The Grey
by myu

Disclaimer: I don't own the characters, and I'm not affiliated with any companies that own Star Trek or any related trademarks.   
Notes: Alternate ending to Star Trek Voyager episode The Q and the Grey (Season 3/episode 11).  Disregard everything after the scene in the ready room with Janeway, Chakotay and Q (with the scandalous tattoo banter).  A summary of the episode in question can be found here.  There are also some references to minor points from Jeri Taylor's Mosaic.  
Rating: PG

Eyes burning?  Here's a version with 1.5 line spacing.


Kathryn Janeway stared at the steady trickle of water seeping into the sink, although her gaze was unfocused and her mind preoccupied.  The atmosphere of stillness and peace in the room seemed to stand in stark contrast to the churning inside her head.  She caught sight of her reflection in the mirror as she raised her head and regarded the faint circles under her eyes for a moment wearily.  Dabbing a towel revealed them to be a mixture of mascara and fatigue and she left the soiled material forgotten as she contemplated whether she would have enough time to visit Sickbay before her shift on the Bridge began.  On her way to the door she caught sight of the frame containing a photograph of her fiancÚ and didn't stop to wonder why it was face-down next to the other ornaments on the desk.

*     *      *

The Doctor closed his medical tricorder hesitantly.  
"Your suspicions were correct, Captain," He watched her carefully, "You are approximately three weeks pregnant." Kathryn was seated on a bio-bed with her head bowed and didn't appear to express any surprise at his words.  She tended to avoid the medical bay if at all possible  - although the Doctor was becoming more like a human every day, there was still an aura of unpleasant news and sadness around the Sickbay that she disliked.
"I trust you to maintain doctor-patient confidentiality regarding this matter," she murmured, studying the floor intently.
"Of course."
"You may be aware that I was...propositioned by Q last month.  I refused his offer." She could recall the conversation like it was yesterday.  The memory of the bed with its lurid heart-shaped cushions and velvet headboard provoked a shudder and a grimace that she quickly suppressed.
"I see.  You believe your present condition is connected?" Her eyes moved from the grey carpet to her boots.
"There isn't any other explanation." She sighed heavily and stood to leave.
"Captain, I expect you to make another appointment for an examination soon."
"I'll check the new duty roster and let you know." The answer came automatically; her thoughts were elsewhere.
"And Captain - try to take it easy.  I know I constantly remind you to eat regularly and get enough sleep, but I trust you to follow that seriously at this time." Kathryn closed her eyes briefly.
"Understood.  I appreciate the advice, Doctor."
"You know where I am if you need me." She nodded to him gratefully and left without another word
*     *     *

Kathryn exhaled loudly.  She had managed to escape to her ready room to read reports easily enough, but realized she must have been careless in her manner when she caught Chakotay staring at her curiously.  Somehow she knew he would turn up at some point to ask if everything was all right, and wasn't sure how long she could keep up the pretence.  It hadn't taken much for him to find out Q's intentions last month...

"I wondered what you meant when you said he had a 'personal request'." Kathryn looked directly at him and swallowed any attempt at being modest.
"He wants to mate with me," she replied frankly, almost challenging him to laugh.  He didn't, although his jaw tightened and his mouth quivered as he formed words, as if there was a battle between those he wanted to say and those which he felt were proper.
"I see." Chakotay let out a breath and failed to hide his expression, which was somewhere between anger and pity.
"...this bothers the hell out of me."
"Chakotay -" she found herself holding his arm lightly.  She searched his face for an explanation...

Kathryn looked up abruptly.  What would he have said had Q not interrupted them?  She tried to recall the moment exactly: he was about to say something, she had touched his arm...
Before she could begin to think about it properly she became aware of a distantly familiar tingling in the tips of her fingers.  The padd she held clattered onto the desk and she quickly clenched her hands into fists to try and rid herself of the sensation.  Echoes of previous encounters which had provoked that feeling flashed through her mind before she could block them:  Cheb, Will Riker, Mark...she swallowed hard, and was suddenly glad that she had taken his picture out of the ready room.  She resolved to think of something else quickly.  When her mind immediately recalled the Doctor's words that morning she seized the padd and forced herself to read the words aloud, ignoring the way her voice shook with every syllable.

On the Bridge Chakotay eyed the Ready Room door warily.  Kathryn had seemed well enough that morning, but there was something odd about the way she conducted herself that he couldn't quite put his finger on.  She had shut herself away in her ready room at the first opportunity and remained there for rest of the day.  If she felt ill then perhaps confronting her wouldn't be the best way to make her feel better.  Although, he reminded himself, maybe she didn't need the Doctor.  Maybe she needed a friend.
He approached an ensign who had just entered the Bridge with a padd. 
"I'll take that to the Captain, thank you.  Tuvok, you have the Bridge." He made his way down the steps towards the door.

