Otterskin

From JRZ3@PSUVM.PSU.EDU Tue Jan 7 16:05:56 1997
Date: Sat, 4 Jan 97 18:00 EST
From: Macedon
To: djtst18+@pitt.edu
Subject: Otterskin 1-2

SUMMARY “Otterskin”: Chakotay faces two dilemmas, one on the
spiritual plane, one on the personal. After being wounded in a
fall, he is drawn up into the sky world, where the Thunderpeople
seek to persuade him to take up the gift of mashkiki (medicine)
and become Voyager’s shaman. Meanwhile in the middle world, he
must decide what to do about his feelings for Janeway. One way
or the other, his role and place on Voyager is changing.

Peg and I always welcome critique. Since we co-authored this
section, please cc comments to us both at jrz3@psu.edu and at
pegeel@aol.com.

This story represents a departure from the way Peg and I have
previously worked. Both our names are on it because we both wrote
sections. Where the POV is Chakotay’s, it’s me. Where the POV is
Janeway, it’s Peg. (Logical, as Tuvok would say.)

This story *does* contain semi-graphic portrayal of sex between two
consenting adults. We are rating it [R], not [NC-17], because it’s
not a piece of erotica but a sex scene in a ‘novel’. Nevertheless,
the regular schpiel applies: minors are not permitted to read it
without a parent’s approval.

A few sidenotes:

–The title “Otterskin” has nothing to do with my name; it’s purely
coincidence. The meaning behind the title will become apparent.

–My thanks to Diavolessa for her help and corrections on Magda’s
French. All errors are ours.

–Please remember that the “Talking Stick/Circle” series (no, we never
did come up with a better title!) is something of an alternate time-
line. The episode “Resolutions” did not happen, and very little of
VOYAGER’s season 3 is to be assumed except “Basics II.” Why? Simple.
Peg and I plotted out this thing *months* ago, long before the end of
season 2, and we don’t want to spend all of our time revising past
parts for each new contradictory piece of information which shows up
as the series progresses. We incorporate what we can, and what does
not directly conflict with anything we already had plotted. So it’s
a bit of potluck.

–“Friend of the Devil” written by Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter and
J. Dawson.

–The previous stories of this series, in order, run:

1. Talking Stick (mine) 4. Red Queen’s Repose (Peg)
2. Circle (Peg) 5. Walking Across Egypt (mine)
3. A Cherished Alienation (mine) 6. Raisins and Almonds (Peg)

Star Trek is the property of Paramount Studios, the following a
non-profit work of fan fiction. Distribution is free, but do not
alter the story or remove this disclaimer. No resemblance to any
individual, living or dead, is intended.

OTTERSKIN
Little Otter & Peg Robinson, c1996

We-nen-wi-wik ka-ni-an,
En-da-yan pi-ma-ti-su-i-un en-da-yan,
Nin-nik-ka-ni ma-nit-to; ke-kek-o-i-yan,
Be-mo-se ma-ko-yan; Ka-ka-mi-ni-ni-ta,
O-ni-ni-shink-ni-yo; Ni ma-nit-to ni-yan.

“The spirit has made sacred the place in which I live
The spirit gave the medicine which we receive.
I too have taken the medicine he gave us.
I brought life to the people.
I have come to the medicine lodge also.
We spirits are talking together.
The migis is on my body.
The spirit has put away all my sickness.”

Midewiwin Migis Ceremony Chant
Traditional, Great Lakes Tribes

***

One cardinal rule when working with dangerous machinery or
in precarious locations is *not* to let the mind wander. Maybe
someone should have reminded me of that. My mind was definitely
not on what I was doing.
I was up a jeffries tube, using both hands to pry open a
stubborn access panel, laser-solder clenched between my teeth,
when I lost my balance. Then I was falling. I don’t remember
hitting the ground. That’s a good thing. It would have hurt
like hell.
I opened my eyes to see two men descending. They wore old
jeans and boots. One went bare-chested with a beaded leather
vest and a red-and-white bandanna tied about his head, feather
sticking out of it. The other had a leather jacket and stetson.
They carried rifles from which lightnings crackled. Except for
that–and the superman-style levitation–they might have been a
pair of AIM militants from the late twentieth century. Appropriate
form for the Thunderpeople, I thought. The manitto have a sense
of humor.
But at no point was I in doubt as to who they were.
One held out his hand to me. “Your grandfathers are calling
you, Peshewa.”
I put my hand in his and let him pull me up, raise me in the
air after him. We passed through the wall.
The other side was not the ship.
I suppose I should have expected that.
It was a road, somewhere out west. From the ragged skyline,
I thought it might be the Black Hills. I had been here only
once, as a young boy. My father and taken me to Wounded Knee–a
pilgrimage still, even in the twenty-fourth century. Why?, Paris
had asked once, when he had first entered the maquis. Couldn’t
we get over it, after so long?
If I’m honest with myself, that’s what initially set me
against him.
Now, I am no longer flying, but walking along the road. I
am alone; my escorts have disappeared. The sky is clear and as
blue as turquoise. No cloud crosses it, no bird. The silence is
eerie. The sun beats down. I consider removing my uniform
turtleneck, then realize I’m not wearing my uniform. Instead,
I’m dressed in denim shirt and jeans. I unbutton the shirt.
The silence is broken abruptly by the sputter and whine of
an engine somewhere in the distance behind me. I stop, turn to
see. Dust-dry earth is being churned up in the wake of some type
of ground vehicle. I stop, watch it approach. It…looks like a
pickup truck–none too different from the pile of junk Paris is
trying to rehabilitate in the shuttle-bay. The color of this one
is indeterminate rust and from the sound of the engine, it could
stand a complete overhaul. I spent enough time holding wrenches
for Paris, I ought to know.
It slows, stops. The passenger, a youngish man with layered
hair and shell choker rolls down his window. “Hey, uncle–goin’
up?”
“I…don’t know.”
I must sound like I’m suffering from heat-stroke.
He studies me a minute. So does the driver, who has leaned
forward to see past him. The driver is a much older man, grey
hair in braids beside his face; his flannel shirt looks as old as
he is. They confer in their own tongue, one I don’t recognize.
Finally the younger opens his door. “Git in.”
“Thanks.” I climb in beside him. The cab is heavy with the
smell of stale cigarettes, honest sweat and old coffee. They are
good smells; they take me back to my childhood. I had missed
them, in Starfleet, without even realizing that I had. We ride in
silence a while. I’m concerned about the engine, wish for once
that I had Paris with me to offer his expertise. I’m still trying
to figure out what these two are doing with such an old ground
vehicle in the first place. I can smell the exhaust fumes through
the open window; the dust chokes me.
One of them, the driver, brings out a pack of cigarettes,
passes them around. ‘Lucky Strike’ the printing says: machine
rolled, archaic–like the truck. I turn one in my fingers,
smooth and light and white against my skin. I am being tested.
I light it. When we have smoked a while, the young one who sits
now in the middle says, “Been up here before?”
“Once, when I was a boy. My father brought me.”
“No white map now to show you the way?”
“I figured I’d find it, if I was meant to.”
He grins, takes a swig from a big plastic cup with ‘Unimart’
emblazoned on the side. Coffee. Black and strong and bitter as
these hills.
“What tribe you from?” the driver asks after a bit.
“Officially, Potowatomi.”
“And unofficially?”
I tick them off on my fingers so I don’t forget any. “Wea,
Shawnee, Dine, Crow, Flathead, Nez Perce, Hopi, Aztec….”
“Shit!” The other two laugh at my recitation.
The old man says to the younger, “Regular walkin’ pow-wow,
enit?”
We ride again in silence then. No one has offered names.
It doesn’t seem important. We exist in the now. The past is
something we drive into. The future will take care of itself.
The driver begins to sing, low. A prayer perhaps. I cannot
understand, but it blends with the turquoise sky and brown land,
the bare hills that surround us: the Paha Sapa. The center of the
Lakota universe. I am reminded of my maternal grandfather, rising
at dawn to burn ceder till it made the eyes tear, singing to the
morning sun, the mother earth, the winds of the four directions.
After a bit, the old man falls silent. I inhale a little from the
last of my cigarette, cup my hands and puff out smoke so that it
curls back around my head. Then I crush out the butt and pitch it
through the open window, an offering of tobacco to the land itself.
I sing slow, “Na, ha, ha, ha; ne, he, he, he; hu, hu, he; te,
he, he.” They are not words, but the melody is old. The man
in the middle begins to beat time on the dashboard, making
mitig wakik of plastic foam.
The engine is laboring now. We are climbing towards our
destination as sunset approaches. I will learn something here–
whatever it is the manitto seek to teach. I feel a pressure in
my heart. The grandfathers are calling. I wonder if my
companions feel it, too.
When I am done with the song, the driver speaks. “So. You
do know the traditions. I thought you was one of them ‘Native
American’ boys from the city, all educated up with white ways till
you don’t remember no Indi’n ones.”
This feels too much like the old critique; I lash back. “I
speak my language. I know the ways of my people.”
“*Your* people.” The old man frowns. “They belong to you, or
you to them?”
I am surprised by his question, by his wording. Hearing it put
so, I answer without thinking–instinctively. “I belong to them.”
He nods. “*Now* you’re soundin’ like an Indi’n.”
We round a bend in the road, I see the pillars and arch picked
out against darkening sky. The driver pulls to the side and turns
off the engine. We sit a moment, then get out, walk up in file.
No one else is there when we reach the top. Here is the gravemound
with its iron fence and the ribbons for the dead tied to the bars.
The sun sits on the noose of the horizon and the earth shivers under
my feet. It holds the bones of the murdered ones. I hear their
voices on the wind. The old man points across the road to the
creekbed of Chankpe Opi Wakpala–Wounded Knee. “There,” is all he
says.
The other, the young man, is unrolling a bundle, removing a
pipe. He begins to pray to each of the directions. I turn to
watch. He stands as straight as the obelisk in the background.
Smoke drifts in the still air. The voices are louder. The
ghosts are coming.
What am I doing here? Why have I been brought back to this
place? I am not Lakota; my ancestors do not lie in this sad earth.
Or do they?
Some events echo down history as root experiences beyond tribal
lines. Wounded Knee is like that. There are things I claim as
Potowatomi and Shawnee: the burning of Prophetstown, the Battle of
the Thames and the death of Tecumseh. But Tecumseh lived as a
warrior, and died as one. Wounded Knee was very different. No
great battle was fought here, no heroic last stand. This was a
massacre: mothers and children, fathers, the elderly–all fleeing
through the badlands in the middle of December, freezing in thread-
bare blankets, pursued for daring to believe again. Wounded Knee
was an ending; the west was lost. But it was an ending that jangles
like an off-key last note in a final performance. In the words of
Black Elk, “A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream…
but the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center
any longer….”
Half in despair, half in rage, I raise my arms overhead and
shout, “Open the sky from the center!”
The prayers behind me stop. I turn. No one is there; the
old man and the young have both disappeared. Their truck is no
longer here, either. It is as if they had never been.
The sun has set now and night comes on. I button my shirt.
Wind whistles through the trees and gravestones. The air is chill,
but not nearly so bitter as it would have been in the middle of
December in 1890. I squat down, run my hands up and down may arms
and wait. I’m not sure what I’m waiting for.
After a while, I see something moving through the grass
towards me, a sleek shape undulating uphill from the creekbed.
An otter. As she comes closer, I see she carries something in her
mouth. She lays it at my feet. A broken twig. I pick it up.
“And what am I to do with this, sister?”
Black eyes watch me, seal-brown fur is dark on darker shadows.
I know as clear as if I were told that I am to heal the break. I
touch the twig where it has snapped and the wood knits back together.
The twig lies whole in my hand. Otter darts off, into the dark,
returns with a bit of vine. This, too, she lays at my feet. I
remember again the words of Black Elk: The nation’s hoop is broken.
Carefully, I bend the twig into a small circle, tie it off
with thin green vine. Then I stare at it there in the palm of my
hand–a promise, a challenge, a dream.
“I don’t understand,” I tell otter.
She just looks at me, like a teacher with a dim child, then
scampers off, back towards the creek. Overhead, heat lightening
crackles, then the Thunderbeings speak. Their voices boom off
the Black Hills. I listen for a while but do not understand what
they say.
Finally, I hear footsteps approach and, standing, look to
see who the spirits are sending this time. All small and blond,
she comes struggling up the pitted path on a world 70,000 light
years from the one on which she was born.
Kes.
“Where are we?” she asks when she gets within speaking
distance. Her face is full of that avid curiosity which makes
her dear.
“Wounded Knee. It’s a place on Earth.”
“So this is Earth? I’d thought it would be greener.”
“Depends on where you are.”
She just nods, as if that were obvious, and walks under
the arch, into the graveyard and up to the monument in the center.
I know what it says, recite it from memory for her. She can’t
read the English. “This monument is erected by the surviving
relatives and other Ogalala and Cheyenne River Sioux Indians….”
Blown by the wind, a white plastic flower from one of the old
graves rolls up against the grey granite.
“People died here; they were frightened,” she says. It
might have been absurd. We were standing in a graveyard; of
course the dead were here. But that wasn’t what she meant.
“You hear their spirits?”
Looking now across the road, down to the creek, she points.
“I see them. They’re running, trying to get away. I see a woman
covered in blood. I see a child with a hole in his neck lying on
the ground. I see a tall man with a…weapon…stab an old man.”
She closes her eyes, shudders. “Too many voices. Too many dead.
This is not a good place. They’re restless.”
“They died badly. They shouldn’t have died at all.”
“Why did it happen?”
“Because they dared to hope. It was a long time ago, in
wars over land. My ancestors lost.”
“Like Chief Joseph.”
“Yes, exactly. He lived during those same wars, a little
earlier. He had surrendered by this point, Crazy Horse was dead,
and in the south, Geronimo had surrendered, too. Of the ones who
resisted, only Sitting Bull was left, but it looked as if the war
chiefs couldn’t hold the land. It was then, out of the west, that
a seer named Wovoka came. He was Paiute, from Pyramid Lake. He
brought a vision–given him by God, he said. A new religion. The
Ghost Dance. Many embraced it. Wovoka promised hope, a new world,
a messiah. His vision gave back heart to a defeated people and
they took up the dance. They danced to speak to the dead, to talk
to the ghosts of the past, the ancestors–but they also danced to
bring in the new world that Wovoka promised, one that remembered
the ways of our ancestors, which made the holy tree bloom again.”
I pause, look off into the west, whence the dead go.
“Was it a mistake? I don’t know. But the US army didn’t
trust it, or us. They wanted us beaten, defeated, pliant. They
called the Ghost Dance a war dance and ordered it to stop. They
blamed Sitting Bull even though he wasn’t involved, then corrupted
some of his own people to kill him. After Sitting Bull’s murder,
one band of Lakota–Big Foot’s–gave up on the dance and tried to
flee to Pine Ridge. The army intercepted them and took them here,
ordered them to disarm. A shot went off accidentally, people on
both sides started shooting. But Big Foot’s band were women and
children, the ill and the old–only a few warriors. The army had
most of the guns. They butchered Big Foot’s people. A massacre.
Their bodies lie there–” I point to the mound. “The soldiers
piled the dead in a single trench. This place was the end of our
freedom. The end of our hope.” I repeat for her Black Elk’s
words: “The nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no
center any longer….”
She thinks about that, finally says, “I wonder. Are you
talking about Wounded Knee? Or Voyager?”
I start. “What?” But I had heard her perfectly.
She smiles up at me. There is something of otter in her:
otter who brings medicine and laughter both. Is it any surprise
if otter called her? “You like your metaphors, Chakotay. Maybe
your spirits are making one for you.”
I look down at the tiny twig hoop in my palm. “What? They
want me to teach Voyager to Ghost Dance?” My voice conveys my
skepticism.
“You tell me. They’re your spirits.”
“I’m *not* Wovoka.”
“Would you want to be?”
“No. His vision failed. Or he didn’t understand it. I
don’t know. It’s not my place to judge.” I look back at her.
In moonlight, she looks more elfin than usual.
Wrong mythology, Chakotay.
“I’m not a shaman,” I tell her. “I don’t walk the roads
between worlds.”
“Don’t you? What’s this we’re doing, then?”
“I’m dreaming!”
“That makes a difference? I thought you were the one who
taught me to pay attention to my dreams?”
The woman argues like a lawyer. I throw up my hands, turn
away a moment. But when I turn back, she’s gone. “Kes?” No one
answers. I wonder if she was ever really here at all. With Kes,
one never knows. Perhaps she really can walk in and out of others’
dreams.
Overhead, thunder rolls again. I look up. “What do you
want from me?” I yell.
“Heal the hoop, Peshewa.”
The voice comes from behind. I turn. The young man from
the truck stands before me again. He no longer looks mortal.
The light of the stars shimmers on his skin. “Who are you?” I
ask.
He grins. “Who do you think, uncle?”
“Nanahboozhoo.”
Son of the West Wind. Trickster. Clever one. He who races
faster than the lightening.
“You helped bring medicine to the people,” I say.
“Yes. Now, I bring it to you.” He holds out something
towards me. An otterskin bag. “Take it.”
“Who am I to beat the drum!”
Lightning shivers along his limbs. “Who are you to refuse?”
he asks. His voice is thunder.
I fall on my face. Nanahboozhoo makes a bad enemy. When I
dare to look up again, he is gone. The otterskin bag sits in
front of my nose.

II.

I got the call about an hour before I would have gotten up
normally.
I’d just managed to fall asleep, or at least that’s what it felt
like. After the circle that night I’d lain awake for a long time
working through what was happening between me and Chakotay. I’d spent
far too much time on this trip as the “Red Queen”: running and running
to stay in one place. This time I intended to make a few decisions
based on something more than a desire to maintain the status quo.
The trouble was, I didn’t know for sure what I could, would, or
should do.
So I’d lain in bed between cool sheets, not sure if the grin that
kept sneaking onto my face was a good thing or not. All I knew as I
finally drifted off was that I was happier than I’d been in a long,
long time…and that my cocky, hot-shot Maquis XO had a bashful streak
to match anything I could generate on my most conservative,
introverted days. When things started go further than flirt and sigh
my “Wildcat” mutated into a domestic chicken. Better than a salamander
if you ask me…and I should know. Even though a part of me was
relieved that his nerve had failed before mine had, I had to laugh to
see the silly cluck flap away.
Sweet.
But still a cluck.
I was half-way into what might have become a very nice dream when
the comm beep sounded and B’Elanna’s frantic voice came crashing into
my consciousness, ragged and panicky.
“Captain? Captain, we have an emergency!”
I snapped hard from dream to overdrive. “Report!”
“I was planning on looking over the power couplings on deck three
so I could talk to Chakotay about them, he’d left me a note, and …
hell–it doesn’t matter. There’s been an accident, I mean, oh, God,
Madre de dios, Kahless on crutches, he’d been there before me. I
found him. I’ve had him beamed straight to sickbay, captain, he’s a
wreck, he’s all messed up and…”
She was choking on it. I cut across the hysteria. “I said report,
I meant *report*, lieutenant: who, what, when, where, how. You know
how to do this–do it!”
She drew in a shaky breath. “Sorry. I went to deck three and
entered the jeffries tube. I was taking a reading on the power
couplings. Chakotay had left a note in my log vetoing replacing them,
and I thought he was wrong. I don’t know why I looked down, but I
did, and I saw Chakotay lying–” Her voice cracked, and she drew in
another breath. “Sorry.
I saw Chakotay lying on the staging platform on deck six. He
was…He was hurt. I went down, did a fast examination, contacted
sickbay; the holodoctor did a reading off of the ship’s sensor web,
and got what he could from my engineering tricorder. Then we beamed
Chakotay straight to sickbay. Then I called you.”
“How the hell…?”
“I don’t know. He knows his way around a ship blindfolded in the
dark in the middle of a fire fight. He shouldn’t have fallen.”
“Any sign of anyone else having been there? Was there a fight?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t even think. All I knew was I had to get
him to the doctor.”
“Never mind. Don’t move, don’t change anything–I’ll send Tuvok
down to you. B’Elanna, don’t even breathe if you can help it. I
don’t want the evidence scrambled.”
“Aye, captain. Once Tuvok’s done with me, do you mind if I drop
into sickbay? Carey can fill in for me, and…”
“Understood. That’s what inferior rank is all about–as Paris is
about to find out. I’ll meet you there. Janeway out.”
I called Tuvok and dressed at the same time, one foot jammed
halfway into a boot while the commands seemed to leap from my brain to
my mouth to Tuvok’s waiting ears. The “Aye, captain”s were coming
thick and fast.
“I want you to cover that place with a fine toothed comb… no, a
dilithium lattice filter. If anyone…*anyone* had anything to do
with this, I want to know, and I want to know YESTERDAY…understand?”
“Assuming the comment was hyperbolic, I believe I have grasped
the essential spirit of the order.”
“‘Hyperbolic’ my sweet– Never mind. Just get me the facts.”
“And if the commander’s accident was just that–an accident?”
“Then ten seconds after I know he’s going to live I’m going to
kill the clumsy son of a bitch.”
The line was silent for a moment. Then: “Captain, permission to
speak freely.”
“Permission denied. Get on my case about command decorum and
control some other time. Frankly right now all I give a damn about is
getting to sickbay and finding out if I still have my jackass of a
first officer or if you’re about to get a promotion.”
“I had no intention of commenting on decorum at this time.”
I stopped and leaned against the dresser, my jacket half-zipped.
“Really?”
“I merely wanted to express my condolences. I am… sorry…
that this has happened. The commander is a good man.”
I closed my eyes. “Ah. Yes. Yes, he is, isn’t he?”
“I will do all I can to determine the cause of his fall, captain.
And if it was an accident… might I recommend you eschew homicide as
a means of expressing your displeasure? It tends to leave few routes
open for future reconciliation.”
“Advice from the ‘old married man’?” The things you find
yourself saying when your subconscious writes the script. I cringed,
waiting for Tuvok’s reply to that. The results were interesting.
“Yes.” It was said with placid simplicity. One word, and it
carried a archive’s worth of meaning. Suddenly, for the first time, I
wanted to cry instead of rage. I reached for the anger again and came
up with aching control instead.
“Thanks. Now, get a move on. B’Elanna’s going to be going
crazy.”
“Aye, captain .”
A fast call to Paris, too fast to allow for any more personal
comments than I’d already received from my Vulcan security officer,
and then I was gone–tapping my foot waiting for the turbo lift to
arrive; getting in and fuming that sheer force of will couldn’t move
the stupid thing any faster than pneumatic drives already
accomplished; then streaking down corridors just under the speed that
would get me noticed by curious, gossipy crewmembers. Then the swoosh
of a door and I was in sickbay.
In the main bay Voyager’s total complement of medical expertise
huddled led around a med bed. The holodoctor, Anyas, Kou. Even Kes.
Up little more than two days, and she was there. My stomach twisted.
I didn’t know whether to clear my throat and risk dividing their
attention or not.
Anyas and Kes looked up simultaneously. Empaths.
Kes reached over and touched the Doctor’s hand. “He’s stable.
Let’s take a few minutes before we start on the secondary injuries.”
“I see no reason…”
“Doctor. Please.”
He looked up, following her eyes. Then he nodded. “Of course.
Captain?”
“I won’t be in the way?”
“As Kes said. He’s stable. You can’t stay long, we have much
more to do, but now is as good a time as any to…” He trailed off,
unsure as I was what to call the visit. I stepped up to the med bed.
Until you’ve actually seen someone after a traumatic injury…
until you’ve seen it, it’s just so much imaginary drama. A symbol.
“The wounded hero lay dying.” When you look at the real thing it’s
ugly, and forlorn, terrifying and pathetic.
Chakotay was…broken. His skin was a deadly, chalky white from
loss of blood. Livid bruises covered his face and torso; so far down
on the list of things to be repaired that the team hadn’t even thought
to pass a med wand over them yet. His face and shoulder were streaked
with half-wiped-away blood and serum, his flesh was puffy and swollen.
Worst of all, whatever it was that made him *him* was absent. No.
Absent is the wrong word. Death is absent–this was something less
final, but more intimidating. As though wherever he had retreated
while his body bled and failed was so far from any here and now I knew
that he was outside my imagining. I started to reach out, drew back,
and felt Anyas’ hand on my arm.
“It’s all right. You can’t hurt him right now.”
I reached out again, laid a hand on his shoulder. “He’s so
cold….”
Kes nodded. When she spoke her voice was quiet and gentle.
“He’s in deep shock. He was on the staging deck at least five
hours,and there was a lot of internal bleeding. His blood pressure
was dangerously low. His cardiovascular system was near collapse.”
She reached out, smoothing her hand over dark hair gone spiky with
dried, caked blood. Her eyes were sad and worried. “That’s part of
why we can let you see him now…we’ve repaired the major hemorrhagic
injuries, and we’re waiting for his blood pressure to come back up
from the transfusions before we do any of the more invasive repairs.
That and waiting for the worst of the blood and serum to drain from
the impact site on his skull.”
“What?”
Anyas carried the conversation. “He hit his head on one of the
ladder or rungs on the way down.. or at least that’s what it looks
like. His skull is broken, and he has a massive subdural hematoma.
He’s severely concussed and in coma.”
“Will he get well?”
The four were silent. Then Kes spoke. “In the long run that
will depend on him, I suppose. His choice.”
I looked at her, puzzled, and the holodoctor continued the
explanation.
“We don’t know. We’ll do the best we can, but it would have been
better had he been seen to immediately. As things stand…he’s
healthy, still in his prime. None of the injuries besides the blow to
the head is in any way problematic. As for the head injury… even if
he proves to have suffered no irreparable damage, it will still be a
question of luck, and, as Kes indicated, his own will, whether he
comes around or not…if ‘will’ is a word that applies under the
circumstances.”
I nodded. “Very good, doctor. Do what you can. If I can wait
in your office, until you know…”
“I wouldn’t recommend that, captain. It’s likely to be some time
before we’ve completed treating him. Longer still before we know
whether he will regain consciousness or not. My recommendation would
be that you return to your usual activities.”
There wasn’t any more I could say at that point. I nodded,
confirmed in my uselessness, then turned and left. Halfway down the
hall I found myself face to face with B’Elanna.
We stood uneasily. She was pale, eyes showing the strain. The
tension made her edgy, Klingon temper scraping through her control.
She glared at me. “I thought you said you’d meet me in sick bay.”
I shrugged. “I’ve been evicted.”
“How bad is he?”
“I’m sure he’ll be fine.” I’m afraid the tendency to put the best
face on things is automatic. “The holodoctor and Kes and Anyas are
doing all they can. We’ve come a long way from the times of knives
and….”
She moved like oiled machinery. Fast and smooth. A fist slammed
into the bulkhead. “Stop it!” Her voice was a raw growl.
I stared at the shallow dent she’d left, and the web of fracture
lines in the paint. “Excuse me, lieutenant. I believe I was
attempting to answer your….”
“Shove it. I can live with you lying to me about when we’re
getting home. I can accept the bull about getting rescued when that
bitch Seska stranded us…hell that one even worked. I can even deal
with ‘We’re all a nice little Star Fleet crew’. But, damn it, I *saw*
him. I *found* him. Don’t give me that bull. *How is he?*”
She was quivering: frightened, angry, and near tears…and
furious with herself. I was furious too: aware she’d crossed the
line,aware I had to let it pass. You don’t ask a good officer to
break herself over protocol under those circumstances. We looked at
each other. I tried to ignore the crewmembers who passed by
pretending they didn’t see us, all the while catching every last
glimpse they could. I didn’t even dare reach out to her right then.
I think I’d have gotten a fist in my face for my efforts.
She closed her eyes, visibly forcing herself to relax. “Sorry,
captain. It’s just–”
I slid my hand in a “cut it off” gesture, interrupting her.
“Leave it.” I struggled for control myself, and for words.
She loves him. I’m not sure how…if nothing else she and Paris
have been playing catch-as-catch-can with the idea of a team-up for a
while. But Chakotay…he’s special to her. I refuse to theorize
about how special. But I know a crush when I see one. I know a
friendship when I see one. I know a lonely, lost girl when I see one.
All of those elements were there, and all applied. I think what made
me angriest was how much seeing her pain forced me to see my own. At
last I nodded.
“His most serious injury is a severe concussion. He’s in a coma.
they don’t know if he’ll come around or not. It’s too early to tell.
In the meantime there are a lot of less drastic injuries to take care
of.”
“They can fix it, can’t they?” The anger had given way to
pleading.
I shook my head. “They don’t know yet. Some things we just
can’t fix. Brains.. we have a better grasp there than we used to, but
it’s not a simple issue.”
Her face tried to crumple, then she pulled herself together.
“What do we do now?”
“Wait.”
She wanted to argue. To her credit she didn’t. She nodded
curtly.
“Aye, captain. Any orders while I’m here?”
I smiled, tried to act like it was a normal day. “Just keep up
the work getting Voyager back in shape. One way or another I want to
pull out of here in the next few days, before the local scaff and raff
recover from the loss of the last batch of pirates and think of
another way to try to take us on.”
“Aye, captain.”
She turned, eyes lowered, a frown stamped onto her face, jaw set
as grimly against pain as any warrior’s. I had to admire her
courage…even if I thought she was pretty transparent in spite of her
best efforts. I was glad I didn’t have to work in Engineering with
her that day.
I left Tom in command of the bridge and took over the tasks
Chakotay had been doing the day before. It kept me busy.
I’d forgotten how much the XO does on a day-to-day basis to keep
the whole messy, cluttered community of a ship running. With Chakotay
out cold, Tom on the bridge, Tuvok running an investigation, and
B’Elanna knee-deep in repair projects I found myself managing all the
leftovers. I don’t usually have to play those games. Overseeing
repair and restocking efforts, mediating minor squabbles, passing
judgement on who got what resources when, trying to assign personnel
to the areas needed, going over reports, trying to determine
appropriate punishments for all the predictable infractions you get
with any crew. I found myself browsing Chakotay’s logs to understand
how he worked well enough not to make confetti of plans and patterns
he already had in place.
He really is a good XO. Very different from me: things I’d have
seen as straight line logic he treated as part of complex webs of
connection, so that a shift here and a thread pulled there created
change in areas that at first glance looked entirely unrelated to me.
“Punishments” often looked like nothing of the sort. It took me a
while skimming through his notes and records to see that in many cases
he was more interested in finding the root of a problem and fixing it
quietly than in using regulations and punishment to force personnel to
cope, or pretend to cope, with troubles they didn’t know how to
handle on their own. Finesse. That was the word to describe what
Chakotay did.
Finesse. Backed by a solid right hook when all else failed, as I
discovered on listening to a few of his wrier, more resigned entries.
Seems he’d finally assigned Dalby as his permanent sparring partner
for combat practice. Claimed it saved him a lot of time. This way he
didn’t have to go looking for him every time he got out of line.
I laughed listening to that note. The frustration in his voice
was so intense. He really is a man of peace when he thinks he can be.
A gentle man. A gentleman. But he still has a great right hook.
I laughed. I didn’t cry. I’m the captain—and he wasn’t dead
yet.
Tuvok didn’t report in until well after noon. I’d managed to get
back to my ready room by then, and was sipping a cup of chicken broth,
trying to sort out the weird combination of gifts, trades, and labor
exchanges Chakotay had worked out with the Kithtri and the merchants
in the market to fill Voyager’s many needs. The door chimed, I keyed
it open, and Tuvok came in–alert, composed, moving with the
controlled containment of a gazehound or a Haiadean Coursing Dragon.
He came to stand at ease before my desk.
I put down my cup. “Well?”
“My security team and I have investigated the area thoroughly.
There are, predictably, signs of many of the crew having been present
at various times; however, there is no indication that the commander’s
fall was anything more than an unfortunate accident. It would seem
that he was attempting to examine a secondary power coupling, and fell
while trying to remove the access plate. We found a half-open plate
several feet above the entry platform with the commander’s finger
prints on it, and a laser-solder on the floor of deck fourteen, at the
terminus of the tube. I’m afraid the laser-solder is irreparable.
I’ve reported the loss to maintenance.”
I could see Chakotay in my mind’s eye. His retreat the night
before came back, precious in my memory: scooting down the lush, green
hill at warp speed because the situation had changed, and he was faced
with possibilities that had seemed beyond reach. I didn’t know
whether I wanted to kick him–or just feel guilty for having presented
him with more sudden and intimidating options than he knew what to do
with. He hovered there in my imagination: a tiny, vulnerable image
halfway up a ladder, examining power couplings, mind elsewhere,
turning his head and addressing thin air as he recorded his message
into B’Elanna’s log, not really paying enough attention. Sleepy, a
bit shaken. Maybe a bit abashed that he’d run from something his eyes
had said he wanted. Then a turn, a foot reaching out….
I couldn’t take it any further. From that point on the crash and
the tumble, and the limp body in a tangle three stories below deck
three kept merging with the pale, shattered body I’d seen in sick bay.
“Very well. Thank you, Tuvok. I’ll accept your preliminary
findings unless other evidence surfaces. However, I’d like you to
take on a special project. Even if the commander’s fall was an
accident, it’s served to point out that he presents an easy target for
anyone intent on disrupting the ship’s power structure. In many ways
he’s a more tempting target than I am. If I die he steps into my
shoes, you step into his, and the command is still a reasonable
political mix: Maquis and Fleet, with a slight edge to the Fleet–he
may be Maquis, but the Fleet trained him, and he’s more Fleet than he
admits.” I rubbed the bridge of my nose, between my eyes, feeling a
headache sulking in the background. “Tell me, has your team heard any
rumors about his fall, and his injury yet?” I looked back up when
Tuvok failed to answer promptly. “I see. Tell me the worst, old
friend.”
His mouth tightened. “I’m believe the term ‘worst’ is
appropriate. It would appear that the crew has found the commander’s
misfortune to be a trigger for speculation of the most creative sort.”
“Give.”
“The most prevalent rumor is that I myself caused the commander’s
fall. I must admit I find the underlying logic fallacious, but
compelling.”
His eyes expressed his distaste and discomfort. ” It would appear
that, in the mind of the majority of the crew, I had the ability, the
opportunity and the motive to take violent action against commander
Chakotay.” I raised an eyebrow. He continued. “The fundamental
reasoning is that in a fit of either personal or professional jealousy
over the commander’s increasing influence in your command and in your
life, I chose the expeditious route of…removing the competition.”
I shook my head, wishing I could just beam home, hide under the
blankets in my own bed in my own house, and refuse ever to have
anything to do with command again. “Great. Just great. I ignore the
man and I screw up the command team–try to come to terms with him and
I have half the ship dreaming up “revenge dramas” when he takes a
header down a jeffries tube. What else?”
“There is some speculation that you refused him certain…favors
…last night, and motivated him to make a hasty and…terminal…
exit.”
“Not a chance.” Grim though the situation was, I had to laugh.
“That one will go away once they think. If he survived Seska then a
turn-down from me isn’t–”
“I believe they are convinced that any relationship he has with
you is more likely to have a profound effect on his emotional well-
being than that which he had with Seska.”
“Wonderful. So now they have him taking a plunge from a broken
heart. Some people just aren’t happy unless they can turn real life
into high camp. Go on.”
“Lieutenant Torres is considered a possible suspect, on similar
grounds to my own…at least in respect to her personal motives.
Klingons are renowned for their passionate natures. It is only a
short step from love poetry and thrown furniture to jealousies and
rage.”
“Right. I think they’ll find she’s far more likely to kill them
for saying it than she would be to touch a hair on his head outside a
combat workout. Are those all the really wild theories?”
“No. However they are the only ones currently holding the
interest of the majority of the crew.”
“They don’t think *he* turned *me* down, and I shoved him off the
ladder?”
“Not the majority, no. While most think you physically capable
of ‘taking out’ the commander under those circumstances, they appear
to believe you would not respond in that fashion. And the majority
feel it is more likely you turned the commander down than the
reverse.”
I snorted, felt a wry grin start. “Shows what they know. Well,
having gotten the silly-season stuff out of the way, I’ll get back to
the serious problem. The commander is an obvious target for our old
friends Kilpatrick and Benetar. I’d like you to keep an eye out for
any signs of activity in that area and put a watch on the commander
until we know he’s safe. I really don’t want him to recover from a
three-story fall only to get killed by a power-hungry crewman with ten
minutes free to wander into sick bay. Put up a sensor alert, and keep
a watch on Chakotay. And have your people check to see if they can
discover any Machiavellian plotting underway.”
Tuvok nodded and prepared to leave. As he approached the door, he
turned. “Captain, may I make an observation?”
“Shoot.”
“Barring a certain intemperate hastiness in your manner this
morning, it would appear that you are handling this situation with
levels of control that would be admirable even in a Vulcan.”
I closed my eyes, marveling that I’d held the line so well. “I
see. Thank you for the compliment, Tuvok.”
“It was not intended as such.” My eyes snapped open. “It has
come to my attention over the years that what would be admirable and
healthy in a Vulcan is less so in a human… and is often less an
advantage than a drawback in terms of command. I have not accepted
this truth easily, but to deny the evidence of my observations would
be illogical. My own reserve has proven a barrier between me and
those who serve under me on more than one occasion, though they are
inclined to grant me a certain degree of latitude on grounds of
differing biologies and cultural imperatives. In your case, I doubt
you will find it to your advantage to do yourself damage in the hopes
of holding the respect of the crew. While they would not wish to
believe you incapable of maintaining control under the circumstances
they would find it equally undesirable that you fail to reflect any…
feelings you might have.”
“Any feelings I might have are none of their damned business.”
He didn’t say any more. He didn’t have to. His dispassionate
gaze only served to highlight the obvious…that anything concerning
me and my command was of acute interest to the crew that served under
me. After the silence had held long enough to make it clear that
neither of us would speak further, I nodded.
“Thank you for your observations, Tuvok. I’ll keep it in mind.
Dismissed.”
He nodded curtly, and exited.
The rest of the afternoon I spent here and there. Some time on
the bridge. Some time checking repairs to the keel shield generators.
More time in my ready room. I liked my ready room best. It felt
safe, comforting; and I didn’t have to deal with the crew following my
every move: speculative, curious, and radiating a compassion that made
me almost regret the night before. I’d known for awhile that they
were watching the two of us. I’d *wanted* them to watch us, willing
to put up with gossip and conjecture so long as they all knew that,
for better or worse, Chakotay and I were a solid team. But the night
before we’d made another transition beyond that professional
partnership, and had done so in front of the witnessing eyes of the
crew. And now….
Now I had to face down the threatened loss of all our
possibilities under the same sharp gazes. The ready room provided me
with a thick, soothing veil to shield myself from all the eyes. I
worked behind that veil, trying not to think.
Late in the day the holodoctor called.
“Captain.”
“Doctor. You have progress to report?”
“Of a sort. We’ve completed treatments on the commander. We had
to make some neural repairs, but at this time there is no further
damage in evidence. His physical condition is satisfactory. However,
he remains in coma.”
“There’s nothing you can do for him? Give him a stimulant, some
kind of jump start?” I felt cold fear, knowing the answer before it
came. I’m told that prayer is nothing more than the desperate scream
“Please, God, make what is be other than it is.” I’m not sure I agree
with the definition but that moment it was true enough. I wanted
miracles so much it hurt.
The holodoctor pursed his lips primly. “Captain, one does not
re-initialize a human personality as conveniently as one might a
computer simulation…and even that is far from simple or desirable,
as I can testify. There are physical elements of a coma that I can
treat. There are also psychological elements that I am unable to
address. Unless you wish me to have Lieutenant Tuvok attempt a
mindmeld with the commander–which I would severely object to at this
early point in his recovery–there is nothing to do but provide life
support, and wait for Commander Chakotay to return from whatever
retreat he has found from pain, trauma, and shock. Time is a vastly
underrated cure for many things.”
I hate to wait. I really, really hate to wait. I do it. But I
sure as hell don’t like it.
That evening as I sat trying to read, and not doing very well at
it, my door chimed. I didn’t want to answer but couldn’t come up with
a legitimate excuse not to. I went to the door and keyed it open.
In the corridor were Tom, Harry, B’Elanna, Chaim, Cherel, Magda,
Kes, even Tuvok… It seemed like all the crew; or at least all the
ones I’d gotten close to–and then some. I blinked.
Tom stood to attention. “Captain.”
“At ease, lieutenant.”
He didn’t relax, or give an inch. “We’ve come to invite you to
Sandrine’s…ma’am.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Ma’am?” He just nodded. “I see. I wasn’t
planning on–”
B’Elanna cut in. “If you think we like knowing he’s down there
and you’re holed up in here, you’re crazy. Now do you come out, or do
we drag you?” She offered me a crooked grin, sharing her own
unhappiness to bring me out to her side of the door.
I shook my head, feeling a matching grin come to my own face. “I
suppose given that choice I’d better go willingly. Being dragged
kicking and screaming wouldn’t be consistent with command decorum…
and I might have to court martial you all. Then who’d fly the damned
ship? Give me a minute to change….”
Chaim laughed. “Forget it. Who cares what you look like, so
long as you’re there?”
Which is how I came to attend a “party” on the holodeck in the
big blue sweater that used to be Mark’s, a pair of beat up exercise
pants, and a pair of bedroom slippers.
It was wild. Angry, happy, fierce. There are a lot of cultures
that understand that approach to fear and grief. Spit in its face.
Do not go gentle. Laugh the bastard down.
Soames and Chaim and Cherel played like dervishes, hot and
hostile, fingers flying, voices driving with a power and focus like
the heart of a nova. War songs, down-and-dirty songs, love-and-death
songs, hard-living party songs. Not the blues. We were all too angry
for the blues. They brought out old songs from all around the Alpha
Quadrant, but settled most of the time on the style of music that the
“Bullfrog” song they’d once played for B’Elanna fell into…something
from the twentieth century called “rock”. Tuvok had to be prevented
from providing a dry, academic analysis on the accuracy of the
classification, and the line of musical descent. We managed to head
him off around the time he’d gotten to the bluegrass music of the
Appalachians.
Folks danced like there would be no tomorrow, pouring their
frustration and tension into motion. For some reason most of us
passed on the option of ethanol, sticking to synthahol–though trauma
and tragedy has been known to overrule social conditioning before. I
think part of it was a silent tribute to Chakotay, who has his own
reasons for steering clear of the stuff having to do with history,
cultural tragedy, and a bad case of booby-trapped genetics. For
others I suspect it was sheer terror at what the liquor would let free
that night. It crossed my mind that if he never came around we’d be
holding the same kind of party, but that the synthahol would go
undrunk–and the crew would be very drunk. Irish-wake time.
Part-way through the night the three at the side of the bar
shifted into yet another song I hadn’t heard before.

