One is the Loneliest Number

Delta Story
cmwende@compuserve.com

ONE IS THE LONELIEST NUMBER PG-13

Summary: Janeway’s fear of intimacy is revealed a Chakotay gently peels away the concealing
layers of self-control and guilt.

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

He was sorry – that is what he told her when he came to her quarters at 2230 to give her his
written report about the incident with the reactivation of the dead Borg cube. Now Kathryn
Janeway had *four* reports in front of her that must be read before tomorrow morning’s
senior staff meeting at 0700. There were separate descriptions of the incident from Lt.
Torres, Lt. Tuvok, the Doctor, and Commander Chakotay. The four narratives included two
versions of what had happened in the shuttle with B’Elanna and Chakotay on the way back to
Voyager from the planet within the Nekrid Expanse; two versions of the activities within the
disabled Borg cube; two versions of the Commander’s physical and mental conditions; and
one that contained all of these themes. One person was common to all four reports:
Commander Chakotay.

He was sorry – that is what he told her in sickbay after his return from the Borg cube and the
reconnection of the collective on the unnamed planet. And Janeway knew that he would
never have mutinied against Voyager and her people. In the two and half years since the
fateful merger of the Maquis and Starfleet crews, they had learned to live and work as one,
and no one showed his loyalty to the ship and crew better than Chakotay. Even he and Tom
Paris were on fairly good terms now, and his relationship with Tuvok (although it would
never be considered a close one) was *almost* cordial. And he, like herself, was devastated
that yet another crewman had been lost on the mission. Ensign Kaplan had become quite
experienced and was a mainstay in operations when she died in the initial attack on the ex-
collectives’ world.

He was sorry. Not a very military expression, thought Janeway. Court martials would
never accept such a statement as explanation for such a traitorous act. And if they had been
in the Alpha Quadrant, she knew that *both* he and she would be hauled before a tribunal
board — at the very least — to explain the whole episode. But they weren’t in the Alpha
Quadrant, and as hard as she tried to run the ship by Starfleet protocol, she knew that where
they were, the rules had to be made up as they went along.
He was sorry. *The lady doth protest too much*, Kathryn recalled from the ancient play,
“Hamlet”. For what was it that Chakotay was having to atone himself? The doctor had
explained that the increased neuropeptide levels inflicted by the neural link with the aborted
Borg collective had caused the Commander no alternative but to act out their desires.
Chakotay’s report even stated that he could hardly remember anything from the moment
B’Elanna spoke to him on the shuttle to his recovering in sickbay. There was no need for
his repeated apologies to her. Come to think of it, *all* of the apologies had been focused
towards her.

******************************

Earlier, Kathryn had shed her uniform in favor of a soft,deep green caftan Neelix had
bartered for several months ago. She did not know what the material was that it was
constructed from, but the texture and color always seemed to relax her, reminding her of
lying underneath a tree on a warm summer’s day. Now she sat on the sofa, her feet propped
up on a low table in front of it, She might as well be comfortable for the next couple of
hours, as she waded through the four padds.

All of the reports bore out the facts that the Borg collective truly had been the cause of
Chakotay’s actions. Although both Tuvok and B’Elanna had incurred phaser injuries at their
Commander’s hands, they had seen enough Delta Quadrant anomalies and aberrations to
know that incidents like these happened. Thanks to the doctor’s expertise and the sickbay
technology, neither they nor Chakotay seemed to have any residual after effects. Janeway
placed her imprint on the padds from Tuvok, B’Elanna, and the Doctor. But she found
herself rereading Chakotay’s account. And then again. *I am sorry*, he had stated four times
in his report. The phrase also comprised the last three words in the documentation.

The green caftan all of a sudden no longer felt comforting. It – or something – was rubbing
her the wrong way. Her shoulders and back were stiff; she had not moved that much in more
than two hours. The reports explained things, but she felt as if there was some unresolved
question in her mind…*I am sorry*…

She slowly placed her thumbprint next to the words.

******************************

Neelix arrived for the daily senior staff meeting a few days later, announcing that he had
developed a *new* type of coffee. He had discovered that by roasting the berries of the
Xenorlian afreel bush, he could produce a beverage that could be made *fresh*, and that
tasted very much like the favored earth drink. And, being brewed fresh, the pre-comsuption
aroma stimulated the spirit as much as the beverage did the body. Why, he himself had tried
it yesterday, and it seemed to lift his spirits immediately!
“I know all of you are going to like it,” he babbled merrily. “That’s why I have brought in
several pots.” With this, he placed a tray laden with steaming pots and a cacophony of mugs
in the middle of the table.

By the time Janeway arrived at the briefing room, there was a lively discussion going on
about the drink’s merits and dismerits. When the Captain entered, there was a unanimous
agreement to let her make the final ruling. Everyone knew that Captain Janeway’s one
addiction was to her caffeine brew. Only Tuvok, who did not share the rest of the crew’s
affinity for the beverage, was not jovially offering the Captain a swallow of the liquid.

“Folks, we have work to do,” chuckled their leader after having had enough sips to equal a
cup. “Please be seated.”

The senior crew managed to control themselves enough to focus on the matters at hand.

The Captain opened the morning’s discussion. “B’Elanna has informed me that there is a
problem with the bioneural circuitry on Deck 7. Since we have had problems with the gel
packs being affected before, I think that we should set up a schedule to check them more
frequently. B’Elanna, would you like to tell us your plans?”
“Well, Captain, in conferring with the doctor, we came up with this analogy. Because of the
past bacterial infection of the gel packs, substances like scar tissue have built up within the
neurons. While we can use a thin laser beam to clear them out, we would risk completely
damaging the circuitry in the affected area. What we would like to do is try to use an
enzyme flush at regular intervals in an attempt to dissolve the build-up. It would have be
gradual, and during that time there might be some interruptions in the areas that have a high
concentration of circuitry. The biggest problem is that we must have someone monitoring the
cleansing constantly, around the clock. However, I believe the entire bioneural system could
be cleaned out in two or three weeks.”