Kathryn touched her temple and felt a vein throbbing ominously.  Her head was buzzing, thoughts reverberating endlessly.
I want you to be the mother of my child
But would Q have really done this without her consent?  She never would have guessed he'd do something like this, or even that it was possible.  Then again, just because Q appeared to be drastically flawed didn't change the fact that he was of an race of omnipotent beings.
The doorchime startled her, and she dropped the padd she was holding for the second time that day.  A juddering wave of apprehension and dread left her feeling chilled and a little afraid.  She braced herself.
"Come in." Looking up expectantly seemed a little redundant - she already knew who it would be.
"Good afternoon." Chakotay's smile brought some much-needed light relief - the very air seemed clouded with lost thoughts and possibilities.  Kathryn returned the smile tightly and took the padds from his outstretched hand as he gave her a brief summary of the day's events.  She could feel his eyes following her back as she returned to the desk and she busied herself in skimming the padds' content as she listened, seizing the opportunity to avoid making eye contact for the time being.  As he finished, he paused and glanced at her.
"And how are you today, Captain?"
"I'm fine, thank you Commander," She didn't miss a beat, "And you?"
"I can't complain, although I've been better." His eyes lingered over her face for a moment.
"Have a seat.  Tea?" She was grateful for any distraction at this point, and pushed the stack of padds aside.  Before he entered she had read the same sentence a number of times.
"Thank you." Kathryn joined him on the sofa, careful not to slump in a way that would reveal her exhaustion.  After Chakotay's sharp observation that morning she felt significantly on edge.  
"Hard day?  From your report I assumed the day had been somewhat uneventful." Chakotay rubbed his neck self-consciously.
"It would have been my sister's birthday last week.  At the moment home just seems further away than usual.  Do you - have you ever...?" Kathryn's expression softened slightly.
"Sometimes.  I will admit that it's difficult to stay optimistic all the time.  At times the very days seem endless, and..." She paused and stared into her cup. 
"I wonder how I'll get through seventy years if each day seems like a lifetime."  She didn't stop to marvel at how easy admitting that fact had been in the end.  Chakotay had often put her at ease enough to make her readily relate secrets she'd kept for years.
"I don't know if it will help, but when that happens just try not to think of the distance.  Imagine you're on a deep space mission and you'll be back in two weeks."
"What happens when the two weeks is up?" Chakotay smiled sheepishly.  
"Hope you've snapped out of the mood by then.  Speaking of which, I feel better already.  Thank you." Kathryn shifted slightly in her seat. "Kathryn - are you really fine today?" She suppressed a sigh.
"Why do you ask?" Anything to buy her a little time to formulate a response.
"Well, you've been holed up in your ready room for most of the day.  And, without meaning to be rude, in all the years I've known you I've never seen you sit quite so stiffly." So much for disguising her posture.
"Chakotay, you -" She stopped and lowered her voice a little, "I am a little distracted today.  Is it that obvious?"
"No," He considered after a moment, "I don't think anyone noticed."
"But you're not just anyone." Kathryn bit her tongue.  Thankfully, Chakotay laughed.
"I'm glad you were the one to say that.  In any case, I hope you resolve whatever's troubling you."
"I think I already have," she lied.
"You're still thinking about it." That caught her off-guard.
"How -?!"
"I couldn't possibly tell you."
"Do it.  That's an order." She managed a small smile through her indignation.  She always succeeded in this playful sniping.
"Fine, fine - it's really quite simple.  When something is bothering you, you get the smallest crease on your forehead there."  He gestured, and Kathryn felt her stomach muscles contract.  She couldn't quite think of anything to say.
"I suppose you know me more than I'd like to admit," she muttered finally, before a notion occurred to her.  "Don't think for a moment that I'll let you know what gives you away, though."  His face fell.
"You lie!"
"Do I?" She managed to look sufficiently smug and only casually flicked her command pips in response to his protests.
"You..." He sighed in defeat before changing the subject.  "I should probably get back to the Bridge.  We both finish our shifts in half an hour - would you like to have dinner tonight?  Maybe a walk on the Holodeck afterwards?"
Kathryn hesitated.  She was about to decline, but then she was reminded of her torment earlier in the day and hastily decided that hiding the truth from Chakotay was much preferable to being alone and driving herself up the wall with her thoughts.
"That sounds wonderful.  1900 hours at my quarters?  I happen to have some extra replicator rations at the moment."
"How could I refuse?  1900 it is, then."

*     *     *

Kathryn breathed in deeply and stretched out her arms as the breeze whipped around her.  The program Chakotay had chosen was a beach with a path leading up to cliffs on one side.  It wasn't much like any beach she had visited before - the sky was overcast, the air crisp and a cool breeze blew with moderate strength.  The sand under her feet was rather damp and set, but only seemed to add to the charm.
"Where are we supposed to be?"
"I don't know.  I happened to find it in the program archives.  There are no characters - perhaps the author didn't get past creating the scenery." Chakotay surveyed the cliffs and speckled sky thoughtfully.
"I won't complain, although I've never been on a beach with this kind of wind before."
"Would you like me to alter the program parameters?"
"No, it's not strong enough to be a nuisance.  It's exhilarating more than anything else." With that she ran across the sand, delighting in the feeling of utter freedom and the way the breeze seemed to cool her very soul.  It was a welcome tonic to the stuffy thoughts plodding through her head all day.  Chakotay was soon at her side and they adopted a considerably more relaxed pace, heading for the cliff path in silence.  On the cliff they sat on a bench near the edge to look out at the choppy sea.  They began to talk, and although Kathryn was a little more guarded than usual, Chakotay didn't comment.
"If we ever find out if this place exists," she murmured, "Let's visit it when we get back home."
"Remind me to wear warmer clothing," he muttered back, "My ears are beginning to ache."
"Shall I replicate you some earmuffs?" He swatted her arm.
"Very generous with your replicator rations tonight, aren't you?  I don't suspect any ill-doing, though - you didn't eat very much tonight." He chose his words carefully and watched her reaction.
"Anything wrong with wanting to lose a bit of weight every now and then?  It's important to keep in shape, you know." Her tone was light, but he still received the distinct impression that the subject was closed.
"I doubt you'd have much trouble with that." He waited to see if her eyes would finally meet his.  Only for a second did her eyes flicker in his general direction, and the sense of sadness and fear they reflected in that moment was disconcerting. 
Kathryn gazed at her hands clasped tightly in her lap and watched as Chakotay's hand came to rest on hers.  Despite the increasing cold she felt a pleasant warmth glide up her arm and settle somewhere in her chest, causing her heartbeat quicken slightly.  After some time she raised her eyes to meet his, and his gentle smile appeared to affirm that he felt the same warmth.  Despite that, a sudden gust of wind gave her a mild shiver.
"It's getting colder - would you like to return to my quarters for a hot drink?  I'd offer you a nightcap, but some of us are on bridge duty in the morning."
"How could I refuse, as you say?" Kathryn called for the arch, and as they left Chakotay couldn't help but notice that she twisted her fingers together as if trying to quash something between them.

On the way back to her quarters Kathryn wondered if they had always walked as closely together.  During the turbolift ride she could hear his quiet breathing and she worried that the fierce prickling in her fingertips would render her unable to activate the door release button. 
Once they entered her quarters, however, the sensation halted abruptly.  In a corner of her living area a large wooden cradle stood, festooned with lace lining and tiny pillows.  At the sight of it Kathryn felt her insides lurch and the room suddenly dipped and swayed in her vision as she struggled against an overwhelming disorientation.  When the sickening tremors dropped sharply to her knees she threw out an arm to steady herself and her hand clipped the edge of a vase of flowers sitting on the table.  The vibrant colours of the rapidly scattering petals seemed to slice through the air, leaving blurred shadows in their wake that burned hot spirals into her eyes.

