Disclaimer:  Paramount’s, just like always

Rating:  PG-13
 
 

AN EXERCISE IN FUTILITY
 

By Mary S.
 
 
 

           Captain Janeway stood on her bridge, staring at the humanoid male on the viewscreen who was wearing a most patronizing smile.

           “I assume, Captain, that you will bring your mate with you?”  His tone left no doubt that she needn’t bother coming otherwise.

           Preliminary negotiations had already established that planetary authorities would only conduct talks with the highest-ranking officer on the ship.

            She choked back her first instinct, to reply that she didn’t have a mate.   They needed the supplies that this planet could provide, needed them desperately.   She might not like the fact that the inhabitants were such blatant male chauvinists, but there wasn’t much she could do about it.

           She took a deep breath and looked him straight in the eye.  “Of course, Minister.   Shall we say in one hour?”

           He smiled knowingly, quite aware of what she had been about to say.  “I’ll look forward to it.   Hondor out.”

           Behind her, the crew waited silently, trying to pretend that the conversation they had all overheard was nothing out of the ordinary.   She remained still a moment longer, then sighed and turned around.
 
           “Well, Commander?” she asked breezily.  “Care to play house?”

           Chakotay gazed up at her, for a split second unable to quite hide his emotions, before lowering his eyes to the console.   “Certainly, Captain,” he replied in a neutral voice.

           She turned away towards her ready room, nodding to Tuvok as she passed.   “Please join me, both of you, so we can go over the mission.   Mr. Paris!” she added more loudly.  “You have the bridge.”

           The two commanders followed her through the door, then stood shoulder to shoulder at parade rest as she went to her replicator for a cup of coffee.   She glanced up at them, trying unsuccessfully to hide a smile.

           “At ease, gentlemen, and have a seat.  Can I get you anything?”

           Both men shook their heads, sitting down on the couch.  She turned around to face them, thinking that she was damned lucky to have them at her side, their skills and years of experience instantly available to her.

           Recently, she had been rereading James Kirk’s logs in an attempt to discover how he had dealt with the isolation of command on long missions far from home.   One fact had jumped out at her from nearly every page – the extremely close friendship he shared with both his first officer and his CMO.   One Vulcan, one human.

           The similarity had struck her immediately.   She had laid down the PADD, thinking that she had been wasting resources right under her nose.  There and then, she had resolved to include both officers much more in the decision-making process than she had.   Kirk had stated that, without a doubt, he had found that two opinions, presented by such radically different personalities, had frequently helped him to make better-balanced decisions.

           Of course, she reminded herself ruefully, one large difference between her situation and Kirk’s was that there had not been the undercurrent of attraction between him and his first officer that there was between her and Chakotay.   However, she could push that aside, did in fact, as she knew he did, too.

           Romance had no place in the Delta Quadrant and even indulging in daydreams was an exercise in futility.   ‘So put it out of your head, Kathryn,’ she told herself for the thousandth time, ‘and get back to work’.

           She came back to the present and moved to sit between them.  “Chakotay,” she began, “I hope you’re not uncomfortable with this.  I could ask Tom to go with me, but quite frankly, I don’t think he’d be very believable.”

           “True.  And besides,” commented her first officer,  “B’Elanna wouldn’t like it.”

           “I agree, and with the way things are right now, I’ve no wish to upset her needlessly.  She has enough on her plate trying to keep the engines going on spit and baling wire.”

           “I’m fine, Captain, it won’t be a problem.”  Chakotay’s voice was firm, professional, sounding just as he ought.

           Janeway turned to Tuvok.  “Any suggestions, Commander?”

           He pondered the question, then shook his head.  “I believe not, Captain.   With the commander accompanying you, I think you will be safe.   However, I would caution you not to venture anywhere alone or to allow yourself to be separated from him at any time.    Have the Condari indicated how long the negotiations might take?”

           “Not really, no.   They refuse to talk at all except on the planet in their meeting hall.   If we weren’t so short of supplies, I’d move on to the next system, take our chances, but we have no choice.   We have to arrange a trade here.  Otherwise…”  She left the rest of the thought unspoken – they knew the situation as well as she.

