Disclaimer:  Still Paramount’s

Rating:  PG-13

Notes:  This story is set just after the second season episode “Persistence of Vision”.  You need to be familiar with that in order for this to make sense.
 
 

CHAKOTAY’S WIVES
 

By Mary S.
 
 

           The starship Voyager hung motionless, docked on the inner ring of an enormous space station.  The latest round with the Kazon had left the ship heavily damaged, and it was only by the grace of whatever power seemed to be watching over them, that they had found a friendly, technologically advanced society that was willing to provide the materiel for repairs in return for information about, and maps of, the sectors they had already crossed.   Lieutenant Torres, never one to let an opportunity slip through her fingers, had pressed the captain to allow a longer stay in order to perform some long overdue maintenance on the warp engines.  Her main argument, that they might well regret it if they didn’t take the extra time now, was not lost on Captain Janeway.  Much as she wanted to get ‘back on the road’, as Tom Paris so quaintly phrased it, she realized that Torres was quite right.  ‘A stitch in time saves nine’, she remembered her mother saying.  ‘See, Mom?’ she thought to herself, ‘not everything you told me went in one ear and out the other.’

           The crew, still somewhat jittery after their recent encounter with the Bothan, were more than happy to have extra time for shore leave, and the captain even allowed the first officer to talk her into spending an afternoon doing nothing more strenuous than wandering arm in arm through the enormous shopping promenade, finishing up in a charming little restaurant where they shared a delicious meal, accompanied by a bottle of wine.  She returned to the ship feeling much refreshed and very glad that Chakotay had coaxed her out of her ready room.

           In Engineering, B’Elanna Torres tried very hard to concentrate on the work of repairs and forget the vision the Bothan had dangled in front of her.  The trouble was that every time Chakotay came down to check on her progress or get her advice about something, she remembered it all over again.  And she seemed to be meeting him everywhere.  As a result, her temper got worse and worse until finally, she snapped – and smashed her fist into Joe Carey’s face, nearly breaking his nose again.  Fortunately, at the last second, he saw her hand coming and was able to dodge far enough that it just grazed his cheek instead.  Torres gasped in shock, then turned and retreated to her office, berating herself for letting that damned Bothan get to her like this!

           Carey waited to see if she would come out, but when she didn’t, decided he’d had enough of her ill-humour and went to the first officer.  Chakotay was genuinely surprised, commenting that he’d thought they were all working remarkably well together.

           “Well, that’s what I thought, too, sir,” replied Carey.  “But for the last couple of weeks, she’s been getting worse and worse.  Flies off the handle over nothing!  She nearly threw Vorik into the warp core three days ago.  Everyone is walking on eggshells around her.  It’s not making repairs and maintenance go any faster, either, because we’re all afraid of making a mistake!  I’m sorry to have to come to you, Commander, but I really don’t know what else to do.  And seeing as how you know her better than anyone else, ….” His voice trailed off as he looked hopefully at Chakotay, who nodded sympathetically.

           “I’ll come down right away, Joe.  I’m sorry I didn’t realize sooner that there was a problem.  Torres in a tantrum is not a pretty sight.”

           “No, sir, she sure isn’t!” replied Carey with feeling, as he rose to leave.  Shortly after, Chakotay made his way down to Engineering, determined to find out just what her problem was.

           He got nowhere.

           She denied she was upset, beyond the obvious fact that she was working with idiots who didn’t seem to know a hyperspanner from a hypospray.  Furthermore, she grumbled, if he had to work with such p’takhs, he wouldn’t be very happy either!
 
           Chakotay made the appropriate sympathetic noises, but they didn’t seem to have the usual soothing effect.  In fact, she seemed to be getting more jittery by the minute.  He asked her point blank if there was anything else she needed to talk about, any problem that he might be able to help her with.  She stared at him almost in shock, then shut down completely, turning her back and muttering something about having work to do.  He knew he would get no more out of her, and got up to leave, telling her that if she changed her mind and wanted to talk, she knew where to find him.

           The following morning, the governor of the space station contacted Captain Janeway to request assistance for a colony world half a light year away.  Apparently, the planet had suffered a severe earthquake in an area on the northern continent.  He was assembling teams of personnel to provide emergency assistance.  Could Voyager loan its doctor?  The captain had to regretfully inform him that their doctor was a hologram and unable to leave the ship.  However, she would be more than happy to send their field medic and anyone else who could help.  The governor accepted gratefully, saying that he would contact the local authorities and let her know.

              An hour later, he hailed her to confirm that her medic would prove most useful.  They needed a small, fast ship to search the more remote parts of the continent.  There were a number of small settlements whose inhabitants were very primitive.  Nobody had any idea how they had fared in the ‘quake, and with the number and severity of aftershocks they were experiencing, no one had time to go and look.   Voyager’s shuttle and medic would be ideal for such a mission.  The captain promised to have an away team underway within the hour.
 
           “Janeway to Chakotay.  Please report at once to my ready room.”

           “On my way.”

           When he arrived, the captain quickly brought him up to speed on the latest developments, then asked for suggestions about the team.  Obviously, Kes had to go, with as many medical supplies as they could fit in the shuttle, but they would need a pilot and possibly a third person who could fill in where needed.

           “Tom Paris is the obvious choice.  He’s our best pilot and has a bit of medical training,” answered the commander.

           “One slight problem.  I’ve just been contacted by the infirmary on the station.  Paris got in a fight last night in a bar with some very large aliens,” replied Janeway disgustedly.  “He’s out of commission for the time being.  Compound fracture in the left arm, broken jaw, two cracked ribs, a broken hand, and a severe concussion.  They suggest he be kept very still for the next forty-eight hours until he can be stabilized.”

           “Fine.  I’ll go.”  He paused, rubbing his jaw.  “In fact, I’ll take B’Elanna, as well.”

           “Torres?!  But isn’t she needed in Engineering?  Who will supervise the repairs?”

           “Carey will, and do a good job, too.  I hadn’t had a chance to tell you, but he came to see me just a little while ago.  Torres is on a tear, no one knows why, but she’s been terrorizing the entire crew down there for several days.  At this point, I suspect they’ll probably do much better without her.”

           “Have you spoken with her yet?  Do you know why she’s so upset?”

           “Yes and no.”

           She scowled at his cryptic response.  “Yes and no what?”

           “Yes, I have talked to her, and no, I have no idea what the problem is.  She won’t admit there’s anything wrong.”

           “Do you think it’s a good idea to take her with you?  Could be a pretty uncomfortable trip.”

           “I think, away from the ship, she might open up a bit.  There’ll just be Kes and me.  I’ve seen her like this once or twice before.  However, then, there was always a crisis to divert our attention, and by the time we could relax, she was fine again.   Right now, there’s nothing to take her mind off whatever is bothering her.”

           Janeway shook her head.  “You know her better than I do.  I’ll leave it up to you.”

           Chakotay grinned, and rose to his feet.  “Anything else, Captain?”

           “No,…..just….be careful.”

           “Of course, I always am.”

