They were still walking down endless corridors and Chakotay suddenly realised that he was getting the royal tour. And, in this kingdom, things were not all rosy.
Panels were spitting sparks and smoke in more places than he could count and they kept encountering debris that had resulted from the recent battle. Every time they came across a corridor choked with rubble he stopped and quietly cleared it away, putting it in a manageable pile to await the official clean up. Often they paused as Captain Janeway stopped to lay a hand on a crewman to offer encouragement and a smile. Conversation between them became increasingly difficult as her communicator began to hail her continually. It was apparent that the crew now knew that their captain was out and about and finally it became obvious that his role was best served by being that of a silent observer. He calmly took in all the details and a true picture of Voyager's status began to form in his mind.
Chakotay was sentimental about ships. He knew almost immediately when he liked one and even faster when he didn't. With no disrespect to his lost Liberty, he liked Voyager. Despite evidence to the contrary, he knew she was a tight ship and a piece of him yearned to help her regain her former dignity. And then, just as quickly, he clamped down on that desire. It wouldn't be long before he knew if he'd have to take Voyager from the hands of her current captain and make the ship his own. And, until then, sentimentality would have to wait.
A door opened to the upper deck of Engineering and they approached the railing and sent their eyes around the department. Chakotay was slowly shaking his head when Captain Janeway let out a large sigh. They both looked at each other at the same moment with the same expression - hopeful despair. As one they turned back to the door and continued their journey. Chakotay was now certain that their ultimate destination was close at hand.
The turbolift doors opened after an uneasy ascent and he stepped out and then stopped cold. Spirits, it was the bridge - this is where he'd come in. He turned to look at Janeway.
"Will you join me in a coffee, Captain?" she asked.
"Will we fit?" he snapped back automatically.
"I guess that's what we're here to find out, isn't it, Captain? Mr Tuvok, you still have the con; Captain Chakotay and I will be in my Ready Room and we don't want to be interrupted for anything less than a Red Alert."
"Aye, Captain," came the calm reply in a voice that Chakotay had trusted for three months. A ridiculous emotion swept through him and he wondered how it would feel to smash that Vulcan nose into that passionless Vulcan face. He took one unbidden step before he felt the hand on his chest. He'd just spent over an hour watching her touch countless members of her crew and now she was touching him as if she had that same right. He glared first at her hand and then down into her gray-blue eyes, and dared her to leave it there.
She dared and murmured, "Come with me, Captain, our coffee is waiting." Slowly she slid her hand down and off him and turned to lead him to her inner sanctum. He hesitated for only a moment and then followed her. The doors slid shut behind them.
"Your XO is dead," Chakotay stated flatly. He showed no pretence of diplomatic double talk and got right to the point. Coffee had been poured and doctored and now the two forgotten cups sat on her desk between them.
"Yes, plus many more valuable members of this crew." Her tone and manner reflected his.
"And you want me and my crew to fill in the gaps."
"Of course; does this surprise you?"
He laughed. "No, but your nerve does. Do you honestly think you're handpicking this year's cream of the Academy's crop, Captain?"
She didn't join him in his mirth. "I certainly hope not, I have enough wet-behind-the-ears crew running around. I want veterans of space and its challenges and, Captain, that sums your people up in a nutshell."
He appreciated her boldness but couldn't bite back a sarcastic smile. "And what makes you think they'd be willing to serve under you?"
"Because their former captain would order them to do so."
He stared at her in amazement. "Why in the world would I do that?"
"Because it would be your duty as First Officer to handle personnel and disciplinary situations and I see you as being very capable in that endeavour, Chakotay."
She had dropped the 'Captain' and he was surprised at his own anger by that deliberate breach of protocol. He stood up.
"Think again, Janeway," he shot back harshly and went to stare out the viewport at the strange stars.
She waited for a few moments and then stood and walked over to stand beside him. "Do you have any other employment opportunities that I might be unaware of?" she asked quietly as she, too, searched in vain for a familiar constellation.
He continued to stare at the stars, and then answered her just as quietly, "I haven't decided yet."
"I see." She paused for a long minute gazing out at the beauty of space and then turned towards him. "I hope your possible future plans don't include using the technological contraband that was smuggled off the Liberty during your crew's transport to Voyager. I would really hate to think your decision might hinge on that."
