Kathryn and Chakotay were swarmed with well-wishers and media alike, the crush of people almost overwhelming them. After spending the last five months in virtual seclusion, the crowd was quickly taking a toll on them. Kathryn answered as many questions as she could but there never seemed to be no end to them. At first there were technical questions, then personal queries, about her appointment, and her career. She repeated, the information they wanted was in the official Starfleet Bio sent to each news agency. That satisfied most of the reporters, but there was one who was determined to have "the scoop." He kept asking her and the Commander increasingly personal questions, hinting that their relationship was not entirely professional. Kathryn was tired, her temper growing short.
"I assure you, Commander Chakotay and I are colleagues and friends. We have worked in the same office for nearly the last six months. Any closeness you sense is that friendship and dedication to duty. If you'll excuse me, I have other people I need to speak with."
Kathryn left Chakotay to the reporters, knowing he would fair better than she had. She'd been paranoid all along someone would question their relationship, and cast doubts over the decision to post them both on *Voyager*. She would have to redouble her efforts at nonchalance while she was near him. She only hoped he understood the reasons for her denial, although it wasn't an out-and-out disavowing. They *were* friends and colleagues, she just didn't happen to mention their sleeping arrangements.
Spying Tom across the room, she decided it was time they had their little chat. He seemed to have sobered up a degree; perhaps he had taken her advice.
Tom watched as Captain Janeway approached, knowing she was going to confront him on his earlier behavior. He couldn't say he blamed her, he *had* been out of line. He had been in such a foul mood that he just hadn't cared at the time. Seeing her leave with his father, he knew what was coming. She would take Owen's side, and admonish him for his juvenile actions in regards to his gambling and his earlier conduct, then proceed to tell him he better straighten up or he'd blow his ride.
Steeling himself for the encounter, he was sure was forthcoming, he plastered an over-confident smile on his face.
"Hello, Captain, come to slap the wayward child on the wrist?"
Kathryn didn't take his bait. She knew little of Tom's childhood other than Owen's bragging, but she did recognize the signs of a child's attempts at gaining parental attention. Although Kathryn hadn't taken the rebellious route to attract her father's notice, her adherence to her studies had been in the same effort. These days, she recognized why she had been so driven, why it had become part of her nature, her motivations having been the same as Tom's. Hers just had a more positive outcome.
"I didn't come here to reprimand you, if that's what you were expecting," she said, leading him over to a table, in a quieter section of the simulated party hall.
"Then why did you come over? Surely your public awaits."
"Tom, cut the crap. I came over here to talk to you as a friend. One last time before I become your Captain."
"I'm sorry, Kathy. I thought you were here in an 'official capacity.' I saw you talking to my father and. . ."
"And you thought I was here to pick up where he left off," she finished for him.
"Well, yeah. The 'compassion' the great Admiral Paris has for his son is legendary. He's tried *everything* and he just can't get through to me, right? It's usually what I hear. Or 'he's so concerned about you, of course he loves you.' At least those are the highlights.".
"I *do* think he cares about you, Tom."
"Yeah, but not as much as he does about his image, or his good name, which of course he feels I delight in sullying"
"Do I what?"
"Delight in sullying his name?" Kathryn specified.
Tom took a deep breath. "Sometimes, I guess I do. If he didn't try so hard to re-live his life through mine, I suppose I wouldn't be so quick to make that life seem unattractive."
This was more honesty than she had expected of him. Most people weren't aware of their motivations where their behavior was concerned.
"Surprised that I know what I'm doing, Kathy? I suppose since I realize how I'm behaving, I should be able to stop it, shouldn't I? The trouble is, I *like* gambling. The thrill of the 'chance.' It's like flying a ship, in a way, the same type of adrenaline rush." Tom gave a little laugh and continued, "it's ironic, actually. Dad's the one who pushed me to be a pilot, got me hooked on the rush, and when I find an alternative form, he condemns me for it."