           She rolled her eyes at that, but said nothing more.

           As they headed out to the bridge, Chakotay started to page B’Elanna, then thought better of it.  He would tell her about the mission face to face.  Maybe her reaction would give him some clue to her troubles.  She wouldn’t be happy, he knew that much.

           In fact, she was horrified.

           “No, Chakotay, I can’t possibly leave!  These p’takhs will get everything wrong and then I’ll have to sort it out, and do everything all over again, and the captain will be mad because of the delays….!”  He remained silent until she ran out of breath.

           “This isn’t a debate, Lieutenant, it’s an order.  You will accompany me on the mission.  End of subject.”  He pivoted on his heel and started to walk away.

           “Chakotay!!”  she almost wailed.
 
           He turned and glared at her, and she knew she had pushed him too far.  Chakotay was very patient, but he would not tolerate insubordination.

           “Shuttle bay one, in half an hour!” he snapped.  She groaned – she would have to go.  Damn!

             ___________________________________________________________

 
           It was a long, tense journey.  B’Elanna spent most of it sulking in a corner, refusing to speak except in monosyllables.  After her third attempt to make conversation was rebuffed, Kes quietly asked the commander if he knew what the trouble was.  Her soft voice was full of concern, and Chakotay silently cursed Torres for behaving like a spoiled brat.

           “No, Kes, I don’t know what’s bothering her – but I will.  That’s mainly why I brought her along, but don’t tell her that.”

           Kes shook her head.  “No, of course not.”  She looked back at the sullen face.  “It’s just that she looks so unhappy.  Not at all like herself.”  She didn’t add that the emotions emanating from the corner were all negative.  Fear, anger, chagrin, doubt – no wonder B’Elanna was miserable.

           “Leave her alone for now,” counselled Chakotay.  “Sometimes it’s best to let her work it out herself.”

           “But for how long?  How long do you leave her?”

           He shrugged.  “Depends.  Let’s see how she’s feeling after we get there.  We may be so busy that she won’t have time to worry about whatever it is.”

           Kes had to be content with that.

         ______________________________________________________________
 

           As the shuttle approached the planet, Chakotay hailed the organizers of the relief effort.

           “This is the Federation shuttle Cochise.  We have been sent to assist you.  Please advise where you would like us to go.”

           “Shuttle Cochise, this is Hordad, assistant to the governor of the colony Saldeen.  Thank you for coming.  Proceed to the coordinates I am sending you now and commence a search of the following area” –  a map appeared on the small display screen on the console.   “Use this frequency to transmit information on the inhabitants there, and on how badly they have been affected by the earthquake and aftershocks.   Your captain said you are fully equipped with emergency supplies.  Is that correct?”

           “Yes, it is.”

           “Excellent.  I would suggest you try to check in at least once every day; set up a schedule that best suits you.  We estimate that, depending on the amount of damage you find, you will be gone approximately seven days.  Thank you again for coming to our aid.  Hordad out.”

            The commlink closed as they stared at each other, startled.  A week!  They had thought two, maybe three days at most!

           B’Elanna spoke her first words in several hours.  “I wonder if the captain is aware of that!”

           Chakotay laid in the new course and engaged impulse engines.  “Good question.  I guess the sooner we get started, the sooner we finish.”

           They flew over thick green forests for nearly an hour, before Torres announced they were approaching the coordinates.  Chakotay slowed the shuttle as they began to search in a grid pattern.  Just as the sun was starting to drop towards the horizon, they spotted a settlement.

           “Talk to me, B’Elanna.  What do you see?”

           “Looks like a small village, mud structures, can’t see any damage – no, wait!  There’s one,
two, several buildings that are partly collapsed.”

           Chakotay’s hands were busy on the controls as he slowed to half-thrusters, almost hovering overhead.  Kes noted that there seemed to be a clearing on the port side, possibly a landing spot.  He swung the little vessel slowly around.  Looked as good a place as any, he thought, and brought it down carefully.

           As he disengaged all systems, he reminded the other two that this was very much a ‘first contact’ situation.  They must be on their guard.  He opened the hatch and led them out.

           Running across the field were at least a dozen individuals.  Chakotay just had time to close the hatch before they were surrounded by a horde – all men, he noticed, moving a little closer to Kes and Torres.  The group chattered excitedly and after a minute, the translators in their commbadges began to pick up the words.  Apparently, visitors from the sky were not completely unheard of, but were certainly very rare.   The noise died down as the crowd parted to let through a middle-aged man, whose authority was evident.  This would be the headman of the village.

           “Who are you and why do you drop out of the sky?”

           “My name is Chakotay.  This is Kes and B’Elanna Torres.  We have come to discover if any of your people were injured by the earthquake, and if so, to give what aid we can.  Also, to find out how badly your houses were damaged so that we may tell others in authority who will bring further assistance.  May we enter your village?”

           The man stared hard, his body tense, as he evaluated the truth of the commander’s statement.   He stepped back, then turned to Torres and Kes, looking them over thoroughly from head to toe.  B’Elanna growled softly.

           “Who do these belong to?”

           Chakotay was about to reply that they didn’t belong to anybody when he caught a covetous gleam in the man’s eyes.  He glanced around at the crowd and, on impulse, answered, “They are mine.”

           The man stared, astonished.  “Both?!”

           “Yes.”

           “But!  A man cannot have two wives!”

           Chakotay folded his arms.  “In our culture, he can.”  His tone left no room for doubt.

           B’Elanna started forward in protest, but subsided as she felt Kes take her arm in warning.  Much as she didn’t like it, it was best to let Chakotay do the talking.   He reached out to grasp a  hand of each woman, hoping the possession indicated would be enough.    The headman continued to stare, not sure whether to believe him or not.   Finally, he turned and started toward the village, nodding that they should follow.  They breathed a sigh of relief.  One hurdle out of the way.

           They trooped into the village en masse and stopped outside a hut.  The headman waved them inside where they found about a dozen people of all ages and both sexes, lying on thin mats.  Kes quickly unpacked her medkit and began to perform triage, scanning the person nearest to her, then the next, and so on until she had given them all a cursory examination.  Chakotay followed her, making notes on a padd as she diagnosed each patient.

           “Three broken legs, several arms – all straightforward fractures, nothing complicated.  One deep gash on a forehead, two sprained ankles, one slight concussion and numerous cuts and bruises.  All in all, Kes, I’d say they got off pretty lightly.”

           He glanced up at her as he finished the litany.  “Don’t you agree?” he asked, when she didn’t answer right away.

           “Yes.”  She gazed at the injured before her.  “I wonder how many died.”

           He didn’t respond and she looked up.

           “Where’s B’Elanna?” he demanded.

           “I don’t know.  She was here a few minutes ago.”

           Chakotay hurried for the door, suddenly getting a nasty feeling, and nearly collided with Torres.

           He grabbed her shoulders.  “What are you doing?” he demanded impatiently.

           She stared at him, first puzzled, then annoyed by his tone.  “Looking around.  You wanted to know what structural damage there was.  Well, here’s a list.”  She handed him a padd as she spoke.