“Got a wife in Reno, babe, and one in Cherokee
First one says she’s got my child, but it don’t look like me.
Set out runnin’ but I take my time,
Friend of the Devil is a friend of mine….”

B’Elanna crumpled at that point, Tom and Harry wrapping arms
around her, her face buried in Tom’s shoulder. I turned to Magda, not
sure why that song would break the hellspark, where none of the others
had.
“What…?”
Magda watched the three, her face controlled. She shrugged after
a moment. “Eh. When we were back in the CDMZ, when we are only Maquis
…it isn’t a good time, comprends? Soames and Chaim and Cherel, they
play like devils then, like they play tonight. So many dead. So many
going to die. Maybe *we* die. It helps, some. After a time, they
find us all songs. B’Elanna, she loves les grenouilles, the frogs, so
she gets the frog song. Then when she hurts she goes out and we all
dance, and she leaps on the table and is happy for a time. This one–
this one is Kurt and Chakotay’s. I think, perhaps, if you ask Chaim,
he tells you that they each have other songs…ones they love alone.
Songs they only tell Chaim they love. But this one is the one they
love in public, both of them. We tell ourselves stories, you see,
about who we are, when we hurt. You tell yourself you are in control,
non? Comme une stoicienne?” Chakotay and Kurt, they tell themselves
another story, how they are les hommes espiegle. Rogues; scapegraces.
The gentleman ruffians. Heroes and loosers all at one time. They
wrap it around them to keep them warm when life is cold. This is
their song.”

“Got two reasons why I cry away each lonely night,
First one’s named sweet Anne Marie, and she’s my heart’s
delight. Second one is prison, baby, sheriff’s on my trail,
And if he catches up with me I’ll spend my life in jail.
Set out runnin’ but I take my time,
Friend of the Devil is a friend of mine…”

I continued to watch the crowd, seeing more than just B’Elanna
among the Maquis wiping away tears. So many dead. So many going to
die…. I turned my mind away from dying. It cut too close.
Sometimes it feels like death and the dead cluster around us,
outnumbering us in their lost billions–and as though we join them too
easily. As though we become cold, crippled history before we’ve
really lived in the present, in the now or given anything to the
future but our own failures. Sins of commission–and of omission.
Lost hopes. I turned instead to a problem of life; a question that
had always bothered me.
“And Seska? Was she a story he told himself?”
Magda looked sharply my way, her eyes quick and perceptive. “It
is perhaps a question to ask him, eh?”
“Some questions it’s better not to ask a man until you’re already
pretty sure you know the answer.”
She considered for a moment, then nodded. “Oui, c’est juste.”
Perhaps there is hope for you yet, Minette. Alors, you listen then.
This is my tale–the way I see it. Do not think it is all the tale.
It may not even be true. But you ask, and I tell.
“She is a hot one, Seska. Tough. Funny, in a bitter way; and
she comes at a time when he is bitter–when sweet would not have been
welcome: making him see only how much he has lost, how many betrayals
of sweetness he has known. And he is…lonely? Eh, it is not the
right word. Desespoir. Despair. Not the bleak, limp kind. Non. The
kind that says ‘I will be dead tomorrow, and what will I take with me
but an empty bed, and an empty heart, and a loosing cause?’ Angry.
An ache, connais-tu? And she wants him. She makes that clear. She
is like a hungry tiger as it praises the goat for it’s plumpness: but
praise him she does, and follows him, and makes him laugh. Admires
him, cares for him, pampers him when he hurts. Maybe she is not a
story he tells himself, but a story she tells to him that he wants to
hear…like a child will listen to a story night after night, and hold
it against the dark. Or maybe she is a story they tell each other. I
don’t know. I know he needed something in the dark times, and she was
there, pour la duree…and then the duration ended. I still do not
know who was most damaged by the end. It is nice to think she was no
more than a predator, eh? But moi, je ne connais pas. I do not know.
She died…and I do not think she died happy, with her Kazon baby, and
her Kazon lover, and nothing left to give Chakotay but bitterness and
betrayals.”

“Set out runnin’ but I take my time,
Friend of the Devil is a friend of mine;
If I get home before daylight
I just might get some sleep tonight….”

The song ended, the notes from the keyboard trailing off in a
restless pacing riff that didn’t so much fade away as rush off into
the future without us. I nodded. “Thanks. I needed to hear that.”
She swirled her ‘cognac’ around the bottom of her glass; her face
tired and withdrawn, sorrow and trouble and dark memories in her eyes.
C’est normal, Minette. Pas de tout.” Suddenly she reached out and
smoothed the back of her hand across my cheek, surprising me. “He
tells better stories these days, ma Minette. Esperance, not
desespoir. Hope, not despair. It’s better. Before, he was like
you…he’d tell the tales of hope and courage, but everyone knew he
didn’t believe them…that he tried to comfort us, like les petites
enfants. Maintenant…now he tells them like he thinks that somehow
they really may be true.”
I closed my eyes, trying not to cry. “I hope he’s right. I’d
rather hope than not. I think I like hope.”
She chuckled. “But of course, cherie. You like *me*, and I am
‘Hope’. Madeleine D’Esperance: Madeleine of Hope. My hopelessness
transformed.” As I looked over at her, she grinned. “Oui. C’est
vrai. Another French pun, of a sort. A play on the name of my home
world. ‘New Hope’. You had gone too long without a joke and had
failed to see it on your own. My little jest at fate. How to turn
grief into joy, despair into hope: laugh it down. It cannot defeat
you if you laugh it down. Kill you, oui. But not defeat you.”
I lasted out a few more hours, and left before they got to “May
the Circle…”, though I saw it coming, as inevitable as death. I’d
have cried and I wasn’t ready for that yet. I preferred to do what I
could to laugh it down, and cry only when I had no other choice left.
The next day we all held together. It was strange. Still and
quiet, for all we were busy. Waiting. At lunch I was left to
myself…in a way. No one insisted on sitting at my table with me,
but somehow all the tables around mine were packed solid, and it was
as though all I had to do was run out of coffee to have another cup
appeared in front of me. It was a strange respect they gave me…as
though I was a widow, with never a ring or a vow to make it so. They
treated me with that sort of kindness. I was very aware I was being
taken care of, and taken care of with a tact and gentleness I somehow
wouldn’t have expected of them all.
It helped. It somehow brought home the fact that we were all
together in waiting, breath held, for one call.
It came at last. Two hours into the afternoon shift my computer
terminal beeped and lit, and Kes’ face beamed out at me.
“He’s awake.”

III.

“You’re a klutz.”
Pleasant words to open one’s eyes to. Janeway was glaring down
at me. “Thanks,” I managed. At least she wasn’t Nanahboozhoo. But I
could see that her eyes were more frightened than angry. I also saw
that I was no longer in the jeffries tube. I was in sickbay.
And God, I hurt.
“What the hell happened?”
“I could ask you the same thing, Commander.” Lips pulled tight,
she struggled to contain something more volatile. I remembered our
last confrontation, on the grassy hill outside Voyager.
I’d almost kissed her. Or she had almost kissed me. I still
wasn’t entirely sure which. I’d felt ambushed and a little foolish
like some wet-behind-the-ears adolescent who had heard “yes” when he’d
expected “no.” Three seconds of off-balance teetering, a shift and
scramble and what the hell am I supposed to do now?
I’d run away.
Wouldn’t Kurt have laughed at that?
I propped myself up on an elbow, blinked back dizziness. Janeway
retreated a step or two, wearing her startled deer look.
She’s no more certain of things that you are, Chakotay.
I wasn’t sure if that soothed my ego or not. A part of me had
hoped at least one of us was in charge of this affair.
Hmmm, bad word choice. Or freudian slip.
I sat up further and rubbed my forehead. “I…fell,” I said–
lamely.
One side of her mouth quirked up. “No kidding. Mind expanding
on that little explanation?”
The doctor had appeared behind me to press a hypo into my back.
“For any lingering nausea,” he explained in absurdly cheerful tones.
Someone needs to explain ‘inappropriate affect’ to that man. “You
should be grateful Lieutenant Torres found you when she did,” he went
on, unasked. “Had you remained at the base of the jeffries tube much
longer, you would have been dealing with more permanent damage than
mere lingering nausea. I took care of the contusions, broken bones,
internal hemorrhaging–”
“Enough!” I waved a hand at him. “I don’t think I want to hear
any more just now….” I rubbed the back of my head, grinned ruefully
at the captain. Arms crossed, she had watched my exchange with the
doctor without comment. “I take it I wasn’t a pretty sight?”
“To a fourth year medical student maybe: all kinds of serious
trauma to fix. To me–no. Then you stayed in a coma for a day or
two, like you weren’t sure you wanted to come out of it.”
“Maybe I was afraid you’d call me a klutz.”
She didn’t laugh. The jest fell flat. “Was I really that bad
off?” I asked, not sure I believed it.
She glanced away. “I wasn’t checking on coffin tubes–quite.
But yes, you gave us a scare, commander.”
I hear what she didn’t say: You gave me a scare. She’s fallen
back on my title, not my name, in order to distance me, make her
concern sound professional, not personal.
“I missed a step,” I said.
“That’s it?”
“Yeah, that’s it. I missed a rung on the ladder, grabbed for it
and missed that, too. Then I was falling. I don’t remember anything
else.”
“Fortunately for you,” the doctor broke in.
But before I could reply, sickbay doors swished open to admit
Anyas. He was intent on some readout in his hand but glanced up long
enough to flash a smile just the safe side of a come-on. He was
wearing yet *another* outrageous outfit. I hadn’t seen him in the
same set of clothes twice since he’d arrived on Voyager.
I caught the look Janeway gave him–somewhere between appalled
and appreciative–and deliberately turned to the doctor. Anyas had
disappeared into the office, but I dropped my voice anyway. “Well,
doctor–what’s your evaluation of our guest, now that you’ve had a few
days to observe him?”
The doctor brightened. “He’s young, but quite competent.
Apparently, eidetic memory is common to the Kithtri as well as the
Ocampa. He’s already finished all ten volumes of Pearson’s Essentials
of Medicine, is started on Stavek’s Vulcan Anatomy, and I have him
scheduled next for McCoy’s primer on xenomedical proceedure.” The
hologram glanced back towards the office as Kou exited, a stunned look
on her face. “Unfortunately, he also has a certain distracting effect
on the crew.”
“He might have less of one if he’d wear a little more.”
Janeway grinned at me, but something dangerous flashed in her
eyes. “Point taken, commander. And since ship discipline is under
your purview, and since you’re on light duty for the next twenty-four
hours–why don’t you use it to address our little problem?”
“Me!”
“You are XO,” she said, patting my arm. Then she was gone.
“Great,” I muttered and laid back down on the biobed.
The doctor stepped into my view. “You are recovered, commander.
There is no need for you to remain in sickbay any longer. Unless, of
course, you wish to talk to Anyas now. I could turn myself off.”
I sat up again and swung my legs over the side of the bed. “That
won’t be necessary. I’ll talk to him later.” Was that damn hologram
grinning? I decided I didn’t care. “Where’s my uniform?”
He picked up one from another bed, handed it over. “Compliments
of the captain. We had to cut the other off of you.” And he raised
the privacy screen so I could dress.
I returned to my quarters and collapsed on the couch, not at all
sure what I felt. The real world suddenly seemed less real than the
world of my dream, or vision, or whatever the hell it had been. Just
the fevered projections of my concussed imagination?
“You’re thinking white, Chakotay,” I muttered to myself.
White man’s rationality–the need to explain the how as if that
could also answer the why. Or eliminate the need to answer it. I was
reminded of the plaque my father had hung above his desk: ‘I would
rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than
live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.’ Harry
Emerson Fosdick. As a boy, I’d thought that sentiment ridiculous.
“What do you want?” I’d asked once when I was feeling particularly
contrary, “To go back to the days when the nanandawi tried to suck the
sickness out of a body and we believed Grandmother Ceder held up the
sky?” My father had not dignified that with a reply.
I pushed myself up and walked over to the little Dine pot on its
table near the door, fished inside it for my medicine bag. I had put
it there some time ago–the night we’d gotten back from Egypt. I
hadn’t worn it since, hadn’t even touched it since. Now, looking down
at the red leather in my palm, I wondered what the hell to make of
Nanahboozhoo’s offer. To be called for mediwiwin, to be called to
walk the path between the now-world and upper-world, the Atisokanak
world. Tau-hau! Was I arrogant to even think of putting myself in
that role? Or was it more arrogant to refuse? I’d never thought I
had quite the right degree of quirky for that vocation. A contrary,
yes. My father had called me contrary often enough–but crazy?
Admit it, Chakotay. You always thought the shamans were a little
crazy. Maybe more than a little.
A part of me, the part brought up in the traditions, had accepted
them at face value, but another part had always looked at them with
skepticism and embarrassment. And if I was having dreams that I was
called to be one of them, then I needed to have my head examined.
I snorted and shoved the medicine bag in my pocket. I could just
imagine how that would look on my record: “Acting commander Chakotay
submits himself to psychological review in order to address issues of
religious delusions and histrionic personality disorder.” Or some
such psychobabble.
“You are a holy man.”
Tuvok’s words.
He’s crazier than I am.
Well, I seemed to have two options: hang around here and go round
and round with this, or go talk to Anyas about his dress–or lack
thereof. At the moment, Anyas’ company appealed to me more than my
own…which is saying something.
I rose from the couch to flip up my terminal, access Starfleet
dress regs. Trouble was, Anyas wasn’t Starfleet. This was useless.
So I checked Janeway’s recorded announcement on duty dress following
the Great Maquis Strike. Yes, much better. Grinning, I downloaded it
to a PADD and headed out.
I found him in the office Janeway had assigned to him, adjunct
sickbay. He was bent over an analyzer of some kind, engaged in tests.
As soon as he saw me, he stood up and held out a hand. “Commander!
What brings you back to sickbay so soon? Can I do something for you?”
He grinned at me with an edge of suggestion to match the suggestion
inherent in his clinging red outfit. At twenty-five, I’d have killed
to look like him. Then again, maybe not. He was too…pretty. Lily
pretty.
Years ago, I’d the chance to see some of the Minoan-style frescos
from Knossos, frescos which had been retouched by Evans, some of them
all but entirely repainted. One of those frescos had been dubbed
“Prince of the Lilies.” It had shown a young man–probably a bull-
dancer, not a prince at all–amid a field of wild lilies, wearing
little besides his loincloth and love-locks and an elaborate hat full
of feathers or more lilies. Something in Anyas’ face reminded me of
that fresco.
Prince of the lilies.
I seated myself on the corner of his desk. “I understand the
doctor made an attempt to explain Voyager’s dress codes to you.”
He lowered his chin slightly, a bullish look, or gearing himself
up to dance with bulls. “Given your phrasing, I take it you don’t
believe he succeeded?”
I decided on bluntness. “Given your attire–no.”
He glanced down at himself, smoothed a non-existent wrinkle in
red spandex. “It covers.”
“You know damn well it does more than cover. Kou’s blood
pressure shoots up every time you strut into sickbay.”
“That’s a problem, commander?” He gave me a wide-eyed innocent
look.
I was growing irritated with his games. “It’s a problem if the
crewmembers can’t do their jobs in an emergency because they’re too
distracted looking at you.”
“Then perhaps it is their discipline you should address, not
mine. I can do my job.”
“I don’t care if you can do your job! You’re provoking the rest
of the crew!”
Why was I suddenly so angry? I’d handled maquis insubordination
with a good deal more aplomb than this.
He stepped closer to me. “Am I provoking the crew, commander?
Or just you? Or maybe it’s that you’re afraid I might provoke the
captain?”
“The captain?” I tried to make my voice level. “I’m not worried
about the captain.”
“At least, not where I’m concerned. But where you’re concerned,
commander?” He gave me that *irritating* smile, like he knew more
about the captain and me than he had any business knowing. But I had
to remember–the man was an empath, maybe more than that. No telling
what he could pick up. The extent of Kes’ abilities had never been
entirely determined. Suddenly, that worried me. What had we brought
onto Voyager? Was Anyas a snake in the grass?
His face altered, from playfully provoking to deadly serious. He
set a hand on my forearm. “I am no danger to this ship, commander. I
am body of Voyager now. My talents are Voyager’s. More, I am a
doctor. It is not in me to cause harm.”
I thought again of him on the bridge, communing with the spirits
of the Kithtri in the veils around Abbyzh-dira in order to save
Voyager from pirates. No, I did not think he was a danger to the ship
–not intentionally.
But that gave me my opening. “Then, if you don’t want to cause
harm, you might consider a change in your attire. We’re not…used…
to such physical display. Perhaps you can dismiss it–pay attention
to it or ignore it as you wish. We can’t. It’s not part of our
culture. You could be a distraction at exactly the wrong moment. If
you’re ‘body of Voyager’, then start acting like it–which means
dressing like it.”
He stepped away, seemed to consider this. I glanced down at the
PADD in my hand, read from it: “‘I require that the clothes you do
choose to wear while performing duties be practical and not too
outrageous. This is a place of work, as well as being our home and
community for the time being, and some limits should be met when on
duty.’ Those are the captain’s words, when she decided to allow the
maquis to wear civies. They apply to everyone, including you, while
you’re part of this crew.”
He looked down at himself, sighed slightly as if mourning the
passing of something, then glanced back up to give a sweet smile, all-
innocent. God, the kid was gorgeous. Some things transcend gender.
“If I am to dress like I’m properly part of Voyager,” he said, “then
perhaps I should wear a uniform?”
I have to hand it to him–I hadn’t even seen that one coming. I
must have stood stunned for five breaths. Then I stuttered, “Why?”
“Am I of Voyager, or not? Your captain all but forced your
maquis to wear the uniform, but she did not even offer it to me.”
“Kes and Neelix don’t wear the uniform.”
“I am not Kes or Neelix.”
Several things came together for me then. Hunch. Instinct.
Anyas was hurt. I could see it in his face, in a tightening at the
corners of his mouth and a slight widening of the eyes. I’d thought
he was making a place for himself here with insulting ease, charming
Magda and God knows who else. But envy had made me overlook the
obvious; of course he would see the uniform as symbolic of acceptance.
The maquis might not all wear it, but they had all been given the
right to–a right not offered to him.
“The uniform has to be earned, Anyas.”
“Did the maquis?”
“They had to undergo training, yes.”
“Then I will, too.” He shrugged, as if it were a matter of small
concern.
I opened my mouth, then shut it, unable to think of one valid
objection. It was just…the idea of Anyas the Prince of Lilies in
Starfleet uniform…. I could imagine what Janeway would say to that.
“I’ll talk to the captain,” I said finally.
“Thank you.” His voice was completely serious, then he tilted
his head and added–still as serious–“You should talk to the captain
about more than just my uniform.”
What the hell…? I did not intend to pursue that, but left him
there in his office without another word.
Why did I feel like I was fleeing the field?

“He wants *what*?”
“He wants a uniform.”
The captain sat down behind the desk in her readyroom and rubbed
a thumb right between her brows. “Kes and Neelix–”
“‘I am not Kes or Neelix.’ His words.”
“I can’t give him a uniform!”
“Why not? You gave them to maquis.” I was a little surprised to
hear myself taking Anyas’ side.
She glared up at me. Her eyes were tired, dark smudges under
them. It suddenly occurred to me to wonder how much sleep she had
gotten in the past few days. I pulled up a chair, but not to the
front of the desk. I pulled it around to the side. “Listen,” I said.
“You granted the maquis the right not to wear the uniform, as long as
their attire was suitable. Why not grant him the right to earn the
uniform they didn’t want? Let Tuvok have him for a week or so–it
might change his mind.” I grinned to think of my sometimes-friend,
sometimes-nemesis saddled with Anyas for a while.
I leaned towards her. “If the doctor’s right about how fast
Anyas is learning Federation medical procedure, it looks like we’re
about to get what we’ve needed since we got stuck out here: a fully
qualified and *mobile* doctor. So, if he can add Starfleet discipline
to Starfleet medical knowledge, then give him the blue and black.
He’ll have earned it.”
She leaned back in her chair to look out the window. Normally,
it showed stars, but with Voyager on the ground, it showed the
hillside and, above that, the gorgeous sky with its wisps of veils.
“I feel like I’m being nibbled to death,” she said finally.
“What?”
She waved a hand. “A concession here, a concession there–
nibbled to death. But you’re right. I should have seen it before.
Not with Anyas, necessarily, but with Kes and Neelix. Just another of
my misplaced attempts to tow a line I should have dropped a long time
ago. Kes and Neelix have been faithful members of this crew, but it
never occurred to me to offer uniforms to either of them, though I
required uniforms for the rest of you.”
“It never occurred to me, either.” She sounded so damn resigned.
It bothered me. “The idea of Neelix in a Starfleet uniform….”
That won the smile I’d been aiming for. “I’ll talk to Tuvok
about Anyas,” she said. “Meanwhile, you go back to your cabin and go
to bed.”
“I will if you will.”
She glanced over, startled. That had come out *entirely* wrong.
Flustered, I ran a hand over my face. “I meant, I’ll go back to my
cabin *to sleep* if–”
She grinned. “I know what you meant.” But she was blushing. So
was I.
“When’s the last time you slept more than four hours?” I asked.
It was bold, but as first officer, it was my job to look after the
captain’s health.
She met my eyes. “Not since you took a nose-dive down a jeffries
tube.”
There. It was said. Acknowledged. I meant enough to her to
keep her up, worrying.
“I’m sorry,” I said, and meant it. She just nodded, once. “You
really should get some sleep,” I added.
Her expression was sardonic. “I’ve got a few more things to do
first.”
“How long?” Cheeky, but I wasn’t going to let her get away with
working herself till she dropped.
“An hour. Two at most.”
“Then I’ll call you in two hours and expect to find you in your
cabin.”
“You’re mothing henning me, Chakotay. Besides, in two hours, you
should be asleep.”
“I’ll set an alarm.”
“Terrible man!” But she laughed. I left. At least this time, I
didn’t feel like I was running from the battlefield.

