting your working relationship far more at this point. As you've pointed out, this tension isn't fair to him nor is it fair to you."
Janeway was silent as she thought that over. Was Troi offering her a way to move forward? "Yes, I guess you're right. Right now, I think my struggle for restraint has the whole crew on edge."
"Is anything else holding you back?"
"Yes. Another one of the things that inspired the protocol. I can't let my personal feelings interfere with my command decisions. If Chakotay is the best officer to send into a dangerous situation, I can't let my feelings for him stand in the way."
"Has that been a problem for you?"
"I hate sending any member of my crew into a dangerous situation. But no, I don't play favorites."
"You've loved him for all of these years and that fact hasn't affected your command before. Why do you think anything would change?"
"I guess if I'm honest with myself I'm more afraid of overcompensating." She shuddered. "If I made a mistake that cost Chakotay his life..."
"Kathryn, I can't deny that possibility. But you run that risk whether or not you pursue a relationship."
"I know that."
"Ordinarily it wouldn't be appropriate for me to tell you what to do, but in this case I'm making an exception. Go to him. Be happy. Starfleet captains don't take a vow of celibacy, for heaven's sake. Talk over your concerns, but don't wait any longer. No one expects such a sacrifice from either of you, not under the circumstances; that protocol just doesn't apply to your situation. It can't."
Kathryn's voice held a note of cautious hope. "Deanna, are you sure?"
"Are you asking my permission?"
"I guess I am."
"That doesn't sound like you."
"No. No, I guess it doesn't. But I am." She shrugged helplessly. She needed assurance. Perhaps, she thought wryly, she just needed a quote to repeat at her court martial.
"Admiral Paris sent the Federation flagship five light years into Romulan space just so I could talk to you. He told me to make sure you weren't sacrificing your personal happiness unnecessarily. I think that qualifies as Starfleet approval."
Janeway tightened her jaw to keep her mouth from hanging open. "The Enterprise is in Romulan space? Just what is it that I've missed recently?"
"Starfleet Command received a communication from Lieutenant Torres relayed by the Romulan government. I don't know how it was accomplished, and I dare say there are a few people in Starfleet who are a little curious. I'm speaking to you through an artificial anomaly of Romulan design, from a Romulan science vessel. You've made some interesting friends, it seems."
I'm sure Starfleet is more than a little curious about that, Janeway thought. So was she. Telek R'Mor was dead; just who had B'Elanna contacted? And how?
There was a voice in the background. Deanna turned to acknowledge it. "The anomaly is destabilizing. Live your life, Kathryn. Don't put it on hold any longer."
Kathryn Janeway brushed a tear from her cheek, and broke into a grin. "I won't. Thank you. And thank your crew, the Romulans, and Admiral Paris for me."
Chakotay heard the door chime. He wanted to ignore it, as he had so many times over the last few days, but he couldn't hide forever. B'Elanna would eventually use force. Besides, they had a starship to run. He braced himself. "Come."
Kathryn! No, Captain Janeway, he told himself furiously as he struggled to hide his reaction to her appearance. He couldn't meet her eyes, not until he could trust himself to remain detached.
She watched him fight to keep his face neutral. How could she tell him? How could she possibly explain what had happened, and how could she possibly put into words all that she felt at this moment? Could she even speak? "Chakotay..."
She had used his name. Not his rank. His name. He wasn't prepared for the sheer volume of emotion that single fact produced. It was a sound that he had prepared himself to never hear again: The magnificent sound of Kathryn, saying his name as only she could. He looked at her.
Those were tears in his eyes. The careful mask had been shattered already, and she had said nothing more than his name. And she saw a glimmer of hope in his face.
She moved towards him, and he grabbed her, clasping her to his chest. She hugged him back fiercely. "I've missed you," she choked.
Becoming lovers would have to wait another minute, because right now she was just so grateful to have her best friend back that she couldn't even speak.
He wanted to freeze time; to stay forever in this moment. As long as they stood like this, holding each other, nothing else mattered to him. He was afraid to let go. Afraid that he was wrong; that she wasn't really here to tell him that everything was all right again. Oh Kathryn, he begged silently, please don't make me live without your friendship.
Was he trembling? She pulled back and looked at him. She saw the fear in his eyes and was reminded that she still hadn't said anything. He didn't know. She smiled at him, then reached up and stroked his face. Her fingers traced his tattoo. She tried again to speak. "Chakotay..."
His heart leapt in his chest. His pulse quickened at her touch. Her hands slipped behind his neck. Time was suddenly moving very slowly. This wasn't real. This was a dream. Her lips were mere inches from his. And he wanted so much to close the gap and kiss those exquisite lips, but not at the expense of her friendship.
He gently pushed her away. "We can't."
"We can." She studied his face, reading the uncertainty in his expression. "But you're right. We need to talk."
He nodded, and let her lead him over to the couch. As she made herself comfortable, he struggled to hold back tears. He saw she was watching him, and chuckled.
She looked perplexed. "What?"
"I thought I'd never see you sit on that couch again," he said softly. "I'm glad to see I was wrong."
"Oh, Chakotay," she whispered, again regretting the pain she had caused him. "I'm so sorry."
"I need you in my life, Kathryn." His expression was almost pleading. "There are many things I am willing to live without. Your friendship isn't one of them."
She hurried to reassure him, stumbling over the words as she struggled to find the right ones. "It won't...I can't either..." Her voice failed her. She shrugged and reached for his hands. "Tom Paris called me a coward..."
He interrupted. "That's okay. I broke his nose."
