by VoyWriter

disclaimer: Paramount holds all rights to name and characters.
Please feel free to distribute this electronically intact and without revision.
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This was inspired by comments made by Kate Mulgrew, December 1996,
Rosemont Convention Center, Chicago, Illinois in answer to my question, “Where
do you want Janeway to go?” It first appeared in *Now Voyager,* the official
publication of the *Kate Mulgrew Appreciation Society.*

Chakotay looked up from his work station as the door to his office slid open. He
was in civvies, officially off-duty, but working up results from the last emergency
evacuation simulation. The crew hadn’t done particularly well and he was trying
to figure out where the problem areas were and what kind of drills might improve
the scores.

He was surprised to see Kathryn Janeway in the open doorway. Surprised because
it was late and he hadn’t expected to see anyone, and surprised because it was her
– she did not often venture to his office – he usually went to her ready room.


She lifted a hand to stop him from standing and crossed into the room, the door
sliding shut behind her. “At ease, Commander. It’s a bit too late in the night to
bother about formalities and we’re both off duty,” she offered a wry smile, “as
off-duty as either of us gets.”

He returned the grin and leaned forward against his station. “What can I do for
you, Captain?”

“Well you could offer me a cup of tea. Whatever you’re drinking. I could smell it
the moment the door opened.”

“Jasmine and a bit of mint.”


Now he did stand, walking over to where a thermos held a still nearly full pot of
the tea. He’d brewed it fresh in the mess an hour before and stuck it in stasis so it
would keep its flavor. He handed her a mug, wondering why she was there and
when she would let him in on it.

“I hear you’ve been at it all evening, Commander – even skipped the hoverball
game.” She paced idly about the small office, sipping her tea and nosing about the
few personal items he had in the room. Not much – a sand painting, a collection
of rocks and shells, an old fashioned book.

He watched her. She slid a hand across the glass face of the sand painting, rested
a finger on the odd rock and shell, tipped the book so she could read the title. It
was an old one. Stranger in a Strange Land.

“Do you feel this way?” She held the book up and set her cup aside so she could
page through it.

“We’re all strangers somewhere.”

“I haven’t read this in ages.”

“You’re welcome to borrow it.”

“Hmm. This and a glass of hot milk might just do it.”

“I’ve found that a soak in the ship’s hot tub does wonders for insomnia.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Turning ship’s counselor on me, Commander?” She said
it a bit more sharply than she intended. “Sorry. The truth is I haven’t been sleeping
well. I seem to be in a rut – I work, go back to my cabin and don’t go to sleep.”
She glanced about. “I thought I sensed a kindred spirit here. How long have you
been working tonight?”

He chuckled. “Too long. You’re right.” He hesitated. “Captain, if I might…”

“Chakotay you may be the nearest thing to a best friend I have in the delta
quadrant. We’ve been here three years and there seem to be no other candidates –
not that I’m complaining. But what I am saying is, we’re off duty. If you have
something to say, say it. If I object, I’ll say so.”

He nodded and gestured to the couch, offering her a seat as he retook his behind
the work station. She curled her legs beneath her and sat, waiting for him to form
his thoughts into words.

The lighting was dim in the room, just the work station light, and he looked
somehow golden in the warm brightness. It made her think of days under another
kind of light, a glowing sun on a planet that had been unfamiliar and became in
time a home and haven. And a friendship forged there, more, and left behind. She
sighed involuntarily. She was not a person for regrets, but there was one.

“I think there’s a difference between my working late and your prowling the deck
at two in the morning,” Chakotay was saying.

“I was hardly prowling.”


She shrugged.

“And coming here to see me.”

“You were one of the few people awake who wasn’t on duty.”

“Why didn’t you go to the hoverball game tonight?”

She waved a hand, paused in sipping her tea. “The Captain shows up and it’s not
much of an off-duty event.”

