Disclaimer: Regrettably, they all still belong to Paramount/Viacom/CBS, etc.

Rating: PG

In the Beginning

by Mary S.

Delta Quadrant: Day Two

Alone.

Kathryn Janeway stared out the viewport of her ready room at unfamiliar stars, one thought, one phrase, running endlessly through her head. ‘We are alone.’

With a heavy sigh, she returned her attention to the PADD in her hand. Carey’s initial engineering report, although a textbook version of what a Starfleet report should be, was not optimistic. While the engines had, for the most part, survived Voyager’s sudden transition to the Delta Quadrant intact, the engineering crew had not. The chief engineer plus eight of his staff had all been killed instantly when several consoles exploded simultaneously. She could add them to the growing list of dead – first officer, doctor, nurse, as well as some thirty more.

‘Alone’ ran the refrain over and over again. ‘All alone, with no help, no replacement crew, no one at all!’

The PADD slipped from her fingers as she gasped in sudden terror at the appalling predicament she faced. What had she done, what had she been thinking?! To destroy their only way home! Raw fear crawled through her gut, up her throat, threatening to suffocate her.

‘Breathe!’ snarled the voice of training, engrained into her psyche. ‘You’re a Starfleet captain! You don’t give in to fear! Breathe!!’

With a mighty gasp, she inhaled, collapsing back in her chair as air filled her lungs, allowing oxygen to clear her brain. With every ounce of willpower left to her, she forced back the fear, pushing it away until she could lift her head to gaze out the viewport once more.

She would not give in. Alone they might be, seventy thousand light years across the galaxy, but she would not succumb to defeat. Whatever it took, whatever sacrifice she had to make, somehow she would get this ship home.

The door chime sounded, abruptly forcing her mind back to more immediate matters. “Come!”

The door slid open to admit Lieutenant Tuvok, now her closest ally on the ship.

Calmly, he walked to stand in front of her desk and proffer a PADD. “The daily report, Captain.” His voice, as always, was neutral and yet Kathryn’s trained ear could distinctly hear a note of censure. Her eyebrows rose ever so slightly. “And?”

“In the past twenty hours,” (‘since our arrival,’ she silently added), “there have been a number of…incidents. Five, to be precise.”

“What sort of incidents?”

“Heated arguments between the two crews leading, in several instances, almost to fisticuffs.” Now the censure was more obvious.

“Fisticuffs!” Kathryn heaved a sigh and relaxed into her seat. “I suppose it’s inevitable given our circumstances, but I was hoping for more enlightened behaviour.” She reached for the PADD and glanced through it quickly before looking up at him. “Is Chakotay aware of these…incidents?”

“Indeed, Captain, he was present at three of them.” Tuvok’s head inclined marginally. “It was because of his direct intervention that they did not escalate into full-scale brawls.”

Kathryn pursed her lips. “Really! Well, I suppose we should give him credit for trying to keep a lid on things.” The mention of Chakotay reminded her of a difficult topic she needed to raise. “Tuvok, there’s another matter I want to discuss with you. I need a first officer. Normally, that duty would devolve to you, as next in the chain of command. However….” She paused then rose to her feet, making her way around the desk to pace slowly across the room. “These are very unusual circumstances. In order to properly run the ship, we need the Maquis. And to me, it makes sense to offer the position of first officer to their leader, as a gesture of good faith and willingness to cooperate.”

Abruptly, she paused before turning to stand in front of him. “What do you think?”

Vulcan brows shifted into a very slight frown. After several seconds’ silence, Tuvok replied, “It would be a – logical – choice.”

“But are you comfortable with it?”

“Captain.” His voice held a wealth of reproach. “Whether or not I am ‘comfortable’ is irrelevant. You must make the decision that is in the best interests of the ship.”

Again she sighed heavily. “I’m sorry,” she whispered after a moment.

“Do not be,” he hastened to reassure her. “You are quite correct in your assessment of Chakotay. Not only would such an appointment reassure the Maquis and make them more cooperative, but his experience as a Starfleet officer and his abilities as a leader are strengths which we will need on the journey before us.

“In the weeks in which I have served under him, I have come to respect him a great deal. He is resourceful, flexible in his thinking, with superior tactical skills.”

Tuvok’s unexpected commendation made Kathryn blink. She had come to much the same conclusion based on her study of Chakotay’s intelligence file but to hear such an accolade from a Vulcan was high praise indeed. Her eyes narrowed slightly. “Faults?”

“By nature, he is a man of compassion which at times, leads him to be too trusting. The ease with which I was accepted into his crew is a case in point.”

Pondering his words, she turned away to resume pacing. “Hopefully, he will trust us.”

But Tuvok was skeptical. “Under the present circumstances, I would not expect it. He is not a fool, Captain.”

Her eyes flew to his. “No, I suppose not.”

Several moments of silence passed as Kathryn contemplated Tuvok’s words.

“Is there anything else?” he inquired gently when she showed no sign of speaking.

“What? Oh! No, nothing else. Thank you for your insight.” Her face broke into a grateful smile. “I’m so glad to have you here, Tuvok, I’ve missed your advice.”

“Thank you, Captain,” he replied, as unruffled as ever but she could tell he was pleased. Swinging around, he strode out the door, leaving Kathryn to once again stare out at the unfamiliar stars.

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

Nervous and edgy, Chakotay paced slowly across the cargo bay. Around him sat his crew, some thirty-five people, all that was left to him of the Maquis rebellion. The DMZ – gone. His ship – gone. The few possessions he’d had – almost all gone. Only his medicine bundle and medicine wheel had survived, thanks to B’Elanna Torres, who had snatched them out of his cabin during her dash to the transporter pads. And to top it off, here they were, prisoners on a Starfleet vessel.

Never mind that the vessel was currently located on the far side of the galaxy from the Alpha Quadrant. Never mind that the crew of this ship had no backup and had lost a third of their people.

What the hell had he been thinking?! To sacrifice his ship, to willingly hand over his crew and himself as prisoners without even trying to resist. All because some indefinable quality in this Starfleet captain had instantly brought him to her side, as if she’d bewitched him. That must have been it because he couldn’t imagine why else he would have been so stupid as to throw himself on her mercy. Some mercy!

Now they were locked down in the cargo bay which most likely would be their home for the next seventy-odd years. He snarled softly. What the hell had he been thinking?!

The sound of the door opening caught his attention. A security officer entered and approached him. “Sir, Captain Janeway wishes to speak with you.”

Chakotay stared at him. “Why?” he demanded.

The man shrugged. “I don’t know, sir.” He paused, obviously not wanting to force the issue. “Please, sir, would you accompany me?”

Shaking his head, Chakotay followed the officer through the door. For a guard, the man was unusually polite.

Arriving at the corridor entrance to the ready room, the officer pressed the chime before stepping back, indicating that Chakotay should enter first.

