Doubts

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DISCLAIMER: Star Trek, Voyager and the characters in this story belong to Paramount. Without their permission, I’ve borrowed them to create this story. The story was written for my own enjoyment and those I choose to share it with. I didn’t do it for financial gain, but if Paramount wants to use my ideas, I’d be overjoyed.

Anyone reading this story is welcome (and encouraged) to send me comments. You can E-Mail me at DRonhovde@AOL.COM. Feel free to share it with anyone you choose. However, I reserve all claims on this story. Please keep it intact. Don’t separate this header or my name from it. Enjoy.
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AUTHOR’S NOTE: This story takes place a few years before another story I wrote called Regrets. You can find that story in AOL’s Star Trek Forum Record banks and the alt.startrek.creative archives. While they do tie together, it isn’t necessary to read one before the other.
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“DOUBTS”
by Dottie Ronhovde

“Captain’s Log, Stardate 52253.6. After being adrift for two days due to our encounter with the spatial distortion, we are now enroute to a system called Plyt Nath in hopes that the inhabitants there can be persuaded to help us. Damage to the ship’s warp nacelles is beyond our capability to repair. Lt. Torres has made temporary repairs that have enabled us to travel, for the moment at least, at impulse. She is not confident that the repairs will hold long enough to even get us to Plyt Nath.
Neelix has been briefing me on what to expect when dealing with the Plytans. Their society is very closed, and uninvited visitors are often turned away without qualms. If we can not find common ground on which to deal with these people, we will be forced to travel to Colrew, a distance of 3.4 light years, which is the next possible source of help. On impulse power, that journey would take over thirteen years.”

Kathryn Janeway tapped the control switch on her terminal and sat back with a tired sigh. For almost three days they’d been straining every system and every person just to achieve their current status. Her worries about the ship were only part of the problem. Several of the crew had been seriously injured in their encounter with the spatial distortion. Engineering was working with a reduced crew, and those who were able to work were doing so while dealing with pain and fatigue.
Her bridge crew had been affected as well. Tuvok had been thrown over his console and sustained a severe head injury when he landed on a railing. He was still unconscious in sickbay. Harry Kim was recovering from several broken ribs and internal injuries. Chakotay had been thrown out of his chair and severely sprained his shoulder. He’d refused to go to sickbay for treatment for two days, while they struggled to bring the ship back into stable operation.
Her own injuries still plagued her. The torn tendons in her right elbow had been repaired, but were still painful when she used that arm for anything that required strength. He knee was a little better, but she had to make a conscious effort not to limp when she was around any of the crew.
Although fatigue was making it difficult for her to think clearly any more, she tapped her computer console and began reviewing reports from engineering. Today, they’d managed to restore primary power to decks 1 through 6. This gave them back several key areas, including the kitchen. She could imagine Neelix in there now, cooking up one of his exotic concoctions, happily humming away over a steaming pot.
Other decks were still functioning on reserve power, and several of the crew had temporarily abandoned their quarters until environmental controls, waste services and water were restored. Every individual who had any experience at all in equipment repair was pulled into service at the moment.
At the sound of the door signal, she looked up and called “Come in.” Chakotay, appearing as tired as she felt, entered and sank down into a chair across from her. “I wanted to update you on the crew changes I’ve implemented. I’ve rescheduled our normal four shift schedule into three shifts. That will give us more people on duty at all times to speed up repairs and hold us together until we get there. I’ve pared down the bridge crew and assigned Paris to sickbay and Kim to engineering. We can function with the back up members unless something else happens.”
“It sounds good to me.”
They talked for a few minutes about the progress of repairs and then branched into discussion about some of the injured crew. Chakotay watched the captain as she sat at her desk. Gradually, she began to sag, her usually crisp carriage crumbling before his eyes. His concern continued to build when her voice grew deeper and slower as well.
“Captain, how long has it been since you ate anything or slept?”
She stared blankly at him for a moment and then closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose as if she had a headache. “I don’t know. I had an emergency ration a while ago. I’ve been catching naps on the couch from time to time. Why?”
“Because you’re exhausted. I haven’t seen you leave the ready room except to go down to sick bay or engineering in three days.”
“I don’t have time to pamper myself. We’ve got to get to Plyt Nath and if we don’t get things repaired soon, we won’t make it.”
“Captain, you’ve got to stop. Maybe we should consider splitting our own forces, one of us on duty for days and the other for nights. We both need rest, and I’m not getting it with repair crews calling me at all hours.”
“I know, they’ve been calling me too. But I’ve got numerous reports to go over before I can make any further decisions on repair priorities. We still don’t have the forward phaser bank back on line and our shields are at only at 35 percent. If we meet the Kazon now, we’ll be pulverized before we can say Alpha Quadrant.”
“Captain, if we meet the Kazon now, our greatest liability will be an exhausted captain who can’t speak clearly, let alone think clearly. I’m worried about you.”
She paused in her response, savoring the feeling his worry gave her. It was nice to know that someone cared enough about her to worry about her welfare. She let her head fall back against her chair. She was so tired, it was an effort just to hold her head upright. “You’re right, I could use a few hours of sleep. I think I’ll go take a shower, now that I can, and get some rest. You have the bridge, Commander.”
He released a relieved sigh. He’d expected her to argue with him and he didn’t relish the thought of trying to force her into taking care of herself. When she rose from her chair, he stood also. As she came around the end of her desk, his concern grew. She’d forgotten to mask her pain, and he could see she was limping badly. As she reached his side, she stumbled. His quick reactions were the only thing that saved her from falling.
His arms quickly caught her and he held her securely for a moment, until she regained her balance. Reluctantly, slowly, he released her. The feel of her body held against his left residual, heady currents flowing through him, even after she was standing on her own. Masking his feelings, he asked, “Will you be all right? Maybe you should go to sick bay first.”
She was surprised at her own reaction to having his arms around her. Shakily, she said, “I don’t think that’s necessary. The doctor has seen to it. He warned me the knee might be a little weak for a few days. Thank you for saving me from an embarrassing sprawl on the floor.”
His eyes were warm as he said, “You’re welcome.”
She turned away from him and continued on toward the door. With each step, he watched her spine stiffen a little more and the limp grow less pronounced. By the time she reached the door, he realized that anyone seeing her would be totally unaware of her pain. Now that he was aware of it, he vowed to continue his vigilance. She needed protection from her own stubborn pride.

When the turbolift doors closed behind her, she relaxed against the wall and let herself take a full, deep breath. Flexing her knee to relieve the pain, she savored that moment when caring arms circled her shoulders. It had felt good, but she recognized it for what it was, just a moment. She couldn’t indulge herself in fantasies that it could ever be more than that.
The turbolift stopped and the doors slid open. Straightening herself again, she made her way down the corridor to her quarters, acknowledging greetings from crew members she met with a quick smile. When she reached the sanctuary of her own quarters, she finally gave in to the fatigue. After a quick sonic shower to relieve herself of days of sweat caused by tension and malfunctioning environmental controls, she collapsed on her bed and was asleep the moment her head hit the pillow.

After a full eight hours of deep sleep, the captain rose feeling almost like herself again. Her elbow and knee were both swollen and a little stiff, but she found she could walk almost without pain. A real shower and a fresh uniform did much to restore her as well.
She stopped at the mess hall for a quick breakfast and then went to the bridge. The on duty lieutenant informed her that Commander Chakotay had retired a few hours ago and that the doctor wanted to speak with her when she was available. She thanked him and entered her ready room.
Without thinking, she walked over to the replicator before she remembered that they were still off-line. Smiling ruefully to herself, she diverted to her desk and tapped her desk console. “Janeway to sickbay.”
The doctor’s image appeared on her screen and he said, “Ah, Captain. So good of you to reply.”
The captain frowned slightly at his sarcasm. “What is it you need doctor? I’m very busy here.”
“Captain. I thought you’d like to know that all but five crew members have been released from sickbay. Lieutenant Tuvok is now awake and arguing with me about staying another twelve hours for observation. If his neurological tests come back favorably, I may release him sooner.”
“That’s good news doctor. What’s the status of your other patients?”
“Lieutenant Dalton has stabilized and will be scheduled for surgery later today to repair his burns. I expect he will make a full recovery. Crewmen Frem and Kijn and Ensign Brewn are under observation. They will all be released soon. By the way Captain, you haven’t returned for your check up. I would like to see you this morning to evaluate your healing.”
“I’ll see if I can fit it in doctor. Janeway out.”
His mouth was open for another rejoinder when she cut him off. She changed her desk console to display the diagrams of status of all major systems. There was progress there as well. Primary power was back on line for all but the lower two decks and shield strength had been increased to 52%. There was still a long way to go, but things were improving.
She left the bridge, heading for engineering, to speak with Lt. Torres. The readouts she’d seen on engine status had her worried. Knowing B’Elanna, she’d have anticipated the captain and would have the answers ready.
Engineering was still the busiest place on the ship. As the captain entered, she stopped just inside the door to survey the activity. Watching B’Elanna Torres in action was a favorite pastime. Currently, she stood at one of the monitoring consoles. Her hands flashed across the panels as she snapped orders off to three different people in quick succession. The captain said another prayer of thanks that she’d listened to Chakotay and given Torres command of engineering. The ship had been pulled away from disaster more than once by her creative, decisive actions. She was doing it again.
Sidestepping a scurrying crewman, the captain walked toward her Chief Engineer. B’Elanna whirled around and almost fell over herself apologizing. “Captain, I didn’t see you come in.”
“I know B’Elanna. You’ve been rather busy the last few days. Relax. I just came down to see how things were going. This morning’s reports look better than I expected.”
“I’ve had a lot of help. Lieutenant Kim deserves the credit for getting primary power back on line. I’ve been tied up with trying to stabilize the warp engines. With power so erratic, the flow regulators have malfunctioned several times. It’s getting better though. I think we’ll be able to try warp speed today.”
“What about the repairs to the starboard nacelle? Are we going to be able to maintain warp for at least two days?”
“They’re breaking down already, but I think we can hold out for two days. I’ll have to monitor the warp fields constantly. They won’t be symmetrical, which will cause some navigation problems, but we should be able to make it.”
“If we can get access to the equipment you need to make repairs, how long will you need to make all the necessary repairs?”
“I’d guess about five to six weeks, provided they have all the materials we’ll need. If we have to manufacture anything, it will take longer.”
“Well, here’s hoping we can get them to help us. Thank you B’Elanna. I’d better let you get back to your work.”
She left engineering and headed back toward the bridge. As she neared the turbolift, she heard a loud thump and someone yell “Oww!” Amused, she ducked down to peer into an open access hatch. A few feet down the access conduit, she saw Lieutenant Kim, folded into a compact ball, clutching his head. “Finding these conduits a little tight Harry?” He jumped and banged his head again at the sound of her voice.
Feeling sorry that she’d startled him, she helped him out of his tight quarters into the main corridor. “I’m sorry I startled you. How’s your head?”
“I think its all right Captain. No blood at least.”
“Lt. Torres tells me you’re responsible for the excellent progress on the primary power systems. I want to thank you for jumping in to get things up so quickly.”
“Thank you Captain, but I can’t take all the credit. The whole crew has been working hard.”
“I’m aware of that Harry, but it takes leadership to get people working as a unified team. You did that, not the team. Your parents and teachers would be proud of you.”
Blushing a little, he thanked her again. When she turned to leave him, he stopped her. “Captain …………”. When he didn’t continue, she asked, “What is it Harry?”
“Well, there was a time back there when I thought we weren’t going to get out of that situation. I was really scared, and I froze. But when I looked at you, you were perfectly calm. If I hadn’t let you down by falling apart, we might have gotten out of there with less damage.”
“Harry, I might have looked calm to you, but believe me, I was scared too. You did nothing to be ashamed of. When the going got tough, you hung in there and did your job. Like I said, everyone who had anything to do with your development would be proud. I am. Now, get back to work Lieutenant. We’ve got a long way to go yet before we’re out of these woods.”
Grinning, he said “Aye, Captain!”, and turned to crawl back into the access conduit.
Before going back to the bridge, she walked through some of the other decks, making several stops to talk with and thank various people working all over the ship. Even as she toured, she could see signs that things were coming back to life again. Passing sickbay, she decided to stop in and see how Tuvok was doing.

When the doors opened, she walked in on a scene that caused her to break out in a smile that she had to quickly smother. The EMH doctor was forcefully trying to restrain Tuvok, who was equally forcefully trying to stand and leave. Coughing discretely, she walked over to where they stood. “Is there a problem gentlemen?”
The doctor, whirled around and immediately started presenting his grievance. “Lt. Tuvok is disobeying my orders! I have not completed my neurological tests on him, yet he insists that he’s fine and does not intend to remain under my care any longer. I have not and will not release him until I am satisfied that he is returned to health.”
Tuvok lifted his eyebrow at the doctor and calmly stated. “That statement is incorrect doctor. I said that I feel fine and wish to resume my duties. I’m more than willing to return for ‘tests’ when it’s more convenient.”
The captain, as much as it sometimes galled her, had to back up the doctor on this one. “Tuvok, less than 12 hours ago, you were lying unconscious on that bed and had been that way for 39 hours. I would feel much better if you would let the doctor complete his tests.”
“Captain, I am capable of resuming my duties.”
“Perhaps, but I want be sure. Now lay back down and let him do his job.”
Seeing that he wasn’t going to get the captain’s help, he responded in his most chilly tone, “Yes Captain, as you wish.”, and lay back down. His body remained so rigid, she could imagine him standing at attention.
Turning away, she smiled as she spoke to the doctor. “I believe he’ll be more cooperative now.”
“Thank you Captain. Before you leave, I would like to examine you as well.”
“I don’t really think that’s necessary doctor. I’m doing fine.”
“Captain, you should follow your own orders. I would feel better knowing that you are, as you say, ‘fine’.”
When she looked away from him, she noticed that Tuvok was watching her with interest. She realized she’d have to relent on this one. “Fine, let’s get this out of the way quickly. I’m very busy.”
They walked over to the biobed next to Tuvok’s and she climbed up to sit on it. The doctor ran his tricorder over her arm, and then her knee.
“There is still some inflammation in both joints. Have you been experiencing pain?”
“It’s been minor and it’s better this morning.”
The doctor sounded exasperated when he replied, “Captain, there are treatments for these kinds of problems.” He walked away to pick up a hypospray and came back. He was less than gentle when he injected her in each joint. “This should help.”
After she released her sudden intake of breath, she gritted, “Thank you doctor. May I go now.”
He looked a little smug as he said, “Yes, you may go.”
With equal sarcasm, she replied, “Thank you.”
On her way out, she stopped to speak to Tuvok. “Don’t worry, I won’t let him keep you too much longer.”

