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Lapses of Judgment

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She'd been on the mend for nearly two days now and the restlessness was beginning to take a toll. Visitors had been frequent, of all ranks and the Doctor had hovered so persistently that sleep seemed a luxury. Her strength had returned but the soreness and aching was worse - possibly from the removal of the Borg implants, though the captain had a sneaking suspicion that the lack of sleep was a large factor. It was to the Doctor's credit, however as he constantly stood watch over her dear old friend who lay on the bed across the room. Yes, she and B'Ellanna were recuperatingbut Tuvok still hadn't regained consciousness.

"Do you really think staying here on a bio bed is going to help me recover any faster, Doctor? You have plenty to do here, all hours of the night; I'm begging you. Please release me to my quarters - I just need some rest. No visitors, no medical emergencies. Hours of uninterrupted sleep," she pleaded. The close proximity to Tuvok and B'Ellanna was comforting, but distracting. She longed to lay back in her own bed with a book and fall asleep on her own time.

"Captain, I really don't think that's wise. Your body has gone through an amazing ordeal and it will take time and rest to adj-"

"I'm not getting any rest in here!" She interrupted. Regaining her composure she more calmly said, "You can keep tabs on me, send Tom in to monitor me and I promise you that I will not exert myself and I'll call if I'm having any trouble. Please, please just let me go."

The Doctor paused to consider her argument. There certainly was a lot going on in sickbay these days. Plenty of damage was done in the wake of the latest battle with the Borg. And he did have to admit everyone was more accessible to visitors there. The captain was stubborn though, he was confident she'd be back in in less than 48 hours. On the other hand, however, the captain was stubborn...she wasn't likely to give up this argument.

"A promise first." Hands behind his back, pacing as if a kidnapper making a list of demands he began, "One, daily visits by myself or Tom to administer medicine and give you a check-up. Possibly multiple times a day. Two, stay off your feet unless you have assistance. I don't need to come running hearing that you fell and broke a bone. Three, other than browsing through reports you are not to work under any circumstances. And four, other than someone to aid your movement and bring you meals, visitors are prohibited. I hold the right as Chief of Medicine to add or remove any of these restrictions at any time with or without your approval and to demand you return to sick bay if I believe your condition warrants it. If it comes to that, I will not take no for an answer. Is that perfectly clear, Captain?"

Breathing a huge sigh of relief she nodded and thanked him. She was certain that working would be her only struggle with his list of demands. Moving was painful enough and she already felt like she'd been visited by everyone on the ship since they'd returned; well, almost everyone.

Finally comfortable leaning back in her own bed Kathryn was able to relax - no noises, no talking...no singing! Just quiet. Her thoughts began to wander to her ship, her crew - the best crew she'd ever had on any starship. Funny to think of all they'd come through in the last six years and how they had all gelled together in spit of their differences and original agendas.

For the first time in days she allowed herself to question the methods and motives of her acting captain. The last time she'd seen him he was promising his support and offering heartfelt best wishes on their mission. Six years and this was the first time she had truly not understood Chakotay. She'd expected him bedside as soon as she awoke. If she was being completely honest with herself she'd imagined him there from the moment she'd boarded, waiting by her side and grasping her hands with relief when she finally had regained consciousness. But that wasn't fair, even if he had done it once before. Their lines had been clearly drawn four years ago when they rejoined the crew. They both had a duty to their crew and nothing could get in the way of that. So why did she get the feeling that things were about to change? His distance pained her, there was no denying it. His friendship was something she always knew she could count on. In spite of the underlying affection and respect, she'd never been so comfortable and in sync with anyone. Denying herself for so long was difficult, but she'd always thought the friendship made that easier somehow.

/\

Kathryn awoke with a start and a low groan. She wasn't sure when she'd drifted off to sleep, or whether a noise or her aches had awoken her.

"Computer, time." She commanded with sleep still evident in her voice.

"Three hundred twenty-one." The familiar voice responded.

"Ugh!" She moaned and settled back to let her drowsiness over come her. The sound of the door chime brought her back to reality. An odd time for the Doctor to do a house call but perhaps some pain medicine was in order she thought, painfully rubbing her eyes awake. "Come in."

The door opened and as if spying on her dreams, her first officer slowly peered through the door. Still in his uniform and looking as though he hadn't slept in days.

"Kathr-Captain?" He corrected, hardly above a whisper and just audibly. He took a few more steps in and allowed the doors to close behind him.

In a split second decision upon realizing her guest, she adjusted her position in bed and then grimaced in pain. It was so easy to forget her condition. He took a couple hurried steps closer, noticing her distress. "Are you okay?" He asked smoothly, moving into the light. She watched as his features became visible and felt comfort at the reassuring sincerity of his eyes. What in the world could he be doing there at that hour she wondered to herself as she moved slower this time.