I did set my alarm. It startled me out of a deep sleep. For a
moment, I couldn’t remember where I was, much less why I’d set the
damn thing. “Computer–end!”
I sat up, blinked twice before I remembered that it was dark
because the lights were off. Scooting to the edge of the bed, I
grabbed my badge, then flopped back down on my back. “Ch’kotay
to Janeway.”
“Here, commander. And yes, before you even ask, I *am* in my
cabin.”
I was tempted to say ‘good girl’ but could just imagine what that
would get me. “And are you going to sleep, captain?”
“In a little bit.”
“You promised–.”
“I’m reading.”
“Kathryn–”
“For *fun*, Chakotay. Agatha Christie. MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA.”
“Ugh. Mysteries. Why am I not surprised you’d like mysteries?”
“I don’t know. Why am I not surprised that you don’t?”
“I’m not the Sherlock Holmes type?”
She laughed. It sent a shiver through the pit of my stomach and
I suddenly realized what a strange conversation this was. Here I lay,
naked on my back in the dark, talking to the woman in the cabin next
door about what she liked to read while I imagined her sitting up in
bed, PADD in her lap, lamplight yellow on long hair and the pink silk
I had only glimpsed once when I’d called her for an emergency in the
middle of the night. The shiver in the pit of my stomach ignited.
Flame ran under my skin.
I shuddered. Hardly proper thoughts for the first officer to
have about his captain.
“Chakotay?”
“Yeah?”
“Good night.”
“G’night.”
I dropped the comm badge back on the bedside table, then rolled
to stare up into the dark. I felt pressure in my chest, a sense of
anticipation, like the tingling electricity just before a storm. I
was bursting with it.

That night, I dreamt of storms. The booming voices of the
thunderpeople chased me through my sleep.
I did not wake rested, which meant I was in a foul mood at
breakfast. Kes noticed. She always notices things like that. I
don’t suppose she can help it. I was, however, a little surprised to
see her in the kitchen at all. She still looked as frail as one of
Tuvok’s orchids.
Handing over Riaka to Tom Paris to watch, she joined me at my
lonely table in the corner. I’d sat down facing the wall–a clear
message that I didn’t want company. But Kes slipped into the seat
beside mine and folded her hands on the tabletop.
“Yes?” I asked.
“Are you and the captain going to give Anyas his uniform?”
I dropped my spoon. “How–?”
“Shhh,” she said with a finger to her lips. Then she smiled.
“Anyas talked to me. It really matters to him, you know.”
“I gathered that.” But the idea of Anyas talking to Kes troubled
me. “And what does Neelix think of Anyas?”
I’d meant it to be sly and casual but her expression was knowing.
“Neelix likes him.” She leaned over to put a hand on my forearm.
“Chakotay, Anyas is a healer. He gives people what he thinks they
need; his intent is never to do harm. He wouldn’t attempt to come
between Neelix and me.”
Anyas gave people what he thought they needed? What did he think
I needed, then? Harassment?
“So,” she said, when I did not reply. “Anyas’ uniform?”
“The captain’s considering it.”
Glancing towards the door, Kes sat up abruptly. “Apparently, she
did more than consider.” But she was smiling.
I turned. Anyas. In uniform. Looking subdued. I nearly choked
on my juice.
Seeing Kes, he waved, went to talk to Neelix–who did, indeed,
seem glad to see him–then brought his breakfast tray over to join the
two of us. Just what I ordered for my morning indigestion.
Setting the tray down on the table, he stood at patient attention
beside me. I glanced up. “Yes?”
“Permission to be seated. Sir.”
I was being needled.
“Sit down, Anyas.” I kicked out a chair. He took it. I sipped
my juice and studied him over the rim of the glass. Everything about
him was pin perfect regulation from the buffed boots to the tied-back
hair–everything except for the earring which dangled from his left
ear. Les Voyageurs, of course. No doubt a gift from Magda. He did
not, I noticed, have a rank pin, even a field commission. Apparently
Janeway was going to wait to see how long he lasted.
Kes grinned with habitual happy excitement. Otter excitement.
“So–when do you report to Tuvok?” she asked.
“Twenty minutes.” He’d already begun shoveling down Neelix’s
breakfast concoction.
“Don’t be late.”
Anyas just grunted.
“And don’t be put off if he seems gruff. Tuvok’s really very
fair.”
Anyas grunted again, then said, “Mr. Tuvok has already made it
clear that he has his doubts about me.” His glance flicked my way.
“Rather like the commander.”
Kes patted my hand in a proprietary way. “The commander has
other things on his mind, right now.”
Anyas’ smiled widened. “Yes, I believe he does.”
Two things struck me. First, Anyas was making no attempt to
flirt with Kes. He flirted with every other woman on the ship, but
not her? I didn’t get it. Second, they were ganging up on me. Dark
and light, I looked from one to the other, wondering again if Kes had
really been in my vision. Would she remember if she had? And what
did Anyas know about it?
Faces swam. Kes became otter. And Anyas…Anyas’ face became
Nanahboozhoo’s–the same mocking smile, the same mischievous eyes.
I pushed myself up from the table and stumbled back.
“Chakotay?” Kes asked, worried.
I fled.

IV.

“Want to explain why you ran out of the cafeteria at breakfast,
commander? I know Neelix’s cooking is bad, but really.”
Janeway sat behind her desk in her readyroom, into which I’d been
called almost as soon as I’d hit the bridge for my first day back at
full duty. I felt like a naughty boy in the principal’s office.
“Nothing to explain,” I lied now.
“Ah. Then shall we play twenty questions?”
“I’d rather not.”
“Commander–”
I raised both hands, half in surrender, half in protest. “I
don’t want to talk about it! It won’t happen again.”
She leaned over, said what I knew she was going to say, “That’s
not good enough.” Then she sighed. “Chakotay, a few days ago you
said to me that if we’re going to make partners, it has to be more
than a ready-room arrangement. There has to be room for friends. But
that works both ways. Or did you think you’d always get to be the
big, strong man for the frightened little captain with never any turn-
about?” She glared at me.
“That…isn’t it, Kathryn. I don’t look at you that way–or at
myself that way.”
“Then?”
How was I supposed to explain daylight-hour hallucinations?
She’d take me off-duty. Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be on duty.
Her hard, all-business air dissipated suddenly; she gave me a
concerned look. “Chakotay, are you still kicking yourself about
Jorland? I thought we’d settled that–”
I shook my head and rubbed at my eyes. “We did. Mostly. As
much as something like that can ever be settled. That’s not what’s
bothering me. Trouble is, I haven’t got a clue what’s wrong, if
anything. Maybe just too much stress.”
“Tell me about it.” No further pressure–just the invitation.
I stretched my arms back and folded my hands behind my head,
studied her a minute. She waited. I had to trust her. She’d trusted
me. We’d never get anywhere with this command team business without
trust. I took a deep breath, leaped off the edge. “I had a vision.
I think.”
She blinked. “A vision of what?”
Her response surprised me a little; she clearly had no idea what
I meant. She’s not from your culture, I reminded myself.
Releasing my hands from behind my head, I bent forward a little,
set my elbows on the edge of her desk. “It’s hard to say ‘of what’–
I’m still trying to figure that out myself…trying to figure out if
there’s anything to figure out in the first place.”
She frowned slightly, opened her mouth. I cut her off. “Wait;
let me finish. Let me tell this my way.” She nodded. I continued,
“When I was unconscious from the fall–I had a vision. At least, I
think that’s what I had. My people…we pay attention to dreams, to
experiences beyond ‘real’ time. As my father used to say, ‘Everything
which happens to us, happens to us.’ You know as well as I do that
people can wake from a nightmare sweating, short of breath, heart
racing. The dream might not be ‘real’, but the dreamer experiences
fear no less. What is ‘real’ anyway? Consider current physics.
You’re a scientist. You know we don’t live in a single universe, but
a multiverse.”
She smiled slightly. “You want to incorporate theories of
alternate universes and space-time anomalies into your religion,
commander?”
“I’m not talking about religion. I’m talking about human
experience. Everything that happens to us, happens to us. Everything
we think, imagine, conceive, dream….all of it is a real part of our
lives. It has meaning. Some ‘flights of fancy’ have more meaning
than the drudgery of living.” I paused a moment, thought, then said,
“I know you like gothic holonovels, but have you ever read the Bronte
sisters, Charolette and Emily?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Do you know anything about their lives?”
“No.”
“They led pretty sheltered lives–nothing like the novels they
wrote. Those novels were spun wholly out of their imaginations. Yet
they became enormously popular: cultural icons. Even *I*, ignorant
savage that I am, have heard the love story of Heathcliff and
Catherine.” I grinned and winked, to show I was jesting, as much with
myself as with her. She smiled back, a little tentative. But I could
see she was with me, understood what I was getting at. “The power of
imagination. The best fiction is after truth, but not all reality is
measurable in a lab. There’s literal truth, but also metaphorical
truth. Many layers of truth, many layers of reality–a multiverse.”
I realized, abruptly, I was speaking to convince myself as much
as to convince her. Or perhaps, to remind myself. “This is what my
people believe. So we give meaning to dreams.” She was looking
skeptical again. I waved a hand. “It’s not what you’re thinking.
I’ve seen that look before.”
“What look?”
“The ‘more weird Indian mysticism’ look.”
She laughed, held up hands. “All right, you caught me. I was
thinking that, more or less.”
“I mean what I said very pragmatically, nothing magical about it.
I’ve solved problems in my dreams, or I’ve lived out fantasies–or
fears. The night before the Kobayashi Maru test, I dreamt I showed up
for it dressed only in uniform top and skivvies.” She laughed. “And
yes, that dream meant exactly what the psychologists say it does. Just
as there are many kinds of realities, there are many kinds of dreams.”
She had sobered again, although the edges of her mouth still
twitched. “I take it that this particular dream, or vision, or
whatever, was more than feeling unprepared for a test.”
I sat back, fiddled with the sleeve of my uniform. “Yes.” It
had been easy to speak of dreams and visions in the abstract. I’d
done it often enough in the past, trying to explain my people’s
beliefs to non-Indians. But when it came down to *me*, *my* vision–
then I started in with the vicious circle of self-doubt again.
“Go on,” she prodded.
“Sometimes one just…knows. The vision stays with you, even
when waking. Because we believe in a multiverse, we believe that it’s
possible for the…ghost…to travel out of the body in order to visit
other realities, other levels of reality. To us, the human being is
made up of a body and a spirit, but the spirit has two parts: the
ghost and the soul. The soul never leaves the body except in death.
But the ghost is the part which can travel ‘interdimensionally’, if
you want to put a scientific term on it. When we dream, the ghost
slips free. Most of the time, it stays in the now-world–what you
call the real world–but sometimes it goes elsewhere. We can dream
into the future or the past, or we can dream into the sky world–the
Atisokanak world…but only if we’ve been invited there by one of the
Atisokanak beings.”
“The…what?”
“Atisokanak beings.” I hadn’t really intended to turn this into
a lecture on Algonquian worldviews, but it seemed to be headed that
way. Maybe it was necessary, for her to really understand. “There
are three kinds of these”–I ticked them off on my fingers–“spirits
previously incarnate…that is, the ancestors; discarnate entities;
and life-form masters…the manitto. They exist in a hierarchy, with
differing degrees of power, but all are under the same Great Spirit–
Gicimanitto, we call it. Some, like bear or eagle, are especially
strong. Some of them are good, some are bad, some are amoral. Rather
like people.” I grinned. Her skeptical look was back, but she was
trying. I could tell she was trying. For me. At least she wasn’t
laughing at me yet. “Some life-form masters, the manitto, may…
adopt…now-world persons to whom they feel a special kinship. They
act as guides. Others are malicious. But because they have power,
all manitto can, with the permission of Gicimanitto, cause things to
happen.”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute.” She was waving her hands in
front of her like a shuttle-director on the landing pad. “You’re
implying that one of these…manitto?…knocked you down a jeffries
tube?”
I hadn’t thought about it that way. “No. That wasn’t what I was
getting at, but it’s possible.”
“You almost died!”
I looked off. “Atisokanak persons aren’t like us; they sometimes
forget how fragile humans are. These aren’t genies in a bottle, magic
fairy godmothers. The manitto aren’t tame. It’s easy to forget.
Sometimes *I* forget. But they only help us if they want to, choose
to. We can’t compel them. Sometimes they take an interest in the
now-world. Most of the time, they don’t. It’s a mistake to attribute
all events, bad or good, to them. I don’t blame my fall on the Horned
Cat or Windigo or anything else; I blame it on myself. All I meant
was–” I halted. She had interrupted me in the middle and now I
couldn’t quite remember where I had been going. For a wonder, she
stayed quiet and let me think. “I was trying to explain why this
vision was different.” I hesitated, took a breath, then said it: “I
was called up into the sky world by the grandfathers. I dreamed the
past and walked across worlds.”
She blinked at me; I could tell from her expression that she
hadn’t a clue as to the import of what I’d just declared. “I thought
you, uh, meditated and went vision questing regularly?”
Snorting, I rose to pace. “This is a whole order of magnitude
different.” I waved a hand dismissively. “Playing with fire. I’ve
been playing with fire. But if you play with fire, eventually you get
burned. I didn’t know what the hell I was asking for!”
Turning my back to her, I crossed my arms. I’d grown too used to
Myeengun–my own guide. For whatever reason, she’s tolerant of my
foibles. But this time, she’d left me to the grandfathers and the
Thunderpeople. Maybe she was forbidden to come, maybe she chose to
stay away for reasons of her own–perhaps to remind me that I can’t
command the manitto. No one can.
“Chakotay. Chakotay, turn around.” I did so. Janeway stood up
and walked around her desk, sat on a corner facing me. Her voice was
gentle–as if trying to calm a spooked horse. “I’m not sure what it
is you’re trying to say here. I can see that you’re upset but unless
you quit talking in circles, I can’t help. Right now, all I gather is
that when you were unconscious, you had some kind of…vision…and
that the experience meant something more for you, something different
from anything you’ve experienced before. I still have no idea what
that has to do with your behavior in the cafeteria this morning, why
you suddenly jumped up and ran away from Kes and Anyas’ table.”
I leaned against the wall, more comfortable standing. “For a
moment, I thought I saw something from my vision, that’s all.”
“Then why don’t you tell me about this vision? Or is that
permitted?”
I threw up my hands. “I don’t know if it’s permitted or not!
Or–no. It’s up to me, really. Who I tell, how much I tell. Some
share their visions; some keep them secret.” I met her eyes. “I’ll
share it with you.”
And so I did.
When I was done, I added, “This morning in the cafeteria, for
just a moment, Kes seemed to become Otter, and Anyas seemed to become
Nanahboozhoo. They’re hounding me, captain. They’ll hound me until I
accept the otterskin.”
She had wrapped one arm around her middle, the elbow of the other
resting on it, chin on fist, listening. Now, she asked, “What do they
want you to accept? What is this otterskin bag?”
“Mashkiki. Medicine. Power. The officers of mediwiwin carry an
otterskin bag. According to our myths, it was otter who first brought
medicine to the people. I think what it means– I think it means the
grandfathers are calling me to become a shaman, Kathryn. I had what
might best be translated as a call vision. I was given a song, and a
mission.”
“To heal Voyager’s hoop?”
“Yes.”
She smiled, shook her head a little. I expected her to tell me I
had finally gone around the bend. Instead, she said, “Chakotay–your
manitto haven’t asked you to do anything you haven’t been doing all
along.” I just blinked. She went on, “If I’m the mind and will of
Voyager, you’re the heart. Who does everyone go to with his or her
problems?”
“Kes!” I interrupted.
“And you.” She hopped off the desk and walked over to face me.
“I won’t pretend to understand the symbology of your people, or to
believe in leaving the body in dreams. I won’t pretend to believe in
your manitto. But I’ve seen enough strange things in space not to
discount them out of hand. Who knows what they are? Who can really
explain the universe? No physicist worth her salt would claim to have
all the answers. I certainly don’t. But I can say this: whether your
vision was your subconscious trying to tell you something, or whether
it really was a message from spirit beings–you *are* already our holy
man, our shaman. Tuvok wasn’t so far off, y’know.”
I felt pierced, pinned to the wall and wriggling. I had to move,
had to get free. “I don’t *want* this!” I shouted, stalking away from
her, cutting my hand through the air. “I didn’t ask for it; I don’t
want it. You don’t know what it means! I’m a command-track Starfleet
officer. I’m not a shaman!”
“Chakotay–I don’t think Starfleet has a title for what you
really do here on Voyager.”
“I thought it was first officer?” I snapped. I wasn’t going to
be petted and cajoled.
I could hear her chuckle behind me. “First officer, certainly.
But every officer who makes it to the top levels of command develops
his or her own style. It’s your style I’m talking about. I don’t
know, maybe it’s not so much *what* you do as *how* you do it. You
told me once that what you wanted was to know your place in things.
That’s what I’m talking about, Chakotay. You fill a need here, on the
ship. This ship does have a ‘hoop’–the storytelling circle–and you
are the center. I think you just forgot it for a while. Maybe you
tried too hard; I don’t know. I’m no psychologist. But I have eyes
and I can see how central you are to Voyager’s psychological health,
her *spiritual* health.”
Her words got to me. I’d be a liar if I said they didn’t. But I
couldn’t bring myself to take the step she seemed to think I should.
Turning my head just enough to see her out of the corner of my eye, I
said, “Captain Doctor Kathryn Janeway, scientist, talking about
spiritual health? Next thing I know, you’ll be donning a habit and
taking vows for the convent.”
She laughed. “Not bloody likely!” Then she sobered. “Chakotay,
I don’t want you to dismiss this…experience…out of hand. Or at
least, I don’t want you to reject what you are, what we all see in you
–even Tuvok. I won’t pretend to tell you what your vision ‘means’ in
any kind of absolute sense, but maybe it was trying to point you back
to us so you could be what you’ve always been.”
“No beads and rattles and masks?”
“No beads and rattles and masks. Just a uniform and a talking
stick and a talent for telling a story. We need you, Chakotay. *I*
need you. You hold the center for us.”
Surprised, I turned all the way around. Remembering back a few
days to a different conversation, one where she had needed comfort
when struggling with her own demons, I quoted:

“‘Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere,
the ceremony of innocence is drowned…'”

It sounded like an incantation. Words of power. I felt a shift, a
drop, became aware that something had changed. It was as if we spoke
now outside time, spoke of absolute things.
“I’m learning how to hold things together by not holding on so
tightly,” she said. “But I need a center, Chakotay. I need a center
to hold them to. I’m not the center. That’s not my personality.”
“You’re too much fire,” I said, wondering where these words were
coming from. “Too much of fire and air: mind and will.”
“I need you to be the center.”
I wanted to laugh. “Me? The contrary?”
“You’re not the sixteen-year-old boy who ran off to Starfleet any
more.”
“No, I’m not.”
She took a few steps nearer, spoke low, intensely. “I need you
to be the center.”
In that moment, I doubt I could have refused her anything. “Then
I will be.”
A breath. A blink. Time lurched forward again. We held one
another’s gaze a moment more then both glanced away at the same time.
What had just happened? What had I promised? I wasn’t at all sure I
knew. I turned for the door.
“Chakotay–”
I glanced back; she came forward. I just looked down at her a
moment. She seemed to be waiting for me to say something. I didn’t
know what to say. Enough had been said already.
The moment lengthened, passed from awkward to uncomfortable.
Pressed by a need to break it, I took a step in, bent a little. She
was a small woman. I touched her mouth with mine. I’m not sure I’d
call it a kiss. Skin barely had time to register contact before I was
pulling back. Her grey eyes were very wide.
It was too heavy. The moment was too heavy. I made myself grin.
“Don’t suppose you could put up with me at the market the day after
tomorrow? Command unity, and all that. I need to make some final
arrangements for supplies, before we leave. Company would be nice.”
Her own mouth twisted. “Are you asking for a date, commander?”
“First officers don’t date. It’s beneath them. We escort, or
are escorted, to an engagement.”
She burst out laughing. “Terrible man.”
I leaned forward again, stopped an inch from her mouth. Our
breath mingled. She did not pull away. “What would you do if I
kissed you, Kathryn?”
“Do you want to kiss me?”
“I wouldn’t ask, if I didn’t want to.”
“I thought it might be a hypothetical scenario, testing command
performance.” It was supposed to be a joke, but it came out a little
breathless. I felt about like she sounded.
“Kobayashi Maru in the Delta Quadrant? And do you want me with
my pants on or off?” Then I squeezed my eyes shut, felt the blood
rush up my neck to burn my ears. I couldn’t believe I’d just said
that. Nerves. The high-strung, jelly-in-the-belly, shoot-off-at-the-
mouth kind of nerves I hadn’t felt in years.
She handled it. In the same dry command voice she reserved for
blushing ensigns, she said, “For the moment, pants on, I think.
Later, we’ll see.”
My turn to burst out laughing. She joined me. We hung on to one
another for a moment, laughing our heads off. “They must wonder, out
there, what the hell is going on in here,” I said when I’d caught my
breath.
Reaching up, she touched my cheek. The gesture was…very sweet.
“Kiss me, Chakotay.”
So I did.
The first time I’d ever kissed a girl, I’d been aware of every
sensation: the uncomfortable angle of my neck, the padding of her
breasts between us, her teeth behind her lips, her tongue and mine
dancing awkward around each other, the fact she had to stand on tip-
toe to reach me.
This was like that. I was aware of everything. Her hair under
my hand, the smell of black coffee on her breath, the hum of the air
recycler in the background. She kissed much better. Our teeth didn’t
knock against each other at least. And she knew a good deal more,
knew enough to press her hip right into my crotch. Immediately, all
the disparate sensations flooding through me focused right *there*.
I tore free. “Enough. I can’t go back out there like this!”
Little smile teasing her mouth, she glanced down between us.
“Shall I dump cold water on you, commander?”
“No thanks, captain.”
The titles brought us up short, reminded us: We were on duty.
The first time, out on the hillside, we’d been off-duty–as much as
captain and first officer could ever be off-duty. We’d been Kathryn
and Chakotay. We still were, but we were also captain and first
officer. That thought was more effective than cold water.
“This could get complicated,” I said. “Fraternization warnings
and all that.”
She stared up at me. I could feel her body heat. “Do you want
to go back?”
“No.”
“Neither do I. We’ll have to work it out. Somehow.”
“Right. I can just *hear* what Tuvok’ll have to say.”
“I think you’ll find Tuvok is the least of our worries. You need
to talk to B’Elanna.”
“You said that before.”
“Consider it a reminder. The sooner, the better, Chakotay.”
Crunch time. “Yes, ma’am.”
Her hand came up swiftly. For a moment, I feared she would slap
me but she just patted the side of my face. “Terrible man.” Then she
smiled. “Have you opened your present yet?”
“Present?”
“The present I gave you just before the circle.”
I hit myself on the forehead. “No! I’m sorry. I mant to open
it that night–”
“–but you took a dive down a jeffries tube.”
“And then I just forgot. But I will. Tonight after shift. Do
you want to come watch?”
Smiling a little, she stepped away, went back to her desk. “No.
No need. Dismissed, commander.”
For a moment, I stood there, unsure what to make of that. I was
still weak in the knees and there she stood, calmly rearranging her
desk. Then I saw her hand reach for the ever-present coffee cup.
Fingers missed. Cup tipped. Cold coffee went everywhere. “Dammit!”
She grabbed tissue from a dispenser in the wall, squatted down on the
other side of the desk to clean it up.
Feeling reassured of her humanity, I smiled a little. “Need some
help, Kath?”
Her head popped up above the edge of the desk and she threw a
tissue at me. “Get the hell out of here, you rogue!”
Laughing, I made my escape.

V.

After leaving Janeway’s office, I wandered over to Harry’s
station to check a few things, see how B’Elanna’s repairs were going.
Harry wasn’t there. B’Elanna had co-opted him and Paris for those
very repairs. Sitting on the ground, we had no need for a pilot. The
only people on the bridge were Sam Wildman and Tuvok at his post. I
wondered what Tuvok had assigned to Anyas for the morning. Cleaning
the transporter room with a toothbrush? The thought made me grin.
When I had read the same damn screen three times and still
couldn’t have said what it reported, I realized my concentration was
shot to hell.
Couldn’t imagine why.
I kept expecting Janeway to come zooming out of her readyroom to
say it was all a mistake and if I ever tried to kiss her again, she’d
punch my lights out.
But of course she didn’t. I wondered if she was having any more
luck working in her office than I was out here. I rubbed my eyes.
“Commander.” It was Tuvok; I glanced up. “If you are becoming
fatigued, or feel unwell, perhaps you should not attempt a full day’s
duty so soon after your injury?”
I’m sure Tuvok had heard about the little ‘incident’ in the
cafeteria that morning. Was this his way of telling me he didn’t
think me fit yet? “I’m fine,” I snapped, and returned attention to
the board. If Tuvok was watching, I’d damn well better act normal.
I left for my office as soon as I could safely make an escape
without risking the appearance of having done so. There, alone, I
opened my terminal to skim over what Janeway had tied up for me in my
absence. For the most part, she had handled only those things that
could not wait, leaving the rest to my discretion. An hour or two
later, the door buzzed. “Come.”
Tuvok entered, hands behind his back. “It is nearly noon.
Though Vulcans do not normally partake of ‘lunch’, I did not break
my fast this morning. Would you care to join me in the cafeteria?”
I wasn’t sure *what* to make of that. Did he want to talk about
something? Was he checking up on me? Or was this just the Vulcan
version of a friendly overture? Whatever the case, the idea of going
back to the cafeteria after bolting out of it this morning didn’t
appeal. “Actually,” I said, “I was planning to order a bowl of soup
here and try to catch up on the state of repairs. Was there something
you wanted to talk to me about?”
His eyes hooded. Wrong approach, I told myself. I’d hurt his
feelings. Of course, he’d never admit to having feelings to hurt, but
after two years, I knew better. I stood. “You could join me here, if
you like. Lunch is on me.” After being out of commission for a few
days, I had replicator rations to burn. He nodded once and seated
himself in front of my desk. Walking to the replicator, I asked,
“What’ll you have?”
“Kharokh salad and mineral water.”
I made no comment. Kharokh had always tasted to me like year-old
canned spinach. I brought him his lunch, then ordered some chili for
myself and, on impulse, a plate of frybread which I put between us.
“Try some.”
Up went the eyebrow but he took a piece, took a bite. I waited.
“The oil content is…rather excessive.”
I just grinned and took some for myself.
“What is this called?” he asked.
“Frybread. Everybody’s got his or her own recipe. When I was
growing up on the rez, there was a yearly contest to see who made the
best.”
“Did you win?”
“Me? I couldn’t even cook yet! No, Liz Johns won. Every damn
year. Second place, third…those varied. But they may as well have
given Liz the prize in perpetuity.” I nodded to the plate. “That’s
hers. Never could actually get the recipe *out* of her, so my junior
year at the Academy, I went back to Oklahoma for the contest, got some
of her frybread, took it with me to San Francisco and had a chemist
friend put it through an analyzer to tell me what the hell was in it.”
His expression was unreadable. “And what are the ingredients?”
Grinning, I waved a finger at him. “Ah, ah, ah–great Potowatomi
secret, Mr. Tuvok.”
He snorted delicately and returned his attention to his salad.
“You do realize I could simply read your replicator program?”
“But you won’t.”
We ate then in a companionable silence. It was the first meal
we’d shared since the Great Maquis Strike. When he was done, he
pushed his plate away and steepled his fingers in front of his face.
“I have been thinking about our departure from this system.”
“And?”
“It seems in our best interest to join one of the other caravans.
Although I calculate a 72.4 percent probability that, given what
happened to those who made a previous attempt on Voyager, no one will
organize a second ambush, there is no reason to, as humans put it,
‘tempt fate.’ A convoy of Talaxian ships arrived at Abbyzh-dira
yesterday. I believe they would be the optimal choice of traveling
companions.”
It was a good suggestion, one that had crossed my mind as well,
but I wasn’t sure how Janeway would take it. She disliked being
beholden to anyone, but perhaps this was a small enough matter she
wouldn’t fuss. “You want to put it to the captain or shall I?”
“As it concerns ship’s security, I believe the suggestion should
come from myself.”
“She’ll probably listen to you better anyway.”
He tilted his head. “You underestimate the captain’s confidence
in you, commander.”
*That* I didn’t want to discuss with Tuvok, so I allowed,
“Maybe,” and returned my attention to my chili. “But you’re right:
this is ship’s security. It should come from you.” I grinned, a bit
sardonically. “You can tell her I back you up on the recommendation.
If we’re actually in agreement on something, she’ll either faint dead
away or implement it immediately before one of us changes our mind.”
“Humor,” he said, as if he felt a need to label and box it and
thereby contain it. “Also incorrect. I do not always disagree with
you.”
Rising, I took my empty bowl and his empty salad plate, put them
back in the recycler. “All right, so maybe not ‘always’. Only about
ninety-five percent of the time.”
His expression turned sour. “Hyperbole, as well. In fact, I
would estimate the percentage closer to…seventy-six percent.”
I wasn’t sure if that was meant to be funny or not but I laughed
anyway. Then, leaning against the edge of my desk, I finally let my
curiosity get the better of me. “So, what have you got Anyas doing
this morning?”
“Reviewing Starfleet protocols. I plan to test him on all of
them this afternoon.”
“ALL of them? This *afternoon*?”
“He has an eidetic memory, commander–or so he has informed me.”
And Tuvok planned to find out if that were true. I grinned,
hoping for Anyas’ sake that he hadn’t engaged in idle boasting. “At
least he’s in a uniform instead of a dance costume,” I said.
“We shall see if he stays in one.” Tuvok rose. “Thank you for
the meal. I believe it time to check with my student. If you will
excuse me.” But at the door, he paused, glanced back, tried for an
offhand air which did not succeed. “During your convalescence, the
captain was…most concerned for your well-being. As I said earlier,
I believe you may underestimate her confidence in you–and her
reliance on you. I hope you will not also take them for granted.
Good day.” A swish of doors and he was gone.
And *that*, I thought, was what lunch had been about in the first
place. Vulcans might be able to outflank an argument even before one
could formulate it, but they did the ‘subtle hint’ like the proverbial
bull in a china shop. “Don’t worry, Tuvok,” I said to the closed
door. “I won’t take advantage of her.”