When she returned to the bridge, she was struck by how much it had returned to normal. There were still a couple of technicians repairing consoles, but Tom Paris was back at his post at the helm and Chakotay was seated in his usual chair. Kim and Tuvok were still not in their places, but other familiar faces were filling in for them.
Chakotay studied her as she walked toward him, looking for signs that she might still be in pain. Seeing her walk with her usual crisp stride did much to reassure him. “Good Morning Captain. How are you feeling today?”
“Much better thank you. I stopped by sickbay to see Tuvok and the doctor cornered me to be sure. He’s very ………… persistent about his procedures.”
Chakotay chuckled. “Yes, he is. He nagged me constantly until I got down there for his final check up. We’re making great progress on repairs. I think we’re going to make it to Plyt Nath without a problem.”
“I hope so. I checked with B’Elanna this morning. She’s not as confident as you are.”
“Well, B’Elanna always likes to leave you with a little doubt. It makes you think you’re lucky to have her around when nothing goes wrong.”
“We are lucky to have her around. I’ve never thanked you for insisting that I consider her for the position, but I’m glad you did.”
Chakotay nodded his reply and turned toward the view screen. The captain studied his profile for a moment before she also turned forward. After sitting this close to him day after day, she’d grown comfortable with him; but she still didn’t feel that she knew him. He’d remained a private man in so many ways. At times, he was warm and seemingly open, but he seldom revealed what he was thinking or feeling.
He’d proven his loyalty to her and the ship, and she trusted him completely with decisions that related to ship operation. But there were still a lot of hidden, unknown qualities about him that made her curious. That spark that had jumped between them last night heightened her curiosity.
She sat for a few minutes longer and then decided to resume the work that was piled up on her desk. She got up and turned to him, saying “I’ve got piles of reports to wade through. I’ll leave the bridge in your capable hands, Commander.”

Seven hours later, she was still going over reports and entering orders when her door signal sounded. When she called out her invitation, Chakotay entered, carrying a small tray with a cloth draped over it. “You haven’t left this room in hours, and I don’t know if you ate this morning or not. I took the liberty of asking Neelix to bring up something for you. He says this soup is a favorite of yours.”
She sat back and stretched her elbows back to relieve the tense shoulders she’d acquired. Taking a deep breath she said, “Why thank you. I appreciate that. I get so busy, I fail to notice that I’m hungry. Now that I can smell it, I realize that I do need something to eat. Will you join me?”
Chakotay had gotten so distracted admiring what that stretch had done for her frontal anatomy, that he was a little slow in answering. He blushed and cleared his throat when he realized that she was watching him intently, waiting for an answer. “No, thank you Captain, I’ve already eaten. And I’ve got to review the status of ship’s backup stores with Ensign Trainel. Please, enjoy.”
He set the tray down and beat a hasty retreat. She pulled it toward her and lifted the cloth. As she sipped the soup, she smiled to herself. It hadn’t been too hard to read his thoughts at that particular moment. Yup, she was getting more curious to know what was going on behind that calm exterior.

Chakotay had made up an excuse to get out of the captain’s ready room. He used it as a reason to leave the bridge also. His face was still warm when he entered the turbolift. ‘What a school boy stunt! She is probably sitting there either laughing her head off at me or considering whether she needs a new first officer.’ He’d promised himself he’d never let her know he had those kinds of thoughts about her; and now he’d been caught staring like some dirty old man.
The problem was that he was thinking about her like that more and more. He frequently spent hours late at night recalling every laugh, every touch, every phrase that could be interpreted as flirting. He didn’t truly believe she was actually flirting with him, but …. sometimes …. he really wondered. More than once she’d looked at him, searching his face with a thoughtful look, and then smiled that slow, sensuous smile — and then started off in some absolutely normal vein of conversation.
Other times, she was all business, even showing irritation when things weren’t going well or something surprised her. He’d watched and analyzed her interactions with other people. She didn’t treat him any differently than Tuvok or Paris. She was the kind of person who touched. It was her way of showing approval or friendship. He scolded himself. ‘You’re just going to have to get over this. She isn’t interested in a relationship … with anyone.’
After making his obligatory visit with Ensign Trainel, he went to his quarters and locked his door. He really didn’t want to try to be sociable and he was exhausted. They’d all been pressing hard, and he was pretty comfortable now with their current status, comfortable enough to take a night off.
Two hours later, still wide awake, he threw off the blanket and rose to pace from one end of his quarters to the other. As hard as he tried to push his imagination away, the memory of holding her in her ready room plagued him. Every time he imagined his arms going around her, that same current flashed through him again. Groaning, he sank to the floor to try to meditate. Maybe his animal guide could talk some sense into him.

Captain Janeway spent a couple more hours at her desk and then finally gave in to fatigue. She left her ready room and found the night shift on duty. Everything seemed calm and she left the bridge feeling fairly secure for the first time in days. She was more confident that they would make it to Plyt Nath and optimistic that B’Elanna was going to pull another miracle and get the warp drive operating.
She walked corridors that were shadowy and quiet for the first time since their brush with disaster. Everyone was taking a well deserved rest. As she entered her quarters, she pulled the pins out of her hair and let it fall free. Running her fingers through it to loosen it, she closed her eyes with pleasure. Mark had always enjoyed doing that for her when she joined him at the end of a day. She imagined his hand cupping her head and his mouth coming down to welcome her home.
As she dressed for bed, the silence of her quarters closed in on her like a heavy San Francisco fog. Her body yearned for intimate touch the way a baby craves cuddling. Sleep came slowly and when it came, it was a restless sleep plagued by dreams.

When the computer executed its wake up routine for Captain Janeway, she rolled onto her back and groaned. The eight hours she’d slept felt more like three or four. She dressed and arranged her hair and then headed for the mess hall. As she stood in the serving area, Commander Chakotay entered and joined her. His greeting seemed rather clipped this morning.
“Good morning, Captain.”
Wondering at his manner and then recalling his embarrassment last night, she greeted him warmly. “Good morning.” They selected their food and both turned around to find somewhere to sit. Only one table was empty. To her amusement, Chakotay looked rather disconcerted. He looked around again, apparently hoping to find an open seat somewhere else. When he glanced at her, she smiled and said, “Please, join me.”
He nodded and followed her to the table. As they sat down across from each other, she sympathized with him. Hoping to put him at ease, she started talking about normal ship’s business. “B’Elanna thinks we’ll be able to attempt to engage the warp engines today. We may have to drop back to impulse periodically for adjustments, but we should be able to reach Plyt Nath in just a few days.”
“That’s good news. I just hope we’ll be able to get help there.” He relaxed. The captain hadn’t noticed his slip last night. He automatically fell back into his normal demeanor with her.
They both kept to their normal business mode for the remainder of their breakfast. The captain studied him as they talked. He was an interesting man. As her first officer, he was loyal and confident. At first, she’d given him the position as a means of making his crew feel like an integral part of her Starfleet crew. There had been times when he’d acted on his convictions as if he were still the captain of his own ship, leaving her out of the decision making process. At other times, he’d supported her in unpopular decisions, simply because he recognized her rights as Captain. Even at the worst of times, she’d never doubted his commitment to the ship or to her.
On a personal level, she still didn’t know very much about him. It was rare for him to reveal his inner self. She knew he was deeply spiritual, living by a moral code hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. He’d once introduced her to a piece of his spiritual heritage. She still spoke with her animal guide frequently. He was reserved, but not cold. Friendships were few, but deep and important to him.
She wondered if he considered her among those selected few. At times, it seemed that she was. They’d developed a communication beyond words. She couldn’t begin to guess how many times she’d turned to look at him and found herself meeting his eyes as soon as she did so. During those brief moments, she felt his pull on her like magnet draws a piece of iron. Then the moment ended, and she always wondered if she’d imagined it.

On the bridge for the morning briefing, activity stepped up. The senior staff, now including Tuvok, agreed to attempt warp. Paris had been concerned about navigation, but B’Elanna reassured him that the computer was capable of making adjustments to maintain their course.
All staff in place, the captain prepared for the warp test. “Bridge to Engineering. Are we ready Lieutenant Torres?”
“We’re ready down here Captain. I suggest we start at warp one and gradually accelerate.”
“Understood. Mr. Paris, warp one. Engage.”
The ship shuddered and shook, but Paris was overjoyed to announce, “We’re at warp one Captain.”
The captain nodded, but wasn’t ready to breath easily yet. “Engineering. How does it look down there?”
Lt. Torres’ voice quickly answered, “So far, so good Captain. Let’s try an increase to Warp 2.”
“All right. Mr. Paris, you heard her. Warp 2.”
“Aye, Captain, … Warp 2 engaged.”
They felt the ship lurch again, but it seemed to smooth out after a few moments.
“Engineering to bridge. Captain, I’m getting some fluctuations. I suggest we hold at this speed for now. I don’t want to push it any more.”
“Understood. Keep me informed of any problems down there.”
“Aye Captain. Engineering out.”
As she frequently did, she turned to Chakotay to share her joy at their success. He was already looking at her. As their eyes met, he gave her one of his slow, seductive smiles. His eyes held hers for a moment, and then he released her, looking at her mouth instead. As she blinked to clear her mind, he turned away from her altogether. It took a moment longer to bring her mind back to the business at hand.

When the normal day shift ended, the captain decided to allow herself some well deserved relaxation time. Thinking about another lonely evening in her quarters depressed her however. On an impulse, she headed for deck six to see what was going on in the holodecks. When she checked the panel outside, she found that the program running was titled ‘4th of July’. She was curious, and since the privacy lock hadn’t been set, she entered.
She stepped into a nighttime scene set in a park alongside a large lake. A bandstand held an orchestra playing rousing music. The atmosphere was warm and balmy and stars twinkled overhead. As she stood looking around, she heard Harry Kim call out to her.
“Captain! Please, come join us.”
Looking toward his voice, she saw several of the bridge crew sitting on blankets spread out on a manicured lawn. Walking over to join them, she said “This is wonderful. Who set this up?”
Tom Paris spoke up, “It’s a joint effort. Harry and I got to talking about family traditions, and we both recalled Federation Day as one of our favorites. We started looking into the history of the holiday and found out that the 4th of July goes all the way back to Independence Day of the United States. We decided to recreate a celebration from the 1950’s.”
The captain looked around again and saw Chakotay and B’Elanna Torres walking toward them. They were chatting and she saw B’Elanna laugh and lay her hand on his arm. She wondered if they were developing a deeper relationship. As they approached, B’Elanna saw the captain and called out,” Captain! Isn’t this great. There’s an amusement park over there. It’s got all sorts of games and thrill rides. And you should see some of the food. It’s so strange. There’s something called ‘cotton candy’ that looks like pink cobwebs wound around a stick.”
The captain smiled at her in return. “I may go over and see if for myself later.”
The two ex-Maquis joined them on the blankets and settled in to listen to the music. Chakotay rested back on his elbows slightly behind the captain’s shoulder where he could watch her without her being aware of it. The low, reflected light highlighted her features. She was relaxed and smiled often. He was captivated by her naturalness and beauty.
Everyone’s attention was diverted to the lake when the band stopped playing and the surrounding lights went out. Suddenly, a bright burst of fireworks exploded in the sky overhead. Each new burst brought new exclamations of appreciation from those sitting around him. He was more interested in watching her reactions than the fireworks.
Her head fell back exposing her graceful neck and throat. He ached to plant a kiss there where he could see her pulse beating. He imagined that her expression was a reaction to him instead of a spectacular light display.

While he was deep into his imagination, Kathryn felt his stare and turned toward him. Their eyes locked and her smile slowly faded. Her body responded involuntarily to the hunger she saw in his eyes. They stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. The spell was broken when the grand finale of the fireworks burst over the water. She blinked, took in a gulp of air and turned away.
The chatter of the others exclaiming over the program masked her confusion and discomfort. Some got up to leave, complimenting Harry and Tom on the program. As the others stood, so too did the captain and Chakotay. Using the departure of the others as a screen to get away herself, she thanked them too and walked out. Chakotay stood still and watched her walk out the door.
Once in the corridor, she walked toward the turbolift and her quarters as if she was on a mission of some importance. No one meeting her would have guessed that her emotions were in complete turmoil. When she entered her quarters, she paced from one end to the other twice, trying to calm her churning thoughts. All she could think of was how close she’d come to leaning toward him and granting him the wish she’d seen in his eyes.
Her sense of obligation and moral code kicked in and she felt a guilt out of proportion to what had actually happened. Pacing some more, she lectured herself on what being the captain of a starship meant. “You are not some sex starved young cadet looking for a fling with another student. You have obligations to this ship and this crew that mean more than your own needs. Get a grip on yourself Kathryn.”
Another half hour of soul searching brought her to the conclusion that what had happened was a fluke, a result of the setting and her dreams of the night before. Feeling that she was now in control, she went to bed and managed to fall asleep.

Chakotay stayed in the holodeck until the last of the crew left. He’d needed that time in the dark environment to recover his equilibrium before he went out into the revealing light of the corridor. In the privacy of his quarters, he replayed every moment over and over, savoring the moment when she’d made that connection with him. He lay awake for a long time and when he did fall asleep, it was with the image of having a certain woman wrapped securely in him arms.

The morning briefing was divided equally on the status of the ship and preparations for their arrival at Plyt Nath. B’Elanna had visited Engineering before coming up to the bridge. Her report gave the captain some real hope that they’d make it in a reasonable amount of time.
“We’re going to have to drop out of warp sometime today to make some repairs and adjustments again, but I think I can have the warp engines back up within a few hours. I’m concerned about the rise in temperature but, if it doesn’t get any worse we should be able to make it all the way on warp power.”
“That’s good news B’Elanna. What’s the status of shields and weapons?”
“With warp engines on line, our shields are at 78%. We’re still working on getting the torpedo launchers repaired, but we have power to the phasers. If we have to use them, it will take 6 hours to recharge though.”
“Good, that give us some measure of breathing room.” The captain turned to Neelix. “Neelix, how would you suggest we go about contacting the Plytans and gaining their help?”
Neelix puffed up his chest at being the center of attention. “Well, the Plytans have been plagued by the Kazon for years. They have stopped and seized their cargo ships several times. If we tell them that we’ve had run-ins with them too, they’ll be much more sympathetic to our problem.”
“I don’t want to lie to them or make them think we’ll be willing to fight the Kazon for them.”
“No Captain of course not. But if I were to let it slip over drinks with the foreign ambassador that we’ve had battles with them, I think he’ll take our problem to the planetary governor. If the ambassador is the same man I dealt with a few years ago, I will have no problem getting him into a setting where that could happen.”
“You don’t think they’ll help us if we just ask for their assistance.”
“Frankly, Captain, no I don’t. The Plytans maintain a policy based on ‘minding their own business’ . I’ve never heard of them getting involved in anyone else’s problems.”
“Do you think you can arrange a meeting with the foreign ambassador?”
“As soon as we’re within communications range, I’ll try.”
“How long will that be?”
“Well, their communications equipment is not as sophisticated as ours. I’d guess late today, or tomorrow.”
“Good. I’ll expect a report as soon as you’ve made contact. Dismissed.”

