Disclaimer:   Paramount’s as always

Rating:  PG-13

Notes:  a Chakotay/Torres story, but with elements of J/C, set shortly before the events of “Friendship One”
 
 

ADRIFT
 

By Mary S.
 
 
 

           B’Elanna Torres crept as silently as her bulk would allow through the Jeffries tubes on deck fourteen.   Tom would have a fit if he knew where she was, but if all went well, and the burned-out plasma relays at the next junction would just allow themselves to be easily replaced, he would never know that his heavily pregnant wife was indulging herself in a little hands-on engineering.   She grunted as her knee bumped against her protruding stomach – she could feel the baby do a half-roll in protest and paused until the fetus settled down once more.   As much as she hated to admit it, this baby controlled her life to a much greater extent than she would have ever believed possible.

           There – she was quiet again.  ‘Good baby, now just stay that way until I can finish these repairs and get out of here,’ B’Elanna thought to herself.

           She reached the panel and was able to yank off the cover fairly easily, only to stare in horror at the fused mess in front of her.  This was far worse than just a few fried relays.  Her heart sank.  She would be in here for hours – she didn’t have hours – Tom would come looking for her and ….

           What was that noise?  She could hear someone moving around the corner.   Very carefully, she eased her head around the angle of the bulkhead to find herself staring straight into the angry blue eyes of her husband.

           “B’Elanna!  Well, well, what a surprise!”  His sarcastic tone indicated he wasn’t surprised at all.  “And just what did you promise the doctor last week about crawling around the Jeffries tubes?  Hmm?  Remember?!”

           His voice rose with each question until he was yelling at her.  “Dammit, B’Elanna, spare a thought for the baby, will you, since you don’t seem to care about yourself!”

           She couldn’t let that jibe go unchallenged.  “I am thinking of the baby!  All the time!  You don’t let me think of anything else!  All I ever hear from morning ‘til night is ‘be careful, B’Elanna’; ‘you’ll hurt the baby, B’Elanna’; ‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that’.  I can’t do anything!  I’m going crazy!!”

           He glared at her, his fury unabated.  “I have to keep telling you because otherwise you’d be crawling all over the damned ship and probably doing external maintenance as well!  You’re responsible for another life now, a very important life!  I don’t want to see either of you injured all because you got a little stir crazy!”

           “I know what I’m doing!” she snarled in return.  “Now either get out of the way so I can get started on this mess or make yourself useful and lend me a hand!”  She reached into the tangle of wires as she spoke, not paying attention to what she was doing, and promptly yelped in pain as a loose wire gave her a shock.

           Tom snatched her hand, checking it carefully before reaching past her and grabbing her tool kit.  Then he closed up the panel and tapped his commbadge, all the while giving her a very stern stare.  B’Elanna sat still, nursing her injured hand, a mutinous look on her face, but made no move to stop him.

           “Paris to sickbay.”

           “Sickbay here,” came the dulcet tones of the doctor.  “Did you find her?”

           “Yeah, I did.  And she’s injured her hand, an electrical shock from a short circuit.”

           The doctor’s voice took on a concerned note.  “I’ll order an emergency beamout at once.”

           “Oh for god’s sake!” roared B’Elanna at both of them.  “I can walk!  It was only a mild shock!  It’s already nearly gone.  Now back off, both of you!”

           She tried to push past Tom but he refused to move, grabbing her shoulders and forcing her to hold still.   She snarled at him, teeth bared, even as the transporter beam caught them both, depositing them in sickbay.

           The doctor pounced on her at once, helping her onto a biobed and ordering her to lie down and do as she was told or he would sedate her.  She gave in with bad grace, muttering Klingon imprecations under her breath as he examined her.  By the time he’d finished and pronounced both her and the fetus unharmed, she had worked herself into an absolute fury.

           She swung off the biobed and marched out the door, pausing only to inform her husband that she had had enough of his coddling, that he was driving her to insanity and he could damn well sleep at Harry’s that night!  On those words, she stormed out of sickbay and barreled down the corridor, letting her temper propel her around the corner straight into Chakotay.

           “Ohh!” she exclaimed as he caught her shoulders.

           “Hey!  Slow down!  What’s the big rush?  I heard you got hurt in the Jeffries’ tubes, are you okay?”  She heard the note of worry in his voice and made a conscious effort not to snap his head off.

           “I’m fine!  I got a little shock from a loose wire, which never would have happened if a certain idiot pilot hadn’t been distracting me so I didn’t know if I was standing on my head or my heels!”

           Chakotay loosened his grasp.  “Getting a little over-protective again?”  His tone was sympathetic.

           “A little!  He’s driving me crazy!  I can’t stand it!”

           He patted her hand and then tucked it into his elbow.  “Well, I’m off duty now, so why don’t you come to my quarters and tell me all about it.   Maybe talking it out will help you feel better.”

           B’Elanna looked doubtful.  She didn’t want more coddling.

           Chakotay correctly interpreted her reluctance and promised not to mention anything about being careful for the sake of the baby.   She smiled ruefully, knowing she never could resist his coaxing smile – not many women could – and agreed.    They began to saunter down the corridor as Chakotay reminded her of the time in the Maquis, when Chell had nearly electrocuted himself while trying to program the replicator to produce a Bolian souffle.   Before long, she was roaring in laughter, her spirits much improved.

           They had just reached Chakotay’s door, when the call came from the bridge.

           “All senior staff, report to the conference room immediately for an emergency briefing.”

           He shrugged and turned them around to head back to the turbolift.  “Hopefully, this won’t take too long, and we can still have time for a good chat.”

           However, his hopes were in vain.   Seven had located a possible source of dilithium on long-range scans.    Since the crystals were always in short supply, the consensus was that they should have a look.  However, the ship was already committed to trade negotiations with the Ba’aldan, an advanced society inhabiting a system in the opposite direction, where, hopefully, Voyager would be able to obtain food and several essential ores.