When the dizziness had passed she found herself in the bathroom with Chakotay holding her head over the sink patiently.  She coughed and spluttered a little before trying to speak, although nothing more than a dry croak could emerge from her parched throat and cracked lips.  He hushed her gently, took the glass sitting on the side of the sink and filled it with water.
"I want you to sit and drink this while I clear up next door.  Sip it - I don't expect you to have drunk more than half the glass by the time I get back.  I won't be long." Kathryn sank down precariously, holding her head with her spare hand.  She knew Chakotay was giving her time to collect her thoughts together, but she could only sit and stare dully, her eyes vaguely following a drop of water as it trailed down the outer edge of the basin.  She slurped the water noisily in an attempt to break through the fog settling over her mind. 
Chakotay returned from the living area, wiping his hands on a cloth scrap.
"No harm done.  You may want to replicate some more flowers though - they're a little crushed." Kathryn's smile faded before it reached her lips.  He lowered himself down next to her without commenting on her decision to sit on the floor.  "Kathryn, I'm worried about you.  I'd like to think you trust me enough to tell me what's going on, but I'm not going to force you.  Would you like me to contact the Doctor?"
"I'll see him in the morning," She murmured distractedly.  They sat in silence for a few moments.  "Chakotay, I'm sorry for the way I've acted today.  I've been - preoccupied." Unconsciously her hand skirted over to rest on his - some part of her wanted to go back to the Holodeck and pretend nothing had happened.  He shook it off and clasped it in his own tightly.
"You don't have to apologise.  Just let me know if there's anything I can do to help."
"I don't think this is something I can remedy with a good night's sleep." She rose from the floor unsteadily and moved to the living area.  "I think you can probably guess that I didn't replicate that.  It's obviously Q's handiwork." She waved a hand in the general direction of the cradle without looking at it.  Chakotay moved towards her quickly.
"Has he been visiting you again?" There was a note of urgent concern in his tone. 
"No, not after last month.  However, since then he has..."She broke off and turned away to face the viewport, wrapping her arms around herself to smother the sad feeling of vulnerability that seemed to trickle from her neck down her back. "The Doctor informed me this morning that I am expecting." Another twinge of nausea made her cringe, but subsided quickly as Chakotay's figure edged in front of her.  She couldn't bear to look up at his expression at first, but as he leant back against the viewport his eyes were level with hers, and she saw only kindness when she did dare to meet them.
"Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me.  When I found out about Seska I was too embarrassed to properly discuss it with anyone.  You're a lot braver than me."
Seska.  Kathryn felt a cold chill sweep over her as she realized that in Chakotay she had confided in the one person on the ship who even came close to understanding her predicament.
"I feel -"She choked a little and couldn't have formed the words even if she had known what to say.
"Violated?  Alone?" A slight nod acknowledged his words.  He leaned closer. "You're not alone anymore.  You can share the burden." He gently traced the telltale crease on her forehead, and she felt the muscles there loosen at his touch.  The same warmth she had felt earlier in the evening gathered behind her eyes until they spilled over with hot tears, and then she was enveloped by the warmth when Chakotay rose and drew her into his arms.  It had been so long since anyone had held her properly she had forgotten the feeling of absolute security, and she struggled to remember if she had ever relaxed so much in the presence of another person.  As far as she could remember she had always clutched at some part of Mark's clothing to keep a grip on reality, so to speak.  Letting go - in a literal sense - had always seemed foreign to her, yet now she rested her whole self on Chakotay's form and didn't relent when he moved to support her weight.  Some sort of invisible control device around her heart uncoiled and she felt more tears come with an aching rush.  When the racking sobs had ceased she rested her head against his chest and the quiet rhythm of his heart calmed her immeasurably.  A smile gradually touched her lips.
"Your jaw muscles tighten." He looked down, puzzled.  She lifted her head and looked up through damp eyelashes.  "Your tell.  When you're bothered by something you tense up these muscles here..." She raised her hands to his face and passed her fingertips over them lightly, feeling them relax under the movement.  His eyes suddenly took on a depth she had never seen before, and they guided her to bring his face to hers and taste the fire on her lips.  As the kisses deepened she surrendered to lose herself in them, those depths she could see even after she had closed her eyes.

*     *     *
Kathryn gave up the attempt to keep her eyes closed, and stared into the inky darkness.  Whenever she couldn't sleep she was inclined to get up, walk round her quarters, go to the Messhall...anything except lie still and wait.  She desperately wanted a drink of water, but didn't want to risk waking Chakotay.  They had fallen asleep tangled together on the sofa, although Kathryn had been asleep for no more than half an hour before her eyes sprang open of their own accord.
She felt more overwhelmed than ever.  Between worries about her predicament and fears about this new advance in her relationship with Chakotay, any happiness or contentment she felt following the night's events glimmered only faintly before becoming lost in the tumult.  Questions and complaints raced around her head until she couldn't stand it anymore - she'd have to get up or else she'd scream.  She began to maneouvre Chakotay's arm from her waist as gently as possible.
"It's all right, Kathryn - I can't sleep either." His utterance startled her and she sat up with a jolt, causing the blanket he had arranged around them to tumble to the floor.  Calling for dimmed lights, she stumbled across to the replicator and requested a jug of water.  As she poured the cool liquid into a glass she eyed the garish cradle wearily.
"How are you feeling?" Chakotay stretched his arms and tried to smooth some of the creases in his clothes. 
"Terrible," She admitted quietly, gripping the cold glass with both hands.  "Can we talk about it?" She sat next to him, resting her elbows on her knees.  "I've never faced any kind of...problem like this before." She winced slightly.
"You know, I have to remind you that you do have the choice not to go through with this."
"I do know that.  But, Chakotay...I feel so aware that the child -" She ground her knuckles into her forehead, "- the child is innocent."
"My father told me the same thing when I asked him for guidance."
"But I'm afraid that I can't give it the best life if I can't forget the circumstances surrounding its creation.  I'm afraid that...I'm afraid." She cut herself off and set her jaw. 
"That you won't love it?" Chakotay questioned softly.  Kathryn looked away.  He reached behind her neck and and kneaded the tense muscles there gently.  She caught his hands in her own and turned to clasp them in front of her.
"Chakotay, what are we doing?" There was a note of pleading in her voice that made his innards shiver.
"Is it too soon?" He couldn't hide the regret in his voice.  Kathryn sat with her shoulders hunched, looking wretched.
"I-I need to think about some things." She bit her lip to stop it trembling.
"I see.  Would you like me to leave?"
"I'm sorry..." She looked down miserably.  The distance to the doorway seemed to be twice as long.  Questions about whether she was doing the right thing or not plagued her every movement, and it took all of her willpower to imagine forcing them down to the ground and crushing them with every step.
"Goodnight, then." He smiled sadly as they reached the doors.
"Goodnight - I - thank you." Kathryn closed her eyes as the doors shut with a low hiss, reflecting the sigh she had swallowed.  She couldn't rid herself of the nagging feeling that told her she had just flung away a chance of happiness with both hands.  She trudged over and picked up the blanket that lay forgotten on the floor.  It still retained his scent faintly and she suddenly rushed to the doors with the intent to chase after him.  Her hand froze, hovering next to the release button, and the pattern on the blanket swam in circles before her eyes until she dropped her head and and wept.
Outside the doors Chakotay strained his ears for any sound from within.  He withdrew the finger he held poised above the doorchime and headed down the corridor towards his quarters.

Kathryn slept fitfully, dreaming of running down endless corridors.  She ran faster and faster until the doorways became a blur and passers-by flashes of colour.  On and on she ran until she caught up with Chakotay, who had been sprinting ahead of her for some time.  She grasped his arm to force him to look back towards her, and found herself staring up into Q's grinning face.  The scream wrenched out of her in shock was full of pain, but she was thankful for it when she opened her eyes and realized she was sitting bolt upright in bed.  Giving herself a mental slap, Kathryn swept through to the bathroom smartly and resolved to perform her daily routine as normal.  She looked herself over once more in the mirror before leaving for her shift and flicked an invisible speck of dust from the front of her uniform jacket.
"Business as usual," She declared boldly, and left without a second glance.