           She rose to her feet.   “Well, gentlemen, if there’s nothing else, we should be on our way.”

           They followed her out the door, Tuvok moving to the command chair, Janeway and Chakotay to the turbolift.   “We’ll check in every two hours, Commander, unless I instruct you otherwise.”

           “Aye, Captain, safe journey.”

           The ‘lift doors closed as he spoke.

           Kathryn glanced up at her companion.  “Do you need to stop at your quarters for anything?”

           He started to say no, then hesitated.  “Yes.  I’ll meet you in the transporter room.   Deck three,” he told the computer.

           She continued on alone, paging B’Elanna as she went to send up a PADD if there was anything else she wanted to add to her wish list.    She stood with the transporter operator, checking coordinates as she waited for Chakotay.   He strode in very shortly after, followed by B’Elanna, slightly out of breath and waving a PADD.

           “Captain!” she called.  “I thought of a few more items we could use, mostly spare parts, but if the Condari have them and are willing to trade, they could prove useful.”   She happened to spot what Chakotay was holding in his hand and her eyes grew wide.  “Good gracious, Chakotay, what are you doing with those?!  Planning to get married?”

           The commander managed to maintain his composure, but Janeway caught the trace of embarrassment that he couldn’t quite hide.  “What have you got there?”  she asked inquisitively.

           He held out his hand.  On the palm lay two plain gold rings.  “I thought these might help with our ‘disguise’.”

           He reached for her left hand and slid the smaller over the third finger, then started to do the same with his own.  However, the ring slipped out of his grasp, rolling across the floor to the edge of the dais.   Janeway reached it first, picking it up and wordlessly holding out her hand to him.

           As he extended his left hand to take the ring, she slid it onto the appropriate finger.  “There you go, disguise in place.”  She pretended not to notice his sudden intake of breath.

           The ensign behind the control panel was politely staring at the ceiling, but B’Elanna made no effort to hide her grin.  Nor could she resist telling them to have a good time as she sailed out the door, her laughter floating back to them.

           The captain sighed and muttered “cheeky brat” under her breath before leading the way onto the transporter pads.   Chakotay followed, his face a neutral mask.

           “Energize,” she ordered, and a moment later they were gone.
 

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

           Negotiations were long and exceedingly tedious.  The Condari were very much a masculine-oriented society.  After half a day, Kathryn had yet to see any indication at all of a female presence.  Even the servants, and there were many, were all men.   She found the atmosphere oppressive, but was determined not to let it upset her.  She was very glad indeed that Chakotay was with her – more than once, the silent pressure of his fingers on hers had helped her to keep her equilibrium in the face of barely disguised male contempt.
 
           To add to her discomfort, the climate was tropical with a level of humidity as high as the temperature.  As the hours passed, she found her uniform sticking to her most unpleasantly.

           By the end of the day, with their discussions nowhere near finished, it became obvious that they would have to stay the night.   Both captain and commander wanted to return to the ship, but the minister wouldn’t hear of it.  They were honoured guests – the best suite had been prepared for their use. To refuse would be a grave insult.

           Kathryn sighed and nodded, glancing at Chakotay.   He met her eyes, smiling slightly and leaned forward to whisper that they’d survived far worse.    She pressed his hand in response, then got to her feet.

           “Thank you, Minister, we accept your gracious hospitality.”

           He was all smiles, summoning a servant to show them the way, and announcing that a state dinner had been arranged, to begin in two hours.  They would be sent for at the appropriate time.   Kathryn thanked him again and gratefully followed the servant down a long corridor and up a graceful flight of stairs, at the top of which was their suite.

           The door closed and Kathryn immediately kicked off her boots, sighing  mightily.   Chakotay grinned.   “How are you doing?”

           “A lot better now.   What a day!   And you realize we better ask Tuvok to send down dress uniforms.   Ohh!  I just want to go soak in a tub and then sleep for a week!”

           Chakotay had wandered into the next room, but stuck his head around the corner when she spoke.  “Well, you may have to pass on the sleep, but I think we can manage the tub.”

           Her face suddenly alight, she scurried into the room.   “A bathtub?!  Wonderful!”   She began to drag off her jacket and pull her turtleneck out of her waistband before realizing he was still standing there, slightly bemused.