           In the end, the captain decided to send Chakotay and an engineer in a shuttle to investigate the dilithium.    They would leave as soon as they could and rendezvous in two days’ time.

           As the meeting broke up, B’Elanna dodged out the door before Tom could catch her.  He was on-duty and couldn’t follow, only able to hurriedly call out that he would see her later.   Still angry, she pretended not to hear him and darted into the turbolift.  He sighed and turned back to the bridge, his heart heavy.   He was getting very worried about her, wondering if their marriage was going to survive her pregnancy.

           Captain and commander watched their pilot, correctly interpreting his sad expression.   Chakotay sighed, telling Janeway how he had been going to spend the evening trying to cajole B’Elanna out of her fit of temper and see if he couldn’t coax her into a more docile frame of mind.   Janeway had her doubts about his chances of success, but said she was sorry to have interrupted them.   He shrugged his shoulders; perhaps when he got back, he could try again.

           Half an hour later, he was just finishing up the preflight checks on the shuttle when B’Elanna breezed into the shuttlebay, engineering tool kit in hand.

           “Hi,” he greeted her.  “What’s the problem?”

           “Oh, nothing,” she replied a little too casually.  “I’m coming with you.”

           “Oh?  Have you talked to Tom?”

           She scowled at him.  “No!  Why should I?!  You need an engineer and I’m it!”

           “I see,” he replied carefully, not wanting to upset her further.  “Does the doctor know you’re planning to come?”

           “No, what difference does it make?  I’m fine!  Pregnancy is not an illness!”

           He turned away and tapped his commbadge.  “Chakotay to Janeway.”

           “Janeway here.”

           “Captain, B’Elanna has delegated herself to accompany me.  Does that meet with your approval?”

           There was a pause before she replied.  “Commander, I trust her to send the person best suited for the job.  As long as there’s no medical reason why she shouldn’t go, I have no objection.”

           “Very well, Captain.  Chakotay out.”

           He tapped his commbadge again, ignoring her scowl.  “Chakotay to sickbay.”

           “Yes, Commander?” replied the doctor.

           “B’Elanna wants to come with me on the search for dilithium – ”

           “Oh, for gods’ sake, what’s the matter with all of you?!” she snapped.

           “I heard that, Commander.  As long as she doesn’t do any lifting or indulge in strenuous exercise, there is no reason why she shouldn’t go.  And there aren’t any Jeffries tubes on a shuttle…”

           “Thanks, Doc.  Chakotay out.”

           B’Elanna smiled sweetly and strode into the shuttle, sitting down in the copilot’s seat.  “Right.  Shall we get underway?”

           “As long as you’re sure…”

           “Chakotay, don’t even start!” was her reply.  “I just need to get off the ship for a little while, okay?”

           He nodded and patted her shoulder before sealing the hatch and settling into the pilot’s seat.

           Five minutes later, the shuttle had lifted off and headed out into open space.
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           Once their course was set, Chakotay sat back and suggested that B’Elanna tell him her troubles.  She snorted a bit at that, then quieted, wondering where to start.   She got to her feet, starting to pace as she sorted through her feelings.    Chakotay remained silent, content to give her all the time she needed.  Finally she began.

           “I guess, really, I’m bothered most by Tom’s over-protectiveness.  He’s driving me nuts!  He’s constantly at me, nagging me about working too hard, what I’m eating, am I getting enough sleep!  It never stops!  I feel like I’m wrapped in cotton wool and I’m starting to suffocate!

           “All we ever talk about any more is the baby!  And what I can’t do!  It’s like…there’s nothing else in the universe!   I may be about to become a mother, but I’m also an engineer!  And I did have a life before Tom Paris came along!”

           Chakotay grinned at that.  “Yes, you certainly did!”

           She stopped and turned to face him, a question in her eyes.  “Do you think I’m overreacting?  Is he right?  Should I let myself be coddled like he wants?”

           “Only you know how much you can take, B’Ela, but it sounds to me as if Tom is probably pretty nervous about impending fatherhood.   Maybe you can just agree with everything he says and then do what you want, anyway.”

           She was shaking her head.  “No, I tried that.   It didn’t work very well.  He keeps reminding me that I agreed to do or not do various things, which at the time, I did only to shut him up!”

           She resumed her pacing.  “I’m not trying to be difficult or unreasonable, it’s just…I’m the one having this baby and I know what my limits are.  I don’t need him constantly nattering at me!”

           Chakotay nodded sympathetically.   “Look at it this way.  It won’t be much longer.  Try to keep your temper and not get into fights with him.  If you need to blow off steam, why not come to me.   I don’t mind if you want to yell at me.”

           B’Elanna smiled gratefully, then pulled him up into a tight hug.  “Thank you.  You’re such a good friend to me, I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

           He hugged her back, then kissed her forehead before suggesting a cup of tea.   She agreed, and soon they fell to reminiscing about their days in the Maquis, relaxed and at ease with each other.
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           Six hours later, as they approached the solar system where the dilithium was supposedly located, Chakotay took the helm off autopilot and B’Elanna activated the short-range sensors.   She peered over the readings, grunting with concentration, then muttered to herself.

           When he didn’t hear anything more productive from her, Chakotay was forced to ask what she’d found.

           “That’s just it.   I’m having trouble finding anything!  One minute, it’s there, the next, it’s not.   I’m not sure what to make of it.”

           “Hmmm,” he muttered in turn.  “Maybe the readings are affected by those two planets ahead – they’re in pretty tight, synchronous orbits.  Could be something in them that is distorting the sensors.”

           “It’s possible.   I wonder if…could you get us in between them?”

           “Where?  Between those planets?”

           “Yes.”