In the Briefing Room Chakotay studied the padd he held intently, but the relentless tapping of his foot betrayed his studious demeanor somewhat.  Kathryn hadn't seemed particularly out of sorts this morning despite the previous night's events - in fact, she had even managed a half-smile in his direction as she greeted him on the Bridge.  Now, listening to Tuvok recommending an away mission to survey a nearby solar system for resources, everything seemed to be back to normal.  Despite that thought, he didn't need to look to know that the crease remained etched in her forehead as if in stone.  When he did look, however, he didn't miss Kathryn's eyes darting back to her padd.  Chakotay watched her until her eyes flickered back to his direction again, and held her gaze steadily.  Tuvok's droning voice cut through the connection unexpectedly and he rolled his eyes at her slightly.  To his great surprise she turned a snort of laughter into a cough and hid her smile behind her hand.  Tuvok glanced at her suddenly.
"Excuse me, Tuvok - continue." Kathryn apologised neatly, coughing a little more for good measure.  As the Vulcan obliged, Chakotay raised an eyebrow at her in mock disapproval.  She looked back at her padd, and he turned his attention back to Tuvok until a heel came firmly down on his still-tapping foot.  He bit back a yelp, all heads turned towards him and Kathryn sent him a disapproving glare of her own, although her lips twitched slightly.  Somehow he managed to pay attention for the rest of the meeting and maintained his focus for the rest of the day.  Kathryn again retreated to her ready room for most of the day and again he purposely refrained from reporting to her until the very end of their shift.

"Come in." Kathryn was better prepared to face Chakotay today - the day had passed without incident and she finally felt as though she was regaining some measure of control.  Any thought of Q or Chakotay had been pushed to the back of her mind for later - for now it was "Business as usual," she murmured to herself as Chakotay entered her ready room.  Something tugged a little at her chest as if the lining of her heart had snagged on something mid-beat, but she paid it no attention.  It was business as usual today - she responded to Chakotay's report as normal, he enquired about her day, he would leave with a smile...
Kathryn blinked.  He was still standing in front of her desk.
"Was there anything else, Commander?"
"Your act of gross misconduct in the Briefing Room this morning, Captain?"
"My act -?!" She stopped and composed herself, "I do apologise if I caused you any distress or embarrassment, Commander.  But let it be a lesson - nobody gets away with embarrassing the captain."
"I forgive you." Chakotay hobbled around to her side of the desk with an exaggerated limp, and she broke into a smile.
"It's good to see you smile again, Kathryn."
"Thank you." It seemed so simple a gesture, but she hoped he'd understand.  She wanted to thank him for understanding, listening, making her laugh again...
"You're welcome." He knew.  "What are you working on?" He peered at the console screen.
"That?  It's for the away mission."
"Who was assigned to it?" Kathryn began to feel on edge slightly.  Chakotay noticed the slight change in her expression and felt an icy dread prick at his insides.  Kathryn preferred to keep most of her personal problems to herself and no doubt was used to resolving situations alone, but since the meeting that morning he feared that she would use any excuse to escape duty.  Kathryn's wellbeing was of great worry to him at the moment - despite only being asleep for less than an hour, Kathryn cried and shook like a trapped animal next to him on the sofa the previous night.  Seeing her so distressed and vulnerable had been unsettling and, although holding her tightly quieted the tears, she continued to release small choking whimpers that reverberated around his skull and left his nerves shaken.  He had never known Kathryn to be anything but a tower of formidable strength, but now he desperately wanted to help her stand and fill in the cracks.  Before he could decide whether to wake her up or not she began to stir.  He had loosened his grip and pretended to be asleep, hoping she would wake with no memory of the demons that haunted her slumber.  
"I'm taking it." Kathryn answered shortly.  She busied herself, gathering up the padds.
"Who's going with you?" 
"I'm going alone." Chakotay's head snapped up from the console.  Under normal circumstances a solo away mission wouldn't have been too much cause for concern, but in her state of mind...he knew she was seizing the opportunity to flee.
"You can't do that.  I won't allow it." He sensed the cold apprehension bubble into an angry flame.
"The subject is closed, Commander." Kathryn marched past him, indifferent to his objections.  As he followed her onto the Bridge both remained silent, save for Kathryn transferring command to Tuvok as they crossed to the turbolift.  Upon entering the lift Kathryn waited for the doors to close and called for deck three, keeping her back to him.
"I'm going on this away mission with you."
"You'll stay on Voyager, Commander." Chakotay exhaled loudly.
"Do you really think it's wise for you to be alone right now?" She didn't answer. "You won't be going alone, Kathryn.  You'll go with me or not at all."
"Computer, halt turbolift." Kathryn thought about stamping her foot childishly, but refrained.  "How exactly do you plan to stop me?"  Chakotay's eyes narrowed as he watched her shoulderblades tighten through her uniform.  
"You know Tuvok won't break protocol easily - if I happen to raise some concern about the mission you won't get past the shuttlebay doors.  Even if you do manage to fool him, I can easily persuade the Doctor to keep you here for observation.  I don't want to have to do that, Kathryn, but I will if you don't leave me any choice." Kathryn gritted her teeth and whipped round in a rage without quite knowing what she would do next.  Her breath caught around the throbbing pulse in her throat when she almost collided with Chakotay's shoulder - he had been standing much closer to her than she had anticipated.  They stood barely an inch apart, and Kathryn felt time slow down as the breath she released lingered in the air before dispersing.  She had tried to shatter the memory of their kisses in her mind, and now fragments of recollection rose to stab cruelly at her lips as she held Chakotay's glance furiously.  As she contemplated leaning towards him she felt her hands slack automatically and half the padds dropped onto the floor.  As they bent to retrieve them Kathryn silently thanked the heavens that at least her body was keeping her out of trouble when her mind was too slow to react.
"Fine.  I'll take someone along.  Computer, resume."
"No, you'll take me," Chakotay handed the last padd to her and his voice adopted a lower, kinder tone. "Kathryn, you can scream and kick your console or we can sit in silence for the whole journey.  I'm the only person on the ship that you don't have to explain anything to.  I'm letting you escape from Voyager like you wanted, but my only condition is that you don't go alone." Kathryn drew herself up to her full height as the turbolift stopped and the doors sprang open.  Chakotay grunted as a padd suddenly slammed into his palm with some considerable force.  
"We leave at 0700.  Don't be late." Kathryn snapped and stalked off.  
"See you in the morning!" Chakotay called cheerily, glad that the turbolift doors closed before she had a chance to react.

