The Braying of Jackasses

By Maquis Leader

 

 

 

Rating R

Author’s note: Set 3 months after Basics. Thanks to the House of Wagg for the idea. And Ralkana for being, as ever, steadfast and true.

 

 

 

It gets harder and harder to live with the rules. Rules for how I eat and sleep. Rules for how I breathe. Rules for everything! The rules are killing me… they’re killing us all.

 

 

 

He became aware of someone watching him. Slowly, Chakotay lifted his eyes from the PADD he was reading. Casually scanning the room, he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Neelix was behind the counter preparing breakfast for Alpha Shift. Tom and Harry were laughing while B'Elanna rolled her eyes. Other members of the crew were eating and talking.

 

Shaking off the feeling, Chakotay went back to his status reports.

 

 

 

 

Every day we delay. While our people are dying at the hands of our enemy. Another sight she has to see.  Another place she wants to explore.  The blood of innocents is on her hands.

 

 

 

 

“They’re ramblings, Tuvok.” Kathryn tossed the PADD down. “It could be anything.  Poetry, fiction – maybe even a holoprogram.”

 

“I do not believe so.” The Vulcan picked up the PADD and scrolled through the information until he found a specific passage. ”I believe this contains a clear threat.”

 

“I disagree.” She held up a hand. “But keep an eye on it if you think it’s necessary.”

 

Clearly unhappy, Tuvok left the ready room.

 

With a sigh, Kathryn picked up the PADD again. The posts on the ship’s intranetwork were troubling but not dangerous. Someone on her ship was unhappy and needed help. This was undoubtedly their way of reaching out.

 

 

 

Perhaps a change is in order. A change of direction. A change of decisions. A change of command. Who will stand with me?

 

 

 

 

“Ready?”

 

“Ready.” Kathryn hefted her duffel bag. “I can’t wait to get to those hot springs.”

 

“Is that all you ever think of?” Chakotay laughed as he escorted her down the corridor. “A bath?”

 

“Keep your pleasures simple, Chakotay, and you’ll never be disappointed.” She grinned. “And that’s a hot bath.”

 

In the transporter room, Kathryn stepped up onto the pad. Chakotay stepped up beside her and nodded to the Lieutenant on duty. “Energize.”

 

“Um…” The transporter officer fidgeted nervously.

 

“Is there a problem, Lieutenant Kaytlyn?” Kathryn frowned.

 

“Yes, Captain. Commander Tuvok said you weren’t to – to – “ She flushed.

 

“To what?” Her hands settled on her hips.

 

“To leave without an escort.” Tuvok and two Security officers entered the transporter room. “You could be in danger.”

 

“We scanned the planet, Tuvok. There’s nothing dangerous down there.” Chakotay told him.

 

The dark face was impassive. “Nothing that we are aware of. Yet.”

 

“Yet?” He frowned.

 

“Tuvok, I can assure you we’ll be fine.” Kathryn patted the phaser on her hip. “I’m taking a weapon, just in case.”

 

“I must insist on accompanying you.” The Vulcan stepped up onto the pad beside her. The two Security men followed him onto the pad and arranged themselves between the Captain and Commander Chakotay.

 

“Tuvok.” Kathryn bit down her rising temper. “There are no life forms on this planet that are dangerous. Commander Chakotay and I will be perfectly safe.”

 

Looking from her to Chakotay, Tuvok nodded. “Ensign Anderson and Ensign Murry, you are dismissed.”

 

“We’ll see you when we get back.” Kathryn smiled. The smile faded as she realized Tuvok wasn’t moving off the pad. “Tuvok, we’re going to soak in the hot springs.”

 

“That will be relaxing.”

 

Kathryn looked at Chakotay. A typical Vulcan, Tuvok used no more water than was necessary. She couldn’t imagine him soaking in water anymore than she could her sister’s cat. Chakotay shrugged. “Fine.”

 

 

 

We need someone who will work for us – not against us. Someone who wants to get us home. We need a warrior, not a scientist. We must come together soon.

 

 

 

Kathryn sighed. The hot springs were wonderful, water bubbling around her shoulders, and the stones were smooth and comfortable. And the company… Watching Chakotay strip to his swimsuit had been enjoyable. He’d grinned at her when he’d caught her looking. She’d kept her head down and peeked through her lashes after she caught a look of disapproval from Tuvok. She was sure the hand Chakotay had slid down his chest and over his flat belly had been for her benefit.

 

Stripping off her own clothes to reveal the black bikini she’d spent hours deciding on had been just as exciting.  Modest but sexy. Sensual but not trashy. And designed with him in mind.  The sexual tension between the two of them had been rising since their recovery of the ship from Seska and the Kazon. The night they’d spent huddled together for warmth had reinforced the bond forged on New Earth. She smiled. ‘Huddled’ was the official version anyway. Cuddled was the reality. Cuddled and ran their hands over each other under the guise of keeping warm.

 

Across from her, Chakotay smiled as if he could read her thoughts. And desire simmered in the black velvet eyes. Kathryn licked her lips. She had the feeling if Tuvok weren’t there, that Chakotay would already be on her. For a moment, she imagined him moving up over her, pressing his mouth to hers while his hands tore away her suit and he thrust himself between her thighs. The erotic image made her shiver.

 

 “Here.” He handed her a glass of iced tea from the cooler they had brought along. “Something to help you cool down.”

 

“Thank you.” She lounged back and sipped the sweetened tea. Wine would be better, but it was a little early in the day. Maybe later, if they could shake their chaperone.

 

When he opened a covered container of fruits and cheeses, Chakotay selected a ripe cherry and moved closer to offer it to her. A sensuous half smile dimpled his cheek.

 

Kathryn leaned forward only to find Tuvok suddenly bending down next to her. “What – Tuvok!”

 

“There was – an insect.”

 

Lying wasn’t the Vulcan’s strong suit. “Tuvok. Go back to the ship.”

 

“Regulations clearly state that the Captain is to be escorted by Security personnel on away missions.”

 

“This isn’t an away mission.” She waved a hand at the pools of hot water. “It’s a shore leave.”

 

“You must still be escorted.”

 

Chakotay raised an eyebrow. “She is escorted, Tuvok.”

 

Kathryn’s eyes narrowed as Tuvok turned to look at Chakotay. Oh no, you’re not using that crap on the intranet to ruin my shore leave! “I’ll be perfectly safe, Tuvok. Commander Chakotay is sufficient escort.”