           “Sure, shouldn’t be a problem.”

           “I’m hoping we get clearer readings once they’re not blocking our path.”

           Chakotay swung the shuttle forward onto its new course, aimed straight between the two.  The little craft leaped forward, engines at maximum impulse.

           B’Elanna hunched over her console, trying to extrapolate data from the few readings she had so far.   She was so concentrated on her work that at first, she didn’t register Chakotay’s sudden exclamation.   Even as his voice penetrated her mind, the shuttle heaved violently sideways.   Her fingers dug into the console’s smooth panel, trying desperately to keep herself upright in the chair, but to no avail.   She was thrown to the floor, landing heavily on her back.
 
           Frantically, Chakotay tried to straighten out the shuttle’s trajectory, but even as it began to respond, a second, stronger wave tossed it in the opposite direction.  The engines roared out of control as the shuttle began to descend in a flat spin towards the nearer of the two planets.   Chakotay’s fingers flew over the console as he tried everything he could think of to restore helm control.  He knew B’Elanna was hurt – a sharp yelp of pain had told him that – but he couldn’t spare even a split second to look to her injuries.

           Closer and closer the shuttle came, more systems shorting out until he began to wonder if this time, they weren’t going to be able to pull off another miracle.   But even as the thought crossed his mind, the nose came up slowly, responding sluggishly to his command.   Very gradually, he was able to point them back into open space, away from the planets which had caused their problems.    Their pace slowed, then finally stopped as they drifted along solely on momentum.

           Once he was sure they were free of all gravitational pull, he leaped out of his seat to find B’Elanna.

           She lay groaning in agony on the floor, her hands clutching her stomach, eyes terrified.   She had just been starting to climb to her feet when the second wave had hit, pitching her down on her side.  Immediately, she had felt a sharp pain in her abdomen.
 
           “B’Elanna!” he demanded.  “Talk to me!  Tell me what you feel!”

           “I’m…sc-scared something’s hap-happened to the baby!” she gasped out in pain.   “The side of my stomach is…it hurts!  A lot!”

           Even as she spoke, Chakotay was digging out the medkit, and activating the medical tricorder.   Quickly, he scanned her, then ran it over her again to be sure.

           “What is it?” she whispered, barely able to speak for fear of what was happening.

           “The baby’s fine, I’m reading a steady heartbeat,” he told her.  B’Elanna breathed a mighty sigh of relief, then started to sit up, only to feel the pain stab her side again.

           She cried out, looking at him for an explanation.  Chakotay continued his scans, before gazing down at her.

           “You seem to have pulled several muscles in your side.  I don’t think it’s serious – and the baby’s fine – but you should probably keep quite still until it eases.  Okay?”

           B’Elanna nodded her head, settling back onto the floor.  Chakotay got up, then dug through a couple of storage lockers, pulling out every blanket he could find.  He debated about the environmental suits, but decided to leave them for the moment.   After all, the temperature wasn’t cold.  He carefully wrapped B’Elanna in several of the blankets, making her as comfortable as possible, then started to inventory the damage.

           While he was checking various consoles and making notes on a PADD, finding a lot more damage than he had originally thought, B’Elanna suggested he give her a tricorder so she could get an idea of what repairs they would need to make.    She had just started to scan the warp core when Chakotay heard her exclaim in horror.

           “My god!  Chakotay, one of the magnetic constrictors is failing!  The warp core’s going to breach!  You have to eject it now!  Hurry!!”

           He dived for the engineering panel and frantically stabbed at the touchpad, hoping he was in time, then fell into the pilot’s seat and swung the shuttle’s nose around, engaging what propulsion they had.   Somehow, he prayed, they had to get far enough away to be able to ride out the shockwave.

           Silently, he watched as the core drifted away from them, seemingly much too slowly.   B’Elanna lay still on the floor, watching him, wanting to know but afraid to ask.   Then she saw him stiffen and knew the core had exploded.

           He slid out of the chair and threw himself over her, holding her fast, telling her to hang on.    She turned her head into his neck and gripped his shoulders, thinking that if she had to die, at least she wouldn’t be alone.

           The shuttle heaved and bucked, tossed about like a small boat caught in a tidal wave.  More systems shorted out, sparks showering in every direction from several different consoles.   If they survived this, they both were thinking, they were going to be dead in the water anyway.    The shuttle continued to bounce for another minute before gradually settling at a slight lean to starboard, a strong scent of scorched wiring drifting past their noses.

           Chakotay eased off B’Elanna, patting her face encouragingly.  “I’ll go check on what else has been damaged.”
 
           It wasn’t good.  Communications, navigation and long-range sensors – all down.  And there was worse to come.  Impulse drive was off-line as well.   With the warp core gone, their only means of propulsion were partial thrusters, which could keep them from crashing into a planetary body but not much else.   Chakotay sat beside B’Elanna, going over the list, wondering where on earth he should start, where he could start.

           “Chakotay”, B’Elanna called, getting his attention away from the PADD in his hand.  “Navigation doesn’t seem to be in as much of a mess as the others.  You might be able to get it working so at least we’d have some control over where we’re going.”

           “B’Ela,” he began in frustration.  “I can do basic repairs but this – I don’t know.”

           “Give me the tricorder.”  She aimed it at the errant console, studying the readings.   “Now, let’s see.  If you start by cross-circuiting here and here,” she brought up a schematic of the appropriate circuits on a PADD, “then, you should be able to get enough power to these relays here – you see what I mean?”  She looked up at him.

           He ran a hand over his chin unconsciously in a nervous gesture that she knew very well.   “Yeah,” came hesitantly.

           She scowled.  “You don’t sound too sure.  Look, it’s quite straightforward really.  Instead of allowing the power to follow the normal paths, we’re just giving it a shortcut.   See?”  At his look of incomprehension, she gave up trying to explain her reasoning and cut to the chase.   “Never mind.  Just do exactly as I tell you.  This will work, trust me.”