*     *     *

Chakotay had been waiting for ten minutes when an agitated Kathryn hurried down the corridor to meet him outside the shuttlebay.
"Good morning." He paused.
"Don't say it.  I'm sorry," She tried to support herself against the bulkhead discreetly - her head was spinning. "Good morning."
"What happened?" He gave her a hard look - although her appearance was as neat and tidy as always, Kathryn looked very pale and drawn.  She muttered something about a meeting, and hastily switched the subject to the mission.  Their discussion was peppered with technical terms and protocol from that moment on, and all conversation was strictly related to duty.  When they reached a safe distance from Voyager Chakotay entered their journey into his console.  He stretched back in his chair and turned to Kathryn as she checked the course and activated the auto-navigation system.  
"Course laid in - we'll reach the system in about ninety minutes."  
"Have you eaten?" Kathryn grimaced slightly.  Chakotay raised an eyebrow. "I see.  You didn't feel well this morning?"
"This morning and last night." She corrected stonily as Chakotay hovered next to the replicator.  He handed her a steaming mug and sat on the floor, a plate balanced on his lap.  
"Decaf?" She wrinkled her nose in disgust.
"It's that or no coffee at all," He retorted firmly.  "Relax, Kathryn - this is a routine, perfectly boring away mission.  Think of it as...working shore leave.  You wanted to get away from Voyager, didn't you?"
"I suppose I did." She slouched down in her chair and surveyed him over the rim of her mug.  Strange, how he could suddenly go straight from piloting a shuttlecraft to sprawling on the floor eating breakfast like a teenager.  It always took her some time to unwind from the command role.  "I wanted to apologise for the way I acted yesterday.  I was unreasonable - I'm sorry." It had almost been a relief to feel angry at Chakotay the previous day.  Anger, Kathryn felt, was so much easier to feel than anxiety or sadness.  Lowering the temperature of a hot flame of rage didn't take much more than cool reasoning and common sense - she found it much harder to rid herself of the freezing weight of worry and dread.
"Apology accepted.  I'm sorry if I seemed harsh.  But -" He poked at the remaining food on his plate carelessly, "- I felt it was necessary."
 "I know." Chakotay could feel her stare and stopped his fork on the plate - suddenly the light scrape of the cutlery seemed very loud in the cramped space of the shuttle.  He coughed loudly and feigned a great interest in returning his plate to the replicator, cursing himself silently.  It was becoming very difficult to determine the true nature of his relationship with Kathryn.  Evidently the potential to be more than friends was there - the other night had been proof of that.  But then Kathryn had got cold feet - now he felt the whole relationship was stuck fast in ice.  Trouble was, the ice was melting rapidly around the heat from his heart and the cold reality that he may be falling in love with her swilled around his stomach ominously.
Kathryn turned back to the console and half-heartedly monitored some scans.  She rubbed her neck unconsciously.  Returning from the replicator, Chakotay looked over her shoulder.
"I can hold the fort here if you want to lie down for a little while.  I'll let you know as soon as we reach our destination, or if anything interesting appears on the sensors." She felt all the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end along with her muscles as his breath touched her cheek faintly, and knew she didn't want to argue.  She managed a meek "Thank you," as she made her way to the sleeping quarters on the shuttle.

Kathryn had scarcely closed her eyes when the tired assault of her worries spiralled in her temples again.  She hardly managed a light doze for ten minutes before she leapt up and strode back to the main room of the shuttle, where Chakotay was sitting idly at his console.  She grasped the arms of the chair and spun it to face her with a brute strength she didn't know she possessed.  Something was burning inside and all the cold, chilling fears that gripped her while she was alone were evaporating, leaving her with an innate sense of power.  She seized the front of his uniform jacket, breathing rather  more heavily than usual.
"I'm not going to sit on my own any longer trying to pick through this mess of a relationship between us.  Tell me what the hell is going on, or else -" She dragged him out of the chair.  He didn't resist, but clenched his palm around hers and prised her fist away from him firmly.  
"Or else what?" His eyes challenged hers and he loosely took a step towards her.  She stepped backwards with him in sync, although she was beginning to care less and less about him coming closer.
"Do you really want to find out?" She pushed his shoulders, albeit very lightly.  He responded with an even softer push and she felt the edge of a bulkhead press at her back.
"I think I do." She could count every crease staining his bottom lip...
"Tell me what's going on with us." Her tone was stubborn, but the growing smirk and smouldering eyes betrayed every ounce of authority in her voice.
"Well, I know an ancient legend -"
"Shut up," She spat before they attacked each other in a passionate assault, blistering flames bursting with the violence of every kiss.