 

“The Commander – “

 

“Back. To the ship. Now.” She growled.

 

Reluctantly, Tuvok stood up. “I will check with you – “

 

“No.” She glared at him. “If I have any problems that the Commander can’t handle, I’ll let you know.”

 

“Yes, Captain.” He picked up her combadge and phaser and laid them where she could reach them easily.

 

After he vanished in the transporter beam, Chakotay chuckled. “What was that about?”

 

“Maybe he’s worried about his evaluation.”

 

“After what happened with Seska, he should be.” He leaned back and took a sip from his glass of tea. “Although part of that should fall back on me.”

 

“He’s the Security Chief, he should have changed the codes.” She patted his leg. “If you want to get picky about it, it’s my fault for not checking up on you to be sure you checked up on him.”

 

“True.” He laid his hand over hers. “So it’s all your fault.”

 

“I didn’t say that!” She squeezed the muscled thigh. “Now you’ll have me worrying about my evaluation.”

 

“I’m sure we can clear up your record without a problem.” He slid his arm around her shoulders and pulled her against his side.

 

Her head tipped back as his mouth lowered towards hers. Kathryn’s eyes fluttered shut and her hand slid up his chest to curl around his neck.

 

“Hey!” Harry’s voice startled them apart. “He was right, hot springs!”

 

They looked up to see Harry jogging toward them. Tom and B'Elanna followed behind him at a slower pace. Chakotay sighed and moved his arm from around Kathryn’s shoulders.

 

“Let me guess.” Kathryn arched an eyebrow. “Tuvok told you there were hot springs?”

 

“Yeah.” Harry threw off the t-shirt and shoes he was wearing and dropped into the pool with them. “Said the two of you wanted company. Hey, munchies!” He helped himself to a cluster of grapes.

 

Tom leaned close to B'Elanna. “Do they look like they want company?”

 

“No.” She flushed at the grin on his face. “I think pointy ears smelled a possible breach of protocol.”

 

“Wonder if we can get Harry and get out of here?” He sighed as he saw more crewmembers materialize behind her. “Too late.”

 

Soon the pools were full of laughing, splashing people. Kathryn found Chakotay’s hand under the water and he smiled as her fingers twined with his.

 

 

 

 

He thinks he can stop us, but he’s wrong. We’ve seen how well he does his job. When the time comes, he won’t be able to stop us. No one will.

 

 

 

 

Chakotay was walking down the corridor on his way to the bridge. He nodded and said good morning to a group of crewmembers as he passed. They stared at him silently without returning his greeting. He continued on, but a growing sense of unease settled over him. During the past week, he had noticed a slight but subtle change in the crew’s attitude toward him. There were fewer smiles and nods. No doubt they’re still unhappy over Seska’s betrayal.

 

“Sir.”

 

He stopped as Gerron stepped out of the connecting corridor. “Is something wrong?” The younger man seemed nervous.

 

“I’m with you, sir.”

 

“With me?”

 

“You have my support.” He looked around. “And we’re not alone.”

 

“What?” He watched as Gerron hurried away.

 

On the bridge, he settled into his seat. “Captain, do you have a minute?”

 

“Certainly.” She rose and motioned toward the door just off the bridge. “Tuvok, you have the bridge. The Commander and I will be in my ready room.”

 

Once inside, Kathryn went to the replicator. “Tea?”

 

“Yes.” He said automatically. “Kathryn, there’s something – I don’t know – odd going on.”

 

“Odd?”

 

“Maybe it’s just me.” He shook his head. “It seems like I’m getting the cold shoulder from some of the crew.”

 

“The cold shoulder?” She frowned as she handed him his cup of tea. “Has someone been rude to you?”

 

“No. It’s nothing really concrete, just a feeling. Conversations stopping, people not returning my hello, or frowning at me.”

 

“Sit down.” She patted the sofa cushion beside her as she sat down.

 

“I don’t know if I’m jumping at shadows – but Gerron just told me he’s ‘with me’.”

 

She paused with her coffee cup halfway to her mouth. “What does that mean?”

 

“I have no idea. He took off before I could ask.” Chakotay took a sip of his tea. “I keep thinking this has something to do with Seska.”

 

Kathryn was torn between telling him what she knew and sparing his feelings. “There’s been some idle talk. It’s nothing to worry about.” She assured him when his eyes widened. “So don’t worry.”

 

“Guess I’m being silly.” He smiled.

 

“Just keep smiling.” She patted his arm. “Nobody can resist those dimples.”

 

“Does that include you?” His smile broadened.

 

“I think it includes every female between eight and eighty.” She laughed as she stood up. “Now, get back to work.”

 

“Yes, ma’am!”

 

 

 

 

I know who’s loyal and who can be trusted. She thinks a smile and a pat on the shoulder will keep me in line. She crushes us under her thumb and thinks we will love her for it. Soon, she will find out who’s loyal and who can be trusted.

 

 

 

 

By the end of his shift, Chakotay had convinced himself that it was just his imagination. He was in a cheerful mood as he entered the mess hall. “What’s for dinner, Neelix?”

 

“Pasta with marinara sauce, garlic bread, and a nice green salad!” The Talaxian dished him up a healthy serving. “And a custard for dessert that I know you like.”

 

“Thank you, Neelix.”

 

“Wonder if that’s what Judas liked, too?”

 

His head snapped up. “What did you say?”

 

“I said I made that custard that you like.” Neelix looked puzzled. “Why?”

 

“Nothing… I thought I heard something else.”

 

“Sorry, Commander, I didn’t hear anything.”

 

Turning, Chakotay looked around, trying to spot the person who had made the comment. The mess hall was crowded and he didn’t see anyone who looked guilty. Shrugging if off, he walked toward an empty table by the view port.

 

The feeling of unease, that something was wrong, began to nag at him once again. He passed crewmembers who frowned and turned away. A few were even bold enough to glare at him. Sitting down with his back to the view port, he ate quickly, his food tasteless and dry.  Finishing, he slid the tray into the recycler.

 

“Commander! Don’t you want some custard?” Neelix bustled over to him with a small dish.

 

“Not tonight, Neelix.”

 

“Oh, but I made it just for you.” The Talaxian’s whiskers drooped.