He felt the thrust of the enemy's sword and slowly turned to face her. This time he took his time with his inspection of this small pale woman. Never in his life had he judged another being totally on their physical attributes and he wasn't about to start now. She didn't flinch from his thorough appraisal; on the contrary she was giving as good as she got. Seconds turned into minutes and still they stood sizing each other up. A vision of two wolves circling each other before attacking sprang into Chakotay's mind and he felt a sudden tingle of excitement course through him. Their eyes locked and finally his eyebrow rose, it alone silently asking the question she expected. She gave him a small crooked smile.
"Starfleet doesn't mean stupid all the time, Chakotay."
"I never thought it did, Kathryn," he replied, deliberately using her first name. "If I had I would have been dead long ago." He paused. "Why didn't you stop it?"
She shrugged. "Why? It's keeping your crew happy and occupied while we talk."
"Oh. Is that what we're doing? Talking?" He inched closer to her and was secretly pleased when she flinched just a tiny bit. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise for the second time that day and then witnessed an involuntary flash in her eyes.
She took a deep breath and replied, "Yes. That's what we're doing."
He inched closer again and his eyes darkened. "How are we doing so far?"
"The jury's still out. And I'm still waiting for an answer to my proposal."
"An interesting choice of words, Kathryn."
"Not to me. I have a job to do and I want to get started on it. I don't have endless time, Chakotay, nor do I want to wait long for your answer. I spent more than a day in both researching your files and in consultation with Lieutenant Tuvok and I know you're the person for the job. My only question to you is, how can I convince you to come to the same conclusion?"
She felt him edge microscopically closer to her again and clenched her teeth to keep from reacting to him - again. She knew it would take a long time for her to shake the feeling of having an inexplicable connection with this man. He had been beamed onto her bridge and swung around pointing a phaser at her chest, and she had known no fear. From that moment she had unquestionable trust in him. It was one of those unique, never forgotten split-second moments in one's life that lasts forever and right now she would kill to get rid of it.
Kathryn looked up and hoped her stare remained cool and steady. "Well?"
"I'm thinking." His answering stare was hot.
Without taking his eyes from hers, his hands started to move over her hips and bottom, floating two inches from her body. They continued up to the small of her back, following her curves until they moved over to her arms. Slowly they rose up to her shoulders and then moved past her neck in an imitation of cupping her face. A loose tendril of her hair crackled and jumped over to stick to his hand. He looked at it without expression and murmured, "I thought so."
Suddenly he brought his hands down and turned away from her rigid body. He walked back to the chair before her desk and sat down.
"I'm ready to hear what you have to say now."
She turned stiffly and resumed her seat behind the desk. Her body was still tingling with what seemed to be a combination of hot needles pricks and ants crawling over her.
"What the hell was that?" she demanded.
He just shook his head dismissively. "Nothing. It's just a trick an elder taught me long ago. Forget about it. Now, what's your proposal?"
She decided to accept his ludicrous answer for the time being and shelved it for future reference.
"My proposal? You already know what it is. We're 70 years from the Alpha Quadrant with one ship and two crews. You know that I could put the whole lot of you in the brig for the rest of your lives. I know that you could attempt to overpower us long enough to find an M-Class planet to make a home for your crew. But either way Voyager would limp towards home without enough crew, only to ultimately fail in the attempt." She paused. "I don't think either of those choices are worthy of consideration. Do you?"
"Well then, I would like to propose that we combine our two crews and work together to get home. And I would like you to accept the position of First Officer on Voyager to ensure that everyone will know that the command team represents both crews. Do you think this choice is worthy of consideration?"
"One more point, Chakotay, before you make your final decision. This is a Starfleet ship under my command and it's going to stay that way. Our crew situation may be unusual but the flag we fly under will never change. I expect it will be difficult for the Maquis just to accept this, let alone adapt to our policies and procedures, but it has to be done. You know them, will there be trouble or even violence over this?"
Captain Janeway leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. "Do you have anything to contribute to this conversation?"
He looked at her calmly. "What do you want me to say? You're neither stupid nor inexperienced, Kathryn, and you know this is not going to be easy. Hell, it will take months, maybe years, to fully integrate our people. I'm more than willing to do my part but I'm not going to get out of my bed every morning and have only Starfleet orders snapped at me. How would you be feeling right now if our roles were reversed?"