Captain Janeway rose from behind her desk, clasping her hands firmly together to hide her sudden nervousness. “Mister Chakotay, thank you for coming.” She nodded at the officer. “Wait outside, please, Andrews.”

“Yes, Captain,” he replied before disappearing through the door.

Janeway moved to the replicator. “Can I get you anything?” she asked, hesitating before placing her order, hoping like hell that Chakotay didn’t pick up on her skittishness. What was the matter with her?! She didn’t usually react this way to a handsome face.

“No, thank you.” Chakotay straightened to stand with his hands at his sides. Of their own volition, his eyes slid over her trim form, coming to rest on the thick hair piled neatly on her head. ‘She has long hair,’ leapt the thought into his head. A few tendrils had escaped, framing her face, softening it slightly. ‘How long, I wonder? And what does it look like loose…?’ With a quick shake of his head, he pushed aside such thoughts. This was no time to be speculating on the physical attributes of a woman who was still his enemy, no matter how attractive she was. Time to go on the offensive. “May I ask why you’ve had me brought here?” he asked bluntly.

Holding the cup, Janeway had moved to sit on the couch, gesturing to him to join her. “First, I wanted to thank you for saving my ship,” she answered. “If you hadn’t sacrificed your vessel as you did, most likely we’d all be dead by now.” Her eyes gazed steadily at him. “I’m very grateful.”

Her gentle words made him relax.

“Please,” she continued, “won’t you sit down?”

Silently, he stepped forward to the couch then sat carefully, his body rigid.

Inwardly, Kathryn sighed. What a contrary, stiff-necked man! This wasn’t going to be easy but she was determined to win him over. “I was hoping that now we have a little breathing space, we might get to know one another better.” Her hand gestured at their surroundings. “In a more informal atmosphere.”

Despite his earlier animadversions, Chakotay found himself beguiled once again. The realization made him frown. “To what end, Captain?”

His hard tone, bordering on unfriendly, startled her, making her recoil slightly. “We’re going to be shipmates for a long time,” she began, her tone conciliatory. “It seems to me we should make some effort to get along, don’t you think?” What was the matter with him? What had she done or said that had so obviously upset him?

Realizing how truculent he was sounding, Chakotay made a visible effort to relax. After all, it wasn’t her fault…. His train of thought jumped. In fact, it was her fault. If she hadn’t destroyed that damned array, and he hadn’t let her, they might all be back in the Alpha Quadrant by now. ‘Yes, and still prisoners on this ship!’ jeered his inner voice.

She was speaking again. “…and my hope is that we can unite our two crews in the common goal of getting home. To that end, since this is a Starfleet ship, I hope you will consider wearing the uniform that will indicate your acceptance and compliance with Starfleet regulations.”

For a moment he stared at her before abruptly getting to his feet. “No.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me.” His voice was defiant. “We may have to cooperate in the effort to get ourselves back to the Alpha Quadrant, Captain, but I’ll be damned if I put on a uniform that signifies only betrayal to me and my crew!” Turning on his heel, without another word, he strode through the door, motioning to Andrews on the other side to follow him.

For nearly a minute, Kathryn remained seated on the couch, her mind a maelstrom of confused thoughts but her pondering produced no answers. She had no idea why all of a sudden, he’d become so angry. Finally she stood and made her way back to her desk. She still had a lot of work to do and no time to worry about the attitude of a recalcitrant Maquis. The way things stood now, if he disliked Starfleet so much, she was forced to wonder why he’d bothered to save them yesterday.

Picking up another PADD, Kathryn tried to immerse herself in a supply inventory but despite her efforts, her thoughts kept straying back to Chakotay. If only she could understand the reason for his abrupt change of mood. One thing she knew for certain – temper tantrums had no place on a journey such as they were facing. Like it or not, Chakotay and his people would simply have to conform, and if they refused? Well, if push came to shove, they would be given a choice of either cooperating or spending the rest of their lives in the Delta Quadrant on a planet of their choice.

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

The following morning, after a sleepless night spent trying and failing to find a way to avoid using Maquis in her crew, Kathryn was forced to face the obvious. Like it or not, she didn’t have enough officers to safely crew the ship. On a journey such as theirs, losses would be inevitable but if she lost too many personnel, the Maquis wouldn’t be the only ones taking up permanent residence out here.

Exhausted from lack of sleep as well as the constant pressure of too many life-altering decisions to be made, she was presently existing almost solely on coffee to keep her awake. As she became more and more worn down, the demons of terror and fear were creeping closer and closer to the surface of her consciousness, just waiting for the moment when she let down her guard. She couldn’t go on this way much longer; she knew she had to have help.

As if in answer to her unspoken prayer, the door chime sounded.

Much to her surprise, the door slid back to reveal Chakotay accompanied by a security officer. For a few seconds, she stared at him almost blankly before inviting him in, nodding to the officer to wait outside. Even as exhausted as she was, she could feel the pull toward him, although this time, it was muted, allowing her to ignore it more easily.

As Chakotay moved to stand in front of her desk, she tried to assess his mood, but her brain was simply too foggy. “Yes?”

“I’ve, uh, come to apologize, Captain,” he stated baldly.

His flat statement caught her completely off-guard. “You have?”

“Yes. I wasn’t in a very good mood yesterday–”

(‘That’s an understatement!’ she thought.)

“–but,” he was still speaking, “that was no reason to take it out on you.” He hesitated as if not sure how to continue. His feet took him across the room and back again as he ran his hand through his hair. “The last few days have been difficult, to say the least….”

“For all of us,” she reminded him gently.

He had the grace to blush. “True. Anyway, I’m sorry I was so abrupt.” His eyes slid up to her face as if gauging whether she would accept his apology. He found himself inordinately anxious that she do so.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Kathryn relaxed in her seat and smiled warmly. “Apology accepted. Let’s put it behind us.” She gestured to the chair, relieved to see him settle comfortably into it. “Actually, the timing of your arrival couldn’t be better. I have a proposition for you.”

Chakotay cocked his head, wondering at her choice of words. “Oh?” Just what exactly did she have in mind?

“As I imagine you’re aware, Voyager lost a lot of her crew when we were pulled into the Delta Quadrant. I’ve been going over the numbers but there’s no way around it. I need you and I need your people if we’re to have any hope of getting home.”

He started to speak but she waved him silent.

“I’m offering you the position of first officer on this ship, and to each member of your crew, I will offer whatever position they are best suited for.”

Chakotay sat, stunned. Early on, he’d known Janeway would have to make such a proposal to his crew but never in his wildest imaginings had he expected her to ask him to be her second in command. “What about Tuvok?” he blurted out when he found his voice.

The captain shrugged. “I’ve discussed the matter with him and he’s willing to accept your authority.”

“And the rest of your crew? Will they also accept my authority?”

Kathryn’s back stiffened. “They will follow my orders.”

‘Of course they would,’ he reminded himself. ‘They are a Starfleet crew.’