“I think you’re wrong. I think you underestimate the affection this crew has for
you and I think you are doing yourself a disservice with this self-imposed

“I’ve played that roller coaster game before, Chakotay. It doesn’t work. Friendship
and command. They’re too opposed. I can’t give someone orders to swab down the
deck and a few hours later share their confidences. They can’t make the
turnaround fast enough and neither can I.”

“As I recall, I’m the one giving most of the swab down orders around here.” He
grinned and sipped his own tea, allowing a moment of levity. “You should be free
to have all the confidences you want. It can work, Captain. You simply have to
give it a chance.”

She shook her head. “There’s too much at risk here, Chakotay. I can’t afford to
play favorites.”

“You mean you can’t afford to appear to human – to be vulnerable.”

“There’s that, too.”

They were both silent a moment. “You still have your uniform on, Captain. It’s
two am. Why aren’t you in civvies?”

“I’m comfortable in the uniform.”

“And uncomfortable in off-duty clothes?”

“Your words.”

“It’s convenient armor. A natural barrier.”

“I am the Captain. The uniform and pips notwithstanding. And the rank doesn’t
come off with the uniform.”

“So where’s Kathryn Janeway?”

“One and the same.”

“I seem to remember her. I don’t think she’d do well in exile.”

Janeway stiffened. Her voice was a whisper when she spoke. “That was a
different situation. A different life almost.”

“I miss her. You should, too.”

Now Janeway stood, shaking her head as she paced about again. “You make me
sound schizophrenic.”

Chakotay took a deep breath. “When I was in the Maquis, I had to make tough
decisions every day. Life and death most of them. Choosing which of my crew
might not return at the end of a mission. I found myself stepping back. It was
self-protection, but it wasn’t healthy. And it wasn’t good for the crew. They
needed to know that I saw them as people. That when I sent them to die, I knew
what I was losing, what I was sacrificing. What sacrifice they were making.”

Janeway leaned against the workstation. “You were friends with B’Elanna. And

“B’Elanna put up as tough an exterior as I did. Seska was more impersonal than

“Your crew would have died for you – they did – they would still. And so would
most of Voyager’s crew.”

He nodded. It was true. He had found a way to command tremendous loyalty.

Janeway edged the rim of her tea mug with her fingers. “So you found a solution.
What was it?”

“I didn’t say I did. There was a lot of anger on a Maquis ship. Taking pot shots at
the Cardassians didn’t do a lot to relieve that. We all felt it. And there was no
off-duty. Not much anyway.”

“So what did you do to relieve the tension? There must have been something.”

Chakotay leaned back in his chair, cradling his mug of tea. He grinned. “Poker.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“We played poker whenever there was a break. Cut-throat, no holds barred poker.
It could get pretty ugly.”

“That sounds like it would be good for morale.”

Dryness edged her voice. Chakotay ignored it. “It was actually. It released a lot of

“You think I am too distanced from the crew.”

“I think you’re missing out on a lot.”

“I could join your hoverball team.”

“That would be a start.”

“I was kidding.”

“You put the barriers in place, Captain. Not the crew. Not me.”

She turned from him and walked over to where she had left the book. “Like you
said, self-protection. And a measure of protection for the crew.” She turned back
to him.

“We’re 70 light years from home Chakotay. There is no one for the crew to count
on except me. I think it’s important for them to know I am always here for them –
as their Captain.”

“We all need to count on each other, Kathryn.”

“The whole crew or you and I?”

“You and I would be a start.”



“I thought we had that.”

“The Captain and the Commander are friends.”

“Now we’re schizophrenic again.”

He pushed out of his chair and walked from behind the workstation, crossing over
to where she stood. “There are 150 people on this ship who don’t want you to be

Tears misted her eyes and she took a sip of tea to cover her reaction. “One big
happy family?”

Chakotay was silent. He knew her sarcasm was no more than a cover. He did her
the courtesy of letting her gather herself again before he spoke.

“We’re all we have out here, Kathryn. It’s a big quadrant – a small universe. This
ship is becoming a community. You’re in danger of being the only one who
doesn’t have a place. I don’t think you want that.”