I spent the afternoon with B’Elanna, Kim and Paris down in
engineering, looking at repair specs. They’d done a remarkable amount
of work in a few short days. We should be ready to leave inside a
week. I sent Tuvok a message with the news so he could plan his
contacts with the Talaxians accordingly. I just hoped Janeway would
listen to his advice. I knew she was eager to be gone, but no point
in taking off in a rush, only to be ambushed again and end up right
back where we started.
When alpha shift went off, I strolled around a while, trying to
hear word of Anyas. In truth, though, I was just hoping to bump into
the captain by accident. I hadn’t seen her since our tete-a-tete in
her readyroom that morning, and usually we crossed paths several times
a day–at least. Granted we were not on normal ship’s function now,
but I couldn’t escape the feeling she was avoiding me.
Down by the aeroponic’s bay, I ran across Magda. “Cher Minou!”
she exclaimed and gave me one of her famous French-Canadian hugs.
“And how are you, eh?”
“I’m fine.”
She gripped me by both cheeks and studied my face. I felt
fourteen, not forty-four. Finally, she said, “Bon. You look well.
En effet, cher ami, you are *glowing*.” She grinned. “You are up
to mischief?”
“No, not at all.” But I knew I was blushing.
“If not mischief, then this has been a very *good* day, non?”
I nodded. “Ah…yeah, I guess you could say that.” I wasn’t
about to tell her why. Better change the subject, too, or she’d be
guessing. Sometimes I thought the woman was psychic. “Have you seen
Anyas? I was wondering how his day with Tuvok went. I understand he
had a protocols quiz this afternoon.”
She smiled and patted my cheek. “L’pauvre docteur va bien; c’est
pas ton affaire, Minou. You go rest for this day. Leave Anyas to me
and Kes.”
“But–”
“No buts! To dinner and then to bed with you!” She made shooing
motions and disappeared into the hydroponics bay.
I stood in the hall staring at the shut door, then shrugged and
walked on. Halfway to the cafeteria, I decided I didn’t really want
to show up there this evening, either, so I checked my replicator
account, decided I could swing another meal in my quarters. Besides,
I still had this present to ‘open.’ I didn’t know if I was more
curious or more anxious about a present I could possibly insult, and
was reminded of Andorian wilting trees. The damn things were *shy*,
would literally fold up their leaves if one spoke too loudly in their
presence. I wondered if this were something of the same sort. No
telling what the captain had found down in the market.
As matters turned out, ‘shy’ was about as far from the reality as
possible. Egotistical, acerbic and maddening were better descriptors.
The package–or bag really–turned out to contain a dozen mini-
hologenerators and a program. It took a while to set up generators.
I followed her instructions regarding their placement–still blessedly
innocent of what I was about to unleash on myself. Then, everything
in place, I popped the program into the computer and said, “Run.”
It appeared smile-first and, for just a minute, I wondered if I’d
taken a wrong turn somewhere and landed in Wonderland. A moment later
when the rest of it caught up with the smile, that impression was only
enhanced.
It was a cat, or a fashion nightmare, I wasn’t sure which. The
fur was bright green with orange stripes, pink belly and socks. I
wondered if the captain had been smoking a little peyote when she
programmed this thing. It was also *huge*–more small lynx than
domestic housecat. Tail wrapped serenely around its feet, it sat like
Sekhmet on the back of my couch.
For a moment, we just regarded one another. I wasn’t sure what
to do with it. I’d never been given a holographic pet in shades of
neon before.
*Heya, big boy.*
The mouth hadn’t moved but the voice clearly belonged to the cat.
I admit, I jumped, and amended my thought: I’d never been given a
holographic pet in shades of neon with a talk function and an attitude.
When I still didn’t reply, my ‘present’ hopped down from the
couch and walked over to rub up against my legs–for all the world
like any regular cat. *What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?*
Predictable, but I chuckled in spite of myself, squatted down to
offer my hand to be smelled then rubbed the animal under the chin.
The purr was almost unnaturally loud. “Do you have a name?”
*Mama calls me Chessie, but if you insist, I’ll consider a
change. Won’t promise one, but I’ll consider it.*
The voice was definitely male, a bit husky. “Chessie will do,” I
said. “And who is ‘Mama’?”
Chessie pulled back his head to blink at me as if I were stupid.
*Who d’you think?*
“The captain.”
*The one and only.*
“Just what is it you’re supposed to be?”
He stretched his chin forward again for me to scratch. *Friend,
buddy, bosom pal, occasional foot-warmer…but I’m afraid parcheesi
partner is out.* He raised a front paw. *’Less you wanna move my
pieces for me.*
Grinning, I said, “That’s okay; I’ll pass on the parcheesi.”
He rubbed his head harder against my fingers. *Ooooh, you’re
good at that. Scratch a little higher on the cheek.* I complied.
Chessie went on, *I am the utterly perfect pet. All the benefits but
none of the drawbacks: no litter box, no fleas, no shedding, I don’t
insist you turn on a faucet so I can drink, and I don’t spit up
hairballs in the middle of the night. Furthermore, I’m intelligent,
witty and a charming conversation partner.*
“And egotistical.”
He managed the affronted expression only a cat could perfect and
mince-stepped off, tail high, curled just slightly at the tip. Still
squatting, I watched him begin to explore the living room. For all
the intelligence that the captain had obviously programmed into him,
he did act just like a cat, looking under this, behind that, and
generally trying to check out the place, one square inch at a time.
*Nice digs ya got here. Of course, a couple stray rubber bands
in easy cat-reach and a suitably large pillow on the corner of the
couch nearest the heater would improve things immeasurably.*
I grinned. Was there a cat born able to resist a rubber band?
Cheapest cat toy in the world. “I’ll see what I can do,” I said, then
added sarcastically, “and I’m glad you approve of my quarters.”
Standing, I moved around from the area near my little two-person
dining table towards the couch so I could keep an eye on my visitor.
I wasn’t sure just yet what he might get into, but given the fact he
was a cat, he was bound to get into something. Sitting down on the
edge of my sofa, I clasped hands between my knees and watched Chessie
sniff the legs of my desk, hop neatly up into the chair. “How did the
captain know I liked cats?”
Chessie looked up, Siamese-blue eyes wide and suspiciously
innocent. *You told her?*
“I don’t ever recall telling her any such thing.” I shrugged.
“But who knows? Maybe I did.”
*Are you planning on sitting there a while?* the cat asked.
“I don’t know–why?”
He hopped from the desk chair onto arm of the sofa, then cat-
walked across the sofa back to land–hard–in my lap, presenting the
posterior first, of course, tail swishing in my face. *Because,* he
said, turning around three times, *your lap is just about large enough
to sub for that pillow you’re gonna find for me later.* And down he
lay.
My lap was *barely* large enough. I had cat spilling over a
little to either side. My hand sneaked up to stroke his back; he
purred and kneaded my thigh. I’d forgotten how hypnotic it was to pet
a cat. I’d read once somewhere that it lowered both the person’s and
the cat’s blood pressure, an argument in favor of cat ownership for A-
type personalities if I’d ever heard one. Maybe Janeway needed a cat,
not a dog.
We sat like that for a while. I was tired, I admit. The day had
been long. To sit quiet for a few minutes, cat in my lap, head back
against the sofa, was an unexpected luxury. This reminded me of the
stray I’d picked up, back in the CDMZ. I wondered who was feeding it
now, had no doubt someone would. The maquis had always been good at
taking in strays, animal or human. In the CDMZ, animal strays hadn’t
been so uncommon, either; many colony worlds had been agricultural.
Dogs, cats, even a pair of goats and a pig came in with the human
refugees; dijels and motz came with the Bajorans; big shaggy sehlats
with the Vulcans. But the oddest of all had been the Quetzal-green
Betazoid Kabori bird that had adopted Kurt. It had used to ride
around on his shoulder, prompting him to bad Hemingway imitations
until he had me laughing my ass off at him.
*Whatcha thinking, DaddyO?*
Startled, I glanced down to see the cat watching me from one
barely-opened eye. “‘DaddyO’?” I asked.
*Got a different preference? Pops? Old man? Uncle C?*
‘Uncle’ reminded me unpleasantly of Nanahboozhoo and my vision.
Lifting the cat in my arms, I stood.
*Whoooah, boy!* I felt claws go in as the creature scrambled for
a solid purchase on my shoulder. *How about a warning next time
before the world moves!
“I wasn’t going to drop you,” I said to him, lowering him back to
the floor. He was too big to carry around. “And it wouldn’t hurt you
even if I did.”
*How d’you know? Ever been a hologram before?*
I snorted, walked towards the replicator, cat at my heels. “No,
I have to admit, that’s one experience I *haven’t* been subjected to
out here. Do you mind it I get a little dinner? You may not need to
eat, but I do.”
*I don’t NEED to eat, but that doesn’t mean I don’t LIKE to eat.
How ’bout calling up a bowl of cream from my program?* He sat, licked
at a paw. *I think Mama remembered to put in the cream. If not, I’m
gonna have a chat with the chick.*
I chuckled. “That, I’d like to see.”
*Wouldn’t you just.*
“One bowl of cream,” I spoke to the air. It materialized right
in front of my visitor.
*Atta boy.* And he began to lap it up. I got my own dinner:
fried chicken and biscuits, something thoroughly greasy and bad for
me. If the cat was having cream, I could have my cut of saturated fat
for the day, too. Even though Chessie appeared to be occupied with
his bowl, since his speech function wasn’t connected to a throat, he
also continued to talk. *Chicken! Too bad that’s real and I’m not.
So, you never answered either of my questions.*
I’d forgotten them by this point. “What questions?”
*First, waddaya want to be called, and second, what were you
thinking?*
The cat had a good memory. Then again, it was a computer
program; it ought to. “What do I want to be called…. Names are
always good.”
Finished with his cream, Chessie swiped at the bowl–which
promptly disappeared. “How’d you do that?” I asked.
*It’s a hologram, I’m a hologram.*
“So you could have called it up, too? Why ask me then?”
Hopping into the chair opposite mine at the table, he looked at
me over the edge. *It’s so much more…traditional. Y’know, cat
meows nicely, cat owner provides large quantities of cream and other
yummy comestibles. Now, you were thinking…?*
“How do you know I was thinking anything?”
*Mmmm, maybe because you were grinning at nothing?*
“Just an old friend. I was thinking about an old friend.”
It suddenly struck me hard, like a sucker punch below the
diaphragm–the cat reminded me of Kurt. Same wonky, wicked sense of
humor. Janeway couldn’t have…. Could she?
But, no. She wouldn’t swipe a dead man’s personality for a
holographic simulation. Coincidence. And the cat used words Bendera
wouldn’t know what to do with. ‘Comestible’, for pete’s sake!
*Now whatcha thinking?*
I blinked, shook my head. I had to remember this thing was not
really a cat…as if I could forget, given its color. Cat’s curiosity
but a human’s intelligence; he read my face a little *too* well. Just
why the hell had Janeway given him–made him, in fact–for me? This
gift represented hours and hours of work.
“I wasn’t really thinking much of anything,” I told Chessie.
He just looked at me, then dipped his head and began diffidently
to clean his whiskers, saying nothing else. I finished my dinner in
silence, thoughts wandering…wandering mostly in Janeway’s direction,
I admit. I wondered where she was this evening, what she was doing.
I should probably call her and thank her for the present but I
hesitated, remembering that she was avoiding me. After that morning,
I wasn’t sure I could blame her. I *still* couldn’t believe I’d
dropped that line about the pants! I couldn’t believe she’d responded
with the suggestion the pants might one day be optional, either.
Damn. This one was not covered in any Starfleet textbook, except
to give muddled warnings. I’d gotten through the past two years
mostly by ignoring the whole question and sublimating like crazy.
CRASH!
Jumping out of my skin and the chair both, I yelled, “What the
hell?”
The cat had disappeared. I had been so wrapped up in my own
thoughts, I hadn’t even noticed. Now I stalked towards the bedroom,
from where the crash, and now a pathetic whimpering, came. From the
doorway, I could assess the damage.
Chessie cowered at the edge of the bed beneath an overhang of
spread. His tail gave him away. On the floor in front of my dresser
lay my smudge bowl, ash from burnings scattered and black pawprints
revealing the offender’s route of escape even if the tail had not–
straight across the bedspread. The smudge bowl–made of polished
shell–was still intact. But he had also managed to pull down the
buckskin which had been under the smudge bowl, my pipe, and a votive
candle holder. It was the glass votive which had broken. “Dammit!”
*Sorry, sorry, sorry* came the whimper from the unseen culprit.
*But the feathers…. They were just…hanging there, inviting….*
The anhinga and eagle feathers tied onto my pipe stem. They must
have been peaking over the dresser edge–a little too tempting for
kitties, even green and orange kitties.
Stalking over, I pulled up the spread to reveal him. “Didn’t
‘Mama’ teach you to keep your paws to yourself?” The damn thing
actually put those very paws right over his nose, looking utterly
terrified. I sighed. I couldn’t stay mad at him. “Come on out.
I won’t spank you.” Slowly, he crept forward, huddled down about a
handspan away, shivering, eyes big as saucers. Cats do pathetic as
well as any beagle I’ve ever met. Reaching down, I scooped him up–
heavy sucker–and unceremoniously plopped him on my shoulder. “Now
listen. There are a few ground rules around here. This”–I picked
up the pipe and waved it in front of his nose–“is not a toy. If
you’re not sure if you can play with something, ask before trying,
since you CAN ask. And stay off the tabletops. I don’t allow my cats
on tables and dressers. Couches, chairs, the bed, those you can
lounge on to your heart’s content, but stay off the other furniture.
Got it?”
The cat had pushed back to look at me, eyes still wide but the
ears forward now instead of back–a good sign. His words took me by
surprise. *So you’ll keep me?*
Snorting softly, I started to say, Do I have a choice?, but
rethought it. Something in the tone–flat without the sarcastic edge
–gave away his uncertainty. The thing was *worried*.
Hell, I was attributing feelings to a hologram. Then I reminded
myself that if Vulcans and EMHs could have them, why not holographic
cats?
“Yeah, I guess so.”
Cats don’t hug, quite. But they do cuddle well.

VI.

