Disclaimer:  The usual - Paramount owns them!

Rating:  PG-13

Notes:   J/Cers, beware!   This is a C/T friendship story, set shortly after 'Persistence of Vision'.


By Mary S.

           "I'm the Chakotay you want me to be, the one who loves you."

           B'Elanna bolted upright in her bed, her eyes wide and staring, as the memory of Chakotay's voice echoed through her head.    Her heart was pounding, her body tingling with arousal as the provocative words spun about in her mind.    Frantic to still the voice, she covered her face and forced her brain into engineering mode, trying to wrap her thoughts around the latest idea to improve warp propulsion, or how to transfer energy from the holosystems to the replicators during power shortages - anything to get that damned soft voice out of her head!

           For five nights running, she had relived the dream that the Bothan had inserted into her brain.   The one in which Chakotay came to engineering in the middle of a crisis, urging her to leave the ship and come away with him,  the one where he said he loved her, where he kissed her.   It had been so believable, so - real, that she had actually felt his lips moving slowly across her mouth, tugging at her lower lip, as he grasped her tightly and pressed his body into hers.   Even now, the fading memory was enough to make her clench her fists in a desperate attempt to force down her lust.

           Oh lord!   What was she going to do?!

           She had hoped that, with time, the dream would fade, but it hadn't.   She had even talked about it in general terms with the captain the night before last.   But when Janeway had advised facing her thoughts head on and confronting the dream, she'd backed off, using the excuse of an early shift to escape before she gave herself away.   If the captain knew what her dream was about! - well, she couldn't know, no one could, ever.

           She lay back down, trying to force her body to relax, but her mind was fully awake now, possibilities, and ramifications of those possibilities, flying about at random.   She let herself examine the unthinkable - what if she actually pursued the idea of a romance with Chakotay?   Was it possible?   Could they make it happen?  When she got right down to it, did she even want to?

           She sighed and sat up again.   This wasn't going to work - she was too wound up now to sleep.

           She got out of bed and padded into the bathroom, then started to dress.    Might as well go down to engineering and look for something to do; at the very least, she could harass the night shift.    However, even as she began to pull on her turtleneck, she paused as her mind skipped to the holodeck.

           "Computer.   Is anyone using the holodecks?"

           "Holodeck one is in use," came the monotone.   "Holodeck two is presently empty, but is reserved for Captain Janeway at 0600."

           Good.  It was nearly 0400 now.  "Reserve holodeck two for two hours starting immediately.   Authorization Torres two beta five."

           "Holodeck reserved."

           B'Elanna tugged off her uniform trousers, and pulled on a pair of standard-issue shorts and a t-shirt.    A good workout could be just what she needed.

           Less than five minutes later, she stood at the control panel for the holodeck, scanning the list for an exercise program.    Ah, there was one,   Advanced Security Training.   She glanced at the name beside it - Tuvok - and grinned.   Vulcan advanced exercises should be just what she needed to distract her mind.   She entered the code and ordered the program to begin.    The heavy doors slid open to show her a large airy room, filled with all kinds of exercise paraphernalia.   There was equipment here from a lot more worlds than just Vulcan, she was sure.

           She walked to the nearest one, a set of parallel bars, and swung herself onto them.

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

           In holodeck one, Commander Chakotay sat cross-legged on the edge of a mesa overlooking a deep canyon in northern Arizona.    The sky was glowing with the last of the twilight, faint tendrils of cloud tinged with orange floating far off over distant mountains.   Before him lay the contents of his medicine bundle, his hand still resting on the akoonah, although he had finished his vision quest.   His eyes gazed forward blankly, focused inward on what his animal guide had told him.

           Ever since his experience with the Bothan, Chakotay had been a troubled man.    He was having difficulty believing that the dream he had been shown could possibly have any factual basis, either in reality or his own subconscious.    In desperation, he had finally sought out the most peaceful place he knew, a place he had recreated sometime ago on the holodeck, and settled down to get some answers from his animal guide.

           However, instead of answers, his questions had only led to more questions.   He never knew if his guide was deliberately being enigmatic in a vision quest, or if she honestly didn't know, but as had happened before, he'd received no clearcut resolution.    She had thrown every question, every demand, right back in his face, forcing him to search himself for what he needed to know; he had come out of the quest as uncertain as when he'd entered it.

