Disclaimer:  Still Paramount’s

Rating:  G

Notes:  Set during the sixth season, shortly after “Spirit Folk.”  Yet again, a big ‘thank you’ to Shayenne for her editing.  I always put in too many commas but she always finds them.
 
 

THE GAMES WE PLAY
.

By Mary S.
 
 

           In the sixth year of its long journey through the Delta Quadrant, the Federation starship Voyager made its way uneventfully toward Earth.  ‘Uneventful this week, anyway,’ mused Captain Janeway, as she sipped her second coffee of the morning.  ‘Next week, of course, possibly the next minute – all hell could break loose.’  She stared out the viewport of her ready room, examining the stars, wondering vaguely if the time would ever come when she actually recognized any.  She gave herself a mental shake.  Mustn’t get depressed.  They would get home – someday.  She had promised, after all, and she was a woman of her word.  Somehow, she would find a way.

           The door chime sounded.  No doubt that would be Commander Chakotay with the latest supply reports.  And indeed it was.

           “Ah, Chakotay, what have you got for me?  Good news, I hope?”

           The commander’s face remained solemn.

           Her smile faltered.  “I don’t like what I’m seeing.  Just how bad is it?”

           His voice was heavy.  “It’s not good, Captain.  We’re running low on both foodstuffs and raw minerals, in particular polyferranide.   B’Elanna says she doesn’t need it right this instant, but she wants you to know that the warp coils are going to need resealing again – and soon.  Since it can be hard to find, she suggests we start looking now.”

           The captain held out her hand for the PADD, glancing over it.  “Yes, I see.  And she’s quite right.  Tell Seven to start focusing long-range scans on any possible systems within two light years.  I don’t want to venture too far off course, if we don’t have to.”

           “Very well, Captain.  I’ll get right on it.”

           He turned to leave, but she called him back.  “Chakotay?  Are you all right?  You’ve been very quiet lately.”

           “Yes, I’m fine.”  He kept his gaze on a point over her shoulder, refusing to meet her eyes.

           Her gut feeling told her he was lying, but she couldn’t push him on it – it was his business, after all, and as long as he did his job properly, she had no right to pry.  As his friend, however, she could allow herself to be a bit nosy.

           “Come, sit for a moment.  Would you like a cup of tea?”

           “Thank you, Captain, but I had better get back to work.”

           He turned on his heel and was out the door before she had time to protest.  Kathryn continued to stand where she was, pondering his strange, atypical behaviour.  Her question about his well-being had been a casual one, more a way of starting a conversation, but now that she thought about it, he didn’t seem his usual self.

            Over the last several weeks, she had been spending most of her off-duty time in the Irish holoprogram, ‘Fair Haven’.  As a result, she hadn’t seen much of the crew except during her shifts.  And, she realized guiltily, she had missed several informal dinners with Chakotay, dinners that she used both to keep tabs on the crew’s well-being and maintain a connection with her first officer.   A command team had to be in constant communication in order to work smoothly, and in their unique situation, it was incumbent on both of them to make doubly sure that the lines were always open.

             She had been neglecting him, she realized, dallying with Michael Sullivan when she should have been paying more attention to her second in command.   Well, that would change.  She was getting tired of Michael anyway.  ‘About time I returned to the real world,’ she thought as she retrieved yet another cup of coffee and returned to her desk.  She picked up the PADD he had left and began to read.
 

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

           Two days later, Seven reported that several promising sources for both minerals and food lay in the sector ahead.  In order to save time, the captain ordered out two of the shuttles and the Delta Flyer on scouting missions.  Each would cover a different system and would rendezvous in three days, at which time she would decide which held the best possibilities.

            Chakotay, wanting to get away from the ship for a while, volunteered to take the shuttle Cochrane.   He would be accompanied by one of the engineers – he had requested Susan Nicoletti, who was a quiet woman and not inclined to chatter mindlessly.   In his current mood, he didn’t need a lot of talk. He would have preferred to go alone, but an engineer was needed to assess any ores they might find.

           The commander had noticed the captain gradually drifting away from him, as she became more involved with the holographic bartender from ‘Fair Haven’.  He had tried very hard not to be jealous, knowing he had no right to be.  Indeed, at the beginning, he had even encouraged her, thinking that if she had a bit of room to play, she might loosen up a little, and play with him.  But he had miscalculated, not realizing that, in typical Kathryn fashion, she would throw herself wholeheartedly into the program – and Michael’s willing arms.