"Surely you can see there's difference in performing your job in a tight situation, and an addiction to gambling," Kathryn said.
"I think 'addiction' is a little harsh, don't you?"
"No. I've seen how you are when we play pool. It's more than the game. If we don't wager *something* on the game, you lose interest, don't give it your best shot. Well, I've got a wager for you: I bet you can't give up gambling, the kind that puts you at personal risk, for the remainder of time before we ship out."
"Come on! That's a sucker bet! It's only four weeks until the shake-down cruise!"
"Then you shouldn't hesitate to take me up on it," she said.
"What's at stake?" he asked. He wasn't going to stay "clean" for nothing.
"Your commission," she stated evenly.
Tom recognized the instant she stopped being his friend and started being his Captain. There was no mistaking her intentions. Screw this up and you're off the ship. Those two words held more impact for him than any long winded lecture his father had ever given him. She was good, but then, that's why he wanted to serve with her.
"You've got yourself a bet, Captain."
Kathryn felt herself relax. She had faith in Tom, she just hoped he was worthy of that trust.
"I've got a question for you," Tom said, rising to his feet.
She gazed at him, inviting his inquisition.
"What's really up with you and the 'Big Guy?'" Tom asked, nodding in Chakotay's direction.
Kathryn stood and gave him a practiced smile. "Not that it's any of your business, but *Commander* Chakotay and I are friends," she said, walking away.
"I wouldn't bet on it!" Tom called out, just loud enough for her to hear.
01:00 had come and gone, and the end of the gathering was still no where in sight. Kathryn and Chakotay were exhausted. Besides the long day they had put in at headquarters, the party had drained them. The repetitive conversations; confrontations with Mark; constant media attention; all had taken their toll. Seated at a table, Chakotay looked as if he were about to fall asleep where he sat.
"Let's get out of here," she suggested. "I think we've more than done our duty to Starfleet this evening."
"Best idea you've had all night," he said, rising to join her. "I know it's a little past the time we were supposed to rendezvous in your quarters. . . ."
"You're still welcome, but, I'm sorry, I'm so tired, I don't know that I could take anymore 'excitement,' even from you."
"'Ryn, it's okay. I hate to admit it, but I don't know that I'd stay awake either. I just want to be with you. I can't seem to sleep alone anymore, no matter how tired I am."
She resisted the urge to touch him, hoping her eyes conveyed how much she cared for him.. The reporter from the *Daily News* had hounded them, lurking around every corner trying to catch them in a compromising position, and she couldn't risk the misinterpretation of a casual gesture.
"I think we better leave separately. Our nemesis is some where close by, I'm sure, and I don't want to give him any more reason to doubt our claim of friendship." He nodded and was about to leave when she called out his name.
"Chakotay, you understood why I denied our relationship, don't you? That I was only trying to protect our public image?"
"Of course I did, and do. Kathryn, I don't want to loose *Voyager*. I won't do anything to compromise that." She gave him a smile that relayed her relief.
He hadn't realized she'd been so concerned about his reaction to her minimizing their association. It surprised him, sometimes, how they were both a little insecure when it came to their relationship. Perhaps it was the newness, the feeling of awe they seemed to share over the realization they were of one mind. He was still overwhelmed by the emotions she evoked in him, and he suspected, she felt the same.
Kathryn gathered the plaque Admiral Nechayev had presented her, and went to make her farewells to the remaining senior officers. Chakotay had started at one end of the room, and she choose the other. She planed on lingering just long enough for him to make his exit, giving him a few minutes head start, but she was side-tracked by Nechayev.
"Did you enjoy your evening, Kathryn?"
"It was lovely, thank you, Admiral. But we've all got a big day tomorrow, so if you'll excuse me?"
Nechayev could tell she was in a hurry to leave, but she needed to ask her some serious questions. "Kathryn," she started. "I know you and Commander Chakotay have become close these last months, and I'm glad you're so in-tune with each other, I think it's an important element in a command team."