           This time, he had become so frustrated, he had openly berated her, accusing her of toying with him.   She had seemed to laugh in response, her yellow eyes gleaming as her tongue lolled out of her open mouth.    Then, without a sound, she had risen to her feet and padded away, never looking back.   He knew he would not see her again this night.

           With a sigh, he folded up his medicine bundle and rose to his feet.

           "Computer, end program."

           Arizona disappeared to be replaced by the gray grid of the holodeck.   Chakotay strolled out the doors, wondering if there was any point trying to go back to bed.   It was 0430 - his alarm would go off in another hour anyway.   Maybe he should just go and work on reports until it was time for breakfast.   At least he'd get an early start on the day.

           As he passed the second holodeck, he noticed that it was in use.   He slowed, wondering who else couldn't sleep.   It was a general-use program, he noticed, not a restricted one, and the privacy lock had not been engaged.   He peered more closely at the control panel.   An advanced security training program; that would be pretty strenuous.  He wondered who would want to use one of Tuvok's programs at this time of the morning.   Perhaps he better have a quick look.   Someone might be in need of a sympathetic ear.

           Without pausing to inquire who was inside, he activated the doors and walked in.   Before him was a room, obviously a gymnasium of some sort, crammed full of exercise equipment.   At first, he couldn't see anyone, until a muffled curse sounded from over his head.   He looked up to see B'Elanna hanging upside down by her knees from a set of rings, her face deepening to red as her body swung gently to and fro.

           "B'Elanna?!   What are you doing?" he called up to her.

           "I was about to ask you the same thing!"

           "I came in to see who was here.   I didn't expect it to be you."

           She blinked, then pulled herself up to grasp the rings, and drop her legs, so that she was hanging by her hands.   Chakotay moved underneath her and stretched up to grab onto her thighs.

           "Let go," he told her.  "I've got you."

           She obeyed, falling none too gently into his arms.   He wobbled but kept his balance, holding her until he was sure she was steady on her feet.    Even after he stepped back, he kept a grip on her arms, looking down at her with concern.

           She found herself staring up at him in wonder, momentarily disoriented by the warmth of his body and the strength of his grasp.    Unconsciously she swayed toward him, her body reacting to his proximity.

           Her unblinking stare made him furrow his brows.   "You okay, B'Elanna?"

           His voice brought her back to reality, she shook her head to clear it, and moved out of his grasp.   "Yes, of course," she answered brusquely, which confirmed to him that she most certainly wasn't all right.

           He lifted one hand to stroke her cheek.   "What are you doing here?   Can't you sleep?"

           B'Elanna bit her lip, her mind in turmoil.   Chakotay had caught her completely off-guard - her emotions were raging through her chaotically, leaving her quite vulnerable.   She forced herself to breathe deeply, in an attempt to re-establish some kind of tenuous control.   She realized he was waiting for an answer and spoke the first words that came into her head.

           "I had a dream, and afterwards, I couldn't sleep, so I came here and found this program.   I thought ..."   She paused, realizing what she was saying, but it was too late to take back the words.

           Chakotay took her hand and led her to a nearby bench.   "Let's sit down."   She had no choice but to follow, her mind gone totally blank.   He pulled her down beside him, holding her hand.   "Now, tell me about the dream.   Was it a nightmare?"

           "Yes ... no, well, sort of ...."  Oh dear, what was the matter with her!  She sounded like a complete idiot!

           He smiled encouragingly.   "Must have been some dream."

           She nodded in a heartfelt manner.   "Yes, it certainly was."

           Her heart was pounding so that she could hardly think.   Surely he must be able to hear it!    She clutched his hand like a lifeline, trying to force down her emotions that were all clamoring at once for attention.    Chakotay felt her fingers tense, and slid his other arm around her shoulders.   Good lord, she was so stiff with tension she felt like a board!   He rubbed her arm gently.

           "Relax, B'Ela, it's only me.    Talk to me.   Tell me what's bothering you.   Something is, I know."

           She closed her eyes for a moment, then abruptly relaxed against him.   She felt his fingers stroke up and down her arm, soothing her, mesmerizing her brain, making her forget exactly who she was leaning against.   Without thinking, she opened her mouth and the words tumbled out.

           "When the Bothan invaded our thoughts, he showed me things that I hadn't realized, that maybe I didn't want to realize.   I can't get it out of my mind, the vision I saw, I felt that day.   It was so real, it's still hard to believe it only happened in my head ..."