           It was a long and laborious process, but after nearly an hour, Chakotay had managed to get the navigation system more or less operational.   He set a course for the rendezvous point with Voyager and engaged the autopilot so he could turn his attention to the next priority – communications.

           Following a similar procedure, they eventually determined that the entire communications system was a shambles, but – with a little luck and a lot of juryrigging, they might be able to send out a distress signal.   Chakotay set to work again, trying to follow B’Elanna’s convoluted instructions as carefully as possible.

           It wasn’t easy.   What came so instinctively to her was nearly incomprehensible to him.   But finally, nearly two hours later, he was able to announce that he thought it might work.   There was only one way to find out.

           Chakotay activated the system and gently pressed the pad that would send out a distress signal.   He watched the console carefully, noting that the panel indicated he had been successful.

           “I think we’ve done it, B’Elanna.   The markers are coming up green – it should have gone out…”

           He was interrupted by a groan from her even as the console shorted out again in a spectacular display of sparks.   “Damn!” he swore, “that’s it!  It’s fried again!”

           B’Elanna tried to answer but found herself gasping for breath.   Chakotay looked around when she didn’t reply to find her face contorted in pain.   At once, he fell to his knees beside her, hand reaching for the medical tricorder.

           “What is it, B’Ela?   Where does it hurt?”

           “My back – it’s really aching.   I…ohhh!” she broke off as the muscles spasmed again.

           Chakotay scanned her carefully, stared at the readings, reset the tricorder and ran it over her again very slowly.   Then he sat back on his heels, biting his lip.   B’Elanna’s eyes remained glued to his face, reading the worry on his face even though he tried to hide it.   She was getting a very nasty feeling about this, a feeling confirmed as he remained silent, staring at the tricorder.

           “Chakotay?” she murmured, her eyes wide with fear.  “Am I in labour?”

           His eyes went to her face, taking in her nervous expression.  He leaned forward to grip her hand.  “Yes, B’Ela, you are.   But it’s early yet. Surely the ship will find us before the baby comes.”   ‘God, I hope so!’ he added silently.

           He moved to sit down behind her, gently massaging her back, easing the rigid muscles.   “Does that help?”  he asked softly.

           “Oh yes, that’s much better.”   She peered at his face over her shoulder.  “Chakotay, what are we going to do?”

           He could hear a frightened note in her voice, something he would never have expected from her.    She was tensing again; he knew he had to keep her as calm as possible.

           “Sweetheart, if we have to, we’re going to deliver your baby.”

           “Have you ever done that?”

           “No, but I’ve seen it happen.   I was present when my sister’s son was born, I know what to do.”  He tried to inject a note of confidence into his voice.  “I think the ship will find us in plenty of time.   Concentrate on relaxing your body, B’Elanna, as much as you can.”

           She nodded and lay back on the floor, letting his hands soothe the ache, biting her lip as she thought of Tom.   She should have listened to him, instead of losing her temper.   She caught her lower lip in her teeth to stop herself from crying out as another spasm shot down her back and through her abdomen.   They were getting stronger.
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           Unfortunately, the shuttle’s distress signal was garbled almost beyond recognition by the time it was received by Voyager during gamma shift.   The captain and Tuvok, with Tom Paris piloting, had taken a shuttle to the surface to complete negotiations for supplies, negotiations which had taken longer than expected and which had resulted in their staying overnight on the planet.

           The relief ops officer was unable to decipher the message at all and, assuming it wasn’t important, put it aside to be dealt with when she had a moment to spare.    Unfortunately, a series of sensor glitches, which eventually turned out to be related to the fried relays on deck fourteen, kept her well occupied for the remainder of her shift.   It was only when Harry Kim came to relieve her that the officer remembered to mention that an indecipherable message had been received several hours earlier, but she hadn’t had time to do anything about it.

           Since the relays had finally been repaired and sensors were once again operational, Harry took it upon himself to attempt to figure it out.

           It wasn’t easy.   He tried algorithm after algorithm, decompiling and recompiling, picking away at it.  Ever so slowly, he began to make some sense out of it.   However, nearly an hour had passed before he realized that what he was looking at was a signal from Chakotay’s shuttle and that they were in trouble.

           At once, he alerted the away team on the planet.  “Kim to Janeway.”

           There was a moment of silence before she responded, her tone bordering on impatient.  “Yes, Harry?”

           “Captain, we’ve received a distress call from Commander Chakotay.  It’s short and badly distorted, so I can’t tell you any more.”

           Harry could hear Tom’s exclamation through the captain’s commbadge before she replied.  “All right, we’ll wrap up here and be on our way at once.   Have the ship ready to depart as soon as we arrive.  Janeway out.”

           On the surface, Janeway looked at Tom whose face had gone paper-white.   She hoped he would be able to hold together, and placed a hand on his arm for reassurance.  Behind her, she could hear Tuvok rapidly explaining the situation to their hosts.   The governor approached her and offered his sympathies and whatever help they might need.    She thanked him, adding that they must return to their ship immediately in order to initiate a search – they would return as soon as they could.

           Within minutes, they were hurrying to the shuttleport, Tom forcing himself to concentrate on the immediate task of returning to Voyager as quickly as possible.     The other two were barely seated when he engaged thrusters, lifting off then slamming the controls to maximum when the shuttle was barely clear of the surface.
 
           On the ship, Harry had issued orders at once to engineering to have impulse and warp engines standing by, then laid in a course for the rendezvous point and checked that long-range sensors were extended to maximum. He remained in the captain’s chair, waiting for the shuttle from the planet, unable to think of anything else he could do.     Despite his efforts to remain focused on the job at hand, worry and fear slid through his mind.   They had to be all right, they just had to be.

