Leaning back in her bathtub Captain Kathryn Janeway let out an exasperated sigh. She'd just come off her first full duty shift since the return to their ship from Hanon IV, an ordeal she was all too ready to forget. She silently offered thanks to any deity who might exist for the constant ingenuity of her crew and the sacrifice of Crewmen Suder and Hogan. It amazed her that for such an experience they had only lost those two lives, one honorably trying to retake the ship and the other senselessly to the unknown evils on an unfamiliar planet. The Kazon had fared much worse, losing most of Cullah's inner circle and also Seska.
Seska. The thought of that name alone caused the captain to shiver in spite of the almost scalding hot water swirling around her body. Loathing may not have been an appropriate description as to her feelings about that particular woman and truth be told it had nothing to do with her Cardassian roots. Janeway had never come across a living being that was more innovative and conniving, who would go to any lengths of flattery, coercion and manipulation to get what she wanted. And though she wouldn't even allow herself to think it, somewhere deep within her Janeway knew she was relieved that they would never have to deal with her again.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a loud crashing sound coming from the bulkhead behind her followed by the sound of shattering and a muffled grunt. Alarm set in and she immediately was jolted from the serenity of the lavender bath oils and Chopin that filled the room. She was out of the tub in mere seconds, towel drying herself while she walked into her bedroom and began throwing on a pair of slacks and a blouse. The last time she'd seen the owner of those quarters they'd parted ways in the turbo lift after their shifts. She was headed to her room to relax and he had been called to Sickbay for a meeting with the Doctor. She tried to run the lift ride through her mind and imagine what could have him so upset but she was coming up short. Without wasting another minute she was out the door and pressing the chime on his door.
"Go away," she heard him scream from inside the room just before another crash. Ignoring his warnings she entered the override code and stepped into the room. She entered into blackness, the room only lit by the passing stars casting shadows over broken and overturned furniture and décor. She panned her head around, almost afraid of what she was going to find when she saw him. He was crouched down across the room between the couch and the wall with his head in his hands. When the light filtered in from the corridor she was almost sure she heard him grunt.
"Chakotay?" Her voice was quiet, uncertain and she cautiously took a few steps towards him.
"I don't want any company right now, Captain," his tone was firm and his words almost menacing, caused an imperceptible shudder down her spine. Whatever happened, his anger was palpable but she knew him—probably better than he knew himself and his pain was emanating from him. She studied his state and saw blood dripping down his arm from the torn skin of his knuckles. Walking to the replicator for a damp towel she slowly made her way back to him, kneeling in front and taking one of his hands in hers. Without responding or even saying a word she began to dab at the wounds, wiping away the crimson as delicately as she could. She continued her task, her heart breaking at the almost tortured expression on his face. The streaks down his cheeks betraying his loss of emotional control.
He remained silent, his eyes averted, not willing to look directly at her. Her touch was tender, completely intentional and soothing not just his self-inflicted injuries but his soul. He wanted to tell her, he knew he needed to talk about it to someone but he didn't know how she would take it. He was warring with guilt and anger like he'd felt few times in his life. He finally brought his eyes up to meet hers and her concern penetrated through him.
"He wasn't mine," he whispered. She stopped and set the towel aside, shifting off her knees to sit in front of him, not relinquishing his hand.
"What do you mean?" With his free hand he rubbed the back of his neck and wiped his cheeks. He shifted to sit next to her, slowly lifting his head to look her in the eyes, the pain expression charging the air between them.
"The baby was Cullah's. Seska didn't even know until the doctor examined him." They both let this news sink in and Janeway was having difficulty understanding. For her part, she was ecstatic, knowing he wouldn't have to fight off the guilt of losing him. And secretly, knowing he didn't have someone else's child brought instant relief that she filed away in the back of her mind to be analyzed at a more appropriate time. But for now she knew that this revelation was deeply affecting him and her friend needed her.
"I'm so sorry—"
"Don't. I'm the one that should be sorry. We both knew this was likely a trap and she used our friendship as reassurance to get us there." He looked down at their joined hands and then back up into her blue eyes with shame. "You gave me the choice to go after Seska and the baby. I could have just as easily ignored all the warning signs and told you to reverse course—and it was all for nothing. You'll never know how sorry I am that I caused you to lose your ship." Squeezing his hand ever so slightly she turned into him, cupping his cheek with her free hand.
"You made a decision based on the facts at hand, and you made the right one. You have nothing to apologize for, Chakotay." She needed him to believe her; she couldn't watch him blame himself. "You are an honest and loyal man, Seska knew that and she used it. She knew you'd do anything you could to protect your own flesh and blood." She paused for a moment, trying to order her words. "Having Voyager taken and being abandoned may be one of the most difficult things we have to go through on this journey, but you are in no way responsible for that and in spite of our difficulties and our losses, a lot of good came from it."
"Good? Kathryn, Hogan and Suder are dead and all the repairs will take weeks to finish."
"I know, and I don't want to imply that their deaths don't pain me, you know they do; but we came together even more so on that planet. Our crew united out of necessity and we will be better for it. We were faced with a challenge and we overcame. Please let that be worth something, because I think it is." She allowed a fragment of a smile, one corner of her mouth turned up. "And for the record and future reference, this is our ship, Commander."
He hung his head as silence once again overtook them. Janeway wasn't sure what to say and Chakotay couldn't seem to understand whether he was more upset over losing a child that was never his, the death of a woman he hated but still cared for or his own disappointment to the woman he had sworn to protect and support always. With everything fighting for dominance, even at hearing her assurances he began to openly weep. Always a proud man, he released her hand and used both of his to cover his face.