“Then let’s do it,” Janeway responded. “We are now entering an area in this quadrant where
even Mr. Neelix has very little knowledge. I want all systems working at their highest
capability. Everyone is to give Lt. Torres any help when requested. Commander, you and I
can get together to work up duty rosters to provide monitoring coverage.”
The Captain leaned back in her chair and surveyed her staff. Everyone seemed to be the
most relaxed that she had seen them in quite a while. “Is there anything else pressing this
morning?” she inquired. Negative responses echoed from around the table, with the various
voices tumbling all over each other, mixed with differing levels of giggles and laughter.
“Dismissed, then,” the Captain chortled herself. “Oh, Commander, please join me in my
ready room in 15 minutes so that we can start on the monitoring rosters.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Commander Chakotay nodded, as he left to check over the bridge before
joining the captain.

Janeway started to follow him, in making the short trip across the bridge to her ready room.
She stopped and turned, picking up one of the pots that still contained some of the Xenorlian
“coffee”. *Mustn’t waste anything,* she smiled to herself, as she carried it with her to her
ready room.

******************************

Chakotay was prompt in reporting to Janeway for their appointment.
“Please, Commander, have a seat,” Janeway smiled at him with a wide sweep of her hand.
“Did you have any of this *marvelous* coffee? I don’t know if I ever tasted better even
back on Earth,” she said, as she was draining the mug in front of her. “There’s just enough
left in this pot for each of us to have another cup,” she continued as she rose to find another
mug for her first officer.

“I don’t mind if I do have some more,” he stated with a grin. She walked over to the
credenza, where she neatly concealed supplies. She stooped to slide open the panels of the
long cabinet. “Ah, here’s one that’s just right for you,” she said as she rose with a large
earthen colored mug.

As she took it back over to her desk, where the pot and her mug sat, Chakotay noticed that
there was something different in the way she walked. He could not think exactly what it was,
but it was like she was…well, swaying her hips! Not exactly like the Captain’s walk!

She poured two cups of the warm beverage, and they started consulting their padds on
possible duty assignments for the bioneural monitoring. Progress was made quickly, and
they had worked out a possible rotation that would require each person to commit themselves
to only four hours a week on the project. Just as quickly, they had finished drinking the
contents of the coffee pot.

“Do we really want to have Tom and B’Elanna working together on the Delta shift?”
Janeway said with a giggle. “They *have* been getting awfully friendly lately. I don’t
know if they would be giving their full concentration to monitoring enzyme levels;
*hormone* levels, maybe….”

“Hmmm, now that does sound interesting,” quipped Chakotay. “Maybe they need some
chaperones!”

Both Janeway and the her commander were feeling very relaxed. *We’re actually laughing
and making jokes about duty rosters*, she thought, as she put her feet up on the top of her
desk. She gazed across the desk at her first officer, who wore one of his grins that could
disarm *any* woman in *any* galaxy. Following her informal lead, he had draped his leg
over the side of his chair.

*I know what is said about a man in a uniform,* she thought, *but I wouldn’t mind seeing
Chakotay ‘out’ of his!* (*Oh, where had ‘that’ come from?* she wondered.)
“Commander, would you come over here so we can see if our assignment lists match?” Her
eyes danced with her inquiry.

Chakotay slowly, almost sensuously, disengaged his body from around his chair. He walked
around behind her, and reached over her shoulders with his arms, encircling her as his hands
held either side of his padd which was in front of her. “Do they match?” he whispered in
her ear.

She turned her face up to peer into the dusky one that was looking down at her. “I don’t
know, Commander. Perhaps we should go over the sofa where we can compare them
better.”

As she slid her chair back and got up, he grabbed her shoulders and turned her around.
Without any forewarning, he leaned down and kissed her. She quickly returned the favor.
Padds were dropped; the short distance between desk and sofa was covered quickly. All the
while, they remained locked within their embrace.

Voyager’s first officer for once was positioned over its Captain, as they eased into a prone
position on the wide surface of the sofa. Their mouths voraciously started exploring the
strange new worlds of each other.

Suddenly, Janeway’s comm badge chirped. “Captain, this is Neelix. I have some disturbing
news for you. Please do not be too angry with me.”

Janeway reluctantly acknowledged her chef/ambassador/morale officer. “What is it, Mr.
Neelix?”

“Well, it seems that the Xenorlian plant beans that I used in making the coffee this morning
release a substance when they are roasted, and this substance, um, changes peoples moods.
A little bit seems to make people a little jovial, but more than a cup would — well, sort of
release inhibitions in some folks. I’ve thrown away the remains of this morning’s drink, but
I seem to be missing one pot. Do you know anything about it?”
Janeway and Chakotay looked at each other, in their most non-professional positions, and
laughed. “Yes, Neelix; I know where it is. I will have it returned to you shortly. And,
please. No more experimenting with the crew!”

“I won’t, Captain. I hope that this hasn’t done any damage,” Neelix said remorsefully.

“Nothing that can’t be taken care of,” Janeway said as she signed off.
“Well, Commander,” she sighed as she broke from their position. “I guess we *now* know
what got into us. We had better get back to work.”

They slowly got up from the couch. He once again pulled her into his arms. “Kathryn,
Neelix’s coffee might have accentuated our emotions, but I think that something has surfaced
today that we both know has been there for a long time.” He leaned down one last time and
gently kissed her before quickly exiting to the bridge.