“There’s one condition,” she continued smoothly. “This is a Starfleet vessel. Uniforms are required for all personnel.” Her eyes bored into him.

An awkward silence fell.

Chakotay mulled over the ramifications of what she was requesting. Most of her points he could agree with – it only made sense, after all, for both crews to work together. But the uniform stuck in his craw. He couldn’t do it.

Rising from his chair, he stood looking down at this small, determined woman who was asking so much from him, more than she realized, he was sure. He admired her even when she was exasperating and he thought in time he could like her, but…not yet, notwithstanding the physical attraction between them.

“Sorry,” he replied simply. “I’m willing to cooperate and help wherever needed, but I cannot put on the uniform of an organization that so callously abandoned my home and my people, that betrayed me.”

Although his voice remained soft and his tone reasonable, Kathryn’s hackles rose. Whether he meant to or not, he was challenging her authority. “This is a Starfleet ship,” she repeated, her voice dropping into a growl, “Run on Starfleet rules and protocols. Either put on the uniform or you don’t get the job.”

Forcing down his own anger, Chakotay merely shrugged and turned to the door. “Fine.”

Furious at his intransigence, Kathryn leaped to her feet and charged after him, grabbing his elbow and spinning him around to face her. “Damn it! I need you! Put on the damn uniform and stop behaving so foolishly!”

“No.” His eyes bored into hers as he added, “I’ll leave this ship rather than be forced to wear it.”

“Leave?! But…! Where would you go? Don’t you want to go home?!”

Chakotay nearly burst out laughing. She was so single-minded, so focused on her goal, it hadn’t yet occurred to her that not everyone on Voyager was as keen to return to the Alpha Quadrant as she was. “May I remind you, Captain, that none of the Maquis have any great desire to see the Alpha Quadrant again.”

She stared at him dumbfounded.

“Why should we?” he went on. “The Cardassians have destroyed our homes and murdered our families. For us, there’s nothing left.” And on those words, he turned and walked out the door, jerking his head at the officer, who obediently fell in behind him.

For the second time in two days, Kathryn was left at an impasse. Fuming, she moved to return to her desk and sit down. ‘Infuriating man!’ And far too good-looking for her peace of mind, came the unbidden thought. With a heavy sigh, she reluctantly acknowledged the latent attraction which had been simmering between them since the moment they’d first faced each other on her bridge. Her mind began to wander into dangerous territory – the man had a gorgeous mouth, simply made for kissing. No doubt, he knew very well how to use it, too! And those eyes! – she’d noticed immediately the way they flashed over her when he thought she wasn’t looking….

“Damn!” she swore softly. “I don’t need this on top of everything else! You’re a Starfleet captain, for heaven’s sake, so behave like one!”

Restlessly, she stood again and moved to her replicator, automatically starting to order coffee before remembering she shouldn’t be wasting precious energy on what could be considered an indulgence. But she was so tired, her head hurt, and there were still so many problems…. ‘To hell with it!’ she thought defiantly. ‘This isn’t an indulgence, it’s a necessity of life!’

“Coffee!” she snapped.

Inhaling the comforting aroma, she felt her jangled nerves calm. Sipping slowly, she walked back to her chair and sat down.

As she did, her eyes fell on a PADD listing staffing requirements, headed by the position of first officer. Hmmm. What was she going to do? There was no question Chakotay was by far the best candidate; maybe if she altered her approach, she might yet coax him into changing his mind. Maybe she shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to fill the position just yet.

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

Two days later, on the fifth day after their precipitous arrival in the Delta Quadrant, the captain again called Chakotay to her ready room.

She had spent nearly all the intervening hours since their last encounter either helping Lieutenant Carey in engineering with basic repairs or in her ready room trying to balance all the competing demands for the ship’s remaining limited power reserves. Very little time had been spent on sleep. As a result, while her hair was tidy and her uniform clean, she looked as exhausted as she felt, her face drawn and her eyes lined with weariness.

When Chakotay arrived, he was surprised then concerned to notice that the captain had visibly aged. A wave of guilt swept through him as he realized he had most likely contributed to her worries. He moved to stand in front of her desk, waiting patiently for her to make the first move.

But, exhausted beyond belief, Kathryn was in no mood for diplomatic words or soft-peddling the facts. In her view, it was past time to remind the Maquis, starting with this one, exactly who was in command.

“Mister Chakotay,” she began in a no-nonsense tone, “we need to get this situation sorted out once and for all, so let me be blunt.” Her gaze drilled into him, her expression uncompromising. “On this ship, there are no free rides, so you and your people had better find some way to make yourselves useful. As of now, I am removing the guards from the cargo bay and arranging for quarters. For the most part, the Maquis will be free to move around, although there will continue to be some restricted areas, such as weapons.” Her eyes remained fixed on his face.

For a second, he hesitated, waiting to see if she had finished.

“Well?” she demanded. “What do you say?”

Although bristling at her attitude, Chakotay was careful to keep his tone as non-confrontational as possible. So far, anger had not served either of them very well. “As I’ve stated before, Captain,” he explained patiently, “we have no intention of asking for a free ride. We’re ready and willing to help wherever you need us. And we will abide by whatever restrictions you set in place. Just don’t expect us to wear the uniform.”

“You’ve certainly made your position very clear on that point!” snapped Kathryn before she too forced herself to take a deep breath. She had to calm down; she would achieve nothing with this useless bickering.

Forcing a more neutral tone into her voice, she changed the subject. “I need your assistance in finding places for your crew.”

Breathing a sigh of relief himself that for the moment she was allowing the contentious issue of uniforms to be put aside, Chakotay was quick to produce a PADD. “I’ve been giving some thought to that problem.” He handed it to her. “Here is a list of suggestions for possible assignments.”

As her eyes scanned the contents of the PADD, it struck Kathryn yet again what an excellent exec Chakotay would make. Not only did he have command training but he’d seen considerable service on several Starfleet vessels. She began to wonder if she was being too inflexible about the uniform. After all, there was nothing in the regs or protocols that covered a situation like theirs. Maybe it was time to start stretching the rules a bit.

Watching the various expressions cross her face, Chakotay had a pretty shrewd idea of what she was thinking and began to hope she might come around to his point of view.

Abruptly pulling her thoughts back to the present, Kathryn straightened in her chair. “Thank you, I’ll take these suggestions under advisement.” Her gaze flicked briefly to the PADD before returning to his face. “I don’t see your name on the list. You need a job as well.”

Her tone again raised Chakotay’s hackles. Getting to his feet, he stared down at her angrily. “I already have one, Captain – looking after my crew!”

Before she could reply, he spun on his heel and strode out of the room, leaving Kathryn stunned and off-balance once more. ‘Ohh!’ she cursed silently. ‘That man has to be the most frustrating person I’ve ever met in my life!’