           It seemed like forever, although in fact it was about thirty minutes, before he finally received word from Tom that he was approaching the ship.   Very shortly after, the shuttle secure in the bay, the away team hurried for the bridge.

           The ‘lift doors had barely opened to let them through before the captain was making for her chair as Tom hurtled towards the helm.   Harry was still reporting that he had already set a course for the rendezvous coordinates even as the captain was issuing orders to break orbit and get underway at maximum warp as soon as they had cleared the solar system.    She glanced over at him, then got up to join him at the ops console.

           “Let’s hear the message, Harry,” she ordered, knowing Tom was listening.

           Kim replayed it.    “I’ve cleaned it up as much as I can, Captain,” he announced.  “This is what it sounded like originally…”  They all concentrated on the garbled fragments, only able to understand a syllable or two.    Harry’s fingers flew over his console.  “And this is what I was able to get in the end.”

           Now the listeners could clearly discern Chakotay’s voice, sounding strained and still filled with static.  “…to Voya…power loss…labour”.   They stared at each other, stunned, waiting to hear anything else.

           Janeway looked up.  “That’s it?” she asked.

           “Yes, Captain.   I couldn’t get any more from it, there isn’t any more.”

           “When did it come in?”

           “Several hours ago.   Jenkins, who was on ops during gamma shift, didn’t realize what it was.   She was working with engineering at the time on the sensor problems and put it aside to deal with later.   It took me nearly an hour to figure out what it was.   That’s when I contacted you.”   He added quickly, “Captain, Jenkins feels very badly that she didn’t realize how important it was.
 
           Janeway shrugged.  “What’s done is done.   How long until we reach the rendezvous?”

           “It will be close to eight hours.”

           She stepped down towards the helm, letting her hand rest on Tom’s shoulder.   He glanced up at her, his eyes tinged with fear, almost afraid to voice the question they were all thinking.   “Do you think he meant B’Elanna has gone into labour?”

           Janeway patted the tense shoulder.  “I don’t know, Tom, but I’m sure they’re all right.”

           She stood beside him for a few more minutes, letting her presence and the warmth of her hand reassure him, before returning to her seat.
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           On the drifting shuttle, B’Elanna was entering the final stages of labour.   The contractions were almost continuous now and Chakotay knew that there was very little hope that Voyager would arrive before the baby did.

           Over the last few hours, he had tried to make her as comfortable as possible, removing her uniform trousers and boots and loosening her jacket and turtleneck.    So far, she had remained fairly calm, but he knew that the pain of being in labour as well as her embarrassment at having to allow him to strip her was not helping her to relax as much as she needed to.   There had been a particularly bad moment when he had suggested she use the toilet.   She had stared at him in astonishment before turning away, snarling that she was fine.   He had been forced to remind her that it was better to empty her bladder now than have it happen unexpectedly in the middle of the birth.

           She had gritted her teeth, knowing that he was right and that she would need his help.   “God, Chakotay, I hate this!  It’s so embarrassing!”

           “B’Elanna, I think we know each other well enough not to let something that is perfectly natural get in the way.   So you have to pee – big deal.”

           She sighed.  “I know, it’s just…this isn’t at all how I expected it to be.”

           “It isn’t what either of us expected, sweetheart, but we’ll get through it.   Childbirth is a messy process, you know, but the end result is worth it.  More than worth it.”  He glanced down.  “All done?”

           “Yeah…ohhh!”  she groaned.  “Oh god, Chakotay, that was a bad one!”

           “Come and lie down again.  I want to get you as comfortable as possible.   I don’t think it will be much longer.”

           “Whoever said Klingon childbirth was a long process…ohhh!…doesn’t know what they’re talking about!…oww!”

           Very carefully, Chakotay eased her back down onto the blankets.  He settled her as well as he could, then scanned her again.    “B’Elanna, can you try to relax?   It won’t hurt as much if you can breathe rhythmically, try to control the pain instead of fighting it.”

           The look he got for that suggestion left no doubt in his mind what she thought of his idea.   However, after snarling various unintelligible remarks in Klingon at him, she allowed him to coax her into panting shallowly, and even admitted between gasps that it did seem to help.

           After another half hour, Chakotay moved down to crouch at her feet, tricorder in hand.  “B’Ela,” he called, “I’m going to spread your legs, I need to see how you’re doing.  Okay?”

           She groaned again, then gasped out “yes”.  Very carefully, he opened her legs as wide as possible, bending her knees, trying to be as gentle as he could.

           “Don’t push yet, keep panting, that’s it.   You’re doing fine, sweetheart…”

           B’Elanna moaned.  “I need…to push!  Chakotay!  I…ohhh!”

           “Hang on, not yet, not yet.   I can’t see the top of the head…good girl!  That’s it, hang on…just a little longer.”

           “Chakotay!!” she wailed, as another contraction ripped through her.

           “There!  I can see it!  All right, on the next one, push as hard as you can!  That’s it, come on, harder!  Good girl!  Keep panting!  Good girl!  Okay, here we go.  Push!!”

           B’Elanna bore down with every ounce of strength she had and pushed mightily, her breath expelling in a great rush from her lungs.

           “Good, good, she’s coming!   Do it again, as soon as you feel the contraction starting.   Push with it, work with it.”

           He kept his eyes on her, watching as the opening began to enlarge again.   “Okay, B’Ela.  Now!!  Push!  Hard!  Harder!!  She’s coming!  Come on, B’Ela, again!  I can see almost all her head!”

           B’Elanna barely had time to breathe before the next contraction was on her, forcing her to push yet again.   She screamed as another pain ripped through her, tears pouring down her cheeks.  “Oh godd!  Get it out!  Please!”

           “You’re almost there, B’Ela!   Her head’s out, it’s just the shoulders…come on, there, that’s it!   Push!”