The captain and first officer sat side by side on the bridge, both silent and very aware of each other’s presence. Chakotay kept his self control tightly clamped, never allowing what he was thinking to show on his face or demeanor. He understood her dilemma and would not do anything to put her in a compromising position.
The captain also made every effort to hide what she was thinking. Now that she’d become aware that he wanted more from her than their current relationship allowed, she felt threatened somehow. If she ever lost the ability to keep herself in check, she feared that she’d lose the respect of the crew. While she had no problem with allowing other members of the crew to develop relationships, she believed that her position as captain prohibited that same freedom.
Growing more and more uncomfortable with the invisible magnetic pull emanating from him, she suddenly stood and spoke briskly. “You have the bridge Commander, I’ll be in my ready room.”
Chakotay silently acknowledged her order and watched her walk briskly toward her ready room door. When the door closed behind her, he released his breath slowly to mask a sigh that would have escaped. He’d felt the same magnetism. One of them was going to have to break the ice soon. The tension between them was getting uncomfortable.
The problem was, he knew she wouldn’t, and he didn’t know how. He understood her dilemma perfectly. It was the same reason he’d ended his relationship with Seska while she was a member of his crew.

Late in the day, Neelix entered the bridge, looking around for the captain. Not seeing her, he approached Chakotay. “I have made contact with the Plytan ambassador. Where is the captain?”
Chakotay indicated the ready room and followed Neelix to the door. At her invitation, they both entered. With her attention diverted to Neelix’s report, he took the opportunity to study her. Having memorized every expression and intonation, he recognized stress and fatigue in her now. With difficulty, he returned his attention to what Neelix was saying.
“Ambassador Toblar has invited me to meet with him when we arrive. I didn’t discuss my reason for wishing to see him. I think it would be better to do that after I am on the planet. He won’t be able to ignore me so easily then.”
The captain nodded. “A sensible precaution. When will you meet with him?”
“I’ve agreed to contact him again just before we arrive. He’ll clear us for entry into the system and orbit around the home world.”
She tapped her comm badge. “Conn, when will we arrive at Plyt Nath?”
Paris’ voice replied. “At current speed, we should be there in 13.6 hours, Captain.”
“Thank you.” Turning back to Neelix, she said, “I would like you to make your next contact with him from the bridge. I think they should see who they will be dealing with.”
“Uh…. Captain, if you don’t mind, I’d like to wait until I’ve spoken with him personally before we reveal ourselves to him.”
“Why?”
“Well…… There’s a …. little unfinished business I need to take care of first.”
“Unfinished business. What sort of unfinished business?”
Neelix grew uncomfortable with her pointed questions. “Well… I broke a contract with them.” At her disapproving look, he stammered. “Captain, I ran into difficulty and I couldn’t collect all the equipment I promised them. I delivered what I had, but they….. Well, they wanted to throw me into prison. I left before they could find me.”
The captain was angry, and rightfully so. “Neelix, this could jeopardize everything. If they decide to press charges, I can’t step in to protect you. And, from what you’ve told me, we won’t have much chance of obtaining their help without the support of someone in their government. Is this ambassador aware of your earlier dealings?”
“Yes, I believe he probably is.”
“And he’s willing to meet with you anyway?”
“Yes, Captain, he didn’t hesitate to invite me to meet with him.”
Sighing with frustration, she said. “I find that odd. I hope you haven’t led yourself, and us, into a trap. All right. Make contact with him and set up a meeting as soon as possible. That will be all for now.”
After he’d left her ready room, she turned to Chakotay. “I’m going to send you with him. If things go sour, I hope you can diffuse the situation. We need their help badly.”
Chakotay nodded. ‘I’ll do my best Captain.”
When he stood there silent, with an unreadable expression on his face, she looked a question at him. “Is there something else?”, she asked.
He opened his mouth as if to speak and then paused. Finally he shook his head and said, “No. If you’ll excuse me.” He turned and left without saying anything more. She paused, looking at the door he’d just passed through with a befuddled look and then returned to her work.
Chakotay stopped outside her door deep in thought. He’d been about to invite her to accompany him to the holodeck that evening. Fortunately, he’d thought better of it before he’d been able to voice the invitation. That would have been much too bold a move. When he realized Tuvok was looking at him with curiosity, he stepped over to the turbolift and left the bridge. His shift was just about over, and he intended to finish it somewhere less public.

The next morning, the staff met for their normal duty call meeting. Neelix reported that he’d set up a meeting time with the Plytan ambassador. The captain questioned him on the time and place of the meeting. Neelix tried to dodge the question with a vague answer, but the captain saw through his screen. “Neelix, exactly when and where are you to meet him?”
“Uh….. well, actually, Captain, I’m not exactly meeting him.”
“What do you mean, you’re not meeting him?!”
“Well, I’m meeting one of his aides. The fellow knows me and he’s promised to help me. I did him a favor once, so I think I can trust him.”
“Why did you tell me you were going to meet the ambassador then?”
“Captain, I promise you, it wasn’t an attempt at deception. I just feel that I need to be rather circumspect,… i..if you know what I mean.”
“In other words, you’re still wanted on this planet.”
Neelix hung his head. “Sorry Captain, that’s about the size of it.”
She raised her eyes to the ceiling in frustration. “Neelix, I hope you understand what kind of position you’re putting us in. I don’t have the luxury of bypassing this planet to avoid getting you arrested. Are we going to have clearance to approach the system?”
“Yes Captain, the aide promised me he’d have us cleared as visiting dignitaries. The ambassador often invites people of other worlds to visit. Since my contact is the one who takes care of arranging their visits, he will be able to get us clearance.”
“Well, at least that’s something. We won’t be fired upon as soon as we show up. I’m going to send Commander Chakotay with you. If something goes wrong, I hope he’ll be able to diffuse it.”
“Thank you Captain. I’m truly sorry about deceiving you. I hope you’re not too disappointed in me.”
“We’ll deal with things as they come, Neelix. You’ve probably gotten us further than we could have done on our own. No, I’m not disappointed with your service to the ship.”
“Thank you Captain. I promise I’ll do everything I can to get us the help we need.”
“I know you will. Now, B’Elanna, do you have your requirements list prepared?”
“Yes Captain. I’ll have it ready for Commander Chakotay when they’re ready to leave.”
“Fine. Commander, once you and Neelix make contact with this aide, try to gain his confidence enough to get him to deal with you instead of Neelix. I’d like to keep him off the planet as much as possible.”
“Understood. We’ll be ready to leave as soon as we’ve been cleared to achieve orbit.”

A few hours later, Neelix and Chakotay stood in the transporter room, preparing to beam down to meet with the ambassador’s aide. The captain walked in to see them off and Chakotay joined her near the door. She spoke to him in a low voice. ‘I’m very uneasy about this meeting. I want you to be careful. We’ll be monitoring you from here in case you need to get out of there fast.”
“Right. I hope it won’t be necessary.”
“So do I, but it never hurts to be prepared. Be careful.”
“Always.”

The two men appeared in a narrow, dark street, several meters from a main thoroughfare. Chakotay scanned the area and then turned to Neelix. “Lovely place you chose for your meeting. Reminds me of the Klingon home world.”
Neelix didn’t know anything about the Klingon home world, but correctly assumed that Chakotay didn’t think much of it. He motioned Chakotay to keep his voice down and then slipped to the entrance to the alley to look around. When he was satisfied that there was no danger, he motioned Chakotay to join him. “We’re supposed to go to that bar over there.”
Chakotay gave Neelix a disdainful stare. “How original. Are we supposed to utter the password to get in?”
Neelix, not recognizing the joke, said, “No. I know who he is, so I didn’t arrange a recognition signal. Come on.”
They walked across the street diagonally and entered a crowded, noisy room. Standing at the door, Chakotay felt he’d just walked back into one of the places he used to frequent as an undercover Maquis. This kind of environment was very familiar. He followed Neelix to a table at the rear of the room and took his place standing against the wall. His eyes flashed around the room, assessing where potential danger was located.
Neelix in the mean time, settled himself at the table and began to peer around as if he had nothing more pressing on his mind that getting intoxicated. When the serving maid came over to him, he spoke out in a loud voice, “Bring me two Talaxian ales. My friend and I have just returned from a run-in with the Kazon and lived to tell about it. We’re going to celebrate.”
Chakotay stared at him for a moment and then pulled up a chair next to him. He hissed in his ear, “What are you doing?! I thought we came here to meet a diplomatic aide.”
Neelix whispered back, “We did Commander. I wanted to be sure these people were on our side if the police should happen to come in here tonight. Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.”
Chakotay let Neelix know that he wasn’t too sure of that, but kept his silence. When their ales arrived, Neelix stood and proposed a toast. “To the Kazon Nistrom. May their ships be as clumsy as pregnant ropenkas. May they all die as young men.”
A cheer went up and several joined him in his toast. When the noise level returned to its previous roar, Chakotay growled at him, “Was that necessary. We don’t want to be remembered after we leave.”
“Relax Commander, We’ve just made some friends here.”
A few minutes later, a thin, well dressed man approached them. Neelix stood and greeted him. “Tylen! Good to see you. Come, join us for a drink.” The man nodded and joined them. “Commander Chakotay, This is Tylen Plimana. He is Ambassador Toblar’s top aide.”
Chakotay nodded and greeted him. “A pleasure to meet you.”
Neelix motioned the serving maid to their table. “Bring another Talaxian ale for my friend here.” When she walked away, he smiled and said in a low voice. “I appreciate your willingness to meet with me. We need your help.”
The man showed his low enthusiasm for being in this particular bar, but responded pleasantly enough. “I owe you a great deal, Neelix. If I can help, I will. But I must warn you. If the police find out you have been here, and that I helped you, my family will suffer and I will be without a job.”
They waited until the ale had been delivered and then Neelix began to outline why he’d come to Plyt Nath. “I’m now a crew member on the Federation Starship Voyager. Have you heard of the ship?” When Tylen nodded he went on. “We encountered a spatial distortion that damaged the ship. We need to get help with repairing the warp nacelles. Plyt Nath is the only planet within our range that can help us.”
“Why do you wish to see Ambassador Toblar?”
“If he can be persuaded to intercede with the government, we might have a chance to get the help we need.”
“Neelix, that’s asking a lot of him. After what you did the last time you were here, do you really believe he’ll help you?”
“No. I don’t believe he’d help me. But I know he would want to help these people if he knew about them. Do you know their story?”
“No, Not really. We’ve heard about a strange ship that has battled with the Kazon, but where they came from or why, is never told.”
Chakotay jumped into the conversation. “Mr. Plimana. Voyager and it’s crew are 70,000 light years from home. All we want it to get back there. We don’t pick fights with anyone and we won’t stay in any one place long enough to become a problem for anyone who helps us. We’re prepared to repay your world for your help. We don’t expect it to come without a price. Please, can you at least arrange for me to see the ambassador?”
Chakotay could see that he felt torn, but in the end he agreed to speak with the ambassador. He asked many questions, to clearly understand their story and then he got up to leave. “I will contact you tomorrow if the ambassador agrees to meet with you. I don’t promise anything, but I will try. Neelix, If you value that spotted skin you wear, I suggest that you remain aboard your wonderful ship. I will try to keep your name out of my report to the ambassador.”
Neelix shook his hand and said, “Thank you Tylen. If you do this, I will consider your debt cleared.” The man nodded at him and left. Neelix turned to Chakotay and said, “See, I told you it would be fine.”
Chakotay gave him a disdainful look. “Right, you told me and I’m glad Tylen is willing to help us, but I suggest we leave.”
“Why?”
“Because if I’m not mistaken, two policemen just walked in.”
Neelix spun his head around and then nervously jumped up. “I think you’re right.”
They left their table and tried to slip out along the opposite wall from the policemen. When they’d almost reached the door, a black gloved hand fell on Chakotay’s shoulder. He stopped and turned toward the owner.
“You. Who are you? I’ve never seen your species before.”
Chakotay was glad for his Maquis background. “No, I don’t imagine you have. I’ve come from a far away place. I’m a wanderer and I just stopped to rest on your wonderful world.”
“Well, wanderer, we expect our visitors to be peaceful. Do you understand?”
“Yes perfectly. I have no quarrel with anyone.”
“Fine. I will be watching for you. Go now.”
“Thank you. Peaceful rest.”
Outside, he breathed a sigh of relief and looked around for Neelix. A ‘psst’ from the alley told him where to find him. Walking over he said, “Thanks for the help.”
Neelix looked hurt. “Commander, you weren’t in any danger, but, it wouldn’t have been a good time for them to see me.”
“No, I guess it wouldn’t have. Come on, let’s get back to the ship.”

When they rematerialized on the transporter pad, Captain Janeway was just walking into the transporter room. She was relieved to see them back and was anxious to hear how it had gone. “Report.”
Chakotay stepped forward and began to brief her before Neelix could begin his grandstanding again. “We made contact with the ambassador’s aide. He promised to speak with the ambassador and try to influence him to help us. He said he’d contact us tomorrow with an answer.”
“Was there any problem with Neelix being on the planet?”
“Nothing serious. He had to duck out after the aide left when two policemen came into the bar.”
“Bar? You met a diplomatic aide in a bar?”
“Yes Captain. He didn’t seem the type to frequent them on a regular basis though.”
“I see. Well, good work gentlemen. I imagine you’d like to go clean up now. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Chakotay did go to his quarters to ‘clean up’, but found he was too restless to remain there. He checked the holodeck schedule and found that one of them was free. Pleasantly surprised, he entered his name into the schedule and left his quarters to go make use of it. He requested one of his favorite relaxation programs and entered. The peacefulness of the scene eased his tension almost instantly. He wandered into the program a short distance and found a place to sit and contemplate.