           “You wandered around the village by yourself?”  he asked accusingly.

           “Yes, of course.  Why not?”

           “B’Elanna, I’m concerned for your safety!  Except for the injured inside, I haven’t seen any females at all.  Have you?”

           “No.”

           “Were you followed during your inspection tour?”

           “Of course I was followed.  They were curious to know what I was doing.  I probably had most of the village in tow.”

           Chakotay groaned, not sure whether to laugh or cry.  He calmed himself, knowing that anger from him would only increase her resentment.

           “B’Ela, there was a reason why I said you and Kes belonged to me.  It was to protect you from the men here.  I get the feeling that women are considered as little more than property.  I don’t want you going anywhere outside without me.  I know,” he continued as she began to object, “you don’t like it, it’s demeaning.  But it’s for the best.  We’re only here until tomorrow – surely you can survive in my company that long.”  His tone changed to almost wistful with the last sentence.

           She looked at him, suddenly feeling guilty.  She had been so off-balance and unsure around him, a combination guaranteed to bring out the worst in her, that she hadn’t thought to consider how her behaviour must seem to him.   Before anything else, Chakotay was her friend, a friend she hadn’t been treating very well lately.  She vowed to try harder to control her emotions.

           Her face softened into a slight smile.  “I’m sorry, Chakotay, you’re right.  I hadn’t considered that my presence might cause a problem.  And I can survive in your company very well.  I never meant for you to think otherwise.”

           He smiled happily, glad to find her more herself, then on impulse, hugged her.  Her whole body stiffened up like a board as feelings she knew she shouldn’t have, tore through her.  He released her, frowning at her reaction to him.  She refused to look at him, terrified he would see the truth on her face.  He started to say something just as the headman came up to them.

           “Come.  It is time for evening meal.  After, I will show you where you and your wives can sleep.”

           Chakotay called Kes and soon they were seated around a fire, being served by an old crone, all but her face concealed in flowing robes.  Several of the men started to mutter, apparently unhappy with the presence of females, but Chakotay said flatly that he wanted them nearby, where he could see them.  The headman agreed, remarking that he could quite understand.  He would do the same if he possessed two wives as fine as these.  He leered at them as he spoke, which didn’t endear him to either, but they remained silent.

           After the meal was finished, a container of what was apparently crude spirits was passed around in a ritual that was universal to the galaxy.  As tongues were loosened, and the talk became more ribald, B’Elanna and Kes became quite uncomfortable.  Several of the men were eyeing them in a way that neither cared for.  Both found themselves huddling closer to Chakotay.

           The headman, and grinning, teased the commander, elbowing him slyly, saying he must be very strong to be able to satisfy two such beautiful wives.  Chakotay wasn’t quite sure how to answer, and finally settled for a partial truth.  He explained that Kes had not yet reached mating age, so for now, was a wife in name only.    The other nodded knowingly, then looked at B’Elanna, remarking he imagined she could keep a man warm on a cold night.  She scowled but remained silent.  Chakotay merely answered that was true, which earned him another scowl.

           Kes yawned ostentatiously, hoping they would take the hint, but the men ignored her.  She nudged Chakotay to get his attention, then indicated the hut.  He pressed her hand, understanding her suggestion, and nodded his head.  Immediately, Torres jumped to her feet, announcing she was going to bed.   Kes stood as well and turned to Chakotay, waiting.

           “I think I’ll stay out here for a little longer.  You and B’Elanna go ahead.  You should be all right.  I can see the doorway from here and I don’t think anyone will bother you now.”

           She nodded and followed the other inside, where B’Elanna had thrown herself down in a corner.  She stood, watching her uncertainly for a moment, not sure if she should say anything.  But the misery was back, she could feel it, so she sat down beside her.

           “I realize you may not want to talk, but something seems to be really upsetting you and I’d like to help….”

           Torres continued to sit, fists clenching and unclenching.  She bit her lip, then turned to stare at Kes.  “I feel like I’m going crazy!  This whole situation is so bizarre!”  She covered her mouth with her hands, then sat up straight.   “Promise me that whatever I tell you goes no further, especially not to Chakotay.”

           “Yes, certainly.”

           “You remember the Bothan?  Of course you do.  Well, you know that each of us got a vision, I guess you’d call it, of a subconscious desire.  And mine was of Chakotay and me – in a romantic situation.  Kissing, making love in his quarters, the whole thing!  And Kes, I don’t know what to do!  I mean, I’ve worked with him, been part of his crew for years!  This has never happened before!  I don’t know how to act, how to behave around him!”  Her voice dropped to an intense whisper.  “I feel like such an idiot!”

           Kes sat silent, contemplating.  Finally she looked at B’Elanna.  “You were never involved with the commander, were you?  At any time?”

           “No!  He…he’s never thought of me like that.”  Her voice was trembling slightly.

           “But you wish he had?”

           “No, of course not!”  Silence, then a sigh of resignation.  “Yes.  For a long time, I wanted him to notice me.  But not recently, not since we came to Voyager!  I’d.….buried it, I guess, pretended I didn’t feel that way anymore.  That I only wanted him as a good friend.”  She sighed again.  “What am I going to do?”

           “First of all, I think you have to be very honest with yourself.  Do you only want him as a friend, or do you want more?  Then, I think your path will become clear.  You can’t deny your feelings, B’Elanna.  That’s why you’re so unhappy.”

           “There’s another part to it, too, isn’t there?  I mean, what about him?  As far as I know, he thinks of me only as a friend.”

           “That’s true, and it means that if you do want more, you’re going to have to tell him.  I think you should do that, anyway.  He’s very worried about you.  He thinks he’s done something that hurt you and he doesn’t know what.”

           B’Elanna stared at her.  “Did he tell you all that?!”

           Kes looked slightly abashed.  “No, but I could tell.  The commander doesn’t hide his feelings very well.”  She looked as if she were going to add something more, but didn’t.

           “I…I don’t know, I feel very uncomfortable about that.”

           They could hear Chakotay’s voice just outside.

           Kes added quickly.  “Don’t decide right this minute.  Think about it.  You’ll see things differently in a day or two.”

           He came in then, saying the village had finally settled down and they should do the same.  He peered at them more closely, and caught B’Elanna shivering.    He knew she would get angry again if he mentioned it – she hated acknowledging any weakness – so he pretended to be cold himself and suggested he build a fire.  She wasn’t fooled but realized he was trying to spare her feelings, and was grateful.  Which made her feel more guilty than ever.

           Her mind was in such turmoil that she didn’t notice the small flame or when he sat down beside her.  Only when he put his arm around her in an attempt to get her warm, did she become aware of her surroundings.  She jumped, startled, then was embarrassed, which she covered by leaping to her feet and retreating back to the corner.  Chakotay glanced at Kes, but she refused to meet his gaze.

           They all sat wrapped in their own thoughts, until the sound of B’Elanna’s teeth chattering penetrated the silence.  He stood it as long as he could, then got up, marched over to her, hauled her to her feet and dragged her back to the fire.