I think it was the crash that did it.
I’d been dodging Chakotay since the meeting that morning: there
was no way I wanted to face him in front of the crew with the memory
of that kiss so close to the surface. Not until I’d had some time to
digest the whole thing. Lord….
I’d kissed him.
No. Worse. I’d told him to kiss me, *told* him to. Me–the
sensible, logical, controlled one. Maybe I was the one who’d fallen
down a jeffries tube, and I was hallucinating the whole thing. What a
depressing comparison that made: Chakotay got demi-gods; angels and
archangels. Manitto. Me? Erotic hallucinations. Somehow it seemed
entirely unfair. It also seemed unlikely. I was pretty sure I hadn’t
fallen–at least, not down a jeffries tube.
All right: he’d kissed me first, if you could count that phantom
touch as a kiss–and I did count it.
But then I’d told him to kiss me.
For all I’d wanted to kiss him, for all I’d promised myself I’d
make a decision along those lines…. The truth is, I’d never really
thought I would. Not really.
God. The man knows how to kiss. But I still couldn’t believe…
Ambushed by a religious role that disturbed him and seduced him,
which he had played at with the charmed hope of innocence and
arrogance, Chakotay was tumbling in free-fall: all his certainties in
a chaotic tumble.
I was no less lost. As singed and burning-bright as a moth in a
candle flame. I didn’t know who I was. Certainly the old Kathryn
wasn’t the woman who had told her first officer to kiss her–and then
done everything in her power to make sure he’d want to kiss her again.
Surely that wasn’t *me*?
I made it through the day. I made it to my quarters. I managed
to eat some dinner. Not much–my stomach was too tied up and my
nerves were too twitchy for more than a salad. I even stayed away
from coffee, for a change–I already had all the jittery, jumpy
symptoms of caffeine overload as it was. I gave in to temptation, and
treated myself to a bubble bath beyond belief. I got frivolous and
slipped into the silky, comfortable outfit Kes had gotten me–and
rolled my eyes, knowing that I wore it as much for the memory of his
arm around me and his side warm and solid against my back as for the
pleasure of feeling elegant and exotic in the empty solitude of my own
quarters.
Then I sat on my sofa, and tried to come up with some reason not
to go see how Chakotay was.
I was beginning to think I needed my head examined. My moods
seemed to be as erratic as a random number generator–all over the
board. One second I was furious with myself, appalled that I’d
forgotten my own rules and standards. The next….
The next the memory of the feel of him, the way he’d pressed
close when I pushed against him, the slide of his tongue and the
cradle of his palm against my skull, would take over; and shivering,
grinning delight would go skittering through me, leaving me restless,
and wild, and a bit breathy. Those moments I’d find myself with a
goofy grin on my face, and feel like I could dance with the stars and
not get burned.
Then the mood would turn to ash, and I’d be right back to self-
reproach.
During those hours after he fell I’d felt like all he had to do
was open his eyes and I’d be ready for anything. Ready to accept the
whole thing: the feelings, the complications, the needs. Accept how
much I had come to want him, and depend on him. I’d been wrong–he
opened his eyes–and suddenly it was all more confusing than ever.
Much more confusing: before I’d been able to pretend to myself that it
wasn’t an issue. Just an annoying little attraction I could shove to
one side, in favor of more practical, demanding concerns.
I’d done it, he’d done it, and I didn’t know for the life of me
if that was some kind of failure, or a victory. It felt like both:
and like a mystery, and a debacle, and a secret, all bundled together
and tied with a bow.
If you can sulk and gloat simultaneously I was managing it. I
wasn’t managing much else: it seemed like having the repent-at-leisure
spooks was as much as I could manage. Certainly my repeated efforts
to keep my mind on MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA didn’t get me anywhere.
Poirot could have shaved his mustache, murdered Hastings, and run off
with Miss Marple, and I wouldn’t have noticed.
Then I heard the crash from Chakotay’s quarters, followed by a
howl, and I knew the cat was out of the bag.
It took all of about ten seconds to realize that if I waited
there in my quarters, right next door to his, the next thing I knew
I’d be at his door, dying to see if he liked the damned thing, and all
ready to receive a kiss if he did, or give a kiss as a consolation
prize if he didn’t. In short, I’d be in big trouble if I didn’t
leave–and leave instantly.
I surrendered the field. I’d have surrendered the entire galaxy
if it could have gotten me safe-away from my own damned, traitorous
willingness to seduce and be seduced by temptation–or Chakotay–
whichever came first.
I was halfway to the turbolift before I realized that I wasn’t
really dressed for my ready room. I could just imagine the gossip:
“The Old Woman came barreling onto the bridge dressed fit to kill and
smelling of Velosian Desire bubble bath, went to her ready room–and
hasn’t come out since. No one can go in–particularly Chakotay. She
says she’s never coming out again–the sofa is comfortable, and she
was tired of her own quarters. Yep. She’s around the bend, all
right. Completely gonzo. Bet it’s because she’s in love with
Chakotay. Love makes command officers act crazy, that way. They test
’em for that before they’ll give ’em a command of their own.”
Nope. The ready room was out.
Tuvok’s room? Hell, even Tuvok would wonder what I was doing
showing up at his door in that ‘stellar splendour’ dress, emitting the
scent of imported Risan bubble bath. Vulcans can be determinedly
oblivious, but there are some things that overpower even a Vulcan’s
insistence on cluelessness. Not that he’d think I was importuning
him: he knows I wouldn’t cross over into T’Pel’s territory even if he
and I had that kind of relationship. But Paris could make book on
his figuring out what *had* triggered the feminine indulgences. In
fact, in light of the conversations we’d had after the fall, with my
luck he’d not only guess, but start providing me with marriage
counseling I simply wasn’t ready for yet. I did *not* want good
advice on my sex life from Tuvok. What I wanted was for him, and me,
and Chakotay, and the whole damned ship to go back to the days when
I’d known what the hell I was supposed to be doing, and to *leave* it
that way.
Damn.
Sandrine’s? Hell, usually I didn’t even go to Sandrine’s dressed
in my best. I’d only worn it for the *circle* because it was new, and
Kes had given it to me, and Riaka’s naming was worth the effort…
And if I was honest, because I kind of wanted Chakotay to see
just how good I looked in it. But…
At least Sandrine’s was some sort of excuse for looking like a
holo-star out slumming. So Sandrine’s it was.
I stepped onto the turbolift, gave the order, and tried to
collect my wits.
One floor down the lift stopped and Tuvok stepped on. I should
have expected it. Murphy, or Coyote, or Chakotay’s Nanahboozhoo,
seemed to have taken over scripting my life. Of course Tuvok had to
show up, just when I’d decided to avoid him.
No question he noticed the dress. He didn’t say anything at
first, though. Not about the clothes.
“Captain, I was about to page the computer and locate you. I
wished to address the issue of our plans for departure.”
“Yes?”
“Commander Chakotay and I have discussed the possibility of
leaving with the Talaxian merchant caravan that has recently arrived
in orbit. It would seem a practical answer to the problem of a safe
retreat from Abbyzh-dira.”
I could have kissed him. No, on second thought, I’d kissed
enough of my senior officers for the day. Maybe I’d promote him back
to lieutenant commander. He deserved it: he’d just given me something
normal to occupy my mind. Normal was nice. I liked normal. “Hmmm.
It’s a possibility, but…”
“I have just been speaking to the leader of the caravan. He’s
willing to accept a reasonable arrangement in return for the privilege
of traveling with his entourage as far as the planetary system of
Izary. He would expect us to take part in any defensive maneuvers,
and to be willing to give aid and assistance to any ship in the convoy
during the time of our passage, but he asks nothing more.”
“I’m still not sure….”
“Neither the commander nor I have been able to determine a more
efficient and effective course of action.”
I put on my best Official Frown. “Then try harder. That sort of
deal can get messy in no time, and you know it. ‘Aid and assistance’
could put us in some pretty questionable positions, in regards to the
Prime Directive. So could mutual defense.”
His eyebrows quirked, but he continued to look dead ahead. “I
will certainly give the problem my attention; however, I doubt very
much that I will be able to devise a plan that will promise as much
safety for as little risk.”
I sighed, and crossed my arms over my chest. “You’re sure?”
“To a high degree of probability.”
Which is Vulcan for ‘you bet your sweet ass I’m sure.’ I looked
at the textured flooring between my toes. It was as close as I’d come
to a steady foothold for years. “All right. Talk to the leader
again, see what you come up with as his final offer, be sure you read
the fine print, and get back to me on it as soon as you have the
details firmed up. How’s it going with the watch on Kilpatrick and
Bintar?” The turbolift had come to a stop, and the doors slid open.
I put my hand on the edge of one panel, to keep them from closing
again.
“They have both made several trips to the Market, though never in
each other’s company, and on no occasion have they participated in any
activities that could be classified as clearly suspect. They have
purchased a variety of comestibles and luxury items, but there is no
sign of them acquiring materials that could be put to use in any
subversive action.”
I looked away, frustrated. I kept getting the niggling feeling
that those two weren’t by any means neutralized, even with the death
of Jorland and the consolidation of the crew and the command team.
But… “Take the issue off of urgent status, then. Drop it down to
second priority.” A sudden, cold thought hit me. “Do you still have
that full sensor watch on Chakotay?”
Tuvok looked at me like I’d lost my marbles. “No, captain. Not
since the doctor ruled him fit for duty and released him from sickbay.
As I understood it, the decision to institute surveillance was based
on the possibility of an attack occurring while he was physically
unable to defend himself. Under the circumstances continuing the
watch would have been a breach of his rights to privacy, with
insufficient need to justify the action.”
I wanted to drop to the floor in utter relief. A full sensor
watch would have given whoever was manning the sensor check the
unmistakable knowledge of what we’d done that morning–unless I’d read
Chakotay’s physical response entirely too optimistically. I didn’t
think I had. Some things are difficult to fake at a moment’s notice.
The “gallant reflex” is said to be one of them…along with a lot of
other little tell-tale symptoms of arousal. I switched topics fast,
determined to escape the whole issue. “How are things going with
Anyas?”
Tuvok’s face had the kind of non-committal blandness Vulcans get
when the situation is remarkable enough to generate embarrassingly
emotional bouts of surprise and amazement. “He has shown an unusual
degree of concentration, commitment, and intellectual prowess.”
“You mean he’s doing well.”
“So it would appear.”
“He’ll get to keep the uniform?”
He looked at me reprovingly. “It is far too early to speculate,
captain. However, I believe you can take it as given that he will be
appearing in uniform for the immediately foreseeable future. Speaking
of dress….”
“I’d hoped you wouldn’t, actually.”
He finally committed to an open assessment of my outfit. “I fail
to see the logic of that statement; my understanding of the principals
of costume in a social context would indicate that attire of the type
you are currently wearing is intended to draw attention and comment.”
“Yes and no. Suffice it to say that here, and now, the answer is
‘no’.”
He arched a brow, but nodded. “You were planning on going
somewhere?”
“Sandrine’s.”
“A command appearance? If you wish, I could contact commander
Chakotay and we could provide another proof of command unity. A group
appearance.”
“Unnecessary under the circumstances.” That one, delivered the
way I delivered it, is Federation Standard for ‘try it and you’re dead
meat.’ I released my hold on the turbolift doors, and stepped out,
turning to face him. “Good night, Tuvok, and thank you.” The doors
started to slide shut.
A dark hand snapped into the narrowing space, and triggered the
door back open. Tuvok looked at me intently; uncertainty and
confusion in his eyes. “Captain?”
“Yes?” I couldn’t resist the befuddlement there. Vulcans try so
hard to understand us, and lord knows, it’s not like it’s easy. *We*
don’t even understand us most of the time, and the information they’d
need to have us make even shaky sense has been culturally conditioned
out of them. It wasn’t his fault that I’d gone from comfortably
fielding his comments about “feelings” and “reconciliations,” and the
crew’s speculations about Chakotay and me, to acting like a chicken
with its head cut off over nothing more than the idea of going to
Sandrine’s with the man. “You had a question?”
He just looked at me, then shook his head a little. “No. My
apologies. Perhaps…” He shook his head again. “You look very…
attractive. I hope you have a good evening at Sandrine’s.” His hand
withdrew and the doors closed, leaving me staring at a smooth, shiny
enameled panel that reflected back my face.
I hadn’t realized my eyes were so large. Like a spooked animal’s
–dilated and a little skittish. I closed them, calmed myself, and
when I opened them again the wild, woods-colt look was gone. Just
Kathryn Janeway. Ordinary, middle-aged, and about as respectable as
you can look in stellar splendour. It was a welcome sight, taking the
alien edge off the moment. I nodded to myself, murmured, “Ship-shape
and Bristol fashion,” in my most firm and no-nonsense Mary Poppins-
governess voice, and turned down the corridor to Sandrine’s.
When the portal to the holodeck opened, it opened on Bacchanalia.
Most of the crew was there, off duty due to the day-shift
scheduling that was still in affect, and they were whooping it up.
Music was blaring, glasses were raised–literally raised, waved up in
the air above heads–and a solid mass of bodies had congregated in the
center of the room on the dance floor. In the center were Tom, Magda,
Harry and B’Elanna–and on their shoulders, elevated like the boar’s
head at a medieval feast, was Anyas. He was still in uniform, like a
little boy who won’t change out of his birthday clothes in the hopes
that by keeping them on the day won’t end. Most everyone else was in
civvies: everything from the elegant motley that had appeared at the
circle to ordinary, everyday slop-abouts. A wild, eerie cheer and
whoop rolled around the room, accompanied by laughter; and the madding
crowd jiggled and circled in ecstatic celebration.
Tom, taller than most of the rest, spotted me over the
surrounding heads. He waved, nearly oversetting Anyas, and hollered
across the room. “He passed! Beat Tuvok’s test cold!” He turned
towards the bar and, bellowing as loudly as he could, shouted
“Somebody get the captain a drink,” then grinned at me and continued
the dance-shuffle that was slowly rotating Anyas in a circle, like a
trophy on a turning display pedestal.
Sandrine materialized at my elbow. “‘Bon soir, cherie. Que
voudriez-vous a boire?” I shook my head. I’m no good at languages
under the best of circumstances, and over the roar of music, howling,
and laughter I wasn’t about to guess what I was missing. She pursed
her lips and gave a visible sigh: given the neckline almost any sigh
is visible on Sandrine. “What do you want to drink?”
I leaned close and shouted over the swell of sound. “Cold. Cold
and fizzy? What’s a good choice?”
“Champagne?”
“No. Yes. Yes, champagne! Sounds wonderful. Synthahol?”
“D’accord.” She moved away.
I looked around as the Anyas-hoisting ended in trips and
laughter, and the dance floor emptied of all but a few couples, and
something happened.
When we graduated from the Academy, I remember they released
chrome-bright balloons from every tower and rooftop on campus–
shining, tumbling, wind-scattered balloons–and white doves. They
flew up into into a silver-gray San Fransisco sky, sailing up and up
like all our hopes. I remember feeling like I was sailing up with
them. Looking around the room I suddenly felt like the same balloons
were sailing inside me, the doves fluttering and rising, the formal
caps of the graduates whirling up into the air. By the time Sandrine
came back with the synthahol champagne in the tall, elegant glass, it
was almost redundant. I was already drunk on something more
intoxicating.
Tom sidled up beside me. Nervy boy, he slipped an arm around me,
pecked my cheek, and smiled that “Golden Boy” smile he specializes in.
“You look great. Kes picked just right. Want to dance?”
Normally I’d have teased him, put him firmly in his place, and
that would have been the end of it. Instead, I just nodded, set my
glass on a nearby table, and found myself gliding onto the dance floor
just as the music shifted to some fast, slip-step piece of music that
sounded like a fusion of some of the torchier flamenco numbers from
old earth with the lyric sounds of Betazed. Very hot, and very good
for display.
It’s a good thing that you more or less have to learn to dance at
some point in a command career, if only well enough to act the
gracious host or guest at diplomatic functions. I’m not God’s gift,
but I can get by, and Tom was *very* good: the kind of good that can
make even the most dumb-footed stumbler seem graceful and adept. He
led me through spinning, turning steps that kept me worrying more
about my feet than about who was watching. By the time I knew the
basic pattern I was having too much fun to think about much but the
laughter in his eyes, the sizzling, scorching strut and flourish of
the music, with pattering, stuttering drums and a lacy filagree of
secondary themes worked over an explosive melody like a matter-
antimatter reaction, and of how delightful it felt when the skirts of
my frock-coat spun out in a fluted circle around me as I turned and
turned to keep my face to Tom. When it was over I clapped, laughing
as he preened and cocked his head like a strutting rooster. “Very
nice, lieutenant. *Very* nice. If we ever get back, and you decide
to give the fleet the heave-ho, you could have a great career as a
dancer for the holo-trade.”
He offered his arm, I recovered my champagne glass, and he led me
towards “his” table, where most of the crew I knew best seemed to have
gathered already. “Not a chance. If I ever leave fleet again Neelix
has promised to make me a partner in an import-export business.” He
gestured grandly with his free hand, calling up images of giant signs
all done in holographic displays and lights. “Paris and Neelix;
traders extrordinaire!” He reached back to the next table, pulled up
a spare chair, seated me, then settled in B’Elanna’s lap with a
mischievous grin.
She shoved him, but not very hard. If she’d shoved hard, he’d
have been on his keester on the floor in no time. But she put on a
good show, frowning and grumbling. “Pig. No manners. Captain, why
do we keep him on board? Chakotay could fly the ship. This one just
takes up space and molests the women. I say we wait till we’re clear
of Abbyzh-dira, and space him.”
I cocked my head, pretending to consider the possibility. Took
my time, grimacing, like I was being forced to a distasteful
conclusion. Finally I shook my head. “No. I’m afraid not. If the
replicators ever break down he’s first on the list as provender.”
Chaim, seated at the far side of the table, laughed. “Oy vey izh
mir! Not that. Tom’s traif!”
B’Elanna grinned, and chucked Tom under the chin. “See: I told
you you were a pig.”
“Just a ham.”
Cherel giggled, and shook her head. “Still traif. Definitely
not kosher. That’s all right: Klingons will eat anything.”
“Really? Promise? I’m the dish of the day!” Tom fluttered his
lashes at B’Elanna.
This time B’Elanna really did shove hard, and he tumbled laughing
to the floor. “Yeah. Dish of the day. Right: mystery meat on starch
substitute. Cafeteria chow.” She started a slow-motion tip of her
glass over his head, chuckling as he crab-scuttled away before the
liquid even approached the rim. “No wonder he’s unclean. Afraid of
a little shower!”
He blew a friendly raspberry at her, pulled up another chair
right behind her, and leaned his arms against her back, chin on her
shoulder, nose close to one ear. “I love it when Klingon women get
riled. About the time they start to throw insults, you know the
furniture won’t be long following. After that, you’re home free.”
B’Elanna shook her head, but then leaned back a little, allowing
his face to brush her hair. “Not a chance. I’m saving the furniture
for my husband. Not so much as an end table until there’s a ring on
my finger. A man looses all respect for a woman who throws the sofa
around for anybody.”
Harry laughed. “I’ve heard Tom claim women throw him on the
sofa: but I don’t think he’s ever told me that a woman threw a sofa on
him.” He suddenly lit up, sniggering, graceful dark eyes bright for
the first time in a long time. He’d been having a hard time with the
D.Q. blues lately. “Think about it, B’Elanna: he’d come to you a
virgin. You could initiate him. Might do him some good.”
Magda chuckled. “At least it might keep him still long enough
for a woman to get some use out of him. Eh, I always thought he was
too busy trying to catch women to ever find out what it’s like to
actually have one.”
“That’s right. Insult my manhood,” Tom pouted, camping
dreadfully. “Nobody loves me. Think I’ll go eat worms.”
B’Elanna reached back, and ruffled his hair. He took her hand,
and nibbled her fingers, and she blushed, snatching her hand away.
“Those aren’t worms, Paris. Go look in aeroponics.”
Kes was merry, leaning against Neelix and gently stroking a
sleeping Riaka, while she watched the show. “We don’t have worms in
aero, B’Elanna. I could see if we have any tissue samples and clone
him some, though.”
I suddenly realized Anyas was beside me, leaning against the back
of my chair. I hadn’t even noticed him, for a wonder. Couldn’t
figure out why, either. Anyas is the definition of ‘noticeable’.
Maybe it was the uniform. This time he’d been as good as invisible
until he reached over my shoulder to snag a handful of chips from a
bowl set out in the middle of the table. “Don’t go to the trouble,
Kes. If ‘worms’ are what I think they are I can get you something
close before we go. I hadn’t heard they were a delicacy, though. We
usually reserve them for gardens and pelli-bait.” He took a mouthful
of the chips, munched consideringly for a moment, and nodded. “These
are good. Like laughter-and-tears. I could get used to these.”
“You should taste my vitrat-munch,” Neelix said. “Now *that’s* a
delicacy. These Alphans don’t appreciate the finer things in life.”
“I’ll look forward to it.” Anyas’ eyes glittered and I suspected
he’d already realized how hard it was for my crew to adjust to the
crazy cuisine Neelix produces.
I’ll tell you the truth: it isn’t so bad. We’d have killed him a
long time ago if it were really bad. Trouble is, it’s never familiar.
It’s bad enough that we never take a shore leave that isn’t really an
away mission, never see a planet that has the hallmarks of “home.”
When it comes to meals it would be nice not to get that “to boldy go”
feeling. First thing in the morning is a bad time to try to gear
oneself up for daring adventures, even if they are merely culinary.
Anyas brushed the grease and crumbs from his fingers
fastidiously, using a nearby napkin. Then he turned to me. “I’m
celebrating. Would you like to dance? I don’t know your people’s
dances yet, but I think I could do that.” He ducked his head towards
the dance floor. The music had slowed, and the couples turning there
had fallen back on the sort of shuffling box step anyone can do.
In another mood, I wouldn’t have risked it. But…
“I’d be honored, Anyas. And congratulations: Tuvok was
impressed.” Which was accurate, even if not precisely what Tuvok had
said. Tuvok likes things predictable, and Anyas’ enthusiasm,
ebullience, and intelligence shook him up. I allowed him to take my
hand, and lead me to the dance floor.
Once we were there I really was puzzled. Something was
definitely out-of-kilter in how Anyas ‘felt’ to me.
I couldn’t place it for the longest time. He moved gracefully,
carried on a pleasant and amusing conversation about his first day in
uniform, and Tuvok’s reactions to his activities. He held my hand
lightly and gently. Perfect, gracious, friendly, a good companion. I
was damned if I could put my finger on the problem. Then it hit me:
If you could have hooked him up to a sensor rig and taken a
reading on his ‘personality indicators’ he’d have spiked the charts in
terms of friendly, amusing, and energetic. Very tigger-ish. Bouncy.
But in terms of his usual sexual bumptiousness he was as flat as
an atmospheric reading on a vacuum. Nothing. Absolutely absent. He
might as well have been a eunuch, and me a horta, or something. If
anything his manner was a tender, fraternal protectiveness, as though
he were kindly taking a little girl out for her first spin in public,
and carefully making sure he didn’t do anything to take the golden
glow off. As though I were something fragile, and vulnerable, and in
need of the gift of a bit of pampering.
For some reason the revelation was the first thing to shake the
swirling giddiness I’d felt since entering Sandrine’s. I clutched
desperately at the silvery feelings, and managed to pull the wildness
back to me–but my grip on it felt insecure. When the dance was over
I hurried back to the table, hoping the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party
ambiance would help me hang onto the comfort of just enjoying myself
and giving in to the moment, for a change.
The mob was still there: still giggling, and flirting, and
laughing. Carey and Dalby had joined the table, and Soames had shown
up too, taking the chair I’d been in. As I came up Paris elbowed him
in the ribs, and he started to rise. I waved him back, and pulled up
yet another spare chair. I ended up well back from the edge of the
table, what with the crew filling the circumference to overload
already. I settled myself and listened to the chatter.
After a while, B’Elanna looked up from a conversation she’d been
having, head bent close to Harry and Tom’s. She scanned the room.
“Where the hell *is* he, anyway? I thought the doctor said he was
better, now. And he was jumpy as a cat this afternoon. Half the time
he couldn’t even be trusted to give me a tricorder reading on a weld.
Sort of mood that usually brought him out in spades, back in the CDMZ.
Twitchy and ready to dance the night out.”
Tom kept his gaze locked to his drink, a wicked little grin
playing on his face. “Dunno. Captain, you have any guesses? Q.B.’s
wondering where the Old Man is.”
I shook my head. “You’re asking me?”
Tom’s head snapped up, and his eyes crinkled. “Thought you might
have an idea. Dad always said a good captain knew everything that
went on on her ship. Anyway, your quarters are right next to each
other. No guesses?”
“We-e-e-e-ll. Put that way: I have a sneaking suspicion he’s
getting acquainted with a cat of a different stripe.”
Tom howled. “Oh, no. You finished it. Does he like it?”
“Damned if I know. About the time I left to come here I heard a
crash and a cuss–and he hasn’t tracked me down and threatened to kill
me yet, but other than that….”
“Finished what?” Harry had that bright-boy curiosity. The old
‘qui vive’ spirit–on alert.
Tom grinned and was about to answer when his eyes flickered and
he looked to me, radiating sudden apology. I remembered belatedly
that I’d made him promise not to mention Chessie. It was funny.
Suddenly it didn’t seem so important to keep the whole thing under
wraps. So I’d given Chakotay a present: it happens. It wasn’t like
we’d sworn a blood oath to murder each other…and the crew knew
damned well that we got along. I shrugged, grinned, and gave Tom the
nod. He turned back to Harry to explain.
“Remember how old gloom-and-grouse was that night at the circle,
before we got here? And how he was moping around for weeks after
Egypt? Well, the captain here came up with a clever idea, and busted
together a holographic pet for him…with just a little help from
yours truly. A custom-made Fantoccini. Felis holographicus. From
what she just said, it’s just made a dramatic entrance into his life.”
He turned back to me. “How’d it turn out, anyway?”
I took a sip of the champagne, and rolled my eyes. “Better than
I ever dreamed. It’s a holy terror. It’s also sweet. If he doesn’t
like it, he won’t like anything.”
B’Elanna was looking at me, a cold, assessing ice in her eyes.
Not outright hostile, but….
“That’s what those damned hologenerators were for.”
I felt the cold run through me, and the first few balloons burst.
I hadn’t ever thought having her replicate the hologenerators was
involving her in the project: not in a sense she might be hurt by.
But in retrospect I wished suddenly I’d just gone and put the things
together myself. But Engineering is her department, and keeping track
of the overall replicator use is her turf, and I’d just automatically
presented it as something for her to work out. Now….
I had to help. God knows, I understand the empty feeling that
can hit you like a blow. I smiled, and nodded, trying to keep it easy
and relaxed. “Mmmm-hmmm. Remember that conversation we had a while
back about how depressed he was? The time you asked me to see what I
could do, and I told you I was just his captain? Well, I did have
that one idea. A ‘pet project.’ Voyager isn’t a great place for a
pet; but a holo-pet? Seemed like a good idea, at the time.”
I could see her working it through. She’d as good as handed him
to me on a platter that day when we’d talked, and the idea for Chessie
was a good one. She gave a wry grin. “Hope it’s a real whirling
monster. The Old Man needs something to shake him up a bit.” She
took a long draught of whatever it was she had in her glass. She drew
a doodle in the condensed water on the table, and the conversation
seemed to die, and begin to decay.
A few more balloons seemed to burst inside me, a few more bright
doves left for warmer climes. I ducked my head over my glass.
Tom suddenly popped out of his chair, grabbed B’Elanna’s hand,
and tugged. “C’mon. You haven’t beaten me at pool in weeks. I’ll
stake you ten replicator credits that you can’t tonight, either.”
“Don’t feel like it.” She frowned, pulled her hand away, and
continued to draw in water on the dark, varnished, replicated wood. I
recognized a dead-drunk figure eight, lying on its side: the universal
symbol of infinity. A lambda, an omicron, a theta. A delta. The
elongated, serpentine sigma of integration, with the limits written at
the top and bottom. She was doodling formulas, the sort of thing I
always do to hold my mind away from feelings.
Tom tugged a strand of the thick, black hair. “C’mon, Torres.
Don’t tell me you don’t think you can beat a pig like me? Where’s
that old Klingon ‘never say die, and if you do, take someone with you’
spirit?” She kept her head down, but a grin started. Tom caught it.
“I see. Playing hard to get. Tell you what: I’ll sweeten the stakes.
If you win, I’ll take you to the Market, and sit around while you
drool over the electronics booths, then stand you a dinner at that
cafe we saw the other day.”
She lifted her head, and mischief began to return. “Yeah? And
if I lose? What then?”
He waggled his eyebrows, and smirked. “What are you offering?”
She crossed on arm over her ribs, rested the opposite elbow on
it, and placed a prim finger beside her mouth: a perfectly aware
picture of speculative consideration. A satisfied smirk curled the
corners of her mouth. “Hmmm. Let me think. Tempting enough to make
it worth your while, but no skin off my nose if I lose. Hard call.”
She turned and grinned at me. Apparently she was willing to let me
back into her good graces, and count me an ally against the common
male enemy. “Any suggestions, captain?”
I thought, and had a flash of inspiration. “How about a
comparable number of hours helping him out with that rust bucket of a
truck he’s cluttered up the shuttle bay with?” I was willing to bet
she’d snap it up, and so would Tom: it was impersonal enough, and
enough of a shared interest, to make the hours together plausible and
unembarassing. Prolonged enough and private enough to allow for a bit
of court and spark if they were so inclined.
I was right. B’Elanna beamed, Tom nearly went nova, and in
record time they were off racking the balls and starting play. The
rest of the table settled closer together, conversations continuing,
new groupings forming. I watched the two at the pool table, and
smiled a little. It wasn’t a complete answer to either of their
problems, but it wasn’t a bad stop-gap at all.
Anyas leaned over my shoulder. “Well done. I wasn’t sure…. I
thought I’d have to rescue her. You did it well.”
I looked up at him. His dark eyes were still as neutrally
friendly as they’d been on the dance floor. I shook my head, frowning
a little. “You’re a very odd person, Anyas. I’m damned if I can
figure you out. I’d have thought–”
“–that I’d be draped over her?” He chuckled. “It would have
distracted her, and she would have been flattered, but she would not
have liked it. Not really. Too intimidating. She thinks she’s ugly
…and it takes someone she’s gotten to know well to convince her she
isn’t being mocked. So I don’t try more than she needs to know she’s
not neglected.”
“And you thought I *would* like it?” My voice was drier than the
champagne in my glass.
He smiled wickedly. “You didn’t?”
I was about to protest, then stopped.
He’d been a nuisance when he first came aboard–but an attractive
nuisance. And, oddly, as much as he’d annoyed me, he’d amused me.
Flattering, fulsome, overblown. Frivolous. But he’d never really
made me feel out of control, or threatened. As though I’d known all
along that he’d never make a move I couldn’t sidestep with room to
spare. If I was honest, I’d played it like a pleasant, competitive
game–he makes a move, I counter it. A friendly game with penny ante
stakes. I’d even enjoyed having him to be annoyed at…it had
occupied me when I was stressed enough to want something trivial to
fume over. A good excuse for the irritation I felt in general.
Which made his current neutrality all the more puzzling. I
almost asked what had changed to make him feel his flattery and
propositions would no longer be the game they had been.
I didn’t ask. I was suddenly sure I wasn’t ready to hear the
answer, Instead I changed the subject. “So. How do you feel about
today?”
He lit up. “Lieutenant Tuvok says he believes I have set a
record for organic life forms in terms of my memorization rates.
Apparently the only prior member of Starfleet to better my learning
rates was an android.” Suddenly the old, flirtatious Anyas blossomed
again. His lashes fluttered, and he grinned over his drink like a cat
with a bowl of cream. “By the way captain: you indicated you wouldn’t
accept my invitations on the grounds that it was considered bad policy
in a commanding officer. I can now tell you categorically that there
are no specific regulations forbidding a commanding officer to make a
sexual alliance with a member of her command. There are many
forbidding specific abuses pertaining to coercion of all types, more
pertaining to favoritism. There are regulations forbidding abuse of
rank. None forbidding the actual relationship.” He peeked up at me
from under the long fringe of lash. “In fact, there is a specific
regulation against such a limitation. Regulation 299c3-T. I can
quote it for you, if you like.”
I’m afraid the topic shook me enough that I only blinked,
wondering what this was about. Here he’d been acting like a choir
boy all evening, and suddenly he was back to his flirtatious norm. I
was feeling jumbled, and in light of the rest of the day…
Anyas apparently took my silence for permission, and continued
cheerfully. “Starfleet may neither amend nor abridge the sexual
freedoms permitted individuals under the articles set out in the
Constitution of the United Federation of Planets, nor interfere with
the activities of individuals in their private affairs; except in
those instances where the exercise of those rights would constitute
interference with the rights, prerogatives, and obligations of others,
or in cases where the exercise of those rights would constitute a
breach of trust or failure to meet the obligations of service, or
would interfere with the obligations and duties of another, or would
present clear and immediate danger to the security of the Federation,
the lives and well-being of the population at large, or to the lives
and well-being of fellow officers. Starfleet must present
unassailable evidence of the disregard of the rights and prerogatives
of others, the neglect of duty, or the failure to meet the
requirements of professional responsibility resulting clearly and
directly from such activities, before imposing punitive measures on an
officer. Further proof must be presented indicating that the actions
were taken under circumstances wherein other, less damaging options
were open to the officer in question, and that there were no cruel or
unusual consequences inherent in a decision to limit said activities,
or abstain in entirety. Without such proofs the private rights of the
individual must take priority over all other concerns, and the
activities of the individual must remain unfettered and unrestrained
by regulation, tradition, or cultural bias.” He smiled. “If I have
understood the regulation correctly, it can be summed up as ‘Do
whatever you like so long as you get your job done, and don’t do any
real damage in the process.'”
I put the now-empty champagne flute down on the table with a
click. “Anyas, that regulation exists for a lot of reasons, one of
the best being that there are races for whom such freedoms can
constitute an issue of life and death. As for your interpretation,
it’s fine, so far as it goes: but ‘damage’ can take a lot of different
forms. I said it was considered bad *policy* for a commanding officer
to make an alliance with a member of her command. ‘Policy’ is
different from regulation. ‘Policy’ is as much common sense and good
judgment as anything. Practical.”
Anyas nodded, his manner suddenly snapping back to the chaste
approach of earlier. “Practical; common sense; good judgment.
They’re all based on specific situations. Situations change, and so
do policies.”
By then I was sure he was playing some new game. I didn’t want
to know what, either.
Empaths are a pain in the neck. They know what you feel–
sometimes. More or less. Sometimes they know what you think, too,
but usually it’s emotions, or physical sensations, or just general
state of mind. Sometimes they’re right on the mark, sometimes it’s
hazy, sometimes they have enormous sensitivity but they don’t have the
context that would allow them to make sense of what they receive. And
sometimes they’re every bit as clueless as any of the rest of us.
The trouble is half the time neither you nor they know just which
of those categories or limits apply at any moment. Let an empath into
your life and you’re inviting chaos in with him, as he tumbles and
trips his way through everything from absolutely accurate assessments
of what’s on your mind and what would be best for you, to completely
disastrous misinterpretations of your emotional status and what would
be a help. The results can be pure hell, even when the empath has the
best of intentions. Maybe particularly when the empath has the best
of intentions.
I didn’t feel like allowing Anyas to play tiddly-winks with my
emotions, or dance the light fandango with my reality. I stood,
pushing the chair back, and patted Anyas lightly on the hand. “Nice
try. I’m not sure at what, but you gave it your best shot. Now–let
the ball lie where it landed and call it a night. And congratulations
on passing your first test. It should give you some confidence when
Tuvok comes back with another round tomorrow. Goodnight, Anyas.” I
started away from the table, then turned. “And Anyas? I’d leave off
the lectures on policies until you’ve gained sufficient experience to
know why they exist…and what the consequences of imposing your own
preferred standards would be.”
It was a sour note to end the conversation on, but I was suddenly
feeling sour. Downright vinegary, in fact–which didn’t make me feel
any less guilty as Anyas’ face went tight and miserable.
I told myself he’d brought it on himself, and went to lean on the
heavy wooden bar, back braced against the thick edge, arms crossed
against my chest, facing out into the room.
The balloons seemed to be bursting at a terrible rate by then,
the white doves migrating in droves. The bubbling, intoxicated
feeling I’d had earlier was nearly gone, drowned in sharp anger, and a
rustling feeling of restless misery.
I looked at Tom and B’Elanna by the pool table, his arm around
her waist as she chalked a cue. Looked at Harry, deep in conversation
with Magda, who listened with a somber and attentive patience. I
turned my eyes out to the dance floor, where a few couples turned and
spun: slow, graceful, peaceful. Chaim and Cherel had taken the
opportunity granted by a night when the music was supplied by the
computer to dance themselves, and they moved together, her hands on
his chest, his on her hips, heads close, moving in sensual rhythm.
Tender.
Suddenly the last of the bright balloons were gone, the birds all
flown, the skies of my interior silver and grey and empty, cold as a
San Francisco sky in winter. Not one bubble left. Not one trace of
the shine and sparkle that had buoyed me up before.
I needed to get out of the room. Needed to get away from all the
comfortable ones. As quietly as I could I moved towards the door,
side-stepping around mingling crewmembers, slipping around gossiping,
laughing knots of Fleet and Maquis officers. One of the disadvantages
to the rank is that people notice you whatever you do; but if you play
it smooth you can usually avoid direct comment, at least.
I wasn’t so lucky, this time. The trickster-gods were putting in
overtime.
Magda plotted an intercept course, rising abruptly from her
conversation with Harry and slicing across the room faster than I’d
managed, her rangy, equine body and long legs giving her an advantage
over me, and her determination to cut me off granting her a certain
freedom to simply ignore the folks who grumbled as she shoved past
them. Her ‘Les Voyageurs’ earring swung like a pendulum set on a
short chain: fast, with the medallions spinning and circling like
trapped birds. She put a hand on my elbow. “Cherie–”
I stopped in my tracks. “Stow it, Magda.”
Her long face was mournful. “Ne te replies pas sur toi-meme,
ma Minette…. I had hoped you’d–”
“I said ‘stow it.’ It’s been fun, and I’m glad I came, but I
need to go now.” I refused to meet her eyes. I was pretty sure they
were filled with the kind of liquid reproaches any good dog can
generate over a scrap of toast. Well, I was damned if I’d put up with
it. She didn’t need me to be able to have a good time herself, and I
didn’t need her to mother me. I just needed to get away.
She reluctantly let go of my arm. “P’tite–”
“I’m small. Not petite. Magda….” I rubbed my hands over my
face, feeling weary and frustrated, and trapped between appreciating
her attempts to help and wishing she’d just go, and let me make my
escape. “Magda, I’m fine. I just need to get out of here and get some
rest. It’s been…it’s been a bit crazy, lately. I’ll be all right,
once everything gets back to normal around here.”
She ducked her head. “Autre temps, autre moeurs.” ‘Normal’ may
not be all you wish, Kathryn.”
“It’ll have to do.” I stepped away, and was finally safe out the
portal, out in the corridors, and moving.
The next thing I really noticed was the clack of my shoes on hard
floors, and the emptiness of the halls of the lower levels of the
ship, down by the aeroponics bay. I turned in, and breathed in the
moist green scent of plants and flowers.
I’m not sure which is worse: being lonely *alone*, or being
lonely in company.
I think being alone in company is worse. Like being the princess
on the top of her glass mountain, looking down at the knights and
horses, and squires and peasants, all milling about and drinking ale
and drawing straws to see who’ll be the next to try the slope.
Loneliness in contrast with companionship. The contrast is an ache.
Without the contrast, the proof of what you don’t have, you can almost
ignore the white nights, and the empty moments, and the lack of anyone
to share a smile, or a meal, or even a royally bad day.
When I was a girl I always thought the princess was a fool–that
if she’d had a brain in her head she’d have hitched up her skirts, sat
her tush down on the smooth glass incline, and slid down like an otter
on a scoot to join the world below. Maybe she would have bypassed all
the dim-witted knights, too full of themselves to pass up a chance to
show off their horses and armour, too vain to think she might not want
them, or placidly accept whichever lunkheaded oaf made it to the top
first. Maybe if she’d had some gumption she’d have run off with one
of the squires who were no doubt gathered in comfortable friendship
under some tree, with a jug of ale and a set of dice, having some fun
while their masters jostled for position and rank, piling themselves
and their horses up in heaps at the foot of the hill.
But for years I’d perched on my pinnacle, and fixed my eyes on
the stars instead of the earth below–and the world had run merrily on
without me. I’d chosen to be the ivory maid on the silicon steeple,
not so very different from the cloistered nun Chakotay had teasingly
suggested I might become that morning. A priestess of silent numbers,
and the mysteries of science. Even Mark had never threatened the
orderly progression of my days, or shaken the placid flow of my life.
I probably wouldn’t have put up with him if he had.
It occurred to me as I walked down the aisles of Kes’ garden
that, just possibly, I’d stayed on the mountain because it was safe:
no fear of the hollow feeling of loneliness if I stayed on my high
peak.
Loneliness is better alone. No contrast. No sharp sense of
pain. No possibility of loss, or need to accept change. No
challenges, no fears, no anger, no uncertainty. Peaceful as the
grave.
I looked into one of the view ports. My reflection stared back
at me. I studied my face, looking for some sign of who I really was.
I’d felt so much like a stranger to myself all day…maybe the
reflection could tell me something my heart hadn’t.
All I saw was me. Not so young, not so old, not so beautiful,
not so ugly. The familiar features that stared back at me seemed
unremarkable. But even in the bland familiarity there was an alien
warp, like the sound of a word you’ve said too many times over, until
the sound becomes separated from the sense and you find yourself
wondering worriedly if the word ever meant anything at all, or you
just made it up. I’d gone astray from my own meaning, and all that
was left was empty sound. A familiar face with no sense of who the
person associated with it was.
I turned away from the window, and left.
Dressing for bed later I tried to keep my mind on the trivial
details of ordinary life, tried to focus on all the things that have
no emotional valences. But I kept wondering about Chakotay, and me,
and the cat. Kept wondering if I’d show up in my ready room the next
day to find a sack of smashed hologenerators, a program chip snapped
in two, and a furious XO politely and frigidly demanding that I never
interfere in his life again, or cross the safe boundaries of
tradition, and seclusion.
I’m afraid it seemed likelier than any other outcome. Even
knowing that, I kept hoping that somehow I’d struck it lucky, and
gotten it right. Gotten all of it right. And I kept hoping that, in
the rooms next door, somehow a man and a cat were happy, and content.
I kept imagining them there, curled in a bed, sleeping easy. It was
such a simple image, such a simple thought.
“Let him be happy. Let him like it. Damn it, let this thing
work.”
That night I slept without any sense of sleeping at all, and I
woke with the feeling of having cried.

VII.

I had gone to sleep with the cat curled right between my ankles.
When I woke, Chessie was gone. Apparently, like the doctor, he could
turn himself off. I sat on the edge of the bed a moment, blinking,
rubbing my hand over my hair and trying to get my lame brain into
gear. Yesterday seemed surreal. Not as surreal as my vision, but
pretty damn close. Kissing captains and huge green and orange cats–
and Tuvok and I actually agreeing on something. Would wonders never
cease?
Grunting, I pushed myself up and headed for the bathroom. Twenty
minutes later, I was on my way to the cafeteria. I’d avoided it
yesterday, but couldn’t do so forever. Maybe I could just grab
whatever Neelix had that was passing for biscuit and coffee these days
and head back to my office.
I wasn’t to be so lucky. While I was still caught waiting in
line, B’Elanna shimmied up to me, Paris in tow. I remembered what
Janeway had said: I should talk to her. Breakfast was not the place,
however–certainly not with Paris around. She was grinning in a way
that I’d learned to label ‘trouble.’ “Good morning,” she said.
“Good morning,” I replied, cautious, taking a cup of coffee
substitute from a winking Kes.
Something was definitely up.
“Heard you had a visitor last night,” B’Elanna went on.
I glanced back at her, warily. Paris’ expression was entirely
too innocent. “A visitor?” I prompted, unwilling to say more until I
knew more.
“Of the, um, small furry variety.”
How the hell had they heard about the cat? But before I could
say anything, Neelix was handing me a plate full of food. “I didn’t
want this much,” I told him.
He wagged a finger at me. “Ah, ah, commander! It’s important
for you to keep up your strength.” Then he refused to take back the
tray. Sighing, I turned, found myself being steered over to Paris and
B’Elanna’s table.
“Where’s Kim?” I asked.
“Said he wasn’t hungry,” Paris replied, then changed the subject.
“So did you, um, like it? The program, I mean.”
I straddled a chair and set down my plate and myself. “Why are
you so curious? This your idea, Paris?” Holoprograms and Paris went
together like bacon and eggs.
He gave me his wide-eyed innocent look. “Moi? Of course not.”
“So how do you know about it then?”
He and B’Elanna traded a look. “Little bird told us,” she said.
They were, I noticed, sitting closer together than usual, or than
necessary. And every time Paris glanced her way, he had that “fool in
love” look stamped all over his face–no doubt the same one I wore
whenever I looked at Janeway these days, though I hoped I was old
enough to mask mine a little better.
Maybe I wouldn’t need to talk to B’Elanna after all.
“You know,” Paris began, “the captain was kind of worried you
wouldn’t like it.”
I paused with a bite halfway to my mouth. “Quit fishing,
lieutenant. It’s unbecoming.”
“I wasn’t trying to ‘fish’, commander. Just pass along a bit of
helpful information.”
“Fine,” I said. “Information duly passed.” I took the bite,
chewed.
B’Elanna sighed and stood up. “Come on, Paris. He’s in one of
his Enigmatic Indian moods. You may as well try to pump a rock. I
have repairs to get back to.”
Paris had kept his eyes on my face, expression opaque. Now, he
waved at B’Elanna without looking at her. “Go on; I’ll be along in a
bit.”
She sighed, “Have it your way,” and left.
“So,” I said when she was gone, “what did you want to talk to me
about, lieutenant?”
“How do you know I want to talk to you about anything,
commander?”
As usual when it was just the two of us, a subtle edginess tinged
the conversation. I grinned at him to defuse it. “Can’t imagine you
hanging around just to watch me eat.”
Slouching back in his chair, arms crossed, he said finally, “You
know she really cares about you.” For a minute, I thought he meant
B’Elanna, and was trying to come up with a response that didn’t sound
condescending when he added, “The whole time you were lying comatose
in sickbay, she was, like, half out of her mind. I think it would
have been easier if we’d been in the middle of a crisis. She’d have
had the ship to think about then.”
Janeway. He was talking about Janeway. Abruptly I was reminded
of Tuvok’s thinly veiled warning in my office yesterday. The both of
them would have my head on a platter, with relish and an apple in the
mouth, if they thought for one minute that I’d hurt her. It was a
little unnerving–and not just because of their united scrutiny.
Their scrutiny reminded me that the whole damn ship was watching.
Under normal circumstances, the awkward tap-dance of courtship was
nerve-wracking enough, but to have it be the center of speculation for
almost a hundred and fifty people…. I felt like an actor on the
stage; and I suddenly understood another reason for those warnings
about fraternization. Even if the commanding officers could act with
maturity and discretion…could their crew? It was one thing to be
given a pair of senior officers who were already a pair. I’d served
on a ship where the science officer and CMO were partners, but they’d
come to us that way. We hadn’t watched it happen right under our
noses and gossiped about it in our off-hours.
I should have said something clever to Paris that would have
thrown him off the trail, or something serious, to make him think
twice before he encouraged the gossip free-for-all. Instead I shoved
away from the table, glared down at him and said, “My relationship
with the captain is none of your business,” and stalked out of
breakfast for the second time in as many days.
I may as well have spray-painted “Chakotay loves Kathryn” with
red hearts and arrows on the ship’s hull.
Why did I let that kid get to me?
To put it mildly, I was not in a good mood when I hit the bridge.
And what the hell had I come to the bridge for, anyway? I didn’t have
anything to do here today. Blind habit, I guess.
Janeway was there, sitting in her center seat, drinking coffee
and staring at the blank front screen. I startled her into jumping
and turning around. The expression on my face could probably have
curdled milk. I realized it belatedly, tried to smile. That didn’t
seem to set her any more at ease. She watched me carefully as I came
down the ramp and settled in beside her, eyes forward on the screen.
There was no one else there and we said nothing for a few minutes.
Finally, I tried small-talk, “The ship feels odd like this, doesn’t
it? No people on the bridge–”
“”Like a house with all the children gone.'” She seemed to be
quoting something but I wasn’t sure what.
Another long silence. From the corner of my eye, I could see her
left hand fidgeting, first in her lap, then on the chair arm, like she
didn’t know what to do with it, like a teenage girl trying to make it
available, hoping you’ll find the guts to take hold of it. I didn’t
have the guts.
Say something!, my brain was screaming at me. But I just sat
there, dumb and foolish. She was the one who finally broke silence.
“So. What did you think of your ‘present’?”
I grinned; I couldn’t help it. “Well, once we got it straight
that my pipe is not a toy, we spent a nice quiet evening on the couch
listening to music.”
My comment had not been more than mildly amusing but she laughed
hard. I turned my head to look at her and could see it all in her
face: the deer in the spotlight giving way finally to a rush of
relief. I found my courage and reached over to take the twitchy hand,
close it in mine. “It was a very fine gift. Thank you.”
Now she blushed, looked down at our joined hands and squeezed.
“You’re welcome.” Then she let go, stood up. “I guess we should pay
a visit to B’Elanna, see how things are progressing.”
I just looked up at her. “We’ll have to be careful. You realize
the gossip has started already.”
“I think the gossip started before we did, commander.”
I grinned. “True enough. And I have to admit, I didn’t help
matters this morning.” I told her what I’d said to Paris. Told her
what Tuvok had said to me yesterday, too.
Both made her smile. “One playing ‘daddy’, one playing ‘son.'”
“I just hope your ‘son’ doesn’t have a bad case of Oedipal
complex.”
Still smiling, she held out her hand to me. “Shall we go give
them something to talk about, commander?”
I eyed the hand, then took it, let her pull me to my feet and
lead me towards the lift. Inside, I said, “I’m not sure what I think
of playing your beau under the noses of a hundred and fifty people.”
“Doesn’t leave much leeway for mistakes, does it?” she said, and
I could see that scared deer look was back.
“Lift, halt,” I said. It obliged. I turned her to face me, left
my hands on her upper arms. “Then we’ll just have to get it right,
won’t we?”
“There aren’t exactly a lot of precedents.”
“We can make it up as we go along.”
“Could be dangerous.”
“I’ve never known Kathryn Janeway to walk away from a challenge.”
She smiled a little at that, then sobered. “What if we get back
tomorrow?”
It was not what I’d expected her to say and caught me off guard.
I didn’t want to make it back just yet. I didn’t want to face the
probability of prison for me and my people, the possibility of a
court-martial for her. More than either, I didn’t want to see Mark
show up on her doorstep, dog in tow, to reclaim her for himself. Even
if she didn’t still have feelings for him, they did have a commitment
of sorts and Janeway is nothing if not loyal.
“Tell me you wouldn’t go back to Mark.”
It just popped out. I hadn’t planned on saying it, it just
popped out before I could bite it back. I immediately let her go and
looked down at the floor between us. “Sorry, that was out of line–”
She touched my arm. “No, it wasn’t.” Then she sighed. “This is
no place for this conversation. Lift, resume.” It did. I could see
her chewing over something. “B’Elanna’s expecting us. But after
that, I can clear my calendar for the afternoon.”
“I think I can as well.”
“Meet me in my readyroom when you’re done, then.”
Not her quarters. Probably just as well. There were a few
things we needed to work out before we let things get that personal.
“Aye, aye, captain.” The lift door opened on engineering.

