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A Single Twist of Fate

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The next day, and every one after the Captain was back, mask firmly in place as if nothing was ever bothering her until five weeks later at a senior staff meeting she dropped a bomb. They'd been carrying out the meeting normally as if there was nothing of consequence on the docket. Chakotay had thought she seemed a bit agitated but she'd been avoiding coffee and he assumed that was the reasoning.

"Thank you, B'Elanna. Hopefully there will be a suitable source of dilithium in the upcoming planet cluster." The Captain thumbed through her PADD, a little longer than anyone expected as the others were about to move for the door. Her shaky voice took them all off guard, "there's one more thing I need to mention today." She breathed unnaturally deeply and slowly exhaled. "A few weeks ago the Doctor informed me that I am pregnant." She had certainly expected a collective gasp, whispered murmurings, hushed conversations—but the response she got was dead silence punctuated by wide eyes all around the room and a raised Vulcan eyebrow. The only person in the room emitting any emotion was Chakotay and she was almost certain he appeared to be seething? That couldn't be right. She ignored the big hulking Native American and pressed on before she lost her nerve all together. "This was quite a shock for me, a very unplanned pregnancy that happened before we left the Alpha Quadrant. I'm currently four months pregnant and as it stands, I'll be unable to hide it anymore." Crickets. She could swear if they'd been having the conversation in Indiana at twilight that all she would hear aside from her own nervous breathing was crickets. "I'm certain there will be gossip and all kinds of speculation, none of which will I comment on. The Captain's personal life is her own. I will ask you please to make sure you inform everyone under you that getting home still remains my top priority, even more so now. I don't wish for my daughter to be raised any longer than necessary on a starship in an unknown quadrant." The silence returned and she chanced a look over at her first officer. Gone was his aura of anger and instead he looked as though he were trying to reach out to her with just his eyes—as if he'd finally seen from her point of view and he was amazed at her strength and fortitude.

"Then I guess we all should say Congratulations!" Tom exclaimed, breaking the silence and walking over to kiss his commanding officer on the cheek. An act that did elicit a few gasps, namely from Harry and B'Elanna. Janeway just smiled and squeezed Tom's shoulder.

"Thank you, Mr. Paris." A few muttered congratulations echoed throughout the room until Neelix burst from his chair, hands clasping together.

"Well in light of this wonderful news, I think we should have a party to celebrate!" The Captain could see Neelix's mind working on the details already and she held both her arms up in protest.

"Please, Neelix. Not now. Let's let everyone, including myself get used to the idea before something like that. Perhaps wait until she's born and throw a birthday party." She rested her hands on the desk and pushed herself up. "Now that this meeting has completely derailed, you're all dismissed." She breathed a sigh of relief as everyone filtered out of the room in a buzz of excitement. Everyone except Chakotay who hadn't moved from his seat. "Commander?" He looked up to meet her blue eyes, but didn't say anything. He was stunned. He'd spent two months by this woman's side, she'd become something of a friend to him and he was fascinated by her. He'd even, just days prior introduced her to her animal guide but in the course of the last month she hadn't been able to share with him even half of what she'd been going through, as patient as he'd been.

"Will you always do everything all by yourself?" His voice was quiet, almost menacing and its tone, more than the words spoken shocked her.

"I don't exactly have a choice here, Chakotay." She walked away and over to star out at the passing stars. He had no idea what she was going through—how hard it was trying to get used to the idea of being a mother to some unknown man's baby. How shameful she felt for even putting herself, much less her own daughter in this situation. "And you have no idea what you're talking about," she shot back.

"Of course I don't. You found out weeks ago and you wouldn't let anyone in. You wouldn't talk to Tuvok, and even though I kept giving you opportunities, letting you know you weren't alone, you couldn't tell me either. Instead I find out in a staff meeting that you're carrying Mark's child and you are going to do it all by yourself." He was almost hissing, he sounded offended, but surely he had no reason to be offended, they were friends. They'd grown close and of course she felt her throat close up whenever he was close…felt her pulse race and her skin prickle at his touch, sure she hadn't dreamt of Mark since their second week on the same ship and Chakotay had quickly taken over that role—but did she owe him anything? She was certain the answer was no, but that didn't stop the deluge of words spilling from her mouth at lightning speed.

"If you must know, not that it's any of your business but it's not Mark's and I don't know whose it is and I will not discuss this ever again with you or anyone." She threw a hand over her mouth as a hot wave of tears corralled themselves in the corners of her eyes. "Please," her voice was wavering so much he was sure she'd break down any second. "Just go." He contemplated going to her and throwing his arms around her, letting her break down on him so he could pick up the pieces but wisely decided against it. So she wasn't going to come to him, he was just going to have to change tactics.