"I'm fine. What's wrong?" There obviously was a pressing matter he had to discuss with her. Perhaps more Borg had tracked them down or maybe Tuvok...

He quietly allayed her fears, pulling a chair to her bedside and slowly taking a seat. He was able to see her move more clearly now. No one would believe some hours earlier she was a Borg drone, she looked just as beautiful as before the away mission. He took a second to catch his breath and settle himself.

"I know you're Captain now and all but I kind of expected to see you days ago," she playfully responded, allowing her own sarcasm to rebuild the wall between them.

A slight dimpled smile crept across his face...this was familiar. "You know you leave some pretty big shoes to fill. How are you feeling?"

"Like I got hit by an asteroid field. A couple of times." She smiled, it was so easy with him. There was a pause, she looked at him - studied his face while he nervously glanced around. "What are you doing here this late?" She hadn't meant to be so blunt, but she couldn't take it back. His nervousness seemed to elevate a little as he forced himself to meet her gaze.

"I had to see you-" his voice trailed off and Kathryn felt it coming. Something about this mission had changed something. He was different somehow. He seemed almost sad, but thoughtful. "I'm sorry I didn't come to see you sooner. I've-uh, this hasn't been easy." He reached up and rubbed his neck-a futile attempt to push away the stress and exhaustion the last couple days had brought on him. The captain had been on plenty of away missions, been in danger in many different ways in the past six years but something about being in command of her rescue attempt-literally snatching her from the throws of the Borg Queen at the last minute had taken it's toll. "It's not that I doubted you, but I really thought we were going to lose you. Maybe I doubted myself, wished I hadn't let you go." As soon as the word left his mouth he regretted it and her response reminded him why.

"Let me? You know as well as I do no force on this ship-no force in this quadrant could have changed my mind." She forced his eyes to pierce her own. "We did it, Chakotay. Don't you see? As we sit here thousands of drones are free, a resistance that no one ever would have thought possible is taking place in every quadrant of the galaxy. It was a calculated risk," she bowed her head. "And plenty of lives were lost but think of the lives that we have saved." He took some solace in her statement and instinctively left his chair to sit at her side. He laid a very cautious hand on her own.

"You were remarkable." The dimples began to return, threatening her sense of reason. At the sight of it, though she shouldn't have, she laid her other hand over his and squeezed gently. Their eyes met and he took both of her hands in his, a quiet sigh escaping his lips. "I don't know what I would have done without you."

Before she could protest he'd pulled her right hand to his face, breathing her in and kissing her palm. He couldn't seem to help himself. What man could stand such close proximity to and control for so long from the woman he loved? Her sense of duty and restraint was commendable, but he had willingly and purposefully left this woman in harms way to accomplish a mission. He wasn't sure he would ever be able to make her understand.

His warm lips on her hand released a barely noticeable sigh. She could feel the lines fading fast, but half of her didn't care. It was three in the morning, over half of the crew was fast asleep-who would ever know? The offering of this excuse began to bury her resolve as his hands clasped tighter and the soft kisses grew more frequent. 'I'm the captain,' something in the back of her mind betrayed her. Sure they could indulge today but how would that leave tomorrow? There was no doubt that she wanted him, needed to be close but it would only, could only be for a night. That was unacceptable to her and she was dragged back to the moment.

"Chakotay." Her voice was gentle but stern as she took her hands back to her lap. "You know we can't do this." He stood abruptly and began pacing the room.

"Four years, Kathryn. It's been four years since I've been able to even hold you. We could be stuck here for the rest of our lives! Is that how long I'll have to wait?"

"If you think you're the only one waiting then you're blind. You know this hasn't been easy on me either."

"Then what's the problem? Starfleet? I don't see any of them out here!"

"I am Starfleet. I don't have the luxury of throwing my integrity out the airlock to spite my crew. When I cave, so does my command and my example. You know how hard this has been on me-stuck out here. The unfailing leader for everyone on this ship-never faltering. It's exhausting, stressful and never ending, but it's my duty. I can't break protocol just because I want more than anything to abandon ship with you. We have a responsibility and I can't ignore that."

"I wish they would have just left us on that damn planet!" He was hurt, that was obvious. They shared one last indulgent glance and he heaved a sigh. "I shouldn't have come." He turned and headed for the door. "I'm sorry," he offered as he headed out the door.

There she sat, alone on her bed, miniscule tears beginning to form in the corners of her eyes. He had no idea how often she'd wished that herself. How many times she'd gone to sleep just so they could be back there. In their own little house, their own little world where the feelings that had been building could finally find an outlet. Free from the pressures of a command structure and being the steadfast examples for more than a hundred people who looked to the two of them to lead.

