Equilibrium – part 12

Chakotay was still – but there was no peace in his stillness. As he gazed out at the stars the rage engulfed him, setting his senses ablaze. The control he so prized was a distant and tattered memory that would offer neither he, nor anyone he came across any protection that night.

He’d showered, with real water, scrubbing the scent of Seska off him until his skin felt raw. But it would take more than water to free him of her legacy. He’d made no attempt to make the bed, couldn’t even bear to look at it – but the dark stain on the otherwise pristine Starfleet issue carpet had drawn his attention for long minutes. Janeway had lived, but how many of his friends, his brothers and sisters in arms had perished as a result of Seska’s treachery. How would he ever trust again? How would he ever forgive himself?

When the door chime rang he didn’t hear, his thoughts so dark, so seeped in blood that something as inconsequential as the sound could not reach him. The second chime went similarly without response – and surely, after the events of the last few hours, if anyone could expect to be left alone, it was him.

But his caller was impatient, and in addition she knew the access codes to every room on the ship. It wasn’t a third chime that claimed Chakotay’s attention, or even the door opening. It was the sound of her voice; grave, controlled when she spoke his name.

What do you say, what words do you use? Janeway could see the tension radiating from him – wild, uninhibited and for the first time she realised that this man could be the killer described in his Starfleet intelligence file. Not that she didn’t understand that he had good cause for feeling such anger – but the lack of any control or restraint on the face of the man before her was more that a little alarming.

‘Captain,’ it wasn’t a threat, not quite, but the dusky tone of his voice meant that it could become one, quite easily.

‘I came to thank you, Dr Zimmerman told me your quick thinking prevented my injury from being far worse.’

The memory forced itself to the surface; a fast, desperate movement to her side while her officers fussed over Seska, ensuring the threat was over. He understood the protocol, had been trained to think that way himself, once. It just didn’t work when your adversary was devious enough to use a weapon based on something other than a charge of energy.

But it was a disquieting thought – how easily he had gone to her, almost instinctively, when a day ago he hadn’t even been aware of her existence, and if he had been it would have been as a potential opponent. Or perhaps he had just been unwilling to allow Seska to place another death on his already beleaguered conscience.

It was a simpler explanation, tempting to grasp, more tempting than the prospect of working out his reaction to the woman before him, a response that sometimes bordered alarmingly on allegiance. And it was unthinkable to be faced with trust and allegiance when you have just discovered that a woman you cared about, perhaps even loved had been working for the enemy.

So, in fact it was all about Seska and defeating her in death a small recompense for all the times she’d deceived him; Kathryn Janeway was, then, an incidental factor in this equation. It was a piece of reasoning he only partially believed – but rather than exploring the thought further he observed, ‘I suppose some training must remain, although I doubt Starfleet will be gratified to know that I still sometimes think like the officer they trained me to be.’

‘Well, I was grateful today.’

‘Just repaying my debts Captain. That’s quite a head start you have in saving my life.’

He’d forgotten until that moment that she had shouted a warning and pushed him out of the way, that he’d been first in Seska’s firing line. If she always behaved so recklessly it was a miracle she’d stayed alive this long. The one thing he had learnt about war was that if you were going to be reckless at the very best you needed a good fall back plan.

Janeway watched him, trying to gauge his mood was a little like skating on the thinnest of ice. She wondered fleetingly if her counterpart in that other Universe had ever had to deal with Chakotay in this mood, and if so how she had reached him.

‘I’m sorry about Seska…’ she began, only to come to an abrupt halt as he wheeled away from her and said,

‘Don’t!’ with such raw emotion that the edge of fear she’d carried with her since entering the room vanished. He was just a man in terrible pain, not a terrorist, not a man who’d left everything he believed in, but someone who’s pain, and agner and guilt threatened to consume him – and she knew how that felt.

He’d thought she’d gone when there was no reply, but then she was at his shoulder, holding out a glass to him.

‘Its brandy, good for shock. Drink it.’

‘I don’t…’

‘Drink it!’ He’d been about to say he didn’t need alcohol but her tone brooked no opposition so he took a swallow of the liquid and sank down on the couch as she pulled a chair across and sat opposite him – watching. When he looked at her her expression was unreadable.