           She protested vehemently.  “What are you doing?!”

           “Putting you where it’s warm.  For heaven’s sake, B’Elanna, if you don’t want me to touch you, that’s fine.  But at least sit by the fire.”

           She ground her teeth audibly, from anger he thought, but in fact, she was trying very hard not to cry.  That would be the final straw.  He sat beside her, careful not to come in contact with her, and again looked at Kes.  This time, she stared back before shifting her gaze to B’Elanna, the message obvious.  He would have to get any answers from Torres – who was barely talking to him.  Tired and fed up, he remarked that he was going to sleep.  They would have a long day tomorrow.  He settled himself on the other side of the fire and closed his eyes.
 
           The others followed him soon after and quiet reigned once more.

           Several hours later, Chakotay suddenly awoke.  An odd noise had penetrated his subconscious.  There it was again.  It sounded like a muffled sob.  The fire had died down to only a few glowing coals and the temperature had dropped considerably.  He shivered and rubbed his hands, then heard it again.  This time, he was able to pinpoint it to a spot inside the hut.  He crawled carefully in that direction, feeling his way in the dark, until he bumped into B’Elanna.   Her hands were icy, her body chilled to the bone.

           Horrified, he pulled her into his lap, trying to rub everywhere at once in a desperate attempt to get her circulation going.  She whimpered softly against his chest, trying not to cry.  It was enough to rouse Kes, however, who called out in a concerned tone.

           “Who’s there?  Commander?  What is it?”

           “It’s B’Elanna, Kes.  She’s very cold.  Stir up the fire, would you?  Let’s get some heat in here.”

           Kes did as he directed, then came and sat beside him when he had settled himself comfortably by the fire, B’Elanna still on his lap.   She dug out her medical tricorder, scanning quickly.

           “She is in the early-to-middle stages of hypothermia, but she’ll be all right if we can get her warmed up quickly enough.”  She chafed Torres’ hands as she spoke, while Chakotay massaged her legs vigorously.  Gradually, the icy body grew warmer.  As blood circulation increased, B’Elanna could feel her hands and feet ache from chilblains, and tried very hard not to cry out with the pain.  Chakotay hugged her tightly to his chest, wrapping himself around her as much as possible.

           She could feel his breath on the side of her face as he spoke.  “Are you feeling better now?  Warmer?”

           “Yes, th..thanks,” she stammered.

           “Thank goodness!  Like it or not, you’re staying right here for the rest of the night.  I’ll make it an order if you want.”

           “N..no, you don’t have to.”  She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry to be such a nuisance.”

           He grinned against her hair.  “You must be sick!  You’re apologizing!”

           His attempt to lighten the mood was successful and she relaxed against him, her brain still too frozen to argue.  He breathed a sigh of relief when he felt her body soften, then stretched out on the floor, holding her close against him.  He could make out Kes’ concerned face behind.   She looked quite comfortable – apparently, Ocampans didn’t feel the cold as much as Klingons.

           “Come, lie close to me, Kes.  I don’t want you freezing on me, too.”

           She smiled slightly and curled up against his back.  “I’ll be fine.  Goodnight.”

         _______________________________________________________________
 

           Early in the morning, all three were up and ready to move on.  Kes checked the injured once more, while Chakotay explained to the headman that they had to leave in order to look for other villages which might be more badly damaged.    He assured him that rescue teams would be along within a day to provide all the help they needed.  Very soon after, the shuttle lifted off, a message was sent to the authorities giving details of the village’s situation, and they set a course to continue the search.

           Forty minutes later, they discovered a second village, which had no injuries and very little damage.  They spent only half an hour there, before setting off again.   The third settlement they found was located quite a bit further away, in a mountain valley surrounded by tall peaks.  Here the situation was much worse.  From overhead, they could see that most of the structures were in ruins.  A few people were visible in the main square, but far less than was warranted by the number of buildings.  Even before landing the shuttle, Chakotay hailed the governor’s aide, calling for immediate assistance.

           Chaos greeted them.   Some of the inhabitants were scrabbling feebly at the ruins, trying to dig out those still entombed.  Others were attempting to organize food supplies, apparently without much success.  And quite a few were just wandering around and around in a daze, clearly still in shock.  The away team set to work immediately.

           Chakotay assumed overall control, delegating specific tasks to each person.  With a purpose once more, the people began to show a little energy and verve.  Since B’Elanna was the engineer, she took charge of the rescue efforts, directing teams at different sites on how best to dig through the rubble without bringing it all down on their heads.  Kes set up a triage centre on the edge of the village, well away from anything that might fall on them.  Soon, she had worked through and categorized all the injuries.

           For eighteen hours, the three worked non-stop, digging with whatever implements they had – resorting to bare hands when they had to, making sure everyone had a place to sleep and a bit of food to eat, bandaging cuts and gashes, setting broken limbs, comforting orphaned children, and generally trying to bring some order back into shattered lives.

           The arrival of more rescue teams allowed them to return to the shuttle and collapse on the floor, too tired to do more than sleep.  B’Elanna was so exhausted that she didn’t even notice when her head came to rest on Chakotay’s shoulder.  Her eyes closed and she was asleep in seconds.

           She awoke a few hours later, still tired but not with the bone-numbing exhaustion they had felt earlier, and lay very quietly, trying to make sense of her feelings as she rested in Chakotay’s embrace.  He was sound asleep, she was sure.  Therefore, now was as good a time as any to try to sort out the mess in her head.

           Kes had stated unequivocally that she had to be sure of her own feelings first.  The trouble was she didn’t know what they were.  Was she in love with Chakotay, or was it just hero worship?  She was an intelligent adult, well beyond the stage of schoolgirl crushes, wasn’t she?  She told herself she certainly should be.  Part of the problem was that he affected her on so many different levels.  Literally from the moment she’d met him, when he had dragged off the drunken Cardassian soldiers who were about to rape her, he had been her protector.  The fact that several other Maquis had helped was beside the point – Chakotay had led the way.  And when the others had walked away, assuming she was fine once her attackers were disabled, he was the one who had turned back to check on her.

           He had taken her under his wing, cared for her, cared about her.  B’Elanna had responded in the only way she knew – by devoting herself to his cause, working long hours to keep his ship in the best repair possible.  It hadn’t taken her long to figure out Seska’s place in the order of things, and she had kept her feelings under tight restraint.  She was well aware that provoking the other woman would most likely lead to her own dismissal, and she would take no chance of losing the only family she had.  Here, she unknowingly did Chakotay an injustice.  He had recognized very quickly just what an asset Torres was – and he was tired of Seska’s constant jealousy and neverending demands.  It was not long after B’Elanna joined them that he ended the affair.  Although he found the little Klingon attractive in her own way, he had been badly scarred by Seska and was determined to steer clear of any more intimate relationships with his crew.