Kathryn Janeway smoothed her uniform and hair before returning to her desk, her mind
thinking many thoughts, none of them dealing with the problems of Voyager.
******************************

Janeway and Chakotay were both embarrassed by their morning breech of protocol. Although
they spoke and responded verbally to each other in their normal way throughout the rest of
their shift, they never allowed their eyes to meet. The physical distance they kept between
themselves was a little more than usual. Yet, both of them knew that something *had*
happened, not just because of Neelix’s experiment having gone awry.
******************************

Janeway was in her quarters. It was late. She was trying to get her mind off of the scene
which had occurred that morning in her ready room. She had tried reading and even had
pulled out her painting supplies. But somehow she knew that she had to put a stop to what
had started earlier. She could not let this situation proceed any further.
She exited her quarters, walked the 10 meters down the hall, and buzzed at Chakotay’s door.

The former Maquis captain answered his door, unencumbered by his Starfleet uniform,
dressed in old pants and a pullover. As the door panels opened, Janeway felt a catch in her
breath as she thought *this is him out of uniform, and yes, I ‘do’ like it!* But she quickly
brought her mind back to the task she had to perform.

“Captain, please come in,” Chakotay smiled at her. *No, no; don’t do that!* she thought.

“No, what I have to say I want to say right here.” She swallowed and could feel her
heartbeat in her throat. “Chakotay, what happened this morning was not right. I know that
we can’t forget it, but we must. We both know that we overstepped our boundaries with our
actions, and now we must find our way back within the perimeters of our positions. Please,
don’t pursue this line of action any further. We dare not jeopardize our responsibilities to
the ship and the crew.”

“Kathryn, we’ve done nothing wrong. If anything, I think now *is* the right time to
acknowledge these feelings to ourselves *and* to the crew. We all have to accept that these
past three years together, in such a close atmosphere, will bring about even closer
relationships. Tom and B’Elanna have certainly come to that conclusion, and…”

She firmly shook her head and cut him off with her hand. “No, *we* are different. It
stops, here and now. That’s the captain’s order.” And she turned and quickly went back to
the safety of her quarters.

*******************************

For the next week, Janeway went out of her way to stay out of sight and sound of her first
officer.

If the crew noticed that anything was amiss, they did not mention it. There was work to be
done, and they knew their captain could become almost reclusive at times when she was
working on a difficult problem. But their usually sociable first officer had become sullen.
He even let Tom Paris’ barbed witticisms pass by without comment. Hopefully, they
thought, this wasn’t some dire forewarning about their journey that the two senior officers
were not sharing with the crew…

*******************************

One of the ways that Janeway had been able to avoid contact with Chakotay was by rotating
their bridge shifts. The bioneural monitorings seemed to demanding more manpower than
she and B’Elanna had first estimated. She was alternating hers and the Commander’s shifts,
so that one of them would be on the bridge most of the time. Chakotay had just finished a
non-eventful but tiring overnight shift, and was exiting the turbolift to go to his quarters. The
doors of the lift opened to Captain Janeway, who was on her way to her shift on the bridge.

“Captain”; “Commander”. Their greetings were perfunctory, precise, professional.
Chakotay exited, but he abruptly turned and reentered the turbolift. As the doors swiftly
closed, he turned to Janeway.

“Captain, I know that you have regrets about what happened last week. Believe me, I
*know* we were both out of line. However, your actions since then have been out of line,
too. We are both mature, professional adults. We can handle this situation; we have before,
and we can again. But I still sense an underlying tension in you.”
She turned to look at him. Her stance was one of pure control, but her eyes, which she
briefly allowed to look into his, contained a look of fear and discomposure. “Commander,
my decision needs no further explanations. You are *not* to pry any…”
Suddenly, the turbolift jerked to a stop. The digital readout put them somewhere between
decks 3 and 4. Janeway immediately hit her comm badge. “Janeway to Engineering. I’m
on turbolift 1 and it has stopped; what’s the problem?”

A very agitated Lt. Torres answered her. “Captain, the bioneural circuit flushing has affected
the turbolift’s operation. We’ve got a tremendous scar tissue block in that area that seems to
have reacted with the proteinase solution we’re using. We should have it cleared up in about
20 minutes. But I’m afraid you’re stuck in the lift for now. We dare not try to get you out
because of the fluids we’re using. And the transporter won’t be able to be used, either,
because of molecular interference. I’m terribly sorry for the delay. Hope you have some
good reading material with you! I’ll let you know as soon as we can proceed.”

“All right, B’Elanna,” came the sighed response. “I guess we’ll survive.”
*We?* thought B’Elanna. *Has the Captain decided to speak in royal personage?* But it
was a fleeting thought, as she turned her mind back to the problem at hand.
Janeway turned her still-tense face to her second in command. She knew that the next few
minutes could make or break their fragile relationship. But she just could not seem to
initiate the discussion. She turned away quickly, concentrating on the digital readout panel
on the side of the enclosement.

Chakotay, with his arcane sense of intuition, gently put his hand on her shoulder. “Kathryn,
we *do* need to talk, and this might be the most private place we have for awhile. I know
that our actions the other day seemed strange, but in a way, they were the most natural thing
that could happen. So what if Neelix’s coffee allowed our inhibitions to surface…we cannot
deny that we do have feelings for each other that go beyond the professional relationship. But
we can work within guidelines that we ourselves know and accept. What is so terrible
about…having these feelings?”

Janeway could feel every muscle, every nerve tense up with his question. She turned to him,
and with ice in every word, she said, “Because *someone* needs to control the situation!
And that is my duty, as the captain!” Her words might have been cold, but she did not reject
his touch.