=/\=

The following evening Janeway was in her quarters reviewing the day's reports and taking it easy per the doctor's orders. He'd called her in to sickbay when her shift ended after finding a curious genetic defect that she assumed was passed down from whoever the father was. The doctor had suppressed it in no time at all and regretfully informed her that he hadn't found a match in the Starfleet database, not surprising her in the least. A part of her was grateful for the lack of confirmation knowing that, with being stuck in the Delta Quadrant it was of little consequence in the long run. Still another part of her, albeit the greater part wanted some knowledge—be able to pass on something to her child about its father and to be able to put a face to memories she couldn't conjure up. Memories. She'd explained the situation to the Doctor and asked him point blank if there was any way to force them to reassert themselves but he hadn't been very encouraging.

"But surely there has to be some way in this day in age to search out particular memories and bring them to the surface," she'd all but pleaded and the Doctor had responded with a condescending cock of his head and a pursed frown.

"My only suggestion, and one I will forbid for the entirety of your pregnancy would—very much regrettably—be a mind meld. If seven months from now you still feel it necessary, by all means enlist the assistance of Lieutenant Tuvok or Ensign Vorik or any other Vulcan on board. But for the foreseeable future, the option is off the table."

Janeway wasn't sure she wanted to go that route even if she had been given the go ahead. The idea of exposing herself in that manner, even to Tuvok who she considered one of her closest friends left her feeling uneasy and ashamed. She silently wondered to herself if she would ever not feel ashamed. Somewhere on Earth Mark was worried sick about her, most likely wondering if she was still alive instead of planning the wedding they had agreed upon. While here she sat, pregnant with another man's child, sitting on a couch in a ship over seventy years away from him. Though she had to admit she felt a tinge of relief that he was free to find someone who could love him better—more completely, she still hurt. Her self-defeating musings were interrupted by the chime and she called for her visitor to enter. The door opened to reveal her first officer who entered with his hands drawn behind his back.

"Good evening, Commander," she greeted him with a soft smile allowing herself a break from her thoughts.

"Good evening, Captain," he responded, his devastating dimples on full display. "I was wondering if you'd had dinner yet." She waved the PADD in hand toward the coffee table that held three empty mugs and quirked up the corner of her mouth at him.

"Assuming that decaf coffee isn't considered dinner, I'd have to say that I haven't. I'm afraid my mind has been elsewhere for the last couple hours." He laughed and took a few steps closer to the sitting area.

"Well I figured as much, so I made some vegetable lasagna. I also brought something." He pulled one of his arms free to reveal a soft plush stuffed animal that, though he'd never admit to anyone bore a striking resemblance to his animal guide. "Though I admit it isn't for you. Consider it your first official baby gift." He handed it to her and went over to the replicator to call up their meal.

"Oh, Chakotay! It's beautiful and so soft," her face erupted in one of the widest grins he'd ever seen and his heart soared in response. "You know you didn't have to do that." He took the dish from the replicator and began to set the table while she ran her hands over the toy admiring its detail and texture.

"You're right. I didn't have to, but I wanted to." After he finished his task he walked to her side, offering his hand, which she took allowing him to escort her to the table. "I wanted to apologize for my attitude yesterday. I can't imagine what you're going through and I just wanted to remind you that you're not alone here." He sat down and began to dish out their meal, pouring her a glass of sparkling apple juice. "We may be only a few weeks into our journey, but I'm confident that the crew will be behind you." With his last statement she bowed her head, this being one of her biggest fears.

"How can you be so sure of that? I mean, what will I say when someone asks who the father is? I wouldn't feel right lying and saying it's Mark's, that wouldn't be fair to…" she sighed heavily and continued, "anyone."

"Captain, you'll simply tell them that it's none of their business." He wanted to ask. He wanted to know how the indestructible Kathryn Janeway managed to cheat on her fiancé and get pregnant with another man's child. He wanted so badly to hear the story if anything to help him understand who she is and why she's handling the pregnancy in such a manner. Instead he attempted a change of topic. "You still have some time on that one. How are you handling everything else?" She chuckled a little reaching to take a sip of her juice.

"You mean the idea that in less than six months I'm going to become a mother?" She arched her eyebrows and the corner of her mouth turned up in a crooked grin that Chakotay couldn't help but adore. "All things considered and given that I'm still adjusting to the idea, surprisingly—I'm okay." She stared down at her plate allowing herself to imagine holding a precious baby girl in her arms, breathing in its scent and soothing it to sleep. Chakotay watched her across the table, the sense of joy that seemed to suddenly explode on her face left him breathless and unable to speak. When she finally looked up, her eyes misty, biting her lip to keep from revealing too much she simply replied, "I'm terrified. But I've wanted to be a mother my whole life and as crazy as it may sound," her voice began to crack, "I love this baby with everything that I am." It took every ounce of resistance in that moment for Chakotay not to pull her from her chair and wrap her in his arms. He'd been worried about all the pressure she was under and would continue to be under once the baby was born. Starfleet Captain's rarely had time for family but he knew, even though the ship would come first that her child would never want for love. Deciding against the bone-crushing hug he gently reached over and touched her hand.

