This story has a long evolution. It started life as Retrieved - but then I decided it didn't really work that way. Then it was a stand alone Ayala / Janeway story that I somehow finished - then I had a revelation a couple of weeks ago when I was watching Equinox 2
This story deals with events from Equinox 2 - and so contains spoilers. If you don't want to know, don't read on.
Acknowledging, finally that she wasn't really concentrating on her book Kathryn Janeway marked her place and put it aside. The action of stretching produced a wave of pain in her shoulders which she fought past, struggling to breath even as she tried to calculate why that particular movement hurt when others did not.
It was a futile piece of reasoning, the Doctor had mended the damage - dislocated shoulders, ruptured ligaments, pulled muscles, but it would take a few days before the pain went completely. A few days of light duties and plenty of rest, the Doctor was thrilled, of course, she felt as though she were being punished.
Chakotay had walked her back from sickbay, trying to make her see the benefits of this edict, trying to persuade her that a few days off would be a good thing. But she had remained stubbornly unconvinced, sulking her mother would have said. Cursing the limitations of twenty fourth century medicine when she ought to be grateful she wasn't still in surgery as she would have been two hundred years ago. When she ought to be grateful she was still alive.
Her First Officer, best friend and lover of two weeks was on the Bridge now and she was kicking herself because the Doctor had annoyed her so much that she hadn't said any of the things she'd intended to to Chakotay. She'd planned to tell him that his calm, cool headed response had helped her confront her fear that their relationship would affect how they functioned when one or other of them was in a life threatening situation. She'd meant to tell him that she didn't mind at all that he had carried her back to the beam out site. That, in fact, there was no one who's arms she'd rather be in when she was hurt and shocked.
The adrenaline that had helped her argue with the Doctor when he'd told her she couldn't go back on duty had left her now. She was bone tired, she knew she ought to try to get some sleep, but her refusal to accept a weakness had her refusing to acknowledge that when she closed her eyes she was there again, playing out the whole, horrifying scene.
Another uninhabited planet, another search for raw materials they could adapt into something they needed. The surface area they were covering was a large one and the away teams were split up into ten groups of three. She was with Paris and Noah Lessing - investigating some underground caverns. They'd just decided there was nothing to warrant their interest, well, she and Paris had, Lessing hadn't said a word, hadn't even looked at her in fact. She could remember thinking that she really ought to do something about that when suddenly the ground around them had started to shake.
It had only taken seconds but the scene seemed to play out in slow motion. One minute they'd been looking around in confusion, the next the ground beneath Noah had simply crumbled to dust. She'd been closest, reaching out to snatch at his wrist as he tumbled over the edge of the cavern into a gaping abyss below. She'd almost been dragged over with him, the momentum and his body weight pulling her forwards, saved only by the foothold she'd managed to find at the last minute.
Tom had tried to reach them but the ground was too unstable and she had told him to go for help instead. She wasn't sure what would happen if he added his weight to hers on the fragile ledge she was stretched out on; aware that even without his extra weight there was a good chance the ledge would give way before he returned. Tom had hesitated, calling for an emergency beam out instead, she could have told him he was wasting his time but decided he'd have realise that himself when the only response was dead air. They'd known when they'd gone into the caverns that there was something in the rocks that was interfering with their contact with Voyager and the rest of the away team.
She was sure that Paris was hurriedly calculating the difference between Lessing's body weight and hers, thinking the unthinkable...that the only chance to save her life might be to let him fall. She remembered calling out, 'that's an order Mr Paris.' and then listening to the sound of his retreating footsteps as he fled to the cavern's entrance where he'd be able to summon help.
She'd been left holding onto Lessing, trying to keep him calm as the pull on her muscles increased steadily. She'd told him over and over in as calm a voice as she could manage that help was on it's way - even though it felt as if minutes were stretching into hours. He'd told her to let him go at one point, she recalled that quite clearly and that she had refused. Shouting, ordering him not to give up while she silently cursed Paris for taking so long. Anything rather than think about the pull on her shoulders, the way her arms were slowly loosing all feeling. She'd begun to be terrified that her body would make the decision for her; that she would simply loose the ability to hold on any longer.