 

“I’ll take it with me.” He smiled.  Neelix’s kindness lifted his spirits somewhat. “Thank you.”

 

In the turbolift, Chakotay leaned against the back wall and sighed. He didn’t blame the crew for carrying a grudge, but why wait months to let it show?

 

The lift slowed and the doors opened. Tom Paris stepped inside. “Hey, Chief.”

 

“Tom.”

 

“Doggie bag?”

 

“What?” Some of Tom’s slang was confusing.

 

“20th century term.” He pointed at the dish. “You’re taking something home.”

 

“Neelix made custard.”

 

“And you haven’t eaten it?” Tom grinned. Chakotay’s sweet tooth was legendary. “Or is this a second helping?”

 

“Tom, have you noticed anything strange going on?” If anyone knew what was happening, Tom was the one. Nothing happened on Voyager that he didn’t know about.

 

“You mean other than the rumors that you’re going to take over the ship?” The younger man asked casually.

 

“What?” His stomach lurched.

 

“Take a look at the intranet tonight.” The lift slowed and stopped. “Nobody wants to say anything, but I think you have a right to know. And you need to know.”

 

After Tom stepped out, the doors closed and the lift continued on to Deck 3. Inside, Chakotay sagged against the wall. Take over the ship? Is this a joke?

 

When the lift opened, he walked quickly to his quarters. Once inside, he sat at his desk and called up the ship’s intranet system. He rarely used the system, finding it a disorganized collection of random junk. The crew had a habit of putting up “pages” of what ever their current interest was and then abandoning them as soon as something else struck their fancy.

 

A blinking icon caught his attention. When he touched it, a message popped up.

 

 

Check out the Homebound board

 

 

The message disappeared as quickly as it had opened.

 

When he found the board, Chakotay fell back in his chair. There were numerous posts about ML and his obvious plans for mutiny. The common consensus was that he was ML.

 

After hours of backtracking and searching through the system, he found what he was looking for. ML had a page filled with rambling and ranting about the Captain and Starfleet rules. A chill ran over his skin. All of it pointed to mutiny. Worse still, it pointed to him.

 

The site refused to pinpoint its owner. Even using his command codes, Chakotay was unable to find out who had posted the page. The information had been wiped by someone who had a complete understanding of how the intranet system worked.

 

“The time is 0600 hours.”

 

He jumped as the computer announced the time. “Spirits, I spent all night – “ Switching off the desk terminal, he went to the bathroom and stripped. After showering and dressing, he walked quickly to Engineering.

 

B'Elanna looked up from her station as he entered. “Chakotay, good morning. Can’t wait for my report?”

 

“I need to talk to you.” He glanced around. “Privately.”

 

“Sure, my office?” She led him to her office and leaned against the desk. “What’s up?”

 

“Maybe I should ask you.”  The anger that had been boiling beneath the surface all night flared up once again.  “Why haven’t you told me what’s going on?”

 

“Nothing is going on, Chakotay.”

 

“I saw what’s on the intranet system.”

 

“Oh, that.” She flushed and turned to stack the PADDs lying on her desk.

 

“Yes, that.” He grabbed her arm and jerked her around to face him again. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

“It’s nothing!” B'Elanna pulled her arm free.

 

“Nothing? Rumors of mutiny are nothing?”

 

“They’re just rumors, Chakotay. And they’re not true.” She rubbed her arm where he’d grabbed her.

 

“True or not, they’re causing a division amongst the crew.” He sat down on the edge of her desk and tugged at his ear thoughtfully. “What can I do about this? I couldn’t find out who this ML is.”

 

“I have no idea. I just know it isn’t you.”

 

“That’s a start.” He smiled. “I noticed that Gadget Girl seems quite popular. Maybe she can help me out.”

 

“I – I don’t know.” She felt a flash of shame at his shocked expression. “Chakotay, I’ve just gained the acceptance of the crew. I’m Chief Engineer, I can’t afford to get in the middle of this.”

 

“I’m not asking you to get in the middle of anything.” He stood up and grabbed her shoulders. “I’m asking you to do the right thing!”

 

“I – it’s nothing anyway – just forget it!”

 

For a moment, he gripped her shoulders painfully. Then he pushed her away. “At least this answers one of my questions.”

 

“What?” She rubbed at her shoulders.

 

“Why Gadget Girl never defended me.”

 

“Chakotay – I – “

 

He turned and walked out the door.

 

 

 

 

Free of the almighty Prime Directive we can find our way home! Take what we need from whoever we want. Do your chains pull at you? Cast them off and join me!

 

 

 

 

Chakotay spent the day in his office, nervous and edgy from lack of sleep and the looks he had received from the crew during the walk from Engineering. Real or imagined, they’d torn at him.

 

“Chakotay?”

 

He jumped as he heard Kathryn’s voice. “Sorry, I didn’t hear you come in.”

 

“So I noticed.” She leaned against the edge of his desk. “I rang the chime twice.”

 

“Sorry.” He rubbed his eyes. “I didn’t sleep well last night.”

 

“Hmm…” She took his chin in her hand and tipped his face up. He had dark circles under his eyes. “I’d say you didn’t sleep at all.”

 

“Kathryn, there’s rumors – “ He stopped and searched her eyes. “They’re not true.”

 

“I know.” The relief in his eyes was heart wrenching. “Go get some sleep. That’s an order.”

 

“Aye aye, Captain.” Rising from his chair, he took the hand she offered and walked out the door with her.

 

 

 

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. I hold our enemy close enough to share her breath. To feel her beating heart under my hand. And still she suspects nothing. Will she suspect before her heart stops?

 

 

 

In his quarters, Chakotay tossed and turned in his bed. “Over twenty-four hours and I can’t get to sleep?”

 

Rolling out of bed, he pulled on a pair of sweatpants. Grabbing his medicine bundle, he went into the main room and settled comfortably on the floor. The smooth river stone was cool and he held it to his cheek for a moment and let it soothe him.

 

The vision settled on him easily…

 

 

Chakotay opened his eyes to blackness. “Where am I?” Turning, he looked for his spirit guide. “Where are you, sister?” His words bounced off the blackness, hurting his ears.

 

Blinking, he strained to see something, anything, in the darkness. A glimmer of light caught his attention. Moving toward it, he stumbled and fell over something he couldn’t see. Rising to his feet, he felt his way carefully to the light.