Kathryn paled, sensing there was a "but" coming. Had the Admiral picked up on their closeness, despite their efforts to appear casual?
"I would have found it unusual if you *hadn't* become such good friends," she continued. "But that friendship and rapport can become a double-edged sword."
*Here it comes,* Kathryn thought, standing tall, preparing herself for what Nechayev would say next. *I've lost the ship,* she thought. *Or worse. She's going to replace Chakotay.*
"I want you to think long and hard about if your friendship is going to get in the way of command decisions. It's one thing to order a friend to stay late and finish a report, quite another to send them on a dangerous away mission. I should know. Kathryn, I've never told anyone this," she said, ducking her head, suddenly shy, "I had a relationship with an officer under my command when I was a Commander."
Kathryn hadn't expected Nechayev's confession, and she was sure her confusion registered on her face. The Admiral continued.
"He was a Lt. Commander, and I was leading an away team we were both on. He was the obvious choice to investigate the enemy encampment we had been sent to spy on, but I knew it was dangerous, so I sent a lesser-qualified man in his place. He was an Ensign, fresh out of the Academy, and I knew he was too green for such a delicate mission, but I was afraid for my. . .my 'friend,'" she finally chose as a descriptor.
"Needless to say, due to his inexperience, and my bad call, the Ensign botched his attempt, nearly getting us all killed. I had to make a choice then and there whether it would be him or my career in Starfleet. We were assigned to a small ship, so there was no way I could avoid having to order him into dangerous situations. As you see, I chose Starfleet. It was probably the most difficult decision I've ever had to make, but I feel it was the right one."
Kathryn didn't know what to say to her. Was Nechayev hinting that she would have to make a choice between Starfleet and Chakotay? That the choice was inevitable? But how did she stop caring? Even if she and Chakotay weren't involved sexually, she still loved him. How did she just turn those emotions off? Of course the Admiral would have been able to transfer to another ship soon after that, thus removing the situation. Was that what she was doing? Offering her an "out" before she had a chance to make the same mistakes?
Nechayev watched Kathryn's face as she thought about what had just been revealed. She had no right to ask about the nature of her relationship with Chakotay, and yet she had her suspicions. All she wanted from the woman before her was her assurance that her duty would come first. That she wouldn't allow personal feelings to enter into her command choices.
"Kathryn, the reason I told you this, is I want you to tell me now, is your friendship with Chakotay going to hinder your ability to command *Voyager*?"
Kathryn thought about her response. She wouldn't let it be a problem. She couldn't let it, and Chakotay felt the same way. If it came down to a choice, they both knew what her answer would be: Starfleet.
"It's not a problem," she said simply.
Nechayev smiled and said, "Good. I didn't think it would be, but I had to ask. Made sure you were aware of what you were getting into."
Kathryn nodded. "Admiral, if I may ask, what ever happened to the Lt. Commander?"
Nechayev gave her a small, sad smile. "I lost track for awhile, then I heard a few years later he'd left Starfleet, married and had a family. Last I heard they were very happy. It's one consolation, at least."
Kathryn looked at her superior. She never suspected this side to Nechayev, and suddenly felt, for all the years she'd been associated with her, she hadn't known her at all.
"I really need to get going," Kathryn said. "That inspection tour is going to come awfully early."
Nechayev smiled at her and added, quietly, "Good evening, Captain."
Chakotay was waiting in her quarters when she arrived.
"The strangest thing happened," he said, greeting her with a smile.
"What was that?" she asked, taking his hand as she sat on the sofa feeling the need to have some physical contact with him.
"They delivered my case to the room next door. Can you believe it? If this is the level of efficiency we're going to have on this ship, I think we better start with some sweeping reforms tomorrow!" He pulled her into an embrace, but soon pulled back when she didn't return the hug.
"Something happen after I left?"