"That's not relevant. Our roles are not reversed."
"A well trained Starfleet answer, Kathryn, but I'm not stupid or inexperienced either. I'll bet those smuggled components that you'd be fighting to control the situation like you do in practically every aspect of your life. Am I right?"
She glared at him. "I don't know what you're talking about. And those components are already mine."
"No they're not, and neither are you going to control every part of this marriage of convenience. So, do you want to drop the crap and get down to specifics now?"
She frowned at him and fell silent for a few moments. "Fine. The first thing I'd like is for you to research my crew while I do the same with yours. Then together we can start filling in those gaps and assigning rank."
"About that, Kathryn..."
"My crew will continue to wear Maquis rank insignia."
"Oh? May I ask why?"
"Because we're proud of it. And because we earned the right to make this choice every time we put our lives on the line for something we believed in."
"By using terrorism."
"That's your word, it certainly isn't ours - and I didn't hear you complaining when the Liberty gave her all in the protection of your ship and crew. And, don't knock our abilities, Kathryn. You're in the Delta Quadrant now and who knows when you might have to call on former Maquis to get Voyager out of a huge hole. It's not beyond the realm of possibility, is it?"
"No, I suppose it isn't." She paused and then looked at him warily. "I was looking forward to noting in the log later today that you had accepted my offer of joining Voyager's crew as First Officer with the rank of full commander. I assume now that the three pips I was keeping in my pocket for good luck will not be accepted."
"I've worn Starfleet pips and I've worn the Maquis rank bar. I'll wear the bar."
"I see. Next I suppose you'll be saying that your former crew will not appear in uniform."
"Explain that, Chakotay."
He met her cold stare. "Go ahead and replicate everyone a uniform, Kathryn. But I'll be telling them to hang it in their closet until the day when they really feel that they want to put it on. This is a personal decision and I'm not making it for them."
"And yourself, Chakotay?" she demanded and then cut off his reply. "No, don't tell me. You've worn Starfleet colours and you've worn Maquis leather. And you'll keep the leather."
He smiled grimly. "You're starting to get the hang of this, Kathryn. No one is belittling your efforts or the sacrifice that so many of your crew made with their lives, but understand this - we are not coming aboard Voyager as second class citizens. You need us as much as we need you and seeing that bar everyday may help you to remember that."
"And how will this obstinate attitude bring our crews together, Chakotay? When anyone walks down the corridors of Voyager all they will see is divisiveness. My..our..goal today is to form one crew that will work together to find our way back home."
"Where you see divisiveness, I see co-operation. This isn't a holonovel, Kathryn - all of our concerns and worries are not going to be neatly wrapped up in Starfleet tissue paper and disposed of by the end of the first chapter. This is going to be hard work on everyone's part and we'd better start trusting our people and ourselves that it's going to be okay. At least we have 70 years to get it right."
Captain Janeway stood up and walked towards the replicator. Her voice was too low for him to hear her request so he sat and watched as she waited. There was the familiar shimmer and she picked up the silver tray with the bottle of champagne and two crystal flutes. Before she was back Captain Chakotay was already standing and waiting for her.
She set the tray down on her desk and then reached into her pocket. Slowly her fist came towards him and then her arm twisted while her fingers uncurled. He saw the sparkling Maquis rank insignia for full commander nestled in her palm. Before he could react she came close to him and unfastened his captain's bar and replaced it with the new one.
Her voice was soft as she said, "I made this Maquis command bar early this morning from the only specifications we had on file. If it's not correct please don't hesitate to tell me and I'll authorize a new one."
She saw his confused expression and put her hand on his chest. "My mother and father always told me that trust is a two way street. Perhaps seeing this bar everyday in the mirror will help you to remember that."
His jaw twitched as he heard his own words repeated back at him and then looked to see her holding out his captain's bar. "Commander Chakotay, would you please put this in safekeeping in your quarters. If the day ever comes when you have to put it back on, please remember that Voyager's first captain had all the faith in the world that you would bring both your ship and your crew home safely."
He looked into her eyes. "I guess Starfleet doesn't mean stupid all the time," he repeated softly.
Suddenly her first real smile of the week shone out and she winked at him. "Not by a long shot, Commander. Now, would you care to pour?"
On to Part Three
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