 

As he got closer, he could see it was a doorway. A shape was silhouetted by the light. “Kathryn?” He moved more quickly. “Kathryn?”

 

Just as he reached the open doorway, it slammed shut. “No!” He groped along the wall but couldn’t find the edge of the door. Stumbling through the darkness, he trailed a hand over the wall. Nothing. It was smooth under his fingertips.

 

A bit of light appeared to his left. Another doorway. He made his way to it as quickly as he could, striking his shins and knees painfully on objects he couldn’t see in the darkness. He could see his spirit guide silhouetted in the doorway. She yelped at him anxiously.

 

“I’m coming!” He collided with the door that suddenly closed off the opening. His head struck the hard surface and his ears rang from the impact. Sliding down to sit on the floor, he listened to the frantic scratching and whining coming from the other side.

 

Dizzily, he crawled along the wall until he found a corner. Turning, he felt along that wall until he again found a corner. It seemed to take less time. “Is this the way out?” He called out.

 

There was a scream from the other side of the wall. A woman. “Kathryn?” Her agonized scream stopped abruptly. “Kathryn!  Kathryn, it’s Chakotay, I’m coming!”

 

His questing hands hit the next wall almost immediately. Turning, he slammed into a wall and fell back to his knees once more. Something brushed against his back and he flinched. Reaching out, he realized the walls had moved. He was trapped. The walls slid in until he couldn’t breathe. They continued to grind together until his bones began to snap and break…

 

 

 

With a scream, Chakotay broke out of the vision. Panting and gasping, drenched in sweat, he lay on the floor. “Lights! Lights at full!” Instantly, the computer brought the lights up to their full intensity, blinding him.

 

“Chakotay! Are you all right?”

 

He flinched and fell back at the sound of Kathryn’s voice. “Wh – where are you?”

 

“I’m in my quarters. You called me.” There was concern in her voice. “Are you all right?”

 

“I don’t know.” He crawled up to sit on the sofa. “Can I – come talk to you?”

 

“Of course. You can talk to me anytime, you know that.”

 

After putting away his medicine bundle, Chakotay went next door to Kathryn’s quarters. His hands were shaking as he took the cup of tea she offered.

 

Sitting next to him, she laid a hand on his bare shoulder. He was trembling and his breath was still coming in harsh pants. “You called me, but you didn’t answer.”

 

“I didn’t realize I spoke aloud.”

 

“Then you cried out.” She ran a hand over his raven hair and let it rest at the nape of his neck. “I was ready to haul out Betsy and come to the rescue.”

 

He smiled at her nickname for the large compression phaser rifles. “I feel safer already.”

 

“Good.” She watched as he sipped his tea. The muscles under her fingers gradually relaxed. “Can you tell me about it?”

 

“I don’t know if I can.” He struggled with how to put the vision into words. “It was dark and I was in a box.”

 

As the account of the vision unfolded, tears burned Kathryn’s eyes at the frustration in his voice. “When you saw me, that must have been when you opened the comlink.”

 

“Or when I heard you screaming. What happens in a vision doesn’t usually affect the waking world.” He ran a hand through his tousled hair. “But I’ve never had a vision this intense.”

 

“I want you to go clean up and let me get dressed.” She patted his shoulder. “Come back and we’ll have a midnight snack. Neelix told me you didn’t eat the custard he made for you last night. We’ll have some of that.”

 

For the first time, Chakotay realized Kathryn was in her nightgown. The pale blue silk clung to her body and the neckline plunged down to reveal the soft curve of her breasts. Her nipples hardened under his gaze and when he looked up he saw her lips were parted slightly and her eyes were smoky with desire.

 

“Let me get my robe.” Her voice was whiskey soft.

 

“I should go.” He stood up and she took his arm.

 

“Go clean up and come back.” Kathryn let her gaze wander over his bare chest and shoulders. He shivered and she knew it was only partly because of the sweat cooling on his body.

 

“All right.”

 

“Hurry up, I didn’t eat dessert either.” She watched him leave, the sweat pants riding low on his lean hips. If anyone saw him leaving her quarters dressed like that, they might wonder what had been going on. She chuckled. When he had cried out in such obvious terror, she had been ready to run out dressed only in her nightgown. There was one for the rumor mill. She sobered up. That damned rumor mill.

 

 

 

 

She hears the rumors, but I whisper sweet lies in her ear and she ignores them. For now, I’ll play her loyal consort until the time is right. Until I can play her grieving lover. The queen is dead. Long live the king.

 

 

 

 

“Anything else, sir?”

 

 

Chakotay looked up in surprise at Lieutenant Sarran’s tone. “That depends, Lieutenant. Do you have a problem?”

 

“No, sir.” The man’s eyes were fixed firmly on the view port behind Chakotay’s head. “You have my monthly report. There’s nothing else we have to discuss.”

 

Hiding his frustration, Chakotay nodded. “Dismissed.”

 

After the door snapped shut behind Lieutenant Sarran, he sighed and leaned his head on his hands. The past two days had seen the situation worsen to an almost intolerable level. His late night visit to Kathryn’s quarters had sparked a flurry of activity across Voyager’s intranet system. The common belief was that his visit was to cover his tracks and throw Tuvok off his trail by keeping Kathryn happy. The looks from the crew were becoming openly hostile.

 

“Janeway to Chakotay.”

 

“Chakotay here.”

 

“Can I see you in my ready room?”

 

“I’ll be right there.” Did she sound nervous? Stop being paranoid, Chakotay!

 

Kathryn was pacing in front of the view port when he walked into her ready room. “Sit down, Chakotay.”

 

“Is something wrong, Captain?”

 

“Yes.” She rubbed at her temples. “Tuvok was in to see me a few minutes ago. These rumors are getting out of hand. We’ve removed the page, but the board is still full of rumors.”

 

“Kathryn, I don’t know what to do about it.” He sat down wearily. “Everything I say or do is somehow a sign of my guilt.”

 

“There’s an old saying, ‘A wise man ignores the braying of jackasses. Because eventually a jackass will kick itself in the head.’” She sat down next to him. “Chakotay, I know you and I know these rumors aren’t true.”

 

“I’d hope so.” He gave her a weak smile. “After all, we used to live together.”