Kathryn's eyes flew open and her limbs felt drained as every spare drop of blood rushed to her face.  Never before had she experienced such a vivid dream.  She held her fingers tightly to her face as the last scorching trace of fire slipped away from her lips.  Any question of it being real was dashed when she tried to spring upright - the swimming darkness threatened to engulf her vision and she could only stagger back to the main room of the shuttle.  As in the dream, Chakotay sat at the controls.  She closed her eyes briefly and tried to regain some sense of composure.
"Trouble sleeping?  You were only gone for about twenty minutes." Kathryn sat in the chair next to his, leaning her elbows on her knees.
"I'm not sleeping well at the moment."
"I have so much to think about that it takes up all my energy, yet I can't calm down enough to go to sleep."  She took a deep breath.  
"Tell me.  What are you thinking right now?" She stared at him incredulously.
"Fine, I'll go first - I'm worried about a good friend of mine who is keeping everything bottled up.  She's so tense that she can't lie down for an hour without jumping back up.  And I'm hoping that she didn't already claim the bottom bunk, because I hate having to climb into bed." He added as an afterthought.  "Your turn."  Kathryn kept her head down and thought back to giving reports at the Academy.
"I've been impregnated against my will.  I'm the head of a starship.  For some time in my life now I've been giving orders to others, and now I can't begin to tell myself what to do.  You and me -" Her voice was too hoarse to continue.
"One thing at a time, Kathryn.  I can look after myself.  Voyager is fine.  Don't think about them - the only important thing now is you and the baby."
"That's it - it's a baby.  It's not an equation or a formula.  I can't solve it with a cup of coffee and a padd."
"No, but I won't believe that this is the first non-scientific problem you've ever faced." Chakotay took care to keep his tone matter-of-fact and detached.
"I told you that my father and my fiancÚ died at the same time." The memory of the biting wind and ice on the surface of the planet they crashed on that day made her shudder, and she held her head in her hands. "I didn't get out of bed for weeks.  I don't even have that escape now.  My sister helped me..." She groaned softly into her fingertips.  Kathryn suddenly sat back and her hand drifted towards her abdomen, but recoiled as if an electric charge had surged through her fingers.  "It's a child, Chakotay - I can't see it, but it's making me feel ill and reminding me of everything I have...and don't have." Chakotay took her hand and laced his fingers through hers.  
"You have me." She looked at his fingers curved through the dents between her knuckles, just as she had back on New Earth.  Her eyes began to moisten.
"I can't have you." When she sounded the words they were in a whisper almost lost under the hum of the engines, "I can't have you," She repeated clearly, rubbing her eyes with her free hand impatiently.
Too late, he didn't say, but rather waved a hand dismissively.  "We'll talk about that later.  There are more important things at hand."
Kathryn stood up and she felt an old mask slip into place as she paced back and forth.
"Obviously there are practical issues," She continued briskly, "I don't see how I can captain a starship and look after a child at the same time.  Ensign Wildman was able to take temporary leave, but my responsibilities -"
"- can be delegated to others on the ship for as long as necessary."  Kathryn's pace increased to match her quickening heartbeat, scarcely noticing that Chakotay was following her left and right.
"I can't impose my problems on the rest of you forever -"
"You wouldn't - Kathryn, stop!" He caught her arms to hold her still, but she wrenched herself away.  She felt the mask rip from her skin, leaving her eyes raw.
"Don't touch me like that!" Her voice sounded much higher than usual.
"Don't shift the blame onto me so you can have someone to vent your frustrations on." He sat heavily in one of the chairs.  "Sit down."
"No," Kathryn snapped childishly.
"Don't be ridiculous." She stood stoutly, torn between wanting to rake her nails across his face and wanting to pin him to the chair and...
She shook her head quickly and tried to focus as she seated herself reluctantly.  "Give me your hands." She raised an eyebrow, but nevertheless held them out limply.
"Forgive me for grabbing your shoulders before, but if I had held your hips I think I would be suffering a mild concussion now." He took her hand gently, as he would a child's.
"First things first," He began, closing her fingers into her palm.  "Tell me one reason why you can't have this child." Kathryn swallowed thickly.
"The Delta Quadrant is a dangerous place to raise a child." Chakotay extended the index finger of her left hand.
"Another reason?"
"I don't know that I can lead Voyager and look after a child." Her middle finger was stretched.
"Anything else?"
"A child needs a mother and a father - somehow I don't imagine Q will play much of a part in its upbringing.  I don't know if I can do this alone." Kathryn's ring finger extended without help, and she paused for a moment.  If Voyager hadn't been stranded in the Delta Quadrant, would she be wearing a wedding ring on that finger?  Would she be carrying Mark's child right now?  She shuddered involuntarily.
"Is that all?" Chakotay's voice cut through her thoughts.
"It's all I can think of for now." She nodded sullenly, wondering if there was a point to the exercise.
"First of all, I think you'll agree that we've survived fairly well over the past few years.  Naomi Wildman hasn't known any other home than Voyager, and she's doing better than any of us could have hoped." He flexed her index finger back into her palm again.
"Secondly, you've got a great crew behind you.  They can cope when you need to take a break, and most importantly they will support you.  The same goes for your last reason - you have a big extended family on the ship.  And if you need anything: a confidante, cook, babysitter, friend...I'm here." All her fingers were curled back in her palm.  "How many reasons left now?"
"None," She replied, feeling a little like a parrot as she withdrew her hands uneasily.
"Kathryn, you have to stop worrying about these kinds of reasons.  They're only mild distractions from the bigger issues you have to take into account.  The only thing I want you to concentrate on right now is whether you actually want to have this baby or not."
"It's not that simple, Chakotay."
"I know, but you have to start somewhere.  At the moment you're trying to consider everything and you're getting nowhere." Kathryn considered this for a moment and tapped the edge of the console thoughtfully.
"I did wonder if I'd ever have children one day."
"Did you and Mark ever discuss it?"
"No," She answered truthfully, "One of many untouched subjects." She lowered her voice significantly, "I'm almost glad he's on the other side of the galaxy." Chakotay glanced at her in surprise.
"Really?  Why?"
"Because I don't have to tell him that I can't marry him anymore." Kathryn watched the sensor output display, subdued.  Chakotay said nothing.  "Is the Delta Quadrant a good starting point in life?  Oh, I know Naomi Wildman is a wonderful little girl and even I'm proud of her, but Samantha...she and her husband had already decided to have a baby.  Finding out she was pregnant here was tough, but she was already prepared to go through with it.  I don't know if I'd consider starting a family even if I was in the Alpha Quadrant right now."
"Because you'd be with Mark?" Chakotay didn't look up from his control panel.
"Not necessarily." She regarded him suspiciously.  "I think you have to be completely in love and secure with someone before taking a decision like that." She stared straight ahead, out at the stars.  "I don't think I ever had that kind of security back home."  He didn't notice the searching look she directed at the back of his head.
"We're approaching the system.  Anything interesting on sensors?" Kathryn began to work, although she couldn't help herself wondering whether that kind of secure love would be possible with anyone else...her eyes drifted for a second back to Chakotay.  
Unbeknownst to her, Chakotay was crouched at his own console pondering over the same concept.

By the end of the day they had landed on one of the planets to collect some plant specimens and scan for possible resources.  Having informed Voyager of their location and progress, they agreed to rendezvous the following morning.  Chakotay was satisfied - Kathryn had eaten a decent-sized portion of the food he had placed in front of her without complaint.  They passed the rest of the evening talking quietly, although didn't discuss anything deeper than trivial matters aboard Voyager.  It was still relatively early when Kathryn announced she would retire to her bunk and, keeping in mind what she'd related earlier about her difficulty sleeping, he kept his fingers crossed.  Sure enough, when he entered the sleeping quarters an hour later she was sprawled on the bottom bunk, one arm threatening to fall over the side.  When he tucked her hand back under the blanket she didn't stir, and he climbed into his own bunk with a light heart.  Things were starting to look up.

Somewhere between a dream and a doze, Chakotay was startled into the real world by a loud crash in the next room.  He scrambled out of bed clumsily and skidded through the shuttle on stiff legs.  There in the main room Kathryn was bracing herself on the back of one of the chairs, the contents of a medkit and a dark substance spilled around her feet.  Heavily pregnant, her uniform jacket strained against the bulge in her middle.
"Impossible!" Chakotay was at her side in an instant, kicking away various objects at his feet, however his insides quivered when he realized that they stood in a pool of blood, although he couldn't see any obvious wounds on Kathryn.  
"It started in the night - please come..." She appeared to be speaking to someone else, although the control panels didn't report any open communications channels.  He laid a hand on her arm gently.  Kathryn's head snapped round to him and she shook her arm free forcefully, striking him squarely in the face.  He felt a steady stream of blood drip down his cheek to feed the pool on the floor.  "You?!  Haven't you done enough?  I don't want you here!"  Her body seized up in pain and she clawed the fabric covering the chair, groaning hoarsely.  Her boots slipped a little in the blood.
"Kathryn?" The look she threw him was full of hate and fury.  He could feel her agony as well as she struggled to stand, wheezing and tearing the seat covering.  The blood on the floor splashed around his ankles and the bottoms of his sodden trousers felt like sticky chains.
"GO!" She heaved her body upright and launched herself at him, ready to attack every part of him she could reach.  Rivers of blood ripped through the air towards him.  He raised his arms to protect himself, and -
"Chakotay?"  He woke, his hands stretched towards the dark ceiling.  Turning his head to the left, Kathryn's figure swam in his blurry vision.  As his sight cleared and adjusted to the poor light he gazed urgently at her face and found only concern in her eyes.  He suppressed a sigh of relief - the memory of her features twisted with hate burned in his subconscious.  "Did you have a bad dream?  You were thrashing about quite a bit."
"It wasn't pleasant.  Sorry for waking you up."
"Don't worry about it.  Come down to my bunk and tell me about it.  I got you some water." He climbed down out of bed.  As she stifled a yawn he stole a glance to reassure himself that her stomach remained perfectly unrounded.
"Well, I was in the cargo bay on Voyager..."Chakotay invented, trying to find a comfortable sitting position on the hard bunk.
"Mm?" Kathryn was already half-asleep and not listening to a word of the contrived tale.  He continued spinning the story until he was sure she was asleep and leaned over her, lowering his voice to barely a trace of a whisper.
"I know it's too much for you to handle right now, but when you've sorted out this mess I'll be waiting for you.  I'll treat your baby as my own child or we can keep the whole thing a secret, but we're going to make it work between us - I'm not foolish enough to let you go.  I'll tell you this someday when you're ready, okay?  Don't go anywhere." With that he shifted himself from her bunk, clambered into his own bed and settled down to sleep, smiling faintly.
Under her facade of slow, regular breathing Kathryn's heart pounded in her ears.  She prayed he didn't notice the solitary tear that escaped down her cheek, and it was not long before she too fell asleep.