           Chakotay started slightly in surprise - so he wasn't the only one troubled by the Bothan's meddling.   He forced himself to concentrate on her.   "What did you see, B'Elanna?   Tell me."

           She was silent, appalled at what she'd just said.   Of all the people she might talk to, he was the last one she should be discussing her dream with!   She clenched her teeth, trying desperately to hold back, trembling with the effort as the words nearly bubbled out.

           Chakotay gripped her arms and turned her to face him.   "Tell me!" he ordered her with every ounce of authority he had.  Automatically, she began to respond, and once started, she couldn't stop.

           "I saw you, us, together ...  You came into engineering to help me set up a resonance burst to block the psionic field that the Botha were generating.   But when we tried to contact the bridge and then anyone else, and no one answered, you told me we should leave the ship together.   I resisted, telling you I couldn't believe what I was hearing, that you didn't sound like the Chakotay I knew, and you said ... you said, 'I'm the Chakotay you want me to be, the one who loves you.'   I was so stunned I couldn't believe what I was hearing!

           "You took me in your arms and kissed me, and I let you, I wanted you to!   The next thing I knew we were in your quarters; I was still telling you we couldn't do this, we had a responsibility to the ship.   But you kept kissing me, telling me how much you wanted me, saying you knew I wanted you too, and I ... finally, I ... oh god! I let go, and I kissed you back!   And made love with you."

           B'Elanna covered her face, her body shaking with shame and despair.   Oh god!   What had she done, babbling away like that!   He must be horrified, repulsed that she could think that way about him!

           Her thoughts were so chaotic, her mind so clouded with emotion that it was several minutes before she realized that Chakotay was still holding her just as close as he had before.    She gasped for air, almost sobbing.

           "I'm sorry, you must hate me!   I shouldn't have said anything ..." she muttered half to herself.

           Her words and even more, the mortified tone in her voice, brought Chakotay out of his musings.    He had been astonished at first when he understood what she was telling him, but then, he realized he shouldn't be so surprised.    He had known almost from the time she first joined his crew on the Liberty that she had a crush on him.   He had done his best to deflect her attentions without hurting her feelings, and had congratulated himself on his efforts when she had started to make friends of her own among the crew.

           But the Bothan had rooted through their subconscious minds ruthlessly, digging out and exposing all their hidden feelings and desires.   In retrospect, realizing how B'Elanna had been avoiding him lately, he should have expected something along the lines of her confession.

           Feeling her shiver, he pulled her a little closer and gently stroked her back.   "Are you cold, B'Ela?" he asked softly.

           "A little," came the mumbled reply.

           Abruptly he rose to his feet, pulling her up with him.   "Come on," he told her.   "Let's go to my quarters and I'll make you some hot chocolate.   That'll warm you up."

           He led her out the door, deactivating the program as he went, and steered her into the turbolift.   Moments later, they arrived at his door.

           Once inside his quarters, Chakotay picked up the decorative blanket, which had been tossed over his armchair, and wrapped it around her shoulders before settling her on the couch under the viewport.    Then he went to the replicator and ordered a large hot chocolate for her and tea for himself.    He wrapped her hands around the mug, then sat down beside her.

           "Drink it carefully, B'Ela, or you'll burn your mouth.   It's pretty hot."
          She sipped carefully at the mug, her eyes focused downward.  Chakotay remained silent, drinking his tea slowly as he gazed at her affectionately.   She looked no more than about twelve, enveloped as she was in the blanket, feet tucked under her.   Certainly, at this moment, she bore little resemblance to the ship's chief engineer.

           B'Elanna felt numb.   All the turmoil and anger had drained out of her with her confession.   The ball was in his court now - she would abide by whatever decision he made.

           Her gaze fell on a small dish resting on the low end table beside her.   In it were piled a quantity of small oval objects of several different colours.   She blinked as she tried to figure out what they were.



           "What are those - ... things'?:

           His head came up in confusion.  "What things?  Where?"

           She indicated the dish.   "Those things there.   What are they?"

           His eyes followed to where she was pointing.   "Oh - those, they're called - jellybeans', I think Paris said.   He had some in Sandrine's the other night, and passed them around.   They're quite good.   Do you want to try one?"

           "What do you do with them?"

           "You eat them.  They're a kind of candy."