"After what happened, well, I thought I'd lost you. I lost my temper. I don't suppose it was the most logical way to handle the situation. I was angry at myself, not Tom. I - "
Regret for the way she'd treated him washed over her. "How can you ever forgive me? I've hurt you so many times - "
"Kathryn, none of this is your fault - "
"Chakotay, how can you - " She stopped, shaking her head ruefully. "It doesn't matter. It's over. We don't have to wait any longer."
He clutched her hands tightly as they stared into each other's eyes. Hope and fear battled within him as he forced the question up his dry throat. "What do you mean?"
"We had a visitor, of a sort. I don't know how, but B'Elanna arranged a meeting with Deanna Troi."
"Say that again?"
"The Enterprise, Romulans, an artificial anomaly, Admiral Paris...I don't know. I didn't bother to find out."
Now it was his turn to be shocked. "Kathryn Janeway not curious?"
"Oh, I'm curious. But there are priorities."
"This," she answered, leaning in to kiss him softly. Her lips caressed his, nibbling his lower lip. Her tongue sought entrance to his mouth, drawing a groan from deep in his throat. Their tongues touched, dancing briefly, and he released her hands, reaching to push his fingers into her hair as he kissed her with six years worth of reined in passion and suppressed emotion. They pulled back to look at each other.
He gazed at her. His thumbs tenderly stroked her face and tears sparkled in his dark eyes. "Can I say it now?"
She opened her mouth to speak, but the comm system didn't allow her the chance.
"Captain to the bridge."
Harry said one word. "Borg."
Neither hesitated for a moment, pushing their frustration aside with long practiced skill. "We're on our way."
There had been a nervous sort of rejoicing when the captain had gone straight from astrometrics to Chakotay's quarters. The celebration had been short lived, however.
Now they were at red alert, and the captain's personal life was no longer anyone's priority. Harry Kim sat gripping the arms of the command chair, anxiously awaiting the captain's appearance.
"I have a visual, sir," Ensign Jenkins announced.
"Onscreen," he ordered. "Magnify."
And there it was, a heavily armed Borg cube, moving with a deliberate lack of haste. And why should it hurry? The thing had emerged from a transwarp conduit not far from Voyager's position, and it was painfully clear that the starship had no place to run.
It was obviously there for them, and no doubt intended to assimilate both ship and crew at its leisure. Harry just prayed it wasn't waiting for reinforcements.
Seven of Nine was at the secondary tactical station. "I'd suggest we leave this area immediately, Ensign."
"I'd second that," Tom muttered from the conn. "But where the heck are we supposed to go?"
The turbolift doors opened, and Harry stood to vacate the captain's seat.
Janeway paused to stare at the viewscreen while Tuvok and Chakotay took their stations. "Damn. I really had hoped you were kidding, Harry." She sighed, then smiled reassuringly at the ensign and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Well, we've beaten the Borg before, and we'll do it again. I just can't say much for their timing."
"They appear to be fully operational." Chakotay tapped at his console "Have they made contact?"
"Negative. They seem to be taking their time."
The captain took her seat. "Why are they here?"
"I suspect that they detected the transwarp conduit we opened four days ago," Seven responded, surprising the captain, who had not expected an answer. "I strongly suggest that we vacate this area of space."
"And go where, exactly?" Tom asked. "There's nothing out here."
"There's still the chance that they'll ignore us if they don't perceive us as a threat," Chakotay said.
"Resume course for the Alpha Quadrant." Janeway decided to test the theory. "Maximum warp."
"Belay that," Harry interrupted, causing the captain to turn in her seat. He quickly answered the question in her expression. "We're waiting for a hail from the Romulans."
"So?" Tom asked. "I think they'll forgive our lack of manners, considering."
"So I'm guessing that the Borg weren't really all that interested in our transwarp conduit."
Seven nodded, understanding. "The Romulan technology."
"I meant to ask about that," the captain said. "Care to fill me in?"
"We don't really know much about it," Harry said. "All we've got is the original sensor readings. We needed them too much to risk losing their help if they objected to any deeper scans."
"But this new technology just might interest the Borg," Janeway said. "So we're now in the position of protecting the Romulans from assimilation. Suggestions?"
"I believe that our goal should be to lure that cube away from these coordinates," Tuvok answered. "It is logical to assume that the Borg are unaware of the anomaly's point of origin. If we prevent them from studying it, they will not gain that information. That would remove the Romulans from immediate danger."
"This situation may prove ideal for testing the weapon Lieutenant Torres and I have been designing," Seven added. "If it detonates near the central plexus the cube will be temporarily disconnected from the Collective."
The captain turned to Seven. "How long would that give us?"
"The cube would be disabled for approximately five hours. Once they were able to reestablish contact with the Collective, reinforcements would no doubt be sent."
Janeway nodded. "When is this hail expected?"
"Not for a couple of hours," Harry said. "I'm guessing they'll wait until the Enterprise is well out of sensor range."
"Then we do have some time." She exchanged a look with her first officer. "Bearing three thirty mark ten, Mister Paris. Warp factor four. Let's see if they follow us."
"Aye, Captain." Tom set a course and the ship jumped to warp. The bridge crew waited tensely for the cube's response.
Chakotay broke the silence. "They aren't following."
"It would appear they are not," Tuvok agreed.
"That's what I thought," Janeway said. "Come about, Mister Paris. We'd better make ourselves more of a threat. But first, we need to make sure the Romulans understand the danger presented by using their new technology in this sector."
"What do you have in mind?" Chakotay dreaded the answer with all his heart.
"I'm staying here." Her voice was firm. "Bridge to Engineering, prep the Delta Flyer for launch."
"I'm sorry, Captain," B'Elanna responded over the comm line. "The Delta Flyer has a ruptured hull."
The captain paused to absorb that information. "Okay, prep the Saca - "
Tom interrupted. "We blew up the Sacajawea."