           Instead, the two developed a close friendship.  She found she could talk to him about her fears, her insecurities and he would listen attentively, and make helpful suggestions.  Despite the constant pressure they were under, he always made time for her, never turning her away from his door, even in the dark hours before dawn when the nightmares were worst and she couldn’t sleep.  Always, he was there for her, giving her what she needed when she needed it.

           The man beside her muttered but didn’t waken.  He shifted position slightly, but kept his arms tightly around her.  Even in sleep, she thought, he looks after me.  Guilt nearly overwhelmed her.  She had treated him very badly in the last few days.  Maybe Kes was right – she had to tell him what the Bothan had shown her.  But if she did, how would he react?  Would she lose his friendship, something she depended on heavily?  Her mind started on its endless circle once again, and she swore to herself in frustration.  Damn!  Why couldn’t she have been born a Vulcan!  All these emotions were driving her to insanity!

           Her body tensed automatically as the turmoil in her mind increased, rousing Chakotay.  He kept still for a moment, getting his bearings, then turned to look at B’Elanna.  Her face was creased in a scowl and he sighed in resignation.  Still not happy!  He had never known her to remain upset this long, and was at a loss as to what to do next.

           She had seemed back to her old self yesterday.  He could only hope that eventually she would open up to him.  She always had before.  Maybe he should talk to Kes, although he suspected she wouldn’t tell him much.  He was beginning to regret bringing Torres along – he was getting nowhere with her, and he really couldn’t afford the distraction when they had so much to do.

           He chastised himself then, reminding himself of how hard she had worked yesterday.  Without her direction and expertise, several more people would have died in the rubble.

           Time to get up, he decided.  Maybe today would go better.  He leaned over to let her know he was awake.

           “Morning, B’Ela.  Feel any warmer?”

           She jumped, startled out of her reverie, and his optimism shrank.   He carefully removed his arm from around her and sat up.

           “Sorry to upset you.”  He rose to his feet as he spoke and moved to the rear of the shuttle.

           She bit her lip, cursing herself for her reaction.  She knew she would have to do something – they couldn’t go on this way – but she still didn’t know what.  Chakotay chose that moment to return with breakfast, such as it was, and sat down in the pilot’s chair.  She wouldn’t look at him, knowing he could read her far too easily.  She rose and found her own breakfast, remaining by the hatch while she ate.

           Kes awakened, perhaps roused by the negative emotions flowing all around her.  She got up silently and was soon settled in the passenger seat behind Chakotay.    B’Elanna had not yet returned from the rear of the shuttle.

           The commander was becoming annoyed.  “Are you coming, Torres, or are you going to stay back there all day?”  His tone was strictly business and she responded automatically.

           “Coming, sir.”

           She slid into the copilot’s seat and began the pre-launch checks.  Very soon after, they were in the air once again, continuing to follow the search pattern programmed into the navigational computer.

           The day proved relatively uneventful.  What settlements they found had escaped the destructive force of the earthquake almost unscathed. Early evening found them over an uninhabited area.  Chakotay decided they should land before it got too dark.  The shuttle began to drop as they all looked for a suitable site.  A small lake appeared on the port side, catching B’Elanna’s attention.

           “That looks like a nice spot.  What do you think?”

           He circled around to see.  “Good enough.”  He set down nearby in a grassy meadow bordered by trees, popped the hatch and they all stepped out, stretching and breathing in the fresh air, a welcome relief after being cooped up in the shuttle.

           Chakotay started toward the lake.  “I’m going to have a swim.  Join me if you want.”  He reached water’s edge, stripped off his uniform and dived in.  The other two shook their heads.

           B’Elanna shivered.  “Looks too cold for me.  What about you?”

           Kes stared at the water, then shook her head.  “I’ve never learned to swim.”

           “Well, I’m sure Chakotay will teach you, if you want.”

           “No, I don’t think so.”  The Ocampan seemed caught up in her own thoughts for a moment, before shaking her head and smiling.  “Why don’t we start a fire?  Then we can eat our dinner outside around it.  I think that would be a pleasant change, don’t you?  It’s such a lovely evening.”  She stared at the sun just starting to touch the horizon.   “This is such a new experience for me, you know.  I’m not used to being able to see the sky like this.  I’d like to enjoy it while we can.”

           B’Elanna shrugged.  “Sure.  Why not?”

           They gathered wood and kindling, then lit the fire.   Soon, it was crackling cheerfully.  Kes went into the shuttle for several blankets to sit on, while B’Elanna wandered down to the lake edge.  She poked about, keeping one eye on the dark head in the water.  Finally, just as she was about to call to him that it was getting pretty dark, he waded out.  She caught her breath.  Oh my god!

           He was completely naked, the last rays of the setting sun making his body glow, turning it to gold in the dying light.  In the stillness, he heard her gasp and glanced up, catching her lustful stare.  She blushed fiercely and turned away hurriedly, chastising herself yet again.   God!  What was the matter with her?!

           Chakotay dried himself slowly, then dressed, as he pondered her reaction.  If the look on her face meant what he thought it did, perhaps he had found the reason for her strange behaviour.  The more he thought about it, the more sense it made.  On a subliminal level, he had recognized her attraction to him long ago, but at the time, he had ignored it and later, it had seemed to disappear.  What had precipitated its return, he had no idea.

           He headed for the shuttle, replicated some dinner, and joined the other two at the fire.  As an experiment, he just brushed B’Elanna’s arm as he sat down, watching her carefully. Sure enough, she flinched slightly before pretending she hadn’t.  Hmm.  One more test, he decided, to be sure.

           After the meal, he collected plates and utensils and placed them in the recycler, then returned to the fire, seating himself beside her.  After a moment, he put his arm around her shoulder companionably.  Her eyes darted to his, hope and fear flying across her face before she could stop them.  Her body tensed as she tried to control her reactions.

           Chakotay glanced over at Kes to find her smiling at him.  Okay, he was on the right track then.  He could feel B’Elanna sitting very still beside him.  Gently he reached out a hand and took her chin, turning her head so she had to look at him.

           “What is it, B’Ela?  I know there’s something wrong.  Please, I want to help.”

           She bit her lip.  “Nothing’s wrong, Chakotay.  You must be imagining things.”  Her voice was artificially bright.   She tried to look away, but he was having none of it and kept a firm grasp on her jaw.

           “I think there is.”  His voice remained very soft.  “And I want to know.”

           Kes rose to her feet.  “I think I’ll call it a night, but you two stay out and enjoy the evening.”  She paused, then looked at B’Elanna.  “You’ll never get a better chance.  I think you should tell him.”  She turned and disappeared inside the shuttle.

           “Tell me what, B’Elanna?”  He was more insistent now.  “What does she mean?”

           “Nothing!  I…it was just a silly joke.  I…it’s nothing!”  Her body was quivering with tension.

           “You’re lying!  I want the truth and I want it now!”  He was getting impatient.  “We can’t go on like this, B’Elanna.  I know you; I know you are very upset about something, and I know it’s been going on for days.  Now, I want to know what it is!  Tell me!”