 

“We did, didn’t we?” Laughing, Kathryn patted his knee. “You’re about the best roommate I’ve ever had.”

 

“That’s just because nobody else built you a bathtub.”

 

“True.” She patted his knee again. “Think the monkey uses it?”

 

He smiled but didn’t answer. “Kathryn, when I was at the Academy, I met Hikaru Sulu.”

 

“His grandson was your sponsor, wasn’t he?”

 

“Yes, he spent a lot of time on Trebus while he was patrolling the Cardassian border. He took me to meet his grandfather one weekend.” Chakotay smiled at the memory. “He told me stories about the old Enterprise and Captain Kirk and he told me that Kirk was the one man he would have followed into hell.”

 

“Every cadet dreams of being a Captain with a crew like Kirk’s.” She smiled at an old childhood fantasy.

 

“I asked how he could follow someone so blindly.”

 

“What did he say?”

 

“He told me that if I were very lucky, I’d meet a Captain that I would connect with and then I’d understand.” He laid his hand over hers where it rested on his knee. “I understand now, Captain.”

 

“You question me constantly.” Her throat felt tight.

 

“No, I play devil’s advocate. And yes, I argue with you. But – “ He squeezed her hand. “But I always follow where you lead.”

 

It was true. Through everything, he’d supported her unfailingly. “I trust you, Chakotay. And I’d follow you anywhere.”

 

 

 

 

The crocodile tears soothe her guilty conscience. She wants to believe and I let her. Our time will come soon. The clock counts down to the hour of her last breath.

 

 

 

 

The silence on the bridge was stifling. Chakotay forced himself to sit quietly and read the report from Gamma shift. The walk to the bridge this morning had been one of the longest of his life. Crewmembers had turned away from him and he was able to hear them whispering behind him. Ensign Bekkan had actually stopped the lift and got off on the wrong deck after he’d gotten in.

 

Worst of all was the look Harry had given him. The look of disappointment in the younger man’s eyes was almost enough to snap his spirit.

 

He’d been in a good mood this morning, before he’d seen the message forwarded to him. Apparently his visit with the Captain in her ready room was yet another sign of his guilt. The fact that he hadn’t defended himself was another.

 

“Good morning, everyone!”

 

Tom’s cheerful greeting made him grit his teeth. “You’re late, Mr. Paris.”

 

“Yeah, so?” The younger man plopped down in the seat at the helm. “So’s the Captain.”

 

“The Captain can be late if she chooses. She works harder than anyone else onboard.”

 

“Yeah.” Tom laughed. “Bet the two of you were working hard yesterday.”

 

Rage flared white hot behind his eyes and he shot to his feet, the PADD he’d been reading bouncing to the deck. “Watch your mouth, Paris!”

 

“Or what?” Tom smirked. “You going to use me as a punching bag again? I’ve had a few lessons since the last time.”

 

“Good. We’ll see how much you learned.” He ground out. “Holodeck 1, 1800 hours.”

 

“Be there with bells on, Chief.”

 

 

 

 

We travel at a scientist’s pace. Who is the guinea pig? The Delta Quadrant? Or us? Who is with me? Stand and be counted. Or sit back and wait to die.

 

 

 

 

“What happened to the locker room?”  Chakotay frowned at the changes to his boxing program. The lockers that had lined one side of the gym were gone.

 

“Not exactly private.” Tom jerked his thumb at the door labeled ‘changing room’.

 

“Modest, Paris?” Irritation over the changes to the program added fuel to the anger that had been building all day. He was ready to put his fist through Tom’s face with or without gloves.

 

“Don’t want to make you jealous, Big Guy.” He opened the door and gestured grandly for Chakotay to enter. Following him in, he shut the door.

 

Inside was a row of small dressing cubicles. Before Chakotay could say anything, Tom put a hand over his mouth and pulled something out of his jacket pocket.

 

The baby blue eyes were serious as he tapped a command into the small device. He could tell Chakotay was two seconds away from smashing his face in.  Just give me a minute, Chief! Taking his hand from Chakotay’s mouth, Tom pulled him into the last cubicle.

 

Two holograms were standing there, both dressed in gym shorts and wearing boxing gloves. One was of himself and the other was of Chakotay. As the holograms left the dressing room and went into the gym, the holo Paris taunted the holo Chakotay. Shutting the cubile door behind them, Tom entered another command and the door he and Chakotay had come through vanished.

 

Chakotay looked around the small room. There was a table and two chairs. Nothing more. “Half the crew thinks I’m planning a mutiny now – this isn’t going to help.”

 

“Relax, Chief. Nobody will know.” Tom sat down. “And it’s more like three fourths of the crew.”

 

“Like nobody should know I went to see the Captain the other night?” He sat down in the other chair across from Tom.

 

“You’re being watched.”

 

Relief washed over him. He wasn’t being paranoid. The feeling was chased away almost immediately by fear. “Who?”

 

“Ayala told me Tuvok has Security watching you constantly and monitoring your logs. Even your personal logs.” He saw Chakotay shoot a look back at the dressing room. “I’m thinking even Tuvok isn’t paranoid enough to watch you change clothes.”

 

“Tuvok?” Had Kathryn been lying to him? Had she ordered Tuvok to watch him?

 

“I don’t think the Captain knows.” He watched as the other man relaxed slightly. “She knows about the posts and the rumors. And she has told him to track down the person causing it. But I’ll bet a week’s rations that she has no idea how far he’s taken it.”

 

“I guess it doesn’t matter to anyone that I haven’t done anything?” Chakotay said bitterly. “I don’t know what to do. I’m boxed in at every turn. If I defend myself, I’m guilty. But if I don’t, I’m guilty.”

 

“There’s nothing you can do.” Tom shook his head. “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

 

Chakotay locked his gaze with Tom’s. “Why are you telling me this?”

 

“Because you’re being set up. And I don’t like it.” Tom’s eyes were intense. “Somebody wants you off the ship.”

 

“I’d think that would make you happy.” Their past wasn’t an example of the perfect friendship.

 

“You’ve always been upfront with me. When you hated me – you said so.”

 

Chakotay laughed. When he’d first come onboard Voyager, wrapping his fingers around Paris’ throat had been his number one priority.

 

“And when you thought I was throwing away a second chance – “ The blue eyes never wavered. “You tried to help me.”