Kathryn Janeway sighed and put her novel down. For some reason, she was having a difficult time concentrating on it. She walked over to the replicator and said, “Computer, I want………”. Stopping there, she realized that there wasn’t anything she really wanted. It had been an unconscious reflex to break the mood she was in. Frustrated, she paced back to her chair and picked up her novel again.
A few minutes later, she realized she’d read nearly two pages and couldn’t recall anything she’d read. “This is ridiculous.” she said to herself. Needing something to divert her from the mood she was in, she got up and left her quarters. She often made evening tours of the ship, stopping to chat with someone she found in a corridor or on duty. Tonight things were unusually quiet.
Making her way to deck six, she noticed that holodeck 1 was in use, but she saw that the privacy lock had been engaged. She bypassed it and walked on to Holodeck 2. This one was also in use, but the privacy lock was not set. This usually meant that some sort of group activity was in progress. She decided to find out who was present.
When the door opened, she stopped in surprise. Before her, the Arizona desert stretched toward blurred, purple tinged mountains. The sun was setting and the sky was a panorama of brilliant fiery hues. Curious, she wandered into the scene. A warm breeze caressed her face and the evening animals were just beginning to awaken. Day time animals rustled into their dens and perches.
A dry creek bed beckoned her and she began to follow it. As she rounded a turn, a single person sat on a boulder with their back to her. She stopped, reluctant to intrude. Whoever it was seemed to be praying. Turning, she tried to leave quietly with out disturbing them. She stopped when a warm voice said, “Good evening Captain.”
She turned to face him. Chakotay stood facing her, his face bathed in the warm light of a setting sun. “I’m sorry I disturbed you. The privacy lock wasn’t set and I…….” She stopped, embarrassed to have walked in on him like that.
“I guess I forgot to set it. But you’re not disturbing me. Please.” He invited her to join him with a gesture.
Hesitantly, she walked over to where he indicated and sat on the warm stone. “It’s beautiful. So peaceful. Is this your home?”
He sat beside her, careful not to make it too close. “Not exactly. This is the area my ancestors came from, but I grew up on a planet near the Cardassian border. While I was at the Academy, I made a visit to Senora and fell in love with the area. I felt a connection with that place that I never had on my home world.”
She studied him as he gazed of toward the sunset. “I can see why. Even in this holo projection, I can hear the ghosts of centuries speak to me.”
He turned toward her surprised. “That’s exactly how I felt. As if the spirits of my ancestors were all around me, talking to me and guiding me.”
She smiled a wistful smile and looked away. “I had a special place too. When I went there, I felt life flowing all around me. She swallowed and said, “It’s only a memory now, but I still think of it often.”
He tentatively placed his hand over hers. “No, it’s not just a memory, you carry it in your heart and your mind. The same life force you felt there is inside of you too. You can’t lose it because it’s a part of you.”
“Maybe you’re right, but it seems so far away now.”
“It’s not far away. It’s here all around you right now. Close your eyes.”
She looked at him with a question in her eyes.
“Please, close your eyes.” he said gently. When she complied with his request he spoke again. “Feel the life in you. Your breath, your heart…….. Now, listen. Do you hear the life, the animals and the birds.” When she nodded he continued, “Now, let your spirit reach out. Touch that life.”
“How?” she whispered.
“Just let your senses feel it. It’s all around you.”
He watched her silently, letting her concentrate on what she was feeling. He waited, willing her to be able to make the step. When he felt the gentle brush of her mind, he sent his own spirit out to meet her. Tentatively he allowed it to touch hers, just enough to make contact.
At first she pulled back, surprised that she’d actually felt it. Tentatively, she reached out again. When she brushed against it again, she paused. His spirit beckoned her and she answered, allowing herself to reach out more boldly. He gently met her, melding himself to the texture she projected.
Kathryn drank in the warmth and intimacy like a starving infant. It was so beautiful she cried out in disappointment when he retreated and broke the connection. Opening her eyes, she stared at him.
“You see. It’s never far away.”
Numbly she nodded.
Chakotay was fighting himself to maintain the distance between them. Every desire told him to kiss her. But, as new as this experience was, he knew she’d bolt like a frightened rabbit if he pressed her any more. He stood and reached out a hand. When she place hers in it, he invited her to join him. When she was standing, he started to walk, drawing her with him.
As she stepped in beside him, he released her hand. They wandered for about 15 minutes without speaking, admiring the fading colors in the sky and the scenery around them. Chakotay made a wide circle, ending up near the place they’d started. When they stopped, he turned and quietly said, “Well, I think I’ll turn in. Feel free to keep the program running if you like.”
Kathryn had partially regained her equilibrium and could answer almost normally. “Good night. Thank you. It was a very interesting experience.”
“You’re welcome. Good night.” He called for the exit and left.
When the doors closed and the exit disappeared, Kathryn sat on the stone again and watched the stars appear overhead. Her mind was very much on his lesson. She’d never touched someone like that before. It was far more intimate and revealing than anything she’d ever experienced. She was amazed at the depth she’d found in him.

The next day was spent waiting for a communication from Tylen Plimana. The bridge crew observed the captain and Chakotay with some curiosity. There was an undercurrent between them that seemed to affect the atmosphere of the entire bridge. Chakotay, the one more able to control his expressions, sat silently waiting. He spoke little and never directly to the captain unless she asked him something. This in itself was strange, since they normally had a relaxed working association.
The captain seemed rather more animated than normal. She would sit for a short time and then get up to walk to one of the consoles to observe the limited activity at that station. Since they were in orbit, there was little to see. Tuvok in particular watched with interest. Over the last few days, he’d seen changes in both of them and what he saw concerned him. Keeping silent however, he decided to wait for further developments.
Late that afternoon, Kim finally spoke the awaited words. “Captain, we’re receiving a message from the planet.” When he spoke, Chakotay and the captain both stood. The captain ordered, “On screen.”
The image of Tylen Plimana came into focus before them. “Commander Chakotay. I have favorable news for you.”
Chakotay took one step forward and replied, “That’s good to hear Mr. Plimana. May I introduce the captain of our ship? This is Captain Kathryn Janeway.”
“A pleasure Captain. I have spoken to Ambassador Toblar. He is most interested in you story. He has authorized me to invite you to meet with him tomorrow.”
The captain was elated. “That is welcome news Mr. Plimana. I thank you for your efforts.”
“You are welcome Captain. I too am interested in your story. Perhaps we will be able to discuss it in depth sometime. I will transmit the proper clearances for your visit.”
“Thank you again. I look forward to meeting you.”
The screen returned to the view of the planet and star field. The captain turned to Chakotay and smiled. “Progress. I hope it continues.” It was the first time that day she’d interacted comfortably with him.
“Yes. It’s encouraging. Will you go alone to meet the Ambassador?”
She looked at him, contemplating her response. “No, I don’t think so. I’d like you to go as well. Mr. Plimana is at least familiar with you.”
“Captain.” said Kim. “We’ve received the information about the meeting. You’ll be meeting with the ambassador tomorrow morning. I’ll forward the specifics to your personal briefing files.”
“Thank you Mr. Kim. I’ll take it in the ready room.”

The next morning, the captain and Chakotay met in the transporter room to beam down for their meeting. Chakotay carried a padd containing the ship’s repair requirements. The captain carried a bottle of Saurian brandy. Chakotay looked at it and then at her with a quizzical look.
She read his expression and explained. “I brought three bottle with me when we left DS9. They were supposed to be for Mark. This is the last one. I thought it might help persuade the Ambassador if I brought a gift.”
Chakotay nodded. “It very well might. You could persuade me to do a lot of things with one.”
She laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind. I think the replicators are programmed to produce a fair substitute.”
They stepped up onto the transporter pad and faced the transporter technician. Before she ordered her to energize, she tapped her comm badge. “Janeway to Tuvok.” When he responded she said, “We’re ready to depart. I’ll contact you when we’ve finished our meeting.” At his confirmation, she then nodded to the technician and said, “Energize.”
They materialized at the entrance to an imposing structure. Several people stood around staring at them with shock. The captain, realizing that they’d probably badly frightened these people, raised a hand and apologized. “I’m sorry if we startled you. We mean no harm.”
Several of the people visibly relaxed at her words. Since she spoke in their language, it made the intruders seem less threatening. The captain added, “We’re here to meet with Ambassador Toblar.”
A well dressed older man hesitantly stepped forward. “His offices are in this building. I am Ravis Ropna, his secretary. I will show you the way. Please come.”
She nodded and the two visitors followed him into the building. As they climbed the stairs, Chakotay whispered. “Maybe we should choose a less public place to transport into the next time. I don’t think these people are familiar with transporter technology.”
She replied, “I think you’re right, but I have a feeling the story will be all over the city by nightfall.”
He chuckled. “Yes, it probably will. We may become demons or gods before we know it.”
They stopped speaking when the secretary turned into a door. On entering, they were relieved to see Tylan Plimana waiting to greet them. He came forward with his hands extended palms down. Chakotay took the initiative and extended his hands palms up. He’d seen this form of greeting when he’d gone to the bar with Neelix. Tylan placed his hands on Chakotay’s and said. “Welcome. Please, the Ambassador is waiting. I will introduce you.”
They followed him through the office and down a short hallway. Small offices opened off it, most having what appeared to be clerks or secretaries working in them. At the end, Tylan opened a door and stood aside to allow them to enter.

Ambassador Toblar walked forward to greet them. He studied the two visitors with interest. The female was small and slender, but carried herself with such commanding dignity that he was deceived into thinking she was larger than she was. The male, walking behind, projected a quiet strength that impressed him.
He extended his hand as Tylan did, and this time the captain responded in the same manner Chakotay had. As she touched him, she looked up at him with surprise. He had telegraphed a personal interest in her with that touch. Dropping her hands, she tried to quickly gather her wits. When she spoke, she sounded quite normal, which surprised her.
“I thank you for your willingness to meet with us. We hope this leads to an agreement that will be beneficial to both our peoples. I have a gift for you. This is a drink much prized in our part of the galaxy. Please accept is as a token of our appreciation and good will.”
“I thank you for the gift. Come, let’s sit and discuss why you need my help.”
They followed him to a grouping of chairs arranged around a low table. The ambassador indicated for them to sit, and he then turned to Tylan. “Please have Denil bring us some Paklor.” Tylan dipped his head and left the office.
“Now, tell me how you came to be so far from your home.”
The captain told the now old story of their arrival in the Delta Quadrant. She answered his questions, giving factual answers that did nothing to appease his curiosity about her. He studied her, intrigued by a female with such a commanding manner. He was also curious about the man’s relationship to her. While it was obvious that he was her subordinate, there was a protective watchfulness about him.
Before the ambassador could ask further questions, a female entered the office, carrying a tray. As she placed it on the table before them she kept her eyes diverted to the floor. Without speaking, she left, silently closing the door.
“This is a beverage I find most enjoyable. It is made from the flowers of the Gank Pak shrub. I hope you will enjoy it.”
They took the delicate cups in hand and tasted the hot drink. The captain replied, “This is quite good. If it is permitted, I’d like to take a sample with us.”
“Of course. I will arrange it. Now, tell me, what exactly do you need from us.”
The captain outlined their encounter with the spatial distortion and the damage the ship had incurred from that encounter. “We’ve made all the repairs we are capable of, but there are some things beyond our abilities to repair without maintenance facilities. We hope we can make an arrangement to purchase or trade for maintenance assistance from your government.”
“Well, our world is capable of providing you with the assistance you require, however, getting the government to agree to help you will not be easy. Our government has always tried to remain neutral, to the point of keeping us isolated from other worlds as much as possible. My job as ambassador has been quite difficult.
In order to get the planetary governor to agree to help you, we will have to gain his sympathy to your plight. Historically, he has resisted getting involved in anyone else’s problems. I suggest you meet him at a social level first. When he has come to know you, we will present your problem to him.”
The captain looked at Chakotay for a moment to determine his reaction to the proposal. She then turned to the ambassador and said, “Fine. How will you arrange for us to meet on a social level?”
“There is a holiday reception at the governor’s palace tomorrow evening. It involves a feast and dancing. I must warn you however; it will be necessary for you to observe our customs. The governor has frequently expressed disdain for what he calls ‘backward peoples’. I can arrange for Tylan to instruct you in our customs.”
“That is most kind of you Ambassador. Will it be difficult to arrange an invitation to this reception?”
“I don’t think so. I’ve always had the freedom to invite diplomats in the past. I will tell him you are representatives of your Federation of Planets. He does not need to know that this Federation is so far away.”
Laughing, the captain said, “I can see that you are undoubtedly a successful diplomat. I will await the invitation then.”
The ambassador rose and walked them to the door. “I look forward to meeting you again. I hope you will grant me the honor of a dance tomorrow night.”
“Certainly ambassador. I hope I do not embarrass you.”
“I doubt that is possible Captain Janeway. Well, until tomorrow then.”
They left his office and stopped to speak with Tylan Plimana again. He was delighted to hear that the Ambassador had agreed to try to help them. When the captain informed him that he would receive a request to instruct them in Plytan customs, he smiled happily. “But of course, I will be happy to. Would it be possible for me to do so on your ship? I have never had the fortune to travel aboard a starship.”
The captain readily agreed. “Of course. We can beam you aboard and give you a tour.”
“Beam me aboard?”
“We have a technology that make it possible for us to move instantaneously from one location to another. It’s called a transporter. That’s how we arrived here. I’m afraid we startled some of your residents by appearing so suddenly however. No doubt you will hear the story.”
“Ah, yes. I have heard it already. Ravis Ropna has been telling everyone in the office this story. He believes you are magical.”
Laughing, she replied, “No, not magical. If you have no objection, we will leave from here. I don’t wish to encourage this myth.”
“I have no objection at all. I will contact you as soon as we have the invitation arranged. I look forward to the tour of your ship.”
Giving her farewell, the captain tapped her comm badge and said, “Janeway to Voyager.” Tuvok’s voice replied, “Voyager here Captain.”
“We are ready to return to the ship.”
“Aye Captain prepare for transport.”
“Energize.”
The shimmer of the transporter beam enfolded them and they left a gaping Tylen Plimana standing in his office. When they stepped off the transporter pad, the captain was in a very good mood. “That was better than I hoped.”
“Yes. It did go well.” His voice held far less enthusiasm than hers.
As they walked out of the transporter room she asked, “Is something bothering you?”
He hesitated to answer her. Finally he looked toward her and braved his problem. “I think you should chose someone else to escort you to this reception.”
“Why?”
“I don’t want to… embarrass you or jeopardize our success.”
“Embarrass me? How do you think you will embarrass me?”
He stopped and turned to face her. His discomfort was palpable. “I don’t dance. I wasn’t brought up in an environment that learned those skills. If our observing their customs is so important, I could jeopardize the governor’s acceptance of us.”
She was amused, but didn’t allow it to show. She knew he was already uncomfortable enough with the admission. “I understand, but let’s wait until Tylen has had a chance to show us what will be required. You may be surprised at what you can do with the proper assistance.”
He was doubtful, but agreed to wait. “OK. But I hope you’ll think about asking someone else.”
“I’ll think about it. Now, let’s go to the bridge and find out what Tuvok had uncovered about this society.”