           She sat, feeling trapped and terrified, aware there was no way out.  Getting angry would do no good – he’d see right through it.  She opened her mouth, swallowed, then tried again.

           “You’re right, there has been something.”  Her voice was low, hesitant.

           He let go of her chin but kept his arm around her shoulders.  “Go on.”

           She sighed deeply, then plucked up what courage she had left, and began.

           “You remember the Bothan?”  He nodded.  “Well, the vision I had was about something that…..I had once thought I wanted.  And while I believed I didn’t want it anymore, apparently that isn’t the case.  At least I don’t think it is.  But then, I’m not sure.”  She burst into tears.  “I don’t know!  I’m so mixed up, I don’t know what’s right anymore!”

           He hugged her very tightly, rubbing her back and stroking her hair.  “Ssh, B’Ela.  It can’t be that bad.  You’ll feel better if you just tell me straight out.”

           She pulled her head back, her face tear-streaked, but anger starting to come to the fore.  “You really want to know?!  All right!  The vision I had was of you kissing me passionately in engineering, then later of us making love in your quarters!   The captain said she thought our visions were possibilities that our subconscious minds harboured, which the Bothan used to torment us.  I don’t know, none of it makes much sense.   What I do know is that the whole thing has been going round and round in my head for days!  And every time you come near me, it all gets more tangled then ever!  And I don’t know what to do!”  She looked at him then, with hope, exasperation and fear written all over her.

           Chakotay stared at her, his mind reeling.  “You told the captain?!”

           “No!  I didn’t tell her the specifics.  I just mentioned to her that the Bothan seemed to pick up on thoughts and feelings that we weren’t really aware of.  And she said that maybe that was a good thing, that we should look those thoughts straight in the eye, and not keep them buried.”  She paused, trying to find the right words.

           “The trouble is – I don’t know what I feel for you anymore!  I don’t know how I should behave around you, how I should react!  I…it’s just such a mess, Chakotay!  I wish we’d never gone near the damned Botha!”

           “You and me both,” he muttered, half to himself.

           He was ashamed to admit, even to himself, that his first feeling was one of relief that B’Elanna hadn’t told the captain exactly what she had seen.  His own vision, which he had been very careful to reveal to no one, had forced him to admit to himself just much he desired and wanted Kathryn Janeway.   He was still quite uncertain how to deal with his feelings in such a delicate situation, where protocol was paramount, and the lady in question was actually engaged to another man, albeit on the other side of the galaxy.

           And now, here was B’Elanna, watching him in trepidation, muddled, confused, not knowing what she wanted.  He knew she was extremely vulnerable at this moment and that he must be very careful indeed.  The last thing he wanted to do was hurt her anymore, but somehow, he had to find a way to tell her that he had never loved her the way she wished, and never would, because he was falling in love with someone else.

           Unconsciously, he continued to stroke her hair, his arm still around her.  She never took her eyes off his face, analyzing each expression as it flitted across his features.  She knew, almost before he did, exactly what he was going to say.  Her shoulders slumped as she tried to swallow.

           “I know what you’re thinking, Chakotay, so don’t bother to try to ‘protect’ me.  You don’t love me, not like that, and you never did.  It’s all right.  Makes it easier in some ways.  Now I don’t have to dither anymore over what to do.”  She sighed heavily, unable to completely mask the disappointment, then moved away from him.  “We better join Kes, get some sleep.”

           She left him to stare into the flames.  It was a long time before he returned to the shuttle.

                __________________________________________________________
 

           Their days followed the routine established on the first day.   Circle over a village to check for obvious destruction, then land the shuttle, and make contact with the local leader.  Later on, they would catalogue the injuries and damage in more detail.  And inevitably, Chakotay would have to explain yet again that B’Elanna and Kes belonged to him, they were his wives and no, they were not for sale or trade.

           The pattern varied only slightly as they checked one settlement after another.  Some showed very little damage, others moderate to heavy, although they never found another with as many casualties as the one on their second day.

            Although the work helped to distract Chakotay and Torres to some extent, several times Kes felt herself caught in the middle of a powerful eddy of emotions, as one reacted to the other.   By the end of the sixth day, she had decided she was becoming quite weary.

            The commander prepared to check in once more with their contact.

            “Assistant Hordad, it’s getting close to sunset.  Can you tell me how many more villages you want us to look for today?”

           “That’s it, Commander.  All the rest have been accounted for.  Why don’t you set down for the night, and return here tomorrow?  We would like to thank you and your crew properly for all your assistance.”

           “That’s very kind of you, but quite unnecessary.  We’re glad we could help.  I don’t wish to cause offence, but if it’s all the same to you, I think we would like to get back to our ship as soon as we can.”

           “Of course,” replied the other.  “I quite understand.  Please accept our heartfelt gratitude for all your efforts.  I will be sure to tell the governor as well as our authorities at the station, and your captain, how very valuable your presence has been.  Safe journey.”

           “Thank you, Hordad.  Chakotay out.”

           Immediately after, the shuttle leaped for open space and began the long journey home to Voyager.
 

          _____________________________________________________________
 

           It was the middle of ship’s night when the shuttle with its exhausted crew finally arrived.  The night duty officer was so surprised to see them that he roused the captain, certain that something must have happened to bring them back at such an ungodly hour.

           His palpable concern sent her scurrying down to the shuttle bay, still pulling on her jacket and with her hair unbound and cascading down her back.  She was very relieved to find that the three were suffering only from lack of sleep compounded by ill temper.  She looked them over quickly, then suggested that perhaps they could postpone the required visit to sickbay until morning.  After all, Kes would already have checked for any potentially hazardous bacteria or viruses.  The latter nodded, agreeing, and headed out the door behind B’Elanna, who hadn’t even waited for the captain to finish.   Janeway let her go, then turned to Chakotay, standing motionless beside her, eyes half-closed.

           She took his arm.  “Come on, Commander.  I’ll walk you to your quarters.  I don’t think you’ll find them otherwise.”

           He shook his head, summoning up a faint smile.  “Probably not.”

           At his door, she started to turn away, but he surprised her by asking if she would like to come in.  He was too tired to sleep, and was going to have a cup of tea and some ‘comfort food’.

           Her curiosity got the better of her and besides, she knew that most likely, she would not sleep again that night.  “What is ‘comfort food’?  You mean, like my mother’s caramel brownies, or coffee ice cream?”

           “Sounds like it.  Mine is cornbread, made to my mother’s recipe.  Of course, the replicator can’t get it quite as good as I remember…”

           “Of course not,” she agreed.  “No replicator can.”

           He tossed his bag into the bedroom, kicked off his boots and removed his jacket before going to the replicator and calling for two cups of tea, special blend Chakotay number five, and two large pieces of ‘Mama’s cornbread’.  He handed her the cups and carried the plates to the coffee table.  He plunked himself down on the couch, patting the cushion beside him, then picked up his plate, glancing at her as he began to eat.

           She hesitated, then followed his lead, toeing off her boots and throwing her jacket on the chair, before settling down beside him.  The first bite brought a look of surprised delight to her face.