“Damn.” Her whispered curse was soft and filled with a myriad of emotions. Even
though he could not see her face, Chakotay could sense the reactions playing
across it – embarrassment, sadness, regret, anticipation.

After a moment she turned to face him. “And what happens when the next crisis
hits, Commander? When there’s a tough decision to be made? When there’s a life
to be sacrificed? I’m supposed to do that as a friend? And how is the crew
supposed to react to that?”

“You won’t lose their respect or loyalty.”

“I could be damned unpopular.”

“That’s always a risk.”

“Frankly I’m not sure that’s one I’m willing to take.”

“You have far more self-esteem than that.”

“You’re damned right I do. But I risk the Captain becoming as unpopular as
Kathryn. That I can’t do. Surely you see that?”

“This crew won’t mutiny.”

She laughed. “Not as long as I have you in my back pocket they won’t.”


“Sorry. But it is true.”

“Maybe I should just change my title from XO to enforcer.”

He walked back to the couch and she followed, the tension a bit relieved, but the
discussion not yet closed nor the issues resolved. In fact, they seemed to have
come full circle.

“Maybe you should just start with one close friend. Someone you feel
comfortable confiding in.” Chakotay made the suggestion as he drained his cup
and took a seat on the end of the couch.

“I thought that’s what I was doing.”

“That kind of friendship could be dangerous for us.”

“It might be.” She dropped down onto the couch at the opposite corner. “But I
frankly can’t think of a better candidate at this point. You’ve been a Captain in
your own right. You understand the issues, the complications. And we’re nearer in
age than the other command crew…”

Chakotay winced. “Ouch.”

“No point in denying the obvious, however painful, besides it gives us a similar
level of life experiences.”

“And New Earth?” He had to broach the subject.

“We can’t go back to that.”


“Can’t. That’s too much complication.”

“I’m not sure I can keep it all separate.”

“You did before. You have since. I have confidence in you.”

“And you?”

“I know which cards to show.”

“So we’re back to poker.”

“Five card stud?”

He laughed at that. “More like strip poker I think.”

“Play a card, remove a layer? Now that does sound dangerous.”

“Friendship isn’t just taking the hand at face value, Kathryn. Sometimes you have
to take new cards, play a bluff, fold.”

“Too many metaphors, Commander. And I think we’re both too tired for much
more introspection or analysis.”

“Putting on your best poker face?”


“Then this won’t work.”

She looked into her tea cup and then held it out to him. “Is there anymore? I can
sense this is going to take a while.”

He accepted the cup and rose to fill it, taking his own along as well. “Have you

“Not much.”

“How about a late night dinner, my treat, you pick the meal.”

“Cold fried chicken, potato salad, cherry pie, lemonade. Indiana comfort food. I
feel like I could accept a little comfort at this point.”

He nodded. “That’s a step in the right direction.”

“Just dial up Janeway05 on the replicator. It’s all set up.”

Chakotay punched in the coding and accepted the two plates that materialized on
the replicator pad. Janeway came and collected the glasses and they sat back on
the couch, using the low table before it as a make-shift dinner table.

Janeway took a bite of the chicken and sighed appreciatively. “My mother was a
wonderful cook. I never appreciated it. She made everything from scratch. I just
thought she was old fashioned. I didn’t consider the effort. Or how much better
the food tasted.”

“I learned to cook early. Mostly traditional foods. Back then it seemed like
everything was a lesson.”

“Everything *is* a lesson, Chakotay.”

“Now you sound like my father.”

“I wish I could have met him. He raised an interesting son. I’d thank him.”

Chakotay wiped his mouth and shook his head at her remark. “You might not
have appreciated his candor. He could be fairly blunt.”

“As can I. What would he have said about me?”

“He would have flirted.”

“Really? Is that where you learned that?”

A choking laugh shook Chakotay. “I never considered myself much of a flirt, or a
ladies man.”