In the morning Kathryn woke up on her bunk feeling significantly refreshed.  She rose from the bunk silently, feeling some optimism and hope in her heart for the first time in weeks.    
"There are some ion storms in the atmosphere, but we should have no trouble meeting Voyager on time."
"I'm glad to hear it." Kathryn definitely seemed more or less back to her old self save for some traces of shadow under her eyes, although they weren't nearly as pronounced as they had been in previous days.
They began their ascent from the planet's surface without incident, however as Kathryn opened her mouth to say something the shuttle juddered ominously.
"An ion storm?!  Why didn't we see it coming?" Her fingers flew over the controls hurriedly.
"There must have been too much interference for the sensors to detect it."  Chakotay's voice came calmly, although his brow was furrowed and he was tapping in commands at his console as hastily as Kathryn.  All the correct procedures came to her automatically - there was no time for panicking.
"Any suggestions?" 
"Voyager are on their way, I think if we recalibrate - agh!" There was a small explosion behind them. 
"I'm on it." Chakotay didn't bother to ask how she knew what he was going to suggest - he was more focused on avoiding more damage to the shuttle.  Just as he was about to inform her that they were almost out of harm's way a shockwave rocked the shuttle and they were both thrown to the back of the cabin as the craft lurched violently.

Chakotay woke face down on the floor, willing the sharp throb in his head to cease.  Slowly he became aware of various dull aches scattered throughout his body and gritted his teeth against the pain as he took in his surroundings.  The lights were dim in the shuttle and the console screens flickered incessantly, but they seemed to be out of danger for the time being.  There was a movement to his side as Kathryn lifted her head tentatively.  Her uniform jacket was torn and her hair sticky with dried blood.  Her hand scrabbled along the deck, searching for some sense of bearing.
"Chakotay!" Her cry was urgent and pain-racked, although there was something else odd about her tone that he couldn't quite grasp through the fog in his brain.  As he crawled towards her it suddenly dawned on him that he had never heard her sound truly frightened before.
"I'm here, Kathryn.  Are you hurt?" Her fingers squeezed his painfully as she struggled into a sitting position.
"There's something wrong.  It doesn't feel right..." She faltered.  A dark drop of blood trickled down her cheek from the cut on her head, spreading a neat line through the sickly white of her skin.  She made no move to wipe it away.  Chakotay retrieved a medkit from the back of the cabin and fumbled with the fastening clip for a moment before it sprang open, littering the floor with its contents.  He snatched up the medical tricorder and brought it over to Kathryn.  She watched him as he passed the scanner over her carefully, but his expression was inscrutable.
"It must have been damaged when the shockwave hit - it's not working properly." He flicked the display once or twice before discarding the instrument carelessly.  Kathryn could only stare at him wordlessly - she was even struggling to breathe around the lump in her throat.  "Don't worry, Kathryn - Voyager isn't far.  We can easily hang on until then." He tried entering in some commands on the panels at the front. "No use - Voyager would reach us before we'd even come close to completing any repairs." Kathryn didn't respond - she couldn't do much more than hold her trembling fingers in her lap as she leant against the bulkhead feeling completely numb.  Chakotay knelt beside her and examined the cut on her head tenderly, very aware of the strained silence.  She flinched slightly at the contact, but only that and the occasional blink could distinguish her from a statue.  Chakotay could feel himself being pulled into a similar silent daze, and hurriedly began recounting as many things as he could remember about the mission as possible.  Kathryn inclined her head towards him slightly, but her eyes remained dead and vacant.
Voyager arrived fairly quickly, but it seemed like an age to Kathryn.  She was dimly aware of Chakotay requesting a direct transport to Sickbay and tried to ask him something, but couldn't find the words.  She was jolted out of her stupor as she was being helped onto a biobed.
"Commander, please remain seated on the biobed until Mr Paris arrives." The hologram turned to Kathryn, frowning.
"Doctor?" She pleaded anxiously, knowing she didn't need to clarify her request.  The Doctor passed the scanner over her.  His expression was maddeningly blank, not unlike Chakotay's had been earlier.  "What is it?"  The Doctor glanced sideways at Chakotay.  "He knows.  Please..."
"Captain, I'm afraid you longer pregnant." Chakotay launched himself from the biobed at once.
"Did she miscarry?"
"No, she didn't - that's what I can't explain.  If she had then my scans would have revealed that, plus the presence of residual hormones created by the pregnancy.  It's as if...well, as if she was never pregnant at all."
"Is that possible?" Kathryn asked quietly.
"All results of your previous scans were saved in your medical records.  I'll have Lieutenant Torres run a full diagnostic of my program and -"
"I don't think that will be necessary, Doctor," Kathryn found herself staring at her boots again, just as she had when she found out...she averted her eyes and forced herself to look at the Doctor.
"You are to take leave of duty for at least one week.  That's an order, Captain."
"We'll see." Kathryn regretted the words as soon as she had spoken them - she felt much too tired to argue. 
"I'll could keep you updated every day," Chakotay offered solemnly.  
"I can access the logs and from my quarters if need be.  I'd rather not be contacted unless absolutely necessary." She couldn't bear to look at him, feeling the sorrow and pity in his expression.
Lieutenant Paris entered the Sickbay at that moment, and she was thankful for the shift in focus from her.  Kathryn spent the following twenty minutes silently willing the Doctor to finish healing her wounds and checking her over quickly so she could escape to her quarters.  When she did finally settle down in her living area she sat as if waiting for something.  Instead of the immense rush of emotion she expected, she felt nothing more than a vague sense of confusion.  After the relentless cyclone in her brain of recent, the stillness seemed disconcerting somehow.  Gradually a whispered question manifested itself in the empty space: how was she to cope with the loss of something that never existed in the first place?  She saw herself as a young girl, trudging home in heavy rain after losing a tennis match.  The murmur grew louder and louder inside her mind like the winds rising that day and, like a child, she shook her head viciously and clamped her hands over her ears to drown out the storm.