“I think you may have addressed the very core of this breech, Kathryn — your need to
control.”

She whirled around, and this time *did* disengage his hand. “My *need*..” she started to
launch into him.

He gently laid two fingers over her lips, with her words burning into his hand. “Kathryn
Janeway, you are going to be quiet, and listen to me for a minute, for your own good; no,
for the good of the ship, for all of us. For a minute, let’s relieve ourselves of our rank, and
just be two people trying to understand one another.”

The tone in Chakotay’s voice caught Janeway by surprise. She *should* reprimand him,
maybe even put him on report for speaking to her in such a way. But, in spite of the
forcefulness of his statement, there was comforting concern underlying it. Still, she
physically assumed a guarded position for whatever was coming – she leaned against the wall
of the lift, with her arms tightly crossed over her black and red uniform.
“All right, Commander; I’ll let you have your say. But, that doesn’t mean that I’ll agree.”

“So you’re determined to control this conversation, also,” he said seriously. But his face
gradually gave way to one of his bewitching smiles. “You know, even as a child it seemed
that you were involved in controlling activities. You played tennis — not a team sport, but
one in which you could impose control on yourself, with its rules and regulations on the
individual. Then there was ballet — beautiful, technical, precise. But again, it was a dance
form which abounded with structured, disciplined movement. And there was your beloved
mathematics; why, even its *errors* have defined parameters!”
Kathryn suddenly became conscious of her defensive body language position, and dropped
her arms to her sides. Her arms and palms were now pressed again the hull of the lift. Her
eyes were exploring every square inch of the walls. Anything but to look into his face, his
eyes. She felt her jaws tighten.

“Kathryn, sometimes it seems that you can see an array 20 light years away, but you cannot
see what is going on under your own feet. Letting go of control does *not* mean any less
discipline in your life; it merely means expanding the boundaries. And that’s where new
ideas come from! Why paint with only red and blue and yellow, when you can mix them
together in infinite ways to get an infinite spectrum of colors? There are still many different
colors to be discovered. Just once, try mixing some of those new colors. Then, just then —
you might discover some of the beauty within yourself.”

He moved close to her, and put his hands on her shoulders. Janeway’s eyes stopped their frantic
exploration and slowly were drawn into his.

“Let it go, Kathryn. Look for new colors; allow your boundaries to expand. Let new
feelings and thoughts enter your life. Release some of that control.” His face came closer
and closer to hers. His breath and his words were warm and comforting, even in his
admonishment.

“Let go, and trust me. You trust me with your ship. Now, trust me with your heart.” And,
as if to allow her a release for that control, he sealed her lips with his.
This time, she did not pull away, but let her arms cross his and encircle his broad shoulders.
They pulled each other closer, seeming to form a state of osmosis, his calmness and her
tension merging to create a new substance of being.

Suddenly, the turbolift started moving, just as B’Elanna’s voice came over the comm link.
“It’s working, Captain. Sorry for the delay!”

They broke their embrace before they reached the bridge. Janeway quietly said, “Chakotay,
we have to talk. Get some sleep. Maybe we could meet for dinner.”
“Your place or mine?”, he winked at her just before the doors opened.
“We’ll decide that later,” she replied with a soft smile, as the bridge crew cast a surprised
look at the commander, who earlier had left for his quarters. The doors of the lift closed on
the image of his beaming face.

Their captain assumed her position. “Good morning, everyone. And it *is* a good
morning, isn’t it?” Her mood was the brightest that any of the crew had seen in days.
Maybe things weren’t so bad in the Delta Quadrant after all…
********************************

Soft lights from the galaxy outside cast an iridescent glow through the panoramic window in
Kathryn Janeway’s quarters. Its incandescence gently bathed two people now lost in their
own universe. Their two forms seemed to be one, as they nestled in each others arms on the
sofa.

“You hardly ate anything,” Chakotay said, while exploring the back of Kathryn’s neck. She
shivered, as his lips found an area that immediately sent signals to the rest of her body.

“Why bother with food, when I have you?” she responded. Indeed, she wondered if she
would ever have to bother with food again; just think of the replicator rations she could save!

Chakotay sighed deeply, with a contentment that he had never known. How could this
woman who appeared to be made of steel be as soft and delicious as Kathryn was now? As
*his* Kathryn was now?

As if she were reading his mind, Kathryn gave him her hungry lips. The rest of her body
followed.

*******************************

An enlivened spirit was felt throughout Voyager over the next few weeks. The crew viewed
the new relationship between their two most senior officers with smiles and grins of
approval, although nothing was ever said out loud — at least, not in front of the captain and
commander! Even Tuvok almost commented upon the change in their demeanors one
morning at staff meeting.

Chakotay and Kathryn were seen together frequently in their off hours — the mess hall; the
holodeck resort; even monitoring the bioneural repairs together during one delta shift. But it
was also noticed that they *weren’t* being seen anywhere, either together or alone. They
often disappeared or reappeared together from behind the closed doors of their quarters, at
odd hours during the daily cycle.

On the bridge, in meetings, checking the different departments on the ship — they were all
spit and polish; no lapses in protocol here! But the changes were noted, and almost all who
noticed conceded that *it was about time!*

******************************

Tom Paris and Chakotay exited the holodeck, laughing over each other’s foibles in their
hoverball game. Neither had played for a while, and it was quite evident. The two officers
had been unmerciful with each other in joking about their *extracurricular activities* getting
in the way of their holodeck exercise times together.

“Tom, you go on. I’ve got to stop off in engineering to check with B’Elanna about a
possible leak in the warp core.”

“You think I’m going to let you go to engineering without *me*? the younger man quipped.
“I use any excuse to go there.”