           “Commander!”

           He grinned unabashedly at her.  “I was curious to see how far you’d get before you remembered I was here.”

           She threw her jacket at him, laughing.  “You’re terrible!  Out!  Now!  Go talk to Tuvok!”

           He caught the jacket and left, still grinning.  “Yes ma’am!!”

           “It’s not crunch time yet, Mister.”

           “Nearly was, though.”

           When Kathryn came out almost an hour later, feeling a little guilty for making him wait to get cleaned up, she found her dress uniform laid out neatly on the bed, her freshly polished boots sitting together beside it.   Chakotay was sprawled in a chair outside on a large balcony off the bedroom, his head back with eyes closed, his feet propped up on the railing.   He looked almost asleep and she wondered if she should leave him to rest a little longer.

           One brown eye opened while she was still trying to decide and he brought his feet to the floor and stood up.  “All done?”

           “Yes, thank you and I feel much better.   You still have time for a bath.”

           “Thanks, but a quick shower will do fine for me.”  His eyes were running over her as she stood in a robe, her hair still loosely pinned up.   Unable to stop himself, he reached forward to just brush the back of his hand down her cheek.   Kathryn stared up at him, seeing every emotion written on his face.   For once, he couldn’t hide his feelings from her.

           “Chakotay?” her voice was low, almost breathless.

           He jumped very slightly, then backed away, his face closing down.  “Sorry,” he muttered as he turned to the door.

           Kathryn stared after him, recalling vividly a night long ago on a lonely planet, when he had stared at her like that.   She looked down at herself, understanding what had brought on his reaction – he must have been remembering too.

           She sighed and went into the bedroom to dress, the ring on her hand catching her eye as she pulled on her boots.   Damn!   The sooner they were finished with this wretched planet, the sooner they could get back to normal.  Or what passed for normal in this godforsaken quadrant!
 

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

           Nearly five hours later, the command team was finally able to leave the banquet and stagger back to their suite.   Both were completely exhausted.   Kathryn was convinced that her smile was permanently stitched into place; the muscles of her face were aching with the strain of maintaining a pleasant expression.   Beside her, Chakotay groaned with relief as the door finally closed and they were alone.

           “Thank the spirits!  One more toast and I was going to turn into a screaming maniac!”

           “I would have been right beside you,” she commiserated.  “I wish they’d had something a little less strong to drink.   My head is splitting!”

           “Let’s get into bed and I’ll rub your neck for you.  That should help.”

           Kathryn knew she should refuse, but the offer was just too tempting.  “It’s a deal.”

           She glanced at the large bed and the long windows beside it, standing wide open.  “Lord, it’s hot!  There’s not a breath of air either.”  She had planned to sleep in her uniform, but the humidity made that impossible – and she had to get some rest.   She debated, then decided to hell with it! and stripped down to her underwear.

           Chakotay had disappeared into the bathroom so she climbed onto the bed – it was too hot to get in it – and propped herself up on the myriad pillows.   She turned off the lights and waited, hoping he would be too tired to realize how little she was wearing.

           Her hope was in vain.   As soon as he came out, his eyes widened as he spotted her reclining on the bed.   She read his expression and bit her lip, realizing he could easily misinterpret her intentions.

           “It’s too hot to wear more than necessary,” she explained quickly, as she made for the bathroom door.   “I’ll be out in a minute.”

           Chakotay shook his head and sighed.  It was going to be a long night.

           When Kathryn reappeared, he was sitting on the side of the bed in his briefs.   “Do you want me to sleep out there?” he nodded toward the sitting room.

           She took a deep breath, appreciating his generosity.  The only couch there was the size of a loveseat.  He wouldn’t get much rest trying to sleep on that.   “No, you need your rest, too.   The bed’s plenty big, there’s lots of room for both of us.”

           He nodded, climbed on beside her, and refrained from remarking that he didn’t think he’d get much sleep anyway, lying so close to her.

           They sprawled on the pillows, side by side, both wide-awake.   Kathryn sighed once or twice, then finally sat upright and turned to see if he was awake.   His eyes were wide open, staring at her almost hungrily.