Late the following morning, they received a communication from Tylen Plimana, informing them that they were expected at the reception that evening. “Captain, I have been asked to assist you in any way I can. I would like to brief you on several customs you’ll be required to observe. When can that be arranged?”
“Mr. Plimana, we are at your disposal. If you like, you can come aboard now to meet and discuss it.”
“Of course Captain.”
“Fine. Are you ready to transport?”
He looked slightly nervous, but quickly agreed.
The captain turned to Harry and said, “Mr. Kim relay his coordinates to the transporter room.” Turning back to the view screen, she said, “Mr. Plimana, I will see you shortly. Please standby for transport.”
The captain turned control of the bridge over to Tuvok and she and Chakotay left to meet the aide in the transporter room. When she reached the transporter room, she tapped her comm badge and said, “Mr. Plimana, are you ready?”
His voice acknowledged that he was and she said, “Energize.”
A disoriented Tylen Plimana appeared on the transporter pad. The captain stepped forward with a smile and extended her hands in the Plytan greeting, “Welcome to Voyager Mr. Plimana.”
He nervously smiled and said, “A most interesting experience!”
“Yes. It can be a little disconcerting the first time. Please come this way. I’ll show you around.”
They toured the ship and she explained the functions of many of the departments they passed. When they ended up on the bridge, he was quite impressed. “Captain, this is a marvelous ship. You must be quite proud to be its captain.”
“Yes, I am. Now, we have little time to get prepared. Shall we have a working lunch and begin?”
“As you wish Captain.” They entered the mess hall and Tylen greeted Neelix. “Ah, Neelix, you appear to have a new profession. I must say it is a bit more respectable than your former one.”
Neelix bristled a little, but responded in the same bantering manner. “At least I am valued here. You never fully appreciated what a risk it was to bring you those power systems.”
“Perhaps not. It is good to see you again Neelix.”
The captain and her party filled plates and selected a table. As they ate, Tylen briefed them on the most critical customs they should follow. “The reception is held in the governor’s residence. There will be perhaps 100 couples attending. At functions such as this, Captain, there are no unattached women. In our culture, single women are … protected by their families until a mate is selected.
At her expression, he stopped. “Is this a problem Captain? I did not think so when I met you and Commander Chakotay.”
She cleared her throat and said, “Well, it may be. You see, in our culture, women are treated as equals with the right to chose whether they mate and with whom. She looked at him with worry. “I have not chosen to take a mate.”
Tylen sat back and studied her. “Ah. I see. Yes, this may be a problem.”
Chakotay was amused, but also worried about the success of their mission. “Captain, the success of this is important. Would it be harmful if you allowed them to think your escort was also your husband? I’m sure Mr. Tuvok could fill the role quite admirably.”
She studied him, letting the idea settle in. Finally she said, “I suppose a deception will be necessary. However, I don’t think I can ask Tuvok to do it. He’s much to honest. I don’t think he’d be convincing. If this is going to work, you’re going to have to take the role.”
Chakotay was surprised that she’d so easily accepted him to take the role. He was overjoyed, but held his enthusiasm in check. “Me Captain. I’m not sure that’s wise.”
“Why?”
“We discussed it yesterday. I still have the same problem I had then.”
She laughed and then responded to Tylen’s questioning look. “Commander Chakotay is afraid he’ll embarrass me when it comes to the dancing.”
Tylen allowed his face to reflect his humor. “Never fear, Commander. I have received years of training in the social graces. I can instruct you.”
Chakotay doubted his ability to learn that quickly. But he was willing to try, if only for the chance to pose, for one night, as her husband. He let his doubt show, but nodded his agreement. The captain smiled at his reluctance. It was fun to see him a little unsettled.
The captain proposed they use the holodeck to create the setting for the practice and instruction. “Can we link with your computers to get information on the layout of the building and rooms?”
“Well, that information is usually protected to maintain security, I can make the request if you like.”
When they’d finished their lunch, the captain led the party to the holodeck. The captain started giving instructions to the computer panel outside the door. “Computer, access the computer in Ambassador Toblar’s office. Create a setting appropriate to a reception to be held in the governor’s residence.”
The computer replied, “Accessing…. Information is incomplete.”
“Using available data, create a dining room, reception hall and ballroom.”
“Acknowledged….. Program is complete.”
“Using appropriate customs and courtesies, create people appropriate to the setting.”
“Acknowledged….. characters are programmed and installed.”
“Begin program.”
The doors opened and the three people walked into an opulent scene. Tylen stared in amazement. “How can this be possible?! With some differences, this is the governor’s residence!”
“It would take a long time to explain. Let me just say, this technology is an offshoot of the transporter. This setting seems real, but it will disappear as soon as we end the program.”
“Well, I am duly impressed!”
“Yes, Tylen, but I think we should proceed with your lessons. We have only a few hours to cover a lot of ground.”
“Yes Captain. You will accompany Ambassador Toblar and his mate to the reception. The Ambassador will precede you through the reception hall and will introduce you to the governor and his mate. There will undoubtedly be other dignitaries to whom you will also be introduced. The one it is most critical you behave correctly for is the governor. The proper greeting for him is somewhat different that the one you observed in the ambassador’s office. I will demonstrate.”
“This is the greeting you should use Commander.” He demonstrated a long, ritualistic greeting using a modification of the hand gesture and touch as well as formal words of praise. “Please, try it.”
Chakotay made his attempt and had to be prompted through the ritual twice before he felt he could remember the whole thing. “Let me try it once more.” He practiced it again and managed to make it through it flawlessly. Tylen was pleased. “Excellent. Now Captain, your greeting is somewhat different. Your natural manner is very forward. I find it refreshing, but the governor would find it unacceptable. You should not make eye contact with him. This is considered only appropriate with a man and his mate.”
“I see. I hope I haven’t offended you Tylen?”
“No Captain, as I said, I find it refreshing. I sometimes regret the customs that force women to never show their true strengths. Now then, this is the greeting you should use.” He demonstrated a bow and a hand gesture that approached, but didn’t touch the person being greeted. She practiced it until she felt she understood the subtleties involved.
They progressed on to the dining room and he explained the customs related to serving and consuming food. Here he also gave suggestions on appropriate conversation topics and how to gracefully sidestep questions they did not wish to answer.
The last area to be covered was the dancing. By now, Chakotay felt almost overwhelmed with the formality of every area of decorum. He dreaded this last part considerably. Entering the ballroom area, Tylen said, “Dance is an important part of our culture. Many of the dances we use go back generations in origin.” He asked if they could access the music of the planet and played a specific piece.
When the music began, Kathryn was reminded of one of her holonovels. It had a smooth flowing rhythm similar to the Viennese waltzes of the 19th century on Earth. They watched the intricate steps of the holocharacters for several moments. Tylen said, “The steps appear to be difficult, but if you observe, they are composed of a few patterns repeated in varying order.”
Chakotay was beginning to feel quite sick. He knew this was going to be the time when he fully embarrassed himself and her.
Tylen asked him to stand beside him. “Now, I will perform the steps. I would like you to follow me.”
Chakotay mutely stepped forward and waited for him to move. When Tylen started to execute the dance pattern, he clumsily followed. When Tylen stopped, he almost walked out before he was criticized for his clumsiness. Instead, he received congratulations on his attempts.
“That was quite good for someone so new to the art. Let’s try it again.”
This time, Chakotay followed him a little more smoothly. After doing the same pattern three more times, he felt almost comfortable with it. Tylen then went on to show him another. By the time he’s learned four variations on the patterns, he was beginning to almost enjoy himself.
When Chakotay had learned all four variations, Tylen called a halt. “There are three more, but I think you have enough to remember. With these, you will be just fine. Now Captain. Your job is to follow him. As you can see, the dance pose is seldom changed. You may speak together as you dance, but the pose should be maintained. If you will take the pose with the Commander, we will try this with a partner.”
She had been watching Chakotay with interest while he went through the learning process. While he claimed to be clumsy, she saw his movements as powerful and graceful. He was comfortable in his body and it showed. Now, it gave her a chill to anticipate being held by his arms and feeling that grace for herself.
Moving toward him, she took her place, standing in front of him facing the same direction as he. She placed her right hand in his. His palm was warm and supple. As he positioned his left hand on her waist, she placed her hand over his. Chakotay started to move with the rhythm of the music, concentrating on the steps he’d been practicing. Kathryn, as yet unfamiliar with the intricacies, jerkily followed him. When she stumbled, she stopped and turned to Tylen. “Perhaps, I should practice alone for a while.”
Tylen was puzzled by her request. “I think perhaps you are not relaxed. To be able to feel your partner’s lead, you must be conscious of his movements. Try it again.”
Chakotay exchanged a sympathetic look with her, and held out his hand again. She took her place and tried it again. ‘Feel his motions. That’s the problem, I feel them too well.’ Her body refused to relax and it showed. She was slow in following him and frequently stepped on his toes.
After watching them for a few minutes, Tylen stopped them. “Captain, you are a natural dancer. I can see it in your every movement. This should not be so difficult. Now please, try it again. Perhaps if you close your eyes, you will be able to let yourself be free to follow him.”
She looked with frustration from Chakotay to Tylen. Chakotay could see she was having a problem and he thought he understood why. He had an inspiration that might help her. “Captain, remember the lesson here in the holodeck the other day. Perhaps if you try it again, you’ll find a way to make this easier.”
She stared at him, wondering if she was inviting disaster. That experience had been very intimate and she wasn’t sure she could do it in this setting. At his concerned look, she mutely nodded. She took her place and closed her eyes. Feeling the music, she extended her mind and immediately felt it touch and mesh with his. When he moved, she was pulled along in perfect rhythm with him. The ebb and flow of the music and his body reminded her of floating on waves in the ocean. She was as free as a piece of driftwood riding atop the sea.
The dance ended and Chakotay withdrew his mind to release her. He held onto her hand until he knew she had also pulled herself back in. When her eyes opened, Tylen was ecstatic. “Wonderful! I knew you are a natural. If only some of our best dancers could create that close a connection.”
Chakotay doubted they could since they didn’t have the advantage he had. Kathryn blushed at the mention of connection. She wondered if Tylen had seen how intimate the connection had been. Then she decided that he couldn’t have. It wasn’t, after all, a physical thing that could be seen.
Now that they had learned the dance steps, Tylen felt he’d fulfilled his task. “I will arrange to have appropriate clothing sent for you. You will meet with the Ambassador this evening and accompany him to the governor’s residence. He will discuss how to proceed in getting an appointment to see the governor to present your business.”
As they left the holodeck, the captain thanked Tylen for his assistance. “I hope we have the opportunity to see you again.”
“I’m sure you will. After all I’m confident that you will succeed with your request for assistance and that will require you to stay here for a time. Now, if you will allow me to return to my office, I must make a few arrangements yet.”
At the transporter room, they said their good-byes and watched as he dematerialized. Kathryn turned to leave, and Chakotay followed closely behind. He had a lot of things he on his mind, but couldn’t think of a way to broach them. The captain appeared to be distracted and edgy.
He understood the reason and quickly made his excuses to leave her to her thoughts. “If you have nothing you need me for, I’ll be in my quarters.” She turned briefly to him and nodded without replying. When Chakotay stopped walking, she continued on apparently deep in thought.

The clothing Tylen promised arrived a short time before they were due to leave the ship. Chakotay looked at it with suspicion, but quickly dressed for the evening. His pants were closely tailored to fit his body like a second skin. The long coat that accompanied it was made of a finely woven fabric that picked up light and reflected it. The initial impression was that it was gray in color, but that gray reflected several other colors which made it seem to change color as he moved. A fine, flowing shirt was included to be worn under the coat. Dressed in this costume, he felt like a stranger. He was anxious to see what she would be wearing.

The captain stared at the dress she was expected to wear. Its bodice was made of an almost transparent fabric and the skirt was designed to be worn as a loose, flowing wrap that did little to disguise the figure. ‘If unattached females are protected, they certainly enjoy more freedom when they marry.’ she thought. Holding the dress up to herself to study it in the mirror, she fairly blushed at the image she imagined.
After dressing, it didn’t seem quite so bad. The folds of the fabric covered the most important areas effectively. What showed through was just a suggestion of what was underneath. The skirt hung in graceful folds that moved seductively against her skin as she walked. After putting the ensemble together, it was rather invigorating. She felt very foreign and attractive wearing it.
Just as she was trying to decide where to put her communications badge, she heard the door chime sound. At her invitation, Chakotay came through the door. He stopped just inside to admire her. She in turn turned toward him and admired him. They stood unmoving for nearly a minute before Chakotay cleared his throat and said, “Very becoming, but I see your problem. That fabric doesn’t look as if it will support the badge.”
Bemused, she looked down at the badge in her hand. “No, it won’t.”
He studied the problem for a moment and then walked over to the replicator. “Computer. I want a scarf, gold silk. 1 meter square.” When it appeared, he walked over to her and drew the scarf through his hand to bunch it in a long thin strip. He then draped it around her neck and tied a knot at her shoulder. When he released it, the scarf relaxed into loose folds that echoed the folds in the skirt. He then took the comm badge and fixed it to the knot in the scarf. Stepping back, he nodded, satisfied.
Kathryn stepped over to the mirror and studied the effect. She liked it, and it served to cover her better. She looked at him in surprise and said, “I didn’t know you had fashion design in your background too. You are full of surprises.”
He smiled and said, “Well, I don’t lay claim to fashion design, but I’ve seen my mother do things like this with scarves as long as I can remember. It’s time to leave. Shall we go?”
She nodded and walked over to pick up the sleeveless wrap that had come with the dress. She draped it over her arm and went to stand at his side. “Yes, I think I’m ready.”
They walked out together and were met with surprised stares by everyone who saw them walking down the corridor. The costumes alone drew considerable attention.
When Tom Paris met them, he grinned and gave a wolf whistle. At the captain’s frown, he just grinned wider. “Sorry Captain, but you two look great. Have a good time.” He turned to Chakotay and did his best imitation of a stern father. “Have her home by 11:00 or I’ll know the reason why.”
Chakotay grinned and took her arm. “We’d better go, or we’ll keep the Ambassador waiting.”