"Not exactly," she said, sitting up, but not pulling away completely. Caressing his face with a slim hand she said, "Nechayev gave me the strangest confession about a relationship she had with someone under her command." She felt Chakotay stiffen at her words.
"Does she suspect something?" he asked, more concerned for her reaction than his own. Kathryn had been so adamant about being discreet, that this latest turn of events probably had her rethinking every touch or glance she'd ever given him.
"I'm not sure. If she does, she didn't call me on it. She did ask, if I could effectively command you."
He gave her a light kiss. "Did you tell her you do all the time? That I'm your love slave here only to do your bidding?"
Kathryn laughed and pushed him away. "Chakotay, this is serious! I assured her it wasn't and wouldn't be a problem. She seemed to accept that." Changing the subject, she rose and looked around her new quarters.
"Oh my, God!" she cried.
"You must have found the dinning room," Chakotay called out, rising to join her. He took her by the hand and led her in the opposite direction. "Wait until you see the bathroom; it's a religious experience!"
"I think this is more space than my house!"
"Just more efficient use of space," he said. "Like everything in Starfleet." They laughed together over their private joke. One of their "pet peeves," was Starfleet's "efficient inefficiencies."
"Are your quarter's this large?"
"Are you kidding? I'm just the First Officer. No dinning room for me."
"I don't suppose your bathroom's worthy of worship either," she teased.
"Not even close. You got the better end of the deal."
She pulled him close and kissed him. "I certainly did. So I take it this is where we're going to stay? If that's the case, we better get working on converting part of that dinning room into a galley. I can't have a culinary-deprived First Officer."
"Or a replicator-fed Captain," he said returning her kiss. "I think I should keep my things in my quarters, though, don't you? At least until we see how things go, what the crew's reaction might be."
"You're probably right," she agreed. "Maybe we could have a doorway added when we put in that galley."
"That would be handy," he said, his voice muffled against her neck as he drew her close once more.
"Not as 'handy' as you seem to be at the moment! I thought we agreed to get some sleep?" she protested playfully.
"You're right, and I am tired too. I just missed you. I never thought it would be so difficult to be in the same room as you and not have any physical contact."
She ran a hand through his hair. "I know. Until I had to consciously stop, I didn't realize how often I touch you in the course of conversation. I suppose I'm going to have to watch that on the Bridge as well."
While she was changing out of her uniform, Chakotay asked her about her conversations with Owen.
"So what was the problem with Admiral Paris? It seemed like you solved it by the time you returned."
"Yes, we talked it out. It started out that he was berating me for leaving Mark, that's when I talked to you. He apologized for his behavior, and went on to tell me Mark and I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was really upset with Tom. We were just a convenient target for his anger."
"Why was he angry at Tom?" he asked, exchanging places with her and taking his turn in the bathroom.
"Owen thinks his gambling is out of control and he's going to ruin his chances at *Voyager*.
"Do you think so? It's kind of your call, isn't it? Yours and Nechayev's."
"Well, Tom's on his way to having a problem, if he doesn't already. Being on a ship might slow things down a little, but if he's hooked, removing himself from the situation isn't a solution, just a delay," she said, worry evident in her voice.
"You're concerned about him, aren't you?" Chakotay asked, popping his head out the bathroom door.
"Yeah, I am. I didn't know him growing up, but I felt as though I did. Owen told me so many stories of his youth, I almost felt as if he were a younger brother. He's good, Chakotay. Probably the best pilot I've ever seen. No offense."
"None taken," he returned with a smile. "What's so special about him?"
"It's something I can't put my finger on. He's just got a "sense" about him. I'd trust his instincts over the computer's ability any day."
"That doesn't sound very scientific, coming from you, 'Ryn."
She had to agree. "I know, but it's the best I can do at the moment." She pulled the covers back and arranged her pillow. "I'm too tired to think about Tom. I think he understands my position, and the position he's put me in. I can only hold off the wolves for so long."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"I told him, more or less, that this was his last chance. I can't keep defending him if he keeps getting in trouble."