One short turbolift ride later, the two very sweaty men entered the main room of
engineering. B’Elanna shouted her greetings, but was engaged in a discussion with one of
her staff. Chakotay moved over to the central core, examining the structure for the problem
area. He thought that he noticed a small chink in the large tube, and leaned in close to look
at it.

Without warning, suddenly the small fissure gave way and spewed warp plasma all over the
man standing in its path. Tom and B’Elanna immediately yelled for the emergency field to
be put into place. As quickly as the incident happened, the plasma was contained, but not
before Chakotay had been engulfed in the toxic substance.

“Torres to sickbay,” B’Elanna yelled into her comm. “Emergency transport from
engineering, *now*!”

Chakotay’s still form disappeared on its transport to sickbay.
*******************************

The doctor was already into assessing the damage done to the first officer when Janeway
rushed into the medical area. She was holding back tears with difficulty, but she was *not*
going to let her crew see her fall apart just because this was Chakotay. No, they had
promised each other that much: no tears if something happened.
But that promise had been made earlier; now was now.

She resisted the overpowering urge to run to his injured body and cradle him in her arms.
Instead, standing as erect as she could, she asked, “Status, doctor?”
“He seems to be burned badly in the chest and neck areas, but I think we can repair the
damage. However, internally, his lungs were burned also. The problem is infection or
pneumonia. I’ll treat him prophylactically to ward off infection, but we will have to wait
and see. Captain, you can’t do anyone much good here right now. Why don’t you go to
your quarters?”

“What good would my quarters be?” she pitifully asked the hologram figure. “I’ve got to be
here when he wakes up.”

“Captain, that could be several hours from now. Besides, I will be sedating him heavily for
awhile, until the burned tissue has regenerated.” But he saw the determination in Kathryn
Janeway’s eyes, and knew that she would not be denied.

“All right. You may stay. But at least go into my office, where you can be more
comfortable.”

Janeway all of a sudden seemed bone weary. Sitting down *would* probably be better. She
agreed, and went over to the doctor’s cubicle.

******************************

The next thing Janeway knew, she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Captain, the doctor’s
finished now,” Kes’ melodic voice told her. Janeway was on her feet immediately, only to
quickly reassume a seated position on the stool next to the biobed where Chakotay was still
asleep. She looked on his face, so still, so pale for him. She placed her hand underneath his
nose; yes, he *was* breathing. The tears started before she realized it, and a horrific
memory surfaced in her mind. “No! Not again!” she yelled out. “I’m *not* going to let this
happen again!”

Kes came running over to her, trying to calm her. “Captain, he’s fine. He’s just sleeping;
there’s nothing to worry about. You need some sleep, now. This entire incident has been
just as much a strain on you as it has been on him. Let me give you something to help you
sleep. Tomorrow, he’ll be as good as ever.”

Suddenly feeling very tired and drained, Janeway allowed her young friend to give her a
sleep inducer, making the Ocampan promise that she would be notified as soon as there was
a change in their patient. With that pledge made, she went to her quarters.

*******************************

Janeway’s sleep was a troubled one. Twisted visions kept flying at her, of people long gone.
People who were gone because of *her*. She was the constant factor in all of the equations
of their lives…and deaths. People who would probably still be alive if she had not been
entwined in their journeys. She awoke abruptly, drenched in perspiration. Her bedsheets
were thoroughly tangled around her aching body.

It was only 0530, but she quickly showered, dressed and went to sickbay. The doctor
greeted her, and said that Chakotay was well on his way to recovery; in fact, he would
probably be releasing him that afternoon, fit for duty whenever he felt like it. He led
Janeway over to Chakotay’s sombulant form.

She leaned over him and gazed at him for several long minutes. Finally, with trembling
fingers, she lovingly caressed the sculptured features of his face and the smoky lines of his
tattoo. She softly whispered, “I don’t want to lose you. What I have to do, please
understand.” She closed the remaining space between their faces and softly kissed him. She
turned back to the doctor with her best Starfleet presence.
“Doctor, please let him know that I was here. And notify me when he’s released.”

“Of course, Captain,” replied the doctor, with no outward response to the scene he had just
witnessed.

*******************************

Early in the evening, the comm monitor in Janeway’s quarters chirped on. She went to the
screen and saw Kes’s smiling face. Kes informed her that the Commander had been released,
and was coming to report to her. Janeway thanked her and switched off the monitor. Her
body felt like *she* had been hit by the plasma stream, not him. Her hands were shaking,
cold – no, hot! they were perspiring! Her mouth was dry, but her eyes were full of moisture.
But she knew what had to be done. She absolutely, positively had to break off their personal
relationship. If she didn’t, she would lose him for everyone — the entire ship, Starfleet and
Maquis alike.

The chimes at her door sounded. She walked over to the panels before she allowed them to
open. He was not going to come over the threshold. She would end it before that happened.
She *was* going to end it.

“Come”, she said simply.

The doors slid open, framing the face and body of her intense first officer. “Kathryn,” he
murmured softly, as he took a silent step towards her.

She held raised her arms out in front of her body, towards him, but in a defensive pose with
her palms out. “No,” she said, “please, don’t. Commander, I’m very happy — for the ship
– that you are all right. But, Chakotay, it is *for* the good of the ship that I can’t let you
in. Ever. It can’t *be* between us; I know that now. Yesterday’s accident proved it.”

“Whatever for?” he asked, confused and panicked. *Where had all of this come from?* he
thought. The last thing he remembered about her was that she was beside him in sickbay,
and she had touched him and kissed him. *Why this sudden brick wall now?*
“Because you spent time with me and not the ship’s business while I was unconscious?
Because you were concerned? Kathryn, I have seen you spend the same amount of time and
concern with *other* crew members who were injured or sick. It’s not wrong to *care*
about people! And it isn’t that the crew doesn’t know about our close relationship. They
do, and *they* care about *us*. They have accepted us on all of our levels, just as we must
allow ourselves to do.”