"Do we have any functional shuttlecraft?" the captain asked patiently.
"The Cochrane is currently intact."
"Good. Prep it for launch." Janeway turned to Chakotay, well aware of his thoughts. "Commander - "
Predictably, he interrupted. "Captain, I don't think it's wise for you to go alone."
There it was, the expected objection. "This ship is about to engage a Borg cube. You can't spare anyone to watch me twiddle my thumbs."
Tom turned from the helm to ask the question that Chakotay couldn't safely voice. "And if another cube shows up?"
Janeway gave him the answer she had been prepared to give her first officer. "If the Borg send reinforcements, anyone on that shuttle doesn't stand a chance; increased numbers won't change that fact and I'm not willing to risk additional lives unnecessarily."
"Then let me go," both Chakotay and Tom said at once.
"This is my fault," Tom argued.
"Tom, I need you at the helm," Janeway countered. "And Chakotay - "
"Your ship is about to engage a Borg cube. It can't spare its captain." His voice was steady, betraying none of the fear in his heart. Since when did she take orders from him? "I'll go warn the Romulans. You stay on the bridge, where you're needed."
"Good luck," she told him, conceding defeat. He had used her own argument against her, and now she couldn't even send anyone else with him. "Warn them and then get out of there. We'll rendezvous as soon as we've dealt with that cube."
Janeway firmly pushed her concern to the back of her mind and turned to her bridge crew. "So, anyone mind telling me exactly how we managed to open a transwarp conduit four days ago?"
The brief planning session came to a close. Janeway watched Chakotay follow Seven into the turbolift, then slouched back in her command chair, determination etched upon her face.
Voyager dropped out of warp.
Janeway leaned forward to study the cube on the viewscreen. "Let's see if we can't get their attention. Target their shield generator. Photon torpedoes, full spread."
"Aye, Captain," Tuvok replied.
"Their shields are holding," Harry announced. "We're being scanned."
The captain nodded. "Good. Evasive maneuvers. Prepare to jump to warp on my mark."
The familiar and chilling voice of the Collective was heard. "We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile."
"That's what you always say," Janeway drawled. "Now, Mister Paris." The game of cat and mouse had begun.
"They are pursuing," Tuvok said.
The ship rocked under the impact as the cube fired.
"Eighty one percent, Captain," Tuvok answered. "No damage."
"Target their shield generator and return fire." Janeway brushed her hair from her face. "Bridge to engineering. Are you ready?"
"I need two more minutes, Captain."
"You've got one, Lieutenant."
Voyager rocked again under Borg fire. The bridge crew grabbed at their consoles to keep their footing.
"Sixty three percent. Minor damage reported on decks six, seven, and eight."
"Keep firing," Janeway ordered.
Again Voyager rocked as fire was exchanged.
"Shields at forty two percent," Tuvok said.
Another barrage of Borg fire.
"Twenty percent," Tuvok announced. "Damage on decks eight, nine, and ten."
"Their shields are down," Harry reported.
"Drop shields," she ordered. "Let's do it."
"Transport complete," Seven of Nine reported from engineering. "Detonation in thirty seconds."
"They've locked on to us with a tractor beam," Tom announced.
"We can create a feedback pulse - " Harry began to suggest. The captain didn't wait for him to finish.
"Do it, Mister Kim. Shields up. Full power to the structural integrity field. All hands brace for impact."
"We're free," Tom called just as the ship bucked violently, tossing half the crew to the deck.
"Warp drive is off line," Tuvok stated. "Hull breach on deck twelve, section forty two. No casualties."
"Seal it off. Bridge to engineering."
"Three hours, Captain," B'Elanna answered, not waiting for the obvious question. "We lost a warp field coil in the starboard nacelle."
"And the cube?"
"We achieved our objective," Seven answered as she walked out of the turbolift. "Their central plexus is off line."
"Set a course back to the Cochrane. Full impulse." She sat back in her command chair and prayed that Chakotay didn't need any assistance before warp drive was restored.
The first officer sat alone in the pilot's chair of the Cochrane and waited. With nothing to do but wait for the Romulans, Chakotay found his mind wandering. Kathryn would be fine, he told himself firmly. She had faced the Borg before; many times, in fact. No captain in the Federation, Jean-Luc Picard included, had scored more victories against the Borg.
It hadn't just been his overprotective instincts that had made him take her place on the shuttle. The ship really did stand a better chance against the Borg with Kathryn on the bridge. Besides, if the Queen was in contact with that cube, then she would notice the captain's absence and send a vessel to locate her. But he certainly wouldn't be noticed one way or another. He wasn't concerned that the Borg would come looking for him.
What did worry him was how close he had come to confessing his love for Kathryn before Harry had called. She knew it, he'd even said it that day in her ready room, but was she really prepared to hear it in such a context? Perhaps the interruption had been for the best, although he could have named at least a dozen emergencies he would have preferred to the Borg.
He certainly couldn't deny that he wanted a relationship with Kathryn, and he believed that they could successfully keep such a relationship from interfering with the command structure aboard Voyager, but he feared moving too quickly.
His mind replayed earlier events yet again. There had been such tenderness and passion in her kiss, but she had kissed him with passion before, only to run from him. Deanna Troi seemed to have influenced Kathryn's opinion regarding duty and protocol, but Chakotay knew better than to believe that she had erased all doubts.
He didn't want this relationship to be a source of stress; Kathryn had enough on her plate. What he wanted was the freedom to offer her support, comfort, and love. Nothing tore at his soul more than the obligation to walk away when he saw pain and grief in her beautiful blue eyes. Even if they did move forward, that would still happen, but at least he would be able to hold her once they went off duty.
Hours passed before the expected anomaly opened. Chakotay opened a channel to the Talvath, quickly and politely warning them off.