           “Chakotay?” she spoke in a low voice.  “Can’t you sleep?”

           His eyes blinked twice, then he looked away, embarrassed.  “No, apparently not.”

           Kathryn took his hand, absently stroking the thumb.  “Talk to me, tell me what’s wrong.”

           He sighed, exasperated.  “Nothing’s wrong, Kathryn!  It’s just…it’s been a long day and it’s hot!”

           “Mmm, maybe.”  She hesitated, debating whether to venture into unknown territory.   But she had an urge to get it all out in the open – she had intercepted too many yearning stares lately, too many looks full of longing directed her way when he thought she wasn’t watching.   In her opinion, they needed to clear the air, sort it out and put it behind them.   Then they could concentrate maximum effort on the primary goal of getting home.

           She tightened her grip on his fingers, getting his attention.  “Chakotay,” she began,   “we need to discuss this.   Let’s be honest about  our feelings, then we can put them aside.  Right now, they’re becoming a distraction, and we don’t have time for that.”

           Chakotay stared at her, his heart starting to pound.   He was getting a nasty feeling in his gut.    Even in the dim light, Kathryn could see his eyes widen and a fearful expression flit across his face.   She bit her lip, not wanting to hurt him, but thinking that a clean break now would be better than letting his hopes drag on and on.

           “Kathryn,” he interrupted her.  “Tell me honestly.  What do you feel for me?”

           That was blunt, she thought.   And how the hell had he managed to put the ball in her court so fast?   She tried to organize her thoughts but found he had moved even closer to her and was tilting up her chin, peering into her eyes.   She wasn’t going to be able to fudge the truth this time.   Taking a deep breath, she straightened her spine and sent the ball back to him.

           “Honestly, Chakotay?  I won’t lie to you – I love you.   But until we reach the Alpha Quadrant, I will not act on my feelings in any way.   I value your friendship much too highly to risk it on a love affair that might go sour.    What you’ve been doing, the heartfelt looks, the hopeful stares, is merely an exercise in futility.   Nothing is going to happen until we get home, period.”

           There!  She couldn’t state her case more clearly than that!

           Chakotay stared at her, stunned into silence.   He had expected a lecture, maybe even a reprimand, but not an admission of love at the same time she slammed the door in his face!  From deep down, a coil of anger began to build, an anger which he did nothing to stop.

           His brows snapped together and his body radiated tension.  “Damn you, Kathryn, how dare you trivialize what I feel for you!  Do you think I like being in love with you?   Do you think it’s fun to constantly have to watch how I behave around you, not be able to take you in my arms whenever I want, not be allowed to kiss you?!  Do you think I’m enjoying this?!

           “An exercise in futility, you call it.   Well, maybe you’re right.    Perhaps that is exactly what you are and I’m wasting my time pretending otherwise, telling myself that you’re worth all the pain and agony!  Because you know what, Kathryn?  I’m beginning to think you’re a cold-hearted woman not worth anything at all!”

           Ouch!

           Kathryn’s face was a mixture of shock, anger and hurt.   How dare he presume to lecture her!   She had just admitted that she loved him, for heaven’s sake, and he had promptly thrown it back at her!

           She scrambled off the bed and looked around wildly, then spied the open door to the balcony.   Without a backward glance, she hurried outside and sat down in the chair, pulling her knees up to her chin.   She was so angry she was shaking with rage.

           Minutes passed, how many she didn’t know.   Gradually, she calmed and as she did, remembering his words, she felt a deep sorrow claim her soul.   It wasn’t easy for her either, trying so hard not to want him.   One or two tears slid down her cheeks, but she resolutely wiped them away.   She couldn’t cry, not now; that would be giving in.

           Inside, Chakotay sat on the bed, taking deep breaths, trying to quiet his fury.   Kathryn was right about one thing – carrying all this emotional baggage was an exercise in futility.   Damn!   If only he could put her behind him and get on with his life, find a decent woman who would love him and let him love her.   Why the hell did he have to fall in love with the unattainable anyway?!   What an incredibly stupid thing to do!