"You are going to be an amazing mother, Captain. I have no doubt of that." She smiled in return and raised an eyebrow at him. He stared down at her hand in his and wished, not for the first time in the last twenty-four hours that he'd been the lucky man to share a child with her and hoping she'd let him be at her side and help out for as much she could handle.

"Chakotay, you've made me dinner, brought my unborn daughter a gift and paid me a wonderful compliment, which I thank you for. Do you think when we're off duty you would consider calling me Kathryn?" She chuckled a little. "I think we can drop the formalities in situations like this."

"I'd like that, but it'll take some getting used to," he said beaming. While they ate the topic changed to ships business; personnel issues, how the Maquis crew were doing with the transition and how soon would they need to restock the dilithium stores. He even managed to ask her about girl's names she was consider and tried not to make a face when she pointed out Mona and Helen. When the meal was finished Janeway stood to clear up but Chakotay refused her, offering her another decaf and pushing her off to relax on the couch while he cleaned up not only their dinner but her stray mugs from the coffee table as well. Once he was satisfied he replicated himself a tea and sat down in the adjoining chair.

"You know what's the hardest to swallow about this predicament I've found myself in?" She asked aloud, breaking a comfortable silence. He waited, knowing that wasn't meant as a question in particular. "It's not so much that we're stuck on the other side of the galaxy and even if I knew who he was he wouldn't know about the baby in his lifetime." She fought the pressure building behind her eyes as she continued to lay herself bare for no other reason than she felt she could and truly needed someone to hear. "It's more that not knowing means the baby won't either. I adored my father, did everything I could think of to make him proud of me. When my heart was breaking as a child I used to hide under his desk in his office—somehow it made me feel closer to him when he was away. He was a strong, very proud man who believed wholeheartedly in what he did and though he wasn't there as often as I would have liked, we knew how much he loved us. I can't imagine this baby not knowing anything about its father and I think in some way my carelessness has already caused it to lose someone, something important." Chakotay sat there speechless, his heart breaking for her being in such a situation. Her propensity for guilt aside, she was the most selfless person he'd ever met. He couldn't find the words to respond and he was thankful she didn't seem to need any. "I have a duty to this ship, Chakotay, but I'll be damned if I let this baby lose anything else."

"I believe it. And like I said before, you won't be alone." He finally choked out and watched while she succumbed to a yawn. "I think it's time we call it a night." She smiled brightly at him and nodded as she got up to recycle their drinks. He stood and started for the door, stopping a few feet from it. He wanted the opportunity to share the experience with her; he wanted her to know that he was there and that he cared deeply for her. "You have next Tuesday off and I'm scheduled late night on the bridge. How about lunch?" He turned to her, his face full of hope and she smiled, one that made it all the way up to her eyes.

"Lunch it is," she responded and took a few steps toward him, reaching out her hand to take his. "Thank you for tonight. You've been so understanding and it's made this easier." He squeezed gently then broke the contact.

"It's my pleasure, Kathryn." And without another word he was gone, the last word he spoke lingering through the air and sucking the breath out of her. Never in her life had she so enjoyed the sound of her name and she found herself wishing she could hear it over and over again. The soft way it fell from his lips was like a caress and it stirred something inside of her had been buried for years. What had Phoebe called it, 'heat', 'passion'—it smoldered at her core and rooted her to her spot. She would never deny how attracted to him she had been when she saw him on the view screen, he was quite the male specimen. The very epitome of tall, dark and handsome but she'd known all that before she'd left Earth. Starfleet security reports were nothing if not thorough. What the file didn't do justice was the kindness and sparkle in his eyes, the rich baritone of his voice and the most brilliant smile she'd ever laid eyes on. It also had no way of explaining the serenity of just simply talking with him, listening to his stories, learning about his past and sharing her duties with him.

When she thought about what she was meant to do upon their initial meeting it almost made her physically ill. She had been mentally abusing herself for nearly two months about her decision to destroy that array but for the first time she found herself indescribably grateful. Chakotay was not a criminal, she was as sure of that as she was of her decision to make him her first officer and for some reason the Delta Quadrant seemed a fair trade to keep him and his crew out of prison and their new found friendship intact. Willing her errant thoughts to subside she finally made her way to the bedroom and changed into her nightgown, climbing right into bed. She fell into a restful sleep thinking this journey home might not be so bad after all.