 

Unspoken was the fact that Tom had been faking his unhappiness to ferret out Seska’s spy on Voyager. “So what do I do?”

 

Tom grinned. “Oh, it’s so simple.”

 

 

 

 

The waiting is at an end. Now is the time for action.  The endless days of licking her boots are over. Tonight she dies and we win!

 

 

 

 

Kathryn rubbed her forehead. The headache had raged behind her eyes all day. Chakotay had grown more and more withdrawn since their talk three days ago. He declined her invitations for lunch and dinner. The only way he would be alone with her was when she ordered him to her ready room and even then he stood at attention close enough to the door so that it would stay open and he was clearly visible to the bridge crew.

 

The black velvet eyes were dull and his golden skin was sallow. The tattoo on his brow was permanently creased by his frown. His normal patience and good humor were gone. Short tempered and snappish, he’d even snarled at her when she had asked about Tom’s black eye. The only sign of his old self came when he heard about B'Elanna’s dressing down her department for spreading unfounded rumors and ruining his reputation. He’d smiled and joked with her for a few minutes like he used to do before settling back into his somberness. Kathryn feared it was too little and too late.

 

Her conversation with Tuvok this morning replayed in her mind.

 

 

“You’re monitoring him?” She looked up from the report in shock.

 

“I believe Commander Chakotay is a risk. It is my duty to protect you from potential threats.”

 

“What exactly are you implying?” She snapped.

 

“I am implying nothing.” The Vulcan remained calm in the face of her anger. “I believe the Commander may try to kill you.”

 

She laughed at that. “Do you have any proof? Anything besides rumor and innuendo?”

 

“These posts are compelling evidence.”

 

“These posts are a load of crap!” She tossed the PADD down on her desk. “Have you seen how unhappy Chakotay is? How worried?”

 

“If the Commander isn’t guilty, he has nothing to worry about.”

 

“Maybe he’s worried that you’ve already convicted him.”

 

 

 

The door chime startled Kathryn out of her reverie. “Come in.”

 

Chakotay stepped inside; he was dressed as he was the first time she’d seen him. Leather pants and earth tone shirt covered with a leather vest. “I wanted to see you before I left.”

 

“What?”

 

“I’m leaving Voyager.”

 

Her heart stopped and her lungs froze. She lurched up off the sofa. “Leaving? You can’t!”

 

“I have to, Kathryn.”

 

“We can work this out.” She laid a hand on his arm. “Together we can straighten this out.”

 

“I can’t live like this.” He shook his head. “I can’t live under a constant cloud of suspicion.”

 

“We’ll tell the crew – “

 

“No.” He took her hands in his. “You can tell them, but it doesn’t mean they’ll change what they believe.”

 

Kathryn was as trapped by the craziness of the situation as he was. She couldn’t force the crew to change the opinions they had formed and trying to do so would only make Chakotay look even guiltier.

 

The urge to tell her about the trap he and Paris had set up was overwhelming in the face of her hurt. Only the knowledge that he was being watched held him back. There was no way to know if anyone was watching this scene play out. “You said you trusted me.”

 

“I do.”

 

“You said you’d follow me.”

 

She blinked. Was he asking her to leave Voyager? “I can’t abandon – “

 

“No, I didn’t mean leave the ship.” He smiled slightly as he caught what might have been a flash of disappointment in the smoky blue eyes. “Just trust me.”

 

“I do.” Tears blinded her as Kathryn realized Chakotay was leaving and there was nothing she could do to stop him. When he pulled her into his arms, she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him fiercely.

 

Closing his eyes, Chakotay buried his face in her hair and breathed in her soft rose scent. If everything went right, he’d be able to apologize later. If not – he tipped her face up and lowered his lips to hers.

 

It began as a gentle kiss, both of them exploring and learning the other’s taste and feel. Then the passion and desire they’d both suppressed since New Earth exploded and they clutched frantically at each other. Their tongues stroking and plunging as their bodies ground together.

 

Chakotay pulled her jacket open and she arched into his touch as his hands moved over her breasts and belly. When his hand slid into her pants, she jerked back. He held her pressed against him, his mouth crushing hers while his hand shoved painfully past the waistband of her pants.

 

He stepped back suddenly. “I’m sorry.” Tugging her jacket closed, he zipped it back up. “I didn’t mean to get so rough.”

 

Her lips stung from the force of his kiss and she raised her fingertips to touch them. “It’s all right, I was a little rough, myself.” She frowned as she realized he’d shoved something down her pants.

 

Catching Kathryn’s hands before she could pull her jacket up, he lifted them to his lips. “Promise me you’ll take care of yourself.”

 

There was a plea in the black velvet eyes. He was trying to tell her something. She had a brief flash of her earlier conversation with Tuvok. Chakotay was being watched. “I’ll be careful. I promise.”

 

“I’d like to keep my combadge, if that’s okay?” He brushed the tears from her cheeks, his heart twisting at the sight.

 

“That’s fine.” She carefully smoothed the front of his shirt where she’d crumpled it in her hands. Chakotay wasn’t the kind to run from a problem. At least the Chakotay she knew before he was worn down and weary.  “You’re taking one of the shuttles?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Let me walk – “

 

“No.” He shook his head. “I want – I don’t want – no.”

 

“You don’t want to say goodbye?” At his nod, she pulled him to her for another desperate hug. “Will you keep in touch and let me know how you’re doing?”

 

“I will. I promise.” He kissed her lightly one last time before turning and walking to the door.

 

“Chakotay.” He turned to look at her. “I love you.”

 

He smiled, dimples flashing before he walked out the door.

 

Walking wearily to the sofa, Kathryn collapsed onto it. A painful nudge into her belly reminded her that he’d stuck something in her pants. Pulling up her jacket, she was surprised to see a small phaser. Why in the world –

 

The door chime broke into her thoughts. “Chakotay? Come in!” She pushed off the sofa eagerly. He changed his mind!

 

“Captain?”

 

“Oh.” She stopped as she saw the person standing in the doorway. Slightly plump and mousy looking. What is her name? “Come in, Ensign.”

 

“Thank you, Captain.” The young woman twisted her hands together nervously. “You said your door was always open anytime someone needed to talk.”

 

“And I meant it.” The name flashed before her suddenly. “Ensign Anner.”

 

“I wonder if I could talk to you?”