           He had mostly stayed away, quite unable to see her laughing and flirting with a hologram instead of him.  He had found some solace in B’Elanna’s company, but she was putting in a lot of extra time in engineering these days, trying for ever more innovative ways to stretch their thinning resources.  What free time she had, she spent with Tom when he was available.  Not much was left for Chakotay.

           He sighed in the stillness of his quarters.  No use mourning what he couldn’t have.  Kathryn Janeway would never love him as he loved her, and the sooner he got past his feelings for her, the better off they both would be.  Somehow, he had to find a way to let her go.  Hopefully, a period of quiet reflection in the shuttle would give him some answers.

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

           The next morning found the away teams gathered promptly in the shuttle bay just before their scheduled departure time.  Each pilot was running last minute flight checks as B’Elanna personally scanned the check list, making sure nothing had been forgotten.  The three engineers were huddled around her when suddenly the door opened and in strode Kathryn Janeway.

           “Captain!”  Tom Paris greeted her cheerily.  “Come to see us off?”

           “More than that, Mr. Paris.  I’m going with you.”

           “You are?  Great!”

           “I didn’t mean with you specifically, Tom.  I’m going to bump Nicoletti and ride with the commander.   Susan, go on the Flyer.  I think you’ll find Vorik needs a hand.  You’re covering the biggest area with the greatest diversity of planets as well as an asteroid belt.   It’s enough to keep you both occupied.”

           B’Elanna stared at her.  Everyone knew that a Vulcan was more than capable of managing multiple scans and cataloguing streams of information.  That was why he had been assigned to Tom.  Susan would be useful, but not essential.  She raised her eyebrow in a silent question to Janeway, who smiled sweetly and ignored her.  B’Elanna shrugged her shoulders and went back to work.  She had far more important things to worry about than why the captain suddenly wanted to ride on a shuttle with Chakotay.

           Nicoletti obediently collected her gear and headed for the Flyer.  Torres hurriedly handed an extra set of equipment to the captain as well as the PADDs listing all the information she would need for analysis.  The captain was a competent scientist and knew her way around a warp core – she was just as capable as Susan of gathering the data they needed.

           Janeway trotted through the open hatch into the Cochrane, her arms full.

           “Good morning, Commander,” she spoke up brightly.  “I’m coming with you.”

           Chakotay turned in the pilot’s seat, his jaw falling open in surprise.  He gulped, then found his tongue.

           “You are?  Why?  Where’s Nicoletti?”

           He didn’t sound very happy, she thought.  Damn!  She hoped her sudden impulse to accompany him wasn’t going to backfire.

           “I sent her to the Flyer.  Now, let’s get out of here, shall we?”

           She sealed the hatch as she spoke, and settled into the copilot’s seat.

           He started to grin.  “What’s the matter?  Tuvok after you?”

           “He will be if you don’t get going.”  There was a guilty twinkle in her eye.  “I’m playing hooky, so come on, Commander, let’s move it!”

           “Yes ma’am!”

           He hailed the bridge, requesting authorization to depart.  Tuvok, as yet unaware that the captain wasn’t in her ready room, gave it, and the Cochrane roared out the bay doors before they had even finished opening.

           “Chakotay!” protested Janeway, half-laughing at his recklessness.

           “You said to ‘move it’, so I did.”

           His bit of fancy flying broke through whatever awkwardness still lingered between them.  The captain reprimanded him in a half-hearted fashion, but her dancing eyes belied her words.
 
           As he brought the shuttle around Voyager, letting her admire her ship, he inquired casually, “Are you going to tell him or shall I?”   He knew already what her answer would be and she didn’t disappoint him.

           “Oh, you do it, Chakotay, he’ll only start in with a lecture if I talk to him.  I love Tuvok dearly, but…Vulcans!”

           “That’s what I thought.  Chakotay to Voyager.”

           “Voyager here,” came Harry’s cheerful tones.