           “Ohh!  This is good!  And you say hers was even better?!”

           “As I remember, yes.  Something about being actually baked in an oven, I guess.  I’m sure it was crispier.”

           “Well, I think this is wonderful!”  She polished off the slice in short order, then grinned at him.  “Want some more?  My rations.”

           “Sure, but I’ll share it with you.  If I eat too much, I’ll never sleep.”

           She took their empty plates to the recycler, and brought back one more piece, breaking off a chunk as she handed him the rest.  They nibbled at the slice with their fingers and drank their tea slowly, enjoying the peaceful companionship.  Finally, when only a few crumbs remained and the cups were empty, Chakotay leaned back on the couch, and put his feet up on the table, sighing contentedly.

           “That feels much better.”

           “I gather the trip was a bit – wearing?”

            “’Wearing’ doesn’t even start to describe it.  I have rarely been on a more exhausting mission, in every sense.  Physically, emotionally, it just never stopped.  Oh, by the way, the governor’s aide, Hordad, thanked us profusely and promised to make sure the governor here, and you, know how grateful they are.  So now you know.”

           She patted his arm sympathetically.  “You don’t have to start your report yet.”

           He smiled slightly, then went on.  “Actually, the hardest part, by far, was dealing with Torres.  I think Kes was ready to throw us both out an airlock.”

           “Did you ever find out what her trouble was?”

           “Oh yeah!”

           She waited for him to continue, and when he didn’t, asked point blank.  “Well?  What was it?  Can you tell me?”

           “She didn’t say I couldn’t.  The subject never came up.  But it would be violating her privacy, so I don’t know if I should.”

           She grinned knowingly.  “That’s what I thought it was.”

           He sat up to stare at her.  “What do you mean?”

           “Based on what B’Elanna herself told me, and your reaction just now, I figure that she has, or did have, a crush on you, and the Bothan picked up on it.”

           “Well, I don’t know how the hell you figured it out,” he replied indignantly, “because I certainly didn’t, and I know her a lot better than you do!  Or I thought I did!”  He ran his hand through his hair in exasperation.

           “Don’t worry about it.  It’s very simple really.  I’m a woman – that’s how.  It makes perfect sense.”  She patted his knee in a comforting fashion.  He still looked sceptical so she explained further.

           “Chakotay, it was almost inevitable.  Think about how you first met her.  You literally saved her from a terrible fate at the hands of the Cardassians.  Then you gave her a home, friends, treated her kindly and with respect.  And it doesn’t hurt that you’re a very attractive man.  Of course she’d fall in love with you!  It was a perfectly natural thing to do!”

           He sighed resignedly and sat back again.  “I suppose.”

           She gazed at him speculatively.  “I take it you’ve never…..?”

           “No.  I’m fond of her, yes, but never anything more than that, and I know I didn’t ever give her any reason to think otherwise.”

           “I’m sure you didn’t.”  She paused, hesitating over the next question, then decided to ask anyway.  “Could I ask why not?  She’s very attractive.”

           “Yes, she is.  But there’s the age difference for one thing.  I’m more than fifteen years older than her.”

           Janeway rolled her eyes at that.  “Chakotay!  That is no excuse, not these days.  There must be something else.”

           “She reminded me, still does, of my youngest sister.  Naya was taken by the Cardassians – she’s probably dead by now.  For her sake, I hope so.”  His face twisted in sudden pain and Kathryn put her hand over his, gripping his fingers tightly.  He took a deep breath, fighting down the grief, then went on.  “And….I was heavily involved with Seska when B’Elanna joined us. That whole affair left such a bad taste in my mouth that I couldn’t get involved with anyone else in my crew.”

           She nodded, understanding only too well.

           He yawned then, and she rose at once, saying he must be very tired and had better go straight to bed.  He stood with her.

           “We’ll talk tomorrow, Chakotay.  Sleep well.  And take the morning off.  You need the rest – and we’re not going anywhere for another day.”

           “Thank you, Captain.  Goodnight.”

           ____________________________________________________________
 
 

           Several days passed before Chakotay realized he had hardly seen B’Elanna since their return.   The ship had departed the space station late the next day, and he knew she had been very busy in Engineering overseeing the final tests and checks to ensure that all was well before they left.  Since Carey hadn’t come to see him again, he assumed her temper had improved, to some extent anyway.

           However, now that they were underway and the engines were performing flawlessly, he decided to try to renew their friendship.  He paged her, asking if she felt like a game of hoverball, but she declined hurriedly, almost nervously.  He debated pushing the issue, then decided to let it go.  He would try again in a couple of days.  Maybe her work really was keeping her too busy.

           However, after a week had passed during which she refused two more invitations, he determined to confront her.  This whole thing had gone on far too long.

           He instructed the computer to alert him when she returned to her quarters, then, using his command override, walked in unannounced.  He could hear the sonic shower operating, and made himself comfortable on her couch, waiting for her.  She walked out of the bathroom clad only in lacy, black underwear which left very little to the imagination, and gasped in horror when she saw him.

           “Wh..what are you doing….here?!”

           He looked her over from head to toe, and she blushed violently as she recalled, in vivid detail, just how he had walked out of the lake after his swim.

           “Very nice,” he remarked.  “Not regulation, of course, but I’ll let it pass this time.  Now, get some clothes on, please.  I want to talk to you.”

           She was so surprised that she found herself in her bedroom getting dressed before she realized what she was doing.  As she found her balance, her temper came to the fore, and it was a much more aggressive woman who marched back into the other room, and demanded to know what the hell he thought he was doing, barging into her quarters like this!

           Chakotay, who had seen it all before, remained singularly unimpressed.

           “Skip the histrionics, B’Elanna, I’m not interested.  Sit down, please.   I want to talk with you in a civilized manner.”

           She remained standing.

           “I said – sit down!  That was not a request!”

           She sat.

           “I didn’t come here to argue or fight with you.  I only want to know why you’re avoiding me.”

           “I haven’t been avoiding you!  I’ve been busy!  There’s a tremendous amount of work to do, and I’ve had to check all the repairs that were done while we were gone to make sure those idiots didn’t screw up!”

           He stared at her, noticing her hands clasped tightly together.  She was nervous.

           “Look at me.”  His voice was soft.

           She glanced around the room, then down at the floor, but wouldn’t meet his eyes.

           “I said – look at me!”  Her eyes flew up at the snap in his tone.  “Do I have to make every request an order?!”

           She bit her lip, but didn’t answer.

           Chakotay sighed.  “B’Elanna, what’s happened to us?  We’ve been such good friends for so long.  I just want things to be back to the way they were.  Is that such a difficult thing to ask?”

           “Right now, yes.”  Her voice was nearly a whisper.  She wrapped her arms around herself, then jumped to her feet and began to pace.