 

“Of course you can.” Ensign Matty Anner. Sciences. Computer specialist. Perpetual wallflower at gatherings. Rigid. Single minded. She had practically taken over a section of sciences. Bullied others into her way of thinking and set about ostracizing those who didn’t. Her heart spasmed as she remembered Chakotay discussing the incident with her. Chakotay! For a moment she couldn’t breathe for the pain.

 

“I – I’ve been having trouble adjusting.”

 

“We all have.” She faced the young Ensign squarely, prepared to listen but still hearing Chakotay’s words.

 

“Yes, but – “ She sighed. “I keep thinking if I do everything a certain way it’ll help and it – it just hasn’t – I don’t.” She stopped.

 

“I understand.” Kathryn softened. Maybe Anner’s behavior was her way of dealing with being stranded in the Delta Quadrant. “Sometimes we become fixated on something and it’s not healthy.”

 

“You said that anyone could come and have coffee with you and talk.”

 

“So I did. Sit down, Ensign, and I’ll get us some coffee.” Moving to the replicator, she ordered two coffees. Glancing out the view port, she wondered if Chakotay’s shuttle had already left Voyager. He hadn’t said goodbye. What was it he told her once? My people don’t believe in saying goodbye; it means that you’re never coming back.  He hadn’t said goodbye! Her heart started thumping. He hadn’t said goodbye!

 

A flash of light reflecting off the view port saved her life. Half turning, she took the knife in her back just below her heart. Gasping in pain, she fell to the floor. “Security!”

 

“They can’t hear you!” Ensign Anner stood over her. “I’ve erected a dampening field around your quarters.”

 

“W – why?” She hissed at the pain as she tried to get to her feet. The harsh pull of air and the taste of blood told her the knife had punctured her lung. “Why are you doing this?”

 

“I want to go home!”

 

The knife slashed down and Kathryn rolled out of the way, crying out in pain.

 

“We could be home!”

 

A booted food caught Kathryn in the ribs as she tried to get up. Another kick and she felt ribs snap.

 

“Maquis whore!” Anner grabbed a handful of Kathryn’s hair and drew the knife back. “You blew it up so you could stay here with him!”

 

The knife slashed across Kathryn’s hand as she warded off another strike. Blood splattered her face, blinding her and her arm fell uselessly to her side.

 

“When you’re dead – this will be my ship!” Anner dropped to her knees on Kathryn’s stomach, forcing a cry of agony from her.

 

Weakly, she pushed at the woman, her vision turning gray as her broken ribs ground together. The knife descended in slow motion.

 

The weight lifted from her suddenly. Retching and gagging on her own blood, Kathryn rolled to her side. She could see Anner struggling with someone. “Chakotay?”

 

The woman was stronger in her madness than Chakotay had anticipated. He backhanded her with no effect. Insanity overrode the pain and she leaped at him.

 

“Murderer!” She slashed at him with the knife. “Terrorist! Murderer!”

 

Falling back, he grappled with her, grunting as his back hit the dining table.

 

“Chakotay?” Clawing at her jacket, Kathryn pulled it aside and fumbled with the phaser.  Blood from her cut hand made it slippery and she was afraid for a moment that she would drop it.  Pointing it as carefully as she could, she pulled the trigger.

 

The wash of energy made Chakotay’s knees buckle and he crashed to the deck. Partially paralyzed, he pushed at Anner’s weight, forcing the unconscious woman off of him.

 

“Chakotay…” She dropped the phaser and fell back to the deck, wheezing painfully.

 

“Kathryn!” He crawled toward her, dragging his useless legs. She was coughing up blood and he could hear the whistle in her gasps that told him she was drowning in her own blood. “Sickbay! Medical emergency!”

 

“No – good – “She wheezed. “Dampening – “ Doubling up, she clutched her ribs as she gagged on blood.

 

The effects of the phaser blast were easing enough that he was able to lift Kathryn into his arms and stagger toward the door. “When I gave you the phaser – I didn’t mean for you to shoot me!”

 

“Sorry – too close – “ She bit her lip as he stumbled and fresh agony ripped into her guts. “Glad it – wasn’t set – to kill – “

 

In the corridor, he leaned against the opposite bulkhead. “Sickbay! Medical emergency!”

 

“Sickbay here… Commander Chakotay? I thought you’d left the ship”

 

“The Captain’s been injured! Two to beam to Sickbay!” Instantly he felt the familiar tingle of the transporter. “Security to the Captain’s quarters! Arrest Ensign Anner for attempted murder.” He ordered as Sickbay faded in around them.

 

“You didn’t – leave – me – “ Kathryn forced the words out as Chakotay laid her on the nearest bio bed.

 

“No. Tom did.” He slapped his combadge. “Chakotay to – Paris to Chakotay.”

 

“Did it work?” Tom’s voice was tense over the comlink.

 

“It did, Tom. Come on home.”

 

“Yes, sir. Paris – “ He laughed. “Chakotay out.”

 

“Excuse me.” The EMH pushed Chakotay to one side.

 

“Don’t – “ Kathryn groped for Chakotay’s hand.

 

“I’m here.” He took her hand and held it to his chest. “I’m not going anywhere.”

 

“Tom?”

 

“Please be still, Captain.” The Doctor pressed a hypospray to her neck.

 

“Tom took my combadge and left in the shuttle.” Chakotay told her.

 

“You – stayed?”

 

“Yes, he did.” The EMH frowned. “No talking and lay still or I’ll sedate you.” He sighed as he picked up a deep tissue regenerator. “I should anyway.”

 

“I kept his combadge and beamed to my quarters.” Chakotay squeezed her hand. “We knew whoever was behind this would try to kill you and make it look like I did it before I left.”

 

“No one would believe that.” Kes looked up from the scanner she was running over Kathryn.

 

“Why not? They believed everything else.” He said bitterly.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Kathryn asked him.

 

“I was being monitored constantly.” He grinned. “Why do you think I gave you the phaser the way I did?”

 

“Oh.” She closed her eyes, wishing the Doctor had sedated her after all. The kiss had meant nothing to him; it was just a way to slip the weapon to her with anyone watching being none the wiser.

 

“I’m sure I could have figured out another way, but I wanted to kiss you, Kathryn.” Chakotay leaned down and brushed her lips softly with his. “And I love you, too.”

 

“Oh, Chakotay.” She raised her hand to his face and caressed his cheek.