By the time Paris had returned with reinforcements and the delicate rescue operation had started she had been in agony, much the worst injured of the two. Only one thing had cut through the haze of pain with anything approaching clarity, Chakotay's cool, calm wholly professional demeanour. She'd never been so relieved in her life when, with both she and Lessing back on solid ground, he had pressed a kiss onto her forehead and scooped her up into his arms. She had been surprised to discover that his hands were shaking.
But she had blown in again, or at least she had been too distracted by the Doctor to take the time to tell Chakotay how glad she was that he'd been there. She closed her eyes, rested her head back against the back of the couch. She would talk to Chakotay later, perhaps plan an evening on the holodeck tomorrow. She was quite aware that their tentative, faltering steps towards intimacy were most often delayed by her uncertainty, by her caution, by her... She wasn't going to do this now, she told herself. She'd made the crucial decision, she'd let Chakotay into her life - the post mortem could wait for another day, when her head felt less heavy.
She was thinking about going to bed when her doorbell chimed, pushing herself up, carefully, she made her way to the door and was, pleasantly surprised by the identity of her visitor.
'Mr Lessing.' He looked - nervous. Well, given the past she could understand that. The upright stance, hands behind his back was classic Academy. In fact she could remember the exact lesson on posture when she'd decided that her hands looked much better on her hips.
'I was going to bring you flowers,' he began in his curious, melodic voice (and who was she to call someone else’s voice curious she reflected?). 'But Commander Chakotay suggested this might be more welcome.'
Damn but there was coffee in the pot he produced from behind his back. 'Sometimes,' she said wearily, 'I think Commander Chakotay knows me far too well.' Not that she was going to turn down her gift. 'Can I offer you a cup of, it is coffee, isn't it?'
'Take a seat.' She gestured to the couch and went to the cupboard for two cups. It was clear that Chakotay had decided that she and Lessing needed to talk - it wasn't an analysis she was going to argue with. 'Shall I replicate some milk?'
'Not for me.'
Returning to the table she poured two cups of coffee and took a sip, savouring the rich, smokey taste. When she opened her eyes her companion was watching her expectantly, 'a good choice,' she commented. 'Did the Commander recommend the blend?'
'He gave me a few suggestions.' She nodded, unsurprised and sat down beside him.
'Mr Lessing - please believe that I appreciate your gesture but it really wasn't necessary.'
'I wanted to thank you - for saving my life.'
'There really isn't any need to thank me. What I did today I would have done for any member of my crew.' She watched the impact of her words sink in and then added 'like it or not Mr Lessing you are a member of this crew and I have a responsibility for your welfare.'
'Even if it involves putting yourself in danger?'
'Even then.' There was really nothing more to say, except for her feeling that she should find a way to acknowledge the fact that had it not been for Chakotay her actions on another day might have killed him. 'Today's situation was, ironic - given our history.'
'I was your enemy then,' he said simply, 'I understand that you could not afford to take any prisoners. I would never have given you the tactical status though, you would have had to kill me.'
'I can understand your loyalty.' If he was surprised by her ready acceptance of his statement he didn't show it. Nor did he call her on whether or not she would have left him to die, or if she would have stopped if Chakotay had not taken the decision out of her hands. After a short pause he asked,
'How's your shoulder?'
'Sore enough to keep me off duty for a few more days. The Doctor seemed pleased.
'No doubt he feels he's won a small victory.'
'A very small victory.' He smiled and seemed to decide not to enter into that particular fight.
'He needed to be stopped,' he said at last and she knew, by the tone of his voice as much as by his words that he was talking about Ransom. 'We were so obsessed with the idea of getting home that we stopped thinking beyond that. My parents were proud of me when I joined Starfleet, I can't imagine how I'd have explained to them that we got home by sacrificing the very ideals I'd chosen to uphold, how I'd have explained to them about the experiments, the killing - all to serve our own ends.' He put his coffee cup on the table in front of them, 'we should have stopped him, First Officer, senior staff, the remnants of his crew. We should never have allowed it to happen. It shouldn't have been up to you.'