           “Must be your lucky day,” he whispered, then raised his voice to a normal pitch.  “Harry, would you tell Commander Tuvok that the captain has skipped out?  She’s with me.  And tell him too, that I promise I won’t crash the shuttle and I’ll bring her back safe and sound in three days.  Got all that?”

           “Loud and clear, Commander.  Have a good time.  Voyager out.”

           He grinned at her.  “Did I remember everything?”

           She gave him his favourite, lop-sided, smile.  “Oh yes, you did beautifully.  Thank you.”

           Ten minutes later, once Chakotay had set course for the system they were to investigate, he activated the shuttle’s autopilot and turned his chair to face her.  She was busy sorting out the PADDs, going over the lists of what they needed.  At first, she ignored him but then, feeling his gaze burning into the back of her neck, she glanced up.  His stare was steady and a little unnerving.

           “What?” she asked.

           “Nothing important.  But when you have a moment, perhaps you could enlighten me.”

           He had her attention now.  “About what?”

           “About the real reason you came along today.”

           “I...just thought it would be a nice change.  I haven’t been out and about for quite a while.”

           “Kathryn!”  He sounded exasperated.  “Not good enough.  Try again.”

           She looked a little abashed that he’d caught her out so easily.  “Actually, I wanted to talk to you.  I feel...” she hesitated, trying to find the right words to convince him.  “I never see you anymore except on duty.  I haven’t had a chance to just spend some time with you, without interruption.”

           “I’ve been here, right where I always am.”  His implication was clear.

           She took a deep breath.  “Yes, well, you see, I’ve… well, I’ve broken it off with Michael.   I found that, charming though he may be, he isn’t enough.”

           Chakotay stared intently at her face.  “Does this mean you’re looking for a new companion?”

           “No,” she replied almost too quickly, “no.   Not necessarily.”  She turned to face him full on.  “Chakotay, I’ve missed you.  I’ve missed our friendship, our talks, the teasing, all of it.  It took me a while to realize why the days seemed so much longer and then it occurred to me, it was because you weren’t there anymore to cajole me into eating a meal, or tell me the latest gossip.”

           He started to speak, but she held up a hand, forestalling him.  “I realize maybe you don’t want that anymore.  Perhaps you thought I had abandoned you, and I wouldn’t blame you if you did, but Chakotay! – I never meant to give you that impression. I hope you’ll let me make it up to you, show you I’m sorry.”  Her tone was slightly wistful.

           Chakotay sat silent, his head awhirl.  She was doing it again and he was falling for it – again.   All of a sudden she needed him, and even though he had sworn he wouldn’t, he knew he’d come running as soon as she snapped her fingers.  At times, he almost hated her for the way she had him wrapped around her little finger.  He sighed heavily, shaking his head.  Some angry warrior he was.  More like a lapdog letting her yank his chain whenever she wished.

           Kathryn watched him out of the corner of her eye, trying to analyze the expressions that flashed across his face.  When he didn’t speak, she was forced to ask him what he was thinking.

           “You don’t want to know, Kathryn.”

           “Chakotay, we’re friends, aren’t we?  That’s what friends do – talk to each other.  So tell me – what is it?  What’s the matter?”

           He stared at her, debating, then thought – what the hell!  She wants to know?  Fine!

           “I’m thinking that you’re doing it again – taking me for granted until you have need of me, then smiling sweetly, flattering me, until you get me to do what you want.  You’re manipulating me, just like always.  And just like always, I’m letting you.”  He snorted in disgust.  “Have you heard the crew’s latest nickname for me?  ‘Bridge poodle’!”  At her gasp, he added, “Apparently you haven’t.   I’m tired, Kathryn, tired of playing second fiddle, of being used by you when you need me and then pushed aside until the next time.  I’m a human being, not a tricorder!”

           He turned back to his console and busied himself with the controls, saying no more.

           She sat silent, appalled at his outburst, and horrified to realize how accurate his analysis had been.  She had used him, repeatedly, without much consideration for his feelings.  She bit her lip, acknowledging the justice of his complaint.  The problem, from her perspective, was that she was too afraid to admit, even to herself, just what she felt for him.  She had become very adept at burying her feelings, to the point that she actually believed he was nothing more than a dear friend.  Until he pulled her up short like now.  Then she was forced to face up to the fact that, in reality, she was deeply in love with him but too scared to do anything about it.   Afraid that if she ever did, that she would lose herself in him so completely, she would throw aside everything else to be with him.  She couldn’t let that happen.  First and foremost, she was a Starfleet captain with a mission to complete.  Only when that mission was over would she be free to pursue her personal goals.