"Go, Kathryn," he told her quietly with as steady a breath as he could muster but she refused. Instead she moved again in front of him, shuffling between his legs and pulled him into her arms. At first he tensed at her touch but he felt as though she was offering him her strength and he broke. His hands fell from his face and he wrapped them around her waist, burying his head in her shoulder, tears soaking through her cotton shirt.
They stayed there, unmoving save for the heaving of his chest as he allowed himself to heal in her arms and when the tears finally subsided and clarity began to return to his fogged mind he they stayed like that a while longer. When he reluctantly pulled himself from her embrace he placed his hands on her cheeks and rested his forehead against hers, the intimacy of the gesture not lost on either of them.
"Thank you," he said and she could feel his breath on her cheek and her pulse begin to race. She chose to ignore it and laid her hands over his. When she spoke her voice was deeper than usual and laced with emotion and something else he couldn't place.
"You have burdens too, Chakotay. I'll help you carry them whenever you'll let me." At her reference he dropped his hands from her face to mold them around her waist and pull her tightly to him in a bone-crunching hug. They both were cherishing the unexpected and wholly infrequent intimacy and once Chakotay had his head clear enough he let go and smiled warmly at her.
"Have you eaten yet?"
"No, but maybe we should do that at my quarters." She replied looking around at the room that was in complete disarray. "Then we can come back here and I'll help you clean up." He began to object but she adamantly shook her head. "I'm not taking no for an answer." He sighed and nodded his agreement. She left for her quarters to start dinner and he changed out of his uniform then replicated a bottle of wine.
The dinner was surprisingly edible and the conversation was light. There was no more talk of Seska, no talk of Kazon or their being marooned on a hardly habitable planet. They spoke of their families, of growing up and memories of the Academy. They talked of their crew, the good and the bad and touched in small detail on which twin Ensign Kim was chasing that week, just for fun. Once the meal was complete and the table was cleared she escorted him back to his quarters. For a long while they worked in silence, she trying to imagine how best to broach the topic again and he trying to decide how to make her see how this had damaged him.
"I don't think I'm sorry that the baby wasn't mine," she heard him say while she cleaned dirt from an overturned plant. Her instinct was to turn abruptly, cease all activity and focus on him but she knew he was still processing and had to work through it so she stayed to her task. "I want children, but I never wanted them like that and Seska was never a woman I would consider fathering a child with." He was turning his dining chairs right-side up and he paused, leaning against one of them. "I cared about her, I never loved her. She was convenient and, well, she liked to get her way. But I'm not sorry I'll never see her again." He quickly moved to the coffee table, setting it upright and replacing the books on top. He glanced over at Kathryn who was finishing with the plant and though she wasn't acknowledging him, he knew she was hanging on his every word. She understood him, knew what he needed without him having to ask for it. She was giving him time, and he loved her for it. He watched her stand and dust her hands off on her pant legs and he smiled. "I never want to disappoint you, Kathryn. And I hate Seska for doing this to me twice. And I hate myself for allowing it." He walked over to her, ignoring the confused look on her face. "I betrayed your trust and confidence in me when I went out on my own to hunt her down once and brought the ship into danger. Then I made a decision for all of us that played right into her hands a second time and she was able to take strand us on some planet and take off in our ship."
"Chakotay," she stopped him. "The first decision you made did disappoint me, you lost sight of us as a team. But this last one, you were ready to run away but I knew you wouldn't be able to live with yourself if you had. We are a family and we would have done the same thing for any other member of this family. Over the last few days, you have been anything but a disappointment." She steeled herself for a moment contemplating the turn the evening would go if she let her guard down now. Seeing his still unbelieving expression she took one of his hands and entwined their fingers. "I'm grateful for most of what happened on Hanon IV for all the reasons I told you earlier. But there's something else that I need to say carefully so that you understand my gratitude." She took a deep breath and looked straight into his eyes. "I'm the Captain and you're my first officer. But I'm also Kathryn and you are Chakotay, the best friend I have ever had. I've trusted you implicitly almost from the beginning and I've respected you from the moment you sacrificed your ship to save this one. I came to care for you when you built our home on New Earth and opened yourself up to me but I didn't realize how much until Hanon IV." Shock played across all his features but he suppressed as much as he could, unwilling to interrupt her. "You are the most honorable man I have ever met in my life. You could have abandoned that child, but you didn't—you did the right thing. When faced with the direst circumstances and another betrayal you did what needed to be done and you took care of me and our people. And when we were faced with a life or death situation and a people who didn't have any trust in us, you put your own life at risk and made them see the goodness, the compassion that is so much a part of who you are. You may see this whole experience as a failure on your part but I will never buy into that. We've defined our parameters, Chakotay and we know where we stand and must continue to stand on this ship, but you need to know that Hanon IV is where I fell in love with you. You can be angry, I know sometimes you need it, but if you take anything from this whole mess, take that. And when you're done being angry, be that man."
He couldn't speak. His eyes were growing wet again and he could see that her cheeks were already damp. She loved him. She loved him and he loved her and all he could do at that moment was kiss her chastely on the cheek and draw her into his arms. There were no more declarations, no expectations for the future. There was something worth more than anything. There was honesty and understanding, acceptance and reverence. They both had come through this test of their friendship with their command relationship fully intact, their friendship stronger than ever and an intimacy that had nothing to do at all with lust but with the deep emotional bonds of a love they shared, unconditionally.