           She clenched her teeth and bore down one last time, forcing out the shoulders, then collapsed back on the blankets, completely exhausted.   Chakotay carefully cradled the infant’s head in one large hand as he gently tugged the torso, easing the legs out of her mother’s body.   He slid his other hand under the little bum, then slipped his finger into the child’s mouth, swirling it around to ensure her airway was clear.

           He turned and carefully laid her down on his jacket, which he had removed earlier, cut the cord with a laser scalpel, then wrapped her tenderly in its folds.   He smiled down at her, then turned to B’Elanna, who lay panting softly.

           “Chakotay?” he heard her call weakly.  “Is she all right?”

           “See for yourself.   Here, let me give her to you, then I’ll help you sit up a bit.”

           He laid the child in her mother’s arms, then moved behind, lifting and supporting B’Elanna’s shoulders.   Together, they gazed down at the baby, marveling at how perfect she was.   Chakotay bent and gently kissed B’Elanna’s hair, then eased out from behind her.

           “I need to deliver the afterbirth, sweetheart.   Just relax as much as you can.   Once it’s out, then I’ll get both of you cleaned up.”

           Even as he spoke, her body heaved and the afterbirth slid out.  He caught it in a piece he had ripped from a blanket, then wrapped it carefully and stowed it out of the way.

           He found the emergency water container and with the remainder of the shredded blanket, slowly and meticulously, cleaned first the baby and then B’Elanna.  When he was finished, he propped her up against the bulkhead and helped her to get the child settled so she could nurse.   Only then did he feel able to sit back and allow a warm contentment steal over him.    He reached out a hand to stroke B’Elanna’s cheek as she encouraged the baby to latch on to her nipple.

           “She’s beautiful, just like her mother,” he murmured.    B’Elanna flashed him a quick smile of gratitude.

           “I don’t know what we would have done without you.  I can’t ever thank you enough.”

           “I’m honoured to have been here and able to help.”

 
                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           The ship flew on, engines straining to maximum and beyond, as the crew waited impatiently.   On the bridge, Harry tried repeatedly to raise the shuttle, but without success.  He wouldn’t admit defeat, however, setting the signal to continue their hails at regular intervals.

           Tom Paris had insisted on remaining at the helm, despite the captain’s reservations about his current state of mind.    She reasoned to herself that maintaining their usual routine might help him cope with the stress, but as the hours passed, she began to rethink her decision.   He was making mistakes – overlooking simple things, forgetting basic procedures, questioning orders.

           Finally, after he nearly bit Joe Carey’s head off for suggesting that they slow down slightly so the engines wouldn’t overheat, Janeway had had enough.

           She rose to her feet and stepped down to the helm, keeping her voice low so the rest of the bridge crew wouldn’t overhear.  “Tom, step into my ready room, please.”

           He ignored her.  Completely.   For nearly ten seconds, the captain stood there, too stunned to move.   She knew he’d heard her, but he behaved as if she didn’t exist.

           She raised her voice slightly.  “Tom, you heard me.  Come with me.”

           Still nothing.

           That did it.   Her back straightened as her chin came up.

           “Mr. Paris!”  Her voice was loud in the near-silence of the bridge.   The entire crew knew something was wrong.  “My ready room!  Now!”

           Slowly he swung around to meet her glare as if debating whether to defy this order, too, then rose to his feet.   She turned and marched across the command level, then down the two steps to the ready room door.   Tom trailed along in her wake, clearly reluctant to follow.   As the door closed, the crew exhaled in a collective sigh of relief.

           In the ready room, Tom stood at parade rest just inside the door.   Janeway sighed.  He wasn’t going to make this easy.

           “Tom, come here and sit down, please.”  She indicated the sofa.   She was trying to keep her actions as informal as possible.

           He stepped up slowly, then sat, his back rigid.

           “Tom,” she began in a low tone of voice.  “I know you’re worried, we all are, but you’re letting it get to you.   You’re not paying attention to what you’re doing and as a result, you’re making mistakes.  I’m going to have to relieve you of duty.   I don’t want to, but you’re no good to me this way.  Do you understand?”
 
           He stared at her, his face even whiter if that were possible, then suddenly leaped to his feet before whirling around to face her, fury radiating from every pore.

           “No good to you?!  How can you say that?!  I’m doing the best I can!  All due respect, Captain, but it’s my wife out there, lost, maybe injured, dying for all I know!   I’m sorry if I can’t be calm and cool like Tuvok!  But I’m trying!  Even though all I can think of is how maybe I’ll never see B’Elanna again, maybe I’ll never get to see our baby at all!”

           He stood in front of her trembling with the force of his emotions.   Janeway stared up at him, fighting back her first reaction of anger.   She stood and went to the replicator, ordering two cups of tea, then returned to the sofa, placing them on the coffee table.

           She kept her voice as calm as possible.  “Sit down and have some tea.”

           “Captain…!”  His voice was strangled.

           “Sit!!” she roared so suddenly, that he was caught unawares and obeyed automatically before he could stop to think about it.

           “That’s better.   Now you will drink this tea and you will listen to me while you do it.”  She handed him the cup and waited until he took a sip.  “Much better.

           “First of all, you are not alone.   You have a lot of friends on this ship, all of whom are worried about you and B’Elanna.    Second, I may not be able to understand exactly what you’re feeling, but my best friend is out there, too, as well as my chief engineer.   And I’m just as worried about them as you are.  Third, we mustn’t give up hope.   Just because they haven’t responded to our hails doesn’t mean they’re dead – there could be a dozen reasons why they’re not transmitting!   Let’s not jump to conclusions just yet, okay?”