'It isn't that simple Mr Lessing. Captain's sometime ignore their First Officer's advice and then you'd have been looking at mutiny.' The memory was a painful one, and she and Chakotay had yet to confront it themselves.
'Do you think your First Officer would have let you slaughter life forms so you could use them as a source of fuel?'
'No.' That was unequivocal.
'The First Officer of the Equinox didn't even give it a second thought.' The silence stretched until she made a decision.
'Noah, let it go. It's in the past, it's done with. You have an opportunity to...'
'Build a future? Win your respect, make friends even? I think that was really why I bought the coffee - to tell you that I appreciate that and that I won't let you down.'
'I know that.' His expression was reward in itself, how could she have forgotten what it was like? To give someone self confidence simply by affirming your faith in them? Wasn't this what she'd always loved about Voyager; the sense of family, the chance to watch her crew mature and grow?'
'The Doctor probably suggested that you rest - I won't take up any more of your time.' She let him stand up and almost reach the door before she spoke.
'I promised Captain Ransom I'd get this crew home, I've made that promise on several occasions since we began this journey, I intend to keep it.'
'I never doubted it for a moment Captain.'
After he'd gone she poured herself the remainder of the coffee and cradled the cup in her hands. There was no point in pretending that she hadn't been consumed by the desire to find and stop Ransom and the Equniox. Sometimes when she thought about it she decided that her anger at his betrayal of his oath to Starfleet, to what it meant to be a Starfleet Captain, had almost caused her to betray it as well, had almost led her to murder a Starfleet officer for information. But sometimes it wasn't that simple, sometimes she thought that by opposing Ransom, by pushing herself to the limits to pursue him she had helped him to face what he had done - and enabled him redeem himself.
Redemption - that did seem to be the theme of the day.
She was almost, but not quite asleep when Chakotay returned. 'The Doctor will be pleased,' he remarked, 'I'm sure this is what he meant when he told you to get some rest.'
'Don't be sarcastic,' she said without opening her eyes, although she smiled as she felt him sit down beside her and sighed when he pulled her into his embrace.
'You scared me today Kathryn.'
'It was instinct - he was within reach. I had hold of him before I realised what I was doing.'
'Did you tell him that?'
'I told him it was my job to look after the crew - and that included him.' She opened her eyes and looked up at him, 'why did you send him to see me?'
'I didn't send him, he told me he was going to come and see you, I though it was a good idea. I can only take credit for the coffee. But, I did think he needed to talk to you, exorcise a few ghosts.'
'I can't change what I did,'
'Kathryn - I know you think about your actions over the Equinox, ask yourself if you crossed the line. I also know that is what separates you from Ransom - the ability to reflect to accept that you might have made a mistake, to re-evaluate. For what it's worth, I don't think you'll ever arrive at an answer, life isn't that convenient.' It couldn't be that simple, she couldn't just leave it behind, pretend it had never happened.
Even today, saving Lessing, had not exactly brought her closure; something not too far from it, but not enough to allow her to turn the page and say it was done with. But perhaps Chakotay was right, perhaps the inability to forget how easy it was to cross the line, was what would keep her from doing so.
'I wish I could have saved Ransom, I'd liked to have talked to him.' He tightened his hold on her, resting his chin on the top of her head.
'One of the things I've always loved about you is your belief in redemption - you allowed me to redeem myself, gave Tom, B'Elanna and a lot of other people the same chance, give yourself the same option.' That was a comforting thing to say, the kind of remark she loved him for, that and the fact she knew she could trust him with her conscience.
'When did you get to be so wise?'
'There's an ancient legend among my people,' he stopped at her sudden snort of laughter, 'what?'
'That is such a pick up line Chakotay.'
'It didn't work on you,' he pointed out, 'or if it did, it took you six years to tell me.'
'I was - reflecting.' He didn't reply immediately, instead he manoeuvred to the edge of the couch and stood up with her in his arms.
'Well, in that case it's a good thing you aren't the only one too stubborn to let go.'