As matters turned out, we didn’t get to have our talk that day.
The rest of my afternoon was taken up trying to keep an “incident” at
market from mutating into a hasty need to leave Abbyzh-dira before we
were ready. I got a harried call from Carey in the middle of lunch,
found him in the *brig* keeping watch over Carlo lo Verso, who he had
apparently had to belt into unconsciousness. After hearing Carey’s
tale, I tracked down a very sweaty Anyas, who was being put through
his paces by Tuvok. I needed some advice on the best way to handle
this new mess. Anyas appeared ready to drop. Tuvok was barely
winded. Damn Vulcan stamina. “Tuvok, I need to borrow your student
for a few minutes. Ship’s business.” Tuvok’s eyebrow went up, but he
gestured and I walked Anyas a little ways down the hall.
The kid’s feet dragged, his shoulders slumped, and he could not
even find energy for one of his usual smiles. When we stopped, he
leaned over to rest his hands on his knees and tried not to pant too
loudly. I set a hand on his shoulder. “A hint: don’t measure how
well you’re holding up against him. Vulcans are–”
“I know,” he snapped. “I’m a *doctor*.” Then he paused, sighed.
“My apologies. I am just…tired.”
He did not sound at all like the Anyas who had first swished his
way onto Voyager. “What can I do for you, commander?” he asked then,
straightening.
I explained my problem: one of our ship hotheads–Fleet, this
time–had taken exception to the attention paid to his girlfriend by a
certain Kithtri merchant, whom he had subsequently thrown backwards
through the man’s own stall. Carey had hauled the troublemaker back
to the ship while the girlfriend, Tresha Van Bastelaar–one of my old
crew–had stayed to apologize to the merchant and help the man get
medical attention for his bruises. So far, no formal complaints had
been lodged and I wanted to keep it that way. The captain had enough
on her mind without needing to make apologies for some jackass’ petty
jealousies.
Anyas was baffled–genuinely, I think. “The woman was not this
lo Verso’s mate?” he asked.
“No. They’ve been dating for a couple months, but I didn’t think
it was serious. Apparently, lo Verso saw it another way.”
I then spent a good fifteen to twenty minutes trying to explain
the concept of romantic jealousy to Anyas. By this point, Tuvok had
strayed closer to listen and added, “It is not, I fear, a response
based on the logic of a situation, but is nevertheless common among
emotional races.”
Anyas turned gold eyes on Tuvok. “Kithtri are emotional, Mr.
Tuvok, but we are not prone to jealousy–of that sort, in any case.”
He turned back to me, explained, “It is not Kithtri custom to approach
someone who is clearly mated to another–unless both are willing, of
course. Had the merchant realized his attentions would be unwelcome
to your crewpeople, he would not have offered them. I am certain no
harm was meant.”
“That’s what Tresha thought, too.” I sighed. “I’ve had trouble
with lo Verso before, and even Tresha isn’t trying to defend him this
time. Last I heard, she said she never wanted to speak to him again.”
I couldn’t conceal a smile at that; saw Tuvok’s eyebrow go up. “I
just wanted to be sure that my instinct was right about where the
fault lay in this one. What would be the usual Kithtri way of dealing
with a problem like this? What kind of punishment would you give?”
Anyas shook his head. “I do not know, commander. As I said, it
is not a problem we face. How much damage was done to the merchant’s
stall?”
I sighed. “Enough. But luckily the man sold some type of woven
rug instead of breakable objects. The damage was to the stall–and to
him–not to his merchandize.”
“Perhaps I should ask how *your* people would normally handle
such a situation?”
“If we were in the Alpha Quadrant, he’d pay damages and answer
any suit the injured party wanted to bring. Out here….” I glanced
at Tuvok, could see he would just as soon dump lo Verso on an asteroid
somewhere. “It seems to me the only fair thing is to have him spend
his replicator rations to produce whatever’s needed to repair the
stall and then put a little elbow grease into fixing it. And offer an
apology. Maybe he’ll think twice before he blows his top next time.”
Anyas was smiling slightly. “I believe that will do, commander.”
He glanced at Tuvok. “Should I accompany the commander, sir?”
Tuvok gave a short nod. “We both will.”
So the rest of the afternoon was spent with Tuvok riding herd on
lo Verso while he repaired the merchant’s busted stall, and with me in
an entirely different section of the green glass ‘palace’, apologizing
all over the place and trying to keep Voyager from looking like a ship
full of parochial bullies. Anyas–in uniform–accompanied me. I have
no doubt that his presence helped, but luckily, dealing with Kithtri
where violence is concerned was a bit like dealing with Vulcans. They
accepted my apologies, and my plans for lo Verso’s punishment, but
they seemed more inclined to philosophical discussion of the cause:
jealousy itself and its role in human history and current affairs. It
was…bizarre, and I was glad to get out of there. I’d forgotten how
wearying it could be trying to navigate another culture, even one as
obviously tolerant and curious as the Kithtri. I couldn’t shake the
feeling that they found the entire incident, including my own anxious
concern, rather amusing and were humoring us. When on the way back to
the ship I said as much to Anyas, he just shrugged, muttered something
about life being a gamble and we were a ‘young people’ yet to take it
all so seriously. I was reminded of old Herodotos being told by the
Egyptians, “You Greeks are children.”
Janeway–who had already received a full report from Tuvok–met
Anyas and me at the top of Voyager’s entrance ramp. She looked
anxiously from one to the other. Anyas stepped forward and playfully
ran a hand down her cheek. “The beauteous one is pale with anxiety,
but have no fear”–he gave a silly little bow–“difficulties have been
resolved with both sides the richer for the trade.”
Her expression was utterly baffled. “What he means,” I said, “is
that I just spent three hours discussing the intricacies of human
psychology and mating behavior with an entire panel of very curious
Kithtri.” I turned to him. “Anyas, go see if Tuvok has anything else
for you to do or if you’re off the hook for the rest of the day.”
He glanced from me to her, that maddening little smile on his
lips, then disappeared.
“I will be very glad,” I told her, “when it’s time to leave.”
“Three more days, commander.” Then she dipped her head a little
and caught my eyes. “You sound like you’ve had enough philosophy for
the day. Shall we shelve our discussion of relationship parameters
till tomorrow?”
I could tell she did not really want to but I ran a hand over my
face, said, “Yeah. I’m afraid I’m reduced to thinking the thoughts
that broccoli think.”
Chuckling, she slipped a hand under my elbow. “Well, let’s go
get some dinner and then go for a swim, or shoot a little pool, or
find some other broccoli-level entertainment.”

We ended up in Sandrine’s. Swimming alone on the holodeck was
just a little too intimate and we’d both instinctually backed away
from it. I’m not sure I’d have trusted myself with her in a swimsuit
under a starry sky. So I sat at the bar and watched her mop up the
floor with anyone foolish enough to challenge her at pool.
It was a slow night; only a few people wandered in. I understood
the night before had been a real howler of a party in honor of Anyas’
success on his protocols test. Tonight, I suspected he was far too
beat from Tuvok’s improvised ‘boot camp’ to do more than crawl into
bed. There were times that afternoon I’d feared I’d need to prop him
up against a wall to keep him from falling over.
Tonight did, however, seem to be Mommy’s Night Out. Kes and Sam
Wildman sat at a back table, laughing and chatting with one another,
neither’s baby anywhere to be seen. I wandered over to join them.
Both smiled up at me and made me welcome. “Neelix have Riaka?” I
asked Kes. She nodded. “Who has Puff?”
“Megan Delaney,” Wildman said. I choked on my drink and had to
have Kes pound me on the back. The idea of either Delaney twin
juggling bottles and diapers was a scream. Wildman’s eyes twinkled
and she glanced at the chrono on her wrist. “I give her another…
half an hour. Then I expect a call.”
In fact, Megan lasted only twenty more minutes. Wildman’s
communicator beeped and we could hear Megan Delaney begging respite
over the wails of a very distraught baby. Wildman stood up. “Mommy
to the rescue.” And she left us.
I was suddenly uncomfortable, alone at the table with Kes. I
never had asked her if she had any memory of being in my vision. If
she didn’t, I’d have to explain it–which I wasn’t up to–and if she
did, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
Now, she leaned over and smiled her otter smile at me. “Could I
beg a favor from you, commander?”
Kes rarely asks for favors, which makes it difficult to turn her
down when she does. Nevertheless, I had a feeling I was being set up.
“What is it, Kes?”
“I promised Tom Paris that I’d drop by and talk to Harry Kim this
evening, but to be honest, I’m a little too tired. Would you be
willing to drop by for me?”
I had been set up. “What do you want me to talk to him about?”
I couldn’t quite keep the nervous edge out of my voice.
“Oh, nothing in particular. Just cheer him up a little.” She
stood and patted my hand. “Thanks, commander.” And she left, too.
I sat a moment more, sipping my synthale. Just before I rose,
Janeway sat down beside me. “Chasing off all the ladies, Chakotay?”
I glared at her. “Kes set me up. Gave me my first assignment as
‘ship’s shaman.'”
She grinned. “Oh?”
“Harry’s suffering through another bout of his periodic Libby
Blues, apparently. She conned me into going to talk to him.”
Her grin widened and she squeezed my shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll
do just fine. He looks up to you.”
“No sympathy from your quarter, I see.” I tossed back the rest
of my drink, then stood. “Tomorrow morning, eleven-hundred?” Her
face was blank. “Our trip to the market, remember?”
“Ah.”
“Technically, it’s ship’s business, but I think we’re entitled to
a little time off, so dress in civvies and we’ll make a day of it.”
She smiled and offered me her hand. It was meant mostly as a
friendly gesture, but I took it, kissed the back, then turned it over
to set a kiss in the palm before beating a retreat. I would remember
her expression when I went to bed tonight.

I can’t say quite what I was afraid of that made me drag my feet
on the way to Harry Kim’s quarters. I was not doing anything more
than what I’d been doing all along–Janeway had been right. But it
was *different*, all the same. Before I’d been just Chakotay, who had
a reputation for listening well and occasionally giving a bit of sound
advice, mostly by dint of being older, not necessarily wiser. But
ever since the fiasco of the Great Maquis Strike, I’d become conscious
of the arrogance I’d shown in setting myself up as a guru. And I had
set myself up as one. Even if there was no shingle above my door, I’d
let it be known back in the maquis that I liked to be confided in by
my crew or anyone else with a personal problem. It did good things
for my ego. I’d just been lucky that I hadn’t put my foot in it and
seriously screwed up someone’s life. I was no counsellor. I can at
least say that I usually knew when I was in over my head. I hadn’t
tried to take on Suder; that had been Tuvok’s little arrogance. But I
didn’t have any business playing Dr. Chakotay, and that was what
scared me: the Thunderpeople were telling me to mess around in heads,
playing muskekewininee, medicine man, for Voyager.
Or were they? My father, himself muskekewininee, had always
emphasized that the role was not a matter of merit. One didn’t earn a
degree; one was chosen. After that, one might indeed go on to study
and be accepted as an officer of the mediwiwin lodge, but it was the
manitto who first called and their choices were based on different
things. They wanted binideewin: purity of heart, my father used to
say. Like medicine, wisdom was the gift of the manitto. So if I was
going up to talk to Harry Kim relying on my own wisdom, I was in
trouble from the start. “You begin with the knowledge of your own
weaknesses, not the illusion of your strength. People have their own
answers; you are just there to help them see that for themselves.”
The memory of my father’s words made me feel better. It wasn’t
all on me; I didn’t have to have the answers. Kim didn’t need my
answers; he just needed someone to listen to him, sit with him for a
while, *be* with him for a while–which was precisely what I did. At
first the kid was surprised to see me, but he let me in and offered me
tea. Then I let him pour out his heart for a while.
Kim is all up-front. He’s not learned yet how to hide pieces of
himself, or to distrust authority. I hope he never suffers the type
of experiences which would teach him those things. He’s the sort of
kind, honest, *normal* young man every father hopes his son will be.
I feel honored that he comes to me now and then to ask questions that
are either over Paris’ head or outside his experience. Kim doesn’t
really need a substitute father; he’s got a perfectly good one back in
the Alpha Quadrant, but Roger Kim *is* back in the Alpha Quadrant and
occasionally his son needs someone with flesh on.
This time, the problem was only ostensibly Libby. In truth, I
think Libby has become a succubus for him. He clings to her because
she represents home and he’s not sure what else to do. But we’ve been
out here over two years now: an awkward time–not long enough to be
sure the people at home have given up on us, but too long to be sure
they haven’t yet. Harry went back and forth with it a while, talking
about the past and future, but never the present. He asked the same
questions over and over, just used different terms: “What if she’s
moved on? I’m not sure if I *want* her to spend her life waiting on
me. I’m not sure that’s fair to her.” Or to him, but I didn’t point
that out. “Yet if *I* try to move on, and she hasn’t, and we get home
tomorrow–what do I say to her?”
I wondered if Janeway had been asking herself the same questions
with regard to Mark.
“The other thing,” Harry went on, pacing around the room, teacup
in hand, “is that people can change a lot in two years. I’m not the
same guy I was when I left Earth. I wonder if she’s the same girl.
What if Voyager does get home tomorrow and we find we both *did* wait,
but when we get back together, there’s nothing there any more?”
He finally stopped and looked at me. I’d said nothing up to this
point beyond a grunt and nod to show I was listening. “Tom thinks I’m
being silly,” he added, “but he’s been after me to date people since
we first got lost out here. And he’s never had a steady girlfriend
like Libby, not really. What do *you* think I should do?”
It was not a rhetorical question; he really wanted to know,
thought I might have the answer. I was touched by his trust.
Leaning forward, I set the teacup on the table by the chair where
I was sitting, the chair I suspect Tom Paris usually occupies. “No
one can answer that but you, Harry.” I looked up at him; I can see my
answer isn’t the one he wanted to hear. “Sit down.” He does so. “I
heard a lot of ‘ifs’ in your words: if this, what about that…. For
this whole voyage, I’ve watched you live your life in a future tense:
when Voyager gets back, I’m going to…. You’re so busy with the
‘ifs’ and ‘whens’, you’re missing the ‘now.'”
It was something my father had used to tell me. I was forty-four
and still couldn’t say I’d completely learned the lesson, but at least
I now recognized it as a problem. Kim didn’t. His face was stark, as
if trying to conceal a more violent reaction.
“I can’t give you the answer to your questions, Harry. Neither
can Tom, for that matter. You already know the answer, you’re just
not comfortable looking at it yet. That’s okay; you’ll see it when
you’re ready. But I can say this much–you won’t see it at all until
you learn to let go of the ‘ifs’ and ‘whens’ so you can look at where
you’re actually standing.”
Then I stood myself. “I’ve got to get to bed. I’ll see you
tomorrow, ensign.” I left him sitting there on the edge of his couch,
hands clasped between his knees, staring at nothing. There’s an old
cliche that one man’s tragedy is another man’s gain, but it sounds too
pat when I’m the man who gains, only to watch a sweet kid like Kim
lose. The universe isn’t fair.
On that bitter note, I went back to my quarters.

VIII.

It had been a while since I’d been on anything I’d remotely call
a date. Before the maquis, I’d been too busy clawing my way up the
command track, and in the maquis, there hadn’t been time for frivolity
like dates. Too bad. A little frivolity might have reminded us of
our humanity. In any case, dates certainly hadn’t been Seska’s style.
We’d more or less fallen in bed together and that wasn’t an experience
I wanted to repeat. So I was looking forward to starting off this
time with an old-fashioned *date*. I wanted to get it right.
I guess that explains why I changed clothes three times. Chessie
made an appearance in the midst of it, just long enough to quip, “I
thought it was the ladies who threw their clothes all over the floor
and complained that they didn’t have anything to wear?”
He was gone before the shoe I threw could hit him. “Damn cat!”
But it did make me stop and laugh at myself and wonder if Janeway was
doing the same thing.
I ended up putting on what Kes had given me. Despite the cat’s
ragging, I really *didn’t* have much in the way of civilian clothes.
They were gone with Crazy Horse, and I hadn’t had many even there.
One learned to travel light, in the maquis.
I managed to make it on time to Janeway’s door. She was dressed
to kill in the green pantsuit that she’d worn to the circle the first
time. Her hair was down, too; a touch I appreciated. I bowed, said
something gallant and stupid and kissed her hand again, which made her
blush. The hand trick I’d learned back in the academy. I had yet to
meet a woman who didn’t like to have her hand kissed, as long as she
was convinced you weren’t making fun of her. I offered Janeway my arm
then, and we headed out–caught a few looks from crewmembers on the
way.
“The ship will be buzzing for a week,” she muttered.
“Let it,” I replied. “If we’re going to do this, let’s not hide.
They’re going to talk anyway.”
She just smiled.
Our first order of business was a trip to the green palace to
conclude negotiations for final supplies. It did not take long. I
was a bit surprised to find that Janeway had no need to play captain
and take over. She let me do it, stood in the background and watched.
She was getting better at letting go, I thought.
My business complete and arrangements made for supply pick-up,
Janeway and I went back out to the market.
Maybe I was beginning to get used to it, but the sound and color
and variety were not quite so draining. I found myself better able to
assess the other visitors, some of which we might run into again as we
made our way home. I could see Janeway doing the same thing.
Janeway. Here I was, out with her on a *date* for heaven’s sake,
and I still called her by her last name even to myself. But today,
for me, she was Kathryn. I should start thinking of her that way.
We’d stopped to sit on the edge of a fountain, hand in hand, and
watch the colorful parade pass. I caught a little Talaxian boy
staring at me from behind the protection of his mother’s skirt. I
winked; he hid his face, but grinned. Humanoid children, I thought,
were very much the same anywhere in the galaxy.
I could feel Kathryn’s eyes on me, and glanced over. She was
smiling. “What’s so funny?”
“You and that kid. You’re good with them, aren’t you?”
“Kids?”
“Yeah.”
I shrugged. “I’m actually better with teenagers, but I like all
kids. That’s what it takes–liking them. They can tell.”
“I like them, but I’m not any good with them. Usually. I’m
either too strict or not strict enough.” She paused then; I could
almost feel her shy from the subject matter. Given the circumstances,
there was too much potential for misunderstandings. We needed to push
it away from the personal. “Tuvok is the one who’s good with kids,”
she said.
I turned to stare. “*Tuvok*?”
“He has four of his own. And don’t tell me you haven’t noticed
how he always seems to have Riaka if he’s in the same room with her.”
In fact, I hadn’t. It was interesting to hear about a different
side of Tuvok from someone who’d known him for years.
“He’s especially partial to girls,” Kathryn was saying. “He only
has one of his own. In fact, sometimes I think he and T’Pel had so
many kids because they kept trying for a girl. They quit when T’Parl
was born.”
“Seems strange, in this day and age. Couldn’t they just have
fixed it so she’d only conceive a girl?”
“Vulcans don’t do that.” She was shaking her head. “They don’t
believe in tampering with conception unless it’s to prevent a birth
defect, and even then, they don’t always do it. They don’t abort
fetuses either except for medical necessity.”
It was not what I’d have expected from the perfectionist Vulcans,
but oddly, it made a kind of sense.
“They like children,” she went on. “I remember when I lived
there that, for all the infamous Vulcan cool, I never got the feeling
I was underfoot–at least not as far as the Vulcans were concerned.
The adults didn’t look through me, either. They talked to me like I
was a person and were always willing to answer questions. Vulcan is
very child-friendly, more so than a lot of other planets in the
Federation. That usually surprises people.”
“What was it like, living there?” I realized that I didn’t know
very much about her life before Voyager.
“Different. I didn’t spend that much time outside the diplomatic
compound, but I spent some. You’ve been to Vulcan, haven’t you?”
“Twice,” I said, “but both were pretty short visits. It’s not
exactly a hot vacation spot.” She laughed; I loved to hear her laugh.
“The main thing I remember was how *clean* it was. Clean and white,
like Cairo without the trash and camels. But the lines in the
buildings always felt a little off, to me. I couldn’t get used to the
thin air. Dry and hot I can take, but the air and the gravity–it was
too much. It’s not a planet I’d choose to live on, even if it does
have the lowest crime rate in the Federation.” I winked.
She took her hand from mine and clasped hers together between her
knees, face toward the booths but eyes closed in memory. “I didn’t
have a lot to do there besides study, so I was a bit bored. Not a lot
of other kids in the diplomatic compound. What I recall best was the
silence. As a kid, that used to drive me buggy. Vulcans talk softly,
walk softly, do everything softly. It’s the better hearing, I think,
but it made me feel like a big draft horse stomping around.”
“You? A drafthorse? More like a little quarterhorse with a lot
of spunk.”
She hit at me; I flinched back obediently. The light, refracted
from fountain water and the veils above, fell on her hair, picking
out the red-gold highlights. It was not, I realized, strawberry
blond. I’d been thinking of it as that color, but really, it was a
light brown with some red and blondish streaks. Subtleties of hair
color are usually lost on me. It’s the texture of hair I notice, and
hers is especially attractive: smooth and thick and shiny.
Now, feeling mischievous, I reached back into the pond behind me
and got my hand wet, flicked it at her. Her expression was startled,
then determined. She splashed me back, soaking the front of my shirt
and a pantleg.
“Hey!” I stood up, wiped futilely at it. She just sat there,
looking smug. I was mightily tempted to push her over backwards into
the fountain but was not sure the Kithtri or the fish either one would
appreciate me tossing wild women into their water. Instead, I held
out a hand to her and she took it, let me pull her to her feet. We
wandered aimlessly for a while. I was more conscious of her hand in
mind, the nearness of her, the light on her long hair swaying down her
back. One of the little flying reptiles landed on her shoulder at one
point. Its skin was painted in bright primary color geometrics:
yellow, red, blue. She laughed, tried to push it away but it seemed
determined to cling to her. I finally had to pluck it off and release
it. I noticed then one of the Kithtri merchants watching us with
laughing eyes behind a riot of silver and black veils. I thought it
might be a woman, and when she spoke, her voice confirmed it.
“The flying ones drink love like we drink water,” she said.
“What does that mean?” Kathryn wanted to know but the Kithtri did
not reply, only turned away and went on about her business.
We ate spiced meat on sticks and pepper-hot fried bread, sipped
something like honey from wax straws and shared cotton candy or a
whipped confection so close it made no difference. I bought her
flowers. She bought herself some fabric. We watched a juggler,
listened to musicians, and considered buying a fish like one of those
in the many ponds. “Cat would eat it,” I said finally, turning away.
“The cat is a *hologram*,” she reminded me.
“But he still likes to eat–or so he told me. He’d try to fish
the fish out of the bowl, and it’d die.” So we didn’t buy one.
I remembered then that I had promised to find the cat a pillow,
so she helped me do that. We found a nicely tasseled one. “He’ll
have a field-day,” I said.
It was right after I bought the pillow that it happened. We had
not seen many of our own people all day. Once, I’d caught gold and
black at a distance–a pair of Tuvok’s security guards–and I’d seen
Chaim and Cherel, too, and Bintar buying something at an electronics
booth. No one else.
So it surprised us when we walked around a corner and ran smack
into B’Elanna, arms full of supplies. Before I could do more than
grunt, she had noticed my arm around the captain’s waist and the
bouquet of flowers in the captain’s hand. Her face went blank, but it
was the blankness of pain concealed. Mumbling something, she hurried
past us, back in the direction of Voyager perched on its hill.
“Damn!” We both said it at the same time, shared a glance. Then
I sighed. “My mess; I’ll clean it up.” And I started after B’Elanna.
“Chakotay.”
I turned.
“When you’re done, stop by my quarters. We can share dinner.”
Trouble with B’Elanna or not, my mouth quirked up. “Not my
quarters?”
“And risk a furry interruption? Not on your life.” She waved
then and I left her there in the market.

B’Elanna angry is not something I ever enjoyed tackling, and
B’Elanna jealous is–if possible–worse. I caught up to her a few
alleys over. With her arms full, she couldn’t run but she was walking
at a pretty fast clip. I didn’t say anything when I came up level
with her, just walked along at her side, hands behind my back. I
would have offered to help her carry something but knew better. She’d
bite my head off. I also knew I’d best let her start a conversation.
Finally, she did.
“You could have told me.”
“That would have been hard,” I replied. “There wasn’t much to
tell until yesterday. I’m still not entirely sure of the state of
things. I prefer to not put the cart before the horse.”
She glanced over at me. “Yesterday, huh?”
I nodded. I wouldn’t lie to her. “Yesterday morning.”
“What about the night at the circle?”
“Nothing happened that night, really–nothing I could be sure
of.”
“But you’ve known it was coming.”
“Not really. I’ve *hoped* it was coming, but it’s not always
possible to separate hopes from the reality.”
She sulked along for a few paces, then said, “The rest of the
ship’s been pretty sure of it.”
I shrugged. “They’re not in the middle of it. They can see
things it’s hard to see when you’re in the middle. But there are
other things they can’t see, too. Speculation is just that:
speculation.”
So far, the whole conversation was safely far from her own
feelings. I wondered if I should push a little. When she didn’t
reply further but continued to stalk along, face set, I decided to
push. “Why are you angry? It’s more, I think, than just the fact I
didn’t run down to engineering to spill my guts as soon as I kissed
the captain.”
“You would have, once. You told me about Seska.”
“Seska was the one who told you about us, not me. I was your
captain as well as your friend, B’Elanna. Now I’m your first
officer.”
“And that means you can’t be my friend?” I could see that her
eyes were starting to tear up. She tripped over a root in the ground,
dropped a box. I picked it up, took another two from her as well.
She let me; that was a good sign. With a hand on her arm, I stopped
her from walking on, tilted up her chin to look at me.
“Being first officer doesn’t mean I can’t be your friend. I’d
like to think I am. But being first officer means I’m your *senior*;
you know as well as I do what that means.”
“It didn’t stop you from sleeping with Seska!”
Damn! She knew exactly where to nail me.
“Be, that was a mistake, and for more reasons than because she
turned out to be a spy. I ended it. I ended it before we got to
Voyager, in fact. I won’t make that mistake again.”
“And what you’re doing with the captain is different?”
Ouch. Here was the question even Kathryn and I had not yet dealt
with entirely. “Yes, it is, because we’re closer to equals–partners.
It’s not entirely rank and you know it. Seska was closer to your age
than to mine. We were never equals. She was just good at salving my
ego–and I let her, and that was wrong. I know now what she was after
but it doesn’t matter. It was still an unequal partnership, and for
reasons far beyond the fact I was captain of the ship and leader of
the maquis cell. Relationships need to be built on equality and
mutual respect–people who are at the same stage and place in life.
Seska and I weren’t.” You and I aren’t, either, I added silently,
hoping she got it without the need to spell it out. Perhaps I
should have spelled it out, but to do so would be an arrogance on
my part–an assumption of the unstated, since she’d never admitted
to her feelings for me.
She had dropped her eyes to stare at the dirt of the pathway, dig
a toe into it. Finally, she nodded once. “You and the captain…seem
to understand each other pretty well,” she offered.
“I think so, too.”
“I hope things work out for you both.”
“Thanks, Be.” I shifted boxes to set a hand on her shoulder.
“That means a lot to me. Your good opinion always has.”
That won a shaky smile. Things weren’t ‘fixed’–life was never
that pat–but we were over the hump.