 

The Doctor rolled his eyes. “Please, this is a Sickbay, not a holosoap.”

 

Kes smiled and smothered a giggle. “I think it’s very romantic, Doctor.”

 

Chakotay watched while the Doctor and Kes healed Kathryn’s punctured lung and broken ribs. He helped peel off her turtleneck and tank top so the they could heal the deep wound in her back as well. The Doctor gave her another injection with the hypospray before he started on the slashed tendons in her hand.

 

“Your face… is cut…” Kathryn was drowsy from the pain medication.

 

“Is it?” He lifted a hand to his cheek. Now that she had called it to his attention, the cut stung painfully. “I didn’t realize.”

 

“Maybe it was numb… from me almost shooting you…” She smiled. “My hand was shaking… I was ‘fraid I’d miss…”

 

“Small price to pay.” He lifted her hand to his lips. “I thought I was too late.”

 

“Almost… don’t unnerstan’ why…” She yawned.

 

Chakotay turned as the Sickbay doors opened to admit Tuvok and Tom. The Vulcan stopped next to the bio bed. “Ensign Anner is in the brig.” He paused. “It appears I made an error in judgment. I allowed rumor and innuendo to sway my investigation.”

 

“It seems a lot of people did.” Chakotay looked the other man in the eye. “But I’m surprised at you, Tuvok.  I thought Vulcans followed logic and relied on facts?”

 

Tom had leaned on the end of the bio bed and taken the hand that Kathryn had offered. “Guess you’re just as fallible as us humans, huh, Tuvok?”

 

“There is no need to be insulting, Lieutenant.”

 

“That’s where you’re wrong, sir.” He sneered. “None of this would have happened if you’d done your job.”

 

Chakotay started to speak, but the EMH clamped a hand on his jaw and turned his face to run the dermal regenerator over the slash on his cheek.

 

Letting go of Kathryn’s hand, Tom walked to Tuvok. “We’re lucky the Captain isn’t dead. Chakotay would be gone or locked in the brig. And that’d leave you in charge.” With a look of disgust, he walked out of Sickbay.

 

When the Doctor finished with the cut on Chakotay’s face, he waved him toward the door. “Take Captain Difficult here to her quarters and make her go to bed. Tie her down if you have to. Off duty, both of you, for 48 hours.”

 

Tuvok watched silently as the Captain let Chakotay help her pull her bloody tank top and jacket back on and guide her out of Sickbay. He turned to the Doctor, a pensive look on his face as the doors snapped shut once again. “Doctor, there is a hereditary disease that my family suffers from. Early symptoms include a lapse of concentration and focus. A loss of… total logic.”

 

The Doctor nodded and picked up his medical scanner again. “And you think you may be in the early stages?”

 

“Unknown. However, it seems I made several leaps of judgment based on assumption rather than fact.”

 

“Far be it for me to suggest you made a mistake.” The EMH said dryly. His scanner beeped. “Hmm… what’s this?”

 

 

 

 

As they walked back to her quarters, Kathryn noticed the crewmembers they passed seemed nervous and looked away from them. Taking Chakotay’s arm, she glared down the few who were bold enough to stare at their blood splattered Captain and First Officer.

 

Once inside her quarters, Kathryn shooed out the crew that was cleaning up. “The blood’s gone, I can take care of the rest.”

 

Tossing her bloody jacket in the recycler, she looked at Chakotay, then shrugged and pulled off her tank top as well. Sitting on the sofa, she watched as he replicated a bowl of warm water and several washrags. On their walk from Sickbay, they had seen the same hostile looks as before. Even with Matty Anner in the brig, some still thought Chakotay guilty.

 

“It’ll take awhile.” She said as he sat down next to her on the sofa and dropped a washrag into the water.

 

“What bothers me is how easily everyone believed it.” He sighed. “I’ve been on Voyager for almost two years. They know me.”

 

“The problem is that people are followers.” She wiped at the blood on her neck with the damp washrag he handed her. “How many times has a placid crowd turned into a lynch mob?”

 

“I thought they knew me better than that.” He watched her clean the blood from her skin. The dark red splatters were almost obscene against the whiteness.  “It wasn’t just your crew. Friends – people I’ve know for years – believed that I would hurt you.”

 

Our crew.” She said sternly. “You have to put it behind you.”

 

“I don’t know if I can.” He took another one of the washrags and soaked it in the water.

 

“Chakotay, they made a mistake.” She took the cloth from him and wiped the blood from his face. “Give them time. They’re embarrassed.”

 

“They’re – “ Anger flared in the dark eyes. “I was the one whose name was dragged through the mud! My reputation was destroyed! I have to be patient? They’re embarrassed?”

 

“I know.” She wiped the last of the blood splatters from his face. “But what else can you do? Rant and rave at them? Say ‘I told you so’?”

 

Knowing that would cause resentment and be more destructive in the long run, he sighed again and shook his head.

 

“Give them time, Chakotay. Be yourself.” Kathryn patted his cheek. “Wounds take time to heal.”

 

“What about my wounds, Kathryn?” He stared at the bowl of pinkish water.

 

Cupping his face in her hands, she gently forced him to look up and meet her eyes. “They’ll heal. You know that I never doubted you. Not for a second.”

 

“You don’t know how I clung to that.” He smiled slightly.

 

“You don’t know how it killed me to see you hurting.” She stroked a thumb over the full bottom lip. “Seeing you suffer and not being able to do anything to help you.”

 

Chakotay pulled her into his arms. “Let’s not use ‘killed’, okay?”

 

She squeezed him tightly before letting go. “I need a bath.”

 

“I’d better go.”

 

“Go?” She stood up and held out a hand to him. “Then who’ll help me wash my back?”

 

“Wash your – “ Chakotay blinked in surprise.

 

Kathryn’s smile wavered as she waited for him to realize what she was offering.

 

Standing, he took her hand and lifted it to his lips. “Well, the Doctor did say to be sure you went to bed.”

 

“Let’s save the tying down for another night.” She winked at him. “It’s been a long day.”

 

Laughing, he scooped her up in his arms. “I do love you, Kathryn Janeway.”

 

 

 

Anyone having the slightest doubt about ML’s loyalty will answer to me. Gadget Girl

And me. The Hustler

And if there’s anything left, I’ll shove you out an airlock. The Boss

 

 



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