           Half an hour went by, then most of another before Chakotay thought to check on her.   He got to his feet and stood in the shadow of the door, looking at her crouched in the chair, her back stiff with tension.   It occurred to him suddenly that he never had rubbed her neck for her.   God knows he didn’t feel like doing it now!

           He sighed, wondering what to do, but deep down, he knew he couldn’t leave her there all night.  Over and above anything else, she was his captain – he owed her the respect and courtesy due her position.   With that thought uppermost in his head, he stepped up to her side and brushed her arm.

           Kathryn had been trying to come to terms with her feelings and had no idea Chakotay was anywhere near her.   When she felt his touch, she nearly jumped out of her skin.   Her head snapped around to stare at him, eyes wide.

           He kept his voice even, his tone non-committal.  “Why don’t you come to bed?  You can’t be very comfortable.   Sitting out here could also be considered an exercise in futility, don’t you think?”

           She nearly refused, her pride demanding she ignore his suggestion, but her practical side told her not to be an idiot.   She needed to sleep and it was already very late.   Drawing on all her command authority, she rose to her feet and stalked regally back into the bedroom, settling herself on the bed with her back turned to him.    Chakotay sighed, then followed her lead.

           As he had predicted to himself, it was a long night.
 

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

           The next morning found captain and commander heavy-eyed and yawning.   Somehow they survived the remaining negotiations, actually managing to acquire most of what they needed, although afterwards, neither could have said how they had done it.

           They beamed back to the ship in silence, then separated, Chakotay heading for his quarters, Janeway to the bridge.   She stayed only long enough to issue instructions for completing the trade, then also retreated to her quarters, longing for her bathtub.

           It was only as she finally lay soaking in the hot water that she happened to notice the ring still on her finger.   She tugged it off, then stared at it lying in the palm of her hand.   She should recycle it, but knew she wouldn’t.  In a way, it symbolized everything they couldn’t be, couldn’t have.   She would keep it as a reminder of his words and that she shouldn’t treat his feelings lightly.

           She sighed and got out of the tub, then prepared for bed.   As she lay there, wanting to sleep but unable to, knowing Chakotay was just on the other side of the bulkhead, she debated whether to page him.  Damn!  This was exactly why Starfleet frowned on personal relationships between officers.   Inevitably, the repercussions overflowed into their professional lives.    Well, she had to mend this fence and the sooner she did it, the better.

           She glanced again at the ring on the table beside her bed.    “Janeway to Chakotay.”

           Silence met her ears at first, then his tired-sounding voice responded.  “Chakotay here.”

           “I’m sorry, Commander, did I wake you?   This can wait ‘til morning.”

           “No, I’m still up.   Can’t seem to sleep.”  He paused, obviously gathering his thoughts.  “What can I do for you, Captain?”

           “I…would like to talk to you, if you’re not too tired.   Finish the discussion we started last night.”

           She heard him groan.  “Do you think that’s necessary?”

           “Yes, Chakotay, I do.   I…we…need to resolve this.”   She was waving her hand to emphasize her point even though he couldn’t see her.

           He sighed defeatedly.   “All right.   My place or yours?”

           She started to answer ‘mine’, then thought better of it.   “I’ll be there in a moment.  Janeway out.”

           Catching up her robe, at the last second she scooped up the ring too.   Maybe she could use it to get her point across.

           Less than a minute later, his door was opening in response to her chime.   Chakotay stood near his chair, also dressed in a robe, which had been hastily tied and was hanging open, showing his chest to be bare as well as feet and legs.   Kathryn began to wonder if he was wearing anything at all underneath, then quickly shut off the thought.   ‘Focus,’ she told herself, ‘you’re here to have a rational discussion, everything else is irrelevant.’
 
           She sat silently on the couch, curling her feet up underneath her.   Chakotay settled into the chair opposite, leaning back to gaze evenly at her, his face devoid of expression.

           Apparently, the ball was still in her court.   She leaned forward to speak, concentrating on her words.

           “First, I want to tell you I’m sorry that I didn’t properly explain myself last night.   I hurt your feelings, which was never my intention.  I know you love me and I didn’t mean to give you the impression that I think what you feel is trivial in any way.   I’m…honoured that you care for me.    It means a great deal to me, don’t ever think otherwise.”