"It's too bad you were put in that position," he said, climbing into bed next to her.
"I guess it comes with the territory. I didn't like having to play hard ball, but he's got to take some responsibility for his actions as well," she yawned.
Chakotay pulled her close and called for the computer to extinguish the lights.
"I had a confrontation of my own," he said, as they adjusted their positions slightly to get more comfortable. He suffused her body with his warmth as she snuggled closer to him.
"Oh?" she said, stifling another yawn. "With whom?"
She tensed in his arms. "What happened?"
"Nothing, really. It was more of a warning than anything."
"A warning?" she asked, turning over to look at him. "That doesn't sound like Mark."
"He's very concerned for you. He wants you to be happy."
She snuggled closer and kissed his jaw. "And did you tell him I am?"
"It wasn't exactly appropriate, but I did promise I would never hurt you."
"See that you don't," she mumbled as sleep over took her.
It was one promise he intended to keep.
Kathryn woke to find her bed empty. Strange, it hadn't seemed this large last night and now there was one less occupant. Her sleepy brain remembered Chakotay's words of caution, and she realized he had probably returned to his quarters to dress. It hadn't been all that long they'd been sharing morning rituals, but she missed his absence. No waiting to get into the bathroom, no sound of humming she realized he did unconsciously when he was content. She was surprised to find there were all sorts of idosynchrocies she missed, that she hadn't even realize she'd cataloged. She wanted to hear his voice, at least. Reaching over to her night stand, she picked up her communicator.
"Janeway to Chakotay," she announced. It sounded odd to her ears, automatically slipping into proper protocol. They'd used their comm badges from time to time, when one or the other was out of office. But it happened so seldom, she felt like she were trying out the device for the first time.
"Chakotay here." She could hear him smiling as he answered.
"This feels weird, doesn't it? Talking over a comm badge?"
"Weird is part of the job," he told her. "What's up?"
"I hardly think that's Standard Procedure when addressing one's Captain," she teased.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize it was the Captain who was calling. Forgive me *sir*," he added, knowing she was probably clenching her hands into fists at his intended jibe.
"How do you feel about cleaning the warp exhaust manifolds, *Commander*?"
"Not as good as having breakfast with the Captain. Any chance for a reprieve?"
"Sorry, I don't think we have the time," she said, dropping the command tone from her voice. He found it strange how easily he could tell the difference by her inflection. We'll have to settle for meeting on the Bridge. I just wanted to hear your voice."
"It's good to hear yours too. Funny how fast you get used to having someone around isn't it?"
"Yeah. Let's not make a habit of this, okay?"
"Deal. Chakotay out."
Kathryn stood before the mirror, fastening her pips onto her turtleneck. She was the Captain once more. It was easier to deal with her feelings when she was dressed in the familiar red and black. She remembered the first time she tried on the colors at Command School. At first, she was startled to see her reflection when there wasn't any blue on her uniform. But as her confidence in her abilities grew, she missed the color less and less. She wondered what her life would have been like had she remained a science officer. She wouldn't miss the action of command had she never tasted it; but would she have grown restless, or would her curiosity keep her forever entertained? It certainly would have made things easier between her and Chakotay if she weren't his commanding officer. But she wasn't willing to trade one for the other; her first compromise would take place in minutes, on the Bridge.
Things were beginning to wind down in Kathryn's and Chakotay's office. As the final weeks of their planet-side duties dwindled, she found herself with less and less to keep her occupied. She hated this limbo she found herself in. Too late to keep up on all the incoming information on the Maquis; too soon to start her reviews of ship's systems, prior to *Voyager's * shake-down, now two weeks away.
Most of the intelligence reports had been routed to Kathryn's successor, Captain Tarren; he passed on the most vital information to her. She hated feeling "out of the loop," but she knew he was going to need to get started taking over her duties, so when she shipped out the transition would progress smoothly.