           He looked at her, nodding his head, his shoulders slumping.   She moved closer to him, covering his hand, as she placed her cup on the table.   He tried to smile but wasn’t very successful.   Sighing, she put her arm around his shoulders, rubbing them lightly.   His head drooped to rest against hers as he let his eyes close.   Janeway breathed a silent sigh of relief.   He would be all right now.

           It was only a minute later that he lifted his head and smiled tiredly, then got to his feet.  “Thanks, Captain, for the tea and the pep talk.  Permission to return to duty?”

           She smiled up at him and nodded.  “Granted.”
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           Time passed slowly on the shuttle.   B’Elanna dozed a bit once the baby closed her eyes.  Chakotay scanned them both every half hour, his face falling into a frown as the tricorder confirmed his suspicions.   B’Elanna was recovering quickly, all things considered, but the child was a different story.  Nearly two months premature, she was unbelievably tiny, weighing only a little over two pounds.   He was concerned that without the use of the special incubator in sickbay, she would not survive much longer.    Even tucked in tightly against her mother, her body temperature was fluctuating downward.  If it dropped much lower, she would be in serious trouble.

           He looked around the shuttle in a vain hunt for more blankets before remembering the environmental suits.   It took only a moment to haul one out and cut off a sleeve.   He wrapped the child tightly in a bit of blanket, then slid her into the sleeve, making sure one end was tucked tightly around her feet.   There, that would keep her warm anyway.

           B’Elanna had woken up as he shifted the baby around – wordlessly she watched him work, then reached for the tricorder and scanned the life support panel.

           “Chakotay?” she spoke in a low tone, her voice hoarse.  “The temperature’s dropping, isn’t it?”

           He bit his lip, then looked into her eyes and nodded.  “Yeah, B’Ela, it is.   I want you to put on the other e-suit – it should keep you warm.  I’m going to see what I can do about repairs.   I’d like to get something working around here!”

           She could hear the frustration in his voice and wished again that she could work on it herself, but it was still too soon.   Even the movement necessary to pull on the suit left her exhausted and dizzy.

           “I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused and now I can’t even help,” she whispered.

           He leaned over her and gently kissed her.  “You’re no trouble, B’Ela.  Don’t give up yet – they’ll find us, I know they will.”

           “But what if they never got the distress signal?”  He could hear the fear rippling through her voice and knew she was afraid for her child.

           “We just have to hope they did.   Be optimistic, sweetheart.   You have to believe the ship will come.”

           B’Elanna’s eyes fell to the little bundle she held so close.  “But will they be in time?”
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           “Captain!” rang out Harry Kim’s voice from ops.   “We’ve reached the rendezvous point.”

           Janeway stood and moved closer to the helm, as if peering at the viewscreen might enable her to see better.  “And…?”  she prompted.

           “Sensors show nothing, only empty space.”

           Damn!   She had expected it, but nevertheless, had nursed a faint hope that the shuttle might have made it there.

           “Start backtracking, Mr. Paris, toward the system where the dilithium was supposed to be located.   Impulse only.”

           “Captain…!” protested Tom.

           “I know,” she replied, “but if we continue at warp, I’m afraid of missing something.   We have to be methodical.”

           “Yes, ma’am.”  He subsided unhappily, but made no further objection.

           The minutes crawled by as Harry peered at the sensor readings, trying to pry every scrap of information out of them – anything!   But they remained stubbornly blank.    This part of space was comparatively empty, which meant they should be able to detect something as big as a shuttle, unless it had no power.   Without a power signature or energy readings, it could be a lot harder to find, which was why the captain had refused to take the ship to warp, he reasoned.

           More time passed – an hour went by, then most of another before Harry caught an odd blip on the screen.   He immediately focused on it but couldn’t get anything.   Calling for power to be rerouted to long-range sensors, he bent over his console, his nose practically in it as he peered at the display.

           ‘There!  What was that?’   He concentrated on it for another thirty seconds in order to be sure.   He didn’t want to raise false hopes at this point in time – the crew was edgy enough as it was.

           Yes!   Still there!

           “Captain!   Long-range sensors are showing a concentration of tritanium ahead and to port.”

           “Tom!  Set a course!”  snapped Janeway, but her helmsman was way ahead of her.   The ship swung to the new heading and moved to warp one before she had a chance to issue the next order.

           Within minutes, Harry’s voice rang out jubilantly.  “I’ve got a Federation signature!  It’s the shuttle!”

           “Janeway to shuttle.  Do you read?”

           Silence.

           She bit her lip and tried again.   Still no response.

           She glanced at Harry.   “Are we close enough to try the commbadges?”

           “Not yet, Captain.   It will take a few more minutes.”

           She nodded, then went to stand beside Tom.    “Don’t overshoot them, Tom.”

           “Aye Captain,” he responded, his hands busy as he eased back their speed.   “Try them again – we should be close enough now.”

           “Janeway to Chakotay.   Please respond.”

           Still silence.

           The captain gritted her teeth and prayed silently.   And then…

           “Chakotay here.   Are we ever glad to hear you!”

           “Are you all right?   What happened?”

           “The shuttle was severely damaged by opposing gravitational forces – nearly every system was compromised.   And…” he paused, as if searching for the right words, “you have an addition to your crew.”

           Tom gasped, his head coming around to stare at her.

           “Care to elaborate, Commander?”

           “Not right at the moment.   As soon as we’re in transporter range, we need to beam directly to sickbay.”

           She glanced at Harry, silently asking the question.   His fingers flew over the console.   “Initiating emergency transport...three life signs...transport complete!”

           “Tom!   Go!” she ordered.

           Paris leaped out of his chair, flying up the steps and into the turbolift, as she sat herself down at the helm.    “Tuvok!  Tractor the shuttle into the bay.”

           “Aye, Captain.”

           The green tractor beam shot out to latch on to the helpless vessel, then gently pulled it into the shuttlebay.

           “The shuttle has been secured, Captain.”