As he spoke, he reached for her hands, and enclosed each in one of his. He gently lowered
her arms.

“Something has happened for you to retreat so quickly and completely. What is it, Kathryn?
*Why* can’t you let me beyond that barricade that you insist on building?”
Kathryn’s strength was rapidly disappearing. She walked over to her sofa, sat down, and
assumed the closest position she could to a fetal position while sitting up. Every limb was
curled inwards towards her body; she appeared very small and fragile. Chakotay followed
her and sat down next to her. Her words came out, barely audible.
“How can I let my defenses down? Whenever I do, with *anyone*, I lose them! Justin and I
had our shields up for such a long time, and just when we began to realize that we could
dare to love each other, he… and daddy…and, and …”

Tears that she thought she had willed to stop forever 20 years ago suddenly welled forth.
The pain of their deaths which had been armored within layers of self-inflicted guilt poured
through the breech that had just been opened.

“It’s as if I killed them myself, by loving them so much! Then, with Mark…I thought that
since I had known him for such a long time as a friend, that there was a buffer against any
damage that I could wreak. Surely, a mature love that had grown from childhood would be
different. But, what have I done to him now? Destroyed his gentle gift of waiting so long
until I accepted his love, only to disappear from his life once more, this time probably never
for us to see each other again. Don’t you understand, Chakotay? I am *poison* to any man
I allow myself to love. And I *will not* let that happen to you! You are my friend, my
counselor, my comrade in this odyssey. If I ever *loved* you, in the way you want it, I
would be your ruination.

“We both know that our obligations to our crew – and to Starfleet – come before any personal
promises to each other. Everyday, as your captain, I have to run the risk of ordering you
into situations from which you might not return. I *must* keep my emotional barriers up; I
refuse to allow our relationship to become my albatross if something ever happened to you.
And if something *did* happen to you because of one of my orders, I could never…” Her
words were drowned in a soul wrenching sigh. She took a long, deep breath, as if
assimilating the energy to continue.

“Months ago, you tried to apologize to me for something that happened between you and
Riley Frazier. Don’t tell me that you are sorry about what happened between you and her.
Becoming a part of her collective was *our* salvation, as well as yours, because it saved you
for us. If anyone should be apologizing, it is I, for allowing you think that you love me.
Oh, Chakotay; the best thing I can do for you – the only *good* way of loving you – is for
me to keep myself *from* loving you.

Chakotay reached out and enfolded her delicate form in his massive embrace. “Kathryn, no
action like that would be your fault. I am a Starfleet officer, and I know what my duties are.
And if I were to die in fulfilling one of your orders, I would know that it was a necessary
sacrifice for the good of the entire ship. We all take risks everyday that we live. I know that
this is difficult for you to believe, but we all *do* have a time to be born, to live and love
and to die; our control over our own destinies is so minute in the greater mysteries of the
universe! It is not for us to know, nor to assume, any guilt over each other. The time we
spend in our lives punishing ourselves for self imagined guilt takes away from the time we
can give of ourselves to others.

“There is one person who needs your love more than I do, and that person is Kathryn
Janeway. Learn to love and accept her, and then perhaps you can experience the love that
others have for you. All of us are wounded and in pain at some level. Only when we have
experienced and healed the pain within ourselves can we then love and help others.”

He sensed a calming in her body. The tenseness was fading, and the tears on his arms were
drying. “It’s getting late, and I should be going. But, I would like to say goodnight by telling
you a bedtime story.”

Kathryn groaned and thought, *Uh-oh; please; no more New Earth stories!* But, the thought
was comforting, and his voice always soothed her. He started speaking in his soft
inflection….

“A long ignored grapevine awoke with the noises of spring, only to find that she was
covered with briars and deadwood and leaves from other trees that had become snared in her
circuitous branches. She knew that there was warm sunshine and gentle rain beyond the
many layers of debris that had deposited on her, but she was not able to feel them or enjoy
them or use their gifts to allow her to become productive once again. She tried to shake her
branches, only to find that the force she used entangled her all the more. She tried reaching
out by forcing growth of sport branches. But this unnatural use of her energy caused only
weak shoots to grow, which died quickly.

“Then, one day, a gardener came by. He noticed a strong form underneath the piled
deadwood and decaying leaves. He saw that under the dried rubble and brambles stood a
seasoned plant of maturity, waiting to produce once more. He carefully pulled away all the
lifeless material. He studied the remaining form of the grapevine, and meticulously pruned
away the useless branches, once again revealing the form of a plant with great potential.

“The vine looked upwards towards the sun, absorbing its life giving warmth. The gentle
rains found their way to the vine’s hidden roots, and nourishment rose throughout the plant.
The branches reached out, and soon covered the plant with a canopy of green leaves and ripe
purple fruit. Birds and butterflies played hide and seek under her protective cover.

“The branches continued to grow, gaining their strength from her, each one uniquely
individual, but still a part of the whole. No longer did each branch have to try to survive on
its own. Once again, the vine was complete, made of many parts, all with their own special
function, but surviving as one plant.