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

After yet another sleepless night spent pondering her limited options, Kathryn bit the bullet and asked to see Chakotay in her ready room. She might find him difficult to get along with, and his physical presence certainly seemed to upset her hard-won equilibrium, but his recommendations for the placement of his crew were well thought out. Obviously, he had expended considerable time on them and except for one, she could find no fault with his suggestions.

Sitting at her desk, Kathryn pondered anew the contrary nature of this man. At one moment, his behaviour was professional and polite, the epitome of a seasoned Starfleet officer. But in a flash, he would become the recalcitrant rebel, argumentative and defiant, unwilling to budge an inch on some minor point of protocol, such as putting on the uniform. In a moment of honesty, she had to admit that on that point, she’d been just as unwilling to compromise as Chakotay.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the chime.

“Come in,” she called, then sat still as the subject of her ruminations walked through the door.

As had happened on almost every previous occasion, the snap of mutual attraction sparked between them as soon as he appeared. And exactly as she had done each time, Kathryn resolutely pushed it aside. ‘Not now, not ever! You have a wonderful man waiting for you at home! You mustn’t give in to momentary lust! Besides, he’s made it quite clear he doesn’t even like you!’

Her eyes flew up to his suddenly, catching him off-guard. In that moment, Kathryn could see a naked hunger in Chakotay’s eyes before he turned slightly away to compose his expression. When he gazed at her again, all signs of attraction and want were gone.

“You wished to see me?” he prompted when she showed no sign of speaking.

“Wha…? Oh, yes!” Quickly, she pulled on her command face before picking up a PADD. “I’m approving most of your recommendations.” She handed him the PADD. “But I do have reservations about appointing B’Elanna Torres as chief engineer. I’m inclined to think Lieutenant Carey would be better suited.”

“Perhaps you should try to know her a bit before arbitrarily dismissing her abilities so quickly. Torres is the most naturally-gifted engineer I’ve ever known.”

“That may be,” retorted Kathryn, “but she also has a terrible temper and no ‘people’ skills whatsoever! The best engineer in the galaxy still needs a team to work with her, and Torres’ management style leaves a lot to be desired.”

“You’re right,” Chakotay conceded, “she does have a bad temper but she is trying hard to control it. If you give her this post, I promise to work closely with her to ensure she is treating her staff properly.”

Kathryn sat back in her chair, pondering his words. He was quite right – Torres was a much better engineer than Carey, with a natural instinct for innovative problem-solving. If only she could be sure her crew would accept her…. Well, it would be one more compromise on an ever-lengthening list. She nodded. “Very well, Torres has the job on a three-month trial. If she demonstrates she can perform her duties satisfactorily and without generating undue complaints from her subordinates, then it’s hers.”

Chakotay bestowed one of his very rare smiles on her. “Thank you, Captain, I assure you, you will not regret it.” He rose to his feet. “If there’s nothing else, I’d like to tell B’Elanna right away.”

“Of course. Dismissed.”

As the door closed behind him, Kathryn reminded herself yet again that in the long term, even the most devastating smile could well mean very little. But, she sighed, the man could certainly charm the birds out of the trees – if he were so inclined. Damn! Cursing the fates in general and her fickle heart in particular, she forced him out of her thoughts and went back to work.

=^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
Chakotay waited until he was alone in the turbolift before succumbing to temptation and hailing his close friend and fellow Maquis, B’Elanna Torres.

“Chakotay to Torres.”

“Torres here.”

“Great news, B’Elanna!” he chortled. “As of now, you’re chief engineer!”

His announcement was met by dead silence for several seconds before she replied, “You’re kidding?!”

“Nope. There is one condition – you’re on probation for three months. But if you can keep your nose clean and prove to the captain that you’re capable of running engineering efficiently without generating complaints from the crew, then the job is yours permanently.”

More silence followed before she replied in a stunned voice. “I…can’t believe…! Chakotay, how did you do it? How did you talk her into giving me…me...!”

“I simply told her the truth, B’Ela. She’s a sensible woman; she can see for herself that you’re the most capable engineer aboard. But,” he paused to emphasize his next words, “you have to control your temper. No throwing hypospanners, no breaking noses. You treat your staff with respect and courtesy, even when they make mistakes, which they will. And you start your new career by making an ally of Lieutenant Carey. If you can do that, then you will have taken a big step towards securing this position permanently. Understood?”

“Yesss.” B’Elanna’s voice sounded uncharacteristically hesitant and Chakotay picked up on it immediately.

“B’Ela, if you don’t think you can do it, if you’re having doubts, then say so now. Don’t wait until we’re in the middle of a battle.”

“No, I don’t doubt I can do the job and do it well. It’s simply…it’s just…it’s…Chakotay, how do I talk to him? What do I say?!”

The lift arrived at deck four, allowing Chakotay to head for Torres’ quarters. Quickly, he chimed for entry. As soon as the door opened, he was entering her living area, looking for her.

B’Elanna appeared from the bedroom. “You didn’t answer me,” she began.

“I got off the lift and I didn’t want to carry on our conversation in public.” He moved to stand directly in front of her, probing deep into her eyes, as if he could see every thought and feeling. “Are you sure you’re up to taking this on? You seem rather hesitant.”

“I can do it, I don’t have a problem there. It’s only…how do I approach Carey? I mean, I didn’t exactly start our relationship off on a very good note by breaking his nose.”

“True. On the other hand, matters can only improve.” He reached for her hand, squeezing it firmly. “Why don’t you ask him for help?”

“Help? What do you mean…help? You know I’m a better engineer.”

“How familiar are you with Starfleet regulations and protocols? Over half your department is comprised of Starfleet officers and this is a Starfleet vessel. I don’t think you can do things the Maquis way.”

Her mouth tightened in a frown. “But I don’t know–!”

“Exactly my point. You don’t know but Carey does. So why not try to kill two birds with one stone? Ask Carey for help with the protocols as well as any little quirks of the ship. You get the information you need and also demonstrate to him that you’re not afraid to ask for advice.”

Slowly, B’Elanna began to nod. “All right, I’ll give it a try.”

“Not only ‘try’, B’Elanna, ‘do’!”

He reached up to pat her shoulder. “You’re going to do a terrific job, I know you will.” On that positive note, he quickly departed, leaving B’Elanna to dwell on the curious ramifications of fate. Chief engineer of a starship! Her! B’Elanna Torres – perpetual loser! Who would have believed it?!

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

As the days became weeks, gradually the two crews settled into a routine as they learned how to work together. Certainly there were more conflicts, but they were mostly of a minor nature, revolving around different approaches to their duties.

To the Starfleet crew, trained to follow procedure as laid down in regulations, the rough and ready methods of the Maquis were appallingly risky. From the Maquis point of view, however, Starfleet was too pedantic, too slow, leaving no room for innovation.

Frequently caught in the middle, Chakotay spent much of his time defusing potential flareups and running interference for Janeway.