The transporter set them down on the drive in front of a large, gracious residence. Chakotay led her to the door and pressed a lighted pad next to the door. When it opened, Tylen Plimana stood there to greet them. The couple both smiled in greeting.
“Welcome to Ambassador Toblar’s residence. He will join us shortly. He’s asked me to entertain you until then.”
Tylen led them into a salon off the entrance hall and offered them refreshment. As he served them, he chatted about his visit to the ship and how impressed he was. They filled the time comfortably with conversation while waiting.
A short time later, Ambassador Toblar entered with a woman on his arm. “Captain, Commander, welcome to my home. May I present my mate, Alkana.”
They exchanged greetings and the Ambassador then said, “We should go. My vehicle is outside.”
Exiting the home, the Starfleet visitors looked in surprise at the vehicle he mentioned. It was a wheeled carriage drawn by four animals closely resembling oxen. Seeing their surprise, he explained. “Traditions die hard here. For formal functions, we still use the Celtix. I assure you, we are not a backward world however.” They stepped up into the carriage and it headed off at a slow crawl.
While they rode, the Ambassador filled the quiet with anecdotes about the governor and his staff. When they arrived at the governor’s residence, the carriage pulled into line behind several others. As each party alit, the line inched forward. Finally, it was their turn to exit. The group of four proceeded up a long staircase to a massive door opened to the outside.
The two visitors were glad they’d had the opportunity to practice that day. The formality of the occasion was impressive. Each visitor was required to make his or her extended greeting. This of course took time and made the idea of carriages seem more sensible.
When it neared their time for the greeting, the captain slipped her hand into Chakotay’s elbow and stepped close to his side. Feeling possessive, he clamped his elbow to his side to grip her securely. The ambassador made his greetings and then proceeded to introduce them. Now was the time to see if Tylen’s training paid off.
Chakotay made his greeting flawlessly. The governor eyed him with curiosity, but spoke only the required responses. The captain likewise made her greetings. Although her voice deepened with her nerves, she too made it through the greeting without a mistake. As they walked down the line, Chakotay grasped her hand and placed it in his elbow again. He leaned toward her and said, “I’m sure glad that is out of the way.”
Turning her eyes up to meet his, she squeezed his elbow. “So am I! I think the hard part is over.”
The ambassador confirmed her speculation when they emerged at the end of the reception hall into the ball room. “I must compliment Tylen when I next see him. He…and you, did well. The governor was interested in learning more about you. I could tell he wanted to ask, but couldn’t while receiving. You may expect to speak to him at some point this evening.”

The next few hours passed in a blur. They ate and conversed, telling their story so many times it almost became mechanical. Everyone was interested in meeting the strangers. The Ambassador had stayed with them for a time, but soon left them to circulate on their own when he saw that they would not falter in their manners.
When the dancing started, everyone converged on the ball room again. As the music began, many of the couples proceeded onto the floor. Chakotay guided Kathryn to the edge of the room where refreshments were set up for the dancers.
“I thought we could watch for a bit before we venture out there.”
Still holding his arm, as she had all night, she felt in complete agreement with him. They had both fallen into a familiar ease that allowed everyone they met to assume they were mated. As they stood aside, the governor approached them. Kathryn, spotting him first, gripped Chakotay’s arm harder and turned to whisper to him. “The governor is headed this way.”
As he approached, they turned in unison to greet him again. The governor waved off the greeting and laughed. “I have grown tired of responding correctly for so many. Please, let us become familiar with each other. I apologize. With so many here, I have forgotten your names.”
Chakotay responded easily. “No apology necessary sir. I am Chakotay and this is Kathryn Janeway. We were invited by Ambassador Toblar.”
“Such strange names. How do you come to be here on Plyt Nath?”
“Sir, that is a long story. One I hope to be able to tell you. However, I do not wish to dominate your time for the entire evening.”
“Hm, yes, unfortunately I must circulate. Perhaps you would like to tell me your story tomorrow. Would you be my guests tonight? We can then get acquainted over a leisurely brunch tomorrow.”
Chakotay and Kathryn exchanged glances before he responded. “You are so kind. But our ship is in orbit. We would be happy to return tomorrow at any time you wish.”
“Nonsense, I insist that you be my guests. Please, the rumors I’ve heard have pricked my curiosity.”
They again exchanged glances. At her slight nod, Chakotay relented. “As you wish governor.”
“Good! I will have my secretary collect you when the guests begin to depart.” With that he walked off leaving the two to ponder over this development.
“I suggest we find Ambassador Toblar and get his opinion.”, the captain said.
They began to circulate, looking for the Ambassador’s familiar face. They finally found him on the opposite side of the room. The captain spoke first, “Ambassador, a word please.”
He excused himself from his conversation and joined them. “What can I do for you Captain?”
“We spoke with the governor a few minutes ago. He’s invited us to stay here tonight and discuss our story with him tomorrow.”
“That is good news! The governor seldom invites new guests to stay at his residence. You must have impressed him.”
“I hope that’s true. Do you have any advise on how we should proceed?”
“No. I think you have passed the hurdles now. Just enjoy yourselves and follow his lead.”
“Thank you Ambassador.”
After excusing themselves, Chakotay tugged her away and bent to speak in her ear. “Would you like to dance?”
She was so happy at their progress with the governor that she readily agreed. They walked onto the floor at the beginning of the next song and assumed the proper pose. As the music took hold of them, they began to perform the intricate steps they’d worked so hard to learn.
Chakotay moved with the easy grace of an athlete and Kathryn, not burden by nerves or self-consciousness, followed easily. Many who observed, admired the way they moved in perfect unison. The Ambassador looked on with mixed feelings. He was proud of his role in getting them here. At the same time, he regretted that he would never have the chance to dance this way with her. It was obvious who had her heart.

The evening progressed and the two danced nearly every dance. In this environment, it was easy to forget that they were Captain and First Officer, Starfleet and Maquis. They were just two people enjoying the sensuality of a seductive dance and the easy communication of two minds in tune with each other. The mood held until the last dance had been played and they’d said good bye to the Ambassador.
When they were escorted to their room, the mood was shattered. Not knowing otherwise, their host had provided only one room for them both. When they were alone, they stood looking at each other nervously. Chakotay had dreamed of this opportunity for months, but not that it was here, he found it hard to press for the goal.
Kathryn thought of her vows after the experience with him in the 4th of July program. This situation made all her determination waiver. Standing there facing her was a man that could touch her like no other. The temptation to throw caution to the winds was almost more than she could withstand.
Chakotay approached her and stopped within touching distance. When she kept her eyes averted from his, he waited, silently pleading with her to look at him. Slowly, reluctantly, she finally did. Quietly he offered, “I’ll beam back to the ship and return early, before we’re to meet with the governor.” He was offering her the choice to accept him or not.
She stood there for a long time searching his face, his eyes. He remained still, giving her the time she needed to decide. Slowly, as if against her will, her hands came up and rested on his chest. He could read her doubt at the wisdom of tempting fate, but she remained there, close to him.
“No. I don’t think so.”
“Captain ……. Kathryn.” Her given name came out softly, hesitantly. “Kathryn, if I stay, I can’t promise anything. I don’t have that much willpower.”
“I know. I don’t either. I’ve been fighting against this for days. Right now, I don’t have the strength to keep fighting it. Please, don’t go.”
His joy at her request rose like the fireworks in that program. He still doubted she truly wanted what she was asking for. “All right, I’ll stay. But tell me what you want from me?”
“I want what we shared when we touched minds. I want to feel that connection again. I want to be held and touched.”
“If we do this, I can’t go back to the way it was. If I give you that much of me, I can’t take it back and safely tuck it away.”
“I know. I already have a part of you buried in my heart and my mind. You gave me just enough to make me dissatisfied with things the way they are. I know it’s selfish and wrong. I know I’ll be failing the crew, but right now, I just don’t care. Maybe I will in the morning, maybe I won’t until next month. But right this minute, tonight, I want it all.”
Groaning, his hands came up and circled her face. As his head came down he growled, “I think I’m going to regret this, but I can’t stop.” His lips met hers, searching, beckoning. Her hands slid up his chest and her arms wrapped around his neck. She asked for more and he gave it.
A chirp from her comm badge alerted them before Tuvok’s voice came from it. “Voyager to Captain.”
Startled, she suddenly stepped back from Chakotay. Her breath came in short gasps that she had to get under control before she could answer him. A long moment later, she tapped her badge and responded, “Janeway here. What is it Tuvok?”
“Captain. I have been concerned that you haven’t returned to the ship yet. Is there a problem?”
“No Tuvok, I apologize for not informing you of our plans. Commander Chakotay and I have been invited to stay at the governor’s residence tonight. We are to meet with him in the morning to discuss our needs.”
“Captain, as chief of security, I think it would be best if you return to the ship and return tomorrow for the meeting.”
“I appreciate your concern, Tuvok, but we’ve already agreed to stay. I’m sure there is no danger.”
“Never the less, Captain, you should have informed me of your plans.”
“You’re right Tuvok, I should have let you know. Now you do. We’ll contact you tomorrow after the meeting. Janeway out.”
During this exchange, Chakotay had walked away from her to the far side of the room. He stood now, with his back to her. She walked up behind him and stood, afraid to touch him. He spoke without turning. “He’s right you know. We should go back to the ship.”
Trying for lightness, she said, “Perhaps we should, but we’re already committed to staying. A few minutes ago, you deposited another piece in my heart. It’s beginning to nag me something fierce.”
He turned toward her, conflicting emotions reflected in his eyes and his expression. “You really don’t know what you’re asking. I’ve dreamed of getting to this point for months, never believing that it would ever happen. I counted on your convictions to keep it from happening! I’m in love with you. I’ve never met a woman that could touch my mind the way you do.”
She was stunned at his words. This had moved far faster than she was ready to handle. But when she though of trying to go back to their old relationship, she found it impossible to imagine.
She took the last step and placed her hands on his chest. She turned her head upward to look him in the eyes. “I can’t go back. I don’t want to. I know this will complicate our lives, but I think we can work it out. I don’t know what you do to me, but I want to find out. I can’t make long term promises to you, but I do know this, I have to explore this.”
He didn’t respond right away. She watched the battle going on within him.
Chakotay didn’t believe that she felt this need the same way he did. He believed that she would eventually want to back away from him again. He debated whether taking the risk to have what he so desperately wanted, if only for a little while, was worth the pain. He decided to take the risk.
He brought his arms up and encircled her in his embrace. He let his hunger have free rein and she responded with equal hunger. After a few minutes of heated exchange, he broke contact for a minute and took a deep breath. Smiling at her he took off his jacket and laid it over a chair standing in a corner. He then removed her comm badge and untied her scarf. Walking to the far side of the room, he deposited them on a table in the opposite corner.
She watched this operation with interest, wondering at the logic of it. He laughed softly when he saw it register on her face. “Do you think it will fool him?”, she asked.
“Probably not, but it will leave room for doubt.”
They moved to the bed and fell on it with smiles for each other. He traced his fingers across her face inspecting it with the intensity of an artist. “So beautiful.”, he whispered.
They began to experiment with communicating in every way possible. Thoughts, touch, hearing, smell combined to create a link so strong it was difficult to tell where one ended and the other began.

Neither of them slept much that night. Late in the morning, they woke to a discreet knock at their door. When Chakotay called for whoever it was to enter, they were both still in bed. Kathryn lifted her head sleepily off his shoulder to see what was going on. A servant carried in a tray containing a hot steaming beverage and some sort of rolls.
After placing it on a table flanked by chairs, he announced, “The governor asked me to inform you that brunch will be served on the terrace in an hour. He asked that day clothing be provided for you. It will be delivered shortly.” Giving them a discreet nod, he left and softly closed the door.

Now that the morning after had arrived, Chakotay waited to see how she would feel about it. He was hopeful when she didn’t move from her position, tucked tightly against his side.
Kathryn lay against him feeling his warmth, his unique smell filling her senses. She was mildly surprised that she didn’t feel guilty about being here with him. She knew he was waiting for her reaction and wanted to reassure him. Her hand slid smoothly up his chest to his neck as she turned her head up to look at him. “Good morning.”, she said, her voice still hoarse with sleep.
She felt him noticeably relax before he lifted his head to look at her. “Good morning.” He shifted his position so that he could kiss her properly. Laying on his side facing her, he searched her face, looking for some indication of her mood. What he saw reassured him even more. She was relaxed and looked happy.
He was a man of few words, but his eyes spoke volumes. They lay there, sharing a communication that didn’t require conversation. They might have repeated the previous night if another knock at the door hadn’t broken the mood. Chakotay flopped onto his back and called a frustrated, “Come in.”
A servant entered, carrying two sets of clothing. He glanced their way, but said nothing. Instead, he walked over to a large piece of furniture and hung them on a rod. Giving a discreet bow, he left again.
Kathryn, feeling as frustrated he was, struggled to bring her business mode into play. “We’d better hurry. I don’t want to be late for this meeting.” She rolled away from him, taking a blanket with her. Wrapping it around herself, she got up and walked over to the tray holding the now cooling beverage. She poured a cup and sniffed it. “It smells like some sort of herbal tea. Would you like some?”
“Maybe later.” He’d rolled to his side to watch her and enjoy this view of a Kathryn Janeway he’d never seen before. Her hair hung loose, brushing her bare shoulders seductively. Her slender body created interesting contours within the blanket. He was disappointed when she turned and disappeared into the dressing room.