It’s never easy to leap into a deep, heavy conversation about
where a relationship is going when that relationship is in just the
beginning stages. So I didn’t show up at Kathryn’s door for dinner
and immediately vomit out all my questions and uncertainties and
demands for some road-signs. She didn’t, either. Instead, we sat
down to a nice meal over candlelight–a conceit she suggested shyly
and with laughter at herself–and a conversation about the totally
mundane matters of ship’s business. Except for the candlelight and
the lingering looks, it might have been any of a dozen dinners or
lunches we’d shared in the past month. Only gradually did we edge
around to what was on both of our minds. She began by coming at it
sideways: “How went the conversation with B’Elanna? Do I need to take
cover for a while from jealous Klingons?”
I grinned, pushed around the remains of my alfredo. “I don’t
think so,” and I summarized the conversation. She sat back in her
chair, sipped her wine, and listened.
“Low blow, bringing up Seska,” she said when I was done.
“Not really. Not any more than my bringing up Mark, earlier.” I
looked up to catch her eyes but she glanced sideways, set down the
glass. Her face was hard.
“But Mark wasn’t a mistake. Not at the time.”
Wrong move. I rubbed the bridge of my nose. “Sorry. I wasn’t
implying he was. I just meant, well–past relationships.”
She accepted that with a little nod. “You asked me earlier, in
the lift, if I’d go back to him. I’ve given that some thought since.”
She met my eyes then. My breath disappeared from my lungs. “The
answer is no. I wouldn’t.” Breath came back to me, and a relief that
made me glad I was sitting down so I didn’t fall down. Her gaze slid
towards the windows in her quarters. “Even if this relationship
between us doesn’t work, it’s made me realize that what I had with
Mark isn’t enough for me any more. It was safe. But it wasn’t a
relationship.”
I reached across the little table, palm up, for her hand. She
gave it to me. “And what we have?” My heart was pounding.
A smile tugged at her mouth. “It isn’t safe.”
“No.”
“But I like it.”
I smiled. “So do I.”
Hands clasped on the tabletop, we stared at one another across
the candles. The glow lent softness to her face. For a moment, just
holding her hand was enough. Then she let go. “But we need to talk
about the parameters. Like I said yesterday morning, there isn’t much
precedent.”
“Actually,” I said, “there is, a bit. I don’t know of any cases
of a permanent relationship between a female captain and her male
first, but there’ve been some between male captains and their under-
officers–including firsts; I know of one between a female captain and
her male CMO; and quite a few between station commanders of both sexes
and their under-officers.”
She had sat back, eyes narrowed a little. “I notice you included
the officers’ gender in all that.”
I sighed. “You know damn well that it matters. Even now, it
matters. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t insist on the ‘ma’am’.”
Another little nod of acceptance; she didn’t like it, but she
knew I was right.
Confession time. “To be frank, one of the things I’m worried
about is how this is going to be perceived by the crew. I don’t want
anyone to think I’m trying to put you under me in bed because I can’t
handle a woman over me in the chain of command.”
She shook her head and sat up. “That doesn’t worry me. You’ve
never given any indication that you have a problem with my gender–
and yes, I do know it’s an issue even though Starfleet likes to say
it isn’t. I’ve had to deal with it enough, in the past, and I can
tell the difference instantly, whatever lip-service a male officer may
give to equality. I’ve never felt anything from you but respect–and
the crew hasn’t seen anything else, either. When we’ve butted heads,
it was on philosophy, not your male ego. I don’t think anyone on
Voyager is confused about that, and if they are, they’d be confused
whether you were sleeping with the boss or not.”
I felt relieved. In fact, I hadn’t realized how much that had
been a concern of mine until I’d finally voiced it. Given her answer,
it was clearly more my issue than hers, though. Perhaps I’d just
needed to be sure she didn’t see me or my intentions as I’d feared she
might, feared others might. I’d put an end to this relationship right
now if I thought it would hurt her authority.
“Another thing,” I said–I seemed to be taking the lead in the
doubts and fears department–“I need to know: if you have to send me
on a mission that’s likely to prove fatal–you’ll do it?” I raised a
hand before she could answer. “I won’t expect you to like it, but I
need to know you can do it, if you have to.”
She smiled faintly. “I think you can trust me on that one,
Chakotay. I wouldn’t pretend to like it, but I know my position and
my responsibilities–I knew it when I took the captaincy.”
“But you didn’t have your…significant other”–what else could I
call myself?; ‘lover’ would have been a bit premature–“under your
command. I doubt you ever expected to.”
“I didn’t. But if I didn’t think I could give you a probably-
fatal order–or I didn’t think you’d take it–we’d never have gotten
to a point we’d be *having* this conversation, commander.”
I nodded, understanding exactly why she’d used my title.
“That goes both ways, you know,” she went on. “I need to know
that if I give the self-destruct order for Voyager, and send you to
lead the survivors, you won’t argue with me about it. A captain goes
down with her ship, if she has to. That’s *my* job.”
“I didn’t argue before,” I pointed out. “Not much, anyway.” I’d
gone to the escape pods and left her on the bridge with Tuvok, even
though it’d nearly killed me. I’d do it again.
“I know,” she said. “But–as you said to me–before, the captain
wasn’t your significant other.”
“And as you said to me, if I didn’t think I could accept that,
we’d never have gotten to the point we’d be having this conversation.”
She grinned at that, then sobered. “You know, it’s a hell of a
lot easier to make these promises right now than it would be to keep
them, if the situation ever arose.”
“But at least we are making them,” I said. “That should make
keeping them easier than if we’d never talked about them.” It was
certainly nothing I’d ever talked about with Seska! “It’s necessary.”
“Yes.”
“Your turn,” I said then. “What promises do you want from me?”
“I’m not sure,” she replied. “We’ve covered the big stuff. I
think my fears have more to do with how the crew will take it. I feel
like I’m…stepping off a cliff. Having an affair with one of my
officers was just never something I allowed myself to consider.”
“I’d like to think I’m more than an ‘affair’.”
“Are you? What are you promising, Chakotay? I guess that’s what
I need to know from you–what are you promising here? This can’t be a
fly-by-night thing. And what happens if it doesn’t work? I’d like to
think we could be adults about it, but I’ve known too many cases where
the parties weren’t. I know, I know–I want guarantees where there
aren’t any. But out here, there’s no place for you to transfer to.”
I sat back, glad for the moment that there was a table between
us, glad, I think, because of the horrible vulnerability of the
questions she’d just raised–I could see it in her face–and the
vulnerability I felt in trying to formulate an answer. I’d always
had a tendency to jump in over my head, in the past. Like with Seska.
I wanted to get this one right, so I fought my own tendency to make
dramatic confessions. I feared I’d scare her away.
“No, no guarantees,” I replied now. “As for what I’m promising–
I guess I’m promising to try…to try to make it last, Kath. It’s not
fly-by-night for me, either. I wouldn’t be sitting here, if it was,
any more than you would be. No, it might not succeed. But we’re out
here for the duration, and I don’t think it’s fair to deny ourselves
the chance at something we both seem to want, just because it *might*
not succeed. We work too well together, and I’m more afraid that
denying the attraction between us would get in the way of that than I
am afraid that a relationship would get in the way. If I’m going to
have to live with you for the next sixty-seven years, I’d rather do it
as partners than as a frustrated bachelor.”
She laughed at that, got up from her chair and walked over to
stare out the windows at the night-darkened countryside. But even
night was not so dark on Abbyzh-dira, thanks to the veils overhead. I
watched her move in the shadows cast by the candles and let myself
notice what I usually didn’t. The neckline of the pantsuit plunged
just enough to draw my eye down to the pull of fabric across her
breasts, and the cinched waist emphasized the swell of hips. A
woman’s hips, not a girl’s. I was glad I was sitting down. Damn, it
had been entirely too long. I’m no monk and I don’t want to be.
She turned back, caught me looking at her and smiled, held out a
hand to me. Oh, to hell with it. I didn’t care if she noticed the
state I was in. Let her. Let her know what she did to me. Standing,
I crossed over to join her. I wasn’t in the mood to play coy; neither
was she. She let me take her in my arms and kiss her. We just stood
there near the windows, wrapped around each other, getting lost in the
kissing. It started out more passionate than it ended up, ironically.
I wasn’t in a hurry; there was no need to hurry. We had sixty-seven
years. So we kissed hard to start, pressed up against each other as
if we’d meld ourselves bone to bone, and ended up kissing gentle,
cuddled loose, my arms around her shoulders, hers around my waist.
In the end, we ended up on the couch. Necking on the couch like
a pair of teenagers–wouldn’t the crew have loved that? The clothes
didn’t even come off…not that we let a little thing like clothes
stop us. If anything, the clothes added spice. She did get her hand
under my waistband, and I got mine inside the flap of her pantsuit,
but that wasn’t until the end and the need to get some relief. It
started out more innocently.
I’d led her over to the sofa, where we settled, half lying down,
half propped against one arm, she on my chest, her hair down and
getting accidentally pulled by every shift of our position. Such
wonderful hair. She let me sink my hands in it, bury my face in it.
I could smell the cherry rinse she used. We laid there a while, not
talking, just enjoying the warmth and the sensual touch. I played
with her hair, removed her necklace and earrings and dropped them on
an end-table. She unbuttoned part of my shirt and ran her fingers
over my chest, touched the medicine bag, traced the tattoo on my brow.
“Did it hurt when you go it?” she asked.
“No. You feel a pressure from the needles, but it’s not painful.
If it’s painful, it’s not being done right.”
“How *is* a tattoo done? Did they do it all at once, or in
parts?”
“For a tattoo this size, all at once. First the skin is cleaned
and the area shaved–in this case, just part of my eyebrow–then the
pattern’s applied. Only after the pattern is down do they start with
the needle.”
“How long did it take then?”
“Not long. Couple hours.”
Her curiosity satisfied, she laid her head back down on my chest.
It might have gone no further than that. I wasn’t inclined to
push, at least not at this point. She was the one who rolled all the
way on top and started kissing me, and it was very clear she was
kissing *me*, not the reverse. She moved from my mouth to nibble my
jawline and neck while her hands stroked my chest. I put up with it
for a while, but I don’t do passive well–not any better than she
does. I finally grabbed both her hands in one of mine, put the other
around her body, kissed her soundly and rolled her sideways off the
couch onto the floor. She landed with an audible “Whoof!” I peered
over the edge of the couch at her on the floor and chuckled. Her
expression was pure affront, then she lurched up, grabbed my neck and
pulled me down with her. I managed to avoid landing on top of her;
I’d have squashed her flat. We spent a while rolling around on the
floor, tussling and tickling and finding any good excuse to get our
hands all over one another. Nothing was said of any import–a lot of
laughs and grunts and “Oh, no, you don’t!”s. I’m glad her cabin is at
the corridor end with mine on the other side. Last thing we needed
was to have one of the other senior officers listening through the
bulkhead. God knows what they’d have made of the racket.
At one point, she called out, “Stop it, Pesh!,” which sure as
hell gave me pause.
“Pesh?” I asked.
“Pesh. Peshewa. That is your name, isn’t it? But Peshewa’s a
mouthful. So’s Chakotay. I need something shorter.”
I shook my head. “‘Pesh’ is nonsense. Our names *mean*
something. ‘Pesh’ is…half a word! I’d say it’s like calling you
‘Kath’, but you do that. Kathryn means something, I’m sure–”
“‘Pure’, actually.” She grinned.
I rolled my eyes. “I won’t touch that one. But anyway, it’s not
the same. It doesn’t mean anything in *Standard*, so calling you Kath
is just a nickname. But my name is a word–it means something in my
own language: wildcat. Calling me ‘Pesh’, you may as well call me
‘wild.'”
“That’d fit, too.”
“Kath, please. Listen. Nicknames are a white thing.”
“Well, in case you haven’t noticed, so am I. White, that is.”
“Yeah, I had noticed.”
“Does it bother you?”
I flopped over onto my back, one arm under my head, the other
across my chest. “It’s been a long time since there was anyone who
could claim pure blood on a tribal roll–not since the beginning of
the twenty-second century, in fact. These days, to be Indian is as
much a tradition, a worldview, as an ethnicity. I probably have more
white blood in me than red; I’ve never bothered to sit down and count
the percentages. So no, it doesn’t matter.”
“Well,” she said, rolling up on an elbow, “unless you’re really
against it, I’m going to call you Pesh.”
The mischievous look in her eye made it difficult for me to stay
irritated. “I guess I’ll have to get used to it.”
“I guess you will.” And the temporary tickle truce was off. She
made a dive for my ribs.
When I’d had enough, I used my weight to push her down flat on
the floor and kiss her hard. When I came up for air, she whispered,
“Tonsil hockey!” which just set us both off again. It was all very
undignified for the captain and the first officer but to be honest, I
didn’t give a damn.
I’m still not clear how or why it turned serious, but I suddenly
found myself dragging my hands down her sides and back up over her
belly to the swell of her breasts. We were still on the floor; or
rather, she was. I was sitting up beside her. When I touched her
breasts, she pushed her head against the carpet and arched her back,
her mouth open a little as if she could hold on to the feeling that
way. Her hands, flung out to either side, balled up into fists. I
kneaded her breasts a while, rubbed my thumbs over the nipples, then
bent to suck at them through the thin, green fabric of her pantsuit.
The cloth tasted of dust and open air and smelled subtly of smoke
from the candles. I could smell her, too: the musky-sharp odor of a
woman’s arousal. She made no noise but grabbed my head with both
her hands. I moved my mouth from one breast to the other, let my
free hand stroke her hip, her outer thigh, then in and up to the
seam at the crotch. Even through the cloth, I could feel she was
damp. It was driving me quite out of my mind. I bit gently at her
breasts, buried my face in the valley between, then drew my tongue
up from the bare flesh at the cleavage, over her collarbone and the
muscle at the side of the neck, to her ear. She was moaning now, low
noises, throaty, like an animal being dragged over its boarder. Her
hands had left my head and were fumbling at my crotch. I had to move
her hands or I’d have come right then. She substituted a knee. I
pushed up against it and kept my own hand at her crotch, moved my
mouth back down to her breasts.
We finally had to stop to rearrange ourselves, moved back up onto
the couch. I wanted to free both my hands. Her face was flushed,
lips very red. Her hair was spread out on the cushions like a brown
fan. She unhooked my belt and I let her, then pulled it off, undid my
fly and I helped. I unsnapped the button holding prim the front of
her pantsuit. Her hand went down the front of my trousers, mine went
inside the flap of the suit to find the soft skin of her breast and
the wrinkled pucker of nipple. I used the other to rub her labia
through the crotch seam. I bit the lobe of her ear, barely able to
think by that point, and pushed up against her hand which had closed
tight around my cock. We rocked against each other, three times,
four, five. That was all it took. She was screaming. I watched
with awed wonder as her face contorted and she came. To know I could
give her this…. It was enough to send me off. I have no idea what
sound I made in the midst of the explosion. Then it was over. We
were messy and tired, and one of my wrists was cramped. So was hers;
she asked me to move before I put it to sleep. But I can’t say I’ve
had such a powerful orgasm in a long time, clothes on or off.
“God,” I muttered, “that was great.” Then I slapped myself on
the forehead. “That makes me sound like a total blockhead, doesn’t
it?” She just looked at me, eyes wide. I reconsidered my phrasing.
I seemed to be opening my mouth just to change feet. I started
chuckling–I couldn’t help it–and leaned in to kiss her through
the laugh. “It *was* great,” I said. “*You’re* great.” Then I
slid my arms around her and pressed my face against her neck. I
felt her lift her clean hand to run fingers through my hair.

IX.

I found it the next day, buried deep under one of the sofa
cushions. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d been expecting it, or
if I was in practice when it came to dealing with all the side effects
of having a sex life again. As it was, I was trying to clear up the
clutter and disarray that had been trivial concerns the night before,
and I was in agony, because I was trying to do it in front of Magda.
She’d come by my quarters early that morning to apologize for
upsetting me the other evening in Sandrine’s…and I suspect also to
see if she could spot any tell-tale clues as to just where Chakotay
and I were at that point. The Voyager’s version of Miss Marple: long
faced, canny, and interested in everything that goes on in our “small
town” lives…particularly in the lives of her special friends. Good
natured nosiness incarnate. I knew she’d already taken in the burned-
down candles still on the table, the dinner plate I’d somehow missed
clearing when I did a half-hearted clean-up before dropping into bed.
But finding Chakotay’s sock was the final blow.
If I *had* been in practice I’d have simply shoved it in deeper,
figuring it was better off where it was till she was gone. As it was
I was all of a flutter already, covering madly with tons of command
decorum, and I didn’t even realize what I’d dredged up until I’d been
holding it for a full minute, chattering on about how it was “all
right Magda, I forgive you, just please…” and assuming that the
ever-increasing amusement in her eyes was just a sign that she decided
I’d finally lost the last of my marbles. It wasn’t until I found
myself gesturing with it, and recognized what I’d got hold of that her
barely restrained laughter made complete sense.
I just stood there, blinking back and forth at the sock, and at
Magda, until she finally fell down howling, collapsed in utter,
shrieking hysteria on the cushions I’d just tidied.
When Murphy the Great and Terrible takes control of your life,
you can either rage, or laugh. For about ten seconds I considered the
first option: but really, it was too funny to rage over. I felt the
grin spread over my face, and the next thing I knew I was on the sofa
too, laughing my head off. Just when I was getting my breath back she
set me off again. She pointed a finger soberly at the offending sock,
and in a voice of ultimate seriousness and deep awe murmured,
“Formidable! Nous avons trouve la planete des chaussettes perdues.”
I shook my head, at a loss, still giggling. She grinned. “We have
found the planet of the lost socks, Minette! We must send word of this
to Starfleet immediately! The safety of the Federation is at stake!”
I wailed. She reminded me of Admiral Necheyev at her most somber
and self-important.
We finally finished, lying gasping and wiping our eyes. She
grinned at me. “So, cheri: things are proceeding well?”
I looked down at the sock in my hand and chuckled, ruefully. “I
suppose you could say that. Magda–why are men such goofs? Is it a
universal law?”
It was ten minutes before she recovered from that line.

It hadn’t been exactly the evening I had planned.
The moment the door opened and I saw him there, polished as the
gold coins we’d been using as trade tokens, I knew I was in for a
strange evening. He reminded me of Tom the day I gave him his field
commission. Not the radiant gratitude of afterwards, but the
cautious, gun-shy expectation that things were all going to fall
apart, now that the first rush of action was past. Waiting for a
rejection, and covering with all the cool and charisma he could
generate…and stalling like crazy. I couldn’t blame him. I wasn’t
precisely looking forward to the conversation we had to have myself.
Unlike him I didn’t want to stall, though.
“Parameters” is one of those useful terms that can cover an
infinity of cold-blooded realities. I suppose I’d used the term
because it’s familiar, and safe, and distant, and has a ring to it
that reminded me as much as him that there were professional issues to
consider, as well as personal issues. I’d hoped we could have the
conversation somewhere we’d both be comfortable, where we didn’t feel
that rush of “ohmigod-I’m-in-his-*quarters*-whadda-I-do-now?!”
enforced intimacy. That’s why I’d opted for my ready room at first:
it was as close to neutral turf as we had, when it came down to it.
The one place besides the bridge we’d shared a thousand times. We’d
spent a lot of hours there. The chair he usually sits in has started
to develop Chakotay-shaped dents; enough so that I avoid sitting in it
because all the stuffing hits me in the wrong places these days. And
I think the replicator knows what he’s going to drink before I even
ask him. It had seemed like a soothing choice of setting for a
conversation that was going to be uncomfortable no matter what we did.
I could have happily spaced lo Verso for not only eliminating all hope
we had of talking on the afternoon we’d reserved, but ensuring that
Chakotay would be too tired and frazzled to address the issue that
evening either.
I’d tried to bring it up a time or two during our date that
morning, hoping that in the relaxed atmosphere of the market we could
just *talk* and not have it turn into a formal thing, but he’d been
like the fountains in the courtyards: bright, bounding, cheerful,
beautiful, and busting-out-all-over to entertain me. It made me a
little tired just watching him. The last time I’d been dragged hither
and yon like that I’d been sixteen, on a date to the county fair, and
had ended up torquing-off the young man I was with by winning all the
low-grav toss games at the arcade, depriving him of a chance to show
off. I didn’t want to leave Chakotay similarly deflated. While I was
certain he would merely cheer me on if I took every prize in the Delta
Quadrant, and never feel a twinge of gender-based disgruntlement, I
was just as certain that inflicting ‘parameters’ on him as he did his
best to convince me he was the most wonderful guy I could possibly be
out with would put his nose out of joint. So I’d let it pass again,
and just enjoyed the sight of him in full-bore, no-holding-back
courtship-mode. He reminded me of an enormous Newfoundland puppy I’d
known once: big, dark, and boundlessly enthusiastic.
I wanted to get the damned ‘parameters’ discussion out of the way
first thing that evening though and finally have it over. Waiting to
have it was driving me insane. I hate to wait, particularly for
really unpleasant things. It’s adding insult to injury. But when he
came striding into my quarters with that “cool-cat, good guy” routine
that covers blazing insecurity, smiling at megawatt intensities and
asking “What’s for dinner,” I saw that my hopes of getting the grim
stuff out of the way fast weren’t going to work out. Lacking a
sedative hypo from the holodoctor, I figured my next best option was
to feed him, soothe him, do all I could to let him know I *liked*
being with him, and hope that he’d relax enough for us to talk without
it getting icy and professional. So my intimate candle-lit dinner got
pushed forward on the schedule. Knowing the conversation was lurking
took a lot of the romantic pleasure out of the event, but it was the
best I could come up with.
Unfortunately I got a lot more stressed than he got soothed.
Oh, it wasn’t so bad. We talked about dilithium processing, and
where to store the supplies that were going to be delivered over the
next two days, and whether lo Verso was sufficiently chastened by his
punishment detail, and in the meantime Chakotay was on his best
behavior, smiling too much, sipping his wine with exaggerated couth,
and displaying a maddening tendency to twirl a single strand of
fettuccine around his fork at a time. Of course I’d *had* to go all-
out and give him a large serving. The only thing that made it
bearable was his desperate desire to please. But flattered and
charmed as I was by this new and unexpected version of Chakotay, all
at sea and trying to keep his cool, waiting for him to finish the
damned alfredo wasn’t doing my own nerves any good.
I suppose that’s why I muffed it. By the time I found a way to
at least *start* I was a wreck, and fell back on reserve.
It has to be one of the weirdest conversations I’ve ever had
prior to “engaging in social intercourse.” Not *the* weirdest: that
honor has to go to one dialogue that occurred between me and a member
of my mother’s diplomatic staff, in which the first forty minutes were
spent with each of us attempting to establish the other’s gender
beyond question. That was when I was nineteen, just learning the
ropes of the whole “sex” thing, and, lord, was I ever relieved to find
out that the attractive young Banlesi man really was a man. He was
just as pleased that his assessment of me as female was accurate.
The ‘parameters’ conversation with Chakotay doesn’t beat that,
but it has to come a close second. I suppose someday I’ll find it
funny. At the time it was terrifying.
He was sober, sincere, and professional: trying his damndest to
give me the right answers to the hard questions, and ask a few hard
questions of his own. And the more sincere and rational he got, the
harder it was for me to ask the one question I desperately wanted to
ask: “How much do you care about this? About me? Is this just
attractive and convenient, the first really promising opportunity
that’s come along since Seska turned into a nightmare?” I couldn’t
tell: that morning I’d have sworn he was as tumbled and giddy as I
was. There in the candlelight, he projected a calm smooth sincerity
that would have done a gigolo proud–too divorced, too determined to
prove he was going to be a rational adult about the whole thing to
give me much clue what was really going on inside that skull. But
then, the whole thing made me nervous: there’s too damned much room in
new relationships for false assumptions. You have to be so careful
you aren’t reading in more than is there.
I didn’t want to run the risks we were going to be running if all
this was to him was a pleasant sexual adventure. I didn’t want to find
myself staring up at the ceiling at night, knowing I’d trapped myself
with no way out in a relationship where I was the vulnerable one:
caring too much when he cared too little. For that matter I didn’t
want to have the chore of trying to give my first officer his walking
papers if I tired of him, or if he found he couldn’t live up to the
constraints of the job while also involved with me. Some clear sign
that it meant enough to him to give me some hope he could stick it
through the bad times that were sure to come would have made all the
difference in the world. Some tender declaration–even if it was
overblown, over-romantic, exaggerated by his own passion.
But instead of moving into personal territory *personally*, with
some warmth and laughter, and some reassuring human contact to see us
through, we kept blathering on and on through all the “all or nothing”
scenarios, like sitting in on a rather bizarre war room discussion.
But he seemed to need the reassurance of covering all the bases. We
rattled through B’Elanna, and I reassured him about Mark. I felt
pinned to the wall over that one: as though he wanted me to say
“forever” when every phrase out of his mouth had the kind of cautious
wording that leaves the speaker with room to backpedal. And Mark was
a sore point. I felt guilty about Mark–guilty I’d used him as a
convenience relationship, guilty I’d refused to see that when it was
happening, guilty I hadn’t realized before it became impossible for me
to apologize and let him go, guilty because now that I was thinking of
moving on I had to wonder if he was still there with Molly and the
puppies, pining for me and carrying the torch. He was easy-going, but
loyal. It was possible he was still waiting. Then we stomped all
over the question of gender issues, and the whole terrifying “I get to
die if it’s necessary” thing.
Just when I was about frantic, he turned the conversation from
what *he* needed to know, to what *I* wanted.
Then he settled stoically back in his chair, and waited.
And there I was in free-fall, wondering how to ask if he loved me
enough to put up with all the craziness that was about to come home to
roost, or if I was just the best game around. Whether he’d be gone as
soon as he discovered I snored, or as soon as we ran out of stories to
tell each other. I could find ways to deal with anything else, but
trying to deal with being my own first officer’s left-overs, and still
loving him, terrified me. I stumbled, and snatched at the first thing
that came into my head: the *second* most frightening thing.
“I think my fears have more to do with how the crew will take
it.” That was true enough. I was plenty scared of that… but a lot
less so than I would have been a few months back. Even a few days
back: the support and comfort they’d given me when Chakotay was in
coma was enough to reassure me. It didn’t take the fear away, but it
did a lot to sedate it. But it was still a real enough fear to give
me some cover. “I feel like I’m…stepping off a cliff. Having an
affair with one of my officer’s was just never something I allowed
myself to consider.”
And then he had to say it: “I’d like to think I’m more than an
‘affair’.”
I seized up: absolutely froze. I remember stuttering through the
next few seconds, trying to find a safe way to ask if he meant what I
hoped he meant: that he *cared*–that it wasn’t vanity that made him
want to be more than just an affair to me. A matter of sensible
convenience leaving him free not to worry about my loyalties; or
bland, companionable “fondness.” I wanted so much to know that I
wasn’t going to be throwing everything I’d ever been trained to
believe out an airlock, for nothing more than a good companion, and a
few orgasms. Companionship we could have without sex, and orgasms are
easy enough to provide yourself. I desperately needed something a bit
more dedicated, more intense, if I was going to throw discretion into
a vacuum, and gamble on the crew being more amused and charmed than
disgusted by me making a spectacle of the two of us, as we openly
tried to work our way through all this. Pragmatism and convenient
fornication just wasn’t enough.
I thought it was more than that. I hoped it was more. But it
would have helped so much to hear it, not simply have to deduce it
from potentially misleading cues.
What I got was a line that would have impressed a Ferengi lawyer:
it sounded good, but when you stripped it down to its essentials it
could be summed up as “We work well together, you give me the hots,
it’s going to be a long trip: damned if I’ll mess it up before I have
to. I can hack it.” If it hadn’t been for the panicked look in his
eyes and a desperate attempt at humor that fell a bit flat I’d have
pitched him out the door and washed my hands of him. But panic at
least made me feel a bit of compassion for him, and the humor bought
me some time.
I laughed and pulled away from the table to stand by the
window. I crossed my arms under my breasts, turned my head to look
out at the sky, and the lights of the market–tried to think what
came next.
In one sense I’d gotten as much promise as he could logically
make. There *were* no guarantees, and he’d assured me he’d do his
best to make it last. From Chakotay that was worth something. Not as
much as I’d have liked, though. He’s a man of his word–until
something comes up that he feels takes priority. Out of his tribe to
run to the fleet, out of the fleet to run to the maquis, out of the
maquis to stand by me–even stepping away from me to rush after Seska
on that stupid vendetta when she stole our tech. In the final
analysis, if I was the Red Queen, he was more like the White Queen,
always rushing off somewhere, leaving chaos in his wake. He’s
adaptable, and that’s an advantage–the same advantage that made him a
good heart for the ship. But the reverse of that is impetuosity, the
tendency to go haring off at a moment’s notice, without thinking. I
didn’t know what would tip the balance for him where we were
concerned, but I was scared to death that something inevitably would.
I looked back, planning on telling him that, no matter how much I
wanted him, wanted *us*, there were too many risks. That “I’ll try,”
didn’t cut it. I was composing the lines in my head, hesitating
between “I very much regret” and a simpler, less formal “I’m sorry”,
when I saw his face.
It wasn’t just arousal, though lord knows that was there in
spades. His eyes were black in black, and he was rigid with the
tension and nerves that flare up when you’re hotter than blazes, and
holding back. But there was also a desperate, “what the hell comes
next” vulnerability. I could easily have resisted the desire in his
eyes, feeling as unsure as I was. But allied with that open
hesitance, I was lost.
He was no more sure what was happening than I was. He’d given me
the best he had to offer, at that point. Maybe from there on we had
to make it up, fill it in, let it grow, and see what happened. At
least he *was* trying. It wasn’t fair to expect more this early. No
matter how much I wanted something more certain, it just *wasn’t* that
clear, and would only become so with time.
I held out my hand, and he crossed the room at warp speeds,
drawing me in and startling me with the intensity of his kiss. I
tried to give back as good as I got.
It wasn’t half bad, in the final estimate. The worst part was he
kept shifting back and forth between modes without warning. And it
was like that all night.
Just when I thought I’d brought myself up to his intensity on
that first kiss, he dropped back down to a slower, gentler pace.
Disconcerting, but I matched it. Then he led me to my own couch,
drew me down beside him and held me close, half over him, and
proceeded to go crazy over my hair. It kept reminding me of T’Pel’s
tomcat, Jundri, who thought my hair was catnip. Jundri was absolutely
hypnotized by it.
So was Chakotay.
Someday some particularly brilliant scientist is going to come up
with a final and definitive answer to the eternal mystery of why at
least seven men out of ten have hair fixations. I remember once, on a
shore leave, I was taking a shuttle to New York and talking with a
fellow crewmember, and I told her I was considering cutting my hair to
keep it out of the way of the burners in the science labs. No less
than three strange men started to expostulate, insisting I should do
no such thing.
I began to realize Chakotay would have been one of them if he’d
been there. It was funny, in a way: his face in my hair, breathing in
the scent of it, hands tangled deep, and me squeaking every so often
as I had to insist on reclaiming strands that had gotten trapped under
his shoulders. But it was also erotic: the sound of his breath, the
feel: warm and steamy on my neck as he nuzzled and rumbled. For a
while we settled into the kind of lazy, slow motion “good” that’s easy
to adjust to.
I remember his hands stroking down my spine, kneading gently,
sliding back up again, removing my jewelry. We talked some.
I remember, he asked me what color my hair really was. It seemed
a bit weird to me. “Brown. Or, I guess, if you want to be a bit more
poetic, light chestnut. Why?”
No reason–he just wondered. He had a goofy smile, though, as
though it mattered somehow, made him think happy thoughts. He lifted
a lock in his fingers, rolled it back and forth, raised it to his
mouth and let it lie against his lips. Definitely like a cat so drunk
on catnip it’s gone beyond “wild” and into “plastered”.
I felt a bit like I had to ask something in return, and settled
for the tattoo. It was nice to learn it hadn’t hurt. Given the way
he’d felt when he joined the Maquis, I’d always been a bit afraid he’d
felt obliged to do the thing himself, with a rusty nail and a bottle
of blue ink: a bit of self-flagellation out of second-hand guilt for
his father’s death. I was just as glad to know he wasn’t inclined to
that particular kind of penance. Frankly, the whole self-mutilation
concept always struck me as a pretentious form of “guiltier and more
repentant than thou”-ism. A bit hard on anyone who had to deal with
the physical and emotional fallout.
We had a great tickle fight. Damn, that was fun. He was giddy,
as bouncy as he’d been in the market.
I managed to land him with a nick-name. He’d needed something
besides “minou.” I had a few ideas about when I’d like to use that
one, but I needed something a bit less cute for the inevitable moment
I’d first call him something affectionate on the bridge. It was going
to happen someday, and “Pesh” seemed a lot less embarrassing for both
of us than “kitten”, even if it was in French. After all, Paris
almost certainly knew French…and he’d never let us live it down.
He wanted to know what my name meant, and I told him a half-
truth: “pure.” I *didn’t* tell him that “Kathryn” is one of those
names whose meaning is open to debate, and that the other possible
interpretation is “torture” or “torment”. I figured I’d let him in on
the joke that he was a Wildcat, but *I* was “Pure Torture” *after*
we’d had a bit of time to get used to each other and develop some
confidence that it really wasn’t a flash in the pan. That wasn’t a
joke I wanted coming back at me if we broke up.
I began to feel like I was getting into the swing of things. In
fact I was getting interested in seeing if I could get him to pay
attention to a few other parts of my anatomy besides my hair and my
ribs. I rolled up and kissed him, stroking the curve of his belly,
slipping my hands under his shirt.
He lit up like a solar flare.
“Nggg.” His eyes lost their focus, mouth dropping open, and I
felt him shudder under my hands. He gave a huff, and drew in breath
hard and sharp.
“Like it?”
“Nggg….”
God, that was good. I’m not really the right temperament not to
enjoy the rush of knowing I can call that up in a man: that cross-eyed
rapture. I kissed again, taking charge, his skull heavy in my hand.
He was cooperative, not insisting on taking control of every second.
He let me shift his head, slide in deeper, his hand drifting down to
pull my hips close, stroking behind and between along the seam of my
pants, making me clench and yearn in anticipation. I nibbled in the
turn of his neck, slid down to lie across him so that his erection
prodded me in the belly, enjoying the smell of sweat, and soap, the
first traces of heavy, musky sex-smell, and some kind of cologne. I
slid a hand down to his crotch and felt him rock against me, felt the
rise and swell of him in the palm of my hand. Then he brought his own
hands up and cupped my breasts. I murmured with it. I wasn’t sure
whether I wanted to go further, but I knew I wanted this. He had to
search for my nipples, stroking lightly to locate, to arouse me enough
to find his goal. When he did, he stroked more firmly, and this time
I was the cross-eyed one, a low note of pleasure slipping out.
That’s the moment it shifted, I think. He’d been zig-zagging
back and forth all evening, one mood to another, hard to track as a
maquis ship running evasive maneuvers. Mercurial. But right about
then he settled on course, and ran with it.
I wasn’t ready for it. I’d just been getting up enough steam to
start really anticipating what might come next, easing my way through
my own nerves, and fears, and the lingering disappointments that
beginnings couldn’t be more secure. To tell you the truth, I’d found
the “teen sex” aspects of the whole thing reassuring. A safety net.
So long as we were dressed we weren’t going to do anything we couldn’t
live down if we had to.
I’d forgotten just how hot “teen sex” can be. I also hadn’t
figured on a lover who reacted like a seventeen-year-old virgin with
his first girl.
Oh, he was a hell of a lot more *adept* than a seventeen-year-old
virgin. Knew what he was doing, and did it well. But about the time
I moaned he locked his sights, slammed the engines into full warp, and
left me dawdling behind in his wake, still stuck on impulse power. I
was struggling to keep my mind focused on feelings and sensations, and
on a desperate attempt to pull up every erotic image I had stored from
two years of holonovels and late-night fantasies, to try and match his
intensity. Even that nearly wasn’t enough: part of me flashed on all
I knew and had heard about Vulcan pon farr, and I felt a sudden
burning sympathy for female Vulcans.
Chakotay wasn’t thoughtless, or clumsy, or inconsiderate, or
violent in any normally-meant sense. I was sure if I hollered “Stop!”
he would. He was just *fixated*.
Somewhere out there was an orgasm for each of us, and he was
going to fetch ’em back dead or alive. A man with a mission from God.
As it was, the humor of it saved me: that and the look on his
face, in his eyes. Drunk. Dead, driven drunk on desire.
Humans don’t have mind-links the way Vulcans do, but we can pull
something a bit similar to the stunt Vulcan women use to endure their
mates’ pon farrs. Vulcan women use the mind bond to experience a
portion of the male’s arousal, share it, take part in it.
I looked down at him, burned the expression into my mind, closed
my eyes and gave myself over to the moment. When he reached up and
held me around the ribs, and rolled me off onto my back on the floor,
it wasn’t that hard anymore to give way to my own need.
He really wasn’t bad. I hoped in time he’d even out, linger a
bit more. But he definitely knew what he was doing. Clever hands,
clever mouth. Plenty of enthusiasm–flatteringly so. His hands
wandered, strong and gentle, cupping my breasts, brushing against my
lips. He trailed kisses and delicate tongue strokes down my sternum,
in the hollow of my cleavage. He moved up to kiss me again, one hand
cradling my skull, fingers slipping under my hair to lie firm, the
other sliding down and caressing between my legs with a rolling
motion. I could hear the heavy rasp of his breath. His mouth still
held a faint taste of parmesan cheese and cream from the fettuccine, a
bouquet of synthahol Zinfandel. I ran my tongue out, tracing the line
of his lips, catching his lower lip gently between my teeth and
drawing it into my mouth. Then I let it go, working my way across his
face, over a cheek bone. I slid my hand down to cup his crotch, trace
the arch of his cock, feel testicles tight and high. For a half-
second I felt him rock hard against me, groaning. I prepared for the
buck and arch of orgasm, but he pushed my hand away. But his hips
still pushed against me, searching. I raised a knee, careful not to
connect too hard, and he settled against me, pulsing his hips, rubbing
against me. I could feel him shake, not ready to go over the edge,
but so close he quivered with it, like a tuning fork, or a window pane
as a shuttle passes over.
That’s when “horny” stopped being something I generated as much
by force of will as anything, and became something that carried me
with it.
The feel of him under my hands, the sound of his breath, ragged
and punctuated with hiccuping whimpers, and the shudder that shook him
like palsy melded with my own need and I felt everything begin to go.
“Pesh…”
“Mmmm.”
“Soon…”
His head lay against me, his hand pressing rhythmically against
the crotch of my pants, a slow, solid pulse I rocked against. I was
soaked by then. He pulled back, just barely able to talk. “Move up
to the couch?”
“Mmmm.”
Once we were there, it took a minute or two to get back to the
level we’d reached before. I had the squirming, frustrated, wet-and-
willing-but-not-getting-anywhere blues for a minute, thrown off a bit
by the practicalities of getting rearranged. But it wasn’t long. My
hand was down his trousers, the head of his cock slipping, already
beginning to seep, slick and warm and firm. I was clutching his
shirt, crazy for the feel of him. I felt myself getting closer to the
peak. Reached for it. Now…
Went off. Little kitten noises shifting up and up, louder,
turning into cat-on-a-fence noises.
Oh, good. So good.
He had one hand inside my bra, rolling my nipple. His face moved
against my neck. I felt a sharp, light bite on my earlobe. All I
could do was howl and pant, eyes tight, shaking, all of me in havoc,
feeling him stroke me till I thought I’d never finish.
As the last wave broke, he went off like lightening and thunder
over me. His head arched back so I fell in love with white skin and a
graceful line like the keel of a ship. His face was twisted, voice
rising in a wail to match my own. I remembered how to move my hands
again, stroked, held his cock firm and let the slip and slide carry
him. Crazy, happy, hot. Power-mad to see the beauty of him as he
crumpled and cried out, face wet with sweat, red, splotchy–beautiful.
So beautiful.
We think they’re beautiful at the oddest times. Thanks be to
whatever gods there are.
He’s so beautiful.
When it was over he lay against me, half above me, catching his
breath. Didn’t move for a while. I finally nudged him. “Hey…
Pesh? Could you roll over a bit? My hand’s about to fall off.”
He shifted, let me slip back out of his pants. I looked at my
hand, grinned. Gave in to expedience and wiped it on my trousers.
Not like they weren’t pretty well ready for a round in the sonic
shower anyway. He cuddled closer again, grinning, happy as a tribble
at a twelve course banquet.
“God. That was great.” He suddenly smacked himself on the head.
Completely goofy. “That makes me sound like a total blockhead, doesn’t
it?”
I just looked at him, trying hard not to laugh. He was so gone
he was coming around the other side of the galaxy. He realized how
the line could be misinterpreted and flushed, head ducking. Then,
suddenly, he was kissing me again, laughing at the same time, the
chuckles vibrating in my mouth, throwing the whole thing off. Very
sweet, though. He pulled away a bit, just far enough to meet my eyes
without losing focus.
“It *was* great. *You’re* great.”
And he ducked his face into my neck. I suddenly thought of the
little boy in the market he’d sent grinning and ducking into his
mother’s skirts, all taken with sudden bashfulness.
Very sweet. Not perfect. Maybe a bit too caught up in “Oh my
God, she’s gonna let me” to be at his best. We’d see.
I raised my hand, stroked his hair. Couldn’t help but think of
how recently he’d been broken, maybe lost to me. How much he’d been
through over the past two years. And it *had* been good. Definitely
worth the gamble. Much more than just convenient sex.
I leaned down and dropped a kiss on the top of his head, felt him
move closer. I looked at him sprawled against me. Suddenly realized
he was short a sock. Damned if I knew when or where he’d lost it.
He fell asleep that way. Not for long–he woke up with a start,
and a bit worriedly tip-toed around the notion of returning to his own
quarters, obviously afraid of offending me, but just as obviously
wanting to retreat for a while. I didn’t fight; I wanted a bit of
time myself. But I’d found out he snored. It made me feel better.
At least we’d be on a level playing field there.
But we didn’t find his sock that night.