As far as the Maquis were concerned, it was only Chakotay’s continued care for their well-being that insured their cooperation. He was able to coax them into following Starfleet methodology even when it didn’t make much sense. As well, his advice and assistance were proving invaluable to Janeway, who was still pretty much an unknown quantity to the Maquis.

For all intents and purposes, Chakotay had assumed the duties and responsibilities of first officer. No official announcement was ever made, yet Janeway’s obvious support for him indicated her tacit consent, earning him the somewhat reluctant obedience of the Starfleet crew. Soon enough, however, his own abilities allayed any residual resentment at his de facto assumption of authority. Very quickly, the ‘fleet crew learned what the Maquis already knew – here was a man willing to listen but not afraid to enforce his orders by whatever methods he deemed necessary.

The only sticking point continued to be the uniform. On that issue, he remained adamant. Following his lead, none of the Maquis agreed to wear it either.

Although it remained a sore subject for her, Janeway had to concede that their survival was more important than their clothing. Like it or not, she was having to adjust her opinions and learn to be more flexible.

However, when some of the Maquis suggested trading a replicator or transporter component for food and dilithium, she put her foot down. Under no circumstances would she allow Federation technology to pass into alien hands. Her uncompromising stance elicited grumbles and complaints from several of the Maquis, notably Seska, Jonas and a few others ready to force the issue.

Chakotay wasted no time making his position clear – in this matter, he supported the captain completely. Very quickly, Maquis grumbling dissipated as cooler heads prevailed.

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

As the two crews grew to know each other better, they began to spend more of their off-duty time together as well. At first, it was only one or two individuals, perhaps sharing a common interest such as music or a particular sport. But gradually, as faces grew familiar, they became accustomed to joining in conversation in the mess hall or mingling casually in Tom Paris’ new holodeck program of a French bistro.

The captain and Chakotay, however, continued to maintain a solely professional relationship. Janeway spent her down time either in the solitude of her quarters or with Tuvok, her only friend on board, while Chakotay associated almost exclusively with his former crew.

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

Over a month into their journey, late one night, Janeway and Chakotay met unexpectedly in the mess hall.

Unable to sleep and out of rations, in desperation Kathryn had been forced to come to the darkened mess hall in search of Neelix’s latest “better than coffee” substitute.

Not long after, on a similar search for a soothing cup of tea, Chakotay wandered in to find the captain sitting silently in a corner, mug in hand as she contemplated the stars whipping past the viewport. Although he didn’t try to hide his arrival, she gave no indication that she was aware of his presence. While he boiled water for tea, he debated whether to join her.

They had little in common besides their predicament, yet he found himself continually drawn to this silent woman. Her strength, her determination, her air of elegant authority, all these qualities intrigued him even as he warned himself that no good could come of a more personal relationship. Or could it? After all, everyone was alone out here, far removed from the usual means of support. All they had was each other….

Giving into a sudden impulse to indulge his curiosity and maybe connect with her on a more personal level, he carried his mug across the room and took the seat next to hers.

At his sudden appearance, Kathryn jumped. “Mr. Chakotay!” she exclaimed, visibly startled.

“I’m sorry, Captain, I thought you heard me come in. May I join you or would you rather be alone?”

With a small smile, she accepted his apology. “No indeed, I’d be glad of some company.” She gestured towards the stars. “My mind was elsewhere.”

“In the Alpha Quadrant, perhaps?” he probed gently, careful to keep his tone casual. Something in her voice and body language didn’t seem quite right but he couldn’t put his finger on exactly what was bothering her.

She nodded, smiling ruefully. A moment later, however, her smile disappeared and she bit her lip hard.

Chakotay’s eyes narrowed as he watched her, his first impression confirmed. Obviously, her thoughts were not happy ones. Again, impulse drove him and he reached to grasp her hand. “Captain, forgive me if I’m intruding, but it’s clear something has upset you. If I can help in some way….” His voice trailed off as she shook her head.

Her eyes dropped to concentrate briefly on their joined fingers before she glanced up at him. In the dim light from the galley, he could just make out the sheen of tears on her face. This woman, so strong in the face of adversity, was crying! Worried now, Chakotay leaned forward, lifting his free hand to brush his fingers across her cheeks.

Her breath caught slightly but she made no other sound, sitting motionless as he carefully wiped her face dry.

His eyes full of concern, he tried again. “Captain, if you’d like to talk, I’m willing to listen. It’s something I’ve gotten quite good at since we arrived in the Delta Quadrant.”

Kathryn stared at him a moment longer before turning away, muttering something unintelligible.

Unable to make out her words, he asked her to repeat them. “It’s not important,” she began before her voice faltered. She swallowed and then, to his surprise, continued. “It’s only that tomorrow…was supposed to be my wedding day and I’m feeling…I don’t know…lonely…lost….” Her voice faded as she returned her gaze to the viewport.

Beside her, Chakotay sat stunned. He knew nothing of her personal life and had no idea she was engaged. “I’m sorry,” he murmured after a moment, knowing how inadequate the words must sound.

“So am I,” she muttered wistfully.

For a few seconds more, they sat silent before Kathryn abruptly rose to her feet. “I, uh, should be going,” she said, obviously now feeling awkward.

However, Chakotay was reluctant to let her return to her lonely quarters. “Would you like to go for a walk?” he asked, also standing.

She looked up at him in surprise. “Walk? Where?”

“In the holodeck. I have a program that helps me relax when I’ve got a lot on my mind. It’s not anywhere in particular, just a combination of places I like. There are meadows and a forest, mountains and valleys. Sometimes I walk for hours, sometimes just a few minutes, but it always makes me feel better.” He glanced down at her. “Would you like to try it?”

For a moment, Kathryn hesitated but she knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway. Why not? A walk might cheer her up and if nothing else, at least she’d have his company to take her mind off her troubles. “Thank you, yes, I would.”

Inordinately pleased that she was willing to join him, Chakotay gave her a dazzling smile, only the second time she’d seen him really smile.

‘Oh my!’ thought Kathryn, ‘that smile is lethal!’

He took her hand and tucked it carefully into the crook of his arm, making her chuckle softly at his old-fashioned courtliness. The man was full of contradictions.

Feeling suddenly absurdly light-hearted, she let him lead her out of the mess hall.

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

To her pleased surprise, Kathryn found Chakotay to be a charming and delightful companion. As they strolled through the program, he explained where each part had originated. The forest was like ones he’d seen on the northwest coast of North America on Earth, the mountains and alpine meadows were similar to the Rocky Mountains but were filled with flowers from his home planet of Dorvan Five.

Soon, Kathryn found herself describing the rolling plains of Indiana where she’d grown up, where the blue skies seemed to go on forever.

Before they knew it, an hour had passed and the computer was announcing that their holodeck time was about to expire.

Reluctantly, Chakotay ended the program then escorted Kathryn back to her quarters.

“Thank you,” she told him, her eyes warm with gratitude. “I enjoyed our walk very much.”