“The gardener returned frequently, and pulled the weeds which might choke out the new
growth. He tilled the soil, so that water and nutrients could easily be absorbed by the plant.
He pulled off diseased leaves and harmful insects. The vine thrived and grew, knowing that
her growth and survival were aided by the help of the gardener. In grateful appreciation, she
provided him with a wealth of fruit for his health and happiness. The vine and the gardener
lived the rest of their lives with love and thanksgiving for each other.
“Kathryn, let me be your gardener; let me free you of all the deadwood and brambles that
are keeping you from being that main vine to all of us. We *need* you, but we are
suffocating and withering because we cannot see the sun or feel the rain. Every moment you
spend your energy in trying to do things alone, you keep that energy from us.”

Kathryn lay in his arms, her body and mind calmed for the first time in days. Once again,
his parable had cut away all of her superfluous pretensions, and her naked soul was exposed
to the elements. She had spent most of her adult life punishing herself, allowing the self-
inflicted guilt to cause a disabling pain that now, to her horror, she realized gave her a
perverse pleasure. With everything striped away, all that remained was the pain — terrorizing
pain such as she had never known it before, not even during those four months following
Justin’s and her father’s deaths.

Fortunately, the aura that surrounded her at this moment was one of consummate love.
Chakotay’s healing hands were tenderly pruning her withered branches and coaxing life back
into her dying spirit. All she had to do was accept his gift of care, and she would be able to
provide him – and the rest of *their* vine, *their* crew – with the fruits of their toils.

He rested his chin on the top of her soft hair. He couldn’t help himself; he had to kiss her.
Sensing his need, she shifted to bring her tear-stained face up to his. The communication
was quiet and almost reverent. She looked into his eyes and said, “Stay with me, Chakotay;
make love to me.”

******************************

Chakotay gradually opened his eyes. He had heard the soft alarm of the chronometer earlier,
and was aware that a pocket of cold empty space had suddenly replaced the solid warmth that
had been next to him. As he began focusing on his surroundings, his vision was suddenly
filled with an entanglement of silky auburn hair and two lips that planted soft kisses onto
each of his eyelids and then his mouth. His eyes closed again briefly, as he let out a soft
moan, “That’s the *best* way to start a day that there is!” As his eyes reopened, they were
filled with Kathryn’s radiant smile.

Kathryn repeated her kiss of a couple of seconds earlier, this time with more emphasis.
“Time to get up,” she smiled at him.

“I thought I already had, a *couple* of times last night,” he quipped back, with eyes which
were now wide awake with their usual merriment at his own innuendos. She lightly punched
his shoulder, as she jumped off the bed, taking with her the covers which shielded his body.

“Mister, the doctor approved it and your captain assigned it: you have bridge command duty
in 30 minutes. And I don’t think the captain would like it if you were late, since *she* is
following the orders of her first officer and doctor by scheduling in some R & R for herself
until 1200 hours!”

Chakotay’s expression was still one of mischief. “I thought that the captain had already
worked off some of that built up stress by engaging in some physical exercise with her first
officer.”

Kathryn turned back excitedly to him, to that area in her quarters that so recently had
become both her refuge and delight. “Chakotay, you know that I have been thinking
seriously about trying to start my painting again. Well, I asked Tom to design a holodeck
program for me that would allow me to create some of those new colors you challenged me
to find. He’s finished it now, and has promised that it will introduce me to a *renowned
tutor* for my artistic efforts.” She once more bent down to caress that now-familiar and
comforting face which was still lying among the pillows. “Not that *you* haven’t tutored
me lately in some very interesting creative outlets!”

He rolled over quickly, lunging at her as she swiftly again moved towards the bathroom
area. They were both laughing, a knowing, loving laugh that comes from a fulfilling,
intimate relationship.

*********************************

A uniformed and well groomed Captain Janeway exited her quarters 30 minutes later, as her
similarly properly attired first officer followed on her heels. She turned one way, heading
towards the turbolift to take her to the holodecks, and he, without glancing back, quickly
walked the opposite direction towards the other turbolift which would take him to the bridge.
Each was armed with the proper demeanor that befit their professional images on a Starfleet
vessel.

Another day had begun on Voyager.

*********************************

Chakotay entered the bridge, greeting the staff already at their duty posts. The ship had
entered further into an area for which not even the seemingly know-it-all Neelix had little
information. The senior staff had been working diligently to assure that the ship was well
fitted for a lengthy flight into these uncharted areas. Chakotay and Janeway knew that just
as important as the physical needs of the ship and crew were the emotional and moral
support that only they, the command officers, could give to the others. Chakotay smiled
silently to himself. *And it’s important for the captain and first officer to keep themselves in
an unstressed, alert frame of mind!*

He hoped that the Captain was making the best of the short period of time she had this
morning to recharge her creative data banks. He wanted to thank Tom for his holodeck
program, but decided against it; that was between Kathryn and Tom, and any mention on his
part would cross over their well-guarded division of professional and personal lives.

*********************************

Kathryn Janeway was a child in a toy store! Tom had designed a program that gave her
every toy that *any* destined-to-be-a-Starfleet captain could want, with Santa Claus thrown
in on top! She had activated the program which he simply called “The Studio”.
Immediately, she found herself surrounded by products of genius and their creator, in the
form of Leonardo da Vinci and his sixteenth century workplace. Her mind and thoughts
could barely start to take in the breathtaking scenario. So much to ask of this wondrous
person, so much to learn from his mind and hands! She was completely entranced by the
thoroughness of detail.

*********************************

Two and a half hours into Alpha shift, Harry Kim called Chakotay over to the Ops section.
B’Elanna had asked him to use the long range sensors to try to get a signal on a probe that
they had sent out a couple of months earlier; she was not detecting and activity from it. In
doing his check, he could not find any indication of the probe, but he had noticed some
energy fluxes. He suggested that he and the Commander pay a visit to engineering to look
into the situation further. Chakotay turned to Tuvok. “Mr. Tuvok, you have the bridge.
Mr. Kim and I will be in engineering.” He and Harry quickly exited the bridge, alerting
B’Elanna as they did so.