           “Very good.   Janeway to Engineering.   Send a team to the shuttlebay to commence repairs on the shuttle.”

           “Aye, Captain,” came Carey’s steady tones.

           She glanced up as a relief pilot came to stand behind her, then rose and handed over the helm.   “Hold position for the moment, Ensign, until I can find out about the dilithium.”

           She stepped towards the turbolift.  “Tuvok, you have the bridge.   I’ll be in sickbay.”

           A moment later, she was gone.

           When Janeway arrived in sickbay, she found a more orderly scene than she had dared to hope.   The doctor was busy, but there wasn’t the air of controlled panic that she normally associated with emergency beamouts.   He was standing beside a biobed in one corner, tricorder in hand.   On the other side of the bed she saw Tom and Chakotay talking quietly but each with a smile.   She breathed a sigh of relief.   Thank goodness – Voyager had made it in time.

           She stepped up to them and found B’Elanna reclining on the biobed, her arms tightly wrapped around a small bundle.    The captain’s voice was warm as she leaned over to peek at the little face.

           “B’Elanna!  How are you?  My goodness, this wasn’t quite what we planned, was it?!”

           “I’m fine, Captain.   I would like you to meet our daughter.”   She held out her arms as she spoke, and Janeway took the child, cradling her carefully.

           “Well, hello there!   Oh, she’s beautiful but so tiny!”

           The doctor chimed in.  “She only weighs just over a kilo, Captain.   But she’ll soon catch up, don’t worry.”

           “She’s all right then?”

           The doctor beamed.  “With my expert care, why she’ll be just fine in no time!”

           Chakotay chuckled softly.   “I think her Klingon genes might play a part, too.   She’s a fighter, just like her mother.”

           “For which I am very grateful, believe me,” added Tom, relief warring with pride.

           The captain carefully handed her to her father.   “Well, congratulations are certainly in order!   She’s perfect!    I think there will be quite a celebration tonight to wet the baby’s head!   Now!   Have you thought of a name yet?  I need to know for my logbook.”

           Tom smiled down at his daughter as he answered.  “Yes, we have, Captain.   Miral Taya Paris.”

           Chakotay looked up in surprise.  “Tom, B’Elanna…thank you.   I’m honoured.”

           “It’s the least we can do,” Tom replied in heartfelt tones.   “I don’t like to think what would have happened if you hadn’t been there.   We’ll always be grateful.”

           Janeway nudged Chakotay.   “Are you done here?  I’ll walk you back to your quarters.   I need to know about the dilithium.”

           “Sure, I’m finished, aren’t I, Doc?”

           “Yes, Commander, you can go.    Mr. Paris, we need to put Miral in the incubator, and then…”

           The doctor’s voice faded as they stepped through the door into the corridor.

           Having discovered that the dilithium readings were very questionable, Janeway was ready to let her first officer retire alone to his quarters to rest, but he asked her in for a cup of tea when they reached his door.

           “Are you sure you’re not too tired, Chakotay?   The report can wait until tomorrow.   You’ve had a long, long day.”

           “Yes, but I don’t feel sleepy yet.   If you don’t mind keeping me company for a bit, I need to unwind.   And you haven’t said anything about the negotiations with the Ba’aldan.   Were you successful?”

           “We were making excellent progress although we hadn’t finished when we finally deciphered your distress signal.   The message was badly garbled – it was several hours before Harry figured out what it was.   Which reminds me…”   She hailed the bridge, ordering a return to the Ba’aldan’s planet.

           Chakotay retrieved two cups of tea, then settled himself beside the captain on the couch.    She continued to fill him in on the state of the ship as well as a detailed description of how helpful and understanding the planetary authorities had been when they’d had to leave so suddenly.

           She stopped talking only when she felt Chakotay’s head slide onto her shoulder – he was sound asleep.    She smiled to herself as she felt him relax against her, his breathing slow.    Without thinking, she eased her arm around his body and turned slightly toward him, letting her shoulder support his head.   Her fingers absently stroked through his hair as she contemplated all that he meant to her.

           In all the uproar over B’Elanna and the baby, Chakotay had been rather forgotten, but she knew that she had come close to losing him – again.   Her mind flashed back to everything that they had been through in nearly seven years and how much farther they still had to go.

           ‘Maybe it’s time,’ she thought, ‘maybe I’m being foolish, pushing my luck.   What if one day he doesn’t make it back, or – almost worse – decides to find someone else?   Once upon a time, he loved me – I wonder if he still does.   Maybe it’s time I found out.’

           She looked down at his peaceful face, relaxed in sleep, then nudged him gently to rouse him.

           “Chakotay – wake up.   It’s getting late.”

           He came to fuzzily, rubbing his eyes as he realized where they were and that he’d drifted off in the middle of what she was saying.  “I’m sorry, Kathryn, I didn’t mean to fall asleep on you.   Guess I’m more tired than I thought.”
 
           She got to her feet.   “Time to say goodnight.   I’ll see you in the morning – there are some things I want to discuss.”

           He yawned.   “Sure.”

           She started for the door, then glanced back over her shoulder.   On impulse, she whirled around, came back to where he was still seated on the couch, and bent over to kiss him gently on his mouth.

           Chakotay sat motionless, too stunned to move until his captain had disappeared out the door.   The swish of its closing galvanized him into motion.    He stood and stared in astonishment, wondering if he had imagined what had just happened.   But no, he could still feel the softness of her lips against his.    She had actually kissed him!   After all these years, when he was least expecting it, Kathryn Janeway had finally kissed him!   Well, well, who would have believed it!

           With a joyous heart and a light step, he slid into bed and lay contemplating the morrow.    Things to discuss, she’d said.    Hmm – the possibilities were suddenly very intriguing.

           He rolled over and closed his eyes.   Tomorrow was going to be quite a day.

 
The End

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