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

           The next hour rolled past slowly and in silence as neither spoke.  Chakotay was regretting now that he hadn’t held his tongue.  After all, what difference did it make, really?  Kathryn would always put the ship and crew first, he knew that.  He was simply another tool for her to use as needed.

           For her part, Kathryn was feeling very unsure of him.  She realized she had played fast and loose with his feelings once too often.  She sat trying to contemplate a future without him, and decided that she simply couldn’t.  She needed him beside her.  Therefore, it was up to her to make the first move to set things right between them.  She snuck a glance out of the corner of her eye.  His face was a mask, unreadable.  She straightened in her chair and turned to face him.

           “Chakotay?  I’m sorry,” she began simply.  “You’re right, I have taken you for granted and I haven’t been fair.  I did it again, letting myself get so caught up in something that I pushed aside everyone else.  I know thoughtlessness is no excuse, but I never meant to hurt you.”

           She paused, but he remained silent, half-turned toward her.  She licked her lips and went on.  “I need you – always.  I don’t say it enough, I know, but I can’t do this,” she waved her hand, encompassing the Delta Quadrant, “without you.  You give me the strength I need to keep going, and the optimism to believe that one day, we will get home.”  She looked down for a moment, then added in a low voice.  “And maybe, when we do get there, we can do something about us.  If you want to, that is.”

           Throughout her words Chakotay gazed intently at her face, trying to read her expressions.  He thought he knew her very well, but she caught him by surprise with the last sentences.

           “Kathryn?  Do you honestly mean that?”

           She glanced up at him, then stared deep into his eyes, for once not concealing what she felt for him.  “Yes,” she replied simply.

           He persisted, wanting absolute clarity on this point.  “No more games?  Leading me on only to pull back?”

           She started to protest, then realized what he was asking.  “No.  No games.  And no more taking you for granted, either.  You’re not a…a…’bridge poodle’, Chakotay, and whoever said that is being very unfair.   I’ve been hiding my feelings for too long.  We can’t act on them, out here, but I won’t deny any more that I have them.  Can you live with that?”

           He drew in a deep breath, his heart suddenly much lighter.  “Yes, and thank you for telling me.  It makes our situation much easier.”

           She looked surprised.  “Does it?  I thought it would be harder.”

           He smiled slightly.  “I’m a patient man, Kathryn.  I can wait for a long time, as long as I know that I’ll get what I want in the end.”

           She had to ask although she was almost sure of the answer.  “What do you want, Chakotay?”

           He answered without hesitation.  “You.”

           She nodded to herself, thinking.  ‘Well, there it is, on the table.’  She found herself relaxing into her seat, her mind at ease.  Perhaps they couldn’t indulge in an actual physical relationship, but there were lots of ways to love a person.  And knowing, actually knowing how he felt, liberated her, let her enjoy her feelings instead of trying to hide them.  She smiled.  This was nice; she could get used to this.

           “Kathryn?”  His voice broke into her thoughts.  She looked up, her expression happy, even peaceful.

           Chakotay stretched out a hand to her.  She took it, lacing her fingers through his in a gesture rife with meaning for both of them.  He smiled hopefully.   “I know we can’t go any farther, but just once I’d like to tell you openly how much I love you.”

            He lifted her hand to his lips, kissing her fingers gently.  She felt her eyes fill with tears and had to respond.

           “I love you, too,” she whispered.  “Don’t ever believe otherwise.   I wish…”

           He stopped her there.  “I know.  But if this is all we can have for now, then let’s take it and enjoy it, knowing that someday we’ll have everything.”

           One tear slid down her cheek.  “Oh, Chakotay!  You have such faith in me!”

           “I have faith in us, Kathryn.  Together, we’ll do this.  As long as we remember that, nothing can stop us.”

           She clutched his hand for a moment longer, then let go as sensors alerted them that they had arrived at their destination.  Both bent over their consoles, concentrating on the job at hand.  But in the back of each mind lingered a quiet joy.  Someday…

 
The End
 

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