When Magda had stopped laughing, she looked over at me. “Oui.
Ils sont les “goofs”. Absolument; le Minou etait un idiot? He was
less than you had hoped?”
I smiled. “No. No, not really.” He’d been less than I hoped
he’d become. But beginnings are difficult. “Just…just in a bit of
a rush. ‘Wildcat’, not kitten. At least, not till the end. Just
left me feeling a bit run over. The whole thing does. We went two
years refusing to even look at the situation, and then in the last few
weeks we’ve been going into transwarp.”
Magda smiled. “C’est normal. That is what courtship is for.
To give one time.” She chuckled, and rose. “It may not feel so,
right now, minette, but there will be time.”
“Right. Time. How the hell do we get time with the whole bloody
crew watching?”
She laughed. “You are the captaine, eh? ‘Make it so.’ Just
…just don’t think you have to pass on life, for us to follow you.
One does not follow a leader because they are stone idols, but because
they are human *well*. Relax, take your time, and do this well, and
that is all any of your crew will ask of you both.”
After she left I looked at the sock, and smiled. I ended up
leaving it on the table. I figured that Chakotay would be back soon
enough, and I could give it to him then.

X.

After leaving Kathryn’s quarters, I went down to the holodeck and
danced.
It’d been years since I’d run that holodeck program. I’d nearly
forgotten that I had it, but either B’Elanna or Seska or Kurt had
brought it to Voyager from Crazy Horse. I was still amazed how much
of my personal belongings they had managed to salvage in that last
scrape and scramble. My pipe, my bundle, my medicine wheel and the
talking stick. Some of my clothes, my Dine pot, and even the old-
fashioned pocketwatch which had been in my family for hundreds of
years. Seska had brought that. For all our later differences, I
suspect I had her to thank for remembering little things, like the
watch, and my box of holodeck programs.
But I’d never expected to use this one out here.
Once, I’d been a good enough dancer to compete at the pow-wows,
had taken half a dozen seconds and two firsts when I was younger and
competing: boy’s traditional, boy’s fancy dance. But since I’d gone
into the fleet, I hadn’t deigned to dance in full regalia…too
‘primitive-looking’ all gussied up in that quilled and beaded and
belled murder of birds: headdress, bustle, vest, moccasins….
But now, I danced. Not in the regalia–I hadn’t brought that–
but I danced. Too much energy. I had to spend it. Dancing had
always been the way I’d blown off steam.
If my father could have seen me, he’d have laughed–not entirely
kindly, but not without some pride. I tried to remember the steps,
flubbed some but was surprised how much I did remember. Sweep right,
sweep left…stamp, stamp, glide-stamp…. There were no bells to
ring and my footsteps made dull thuds on the holodeck’s floor.
I danced until it was late and I’d blown all the wild, crazy
energy left over from dinner and safe-sex-on-the-couch with Kathryn.
Finally, I went to bed. I had to get up in the morning, oversee final
preparations for lift-off on the morning after. Early morning. The
Talaxian caravan we were to tag on to wanted to leave at what was
three in the morning, ship-time. That was mid-morning by their ship-
time. We’d have to re-synchronize our ship’s clock to match the rest
of the caravan.
The next day, I admit I was counting hours, minutes, seconds
until the end of shift.
Oh, I did my job, make no mistake, I just kept glancing at the
chrono. I had energy to burn and probably drove the crewmembers under
me to distraction, trying to keep up to my pace. Only Tuvok didn’t
complain, though he did ask me how many cups of coffee I had drunk
that morning. None, in fact. I just felt on top of the world.
I did not see much of Janeway. She had her duties to perform and
I had mine and there wasn’t much overlap. I saw her in the morning
but there were too many people around for me to do more than grin and
wink. She blushed, recovered and gave Tom his instructions before
sending him over to plot our exit course with the Talaxians. We also
met to eat lunch in her readyroom, but we had so much business to
discuss there really was no time for anything more, and to be honest,
it was probably just as well. We each needed a bit of space, I think.
Not seeing her that day was as much deliberate as chance. The newborn
thing between us was small and damp and tender yet, and it was just
too difficult to weigh my words and gestures to be sure I said or did
nothing which might be misconstrued as pushing my place in public or,
conversely, *not* giving her the reassurances she needed. I wasn’t
sure yet what she expected, and I realized belatedly, there were still
things we had failed to cover the night before. Would she mind if I
touched her with affection while on duty, or should I keep my hands
strictly to myself? I didn’t want to smoother her, or rush her, and
since I wasn’t sure yet what to do, I used the insanity of pre-lift-
off as an excuse to stay out of her way.
But at the end of lunch as I rose to leave, she did stand up and
come part-way around her desk. She looked uncertain, like she needed
something from me, so I held out my arms and she came into them. We
just held one another a moment. I touched her hair carefully so I
wouldn’t muss it, kissed her on the cheek and then let her go. “Can I
see you after we get off-duty tonight?” I asked. “I understand if
you’re busy, but–”
She interrupted, “Yes; I’d like that.”
I grinned–I couldn’t help it–and reached out to brush her chin
with my thumb. “I should be done by nineteen-hundred.”
“I may be an hour after that, at least.”
“That’s okay.”
“We do need to get some sleep before lift off.”
“I know. I just…want to see you.”
After that, the day was just a blur. I was aware that the crew
was giving me second glances, so I knew that news of “the date” had
spread. When I took a break to get some dinner in the cafeteria, I
ran into Magda. The look she gave me was pure deviltry and she paused
at my shoulder long enough to whisper, “Ah–bon! I see you found an
extra pair of socks,” and then she sailed right on by.
Fortunately, I wasn’t holding anything or I’d have dropped it in
sheer shock. I ducked out of line and went after her, grabbed her by
an arm. “*What* did she say?” I didn’t have to specify the ‘she’;
only one she could have told Magda about the sock.
Magda smiled at me. “No private details, do not fear. The sock
was an accident. It gave us a good laugh, which she needed.” She
lowered her chin then and studied me a moment: her ‘teacher-with-a-
questionable-student’ look. “She needs something from you. I think
she is…drifting, yes. She needs something to anchor her; beginnings
are not easy, and her risk is great. I know,” she added, holding up a
hand, “yours also. But with relationships, you are as a fish in his
bowl; she, not so much. Pamper her if you wish to keep her, Minou.
She is worth keeping, I think.”
When Magda drops the French, it’s a warning to take her seriously
so I nodded, solemn. “She is. And I will,” I promised.
And that was when I got the idea.

She called me from her cabin when she was finished for the day.
I’d been in my own cabin, using the time to practice. When I got the
call, I grabbed the sacks in the corner and hurried next door. She
was already dressed for the evening in her “slop-abouts” as she calls
them. Her hair was down and she had slippers on her feet. She looked
exhausted. I almost didn’t have the heart to drag her back out but
this was important. Magda was right. I needed to give her something,
some piece of me that was hers alone.
When it comes to sex, Western Terran women and men don’t stand on
a level playing field. Even 500 years after Freud’s Victorian age,
the repercussions of that repressive era still occasionally rear their
heads among some European and North American populations–and my New
England lady belongs to one of them. She’s no spinster with her shirt
buttoned up to her neck and ‘hands-off’ ice in her eyes, but it’s part
of her culture and heritage. Not mine. There’s an old pow-wow joke
that a papoose is a consolation prize for a gamble taken on a blanket.
Sex is part of life, something to be smiled at with all the other odd
things that human biology drives us to, playing havoc with our images
of ourselves as dignified, rational creatures. We’ve learned to laugh
at much in life. Indian humor. Kathryn tries; she really does. But
it’s not her culture in the same way. She’s not easy with sex, and
cultural differences simply exacerbate the different vulnerabilities
that already exist between men and women. She’d given me something
intimate last night. So had I to her but the vestiges of a millennia-
old imbalance between the sexes and my own Indian heritage made my
risk feel like less of one. I needed to even the score, for her sake.
This was what Magda’s words at dinner had made me remember and
so, even though she looked dog-tired, I said, “Put on some shoes. I
want to show you something.” Before she could protest, I added, “It
won’t take long, and you don’t have to do anything but sit on the
sidelines and watch, I promise.”
He sighed, heavily, put-upon, but complied. I led her by the
hand down to the holodeck and she let me. We passed some crewmembers
who glanced after us curiously–me with my oversized bags and the
captain in a big loose old sweater with her hair down. Outside the
door, I let her go. “Now, you need to give me ten minutes first.
When the privacy light goes from red to green, you can enter.”
She had started to smile. Her natural curiosity was overcoming
her exhaustion. “All right,” she said, crossed her arms and leaned up
against the wall. “But hurry up. I don’t like to wait.” I went in.
Putting on the regalia is better done with another’s help, just
to straighten everything, if for no other reason. Beaded loincloth,
bright beribboned shirt, fur-trimmed and quilled vest and moccasins,
ropes of silver bells for ankles and legs: I donned them all. This
was replicated finery. My hand-made original was packed in a box back
in the CDMZ. I’d spent about a week’s worth of rations calling this
up out of the computer that afternoon. Finally, I took up the great
feathered bustle and the war-bonnet.
“Mirror,” I called to the empty room. One appeared and I studied
my reflection. It would do. Moving out into the room’s center, I
said, “Computer, run program: Chakotay–fancy.”
Around me appeared the hard sand dancing circle with a crowd of
watchers on the outter ring and the drum arbor inside. The colors had
long ago made their rounds. Conversation buzzed while the drummers
kept up their background beat; an announcer was preparing to call out
the next competitor. Me. My father had taken the shots for this
program when I was sixteen, at a pow-wow we’d stopped at in Oklahoma
after that awful trip slogging through the South American rainforest.
He’d known then that I was leaving for Starfleet. I think he’d taken
me to that pow-wow in a last-ditch effort to convince me to stay with
the tribe. It’d had the opposite effect.
Except for the dancing. I’d enjoyed the dancing–not because it
had made me feel Indian, but because it had made me feel free.
Yet that was the last time I had danced for anyone. Now I had
put back on the regalia and was prepared to offer this part of myself
–my *Indian* self–to Kathryn.
“Computer, freeze program and disengage the privacy lock.”
Around me, the figures froze; the drumming stopped. A soft chime
announced that the lock was off. I heard the door open. I couldn’t
see her; there were people from the crowd between us. In the silence,
her footsteps tapped out her approach. “Computer, resume program.”
Conversation and laughter returned, and the steady beat from the
circle center. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the announcer called, “get
something to drink and have a seat. For the next round….”
I turned so that my back would be to her.
“….from our brothers and sisters out on the Federation boarder,
welcome Peshewa Chakotay of the Elk Band of Dorvan V!”
The drum pulse increased. I began, stooping and opening my arms,
spinning around in a slow circle, the stamp of my belled feet jingling
time to the drum and the high warble of song from the arbor. I moved
around the circle, felt the bustle slapping against by buttocks and
bare thighs, the ribbons fluttering about my body. Now skipping high,
now stooping low, I lost myself to the dance. This was for her. A
Great Lakes fancy dance for my New England lady.
It ended finally. I called the program to freeze and panting–I
was not sixteen any more–I glanced around the circle for her.
She stepped out from the watchers, came forward to circle me and
see it all. Her face was…rapt. Tentatively she reached out, as if
afraid she was not allowed to touch. “Go ahead,” I said. Her fingers
stroked the spotted eagle feathers of the bonnet and the wolf tails
hanging to either side of my face, the quilling of the vest, the
beads, the fur. “What pelts are these?”
I touched each. “Beaver, hare, wolf and this–this is otterskin.
It wasn’t on the original.” She ran a finger over the smooth sleek
fur, raised her eyes to mine, a question in them. “When I was a boy,”
I explained, “dancing was the only Indian thing I liked to do. This
was my regalia. When I went into Starfleet, I put it away in a box
and I haven’t even looked at it since. I recreated it from memory and
a little help from the computer–except for this.” Glancing down, I
touched the otterskin that edged my vest and loincloth. “Adding it
seemed…appropriate.” I looked back up at her. She was searching my
face, trying to understand. I cupped her cheek with my hand. “I
wanted to dance for you. I haven’t danced for anyone in almost thirty
years, but I wanted to dance for you.” Her eyes grew misty and she
turned her face into my hand, kissed my palm.
We shared what was left of that evening and night until we had to
rise for lift-off. I’d removed my regalia before going back to her
cabin. I wasn’t about to parade through the ship halls in quills and
bells and feathers. Any crew who didn’t fall over in a dead faint
would have laughed their asses off. In her cabin, she undressed me
and let me undress her. Then she led me in to her bed. This time our
loving was quiet and slow–like a dance, a different kind of fancy
dance, one that took two to honor Gicimanitto. The dance of life, the
breath of life. When she came, arching her back above me, her cry was
a prayer.
I knew then, with the profound certainty of visions, that this
was *right*. This was what we should be, where we should be.

The alarm went off too damn soon. We’d slept maybe four hours.
I grunted, felt her stir beside me, roll away and snarl something at
the computer. The alarm shut off. We laid there a few more minutes.
Then she said, “You want to shower first or shall I?”
“How long does it take you?”
“I’m not doing my hair so five minutes.”
“You go first then.”
The bed rocked as she rose. I rolled over to go back to sleep.
It seemed I’d barely shut my eyes before she was shaking me awake to
take my turn. I noticed my sock on the table after I’d dressed. I’d
get it later. We left together; no one else was around. Paris and
B’Elanna had been up all night, preparing. Kes had been up saying
good-bye to the cloned doctor.
We came onto the bridge together. For just a moment, I wondered
if anyone there could *tell*. But that was absurd. I followed her
down to our center seats. “Status?” she called out. Voices answered
in rapid succession. At the helm, Paris had that tight, focused look
he wears when he’s excited. Despite the fact Voyager could land, that
wasn’t her normal function so take-off from planetside was tricky–
tricky enough to give a good pilot like Paris something to enjoy. I
was glad it was him. I’m a decent pilot but I’m not in his class.
Never will be. The kid may drive me crazy sometimes, but I’m well
aware of his gifts.
I realized abruptly that I felt more at ease in my chair now than
I had in the entire two years before. I settled back and just enjoyed
the busy-ness.
About ten minutes before we were due to lift off, the bridge
doors opened and Anyas stepped out onto the upper tier. He was in
uniform, but in his hand, he had his veiled headdress. I understand
he’d spent his last night back with his family. He hadn’t asked for
it, but Kathryn had offered and he’d accepted. She’d also offered to
let him stay behind on Abbyzh-dira, if he wanted. He was no slave of
ours but was a free man to make his own choices. We’d welcome him on
Voyager, but he didn’t have to come with us. Kes was cured.
Kathryn said he hadn’t even let her finish the offer before he
was refusing–and trying not to look offended. Apparently, he’d
learned enough about us and our Federation culture to understand that
her offer was intended compassionately, not to insult him. But he had
said he meant to go with us all the way to the alpha quadrant.
Now, a bit of the shine of being a First Accepted was starting to
rub off and I wondered if he was reconsidering. His face was stark as
he stared straight ahead at the viewscreen which showed the landing
field outside and the market beyond. It was finally hitting bottom
for him that he was leaving, quite possibly for the rest of his life.
However adventurous of spirit he might be, that’s not an easy thing to
do. He was no young man running from his home and heritage–like I
had. His heritage, his culture, was sending him into the unknown,
but he was still leaving his home, his family, his friends.
Beside me, Janeway had turned, too. I could see she realized as
well as I did how hard this must be for him. “You can stay on the
bridge, doctor, if you like.”
He tore his eyes away and looked at her. “Thank you,” he said.
His voice sounded choked. I wondered if he even realized she’d given
him his proper title, not called him by name. Tuvok had told her
yesterday afternoon that in his judgement, Anyas should be permitted
to keep the uniform and given his commission. His informal education
was not yet finished, but if he’d gotten Tuvok’s approval after just
three days, he must be one hell of a snag for Voyager.
Now, he came down to the center of the bridge and stood beside
and a little behind Janeway’s chair. His eyes had returned to the
screen and he twisted the veil in his long dark hands. On the landing
field, a crowd had gathered to watch our departure. Some waved, like
family in shuttleport windows. Janeway had turned to look at him.
She said nothing, just looked. After a moment, he dropped his eyes to
hers, nodded slightly, as if to say, “My decision stands.”
All around us, countdown to lift-off was going on. When the time
came and Paris turned to the captain for the go-ahead, Janeway turned
again to Anyas. “Would you like to give the word, doctor?”
It startled him and for a moment, I could almost see him trying
to decide what order to give. Then he cleared his throat. “Inferior
maneuvering thrusters, Mr. Paris. One-quarter power.”
Paris spun the chair around and his fingers danced over the conn.
“Inferior thrusters, one-quarter power.”
The ship rumbled, slowly began to rise. The watchers on the
ground waved harder. One little boy in front was jumping up and down.
The doctor’s clone.
“Inferior thrusters to one-half power, Mr. Paris,” Anyas said.
“And bring anterior maneuvering thrusters online at your discretion.”
“Inferior thrusters one-half power. Bringing on anterior…now.”
In truth, Paris was modifying like mad, assuming all the orders Anyas
should have been giving and wasn’t. I hid my grin behind my hand,
glad Anyas was a doctor, not a pilot.
The ship’s nose rose slightly and we sailed up and forward,
headed for the glory of the veils, the freedom of space and the
waiting Talaxian convoy. Anyas closed his eyes as we passed through
the veils but there was no unnatural glow around him this time. He
just looked sad, and a little lost. Then he opened them and looked
down on his world from space for the last time. As I rose to go join
Paris at the conn for the trip back through the maze, I found myself
wondering if it’s better to know it’s your last sight of home, or not
to know?

Three days into our trip with the Talaxian convoy, we had the
first meeting of the storytelling circle since that fireside gathering
on the hill above the market of Abbyzh-dira. I was ready to go back,
looking forward to it in fact–if with a little trepidation. I half-
expected Kathryn and I would be razzed.
I was still keeping and sleeping in my own quarters. Anything
else seemed a little precipitous, though I admit I had looked at the
bulkhead between my quarters and hers to see how easy it would be to
cut a door. But that could wait. We wouldn’t be fooling anyone if we
said the door was “to facilitate easy communication between the
captain and her first officer.” It *would*, of course, but everyone
knew exactly what kind of communication!
The word was out. Not that we had planned to keep it hidden, or
had thought it would be possible to do so, but it was a bit unnerving
to be aware the whole ship knew and was talking of little else. Of
course, no one had said anything directly to either of us since my
brief chat with Magda in the cafeteria, but they knew. So Kathryn and
I had decided to enter the circle that night together–our first true
public appearance as a couple, and tacit permission to the crew that
they no longer had to pretend not to know.
We also had a little something up our command sleeves.
I asked Chaim and Cherel to take on the duty of preparing the
room for me. The impact of our joint arrival would be lost if we were
the first ones there. Then, precisely at nineteen hundred, Kathryn
and I left my quarters for the circle gathering.
I was perfectly aware that my asking Chaim to set up for me would
get the word around that I was coming back under my own steam without
prodding from Kes or anyone else. But I have to say I really didn’t
expect *that* many people to show up. I think they knew, in the way a
good crew learns to sense things, that this night wouldn’t be one to
miss for a variety of reasons.
We paused together outside the door. I could hear the murmur
inside but for just this moment, the hallway itself was empty. I
leaned over to peck her on the lips and then offer my arm. She slid
her hand into the crook of my elbow and we stepped through the doors
together.
The place was packed. It wasn’t one circle, or two, but *four*
concentric circles with a conspicuous place left open on the inner
ring. The lights had already been lowered, so when we stepped in and
stopped–surprised–light from the hall must have haloed us like a
spotlight. There was silence. Over a hundred faces had turned our
way. Some of these people should have been *asleep* was the first
thing I thought to myself. The circle parted to let us through–like
a queen and king on their way to the throne. It was…uncanny.
I seated Janeway but remained standing, the stick in my hand. It
was all I had brought. I’d left the pipe in my quarters, not yet
ready to bring that back. Too many sour memories and anyway, that
symbol belonged to my people. This was a different tribe with symbols
of its own, totems of its own. They were packed in that little bag on
Kathryn’s lap.
I looked around at all the people, hunting for one face in
particular, found it: a sad face trying to seem jolly.
“I’ve been giving some thought to this meeting tonight,” I began.
“We’re celebrating another birth of sorts. Tonight we won’t have a
naming, but we will welcome a new member into ‘Les Voyageurs.’ Anyas
ke’Fvezhdan, would you please rise and come forward?”
It took him by surprise, but Anyas is nothing if not a ham. He
hopped up from his place beside Magda and strutted forward, dressed
with his old inimical style: loud and in little. For once, it didn’t
bother me. I understood that he needed to cling to his identity as
Kithtri tonight–maybe now more than ever. He was not, I noticed,
wearing the earring. Good. It had been Magda’s job to get it off of
him somehow, then slip it to us. I had seen it passed from hand to
hand around the circle while I spoke, finally reaching the captain
behind me.
Now she rose, too, and I gave her the talking stick as she
gestured to Tuvok who came to stand at her other side. The first
thing she drew out was a blue and black uniform, which she handed to
Tuvok. With due ceremonial Vulcan solemnity, he offered it to Anyas.
Of course Anyas had one already, but he was perfectly cognizant of the
symbolism. He took it with reverence.
Turning a field-commission pip bar in her hand, the captain
spoke: “Mr. Tuvok’s assessment, as both Second officer of this ship
and a former professor of Starfleet Academy, is that you have shown
sufficient–no, *more* than sufficient–capacity to qualify for the
Starfleet uniform. You’re not off the hook,” she added with a grin.
“You report to him at oh-seven hundred tomorrow morning to continue
your training. But given the joint assessment of my Second Officer as
your instructor, and of my First Officer, I am officially granting
this field commission of lieutenant junior-grade to Doctor Anyas
ke’Fvezhdan, effective immediately.”
Anyas had come to attention as she leaned forward to pin the pip
bar…somewhere. She had to settle for the shoulder of his skimpy
vest. His smile was electric and with a smart little click of heels
he started to turn. I clamped my hand on his shoulder. “We’re not
through with you yet,” I said.
Kathryn handed me the talking stick and, leaning forward, I
pinched the communicator off the vest and held it up. “When I was
down on Egypt, the natives who captured us took our comm badges. They
didn’t understand fully what they were, but they recognized them as
our symbol, our totem. Among many tribal peoples, the essence of a
tribe is believed to rest in the totem. This *is*, indeed, our totem
–but maybe not the best one. It’s the totem of Starfleet, and this
ship is no longer entirely a Starfleet vessel. It’s become *more*
than that, not less: fleet, maquis, and deltan as well with Neelix,
Kes, and Anyas. We need a totem that’s *ours*, that represents not
just who we’ve been in the past, but who we’re becoming…as a tribe
together. We *are* a tribe, after all.”
Kathryn passed me the earring, I held it up so the chain links
flashed in the low light. “With her usual teacher’s insight, and her
love for bad French puns, Magda gave us a new totem: Les Voyageurs.
We’ve become the goose clan, folks.”
That brought startled laughter, as I’d intended.
“Canadian geese are smart creatures, you know. Every year, they
make an unerring migratory trip. And they make it in a V.” Tucking
my stick under my arm, I flipped Anyas’ comm badge upside-down next to
the earring. “Look familiar? We’ve become Les Voyageurs, not just
USS Voyager.” I handed Anyas back his comm badge. “We’re headed
home, either a home we accidentally were taken away from, or a home
we’ve chosen to adopt–sight unseen. And,” I added with a wink at
Kathryn, “we’re sure to make it because you all managed to get stuck
out here with an Indian, and Indians are *always* coming home.”
That took a moment before some of them got it–mostly maquis with
enough exposure to Indians–then there were chuckles. The rest would
have to have it explained to them later. Indian humor.
“And,” I went on, “as the symbol of his adoption into the tribe
of Les Voyageurs, I here before the people present to our newest
member a symbol of our totem.” And I handed Anyas his earring. I
noticed he was now crying as well as smiling. The Kithtri have no
qualms about emotional display. Overwhelmed and surprisingly nervous,
he fumbled with the earring and Kathryn had to help him remove the
string of amber beads to put back in Les Voyageurs. Then he went to
sit down. As he passed around the inner circle’s edge, I saw hands go
out just to touch him as he passed, like a blessing.
We were done. Tuvok returned to his seat and Janeway sat down as
well. I held up the talking stick. “Next?”
Kes rose. Neelix had the baby. One of her hands was concealed
behind her back–that and her grin made me wary, but I gave over the
stick, started to sit myself. “Not so fast,” she said, bringing out
the hand behind her back. “I believe this is yours.”
It was an otterskin bag.
She *had* been there, the little imp!
I could see, from the faces around the circle, that there was
already knowledge of what it meant. Kes’ work, or maybe Kathryn’s,
but when I turned my head to look at Kathryn, her face showed as much
surprise as mine must. I realized she wouldn’t have shared the
details of my vision without my permission. Kes was a different
matter. The manitto had called her and no doubt she had her own
instructions from them.
Anyas–now recovered–began to beat time on a little hand drum
produced magically from somewhere. It wasn’t an Indian rhythm. It
didn’t need to be; he wasn’t an Indian. He was making his own mitig
wakik. A man of medicine beating the medicine drum after the rhythms
of his own people.
I stared at the bag.
“Take it,” she said.
“I don’t know–”
Chaim stood up, gesturing broadly in full Jewish emphatic-mood.
“Take it, old man!”
“You don’t know what–”
“Yes, in fact, we do.”
Tuvok. I turned to glare. He blinked calmly. “The computer was
most informative,” he added.
Damn them! Or bless them. I wasn’t sure which I wanted to call
down more. But slowly, I reached my hand out.
Kes laid the bag across my palm.

***

Later that night long after the circle had broken up and we had
each gone our way–Kathryn and I departing together–I was back in my
own cabin, lying flat on my back in bed, staring up into the dark.
Chessie was curled up asleep between my ankles. Or I thought he was.
I was reviewing the evening, trying to order it in my own mind; I
turned my head to look off towards the otterskin bag where I’d set it
atop my dresser. Suddenly, the cat heaved himself up and I felt paws
walk up my body towards my face. He pushed his nose against mine.
*You’re not asleep,* he said.
“No.”
*Considering the hour you’ve been slipping in lately, sleep isn’t
something you’ve had a lot of.*
“Guess not.”
A long pause while he settled down smack on my chest. Then he
asked, *Why are you in this bed?*
I raised my head. “Because it’s mine?”
*It’s not the bed you WANT to be in.*
“How the hell do you know what bed I want to be in?”
He didn’t even bother to reply to that one, just began washing
one paw.
“I can’t just go climb in her bed,” I pointed out.
*Why not? You want to be there. She wants you to be there.
What’s the problem, DaddyO?*
“It’s just not…. It’s not right. We don’t have that much of a
commitment yet.”
*So. Ya got balls enough to screw her, but not balls enough to
sleep with her.*
“Watch it.”
*I have been, for almost a week. You want a commitment. She
wants a commitment. But you both think the OTHER doesn’t want a
commitment, so here you lie, big man…all scared to death of a little
four-letter word. Do I have to spell it for you? Starts with an L.*
He rose up again and went back to curl between my ankles, leaving me
breathless–and not from his weight.
*Was* I scared? Things had turned so sour with Seska. Was I
ready to risk it again?
Stupid question. Of course I was. I’d never have made a move if
I wasn’t ready to risk it–and risk it all. Whatever games I’d been
playing with myself, the plain fact was I loved her and I wanted her.
Permanently.
It was one of those rare moments of crystal clear realization,
the kind of certainty about a thing that prophets and seers must feel.
I threw off the sheet. It landed square atop of the cat, who
gave a startled snort, but I was already out of bed and moving.
“Lights.” The lights flashed on. I started to grab the clothes I’d
worn to the circle, then didn’t. With that same certainty, I went to
my closet and got out a uniform, put it on. I was doing this not just
as Chakotay, but as the first officer. Then I put on my rank bar, my
comm badge and my medicine bag. Chessie watched wordlessly for a
change. I paused just before exiting to glance at him. Slowly, he
faded out, leaving only his smile to linger a moment. Then he was
gone.
I stepped into the hall and, squaring my shoulders, walked the
ten steps to Kathryn’s door, rang the buzzer.
There was a long pause. When she finally opened the door, her
robe was wrapped over pink silk, her hair down, face sleepy. Seeing
my uniform, she frowned, confused. “Did something happen, commander?”
I dropped to one knee and looked up at her, reached for her hand
and held it in mine.
“Kathryn Janeway–marry me!”

*** FINIS ***

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