           “I….guess it’s taking me a while to get past all this.”  Her voice became stronger as she found the words to explain her feelings.  “I hadn’t realized how I felt about you until the Bothan came along.  Or maybe I did and just didn’t want to believe it – I don’t know!   But in any case, it’s thrown me into the worst emotional turmoil I have ever experienced!  I feel like I’ve been standing on my head a lot of the time.  Off-balance, unsure of myself, unsure of you.   Not knowing how to behave around you.  Wanting you, but too scared to say anything.  Me!  Scared of you!  There’s a laugh!  But it’s true, I have been scared of you.”

           She paused, then turned to face him.  “That’s why I’ve tried to stay away from you, but I realize now I was just being a coward, afraid to face the truth.  And the truth is – you don’t love me.  And I have to accept that and go on.  Only – it’s going to take me a little bit of time, and….oh, dear, I don’t know what I’m saying!”  She covered her face with her hands.

           Chakotay stood and put his arms around her, holding her gently.  “Oh, sweetheart, I’m sorry.  I do love you, just not the way you want.  You mean so much to me.  Sometimes it seems like you’re the only family I have left.”
 
           He led her to the couch and sat down, still holding her.  She nestled against him, finding an unexpected comfort in his warmth.

           “I guess that’s not likely to change?”  She looked up at him hopefully.

           “No, it won’t.  And,” he hesitated a moment, then plunged on, “not only because I love you like a sister, but because – I’m falling in love with someone else.”  His voice was very low, but she heard every word.

           She remained silent.  He grew nervous, watching her.  Finally “the captain” she whispered, knowing it couldn’t be anyone else.

           “Yes,” he answered.

           “But – she’s engaged!  Does she know?  Have you told her?”

           “No, I haven’t said anything.  I….wasn’t sure what I was feeling until the Bothan….”

           She smiled ruefully.  “I understand, believe me!”

           They sat quietly for another few moments, but in a comfortable silence now, their friendship restored.  Eventually, he sat her back and took her chin in his hand, looking deep into her eyes.

           “All right now?  Can I have my friend back?”

           “I will be, Chakotay.  And yes, you can.”

           He got to his feet and held out his hand.  “Good.  Enough of all this emotional stuff.  What do you say we get some dinner?  I’m starving all of a sudden.”

           She put her hand in his and let him pull her up.  “Good idea.   So am I.”

           They trooped out her door and sailed down the corridor, into the turbolift, and then along the passage to the mess hall.  Just outside the entrance, they met Kes, apparently also going in for a meal.  On impulse, Chakotay reached for her hand and tucked it into his elbow, declaring that he wanted to treat ‘his wives’ to a special dinner to celebrate their successful mission and safe return.

           They entered the mess hall arm in arm as he spoke, drawing the attention of several crewmembers sitting near the door.  Immediately, they demanded to know what was going on and very soon, amid much laughter, all three were regaling everyone present with an exaggerated version of their adventures on the planet.

           The captain came in partway through and, despite her protests that she only wanted a quick dinner, was immediately ensconced next to the commander.  As she watched B’Elanna’s face, animated as she laughingly disputed an assertion of Chakotay’s, she breathed a sigh of relief that apparently their friendship was back to normal.  On her other side, Kes brushed her hand.  She glanced over to see her smile and nod reassuringly.

            The special dinner evolved into an impromptu party, which didn’t start to wind down until after midnight.  Finally, the captain rose, saying she didn’t know about the rest of them, but she had early shift tomorrow and must get to bed.  That seemed to be the signal for everyone else, and very soon after, the mess hall had emptied.

            Neelix found Kes, and remarked that she must be very tired.  She replied that yes, she was, but it was a happy tired.  He said he knew exactly what she meant, and wasn’t it nice to see Lieutenant Torres looking so cheerful again.  He’d missed her smile.  Kes agreed, adding that they all had.

           Chakotay escorted B’Elanna to her quarters, telling her how much he had enjoyed the evening.   When they reached her door, he gently kissed her good night.

           “I’m so glad to have my friend back,” he told her, smiling.

           “Me too,” she answered, and hugged him tightly.  “Goodnight, Chakotay.”
 
           “ ‘Night, B’Elanna.”

           She entered her cabin, as he turned to amble down the corridor.  Rounding the corner, he found the captain waiting for him.  Obviously, she had been watching them from a discreet distance.

           “All’s well?”  she asked.

           “It will be,” he answered, and offered her his arm.

            “Good,” she replied, and took it, as they continued on to the turbolift.   “It was so nice to see B’Elanna enjoying herself tonight.  She has a lovely smile, doesn’t she, when you get to see it.”

           “B’Elanna, when she forgets she is half-Klingon, can be an utterly charming person,” he mused.  “Unfortunately, she doesn’t forget for very long.”

           “It must be hard, though, to constantly be pulled in two directions.  I mean, when you think about it, she really manages very well.”

           “I know, and honestly, I wouldn’t have her any other way.  She’s a very unique, very special person.  It’s just that the Klingon side gets a bit – what’s the word – tiresome, at times.”  He chuckled, as they waited for the ‘lift.  “But that’s B’Elanna.  Full of contradictions.”

           Janeway smiled up at him.  “If I hadn’t heard you say otherwise, I would think you’re in love with her.”

           He glanced at her, startled for a minute, before smiling somewhat ruefully.  “No, that’s not possible.”

           “Why not?”

           He took a deep breath, then let it out as the lift doors opened.  They stepped inside, and she ordered it to deck three, then turned to him, obviously waiting for his answer.

           He swallowed, wondering if he should just blurt it out and see what happened.  But if she didn’t like it, what relationship he had with her would be out the airlock.  And he didn’t want to lose that, even if it wasn’t what he ultimately wanted.

           “Chakotay?”  she asked.

           “Let’s just say it isn’t, and leave it at that, shall we?”

           “That’s an ambiguous answer,” she grumbled.  “Why can’t you just tell me?”

           But he had made up his mind.  “Because that’s all I’m willing to say.”  His tone made it clear that he wouldn’t answer any more questions.

           She turned away from him to face the doors.  “I think you’re in love with someone else, and you’re just scared to tell me because you believe I won’t approve.  Which indicates that I probably won’t.”  She watched him out of the corner of her eye.  “Well?  Am I close?”

           He struggled to keep his face neutral.  She was very good at picking up the slightest expression.  “I’m not discussing it.”

           The lift doors opened, and they strolled down the corridor.  They reached his quarters first; he turned to face her as he keyed in the doorcode.

           “Goodnight, Captain.  I hope you get a good rest.”

           “Damn you, Chakotay!  You’re not going to tell me, are you.”  Her eyes gleamed as her voice dropped, the tone half command, half wheedling.
 
           He found it very hard to resist, yet somehow he did.

           “No.”

           “And I can’t change your mind?”

           “Oh, if you were extremely nice to me,” he teased with a wicked grin, “I might.”

           “Hmph!” was her reply.  It seemed that the commander had secrets which even she would not be privy to.

           Suddenly tired of the game, as her weariness caught up with her, she patted his arm.  “I’m off. Goodnight.  See you tomorrow.”

           “Goodnight, Captain.”  He turned and strolled into his cabin, knowing he would sleep well tonight.
 

 The End

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