His face creased in another gentle smile. “I’m glad,” he replied simply. “Sleep well, Captain.”

She activated her door as he started to walk away, but she didn’t enter immediately. Instead, on impulse she called to him. “Chakotay, could we walk there again sometime?”

Turning, he nodded, obviously pleased. “Anytime.” Then he strode away along the corridor to his own door.

As each prepared for bed that night, their thoughts ran along similar lines. ‘I enjoyed myself tonight, he (she) is such an interesting person and so easy to talk to. I hope we can spend some more time together. I’d like to get to know him (her) better.’

But before they could repeat their time in the holodeck, fate in the form of Seska intervened.

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

Chakotay watched in mounting horror and frustration as the blue swirl of a transporter beam allowed Seska, clutching a transporter module, to escape from under their noses. Damn! Damn! Damn!

The last few days had been a continuous, unrelenting nightmare. A woman whom he’d trusted implicitly had betrayed him without a second thought, indeed taunted him with her betrayal. A Cardassian! He could still hardly believe it. And he, idiot that he was, had not only allowed her to join his cell but welcomed her into his bed! Oh spirits! What had he done?! The memory of their nights together, joining his body to hers, made his stomach heave and it was all he could do not to disgrace himself even more. How could he not have known? How could he have been so naïve?! First Tuvok, now Seska. When would it end? Was there no one in his crew whom he could trust?!

Such thoughts swirled through his brain, overwhelming him, numbing his reactions so that when Janeway called his name, he didn’t even hear her. Only when she took his arm, physically tugging him towards the door of sickbay did he become aware of her presence. His eyes flew to hers, his expression of horror mixed with one of fury, telling her without words how deeply affected he was by Seska’s actions.

Kathryn was angry, too, incredibly angry, at the way they had all been duped, but mixed in with that anger was a lot of sympathy for Chakotay. No one liked to be humiliated and made to appear the fool, and both Seska and Tuvok had taken advantage of his naturally trusting nature.

With a soft sigh, she called to him and then, when he didn’t answer, took his arm. He had helped her when she’d been miserable and depressed; perhaps, once she’d dealt with the immediate ramifications of Seska’s betrayal, she could do the same for him.

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

However, although her intention was to talk to Chakotay right away, amid attempts to minimize the damage Seska had caused, most of another day passed before Kathryn found any free time. And when she did, several hours after the staff meeting the following morning, he was nowhere to be seen.

“Computer, locate Chakotay,” she ordered when he didn’t answer her hail.

“Chakotay is not aboard the ship,” intoned the computer.

“What?!”

“Chakotay– ” repeated the computer.

“Yes, yes, I heard you!” snarled Janeway. “When did he leave?”

“Chakotay left one hour and forty-two minutes ago,” replied the computer, its tone sounding almost aggrieved in the face of the captain’s anger.

‘Damn the man!’ thought Janeway as she began to pace, her brain quickly analyzing various possible scenarios. However, there was really only one likelihood, she knew. Seska had broken his trust and furthermore, had stolen an essential piece of technology from Voyager, technology that could have far-reaching consequences for the Delta Quadrant. Although Kathryn couldn’t say for sure what Chakotay’s response would be, she knew him well enough to understand that he would feel responsible, even though he couldn’t have predicted what Seska would do. ‘It’s the way I’d feel if a member of my crew had done something like this. And therefore, it makes sense that as her commanding officer, he would feel obligated to make amends the best way he could. But why oh why, didn’t he talk to me first?! Damn you, Chakotay! How could you simply ignore the command structure?! I thought we understood one another better than that!’

Time to start picking up the pieces. She slapped her commbadge. “Janeway to Tuvok. Check for any missing shuttles.”

For thirty seconds, there was silence before Tuvok replied. “One shuttle is unaccounted for, Captain.”

Although his tone remained even, she heard the slight edge of puzzlement in it and hastened to enlighten him. “It would appear Mr. Chakotay has decided to take matters into his own hands.”

Quickly, she hurtled onto the bridge, taking up a stance on the command deck, hands on hips, feet wide apart, as she prepared to issue a string of commands.

“Mr. Paris! Locate any sign of a warp trail leading away from the ship and follow it!”

“Mr. Kim! Assist him.”

“Mr. Tuvok! Explain to me, please, how a shuttle was flown off this ship without anyone noticing.”

“Bridge to Engineering! Ms. Torres, very shortly I’m going to need maximum warp!”

“Yes, ma’am!” was heard from all sides of the bridge as well as the comm system. It was definitely crunch time!

Moving back to her chair, the captain sat down, her expression grim. There was absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that when they caught up with him, Chakotay was going to be facing the full magnitude of the captain’s wrath.

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

By the time Voyager discovered the missing shuttle, floating with its memory core wiped, Chakotay had already been taken prisoner by the Kazon maje who had provided sanctuary for Seska in exchange for the transporter module.

Planning carefully, Chakotay had managed to fool the Kazon into thinking he’d escaped, then had destroyed the module in front of the horrified guards who had discovered his whereabouts just too late to stop him. His mission accomplished, Chakotay had calmly turned his phaser over to Seska and prepared to die. Her features were twisted in fury and he had no doubt she would kill him. Not that he particularly wanted to die but at least he had the satisfaction of knowing he’d successfully outmaneuvered her. It made up a little bit for all the times she had outwitted him.

However, despite her rage, Seska was not quite ready to put an end to his existence. “For all intents and purposes, he’s the first officer on Voyager, even if he isn’t wearing a uniform,” she explained to the maje, “Which means he has the command codes. You might not want to shoot him just yet.”

Although furious that his new toy had been vaporized, Maje Culluh paused in the act of aiming his weapon at Chakotay’s head as his face took on a crafty look. “Hmm. You may have a point.” Waving a hand at the prisoner, he ordered the guards. “Beat him. But don’t let him lose consciousness. We want him to feel the maximum amount of pain before we start the questioning.”

Delighted to be allowed to exact some revenge as well, the guards wasted no time in attacking Chakotay with their fists, feet and whatever else came to hand.

Yet despite their efforts, the prisoner refused to reveal the command codes, which only encouraged them to beat him even harder.

Pummeled into a state in which all he was aware of was agonizing pain in every part of his body, Chakotay was near death when Voyager finally appeared on Kazon sensors.

By now Culluh was so angry at being cheated of his revenge that he immediately ordered his crew to open fire. Too late Seska tried to make him stop and let her negotiate their prisoner’s release, hoping she might salvage something out of what was rapidly turning into a debacle.

Kazon don’t negotiate, Culluh sneered at her, before backhanding her across the face for her impertinence, a blow which sent her flying across the room to land with a thud against the wall.

Before she could come to her senses, Voyager returned fire with maximum phasers and a full spread of photon torpedoes. As a knockout punch, it was most effective.