‘I’m not planning to smash the place up if that’s what you’re worried about Captain.’

‘If that was all it was going to take to make you feel better I’d say go right ahead.’ She arched an eyebrow, ‘unfortunately I’m fairly sure that’s not going to do it.’

Another sip of brandy and the pain hadn’t lessened any, but his tongue was loosening. ‘She’d been with us a year and a half, how many people do you think she managed to send to their deaths, or to the camps in that time?’

‘Well, it would be too risky at first, she’d need to spend some time making sure she was trusted… but enough people to make it worth her while staying with your crew.’

‘She was spying for the Cardassians, Tom for the Federation. Do you think any of my crew are actually members of the Maquis?’

‘You are – and I suppose that is why we, and the Cardassians are so interested.’ That was a calculated risk, he was clearly blaming himself, adding to his burdens might not be wise.

‘I made it easy for her – took her into my bed, gave her a place on my crew.’

‘Trusted her counsel?’ It was a lucky guess, but a good one, the same ‘something’ she had seen in his eyes prior to the shooting was there again. ‘You never really trusted her, did you?’

‘I trusted her, just not her judgement. She was too aggressive, too reckless.’ Had he been thinking of the woman before his as reckless just a little while ago? A mistake – Janeway wasn’t reckless, not in the way that Seska had been and he was beginning to think that the Starfleet Captain before him always travelled with two, if not three back up plans. It was like comparing a wild cat with a mountain lion, one feral the other aristocratic, both deadly. ‘She never seemed too upset at the prospect of risking lives, even those of her crewmates. I didn’t take her tactical advice.’

‘That must have been frustrating for her.’ He realsied abruptly what she was trying to do, and he couldn’t allow it.

‘It was my crew, she was my responsibility and the deaths she caused are due to my blindnes.’

‘And now what? Get drunk, screw around, smash up some Starfleet property?’

‘I thought you said that wouldn’t make me feel better?’

‘It won’t, it didn’t.’ He frowned and then glanced up at her; she didn’t quite meet his eyes.

‘Who?’

‘My husband. My former husband,’ she corrected herself with a roll of her eyes. ‘He couldn’t handle my being away so much – and apparently fighting to defend our way of life changed me; I became harder, harsher, not as carefree.’ The vitriol dripped from her voice as she added, ‘fortunately he was able to find a younger model, unsullied by the damage and ravages of war. Unfortunately she was my sister.’

‘What happened?’

‘Or, there were a few unpleasant scenes after I came home and found them in bed together. I’m afraid I didn’t behave exactly as a Starfleet officer should – I must have been absent the day the Academy gave a lecture on what to do when you come home from a hard day defending the Planet to find your husband fucking your sister, in your bed. Some threats were made, by me, as it happens and they fled. I’m not supposed to know where they are, but I do, they’re on Risa. I have them under surveillance – in the early days I used to think I’d kill them, I have some friends in low places and all I'd need to do was open the comm channel and give the word. You've no idea how many times I opened that damn channel. But now, we’re all in hell Chakotay – and I have enough ghosts to worry about.’

‘Seska’s dead,’ he pointed out, ‘I don’t have the luxuary of plotting her excruciatingly painful death.’

‘That’s very true. So let me offer you something even better. Help me destroy the Cardassians – help me obliterate the Obsidian order and help me send the Dominion a message they will hear in the Gamma Quadrant.’

Oh, she was good. There was no doubt about it – Starfleet’s finest. A little tarnished around the edges, perhaps a little punch drunk – but still the best he had ever seen.

‘Captain, that was an ambush worthy of the Maquis.’

‘Thank you.’ Blue eyes gazed back at him, full of determination and passion and extraordinary faith, in him. The one thing he’d forsaken that he missed and the very last thing he had expected to find on a Starfleet vessel.

‘I don’t think you know what you are asking Captain, I don’t know if I can help you.’

‘But you’ll try?’

‘Yes.’ After all if she believed that they could forge an alliance between the Maquis and Starfleet and take war to the Cardassians – who was he to stand in her way? And if she believed in him, as she seemed to, he would follow her to hell.

The End? Or the Beginning?