“With that smile? If we’re forming a friendship here, we need to be honest,
Commander. There’s likely not one woman on this ship who isn’t knocked flat by
that smile – and a few of the men as well. Don’t tell me you don’t get your share of

“I get a few. Could we change the subject?”

“Not yet. Tell me who.”

“I’m not sure we’re good enough friends for that yet. How about you – you must
get a few passes.”

“No. I don’t.”

He put down his fork. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s ok. How could I expect anyone to scale the walls? You said yourself I can be

“I said you were in self-imposed exile. There is a difference.”

“But the result is the same. I make myself unapproachable.”

“You’re a sexy woman, Kathryn. If you think the crew doesn’t notice, you’re

“Noticing and acting on it are two different things.”

“Is there someone you have in mind?”

She eyed him. “We already discussed this and agreed it wouldn’t work.”

“You agreed.”

“Let’s start with the friends thing. Maybe I’ll feel differently if that works out. So
how do we do this?”

“We have dinner together occasionally, maybe play a game of pool now and

“I don’t want this to appear as if we are dating.”

“Then we need to include others. B’Elanna if you comfortable with her. Maybe
Paris or Tuvok.”

“How about if we start a bit more low key. Dinner now and then, here or my
quarters, and I will try to pop by Sandrines or the hoverball games now and then.”

“Do you need all these rules?”

“For the time being. Until I see how this goes. You know it’s against everything
Starfleet drilled into me at the Academy. And everything I’ve learned since then.”

“This is not the Alpha Quadrant. Not everything we were taught applies anymore.
It’s a strange new world out here.”

“That’s why I’m willing to give it a try. And you’re right. I am a stranger in a
strange land. We all are. And I think that just might hurt the crew more than a bit
of fraternization. If I don’t know what their issues are, I might miss something
important. It’s a fragile balance. Isolation and intervention.”

“So you touch them through me?”

“For the time being.”

He raised an eyebrow, but did not comment. She would have to take this a step at
a time. He knew that. And this was a big step. This commitment to explore. This
possibility for change.

“Who do you confide in, Commander?” she asked, pushing her fork in the flaky
crust of the pie. “It seems like you keep pretty close counsel.”

“I visit my spirit guide. She helps me examine my issues and find solutions.”

“I envy you that.”

“Your spirit guide could do the same for you.”

“I can’t seem to make that leap of faith.”

“I’ve had more experience. My guide and I have been together for many years.
There’s a natural bridge. You just need to give it time.”

“I’m afraid I’m not as cerebral as you.”

This made him chuckle. “Most of my Maquis crew would laugh to hear you say

“They didn’t see you as some mystic spiritualist, I take it.”

“I was not the same person then, Kathryn. Anger and spiritualism are difficult to
wear together. Anger usually won out. It had to if we were going to survive. If I
was going to survive it all.”

“I might not have liked that Chakotay.”

“You might not have. I don’t know if I did.”

“So how did you find this one?”

“You found him.”

“I did? That’s a lot of responsibility.”

“Too much?”

“No. Not too much. I’m glad I had something to do with it. Could I ask what you
thought when you first saw me?”

He set down his fork and pushed his plate aside. “On the view screen? Honestly, I
was too wrapped up in trying to patch my ship together to think about you beyond
your uniform.”

“Fair enough. And after that?”

“After that things moved very quickly. But you were impressive, Kathryn. You
radiated strength and confidence. I didn’t mind a bit of that right then.”

She chuckled. “I could say the same about you, Chakotay. I saw you in that
beat-up excuse for a ship, fighting for your survival and fighting the Kazon and I
wondered if I could keep up with you, and if you would kill me on sight and take
Voyager when you beamed over.”

“It was a leap of faith on both our parts. The first tentative steps toward

“I guess it was at that.”

“Tell me, would you have left me on Ocampa if Paris had not showed up to
rescue me?”

“I might have had no choice. Yes.”