The Kazon ship immediately lost its shields, weapons and propulsion systems, which allowed Torres to lock onto the only human lifesign on board. In an instant, Chakotay was rescued and Voyager was able to wheel about and go to warp.

With a heartfelt sigh of relief, Janeway settled back into her chair before hailing sickbay to inquire about the condition of her recalcitrant Maquis.

“I am still assessing his injuries, Captain,” replied the doctor primly. “I’ll have a report for you as soon as I’m finished.”

“Very well, Doctor. Janeway out.”

The delay would give her time to decide on a fitting reprimand. At the moment, she was still too upset to think clearly and objectively.

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

A day later, his injuries mostly healed, Chakotay was released from sickbay. Anxious to report on the success of his mission to the captain, he immediately headed for her ready room. What he wasn’t prepared for was her palpable anger at his actions.

“What were you thinking?!” she demanded, barely waiting for the door to close before starting to ream him out. “I thought we’d agreed that this would be a Starfleet ship run on Starfleet protocols, but at the first opportunity, you take off like some…some renegade cowboy...!” By now, she was pacing back and forth across the room, her hands gesturing to emphasize her words.

Shocked at her tone, at first Chakotay was too stunned at her reaction to say anything. He had thought she would be pleased that the module had been destroyed, not fussing over protocols which mostly didn’t apply in their unique situation anyway. As she continued her tirade, Chakotay’s temper began to boil. By the time she stopped to catch her breath, he was as angry as she. However, he fought down his rage and tried to give her an explanation.

“I was trying to do what I thought was best for the ship and crew,” he began mildly enough, making a supreme effort to control his temper. “Seska was my responsibility, my problem. It was up to me to take care of her without endangering the ship. And that’s what I did. I was able to destroy the module before she could integrate it into their systems.”

“What you did was commendable,” conceded Janeway. “But the way you did it was not. By ignoring the command structure, you set a terrible example to the crew and have made my job that much more difficult. We have enough problems to deal with without manufacturing more!”

As far as Chakotay was concerned, that was the last straw. Despite considerable personal danger, he had done his best for the ship, for the crew and for her, and she couldn’t even say thank you?! Spinning on his heel, he headed for the door.

“I’m not finished with you yet, Commander,” snapped Janeway, “so hold on–.”

“But I’m finished with you,” snarled Chakotay, his eyes blazing in fury.

Startled into sudden silence, she made no further effort to stop him as he stalked out the door.

‘Damn the woman!’ ran through his head as he strode, head down, directly into the turbolift. “Deck three.” For weeks now, ever since they’d arrived in this wretched quadrant, he’d done his best to follow her lead, to do things her way – ‘the Starfleet way!’ – he thought bitterly. Lately, he’d entertained the hope that they might actually become friends rather than mere colleagues. He’d even begun to wonder if he should rethink his decision not to wear the uniform. But now, Janeway had shown her true colours. When the going got rough, she was as much a slave to rules and regulations as the worst martinet in Starfleet. He was very glad now he had not given in on the issue of the uniform. It was a small victory but, in the current situation, an important one. He was Maquis – it would behoove him to remember that, and not associate with Janeway more than absolutely necessary.

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

In her ready room, Kathryn sat at her desk, trying vainly to work her way through the stack of reports. But she was still too angry to concentrate properly. Damn the man! What was the matter with him? He’d been a Starfleet officer, and a very competent one too by all reports, so why had he reacted so badly to her reprimand? What had he thought she was going to say? Congratulate him for ignoring discipline and regulations?!

Too restless to sit still, she headed for the replicator. Rations be damned! She needed a cup of coffee in the worst way.

Cup in hand, she stood inhaling the soothing fumes, trying to make some sense of Chakotay’s behaviour. Deep down, she knew she was being too inflexible, too much a by-the-book captain. But as yet, she wasn’t willing to acknowledge that, worried about his safety, perhaps she’d over-reacted. Nor would she admit that she might have tried harder to find a way to deliver a reprimand without angering him.

Her eyes fell on the stack of PADDs on her desk. Well, she didn’t have time right now to worry about his hurt feelings. If he couldn’t take a rebuke like an officer, too bad. Perhaps it was just as well this incident had happened. Maybe she should look on it as a reminder that a captain always had to maintain a certain distance from her crew, that she couldn’t afford to get too close to anyone. No more friendly walks on the holodeck, no more discreetly admiring him when he wasn’t looking. She was a Starfleet captain. She would do well to remember that.

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

Miserable and unhappy, captain and commander spent the remainder of the day holed up in their respective retreats.

Janeway remained in her ready room, immersed in reports which she fought hard to focus on, refusing to give in to the little voice that told her she had been too harsh.

Chakotay, meanwhile, spent hours in his ready room, trying unsuccessfully to go on a vision quest. However, his animal guide flatly refused to appear and finally he was forced to give up. In disgust, he decided to make an early night of it and go to bed, in the hope that so much turmoil would at least have made him tired enough to sleep. His hope, however, proved to be in vain as he lay there hour after hour, unable to find the rest he needed.

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

Three days passed, three days during which the strain between the two became increasingly evident. Whispers among various members of the crew soon led to murmurs and then to outright gossip. The Starfleet crew was too well-trained to let their concern show when on duty but even they couldn’t hide the worry in their eyes whenever the captain was present. The new lines of strain on her face and her clipped tone when speaking told them she was upset, presumably about Chakotay taking matters into his own hands, yet she didn’t withdraw his authority or throw him off the ship. Unsure what to think, the crew waited until they had some direction.

The Maquis, still in disarray after the fiasco with Seska, had no idea what to make of Chakotay’s behaviour. In vain, they waited for some sign from him, some indication of what he wanted them to do, but he continued to carry on as if nothing were wrong, even when everyone could see there was. The way he reacted whenever the captain was nearby told its own tale and yet, no one knew what to do.

Things came to a head one evening during the dinner hour in the mess hall.

Spotting B’Elanna Torres eating her supper, Harry Kim decided to take the bull by the horns and ask her if she knew what was going on and if she had any suggestions about how to fix it.

Like some of the others, Harry felt caught in the middle. He was Starfleet through and through and already adored his captain, yet he had been very impressed by Chakotay, knowing that here was an officer he would be willing to follow. As a bridge officer, he had seen them interact a lot and knew they made an excellent team. Therefore, to watch them now, picking their way around each other so carefully, not talking unless absolutely necessary, made his heart ache. Somehow, there had to be something he could do. But what? B’Elanna was rumoured to be a close friend of Chakotay’s, maybe she could help….

For her part, Torres felt much the same as Harry. She had seen Chakotay in the occasional funk before, but never to this extreme. He had taken the whole business of Seska very badly, she thought, although why he should still be so depressed, she didn’t know. The day before, she had tried to coax him into a game of hoverball but he’d refused almost curtly and walked away, leaving her standing in the middle of the corridor, confused and hurt. This wasn’t like Chakotay. What was going on? As she ate her meal, she puzzled over the question yet again.