           B'Elanna reached out and tentatively picked one up, examining it in the half light before popping it into her mouth.   At once, she spat it out, exclaiming in disgust.

           "That's awful!   It's way too sweet!   How can you eat it?"

           "You don't mind sweet things - you like hot chocolate," he retorted.

           "But that thing - what did you call it?  A jelly bean?! - that's pure sugar!   Yuck!!"

           Chakotay smiled and moved the dish out of reach in case she decided to express her revulsion more forcefully.    Suddenly, she sounded much more like her old self.

           He moved to sit close to her and put his arm around her shoulders.   "Feeling better now?"

           B'Elanna nodded, then took a deep breath and sat up.   "I'm sorry I got carried away earlier.  I should never have said those things.   Let's forget about it, okay?"   She moved to get up, but his arm held her in place.   She looked up at him, a scowl starting to twist her features.   "Can I go now?"

           He shook his head.   "Not yet.   I don't want you to bury this, B'Elanna.   I think it would be better to acknowledge and discuss what you feel rather than just trying to pretend it never happened."

           She caught her breath at his words, so similar to what the captain had said.   He raised an eyebrow and waited, smiling slightly, but not releasing his grasp.

           She scowled a moment longer, before slumping slightly.   "I suppose," she replied with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.   In truth, she believed she had said far too much already.   Now she was feeling vulnerable and very exposed.   Chakotay bent and gently kissed her forehead.

           "I do love you, B'Elanna, but not in the way perhaps you'd like.   When you joined the Maquis, I remember thinking you were the first good thing to happen in my life in far too long.   I had lost so much, my family, my home, my career - everything that I'd known was gone.

           "And then, there you were, fighting tooth and nail against those Cardassians, outnumbered but never giving up.   You reminded me so much of my youngest sister, Laya.   She would have fought in just the same way, if she'd had the chance.    How could I not love you, and want to protect you?

           "You embodied the family that I'd lost, you gave me a reason to go on, not to give in to despair and hatred, not to kill just for the sake of killing, like so many others did.   I may have saved your life, B'Elanna, but you saved my sanity."
           He paused, remembering how close they had been on the Liberty.   They had lost some of that camaraderie after joining Voyager's crew.

           She peered up at him when he remained silent, then got up the nerve to ask a question she had wondered about for a long time.   "Chakotay?  If Seska hadn't been there, if you hadn't been involved with her - could things have been different between us?   Could we have had a romantic relationship?"

           He sat, considering the possibilities, debating how to say what he needed to without hurting her feelings.    Above all, she deserved complete honesty; she knew him well and would see through any attempt to dissemble.   He shrugged his shoulders, then hugged her a little tighter.

           "I don't think so, B'Ela.   I - to be honest, I never felt like that about you."   He felt her stiffen slightly, and added quickly.   "For your sake, I wish that things could be different.   You are such a wonderful, unique person, you deserve to be loved for everything you are.   But I won't lie to you, B'Elanna, I'm not the man to love you that way."

           Her shoulders slumped under his hands.   "Then who is?" she whispered despairingly.   "How can I find him when I'm cooped up on this ship for the rest of my life?"

           "You will, sweetheart, I know it.   There isn't anything you can't do.  And in the meantime, I will be everything I can for you."

           B'Elanna turned her face into his shoulder and rested against him.   Perhaps he was right that this way was better.   She could relax with him, she never had to pretend to be someone she wasn't.   He knew her so well - in a lot of ways, it was nice, really nice, to be able to be completely comfortable with him, comfortable as with a dear friend, not a lover.  She sighed heavily, then lifted her head and reached up to kiss his cheek.

           "Thanks," she murmured, then eased out of his grasp and got to her feet.   She pulled the blanket off her shoulders and handed it back to him.

           "It's almost time for breakfast," he told her.   "Join me in the mess hall in a few minutes?"

           "Sure, as soon as I've had a shower and dressed."

           He stood as well, and escorted her to the door.   She turned to face him as it opened, then on impulse hugged him hard before trotting out the door.

           "Don't dawdle," came her voice from down the hall.  "Some of us have to work around here, you know.   We don't have time to linger over breakfast."

           He smiled and let the door close.    Maybe tonight, he would be able to ponder his own dream some more.   But right now, as B'Elanna said, they had work to do.    On that thought, he headed for the shower to begin his day.

The End

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