*******************************
By the time the two officers reached engineering, the department’s chief had located the dead
probe, and the image that she had on her screen immediately sent chills throughout their
bodies. On the monitor was the unmistakable form of a gray metallic cube, with their
inactivated probe assimilated within its massive structure. They were in Borg territory.

*******************************

Even in the presence of da Vinci’s virtuosity, Kathryn Janeway still had the carriage of the
captain. Just as if she were in a market square somewhere, she was “bargaining” with the
maestro for work space and lesson time. Their negotiations had just reached an agreeable
stage, when a chirp came from her comm badge, calling her mind back across the centuries.

“Captain, we need you in engineering,” Chakotay said, his voice barely disguising a sense of
urgency.

“On my way,” she answered back, as she reluctantly closed her toy chest by halting the
program.

*******************************

The discovery of the startling proximity of the Borg cube called the ship to near red-alert
stage. Janeway quickly summoned her senior staff to work out a preparatory plan. Chakotay
led the officers in their briefing, and assignments were quickly made and actions
implemented. The entire ship was adrenaline charged. No longer was the confrontation with
the Borg an “if”; it was “when.”

“When” came quickly. It seemed like only seconds between the time Harry alerted the
bridge that one, two, no – fifteen Borg vessels were approaching them; and then the ominous
shapes were upon them; and then, *past* them, with only a single inquisitive scanning beam
indicating any acknowledgement of Voyager’s presence. The armada was gone as quickly as
it had appeared. Now, the question was, “why?” Janeway turned the bridge over to
Chakotay. “I’ll be in my ready room; I’ve got some research to do,” she said as she hurried
toward her sanctuary.

*******************************

Alpha shift was over. Janeway was concentrating at the Starfleet top-security reports
scrolling slowly across her comm screen: other narratives of run-ins with the Borg and
debriefings from scarred survivors. What could she learn from their written words; or, more
importantly, their unwritten thoughts and fears? She subconsciously heard the buzz at her
ready room door and answered reflexively. “Yes, come in…”
Chakotay had been concerned about her two hour silence and absence from the bridge since
the Borg armada had flown past them. He also knew that with the activities of the last 12
hours, Janeway had once again put on her full Starfleet front of assuming the burden of the
entire crew and had ignored herself and her human needs. He tapped his padd, using it as a
prop to open the conversation.

“By my calculations, neither of us has eaten since last night. Care to join me for dinner?”

Janeway did not look up, because she knew if she did, those brown magnets that were his
eyes would draw her away from her concentration; she *had* to remain the Captain.

“No,” she responded wearily, “I’m not hungry. I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

He noted the formal tone in her answer. He could sense that she wanted him to stay for
*Kathryn*, but that as *Janeway*, she had solitary decisions to make. He turned reluctantly
to exit back to the bridge when she decided to comment on some of her predecessors’
thoughts about the Borg. Chakotay caught her intent, in her needing him to help quell the
growing concern and fear she had for *all* of Voyager. Her seriousness was betrayed by
the deep absorption she had with her reading material. As she started reciting the words of
the reports printed on her comm, Chakotay could not prevent his deep smile, the one that
produced the dimples that were always her downfall. Just then, she looked up.

“What’s so funny?” she asked as seriously as she could.

Chakotay laughed his way through his explanation of how she sounded like the very people
whom she quoted; imitation is *always* the highest form of flattery! “Ensign Hickman in
astrophysics does a passable Janeway,” he informed her, with a luminescent twinkle.

Janeway pulled her fingers through the front of her hair, which looked as weary as her mind
and body were. “If we survive these next few days, I’m going to have to have a talk with
Ensign Hickman. Surely there is some Starfleet regulation about imitating the captain.”

*Good,* he thought, *she’s unwinding some. She’s going to have to get some strength and
rest for what we have ahead of us.* But as soon as he allowed the thought to form, she rose
from her chair, and walked over to the window looking out into the vastness of the Delta
Quadrant. The velvet darkness was illuminated with the glistening trails left by stars and
arrays shooting past their warp speed ship. He followed her, and they both gazed out into
the void that they both knew held either their salvation or their doom.
She turned serious on him again. “We knew this day would come. We all knew it and we
have been doing our best to prepare for it. But at what point is the risk too great? When is
discretion the better part of valor?” She turned from the deepness of outer space to look into
the deepness of the inner space of his eyes, wondering which was more unfathomable.
“Should we ask the crew to live out the rest of their lives in the Delta Quadrant? I’ve tried
to find out answers by looking at what my comrades in arms have said in those reports. But,
the truth is, I’m alone.”

Chakotay raised his right hand, and gently traced the curves of the profile of her face, down
to her chin. His other hand joined the first in cupping her chin, and his thumb caressed her
lips. Repeating the words that had been in his heart for so long, he murmured, “If that
moment comes, we’ll face it together, and *we* will make the right decision. You’re not
alone, Kathryn.”

*There is no longer a boundary between our personal and professional lives; we ‘will not’ be
alone again,* Kathryn thought. She tenderly reached up, and took each of his hands in hers.
She closed her eyes for a moment, as she slowly kissed his fingertips and then laid them
against her cheek. Letting her eyes finally be drawn into his mesmerizing gaze, she huskily
whispered, “Three years ago, I didn’t even know your name. Now, I can’t imagine a day
without you.” She raised her hand to his face; he willingly leaned into it, and his lips joined
hers. The pledge was now made. There would be no more loneliness for Kathryn Janeway.

Janeway’s comm badge buzzed, and Tuvok’s voice broke their reverie. “Captain…”

************************** FINIS ****************************

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