They emerged from their room a half an hour later, looking around for someone to give them directions to the governor. A passing servant directed them to the stairs, saying “The governor will be on the terrace. Take those stairs and turn left at the bottom.”
Following his directions, they walked through double glass doors onto a large paved terrace dotted with planters filled with shrubs and flowers. A lone table occupied an open space near a balustrade looking down into formal gardens. The governor rose to greet them as they approached.
Speaking to Chakotay he said, “I trust you rested well. Please join me.” He motioned for them to sit and then he waved for a servant to serve them. “I am most curious to know more about you. I heard snatched of conversations last night, all speaking of your ship and its exploits.”
Chakotay looked to Kathryn before he replied. “We were brought to this area against our will and are now trying to return home. If you refer to our encounters with the Kazon, I assure you, we don’t wish to be anyone’s enemy.”
The governor smiled shallowly. “I wasn’t implying that I thought you were our allies or our enemies. Tell me more about how you came to be ‘in our area.’
Chakotay related their story briefly, leaving out the part about Voyager being sent to capture his crew. When he told how they had destroyed the Caretaker’s array, the governor looked surprised.
“You are a strange people, to destroy your only way home, knowing that it would condemn you to such a long journey. Why are you here, at Plyt Nath?”
Chakotay again spoke for them. “A few days ago, we encountered a spatial distortion that damaged our ship. We heard that your world could help us make the repairs we don’t have the facilities to make.”
“Our world does not make a business of repairing ships. Who would have told you this?”
“We encountered a trader in a small ship. He couldn’t be of much help, but he gave us directions to your world.”
“A trader. Interesting. Who was this trader?”
“I don’t recall his name at the moment. I can check with our ship’s records if it is important to you.”
“No, not important, just my curiosity. Tell me more of your dealings with the Kazon. They have plagued our ships for many years.”
Chakotay tried to keep his story general, telling him of how they’d had to defend themselves from Kazon attacks on several occasions. He chose not to relate how someone they’d trusted had betrayed them to the Kazon and given them information and technology. He wanted the governor to believe that they were being ‘plagued’ by random attacks as well.
The governor seemed to take his stories at face value, but he still didn’t offer the assistance they were hoping to get from him. He asked more questions, which Chakotay tried to answer patiently, yet generally. He had a vague feeling that the governor had a hidden agenda and was toying with them. His feeling grew to a strong suspicion with the governor’s next question.
“Tell me, have you determined any weakness in the Kazon?”
The captain looked sharply at Chakotay. He caught her look and assured her silently that he understood her concern. “I’m not sure what you mean by weakness governor. We have been able to withstand their attacks on us, but they are formidable.”
“Yes, yes. But you have been able to withstand their attacks. I would like to know what your ship has that makes this possible.”
“Governor, if you wish, we could arrange for you to visit our ship. However, I must tell you that we will not be able to provide you, or anyone else we meet, with the technology we use. We have laws that prohibit that.”
“You would not do this, even if it meant you would have the assistance you need?”
The two visitors shared a concerned glance before Chakotay answered him warily. “Governor, does your willingness to assist us depend on our sharing our technology with you? If this is what you want from us, I think we should conclude our business now. We have gone through great pains and peril to prevent the introduction of our technology to cultures that have not developed it for themselves. The Prime Directive, one of our most basic laws, prohibits us from doing anything that would change the course of any culture’s normal development. We had hoped we could enlist your help in such a way that both parties are benefited, without breaking that law.”
The governor contemplated Chakotay for several moments before responding to his speech. “A pity, but I respect the fact that you feel bound by your laws, even so far from their enforcement. I will discuss you predicament with my advisors.”
He rose as if to conclude their meal and meeting. Extending his hands in the less formal greeting, the governor said. “I have enjoyed meeting you Commander. I shall send my reply through Ambassador Toblar when I have made my decision.”
Chakotay responded by extending his hands in the Plytan fashion and replied. “I thank you for your hospitality. We will await your reply.”
A servant showed them out of the residence. As they walked down the long steps leading to the street below, the captain looked troubled. “I don’t like the way that went. I’d like to speak with the Ambassador again, to get his feeling for what may be behind the governor’s interest in our dealings with the Kazon.”
Chakotay agreed. “I also felt he had a hidden agenda. Should we go now to the Ambassador’s office, or return to the ship?”
The captain considered the options and replied. “Since we’re already here, let’s try to see him now.” She tapped her comm badge and said, “Janeway to Voyager.”
Tuvok’s voice answered, “Voyager here.”
“Tuvok, we’ve concluded our meeting with the governor. Would you contact Tylen Plimana and ask him if we may come see the Ambassador again. I have some things I’d like to discuss with him concerning this meeting.”
“Captain, are you returning to the ship now?”
“Not yet Tuvok. Contact Mr. Plimana first and find out if Ambassador Toblar is free.”
“Aye Captain. Stand by.”
As they waited, they continued to walk down the steps. On reaching the drive, they headed out of the grounds and onto the main street. They met several people who eyed them with curiosity, but they ignored them as they continued to walk. A short time later, Tuvok’s voice was heard again. “Voyager to Captain.”
“Janeway. Have you reached Mr. Plimana Tuvok?”
“Yes Captain. He says the ambassador is out at the moment. He will contact us when you can see him. Shall I have you beamed aboard?”
She looked up at Chakotay, who gave her no indication of the reply she should make. Reluctant to end the roles they were playing, she said, “No. I think we’ll spend some time visiting the city. Contact me when Tylen gets back to you.”
“Captain…. ” She could hear his reluctance to follow that order, but knew he would. “Aye, Captain. Voyager out.”
Chakotay smiled, happy that she chose to prolong their stay. They wandered down streets lined with large stately residences. As they approached the business district, the traffic and buildings became more congested. They wandered through a market square, stopping to admire something that caught an eye or smelled tantalizing. Their mood remained light while they enjoyed each other’s company.
When they became tired, they stopped at a small sidewalk cafe and ordered from a menu that was totally foreign to them. While the computer aboard ship could have translated the written language, they were not so proficient. Looking on it as an adventure, they each picked one item and pointed to it. The man waiting on them smiled and went away with their order.
Their food was brought a short time later and both inspected it with interest. Chakotay had ordered a platter of various vegetables, most of which were strange to him. The captain’s plate held a large salad, made with leaves varying from yellow to dark red. Sampling it, she smiled and said, “It’s strange looking, but good. How’s yours?”
He’d been watching her inspect her plate and hadn’t yet tried it. Cutting a bite from one of the vegetables, he chewed slowly. “Not bad. Rather like Neelix’s Leola Root, but not near so bitter. I hope we can collect some of these to augment his favorite supplies.”
They laughed together and continued to eat. Kathryn was comfortable enough with him to snitch a bite from his plate. He tollerantly ignored her the first time, but took a playful stab at her hand when she tried it again. They ate happily, enjoying the easy banter and companionship.
After paying for their lunch, they left the cafe and wandered the market again. When they’d walked off their lunch, they found a small park with benches near a pond. As they sat down, Chakotay casually laid his arm across the back of the bench behind her shoulders. She leaned into him, comfortably fitting herself against his ribs. They carefully avoided thinking about anything but the happiness of the day.
When Tuvok’s expected communication came, the both became alert. “Captain, Mr. Plimana has informed me that the Ambassador will see you as soon as you arrive.”
She looked at Chakotay with a question in her eyes. He nodded, knowing what she was asking without hearing the words. “Fine. We’ll go now. Please transport us to Mr. Plimana’s office.”
The transporter picked them up and a moment later, they were standing before Tylen’s desk. He stood to greet them, smiling. “Good afternoon, Captain, Commander. A pleasure to see you again.”
The captain stepped forward and extended her hands. “Hello Tylen. Thank you for arranging this meeting so quickly.” Tylen reciprocated and he said, “No need for thanks. The Ambassador would have been disappointed if you had not wished to see him. He is waiting for you now. Please, come.”
They walked down the hallway to his office and Tylen opened the door for them. The Ambassador rose to greet them warmly. “Ah. Captain, Commander. Please, I must hear how your meeting went. Join me for some Paklor while we talk.”
They sat down and waited as he poured their cups and handed them to them. When he sat back with his, the captain began her summary. The ambassador sat back listening without interrupting. He nodded occasionally, observing both their expressions and their words.
When she’d finished her description, of the ending of the meeting, he smiled reassuringly and said, “I do not think you understand the politics of our world. He was testing you. Our people have learned over time to be wary of visitors. By your refusal to break the laws of your government, you have gained his trust. The discussion with his advisors is just a means to provide him with time to contemplate what he will ask for in trade or payment. I assure you, this meeting went well. I will contact him and give him my recommendation that we help you. Although I am sure it is not needed, it will help to let him know others also trust you.”
“Ambassador, I thank you. Your assistance has been invaluable.”
“Ah, well. All I did was get you an invitation to a party. You have nothing to thank me for. I am pleased that it has worked out so well.”
“Well, that invitation has helped us a great deal. I would be honored if, before we leave, you would join us on the ship for a thank you dinner.”
“That I would enjoy. Tylen has been most glowing in his praise of your wonderful ship. I would enjoy seeing it.”
“Well, then you shall. But, now, we must be getting back to it. My security officer has been tolerant of our being away so long, but I don’t think he’ll be happy if we push that tolerance must further. Good-bye Ambassador, and thank you again.”
They stood and the ambassador rose with them. “Captain, Indulge a whim please. I would like to see this transporter of yours work. Tylen is still telling the story to anyone who will listen.”
She smiled and said, “Of course. I hope that soon, you will experience it for yourself.” She tapped her communicator and signaled the ship. “Janeway to Voyager.”
Tuvok’s voice responded. She instructed him to prepare for transport and then extended her hands in the now familiar Plytan way. The ambassador using the respectful gesture for females, didn’t quite touch her this time. “I look forward to seeing you again sir.” At his smile, she said “Energize.” The ambassador watched them shimmer out of sight with awe.

The full weight of her responsibilities settled back onto her shoulders the moment she rematerialized on the transporter pad. The familiar environment and hum of the ship
made the last couple of days seem like a pleasant dream. But the man standing behind her was not a dream. She was vividly aware of him as they moved out of the transporter room into the corridor. Needing time to herself to think, she spoke without looking at him.
“I’d like a meeting with the senior staff in an hour.”
He watched her walk away with that ‘Captain on business’ stride. The happy bubble had burst and he felt a chill settle around his heart. He went to his own quarters and changed into his uniform. Then he went to the bridge and had Tuvok inform the rest of the senior staff of the meeting. He sat in his seat on the bridge, still as a stone, trying to come to terms with the inevitable.
He was fully aware that ‘Captain Janeway’ had entered the bridge and strode toward the briefing room. As the other members of the senior staff rose to follow, he stayed rooted in his chair. They looked at him curiously until he too stood and followed. He was the last to take his seat, finding it hard to sit so close to her. His posture erect, he kept his eyes on the table while she briefed them on the results of the meetings with the Ambassador and the governor.
B’Elanna was elated at her assurance that they would get the assistance they so badly needed. Others voiced their congratulations and they all chattered happily about the success of the away team.
The captain, acutely aware of Chakotay’s silent presence, dismissed everyone. She watched him quickly rise to be the first out the door. She felt his pain, but knew of no way to ease it while other crew members observed them. Soberly, she left the bridge and returned to her quarters.

The evening stretched out into a long night, the two most senior officers acutely aware of times slow crawl. Kathryn Janeway sat in her darkened quarters, staring with blind eyes at a holograph on the table next to her chair. Her hands held a forgotten cup. She thought of the man in that holograph, now so far away. She thought of another man, so close, yet so far away. She thought of her responsibilities and obligations to them and the rest of her crew. Her dilemma refused to be solved with rational thought.
When she allowed her feelings to enter the picture, a clarity began to evolve. She contemplated the prospect of a long future spent crawling toward a distant goal. She though of that future, without the comfort of a relationship that met her basic need for love and companionship. It filled her with a chilly dread.
She lifted the picture from the table and held it like a cherished gift. Touching the face of the man with her fingertips, she smiled sadly and said a silent good-bye. She rose and walked to the storage drawers fitted into the wall. Placing the picture in a drawer, she walked out of her quarters and down a shadowed corridor.
Pressing the announcer pad, she waited for his invitation to enter. The moments stretched out interminably. She was just turning away, dejected, when the door slid open. Hesitantly entering, she looked around.
He was standing at the window, looking out. She watched him for a minute, waiting for him to turn or to say something. When he didn’t, she quietly walked up behind him. He still refused to turn and look at her, but he did finally speak. “What happens now? Where do we go from here?” He sounded defeated already.
These were the same questions that had been going through her mind. Knowing she’d have to pick her words carefully, she paused, trying to compose her thoughts. “I don’t know. Obviously, we can’t go back to things the way they were. But we’re not kids. We have responsibilities to people other than ourselves. We have to be careful that what we do doesn’t compromise those responsibilities.”
To him it sounded like she considered the previous night a mistake they needed to correct. His hands clenched and he stiffened, waiting for her to tell him they were going to try to forget it happened.
“When we came back to the ship, all those responsibilities started clambering for my attention. I felt guilty for indulging in something simply because it was something I wanted to do. By thinking of myself first, I felt like I betrayed the entire crew……… But something else plagued me too.”
She couldn’t stand the separation between them anymore. She took a step toward him and touched his rigid back. “You’ve uncovered a need in me that is far bigger than I ever suspected and it isn’t going to go away. I’ve come to realize that it’s a need every bit as important to my survival as food or water. Chakotay, I need what we had last night.”
Her touch and her words spread warmth through all the cold places within him. He turned to her and drew her into his embrace. He sighed into her hair and spoke with the tension he’d been holding in still evident in his voice. “I need you too. I didn’t know how I was going to survive. I couldn’t imagine going through day after day being so close to you without the hope of having this again. I love you Kathryn. I love you with a pain so deep it’s about to kill me.”
His urgency frightened her, but nothing was going to make her step back from him again. She pulled his head down and kissed him, hoping that it would soothe the pain. He drank it all and asked for more. Willingly, she gave it to him. They gave, they took, sharing hearts and minds freely.

A couple of hours later, Kathryn stirred and tried to slip from his bed. At her movement, he roused and reached to pull her back to him. She went willingly for a moment, kissing him tenderly. “I have to go. It’ll be morning soon.”
“Stay. I like waking with you in my arms.”
She closed her eyes for a moment, wishing she could stay to wake up in his arms. Opening her eyes again, she whispered, “I’d like that too, but I can’t.”
Knowing that she hadn’t thrown off all of her old taboos, he nodded and released her. She slid away from him and rose to dress. He watched her silently, wishing there were some way to free her from the restrictions she placed on herself. As she reached the door, she paused and looked back at him. “I’ll see you at duty call.” She left quickly, before he had any chance to reply.
He lay back down, propping his head on his stacked hands. He smiled to himself. How could she make such ordinary words sound like a seductive invitation?

Their next few days fell into a routine. When the ship had settled into its night time routine, one or the other would slip unseen into darkened quarters for a few hours of joy in the other’s arms. Before the morning wake up calls, they would separate with difficulty.
Daytime duties continued very much like they always had. Each was constantly aware the other’s presence like finely tuned sensors, but they kept their manner businesslike and proper. The captain and first officer occupied their normal places on the bridge, but the easy, relaxed manner the crew was used to was missing. Paris and Kim had spent more than one evening speculating on what had caused the rift between them.