“It was the right decision. I never told you so. I should have.”

“I knew it was the right decision. Just as you knew it was the right decision to risk
your life and sacrifice your ship to stop the Kazon from taking the Array. I have to
say my respect for you went up several notches at that point, Chakotay. And it
was high already. I had seen your personnel files. I knew what kind of man you
were – or had been when you wore a uniform. I didn’t think you could change that
fundamentally, years of fighting the Cardassians notwithstanding.”

Janeway busied herself collecting their plates and walking them to the recycler.
“I’m buying coffee. Interested?”

“Thanks, but it’s not my vice. I’m fine with the tea.”

“My mother used to scold me for drinking so much coffee. She would try to
switch it to decaf without me noticing.”

“And did you notice?”

“Always. I’m a coffee purist. Mark tried the same thing. He didn’t have any luck

“You haven’t mentioned him in a while.”

“I haven’t thought of him in a while,” she said, realizing it had been a very long
while actually. She crossed to Chakotay’s work station and took his chair, setting
her cup on the panel’s surface. “Maybe I’m finally adjusting to this new life.”

“Maybe you’re just ready to move forward.”

“I didn’t think I was stuck particularly. It doesn’t sound very attractive for a
scientist or a starship Captain.”

“It sounds human.”

“You seem to have adjusted well enough.”

“Maybe I didn’t leave so much behind as you.”

“You left family. Friends. A cause you believed in.”

“I might believe in this cause more.”

“What? Exploration?”


“That’s an interesting slant on it.”

“I’ve fought against things my whole life, Kathryn. It’s nice to fight for something
for a change.”

“I knew you were rebellious.”


“Is there a difference?”

“One is for a good cause, the other is just plain stubbornness.”

“And now you have a good cause?”

“I think so.”

“Keeping your Captain from building walls so high they’re insurmountable…”

“Helping her figure out how to install a gate.”

“Or acting as gatekeeper?”

“That’s not my intent. Is that how it appears?”

“No. That would imply you want to regulate who comes in and out. I know you
don’t. You simply want me to swing it a big wider than it is. And I understand
your reasons.”

“You know your hair helps?”

She sputtered coffee. “I beg your pardon?”

He chuckled and rose to toss her his napkin. “It’s one of the crew’s favorite

“My hair? I don’t give it a second thought. I just got tired of piling it up every day.
It sounds like my First Officer needs to give the crew a bit more to do if they have
time to worry about my hair.”

“This style makes you more approachable. It’s less imposing.”

“I never considered myself imposing on any level.”

“You underestimate your affect on people.”

“Do I?”

“Kathryn there are people on this ship who have you up so high on a pedestal you
are in danger of losing consciousness for lack of air.”

She laughed and that and then sobered immediately. “That’s not what I want.”

“It may be inevitable given your rank and position on this ship, but I think you can
temper that. Assuming you want to.”

“To a point. Yes. But I think there has to be some distance. I am still the Captain
and frankly a bit of hero worship isn’t bad for morale or the command structure.
The same goes for you as well, although I think you have a bit more latitude.”

“I’m a bit closer to the masses?”

“Something like that. But you still need to maintain your command presence.”

“Are you concerned I’m not?”

“Not at all. You’ve been doing a fine job of walking the line. I just want to make
sure you remember there is a line and to keep your balance.”

She stood from behind the work station and walked around to the front of the
console. “Are there poker games here?”

“A few regular games, yes. And informal pick-up hands.”

“Do you play?”

“I’ve been known to.”

“Are you any good?”

He laughed and propped his feet against the edge of the coffee table. They were
bare and it disconcerted Janeway for a moment. It was a bit too personal,
reminded her they were man and woman. That they had been man and woman
together. Of laughingly crossing a cold stream, him barefoot, pants rolled up to
his knees, and her, in his arms being ferried across. Warm. Secure. Carefree.
Feelings and times she missed.

Chakotay noticed the attention and caught her gaze. She closed her eyes and then
opened them. He was still watching. Observing. But silent.