           She paused, taking a deep breath.  “I know it isn’t easy for you, Chakotay, it isn’t easy for me either.   Just because I seem to be able to hide what I feel better than you, doesn’t mean I don’t feel anything.   What you said, about my not being worth your time, really hurt.”   Her voice broke slightly, but she forced her tone to remain even.

           Chakotay’s eyes were fixed on her face, his entire being focused on what she was saying.   Kathryn trying to explain her feelings was a new departure for them and he had absolutely no idea where they were going to end up.   He was careful to make no sound to distract her from her thoughts.

           Her eyes had fallen to her hands, but she looked back up at him as she continued.   “I guess that’s my point, really.   By allowing our personal feelings to overflow into our command relationship, we have done exactly what I was trying to avoid.   It’s my fault as much as yours.   What I was attempting to say, obviously not very successfully, was that we, both of us, need to keep the two separated while we’re on duty – and out here, we’re on duty all the time.   There is no downtime, no leave, no break.   We have to keep the goal of getting back to the Alpha Quadrant our primary focus – everything else is extraneous.   That’s why I labeled your feelings an exercise in futility.   Do you see what I’m getting at?”

           Chakotay stared at her, marshalling his response, then leaned forward in the chair.   “Yes, I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t agree with it.”

           She started to speak, but he held up a hand to forestall her.   “My turn now.   I believe that you are so focused, so intent on the end result that you are completely missing all the joy and pleasure to be found in the journey.   Everyone else on this ship is making a life for themselves, right here, right now.   Yes, they’re still working hard to get us back, but they’re not letting that one goal dictate their lives.   You are.   And that’s not healthy.

           “It’s become an obsession for you; everything else has to take a back seat to getting home.   God knows what will happen to you when we do, Kathryn, when you no longer have this goal.   I’m very much afraid you will find that your life has become completely empty.”

           He paused to see if she would respond, but she remained silent, knowing he had more to say.
 
           “I am willing to concede your argument that the command team should keep personal and professional lives completely separate, although in our situation, that isn’t always possible.    But I am not willing to concede that we shouldn’t have a personal relationship.   You said last night that you valued our friendship too much to risk losing it over a romance gone sour.   But right now, we’re very close to losing it, arguing over something that hasn’t even happened!

           “We need to find a balance, a place where we’re both comfortable with each other.    Right now, we’re in two different places.”   He stopped, unable to think of another argument to make his point.    Either she would understand or she wouldn’t.

           Kathryn sat still, pondering his words.   What he said made sense – go forward, find a place together where they could be at ease with one another.   She wondered just how easy a process it would be, but then decided the search would be part of it.   She opened her hand, holding it out so he could see the ring that lay in her palm.

           “I was thinking earlier that this ring symbolized everything we couldn’t be, couldn’t have, but perhaps I was wrong.   Maybe instead, it could remind us of possibilities for the future.”

           She looked up, then gave him one of her rare full smiles.   “What do you think?”

           Chakotay slid the ring off his own finger, then held out his hand, clasping them palm to palm so the rings rubbed together.   “I think that finally we’re together.   Wear this ring as I will wear mine, not openly if you don’t want to, but wear it, not only as a reminder of possibilities but as the symbol which it was originally intended to represent – my love for you and yours for me.    And I promise,” he went on, “that I will try to restrain myself a little more, in public anyway.   Fair enough?”

           “Yes,” she answered, relieved.   “More than fair.”

           Then, on a momentary impulse, she rose to her feet, leaned over him and gently kissed him, letting her mouth slide slowly over his.   Chakotay remained completely still, while his heart thudded in joy.

           Regretfully, Kathryn finally lifted her head, smiling a little sadly, her hand still resting on his face.  “That’s my promise to you.   Someday, when we get home, I’ll fulfill it.   If you still want me to.”

           He sighed, smiling back at her.   “Don’t worry, lady, I’ll hold you to it.”

           She moved to the door.   “See you at breakfast?”

           “Yes.   Goodnight, Kathryn.  Sleep well.”

           “I will now.”   And she was gone.

           Chakotay got up slowly, the smile still on his face, his heart at ease.   With a promise like that, he would sleep well, too.
 

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