As the ship’s stay at Plyt Nath progressed into weeks, the activity on the ship slowed down considerably. Only engineering had an urgent schedule. The remainder of the crew took the opportunity for shore leave on a planet abundant in natural beauty and friendly people.

At the end of their stay on Plyt Nath, Ambassador Toblar contacted the captain with an invitation for her entire crew to attend a farewell party at his residence. Pleased, she accepted on their behalf. For days, it was the talk of the ship. Many were scrambling to acquire native costumes for the occasion.
On the day of the event, the weather dawned with the clear skies of a beautiful summer’s day. Anticipation ran high. The ship’s repairs were completed and the entire crew, including engineering, were going to say good bye to some wonderful friends.
Chakotay, dressed in the daytime clothing given to him by the governor, stood outside the captain’s quarters. Just in case she tried to insist that they attend separately, he rehearsed his speech on the propriety of the First Officer escorting his Captain to such a function.
When the door opened, he smiled in appreciation. Her costume enhanced her trim build and she’d arranged her hair in a relaxed fall that accentuated her slender neck. He stepped through and allowed the door to close behind him before he snatched her into a happy bear hug. She laughingly scolded him for wrinkling her clothing, but she was hugging him as hard as he was her.
“I was afraid you’d try to back out of letting me be your escort.”, he said. “I had a speech prepared just in case you tried.”
“I thought about it, but the governor and several others will expect us to be together. We’ll just have to behave ourselves, that’s all.”
“Mmm. That will be hard. I hope the ambassador has a large garden with lots of shrubbery.”
“We will not sneak off into the shrubbery! Now let me go. I need to fix my hair again before we go.”
A few minutes later, they joined others in the transporter room. The transporter deposited them in the formal gardens behind the Ambassador’s residence. He was greeting some local dignitaries, when he noticed them. Motioning them over, he introduced them. “Ah. Our guests of honor. Please, may I introduce, Captain Kathryn Janeway and Commander Chakotay.”
They chatted with the ambassador and his guests until others arrived that needed his attention and then wandered off to enjoy the afternoon. They easily fell into the rolls they’d played while attending the governor’s ball. While they didn’t remain arm in arm, they were always close and often rejoined each other with the ease of a happy couple.
As the day progressed toward evening, the party shifted toward a more formal function. Many people left to change their attire, and servants began to set up a platform for musicians. Another group, laid a temporary floor over the terrace’s stone paving. The Voyager crew looked on with interest.
The Ambassador approached the captain and spoke quietly to her. She listened intently and then nodded. When he left her, Kathryn walked over to Chakotay. “The Ambassador has asked us to be present at the start of the dance for a presentation of some sort.”
“Do you know what kind of presentation?”
“No, but he was very anxious that we be available.”
“Well, I guess we’d better change into more formal dress then. Uniforms or local?”
“Local I think. I enjoy wearing it, and we don’t want to embarrass our friend at this late date.”
“I’ll tell Tuvok we’re returning to the ship for a short while.”
Back on Voyager, they walked nearly abandoned corridors. The silent ship gave them an eerie feeling. They changed quickly and Chakotay went to retrieve her from her quarters. The total privacy of an almost deserted ship made him bold. He entered her quarters and drew her into a hungry kiss. She responded quickly, matching his hunger.
Drawing back, he looked down into her half closed eyes. “Let’s skip the dance and stay here.”
“No. Tempting as it is, we have to be there. Now behave yourself and let’s go.”
Sighing, he nodded. “Give me a minute though. I don’t want to shock anyone.”
Laughing, she walked away from him. She turned to her mirror and recreated the effect he had with a scarf and her comm badge. Drawing her wrap over her arm, she walked back to him. “Ready?”
“I suppose so. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather stay here?”
“Yes! Now stop it.”
“Just making sure.”

They returned to the Ambassador’s party and greeted crew and Plytans they met as they circulated. Many of the guests that had departed were now returning in formal evening wear. Kathryn and Chakotay were happy to be greeted by the planetary governor.
“I wanted to wish you well on your journey and to thank you for your assistance in improving the efficiency of our civil power generators. We have seen a big improvement in economy and stability.”
“You’re welcome, but no thanks are necessary governor.” Kathryn replied. “It was part of our bargain for your assistance in our repairs.”
The governor had reconciled himself to dealing with a woman as the leader of a starship, though he still found himself disconcerted by her direct gaze and strong demeanor. He had found these people interesting and their philosophies on the equality of their people intriguing.
“Well, again, I wish you well. Safe journey.”
At his farewell, he walked away to mingle with others from the ship. Tylen Plimana came to find them a few minutes later. “Captain, Commander. Ambassador Toblar would like you to come to the orchestra platform, if you please.”
They walked with him, chatting as they went. “Tylen, what is this presentation about?”, Chakotay asked. Tylen turned to him and smiled. “I have promised not to tell you, sir. I promise you, it is nothing that will embarrass you however.”
As they approached the platform, the Ambassador stepped up upon it and signaled the musicians to give him a fanfare. When the guests had quieted and he had their attention, he spoke. “Friends, we are here tonight to say ‘Good Journey’ to some visitors who have become good friends. Many of you have been working with them and know they have a long, possibly dangerous journey still ahead of them. With the permission of our illustrious governor, I have been assembling a gift for them to take with them. Captain Janeway, Commander Chakotay, please.” He motioned for them to join him.
“You have been model guests to our world, expressing enjoyment of our customs and adopting a tolerant attitude. I would like to express our appreciation in a way that will help you in your future journey. On this chip is all astrological information we have on our part of the galaxy. In addition, Tylen Plimana has collected examples of our most prized literature, music, art and social customs. They have been consolidated on this chip also. My mate has assembled seeds, cuttings and bulbs of some of our most unique plants and flowers for you to take with you as well.
You told me once that the mission of your organization is exploration. Your people go to great extremes to meet and learn about new people and cultures. You’ve taught us that we need not fear others, simply because they are different. For this I thank you, we all thank you.”
The captain took the chip he offered and then grasped his hand in Earth’s customary greeting. “Ambassador, you and your world have been most gracious to us. It is we, who should be thanking you. This gift is extraordinary, and I do thank you for it. I will cherish the memories of friends made here.”
The Ambassador flushed slightly, but moved on in his speech. “Now, the musicians have prepared to entertain us. You are all invited to dance and to enjoy.”
The formal party began with the musicians striking up dance music. The captain and Chakotay stepped down from the platform after thanking the Ambassador in a more personal way. Before anyone could intercept them to talk again, Chakotay led the way onto the dance floor. Assuming the proper Plytan dance pose, they moved into beautiful flowing motion. Both partners immersed themselves in the feeling of the music and dance and the harmony between two people in love.
None of the Voyager crew had any inkling that they were dancers, let alone so proficient in the complex steps of this form. Many observed them with interest. Paris, Kim and Torres were standing together, when the planetary governor standing near them commented, “I find it interesting how much a mated pair in love add to the dance. It really is quite beautiful to see.”
Harry, shocked, said, “Mates? But they’re n….Ooof!” He glared at Paris and rubbed his ribs, but didn’t finish his statement. Paris stepped a little closer to the governor and replied, “They are good aren’t they. I wonder when they found time to learn?”
The three friends excused themselves and huddled at a table away from the dance floor. “I wonder why he thinks they’re married?”, Harry asked, rubbing his ribs again. He was still feeling the jab Tom had given him.
Tom, grinned at him. “Sorry Harry, I didn’t want you to blow their cover.”
B’Elanna leaned toward them. “Do you think he’s right?”
“That they’re married?”, asked Tom. “No, I don’t think so. But being in love? Yeah, I think that’s possible. They did spend a lot of time together when they were trying to negotiate with the governor. And they have been acting different on the bridge lately.”
Harry and B’Elanna exchanged looks. B’Elanna voiced their doubts. “But the captain? She’s always so…… professional. I just can’t see her in a relationship with someone on the ship.”
Tom, more willing to allow the ‘unconventional’, said, “Hey. She’s a person inside that uniform, just like the rest of us. She’s got to feel the loneliness and need for companionship too. Do you think she should stay isolated from everyone for as long as it takes us to get back? That doesn’t seem fair to me.”
Harry turned to B’Elanna. “You know Chakotay pretty well. Do you think he’s in love with her?”
She pondered the question for a moment, and then replied, “I know him, yeah, but he’s always been very private. He wouldn’t tell me something like that. I guess it’s possible.”
They all turned to watch the pair on the dance floor again. Comparing them with the others moving around them, there was a subtle difference in the way they moved together. The idea began to take on more credence.
Harry asked a question they all had in mind. “If it’s true, what do you think we should do?”
Tom looked at him like he had asked a totally inappropriate question. “What should we do? I don’t think we should do anything. They have a right to a personal life, just like you do. Would you want someone to do something about your relationship?”
Harry had the grace to look embarrassed. “No, I guess you’re right. I just have a hard time thinking of the captain that way.”
“Well, then don’t think about it and mind your own business.” Tom got up on that rejoinder and left the table.

After several dances, Kathryn and Chakotay left the dance floor to get some refreshment and cool off. As they stood at the punch bowl, Tuvok walked up to her and asked, “Captain, may I have a word with you?”
She looked at him with a question on her face, glanced at Chakotay for a moment, before she nodded. She gave Chakotay an apologetic look as Tuvok walked off toward an unoccupied area of the grounds. When he reached a spot he felt was sufficiently private, he turned and stiffened his stance to a rigid, old-fashioned ‘at ease’. She stopped in front of him and waited for him to speak.
“Captain, do you still consider me to be your friend?”
“Of course I do Tuvok. What’s this about?”
“I question whether it is wise for you to be so… intimate… with Commander Chakotay.”
She stared at him like he was a bug she’d found crawling around in her salad. “Intimate? ……. Just how have I been intimate with him here is this setting surrounded by about 300 people?”
Tuvok was obviously uncomfortable with the role he’d taken for himself, but he refused to back down now.
“Captain, you danced several consecutive dances with him. I might add that the dance suggested a rather … ‘close’ … relationship. Is it wise to …. suggest the possibility of an involvement with your First Officer.”
Her emotions tumbled through several stages between fear, regret, sadness and then anger. Fear that they’d been indiscreet. Regret that she was going to have to end something so satisfying. Sadness at losing someone she cared deeply for. Finally anger at Tuvok for implying that she was doing something wrong. When she reached the last one, she had to take a deep breath to keep from letting him have it for overstepping his bounds.
In a low, tightly controlled voice, she said, “Mr. Tuvok, I value your counsel, but I think …. I think, you’ve taken your right to question my actions too far! Whether or not I am involved in a relationship is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. If my personal life should ever affect my ability to command, then you may bring it to my attention. Until then, I expect you to butt OUT.
She spun around and took several rapid steps away from him. Realizing she was still very angry, she slowed and took several deep breaths to calm herself. When she felt she had her emotions in check, she resumed her course back to Chakotay.
When she reached his side, she took the cup from his hand and drained it. He looked curiously at her, and then led her toward a walkway leading away from the terrace. When he’d found a secluded spot screened from observers, he asked “What was that all about?”
She was still seething. “He had the GALL to question whether I should be so ‘intimate’ with you.”
“Intimate. Here?” He said incredulously. “Just how…?”
She looked up at him with a resigned look of someone who’d encountered vicious rumor. “The dancing.”
He smiled indulgently. “Well, you have to admit, when we dance, it is intimate.”
“Well, yes, but that’s not something that anyone else can see. We’re not doing anything anyone else on the floor isn’t doing.”
“True. How did you react to him?”
“At first I was worried we’d been indiscreet, then upset that I was going to have to stop seeing you.” She saw a fleeting expression of pain shoot through his expression. “Then I got angry. I told him it’s none of his business whether I have an intimate relationship, as long as it doesn’t affect my ability to command.”
He relaxed when she said that last statement. Drawing her against his chest, he spoke into the hair above her ear. “But you’re still upset about it.”
She wrapped her arms around his waist and drew reassurance from him. “Yes, I am. Sometimes I still feel that I’m doing something wrong, that I don’t have a right to this.”
“I disagree. You do have the right, but I don’t know how to convince you of that.”
He might have said more, except that he was interrupted by an “Ahem.” from behind him. They turned together to find Tom Paris observing them from the walkway. Chakotay let his arms drop, but he reached for Kathryn’s hand to keep her from separating too far from him.
Tom looked from one to the other and then said, “Uh…I just wanted to compliment you on your dancing. I enjoy watching two people dance who are so attuned to each other. It really adds something. Nice party.” Before either could think of a reply, he turned to walk away. As he did, he said “Don’t let me interrupt anything. Enjoy.”
Kathryn gave that unique shake of her head that said she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Chakotay chuckled and said, “Well, we know we aren’t going to be sanctioned by at least one crew member.”
He held out his elbow for her and said, “Come on, I’d like to dance some more.”
She took his arm and followed.

Voyager’s two most senior officers sat side by side, feeling happy with life in general. They had been back on course toward home for three weeks. The ship was running smoothly and all hands were rested. The crew had resettled into their accustomed routines easily.
At the end of the day, after shift change briefings had been accomplished, Kathryn and Chakotay stepped into the turbolift together. Just as the doors were closing, Tom Paris stepped in to join them. He was amused when he saw them inch a little further apart.
“Captain, we’re having an impromptu pool tournament tonight. Would you care to join us?” He almost smiled at her expression while she wracked her brain to think of a plausible reason to pass on the invitation.
“No thank you Tom. I think I’ll turn in early tonight.”
“How about you Chakotay? Gonna give me a chance to take you for some more replicator rations?”
Chakotay stared at him stone faced for a moment. “No thanks. I have other plans.”
Tom grinned as the turbolift doors opened on his deck. “Oh… sure, I understand.” As the doors began to close, he threw in, “You two enjoy yourselves.”
When the doors closed completely, they looked at each other and started to laugh. She let her forehead fall against his chin. “Is it possible to have any privacy on a ship?”
“Are you kidding? We’ll probably be having kinky sex in the holodeck by tomorrow.”
“He wouldn’t dare!”
They stared at each other for a moment, each assessing the possibility. Chakotay finally shook his head, “No, he wouldn’t dare.”
They walked down the corridor, smiling at their private joke, not noticing that the crewman they met, turned to take a second look as they passed them.

The doors to her quarter closed behind them, and she moved happily into his arms. His fingers searched out the pins in her hair, and then combed it out to fall over her back. Holding her head like a delicate object, he gave her a slow, worshipful kiss. Her body melted into his and they said “hello” in their own unique way.



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