“Hi,” announced Harry, standing beside her chair. “Can I talk to you?”

Startled out of her reverie, Torres blinked slightly before nodding. “Sure.”

Harry plunked himself down opposite her and got straight to the point. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed but it seems to me, and to a lot of people, that the captain and Chakotay aren’t getting along very well these days. And I was wondering if you have any idea why?”

B’Elanna stared at him almost in shock. Was he a mind reader? She realized he was waiting for an answer and got her mind in gear. “Uh, no, I don’t.”

“But you have noticed that there seems to be more tension than before?” Harry felt like he was pulling teeth but he was determined to find out if she knew anything.

She nodded slowly. “Yes, I’ve noticed.” Sighing, she contemplated her dinner for a moment before pushing it aside and lifting her head to gaze at Harry. “I wish I could tell you why, but I have no idea. I know Chakotay was upset that a member of the Maquis could be a Cardassian spy but why he’s even more upset now….” She shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Movement off to one side caught her eye and she turned her head to find those sitting at the nearest tables listening avidly. She shrugged again and raised her voice slightly. “Well, do any of you know anything? It sure doesn’t make sense to me. As for the captain, I don’t know her well but she sure doesn’t look very happy.”

“My point exactly,” replied Harry as he too glanced around. “Come and join us,” he invited everyone within hearing distance. “Maybe between us all, we can figure something out.”

At once, tables were pushed aside and chairs shifted around to allow people to move closer together. Voices were raised as a heated discussion ensued. Everyone, it seemed, Starfleet and Maquis alike, had an opinion or suggestion on the topic of Janeway and Chakotay. Even Tuvok, who had been sitting quietly to one side of the room, was drawn into the debate, despite his assertion initially that the pair should be left alone to work out their differences. That suggestion was shouted down at once – obviously, stated one of the Maquis, based on their behaviour around each other, they were incapable of doing any such thing.

Watching the crew discussing their common problem, Kes had an idea. Maybe…. Unobserved, she slipped into the rear of the galley, where she paged first Janeway, then Chakotay, asking each to please join her at once in the corridor outside the mess hall as there was something she thought they should see. Although both expressed surprise that Kes would make such a request, their curiosity was piqued and they each agreed to come immediately.

Arriving almost at the same time, each stiffened at the sight of the other, but before they could retreat, Kes stepped forward and took an arm of each one. “Please, don’t say anything,” she told them, “just come and watch.” Saying no more, she led them through the doors into the mess hall.

Inside, the discussion had expanded until now, everyone present was involved in the debate on what the crew might do to improve the atmosphere of the ship. Suggestions and ideas were flying back and forth, everyone so focused on what they were talking about that for over a minute, no one paid any attention or looked around to see who had come in.

Kathryn and Chakotay stood in the doorway of the mess hall, staring in amazement at the sight of both their crews conversing animatedly together with no sign of animosity.

When she could find her tongue, Kathryn leaned close to Kes and murmured. “What are they talking about?”

Kes smiled. “You.”

“But why?” asked Chakotay, completely mystified.

“They’re concerned about the two of you and they’re trying to find a way to help.”

Stunned by this revelation, the two glanced at each other over Kes’ head.

“I’ve been hoping both crews would find some common ground but this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind,” remarked Kathryn, a little ruefully.

Chakotay smiled slightly. “I agree, but on the other I guess we should be grateful they’ve found anything at all, even if it is…us.”

For a few seconds, their gazes held before Kes spoke softly. “Maybe you should tell them that.” She nodded towards the crowd in front of them. “I think they’d like to hear it.”

By now, the sound of their voices had caught the attention of those sitting closest, who turned around to gasp in surprise at the sight of their captains smiling at them.

In a few seconds, silence fell across the room as everyone turned to stare in amazement at the trio in the doorway.

With another glance at Chakotay, Kathryn stepped forward to face them as he moved to stand at her shoulder. Together they gazed on their people. And for the first time, despite the varied clothing, both felt they were looking at one crew, a unified crew, Voyager’s crew. There was a sense of shared purpose about them that had not been there before.

Turning his head slightly, Chakotay saw a look of surprised relief on Janeway’s face and knew she was thinking the same thing. “Our crew,” he murmured very softly, and she nodded.

From the middle of the large group in front of them, B’Elanna Torres and Harry Kim rose to stand together, their faces wearing identical hopeful expressions.

Kathryn’s smile widened. “Is this a private party or can anyone join in?”

They smiled back warmly. “Come and sit down,” invited Torres.

“There’s a spot right here,” added Harry, shifting to one side, as a path gradually opened up through the sea of bodies.

Within minutes, the two were happily ensconced in the midst of their crew while Neelix scurried into the galley to produce food and drink. Before he did, however, he paused to give Kes a quick hug for her inspiration.

“How do you know it was me?” she asked, as she followed him.

“Because no one else could have,” he answered simply, his face beaming.

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

Several hours later, the impromptu party finally began to break up as everyone headed off to their quarters or to begin their duty shift. From all sides, voices could be heard calling goodnight, saying what a good time they’d had, and hopefully, they could do it again soon.

Side by side, Janeway and Chakotay strolled contentedly along the officers’ deck, both feeling more optimistic than since they’d arrived in the Delta Quadrant.

“I had a great time,” remarked Kathryn, “they’re such a terrific crew. They deserve to get home.”

“That they do,” agreed Chakotay, “and although we’ve still got a long way to go, for the first time, I believe there’s real hope that one day we’ll make it.”

His words made Kathryn pause. “Do you really mean that?” she asked, turning to face him, her eyes bright with hope. “You want to get home, too?”

He reached for her hand as he smiled warmly. “Yes, I do.”

Unwilling to let him see the sudden emotion that was threatening to overwhelm her, she looked down, biting her lip. “Thank you,” she whispered, her voice huskier than usual.

Giving her fingers a brief squeeze, he dropped her hand and nodded towards her door. “Goodnight, Captain. See you tomorrow.”

“Goodnight, Chakotay,” she replied with a brilliant smile as she keyed in her code.

They would both sleep well tonight.

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

The following morning, arriving promptly for the start of her shift, Janeway entered the bridge from the turbolift then stopped in amazement. Every member of the crew, including every Maquis, was dressed in uniform. Her eyes traveled over them, one by one, and she found she had to fight back sudden tears of joy.

“Thank you all so very much,” she told them. “I know it’s not been easy for you and I appreciate this gesture more than I can say.”

“It was a unanimous decision, Captain,” replied Chakotay, standing in front of his chair. “The Maquis decided that since we are all going to be one crew, serving under a Starfleet captain, we should all be dressed the same.”

Unable to speak, Janeway could only nod her understanding as she took her seat.

Beside her, Chakotay settled into his chair, then glanced at her with a warm smile.

Sighing happily, she returned his smile before issuing her favourite order. “Mr. Paris! Set a course for home.”