"Is the situation aboard your ship resolved?" the young Romulan woman asked.
"Yes, thank you." Chakotay wondered whether that was really the truth. "You have our gratitude."
He set a course away from the coordinates of the anomaly. If Voyager had failed to disable the cube, it would no doubt return to study the phenomenon. There was also the possibility that the cube had managed to transmit a message, summoning more Borg vessels to this sector. Neither was a pleasant prospect. Today would be an inconvenient day to die.
Janeway disappeared into her ready room to fret. Without warp drive, they were more than a week away from the Cochrane, and she didn't like it one bit. B'Elanna had said three hours and there was no reason to think otherwise, but she couldn't quite turn off the warning bells in her head.
This feeling of unease always took hold when there were crew members off on an away mission. She was happier when they were all on the ship, where she could pretend that she had some control over their safety.
But this time it wasn't ordinary jitters caused by a standard away mission. She hadn't sent a team off in the Delta Flyer to scan some asteroid belt for dilithium. No, she had sent her first officer off to face the Borg, alone, and in a class nine shuttlecraft.
Only minutes after she had decided that yes, she could afford something of a personal life after all, circumstances had arisen to prove that theory spectacularly wrong. It was her inability to manage her personal life that had led to the appearance of the Borg cube and the necessity of Chakotay's mission. If he died, or worse, was assimilated, it was because she had failed as his captain.
Guiltily, her mind returned to the way he had kissed her, with such love and passion, one hour and a lifetime ago. She remembered how happiness had replaced the fear in his eyes. The thought of bringing him further pain was unbearable. They had to move forward, regardless of the risks. She was willing to deny herself happiness, but she just couldn't continue to do the same to him.
Why couldn't she make personal decisions with the same decisiveness with which she made command decisions? Where was the confident captain when it came to affairs of the heart? Romance may never have been her strong suit, but had she not told Troi that this time it was different?
She couldn't deny that there would be obstacles, but she had made her decision before she had left astrometrics, and she didn't want to change her mind now. She only hoped that the Cochrane wouldn't face any threats before repairs aboard Voyager were completed.
B'Elanna was hurrying to finish repairs with an intensity that had almost nothing to do with the possibility of another confrontation with the Borg.
While she didn't know how Chakotay and the captain had left things, she did know that the interruption had been ill timed. Everyone on board would breathe easier once the command team had reached a resolution. She couldn't stand for Chakotay to have his heart ripped out yet again.
And there was still the possibility of another confrontation with the Borg. Without warp capabilities, they were vulnerable. In any case, B'Elanna had no intention of needing the full three hours to complete repairs.
When Chakotay picked up Voyager on sensors he was actually surprised. He paused a moment to think about that; had he really expected disaster? His optimism was usually stronger. Perhaps it was the fact that part of him just couldn't believe what had happened in his quarters before Harry's page.
Six years was a long time. Could the wait possibly be over, or was he wrong to hope? What exactly had she been prepared to offer him and had that changed in the past few hours? And more importantly, was everyone safe?
Heart in his throat, the first officer hailed his ship. The sooner he docked his shuttle, the sooner his questions would be answered.
"Captain, Commander Chakotay is hailing."
Janeway pushed aside her wildly conflicting emotions, schooled her features into a professional expression, and moved swiftly back to the bridge. "Onscreen."
And there he was, safe and sound, asking permission to come aboard. It required a fair amount of willpower, but she didn't hurry down to the shuttlebay to greet him.
Instead, she called a meeting of the senior staff. Had she done that following her discussion with Troi, rather than rushing to her first officer's quarters, she might have been better prepared for the Borg attack. She would not be caught off guard again.
There would be time enough for personal relationships once she knew exactly what had happened on board her ship over the last couple of weeks. What, for example, had become of the Sacajawea?
Janeway and Chakotay sat patiently and listened as their crew described the events they had missed, beginning with Tom's desire to establish communications with Starfleet. They nodded acquiescence at the decision to contact the Romulans. They studied the schematics for the device that had created the highly unstable transwarp conduit. The captain paled at the description of B'Elanna's accident aboard the Flyer.
Tom correctly read the guilt in his captain's eyes. "It was something we would have tried at some point. Everyone on board had letters to send home..."
Janeway glared at him, then allowed a slight smile to creep onto her face. "Understood, Mister Paris."
"Personally, I'm not sorry the accident happened," B'Elanna added. "The conduit stayed open for longer than we anticipated. It might mean we could use the technology to transport a larger object."
"If we can obtain a larger supply of gallicite," Seven clarified.
This peaked the captain's interest. "Perhaps we could steal some from that cube."
"No!" Harry interrupted. He struggled not to blush under the captain's scrutiny. "Listen, no one on board wants to go home as much as I do, but maybe we should let this go for now."
Tom nodded his agreement. "Harry's right. We were lucky to escape that cube once. Reinforcements could show up at any time. Let's just count our blessings."
"That would be logical, Captain," Tuvok added.
"Remember last time we tried stealing from the Borg?" Tom asked. "I don't think we should rush into anything."
"There are preparations that it would be wise to make," Seven agreed.
"I, for one, vote for extensive planning," the Doctor added, his voice not entirely free of sarcasm.
"I'll need time to modify the design on that pulse generator we used earlier," B'Elanna said. "They might have figured it out by now."
"And we should run some holodeck simulations," Tom said. "Then we'll be prepared to raid the next cube we meet."
"There's always a next cube," Harry agreed.
Seven was nodding as well. "It would be prudent to wait for another opportunity."
"Waiting would be the logical choice," Tuvok added unnecessarily.
The captain and first officer exchanged a look; since when was the entire staff this cautious?