*     *     *

Commander Chakotay caught sight of the Captain only once the following day while he happened to be on deck three, however she disappeared into her quarters before he could make his presence known to her.  From the fleeting glance he didn't distinguish much, except that her eyes appeared rather red.  After that all the detours he took to pass through deck three earned him nothing except frustration and some hard looks when he was a few minutes late for meetings.  When he was off-duty he toyed endlessly with the idea of contacting Kathryn quickly, and wrote the beginnings of several letters he knew he'd never send.  He scrolled through them on a padd quickly, cringing at every second phrase before throwing it aside:  I've always admired...You're always so strong...For some time I've wanted to say...  He wasn't sure how much time he should let pass, how much space he should give her.

Kathryn returned to duty after all of five days' leave.  The Doctor had made his strong objections known when she informed him and Chakotay of her decision, however Chakotay rescued her in suggesting that she take shorter duty shifts for at least another week.  The Doctor grudgingly accepted, to her great relief - having nothing to do felt so unnatural now that three days' leave was more than enough, and after five days she felt her restlessness eclipsing the relaxation and resolution brought by the previous days in isolation.  The whole fiasco felt like her mindset had been shaken from its foundations and, while she had managed to fit most of the pieces back together, some parts still seemed mixed and scattered.  
"Captain on the Bridge." Lieutenant Tuvok's announcement rang through the room, and Chakotay immediately felt himself uplifted as he heard Kathryn's light footsteps.  He couldn't contain a wide grin as he stood and turned to greet her.  Kathryn felt pangs of pride as she observed every shift member's welcoming smile.
"Good morning, everyone.  It's good to be back." There was still a slight odd hint of sadness in her smile and manner, but on the whole she was in remarkably good spirits and was already slipping back into work with an enthusiasm and dedication that everyone unconsciously strove to match.

Later that morning a short meeting was held in the Briefing Room to update Captain Janeway on Voyager's status during her absence.  As she expected, there was nothing much of great interest and she felt her attention begin to wander slightly.  B'Elanna's back was turned as she gestured to an intricate diagram of an engine component and Kathryn couldn't resist meeting Chakotay's glance and rolling her eyes discreetly, exactly as he had done the last time they were in a briefing together.  He looked down at his padd quickly, but couldn't hide his smile quickly enough.  It was in that moment that some of the puzzle pieces fell into place and she saw everything clearly: Kathryn knew this was the time to settle the score, and now she welcomed the gentle tingling in her fingertips with nothing more than a faint blush.

*     *     *

Chakotay waited outside Kathryn's quarters hesitantly, wondering whether stabbing the doorchime quickly had been a good idea, or whether he should have waited a moment or so to give him time to change his mind.  Don't be overbearing - she still may not want to see youThe best approach is casual and friendly, some sensible part of his brain urged as Kathryn opened the doors looking distracted.  
"I'm here in an official capacity." He announced stupidly, holding his padd like a shield.  That sensible part of his brain was now swearing loudly.
"That's a shame - I was just about to invite you over on unofficial business." A wry smile danced around her features, "Come in, Chakotay - if I remember correctly your duty shift just ended, so you can't really be here in an official capacity." His brow quivered and he deposited the padd on a side table quickly before hovering awkwardly.    
"I wanted to know how you are," He said simply.
"Oh...I'm all right.  Still a little numb.  But all right."
"I know." It was strange to think how much meaning he could express in two small words.  "You're so strong, Kathryn.  I've never met anyone like you, but there has a limit to how much pressure even you can handle." She rubbed the fading crease on her forehead absently and smiled when he caught her eye.
"I don't know what I would have done without you.  Thank you." She lowered her eyes and walked to the viewport, "The tricorder on the shuttle wasn't malfunctioning, was it?"
"No.  But I wasn't sure what to think when the scan didn't reveal anything more than a bump on the head." He joined her tentatively, watching the stars pass by the ship.
"I won't pretend that this wasn't difficult, but it was different - so unlike anything I've ever faced.  Should I be grieving?  Can you lose something that never existed?  It's given me so much to think about, but I won't try to forget it.  I know I'll get through it, somehow." She exhaled softly, trying to relieve some of the tension in her neck.  "Was this some sort of test of Q's?  Did he find a better candidate to have a child with?  I'm so angry...but should I be?"
"You can't always help what you feel, Kathryn," She glanced at him sideways, wondering if that was all he was referring to.
"Part of me wants him to explain why...the other part of me wants to wring his neck." 
"He brought us closer together," Chakotay offered quietly.  Kathryn thought for a moment and turned slowly to him, drawing a deep breath.
"I heard what you said to me on the shuttle - when you thought I was asleep." They both stood hesitantly.  As if on the edge of a precipice, neither barely dared to breathe for a moment.  Kathryn saw Chakotay open his mouth to speak and took a running jump before he could begin, throwing caution and sense to the wind.
"I do need to discuss an official matter with you, though," She gabbled quickly, not giving him a chance to interrupt.  "An issue that we need to address...regarding crew relations and protocol." She looked pointedly at him, letting the heat in her blood guide her expression.  He relaxed visibly and let himself be pulled towards her.
"Really?  What about this protocol?" Kathryn slipped her arms about his neck and lowered her voice to a whisper.
"'Hell with it." She held his head away from hers steadily, "But, for the record, any hint of non-professional relations between the command team should be treated as an act of gross misconduct.  As your superior officer I ought to undertake a full investigation...." Chakotay smiled finally, drawing her to him easily.
"I love you too, Kathryn."

~ End ~

Additional notes: Thank you to VAMB members Elorie Alton and Spiletta for their kind replies to my question about Voyager's shuttles.  For those who are interested, Janeway and Chakotay travelled in (and damaged) a Type 9 shuttle in this story.  Some might say that particular shuttle is a little too spiffy for a two-person away mission, I, the command team deserves the best(?) 
This was my first Voyager fic and the first story I've written in rather a long time.  I wrote the story primarily because I wanted to read an alternate ending to The Q and the Grey - I didn't find any, so I wrote my own.  No doubt I'll find dozens of fics like this now.  Such is life...
I was never an especially good writer to begin with and I'm hopelessly out of practice now.  I'll try to do better next time, haha.  
Oh, and I must note that I found it nigh on impossible to think of a title for this piece, mostly because I wasn't quite happy with the way it turned out.  The title is awful, I know - believe it or not, I actually thought of it as a joke ("What's the most vague title I can think of?") before realizing the connection between that and the episode title.  

Any comments, questions, suggestions for a better title etc. to