She broke the quiet.

“Maybe it’s time to talk about this, Chakotay.”

“I’m not sure if I have anything to say, Kathryn.”

“It still might need to be said.”

He dropped his feet down and picked up his tea mug, using it as an excuse to
break the mood for a moment. “More coffee?”

She shook her head. “Actually I wouldn’t mind a drop of a brandy in what I still
have. I don’t think this discussion is going to be easy.”

He walked to the replicator and pressed open a small cupboard at it’s side, pulling
out a bottle of brandy and offering it up to her.

She tipped a very small amount into her mug. “I thought you didn’t drink…”

“I don’t. I won it from Paris in a poker game. I keep it for when he stops by.”

“Tom stops by to see you?”

“I’ve been brushing up on my piloting skills. After our trip to Earth I decided I’ve
been away from it too long. Paris has been coaching me. I usually feed him in

“That sounds like a fair trade. Any other activities I should know about?” she
asked as they returned to the couch. They sat slightly angled at opposite ends of
the couch. Janeway pulled her feet up. Chakotay stretched his against the coffee
table once more.

“Nothing of consequence.”

“Do you still do woodworking?”

“I haven’t made any headboards in a while if that’s what you’re asking.”

“It’s not. And even if you had, that’s hardly my business, is it?”

He hesitated. “I’m not sure I can answer that.”

“We’ve both left this alone since New Earth.”

“You have.”

“Haven’t you? I haven’t heard any angry warrior stories lately.”

“Do you want an undying declaration of love?”

“Do you want to make one?”

“I’m not sure what purpose it would serve. Except to confuse the situation even

“I’d like to eliminate the confusion altogether. We both need to move on.”

Chakotay took a sip of tea and swallowed it before speaking again. “Tell me what
you want, Kathryn.”

“What would you say if I told you to find someone else? If I explained that I can’t
risk you as a lover. That I need you too much as a First Officer and a friend.”

“Is that what you’re saying?”

“I think it is. I think it has to be.”

“I’m not sure I can turn off my feelings that fast. If ever. But I’m old enough to
manage myself. I won’t moon over you in public. If that’s your decision, I’ll
respect it, although I have to be honest and say I wish it were otherwise.”

“I don’t want to lose your friendship over this.”

“I will always be your friend, Kathryn. And I have survived this long in this
condition. I suspect I will be fine in time. But how will you feel if I do take a
lover? If I have a relationship with someone else on this ship?”

“It’s not my business. It might bother me. I don’t know. It shouldn’t. But let me ask
you the reverse… because I might as well. Someday.”

“I hope you do.”

She looked up, a bit startled. “Do you?”

“Shouldn’t I wish you the best?”

“It’s confusing.” She shook her head. “I think you need to find some way to let go
of this, Chakotay.”

“I may never let go of it, Kathryn.”

“I don’t think I want that responsibility.”

“Then don’t take it. I can be responsible for my own actions and thoughts.”

“Chakotay…” There was apology and regret in her voice – bit of agony, a bit of
relief. “It was never my intent to leave you with such an important question
unanswered for so long. I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too.”

They were both silent then she noticed for the first time the quiet music playing
the background. It was soft and slightly bluesy.

“Dance with an old friend?” she asked, her voice a bit rough, the question
something between a plea and a promise.

Chakotay nodded wordlessly, stood and offered his hand, drawing her into his
arms as she rose beside him. They stepped out beyond the coffee table into the
small open space.

Kathryn locked her arms about his neck, felt him draw her close, his hands
around her waist. She rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes, easing
into his strength, drawing comfort, reliving other days, wishing she had less regret
for what she had just done, but knowing all the same that it was right.

Chakotay simply held her, moved them slightly to the music, pressed his face
against her hair and drew her scent in to his memory along with the feel of her –
small and strong and vulnerable – in his arms. He would take the friendship, keep
the love, honor his commitments, ease her burden any way he could.



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