"And might I also suggest that there is other business that requires attention before the next suicide mission?" The Doctor looked pointedly at the first officer.
Janeway stiffened at his implication. It was bad enough that her entire crew had meddled in her personal life, but she did not like the suggestion that she should postpone a mission to deal with personal business.
Then again, any attempt to steal from the Borg required careful planning. She'd be foolish to rush such a mission just to prove that she wasn't postponing it. "When we meet this 'next cube' I want to be ready. I want those preparations made. Dismissed."
The crew hurried to leave the captain and first officer alone in the briefing room.
Janeway turned to Chakotay and cringed at the uncertainty in his dark eyes. A wave of guilt washed over her as she realized the power she had to hurt this man, simply because he was unfortunate enough to love her. Chakotay, who was always brave and decisive in the face of danger, showed fear openly at the prospect of having his heart trampled once again, and for a moment she wondered if he was correct to worry.
Then she pushed her own anxiety aside. She loved him, and she would not cause him pain. Everything else would, well, she would just have to work it out. But she wasn't going to hurt him again.
Chakotay stood and watched the effects of an inner battle flash across Kathryn's face. The briefing room was not the right setting for this discussion, and he moved to lighten the mood. "You told me once that you thought B'Elanna deliberately went out of her way to find solutions that ignored Starfleet procedures. This one definitely takes the cake."
She stared at him in amazement. "And they say men don't remember things."
"I said that six years ago." She was smiling now. "You really are amazing. What do you say we go take care of that unfinished business?"
He was somewhat reassured by her suggestion, and they left the briefing room, ignoring the bridge crew completely as they crossed to the turbolift. By some unspoken mutual decision they returned to his quarters.
Chakotay smiled warmly at Kathryn as they kicked off their boots and crossed to the couch. "I hope we're not caught in a temporal loop." Despite the lightness of his tone, he made no attempt to hide his feelings when their eyes met. "We've been here before."
What she saw in his eyes erased any remaining thoughts of changing her mind. They had to move forward, but how could they do so and still maintain balance?
Chakotay recognized her anxiety. He felt a fair amount of apprehension himself. He took a deep breath. There was no benefit in delay. "So, where do we go from here?"
"I don't know," she replied softly. "I just don't. But I do know that I love you, and I don't want to push you away any more. I don't know how to go forward, but I think we have to try."
Had he heard her correctly? His throat constricted, removing his ability to speak. Had his imagination run wild, or had those magical words actually passed her lips? They couldn't have, because she was staring at him with a look of determination that she usually saved for life threatening missions.
Her tone was suddenly all business. "We need to promise each other, promise ourselves, that no matter what else happens, we will remain friends. I couldn't stand to lose our friendship if things didn't work out. And there's the ship; we'd still have to work together - "
"I will never be your ex-lover, Kathryn." He spoke softly but firmly. His eyes glittered with unshed tears. "Never."
She shrugged, a casual gesture meant to hide her trembling, and answered in a voice fit for discussing the routine cleaning of plasma injectors. "Things happen, Chakotay."
"No. I won't accept that. This is forever."
She tried to remain separate from the emotion his words provoked. "Isn't that what everyone always thinks?"
"Kathryn, we're not everyone," he whispered. He took her hands in his.
"I know that," she said. "If it weren't for the ship, and for the fact that you are the closest friend I have..." Her words trailed off. She met his eyes and tried again. "I trust you, please don't think I don't, but there are reasons for the protocols and my little voice is screaming about consequences and duty."
"I understand." His thumbs traced lazy circles on the backs of her hands. "It's like the time Seven tried downloading the ship's logs into her cortical implant. When she came to me and told me her Starfleet conspiracy theory, I thought she was being absurd. I couldn't imagine you lying to me, to all of us. But then I felt like I had to investigate, just in case my feelings for you were clouding my judgment."
She nodded, remembering the incident. "I felt the same way. I told Seven that there was no one on board I trusted more than you, but I still felt obligated to consider her theory. If she had accused Tuvok, or Tom, or B'Elanna, would I have forced myself to think about it? Probably not; as much as I trust them, I trust you more. And that's why I felt I had to rule out the possibility. I had to prove to myself that I was following my head, not my heart."
"Our friendship survived that, and it has survived many other obstacles over the years," he said. "I promise you that our friendship will survive anything the future brings."
"It's not you I'm worried about. I'm always the one to withdraw, to push you away. And I can't promise you that I won't be distant at times. My command has to come first, and there are times that as the captain I can't let my feelings, or yours, take priority."
"I understand your obligations. Maybe we should wait to be more but I can't live without your friendship and I don't want to live a lie of omission any longer. I love you and I'm not going to try to hide it." He chuckled softly. "It seems I failed pretty thoroughly at that anyhow. I won't pressure you, Kathryn, but I've tried to stop loving you and it isn't possible. I'm willing to wait as long as you need me to wait. I'll be right here when you're ready, and I'll be your friend and your first officer in the meantime.
"But if you do want more, and you will let me love you now, then I can accept the obstacles. It won't always be easy, but nothing worth having comes without a price."
"I don't want to wait any longer." Tears threatened to spill down her cheeks as she finally allowed herself the freedom to express what was in her heart. "I love you."
Chakotay cupped her face in his hands and lost himself in the beautiful blue depths of her eyes. "And I love you, Kathryn. So very much that I can't begin to express it." His voice caught as he witnessed the unguarded love in her expression. Waiting another moment to kiss her was beyond his capabilities.
Her head swam as she drowned in the deep, leisurely kiss that seemed to go on forever. There was no guilt, no perceived obligation to attempt cerebral activity, nothing but this tender, heated joining of mouths and hearts.