Some days she felt like they'd been cheated. It seemed as soon as she'd finally accepted her fate and begun to let her guard down-almost as soon as they'd found each other, they were whisked back to real life. That transition had been easier than she anticipated, there was so much to keep them both busy and they had only just begun the journey home. How could she blame him for being so impatient?

Six years in close quarters, six years using their friendship and titles as a buffer keeping them at a distance. How many more years would they have to wait? From somewhere deep inside reason began to return. 'As long as it takes,' she resolved as sleep began to overtake her.

/\

"Janeway to Chakotay." The unexpectant sound of her voice startled him. He had been lost in thought, in regret, mulling over the events of their previous conversation. What a fool he'd been-what had he been thinking last night? There was so much pressure on both of them, how had he faltered and made it worse? They couldn't afford his weakness.

After clearing his throat and finding his voice he tapped the comm badge. "Yes, Captain?"

"Can I see you in my quarters, please?" She sounded much better than she did the night before, strength returning to her voice. But her request had him baffled. How could there possibly be more to say? He almost felt he needed to crawl back on his hands and knees begging her to forgive him and forget he'd ever shown up at all. He'd do better today, felt a little more in control.

"On my way, Captain," he responded giving his badge a tap and rising from her seat on the bridge. "Paris, you have the bridge." He ignored the "Aye, sir" as he headed for the turbo lift and gave the computer his destination. Though curiosity filled his mind he was determined to maintain composure and follow her lead. Tension was most likely going to be a part of their interactions unless they found some common ground. Arriving at her door he took a deep breath and hit the pad.

"Come in."

He walked through the doors and was greeted by a smile across the room on the sofa. She was reclining on the arm, a book in hand and a blanket draped over her. For a second he wondered if she even had any memory of the night before-she was so calm and peaceful. All evidence of sleep and her discomfort was gone, if he hadn't known any better he'd have thought she was completely recovered. Her serene expression helped to put him at ease, "How are you feeling today?"

"Well rested, less sore and much more clear-headed." Before she could continue he took a few steps closer and began a speech she imagined he'd rehearsed on the way there.

"Captain, I wanted to apologize for my attitude last night. For overstepping my bounds and for visiting you at such an inappropriate time. I just wanted to ensure you that it won't happen again."

With a sly smile she responded, "At ease, Soldier." A familiar smile crept across her face and she gestured for him to sit. Cautiously, he took a seat at the opposite end of the couch.

"Do you really think tense civility is going to get us home? A captain and her first officer who can barely be in the same room together without making everyone else in the room uncomfortable? That would fracture all that we've built on this ship."

"What do you want from me, Kathryn?" He hadn't meant it to sound so helpless, but perhaps the truth was in the delivery. She sensed it and turned to face him, pulling her legs under her.

"We've been together on this ship for six years. Who's to say how much longer we have before we make it home. We both know how we feel-momentary lapses in judgment are bound to happen, Chakotay." She could faintly make out a dimple appearing on his cheek.

"A momentary lapse of judgment?" He asked with a chuckle. "Is that what that was?"

"Yes." She offered a kind smile. "I'd have to say so. We can't spend the rest of this journey unable to be anything more than civil to one another, but we also can't continue to give in to our feelings. I need you, Chakotay. You have been so much more than a first officer. You are my closest friend. You keep me grounded, you give me strength...you keep me sane! If we are ever going to make it home, I need my friend. Please tell me we haven't lost that." He let his head fall a little, she was right. All the love in the world wouldn't make this trip any easier for anyone but themselves and fighting about it wasn't a solution either. This time when he extended his hand to her he had no ulterior motive and she took it and gave it a squeeze.

"Never. You'll never lose me."

"Thank you," she replied quietly. She had faith in that moment they were going to make it. Maybe never in the way they both longed for - but enough to keep their hope strong. He began to pull his hand away but she held on tightly. He glanced up at her, puzzled and their eyes met. She shifted slowly in her seat, gently moving her face closer to his. The closer they got the more the anticipation built and they sat for what seemed an eternity-their lips only inches apart. She laid her other hand softly on his cheek and finally bridged the gap. Their lips met, tenderly, passionately but controlled. She dropped her hand to his chest giving him a tiny nudge as if needing his assistance to pull herself away. Their lips parted and they sat for a minute, or a lifetime, heads resting together. Three words echoing in each of their minds-waiting to escape, but it wasn't necessary. The silence, the chemistry, their touch-they both knew.

He dazzled a smile and asked, "A momentary lapse of judgment?"

She leaned back, lightly clearing her throat and gave him a half of a nod, "Absolutely." She had feared they'd return to tension and that she'd hurt him but one look at those comforting eyes and she was reassured, their future was in tact.