Kathryn fiddled with a data pad containing a small amount of information, knowing she could go over it in about an hour. What was she going to do with the rest of her day? She looked over at Chakotay, and saw him reading one of his few reports as well. Feeling her eyes on him, Chakotay raised his own to meet hers. Kathryn had the strangest smirk on her face. He was about to ask her what she was thinking, when she called Harry into the office.
Arriving with a PADD, ready to take notes, he nodded to Commander Chakotay, and stood before the Captain, waiting for her instructions.
"I'll be out of the office this afternoon," she informed him. "I have an appointment with Mr. Touca."
Chakotay practically choked. Somewhere during the course of their intimate association, Kathryn had referred to a certain part of his anatomy as "Mr. Touca."
"Mr. Touca?" Harry questioned. "I don't believe he's listed here as one of your usual contacts," he said, accessing his PADD.
"It's a relatively new alliance," she said, absolutely straight faced. She didn't dare look in Chakotay's direction for fear of losing her composure.
"Will the Commander be joining you?"
"Yes, at least I hope he will be able to come," she continued, this time looking at him. Not only for his reaction, but to see if he could keep up the charade as well.
He swallowed, trying to find his voice. "I think I can clear my schedule. What time is this meeting taking place?" he asked, his eyes glued to hers.
"At 14:00," she returned, looking back to Harry, every bit the Captain. She had just propositioned him before their aide, and acted as if she were discussing the weather! If he had any doubts about Kathryn's ability to appear impartial before *Voyager's* crew, they had been vanquished. She could be the consummate actress when she put her mind to it.
"Will that work for you, Commander?"
"Captain, I'm yours for however long you need me." Two could play this game!
Harry entered the data and asked if she had any instructions for him.
"Perhaps you should see if there's something that you can do in Captain Tarren's office, to co-ordinate our efforts during this transitional period."
Harry nodded, obviously hoping for a more exciting duty. In an uncharacteristic show of bravado, he asked, "Captain, have you heard if there will be any openings on *Voyager*, or if I'll be assigned to any ship?"
Kathryn's eyes softened as she looked at the hopeful Ensign. She knew what getting on a ship meant to him, and how badly he wanted it to be *Voyager*.
"I'm sorry, Harry. I've pulled every string I can to get you on board. There just aren't any openings. You're still next in line, should something come up. As for another ship, I'll see what I can find out. I know you don't want a desk job. I can't say I blame you. For what it's worth, I feel your talents would be put to much better use on a starship. It's what will be in my report to Admiral Nechayev. It's up to her where you'll be assigned."
"Thank you, Captain. For everything," he said as he turned to leave. He knew she had done her best, and her endorsement meant a lot to him. Her faith almost made up for his disappointment. Almost.
Kathryn knew her behavior had been adolescent, but she didn't care. She was nearly giddy with the excitement of taking over *Voyager*, and didn't feel like containing it.
Once the door had closed behind Harry, it took Chakotay mere seconds to reach her. Grabbing her by the arms; bending her over her desk to kiss her, he growled,
"You're bad, 'Ryn! All this talk about keeping the office professional!" He kissed her, long and hard, until she pushed him away, a grin pulling at the corners of her mouth.
"What ever do you mean, Commander? I've arranged for a meeting outside the office, to meet with a 'contact,' I don't see how that differs from similar duties you've performed."
"You know damn well none of those meetings were sexual in nature."
"Are you implying this one is? Commander, I'm surprised at you!" she was struggling to keep the grin from her face, and found she was losing the battle.
"Are you sure we can't move this meeting up?" he asked, huskily.
"14:00 was the best I could do. He's very impatient, but he understands work comes first." P> There was no mistaking the slight reprimand in her tone. "You win," he said, releasing her. "I'm sure concentrating on obscure troop movements will be more than satisfying. "
On to part 14
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