Neither knew how much time had passed before they stopped to gaze at one another once again. There were tears on both of their faces.
"That," she let go of him briefly to gesture vaguely at the door, "is going to find its way in here. We can't promise it won't. But what we have to promise is that this," she seemed to indicate the couch, "absolutely cannot be carried out there."
"That's not going to be easy."
She smiled softly.
"I'm relieved that you said that. If you had said 'no problem' I'd be worried." She kissed him again, taking great satisfaction in the fact that she could. "We'll work it out."
"Yes, we will," he whispered. Once again, words became unnecessary as their lips met.
They were both buzzing with a light headed euphoria at the joy of finally being free to touch and hold one another. She delighted in the sensation of his shoulder muscles rippling at her touch while the fingers of her other hand wandered up to slide through his hair.
Eventually his lips left hers to begin an exploration of her throat. Her soft gasp sent a jolt of desire through him, and he raised his head to gaze at her once again.
Her eyes drifted open and a mischievous grin spread across her face. There was both laughter and seduction in her low pitched voice. "Well don't stop now!"
"I can't believe this is real." He pressed his lips to her cheek and turned his face into the softness of her hair. "I must be dreaming."
"Could you dream this?" She pulled his body firmly against hers and kissed him fiercely.
"I love you," he gasped out in response the moment he was capable of drawing breath again. He still found it overwhelming that he could speak the words aloud; that she was here in his arms; that she was letting her feelings for him show on her face and in her eyes.
She pulled back slightly and studied his expression as her hand moved deliberately to the front of her uniform jacket. Slowly, she drew it open, marveling at the heat in his eyes and her own reaction to it.
The jacket fell to the floor, instantly forgotten, and she next went to work on the buttons of his casual shirt, barely taking the time to wonder what had become of his uniform. His hands captured hers and he was suddenly very serious. "Once we make love, there's no going back."
"I don't want to go back," she assured him, eyes smoky with desire.
"I'm holding you to that." He used a tone that made it clear that he meant it. "Be sure. Because I'm holding you to that."
"Last chance to back out?" she questioned teasingly.
He didn't return her smile. "I'm serious, Kathryn. If we take this step, then it has to be forever. I won't let you go; I won't be able to let you go. If you aren't sure, we'll wait. I'd wait a lifetime for you. But once we've made love, I will not go quietly back to admiring you from afar."
His warning should have scared her, she thought, yet the result was quite the opposite. This was Chakotay, this was right, and this was forever. She answered not with words, but instead slipped her hands into his shirt, splaying her fingers across his bare chest and leaning forward to press a kiss to his collarbone.
A smile split his face even as he gasped at her actions. He let her push the shirt off his shoulders. "In that case..."
Kathryn sucked her breath in sharply as Chakotay slid his lips down her throat and pushed her backwards, covering her body with his own and supporting his weight on his elbows. His hands caressed her sides through her tee shirt, sending delicious tremors up and down her spine, and she wished she had taken the time to remove it before she had unbuttoned his shirt.
His mouth returned to hers. He reveled in her taste as he kissed her deeply.
She broke their kiss to make a suggestion. "Let's take this into the bedroom."
It was not an idea he was inclined to argue against. He stood, took her hands in his, and pulled her to her feet. The sight of her swollen lips and mussed hair made his heart pound. He lifted her hands and pressed kisses into each of her palms.
Her eyes drifted shut. "I love you," she gasped, shivering as he moved his lips along the inside of her wrist. Together, they began to move slowly in the direction of the bedroom.
Chakotay momentarily let go of her hands, and Kathryn took the opportunity to dispose of her shirt. As she did so, the large object in the corner caught her eye.
"What is that doing here?" she asked softly. She took a step towards it. Memories flooded her mind, and for the first time she could savor them without being overwhelmed by guilt and painful regret.
"Tom beamed it here." He swallowed hard at the sudden absence of her top. "I'm still not sure why."
"I think I'll ask him." Her eyes roamed over Chakotay's bare chest. "Tomorrow," she added with emphasis. She moved to kiss him again.
Much later, they lay in each other's arms.
"You are a woman of many talents, my love," he whispered, stroking the hair away from her face. "That was amazing. You are amazing."
"You inspire me." She roused herself enough to kiss the hot flesh beneath her cheek. "I've never felt so...so..." she searched for an adequate word, but gave up quickly. "I can't put it into words, what you do to me."
He chuckled softly. "You don't need to. I understand, Kathryn, and I love you too."
Would she ever get used to those words? She shifted and stretched to kiss him once again. She certainly would never tire of his amazing lips. It was wonderful that they were no longer forbidden to her.
"I've imagined this night so often," he told her. "I'm so glad that it happened the right way."
"It sure did," she replied with a husky laugh.
He smiled, playing with her hair as he explained. "I was afraid that someday it would just happen, up against the wall of the turbolift - "
"Sounds like fun," she interrupted. "We'll have to try it sometime."
"Kathryn!" He pretended to look scandalized.
She continued, her voice low and seductive. "Then the Jefferies tubes, and the hydroponics bay, maybe deflector control...definitely the ready room."
She suddenly looked far away, and her voice grew soft. "I always imagined it would happen on the Delta Flyer. We'd be back in Federation space, and the debriefings would be over. You and I would find an excuse to just go off somewhere together, and we'd make love right there in the pilot's seat."
"I had a dream about the Delta Flyer," he said. "We were on an away mission and you climbed into my lap and ordered me to kiss you."
She laughed, then came to a sudden realization. "It was you, wasn't it?"
"It was me what?"
"The Doctor said a member of the crew came to him with a complaint about experiencing erotic dreams. Was that you?"
"He told you?" Chakotay was shocked. Hadn't he specifically demanded the Doctor's silence?
"Well, he didn't say it was you." Pieces began to fall into place in her mind. "You told me that someday you'd tell me about your vision quest, the night we fell asleep on the floor. Can you tell me now?"
"I believe I can. I had a dream about you and I, alone on the bridge. The Doctor had already given me his less than helpful opinion about how I should deal with these dreams, so I decided to go on a vision quest."
She was laughing softly. "And here I was worried that you were having nightmares."
"Oh, terrible nightmares. The things you wanted me to do!"
She swatted him playfully, chuckling. "So what was his less than helpful advice? He wasn't all that sympathetic when I asked for a dream suppressant. He told me to wait it out."
"You asked him to prescribe a dream suppressant?" he asked, suddenly concerned as he realized what exactly that might mean.
"Yes..." she answered cautiously, noticing his tone.
"Well, that certainly explains the advice he gave me."
Lying to her was impossible. Despite his reservations, he told her. "He informed me that physical attraction is not a disease, and that if we were having erotic dreams about one another then we would be wise to act upon them."
To his great relief, she laughed. "I hope he's pleased with our solution."
"You're okay with that?"
She shrugged. "They all know, Chakotay, all of them. I have no choice."
"What are you going to do about that?"
"Do about what?"
"Our meddling crew. What do we do with them?"
"We could throw them all in the brig," she suggested, doing her best to sound serious. "But then you and I would be far too busy running the ship to ever do this again."
"Well that's certainly not an option," he decided, chuckling. "Anything else come to mind?"
"I can't let them off without any consequences, so I think what I'll do is suspend all shore leave privileges."
"Kathryn!" Surprised she would even consider such a harsh action, under the circumstances, he propped himself up to catch her eye. It took him only a brief moment to understand her true meaning. "For how long?"
"Oh, just as long as it takes for us to actually find a planet where we could take shore leave. Unfortunately, with this void, that might be awhile."
"We'll make do. I'm quite content to stay right here for a month or two."
"I agree," she said. "But if we fall asleep like this then I suspect that we're just asking for that darn red alert klaxon to find a reason to go off."
"I have some suggestions for putting that bathtub to use." He flashed her his dimples.
She grinned. "Why do you think I kept it all of these years?"
"I'd hoped you were being sentimental." He pressed a kiss to the top of her head.
"Were you surprised to find out that I kept it?"
"I knew you had," he said softly. "I was surprised that Tom knew about it, but I wasn't surprised that it was in the cargo bay."
"How did you know?"
"I went back to the surface to transplant your tomatoes, and I made sure you hadn't left it behind. I didn't like the thought of some future anthropologist spending his lifetime pondering the origins of your bathtub."
She smiled at the image. "So, what do you say we give it a whirl?"
"The tub? Now?"
"I don't know about you, but I'm thinking that a good soak in the tub might be the only way to avoid waking up rather stiff and sore tomorrow morning."
"You might be right, but are you sure we have to move from this spot?"
Alpha shift long since over, Tom, B'Elanna, and Harry were huddled together over a table at Sandrine's.
"They've been in Chakotay's quarters for hours," Tom observed suggestively. "Wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall?"
"Tom!" Harry hissed, even as B'Elanna's elbow hit its target.
"Ow," the helmsman complained. "Don't try to tell me you both aren't curious."
B'Elanna rolled her eyes. "About the outcome? Yes. But I don't need details."
"No fun at all," Tom muttered.
"Watch it, Flyboy," B'Elanna warned. "Push me and you'll be sleeping alone tonight."
"That's okay," he answered. "I can always turn to Marla McGyvers for company."
B'Elanna rolled her eyes.
Harry looked puzzled. "Who is Marla McGyvers?"
"Someone who cared about how the twentieth century viewed the future," Tom explained. "She, unlike the two of you, would know all about the Mos Eisley cantina and the Golgafrincham B Ark."
"She wrote some historical textbook," the engineer clarified. "Tom keeps leaving it in my quarters."
Harry was about to comment further when Lyssa Campbell appeared. "So exactly what was the Golgafrincham B Ark?"
B'Elanna groaned as Tom began his enthusiastic explanation, complete with descriptions of moodily lit tubes of toothpaste.
Out on Sandrine's tiny dance floor, the Doctor and Seven of Nine were moving slowly to the soft music. She was trailing her lips slowly up and down his neck, enjoying the way his holographic skin quivered in response.
"Do you think it would be inappropriate if I were to attempt to persuade Mister Paris and the others to retire for the evening?"
A smile spread across his face. "I like that idea, but we should give it a few more minutes."
She followed his gaze to the table in the corner, and nodded her understanding.
The corner table was occupied by Billy Telfer and Tal Celes, who were nervously watching each other over the rims of their coffee cups.
"Billy..." she began tentatively.
"Yes?" he asked, a bit too quickly, he feared. He put down his coffee and wiped his sweaty palms on his pants.
She hunted desperately within herself for whatever bits of courage she could muster. "I promised Neelix I would tell you, so I'm not going to back out, and I don't expect you to say anything, and if you don't feel the same we can still be friends, because you are my best friend, and..."
Her tumbling avalanche of words was cut short, because Billy had rounded up his own courage and leaned across the table to kiss her.
Captain and first officer lay facing each other in the big, roomy bathtub, stretched out comfortably, feet up, steaming cups of herbal tea balanced on the edge.
"This certainly beats a cold sonic shower," he told her. "I sure won't miss those."
"Don't expect this every night. If I use all my replicator rations on hot water and bath beads I'll have to give up coffee."
"Perish the thought." He shuddered in mock horror.
Chakotay chose that moment to slide a hand up her calf, and for a moment speech wasn't possible. When he released her leg, she regained a sense of equilibrium and continued. "Then again, perhaps I can finally cut back on the coffee."
He nodded, knowing where she was headed, but didn't interrupt.
"I won't miss those long, lonely nights in my quarters, fighting battle after battle with insomnia. Now if I'm awake in the middle of the night, it will be worth it."
"You think the nightmares are over?" he asked gently.
"Maybe not completely. I'm certainly not lacking in the things to worry about department. But I slept much better with you beside me, and now I won't even have to fight the temptation to kiss you good morning."
That made him grin. "I could be wrong, but I suspect your recent nightmares had to do with your guilt over caring for me, and for the crew. The quiet space and the social activities probably served as a catalyst."
"I think you're right. When did you put that together?"
"After your dream about Admiral Paris, but I didn't know how to help you deal with it. Now we're free to talk about it."
"Now we're free to do lots of things." She slid across the tub and arranged herself in his lap. "And most of them are far more interesting than Admiral Paris."
"Is that so?" He wrapped his arms around her with enthusiasm.
She smothered his teasing question with a passionate kiss. "I can't seem to get enough of you," she told him, running her fingers up and down his chest. "Why is that?"
"I must be pretty wonderful." He grinned. "I have to be doing something right to deserve you."
"You are pretty darn wonderful," she declared. "You are handsome, strong, brave, gentle, caring, wise, loyal, and incredibly sexy. I love you, and I don't know how I ever thought I could live without you beside me."
"I'll always be beside you, Kathryn," he vowed. "I love you, so very much. I love your strength, and your courage. I love your wisdom, and honor, and dedication. I love your beautiful smile, and your incredible blue eyes. I love your glorious hair. I love your sexy voice. I love the way you drink coffee, and I love the way you make love with such passion."
"You do that to me," she said softly. "It was certainly never like that before."
"I find that hard to believe."
"Really," she insisted quietly. "You are incredible. Just incredible. With Mark, well, let's just say there wasn't any danger that we'd wake up the children, if there'd been any. With you, I might have to look into increasing the soundproofing on this deck or they'll hear us in the mess hall."
He chuckled and his lips meandered down her neck. "That might not be a bad idea. I'd hate to hear what Neelix would say if we caused one of his leola root souffles to fall."
Snickering at the thought, she shifted to rest her back against his chest. His heavenly lips continued to taste every inch of her shoulder.
Her eyes drifted shut in enjoyment and she sighed softly. How did he make her skin tingle like that? She realized that he had retrieved the soap.
"Chakotay," she gasped, chuckling even as she shivered.
"What's so funny?"
"We have to be on the bridge tomorrow morning."
"That's not funny," he said. The hand holding the soap slid down over her stomach.
She gasped again.
"We'll be late," he whispered in her ear, his hot breath sending shivers up and down her spine. "We'll be very late tomorrow, and I don't think anyone will dare complain."
One hundred thousand words already? Well, then I must bid you all farewell, because that is how long books are here on Bartledan, a world that has oxygen, green hills, and even, it seems, a renowned literary culture...
A sincere thank you to Jeri Taylor, who created our beloved characters, and to Gene Roddenbury, who created our beloved universe. I'd also like to thank the others from whom I borrowed for this piece.
The Mos Eisley cantina is the property of George Lucas. The Golgafrincham B Ark, the moodily lit tubes of toothpaste, and the planet Bartledan belong to Douglas Adams, and I borrowed from Chris Carter, Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Frank R. Stockton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Emily Bronte, Charles Dickens, Dante Alighieri, and William Shakespeare as well. I'd also like to thank Steven Lisberger, the creative genius behind the movie Tron, without whom our heroes might have stayed awake, thus spoiling the fun on the tenth night.
Special thanks to my talented and tolerant editing team, Alanesian and ScaryMoments75! Your incredible patience was very much appreciated. Thanks are also due to Unwilling Participant, who is responsible for the beautiful original artwork which accompanies this piece.
FYI, all of you continuity buffs, yes, I realize full well that Commander Riker was on board Voyager for Quinn's hearing in Death Wish, but, as you all should remember, Q erased his memory of the incident.
Also, I know the Doctor has met Deanna Troi, but that was during his stay on Jupiter Station, which occurs after this story.
I specifically referred to the following episodes during the course of my tale: Caretaker, The Cloud, Prime Factors, Elogium, The 37's, Tattoo, Resolutions, Basics, Flashback, Future's End, The Q and the Grey, Blood Fever, Coda, Displaced, Scorpion, Nemesis, Day of Honor, Before and After, Message in a Bottle, Waking Moments, Hunters, The Omega Directive, Unity, Unforgettable, Night, In the Flesh, Once Upon a Time, Muse, Timeless, Bride of Chaotica, Someone to Watch Over Me, Equinox, Good Shepherd, and Memorial, as well as the Original Series episode Space Seed and the Next Generation episode Lessons.
I purposely ignored Fair Haven, Thirty Days, and Pathfinder, which was actually pretty good, but proved inconvenient to my plot.
The novels which I included in my continuity for the purposes of this story included Pathways by Jeri Taylor; Mosaic by Jeri Taylor; Cloak and Dagger by Christie Golden; Ghost Dance by Christie Golden; Shadow of Heaven by Christie Golden; Marooned by Christie Golden; The Murdered Sun by Christie Golden; Battle Lines by Dave Galanter & Greg Brodeur; and Death of a Neutron Star by Eric Kotani. I'd recommend them all.
Live long, and prosper.
If you're really bored, check out the Cliff Notes to this story.
Star Trek™©, Star Trek: The Next Generation™©, Star Trek: Voyager™© and related properties are Registered Trademarks of Paramount Pictures. No copyright infringement intended. No profits made here. © Spiletta42, March 2002.